Around the Web on 8-31-05

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

I have the time to write tonight, but I'm leaving open the possibility that I won't, still being a little shell shocked over the storm that is our generation's Camille.

In any case, there is a lot of good stuff out there that I think is worth it to myself to remember later on and to my readers to look at themselves.

Two Good Reads on the War

Blair over at Secular Foxhole points to a good Capitalism Magazine article by Keith Lockitch which explains the crucial need for reinforcements in a war. No. Not more troops! Something more important than that: ideas.

The power that inspires righteous action--and which, by its absence, breeds discouragement--is the power of moral idealism. What has brought us to our present state is our leaders' moral weakness in response to the jihadists' moral zeal.
And while our side needs idealism to fight effectively, our opponents need to be taught what war really means. In other words, they must want to surrender because they realize their alternative is death -- not because it is a good tactical move. Amit Ghate at Thruch points to another Capitalism Magazine article, this one by J. David Lewis, on what it takes to win a war.
Surrender does not mean that an aggressor offers terms to stop attacking because he is weak. It means abject surrender, before an utterly overwhelming power, and the repudiation of the very idea of war through a brutal demonstration of what it actually means. Defeat has an existential and an intellectual aspect. Existentially, a nation's capacity to fight is destroyed; it cannot wage war now. But intellectually the culture gives up. Under the shock of overwhelming defeat a stunned silence results; voices once clamoring for war and the motivations they engender are decimated; and the nation never again arms for attack. Intransigence in the victor is vital; he does not accept terms, he demands surrender, or death, for everyone on the other side if necessary.

LA Times on Airline Deregulation

Gideon Reich over at Armchair Intellectual points out an interesting piece by the LA Times making, as he points out, an imperfect case for airline deregulation. But that's a huge shift for the paper.
The Wright Amendment costs California hundreds of millions of dollars in lost economic activity, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., which is lobbying for its repeal. It also illustrates a larger problem: government intervention that is hobbling the nation's airline industry, which is projected to lose $5 billion this year.

The article even calls my favorite airline, Southwest, "the nation's most successful airline." Southwest could be called, by the way liberals sneer at it, the "Wal-Mart of the skies." I agree that this is a groundbreaking piece.

Bush Blamed for Katrina by Nation that Gave us Hitler

Via Glenn Reynolds, I learned of two excellent debunkings of the inexcusable pimping of Katrina over the last couple of days by global warming demagogues.

Here's a sample from a roundup of German papers.
The toughest commentary of the day comes from Germany's Environmental Minister, Juergen Trittin, a Green Party member, who takes space in the Frankfurter Rundschau, a paper friendly with the Social Democrats, to bash US President George W. Bush's environmental laxity. He begins by likening the photos and videos of the hurricane stricken areas to scenes from a Roland Emmerich sci-fi film and insists that global warming and climate change are making it ever more likely that storms and floods will plague America and Europe. "There is only one possible route of action," he writes. "Greenhouse gases have to be radically reduced and it has to happen worldwide. Until now, the US has kept its eyes shut to this emergency. (Americans) make up a mere 4 percent of the population, but are responsible for close to a quarter of emissions." He adds that the average American is responsible for double as much carbon dioxide as the average European. "The Bush government rejects international climate protection goals by insisting that imposing them would negatively impact the American economy. The American president is closing his eyes to the economic and human costs his land and the world economy are suffering under natural catastrophes like Katrina and because of neglected environmental policies." As such, Trittin also calls for a reworking of the Kyoto Protocol -- dubbing it the uncreative title of "Kyoto 2" -- and insisting that the US be included.
Ah! Bush's fault! How original!

At least RFK Jr. gets points for creativity. Depending on how you read him, he blames Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour or God or a vast right-wing conspiracy of the two for Katrina.
As Hurricane Katrina dismantles Mississippi's Gulf Coast, it's worth recalling the central role that Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour played in derailing the Kyoto Protocol and kiboshing President Bush's iron-clad campaign promise to regulate CO2.


In 1998, Republican icon Pat Robertson warned that hurricanes were likely to hit communities that offended God. Perhaps it was Barbour's memo that caused Katrina, at the last moment, to spare New Orleans and save its worst flailings for the Mississippi coast.
And note the pitch of global warming hysteria to the religious right. Expect more of the same in the future.

And now to the good stuff. I really enjoyed James K. Glassman's article at Tech Central Station. Here's the money quote, but read it all.

Katrina has nothing to do with global warming. Nothing. It has everything to do with the immense forces of nature that have been unleashed many, many times before and the inability of humans, even the most brilliant engineers, to tame these forces.

Giant hurricanes are rare, but they are not new. And they are not increasing. To the contrary. Just go to the website of the National Hurricane Center and check out a table that lists hurricanes by category and decade. The peak for major hurricanes (categories 3,4,5) came in the decades of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, when such storms averaged 9 per decade. In the 1960s, there were 6 such storms; in the 1970s, 4; in the 1980s, 5; in the 1990s, 5; and for 2001-04, there were 3. Category 4 and 5 storms were also more prevalent in the past than they are now. As for Category 5 storms, there have been only three since the 1850s: in the decades of the 1930s, 1960s and 1990s.
EURota goes into some more detail along these lines and provides graphs.

Update: And speaking of fallacies, the Resident Egoist discusses some fallacious economic arguments (anthropogenic global warming/cooling and the "broken window" fallacy) that are cropping up again due to the hurricane here and here.

Raymund Gets Writer's Itch!

Why in the world did Curtis Weeks drop our good friend Raymund from his blogroll? He's still blogging! Heh!

He Lives!

Just as I was about to post, my wife reported the following.... A fool New Orleanian I know who decided to ride out the storm (whether out of machismo or anticipation of looters I do not know) -- and who hadn't been heard from since the storm hit -- is still alive! He was sipping a beer on the roof of his son-in-law's house when he was found.

What a relief!

Hurricane Relief

And speaking of relief, I now know of an effort, thanks to Martin Lindeskog, to draw attention to various charities attempting to help the victims of Katrina. As a former Navy man and a native Mississippian, I am asking that you donate to the Armed Forces Retirement Home. From the TTLB Katrina relief page:

The Armed Forces Retirement Home is the facility to care for aging veterans of the US Military. The Gulfport MS facility was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina, and over 400 elderly vets must be transported to the AFRH facility in Washington DC. The AFRH is in need of donated toiletry items, or contributions to the trust fund used to operate the facility. The residents are old, many are ill, and they've lost the only home they have left. Some of them may not survive to return to it. They fought to defend our freedom. Isn't that worth a couple of cans of shaving cream and a bottle of shampoo?
To those who donate, thank you!

-- CAV


Today: Added Hurricane Relief.
9-1-05: Added Existence is Identity links.

Do as I Say and Not as I ... Don't

The pope, who has himself taken a vow of celibacy, has just ordered his flock to go forth and multiply!

Pope Benedict XVI told Catholics to have more babies "for the good of society," saying that some countries were being sapped of energy because of low birth rates.

"Having children is a gift that brings life and well-being to society," he told about 15,000 people at his weekly audience in the Vatican, to which he arrived by helicopter from his summer residence southeast of Rome.

He said the decline in the number of births "deprives some nations of freshness and energy and of hopes for the future incarnate in children."

The pope also spoke of "the security, the stability and the force of a numerous family."

I have to admit that I've been enjoying the sundry cultural pronouncements of this new pope! It seems that behind every single one is some kind of blatant absurdity that overshadows and undermines whatever it is he is saying.

-- CAV

Disaster Fatigue

We saw off our hurricane guests today. Thanks to the fact that things in New Orleans will, at best, improve only after several more weeks, they are headed to Ohio to stay with family rather than going home to begin rebuilding.

The storm affected us, but less directly. My wife, who moved a lot growing up, considers New Orleans her home town. I proposed to her there and that is where we got married. Her parents hoped, or had hoped, to retire there and own a house in New Orleans near the lake. It is probably flooding as I write this. But still, we were safe in Houston and they in Chicago: We didn't lose everything.

