A Tale of Two Cities (in Santa Cruz, California, USA)

There is a Veterans Hall right in downtown Santa Cruz. It’s called “Veterans Memorial,”  says so on its facade. It’s next door to the US Post Office and across the street from a marble monument to those children of the county who participated in World War One or in World War Two.

Every Wednesday morning, a group of older men and a couple of women, wearing Veteran badges and holding up a Veteran flag as well as a US flag meet near the monument to sing songs. They don’t sing especially patriotic songs but rather goodies and oldies. This morning, they gave a beautiful rendition of “Lily Marlene.” One old guy volunteered that he was sorry no one there knew the words in German. (For those of you who get your culture from Twitters: “Lily Marlene” was a rare thing, a tube sung by both sides in the European theater during the second world war.) Mostly, usually, they sing “Home on the Range’” and the like.

Another old guy told me that the group is not allowed to meet inside the Veterans building when the weather is inclement without paying the county a fee. Veterans’ Memorial is not freely available to veterans. It’s a small group; they don’t seem prosperous. Perhaps the fee is the method used by the county to keep the homeless out. It’s true that the group of singers looks a little scruffy. Some are old men who don’t live with a woman. Some are down and out homeless. Some are veterans who are homeless.

The decidedly left-wing municipal council of the City of Santa Cruz uses all kinds of artifices to contain and corral the homeless population. It wouldn’t be surprising if the county did something similar. I don’t know that it does. It sounds credible though. I will look into it.

I am not saying there is no problem with the homeless concerning more than those who are homeless. I have spoken about it before. The methods used to deal with them just make me deeply uneasy from a constitutional standpoint. The latent hypocrisy also gets to me. More later.

Two days ago, there was a little ceremony in front of O’Neil’s  flagship store, also in downtown Santa Cruz, a block away. Yes, I mean that O’Neil, that genius of entrepreneurship, that hero of capitalism. (For those who read me from overseas: O’Neil is the brand of surfboards then, of beach apparel, you see on every beach in the world. There is actually a Mr O’Neil.) The ceremony was a  celebration of PACT. (“People for something or other.”)

PACT was celebrating  its first-year anniversary and changing its name to honor a former DA. There were representatives from the DA’s office, from the city police, a couple of social workers, others from various city departments, or county departments, almost all public employees taking paid time off work. I would venture that 90% of those who stopped there for more than one minute were on the public payroll or spouses of such. They were celebrating themselves.

PACT targets “nuisance crimes.” That’s mostly behavior of the homeless population. In its first year, a press release announced, PACT reduced “nuisance crimes” as follows:

“The program focused on 70 repeat offenders during its first year and results show a 70% decrease in arrests and citation recidivism rates. During that period, ambulance runs for those 70 DAP-focused offenders decreased 80%.”

I live downtown, in one of the areas targeted, I think. I did not notice any reduction in nuisances. How come I am not surprised that a new government program announces striking successes? The press release concludes that:

“The Santa Cruz City Council and County Board of Supervisors will be considering the expansion of PACT in their upcoming budget hearings in May and June.” (Bolding mine.)

So, I don’t want to sound persnickety and I am all for initiatives, trying new things where old methods don’t work. What I saw and read on that occasion though is not good enough. I need two more things.

First, I want to be told squarely that the methods used do not violate anyone’s constitutional rights. Even laws that have been on the book forever make me nervous. Anti-loitering laws for one. (Is any man in a conservative coat and tie ever accused of loitering when he is just waiting in the street for his friend?)

Second, to judge a publicly funded program, I always want more info than is provided here. I have no reason to doubt the PACT figures  (“70% reduction in…”) – however cherry-picked they may be. They are only performance measurements however. I want cost-benefit, input-output measurements. If a city program resulted in 100% reduction in litter on my street, I would be only guardedly happy. If I found out that my share of the real cost of this achievement was $10,000 annually, I am certain I would want to  find out about the cost of a 90% reduction in litter, and so on.

And, by the way, I want the real cost, all included, including pension funding going forward. Sometimes just asking that a bureaucracy calculate the costs of its actions and make them public is enough to alter its course. Sometimes, just demanding that it calculate those costs is enough.

Good government is largely about choosing. I want the  elements of choice to be divulged to me as a citizen and as a taxpayer. It’s not too much to ask, I think.

PS  Yes, I know, the city council was elected according to fair and clean elections. That’s not enough for me. I want it to do as little as possible on its own.

Dear Greeks:

I hear you can’t pay your debts again. I am a little sorry but you brought it on yourselves. A few reminders.

