Saturday, April 29, 2006

Anyone who has a blog ought to repost this picture:

House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Ill., center, gets out of a Hydrogen Alternative Fueled automobile, left, as he prepares to board his SUV...after holding a news conference at a local gas station in Washington, Thursday, April 27, 2006 to discuss the recent rise in gas prices. Hastert and other members of Congress drove off in the Hydrogen-Fueled cars only to switch to their official cars to drive the few blocks back to the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Original here.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

This reads to me like a press release for the Dutch tolerance test for immigrants:

A Cologne brothel touting for clients with a World Cup-themed banner has blacked out the flags of Iran and Saudi Arabia after threats from Muslims.

The giant banner on a high-rise building shows a semi-naked woman and the flags of the 32 countries in the World Cup, which kicks off in June.

The Pascha brothel's owner, Armin Lobscheid, said a group of Muslims had threatened violence over the advert.

He said they had accused the brothel of insulting Islam by using the flags.

First there were telephone threats of violence, then about 30 hooded protesters armed with knives and sticks turned up outside Pascha on Friday, the Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper reported.

"The situation was explosive," Mr Lobscheid told the paper.

Who is responsible for the bleak state of the nation's finances?

My answer is that the radical policies pursued by the modern Republican party of Reagan and Bush are responsible. Looking at the above graph, its clear that for most of the twentieth century - i.e. until Reagan - the ratio of debt to gdp had continually decreased, no doubt a result of (relatively) responsible governance. The only exceptions were true national emergencies: World War I, World War II, and the great depression. Moreover, the debts that were run up during these periods were steadily paid off over later periods.

Starting with Reagan, however, we see increasingly irresponsible fiscal policies. Reagan was the first US president to stake the financial future of the United States on some pet theories. These were: (i) that lower taxes will actually result in higher income due to the fact that high taxes remove some of the incentives to work, and (ii) higher US defense spending will force the Soviets to spend more on their defense, bankrupting them.

As we now know, both theories were false. Lower taxes resulted in lower income and more debt; and Soviet military spending was unchanged as a percentage of GDP throughout the 80s (see Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940, ed. Stephen Schwartz, Chapter 4 for documentation). But as a result, the United States was saddled with a huge military-industrial complex and a vastly higher public debt.

This began to change later as more responsible leaders (George H.W. Bush and Clinton) made tough choices and pursued reasonable fiscal policies. But our current president has more than undone their work. If one looks at the change in slope in the graph associated with the current presidency, the changes have been disastrous.

Disastrous not because our current debt level is dangerous per se, but because the United States faces a fiscal crisis associated with the retirement of baby boomers. To fully gauge the impact of our impending problems, see The US Government is Bankrupt and Rational Gloom, by Alex Tabarrok.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Responding to an editorial criticizing anti-war protestors who disrupted Hilary Clinton's speech at Brown, English Prof. William Keach wrote a letter to the editor saying, among other things:

Are there any circumstances in which you would support the disruption of a public appearance by a wealthy, powerful politician who acquiesced to a genocidal war based on lies and imperialist arrogance?
Clearly, the man is simply unaware of what the word "genocide" means.

gen·o·cide, n. The systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group.
No, it doesn't mean something along the lines of "war in which a lot of people died." And every national, ethnic, racial, or political group that existed at the outset of the war still exists today - in fact, the majority of Iraqis feel that their lives have improved since before the US invasion.

Thinking about this statement, you really has to wonder at the colossal idiocy that seems to afflict a large portion of US humanities academics. For the life of me I can't figure out how someone even remotely rational could write something like that.

Friday, April 21, 2006

There is an interesting (very unflattering) profile of Daily Kos blogger Maryscott O'Connor in the Post. She has a response here.

I can't say whether the profile is fair to Maryscott O'Connor; but I do think that it is fair to the far left generally, in that it accurately depicts the rage that drives many (most?) posters and commenters on websites such as the Daily Kos, Eschhaton, etc.

At the same time, I have to say that while we normally think of excessive rage like this as not normal or unhealthy, its hardly an irrational reaction to the past six years. What other reaction can you have to a President who maintains his right to imprison any American citizen, on American soil, without trial; and to send him to other countries where he may be tortured?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A snippet from today's Times:

WASHINGTON, April 20 — The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday that "no sound scientific studies" supported the medical use of marijuana, contradicting a 1999 review by a panel of highly regarded scientists.
Who are you going to believe - an agency run by political appoinntees or a panel of "highly regarded scientists" ( who, by the way, were taking part in an NAS-affiliated study into the matter)?

Monday, April 17, 2006

New research from Tufts University indicates that diverse groups perform better than homogenous groups when it comes to decision making...

"Traditional arguments in favor of diversity often focus on ethics, morality and constitutionality," said Samuel R. Sommers, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology in the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University. "I wanted to look at the observable effects of diversity on performance."

