Warning signs

While the Europeans finally seem to have this sort of thing under control, it is still all too common in African stadiums. Tragedies like this one just don’t bode well for the next World Cup:

At least 22 people were killed and 132 wounded in a crush at a football stadium during a World Cup qualifier in Ivory Coast. Fans panicked after a wall collapsed at the Houphouet-Boigny Stadium in Abidjan on Sunday, prompting a stampede. Police are said to have fired tear gas at the crowds.

I certainly hope the 2010 tournament in South Africa is without incident, but when one considers that the level of excitement is likely to be several orders of magnitude higher than it is for the qualifiers, I don’t see how one can reasonably confident that it will be.

If this is limiting bias

It would be really interesting to know what peer review would look like if editors were willing to get take sides. Because, you know, the non-scientific aspects of science are all about the objectivity:

According to the Wall Street Journal, JAMA editors threatened to ban the professor from their journal and ruin his medical school’s reputation if he didn’t stop talking to reporters.
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The editors deny that. But the flap prompted them to spell out what amounts to a gag order on anyone who alerts the medical journal about suspicions that a researcher has undisclosed industry ties. The journal editors argue that any suspicions should be kept secret until JAMA can complete its own probe.

A good science skeptic can’t keep up with the headlines these days. Journalists and fiction editors clearly aren’t the only gatekeepers being threatened by the Internet.

Five years and they’re gone

The decline of the mainstream newspapers is rapidly turning into demise:

Last year was the worst on record for the U.S. newspaper industry. Total advertising revenues (both print and online) declined 16.6 percent to $37.85 billion, according to the latest figures from the Newspaper Association of America. That is $7.5 billion less than in 2007.

The amazing thing is that the downward trend is actually accelerating.

3Q07: -7.4%
4Q07: -10.3%
1Q08: -12.85%
2Q08: -15.11%
3Q08: -18.11%
4Q08: -19.74%

Although upon further reflection, it’s not so much amazing as it is perfectly logical. What company wants to spend money advertising its products to a shrinking audience that consists primarily of old people who possess habits that are demonstrably ossified?

I should see like an eagle

Video games are good for you:

“According to a new study, people who played fighting games on their PCs became up to a 58 percent better at perceiving fine contrast differences, an important aspect of eyesight. The breakthrough is significant because it was previously thought that the ability to notice even very small changes in shades of grey against a uniform background could not be improved. Contrast sensitivity is the primary limiting factor in how well one sees. Volunteers in the study played intensively for 50 hours over nine weeks with either Unreal Tournament 2004 and Call of Duty 2, and the results were compared with another group who played The Sims 2, which is richly visual but does not require as much hand-eye coordination. The improvements lasted for months after game play stopped.

This is good to know, although it makes me wonder if but for the sake of my gaming habit I would have the eyesight of a naked mole rat. More importantly, chicks dig guys who game. Just ask Spacebunny or the Chilliette. They’ll tell you that there’s nothing a beautiful girl appreciates more than knowing that her man is in the next room, dominating the online opposition. Are you really going to argue with two hot Norwegian blondes?

I didn’t think so.

There are two problems with that report, though. Unreal and CoD aren’t fighting games, they’re FPS. Street Fighter IV, Tekken, and Mortal Kombat are examples of fighting games. And 50 hours over 9 weeks is not what any self-respecting gamer would call intensive. I once played through Heretic in 18 hours straight sans cheat codes or breaks, while Big Chilly forgot to a) get dressed, b) eat, c) notice that a dog was urinating right next to him, and d) pick up the wedding rings, because he was on a nine-hour naked Sim City binge. It would have been longer, except his fiance showed up wanting to see what the rings looked like….

Now, THAT’S intensive.

Keith Olbermann is a twit

Not that you didn’t know that already:

On Thursday, Twitter was atwitter and blogs were abuzz about Keith Olbermann’s embarrassing “Worst Person” fail, following a post by Greg Pollowitz at National Review Online highlighting the hilarity. Olbermann named Twitter his “Worst Person in the World” because he mistakenly believed he wasn’t on Twitter. He was. So I thought I’d do something that Olbermann’s entire staff consistently fails to do: research.

