Thursday, February 25, 2010

Treat Me Like a Dog Treat Me Like a Dog—What human health care can learn from pet care

When it comes to health care, who gets treated better—man or man's best friend? Of course, it's hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison when you're comparing four-legged patients to people, and there are many ways in which human care tops pet care. But pet owners told there are some ways where it would be a step up to be treated like a dog.

Pet owners like the convenience of animal care; they also like the client-focused atmosphere. "I think one of the things that human health care can learn from veterinary medicine is the client service side of things, the relationship side of things," says Dr. Peter Weinstein, executive director of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association. Various reasons explain why people often find animal care so pleasant, says Weinstein. One reason—animal care workers love what they do. Another reason—competition.

Weinstein notes that vets work hard to differentiate themselves from their competitors because "there are a large number of vet hospitals, many located very closely to one another." And vets know even more competitors could emerge because less red tape makes it easier to open an animal hospital. Weinstein recalls opening his clinic, which offered everything from X-rays to operations: "I believe it was 12 weeks from the time I signed the lease to the time I saw my first client. Try doing that with human health care."

It would take at least 20 times as long to open a comparable human hospital in California. It can take even longer in the 34 states with "certificate of need" (CON) laws, where state agencies—not consumers—decide how many hospitals there should be. These laws even allow existing hospitals to hold up plans for new hospitals. "The existing hospitals go in front of these government agencies and say, 'we don't need any competitors; we're taking fine care of the people,'" explains Reason magazine's Ronald Bailey. Recently, certificate of need—often called CON law—provoked a showdown in Tennessee where frustrated residents resorted to protests and petition drives to pressure the state to green-light a new hospital.

Weinstein is happy veterinarians don't have to deal with anti-competitive CON laws, "In veterinary medicine we could have two practices right next to each other and then it's the consumer deciding to whom they want to go." Consumer choice and competition—maybe we could use more of that in human health care.

"Treat Me Like a Dog" is written and produced by Ted Balaker, who also hosts. The director of photography is Alex Manning, the field producer is Paul Detrick and the animations were done by Hawk Jensen.

Approximately six minutes.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Argument by hysterical fit?

A facebook friend called attention to this post at Utah Bill Criminalizes Miscarriage

The bill passed by the Utah legislature would change that. While the bill does not affect legally obtained abortions, it criminalizes any actions taken by women to induce a miscarriage or abortion outside of a doctor's care, with penalties including up to life in prison.
In addition to criminalizing an intentional attempt to induce a miscarriage or abortion, the bill also creates a standard that could make women legally responsible for miscarriages caused by "reckless" behavior.

Using the legal standard of "reckless behavior" all a district attorney needs to show is that a woman behaved in a manner that is thought to cause miscarriage, even if she didn't intend to lose the pregnancy. Drink too much alcohol and have a miscarriage? Under the new law such actions could be cause for prosecution.

Reality Check points to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune.

... The bill responds to a case in which a Vernal woman allegedly paid a man $150 to beat her and cause miscarriage but could not be charged. The Senate on Thursday approved HB12 on a vote of 24-4, criminalizing a woman's "intentional, knowing, or reckless act" leading to a pregnancy's illegal termination. It specifies that a woman cannot be prosecuted for arranging a legal abortion.
Some Senate Democrats attempted a last-minute amendment to remove the word "reckless" from the list of criminal acts leading to miscarriage. They argued that criminalizing reckless acts leaves open the possibility of prosecutions against domestic violence victims who return to their abusers only to be beaten and lose the child.

No mention in the article about drinking similar behavior.

Now, I could imagine someone introducing a bill that would criminalize acts that merely increase the odds of having a miscarriage, but I find it hard to imagine such legislation making it through two houses to the Governor's desk – of any state.

It might be interesting to read the actual text of the bill.

(The zipped file is a Word Perfect document. I knew I liked Utah!)

17     Highlighted Provisions:
18     This bill:
19     .   provides that, for aggravated murder, the aggravating factor of the victim being
20     under the age of 14 years does not apply to the homicide of an unborn child;
21     .   provides that a person is not guilty of criminal homicide of an unborn child if the
22     sole reason for the death of the unborn child is that the person refused to consent to
23     medical treatment or a cesarean section or failed to follow medical advice;
24     .   provides that a woman is not guilty of criminal homicide of her own unborn child if
25     the death of her unborn child:
26     .   is caused by a criminally negligent act of the woman; and
27     .   is not caused by an intentional, knowing, or reckless act of the woman;
28     .   defines terms, including amending the definition of abortion to relate only to a
29     medical procedure carried out by a physician, or through a substance used under
30     the direction of a physician, with the consent of the woman on whom the abortion
31     is performed;
32     .   describes the difference between abortion and criminal homicide of an unborn
33     child;
34     .   removes prohibitions against prosecution of a woman for killing an unborn child or
35     committing criminal homicide of an unborn child;
36     .   clarifies that a woman is not criminally liable for seeking to obtain, or obtaining, an
37     abortion that is permitted by law; and
38     .   makes technical changes.

Given lines 26 and 27, it looks like this law is aimed specifically at actions a woman takes, or causes to be taken, believing they will very likely lead to a miscarriage, without taking the route of a legal abortion administered by qualified medical personnel.

Now, prosecutors are perfectly capable of running amok and overcharging people, but my reading of this summary is that it's not intended to target the woman who has a drink or two, and has a miscarriage later on. It looks like she would have to get absolutely smashed, and the State would have to prove she intended to poison her unborn baby, or acted with reckless disregard of the unborn baby.

Lawyers are welcome to comment.



Sent to you by Karl via Google Reader:


Most current proposals for dealing with the problems of preexisting conditions would completely divorce health insurance premiums from expected health care costs.  Yet a policy of trying to force health plans to take enrollees they do not want risks jeopardizing the quality of care people receive, says John C. Goodman, President, CEO, and the Kellye Wright Fellow of the National Center for Policy Analysis. 

Instead of suppressing the price system, we should make greater use of the price mechanism.  In a reformed health care system, the chronically ill, along with their doctors, their employers, and their insurers, should all find lower-cost, higher-quality, more-accessible care to be in their economic self-interest.  Here are 10 reforms to cover preexisting conditions, says Goodman:

  • Encourage portable insurance.
  • Allow special health savings accounts for the chronically ill.
  • Allow special needs health insurance.
  • Allow health status insurance.
  • Allow self-insurance for changes in health status. 


  • Give individuals the same tax break employees get.
  • Allow providers to repackage and reprice their services under Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Allow access to mandate-free insurance.
  • Create a national market for health insurance.
  • Encourage post-retirement health insurance. 

If the past is a guide, more than 80 percent of the 78 million baby boomers will retire before they become eligible for Medicare.  This group has the greatest potential for denial of health insurance because of preexisting conditions.  Fortunately, one out of every three baby boomers has a promise of post-retirement health care.  However, two out of three do not, and even for those who have a commitment, almost none of the promises are funded, says Goodman. 

Hence employers should (a) be encouraged to negotiate with insurers to cover their retirees, (b) be able to pay some or all of the premium for retiree-owned insurance or make deposits to the retiree's HSA with pre-tax dollars, and (c) both employers and employees should be able to save in tax-free accounts in anticipation of these needs, says Goodman. 

Source: John C. Goodman, "Ten Easy Reforms to Cover Preexisting Conditions," Heartland Institute, February 19, 2010. 

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Wal-Mart Health Care

The following were notes taken at a recent speech given by columnist Ron Galloway, who often writes on Wal-Mart's effect on the future of health care:

  • 130 million people per week go to Wal-Mart.
  • Wal-Mart is an IT company — and seeks to apply this knowledge to other businesses.
  • Wal-Mart has saved $1.6 billion for pharmacy customers with their $4 generic script program.
  • Wal-Mart plans to have 400 clinics by 2011, and 2,000 clinics by 2014!
  • Wal-Mart needs 11,000 clinic visits per year (in each store) to break even. Each store averages 1.7 million visits per year, so only 7/10 of 1% of visitors can stop by the clinic to make it break even. The fixed co-pay to see the Nurse Practitioner is $65.
  • Roughly 40% of clinic users are uninsured.
  • By 2014, Wal-Mart is projecting a minimum of 11,000 clinic visits to 2,000 stores, which equals 22 million patient visits. And all visits will be captured in their EMR.
  • Wal-Mart projects that 12.5% of their clinic patients would have gone to the Emergency Room. Based on 2,000 clinics, this is diverting 2.8 million visits away from emergency rooms.
  • However, Wal-Mart projects that 10% of clinic visits (about 2.2 million) will require a referral to more specialized care. Even assuming a modest value of $1,000 in the cost for additional services, this equates to $2.2 billion in referral value. Will hospitals be interested in partnering?


