Thursday, June 30, 2011

Grass. Greener. Fence.

Sperling's Best Places tries to answer its many postings are along the lines of "I'm moving [or thinking of moving] to X, what's it like?" Residents of X in turn describe, gush over, or flame the place they live. Supposedly, by reading lots of the comments, a reader can get a feeling for their potential new location.

Stories rating "best places" are a standard space filler for news media. It's mostly a pointless exercise. First, your Shangri-la (assuming there is such a thing) might be jumping hell for me, and vice versa. Everyone has their own tastes in lifestyle, climate, geography, demography, and all the other metrics of quality of life. Further, reading residents' evaluations of many far-flung cities show that what they hate about their environs is widely echoed elsewhere.


I like the site because it offers a fascinating window on the values of people all over the country, who are probably more candid than they would be if questioned in a formal survey, let alone for a print or video piece where they knew they would be quoted.

The postings at Best Places by residents of various cities -- mostly large and medium-sized ones -- are of course not a representative sample of the U.S. population. But you get the impression this country is brimming with folks who want to live somewhere other than where they do. For example (all quotes are verbatim and unedited):
Soon to retire, my husband and I are looking for a small town (around 5000). We are looking for very friendly people; local activities like festivals, liberal artist and an active art community. We need a good library and a theater that shows indi as well as first run films. Summer concerts in the park would be great. We would prefer a town who has not welcomed big box stores as we prefer to support local businesses. the last thing is it needs to be affordable and near water!!
Best of luck to this couple. But it's hard to believe that anyone could reach near-retirement age and still believe there is such a patch of heaven on earth, and affordable to boot. This is the same kind of magical thinking that leads people to place personal ads describing their ideal partner, in the belief that a list of ideal specifications will make such a person materialize.


Some commenters helpfully try to present a balanced account of the good, bad, and indifferent about their home cities. Otherwise, the stories are roughly equally divided between lavish endorsements (some of which sound like they are written by PR people or real estate agents) and warnings to stay away. Every city has both.

Orlando, anyone?
Orlando, is the land of endless summers. It is so beautiful walking around Lake Eola in the spring with the Palm Trees and swans.
Endless summers ... palm trees ... lake ... swans ... sold! Or maybe not:
Orlando is terrible. I went to middle and high school in Orlando, and it is a joke! Get out of there as soon as you can! I am currently in Dubuque, IA which I do not like, but at least I have a decent paying job while I work on my degree.
If you're in Dubuque, count your blessings! And (a different commenter):
This is a right-to-work state, meaning I could be fired at any moment without a reason. It's good to feel valuable. Thanks, Florida!
Er, friend, I'm sorry to break the news that unless you work for the federal government, anyone, anywhere can be fired quicker than you can say Jack Robinson. "The Board and I have discussed the matter thoroughly, and we have determined that your eye color is unacceptable. As if that wasn't enough, you do not speak Spanish. A security guard is in your office; please clear out your belongings in the next 30 minutes."


You will not be surprised that commenters frequently cite the diversity of their home base. Usually it's offered as a positive factor, although occasionally someone notes in guarded language that the cultural enrichment is not an unmixed blessing.

New York:
The thing that alwasys strikes me about Manhattan is its diversity. It is truly a "world" city on par with London, Paris etc interms of the different cultures and people commonplace here. No other city in the US seems to have such a diverse population.
Now what I do like about LA is that there is lots of great food, plenty of diversity, politically open-minded people, though in the suburbs are typically more conservative than those in the city, but still open-minded in their attitudes.
But -- same commenter:
It seems like it's impossible to have a different opinion of this place without being ridiculed. [Hmm, even in the suburbs people are open minded unless you have a different opinion.]
Also the traffic, and the fact that it's virtually unavoidable. There is hardly any mass transit, the metrolink is not the most efficient light rail, yes there's buses everywhere, but they're not that efficient either. In other words, it is almost a legal requirement to have a car here, not joking on this one. I miss having the MAX train of Portland, that went almost anywhere. Once I have my chance, I'm leaving this place, most likely it'll be San Francisco or New York, or some place like those.
Perhaps this person will find bliss in San Francisco:
Crowded, dirty and loud...but you can't beat it! It's a fun place to live, work and play; interesting people and beautiful weather.
Unlike Orlando, Dubuque, etc., I have actually lived in San Francisco. It's a fun place to work and play? I suppose so, if you like places that are crowded, dirty, and loud, and who wouldn't?

As for interesting people, I recall having many remarkable conversations with street people about the philosophical and sociological issues arising from a request that I give them a handout. Beautiful weather, you betcha, the only place in the lower 48 where you can freeze in mid-summer.

