Monday, February 28

Low Prices Are Bad

A Stitch in Haste on Robert Reich's criticism of low prices.

Art for Art's Sake

According to Jonathan Yardley's review of Edward Jay Epstein's The Big Picture, blockbusters are aimed at children and teenagers and are scripted according to a formula make most of their money out of DVD sales.
Such art as does still emerge from Hollywood can be found in the comparatively modest productions from the "specialty film units -- Miramax Pictures, Sony Classics, Fox Searchlight, Paramount Classics and Warner Independent Pictures," which are a return "not so much to the studio system as to the art-house system, which had at one time coexisted alongside the Hollywood studios." These movies are modest only by Hollywood standards: Their average cost was "an astounding $61.6 million in 2003, nearly two thirds that of studio movies," and "since many of the more adult films produced by the independent subsidiaries did not appeal to the youth-oriented toy, game, and other ancillary markets, they often resulted in huge losses for the studios."

The Big Six swallow these losses not because they're suicidal but because "studio executives seek, along with strictly commercial projects, projects that are likely to attract the sort of actors, directors, awards and media response that will help them maintain both their standing in the community and their own morale." As Epstein says, "as persuasive as the [Midas] formula is from a moneymaking standpoint, it doesn't satisfy the community members' appetite for prestige, recognition, and creative expression.
Well, that's better than no art at all.

Sunday, February 27

The High School Curriculum

The biggest factor in determining whether young people earn a bachelor’s degree is participation in a strong academic curriculum in high school. So what should be on the curriculum? According to the National Commission on Excellence in Education, all high school students be required to complete:
  • four years of English
  • three years of math
  • three years of science
  • three years of social studies
  • one to one-and-one-half years of computer science
In addition, those students planning to attend college should take two years of a foreign language. The National Center for Education Statistics is even more demanding:
  • four years of English
  • three years of a foreign language
  • three years of social studies
  • four years of math (including pre-calculus or higher)
  • three years of science
  • at least one Advanced Placement course.
Good luck with that. Indeed,
According to a recent report by The Education Trust, only about half of the nation’s high school students graduate having completed even a “mid-level” curriculum along the lines of the commission’s recommendations. And just 12% complete the kind of rigorous program described in the NCES study. The statistics are even more dismal for poor and minority students, who are considerably less likely than nonminority students to be enrolled in – or even have access to – rigorous courses.
And of course we know which language the vast majority of high school students are going to be studying, and it's not Chinese.

Democratic Revolt

According to David Ignatius, Walid Jumblatt, the patriarch of the Druze Muslim community and, until recently, a man who accommodated Syria's occupation, has also denounced the United States and Israel in the past, but
"It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq," explains Jumblatt. "I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world." Jumblatt says this spark of democratic revolt is spreading. "The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it."
I'm skeptical. Still, I hope it lasts. More here.

I Wanna Live Forever

Speaking of keeping people on life support, Even for Sickest of Airlines, Financial Skies Can Be Friendly By MICHELINE MAYNARD
Instead of disappearing, the sickest airlines are being kept alive with significant help from lenders, the federal government, patient judges, aircraft companies and even rivals.

As long as the sick companies cling to life, said Southwest's chief financial officer, Laura Wright, the industry remains awash in too much unprofitable capacity…

The glut of assistance is a sore subject at rivals unable to obtain such treatment outside of court protection.

"It's frustrating to us," said a senior executive at a major airline, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The weakest need to go away for the industry to be healthy for the survivors. The United States is not going to lose its airline industry if one or two companies go away."

Thousands Greet Bush

A demonstration against something generally gets the press. I guess that's why I can't find this in the mainstream US press. President hails Slovak 'march of freedom'
Mr Bush received a far cheerier welcome behind the old Iron Curtain as enthusiastic Slovaks applauded him for visiting them on the last stop of his tour across the continent.

Thousands of Slovaks defied swirling snow and a bitter wind to wait for several hours to hear Mr Bush speak in the heart of their capital, Bratislava...

The Slovak prime minister, Mikulas Dzurinda, set the tone when he introduced Mr Bush to the crowd with an implicit comparison to the late Ronald Reagan, who devoted much of his presidency to combating and denouncing the Soviet Union. For the White House, it was a reassuring reminder that Mr Bush's stock remains high in New Europe, as Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, famously described the more recent East European members of the EU and Nato...

The reaction was very different from Mainz where thousands marched through the streets on Wednesday denouncing his policies as he met Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
via ¡No Pasarán!

Terri Schiavo

It's not my decision, so I don't know why I'm talking, but anyway, here goes:

She's in a persistent vegetative state. Brain scans show that parts of her brain have atrophied and been replaced by spinal fluid. With such severe damage, she can't show the recovery that Sarah Scantlin showed. However, as Fear of Clowns wrote, she didn't write a living will, so all we have is her husband's word that she wouldn't have wanted to live this way. Since her family is willing to support the living vegetable that used to be their daughter, fine. However, since she has no idea what's going on, not to mention the fact that she's not going to be able to recover, they should pay for it out of their own pocket--or like-minded people can spend their hard-earned money to maintain her.

What I don't want to see is the rest of us forced to pay to maintain vegetables. Unfortunately, since her case seems to be a stalking horse for those opposed to abortion, I'm afraid that those who want to maintain vegetables are going to try (and in many cases succeed) to get state funding for it.

