Archive for October 2006

Are Army Recruits Poor and Dumb?

The Republicans are having fun beating on John Kerry again.  The stated reason for their anger is that Kerry implied only the lazy and uneducated dregs of society go into the military.  The real reason for their focus on Kerry is that he was such a terrible, weak candidate last time around, they would love to run against him again, rather than whomever they are actually facing in their Congressional races this year.

I do think Kerry's remark betrayed a general liberal assumption that the army is made up mainly of uneducated southern rednecks and poor urban blacks.  Its hard to get an exact demographic handle on this, because the army does not really ask how much money your parents make when they recruit you.  However, they do ask you what zip code you are from, and this analysis seems to belie the common liberal assumption, showing the army is actually made up disproportionately of recruits from the richest rather than the poorest zip codes

Military_demographics

More on this analysis here.

Update: LOL;  Also this

I Want Hawaii 5-0 on DVD!

Glenn Reynolds had a post on TV series that are coming soon to DVD, and some that other bloggers would like to see.  My vote for most conspicuously missing DVD would be Hawaii 5-0  (Don't be confused by the knock-off on sale on the internet, there is no official release).  I know everyone has their opinion, but I think this was the all-around be TV crime drama ever.  Period.  Aloha.

Warning Signs For Trespassers

Yet another nutty jury has decided that it should be national policy to have warning signs every few feet on a railroad to warn trespassers against danger:

Jeffrey Klein and Brett Birdwell were 17 "when they trespassed onto
railroad property and climbed atop a rail car" because they wanted to
see the view from there. They were shocked by a 12,500-volt wire and
severely injured. The incident took place in Lancaster, Pa. but through
the miracle of forum selection the lawsuit against Amtrak and Norfolk
Southern landed before a jury in Philadelphia, a locality notably more
favorable for plaintiffs than Lancaster. An attorney said the railroads
should have posted signs for the benefit of trespassers warning of the
overhead hazard and also should have had the electricity turned off at
the time.

This is by no means the first such verdict.  I featured another here:

By the way, the exact wording on the complaint against the railroad is even better than I thought:

"The
[engineer] did not stop the train in a timely manner, and failed to
yield the right of way to a pedestrian walking along the tracks in
plain view"

A freight train's topping distance is measured in miles, even with full emergency braking.

She and her attorney's further argue:

that
the railroad was negligent for failing to post signs warning 'of the
dangers of walking near train tracks and that the tracks were actively
in use

Lets leave aside the obvious point
about individual responsibility, and ask what would happen if this were
the legal standard, to have such signs.  To make sure someone saw one,
you would have to have one say every 30 feet.  Since there are just over 200,000 miles of freight railroads in the North America that works out to a bit over 35,000,000 signs that need to be posted.  At $100 per sign this would cost $3.5 billion.

This is Happening Way Too Often

Police are getting way too aggressive with SWAT teams conducting raids for minor drug offenses.  Here is another story from Houston, via Tom Kirkendall:

Based on the evidence in the trash, a regional SWAT team arrived at
the home. Police say they knocked, waited 30 seconds, and then broke in
with guns and a concussion grenade. The house suffered $5,000 damage
and one officer shot and killed Margot's golden lab, Shadow, when
police say it charged toward one of the officers. What did officers
find inside?

"A joint half the size of my pinky fingernail and then one about
this big," she said, showing a length on her finger. "And not anywhere
near this big around."

We have the same problem with our egomaniacal sheriff in Phoenix.

I hope this is True

It would be nice to think that we are this numerous:

These federal intrusions are especially scorned by
independent voters in the Western states where Republicans have been
losing ground, like Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and Montana. Western
Democrats have been siphoning off libertarian voters by moderating
their liberal views on issues like gun control, but Republicans have
been driving libertarians away with their wars on vice and their
jeremiads against gay marriage (and their attempt to regulate that from
Washington, too).

Libertarian voters tend to get ignored by political strategists
because they're not easy to categorize or organize. They don't
congregate in churches or union halls; they don't unite to push
political agendas. Many don't even call themselves libertarians,
although they qualify because of their social liberalism and economic
conservatism: they want the government out of their bedrooms as well as
their wallets.

They distrust moral busybodies of both parties, and they may well be
the most important bloc of swing voters this election, as David Boaz
and David Kirby conclude in a new study for the Cato Institute.
Analyzing a variety of voter surveys, they estimate that libertarians
make up about 15 percent of voters "” a bloc roughly comparable in size
to liberals and to conservative Christians, and far bigger than blocs
like Nascar dads or soccer moms.

I am not sure I believe it - many of the people who claim to be small government turn into statist technocrats when the right issue comes up.

I will say that the Internet and blogging in particular has really brought many libertarians to the surface.  I wrote about the phenomena of libertarians and blogging here.

Airport Dystopia

Nearly every dystopic novel I have ever read usually has an all-powerful state that insists on televisions everywhere in all public and private spaces to spew government propaganda and rebellion-soothing-entertainment at the masses.  (Example:  Richard Bachman / Stephen King's Running Man, which is a much better novel than a movie.)

I am reminded of this every time I go to an airport.  Why is it every airport feels the need to have CNN blaring from televisions spaced out every 20 feet or so.  You can't escape it or turn it off.  Do they really think I am so much of a moron that I can't entertain myself or even sit quietly without video Valium blaring at me every second.  Can't we maybe have some little quiet TV-free rooms, like the smoking rooms spaced around the airport?

I am an active computer gamer and much of the talk in the community is the uproar EA has caused by putting ads in Battlefield 2042.  Much of the discussion is not fact-based, but just panicky rumor-mongering, but one can see how much people don't want advertising pushed at them.  Which is funny to me, because ubiquitous TV in airports seems a much more annoying push than a few ads in a game.