The first lapse in research you already know about. Keith predicated his entire segment on the notion that he had no Twitter account, therefore the account in his name was fraudulent. Of course, it wasn’t true. MSNBC ran the Twitter account in Keith’s name. But believe me, this is only the beginning of an epic fail.

Look, these Talking Heads just aren’t very intelligent. They only look halfway smart because they have a team of ten or more filling their fluffy heads with words. That’s why you’ll never see them in debates, not only can’t they speak for themselves, they can’t even think for themselves.

Interview with Daniel Hannan

Daniel Hannan’s fiery speech addressing Gordon Brown at the European Parliament electrified the Internet when it was broadcast on YouTube last week. Vox Day interviewed the iconoclastic author, journalist, and European parliamentarian about Brown, Britain, and the global economic crisis on March 26, 2009.

VD: Your speech criticizing Gordon Brown’s incompetent stewardship of the UK economy was extraordinarily well-received, not just in Britain, but around the world. Meanwhile, the leader of the opposition party, David Cameron, has been rather quiet on that front. Why has Mr. Cameron been so reluctant to say the things you said to Mr. Brown?

DH: Because in the British system, there’s this great thing about the loyal opposition. And when you get a crisis like this, that comes out of a clear blue sky, nobody wants to risk looking unpatriotic, so you have to be measured and tempered in how you respond, which is completely understandable. The result of it, unfortunately, is that a lot of people are left with saying, wait a minute, hang on, nobody is saying what I would like them to say. All the politicians seem to be in this together. A lot of people felt that a cartel of politicians and bankers were setting policy in defiance of public opinion. Those were the people I was trying to speak for.

It’s interesting to hear you say “coming out of a blue sky,” because at least in the States, there was definitely a group of contrarians, including Roubini and me, who were on record as far back as 2002 saying that the housing crash was going to affect the financial system. Did no one in England see that?

There were a few people who saw it, but not anywhere in the mainstream. Certainly none of the three big parties were warning about this except in very general terms about house prices being a bit too much and that sort of thing. Nobody was expecting a run on the banks; we haven’t had one of those since the early 19th century. Certainly no one was expecting nationalizing our banks. Even at their most socialist, the Labour Party barely dreamed of doing that.

The European Union is described as everything from a free trade union to the EUSSR. How do you, as a European Member of Parliament, see the EU today?

The EU is a racket: a mechanism for taking money from the taxpayer and handing it to Eurocrats. But you’ve got to be careful about the Soviet analogy, as you don’t want to sound hysterical on this. The EU, which God knows I’m no defender of, doesn’t take people’s passports away, doesn’t put people in gulags, doesn’t run show trials. If you want to push the Soviet parallel, I think you’re on safer grounds looking at the fag end of the Soviet era in Eastern Europe. Dissidents were not being arrested or tried, in fact, the scary thing is that they weren’t being tried. If you were thought to be a critic of the regime in the 70’s and 80’s, in Poland or Czechoslovakia, your life would be made difficult. Your children wouldn’t go to university, your driving license would mysteriously not be renewed, that kind of thing. That’s the better parallel for this reason. Up until 1968, there were lots of people in socialist Europe who still believed that it would be possible one day to move to a phased restoration of parliamentary democracy. In other words, they saw the dictatorship of the proletariat as a contingent, provisional thing. After the Prague Spring, nobody thought that anymore. It became obvious that it was just a means of keeping some people in power at the expense of everybody else.

The EU’s equivalent of the Prague Spring was the “No” votes of 2004 and 2005. Nobody believes anymore that if only the question could be fairly put, then all the people would come around to it. They’ve lost whatever ideological impetus they had, but they understand that their position in society depends upon their maintaining the status quo. Since the “No” votes across the EU, Eurocrats have given up on the idea that their system will ever win approval. That’s what makes them so tetchy.

Given the authoritarian behavior of the EU bureaucracy, why has the Tory party been so reluctant to embrace popular euroskepticism?