On a similar topic, In How to Save Medicare? Die Sooner DANIEL ALTMAN notes that Medicare's future financing problems are likely to be much worse than Social Security's. Further,
For the last few decades, the share of Medicare costs incurred by patients in their last year of life has stayed at about 28 percent…. Thus end-of-life care hasn't contributed unduly of late to Medicare's problems.
Even if it's stayed steady, that's still a huge chunk of cash. Then he cites David O. Meltzer, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago who also teaches economics. Even with the knowledge of "many markers we have of someone who is approaching the end of life",
Dr. Meltzer warned against putting the brakes on care just as a patient takes an inexorable turn for the worse. Studies of doctors who intervened at that point to stave off unproductive care have found little success in cutting costs, he said. Instead, he recommended that doctors try to prepare patients and families for less resource-intensive care at the end of life. "There is no question, as a clinician, and as a patient and the family members of patients, there are things you can do to make sure that expenditures with little chance of being helpful won't be undertaken," he said. "You explain to people that the goal of medical care is not always to make people live longer."..

Explaining that principle early on could make a difference in the cases that appear to pose the biggest problem: those in which the patient's health changes suddenly and severely. Dr. [Gail R. Wilensky, a senior fellow at Project HOPE] cited recent research showing that these cases incurred high costs with scant medical benefit…

Yet teaching doctors and patients to say no could be a losing battle. "It doesn't fit human nature, and it certainly doesn't fit our culture," [Dr. Arnold S. Relman, a professor emeritus of medicine and social medicine at Harvard and former editor in chief of The New England Journal of Medicine] said. "Most Americans - and most people who are educated in advanced societies now - believe that each person is entitled to, technically and scientifically, the best medical care that they can get."
Good luck with changing that.

Saturday, February 26

Maybe She Just Doesn't Care About Fresh Food

Kate Taylor goes overboard in her criticism of Mireille Guiliano's French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure:
The [French] national rate of obesity is rising fast. While only 6 percent of the population was obese in 1990, today the proportion is 11.3 percent. That is still well behind the same figure for the United States (22 percent) but on track to match our levels by 2020.
Hey, French obesity rates may be increasing, but she assumes the current rate of increase in France is going to hold steady, while the US rate is not going to grow. Then she states that a French government-sponsored movement
stressed that overfeeding infants was worse than underfeeding them. For older children, they advised regular mealtimes, modest portions, no seconds, and no snacks. Children's own appetites and preferences were to be ignored. This is the tradition in which Guiliano was raised, and which she proposes to those of her readers who are parents. It is another interesting paradox: The French ability to take pleasure in food, and to choose food based on taste rather than dietary dogma, begins with a child's lack of choice, and a degree of parental and state authoritarianism.
French government policies may contribute to the way the French eat; for instance, the price of baguettes is supposedly set by the government. But this criticism of hers is strange--teaching children what to eat is authoritarianism? So it's a good idea to permit children eat whatever they want?
While many people think of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia as an American problem, they are, as far as can be measured (and these statistics should always be taken with some degree of skepticism), equally prevalent in France.
So France has the same problem as the US. They've still got less overweight people.
When she met the New York Times' Elaine Sciolino for coffee in Paris, Guiliano took one bite of her croissant, declared it "disgusting," and left the rest on her plate, thereby demonstrating a lesson from her book: "Life is too short to drink bad wine and to eat bad food." Sounds nice enough, but sticking to this philosophy in all circumstances would be remarkably neurotic. What if you're hungry? The scene calls to mind a certain type of weight-obsessed woman, the kind who uses the excuse of a refined palate to mask her suspicion of food (and to justify how little she eats).
Who says you have to stick to this in all circumstances? The point is that Americans settle for less. We're more interested in food that is cheap and convenient than in the taste of the food. However, the fact of the matter is that even an inexpensive French grocery chain like ED, even the processed food is better than what's available at an American grocery chain. I suspect that Ms. Taylor simply can't tell the difference.

Churchgoers are More Moral?

The man accused of being the BTK ("Bind, Torture, Kill") serial killer was active in his church.

Thursday, February 24


Will Wilkinson slams Jonathan Chait for the assumption that
liberals by and large are empiricists, willing to go where the evidence takes them, while conservatives (loosely and irresponsibly identified with free-market types) are dogmatists who will unaccountably but doggedly cling to principle even after being brought low by data.
I hear a lot of that from my liberal friends and relatives, which is pretty ironic given their dogmatism. Which is not to say there are not dogmatists on both (all?) sides, a point Wilkinson also makes.

Immigration and the Swedish Welfare State

Christopher Caldwell's A Swedish Dilemma:
An entire revisionist history of the past hundred years of Swedish economics and politics is beginning to emerge from the work of Norberg and others. Sweden misjudged its strengths. Chief among these was that, for most of the last century, Sweden was the least protectionist country in the world. Private companies had to fend for themselves, without subsidies or tariffs. The result was an entrepreneurial energy unequalled anywhere...

