Flag Burning, the Bill of Rights, and Leaving America Behind: Fourth of July Special

Yes, the American Revolution was special. It’s not yet uncool to recognize
facts. You are entitled to your mistaken and unsupported opinions, however; this is a free country. (Not thanks to you!)

First, there were no massacres. It may have been different if Britain had won, I don’t know. The Loyalists were treated harshly in many places. Many lost their property. Many became the English-speaking root of that milder version of ourselves, Canada. Americans were so generous-minded however that they even allowed Hessian (from Germany) mercenaries from the defeated British army to settle among them. Try to imagine any of the formerly occupied countries in Europe in 1945 allowing Russian SS from the German armed forces to stay behind and prosper! (Yes, there were Russian SS, thousands of them.)

Second, the US Constitution was and probably remains the most clear, exemplary embodiment of the healthy political idea of separating powers, a major step in uprooting the habit of despotism. ( I may be wrong but I think the desirability of the separation of powers my have been enunciated earliest by the French philosopher Montesquieu. The French themselves mostly made a mess of the idea.)

Third, it took an embarrassingly long time but American constitution-builders eventually produced a wise list of specifically enunciated rights. A bill of rights is a necessity to protect political, intellectual and religious minorities and, especially, individuals from the potential, and the very real threat of tyranny of the majority.

The next to try a bill of rights, the French, did it only a few months later, also in 1789. With the privilege of having Ben Franklin right there in Paris to lend a hand, with Lafayette – who understood the idea well – involved, they also screwed up that one. Most of them don’t know it to this day, I think, but the insertion of one sentence in their Bill has the potential to nullify the whole: “Art. 6. La Loi est l’expression de la volonté générale.” * “The Law, is the expression of the general will.” This general will, the will, the will of all, has the power to eradicate any of the individual rights carefully enunciated elsewhere in the same document. Correspondingly, today in France, there are concrete limitations on freedom of speech, for example although freedom of speech is specifically guaranteed by the French Bill. These limitations were imposed in a carefully legal manner via acts of parliament, and signed by the president yet, they are still a form of despotism and a slippery slope. The little sentence above makes a constitutional challenge on these restrictions on speech difficult, if not impossible.

Incidentally, and going back to the US, there have been recent episodes of US flag burning by activists protesting – somehow- the Charleston church massacre. Go ahead, burn away, it’s your right so long as you don’t accidentally set afire a neighbor’s or public property! I feel forced to link this kind of petulant, childish behavior to a poll I saw recently that describes 50% of millennials as wishing to emigrate, to leave this country.** So, after voting massively for Mr Obama seven years ago, they want to escape the massive failures of his administration instead of staying put and contributing to reverse them. One the failures imputed to Mr Obama is wage stagnation. It has frozen many thirties-something in place, economically speaking. I am not sure it’s fair to blame Mr Obama but it’s done to every administration.

I know quite a bit about emigration/immigration as you might guess. So, I will presume to give potential emigrants advice: You may move to Australia, my friends. Australia will be glad to have you. The country is an admirably successful redneck project. You will enjoy the Australians’ great pubs. Of course, there is a good chance that the first night out to one of the pubs, you will open your mouths too wide. Then you may well end up beaten to a pulp in some dark alley. I don’t wish you such a fate; I disapprove of such rowdy behavior. If it comes to my attention, in the news or in the newspaper, I will not laugh openly. There will just be a little smirk on my face.  Have a good trip.
* 1789 Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme et du citoyen

** Ordinarily, I am the first one to point out that fewer than two convergent polls from respected sources is nothing. So, take this with two grains of salt.

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Global Warming, Soot Pollution, Mayor Bloomberg, the Paris Conference (forthcoming): So Confusing, So Confused!

So many inane things have been said about climate change by silly unqualified sources and so many others by dishonest qualified sources that it’s hard to keep separating the wheat from the shaft (Ah, ah!)

On the Monday June 29th of the Wall Street Journal, former Mayor B Bloomberg of New York delivered himself of advice about the forthcoming 2015 fall United Nations conference on climate change. It will take place in Paris. Right there, you know they are not serious. At any one time, half the delegates will be seeing the sights, or tasting the flavors.

