Do democracies start wars?

It is often said that democracies do not wage war on one-another.  The idea is that populations as a whole are justly wary of war  -- because it is they who die in them --  so a democratic government can only get popular consent to a war if the country is attacked by an external enemy -- presumably a despot of some kind.

Students of ancient history will immediately recall the Athenian attack on Syracuse as a counter-example but Athens was not much like democracies as we know them today (only a minority of Athenians had a vote, for instance) so that does not take us very far.

I have recently come across what could be seen as a confirmation of the usual claim:  The Austro-Hungarian democracy at the onset of WWI.  The Austro-Hungarian empire (Germany's great Southern ally) WAS a democracy but it was a greatly decayed democracy.  The Austrian Reichsrat (parliament) had degenerated to complete unworkability.  Filibusters were common and disruptions by deliberate noise were routine.  Parties that were not getting their way would shout, blow whistles, blow toy trumpets, bang drums and generally deploy so much noise that speeches could not be heard and very little work could be done.

It was such a spectacle that ordinary Viennese  -- including Hitler -- would go to the vistor's gallery overlooking parliament just for the entertainment.  Hitler started out with a considerable respect for democracy, particularly British democracy,  but his observations of the Reichsrat considerably eroded that.

So Austria entered the war solely in the power of the bureaucracy, the military and the Emperor.  It is conceivable that a mature democracy might have produced a leader who told the emperor firmly that a dead Archduke was insufficient to justify hostilities with Serbia.  So WWI could  perhaps have been avoided if Austria had been a functioning democracy.

As it happens, even the German Kaiser thought that war with Serbia was unnecessary -- but Austria had declared war before the Kaiser had got to make his views known.  But once war had been declared, treaty obligations ruled subsequent events.

But the big hole in the conventional case is Imperial Germany.  The German empire was thoroughly democratic and the formal powers of the Kaiser were little different from the powers of the British monarch.  The Kaiser was certainly influential for a time and often expressed views that were widely held in Germany but nothing much could be done without parliamentary consent.

Wikipedia has a reasonable short summary of the German parliament of the time:  "The Reichstag had no formal right to appoint or dismiss governments, but by contemporary standards it was considered a highly modern and progressive parliament. All German men over 25 years of age were eligible to vote, and members of the Reichstag were elected by general, universal and secret suffrage. Members were elected in single-member constituencies by majority vote."

And Germany's predecessor State, Prussia, is an interesting example of the role of the German parliament:  The King could not get the Prussian parliament to vote him the funds he wanted for his army so he commissioned Chancellor Bismarck to bypass parliament and rule solely in the King's name.  Bismarck carried it off with the aid of an obedient Prussian bureaucracy and parliament was ignored for four years.  But parliament did not flinch and, after four years, Bismarck had to apologize to the parliament and reinstate it authority.  So even in Prussia, parliament was the ultimate authority.

And in  Germany of the Edwardian era, it was parliament's power of the purse that regulated and limited what the Kaiser and his ministers could do.  So it is no good blaming the Kaiser for WWI.  He was largely a figurehead for the will of the German people as expressed in their Reichstag.  It was essentially the whole of the German democracy that went into WWI.

And the U.S. democracy has its own history of initiating war. Robert Kagan of the Brookings institution has an extensive historical survey which shows both that the America people are isolationist and that American leaders repeatedly talk them out of that.  On some occasions, where America has been attacked, as with the 9/11 atrocity, retaliation is completely reasonable but on others the pretext used to initiate war was very thin.  For starters, the alleged attack in 1898 on the battleship "Maine" in Havana harbour was a very thin reason for the invasion of Cuba by TR and his cohorts.  To this day there is no clarity on what sank the "Maine".

But even the "Maine" episode shows that American declarations of war have to be dressed up as defensive or retaliatory.  But finding such garb has not been difficult for at least the Democrat side of American politics.  Isolationism was from the earliest days the stance of American conservatives but with their insatiable lust for meddling in other people's affairs, liberals have been very keen to involve America in wars abroad.  It may be noted that TR was the founder of the "Progressive" party (popularly known as the "Bull Moose" party) when the Republicans became too wishy washy for him.

So when WWI broke out it was a great frustration for Democrat President Wilson that he was not part of the councils of war.  So peace-minded were the American people that it actually took him years to find a pretext for declaring war  -- the main pretext being the "Lusitania" sinking.  The loss of the liner and her people was an undoubted tragedy but Germany had posted warning advertisements in NY newspapers prior to the sailing which warned people not to sail on the "Lusitania".  It was thought to be carrying munitions to Britain -- which it was  -- making it a prime target.  So accusations of German perfidy or barbarity were simply wrong.

And FDR in WWII was just as bad.  His sanctions against Japan had pushed Japan into economic crisis and desperate Japanese attempts to open negotiations were repeatedly rebuffed.  So, against much of their own expert advice, the Pearl Harbor attack was planned by the Japanese leadership to break through American opposition.  That was essentially what FDR wanted and he made no attempt to stop it.  Both Britain and the U.S. had cracked the Japanese naval code so Japanese ship movements were known.  But not a whisper of any of the intelligence concerned was transmitted to Pearl Harbor.  FDR did however make sure that his carriers were not in port when the Japanese attacked.

And so FDR got his "date that will live in infamy".  "A date that will live in hypocrisy" would be more apt.  Robert Kagan  is also of the view that FDR was itching for war.

And as for Bill Clinton's attack on the Christian Serbs on behalf of Muslims....

So democracies do start wars  -- but they usually have to be a bit sneaky about it.

UPDATE  -- A point of clarification about WWI:

It could be argued that I have undermined my own argument by pointing to Austria as undemocratic.  It could be argued that the war was started by Austria's attack on Serbia and since Austria was a failed democracy, the events there show that democracies do not start wars.

