Thursday, December 31, 2009

Science Education Is Only for White Students - So Cut It

This is stupid, stupid, stupid, on so many levels. It's so stupid that it seems calculated to get national press.

In the past I've defended my chosen home of the San Francisco Bay Area (which I've temporarily vacated for school) as a source of innovative ideas, at the leading edge of the new economy. The unfortunate price you pay for having original thinkers is that there will also be lots of dingbats along for the ride. It greatly pains me to see Berkeley - a great city which I absolutely loved living in for 10 years - is doing a great job reinforcing stereotypes.

Are you ready?

Berkeley Schools are going to cut science labs and divert funds to bad students. Not only that - the justification given is that the science labs are mainly attended by white kids.

Yes, really. Read the article.

Economies are increasingly dependent on people able to introduce new technological innovations to a competitive global marketplace. Moves like this are economically suicidal, and this particular one is racist to boot. Sorry, non-white students; I guess Berkeley High thinks you're so irredeemably dumb that you'll never be able to make it in science labs. Good luck at McDonald's. It's telling that instead of identifying the performance of some students as a problem and trying to bring them up to a level where they too were entering the science labs, the solution is just to cut the top-performing students' classes altogether, and (ignorantly) brushing it aside by saying they were the wrong race anyway.

I imagine one of these kids from Berkeley in the future competing with a student from China to get a job at a top international firm. And I imagine the hiring manager looking at the Chinese applicant's obviously superior skills and exam results, but then saying, "but you know, the American candidate came from a challenged background. I know it'll mean that our firm's competitiveness will be diminished but let's give the job to the American, otherwise his feelings will be hurt." And to keep imagining that scenario I would have to take more and stronger drugs, because that's not ever going to happen. China does not have the same problems we do where it comes to educational priorities, and we will pay the price sooner rather than later. If I were in the Chinese Communist Party, I would throw back my head and laugh when I saw the title of this article.

The money quote is this:

"Paul Gibson, an alternate parent representative on the School Governance Council, said that information presented at council meetings suggests that the science labs were largely classes for white students. He said the decision to consider cutting the labs in order to redirect resources to underperforming students was virtually unanimous."

Let's play a game and see how this same statement sounds - and would sound in the mainstream media - with one word or phrase switched:

" labs were largely classes for Mexican students. He said the decision to consider cutting the labs in order to redirect resources to underperforming students was virtually unanimous."

Or how about:

" labs were largely classes for teaching evolution. He said the decision to consider cutting the labs in order to redirect resources to underperforming evangelical students was virtually unanimous."

If I had kids at Berkeley High right now, I would take them out immediately. This announcement is tantamount to saying that they're not serious about education, and they're trying to become an inner-city baby-sitting institution. We have enough of those.

The bottom line is that a schoolboard (in a city with a top American university no less) is willing to cut science classes, sabotaging the American economy and openly justifying the action racially. If this makes you as angry as me - and it should - then I hope you have the same reaction when a bigger, much-better organized group of oversensitive idiots with a different economy-sabotaging agenda tries to dumb down American science classes. That group would be the creationism-in-school idiots, like the Discovery Institute, and they're even worse.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Holiday Treats

Toasted Al Qaeda undies. At my house this is going to become a holiday tradition. It actually looks really tasty, but then I'm partial to feta cheese.

It's been pointed out that this Christmas, there really were chestnuts roasting on an open fire. At least 30,000 feet over Detroit.

Hey, is that a bomb in your pants, or are you just happy to see 72 virgins?

More Nuclear For California

We need more energy. Alaskan oil goes in California gas tanks, period; drill-baby-drill is not the answer. Other oil comes from countries run by superstitious barbarians. I don't like being dependent on superstitious barbarians. Nuclear power is safe. So we need more nuclear.

There is a current effort to build more nuclear power in California, but unfortunately my state has a stupid law to decrease energy production. Fortunately there was an attempt to repeal it in 2007. I hadn't heard of this. Next time I hope it's more public so the economically and technologically-minded people of the state - of whom there are many - can get behind it.

And finally, even if you think global warming is a commie plot, here's a talking point for knee-jerk progressives:

"You're not going to address global warming by addressing cow flatulence. You're going to do it with nuclear power." (From the article).

Yes, there's a non-fossil-fuel energy source that can keep the lights on right now. Plus, one of the founders of Greenpeace is pro-nuclear. Obama chose a pro-nuclear Secretary of Energy. "Socially conscious" European countries like Sweden are relaxing their regulation of nuclear power, and France has a lot more nuclear power than the U.S. China will more than pick up the rest of the world's decreased emissions by burning through all their coal for the next two or three centuries, a fossil fuel much worse than oil; maybe this is why China torpedoed the climate talks in Copenhagen.

So why the continued resistance to nuclear? The public's opinion is being manipulated with scare tactics motivated by a vestigial reflex from the 1970s. The nuclear industry has been quiet for too long. It's time to confront the issue head-on. The American public can handle it.

Monday, December 28, 2009

ARG Profile: Andy Martin of Illinois

Andy Martin is an Asshole Ruining the GOP. He's trying to win his primary in Illinois by accusing his opponent of being gay (and by the way Martin, so what?) I hope that like me, you're ashamed to be in the same party with this disgraced worm.

Marijuana Reform Moving Forward in Two Dozen States

"Under [Seattle legislator Mary Lou Dickerson's] bill, marijuana would be sold in Washington state's 160 state-run liquor stores, and customers, 21 and older, would pay a tax of 15 percent per gram. The measure would dedicate most of the money raised for substance abuse prevention and treatment, which is facing potential cuts in the state budget. Dickerson said the measure could eventually bring in as much to state coffers as alcohol does, more than $300 million a year."

To put it bluntly, the people of Seattle aren't dummies. Between Boeing and Microsoft and all the companies in between, Seattle has the highest
average education level of any American city. And lots of other states are following the lead of cities that have already legitimized marijuana by taxing it, and doing what makes sense.

It's a question of liberty - who's better suited to decide what you're allowed to put in your body? The Federal government - or you?

Note to Terrorists: China Will Negotiate With You

An oddly irrational decision. Someone (Chinese Navy? The shipping company?) has paid Somali pirates four million dollars to release a ransomed ship. Guess which ships pirates will go after from now on? I would not want to be a crewmember on a Chinese freighter in the near future.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Mitch Daniels, What Are You Thinking

Atheist conservatives (like Right Wing Nuthouse, Little Green Footballs, and the Secular Right) - and me - are feeling a little lonely these days. Do you want us as part of conservatism or not? One of the problems with modern conservatism is that driving for ideological purity doesn't win elections. It shrinks the size of the movement. (Even the Tea Party leaders are excommunicating each other.) So if you tell us over and over that we're not welcome, guess what? We'll take our votes and rhetoric elsewhere, and you can keep celebrating victories just like NY-23.

Charles Johnson's break with the right was in no sense radical. The right left him, not the other way around. Like Johnson I usually avoid openly mentioning my atheism because a) I'm not trying to convert (or devert) anybody anyway, and b) a lot of conservatives will sadly write off anything I have to say one second after they hear that. Unfortunately, many social/religious conservatives have forgotten that intrusion into religion (or lack thereof) is about the best hallmarks of big government that there is. It doesn't make it okay just because it happens to be your own religion; otherwise, how are the Iranian Ayatollahs doing anything wrong?

This is why I was so disappointed to hear Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels get on the bandwagon with some ignorant comments that further marginalize conservative voters. Daniels is a real Reagan Republican - one of few genuinely small-government moderates left - and I was hoping to have him as an option in the 2012 GOP primary. In an Indiana publication he talks about his faith. To be clear: it's not Daniels's faith, or his profession of it, that's a problem; of course he has the same rights that the rest of us do in that regard, and the only thing that matters is a candidate's ability to execute specific policy decisions in office. The problem here is not only that he expresses a fundamental misunderstanding of the underpinnings of American democracy but that he makes out-and-out bigoted comments. Mitch, you can't expect people to vote for you when you talk like this:

"And Judaism leads to brutality. All the horrific crimes of the last century were committed by Jews."

Shocking that he would say something like that, right? I took some liberties there. He said exactly the same thing, except about atheists. Read it again and try to tell me it makes what he said any better:

"And atheism leads to brutality. All the horrific crimes of the last century were committed by atheists."