Your country is a democracy. The way you got into this pickle is through the stupid, self-indulgent policies of those you elected. You did it again in your last election by bringing to power a bragging leftist party in the old Stalinist mold. What did you think they would do: Frighten the European Union, The International Monetary Fund (Number one stockholder the US), Germany, the world, into submission, into erasing your debt? Think!

The reason Germany is your principal creditor is that one of your previous governments begged Germany for help and it agreed to help. The Germans did not cram loan after loan down your throat; you asked. The big sillies thought you would be honorable and pay up as agreed. Do you care about your future reputation, your honor, your children’s future ability to walk in the world with their heads up? Here is a basic rule of politeness which is also a moral rule: When somebody gives you a hand, you don’t bite it viciously.

There are several reasons your government can’t pay its debts. One reason is that your political class is corrupt trough and through. Another is that you are reluctant to pay taxes the way normal people do in the European Union. Too many Greeks want to work and pretend-work for the government instead of doing real work. And your government still owns stuff no government anywhere should ever own because governments always make a mess of running them, resorts, among others.

Another reason why your government can’t pay its bills is that your country is genuinely poor for a European country. There too, you have a lot of explaining to do. For one thing, you have been living above your means for a long time, pretending you were more or less like Danes, or Germans. Well, the truth is that you are not, not even close; Danes and Germans are very productive; you are not. So, you should not have ever expected to work short weeks and to take long summer vacations, like Danes and Germans. Such privileges do not come automatically with membership in the Union, you know. You should look over the border on the despised neighbors, the Turks, instead. They don’t pretend to themselves that they are already rich; they go to work early and they close their shops late. Many of them work six days a weeks. Over the past ten years, the growth rates of their economy has left yours in the dust. Coincidence?

And you only make yourself even more scorned with your treatment of others. The real horrors that Nazi Germany inflicted on Greece more than 70 years ago are not much of an excuse anymore. A previous government of yours, an elected government, accepted reparations a long time ago. And, by the way, in 1945, Germany was much more devastated than Greece, and still in 1948. See where the Germans are now, and where you are? Any comment?

And do you ever wonder why the Estonians, in the stultifying Soviet prison for fitly years, never ask for new loans to pay back older loans? And how long anyway did you expect German workers to work until age 69 so your public servants could continue to retire at 63? Are you out of your minds?

One last thing: You are not exactly Classical Greece. Stop wrapping yourselves in Aristotle’s toga. Really study Socrates. He chose to die than cheat even a little. Neither he nor Aristotle was a whiner. That’s why they are still remembered and honored.

In the end, I wish you well. Everyone can unlearn bad habits and learn basic rationality, even late in life. I hope you soon leave that club where you don’t belong. I hope further that you can make your way back. Begin by getting up at 6 every morning. Also, learn the obvious: socialism does not work well for rich countries; it’s miserable for poor countries.

Some Quick Facts About Nepal

Dr J suggested I post some thoughts on the recent, devastating earthquake in Nepal, but I don’t know if I have much to add. Over at Policy of Truth, one of Dr Khawaja’s friends was in Nepal when the quake happened and there are some photos that his friend was able to take. And a development economist has some good advice on giving to Nepal.

Instead, I’ll just break down some interesting tidbits about the country. I can’t do any better than Wikipedia (minus most of the links):

Nepal […] is a landlocked country located in South Asia. With an area of 147,181 square kilometres (56,827 sq mi) and a population of approximately 27 million, Nepal is the world’s 93rd largest country by land mass and the 41st most populous country. It is located in the Himalayas and bordered to the north by the People’s Republic of China, and to the south, east, and west by the Republic of India. Nepal is separated from Bangladesh by the narrow Indian Siliguri Corridor and from Bhutan by the Indian state of Sikkim. Kathmandu is the nation’s capital and largest metropolis.

The mountainous north of Nepal has eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains, including the highest point on Earth, Mount Everest, called Sagarmāthā (सगरमाथा) in the Nepali language. More than 240 peaks over 20,000 ft (6,096 m) above sea level are located in Nepal. The southern Terai region is fertile and humid.

Hinduism is practiced by about 81.3% of Nepalis, the highest percentage of any country. Buddhism is linked historically with Nepal and is practiced by 9% of its people, followed by Islam at 4.4%, Kiratism 3.1%, Christianity 1.4%, and animism 0.4%. A large portion of the population, especially in the hill region, may identify themselves as both Hindu and Buddhist, which can be attributed to the syncretic nature of both faiths in Nepal.