My main point was however the role of Germany.  If Germany had not mobilized there would have been no WWI.  The Austrians were not much concerned by the prospect of a Russian invasion and they were probably right about that.  Given the backward and chaotic Russian military and the large modern forces available to Austria, only a minor punch-up would probably have resulted from the Tsar's actions.  Austria might even have gained some territory.

So it was Germany's move that started the big war.  And Germany was democratic.  So why did Germany get involved?  Because they wanted to.  And there were several reasons why.  See here

UPDATE 2  -- about the Lusitania

A reader has pointed out that my graphic above is a collage. The Lusitania sailing details and the embassy warning did not originally occur side-by-side.  So why did I say that passengers on the Lusitania specifically were warned?  Because the Lusitania was the ONLY liner left on that route.  Other liners had been grabbed by the British government for war use.

I can't resist mentioning WHY the government did not use the Lusitania:  Because as a large fast ship it would use heaps of coal -- and the admiralty wanted to conserve its stocks! -- JR

Does WWI explain the Ukraine situation?

George Friedman thinks it does.  He looks at WWI, WWII and the cold war and manages to find similarities in them which he also believes apply to the Ukraine situation today.

Such vast simplifications are always popular.  They offer a shortcut to understanding.  But I think this one falls at the first hurdle.

Friedman's basic point is that nations feel threatened if they are bordered by other hostile nations.   That seems commonsense on the face of it but what defines "hostile"? We can see that Canada and Mexico do not feel threatened by the vastness of the USA on their borders because the USA is not hostile.  The USA is in fact probably the most benevolent nation the world has ever seen.  But in Europe it is not so clear. The Northern European countries, including Germany,  tended in history to be friendly with Britain. The Anglo-German defeat of Napoleon may be remembered.  But for Gneisenau, Napoleon would have won at Waterloo.

Yet in two world wars Britain and Germany fought one another.  So were Germany and Britain hostile or friendly to one-another?  From a 19th century perspective one would say friendly but from an early 20th century perspective, one would tend to say hostile.

But even there we have problems.  The German Kaiser was in fact part of the British Royal family and he spent a lot of time in their company.  He spoke perfect English and Queen Victoria died in his arms.  And after the death of the Queen, the British King, Edward VII was widely esteemed to be the only person who could calm the Kaiser down when he got angry. In a great loss for British diplomacy, however, Edward died in 1910.   And given the prominent role of the Kaiser in Germany, how can we say that Germany and Britain were hostile? They were not. They were family.   But they still fought a war.

So I think Friedman's thesis about national policy being dependant on borders is badly flawed.  One thing Britain and Germany did NOT have was a border!

What Friedman says is that after the defeat of the French at Sedan in 1870, the freshly united Germany was such a militarily powerful entity that the rest of Europe was in fear of it and German diplomacy had to deal  with the possibility that nervous neighbors would "gang up" on Germany and attack it from all sides in order to pre-empt a threat from Germany.  Friedman is not alone in that view.  None other than the German Chancellor of the day, Otto von Bismarck saw it similarly.  And Bismarck put into place two measures to deal with it.

The first was his own diplomacy.  By a bewildering series of diplomatic maneuvers, he kept everyone off balance and confused.  So nobody really knew where Germany stood and hence could not muster the clarity needed to initiate armed conflict.  So as long as Bismarck was in charge, Germany was safe.  But Bismarck resigned in 1890 and the diplomatic picture became much more stable after that.

But Bismarck's second measure remained in place and Friedman seems to have entirely overlooked its role.  Bismarck was from early on  protective of the integrity of Austria/Hungary, seeing it from early days as an important potential ally, first to Prussia and later to Germany as a whole.  And indeed it was.  It was a very large political entity on Germany's Southern border that had impressive armies at its disposal. Not all the troops concerned were of first quality but they were not alone in that and most did eventually perform quite well under Austrian leadership.

So, contrary to Friedman, Germany had no need to fear anyone.  The alliance of Germany with Austria was essentially uncrackable and no-one in their right mind would attack such powerful allies.  So Germany had no reason to anticipate war and no reason to prepare for it.  So a stable peace should have prevailed in Europe.  For over 40 years Germany had remained unthreatening and Germany had no need to feel threatened.

Unfortunately, there was someone who was NOT in his right mind.  The Russian Tsar knew fully well the close alliance between Austria and Germany but mobilized his vast armies against Austria nonetheless.  The Austrian leadership felt able to cope with that but Germany could not afford an Austrian failure so Germany mobilized too and the die was cast.

So I think it is fairly clear that a foolish Russian despot was the cause of WWI.  But to infer from that that a popular Russian leader is about to ignite a new conflagration would be reasoning of the shallowest kind.

But WHY did the Tsar mobilize?  Contrary to Friedman, it was not over any concern with his borders.  It was because of sentimental racism.  As many Russians did and still do, he saw the Serbs as racial and linguistic brethren to Russians --  and indeed they were and are. And since Austria and Serbia were in conflict, the Tsar intervened to protect little Serbia against big bully Austria.  It was a very ill-judged intervention -- leading the Tsar to lose both his throne and his life.

And once the armies were mobilized, a variety of factors ensured that there would be no turning back for any of the nations involved  -- but I have written at length on those factors elsewhere.  Borders don't come into it.

So what of Ukraine?  Mr Putin has no need to fear anyone, on his borders or not.  So what is motivating him?

It is very clear.  Russia is staring down the barrel of a demographic disaster.  The birthrate is so low that the Russian population is steadily shrinking.  So Mr Putin wants to regather all Russians into Russia to postpone the disaster.  And because he values Russian lives he has proceeded with great caution.

There was no invasion of Crimea and there has been no invasion of Western Ukraine.  Mr Putin cleverly relied on Russian sentimentality for him to be INVITED by the Crimean parliament to take them into his fold.  And he is clearly waiting for the same thing to happen in Western Ukraine.  Russia will expand but by largely peaceful means only.