In the mid-1960s, Sweden declared it was short of houses and announced an ambitious plan to build 1,000,000 units of housing in the following decade. The country succeeded in its so-called "Million Program," but harvested all manner of unintended consequences. For a decade, resources were shifted, through dramatic tax hikes, from private businesses to public-sector engineers and masons and pavers. The Million Program was the Socialists' White Whale, the preoccupation that sucked up all of the country's resources--much as integration of immigrants will be in the coming decades. Architecturally, the Million Program gave a soulless, sterile cast to a socialism that had hitherto been anything but. But the biggest problem with all these high-rises was that Swedes--unlike, say, Parisians, but very much like Americans--prefer not to live in apartments. When, in 1982, Sweden passed a reform very similar to the American mortgage-interest tax deduction, the incentives were in place for a massive flight from the Million Project. A decade later, these half-decent apartments standing empty would exert a mighty pull on immigrants from the world's trouble spots. a country where, as the sociologist Åke Daun puts it, "people like being like each other," there is evidence of profound exhaustion with immigration, whether the reasons for this exhaustion are rationally well-founded or not. In the moral-superpower context, it is the equivalent of "imperial overstretch." Swedes tell pollsters they want no more asylum-seekers. (A common complaint is that prospective arrivals have figured out how to "game" the rules of asylum applications, and that the best way to render one's story unchallengeable under the law is to destroy one's identity papers.) A very low rate of mixed marriage is an indication that Swedes may not have been crazy about this immigration in the first place...

"Sweden is a special country," says Nalin Pekgul, director of the Social Democrats' women's group in Stockholm. "It wasn't a colonial power--it had no experience with immigrants."
So does being an imperial power contribute to a sort of understanding--understanding that you can't stand the people you colonized?

Wednesday, February 23

Good Riddance

Chinese hacker group known for hitting U.S. websites dissolves
The Honkers Union of China has disbanded and shut down its website, according to, which called the group the largest and oldest of its kind in China.
See my explanation of "honker".

Another Sacred Tree

Bough Breaks, Threatening a Traditional Wishing Tree By KEITH BRADSHER
People from across Hong Kong and nearby mainland China, as well as tourists from around the world, have long come to light incense and make wishes beneath the spreading limbs of a huge Chinese banyan here in Lam Tsuen, a bustling village near the mainland border. Respect for the banyan, which is hundreds of years old, is based partly on feng shui, a Chinese system of philosophy that emphasizes harmony with nature, and partly on centuries-old local beliefs about the mystical value of trees. The tree is so popular that it shows up on highway signs and has its own expressway exit.

But the tree's main limb suddenly broke over the weekend with a loud crack during Chinese New Year festivities.

The entire limb fell to the ground, breaking the left leg of a 62-year-old man. Some branches also scratched the head of an unrelated 4-year-old boy, who was treated at a local hospital and released...

Tree specialists brought in by the local government this week found other problems. They counted more than 1,000 breaks in the bark, some of them old injuries that might have been inflicted years ago by stones. Insects then entered the tree through the injured areas, to the point that 70 percent of the tree is now very unhealthy and it may not survive, a government spokeswoman said Tuesday.
There's another sacred tree here.

Monday, February 21


Iowahawk has an incredibly moving post on a spontaneous outpouring of help to a group of suffering women.

Incompetent Designer

Unintelligent Design By JIM HOLT
...what sort of designer would have fashioned creatures so out of sync with their environments that they were doomed to extinction?

The gravest imperfections in nature, though, are moral ones. Consider how humans and other animals are intermittently tortured by pain throughout their lives, especially near the end. Our pain mechanism may have been designed to serve as a warning signal to protect our bodies from damage, but in the majority of diseases -- cancer, for instance, or coronary thrombosis -- the signal comes too late to do much good, and the horrible suffering that ensues is completely useless.

And why should the human reproductive system be so shoddily designed? Fewer than one-third of conceptions culminate in live births. The rest end prematurely, either in early gestation or by miscarriage. Nature appears to be an avid abortionist, which ought to trouble Christians who believe in both original sin and the doctrine that a human being equipped with a soul comes into existence at conception. Souls bearing the stain of original sin, we are told, do not merit salvation. That is why, according to traditional theology, unbaptized babies have to languish in limbo for all eternity. Owing to faulty reproductive design, it would seem that the population of limbo must be at least twice that of heaven and hell combined.
Not just incompetent--evil.

Sunday, February 20


According to You Want Any Fruit With That Big Mac? By MELANIE WARNER:
  • McDonald's now buys more fresh apples than any other restaurant or food service operation.
  • McDonald's is also among the top five food-service buyers of grape tomatoes and spring mix lettuce - a combination of greens like arugula, radicchio and frisée.
  • McDonald's need for a reliable supply of fresh fruits and vegetables that meet its exacting specifications may aid the development of highly mechanized, consistent, efficient and low-cost produce businesses.
  • The double cheeseburger is still the most beloved single item (ugh).
  • McDonald's does not want to sell something that people may have readily available at home, so they can't just sell fresh fruit.
  • A lot of McDonald's customers say in focus groups that they want healthy food, but less than 10 percent actually buy their salads.
  • Because McDonald's insists that all new products get a clear thumbs-up from more than 70 percent of its test customers, apples without caramel dipping sauce did not make the cut, although it "has nine grams of sugar, one-quarter of the total recommended daily limit under new guidelines of the Department of Agriculture".
  • In the premium salads, cheap and reliable iceberg and romaine account for 90 percent of the lettuce in the salad; the 10 percent smattering of spring mix is intended to make the salads more attractive to the eye as well as the palate.
  • The carrots in the salads "are sliced so thin that customers are lucky if they end up eating one-quarter of a small carrot, but the delicate slices don't fall to a puddle at the bottom of the bowl".
  • Fruits and vegetables are much more expensive and complicated to ship and store than meat and potatoes.
  • McDonald's could be the company that changes agriculture toward a more organic and sustainable model. (One guy thinks so, anyway)
On the occasional times I eat hamburgers, it's almost always Burger King.

