Saturday, February 23, 2002

Be an animal tonight

E Online's 25 Best Date Movies might help. Some audience poll results are here. The latter also includes the steamiest scenes. Which reminds me - I want to pick up Denise Richards and Neve Campbell again tonight...

Go ahead, say something

Moira Breen explains Robert Fisk. Now I'm waiting for Robert Fisk to say something about Daniel Pearl.

As usual I'm way behind William Quick. His blog should be a regular stop.

Shameless suckup

If you cross Glenn Reynolds with PJ O'Rourke, I don't want to watch. I don't know what the offspring would look like, but it would probably sound a lot like VodkaPundit Stephen Green.

A couple of days back the Veep wrote something about "guns and money" that invoked Fascism. He invoked the popular poli-sci definition and there's nothing wrong with that.

But few words have been quite as abused as "fascism". I contend that the standard definition is inappropriate at best if not downright malign. More later.

Friday, February 22, 2002

Don't cross a Bellicose Woman...

Kathy Kinsley has a great blog and forum which I visit regularly. Yesterday a post of hers caught my eye and I responded below. Now she has, uh, responded.

There's no question that you can't really explore other world views without putting yourself in someone else's theoretical shoes. Different core beliefs lead to different conclusions. The theory of relativity had to wait for somebody like Einstein, who was willing to consider the speed of light as constant and then explore the ramifications.

When I horned in yesterday KK was trying on some new core beliefs. I explored the consequences of a lack of a certain core belief, perhaps gracelessly and certainly with some of my extreme examples. I don't believe I imputed approval of any of these consequences to KK or anyone else, and surely you could argue with my reasoning.

But she wrote
Thing is, that even if I were to argue that we are nothing more than a mass of animal instincts, I would not be arguing in favor of bestiality or child molesting.
I guess I wouldn't be thrilled if I thought someone were accusing me of something like that. But in essence my point is that if we are only a mass of animal instincts, you couldn't argue against the above either.

I am curious to know if KK believes that animals refrain from the above behaviors (if they do) because of some sort of morality as opposed to instinct. After all, Darwin has no use for nonprocreative sex, and immature animals lack pheromones. (and animals lack porn - hmm).

But I'm going to drop it and let Kevin Holtsberry take it from here.

Darwin and society

Why is it that so many societies are down on gays? Why is it that so few societies are openly run by women? Could it be that societies with these characteristics cannot compete successfully with other societies?

Just asking...

More campaign finance

"An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought."

Ostensibly the motivation for campaign finance reform is the notion that politicians will be influenced by the people who spend money on them. This extra influence is seen as antidemocratic.

However, some interesting research shows that usually it is the other way around. Politicians do in fact have some convictions (the good kind), and like-minded donors support them for this.
Most political scientists who study campaign financing have a strikingly different view of how politics actually works and how a democracy should function. A Task Force of nine leading experts recently found that campaign contributions do not play as large a role in influencing legislative behavior as many believe. A legislator's principles, his or her constituency, and his or her political party, have consistently been shown to be more influential than are patterns of contributions. Accordingly, we conclude that many reformers, relying on simplistic, unidimensional analyses that fail to consider the numerous factors that influence political behavior, make too much of large contributions.

The same experts express positive sentiments about private campaign money. For them, political action committees (PACs) and other organized donor groups are helpful actors in civil society, encouraging participation, disseminating information, and increasing competition. Herbert Alexander,
the dean of campaign-finance experts and chair of the Task Force, has said, "Political campaign spending should be considered the tuition we pay for our education on the issues."

Question: has a politician who was not an incumbent ever run on a platform of campaign finance reform? Did he win? I don't know, and I haven't figured out a good way to query Google for this.

Thursday, February 21, 2002

Are you a left-winger?