So either Daniels is a bigot, or he's just saying bigoted things to win votes from Christians. And to Christians, his sudden public professions of faith must seem a little eleventh hour. Thinking about 2012 Mitch?

I cannot vote for an openly bigoted candidate who considers me, and 13% of Americans, fundamentally immoral. I'm very sorry to cross Mitch Daniels off my list.

Wear Green Today: Support Democracy in Iran

No, it's not St. Patrick's Day. For the second time in 2009, the brave people of Iran are engaged in massive protests against the cynical theocracy that's kept them down. People have been killed, including an old man shot between the eyes and an opposition leader's nephew. As usual, Andrew Sullivan has excellent coverage. The Ayatollahs must realize that they're on the wrong side of history, that as with the idiot on the Detroit flight, they'll soon be a historical curiosity. Even Twitter users in China know this.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Dear Al Qaeda: Strong Work, Fellas

Terrorists are supposed to create terror, right? That is, as opposed to make us laugh at their incompetence and the ridiculous stone age religion that motivates them, like this most recent stunt over Detroit has done.

Unsurprisingly, the evolutionary throwbacks in Al Qaeda have failed again. These days they seem less like terrorists and more like that kid at school who misbehaves because daddy doesn't pay him enough attention. Seriously, lighting your pants on fire? I've seen the guys on Jackass do worse stuff.

I can understand why these Islamist losers are upset. Many of the hard-working, intelligent people from their countries have emigrated elsewhere in the world, where they (including their sisters, wives and daughters) have been astoundingly successful in business and medicine and just about any other secular endeavor they've undertaken. Meanwhile, the religious types can only sit and stew impotently in their hovels, wondering why their own "civilization", based as it is on a fairy-tale collection called the Qu'ran, can barely manage to keep the lights on, and never mind a healthy GDP growth.

So guys, why don't you chalk up one more failure, then get over that cute superstition you call Islam and just turn bin Laden over to us now. You are a back alley of history, and it's only a matter of time. Here are some cartoons of Mohammed to tide you over until then.

Hugo Chavez's Cynical Use of Native Americans

Background: I was reading up on the Warao, who live in northeastern Venezuela and are probably best-known outside that country for having a language with a rare word-order (object-subject-verb; that is, "Pizza I eat.") Recently they've made news for more unfortunate reasons, as people are dying from a virulent rabies-like disease.

The point of this background is that, for once, I was actually not reading up on Venezuela to find the most recent outrage or incompetence committed by Hugo Chavez. But all roads lead to Rome. A group from UC Berkeley visited the Warao home territory in the Orinoco Delta, and when they came back to the capital to inform Chavez's medical officials that there was an outbreak, they were largely ignored. It turns out that Chavez's government considers Indians to be subhumans not worth treating medically:

"We traveled by bus 16 hours to Caracas to make the authorities aware of the situation with the hope of getting some response," said Norvelis Gómez, a Warao paramedic who was one of four community leaders in the group. "And we are met with disrespect on every level, as if the deaths of indigenous people are not even worth noting."

Here we have another example of how unquestionable state-power attitudes inevitably translate into categorizing some individuals as less worthy than others. The reasons are never stated openly (because to decent people, they couldn't be) but they're always the same - because the people are the wrong color, the wrong religion, or the wrong social class. A powerful state with no accountability lets these base animal instincts that all humans share run wild. And running wild they are in Chavez and his medical ministers.

It's worth noting that Chavez has not exactly acted as the modern-day uniting Bolivar, since he's been caught twice by international organizations supplying weapons to rebel groups in a neighboring country. And it's further worth noting that an administration ingoring plagues spreading within its borders is anything but "populist".

What's interesting is that the Berkeley researchers take great pains to soften their criticism (not wanting to "smear" Chavez's government?); I hope this is for purely pragmatic reasons, that they want to come back to work more with Warao and keep Chavez from punishing them, as opposed to Berkeley people feeling a need to justify leftist oppression. Notice that indigenous people in the U.S. and Venezuela are now seeing through Chavez's use of them as political tools.

Next time you see a progressive reserving criticism of Chavez because he was so brave to blow hot air about Bush at the U.N., it's worth mentioning that he is one of the only national leaders who supported China in their smashing of Tibetan dissidents, and that he has no time for indigenous people unless the state's cameras are rolling.

Liu Xiaobo, Chinese Patriot

Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese writer, signed a document with 300 other Chinese intellectual figures calling for increased civil liberties. The Chinese government has sentenced him to eleven years in prison and told the rest of the world to f*** off. This, after underhandedly smearing the U.S.'s international credibility in the Copenhagen climate talks. To learn more about China's abuses of its citizens visit Human Rights in China.

To say the least, this is not the behavior of a regime secure about its legitimacy. The Chinese Communist Party must be quite convinced that their tenure as ruling elites would be short if there were free elections and the Chinese people were allowed to say what they think.

Paying attention to stories like this and applying what pressure we can to our biggest competitor and trade partner for the twenty-first century is a potential big win for conservatives. I'm sure that GOP Senators can do better than the luke-warm denunciations that Pelosi et al have issued. Conservatives have a tendency to get scared off by words like "human rights", but why are we worried about state power and collectivism if not for exactly this reason? Visit Human Rights in China.

About Medicare: Is the GOP Pro-Free Market, or Not?

The GOP remains the defender of the free market where healthcare is concerned; this is good. The GOP also ardently defends and in fact even broadly expanded Medicare; this is puzzling. Medicare is a massively expensive healthcare entitlement program, but the GOP is the first to squeal when the Democrats try to cut or alter it. If the GOP is actually serious about protecting the free market for healthcare - and I sure wish someone in Washington would be - they would be the first to cut Federal entitlement programs like Medicare. It's medical welfare, plain and simple, and the GOP is just behaving like another pro-big-government party (and we have one of those already). While it's clear that they're maneuvering for senior votes, this doesn't alter the hypocrisy of the position, and the distortion that Medicare continues to wreak on the American medical marketplace.

The Source of All China's Social Problems: Video Games

Of course, China's murder, drug use, and teen pregnancy rates can't have anything to do with the grinding poverty and lack of education and job opportunities that still exists in China outside the coastal cities. The media are always an easy target for big governments everywhere in the world that want to deflect attention from more important causes. ("It wasn't my kid's fault he got caught with weed! My boy wouldn't do that. Heavy metal must have made him do it!")

And of course you don't have to read far to notice that the state-owned media (which is spreading this story) is apparently just fine, and find out that the focus is on the nefarious influence of foreign video games:

Chinese regulators this year have shut down dozens of online games designed overseas and ordered developers to stop including "lowbrow" content like monster-hunting in games. A struggle between government agencies for the right to regulate online games has further roiled the industry and helped send the hit game World of Warcraft offline for three months earlier this year.

Yet another excuse to censor information from outside China and block foreign competition.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Stop U.K. Courts From Silencing You

It's easier to make libel charges stick in the UK. So guess what people do all over the world when they have high-priced lawyers and something to hide, and people who want to get the truth out on their tails? They drag you into court in the U.K. and sue you for libel there. It's called libel tourism, and it's often an effective method to silence people who don't have the same resources. It boils down to a form of specific censorship.

Make your voice heard to sign the libel reform petition here.

Cornyn: Do You Want to Win or Not?

That's the translation of what John Cornyn said more gently when he told Republicans to accept that a) yes, there will be moderates in the party now and in the future, and b) suck it up.

The tea partiers need to hear tough talk from daddy like this. To be clear, you have two choices:

#1: In the primary, pick the candidate with the best chance of winning the general election (who will sometimes be a - gasp - moderate.)

- or -

#2: Pick the candidate who lines up most exactly with your positions, even if their general electability is poor.

Obama wants you to pick #2. Obama dreams of NY-23 repeated all across the country.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Inside Source: China Torpedoes Climate Deal

There are enough people arguing about climate change so I'm happy to let experts present their data and arguments to the public. However, I do ask this: if other things are equal, wouldn't you like not to keep sending money to Islamic dictatorships? Wouldn't you like to make the U.S. less vulnerable to OPEC by removing our dependence on foreign energy imports?

Aside from that I don't wade in much, but occasionally I do like looking at the arguments to see who takes what positions and why, mostly because they're good at revealing the political tectonic plates that people are standing on.

