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).