Posts tagged ‘South Africa’

Is Israel Really The Worst Country On Earth?

The American Studies Association has voted to initiate an academic boycott of Israel ostensibly to protest its denial of civil rights to Palestinians in the occupied territories.   Forgetting for a moment Israel's unique security concerns (what would the US do if Mexico routinely lobbed rockets and artillery shells into US border towns), the implication is that the Palestinians in Israels have it worse than any other group in the world, since this is the first and only such boycott the ASA has ever entered into.  Is it really worse to be a Palestinian in Israel than, say, a woman anywhere in the Arab world** or about anyone in North Korea?  Do academics in Cuba have more ability to write honestly than they do in Israel?  I doubt it.

The only statement the ASA makes on the subject that I can find is in their FAQ on the boycott

7) Does the boycott resolution unfairly single out Israel? After all there are many unjust states in the world.

The boycott resolution responds to a request from the Palestinian people, including Palestinian academics and students, to act in solidarity. Because the U.S. contributes materially to the Israeli occupation, through significant financial and military aid - and, as such, is an important ally of the Israeli state - and because the occupation daily confiscates Palestinian land and devastates Palestinian lives, it is urgent to act now.

A couple of thoughts.  First, I am not sure why US material aid is relevant to choosing a boycott target.  I suppose the implication is that this boycott is aimed more at the US than at Israel itself.  But the question still stands as to why countries like Saudi Arabia, which receives a lot of US material aid as well, get a pass.  Second, the fact that Palestinian academics can seek international help tends to disprove that their situation is really the worst in the world.  I don't think the fact that the ASA is not hearing cries for help from liberal-minded academics in North Korea means that there is less of a problem in North Korea.  It means there is more of a problem.

I am not a student of anti-semitism, so I can't comment on how much it may explain this decision.  However, I think it is perfectly possible to explain the ASA's actions without resorting to anti-semitism as an explanation.  As background, remember that it is important for their social standing and prestige for liberal academics to take public positions to help the downtrodden in other countries.  This is fine -- not a bad incentive system to feel social pressure to speak out against injustice.  But the problem is that most sources of injustice are all either a) Leftish regimes the Left hesitates to criticize for ideological reasons or b) Islamic countries that the left hesitates to criticize because they have invested so much in calling conservatives Islamophobic.

So these leftish academics have a need to criticize, but feel constrained to only strongly criticizing center-right or right regimes.  The problem is that most of these are gone.  Allende, the Shah, Franco, South Africa -- all gone or changed.  All that's left is Israel (which is odd because it is actually fairly socialist but for some reason never treated as such by the Left).  So if we consider the universe of appropriate targets -- countries with civil rights and minority rights issues that are not leftish or socialist governments and not Islamic, then the ASA has been perfectly consistent, targeting every single country in that universe.

** To this day I am amazed how little heat the gender apartheid in the Arab world generates in the West in comparison to race apartheid in South Africa.  I am not an expert on either, but from what I have read I believe it is a true statement to say that blacks in apartheid South Africa had more freedom than women have today in Saudi Arabia.  Thoughts?

Update:  I twice emailed the ASA for a list of other countries or groups they have boycotted and twice got a blurb justifying why Israel was selected but with no direct answer to my question.  I guess I will take that as confirmation this is the first and only country they have ever targeted.  They did want to emphasize that the reason Israel was selected (I presume vs. other countries but they did not word it thus) had a lot to do with he fact that Israel was the number one recipient of US aid money (mostly military) and that it was this American connection given they represent American studies professors that made the difference.  Why Pakistan or Afghanistan, who treat their women far worse than Israel treats Palestinians, and which receive a lot of US aid, were not selected or considered or mentioned is not explained.  Basically, I would explain it thus:  "all the cool kids are doing it, and we determined that to remain among the cool kids we needed to do it too".  This is a prestige and signalling exercise, and it makes a lot more sense in that context, because then one can ask about the preferences of those to whom they are signalling, rather than try to figure out why Israel is somehow the worst human rights offender in the world.

By the way, by the ASA logic, it should be perfectly reasonable, even necessary, for European academic institutions to boycott US academic institutions because the US government gives aid to such a bad country like Israel.  This seems like it would be unfair to US academics who may even disagree with US policy, but no more unfair than to Israeli academics who are being punished for their government's policies.   I wonder how US academics would feel about being boycotted from European events and scholarship over US government policy?

Green Triumphalism

Via a reader, the cost of a few politicians deciding that there absolutely had to be an Australian-assembled hybrid.

"My wife was looking for an Australian-made hybrid car," Rudd told John Laws in March, 2007, "and I'm sure some of your listeners would have found this out "“ you can't find one.

"So, that started me thinking about why don't we have one in this country."

There are certain people from whom the phrase "that started me thinking" serves as a 150-decibel alarm. We weren't to know it at the time, but Kevin Rudd turned out to be one such bloke. Instead of settling on a nice secondhand Prius, Rudd's simple quest to find some wheels for the missus quickly led, once he was elected, to the $500 million Green Car Fund.

Why couldn't Ms Rein have been interested in something less expensive, like knitting? No, scratch that "“ once her husband "started thinking", we'd have been stuck with a $2 billion National Crochet Initiative.

Subsidies appear to amount to about $(AU)100,000 per private car sale.  This is a sort of new brand of left-progressive triumphalism that reminds me of an essay Ayn Rand wrote decades ago on statism and prestige.  These are the modern Green equivalents of the Brandenburg Gate -- they cost a lot of money, they don't really do anything useful, but everyone can point at them and marvel.

And speaking of which, our current Administration in the US in by no means immune

U.S. President Barack Obama will attend a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday for an LG Chem plant in Holland, Michigan, the company said Sunday. It is very unusual for an incumbent U.S. president to appear at such an event for a foreign company, and it is the first time for a Korean firm.

