Saturday, March 31, 2007

I've Been Robbed!

Many thanks to Mr. Tweedy for pointing out that a third party is stealing my content for profit.

I'm appropriately angry, etc. etc. - but I won't have time to do anything about this until the semester finishes.

I'm sure Mr. Tweedy is right that it will be hard to fix this as long as I'm with Blogger. Since I never inteded to be on Blogger this long to begin with, this is really just a nice kick in the pants to get up and design my own hand-coded blog. I enjoy programming, but I know little about webprogramming - a gap in my knowledge I've long meant to correct.

Also, I need to start marketing myself a bit more if I hope to get a good academic job in another year and a half. A solid web presence (with links to papers and programs I've written) would be a good idea in any case.

But as one of my academically successful relatives is fond of saying, "gradschool is not a healthy place." I just don't have time to handcode a blog at the moment. The best I can do right now is tell iphide to go fuck itself.

Iphide: go fuck yourself!

An Appropriate Gesture

Sydney, Australia dimmed its lights last night as a "gesture of concern about global warming."

I'm not exactly sure what it has to do with Global Warming, but as a "gesture of concern about the Kyoto Protocol" it's completely appropriate.

Restaurants throughout the city held candlelight-only dinners, and families gathered in public places to take part in a countdown to lights out, sending up a cheer when the lights started going out at 7:30 p.m. local time.

A cheer when the lights went out? In other words, this is the first mass display of public honesty about Kyoto since the treaty was proposed. This is exactly the method of cutting greenhouse emissions that the Kyoto Protocol advocates. We'll just turn off all the lights, scale back industrial production, and in general give up on the Industrial Revolution as a bad mistake.

No thanks!

I like electricity, I like industry, I like technology, and I like the modern world. Solutions to global warming that advocate the scaling back of these things will not earn my support - unless it can be demonstrated (which it has not been) that we're already past a point of no return where global warming itself poses an even bigger threat to them.

"It's an hour of active, thoughtful darkness, a celebration of our awakening to climate change action," said Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett, who attended a harborside function to watch the event.

OK, so Cate Blanchett speaks bullshit more fluently than she speaks Elvish. Considering she's one of the stars in a series of movies made off of the biggest, most pompous piece of back-to-nature propaganda ever written, it fits. I guess I just don't see what's to celebrate about the lights going out. If that's what you want, there are places where it's already happened.

Let's not give up on technology yet, please. The real effects of global warming are a century away. Given the phenomenal pace of technological advancement, I feel confident there will be a technology-based solution before then.

Cherry-Picking is my Religion

Another cool story from Germany. In this case, a female judge in Frankfurt (aka the ugliest city in the world) refused a Morrocan immigrant woman's request for a divorce on the grounds that her husband beat her, citing the fact that the Koran allows men to beat their wives.

OK, obviously this is an illegal ruling. Germany (unlike - ahem - some annoying countries) does not generally recognize cultural traditions in legal matters (unless they're Catholic traditions and it's in Bavaria). If the law in Germany says you can't beat your wife (which it does, especially if you're a "right-winger") - then you can't beat your wife, no matter how much time you spent reading the Koran on the jon.

All the same, there's a mean streak in me that wants to support this on the general grounds that people should have to face up to their own dumb decisions. If this woman is a muslim and has a muslim marraige (which she is, and did), and muslim marriages allow for wife-beating, then in some important sense she gave her consent when she adopted her silly religion and married according to its backward dictates. Because honestly - is there anything in the world more annoying than people who pick and choose bits of religions to believe in? So the Koran is God's Holy Law, dictated word-for-word to His Prophet - bucept for those parts I don't like - He was just kidding about them?

Now, if the lesson she's learned from all this is that Islam is dumb and backward and something she wants nothing more to do with - i.e. roughly Hirsi Ali's conclusion - then I'm right behind her. But if the lesson is "oh, gee, one or two things in this religion don't work out so well for me - but I still believe that Allah lives in the sky and writes bestseller self-help books that are near-absolute law," then she's a troglodyte and largely deserves her fate (illegal though it be - and should be).

Hate Crimes up in Germany - Time to Reinvade Normandy!

"Right-wing" crimes rose in Germany last year. By 14%!!!! And violent attacks on foreigners are up a whopping 37%!!! Call the younger Eisenhowers - let's kill this serpent in the shell!

Or not. Actually, there were only 511 "violent" attacks on foreigners last year - which in a country of 85million with a significant foreign population is not really all that bad. And of course, as any reader will notice, it's not statistically difficult to get a 37% spike in numbers in the hundreds in any given year for crimes of this kind.

But the really cool lines in the article are these:

The total number of politically motivated crimes, which also includes crimes by leftist groups, rose by about 10 percent to 29,050 cases.

Oh, nice - so the lefties count too, but the leading sentence of the article is still "BERLIN - Crimes by right-wing extremists and attacks on foreigners rose in Germany last year, the government said Friday." Right.

Earlier we're told that there were 18000 "right-wing" political crimes in Germany last year - so if these numbers are right, then there were roughly 6,000 more "right-wing" political crimes than there were "left-wing" political crimes. So, clearly, the right-wingers are the bigger problem.

Or maybe not. Consider that:

Inciting racial hatred, denying the Holocaust and displaying Nazi symbols are all crimes in Germany.

Gee - so the political opinions and symbols of expression of the right wing are banned, but the beliefs and symbols of the left are not, and the groups whose symbols and opinions are banned just also happens to be the side of the coin that accounts for those "excess" 6000 "political crimes?" Who'da thunk?

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that most of these 6,000 political "crimes" involve things like giving a stiff-armed salute to the police while drunk, or being caught reading some Holocaust-denial literature without a proper license on the subway. In other words, things that in a more reasonable country would be protected free speech - a right and not a crime.

The lesson to be learned from this article is that lots of politics is self-fulfilling prophecy. If you make a particular political opinion a "crime," don't be surprised to find that believers in that creed disproportionately account for "political crimes" in your country. If you make even harmless drugs like marijuana illegal, don't be surprised to find that there is a "drug epidemic" in your country. If (as a friend points out yesterday) you raise taxes dramatically on oil, don't be surprised to find that prices go up "necessitating" more funding for "alternative" energy sources.

The point is that we should concentrate our energies on fighting real problems. The police can only do so much - but if what the police are doing is tracking down child molesters and murderers, then I'd say that's what they're for and more power to them. If, on the other hand, they're slapping artificial price tags on gas to justify someone's ethanol subsidy, or telling me when, where and how much I can pay for crappy government healthcare, or arresting people for expressing opinions the government doesn't like - then we really have to ask ourselve why we fund them at all?

At any rate, this is just another in a long series of stories about Germany's complete inability to learn from its past mistakes. You can't fight fascism with fascism, kids.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Another Classic from our Tireless Hero

This it too rich! Apparently ethanol is a giant conspiracy by the US to starve the rest of the world. I kid you not - I have this straight from Fidel Castro.

Castro wrote that during a Monday meeting between the U.S. president and American automobile manufacturers, "The sinister idea of converting food into combustibles was definitively established as the economic line of the foreign policy of the United States."

The "sinister" idea. Wasn't this the same US that supposedly invaded Iraq to steal its oil? At least, that's what his line was back in 2005. And before that, in 1998, it went something like this:

According to the calculations of renowned economists, the world economy grew six-fold and the production of wealth and services grew from less than five trillion to more than twenty-nine trillion dollars between 1950 and 1997. Why then is it still the case that each year, 12 million children under five years of age die -- that is to say 33,000 per day -- of whom the overwhelming majority could be saved?

In short, as far as Fidel Castro is concerned, whatever the US does is just bad. Invade Iraq? It's for the oil! Wait, they're trying to introduce an alternative to oil? Those filthy bastards are stealing the world's food. ON PURPOSE! Wait, I said in 1998 that they produce way more food than the world needs and are too greedy to share? Um...well...

What a nutjob. Here's the truth: ethanol is NOT a conspiracy to starve the world. The world is capable of feeding itself several times over. The reason it doesn't is not because the US is "too greedy" to feed it for free - it's because feeding people for free is immoral. Or, more accurately, feeding them for free when they're capable of feeding themselves is immoral. All that foreign aid does is prop up despicable regimes. The reason, for example, that Ethiopia is starving is NOT becuase the US refuses to give it food. The US gives it TONS of food. It's because Ethiopia's economy was destroyed in the 70s by Marxists, and Castro helped them do it. Ditto virtually every other failed state in Africa. Consider, for another example, how well Angola is doing now thanks to all Castro's generous "assistance" in the 70s. The pattern couldn't possibly be clearer. If there are 12million children that die before age 5, then roughly all 12million of them live in Socialist countries. Give a man a fish, he eats for a day - teach him how to fish, he eats forever. It doesn't matter that the US wants to turn corn into ethanol. We made the damn corn, we can do with it what we want. If someone else would care to make some corn, he is free to give it to the oppressed masses - but it isn't going to do them a whit of good. The only thing that helps people is allowing them to produce and keep the products of their own labor. Castro advocates a system that does just the opposite - expects people to produce, but doesn't let them keep what they make. THAT is why Cuba's economy is a shambles. And THAT is why Africa is a shambles. It's the Marxism, stupid - not western "greed." People - surprise, surprise - won't make things if you just go and take it from them as soon as it gets produced!

