Saturday, August 31, 2002

Crackling with Laughter?

I just had a flashback to Tuesday’s George Monbiot column in the Guardian about Western affluence and its discontents. In the piece, GM makes the vague and unlikely observation that people in desperately poor nations are more happy than the average Brit:

“I hardly dare to mention this for fear of being accused of romanticizing poverty or somehow conspiring to keep people in the picturesque state to which I would never submit myself. But it is impossible not to notice that, in some of the poorest parts of the world, most people, most of the time, appear to be happier than we are. In southern Ethiopia, for example, the poorest half of the poorest nation on earth, the streets and fields crackle with laughter. In homes constructed from packing cases and palm leaves, people engage more freely, smile more often, express more affection than we do behind our double glazing, surrounded by remote controls.”

Flash forward to yesterday’s BBC reports of the Ethiopian government bulldozing a slum village built by just the sort of grinning natives Monbiot wishes all of us alienated rich folks could be more like:

“Thousands of people are being made homeless in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

“Under the orders of the city administration, bulldozers began moving into the Bole Bulbula area, near Ethiopia's International Airport, on Thursday morning and began demolishing the houses of more than 10,000 people.

“[BBC correspondent Nita Bhalla] witnessed them arrive to finish the job on Friday morning.

“As people heard the sound of the great machines approaching, they ran inside their homes and began removing all the possessions they could, before their mud and wood houses collapsed to the ground.

“The government says that these houses are illegal and that they would obstruct the planned development of the city.


“Mekasha Zebene has five children and has lived in Bole Bulbula for 11 years.

‘“The people here have big families...many have seven, four or three children. They are poor and most work as day labourers or do small jobs around the city.’

‘“It would have been better if the government had killed us rather than destroying our homes. They have violated our rights as people and as citizens of Ethiopia.’”

Well, at least they don’t have to worry about being separated from their neighbors by double-glazed windows. And I doubt any of them have ever even seen a remote control.


Friday, August 30, 2002

Help the Poor Now!
Unless We Say Not To.

The Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development continues to horrify and amuse, particularly the confusing arguments of the professional activists. This week the leftist paradox of the developing world has come into sharp focus: activists castigate the United States and the rest of the G-7 for not contributing enough towards growth and development in the Third World, yet every development project and new technology that is proposed is immediately attacked as being environmentally harmful and culturally destructive. From the standpoint of the environmental movement, of course, they’re correct to object – any development project makes life significantly better in a poor country is going to consume more natural resources and use additional energy, and that violates the idea that everyone on the planet should be conserving and using less of everything. The same activists know how callous it sounds to say that people living in poverty don’t deserve the same energy intensive luxuries we have here in the U.S., though, so they generally talk out of both sides of their mouth (“We must encourage development in poor countries” / “We all need to reduce our use of scarce natural resources”) and hope no one calls them on it, which most people never do.

A refreshing if also depressing example of honesty came earlier this week when a development expert from India assailed the expanding prevalence of flush toilets as a pernicious and environmentally destructive trend. Perhaps the Greenpeace monkey wrench crews that have spent the last few years trampling fields of bioengineered crops can start on a new environmental jihad – tear out the indoor plumbing of the cities and villages of the Third World. This new project could be even more successful than their old one, since most of the universities and agribusiness companies that they’ve hit can afford to re-plant their crops, while most developing countries will be too poor to replace their plumbing.

Speaking of which, the development paradox becomes especially stark when it comes to bioengineered foods. Activists point the finger of blame at the wealthy developed countries whenever there is a famine anywhere in the world, yet they vociferously oppose the single most potent solution: the introduction of higher yield crops created through precision genetic modification. The hypocrisy in simultaneously demanding and opposing aid has not gone entirely unnoticed, fortunately. The Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development said of the activists’ victory this week in persuading Zambia not to accept U.S. aid that might contain bioengineered foods: "They can play these games with Europeans, who have full stomachs, but it is revolting and despicable to see them do so when the lives of Africans are at stake." Shame especially on the government of Zambia that has decided it is better that their people should starve than be exposed to the imagined risks of new crop varieties.


