Friday, July 31, 2009

Recognizing Climate Change

Steve Sailer has been hiking in the local hills for nearly half a century.  Global warming hasn't been showing up in the environment he's been hiking through.  The only reason he has to believe it's happening is the incessant global warming awareness campaigns.
I have fairly decent pattern recognition skills. And I've been hiking the same trails on the north side of the Hollywood Hills for the last 45 years. Having grown up in a dry region, I am a big fan of verdant nature, so I pay careful attention to how green the hillsides are at each point in the season.

Now, you might think that I would have noticed evidence in these wooded canyons and sagebrush hillsides of long-term Climate Change. But I haven't.

I am not saying it's not happening. Perhaps there is a long-term trend that remains invisible to me under the much more visible seasonal cycles and the random noise.

What I am saying is that, at least so far, a highly observant and statistically-minded citizen such as myself hasn't noticed Global Warming going on in his own environment. Without the aid of Global Warming Awareness Campaigns, I would never have become aware of Global Warming just by hiking in the same environment decade after decade.
But we have to believe it's happening, and that it's catastrophic and urgent.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Why marry?

David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy takes a swing at this question.
So do a lot of commenters.
So I chimed in with my riff on "Why Have Marriage at All?"

One reason to marry

At the Volokh Conspiracy, Ilya Somin writes:

David Bernstein and Megan McArdle ask whether there is any good reason to get an official marriage sanctioned by the state, as opposed to just arranging a private ceremony without state sanction.

Unfortunately, they both ignore an important property law reason for getting an official state-sanctioned marriage: it gives you the right to own property together in tenancy by the entirety. This form of concurrent ownership has two advantages not available otherwise. One co-tenant is not allowed to sell their interest without the other's consent. And should one spouse become insolvent, creditors are not allowed to seize the joint property to pay off her debts (though they still can do so if the debt in question is a joint debt owed by both partners to the marriage). So if your significant other tends to run up lots of debts that he can't pay, or you worry that he will sell his share in your jointly owned property to obnoxious third parties, you may want to get married. Assuming, of course, that you want to stay with such an untrustworthy spendthrift at all. Romance, thy name is property law!

Prager motto

Just heard on the radio:

"If you can't call a black fool a fool, you're the racist."

NICE is a four letter word

From the Wall Street Journal:

Many countries manage to spend less than the US on medical care.  The devil is in the details.  How do they manage these savings?

Well, there's the British way:

The British officials who established NICE in the late 1990s pitched it as a body that would ensure that the government-run National Health System used "best practices" in medicine. As the Guardian reported in 1998: "Health ministers are setting up [NICE], designed to ensure that every treatment, operation, or medicine used is the proven best. It will root out under-performing doctors and useless treatments, spreading best practices everywhere."

What NICE has become in practice is a rationing board. As health costs have exploded in Britain as in most developed countries, NICE has become the heavy that reduces spending by limiting the treatments that 61 million citizens are allowed to receive through the NHS. For example:

In March, NICE ruled against the use of two drugs, Lapatinib and Sutent, that prolong the life of those with certain forms of breast and stomach cancer. This followed on a 2008 ruling against drugs -- including Sutent, which costs about $50,000 -- that would help terminally ill kidney-cancer patients. After last year's ruling, Peter Littlejohns, NICE's clinical and public health director, noted that "there is a limited pot of money," that the drugs were of "marginal benefit at quite often an extreme cost," and the money might be better spent elsewhere.

In 2007, the board restricted access to two drugs for macular degeneration, a cause of blindness. The drug Macugen was blocked outright. The other, Lucentis, was limited to a particular category of individuals with the disease, restricting it to about one in five sufferers. Even then, the drug was only approved for use in one eye, meaning those lucky enough to get it would still go blind in the other. As Andrew Dillon, the chief executive of NICE, explained at the time: "When treatments are very expensive, we have to use them where they give the most benefit to patients."

NICE has limited the use of Alzheimer's drugs, including Aricept, for patients in the early stages of the disease. Doctors in the U.K. argued vociferously that the most effective way to slow the progress of the disease is to give drugs at the first sign of dementia. NICE ruled the drugs were not "cost effective" in early stages.

Other NICE rulings include the rejection of Kineret, a drug for rheumatoid arthritis; Avonex, which reduces the relapse rate in patients with multiple sclerosis; and lenalidomide, which fights multiple myeloma. Private U.S. insurers often cover all, or at least portions, of the cost of many of these NICE-denied drugs.


The NICE precedent also undercuts the Obama Administration's argument that vast health savings can be gleaned simply by automating health records or squeezing out "waste." Britain has tried all of that but ultimately has concluded that it can only rein in costs by limiting care. The logic of a health-care system dominated by government is that it always ends up with some version of a NICE board that makes these life-or-death treatment decisions. The Administration's new Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research currently lacks the authority of NICE. But over time, if the Obama plan passes and taxpayer costs inevitably soar, it could quickly gain it.

Mr. Obama and Democrats claim they can expand subsidies for tens of millions of Americans, while saving money and improving the quality of care. It can't possibly be done. The inevitable result of their plan will be some version of a NICE board that will tell millions of Americans that they are too young, or too old, or too sick to be worth paying to care for.

Another area where single-payer (more to the point: single-decider) has an impact is on innovation:

One virtue of a private system is that competition allows choice and experimentation. To take an example from one of our recent editorials, Medicare today refuses to reimburse for the new, less invasive preventive treatment known as a virtual colonoscopy, but such private insurers as Cigna and United Healthcare do. As clinical evidence accumulates on the virtual colonoscopy, doctors and insurers will be able to adjust their practices accordingly. NICE merely issues orders, and patients have little recourse.

This has medical consequences. The Concord study published in 2008 showed that cancer survival rates in Britain are among the worst in Europe. Five-year survival rates among U.S. cancer patients are also significantly higher than in Europe: 84% vs. 73% for breast cancer, 92% vs. 57% for prostate cancer. While there is more than one reason for this difference, surely one is medical innovation and the greater U.S. willingness to reimburse for it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

No right to health care

Theodore Dalrymple in the Wall Street Journal:
If there is a right to health care, someone has the duty to provide it. Inevitably, that "someone" is the government. Concrete benefits in pursuance of abstract rights, however, can be provided by the government only by constant coercion.

When the supposed right to health care is widely recognized, as in the United Kingdom, it tends to reduce moral imagination. Whenever I deny the existence of a right to health care to a Briton who asserts it, he replies, "So you think it is all right for people to be left to die in the street?"

When I then ask my interlocutor whether he can think of any reason why people should not be left to die in the street, other than that they have a right to health care, he is generally reduced to silence. He cannot think of one.

Moreover, the right to grant is also the right to deny. And in times of economic stringency, when the first call on public expenditure is the payment of the salaries and pensions of health-care staff, we can rely with absolute confidence on the capacity of government sophists to find good reasons for doing bad things.

The question of health care is not one of rights but of how best in practice to organize it. America is certainly not a perfect model in this regard. But neither is Britain, where a universal right to health care has been recognized longest in the Western world.

Not coincidentally, the U.K. is by far the most unpleasant country in which to be ill in the Western world. Even Greeks living in Britain return home for medical treatment if they are physically able to do so.

The government-run health-care system—which in the U.K. is believed to be the necessary institutional corollary to an inalienable right to health care—has pauperized the entire population. This is not to say that in every last case the treatment is bad: A pauper may be well or badly treated, according to the inclination, temperament and abilities of those providing the treatment. But a pauper must accept what he is given.

Universality is closely allied as an ideal, ideologically, to that of equality. But equality is not desirable in itself. To provide everyone with the same bad quality of care would satisfy the demand for equality. (Not coincidentally, British survival rates for cancer and heart disease are much below those of other European countries, where patients need to make at least some payment for their care.)

In any case, the universality of government health care in pursuance of the abstract right to it in Britain has not ensured equality. After 60 years of universal health care, free at the point of usage and funded by taxation, inequalities between the richest and poorest sections of the population have not been reduced. But Britain does have the dirtiest, most broken-down hospitals in Europe.

Quote of the month

As Erwin Knol wrote: "Everything you read in newspapers is absolutely true, except for that rare story of which you happen to have first-hand knowledge."
But it's all fact-checked!

National Health Care and Innovation?

Will nationalized health care promote innovation in medical treatments?  Will it at least not slow it down?  Curunir at Distributed Republic doesn't think so.

