Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"Climate Change" Not "Global Warming"

"Climate Change" Not "Global Warming"

It is the last day of April--and it is snowing outside.

The nice thing about how the global warming crowd has changed their cliche from "global warming" to "climate change" is that everything fits "climate change." Unusually hot weather? Climate change! Unusually cold weather? Climate change! High winds? Climate change! No wind at all? Climate change!

You would think that there would be some slight embarrassment about this, but when the goal is to make corporations and bureaucracies filthy rich, there is nothing that embarrasses.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Property Taxes & Government Services

Property Taxes & Government Services

I've spent quite a bit of time talking to people around my district today, by phone--ecofriendly campaigning! I keep hearing one recurring complaint about what happens to property taxes when someone moves in with lots of money and builds a nice house.

One of the complaints this evening was that a person moved into this rural community and built a million dollar house. For those of you on the coasts--we have a lot of million dollar views in Idaho, but few million dollar houses. Other houses in the area were then reassessed because of the increase in value--and people living in ancient, not good shape farmhouses now have their property taxes rise dramatically.

One of the points that I made when answering a questionnaire for a PAC several weeks back was that property taxes, which pay for government services, should be determined based on the cost of services--not the value of the house. A 1200 square foot costs the same amount for the fire department to protect if it is worth $100,000 or $400,000. The insurance company has a good reason to charge you a higher premium for the more expensive house, but the fire department doesn't. They need the same equipment, the same number of firefighters, the same amount of water.

It is true that as property values rise, government employee salaries might have to rise as well, and so there has historically been a weak connection between the cost of providing government services and the value of homes--but this is only a weak connection. It would make a lot more sense for property taxes that are paying for government services that are associated with a piece of property to be set based on the likely cost of those services.

Fire services for a bare patch of land would be pretty minimal compared to a house. Without question, even an unimproved land require some fire protection services because of wildfire, but there are no structures to save, and usually, no lives. I suspect that there would be few differences between a one story 1200 square foot house and a one story 3000 square foot house. At most, the differences would be in the number of likely occupants; it might make sense to charge a bit more for five bedrooms vs. three bedrooms.

As the number of stories increase, or distance from a public road or water supply to the dwelling increases, there would be legitimate reasons to increase the fire services charge. It should be obvious that a five story building has much higher service costs than an equivalent low-rise shopping mall (you need those hook and ladder rigs). Some businesses might well justify a higher service cost because of hazardous materials.

Police services are a similar situation. It might well be that a nice house in Eagle has more stuff to steal than a crummy house in a rundown section of Boise. But again, pricing should have some connection to actual demand for services. I would expect that a lot of bars would end up with substantially higher service charges than family restaurants, simply because alcohol does breed fights. Some neighborhoods with big burglary problems would end up paying much higher police service costs for that very reason.

Now, at this point, some of you are going to start screaming "discrimination!" because the poorest neighborhoods in many places have the highest rates of burglary, murder, robbery, rape, etc. This might well be the case (although crimes like motor vehicle theft and burglary are often much more common in nicer neighborhoods), but think very carefully about this, and you will start to see one great advantage to realistic pricing: it provides information from which you can make rational economic decisions.

If property taxes in your neighborhood go up because of an increase in burglaries, you have a very direct incentive to correct this localized problem by being more actively involved in your community and improving the security of your home. If increased neighborhood vigilance, more alarm systems, and more care in locking the house when you leave reduces burglaries--you will see some decline in police service fees within a year or two. There is a strong, fairly direct incentive to take steps that make you and the rest of your neighborhood more secure. The same would be true with respect to fire hazards, especially in rural areas where some people let the weeds build up until the nearest fire department issues an abatement order.

I remember reading some years ago, right after California passed Proposition 13, that the city of Inglewood started to look at doing something like this to get around the freeze in residential property taxes. They went so far as to start evaluating individual commercial buildings for how much work they would be for the fire department. In some cases, particular buildings that were considered especially dangerous would have experienced increases. In some cases, such as the Forum (a sports and concert forum), the net effect would have been a reduction in property taxes--because the Forum was apparently especially well designed with respect to fire exits, and automatic fire suppression.

This is another area where the current system isn't terribly rational. If I build a house with automatic fire sprinklers in it, built largely of non-combustible materials (lots of steel and glass, for example, with tile roofing), it substantially reduces the risk of fire destroying the house. My insurance company may give me a discount on the fire insurance. But I'll pay the same property taxes as my neighbor who builds a house that meets the minimum building codes--but is otherwise a firetrap.

I will admit that I cringe a little at the thought of cities and counties evaluating each and every building for fire and police services. One problem is that it would be a very time consuming process, at least the first time, and it would involve a good bit of rather invasive evaluation. Some people wouldn't be willing to allow that kind of interior inspection--and I can't say that I blame them. Another problem is that there would be inevitably some subjective evaluations on some of these questions--and anything subjective means that there would be lawsuits--and sometimes with good reason.

It might be best to leave this at the level of objectively, externally measurable aspects of buildings and neighborhoods. How many stories is the building? What is the construction method on the building plans? How far from the nearest water supply? How far from the nearest public road? What are the external materials: combustible or not? Do the building plans show a built-in fire suppression sprinkler system? How many fire service calls were there in this square mile area in the last year? How many police service calls?

You could spend a lot of time arguing about the details, of course, and I'm sure that there are some details that I have completely missed. But it would solve a number of problems with the current system--and encourage property owners to make more rational economic decisions about government services.

Talking to Elmore County Republican Party Activists

Talking to Elmore County Republican Party Activists

I have been strongly encouraged to believe that I have a decent shot at winning the Republican primary--which almost guarantees a victory in this district in the general election. I spent last night calling Republican activists in Elmore County--and I discovered that indeed, there might be a real shot at this, so I am trying to talk some of the national gun rights groups to open their wallets enough to pay for the direct mailings required to make this happen.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Beating the Bushes

Beating the Bushes

I mentioned my concern a few days ago about CNN's coverage of America's health care crisis that neglected to mention malpractice insurance as part of the problem. Today, I received one of those pieces of spam that is part of why I just abhor personal injury attorneys:
Hi To All.

Many of you know my story.

In the Fall of 2004 I came across a large ad in my local newspaper soliciting Vioxx users who may have suffered negative side effects.

My direct marketing experience told me this seemed like a very expensive,around about way to find potential clients.

That's when I came up with my "Big Idea" (see White Paper at

Well, to those of you who shared my concept and participated in our marketing program - Congratulations!

We were able to generate thousands of prospective victims and that translated into hundreds of cases that will now be part of the Vioxx settlement and will be heading to the closing table.

I knew it! I knew if we took a page from of 12 years of successful B2B direct marketing, lead generation if you will, we could apply those rules to the legal industry and be successful.

From what we learned from our Vioxx experience we were able to provide successful cases involving Zyprexa, Fosamax and we continue to work on other suspect drugs. SS and Disability cases are also now part of our program.

Our new mass emailing program is effectively beating the bushes for victims needing representation and we are able to spread a wide net in our search yet also pinpoint just the particular area our lawyers are interested in.

So, while we are not permitted to share in the "success" fee, we do share in the knowledge of doing a job well done.

Please visit us for more details on how we can be of service.

P.S. Be sure to get information on our powerful new Motorcycle Accident Aquisition program and ask us about our success in finding and delivering 7 figure Trasylol cases and Medtronics re-call victims.
Check out our new,almost ready website...

Best regards,
Jesse Levine
Services To Lawyers
(610) 825-2629
On the web:
There's no question that there are drugs and medical devices that justify filing suits. Attorneys serve a legitimate--even necessary--role in keeping doctors, pharmaceutical, and medical equipment manufacturers honest, accurate, and looking out for something other than the bottom line. But when I get solicitations like this, or see the sleazy "have you been injured?" ads on cable television, I start to get pretty upset.

Why? There are legitimately injured parties out there. They deserve representation.