Any discussion of climate change is anathema to most self-declared conservatives, though I've had difficulty finding out why, other than liberals want it, so it must be evil. (Liberals like pizza. Quick, stop eating pizza, it must be evil! Right?) When the "pieces" of an argument shift, that's a good time to see where people stand. For example: a few months back Saudi Arabia announced that if the rest of the world stopped using oil, that it expected to get international welfare becaues its poor widdle economy is so one-dimensional.

Interestingly, both far-right conservatives and progressives were quiet about that, because it confused both of them. Many progressives seem to hate all energy everywhere, but frequently assume that if anything goes wrong in the world, the U.S. owes somebody money, so they didn't quite know what to do. Conservatives were similarly confounded - quick to applaud anything that weakens Islamic dictatorships, but also in the unfortunate habit of knee-jerk ridiculing any attempt to move away from fossil fuels. There's really no confusion here. The appropriate response? Tell Saudi Arabia "awww, let's have a pity party", and rejoice that it's within our power to turn fortune against an Islamic dictatorship in a way that decreases America's energy vulnerability. It seems to me this is an open-and-shut case!

So now we have news that the climate talks in Copenhagen were torpedoed by China's frustrating craftiness, from someone who was inside the talks:

Sudan behaves at the talks as a puppet of China; one of a number of countries that relieves the Chinese delegation of having to fight its battles in open sessions. It was a perfect stitch-up. China gutted the deal behind the scenes, and then left its proxies to savage it in public.

There are several ways an American conservative (whatever that means anymore) can react to this. The two ends of the spectrum are:

1) Hail China. China is the true savior of mankind for stopping Obama's climate change efforts and humiliating him in the process. I hate Obama so much that I'm willing to diminish America's international standing to see him disrespected.

2) I don't like Obama and I disagree with his climate change policies, but China's maneuvering put the U.S. in a bad international position. For the sake of American and democratic interests in the world I wish at least that future American policy initiatives are not seen as fiascos.

A silver lining is that in discussions with pro-climate-change-treaty types, you can point out that it was China that destroyed their hopes and China that they should be considering the bad guy, not the United States. (Extra emphasis for social conservatives: even if any climate change agreement is antithetical to you, it's a good rhetorical point to get liberals away from this idea that it's always the U.S. that's the obstacle to progress.)

The whole article is worth reading, but another choice excerpt is:

To those who would blame Obama and rich countries in general, know this: it was China's representative who insisted that industrialised country targets, previously agreed as an 80% cut by 2050, be taken out of the deal. "Why can't we even mention our own targets?" demanded a furious Angela Merkel. Australia's prime minister, Kevin Rudd, was annoyed enough to bang his microphone. Brazil's representative too pointed out the illogicality of China's position. Why should rich countries not announce even this unilateral cut? The Chinese delegate said no, and I watched, aghast, as Merkel threw up her hands in despair and conceded the point. Now we know why – because China bet, correctly, that Obama would get the blame for the Copenhagen accord's lack of ambition.

This is why there are many of us in the blogosphere trying to wake people up to the Chinese government's antics. They're smart and they play rough and for keeps, and they won this round soundly.

Chinese Auto-Maker Geely Buying Volvo From Ford

Pretty soon the company that makes the infamous blue-state yuppiemobiles will be owned by a Chinese manufacturing combine. Much like the civilian Hummers already are.

Pragmatism and Dissent in China

Westerners' concerns about a resurgent China boil down to this: a country which shows little interest in democratic values is in a massive economic upswing that will surely lead to its own values being increasingly influential around the world and even within the United States. My own concerns are, additionally, that this is happening while American conservatives, who are normally the watchful eyes of our republic, are distracting themselves with much less important domestic social issues; don't you think Chinese central planners sleep better knowing that we're convulsed in arguments about birth certificates?

It's worth pointing out that somehow, almost half of Americans have gotten it in their heads that the Chinese economy is the biggest in the world (which James Fallows appropriately called "crazy".) While this is way off base, it signals that paying more attention to China could be another big win for conservatives. It's all the more mystifying that this opportunity is being missed (along with other possible conservative big wins).

In any event, it's foolish to think that China's upswing will not continue. It is also foolish to try to slow or stop it. A prosperous China is good not only for Chinese people but for everyone on the planet. What is far better is a prosperous and democratic China, and that's not automatic. To play devil's advocate, a common Chinese attitude toward Western (and especially American) criticisms of China's lack of civil liberties is this: that what's important is economic growth, that China's people aren't ready for full democracy, that the Western obsession with civil liberties is a bit naive, and anyway what has all this freedom and openness gotten us lately? A recession, and a massive deficit that China is financing. So who are we to tell them what works and what doesn't? Ideally, the citizens of the West's liberal democracies should each have a well-thought-out answer for this.

While we shouldn't expect The Nation to contain eloquent defenses of capitalism, one article by Christopher Hayes does contain a very interesting discussion with former Shanghai Mayor Xu Kuangdi:

Xu argued that [the lack of civil liberties] is all part of the plan: "Let's look at our neighboring Asian countries," he said. "South Korea: its peak developing speed was reached using military rule.... Indonesia was successful during the reign of Suharto but recently it faces stalemate and difficulties." The reason that democracy is an obstacle to economic progress, Xu said, is that "the poor people want to divide the property of the rich people.... If we Chinese copied the directly elected situation today, people will say, 'I want everyone to have a good job.' Someone will say, 'I will divide the property of the rich people to poor people,' and he will be elected. It is useless: parity will not solve the problem of economic development. That is why we are taking a gradual and step-by-step approach in reform. As Mr. Deng said, we will cross the river by touching the stones. We will not get ourselves drowned, and we will cross the river."

Modern China is nothing if not rich with irony, and it's hard to overstate the irony of a Chinese Communist Party official arguing that economic growth relies on sustained inequality and silencing the dissent of the proletariat. But once we get past that, the fact remains (no doubt missed by Mr. Hayes) that the U.S., and many other countries, have sustained excellent economic growth with exactly those democratic values. I ask as a friendly challenge, why should China be unable to repeat this feat?

Later in the article Hayes talks about his conversation with Wang Hui, a dissident whose relative openness should be cause for optimism about the growth of dissent and Chinese civil discourse:

A participant in the Tiananmen uprising, Wang spent time in re-education camps before going on to edit an independent journal that criticized the government from, for lack of a better word, the left. We met for lunch in a restaurant on the campus of Beijing's Tsinghua University, and as Wang spoke about politics in China, our two chaperones grew more and more uncomfortable, staring down at their plates in silence as if Wang were sharing graphic details of his sex life. It was a reminder that explicitly political debates are taboo. But Wang's point is that there is a public sphere in China, cramped though it may be, and it's beginning to have an effect: if an issue seizes the public's attention, the government now finds itself forced to respond.

I particularly like the "for lack of a better word" apology for the use of "left"; but frankly, whatever position Wang is arguing from, if he's attacking the legitimacy of a regime that is based on an argument from authority, I really don't care which end of the spectrum he's coming from, and neither should anyone else who holds democratic values. I have to admit that I don't care for the odd allergy American conservatives seem to have to dissidents stirring up trouble for oppressive regimes. The formula seems to be "if it's a tea party, fine, but everyone else is just a damn hippie asking for trouble, even if they're elsewhere in the world protesting a corrupt regime". Ronald Reagan would not be proud of this lack of support for freedom fighters like Wang in an evil empire.

As a final point, the article throws around a figure of 800 million cars eventually being on the road in a developed China. Those will use a lot of gasoline. Another conservative knee-jerk that I'm also finding increasingly inexplicable is the reaction against any energy source but oil. When the oil runs out - and it will, especially because China is now at the pump - wouldn't you rather have America in better shape than China?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I Will Not Be Voting for Tim Pawlenty

Sorry Tim. If you pander to semiliterate fundamentalists, you can't expect moderates to take you seriously:

Let me ask you about social issues your party has been dealing with. In her book, Palin claims that McCain’s handlers wanted her to be silent about her belief in creationism. How would you describe your view?

I can tell you how we handle it in Minnesota. We leave it to the local school districts. We don't mandate a curriculum or an approach. We allow for something called "intelligent design" to be discussed as a comparative theory. It doesn’t have to be in science class.

