Thursday, December 12, 2002

Sowell: Lott Has Got to Go
Thomas Sowell agrees that Trent Lott should resign as Senate majority leader:

If Senator Lott spoke without thinking about all this, that might be one thing. But he made the same asinine statements back in 1980 and apparently learned nothing from the adverse reactions it provoked then.

More important, such statements are going to live on as long as Trent Lott is leader of the Senate Republicans. Whatever the issue and whatever the election, Senator Lott's statements are going to be a recurring distraction from the serious concerns his party, the Senate, and the country will be confronting.


Back in 1998, Representative Bob Livingston was scheduled to become Speaker of the House, just as Senator Lott is now scheduled to become Majority Leader in the Senate. But when a personal embarrassment in his life became public, Congressman Livingston announced his resignation, in order to spare his party.

While Bob Livingston resigned from Congress, though he had violated no Congressional rule, all that Senator Lott would need to do to spare his party would be to step aside from the role of Majority Leader in the Senate. Will he do it? Time will tell.

A tin ear and a loose tongue are a bad combination for any publicly visible leader, and Senator Lott has shown both on other occasions and on other issues besides race.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Scientists Reach Consensus: It's Getting Warmer Cooler Warmer Cooler ..... ????
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

Scientists have been warning that the Earth is slowly heating up, that the recent run of gentle winters in the United States is no fluke, but the warm-up to the big meltdown.

Now, however, comes a chilling prediction from some of the same experts. Before the climate gets balmier, they say, it could take a sudden turn toward the frigid - and stay that way for decades, if not centuries.

In the Northeast, subzero temperatures could become standard winter fare, filling rivers with ice chunks, cutting short the growing season, and altering bird migrations. The cold and snow of the last week would feel like spring break.

Behind that brutal scenario is a baffling ocean phenomenon that experts have watched with rising angst: an expanding mass of freshwater in the usually salty North Atlantic that has spread alarmingly in the last seven years. It now reaches south from Greenland to just off the coast of the Carolinas, an area of 15 million square miles.

If the buildup continues, they say, it could impede the Gulf Stream, a major climate-maker that transports warm air to northern latitudes in winter. Were that critical current to be slowed by the freshwater, let alone stopped, average winter temperatures in the Northeastern United States and in Western Europe could abruptly plummet 10 degrees - a change not experienced by anyone alive today. A five-degree drop would be in store for the rest of the States.

The Naked Hypocrisy of the ALP

The Sydney Morning Herald today reports on comments made by the shadow assistant treasurer, David Cox:

"This is a significant reason why many Australian families are under intense financial pressure. Peter Costello has his hand in every taxpayer's pocket."

"These figures call into question the underlying strength of the Government's budget position. The Government will be under financial pressure which will make the PM's capacity to offer tax cuts even more difficult."

The Howard government should not be immune from criticism when it comes to tax rates, but this is breathtaking hypocrisy from Labor: they opposed the Coalition's proposed income tax cuts in 1999, and opposed restraining spending in this year's budget. If Labor has plans to cut taxes, by all means let's hear them. At the moment, however, the ALP is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Monday, December 09, 2002

Happy Human Rights Day
From the Independent Institute:

Many of those applauding last week's ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court - which opined that "the Second Amendment does not confer an individual right to own or possess arms" - may be observing Human Rights Day tomorrow.

Do we have a problem with that? Well, yes.

The Second Amendment's ratifiers supported the right to keep and bear arms because they believed, in essence, that gun rights support human rights. Firearm ownership, they believed, acted as an individual's insurance against despotic government. And although we are grateful for their foresight, we also owe a debt to older traditions from which they derived wise counsel.

Similar views, for example, were reflected in the English legal tradition, the precursor to the American legal system. As far back as the rule of Alfred (871-899), the English common law presumed that an armed populace was desirable for ensuring security. So entrenched was this belief that the bearing of arms was made a citizen's legal duty. However, as Englishmen sought greater political freedom, the monarchy came to feel threatened by an armed populace and sought to curtail private ownership of weapons. Both the Magna Carta (1215) and the English Declaration of Rights (1688) grew out of the struggle of armed Englishmen.

This theme can be heard even in western antiquity. Cicero, for example, warned that replacing the private ownership of weapons with standing armies was contributing to the fall of the Roman Empire. Earlier still, Plato and Aristotle, despite their profound differences, shared the belief that an armed populace was essential for preventing the imposition of tyranny.

