In Defence of My Government Neutrality / Full Liability Position on GMO Crops

I have previously discussed my position on the issue of genetically engineered foods and genetic engineering on this site. Readers of this blog as well as people who know me personally are familiar with my position, but apparently it is not enough for me to merely state it. I have been asked to defend various parts of my position and will do so here.

Simply put my position on GMOs is this:

1. No one should be allowed to patent a genetically engineered life form.

2. Governments should stay out of the business of subsidizing the growing, selling, distribution or development of GMO foods. They should be neutral to this technology.

3. If a someone sells GMO foods under false pretenses, they owes damages, as this is fraud.

4. Governments should stay out the business of attempting to directly influence the decisions of other governments concerning these products. (Leading by example does not count here).

5. If your GMO seeds, or crops or livestock in anyway contaminate or violate the property of anyone else you are liable for damage, with no exception.

6. If you’re GMO foods are responsible for compromises to the health, life or well being of another individual in anyway shape or form, you should be held FULLY liable for ALL damaged caused.

In defense of my first point, all I can say is that patents are simply government granted monopolies. I am of the position that we should not have any such monopolies as I elaborated here, but even for people who reject this position, I would still think the world’s food supply should be the last place we want government granted monopolies. The GMO foods business is largely dominated by a small number of companies, and this concentration of government granted privilege will only get worse if we continue in this direction. People should be free to peacefully use the information and finding of science as they see fit. This should be especially true of research that is government funded. I believe all research findings should be public domain, but this is especially true of research that is publicly funded.

This leads to my second point. I find government involvement in research and development as well as government promotion of some products over others to be problematic in numerous ways. To start government research is by definition tax payer funded: not all tax-payers support this research, why should they have to pay for research they don’t support? After all, forcing people to pay for it only legitimizes the case of the anti-GMO types that the government and big business are colluding to impose this form of technology on people who neither wanted it nor consented to it.

Furthermore, governments are known for being corrupt and generally in bed with big business. Government R&D strikes me as highly likely to favor established firms with large budgets over smaller competitors and would be competitors. Ultimately, I would rather technology emerge as a response to real demand expressed by the consumer. In a market, in which all parties are fully liable for their actions, fraud is not allowed and there are no arbitrary entry barrier or government favoritism, competitive pressures will push toward the development of the most efficient combination of technologies and techniques to meet the actual demands of consumers. Government R&D distorts this process.

My third point to me seems straight forward, but I have heard it objected to by people who do not like the decisions many of the consumers make. Some hate the idea that consumers may make purchasing decisions that are misguided or wrong and labeling measures and even prohibitions against fraud, will enable consumers to make the “wrong choices”. An example that was brought up is the gluten-free craze, which apparently started when people who have no biological need to avoid gluten started buying large quantities of gluten free foods at high prices.

To this I would respond that my stance is simply a consequence of the illegality of outright fraud. If people do not want gluten or GMO’s or whatever, they should be allowed to buy products without them (if the market produces such products) and they shouldn’t have to be lied to or forcibly kept in the dark. This is true even if their reasoning for not wanting these products is misguided or outright wrong. Ultimately it should be up to the consumers to decide what their preferences are. If you think the consumers are making misguided, wrong or stupid decisions, the solution is not to forbid labeling, but to engage in a little outreach and making your opinions known through the free exchange of information.

For my fourth point is largely a consequence of my position of foreign intervention in general, but it largely follows from the rest of my points here. I do not see much further need to elaborate on it. My Fifth point however received bigger objections that I wish to answer.

Mostly the objections consisted of how damages should be determined and what if the contamination actually improves one’s product. For the question of damages, I would say That probably depends on the situation. For example, if A is growing “non-GMO-corn” and has buyer lined-up for it, but B’s “GMO-corn” gets into A’s causing his buyer to nullify the contract, I think B should have to cover the cost A’s buyer would have paid. I am not a legal scholar but I suspect there is sufficient for legal precedent handling more ambiguous cases. Also note, I would hold the same position if the roles were reversed. If A’s “non-GMO” corn somehow compromised B’s crop, A would owe B. This would even be the case if no crops in this scenario were Gmo, or if both were.