From Newsweek

Translation: "I, Tim Pawlenty, can't make hard decisions, and I care more about not offending some superstitious grannies than I do about protecting America's technical and business competitiveness."

How about Islamic creationism being taught in schools - would you be okay with that, Tim? I want Islamic creationism to be taught in schools, not this Christian mumbo jumbo. I'm sure there are school districts in LA and Detroit where they'd be happy to interpret any rulings that way.

Note that I am once again registered Republican so I can affect the primary. I understand that 2009 is a tough time to be Republican; it's very difficult not to cave in to the special-interest Christian jihadis who shout loudest in the party. But Pawlenty just removed himself from the list of candidates who could possibly win a general election.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Birthers: If You're Right About Anything You're Saying, I'll Pay You

Can you say "ALL TALK?" The Beck/Malkin birther crowd is a bunch of pouting babies who play too many video games. Unfortunately in their pouting they make dangerous, legally actionable threats and they discredit serious conservatives. One belief that's been propagating through blog comment sections is the idea that the 2010 elections will be canceled (because of course we're living in a communist dictatorship with conspiracies hatching left and right). Do you really believe that? Then that's a prediction that's easily tested, isn't it?

It sure is. So let's pin those predictions to consequences, monetary or otherwise. This is called "betting". Just in case you have a problem with gambling, it doesn't have to be with money (more on that later). So come on guys, you seem pretty damn sure of yourselves. Why waste time huffing and puffing in comment sections? Bet me! Make some money off the sadly-duped-by-liberal-fascists RINOs like myself!

But I have yet to find a real man among the people I've challenged, because (maybe not surprisingly) these yahoos invariably find reasons not to take bets. (Note: if you are one of said yahoos and run across this and you want to bet about the 2010 elections, or any other nonsense, leave a comment and we'll make it happen, big guy.) As soon as there are consequences for the nonsense they're spouting, they back off - exactly the actions of someone who doesn't have the courage of their convictions. But of course they don't announce that they actually don't believe any of their own rantings. Here's how they avoid accountability:

- They don't respond. The coward's way, and the most popular among birthers.

- They quibble over details of the bet, then they back out. The lawyer's way.

- They suddenly discover they have moral problems with gambling.

If the last one is your reason, we don't have a problem; the payout doesn't have to be money. I'm happy to have you issue a public student the day after the 2010 elections to the effect that you were wrong, and that your hyperbole is untrue and harmful. I will do the same if I am wrong. If you still have a problem with that, then what you're really saying is, you don't want to ever be held accountable for anything you say. Just like my five year old cousin.

Any takers? Come on, don't everybody jump at once! I'm not expecting to be rushed with bet offers, because the birther crowd is all clueless cowards that don't really believe what they're saying. Here's your chance to prove me wrong, maybe make a few bucks, and show me there's a single real man among you.

[Added same day: I'm going to start keeping track going forward.]

Lawrence MooreThe Wayfarer Philosophy#3 - "I don't gamble."

If anyone actually has the cajones to stand behind what they believe, I'll put them in a separate list right here. So far there's no one to put in the list. Surprise!

Who Cares About Climate When You Can Weaken the Middle East

I don't post much about climate science if only because the blogosphere is chock full of it already. There seems to be resentment from some quarters that the public allows their opinions to be influenced by experts. To put it bluntly, this is strange. When you're managing your investments or buying property, do you allow experts to influence your opinion? Yes. In fact you might even pay them to do so! Why are other decisions any different?

I do have to admit that I'm puzzled at how passionate anti-anthropogenic-global-warming people are. (To be clear, by "anti" I mean people who don't believe that there is evidence for anthropogenic global warming.) I'm puzzled because I don't understand what people are worried about. In other words, does this faction think global warming conclusions are just misguided groupthink, or is it something more sinister with bigger consequences?

It seems to me the strongest argument related to fossil fuel use has nothing to do with climate, and everything to do with becoming energy independent from theocratic dictators in the Middle East. Do you like sending money to the Islamic kingdoms around the Gulf? Me neither. There are fewer foreign policy goals more conservative than reducing dependence on foreign powers.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

When China Rules the World

That's the title of Martin Jacques's book, reviewed in the Washington Post. I have not read the book, but the Post reviwer a) doesn't full share his conclusion and b) doesn't give details on how the author must answer (or ignore) well-informed economists' reasoned arguments that China will not ever see a per capita income like that of currently developed Western nations. Those would be the passages to look for.

My dream is that a vibrant, economically healthy China with free elections and free speech will step up to take its rightful place as one of the world's great nations. The way that the twenty-first century closes will largely depend on the resolution of that problem and the relationship of China and the West. Unfortunately it is not clear that this is the direction the Chinese government is currently taking or has any reason to be interested in, nor that Americans are holding our leaders accountable to make decisions (economically, militarily, strategically) that will put us in a better position in the future to encourage this development.

In American history, typically it's been conservatives who have faced these kinds of unpleasant realities and made the hard decisions, but today's conservatives seem more interested (for example) in applauding the Chinese government for punishing Uighur dissidents who happen to be Muslim, than in confronting a country with the combined military ambitions of the Soviet Union and the economic ambitions of Japan as it makes clear its contempt for individual liberty.

One of the Few Benefits of Bobby Mugabe's Reign

This Brazilian student found a rare bright side: who wants to be a trillionare?

Scientific Basis of Medicine in U.S. Undermined by Healthcare Bill

It seems like a no-brainer, but apparently some politicians, and a frightening number of the electorate, need to be reminded that the basis of medicine is science, and not quackery about chakras, the cures of the ancient Mayans, energy fields, or conspiracy theories about microchips and the number of the beast. (Big clue: there's a reason that medical progress occurred only after the Enlightement.) I highly recommend a visit to Science in Medicine because this is the only organization calling B.S. on superstition masquerading as medical practice.

In particular, there are concerns that the healthcare bill passing Congress at the moment has provisions for ineffective or outright unsafe forms of New Agey nonsense that not only can hurt patients, but drain taxpayers' wallets.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Strange Parallel Worlds of Fundamentalism and State-Owned Banks

Technology-minded fiscal conservatives are often puzzled that the most vociferous of laissez faire capitalism in the United States today are also the most unfriendly to secular thinking and church-state separation. If you understand and even celebrate the principle survival of the fittest and evolution in an economic sense, why insist that the same principles in other areas?

No less a capitalist than Adam Smith recognized that natural selection applies not only within economics, but to economic systems as a whole. In other words, if capitalism was a bad system, then it would be outcompeted by another system that would rise to replace it. Writing as Jane Galt, Megan McArdle paraphrased this by saying that capitalism is the the system to find the best system. On the other side of the issue we have William Jennings Bryant, who prosecuted a Mr. Scopes for teaching evolution in public schools. Do you know what one of Bryant's big arguments was for outlawing evolution? That it was teaching children to be more capitalistic. Guess what? He was dead right! If you're going to be consistent, you have to pick whether you want to be a creationist OR a capitalist.

The reason that we tech-minded fiscal conservatives can't just let the social conservatives have their fun is that, when the chips are down and they're forced to make a decision about which is more important - capitalism or Scripture - the social cons usually throw out capitalism, and with it, America's business and technological edge.

Foreign Policy Magazine has an interesting article on 2009's top dead thinkers, and the focus is on economists - specifically on Austrian school economists whose prophetic writings about our current financial woes have been misunderstood through modern-day cheerleaders (capitalists wrecking capitalism) rather than by people genuinely trying to understand economic theory and make decisions that are rational in terms of material betterment. And the connections to Darwin are clear in the article. The money-line is the last sentence:

"This economic system," Schumpeter wrote in his earlier The Theory of Economic Development, "cannot do without the ultima ratio [final argument] of the complete destruction of those existences which are irretrievably associated with the hopelessly unadapted." Indeed, he saw that the economy remained saddled with too many of "those firms that are unfit to live." That could serve as a painfully accurate description of the Western financial system today. [Moreso China's banks, but that's another article. - Tom]

Yet all those allusions to evolution and fitness to live serve as a reminder of the dead thinker we should all have spent at least part of 2009 venerating: Charles Darwin (1809-1882). This year was not only his bicentennial but the 150th birthday of his paradigm-shifting On the Origin of Species. Just reflect on these sentences from Darwin's seminal work:

"All organic beings are exposed to severe competition."

