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Africa – Colony of the Non-Profit

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This is probably the first of many entries about Africa because I think its history has some good lessons. Listening to Africa Today, I picked up on this story:

Biofuels companies from the U.K. to Brazil and China are buying up large swaths of Africa, causing deforestation and diverting land from food to fuel production, the environmental group Friends of the Earth said.

Across the continent almost 5 million hectares of land, an area bigger than the Netherlands, have been sold to cultivate crops for biofuels since 2006, Friends of the Earth’s Brussels- based European division said today in a 36-page study.

European companies including Portugal’s Galp Energia SGPS SA, the U.K.’s D1 Oils Plc and Sun Biofuels Ltd. and Agroils Srl of Italy joined firms from Canada and Israel in buying acreage to plant jatropha to make biofuels, the study said. The 27- nation European Union has set a goal of getting 10 percent of transport fuels from renewable sources by 2020.

“The EU’s mandatory target for increasing agrofuels is a clear driver to the land grabbing in Africa,” Friends of the Earth said. “There is a risk that agrofuels, and with them, Africa’s agricultural land and natural resources, will be exported abroad with minimal benefit for local communities and national economies.”

Governments including Ethiopia, Ghana and Mali have encouraged the purchases, which in some cases are made without the consent of local communities, or an environmental impact assessment, the group said. The report lists land sold in Angola, Cameroon, Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Tanzania.

Sounds bad at first, but we should deconstruct the wording. The problem is apparently that some African governments are letting first-world-based companies buy land, which sounds too much like colonialism for FotE’s tastes. The implication is that the governments need to step in and prevent the land sales so that Africa can retain its independence.

There are major flaws with this argument:

  • If the governments own the land, then they’re the ones selling the land already, so asking them to do otherwise is pointless.
  • If the land is privately owned, the government would have to arbitrarily void a private contract. Does FotE advocate this? Not outright, but the implication is there.
  • “African independence” = “FotE helps Africa figure out its priorities”. This sounds an awful lot like a stipulation ala Washington Consensus, which is basically market liberalization + democracy. Hence why it hasn’t worked.

All this makes it sound like NGOs are more concerned with taking Africa back to good ol’ days so it looks even less colonial than it does now. Here’s a general history of Africa circa 1950-1980:

After the independence of most African countries during the 1960s, newly formed African regimes assumed they could not easily claim a great victory over the Europeans if they continued to use the same system that those oppressors had designed, namely capitalism, since all imperial regimes had been mainly capitalist, even if their adherence to free markets was not absolute. Socialism was popular among African leaders because it represented a break from the imperial ruling tradition. Socialism seemed, to many, to be all that capitalism was not.

(I’m reminded of a man who knocked on my door during election season here in Emeryville last year, asking if I’d support a measure to block a private land transfer downtown. The land in question is where they’ll double the size of the only decent shopping center in the east bay north of Milpitas. I asked him why he thought I had the power to block a private contract, and he couldn’t answer me. I think he said something about “community”. If he’s worried about community, he should ask the kids who go to Bay Street, who based on my scientific measurements are roughly 158% of the Emeryville black population. I mention this because it’s another case where a white elite class thinks it has the answers for a struggling urban population, when it’s actually just going to make things worse.)

So people are concerned about Africa and its use of land. These people are mostly NGOs that receive donations for caring about stuff like that. I’ve transcribed the Africa Today podcast myself, so it might be slightly wrong. I recommend hearing the podcast yourself, which aired August 31, 2010:

Reporter: Is there a risk that biofuel crops may squeeze food crops off African farmlands? A new report by environmental group Friends of the Earth says it’s concerned by the amount of African farmland being used to grow biofuels. Plants like sugar cane, soybeans, — which can be processed to produce ethanol, a substitute for oil. Adrian Bebe is a campaigner with Friends of the Earth.

Adrian: Well what our research shows is that a huge area of land is being taken very quickly by mainly European companies to grow crops for biofuels, which are mainly used for export to Europe, and I think we raise many questions about whether this is in the interest of African communities, if it is going to help their development, if it is going to help them become more food-secure in the future.

Fortunately there’s a man in Ghana who shares my sentiment and casts doubt on the notion that the government should step in and void a private land transfer the way FotE would like:

Reporter: Is this another land grab in Africa?

