Archive for the ‘Liberty’ Category

Climate change availability cascade

April 10, 2015

Climate change availability cascade.

In recognition of 9/11

September 11, 2012

The terrorists won. Hands down. The US has pretty much destroyed its own traditions of rights, freedom and respect for the individual.

Not stupid, they: use your enemy’s strengths against him. And they did, masterfully.

Patrick Basham: regressive taxation on sugary drinks

July 24, 2012

In this op-ed published on Cato’s site, Patrick Basham writes:

A sugar tax also has undesirable social and economic consequences. This tax is economically regressive, as a disproportionate share of the tax is paid by low earners, who pay a higher proportion of their incomes in sales tax and also consume a disproportionate share of sugary snacks and drinks.

Patrick, please explain why a regressive tax is socially and economically undesirable? After all, a regressive tax is more likely to encourage a majority to vote against increased government intrusiveness.

Think about it.


Starting a new blog

May 20, 2012

Enthusiastic followers of this blog will recognize that I often interleaf travel, hiking, and photography with more serious topics, frequently critiques of material from the Cato Institute, but including any commentary that seems appropriate on the topic of civilization: the arrangement and agreements  by which we all live peacefully together — or don’t. It makes more sense to break this material into its own thread, so I have launched a new blog to capture thoughts on Civilization.


Cato — Arnold Kling: Break up the banks

May 16, 2012

In National Review online and at Cato, Arnold Kling writes about the JP Morgan fiasco and the predictable power grab now playing out in Washington. There is a great deal here with which to agree, but Kling also writes:

… writing in National Review two years ago, I proposed breaking up the big banks. J. P. Morgan’s announced loss serves to reinforce my view. …  we should seek limits on the asset size of individual banks. J. P. Morgan today is about ten times as large as any bank ought to be.

Arnold, you know better than that! The fact that government regulation and support allowed and encouraged banks to supersize themselves is merely an argument for getting the government out of the picture. It is not an argument that the government should interfere even more.

Leaving aside your common garden-variety thug, the root of all evil is the idea that some people are qualified to run other people’s lives and property, better qualified than the owners of those lives and property, and that these better-qualified people are somehow entitled to act on that belief. I would even argue that hubris is the worst of the seven deadly sins.

Where did your 10x come from? If JP Morgan shrank to 9.9x its current size, would you be happy? Or would you insist on 9x? Or maybe 5x? If you mean your proposal to be taken seriously, these silly questions become serious questions, because your bureaucracy will either have to decide according to bright-line criteria or decide on the basis of friendship and favors. (Any bets about how that would play out?)

How big is too big? Who decides? By what criteria? And having demonstrated his Delphic wisdom, how does our philosopher king derive the right to compel compliance?

Think about it.

Cato — Timothy B Lee: Inflation not a moral issue ??

April 17, 2012

At and here, Timothy B Lee asserts that inflation is not a moral issue; it is just a matter of economic expediency, the fine tuning that is necessary in a managed economy.

Timothy, please explain why the intentional transfer of wealth by government away from savers is not a moral issue. Do you mean that political power and political advantage are not moral issues?

You argue that the thrifty can and should invest in inflation-priced assets, and that the market prices the expected rate of inflation into its futures. If we accept that view, then, should we conclude that inflation is not a moral issue, but a change in the rate of inflation is a moral issue?

You argue by analogy that oil prices fluctuate and may or may not be good investments, and that the same is true of money. This begs the question — if an oil producer created reserves in the same way that governments create money, he would be prosecuted for criminal fraud, and rightly. Not a moral issue?

I suggest a more appropriate analogy: I have a responsibility to protect myself from pickpockets and muggers, but that responsibility does not mean that pickpockets and muggers are morally neutral.

Think about it.

Cato — Patrick Basham: Tax on sugary soft drinks

March 31, 2012

In an op-ed on the Cato Institute site here, Patrick Basham writes:

A sugar tax also has undesirable social and economic consequences. This tax is economically regressive, as a disproportionate share of the tax is paid by low earners, who pay a higher proportion of their incomes in sales tax and also consume a disproportionate share of sugary snacks and drinks.