"As more individuals are produced than can possibly survive, there must in every case be a struggle for existence."

"Each organic being ... has to struggle for life and to suffer great destruction.... The vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply."

Thanks in no small measure to the efforts of his modern heirs, notably Richard Dawkins, we are all Darwinians now -- except in the strange parallel worlds of fundamentalist Christianity and state-guaranteed finance.

Special Interest Groups Pressuring Companies

One of my pet peeves is when some whiny special interest group decides that because something offends them (a movie, a TV show, a book, etc.), that nobody else should be allowed to see it. Guys, you don't like it, don't buy it.

Fortunately, we live in a part of the world with free enterprise and free speech. Unfortunately, when the groups are big enough, they can scare the companies in question into complying with their agendas. The Golden Compass Trilogy - or what was to be a trilogy anyway - is a perfect example. The first movie is a lot of fun, and even if fantasy kid-stuff isn't your thing, it's still worth pointing out that Nicole Kidman has never looked so good.

Now, according to classic Western-looking actor Sam Elliott,
the second and third films have been cancelled, not for money issues (the first made $380 million!) but for a stupid reason:

"Asked what had happened to the two remaining films, [Sam] Elliott, 65, who played a Texan aeronaut called Lee Scoresby in the film, said: 'The Catholic Church happened to The Golden Compass, as far as I'm concerned.'

It's up to each of us whether we buy a product, not a government or a special interest group. If it's free enterprise versus the organization that practically invented intrusive government, well, I think you know which one should, and will, win in the end.

Which Republican Congresspeople are Brave Enough answer a yes-no question, and stand by it? There's an easy way to resolve all this distracting foolishness about birth certificates. Despite all the evidence, politicians who question the President's birth are contemptible enough, but even more cowardly are would-be leaders who won't commit to a position. It's really pretty easy. Either you do believe something, or you don't. If you're a no-nonsense man or woman of the people, why not a simple yes or no?

Here it is: which Republicans in Congress are willing to openly say (or have said) that Obama is a U.S. citizen? Which have openly said that he's not, and stuck to it? Who has flip-flopped when it was convenient to avoid offending people?

As a small-time conservative blogger, I'll go first. President Obama, despite any of his mistaken policies, is a natural-born U.S. Citizen. Of course this makes me a RINO, an infiltrator, etc. etc. yada yada any of the helpful terms that the inmates running the GOP asylum use as the evaporative cooling of IQ's continues. But I'm happy to be thrown out of any club where that's an anti-shibboleth. Another reason that you can apparently get kicked out of the GOP today: the ability to win a general election.

The U.S. Should Build a Stronger Alliance With India

I've often imagined Colin Powell on 9/11, going to Bush and saying "We have to call Pakistan now." As we all know by now, Pakistan has a long border with Afghanistan, and at the time they were China's forced ally in the soft tension against India. On top of it they're an extremely volatile Muslim country with nuclear weapons. Having them on our side during a war in Afghanistan, at least nominally, was top priority.

Does it seem strange that we continue to have trouble with militants emerging from Pakistan, either to go back to their strongholds in Afghanistan or to try to destabilize our few democratic allies in the region by having its out-of-control ex-military terrorize Mumbai? Has Pakistan's government even inched closer to a respectable open democracy in that time? Or is it still at best frustrating, at worst terrifying, that after years of support from the U.S., this Muslim nuclear junta still menaces its neighbors and tolerates Taliban fanatics crossing its borders?

We've been neglecting our alliance with India for far too long, and India has noticed. India is an absolute key not only to pressuring Pakistan, but to shore up Asia for markets and democracy against China. As a pluralistic democracy, they're a natural fit (as Fareed Zakaria is correct in frequently pointing out) and the links between the American technological establishment and India, particularly Silicon Valley, are another excellent connection which we don't seem to be cultivating. (Do you know China has an office for coordinating expats? Smart! Where is our own effort to encourage connections between individuals whose national interests align?) And the prediction by many economists that India's GDP will overtake China's in the twenty-first century adds further weight to this argument.

The Obama administration has so far ignored this opportunity to be part of the Asian century, as opposed to tied down in parts of the world that will not be players on the world stage for a long, long time. Encouraging and accomplishing this could be a real win for those Republicans who understand that in the twenty-first century no one can afford to ignore what goes on outside our borders (I hoped 9/11 would have cured us of that). Another win for Republicans that Democrats couldn't afford to be seen opposing would be a VAT in addition for dialing back and simplifying income tax, something which Bruce Bartlett has been promoting.

To put a point on it, the loudest voices on the right currently seem a lot more concerned with complaining than fixing, at the expense of ever winning an election. If I have to choose whether to associate with do-nothing, spoil-the-majority-party-for-the-point-of-spoiling them whiners, or winners with solutions trying to get something done, I will go with the winners. Always. And winners have solutions. Outrage never fixed anything.

Why Do We Tolerate China's Censorship Outside of China?

The behavior of Chinese government security forces on the streets of the U.S. and other free countries should have been enough, but now they're doing it at sober indoor functions. OpenNet Iniative Asia is a forum to promote freedom of expression, particularly online, and recently took place in Sharm, Egypt. There was a poster about China's Great Firewall, and in response to pressure from Chinese authorties, the organizers caved and did the predictable thing - and it's all on video. This just happened last month.

I typically accept that the Chinese government is rational enough not to want to take over the world, but actions like this make this more difficult to believe.

Heroines of the Month: Pissed off Korean Ladies

This is the first open dissent in North Korea that I have seen. A good sign, even if too late for thousands.

Those Pro-Individual-Liberty Bastards in California

Well doesn't Libertarian flagship Reason magazine seem smug that marijuana legalization is coming up for a vote in California next year? For that matter, so am I. And so should you be. Why are so many on the right so eager to outsource our judgment of what's good or bad for us to the Federal government?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Red Dawn Remake: The Chinese Are Coming

I can envision two reactions to this from Americans who don't pay much attention to foreign affairs. One is: "Wow, I guess I hadn't really thought about how China really is a world power now. I should demand that my elected leaders take notice of this and make decisions to ensure that America's economic and technical preeminence remains unchallenged while encouraging progress toward democracy in a country with whom we share an interest in being a trade partner rather than a military adversary."

Another possible reaction is: "China is evil! Even though as a tea-partier I spend my day ranting about the inherent evils of government I am constitutionally unable to distinguish between a people and their government! Rather than trying to coexist as trade partners and encouraging moves toward democracy and openness we should attack them! I'm gonna beat up the next Asian-lookin' guy I see!" Of course, the first reaction would be better.

Either way, the movie will come out in 2010. Filming has begun in Michigan (go here for Chinese troops on the streets of Pontiac).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What Does Your Ideal World Look Like?

Next time you hear someone complaining about politics and the state of the world - you know the type, long on moral outrage, short on ideas - ask them: what is the end goal of what you believe? What's the point of it all?

I suspect and hope that for most of us the ideal world looks very similar, and we just have different priorities and methods for getting there.

The following three quotes are an effective reminder of the kind of America and world it's worth struggling for, and in 2009 they seem positively revolutionary.

We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.

This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

- President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the start of his first term, 16 April 1953

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

- President Dwight D. Eisenhower, farewell address, 17 January 1961

President Eisenhower's concern about the military industrial complex...his words have unfortunately come true. He was worried that priorities are set by what benefits corporations as opposed to what benefits the country.

- John McCain, 2005, Why We Fight

China and Info-phobia

No one was surprised that Chinese censors blocked Obama's call for internet freedom. I imagine plenty of Chinese surfers heard it anyway, and evaluated it for themselves. This is the same government that condemned Western press coverage of the Iranian's people struggle to be heard as irresponsible rabble-rousing.

This is the same government that claims it is trying to modernize China (it's better than before, but still behind Guatemala in per capita income), and yet it treats its citizens as school children who have to be protected from the nasty realities of the world; it's also the same government that has increasingly regressed to a form of Han nationalism, regarding Tibetans and Uighurs among others as aliens who should be grateful for their (forced) homestead inside the Middle Kingdom. (And where are the voices of the always-overheated American Right calling attention to injustice in Xinjiang and Tibet? Disappointingly few and far between.)