The same thing happened in the Russian bits of Georgia.  They had declared their independence of Georgia and were well on their way to an engagement with Russia when the Georgians invaded and endeavoured to reassert their control.  Faced with a blocking of a peaceful constitutional evolution, Putin kicked the Georgians out by military force.  But it was not Putin who initiated the military action and the action ceased once its very limited aims had been achieved.

So let the Eastern Europeans reorganize themselves as best they can.  They will only be a threat if the West tries to meddle in the process.

Just a footnote on Crimea:  The received Western view seems to be that the independence vote in Crimea was a put-up job, a fraud, a fake.  It was not.  There were many international observers present who warranted it as fair.  See here.

Festival of Australia and NZ arts launches in London

I can't say I am much in favour of this groupy thing.  Australian cultural talents do quite well abroad on their own merits and under their own steam.  Emphasis on Australia as a location or a group seems more likely to revive a "cultural cringe" impression.

And that Australians often need to go abroad to optimize their careers needs no apology.  The Australian population is relatively small and cultural products are very much a minority interest.  So exposure to large potential audiences is needed to achieve a critical mass of income.

Why does anyone think that English theatre companies regularly tour the despised North?  Because they need the money of the Northeners.  And they won't get that money unless they go to where the customers are.  So even the trickle of cultural interest from the North needs to be grabbed

From time to time, Australia launches little cultural assault fleets back to the mother country.

One year it might be a Leo McKern, who ruled the Old Bailey in his television portrayal of Rumpole, tying a neat bow around the whole convict saga.

Another year it might be a John Pilger or a Julian Assange, doing the journalistic equivalent of selling ice to the Eskimos: a bolder, freer, cooler brand of ice, more sharp and uncomfortable than the usual Fleet Steet sleet.

And of course there are Clive James, Barry Humphries, Germaine Greer and, uh, Rolf Harris – the Gang of Four whose mega-talents allowed an allegedly indecent assault on swinging London. Indecently successful, that is, m’lud.

Some of these Aussie Vikings settled down, hung up their helmets and became part of the landscape. Others came back home, Patrick White-style, Tim Winton-style, with new perspective or homesick hearts.

Though ... it seems a little unfair. Do we really have to come cap in hand to Europe or North America seeking success and recognition, or some kind of  validation stamp in the career passport?

This month Australia launches a new, full-frontal literary invasion of London.

But the aim is not a reverse colonisation. Instead, according to Jon Slack, it is to demonstrate that no matter how far or how wide our writers roam … etc etc.

"Over here people have a very narrow view of what happens in Australia – the top-level, stereotypical view," he says.

"There’s some truth to stereotypes but there's so much more - writing talent, acting talent, film - there’s so much to show off."

Slack – ex-Adelaide, now a UK resident for just over a decade - is the director of a new, ambitious summer festival in the UK.

This Way Up, the Australia and New Zealand Festival of Literature and Arts, boasts some of the two nations’ biggest talents, supported by some familiar international names, in 60 events over four days.

Tim Winton will discuss his new novel, Helen Garner talks about memory and imagination, Fay Weldon chats to New Zealand writer Paula Morris, other events feature Anna Funder, Greta Scacchi, Kathy Lette and Anita Heiss.

Clive James is doing a new one-hour show about his life in writing, and the festival closes with a new composition by composer Mark Bradshaw set to the biblical poem Song of Solomon, read by actor Ben Whishaw.

I meet Slack on a sunny day in Brighton. He says the idea grew out of a touch of homesickness. "I wanted to work out a way of connecting what I was doing here [in the UK] with back home [in Australia and New Zealand]. I was getting really out of the loop on everything that was happening back in Oz.

"There are so many festivals over here but having a country-specific focus was quite unique … There’s rivalry, affection, understanding [between Australia and the UK]. The more I looked into it the more sense it made."

There is a risk of backfire in attempting this kind of showcase. Last year London’s Royal Academy, to great fanfare, opened an exhibition of some of Australia’s best and most iconic works of art, from pre-colonisation to the present day.

Reviews were mixed. While few were as scathing as those of the Sunday Times, whose critic ended up musing that in Australia the wrong people became artists, some found the whole idea old fashioned. The Guardian said an exhibition whose "aim is the broad sweep of a country, let alone a continent" risked ending up as "potted history and pop-up content".

"I am not interested in what might constitute some sort of Australian artistic identity, because I doubt there is one," the reviewer wrote.

Another critic wrote in the Independent that "more than most countries, [Australia] has carried a baggage of hyper-sensitivity about its place in the world".

Slack says the reaction to the exhibition showed there was a lot of passion about Australia’s representation in the UK. He hopes the multi-event format of his festival will immunise against such criticism.

He does believe there is a character to Australian writing that will emergeduring the festival.

"If you watch a film from Australia or read a book or even just go back home, there’s something very intangible but you can sense it," he says. "There is such diversity … [but] the person who described it the best was Tim Winton."

In a speech in London last year, Winton said he found new perspective on what his home country meant to him when he lived in Paris in his late 20s – his first trip abroad.

He thought the difference would just be language and history, but "the moment that I stepped off a plane at Charles de Gaulle [airport] I knew I was not a European," he said. "[Australia’s] geography, distance and weather have moulded my sensory palette, my imagination and my expectations."

Winton found Europe's land and the sky less beautiful, even saccharine and closed. From afar he recognised Australia as the Neverland of Peter Pan – more wild, a place "more landscape than culture" where the night sky would threaten to suck you up into the stars.

"I was calibrated differently to a European," he said. "Everything we do in our country is still overshadowed and underwritten by the seething tumult of nature."

Slack says the Australian voice can vary widely – contrast Winton with Christos Tsiolkas – but at the same time sound alike.

"It’s very direct, it’s bold, it’s just in the character. Even though there’s a lot of bullshit, there’s no bullshit. That’s what people respond to over here."