Patrick, please explain why a regressive tax is socially and economically undesirable. It is paid by those who consume the product, rather than being a transfer of wealth from one group to another. Even better, a regressive tax encourages a majority to vote against increased government intrusiveness.

Think about it.

Barcelona, strike day

March 29, 2012

There is a general strike today. The hotel has dimmed the lobby lights, drawn blinds over the windows and locked the doors. There is a security guard at the door, letting (selected) people in and out. The waiter at breakfast explained that they don’t want people on the sidewalk to see employees at work inside. Thus do the strikers intimidate the large companies.

One of the local colleagues explained that the strike is about changes in the labor law that make it easier (but by no means easy) to lay off workers.

Our group ate lunch in the hotel; the food court in the shopping mall just down the street was closed due to intimidation.

I went out walking after work. All of the small companies are closed, too. Only a very few bars and restaurants are open; a smashed plate-glass window could bankrupt a self-insured small business. Thus do the strikers intimidate the small businesses.

Every security guard and cop in the city (in the country) was on duty today. Off out of the way, I saw a dozen commandos ready to intervene if things got really nasty.

I went past the smoking ruins of what looked like several bags of garbage and maybe a couch or mattress that had been lit afire. Later, I saw several other plumes of black, filthy smoke here and there. Streets blocked everywhere, emergency vehicles responding in all directions, a helicopter hovering overhead.

Thus do the strikers intimidate everyone!

Near the Arc de Triomphe was a parade, people marching one direction up the centre of the street, turning and marching back down the sides. One popular emblem is a scissors in a red circle with a red diagonal: No cuts!

The taxpayer is not at the negotiating table.

Thousands of people were out on the streets, and everything was closed. If civilization consists of producing and trading, today was the day of the barbarians: no one was going to produce anything today, and no one was going to trade (do business). Not if the strikers could prevent it.

I once went to a rally for capitalism, and it was a really strange experience. I understood then, and emphasized today, that capitalism is not something you rally about: you don’t need slogans, shouts, mobs. The slogans, shouts and mobs are for causes that could not survive on the basis of rational evaluation.

Whence my view that a mob is always wrong. No matter what they advocate, the mob is always wrong. Even in the rally for capitalism: the mob was wrong.

Well, I found two Indian restaurants, but they had been intimidated into remaining closed. Back to the hotel to eat there. As night came on, I began to see a few trams, busses, taxis, as the local world accepted the fact that whining about loot does not improve their lot.

The destruction of virtue

October 5, 2011

After hurricane Katrina, the local grocery stores had pots where you could contribute funds for the victims. On one occasion, the cashier was clearly disappointed that I didn’t contribute. I explained that then-president Bush had already committed me to pay what I estimated to be about $50,000 into Katrina relief (I being one of those who pays a highly disproportionately unfair share of the tax total). I explained that I fully recognized that my $50k would mostly be wasted and would do little or no good for real victims, but I was far over my commitment threshold on that particular charitable cause.

Under the debatable assumption that charity is a virtue, I obviously cannot claim any. My $50k was extorted, not given voluntarily. At the same time, it is the height of hypocrisy for government officials to feel virtuous when they disperse other people’s coerced funds, no matter what the circumstances of the recipient. Compassionate conservatism, indeed (fortunately a term no longer much heard). And those who piously vote for such officials and such policies ought to be ashamed of themselves.

As to the charities, of course, if private funding dries up, then they become wards of the state. There’s no virtue in begging for funds obtained under duress. Even if some of their activities are in themselves beneficial, it’s hard to argue that these charities are, on balance, doing good.

As with all forms of socialism, the socialization of virtue ultimately destroys virtue.


September 11, 2010

Cycling alone, or hiking alone, gives me time to roll things around in my head. I had previously defined a blog category called libertarianism, but that seemed too much like some kind of political party. I changed it to liberty, but that still seems too political. I have better things to write about than politics, or at least other things to write about.

While I certainly approach political issues from a libertarian viewpoint, I wanted a tag that allowed me to talk about issues wider than politics. Thinking about the blog posts I have written, or not written, it ultimately seemed that I wanted to write about civilization.