Thursday, August 29, 2002

Johannesburg: Objection Sustained

This week’s Spectator has an excellent piece on the folly of pursuing that eco-ideal called sustainable development – just the goose chase that is currently engaging tens of thousands hard-working bureaucrats at the UN Summit in Johannesburg this week:

“The environmental lobby is correct that many human activities are, in simple terms, unsustainable. There is, presumably, a limit to the supply of fossil fuels — though the oil industries’ geologists continue to confound the Jeremiahs who once predicted that the last drop of petrol would disappear into the tank of some Chevrolet around 1990. But, given that fossil fuels are in finite supply, it makes no difference whether we keep on buying bigger and better cars or stick to the Kyoto protocol: any level of usage of oil is ultimately unsustainable. To conclude from this that the Western way of life is doomed is wrong. The history of mankind’s progress is one of passage from one unsustainable activity to another. Each time, technology has moved us on to better things before the crunch point has been reached.

“The mediaeval settlement of England depended on consuming vast quantities of native woodland. Between 1500 and 1700, a million acres of English woodland were destroyed in the quest for firewood and ships’ timbers — a rate of consumption which would have seen England’s last tree axed by 1900. So much for the ‘sustainable’ pre-industrial way of life. Just as wood was replaced by coal, so oil and gas will give way at some point to other fuels. But it won’t need an ‘Earth Summit’ to bring it about: the market alone will decide the point at which oil has become so scarce that some other means of powering machinery is to be preferred.”

As the late economist Julian Simon delighted in pointing out, human civilization is the history of substituting new materials, finding better processes, and applying more efficient technologies in the search for a safer and wealthier world. In other words, we don’t need to worry about running out of any particular natural resource because the dispersed intelligence of humanity will always find a substitute, generally a much better one, when any material becomes scarce enough. Whether it’s oil, steel, copper, or anything else we’re allegedly depleting, human beings have proven again and again their ability to invent around scarcity. In fact, it is unsustainable practices themselves that have done so much to make the world a better place to live – if companies and individuals didn’t run up against costly shortages, they’d never need to innovate in the first place.

Welcome to the Aaron Burr Federal Building

The J. Edgar Hoover building may be on the way out. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, (the civil rights group founded by Martin Luther King, Jr.), has petitioned the Department of Justice to remove Hoover’s name from the FBI’s headquarters in DC (the exterior of which is often glimpsed in X-Files episodes) because of his practice of abusing the FBI’s investigative powers for personal reasons. The campaign is being headed by the SCLC’s current president, Martin Luther King III, but also has support of several members of Congress, including House Government Reform Committee chair Dan Burton (R-IN) and Traficant pal Steve LaTourette (R-OH), among others. I don’t know what the feeling is like inside the FBI, but most people I’ve talked to find Hoover’s name on a federal building highly disagreeable – what Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen recently called “a monument to a monumental embarrassment.” The only disturbing factor: the current legislation (H.R. 5213) that was introduced by Rep. Burton in July of this year is an almost exact copy of a similar bill that was introduced last year (H.R. 1278) by none other than the Bush-libeling Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA). Perhaps there’s more of an X-Files connection here than I thought.

Cell Block Cincinnatus

It’s official – Jim Traficant will stay on the ballot in Ohio’s re-drawn 17th congressional district and direct his campaign from a minimum security jail cell in Allenwood federal prison. While, sad to say, he might not be able to win the seat outright, he could garner enough votes from his loyal supporters to force a runoff. Unfortunately for his rank and file supporters, however, it seems that serving a nine-year federal prison term puts the brakes on big money fundraising; according to his most recent FEC report his campaign has only $33,745 on hand.


Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Don't Fence Him In

James Lileks has a hilarious new Screed on the latest pretentious natterings of Guardian columnist George Monbiot. Sample:

“ his new pamphlet, The Prospect of Cornutopia, [Simon Fairlie] envisages the future that most of the rich world's governments, economists and media foresee. In this vision, economic growth proceeds at some 3% a year, without threatening the earth's capacity to support its population. By 2100, if this rate is sustained, we will be 18 times richer than we are today.

“Fairlie asks the question that so many economists have ducked. When we possess this fabulous wealth, how will we spend it? ‘A fraction of this amount,’ he notes, ‘will provide all of us with the one car per two people which appears to be the saturation rate...’ What next? Will everyone be jetting around the world on a weekly basis from airports in every town? Will each home have 10 rooms and a swimming pool and, if so, where are we going to build them?”

“The American answer, of course, is ‘right over there. See? Between those trees? By the road? Right there. We’ll call it Fairlie Grove, or Monbiot Acres if you like. You want to see the model house? Two-story family room, broadband ready, and with today’s low rates you can have it for nineteen hundred a month, most of which is tax deductible. Can I put you down for one?’

“Wrong answer, in Monbiot’s world. The line ‘will each home have 10 rooms?’ could only come from a European, accustomed as they are to houses so narrow that Robbie Coltrane had to come to America to live because he doesn’t fit in the average English living room. Ten rooms is nothing in America. My parents ‘62 rambler had ten rooms. The first house I bought had seven; the second, built in 1924, had nine. My current house has more than 10 rooms, and frankly I’d like more. I’d build an addition, if I had the money. Were dollars no concern, I’d build a nice home theater room, and a playroom for my daughter. But would this salve my wounded soul, enliven my deadened heart? Would it make me happy, really truly happy?

“Of course it would! It’s not that I take some sort of rude thoughtless delight from having additional square footage - I like movies, and it would be great to have a big room in which to see them. The absence of such a room does not cause my soul to wither like a salt-sprinkled slug; I do not burn with hatred for those who have such a room, nor do I wake each morning determined to grind my fellow man into a red paste under my tank treads so I can watch ‘Star Wars’ on a 72” screen. It’s one of those American reveries: if I had the scratch, I’d do this, but since I don’t, well, let’s nuke some popcorn and watch The Simpsons. Hey, it's that one where they go to Tokyo! I love the part where they all have seizures.”

Truly a national treasure.

And You Thought Traffic School Was Embarrassing

The police in Washington, D.C. have come up with a new way to deal with men arrested for soliciting prostitutes – a one-day seminar known to participants as “John School.” First time offenders are allowed to take the course, which requires a $300 donation to charity that helps get prostitutes off the street, in lieu of prosecution. After they sit through six hours of lectures and their check clears, their record is spotless. Even for first time offenders, the participants prove to be more varied that most would expect. Subjects of the John School recently observed by Washington Post reporter Helen Rumbelow included two men with doctorates, a traveling businessman from New York, and a rabbi. Yes, a rabbi, though assumably from a Reform temple.


Comrades in the War on Terror

One nice thing about the War on Terror is that all heads of state can agree on it. Which political figurehead wouldn't like to increase his own government's power? George Bush's diplomats circumnavigated the globe, getting everyone to agree: It's time for more state-sponsored surveillance and violence. Bombing is thumbs up and midnight raids are in vogue.

Witness Vladimir Putin. We used to pressure him to lay off on the black-masked raids of Chechnya. But now the US and Russia are good buddies, and we happily turn a blind eye. Isreal's raiding. Uzbekistan's raiding. Statism is hip, and there's no doubt. Soon paramilitary fatigues will be in all the fashion magazines.

