Sunday, January 29, 2006

Statistically, American public schools do not perform worse than private schools, once adjustments for student demographics have been made. Read about it in today's Times.

This is disgusting:
The U.S. Army has been detaining Iraqi women to help track down husbands or fathers who are suspected terrorists, according to documents released Friday and a Knight Ridder interview with a female detainee who was released Thursday after four months in prison.
Not to mention against the Geneva convention.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

This is pretty fucking weird.

Remember the Neo-Nazi professor who was fired from some small college when it was found out he was a Neo-Nazi? It hit the news about a year ago. See here for a news story from around that time.

In a recent essay, he claims it was all a research experiment:

...why and how did I become a neo-Nazi (in fact, a rather prominent one) in February, 2005? In truth, I have never been a person of passionate political persuasion. Yet tyranny from either the right or the left has forever seemed anathema to me. And, after producing a novel centered upon highly personal, passionate and emotion material, I decided to shift gears and enter the political realm, for the purpose of gathering research to write a book on a political subject in which I could personally partake and which was “fringe” in the most essential aspect of the word. Those literary ruminations brought me to the National Socialist Movement, the most flashy neo-Nazi group I could find. Flashy, to be sure. Completely skewed in political and social outlook, no doubt. So, I downloaded an application form on February 14, 2005, and, after sending a $25.00 check and waiting about a week, my application was heartily accepted.

Accept me? Well, of all things, why not? I was hardly surprised. After all, not many academics holding doctorates applied. In fact, not many individuals with an education over the high school level applied. With me, the NSM performed a true set of kudos. They put me on their broadband radio station immediately. My weekly show, “White Viewpoint,” spewed venom against Jews, Blacks and Hispanics. All I needed to do was to keep harping on the same pedantic nonsense about Jewish world conspiracy, the “Browning” of America,” and the failure of our present leaders in Washington to stem the tide of illegal immigration from south of our national borders. If I could give the party line in an articulate manner, back up my reasoning with reference to actual current events, and quote from historical, examples, all the better!

Monday, January 23, 2006

So I've just gotten around to reading Osama's letter to America:

If Bush declines but to continue lying and practicing injustice [against us], it is useful for you to read the book of "The Rogue State", the introduction of which reads: If I were a president, I would halt the operations against the United States.
Huh? What book is he talking about? Anyone know? I've been looking for some bedtime reading lately.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Daniel Drezner has some remarks about some recent writing on Iran in the liberal blogosphere (predictably, there is much Bush bashing). I'm largely in agreement with him that most commentary from liberal bloggers here misses the point, but one claim he makes seems wrong to me: that, to date, the United States has not mismanaged the Iran issue. Drezner writes,

Consider what the U.S. has done vis-à-vis Iran:

1) Deferring to the EU-3 on negotiations towards Iran;

2) Backing away from having the IAEA refer Iran's noncompliance to the UN Security Council unless and until there was overwhelming international support from key members in that organization for the move;

3) Sharing their intelligence about Iran's nuclear ambitions with all the relevant governments;

4) Endorsing a Russian compromise proposal that would have allowed Iran to continue a nuclear energy program;

5) Securing the support of China and Russia in ratcheting up the rhetoric towards Iran.

My view is the exact opposite. I've been holding off on posting it since one never knows what initiatives are at works behind the scenes and so its difficult to assess the "Iran policy" of this administration. But assuming that publicly available information is all there is, the Bush administration has not handled Iran well at all.

Number 5 on Drezner list is an exceedingly mild accomplishment, entirely rhetorical in nature. Neither of those countries has come at all close to supporting military action, nor will they ever. Numbers 3 hardly deserves a mention. Numbers 1,2, and 4 are all passive in nature - the US has endorsed a proposal or initiative made by someone else.

What should the US have done? Engage Iran, obviously. Offer direct negotiations on the issue and put the removal of US sanctions on Iran and full relations on the table. Iranians have been complaining of US sanctions for years, and their complete removal would arguably have a significant economic impact.

But the United States never put this on the table. The rationale, as far as I can tell, is that such an action would "reward" nuclear proliferation. This may be so, but other options - a nuclear Iran, or air strikes on Iran, risking some sort of Iranian retaliation in Iraq - seem to be far more unpleasant options. Moreover, pursuing nuclear weapons takes a lot of resources, commitment, money. It creates ostracism from the international community. It brings the danger of pre-emptive war from threatened nations. "Rewarding" Iran by coming to terms is unlikely to play a major role in pushing any nations towards nuclear programs.

All of this is beside the point now. I fully support an air strike on Iran to take out their nuclear facilities - preferably by Israel, as that would let the US avoid a possible Iranian retaliation in Iraq, which would make the job of the US forces in Iraq still more complicated. But we'll never know if a compromise along the lines outlined here would have been possible.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

At The Corner, Kathryn Jean Lopez thinks the following is "good sense:"

"I'm always a little bit irritated when I hear the criticism of abstinence, because abstinence is absolutely 100 percent effective in eradicating a sexually transmitted disease," Mrs. Bush said....