There's nothing really wrong with contingency pay for lawyers in cases like these. This provides a way for someone who doesn't have the money to hire a lawyer by the hour to get zealous representation. The real problem is that because we don't have a "loser pays" system, a lot of suits get filed where the attorney doesn't really believes that there is a valid reason for the suit--it's just a form of lottery where if you attach yourself to the right case, you can make obscene amounts of money. In the tobacco lawsuit settlements, some Republicans in Congress proposed limiting the lawyers fees to $3000 per hour--and the Democrats, friends of the little guys, thought that this was unfair to the lawyers.

There is a line, one that probably can't be written into law, where this ambulance chasing really does cross the line into something obscene. Emails like this certainly rub me the wrong way.

Great. Now I have that out of my system....

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Darwin/Nazi Connection

The Darwin/Nazi Connection

Jack Cashill discusses the connection between Darwin and Nazi racial ideology here:

Darwin critics know Ernst Haeckel as the German philosopher whose faked embryo drawings helped generations of clueless students accept Darwinism--“Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” and all that.

But there is still another problem with Haeckel, a darker one than mere fraud. Critics of the Ben Stein film, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, apparently do not know this.

If they had, they would not have savaged Stein for daring to connect Adolph Hitler to Charles Darwin . In Scientific American, for instance, editor John Rennie describes this connection as “heavy-handed.” In Reuters, Frank Scheck calls it “truly offensive.”

It reality, it is neither. If anything, Stein and the makers of Expelled understate this historically irrefutable link, and the key to understanding it is Haeckel.

Born in Potsdam in 1834, Haeckel read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in the summer it was first published in German, 1860, and fell immediately under its sway. He could see straight off that Darwin offered a useful exit strategy from a God-dominated cosmos.

Once liberated, Haeckel created his own secular religion called “Monism.” Not lacking for confidence, he imagined Monism as nothing less than a unified, naturalistic understanding of the entire universe.

“The modern science of evolution has shown that there never was any such creation,” claims Haeckel of the Judeo-Christian tradition, “but that the universe is eternal and the law of substance all-ruling.”

In his 1971 book, The Scientific Origins of National Socialism, Dr. Daniel Gasman of John Jay College shows the “decisive” role that Haeckel played in the development of the German “Volkish” movement, a revival of pre-Christian German culture and spiritualism that found its eventual ecological outlet in the Holocaust.

As it happens, many of the most influential Volkish spokesmen were tied in with either Haeckel or his Monist followers. These were the semi-respectable zanies that found common cause in National Socialism, and they were problem enough.

But it was in the field of eugenics and racial science that Haeckel had the most direct and lethal impact. Germany’s leading advocates of racial anthropology and eugenics, notes Gasman, “were deeply and consciously indebted to Haeckel for many, if not for most, of their ideas.”

Otto Ammon, (1842-1916), a Haeckel disciple, went public with what many Darwinists prefer to keep private, and that is the oddly spiritual nature of the Darwinian experience.

“In obvious imitation of Haeckel,” writes Gasman, “Ammon taught that Darwinism had to become Germany’s new religion. It had to be accepted as a complete Weltanschauung and its ideas had to be encouraged in every facet of life.”

Haeckel’s co-editor at the leading Darwinian joumal Kosmos, Ernst Krause, introduced still another unhinged idea, one that proved to have serious geo-political consequences.

It was Krause who transformed Germans into “Aryans.” In his two influential books, he labored to trace the origin of his imagined Aryan race back to classical Greece and to show the natural fitness of this race of people over time.

When the Nazis came to power, their narrow reading of just who was and who wasn’t an Aryan might have even seemed comic were it not so catastrophic.

I would recommend that you go and read it in full. It makes a nice companion piece to my discussion of American scientists writing about evolution, racism, and eugenics.

If evolutionary theory was misused for genocidal purposes, that doesn't make evolution false. But let's not pretend, as the National Center for Science Education does, that there was no substantial connection--and a perfectly logical connection at that. Ideologies that lead to forced sterilization, genocide, and suppression of alternative viewpoints in the sciences (such as the denial of "Jewish physics" by the Germans) should make their proponents at least a little embarrassed when the connections are pointed out.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Health Insurance: What Do You Really Know?

Health Insurance: What Do You Really Know?

CNN was running a special this evening as part of their "Broken Government" series, and we were so unimpressed with it we turned it off. There seemed a lot of holes in their discussion that made me very skeptical that I was learning much.

One of the claims that they made, based on the Himmelstein et al. study here, is that more than half of U.S. bankruptcies are caused by medical expenses--and they gave a couple of horrifying examples of families with a really sick newborn that ran through the lifetime cap on their coverage. (You didn't know that there was a lifetime cap? Look carefully. It is usually one million dollars in total care.) My first reaction to this was, "I know that these things happen, but it is hard to believe that this is a common thing."

The Himmelstein study is worth reading. I notice several interesting points about it, some of which were either not mentioned by CNN, or which were given so little attention that I missed them:

1. This study is of "medical bankruptcy" which includes bankruptcies caused by illness that caused someone to be out of work--not necessarily just uncovered medical expenses:
Under the rubric “Major Medical Bankruptcy” we included debtors who either (1) cited illness or injury as a specific reason for bankruptcy, or (2) reported uncovered medical bills exceeding $1,000 in the past years, or (3) lost at least two weeks of work-related income because of illness/injury, or (4) mortgaged a home to pay medical bills.
2. Some of the "medical bankruptcies" are "medical" only in a sense that most Americans won't recognize:
Our more inclusive category, “Any Medical Bankruptcy,” included debtors who cited any of the above, or addiction, or uncontrolled gambling, or birth, or the death of a family member.
Well, yes, uncontrolled gambling or addiction can cause bankruptcy, and to the extent that an addiction is a medical problem, I guess you could call these "medical bankruptcies" but that's not what CNN wanted you to be thinking about, was it?

Still, let's not exaggerate how much this contributes. The "Major Medical Bankruptcy" group was 46.2% of the bankruptcies; this goes up to 54.5% when you add the "Any Medical Bankruptcy" category as well.

3. The extent to which medical expenses caused or contributed to the bankruptcy is based on self-reporting by those going bankrupt. How accurately are the bankrupts recognizing the actual cause, and how honestly are they reporting it?

4. Some of those who went bankrupt may have had these $700,000 medical bills, such as one of the families that CNN showed. But to the extent that medical bills contributed to these bankruptcies, it isn't clear how much the medical bills contributed. The "Major Medical Bankruptcy" category included those with "uncovered medical bills exceeding $1,000 in the past years." Look, $1,000 is a lot of money, and certainly, there are people who had $20,000 or $100,000 in medical bills. Bankruptcy makes perfect sense for many people under those conditions. But if someone goes bankrupt on $2,000 in uncovered medical bills, for almost anyone who has better than a minimum wage job, this has to be the straw that broke the camel's back. This can't be a significant factor in causing bankruptcy.

I see from Exhibit 2 that 2% of bankruptcies had "mortgaged home to pay medical bills"--which is probably families that had really, really serious problems. They might well be the families with $700,000 medical bills that exceeded their health insurance, or they might be people who had no health insurance and something bad happened.

5. The report tells us in the summary (as CNN did) that many of those going bankrupt had medical insurance. But in the guts, it also tells us:
A lapse in health insurance coverage during the two years before filing was a strong predictor of a medical cause of bankruptcy (Exhibit 3). Nearly four-tenths (38.4 percent) of debtors who had a “major medical bankruptcy” had experienced a lapse, compared with 27.1 percent of debtors with no medical cause (p < .0001).
Exhibit 3 has one of those tables that is a bit confusing, but shows that 32% of bankrupts had no medical insurance when they filed, and 37.7% had a lapse in coverage in the preceding two years. This isn't surprising; if for any reason (loss of job, ran out of COBRA, couldn't afford to pay for health insurance, stupidly decided that you didn't need it) you were uninsured and ended up with a major medical expense, it would be unsurprising if you ended up going bankrupt.