Let's consider what would happen if we accepted Castro's suggestion that we just hand over all our surplus corn to people who aren't going to pay us for it. Do you think even for a minute that we would maintain the same stunning level of agricultural production we currently do if we stopped paying our farmers? Yeah, gee, thanks for all the corn you grew, Mr. Smith. We in Washington have determined that you don't really need it, so we're going to take it from you and give it to other people. And we'll pay you only for what we think you really needed to produce, how 'bout that? Really, I don't think anyone should be surprised under such a system to find that the next year Mr. Smith only produces as much corn as they're going to pay him for.

This stuff is so basic. Why is there Socialism? I just don't get it. As for Castro - go ahead and die already, you old fossil. The world has already suffered enough from your ideas. We don't need a repeat.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Quick and Easy Math the Reuters Way!

More cool math from Reuters. Today's example comes from this article on the captured British seamen. Reporting on the "effects" of the "tension" on commodities markets, we get:

With the United States conducting naval exercises in the Gulf, the rising tension rattled global markets. Oil prices jumped by $5 overnight to more than $68 a barrel before they settled back to around $64. Gold jumped to a four-week high on safe-haven buying before prices eased.

Let's consider what these figures mean. Oil jumps $5 to some vague figure of $68 plus alpha - and then sinks "to around $64." If I'm not mistaken, that means it sunk $4 plus alpha - so, almost $5. In other words, the price of oil remains essentially unchanged, nothing to see here.

For gold, we don't even get any figures. It "jumped" to a four-week high on "safe-haven" buying. See, I just don't know what that means. Is there some blank on the certificate for purchase of gold that says "Reason for purchase," and a larger-than-usual number of people penciled in "worried about inflation due to skyrocketing commodity prices?" Yeah, somehow I don't think that's how it works. This "safe-haven buying" phrase is really just convenient wording for Reuters. Truth is, we don't know why people were buying gold more heavily yesterday than at any time in the preceding four weeks - but personally, I don't think there's anything alarming about gold prices reaching a four-week high in and of itself. I mean, for any period of four weeks, one of the days has to post the highest prices, right? It might as well have been yesterday. What would be alarming is if the price of gold spiked sharply and unexpectedly - but of course we have no numbers here to indicate that it did. For all we know from the complete lack of useful information given, the price of gold has been steadily rising starting three weeks ago, and yesterday just so happened to continue that trend.

Assuming that's the case, an accurate translation from Reuters-speak to English would be "Even with the United States conducting naval exercises in the Gulf, the rising tension completely failed to rattle global markets."

Amazing what a few choice adjectives can do for you when you want your facts to say something they don't.

A Dumb Invention

I predict that this doesn't end up selling very well. It's a cellphone that doubles as a cigarette case - for sale in China (where cigarette smokers are rumored to still exist).

What I Want for Christmas

What I want for Christmas is definitely this. It's some sort of sketching tool that has the potential to be the Coolest Whiteboard Ever. Basically, you draw on it, and it converts what you draw into computer representations of objects in an environment - so that the objects can interact with each other, etc. , Rube Goldberg style.

For classroom technology, this would be absolutely brilliant. See, one thing you can do with it is draw a line around part of something. If your circle connects back in on itself, the board highlights the region in red, and you can then move it around, or else delete it by drawing a slash through it. Further features someone could add would be, say, handwriting recognition - so that your messy prof can scribble on the board and it converts what he writes into something aligned, neat and readable. Or else, maybe, it could have built-in abbreviations so that you write out only part of a word and it completes it for you. Hell, spellchecking might even come in handy! And the best part, of course, is no laborious erasing over chalkdust and/or whiteboard crap.

Naturally, these things are from MIT.

Can I Call 'em or What?

Can I call 'em or what? The dreaded budget vote happened yesterday in Commons, and the government survived with support from the Bloc. The NDP joined the Liberals in opposing the budget (I declined to call that one), but it passed 176-119. Harper will stay in power for at least a few more months, and there will be no spring election.

Of course, the press is still predicting that Harper will engineer a confidence vote to take advantage of his boost in popularity in the wake of the budget. It's true that his position is a bit precarious. With the budget vote behind us, the Liberals will undoubtedly start turning up the heat on environmental issues (and possibly "First Nations" issues) since that's pretty much all they have left to gripe about. Kyoto may yet prove a weakness for Harper.

I doubt it, though. I think, much to the press' (apparent) dismay, the Conservatives' recent boost in popularity is not a fluke. It won't last forever - and Harper does need an election within the next year, I would say, if he ever wants that majority - but there is still time. Whether he can get a majority right now, though, is anyone's guess. Waiting for his lead to grow a bit is a gamble likely to pay off.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Slave Trade was Global (in case you've forgotten)

Here is a nice illustration of the absurdity of slavery reparations. A protester interrupted a memorial service to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the UK (it wasn't abolished in the empire until 1833, and most slaves weren't technically "freed" until 6 years after that, as the Imperial Abolition required 6 more years of "apprenticeship").

A shouting protester got within metres of Queen Elizabeth II at a service Tuesday marking the 200th anniversary of Britain's abolition of the slave trade, demanding she apologise personally.

Why should the current Queen have to apologize for something that was abolished 200 years ago??? I suppose the heads of some African tribes are going to apologize to Europe for the African enslavement of Europeans that preceded this, then?

The 200th anniversary has left political and religious leaders wrestling with how Britain should face up to its past role in the slave trade.

Oh please! Britain should be proud of itself, if anything, for having abolished the slave trade before most African nations did. Yes, that's right folks, after Britain's 1807 abolition, and even well after the 1833 Imperial "Abolition," Africans kept happily trading themselves as property back and forth for almost 100 years after this. Slavery was, for example, only officially abolished in Ethiopia in 1923. And nope, it doesn't make it any better that this was "domestic" for the following reasons:

  1. How could it possibly mitigate the violation of the rights of the enslaved that it was "his own people" doing the violating? Is murder a lesser offense if it's black-on-black violence?

  2. In most cases it wasn't "domestic" anyway since the various tribes enslaving each other did (and still do) think of themselves as members of their tribe first, members of their political nation second, and Africans a distant third.

  3. Arabs were busy enslaving Africans and being enslaved by them. They were also enslaving Europeans.

"This nation has never apologised, there was no mention of the African freedom fighters. This is just a memorial of William Wilberforce."

Wilberforce was the driving parliamentarian behind the landmark change in the British law which abolished the slave trade.

Which really does beg the question, doesn't it, of why not have a memorial for William Wilberforce? I mean, if he convinced Parliament to abandon the slave trade, doesn't that mean he did a good thing? Or are you only a hero in the anti-slavery movement if you're not white?

Williams, the leader of the world's Anglicans, called slavery an offence to human dignity and freedom.

"We, who are the heirs of the slave-owning and slave-trading nations of the past, have to face the fact that our historic prosperity was built in large part on this atrocity," he said.

Oh grow up! It was nothing of the kind. Africans owned slaves before Europe came along and continued owning them afterward, and look what that's done for the prosperity of the continent! I'm really not clear on what the connection between the past existence of slavery and current economic prosperity is? If I'm not mistaken, the overwhelming majority of the United States' wealth, for example, was created well AFTER slavery was abolished - and that indeed the weakness of the slave-based plantation economy in the South was one of the major contributing factors to its crushing defeat in the American Civil War. America is prosperous BECAUSE it abolished slavery, not the other way round.

I, for one, say hats off to the UK for waking up faster than the US, and indeed most of the rest of the world, on this issue. These celebrations should be festive, as befits the commemoration of a proud and noble moment in the nation's history.

The protester

...said he was from Ligali, a British-based lobby group which sets out to "challenge the misrepresentation of African people and culture in the British media."

I would like to humbly suggest that he rededicate his time to fighting the misrepresentation of the British people, and indeed all people of Northern European descent, in the world media. There is, it seems to me, a lot more work to be done in that area than in correcting white impressions of Africans.

But what does it all MEAN?

So apparently it's the Bloc that's out in the cold after Quebec's election. Very interesting.

That isn't to say the Liberals did well. Charest started the election with a comfortable majority. Now he finds himself the first Quebec PM in more than 40 years to fail to win a majority in his second term. And indeed, Quebec hasn't seen a minority government since the last century! The Liberals will stay in power - but only just. 48 seats for them, and a stunning 41 for the insurgent ADQ. (The Bloc finishes with a relatively meager 36 - its worst result in almost 20 years.)

