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Archive for March, 2009

Blogger’s fatigue?

29  last month. Just 14 posts in 24 March days. Really?

And for much of last year I used to average 50 posts a month…

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Or at least I could be, if this report by the Missouri Information Analysis Center (a government agency that researches terrorism) is to be taken seriously.

If you’re an anti-abortion activist, or if you display political paraphernalia supporting a third-party candidate or a certain Republican member of Congress, if you possess subversive literature, you very well might be a member of a domestic paramilitary group.

[…] People who supported former third-party presidential candidates like Texas Rep. Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin and former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr are cited in the report, in addition to anti-abortion activists and conspiracy theorists who believe the United States, Mexico and Canada will someday form a North American Union.

“Militia members most commonly associate with 3rd party political groups,” the report reads. “It is not uncommon for militia members to display Constitutional Party, Campaign for Liberty or Libertarian material.

After all I believe in freedom, possess plenty of ‘subversive’ books, have a Reason sticker on my car bumper, donate to several libertarian activist groups and would have voted for Bob Barr in the last election if I had been eligible to vote.

As long as they keep their fat asses in Missouri, I suppose I shouldn’t be bothered.

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I found this on the internet while searching for related stuff. It was written ten years ago by someone called Brian Wilson.

This is the important year. The beginning of the end. “The Shift” is happening.

[…] “The Shift” is what I call the mass hysteria, the mass group thinking that takes over suddenly, when 95 percent of the population suddenly and ferociously agrees on something that they never cared deeply about before. And what comes next is legislation to force the last 5 percent to bend to their will. To the population caught up in “The Shift”, this sudden new conviction is as strong as religion, and anyone in the last 5 percent who even SUGGESTS a calm debate or alternative is treated like a heretic who should be burned at the stake. If you are getting angry or self righteous at this rant because you suspect where it is going, then you have fallen prey to the mass thinking already.

[…] Now, you might be part of the 1 percent of the population that is like me. If that is the case, I apologize for lumping you in with the rest of the mindless masses. I seem to be immune to “The Shift” in most cases. This isn’t a blessing: I’m continually lamenting the loss of yet another freedom to “The Shift”. Those caught up in the various crusades (anti-smoking, pro-seat belts, pro-motorcycle helmets, etc) joyously give away their freedoms, and seem happy to do it.

This year we are still early enough in “The Shift” that some helmet wearers had some very thoughtful insights. One 50 year old couple who were wearing helmets suggested that the highly publicized deaths of Sonny Bono and Kennedy last year, both by colliding with trees, contributed to the large rise in helmet use. But we are far enough along in “The Shift” that the truly mindless were coming out of the woodwork also. I rode up a lift in Winter Park Colorado with a woman and her 4 year daughter. The daughter was wearing a helmet, and the woman was not. The woman actually told me that she wished the government would pass a skier helmet law, so that she would be forced to wear a helmet just like she forced her daughter to wear one.

For a moment I lost the will to live, and I almost jumped off the lift.

I cannot STAND people who have this kind of attitude. It is not the government’s job to force us to be “safer children”. It is not the government’s job to decide what is an acceptable risk for us personally, and what is not. If you want to wear a helmet while skiing, please do! It is a very good idea. I might choose to wear one also, depending on the conditions and where I plan to ski that day. But you and I need to accept the decision of the informed skier who chooses to feel the wind in their hair, and take the well known risk of going sans-helmet.

That applies today, it will apply tomorrow, and it will apply 50 years from now. Don’t succumb to “The Shift”, in which you suddenly change your opinion at the same time as the rest of the population does, and you hold your new opinion with religious fervor.

I realize this rant is hopeless; I am tilting at windmills. I predict that within 5 years there will be a skier helmet law for anyone under 18. Within 10 years, there will be a skier helmet law for everyone. And 20 years from now, on a ski slope, on a perfect day with a blue sky and perfect snow, I will irritate my friends by playing the heretic. While wearing my government mandated ski helmet, I will wish out loud that just for one run I could feel the wind in my hair.

Do read the whole thing.

Brian’s prediction hasn’t yet come to pass. No  country yet has a universal ski-helmet rule that covers everyone. However many places already mandate  helmets for children and it seems likely that some Canadian provinces will soon pass a a law forcing all skiers to wear helmets. And maybe it will then be California, or some European country, and pretty soon the rest of the world will follow. Or maybe not.

But his thoughts about “The shift” are true, not just in the paternalistic context but about anything really. And if you are thinking that shifts are merely rational reactions to updated human knowledge, I’d prefer you mull over it some more.

***

And now a more personal note. I don’t know what Brian thinks today of his rant from ten years ago. He probably believes his rant made no difference to anyone’s lives. And to an extent he is right. No law has been influenced by his opinion and most people don’t care about freedom anyway. But if he ever reads this, I’d like him to know that it did make a small difference to someone’s life about fifteen minutes ago. His rant made me happy. It made me smile, even if that smile were tempered by sadness and a tinge of hopelessness.

