Friday, April 30, 2010

The Religion of Fear Itself, or Why I Despise Modern Liberals (reason 334)

The Religion of Fear Itself, or Why I Despise Modern Liberals (reason 334)

Rarely do I get such an opportunity to opine on my two favorite topics, politics and science fiction, simultaneously!

Physics idol Stephen Hawking is quite convinced that life -- and intelligent life -- exist elsewhere in our galaxy:

The suggestions come in a new documentary series [beginning Sunday, May 9th, at 9 pm, on the Discovery Channel -- DaH] in which Hawking, one of the world's leading scientists, will set out his latest thinking on some of the universe's greatest mysteries.

Alien life, he will suggest, is almost certain to exist in many other parts of the universe: not just in planets, but perhaps in the centre of stars or even floating in interplanetary space.

Works for me. The chemical processes that produce the building blocks of life are entirely natural, and indeed many might not even need a planet on which to form; analysis of the data is not conclusive, but some simple amino acids may be able to form spontaneously in space.

The next step will produce a few howls of outrage; but one must accept that much good evidence points to life arising from non-life on this planet due to entirely natural, thus repeatable processes. Indeed, biologists and science writers have written entire books on the subject of abiogenesis, e.g., Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origins, by Robert Hazen. There are so many models and hypotheses, so much experimental and observational data, so much creative science being published monthly, that the intelligent, well-read student simply cannot dismiss the possibility without months or years of research. That is, unless one is willing to...

  • Reject virtually all modern science along with the scientific method;
  • Adopt the a priori and unfalsifiable assumption that life requires a "Creator" who is cagey enough to deliberately hide all evidence of his (sorry, His) presence;
  • And insist upon referring to contemporary evolutionary biology as "Darwinism" -- thus smarmily implying that it's just a cult of personality like Stalinism or Scientology.

For the 80% or so who are still with me, as life arose here through natural processes, it's a good bet that there are other planets elsewhere in the galaxy (and in other galaxies) where similar natural processes produced forms of life that we could at least recognize as such.

The penultimate step is that like life itself, intelligence -- that is, animal cunning -- is clearly a biological advantage; thus the chain of life will necessarily produce smarter and more sophisticated animals (shorthand for animated forms of life)... unless freakish local conditions preclude, e.g., the development of multicellular organisms. In any event, some planets with life will evolve cleverer life.

The last step is the one about which we know least. Does self-awareness arise spontaneously? Is it part of the implicate order of cleverness? Or does it require the breath of God to create the spark of a soul? If the former, then clearly we should assume there is intelligent life elsewhere in the void until proven otherwise.

But even if the latter situation obtains, what hubris would we exhibit were we to assert with confidence that God would never strike that spark anywhere but on this particular planet where we happen to live! Who are we to tell He who made Leviathan that Earth is the only planet "zoned" for self-aware, moral beings?

I believe as much as ever before that the odds favor a universe populated with many, many civilized cultures; but of course, nobody can know what civilization, morality, or even communication means to creatures which evolved on a completely different planet... or in a gas cloud or the surface of a somewhat coolish star, for that matter.

Hawking agrees with that point as well:

Hawking's logic on aliens is, for him, unusually simple. The universe, he points out, has 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars. In such a big place, Earth is unlikely to be the only planet where life has evolved.

"To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational," he said. "The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like."

But what's all this about modern liberals? Why should I despise someone with whom I fundamentally agree on such a vital issue? Because in his next breath, Hawking proves himself a coward; and I despise poltroonery:

The aliens are out there and Earth had better watch out, at least according to Stephen Hawking. He has suggested that extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist -- but that instead of seeking them out, humanity should be doing all it that can to avoid any contact.

Note that my main dispute with the eminent Hawking stands, even if the reader of this post rejects evolution: Hawking obviously believes in evolution by variation and natural selection, and he believes that will ultimately produce alien civilizations; but he is clearly terrified of the prospect of contact. Contrariwise, all my space-nutter friends and I desperately hope to see human-alien contact during our lifespans. That is one major difference between New-Left liberals and true libertarians: Whether one dreams of alien contact -- or endures an agonizing nightmare about it.

Why is Hawking so frightened? And why does he think should the rest of us be afraid? Because liberal ideology -- and in particular disgust with Western civilization and unthinking acceptance of all the environmenalist myth-making about the unnaturalness of humanity -- leads many liberals into despair and terror.

Such scenes [of imaginative and extraordinary alien life that might exist] are speculative, but Hawking uses them to lead on to a serious point: that a few life forms could be intelligent and pose a threat. Hawking believes that contact with such a species could be devastating for humanity.

He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: "We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach."

He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is "a little too risky". He said: "If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans."

So many Eco-Left bugbears bubble up from this ill-considered froth! If only Hawking would apply the same faculty for critical thinking to the potential of alien civilizations as he applies to physics problems.

Resource scarcity

Let's start with the scenarios he himself presents. Why would aliens travel dozens of lightyears (at least!), hundreds of trillions of miles, just to "raid Earth for its resources?" Which resources would those be... hydrogen, the most common element in the galaxy?

Oxygen, nitrogen, water vapor, and carbon dioxide, easily obtained from any Earthlike planet much nearer to the aliens than Earth? Pure water, as in the original TV series V -- which can be melted from any water-ice asteroid in our asteroid belt without us ever noticing its "theft?"

Gold, silver, uranium, or any other precious metal -- which can be mined anywhere?

And why would the aliens even need to dig minerals out of the rock? Assuming they're smart enough and technologically sophisticated enough to cross interstellar distances, wouldn't it be likely they could artificially produce such elements in nuclear manufactories in any quantities they needed, and with a fraction of the cost and none of the danger?

There is no vaguely logical reason why a civilization in search of resources would trundle across the vastness of space to tussle with some squalid alien Neanderthals (that would be us by comparison) for what they can obtain or create by lifting their smallest tendrils. "Invasion for resource raiding" is complete nonsense as a plausible reason for violent attack. Christopher Columbus may have stumbled upon the New World and enslaved the natives, but that's because he lived in a universe of scarcity, where mechanization could not yet replace human labor.


What else could aliens want -- territory? But planets that can support life, on which life evolved, where intelligence reached a critical peak, where that bright life awoke into self-awareness, where science was discovered and technology invented, and where practical spaceflight was developed... such planets would be an occasional fleck of diamond in a vast beach of ordinary sand. Why fight for territory when it's all free for the taking, as much as you want?

Psycho-sociological quirks

One can always wave one's hands and warn that the aliens might have some cockamamie religion that requires them to conquer and enslave humans. But it's equally valid to speculate that their cockamamie religion might drive them to help us gain the scientific understanding and technological powers they themselves enjoy. The same Western powers that claimed entire continents in the name of king and country centuries ago have more recently used their blood and treasure to raise up the Third World to First-World status (or tried to do, anyway).

Abstruse and obtuse reasons

When my pal and worthy co-conspirator Brad Linaweaver and I wrote the Doom tetralogy, we wanted (for plot reasons) to have an interstellar war (we were writing a subluminous, Einsteinian space opera, which I think is unique in science-fiction history). My goodness, how we struggled to come up with a reason that was not preposterous on its face, that was vaguely plausible, why alien races would ever go to war!

We finally settled on a long-ago dispute between competing schools of literary theory, the Surrealists and the Post-Modernists, each trying to analyze a fistful of fragments left behind by the first race ever to achieve spaceflight, billions of years earlier. These academic disputes erupted into a war that, due to lightspeed limitations, still continued after thousands of millennia. But that took us days of teleconferences to concoct.

Simply put, logic implies there is simply no reason for beings of one stellar system to attack beings of another. And while it's true that alien logic might be very different, we don't have any to study; so we're stuck with our own logic. To be frightened of the prospect of contacting aliens is to yield to xenophobia and the mortal sin (and bleak helplessness) of despair.

And that brings us, by a commodius vicus of recirculation, back to contemporary eco-nut liberalism. As we have seen, liberalism has metastacized into the philosophy of catastrophe, where every way we live brings about our gruesome death: Eating, drinking, exercising, heating our homes, cooling our heels, and now even exhaling. From the Center for Science in the Public Interest to the IPCC to ELF and ALF, liberals warn that we must fear everything.