6. How anyone could honestly read this study as proving that there was a major, widespread crisis of bankruptcy caused by medical bills alone, or even primarily, eludes me. As the paper points out:
Debtors’ out-of-pocket medical costs were often below levels that are commonly labeled catastrophic. In the year prior to bankruptcy, out-of-pocket costs (excluding insurance premiums) averaged $3,686 (95 percent CI = $2,693, $4,679) (Exhibit 5). Presumably, such costs were often ruinous because of concomitant income loss or because the need for costly care persisted over several years. Out-of pocket costs since the onset of illness/injury averaged $11,854 (95 percent CI = $8,532, $15,175). Those with continuous insurance coverage paid $734 annually in premiums on average, over and above the expenditures detailed above.
Now, $11,854 over several years, for some people, would be a great burden. For the very poor, it would make sense to go bankrupt on that amount of money. We can see from the confidence interval that there would have been a small number of these bankrupts with bills that ran into the $100,000 area and above. But if large numbers of people with good jobs are going bankrupt because of uncovered medical bills of $3,686 per year, there's got to be more to the story.

There is a real problem. But I am impressed how much this paper has been distorted as evidence that our health insurance problem is causing lots of people with good jobs to go into bankruptcy.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Expelled Exposed

Expelled Exposed

The National Center for Science Education has a website up now called Expelled Exposed, claiming that Stein's movie doesn't do a very accurate job of discussing the subject. As I mentioned in my review, there was one case in which I had done a bit of reading, involving Professor Gonzalez's denial of tenure at Iowa State University. As I also mentioned, I felt that Stein might have done a more complete job by pointing out Gonzalez's failure to get tenure might have had something to do with his inability to get research grants to Iowa State. Nonetheless, the surprise that Stein sprung on the department chair about his email referring to "religious nutcases" was pretty devastating. (And which NCSE didn't seem to mention. I guess Stein isn't the only person leaving out rather significant details.)

I should also mention that the NCSE also claims that perhaps Gonzalez's failure to get tenure was because, as stellar of a scientist as had been in his 20s, after he received his Ph.D., the volume of his published work in scholarly journals dropped. This raises several interesting possibilities:

1. That Gonzalez went from being a remarkable scientist to suddenly not all that good for no apparent reason.

2. That Gonzalez's decline in getting work published and obtaining research grants might have been been because he had gone off the reservation to ask serious philosophical questions that didn't fit with the conventional wisdom.

Hmmm. I wonder which it could be?

When it comes to how the NCSE website deals with a subject on which I have some expertise--racism and early 20th century America--well, they are at least out of their depth, and in some areas, engaging in some dishonest sleight of hand. (Your tax dollars at work.)

Expelled Exposed claims:
Expelled’s inflammatory implication that Darwin and the science of evolution “led to” eugenics, Nazis, and Stalinism is deeply offensive and detrimental to public discussion and understanding of science, religion, and history.


Since the 1920’s, a narrow group of Christians who rejected the modernizing changes made by mainstream Protestants, have wrongly tried to blame evolution for the ills of modern society. World War I, atheism, and communism have all been attributed to evolution. After World War II, this narrow group added Nazism and Fascism to the horrors supposedly caused by evolution. Such claims occur in the writings of the young-earth creationist Henry M. Morris, a founder of the modern creation science movement, and have been repeated by “intelligent design” promoters and creationist Christian organizations such as Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation Research, and Coral Ridge Ministries.
It is indeed deeply offensive (to the NCSE) but it wasn't a "narrow group of Christians" who drew the connection of evolution to eugenics. Read University of Chicago Zoology Professor Horatio Hackett Newman's Readings in Evolution, Genetics, and Eugenics (University of Chicago Press, 1921), starting at page 465 for a discussion of how governments have solved the problems of feeblemindedness by passing eugenics laws, and fear of how the inferior forms of humans were increasing in America.

Starting on p. 475:
4. The Restriction of Undesirable Germ Plasm

A negative way to bring about better blood in the world is to follow the clarion call of Davenport, and "dry up the streams that feed the torrent of defective and degenerate protoplasm." This may be partially accomplished, at least in America, by employing the following agencies: control of immigration; more discriminating marriage laws; a quickened eugenic sentiment; sexual segregation of defectives; and finally, drastic measures of asexualization or sterilization when necessary.

a) Control of Immigration

The enforcement of immigration laws tends to debar from the United States not only many undesirable individuals, but also incidentally to keep out much potentially bad germplasm that, if admitted, might play havoc with future generations.
Here's another book, by Southwestern College Biology Professor William M. Goldsmith, The Laws of Life: Principles of Evolution, Heredity and Eugenics (Boston: The Gorham Press, 1922). Again, all three of these are brought together, and starting on page 398 is a chapter whose title alone tells you where this is going: "Moulding the Super-Man." The topics to be covered are also pretty typical of where this stuff was headed:
Final "Evolution of Man"--A Broader View Necessary--Our Attitude--The Unfit Work an Injustice upon Society--Eugenic Responsiblity--Human Inheritance--The Jukes--The Edwards--the Kallikas--Relation of Degeneracy to the Community--Inequality of Men--Overproduction of Inferior--Limiting the Unfit--Sterilization...
I could keep going, but this is the sort of racist trash also appears repeatedly in Democratic newspapers of the period 1916-23 that I have read while researching other topics, such as the Sacramento Bee, and the San Francisco Chronicle. The Bee was quoting a prominent birth control advocate of the time about the dangers of the black race outreproducing the white race--and that was the reason why birth control had to be legal. The Chronicle article warned of the danger of "race suicide" if little (white) boys had to grow up in apartments instead of houses.

Now, the NCSE points out that after World War II, prominent evolutionist often argued against eugenics. Well, sure. The smoke rising from the ovens put something of a damper on the party. But when you compare Stein's careful observation that Darwinism wasn't the only component that created Naziism with the NCSE's false claim that this connection of evolution to eugenics and Naziism is "deeply offensive and detrimental to public discussion and understanding of science, religion, and history"--they are either in way over their heads, or lying.

If the NCSE is going to accuse Ben Stein of playing fast and loose with the truth, they better stop doing so themselves.

If HP Employees Were 10% of the Population...

If HP Employees Were 10% of the Population...

This hare-brained proposal would guarantee a Democratic victory in November. From April 24, 2008 NBC channel 11 in San Jose:
There is a buzz in Republican political circles that John McCain could pick former Hewlett-Packard Chairwoman Carly Fiorina, 53, to be his vice presidential nominee.

NBC11 political analyst Larry Gerston said a potential McCain-Fiorina ticket could inspire Republicans who think the country may be on the "precipice of change."
Oh yeah! I could see this! If McCain didn't survive his first term, Fiorina would, based on the HP experience:
  • Outsource national security to China
  • Terrorize existing employees into grim, reluctant action
  • "Buy" Mexico (and somehow, when it was over, most of our police officers and judges would be Mexican)
  • If she did for the dollar what she did for HP stock, the balance of payments problem would be solved quickly, because we would have among the lowest labor rates in the world
I don't think much of McCain, but even he isn't stupid enough to pick Empress Fiorina.

And the bad news is: I don't dislike her anywhere near as much as many HP employees do.

I Woke Up In A Parallel Universe

I Woke Up In A Parallel Universe

The BBC is running articles about how much more civilized much of America is than Britain--in spite of being the land of guns. From April 22, 2008:
On the anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting, all this will feel to some like a rather depressing, if predictable, American story. A story of an inability to get to grips with violence.

At the moment, there is an effort being made to overturn a ban on some types of weapon in Washington DC.

Among those dead against this plan - those who claim it would turn the nation's capital into the Wild West - is a lanky black man (he looks like a basketball player) called Anwan Glover.

Anwan peeled off articles of clothing for our cameras and revealed that he had been shot nine times.

One bullet is still lodged in an elbow.

His younger brother was shot and killed a few months ago.

Anwan was speaking to us in a back alley in north-east Washington. If you heard a gun shot in this neighbourhood you would not feel surprised.

'Gentler environment'

Why is it then that so many Americans - and foreigners who come here - feel that the place is so, well, safe?

"I have met incredulous British tourists who have been shocked to the core by the peacefulness of the place"

A British man I met in Colorado recently told me he used to live in Kent but he moved to the American state of New Jersey and will not go home because it is, as he put it, "a gentler environment for bringing the kids up."

This is New Jersey. Home of the Sopranos.