Despite lots of chattering in the pundit class in Canada today, it's completely impossible to say what effect this will have on federal politics (and Stephen Harper's chances of winning a majority in the next federal election). The article linked speclates that

Even without the immediate threat of Quebec separation, the election has consequences for the rest of Canada. The vote could determine whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper calls a federal election this spring.

Appropriately vague. I can see it more easily the other way around. Let's face it - barely scraping by in Quebec - a province they absolutely depend on for federal majorities - is bound to be more than a little discouraging to the Grits - especially when you consider that (a) their provincial counterparts didn't lose to the PQ but rather an upstart party that threatens to change the balance of power in Quebec forever and (b) Stephen Harper personally helped in the Liberal victory by tossing several billion dollars in federal transfer payments to Quebec at the last minute, allowing Charest to ex post facto fill one nagging campaign promise (tax cuts). Dion can't possibly see this as a good sign.

Now maybe the idea is that Harper himself will call the election (that's indeed how the quote is worded), but I can't see that Harper wants to mess with this either.

The election night disappointment for sovereigntists might convince Harper to call a federal election soon and go for more seats at the expense of the Bloc Quebecois.

Well, yes, right - but any seats the PQ loses will most likely be made up by the Liberals. The only thing that's making Harper's current minority even remotely workable is the fact that the opposition is so split. Imagine the same number of Conservative seats, only now facing a Liberal opposition strengthened by the seats it picked up from the Bloc's losses? Yeah - thanks for the wishful thinking there CanadaPress, but Harper's smarter than that.

No, I think this speaks against an early election call. Actually, I don't think Harper feels free to call an election at all just yet anyway. That he doesn't want one should be obvious from his budget, which was designed to put the Liberals in an awkward position. If there's to be an election at all, the Liberals will have to spark it by voting down the federal budget. For the reasons given above, I'd be really surprised if they wanted to do that just now. But let's say they're thinking "hey, egg on our face in Quebec - but at least the Bloc is hurting worse than we are. The ADQ isn't a federal party, and their voters probably won't swing Tory in a federal contest, so maybe we can pick up seats in Quebec at the Bloc's expense." Even under that assumption, they still need the Bloc or the NDP to help them defeat the federal budget. Obviously, the Bloc is going to throw itself hard behind Harper on this vote. They absolutely do not want an election after what happened yesterday. So that leaves the NDP. How that goes is anyone's guess. All other things being equal, the NDP would vote against Harper just out of spite. That, in fact, is what their voters expect, so Layton will have some 'splainin to do if the NDP supports the government on the budget vote. But it's some 'splainin he can probably handle - because the NDP has quietly been bleeding voters faster than anyone else.

Layton's true to his principles - probably the most honest head-of-party in Ottawa. That makes him really easy to spot on some issues and hard to spot on others. On principle, and even in the strategic big picture, he'll want a vote now in the hopes of strengthening the Liberal presence in Commons (even at his own party's expense) - because that will drag Canada back to the left and stop the rightward momentum that's been building since last January. Of course he'd rather send as big an NDP caucus as possible, but the Bloc is more helpful on the environment than his union issues, and it's ultimately the union issues that win him votes and motivate him personally. The Liberals are better allies. And having a vote now would pay off in the long run, I believe. If Layton's smart (and I'm not so sure he is), he'll know that taking a cut now but moving the consensus back to the left is an investment likely to pay off in the election after this one. Such is the life of a perpetual minority party. The 80s are over; they missed their chance at real major-party status.

On the other hand, it must rattle Layton's nerves a bit that he's losing voters - especially since the NDP did really well for itself in the last election. If I'm not mistaken, they polled their best results since the halcyon days of Mulroney's second majority at 29 seats. That's a result Layton might rightly take pause in assuming he can ever get again. He certainly wouldn't get it in the next election - but it may be that no matter how much stronger the Liberals get in this election, he can't get it again in his tenure. The NDP caucus is more "naturally" about 10 seats shy of what it has now.

So this is what I mean by it being a hard call. When all is said and done, I just don't think anyone knows what effect Quebec's election will have on federal politics in the short term. It's even harder to say in the long term - since that depends on a great number of factors, including who wins the next federal election and how much they do for Quebec. I will nevertheless make a guess: sovereignty is fading as an issue, and Quebec is swinging right. I don't want to say how many seats Harper can take in Quebec in 2007 (if any), but I will predict that it's the Bloc that is about to be replaced and not the Liberals. The ADQ will stick around as a force to be reckoned with; its best days are ahead of it.

If nothing else, the results are good for Canada. The threat of dissolution that's been hanging over the country since roughly 1989 has largely abated, and federal politics seem to be headed to a healthier two-party system. The Liberals can no longer count on governing, and this is a good thing for everyone. More importantly, cracks are starting to show in the Ontario-Quebec axis, finally giving the West some relief. So in addition to a reprieve from the sovereignty issue, Canada is probably closer to being a single, integrated nation now than ever before.

The man who deserves, but will never get, credit for all this is Stephen Harper. I admit I pulled out some hair in frustration with the "Quebec is a nation with united Canada" stunt last year. That wildly unpopular move (70% of polled citizens downright hated it) seemed so transparently a political stopgap that everyone was ready to call Conservative credibility dead in the water. But consider now that Harper might have actually shown the country the way out of the woods on the sovereignty issue. He gambled (and won, it seems) that Quebec itself (the Bloc notwithstanding) really just wants to feel "special." It doesn't want to go to all the trouble of setting up embassies and training an army and all the other stuff that goes with being an independent country. Quebec likes its comfortable lobby, but the nationalist rhetoric is hotter than the reality. So throw them a bone and hope one of the local parties snaps it up. And this is exactly what's happened. The ADQ is 120% vague on what it thinks about Quebec's status in Canada - but it's pretty clearly against sovereignty. Whether or not this poisons the well depends largely on where you stand - but from a pro-federalist perspective Harper seems to have succeeded where so many others have failed. Quebec will continue to be annoying, but it will no longer be a threat. Once again, what seemed like a fumble at the time turned out to be a trump. Harper's brilliant, and (lucky for him?) no one knows it.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Spinning the Numbers

Here is a bit of sloppy propaganda. This article (from Reuters - linked from Yahoo! Canada) claims that the Canadian economy is expected to outperform the US economy in 2007.

In its Quarterly Economic Forecast, TD Economics said the Canadian economy will expand at an annual average pace of 2.4 percent in 2007, slightly slower than in 2006, while the United States will experience a bigger slowdown. ("TD Economics" is Toronto-Dominon, a Canadian bank - author)

Ahem. Note the lack of actual numbers provided for US economic projections. It's a symptom of the whole article - not just this quote. The best we ever get to a real number on projections for the US is "will experimence a bigger slowdown."

Anyone familiar with standard economic indicators knows that 2.4% growth would be very slow for the US indeed. Most industrial economies do about that or slighly less. The US regularly outperforms everyone else with growth rates generally in the 3.5% range. So yes, if the US dipped into 2.4% territory, that would be something to worry about.

I look the liberty of getting a second opinion.

The U.S. economy will grow 2.6 percent, down from the 2.9 percent expansion projected in September, the IMF said in an annual report on the Western hemisphere. The Washington-based lender kept its forecast for this year unchanged at 3.4 percent.

Last time I checked, 2.6% is better than 2.4%. Certainly 2.9% - the original prediction - is. And this year's 3.4% growth positively dwarfs anything Canada did.

It's easy to see the trick being played here. The US economy will lose more momentum relative to itself next year than the Canadian economy will. So in this (largely irrelevant) sense, Canada will "outperform" the US. But in absolute terms, we'll still grow significantly faster than Canada because we're on a better footing in general than they are. And indeed, the only thing that's a drag on the US economy right now really is the housing bubble. Something very similar killed Japan - so it's not to be taken lightly. All the same - assuming that doesn't completely blow up (a possibility, but unlikely), it will work itself out over the next year or two and we'll resume growing faster, both in relative and absolute terms, than our socialist brothers to the north.

I wonder what it must be like to be Canadian and live in a country where your "world-renowned" press regularly pushes feel-good propaganda articles that read like "Canada is better than the US because Canada did x and the US (cough, cough)."

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Center Cannot Hold

Now here's the antidote to the last post's optimism.

Quebec has an election tomorrow, and it's a reeeeaaaaaallly interesting one. That's because there is a third, conservative-ish(!), party running that came literally out of nowhere. It looks likely to win as much as 25% of the available seats, which is pretty impressive for a newcomer.

Actually, this sort of thing isn't all that unusual in Quebec. Pretty much once every 25-30 years politics in Quebec lurch. The old parties collapse, and at least one new one comes to take the place of at least one old one. But it's a little more interesting than usual this time around because (a) it's not really clear which of the other parties is about to implode and (b) it's not really even clear that the ADQ is here to stay yet. We'll see.