Is Hawking a liberal? He tries not to talk about it, but enough has seeped out to make it fairly clear: He was a member of the Oxford University Liberal Democrats when he was at university; he "appeared on a political broadcast for the United Kingdom's Labour Party," according to his Wikipedia biography; and like most scientists who don't specialize in climate-related research, he is a fierce proponent of global-warming hysteria -- "globaloney chic."

He's either an agnostic (if you believe him) or atheist (if you believe his first wife). And of course, he hails from England, where even the so-called Conservatives are far to our left on the political spectrum.

Everything fits; it's all of a pattern. Hawking is clearly a liberal, and he evinces the same terror of the unknown that liberalism propagates as its primary recruiting tool. And for what the wretched ideology of left-liberalism and eco-nuttery has done to such a fine intellect, I despise modern liberals.

Science, Faith, and Not Ruling Out Possibilities

Science, Faith, and Not Ruling Out Possibilities

Much has been said in the last two days about a Harvard law student's e-mail to a couple of other students — an e-mail that was some months later apparently widely forwarded by one of the recipients (without the sender's permission). The e-mail led to much criticism of the sender, coverage in Above The Law, the Boston Globe, an AP wire story, and the Harvard Crimson, a condemnatory statement from the Dean of Harvard Law School, an apology from the sender, and more.

I thought I'd say a few words about this, both in this post and in some others to come, because this seems to me to go to the heart of what a university should be, of what we should want our society to be, and of a scientific approach to questions of scientific fact. 

I would have happily avoided this topic if I could have. But I feel an obligation — as a professor, as a tenured professor, and as someone who feels strongly about the need to treat scientific questions as scientific questions and not as articles of faith — to speak up about it. I am not naïve enough to be surprised that an e-mail such as this would lead to public condemnation and a public outcry. But that the reaction has been unsurprising doesn't mean that it has been proper.

Let me begin with the e-mail, which was apparently a follow-up to a conversation between the student and the recipients at a dinner shortly before:

… I just hate leaving things where I feel I misstated my position.

I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things are genetic. African Americans tend to have darker skin. Irish people are more likely to have red hair. (Now on to the more controversial:) Women tend to perform less well in math due at least in part to prenatal levels of testosterone, which also account for variations in mathematics performance within genders. This suggests to me that some part of intelligence is genetic, just like identical twins raised apart tend to have very similar IQs and just like I think my babies will be geniuses and beautiful individuals whether I raise them or give them to an orphanage in Nigeria. I don't think it is that controversial of an opinion to say I think it is at least possible that African Americans are less intelligent on a genetic level, and I didn't mean to shy away from that opinion at dinner.

I also don't think that there are no cultural differences or that cultural differences are not likely the most important sources of disparate test scores (statistically, the measurable ones like income do account for some raw differences). I would just like some scientific data to disprove the genetic position, and it is often hard given difficult to quantify cultural aspects. One example (courtesy of Randall Kennedy) is that some people, based on crime statistics, might think African Americans are genetically more likely to be violent, since income and other statistics cannot close the racial gap. In the slavery era, however, the stereotype was of a docile, childlike, African American, and they were, in fact, responsible for very little violence (which was why the handful of rebellions seriously shook white people up). Obviously group wide rates of violence could not fluctuate so dramatically in ten generations if the cause was genetic, and so although there are no quantifiable data currently available to "explain" away the racial discrepancy in violent crimes, it must be some nongenetic cultural shift. Of course, there are pro-genetic counterarguments, but if we assume we can control for all variables in the given time periods, the form of the argument is compelling.

In conclusion, I think it is bad science to disagree with a conclusion in your heart, and then try (unsuccessfully, so far at least) to find data that will confirm what you want to be true. Everyone wants someone to take 100 white infants and 100 African American ones and raise them in Disney utopia and prove once and for all that we are all equal on every dimension, or at least the really important ones like intelligence. I am merely not 100% convinced that this is the case.

Please don't pull a Larry Summers on me,


Here's my thinking on the e-mail itself; I'll have a few more posts shortly about some of the reaction to the e-mail.

1. Whether there are genetic differences among racial and ethnic groups in intelligence is a question of scientific fact. Either there are, or there aren't (or, more precisely, either there are such differences under some plausible definitions of the relevant groups and of intelligence, or there aren't). The question is not the moral question about what we should do about those differences, if they exist. It's not a question about what we would like the facts to be. The facts are what they are, whether we like them or not.

Given this, it seems to me that the proper approach to this question is precisely the same as the proper approach to other questions of scientific fact. One absolutely should not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. Likewise, to give examples involving three groups I myself belong to, one absolutely should not rule out the possibility that Jews are (say), on average, genetically predisposed to be more acquisitive, or more loyal to their narrow ethnic group than to broader groups, or that whites are genetically predisposed to be more hostile to other racial groups, or that being nonreligious is genetically linked, and that people who have those genes are genetically predisposed to be more likely to commit crime or cheat on their spouses or what have you. One should also obviously be willing to be convinced by evidence that shows that, by controlling for the right variables, we would see that those groups are, in fact, identical to other groups under the same circumstances. 

One should not rule out possibilities in the absence of conclusive evidence, for the simple reason that one then has no factual basis to rule out those possibilities. And since on many things the evidence will rarely be conclusive, one shouldn't rule out those possibilities categorically at all. And one should also be open to the evidence that exists, and to being convinced by it in one or the other direction (to the degree of conviction that is warranted by the evidence).

Now some claims may be so contrary to our current understanding of the world that we might say something like this: We shouldn't rule out the possibility in principle, but in practice the probability is so vanishingly small that we should exclude it from our analysis. That, for instance, might be one's view about claims that werewolves exist. First, it's just hard to imagine, given current science, what possible mechanism there might be that would turn humans into wolves every full moon. Second, one would think that if werewolves existed, we'd have good evidence of them, since proving their existence would be pretty easy.

But we still know very little about which genes produce intelligence, how exactly those genes operate, and even how intelligence can be defined. We obviously have vastly more left to learn about this. And there is certainly reason to believe that intelligence is heritable in some measure among individuals (though there is hot debate about the degree to which this is so). Such heritability, coupled with the possibility of differing selection pressures in different environments, provides a potential mechanism through which there conceivably could be intelligence differences among racial or ethnic groups.

So at this point it seems to me that the only scientifically sensible conclusion about this question, which I stress again is a question of what the facts really are, is that we can't be sure that there are no such differences: Again, we cannot rule out either the possibility that there are racial differences in intelligence, or that there aren't.

Or at least we cannot rule them out as a scientific judgment. (Perhaps there's some expert somewhere out there who is so knowledgeable and brilliant that he feels he can accurately predict all that we will ever know about this field, and therefore can rule out one or the other possibility; I doubt it, but in any case I'm pretty sure that no-one is this discussion is that expert.) Obviously, each of us has the perfect right to rule any factual possibility out as a matter of faith, moral, religious, or whatever else. We can say "I don't care what the evidence might say, I rule out this possibility because of my moral beliefs." Or we can say "My moral beliefs are actually capable of indicating to me not just what I should do, but what the scientific facts about the world actually are, and therefore I am completely confident about what those facts are, based on my confidently held moral beliefs."

But surely there ought to be no obligation on other people to adopt this sort of faith-based view on scientific questions. That's why it seems to me that the author's statement that "I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent" — or a similar statement, as I suggested, about Jews, or whites, or the irreligious — is perfectly proper, and in fact is the way that people should approach scientific questions of all sort.

2. Of course, I take it that some people were inferring from the e-mail that the author doesn't actually mean just that she doesn't rule out this possibility, but rather that she actually thinks the possibility is likely true. If so, then to critique the e-mail one would have to further discuss whether in fact the possibility is likely true under the current, highly limited state of scientific knowledge. 

But there is no need to do that here. This e-mail was a follow-up to an earlier conversation, which apparently was not recorded. It was intended to be a private e-mail to other students who were parts of that conversation. One can't tell whether the e-mail was (a) actually a means of implicitly asserting that there probably are intelligence differences, or (b) a rebuttal to an allegation that the author wasn't scientifically minded enough in the discussion over dinner and was wrongly foreclosing scientific possibilities, or (c) part of a discussion about the nature of scientific evidence, or anything else. Sometimes, one might legitimately draw inferences about a person's views based on a statement that was meant to be self-contained, to the point of justifying public criticism of the inferred views and not just the literally stated ones. But one can't infer from this snippet of the broader conversation that the author means anything other than what she says: that she does not rule out a certain possibility, a possibility that I think cannot scientifically be ruled out.