Brits arriving in New York, hoping to avoid being slaughtered on day one of their shopping mission to Manhattan are, by day two, beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about. By day three they have had had the scales lifted from their eyes.

I have met incredulous British tourists who have been shocked to the core by the peacefulness of the place, the lack of the violent undercurrent so ubiquitous in British cities, even British market towns.

"It seems so nice here," they quaver.

Well, it is!

Violent paradox

Ten or 20 years ago, it was a different story, but things have changed.

And this is Manhattan.

Wait till you get to London Texas, or Glasgow Montana, or Oxford Mississippi or Virgin Utah, for that matter, where every household is required by local ordinance to possess a gun.

Folks will have guns in all of these places and if you break into their homes they will probably kill you.

They will occasionally kill each other in anger or by mistake, but you never feel as unsafe as you can feel in south London.

It is a paradox. Along with the guns there is a tranquillity and civility about American life of which most British people can only dream.

Peace and serenity

What surprises the British tourists is that, in areas of the US that look and feel like suburban Britain, there is simply less crime and much less violent crime.

Doors are left unlocked, public telephones unbroken.

One reason - perhaps the overriding reason - is that there is no public drunkenness in polite America, simply none.

I have never seen a group of drunk young people in the entire six years I have lived here. I travel a lot and not always to the better parts of town.

It is an odd fact that a nation we associate - quite properly - with violence is also so serene, so unscarred by petty crime, so innocent of brawling.

This is a really important point. It wasn't so many years ago that British journalists were making fun of President Bush's daughters getting in trouble for underage drinking, acting like America's drinking laws were some sort of leftover from Puritanism, and we might start burning witches at any time. But the fact is that intoxication plays a major part in high violence rates. A lot of urban sophisticates make the most absurd excuses for public drunkenness--while railing about the evils of gun ownership.

David Hardy at Arms and the Law links to this April 24, 2008 Chicago Tribune op-ed piece by a member of the editorial board:
When a rash of gun murders takes place, it makes sense for the police to do one of two things: renew tactics that have been effective in the past at curbing homicides, or embrace ideas that have not been tried before. But those options don't appeal to Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis. What he proposes instead is a crackdown on assault weapons.

I'm tempted to say this is the moral equivalent of a placebo—a sugar pill that is irrelevant to the malady at hand. But that would be unfair. Placebos, after all, sometimes have a positive effect. Assault weapons bans, not so much.

If there are too many guns in Chicago, it's not because of any statutory oversight. The city has long outlawed the sale and possession of handguns. It also forbids assault weapons. If prohibition were the answer, no one would be asking the question.


As of March 31, there had been 87 homicides in the city. When I asked the Chicago Police Department how many of the murders are known to have involved assault rifles, the answer came back: One.

As it happens, we already have ample experience with laws against these guns. From 1994 to 2004, their manufacture and sale were banned under federal law.

Yet nationwide, the number of murders committed with rifles and shotguns began falling three years before the law was enacted.
Wait a moment! A whole herd of pigs just flew by my window!

I Went Head To Head With My Opponent Last Night

I Went Head To Head With My Opponent Last Night

I cannot imagine him being foolish enough to debate me in any public forum. I showed up at the Elmore County Republican Central Committee meeting last night to introduce myself. So did Senator Corder. I picked three issues of concern:

  • S.1323 (the sexual orientation and gender identity bill that Corder sponsored)
  • Mental Health Services and penny-wise, pound-foolish regulations
  • Expansion of college classes into rural Idaho--without spending a pile of money

I was pleased to see one of those in attendance ask, "Are you the Clayton Cramer?" He meant the historian--and he told me later that he has read everything that I have ever written on the subject of gun control. Ah, fame (even of the minor variety that I enjoy) has its virtues!

Senator Corder emphasized how many generations his family has lived here. He talked about helping individuals do battle with the state bureaucracy using what he called his "magic telephone book" and his opening line for getting bureaucrats to listen, "This is Senator Tim Corder." This would be a fine speech to give to a bunch with no particular ideological interest in what government does--but Republican Party activists, not surprisingly, tend to care about issues--not just making the bureaucracy do its job.

What startled me most of all--and in California, would probably have required Jack Bauer to torture an elected official into admitting--was when Corder told us about how much better off we are because the state hires his trucking company for various contracts. What really startled me, however, was when he told us about his trucks leaving one Transportation Department district and going into another in furtherance of some state contract--and some sort of problem came up. So he used his "magic telephone book", and an hour later, his trucks were again moving.

Now, Corder emphasized that because of his willingness to use his official position in behalf of his private business interests, all of us as taxpayers saved a lot of money. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt on this. But I would regard this entire interaction of private business interests, state contracts, and leaning on a bureaucrat--even if the bureaucrat was in the wrong--as a serious conflict of interest.

The audience asked a lot of useful questions that helped to clearly distinguish Senator Corder and myself. Concerning S.1381, the bill to allow concealed carry permit holders to carry on public university campuses, Senator Corder was very pleased that it didn't even get out of committee. I explained that:

1. It was an emotional reaction to the Virginia Tech tragedy, and wasn't the best solution--which is to solve the mental health problem.

2. As a short-term solution, I supported S.1381, because I have family who spend time on campus--and I want them safe. Allowing concealed carry permit holders to carry on campus makes them safer.

3. There is a very serious question as to whether the current ban on open carry on campus would survive a challenge, based on In re Brickey (Ida. 1902).

Another question that came up was concerning student organizations. Some state university campuses apparently will not recognize or provide any funding to student organizations that are religious in nature. Others treat them like non-religious student organizations. Corder thought it was just fine to allow the university administration to continue this discriminatory policy. I pointed out that being public universities, they have an obligation under the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment to treat religious and non-religious organizations the same.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I Believe This Today, That's For Sure

I Believe This Today, That's For Sure

This article from the April 23, 2008 Australian seems quite plausible today, as it is raining and hailing here--and we are a month into spring:
Disconcerting as it may be to true believers in global warming, the average temperature on Earth has remained steady or slowly declined during the past decade, despite the continued increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, and now the global temperature is falling precipitously.
All four agencies that track Earth's temperature (the Hadley Climate Research Unit in Britain, the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, the Christy group at the University of Alabama, and Remote Sensing Systems Inc in California) report that it cooled by about 0.7C in 2007. This is the fastest temperature change in the instrumental record and it puts us back where we were in 1930. If the temperature does not soon recover, we will have to conclude that global warming is over.
There is also plenty of anecdotal evidence that 2007 was exceptionally cold. It snowed in Baghdad for the first time in centuries, the winter in China was simply terrible and the extent of Antarctic sea ice in the austral winter was the greatest on record since James Cook discovered the place in 1770.
It is generally not possible to draw conclusions about climatic trends from events in a single year, so I would normally dismiss this cold snap as transient, pending what happens in the next few years.
This is where SOHO comes in. The sunspot number follows a cycle of somewhat variable length, averaging 11 years. The most recent minimum was in March last year. The new cycle, No.24, was supposed to start soon after that, with a gradual build-up in sunspot numbers.
It didn't happen. The first sunspot appeared in January this year and lasted only two days. A tiny spot appeared last Monday but vanished within 24 hours. Another little spot appeared this Monday. Pray that there will be many more, and soon.
The reason this matters is that there is a close correlation between variations in the sunspot cycle and Earth's climate. The previous time a cycle was delayed like this was in the Dalton Minimum, an especially cold period that lasted several decades from 1790.
Northern winters became ferocious: in particular, the rout of Napoleon's Grand Army during the retreat from Moscow in 1812 was at least partly due to the lack of sunspots.
That the rapid temperature decline in 2007 coincided with the failure of cycle No.24 to begin on schedule is not proof of a causal connection but it is cause for concern.
It is time to put aside the global warming dogma, at least to begin contingency planning about what to do if we are moving into another little ice age, similar to the one that lasted from 1100 to 1850.
There is no doubt that the next little ice age would be much worse than the previous one and much more harmful than anything warming may do. There are many more people now and we have become dependent on a few temperate agricultural areas, especially in the US and Canada. Global warming would increase agricultural output, but global cooling will decrease it.
Millions will starve if we do nothing to prepare for it (such as planning changes in agriculture to compensate), and millions more will die from cold-related diseases.
There is also another possibility, remote but much more serious. The Greenland and Antarctic ice cores and other evidence show that for the past several million years, severe glaciation has almost always afflicted our planet.
The bleak truth is that, under normal conditions, most of North America and Europe are buried under about 1.5km of ice. This bitterly frigid climate is interrupted occasionally by brief warm interglacials, typically lasting less than 10,000 years.
This is part of why the global warming crowd now is talking about "climate change" because "global warming" is pretty clearly not the case. "Climate change" is a great theme. If it is warming, it is because of carbon dioxide--we have to stop it. If it is cooling, it is because of carbon dioxide--we have to stop it.