Assuming it is, though, then both the Liberals and the Bloc seem equally likely to be shown the door. Trivially, in this particular election, anyway, it's the Liberals. Never mind that the ADQ made the Bloc its target, it's the Liberal vote that seems to be suffering. And that, really, is a trend that predates all this. Quebec has been upset with the Liberals for some time now, thanks (mostly) to the still-not-completely-resolved Sponsorship Scandal. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say, in fact, that Stephen Harper can thank the Sponsorship Scandal plus some Liberal Party infighting for his current job. (It's well known that some of Chretien's old cronies quietly encouraged their voters to vote Conservative in last year's election to spite Paul Martin, who had replaced Chretien as PM and Liberal Party leader the year before.) What this shows is that the damage might be more serious than assumed. That is, even now, with Stephane Dion having replaced Martin as Liberal Leader, Liberal support doesn't seem to be recovering. That's a Very Interesting Thing - for several reasons.

  1. The power center is shifting West? - It's just sort of tradition in Canada that the Liberals win every national election. Eventually, they've been in power too long, and it starts to show (the corruption gets more obvious), and the system self-corrects by giving whatever the Conservative-ish party du jour happens to be a shot. This generally doesn't last very long, though. The Liberals can generally count on Ontario, and so that's most of the election right there. The Atlantic provinces respoond well to federal bribes, so the issue for the Liberals is usually whether or not they have enough votes in Quebec. They don't even have to win the whole province - just enough of it. And so the West tends to get completely ignored - hence Western Alientation. When Stephen Harper came into office last January (carrying EVERY RIDING in Alberta), one of the first things he said was addressed to Western voters: "You said you wanted in, and you are in." The first shot, as it were. So what if Liberal support has been dealt a critical blow in Quebec? Well, then the Liberals are going to start having to look elsewhere for votes - and there's only one direction left to look. Unfortunately for them, the West is solid blue, and they have a lot of making up for history to do.

  2. De facto sovereignty - It would also be kind of interesting if Quebec, rather than manipulating the Liberals as they've done in the past, turned to sending large Bloc contingents to Ottawa to get what they want. That might actually work out better for them if they can continue to manage a position as kingmakers on any federal policy. In that sense, they would have de facto sovereignty, if not de jure - because Ottawa would have to negotiate with them explicitly to get things done. HOWEVER...

  3. The End of Quebec as Major Political Concern? - it seems more likely that this will turn out to be a bad move for Quebec - because the Bloc isn't going to be joining any governing coalitions any time soon. Also, the bar is a lot higher for Quebec Bloc MPs than for Quebec Liberal MPs for no other reason than the Bloc has to stand on its own. The Liberals only have to win a certain number of ridings in Quebec to win national elections. The Bloc, to really make a difference, has to do a sight better than a majority. Quebec may be pricing itself out of the market, so to speak.

Of course, the Bloc is the real target here. And since sovereignty, while not exactly a dead issue, isn't as big a crowd-drawer as it was in the 90s and the 70s, one starts to wonder how much steam the Bloc really has left. Take away their signature issue, and you're left with a party that's essentially just a greener version of the NDP - or, as the standard joke would have it, "the Liberals in a hurry." The longer secession keeps not happening, the more scrutiny the Bloc's day-to-day platform will come under, and the more Quebec may decide that Liberal is left enough.

In short, it's just not clear. What the ADQ represents, really, is that Canada as a whole is changing. It's shifting right - even Quebec. And it's shifting west. These things bode well for Stephen Harper. But not if it's the Bloc that collapses and the Liberals take over for them as the leftist answer to Dumont and the ADQ. I guess the best outcome would be for the ADQ to pick up enough people to convince Quebec that they don't need the Liberals anymore. That would make Quebec even less "Canadian" in some sense than it already is(n't) now. But it would deal a serious blow to the Liberal Party on the national level - and that's just what the doctor ordered. No way to tell what's going to happen, but it should be interesting to watch. Either way, Stephen Harper needs to be thinking hard about those 6 seats he was lucky enough to get in Quebec last time. I wonder if they're still available?

If Stephen Harper ever manages to get a convincing majority, however, all bets are definitely off. He would almost certainly follow through on promises to make Senate Reform a reality, which would change the political landscape of the country radically and permanently.

Useless Stat

Today's completely useless statistic comes from Canada, where an Angus Reid poll has established that 77% (almost 4 in 5!) of Canadians believe in global warming.


That doesn't make it real. In fact, if it turns out not to be real, is Angus Reid going to revise their headline to say "Almost 4 in 5 Canadians Duped by Environmental Fraud?"

Whether or not global warming is happening has exactly nothing to do with whether or not Canadians think it is happening. And frankly, the average citizen of any country (especially one with as crappy an education system as Canada's) is hardly qualified to make these kinds of pronouncements anyway. But I suppose with an election possibly in the works (the budget hasn't been voted on yet - but the Liberals have said they'll vote against, so we'll see) this is something politicians need to know. Indeed, the same poll shows that global warming may soon overtake healthcare as the number one election concern (note to Obama, Rodham-Clinton et al: Even after almost 50 years of the single-payer healthcare system in Canada, Canadians regularly rank it as their top public policy concern. CONCLUSION: It hasn't solved anything, you fucking morons, so keep your grubby paws off our system!!!).

Despite everything, I have an optimistic reading of these results. The Tories - who are doing their best to junk Kyoto and everyone knows it - are nevertheless almost 9 points ahead of the Grits in the polls - right on the cusp of a majority. In other words, the real "number one election issue" in Canada seems to be keeping the Liberals from taking back the government. Even NDP support is dropping. Canada is shifting right - and will be a better place for it. Here's hoping Harper gets (a) an election (he's sworn not to call one, so it really will come down to whether the Liberals can defeat his budget), and (b) a majority government out of it. Since the US seems likely to swing hard left in 2008, it would be nice to have at least one functional economy left in North America. I'll be looking for a job about then, after all...

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Melts in your Heart, not in your Head

This is my nomination for "dumb conservative column of the day." It's by Jay Sekulow and covers an ACLU challenge to a township law in Galloway, NJ forbidding convicted sex offenders from living within 2500 ft. of any school, park, playground or day care. The ACLU is apparently seeking to have the law declared unconstitutional.

Now, for my part, I don't know that this is exactly unconstitutional. I'm not sure what the basis for a challenge would be - except to exploit yet again another time already the SCOTUS civil rights rulings for something to which they were clearly not intended to apply. Honestly - there can be no "community interest" in fostering diversity that includes sex offenders!

All the same, it should be easy for even a fossil like Sekulow to see that this is a bad law. Granted, it should probably be opposed in the local legislature, and not in the courts - but take an honest look and tell me true what good can possibly come of this law?

Let's consider the impact it will have on sex crimes. After taking a long, hard look - I'm gonna go with 0. 2500 ft.? Are you KIDDING me? As though it's somehow difficult to believe that someone who would break the law and risk SERIOUS butt-rapin' time in prison for preying on children is gonna find 2500 ft. an insurmountable barrier to satisfying his lusts? What's the thought process here? "Gee, I'd really like to step out and take some lollies to the local playground hoping to lure a kiddie into my car, but it's 2500ft. away! I'll just jerk off instead."

It's patently absurd.

The only thing this law seems likely to accomplish is set a nasty precedent - you know, the kind that lets governments decide arbitrarily where given classes of people can live.

Here's Sekulow's "reasoning:"

The issue in this case is not whether the sex offenders can live in the Township - they can; rather, the ordinance speaks only to where in the Township they may live

Oh, brilliant, that! TRANSLATION: the issue isn't telling people where they can live on the township level, it's telling them where they can live at a finer-grained, even MORE local level.

This distinction is completely useless. Whichever way you wanna cast it, Einstein, you're still allowing the local government to get really, REALLY damn specific about where people can and can't live.

Alright, you might say, but these are convicted sex offenders. Yes, exactly - with convicted being the operative word here. As in - already been to jail, already served their time, already more likely to come under police scrutiny than other fine citizens of New Jersey. If the state believes they are still a danger to the public, then it has a duty to keep them in jail until they are not, no? Why is the government releasing people who are still a danger at all? Alternatively, if they are released, then, legally speaking, they have paid their judicial debts. Further (and meaningless, at that) restrictions seem like an admission that the system isn't functioning (and therefore needs more of a tweak than this!).

More to the point, I don't see why convicted sex offenders are any worse than, say, convicted murderers or pimps or whatever else. Do we need a law prohibiting known car theives from approaching car lots? Or keeping known murderers away from people in general? I mean, this gets really absurd after a while. If the state has concerns about recidivism, it needs to address those concerns at sentencing.

One must ask, "Why does the ACLU protect pedophiles and pornographers and, at the same time, challenge prayer and religious expression?"

