Monday, October 31, 2005

McMartin Mass Hysteria

In the beach towns of L.A., back in the 1980s, the McMartin Preschool molestation trial was a huge news story. I'm not sure if it got much coverage here in Northern California.

The accusations against the McMartin family grew more bizarre every day, until it turned into a sordid story of satanic ritual abuse reminiscent of the Salem witch trials. The McMartins' attorneys claimed that the child psychologists investigating the case had pressured the children into making things up. Today, more than 20 years later, one of the key child witnesses stepped forward to say he indeed made it all up to to try to please the adults in his life:

Los Angeles Times, "McMartin Pre-Schooler: 'I Lied'"
(requires sign in)

A prime example of why one shouldn't believe everything one hears, even if "everyone" is repeating it. If it seems like mass hysteria, it's very likely it is mass hysteria. As Robert Heinlein once said: "If 'everybody knows' such-and-such, then it ain't so, by at least ten thousand to one."

A contemporary example: Lately, I've had conversations with several people that take it as given that recent hurricane activity is a result of global climate change. It's a credible speculation, but nobody knows. There is so much chaos in short-term weather trends that scientists can't draw any conclusions.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Registering Independent

After 25 years of voting Libertarian, I've decided to hang it up and register as an independent.

For many years, I've had misgivings about the idealogues who dominate the Libertarian Party. I got more involved, even running for the California Senate as a Libertarian, hoping I could influence the party to become more moderate, practical, grown up -- however you want to say it. But recent news that childish infighting has consumed the leadership of the California LP was the last straw for me.

I'm still very much a libertarian. And I will continue to be involved in politics and my community. I wish much luck to my fellow moderate libertarians who are still trying to reform the Libertarian Party, but I now know in my heart that I just don't like political parties.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

NASA Boldly Ventures Into Terrestrial Real Estate Management

NASA and Google recently announced plans to jointly develop a research center at the NASA/Ames base here in Silicon Valley:

Michael Bazeley, San Jose Mercury News: "Google, NASA team up"
(requires sign in)

There was an immediate backlash from officials in Mountain View and Santa Clara County claiming Google is getting out of paying its fair share of property taxes:

Jessica Portner, Julie Patel, San Jose Mercury News: Is Google's NASA campus a search for a tax break?
(requires sign in)

According to the following article, NASA opened bidding for high-tech tenants for the Ames campus back in March 2005. It's not clear whether Google was one of the bidders mentioned in the article, or whether the other bidders were bidding on the same parcel of land as Google (the 213 acres available for the research park is much larger than the million square feet of space Google has committed to developing):

Chaddus Bruce, Palo Alto Daily News: "NASA to start bid for Research Park Monday"
(PDF 2.6 MB)

Setting aside the taxation controversy, I was curious whether NASA practiced sound financial stewardship of the excess land at Ames, which, we should remember, belongs to the American people, not NASA managers with ambitions to get into high-tech real estate development.

The above articles contain enough information to do the math: 4000 employees x 250 sq. ft/employee x $2 sq. ft./year = $2 million/year. Estimated property tax break for the tentant: $3 million/year. That's about $5 million per year. So, Google's annual payment of 4.5 million dollars, plus the money it will put into campus development is in line with market rates. NASA made, at least, a fair deal.

Still there are lots of questions to which I'd like to have answers: Did NASA ever consider selling the excess property? Did they accept bids only from "companies involved in technologies that can support space exploration"? If bidding was opened in March 2005, why do they say NASA been talking to Google for years?

Finally, with the newly dawning age of private space exploration, could we convince Google to simply buy NASA outright?

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Flishback: I Like How This John Mackey Guy Thinks

Following up on The Philosophy Behind Whole Foods (May 26th): Here's a debate in which libertarian businessman, John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Foods sticks up for his philosophy of socially-responsible business. He mixes it up with another libertarian businessman, Cypress Semiconductor CEO, T.J. Rodgers, who claims businesses need not engage in any philanthropy. (Curiously, Cypress engages in some major philanthropy anyway, but Rodgers claims he does it for employee morale):

Reason: "Rethinking the Social Responsibility of Business"

Mackey: To extend our love and care beyond our narrow self-interest is antithetical to neither our human nature nor our financial success. Rather, it leads to the further fulfillment of both.


Libertarianism is strictly a political philosophy. It is largely silent on questions of individual morality, on what individuals should be doing with their freedom. John Mackey is a smart guy because he realizes that merely being an advocate of political liberty does not provide an individual with a solid moral basis for living his or her own life, for finding a role in one's community.