Megan McArdle has a very long, very good post about why she opposes national health care. In a nutshell, she thinks it would have a deleterious effect on innovation. I agree with her, but here's a simpler "proof" of why I think she's correct: How many times does Obama (or any other supporter for that matter) mention improvements in innovation as a motivation for health care reform?

Politicians, generally speaking, will promise that any particular program will deliver a cornucopia of riches if there is any remotely plausible rationale. So if they fail to mention a potential benefit, it's either because (1) there's no good argument for it, or (2) they think the public doesn't care.

(2) strikes me as possible, but pretty unlikely. Although a depressing number of comments on McArdle's post take an extraordinarily blase attitude towards the importance of new medicine, I still think most Americans see the potential benefits of innovation. Think back to the embryonic stem cell debates. How many times did politicians trump them as the cure for virtually any disease you can think of? At least in that context, the public seemed to care a great deal about curing Parkinson's.

So I think we're left with (1). I think people can, and do, make reasonable arguments about why national health care would be cost saving, and more short-run efficient (I believe those arguments are wrong, but not self-evidently stupid). But the arguments that it wouldn't harm innovation mostly amount to some handwaving about the NIH and the evils of pharma advertising.

Obamacare Questions

Third of three parts here.  Links to the other two parts are in the blog entry.

Southern California Floods

The Los Angeles Daily News asks if floods could swallow the San Fernando Valley.

It's happened before.

First come the wildfires. Then the extended cloudbursts. Then the furies of mud, rock and debris that roar out of the San Gabriel foothills.

And in the floods' wake, every few decades, rage death and destruction across Southern California.

"The debris flows, reported as mudslides, pick up speed like a water-born avalanche coming down off the mountains - moving at 40 miles per hour picking up boulders like minivans and sweeping into the city," said Lucy Jones, chief scientist for the Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project at the U.S. Geological Survey in Pasadena.

"In (1934 and) 1978 it happened in La Crescenta ... and it'll happen again."


Many of the same scientists are now fashioning a hypothetical ARk Storm scenario similar to the mother of all known California floods - the Great Flood of 1861-62.

That flood, occurring during 45 days of rain, turned California into an inland sea. It also forced Gov. Leland Stanford to take a rowboat to his inauguration, wiped out a third of taxable land, and virtually bankrupted the state.

And when it does happen again, the culprit will be (wait for it) global warming!

And because of global warming, scientists forecast such a colossal gully-washer born by the "pineapple express" jet stream to happen sooner rather than later.

"With climate change, the West Coast is expected to experience even more extreme winter rainfall than we've seen so far, along with extreme episodes of dry, hot weather in summer," said Marty Ralph of NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., a member of the ARk Storm team, in a statement.

Monday, July 27, 2009

How the price of health care gets pushed up

From the Washington Post:
Two decades ago, a famous clinical experiment showed that if a patient in the throes of a heart attack chewed and swallowed an aspirin tablet, the risk of dying fell from 13.2 percent to 10.2 percent.
If progress since then had come so cheap and easy -- a 23 percent improvement for an investment of three cents -- health care in the United States wouldn't be in the state it is.
In the 1960s, the chance of dying in the days immediately after a heart attack was 30 to 40 percent. In 1975, it was 27 percent. In 1984, it was 19 percent. In 1994, it was about 10 percent. Today, it's about 6 percent.
Over the same period, the charges for treating a heart attack marched steadily upward, from about $5,700 in 1977 to $54,400 in 2007 (without adjusting for inflation).
Although inappropriate care, high administrative costs, inflated prices and fraud all add to the country's gigantic medical bill, the biggest driver of the upward curve of health spending has been the discovery of new and better things to do when someone gets sick.
"When I was in medical school, about all we had to offer was oxygen, morphine and prayers," said Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, Calif.
Today, someone having a heart attack who gets to a hospital in time is likely to get cardiac catheterization, angioplasty, the placement of a medicated stent, therapy with four anticoagulant drugs and, on discharge, a handful of lifetime prescriptions.
The things that make a difference in survival rates include:
Aspirin -- 3 percentage point reduction in mortality -- 3¢.
Streptokynase -- 6 percentage points -- $300.
TPA -- 1 percentage point -- $1200.
Angioplasty -- ? percentage points -- $12,000.
Stents -- vanishingly small -- $600 - $2200.
It is safe to say that almost everybody who has a heart attack wants the best treatment available. Nobody wants to turn back the clock.
Well, not for themselves, anyway.

Yoo Hoots

From the Washington Post:

While former colleagues have avoided attention in the face of such scrutiny, Yoo has been traveling across the country to give speeches and counter critics who dispute his bold view of the president's authority. Now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, he engages in polite but firm exchanges with legal scholars over conclusions in their academic work. This month, he wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal defending his actions and labeling critics' arguments as "absurd" and "foolhardy" responses to "the media-stoked politics of recrimination."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Five vanishing health care freedoms

Fortune Magazine has a list of five freedoms that will vanish if Obamacare is passed into law.

Today, many states require these "standard benefits packages" -- and they're a major cause for the rise in health-care costs. Every group, from chiropractors to alcohol-abuse counselors, do lobbying to get included. Connecticut, for example, requires reimbursement for hair transplants, hearing aids, and in vitro fertilization.

Americans with pre-existing conditions need subsidies under any plan, but community rating is a dubious way to bring fairness to health care. The reason is twofold: First, it forces young people, who typically have lower incomes than older workers, to pay far more than their actual cost, and gives older workers, who can afford to pay more, a big discount. The state laws gouging the young are a major reason so many of them have joined the ranks of uninsured.

Under the Senate plan, insurers would be barred from charging any more than twice as much for one patient vs. any other patient with the same coverage. So if a 20-year-old who costs just $800 a year to insure is forced to pay $2,500, a 62-year-old who costs $7,500 would pay no more than $5,000.

4. Freedom to keep your existing plan

This is the freedom that the President keeps emphasizing. Yet the bills appear to say otherwise. It's worth diving into the weeds -- the territory where most pundits and politicians don't seem to have ventured.

The legislation divides the insured into two main groups, and those two groups are treated differently with respect to their current plans. The first are employees covered by the Employee Retirement Security Act of 1974. ERISA regulates companies that are self-insured, meaning they pay claims out of their cash flow, and don't have real insurance. Those are the GEs (GE, Fortune 500) and Time Warners (TWX, Fortune 500) and most other big companies.

The House bill states that employees covered by ERISA plans are "grandfathered." Under ERISA, the plans can do pretty much what they want -- they're exempt from standard packages and community rating and can reward employees for healthy lifestyles even in restrictive states.

But read on.

The bill gives ERISA employers a five-year grace period when they can keep offering plans free from the restrictions of the "qualified" policies offered on the exchanges. But after five years, they would have to offer only approved plans, with the myriad rules we've already discussed. So for Americans in large corporations, "keeping your own plan" has a strict deadline. In five years, like it or not, you'll get dumped into the exchange. As we'll see, it could happen a lot earlier.

The outlook is worse for the second group. It encompasses employees who aren't under ERISA but get actual insurance either on their own or through small businesses. After the legislation passes, all insurers that offer a wide range of plans to these employees will be forced to offer only "qualified" plans to new customers, via the exchanges.

The employees who got their coverage before the law goes into effect can keep their plans, but once again, there's a catch. If the plan changes in any way -- by altering co-pays, deductibles, or even switching coverage for this or that drug -- the employee must drop out and shop through the exchange. Since these plans generally change their policies every year, it's likely that millions of employees will lose their plans in 12 months.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A cop's nightmare

A Jack Dunphy column:

The first question to be asked about Sgt. Crowley's initial response is, was it lawful and reasonable? Clearly it was both.  A cornerstone U.S. Supreme Court decision, Terry v. Ohio, held that an officer may stop and detain a person he reasonably believes to be involved in criminal activity. Here, Sgt. Crowley answered a citizen's report of a possible burglary. Such reports are granted a presumption of reliability under the law, so Sgt. Crowley was on solid ground in approaching the home and, upon seeing a man inside who matched the description provided by the witness, asking him for his identification. A police officer responding to such a report must, for his own safety, assume the report to be accurate until he can satisfy himself that it isn't. The cop who blithely handles every call assuming it to be a false alarm will likely not survive to handle many of them. In fact, many police officers faced with the identical facts would likely have ordered Henry Gates out of the home at gunpoint.