What it all comes down to is increasing taxation and control under the pretense of protecting the environment.

Campaigning As Educative Tool

Campaigning As Educative Tool

You know, even if you don't get elected, campaigning for public office is a way to educate people about important issues. (Or so you tell yourself, when you start to confront the likelihood that you aren't going to win.) I spent some time last night talking to representatives of the Idaho Education Association (the teachers' union). I was surprised that when I opened the conversation with my support for vouchers, they didn't seem horribly angry. I also used the opportunity to point out that in most industries, if a simple employer dominates the market, it is generally not good for the wages of workers--and this alone is a reason why public school teachers should be supportive of more private schools.

I also spent a bit of time today talking to a reporter from the Idaho Statesman--I think quite a bit more time than she originally intended to spend. But I have such interesting stories to tell! And it was also a chance to discuss the destructive social consequences of deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill. The reporter is young enough that she doesn't remember what big cities were like before we went down this path.

I will be at the Elmore County Republican Central Committee meeting Thursday night. I wish that Boise County had a functional Republican party organization.

The Modern Castrati

The Modern Castrati

If you don't know about castrati, boys who were emasculated before puberty so that they could sing soprano parts, read here, and try not to get angry. Then read this account from World Net Daily, and say to yourself, "But that barbarism was long ago":

A doctor at the renowned Children's Hospital Boston has launched a new program to drug children to delay puberty so they can decide whether they want a male or a female body, according to a report today in the Boston Globe.

Pediatric endocrinologist Norman Spack, 64, says he started the Gender Management Service Clinic because he found himself encountering 20-somethings who were "transgendered" and in good shape socially, "but they were having trouble getting their physique to conform to their identity.

"I knew the 20-somethings could have better chances of passing if they were treated earlier," he said.


In a question-and-answer session with Globe columnist Pagan Kennedy, she starts the apologetic for doing surgery on children by saying, "Little boys sob unless they're allowed to wear dresses. The girls want to be called Luke, Ted, or James."

"Until recently, children with cross-gender feelings rarely received modern medical care – and certainly not hormone shots. After all, who would allow a child to redesign his or her body?" she asks.

But Spack, she wrote, has started a clinic that "is one of the few in the world to give children treatments that change their bodies."

She reports he uses drugs to delay puberty, "granting them a few more years before they develop bodies that are decidedly male or female."

Spack tells the interviewer he's seen "preadolescents" who have been dressing in underwear of the opposite sex "for years."

"The puberty-blocking drugs work best at the beginning of the pubital process, typically age 10 to 12 for a girl and 12 to 14 for a boy," he said. He's based some of his work on a Dutch model for sex-change, and said the recommendations there are age 16 for hormones that forever change a child's body.

But "for others," he wrote, "you lose opportunities if you wait. [One of my patients, a] transgendered girl from the UK, was destined to be a 6-foot-4 male. With treatment, she's going to end up 5-foot-10."

He said such treatments not only change the physical characteristics of the growing children, but also could leave them sterile for life.

"You have to explain to the patients that if they go ahead, they may not be able to have children. … But if you don't start treatment, they will always have trouble fitting in," he said.

I've previously linked to an article by the head of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University medical school explaining why they stopped doing sex changes because it became apparent that what needed work wasn't genitals, but minds. I think it would be really interesting to do a detailed study of children (as young as 12) who are convinced that they are in the "wrong" bodies. Something tells me that you will find a lot of disrupted family structures, probably some sexual abuse, and a lot of other indications that these kids are in desperate need of help--but not a sex change, or messing with their hormones.

These are the sort of stories that if the masses knew about them, they would be lighting their torches and sharpening their pitchforks for an assault on Dr. Frankenstein's castle.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Did This Cost-Cutting Save Any Money?

I'm told that part of why Idaho Health & Welfare, about five years ago, adopted a much stricter interpretation of their current standards for Medicaid reimbursement of mental health services, was to get spending under control. You might criticize this as a skinflint approach--except that it seems not to have worked. From Budget: Mental Health and Substance Abuse in Idaho (2006), p. 3, we can see that the Medicaid portion of the mental health services budget rose from $59,388,281 in FY 2003 (actual) to $115,447,200 in FY 2005 (estimated). That means Medicaid budget for mental health services almost doubled in a period of limited inflation and at most, a few percent growth in the state population. Huh?

My guess is that the problem may be that by effectively cutting off mental health services in rural Idaho, this strict interpretation meant that a lot of people with mild mental health problems received no services--and by the time their problems became acute, requiring hospitalization, the costs were much higher.

I'm a tightwad on government spending, but there are times that a short-term view of the problems is not only inhumane, it's more expensive.

Pay Scales For Teachers

One of the Idaho Education Association's goals is to have the legislature mandate a minimum starting salary for teachers of $40,000 a year. Look, I do think that teachers are generally underappreciated and often underpaid. But here's a reality check. In Ada County (where the capital is located), and the median household income in 2004 was $50,754 per year, this would mean that a starting teacher would be making probably $10,000 a year more than the average worker (figuring that many but not all of those households have both husband and wife working). Okay, you could argue about this a bit I suppose; a lot of non-teachers here don't have college degrees--although a lot do. But many of those non-teachers have filthy, disgusting jobs that involve significant risk of injury, don't have health insurance through their employer, have no hope of tenure, and work twelve months of the year--not ten.

There are a lot of counties in Idaho where this proposal makes no sense at all. In Elmore County, one of the two counties that make up my district, the median household income in 2004 was $37,148 per year. This would mean that starting teachers in Elmore County would be making almost twice what the average worker does.

When you get to some of the more remote counties, like Madison County, the median household income drops to $32,569 per year. If starting teachers get paid twice what the average person earns (some of whom may have been working for twenty years), this is not going to make any friends for the IEA.

Monday, April 21, 2008



There are some people who are not at all happy about the prospect of the government bailing out either mortgage companies or irresponsible borrowers: people who rent, and who might otherwise be able to buy a house, if the government doesn't bail out the irresponsible. And they have a website.

Art and the Grotesque

My wife has a vague remembrance of reading something by Voltaire to the effect that when we lose sight of beauty, all that is left to art is the grotesque. Two examples, one warped, one truly grotesque if it is true. The squeamish might want to skip this one. From the April 21, 2008 Yale Daily News:
The University will not allow Aliza Shvarts ’08 to display her controversial senior art project at its scheduled opening Tuesday unless she confesses in writing that the exhibition is a work of fiction, Yale officials said Sunday.
The University, meanwhile, acknowledged that it has disciplined two faculty members for their role in allowing Shvarts to proceed with a project that she claimed included nine months of repeated artificial inseminations followed by self-induced miscarriages.
As news of Shvarts’ project swept across the Web last week and attracted the ire of students and private citizens alike, Shvarts and the University engaged in a match of he-said/she-said: Shvarts stood by her project as she described it earlier last week in a news release, while the University — claiming Shvarts had privately denied actually committing the acts in question — dismissed it as a hoax that amounted to nothing more than “performance art.”
And with the scheduled opening of her exhibition rapidly approaching, the University only intensified its criticism this weekend.
“I am appalled,” Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said in a statement Friday. “This piece of performance art as reported in the press bears no relation to what I consider appropriate for an undergraduate senior project.”