I, too, grieve for New Orleans, which now lies perhaps mortally wounded and will probably never be the same again. But I can't bring myself to write much about it now. I lost only a few memories while friends and lots of very good people I know are now homeless. Between dealing with that realization, comforting my wife, and the constant, overwhelming flood of horrible news about New Orleans and the coast of my home state, writing about my own sense of loss at this moment is difficult for me to do and strikes me as terribly unimportant.

Today, I plan to immerse myself in work, and pay only as much attention to hurricane news as necessary. This is a truly overwhelming tragedy. It even seems indulgent to partake of the luxury of tuning this mess out for awhile after seeing how it has so dominated the lives of so many people and will do so for months and years down the road. To say that I am emotionally spent would be a gross understatement.

-- CAV

Spare the Fetus, Execute the Physician

Monday, August 29, 2005

Two Texas laws, a fetal protection law and a law requiring parental consent before unmarried minors receive abortions, can now be used to bring capital murder charges against physicians who perform abortions under certain circumstances. In other words, some abortions are now punishable by death in Texas.

Texas doctors who perform abortions without parental approval or after the third trimester could face capital murder charges because of a new law that takes effect this week, a prosecutors group says.

The Texas District and County Attorneys Association has outlined that scenario in its new book updating the Texas penal code and in public presentations around the state. The group says such charges could occur under the new law because of the 2003 fetal protection law.

Interviews with the Republican sponsors of these bills show two things: (1) that either this legal result is not intentional or, at least, no one feels politically safe admitting that it is, and (2) that there is a serious failure by our legislators to understand what the function of government is.

Both points become evident below.

Rep. Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie, who sponsored the 2003 bill defining an embryo or fetus as an "individual," said the law may need clearing up in a future legislative session.

"I don't see the Legislature wanting to charge doctors with capital murder based on a technical legal issue over whether parental consent was properly documented," Allen said.

The fetal protection bill was designed to allow for prosecution of a person who harms or kills an embryo or fetus, supporters say. Exceptions were made for legal drug use, action taken by the mother or a "lawful medical procedure."

But legislators this year defined two scenarios that would be "prohibited practice" in medicine: performing an abortion on an unmarried girl under age 18 without proper consent, and performing an abortion in the third trimester that isn't covered by certain exceptions. The law takes effect Thursday.

Oops! You damned well bet the law "may need clearing up"!

The purpose of the government is to protect individual rights. The right to one's own life is the most fundamental. So the essential question with respect to abortion is: "What constitutes a human life?" If a fetus is not a human life, it deserves no protection as an "individual". If it is a human life, it does.

So why the case-by-case treatment of abortion? Neither the pro-choice left nor the "pro-life" right consistently advocates individual rights.

For the left to make a compelling case for legal abortion based on the ideas that (1) a fetus is a collection of cells that is only potentially a human being, and (2) a woman has the right to do with her body as she sees fit, the left would have to recognize other rights -- like the right to property -- consistently. It clearly sees the fruits of productive labor as state property and thus sees human beings as serfs. That is, the left actually opposes individual rights and so doesn't really have the ability to make such a case for abortion without sounding hypocritical.

For the right to make a compelling anti-abortion argument, it would have to make a compelling case that a fetus really is a human being. But there is no rational argument that we have supernatural souls and the medical evidence is overwhelmingly against the idea that a fetus has a rational faculty or is even viable until about the third trimester. (The right wants to ban abortion altogether.) The right relies on faith, not argument, for its position and so ... can't argue for it. And furthermore, with this side's contention that rights come from God, it regards the individual as ultimately belonging to God, rather than his life being an end in itself. The right cannot be said to advocate individual rights because an individual who does not own his own life has no rights.

The best either side can do is try to get away with what it can, which is why, in this story, we see (1) a bunch of Republicans who doubtless regard abortion as murder apologizing for applying the death penalty to a class of citizen they regard as murderers, and (2) a pro-choicer feebly complaining that, "[T]here is always someone who is looking for a political win!" Each side knows that it cannot appeal to reason and so wilts under the glare of the public spotlight: Both sides, not being pro-freedom, are rightfully afraid that the public will see them as "overreaching" if they make a firm stand on this issue, which, despite the effort of each side to play it down, is in fact vitally important.

Individual rights and rule of law have both taken a serious blow thanks to the fact that neither left nor right supports individual rights.

-- CAV

Crossposted to the Egosphere

Salman Rushdie Cuts to Chase

Salman Rushdie identified the essence of multiculturalism in an exchange with British MP George Galloway today.

[Galloway] said: "You have to be aware if you do [offend people's beliefs] you will get blowback. You should do it very carefully, especially if you are a public service broadcaster."

"Is that a threat?" asked Rushdie during the debate at the Media Guardian Edinburgh international television festival.

Describing Mr Galloway's argument as "craven", the author said: "The simple fact is that any system of ideas that decides you have to ringfence it, that you cannot discuss it in fundamental terms, that you can't say that this bit of it is junk, or that bit is oppressive ... we are supposed to respect that?"

Perfect! Multiculturalism is the attempt to stifle debate by intimidation sanctimoniously posing as moral virtue.

Ayn Rand, in the Virtue of Selfishness, once identified the argument from intimidation as follows.

[It] consists of threatening to impeach an opponent's character by means of his argument, thus impeaching the argument without debate. Example: "Only the immoral can fail to see that Candidate X's argument is false."
I think it useful to consider multiculturalism in general as a systematic application of the argument from intimidation against the better elements of Western thought.

Furthermore, Rushdie himself, as a man whose very life has been threatened due to his words, shows us how multiculturalism encourages terrorism. First, it makes some Westerners morally uncertain about condemning terrorism, and so more prone to appease terrorists. Second, multiculturalism impugns the character of those of us who remain unbowed, giving terrorists an excuse to attack us. After all, only an enemy of Islam deserving of death would dare question the divine authority of the Koran.

-- CAV

Around the Web on 8-28-05

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Katrina's Refugees

If my blogging and email correspondence are on the spotty side for the next few days, it's because some friends of my wife's family are staying with us due to the hurricane evacuation from New Orleans.

The [Louisiana State University Hurricane Center]'s latest computer simulations indicate that by Tuesday, vast swaths of New Orleans could be under water up to 30 feet deep. In the French Quarter, the water could reach 20 feet, easily submerging the district's iconic cast-iron balconies and bars.

Estimates predict that 60 percent to 80 percent of the city's houses will be destroyed by wind. With the flood damage, most of the people who live in and around New Orleans could be homeless.

I have been concerned about something like this for years.

Reason Roundup

The Reason Roundup has returned to the Charlotte Capitalist.
Welcome to the Reason Roundup! While the cat is away, the mice shall play. Putting wild cats in America. Military myths. Pat Robertson. 32-bit girl. Iran - today! Keep those doggies rollin'.
Lindeskog: Back in the Saddle Again

Martin Lindeskog is back from his vacation over at Ego. Among other things, he reports on airline privatization in Hungary.

Useful Idiot Writes Fawning Piece on El Loco

In today's Houston Chronicle was a leftist propaganda piece disguised as news only by its appearance in the "news" portion of the paper.

For many people around the world, however, the Chavez experiment represents an inspiring model for the left -- a mix of capitalism, nationalism and sweeping anti-poverty programs. The San Francisco group Global Exchange, which organizes educational "reality tours" to 27 countries, says Venezuela is its hottest destination.

Unlike Cuba and Nicaragua, where international work brigades once showed up to cut sugarcane and pick coffee, Venezuela is rich in oil profits.

But few political tourists know how to pump petroleum. Instead, they spend their days visiting literacy classes in Caracas shantytowns, meeting with government officials and quizzing opposition politicians.

The article sounds like its author (one John Otis of the Chron's South American Bureau) took one of these "'reality' tours" (and did little else) to research his article. For example, the article mentions that the Bush administration views Chavez as a menace, buts says nothing about his threats to cut off petroleum exports to America or his feverish military buildup or his cozy relationship with Red China. And the article both quotes an Australian political tourist ("There was so much excitement in the room," said Marcus Pabian, an Australian wearing a Vladimir Lenin pin who attended the [mock] trial [of the United States]. "It brought tears to my eyes.") and notes that Chavez "holds forth for hours on his TV program, Hello Mr. President"and yet misses Chavez's internationally famous moniker, El Loco, which his own people bestowed upon him.