LG is investing US$300 million to build the plant which will produce batteries for electric vehicles. First-phase commercial production is scheduled to begin in the first half of 2012, and once completed in 2013 the plant will churn out lithium ion cells for 200,000 hybrid cars annually.

Ah, there Coyote goes exaggerating -- because the article explicitly says that a private company will be investing the money, so this isn't really a government project.   Ah, but read to the last paragraph

As part of efforts to revive the auto industry by bringing more green vehicles to the road, the U.S. government has lent considerable support to LG's Holland plant, including $151 million from a federal stimulus program. The Michigan state government also offered tax cuts worth $130 million, which together with the stimulus funds will almost offset LG's entire construction costs. The plant will help ease unemployment in the state by creating some 400 jobs, U.S. media reported.

So $281 million of the $300 million LG is investing is actually taxpayer money.  More brave capitalists! But fortunately we will have lots more batteries so rather than burn gasoline, electric vehicles can charge themselves from coal plants.

PS- Don't forget the jobs, though, created for the low low taxpayer cost of $702,500 each!

PS #2 - I had not noticed before I wrote it, but both of these articles also share in common the government subsidizing foreign companies to manufacture in their country, rather than producing these goods elsewhere and importing them.  This reduces the benefit of these investments even further - its pretty clear that both batteries and Prius's would have been made somewhere in the world, so they would have been available to consumers (probably at lower prices), but these investments merely were to shift production across some line on a map.

Update: John Stossel discusses another form of modern statist triumphalism -- the government-funded sports stadium

South Africa's ability to pull it all together for six weeks doesn't mean the World Cup will be a net benefit to the country in the long term. As the ESPN video below explains, South Africa's government spent $6 billion on the tournament. Tournament-related revenues are expected to fall well short of that figure. Some of the hundred million dollar stadiums built for the tournament won't get much use now that the games are over. The video points to one stadium built for the tournament which will likely remain vacant"”it sits over over slums that lack running water.

Fond memories of the month South Africa performed marvelously on the world stage are nice. But $6 billion is a lot to pay for a memory. These spectacles"”the World Cup and the Olympics"”are nearly always money losers. They're a lousy investment in wealthy countries. They're particularly garrish in countries that aren't as affluent.

Remember that Greece got the same kudos for not screwing up the Olympics, but years later it sure seems like the $15 billion that was sunk into those games by the Greek government has contributed to its financial crisis.

The Statist Trap

David Boaz of Cato makes this comment in the context of an article on suppressing speech in modern South Africa:

In the last days of apartheid, some libertarians pointed out to South
Africa's rulers that if they left a government broadcasting operation
in place, they would one day regret the way a different government
would use it. Looks like that day has come.

This is a point I make time and time again.  When statists push their policies, it is always with the assumption that they themselves will be in control of the government machinery they create.  In contrast, the miracle of the US Constitution was that the government was constituted with the assumption that rogues and scoundrels would take control, and the founders put protections in place to limit the damage these scoundrels could do to our individual liberties.

As I said previously
:

I am reminded of all this because the technocrats that built our
regulatory state are starting to see the danger of what they created.
A public school system was great as long as it was teaching the right
things and its indoctrinational excesses were in a leftish direction.
Now, however, we can see the panic.  The left is freaked that some red
state school districts may start teaching creationism or intelligent
design.  And you can hear the lament - how did we let Bush and these
conservative idiots take control of the beautiful machine we built?  My
answer is that you shouldn't have built the machine in the first place
- it always falls into the wrong hands.  Maybe its time for me to again invite the left to reconsider school choice.

Today, via Instapundit, comes this story about the GAO audit of the decision by the FDA to not allow the plan B morning after pill to be sold over the counter.
And, knock me over with a feather, it appears that the decision was
political, based on a conservative administration's opposition to
abortion.  And again the technocrats on the left are freaked.  Well,
what did you expect?  You applauded the Clinton FDA's politically
motivated ban on breast implants as a sop to NOW and the trial
lawyers.  In
establishing the FDA, it was you on the left that established the
principal, contradictory to the left's own stand on abortion, that the
government does indeed trump the individual on decision making for
their own body
  (other thoughts here).
Again we hear the lament that the game was great until these
conservative yahoos took over.  No, it wasn't.  It was unjust to scheme
to control other people's lives, and just plain stupid to expect that
the machinery of control you created would never fall into your
political enemy's hands.

As I concluded before, even Star Trek figured out this whole technocrat losing control of the fascist state thing 40 years ago.

Sanction of the Victim

This has been an incredible week in the ongoing culture clash between the western democracies and radical Islam.  In a series of events right out of the Onion or Monty Python, radical Muslims around the world protested the Pope calling them violent with ... waves of violence.  Once his remarks were proven right in such an obvious and public way the Pope reacted by ... apologizing for his remarks.**   

I am tired of apologizing to radical Islam (for some silly, bland cartoons, for god sakes!)  I am tired of bending over backwards into pretzels to give them the benefit of the doubt.  I am extremely tired of being told these folks are just aggrieved and in reality they share my values, because it is very very clear that they don't share my values.  I am tired of being told most Muslims are peaceful --  when these peaceful folks give their sanction and support to the violent ones and accept the most radical as their leaders. 

Radical Islam is, with the downfall of soviet communism and the painfully gradual opening up of China, the most illiberal force in the modern world. By a long shot.  It treats individual life with contempt, has no concept of rights, and in particular treats women far worse than apartheid South Africa ever treated blacks.  The theocracy we fear from certain Republican 700 Club folks is like 3.2 beer compared to full 200 proof Islamic theocratic fascism. 

I don't know why the left in this country has been hesitant to call out illiberal practices in the Middle East as vociferously as they have in other circumstances.  A part of this hesitation is probably opposition to the Iraq war, and fear that denouncing radical Islam for its faults might somehow give the administration a stronger mandate for more military adventures.  A less charitable explanation is that the hesitation is an extension of political correctness and cultural relativism run wild).