Below is the excerpt that flummoxed me. I am retired, I have the time to be flummoxed. Other readers may not have had the time or the peace of mind to notice. This is for them.

“…The Paris conference has already proven successful in one respect: It has pushed heads of state to prioritize climate action” (Bolding mine.)

And further down:

“Whether they live in a capitalist or communist society [sic], people want to breathe clean air. They know that air fouled with carbon pollution causes death and disease,….” (Bolding mine, again.)

Wait a minute, I have been told a thousand times if I have been told once that CO2 is the primary cause of “climate change”! I flunked high school physics (not bragging, just admitting the facts) but I am sure that CO2 does not cause disease. And, I remember from a diving class long ago that it does not even cause death except insofar as it physically replaces oxygen. That’s hard to do in your lungs, by the way. It takes practice. Accordingly, suicide by CO2 is extremely rare!

So, is Mr Bloomberg referring to another kind of carbon pollution? Is there a faction of the Warmist Movement that’s on the edge of admitting that mere CO2 is just plant food, as we believed before the Apocalypse began? I ask because if the real enemy is either carbon monoxide or any of the visible sooty components that result from burning coal, I am not sure which side I am on anymore. Speak of agonizing re-appraisal!

I don’t know which side to take because I am squarely against both carbon monoxide and particulate (soot) pollution. The only people who are in favor of carbon monoxide are people who failed physics even worse than I did and confuse this deadly gas with the innocuous plant food CO2. As for particle pollution, the only ones who would say a single good thing about it, don’t. They are power industry spokesmen and other users of coal. They are not even arguing that they are good; they asked for more time to clean up their dirty act. The US Supreme Court declared last week that they were actually entitled to more time.

I remember well breathing the heavy smog in Paris in the fifties; I remember seeing pictures of the even worse smog in London. I remember the largely automobile-based smog in LA in the sixties. All these cities cleaned up their act. They did it to a large extent under demanding legislation. That legislation was not very controversial because it did not rest on mysterious, esoteric, contorted, and ever-changing science largely propagated by the incompetent, the irrepressibly stupid, and those who leave political judgment to experts. Besides, the application of the legislation walked in lockstep with perceptible progress. The air in Paris cleaned up in a few years during my childhood even while the population grew. The air in LA improved quickly after unleaded gasoline was introduced, etc. I hope someone will correct me if I am wrong but I don’t think the research involved or its presentation comprised crude fraud as in the “hockey stick” scandal about global warming.

If they were concerned with CO1 (mono) or with particle pollution, there would be no struggle, or little resistance. They invoke CO2 threat because cleaning up carbon is not going to give them the de-industrialization and the government control they crave. Think it through.

Incidentally, we wouldn’t even have this discussion if the US had continued building nuclear power plants twenty years ago. I mean, like France, where absolutely nothing dangerous happened. Like Japan where the worst happened in Fukushima and nothing happened. Nuclear energy releases no carbon particles, no carbon monoxide, and negligible amounts of CO2. Want to save the planet or not?

So, is mayor Bloomberg calling for UN conference in Paris re-dedicated to better breathing rather than to the never-ending struggle against “climate change’? Is he honestly confused? (Wouldn’t be the first time.*) Is he a dupe or a fiendish accomplice? Is he aiming for a typical “liberal Republican” middle course between truth and falsehood? Or, he is pushing forward a genuine Trojan Horse to finally reduce the already tottering, rickety citadel of misrepresentations, exaggerations, conflicting truths, bad measurements, worse logic, unscientific reasoning, an outright lies of Warmism?

* I am not casting the first stone, in this case. I demonstrated on this blog that the UN “Summary” for officials and political decision-makers was incomprehensible.

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Morons of the World Unite!

