Happy Birthday America


Peace Flag, image from SoCal Flags, https://www.amazon.com/SoCal-Flags-Polyester-Weather-Resistant/dp/B01CF2THTK

It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were celebrating the Bicentennial and everything was red, white, and blue. Now, 41 years later, we’re having a bit of difficulty getting along with each other, and with the world at large. If America can manage to stay together, I propose we adopt a new version of the Stars and Stripes, one that expresses our most important mission for the 21st century: Peace! Happy Fourth, everyone!



Daylight Scammings Time


Crazy time! I miss my backwards Bullwinkle clock.

Those of you unfortunates in the rest of the USA lost an hour today. We in Arizona (and Hawaii; our fellow holdout Indiana succumbed to the Borg a few years back) do not practice such nonsense. The idea was first proposed by Benjamin Franklin, though it was a moot point since official time zones had not been established. It came into common usage in Germany during World War I with the rationale of saving coal by promoting energy savings. Daylight Savings Time is the archetypal grand government scheme in that its proponents exaggerate benefits and ignore negative external costs. If it’s such a great idea, private businesses are free to adopt summer hours on their own initiative. There’s no need for coercive standardization.

The original benefits touted for DST were energy savings. By adjusting the hours most people were awake, it would supposedly require less use energy usage. Wikipedia’s article on DST reports several studies in which energy savings were predicted, but subsequent follow-ups showed little to no benefits. In fact, when Indiana adopted DST in 2006, energy consumption actually increased due to greater use of air conditioning in the summer evening hours.

The other alleged benefit of DST is that people can enjoy more time after-work outdoor activities in the summer. Here in Arizona, this is a drawback. Due to the high temperatures, we welcome the sunset. (A few years back, our august legislature proposed reverse DST. Ugh!) Again, private businesses are free to adopt summer hours. Government offices could do so as well. However, with increasing air pollution and traffic congestion, communities would benefit far more from staggered work schedules, which would render the whole issue moot.

Now for the widely ignored downside: DST has a significant detrimental effect on health. Days on which the clock shift see a 10% increase in heart attacks (also from Wikipedia.) Its effect on global business is a nightmare because the many nations who observe “summer time” tend to shift their clocks on different days, making time coordination more baffling than a backwards Bullwinkleclock. For example, Mexico adopted DST as a result of NAFTA (so-called “trade pacts” have little to do with reducing tariffs and everything to do with the centralization of authority) even though, as a sub-tropical nation, it sees little benefit. It’s interesting to note that Mexico changes its clocks on different days than the US, meaning this “standardization” simply increases confusion.

Daylight savings time is a scam that offers our citizens little or no benefit at a significant cost. If we’re going to eliminate grand government schemes this would be a good place to start, since its repeal wouldn’t bankrupt any companies or start any rebellions. President Trump, gadfly that he is, should consider this move as a less controversial way to benefit America.

The wise Victorians didn’t observe DST. Escape to a simpler time with my steampunk novels Fidelio’s Automata and Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel.


Liberty and its Discontents

Statue of Liberty

Lady Liberty, Photo from Wikipedia

For many years, we libertarians studied, wrote and theorized in the shadows. We believed with a religious zeal in the benefits of liberty and a laissez-faire economy. The Libertarian Party’s motto says it best: “Working for freedom because freedom works.” Though we continued to be marginalized as a movement, our efforts began to pay off. Starting in the Reagan era, many of those in power began to take our ideas seriously, or so it seemed. Four libertarian principles – deregulation, privatization, free trade, and open borders – have become economic and political orthodoxy.

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass once said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” In other words, we should have been suspicious of our rulers’ good intentions. Politicians and bureaucrats are not inclined to surrender money and authority without a personal benefit. In this case, it was the monetary support of billionaires and multi-national corporations. As their elite-centric policies have borne their rotten fruit, we find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of defending our ideas on multiple fronts, from progressives, populists and even the Alt-Right.