A former SF resident writes:
Since moving to NY, my life has improved and I can attest to saying that it isn't always better in CA. In a city with one of the smallest population of children per capita, being one of the largest cities in the US with a black population under 13%, and a homeless population that is beyond rediculous, paradise is lost
Maybe our mass transit fan would rather head for New York.
New York City is a Dickensian parable: the best and the worst. Museums proliferate as readily as blossom sin spring; restaurants of every imaginable cuisine abound. Yet there are potholes everywhere. Manhattan is favored over the rest of the City. It is time to leave, finally. [End of comment]
That could be a problem, museums and restaurants in potholes. Abandon ship.
I know everyone from outside of the U.S. or the East Coast region is crazy about New York but if you live here long enough, you will realize how the quality of life is so low in comparison to many other places. Over the years, public transportation has diminished in quality with out of control construction projects and subway line interruptions that delay your travel plans. If you live in another borough and wish to travel into Manhattan, it will take you more than an hour to get from Point A to Point B and with weekend projects, you will have to switch several times and walk up several long flights of stairs in the subway stations.
But at least you can live without a car! That is a much-desired goal, if Best Places is anything to go by. Different values: if you prefer to depend on municipal services for transportation, more power to you -- no, I guess you want to reduce your energy footprint, so less power to you. Me, I've lived without a car involuntarily at various times, because I was too poor to own one. I still think of owning a car as a luxury. Theoretically, I suppose it would be an advantage to live where you don't need one, but I hope I never again spend a single hour of my life waiting for a bus.


It seems from Best Places that lots of people want to escape from similar plagues: traffic, high housing cost, rudeness and impersonality, disagreeable weather, crime. Unfortunately, the same source offers evidence that such drawbacks are hard to leave behind in contemporary America.

The comments suggest (often unconsciously) that an individual's psychology, personality, and financial status can affect whether they enjoy living somewhere more than anything intrinsic to the place.


Monday, June 27, 2011

All the news that's fit to print


News accounts of the near fatal beating of a young white man in Columbia, South Carolina, by a group of black teenage thugs:

From The State (South Carolina):
Vicki Strange’s voice never quivered as she described racing to the hospital in the wee hours to get to her 18-year-old son, Carter Strange. She recalled standing in the emergency room and seeing a man on a gurney being wheeled down the hall, thinking, “That poor man.”

As nurses wheeled the man closer, Vicki Strange thought his hair looked familiar. Then she noticed the hands. “It was his hair and his hands, but the rest of him did not look like my son,” she said.
From the Daily Mail (U.K.):
The gang had allegedly been roaming around the area for most of the evening, and police said they had already tried - and failed - to rob four other people. 
When they saw Carter, they allegedly ran towards him, savagely assaulted him and stole his cell phone. Police Chief Randy Scott said: 'This teenager was minding his own business, trying to make his curfew when he was brutally attacked and robbed.
From the New York Times:

From the Washington Post:

* * *

The Times and the Post know this is a story you must not read. As Mark Antony says in Julius Caesar: "It will inflame you, it will make you mad."


Saturday, June 25, 2011

A "diversity training" collaborationist who has seen the light

The blogger Mariatheproblem, now a staunch opponent of the "insane, totalitarian hate cult that demonizes straight white men," remembers  when, some 18 years ago, she played the equivalent of concentration camp guard in a corporate diversity training "experience."
Our training consisted of participating in various “conscious-raising” exercises and then sharing our life experiences with our groups (we were, of course, subtley encouraged to talk about how oppressed we were by straight, white men.) The straight white men were encouraged to talk about how guilty they felt for “oppressing” everybody else.  It was like something out of a Maoist “self-criticsm” circle–and, as we shall shortly see, there’s a good reason for this resemblance.
At one point, all of the straight white men in our group were forced to sit aside while the rest of us sat in a circle and wrote stuff on a whiteboard about how much we hated straight white men, and why (I am not making this up.) Everyone added all sorts of derogatory things about straight white men to the whiteboard, while the targets sat there and watched without being able to say anything in their defense. Some of those men were actually work buddies of mine–kind, decent men who had helped me in my career–and yet, due to the false camaraderie that the “diversity training” encouraged me to indulge in, I joined in and trashed them along with everybody else. (I am deeply ashamed of this BTW; I cringe when I think of my participation in that “exercise”, and I often wish I could track those guys down and apologize to each and every one of them profusely today.)
Diversity training isn't about helping the majority understand people of different backgrounds. It's not even limited to ideological indoctrination, although that's its most obvious face. No, worse: diversity training is instilling the habit of self-criticism and self-censorship in whites so deeply that it becomes automatic, unconscious. 

While the process has achieved great refinement under the political correctness regime, it has been a weapon of the Left for a long time. The Soviet "show trials" of the 1930s were notable, among other things, for the victims' eagerness to confess their anti-Party sins. 

In his delightful memoir titled Skip All That, English TV presenter Robert Robinson recalls doing newscasts for the BBC in the '70s: "There were special rules at the height of the violence in Northern Ireland -- never written down, of course, they never are, for if you leave people to guess at what they mustn't say you have the most effective censorship of all."

The technique involves piling absurdity on top of absurdity: "We were told that it was 'oppressive,' for example, for managers to expect that 'Hispanics' would show up on time at meetings, because their culture was more laid back and 'people-oriented' than the uptight, cold, Anglo-Saxon culture that founded the U.S.," Maria writes. After continued exposure to inversion of the common sense world, whites internalize the belief that anything they say or think could be dangerous. The lash of the victicrats is ever waiting to punish a show of mere disagreement, or innocently using a "wrong" word, with a member of the Protected Classes.