What, exactly, is the Chinese Communist Party afraid will happen when China's citizens are given unfettered access to the world at large? Free speech and elections go a long way to improving lives and economies. A country ready to take on global responsibilities doesn't have such insecurities.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

ARG Profile #1: Randy Brogdon

Randy Brogdon is an ARG: an Asshole Ruining the GOP. He's an excellent example of what's driving young people and intellectuals further away from the Republican Party. Good riddance you say? Sure, just like that seat in NY-23. And Arlen Specter. Who knows how many more "victories" the ARGs will have?

But back to Randy Brogdon - you want some examples of his assholery? First and foremost, how about making veiled threats to secede from the country. If there's something more anti-American than literally trying to destroy the Union, please let me know what it is. What has his panties in a bunch? Brogdon considers it an overextension of Federal authority for Oklahoma to receive stimulus money? (I'm sure he could arrange to send any funds for his district back to Washington. Strangely, he seems not to have done so.)

Randy Brogdon also wants America to lose its technical and scientific edge and fail in the global marketplace. Make no mistake - he wants China's education system to pass our own, because he's openly anti-education. He thinks you should have to teach your kids at home, but that's okay, since he also thinks you should be able to teach kids whatever you want - unless it's plate tectonics, the germ theory of disease, or that the Earth is round. (Think I'm kidding? Here it is.) And this guy is running for governor of Oklahoma. If that happens, a generation of people will grow up thinking of Randy Brogdon when they think "Republican". That's why he's an ARG.

If you're comfortable throwing all that away so Randy Brogdon can use government regulation to force his weird Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs on your kids, then hey. Your call. If letting him wreck America's technical competitiveness as China catches up doesn't bother you at all, then Brogdon and the other ARGs are your best choice.

China Says: Well Look What Happens When You Can't Control Your Spending

Instead of trying to get our biggest competitor, and the other most important country in the world to shape up into a democracy, Obama spends his time telling them the dollar and our banks will be okay.

It's a forced move. We have a huge deficit. There's no point in anyone's spending any more time Bush-bashing because it's not productive, but it bears emphasizing to the tea-partiers: this deficit didn't magically appear on 20 January this year, and where were you for the previous eight years? But it bears greater emphasizing to everyone else that we have to do something to fix this (like not pass a massively expensive health care bill to add to the fire) or we will soon have greater problems than not being able to encourage reform in the biggest nation on the planet. Bruce Bartlett has one solution that - forgive me - any Republican with balls would be getting behind.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Handbook for Sabotaging America's Technical Edge

There are so many nutcases out there (vaccine denalists and anti-science-eduction types being just two) that it's becoming easier to see the pattern they all follow.

Somebody even boiled it down into a rulebook. Of course they're being sarcastic, but it's scary that it's so widespread these days that you can recognize the general plan they all follow.

Why aren't these people seen as what they are - prime enemies of American democracy and enterprise?

Thoughts on Fort Hood from an Ex-Muslim

Ibn Warraq is a fellow at the Center for Inquiry and the author of Why I am Not a Muslim, the story of his rejection of Islam after subjecting it to rational thought.

The mainstream media will do anything to avoid pinning the shooter's actions on his extremist religion. Warraq's worthy comments on this matter
include the following:

The [mainstream median] tell us that the mindset of Major Hasan remains a "mystery," yet his Jihadist intentions are there on the surface for everyone not paralyzed by political correctness to see. According to CNN (Nov. 7), on the morning of the shootings Hasan gave copies of the Koran to his neighbors. According to the Associated Press (Nov. 6), soldiers reported that Hasan shouted out "Allahu Akbar" [God is Great] – the war cry of all Jihadis – before firing off over a hundred rounds with two pistols in a center where some 300 unarmed soldiers had lined up for vaccines and eye one filed a formal complaint about Hasan’s views and comments for fear of appearing discriminatory -- in other words, out of political correctness.

There's a difference between tolerance and obfuscation. Religious extremism will unfortunately always exist. Let's not aid and abet its excesses by looking the other way when it strikes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Azerbaijan Government Punishes Assault Victims

Of course, there's more to it than that: these particular assault victims were satirists (pretty funny ones actually) who got attacked in a cafe. It's funny how the pattern is always the same with governments who don't want to hear public criticism of their stupid decisions - all the government in question ever does is associate them with a crime (their own or someone else's), and it doesn't matter whether they're the victim or even whether they're acquitted - they're still punished.

In this case, Azerbaijan's citizens would do well to recognize that their government is apparently nostalgic for the days of the Soviet Union.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mark Todd: Hero of the Fort Hood Shootings

[Added later: The story was later clarified that it was Sgt. Mark Todd who brought down Minor Hassan. Get ready to hear extremist babbling in the trial.]

MSM is of course doing the predictable dance around the obvious-to-everyone-but-them fact that the Fort Hood shooter was a Muslim extremist. This is bad for several reasons, not least among them that, for reasons of his twisted faith, it's beyond cool that he was shot by a female police officer. If he's horribly dishonored by that and his pride wounded in a way that can't be described to someone not of his culture, after what he did, so much the better.

If you're offended that I'm gloating about that, then maybe you need to get rid of your stone age religion, or stop defending the harmful primitive superstitions of other people.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Libertarian Party Victories in Pennsylvania, Iowa

Seems like the LP has done particularly well in local races in IA and PA. This is great news, and nothing to sneeze at if you're a conservative looking for a place to make your vote count - considering that the GOP is well on its way to becoming a regional party.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Brilliant Democrat Double-Agent in NY-23 Succeeds in Mission

If I were an evil Democrat (redundant?) here's what I would do. I would get someone (let's just call him "D.H.") to enter a political race, make overheated substanceless claims that the current Republican contender is a phony leftist socialist Kenyan Nazi, and then throw the election so the Democrat wins. And what's best is that devout Red State comrades would clap each other on the back, insisting that this was really a strategic victory, unable to see that what has just happened resulted in the loss of a GOP Congressional seat. Wouldn't that be devious? And it's so crazy, it just might work!

After I'd tested my dasterdly plan out once to prove that it could work, then I would set about doing the same thing to other possibly successful Republican candidates and raise money by calling them phony leftist socialist Kenyan Nazis. Like for example, Charlie Crist (yes, the same guy who was on the short list to be McCain's VP. As you know John McCain was all about picking leftist socialist Kenyan Nazis.)

Remember during the Democratic primary when Hillary's supporters were saying they would never vote for Obama in the general election? Brilliant strategy guys! Whatever your righteous motivation, you're sabotaging your own party. Lucky for us, the GOP would never allow such a thing.

End sarcasm: since I just moved, I had to re-register to vote. I can no longer say I'm Libertarian with a capital L. I registered GOP so I can make a difference in primaries by voting for the socially moderate candidates. I look forward to the day the Red State Central Politburo comes to knock on my door and throw me back out of the party.

Chinese Mineral Mercantilism Called Out at WTO

Like their mineral interests in Africa and the Middle East, their steep export tariffs and the underlying policy that motivates them are worth paying attention to. Fortunately the US and EU are doing so, but this story isn't getting much play in the North American press.

It's worth paying attention to trade disputes with China more than with, say, Europe, because the EU is composed of parliamentary democracies (which make decisions which are rationally beneficial for larger groups of people, internal and otherwise) and with whom we have a military alliance. This is not the case with China; the game is different and the rules change accordingly.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Biggest Cajones Award: Mahmoud Vahidnia

At the end of an address at a major university in Iran by the "Supreme Leader", a student started asking seriously confrontational questions. If only everybody in the world were equally prepared to call bullshit, and to hell with the consequences.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

This is What Censorship Looks Like

A female journalist in Saudi Arabia got 60 lashes, oddly enough, even after the charges being dismissed. And those charges? Her guests talked about sex on the air. Her guests didn't get off scot-free either.

This comes as no surprise in backward, medieval theocracy that's our ally only because we buy their oil (for now). This is why, in the civilized world, we keep church and state separate.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Thanks Jenny McCarthy: Anti-Vaccine Cult Taking Its Toll

If Bill Maher's or the Huffington Post's anti-science paranoia isn't irritating enough, how about John Kerry? Or Chris Dodd or Robert Kennedy? It's one thing when your David-Koresh look-alike neighbor is refusing to get his kids vaccinated, but when it's U.S. Senators? A parent's right to endanger his or her kid's health is anything but a clear moral right. How about their right to endanger your kid's health? That is clearly not their right.