I considered whether some of the language of the e-mail, such as (emphasis added) "In conclusion, I think it is bad science to disagree with a conclusion in your heart, and then try (unsuccessfully, so far at least) to find data that will confirm what you want to be true" suggests that the student believes that there is no existing data strongly suggesting the absence of genetic differences. If that were the right interpretation, then we'd have to discuss whether there is indeed such data. 

But my reading of this, given both this sentence and the rest of the e-mail, is that the author is saying that there has been no success in (to go further down the paragraph) "prov[ing] once and for all that we are all equal" in intelligence, and in providing evidence that would make one "100% convinced that this is the case." That's a restatement of the first sentence in the e-mail, and again it strikes me as being quite scientifically accurate: There can't be, at this stage of our knowledge (and possibly at any stage), proof "once and for all" that there are no such racial differences in intelligence.

3. On then to just a brief response to what I imagine would be some likely reactions.

a. Some might argue that belief in racial differences in intelligence could cause all sorts of immoral and harmful social and legal reactions. That might be so. But it's different from the question that the student was writing about, which is what is actually true. Lots of other facts that are actually true can yield, and have yielded, harmful social and legal reactions. That doesn't make those facts any less true — nor does it make it somehow improper for people to even be open to the possibility that certain facts might, in fact, be true.

b. Some might point to the history of unsound claims about racial differences in intelligence. And the history of errors in a field should indeed teach people to avoid those particular errors. But there's no "three strikes and you're out" for scientific theories: That some people in the past have posited various unsound theories with some general thesis doesn't mean that all theories with a related thesis are guaranteed to be false. One still cannot rule out the possibility that some other theory in that genre will in fact be correct. Again, that's just the way facts are: If something is true, people's having thought a bunch of similar-sounding things that are nonetheless false doesn't affect that truth.

c. Some might point out that intelligence and race are "socially constructed," which is certainly true in the sense that different societies may draw racial lines in different places, and may define what constitutes intelligence — or how it should be tested — differently. But while we can't just assume that there are some obviously correct definitions of either term, science often operates with terms that don't have an inherently correct definition. What usually happens is that people come up with possible definitions, there's debate about those definitions, there are studies done using different definitions, some results emerge that are common over a wide range of definitions and others that are highly sensitive to the definitions, and so on. Yet the right approach throughout this process is, again, precisely to "not rule out the possibility" that under some set of plausible definitions some result might be true, and to be willing to "be convinced" that under some set of plausible definitions some other result might be true.

It's also possible that over time it will turn out that the definitional question is so difficult (or the required measurements are so difficult) that no real pattern emerges in the results. Say, for instance, that under some definitions of intelligence one sees one result and under others one sees the opposite result, and there seems to be no good basis to choose any particular definition over another. That might mean that we have to reformulate the question, and that the original question might be abandoned as not accurately answerable in its original form. We can't rule out that possibility, either. But neither can we just assume that this is sure to happen.

d. Finally some might just argue that even the openness to the possibility that there may be racial differences in intelligence will offend people, and that the author should have recognized that the e-mail she sent to a couple of people might be forwarded to others who might be offended.

But this presupposes that it's somehow wrong for people in a free country to discuss scientific questions because of the possibility that some people might learn about that and be offended. That can't be right. 

It especially can't be right for students at a research university. But I think that it can't be right for anyone anywhere. I realize that in the real world there might be bad consequences to speakers who offend others, however legitimate the speaker's position — which, I stress again, is a position of openness to scientific evidence — might be. But we should work against that phenomenon, and its tendency to suppress honest discussion about scientific questions. We should not just give in to it as inevitable and, worse still, somehow right.

Disclosure: The student who wrote the e-mail will be clerking for the same judge for whom I clerked, so I thought I'd note this in case some thought it relevant. But I don't know her personally (perhaps I have talked to her once by phone, but I'm not sure I've even done that), and this post has nothing to do with the indirect employment connection.

The Practical Costs of Condemning Openness to Distressing Answers on Factual...

The Practical Costs of Condemning Openness to Distressing Answers on Factual Questions

(Eugene Volokh)

I've blogged a good deal so far about why I disapprove of the condemnation of the student who e-mailed a couple of friends saying that she "absolutely do[es] not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent." But let me turn to a more practical problem with such condemnation.

I would love it if all of us could one day say, with confidence, that there is no difference in intelligence among racial groups. If that is factually true, it would be a truth which would have lots of good social consequences.

I expect that it's unlikely that we could say this with great confidence any time soon, simply because scientists are only beginning to understand the precise genetic mechanisms that may yield differences in intelligence. But we might be able to say it with some confidence, and possibly increasing confidence. (At the same time, for the reasons I mentioned below, I can't rule out the possibility that this will prove not to be so, for the simple reason that the world is as it is, and I can't rule out possible answers to scientific questions just because I don't like them.)

But what would this take, at least for the nearly all of us who can't do the underlying scientific research ourselves? It would take what it usually takes for us to speak with confidence about scientific matters (especially ones that can't be demonstrated using physical proofs of concept, the way that a working electric motor can demonstrate the likely truth of certain theories about electricity). It would take a trustworthy consensus among a wide group of researchers that have carefully, open-mindedly, and skeptically examined the question, the same sort of consensus that makes us confident about so many claims about physics, medicine, biology, astronomy, and more.

And such a trustworthy consensus can only develop if people approach the issue without ruling out possible answers. Say scientists are free to run experiments aimed at testing the hypothesis that blacks are less intelligence than whites (and vice versa), and free to publish and defend results that they think show this hypothesis. Say that journalists and intelligent outsiders are free to examine such data, discuss it, write about it, and point out what they think might be the scientists' errors, whether individual errors or systematic, groupthink-reinforced errors. 

Say that after this is done for some time, the great bulk of objective scientific observers, who have evaluated the theories, and have had to defend their own evaluations against criticism, conclude that the evidence strongly supports the no-racial-differences-in-intelligence hypothesis, and refutes the racial-differences-in-intelligence hypothesis. And say that as new things are learned about intelligence and about human genetics, or new measurement devices are developed, the open process I just described keeps operating. Then we laypeople would be able to conclude, with a great deal of confidence based on the trustworthy scientific consensus, that there are no racial differences in intelligence.

But say scientists know that it's likely professional suicide to argue that some evidence supports the racial differences hypothesis, or undermines the no racial differences hypothesis. Or say they are assured by their colleagues that it's safe to go where they think the evidence might lead, but they see people across the quad in another university department being publicly excoriated for even accepting the possibility of the outcome that those scientists suspect might be worth testing for. Or say that journalists or outsiders who think there might be scientific groupthink undermining the soundness of the scientific process suspect that it's likely professional suicide to challenge no-racial-difference arguments.

At that point, the very attempt to suppress the openness to the possibility that there might be racial differences will make it impossible to disprove that possibility. Even if then the scientific community loudly says, "The evidence is clear: There are no racial differences in intelligence," that statement should no longer be credible to us. Scientific consensus is trustworthy only to the extent that it's the result of a process in which scientists — and others — are free to espouse all rival views. To the extent that espousing some views is too dangerous, the consensus that then emerges without the expression and discussion of those views stops being reliable.

So if you hope — as I do — that there are no racial differences in intelligence, and want to be able to reach that conclusion at some point with confidence based on science, not faith, you should be defending people who express an openness to the alternative scientific claim (that there are racial differences). It is only through such openness, and through allowing people to defend that claim, that the position that you hope is true can actually be demonstrated to be true.

Inspirer of Earth Day Dispels Environmental Myths

Inspirer of Earth Day Dispels Environmental Myths

Here are seven new rules to live by, by Stewart Brand, who put the first picture of the planet on the cover of his "Whole Earth Catalog" in 1968:

  1. It's the climate, stupid.
  2. You can never not do just one thing.
  3. "Let them eat organic" is not a global option.
  4. Frankenfood, like Frankenstein, is fiction.
  5. "Green" energy hasn't done much for greenery — or anything else.
  6. "New Nukes" is the new "No Nukes."
  7. We are as gods and have to get good at it.