By civilization, I mean the way in which we humans live together, how we share rights and responsibilities, what we should expect and what we should object to, how we deal with one another on a voluntary basis for mutual benefit, how we deal with each other on an involuntary basis to the disadvantage of at least one party and often both. How people and organizations far exceed our expectations (think REI), and sometimes a particularly noteworthy example from the much longer list of cases where people and organizations fall far short of what may already be minimal expectations (we don’t expect much from government, but we often get even less).

Under the civilization tag, I can talk about philosphy, sociology, economics, politics, and any kind of anecdotes I come across, of exceptionally fine or exceptionally reprehensible behaviour.

That’s what I want.


The racist census

March 30, 2010

Yep, we got the US census forms the other day. And yes, I object to the racism built into the questions.

In, let’s see, 1990 maybe? I was a native American. Perfectly true: I was born in the USA. Not only that, but my parents were born in the USA, and as far back as I know (which admittedly isn’t very far), so were their parents. Native Americans, all.

I think there were a lot of native Americans in that year’s census. So our dear leaders decided that you could only be a native American if you were a declared member of some tribe. Ok, we’re not talking about race, we’re talking about political pressure groups (surprise!).

What was I in 2000? I don’t recall at the moment.

This year, one of the choices is white. Well, as best I understand the genetics, colour is not a race. Or, if white is a race, why isn’t black one of the choices for race (of course we all know why). Mostly transparent skin (which isn’t actually white) is a way of collecting enough sunlight to synthesize vitamin D in latitudes with limited sunlight.

If we’re really talking about genetics, I would have to admit to having recessive genes when it comes to complexion and hair colour. But how do I answer the question?

I was reading recently about the tracing of DNA evolution from Africa through Asia and eventually into the Americas. Since the census doesn’t accept my native American-ness based on a finite number of ancestral generations, let’s go back to the Ur-generation instead.

I, like everyone else (or at least like all other Americans) am African-American.

Palo Alto streets

February 16, 2010

Comparing Palo Alto street quality with that of the surrounding communities, we can’t help but wonder whether the paving contractors have brothers in law on the city council. Or is it just that PA is known throughout the paving industry for being willing to sign off on anything and everything when it comes to street repair?

Last summer I even phoned the city to warn them of a bicycle crash hazard where the pavement was breaking up in deep holes along Channing between Newell and Center. I thought that stretch was about as bad as any allegedly paved street could get. Needless to say, I was wrong. They have been digging it up over the past few weeks, and what pass for repairs have made it, yes, even worse than before.

Maybe some critic of the powers that be lives on Channing street?

Angry voters

February 16, 2010

We hear about voters being angry with the government, especially in Washington. Unfortunately, the way we hear the story, voters are angry that the government is doing so little.

Anger at government is completely appropriate, but only because they do far too much, certainly not because they do too little. (Now, if they had a docket full of laws and regulations to be repealed, programs to be cancelled, departments to be abolished, we could wholeheartedly wish them godspeed.)

We the people

February 16, 2010

It’s an intense competition, but somewhere well up in the running for slime award of the century has to be the politician who blathers about  serving the interests of “the American people.”

Do they really think we’re that stupid, that childish?

Are they right?

January 26, 2010

Not long ago, I noticed the name of a colleague on the list of donors to the Cato institute. I asked him whether he was indeed the same individual whose name had appeared on the list.

He was greatly offended.

I of course apologized for having thought, even for a moment, that he might have been the sort of person who believed in voluntary relationships to mutual benefit.

It takes all kinds…

Republican survey of Obama agenda

January 10, 2010

2009 12 21 — Letter from the Republican national committee, a survey on 2009 Obama agenda. Or maybe a 2009 survey on Obama’s agenda.

First, it’s highly presumptious of the RNC to assume that I am a Republican. I have never been a registered Republican, and as best I recall, I have never even voted for a Republican. (In fairness: as best I recall, I have never voted for a Democrat, either.)

Second, the survey is an excellent example of invalid arguments. Just to take one at random: “Do you believe that Barack Obama’s nominees for federal courts should be immediately and unquestionably approved for their lifetime appointments by the US Senate?”