Update: Among other things, this article also strongly implies that Chavez is not guilty of quashing dissent. Blair at Secular Foxhole points to a post at the Devil's Excrement that does a good job of laying that myth to rest. I guess that's why only oppostion politicians get "quizzed" over there.

More Evidence that Grasp of Science by Media is Slippery

Via Glenn Reynolds, is a piece on "Meth Mouth" that shows quite a few journalists to be a bit lacking in even a basic understanding of science. Most egregiously:

The Kansas City Star (Jan. 26, 2005): "What causes the problems is the acid content in some of the ingredients used to make methamphetamine, including anhydrous ammonia, ether and lithium. The acid can decrease the strength of the enamel on the teeth." Nice try, Star, but anhydrous ammonia, ether, and lithium are not acids.
And what if the people who should understand science better err? You can count on their mistakes being faithfully propagated.
The Albuquerque Journal (April 12, 2005) collects this artful anecdote from a local dentist: "Meth use is an emerging epidemic. ... It explodes people's teeth. It's like ice crystals forming in the crevices of rock, fracturing the teeth."
The writer points out that "None of the articles blaming 'contaminated' methamphetamine for meth mouth cite any literature or authority, perhaps because it doesn't exist." Perhaps! Perhaps if it did, these "journalists" still wouldn't have cited it! Of course, it could also be that the Sierra Club had nothing to say on the matter, either.

-- CAV


8-29-05: Added links to Secular Foxhole and Devil's Excrement WRT Chavez.

Globe-Trotting Bloggers

Friday, August 26, 2005

This post also appears at Martin Lindeskog's blog, Ego.

This turned out to be an unexpectedly busy week all the way up until yesterday, when I had the pleasure of meeting two fellow bloggers who were visiting Houston, and of renewing my acquaintance with their host, who resides here. We met for dinner at my favorite Greek restaurant, Niko Niko's and then adjourned to The Ginger Man for a round of drinks and good conversation.

This was the first time for me to meet anyone in person through my blog and it was very strange at first. I blog under a pseudonym partly to keep my work life and my blogging life neatly separated and I found that I'd gotten so good at walling off the "blogging world" that I had a little trouble remembering the names of some people I know through blogging when they came up in conversation! Other than that small difficulty, I had a great time. Felipe, David, and Tom are really good people and I enjoyed meeting them. The only drawback was that it wasn't a Saturday, so they missed going on a tour of the St. Arnold's brewery.

I understand that the last time Martin visited Houston, he made the same omission. Here's hoping that his travels take him this way again so he can rectify that problem. (And that goes for David and Felipe, too.)

And on that note, I thank Martin, who will be returning from his travels shortly, for letting me guest blog during his absence. At first, I thought his choice to use the handful of guest bloggers was simply a way to spread the load so no one or two people would end up doing all the work. And maybe I was right, but during his absence, I noticed that each member of the team of guest-bloggers contributed a unique dimension to the blog. (Elizabeth's posts on the Adventures of Morris were my favorites.) The sum ended up reminding me quite a bit of Martin's usual blogging, though it isn't really Ego without Lindeskog at the helm. I enjoyed posting here and reading the other guest bloggers, but, like Morris, I'll be glad to see Martin himself back.

Welcome home, Martin!

-- CAV

Why They're Mad at JAMA

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Houston Chronicle reports that the editor of a prominent medical journal was inundated with hate email over its recent publication of a literature review concluding that fetuses are incapable of feeling pain until late in pregnancy.

Dr. Catherine DeAngelis, editor in chief of The Journal of the American Medical Association, said today she had to take a walk around the block after receiving dozens of "horrible, vindictive" messages.

"One woman said she would pray for my soul," DeAngelis said today. "I could use all the prayers I can get." She said she is a staunch Roman Catholic and strongly opposes abortion, though she also supports women's right to choose.

"Your license should be stripped," DeAngelis said, reading aloud from the 50 or so e-mails that came to her office. "You're hypocrisy," "You should get a real job," "Eternity will definitely bring justice for you," others wrote.

Critics said the article in Wednesday's JAMA was a politically motivated attack on proposed federal legislation that would require doctors to provide fetal pain information to women seeking abortions when fetuses are at least 20 weeks old, and to offer women fetal anesthesia at that stage of the pregnancy. A handful of states have enacted similar measures.

Not that I'm a theologian, but is not the objection to abortion based on the notion that the fetus has a soul? The hate mailers come across the same way as the most rabid animal "rights" activists, but at least the former explicitly base their idea on the notion that animals feel pain. Of course, I'm not saying that the pro-lifers now buy into Peter Singer's creed. But still: Why all the ruckus over a dry scientific review?

The similarity is no mere coincidence. Neither group identifies possession of a rational faculty as the basis for rights. This implies their conception of "rights" is a mere litany of special privileges rather than manifestations of the use of reason by an animal whose tool of survival is his mind. In other words, they have no rational argument for what they call rights. Lacking the ability to appeal to reason to persuade others to accept their beliefs, then, they must resort to other means, such as deception, appeals to emotion (More on this later.), or force (or the threat thereof) to convince others to act in accordance with them. All of these methods are attempts to cause opponents not to act upon what their own minds are telling them. This is why bullying is part and parcel of all such movements.

But few in these movements immediately become angry or threatening when confronted with someone they disagree with. So what elicited such frothing at the mouth? The article's abstract (summary), freely available online reads as follows.

Context Proposed federal legislation would require physicians to inform women seeking abortions at 20 or more weeks after fertilization that the fetus feels pain and to offer anesthesia administered directly to the fetus. This article examines whether a fetus feels pain and if so, whether safe and effective techniques exist for providing direct fetal anesthesia or analgesia in the context of therapeutic procedures or abortion.

Evidence Acquisition Systematic search of PubMed for English-language articles focusing on human studies related to fetal pain, anesthesia, and analgesia. Included articles studied fetuses of less than 30 weeks' gestational age or specifically addressed fetal pain perception or nociception. Articles were reviewed for additional references. The search was performed without date limitations and was current as of June 6, 2005.

Evidence Synthesis Pain perception requires conscious recognition or awareness of a noxious stimulus. Neither withdrawal reflexes nor hormonal stress responses to invasive procedures prove the existence of fetal pain, because they can be elicited by nonpainful stimuli and occur without conscious cortical processing. Fetal awareness of noxious stimuli requires functional thalamocortical connections. Thalamocortical fibers begin appearing between 23 to 30 weeks' gestational age, while electroencephalography suggests the capacity for functional pain perception in preterm neonates probably does not exist before 29 or 30 weeks. For fetal surgery, women may receive general anesthesia and/or analgesics intended for placental transfer, and parenteral opioids may be administered to the fetus under direct or sonographic visualization. In these circumstances, administration of anesthesia and analgesia serves purposes unrelated to reduction of fetal pain, including inhibition of fetal movement, prevention of fetal hormonal stress responses, and induction of uterine atony.

Conclusions Evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester. Little or no evidence addresses the effectiveness of direct fetal anesthetic or analgesic techniques. Similarly, limited or no data exist on the safety of such techniques for pregnant women in the context of abortion.Anesthetic techniques currently used during fetal surgery are not directly applicable to abortion procedures.

I can see several things here that might have upset anti-abortionists, but the article itself goes into much greater detail. Anyone who read it would have been reminded of Terri Schiavo, and probably of anti-abortion videos by the following passage.

Although widely used to assess pain in neonates, withdrawal reflexes and facial movements do not necessarily represent conscious perception of pain. Full-term neonates exhibit a cutaneous withdrawal reflex that is activated at a threshold much lower than that which would produce discomfort in a child or adult. This threshold increases with PCA, suggesting that the capacity of the neonate to distinguish between noxious and nonnoxious stimuli is maturing. Furthermore, flexion withdrawal from tactile stimuli is a noncortical spinal reflex [link added, search "reflex"] exhibited by infants with anencephaly and by individuals in a persistent vegetative state who lack cortical function [italics added].
Why do I think this article raised such a firestorm? It cuts off at the knees one of the tactics used by the anti-abortionists to elicit sympathy for their cause. No one with a grain of decency would wish to hurt an infant. The idea that a fetus could feel pain is thus a powerful asset to the anti-abortion camp. This article calls the entire idea into question, possibly removing this tactic from the anti-abortionist arsenal. This is why the editor got all the hate mail.

