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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Rudy Giuliani - finally a libertarian Republican for President?

This seems almost too good to be true. Even though the US election is still 20 months away, Rudy Giuliani has taken a commanding lead in the polls over his fellow Republican candidates, and even over Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. Giuliani seems to be quite a libertarian candidate - socially liberal but fiscally conservative. He has made statements in the past supporting gay rights and abortion, while advocating low taxes, personal responsibility and freedom of choice in issues like school vouchers. Consider this from a speech to Stanford University's Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank:
Mayor Giuliani is calling on the Republican Party to redefine itself as "the party of freedom," focusing on lower taxes, school choice, and a health care system rooted in free market principles. Delivering a policy-driven overview of his presidential platform yesterday, Mr. Giuliani outlined the agenda in a Washington speech before a conservative think tank that sought to make clear distinctions between his vision and that of the Democrats, if not his rivals for the Republican nomination in 2008. The former New York mayor's proposed redefinition of the Republican platform would signal a shift away from any focus on social issues, on which Mr. Giuliani is much less ideologically aligned with the party.
Conventional wisdom has it that Giuliani's liberal stance on social issues will alienate the Republican Party's "conservative base". These concerns may be overblown - consider these results from an ABC News/Washington Post poll released today. Among those polled leaning Republican, Giuliani beat his main rival John McCain decisively in the following categories: most inspiring (65% vs 21%), strongest leader (63% vs 26%), most electable (55% vs 34%), and "closest to you on the issues" (44% vs 29%). Furthermore, among all voters polled (both Republican and Democrat), Giuliani is rated favourably by 64 % and unfavourably by 28%. By contrast, Hillary Clinton is rated favourably by 49% of all voters polled, and unfavourably by 48%. This seems to suggest that Giuliani has more appeal to centrist Democrats than Clinton has to centrist Republicans, so the so-called "conservative base" may not be as big a factor as it is made out to be in Republican circles. Let's hope so!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The sorry state of baby names

The local weekly paper in my community publishes the names and photos of all babies born in the area in the previous year. Each year I glance over the list of names and cringe - this country is doomed to have a generation of adults with really embarassing names. Here are some samples, taken from a cohort of 95 newborns:

Names with bad spelling:
Mitchall, Mayson, Jaxon, Troi, Johnathan, Allayna, Micheal

Boys' names that sound like soap-opera characters:
Tanner, Chase, Colton, Grayson, Braydon, Austin, Lane, Bowen, Ryker, Ryder, Riley, Trent

Girls' names that sound like soap-opera characters:
Ashlee, Jadyn (or variants Jaydan, Jaden), Scarlett, Aislynn, Morgan, Allayna, Hayden, Kaydin, Haillie

First names which used to be surnames:
Regan, Ryker, Mackenna, Cooper, Hunter

Bizarre girls' names:
Liberty, Zoah, Etney, Autumn, Charley

Names of kids destined to be CEOs and cabinet ministers:
James, Adam, Emmett, Emily, Claudia, Graham, Rachel, Rebecca, Olivia, Thomas, David, Jacob

So, prospective parents: the future is in your hands. Name your kids responsibly.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

"Radicals for Capitalism"

The Wall Street Journal has a review of a new book - "Radicals for Capitalism" by Brian Doherty. Here's a sample:

With "Radicals for Capitalism," Brian Doherty finally gives libertarianism its due. He tracks the movement's progress over the past century by focusing on five of its key leaders--Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard and Milton Friedman. The emphasis is on their ideas, but Mr. Doherty also takes into account their personal struggles--not least their feuds with other thinkers and their relation to an intellectual establishment that for most of their lives thought they were either crazy or irrelevant or both.

Libertarian ideas have enjoyed a surge of respect lately, helped by the collapse of Soviet central planning, the success of lower tax rates and the appeals of various figures in popular culture (e.g., Drew Carey, John Stossel and Clint Eastwood) who want government out of both their bedroom and wallet. Even so, libertarianism is often not the people's choice. Part of the problem is the inertia of the status quo. "In a world where government has its hand in almost everything," Mr. Doherty writes, "it requires a certain leap of imagination to see how things might work if it didn't." Many people couldn't make that leap when, for example, economists proposed channeling some Social Security payroll taxes into private accounts.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Homosexuality and the Anglican Church

The Episcopal (Anglican) Church in the United States is on the verge of a schism. Socially conservative parishes who are opposed to, among other things, church recognition of gay relationships and ordination of female clergy, are threatening to break away from the American Anglican Church. Six parishes in Virginia, including the one that George Washington worshipped in, have already severed ties and affiliated themselves with the more "traditional" Anglican Church of Nigeria. Before socially conservative Canadian Anglicans contemplate following their Virginia co-religionists, it's worth looking at what is going on in Nigeria.

