May 2004

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Monday, May 31, 2004

Obesity and Liberty 

Lots of people are talking about obesity these days. Time Magazine's current issue is all about it. Out of an entire issue, Radley Balko was given 350 words to support the individual responsibility side of the argument. Please read it, along with the response, and be very afraid (well, concerned, at least).

As some of you know, I've recently been losing weight. I made a personal decision that the health risks associated with carrying too much weight exceeded the benefits of convenience and some epicurean pleasures.

As many of you also know, I have many opinions about what choices others would be well-advised to make.

But, I am strongly committed to the idea that an important aspect of morality consists of generally* refraining from coercing other people into behaving the way we would prefer them to (whether we think it would be for our good, or for their own).

It wasn't long ago when the suggestion that governmental regulation of smoking might lead to further regulation of unhealthy activities like eating fatty foods would be guaranteed to elicit laughter and ridicule. Now, such regulation is being seriously suggested everywhere and taken seriously by most people.

Collectivism is the enemy of liberty. To call obesity a public health issue, rather than an issue of individual responsibility and of liberty, is to deny individual liberty entirely. Liberty is not just about having the right to vote for the lesser of two evils. It's about being free* to live one's life as he chooses; what to think, what to eat, what to say, what to read, what to watch, what to do.

Of course, people will make bad choices. But that doesn't mean that we'd be better off with experts making (what should be) personal decisions for us. The growth of knowledge requires errors to be made and corrected. We have to be free to make most choices for ourselves in order to enjoy the benefits of being human. We need to be responsible for ourselves.

As Radley says:

If you aren't responsible for what you put into your mouth, chew and swallow, what's left that you are you responsible for?

*I say generally, because there are certainly exceptions in cases of self-defense, or the prevention of force or fraud. But, regulating someone's diet certainly falls outside of these exceptions.


Sunday, May 30, 2004

The Skeptical Environmentalist 

My recent post about the environment got me to go back and review The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjørn Lomborg.

Lomborg has generously made the entire first chapter available in PDF format. If you read it, I'm sure you'll understand why I like this book so much.

Lomborg is scrupulously reasonable!

He is not anti-environment. He is, as most of us are, strongly in favor of having a healthy environment that can support our needs for the foreseeable future. But he's not only interested in joining the choir and bonding with others based on alarmist zeal.

He's interested in the truth.

He wants to know what the facts that have been reported actually mean, and which issues warrant what uses of our limited wealth to address.

It seems to me that this is the approach that everybody who genuinely cares about the environment should take; but it seems to only enrage most who claim to care.


Saturday, May 22, 2004

The Environment 

I was amused by Ron Bailey's recent trashing of Paul Ehrlich's new book.

It amazes me how many people like Ehrlich there are. They see the doom and gloom everywhere, and blame humanity for all of it. To them, resources are static and rising populations and technology only make matters worse.

I'm more in the camp of these guys. I think that most environmental problems have been exaggerated, and that things are getting better all the time.

It seems to me that if one view represents that of starry-eyed ideologues, it's that of a static world with limited resources being destroyed by technology and population growth. A cold, rational, empirical view if the last few hundred years shows the opposite: resources are being created, problems are being solved by more, creative, people; standards of living are improving.

It's good, of course, to look for genuine problems and to point them out early. But, too many people assume that the problems must be addressed by widespread, severe, restrictions on human behavior; rather than by the creativity of free people.


Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Will Bush Reinstate The Draft? 

I've been hearing more and more references to a secret plan of George W. Bush to reinstate military conscription after he gets re-elected. Many of his opponents are using the issue to try to encourage opponents of the draft to vote against Bush. I see that there's even a web site devoted to this purpose.

I suspect that this is false, and if that's the case I think it would be in Bush's interest to come out with a strong and clear policy statement against reinstating military conscription.

Why leave the opposition with a weapon when you can take it from them?


A Soldier's Perspective  

Glenn Reynolds linked to this great message from Army Spc. Joe Roche detailing the current fighting and how things are going. Much worth reading.

I also found this message from Roche about his and other soldiers' reaction to the Abu Ghraib scandal. It's what I expected, but it's good to hear it from the source.


Monday, May 10, 2004

Blogger Changes 

Wow!

It looks like Blogger has made some substantial changes to their UI, and has added new features too (like supporting comments at Blogger.com).

I think I like the changes, so far, but it will take a while to be sure. If I switch to their commenting system (seems like a good idea right now), I'll want to figure out if I can import the old comments into the new system somehow. That would be the best. It's kind of a pain to have multiple commenting systems to keep old comments available.

If anybody knows the answer to the commenting import question, please let me know.

Update: Blogger Support says that they don't have a way to import comments. I've tried to set up the comments now (as "New Comments"), starting with this post. I'm not really happy with them.

Let me know what you think.


Friday, May 07, 2004

Bush Pauses to Comfort Teen 

I've got plenty of criticisms of George W. Bush's policies, but I don't doubt that he's a sincere, decent man. Take a look at this article.

He changed from being the leader of the free world to being a father, a husband, and a man.

Upon hearing that she lost her mother in the World Trade Center on 9/11, his first instinct was to comfort the girl and try to help her feel loved and protected.

I wonder if John Kerry would have done that without consulting France, Germany and Russia first.


Thursday, May 06, 2004

Rumsfeld 

I like Donald Rumsfeld.

I think he's a very smart guy who has been doing a great job as Defense Secretary. I like the direction he's taking the american military (towards being more agile, and exploiting our technological superiority to maximum advantage). I think he really gets the War on Terror.

I'm pleased that Bush seems to be standing by him in spite of all of the calls for Rumsfeld to go because of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

The only thing that Rumsfeld might have done wrong was to fail to apprise Bush of the situation if he knew of the photos (which were likely to cause a political situation if released). On the other hand, I'm sure that there are many things that Rumsfeld knows that Bush doesn't want to know about the war, but might want to have known tomorrow if things go badly. So, it's not always a trivial call. Otherwise, Rumsfeld and the entire military establishment seem to have responded to this problem very well.

The people I hear calling for Rumsfeld's dismissal or resignation are people who wanted him gone anyway and are using this issue for their own political motives. They hate Paul Wolfowitz too, and I'm hearing many say that Rumsfeld and his deputies must go. They're trying to kill two birds with one stone.

Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz are the best things about this administration, and I really hope they survive this episode.

For all of our sakes.


Perspective on a Very Foul Affair 

I've been wanting to write about the recent revelations about the abuse of Iraqi detainees by coalition forces. I've been reluctant because I was finding it hard to indicate that there were important differences between this abuse and the abuse that was common in pre-liberation Iraq (and much of the rest of the Middle East) without being misinterpreted as understating the severity of the coalition behavior.

Fortunately, Michael Young has written an editorial that says what I wanted to say. Please read it.

There is no perfect governmental system. All of them will be abused. The best we can hope for is a system that will get things right most of the time, and can correct its errors and improve over time. These abuses have been identified and are being addressed. That's what should be learned from this.

People who use this episode as confirmation that America came to abuse Iraqis, rather than to liberate them, are drawing the wrong conclusion and are missing the point.