Sgt. Crowley did not go so far as that (imagine the furor if he had), but he exercised a measure of caution by following Gates into the home as Gates retrieved his identification. Gates insists Crowley needed a warrant to enter the home but he is mistaken, as even the most liberal judge would find that Crowley was faced with sufficiently exigent circumstances, viz. a possible burglar who may have attempted to arm himself or flee, to justify a warrantless entry.

Mr. Gates, who admits he asked his limo driver to force open a stuck door, is surely accustomed to a certain amount of bowing and scraping in the circles in which he travels, and it must have come as a shock when he was surprised by a cop who neither knew nor cared that he occupied such an exalted position. He apparently never stopped to consider that he and his driver may have been seen by someone who would misinterpret their actions and report them to the police. No, to Mr. Gates the first and only explanation for the sudden appearance of a white police officer at his doorstep was that the cops had come to hassle him because he's black.

Steyn on Gates

This from the Orange County Register:

I certainly sympathize with the general proposition that not all encounters with the constabulary go as agreeably as one might wish. Last year I had a minor interaction with a Vermont state trooper, and, 60 seconds into the conversation, he called me a "liar." I considered my options:

Option a): I could get hot under the collar, yell at him, get tasered into submission and possibly shot while "resisting arrest";

Option b): I could politely tell the trooper I object to his characterization, and then write a letter to the commander of his barracks the following morning suggesting that such language is not appropriate to routine encounters with members of the public and betrays a profoundly defective understanding of the relationship between law enforcement officials and the citizenry in civilized societies.

I chose the latter course, and received a letter back offering partial satisfaction and explaining that the trooper would be receiving "supervisory performance-related issue-counseling," which, with any luck, is even more ghastly than it sounds and hopefully is still ongoing.

Professor Gates chose option a), which is just plain stupid. For one thing, these days they have dash-cams and two-way radios and a GPS gizmo in the sharp end of the billy club, so an awful lot of this stuff winds up being preserved on tape, and, if you're the one a-hootin' an' a-hollerin', it's not going to help. In the Sixties, the great English satirist Peter Simple invented the Prejudometer, which simply by being pointed at any individual could calculate degrees of racism to the nearest prejudon, "the internationally recognized scientific unit of racial prejudice." Professor Gates seems to go around with his Prejudometer permanently cranked up to 11: When Sgt. Crowley announced through the glass-paneled front door that he was here to investigate a break-in, Gates opened it up and roared back: "Why? Because I'm a black man in America?"

Voter's Remorse

Robert Ringer, author of Winning Through Intimidation and many, many other books, has a daughter.

In this blog post, she confesses to having voted for Obama.
Fast-forward to today — and The Confession: I voted for Obama! That's right, Robert Ringer's strong-minded daughter was swept away by the waves of social convention and a sea of "change" rhetoric. Mortified, I've watched as Obama and his machine have replaced my ideals of liberty with their collectivist agenda.

In the wake of a crashing stock market, a plunging housing market, and an unprecedented economy, the non-specific idea of "change" offered us hope that America would avert more chaos and emerge as a viable player in the modern-day New World Order. Of course, most of us had no idea what the New World Order meant, but it sounded good. So we voted for Community Organizer Obama.

When President Obama emerged, it was like a blitzkrieg on Democracy. Yes, it is a New World Order.

As radio host Herman Cain related:

I started to get a growing sense that more and more people are having voters' regret when one very brave and loyal listener to my radio show called and asked me if I knew what a "mulligan" was. I said yes because I play golf, and it's when you are allowed to take a shot over if you make a bad shot when playing with friends. Jane [the caller] then said, "Mr. Cain, I want a mulligan, because I voted for Barack Obama."

The thing is, his entire program was there for all to see.  But you were much more likely to see it if you read his speeches, rather than listening to his mesmerizing delivery.


(A couple of talk-show hosts are calling the affair "Stupidgate", but I think this describes the focus of the problem more accurately.)

A couple of posts at the American Thinker blog.  First,  when is a hate crime not a hate crime?
Late one night, a black woman living in a predominately white neighborhood was startled awake by the sound of breaking glass. Inside her 4-year-old son's room, she found a brick. Attached to it was a note:  "Keep Eastside White. Keep Eastside Strong." (see photo)
Yes, a clear-cut case of racism. A hate crime. Yet incredibly, the police decided otherwise. Why? Police said the note did not constitute "hate speech." Accordingly, the crime "probably would be criminal mischief and deadly conduct, both misdemeanors," according to police.

No doubt, the brick-throwing incident -- and the police's handling of it -- would surely make a good story for Harvard's Henry Louis Gates, Jr to include in yet another essay or book on America's deep-seated racism. Racism that he recently experienced first-hand.
The forgoing incident, by the way, occurred not long ago in Austin, Texas. However, two small details were changed to make a point: The mother was in fact white, and she was living in a predominately black neighborhood. This may help to explain why police decided there was no hate crime: Hate crimes, of course, can only be committed by whites against other racial and ethnic minorities.

And this post, Every White Man's Nightmare...
Sgt. Crowley is a white police officer who was racially profiled by both President Obama and Professor Gates.  Both black men made an initial assumption about Sgt. Crowley's intentions and proceeded to impugn his actions.  Professor Gates went so far as to call Sgt. Crowley, according to ABC News, a "racist."  One has to wonder: Harvard, Yale, and Columbia – all that education and all that money – to simply reaffirm a tired ideology about the white power structure.
What's every white man's nightmare?  To be treated as a stereotype and as less than human.  Several decades ago the federal government decided to atone for America's accumulated racial sins by targeting a small group of innocent victims: white males applying for promotions in education and other state professions.  The program is called "Affirmative Action."  So much for spreading the blame around.

But this is America.  When it comes to racism, whites are presumed guilty until proven innocent.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Educating blacks

One teacher's experience...

I know there are exceptions to this picture.
I know blacks aren't hard-wired to behave this way.
But who's willing to do anything about it?

Krauthammer on Obamacare

From the Washington Post:

Didn't Obama promise a new politics that puts people over special interests? Sure. And now he promises expanded, portable, secure, higher-quality medical care – at lower cost! The only thing he hasn't promised is to extirpate evil from the human heart. That legislation will be introduced next week.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

NY Times on Sotomayor

The New York Times editorializes over the Sotomayor confirmation hearings, and over what was said and not said.

It was clear that Republicans had overplayed their hand in weeks of trying to portray her as radical, intemperate and even racist. She was disarming in her appearances before the Senate Judiciary Committee — erudite, likable and eminently sensible. She defused some of the main attacks on her by backing away from a past statement that a "wise Latina" judge could decide cases better than a white man and by saying that she saw a judge's duty as applying the law, not making it.

At times, she too willingly ceded ground to her conservative questioners. We wish she had spoken out forthrightly in favor of empathy, a quality President Obama has said he is looking for in his judicial nominees. We would have liked to hear her boldly defend the idea of the Constitution as a living document, one that changes with the times. And we would have preferred if she had used the hearings to explain to the public that the much-mentioned distinction between judges making and applying the law has little meaning.

We may wonder why it is that Sotomayor felt the need to toe a conservative line during these hearings.  After all, the Democrats have a near-filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.  I don't think a Republican filibuster of this nomination will fly -- the votes just aren't there.

So why the conservative positions?

Why not defend the idea of a living, breathing Constitution? Why not defend her other positions if they're so sensible?  Surely she doesn't need to convince the Democrats, does she?

Or is the notion of a flexible Constitution more of a minority position than its defenders would have us all believe?

And is the distinction between judges making law and applying law really that small?  Or do too many people recognize the first as that "judicial activism" that either isn't supposed to exist, or to be evenly distributed on both ends of the left/right divide?

Maybe the New York Times editorial board will spend some time defending these points, since the current nominee declines to do so.

Proof of God?