Chronic Illness Vs. Addiction

Maia Szalavitz notes that despite the picture David Sheff presented of his son's problems,
Methamphetamine addicts have relapse rates no worse—and no better—than for those of any other drug.

...Research has consistently shown one-year abstinence rates from all addictions following treatment at about 40-60%, with an additional 15-30% having some relapses but not returning to chronic daily use. This is actually slightly better than for other chronic illnesses which require lifestyle changes for successful outcomes, like diabetes and hypertension. The prognosis is more positive for people of high socioeconomic status, with college educations and with strong family support.

Saturday, February 19

The Ophthalmologist & the Septuagenarians

Syria Likely to Defy Calls For Pullout From Lebanon: Reaction to Bombing Underlines Strategic Interest in Neighbor By Scott Wilson
For [Syrian President Bashar Assad], an ophthalmologist by training, remaining in Lebanon has become a political test. Hard-liners in his government, many of them septuagenarian carryovers from his father's time who have resisted even his limited efforts to open up the state-run economy and shrink the Baath Party's influence, could blame him for the loss of regional influence that would result from a retreat from Lebanon.
Not to defend the Syrians, but you can tell I'm getting old, thinking that the fact that they're septuagenarians isn't that big a deal. I haven't heard that complaint about Jacques Chirac, although I did hear it about Reagan. And I suppose being an ophthalmologist disqualifies one from being a political leader? So what about Howard Dean, a physician who practiced internal medicine?

Wait a minute--the French are formers colonizers of Lebanon. It must be a Seventies' thing.

Friday, February 18

Rope Trick

I'm not reading The Rise of the Indian Rope Trick, but I'm guessing it doesn't include "The Jiaxing Rope Trick" 嘉興繩技, a story from the Tang dynasty, stating that during the Kaiyuan 開元 period (713-741), during a performance of skillful feats by prisoners, one of them escaped from jail by climbing a rope straight up into the sky. Here are two articles, with a Qing picture that they purport illustrates it. The writer of the former article claims his Indian friend told him it happens in India, and it's a case of mass hypnosis.

An Absolute Genius with a Heart of Stone

Tim Cavanaugh says,
You'd have to be an absolute genius to have been in the stock market since 1981 and not be substantially ahead of whatever Social Security would provide.
Sweet. Reminds of Oscar Wilde's supposed quote, "One must have a heart of stone to read the death of [Charles Dickens'] Little Nell without laughing," attributed to one Ada Leverson.

Thursday, February 17

Let the Jokes Begin

Navy to Commission Attack Submarine Jimmy Carter

Good job, Roy!

Yep, life'll burst that self-esteem bubble By Sharon Jayson:
Roy Baumeister, a psychology professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee, says he had "high hopes" for the benefits of boosting self-esteem when he began studying it more than 30 years ago.

But his lengthy review of 18,000 articles, published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, ended with the realization that only two clear benefits emerge from high self-esteem: enhanced initiative, which boosts confidence, and increased happiness.

"There is not nearly as much benefit as we hoped," he says. "It's been one of the biggest disappointments of my career."

Monday, February 14

Movie ideas

Michael Giberson recommends What to Rent? I've seen and enjoyed most of the first few recommendations.

Sugar from da gummint

I saw a report on network news about the sugar lobby's attack on Splenda; too bad it didn't explain how the sugar industry sucks off the gummint teat big time. In A Sweet Deal for the Sugar Industry, Doug Bandow writes,
You can never get enough from consumers and taxpayers. That apparently is the sugar industry's motto. Collect subsidies. Ban trade. Outlaw your competitors. Let the American people pay.

...the Sugar Association...hired the public relations firm Qorvis Communications to create a Web site touting the "truth about Splenda."

Qorvis didn't put it quite that way, of course. Instead it announced that "a group of concerned consumers, led by sugar cane and sugar beet farmers across America," launched the Web site.

Ah, yes. Sugar cane and sugar beet farmers, who have spent years mulcting the taxpayers for fun and profit...

The loan guarantee program has been costing around $200 million a year. Alas, outlays can go higher: in 2000, the Agriculture Department spent $465 million to pay farmers to destroy their crops.

When Congress reauthorized the program in the 2002 Farm Bill, it cut penalties on farmers who forfeited their sugar, boosting industry winnings by another half billion dollars. In addition, Washington spends an extra $90 million a year to pay for higher-priced sugar-laden products as part of its feeding programs.

Washington also maintains import quotas, which have been estimated to cost U.S. consumers about $2 billion annually. These restrictions have ravaged the economies of poor Latin American nations.