In 1848, before he really had really learned to think, Karl Marx emitted the famous call, “Workers of the World Unite!” That was in the “Communist Manifesto,” communism lite for those who move their lips when they read. The workers of the world never united. They continued enthusiastically to eviscerate one another in war as before. The few times the workers actually came together, mostly but not exclusively on a national basis, they brought tyrants to power. The Communist tyrants proceeded to impoverish them like never before. They also killed many of them, both on purpose and through gross negligence. The remaining Communist countries: China (not communist at all, an amazingly successful Mafia state), North Korea, a deadly operetta permanently set in the fifties, Cuba, barely kept afloat by generous remittances from Cuban emigrants. Incidentally, the open-handed cousins from America mostly reached Florida with the shirts on their backs. They became rich as waiters and parking attendants in Miami while their doctor relatives back in Cuba seldom had enough to eat. You can’t have everything, a socialist paradise and fried chicken on demand.

Since 1848, in the midst of one socialist/communist debacle after another, and unrelated to them, something appalling has happened: Mr Marx’s “workers” evaporated. I mean that it’s completely clear that Marx referred to industrial workers specifically, what we would call today “blue collar” workers. He explicitly did not mean the poor in a general way. On the contrary, he wrote scathing words about the lack of social discipline of the “lumpenproletariat,” the “poor in rags.” As for the peasantry, still quite numerous in Marx’s day, his followers had to perform intellectual acrobatics to present them as other than natural enemies of the Revolution. Stalin himself spoke eloquently of the “non-antagonistic contradictions” between the working class and the peasantry. That was after he had starved to death millions of the latter to feed the former. He said he had good reasons to do so. (Allegedly “scientific” socialism brought to the world deadly pedantry, a trait seldom before encountered but all around us again as I write. See below.) Anyway, what I wanted to say before I got waylaid is that in the century and half after Marx, the “workers” mostly vanished from advanced countries. In small part, it was because primitive manufacturing moved to poor countries such as China. To an overwhelming extent, it was because of technological progress.: One semi-literate guy half conked out on grass sitting at a machine makes more nails in one day than ten master iron workers made in one month when Marx was writing the Communist Manifesto. (I am sure of this because I watch “How Things Are Made” on TV).

Now, as I have said, I am spending a lot of time at the beach these days, near downtown Santa Cruz. I have almost become one of the Moms there. Speaking of which, a Mom with two little kids addresses me the other day. I am pretty sure she is not hitting on my although there is a dearth of functional males around. I think she is just bored or worried. She is old enough – in her mid thirties- to be used to defer to male authority on how things work. She comments on the fact that the beach where her children and my own granddaughter wade in the water is posted for high E-coli content. * This happens every summer on that beach. (See my moving essay on the topic.) To make a long story short, there are fish in the water and these attract seabirds that do what they must do after they eat. And then, there are the hundred or so resident sea lions. I re-assure the Mom that probably none of these E-coli are of human origin. After two years of drought, there is no running surface water anywhere near the beach. There is no conceivable way for human feces to reach that particular beach, with two exceptions. First, it’s possible to imagine that some homeless, caught short would deposit somewhere on that beach. (Large number of homeless in Santa Cruz, many not quite all there.) In fifteen years frequenting the beaches of Santa Cruz, I have never seen any evidence of such, not once. Toddler with imperfect diapers are another story. But whatever E-coli they leave behind cannot be nearly as bad as, say, your average grocery store shopping cart: I have seen a study (I can’t find it) that said that 75% showed traces of human feces. (I would guess, from adorable toddlers). I point out to the Mom that seagull E-coli would feel uncomfortable in the gut of a child who eats fish once a week at most. She seems unconvinced. Besides, the beach stinks a little at the moment. Offshore winds have brought in a pile of kelp that is allowed to rot slowly nearby. (Myself, I like the smell of marine decomposition, enthusiastic abstract “environmentalists” often less so because they tend to be sissies.)

In spite of of her mistrust of my explanations, the woman wants to talk. It happens all the time, either because of my still-advantageous physique or because I have a French accent. (Do I sound snarky? Sure thing.) Soon, the conversation drifts, as often happens in conversations between strangers reveling in their idleness; (as happens all the time between women at the beach, I must testify). Somehow, we end up talking about cheese made from milk that has not been pasteurized. I let her know that such cheese is freely available in France though clearly labeled. I also tell her – twice – that several people die in France each year from consuming such cheese. The woman replies by deploring that non-pasteurized dairy products are generally not allowed in the US. She tells me sadly that it’s difficult to eat only “organic” in this country. I begin telling her that the two things are unrelated. Artisan cheese makers of unpasteurized cheese are free to feed their animals irradiated, pesticide laced, genetically modified feed all they want. The products they offer for consumption must simply have been made from raw milk, milk that has not been brought briefly to a high temperature to kill bacteria.

