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Archive for March, 2008

In Germany, they first came for the communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Catholic.
Then they came for me — and by that time there was nobody left to speak up.

Martin Niemoller

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In an interesting experiment, two Times correspondents drove from London to Geneva. One of the cars was a Toyota Prius hybrid while the other was a BMW 520D.

The results?

The Prius averaged 40 mpg (48.1 miles per imperial gallon) over the whole journey while the BMW achieved 41.9 mpg (50.3 miles per imperial gallon).

Admittedly, the test wasn’t completely fair. Prius’ strong point is city mileage and the vast majority of the journey was along a fast highway where they drove at 78 miles an hour with a strong headwind. Besides, the BMW ran on diesel which always gives better mileage than petrol (but also emits more CO2). Still, I think it was an interesting experiment and showed that at least some of the claims about the Prius are overstated. 

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This is rather old news but I got to know if it only today. Elizabeth Whelan writes in National Review –

Earlier this year in New York City, a public-heath regulation went into effect that set a new and very troublesome precedent, one that insinuates government agencies into personal medical matters.
In mid-January, the city began legally requiring laboratories that do medical testing to report to the Health Department the results of blood-sugar tests for city residents with diabetes — along with the names, ages, and contact information on those patients.
City officials are not only analyzing these data to assess patterns and changes in diabetes prevalence in the city, but are planning “interventions.” Simply put, diabetics will soon receive letters and phone calls from city officials offering advice and counsel on how to effectively deal with their medical condition. If you wish to keep your medical data confidential, you cannot.

And this may just be the beginning. As the writer notes, the next stage of intervention “may be a harshly punitive one, with fines and other restrictions on those who fail to heed the health warnings. The message will be: Live a healthy life or the government will punish you.”

This is one of those occasions when my words can simply not convey the outrage I presently feel, so I will not say anything more.

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Quite literally.

Amnesty International cited a case on March 7, when three members of the Morgan Tsvangirai-led faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were ordered by intelligence officers to take down election posters.

According to Amnesty, the officials forced the opposition supporters to chew the posters and swallow them.

For those living in democracies like the US or India, such repression of free speech is unimaginable. Indeed, it may be tempting, in the light of such news, to view the daily complaints we libertarians make about infringements of freedom in the United States as somewhat flimsy. To me, however, this serves as a reminder about how important and precious our freedoms are, and the need to fight constantly to prevent them from getting eroded. As I’ve noted previously, once a certain level of freedom becomes unacceptable, the bar is lowered and the next act of censorship is not only easier but also more extreme. News such as those coming from Zimbabwe or China should not make us complacent but instead remind us of the importance of our vigil.

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Two tracking polls, opposite trends.

Hillary vs Obama : Gallup, Rasmussen.

Look at the period March 15 – March 24.

What to make of it? 

Update: Mark Blumenthal points out that at least a large part of this variation can be attributed to statistical ‘noise’.

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“The essence of mathematics lies in its freedom.”

George Cantor.

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Ron Paul was perhaps the most interesting candidate from either party. A libertarian, his positions on the economy, the war in Iraq and the role of the government were refreshingly different from everyone else’s. He advocates a minimal government, abolition of most subsidies, immediate withdrawal from the war, repeal of the Patriot Act and legalization of victimless crimes like drug possession and prostitution, all positions that I strongly support. However, some of his other propositions were baffling. His prescriptions relating to monetary control (he would abolish the Federal reserve and return to the Gold Standard) and foreign policy (he wants the US to withdraw from international organizations and treaties) were isolationist and potentially disastrous. On the important issues of immigration (where he takes a highly nativist stance) and abortion, I was disturbed by his stands, which are a complete anti-thesis of the libertarian philosophy. However, despite these major differences, Ron Paul probably came closer to representing my political and personal ideology than any other presidential contender.

Yet, I never really went crazy over his candidature. Of course, I supported him, but it was a qualified support, not an enthusiastic embrace. Part of it had to do with the policy differences quoted above but the rest had to do with the man. I didn’t think he was the right man for the job. He was simply not presidential enough. He seemed more an angry uncle than a statesman who could convince a country of the value of individual freedom. Besides, some of his supporters and associates were obvious bigots and I wasn’t sure how these associations would play out in the long run. To put it bluntly,  I was afraid that his candidature may do the cause of libertarianism more harm than good. I was also disturbed by his strange practice of voting ‘no’ to bills that improved upon the present scenario, but didn’t quite realise his ideals of perfection. That struck me as revealing a certain unreasonable aspect of his personality that was quite incompatible with the demands of the job he was aspiring for. Still, I was willing to overlook these deficiencies … till that fateful day when the newsletter scandal broke in the New Republic. That was the day when he lost the support of most of the sane world.

But this post is not really about Ronald Ernest Paul and his failed presidential bid. It is about his campaign and his support — the effect they had and the truths they revealed. That, to me, was the most uplifting aspect of the entire episode and Ron Paul’s greatest gift to us.

The Ron Paul campaign, while it lasted, wasn’t just a movement, it was a revolution. From Montana to Texas, California to Maine, his supporters were a passionate, galvanised bunch, overwhelming the message boards with their opinions, marching on streets in support of their leader, waving signs that screamed “Ron Paul cured my apathy.” With a few exceptions, they were all young, internet-savvy, and deeply committed to the cause of libertarianism. Occasionally they were loud and boorish – many a blogger has been inundated with hate-mail from passionate Paulites for daring to criticize Paul. But without a doubt, most of them were sincere to the core. This was a grassroots campiagn if there ever was one. Paul’s level of support in the opinion polls never crossed 10% of the general population but it was impossible to realise that by scouring the internet. Unlike the major candidates, Paul had little backing from the mainstream media or big businesses, yet his legions of small supporters raised incredible amounts of money, including $6 million on a single december sunday, an all-time American record.

And that brings me to my point. What could have electrified these young people, ‘cured their apathy’ in their own words? Paul, while intelligent and sincere, wasn’t the most charismatic candidate nor the best speaker around. In fact, as I’ve noted, some of his policy offerings didn’t even make sense. If he could galvanise all these young people who had never before cared about politics, they must have been attracted to the message, not the messager. And Ron Paul’s central message was liberty. Fiscal discipline. Non-encroachment into others’ lives or money without their consent. Live and let live.

In other words, libertarianism is not just alive and well, but in fact strikes a deep chord with those of the facebook generation. It is just waiting to be tapped into by a serious, inspirational candidate with a real chance of winning. That is perhaps the best news that we will learn out of election 2008.

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