365 Gay reports that the National Assembly of Nigeria is debating a bill that would ban gay marriage and criminalize virtually all forms of gay expression in Nigeria. Gay sex is already punishable by imprisonment in the Christian south and by death in the Muslim north, but the bill goes further:

"Any person who is involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a term of five years imprisonment.''
So what is the Anglican Church of Nigeria's position on this bill? The Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, under whose leadership the break-away American parishes have placed themselves, had this to say:
The Church commends the law-makers for their prompt reaction to outlaw same-sex relationships in Nigeria and calls for the bill to be passed since the idea expressed in the bill is the moral position of Nigerians regarding human sexuality.
OK - religious qualms about gay marriage are one thing, but this is ridiculous. North American Anglicans should be outraged and embarrassed.

(h/t:Average Gay Joe )

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Has the Greenland ice sheet stopped melting?

John Tierney of the New York Times has reported on a study that indicates that the rate of melting of the Greenland ice sheet has slowed down considerably, and in fact reversed in some locations. The lead author of the study, Ian Howat of the University of Washington, reports:
It was big news when the rate of melting suddenly doubled in 2004 as ice sheets began moving more quickly into the sea. That inspired predictions of the imminent demise of Greenland’s ice — and a catastrophic rise in sea level. But a paper published online this afternoon by Science reports that two of the largest glaciers have suddenly slowed, bringing the rate of melting last year down to near the previous rate. At one glacier, Kangerdlugssuaq, “average thinning over the glacier during the summer of 2006 declined to near zero, with some apparent thickening in areas on the main trunk.”
Howat also writes that the recent melting of the Greenland glaciers is consistent with historical patterns, and is unlikely to cause a catastrophic rise in sea levels:
Greenland was about as warm or warmer in the 1930’s and 40’s, and many of the glaciers were smaller than they are now. This was a period of rapid glacier shrinkage world-wide, followed by at least partial re-expansion during a colder period from the 1950’s to the 1980’s. Of course, we don’t know very much about how the glacier dynamics changed then because we didn’t have satellites to observe it. However, it does suggest that large variations in ice sheet dynamics can occur from natural climate variability. The problem arises in the possibility that, due to anthropogenic warming, warm phases will become longer and more severe, so that each time the glaciers go through a period of retreat like this, they won’t fully grow back and they will retreat farther the next time.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Marriage & procreation

This should be interesting. Supporters of gay marriage in the state of Washington are yanking the chains of opponents who argue that gay couples should not marry because they can't have children. They are collecting signatures on a petition to support a state-wide ballot initiative which will require married couples to have children:
The measure would require couples to prove they can have children to get a marriage license. Couples who do not have children within three years could have their marriages annulled. All other marriages would be defined as "unrecognized," making those couples ineligible for marriage benefits.

The petition is a publicity stunt, of course, but it does point out the logical flaws in this particular anti-gay-marriage argument.

(h/t: Instapundit)

Friday, February 02, 2007

Gay marriage & adoption - some libertarian thoughts

Two recent events have predictably agitated social conservatives. In Britain, the Catholic Church (with backing from British Anglicans and Muslims) has asked for, and been denied, an exemption to the Equality Act which will prevent Catholic adoption agencies from denying services to gay couples. Here at home, a Christian marriage commissioner in Saskatchewan has been called before a human rights tribunal for refusing to marry a gay couple. I understand the outrage from social conservatives, but the controversy is overblown in my opinion.

