Monday, December 31, 2007


One of the things I was particularly struck by while traveling in South Africa a few weeks ago was the contrast between it and its neighbor Zimbabwe. OK, I admit that it's hard not to see the contrast. And I admit that observing that Zimbabwe is an unmitigated tragedy (or that it didn't have to be) makes "stating the obvious" a rather startling demonstration of understatement. And I think the blame for all of Zimbabwe's many problems rests squarely upon Mugabe.

It's interesting that even in South Africa people I met shake their heads when speaking of Zimbabwe and Mugabe. I think they see what could have happened in their country. I think that Rhodesia (I'm using that name deliberately) and South Africa represent a rarity in political systems: a controlled experiment. Here were two countries with very similar initial conditions - white rule, strong self-reliant/self-sustaining economies (at least by African standards), and the potential for great wealth. Yet they had dramatically different outcomes for what can only be attributed to political strategies. South Africa sought reconciliation; Zimbabwe, retribution.

I can understand the desire for wealth redistribution, and how that can lead to a desire for land transfer. (I don't believe that forced redistribution is in fact morally justifiable; I am just saying that I can see why people might believe it to be so.) But sadly, people often confuse what is morally justifiable with what actually will achieve the desired ends. In the case of Zimbabwe, while chasing the goal of wealth redistribution (putting aside the fact that it was far more about cronyism than righting past wrongs), they ended up merely performing wealth destruction. Giving a productive farm to people who have no experience farming simply results in an un-productive farm; the moral arguments behind the action simply are not relevant.

If only Mugabe's motives were pure then perhaps he could be forgiven for the tactical missteps, but he has only compounded the tragedy because he has not demonstrated that he has the people's interests at heart.

He is quite simply and evil man, and he has singlehandedly destroyed a jewel of a country.

Friday, December 28, 2007

A quick rant about smokers in cars

Want to lose money quickly? Next time you are driving behind a car with a driver that is smoking, bet your passenger that the ashes from cigarette as it burns, and the resulting butt, will stay in the car. You'll lose every time.

It's still a (mostly) free country (despite the best attempts of the security-obsessed among our "leaders", but that's another rant), so I'm not advocating a ban on smoking while driving or other various stupid activities in which you wish to behave that don't directly impact my safety.

But I would ask my fellow citizens who choose to smoke and drive the following questions:
  1. I notice that you inevitably have the window down to let the smoke out, even on rainy or cold days. If you can't stand the smoke in your car, isn't that a clue that you should quit?
  2. Why do you think that the world is your ashtray? You have one in your car, why can't you use it?
  3. You're generally a law-abiding citizen. Why do you think it's OK to toss your butt out the window? At best, it's littering, but it's not unusual for forest fires to start this way either.

Friday, December 21, 2007

No irony here

The EPA denied California's request for a waiver that would allow it (and several other states, including Washington, which follow California's lead) to set its own emissions standards. This despite the EPAs own lawyers advising that if California sued, it would likely win.

President Bush defended the EPA saying that this is a matter of federal jurisdiction, while governors such as Washington's Gregoire (a Democrat) made a state's rights argument in favor of California's waiver application.

So we have a staunchly conservative president asserting federal rights and a bunch of Democratic (and centrist Republican) governors asserting state's rights. Did I miss something or hasn't it always been a conservative hallmark to favor state's rights and a liberal hallmark to favor strong federal power?

TSA: I can't say I'm surprised.

There's a news report out today about a study that says that there is no evidence that the TSA's screening procedures actually provide any additional security. My favorite quote from this is the fact that the TSA defended itself by citing the number of prohibited items that they've confiscated - completely ignoring the question of whether or not prohibiting the item enhances safety.

My biggest complaint with the TSA isn't the annoyance of it all (although I do complain about that.) My biggest complaint is that the illusion of providing security can be more dangerous than no security, and can distract resources from providing actual security, and I think that the airport security process provides nothing more than that illusion of security.

Not surprisingly, the public is not a big fan of the TSA.