Oh grow up, already! The ACLU doesn't challenge "prayer and religious expression," it challenges government sanction of those things. Now, I admit to not being an ardent fan of the ACLU - but they've done a lot of very useful things for this country, and protecting the Establishment Clause is definitely one of them. I'm sick to death of religious right types complaining that their religions are under attack. Nothing could be further from the truth. Absolutely NO ONE in the ACLU objects to your right to practice your religion. What bugs them is that you seek to force the rest of us to participate in your practices! Why, for example, would you need prayer time each day at school? Can't you just pray on your own before the bell rings? And why do you need a public prayer at school graduation? Can't you pray silently before the ceremony begins? Or even each in his own group just before the ceremony starts?

Now I admit, I'm a tinge anti-religious. To me, it's mostly irrational fantasy - a cheap way to avoid dealing with real emotional problems that arise from the human condition. But that's my personal opinion, and I'm perfectly willing to admit that, when all is said and done, I just don't know whether God is real. The religious crowd might be on the right track for all I know.

What I DO know is that real faith doesn't need billboards. I understand that some religions consider it a Holy Duty to try to convert the unconverted - and I definitely don't want to deny them the right to try. That is a protected First Amendment right like any other. But school-sanctioned prayer does NOT fall under this right. There are other ways to go about it - so please do so and quit trying to sneak in state recognition of your religion through the backdoor. It's a goal you shouldn't be pursuing, no matter how "faithful" you are. In its way, the Prayer in School movement is no different from the Gay "Rights" Lobby. Gay "rights" activists are trying to sneak in official recognition of their lifestyle - in effect forcing it on those who disapprove (and have the right to disapprove) - by having the government declare (highly implausibly, I might add) that whatever passes for "marriage" in their community (as of last month) is the selfsame institution that is well-established in the heterosexual community. It just ain't so. Likewise, the Prayer in School people (and the "Teach the Controversy" people - who are, to 99% accuracy, the same people) are trying to sneak in state sanction of belief in God (even if not a specific one) by having official state institutions include official state nods to religion in their official state ceremonies. It's sneaky, it's cowardly, it's counterproductive (becuase REAL conversion is not a "default" choice), and it's unconstitutional.

THIS is why the ACLU makes a distinction, moron. Not because they like pedophiles and hate religion.

Once again we have evidence of a Conservative thinking with his feelings and not with his principles. Principles are situation-independent. Clearly, this isn't the kind of thinking that's going on here. Clearly, what Sekulow is advocating is that we defend people not on the basis of abstract rights, but rather on the basis of whether we approve of their beliefs and lifestyles. That sounds like a recipe for fascism to me.

You don't have to like people to believe they have rights. All you have to do is ask, as Kant would have done, whether the law you are advocating could become a general rule? In this case, a heartfelt NO THANKS! I do NOT, repeat NOT, want the government micromanaging where people can live if that's all the same to you. I realize this law doesn't even remotely go that far - but it does lay the path for later laws going incrementally further "that direction." What adds insult to injury here is that Sekulow wants to start us down this slippery slope on the cheap. The law isn't even effective, for cryin' out loud! If we're going to set a bad precedent, can we at least get something out of it, please???

In Support of Minding One's Own Business

The Lancet is in the headlines once again - this time for a highly "revised" ranking of recreational drugs by harmfulness.

The last time it was in the headlines was last fall - for its publication of a hugely flawed population survey estimation of excess deaths in Iraq. The trouble there was that the population sampling method used - while superficially similar to those used in other epidemiological surveys - was biased toward overreporting deaths. (Rather than starting with a randomly-chosen household within their randomly-selected clusters and then surveying, in linear fashion, each house at a pre-selected offset from the starting point, they simply surveyed all the neighbors of the house at the starting point. Obviously this will overestimate the deathrate in times of war - which is why most population surveys are careful to skip a fixed number of households between their survey points. If a bomb goes off in a given location, say, then all the neighbors are also affected by the bomb, whereas the other clusters will simply average out to reproduce the baseline. So you're pretty much guaranteed to get a number that's much higher than the actual deathrate. If you skip houses at a predetermined offset, however, then the effects of the hypothetical bombing incident make it into your survey - as they should - but are not overcounted.) Conveniently, it came out just before the midterm elections.

This is a similarly politically-motivated article. Unfortunately for me, I find myself agreeing with it, and so I no longer have a uniform opinion on the political bias at The Lancet. Heh. Such is life.

The "controversy" here is that cannibis and ecstasy are apparently less "harmful" than alcohol and tobacco on their revised survey. But from me that just gets a "well, DUH!"

I mean, it really ought to be obvious to everyone that marijuana is less harmful than either tobacco or alcohol. The only reason people continue to think alchohol is "safer," honestly, is because of a sustained (and hugely expensive) 70-year propaganda and police campaign against marijuana. I don't know that much about ecstasy, but the few people I know who have been regular users seem to think it's less harmful than alcohol.

Of course, it all depends on what you mean by "harmful," and here's where the Lancet report gets a bit sketchy. They've deliberately redefined "harmful" to take into account the drug's effect on people around the user:

The classifications were based on individual drugs' so-called "harm scores" -- the physical damage to the user; how likely the drug was to induce dependency; and the effect of its use on families, communities and society.

Actually, for purposes of public policy, I think this is a better method. What's always struck me as particularly ridiculous about the War on Drugs is that its proponents claim to be "helping" the people they beat up and throw in the slammer. Preposterous! All other things being equal, adult citizens have a right to decide for themselves what they consume and in what quantities. Leaving aside the question of whether throwing someone in jail can ever be "for his own good" (which is hugely implausible at least in the US, where prison is a veritable hell that doesn't even attempt to reform), it just isn't, or shouldn't be, the government's job to police peoples consumption habits! The only time that "all other things are NOT equal" is if you can make the case that citizen X's drug abuse somehow violates citizen Y's rights - or at least poses some kind of danger for or puts some kind of burden on the polity at large. In other words, public policy about drugs should never consider harm to individuals - it should only ever be concerned with harm to the larger community.

By this standard, it's fairly clear to me that alcohol and tobacco are bigger culprits than marijuana. Naturally, we'll want to have laws that prevent people from smoking marijuana in public where others can't avoid it. But aside from that minor point, marijuana poses no danger for the general public that I can see. Marijuana users are mellow, don't generally beat people or start fights or cause major injuries on the job. In fact, given that it's such a great stress reliever, I think the country would in general be better off if more people smoked it, but that's me.

However, I'm not sure that "damage to society" is an appropriate measure for "harmfulness" in a medical journal. Now, to their credit, "harmfulness to society" is only one of the factors that the Lancet considers. They take damage to the individual into account too. Nevertheless, medical journals should stick to the medical facts. Deciding how relatively harmful marijuana and alcohol are is more properly the realm of Sociology (though, naturally, medical science should inform the Sociologists' conclusions).

I think this kind of thing is in general an unfortunate trend in science these days. It seems like people are becoming more and more concerned with the political implications of their studies and are, as a result, paying less attention to whether they are scientifically appropriate. Division of labor is a beautiful thing; it's what makes a modern economy vibrant. People specialize, and then we are able to trade expert-produced goods between experts (rather than homemade stuff between households). So - in some important sense people should stick to their specialties.

I'm not saying, mind you, that doctors aren't allowed to have political opinions. Just that in their capacities as medical researchers they should publish research that is, well, medical.

The weak link in this chain, really, is the politicians. I think science wouldn't need to be so political if politicians were in general doing their jobs better. Ideally, "politician" should be one of the divisions of labor like any other, and politicians should concern themselves with public policy in the same way that medical researchers concern themselves with medical research. Unfortunately, there is no appropriate training program for politicians. It's not something you major in or specialize in. And so we end up with a nation run by people who aren't experts at what they're doing. If they were, then presumably they would understand the important distinction between private rights and public conerns - but they do not. It is to their shame that medical researchers feel the need to lecture them on this point.

But back to science. I think the Global Warming controversy is probably the best example of scientists overstepping their bounds. It's one thing to report that the world is warming and speculate about what the consequences might be. It's quite another thing to presume that your capacity as a climatologist qualifies you to decide which public policies are appropriate to the problem. Where it becomes a major concern is when climatologists start exaggerating their findings and/or harassing other climatologists who don't toe the party line out of frustration with (what they percieve to be) the inactivity of politicians. We seem to be well past that point.

In any case, as much as I personally agree with the "findings" in The Lancet on the relative dangers of drugs, I'm not convinced, I guess, that they're really medical "findings." More's the pity.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A Lesson in Basic Economics from North Korea

From an entry on the excellent North Korean Economy Watch, a simple (and unintentional) lesson in the merits of "trickle-down economics."

The report in question is by Kim Young Jin based on interviews with North Korean citizens visiting relatives in China. It concerns the relatively recent phenomenon of open markets - called "Jangmadang."

The report goes something like this: first we get the typical communist complaint that the new market economy is making people selfish. This is standard fare (and undoubtedly true); we heard all the same complaits when East Germany collapsed. To this day, most people nostalgic for the old days in the former DDR cite as the number one thing they miss the sense of comraderie and cooperation they used to enjoy in their collectives. Market economies destroy this.