Take the following short quiz to find out.
  1. Which of the following is a baby-killer? a) an abortionist, or b) a Vietnam veteran.
  2. Which prevents conception every time it's used? a) abstinence, or b) condoms.
  3. Which has killed more people? a) car rides with Ted Kennedy, or b) radiological accidents at commercial US nuclear power plants.
  4. In the 80's, which condition was more common among heterosexual men who did not share needles and had not received tainted blood products? a) Breast cancer, or b) AIDS.
  5. After correcting for years of experience and education, engineers of which sex make higher salaries? a) Women, or b) Men?
  6. What increased by more dollars in the 80's? a) Government tax receipts, or b) Defense spending.
  7. Which demonstrably has killed more children? a) Organic apple juice, or b) Arsenic levels within current regulations (not the stricter ones that even Bill Clinton's administration didn't propose until his final days)

Essay question: Which would you rather be locked in a cell with? a) a loaded gun, or b) Edmund Kemper (a 6-9 300+lb serial killer - he killed his mother too).

Look to the left for answers.

Whose blog will be next on Fox?

So far we've seen Glenn Reynolds', Ken Layne's, Moira Breen's and Rand Simberg's blogs featured on Fox News. Who's next? I vote for Stephen Den Beste.

The good news is that there's no such thing as bestiality

I read it twice, and still I conclude that Kathy Kinsley is confused:
I googled "Humans are not animals". I came up with a lot. Mostly fundamentalist Christian sites. Very educational stuff -- if you believe in magic. Humans, it seems, are not animals -- despite all evidence to the contrary -- because a book says they were directly created by G-d. Ok... said I... is there any proof of this? "The bible says so," said my research. Oh. Ok... now that is a really interesting proposition. Humans, despite the fact that they live and die, that their bodies decompose, that they are EDIBLE, that they breed, that they eat, that they do every single thing that other animals do, are not animals.
What can be concluded from the above but that she believes that human beings are nothing more than animals?

Where do I start? Well, I'll start by noting what might or might not be obvious by now - that I'm not a Christian fundamentalist. I'm not out to defend anybody's book. But I don't think I need a special book to tell me that there are meaningful distinctions to be made between humans and animals.

If humans are animals, next time a dog humps your leg you can hump back. Work animals are slaves and boy, imagine the reparations. Going to McDonalds puts me in the same moral category as a cannibal. A rat is a dog is a pig is a boy - welcome to PETA heaven.

Imagine there's no morality - it's easy if you try. Hungry?-kill your kids. Attacked by wolves? - you're on your own, chum, I'm out of here. If you have something I want, I can just take it. Sex by year 8 or else it's too late - Welcome to Darwin's heaven.

Just wait until the animals can vote - we'll be just another special interest group. Opossums will be crossing guards. Bugs will wash windows. Welcome to affirmative action heaven.

I guess I refuse to take the post seriously even though it appears to have been written that way. Wake up KK - someone must have stolen your password.

That does it - now I'm naming names

Up to now I haven't named the authors in posts which I have differed with. The idea was that I was trying to minimize the possibility that my comments, rants, etc. would be taken personally. Instead, I would email the people letting them know (in case they noticed the tectonic plates shifting) so they'd have a chance to reply. This seems to have worked well enough up until now.

But it appears that lots of people Google themselves. Under my scheme, they won't find my posts that way. And when you consider all the spam prevention/bozo filtering available in email nowadays, I can't assume that email will get through.

So I'll be mentioning blogs and names from this point forward.

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

The evolution of cooperation

Elsewhere Stephen Den Beste and David Janes are discussing game theory. It all reminds me of a book called "The Evolution of Cooperation" by Robert Axelrod. In it he offers an interesting discussion, complete with many examples of cooperation springing spontaneously in improbable situations. Such as during trench warfare in World War I. It could be worth a look.

Laffer lives

If you want to raise more govt revenue, sometimes you have to lower tax rates. Yes, it's true - the Laffer curve tells me so.

Now stick with me for a second. The Laffer curve is a plot of tax rates on the horizontal axis vs. tax revenues on the vertical axis. Here is an example.

You might have expected such a plot to show that increasing tax rates increase tax revenues at all times. But in fact there is some magic tax rate at which the revenue is at a maximum. It isn't easy to find that value, but knowing that it exists is good, because it shows that under the right conditions lowering tax rates can increase tax revenue. And that's an idea that many people find counterintuitive.

It's not just theoretical, especially with respect to capital gains taxes:
Actual experience also indicates that lower capital gains taxes have a positive impact on federal revenues. The most impressive evidence involves the period from 1978 to 1985. During those years the top marginal federal tax rate on capital gains was cut almost in half-from 35 percent to 20 percent—but total individual capital gains tax receipts nearly tripled, from $9.1 billion to $26.5 billion annually.