Wired has a great (but infuriating) article about the anti-vaccine nutcases and a physician who's dedicated his life to eliminating lethal childhood diseases, only to be attacked by the anti-medicine fringe.

There are two contemptible things about the anti-medicine crowd. First is their stubborn inability to base their opinions on the actual data (or total lack thereof) - an important consideration, when it's the lives of children we're talking about. The second is their embarrassing inability to even begin to understand the business that they think is behind the conspiracy (big surprise there). As the article puts it, "...the suggestion that pharmaceutical companies make vaccines hoping to pocket huge profits is ludicrous to Offit. Vaccines, after all, are given once or twice or three times in a lifetime. Diabetes drugs, neurological drugs, Lipitor, Viagra, even Rogaine — stuff that a large number of people use every day — that’s where the money is."

What's most embarrassing about all this is that the nuttiness is contagious, and it's spread from the left to the conservative end of the political spectrum. At least, people who call themselves conservatives; time was when if you were a conservative, you were on the side of the facts and the cold hard science, not media talking heads and celebrity open mouths like Jenny McCarthy. As I write this, I'm imagining righteous emails from pretend-conservatives demanding "How dare you question (fill in name of Dr. Phil-clone)!"

For the anti-vaccine parents, I have my own theory about you: your argument boils down to nothing more than not being able to handle your kids crying when they get shots, and not wanting to have to explain to little Alec why it's still necessary. The anti-vaccine movement is bad parenting with spokespeople, period.

Unfortunately, no amount of reason or facts will change Ms. McCarthy's position - and why should they? A retired MTV hostess has gotten herself in a position where parents are ignoring expert physicians and listening to her. Backing down in the face of overwhelming evidence would cause her embarrassment and hurt feelings. And as we know, avoiding that - especially in a celebrity - is far more important than saving lives.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Curious Libertarian Taste in Oppression

Briefly: the unifying theme of libertarianism is that the basic unit of human beings is and must always be the individual; that groups are only associations of individuals; and that human society is fairest and works best when the rights of individuals are guaranteed, and the influence of group decisions on individuals is limited. There are assumptions which must be made to support this, and implications which fall out of this. E.g., respectively, that individuals are capable of acting in their rational self-interest, and that self-organizing individually-driven phenomena like capitalism are better than central authorities at encouraging happiness and allocating resources. That's why adherents of a political philosophy are in the (unexpected, when you think about it) position of more often reading works by economists than politicians, much like atheists often read biologists.

What's interesting to me as a libertarian is that my fellow travellers occasionally develop a clear and often unexamined preference for who they would rather have their rights as individuals oppressed by. In the U.S. this preference has traditionally expressed itself in terms of the legalisms surrounding State versus Federal powers. Kerry Howley's excellent piece in Reason widens the scope in pointing out libertarian blind spots: "I am disturbed by an inverse form of state worship I encounter among my fellow skeptics of government power. This is the belief that the only liberty worth caring about is liberty reclaimed from the state...As former Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints leader Warren Jeffs can tell you, it’s possible to be an anti-government zealot with no interest whatsoever in individual liberty. If authoritarian fundamentalist compounds are your bag, the words personal agency will hold no magic for you...Not every threat to liberty is backed by a government gun." To be sure, the State and Federal powers question is not one the Constitution or its interpreters have taken lightly, and rightly so. But legal documents do not establish morality, they reflect it, and they are inevitably incomplete.

That is why, if (for example) your child were enslaved, I doubt very much you would care whether it's the authority of the Federal government allowing them to be taken away in chains, or the great State of Mississippi, regardless of whether this had happened before or after the Thirteenth Amendment was passed. To give an example of a debate that actually does have some currency: I couldn't care less whether my kids were forced to face Mecca every morning in school by Barack Hussein Obama, or to pray to Jesus by the governor of Texas. Even Ron Paul falls prey to this fallacy. I respect his Constitutional literalism, but if I had come to the same interpretation as Dr. Paul, I wouldn't be so quick to throw up my hands at the Founders' oversight and concede a States' rights to oppress its residents. I would point out the problem and suggest a fix. I don't care whether it's the Feds or a city council that's treading upon my liberty, and if there's a legal document that gives them the authority to do so, then it needs to be corrected.

It's both a difficult and exciting time to be a libertarian, largely because some of the economic events of the past year have exposed some of our unquestioned assumptions. (What do you call a libertarian in favor of the bail-out? A Democrat. I disagree, but that's another post.) There were political games that had sent libertarians into the wilderness in the years previous, particularly - and let me get out my dead horse-beating stick - the Bush administration's dedication to States' rights and shrinking the power of Federal government. Except of course where spending and deficits were concerned. And medical marijuana. And education, gay marriage, stem cell research, and abortion. But on everything else, assuming there is anything else, we were assured they were pro-States' rights.

One of the newly exposed assumptions is the role of the financial sector in a stable economy. Let the banks and automakers fail, lots of libertarians (including me at the time) said - though many softer libertarians now ask their colleagues pointedly whether things didn't work out for the better, at least at the moment, as a result of the bailouts. The recognition here is that in our current system, large financial institutions have power, a capacity for a group to exert involuntary power over individuals. This is not an indictment of the free market or the financial system, but a recognition of the distorting power that such massive, centralized institutions hold. What puts this question in a category beyond that of State versus Federal oppression is that at least you can vote for governors and Presidents. This is not the case for Citibank unless you're a shareholder, and even then the representation is not one person, one vote.

I do not feel personally oppressed by the big players in the financial sector, but it's the height of naivete to think that such enormous not-publicly-accountable institutions are unable and unwilling to warp markets and poison the political process, making a whole generation of Americans worry that capitalism is broken. I'm often tempted to add disclaimers when I write critically of the role we've allowed large institutions to play in our economy, but just like no one cares whether it's California or the United States exercising eminent domain on their property, no one cares whether it's a hyperactive bureacracy or a huge private bank that grinds their economy to a halt. What's good for GM or Mississippi is not always what's good for the country or the individual. I do what I can to advance the cause of capitalism not for its own sake but because I think it's the system that materially and emotionally benefits me personally without being immoral to others, and fortunately it seems to have this effect for lots of other people. The very moment I reach a different conclusion and find a better system, I will start supporting the new system. Market fundamentalist rhetoric (i.e., market failure apologists) gets this exactly backward. We have to save capitalism from the capitalists, and for the people. Markets do not exist without lawful institutions (non-market commons) to support them, and arguing the we should allow private institutions to distort those is a legalistic, market-fundamentalist fallacy. Adam Smith and Hayek made this case bluntly and today Simon Johnson makes it in the context of developing-world financial sector patterns afflicting the U.S. Who cares who's taking away your liberty or the system that it depends on, whether it's a senator or a banker?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Anti-Vaccination Nuts

Bill Maher has been running his mouth lately about a shadowy conspiracy he thinks he sees between various shadowy forces in government and big business. Frankly this anxiety strikes me as the dressed-up adult version of "I don't wanna go to the doctor because I'm scared of needles!". It's the same excuse people make for not taking their blood pressure (or other) medicine: "I don't want to become dependent on it." (Translation: they're babies and they just don't like taking pills or can't remember, and they can't admit it.)

In brief, Maher (and many other nutcases) has watched too many science fiction movies with Evil Corporations, and thinks that the H1N1 vaccine being rushed to Americans right now is just a plot by the government, doctors, and the pharmaceutical industry to keep us sick for profit.

Fortunately, Michael Shermer has taken Maher to task, and the odd inconsistency in Maher's position boils down to this:

"...Bill, please consider the odd juxtaposition of your enthusiastic support for health care reform and government intervention into this aspect of our medical lives, with your skepticism that these same people—when it comes to vaccinations and disease prevention—suddenly lose their sense of morality along with their medical training. You excoriate the political right for not trusting the government with our health, and then in the next breath you inadvertently join their chorus when you denounce vaccinations, thereby adding fodder for their ideological cannons. Please remember that it’s the same people administrating both health care and vaccination programs."

In the interest of full disclosure, as a health care worker, I will be receiving the H1N1 vaccine in a few weeks. I wish I was getting it sooner.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Saudi Arabia wants compensation if the rest of the world succeeds in lowering their oil consumption, and they're trying to get the other oil-producers to sign onto their plan. This situation is best described with an acronym, "TFB" ("too bad").