Dennis Prager's Ultimate Issue today dealt with the question of what could possibly prove the existence of God to everyone.  His position is, there is nothing God can do that would convince everyone.  Even if God appeared to everyone on the planet and said, "Bruce, I'm God", that would only work for a very short time.  Indeed, even if the stars in the sky moved to spell out the message, "I am God", would that do it?  Probably not.
In the works of science fiction, people have endless room to play with ideas.  An author can postulate some weird happening, and ponder the effects if such a happening were to actually take place.  In the story I'm working on, for example, one of the weird happenings is in the middle of a Pagan rite -- all of a suden, the magic circle and the watchtowers at the quarters are plainly visible instead of being seen in the mind's eye.  (I figure the reaction runs the gamut from people finding their faith affirmed to people fleeing in panic to whatever church they were raised in.)  (Another of the weird happenings is communion wine and wafers turning to actual blood and flesh during a Mass.)
A number of books have been written in the Star Trek universe. A couple of them postulate that the Vulcans have an innate sense of the presence of God -- they have, in the back of their minds, a constant "signal" of the presence of God.  To them, this existence is an unquestioned and unquestionable fact. 
But this is no help.  If anything, it raises more questions than it answers.  The existence of God is beyond question, and so the problem of evil becomes intensified.  The author of these particular stories believes absolute proof of the existence of God would do no more than move the goal posts.  Instead of questioning the existence of God, Vulcans instead question the nature of God, his goodness, his wisdom, his ability to make things happen. 
Is God involved with the universe?  Does he care about the intelligent beings that live throughout it?  Or did he wind it up at the beginning and it's now running on its own?
Even if absolute proof of God's existence can be had, people will still doubt precisely what it is that exists.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Health care proposal

David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy has a proposal:

Let the Democrats put forward three different health care reform proposals. Let the Republicans put forward two different proposals. Find five states to volunteer. Each state adopts one of the proposals. Wait several years. See if any of these proposals worked out well, and if so, which one seems best, and why. Learn from this trial and error, and then pass a national health bill, instead of trying an untested, one-size fits all solution for 20% of the American economy.

Of course, that would mean actually trying federalism...

Iron Dome missile defense system

For those who say a missile defense system can't be made to work...

Israel had the first successful test of its Iron Dome anti-rocket system on July 15th. The system detected and shot down several BM-21 rockets. The Israelis expect to have the system in action, along the Gaza border, later this year. The manufacturer, Rafael, was offered a large bonus if they got the system working ahead of schedule. When Iron Dome was first proposed three years ago, it was to take five years (until 2012) to get it operational. In addition to the cash incentive, there's also the rockets still coming out of Gaza, and being stockpiled by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

Iron Dome uses two radars to quickly calculate the trajectory of the incoming rocket (Palestinian Kassams from Gaza, or Russian and Iranian designs favored by Hezbollah in Lebanon) and do nothing if the rocket trajectory indicates it is going to land in an uninhabited area. But if the computers predict a rocket coming down in an inhabited area, a $40,000 guided missile is fired to intercept the rocket. This makes the system cost-effective. That's because Hezbollah fired 4,000 rockets in 2006, and Palestinian terrorists in Gaza have fired over six thousand Kassam rockets in the past eight years, and the Israelis know where each of them landed. Over 90 percent of these rockets landed in uninhabited areas.


Without the Hot Air

Also from Jerry's blog:


I've come across an interesting book, "Sustainable Energy - without the hot air" by David MacKay. Professor MacKay is a physicist at Cambridge and he explains the math about how we use and produce energy in a way that lets you do apple to apple comparisons and which exposes many absurdities in our energy policies. What is also interesting is that you can download it for free here:


Just spotted at Jerry Pournelle's website:

Our friends Alex and Mina Morton took us out to dinner last night at a new local restaurant called Artisan Eats. A small sign on the wall near our table made us all grin:


Spider Robinson

What? No drum?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Crowds: Madness or wisdom?

Everyone knows crowds are irrational, right? They are subject to a "mob mentality" which can result in random acts of violence if not carefully managed, right? The police need to bring special "crowd control" tactics to bear if things look like they're going wrong, right?

From the Reason Magazine blog, a piece on the "madness of crowds".

Michael Bond has written a richly detailed article for New Scientist about the psychology and behavior of crowds. Here are some extracts, but you should read the whole thing:
The "unruly mob" concept is usually taken as read and used as the basis for crowd control measures and evacuation procedures across the world. Yet it is almost entirely a myth. Research into how people behave at demonstrations, sports events, music festivals and other mass gatherings shows not only that crowds nearly always act in a highly rational way, but also that when facing an emergency, people in a crowd are more likely to cooperate than panic. Paradoxically, it is often actions such as kettling [a police tactic of corraling an entire crowd into a small area] that lead to violence breaking out. Often, the best thing authorities can do is leave a crowd to its own devices....

What are the lessons from all this? One of the most important is that the current approach to managing crowds, which is all about control and containment, can be counterproductive. Police tend to assume that people in crowds are prone to random acts of violence and disorder, and treat them accordingly. But aggressive policing is likely to trigger an aggressive response as the crowd reacts collectively against the external threat. This is why many researchers consider kettling to be a bad idea. "You're treating the crowd indiscriminately, and that can change the psychology of the crowd, shifting it towards rather than away from violence," says [Clifford] Stott. He has found that low-profile policing can significantly reduce the aggressiveness of football crowds, and that if left alone they will usually police themselves.

Emergency services should also take note: in a situation such as a terrorist attack or fire, a crowd left to its own devices will often find the best solution. Attempts to intervene to prevent people panicking, such as restricting their movements, could make panic more likely. The key, says [Tricia] Wachtendorf, is to give crowds as much information as possible, as they are likely to use it wisely.
There's "no question," Bond concedes, "that being part of a group can sometimes lead people to do appalling things that they would usually abhor" and that "the cover crowds offer can attract individuals who are intent on causing trouble." Nonetheless, "crowd violence is actually extremely rare." And intrusive crowd management can make such disorder more rather than less likely.

About "rights"

The article I posted the other day about health care myths made a point about rights that I've seen made elsewhere. In particular, his point #6

Myth #6 Health Care is A Right

Nope, it's not....

luckily it doesn't take a superb philosopher to understand that health care simply is not a "right" in the sense we normally use that word. Listing rights generally involves enumerating things you may do without interference (the right to free speech) or may not be done to you without your permission (illegal search and seizure, loud boy-band music in public spaces). They are protections, not gifts of material goods. Material goods and services must be taken from others, or provided by their labor, so if you believe you have an absolute right to them, and others don't choose to provide it to you, you then have a "right" to steal from them.

All well and good, but if you ever watch crime shows and listen to people being "read their [Miranda] rights", you'll hear, among other things:

...You have the right to speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense..."

That is giving the accused the right to the services of a highly trained professional. If someone is accused of a crime, he is guaranteed the right to the services of this professional, at no charge if he can't afford to pay, regardless of, among other things, public sentiment. Thus, Adolf Hitler, if he were tried in an American court, would have the right to the services of an attorney, paid for by you and me.

I think everyone reading this agrees this is as it should be, at least in principle.

But it seems to be an exception to the definition of rights given above.


I e-mailed the author with these thoughts, and got the following in response (quoted by permission):

Thank you for reading my piece and writing to me.

Your example of government provided attorneys is a very interesting one, probably the most interesting of the many comments I've received, and the one that had me the most befuddled. But ultimately I don't agree it's damning. First, it's not in the Constitution as you said but a court interpreted "right". That doesn't eliminate your point but makes it somewhat less foundational (the founders weren't handing out others material goods). More importantly, the government only provides this "good" when you are accused of a unproven crime and they are trying to take away your freedom. The material good is only useful to combat a larger government imposition. Seems to me like not a "net" giveaway. Also, for instance, they do not provide attorneys for civil cases, so clearly something different is going on here.

Again, I enjoyed thinking about that, it was a hard one!

- C

I think he has a very good response. At least it parallels my thoughts for why the right to legal counsel would be an exception to the general rule.

I'll have to remember to run that point past Walter Williams next time he uses that definition of "rights".

Being a Journalist means never having to do math

Which is a good thing, because journalists can't do math.
Reporters and editors at our major newspapers are neither smarter nor more knowledgeable than the general public. In fact, I think they are, in general, less so. Today's case in point is a correction that the New York Times has run repeatedly in recent years. Yet, somehow, they never seem to learn:
An article on July 5 about the California governor's race misstated the size of the outdoor tent where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger smokes cigars when working at the Capitol. The tent is about 15 feet square, not 15 square feet. (In other words, the tent is about 225 square feet.)
I say this in all seriousness: why should we take direction on any complex issue of public policy from a group of people who literally do not know what a square foot is? They are not smarter than we are. They are dumber.

About those interrogations

From Powerline:

Earlier this year, the Washington Post proclaimed, in a story by Joby Warrick and Peter Finn, that "not a single significant plot was foiled" as a result of the harsh interrogation of detainee Abu Zubaida. I took on that article here.