What a deal! - liberals can have more tax receipts while the rest of us can increase our wealth and improve the economy. Yet the Laffer curve is anathema to many politicians. Why?

Because it might lead to lowering tax rates. And lower tax rates mean that govt favors are worth less. And if govt favors are worth less, people will spend less trying to influence the govt.

Hmm - could it be that the best way to achieve campaign finance reform is to lower tax rates?

Start of a trend?

Now Virginia might get a Tax-Me-More fund like the one in Arkansas.

They won't do any better than Arkansas is, though. That's because to the people who push tax increases, it's more important who pays than how much is paid.

Not that I would know

This is funny - look for "what a difference 30 years makes".

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

I'll say it again

In the background TechTV is playing (yes, I'm a terminal geek). The show is "Cybercrime", and it's covering a hacker's attack on a hospital and his misuse of some medical records. In response some woman says something like "our medical records aren't safe - there is no federal law to protect them". Aughhh!

Sorry, but at best that's a non-sequitur. With the possible exception of good govt, laws cannot prevent anything. Isn't this obvious enough?

Steal this book

James Carville is back at it again, this time with old partner in crime Paul Begala. They have put out a book called "Buck Up, Suck Up...And Come Back When You Foul Up". It's easy to find out more - just Google for "Carville and Begala suck".

Once upon a time I met a man who was a diver. He told me that you always wanted to dive with a partner and a knife in case you were attacked by a shark. When attack appeared inevitable, you were to take the knife out and start stabbing. Not the shark, your partner - while he's incapacitated, you swim away like hell.

Expecting similar wisdom, I picked up the book. Lo - it has blurbs from Tom Peters and Newt Gingrich. It can't be any worse than the news about the crematorium in Georgia. Since I live in a country where the bookstores still have comfy chairs, and had resolved that these two would never see a dime of my money if I could help it, I grabbed it and hid in the corner to read a few chapters.

There's some good stuff in it. Some of the political anecdotes are interesting, and Carville is nothing if not a BS artist - bull sessions with him and Bill Clinton must have been something to behold . And there's the usual recipes.

As for their guidance for budding political strategists, well.... It's no surprise that first off they admonish you never to give up. And they practice what they preach - just after they declare that the book is not partisan, they start dumping on Kenneth Starr.

They follow up with that peculiar amoral righteousness that they do so well. They even criticize Bill Clinton in spots. But not for his politics of course - they said he should have 'fessed up to make the scandals go away sooner.

So if there's not a car wreck nearby, check it out. Just don't buy it.

Just asking...

Paul Orwin and Ben Kepple have been going at it elsewhere. Mr. Orwin's responses leave me with some questions:

1) If live does not begin at conception, when does it begin? At what point does an individual have a life that we are obliged to honor?

2) Why is the idea that life begins at conception a religious belief? Is there no biological case for this? Sure, there are many things that can go wrong between this point and birth, but that lasts until the day you die.

3) You claimed to have read the minds of "prolifers" in the following:
Extrapolating to the world, and assuming that the rate is the same (it is almost certainly higher everywhere else!), every year ~11 million miscarriages occur!! This is certainly a low estimate, but perhaps valid for this discussion. Why, then, aren?t the pro-life people crushed with grief over this destruction of precious life?? Because that is not the battle they wish to fight! Of course, there might be a solution to this, but it would involve fetal development research, which they cannot accept, because that would involve destruction of the embryos. More to the point, the early term miscarriages might be good, because those embryos might be developing abnormally. Of course, we could fix that (theoretically) with genetic engineering techniques, but that would be monkeying with Mother Nature, playing God if you will. Doing such things is strictly forbidden by our nattering nabobs of neo-conservatism. So either life begins at conception, which is fraught with the problems above, or it is not, in which case the slippery slope intercedes, to the great detriment of the pro-life movement.
It is clear that you have no particular respect for "pro-lifers" (as opposed to what?), but do you really disagree with them? Given the difficulty in working with the unborn at such an early stage and that other lives might be saved more readily with the same effort, do you believe that pursuing medical breakthroughs in this area is a prudent use of our scarce medical research resources? In other words, is that a battle you wish to fight?