Ali Soufan claims the information obtained from Abu Zubaydah, leading to the arrest of Jose Padilla, was obtained before enhanced interrogation techniques were employed.  His conclusion: these techniques not only didn't work, they were unnecessary.
Marc Thiessen begs to differ:

And what does the DOJ Inspector General's Report say? In the October 2009 Report [PDF], the other agent involved in Abu Zubaydah's interrogation (referred to by the alias "Agent Gibson") explains that it was the CIA — not Soufan — that got the information on Padilla, and did so after applying the first coercive techniques.

...the Report states, "Within a few days, CIA personnel assumed control over the interviews, although they asked Gibson and Thomas [Note: "Thomas" is an alias for Soufan] to observe and assist. . . . Thomas described for the OIG the techniques that he saw the CIA interrogators use on Zubaydah after they took control of the interrogation. [REDACTED]. Thomas said he raised objections to these techniques to the CIA and told the CIA it was 'borderline torture.'"
While the details are redacted, this begs the question: If some form of EITs were not in use at this point, what precisely was Soufan objecting to? The CIA's approach to rapport-building?
The bottom line: According to the Justice Department Inspector General, his own partner, and the Washington Post, Soufan's claims are flat wrong.

The Cost of Living

Despite the high cost of living, it remains popular.


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via Megan McArdle on 2/23/10

The New York Times has a pretty gripping series about the quest to develop a targeted drug for certain forms of metastatic melanoma.  As of the second installment we're at a cliffhanger (spoiler alert!):  the new drug is producing almost magical shrinkage of tumors.  But one patient has died from cancer that crossed the blood-brain barrier--which the new drug cannot penetrate.  Will the other patients in the early stage trial also succumb?  How long will the remissions last?

I don't know how it will end, but I think it illustrates one of the primary problems that will afflict any attempt to control health care costs.  When you read the description, it's hard not to be awed at the difference this drug made in the lives of people afflicted by a pretty nasty cancer.  But presuming it survives all the trials, this drug will probably be pretty expensive.  It serves only a fraction of people with melanoma, those whose cancer has a very specific gene mutation.  It probably won't cure them, but only buy them a few weeks or months or years.

That's how cancer treatment has mostly advanced--not with a spectacular cure that can be funded by better targeted NIH money, or identified by comparative effectiveness research.  It grinds out small improvements one at a time, experimenting with combinations of drugs and radiation and surgery, dosages, and timing.  A lot of the improvement in mortality rates comes from better detection--but that means a lot of money wasted on tests, and biopsies for false positives.

Will the drug be "worth it"?  What's the price of giving someone six months instead of one to say good bye to their family, or shrinking their tumors so that they don't die in pain?  Technocrats can't answer those questions.  We have to.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Why Intelligent Design = Creationism

Jay Richards at Evolution News and Views offers a piece where he aims to clear up misunderstandings about Intelligent Design. How to Completely Misunderstand Intelligent Design: A Response to Stephen Barr

It's very helpful, although perhaps not quite in the way the proponents of Intelligent Design would prefer.

...While the criticisms vary, they tend to have one thing in common: they’re based, not on actual ID arguments, but on stereotypes and misunderstandings of those arguments. It’s hard to find ID critics who actually describe an ID argument correctly before proceeding to refute it.
...let’s just focus on Barr’s theological complaint against ID, since it’s quite common.

Admittedly, the way some ID proponents speak can lead to misunderstandings, if read uncharitably. When discussing biology, for example, ID theorists frequently contrast the role of natural laws like gravity with the role of intelligent design. They may speak of natural selection as a “mindless” or “brute” or even “purposeless” process. To the grumpy reader interpreting this language theologically, this can sound like ID implies that God only acts apart from these natural forces, that he is merely an artificer who rearranges pre-existing material, that there are forces in the world that seem to exist apart from God’s activity, or that God only acts where nature leaves off. God’s action, then, would be set up against nature, and left to fill the “gaps” that nature leaves empty.

These ideas would certainly be problematic, as Barr charges, if anyone actually advanced them; but no theistic ID proponent ever has. No theist worth his salt believes that God is aloof from the world except when he acts directly in nature. That would be a sort of modified deism—though, strictly speaking, deists don’t think God acts within the world at all. For theists, in any case, God transcends the world, is free to act directly in it—however unfashionable that might be—and always remains intimately involved with it.

At the same time, the theist need not believe that God always acts directly in the world. He can act directly or “primarily,” such as when he creates the whole universe or raises Jesus from the dead. It’s God’s world, so that’s his prerogative. He’s not violating the universe or its laws, or invading alien territory when he does this, since he’s the source of both the universe and whatever “laws” it might have.

He also can act through so-called “secondary causes.” These include natural processes and laws that he has established, such as the electromagnetic force. (I think it’s problematic to speak of physical constants as “causes,” but let that pass for now). An event might be both an expression of a physical law and the purposes of God. It’s not as if atheists appeal to gravity while theists appeal to miracles. Gravity is as consistent with theism as are miracles. It’s just that most theists and atheists agree on gravity but not on miracles.

To this point, there is little, if any conflict between Intelligent Design and normative science. Isaac Newton and his fellow "Natural Philosophers" undertook to discover the materialistic, automatic, unguided rules by which the universe operates – rules which they believed to have been written by God.

Eugenie Scott, no friend of the ID movement, likes to ask, "What would be more impressive, a God who can sink every shot in a game of billiards, or a God who clears the table with his break shot?"

In other words, the laws of the universe could have been designed so they would lead, after billions of years and trillions of interactions, to creatures like ourselves arising. Crafting a set of initial conditions that would give rise to that precise result would be beyond our understanding. Indeed, it would require a – well – godlike level of understanding.

Where Intelligent Design gets into trouble is with arguments like this one:

Consider Mike Behe. When he is discussing the bacterial flagellum, he is evaluating the powers and limits of regular, repetitive physical laws (or, as I would say, of matter insofar as it acts according to these laws), and of the Darwinian “mechanism”—natural selection and random genetic mutation. He concludes that these processes, which are not intelligent agents per se, probably don’t have the power, by themselves, to produce the bacterial flagellum. That’s because the locomotive function of the flagellum is inaccessible to the cumulative power of natural selection. It is, as Behe says, “irreducibly complex.” It needs many separate parts working together before it gets the survival-benefitting function. That’s the negative part of his argument.

To get a working flagellum, according to Behe, you need foresight—the exclusive jurisdiction of intelligent agents. That’s the positive part of his argument—not just against the adequacy of selection and mutation, but for intelligent design. An agent can produce a system for a future purpose, for an end. Now it’s the obvious purpose of the flagellum, along with the fact that it is almost surely inaccessible to Darwinian selection—not merely the fact that it’s really complicated—that justifies his conclusion that the bacterial flagellum is better explained by intelligent design than by repetitive natural laws or the Darwinian mechanism.

To break this down into the simplest possible terms: *

The flagellum cannot arise as a result of Darwinian processes
Darwinian processes lack foresight
The flagellum cannot be produced without foresight.

Rearranged into a syllogism, we get:
The flagellum cannot be produced by processes that lack foresight.
Darwinian mechanisms lack foresight.
Therefore, the flagellum cannot be produced by Darwinian mechanisms.

Part 2 of this argument there runs:
The flagellum exists.
If the flagellum cannot arise from processes that lack foresight (if X then Y)
Then a process with foresight made it possible for the flagellum to arise (if not Y then not X)

The only agent with foresight around is an intelligent agent, capable of planning ahead. In other words, an intelligent designer.