Sunday, August 25, 2002

An Unlikely Benefactor

It seems the U.S. may have the late terrorist mastermind Abu Nidal to thank for stopping a new wave of Al Qaeda attacks. The Telegraph has reported that Nidal’s violent death last week was the result of refusing Saddam Hussein’s orders to train and lead Al Qaeda refugees in northern Iraq in a new terror campaign against America. Other than recent health problems, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why Abu Nidal would refuse an offer to continue his life’s work as nemesis of the West, especially given Saddam’s reputation for dealing with people who decline to follow his orders. According to the chief of Iraqi intelligence, of course, Nidal’s death was a suicide – he killed himself after being implicated in a plot to overthrow Saddam. All who believe that explanation are free to raise there hands. One possibility that does seem intriguing, however, is the connection to Jordan. It turns out Abu Nidal was one of five defendants found guilty (in absentia) last December of murdering a Jordanian diplomat in 1994. Could Saddam’s decision to kill Nidal last week be a way of currying favor with the Jordanians? Certainly with the likely U.S. invasion of Iraq moving forward, he would want to cement as many alliances with bordering states as possible. When the invasion is over and there’s a new government in Baghdad, these questions may all be answered.


Saturday, August 24, 2002

Trial of the Event of the Century

According to a recent poll conducted by The History Channel in the UK, 41% of viewers considered the September 11 attacks the most important event in the last 100 years of world history, compared with only 19% who considered the bombing of Hiroshima deserving of the distinction. Interesting sidenote: over 12% of British men considered England winning the World Cup in 1966 to be the most important event in the last 100 years of British history.

The Green Menace

Mark Steyn writes in the National Post this week about the issue assassinated Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was most vocal about – the undermining of open societies by Muslim immigrants. It seems clear now that the generous-minded social democrats who run most of Northwestern Europe are preparing their own societies for destruction by allowing large numbers of Islamic refugees to emigrate with no equivalent demand that they accommodate the culture they’re being welcomed into. To expect cultural assimilation of immigrants – whether in California of in Norway – is regarded by local Progressives as the height of racist impropriety. This attitude persists even when the immigrants’ cultural practices run to street violence and gang rape:

“Five days before 9/11, the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet reported that 65% of the country's rapes were committed by ‘non-Western’ immigrants -- a category which, in Norway, is almost wholly Muslim. A professor at the University of Oslo explained that one reason for the disproportionate Muslim share of the rape market was that in their native lands ‘rape is scarcely punished’ because it is generally believed that ‘it is women who are responsible for rape.’

“So Muslim immigrants to Norway should be made aware that things are a little different in Scandinavia? Not at all! Rather, the professor insisted, ‘Norwegian women must take their share of responsibility for these rapes’ because their manner of dress would be regarded by Muslim men as inappropriate. ‘Norwegian women must realize that we live in a multicultural society and adapt themselves to it.’ Or to modify Queen Victoria's wedding-night advice to her daughter: Lie back and think of Yemen.”

Norwegian women need to swath themselves in modest yards of fabric so that they won’t be raped by Muslim immigrants? This is the kind of insane thinking that multiculturalism leads people to. When violent sexual assault is regarded as a valid cultural expression, civil society isn’t long for this world. It’s the natural consequence for people would rather live in a country that is perfectly tolerant than reasonable safe.


Thursday, August 22, 2002

Robin Hood in Reverse

There is more evidence today that the fruits of Robert Mugabe’s reverse-Apartheid land policies are bypassing his poor countrymen. Actual beneficiaries of the racial land-grab include such people as his wife, sisters, brother-in-law and cabinet ministers. I can imagine Madame Mugabe collecting vacated farms by the dozens like a kind of African Imelda Marcos. Not only was over 30% of the land officially distributed to the President’s family and senior government officials, another 40% initially allocated to landless blacks has since been redirected to ruling party members and assorted presidential cronies. This despite the fact that even Zimbabwe’s own courts have ruled the eviction notices served by the government are unconstitutional. Imagine Roger Clinton being granted half of Yellowstone National Park or the Everglades being given to Jeb Bush.


