Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ron Paul is in Bruno

I never thought that "Austrian economics" would be abused quite in this way. How sacreligious. Just be ready.

Barry Goldwater on Separation of Church and State

These words from Barry Goldwater, founder of modern American conservatism:

There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent.

If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in 'A,' 'B,' 'C,' and 'D.' Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of 'conservatism.'

- Barry Goldwater, Congressional Record, September 16, 1981.
Via Andrew Sullivan.

John Derbyshire's Case Against Marriage Equality

As a strongly secular libertarian and conservative, I normally agree with Derbyshire; in particular I admire his writing on China. But I disagree with his secular case against gay marriage.

In an ideal libertarian world, the government would have no power to say anything about who you choose to spend your life with - it's a contract between two people, and between them only. Not coincidentally, Ayn Rand revivalists, it's this relationship, among the most basic of human bonds, that is at the center of her first work of fiction Anthem, which later inspired works as far ranging as Rush albums to Star Trek episodes.

Miss California 2009 is among those making a faith-based argument against other people's right to marry. She's honest, but she's wrong to do so. Whether or not you are religious, if you accept our Constitution as the law of the land, that's a non-starter. When government or other citizens tell me what to do, they damn well better have a real-world, proveable, factual rationale for doing so before I even listen. That's what Jefferson meant when he talked about not caring what his neighbor did, so long as his neighbor didn't break his leg or pick his pocket. So if someone tells me I'm not allow to drink alcohol or eat pork, I ask what's their reason? If it's the Qu'ran, thanks but no thanks, and if you need me I'll be at the ballgame with a beer and a hot dog (and calling them a mush-head, a character defect which conservatives don't suffer gladly). Same for you, Miss California: you have every right to speak your mind, but none to tell me who to marry, so long as you can't offer any factual, concrete reasons.

Derbyshire does try to offer factual, concrete reasons against gay marriage, and while I disagree, this is at least the right way to go about making your argument. What I will say is this: while I support marriage equality, the current political climate is so full of reflexive partisan rhetoric that anyone making an honest, factual inquiry about the effects of gay marriage on civilization is likely to be branded a homophobe. (See how I put a disclaimer immediately in front of that statement?) But it's worth asking these questions. It's naive to automatically assume that there will be no impacts from such a seismic shift in the makeup of families.

At the same time - and this is critical - if you're a conservative, the burden of proof is always on those who would take a freedom away. Until you can show the facts of exactly how gay marriage hurts other people, it should be allowed. The similarity of anti-gay marriage arguments to anti-interracial marriage arguments makes me suspicious that there are no such facts under the histrionics. There have been studies, and kids raised by same-sex partners are not any more likely to themselves be gay, and these kids do just as well as kids from traditional marriages. This isn't some lobbying organization spinning data to suit their purposes - that link goes to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Doctors.

As a conservative, I ask that we all separate our personal faith from our political demands on others. Using the government to deny people freedom without evidence is not a good habit to get into, especially for a conservative. When you have facts, show them to us. Until then, support marriage equality.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Huffington Post Spreading H1N1 Disinformation

Again the Huffington Post muddies the waters of medicine and science in service of some wishy-washy liberal woo. This isn't the first time. You wonder if the interest in herbal and homeopathic witch doctor superstitions comes from a business interest, or just an agenda based on a dislike of hard science. In any event, this time, they've giving space to particularly dim bulb who tells people to get enemas to protect against swine flu. Normally it's just laughable, but during a potential pandemic this is incredibly irresponsible. Once you read the HuffPo piece you may care to read this particularly vicious and effective debunking of their nonsense.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Specters of the Past: Unintended Consequences

When you choose an action, you are also choosing its consequences. The social conservative shepherds of movement conservatism are finding that out today.

I'm a long-time fan of Arlen Specter. I'm a fan in general of what social conservatives call RINOs (as opposed to what Eisenhower-Nixon-Reagan libertarian leaning Republicans call them, which is Republicans.) It's probably not an accident that RINOs hail from the Northeast - yes, those states comprising a hated bastion of elites that have all that patriotic history and all those excellent centers of higher education, and that number among the minority of states that not only pay their own tax bills, but most of the rest of the country's. (Hey Oklahoma and Mississippi - you are tax parasites on California and Massachusetts.)