While showing diagrams of the exhibit to reporters from the News on Thursday, Shvarts said she planned to construct a four-foot-wide cube made from PVC pipe that would hang suspended from the ceiling of the gallery, wrapped in hundreds of feet of plastic sheeting. Between the layers of this sheeting would be thick coatings of Vaseline, which she plans to use as an “extender” for the display of her bodily fluids.
Shvarts’ plans also include the projection of videos of her possible miscarriages onto the plastic sheeting. These videos show Shvarts, wearing headphones and in a bathroom tub, removing blood from her body and collecting it in disposable cups.
Another piece of "art"--more stupid than grotesque--comes from the August 18, 2006 Daily Telegraph--and definitely you don't want to click over to this, unless you want to see the "artist" naked with the dead pig:
After pickled sheep, unmade beds and painting with elephant dung, some questioned where modern art could go next.
Kira O'Reilly will provide her own answer today by spending four hours naked, hugging a dead pig - at the taxpayer's expense.
The controversial Irish performance artist will invite one person at a time to watch her sit in a specially-constructed set and perform a 'crushing slow dance' with the carcass in her arms.
She claims the bizarre exhibition is an attempt to 'identify' with the pig, which she cuts with a knife during the show.
Visitors to the Newlyn Art Gallery in Newlyn, Cornwall - funded by taxpayers and the lottery - will be allowed to watch her for ten minutes. The gallery has defended its decision to stage the one-off show, but animal rights campaigners have labelled the performance 'sick'.
Anita Singh, spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said: 'This seems to be a desperate cry for help that merits visits from mental health counsellors, not voyeurs.
'As Miss O'Reilly seems to depend on the shock value of using a murdered pig as a prop, perhaps lacking the talent to make it as a proper artist, may we suggest she take up a day job instead to pay the bills. This is not entertainment - this is sick.'
Under the title 'Inthewrongplaceness', the piece is billed as a 'slow crushing dance with a pig for one at a time'.
For once, I can agree with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals about something: British taxpayers shouldn't be forced to fund this pretentious trash.

HR 5613: Huh?

HR 5613: Huh?

If you want to know how big and complicated public policy is, HR 5613 currently before Congress is a good example. I'm generally skeptical of federal spending on direct aid to the poor, for the simple reason that this is properly the job of the states. But the complexity of the Medicaid regulation changes that HR 5613 is trying to stop just makes my head spin.

As near as I can figure out, Congress passed something called the Deficit Reduction Act of 2006, which was supposed to reduce Medicaid spending on certain programs. The claim that this leftish bunch makes is that the Administration's new regulations go far beyond Congressional intent. Some of these changes are very basic and important questions; others are fairly complex regulatory changes that certainly make a difference, but I am not finding any statements of costs or benefits:
All of the regulations will shift costs to states and localities by limiting federal support for services that have typically been supported partly by federal funds and are widely seen as important and necessary.
For example, one regulation will eliminate all federal matching funds for various Medicaid-related activities designed to help low-income children — such as outreach, enrollment assistance, and health care coordination for these children — if the activities are performed by school personnel. The Administration concedes that these are proper activities in support of Medicaid; it simply does not want to help pay for them any longer when a state Medicaid program contracts with schools to provide them.[9] This is a sharp departure from longstanding Medicaid practice. In fact, in 2000, three federal agencies published a guide to school-based health outreach noting that schools represent the “the single best link” for identifying and enrolling eligible low-income children in public health coverage.[10] It also is inconsistent with statements the Administration issued when vetoing children’s health legislation last year that the Administration wants states to reach and enroll more of the poor children who are eligible for Medicaid but are uninsured.
And what, exactly, does this mean?

If "outreach" means that we are paying someone to run around looking for low-income children who aren't currently insured, and making sure that they are insured, I cringe just a little--salaries are expensive, and if there isn't enough real work to do, bureaucrats are known for going and looking for ways to spend more money on whatever good deed they think will make their position secure.

If it means making the information readily available to poor people so that they are aware that they are eligible for Medicaid, this doesn't bother me. Printing flyers, perhaps putting together a public service announcement, and persuading radio and TV stations to run it for free, isn't so expensive.

And this is just one part of the Medicaid regulatory changes that HR 5613 is supposed to delay for a year. I fear that I would have to invest a lot of time and money in figuring out exactly what the proposed changes do. These are the kind of nitpicking details where you start to have to rely on people that you trust to tell you what is really going to happen--and this assumes that they are both honest, and genuinely knowledgeable about what is going to happen.

The National Alliance on Mental Ill wants HR 5613 passed because there are a number of services for the low-income mentally ill that they think will be damaged by the regulations that are scheduled to take effect soon. That inclines me to think that whatever the intentions of these Medicaid regulation changes are, the effects will be bad for the mentally ill.

This report from April 18, 2008 Medical News Daily (a British publication) indicates that HR 5613 enjoys remarkably bipartisan support--passing out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee 46-0. If this had passed on party lines, or if there were a number of votes against (on either side of the aisle), I would wonder if there might be a strong argument in favor of the proposed regulations, and against HR 5613. I find it hard to believe that every single Republican on that committee is a squishy liberal.

Elitist, And Proud Of It!

Elitist, And Proud Of It!

I'm always amused at how honest some Democrats are about their elitism. From Does a Little Obama 'Elitism' Go a Long Way in Politics? With: Joan Juliet Buck, Lesley Stahl, Liz Smith and Whoopi Goldberg

LESLEY: Whoopi, I think the fear the Democrats have with this issue is not because he’s a person of color. It’s because the Republicans latch onto this exact kind of argument time and again and make it work for them. As with Adlai Stevenson, with Dukakis, with Kerry, with Gore …

WHOOPI: Well, what’s the matter is the Democrats are an elitist group. That’s the truth.
A few pages later:
LIZ: Well, you know, there are a few elitist touches. I mean, Mrs. Kerry – formerly Mrs. Heinz – did go someplace, to one of those fast food restaurants. And when they offered her chili she said, "What’s chili?" That’s pretty high up there for being elitist.

WHOOPI: But you know, I’m sure that these guys, these nice Republican boys, if they came down and we said, "Do you want some neck bones?" They wouldn’t know what the hell we were talking about. The people who are out of touch are the people who are doing most of the talking. Because a lot of people who are doing most of the talking are not affected by the issues that people are talking about.

JOAN: Do you mean the press?

WHOOPI: Obama may not be affected by a lot of the issues, but his wife knows what they are.

JOAN: Isn’t there also the fact that, in a country as large and as diverse as ours, it is impossible to appeal to both the guy in the backwoods with his hunting rifle and his dog, and the Hispanics in the southwest and those weird people in Maine eating very little and praying a lot.
What's chili?

Imagine if Restaurants Worked Like Public Schools

I just finished filling in the Idaho Education Association's candidate questionnaire (a very good one, by the way, if a bit unintentionally self-revealing), and I found myself wondering: What is we had a public restaurant system similar to our public school system, that provided lunch and dinner to every Idaho resident who lived in that restaurant district, funded entirely from taxes?

1. No one would go hungry--especially the poor.

2. We could guarantee that everyone was served a nutritious and well-balanced meal. Now, a lot of people wouldn't eat their salad or vegetables, and some people might not eat enough of the broiled chicken, but at least they would have the opportunity.

3. I'm sure that the public restaurant system would provide at least one vegetarian entree. It might even (after lawsuits were filed by the ACLU) offer at least one kosher meal and one halal meal. But in many parts of Idaho, a lot of those specialty meals would be stored in freezers waiting for an Orthodox Jew or Muslim to show up. I suspect that they wouldn't be terribly appetizing by the time someone came to eat them.

4. Vegan meals? I rather doubt it. There's no Constitutional basis for demanding the government provide what a strong majority would regard as bizarre or unnecessary accommodations.

5. There would be a few kooks (or so some would call them) who would insist that their religion requires them to eat meals with their family in a private setting. Well, they would be free to do so. But there would be no reduction in your taxes that paid for the public restaurant system. You chose not to use the perfectly fine public system that is already in place.

6. Of course, being a public system, the restaurants would have very, very limited options on refusing service. I suppose that "no shoes, no shirt, no service" might survive court challenge, but someone who hadn't bathed in a month (and there are homeless people in that situation) would have just as much right to eat at the table next to you as anyone else. Much of the inappropriate behavior that would get you bounced out of a private restaurant would have to be tolerated--and the public restaurant workers wouldn't be happy about this, either.