Watang: I appreciate the work done by Adrian Bebe, I think it’s a very good thing they are doing. Trying to help Africa protect its land and itself. But I don’t think that is the case in Ghana. You know, land in Ghana is not owned by the government. So maybe an occasional land owner… a chief or elder who sells some land to a foreign company; that is not under the control of the government. But basically, nobody can get a vast tract of land in Ghana to produce bio-fuels for export. I don’t think the government itself will create that, but it may happen on a very small scale, but by and large, what we are seeing in Ghana is that we need bio-fuels for ourselves, and not to power foreign machines.

Reporter: You might be able to explain to us- We do know that there are tracts of land in the northern regions of Ghana that companies have gotten to [bio-fuels] for farming. What do you know? Can you tell us how they might need to access these lands?

Watang: I’m sure they might acquire the lands from local chiefs, and local family or clan elders, by setting off from the government. I don’t think the government will support large-scale production of bio-fuels for exports, no.

I gather from what Watang says that he and other intelligent farmers aren’t concerned about what Friends of the Earth think of Ghana. Apparently they know what they’re doing. Will that stop Friends of the Earth from being concerned? Probably not.  To FotE and do-good NGOs, Ghana and other African countries are now its clients, and these NGOs end up acting surprisingly like a previous service provider in Africa, one also opposed to private contracts.

Note that the Ghanaian government seems to be figuring it out without them. Here’s another African example of actual independence that world leaders and NGOs still can’t understand.

Written by xout

September 3, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Painters

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My parents are Progressives. They first assumed when I parted ways that I was a Conservative, but I’m not. They had never heard of my mental worm before:

I want my government run privately, like a company town. Profits are derived from real estate value, which means they would enforce laws to secure property rights and protect me from violence, creating maximum economic output. Do it like Iran, Singapore, Switzerland, or David Friedmanland, whatever. These company towns would probably not be democracies but rather LLCs, competing for customers like stores. If people don’t like it, they go to a different company town. Regimes that force you to stay don’t compete very well, nor do ones that murder you. Market mechanisms would ensure regimes would generally act in the interest of consumers. This would be a vast improvement over what we currently have in the world.

My desire to restrict violence and property theft, plus the willingness to allow police the use of retractable batons to enforce the lew, makes a reactionary out of me, or more modestly a formalist. “Reactionary” conjures the image of crazed men with guns and beards. I don’t know any of these guys, though we could probably get along over a couple cold ones.

It’s like feudalism, except the serfs have cars, the rulers have the LLC, and there’s internet now. So it’s actually nothing like feudalism.

If I were a Conservative my parents could come packing. Their debate lexicon is geared to that, the lowest common denominator being white people who share their genes who still think the earth is 82 years old. I can’t blame them. That’s as good as the debate gets on CNN and NPR. My parents have no idea what to do with me because CNN and NPR don’t know what to do with me.

Since they can’t peg me this makes debates with them less debate and more brain surgery, where I try to get to the bottom of what the hell they really do believe. It seems to be a lot of anti-things, like how Sarah Palin is stupid or how Reagan spent too much money. Bush jokes still go around at every meal. This is all fun, but as part of a philosophy these anti-things take up too much emotional energy for me. Ultimately I do get down to their basics and it’s damned frustrating: My parents want the same crap I want. Obviously we value the same stuff, like family, non-violence, order, and work ethic. But they believe in using the Progressive, centrally-planned method to seek these ends, and they’re always surprised that the outcome resembles Detroit.

We’re a family of painters, but they paint with a razor blade and have to convince themselves that a torn up canvas is a piece of art.

Written by xout

September 1, 2010 at 12:34 am

Posted in government, idea

Bureaucracy Emerges

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In my job I tinker with anarcho-capitalism, the idea that without government, private firms would enforce contracts through arbitration and provide defense like insurance. In theory, it should reward good choices and punish bad ones, which will produce better decision makers in the populace. The internet is almost government-free: enforcing gaming laws is a losing battle, adult content is always available to minors at no cost, and for years it was a good case for anarcho-capitalism. I was an anarcho-capitalist for some time, but a recent site hack is making me rethink that.

Recently Network Solutions, where my website is hosted, was hacked. They pulled the regular heist: hack server, change all ftp passwords, edit pages with malicious code that takes viewers to a page where they’ll download something unpleasant, sit back and watch the stats to see how many people are upset. Hacks never bothered me. We’re hit every year or so. You clean the code, patch the hole, restore your backup (your fault if you don’t have one), and get on with life without hassle. People like me with a decent understanding of coding and how to prevent most attacks enjoy this self-reliance, which is about the closest thing to anarcho-capitalism we’ll see outside of living in space. Knowing I can take care of myself in this hostile world makes me feel warm inside.