I'm originally from Pennsylvania, and Specter is well-liked in general in the state, even if among the remaining Republicans, Toomey seems prettier. Note that Specter did his best to shore up his support in the GOP before he switched - he visited some of the state's conservative strongholds, like he did earlier this year my own home city of Reading, claiming that a social conservative would get slaughtered in the general election. Next year, Pat Toomey will get a chance to prove Specter's point.

So why did Specter leave? One possibility is to take at face value his statement that the GOP has moved socially further to the right than his constituents will tolerate, not to mention his own principles, and that further to the right does not equal better. He cites stem cell research, which is a perfect example of an issue on which movement conservatism is making irrational decisions that have nothing to do with economic growth.

A second and related possiblity is that Specter has had enough of being pushed around by party bosses, and at this point in his career he doesn't have to put up with them any more. The GOP has developed an effective system for maintaining party unity, although it's controlled by the social conservative element in the party that drives people like me out of it. Don't take my word for it - look at who the system has recently been punishing and rewarding. If you lose an election, you have the option of retiring to a cushy thinktank, as Rick Santorum did after 2006.

As for Republicans that are a little too independent-minded in sticking to their principles - like Specter - if you stray too far from their party line, they run somebody against you in the primary, as happened in 2004 when they ran Pat Toomey against him. Is this kind of centrally-planned, authoritarian politburo-style party really the best model for a political party that claims to be about small government and independence? For one thing, it's exactly the opposite of what Thomas Jefferson wanted for America when he warned us of the dangers of factionalism. While he may have been naive to our jaded modern eyes, there is little virtue in a party structure that allows a few unelected strategists to dictate to the elected Republicans in Congress who are supposed to be representing our interests. Olympia Snowe has stated openly that Specter's switch is the direct consequence of that policy.

There are other reasons that social conservatives will "articulate", so to get those out of the way: that all the while Specter has been planning his betrayal and he was never a real Republican to begin with - or, more charitably, that recently his brain was infiltrated by gay communist atheist nanoprobes that came through the new digital cable brainwashing devices.

The reason that social conservatives have focused on most is that Specter might have lost the primary election, so he's switching to stay in office: "He left to further his personal political interests," Steele said, "because he knew that he was going to lose a Republican primary due to his left-wing voting record." Brilliant, Mike, lots of Reagan Republicans have left-wing voting records. We can let you on in a secret: politicians like to stay in office, and when your party is the one threatening to remove him from office, he's going to jump ship. Dear reader, ask yourself this: if your boss was bringing in outside candidates to interview for your job, would that make you want to stay at that company? In any event I'm sure that Specter is quaking in his boots with such harsh words from a high-powered kingmaker like Steele. Acting out of self-interest is what human nature, and the U.S. Constitution, are based on. Politicians do it, you do it, and I do it. If Steele was a real conservative, he would understand that. Hopefully the recent interest in Ayn Rand's works will promote that understanding - novels like Atlas Shrugged, and essay collections like The Virtue of Selfishness.

The bottom line is that Specter is not interested in compromising his political philosophy, which has been consistent since he first won the office, or his constituents. The real question is, if Specter keeps voting the same way on the same issues, do we care which party he's in? His positions aren't going to change, and what matters is results. Most important, Specter has done a great job of representing the interests of Pennsylvania in the United States Senate. I heartily endorse him in advance of the 2010 Senate election. I've already seen comments from people saying "Farewell Specter; why don't you take your fellow RINOs Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins with you?" Guess what? He might! And then it will be 62 Democrats in the Senate. Brilliant! I now live in California and can tell you with certainty the results of these circular firing squads: a state where the Republicans sometimes lose to the Greens. Keep it up, if that's what you want.

Before you condemn Specter too strongly, let's not forget how close John McCain was to being John Kerry's VP. Parties only exist because individuals' principles sometimes align. Principle is always, always more important than party.