Well, I opposed the Iraq war:  The Augean stables are just too dirty to clean up by sending the military from dictator to dictator. I will go further and say I actually think the terrorist threat is exaggerated (and yes I do remember 9/11) in order to keep giving the FBI more powers and help politicians get elected.  Get tough on terrorism is sort of the new get tough on crime election speak.

But I don't think the threat to liberal values posed by Islamic fundamentalism is exaggerated.  And the first step in fighting it is to not give it, as Ayn Rand would say, the sanction of the victim.  People sometimes email me and say "who are we to talk -- America is not clean."  I will agree we have our warts - and much of this blog is taken up with pointing some of them out.  But what I always tell people, and still believe, is the following:

The US does harm when we fail to live up to our values.  Radical Islam does harm when they successfully pursue what they value.

**Postscript:   I don't pretend to understand all the 13th century quotations in the Pope's speech.  I don't think it matters.  If he had simply said "radical Islam preaches too much violence and it has to stop" he would have gotten the same reaction.  By the way, every person in the world seems to say bad things about the US, many of these comments are untrue or apply only to a minority of our leaders and not to myself. I can't remember anyone ever apologizing to me.   This story  that Muslims will do more violence unless the Pope apologizes some more reminds me of Sir Robin in the Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  "Perhaps if we run away more..."

And here is my message to the right -- I acknowledge that radical Islamic leaders treat apologies, backing-down, etc. as weakness to be exploited rather than preludes to reasonable compromise.   For this reason, I thought the invasion of Afghanistan was a necessity.  However, this general fact does NOT automatically justify the Iraq war.  If it did, it would also justify invading any Islamic country we want.  I still don't understand the strategic sense of Iraq and now we are stuck there, because I agree that once in, backing off will only embolden the radicals in the area to further hi-jinx.

Politics Negates Belief

One of the advantages of not being a partisan of either the Democrats or Republicans is that I have more flexibility to actually say what I believe, without worrying that something I am saying might actually give aid and comfort to my political enemies.  I have always felt that it is really, really difficult and rare to become actively political without sacrificing consistency in your deeply held beliefs, particularly since both parties represent such an inconsistent hodge-podge of positions.  The irony of this has been, at least until the advent of blogging, that I could be smug about maintaining my philosophic virginity but I left myself no avenue to make any impact with my strongly held beliefs.

Given this, I was therefore struck by this, from Cathy Young at Reason, writing about Yale's future Taliban student:

One striking aspect of this controversy is the reaction from Yale's liberal
community. Della Sentilles, a Yale senior, recently
wrote a
piece

for the Yale Herald denouncing such manifestations of rampant
misogyny at Yale as the shortage of tenured female professors and poor
childcare options. On her blog, a reader asked Sentilles about the presence
at Yale of a former spokesman for one of the world's most misogynistic
regimes.
Her reply:
"As a white American feminist, I do not feel comfortable making statements
or judgments about other cultures, especially statements that suggest one
culture is more sexist and repressive than another. American feminism is
often linked to and manipulated by the state in order to further its own
imperialist ends."

It appears Ms. Sentilles, beyond having a lot of multi-cultural baggage, is terrified that if she actually criticizes Afghanistan in any way, she is somehow giving aid and comfort to the Bush administration, which feminists have declared enemy #1.  The politics of US presidential elections, in this case, trump criticizing a regime that treated women worse (by far) than the US has at any time in its history.  Which of course is one of the reasons* that women's groups in this country are sliding into irrelevance, putting their support of a broad range of leftish causes above speaking out on what is essentially apartheid-for-women in the Middle East  (I say essentially, because women are actually far worse off in much of the Middle East than blacks ever were in South Africa).  Whereas a decade ago the left was marching in the street to better the lot of blacks in South Africa, they are strangely mum on women in the Middle East. 

As a result, I can lament the condition of women in the Middle East, acknowledge that Saddam was a blight on humanity, but still oppose the war in Iraq as not worth the cost (when "cost" is defined broadly enough to include not must money and men but also opportunity cost).  I can adopt this position because I am not required to put on the Republican happy face or Democratic America-always-sucks face.

* Another reason is that it may be time for women to declare victory.

Best of Coyote IV

Well, it worked for Johnny Carson, why not for me?  Instead of
leaving you with dead air (photons?) while I am knocking the rust off
my beer pong skills back at Princeton, I will share with you a few of
my favorite posts from my early days of blogging.  Since most of these
posts were viewed by about 5 people, there is a certain temptation to
just recycle them without attribution, given the unlikelihood of
getting caught.  Instead, though, I will share them as my best of
Coyote...


This
post was also from early December, and was my first step in writing about the roots of modern statism.  The post is called "progressives are too conservative to like capitalism".

Many in the left to far-left eschew the liberal title nowadays
(since they consider liberals now to be wimps and too moderate, like
that Clinton guy) in favor of the term "progressive".  This term has
gone in and out of favor for over a century, from the populists of the
early 1900's to the socialists of the more modern era.

Most "progressives" (meaning those on the left to far left who
prefer that term) would freak if they were called conservative, but
what I mean by conservative in this context is not
donate-to-Jesse-Helms capital-C Conservative but fearful of change and
uncomfortable with uncertainty conservative. 

OK, most of you are looking at this askance - aren't progressives
always trying to overthrow the government or something?  Aren't they
out starting riots at G7 talks?  The answer is yes, sure, but what
motivates many of them, at least where it comes to capitalism, is a
deep-seated conservatism. 

Before I continue to support this argument, I must say that on a
number of issues, particularly related to civil liberties and social
issues, I call progressives my allies.  On social issues, progressives,
like I do, generally support an individual's right to make decisions
for themselves, as long as those decisions don't harm others. 