Like everyone in politics, I like to imagine that eventually I’ll convince everybody. We haven’t got there yet, and the reason, I suspect, is because there is a small-c conservativism in the big-C Conservative Party. It’s not that they actually believe in a European superstate. It’s that they have this Burkeian instinct to try to work with the status quo, to prefer evolution to revolution. And it’s very deep in their DNA, that. It’s what they’ve been thinking ever since they went into politics. No one would have wanted to start from where we are now. No one would have gone from first principles into this ridiculous racket where we’re run by an unelected bureaucracy that passes 84 percent of our laws. But, they don’t want to break the whole thing up. They haven’t yet gotten into the mindset that the whole thing is beyond reform and that you need to just cut loose. But I think we’ll get there in the end.

Do you think an ongoing period of economic contraction will see the British people demand to leave the European Union?

They already do! The latest opinion poll was conducted by the BBC a week ago, and showed that 55 per cent of voters want to leave the EU. It’s true that this position isn’t yet shared by any major political party, but that moment will come: politicians cannot swim forever against the current of public opinion. If you offered a Swiss or Norwegian-style free trade deal, people would go for that with a large majority.

Which do you believe will be the first nation to attempt to leave the European Union? And will they be successful?

I think it will be us. Because we have a different political system, because we, like you, have a majoritarian system rather than a party list system, which means that politicians cannot so easily disregard their voters as happens under a proportional system. It could happen really suddenly without anyone really planning for it. To go back for a moment to your Soviet parallel, everyone used to say, how is this going to end? Is there going to be some tremendous crisis, some earthquake that’s going to shake it down? You remember what it was that brought it down in 1989? It was the decision of the Hungarian government no longer to require exit visas from East Germans wanting to travel to Hungaria. And before anybody knew where they were, the Wall was down and there was democracy. It can happen very, very suddenly. My guess is that it will probably happen in Britain first and we will go for some kind of EFTA-type deal, some kind of associate membership where we’re in a free market but outside all the rest of it. And I think once we do that, once we set that precedent, a whole bunch of countries will be queuing up to copy.

One thing I have been paying attention to is the socionomics. The Elliott Wave people always said that economic contraction tends to split things up, and I’ve been paying close attention to the EU because of that.

Yeah, it may well be that the Euro will fracture. Really quite mainstream, serious people are now saying that it’s when rather than if a country leaves the single currency.

In your speech, you mentioned that one cannot spend one’s way out of a recession. This would appear to contradict the neo-Keynesian approach of Alastair Darling and the U.S. fiscal authorities. Do you subscribe to a different economic model?

Yes, certainly! We saw where the Keynesian model led! We pursued it from the 30s to the 70s. And it ended up in recession, stagnation, inflation, and debt. It’s much easier to begin a government program under the guise of counter-cyclical spending than it is to terminate it, so you end up with the state becoming more and more bloated. It’s a measure of how panicked people are, that they’ve forgotten all of the lessons of that unhappy period. We can see where it ends up. You don’t need to be an economist to understand that if you’re spending and borrowing too much, you should cut down rather than doing even more of it. Sadly, it seems every nation has to learn these lessons for itself.

Who are your intellectual influences with regards to economics? Do you go all the way back to Smith?

Absolutely, I’m a very traditional Brit like this. I’ve got two busts in my office. One is Adam Smith, the other is Thomas Jefferson.

One thing that tends to confuse Americans is that the British National Party is not very popular despite holding what appear to be populist views on immigration and the European Union. Why do they enjoy so little support compared to the three major parties?

Because they are, contrary to the way they are described in the BBC, a party of the far left. They’re in favor of nationalization, they’re in favor of protectionism, they want workers’ councils to run industry, they want a massive state program of rebuilding manufacture. Like Hayek said about the socialist roots of Nazism, they are a national socialist party and the socialist bit is very important to them. Plus, there is a line, a very important line in politics, between being anti-immigration and anti-immigrant. And they’ve crossed that line.

In a certain respect, they really are fascists, but in the Italian Fascist sense.

Yeah. I think most of these so-called “far right” parties are on the left by any normal definition. It’s a brilliant media trick in Europe to always refer to them as “the far right”. The target of that is the mainstream right. Every time you read about the BNP in the press, it’s always prefaced with “the far right BNP”, as though they were like us, but more so, which is the opposite of the case. When somebody reads that, it doesn’t make them think any worse of the BNP, it makes them think worse of the right. Which, of course, is why they do it.