Tuesday, August 20, 2002

As You Sow, So Shall You Reap

The question would warrant a wager if the results weren’t so grotesque: How many Zimbabweans are going to die unnecessarily of famine in the next year? Despite the warnings of international aid agencies and impartial observers, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is proceeding with his plan to force white farmers off of their lands, allocating the land to black citizens instead. This comes at the same time as a severe drought, which would have required that the nation’s farms be as efficient and productive as possible just to keep yields stable. With the current owners of the farms being harassed, attacked and imprisoned and the new “owners” lacking the necessary experience and equipment, that is clearly not a goal that is going to be attained. Thus, the very landless peasants that Mugabe is purporting to help are the ones most likely to die in fly-covered droves over the next several months. And perhaps not surprisingly, diplomatic observers have noticed the flood of appropriated land flowing not in the direction of the average poor Zimbabwean, but into the already bulging pockets of Mugabe’s cronies and ruling party apparatchiks. Just when you though things in Africa couldn’t get any worse.

Millions of Acres and a Mule

I was here in D.C. on Saturday, but somehow I missed the massive gathering of reparations advocates and their demonstration on the Mall. As usual, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan cheered them on, declaring “All Congressmen ought to be here today.” That would have been quite a success for the organizers – perhaps they shouldn’t have scheduled their rally in the middle of the summer recess. The Rt. Rev. Louis Farrakhan was also in attendance. Going far beyond pervious demands for billions in government cash, he harkened back to the black separatist goal Malcolm X (among others) was identified with, saying "We need land for political independence, we need millions of acres." It’s been a while since a recognized black leader called for an autonomous nation-within-a-nation status in the U.S. Note to reparations fans who want to make their goal politically palatable to the majority of the country: you might leave Farrakhan at home next time.


Friday, August 16, 2002

The General, Not a Team Player

Why is Brent Scowcroft stabbing the Bush administration in the back over invasion plans for Iraq? Hopefully obtaining the fawning attention of the left-wing British press is an insufficient reason. Part of the reason may stem from the perception cited by The Guardian’s Julian Borger that the current President Bush “has surrounded himself with far more radical ideologues on domestic and foreign policy.” In other words, he’s actually a conservative instead of a middle-of-the-road establishment Republican like his father. Unlike George H.W. Bush who was clearly uncomfortable with the allegedly simplistic world outlook of Ronald Reagan, Bush has ended up being for more Reagan Jr. than Bush Jr. when it comes to matters of both policy and style.

Bush and his advisors are making the War on Terrorism a matter of clear moral distinctions - as they should. Just as the cosmopolitan diplomats shuddered when Reagan called the Soivet Union an Evil Empire, so their counterparts today deride Bush for his "cowboy adventurism" and embrace of unilateralism. Yet that strategy is the only way the U.S. will be able to make any progress. And until the foreign ministers of Europe come up with a convincing explanation of why Saddam Hussein is no longer a threat to his own citizens, the rest of the reigon and American lives everywhere, we'll all be better off for it.


Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Experts for Life, Meet Dictators for Life

The forces in American political life opposed to an invasion (“regime-change”) of Iraq seem to have started grasping at straws. The New York Sun examines a couple of anti-invasion spokespeople today, one dispensing advice under a spurious title and another with direct financial ties to the Saudi royal family. But because once you’ve held a government job in Washington you’re an expert forever, two people who each spent less than three years in Iraq twenty years ago are now referred to as distinguished sources of current wisdom.


Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Hands Off the Economy

Why do people think that the President controls the economy? Congress can pass tax cuts and the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee can change interest rates – both of which can have large and somewhat predictable results of the nation’s economy. But the President of the United States has no such power, which makes comments like today’s so odd. According to the Associated Press “President Bush assured Americans Tuesday that his administration has a steady hand on the economy.” Not only does the Administration not have “a steady hand” on the economy, it shouldn’t even if it were possible. I trust the President is familiar with nations where the executive has kept a guiding hand on the economy; they didn’t work out so well.