You see, Intelligent Design means an Intelligent Designer. Intelligent Design is not about complicated design or intricate design, or even impressive looking design. It's about design that demands the existence of an Intelligent Designer.

And while identity of the Intelligent Designer is kept unspecified – it could be aliens from another planet, or maybe from another dimension, or it could be time travellers creating their own great-to-the-ten-millionth grandparents, everyone knows exactly who the Intelligent Designer is supposed to be.

In the case of the bacterial flagellum, intelligent design goes beyond what known, repetitive, natural processes, as well as selection and mutation would do if left to their ordinary capacities. So we invoke intelligent design rather than impersonal processes alone here. Contrary to Barr’s argument-free assertions, this is not an appeal to go “beyond science” or a claim that science is incompetent. It’s an argument for why science ought to include teleology within its explanatory toolbox if it wants to adequately account for major aspects of nature.

When you can't figure out how natural processes may have given rise to the flagellum, you invoke an intelligent designer who designed it for a purpose.

In other words, you invoke an external being who created it. Thus, creationism.

* Note: I'm not going to delve in to the mechanisms by which a flagellum may have arisen. If you're interested, search for "flagellum" on this blog, or at the website.

You might also search on the word "exaptation".

The Julio-Claudian Emperors

The Julio-Claudian Emperors

The Julio-Claudian Emperors

It has been 35 years since I took a Roman history class--and I know that I have forgotten a bit of what the Julio-Claudian emperors did, but I know that I didn't forget this much. While the theory that lead leached from pipes caused their bizarre behavior seems to be pretty well disproved, the explanation that lead leached from the pots in which grape juice was concentrated for fortifying wine poisoned them, and drove them insane, seems to be rising.

Suetonius's accounts of the misdeeds of these creeps are so shocking that you really want to believe that he is mistaken, repeating horrendous gossip. This account from Suetonius of Nero's dressing up as an animal and what he did while so dressed is so weird that I can't imagine anyone inventing it--something that so weirdly warped that today, you would have to go to San Francisco to find. And Suetonius also tells us of history's first same-sex marriage to Sporus--but so gross and barbarous that even San Franciscans might say, "Wait a minute, that's just wrong! (Did I say that?)"

But what will people of the year 4000 say when they read of the Holocaust, or the tortures of Saddam Hussein's government, or a myriad of other horrifying crimes?

Commodity Prices

Hmmm.... A linear extrapolation tells me the index of commodities prices reaches zero in about a century.

Commodity Prices

Following up on my post, Revisiting Simon-Ehrlich, Mark Perry graphs the Dow-Jones AIG monthly index of 19 commodities, inflation adjusted, 1934-2010.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

The vanishing jury?

Peter Hitchens writes:

Truth is, Europe doesn’t want juries

Why do you think the official report on juries was commissioned, with its damaging claim that they don’t understand what judges tell them? I will tell you.

The British Establishment knows that, if we stay in the EU, we will sooner or later have to abolish jury trial because it does not fit in with European law and we will be forced to give it up in some sordid deal.

So it is softening us up for this moment, a potentially disastrous loss of liberty.

That is also why they have been holding the first non-jury trial in England for 400 years, on the grounds that they supposedly couldn’t prevent the jury from being nobbled.

Couldn’t be bothered to prevent this, more likely. One of the allegedly dangerous defendants in this trial was given bail and so lightly watched that he has apparently vanished during the lunch hour.

Yet he is now said to be so dangerous that we mustn’t approach him if we see him - but he was let out for lunch? Excuse me?

I wouldn’t trust the people responsible for this to do a night’s babysitting, let alone protect a jury from tampering.

Iran, Obama, and the 1936 reoccupation of the Rhineland

Iran, Obama, and the 1936 reoccupation of the Rhineland

(Fair warning: There is no humor in this post, not even of the snarky sort. I'm not in the mood to sugar-coat my conclusions, or to balance them with hopeful observations.)

Mark Steyn's latest at NRO is characteristically witty, except for its very unfunny thesis paragraph, which is characteristically astute. Given the timetables, and the Obama Administration's commitment to ineffective measures, and its refusal to take the increasingly stiff actions that would be necessary to effect regime change and nonproliferation in Iran, Steyn offers this grim but inescapable conclusion:

It is now certain that Tehran will get its nukes, and very soon. This is the biggest abdication of responsibility by the Western powers since the 1930s. It is far worse than Pakistan going nuclear, which, after all, was just another thing the CIA failed to see coming. In this case, the slow-motion nuclearization conducted in full view and through years of tortuous diplomatic charades and endlessly rescheduled looming deadlines is not just a victory for Iran but a decisive defeat for the United States. It confirms the Islamo-Sino-Russo-everybody-else diagnosis of Washington as a hollow superpower that no longer has the will or sense of purpose to enforce the global order.

I'm genuinely not sure that Obama would know, if he read that paragraph, to which 1930s events Steyn was alluding. For someone with degrees from such distinguished institutions, his knowledge of recent history is surprisingly spotty. He might or might not turn to his staff for an explanation, and if so, someone probably would have mentioned the appeasement of Hitler at Munich in September 1938 or (less aptly) the German invasion of Poland in September 1939.

That's yet not where we are in the comparison, though. The history being replayed today is that of March 7, 1936 — when Hitler and the Nazis remilitarized the Rhineland. And I've seen no indication whatsoever that our President's knowledge of 20th Century history includes a knowledge of that particular turning point of history.

Hitler's remilitarization of the Rhineland — in outright defiance of the Versailles and Locarno Treaties — was when the West had its last, best clear chance to stop Hitler and the Nazis, with the likely toppling of Hitler's government as a consequence, at a trivial military expense. All that was necessary was that France and Great Britain (chiefly the former, as the relevant neighbor) just barely flex their vastly superior military muscles — which, given Nazi treaty violations, they had an indisputable legal right to do. Indeed, the Germans were instructed to reverse course and retreat at even a display of military purpose and intent to oppose them on the part of the French. Instead, because France and Britain acquiesced in the treaty violations, Hitler promptly accelerated the conversion of his illegally reconstituted military into the fierce machine that brought us the Blitzkreig and subsequent Nazi occupation or domination of Europe.

In 2003, America and the rest of the world believed that Saddam was about to get nukes. We talked about "WMDs" to include chemical and biological weapons, both of which Iraq had already acquired and used. But the invasion and regime-change of Iraq was perceived by those of narrow insight to be almost exclusively about the nukes. What shocked most Americans the most was that the nukes weren't there. What shocked much of the rest of the world, including nuclear wannabe countries like Iran and Libya, the most was that the still-respected Iraqi army — one that had fought the Iranians to a bloody standstill in their 1980-1988 war, and that had at least survived the Gulf War — proceeded to fold like a house of cards in a hurricane under the American-British assault. Libya was scared straight as a direct and near immediate result, but Iran has, of course, continued to play provocateur — doing its best to make things difficult for us and the Iraqis while fast-tracking their own nuclear acquisition efforts.

(Me, I was one of those hawk troglodytes who still held that Saddam's near daily attempts to shoot down our pilots in the No-Fly Zone was ample reason enough to drive American tanks into the middle of Baghdad if that's what it took to knock his regime out of power. And for the last several years of this decade, I've been one of those troglodyte hawks who has the exact same reaction to Iran furnishing men, materiel (including IEDs), and support for the killing of American troops in Iraq. We have long had more than sufficient justification for whatever steps are required to change the regime in Tehran.)

Barack Obama and Joe Biden, among many other reckless and irresponsible Democrats, did their dead-level best to sabotage our continuing efforts in Iraq from 2003 onward. (Indeed, Biden's efforts go back to his opposition to the Gulf War, long before Obama was on anyone's radar.) In their and their Party's revised Democratic-orthodoxy of world history, the Iraq invasion to stop nuclear nonproliferation was the result of a deliberate lie by Bush. With Obama and Biden and Hillary at the helm, and with gutless lickspittles like Reid and Pelosi running Congress, there is no longer any serious fear on the part of America's potential and actual enemies (Iran is definitely in the latter camp) that there will be any similar American military intervention to prevent nuclear nonproliferation anywhere.