Slack says Winton is still a little "under the radar" in the UK, despite the many highlights of his long career.

There is an ongoing question as to whether Australian writers do better if they make a more permanent move to the northern hemisphere, he says. It is even being addressed during the festival, in a "big debate" on whether the cultural cringe is over.

"It’s hard to deny that if you’re based here you’ve got that ongoing presence, it’s easier to have those meetings, do those events, have those conversations you need to have," Slack says. "The tyranny of distance is still a thing.

"There are some people who still make jokes about ‘cultured Australians, oxymoron’ ...People love and respect individual Australians, in films or writers, but I think there is still quite a long way to go. There’s definitely an ignorance of what’s going on ... Unless someone has been to Australia you just don’t get past the beach and the sport. It’s really hard for people to do that."

The festival has a "shoestring budget" in proportion to its scale, but Slack says in planning it became a "controlled explosion" as more people agreed to take part. The event has been part-funded by the Australia Council – which at one stage doubled its support when the project’s ambition grew. One of the council’s aims is to establish a reputation for Australia as an "artistically ambitious nation", says Jill Eddington, director of literature funding at the council.

But the festival is there, in a nutshell, to help the authors find their market, and the market to find the authors.

"The big challenge for all writers worldwide is discoverability in a huge global online market," says Eddington. "No, [writers] don’t need to move to the northern hemisphere. The old boundaries and borders are less and less relevant. The work of great Australian writers is relevant to readers anywhere in the world."

This Way Up is at Kings College, London, from May 29 to June 1.


The Isla Vista shootings

In their usual brain-dead way, liberals are blaming the shootings on an inanimate piece of metal  -- a gun.  That the shooting was actually done by a person seems to have escaped them.  For anyone who is able to think, however, what made the person concerned do what he did is surely the crucial question. And the plain fact that he had long been psychologically unwell -- to the point of having undergone therapy several times -- is an obvious thing to point to.

But his ability to convince the police that he was a 'perfectly polite, kind and wonderful human'  indicates that he was not too bad.  Given different circumstances  he might have made something of himself.    So what were the circumstances that led him down the wrong road?  I think that is fairly clear.  Modern Left-based ideas of child-rearing and education teach that everyone is a star and everyone is entitled to win and have all they want without effort.  And it is certainly clear that Elliot Rodger did have a strong sense of entitlement.  He thought that success should come to him rather than feeling that its lack was his problem and that should go out and work for it.

If he had had an old-fashioned Christian upbringing, however, he would have learnt that man is a fallen and imperfect creature who has to work for his blessings and must be thankful for what he has.

In short, Leftist nonsense pushed a fragile man over the edge;  A Christian upbringing might have saved him and his victims.

I reproduce below two things:  An account of the terrible loss that this badly guided man inflicted and a commentary on the claims that more gun control is needed.  That three of the victims were knifed to death may undermine the anti-gunners a bit, though.  Do we need knife control as well?  It may be noted that in Britain, where only blacks and farmers have guns, fatal stabbings are common  -- but even the British have not attempted knife control, though it is talked about.

Father of Veronika Weiss, shooting victim, speaks

When Bob and Colleen Weiss learnt that their daughter may have been a victim in the Isla Vista shooting rampage, they immediately got in their car late on Friday night and drove from their home in Thousand Oaks, California to Santa Barbara.

But once they arrived in the Santa Barbara County coastal community around midnight, authorities were unable confirm whether 19-year-old Veronika Weiss was among those killed. It was hours before they heard back from sheriff’s officials.

"It was 4 o'clock in the morning and Veronika's not a 4 o’clock in the morning type of girl," Bob Weiss said in an interview on Sunday. "I'm not a fool. I knew what happened."

After a student riot broke out in Isla Vista in March, Veronika called her parents and told them, "I'm safe in my room. Don't worry about me."

This time she didn't call. They used her "Find my iPhone" app and her phone was in the middle of one of the crime scenes, her dad said.

Bob Weiss said his daughter was wise and mature beyond her years. He said he would go to her for advice sometimes if he was having a problem with her brothers, Cooper, 17, and Jackson, 15, or even a minor argument with his wife.

Weiss said his daughter was always a tomboy. She played four sports in high school, which is a rarity. She participated in cross country, baseball, swimming and water polo and she earned straight A's. Her strength was maths.

Starting at age six she loved playing softball, he said. Later she played baseball. He said she was the only girl out of 500 players in the Westlake baseball league.

"She was tough," he said. "She was a big strong girl and she was tough."

On the water polo team at Westlake High School, which she graduated from, the coach always put her as the defence player against the top scorer on the opposing team.

He said she always organised events for her circle of friends. He described her friends as nerds and serious students. They would study every Friday night and it was not unusual for her to spend Sundays working on her advanced maths work. "She loved it," he said.

He said many of her friends went on to other prestigious schools such as Princeton and she wanted to go to the University of Washington. But the out-of-state tuition and financial situation made that prohibitive.

"She would always wear her purple and gold University of Washington sweatshirt," he said.

"She wanted to be a financial wizard, and use her high aptitude with complicated math."

He said her mother and grandmother belonged to the tri-Delta sorority so it makes sense that she would join it too at UCSB. She didn't know many people at the Santa Barbara campus but the sorority gave her a built-in circle of friends, he said.

He described her as being gregarious. She liked to laugh a lot, he said. She was loud and "she made everybody else laugh".

"She was happy all the time," he added.

She graduated high school with a high, 4.3 grade point average.

He said she would sometimes visit him at his office in Newbury Park. She would just come over spontaneously and bring him lunch and they would eat together. "Who does that? How many high school kids are thoughtful like that and want to spend time with their parents?"

Veronika and her parents had just gone snowboarding together two weeks ago. That was their last trip together. They had planned to spend Sunday together. Bob Weiss and his wife had planned to drive up to Santa Barbara to take her to lunch and go shopping.