Thankfully, Maria has long since rebelled against the "totalitarian hate cult," which suggests that others can do the same.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Airline pilot sent to re-education camp

It isn't only governments that are punishing Speech Crimes. Corporations are just as keen to smack around employees guilty of politically incorrect comments, as a Southwest Airlines pilot found out recently.
A Houston-based airline pilot has been suspended after his cockpit microphone became stuck, allowing an obscenity-laced rant to be broadcast over hundreds of miles, Local 2 Investigates reported Tuesday. ...

Air traffic controllers in Houston first alerted Federal Aviation Administration supervisors on March 25, 2011, around 1:30 p.m. and those supervisors forwarded a tape of the episode to Southwest Airlines to take action against the pilot. The Southwest Airlines pilot, who was not identified by the FAA or the airline, could be heard talking to his co-pilot in the cockpit, expressing frustration over the airline hiring so many flight attendants that he found to be unsuitable for dating.
The pilot's comments were vulgar and juvenile. I won't even quote them here -- although if you want to you can read them in the linked story, which also includes the audio.

The captain (I assume he was captain because of the reference to his "co-pilot") deserved censure by his airline and perhaps  disciplinary action. But the reaction by the airline and the online news site that carried the story shows how pathological our culturally Marxist society has become: zero tolerance for any unflattering reference to our enthroned minority groups. And how the once respectable trade of journalism has declined into a servile arm of the Ministry of Propaganda.
Pilots within certain altitude guidelines over that entire geographic area were unable to communicate with Houston Center air traffic controllers for the entire four-minute duration of his conversation since his headset microphone was stuck.
Yes, that was unfortunate. But it wasn't deliberate, and it's not that rare. Mics get stuck in the transmit mode, probably several times a day in U.S. airspace. If the captain had been yakking about some sports star, no one would have given him a hard time. But in this case, he was using bad language about Those Who Must Not Be Offended.

The FAA was, for a government agency, surprisingly reasonable: "The incident occurred during a phase of flight in which personal conversations are permitted in the cockpit. Nevertheless, the FAA expects a higher level of professionalism from flight crews, regardless of the circumstances." Fair enough.

In the age of honest journalism, the story would have simply conveyed the facts and left it at that. But today our hack reporters use every possible incident to carry political indoctrination. The first thing they do is speed-dial a mouth working in the indignation industry. In this case, an GLBT "resource center" the reporter knew he could count on for high-voltage outrage. To wit:
Cece Cox, the CEO of Resource Center Dallas, which advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues in the city where Southwest Airlines is based, said, "This individual has made statements that are anti-woman, anti-age, and anti-gay in a way that can't be disputed and they're hateful and they're damaging to the employees of Southwest Airlines as well as consumers of Southwest Airlines."

She also said, "I hope it's an isolated incident. I hope they look and see what's happening in their culture because clearly this incident shows that there's something happening in this culture that allowed this person to make those kind of remarks and exhibit this kind of hostility, discrimination, and hate," she said, adding that means people who were targeted in this rant may not feel safe flying with the airline.
Let's analyze that. "Clearly this incident shows that there's something happening in this culture that allowed this person to make those kind of remarks ... ." Yes, there is something happening in the cockpit culture. It's called free speech, something the GLBT spokeswoman thinks is intolerable. We can disapprove of the captain's remarks without demanding that his corporate culture suppress them. Lots of people say things that others find annoying, but most of us who aren't special pleaders for GLBT accept it as part of life.

"This kind of hostility, discrimination, and hate." Sorry, lady, but individuals have the right to be hostile, discriminatory, and even hateful to anyone they bloody well please in the course of a private conversation. You are free to express your hostility, and you have.

" ... She said, adding that means people who were targeted in this rant may not feel safe flying with the airline." What nonsense. Who will feel unsafe? Are gay flight attendants (or passengers) worried that the captain will deliberately crash his plane if he knows LBGTs are in the cabin?

Next up, Southwest Airlines.
Airline spokesperson Brandy King declined to answer questions about the punishment, saying the airline considers it a "family matter."
 She then went on to reveal the punishment for the family matter.
"The Pilot in question has been addressed by Leadership and was suspended without pay. Prior to being reinstated, he underwent additional diversity education to reinforce the Company's expectations for all Employees to demonstrate respect for others. The pilot has formally apologized to FAA Controllers and his base Leadership. He will continue to undergo regular diversity and inclusion education as part of his recurrent training."
Diversity education. Formally apologized. Continual diversity and inclusion education. Captain, henceforth you will wear a dunce cap and be reassigned to the rice fields for an indefinite period. You think just because you have been responsible for the safety of tens of thousands of people over the years and gotten them all to their destinations fully alive, you can speak slightingly of GLBTs? Wrong! Welcome to Maoist America.


Monday, June 20, 2011

England criminalizes opposition to Islamization

Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.

-- William Wordsworth, "London, 1802"

Today's English rulers will fight on the police barricades, they will fight in the law courts, they will fight on the BBC airwaves. They will never surrender to those who want England to be English.

Baron Bodissey of Gates of Vienna writes:
Last night Tommy Robinson, the leader of the English Defence League, was “fitted up” with a new set of bogus police charges. This stratagem was designed to put him out of action during the long hot summer, since the conditions of his bail included a ban on all EDL-related activities. ...