However, when we move to fields such as commerce, progressives stop
trusting individual decision-making.  Progressives who support the
right to a person making unfettered choices in sexual partners don't
trust people to make their own choice on seat belt use.  Progressives
who support the right of fifteen year old girls to make decisions about
abortion without parental notification do not trust these same girls
later in life to make their own investment choices with their Social
Security funds.  And, Progressives who support the right of third
worlders to strap on a backpack of TNT and explode themselves in the
public market don't trust these same third worlders to make the right
decision in choosing to work in the local Nike shoe plant.

Beyond just the concept of individual decision-making, progressives
are hugely uncomfortable with capitalism.  Ironically, though
progressives want to posture as being "dynamic", the fact is that
capitalism is in fact too dynamic for them.  Industries rise and fall,
jobs are won and lost, recessions give way to booms.  Progressives want
comfort and certainty.  They want to lock things down the way they are.
They want to know that such and such job will be there tomorrow and
next decade, and will always pay at least X amount.  That is why, in
the end, progressives are all statists, because, to paraphrase Hayek,
only a government with totalitarian powers can bring the order and
certainty and control of individual decision-making that they crave.

Progressive elements in this country have always tried to freeze
commerce, to lock this country's economy down in its then-current
patterns.  Progressives in the late 19th century were terrified the
American economy was shifting from agriculture to industry.  They
wanted to stop this, to cement in place patterns where 80-90% of
Americans worked on farms.  I, for one, am glad they failed, since for
all of the soft glow we have in this country around our description of
the family farmer, farming was and can still be a brutal, dawn to dusk
endeavor that never really rewards the work people put into it. 

This story of progressives trying to stop history has continued to
repeat itself through the generations.  In the seventies and eighties,
progressives tried to maintain the traditional dominance of heavy
industry like steel and automotive, and to prevent the shift of these
industries overseas in favor of more service-oriented industries.  Just
like the passing of agriculture to industry a century ago inflamed
progressives, so too does the current passing of heavy industry to
services.

In fact, here is a sure fire test for a progressive.  If given a choice between two worlds:

  1. A capitalist society where the overall levels of wealth and
    technology continue to increase, though in a pattern that is dynamic,
    chaotic, generally unpredictable, and whose rewards are unevenly
    distributed, or...
  2. A "progressive" society where everyone is poorer, but income is
    generally more evenly distributed.  In this society, jobs and pay and
    industries change only very slowly, and people have good assurances
    that they will continue to have what they have today, with little
    downside but also with very little upside.

Progressives will choose #2.  Even if it means everyone is poorer.
Even if it cuts off any future improvements we might gain in technology
or wealth or lifespan or whatever.  They want to take what we have
today, divide it up more equally, and then live to eternity with just
that.   Progressives want #2 today, and they wanted it just as much in
1900 (just think about if they had been successful -- as just one
example, if you are over 44, you would have a 50/50 chance of being
dead now). 

Don't believe that this is what they would answer?  Well, first,
this question has been asked and answered a number of times in surveys,
and it always comes out this way.  Second, just look at any policy
issue today.  Take prescription drugs in the US - isn't it pretty clear
that the progressive position is that they would be willing to pretty
much gut incentives for any future drug innovations in trade for having
a system in place that guaranteed everyone minimum access to what
exists today?  Or take the welfare state in Continental Europe -- isn't
it clear that a generation of workers/voters chose certainty over
growth and improvement?  That workers 30 years ago voted themselves
jobs for life, but at the cost of tremendous unemployment amongst the
succeeding generations?

More recently, progressives have turned their economic attention to
lesser developed nations.  Progressives go nuts on the topic of
Globalization.  Without tight security, G7 and IMF conferences have and
would devolve into riots and destruction at the hands of progressives,
as happened famously in Seattle.  Analyzing the Globalization movement
is a bit hard, as rational discourse is not always a huge part of the
"scene", and what is said is not always logical or internally
consistent.  The one thing I can make of this is that progressives
intensely dislike the change that is occurring rapidly in
third world economies, particularly since these changes are often
driven by commerce and capitalists.

Progressives do not like American factories appearing in third world
countries, paying locals wages progressives feel are too low, and
disrupting agrarian economies with which progressives were more
comfortable.  But these changes are all the sum of actions by
individuals, so it is illustrative to think about what is going on in
these countries at the individual level. 

One morning, a rice farmer in southeast Asia might faces a choice.
He can continue a life of brutal, back-breaking labor from dawn to dusk
for what is essentially subsistence earnings.  He can continue to see a
large number of his children die young from malnutrition and disease.
He can continue a lifestyle so static, so devoid of opportunity for
advancement, that it is nearly identical to the life led by his
ancestors in the same spot a thousand years ago.

Or, he can go to the local Nike factory, work long hours (but
certainly no longer than he worked in the field) for low pay (but
certainly more than he was making subsistence farming) and take a shot
at changing his life.  And you know what, many men (and women) in his
position choose the Nike factory.  And progressives hate this.  They
distrust this choice.  They distrust the change.  And, at its heart,
that is what globalization is all about - a deep seated conservatism
that distrusts the decision-making of individuals and fears change,
change that ironically might finally pull people out of untold
generations of utter poverty.

In fact, over the last 20 or so years, progressives have become
surprisingly mute on repression and totalitarianism the world over.  In
the 1970's, progressives criticized the US (rightly, I think) for not
doing more to challenge the totalitarian impulses of its allies (the
Shah of Iran comes to mind in particular) and not doing enough to end
totalitarianism and repression in other nations (e.g. South Africa,
Guatemala, El Salvador, etc etc) 

Today, progressives have become oddly conservative about challenging
totalitarian nations.  By embracing the "peace at any cost" mantra,
they have essentially said that they can live with anything, reconcile
anything, as long as things remain nominally peaceful (ie, no battles
show up on the network news).  Beyond just a strong anti-Americanism,
the peace movement today reflects a strong conservatism -- they want to
just leave everyone alone, no matter how horrible or repressive, and
hope that they will in turn leave us alone.  They fear any change that
would stir things up.