Today Warrick and Finn are back to give us what they call a "more nuanced look" at the interrogation of Abu Zubaida. As Marc Thiessen shows, this more nuanced look amounts to something close to a retraction of the authors' claim that no significant plot was foiled as a result of this interrogation.

In today's piece Warrick and Finn report that Abu Zubaida gave up information that led to the arrest of Jose Padilla. He did so, moreover, only after he was subjected to sleep deprivation. Thiessen points out that this reporting directly contradicts the claim of FBI agent Ali Soufan that he got the information about Padilla from Zubaida before enhanced interrogation techniques were applied by the CIA.

There are those who still make the blanket statement, "torture doesn't work".

Sleep deprivation works.

Therefore, it's not torture.


Palin on Energy

From the Washington Post, Sarah Palin on the Cap and Tax legislation.

I am deeply concerned about President Obama's cap-and-trade energy plan, and I believe it is an enormous threat to our economy. It would undermine our recovery over the short term and would inflict permanent damage.
American prosperity has always been driven by the steady supply of abundant, affordable energy. Particularly in Alaska, we understand the inherent link between energy and prosperity, energy and opportunity, and energy and security. Consequently, many of us in this huge, energy-rich state recognize that the president's cap-and-trade energy tax would adversely affect every aspect of the U.S. economy.
The ironic beauty in this plan? Soon, even the most ardent liberal will understand supply-side economics.

An idea whose time has come

Hat tip: Prairie Pundit.

How can lawmakers vote on something so important without a thorough understanding of what's in it?

Not the everyday "We hereby rename this post office in honor of so-and-so" or "We officially declare this Goldfish Month." The big things, like an almost $800 billion stimulus plan, or an energy package that Politico said "would transform the country's economy and industrial landscape."

Actually reading such legislation, as the founders might say, should be self-evident.

But apparently not. So a little nudge is in order, especially with health-care reform looming.

One nudger is Colin Hanna, a former Chester County commissioner and president of the conservative advocacy group Let Freedom Ring. He has begun a campaign ( that asks members of the House and Senate to promise the following:

"I . . . pledge to my constituents and to the American people that I will not vote to enact any health-care reform package that:

"1) I have not read, personally, in its entirety; and,

"2) Has not been available, in its entirety, to the American people on the Internet for at least 72 hours, so that they can read it too."

Let Freedom Ring isn't alone. A consortium of liberal and good-government groups is backing, and a libertarian group,, essentially wants the two planks of Hanna's pledge enacted as federal law.

I recall from my civics classes that there used to be three readings of any bill that was introduced before it could be passed by the Congress.   The bill would actually be read out loud, because it was not unheard of for a member of Congress to be illiterate!

I think we would be well served if every bill under consideration had to be read, out loud, on the floor, before voting could take place.  It would, at the very least, limit the amount of damage any session of Congress could do.

And ideally, I'd like to see a rule passed declaring no one could vote on a bill unless he had been present during the entire reading of that bill.

If it's not worth sitting through, it's not worth enacting into law.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Obamacare, the trap

From Paterico's Pontifications:

When discussing his proposed government takeover of the US healthcare system, Pres. Obama always hastens to assure people that if you like your current coverage (as the overwhelming majority of people routinely tell pollsters they do), you will be able to keep it. However, if you lose your individual coverage, you will be unable to buy new insurance. And the mentality that outlaws new individual insurance may be inclined to do the same for employer-provided insurance in the future. Not that the Left will have to resort to that. If Obamacare passes, insurance will generally become a function of government. And any "public option" that passes will unfairly compete with private insurers — bypassing the laws that apply to private insurers, sticking taxpayers with hidden administrative costs, paying below-market Medicare rates (which in turn inflate private costs), and so on, until they have crowded competition out of the market.

We can be glad that the Democrats were so brazen about their intent as early as page 16 of their bill, as they have just made life easier for people fighting the nanny state. It is tempting to ask what might be in the remaining 1,002 pages of the bill. However, as the Leftist strategy here seems to be to strongarm moderates into not filibustering a final House-Senate bill, the real question is whether our elected representatives will read — or even give Americans a chance to read — the final product before a vote is taken. The moderates really have the power to dictate the final product. The issues are whether they have the guts to do so… or whether voters can scare them into doing the right thing.

Fighting global warming.

Why one politician has changed his mind, and is now fighting the fighters.

Around three months ago one of my advisors pulled me aside and asked me what I thought was driving climate change. I smiled and said automatically that it was obviously a result of increasing carbon dioxide emissions.

I had never really looked at the science and just assumed what was reported in the media to be true. Well wasn't I in for an enormous shock.

My advisor presented me with data and some comments from a number of scientists which suddenly had me asking many questions. This led me to do some further reading and I ultimately decided to head over to Washington on a self funded trip so I could find out more about the science behind climate change.

In the US I met with numerous scientists on both sides of the debate. Some media outlets would have you believe that I met only with climate skeptics who they accuse of being paid off by the fossil fuel industry. These claims are wholly inaccurate.

Moreover, I strongly believe in giving everyone a fair hearing even if it isn't the most popular view. I believe it's my role as a a politician, to wade through all of the spin and come up with my own conclusions after hearing all of the facts.

Amongst the many presentations, one item really stood out. I was presented with a graph based on data that IPCC use which showed carbon dioxide emissions sky rocketing over the last 15 years while global temperatures had remained steady.

The chart Senator Fielding says sparked his doubts about climate changeThe chart Senator Fielding says sparked his doubts about climate change

This graph left me nothing short of flabbergasted. Up until this point I had truly believed that human made carbon dioxide emissions were responsible for climate change.

Dialysis rationing in England

A post at the American Thinker Blog.

Rationing experimental procedures is one thing. But how about kidney dialysis? The following is from a comment left on my blog about health care reform. It is from a long time commenter on my site who quotes from the Canadian Medical Association Journal about the dialysis crisis  in the UK:
"An acute shortage of dialysis machines is causing numerous premature deaths in the UK, a study by the country's National Kidney Research Fund indicates. More than 100,000 people have kidney disease but only 34,000 are receiving dialysis or have had a kidney transplant.
Of the 71 UK kidney treatment units surveyed, 12 have been forced to turn away patients. Other units reported that they have been forced to take emergency measures to accommodate increasing numbers of patients. Some offer patients  dialysis only 2 times a week instead of 3, while others hold overnight treatment sessions. Most units reported they were working at full capacity, with no appointment times for new patients. "Some providers acknowledged that the final options for such patients are conservative management and/or death," the report said."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Health Care Myths

This link is to a preliminary draft of an article:

Myth #1 Health Care Costs are Soaring

No, they are not. The amount we spend on health care has indeed risen, in absolute terms, after inflation, and as a percentage of our incomes and GDP. That does not mean costs are soaring.

You cannot judge the "cost" of something by simply what you spend. You must also judge what you get. I'm reasonably certain the cost of 1950's level health care has dropped in real terms over the last 60 years (and you can probably have a barber from the year 1500 bleed you for almost nothing nowadays). Of course, with 1950's health care, lots of things will kill you that 2009 health care could prevent. Also, your quality of life, in many instances, would be far worse, but you will have a little bit more change in your pocket as the cost will be lower.

Want to take the deal?

In fact, nobody in the US really wants 1950's health care (or even 1990's health care).

They just want to pay 1950 prices for 2009 health care.

They want the latest pills, techniques, therapies, general genius discoveries, and highly skilled labor that would make today's health care seem like science fiction a few years ago.

But alas, successful science fiction costs a lot.


Myth #2 The Canadian Drug Story

Ah … one of the holy myths of the "US health care sucks" crowd.

This should be fun.

The general story is how you can buy many drugs in Canada cheaper than you can buy them in the US.

This story is often, without specifically tying the logic together, taken as an obvious indictment of the US's (relatively) free market system.

This is grossly misguided.

Here's what happens. We have a (relatively) free market in the US where drug companies spend a ton to develop new wonder drugs, a non-trivial amount of which is spent to satisfy regulatory requirements. The cost of this development is called a "fixed cost." Once it's developed it does not cost that much to make each pill. That's called a "variable cost."

If people only paid the variable cost (or a bit more) for each pill the whole thing would not work. You see, the company would never get back the massive fixed cost of creating the drug in the first place, and so no company would try to develop one. Thus, companies have to, and do, charge more than the variable cost of making each pill.[2]

Some look at this system and say to the drug companies "gee, it doesn't cost you much to make one more pill, so it's unfair that you charge much more than your cost." They are completely wrong and not looking at all the costs.