And so here we are in 2010, in the predicament Steyn has pinpointed. Iran will get its bomb before the reins of leadership in America can possibly be passed back to someone who could summon up the nation's will to stop that process, and by then the costs of restoring Iran to a non-nuclear status will have grown unfathomably greater.

Although the costs will be unfathomably greater, that does not make me think they are less likely ultimately to have to be paid anyway. I think exactly the opposite is true: Something awful is going to happen, something so bad that it does, in an instant, shock the United States out of its narcolepsy in the same manner that 12/7/41 and 9/11/01 did. Recall, again, that in the Iraq-Iran War, Iran sent battalion after battalion of teen-aged volunteers, some without even rifles, in human-wave assaults on Iraqi minefields and fixed defenses. The mullahs didn't hesitate to slaughter many tens of thousands of their teenage children when they lacked even a fraction of a chance of military success. We cannot expect them to "grow" and "mature" when they have the responsibilities of a nuclear power. We cannot expect them to be rational at all because they have a demonstrated history of irrationality and they are in the grips of an ideology that can be twisted to justify even the most extreme apocalyptic acts.

Barack Obama's feckless vacuum of an Iranian foreign policy will almost certainly lead directly to nuclear slaughter, and quite probably a slaughter of Israelis, Europeans, and yes, Americans. The ghosts of not just Chamberlain, but of Quisling and Arnold, will surely rejoice, for after he has let the Iranians get their Bomb, the name "Obama" will forever eclipse theirs as appeasers and traitors to their duty.

("Bush-43 didn't fix this during his term," my progressive friends will retort, and "What exactly would you have Obama do?" Well, friends, Bush bestirred the country sufficiently to depose the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam in Iraq, and to give each of those countries a democracy if they can keep it (with considerable investment of American blood and treasure toward those ends too). If American foreign policy were genuinely bipartisan and clear-eyed, instead of being methodically manipulated, month after month and year after year, for the most crass political purposes by Democrats, then we would not be nearly so war-weary, and we might instead be in the process of doing to Iran what JFK did to Cuba in October 1962: Enforcing a nuclear quarantine. Slow, strangling sanctions are a horrible idea; swift and aggressive ones, like blockading all gasoline imports and disabling Iran's own crucial but limited refinery capacity to suddenly paralyze their entire economy, will indeed hurt the Iranian people more than it hurts their corrupt and crazy leadership. But a sanction that is insufficient to prompt them to shake off their current government is, by definition, an inadequate sanction. (But cf. John Bolton's August 2009 WSJ op-ed; I'm proposing not merely the typical UN-debated import restrictions, but what would indeed be, and should be confidently and unrepentantly confirmed as, responding to Iran's repeated acts of war with our own acts that are indeed warfare.) There's no shortage, in fact, of things we can do, even though with each passing day there are fewer things that can be done at comparatively low risk. But there's no point in our arguing over the costs, risks, and rewards of potential measures. They're all moot, given the absence of a leader in the White House who will act instead of dither and self-justify.)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mighty Big of Them!

Mighty Big of Them!

So the mountain hath labored mightily and given birth to -- a mouse:

An initial review by the Justice Department's internal affairs unit found that former government lawyers Jay Bybee and John Yoo had committed professional misconduct, a conclusion that could have cost them their law licenses. But, underscoring just how controversial and legally thorny the memos have become, the Justice Department's top career lawyer reviewed the matter and disagreed....

[Assistant Deputy Attorney General David] Margolis, the top nonpolitical Justice Department lawyer and a veteran of several administrations, called the legal memos "flawed" and said that, at every opportunity, they gave interrogators as much leeway as possible under U.S. torture laws. But he said Yoo and Bybee were not reckless and did not knowingly give incorrect advice, the standard for misconduct.

The DoJ reluctantly admitted that Bybee and Yoo did not in fact commit any crime by giving their best advice to the Bush administration, even though liberals have the uneasy feeling that somebody got the better of them somehow. Accordingly, after years of "investigation," they've dismissed all charges.

The worst the Left could lay at the feet of Bybee and Yoo is that they "gave interrogators as much leeway as possible." One can only conclude that the Left believes the only fair and honorable course would be to give the terrorists as much leeway as possible. Heck, it's not their fault that they don't yet have a terrorist-sponsoring superpower to supply them with modern armies, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and an air force, hence must engage in "asymmetrical warfare" against us. Give them time!

But other members of the administration of Barack H. Obama just can't let go of that bone. They still want to push beyond the unsatisfying, symbolic, show-trial denunciation the president offered as his parting shot; these zealots still hope to drive all the way and jug nearly every official in the Bush administration who so much as considered the question of enhanced interrogation techniques. These latter Obamatons still fear that Bush-era Justice lawyers will escape their just punishment for the crime of coming to a different conclusion than liberals about the legality of treating the war against the Iran/al-Qaeda Axis as if it were a war against the Iran/al-Qaeda Axis:

The Office of Professional Responsibility, led by another veteran career prosecutor, Mary Patrice Brown, disagreed.

"Situations of great stress, danger and fear do not relieve department attorneys of their duty to provide thorough, objective and candid legal advice, even if that advice is not what the client wants to hear," her team wrote in a report that criticized the memos for a "lack of thoroughness, objectivity and candor."

But what if the legal advice is not what the liberal bloc wants to hear? Is that allowed?

Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel Jay Bybee and Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the OLC John Yoo gave actual legal and moral reasons why they believed that belly slaps and attention grabs, and even waterboarding, did not rise to the level of "torture." Does Ms. Brown give reasons why she thinks they do? More to the point, does she give such cogent and unanswerable reasons that no reasonable person could possibly dispute that making terrorist detainees stand at attention while being shouted at constitutes torture?

In a word, No; she gives not.

Lean close and press your ear to the monitor; that grinding noise you hear is the gnashing of liberal teeth. As Andy McCarthy asks at the National Review's group blog the Corner (hat tip to John Hinderaker at Power Line), "What exactly did the CIA do that [they] think was 'torture'?"

Earlier, he answers his own question:

Torture is the infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering. The physical kind must be excruciating and the mental kind must cause profound and lasting psychological harm. The law has always taken care to distinguish torture from lesser forms of abuse because it is the most heinous of acts. It is important not to trivialize it by applying the explosive label torture to acts that don't warrant it. Moreover, there has always been a demanding standard of criminal intent: the accused must specifically intend to torture his victim. The police officer who shoots a murder suspect in a gun fight may inflict severe pain, and know full well when he fires his weapon that severe pain is a certain result, but he doesn't commit torture -- indeed, he doesn't commit a crime of any kind.

And as too often happens in discussions of "torture," your concerns about morality are entirely one-sided. Officers of the executive branch have a solemn obligation to protect the American people. It is their highest responsibility. They are not good Samaritans. If there is a serious threat of a mass-murder attack, they are obligated to take all reasonable steps to stop it -- and what is reasonable depends on the circumstances and the exigency. It is immoral to assume that obligation and then fail to carry it out. Unlike your angry fellow parishioners, these officials don't get to be detached Monday morning quarterbacks. You condemn them for acting, but they will be just as vigorously condemned for failing to act if a preventable catastrophe happens.

In response to this, liberals, exemplified by the exemplary Mary Patrice Brown, construct an argument structurally identical to, "It must be torture, because it would be so convenient if it were torture!" Needless to say, this is about as convincing as "Shut up," she explained.

In short, we have an insoluble dilemma: On the one hand, liberals and the hard Left believe that Bybee and Yoo had a moral duty to "the Vision" to bend their hands backwards to find some reason to forbid every form of interrogation beyond politely asking for intelligence; on the other hand, Americans have the arrogant, ethnocentric notion that the first duty of the President of the United States was to protect... well, the United States and all it contains. Especially including its people. And to hell with the putative "constitutional rights" of unlawful enemy combatants who don't even obey the law of war, let alone the law of peace.

The Left vs. America -- what a shocker!