There are any number of other examples of the strong conservative
streak in the progressive movement.  Here are a few more that come to
mind:

  • Despite at least 40 years of failure in the public schools,
    progressives vociferously oppose any radical changes to the public
    education system.  In particular, they resist any program involving
    school choice, as they are totally condescending in their utter lack of
    faith in the average parent's ability to make the right choice for
    their family.
  • Progressives refuse to even consider the possibility that
    individuals should be trusted to make their own decisions regarding
    some portion of their Social Security retirement funds.  They can couch
    their opposition in a lot of fear talk about benefit cuts, but at the
    end of the day (and take this from someone who has had this argument
    with numerous liberals and progressives)  the argument always boils
    down to "we don't trust people to make investment decisions that are as
    good as the ones we would make for them".

Well, I have again written too long, and I'm tired.  If you are not
ready to rush to defend the barricades of capitalism, you might read my
post from last week called "60 Second Refutation of Socialism, while Sitting at the Beach".  Most of what I have written here has been said far more eloquently by others.  Of recent writers, Virginia Postrel, in the Future and its Enemies,
has written a whole book on not just capitalism but dynamism and
progress in general, and why people of all political persuasions tend
to be scared by it.  Brink Lindsey addressed many of these same issues
as well in his book Against the Dead Hand.  Of course, the Godfather of individual choice and societal dynamism is Friedrich Hayek.

As a final note, my ultimate statement on this topic is here, called Respecting Individual Decision-Making.

Women's Rights Groups Have Lost Their Way

It is not uncommon that advocacy groups struggle to declare victory.  The problem with crossing the finish line for such groups is that their leaders will lose power, influence, and face-time on the news, and rank and file members may lose jobs.  Also, it is always possible to point to some instance where victory has not been secured, though these instances are often trivial compared to the original problem the groups were organized to fight.

Such seems to be the case with women's groups today.  Their shift from women's issues advocacy to groups trying to maintain their political stature probably began in the Clinton administration, where most women's groups chose to support their political ally (Clinton) rather than their traditional issue (sexual harassment in the workplace).

This trend seems to be accelerating.  Here are some other indicators:

  • Increasingly, women's rights seem to have become a euphemism for abortion rights.  I don't have any problem with people organizing to support abortion rights, but it strikes me that women have more rights than this.  What happened to free speech and property and religion and bearing arms?  Aren't those women's rights?  But press most women today who say they are concerned with the erosion of women's rights, 95% of the time they will be talking narrowly about abortion rights.  The majority of the articles on the NOW site are related to abortion and Roe v. Wade, not any other discernable consitutional rights.
  • At the same time that the US Government was in the process of freeing millions of Afghan women, opening up to them for the first time the right to vote and go to school, womens groups in the US were mostly opposing these actions.  In fact, their main focus at the time was instead on trying to get one female millionaire into a country club in Georgia.  This contrast both points out the trivialization of the battles left to fight for women in this country who can mostly claim victory, as well as the loss of focus on the most fundamental of women's rights that are still denied to women all over the world.  For many women in the world, women's rights aren't getting an abortion or joining a country club, they are not getting beaten with impunity by your husband, not getting stoned to death for minor offenses, being able to vote, or read, or be educated, or even to show some skin every once in a while.  Women have far fewer rights in islamic nations than blacks had in aparteid South Africa.  African-American groups in the US actively opposed apparteid in South Africa -- where are womens group's voices on islamic fascism?
  • Women's groups have lost any consistent philosophical focus.  With abortion, they were of one mind - our bodies are private, the government can't tell us what to do with them.  Great, I'll buy that.  But, along comes the breast implant scare, and suddenly women's groups are all for banning women from doing certain things to their body (mainly because women's leaders see breast implants as frivolous and not something real women should do).  So, you can do whatever you want with your body as long as women's leaders agree with your decision- making.  Don't believe me?  Here is the spot on the NOW site urging women to complain about that the government is micro-managing their bodies by denying them certain medical items, and here is an article urging woment to complain that the government is not micro-managing their bodies enough by making certain medical items too available

And now comes this story on banning Walmarts and other big box retailers from certain parts of Maryland.  I won't even get into the ridiculousness of this rank protectionism for unions and small retailers - other blogs have attacked it well enough, example here.  I was struck by this line:

Officials of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, meanwhile, organized labor, education and women's rights advocates to testify with them in front of the council in October [in favor of the ban].

Huh?  Women's groups are out campaigning to ban Costcos and Walmarts?  Is it somehow hurting women to go to one place to do all of their shopping rather than 4 or 5 smaller stores?   Is it a fundamental right of women not to be tempted by lower prices?  Are women somehow genetically more susceptible to those large boxes of cereal?  Yes, I know that women's groups are opposing some hiring and promotion practices at Walmarts, but is this really a valid reason to have the government ban construciton of all large retail establishments?

The fact is that womens groups have just become another generic liberal advocacy group, jumping in on whatever hot topic is out there to keep them in the press, but with little connection to the original issues that energized their formation.

If women's groups want some valid women's causes, here are some suggestions:

  • Support women in their transition from slave to citizen in Iraq and Afghanistan.  You don't even have to sanction the war - just accept the situation as-is and help tens of millions of women who are trying to be free
  • Protest the UN's treatment of women, including widespread rape, in the Congo
  • If they want a cause closer to the US, support the women whose husbands are stationed overseas in war zones.  Or, if you would rather support the troops than their wives, petition Congress for more budget to ensure women soldiers have the tools they need to survive and be victorious

Time to Open Up Relations with Cuba

Yes, I know the Cuban government sucks.  No, I do not want to give it a moral sanction.  However, our continuing total embargo of Cuba smacks more of saving face at this point rather than a very effective strategy to end communism on the island. 