So, let's bring this back to our good natured friends to the North (good natured barring hockey when they'll kill you as soon as look at you[3]). They have socialized medicine and they bargain as the only Canadian buyer for drugs, paying well below normal costs. Drug companies that spent the enormous fixed costs to create new miracles are charging a relatively high cost in the free and still largely competitive world (the US) to recoup their fixed cost and to make a profit.

But socialist societies like Canada limit the price they are allowed to charge. The US-based company is then faced with a dilemma. What Canada will pay is not enough to ever have justified creating the miracle pill. But, once created, perhaps Canada is paying more than the variable cost of each pill. Thus, the company can make some money by also selling to Canada at a lower price as it's still more than it costs them to make that last pill.

However, this is an accident of Canada being a less-free country than the US, able to bargain as one nation, much smaller, and next door. If we all tried to be Canada it's a non-working perpetual motion machine and no miracle pills ever get made because there will be nobody to pay the fixed costs.


Myth #3 Socialized Medicine Works In Some Places

This is a corollary to the "Canada as parasite" parable above. The funny part is socialized medicine has never been truly tested. Those touting socialism's success have never seen a world without a relatively (for now) free US to make their new drugs, surgical techniques, and other medical advancements for them. When (and I hope this doesn't happen) the US joins in the insanity of socialized medicine we will see that when you remove the brain from the body, the engine from a car, the candy from the striper, it just does not work.

So, please, stop pointing to all those "successes" that even while living off the US still kill hard-working people who could afford their own health care while they stand in line for the government's version (people's cancers growing while waiting 10 weeks for a routine scan, which these people could often afford on their own if allowed, is a human tragedy). Even the successes you gin up for them would not be possible without the last best hope of humankind (the US) on the front lines again making the miracles for the world.


Myth #4 A Public Option Can Co-Exist with a Private Option

This one has been the subject of some hot debate. Let's first define it.

Part of the current junta's plan is to add a "public option" for health insurance. That is health insurance provided by the government (actually provided by you and your neighbors – this is a good thing to remember whenever you find yourselves thinking anything comes from the government, really, if you take away anything from this essay take away this!). They claim this "public option" can co-exist fairly alongside private health insurance, increasing competition and keeping the private system "honest", and not deteriorate to a single payer (socialized medicine) system. They are wrong, or very dishonest, as in unguarded moments they admit that the single payer socialized system is what they really want. The New York Times disagrees with me, thinking the two can co-exist. But the New York Times still thinks Stalin was a pretty decent Joe.


The government does not co-exist or compete fairly with private enterprise. It does not play well with others. The regulator cannot be a competitor at the same time. It cannot compete fairly while it owns the armed forces and courts. Finally, it cannot be a fair competitor if when the "public option" screws up (can't pay its bills), the government implicitly or explicitly guarantees its debts. We have seen what happens in that case and don't need a re-run.

The first thing the government does is underprice the private system. You can easily be forgiven for thinking this is a good thing. Why not, cheaper is better right?


They will underprice private enterprise by charging less to the purchaser of health insurance, not by actually creating it cheaper.

Who makes up the difference?

Well, you and your family do if you pay taxes, or your kids will pay taxes, or their kids will pay taxes. The government can always underprice competition, not through the old fashioned way of doing it better, they never do that, but by robbing Peter to pay for Paul. They are taking money from your left pocket and giving you a small portion of it back in your right pocket. They do it every day before breakfast, and take a victory lap for the small portion they return.


Myth #5 We Can Have Health Care Without Rationing

Rationing has to occur. This sounds cold and cruel, but it is reality.


If you have a material good or service, like health care, that is ever increasing in quality, and therefore cost, there is no way everyone on Earth can have the best at all times (actually the quality increases are not necessary for rationing to be needed, it just makes the example clearer).

It's going to be rationed by some means.

The alternatives come down to the marketplace or the government. To choose between those alternatives you judge on morality and efficacy.

Everyone on both sides seems to hate the rationing word. People favoring free markets point to the explicit rationing that occurs in other countries with glee, while those favoring socialism point to the number of uninsured who get their health care through emergency rooms and the like (a form of rationing). Both sides are wrong to complain about rationing per se, that's a fact of life. But there are differences.

It is an uncomfortable truth that tough choices will have to be made. There is no system that provides for unlimited wants with limited resources. Our choice is whether it should be rationed by free people making their own economic calculations or by a bureaucracy run by Congressional committee (whose members, like the Russian commissars, will, I guarantee you, still get the best health care the gulag hospitaligo can provide). Free people making their own choices only consume what they value above price, using funds they have earned or been given voluntarily. With socialized medicine health care is rationed by committees of politicians trying to get re-elected and increase their own power, and people consume as much of it as the commissars deem permissible. I do not find these tough alternatives to choose between.

Myth #6 Health Care is A Right

Nope, it's not. But we are at the nuclear bomb of the discussion. The one guaranteed to get me yelled at or perhaps picketed by a mob waving signs printed up with George Soros's money. Those advocating socialized medicine love to scream "health care is a right." They are loud, they are scary, but they are wrong about rights (as the 1980 kid in me resists the temptation to type "TO PARTY" – you had to be there).

This is more philosophy than economics, and I'm not a philosopher. But, luckily it doesn't take a superb philosopher to understand that health care simply is not a "right" in the sense we normally use that word. Listing rights generally involves enumerating things you may do without interference (the right to free speech) or may not be done to you without your permission (illegal search and seizure, loud boy-band music in public spaces). They are protections, not gifts of material goods. Material goods and services must be taken from others, or provided by their labor, so if you believe you have an absolute right to them, and others don't choose to provide it to you, you then have a "right" to steal from them.

But what about their far more fundamental right not to be robbed?


And In Conclusion

At this point you might accuse me of offering only complaints about the Administration's plans, without constructive suggestions of my own. There is truth to that. But I make no apologies. If people believe crazy things it's first and foremost important to change that before progress can be made. But also, I think we're doing okay enough without radical changes, certainly not hastily panicked changes towards socialism, and also because I lack the expertise to recommend the detailed practical steps that would be productive (in contrast it requires no expertise to see that the myths above are indeed lunacy).

The tragedy of the Moon

Charles Krauthammer mourns the abandonment of the moon by the US.

Michael Crichton once wrote that if you had told a physicist in 1899 that within a hundred years humankind would, among other wonders (nukes, commercial airlines), "travel to the moon, and then lose interest ... the physicist would almost certainly pronounce you mad." In 2000, I quoted these lines expressing Crichton's incredulity at America's abandonment of the moon. It is now 2009 and the moon recedes ever further.


No one's asking for a crash Manhattan Project. All we need is sufficient funding from the hundreds of billions being showered from Washington -- "stimulus" monies that, unlike Eisenhower's interstate highway system or Kennedy's Apollo program, will leave behind not a trace on our country or our consciousness -- to build Constellation and get us back to Earth orbit and the moon a half-century after the original landing.


But look up from your BlackBerry one night. That is the moon. On it are exactly 12 sets of human footprints -- untouched, unchanged, abandoned. For the first time in history, the moon is not just a mystery and a muse, but a nightly rebuke. A vigorous young president once summoned us to this new frontier, calling the voyage "the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked." We came, we saw, we retreated.

How could we?

Yes, I think that would be a good use for some of that "stimulus" money.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Peter Hitchens on Marriage

Peter Hitchens, blogging at the Mail Online looks at how our default assumptions about marriage have changed.

There used to be things we never had to think about. It never crossed anyone's mind that marriage could be either wanted or accomplished by anyone except a man and a woman, and it isn't very long since divorce was very rare indeed, and everyone assumed that marriage was for life. The phrase 'till death us do part', at the heart of the Church of England marriage service, was the title of a long-running situation comedy, and nobody thought it odd or unfamiliar, as I think they would now. It was what most people had said at their own weddings.

I am always advising people to read the Church of England's 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which the Church's liberal establishment longs to be rid of but cannot quite stamp out. ... But 'The form of solemnization of Matrimony', the Anglican marriage service, is also a carefully-constructed contract, an explanation of the purpose of marriage and a guide to how it is to be done. The Church is of course trying its best to stop people using this service now, offering instead various bland and denatured rituals and hoping that couples won't be aware of the tougher, more serious and much more beautiful version in the Prayer Book.