For Human Rights Day to retain meaning, it should also embrace the tradition that has helped safeguard human rights - a tradition enshrined in the individual right protected by the Second Amendment.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

Parish's Pusillanimity

Ken Parish attacks John Whitley and myself for our article in Friday's Sydney Morning Herald:

How could the same report be interpreted in 2 such completely contrasting lights? Well, I can't be absolutely sure, because I haven't read the Mouzos-Reuter paper myself. However, I can make an educated guess. Whitley and Robson are referring to "crime rates" (that is overall crime rates), whereas Mouzos and Reuter studied the rate of crimes involving guns. Thus, Whitley and Robson highlight the fact that there hasn't been an overall drop in crime rates since the gun buyback, whereas Mouzos and Reuter point out that gun-related crimes have dropped significantly.

I suppose Whitley and Robson make a valid point, although I don't recall John Howard or anyone else ever claiming that restricting possession of semi-automatic weapons was going to miraculously reduce overall crime rates. All that was ever claimed was that mass murders with guns (like Port Arthur) could be reduced, and perhaps gun-related crime generally. That appears to be precisely what has happened, whatever spin gun lobby apologists like Whitley and Robson try to put on it. Whitley and Robson are using classic "straw man" debating tactics, and it does them no credit.

Well, Ken, you are simply wrong on this. We made this argument precisely because some of the most respected criminologists in the country had been trying to push these claims for years, and we were simply responding to their claims. For example, consider this story in the the Australian, Tuesday, 30 September 1997, on page 3:

Gun buyback aims at big cut in crime


MORE than 600,000 banned guns have been handed in to authorities and almost $293 million paid in compensation under the national gun buyback scheme, which crime experts believe could reduce serious crime by up to 20 per cent.

Bond University criminologist Professor Paul Wilson said it was probable the crime rate would drop by up to 20 per cent due to the substantial number of potentially deadly weapons that had been handed back in the amnesty.

The director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Don Weatherburn, agreed a change in gun ownership culture could result in a decrease in the number of weapons purchased and a drop in crime in the long-term. "If we've got a fairly stagnant number of gun owners and a growing population we might see a change over the next 10 years," he said.

We don't dispute the fact that gun related robberies have declined since 1993 - the data obviously show that, and this is obviously a good thing. We do, however, take issue with anyone who claims that this decline was caused by Howard's buyback scheme, since the data show that the decline was already underway well before 1996.

We also think that the goal of gun control measures should be to reduce overall crime rates - and criminologists obviously agree with us. But their predictions back in 1997 about the effects of the Howard measures on crime were simply wrong, and we felt that this needed pointing out.

Parish also writes:

Robson and Whitley's article may be seen as a last-ditch attempt by the gun lobby to forestall this outcome. Thankfully they failed. We can all now ignore them completely, which is precisely the attention their pathetic arguments deserve.

Get a grip, Ken. I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the "gun lobby". He also writes:

I once harboured the illusion that academics were meant to strive for detachment, dispassionate objectivity and analytical rigour. Whitley and Robson are both academic economists. Gary Sauer-Thompson has just blogged some interesting observations about neo-classical economics and its pretensions to truth, objectivity and scientific rigour.

If you read Parish's blog, you will see that he has a nasty habit of disagreeing with arguments for the sole reason that they rely on "neo-classical economics" or "neo-liberalism". As I have just shown, however, the hypothesis that there might be an effect of gun control on overall crime rates is also made by criminologists, who presumably aren't "neo-liberals" relying on "neo-classical economics". We disagree with the criminologists about the sign and perhaps the size of the change, but not about the proposition that guns and crime rates are somehow related.

Finally, Parish attacks us for our lack of "detachment, dispassionate objectivity and analytical rigour". That's pretty rich coming from Parish, who freely admits he hasn't even read the Mouzos/Reuter paper but goes ahead and comments on it anyway.

But just in case anyone else out there in the blogosphere wants to make similar claims, or thinks that we have misinterpreted the Mouzos/Reuter study, they should note that we sent our piece to both authors before the SMH published it. Mouzos wrote:

Professor Reuter and I have read your paper and we feel that you have not mis-stated anything from our book chapter.

and Reuter wrote:

I greatly appreciate your courtesy in showing us the essay before sending it out. It is indeed very professional in both tone and substance.

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