And now, having utterly lost the political and ideological argument -- for even the Obamacle Himself finds reason to create a "High Value Detainee Interrogation Group;" though as usual, he proudly pronounces the policy, then dawdles over the details -- the whiners think to win by criminalizing policy disagreement, stripping their ideological adversaries, whom they have never been able to outargue, of their livelihood and even imprisoning them.

Yet even this strategy will backfire, as Col. Oliver North demonstrated in July of 1987. I swear, enthused acolytes of the One would be out shooting conservatives in the streets, were it not for those pesky gun-control laws in our nation's capital.

BBC Knowledge mag online

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thiessen, Torture, and Conscience

Dafydd ap Hugh at Big Lizards refers to a fairly popular logical fallacy which he calls "Argument by tendentious redefinition."  In this argument, you redefine terms to enhance the case you wish to make, and weaken your opponent's.  If you're lucky, your opponent will accept your redefinition and, at best, begin on the defensive when he tries to make his case.

Was it appropriate for a Catholic TV network to provide a platform for a torture advocate?

Tendentious redefinition.  A person who advocates harsh interrogation techniques is redefined as a "torture advocate".  Buried in this is the assumption that the techniques advocated actually qualify as torture -- a position on which reasonable people of good will can (and do) disagree.
People were angrily declaiming, How is it possible that the U.S. could permit such a heinous practice? To which I responded, basically, with the following explanation: It is a negative consequence of something that is actually very positive about our country. More than any other country, we believe that there is no limit to what we can achieve, no problem that can't be solved, no obstacle that can't be overcome. This is the attitude that has made us great, but it also exposes us to the risk that we can come to believe that there are no real moral limits that conflict with our desires. When we find that an unborn child is inconvenient, for example, we redefine it as not having 'personhood,' and kill it — problem solved! Similarly, now, when he have a real (or just suspected) jihadist in our custody, we say, he should be understood not chiefly as a rights-bearing person with human dignity that should be respected, but rather as a box containing secrets that we can rip apart at will — and now our country is safe! We figure out what we want to do, then we set talented lawyers the task of defining our new limits in accord with our desires. Harry Blackmun spent many months researching the law, consulting medical professionals and concerned citizens, before writing the legal memo "drawing the lines" on abortion — a memo we now call Roe v. Wade.  The legal justifications for torture, and the widespread public support for it, materialized in a similar way.
Now, there were perhaps, in that room, some people who were not offended by what I said; there may even have been some who were in agreement. But the only audible and visible response was negative — eye-rolling, dark mutterings, and dirty looks, as if to say:  Here we are, trying to have a serious moral discussion about torture, and this right-wing nut has to bring abortion into it. I'm not so na├»ve as to have thought there would be no pro-choicers there — but I think I know now what it feels like to have someone read you out of a moral community, even when you're acting in good faith.
And so Potemra, who does not see himself as a right-wing anti-abortion nutcase, and has experienced firsthand the effect such re-labeling has on an argument, is perfectly willing to slap the label "torture advocate" on his own opponent.  Perhaps he does not consciously intend it as a way to score debating points, but he, of all people, should be aware of that as an effect of his redefinition.
I'm left wondering what your catechism says about bearing false witness. Your seeming generosity of spirit doesn't alter the fact that, from the very first sentence, your post is a smear. And a careless one, at that. "Not having followed his work in detail"? How do you not bother to look at someone's work before labeling that work the advocacy of torture, which you proceed to decry as a "great evil"? If you're going to indict someone for a great evil, oughtn't you at least have your facts straight about what he's saying and what he's not saying?
Marc has not advocated torture. He has defended the practices that were used by the CIA in its interrogation program. If you had actually "followed his work in detail," you would know that his book discusses, at considerable length, why the practices employed by the CIA were not torture. There is, for example, a chapter in Courting Disaster called "Tough, Not Torture", which explains what torture actually is and why the CIA tactics, including waterboarding, did not approach the legal line.
.... and the angry declaimers at the parish are demagoguing. You convict first and have the trial later — or not at all.  "How to stop U.S.-sponsored torture"? "Resort to [torture] in the past decade is a black spot on America's record"? Do you ever ask, "Should we first examine whether what the U.S. did amounted to torture" before we start calling people torturers? That's what Marc did, and after an exacting analysis he concluded it was not torture, and that is why he is defending it. For that, he gets called a "torture advocate"?
It is certainly a principled position to say, "I don't think we should ever engage in forcible coercion." I doubt it is ground that you'd be able to defend in a coherent way — we inflict many things on people that are a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding (e.g., killing, harsh physical restraints, lengthy prison sentences) that present little or no moral hand-wringing if the provocation for inflicting them is severe enough. But at least calling it "forcible coercion" would be an argument rooted in fact. Your argument, instead, is in the nature of "Are you still beating your wife?" The accused is presumed guilty and then the accuser gets to feel good about himself by magnanimously listing all the reasons why the wife had it coming.
Torture is the infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering. The physical kind must be excruciating and the mental kind must cause profound and lasting psychological harm. The law has always taken care to distinguish torture from lesser forms of abuse because it is the most heinous of acts. It is important not to trivialize it by applying the explosive label torture to acts that don't warrant it. Moreover, there has always been a demanding standard of criminal intent: the accused must specifically intend to torture his victim. The police officer who shoots a murder suspect in a gun fight may inflict severe pain, and know full well when he fires his weapon that severe pain is a certain result, but he doesn't commit torture — indeed, he doesn't commit a crime of any kind.
I do not "disregard the Catholic Catechism" as Mike suggests. Indeed, I devote an entire chapter in Courting Disaster to the morality of enhanced interrogation and why what the CIA did is fully consistent with Catholic just war tradition.
...the Catechism of the Catholic Church asserts (emphasis added):
Legitimate defense can not only be a right, but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm.
In traditional war, when you capture an enemy soldier, once he is disarmed and taken off the battlefield he has been "rendered unable to cause harm." But that is not true of senior terrorist leaders like KSM. They retain the power to kill many thousands by withholding information about planned attacks. A captured terrorist leader remains an unjust aggressor who actively threatens society — targeting innocent civilians in violation of the laws of war — even when he is in custody.  

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hayden on Thiessen

Michael Hayden at Daily Caller .com has a review of Marc Thiessen's book, Courting Disaster.

Thiessen lays out the facts without much varnish. Here are the techniques, here's what was learned, here's why it was thought lawful. And make no mistake, he lays out the facts with a point of view. He stops just a little short of being argumentative, but this is meant to be persuasive as well as expository prose.

He doesn't use much varnish in his treatment of opponents, either. While not quite condemning them outright, he does take a variety of players to task. He chronicles, for example, the current attorney general's journey from counter-terrorism hawk in 2002 ("They are not prisoners of war…they are not, in fact, people entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention.") to this in 2008 ("Our government…denied the writ of habeas corpus to hundreds of accused enemy combatants and authorized the use of procedures that violate both international law and the United States Constitution….We owe the American people a reckoning.") Thiessen is also not particularly kind to civil liberties lobbies who have seemed to push their agendas without regard for any security consequences and he saves a special brand of disdain for the pro bono work of law firms who seem bent on discovering new "rights" for enemy combatants.

Courting Disaster appears to be the book's website.

From the comments at LGF

ChenZhen at Blogmocracy has pulled a comment thread from on the CRU computer code off of LGF, for easier perusal.  Comment threads numbering in the hundreds are not uncommon for controversial topics, and the noise level rises pretty quickly.

Here is Walter's essay, in it's entirety*:

Charles has given me permission to examine some of the programming code and data that has been used by Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University for their climate modeling. My information comes from material that was "hacked" from the CRU servers in Britain and released to the public. This material included program code, databases, private emails and documents. Charles indicated that I could use anything I deemed necessary to make my case.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Do Argue

Ongoing arguments over gays in the military, and Don't Ask, Don't Tell, here: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and Don’t Even Pretend to Be Fair–Part I: Don’t Ask | NewsReal Blog

Regardless of whether you are for or against open homosexuality in the military, you have to be dismayed at how badly biased media coverage of this issue has become. Indeed, it seems that, to the Big Media, there is only one legitimate and morally correct point of view, and that is to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and to allow gays to serve openly within the ranks.