A monarchy throughout most of its history, Nepal was ruled by the Shah dynasty of kings from 1768—when Prithvi Narayan Shah unified its many small kingdoms —until 2008. A decade-long Civil War involving the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), followed by weeks of mass protests by all major political parties, led to the 12-point agreement of 22 November 2005. The ensuing elections for the 1st Nepalese Constituent Assembly on 28 May 2008 overwhelmingly favored the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a federal multiparty representative democratic republic. Despite continuing political challenges, this framework remains in place, with the 2nd Nepalese Constituent Assembly elected in 2013 in an effort to create a new constitution.

Nepal is a developing country with a low income economy, ranking 145th of 187 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI) in 2014. It continues to struggle with high levels of hunger and poverty. Despite these challenges, the country has been making steady progress, with the government making a commitment to graduate the nation from least developed country status by 2022.

Nepal’s GDP (PPP) per capita stands at about Intl$ 2,300 according to the World Bank, which is lower than Bangladesh and on par with Senegal (in west Africa), and Tanzania and South Sudan (both in east Africa). GDP (PPP) per capita is, of course, my favorite unit of measurement for comparing the health and wealth of societies.

I couldn’t find much information on ethnic groups, but the number of religions practiced, plus the number of languages spoken by significant portions of the population and coupled with the decade-long civil war between Maoists and monarchists, is enough to suggest – to me – that the country has no tradition of liberalism whatsoever, and will thus likely remain in poverty for a long, long time – despite the fact that a federal state has recently been implemented from the bottom up.

Ideas matter, though at the same time, the question of federalism versus liberalism seems a lot like the question about the chicken or the egg. If a Maoist insurgency and a reactionary monarchy can give way to a liberal federation in the middle of the Indian-Chinese border I’ll disavow learning altogether and take up the cloth in liberalism’s name!

I am hoping Dr Ranjan – a South Asian specialist – can jump in and provide us with some insight as well, but spring is a busy time for scholars.

Le émeutes de Baltimore en blanc et noir

A Baltimore, un homme de vingt-cinq ans interpellé par la police en sort la colonne vertébrale brisée. Il en meure après quelques jours. L’interpellation elle-même était probablement illégale. (Aux Etats-Unis, la police doit avoir de bonnes raisons pour interpeller un citoyen vaquant à ses affaires. Il y a tout un code qui doit être respecté.)

Les résultats de l’enquête interne ne sont pas publiés dans les délais rapides que désire l’opinion publique. Des émeutes éclatent plusieurs soirs de suite, avec pillages et incendies volontaires.

La presse française ne rate pas une occasion de dire des conneries, parce que ses journalistes sont paresseux, et incultes, parce que, souvent, ils ne connaissent même pas l’Anglais. La victime est noire, les policiers interpellateurs sont blancs (ou pas d’ailleurs, on ne le sait toujours pas). Donc, pas de problème, c’est le même film qu’avant, le même depuis trente ans ou plus. Les policiers blancs, racistes bien sur, ont froidement assassiné un jeune noir innocent. Justice ne sera pas faite car “l’Establishment ” est blanc et également raciste, bien sur.

Dans ce cas-ci, la moitié des policiers de Baltimore sont noirs, le directeur de la police municipale est noir. La maire – à qui il aura appartenue d’appeller la garde nationale à la rescousse – est noire, plus de la moitiée de son conseil municipal est noire. La procureur d’état (de l’état du Maryland) chargée de l’affaire est noire. (Il s’agit de l’autorité chargée d’inculper ou pas.) La ministre fédérale de la Justice – qui n ‘a d’ailleurs pas prise directement sur ces évenements locaux – est noire, comme son prédecesseur , d’ailleurs. J’allais presque oublié, le Président des Etats Unis, qui ne perd pas une occasion non plus de réciter des insanités, est aussi noir.

Voici une généralisation valide pour remplacer les clichés usés de la presse française: Partout ou se passe des évènements lamentables, comme celui qu a couté la vie au jeune homme de Baltimore, on trouve un pouvoir installé appartenant fermement au parti Démocrate, le parti du président Obama. Baltimore est au mains des Démocrates depuis quarante ans sauf pour un interlude de quatre (4) ans.

Around the Web: Notewriters Edition

Woah, it’s been a slow week here at NOL. I can’t speak for anybody else, but I’ve been busy. Michelangelo and Edwin have both recently had their work published by the Cato Institute, and that’s cool.

I wish, of course, that my fellow Notewriters would toot their own horns a little more often, especially on the blog, but rest assured loyal readers, we’re staying busy.

New issue of Reason Papers is out

“A Journal of Interdisciplinary Normative Studies.” Check it out (pdf). Yours truly makes an appearance at the end of the journal, if you’re interested (I critique the student libertarian movement using an informal ethnographic method).