-- CAV

Mark Davis Misses Wake-up Call

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

(Why does all the interesting stuff happen when I have no time?!?!)

Mark Davis, a radio talk show host, makes the point that the recent firing of Michael Graham by ABC (owned by Disney) was not a First Amendment issue.

There is no right to be on the radio, either as host or caller. There is no free speech issue here at all, just a conflict between a performer and his employer.
This is true, and would be better put in two respects. One, the First Amendment limits the power of the government to limit freedom of speech. Two, the separate issue of whether Graham keeps his job is a matter of his employer's property rights. These are both true, but miss the real issue in the Mark Graham controversy: Whose job is it to defend freedom of speech?

In the very next sentence, Davis makes another grave error.
I believe he could have amended the overly broad portion of his statement without surrendering one molecule of his meaning. CAIR would not have been happy, but it would have armed the station with the moral high ground to tell the group to take a hike.
Hint: CAIR ceded all claims to the "moral high ground" from the get-go.

And what portion of Graham's words below is "overly broad"?
Because of the mix of Islamic theology that -– rightly or wrongly -– is interpreted to promote violence, added to an organizational structure that allows violent radicals to operate openly in Islam's name with impunity, Islam has, sadly, become a terrorist organization. It pains me to say it, but the good news is it doesn't have to stay this way, if the vast majority of Muslims who don't support terror will step forward and reclaim their religion.
Those of us who see the connection between faith and force would say that Graham is actually guilty of whitewashing the role of Islam, and of religion in general, in fomenting violence.

The issue here is that in America, we are free to say whatever the hell we want. While Graham certainly has no right to employment at ABC or anywhere else, CAIR was clearly attempting to cause Graham's firing in order to cast a pall over anyone else who might dare to criticize Islam. Consider CAIR's "indignation" in its proper context.
CAIR has a curious sense of outrage. This group is driven to distraction by a guy on the radio, but, apparently, the murder of innocents is not worth its breath. Asked often to specifically condemn the brutality and viciousness of Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists, CAIR has refused. The group will talk a good game about opposing ... "terrorism," but that is meaningless without the accompanying courage to identify it by name.
I dare say that this indicates that CAIR's "good game" is a game of deception. CAIR's priorities are revealed in the battles it chooses to fight. The organization fights Americans expressing their opinions and refuses to condemn terrorists. Draw your own conclusion, but be forewarned that CAIR wants you to keep it to yourself.

So I disagree with Davis's contention that an apology or a rewording would have given Graham or ABC the moral high ground. Regardless of the merits of Graham's words, what was at issue here was his right to say them -- a right that ABC does in fact have an interest in protecting, if it wants to continue being able to produce interesting radio shows for very long. (Pssst! There's money in shows like that!) ABC should have simply said that it stands with Graham for his right to say what he wishes in America and left it at that.

The point at which ABC's rights (an extension of those of Disney's shareholders) to free speech and property converge is precisely in its ability to let loose cannons like Mark Graham fire at will. No. ABC doesn't have to employ Graham, but doing so helps its bottom line and they were fools to fire him. Slapping down CAIR would have been the moral and practical thing for ABC to have done. ABC failed.

Instead, ABC capitulated, meaning that CAIR now exercises the de facto threat of a veto over all its other program material. ABC could be said to have granted CAIR controlling interest over its programs free of charge. So, instead of possibly having an annoying court battle at worst, ABC no longer has editorial control over its programs.

And this blame is not the sole property of a bunch of clueless suits. It is owned by all the employees of ABC who failed to rally behind Michael Graham, particularly the other talk show hosts.

While I differ with certain points of Davis's essay, I salute him -- an ABC radio host -- for at least saying something about this. However, he addresses his remarks to the wrong people, CAIR! This is a mistake of the same kind as negotiating with a terrorist. CAIR lost the right to get so much as the time of day when it went after Graham's head for something he uttered.
My unease with this is the victory it chalks up for the kind of ideological thuggery that passes for public discourse at CAIR. If all criticism of Islam is hate speech, debate has no meaning. And until CAIR sprouts the guts to point fingers at the radical, murderous wing of its own faith, its claims of moderation are meaningless as well.
I will grant Davis that his essay is well-intentioned, if off the mark. But I wonder how happy he is now that he can't say what he wishes about Islam? He now knows that ABC is unwilling to stand behind him while he brings in listeners and advertising revenue.

You are being used, Mr. Davis. By CAIR, by ABC, and by the Disney Corporation. You can willingly submit to dhimmitude or you can fight for your rights -- by organizing a walkout of all radio talk show hosts and any other commentators in ABC's or Disney's employ, until Michael Graham is re-hired and ABC tells CAIR in no uncertain terms that if it wants editorial control of its programming, it had damned well better buy controlling interest of the Disney Corporation first.

The blame for this fiasco lies not just with CAIR or a faceless corporate entity known only as Disney. It is shared by any employee of Disney whose trade involves expressing opinions. Your employer has just said that you cannot express an opinion about Islam that CAIR disapproves of. You don't like CAIR? Well, it's your boss now, but no one is making you work for it.

This is still America, but to keep it that way, we have to do what we can. Mark Davis, if he thinks he is powerless, is gravely mistaken.

Whose job is it to defend freedom of speech? Certainly, it is the government's, but this is a government by, of, and for the people. Doing what we can to defend freedom in situations that do not call for government action is a big part of the meaning of the maxim: "A republic, if you can keep it."

-- CAV

Note: The time for the government to get involved is when someone's rights are violated, or there is a threat that they will be violated. ABC simply forfeited its rights when no such threat existed.

Gas Lines Again

As gas prices continue to soar, I keep hearing more parallels drawn to the energy crisis back in the '70's. Mostly, it's complaints about the rising price of gasoline, a problem that Thomas Sowell addresses in part at Capitalism Magazine.

Why, then, are oil prices so high?

There is no esoteric reason. It is plain old supply and demand. With the economies of huge nations like China and India developing more rapidly, now that they have freed their markets from many stifling government controls, more oil is being demanded in the world market and there are few new sources of supply.

What should our government do?

We will be lucky if they do nothing. But, with Congressional elections coming up next year, that is very unlikely. Candidates for Congress next year, and politicians hoping to run for President in 2008, are virtually guaranteed to come up with all sorts of "solutions."

These "solutions" will be packaged as brilliant new ideas, courageous and far-seeing. But most will be retreads of old ideas that remain untested or which have been tested in the past and found wanting.

Price controls, arbitrary new higher gas mileage standards for cars, "alternative energy sources," and other nostrums are sure to surface once again.

The last time we had price controls on gasoline, we had long lines of cars at filling stations, these lines sometimes stretching around the block, with motorists sitting in those lines for hours.

That nonsense ended almost overnight when President Ronald Reagan, ignoring the cries of liberal politicians and the liberal media, got rid of price controls with a stroke of the pen.

In addition to the problem of supply pressures on oil, we have to contend with additional upward pressures on gasoline prices due to excessive environmental regulation.

I'm afraid that Sowell is right to suspect that politicians will try some of these same approaches again. This will be despite the fact that they have already failed in our own country and, as we can see in the image above, they are failing right now, in China.

-- CAV

Democracy, Whiskey, ... Hibiscus?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A recurring theme in my coverage of China has been its government's attempts to control the internet. In an earlier, related post, I quoted Strategy Page on the subject.

Police states, like China, have a serious problem with the Internet. They need it, for economic reasons. The Internet has become part of the worldwide economic infrastructure. But the Internet also allows unfettered exchange of information. For a police state, this is bad. A police state remains in power, in part, by controlling the media. China has a booming economy, and cannot afford to lock down, or keep out, the Internet, as has happened in police states with poor economies (North Korea, Cuba, Burma). So China is adding more software, and personnel, to police Chinese Internet users.
Today, an interesting story crops up that indicates a peculiar difficulty faced by the Chinese government: Its own attempts to enforce conservative sexual mores (See Note.) might be helping to undercut its own attempts at censorship.

Via Matt Drudge, I learned of recent attempts by the Chinese government to squelch a national craze over its latest internet-born star, a woman nicknamed "Sister Furong" ("furong" meaning "hibiscus").