All other methods have failed, so the gloves are off, and we are seeing the police state in action. There’s no more pretense about the rule of law, no more democratic process, just straightforward totalitarian repression.
Gates of Vienna's correspondent, Seneca III, thinks the EDL represents a force too strong to be repressed. In its anxiety to keep the Muslim colonizers happy, the Establishment has in effect declared war on England. Warlike measures will breed war.
What states and their agents accomplish by such actions is to drive legitimate concerns underground, and in the process they move protest to a different plane, first to revolt and then to revolution. And when such measures are implemented in order to sustain and enable an alien invasion they can but bring down the absolute wrath of those so invaded upon their heads.

The Defence Leagues in particular, and the Counterjihad in general, must now learn how to operate in this underground not of their own making. New, cellular structures must be created; covert means of communication must be established; strong regional leadership, trained and able to operate locally and independently as well as nationally and jointly, must be emplaced; group and self-discipline and security must become the watchwords of every member and all must prepare themselves for the long haul and the inevitable attrition that will go with it.

How quickly times and places change. Half a century ago, England -- despite its embrace of socialism -- was still a country that valued free speech, as exemplified by Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park; was quietly proud of its Anglo-Saxon and Norman history; was home of the two greatest English language newspapers, the Times and the Telegraph (both now pale wraiths of their former selves); had pubs without loud music and gambling machines, where people talked instead of shouted.

Back then the police were unarmed ("Bobbies on bicycles two by two," as a pop song had it) and exemplified their country's traditional good manners; at their most aggressive, they'd ask, "'Ello, 'ello, what's all this then?"

Now, when they're not filling out forms or issuing citations for improperly recycling trash, the Bobbies are the State's front-line troops of repression -- against the EDL and similar. They look frightening and are meant to. They are not gentle. 

What has brought all this on? The growth of the Left beyond economic theory into an all-embracing social Marxism; and mass immigration imposed by a ruling class in a deliberate campaign of population replacement.

I looked up the English Defence League's web site. It's pretty "wet," not radical, mostly stuff a columnist for the Telegraph might write. The difference is that the EDL isn't satisfied with making debater's points. It sees England being ever more Islamized, with opposition met by riot police and attack dogs. It reckons that if nothing changes England will be a sharia-compliant totalitarian state within a few years, and has committed to stopping the trend, not just complaining like most of the indigenous English.

The fact that the EDL members are mostly working class is an advantage. They know what they have lost via population replacement. They have used their fists outside the pub after closing time. They know the streets. Good.

Unlike the rest of us, they are not afraid of the State's shark teeth. Or if they are afraid, unlike the rest of us, they do not show it. England hath need of them.

It is the multi-cultural commissars who should be afraid.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A mayor not even New York deserves


All politics is local? Don't make me laugh.

It would be better if most politics were local. The blurring of the lines between federal, state, and local jurisdictions is one reason the United States is sinking toward Greecedom, dementedly picking fights it can't win in the world's bad neighborhoods, and modeling the oversight of its citizens on some of the less attractive habits of classic South American dictatorships. 

Still, as a rule, the moment a big-city politico has reached the top of the local greasy pole, he (or she) is above petty concerns about the city. He is the new Saviour, an Enlightened Being, the country if not the world his demesne.

You can't accuse Mayor Michael Bloomberg of neglecting New Yorkers, though. Before he sets the Universe to rights, he has gone far toward reforming his own patch.

Let's see what Nanny-boy Bloomberg has lumbered his constituents with. In his menopausal War on Unhealth, he has generously volunteered to relieve New Yorkers from the burdens of thinking and choosing. 

His latest crusade is against salt, throwing the full weight of his nonexistent prestige into something called the National Salt Reduction Initiative. That follows the First Crusade (against tobacco), the Second Crusade (against soft drinks), and the Third Crusade (against trans fats). Probably there were other crusades I didn't hear about. And you might remember this news item from the last posting:
Mayor Bloomberg's grand vision to improve New Yorkers' health by severely limiting the sale of high-calorie beverages on city property is bad news for the little guy, say blind vendors who operate stands in city-owned buildings. The vendors were notified Monday that they can dedicate just two slots in their beverage machines for high-calorie drinks such as soda, iced tea, juice and Gatorade -- and the buttons must be "in the position of the lowest-selling potential," according to the new regulations.
In a saner era of American life, he would have been a laughingstock at best; given a coating of tar and escorted to the city limits, at worst.

But if that were all he was about, I would tell New Yorkers: you chose this oaf as your mayor. Not my problem. And I'd try to refrain from adding something about lying down, dogs, and fleas.

Of course, not every New Yorker voted to have their dietary habits subject to a latter-day Savonarola. Those who didn't, well, try harder next time to displace this benevolent fascisto.

But when Bloomie turns his thoughts, if the word may be used, to national immigration policy, he is beyond obnoxious.

Yesterday, he went out of his way to declare us all suicidal for not importing a few billion foreigners to colonize what's left of the country.
In a major speech to the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will say the United States risks “national suicide” if it doesn’t adopt a more welcoming immigration policy.

