Tuesday, October 28, 2003

I keep seeing this over and over: the assertion that the war in Iraq was all about oil. Let's get this straight right now.

Iraq is a minor player with miniscule oil reserves. In fact, all of OPEC put together does not add up to even half of the world's total oil reserves. The fact is that the province of Alberta in Canada has 1.6 trillion barrels of oil in its tar sands - out of a worldwide total reserve of 2.6 trillion barrels - in other words, more than half of the world's oil is within 600 miles of the US border. In addition, Alberta has conventional oil deposits of 62 billion barrels, about half of Saudi Arabia's total reserves. That is just Alberta, the neighbouring provinces of British Columbia and Saskatchewan also have lots of oil, and there has long been offshore drilling on the East coast as well in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Oh yeah, Alberta also supplies the USA with half of its natural gas.

So, if the US was only interested in oil, they wouldn't be going halfway around the world to get it. They could roll the tanks across the Montana border and simply take all of Alberta's oil in about a day. We couldn't stop them. (Not that Albertans would put up much resistance to that, as we are more American than Canadian. Alberta is so redneck it makes Texas look like France.) And yet, they do not.

Does this make sense to anyone? An administration supposedly so oil-hungry that they will go halfway around the world to forcibly take it... but not taking over half the world's oil supply by taking over Alberta? Get it folks? It ain't about oil at all.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Sometimes I despair for libertarians. It's bad enough that they have to contend with the ever-encroaching State into their personal lives; it is even worse that in order to bring about effective large-scale long term change, they need to band together to acomplish anything.

In the so-called "democratic" countries, the power to change the system, to repeal laws that violate liberty or to lower taxes and to generally get the hell outa my way, rests with the elected representatives. Conversely, these elected representatives also have the power to write new laws, add new taxes, and encroach upon liberty at every opportunity.

So what type of person runs for office? The people who have the desire to wield that power.

A libertarian on the other hand is concerned with his own liberty. He recognizes that forcing his will upon other people is not an option that is open to him. If he expects to live free, he cannot do it by making slaves of others. So, he does not desire to wield that kind of power over other people, and a libertarian never runs for office.

Sure, there is a Libertarian Party, with candidates and slogans and policies and so forth... but once they adopted socialist methods (ie by forming the party in the first place), they ceased to be libertarians. At that point, they became socialists, indistinguishable from the Republicans and Democrats and all the other members of the kleptocracy.

So I don't see the Libertarian party as any solution. Even if a miracle occurred and they managed to get their candidate elected as President, their candidate would necessarily be a socialist seeking the power of elected office, regardless of the name of the party to which he belonged.

Is there any hope for libertarians to change the system? Yes, but not from within the system. Don't bother trying to elect representatives - it is the difference between being bought by a master or electing the master, you still have a master and you are still a slave.

Instead, simply do not comply with the master's orders. Is a bad law encroaching on your liberty? defy it. It worked with alcohol prohibition, it is working with marijuana prohibition, it worked for Gandhi. It can work for us too.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

A few days ago NASA took a bit of a beating before the House Science Committee. Unfortunately, the panel of experts presenting to the committee did not go far enough. In one case, an expert testified that NASA should get even more money, arguing that Americans spend more money on pizza than they do NASA.

Well, blow me over. One would think that Americans believe they are getting something out of their money when they invest in pizza. A full stomach perhaps. And maybe, just maybe, if Americans were getting as much or more perceived benefit from NASA, then they would willingly invest that money themselves.

Of course, Americans do not willingly invest in NASA - they just pay their taxes, and their congressman spend that money for them on things like NASA. And boy, do they spend it. Fifteen billion dollars this year, and to finish the space station look to that number to climb to twenty billion dollars a year. That's a lot of pizza.

When a monopolistic monolith is managed and implemented by government, a number of events are certain to occur: (1) innovation ceases (there is no competition driving innovation, and in such an organization any change is anathema) (2) bad decisions become policy and remain that way (there are no self-correction mechanisms, such as a stock value).

NASA became a government entity for one reason, and it had nothing to do with space. NASA existed for the sole purpose of beating the Russians. The only reason that NASA existed as a space organization was that the contest with the Russians was to be the first to the moon. NASA effectively died when Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins returned safely to Earth. The remaining six Apollo missions were ultimately pointless. NASA has been rudderless ever since.

In the 1970s, seeking to artificially extend the gravy train, the bright lights at NASA came up with the Shuttle program. The idea was to suck as many taxpayer dollars into NASA as possible, to retain the tens of thousands of employees who otherwise would be doing productive work in the private sector.