She is seen as a pioneer pushing the boundaries of traditional media controls but in the process has become a target of government censors in the tightly controlled country.

Sister Furong started the craze by posting pictures of herself -- draped back-down over a stone ball, bent at the knees with her chest thrust out suggestively and in other poses -- on Internet bulletin boards of two top Beijing universities to which she had tried but failed to gain entrance.

The shots, and accompanying captions and passages she wrote proclaiming her own beauty and talent, became a campus sensation.

But when her cult status began to sweep the whole country, Beijing stepped in.

"They've cracked down on me," Sister Furong, a 28-year-old whose real name is Shi Hengxia, told Reuters.

In late July, authorities told the country's top blog host to move Furong-related content to low-profile parts of the site. Her pictures can still be found online, but links to them and chatrooms about her have disappeared from the front pages of major Web portals.

And after blanket coverage earlier this year, newspapers, magazines and television have recently given almost no time to Sister Furong, who originally came from a rural area of central Shaanxi province.

As Robert Tracinski frequently puts it when reporting on the limitations of our Islamofascist foes, "The enemy has problems of his own." If these tame (at least by American standards) shots are typical of what the Chinese government is trying to control, they have their work cut out for them!

I really don't see how the Chi-Comms are going to maintain such a tight lid on the internet at all, much less for any length of time. So they want to keep up with 120 million internet users looking for stuff like this? On top of stifling political dissent? The latter task will be hard enough without the distraction of the former. This attempt to enforce such puritannical mores (which is not the first I've reported -- scroll down) is good news for freedom in China: It promises to drain attention and resources from the despots if carried out, and to make the public want even more personal freedom if it isn't.

Here's hoping for a "Hibiscus Revolution!"

-- CAV

Note: On further reflection, I'm not completely sure that this is an example of China attempting to enforce sexual mores. It could simply be an attempt to prevent the internet from being viewed too easily as an acceptable alternative means of achieving stardom. But even if the latter is a better interpretation of what the Chi-Comms are hoping to accomplish, it would look like that particular genie is out of the bottle already.

What are the authorities trying to do here? Enforce traditional Chinese sexual morality? (If so, why the previous media coverage? This was also umm "cracked-down upon".) Put internet star wannabes in their place? Both? Something else entirely? I still lean towards my first explanation, but would like to hear anyone else's thoughts on this.


8-23-05: Added Note.

Around the Web on 8-22-05

Monday, August 22, 2005

Another writing project might make blogging here a little on the sparse side. In other words, there could be a succession of "Around the Web" posts here.

Tierney on Golf

This amusing article is a lighthearted attempt to make sense out of the fact that the vast majority of the players and fans of golf are male. Given that men and women have brains that are generally organized differently, perhaps to adapt them for different roles (i.e., hunting vs. child-rearing), he may be onto something!

Our foursome started at a tee on high ground, looking down a tree-lined swath of grass at the basket nearly 400 feet away. After we flung our discs, as we headed down the fairway, I felt a strange surge of satisfaction. I couldn't figure out why until it occurred to me what we were: a bunch of guys converging on a target and hurling projectiles at it.

Was golf the modern version of Pleistocene hunting on the savanna? The notion had already occurred to devotees of evolutionary psychology, as I discovered from reading Edward O. Wilson and Steve Sailer. They point to surveys and other research showing that people in widely different places and cultures have a common vision of what makes a beautiful landscape - and it looks a lot like the view from golfers' favorite tees.


Sheehan Marriage as Metaphor for Democratic Party

Mark Steyn gives us his take on the Sheehan spectacle.
... But how about Casey's father, Pat Sheehan? Last Friday, in Solano County Court, Casey's father Pat Sheehan filed for divorce. As the New York Times explained Cindy's "separation," "Although she and her estranged husband are both Democrats, she said she is more liberal than he is, and now, more radicalized."


Yet in the wreckage of Pat and Cindy Sheehan's marriage there is surely a lesson for the Democratic Party. As Cindy says, they're both Democrats, but she's "more liberal" and "more radicalized." There are a lot of less liberal and less radicalized Dems out there: They're soft-left-ish on health care and the environment and education and so forth; many have doubts about the war, but they love their country, they have family in the military, and they don't believe in dishonoring American soldiers to make a political point. The problem for the Democratic Party is that the Cindys are now the loudest voice: Michael Moore, Howard Dean,, and Air America, the flailing liberal radio network distracting attention from its own financial scandals by flying down its afternoon host Randi Rhodes to do her show live from Camp Casey.

On unwatched Sunday talk shows, you can still stumble across the occasional sane, responsible Dem. But, in the absence of any serious intellectual attempt to confront their long-term decline, all the energy on the left is with the fringe. The Democratic Party is a coalition of Pat Sheehans and Cindy Sheehans, and the noisier the Cindys get the more estranged the Pats are likely to feel.

Sorry about that, but, if Mrs. Sheehan can insist her son's corpse be the determining factor in American policy on Iraq, I don't see why her marriage can't be a metaphor for the state of the Democratic Party.

Very good point.

On the Intellectual Vigor of the Conservative Movement

I'm not going to spend a lot of time critiquing this article , which attempts to gauge the intellectual vigor of the conservative movement. The author most notably mentions Ayn Rand several times, only to show, in the context of his treatment of libertarianism as a strand of conservatism, that he suffers the same malady as the libertarians: Although he is writing about a political movement, he seems not to appreciate the fact that politics is derived from more fundamental branches of philosophy.
Most libertarians are chagrined, of course, to hear that they cannot justify their political views. The best-informed among them, however, know that no comprehensive argument for limited government exists. ... The most intelligent libertarians, in short, know libertarianism remains an ideology.
If he really appreciated this, he would know why the libertarians "cannot justify their political views" and he would appreciate the fact that it is because libertarianism is anything but an "ideology".

Pursuing his treatment of libertarianism further, the article is of interest in that it shows what strange trajectories some conservative thinkers have begun to follow given the lack of intellectual rigor a movement with so many contradictory positions would have to have. Thus, some libertarians, already unaccustomed to thinking in terms of fundamental principles, come up with the following.
The reliance on such heuristics can perhaps be explained in terms of rational economic decision-making -- in that there is not enough time in the day to bother to learn much about politics -- but, more deeply, in terms of evolutionary psychology. The human mind is too primitive to understand the complexities of modern politics. Democratic politics thus present a choice between the ideological rigidity of the elites and the sheer incompetence of the masses. We can escape this predicament only by reducing the role of government in our lives.
This is absurd on its face. What "complexities" are beyond the ability to reason with abstract concepts that we all have? Granted, the minutiae of the bureaucracy of the modern welfare state are beyond the inclination of many to know in detail, but this is not a necessary bit of knowledge in an election so much as a symptom, in most cases, that a government has become a little too large.

I didn't think much of the level of analysis overall, but found some of the factual data here of interest.

The real question in my mind is this: Might the practice of thinking of conservatism as "a" movement be obsolete, if it ever was a good idea?

Transportation Matters in Houston

In today's Houston Chronicle, I learned that some idiot wants Houston to have its own "big dig" in order to bury 14.5 miles of Interstate 45, which is slated for expansion. Aside from flooding concerns, this would make another expansion out of the question. This engineer's anti-growth reply? "More highway lanes is not a cure to the problem. These things run in 20-year cycles. In another 20 years, if not sooner, they'll want to add more lanes, then we're back to where we started." Well, hell. Let's just save ourselves the trouble and leave it the way it is now. At least we'd save the money we're paying to give this guy a salary.

In the meantime, our government-subsidized bus system waits until it costs $5.90 per rider per trip before it considers cutting back on a route.