But this time, even after I cleaned my site, the ordeal wasn’t over. Google scans pages for malicious code, and if they find any, they don’t index your site. Goodbye 80% of searches. If Google doesn’t index your site, Firefox also blocks your site.  Goodbye 40% of remaining visitors. Our stats dropped off the face of the planet and would stay that way until Google approved our site. Even with the code removed, Google claimed that our site had a security loophole, which could only be fixed through Network Solutions. I had to go through NetSol, wait for them to fix their server, then apply for Google to check my website again so that it could be re-indexed on Google and accessible to Firefox users. This could be prevented if I had my own standalone server, but only the big guys with IT teams can handle that. Little guys go through a provider like NetSol or Go Daddy.

Private enforcement by Google in an attempt to protect its customers is an-cap in a nutshell. David Friedman makes similar arguments, as does Hans Hermann Hoppe for private defense and crime insurance. But when private firms own a market-share of customers that it protects by preventing their access to a place of business, you’re basically talking about governance.

Not that it’s bad governance. Once the code and security loopholes were actually fixed, my site was up in a day. Try getting that kind of turnaround with a builder’s permit. The wonders of profit-based governance! If NetSol had dragged its feet, it may have taken a month, but NetSol is profit-based too, so they had an interest in fixing the problem. DMV it is not, but it is governance, which comes with bureaucracy and red tape, and that’s not an-cap as I understand it. That this private form of bureaucracy emerged from internet anarchy, festering with malevolent Ukrainians and Nigerians, isn’t a case that an-cap is bad, but that it leads to a sort of patchwork of efficient, private governance owned by share-holders and run by well-paid CEOs. I’d be ecstatic if America were run this way.

Written by xout

August 2, 2010 at 10:09 am

Peasants and Clients

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Oakland experiences a riot in response to the Oscar Grant shooting verdict. From The Guardian:

Rioters trashed parts of Oakland, California, today in protest against the verdict in a controversial court case in which a white policeman shot dead an unarmed African American.

At least 100 people were arrested after looting and confrontations with police in Oakland last night and early today. The protesters ignored a plea for calm by the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The policeman, Johannes Mehserle, 28, was found guilty yesterdayof involuntary manslaughter. The jury rejected the prosecution case that it was murder.

YouTube showed footage of Mehserle’s shooting of Oscar Grant, 22, who had been lying on the platform in a railway station on 1 January 2009, surrounded by police after a fight. Mehserle claimed he had thought he had reached for an electric Taser rather than his gun.

The case became a cause celebre in the US, with its echoes of the treatment of Rodney King, a black man whose severe beating by police in LA in 1991 was captured on video. The subsequent acquittals of four LAPD officers sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

Police deployed in Oakland in riot gear yesterday and shops boarded up their windows in anticipation of a repeat of the rioting that took place in the immediate aftermath of Grant’s shooting. Up to a thousand protesters took to the streets last nightand early today, some wearing masks with images of Grant’s face. A banner was unfurled proclaiming “Oakland Says Guilty’.

Rioters, some dressed in black and wearing black masks, smashed shop and car windows, helped themselves to goods ranging from jewellery to groceries and trainers, and attacked police lines. Journalists were also attacked.

The Oakland police chief, Anthony Batts, told a press conference: “This city is not the wild, wild west. This city will not tolerate this activity.” He blamed anarchists coming from outside Oakland. “We started taking a number of rocks and bottles. We then made a dispersal order.”

Here’s a video of the Oakland looting.

Maybe it’s by chance or he’s just being timely and subtle, but Mencius Moldbug posted a blog about clients and peasants. He notes that peasants, aka the Tea Party, are mostly denoted as complainers, and rightfully points out that these same peasants elected the very ideology they’re now protesting:

If I had to describe it in a sentence, I would say that the rage is easily explained, but not easily explained in the terms of those who feel it. They are clearly angry about something, but the actual words that come out of their mouths are often nonsensical and contradictory. This is why it is so hard for so many to get a handle on. It is simply inarticulate demotic discontent.

The CAP historians mention these people a couple of times. Most notably, they mention the fact that this group, historically Democratic Party voters going back to the 19th century (“rum, Romanism and rebellion”), also historically urban, was living in the suburbs and voting for Reagan in 1980. They profess, however, to be entirely mystified by this transition. Surely, if we understand it, we can answer the question of what motivates the “tea partiers.”