Lobster: A Magnet for Freaks

A speech by U.S. Representative Bill Delahunt (D-MA) was interrupted by the hysterical ravings of a madwoman this week, as she attempted to rescue several lobsters from almost certain death at a Boston-area clambake. While she succeeded in absconding with the first five, which she subsequently released into the waters of a nearby cove, she caused some friction when she returned and went from table to table offering other guests cash if they would give up the lobster meal they had paid for. According the unbalanced larcenatrix, the lobsters spoke to her: “I went by the pot where they had the lobsters, I peeked in and saw a lot of them wiggling their tails,” Ellis told the [Boston Herald]. “They were saying, ‘Take me back to the beach.’” Area police, upon assessing the situation, declined to become involved.


Thursday, August 08, 2002

How Scorched Was My Valley

The New York Times actually ran an op-ed about federal land management that was more than an environmentalist screed about the need for more public land purchases. The author points out that for decades state and local governments have been subsidizing the risks taken by people who build homes in areas where large forest fires are a significant hazard. Thus, when the people in these newly affordable homes are beset by the peril they knew they were living amongst, the government must spend millions of dollars and risks the health and safety of thousands of firefighters trying to put out a blaze that otherwise could have been allowed to burn itself out. Insanity. He advises tree thinning and brush removal – exactly the common sense techniques vociferously opposed by large environmental groups who claim they represent a stealth reintroduction of commercial logging onto federally-owned forests. Not only is that not so, even if it were, a limited reintroduction of commercial logging would be a small price to pay for federal forests that were actually managed to minimize expense and injury – to local residents, taxpayers, and firefighters alike.

Digging Out of the Cesspit of Stability

The always entertaining Mark Steyn has written another piece of insightful and counter intuitive analysis for The Spectator. As we move ever closer toward our long-anticipated land invasion of Iraq, voices of protest increasingly fret that such an invasion would have terribly consequences for the stability of the other regimes in the region. It certainly would, and all the better for it, writes Steyn:

“What’s the real long-term war aim of the United States? I’d say it’s this — to bring the Middle East within the civilised world. How do you do that? Tricky, but this we can say for certain: you’ll never be able to manage it with the present crowd — Saddam, the Ayatollahs, the House of Saud, Boy Assad, Mubarak, Yasser. When Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, warns the BBC that a US invasion of Iraq would ‘threaten the whole stability of the Middle East’, he’s missing the point: that’s the reason it’s such a great idea. Suppose we buy in to Moussa’s pitch and place stability above all other considerations. We get another 25 years of the Ayatollahs, another 35 years of the PLO and Hamas, another 40 years of the Baathists in Syria and Iraq, another 80 years of Saudi Wahabbism. What kind of Middle East are we likely to have at the end of all that? The region’s in the state it’s in because, uniquely in the non-democratic world, it’s too stable. It’s the stability of the cesspit.”

With the current governing factions we’re faced with in the Middle East, who wouldn’t want destabilization? Some observers fear that less stability means more radicalism and unpredictable use of force. But the U.S. is already being hunted from the shadows by a global network of terrorists covertly financed and encouraged by the same regimes who’s stability were are supposed to be so protective of. And after all, how exactly are the people who are willing to become suicide bombers supposed to become any more radical? Organized militaristic Islam wants every Jew on the face of the earth exiled from Palestine or dead, whichever is easier. Any degree of radicalism past that is a distinction without a difference.


Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Billboard of the Beast, Sign of the Times

It may come as a shock, but it seems there are some residents of Maryland that have very little appreciation for controversial art. A billboard featuring Jesus endorsing a Budweiser-esque beer was vandalized with white paint this week by an as yet anonymous assailant. It brings to mind the many people who were horrified by the Sensations exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum in 1999 and Chris Ofili’s allegedly blasphemous “Holy Virgin Mary” in particular. Yet in this case, the use of Jesus as a advertising pitchman is meant to reinforce just the kind of reverence the witless paint-wielder assumably though he was defending. The artist is lampooning the advertising industry, one he clearly thinks has no shame and probably would stoop to putting Jesus in a beer ad. If he didn’t expect a certain reverence for the image of JC from his audience the piece would have no impact. So, Unnamed Vandal, he’s on your side - which you might have realized if you spent more time contemplating art and less time destroying it.