Cathy Young Makes an Interesting Point

Awhile back, I used a lousy Cathy Young piece on Ayn Rand at 100 to launch into a discussion about the nature of emotions. Today, I thought she made an interesting point in the Boston Globe.
A comment on the left-wing website Daily Kos described Sheehan as ''Terri Schiavo reincarnated." I believe this was meant as a compliment. But actually, the Sheehan circus has a lot in common with the Schiavo circus, none of it good. Both stories represent a triumph -- on different sides of the political divide -- of emotion- and sentiment-driven politics [bold added]. Schiavo's parents could go off on paranoid, crazy, vitriolic rants, and enjoy a certain immunity by virtue of their unthinkable tragedy. The same is true of Sheehan.
CAIR Intimidates ABC

This story has been festering for awhile and came to a head today. Former talk radio show host Michael Graham reports:
On July 25th, the Council on American-Islamic Relations demanded that I be "punished" for my on-air statements regarding Islam and its tragic connections to terrorism. Three days later, 630 WMAL and ABC Radio suspended me without pay for comments deemed "hate radio" by CAIR.

CAIR immediately announced that my punishment was insufficient and demanded I be fired. ABC Radio and 630 WMAL have now complied. I have now been fired for making the specific comments CAIR deemed "offensive," and for refusing to retract those statements in a management-mandated, on-air apology. ABC Radio further demanded that I agree to perform what they described as "additional outreach efforts" to those people or groups who felt offended.

I refused. And for that refusal, I have been fired.

-- CAV


Corrected typo. HT: Adrian Hester.

Around the Web on 8-21-05

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Since I often find noteworthy articles on the web and comment on them briefly, I have decided to simply start calling these posts "Around the Web" when they don't have a unifying theme that demands a better title.

Space Elevators

Bradley Carl Edwards (via Instapundit) discusses the viability and potential benefits of constructing huge elevators -- as an alternative to rockets -- for the purpose of transporting cargo and human beings into space. This sounds like it might be viable, except that I find it hard to believe that space debris wouldn't quickly render useless the one meter wide, super-strong ribbon-track used for the cars.

It now costs about US $20 000 per kilogram to put objects into orbit. Contrast that rate with the results of a study I recently performed for NASA, which concluded that a single space elevator could reduce the cost of orbiting payloads to a remarkably low $200 a kilogram and that multiple elevators could ultimately push costs down below $10 a kilogram. With space elevators we could eventually make putting people and cargo into space as cheap, kilogram for kilogram, as airlifting them across the Pacific.

The implications of such a dramatic reduction in the cost of getting to Earth orbit are startling. It's a good bet that new industries would blossom as the resources of the solar system became accessible as never before. Take solar power: the idea of building giant collectors in orbit to soak up some of the sun's vast power and beam it back to Earth via microwaves has been around for decades. But the huge size of the collectors has made the idea economically unfeasible with launch technologies based on chemical rockets. With a space elevator's much cheaper launch costs, however, the economics of space-based solar power start looking good.

Patterico Slams LA Times in LA Times

I seem to recall that TIA Daily had recently reported that the Los Angeles Times experimented with an online forum or something of the sort in the vein of latching on to the phenomenon of blogging. That experiment was unsuccessful. Now, it seems, the paper is trying to ride the blogospheric wave in another way: by inviting bloggers to write columns critical of its coverage!

An occasional column in which the Los Angeles Times invites outside critics to wallop a Southern California newspaper, even when it has a new editor and a new publisher ....
Oh, yeah. And the column about how the LA Times has covered the Cindy Sheehan story was pretty good, too.
Of course, hundreds of mothers across the country also continue to support the war despite having lost their own sons in Iraq. These mothers have no less moral authority than Cindy Sheehan, but their views have been sorely lacking in The Times' unbalanced coverage of Sheehan's protest.

Also missing is the perspective of Iraqis who lost loved ones to the bloodthirsty reign of Saddam Hussein, during which 300,000 to 1 million civilians were slaughtered. An Iraqi named Mohammed at the blog Iraq the Model ( recently explained the importance of that fact, in a moving message addressed to Sheehan: "Your face doesn't look strange to me at all; I see it every day on endless numbers of Iraqi women who were struck by losses like yours. Our fellow countrymen and women were buried alive, cut to pieces and thrown in acid pools and some were fed to the wild dogs ….

"I ask you in the name of God or whatever you believe in; do not waste your son's blood."

Sheehan probably would gain more from a single meeting with Mohammed than a second meeting with Bush. Times readers also would benefit from occasional exposure to perspectives such as Mohammed's -- as well as the missing facts about Sheehan's antiwar activism.

Inside the North Korean Slave State

There's a good review of two books about the rule of Kim Jong "Mentally" Il in The New Yorker. The review is interesting for a couple of reasons, one being that the reviewer takes one of the authors to task (mildly) for going through contortions in an effort to be "balanced" in his portrayal of the "charming" dictator. To wit:
North Korea in the nineteen-nineties was, in [author Bradley K.] Martin's somewhat peculiar choice of phrase, "a nightmare by human-rights standards." Farmers were not allowed to relieve their hunger by growing their own food and selling it, for, Kim observed, "Telling people to solve the food problems on their own only increases the number of farmers markets and peddlers. In addition, this creates egoism among people, and the basis of the Party's class may come to collapse." If things were bad in "normal" life, the conditions in the vast North Korean gulag are difficult to imagine. Even here Martin's struggles for "balance" come across as slightly otiose: "While more and more inmates died as a result of malnutrition, the political prison camps continued to be run more as slave-labor and slow death camps than as instant death camps. It may seem a small distinction, but it shows that in this regard at least Kim Jong Il was no Hitler." [bold added]
Aside from knowing to avoid the purchase of Martin's book, I also found the review very interesting for what it says about the situation in Korea, from details about Kim Jong Il's lavish lifestyle, how he holds power, and how he holds the city of Seoul hostage when "negotiating" with other countries. The reviewer also makes the following point about how North Korea might be pressuring China.
It's true that China supplies the state with most of its fuel and food. But it benefits from having a Communist buffer state, and fears the consequences of North Korea's collapse -- not least a stampede of refugees. Indeed, in the two years since the regime served notice of its nuclear-weapons program, trade between China and Korea has doubled, to $1.4 billion.
This strikes me as naive. Were North Korea to collapse, I doubt China would hesitate to make full use of its military to send the refugee problem southward. I take this as yet another example of Chinese collaboration or sponsorship.

On the Legal Status of Terrorists

An article in Legal Affairs by Douglas R. Burgess Jr. entertains the interesting notion of treating terrorists like pirates under international law to solve several legal dilemmas. It is interesting to read about how piracy was treated over the ages and how that problem parallels terrorism in many ways.
Coming up with such a [legal] framework would perhaps seem impossible, except that one already exists. Dusty and anachronistic, perhaps, but viable all the same. More than 2,000 years ago, Marcus Tullius Cicero defined pirates in Roman law as hostis humani generis, "enemies of the human race." From that day until now, pirates have held a unique status in the law as international criminals subject to universal jurisdiction -- meaning that they may be captured wherever they are found, by any person who finds them. The ongoing war against pirates is the only known example of state vs. nonstate conflict until the advent of the war on terror, and its history is long and notable. More important, there are enormous potential benefits of applying this legal definition to contemporary terrorism.
While there might be merits in having an international legal framwork to combat terrorism, such a framework would really only be useful among civilized countries. And so the following passage bothers me.
The rise and fall of state-sponsored piracy bears chilling similarity to current state-sponsored terrorism. Many nations, including Libya, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan, have sponsored terrorist organizations to wage war against the United States or other Western powers. In each case, the motivations have been virtually identical to those of Elizabeth: harass the enemy, deplete its resources, terrify its citizens, frustrate its government, and remain above the fray. The United States is credited with manufacturing its own enemy by training, funding, and outfitting terrorist groups in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Central America during the cold war.
The author is trying to draw a parallel between the Declaration of Paris of 1856, when several European powers that had been covertly sponsoring piracy all agreed to abandon the practice entirely upon realizing they'd created a monster. Unfortunately, the parallel breaks down when the author starts ticking off states sponsors of terrorism as soon as the list gets to Iran, if not before! What does Iran care about ending terrorism? Having a framework within international law to fight terrorism will be useless unless civilized countries recognize each other's right to invade state sponsors of terrorism. This moral distinction is practically absent from the membership requirements of the U.N., whose definition of piracy Burgess cites at one point. (This would make implementing this idea in the context of the U.N. moot in many respects.)