While it is important to have sanctions against totalitarian governments, cutting off all contact with the democratic nations is just counter-productive.  Cross-pollination of democratic ideas has done more to bring countries like China and South Africa closer to the democratic fold than any number of sanctions.  In particular, limitations even on intellectual contact between Americans and Cubans makes no sense any more.

Review - Michael Crichton's "State of Fear"

My post here and here remind me that I should review the book I just finished --Michael Crichton's State of Fear.  In this book, a group of environmental activists are trying to help mother nature along by creating some natural disasters to draw media attention for the global warming crusade.

I really wanted to like this book.  For once, the villain was not some greedy dastardly businessman trying to increase profits of his corporation at the expense of people's lives.  I have always felt that novels with a political ax to grind were tedious, particularly when they got to the preachy parts.  Clive Cussler, for example, has gotten bad about this in his later books like Shock Wave.  In this book, like in most, the crime is usually so over the top that it is just illogical that anyone would go about business that way - the same time and money spent on less villainous activities would yield far more profit.  It's like those James Bond movie villains who create a $100 million laser satellite and underground control facility only to extort $10 million.

I had thought that the reason I did not like these books was that I disagreed with most of political polemic in them.   However, "State of Fear" has taught be a valuable lesson - I hated the polemic in this novel too, even when I agreed with it.  Crichton makes the same mistake I have railed on Cussler and others for - the cost and elaborate planning that go into most of the planned terrorist attacks make no sense in proportion to benefits.  While I might agree that too many people are mindlessly marching to the global warming drummer without any real thought or consideration of the facts, I thinking blowing some of these folks up into out of control monsters does not help make that point - it just makes you look like you have an ax to grind.  Its also unfair to give the global warming point of view such a poor advocate, the sum total of whose analytical arsenal consists of saying "well, everyone believes it".

<rant>  By the way, a quick word to all you statists, socialists, liberals, and environmental freaks who seem so worked up all over the web about the above admittedly poor literary techniques:  Get over it!  First, global warming is seldom represented by its advocates as the messy, unclear, chaotic, hard to predict thing it really is.  You advocates of global warming have constantly exagerated your case, so get over it when someone does it in the other direction.  Second, I have probably read over a hundred novels where the advocates of capitalism, markets, business, and individual responsibility are just as incompetant as the advocates for global warming are in this book.  Let me see you complain about a book with polemic that you agree with, as I have done, and then I will listen to you. </rant>

So I rank the book as OK, with some pretty good scenes and plot marred by some tedious expositions and diatribes (and remember, this is coming from someone who agrees with the diatribes!)  Tom Clancy does a much better job of evenhandedly dealing with eco-terrorists in Rainbow Six, probably his last good novel. 

By the way, if I wanted to novelize a rant against global warming's bad science, I would choose about anyone except for Crichton, whose middle name is "bad science".  I enjoy his novels, but did you ever ask yourself why all the doctors had to go through all that decontamination in Andromeda Strain, when they were never going to come in contact with the objects under study anyway?  Or, in Timeline, if they are really traveling to parallel but out of sync alternate universes, then how do changes they make in the other universes (such as the dropped glasses) propagate to our universe?  And don't get me started on the science of Prey or the use of chaos theory in Jurrasic Park.

UPDATE

Well, the emails are already coming in.  Since this is getting a lot of hits already off search engines by people who do not normally read this site, and to save writing a number of individual responses, I will give the elevator version of where I am on global warming:

  • The world has probably warmed over the last several decades due to man-made CO2 production, but less than is generally reported because
    • Global warming advocates, out of several available data sets, always pick the one that shows the most warming, while other data sets show less.  The data set they choose (ground temperatures) is not without issues.
    • Advocates tend to ignore other influences that might be raising temperatures in addition to man-made CO2, including natural climatic cycles, increased solar activity, and urban heat island effects.  These effects were apparently substantial in the first half of the century.  To argue that they are not part of the story in the second half of the century, you have to argue that they stopped at the same time that CO2 began having an effect.
  • The world will warm further due to man-made CO2, but the models for future warming are almost certainly overstated, for at least two reasons:
    • While I can't judge the science, I sure as heck can evaluate an economic model and the models for the amount of CO2 produced in the next century are basically economic models.  And they are hugely flawed.  The models have made assumptions that grossly overstate CO2 production in the future.  As just one example, the models assume that many of the least energy efficient nations have huge growth booms over the next 50 years, so that their economies grow larger than that of the US (for example, South Africa is shown to have a larger economy in the future than the US).  These models also assume that these countries do not get much more efficient, so you end up with models showing enormous, absurdly energy efficient economies in the future -- which of course grossly overstates CO2 production
    • As I said, I don't have the science to dispute the models in depth, but one has to be concerned when the models do not match history, and in fact predict historically a much higher temperature rise than we have seen to date.  Advocates will argue that this is fixed, but it was fixed with fudge factors, not science.  People have tried doing this with financial models as well, fudging theoretical models that aren't working to match history, and have gone broke doing so.
  • When and where warming occurs does matter.  Crichton was dead wrong about this - things do not warm evenly.  Models show most warming is in the coldest areas in winter at night.  Since having warming night-time winter temperatures in Siberia does not really panic anyone, this does not get much coverage.
  • The Kyoto treaty is hugely flawed, leaves out the countries causing the most CO2 production increases, is ridiculously anti-American, will cost economies a ton, and will have little affect on future warming, even by advocate's models.
  • I worry that the science being done on global warming is not as good as it could be, as the field has become so politicized.  Any scientist who dares to even introduce data that might soften the global warming catastrophe message is marginalized.
  • Those who report on global warming, including the media and the administration of large projects like the UN climate change project distort scientific findings, substituting complexity and questions with certainty

This is just a summary, without dueling citations.  I covered the same points, but marshaling evidence and citations here.