Skeptic Papers

Skeptic Papers

Yes, I'm putting the 'k' back in skeptic.

Popular Technology has been adding links to a resource they have created for papers which have non-consensus views.  In my experience, the devil is often in the details so when reading, don't go by the titles and abstracts but get the papers and check them out.   Still they have successfully listed 700 papers which they claim have non-consensus views on climatology.

At least a couple of them have storied pasts due to the gauntlet they were forced to run to reach published status.  There is one in particular by McIntyre McKitrick again which is a valid criticism of Santers work validating models.  The paper hasn't been allowed by the powers that be to take its rightful place on the list as of yet.

It's an interesting resource, check it out.

President Obama Kills Immigration Reform

It's been claimed that illegal immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the rest of the population. There's a table in this post that begs to differ.

Maybe they commit fewer crimes if we count things like embezzling, securities fraud, and software piracy.

President Obama Kills Immigration Reform

Yahoo! News is reporting: "Obama takes immigration reform off agenda":

Immigration reform has become the first of President Barack Obama's major priorities dropped from the agenda of an election-year Congress facing voter disillusionment. Sounding the death knell was Obama himself.

The president noted that lawmakers may lack the "appetite" to take on immigration while many of them are up for re-election and while another big legislative issue -- climate change -- is already on their plate.

"I don't want us to do something just for the sake of politics that doesn't solve the problem," Obama told reporters Wednesday night aboard Air Force One.

Immigration reform was an issue Obama promised Latino groups that he would take up in his first year in office. But several hard realities -- a tanked economy, a crowded agenda, election-year politics and lack of political will -- led to so much foot-dragging in Congress that, ultimately, Obama decided to set the issue aside.

With that move, the president calculated that an immigration bill would not prove as costly to his party two years from now, when he seeks re-election, than it would today, even though some immigration reformers warned that a delay could so discourage Democratic-leaning Latino voters that they would stay home from the polls in November.

I was pretty surprised to read this, since the Democrats have been working so hard on the racism meme these past few weeks. Why would they voluntarily give up another opportunity to tar Republicans as racists and fascists? I find it hard to believe that they would let the current "crisis" in Arizona go to waste.

But perhaps hard reality has actually trumped politics in this case. According to a new Angus Reid Public Opinion Poll, 71% of respondents supported the arrest of aliens who are in America illegally. Further, 64% believe illegal immigration has hurt our economy, 58% believe illegal immigrants take jobs away from American workers, and 45% support the termination and deportation of undocumented workers.

These numbers seem to jive with a Rasmussen poll released a few days ago that reported 60% of respondents favoring the Arizona law. Also, in the Rasmussen poll 77% of Republicans, 62% of independents, and surprisingly 50% of Democrats supported the Arizona Law. The same survey also showed that 70% of Arizonans support the new law. And apparently Arizona Governor Jan Brewer got a "bounce" in her approval rating as a result of signing the law.

Brewer's sudden popularity shouldn't startle anyone. The new Arizona law exists because Arizona has a unique problem with illegal immigrants. In 2007, illegal immigrants in Maricopa County made up 9% of the county's population, yet accounted for 19% of those convicted of crimes and 21% of those in county jails. During the same period, illegal aliens in Maricopa County were responsible for:

  • 10% of sex crimes convictions
  • 11% of murders convictions
  • 13% of stolen cars convictions
  • 13% of aggravated assaults convictions
  • 17% of those sentenced for violent crimes
  • 19% of those sentenced for property crimes
  • 20% of those sentenced for felony DUI
  • 21% of crimes committed with weapons
  • 34% of those sentenced for the manufacture, sale or transport of drugs
  • 36% of those sentenced for kidnapping
  • 44% of forgeries
  • 50% of those sentenced for crimes related to "chop shops"
  • 85% of false ID convictions
  • 96% of smuggling convictions

And Arizonans aren't the only ones having a problem with illegal immigration. It's simply common sense to expect that blue collar union workers are going to be very concerned about anything that could potentially contribute to higher unemployment. Illegal immigration is certainly such an issue. And one of the worst-kept political secrets (though it is generally ignored by the media) about the African-American community is its long-running and deep-seated antagonism toward Hispanics. Today -- in spite of the pro immigration rent-a-mobs led by Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson -- with the unemployment for inner city black males approaching 50%, the relationship between these two prominent racial minorities is probably very tense.

On second thought, when one takes all of this into consideration, the "racism" meme just doesn't work. As clever as David Axelrod and Rahm Emmanuel are, there is no way they could smear blacks, union workers, and 50% of registered Democrats as "racists" and hope to achieve any sort of political victory. I also have to wonder if President Obama's own blatant appeal to racial demography this past week actually ended up dividing, rather than uniting, the Democrat base. If the White House's own internal polling reflected the same things I just discussed here, then undoubtedly they know that immigration is a losing issue right now.

Cluelessness about Tea Partiers

When It Comes To ‘Pollution,’ Most Of It Is In the Media’s Mind

This also has bearing on a recent press release about the quality of water in the country -- "For ALA, other environmental groups and their cheerleaders in the MSM, what denotes "healthy" involves a constantly moving and conveniently ever-shrinking target. Whenever we are close to meeting a particular goal, the Agency creates a new, more stringent standard."

When It Comes To ‘Pollution,’ Most Of It Is In the Media’s Mind

When it comes to environmental topics, the biggest failing of the lazy, old media is not what they tell you, but what they leave unsaid. Yesterday's release of the American Lung Association's State of the Air 2010 report provides textbook examples of how mainstream journalists can't, or won't, take the time to do their jobs. Most MSM stories covering the ALA report read like slightly modified versions of an ALA press release, which, one suspects, was probably the case. Consider this talking point that the ALA kindly provided:

The report finds that unhealthy air posed a threat to the lives and health of more than 175 million people—roughly 58 percent of the population.

Forbes' Tim Kiladze dutifully regurgitated this misleading talking point back to readers:

The ALA found that over 175 million Americans, or 58% of the population, live in counties with unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution.


That sounds pretty authoritative, doesn't it? Downright scary too. Fifty-eight per cent of the population is at risk? But, having been trained in the sciences rather than journalism, when I read something like that, I can't help but wonder: why aren't people dropping in the streets if things are so bad? Or, put another way, what does a subjective term like "unhealthy air" actually mean?

Predictably, CNN added its voice to the chorus of doom, saying:

Despite some gains, more than half of the United States' population lives in cities where pollution levels make the air unhealthy to breathe, an annual report says.

There's that troubling word again: "unhealthy." With a little bit of research, one can find the ALA's State of the Air 2008 report pretty easily. A nice point of comparison, no? According the 2008 report:

Two of every five people—42 percent—in the U.S. live in counties that  have unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution.

Ergo, according to ALA, the number of Americans breathing unhealthy air increased by sixteen per cent over a two year period, from 42% to 58%. This suggests two things: a) air pollution emissions over that two year period must have increased, and b) the concentrations of air pollutants in the atmosphere must have gone up as well. The only problem is that neither of those things actually happened.

During the two year period covered in the two ALA reports, air pollution emissions decreased and the concentrations of air pollutants in the atmosphere dropped as well. Specifically, if we look at the two air pollutants that ALA specifically calls out, nationwide ozone (aka: smog) concentrations dropped by over five per cent in those two years and fine particulate concentrations were reduced by almost eight per cent, according to USEPA data.

Having done this research (which took me all of fifteen minutes) I wonder why an enterprising reporter might not smell a rat in the ALA's claim that the number of Americans breathing "unhealthy air" increased by almost 50 million people over a two year period, when the amount of actual pollution in the air decreased substantially in the same time frame? The answer leads us back to that troubling word: "unhealthy."

clean air

For ALA, other environmental groups and their cheerleaders in the MSM, what denotes "healthy" involves a constantly moving and conveniently ever-shrinking target. Whenever we are close to meeting a particular goal, the Agency creates a new, more stringent standard. This is known within the environmental industry as "job security." The air didn't get any dirtier over the two years covered by the ALA reports. It was rather the definition of dirty – excuse me, "unhealthy" – that changed; USEPA created tighter air quality goals once again. ALA, the Sierra Club and the other environmentalist groups understand this is how the game is played of course, but they're hardly going to point such uncomfortable facts out to MSM journalists who swallow whole everything they have to say.

