Thursday, September 28, 2006

From Far Left to Libertarian

Here is one writer's take on the journey from stasist to dynamist.

The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over and to expect different results. This is especially true in the case of our prevailing ideology: the lens through which we see the world and filter information about it -- both incoming and outgoing.

Why do people adopt different ideologies? Largely because the ideology they prescribe to best reflects their own personal experience of the world. We augment our personal experiences with those of others that we experience indirectly through their words and actions that we access through books, films, plays and other forms of media. But to change and grow, we must first be open to exposing ourselves to different ideological perspectives, to challenge what we believe and examine the nuances of our experience against the premises of our prejudices. In short, we must be open to stretching our belief window at least to the point of self-reflection.

Many are visual learners and the power of film to portray, characterize and otherwise give expression to perspectives is huge. But it is only through the written word that we truly process, reflect and absorb new ideas that stretch our understanding and cause us to modify our prevailing ideology. Leaders are readers.

Charlie "Tremendous" Jones would always say: We are today exactly who we are going to be five years from now, except for the company we keep, what we listen to and the words we read.

To take the individual journey of ideological growth, to determine what ideology truly reflects our best sense of self and to be all we can be, we must:
  • first determine that we want to change
  • learn to enjoy the change process, our journey to self-discovery
  • start to read more, and
  • start to read different material than in the past

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Top Gear, not fear

One of my favourite TV shows is the British program Top Gear, which is best summarized as men acting like boys with way too many toys -- in short its terrific and a source of vicarious amusement for all those of us who don't own an Aston Martin or a Ferrari but would love to drive one, just once. Recently, one of the co-hosts was in an accident while attempting to replicate a world land speed record. His accident sparked a mini-furor in Britain, with much political correctness, piety and a few too many commentators willing to say "I told you so". Why the reaction? Here is Steve Bremner's thoughtful discussion, which also posits To Gear in a larger context:
Why did a TV show get the blame for everything from speeding drivers to failing to help control the ‘crisis of masculinity’ to global warming? For many commentators, Top Gear provokes an automatic expression of loathing as it celebrates many of the things that they detest about modern society: conspicuous consumption, technology, individual choice, risk taking, and an unwillingness to bow to the health and safety culture. Not only that, but as a TV programme it is imbued with an almost mystical power in the eyes of these cultural commentators. The show’s biggest crime is that it is very popular, apparently undermining all the ‘correct’ messages the public are getting elsewhere

Iraq: the world's first Suicide State

In an excellent commentary on the situation in Iraq, Brendan O'Neill notes that the absence of any discernable political ideology guiding the suicide bombers and their predilection for attacking their own citizenry means that their actions are beyond the expected, understood and "usual" parameters. Arguing that Iraq requires new thinking and analysis, he nonetheless cautions that
the insurgency more mainstream than some would like to admit. Across the West, and in many other parts of the world, the media have filled the gap left by the decline of politics and public debate. Today, politicians and various ‘new social movements’ seem more interested in executing media stunts, in an attempt to get their message across or improve their image, rather than in winning real mass support for their agenda.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Red and Blue America: Meet the Health Belt

The conclusion of the last Federal election in the United States culminated with a flurry of maps, most of them divided into red and blue, illustrating which states voted for whom. Accompanying the maps was usually some form of commentary labelling the red and blue something pithy, if not witty, and speculative whining mostly complaining because the "wrong" guy had won (again). For may academics and liberals, Bush's victory was akin to the second coming of Brigham Young: the only problem being that middle America didn't pigeon-hole quite so easily into the various red neck, Holy Roller stereo types many tried to apply to the "red" areas of the US map.

Now Business Week has added a new dimension to the US electoral divisions with an emphasis upon health care and health care spending. As this article by David Tufte on tcsdaily explains the map shows a marked reflection of ...Congressional earmarks, federalism that directs healthcare spending down to one-party states, and state level decisions on the generosity of Medicare and Medicaid rules make the health belt this decade's big experiment with Keynesian policies, indirect vote buying, or both.

That is to say, those states that voted democrat did so because that's where Democratic government has spent the lion's share of government spending on health care and where the proportionally highest percentage of unionised, government health workers reside.