For progressives: do you support such compensation? If not, why not?

For conservatives: does this make you any less dismissive of efforts to decrease foreign energy dependence?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Political Blogging and Science Fiction

Locke is not a good choice. Clearly Tom Paine is much better.

Seriously though, I'm glad finally somebody alluded to this. Orson Scott Card's classic Ender's Game, very early on, you have the thought that he was half-right. Much like Arthur C. Clarke, who predicted we'd all have free long-distance by the first of January 2000. He was half-right - we have peer-to-peer communication, just not (usually) with a phone (unless you set up Skype).

I also have a slightly more optimistic (though no less cynical) view of the efficacy of the blogosphere than Mr. XKCD does.

There should be a list of science fiction for conservatives. I mean, outside of the complete works of Heinlein.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The GOP is Officially Out of the Small Government Game

I enjoy these occasional reminders that the GOP is officially out of the small government game. The GOP is suddenly a champion of Medicare, a smaller version of one possible incarnation of Obama's healthcare package.

Possible explanations:

1) The GOP has always been at war with Eastasia I mean uh, always supported Medicare.

2) The GOP sees a way to pander to scared senior citizens and is eager to ignore its supposed principles to get votes.

I have no problem with maneuvering for votes, but come on guys - at least go through the motions of pretending to stand for some principles, like small government.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Africans in China

Great (but 1+ year-old) post about Africans living and trading in China, here.

That people from previously economically disparate parts of the globe are connected economically is an excellent sign of the rise of the rest that Fareed Zakharia points out and that is emphatically good for everyone involved.

I frequently write about China's growing influence in Africa. Increased trade relations are good, but it bears keeping in mind that a) China is driven by a need for resources - just like the U.S. is, and b) China provides aid to horrible dictators regardless of their human rights record, and doesn't help any effort to make the world a better place. Consequently I'm happier to see African interests being served in China than the other way around, as is usually the case.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Shop at Whole Foods

Whole Foods just shot up a notch in my opinion. I will be shopping there this week. You should too, if you want to break a leftist strike triggered by the CEO daring to suggest non-public options for healthcare reform.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

China Withdraws Censorship Software From Personal Computers

This is good news, and a great step in the right direction. But they're mandating that access providers internet cafes and popular websites - i.e., information access points - continue to use the software. China's becoming an information-based society is good for everybody. So how about doing away with censorship entirely?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pick Your Side: GE or O'Reilly

Which'll it be: a venerated American corporation that has changed the face of technology and industry, or a loudmouthed goon trying to keep his ratings up? Your call.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nifty Gadget for Trade Data

Ran across this gadget today. You can look at imports, exports or balance by product category, or all at once.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The "Public Option" for Healthcare and Innovation

In yet another spot-on piece about potential huge mistakes in healthcare reform, Megan McArdle addresses one of the more salient arguments: what will be the impact on medical innovation?

Now, maybe government institutions could be made to produce innovations; I certainly think it's worth trying Dean Baker's suggestion that we should let the government try to set up an alternate scheme for drug discovery. Prizes also seem promising. But I want to see them work first, not after we've permanently broken the system. The one industry where the government is the sole buyer, defense, does not have an encouraging record of cost-effective, innovative procurement

...why don't you tell some person who has a terminal condition that sorry, we can't afford to find a cure for their disease? There are no particularly happy choices here. The way I look at it, one hundred percent of the population is going to die of something that we can't currently cure, but might in the future . . . plus the population of the rest of the world, plus every future generation. If you worry about global warming, you should worry at least as hard about medical innovation.

Putting the question in terms of the extreme case is still illustrative: being able to afford all healthcare now at the expense of stopping all healthcare improvements later is not a trade most Americans would make. And we're clearly not even able to afford all healthcare now.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

North Korea's Exports: Nuclear Fearmongering, Holocausts, Light Beer

A country that is doing its best to outstrip the nightmares of Auschwitz and Tuol Seng is now trying to sell you beer - with bad commercials. Do not touch their products. You'd be supporting one of the worst dictatorships in history.

States' Rights and The Recession

"...Trinity County, on the brink of financial collapse, has cut the number of sheriff's officers from 20 to 13. Sometimes no one is available to patrol the 3,200 square miles of mostly forested countryside in Trinity County, where Sheriff Lorrac Craig said drug cartels are running rampant."

They're talking about marijuana cultivation in rural California:

"This year's multibillion-dollar crop is on pace to be the largest in history, said state officials...The illicit crops are believed to be hidden on ridges and in gullies in California's 31 million acres of forest, with most being grown in state and national parks."

Let's think about this. Billions of dollars worth of a plant are growing in counties too broke to enforce the law. People come from out of the country, grow it, and send the money back home. The substance is less harmful than alcohol. Could there be a more obvious solution? Legalize it, and tax it. The city of Oakland just passed a law to tax medical marijuana (which I voted for) and the world hasn't ended yet.

There are a lot of pretend conservatives willing to sacrifice individual liberty to the state - for example, a common objection is that if California legalizes marijuana, it will flow into other states. Yes! Just like Jack Daniels flows out of Tennessee and into your house - or not, if you don't want any. I would actually look forward to the fight that would happen with other states and the Federal government over this, so we could see who the real states' rights advocates are, and who just likes to pay lip service.

Speaking of lip service, Bill O'Reilly would have you believe that from drug legalization, it's one step to cannibalism. Check out some of the "work" that he's done on it, interspersed with clips of every day life in Amsterdam:

What a nightmare! As you can see, marijuana truly does erode the fabric of morality.

If O'Reilly wanted to look at the effects of drug decriminalization, he should have looked at Portugal, which has decriminalized, basically, all drugs. Yes. Really. And things have improved. Don't take my word for it - look at what the Cato Institute has to say.

Hugo Chavez, Inept Imperialist

Hugo Chavez's military has been caught supplying weapons to Colombian drug militias. Weapons captured from FARC by the Colombian military were traced from their Swedish manufacturer to Venezuela. And then to FARC. And it's not even the first time.

His propaganda ministers are quick to make cliched remarks about U.S. interference, but even Interpol has been involved in this problem.

I'd like to suggest to leftist progressives in the U.S. sympathetic to Chavez because (you wonder if it's only because) he talked tough to Bush - and to Latin Americans who think he's doing a favor to the continent and encouraging solidarity - that Chavez's record speaks for itself.

- Hugo Chavez supplies weapons to criminal militias in neighboring countries (see above). These militias want one thing, money, and badly degrade living conditions for marginal people living in rural Colombia.

- Hugo Chavez actively suppresses free speech (try forming an opposition party).

- Hugo Chavez actively suppresses free elections (vote against him, lose your job).

- Hugo Chavez was one of few international leaders who saw fit to congratulate China on their pre-Olympics crackdown in Tibet.

Power to the people, right? Freedom! Right?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Saving Capitalism from Capitalists Again

There's a tacit position taken by many conservatives, including many fiscal conservatives, that goes something like this: calling BS on any trend that increases profits in this quarter for corporate American (or even for one specific company) is unpatriotic, and the work of liberal Satan-worshippers. Any suggestion that the masses should not buy-buy-buy at all costs (literally) is blasphemy.

Guess what? We now have a generation growing up that wonders if capitalism is broken. Conservative politicians taking a more circumspect line on moderation and consumption and yes, savings (that thing your grandparents did, and China does?) would maybe have made our current straits a little less dire. Yet this have-no-other-gods-before-consumption attitude is the invisible backbone of conservative resistance to punish those who manipulate markets (like Enron), or those who support green energy (and not American oil companies), or those who would investigate no-bid contracts being awarded to gigantic government contractors. It's tough to say you favor capitalism when you obstruct criticism of practices that in the aggregate destroy capital. This is what Adam Smith meant when he said that you shouldn't let business-people make laws. They're not going to make laws that favor business in general; they're going to make laws that favor their own business specifically. To the now-indignant businessperson reading this: you would be honest if you got to make those laws, really? If you're that naive about human nature, you've got a long way to go before you're a conservative.

The Economist has an incredible graph that shows the divergence between American consumption and savings starting around 1980. That trend has not been good for America. What are conservatives going to do to reverse it?