Let me spell this out really slowly. The question is not whether abstinence itself is effective. The question is whether spending money telling people about abstinence is effective. If people are going to have sex regardless of what you tell them at school, then if you are serious about preventing STDs, you ought to spend your energy talking about safe sex instead.

In fact, while research has shown that educating people about condom use creates lasting effects, there is not a single study demonstrating any long-term benefits from abstinence education.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

I like how put the 'Nine knifed in Moscow synagogue' under 'Middle East.' Screen capture:

Usually, Moscow is not considered part of the middle east. The logic seems to be that anything involving jews is obviously a middle eastern affair.

This column by Steven Landsburg is a good demonstration of why so much economic commentary is so bad. Landburg sets out to demonstrate that turning off life support for patients who can't pay for it is a good idea:

Tirhas Habtegiris, a 27-year-old terminal cancer patient at Baylor Regional Medical Center in Plano, Texas, was removed from her ventilator last month because she couldn't pay her medical bills. The hospital gave Ms. Habtegiris' family 10 days' notice, and then, with the bills still unpaid, withdrew her life support on the 11th day. It took Ms. Habtegiris about 15 minutes to die.

Bloggers, most prominently "YucatanMan" at Daily Kos, are appalled because "economic considerations," as opposed to what the bloggers call "compassion," drove the decision to unplug Ms. Habtegiris. I conclude that YucatanMan either doesn't understand what an economic consideration is or doesn't understand what compassion is, because in fact the two are not in conflict.
Bold words; you'd think from reading them that Landsburg would follow them up with an airtight case for his proposition. But, no: the main point of Landsberg's argument is that, if asked at the right occasion, poor people would not choose to guarantee that they are kept on life support:

The back of my envelope says that a lifetime's worth of ventilator insurance costs somewhere around $75. I'm going to hazard a guess that if, on her 21st birthday, you'd asked Tirhas Habtegiris to select her own $75 present, she wouldn't have asked for ventilator insurance. She might have picked $75 worth of groceries; she might have picked a new pair of shoes; she might have picked a few CDs, but not ventilator insurance.

No evidence whatsoever is presented for this (and the back of the envelope calculation seems to be off anyway). Landsburg's argument is based entirely on his own prejudices.

What pisses me off though is not Landsburg argument or his column per se. What pisses me off is that Landsburg presents a strong version of this thesis up front ("I conclude that YucatanMan either doesn't understand what an economic consideration is or doesn't understand what compassion is" ) and then follows it up with an argument that crucially depends on missing facts. Its downright dishonest, and unfortunately it is also the pattern in so much of economic commentary. A bold claim is followed up by a justification that depends on a host of assumptions.

There are others problems as well. It is not true that we help the poor once on their 21st birthday; we help them continuously. There is no reason to apportion aid based on someones preferences at their 21st birthday, rather than someone's current preferences. The choice Landsburg presents - what form would aid take if all of it was given on a person's 21st birthday - is a false one, since aid is given continuously throughout a person's life, and there is no reason why it cannot be adjusted to the evolving desires of that person.

I see there is a new study which attempt to quantify the full cost of the Iraq war. The best estimate seems to be $1.8 trillion. Compare this with the cost of the Kyoto protocol, which has been derided by right wingers for years as too expensive. It's cost was estimated at 56 billion-427 billion by 2010.

Not to mention that the Kyoto protocol would, umm, fight global warming, whereas whether the Iraq war will ever benefit the US or Iraq depends on the success of the US project there, which is currently uncertain.

Friday, January 06, 2006

What will Pat Robertson say next? A few months ago, he had to apologize for calling for the asassination of Hugo Chavez (its a weird sort of Christianity that calls for targeted asassinations). A month or so ago,

he told the citizens of Dover that they had rejected God by voting out of office members of the school board who supported intelligent design:

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city, and don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin."
Now comes this latest outburst:

The White House today criticized television evangelist Pat Robertson's remarks that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's severe illness was deserved, calling the comments "wholly inappropriate and offensive."

Speaking on his Christian Broadcasting Network's "700 Club," Robertson said yesterday that God was punishing Sharon for dividing the land of Israel.

"Sharon was personally a very likable person, and I am sad to see him in this condition, but I think we need to look at the Bible and the Book of Joel. The prophet Joel makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who 'divide my land,' " Robertson said.

Sharon was "dividing God's land, and I would say: Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the E.U. [European Union], the United Nations or the United States of America," the 75-year-old Baptist minister said.
Robertson's comments cannot be dismissed as the words of a mere fanatic. Robertson is tremendously influential in the evangelical movement, through his television program, his university, and his political groups.

Robertson's comments exactly parallel the beliefs of Islamic fundamentalists, who also advocate military conflict based on scriptural reasons. If you find yourself agreeing with the Christian right often, now is as good a time as any to re-assess your beliefs to see how much Robertson-type logic is present.