Get it: An adult woman who is nervous about highly diluted bird bacteria in the ocean is craving the guaranteed concentrated bacteria content of a cheese that is medically proven to kill at least some people.

At last I am curious and I want to find out what deep well of ignorance this woman was pulled out of. The answer feels like a big slap in the face: She works in the radiology department at Stanford University Medical Center, a teaching hospital!

Now, my general expectations are low because I was a teacher for thirty years. It’s an occupation that induces a sort of reflexive humility: Listen to your students and measure the immensity of your failure. But what I am facing here is not simple ignorance. It’s a deeply consistent commitment to inconsistency; it’s the aggressive pursuit of disinformation. It’s militant moronism. As I often say – sagely – what makes a moron is not simple ignorance, which can be innocent, or the result of mere laziness – it’s a fierce attachment to one’s ignorance. To be a moron requires demonstrations of spirited ignorance, you might say. And with numbers comes courage, including the courage to believe stupid things openly. But the numbers of the militantly ill-informed are growing thanks to the Internet because, as everybody knows, “If it weren’t true, they wouldn’t put it on the Internet.” (OK here, I am plagiarizing an old TV ad.) And those who lay in fear of everything except cheese and have no basic understanding of how the world works, those who rely blindly on experts, are bound to live like little children who fear monsters under their beds. They want to believe that there is someone looking out for them, if not God then, the Government. So, after its ignominious defeat under the name of Communism, collectivism has not said its last word. It has returned under the guise of ignorant naturalism, the specifically, urban, unlettered belief that nature is benevolent and that it has a Grand Design just for us. The followers want government to force us to live according to the imagined design. Why not try injections of cobra venom, I asked the cheese-loving woman on the beach, it’s completely organic? The black humor went right above her head. Now, I have a vague fear she might propose it to others. Fortunately, cobra venom is hard to come by.

Militant morons are incomparably better interconnected than the working class was in Karl’s time. They are very good at enforcing conformity to their dogma. More importantly, – stay with me here – they stand in as clear relation to the means of communications as the working class stood to the means of production when Marx was freezing his buns in the British Library. Nothing is lost yet. There can be another try. So, one more time, “Morons of the World Unite!”

*I do not deny that bird E-coli can make people sick. I just don’t know. What I know for sure is that any such case of illness would be on the front page of the local, paper, a liberal rag that adores all bad news. There is also the possibility that bird E-coli cause mysterious illnesses that go underground for a long time so that any causal link between them and symptoms is lost to the view. Do you believe this? If you do I have something to sell you.

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Government Wisdom and Collectivism Revisited

This is a political science essay about public toilets.

Family obligations as well as my inclination cause me to spend four hours each weekday afternoon on a well known Santa Cruz beaches. It’s Cowell Beach about which I wrote about a year ago on the occasion of another (fake) pollution scare. Four hours is a long time, even if I read there and swim quite a bit while I wait. ( I would show you a picture of me in my Speedo but I don’t want you distracted from the serious point of my story.) I am practically forced to eavesdrop on young mothers and I can’t help seeing them. (Of which more another day, probably.) They spend a lot of time planning the logistics of taking one of two kids to the toilet for 20 minutes. (Who will take care of the one who does not need to go?)

There are two toilets on the edge of that beach, two. On a nice afternoon, there are hundreds of people on that small beach. (There are two other public toilets nearby but they belong to another, even more crowded beach.) In the middle of a nice afternoon when school is out like now, the lines to the two toilets are ten-deep. Once, it was fully sixteen deep. It’s enraging; it make people furious; it ruins their day at the beach; it’s inhumane toward older people.