“We will not remain a global superpower if we continue to close our doors to people who want to come here to work hard, start businesses, and pursue the American dream,” Bloomberg says in prepared remarks obtained by Playbook.

“The American dream cannot survive if we keep telling the dreamers to go elsewhere,” he says. “It’s what I call national suicide – and that’s not hyperbole.”
Mr. Moneybags Mayor, I know you don't concern yourself with the peasants beyond the East River, but some of them have dreams of their own that you've never dreamed. Such as not having to compete for jobs with every hustler from the whole round world. Such as keeping a coherent national culture. I realize that's a meaningless concept to you and lots of New Yorkers, but while you and your followers can to turn your city into even more of a Disunited Nations than it already is, permit me to suggest that you take your vision of a non-American "America" and stick it in your ear.
“Every day that we fail to fix our broken immigration laws is a day that we inflict a wound on our economy,” Bloomberg will say.
That's right, Bloomie, but not the way you mean it. Our immigration laws are broken partly because of sick politicians like you, with your utter contempt for the country that foolishly welcomed your ancestors and allowed you to get rich here. Fixing our broken immigration laws means keeping some values beyond corporate profits, which are the only thing you understand.

Listen, Mayor Bloomberg. No, that's silly; you'll never read this, and if by some accident you did, you'd laugh. One more ordinary citizen beneath your wealthy disdain. I'll say it anyway.  You aren't fit for landfill.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

The season of the witch

When I look over my shoulder,
What do you think I see ?
Some other cat looking over
His shoulder at me
And he's strange, sure he's strange.
You've got to pick up every stitch,
You've got to pick up every stitch,
Beatniks out to make it rich,
Oh no, must be the season of the witch,
Must be the season of the witch, yeah,
Must be the season of the witch.
You've got to pick up every stitch,
Two rabbits running in the ditch,
Beatniks out to make it rich,
Oh no, must be the season of the witch ...

Donovan, "Season of the Witch"
from Sunshine Superman

I can remember, like watery images from a dream, when the news -- good, bad, or indifferent -- fit into a more or less comprehensible world. That would be, oh, let's say for simplicity, before the Kennedy assassination. In those Old Normal days, you read in the paper of political thunderbolts hurled across the aisle, labor strikes, crime stories, love stories, Sputniks and marches and new vaccines to cure old diseases.

You could wonder whether we were heading for mutual assured destruction or colonies on Mars, or ponder the human condition. But even the bad stuff, the scary stuff, made a kind of sense.

No more. Increasingly, it seems like mankind, if not nature entire, is having a collective nervous breakdown, a mass psychotic acting out like dancing manias in the Middle Ages.

Consider these items -- and we will ignore everything about a certain Congressman's brief encounter -- all drawn from a few pages of the news aggregation site
A string of suicide bombings across Afghanistan, including one by a young boy pushing an ice cream cart, has killed at least 21 people today - many of them children.
PELHAM, N.H. - Pelham police say they were justified in using a Taser several times on a cow, despite a complaint from its owner. Last Saturday, one of Wendy Bordeleau’s two cows got loose from her 30-acre farm. About a dozen people were trying to coral 800-pound Houdini across busy Mammoth Road when police showed up with their tasers.
The rarefied world of government arts funding apparently has run out of artists specializing in elephant-dung and human-urine media. Now comes the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announcement it will make grants for digital media - specifically video-game design.
Mayor Bloomberg's grand vision to improve New Yorkers' health by severely limiting the sale of high-calorie beverages on city property is bad news for the little guy, say blind vendors who operate stands in city-owned buildings. The vendors were notified Monday that they can dedicate just two slots in their beverage machines for high-calorie drinks such as soda, iced tea, juice and Gatorade -- and the buttons must be "in the position of the lowest-selling potential," according to the new regulations.
This year's MTV Movie Awards aerobically established a new low. Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are starring in the upcoming summer comedy "Friends with Benefits," yet another movie exploring the "dream life" of casual and very cold sex. As they introduced the award for Best Male Performance, Timberlake and Kunis grabbed each other's private parts on national TV.
Judicial Watch uncovered hundreds of documents from the City of Dayton, Ohio, showing that Department of Justice (DOJ) officials pressured the Dayton Police and Fire Departments to lower testing standards because not enough African-American candidates passed the written exam.
Counties, school districts and community colleges would have broad authority to seek taxes on income and products like cigarettes and alcohol under a bill approved by the California Senate this afternoon.  
David Cameron courted controversy today by talking about families who had children before they could afford to support them.The Prime Minister said he was determined to 'change values' in Britain so that hard-working families would be rewarded.But he was criticised for his comments about poorer families when he contrasted constituents who waited to get married and start a family to people on benefit having 'as many children as they want'.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a division of the federal government’s National Institutes of Health (NIH), has spent $3,634,807 over the past decade funding research that involves getting monkeys to smoke and drink drugs such as PCP, methamphetamine (METH), heroin, and cocaine and then studying their behavior, including during different phases of the female monkeys’ menstrual cycles. 
BLIZZARDS, hailstorms and hurricanes: the 2012 Olympic torch has been designed to weather anything a typical British summer can throw at it. Yet despite the ambitions of designers and the event sponsors, EDF Energy, attempts to create the world's first low-carbon "green" Olympic flame have failed. Unlike previous designs, the ultra-light torch is designed to feel like a piece of hi-tech sports equipment rather than a flaming brand.
Something, way past generic human folly, is sucking us into a whirlpool of moral and intellectual vacuity. Maybe our mass communications and entertainment add a multiplier effect to every crazy act, projecting it across the globe faster than reason can build defenses, spreading mental contagion.