And it has simultaneously retreated, shamefully, from its own insistence that marriage is for life by becoming increasingly sloppy about the remarriage of divorced persons in church, and even about the marital status of its own clergy. De facto, if not de jure, the C of E now believes that marriage isn't for life. Even so, the 1662 service remains the lawful standard against which all other wedding ceremonies can (and in my view should) be measured.

...Which brings me to the question of how it can be all right for a man and woman to marry when they have no intention of having children, and are possibly incapable of it, while it is wrong for a man to marry a man and a woman to marry a woman.

Well, here you run up against a number of problems. The answer seems to me to be blindingly obvious, and not to need any explanation to the conscious, intelligent person. Marriage, for most of us, is defined as a union between two people of opposite sex. A lifelong union of two people of the same sex, whether you approve of such a thing or not, is by definition not marriage. Children would of course be a likely result of a marriage, and are one of its main purposes. But they are not a necessary condition of it, as many childless married couples can testify. So that does not mean that the union of two opposites is the same as the union of two who are not opposite.

For those of us who grew up before the cultural revolution, it just is so that marriage is between a man and a woman. How could two men, or two women, be married? Until very recently, you might as well have asked 'Why can't bumble-bees do algebra?' Or 'Why can't buses jump over rivers?' Answers such as 'Because they just can't' or 'That's not what buses are for' or indeed 'Why would they want to?' occur, along with a feeling that the questioner is perhaps having a laugh at our expense....

Only in this unhinged age is it necessary to go, almost all the time, not just to first principles, but beneath even them, which demonstrates just how deeply revolutionary the cultural and sexual revolution is. It questions, and intends to loosen, the foundations of the pillars of civilisation. Let us hope it has a good replacement handy, for when those pillars finally fall.

But if I am compelled to put the blindingly obvious into mere words, this is how I would do it. A man and a woman marrying when they are past childbearing are honouring marriage and (perhaps in the case of two widowed people seeking companionship in later life) are hoping to emulate as much as possible of this complex relationship between the two very different sexes, in which each surrenders an important part of life in return for gaining something much greater. In the days when such things mattered, I imagine that many such couples did so also as their tribute to 'respectability'. They didn't want anyone to misunderstand the nature of their household, or to believe that they were defying a convention which they in fact respected. For the same reason many such people no longer get married at all.

The church's view that man and wife are 'one flesh' is not merely a metaphor for the children that they may produce. It is a statement that a man and a woman united in this way are greater than the sum of their parts, partly because they are so different from each other and have so much to learn from each other. The differences between the two sexes - the fact that each necessarily possesses characteristics the other necessarily lacks - are crucial to this formula. A man living with another man for their whole lives may learn all kinds of things. But he will not, I think, learn what a man married to a woman learns. Mind you, homosexual civil partnerships are not contracted for life, any more than heterosexual civil marriages are, since both can be lawfully dissolved, and I think this makes them very different things from lifelong religious marriages. There's an argument for saying that heterosexual civil marriage has more in common with homosexual civil partnership than it does with lifelong Christian marriage.

A man who seeks to marry a man (or a woman who seeks to marry a woman) is also in my view making a conscious or unconscious (and in most cases conscious) propaganda gesture against the existing idea of marriage. Such a relationship cannot produce a child of both parents at any age. It has to be primarily sexual in purpose. ...

 don't myself doubt that this is a major reason for the liberationist campaign for single-sex marriage - propaganda of the deed. I've often pointed out that the supposed benefits of civil partnerships, in terms of the treatment of 'next of kin' could easily have been achieved by other, less revolutionary legislation. The real point of the change was to emphasise that this is now a post-Christian society, a fact that is becoming more evident almost every day. The numbers of Civil Partnerships are actually quite small, after an initial rush, and several such partnerships have already been dissolved. I suspect that such partnerships will become less and less common as time goes by, and their propaganda effect weakens....

It's interesting, and it goes very deep. But ultimately we must recognise that a revolution is under way and that this is part of it, and that we must decide whether we support or oppose this. Revolutions will not allow you to be neutral about them for long, as they reach so deep into your private life.

And also here:

Should I be supporting homosexual marriage? No, because I believe that marriage is primarily for the procreation of children, and homosexuals, by definition, cannot do that. Marriage is between a man and a woman. Extend it to any other combination, and it isn't marriage. Also, marriage needs to be privileged to survive. A privilege which is not reserved to the people who have been given it is not a privilege, any more than a story which appears in all the newspapers at once is an 'exclusive'. If you can give the legal and moral privileges of marriage to a homosexual relationship, then you've really no argument for withholding them from a heterosexual couple who prefer not to be married. It is for precisely that reason that many heterosexual libertines (with no personal sympathy for homosexuals) are now fully signed up supporters of the Homosexual Liberation Movement.

Marriage and safe society

A letter in the Wall Street Journal:

Since the publication of the 2007 CQ Press survey that labeled Detroit the nation's "most dangerous" large city, I have worked with a group trying to identify the obstacles to significant crime reduction.

El Paso, the third "safest" city in the survey, is about as poor and the people as undereducated as in Detroit. The most distinctive socioeconomic difference between El Paso and Detroit is the Texas city's far greater number of married couples as a percentage of total households: 48% versus Detroit's 24%.

Looking at the 2007 survey's 10 "safest" and 10 "most dangerous" large cities, the "safest" city, San Jose, Calif. has the highest number of married couples as a percentage of total households; the second "safest," Honolulu, has the second highest number; the third "safest," El Paso, the third highest number. The five "most dangerous" large cities have the lowest number of married couples as a percentage of total households. Today, 91,000 of Detroit's 288,000 households are headed by single females, with no husband present.


These public policies have afflicted whites as well as blacks. Thus the total out-of-wedlock birth rate in 1960 of 5% had grown by 1992 to more than 30%. The figure for blacks has now reached more than two-thirds of births.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Islam and gays

Peter Whittle, writing in the London Telegraph notes that gays don't want to mention Muslim homophobia.

When question time came around, I made the point to the panel that a recent survey by Policy Exchange had showed that 72 per cent of young Muslim men thought that homosexuality should be recriminalised. As the Channel 4 Dispatches programme on Mosques showed last year, there are some pretty disturbing things being said by some Imans about what is best for gays, ie death. Given the rapidly increasing proportion of the population which is Muslim, did they not think that there might be some possible problem in the future?

Needless to say this was neatly side-stepped. Or should I say, not really answered at all. Nick Herbert made the point that we should be careful not to generalise about the whole Muslim population (72 per cent seems pretty general to me). Immediately the issue was turned into something else, in a way we're all too familiar with, which is how important it is not to demonise Islam.

There are major double standards going on here. I'm not remotely religious, but I can see how it's considered perfectly legitimate to demonise the whole of the Catholic Church, say, or even Christianity in general. But when it comes to Islam, everybody gets very tongue-tied.

"Bioconservatives" and aging

"Bioconservatives" are those who oppose research into remaking the genetic and chemical balance of human beings -- for such ends as enhancing memory and intelligence, and for postponing aging.  According to this post at Distributed Republic, they'll lose.

And this is a sponsored link that showed up in my gmail browser a few minutes ago:

Rapamycin - - mTOR inhibitor,immunosuppressive 100mg $70; 500mg $275-- Bulk Also

Now, I know nothing about that website, could be straight scam artists for all I know. But what's notable to me is that within days of a publication of a story suggesting that the drug could be life extending, there's already an (illegal) market developing in it. Imagine something safer, and more effective. How quickly would people get their hands on it?

There are those out there who oppose research into extending human longevity. Good luck with stopping the spread of that technology, because it'll get out. Personally, I'd rather it be developed in the United States rather than in China or Singapore, but it doesn't much matter. Even the ultra-risk averse FDA won't stop an anti-aging hospital seastead, or the discreet delivery of pharmaceuticals from overseas when the demand is strong enough. And it will be.

This is the case not only for anti-aging drugs, but it will be the case for stem-cell-based treatments, cloning, genetic modification, and so on. Basically, any scientific technique that promises an improvement in the quality and quantity of life will be available from someone, somewhere.  You may have to travel to Bombay or Singapore, but it will be available. 

What will the Federal government do?  Block the re-entry of citizens who have gone abroad for purposes of "biomolecular tourism"?

