Thursday, December 24, 2009

Lessons from the first forty-five years

Today marks the forty-fifth year I’ve walked God’s earth. That’s not long when you think about it. Certainly my life hasn’t witnessed the changes that previous generations saw.

For instance, my grandmother--born in 1904--saw transportation change from the horse and buggy to the automobile. She saw the steam locomotive give way to diesel and a simple aircraft become a space shuttle. Radio ascended and television was born. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union both rose and fell. There was a Great Depression and enough war for any one person short of Gen. Patton.

It seems that my brief existence pales in comparison. Even so, I and my contemporaries have witnessed some interesting events and amazing innovations.

In my childhood television was a black and white screen that received only VHF signals, with only two channels available. One afternoon my father brought home a UHF converter and our viewing opportunities doubled. Four channels. Let’s hear it for technology.

Today there are hundreds of cable and satellite networks, with each dedicated to a specific interest. There are sports channels, music channels, food channels, news channels, you name it. Ironically, there seems to be no more worth watching now than there was then.

Eight-track tapes came and went, thank goodness. Cassettes did likewise. Vinyl records succumbed to the compact disc, which are now falling victim to the I-pod. Video games consisted of two white lines that batted a small dot across a screen. If you had “Pong” you were at the top of the childhood heap. But it wasn’t exactly a PlayStation or an X-box.

Computers smaller than a notebook are infinitely more powerful than the ones used to launch Apollo 11, which apparently means they crash with greater frequency. Neil Armstrong’s “one small step for man” came into our living rooms via a grainy black and white transmission. Now the reusable space shuttle has become obsolete and space launches are considered routine if not boring.

Walter Cronkite was America’s newsman. His voice was calm and measured, encouraging a nation’s trust. I later realized he was just another media mouthpiece and an apparent ally of our enemy in Vietnam.

Speaking of Vietnam, that war became the confirming moment in how America approaches war. In Vietnam our troops would take targets only to be pulled back after their victory. Predictably the enemy would reoccupy the area. Within days we would send troops to take the same location again. It was a recipe for frustration and futility. And in some ways that is how we have managed war in the post 9-11 era.

America once fought its enemies tooth and nail. War was waged against an entire nation, not just the uniformed military, and nothing less than victory was sufficient. Now we want to fight military personnel while building goodwill and trust among the civilian population. Do we not realize that civilians are the friends and family of the uniformed military, for that is where soldiers come from?

Also during Vietnam Hollywood celebrities--can you say Jane Fonda?--sided with the “oppressed” Vietcong or North Vietnamese Army. During current wars Hollywood celebrities side with, well, I guess some things haven’t changed at all.

American society and Western Civilization were once secured on a centuries old morality. That has been turned inside out. America has produced a fundamental human and constitutional right to abortion when no such language appears in the Constitution. Sexual depravity, while it has always existed, is now celebrated. In fact, the definition of normal has been altered to exclude normality altogether.

Illegitimacy rates were once low and unwed pregnancy was considered shameful. Now it is nothing extraordinary and illegitimacy rates increase in conjunction with government dependency. A president taught a generation that oral sex isn’t really sex.

Technology has changed. Morality has changed. The world in all facets has changed, in some ways for the better and in others for the worse.

According to Center for Disease Control estimations I have 30.8 years left to live, meaning I’m far more than halfway to the end of the line. Please indulge me a birthday wish or two. May positive changes continue unabated while those for the worse are reversed. And when the sons of my generation reflect on 45 years of life may they see only change for the better.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The role of proper government

Congratulations to Gaston County (NC) resident David Williams. It’s not everyday that a man gets the opportunity to speak before a congressional committee. What’s more, Mr. Williams apparently gave a good account of himself. He presented his material logically and reasonably, qualities which are in short supply in Congress these days.

Mr. Williams’ focused on one of the federal government’s legitimate duties, the census. Article One; Section Two of the U.S. Constitution directs the central government to conduct the census every ten years. The purpose is to determine appropriate representation and taxation. Adherence to such constitutional processes hasn’t been high on Congress’ list either.