Chinese Ocean-Crossing Sailboat Meets Premature End

This is a real shame, but fortunately no one was hurt. In a Chinese twist on the Kon-Tiki voyage, Nelson Liu and his crew sailed a Chinese junk around the world, but the boat was run over by a Liberian-flagged freighter just short of making its destination. This was a damn cool voyage with a crew of Chinese, Taiwanese, American, and Japanese sailors, some of whom were picked up right here in San Francisco before they crossed the Pacific.

Where Kon-Tiki was Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl's 1947 proof-of-concept that pre-Columbian South Americans could have colonized Polynesia (which we know now from DNA evidence is not the case), the Chinese junk was intended to show that the Chinese could have visited North America before Columbus. There's no proof that such a thing happened, although in my eyes, the proof-of-concept is unnecessary: there's no question that they could have done so. The Ming navy had bigger ships than Columbus, before Columbus. Frankly I think Heyerdahl and Liu were both more interested in having a blast sailing around the world than in science, but more power to them both - I'm just jealous they had the cajones to carry it out. I wish I could've jumped on board when they were here!

Quote of the Day

"Poor Mexico. So far from God, so close to the United States."

- Pre Swine-flu Mexican leader Porfirio Diaz

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Example of Big Government Interference in Small Business

It's about time we change these laws:

Friday, April 24, 2009

Support Animal Research

There's been a spate recently of animal rights extremists setting things on fire and blowing things up when they don't like what's happening in universities and companies that are trying to save lives. There's a word for this: terrorism. Predictably, extremists get mad when you call them what they are, and in a previous post about an animal rights terrorist getting sentenced, a commenter crawled out of the woodwork and asked me whether these people really should be considered terrorists.

The answer is a clear and obvious yes. The FBI has recently upped the ante on such terrorist (Daniel San Diego), and it's about time.

Because I expect other woodwork-commenters to appear when my blog shows up on their Google news sites, I'll post just one rejection of the old activist canard that all the research can be done with computers now: no, it can't. I do drug research for a living, and if that were the case, we must just do animal research because we hate cute furry little critters, right? It would make research incredibly cheaper if we could just cut out all the animal testing, and let the chips fall where they may when we inject the treatment into a human for the first time. If drugs should go straight from labs into humans, tell you what - why don't you send me your email, and you can be the first to try them out for me. Don't everyone jump at once!

Let's be clear: these animal-rights terrorists are standing in the way not only of the free market to find cures to diseases, they're standing in the way of the right of all research institutions, including (especially) our nation's universities, to pursue scientific research that results in medical advancements.

Fortunately there are groups like Pro-Test, a pro-research, anti-terrorist organization, and this organization recently staged a support rally at UCLA. UCLA was recently the victim of such a terrorist attack (totally underreported by mainstream media) so a show of support for research and freedom of inquiry is especially needed there.

Support medicine, support democracy, support the free market: support animal research.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

China China Uber Alles

I always get a little nervous when the government of a country start thinking they're too special. This is called nationalism, and it seems especially out of place in countries nominally based on the international solidarity-supporting writings of Marx. For example, if there were rumors that a country's only political party had commissioned a study to show that the dominant ethnic group was actually a separate (superior) species from the rest of humanity - let's just make up a name, "Han" will do - then that would be worrisome.

Another concern would be if that country's Ministry of Truth (let's make up another name, "Xinhua") issued news releases about nature itself bestowing miraculous protections unto their people. For example, reporting that dolphins had protected your ships from Somalian pirates. I'll take the U.S. Navy over dolphins protecting shipping lanes any day. Naval sharpshooters are better than magical pirate-herding dolphins - and they exist.

Still Think the Patriot Act is a Good Idea?