A fifth of farmers collect 60 percent of the benefits. And driving up prices – to as much as five times the world level – has pushed manufacturers to substitutes, such as high-fructose corn syrup, decimating the domestic refining industry (12 of 22 refineries closed over the last two decades).

But the industry always wants more. The Bush administration has been pushing to increase U.S. abroad with the Central American Free Trade Agreement. The Sugar Association naturally came out against the accord.
(Link via Lynne Kiesling) Of course we can't listen to Bandow: he's a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan.

Seriously. One of the discussants on the MCLC discussion list dismissed Judith Bannister for her blaming Mao's Great Leap Forward for as many as 30 million deaths (in her book China's Changing Population). Even though as I recall she suggested the death toll was between 10 and 30 million, this commentator wrote,
The fact that Judith Bannister was a demographer for the US government during the Reagan years (remember the "evil empire"?) should strike a note of caution before we accept her figure of 30 million deaths.

Don't Compare Yourself to Those Better Off

My immigrant wife concurs with Bryan Caplan:
Poor Americans of all races ought to emulate immigrants - take low-skilled jobs and try to work their way up. Instead of comparing themselves to native-born Americans who earn more than they do, the American poor should compare themselves to unskilled workers who weren't born here. At least the American poor don't have to learn a new language and leave their homes in order to move up in the world.
Don't compare yourself to those better off? Good luck with that. There was that study:
...students at Harvard University were asked whether they would prefer (a) $50,000 a year while others got half that or (b) $100,000 a year while others got twice as much. A majority chose (a). They were happy with less, as long as they were better off than others. Other studies confirm that people are often more concerned about their income relative to others' than about their absolute income.
Presumably it's not just Harvard students, although it would be funny if the children of the elite were more egalitarian than the average American. I have heard that Americans are less concerned about wide income gaps than their counterparts in Europe.

Long-range costs?

In How to mend Social Security, an editorial for subscribers only, The Economist cautions Bush, his focus on Social Security he must not lose sight of the overall fiscal challenge—and the role his own policies have played in it. The long-term burden of Mr Bush's first-term tax cuts and spending increases is three times bigger than the looming Social Security shortfall. Pension reform is desirable; but it will not solve America's long-term fiscal problems, and if its political price is an out-of-control budget, that would be a serious mistake.
While concerned about long-term fiscal problems in general and Social Security problems in particular, they also finally come out in favor of his Social Security reforms:
From the retirees' point of view, the "carve-out" that diverts money from Social Security to the private accounts, so hated by Democrats, is a good idea. It will lessen dependence on government and may encourage people to save more. There is no reason to believe the horror stories that Wall Street is about to fleece helpless savers: learning from other privatisations overseas, Mr Bush's people want the new retirement accounts to be managed in a way that will keep costs low...

Giving people greater control of their savings is desirable in itself: that is why private accounts deserve their place in this reform. It is wrong that in the world's most advanced economy so many retirees should rely so heavily on the state. That idea is at the heart of Mr Bush's "ownership society"—and it is worth supporting.
Meanwhile, as Jonathan Weisman and Peter Baker write, After Bush Leaves Office, His Budget's Costs Balloon
For President Bush, the budget sent to Congress last week outlines a painful path to meeting his promise to bring down the federal budget deficit by the time he leaves office in 2009. But for the senators and governors already jockeying to succeed him, the numbers released in recent days add up to a budgetary landmine that could blow up just as the next president moves into the Oval Office.

Congress and the White House have become adept at passing legislation with hidden long-term price tags, but those huge costs began coming into view in Bush's latest spending plan. Even if Bush succeeds in slashing the deficit in half in four years, as he has pledged, his major policy prescriptions would leave his successor with massive financial commitments that begin rising dramatically the year he relinquishes the White House, according to an analysis of new budget figures.

Sunday, February 13

Public Transport--It's Great for Everyone Else

Painful Commutes Don't Stop Drivers by Richard Morin and Steven Ginsberg
In spite of increasingly long and frustrating commutes, the survey found that Washingtonians remain addicted to their cars. Three in four area commuters drive to work alone. Carpooling is no more prevalent here than it is elsewhere in the country. Metro is widely admired but largely bypassed, a boutique transportation system that serves a hard-core constituency but is viewed by most commuters as inconvenient...

Government officials said they have all but given up on attempts to do anything extraordinary to solve area transportation problems. Instead, they are trying to broaden commuting options for people by experimenting with such proposals as allowing drivers without passengers to pay to use carpool lanes. But they said there was little they can do if people continue to live farther and farther from their jobs.
For the record, when I've lived in cities that offer it, I have used public transportation. But then, I've lived downtown.

Not Covered by Social Security

Some Americans are not covered by Social Security. The Coalition to Preserve Retirement Security explains that
Fourteen states cover substantial numbers of their public employees under independent plans which would be jeopardized by mandatory Social Security: Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, California, Ohio, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, Connecticut, Maine and Alaska. From 20 percent to 100 percent of the public employees in each of these states are not covered by Social Security. Firefighters and police officers in nearly every state are covered by independent plans rather than Social Security. Nationwide, about 5 million public employees are covered by state or local plans in lieu of Social Security.
It also points out that
These plans have been actuarially funded and invest in stocks, bonds and other investments that provide a high return. These retirement plans provide good benefits at a reasonable cost to public employees and employers.
So it looks like it works.