Third, why would I believe that the Republicans are any different from the Democrats? They had their chance, and it will be a long time before some of us are prepared to believe there is the slightest difference.

Charity and government

January 10, 2010

After Hurricane Katrina, the local grocery stores asked for hurricane relief cash donations at the checkout stand. I declined to contribute because, as I explained to one checkout clerk, “I guesstimate that the US government has already committed something like $50 000 of my tax dollars to Katrina relief. That more than uses up my budget.”

There’s no question, of course, that the commitment of my tax dollars is pretty much wasted, but that doesn’t reduce the cost to me, nor increase my ability to use the money for some more useful end, even if that more useful end were related to Hurricane Katrina.

There is another point to this story. If there is virtue in helping others, then charity by way of government completely destroys that virtue. When the conservatives are compassionate with other people’s money, it is the height of hypocrisy for them to pretend to be virtuous (at least the current administration doesn’t blather about compassionate conservatism). And I can hardly claim to be virtuous when I pay the taxes about which I have no choice.

Airport security

January 7, 2010

We hear reports that air travellers are generally supportive of ever-increased levels of inconvenience. Where do you suppose the pollsters stand when they ask these questions?

Do you suppose that anyone is foolish enough to exercise his first amendment rights, or even foolish enough to express an honest opinion, anywhere near the TSA? – always assuming that he wants to get on his plane, of course.

Trying to improve bike path safety

January 3, 2010

An email exchange from summer of 2009. Surnames and email addresses deleted…

-----Original Message-----
From: Dave
Sent: Friday, June 12, 2009 5:29 PM
Subject: Website Inquiry

Comments: Now that the Moffett blvd bicycle overcrossing is nearing completion, I am concerned at what I see in the striping and fencing. It appears that those of us who come southwest on Moffett Blvd, wishing to turn onto northbound Stevens Creek trail, will have to make a 135 degree right turn into a single-wide gate to the trail. The potential for accidents is clear, particularly in the presence of children, wet weather, etc.

There is a perfectly good entrance a hundred feet further north, a 90 degree right turn onto a paved segment that joins up with the main trail. But the Moffett Blvd side is blocked by chain-link fence.

It would be good if these improvements at least did not make things worse for any of us. Please tell me you are going to keep the sensible entrance open.


From: Jack
Sent: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 9:34 AM
To: dave
Cc: Vroman, Mike; Macaraeg, Rodrigo; Fakhry, Sayed;
Kagiyama, Robert; Salvador, Angee; Wong, Wanda; Grimm, Louise
Subject: RE: Moffett blvd bicycle overcrossing


My name is Jack and I am the city’s project engineer for the Stevens Creek Trail Overcrossing at Moffett Boulevard project.  The city appreciates your interest in our project, and I will try to respond to your concerns described below.

I have attached two photos of the northbound entrance to the trail taken prior to beginning construction.  As you can see, the fence and old remaining portion of the trail have been returned to the same configuration that existed before construction of the new overcrossing. In the past, riders going southbound on Moffett previously had to make a sharp turn onto the trail, the same as now.  Except for the time of the trail detour during construction, this trail entrance has not changed. The reason for the fence narrowing at the entrance is to help prevent users of the trail from inadvertently riding out into traffic.  There is a similar fence configuration on the southbound entrance to the trail at Moffett as well.

I agree with you that the paved vehicle entrance to the north of the trail entrance is a convenient access point for bicyclists.  However, this gate needs to be kept closed in order to prevent unauthorized vehicles from entering the trail.

For the reasons stated above, the city plans to keep the entrance to the trail at Moffett Boulevard the same as it is currently constructed.  We do suggest that, for safety, riders walk their bicycles as they enter the trail.  Please feel free to call or email me if you wish to further discuss this issue.  Thank you.

Senior Civil Engineer
(650) 903-6079

From: Dave
Sent: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 5:06 PM
To: Jack
Cc: Vroman, Mike; Macaraeg, Rodrigo; Fakhry, Sayed;
Kagiyama, Robert; Salvador, Angee; Wong, Wanda; Grimm, Louise
Subject: RE: Moffett blvd bicycle overcrossing

Thanks for the response, Jack.