The Washington Post, for instance, published a symposium on Feb. 7 entitled, “How to Change ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’” Not one of the Posts’s six contributors defends the current policy of permitting gays to serve discreetly, but not openly – and none of the contributors even tries to grapple with the arguments and reasons for keeping the U.S. military free of open homosexuality.

Instead, the contributors all blithely assume that every bright and reasonable, good and decent person must be all for allowing gays to serve openly — and that opponents of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” must be reactionary reprobates.

In fact, one contributor, Michael Buonocore, dismisses supporters of the current policy as mere obstructionists who have “petty concerns,” which the senior brass would do well to immediately bulldoze over and destroy.
...before we change a policy that most soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines believe has been successful, how about having a free and fair, open and honest, informed and substantive, freewheeling and robust debate?

Shouldn’t such a debate, in fact, be required before changing any successful and longstanding military policy? And shouldn’t the media help to effect (instead of stymie) such a debate?

4 Trillion Degrees

Smash together two gold nuclei at nearly the speed of light, and that's the temperature of the explosion you get. Hottest temperature ever heads science to Big Bang.

...In comparison, "The predicted melting temperature of protons and neutrons is 2 trillion degrees. The temperatures at the core of a typical type-2 supernova is 2 billion degrees," he said.

The center of our sun is 50 million degrees, iron melts at 1,800 degrees and the average temperature of the universe is now 0.7 of a degree above absolute zero.

This research may shed light on why the early universe had more matter than antimatter, and may allow us to build devices that run off of particle spin, rather than only current flow.

The "spin" involved, is not the kind of spin that comes out of Washington DC, however. It's a property of most particles.

Climategate Document Database

Check out the CRU emails and documents at the Climategate Document Database : Alleged CRU Email

Monday, February 15, 2010

Little Green Footballs catches The Daily Mail telling the truth

The owner of Little Green Footballs claims the Daily Mail is lying: The Daily Mail's Latest Lie About Climate Change

His assertion:

The Daily Mail’s story by David Rose, claiming that climate scientist Phil Jones “admitted” there has been no global warming since 1995, is completely false.

His evidence:

The BBC interviews Phil Jones:
B - Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming?

Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.
...the text is more reasonable, if also, well, wrong:
He also agreed that there had been two periods which experienced similar warming, from 1910 to 1940 and from 1975 to 1998, but said these could be explained by natural phenomena whereas more recent warming could not.

He further admitted that in the last 15 years there had been no ‘statistically significant’ warming, although he argued this was a blip rather than the long-term trend.

Well, it's quite possible that if we continue into the future, the average trend will be upward, at a rate that lets us reject the null hypothesis. But Jones stated the trends over the past 15 years do not show statistically significant warming. It is impossible to reject the null hypothesis of no warming over the past fifteen years.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Man-in-the-Middle Attack Against Chip and PIN

Man-in-the-Middle Attack Against Chip and PIN

Nice attack against the EMV -- Eurocard Mastercard Visa -- the "chip and PIN" credit card payment system. The attack allows a criminal to use a stolen card without knowing the PIN.

The flaw is that when you put a card into a terminal, a negotiation takes place about how the cardholder should be authenticated: using a PIN, using a signature or not at all. This particular subprotocol is not authenticated, so you can trick the card into thinking it's doing a chip-and-signature transaction while the terminal thinks it's chip-and-PIN. The upshot is that you can buy stuff using a stolen card and a PIN of 0000 (or anything you want). We did so, on camera, using various journalists' cards. The transactions went through fine and the receipts say "Verified by PIN".


So what went wrong? In essence, there is a gaping hole in the specifications which together create the "Chip and PIN" system. These specs consist of the EMV protocol framework, the card scheme individual rules (Visa, MasterCard standards), the national payment association rules (UK Payments Association aka APACS, in the UK), and documents produced by each individual issuer describing their own customisations of the scheme. Each spec defines security criteria, tweaks options and sets rules -- but none take responsibility for listing what back-end checks are needed. As a result, hundreds of issuers independently get it wrong, and gain false assurance that all bases are covered from the common specifications. The EMV specification stack is broken, and needs fixing.

Read Ross Anderson's entire blog post for both details and context. Here's the paper, the press release, and a FAQ. And one news article.

This is big. There are about a gazillion of these in circulation.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ten GOP Health Ideas for Obama

Newt Gingrich and John Goodman present ten ideas for health care – ideas which the Democrates have studiously ignored: Ten GOP Health Ideas for Obama's where he should start:

• Make insurance affordable. The current taxation of health insurance is arbitrary and unfair, giving lavish subsidies to some, like those who get Cadillac coverage from their employers, and almost no relief to people who have to buy their own.

• Make health insurance portable.

• Meet the needs of the chronically ill.

• Allow doctors and patients to control costs.

• Don't cut Medicare.

• Protect early retirees.

• Inform consumers.

• Eliminate junk lawsuits.

• Stop health-care fraud.

• Make medical breakthroughs accessible to patients.

The solutions presented here can be the foundation for a patient-centered system. Let's hope the president has the courage to embrace them.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Radical Life Extension and the Problem of Malthusian Hells

Ronald Bailey looks at the probable effects of life-extension technology in Reason Magazine.

The End of Intelligent Design?

Stephen M. Barr, professor of physics at the University of Delaware, has some thoughts on...The End of Intelligent Design? He opens up with this stirring assessment:

What has the intelligent design movement achieved? As science, nothing. The goal of science is to increase our understanding of the natural world, and there is not a single phenomenon that we understand better today or are likely to understand better in the future through the efforts of ID theorists. If we are to look for ID achievements, then, it must be in the realm of natural theology. And there, I think, the movement must be judged not only a failure, but a debacle.
The ID claim is that certain biological phenomena lie outside the ordinary course of nature. Aside from the fact that such a claim is, in practice, impossible to substantiate, it has the effect of pitting natural theology against science by asserting an incompetence of science. To be sure, there are questions that natural science is not competent to address, and too many scientists have lost all sense of the limitations of their disciplines, not to mention their own limitations. But the ID arguments effectively declare natural science incompetent even in what most would regard as its own proper sphere. Nothing could be better calculated to provoke the antagonism of the scientific community. This throwing down of the gauntlet to science explains not a little of the fervor of the scientific backlash against ID.
The older (and wiser) form of the design argument for the existence of God—one found implicitly in Scripture and in many early Christian writings—did not point to the naturally inexplicable or to effects outside the course of nature, but to nature itself and its ordinary operations—operations whose “power and working” were seen as reflecting the power and wisdom of God.
But whereas the advance of science continually strengthens the broader and more traditional version of the design argument, the ID movement’s version is hostage to every advance in biological science. Science must fail for ID to succeed. In the famous “explanatory filter” of William A. Dembski, one finds “design” by eliminating “law” and “chance” as explanations. This, in effect, makes it a zero-sum game between God and nature. What nature does and science can explain is crossed off the list, and what remains is the evidence for God. This conception of design plays right into the hands of atheists, whose caricature of religion has always been that it is a substitute for the scientific understanding of nature.

The name of this form of apologia: "The God of the Gaps".

The ID movement has also rubbed a very raw wound in the relation between science and religion. For decades scientists have had to fend off the attempts by Young Earth creationists to promote their ideas as a valid alternative science. The scientific world’s exasperation with creationists is understandable. Imagine yourself a serious historian in a country where half the population believed in Afrocentric history, say, or a serious political scientist in a country where half the people believed that the world is run by the Bilderberg Group or the Rockefellers. It would get to you after a while, especially if there were constant attempts to insert these alternative theories into textbooks. So, when the ID movement came along and suggested that its ideas be taught in science classrooms, it touched a nerve. This is one reason that the New Atheists attracted such a huge audience.

Skeptic Magazine put out an issue addressing the Holocaust Denial / Historical Revision movement, examining the types of argument they make. The comparison between Holocaust Denialism and Evolution Denialism are striking, to say the least.

Racist? Speak for yourself!

The Torch Has been Passed to a New Generation — and It Doesn’t Include Racism

by Hannah Giles

Every generation feels misunderstood by those preceding it. And it doesn't help matters that the older generations, and establishments, feel obligated to wield the Hammer of Thor against every move and thought we make. Yet, this is how societies develop, grow, evolve and ultimately survive. It's like passing a torch in life's grand race.