I watched Jimmy Stewart the other day in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington deliver a wonderful filibuster all about "graft and dams at Willard Creek": seems Washington, DC could use a latter day Frank Capra shot of reality. But who would play the part of Jean Arthur?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Global Warnings from the Ivory Tower

Three good postings on the furor caused by the UK Royal Society writing to Exxon-Mobil suggesting it cease supporting any efforts to extend debate over global warming, here, here, and here. About the only good thing one can say of the letter and the censorship of scientific debate it promotes, is that appears to be about the only thing thus far to have unified the various factions in the climate debate.

But what does it say about the state of contemporary intellectual discourse that the Royal Society would even countenance shutting down debate, discussion and/or dissention? To even the most hardened of global warming advocates, this must appear as the worst kind of bias and dogma yet. The sources listed above are all equally astounded and aghast at the actions of the Royal Society. Should you read anyone who is not, you will have found yourself someone who is both close-minded and not worth reading.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Good news on DDT

Finally, the WHO has rescinded its ban on the use of DDT in the fight against malaria. As it states in the news release: Views about the use of insecticides for indoor protection from malaria have been changing in recent years. Wow, talk about understatement. A complete reversal of position. The science never did support the banning of DDT and it is good to see this fact finally being acknowledged. Now there are good prospects that malaria can finally be eliminated from African nations as it has been elsewhere.

However, lest we think that all environmental lunacy has ceased, this report describes the development of a new generation of lead-free "environmentally responsible" bullets. Of course the bullets are still designed to kill you, just not poison your blood system.

We the Sheeple?

Why do conspiracy theories persist despite their patently tenuous relationship with reality? This informative and well-written piece by Feser uses this question as its starting point for an examination of the philosophical basis for contemporary "enlightenment" -- which turns out to be rather less about enlightenment and the attainment of wisdom, and rather more about an ego-driven desire to hear one's own viewpoints expressed and the elitism of many contemporary intellectuals.

The absurd idea that to be intelligent, scientific, and intellectually honest requires a distrust for all authority per se and a contempt for the opinions of the average person, has so deeply permeated the modern Western consciousness that conspiratorial thinking has for many people come to seem the rational default position.

As John Ralston Saul noted in Voltaire's Bastards, the western world has consistently placed the well-being of democracy in the hands of elites that neither trust nor care much about "commoners", and it is unsurprising, therefore, that Feser concludes that conspiracy theorists reflect a disdain for common sense and an over-inflated opinion of the merits of their own beliefs. Despite being highly revisionist in content, Feser points out that 'the standard Enlightenment narrative has had a powerful influence on the way modern people understand the relationship between authority, tradition, and common sense on the one hand, and science and rationality on the other'. Enlightenment has become synonymous with a faith in the infallibility of science, that if it is not scientifically determined it can't be so. The corollary has been the ascension to assumptive authority within society of education and those who affect an educated perspective: the "smart" people who think correctly and the rest of us who are just stupid if we don't get it, or deign to disagree and think differently.

What's ironic, is that many environmentalists perceive themselves to be the radicals, fighting authority and continuing in the enlightenment tradition. What they fail to realize, is that in the contemporary politics of the ecomyth (the realm of global warming, recycling, the precautionary principle, limits to growth, carrying capacity and biodiversity) environmentalism is the new authority of elitism. The radicals today are those who dare raise a skeptical voice and ask just where is the science in support of all the dogma?

Enlightenment was supposed to rescue civilization from dogma. In 300 years, all we have succeeded in doing is inventing a new religion and a new royalty to replace those that democracy and freedom sought to displace.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Perspective on climate

The discussion in the "don't panic" portion of spiked today entitled "'global warning' added some much needed perspective into the debate on climate change. It concludes:

  • Instead of a level-headed discussion about the future, we are given increasingly frantic headlines about the damage that humans are doing to the planet. This is an on-going morality tale that urges us to rein-in development and production rather than a serious attempt to improve the lot of humanity in the face of the numerous problems we will encounter, of which climate change is just one.
As with most ecomyths, it is not really a question of science as much as it is a question of moral choice and who it is within our society who gets to make those choices: all of us, or just those who claim that it is "in the public interest' that they get to decide these things for us. Personally, I've never much appreciated anyone trying to make my decisions for me. I have even less appreciation for those who seek to dictate what I should think, why and with what moral import.

The Saturday posting above was superceded by this discussion on spiked of the Al Gore "documentary" An inconvenient Truth, which highlights some of the basic problems with environmental advocacy of global warming: not only are proponents such as Gore inclined to be strident in making their claims, they also tend to be very closed-minded and reject the validity of any claims counter to their own. In this manner they pass from legitimate advocacy and stray into bias and prejudice -- which to me is always the hallmark of those with something to hide: fearful that their position may be revealed for the dogma that it is.