Before construction began, my company was at Central and San Tomas in Santa Clara, so on my evening commute, I always came from Middlefield onto Easy street, past the school, through the parklet, onto the trail and straight across Moffett. I never had to make the right turn from Moffett onto the northbound trail. After the overpass project had begun, my company moved to the vicinity of north 1st and 237, so my commute now goes past Moffett park – I cross 101 at Ellis and come down the frontage road – and the right turn affects me every day.

I accept your word that the right turn was difficult and dangerous immediately before the project began, though I don’t remember it always being that bad. My recollection is that both lanes of the trail were once accessible, and only fairly recently – say a year before the overpass began – was the right side boarded off.  The pavement in the photos is evidence that t’was not ever thus.

Even in the days of my straight-through commute, the resulting narrow clearance made it difficult and dangerous to meet other trail users, especially since both directions are always focussed on the traffic light. It makes for some cursing when the northbound cyclist, going as fast as possible to stay within the light, meets a southbound rider or runner also trying to catch the light, and maybe at the same time someone comes down Moffett wanting to turn north/right, unable because of the tight turn to watch the cross traffic, endangering everyone. Rather than buying into the claim that it’s the same as before, I’d urge you to reconsider that aspect of the crossing as well, especially since the overpass will now collect most of the weekend casual users, and therefore the grade-level access will more often be used by experienced riders.

When you say the chainlink gate keeps unauthorized vehicles from entering the trail, I assume you’re talking about motor vehicles, not bicycles. It would be surely possible to gate that entrance in such a way that you couldn’t get a car through without unlocking a padlock and opening the gate, while leaving a gap in the fence wide enough for a bicycle. We have similar arrangements on most trails: gates that block bikes and/or horses during wet weather, but allow hikers to pass.


From: Jack
Sent: Thursday, June 18, 2009 4:10 PM
To: Dave
Cc: Vroman, Mike; Macaraeg, Rodrigo; Fakhry, Sayed;
Kagiyama, Robert; Salvador, Angee; Wong, Wanda; Grimm, Louise
Subject: RE: Moffett blvd bicycle overcrossing


I didn’t want to leave you hanging. We have a couple of people looking into the issues you raise. We will respond to you next week.


From: Dave
Sent: Thursday, June 18, 2009 5:26 PM
To: Jack
Subject: RE: Moffett blvd bicycle overcrossing

Thanks, Jack. I appreciate the consideration.


From: Dave
Sent: Tuesday, June 30, 2009 4:46 PM
To: Jack
Subject: RE: Moffett blvd bicycle overcrossing

I was away on a business trip last week, Jack, and first commuted by bike today. I heartily approve the way you have resolved this issue. Thanks.


From: Jack
Sent: Monday, July 13, 2009 10:00 AM
To: Dave
Cc: Kagiyama, Robert; Macaraeg, Rodrigo
Subject: RE: Moffett blvd bicycle overcrossing

Glad we were able to resolve this issue for you.


From: Dave
Sent: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 7:04 AM
To: Vroman, Mike; Macaraeg, Rodrigo; Fakhry, Sayed;
Kagiyama, Robert; Salvador, Angee; Wong, Wanda; Grimm, Louise
Cc: Jack
Subject: Mountain View bicycle friendliness

A recent exchange with Jack resulted in improvements to the entrance from Moffett Blvd onto the northbound Stevens Creek bicycle trail, and much appreciated. Though not perfect, it’s good enough that I don’t expect to get hurt there.

But then the merge area between the street-level trail entrance and the overcrossing was turned into a dangerous three-way blind junction, where only yesterday I narrowly averted a collision with another cyclist. And if this was intended to protect the younger, inexperienced cyclists, I might mention that the rider I avoided at the last second was ten years old or thereabouts.

This merge was perfectly fine when I mistakenly thought the overcrossing project was completed. But then a forest of orange posts blocked off the safe route and steered all traffic into what is a blind junction from at least two directions. The sharp turn collects sand, which itself causes bicycle crashes. It just seems really perverse to actively create a hazard when none existed before.

It is probably not to be expected that the various people responsible for these facilities and projects are knowledgeable cyclists themselves. This leads me to the real point of the email: does Mountain View have a bicycle advisory group? If so, do they not provide input on this kind of issue, or is their input not accepted for some reason?