The thing is, my generation has some problems with the torch we are about to take off with, and we aren't shy about letting the uppers know.

Boldness, zeal, angst, creativity, action and openness are characteristics of youth. Life is a mystery and the brevity of our lives prevents us from accessing many of its clues. We want meaning, purpose, acknowledgement and the ability to prove to the older generation that we are indeed serious about our roles in life, even if we don't know what that is.  And so we take actions, we unite behind leaders and explore the depths of our persona.

It is when we act, and act effectively, that the big dogs get frustrated. By acting, and establishing our generational brand, we force the established thoughts, groups and figures to not only question their life's work and purpose, but to recognize the inevitable passing of the torch.

This is where conflict arises. Rather than gracefully welcoming us to the world stage, offering a wink and a tip of the hat, the dominant forces try their hardest to break us down and shoo us out of town. They will even accuse upcoming whippersnappers of things outside of our realm of experience in order to discredit us within their own circles.

Which, I might add, is a great Saul Alinsky tactic:

Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy. Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty. (This happens all the time. Watch how many organizations under attack are blind-sided by seemingly irrelevant arguments that they are then forced to address.)

Take last week for example, when Max Blumenthal launched an attack on James O'Keefe claiming racism. Yes racism, a concept and word my generation has been taught to reject, and an experience we have never actually endured.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say my generation is colorblind. We modern-day American kids were born into a free and equal society, and our familiarity with institutional racism begins and ends with our textbooks. Our parents, schools and culture have conditioned us to not judge natural characteristics of our fellow man. Lessons from the past have shown that doing so results in a second-rate society that holds itself back from operating at optimum levels.

Take a look at my age group:

1. Our schools have never been segregated. Those days are long gone in relation to our time on earth and the development of our society.

2. We are more likely to throw a fit about someone's eating habits, clothing, athletic affiliation, political stance, religious views and preferred music genre, than the skin color of our peers.

3. We played a major role in electing President Obama, who is not only the first black president of the U.S. but also the first man to be a minority in the nation he was elected to lead.

Since race has never been an issue for those of and around my age, we are able to conduct higher levels of human bonding. We group ourselves according to ideologies, coming together and uniting around self-determined topics, attractions and goals.  Don't get me wrong. We are not the flower children full only of peace and love. Cultural conflicts still exist, and will continue to exist so long as man has a mind he can call his own.

Maybe if they spoke slower and used smaller words?

Gerard Alexander writes at the Washington Post asking why liberals are so condescending.

Every political community includes some members who insist that their side has all the answers and that their adversaries are idiots. But American liberals, to a degree far surpassing conservatives, appear committed to the proposition that their views are correct, self-evident, and based on fact and reason, while conservative positions are not just wrong but illegitimate, ideological and unworthy of serious consideration. Indeed, all the appeals to bipartisanship notwithstanding, President Obama and other leading liberal voices have joined in a chorus of intellectual condescension.


This worldview was on display in the popular liberal reaction to the Supreme Court's recent ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Rather than engage in a discussion about the complexities of free speech in politics, liberals have largely argued that the decision will "open the floodgates for special interests" to influence American elections, as the president warned in his State of the Union address. In other words, it was all part of the conspiracy to support conservative candidates for their nefarious, self-serving ends.

It follows that the thinkers, politicians and citizens who advance conservative ideas must be dupes, quacks or hired guns selling stories they know to be a sham. In this spirit, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman regularly dismisses conservative arguments not simply as incorrect, but as lies. Writing last summer, Krugman pondered the duplicity he found evident in 35 years' worth of Wall Street Journal editorial writers: "What do these people really believe? I mean, they're not stupid -- life would be a lot easier if they were. So they know they're not telling the truth. But they obviously believe that their dishonesty serves a higher truth. . . . The question is, what is that higher truth?"

In Krugman's world, there is no need to take seriously the arguments of "these people" -- only to plumb the depths of their errors and imagine hidden motives.

The thing is, conservatives generally believe liberals are mistaken.  Liberals generally believe conservatives are evil.  They are wrong, but in their case, it is by deliberate design.

Monday, February 08, 2010

James O’Keefe -- white supremacist?

Maybe not... » James O’Keefe vs. Max Blumenthal: How the Left Distorts, Invents and Lies

It started with a blog post at something called One People’s Project, in which someone named Daryle Jenkins claimed:
...There was also a photographer there, and lo and behold this picture has surfaced of a now familiar face attending the forum - James O’Keefe.

O’Keefe was manning a table at a forum of suit-and-tie Nazis.

A DC area photographer snapped a photo of O’Keefe as he maintained a literature table near the panelists.
The photograph that One People’s Project shows as its proof (above) is cropped and just shows O’Keefe from the shoulders up. It doesn’t show that he is sitting at all, let alone at a table, let alone “manning” the table at the event apparently hosted by the Robert Taft Club.

Max Blumenthal — son of Clinton apparatchik “Sid Vicious” Blumenthal — at picked up on the story and extrapolated even more:
According to One People’s Project founder Daryle Jenkins, O’Keefe was manning the literature table at the gathering that brought together anti-Semites, professional racists and proponents of Aryanism.
Within an hour or so the Village Voice got really creative on its media blog and added a little more to the mix:
James O’Keefe, the videographer famous for taking down ACORN (and infamous for trying to take down Senator Landrieu), organized a speaking forum for white supremacists, and was even photographed manning the event’s merchandise table.
That’s right, we’ve gone from O’Keefe attending the event to O’Keefe manning a literature table to O’Keefe organizing the entire event!
So we spoke with James O’Keefe today. This is what he tells us:
  1. He was not “manning a table” at the event
  2. He was not involved with the organization or operations of the event.
  3. He attended the event with many of his Leadership Institute co-workers since it was right across the street from their building in Arlington, Va., and it was organized by other LI associates.
  4. The organizer who is being called a “White Supremacist” is half Jewish and half Korean.
  5. One of the panelist was an African-American named Kevin Martin.
  6. The event was forced to move to a Georgetown University building in Arlington, not at a cross-burning.
We know all this because we called Mr. O’Keefe and asked him. Which is more than other media outlets have done.

The expanding universe

The blog "Starts with a Bang" discusses the expanding universe in: The Greatest Story Ever Told -- 04 -- The Expanding Universe

DADT: A Reasonable Compromise

Max Boot calls Don't Ask/Don't Tell... A Reasonable Compromise

Special Forces is one of the areas in which women are still not allowed to serve even though most jobs in the military have been opened to them. Why not simply extend to gays the same policy applied to women? That is, let gays serve openly in most billets but not in a few combat designations. It seems like a reasonable compromise.

O’Keefe: The Persecution of an American Patriot

Big Government looks at what the media really care about. » O’Keefe: The Persecution of an American Patriot.

James O’Keefe, along with Hannah Giles, broke one of the biggest investigative news stories since Watergate on the systemic corruption of radical left governmental organizations. It was, for new media, a defining moment. And while the historic implications of the O’Keefe/Giles expose are not yet fully understood, the media landscape was forever changed.

Despite this seismic shift in modern journalism, the mainstream media scornfully ignored the biggest story of the Obama administration. ACORN, Obama’s personal community organizing group, funded with taxpayer dollars, was shown to be a criminal, rapacious, and predatory organization. In clip after clip from O’Keefe and Giles, ACORN’s indecency became more obvious and outrageous, and the little remaining trust that the American people had in government/community service organizations morphed into outright contempt.

And the mainstream media yawned.

Until last week, that is, when, like sharks to chum, the media swarm worked itself into a frenzy over the news that James O’Keefe had been “busted” on trumped up charges. In an egregious act of thuggery and intimidation, James O’Keefe was arrested for entering Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA)’s office (the people’s office) wearing a telephone repairman uniform. O’Keefe was attempting to document Landrieu’s contempt for the American people in not answering the phone from outraged citizens. Landrieu took a massive bribe from Chicago-land President Obama to induce her to help ram the nationalized health-care plan through despite the fury of the American people. Landrieu claimed she wasn’t answering her constituents because — get this — her phones were broken. O’Keefe was videoing the working phones. Beautiful.