Though we still believe in freedom, the issues are more complicated than they once appeared. The recent relaxations and abolitions of laws and regulations happened to apply mainly to the rich and powerful. Yes, freedom is an end in itself, but it is not always beneficial when enacted unevenly or unfairly.

Take for example deregulation. The Enron scandal occurred partly as a result of the government’s deregulation of energy distributors but not energy producers, allowing the company to reap massive profits. Even more disastrous was the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Banking Act during the Clinton administration. This allowed banks to move into risky derivative markets, while still insured by the taxpayer, creating a moral hazard that caused the financial crash of 2008.

Privatization, too, has had its share of disasters. Privately owned prisons are another source of perverse incentives. Rather than simply providing a cost-effective alternative for the incarceration of dangerous criminals, these corporations made contracts with governments specifying minimum “occupancy” levels, which indirectly led to a vast expansion in the US prison population. The “Affordable” Care Act, too, was conceived as a “free market” alternative to a single-payer health care system like the one in Canada. Markets do not work well with compulsion, and the Obamacare “mandate” allowed insurers to raise rates and deductibles dramatically for their captive consumers.

Perhaps the worst example of privatization gone awry occurred after the fall of the Soviet Union. Led astray by Western “experts,” Russian officials privatized their nation’s industries, granting shares to every citizen. This happened simultaneously with massive unemployment and the gutting of Russia’s social safety net. In order to avoid starvation, citizens were forced to sell their shares to foreign investors who proceeded to strip-mine Russian industries. This is why the Russian people love Putin because his government put a stop to this madness.

As for “free trade,” when the elitists use the term, it means more than eliminating tariff barriers. Trace organizations like the European Union create a huge unelected supranational bureaucracy, which is accountable only to large corporations and the wealthy. Newer trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would create special courts in which corporations could sue to have national laws and regulations changed for their benefit. If this wasn’t insidious, why were the terms of the TPP kept secret even from Congress?

Despite its benefits of efficiency and closer international relations, free trade has the downside of promoting the outsourcing of jobs and industries from high-wage to low-wage countries. Instead of using tax policy to mitigate these problems, the US government actually incentivized the practice, ravaging the American middle class and bankrupting the heartland. It was this problem, not the rise of minorities, that made the so-called “deplorables” so furious.

At the moment, the biggest issue in both America and Europe is immigration, with illegals and refugees causing anger in the native population. Though libertarians have traditionally favored immigration as a component of individual freedom, we find the double standard infuriating. Why does one group get to flout Federal law, when a citizen doing something comparably illegal would end up in a private prison? Even worse is the uncontrolled Islamic invasion of Europe. These so-called refugees receive taxpayer support and special legal privileges. Rather than expecting the newcomers to assimilate, European governments demand that their citizens accommodate the newcomers’ primitive, misogynist culture. This insanity is what turned me away from my life-long “open borders” advocacy.

Can the philosophy of freedom survive? Some of us libertarians have turned to populism and the Alt Right and supported President Trump as a lesser evil, even though many of his policies are authoritarian in nature. Yet the fact that the entire Establishment opposes him is a mark in his favor. As for the Libertarian Party, if it is to continue, it needs to pick a standard-bearer who isn’t a single-issue (legal weed) know-nothing like Gary Johnson. Speaking of weed, could there be something behind the marijuana movement besides the desire for increased tax revenues? Perhaps the Elite once again have something sinister up their sleeves.


No Tea for the Tillerson


Former Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, was on Capitol Hill yesterday for confirmation hearings before Congress. Given the general hysteria over Tillerson’s business ties with Russia, I thought at first he’d be a good pick. Nothing is more important than repairing America’s damaged relations with Russia. It’s a powerful country, rich in resources, with an educated population and a shared opposition to Islamic terrorism. Most importantly, it has nuclear weapons, so to attack it would be suicidal.

Unfortunately, the US government is lousy with “exceptionalists” who deny that Russia has the right to defend its own interests. They’re apoplectic that Moscow has opposed the illegal installation of hostile regimes in two of its former allies, Ukraine and Syria. The neo-conservative anti-Russian crusade is not about “human rights.” If we cared about that, we wouldn’t support countries like Saudi Arabia that murder gays and enslave women.