Meanwhile, the AARP has The Impact of Mandatory Social Security Coverage of State and Local Workers: A Multi-State Review by Alicia H. Munnell.
...the strongest arguments for mandatory coverage are complex and somewhat subtle issues of equity. Excluded state and local government employees or taxpayers in their jurisdictions are not paying their share of income redistribution.
Subtle? I guess she means open to disagreement.
...taxpayers in their jurisdictions are not paying their share of income redistribution. Excluded state and local workers and their employers also are not paying their share of financing the unfunded liability associated with the startup of the Social Security program. The parents and grandparents of these state/local workers - like those of covered workers - have received Social Security benefits far in excess of their contributions to the system.
The fact that most people's parents and grandparents have received Social Security benefits far in excess of their contributions to the system show that there is something deeply flawed about it, and is hardly a reason to take money from even more people. Note that Alicia H. Munnell takes it as a given that income redistribution is right and proper. Not surprisingly, she is no friend of privatization.

The Political Compass Again

I took the political compass test again.

Earlier my scores were:

Friday, February 11

Why is Julia Preston "Startled"?

She writes,
In a startlingly sweeping verdict, Ms. Stewart was convicted on all five counts of providing material aid to terrorism and of lying to the government when she pledged to obey federal rules that barred her client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, from communicating with his followers...
Here's one reason not to be startled:
On the stand, Ms. Stewart sometimes appeared deaf to the vicious anti-American preachings of her client, Mr. Abdel Rahman.
So Julia Preston helpfully notes
The government never showed that any violence resulted from the defendants' actions. The defendants were not accused of aiding terrorism in the United States.
In other words, the letter of the law doesn't matter, Even if:
There was little dispute about the central facts in the case. After Mr. Abdel Rahman was sentenced in 1996 to life in prison, his followers issued a series of threats against the United States demanding his release. Prosecutors imposed rules, known as special administrative measures, that barred the sheik, already held in solitary confinement, from communicating with anyone outside prison but his lawyers and his wife.

Ms. Stewart repeatedly signed documents in which she agreed to uphold the rules.

She brought a letter containing messages from Islamic Group members to a meeting with the sheik in the prison in Rochester, Minn., in May 2000. She received a statement from the sheik and on June 14 called a reporter in Cairo and read him the statement. The sheik said he was withdrawing support for a cease-fire the Islamic Group had observed for three years in Egypt. The group never canceled the cease-fire.
So, um, she violated the agreement she made. Are we to expect that the government would want to encourage that?

Protuberant Lips

MANOHLA DARGIS says Keira Knightley "has lips as protuberant as the front bumper on a 1955 Chrysler station wagon", although I'd like to point out that the front bumper on 1955 Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe 2dr is identical. (See below, and click for bigger pic of Ms. Knightley)

Nice bumper

1955 Chrysler station wagon

1955 Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe 2dr

Supposed Liberal Bias?

The storm of controversy that has blown up around Professor Churchill over his essay about the Sept. 11 attacks, with its reference to the Nazi Adolf Eichmann - the "technocrats" at the World Trade Center were "little Eichmanns," Professor Churchill said - has turned the professor into a talking point and a political punch line. On conservative talk radio, on campuses across the country, and especially here in Boulder, debate about Professor Churchill means debate about freedom of speech, the solemnity of Sept. 11 and the supposed liberal bias of academia.
That's according to Kirk Johnson, supposed journalist.

For the record, I don't think Churchill should be fired.


Will Wilkinson agrees with me that
mainstream contemporary academic American liberalism is, at its core, an essentially reactionary creed built around the conservation of the institutions of the "New Deal" and the "Great Society," and the protection of the interests of the affiliated political rentier class.

The gummint is responsible!

Yesterday, Richard Morin and Dale Russakoff reported Social Security Problems Not a Crisis, Most Say. As the survey shows, liberals should win the fight against Bush's plan, because a substantial number of Americans don't think individuals are responsible for providing for their own retirement.
Worse, a majority is opposed to solutions for reforming Social Security that don't involve private accounts. Neither do they want to raise the retirement age, nor do they want to reduce the rate of growth of future benefits. Talk about wanting to eat your cake and have it.

Thursday, February 10

Here's Another Conspiracy

Paul Armentano reports on the government's desire to test various bodily fluids, among other things. The claim is that it's about drug testing. Fools! As Alchemical writes, Taoism involves retention of semen and saliva. Are the authorities plotting to siphon off our qi (ch'i 氣) to prevent us from attaining immmortality? This is religious oppression! Or is it worse than I've imagined, and are they trying to steal it from us for their own immortality, like fox spirits (狐狸精)?

Wednesday, February 9

Opposition to progress

Neal Stephenson (interviewed by Mike Godwin) says,
It has been the case for quite a while that the cultural left distrusted geeks and their works; the depiction of technical sorts in popular culture has been overwhelmingly negative for at least a generation now. More recently, the cultural right has apparently decided that it doesn’t care for some of what scientists have to say. So the technical class is caught in a pincer between these two wings of the so-called culture war. Of course the broad mass of people don’t belong to one wing or the other. But science is all about diligence, hard sustained work over long stretches of time, sweating the details, and abstract thinking, none of which is really being fostered by mainstream culture.
And yet leftists like to style themselves progressives. At least the anti-scientific types on the right are consistent: they actually openly favor reactionary policies.