MORE REVIEWS

More blog reviews, both positive and nevative, linked here.  Other folks who are skeptical about global warming seem to have liked the book a lot.  I still think that this is more of a reaction to finally having a novel that is skeptical of progressive causes rather than a reaction to a quality adventure book.  I continue to maintain that it is better for action books to just stick to the action.  I will be very upset if this starts an arms race among writers to get more and more heavy handed with their politics in their novels.

Progressives are too Conservative to Like Capitalism

Many in the left to far-left eschew the liberal title nowadays (since they consider liberals now to be wimps and too moderate, like that Clinton guy) in favor of the term "progressive".  This term has gone in and out of favor for over a century, from the populists of the early 1900's to the socialists of the more modern era.

Most "progressives" (meaning those on the left to far left who prefer that term) would freak if they were called conservative, but what I mean by conservative in this context is not donate-to-Jesse-Helms capital-C Conservative but fearful of change and uncomfortable with uncertainty conservative. 

OK, most of you are looking at this askance - aren't progressives always trying to overthrow the government or something?  Aren't they out starting riots at G7 talks?  The answer is yes, sure, but what motivates many of them, at least where it comes to capitalism, is a deep-seated conservatism. 

Before I continue to support this argument, I must say that on a number of issues, particularly related to civil liberties and social issues, I call progressives my allies.  On social issues, progressives, like I do, generally support an individual's right to make decisions for themselves, as long as those decisions don't harm others. 

However, when we move to fields such as commerce, progressives stop trusting individual decision-making.  Progressives who support the right to a person making unfettered choices in sexual partners don't trust people to make their own choice on seat belt use.  Progressives who support the right of fifteen year old girls to make decisions about abortion without parental notification do not trust these same girls later in life to make their own investment choices with their Social Security funds.  And, Progressives who support the right of third worlders to strap on a backpack of TNT and explode themselves in the public market don't trust these same third worlders to make the right decision in choosing to work in the local Nike shoe plant.

Beyond just the concept of individual decision-making, progressives are hugely uncomfortable with capitalism.  Ironically, though progressives want to posture as being "dynamic", the fact is that capitalism is in fact too dynamic for them.  Industries rise and fall, jobs are won and lost, recessions give way to booms.  Progressives want comfort and certainty.  They want to lock things down the way they are. They want to know that such and such job will be there tomorrow and next decade, and will always pay at least X amount.  That is why, in the end, progressives are all statists, because, to paraphrase Hayek, only a government with totalitarian powers can bring the order and certainty and control of individual decision-making that they crave.

Progressive elements in this country have always tried to freeze commerce, to lock this country's economy down in its then-current patterns.  Progressives in the late 19th century were terrified the American economy was shifting from agriculture to industry.  They wanted to stop this, to cement in place patterns where 80-90% of Americans worked on farms.  I, for one, am glad they failed, since for all of the soft glow we have in this country around our description of the family farmer, farming was and can still be a brutal, dawn to dusk endeavor that never really rewards the work people put into it. 

This story of progressives trying to stop history has continued to repeat itself through the generations.  In the seventies and eighties, progressives tried to maintain the traditional dominance of heavy industry like steel and automotive, and to prevent the shift of these industries overseas in favor of more service-oriented industries.  Just like the passing of agriculture to industry a century ago inflamed progressives, so too does the current passing of heavy industry to services.

In fact, here is a sure fire test for a progressive.  If given a choice between two worlds:

  1. A capitalist society where the overall levels of wealth and technology continue to increase, though in a pattern that is dynamic, chaotic, generally unpredictable, and whose rewards are unevenly distributed, or...
  2. A "progressive" society where everyone is poorer, but income is generally more evenly distributed.  In this society, jobs and pay and industries change only very slowly, and people have good assurances that they will continue to have what they have today, with little downside but also with very little upside.

Progressives will choose #2.  Even if it means everyone is poorer.  Even if it cuts off any future improvements we might gain in technology or wealth or lifespan or whatever.  They want to take what we have today, divide it up more equally, and then live to eternity with just that.   Progressives want #2 today, and they wanted it just as much in 1900 (just think about if they had been successful -- as just one example, if you are over 44, you would have a 50/50 chance of being dead now). 

Don't believe that this is what they would answer?  Well, first, this question has been asked and answered a number of times in surveys, and it always comes out this way.  Second, just look at any policy issue today.  Take prescription drugs in the US - isn't it pretty clear that the progressive position is that they would be willing to pretty much gut incentives for any future drug innovations in trade for having a system in place that guaranteed everyone minimum access to what exists today?  Or take the welfare state in Continental Europe -- isn't it clear that a generation of workers/voters chose certainty over growth and improvement?  That workers 30 years ago voted themselves jobs for life, but at the cost of tremendous unemployment amongst the succeeding generations?

More recently, progressives have turned their economic attention to lesser developed nations.  Progressives go nuts on the topic of Globalization.  Without tight security, G7 and IMF conferences have and would devolve into riots and destruction at the hands of progressives, as happened famously in Seattle.  Analyzing the Globalization movement is a bit hard, as rational discourse is not always a huge part of the "scene", and what is said is not always logical or internally consistent.  The one thing I can make of this is that progressives intensely dislike the change that is occurring rapidly in third world economies, particularly since these changes are often driven by commerce and capitalists.

Progressives do not like American factories appearing in third world countries, paying locals wages progressives feel are too low, and disrupting agrarian economies with which progressives were more comfortable.  But these changes are all the sum of actions by individuals, so it is illustrative to think about what is going on in these countries at the individual level. 