First, the British case. In January, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor issued an ultimatum to Prime Minister Blair. He said that placing children with same-sex couples was against the teaching of the Church, and that Catholic adoption agencies would be closed unless they were exempted from the Equality Act, which outlaws discrimination against homosexuals by businesses and organizations in the public provision of goods, facilities and services. The Anglican Archbishops of Canterbury and York supported the Catholic position, even though Anglican adoption agencies already provide services to gay couples. British Muslim clerics have recently issued statements of support for the Catholic policy. Blair initially seemed to favour a legislative exemption, but faced with opposition from civil libertarians and members of his own Labour Party, he was forced to back down. The British government's position now is that no organization will be exempt from the law. Supporters of the church see an unconscionable infringement on their own freedom of religion.

The paramount concern in this case should be the best interests of the children involved. No one disputes that children raised by two parents do better than those raised by single parents or by no parents, and yes, ideally every child should have a male and a female parent and role model. However, there is no credible scientific evidence to suggest that the sexual orientation of the parents has any adverse effect on the children they raise. And anyway, in the case of many of the adopted children at issue here, the alternative to being placed with a gay couple is not to be placed at all. Are people seriously saying that it would be better for a child to be raised by the state in foster care than to be placed with a loving gay couple in a stable home?

There is, however, a financial issue at stake. The Catholic Church in Britain receives public money to run its adoption agencies, both in the form of subsidies and in the tax breaks it receives as a charitable organization. Organizations that receive public money must obey the law - we can't have a system that provides funds from the public purse to groups that will not obey the law. If, however, the Church was a completely private organization receiving no public money, a case could be made for an exemption: no one would be discriminated against in the provision of a public service in such a case. I doubt, however, that the Church will voluntarily give up this funding to maintain its principles - it would rather shut down its adoption agencies completely.

In the case of Orville Nichols, the Saskatchewan marriage commissioner who refused to marry a gay couple, the same principle applies. Mr. Nichols is not a clergyman, and he is not performing private religious ceremonies. He is technically a government official who is providing a public service. If the law of the land says that gay couples have the right to marry (which they do in Canada), then no public official has the right to deny that service based on his private religious beliefs. If he cannot in good conscience marry gay couples, he should resign his commission. Citizens cannot pick and choose which laws they will obey and which they would ignore, even if they disagree with them. We would not accept, for example, a Muslim male government employee who refused to provide services to female customers, because that is illegal in Canada. Why make an exception in this case? With all due respect to Mr. Nichols & his beliefs, no one is trying to change the way he thinks or the religious principles he supports - he is free to worship the religion of his choice, and his church should be allowed to privately marry whomever it chooses. Public services must be available to everyone without discrimination - end of story.

One last thing - please keep the comments civil.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Machiavellian advice for President Bush & Prime Minister Harper

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469 - 1527), in his famous work The Prince, advised his patron Lorenzo de Medici, Duke of Urbino on the qualities of a successful ruler. The label Machiavellian is now used as an adjective to describe a ruler or politician who is without scruples and who believes the end justifies the means. Machiavelli has been unfairly labelled as amoral; I think he was just a realist who saw the world as it really was. It is enlightening to read a political treatise written over 500 years ago and realize how little politics has changed - human nature is the same, only technology is different.

Machiavelli wrote in chapter XVII: On cruelty and mercy and whether it is better to be loved than to be feared or the contrary. I think President Bush and Prime Minister Harper should heed this advice while trying to deal with the mess in Iraq and Afghanistan and the carping from malcontents at home:

From this arises an argument: whether it is better to be loved than to be feared, or the contrary. I reply that one should like to be both one and the other; but since it is difficult to join them together, it is much safer to be feared than to be loved when one of the two must be lacking. For one can generally say this about men: that they are ungrateful, fickle, simulators and deceivers, avoiders of danger, greedy for gain; and while you work for their good they are completely yours, offering you their blood, their property, their lives, and their sons, as I said earlier, when danger is far away; but when it comes nearer to you they turn away. And that prince who bases his power entirely on their words, finding himself stripped of other preparations, comes to ruin; for friendships that are aquired by a price and not by greatness and nobility of character are purchased but are not owned, and at the proper moment they cannot be spent. And men are less hesitant about harming someone who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared because love is held together by a chain of obligations which, since men are a sorry lot, is broken on every occasion in which their own self-interest is concerned; but fear is held together by a dread of punishment which will never abandon you....

When the prince is with his armies and has under his command a multitude of troops, then it is absolutely necessary that he not worry about being considered cruel; for without that reputation he will never keep an army united or prepared for combat.