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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

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Suicide of the West

Alex Renton at the Guardian has recently written an article that gets right to the bottom line for many global-warming activists: civilization is bad and the only way to save the planet is to implement a drastic cull of the world's human population.

Renton writes:
It is certainly true that "fewer people equals a greener planet" is simplistic. In 2050, 95% of the extra population will be poor and the poorer you are, the less carbon you emit. By today's standards, a cull of Australians or Americans would be at least 60 times as productive as one of Bangladeshis.


Under normal circumstances, it takes perhaps a generation for the birth rate to drop with increasing wealth, whereas carbon emissions go up very quickly. As people get richer, they buy cars, use air conditioning, consume more calories and start to swap their vegetables for meat.

So the richer a country gets, the more pressing the need for it to curb its population. The only nation to have taken steps to do this is China – and the way it went about enforcing the notorious one child policy is one of the reasons the rest of us are so horrified by the notion of state intervention. Yet China now has 300-400 million fewer people. It was certainly the most successful governmental attempt to preserve the world's resources so far.


After all, based on current emissions and life expectancy, one less British child would permit some 30 women in sub-Saharan Africa to have a baby and still leave the planet a cleaner place.

If you have faith in the rich world's ability to achieve those 80% cuts in emissions in a mere 40 years, you need not concern yourself too much about population. But if you are sceptical, you should be worried. A lot.

Some scientists, the German chancellor's adviser, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber among them, say that if the cuts are not achieved, we will end up with a planet with a "carrying capacity" of just 1bn humans. If so, we need to start cutting back population now with methods that offer a humane choice – before it happens the hard way.

That sounds promising. After all, there are lots of great historical precedents where governments have decided to "cut back the population" for the greater good. Pol Pot & the Khmer Rouge tried it in Cambodia - what could possibly go wrong? As Ann Althouse points out, "Oh, great. Thanks for the warning about cutting back 'population' the hard way. Germany."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Justice minister supports violating civil liberties

Sometimes its tough to be a libertarian in the Conservative Party of Canada - it often seems that they like to out-Liberal the Liberals in concocting schemes to increase the government's intrusion into the lives of citizens.

Case in point: Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has re-iterated his support for giving police the power to administer random breathalyzer tests to motorists:
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson says he wants to give police the power to conduct random roadside tests to catch impaired drivers, but he intends to consult with his provincial counterparts before he puts forward a proposed new law in Parliament.

Random breath testing, if adopted, would replace Canada's 40-year-old legislation on impaired driving, which dictates police can only administer Breathalyzer testing if they have a reasonable suspicion of drunk driving.


Justice officials have been weighing the pros and cons of random testing for more than two years.

The debate centres around whether the initiative, which has proven internationally to be the most effective deterrent that exists to curtail drunk driving, would be a justifiable violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure.

"The government shares the committee's concern that there has been an increase in deaths caused by impaired drivers in recent years and its determination to strengthen the Criminal Code provisions dealing with this crime that kills and injures thousands of Canadians every year," Mr. Nicholson said in his one-page response to Ed Fast, justice committee chairman.

I've blogged about this before, but here it goes again: a government has crossed a line when it empowers the police to search citizens without just cause for suspecting that a crime has occured. One of the bedrock principles of justice in western democracies is the assumption that citizens are presumed innocent until proven guilty. This new policy would stand that fundamental principal on its head; police will assume every motorist is impaired unless proven otherwise.

And before liberal bloggers jump all over this, it should be noted that this proposal has all-party support - there isn't one party of the four in Parliament that would not support this change.

This potential violation of our civil rights is being justified on the basis that it will save lives, since "progress in nabbing drunk drivers has stalled in the past decade". Well, that's the price we're going to have to pay to live in a free society. Minister Nicholson should be embarrassed.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Miscegenation & gay marriage

I have a question for everyone who went ballistic when Saskatchewan marriage commissioner Orville Nichols was fined by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission for refusing to marry a gay couple: are you going to go to the mat to defend Louisiana Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell's decision to refuse to marry a mixed-race couple?

There are some striking parallels between the two cases. Both gentlemen are civil servants tasked with performing marriages and issuing licenses to legally married couples. In both cases, the officials involved refused to marry the couples because of personal beliefs even though the law in both jurisdictions does not prohibit the couples in question from marrying.

In the case of Mr. Nichols, the couple involved were gay men:
Orville Nichols was approached by a gay man who wanted to get married in 2005 . At first, Nichols congratulated the man, identified in court documents only as "M.J."

When M.J. told Nichols his partner was another man, Nichols told M.J. he wouldn't do the ceremony because gay marriage is against his religious beliefs.

M.J. filed a human rights complaint, which was heard in 2007.

A tribunal set up by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission ruled that Nichols did not have the right to refuse service based on his personal beliefs, and ordered him to pay M.J. $2,500 in compensation.

Mr. Bardwell, on the other hand, refused to marry a white woman and a black man:
Keith Bardwell, a white justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish in the southeastern part of the state, refused to issue a marriage license earlier this month to Beth Humphrey, who is white, and Terence McKay, who is black. His refusal has prompted calls for an investigation or resignation from civil and constitutional rights groups and the state's Legislative Black Caucus.

Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal said in a statement a nine-member commission that reviews lawyers and judges in the state should investigate.

"Disciplinary action should be taken immediately -- including the revoking of his license," Jindal said.

Bardwell did not return calls left on his answering machine Friday.

Bardwell has said he always asks if a couple is interracial and, if they are, refers them to another justice of the peace. Bardwell said no one had complained in the past and he doesn't marry the couples because he's worried about their children's futures.