In the even the contamination in someway benefits the neighbor, he or she should not be forced to pursue damages, but he still should not be able to lie and sell his crop as if no contamination occurred (as I mentioned above). The point is, if your activities interfere with someone justly acquired possessions or body in a way they did not consent to, you should be held responsible, which I think more than sufficiently accounts for my sixth point.

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Food Stamp Confessions: Why not Just Give Cash?

Years back, I had an enjoyable but low paying job at a small non-profit organization. This was in a new city. I had little money at the time and needed to find a place to live quickly. I found an apartment in a low rent, working class area of the city and ended up staying there far longer than I initially planned. This was not because I had to, but because I enjoyed living in the area and moving is a lot of work in itself.

While I was there I befriended quite a few people with an assortment of backgrounds and pasts. One man in particular was a middle aged divorcee, with many children that he largely had to take care of on his own. His ex-wife neglected to send any form of child support and apparently had legal troubles of her own.  I never knew why the guy had so many kids nor did I wish to ask. In fact I never knew how many he actually had. My estimate is somewhere between six and eleven. But, they never stood still for me to count them nor were they usually ever in one place. It seemed every-time I came by I saw one I had not previously seen. What I do know is that, he spent nearly every moment of his free time tending to them in one way or another. They absorbed all his time and a great of deal of his spending money. I always wanted to ask why he had so many, but I never thought anything positive would come out of that line of questioning.

This was at a time when the economy was not so good, and all the guy could find was a part time job cooking at a fast food establishment. He frequently asked me to assist in finding him work elsewhere, but I did not have many connections in the city at the time and he lacked the background that was needed for work with my employer.

Unsurprisingly, he turned to a combination of the state and the people he knew to make up for the money needed to support himself and his children, which he was not getting from the economy. On days when he had to work short notice, he asked me for transportation, which I was happy to provide. It was only a short distance and I often got a free meal in return. In addition to this he would frequently make arrangements with me, in which I could use his food-stamps card in exchange for cash.

He generally made it worth my while by giving me more in food-stamps than he requested in cash. Though the exact amount varied from time to time, I was often offered a sizable amount more than I was paying out. This kind of bothered the part of me that sees charging excessive interest or imposing pointless user fees as exploitative, but the man was insistent, and my desire to help and my need to feed myself were sufficient to override any unspoken objections I may have had.

The arrangement worked out for both of us for a while. Food was my primary expense  in those days, and he apparently was given more than enough food money for himself and his kids. When asked, he would tell me he spent the cash I gave him on things like clothes for his kids, as well as medicine and diapers, though I know he was not above the occasional pack of cigarettes. Not that I blamed him.

During this time, he was able to purchase a car, which allowed him to get to work without my assistance, causing me to suspect our arrangement helped a great deal. That said, it was not always convenient. He would often ask for cash on fairly short notice, and I had to plan my shopping around times when he could give me his food stamps card. When I did finally move from that area, maintaining the arrangement simply became undoable.

My experiences reinforced my belief that if we are going to be giving people government money, why not just give them cash or some equivalent? After all, if they can exchange it for cash anyway, why not just give them more freedom to make whatever purchases they desire? It seems that much of the opposition to this idea comes from a puritanical belief that people using the welfare state should not be able to use government money for anything but basic needs. As far as I can tell each individual is a much better judge of what their needs truly are than the people wishing to impose such restrictions on them.


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Why are Campaign Contributions considered Exercises of Free Speech, but Bribes to Cops or Judges are not?

Most people I talk to are of the opinion that money plays to big a role in the American political system. This is true from people all over the political spectrum. It is also a common observation that campaign contributions in today’s political climate essentially act as a sort of legalized bribery. Even those who justify the current system seem to acknowledge this, if not celebrate in some cases. The primary objection to any sort of campaign finance reform is that campaign contributions are an exercise of free expression. This leads us to the question: Why are campaign contributions considered an exercise of free speech but outright bribes to government official not viewed in the same way?

I would argue that a case can be made in favor of placing limits to how much one can contribute to an official political campaign, without violating any basic libertarian assumptions and it goes as follows. Elections for government office are government functions and  government activities, and as such candidates for government office, while acting in their official capacity as candidates can be viewed as part of the state. I view this as related to Murray Rothbard’s argument that ostensibly private companies whose primary source of funding is government contracts can and should be viewed as part of of the state.