If you want to say that the govt has no business poking around in these issues, I'm with you. But there is no need to be so disrespectful of religion.

Then there was this:
By the way, although "moral relativist" is a particularly common slander in these web parts, I will respond. It does not make one a moral relativist to believe that nuanced, coherent arguments can be made on two sides of an issue. It doesn't make one a moral relativist to believe that this particular issue is not as black or white as Mr. Kepple would like. It is, in fact, the mark of poor critical thinking that makes one shout "moral relativist!" at anyone who disagrees with you. I simply believe that it is ok for someone to believe that abortion is wrong, while I happen to believe that it is not always wrong. Other things are always wrong, and other things are always right. There are far too many examples to list of each, and I frankly shouldn't have to explain this shit!
Maybe you do need to explain. After all, I might have thought that killing the innocent was always wrong. If you don't want to be pinned down, could it be a sign that you are in fact a moral relativist? And if you are, is that a bad thing?

Fresher by pressure

TechLive has some interesting stuff about applying very high pressures to food to kill deadly E. coli bacteria. It doesn't work with foodstuffs that contain air, because they will collapse. But water is highly incompressible, so the high pressures do not deform water-saturated foods significantly.

Monday, February 18, 2002

Condom policy

Glenn Reynolds doesn't get it about conservatives and condoms. I won't claim to be a conservative or to speak for anyone but myself. But let me take a shot at an explanation.

I believe that to maintain a stable society, our rules should be such that we reward approved behavior, or as a minimum don't penalize it. Likewise irresponsible behavior should not be accepted passively or winked at.

Pushing condoms violates both rules. We accept the irresponsible sexual behavior as a given, and offer a troublesome failure-prone method as a solution to demonstrably irresponsible people. And we offer further temptation to those who behave via a false sense of security.

We all owe our fellows a minimum standard of responsible behavior. Among these are "support your own kids" and "don't spread disease".

A lot of us are tired of perpetually bending the system to accommodate those who don't play by the rules. And when this rule bending can work to the detriment of those practicing approved behavior, it's especially maddening. You would have us endanger those who are doing right in hopes of convincing those who have proven themselves irresponsible to behave responsibly under especially challenging circumstances. I think that's a lousy deal.

Then comes the twist of the knife. There are plenty of rich foundations out there who lavish money on liberal politicians. Why can't they pay for their own message? No, they have to rope in the feds, so we all have to pay.

We're everlastingly hearing bitching about those bogeymen on the "religious Right". If they're so bad, then it makes sense not to provoke them, right? Why would anybody expect them to be pleased when we spread a message they don't approve of, then make them pay for it to boot?

She must pay...

A young relative called me today and left a message. She said "I saw a Viagra ad and thought of you".

So that's my reward for getting her that leopard-spotted toaster for Christmas... Any evil suggestions for revenge?

Incidentally, the family tree does fork. But thanks for asking.

All you need to know...

1. Political parties always try to enlarge their constituencies.

2. The Republicans are the party of the rich and the Democrats are the party of the poor .

Therefore, the Republicans want you to become richer, and the Democrats want you to become poorer.

Sunday, February 17, 2002

Technology marches on

Thanks to Ben Domenech for the link to the Consent Condom.

Admit it, you want to know...

So what did Tivo watchers replay during the Super Bowl?

If you check that out, look around. The rest of the blog is meatier, and very insightful.

Having it both ways

I'm picking on this guy again. Here's a cut from a post:
You can argue that campaign finanace reform won't solve the problem of money in politics, but it seems to me to be willful blindness to assert that big corporate donors aren't getting special returns and favors for their money. If they aren't, then this means that substantial numbers of large corporations are behaving in a completely illogical manner in giving money. This doesn't pass the laugh test.
Well, what did Enron get for Enron Field? Corporations are notorious for spending money on questionable things, whether for PR or other reasons. And you might be surprised at where some big left-wing anti-business groups get their funding from.

Corporations can't vote. Not having that to offer to Congressmen, they are left to resort to donations which might get them little more than an audience. It's inherently speculative - they can't know how legislation will turn out.