According to Some Bush Foes Vote Yet Again, With Their Feet: Canada or Bust, Immigration lawyers in several Canadian cities have witnessed a threefold rise in American immigrants:
"We're still not talking about a huge movement of people," said David Cohen, an immigration lawyer in Montreal. "In 2003, the last year where full statistics are available, there were something like 6,000 U.S. citizens who received permanent resident status in Canada. So even if we do go up threefold this year, we're only talking about 18,000 people."
And how many immmigrants do we get a year? About a million.

Tuesday, February 8

Save as much as possible

Last weekend on The Motley Fool's Fool Phones David Gardner suggested saving 5-10% of one's salary, while Dayana Yochim suggested saving as much as possible of their paycheck. Sounds good to me.

Can you believe them?

In Social Security: The Red and the Blue Michael Tanner writes,
Exit polls this November showed that 56 percent of voters supported individual account proposals, with only 32 percent opposed. Substantial majorities of men (56 percent), women (57 percent), young people (66 percent), African-Americans (62 percent), Hispanics (65 percent), Catholics (63 percent) and Evangelicals (62 percent) all backed individual accounts. As expected majorities of conservatives (71 percent) and Bush voters (69 percent) supported individual accounts, but so did 41 percent of self-described liberals. Indeed, 44 percent of Kerry voters favored the proposal. On Social Security, there is no red state, blue state divide.
Yeah, but they're exit polls. I've heard that sixty percent of younger people support personal accounts, but I can't seem to find the details.

Do You Care About the Future?

Bryan Caplan writes on a controversy about Hans-Hermann Hoppe,
"People with kids care more about the future than people without kids."

Who could take offense at this truism?
Well, me for one. I'm not sure what Herr Doktor Hoppe means by caring about the future, but the reason my wife and I support capitalism is that I think it's best for everyone; we also save as much as we can because we're worried about our own future. Meanwhile, another childless couple we know are leftist greenies...because they're worried about the future. (Mere anecdotal evidence, I know.)

Still, I don't think I'd bother to lodge a complaint about it. If I complained about things like that, I'd never have time for anything else.

Where's my subsidy?

Inspired by Fritz Schranck, I have discovered. how back in 2001, DORI MEINERT wrote how Illinois farm subsidies skyrocketed. Indeed, Pat Scates & Sons received payments totaling $4,687,006.87 from 1995 through 2003. They paid a little for that largesse. (Integra Bank is a Political Action Committee)

NPR does Bush

Last week STEVE INSKEEP criticized virtually everything Bush said in his State of the Union Address. One thing that struck me was how he portrayed tort reform, about 2:20 into the report:
Mr. JOHN COCHRAN (Congressional Quarterly): I think the important thing to remember is that you have to take any claims about lawsuits or the economic costs of lawsuits either way with a big grain of salt. I mean, what's most striking about the whole tort debate actually is how little either side really knows about what's really going on out there. There's just a real lack of any kind of objective data. It's...

INSKEEP: This seems like an obvious statement: lawsuits cost money, therefore, they're a drag on the economy.

Mr. COCHRAN: Yeah, and it's just not, economists say. First of all, nobody knows how much money flowing through this system is really excessive which is part of Bush's argument, and how much is actually covering real injuries and real loss. And economists say, 'If I injure you and I pay you $150, what's lost? I don't buy a new suit, but you do.'
John Cochran covers legal issues, but presumes to tell us what the economists think. According to The war on tort, from the Jan 26th 2005 Economist,
Most Americans agree that matters have got out of hand. According to figures from Tillinghast-Towers Perrin, an insurance consultancy, tort-system costs amounted to $246 billion in 2003—excluding vast settlements agreed by tobacco companies....
The article points out that American lawyers disagree, but still:
Haggling over the sums aside, the big pots of money that companies and their insurers pay out to settle litigation cause both direct and indirect losses. Companies that owe vast sums may seek bankruptcy protection or go out of business altogether. In some cases, most notably involving asbestos, companies have been hounded despite having only a tenuous link to the product in question. Not only shareholders will feel the pain if large numbers of workers also find themselves without employment.

Businesses suffer indirect costs too. The threat of lawsuits often causes financial markets to overreact. Credit-rating agencies are likely to downgrade firms that face litigation, increasing the cost of financing. Moreover, corporations are also paying far more for general-liability insurance these days...

Any attempts at reforming the tort system will meet stiff opposition from America’s trial lawyers. Democrats, who get huge sums from such lawyers, are also likely to oppose reform with vigour. Some will argue that, by restricting public access to the legal process, Mr Bush would be curbing the freedom of American citizens in the name of redeploying cash away from Democratic-leaning lawyers. But wealthy trial lawyers do not rank highly in the public’s perception of embattled minorities worthy of sympathy and, as such, make for an inviting target.