He said he doesn't know what happened on Friday night but he does know that Veronika would have put herself in harm's way to help her friends or even the young man who shot her. "She always reacted to a situation quickly. She always wanted to help. She was very courageous."

"She will be an inspiration to me every day of my life," he said.

"There was never a day I wasn't proud of her. Never a single day."

Elliot Rodger is Proof that Gun Control Doesn’t Work!

By now, you have probably heard about the recent mass-shooting in Isla Vista, California.

First of all, I want to express my condolences to the victims and their families. This kind of senseless violence is absolutely deplorable and could shock everyone's conscience, regardless of political affiliation.

Unfortunately, the gun control advocates are at it again, arguing that if Federal and State gun control laws were just a little stricter, this tragedy could have been avoided. This couldn't be farther from the truth!

It didn't take long to get a statement from the shooter's family. Alan Shifman, the lawyer representing the family, announced that they were "staunchly against guns," support gun-control laws, and would devote the rest of their lives to stopping tragedies like this from happening again… In this press release, the family blamed the NRA and gun culture in America for allowing their son to arm himself. 

Really? They are blaming the NRA because their liberal son bought three guns over a period of months and chose to indiscriminately shoot people? Is it just me, or does it seem like the family is blaming everyone except their own son?

Residents of California know how ridiculous it is to blame the state’s gun control laws. California's gun laws are the strictest in the nation and still, for a deranged and plotting teen who flew under the radar, they did nothing to stop him from arming himself. This shooting is a textbook example of how no amount of gun control laws can stop an individual hell-bent on causing harm to people.

Elliot Rodger was also able to buy all three of his handguns legally, which in California is no easy task. A prospective gun owner has to jump through a number of hoops before they are allowed to take ownership of a gun, let alone three.

If Elliot Rodger bought his weapons from a gun store, which is likely, he would have had to submit to a thorough background check that ran his criminal history, mental health history, and even the applicant's fingerprints. This costs $25. Then, the gun buyer has to wait exactly ten days before he or she is allowed to actually take ownership of the firearm (providing they passed the background check). This operates under the assumption that waiting 10 days to take ownership of a pistol will stop “crimes of passion.”

California also has a law prohibiting the purchase of more than one handgun a month, meaning that Elliot Rodger's would have to have built his collection of handguns over a three month period.

California prohibits citizens from carrying a loaded gun on their person or in their car unless they demonstrate an impossible to meet "good cause." Elliot Rodger broke the law when he took loaded pistols into his car.

California and Isla Vista also have laws against indiscriminately discharging firearms into crowds of people. Elliot Rodger, like other violent criminals, disregarded this law.

At every step of the way, gun control laws failed to stop Elliot Rodger from committing these murders. Even if they were successful at stopping Rodger from arming himself, the fact the first few victims were actually stabbed to death shows that this type of hatred will always find a tool to commit the crime.

Gun control advocate are chomping at the bit to introduce a piece of legislation that would have “prevented” the shooting. But the entire premise of putting words on a piece of paper to deter deranged killers is ludicrous. Elliot Rodger broke a plethora of gun laws. Suggesting that one more would have made a difference is ridiculous.

The only reason you aren't seeing gun control advocates like Dianne Feinstein calling for more gun control measures is because this happened on a weekend. You can rest assured that come Monday morning, these Liberals will be out in force trying to take away YOUR Second Amendment rights because of the actions of a liberal, disturbed young man in Commiefornia.

Disgust, homosexuality and conservatism

Haidt has produced some well-known research which shows that conservatives have much more complex moral attitudes than Leftists do.  There are a wider range of factors that enter into a conservative's judgment of what is good or bad.  Leftists, by contrast, have much more simply determined   moral attitudes.

That finding is of course exactly the opposite of what Leftist psychologists preached from 1950 onwards.  Leftists wanted to brand conservatives as the simplistic ones -- which is another example of my rule of thumb which says that you can find out what is true of Leftists by looking at what they say about  conservatives.  They are great projectors in the Freudian sense.

One of the things Haidt found was that conservative judgments were strongly influenced by feelings of disgust. Conservatives are disgusted by such things as mass-murder.  How quaint!  Haidt says that disgust  began as a guardian of the mouth (against pathogens), but then expanded during biological and cultural evolution to become a guardian of the body more generally, and of the social and moral order.

A recent study by Adams et al. mounted an experimental test of Haidt's theory.  They exposed people (mostly Christians) to a disgusting smell and looked at how that affected attitudes.  Some people got the smell and some did not.  They asked did being exposed to a bad smell instantly make you more conservative!

And they extended Haidt's thinking to test whether disgust is a determinant of attitude to homosexuality.  In the days before political correctness, disgust at homosexuality was frequently and widely expressed in the community so I felt I knew the outcome of that query in advance.

And so it was.  The authors looked at a wide range of conservative attitudes but it was only attitudes to sexual matters in general and homosexuality in particular that were much influenced by disgust.  And the issue that produced the biggest differentiation was:  "If a close friend of family member were gay, I would support their right to having a same-sex marriage.”  The non-disgusted group (those who had not been exposed to the bad small) almost universally supported such marriage.  And, reflecting the pressure of what is presently socially acceptable, about half of the disgusted group did too.  "Strongly agree" was however much less common among the disgusted (odor-exposed) group.  So some (but not all) people became less acceptant of homosexuality amid a bad smell.

To me the notable fact about the research was how little effect the smell had. A few correlations were statistically significant but all were trivial in magnitude.  The strongest correlation was with gay marriage attitudes but, as we have seen, the correlation there was a long way from perfect.  A large number of people were unaffected by the bad smell and thought gay marriage was just dandy!