The US president recently gave the Prime Minister a gift that consisted of 25 region-one DVDs that don’t work in Britain. How was this regarded there?

Badly. The guy is a complete idiot, Brown. But he’s our complete idiot, and we don’t like to see him being slapped around like this. That’s for us to do.

(Laughs) I have to admit, that sounds really funny coming from you!

In the same way, you can be ruder about your president than I would be. The thing that really stuck in my craw was afterwards, when the White House said that he was just really tired because he was dealing with this financial crisis. In November, I was in Afghanistan, in Helmand, where nobody else is touching this war, aside from us, and you, and a couple of Danes. All the others are in the safe places. And I guess the guys from Four and Five Commando and their forward operating bases are pretty tired as well. It’s not an excuse.

To say nothing of the way that answer seems to ignore that Britain is experiencing its own economic difficulties.

Yeah, although it’s definitely the case that the two of them are using each other as cover on the economy, which makes it all the weirder that Obama didn’t bother to conceal his impatience when he had the meeting with Brown.

Speaking of Obama, you’ve expressed some sympathies for President Obama on your blog in the past. What is your perception of his performance to date? How has his stewardship of the economy been any different than Gordon Brown’s?

I think his stewardship of the economy has been bad. I think the Republican Party had been pretty bad in the run-up to this. One of the reasons why I had gone off the GOP, which I’m normally very loyal to, is because I could see them losing touch with all the things that used to make them so successful. They had become the party of steel tariffs, and the party of trampling over states rights, particularly with the marriage amendment, they’d become the party of big spending and federal deficits, and in the end they became the party of bailouts and nationalizations. One of the reasons I was in favor of Obama winning – without any great enthusiasm, I might add – is that I thought the Republicans would benefit from a period out of office where they could go back and remember what used to make them successful. And so far, so good! It is striking that an immediate consequence of the Obama presidency is that a lot of Republican congressmen who voted for the first spraying-around of money under Bush unanimously voted against the second one. He’s already succeeded in uniting the GOP around a correct position.

You’re not just a journalist and author, but a politician as well. Have you given any thought to eventually running for Parliament in the UK?

No, not for the moment, anyway. I’ll tell you why. It’s not out of false modesty or anything. We have a very, very weak parliament. We have a much weaker legislature than you have, and it’s weaker than it’s ever been. A measure of how weak it is is that we didn’t even have a vote on our bailouts, on our stimulus package. It was just decreed by the executive. You know, at least you guys got to talk about it, and the politicians who have to go back to face their voters got to decide. Having fought a civil war in the UK to establish the principle that Parliament should be the only people who can raise tax, we’ve abandoned that principle and we’ve given the executive extraordinary powers to raise money as they choose. One of the beauties of your system is that you have a proper separation of powers, so a legislator can make an honourable career for himself without wanting to join the executive. As things stand, that can’t happen in the British system. I’m very keen to import the most successful elements of your system – open primaries, elected sheriffs, a local sales tax, local referendums, the direct election of public officials – and I’ve written a book about how to do it called The Plan: Twelve Months to Renew Britain.

In Britain, we are run by a massive bureaucracy, and the position of the elected person is incredibly weak and is getting weaker every day. One of the reasons we are in this financial mess is that the budgets are set by members of the executive who are personal beneficiaries of state spending, rather than by the members of the legislature who are champions of the taxpayer.

For more from Daniel Hannan, check out his Daily Telegraph blog.

Prepare for faux outrage!

Obama cracks the whip:

The Obama administration asked Rick Wagoner, the chairman and CEO of General Motors, to step down and he agreed, a White House official said. On Monday, President Obama is to unveil his plans for the auto industry, including a response to a request for additional funds by GM and Chrysler.

I expect the conservative media will be in a tizzy over this, but there’s no reason for it. The evil was in the bailout, not in the reality that once someone is into a corporation for 13 billion dollars, they’ll be calling the shots, thank you very much.