The Power Behind Hurricanes and Tornadoes

Clouds turn out to be heat engines, and are very good at moving heat energy from the lower atmosphere to the upper. A paper discussing this is referenced at The Air Vent: The Power Behind Hurricanes and Tornadoes


Sunday, February 07, 2010

Marriage, institutions, and tradition

The G.K. Chesterton quote cited in the post below on Dont Ask, Don't Tell was raised in a long post on same-sex marriage.

I am bothered by this specific argument, which I have heard over and over from the people I know who favor gay marriage laws. I mean, literally over and over; when they get into arguments, they just repeat it, again and again. "I will get married even if marriage is expanded to include gay people; I cannot imagine anyone up and deciding not to get married because gay people are getting married; therefore, the whole idea is ridiculous and bigoted."

They may well be right. Nonetheless, libertarians should know better. The limits of your imagination are not the limits of reality. Every government programme that libertarians have argued against has been defended at its inception with exactly this argument.

The War on Salt

Salt, sugar, fat, our use of energy, our way of life. Jim Davidson ties it all together in The War on Salt.

The war on salt is just one aspect of this same, tired, ancient, boring, despicable, and horrid war—a war with billions of casualties, a war against human spirit, a war on possibility. It is the war that doesn't give you a walk-on role in the world, only a lead role in a cage.

What I'm talking about is the war on the future we were promised, with flying cars, much longer lives, colonies in space, hotels in the Moon, terraforming of Mars. It is the war which impoverishes nearly everyone, the war which enriches only the cronies of big government, the war which opposes cheap air travel, cheap space travel, food that tastes good, drugs that relieve pain, a free market, free choices, free love, free thought, free people.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Peak Social Security?

From Fortune: Next in Line for a Bailout: Social Security

A report from the Congressional Budget Office shows that for the first time in 25 years, Social Security is taking in less in taxes than it is spending on benefits.

Instead of helping to finance the rest of the government, as it has done for decades, our nation's biggest social program needs help from the Treasury to keep benefit checks from bouncing -- in other words, a taxpayer bailout.

No one has officially announced that Social Security will be cash-negative this year. But you can figure it out for yourself, as I did, by comparing two numbers in the recent federal budget update that the nonpartisan CBO issued last week.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Gays in the Military

Cassandra at Villainous Company quotes Colin Powell on Dont Ask, Don't Tell: Colin Powell on DADT: Then and Now, then offers some comments of her own.

[In testimony before Congress on gays in the military], I said, “I think it would be prejudicial to good order and discipline to try to integrate gays and lesbians in the current military structure.” Congresswoman Pat Schroeder quoted a 1942 government report and claimed that the same arguments used then against racial integration in the military were being used against gays today.

She had her logic wrong. I responded, “Skin color is a benign, nonbehavioral characteristic. Sexual orientation is perhaps the most profound of human behavioral characteristics. Comparison of the two is a convenient but invalid argument."
His words bear repeating. They also deserve an honest attempt to grapple with the inconvenient truth he wasn't afraid to speak when he wasn't swimming against the tide of public opinion. Human sexuality - whether female or male, heterosexual or homosexual - is a fundamental and extremely powerful driver of human behavior. To elide past this basic truth requires an almost willful act of blindness.

My own opinions about both women and gays openly serving in the military have undergone a radical shift during the last thirty years. I began by seeing no reason why both women and gays shouldn't be able to serve anywhere they wished to. What changed my mind over the years, contrary to the bigoted assertions of close minded individuals who refuse even to entertain ideas that challenge their world view, was not misogyny or fear of Teh Gay.

It was over 30 years of observing real human behavior. What changed my mind was repeated demonstrations of a basic fact: in real life (which is a very different realm from the utopian, best case scenarios of would be reformers), people don't always behave well. And though most people are good, decent, and responsible it takes only a small number who behave otherwise to cause significant problems for the rest of us.
What is so bizarre to me about the arguments of those who don't even want to discuss the real life consequences of having gays serve openly in the armed forces is that they insist that considering anything but the best case scenario is de facto bigotry. But their fear fueled name calling doesn't stand up to close inspection. There are rational objections to allowing gays to serve openly and they aren't based on the assumption that homosexuals behave differently than heterosexuals. They are based on the assumption that gays are no different from you and me. How is that bigotry?
Any company or battalion commander could tell you that disciplinary issues related to sex have a significant impact on unit morale and readiness.

And this occurs even though men and women do not share the same quarters.

Which raises an interesting question. If we take the non-bigoted approach and assume that homosexuals have the same drives heterosexuals do; assume they are no more likely to act on these drives, but no less likely either; if we assume they are just like us; is it not reasonable to predict a similar increase in rape accusations and allegations of sexual harassment, fraternization and adultery?

Again, these assumptions are not based on demonization of gays, nor upon the assumption that they are less moral or dedicated that heterosexuals. They are based on the assumption that, in the aggregate, gays are every bit as moral and dedicated as heteros but also that the same temptations and weaknesses that cause discipline problems when men and women are in close quarters would be present when billeting men and women who are sexually attracted to their own sex together.

This is not fear. It is not homophobia. And it is certainly not hatred or bigotry. It is common sense.

For Reference:

The Continuing Deflation of LGF

Perspective from the Big Government site: The Continuing Deflation of Little Green Footballs

I feel compelled to answer the Little Green Monster after I saw him go after James O’Keefe with that same tired wet noodle of a charge he has leveled at so many, calling him a white nationalist. Johnson claimed in an LGF post that “ACORN sting filmmaker James O’Keefe was photographed attending a 2006 white nationalist conference titled ‘Race and Conservatism.’”

Sounds terrible, right? Sure, until you get the facts that Johnson doesn’t tell you. When it became clear that it wasn’t a “white nationalist conference,” Johnson tried to slither out of responsibility for his words by saying in a new post: “It’s very clear that I attributed the ‘white nationalist conference’ claim to One People’s Project; that’s what the words ‘according to’ mean.”

Busted! As if it weren’t obvious that in his original post, he was approving of and endorsing what One People’s Project said. But this is typical of Johnson’s weaselly hit-and-run smear tactics.

Meanwhile, Larry O’Connor at Big Journalism uncovered the truth about O’Keefe’s supposed participation in this conference:

1. He was not “manning a table” at the event.

2. He was not involved with the organization or operations of the event.

3. He attended the event with many of his Leadership Institute co-workers since it was right across the street from their building in Arlington, Va., and it was organized by other LI associates.

4. The organizer who is being called a “White Supremacist” is half Jewish and half Korean.

5. One of the panelist was an African-American named Kevin Martin.

The event was forced to move to a Georgetown University building in Arlington, not at a cross-burning.

This is what Johnson does. He has gotten a great deal of publicity for his announcement about how he parted ways with the Right, but the real story of Charles Johnson is not even that he changed his mind or his politics. Little Green Footballs today is not a political site. It’s an attack site. He has set about to destroy the most effective voices on the Right. But in fact, he destroyed himself.

At first, I noticed he was attacking Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch. OK, maybe it's a pissing contest. When I followed links, all I could see was a pretty weak attempt at guilt by association.

Now he's attacking people all over the place, with the same charge.

Everyone's wrong but him?

I don't quite buy it.

And here's a copy of a retraction request aimed at LGF.

While it is true Mr. Johnson did not use the precise phrase “white nationalist convention” as was noted in Weigel’s article, he said something very similar in the comments of his blog. In this case, Mr. Johnson does not attribute his claim that O’Keefe attended a “meeting of white nationalists” to anyone.

We hope that Mr. Johnson, an influential presence in the blogosphere, will issue a retraction without playing the semantics game with the words “meeting” and “conference”...

In addition, his claim O’Keefe was “a friend” of Marcus Epstein is false. In an interview with, James O’Keefe denied Mr. Johnson’s claim, which, again, is unattributed. As was hashed out here, there is no factual basis for Johnson to imply a close link between O’Keefe and Epstein...

We kindly request retractions to both statements.