In a study involving 200 participants on 29 mock juries, panels of whites and blacks performed better than all-white groups by a number of measures. "Such diverse juries deliberated longer, raised more facts about the case, and conducted broader and more wide-ranging deliberations," said Sommers. "They also made fewer factual errors in discussing evidence and when errors did occur, those errors were more likely to be corrected during the discussion."

Surprisingly, this difference was primarily due to significant changes in white behavior. Whites on diverse juries cited more case facts, made fewer mistakes in recalling facts and evidence, and pointed out missing evidence more frequently than did those on all-white juries. They were also more amenable to discussing racism when in diverse groups.

Monday, April 10, 2006

From a CBS interview with Pat Robertson:

You tell the story of-- being on a trip to the Holy Land, and some people coming to you and asking you if you can help a woman with severe asthma.
That's right.
And you say-- that God spoke to you and--
--told you--
--well it wudn't (PH) quite that way. Well-- well anyhow, they thought she was demon possessed. And these women are in the conference, and they said, "Go cast demons out of her." And I ignored it and ate dinner and went on to the meeting.

And then the next night, they had moved this poor woman out of the hotel. She was crying out for mercy and saying, "Oh God, help me," because she had such bad asthma. So-- I had to go see her. But fortunately I had my wife with her, so we went to another hotel-- in the heart of Jerusalem and knocked on the door.

And here, this haunting woman, she looked like-- she really looked like she was terrified-- very attractive-- striking brunette, 45 years old, you know thin, 5'8" kinda thing. And-- she had this look in her eyes. And-- so I went in, and my wife was with me. And they took the two chairs and I sat on the bed.

And I said, "Tell me about your problem." And she said, "I've got this asthma." And I said, "Have you been to the (LAUGHTER) doctor?" And-- and she said, "Yes. The doctor said my asthma was caused by praying with nuns." And I said, (LAUGHTER) "A doctor?"
That sounds--
"A doctor?"
--that sounds like-- (LAUGHTER) you should've advised her, "Maybe go see another doctor."
There was-- (LAUGHTER) well see-- the-- "A doctor told you this?" (UNINTEL) said, "Yes, that's what my doctor told me." And I says, "There is no way that praying with nuns is gonna cause you-- asthma." And then I prayed. And I said, "Lord, what's wrong with her?" I just prayed silently. And the Lord said, "Ask about her sex life." And--
The-- the Lord said that to you?
Yes, He said that to me. And I said, "There's no way I'm going to ask a strange woman about her sex life." So I said-- (COUGHS) "Excuse me for-- being personal, but would you tell me about your marriage."

She said, "Oh, I have a wonderful marriage." I said, "You do?" She (UNINTEL PHRASE), "A wonderful husband, wonderful marriage. It's just absolutely marvelous." I said, "You do?" She said, "Yes." So I prayed again. (LAUGHTER) I said, "Lord, what's the matter?" And she-- He said, "Ask her about her sex life."
I-- it's hard to imagine the Lord--
The-- the--
--saying this to you--
--the Lord say-- well He did. And I-- and I said-- "You know, please forgive me if I'm being personal, but tell me about your sex life." And she said, "I don't have any." And I said, "Well, I thought you had a wonderful marriage." And she said-- "I do, but I don't have any sex life."

And I said, "How long has that been going on?" And she said, "Two years." And I said-- "And that's when your asthma started, isn't it?" And she said, "Yes." And I said, "Well it's obvious that you're blaming yourself-- for this condition. What's the problem?" And she said, "My husband's impotent."

And I said, "You think it's your fault." And she said, "Yes. It's-- I think it's my fault." And I said, "Well it isn't your fault. And it may be that he's working too hard. He may be having a physical impairment. But-- there's something in his life, that this isn't your fault." And she said, "It's not?"

I said, "Absolutely not." And I said, "Okay, now let's pray for your asthma. And she said, "Okay." And we prayed. And God healed her asthma just like that. And--
You-- you know that--
--that's a tough one for people to swallow.
I was there. My wife was the witness. And thank goodness she was there. I never woulda done this otherwise. But that woman went on her ma-- her way rejoicing. And it took maybe max, 10 minutes.
And-- and-- whereas if I was a psychologist, I could've had her on the couch for you know, a year and a half and not gotten to the root of the cause. Or if these women thought she was demon possessed, and the doctor says she's got asthma 'cause she prays with nuns. They were all wrong. (LAUGHTER) But the Lord knew what her problem was. He's (UNINTEL PHRASE) about even the most intimate details of our lives. And I think that's what's so very important.

The first two sentences of this post pose an excellent (rhetorical) question.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Today's Times has an article on a drug trial gone wrong which begins,

In February, when Rob O. saw the text message from Parexel International pop up on his cellphone in London — "healthy males needed for a drug trial" for £2,000, about $3,500 — it seemed like a harmless opportunity to make some much-needed cash.
Does this really sound harmless? Text message spam promising reward money if they poor some unknown chemicals in his body and observe the results?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Another disturbing attack on free speech.