Here is a detour. The dearth of toilets does not pose much of a problem for local children though, to those who are used to the beach. You can spot them in the water to their waist, with the satisfied and relieved look of anyone doing Number One well at ease. Of course, for the many skittish, ill-informed, Apocalypse-minded citizens of Santa Cruz, it’s one more reason to worry about pollution. They already believe that torrents of human feces come down the hills on a small river unto that beach. That’s completely false, completely wrong. They worry about duck shit and seabird shit in the water. That’s not so wrong. And then, of course, the hundred-plus resident sea lions must contribute something once in a while. They are not all so fastidious as to go do it away from the beach, especially the teenagers. (One to three in sea lion years.)

The unpleasant toilet situation at Cowell Beach has lasted as long as I remember, fifteen years, at least. Now, I tell myself that if that beach were administered as a private, profit- making concession, within a year or two, there would be a ten or twelve toilets block near the edge of the beach. But then, I realize that the relevant city administration is probably neither deliberately malfeasant nor stupid. The most likely explanation for the lack of sufficient toilets near Cowell Beach is that the relevant city department is itself caught in a web of rules and regulations most of which are of its own making. The accumulation of permits to build something as potentially polluting in such sensitive an area as a beach must discourage even the best disposed bureaucrats. “This can wait; let’s move on to another problem,” they must think. I am only betting here on the universal human propensity to classify problem by order of ease of resolution. Note that I am not denouncing some sort of bureaucratic perverseness or an especially iniquitous feature of tyranny. It’s just the nature of things: Weave a net; get caught in it.

I can’t think of another solution that having the beach be made completely private. Then, the owner will build sufficient numbers of toilets by spending as much as necessary to circumvent or beat in court the regulations that are the obstacle. But the remedy seems worse than the problem. Nearby Silicon Valley has several, or many billionaires who could buy the beach outright and close it to the public forever. One did just this at popular Martin’s Beach, south of Half-Moon Bay. I think the case been in court for several years, long enough for a generation of California to grow up without even seeing this wonderful, very special beach where I used to catch smelts by net from the sand.

I don’t know the solution to this real libertarian conundrum I hope a better informed or purer libertarian than  I am will develop a likely solution here.

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Senator Rand Paul on Taxes: Chip off the Old Block

Sen. Rand Paul, the nominally Republican presidential candidate, has inherited an uncommon trait from his father. He manages to inspire distrust in his credibility even as he conveys a message I want to hear and believe. On Thursday June 18th 2015, he had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about his proposed tax reform. Any national tax reform involves fiendishly difficult calculations about complex matters. Sen. Paul wants to junk the whole repulsive, disgusting, oppressive income tax and the IRS in favor of a flat tax. Music to my ears but difficult to believe his assertion that this replacement would be revenue neutral.

I don’t especially want federal revenue neutrality. I want the federal government’s share of GDP to decline. Yet, I understand that Mr Paul wishes to avoid conducting two discussions in one. (Junk the personal income tax; decrease the power of the federal government.) So, he has not done anything wrong there.

My problem is that in the course of a longish piece, he misuses grossly two sets of simple, basic economic terms. In this second paragraph, he refers to “duties and tariffs…” Toward the last third, he states something about “small businesses” and “corporations.” Both statements would be unacceptable in a sophomore basic economics class, even in a introduction to economics in a reasonably good high school.

Here is the first mistake: duties and tariffs are the same object. A “duty” is a tax on imports (or, very rarely, on exports). A tariff is the mechanism used to levy such taxes. It could be 10% of the value of the import or it could be $1 per bottle, for example. (Both methods are common.) That’s it. Referring to “duties and tariffs” proves beyond any doubt that you don’t understand the ordinary and oldest form of taxation. It looks bad in an essay devoted to …taxation.

Contrasting, or building any sort of parallel construction between “small business” and “corporations” is a common mistake but it does not belong under the pen of an elected politician who wants, as his main contribution, to overturn the way we have been financing most government for fifty years. “Small” businesses are in fact small. “Corporations” can be of any size, including two people, such a dentist and his wife. Most American corporations are small. The word “corporation” refers to a legal arrangement. It has nothing to do with the size of the business.