Now here's the key quote:

Despite this, selling itself is not so bad. Compared to the times where we were all poor, at least now since there are some rich people, we can sell goods, and we have come to live more independently.

This is the point about Capitalism that the Socialists always miss. The standard argument you hear from a Socialist is that Capitalism fosters a system where a handful of people own all the wealth and everyone only looks out for themselves.

It's true that Capitalism promotes economic inequality. Because of free competition, it is simply impossible in a Capitalist system that everyone will end up the same. This is because people are not the same. We all have different levels of ability. All men are NOT "created equal," as it were. In order to make people equal, you have to impose equality from above - so the Socialists are quite correct when they say that only Socialism (i.e. heavy government regulation of the economy) can promise economic equality.

Where they are wrong is when they conclude from this that the rich get wealthy at the expense of the others. This is simply not true. They have it completely backward, in fact. All accumulations of wealth are ... well, accumulations of wealth. More people with more money means more opportunities for people who don't have as much to earn some. Rich people, put bluntly, are a Good Thing.

Socialists labor under the delusion that the money the rich have is money that would have existed anyway under Socialism and that the problem is that it isn't distributed properly. In fact, just the opposite is true. The money that rich people accumulate for themselves under Capitalism is, generally speaking, money that would not have existed under a comparable Socialist system, and it isn't "proper distribution" to give money to people for free who haven't earned it and aren't capable of producing it.

In other words - the tradeoff between Capitalism and Socialism is a tradeoff between equality and security on the one hand and wealth and freedom on the other. People may not be "equal" in the strictest sense of the term in a Capitalist society - but the truth is that even the poor are better off than they would be under a Socialist society. Because there is more wealth around, the general standard of living is higher - even if it means that it isn't evenly distributed.

As for the "freedom" part - Socialists will want to say that true freedom is only possible with equality - but this is simply nonsense. As Ronald Reagan once aptly put it:

But beyond that, "the full power of centralized government"--this was the very thing the Founding Fathers sought to minimize. They knew that governments don't control things. A government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they know when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose.

People will complain that this is simplistic - but true things usually are. There is no possible counterargument here: you cannot control the economy without controling people. Controlling people means restricting their freedom.

People continue to wonder why Socialist economies generally do poorly and generally turn into police states. This is why. As this North Korean has seen firsthand - when even some people are allowed to accumulate wealth, everyone does better for themselves, even if they are no longer equal.

The Dog Ate My Legal Obligations

This is the best reading I've done all day. It's the North Carolina State Bar's rejection of Mike Nifong's motion to dismiss the ethics charges filed against him by the Bar for actions during the course of his prosecution of the Duke Rape Case.

OK, right, it's a legal document and therefore necessarily dry and jargony. All the same, the sarcasm shines through as the Bar hacks Nifong's feeble arguments to pulp.


  1. The US Constitution isn't what's at issue - Most of Nifong's motion to dismiss apparently rests on the idea the Bar can't prove he violated the Constitution. The Bar notes, however, that that's not exactly what he's charged with. In fact, independent of whether the Constitution requires him to provide the Defense with any potentially exculpatory evidence it requests in a timely manner (which, by the way, it does - see below), the North Carolina Bar does. It's 3.4(d) and 3.8(d) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, and as a public prosecutor Nifong is bound by them whether or not the US Constitution also requires the same behavior.

    Thus, the viability of the claimed rule violations in paragraph(c) and paragraph (d)(ii) are wholly independent of the Plaintiff's additional allegations that Nifong's conduct also violated the US Constitution... (p.6)

  2. Even so, Nifong violated the Constitution - Nifong cites United States v. Agurs(427 US 97) in his defense here, apparently hoping the Bar isn't that familiar with it. Unfortuantely for him, they've read it more closely than he has. Nifong is correct that that case was essentially decided in favor of the state (the gist is that if a prosecutor witholds some evidence, whether by error or intention, it isn't necessarily a violation unless the evidence would have cast doubt on the Defendant's guilt. The point was to free Prosecutors from the responsibility of having to second-guess for every bit of evidence what clever use the Defense lawyers might have been able to put it to. Only the "obvious" stuff is required to be turned over). However, the ruling is, as it turns out, more specific than he characterizes about what has to be turned over. It isn't just "the relevant facts," as he tries to argue, but also anything specifically requested by the Defense. And indeed, the Defense specifically requested his report of all the DNA evidence, which he more than once failed to provide.

    The Duke Defendants made repeated, specific requests to Nifong for poetntially exculpatory information, so under the Argurs analysis, his conduct falls into the "seldom, if ever, excusable" category.

  3. 1,884 pages of raw data is not a "report" - At some point, Nifong did eventually (under order over objection) get around to providing the Defense with the evidence it requested, but he didn't provide a reported summary of it. Rather, he just handed over the 1,884 pages of incomprehensible raw DNA data - obviously something that needs expert interpretation. More than that, raw data gives no indication of how the state intends to actually use the information. The Bar is appropriately snide:

    Whether or not one is willing to characterize the 1,884 pages of data as a "report," which it is not, the allegations of the Amended Complaint show that Nifong did not provide the subjects of NTO with a report of all tests "as soon as the reports are available..."

  4. Nifong's "there was no trial date" defense doesn't work - Nifong repeatedly argues that as there was no trial date set, he wasn't required to turn over all evidence requested. The Bar appropriately makes hash of this - not only noting that the rules say nothing about a trial date, but also that the fact that Nifong never provided all the requested materials renders this argument pretty much moot anyway.

    Accordingly, the State Bar's allegation that Nifong never provided a memorialization of Dr. Meehan's statements to the Duke Defendants is sufficient to support a violation of Rule 3.8(d) regardless of whether or not a trial date had been scheduled.

  5. Nifong's "no court ordered me" defense is completely absurd - Part of Nifong's motion is that the fact that the Court never specifically ordered him to turn over memos of his conversations with Dr. Meehan means that the Court was satisfied that he was compliant with the statutes. In fact, as the Bar notes, that was because Nifong had lied to the Court about the materials requested.

    Therefore, Nifong is effectively arguing that he can make false statements to a court which result in the entry of an order, and then use the order that is based on his misrepresentations to claim he committed no discovery violation.

    And again later:

    In his motion, Nifong now seeks to have a claim that he violated the Rules of Professional Conduct dismissed on the grounds that his successful deception of the Court resulted in a Court Order which did not specifically require him to provide memorializations of Dr. Meehan's statements.

Beautiful! Nifong may well be going to jail over this - and I, for one, sincerely hope he does. Unless something comes out at his trial that we just haven't been told, the case against him for prosecutorial misconduct seems airtight. But even so - even if he isn't formally charged with anything criminal - it's pretty clear that the North Carolina State Bar has had enough of him. He'll be disbarred, a fate he not only richly deserves, but more importantly an action that will protect innocent citizens of North Carolina from any future political crusades and election whoring he might have been tempted to engage in.

One thing that still bugs me about this: Mike Easley is still off the hook and I don't know why. Easley appointed Nifong and now implausibly claims that Nifong had promised him not to run for election. If that were the case, regardless of the circumstances of the Duke Rape Case - Easley had the option of yanking Nifong from office as soon as he announced his candidacy. Maybe he felt it would have been pointless given the fact that the governor can't prevent a sitting appointee from seeking popular election. However, it would have saved everyone a lot of trouble to have yanked Nifong way back when. Easley, in short, isn't taking responsibility for his obviously crappy appointment. But then, he's a politician, so I guess no one expects him to.

[UPDATE: Apparently I am wrong about Easley's ability to remove a sitting prosecutor, even if it's one of his appointees. It seems Easley was just (surprise, surprise) catering to his audience when he said the things that gave the impression such an action were within his authority. See the comments section for an informative link on the matter. Thanks to commenter KBP for the correction.]

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Killing it Softly

Reason no. 1 to like Stephen Harper. Despite strong public support for it, Harper is doing the best he can to kill the Kyoto Protocol. Not only that, but he's actually getting away with it. Of course, the US and Australia have already dealt it a critical hit. I think Canada junking it might kill the dumb idea for good.

It's not that I don't think global warming is real. The way I understand it - the scientific consensus is that (a) it's definitely happening and (b) man-made pollutants certainly play a role. They study it and I don't, so I'm willing to take them at their word. All that notwithstanding, Kyoto is about the dumbest idea I've ever heard. What moron, honestly, would support a policy that (a) everyone knows will be ineffective - because it only addresses a small fraction of the total cause of the problem (overpopulation in the third world and methane emissions from rice paddies apparently also contribute, but no one is advocating switching India to a grain-based diet or regulating the number of children everyone can have), (b) everyone knows will be hugely expensive and (c) lets the major polluters of the future off the hook anyway? I mean, if you were to walk into a business boardroom meeting and say "listen, guys - I have this great idea! Why don't we throw huge sums of money at this project, which I guarantee won't bring a single penny of profit ever and will, in all likelihood, allow our competition to overtake us?" They'd have security rough the guy up on his way out the window! It's completely ludicrous.