It's the season of dumbing down, of technological hypnosis, of everyone reforming everyone while nothing must be denied to the protected classes. Must be the season of the witch.


Wednesday, June 08, 2011

A close call

For a moment there I thought I was going to have to do the unthinkable and write a favorable post about an article by Thomas Friedman, apostle of globalization, high priest of the Church of Climate Change Doom -- a column in Pravda on the Hudson, The New York Times.

What fooled me was, first, the headline: "The Earth Is Full." (After a little research I "got" it: he or the copyeditor was playing off the name of his bestselling book, The Earth Is Flat.) And his first paragraph is promising:
You really do have to wonder whether a few years from now we’ll look back at the first decade of the 21st century — when food prices spiked, energy prices soared, world population surged, tornados plowed through cities, floods and droughts set records, populations were displaced and governments were threatened by the confluence of it all — and ask ourselves: What were we thinking? How did we not panic when the evidence was so obvious that we’d crossed some growth/climate/natural resource/population redlines all at once?
I thought Friedman was going to point out the devastating effects of the world's runaway population growth, which learned dolts of both the political left and right make short work of. Leftists ignore the numbers and say it's all a matter of people consuming too much and oppressing the Wretched of the Earth; at most, they'll admit there's a problem but add that once the Third World enjoys First World living standards, through more foreign aid and "development," birth rates will drop. So-called conservatives also see economic development as the magic ingredient. That, and more technology.


But Friedman's column turns out instead to be a plugfest for a book about the crisis of, yes, climate change: The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World, by Paul Gilding. Friedman and Gilding are soul brothers, united in their belief that the problem isn't numbers, it's consumption.

What China’s minister is telling us, says Gilding, is that “the Earth is full. We are now using so many resources and putting out so much waste into the Earth that we have reached some kind of limit, given current technologies. The economy is going to have to get smaller in terms of physical impact.”

In a general way, your blogger agrees with some of Friedman's vaporous prescriptions: 
We will realize, [Gilding] predicts, that the consumer-driven growth model is broken and we have to move to a more happiness-driven growth model, based on people working less and owning less. “How many people,” Gilding asks, “lie on their death bed and say, ‘I wish I had worked harder or built more shareholder value,’ and how many say, ‘I wish I had gone to more ballgames, read more books to my kids, taken more walks?’ To do that, you need a growth model based on giving people more time to enjoy life, but with less stuff.”
Fine. I'm for more happiness, more time to enjoy the sunshine, read books, take walks. Our culture overemphasizes owning things, especially silly technological gadgets. We could do with some value maturation.


But that isn't going to overcome what I agree is a looming environmental crisis. Leisure isn't "free." It doesn't drop as the gentle rain from heaven. You have to buy the liberty to pursue higher things. And unless you are born to great wealth, you have to earn the money to buy it by producing some good or service that someone will pay you for. That's the only stable foundation a "happiness-driven growth model" can rest on. Lying in the grass and counting the stars is spiritually uplifting, but as an end in itself it becomes self-indulgence. And for most of us it would be impossible anyway outside of an economy that produces things -- consumes things, for that matter.

Friedman and, if his discussion gives an accurate picture of the book, Gilding do the usual shuck-and-jive act about overpopulation, pretending all would be okay if we just reduced our ecological footprint. Here's a news bulletin for you, gentlemen, courtesy of the Population Reference Bureau:
The growth rate of 1.2 percent between 2000 and 2005, when applied to the world's 6.5 billion population in 2005, yields an annual increase of about 78 million people. Because of the large and increasing population size, the number of people added to the global population will [remain] high for several decades, even as growth rates continue to decline. 

Between 2005 and 2030, most of this annual growth will occur in the less developed countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America whose population growth rates are much higher than those in more developed countries. The populations in the less developed regions will most likely continue to command a larger proportion of the world total. (Emphais mine.)
Graphically, it looks like this:

(Source: United Nations Population Division, World Population Prospects, The 2008 Revision)

It seems safe to say that Friedman and Gilding are not likely to show up in Cairo or Yemen and suggest to the good people there that they should try to get by with less stuff, which they have precious little of anyway, and groove on more free time, which they have all too much of. 


What our crusaders for Gaia actually urge, stripped of all the quality-of-life poetry, is that we in the "developed" countries should cut back on making and using goods so that the bottom dwellers in the "underdeveloped" countries can carry on having lots more babies than we do. They appear not to understand, or at least find it in bad taste to mention, that sub-Saharan Africa and such are in their wretched condition because their rich uncles have promoted survival and population growth beyond the regions' natural capacity for sustaining life. We've slashed infant mortality; great; more people to reproduce, more people to starve. We're their worst friends.