For to believe in individual liberty is to see your strongest moral convictions treated like dirt by ninety-five percent of the population. It is a bit like living in some country in the past where everyone else possesses slaves. When you believe something to be utterly wrong it does not help if the overwhelming majority thinks it is good.

Why did his post make me happy?

I am not happy to be part of a minority that rails against the stupid majority. Such happiness is an enemy of rational thinking. On the contrary, I’d like most other people to think similarly on this core moral issue– my dream world is one where liberty is taken for granted by everyone so that it is not even an issue; where there is no need for me to blog about it or do random internet searches.

His post made me happy because, quite simply, it gave me some kind of support. In a small way, it told me I am not alone. I can not justify this happiness except to say I am human. So thanks Brian, and all those other advocates for liberty who I have read but never met.

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Ski helmet poll

This poll depresses me. The state by state breakdown is revealing though. New Hampshire, Colorado, Montana and Oregon are red as I expected, though I am a bit surprised to see California that blue.

Anyway, motorcycle riders have resisted mandatory helmet laws in more than twenty American states despite overwhelming public support for such laws. So perhaps there is still hope.

And besides, this news indicates that Swiss skiers almost unanimously believe helmets and such should not be compulsory. Heh.

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I have written enough in the past about Canada’s (usually successful) attempts to muzzle free speech and monitor thought crimes and enforce some kind of bizarre right to not get your feelings hurt.

But this latest proposed law takes policing your head to an entirely different level. I understand that the proposal has been spurred by Natasha Richardson’s tragic death, but that’s what makes it all the more scary; that so many people’s natural reaction to a tragedy is to clamor for more government regulation.

Considering the fact that ski helmets are fairly useless at speeds higher than 20 mph (an impact leads to a fatal collision of the brain with the inside of the skull, something no helmet can prevent), I wonder if they will next make a rule that declares Newton’s laws of motion illegal.

(Also read: On motorcycle helmet laws and freedom)

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Funny true story

I’ve heard several good stories at the math workshop I am attending currently but this one takes the cake.

Famous old mathematician asks a certain female international grad student in his depaterment how she likes it there.

FIGS: Oh it’s great. Except for the cocks.

FOM: Cocks?

FIGS: Yes cocks! There are too many cocks in my bedroom.

FOM is too flabbergasted to say anything.

It turned out that FIGS meant “cockroach”. Apparently she had been under the impression any English word could be abbreviated by taking its first few alphabets.

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In London (my British friend informs me) it is illegal to ride a bicycle without wearing a helmet. I find that amusing because Londoners can jaywalk legally; so it is the precise opposite of California, where helmets are not mandatory for adult cyclists but jaywalking is illegal. Actually I think that both jaywalking  and riding without a helmet should be legal, but at least (careless) jaywalkers (sometimes) disturb cars by coming in their way and can potentially even cause other people to have accidents. A cyclist without a helmet, on the other hand, is endangering no one but himself; the probability that a cyclist ends up disrupting traffic by some stupid maneuver is not really decreased by forcing him to wear a helmet. So I am not terribly bothered by jaywalking regulations while a helmet mandate would drive me crazy. I don’t think my friend even got the argument; he was clearly arguing from the point of view of relative safety, not individual liberty.

I suppose we cannot escape the nanny-state wherever we go but some laws are more oppressive than others. To give a closely related example, American laws do mandate seatbelts while driving (unless you live in New Hampshire!) but that affects me less personally because first of all, even if you violate this rule it is virtually impossible to get caught by a cop for it and secondly, I would anyway wear a seatbelt most of the time irrespective of the law. Bicycle helmets are another matter — I do not wear them unless I am planning to ride on a busy road for an extended period of time, and more importantly a cop can see from far whether or not you are wearing one, thus making it very easy to get caught.

And you see, there is this little complication: having a paternalistic rule imposed on me offends my morals very strongly. So in short, cycling in London would either make me vulnerable to lots of fines or make me very very angry for a significant part of the day. To save my sanity, I would therefore not cycle. And I really like cycling. 

So, as I informed my friend, the London helmet rule is sufficiently disconcerting to me that I will never accept a long-term position there (of course, even without that rule, Britain is one of the most unlibertarian places in the world). Thankfully, my google searches have so far showed no evidence that I am required to wear a helmet while cycling in Switzerland. In fact I have learnt the happy news that in Denmark, Netherlands and Switzerland — which I have previously mentioned in this blog as probably the three most libertarian countries in the world from a personal issues standpoint — almost no one wears helmets while riding a bike.

It may be a small matter to most people but it’s a big deal to me: the fact that I can bike around in Zurich without going crazy makes me very happy.

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