Therefore, instead of developing one vehicle which could lift large, heavy payloads into space, and another to ferry people back and forth, NASA mated a bus with a semi trailer and added wings (because flying a spaceplane is sexy). They decided to re-use the engines on every launch, which led to enormous mantenance bills and the awkward, side-by-side configuration of the shuttle and external fuel tank. This also forced the use of Hydrogen fuel instead of kerosene, which requires the spray-on foam insulation to keep it insulated.... and we know what chunks of foam breaking off the external tank can do to the brittle carbon-carbon panels on the shuttle wings. Why does it need carbon-carbon panels? To absorb the incredible heat along the leading edge of the wing during re-entry. Why is that heat there? because the shuttle has wings. Why does it have wings? because flying a spaceplane is sexy...

So a bad decision was made in the 70's, and since there were no market forces to drive that decision into the ground, we still have the shuttles around today (grounded, but still around and the only American human-launch system). Another bad decision (and an example of stifled innovation): When the shuttles were being constructed, a decision was made to freeze the technology level. I suppose the idea was to avoid having upgrade issues. So the space shuttle fleet keeps going, each space shuttle with its five 8086 or 80286 computers, merrily chugging along. NASA needed to shop on eBay last year for 8-inch floppy disk drives for the shuttles. On all the space shuttles, there is NOT ONE compact disk connected to a computer.

Over the last thirty years, NASA's record in human spaceflight has been a flop. It is a litany of wasted assets (Skylab, the Saturn V blueprints), bad decisions perpetuated for decades, and white elephant projects (International Space Station springs to mind).

I will give credit where it is due: on the non-human spaceflight side, NASA has made considerable progress. Here, though, there is a form of competition. There are hundreds of NASA teams trying to get their bird launched, or their study done, so there is a mini-marketplace effect occurring. Some of these efforts have succeeded beyond all expectations (Pioneer, Voyager, and NEAR Shoemaker are prime examples).

So, if NASA is to continue to exist at all, it should stick the aspect of space that it does well: basic research, unmanned probes, orbital observatories, and the like. It should get out of manned spaceflight altogether.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Occasionally I feel compelled to write to editorialists about their columns, and such a situation occurred recently. Paul Jackson of the Calgary Sun was bashing the federal Liberal government (an easy target), and doing just fine, right up until he started talking about the latest efforts to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Apparently Prime Minister "Papa Jean" Chretien joked about maybe trying it himself once it was legal, over which the american Drug Czar predictably blew a gasket. Now, as stupid as antagonizing the Americans - Canada's largest trading partners - is, this is the one issue in the last ten years that the Liberals have gotten right. Well, not right, exactly, just less-wrong than before. But that's a story for another day.

There were two quotes in particular that prompted me to write. This was the first: "(The Americans) know from statistics, records and research the terrible harm and tragedies marijuana has wrought on their society. Marijuana isn't a safe drug -- repeated use causes severe psychological problems."

To which I replied:
Well sir, on this point you are off-base. No drug harms society: only the harmful actions of individual people harms society. The right to swing my fist ends at your nose; if I swing my fist and hit only myself, then I have done no harm to anyone but myself. And it is nobody's business but my own; it is certainly not the nanny-state's business.

Likewise, if I should take a drug (be it alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, caffeine, aspirin, whatever), then the only harm I cause is to myself.

Suppose for a moment that I take one of the above-mentioned drugs and cause "psychological damage" to myself. Whom have I harmed? Certainly not you nor anyone else.

If however, I should harm another person through the use of one of these drugs (say getting behind the wheel while drunk and causing an accident, or robbing someone to support some other drug addiction), then is the drug at fault? Is the drug responsible?

No. Only _I_ would be responsibile for such harmful actions. And it is for those harmful actions that I should be held liable.

The second quote: "Repeated use also leads its addicts to move on to even more dangerous drugs such as hashish, cocaine and heroin."

I replied:
What of it? Again, if I should take any of these drugs, the only harm I cause is to myself, and that is nobody's business but my own.

(Incidentally, hashish and marijuana are the same drug, tetrahydrocannabinol. Hashish is simply a more concentrated form of the drug.)

However, if I should harm another person, robbing or murdering them in my pursuit of those drugs, then I should be prosecuted for that robbery or murder.

If I should cause harm to another person in this way, then my "reasons" (excuses?) for committing the robbery or murder are irrelevant. The reasons would certainly not matter one whit to the victim of such actions.

What it boils down to is personal responsibility for one's own actions. As long as my actions harm nobody but myself, then my actions are nobody's business but my own.

By buying into the idea that a drug (rather than the person involved) is responsible for that person's actions, one abdicates personal responsibility for one's own actions. And, one excuses other's for their actions, as "the drugs made them do it".

As an example (with a much harsher drug than marijuana), let's look at Trevor Stang. Did crack cocaine bludgeon Tara McDonald to death? No, Trevor Stang did. Trevor Stang could smoke crack cocaine until he was (literally) blue in the face, and it would be nobody's business but his own. He would be harming nobody but himself. However, by killing Tara McDonald, he made it society's business.

I doubt Tara McDonald gave a damn what reasons Trevor Stang had for hitting her with a hammer. I doubt Tara's mother gives a damn what caused him to do it; his excuses are irrelevant. Only his actions counted.