7. Because only pretty gross incompetence or misconduct would get a public restaurant worker fired, some of the waiters would be surly, and completely unconcerned about whether they did their jobs right. Most of them would make a serious attempt at doing their jobs, of course--but seeing that you didn't get rewarded any better for doing more the minimum necessary would, over time, take away your incentive to work hard.

8. Private restaurants work hard at keeping costs under control as well as looking for new and interesting dishes to attract in customers--because they have competitors. The public restaurants would have effectively no competition--since you couldn't on a regular basis eat outside of your district.

9. If you weren't happy about the food or service provided in the public restaurant system, you would be, of course, free to go to private restaurants. You would still be paying taxes to support a public restaurant system that you didn't like or use. After all, this way we can be sure that no one goes hungry, no matter how poor they were.

10. If you suggested that this wasn't fair--that you shouldn't be required to pay for a system that you didn't want to use--indeed, might regard as violating your right of conscience--the Idaho Restaurant Workers Association would insist that the public shouldn't be forced to fund your weird restaurant choices. They would hunt around until they found a biker bar somewhere in the U.S. with swastikas on the walls and tell the public that this is where money would be spent in a voucher system.

11. Because most people couldn't afford to fund the public restaurant system and either buy their own groceries or eat out very often in private restaurants, the private restaurant market would be highly distorted. It would have a few places that catered to the very wealthy, or it would have a lot of places that provided meals for those who felt that the public restaurant system was failing them. Consequently, the private market would be overwhelmingly dominated by kosher, halal, vegetarian, and vegan restaurants. Not surprisingly, many of those who were not happy with the public system would not be particularly enthused about these other choices.

12. The shortage of funding, because most people were already paying for the public system, would mean that private restaurants that weren't for the wealthy would have continual struggles to stay afloat financially. The pay for workers in the private restaurants would probably be lower than it was for the public system employees, and often, private restaurant workers would be doing so because they saw what they were doing as a mission: to provide members of their faith/eating belief system with an alternative to the public system.

13. Because the public restaurant system was effectively a monopoly (with 95% of all meals served being ultimately paid for by the state government), wages for workers would be lower than in a free market system--but the Idaho Restaurant Workers Association would simply refuse to believe that working for a monopoly system was bad for their wages--and they would then point to the lower wages in the private restaurant industry as proof this, with no awareness that there was a significant market distorting effect caused by the monopoly.

Okay, I've had enough fun with this analogy. Like most analogies, it isn't perfect. I'm not proposing that we scrap public education--only provide a voucher system to provide more choices. There are definitely parents out there who, if they had to pay for education for their kids, either couldn't afford it, or would put a higher priority on beers, cigarettes, and meth.

But let's not exaggerate this problem. It costs somewhere between $600 and $2400 a year to put basic foodstuffs on the table on the table for a child. A private school tuition right now costs about $3600 to $5000 a year (depending on the school). There are parents who would simply neglect their children's education, if the government didn't provide for it free of charge. There are parents who do neglect their children's need for food--and the government doesn't run a public restaurant system. That's why we have laws about child neglect--and they are needed. Over the years, I have met very, very few parents who didn't care at all about whether their children received an education. Nearly all parents care some, and many care a lot.

There are parents who, without question, would make poor decisions about what sort of education their children should receive--just like there are parents who keep the house stuffed with potato chips, cookies, and soft drinks, producing the current epidemic of obese kids. Still, I've met a lot of fat parents with fat kids who still cared about getting their kids a decent education. I can't recall ever running into a family where the parents had healthy, properly nourished kids but who didn't care if their kids were getting a good education.

How Affirmative Action Hurts Blacks

It is not surprising that affirmative action works to the detriment of whites and Asians (who are no longer racial minorities, when it comes to affirmative action). But this recent report from the April 21, 2008 Inside Higher Education reveals that what Thomas Sowell has repeatedly written about--how affirmative action hurts blacks--is still the case:

A report being released today by Education Sector suggests that, at many campuses, the gap in the graduation rates of black and white students is embarrassingly large, raising questions about the experience of black students once enrolled. The report finds that some institutions — including those outside the elite ranks of private higher education — have strategies that result in black students graduating at relatively similar rates to white students, while other institutions appear to accept gaps of 25 percentage points or more in the rates.

The new report, “Graduation Rate Watch: Making Minority Student Success a Priority,” is largely based on data that colleges are required to report on graduation rates, broken down by race, under the Student Right-to-Know Act, which was enacted in 1990 with a major of drawing attention to the historically low graduation rates of athletes. While that was the goal, the law required colleges to report graduation rates on all students, for comparison purposes, making possible the kind of analysis Education Sector has done.

Nationally, about 57 percent of students at four-year institutions graduate within six years — with some private colleges reporting rates well above 90 percent year after year while others have rates that are quite low. Black students disproportionately attend colleges with low graduation rates for black students. Only about 30 percent attend colleges with six-year graduation rates of 50 percent or higher. About 50 percent of black students attend colleges with six-year graduation rates for black students that are less than 40 percent.
The article puts the entire discussion in terms of the failure of colleges to make sure that black students receive enough assistance to graduate. But why do black students need all this extra assistance? Even at historically black colleges (many of them public institutions that were originally set up by Southern states that didn't want black students at the white colleges), there is a big problem with the more competitive institutions:
The study briefly explores trends in graduation rates at historically black colleges, where average rates for all institutions are low, but where there is a split between institutions with competitive admissions (which tend to have high rates) and other institutions, which tend to have low rates.
Why? And what does this have to do with affirmative action? A lot of the elite universities desperately want black students to attend. At the same time, blacks are disproportionately concentrated in some of the worst public school systems: Los Angeles, D.C., New York City, Chicago. Many of the graduates of these often hellhole high schools who are college bound have been inadequately prepared for the demands of Harvard, or Yale, or UC Berkeley.

So what happens to students who might have able to survive the demands of UC Berkeley, but get lured into Harvard by extraordinary scholarships? Or what about the student whose grades and test scores would have put him in the middle of the class at San Jose State, but instead goes to UC Berkeley? He is competing with students (white, Asian, and black) who were admitted without any special treatment, and whose SAT scores may average 200-300 points higher, because their K-12 education was markedly superior. High dropout rates are inevitable.

Is it better for a black kid from an inferior inner city school system to drop out of Harvard or Stanford, or to graduate from UCLA or San Jose State? College administrators can feel good about themselves for admitting students under affirmative action who aren't ready for the rigors of their institution. But I rather doubt that it is making the students who drop out feel good about themselves.

Barack Obama's Associates

It just keeps getting better and better. RedState points to this video of Larry Lessig, one of Obama's advisors on technology policy, where he runs this video of a very effeminate Jesus stripping down to his loincloth while singing the Gloria Gaynor song, "I Will Survive" before getting run over by a bus. Lessig admits that some people actually are offended by it, but doesn't have any idea why. "I just don't get it."

I look forward to Lessig doing something similar involving Mohammed. Or would that be dangerous?

Obama's Lying Again

Patterrico's Pontifications discusses Obama's involvement with the Joyce Foundation, the major funder of gun control efforts in the U.S. I (and many others) have also blogged about Obama's previous involvement with the Joyce Foundation--while claiming that he believes that the Second Amendment protects an individual right. Patterico has managed to combined a number of quotes from Obama in which he claims that the Joyce Foundation grants were only trying to promote "dialogue" about reasonable gun control. If Obama really believes this, then he and his fellow board members are not very bright.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Intelligent Design and the Pursuit of Science

Intelligent Design and the Pursuit of Science

I had a friendly and thought-provoking conversation with a reader, an economist, who seems to misunderstand the reason why there are scientists asking the questions that are called "Intelligent Design."

