December 2004

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Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Best Way To Reduce Natural Disaster Casualties 

Dr. Eamonn Butler has anice post at the Adam Smith Institute Blog that anticipates claims that we can expect more natural disasters because of Global Warming, and should get onboard with the Kyoto Protocol.

Money quote:

The real lesson is that we have to make the world richer. Because richer people can stand up to natural disasters better than poorer ones. We need trade, markets, peace, democracy, low taxes -- all the things that will deliver growth fast to the developing world. That is the way to save lives. Real lives that are being lost right now. Quite frankly, that will do more for the planet than the theoretical and far-off benefits of Kyoto.

Seems right to me.


Susan Sontag 

As I indicated in the previous post, I had been looking for obituaries of Susan Sontag. Unfortunately, most are like this nauseating piece by Christopher Hitchens. I understand that they were friends, but many of the people he mercilessly criticized after their deaths had many friends, too. His failure to honestly appraise her ideas is uncharacteristic and disappointing.

The obituary that frames her life most like my notion of it is this one by Roger Kimball.

I'm sure that Sontag had many nice personal characteristics; and perhaps she had some useful ideas about art and culture. Unfortunately, her political ideas were so deeply hideous that she deserves to be remembered not as an "intellectual heroine"; but as a pretentious enemy of liberty and western civilization.


Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Religious Left 

I love blogs.

Reading about Susan Sontag's death led me to Tim Blair's site and this post, which led me to this post from September, which led me to this great ranting comment. I'll quote the main section of the comment just in case the link ever dies:

It's amazing to me that the "left" (how outmoded and meaningless these distinctions are) have evolved into the most uptight, anti-rational, superstitious and piously moralistic bunch since the Puritans walked the wild forests of America (though I hesitate to make the comparison, since the Puritans accomplished great things). The "left" may joke and titter and wheeze about "fundy Christian wingnuts" but find someone lecturing you about your immorality, your materialism, your sinful pride, your lack of spiritual value and, most likely, they will be driving an old Volvo with the radio tuned to "Pacifica" and a GEORGE BUSH IS A LIAR bumper-sticker on the fender. Your average lefty is quicker to take offense than a blue-haired old presbyterian; they are constantly monitoring everyone for signs of racism, sexism, colonialism, anti-animal hate speech. They will criticize your car, your house, your synthetic fiber sweater, your swear words, your cigarettes, your sandwich, your choice of grocery bag, your skin color (if it is in the dusky pink range). Life to them is a laundry list of strictures, taboos and lamentations. They hate science, they fear Christianity, they think heterosexual porn is rape, they believe in magic, aromatherapy, tribalism; they scream about Bush killing children but fail to bat an eyelash at the consequences of "pro-choice". They cringe in disgust and embarrassment at the "black and white" moral distinctions of Bush (and Reagan in his time) when he speaks of the "axis of evil", yet no one uses the word evil more than leftists when describing the Bush Administration, capitalism, America, Israel. They mock and scoff at the president's religiosity, yet speak in reverential tones of Gaia, Buddha, Wicca, Yoga. And on and on.

Goldsmith makes a terrific point. The Left is every bit as superstitious and irrational as the Right. More irrational, in fact, because at least the Right usually has human welfare high on its priority list, while the Left is often on the other side.


Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Disaster Relief 

There isn't much to say about the tsunami disaster other than to note how sad it is for so many people, and what a good time it would be to contribute to help (I did).

I suppose one other thing to note is how great the online response has been, both in terms of useful information and generosity. As Glenn Reynolds writes (after noting that the US is sending shiploads of help, in addition to money):

But nonetheless, a lot of human capital has been brought to bear on this problem in very short order, through voluntary cooperation. Get used to it: Navies have been around for a long time, but this is the wave of the future.

UPDATE: As of 12/29 at 8:40 AM PST, Amazon.com has already collected over $1.6 million for the Red Cross relief effort. How cool is that?

UPDATE 2: I hope people remember this tragic event when they encounter those who worship the "natural" and condemn the "artificial". The natural isn't necessarily good for people; it's often deadly. Artificially manipulating our environment to enhance our lives is what we should be doing. Irrational reverence for nature and obstruction of human solutions is not just silly, it's immoral.