Friedman and his co-visionary are worried to death about our ecological footprint. But although we should, within reason, try to curb our burdens on the natural environment, we're not the biggest problem. That lies elsewhere, in places like the Sana, Yemen, which Friedman adduces as an example, where "we" (he means "they" but is too chicken or too thick-witted to say so) "are currently growing at a rate that is using up the Earth’s resources far faster than they can be sustainably replenished, so we are eating into the future."


The backward countries should be given all the help we can give them ... so long as it's in aid of population stabilization. If they insist on going on a breeding spree anyway, let nature take its course. We can't -- and morally shouldn't -- keep subsidizing their dysfunctional behavior.


Monday, June 06, 2011

Is capitalism dying?


I can't remember a time when the American economy turned so much on the actions of government. QE3 or no QE3? What will emerge next from the brow of Ben Bernanke? How much longer can the Fed keep buying Treasury debt now that China has left the auction house? Will the government bump its head on the debt ceiling? Will Congress raise taxes? Cut spending? Give the housing market artificial respiration? Subsidize job creation?

I hear it's virtually impossible for ordinary people to get a home loan from a private bank, despite the bailouts made possible by the taxpayers' forced generosity. You have to go, hat in hand and properly subservient, to Fanny or Freddie, the institutional living dead.

Can it really be only a dozen years ago that the financial world was enjoying a contact high from all the wonderful companies with nigh-infinite potential --, Microsoft, Cisco, eBay, etc.? Currently the investment world's speculation is mainly about who will survive the New Normal. One school of thought believes that the only investments worth buying aren't equities at all, but precious metals and commodities that promise to be scarce in a world that desperately needs them.

How can you blame anyone for feeling this way? We're into Year 3 since the worldwide economic crisis reached escape velocity, and things aren't getting better, nay, are getting worse, for most people. And they're starting to understand that this isn't just another contraction or recession; we've sailed off the map, we're in terra incognita. 

The last time such a mental landscape ruled, in the Great Depression, the United States (and Europe) came this close to going whole hog for Marxism. And neo-Marxism is what the Community Organizer and his posse are all about.

Are we devolving into a system of state capitalism, where the executive branch, Federal Reserve, and other unelected rulers determine -- intentionally or not -- the fate of private businesses and their shareholders?

I don't usually agree with J.R. Nyquist -- he's too much the Prophet of the End Times for my appetite -- but sometimes he makes points to be taken seriously. For instance, that the urge for a government-run economy never dies, no matter how many times it goes pear-shaped in practice:
Since the much-heralded success of the Reagan-Thatcher counter-revolution in the 1980s, many supposed that socialist ideas were discredited. In his book on socialism, Ludwig von Mises offered a more far-seeing analysis. “It is a mistake to think that the lack of success of … Socialism … can help to overcome Socialism,” he wrote. “Facts per se can neither prove nor refute anything.” 

The reason for this was explained by Joseph Schumpter, who said socialism was a new kind of religion. You cannot argue someone out of their religion. When people believe, they believe. Arguments are ineffective. Therefore, socialism is not defeated when it turns out to be a form of dictatorship, or when the economy is ruined under social democracy. It carries on, and mobilizes fresh explanations for paradise delayed
Yes indeedy. John Mortimer, author of the Rumpole of the Bailey stories and a bien-pensant leftist, actually wrote a novel titled Paradise Postponed, one of whose themes was Labour's failure to bring about equality and universal prosperity in post-World War II Britain.

Nyquist continues:
Writing more than 60 years ago, Schumpeter allowed that America’s prosperity might last fifty years or so, and this would give capitalism a further lease on life. The advent of socialism, he said, would then be delayed by roughly half a century (after 1950). Through this long period of prosperity, however, “atrocious mismanagement” of national resources would be inevitable. Schumpeter wrote of the problems of bureaucracy, politics and a “flight from labor.” 

Calculating the damage in terms of government regulation, debasing of the currency, and the piling up of debt, the resulting decline in prosperity would nonetheless be blamed on the free market (i.e., on “greedy” businessmen). This would be the signal for the state to finalize its conquest of private production. This seems to be the position we are at today. As storm clouds gather we may expect to see more and more state intervention in our ailing economy; accompanying this will be a further debasing of the currency, more regulation and growing scarcity.
You can argue that business has brought a lot of mischief down on itself by its own willingness to play footsie with the government -- defense procurement being a prime example of soft bribery through subcontracting jobs in as many Senate and Congressional districts as feasible. The relationship between the big money center banks and the executive branch is a poster for crony capitalism. 

Unless we're careful in these trying times, however, we might well get an amalgam of the worst features of capitalism and centralized political direction.


Friday, June 03, 2011

Looking for a few good farmers

From USA Today:

Farm training helps Marines work with Afghanistan's farmers
... On Monday, about 20 U.S. Marines will arrive at California State University-Fresno for some down-in-the-dirt farm training. They'll spend a week learning how to test soil, assess an irrigation system, check livestock for disease and prune a pomegranate tree.
Members of 23rd Marine Agricultural Division
test experimental "Angry Zeus" weed cutter
The goal of the training is to teach Marines who may have little background in agriculture something about the kind of farming that is the lifeblood of Afghanistan. 
Meanwhile, another Marine group is enrolled in the New School for Social Research's class, Sensitivity Training for Snipers.