On top of that, the article makes a major error best observed here.
Second, this definition would deter states from harboring terrorists on the grounds that they are "freedom fighters" by providing an objective distinction in law between legitimate insurgency and outright terrorism. This same objective definition could, conversely, also deter states from cracking down on political dissidents as "terrorists," as both Russia and China have done against their dissidents.
But what of domestic terrorism? In the paragraph before this one, Burgess says that, "If a group directs its attacks on military or civilian targets within its own state, it may still fall within domestic criminal law." So Britain, for example, whose own citizens bombed its subways in July, should certainly have the ability to stop home-grown terrorists. But if this is so, what's to stop a despotic regime like China from doing exactly what Burgess thinks it won't do? In any case, one problem I have with the article is that it seems to focus too much on terrorism as an international problem.

While I see merits to this idea, the article seems to err too much on the side of treating terrorism like a criminal activity (1) when a state's own citizens perform terrorist acts, and (2) by too easily assuming that all nation-states are civilized, or at least are interested in ending terrorism. Its idea of having an framework under international law of dealing with terrorism is a good one, but only if a distinction between civilized nations and state sponsors of terrorism is made, and only if the definition of terrorism is not limited to the international variety.

PARADE has a good Q&A

I usually have to be in a really perverse mood to even open the PARADE supplement in the Sunday paper. Between the mindless celebrity worship, Franklin Mint ads, the enshrinement of Marilyn vos Savant as some kind of oracle, and the pushing of whatever silly health fad happens to be in fashion, I start feeling like I'm in a time warp back to the days when the leftist media was all there was. THIS was news and entertainment: soft-pedaled socialism, inoffensive blandness, and the general assumption that there was nothing so stupid that it could insult the intelligence of the average American.

But in my post-traumatic flashback, I digress.... Get a load of this, from the "Personality Parade" feature.
Q A while back, I saw a young environmentalist known as "Grizzly Man" on David Letterman's show. Whatever became of him?

A Sadly, Tim Treadwell met the fate that Letterman jokingly predicted: "Will we be reading one day that you've been killed and eaten by bears?" Treadwell, 46, and his girlfriend, Amy Huguenard, 37, were killed two years ago in a remote area of Alaska by a rogue bear. His extensive video footage was turned into the documentary Grizzly Man, which won an award at the Sundance film Festival and was just released in selected theaters.
From a web page about this incident:
Tim was a friend of the bears. His passion was to share his observations that grizzlies are not the ferocious beasts we have always thought them to be. He had a childlike quality that helped him educate the thousands of children he visited in classrooms every year. He also taught that people should not approach wild animals and do what he does, and his website goes on teaching that today. Another of Tim’s purposes was to deter poachers who sometimes boat along the coast of Katmai National Park after the tourists leave. The protected bears of Katmai are among the largest grizzlies in the world. They live longer than bears in hunting areas, and they grow to truly trophy size. Tim wanted to stop poachers from shooting his friends and slipping away undetected.
With friends like those, Tim didn't need "ferocious beasts".

-- CAV


10-13-05: Added hypertext anchor.

Omnipotent State Withholds Power

Friday, August 19, 2005

The notion that state-owned monopolies can magically provide everyone in a nation with anything they need took a hit today. Indeed, we now have proof by example that such monopolies can deprive enormous numbers of people in a nation of something they need. Indonesia's government electricity monopoly has set, what I am sure, is the record for the world's worst electrical blackout, in terms of the number of people affected: 100 million! (The Great Blackout of 1965 affected only 25 million. This figure and those for other recent North American blackouts can be found here.)

Some 100m Indonesians were without electricity on Thursday as power outages hit the country's main grid, leaving office workers in Jakarta trapped in elevators and the state-owned power monopoly [bold added] struggling for an explanation.
The immediate blame rested on an inadequate infrastructure: old transmission lines and not enough generating capacity.

In parts, the main transmission lines were more than 20 years old, Mr Widiono told reporters. The outages also highlighted what is rapidly becoming an energy crisis for Indonesia, one of the world's most resource- and energy-rich countries [bold added].

The World Bank and others have warned that lack of investment in the power sector would create a power-generating deficit as the economy and demand for electricity grew.

Fortunately for Indonesia, efforts are underway to introduce privatization to the power sector. This is ultimately what will be needed to encourage "investment in the power sector". While the United States has a slightly freer energy sector and some movement towards allowing competition, support for environmentalism has resulted in regulations (and litigation) that have prevented us from adding sorely-needed generation capacity. Writing about the brownouts that occurred in California a couple of years ago, Andrew Bernstein writes:
[T]he biomass power industry, which burns waste from forest timber to produce electricity, has been crippled by lawsuits from environmentalist organizations. The Honey Lake biomass plant was shut down several years ago because of litigation originated by the San Francisco-based Earth Island Institute against the U.S. Forest Service. Because of the lawsuit, the Forest Service suspended the logging operations that provided the biomass company with its fuel source. Prior to the shutdown, the 20 biomass companies in California could collectively have generated 600 megawatts per year. Further, California has not built a new power plant in almost 20 years. The reason is that any attempt must endure years of costly lawsuits from environmentalist groups. The Diablo Canyon nuclear station, finally completed in 1985, had its building costs increased twelve-fold, from $500 million to $6 billion. Nuclear plants, despite their unparalleled safety record in the United States, are a favorite target, but hydroelectric plants are also attacked because they require construction of dams, and coal plants because they are considered too dirty [italics added].
I have often argued that excessive government control of an economy can result in shortages, but I never considered the kind of instant havoc a state electricity monopoly could wreak.

But this is impressive only in the speed at which so many were affected. The ability to force its citizens to be loyal customers and the lack of a profit motive make such a result a predictable, if usually slower, outcome of any such government monopoly.

-- CAV

Funny Enough to Post

I usually ignore insulting comments, but I got one at the group blog at Objectivism Online that elicited what I thought a clever and worthwhile reply. In fact, it might be useful to remember it as the socialized medicine debate ramps up. The post is here. I replicate the comments below.


Do you have any other thoughts than the standard rep/conservative talking points? Basically the same tired thing over and over.

Oh by the way, the Ann R. links are also very cliche'.

Posted by: Herr Schlage at August 18, 2005 10:39 PM


Insults like yours are cliche.

But there is a grain of truth in your charge that I'm making "standard ... talking points". For the benefit of readers open to argument, I'll explore it briefly.

If I sound repetitive here, it's because the socialist left keeps trying to do the same thing with a new spin every few years. So writing against such efforts ends up being fairly easy: Figure out a way to explain why the new spin makes no difference and then point out the fallacies behind the socialist position. (These do not change.)

It's a bit like counterarguing someone who pops up every few years trying to convince everyone else that the sun rises in the West. One year, he'll say that it's an illusion that it rises in the East. Another year, he'll insist that what we're calling "East" is really "West". And then he'll try to tell us that what we think of as "setting" is really "rising". Of course he's wrong every single time, and I end up repeating myself.

Whose fault is that, really?

I can see the "'conservatives' are parrots" meme being beaten to death, so it's good to have the advanced warning. Thanks for the heads up, Herr Schlage.

The insulting comment is a variant of the argument from intimidation.

-- CAV

Forecast Correct

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Awhile back, I blogged about a prediction that a concerted effort to demagogue global warming would occur this summer. That post is worth rereading. Here's the gist of Jay Lehr's prediction.

In early May, newspapers across the country reported that a team of "adventurers" from Minnesota was setting off to "document climate change" at the North Pole.

According to newspaper reports, they aim to "draw [attention to] the gradual warming of Earth's climate" and "hope to convince skeptics, especially in the Bush administration, that global warming is real...."

In other words, this summer will bring a barrage of misinformation about the Earth's ice structures provided by non-scientists who make casual observations and then claim they know what caused the situations they are observing.
Now, via Drudge, comes a report that a team of intrepid U.S. senators has declared the scientific method dispensable. Instead, we are to defer to the expertise on the matter that they have developed through ... "anecdotes from Alaskans and residents of the Yukon Territory."

This is a truly ghastly article. I'll point out a few choice quotes.
(1) McCain, accompanied by Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., spoke to villagers in Canada whose spruce trees are being attacked by the northward spread of spruce beetles. On Alaska's northern coast, they met Native Alaskans dealing with melting permafrost and coastal erosion.