If we compared the air today to the standards that EPA said defined "healthy air" in 2005 (or in 1996, depending on your take with regard to a complex – and ultimately pointless – regulatory fine point) nobody in America would, by that definition, be breathing "unhealthy air" today, not one single, solitary soul. On the other hand, if USEPA Administrator Lisa Jackson gets her way and the EPA cranks down even further to create an insane, new and virtually unachievable definition of what makes "clean air," practically everybody in the United States will be breathing "unhealthy air" very soon.  When that happens, the air won't have changed a bit – history tells us it will only continue to get cleaner – but ALA and their allies will have been handed an invaluable marketing tool with which to sell their tales of gloom, and the lazy old media will happily play their part by refusing to question any bit of the prevailing narrative.

When people criticize my contrarian stance on air pollution, because they just know that air pollution is a bigger problem than ever, I like to point them to the following graph. It shows air pollution trends over the last thirty eight years and it clearly demonstrates that America has been spectacularly successful in reducing air pollution while accommodating both economic growth and increased travel. It's not something an industry group came up with. This graph comes from the USEPA itself:


Ah, but it's always that way when it comes to the environment. The old media can't be bothered to investigate ecological issues if doing so involves anything more than reading the self-serving press releases generated by environmental groups. Some people wonder why there is such a backlash when it comes to MSM coverage of the "global warming" debate. For those of us who have been paying attention to environmental issues of any kind over the years, the only wonder is that somebody would lend any credence to the old media's take at all.

Liberal mob attacks police at immigration rally

More on double standards.

Liberal mob attacks police at immigration rally

Washington Times:

Imagine a group of angry demonstrators toting swastika-festooned protest signs calling politicians Nazis, shouting obscenities and racial remarks and throwing rocks and bottles at police officers sent to keep order. No, these are not Tea Partiers. They are the mob that turned out last week to protest Arizona's new immigration-enforcement law. This group of liberal rowdies has been dubbed the Tequila Party.

For the most part, liberal media coverage overlooked all the leftist violence. Typical headlines described the protest as "mostly peaceful," with media outlets avoiding details about why they had to use the qualifier "mostly." Reporting a near-riot by the opponents of the Arizona law doesn't fit the dominant media storyline.

Some of the editorial bias is blatant. An Associated Press story about the Arizona immigration law quoted a 13-year-old Hispanic boy saying, "We can't be in the streets anymore without the pigs thinking we're illegal immigrants." The Washington Post sanitized the boy's views towards law enforcement by replacing the word "pigs" with "[police]." If a Tea Partier used a slur of any kind, it's doubtful it would be given the square-bracket treatment. It would probably be a banner headline.

The assumption that Tea Partiers are hate-filled bullies explains why major media outlets rushed out reports that demonstrators in Washington opposing the government health care takeover subjected black members of Congress to racial slurs and spat on them. The accusations were never proved, and substantial video evidence and eyewitness accounts suggest the events never happened. There was no press coverage, however, when supporters of illegal immigration used physical intimidation tactics and made threats of violence against demonstrators on the National Mall the same day.


A liberal media narrative has tried to label Tea Party protesters as racists, bigots and homophobes. The narrative on those who oppose the rule of law when it comes to immigration is that they are "mostly peaceful" victims of racist bigots etc. Both narratives reflect liberal bias. It is just getting harder for the liberals in the media to get away with it anymore.

Finding out what's in the Health Care Bill

From the New York Times:
When major companies declared that a provision of the new health care law would hurt earnings, Democrats were skeptical. But after investigating, House Democrats have concluded that the companies were right to tell investors and the government about the expected adverse effects of the law on their financial results.

Within days after President Obama signed the law on March 23, companies filed reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission, saying the tax change would have a material adverse effect on their earnings.

The White House suggested that companies were exaggerating the effects of the tax change. The commerce secretary, Gary F. Locke, said the companies were being "premature and irresponsible" in taking such write-downs.

Representative Henry A. Waxman of California and Bart Stupak of Michigan, both Democrats, opened an investigation and demanded that four companies — AT&T, Caterpillar, Deere and Verizon — supply documents analyzing the "impact of health care reform," together with an explanation of their accounting methods.


In a memorandum summarizing its investigation, the Democratic staff of the committee said, "The companies acted properly and in accordance with accounting standards in submitting filings to the S.E.C. in March and April."

Moreover, it said, "these one-time charges were required by applicable accounting rules." The committee staff said this view was confirmed by independent experts at the Financial Accounting Standards Board and the American Academy of Actuaries.

Mr. Waxman, the chairman of the committee, and Mr. Stupak canceled a hearing at which they had planned to question executives on the effects of the law.

A tabulation by the United States Chamber of Commerce shows that at least 40 companies have taken charges against earnings that total $3.4 billion since the law was signed.


In a general analysis of the new law, Verizon said, "To avoid additional costs and regulations, employers may consider exiting the employer health market and send employees" to state-run insurance exchanges, where people can buy insurance.

A Caterpillar executive made a similar point in an e-mail message to colleagues, saying the tax changes could "drive many employers to just drop coverage for retirees altogether, and let the government foot the whole bill."

Caterpillar, the maker of construction equipment, said Monday that it was taking a $90 million charge to earnings because of taxes resulting from the new health care law.

In addition, according to documents provided to Congress, Caterpillar could incur new costs because the law eliminates lifetime limits on coverage, and certain children would be allowed to stay on their parents' insurance until their 26th birthday.


Steyn on double standards

From the Washington Post:

Bill Clinton energetically on the stump, summoning all his elder-statesman dignity (please, no giggling) in the cause of comparing Tea Partiers to the late Timothy McVeigh. Oh, c'mon, they've got everything in common. The Tea Partiers want to reduce the size of government, and so did McVeigh - McVeigh through the use of fertilizer bombs, the Tea Partiers through control of federal spending. But these are mere nuanced differences of means, not ends. Also, both "Tim" and "tea" are three-letter words beginning with T. Picture him upon your knee, just Tea for Tim and Tim for Tea, you're for him and he's for thee, completely interchangeable. To lend the point more gravitas, Mr. Clinton packed his reading glasses and affected his scholarly look, with the spectacles pushed down toward the end of his nose, as if he were trying to determine whether it was his 10 a.m. intern shuffling toward him across the broadloom or a rabid armadillo Al Gore brought along for the Earth Day photo op.

Will it work? For a long time, Tea Partiers were racists. Everybody knows that when you say, "I'm becoming very concerned about unsustainable levels of federal spending," that's old Jim Crow code for "Let's get up a lynching party and teach that uppity Negro a lesson." Frank Rich of the New York Times attempted to diversify the Tea Party racism into homophobia by arguing that Obamacare opponents were uncomfortable with Rep. Barney Frank's sexuality. I yield to no one in my discomfort with Barney Frank's sexuality, but, with the best will in the world, I find it hard to blame it for more than the first 4 trillion or 5 trillion dollars of federal overspending. Eschewing such cheap slurs, Time's Joe Klein said opposition to President Obama was "seditious" because nothing says sedition like citing the U.S. Constitution and quoting Thomas Jefferson. Unfortunately for Mr. Klein, thanks to "educator" William Ayers' education reforms, nobody knows what "seditious" means anymore.


If the Tea Partiers were truly the murderous goons they've been portrayed to be, they would draw the obvious lesson from the kid gloves with which Comedy Central strokes Islam. They would say, "Enough with peaceful rallies where we pick up the litter afterward. Let's just threaten to decapitate someone. You get more respect that way. At least from the media."

But they won't do that. Because, notwithstanding their outrageous demonization by the media, they're not terrorists. So, in the end, Comedy Central has incentivized Islamic violence and nothing much else. Nevertheless, we should be grateful to its jelly-spined executives for reminding us that the cardboard heroes of the American media are your go-to guys for standing up to entirely fictitious threats. But for real ones? Not so much.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Chief Justice Roberts Knows the Difference Between E-mail and a Pager

A bit of intellectual ammunition...