The authors drew generally reasonable conclusions:
These data are consistent with theory delineated by Tybur and colleagues [13], which argues that disgust functions to decrease the occurrence (both in the self and society) of sexual behaviors that are perceived as increasing risk of pathogen transmission. Relatedly, and as noted by Haidt and Graham [11], conservative attitudes are driven not only by harm avoidance, but also by concerns about purity. According to these theories, shifts toward politically conservative views on sex may be basic, adaptive, and self-protective responses against perceived spread of pathogens or moral threats. When disgust is evoked, the behavioral immune system engages avoidance to prevent infection (e.g., less interpersonal contact [28]) and appears to moralize sexual conduct in ways that underlie conservative values of purity and sanctity [11], [26]. As seen in the results of our study, it is possible that exposure to a disgusting odorant caused increased feelings of disgust, which in turn activated the harm avoidance system and motivated a desire for purity (cleanliness). Once these two systems were activated, it is possible that participants began to adopt attitudes that they perceived as decreasing social harm and/or increasing moral purity.

There is a growing literature indicating that disgust has important consequences for political views and policy preferences. In the research presented here, exposure to a disgusting odor caused greater endorsement of conservative views, including: rejecting gay marriage, restricting sex to marriage, disapproving of the use of pornography, and increased beliefs in Biblical truth. Odor induced conservative shifts concerning gay marriage were particularly robust. It is possible that some forms of political conservatism, particularly those related to sex and sexuality, are basic and inherent in some populations and can readily emerge under threatening or taxing conditions [4], [29], [30].
This study will undoubtedly be bruited about by Leftists touting it as "proof" that conservatives are irrational.  So it should be noted that the researchers did not say that.  They in fact saw the role of disgust as healthy and adaptive.

The one issue I would have with the researchers is that they have overgeneralized their findings.  They did not find ANYTHING about conservatism in general, despite testing that.  And the few correlations they celebrate in their conclusions above were in fact of trivial magnitude. Only the "Gay marriage" correlation was of some substance.  It was however nice to have a confirmation that homosexuality is still associated with disgust even amid a tyranny designed to erase such disgust.

There's a journalistic version of the study here.  The original journal article is Disgust and the Politics of Sex: Exposure to a Disgusting Odorant Increases Politically Conservative Views on Sex and Decreases Support for Gay Marriage

David Suzuki is a confused man

He says skeptics are playing the man and not the ball and then does exactly that himself!  He says that skeptics attack Warmists on the basis of personalities rather than attending to the facts --  but he then attacks skeptics on the basis of personalities rather than the facts!  He is a rather stark case of pychological projection, I think

In the second part of his conversation with Bill Moyers, Dr. David Suzuki says climate deniers are engaging in a good ol’ game of “kill the messenger.”

“This is a very effective thing that we know has been done by the tobacco industry [and] it’s being done by the fossil fuel industry… You attack a person on the basis of their trustworthiness, their ulterior motives, anything to get away from dealing with the issues,” the scientist, author and philanthropist said.

He said it’s not unlike the attacks he has experienced from Canada’s prime minister, corporations and others over the years for speaking his mind about the government and the fossil fuel industry.

“The fossil fuel industry knows that fossil fuel use is at the heart of climate change,” Suzuki said. “But the problem is their job as CEOs and executives is to make money for their shareholders, and they’ll do it.”


A favorite hymn

Although I am no longer a believer, I have never lost my love of the wonderful old Christian hymns.  So I was a bit sad that one of my favorites was missing on YouTube:  "LlGHT'S GLITTERING MORN".  It is in fact a medieval Latin hymn and has, as such, been variously translated and set.  The setting I like is by Palestrina in 1623 and the translation I like is by J.M. Neale.  But other quite different settings are more common  -- and are not nearly as good in my view.  Anyway, judge for yourself.  A performance of the setting that I like has just popped up this month on Youtube:

It is Hymn 126 in Hymns Ancient and Modern (The old Church of England Hymn book) but for convenience I give a few of the verses below:

1. Light's glittering morn bedecks the sky;
Heaven thunders forth its victor—cry;
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
The glad earth shouts her triumph high,
And groaning hell makes wild reply.
Hallelujah! (x5)

2. The pains of hell are loosed at last;
The days of mourning now are passed;
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
An angel robed in light has said,
"The Lord is risen from the dead."
Hallelujah! (x5) ’

3. All praise be Yours, 0 risen Lord,
From death to endless life restored:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
All praise to God the Father be,
And Holy Ghost eternally.
Hallelujah! (x5)

UPDATE:  A reader has noted that the same wonderful tune is used in "Ye watchers and ye holy ones".  A splendid example here.  The graphics for that performance not only include the happy faces of the singers but also some splendid shots of great British  steam locomotives, including some A4s -- an excellent metaphor for divine power.

I am  having trouble tracing the source of the tune.  I read that its first appearance in print was in Auserlesen Catholische Geistliche Kirchengesäng of Cologne in 1623.  And that the German title of the hymn was Laßt uns erfreuen herzlich sehr (Let us make praise very heartily).  I also read that the tune was revised first by Bach and then by Vaughan Williams before it reached its present form.

Is the United Kingdom Independence Party racist?

Leftist Dan Hodges says below that it is.  Hodges is an unusually rational Leftist but his nuances fail him when dealing with a dynamic new British conservative political party.  Because its prime focus is getting the UK out of the European union, people suspect that UKIP has broader nationalist beliefs, beliefs of a Fascist sort.  In fact it is the opposite.  It wants to REDUCE government, not increase it.  It has a largely libertarian inspiration.

It does however attract a number of supporters for non-libertarian reasons -- in particular its opposition to Britain's flood of immigrants  of various stripes.   And in Britain, being anti-immigrant gets you called "racist" by Leftists every time.  In the USA, it is perfectly mainstream politics for conservatives to be outspokenly critical of illegal immigration.  Not so in Britain.  So Hodges is right that by  Leftist standards UKIP is racist.  But the objective truth is that UKIP has NO racist policies and rejects racism.

References below to the BNP refer to a now largely defunct party that was solely anti-immigration but which was always portrayed by the Left as Fascist.