Yes, Newton was a religious man, and yes, he noticed there were flaws in the current naturalistic explanations in astronomy. What was his response? Did he say perhaps we should look for nonnaturalistic explanations? That we should look for theistic causes beyond the natural ones (such as God purposely intervening in the motion of the planets to cause them to behave differently than they should have naturally). Thank God (and I mean that literally) that he did not. What a disaster for science if he had. Understand what theistic science means in the context of intelligent design theory. It is not a belief that the natural laws that govern biology were created by God. It is a belief that natural laws do not explain biology, so the idea of natural laws is to be dumped in favor of explaining the details by appeal to a supernatural agency. This bears no resemblence to the working philosophy of Newton and Boyle.

My response is this. If intelligent design advocates were saying, "Don't bother trying to understand anything--it's all God's handiwork, and we have no reason to try" he would have a valid point. But looking over the list of scholarly papers published by people like Michael Behe and Scott Minnich suggests that they have hardly abandoned the pursuit of science in an orthodox manner. They are merely saying, "You know, some of what we are seeing is unlikely to be a blind process. Let's keep that possibility open for discussion--especially since there are some serious problems figuring out how some of these components got here by the blind evolutionary process that we have all been assuming up to now."

Intelligent Design is not a return to medievalism. It is saying that the current theory, built on methodological naturalism, has some significant holes in it. As I mentioned a few weeks back, even orthodox biologists seem to be aware that the current theory has some significant flaws. As I also mentioned a few weeks back, the time available from sterilizing heat to the first surviving microfossils is somewhere between 300 and 500 million years--short enough that a blind, random process for the formation of life from inorganic materials seems implausibly short.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Picking Up Trash

I went to the Men's Prayer Breakfast this morning at my church to talk about mental illness. My experience is that many people, unless they have studied it in college, or had the misfortune to have family or friends affected, are at best ignorant, and serious misconceptions about mental illness from the popular culture.

Afterwards, a group from the church was headed out to pick trash along Victory Blvd. between Eagle and Cloverdale, since we have taken that on as a responsibility. We put on our orange safety vests, grabbed our safety orange trash bags, and started walking.

I wasn't surprised by the number of empty--or partly empty--alcoholic beverage containers. I think Idaho is one of the states where an open alcohol container is a no-no. (I never bothered to find out because I don't drink.) If you think that you are in danger of being pulled over at night, discarding the beverage probably makes sense. What startled me was the number of cigarette butts I found along the side of the road. Doesn't anyone use an ashtray? It isn't like they are options on cars.

One of the recurring arguments about punishment of crimes is severity vs. certainty. There is a school of thought that says that the certainty of punishment matters more than the severity of punishment. Pretty obviously, a $50 fine for speeding would be a strong discouragement if every single time you exceeded the speed limit, you were pulled over and ticketed. This would probably more reliably stop people from speeding than a $1000 fine that had only a tiny chance of being assessed.

These cigarette butts should be a pretty good indication of this. Idaho Code 18-3906 provides for a $300 fine for littering along public roads. (And amusingly enough, the court may order the defendant to pay $50 of the fine be paid "to the person or persons, other than the officer making the arrest, who, in the judgment of the court, provided information that led directly to the arrest and conviction of the defendant." A finder's fee! Excellent incentive system!)

A $300 fine for failing to put the butt in your ashtray is truly huge--and yet the chance of getting caught and fined--even with that finder's fee provision--is trivial. I don't know anyone who has ever been fined for littering. Pretty clearly, even a $2 fine--if it was nearly certain--would achieve the desired result.

I'm not suggesting that there is any solution to the littering problem (except trying to raise the consciousness of litterers--don't hold your breath), just that this is a reminder that certainty matters more than severity.

UPDATE: A reader reminds me that sometimes these "incentives" have their own set of problems--such as people looking for a way to get rich by turning others in. I would hope that a $50 fee, even for the poorest Idahoan, wouldn't encourage intentional false reporting.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

This is Ben Stein's new movie. I will confess, I had some misgivings going into this that it might be the right's equivalent to Michael Moore's "documentaries." There are aspects of it that seem intentionally mocking key elements of the Moore style. For example, trying to get into the Smithsonian to talk about the retaliation against Richard Sternberg, a scientist who allowed a peer-reviewed piece that mentioned intelligent design to be published in a Smithsonian-affiliated science journal. There's a cartoon about the origins of life casino clearly intended to parody the history of America in Bowling for Columbine.

I also had some nervousness when the opening credits were, very cleverly, added into archival footage of the building of the Berlin Wall. I feared that perhaps this was going to be heavy-handed.

Nope! The first half was actually quite amusing, once we got past the credits, partly because of Ben Stein's deadpan delivery, and partly because the film uses a lot of very funny 1930s movies clips intercut with what otherwise might be excessive numbers of talking heads.

The primary point of the film is that the biological sciences (and to a lesser extent, astronomy) has reached a point of simply refusing to allow any serious criticism or discussion of any alternative models--and interviewed a number of people whose careers have been cut short for raising questions or even, in some cases, simply for pointing out that there are legitimate scientists who suggest that methodological naturalism (the dogma that says that only non-theistic explanations are allowed or even considered) might be a mistake.

Now, I don't know how fairly Expelled portrays all of these incidents. I know that, if anything, they understated what happened to Richard Sternberg. With respect to Guillermo Gonzalez, he is an astonishing superstar of astronomy. That he was turned down for tenure for having argued that perhaps there's some merit to intelligent design claims is certainly a plausible explanation. I would have preferred that Stein at least mentioned the claim that it was because Gonzalez wasn't very good at getting research grants that he was denied tenure. Still, Stein does a nice job where he interviews Gonzalez's former boss. He asked this guy to explain the email he sent to the faction that was trying to get Gonzalez kicked out of Iowa State where he referred to "religious nutcases." It was obvious that the department chair didn't expect Stein to actually ask him about this. I would say in conjunction with Gonzalez's publication history, the most logical explanation for failure to get tenure is the profound contempt that much of the academy has for ideas that even slightly smack of any religious beliefs.

Where the film gets a lot heavier is where Stein points to the connection between Darwinism and Naziism. This is hardly new; Stein does a nice job of using Nazi propaganda films justifying eugenics that are awash in Darwinian terminology. Stein is also fair in pointing out that while Darwinism was a major factor in Nazi racial ideology, it was not the only factor. Certainly, there are big chunks of leftover Romanticism, nationalism, and radical environmentalism that went into brewing up Naziism. But Naziism without Darwinism, as most historians admit, would have been a very different beast. Probably still beastly--but just differently beastly.

Stein also interviews a left-of-center philosopher who does raise some interesting points about how evolution, because it deprivileged man, reducing him to just another animal, fundamentally changed the notion of ethics. Stein interviews Professor William Provine, who is a loud and vigorous atheist, and who argues that evolution inevitably leads to no God, no fundamental ethics, and no free will. In that respect, Provine is right up there with Clarence Darrow, whose defense of Leopold and Loeb, two smart rich kids who murdered a 14 year old boy (probably after raping him) was that they had no choice--they were simply biological organisms driven by biology to do what they did, and therefore not fully responsible for their actions. In light of the role that Darwinism played in Naziism, and the various eugenics movements here in the U.S., one would think, if Provine had any awareness at all of where his idol has taken us before, that he would recognize the dangers involved.

Like any good Michael Moore documentary, there's some scary music in places. But scary music doesn't add much when you are going through one of the T-4 species improvement extermination facilities, and through Dachau.

At one point, the film is trying to give some idea of the enormous complexity of the interior of a cell. The graphics are impressive--but I wish that they had made a bit more of an effort to explain what you are seeing: how DNA unzips; becomes a pattern for creating messenger RNA; how transfer RNA ends up used to manufacture proteins, folds them for a purpose, and then exports it. Unlocking the Mystery of Life does an excellent job with this same subject--but it would have taken a bit of the humor out of what is still fundamentally a film intended to entertain (and maybe do a little educating).

By far the best part of the film is the very end, where Stein interviews Richard Dawkins, the biologist who insists that teaching children about God is a form of child abuse. Dawkins insists that intelligent design is absurd--and then Stein asks Dawkins a few questions which leads Dawkins to admit that perhaps life on this planet was intentionally created by another species, which must have come about because of evolution. And it wasn't like Stein was being very manipulative. Dawkins strikes me as a very angry person--but not necessarily all that bright.