As for Tillerson, he’s more of a war-hawk than his detractors thought. He supports our pointless sanctions on Russia as if either Crimea or Aleppo was any of our business. Furthermore, the accusations of Putin “hacking” the Presidential election are just that, accusations, unsupported by credible evidence. Even if the Kremlin DID hack the Democratic Party’s server, the released information was true and relevant to the voters’ decision, so the leak was a public service.

Perhaps Rex is repeating this neo-conservative rubbish so the clowns in Congress will confirm him. I hope that’s the case, but I have my doubts after hearing his belligerent remarks about China. What gives us the right to tell a sovereign nation what it can and cannot do in its own coastal waters? Open navigation in the South China Sea is critical for Beijing’s survival. Despite that fact, Rex insists that China must stop building artificial island bases and threatens to send our Navy to kick them off.

Is this man insane? It’s acceptable to make war for our own national defense, but not to attack the vital interests of another country. China has every right to defend itself and having come late to the party, there are no leftover islands for it to occupy as bases. To Beijing’s credit, these built-up shoals were not inhabited. They’re not conquering and coercing native peoples as we did with Guam, Samoa, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Even Diego Garcia, which the US rents from the UK, was stolen from its native population.

Why do so many powerful Americans continue to frame other nations’ defensive moves as aggression? It must be psychological projection because the US is second to none at portraying imperialism as defense. We needn’t accept this nonsense. Congress should reject Tillerson’s nomination, not because he’s (allegedly) soft on Russia, but because he’s unhinged, unfair, and unbalanced on China. We don’t need another conflict, especially one that could escalate into a nuclear war.

If you like political intrigue, you’ll enjoy my novel Centrifugal Force.

FREE SPEECH FRIDAY: My Predictions for 2017


Gaze into the future…

Why make predictions, one nobody can see the future? I say, why not? At the very least, it’s an interesting exercise to see how much we can guess correctly.

First I’ll review my arcane and esoteric predictions from a year ago, at the start of 2016:

1. My 2016 prediction about Trump not winning the Presidency was wrong, and I’m in good company because even most of the Donald’s most devoted advocates expected him to lose. It’s not that I believed the media’s slanted coverage of him; I just didn’t think the Powers That Be would allow him to prevail.

2. Economic stagnation continues – I was mostly correct. Despite the Obama administration’s propaganda about a recovery, there are still millions unemployed and thirty-year-olds living with their parents. The post-election stock market euphoria doesn’t count; to most Americans, it has yet to deliver any material benefit.

3. Unrest expands beyond the inner cities – also correct. With the Dakota Access Pipeline, Black Lives Matter, and anti-Trump protests, we’ve seen plenty of that. Thankfully, there hasn’t been as much violence as I expected. 2016 was indeed a year of surprises.

Now for my prognostications for 2017: having gone 2 for 3 in 2016 I’ll double the number.

1. Happy days aren’t here again. The economy will worsen and perhaps even return to 2008 levels. Trump will be the cause, but not directly. Because he’s an independent actor, the usual suspects at the Federal Reserve have no reason to support him and will finally raise interest rates. On the good side, it will be a long-overdue detox from the fiscal meth high of the “zero interest rate” policy.

2. Russia, Russia, Russia! Russia will continue to increase its influence, especially if Trump can put an end to those foolish economic sanctions. The Russian economy will grow through 2017 and the Kremlin will win battles and gain allies in the Middle East.

3. Oil prices are headed upward. This is a contrary view, but the world’s biggest oil producer, Saudi Arabia, has gotten itself in financial trouble with its overly generous welfare state. Furthermore the royal family’s covert support for ISIS and their meddling in Bahrain and Yemen will come back to bite them. The resulting political turmoil may cause a significant increase in prices by the second half of the year.