One morning, a rice farmer in southeast Asia might faces a choice.  He can continue a life of brutal, back-breaking labor from dawn to dusk for what is essentially subsistence earnings.  He can continue to see a large number of his children die young from malnutrition and disease.  He can continue a lifestyle so static, so devoid of opportunity for advancement, that it is nearly identical to the life led by his ancestors in the same spot a thousand years ago.

Or, he can go to the local Nike factory, work long hours (but certainly no longer than he worked in the field) for low pay (but certainly more than he was making subsistence farming) and take a shot at changing his life.  And you know what, many men (and women) in his position choose the Nike factory.  And progressives hate this.  They distrust this choice.  They distrust the change.  And, at its heart, that is what the opposition to globalization is all about - a deep seated conservatism that distrusts the decision-making of individuals and fears change, change that ironically might finally pull people out of untold generations of utter poverty.

In fact, over the last 20 or so years, progressives have become surprisingly mute on repression and totalitarianism the world over.  In the 1970's, progressives criticized the US (rightly, I think) for not doing more to challenge the totalitarian impulses of its allies (the Shah of Iran comes to mind in particular) and not doing enough to end totalitarianism and repression in other nations (e.g. South Africa, Guatemala, El Salvador, etc etc) 

Today, progressives have become oddly conservative about challenging totalitarian nations.  By embracing the "peace at any cost" mantra, they have essentially said that they can live with anything, reconcile anything, as long as things remain nominally peaceful (ie, no battles show up on the network news).  Beyond just a strong anti-Americanism, the peace movement today reflects a strong conservatism -- they want to just leave everyone alone, no matter how horrible or repressive, and hope that they will in turn leave us alone.  They fear any change that would stir things up.

There are any number of other examples of the strong conservative streak in the progressive movement.  Here are a few more that come to mind:

  • Despite at least 40 years of failure in the public schools, progressives vociferously oppose any radical changes to the public education system.  In particular, they resist any program involving school choice, as they are totally condescending in their utter lack of faith in the average parent's ability to make the right choice for their family.
  • Progressives refuse to even consider the possibility that individuals should be trusted to make their own decisions regarding some portion of their Social Security retirement funds.  They can couch their opposition in a lot of fear talk about benefit cuts, but at the end of the day (and take this from someone who has had this argument with numerous liberals and progressives)  the argument always boils down to "we don't trust people to make investment decisions that are as good as the ones we would make for them".

Well, I have again written too long, and I'm tired.  If you are not ready to rush to defend the barricades of capitalism, you might read my post from last week called "60 Second Refutation of Socialism, while Sitting at the Beach".  Most of what I have written here has been said far more eloquently by others.  Of recent writers, Virginia Postrel, in the Future and its Enemies, has written a whole book on not just capitalism but dynamism and progress in general, and why people of all political persuasions tend to be scared by it.  Brink Lindsey addressed many of these same issues as well in his book Against the Dead Hand.  Of course, the Godfather of individual choice and societal dynamism is Friedrich Hayek.

On Totally Losing Perspective

I had this turly over-the-top article from Mark Morford in SF Gate forwarded to me via email, with the forwarding comment "This about sums it up..." After today, I will return to more business topics from politics, but this article gives me the excuse to write my own post-election recap.

Its hard to do this article justice in excerpting it, so I encourage you to follow the link above and read the whole thing, but hear are some choice highlights (bold emphasizes some particular passages I will comment on)

And now Kerry's conceded and the white flag has been raised and we are headed toward the utterly appalling notion of another four years of Bush and another Republican stranglehold of Congress and repeated GOP chants of "More War in '04!"

Which is, well, simply staggering. Mind blowing. Odd. Gut wrenching. Colon knotting. Eyeball gouging. And so on.

You want to block it out. You want to rend your flesh and yank your hair and say no way in hell and lean out your window and scream into the Void and pray it will all be over soon, even though you know you're an atheist Buddhist Taoist Rosicrucian Zen Orgasmican and you don't normally pray to anything except maybe the gods of really exceptional sake and skin-tingling sex and maybe a few luminous transcendental deities that look remarkably like Jenna Jameson.

It simply boggles the mind: we've already had four years of some of the most appalling and abusive foreign and domestic policy in American history, some of the most well-documented atrocities ever wrought on the American populace and it's all combined with the biggest and most violently botched and grossly mismanaged war since Vietnam, and much of the nation still insists in living in a giant vat of utter blind faith, still insists on believing the man in the White House couldn't possibly be treating them like a dog treats a fire hydrant....

This election's outcome, this heartbreaking proof of a nation split more deeply and decisively than ever, it simply reinforces the feeling among much of the educated populace: It is a weirdly embarrassing time to be an American. It is jarring and oddly shattering and makes you rethink what it really means to be a part of this country. The answer: It doesn't mean much at all. Not really. Not anymore...

Maybe we're not all that sophisticated or nuanced or respectable a nation as we sometimes dare to dream....

Maybe, in fact, we're regressing, back to the days of guns and sexism and pre-emptive violence, of environmental abuse and no rights for women and a sincere hatred of gays and foreigners and minorities. Sound familiar? It should: it's the modern GOP platform....

So then, to much of Europe, Russia, Asia, Canada, Mexico, the Middle East -- to all those dozens of major world nations who want Bush out almost as much as the educated people of America, to you we can only say: We are so very, very sorry. We don't know how it happened, either. For tens of millions of us, Bush is not our president and never will be. That's how divisive. That's how dangerous. That's how very sad it has become.

We are not, with another four years of what we just endured, headed toward any sort of easing of bitter tension, a sense of levity, or sexual openness, or true education, or gender respect, or a lightness of spirit and of step.

It is important to recognize that this article is insane. Not slightly over the top or humorous exaggeration, but a truly insane loss of perspective.

Continue reading ‘On Totally Losing Perspective’ »