Anyhow, Paul Jackson wrote me back, thanking me for reading his column and saying that I had a good point about personal responsibility, and that he was merely taking a jab at the Cretien government.

And of course I just couldn't keep my big mouth shut. So, I wrote this:


Hello Mr Jackson,

Thank you for taking time out of what must be a busy schedule to respond to my email.

I can appreciate the desire to take a swing at, and hit, the Chretien government at every opportunity. The topic is a ready source of editorial material, it directly affects the readers, and most importantly it sells newspapers and brings in advertisers.

My concern is not really about marijuana at all. My concern is the abdication of personal responsibility to the nanny-state.

This goes far beyond the issue of marijuana. I think it is the core problem which plagues this country.

Why do we have deductions for "employment insurance" from our paychecks? Because we have abdicated the responsibility to ourselves of saving for a rainy day to the federal government.

Why is the Canadian Health system in such a mess? Here, we have abdicated the responsibility to take care of our own health (and health insurance) to not one but two levels of government, federal and provincial.

How about this new trend in Canadian politics, lawmaking by the judiciary? Here, Parlaiment itself has abdicated the responsibility for writing laws, to another branch of the nanny state!

How about the scandals which have plauged each federal government (including, unfortunately, the Mulroney Tories) for the last 35 years, culminating in the current farce?

Cabinet Ministers used to be responsible for everything which occurred in their departments.

Now, with no accountability for one's own actions, anything goes: from wasting a billion dollars on a human-resources project that does not create one single private-sector job, to squandering millions of taxpayer dollars on dubious advertising contracts, to forcing one's appointees to authorize loans to the buyer of one's property.

What have been the consequences for Jane Stewart, Alfonso Gagliano, and Jean Chretien? Nothing, an ambassadorship, and nothing.

Why? Because nobody is held accountable for their own actions.

Why does the Canada Pension Plan exist? Because Canadians have abdicated the responsibility of planning for their own retirement to the Federal Government.

Why is it doomed to fail? Because it is a Ponzi scheme, which will collapse when half the baby-boomers have retired, in 2016.

The problem with this abdication of responsibility, is that there are _always_ consequences for one's own actions.

On the day the CPP goes bust, and seniors don't receive their pensions, those consequences will be dire. In the Liberal's shoes, I would want to know the personal information of every gun-owner in the country, too.

We have ignored this problem in Canada for far too long. I have only scratched the surface of the implications here.

Ed Minchau

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Got this bulk email today from Ken Gorman:

Colorado's doctors have finally exhaled and will resume the practice of medicine that was so diastrously taken from them in 1937. The medical marijuana laws enacted in this state will now find cannabis restored to it's place as the most beneficial medicinal plant known to mankind and I intend to make sure that every doctor in this state understands that there are absolutly no consequences for the reccommending of marijuana to their patients.

My group will take charge of locating every doctor sane enough to reccommend marijuana, lead patients through the entire process of obtaining state permits, and help them decide the issue of growing for themselves or having a state licensed caregiver provide their medicine. The task is huge but we expect to increase the number of patients to at least 5,000 by this time next year. We only have about 240 patients at the present time.

Gail Kelsey, state coordinator and licensor for this project, has been contacting police departments and other groups to educate them on this law since it's passage. She has enlisted my efforts to expand this program to reach every corner of Colorado and cover every wage/non wage bracket. We want to make sure the people that aren't able to pay will be able to obtain their medication at no cost. She will be refering the patients that need to be led through this process to my organization

I have a staff of less than ten with many volunteers that have offered their services over the last several years. This is a fantastic day for all of us that have thumbed our noses at the insanity of this war and our enthusiasm for entering into another charge against the corporate enemies of our planet will only diminish when the last ember of the last joint goes out.

If you want to be kept updated on this project or assist/participate please respond to this email. I will revise my web site to incorporate the progress of the project but a newsletter will only go out to those that request it.

Ken Gorman

Thursday, October 16, 2003

So, they did it. The Chinese launched a man into earth orbit. He launched, went around 14 times, reentered, and is safe and sound on the ground. Good for them.

In total, it cost 2.3 billion dollars. And now, we have yet another state-run space program competing against the private sector. My bet is on the private sector in the long run.

Monday, October 13, 2003

So, China is expected to become only the third nation to send a man into space, sometime later this week. I have mixed feelings about this.

First, it perpetrates the meme that "manned spaceflight is extraordinarily difficult and only national governments have the resources necessary to accomplish the feat". This ignores the fact that the computer you are using, right now, is far more complex than any of the Apollo missions - your home computer (if it is less than a few years old) is more than the total computing power that NASA had available in 1969. It also ignores the 46 years of spaceflight that have already occurred, with the reams of spaceflight data freely available on the Web.

However, I see any competition to the current Russian/American stranglehold on manned spaceflight as a Very Good Thing. Now, if only Scaled Composites and the other Xprize contenders get their acts together and start launching... oh happy day.