The Homeland Security Report on right wing terrorists is exactly the kind of thing I had in mind when I asked this question five months ago. But my complaints about the invasions of Americans' civil liberties over the past five years fell on the deaf ears of pretend-conservatives who thought that everything was fine. Sorry if I seem a little irritated with all the eleventh-hour bandwagon jumpers. Where the hell have you been?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Conservative Bloggers vs. Conservative Television

Talking about divides in conservatism these days is not very original, but I haven't seen anyone addressing one that seems obvious to me: the divide between conservative voices in print media (blogs, newspaper columns, and magazines) and broadcast media (radio and particularly television). Of course the divide isn't absolute, but it's getting hard to find a strict super-right religious conservative blogger, compared to two years ago. The same is not true of broadcast media.
Why the huge divide?

One of the two camps is less prone to dogmatism and inflammatory rhetoric, because they are:

1) Constantly aware that they'll be held accountable to their statements

2) Able to come to honest conclusions without having to dumb them down/paint them with sparkly colors for a big audience

3) Uninfluenced by monetary considerations (like advertising dollars or big contracts)

As for #3: as fiscal conservatives we're honest enough to be cynical about human nature. If your auto mechanic gets a bonus for using a certain company's components in car repairs, regardless of their quality, do you want to keep going to that mechanic? This is called conflict of interest, and if you're trying to get undistorted honest conservative thought, you're better off looking for it in print.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Brownback Demands Sanctions for North Korea

Normally not my favorite guy in the Senate, Sam Brownback is doing the right thing by calling for sanctions on North Korea after their rocket launch. The six-party talks have resulted in a North Korea that can limp along with foreign donations of food to keep its people in Stalinist subjection while they work on nuclear weapons and delivery systems. The anticipated silver lining of North Korea's incurable confrontationalism is that the West is finally waking up.

Civilization Has Not Yet Collapsed in Portugal

Too infrequently, when we're debating the effects that a political decision could have in the United States, we don't take advantage of other countries that have already tried the same experiments.

Friday, April 3, 2009

North Korea: A Reminder

"14-year-old Shin Dong Hyok and his father were made to sit in the front row of a crowd assembled to watch executions. The two had already spent seven months in a North Korean prison camp's torture compound, and Shin assumed they were among those to be put to death.

"Instead, the guards brought out his mother and his 22-year-old brother. The mother was hanged, the brother was shot by a firing squad.

'Before she was executed, my mother looked at me,' Shin said in a recent interview. 'I don't know if she wanted to say something, because she was bound and gagged. But I avoided her eyes.'"

This what happens inside Yodok Gulag in North Korea. Full article here.

Here is a satellite picture of the camp itself, which is humming right along while you read this:

Want to read more about Yodok? Start at Wikipedia, or better yet read The Aquariums of Pyongyang.

You can also view the crayon drawings of a child who escaped from North Korea. Here is one of them:

If that's not enough, here is U.S. Senate testimony from another North Korean escapee.

This is the government that is holding two American journalists.

This is a government with nuclear weapons, that is about to launch a missile.

Dumbing Down American Science Books

Stalwart Iraq War-defender Christopher Hitchens once made the literary observation that when you're reading the work of Proust, you feel as if you have no business at all trying to write professionally. Consequently, rather than trying to paraphrase Hitch, I will include the money-quote from this article about the current effort to dumb-down science books in Texas:

The Texas anti-Darwin stalwarts also might want to beware of what they wish for. The last times that evangelical Protestantism won cultural/ political victories—by banning the sale of alcohol, prohibiting the teaching of evolution and restricting immigration from Catholic countries—the triumphs all turned out to be Pyrrhic. There are some successes that are simply not survivable. If by any combination of luck and coincidence any religious coalition ever did succeed in criminalizing abortion, say, or mandating school prayer, it would swiftly become the victim of a backlash that would make it rue the day. This will apply with redoubled force to any initiative that asks the United States to trade its hard-won scientific preeminence against its private and unofficial pieties. This country is so constituted that no one group, and certainly no one confessional group, is able to dictate its own standards to the others. There are days when I almost wish the fundamentalists could get their own way, just so that they would find out what would happen to them.

America's business leaders have been making their voices increasingly heard on this topic, though not always as harshly as hedge fund manager Barry Ritholtz.

So which is it America - do we want to maintain our technical and economic leadership, or not? It shouldn't be such a hard decision. And it's not one that China is having any problems making.