Iwo Jima? That was then.


Thursday, June 02, 2011

Crashes aren't crimes


Aviation safety is perpetually a story of two steps forward, one step back. Traffic-alert and collision avoidance systems (TCAS) and terrain awareness and warning systems (TAWS) were two steps forward. The huge increase in air traffic was a step backward in safety terms. More recently, safety management systems (SMSs) and satellite-based navigation are improvements. The latest step backwards? Criminalization of accidents.

Increasingly, serious aviation accidents result in two investigations — one by the national accident investigation authority and another, sometimes following and sometimes in parallel, by criminal investigators.


Prosecuting pilots, air traffic controllers, and operators (including airlines) is all the rage worldwide. This has nothing to do with civil liability for accidents, in which victims or their families sue for compensation, and which has age-old legal precedents. Criminal investigations and charges for aviation accidents are relatively new, and a hindrance to what should be the overriding goal of making flying even safer than it already is.

Specific charges against pilots and air traffic controllers have included “causing death through a reckless, careless and dangerous act”; “criminal negligence causing bodily harm and dangerous operation of an aircraft”; “manslaughter and negligent flying causing death”; and “negligent homicide and negligently disturbing public transport.” Being killed may or may not put an individual beyond the reach of the law, depending on how you look at it — the pilots of an ATR 42 taking off in icy conditions at Milan, Italy, in October 1987, who died along with 34 passengers, were posthumously charged with murder and convicted.


Sentencing can be drastic. In the Korean Airlines DC-10 accident in Tripoli, Libya, in 1989, in which four crewmembers, 68 passengers and six persons on the ground were killed, the pilots who were arrested by the Libyan authorities were sentenced to life imprisonment and extradited to Korea. Following the midair collision in Zagreb (Yugoslavia, now Croatia) in 1976 in which all 176 people aboard both flights were killed, the upper-sector assistant air traffic controller who was on duty at the time of the accident was found guilty and served 27 months in prison. In another accident, Italian courts sentenced the captains to 10 years’ imprisonment, and in an accident that occurred at Milano Linate Airport, the courts imposed sentences ranging from six to eight years.

It's not only courts -- in Europe, judges are in charge of criminal investigations -- and prosecutors who are wielding the law like a club. Now victim family groups are getting into the act. Families of some passengers lost on Air France 447, which plunged into the South Atlantic in 2009, are petitioning a Paris court to ground all Airbus A330s while investigating a possible software bug.


It's only human in the wake of a tragedy to look for someone to blame. However, no major airline or any of its employees countenances any deviation from standard operating procedures and civil aviation regulations that, in turn, are the product of experience gained over many years from previous accidents. Everything about the operation of an airline flight is governed by strict rules. Pilots conduct checklists before every phase of flight, and there are specialized checklists for abnormal and emergency situations. The International Civil Aviation Organization has standard phraseology for pilot-air traffic control radio communications to reduce the chance for misunderstanding. It's fair to say that, as far as human behavior in the system goes, nothing is left to chance. (There are exceptions among dodgy Third World airlines and, perhaps, a few commuter airlines -- although the Colgan Air crash has focused a lot of healthy attention on commuter deficiencies.)

Of course human error does occur. For the most part the system is "error tolerant": all kinds of cross-checks and automated warnings are built in. Technical glitches happen too, such as the A330's alleged flight control software problem. But technical faults rarely cause accidents themselves; engineers design for redundancy, so that if one part of the system goes haywire, there's an alternative or back-up.


Here's the point: nobody deliberately causes an accident, and carelessness is extremely rare. Airlines, air traffic control towers, maintenance facilities, and route control centers don't tolerate slacking. Besides, civil aviation authorities like the Federal Aviation Administration and European Aviation Safety Agency aren't shy about intervening in the interest of safety.

So how can you justify prosecuting people for making mistakes? What in retrospect was a mistake seemed, at the time and under the circumstances, the right thing to do. How to prove they were negligent (and I believe negligence is not a normal part of the criminal code)? I say you can't. Judges and prosecutors, who usually don't understand aviation operations anyway, go for convictions because they think it makes them look good to the public or they convince themselves they're acting on behalf of safety.

But fairness isn't the only issue. Criminalization of accidents dries up the flow of information about errors that could be precursors to accidents. Several airline and business aviation groups have systems that encourage pilots and others to confidentially report errors, which are aggregated and analyzed to see how the system could be made safer. This takes place under a "no blame" or "just culture" regime, based on the idea that it's more important to find out what kind of errors are being made, where, when, and why, than to punish individuals for inadvertent mistakes.


Confidential reporting systems depend on confidentiality. Few people are going to risk reporting their own errors if a criminal investigation can get its hands on the paper trail, which has happened a number of times. Nor is an operator going to feel comfortable with records of errors, collected to find problems that can be rectified, if the record is within the reach of a hungry prosecutor.

The existing aviation safety institutions are best placed to learn the lessons of accidents and apply them. That system works, as shown by the astonishingly low civil aviation accident rates in the U.S., Europe, and Asia-Pacific. With rare exceptions, criminal law is a blunt weapon where surgical precision is the best guarantor of flying safely.