Oh, those Harvard boys

In Sex Ed, Steven Pinker discusses the negative reaction to Harvard President Lawrence Summers' remarks at a conference on gender imbalances in science, in which he raised the possibility of innate sex differences. Pinker points out
... the belief, still popular among some academics (particularly outside the biological sciences), that children are born unisex and are molded into male and female roles by their parents and society is becoming less credible. Many sex differences are universal across cultures (the twentieth-century belief in sex-reversed tribes is as specious as the nineteenth-century belief in blood-deprived ovaries), and some are found in other primates. Men's and women's brains vary in numerous ways, including the receptors for sex hormones. Variations in these hormones, especially before birth, can exaggerate or minimize the typical male and female patterns in cognition and personality. Boys with defective genitals who are surgically feminized and raised as girls have been known to report feeling like they are trapped in the wrong body and to show characteristically male attitudes and interests. And a meta-analysis of 172 studies by psychologists Hugh Lytton and David Romney in 1991 found virtually no consistent difference in the way contemporary Americans socialize their sons and daughters. Regardless of whether it explains the gender disparity in science, the idea that some sex differences have biological roots cannot be dismissed as Neanderthal ignorance.
Then he argues that people have reacted so strongly against Summers' remarks because he violated a taboo:
The psychology of taboo is not completely irrational. In maintaining our most precious relationships, it is not enough to say and do the right thing. We have to show that our heart is in the right place and that we don't weigh the costs and benefits of selling out those who trust us. If someone offers to buy your child or your spouse or your vote, the appropriate response is not to think it over or to ask how much. The appropriate response is to refuse even to consider the possibility. Anything less emphatic would betray the awful truth that you don't understand what it means to be a genuine parent or spouse or citizen. (The logic of taboo underlies the horrific fascination of plots whose protagonists are agonized by unthinkable thoughts, such as Indecent Proposal and Sophie's Choice.) Sacred and tabooed beliefs also work as membership badges in coalitions. To believe something with a perfect faith, to be incapable of apostasy, is a sign of fidelity to the group and loyalty to the cause. Unfortunately, the psychology of taboo is incompatible with the ideal of scholarship, which is that any idea is worth thinking about, if only to determine whether it is wrong.

At some point in the history of the modern women's movement, the belief that men and women are psychologically indistinguishable became sacred. The reasons are understandable: Women really had been held back by bogus claims of essential differences. Now anyone who so much as raises the question of innate sex differences is seen as "not getting it" when it comes to equality between the sexes. The tragedy is that this mentality of taboo needlessly puts a laudable cause on a collision course with the findings of science and the spirit of free inquiry.
But Pinker's a man, so can we believe him?

Monday, February 7

Damn lying liberal media

Iraqis Cite Shift in Attitudes Since Vote: Mood Seen Moving Against Insurgency by Doug Struck
In the week since national elections, police officers and Iraqi National Guardsmen said they have received more tips from the public, resulting in more arrests and greater effectiveness in their efforts to weaken the violent insurgency rocking the country...

But officials in Baghdad said a relative lull in violence in the capital has fueled the sense that something has fundamentally changed since the vote. A change of attitudes in Baghdad could make a crucial difference in the battle against the insurgency, and a buoyed sense of civic pride is already beginning to change the way the public treats the police, authorities say.
Oh, wait, they're telling the truth this time.

Thursday, February 3

Declining Standards

David J. Garrow's review of Peter Charles Hoffer's Past Imperfect, a book about professional misconduct by historians, plagiarism in particular says Hoffer
...offers an exceptionally astute survey of recent trends in the history profession, and Hoffer’s subtle argument is that the more politically engaged "new history" that has emerged over the past 35 years almost inevitably led to the flock of scandals. It did so in two separate but related ways. First, as the profession became more politicized, and as the major professional organizations took on a more "distinct ideological cast" and moved leftward, a collective desire to make scholarly activity more politically relevant became increasingly pronounced. Hoffer sees the Bellesiles case as one deplorable result; during the Clinton impeachment battle, the embarrassingly partisan behavior of some historians, most of whom had no professional expertise concerning impeachment, was another.

Second, the evolution of the discipline away from the tastes of most nonprofessional readers encouraged the growth of "popular history" as a publishing phenomenon with few ties to the academy. Authors such as Doris Kearns Goodwin and the late Stephen Ambrose may have Ph.D.’s and even university affiliations, but the conception and marketing of their books is a commercial enterprise, not a scholarly one. Their "immunity from close professional scrutiny," Hoffer explains, has further encouraged the absence of originality in most mass-market works.
So on the one hand leftists want to be relevant (not to mention imposing their agenda on the real world) but it's also capitalist desire for profit that makes for declining standards.

Wednesday, February 2

A Missed Opportunity

In Europe’s Crisis, Arthur Waldron quotes Philip Stephens
Perhaps I am overly cynical, but it can scarcely be an accident that France's Jacques Chirac and Germany's Gerhard Schröder have not missed the opportunity to keep quiet about Ukraine's orange revolution.
(from Europe must look to the future)

Tuesday, February 1

Some College

A doctorate in Foreign Languages is worth no more than "Some College".

Actually, it's not quite that bad for individuals. According to Income in 2002 by Educational Attainment, the median income of an individual with "Some College--no degree" makes $29,305, while a doctorate brings in $76,112. That's still a lot more than I make. I guess I should have married someone who made more money.