Saturday, December 25, 2004

Happy Holiday  

Today is the undisputed birthday of a man who contributed greatly to the progress of civilization.

Isaac Newton

Happy Newton Day!


Wednesday, December 22, 2004

What, Me Worry?  

I really like Russ Roberts' post over at Cafe Hayek in response to Sabastian Mallaby's Washington Post column fretting about how partially privatizing Social Security will burden citizens with too many choices and risks.

Here's a key insight from Roberts:

And if you're worried about all that stress, there is a very easy policy solution to let those worriers sleep easy. Make social security voluntary. You don't like making your own choices? Let the government handle it. How many people would choose this voluntary option? Would you be comforted and stress-free knowing that the government is going to take those voluntary contributions and give them to today's retirees, knowing that when you get older, the government will tax your children and the children of strangers to finance your uncertain benefits?

It's this section from Mullaby that really bugs me:

It follows that pro-market, government-cutting schemes cannot be justified by a presumed moral superiority. When it comes to their retirement, most Americans probably want a mix of a government safety net and the opportunity to accumulate their own savings. The current system, featuring a government program that guarantees a pension equal to about a third of the average worker's salary, plus a variety of tax-favored opportunities to save individually, may already be quite close to most citizens' sense of the right balance.
In the absence of the moral-superiority claim, a reform that adds to the stresses of the modern world must hold out the compensating hope of more prosperity. There's no case for Social Security privatization unless it brings a serious economic payoff.

How does any of this follow? Because some people don't like a lot of choices and risk, there's no moral issue with forcing a government program on other people?

I think Roberts' take on this is about right:

I think Mallaby's last sentence has it exactly backwards. The economic payoff from privatization will be small. The real payoff is moral—the opportunity to live as an adult, making choices and coping with the consequences, good and bad.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

I Wish You Some Perspective  

As I've written before, I have no problem with people saying "Merry Christmas". But, I have no problem with "Happy Holidays" either. Both are nice wishes that are rarely intended to exclude or offend anybody. Just smile and accept it that way.

What's getting annoying, though, is the increased whining from some christians about how they're being victimized by secularism and political correctness.

People sympathetic to this mistaken view should read Julian Sanchez's nice Reason article on the subject.

And...Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, etc.

UPDATE: And also...Happy Birthday To Me!


Thursday, December 16, 2004

Imagine Thinking Things Through 

Alice quoted John Lennon's Imagine in a post today. I figured it was something I could rant about as well...

Imagine there's no heaven,
It's easy if you try,
No hell below us,
Above us only sky,
Imagine all the people
living for today...

I don't have too much of a problem with this. It's not only easy to imagine no heaven or hell, but I have trouble taking their existence seriously. I guess I have a problem with the idea of people "living for today" if he means that literally. But, if it's just a lyrical way of saying "living for their chosen values in this lifetime, which may entail taking future obligations seriously." then it's fine.

I agree with the position that people behaving as if this life doesn't matter as much as the afterlife of their mythology causes lots of problems (suicide bombers, for example).

Imagine there's no countries,
It isn't hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for,
No religion too,
Imagine all the people
living life in peace...

This is pretty stupid.

Yes, it's true that people kill and die "for" their countries and religions, but that's not because countries (or religion) are the problem. The problem is that they don't take other people seriously enough to respect their autonomy and rights to life and property. They could easily find other things to kill and die for without countries or religion.

And countries have many useful features today. Most people would rather live in a "good" country than in an anarchic community with no organized protection from aggressors or an organized system of law for enabling trade and resolving disputes peacefully. Perhaps, someday non-country institutions to handle these things will evolve, but we're not there yet.

Also, having multiple countries is much better than one. Especially if people are free to leave ones they don't like and enter ones they do. It allows better evolution of good institutions, trial and error, etc. Also, it allows people with somewhat different preferences to be satisfied without forcing their preferences on everyone else.