So here's Stephen Harper cutting through the fog:

"Yet, no population of any country will support an environmental plan that robs them of their jobs and destroys their living standards, even in the short term," Harper said.

Right. And it's dumb of the Kyoto supporters to even ask. If you wanna save the environment (and who doesn't?) - here's what needs to be done. We need to improve rather than deplete our capital base. With greater wealth comes greater technology - and honestly, the only way we're going to get out of the global warming bubble without having to starve people by the millions is to develop the kind of technology that will allow us to maintain our lifestyles without polluting so much. Choking off the economy in the form of huge fines and industrial scaleback ain't gonna get us there, sorry. All Kyoto will do is freeze us at our current level of development longer than we have to be. It's exactly the opposite of what we should be doing to fight global warming.

Harper may well be up for election in another week or so. The new Tory budget is very, very clever. It completely and shamelessly isolates the Liberals, but throws in just enough extras that the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois may well support it. This is especially so as regards the Bloc since Quebec will get an even bigger bribe this year than ever before. If the Bloc votes with the government, Harper can keep his job. An election at this point would be uncertain - maybe not a risk Harper really wants to take. But the polls are clear. As time goes by, the Tories pick up more and more voters. They're currently polling anywhere from 2-4 points ahead of the once-mighty Liberals - enough to retake the government with a minority, but not yet quite the majority Harper wants and needs.

Still - it's worth noting that this seems poised to become one of Canada's longest-lived minority governments. Canada may well be on its way to becoming a real two-party system, and I attribute most of that shift to Harper's skill as a politician. Kudos. If he kills Kyoto in the process, I'd say he deserves the Nobel Prize in "general effectiveness." Too bad there's no one as competent running our country at the moment...

North Korean Economy Watch

This is my new favorite website. It's called "North Korean Economy Watch," and it's an amazing repository of information on how that screwy country "operates." I'm really interested in things like this. That is - every economic and political system ultimately compiles down to an implementation in terms of how people live and what they do from day-to-day. So I'm fascinated by systems that seem obviously broken but nevertheless manage to solider on. North Korea is definitely such a place. For anyone interested in politics, it's the place to watch - because I will be shocked if it doesn't collapse within the next 15 years. Supposedly, it reached a kind of point of no return in the late 1990s. There was a massive famine that pretty much broke down the state food distribution system, and this was a huge blow to the functioning of the nation's economy. In the old days, you had to hold a government job to feed yourself because the only way to get food was to spend food coupons at government-owned stores. But that system has completely broken down thanks to a period of months in 1998 where the government was simply unable to get food to people. (Nearly 3million are estimated to have died in the famine.) Now that people have become self-reliant, it's hard to imagine how they'll go back to micromanaging literally every minute of every day of every citizen's existence. Anyway - this blog goes into a bit more detail about what day-to-day life is like there. Recommended.


Here is a gleaming log of solid gold bullshit if I've ever seen one. McDonald's is once again attempting to get the Oxford English Dictionary to drop "mcjob" from its inventory of words - or at least change the definition. Currently, a "mcjob" is apparently

An unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector.

I don't actually use the word myself, but that's more or less what I'd assume it meant if I heard it. Of course, McDonald's thinks differently. Jim Cantalupo, former CEO of McDonald's (he died suddenly of a heart attack in 2003), wrote an angry letter to Merriam-Webster (which also includes the word in its hardback edition) saying that the entry was totally inaccurate and that "Teaches responsibility" might be a more appropriate definition.

"Dictionaries are supposed to be paragons of accuracy. And in this case, they got it completely wrong," said Walt Riker, a McDonald's spokesman. "It's a complete disservice and incredibly demeaning to a terrific work force and a company that's been a jobs and opportunity machine for 50 years."

Oh, stop it! "Innacurate" would be printing a definition that had nothing to do with the way the word in question is actually used. People use the word to mean a dead-end, low-paid, life-sapping service sector job. End of story. Doesn't matter whether that accurately describes work life at McDonalds (though I'd be surprised if it didn't!). The dictionary reports, you decide. Or something.

Fortunately as a consumer I have a vote here. I can simply stop spending money at Mickey-D's. And I will. Who wants to support an organization that bullies the dictionary when it doesn't get its way?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Barbarians at the Gate

This has the potential to be really nasty. Way back in 2002, a student at a high school in Alaska held up a sign that said "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" to TV cameras at an Olympic Torch Relay. The sign was confiscated and the student suspended from school for - get this - "advocating drug use," which is "contrary to the mission of the school." In other words, forget that pesky First Amendment thingee (whatever WERE the Founding Fathers thinking?) - the student was expressing an opinion the school disapproves of.

Now, by all rights this should be a no-brainer for the courts. Given the fairly clear ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines, students have speech rights too, even if the school doesn't approve of what they're saying (in Tinker the students in question were wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War), so long as what they're doing isn't disruptive. So, obviously, wearing a shirt that says "I hate niggers" is not protected free speech in school (since it will be hard for a lot of people to pay attention to the lesson with that sort of thing around), but wearing a T-shirt that says "Impeach Bush" should be fine (because that's the kind of opinion that one can discuss rationally with people who disagree with it). Where "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" falls on that scale is anyone's guess. I would be inclined to say it's disruptive (especially since in this case it was a 14-ft. banner!). But here's the clincher (for me): the students weren't at school.

Admittedly, it was during regular school hours. Classes had been dismissed so that students could watch the parade. Nevertheless, this wasn't exactly a field trip. So what this boils down to for me is this: are schools allowed to control student speech even when they're not at school? Obviously - and I mean abosolutely clear-as-day, not a doubtful cloud in the sky obviously, schools should not have this power. Once a student leaves campus, the school loses its ability to regulate his speech. Period.

All other things being equal, I think most sensible people would agree with what I just said. But all other things are not equal, and that is because "drugs" are involved.

I don't know what short-circuited in our otherwise generally-freer-than-most country where "drugs" are concerned, but man, people get away with doozies in the name of fighting the so-called "War on Drugs." And I've been putting "drugs" in shock quotes because this is MARIJUANA we're talking about. As in - no sane person who's had an honest look at the evidence could possibly believe that marijuana is a threat to public order. Basically - marijuana is a harmless, non-addictive, generally fun thing to do. True - there are some health problems associated with long-term use, but this is equally true of cigarettes and alcohol (and in fact alcohol is almost certainly worse for you in the long term). I defy anyone to give me even a single rational reason why pot should be illegal. (No - the "gateway drug" theory won't work. Marijuana is only a "gateway drug" because it's illegal. That is, it's a fairly harmless thing to do, and yet, once you've done it, you're already a "user," so you might as well... etc.)

But even if marijuana were harmful, it's still a fact (or should be) that schools don't have the right to regulate speech that happens off campus for any reason. And yet, "Justice" Breyer has the following to say:

But Justice Stephen Breyer said, "If kids go around having banners making a joke out of drug use, that really does make it a little tougher for me to convince the students at this school not to use drugs."

Well no shit, there, Sherlock! But it isn't your job to make the school's job as easy as it possibly can be. Your job, in case you've forgotten, is to clarify the law. Nowhere in the Constitution that I'm aware of does it say "of course, the rights enumerated herein really don't apply in cases where they might make a teacher's job somewhat more difficult." Nor, more to the point, does anything in the Tinker decision say that. In fact, the Tinker decision (which I'm starting to wonder whether Breyer has read?) pretty clearly says that students can express opinions even if these opinions make the school's job somewhat more difficult. What Tinker essentially said was twofold. First (not really relevant here), that symbolic expression (i.e. wearing armbands) is also protected speech and second that the content of an opinion alone is not sufficient to make it "disruptive."

We don't have a ruling yet (it should come very soon) - but I'm starting to get a creepy feeling about this. Rights are rights are rights, people. They're not properly "rights" if you only protect them when convenient. What we have here, really, is another example of the national paranoia about drug use getting in the way of what should be a really cut-and-dried case. The principal who suspended the student overstepped her bounds violated his Constitutional rights - end of story. This would be true even if the sign had been about heroin. The fact that it's about marijuana, of all things, just puts a finer point on it. What sharpens the point to positively piercing is that marijuana was deciminalized in Alaska at the time anyway. So honestly - how did this make it all the way to the Supreme Court? It should have been laughed out of the system within minutes of coming to bar.

A Brief and Mild Panic Attack

I keep seeing these annoying license plates around:

Over the past few days I've probably seen 5 - so many that I started to worry that this was the new license plate design for Indiana. In fact, I spent most of the 40min. walk home fuming about having to put one on my car and debating about whether it would be worth paying the fee for an alternative. I mean, on the one hand, I don't want sentimental, superstitious crap I don't believe in plastered over my car. On the other, it feels a bit like paying a mugger for his "services" to hand over extra cash to keep the government from putting religious labels on your mandated plates.