In Act 3, scene 2 of Hamlet, it is suggested that "The lady doth protest too much, methinks". Queen Gertrude never recognized herself in those remarks either.

Indebted to Debt Relief

An interesting and provocative discussion of the reaction within Africa to the much publicised Debt Relief program implemented by the G8 countries. Applauded by many celebrities in the west, debt relief embraces many components of politically correct development that are thought of as axiomatic constructs such as "pro-poor" development, poverty reduction and sustainability.
The problem is not necessarily with these concepts. It rests in the manner with which these concepts are defined:
  • as static end products, rather than as dynamic processes for change; and,
  • as politically correct directives within centralised bureaucratic planning, rather than as market-driven incentives.
Sustainability is not an ecological construct: it is the integration of environment, economy and society. Without a productive economy, there can be no caring and compassionate society. Without a just society, there is no environmental responsibility. Translating the theory of sustainability into practice requires leadership, entrepreneurship and capacity building. Media pronouncements and publicity are a poor substitute for real initiatives and the awareness of local context necessary for successful implementation of sustainability principles. Empowerment entails people taking power over their lives. Debt Relief removes them from that possibility. Worse it gives them additional bureaucratic drag and additional taxes.
Sustainability need not be antithetical to the processes of globalization. Indeed, I would argue the only way to successfully implement any sustainability initiative, is to utilise the very processes that continue to drive globalisation, namely: the democratization of technology, information and commerce. Claiming to be "pro-poor" in the name of poverty reduction, while foisting layers of bureaucratic oversight on developing countries, is to curtail the very economics of growth necessary for sustainable development to occur.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Economic well-being and how to avoid poverty

Another excellent article by David Henderson, this one on economic well-being and the implications of the 2005 income data from the US Census Bureau.

In many countries the official definition of poverty is set as the bottom 20% of society -- the lowest of the five defined quintiles within the census data. The "value" at which poverty exists is, in turn, established by the level at which the lowest quintile is defined. In this manner, "poverty" always encompasses the lowest 20% of the population and while the income level at the top of that quintile may rise, official poverty is set by definition at 20%.

By definition, the lowest income will always be zero and as such it is a myth to suggest that the poor are "getting poorer": zero remains zero. However, the level of the uppermost quintile has no limit. Thus, in a prosperous society it is to be expected, and desirable, that the level at which the top quintile is defined should increase. But since the base remains at zero, any growth in an economy can be expected to increase the "gap" between rich and poor.

Because of these probabilities, Henderson points out that what is of greater interest is what the census data themselves reveal about the various quintiles and the composition of the households they represent. What the census numbers show is that the highest quintile has the highest percentage of married, dual-income households in direct contrast to the unemployed, unmarried households prevalent in the lowest quintile.

The numbers are clear:

'that staying out of, or getting out of, the lowest quintile is not rocket science...if you want to have an extremely high probability of avoiding the lowest quintile, get a job, ideally a full-time job, and live with someone who has a job'.

This is not an area where we need to keep defining the problem. As Henderson states, we do need to read the data fully and properly. And we do need to focus on defining solutions to further facilitate the passage out of poverty for those who seek to leave. Employment opportunities, stable family environments and a sense of community. Politically, the divisions arise in the approach to these solutions. Sadly, too many within politics care too little about the people for whom policies are designed and rather too much about their own stature as the designers, controllers, planners and/or managers of those policies.

Goethe: what is the best government? That which teaches us to govern ourselves.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Radicals for austerity

The latest example of zealots wanting to turn back the clock. In this case, Perks discusses the efforts of environmentalists seeking to close one of Britain's largest coal-fired electricity plants. As he points out, in these situations 'the eco-lobby has become the militant arm of the government's own attack on energy consumption'. In the name of "eco-friendly" thinking, protestors have been lobbying for generating capacity to be closed in order to supposedly lower carbon dioxide emissions and thus mitigate the effects of global warming. All this at a time when doubts about the "certainty" of global warming are increasing, estimates of likely future temperature changes have been scaled back significantly and there is growing recognition that any actions taken to minimize greenhouse emissions are at best a futile fop to eco-sensibilities.

The Kyoto Accord may be long gone, but it's residue will linger within political correctness for some time yet.

