The end of the world news

While politicians are gassing on, here’s the sort of thing that really matters: the Washington Post reports on a superbug resistant to last-resort antibiotics, and liable to share its genes with other more sinister bacteria, that has reached the United States.

People tell me, oh, I wouldn’t want to live in the Middle Ages because they didn’t have antibiotics. Well, we did and we squandered them.

Three cheers for modernity.


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A stunning ruling

The United States Supreme Court just made a singularly sensible ruling that stun guns are weapons.

Duh, what else would they be? Perhaps. But here’s the thing. As UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh explains (and by the way I heartily recommend his multi-author blog for the Washington Post, “The Volokh Conspiracy“), what was at issue was a bizarre ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution only protects weapons in wide use in 1789.

Now as Stephen P. Halbrook pointed out more than three decades ago in That Every Man Be Armed, people would be outraged if an American court tried to impose this sort of narrow construction on any other key right. Imagine the outcry, including from Canadians, if an American judge suggested that free speech was limited to the government, as some have claimed the right to arms is limited to state militias, or restricted its application to 18th-century-style hand-cranked printing presses.

By the same token, there’s no justification for taking such a view with respect to modern firearms or to “stun guns”, often casually referred to by the name of one particular brand, the Taser, which incidentally is an acronym from “Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle” from the 10th instalment in the once very popular children’s adventure series whose excessive fondness for adverbs accompanying speech acts gave us the “Tom Swifty”, of the form “‘I’m thirsty,’ he said dryly.”

There’s another point to consider, and one that speaks directly to Canada’s incredibly tight restrictions on weapons. The Massachusetts decision in question, COMMONWEALTH v. JAIME CAETANO, involved a woman who was found, in the course of an investigation into shoplifting, to be carrying a stun gun for protection against a violent ex-boyfriend.

Is that so wrong? There is no suggestion that the weapon was used, displayed or mentioned in the alleged shoplifting incident, and if it had been, there are criminal sanctions against armed robbery that would apply. But she did say she’d had to display it to scare off her ex-boyfriend at least once, which sure sounds to me like a socially desirable outcome as well as an action clearly protected by the American Second Amendment.

Now consider that in Canada such devices are prohibited. You just can’t have one. Not in your car, not in your purse, not in your house. Only the government can have them.

Why? Does anyone fear a mass tasering leaving dozens dead? Even if you grant the legitimacy of restrictions on certain types of firearms, which I don’t, what possible justification exists for forbidding a woman to carry a stun gun for protection against a stalker? To have one in case she is swarmed by hostile men in a public place? Or at least to have one beside her bed in case she wakes up to find an intruder looming over her?

If you can’t answer those questions either, stay tuned for our documentary A Right to Arms, where we argue that Canadians’ unquestioned historic right to self-defence was sound on utilitarian grounds as well as those of natural law, and should be restored.

Meanwhile, good for the U.S. Supreme Court. They’ve given the Massachusetts court orders to try again, but with a pretty clear warning that it better come back with a more sensible ruling.


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When your potato browns if cut, you…

Another strange item from my “at last we can begin to live” files: a story in today’s National Post says a new GMO potato has been approved for use in Canada that “is less likely to bruise or turn brown when cut.” A solution to which, again, I search in vain for the problem.

I’m not convinced that all the criticisms made of GMOs are entirely rational. But I do think that when we’re messing with nature for reasons as trivial as this one we’re risking trouble for nothing.

To be fair the story says the “Innate” potato has less asparagine, and that this “amino acid found in many starchy foods produces acrylamide, suspected to be a human carcinogen” when you cook potatoes above 120 C which many people probably do. But honestly, whose life was really rendered less fulfilling because potatoes turn brown when cut or produce trivial quantities of something “suspected to be a human carcinogen” when cooked?

In the entire history of mankind, how many lives have been lost because of the difference between the quantity of asparagine in a natural potato and the quantity in an Innate potato?

Either we’re using science for such trivial purposes because we’ve run out of real problems that can be solved through science, as could arguably also be happening with the latest breathless improvements in smartphones, or because we don’t know what real problems are.

So again, don’t run screaming into the woods, or out of the fields, because of this new GMO potato. It won’t eat Etobicoke. But it also won’t solve any problem that matters.


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Climate questions

My friend Tom Harris is inviting people to attend a conference sponsored by his International Climate Science Coalition and others in Paris at the same time as the big UN affair. Even if you don’t find yourself in Paris this coming week, it’s well worth pondering the questions Tom and his colleagues are asking about the orthodox view.

Most fundamentally, the ICSC and others ask for proper evidence on these three points:

  • Recent climate change is unusual in comparison with historical records;
  • Human emissions of carbon dioxide and other ‘greenhouse gases’ are dangerously impacting climate;
  • Computer-based models are reliable indicators of future climate.

If the consensus is as solid as alarmists claim, it should be easy to provide. If they can’t or won’t provide it, something very unscientific is going on here.



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The Internet of… oh darn

Very interesting Washington Post piece about the security of the Internet and the “Internet of things” largely based on Linux, given the eccentricities of Linux’ founder and the incentives that don’t operate when people are giving stuff away rather than selling it.

Read that alongside Ted Koppel’s piece (in Thursday’s National Post among other places) about the vulnerability of America’s power infrastructure (and ours, I assure you) and you might well conclude with Woody that “This is the perfect time to panic.”

But don’t worry if you miss it. You’ll get another chance.


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