Chief Justice Roberts Knows the Difference Between E-mail and a Pager

by Mary Katharine Ham on 4/23/10

Everyone's having a big laugh over the Supreme Court's alleged lack of tech savvy, as illustrated during oral arguments in a case (Ontario vs. Quon) focusing on text message privacy for a city employee using a city-provided pager.

The gist of the case is that a SWAT team member had a government-issued pager with which he was sending racy text messages to his girlfriend. There was an official policy in the police department that messages sent on department-owned technology would not be private, but another of the SWAT team member's bosses deemed that pagers could be put to personal use outside of work, as long as he paid for overages. At issue is how much privacy someone texting with such a device can expect from the government. It's relatively new territory for the courts, and the SCOTUS decision could have a big impact on how Fourth-Amendment protection is extended to electronic material.

Which leads us to oral arguments, several exchanges of which led to lots of Internet mocking of the justices. It was the perfect nerd storm. Nerds who love technology and politics were nerdy enough to be attuned to news of a Supreme Court oral argument about a nerdy technology issue. When the nerds on the Court evinced insufficient familiarity with the tech nerds' domain, young, tech nerds of the Internet promptly turned on old, legal nerds of the Court in a shocking display of nerd-on-nerd mockery. See Rachel Maddow, who made an entire finger-puppet segment out of the "spectacularly uninformed" SCOTUS, which can be seen here. (I, too, am guilty, having linked a post poking some fun at the justices yesterday without reading the original transcript first.)

Soon, everyone with a Twitter account was electronically guffawing about how John Roberts doesn't know the difference between e-mail and a pager and enjoying a bonus laugh at the fact that John Roberts was appointed by George W. Bush. No wonder he's dumb, huh?

The problem is, the mockery (at least of Roberts's question, which has gotten the most attention) is based on an unfair and incomplete reading of the transcript.

The question for which the Court has gotten the most flack is this one from Roberts (pdf):

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Maybe -- maybe everybody else knows this, but what is the difference between the pager and the e-mail?

Wow, that does sound silly, doesn't it? But Roberts isn't asking about the difference between e-mail and a pager. He's asking about the differences in how police department policy treated e-mails sent from a computer and texts sent from department-issued pager. He's actually making a rather sophisticated distinction, not betraying his ignorance. The exchange preceding Roberts' question features Quon's lawyer Dieter Dammeier explaining the policy, "The city will periodically monitor e-mail, Internet use and computer usage," and Justice Ginsburg asking if it wouldn't be reasonable for an employee to assume the same would apply to texts sent via pager.

And, here's Dammeier's answer to Roberts:

MR. DAMMEIER: Sure. The e-mail, looking at the computer policy, that goes through the city's computer, it goes through the city's server, it goes through all the equipment that -- that has -- that the city can easily monitor. Here the pagers are a separate device that goes home with you, that travels with you, that you can use on duty, off-duty.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: You can do that with e-mails.

MR. DAMMEIER: Certainly, certainly. But -­ but in this -- in this instance with the pagers it went through no city equipment, it went through Arch Wireless and then was transmitted to another -- another person.

What Roberts is trying to tease out is whether there are differences in reasonable expectations of privacy and the police department's conduct depending on where e-mails are stored (on a government server) vs. where text messages are stored (by a private company).

He expands upon this thought later:

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Again, it depends upon their reasonable expectation. Do any of these other people know about Arch Wireless? Don't they just assume that once they send something to Quon, it's going to Quon?

MR. DAMMEIER: That's -- that is true. I mean, they expect -­

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, then they can't have a reasonable expectation of privacy based on the fact that their communication is routed through a communications company.

That's when he and Scalia and the lawyer get into a discussion, also ridiculed, about how text messages are routed through a communications company, which is later analogized by the justices to a post office.

MR. DAMMEIER: Well, they -- they expect that some company, I'm sure, is going to have to be processing the delivery of this message. And -­

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, I didn't -- I wouldn't think that. I thought, you know, you push a button; it goes right to the other thing.


JUSTICE SCALIA: You mean it doesn't go right to the other thing? (Laughter.)

In this instance, Roberts and Scalia both admit to ignorance about how exactly text messages are routed, but it's less about their own ignorance than it is to get to an understanding about the general public's reasonable expectation and how the Fourth Amendment might apply. To argue they're hopelessly out of touch doesn't make sense once you read their conclusion, in which they seem to grasp the service provider concept just fine:

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: So we have to assume for your argument to succeed that they know this goes somewhere else and then it is processed and then it goes to Quon...

JUSTICE SCALIA: Well, but that's the situation here. The -- the central location that stores the message is one thing, but she's made -- made the message public effectively by sending it to Quon. Once it gets to Quon she knows that Quon can make it public or that the employer can -- can find out about it... That -- and that's why you have the statute, because the Fourth Amendment wouldn't solve the problem, because you are effectively making it public by sending it to somebody whom you don't know is immune from disclosure. So in order to stop the intermediary from making it public, you needed the statute. Otherwise you wouldn't need it; the Fourth Amendment would solve the problem, right?

There are certainly some humorous moments in the transcript (some come from the lawyers)— a discussion between Roberts and Kennedy about whether a pager allows for SWAT members to receive notices while he's texting his girlfriend off-duty ends with Kennedy wondering whether an emergency work call might get, "Your call is very important to us; we will get back to you."— but it's too easy to stereotype the justices as old, out-of-touch boobs. A reading of the transcript, which is here, reveals they're not for the most part.

And, in the areas where they are ignorant of technology's ins and outs, they seem willing to admit it, and try to understand. One would hope that's what we'd want from justices offering up the ultimate decisions on privacy protections in such a new and quickly evolving area as mobile technology. Orin Kerr suggests that knowing their limitations should lead the judges to be cautious in applying Fourth-Amendment protections to new technologies. Whether you agree with that or not, certainly knowing their limitations is important if they have any chance at getting things right.

My understanding of the transcript is undoubtedly imperfect, as I'm more of a tech nerd than a legal nerd myself, but one thing's certain. John Roberts knows the difference between e-mail and a pager.

Rachel Maddow later added a correction to her finger-puppet segment, but she merely apologized for assigning the wrong finger-puppet face to the wrong "dogmatic, right-wing Supreme Court justice." Kind of missing the big picture. Do the Supreme Court legal nerds get to make fun of all the tech nerds now for their apparent inability to read, old-fashioned words on paper? Maybe they should text their transcripts to all of us.

What's Polarizing

What's Polarizing

CNN reports on Arizona's new statute that makes illegal immigration a state crime. CNN's theme: "Immigration law polarizes Arizonans."

These days, Jessica Mejia doesn't leave the house without three pieces of identification to prove her citizenship.

Mejia, a University of Arizona student who was born and raised in Tucson, says the habit formed last week, after a series of raids in Arizona targeting illegal immigrants. And now, a new state law that cracks down on illegal immigration has given her more cause for concern. ...

Senate Bill 1070 is set to take effect in August or September, if it withstands legal challenges that a number of groups who oppose the legislation are expected to raise.

Mejia's concerns were echoed by others in Tucson and across the country who oppose the legislation, which requires police to question people if they have reason to suspect they're in the United States illegally....

CNN acknowledges that some Arizonans support the new law, but its account tilts heavily, in both volume and sympathy, toward its opponents. The law, after all, is "polarizing."

That's typical of news coverage of the Arizona statute. Google News lists over 4,000 stories about protests against the law; that is the overwhelming majority of all coverage. CNN reports that "Hundreds protest immigration law." The Washington Post headlines, "Arizona immigration law protesters urge action." The Associated Press finds newsworthy demonstrations against the law haven't happened yet: "Illegal immigrant law opponents to rally in Arizona."

But why, exactly, is the most newsworthy fact about the Arizona statute that it is "polarizing"? Why, exactly, are demonstrations against the law especially noteworthy? Most laws are the subject of controversy. Politics, by its nature, addresses issues about which people disagree. Actually, the Arizona law is supported by an unusual degree of consensus: polls indicate that 70 percent of Arizonans support it. So why do the small minority who oppose this particular law deserve top billing?