I know one case involves religious belief and the other a personal prejudice, but defenders of "traditional marriage" can't have it both ways. After all, anti-miscegenation laws have been traditional for centuries in most countries, including the United States and Canada. Legal marriage for mixed-race couples is a relatively recent development; state laws prohibiting mixed-race marriage were only ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in 1967 in the Loving v Virginia case.

Keith Bardwell sincerely believes that he is doing what's best by preventing poor innocent children from being born to mixed-race couples. So, to those bloggers and commentators who were outraged by the persecution of Orville Nichols: I expect a flurry of support for Bardwell as he goes through his ordeal. After all, government shouldn't be in the business of telling people how to think, right?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ever feel like you're living in a Fellini film?

Leave it to the Germans to come up with this invention: designer Stefan Ulrich has created "a conceptual shape-changing object to relieve loneliness, using artificial muscle technology."

Ulrich forsees a time when "people will turn to robots for the illusion of a living presence to satisfy their emotional needs."

Ulrich's invention, the "Funktionide", is "an amorph object whose intention is to provide the owner with an atmosphere of presence thus counteracting the feeling of loneliness. In the visions future people are lonely and with all the new dimensions products offer, humans will eventually turn to “robots” for emotional satisfaction."

Okaaaay ........

Here's a video of the Funktionide in action:

Funktionide Part II from eltopo on Vimeo.


Monday, October 05, 2009

Your papers, please

It's politically difficult to disagree with Mothers Against Drunk Driving - one is perceived as being in favour of drunk driving, or against motherhood, or something. That said, I'm going out on a limb here - MADD has gone too far.

Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson spoke recently at MADD's annual convention and publicly supported a measure that MADD has been advocating for some time - random police breathalizer tests.
The House of Commons justice committee recommended in June that Canada follow in the footsteps of several other countries that have adopted random breath testing. Mr. Nicholson must publicly respond to the all-party report by Oct. 19.

The debate centres around whether random testing, while it has proven internationally to be the most effective deterrent that exists to curtail drunk driving, would be a justifiable violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure.

MADD says that action is needed because progress in nabbing drunk drivers has stalled in the past decade, largely because the remaining culprits are a hardcore group that was never persuaded to drive sober.

Also, research shows that even when impaired drivers are stopped at sobriety checkpoints, most go undetected so they are never tested, MADD says.

Police are even more likely to miss experienced drinkers, because they exhibit fewer signs of intoxication.

The justice committee, in its recent report, concluded the "current methods of enforcing the law lead police officers to apprehend only a small percentage of impaired drivers, even at roadside traffic stops."

Western democratic societies walk a fine line between personal liberty and public safety, never more so than since the 9-11 attacks. Relinquishing some personal freedom has always been necessary to ensure security, and a healthy political debate goes on continually about how much liberty must be surrendered and how much threat to security must be tolerated.The powers of the police as agents of the state are front and centre in that debate.

The underlying assumption, though, must be that police do not act arbitrarily and infringe on the liberties of citizens for no apparent reason. Centuries of jurisprudence have enshrined the principle that citizens are innocent until proven guilty, and police require just cause before depriving a citizen of his liberty. This fundamental concept is at risk if we allow police to arbitrarily stop us to look for potential violations.

RIDE checks are one thing, but random breath tests are another. At a RIDE check, police must suspect that a driver is impaired before administering a breath check. Nicholson's proposed changes will give police the power to randomly select drivers for breath tests. It may seem like nitpicking, but there is a big distinction. In the first instance, police have evidence of a crime being committed before taking action; in the second, the decision to take action is totally at the discretion of the police.

Where does this kind of thinking end? One could make the same "if it saves one life, it's worth it" argument for random searches of private homes looking for marijuana grow-ops, or arbitrary pat-downs of pedestrians on sidewalks looking for concealed weapons. The extreme result is a society where citizens are constantly monitored and police stop law-abiding citizens at checkpoints asking for "your papers, please". I don't trust the police to have my best interests at heart in these encounters.

Although I'm not advocating that I have an absolute right to drive drunk (since that action violates the right of other citizens to travel safely on the roads), society's fight against drunk driving must lean towards the persuasive, not the coercive. Certainly, throw the book at a person caught driving while impaired, and give police full powers to stop drivers who they suspect have been drinking. Nevertheless, we must operate on the assumption that most citizens are law-abiding unless proven otherwise - random breath tests assume the exact opposite.

MADD concludes their policy paper on this issue with this statement:
While random breath testing will be challenged under the Charter, this should not deter Parliament from introducing a measure that has dramatically reduced alcohol-related crash deaths around the world and can do the same in Canada.

There is a reason we have our fundamental rights and freedoms written in the Charter. Section 7 states:
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

Section 8 says:
Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.

Section 9 says:
Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.

We have our rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution precisely to prevent agents of the state from deciding which rights are deemed worthy of having. We give up those rights at our peril, even for a seemingly righteous cause like the fight against impaired driving.

UPDATE: The National Post agrees - No to random breathalyzer tests:
Government is the servant of the people, not the other way around. That means that no matter how noble are the public policy ends advocated by politicians -- such as reducing drunk-driving fatalities -- it is dangerous for citizens to surrender one of their few protections against arbitrary police action.

Lock up drunk drivers longer. Give the provinces more money to enforce existing laws. But don't, Mr. Nicholson, presume all drivers are guilty until they can prove themselves innocent just because that is easier than honouring our traditional liberties.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Would a little vaseline have helped Chicago's Olympic bid?

Here's a hilarious mis-translation of Danish professor Hans Bonde's analysis of President Obama's performance at the IOC meeting in Copenhagen:
“Here come the more favor Obama just before the deadline and made showoff. He clearly won the battle in the media, but it turned out indeed to be indifferent. IOC members did not feel important, and they were indeed reduced to spectators and not players. So if he had come, he would have had time for a personal lubricant.”

Good advice.