However, I found one of Mr. Williams’ points troubling. He said the census is used to distribute federal money. If more Gaston County residents complete the census the county will receive more funds from Washington. I assume that would hold true for any county. It is Williams’ goal to ensure that his county doesn’t get shortchanged.

This isn’t a criticism of David Williams or his role in promoting the census. He has a job to do and seems to do it quite well. I’m not placing any blame on him. But it disturbs me that the federal government considers the census a tool for distributing money that first belonged to us.

Leave it to Congress to twist a constitutional duty into a self-perpetuating rewards system. It is not government’s role to distribute wealth by the numbers. So, let’s consider government’s purpose.

Food and shelter are basic needs. Is it government’s role to provide them? To think so requires an unusual view of rights. For a right to be a right and not a privilege it must demand no forced sacrifice from another person. Otherwise there would be no check on what government can confiscate in the name of the common welfare. It is no more the role of government to meet the needs of able-bodied individuals than it is to corrupt the census.

How about the equal distribution of wealth? In order to accomplish that goal some government bureaucracy or commission must possess the wisdom necessary to determine what constitutes equal distribution. Can any such board or panel exist? Who, other than God, is qualified to arbitrarily establish a person’s worth?

The only fair method for wealth distribution is an individual’s contribution to society. Free exchange between people, not government whims and biases, is the only legitimate means of distributing wealth among free people.

How about saving the earth? Is that a function of government? Perhaps in part, but not in the context of current climate debates. It is highly presumptuous to believe that man’s activities can render earth unlivable. Certainly we can cause environmental harm to a degree, meaning sensible laws to curb pollution are worthwhile. But it’s not government’s role to use conservationism as a tool for spreading collectivist doctrine.

It isn’t government’s job to manipulate the housing industry or the mortgage market in pursuit of “social justice”, to force free people to purchase health insurance, or to ensure the perpetual reelection of incumbents. So what is the role of government as it pertains to free men?

All men are created equal. They receive from their Creator certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To secure and protect these rights is the role of government, the proper authority for which comes at the consent of the governed.

Government’s most basic role, plain and simple, is to ensure that each individual can live freely and pursue their happiness without guarantee that happiness will be found. It is my hope that David Williams’ diligence in promoting the constitutionally mandated census won’t be used to further the power of self-indulgent politicians. But I suspect it is a false hope.

Monday, December 14, 2009

“Climategate” aside, skepticism reigns on climate change

The University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) is in hot water, and it isn’t due to global warming. East Anglia’s scientists produce the data that form the gospel according to Al Gore. Now, thanks to a computer hacker, we know their research has been tweaked to produce predetermined results.

CRU data, the cornerstone of man-made climate change, is in question. And rather than face the possibility of exposure the scientists involved devised ways to keep undesired data secret, or to delete it altogether.

If these scientists were climate change skeptics they’d be summarily dismissed. “Shills for Big Oil,” their detractors would charge. But since they promote climate change their malfeasance is excused or ignored. Are they not shills for “Big Gov”?

But climate change skepticism doesn’t require scientific fraud or manipulated data. Skepticism requires no degree in climatology, meteorology, geology, or other related field. All that’s needed is a degree of common sense and a little research.

California regulates open fires, wood burning stoves and fireplaces because of climate change. Burning wood, green crusaders reason, releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and accelerates global warming. But fire isn’t new technology. Wood has burned since the first lightning strike and will continue as long as the world turns. Nothing could be a more natural part of our environment.

How about industrial pollution? Smokestacks are a relic; a mute tribute to the industrial age. Their pollution, we were told, was destroying the planet. New technologies allow power plants and factories to operate without those smoke-belching behemoths. Fast forward to 2006 and pollution becomes our savior.

Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, suggested that pollution is the key to combating climate change. His plan is simple. Balloons would carry heavy guns into the sky and spew sulfates into the stratosphere, which would reflect solar radiation and cool the planet.