4. Havana will be the new boomtown. With Fidel gone, Cuba will go the way of China and attempt to meld communism and capitalism. It will be the “in” place for investors, though the Raul Castro regime will give a lot of them the shaft.

5. Humpty Dumpty sits on a wall in Brussels. If Le Pen wins in France or Wilders wins in the Netherlands (I’d say the odds are at least 50-50 for at least one of these,) the EU will effectively collapse by year’s end. If not, this autocratic alliance will continue its slow march into oblivion.

6. The corporate media grabs at straws. The “fake news” nonsense shows that media corporations are desperate. When their propaganda fails, they’ll attempt to absorb and co-opt the alt media. A few might have some limited success, but in the long run, the dinosaur networks and newspapers are doomed.

One year from now we’ll see how they stack up. Despite my pessimism, I’d like to wish you all a prosperous (or at least interesting) 2017.

If you wonder about the future (and who doesn’t?) check out the story collection Valiant, He Endured edited by George Donnelly and containing the short story “Ghost Writer” by yours truly.


Free Speech Friday: Is There a War on Christmas?


It’s that time again, to hear the conservative lament about the “war on Christmas.” Is this, as the New York Times suggest, merely in our imagination? I’d agree that the term “war” is a bit of an exaggeration. Maybe “cultural skirmish” would be a better term. No one has outlawed Christmas here in America, but expressions of “Merry Christmas” and related decorations aren’t welcome in all situations.

One of the drivers of this anti-Christmas mentality has been the American Civil Liberties Union. Years ago, I was a member of that organization, as I believed that it did a lot of important work to support our civil rights. I let my membership expire when they began to view political correctness as more important than freedom. Though I’ve been a religious skeptic all my adult life, I’ve never shared their hard-line view on church-state separation. What harm does it do to have a nativity scene at the county courthouse? Does this constitute establishing an official church? I see it rather as a recognition of the local culture. I’d prefer that the decorations be paid for by private donations rather than taxpayer funds, but in any case, there are a lot more egregious things we could spend our money on.

This is why it’s unfortunate that we feel obligated to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” lest we offend someone who is not Christian. Though I would not go out of my way to say it to someone I knew was Jewish, or who appeared Middle Eastern, I wish I didn’t have to worry about that. Christmas is part of our culture, which is shared even by those of us who aren’t religious. For example, if I were in Japan and someone wished me a happy Gozan no Okuribi, it wouldn’t matter at all to me that I’m not Buddhist. It’s part of their culture, and besides, it’s the sentiment behind the wish that counts.

Speaking of Christmas, check out the new flash fiction collection, Christmas in Love, edited by George Donnelly. I’m sure you’ll find my contribution to be amusing. Even better, the e-book is FREE for a limited time.

SCIENCE SATURDAY: Escape from Earth


Earthrise over the Moon, photographed by the Apollo 11 astronauts, from history.nasa.gov

One of the greatest disappointments of my life has been the stalling of space exploration. Considering the rate of the Apollo moon missions in the 1970’s, I expected we’d have a permanent base there by now. Unfortunately, so much of humanity’s resources have been wasted on war, both military and economic, that it’s crippled our efforts to get into space. I believe it will happen eventually, but probably not in my lifetime.

Why should humans go into space? As mountaineer George Mallory said about Everest, “because it’s there.” There are tangible benefits as well, which include scientific discoveries, zero-G manufacturing technology, mining resources in space, and the ability to avert (or survive) a planetary emergency. We’ve already benefited from sending machines into orbit. Satellites for weather, communications, and research have revolutionized our lives.

Because government priorities are driven by the whims of politicians and the fickle attention of the public, NASA and other government agencies are not the answer. The private sector needs to play a major role. Private business in space got off to a slow start, in part to government regulations and the concern that space travel could be weaponized. Since the end of the Shuttle program, and the collapse of America’s Soviet competitor, we’ve seen the birth of a free-enterprise space race. Companies such as Orbital, SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and dozens of others have taken up the torch.