The reason I was even thinking about this, actually, is because Kentucky had just such a scheme in place until very recently. Specialty plate sales SURGED after the "Mr. Smiley" plate became official.

Well, the good news is that the "In God We Trust" Indiana plate is optional. The bad news: it's also free. That is, even though it's a "specialty" plate, you don't have to pay the fee for it. I find that really obnoxious. Why should they charge us for the other specialty plates if they don't charge us to put superstitious religious crap on our license plate? Of course, the upside of not charging is that it means no money is paid to any religious organizations (apparently the other specialty plates involve a donation of some kind) - so they avoid any tricky First Amendment issues. But then, the downside of that is that it's probably here to stay since there will be no way for the ACLU to challenge it in court.

Personally, I don't understand why religious people need to plaster their beliefs on their cars anyway. I think about this at least twice - literally - every time I drive back to Indiana from North Carolina. The first time is because of a giant religious billboard just outside of Knoxville. It always gets me wondering what churches think they're accomplishing actually paying money for stuff like this. I mean - surely this is an instance where that old Woody Allen joke about not wanting to join any club that would have him as a member applies! What religion would actually want members who made life-changing decisions based on no independent evidence other than a billboard for cryin' out loud? Clearly no serious religion. (Of course, if it's an advertising campaign like any other, then...) And then, about 5 hours later, I pass another sign that a farmer in Indiana has put up by the highway with a Bible verse that says "You have a[sic] expiration date." Well, true enough. But again - it's self-contradictory to threaten people into joining your religion based on consequences. I mean, the whole argument here goes something like this: if you don't believe in God when you die, you'll just die, but if you do, you'll live on. Great - but how can that possibly be convincing to someone who doesn't believe in God? I mean, to take such a thing seriously, you'd pretty much have to already believe this deal was on the table - which presupposes you believe in God, etc. etc.

But alright, I'm rambling. Religion has never been for the terribly intelligent, so it's not like I'm shocked to find that religious people believe in self-contradictory stuff. I'm mostly just annoyed that now, in addition to not being able to buy beer on Sunday, I also have to sit in traffic fighting road rage behind people with obnoxious, government-sanctioned religious advertisements on their vehicles. Fan-fucking-tastic. Score another one for the cave man.

On the subject of stupid catch-phrase advocacy, though, I finally ran across the bumper sticker my whole life has been leading up to. It said "Catchy Phrases are not Persuasive."


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Not a Holiday

Well, well - it's St. Patrick's Day again. I've never understood how or why an ethnic holiday managed to become a national party day. Nothing in particular against the Irish, it's just that...well, I don't celebrate Chinese New Year, Cinco de Mayo, Kim Il Sung's Birthday, or whatever the Mongolian and Nigerian equivalents are - so why St. Patrick's Day?

In fact, I won't celebrate it. Happy Completely Ordinary Saturday, folks! I'm off to the office to do some programming.

Of course, if I were going to celebrate it, I think a good way to do so might be to find a Jew and give him some chainmail. Click the link for full explanation.

Way to Miss the Point

Here is a nice illustration of the difference between conservatives and libertarians. It's a satirical column by Mike Adams - criminology professor at UNC-Wilmington and professional right-wing gadfly - poking fun at Kent State's (presumably hypocritical) refusal to strip a certain Prof. Julio Pino of his tenure after it's come to light that he authors a pro-terrorist Islamic extremist website.

Of course, Pino denies this charge despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I really liked this earlier Adams column, which points out that this makes Pino a pussy. And, in general, Adams is a good read on the left wing bias and bullshit currently choking academia.

The general story goes something like this: Pino (allegedly) authors a pro-Jihadist website and uses (or has used) some school equipment to do it. It's chock-full of all the normal Islamic wankery - you know, 9/11 was a glorious day, calls for worldwide revolution against infidels (read: the US), etc. In short, not too terribly different from all the pro-Maoist shock-jocking that was common from self-styled "radicals" in the early 70s (many of whom not-too-coincidentally were at Kent State). Not too surprisingly, all kinds of conservatives are calling on Kent State to make a patriotic stand and fire the bastard. Equally unsurprisingly, Kent State insists that academic freedom covers even this kind of thing (though they're interestingly simultaneously arguing that there is no conclusive evidence that Pino is the author of the site in question - or some such).

Dr. Adams' latest column turns the situation on its head by urging readers to write in and protest the existence of a pro-KKK professor on campus who authors a racist blog advocating "ethnic cleansing" of blacks. As satire, it's pretty damn funny. We all know (from the existence of "hate speech" codes and the like on campuses across the nation - including Kent State, no doubt) that the university administration would take a very different view of such a professor. Firing an active KKK member would be a no-brainer for most universities; if Pino were anti-black we wouldn't have needed Dr. Adams to bring this case to the public because Kent State would have quietly let him go a long time ago. So as satire, this really works.

What bugs me about it is that Dr. Adams seems serious about wanting Pino fired for his beliefs. I'm gonna hafta go with Kent State on this one: academic freedom covers even this case. Pino is free to call for global Jihad all he wants. That's his First Amendment right, and for many practical reasons it is especially important to defend that right for academics and students (though of course it is also crucial in the so-called "real" world). And if there turned out to be a white racist extremist at Kent State, it goes without saying that his academic freedom would be every bit as important as Pino's.

Now, granted, the First Amendment only says that Congress can't pass laws proscribing speech. Kent State is free to fire whomever it wants for whatever reason in my book. But that doesn't mean they should. This is precisely what academia is for: letting the thousand flowers bloom. So let them bloom. No "weeding" allowed. I find it really frustrating that Adams (and so many other conservatives) miss the irony of someone who made a career out of standing up to ideological bullying in academic now wants Kent State to fire someone based solely on his (admittedly annoying) opinions.

And, finally, here is what a Kent State spokesperson had to say about Piner:

"Julius Piner was not actually linked to the site, "Kill the Negroes," nor did he use any university resources when he was not operating it. Furthermore, there is no evidence that he ever advocated killing Negroes in his class lectures. We all have to remember that academic freedom is an important part of university life, even when we disagree with the views being expressed."

"Julius Piner" is, of course, meant to be "Julio Pino." The point of this passage is presumably to show how absurd it is to defend someone's free speech when he advocates genocide. I would say, however, that advocating genocide and actually doing it are two completely different things. The latter is illegal, the former is protected free speech - hard as that pill is for some to swallow. In short, though Adams means this as a reductio ad absurdum of the "free speech trumps all" argument, I actually take it seriously. Public schools should not fire people for their political views - regardless of what those views are. Perhaps censoring what such people teach (to keep it in line with the university's mission, etc.) is acceptable - but what Pino does on his own time should be his own business.

The reason that it's important to go with principle over feelings of propriety here is that nearly anything can be spun as "hateful" or "anti-social" or what have you. A guarantee of academic freedom is worthless if it comes with the caveat that the university will fire you if you say something "particularly" objectionable! After all - "objectionable" to whom? Sorry, but I've seen the kind of pro-Socialist, pro-Feminist, pro-Minority censorship that goes on. If you encourage Kent State to fire someone for advocating terrorism, you're chipping away at the case that they shouldn't screen out conservatives, etc. in their hiring process. This is the same kind of absurdity that's behind David Horowitz' Academic Bill of Rights. Now granted, there's nothing in the actual Academic Bill of Rights (read it here) that I disagree with, I just don't like Horowitz' tactics. He wants universities to make this campus code - just like the old speech codes - and enforce it with oversight panels that would presumably require that "all viewpoints are represented," etc. In short, Horowitz isn't opposed to affirmative action, he just wants it to apply to people like him too.

Well, when Dr. Adams talks this way, I wonder how deep his commitment to free speech is. When you actively call for someone's firing based solely on his political opinions, then you're skating dangerously close to being "fine with censorship, I just wanna be one of the censors!"

Until anyone can prove that Pino violated any part of his contract (which I assume requires him to abide by campus codes, etc.), I say he should keep his job. Contracts are contracts are contracts; you don't get to break them because you find out the person you hired believes in something you hate. And free speech is free speech is free speech. It means exactly nothing to have a First Amendment if we allow the government to decide that certain opinions are "not protected." Sure, it seems harmless enough to censor the Muslim radicals now - but once we censor them we've got a nasty precedent on our hands, and governments have proven surpsingly adept at taking nasty precedents and running with them (pity they can't do as good a job running the public school system). None for me, thanks!

This is, it seems to me, the essential difference between Libertarians and Conservatives. We know what our principles are, and we don't blink at reductio ad absurdum traps. Conservatives don't really have principles - just vague guidelines that they apply when and if it "feels right" to do so.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Of COURSE it is!

This is the best one I've heard all day. Apparently Juche is considered to be a religion by You can read their rationale here - but there's really nothing there you weren't probably expecting. Anything that so totally dominates so many people's lives with only faith as its basis can only be a religion - state ideology or no. North Korea is a seriously weird place.