Compare and contrast: the Democrats' health care takeover bill was deeply unpopular. It was opposed by a clear majority of Americans, and still is. Health care, like immigration, is a subject about which people care deeply. Hundreds of thousands of Americans, maybe millions, have turned out for demonstrations against Obamacare. There is now a major political movement dedicated to repealing the health care law.

Yet have you ever seen a newspaper story describing the Democrats' health care bill as "polarizing"? I haven't. Nor did news coverage of the bill's passage focus primarily on the law's opponents or treat their objections with near-universal sympathy.

Why the difference? Obviously, it is due to the fact that nearly all reporters and editors are Democrats. They favored Obamacare, even though most Americans didn't, and for the most part, viewed those who protested against the government takeover with fear and loathing. Conversely, they are generally opposed to enforcement of the immigration laws, and their own opinion is the basis for their news stories on the subject.

Can we imagine a world in which our news outlets report that Obamacare is "polarizing," and focus their coverage on sympathetic accounts of protests against it and legal challenges to it, while cheering enforcement of immigration laws? I don't think we can, actually.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How Mexico handles immigration issues

From Michelle Malkin's website:

– The Mexican government will bar foreigners if they upset "the equilibrium of the national demographics." How's that for racial and ethnic profiling?

– If outsiders do not enhance the country's "economic or national interests" or are "not found to be physically or mentally healthy," they are not welcome. Neither are those who show "contempt against national sovereignty or security." They must not be economic burdens on society and must have clean criminal histories. Those seeking to obtain Mexican citizenship must show a birth certificate, provide a bank statement proving economic independence, pass an exam and prove they can provide their own health care.

– Illegal entry into the country is equivalent to a felony punishable by two years' imprisonment. Document fraud is subject to fine and imprisonment; so is alien marriage fraud. Evading deportation is a serious crime; illegal re-entry after deportation is punishable by ten years' imprisonment. Foreigners may be kicked out of the country without due process and the endless bites at the litigation apple that illegal aliens are afforded in our country (see, for example, President Obama's illegal alien aunt — a fugitive from deportation for eight years who is awaiting a second decision on her previously rejected asylum claim).

– Law enforcement officials at all levels — by national mandate — must cooperate to enforce immigration laws, including illegal alien arrests and deportations. The Mexican military is also required to assist in immigration enforcement operations. Native-born Mexicans are empowered to make citizens' arrests of illegal aliens and turn them in to authorities.

– Ready to show your papers? Mexico's National Catalog of Foreigners tracks all outside tourists and foreign nationals. A National Population Registry tracks and verifies the identity of every member of the population, who must carry a citizens' identity card. Visitors who do not possess proper documents and identification are subject to arrest as illegal aliens.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Another Forensics Competency Test; More Bad News

Radley Balco regularly makes the point that forensic methods used in criminal cases have, for the most part, not been subjected to scientific testing and validation.

Maybe they ought to be.

Another Forensics Competency Test; More Bad News

Researchers at the University of London used a suction device to create bruises on 11 subjects. They then took sequential photos of the bruises over nine days. They showed the photos to 15 forensic experts and asked them to order the photos chronologically. Forensic experts regularly testify about the age of bruises down to the hour, providing chronologies that allow prosecutors to give a suspect a window to have committed a crime. Or, alternately, to attempt to put a the crime at a time for which the defendant has an alibi.

But these particular 15 experts didn't fare so well. The results:

Lead author, Margaret Pilling, an Honours Medical Student at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, said: "The greatest accuracy, from forensic experts, occurred in very fresh bruises (between 0 and 12 hours) however there were still a number of significant misjudgements in this age range.

"The median difference between the estimated age and the real age was 26 hours - a considerable disparity. We conclude that forensic experts' estimates of bruise age from photographs are, at best, unreliable."

More on forensics aptitude here, here, and here.

Does Mohammad Shit in the Woods?*

Does Mohammad Shit in the Woods?*

Yes. It's another South Park post.

When they aren't skimming Reason for subject matter, Matt Stone and Trey Parker are doing the yeomans work of pissing off Muslim extremists by—and prepare yourself, now—portraying Mohammad as a soft-spoken guy in a bear costume who, as Jesse Walker and Jacob Sullum point out below, happens to be Santa. If this all sounds a trifle confusing, the episode can be viewed online here for clarification. Admittedly, it's rather easy to irritate the Islamists. When not calling for cartoonists to be put to death or novelists to be sacrificed, the radicals are busying themselves finding offense in Burger King ice creamMcDonalds toysNike sneakersduty free bagscalenders featuring cute pigs, and stories featuring  Piglet, the cuddly and haram costar of Winnie the Pooh. So it was no surprise that a group of knuckle draggers in New York, proprietors of the a website called Revolution Muslim, warned Stone and Parker that they would "end up like Theo van Gogh" if they continued offending their faith. This, they wrote, was not a threat (of course not), but simply a statement of fact.

This morning on BBC World Service's "World Have Your Say," it was repeatedly declared that the thugs from RevolutionMuslim had it all wrong; that one should not judge the reaction of "Muslims" by the actions of a few extremists. This is, of course, an entirely fair point, though it elides the hysterical reaction that followed publication of the now infamous (and still banal) Danish Mohammad cartoons, in which foreign governments whipped mobs into violent "reprisal" actions, Danes living in the Middle East and Indonesia were advised to stay at home, Western journalists tut-tutted about the "limits" of free expression, and few, if any, mainstream Muslim activists defended the right of Jyllands-Posten to publish the drawings without tacking on an insipid caveat about "causing offense."

But the issue here is not causing offense to those who believe the rest of us must abide by the rules of their religion, by not representing their "prophet" in cartoon form (demonstrating that the turban bomb was mere icing on the cake). The answer to this niggling problem is simple: screw 'em. No, the real problem is the pathetic, spineless cowards at Comedy Central, who mock one and all nightly on the Daily Show and Colbert Report, but submit to the outrageous demands of the violent and superstitious. Actually, being that this is a preemptive measure, could we not accuse Comedy Central of Islamophobia? Are they not fearful of Islam, despite receiving only one threat from a group of subliterate wackjobs in Queens?

And it isn't just that Comedy Central censored an image of Mohammad, as they have done in the past, but they bleeped out any mention of the him, lest any Muslims happen upon their prophet's name being used in an offensive context. Parker and Stone released the following statement today:

In the 14 years we've been doing South Park we have never done a show that we couldn't stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn't some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle's customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn't mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too. We'll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we'll see what happens to it.

At the time of posting, no one from RevolutionBuddhists, whose deity was depicted snorting a fat line of cocaine in last week's episode, could be reached for comment.

Update: Kurt Westergaard, the cartoonist behind the famous Mohammad-with-bomb-in-turban drawing, was fired from his job today "for security reasons." A bad day for free speech; a terrific one for religious lunacy.

* - See Jacob's post on the same subject.

Bailey on Obamacare

From Reason's Contentions blog:

Reason Magazine's Ron Bailey joins Bookworm in raising the cry of "I Told You So".

Just a month ago, I wrote a column in which I notionally looked back at what health care reform would have wrought by the year 2020. Looking back from 2020, I predicted:

Since 2010, insurance companies had been turned essentially into public utilities with the feds setting strict minimum benefits requirements. The health reform bill also limited the administrative costs of insurers, which has ended up basically guaranteeing their profits. With competition all but outlawed, the increasingly consolidated insurance industry has had very little incentive to pay for new treatment regimens outside those specified by government standard-setting agencies. Federal government health agencies have been reluctant to authorize newer treatments because they often lead to higher insurance premiums that then must be subsidized by higher taxes.

Yesterday, the New York Times reported:

Fearing that health insurance premiums may shoot up in the next few years, Senate Democrats laid a foundation on Tuesday for federal regulation of rates, four weeks after President Obama signed a law intended to rein in soaring health costs.

Arizona and Immigration

A piece at The Colorado Independent focuses on a person who was arrested for failing to show proof that he was legally in the country.

A Latino truck driver outside Phoenix was taken into custody by law enforcement at a weigh station. He pulled in to have the truck looked at, was apparently approached by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and asked for ID. He showed them his commercial driver's license. They asked him for more ID. He told them his social security number. They cuffed him took him to the central office in Phoenix and called his wife to bring his social security card and birth certificate. The truckdiver is identifying himself to media only as "Abdon" and he is an American citizen born in the USA.