The bigger question is: once an eco-myth has been disproven scientifically, how long does it take for widespread rejection of the myth to take root within society? To quote one of the moderators from the Climate Audit website, 'people will continue to believe in the ...myth, despite its lack of empirical foundation, because psychologically its difficult to disabuse oneself of a belief once accepted as true'.

In the words of Les Brown: a person convinced against their will, is of the same conviction still.

Another expert climate skeptic

A review of the new book Global Warming: Myth or Reality? by the French climatologist Marcel Leroux. I haven't read it yet personally, but I post the review as an example of another eminent climatologist who is uncomfortable with the attempts to assert a scientific consensus regarding climate change. Disciplinary expertise shuld not be the only criterion for commentary on public policy issues. Indeed, many intellectuals are book smart but sadly lacking in common sense. But for those who struggle with changing their belief system without the sheen of authoritative information, Leroux's book can be added to the testimony of other skeptical experts such as Richard Lindzen, Roger Piehlke Sr. and Tim Ball.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Countdown to Genocide in Dafur

Krauss and Pharn offer this update on the situation in Dafur. Sadly, they can only offer pessimism and a message to all those who still cling to the belief that the UN offers a viable option for securing any meaningful peace when intervening in situations of great oppression:
Even in Sudan the UN appears helpless before a relatively weak, lawless country whose Islamist leadership seems intent on massacring hundreds of thousands of its citizens. Do we sense a pattern here?
Churchill's take on appeasement was: "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last'. I keep getting a visualization for a Far Side style cartoon expressing my view of the UN, which would involve a bunch of fat cats laying around a single tree on the savannah, trying to decide whose turn it is to get up and feed the crocodile today.

UPDATE: It seems Dafur has again been discovered by well-meaning do-gooders in the west, which O'Neill suggests is not necessarily a good thing.

JunkScience and climate

The first post for September 6, 2006 over at junkscience is Steve Milloy's latest attempt to summarize the global warming debate. He concludes:

The populist concept of carbon dioxide-driven catastrophic "global warming" does not exist in the real world and constitutes no risk (unless you happen to exist in a model-generated virtual world).

How can he say this? Well he cites the "consensus" data which puts contemporary warming for the last 120 years at 0.6C +/- 0.2C. Not exactly alarming. Moreover, the question arises as to how much of that warming is a function of solar activity, how much is due to urbanization and what proportion might then be due to changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels?

Facts, not models. Facts, not ideologically driven, speculative and politicized science.

Health Care

I was reading the other day about Cuba's much-vaunted health care system, which is great unless you need medication and then its more problematic as medications generally are not available. So you get to see a doctor but they just can't treat you.

I was reflecting on this following my latest exposure to Canada's health system. My wife had the mis-fortune to beak her leg, quite badly and in three places. Our local hospital responded well in the provision of emergency treatment but needed to refer her to London because of the severity of the break. O.K. so far so good. Especially as London is one of Canada's leading medical centres. Except they can see her the next day but tell us to go into their emergency the day after. We get there, only to find out no one knows about it, X-rays have not been sent through, there is no-one from Orthopaedics answering their pager and the triage nurse is refusing to admit the patient with the triple break. Five hours later we go home, no available operating room that day, and no beds to admit her. Still in lots of pain but this is Canada, so drugs for pain are available except our insurance company won't cover the cost on the second prescription because its within 72 hours of the previous one and they view that as a"duplicate". (This is how they made over $700 million last year in profits I begin to realise: take in premiums and then fight tooth and nail against honouring programs).

Go back next day, there is now a scheduled operating time but the leg is now too swollen to operate and we go home again -- still no available beds. Come back in two days, through the out-patient clinic and "hopefully" there will be an operating room available and "hopefully" an available bed.

And people wonder why the Canadian public are in favour of a two-tier health system. My wife's problem apparently is that she doesn't play professional sport or she would have has her leg operated on and stabilized a week ahead of when she will as taxpayer. She would also have had access to professional nursing, not a husband angry at the inability of the health case system to actually open and staff the beds it has in its newly renovated hospital. Why do we insist on building institutions and not providing the staff to actually operate them?

With one exception, all the medical staff we have dealt with over the past week were wonderful and did a good job. However, all were suffering from a surfeit of poor morale: good people, trying to do their best, frustrated by poor planning and allocation of resources.

Welcome to Canadian health care: lots of toys, not so many beds or nurses. One system for all and no two-tier system (except for athletes, politicians and the other animals not in the barn yard with the rest of us).