As the row continues to swirl this morning around Ukip’s racist election posters it’s important to keep a few things in perspective. Nigel Farage is not Nick Griffin. Ukip are not the fascist foot soldiers of the BNP.  They’re worse.

The British National Party are finished. They are kaput. Or, as I’m sure their followers would prefer, “Kaputt”.

Griffin’s remaining tenure as an MEP can now be counted in weeks. There will be no tearful celebrations from burly men in black bomber jackets when the Euro election results are read out in Manchester town hall. On 22 May the BNP will cease to exist politically.

At which point Ukip will become de facto standard bearers for the extreme Right. Indeed, Farage has openly expressed his pride that the BNP’s former supporters are making Ukip their new home. In his now notorious interview with GQ magazine, Ukip’s leader took a break from expressing his admiration for Vladimir Putin to explain

“What we did is starting with Oldham by-election in the North of England is for the first time ever try and deal with the BNP question by going out and saying to the BNP voters: ‘if you are voting BNP because you are frustrated, upset, with the change in your community, but you are holding your nose because you don’t agree with their racist agenda, then come and vote for us. And I would think that we have taken a third of the BNP vote from them, and I don’t think that anyone has done more to damage the BNP than Ukip and I am quite proud of that”.


The fact is that many Labour party voters are dissatisfied with the disruption to their communities caused by massive immigration and UKIP has taken a lot of voters off the Labour party for that reason.

The spurious "97% consensus" claim now needs legal protection from being disproven

Anthony Watts has apparently obtained more of the data on which John Cook based his 97% claim and was set to publish an article showing just how disreputable the Cook claim is.

But the university where Cook works has now issued Watts with a threatening legal letter that forbids him from discussing Cook's work  -- on the ground that Cook's work is copyrighted!

How Fascist can you get!  A claim that cannot be discussed!  It tells us most vividly how indefensible the claim is.

Anthony gives the gruesome details here


Global warming is all that the article below talks about by way of explanation but bringing just a touch of extra evidence to bear alters the picture.

If warming is causing the glaciers to melt, how come the sea ice is at a record high?  Is the land warming while the sea is cooling? If so we are looking at local effects not global ones.

And there IS a local warming effect that could be at work.  Also in West Antarctica, an active sub-sea volcano has just been discovered.  And the discoverers note:  "Numerous volcanoes exist in Marie Byrd Land, a highland region of West Antarctica".  See the article following the one below.  And volcanoes are very hot.  So it is not at all improbable that there is vulcanism elsewhere in West Antartica which is warming things up and melting glaciers.

Vulcanism is at least as good an explanation as global warming as an explanation of glacial changes for 2 reasons:  1).  We know there is vulcanism nearby whereas we know that there is NO global warming going on at the moment.  2). Vulcanism explains the opposite trends in sea ice and glacial ice  -- which global warming cannot do  -- JR

The huge West Antarctic ice sheet is starting a glacially slow collapse in an unstoppable way, two new studies show. Alarmed scientists say that means even more sea level rise than they figured.

The worrisome outcomes won't be seen soon. Scientists are talking hundreds of years, but over that time the melt that has started could eventually add 4 to 12 feet to current sea levels.

A NASA study looking at 40 years of ground, airplane and satellite data of what researchers call "the weak underbelly of West Antarctica" shows the melt is happening faster than scientists had predicted, crossing a critical threshold that has begun a domino-like process.

"It does seem to be happening quickly," said University of Washington glaciologist Ian Joughin, lead author of one study. "We really are witnessing the beginning stages."

It's likely because of man-made global warming and the ozone hole which have changed the Antarctic winds and warmed the water that eats away at the feet of the ice, researchers said at a NASA news conference Monday.

"The system is in sort of a chain reaction that is unstoppable," said NASA glaciologist Eric Rignot, chief author of the NASA study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. "Every process in this reaction is feeding the next one."

Curbing emissions from fossil fuels to slow climate change will probably not halt the melting but it could slow the speed of the problem, Rignot said.


An amusing piece of dogmatism from "Climate Science Watch"

It defends the Obama "report" in even more extreme terms than the report itself.  The editor of the site appears to be Rick Piltz, who is a journalist with no scientific qualifications -- so his naivety and the failure to mention a single scientific fact about the climate in the article he prints can perhaps be understood.  Interesting that the actual author of the article is anonymous. Perhaps he too is a blithering ignoramus like Rick.

The article makes large claims about what "the science" shows  but the author has obviously not read the science that he links to.  He implies, for instance, that heat-waves have increased recently.  That is the exact opposite of what the heat-wave reference in the report shows. I quote:  "For heat waves “the highest number of heat waves occurred in the 1930s, with the fewest in the 1960s. The 2001–10 decade was the second highest but well below the 1930s.”. I could call Mr Anonymous  a liar but I think he is just a gullible idiot.  His various other assertions below could also be ripped apart but what's the point?  He's an ignoramus

In response to the release of the latest National Climate Assessment (NCA), the Wall Street Journal has unleashed an unfortunately typical stream of distractions, straw men, and outright falsehoods in the form of an editorial as well as an op-ed by Steven F. Hayward. Both pieces seek to portray the assessment as politicized, practically suggesting that President Obama personally composed the report off the top of his head. But neither the President nor the administration wrote the report: scientists did. The attempts to imply political subterfuge show how increasingly desperate the detractors of climate science are growing, and how unable they are to engage with the science itself.

The report’s conclusions are in fact completely uncontroversial in the world of science, and should be considered separately from the political drama which some are trying to impose on them.

    The report was written by scientists. To be exact, hundreds of authors, each experts in their respective fields, cited over 3,000 individual studies to create the final product. The report received thousands of public comments and review from both green groups and industry groups, and was reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences. A spokesperson from oil giant Chevron endorsed the report, saying, “Chevron recognizes and shares the concerns of governments and the public about climate change.” The report is one of a series mandated by Congress in the U.S. Global Change Research Act, enacted during the administration of George H.W. Bush. And the report’s conclusions echo the latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a global scientific organization completely outside the scope of the U.S. administration.