It’s as if Sen Paul did not know simple stuff when he talks about complex stuff. It’s as if, even more seriously from the standpoint of his credibility, he had no one to proofread his writing for blatant errors. It’s as if he were so convinced of knowing everything that he did not need -ever – anyone looking over his shoulder. If these two mistakes are the product of carelessness, they also imply hubris. That’s worse than simple ignorance because it has no cure in a grown man.

How can I trust someone to unravel the complex relationship between taxes, government revenue, economic growth, and personal liberty when he sounds like one of my indifferent former students?

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Trade: Is Obama Right This Time?

I was hoping to sit this one out. I mean the multiple discords about the new Pacific trade treaty proposed by President Obama. I feel I need to lend a hand because there are good reasons to be confused. Plus, I taught international business for twenty-five years. My voice just might be useful this time. Here is my brief but adequate road map to the problem. I am deliberately staying away from nouns and initials because they do more harm than good.

Pres. Obama has an early draft of an international trade agreement with a large number of Pacific countries. Such agreements eliminate or lower trade barriers. So,first, they make it easier for economic actors from one country to buy a and sell things to economic actors from another country. That’s because all trade barriers are hidden taxes on consumers. They all raise prices above where they should be. Get rid of them, have more real income.

Second the lowering or the elimination of trade barriers ultimately result in something almost magical: Economic actors stop doing what they are doing badly and start focusing on what they do well. Most items become less expensive and of better quality. Everyone benefits from this. I mean everyone in the world.*

International trade agreements do cause some to lose their jobs. They create many more jobs than they cause to disappear, however. But the loss is certain: After all, as soon as central American bananas are allowed into Canada. Canadian banana growers must lose their jobs, by and large. Incidentally, there have not been Canadian banana growers, as far as I know but you see what I mean: Canadians ought to concentrate on producing lumber, or refrigerators, or iron ore, almost anything but bananas.

The current trade project presented by Obama contains a $500 million clause to retrain at public expense those Americans who might lose their job as a result of the new agreement. This is nothing new. Previous trade agreements contained similar arrangements.

President Obama wants what is known as “fast track authority.” That’s the privilege to have the Senate vote a simple “Yes” or “No.” on the final draft of the agreement with those many other countries. This is pretty necessary because if each government of each signing country has to go home and gather amendments and often, amendments to amendments, in the end, no agreement sees the light of day. It’s a practical thing, no a sinister ploy.

On the one hand, practically all previous presidents who signed international trade agreements had fast track authority. On the other hand there is a sturdy reason to deny Mr Obama fast track authority: He is a proven, extremely bad negotiator. On the third hand, the negotiations of such agreements are almost completely done by technical personnel who know their business. And, how likely is Mr Obama actually to get involved?

As I write, elected Democrats are all against everything involved because the unions think that every international trade agreement makes them lose ground. I think their perception is correct. Republicans are torn between their understanding of the world (which is more or less like mine) and their wish to give the president a black eye.

This is a small digest of a complex and interesting issue. I deal with it at leisure and extensively in nine installments on this blog. Each had the words “protectionism” or “protectionist ” in the title. Again, those are installments; you may want to look at them in order. No test!

* Paradoxically, one of the best, clearest scholarly explanations of this magic – called comparative advantage – is by Paul Krugman. It’s from the days when he was not yet crazy. Bret Stephens in the WSJ 6/16/15 jogged my memory on this strange fact. It’s worth looking up Krugman, for once.

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Gun Control

The police and their dogs appear to be closing on two escaped murderers, one an amateur butcher. (He dismembered a victim.) That’s in a wooded area of upstate New York. Could easily be near here, where I live.

The police ask people to stay indoors and lock their doors (N. S.!) and to keep their children out of school.

I can just imagine: My kids are safely behind the closed door of the bathroom playing quietly (I hope). I am sitting on a chair in front of the big bay window with my largest kitchen knife on the dining-room table near me. I am not too worried because the window glass is protecting me. Besides, I can always call 911.

Are you out of your mind?

I have a shotgun, I have the right ammunition. Under some circumstances, the ammunition is inside the gun. In the above scenario, I will take my chance that the sweethearts described above may actually break the window and disarm me before I am able to do the gory obvious.

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