Even without the burden of government taxation and regulation, the economics of space exploration are still daunting. A 2011 estimate of the cost to get 1 kg of material into low earth orbit was approximately $1000. New technologies such as magnetic rail guns may be helpful (for inert material rather than living things), but escaping the earth’s gravity will remain expensive for a very long time.

The microgravity that makes space exploration so interesting to engineers is also a hazard to the long-term human habitation of space. Rotating space stations are a staple of science fiction because it’s the best way to simulate gravity in orbit. Yet we have not yet created anything of the sort. Once again it’s a matter of resources. To be useful as a human habitation, a rotating station would have to be quite a bit larger than anything we’ve built so far, including the International Space Station. It would also have to be strong enough to stand the stress of constant rotation.

I have hope that mankind will eventually break such barriers. Increased funding to NASA could be a carrot to the aerospace industry as America withdraws from its unproductive interventions abroad. As the US and Russia settle their differences, I look forward to more cooperative ventures between the two countries. But for the most part, the government needs to get out of the way. It’s time for space enthusiasts to put their money where their mouths are and invest in companies that will help us break the shackles of Earth.

If you like the mysteries of space, you’ll enjoy my story Found Pet, available from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Found-Pet-Vaughn-Treude-ebook/dp/B018H41FRM

SCIENCE SATURDAY: Razib Khan and the Controversy of Human Genomics

Razib Khan, scientific outlaw

Razib Khan, scientific outlaw

The science of genetics has added a fascinating dimension to the history of mankind. For example, we once thought that Neanderthal people went extinct. Now scientists believe that modern humans have Neanderthal genes, meaning that our ancestors got close and personal with their caveman cousins. It’s also fascinating to consider when humans first occupied what parts of the earth, and in what direction they migrated. New theories have provoked fierce debate about migrations to places like Australia and the Americas earlier than experts previously believed. Genetic analysis of human remains is one piece of this puzzle. Why is this branch of science not more popular than it is? I suspect the reason may be political.

For the last few months, I’ve been reading the Gene Expression Blog by Razib Khan at the alt media site unz.com. I’ll write more about that excellent site in an upcoming blog post. Khan is an avid reader and a prolific writer on evolution, history, religion, and philosophy. He also writes frequently about the field of personal genomics and controversial services such as 23andMe. Khan’s profile lists him as a graduate student in genomics at UC Davis. His column has renewed my dormant interest in human genetics and paleo-history.

The problem is, Khan doesn’t stick to the narrative. He engages with publications and groups that are politically incorrect. Last year the New York Times booted him off the editorial pages for that reason. The gossip site gawker.com had outed him for his association with allegedly “racist” sites takimag.com and vdare.com. That’s their loss and Unz’s gain. It gives me great satisfaction, however, that VDare and Taki’s Magazine are still going strong, but Gawker is no more.

It’s appalling to think that a smart, well-spoken fellow like Khan would be punished for his associations. I’m reminded of how the Catholic Church treated Galileo’s theories. Yes, many biologists speculate on the differences between human racial groups concerning average intelligence, health, stamina, etc. This may offend politically correct opinion. Yet I don’t think that scientists actually believe the propaganda that “race is an illusion” and that all groups are exactly equal in potential. If you think about it, the egalitarian view is counter-intuitive. As a progressive friend commented to me, concerning the differences between ethnicities, “Why would you think they’d all be the same?”

My point is that science shouldn’t make value judgments. Research gives us information, which we can use for good or evil, to help people or hurt them. You may ask, what good does it do for us to know how and where humans originated, and the differences between racial groups? We don’t know. Neither did the Pope Urban VIII at the time he censured Galileo. He couldn’t have foreseen space exploration and its benefits, yet his closed-mindedness could have prevented all of that.

Arlys’ and my book Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel takes a fanciful look at Mesoamerican paleontology. Check it out at https://www.amazon.com/Miss-Ione-Mayan-Marvel-Adventures-ebook/dp/B01G2TBBPU/

FREE SPEECH FRIDAY: Honoring an American Hero


“There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights.”