Plimer on Climate

This piece, from The Spectator, is an interview with Professor James Plimer, a global warming skeptic with serious credentials.
The hypothesis that human activity can create global warming is extraordinary because it is contrary to validated knowledge from solar physics, astronomy, history, archaeology and geology,' says Plimer...
So go on then, Prof. What makes you sure that you're right and all those scientists out there saying the opposite are wrong? 'I'm a geologist. We geologists have always recognised that climate changes over time. Where we differ from a lot of people pushing AGW is in our understanding of scale. They're only interested in the last 150 years. Our time frame is 4,567 million years. So what they're doing is the equivalent of trying to extrapolate the plot of Casablanca from one tiny bit of the love scene. And you can't. It doesn't work.'

What Heaven And Earth sets out to do is restore a sense of scientific perspective to a debate which has been hijacked by 'politicians, environmental activists and opportunists'. It points out, for example, that polar ice has been present on earth for less than 20 per cent of geological time; that extinctions of life are normal; that climate changes are cyclical and random; that the CO2 in the atmosphere — to which human activity contributes the tiniest fraction — is only 0.001 per cent of the total CO2 held in the oceans, surface rocks, air, soils and life; that CO2 is not a pollutant but a plant food; that the earth's warmer periods — such as when the Romans grew grapes and citrus trees as far north as Hadrian's Wall — were times of wealth and plenty.

All this is scientific fact — which is more than you can say for any of the computer models turning out doomsday scenarios about inexorably rising temperatures, sinking islands and collapsing ice shelves. Plimer doesn't trust them because they seem to have little if any basis in observed reality.

'I'm a natural scientist. I'm out there every day, buried up to my neck in sh**, collecting raw data. And that's why I'm so sceptical of these models, which have nothing to do with science or empiricism but are about torturing the data till it finally confesses. None of them predicted this current period we're in of global cooling. There is no problem with global warming. It stopped in 1998. The last two years of global cooling have erased nearly 30 years of temperature increase.'

Does he really believe his message will ever get through? Plimer smiles. 'If you'd asked any scientist or doctor 30 years ago where stomach ulcers come from, they would all have given the same answer: obviously it comes from the acid brought on by too much stress. All of them apart from two scientists who were pilloried for their crazy, whacko theory that it was caused by a bacteria. In 2005 they won the Nobel prize. The "consensus" was wrong.'

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Constitutional questions

Betsy Newmark links to an essay in The New Republic that claims our position on Honduras is really a reflection of how we perceive constitutions in general:

So where you come down on Honduras really depends on which view of constitutions you favor. If you favor the dominant American view, you would tend to side with Zelaya. True, the Honduras constitution prohibits amendments related to presidential terms, but this rule flies in the face of the American notion that a constitution should be amendable in just about any direction--and Zelaya was simply exercising his right to try and correct that. If you favor the German view, you would tend to side with the supreme court and the military. After all, the changes Zelaya was seeking to the constitution were foundational and revolutionary. And a constitution should be able to protect against certain kinds of constitutional changes.


Betsy begs to differ:

Well, there's just one problem. We can't judge Honduras' constitution by either Germany's or our legal standards. That is not how constitutions work - to be changed according to a foreigner's idea of how amendments should be made. It isn't correct for our judges to look for answers in foreign laws and we shouldn't require that Honduras look to our traditions. We might accept that amendments can cover any aspect of our government, but Hondurans, concerned about the region's history of dictators seizing control, wrote their constitution differently than ours. And constitutions aren't mutable documents according to whatever ideological argument holds sway at the time. There are procedures for amending a constitution and, whether or not you like the way your country's procedures were designed, you have to play under those rules.


Miguel Estrada, a Honduran native who might have been the first Hispanic nominee for the Supreme Court if the Democrats hadn't blocked his advancement to the appellate court, looked at the actual text of the Honduran constitution. And he found that, according to the country's constitution, the ouster of President Zelaya was perfectly constitutional.
When Nixon was forced to resign under the threat of impeachment and probably conviction by the Senate, scholars celebrated that as proof that our Constitution worked and was stronger than any one man's criminality. Instead of trying to assert an American view of what we think should or should not have taken place in that country, we should also be celebrating a fragile democracy's efforts to withstand the ambitious efforts of one man's efforts to circumvent the rule of law.

In effect, Zelaya believed in a "living, breathing Constitution", meaning one which meant what he wanted it to mean, without the annoying text getting in the way.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Michael Jackson jokes

I heard a couple of people discussing the humor surrounding the death of Michael Jackson. One funny conspiracy theory holds that either Sarah Palin or her daughter Willow killed MJ.

I suppose she shot him from a helicopter?

The war on tobacco will kill soldiers

From Countercolumn again. Jason argues a ban on tobacco in the armed forces is a very bad idea. Among other reasons, one not that obvious:

Further, I wouldn't disregard the role of cigarrettes on the battlefield - especially the countergeurrilla battlefield. From a humint or interrogater's point of view, or simply from the perspective of a local leader trying to build a relationship with an Iraqi or Afghan, the simple act of offering a nicotine-starved Iraqi a quality American cigarette, and lighting one up one's self, is a time-honored way of establishing a rapport with a local or detainee - and is frequently the first and necessary step in breaking the ice and gaining the trust and cooperation of a local or detainee.

Honestly, we wouldn't get NEAR the HUMINT we do without it. Verily I say unto you... if tobacco were to vanish from U.S. soldiers' kits tomorrow, there would be an almost immediate and bloody, but nearly untraceable consequence on the ground. It would significantly degrade our relationship with locals and our ability to gain intelligence from detainees and HUMINT sources. Tread VERY SLOWLY here.

Tobaccophobes like to argue that if a ban saves even one life, it's worth it. Well, if its presence in the battlefield saves even one life, it's worth allowing soldiers to continue to have it.

Palin's retirement

Jason at Countercolumn points out that Palin's choice to step down is an excellent one, from a financial perspective.

It's no mystery to me why Palin resigned. She was right to resign. It was a no brainer. Had she not resigned, she would be doing irreparable financial harm to her family.
Financial planning for children with special needs is a little different than planning for most families. And it takes quite a bit more cash flow to provide for them. Cash flow the Palin's don't have on a Governor's salary and Todd's pay.
The Palins very likely need a substantial amount of permanent life insurance. Not term. Set aside for Trig. If they wanted to be equitable to all their children, they would need a lot more permanent insurance, as opposed to term.

It's a lot more expensive, in terms of cash flow and monthly required premium, to buy that insurance in her late 40s than it would have been if she were in her 20s or 30s. And there's not as much time to build it up, either. Had Palin tried to stick it out on the Governor's salary, it would have been almost impossible.

But quitting, and getting a book out there, and hitting the lecture/fundraiser circuit in the next few years, would allow her to do all that. She can take care of her family, provide a legacy for her other children, spend some time with the kids, create something that creates residual income (book royalties), and STILL have a shot at running for president or senator.

Most importantly, if she doesn't provide for Trig, her critics sure as hell won't. No one else can do it but her.

And his analysis doesn't even mention the half-million dollars already lost to fighting frivolous ethics complaints – money they also don't have.

Best of luck, Governor Palin and family.

Splash, out


How to drive off your tax base

From Reason magazine:

If New Yorkers fantasize that doing business here in Los Angeles would be less of a headache, forget about it. This city is fast becoming a job-killing machine. It's no accident the unemployment rate is a frightening 11.4 percent and climbing.

I never could have imagined that, after living here for more than three decades, I would be filing a lawsuit against my beloved Los Angeles and making plans for my company, Creators Syndicate, to move elsewhere.
From the beginning, we've been headquartered in Los Angeles. But 15 years ago we had a dispute with the city over our business tax classification. The city argued that we should be in an "occupations and professions" classification that has an extremely high tax rate, while we fought for a "wholesale and retail" classification with a much lower rate.
You can imagine how relieved we were on July 1, 1994, when the ruling was issued. We won, and firmly planted our roots in the City of Angels and proceeded to build our business.

Everything was fine until the city started running out of money in 2007. Suddenly, the city announced that it was going to ignore its own ruling and reclassify us in the higher tax category. Even more incredible is the fact that the new classification was to be imposed retroactively to 2004 with interest and penalties. No explanation was given for the new classification, or for the city's decision to ignore its 1994 ruling.
Regardless of the outcome of our case, the arbitrary and capricious behavior of some bureaucrats is creating a lose-lose situation for everyone involved. If we win in court, the taxpayers of Los Angeles will have lost because all those tax dollars will have been wasted on needless litigation.

If we lose in court, the remaining taxpayers in Los Angeles will have lost because their burden will continue to swell as yet another business moves its jobs—and taxpayers—to another city.