The ICE agents said this was all just standard procedure. But the agents might just as well have been local police or highway patrol, who are now required by the controversial law Gov. Jan Brewer signed Friday to follow the same "standard procedure" and question individuals about their immigration status during routine stops. Welcome to the new Arizona, where there are sure to be whole websites dedicated to these kind of stories soon.

So Arizona has adopted what ICE calls "standard procedure".  If the Feds were routinely arresting citizens and legal residents in this fashion, I suspect we'd have heard about it before now.  I think this may be a matter of conveniently timed outrage over a case that's not quite as represented.

ICE is investigating, and their side of the story should be available soon.

Evil's Greatest Emissary, Adolf Hitler, Died on this Date

On April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler shot himself, bringing the Reich of a Thousand Years to an end.

There's a joke in which Hitler visits a fortune teller and asks her about his future.
She tells him, "I can see that you will die on a Jewish holiday."
"How do you know that?" he asks.
"Whatever day you die, it will be a Jewish holiday."

That, as far as I can tell, the day of Hitler's death is not celebrated as a Jewish holiday probably says a lot more about the character of Jews than it does about any of their enemies.

Evil's Greatest Emissary, Adolf Hitler, Died on this Date

Adolf Hitler was much more than a despicable maniac who slaughtered innocents and went back on his word.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

When smart people go stupid

Another post at Bookworm Room, this time an example of a neighbor who refuses to think beyond stage one.

I had an illuminating conversation with a neighbor this morning. She’s very pleased that health care reform passed, because “we’ll all have insurance coverage now.” This is an Ivy League educated woman, and that was her sole understanding of the monstrosity that just cleared Congress: “We’ll all have insurance coverage now.” The conversation got really strange after that.

I said, “Well, it’s not really insurance anymore, you know.” A politely phrased “Huh?” was her response. I explained: “The new plan forces people to buy insurance or pay a penalty. However, the penalty is significantly less than the cost of insurance, especially because it’s been predicted that the health care plan will cause an immediate 13%-15% increase in insurance rates. Further, insurance companies are now required by law to provide insurance to anyone who asks, no matter how sick they are. This means that people will choose to pay the fine, rather than to buy insurance while they’re healthy. They will only buy insurance once their sick — and that’s not insurance any more. That’s just passing the cost to an entity that no longer has a necessary income stream from healthy people. In 5-10 years, therefore (maybe less), all insurance companies will be bankrupt.”

Her response? “You’re just too sophisticated. I think most people will want to have insurance. They’ve always wanted insurance and now they can buy it. And anyway, most of the uninsured are healthy.” (Oy, vey. My brain is actually melting at this point.)

“Dear neighbor, People who wanted insurance could always buy insurance — and they did. Eighty-five percent of Americans are insured. The ‘uninsured’ are composed of about a third illegal immigrants, a third people who don’t want insurance and never did, and a third people who genuinely can’t afford insurance. Now they’re all being forced to buy insurance, except that the insurance is going to be even more expensive than before. Or all these people can pay a cheaper fine on an ongoing basis and just buy ‘insurance’ when they need it. I think even unsophisticated people are going to figure out that it’s not in their interest to buy insurance unless they’re sick — and in that case, it’s not insurance.”

“Yeah, but this will stop costs from going up,” she said. (At this point I think I can actually feel my melted brains oozing out my ears.)

“Dear neighbor, we already know costs are going to go up. Now taxes will too. The best way to keep costs down would have been to increase competition. Right now, your 70 year old husband, if he wants to buy insurance, is paying for a policy that provides him with fertility treatments. Opening the market would drive down costs, because people could buy only what they need, and not what the government mandates.”

“Well,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a good thing.”

I said a polite good-bye, and hauled myself uphill, leave a snail-like trail of melted brain matter behind me. If she’s an example of the best of brightest, we truly have gotten the government we deserve.

I'm sure this neighbor is a very nice person, and seriously convinced that she, herself, would never ever game the system the way Bookworm describes. And I'm sure she won't – until she absolutely needs to. Like when she or her child is sick.

One comment I constantly encounter in discussions of health care is captured in the phrase above: "but this will stop costs from going up"

No, dear neighbor, it won't.

It may stop prices from going up, but costs are not the same as prices. Costs will go up, and probably faster than they would absent the new regulations. If the price is kept low for you, it means someone else is paying for your care. In stage one thinking, you see the low price you pay for your care. You don't see what's beyond stage one – all the benefits you and other people won't reap because those dollars aren't being used where they're more productive.

Including research into cures that don't exist yet.

There's a follow-up, in which that neighbor has finally been hit over the head by what comes after stage one that she can no longer ignore it.

Last night, I was speaking with a liberal friend who actually works in the insurance business. During the run up to the health care vote, she and I had politely vigorous conversations in which I explained, over and over again, that, if penalties are lower than the cost of insurance, and if insurers must provide insurance to sick people, insurance no longer exists. Instead, one just has cost shifting that will destroy the insurance industry. She of all people, after all, should realize that the industry only makes money on healthy people who are planning ahead in case they get sick. (Here’s an example of the type of conversation I had with her.)

In last night’s conversation, my friend seemed a bit disturbed by things, and asked me how I thought health care was going now that the bill was passed. Since I understand how liberals think, I didn’t answer her question directly. Instead, I mentioned the recent Boston Globe article that suddenly informed us that citizens in Massachusetts are doing precisely what I predicted would happen under the Obama Care bill:
Thousands of consumers are gaming Massachusetts’ 2006 health insurance law by buying insurance when they need to cover pricey medical care, such as fertility treatments and knee surgery, and then swiftly dropping coverage, a practice that insurance executives say is driving up costs for other people and small businesses.
I also threw in the fact that the New York Times is suddenly writing a series of articles about the unsustainable costs of medical care. In other words, I went to sources my friend trusts, since they have good liberal bona fides.

My friend was shocked: “Why didn’t anyone tell us about this before?” I replied, quite mildly, “I did.” She had the grace to fall silent.

As one of my adopted nephews says, "pwned!"

It turns out that my friend didn’t raise the issue randomly. The people in her insurance office are getting panicky because they’ve suddenly realized that they’ve entered the insurance Twilight Zone, where all the rules are upside down.

Double "pwned"!

Notes from a health insurance criminal

James L. Payne writes at The Freeman why he plans to become a health criminal under Obamacare.

If mandatory health insurance goes through, it will turn me into a criminal. I don’t have health insurance. I don’t want it. And I will refuse to buy it even though I can afford it. Before they lead me to the cell, perhaps the prisoner may be allowed to say a few words in his defense.
Like many Americans, I have significant savings and can afford medical expenses out of pocket. (Census Bureau figures for 2000 show that over 18 million households had assets in excess of $250,000). Our savings make it possible for my wife and me to decline both private insurance and Medicare (we are 70). Those without savings are in a different situation: They probably need insurance, or a subsidy, or charitable help. My point is that if you can handle your own medical bills through savings and personal responsibility, this is a sound approach. Politicians should encourage this state of self-reliance, not criminalize it.

There are many advantages to being insurance-free. The first is flexibility. Several years ago, my wife had a serious bout with cancer. The successful treatment involved surgery and local radiation therapy. After much study she refused the more massive radiation treatment recommended by the doctor and pursued alternative therapies, including acupuncture, nutritional therapy, massage, and naturopathic medicine. Every decision was made in terms of what seemed best to treat this illness. We were not drawn into using inappropriate therapies because they were “free,” nor did we pass up desirable therapies because they were “not covered.”

The second advantage of being insurance-free is we avoid bureaucracy. We don’t fill out insurance forms; we don’t make phone calls trying to find out what’s covered; and we don’t play games (with the collusion of doctors) trying to get things we need paid for by someone else. If an aching back suggests the need for a different mattress, we go out and buy one and don’t waste time and money trying to prove to some clerk that it’s covered. When the government offered a new piñata of benefits in the form of prescription drug coverage, we entirely escaped the frustration of figuring out how to deal with its staggering confusion. While other seniors were closeted with lawyers trying to decide what to sign up for, we went hiking.

And the comments are interesting, too.