— General Smedley Darlington Butler

On this Veteran’s Day, I’d like to remember one of America’s most decorated veterans, Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler. He was one of 19 men to be awarded the Medal of Honor twice. He was also one of America’s bravest truth-tellers, author of the 1935 classic War is a Racket. This book is available in digital form on Amazon for 99 cents.

Butler participated in American military actions in several countries, including the first World War. He did not become outspoken until after his retirement. One of his most controversial actions was coming to Congress with information about the so-called Business Plot, a conspiracy to overthrow President Franklin Roosevelt and replace him with a military dictator. All the alleged conspirators denied it, of course, but a Congressional committee verified at least some of his testimony.

I highly recommend reading Butler’s book. It’s quite short and can be read in a few hours. Though written shortly before WWII, it nevertheless seems to mirror current events, as Butler writes about all the extravagant profits earned by various “patriotic” industries, from steel to leather (for cavalry saddles.) He also condemns the use of the US military as an enforcer for corporate interests in other nations, such as United Fruit Company’s abusive, monopolistic practices in Central America.

Butler didn’t live to see the second World War that he was warning the nation about. He died of cancer in 1940 at the age of 58. Besides “War is a Racket”, he wrote books about military actions in Mexico and Paraguay. Some of his speeches and letters have also been compiled and published. One of his co-authors was Arthur J. Burks, a marine colonel and a fascinating character in his own right. Burks wrote numerous books and stories in the adventure, detective, and sci-fi genres.

If you’re an admirer of Smedley Butler, you’ll enjoy my political sci-fi novel Centrifugal Force, because he’s mentioned in it.

Science Saturday: Planet 9 in Outer Space


It was a sad day in 2006 when our beloved 9th planet Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet. Pluto was always the problem child, but we loved it anyway. It was the smallest planet, whose orbit was inclined at 17 degrees to all the others. Even more troublesome, its orbit crossed that of Neptune, so that for part of its 300+ year orbit it was actually the 8th planet from the sun, rather than the 9th. (It will never collide with Neptune, thanks to that tilted orbit.) To top it all off, it was discovered here in Arizona.

Unfortunately, the rebel planet had to be demoted with the discovery of Eris and a half dozen other large objects out in the Kuiper Belt – because if Pluto remained a planet, all these newcomers would be. It was not easy to break the habit of thinking of 9 planets. The “Church of 9 Planets” in Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land would need a new name. Therefore it was a relief to hear that there was probably still a 9th planet out here – and this would have to be a decent size, several times bigger than Earth.

It’s ironic that Michael Brown, the astronomer who discovered Eris who jokingly calls himself “Pluto killer,” who along with colleague Konstantin Batygin, proposed the existence of a new Planet 9. Their reasoning was a suspicious alignment in the orbits of Kuiper-belt planetoids. (This is the same reasoning Percival Lowell used to initiate the search for Planet X that ended up finding Pluto.) Something massive had to be shepherding them into similar orbits, and they were too far away for Neptune to be responsible. Since then there’s been a major effort to find it, which is a challenge. It’s so far out and so dim it taxes the abilities of our biggest telescopes to find it.

Of course, the crazies have come out of the woodwork. I’ve seen numerous Internet articles proclaiming it as the legendary Nibiru, or death star, the dark planet that periodically sends comets toward the Earth causing mass extinctions. The idea of the Sun having a distant unseen companion is actually a respectable scientific theory, but the theoretical Planet 9 doesn’t seem big enough to fit that bill. Nor do astronomers expect any imminent threat to our planet.

The other issue is, what will we call this new planet? By convention, trans-Neptunian objects are named, like Pluto, after gods of the afterworld. (Eris is an exception, but the “goddess of chaos” theme was quite appropriate to what its discovery did to the world of astronomy.) Perhaps we should take a hint from Herman Melville and call it Ishmael.

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_E._Brown

Image from http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/planetx

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If you like reading about undiscovered planets and alien critters, you’ll like my books. Check them out on Amazon.com