What we can say quite clearly is that this tribal subpopulation has, in no temporary way, lost confidence in progressivism as a philosophy of government. Fortunately or unfortunately, they do not know how to unelect a philosophy.

And then talks about “clients”:

Last week I was at a party, at a warehouse space in one of the crackhead districts of SF, at which the subject of crackheads came up. The woman across the table, a member of my social class, expressed great sympathy for this class. I asked her if she had ever been victimized by such. She said: “two days ago, someone smashed a window in my car and stole my iPhone.”

And she perceived this crime through a pure Jean Valjean lens, with no sense at all that she had been *personally* victimized – much less, victimized by the government. Or a judge. Or an ideology. Or whatever. Rather, she considered it entirely normal and even laudable for a sophisticated, modern person to live in a city in which an iPhone cannot be left visible on a car seat, and she considered herself an idiot who had, for her $500 or whatever, purchased a valuable lesson about modern urban living….

Who would think this way? Well, perhaps if you were a Frenchman in 1944, and your property was looted and vandalized, by American soldiers on their way to kick hell out of the Nazis, you might think this way. The State Department thought this way about the killing of Cleo Noel. This is the way you think about your own clients and the excesses and abuses they commit. Certainly, if this woman’s car had been vandalized by cops, tea partiers, etc, she would have been enraged for life. We hate our enemies and not our allies – it is only natural.

Written by xout

July 12, 2010 at 9:59 am

Nicolás Gómez Dávila on Laws

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#1330

The plethora of laws is a sign that nobody knows anymore how to command intelligently.

Or that nobody knows anymore how to obey freely.

#1312

Dying societies accumulate laws like dying men accumulate remedies.

I talked with a Republican recently about how complex gun laws that lay people can’t follow result in higher crime. He said, “Once you find that you’ve broken laws without even knowing it, you start to fancy yourself an outlaw. And it’s quite liberating!”

Written by xout

June 24, 2010 at 2:34 pm

How to breed the wrong type of transvestite

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Re: this.

As a photograph of Simpson was shown, announcer Alan Kalter shouted, “What? Amanda? Amanda used to be a dude?”

“Oh my God!” he shouted, before running off stage, with audience laughing.

In a letter to Letterman and CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler, Human Rights Campaign called the bit “inappropriate and incendiary” and said it reflected “transphobia,” a fear or hatred of transgender people.

“Your skit affirmed and encouraged a prejudice against transgender Americans that keeps many from finding jobs, housing, and enjoying freedoms you and your writers take for granted every day,” HRC’s Allyson Robinson wrote in the letter.

It sounds vaguely like Letterman and his friends were remarking about how hot Simpson is. I tend to agree. The dude turned into a hot chick after he had surgery, and he knows how to do makeup. I mean she. I never get the pronouns right with transgendered people.

The Human Rights Campaign believes it’s acting in Amanda’s interest by defending her, when:

1. Letterman’s comment is the single best compliment a tranny can get.
2. Amanda is a politician and therefore gets humiliation since we pay her salary.
3. Is Amanda actually gay? Because I can’t find any info about this.

Human Rights Campaign seems to have no sense of humor, which is the first thing any transgendered person should have. A coalition with at least some sense of humor would do more for a tranny’s self-esteem than this strange lobbying/protection racket.

Written by xout

January 8, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Singapore’s PM Lee defends conservative society

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Singapore is a mix of democracy and authoritarianism. Its laws are extremely strict; you can be caned for vandalism, and drug trafficking carries the death penalty. This is all very unfortunate for vandals and drug users, and people like Michael Fay attracted national attention from civil rights activists for the caning he received in Singapore (he vandalised some cars, and upon release from prison and returning to America was caught sniffing butane to help him forget the “Singapore incident”).

But what the international community always forgets is that Singapore has a huge exit sign. If you don’t like Singapore, you can leave, and it’s apparently very cheap and easy to do so. Cheaper transportation means are becoming ever more available, and that will mean easier exiting for more people not just from Singapore, but from Iran, Vietnam, and India.

Like business competition, governments will have to either compete for our citizenship or close the exits. There are costs and benefits to both, but closing exits tends to be the worse option.

Written by xout

August 31, 2009 at 9:16 am

Posted in culture, government