While I doubt many would argue against the notion that incumbent candidates are part of the state, I would go as far as to say that non-incumbents and even third party candidates who have no chance of getting elected serve an important role for the state. They contribute to the perception (whether accurate or not) of the people having a choice and of there being some level of consent of the governed.

As such the state can limit what types of transaction they are able to make while acting in within their capacity as candidates, just like the state can limit the type of transactions one can make while acting as a judge or a cop or companies involved in government contracting. This of course says nothing of what third parties (as in people who are not affiliated with the candidates) can say or do to promote a political candidate, and it does leave open the question of how a candidate can interact with the third parties in question. That said, I think a basis can be found for a libertarian case for limits on contributions to official campaigns or even for publicly financed campaigns. This of course takes for granted that laws forbidding cops and judges from taking bribes are legitimate.
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Thoughts on Voting for The Anti-Establisment Minded

I vote in most elections that I get the chance to, though I am not completely unsympathetic to the argument that electioneering is not a particularly effective way of promoting meaningful change, and that it does often feel like the act of voting is an merely an endorsement of the existing system and all its problematic aspects. At the same time I am also sympathetic to the argument that since the current system does exists and its overlords are selected through voting, one might as well practice defensive voting and choose the lesser of the multiple evils who will be appearing on the ballot. After all, some candidates are genuinely better than others on at least some issues and some really are evil bastards who should be kept out of power when possible.

This is not to say that I think one’s individual vote is likely to sway an election. It is highly unlikely, comparable to winning the lottery or being struck by lightening. Even worse, if one’s vote were able to sway an election it would hardly matter as the entire political system is dominated by a two establishment parties that are mostly the same. The illusion of choice is just that: an illusion. We are still going to see the same crony-corporatism, the same war-mongering and spying on violations of the privacy and civil liberties of US citizens regardless of which of the two big parties are in power. In practice most representatives receive the active consent of fewer than a fourth of the people they claim to represent. While the existence of some form of consent of the governed may be a step above outright dictatorship, one should not fall into the trap of thinking the average person has much influence on who makes the real decisions in this country. This is especially true when one considers the fact that to even get on the ballot one generally has to raise a great deal of money from economic elites and win the approval of party insiders, whose desires are quite different from the general population.

It should be pointed out that while all I said above is true at all levels of government, it is less the case in smaller and more local elections than it is in bigger more nationwide ones. As local and state votes are likely to be the one spot where one hopes any hopes of swaying an election can be realized. So what strategies do those of us, with generally anti-establishment sentiments choose to adopt?

My strategy is generally this:

1. In close elections vote for the lesser evil. If one lives in a swing state or swing district, go for the candidate who will screw you over the least.

2. If one lives in a state or district where the one party is very likely to dominate it why not go third party. In many elections a third party candidate (such as a Green Party or Libertarian Party Candidate or even the occasional Ralph Nader) will be closer to the preferences of many voters than the candidates from the two major parties. One should look into this. Voting for them does show distaste for the two-party monopoly and it could help give the third party more attention and more influence in the debate. Even if the third party candidate in a particular election is sub-par, voting for him or her still expresses satisfaction with the two big parties.

3. Vote out incumbents. If one is not able to find information on a given candidate, or does not find the any of the options particularly satisfying, why not vote against the incumbent. After all keeping a continuous flow of people in and out office undermines their job security, and keeps our officials from becoming too established or set in their ways.

4. Write someone in. Even if you think someone could do better, write them in, or organize a write in campaign.

5. Complain. Make it known your dissatisfaction with the American political process and the the lousy, dishonest cronyism politicians it produces. Whether you vote or don’t vote you have every right and reason to complain and make your feelings in known. Never forget this.

6. Seek alternatives and become active. When you can feel free to engage in protests and boycotts, letter writing and phone and email campaigns. Openly question laws that you find unjust, and when on a jury, vote not guilty when the defendant is charged with breaking an unjust law. When possible avoid working for or buying services from companies that are in bed with the worst parts of the current system (such as companies that are military or drug war contractors ect).