Sound crazy? Not to everyone. NASA’s Ames Research Center held private meetings to discuss re-polluting the skies that we formerly cleansed. NASA, if you’ll recall, is a leading proponent of man-made climate change.

Doesn’t global warming mean that the entire globe warms? Well, maybe not. In 2005, the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, UK argued that man-made climate change would stop the flow of warm air from the tropical Atlantic Ocean toward Europe. Not only is global warming man-made, it will produce a European Ice Age.

So, warming means cooling and cooling means warming. But that’s not the only part that’s confusing. The last time this Atlantic conveyor shutdown was 12,000 years ago, around the end of the Ice Age. A slowing of this process is also suspected to have occurred during the Little Ice Age between 1300 and 1850. Whatever the cause and effect, such a process is not unprecedented and has occurred without SUVs, coal-fired power plants, or incandescent light bulbs.

How about this? According to environmentalists, one of the prime contributors to global warming is deforestation. We must protect the forest canopy from loggers and wildfires. Or not.

According to a 2006 report from James Randerson, a science professor at UC-Irvine, a reduced forest canopy--say from a wildfire--would reflect sunlight back into space. Other research suggests that forests in colder climates raise temperatures as trees absorb solar energy. However, the co-author of the second report, Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution, cautions that following these findings is also detrimental to the environment.

Then there’s the Petition Project, where more than 30,000 scientists bucked the “consensus” on climate change. And there’s Al Gore--Captain Planet himself--who stands to profit big time from the climate change laws and regulations he champions. He refers to this conflict of interest as capitalism, which he defends for himself but condemns for everyone else.

Hopefully, Climategate is the torpedo that sinks this nonsensical ship once and for all. But it’s only the latest in a long line of insults to common sense that drives environmental skepticism.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Doing “nothing” can be the best medicine

Question the wisdom or motives behind congressional legislation and you’ll get the predictable response: read the bill. Alright, let’s try to read Sen. Harry Reid’s healthcare bill, beginning with its 14-page Table of Contents.

There are nine separate Titles containing another 51 Subtitles and 23 additional Parts and Subparts. Underneath those various Parts, Subparts and Subtitles are 365 Sections and Subsections, one for each day in a year. The bill itself is 2074-pages long with each page containing 24 or 25 lines each, a total of nearly 51,000 lines. I won’t even guess at a word count.

Each line, Subtitle, Part, Subpart, Section and Subsection refers to others ad nauseam. In some instances, they reference separate articles of federal law, which must be just as confusing and unreadable as Reid’s healthcare “reform” proposal. Now, in order for us to believe we’re being properly represented we must accept that our Senators have read and understand this bill in its entirety. Sure, and you can see the Pacific Ocean from Lawrence, Kansas.

I’ll make no pretense about understanding this monstrosity. Furthermore, I don’t believe the four Senators whose names appear on the legislation understand it either. Further still, I think it was written that way on purpose.

First, Senators and Representatives need not understand their legislation; they will exempt themselves from it. Second, a bill understandable to them might also be understandable to us. And that isn’t how Washington operates. They prefer ambiguity and legalese that no one short of a Philadelphia lawyer can follow.

Even so, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) explained her vote to begin debate on this behemoth thusly, “It is clear to me that doing nothing is not an option.”

In fairness to Ms. Landrieu her procedural vote doesn’t mean she will support the legislation, and at least I can comprehend what she means. But I have to call her on the “doing nothing” part. Doing nothing can be the better alternative in a host of situations. Let’s examine a couple.

Let’s suppose you awaken in the middle of the night and notice an odd glow outside your window. Your neighbor’s garage is on fire. You call the fire department and, being a conscientious neighbor, out the door you go. The neighbor’s garden hose is close by, but the water isn’t working. Then you notice a gasoline container beside the shed in your neighbor’s back yard. Is it better for you to do nothing? Or, is it better for you to toss the gasoline on the fire?