Corporate donations are often presented as offensive when in fact they are defensive. They have to spend a lot of money watching their backs in Washington because they don't have votes to discipline Congressmen with. And they must always fight populist nonsense that leads to abominations like the corporate income tax. If you want them to quit defending themselves, quit attacking.

Now why does he find it so easy to swallow this quote from Robert Reich two posts higher?
"I do the speeches because it's very, very easy money,'' he told the Boston Herald. "I am utterly amazed the businesses are willing to pay so much for my economic expertise . . . but, if they want to pay that much, it's a free market, I'm delighted.''
I'll agree that having Robert Reich speak on economics is irrational, but the fact is that that's the stockholders' business, not the writer's.

Here's the real whopper:
Banning soft money donations is either a case where government would, in fact, know better than private industry what is in their best interests, or else it's true that corporations are getting special treatment and corrupting the democratic process with their big money donations. You can't have it both ways, and either case is an argument for reform.
For one, it's a false choice - there are more alternatives. For another, the idea that govt knows private industry's business better than the businesses themselves do is the height of folly - it's called socialism or Communism.

If you contend that campaign money is corrupting the democratic process, show specific examples, and prove them with the same rigor you'd demand from someone accusing Bill Clinton of selling pardons. And then don't punish the corporations for simply funding campaigns - punish the public officials who are not supposed to submit to corrupting influences. If they're crooked, new campaign finance laws will be useless.

Besides, not all corporations are on the same side, so a lot of the money tends to cancel out. Telecom is a good example of this. You can't even line all corporations up behind repealing corporate income taxes, because as Megan McArdle's excellent post notes, some schemes make no sense without the impact of taxation.

The real scandal is how much govt favors are worth, and how cheaply Congressmen will sell us out. Reduce govt power and the problem will take care of itself.

Staying abreast of Natalija

It's our favorite libertarian hanging out on Valentine's Day. Nice tats.

Piling on 150 years later

This post speaks of the reasons for Southern secession immediately prior to the Civil War. It presents some interesting research, but it misses an important point.
So yes, there may be a Constitutional case for a state's right to secede from the Union, but the Southern states did not secede just to show they could, to demonstrate the proof of the abstract principle of states rights. They seceded because they felt their pecific right to slavery was in danger from Lincoln and the North, and then used the argument of states rights as a justification. I really don't see how anyone can plausibly deny the primary role that slavery played in the decision of the Southern states to secede.
Now suppose you don't consider blacks to be human beings. That's unacceptable today in the US, but was not at the time of the Civil War. Under that assumption, the real issue becomes a dispute over property rights. And are property rights not worth fighting for? It does no good to project the mores of the present onto the past.

I have ancestors who fought on the Union side, and I have spent a lot of time in the South. I have no particular irrational attachment to either side. But I sure hear a lot of sanctimonious BS about the Northern cause. It's no surprise - history is written by the winners, and you'd better have a hell of a case to justify 600,000+ casualties.

Kindly note that the Civil War started in 1861. Lincoln did not sign the Emancipation Proclamation until 1863, and it only freed the slaves in the states in rebellion. The fact is that freeing slaves wasn't all that popular an idea in the North either, and Northerners weren't particularly enlightened on race issues - integrating Boston schools a century later was like pulling teeth. Lincoln himself favored shipping blacks back to Africa - here is a story of his encounter with Sojourner Truth.

Did Lincoln have any reasonable alternatives? Perhaps. Suppose he had tried to see things more from a Southern point of view. He would have noted that ending slavery would have had grossly disproportionate impact on the South. South Carolina was the first state to secede, in no small part because emancipating blacks would have left whites in the minority there. That's above and beyond the gross dislocation in the economy caused by emancipation.

You might say "it was evil - it had to end, case closed, damn the costs". OK, did it have to cost 600,000 casualties and the rest of the legacy? For that you could have spent a lot of money compensating slaveholders for their losses and still come out ahead.

And who should pay? I have to wonder just how many of the rabid abolitionists were in the front lines - it was well noted that the war was a rich man's war and a poor man's fight (see this too).

Don't tell me there's no economic calculation or else we'd be invading several African countries about now.