So go vote or don’t but by all means stay vocal and visible.

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God the Tyrant

I occasionally get into informal debates and discussions with religious individuals on the moral implications of their belief systems. These conversations usually involve myself and one or more Christians, since Christianity is the most common religion in where I live and the one I am most familiar with. I have however heard similar discussions involving Muslims and members of other faiths. Often in these conversations the I am told that if the alleged god in question were to have done things in any way other than the way he did them, that this would make him tyrant.

This is the response I get to questions like “why could god simply have created us with a much smaller capacity to engage in the behaviors he considers sinful?” or “Why can’t God simply reveal himself to us in a demonstrable unambiguous manner like he did in the old testament?” The all to common response is that these things would compromise, if not eliminate our free will, and therefore, would make God tyrannical. I reject this claim for a few reasons and have my own for consider the gods people believe in to be tyrannical, which I will share below. For the sake of argument I will assume that we humans have free will, which is in itself a highly debatable proposition.

To start I reject the notion that a hypothetical God could not tweak the beings he creates in a wide variety of ways while keeping their free will intact. After all, there are a wide range of personality types within humanity as it exists today. Why could a God not have made more of the population such that they would be like the most reasonable, or peaceful people alive today? He could have made us less quick to anger, given us a smaller capacity for jealousy and have made us less able to enjoy alcohol, all while keeping our free will intact. He could also have tweaked us in the opposite direction as well. The point is that no one would argue the people alive today who are less inclined towards theft murder and blasphemy have any of a less free will than those who are more so inclined.

The same applies to the issue of why the alleged god does not demonstrably and unambiguously reveal himself. The bible clearly depicts him doing this in many of his books. For example, in Exodus God appears as a pillar of cloud during the day and fire at night, and yet nowhere in the book is it ever implied that those who witnessed such theatrics from God lost their free will as a result.

It is for those reasons that I reject the notion that doing such things as described above would make the hypothetical creator being a tyrant. Furthermore, I do not believe that any Gods exist, however I would dare to say if the god that most Christians and Muslims worshiped was real I would certainly consider it tyrannical. This is not for the reasons I discussed above, but because the god both of these religions worships demands complete and utter submission, from everyone and couples this demand with the threat of force.

This being is a totalitarian in every respect. Not only does he threaten us with force (in this case eternal torture) but he demands we love him for it. In addition to his demands of full submission, he wants full sycophancy. He demands his subject constantly grovel and praise him. It is for this reason that I consider the God of Abraham as Christian and Muslims imagine him to be tyrannical. It is for this reason I am happy that there is no evidence that such a being exists.

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Film Review of Paint Your Wagon: A Musical about Consensual Non-Monogamy in the Old West

Welcome To Hell, Parson. No Name City, Population: drunk.
-Ben Rumson

Years back, I saw the 1969 film paint your wagon, which, in case you didn’t know, has the unusual distinction of being not only a western staring Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin, but also a full out musical, with both actors singing. I remembered the film being referenced in a Simpson’s episode, in which Homer rents it and is disappointed that it is not the type of gunfighter or cut-throat story that Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin are generally associated with.

Needless to say, many younger people I talk to remember the movie entirely from the Simpsons’ episode or think the Simpsons’ writers made the whole thing up. The film was somewhat doomed to obscurity, because of inability to fill a clear niche. Big name musicals were well on their way out by 1969, and neither Eastwood nor Marvin is much of a singer in the first place. Additionally the film’s subversive subject matter probably also alienated the taste of the more traditional audiences that big budget musicals tended to go for.

In the film, Lee Marvin’s character Ben and his “Pardner” Clint Eastwood, become the founders of a gold rush boom town, with an all male population. The gender imbalance is corrected when a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints comes through with his two wives. The townsfolk are initially confused and curious, but come to the conclusion that it is unfair for the Mormon to have two wives when none of them have any. They convince him to auction off his younger and more rebellious wife to the highest bidder, which ends up being a drunken Ben. She  threatens to shoot Ben on their wedding night and refuses to be treated as mere property, but eventually, they find an arrangement that is suitable for both of them.