Fascism isn’t conceived when the government decides to flex its muscle in a public-private partnership, the conception takes place when the public-private relationship is consummated. I have no sympathy for Republicans whining about this, Bush teed it up and Obama is dutifully laying the wood. The only surprise is that it’s not the Lizard Queen playing executive whack-a-mole.

Dogs are property, not people

Mike Florio demonstrates what happens when mindless emotion replaces reason:

Mike Vick didn’t make a mistake. He engaged in a lifestyle for a period of years and changed that lifestyle only because he got caught. A “mistake” is adhering so literally to the commands of a navigation system that you drive your car into a lake. Vick lived a life that revolved around an abomination — raising dogs for the purposes of pitting them against each other for sport and for money, and killing the dogs that weren’t deemed fit to die while fighting other dogs.

He felt so strongly about this lifestyle that he bought a house and surrounding land at which the lifestyle unfolded.

Though some readers have suggested that the conduct of men like Leonard Little (who killed a woman while driving drunk) and Donte’ Stallworth (who might have been drunk while driving a car that killed a man) is more despicable than Vick’s behavior, we disagree. Little (and possibly Stallworth) engaged in criminally reckless actions. They didn’t intend to harm anyone. Little’s crime (and possibly Stallworth’s) was to drink to excess under circumstances that did not prevent him from exercising impaired judgment by getting behind the wheel of a 2,000-pound sculpted block of rolling steel.

Vick intentionally, deliberately, and soberly embarked on a hobby that violated multiple federal and state laws, and that was premised on the cold-blooded torture and killing of dogs. And then he lied about his conduct, to anyone who wanted to know the truth. He even tried to deceive about the killing of underperforming dogs after pleading guilty, and while strapped to a polygraph.

If it were up to us, Vick wouldn’t play for the Bears or any other NFL team. Ever.

I have never been a fan of Michael Vick. Long before news of his dog-fighting pursuit broke, I was openly critical of the idea that he was a competent quarterback, much less a superstar in the process of reinventing the position as many sportswriting experts had it. So, I’m not inclined to defend him. I am also a life-long dog enthusiast. I grew up with dogs in the house, I have had my viszla for nearly 15 years now, and one reason that Spacebunny and I hit it off right away was because we are both dog people. I don’t like to see dogs mistreated or even left alone; there is a sweet little pit bull down the street who gets left outside for long periods of time and I always make sure to give her a treat and some ear scratches when I’m walking around the neighborhood.

Nevertheless, dogs are property, not people, and how a man treats his property is his concern, not mine, so long as he isn’t doing it in a manner that will offend the neighbors or disturb the community. Vick went well out of his way to avoid disturbing anyone else, and while his treatment of unwanted dogs that would not fight is both savage and disturbing, it’s little different in the end than the fate of most dogs at the humane society or destined for the table in Asia. The reality is that dog-fighting laws exist primarily because Americans love dogs; there would be absolutely no outrage whatsoever if Vick had been running a cockroach-fighting ring. And to call dog-fighting barbaric, as some have, is deeply ironic, given that one of the greatest civilizations in the history of Man is known, among other things, for its massive gladitorial games pitting animal against animal and man against man. Clinical slaughter may be more fastidious and less offensive to the modern psyche than impromptu killing, but it is not morally distinct. Indirection is not absolution, and we do not praise the National Socialists because they killed impersonally, with bureaucratic efficiency, and folded the clothes neatly afterwards.

Regardless of how one feels about such things, emotions are neither a wise nor reasonable basis for law. You may feel that Vick is a monster in human form. You may even, for all I know, be correct. But that doesn’t make the law a good one, it merely means it is in accordance with your feelings. If one form of property is violate, then all forms of property are violate, and history shows that an absence of property rights is not a formula for societal wealth or stability.

All that being said, dog-related laws clearly exist regardless of what one might think of them, and Vick just as clearly violated them. I take no exception to his conviction or his punishment. But the legal considerations lead to another problem here. Grandstanding individuals like Florio wanted to stand on the process of the law in seeing Vick punished, which is reasonable, and abandon it now that Vick has paid an extremely substantial cost, which is not. To attempt to prevent the man from working for a living is outrageous, and I’m sure Vick’s debtors, who committed no anti-canine crimes, don’t appreciate Florio’s efforts to prevent their repayment.