Here is the rest of the line-up:

Symposium: Christine Vitrano’s The Nature and Value of Happiness

Human Happiness and Virtue: Are They Related and, If So, How? —John Kleinig

Happiness, Pleasure, and Satisfaction —Christopher Rice

Response to My Critics —Christine Vitrano

Symposium: Emergencies

Consent-Based Permission to Kill People and Break Their Things —Stephen Kershnar

Catastrophic Events versus Infectious Disease Outbreak: Distinct Challenges for Emergency Planning —Thomas May et al.

Discussion Notes

Happiness or Life, or Both: Reply to Ole Martin Moen —David Kelley

Reply to Danny Frederick’s “Review Essay: Mark D. Friedman’s Nozick’s Libertarian Project: An Elaboration and Defense” —Mark D. Friedman

Reply to Mark Friedman —Danny Frederick

Articles

Fetuses Are Like Rapists: A Judith-Jarvis-Thomson-Inspired Argument on Abortion —Stephen Kershnar

The Scope of Attorney Confidentiality —Clifton Perry

Portraits of Egoism in Classic Cinema II: Negative Portrayals —Gary James Jason

Don’t Be an Ass: Rational Choice and Its Limits —Marc Champagne

Review Essay

Review Essay: Philip Booth’s . . . and the Pursuit of Happiness: Wellbeing and the Role of Government —Gary James Jason

Book Reviews

Robert Audi’s Moral Perception —Danny Frederick

Paul Blackledge’s Marxism and Ethics —Dan Swain

Gerhard Böwering et al.’s The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought —Adam Walker

Afterwords

The Symbolic Clash of Whiplash —Robert Begley

In Search of Student Radicalism: YAL, SFL, and the GOP —Brandon Christensen

Be sure to check out the easy-to-navigate archives, too. Browsing through these issues is well-worth your time. Here (pdf), for example, is an issue with an excellent symposium on Sari Nusseibeh’s What Is a Palestinian State Worth?

Dissent and the Media

A few weeks ago a college student came to my door, asking me to support his dream to go to college by buying a six-month subscription to a local newspaper, the Contra Costa Times. I don’t read physical newspapers much anymore, so I demurred. But this kid was a natural-born salesman. “Your neighbor has already subscribed, but gave me the $25 for the subscription anyway. I can just give you a free subscription instead of pocketing the money.” Okay, kid, I’ll do that for you.

The papers have been coming to my door ever since, and I still barely read them. Today I decided to open one up along with my morning coffee, and I turned to something I never would have expected in a mid-level newspaper. Take a look at the title of this op-ed, by Stanford researcher Thomas Sowell: “Scientists who might dissent face a new inquisition.”

A new inquisition? I am intrigued! Let’s read further:

“…attempts to shut down people whose free speech interferes with other people’s political agendas go on, with remarkably little notice, much less outrage.

The Internal Revenue Service’s targeting the tax-exempt status of conservative groups is just one of these attempts to fight political battles by shutting up the opposition, rather than answering them.

Another insidious attempt to silence voices that dissent from current politically correct crusades is targeting scientists who do not agree with the “global warming” scenario.”

Would you look at that? Two hate facts in one paragraph, in the Bay Area no less! The third paragraph in that quote is the topic of this piece, and the professor marshals some pretty disturbing information to bolster his accusation:

The head of the National Academy of Sciences has chimed in, saying: “Scientists must disclose their sources of financial support to continue to enjoy societal trust and the respect of fellow scientists.”

This is too clever by half. It sounds as if this government bureaucrat is trying to help the dissenting scientists enjoy trust and respect — as if these scientists cannot decide for themselves whether they consider such a practice necessary or desirable.
The best part is when he turns the rhetoric back on the leftists themselves:

The idea that you can tell whether a scientist — or anybody else — is “objective” by who is financing that scientist’s research is nonsense. There is money available on many sides of many issues, so no matter what the researcher concludes, there will usually be somebody to financially support those conclusions.

Some of us are old enough to remember when this kind of game was played by Southern segregationist politicians trying to hamstring civil rights organizations like the NAACP by pressuring them to reveal who was contributing money to them. Such revelations would of course then subject NAACP supporters to all sorts of retaliations, and dry up contributions.

The emphasis is mine, of course. Modern news media is like a vampire: it attacks in the night and sucks its victims dry, but it can’t stand the light. Professor Sowell totally nails the modern machinations of leftist media, which attacks all dissent from the party’s narrative, usually through a variety of public shaming strategies: concerted campaigns on the spammier side of media, like Gawker; followed by a requisite Five Minutes Hate on social media; ending with public apologies and then ostracization of the sinner. Everyone who has seen how much media works now knows how this goes. That the media itself is now commenting on it, sanctioning it in the pages of their own publications, is new. It’s a welcome sign.

Read the rest of Sowell’s piece here.