Turning to other bicycle-related topics, there are vehicle detectors that need to be adjusted, but there is no way to report them to the city of Mountain View. There should be.

The statements above are just bottom-line summaries, and it is fair to ask for explanation and justification for all of them. I am more than willing to explain or even better, demonstrate on a brief ride, the hows and whys of all these issues.

Although I live in Palo Alto, my daily commute goes through Mountain View, so I care. And unlike Palo Alto (imagine making Alma Street bicycle friendly), Mountain View could improve dramatically with little or no expenditure of money.


From: Jack
Sent: Thursday, August 13, 2009 3:21 PM
To: Dave
Cc: Vroman, Mike; Macaraeg, Rodrigo; Fakhry, Sayed;
Kagiyama, Robert; Kim, Helen; Jenkins, Joan
Subject: RE: Mountain View bicycle friendliness


Thank you for your interest in bicycle issues in the city of Mountain View. We are very interested in getting the views of bicyclists like yourself.

On the recently constructed portion of Stevens Creek Trail, it is the city’s goal to try and eliminate high-speed merges. This is the reason that the old trail from Moffett Boulevard is directed to a tee intersection with the new through portion of the trail leading to the overcrossing. With this design, trail-users riding from Moffett Boulevard must slow down and/or stop and look both ways before proceeding on to the trail, similar to traffic on city streets. The orange delineators were installed to help slow riders to merge safely.

The plan to close the short section of the trail with the delinators was reviewed and approved by city park personnel and new trail overcrossing plans were reviewed by the city’s Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC). If you are interested, the BPAC is usually scheduled to meet the last Wednesday evening of each month at city hall. Specific information regarding BPAC meetings and other relevant information for cyclists is available on the city web page. I hope this helps with your concerns.

Thank you.

Senior Civil Engineer
(650) 903-6079

From: Dave
Sent: Thursday, August 13, 2009 5:27 PM
To: Jack
Cc: Vroman, Mike; Macaraeg, Rodrigo; Fakhry, Sayed;
Kagiyama, Robert; Kim, Helen; Jenkins, Joan
Subject: RE: Mountain View bicycle friendliness

You could prevent high-speed merges by just removing about half of the orange posts. No blind intersections, and riders would have to slow down to go through the barricades. Far, far safer. (In a way, it’s too bad you don’t have a way to collect accident statistics on bikeways. No way to learn from bad experience.)

I guess the point about maladjusted vehicle detectors is just my tough luck.

Once upon a time, Mountain View installed a light at the intersection on Charleston where today you go into REI. I had the wonderful experience of meeting a MV traffic engineer who came to adjust the detectors and actually worked with me on my bike to verify that they were indeed adjusted properly. Once in a lifetime!


From: Dave
Sent: Friday, August 14, 2009 5:30 PM
To: Jack
Cc: Jenkins, Joan; Kim, Helen; Kagiyama, Robert;
Fakhry, Sayed; Macaraeg, Rodrigo; Vroman, Mike
Subject: RE: Mountain View bicycle friendliness

Great news, Jack – I solved my problem (and it was clear that it was just my problem).

Instead of dealing with the maladjusted detector from Leong onto Moffett Blvd and the hassles of the grade-level access to the Stevens Creek trail, I came along Whisman (where I met a wrong-way cyclist: no problem), through the Whisman School park (mother and toddler: no problem), and flew over the flyover. The no-high-speed-merge hazard isn’t blind from the flyover descent, no problem.

An extra quarter mile, but far safer. How much safer? Hard to quantify, but this route is one that won’t give me cold sweats when I wake up in the middle of the night.

Much better, and thanks for giving me the incentive to try something different.



I thought it was especially interesting that, while we both claim to be concerned about safety, Jack’s version is from an abstract point of view, with zero regard for how real people will behave in real situations (imagine anyone stopping at a trail junction?). My version is based on experience with road rash, broken bones and expensive bike repairs.

We knew, of course, that you can’t fight city hall, but you have to keep trying. At a minimum, this exchange might prove useful someday if someone sues the city of Mountain View for negligence.