Eventually, the other townsfolk get jealous of Ben for having the only woman in town, so they develop a scheme to kidnap prostitutes from a nearby town. Ben leads the kidnapping effort, but while he is gone his nearly purchased wife falls in love with Pardner, and upon his return they all agree to enter a polyandrous relationship. Meanwhile the kidnapping is a great success and town starts a brothel, that is visited by men from all over, making it a local center of sin.

Eventually a traveling preacher hits town, and tries to get its population to repent out of fear that the place will be sucked into hell, and then it happens. Ben also, corrupts the preacher’s son leading to the exchange: “Pop… believe me, until you’ve had a good cigar and a shot of whiskey, you’re missing the second and third best things in life.” He later reveals that “physical education” with a local “floozy” is his number one best thing in life.

Despite, the forced marriage, human trafficking and kidnapping (which probably is not a completely inaccurate depiction of how women lived in the old west) this film features an overall feel that is light and some of the dialogue is pretty entertaining and the black and gray morality is interesting. Ben is clearly a scoundrel who does many immoral things in the film but he is depicted positively and makes things work for his wife and his “pardner”. It is also one of the few films I know that depicts a polyamorous relationship in a positive light. That said, the singing often comes off as a little awkward, but it features the song the “They Call the Wind Maria”, for which Mariah Carey was named.

The film came out at the height of the sexual revolution and much of it seems to be a challenge to the sexual norms of the old guard. This is not to mention that it portrays sex with prostitutes, consensual non-monogamy, heavy drinking and tobacco use, in fairly favorable terms, while the puritanical religious sorts definitely come off as prudish jerks. Needless to say, I like the film. I’m not sure who I would recommend it to, and I certainly recognize that it is a bit dated and a bit weird as a musical, but it is over all fun and I love to hear what some of the old guard thought of it when it came out.

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Christopher Columbus was a Horrible Person

I am sure I will not be the only person who will be echoing this sentiment in his or her blog, Facebook feed, or Twitter Page today, but seriously to hell with Columbus Day. I do not wish to celebrate a man whose legacy is one of conquest, imperialism, mass murder, enslavement and theft.

I tend to have mixed feelings about Government holidays in general. While I enjoy the fact that they have often allowed me to have time out of school and work, that conveniently coincided with everyone else getting time off, I am not sure I like the government dictating when we get time off to such a degree, and I feel a strong sympathy to those find themselves having to work on them when they would rather not (a situation I have been in a few times my self). This is not to mention the fact they often commemorate or celebrate dubious people or events as is the case here.

To illustrate the type of guy Christopher Columbus, I’ll start with a quote Howard Zinn’s passage on his Columbus from A People’s History of The United States:

Now, from his base on Haiti, Columbus sent expedition after expedition into the interior. They found no gold fields, but had to fill up the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend. In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town, who reported that, although the slaves were “naked as the day they were born,” they showed “no more embarrassment than animals.” Columbus later wrote: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”

But too many of the slaves died in captivity. And so Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death.

This is hardly an individual worth celebrating and it is even worse when one takes into account that his “discovery” which was really nothing of the sort, led to epidemics the wiped out the vast majority of the native populations of two continents. As I mentioned before, Columbus did not discover the American Continents. He the Vikings were here centuries earlier and the Indians were here long before them. Furthermore Columbus refused to acknowledge that he had not made his way to Asia, and for that reason called the people he enslaved and murdered Indians.

A few years back, a rather religious and conservative gentleman insisted on celebrating Columbus, because of the sincerity of his Christian faith and dedication to its spread. While I have to question how one can accurately judge the sincerity of the convictions of a man who lived centuries ago, the sentiment shown here tells me much of what I need to know about his brand of Christianity. He did not care that Columbus was a murderer and enslave nor did he find such brutality in contradiction to the Christian faith. Apparently Columbus did not either, and the whole story reflects the degree to which Christianity was spread through violence rather than through its own merits.

While I have rather strong opinions about Columbus and the holiday associated with him, in practice, like so many other holidays, it often goes by without my notice. Perhaps in a way, it is not all that important and I could use be using today’s post discuss some other, more pressing matter, but I believe that cultural values and the mythology built around them have a great influence on a society and that often tearing down the more problematic pieces of mythology is a great place for change and dialogue to start.

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