Let’s try another one.

Black Friday just passed, so let’s assume you were out shopping. The aisles are packed with scrambling shoppers and howling kids. But one kid in particular gets your attention. This little boy just will not behave. He wants an X-box and will stop at nothing to get it.

His mother tries to assuage the situation with the typical “maybe Santa will bring it” line. But if that’s ever worked on a kid it’s news to me. His tantrum continues. Is it better for the mother to give the boy his way and instill in him the idea that his behavior is acceptable and profitable? Or, is it better for her to do nothing, thus letting the boy know that being a brat won’t serve his goal?

Am I exaggerating? Maybe a little. But both analogies illustrate that it can be far better to do nothing than to take actions that make bad situations worse, just for the sake of having “done something”.

Healthcare needs reform, just like the garage needs a fire department and the child needs a spanking. What healthcare doesn’t need is a “do something” fix that adds another layer of bureaucracy to an already bloated system. In regard to Reid’s bill, doing nothing is just what the doctor ordered.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Like any brothel, the Senate has its price

An old joke begins with a rich man in a limousine passing a pretty woman standing on the sidewalk. He tells the chauffeur to stop beside the woman and he lets his window down.

“As you can see,” he says to the woman, “I’m a wealthy man. Would you have sex with me for a million dollars?”

It’s a tempting offer. One million dollars; she’d be set for life. The woman considers the rich man’s proposal, smiles at him and agrees that she would indeed be willing to fulfill her end of the bargain. The man smiles back and asks if she would have sex with him for a hundred dollars. The woman’s smiling face transforms into an indignant frown.

“What kind of woman do you think I am?” she asks.

“We’ve established the kind of woman you are,” the rich man replies. “Now we’re haggling over the price.”

The rich man will have to come up with far more than a million dollars to buy Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA). I’m not saying that Sen. Landrieu would sell herself like the woman in the joke. But she will sell her vote, a vote for a bill with which she has issues, for a barrel of pork spending. In fact, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid proposed at least $100 million of your money to buy Landrieu, and she’s not the least bit ashamed.

“I’m not going to be defensive,” Landrieu crowed to the Washington Post. “And it’s not a $100 million fix. It’s a $300 million dollar fix.”

No matter the price, it’s obvious that the fix is in. Thus there is little difference between Landrieu and the woman on the sidewalk. The woman in the joke was willing to compromise her morality when the price was right. Landrieu has misgivings about allowing the federal government to commandeer healthcare. Yet she is willing to compromise those principles for money. She has sold herself just as surely as any streetwalker.

I’m not the first person to make this comparison. Therefore, I won’t be the first to be tarred and feathered for the analogy. However, no one has refuted the charge to a worthwhile degree. Let’s go to the dictionary.

The usual definition for prostitute involves granting sexual favors in return for money. But a prostitute can also be someone who misuses or compromises their talent, ability, or position for financial gain. Isn’t that what Sen. Landrieu has done? She offered her ability, in this case a vote to move forward on the Senate’s healthcare “reform” plan, in exchange for federal funds earmarked for her state.

At least if she were walking the streets Harry Reid would have to use his own money to acquire her services. But since she’s a senator whose vote Reid needs, he can use our money to have his way with her. Just as in the joke, we have established the type of woman Mary Landrieu is; we are simply haggling over her price. And she drives a much harder bargain than our sidewalk lady.

Landrieu defenders will argue that this is just business as usual. It’s how politics works, Washington in its purest form. I don’t doubt that’s true. More is the pity. The nation’s future is being shaped by people who willingly sell their principles and their constituents to the highest bidder. Such people have no place representing a free and thinking population.

However, can we truly blame Sen. Landrieu for selling her vote to Harry Reid? Not really. Which do you think will sell better to her constituents come reelection time? Will she win favor for having stood on principle and voted her conscience? Or, will Louisianans more readily reward her for bringing home $300 million in pork? Sadly, I think the later.