Religions also serve a useful purpose for many people. I, personally, don't think it makes sense for me to subscribe to one, but many people benefit from the comfort, community, and ready-made values that religion provides. As with countries, many people are better off with their religions until other institutions that fulfill these purposes better evolve.

Imagine no possessions,
I wonder if you can,
No need for greed or hunger,
A brotherhood of man,
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

Ugh!!!

This is like the fallacy of the previous section (with countries and religion) that the solution to disputes that involve some concept is to eliminate its existence, rather than improve the way we think about it.

Imagine no possessions. Imagine that John Lennon didn't own a guitar or harmonica (or whatever else he played) and couldn't pursue his interests as thoroughly as he wanted to without the approval of some political body...

That would suck!

No possessions? The special thing about people is their creativity. In order to be creative, people need to be able to control their time, and things that interest them. They need to be able to change things to suit their tastes according to their own will; not dependent on the approval of others. People who can't do this are less than human. Prisons treat people this way. Is that the kind of life he "imagine[s]"?

And how will eliminating possessions end the need for greed or hunger? Greed and hunger don't exist because people have things! They exist because people want things, and people need to eat. If we didn't have things to want or eat, it wouldn't be better; we'd be dead. Who does he think would create things to eat? How does he think people would be satisfied without possessions? How does he "imagine" that a reasonable amount of things that would help people enjoy their lives would be created without the kind of information that markets provide?

And a "brotherhood of man" "sharing all the world" in abject poverty doesn't sound very appealing to me. As I said before, while sharing some things voluntarily is fine, we need to have some things that we don't have to share in order to realize our human creativity.

You may say I'm a dreamer,
but I'm not the only one,
I hope some day you'll join us,
And the world will live as one.

I say you're an idiot. And, yes, you're not the only one.

I don't want the world to "live as one". I don't want to be an ant in a colony. I want to be an individual, free to associate or not as I choose, to create things without permission, to trade with others voluntarily instead of having things doled out based on some stupid rules or political pull.

I want to be human. I want to be free.

And, I'm not the only one, either!


Monday, December 13, 2004

Unnecessary Political Problems 

Will Wilkinson has a nice piece at Reason Online about the problems of politicized school boards deciding how/whether to present evolution in schools.

I've blogged about this general issue before. If the government would stay out of the education delivery business and let people choose the education that best meets their demands, this wouldn't have to be a political issue at all.

Will seems to think that school vouchers are clearly an improvement, and he might be right. But, I worry about increased government control over private schools (and homeschools?) when they decide who should qualify for the funding.

I'd prefer it if the government would be separated from education completely (and private charities set up to help the poor afford education), but perhaps vouchers would help promote private education innovation and convince people that government-free education is feasible and, thus, be a step in the right direction.


Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Uninspired 

Sorry for not blogging much. Nothing has inspired me to write lately.

But, if you haven't already, you should go read Alice Bachini's great post on how leftists (like Tom Bell, I'm not ready to grant them the "liberal" label) should deal with their post-election "trauma".

Of course, if they haven't been listening to us yet, why should we expect them to start now?


Friday, December 03, 2004

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like...  

Florida.

Well, the good news is that Washington State taxpayers won't get stuck paying for the third counting of the ballots for Governor. Apparently, the state Democratic Party came up with $730K, enough to pay for statewide the hand recount (thanks, in part, to $250K of unused money from the John Kerry campaign).

The bad news is that this circus will be going on for another three weeks, at least. I can just imagine the fighting over procedures, questionable ballots, etc. that we have to look forward to.

I do appreciate that they decided to pay for the entire statewide recount, rather than choosing a county or two most likely to change the outcome and then sticking the state with the expense for recounting the rest of the counties (as would be required if the outcome changed).

But, rather than claim that the reason for the recount is to be sure that all the votes are counted, why not be honest and just admit that they are demanding a recount because they have a right to, and they're willing to pay to roll the dice again and hope that the margin of error goes in their favor this time? I doubt they would be as skeptical that the votes had been counted correctly if they had won.

Also, can anybody tell me why I should expect a hand count to be more accurate than a machine count? That seems pretty unlikely to me.