    The summary reflects the balance of the evidence. In an attempt to show that the summary is “politicized,” the WSJ editorial quotes a line from the underlying chapters about uncertainty over trends in tornadoes. However, the summary states that climate change is worsening extreme weather, because it is: heat waves, extreme precipitation, wildfires, higher storm surges, and increased drought in currently dry areas all show clear climate connections that are reflected in the assessment. Tornadoes are an outlier to this body of evidence, and using them as a primary example is transparently misleading.

    The report doesn’t prescribe political action. It shows we have a problem, and that Americans’ livelihoods will be harmed if we don’t take action to fix it. It’s not surprising that these conclusions would be unpopular with Hayward, who is a board member and treasurer for the Donors Capital Fund, described as the Koch brothers’ “dark-money ATM.” Strategically, these groups are trying to preemptively discredit the report to forestall any potential future action. But the report itself does not take political sides or advocate any one policy solution over others.

    Inaction on climate change poses serious economic risks. Both the IPCC and NCA support this conclusion, contrary to the suggestions in both WSJ pieces that climate action would derail the economy. The NCA documents the growing evidence of climate change impacts, with clear economic implications for coastal properties, fisheries, water resources, transportation infrastructure, energy availability, and more. The latest IPCC report further concluded that delaying action would be far costlier than taking action immediately.

    Climate change is caused by humans. This statement is the definition of old news, yet both WSJ pieces imply the opposite. From the editorial we get the tired old maxim that we’ve had extreme weather in the distant past, so there can’t possibly be a human contribution. Hayward claims outright that proof of human-caused climate change “is far from definitive.” This is simply not true. The latest IPCC report’s best estimate is that all of modern climate change was caused by humans, and possibly more (this is possible because natural factors may have actually reduced the observed warming). It just doesn’t get more definitive than that, and Hayward is unwilling to acknowledge this simple fact.

The National Climate Assessment is a scientific document, not a political one. Its findings are of immediate practical use to Americans in all regions and economic sectors of the country. It provides a blueprint for actions as simple and commonsense as raising roadways that are now routinely flooded due to sea level rise, an occurrence that Miami knows all too well. Despite the obvious utility of this information, some politically motivated voices are trying to stigmatize it, and the Wall Street Journal is handing them a megaphone. But the facts themselves are undeniable, even if the Journal fails to show them clearly to its readers.


Forgive me while I laugh

It would be absurd for me to try to read the whole 800 pages of Obama's recent climate "Report"  but I thought I should at least dip into it.  I went to the section "Recent U.S. Temperature Trends" and clicked the "supporting evidence" gadget.  I found that the evidence was in the form of four workshops.   I picked the workshop on heat waves with T.C.  Peterson as lead author.  The "workshop" was in the form of an academic journal article (“Monitoring and Understanding Changes in Heat Waves, Cold Waves, Floods and Droughts in the United States- State of Knowledge”) published by the American Meteorological Society in June 2013.  So I went to the article, didn't I?  Academic articles have no terrors for me.  I have written plenty of them.

The article was a ball of fun.  It started out admitting that the the data was so diverse that it was difficult to draw conclusions from it.  So they had the workshop so that participants could discuss the data and come to a consensus.  In other words the conclusions were an opinion about the data, not the data itself.

And under the heading HEAT WAVES AND COLD WAVES (Subsection "Observed changes"), the fun really began.  We read for instance:

"For heat waves “the highest number of heat waves occurred in the 1930s, with the fewest in the 1960s. The 2001–10 decade was the second highest but well below the 1930s.”

Come again???  That is supposed to prove global warming?  I could make a better case for it proving global cooling.  You should read the whole thing.  It's a riot (unintentionally).  They conclude what they want to conclude and evidence be damned.

I am pleased, however, that the scientists were rather frank.  The "Report" as a whole however is a heap of corruption.  It's authors did not at all reflect the science in their own report  -- JR

What Cliven Bundy said about blacks

The relevant excerpt:

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”


These are simply old-fashioned views from an old-fashioned man  -- views that had wide currency in America not so long ago.  Bundy is being pilloried for being old-fashioned.  He has been too busy managing his cattle to keep up with the latest intellectual fashions.

Even so, his views about the present bad state of many black families are widespread in respectable sources because the dysfunction concerned  is so obvious.  It's only his "wondering" about whether blacks were better off under slavery that is no longer fashionable.  But should ANY wondering be penalized?

His use of the term "negro" has also been condemned -- but "negro" is simply the scientific term for sub-Saharan Africans.  Again it is old-fashioned in modern speech but hardly wrong.

Are pills or psychology best for treating mental illness?

JAMA, a major medical journal, has just published a review of reviews which tries to answer that question.  They found a slight edge in favour of psychology, somewhat surprisingly.  Excerpt of results  below:

Efficacy of Pharmacotherapy and Psychotherapy for Adult Psychiatric Disorders:  A Systematic Overview of Meta-analyses

By Maximilian Huhn et al


The search yielded 45 233 results. We included 61 meta-analyses on 21 psychiatric disorders, which contained 852 individual trials and 137 126 participants. The mean effect size of the meta-analyses was medium (mean, 0.50; 95% CI, 0.41-0.59). Effect sizes of psychotherapies vs placebo tended to be higher than those of medication, but direct comparisons, albeit usually based on few trials, did not reveal consistent differences. Individual pharmacotherapy trials were more likely to have large sample sizes, blinding, control groups, and intention-to-treat analyses. In contrast, psychotherapy trials had lower dropout rates and provided follow-up data. In psychotherapy studies, wait-list designs showed larger effects than did comparisons with placebo.

JAMA Psychiatry. Published online April 30, 2014.