Paul Krugman has a column on immigration which, like most of what he writes, is plainly excellent. So much of recent "debate" on this topic has consisted of stereotypes being thrown around. Krugman provides some clear fact-based thinking; here is an edited excerpt:

I'm instinctively, emotionally pro-immigration. But a review of serious, nonpartisan research reveals some uncomfortable facts about the economics of modern immigration, and immigration from Mexico in particular.

First, the net benefits to the U.S. economy from immigration... are small. Realistic estimates suggest that immigration since 1980 has raised the total income of native-born Americans by no more than a fraction of 1 percent.

Second, while immigration may have raised overall income slightly, many of the worst-off native-born Americans are hurt by immigration -- especially immigration from Mexico. Because Mexican immigrants have much less education than the average U.S. worker, they increase the supply of less-skilled labor, driving down the wages of the worst-paid Americans. The most authoritative recent study of this effect... estimates that U.S. high school dropouts would earn as much as 8 percent more if it weren't for Mexican immigration.

That's why it's intellectually dishonest to say, as President Bush does, that immigrants do ''jobs that Americans will not do.'' The willingness of Americans to do a job depends on how much that job pays -- and the reason some jobs pay too little to attract native-born Americans is competition from poorly paid immigrants...

Basic decency requires that we provide immigrants, once they're here, with essential health care, education for their children, and more.... Unfortunately, low-skill immigrants don't pay enough taxes to cover the cost of the benefits they receive.

Realistically, we'll need to reduce the inflow of low-skill immigrants. Mainly that means better controls on illegal immigration. But the harsh anti-immigration legislation passed by the House, which has led to huge protests -- legislation that would, among other things, make it a criminal act to provide an illegal immigrant with medical care -- is simply immoral.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush's plan for a ''guest worker'' program is clearly designed by and for corporate interests, who'd love to have a low-wage work force that couldn't vote. Not only is it deeply un-American; it does nothing to reduce the adverse effect of immigration on wages....

What about a guest-worker program that includes a clearer route to citizenship? I'd still be careful. Whatever the bill's intentions, it could all too easily end up having the same effect as the Bush plan in practice -- that is, it could create a permanent underclass of disenfranchised workers....

But I'd rather see Congress fail to agree on anything this year than have it rush into ill-considered legislation that betrays our moral and democratic principles.

First, I wonder if the estimates Krugman cites on the contribution of immigrants to the American economy do not underestimate the impact of immigrants to the high tech boom (personal obervations suggest that a minority of the people who work in technology companies are American).

Secondly, what about the effect on crime? Hispanics are incarcerated at a rate about twice the overall average (though there is some evidence that recent immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated).

Finally, it seems that all the proposals currently being discussed on immigration are bad. The only one that seems to make actual sense is building more walls and increasing policing on the US-Mexican border.

The Times has an editorial today - "The Wall That Keeps Illegal Workers In" by Douglas Massey - which reads like total bullshit to me.

I won't link since its behind a protection wall, but I'll quote a couple of brief excerpts here:

THE Mexican-American border is not now and never has been out of control. The rate of undocumented migration, adjusted for population growth, to the United States has not increased in 20 years.

The cited fact clearly don't support the presented claim: I could just as well say that illegal immigration has been unacceptably high for 20 years.

That is, from 1980 to 2004 the annual likelihood that a Mexican will make his first illegal trip to the United States has remained at about 1 in 100.
Am I reading this statistic correctly? Does it really say that 1% of the population of Mexico tries to go over the border every year? That is a huge number.

Although border militarization had little effect on the probability of Mexicans migrating illegally, it did reduce the likelihood that they would return to their homeland. America's tougher line roughly tripled the average cost of getting across the border illegally; thus Mexicans who had run the gantlet at the border were more likely to hunker down and stay in the United States. My study has shown that in the early 1980's, about half of all undocumented Mexicans returned home within 12 months of entry, but by 2000 the rate of return migration stood at just 25 percent.

The United States is now locked into a perverse cycle whereby additional border enforcement further decreases the rate of return migration, which accelerates undocumented population growth, which brings calls for harsher enforcement.

The only thing we have to show for two decades of border militarization is a larger undocumented population than we would otherwise have...

This, once again, is unsupported bullshit. Yes, I'll agree that protecting the border tends to push the number of migrants up, as well as down. But there isn't a single shred of evidence in this argument to support the claim offered, that it is pulling the number of migrants up on the net. You need to have some pretty persuasive evidence to claim that freer borders equals less migrants, and this is clearly not it.

But then again, this is not much worse than the ridiculous nonsense one usually hears from sociology people.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Fear of Extremist Muslim Violence Suppresses Speech in the U.S