The NFL should not be subject to behavioral standards outside of those upheld by the individual team owners. Florio would be outraged if the NFL Commissioner banned players known to have had premarital sex, drink alcohol, or attend church; the only difference between these hypothetical bans and the retroactive ban he is advocating is the specific moral standard applied. And his expression of the idea that purposefully killing dogs is worse than accidentally killing men and women only goes to show how substituting emotion for reason rapidly leads one into untenable positions.

Michael Vick is a thug. I would not want him to dog-sit my dogs… I wouldn’t want him quarterbacking my team, for that matter. But, if there is an NFL coach wanting to roll the dice with a strong-armed quarterback who is less accurate than a Keynesian economist analyzing the latest stimulus plan, he should be free to do so.

A little blow

Can the first White House drug scandal be far behind the news that the drug warrior Vice-President’s daughter is a cokette?

The video, which the shooter initially hoped to sell for $2 million before scaling back his price to $400,000, shows a 20-something woman with light skin and long brown hair taking a red straw from her mouth, bending over a desk, inserting the straw into her nostril and snorting lines of white powder….

The woman appears to resemble Ashley Biden, 27, a social worker for a Delaware child-welfare agency and a visible presence during her father’s campaign for the White House. The dialogue is difficult to discern, but the woman makes repeated references to the drugs, said the lawyers, who said they viewed the tape about 15 times.

“At one point she pretty much complains that the line isn’t big enough,” said the second lawyer, who declined to identify himself. “And she talks about her dad.”

Biden has been an outspoken crusader against drugs, coining the term “drug czar” in 1982 while campaigning for a more forceful “war on drugs.”

It would be nice if this proved to be the straw that broke the back of the ridiculous camel that is the War on Drugs. But, unfortunately, it’s unlikely than anything more than the usual round of tears, rehab, and Oprah appearances will occur. Still, it’s funny that after years of the media laying for the Bush twins, it took barely three months for the Obama team to generate its first family-related scandal.

There is, of course, no chance that Biden, the mighty drug warrior, is going to see his daughter locked up like all the young black men currently in prison for nothing more than possession.

The public and the police

At first glance, the news that there was a massive turnout for the funeral of the four slain Oakland police would appear to conclusively contradict my contention earlier this week that public sympathy for the police has greatly decreased over the years:

21,000 turn out to mourn slain officers
Mourners from across the country packed Oracle Arena to the rafters Friday, as the city and nation said a heavy-hearted goodbye to four Oakland police officers fatally shot in the line of duty March 21.

However, the media narrative is a little misleading, as the giant crowd apparently consisted of “at least 10,000 police officers”, including every employee of the Oakland Police Department. In other words, this appears to have been more of a massive gathering of the badge clan paying tribute to its fallen warriors rather than the huge outpouring of public support that the reporter clearly implies it to be with that reference to “the city and nation”.

Dianne Feinstein’s tribute to the four officers particularly struck me as worthy of notice. “They knew they were outnumbered, outgunned and, all too often, underappreciated.”

So, here’s my question. If the police know they are outnumbered and outgunned, then how come most of them that I’ve encountered in their professional capacity insist on behaving as if they’ve got the upper hand and you’re fortunate if they elect not to give you a hard time? (I refer to professional capacity because I have some friendly acquaintances who are police officers and I’ve never seen any of them behave like that in their private lives.) The point is, there is a direct connection between the public’s lack of appreciation for the police and the behavior of the police in dealing with the public. Also, shooting unarmed people in their homes in the middle of the night doesn’t exactly help.

The police can’t have it both ways. They can’t reasonably expect to play high-handed law enforcement master one day, and outnumbered, outgunned hero persevering against all the odds the next. Perhaps the public needs to remember that police are people too, but then, it’s hard to do that when the human side is effectively hidden behind a badge, a gun, and an attitude. And on the other hand, it wouldn’t hurt the police to remember that they don’t create a law-abiding society, but that a law-abiding society that makes their job possible.