(2) "If you can go to the Native people and listen to their stories and walk away with any doubt that something's going on, I just think you're not listening," [Senator Graham] said.

(3) McCain said the trip has been valuable for the accumulation of evidence that can be used to push the bill. Ultimately, he said, Americans will demand laws to decrease emissions, just as they demanded campaign financing reform.

(4) Graham couched the argument for climate change, as well as another major Alaska issue, petroleum drilling of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as a national security measure. Continued dependence on foreign fossil fuels makes America vulnerable, he said.

(5) "You just keep saying something no matter how untrue and unfactual it might be, over and over and over again, and try to drive the politics to meet your ideological or commercial agenda," she said. "That is a grave disservice to our country." [Indeed. --ed]

In the whole puffball piece was one sentence to the contrary: "Opponents of the legislation, including Sen. Ted Stevens R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, attribute warming to cyclical geophysical forces."

-- CAV

Crossposted to the Egosphere

Cindy Sheehan Update

I have posted a Cindy Sheehan update over at Ego.

-- CAV

Multiculturalism vs. 14th Amendment

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

They are all first cousins. Now, according to the American scheme of things, they're all black-even the guy with blond hair who skis in Oslo. That's what the one drop rule says. -- Lawrence Wright

Former senators Slade Gorton and Hank Brown have issued the following warning.

The Senate is poised to sanction the creation of a racially exclusive government by and for Native Hawaiians who satisfy a blood test. The new race-based sovereign that would be summoned into being by the so-called Akaka Bill would operate outside the U.S. Constitution and the nation's most cherished civil rights statutes. Indeed, the champions of the proposed legislation boast that the new Native Hawaiian entity could secede from the Union like the Confederacy, but without the necessity of shelling Fort Sumter.

The Akaka Bill classifies citizens by race, defying the express provisions of the 14th Amendment [link added].It also rests on a betrayal of express commitments made by its sponsors a decade ago, and asserts as true many false statements about the history of Hawaii. It should be defeated.
Specifically, this bill would trample the rights of persons not classified as "Native Hawaiian", not to mention set a very bad precedent.
(1) [The Akaka Bill] invokes the Apology Resolution to justify granting persons of Native Hawaiian descent -- even in minuscule proportion -- political and economic rights and land denied to other citizens of Hawaii.

(2) [This] would begin a process of splintering sovereignties in the U.S. for every racial, ethnic or religious group traumatized by an identity crisis. Movement is already afoot among a few Hispanic Americans to carve out race-based sovereignty from eight western states because the U.S. "wrongfully" defeated Mexico in the Mexican-American war.
Leave it to the multi-culti crowd to revive the one drop rule, apply it to a different ethnic group, and then create a perverse new version of Jim Crow to be applied towards everyone else!

-- CAV

Crossposted to the Egosphere

Opportunities for Objectivist Writers

This news has been raining like buckets. To keep track, I've put all the links in one place.


This is probably old news to most of my readers, but Don Watkins has decided to take the bull by the horns and fill the void left by the defunct Objectivist Forum with a new publication of his own, Axiomatic.

Axiomatic is a publication for Objectivists who wish to write seriously about Objectivist topics that are inappropriate for mainstream publications, and who do not wish to write for anti-Objectivist publications. (We will also welcome authors who wish to publish anonymously in order to protect their identity -– especially individuals pursuing careers in academia, a world often hostile to Objectivists.)
For those interested in subscribing to or writing for the magazine, relevant contact information is here. Watkins has also posted subscription rates and submission guidelines.

The Undercurrent

In the meantime, The Undercurrent, in preparing for its fourth issue, is holding another blogger contest.

-- CAV

Sino-Russian Ties Strengthen

From several sources, news comes that Russia and China are forming an anti-American military alliance. At RealClear Politics is an article by Peter Brookes on the first-ever joint military exercise held by the countries.

This week will see an ominous precedent: The first- ever joint Chinese-Russian military exercises kick off Thursday in Northeast Asia.

The exercises are small in scale -- but huge in implication. They indicate a further warming of the "strategic partnership" that Moscow and Beijing struck back in 1996.
The exercises are both a threatening gesture towards Taiwan and an opportunity for the former superpower to showcase military hardware it hopes to sell to China.
For instance, although Russia nixed the idea, the Chinese demanded the exercises be held 500 miles to the south -- a move plainly aimed at intimidating Taiwan.

Beijing clearly wanted to send a warning to Washington (and, perhaps, Tokyo) about its support for Taipei, and hint at the possibility that if there were a Taiwan Strait dust-up, Russia might stand with China.

The exercise also gives Russia an opportunity to strut its military wares before its best customers -- Chinese generals. Moscow is Beijing's largest arms supplier, to the tune of more than $2 billion a year for purchases that include subs, ships, missiles and fighters.
Bill Gertz (via TIA Daily) also addresses this unfortunate development. I also would agree with Robert Tracinski that this signals the absorption of Russia into China's "zombie empire".

-- CAV

Systemic Problems at NASA

In a recent blog entry on NASA, I said the following,

We see the government overriding good decisions already made, in the name of junk science, and over a long period of time. Who, with any sense of pride or integrity, could bear to work in such an institutional climate? Who will be left after the predictable brain drain? And anyone familiar with the bowels of a bureaucracy will, rest assured, understand what things will be like for any conscientious newcomer. Think about all this for a moment.


For the engineers working at NASA, their choice really is to continue working there at the risk of their self-respect and mental health or to get the hell out.
It appears that my speculation on the "corporate culture" of NASA was right on the money. All bold is my own.
The final report, however, includes supplemental papers, including one signed by seven members that cites continuing management problems, engineering shortfalls and schedule pressures in the shuttle program.

For example, the members wrote that NASA did not plan its return to shuttle flight by determining what work needed to be done and setting a realistic schedule. As a result, engineers redesigned the shuttle's external fuel tank before knowing how vulnerable the ship's heat shield was to debris impact.

A piece of insulation fell off Columbia's tank during launch and damaged the ship's wing. The shuttle was torn apart by atmospheric forces 16 days later as it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere for landing.

The report also said NASA is too willing to accept risks based on past performance, an attitude that doomed the Columbia crew. [Felipe Sediles blogged specifically about this point. -- ed]

Because it had never lost a crew due to debris falling off the tank and striking the shuttle, NASA considered the issue a matter of post-flight maintenance, not flight safety.

The members reserved their harshest criticism for NASA management.

"What we observed, during the return-to-flight effort, was that NASA leadership often did not set the proper tone, establish achievable expectations, or hold people accountable for meeting them," the report said.

"On many occasions, we observed weak understanding of basic program management and systems engineering principles, an abandonment of traditional processes, and a lack of rigor in execution."
But this is nothing. It's a coin-toss as to which of the following is more damning:
(1) In another supplemental report, panel member Charles Daniel, a former NASA engineer, pointed out that NASA never did establish exactly why the chunk of foam fell off from Columbia's tank. Instead, the foam in the area was removed and replaced with electric heaters to ward off potentially dangerous ice formations. [This is aside from the fact that an inferior type of foam had been used. NASA does know that little detail. -- ed]

(2) The report was written before NASA launched shuttle Discovery last month on the agency's first manned mission since the Columbia accident. Several large chunks of foam fell off during that launch as well, prompting NASA to halt shuttle flights again until the problem is fixed.
We launched the shuttle not knowing -- aside from the fact we were using inferior foam -- why the foam came off? And knowing the contents of this report?

Keep this in mind the next time you hear someone damn the profit motive for giving incentives to "cut corners" or "ignore safety". Suppose you're an astronaut. Would you rather have bureaucrats in charge of the design of your ship, bureaucrats who will be able to hide behind their mammoth organization and a report (a big pile of paper) if something goes wrong? Or would you rather have some greedy bastard (This expression suddenly sounds fit for family hour now.) running things who would lose his ass if something bad happens?

I'll go with the greedy bastard.

-- CAV

I MUST Return to Belgium!

Can a snark do pundit-blogging? Here's my first attempt to emulate Martin's blogging style! Perhaps the result will be an interesting hybrid.... Enjoy!

Stop by Martin Lindeskog's blog, Ego to see for yourself.

-- CAV

Note: I will duplicate the entire post here at a later date.