Learning to Eat at the Trough

I am sitting in an industry meeting listening to people tell me all the opportunities, as a tourism-based business, to feed at the public trough and get government funding.  Example topic:  "How to turn your business slowdown into a natural disaster to get disaster-relief funds."  Yuk.  I feel dirty.

Also, my business gets taxed (via sales-tax-like lodging taxes) to support government tourism marketing (in this case, California).  Of course, I don't think any of it returns the money invested in it.  Also, the type of recreation I represent (camping) is totally unrepresented in the ads.  As is typical, these public-private tourism promotion tend to disproportionately benefit the politically connected businesses.

Indoors, not Outdoors

My post on the lack of correlation between air pollution (in the form of ozone and particulates) and asthma has led several people to ask me -- well, what else could possibly be causing the rise in asthma cases?

One "cause" for increases in measured disease rates that almost always plays a role in modern epidemiology is better diagnosis and reporting.  There have been a number of diseases where changes in definitions and better diagnosis have led to an increase in reported cases, while the actual occurance rate has remained constant.  The rise in asthma cases seems to go beyond this effect.

The best guess I have for the increase in
asthma in this country, and the strong positive correlation between
asthma and economic development, is that it has something to do with
indoor pollution.  The spike in asthma cases seems to parallel the rise
in energy prices.  Beginning in the 1970's, we began sealing up houses
tighter and tighter to conserve energy.  Increasing penetration of air
conditioning simultaneously caused people to close the windows.  The spread of office-type service work had brought more people indoors.  I am
convinced its something inside, not outside, that is causing the asthma spike.

Update:  More on the lack of correlation between air pollution and asthma here, this time in California.

Flaw with Firefox 2.0

I still think the inline spell check is worth the price of admission, but there is a flaw I have found in the new Firefox 2.0.  The close tab icon is now on the tab itself, and it is very easy when changing tabs to hit this icon and actually close the tab by mistake.  This needs to be fixed.

Update:  OK, not a flaw, just a configuration setting to be changed.  See comments.  I really love Firefox.

Update #2:  I had horrible loading times in Google reader with the new Firefox.  I am pretty sure it is the browser pre-fetch function, which attempts to pre-load pages linked by the page you are calling up, in case you click on the links.  I recommend you turn it to false.  Once I did so, Reader popped right up.  By the way, I am very much happier with the tweaked version of the new Google reader -- they fixed many of my concerns.

Government Opposes Things That Work Well

As a follow-on to this post on public vs. private schools, I saw this via Neal McCluskey at Cato:

District officials, as well as the president of the
teachers union, bristle at assertions by the Charter Schools
Association that middle and high school charters are significantly
outperforming their district counterparts.

A fairer comparison would be with the district's magnet schools,
which outperform charters, school board member Jon Lauritzen said.

"I think it's basically unfair to compare an entity that is able to
take their entire budget and focus it entirely on their own schools,"
he said. "They have some real advantages over our schools in the
flexibility of actually providing the type of education that a
particular community wants, whereas we are trying to provide a
curriculum that works for everyone all across the school district."

This last paragraph is hilarious on its face.   The average parent must wonder what Mr. Lauritzen is doing with the public school funds in contrast to focusing his entire budget at, you know, the schools, like those evil competitors do.  And what government official would ever be caught dead providing the type of serves that a particular community actually wants.  And this is all in the context that charter schools are, in McCluskey's words, a "pale shade of choice."

So, what does the teachers union and school board members do in the face of competition that they acknowledge works better?  Do they demand the same flexibility in spending and rules in their own schools?  No!  Of course not!  They demand that the schools that work better be eliminated:

It's no wonder that, a few months ago, Mr. Lauritzen proposed a
moratorium on charter schools, and that public schooling's defenders
fight even harder against reforms like vouchers and tax credits. After
all, who could just sit by and watch parents get schools they want when
an old, hopeless system is suffering?

Reason 127 that I Can't Run for Office

I noticed the other day that a Michigan judge, up for confirmation on some federal court (sorry, I can't find the link) was getting challenged by a Midwest Republican Senator for having attended a gay civil union ceremony of some sort.

Oops.  I have attended a gay civil ceremony between two acquaintances of mine.   I can't remember hearing any roar from the foundations of civilization crumbling, though I am told that such will be the result of allowing some form of gay unions. 

I just don't see the problem.  Everyone says that gays marrying is a threat to marriage, but I can't see my marriage becoming any less strong because gay people are marrying.  It would be one thing if the government was forcing such marriage rules on churches, but they are not -- we are talking civil ceremonies here.  Besides, the whole "sanctity of marriage" ship sailed long ago with the advent of easy and frequent divorce.  So, though I would greatly prefer such issues solved in the legislature where they belong, and not by judges, I just sort of shrug at the decision in New Jersey.  Twenty years from now, this debate is going to seem so...  so....  what the hell do we call this decade anyway?  We have the nineties, the teens, and a big blank in the middle.  How can we be nearly 70% through this thing (yes its 70%, not 60%, think about it) and no one has come up with a good name for it?

From the Correlation does not Equal Causation Files

On this blog, I have often felt the need to point out that correlation does not equal causation.  For example, if X increases at the same time Y increases, it is not necessarily true that X causes Y or Y causes X.  The correlation could be a coincidence, or it could be that both X and Y are related to a third variable Z that drives their movement.

Anyway, I see this mistake all the time.  What I did NOT expect to see was that someone would have to explain that non-correlation does not equal causation.  But that seems to be the wacky world that environmental science has descended into, via the Commons Blog:

EPA's new report "America's Children and the Environment" notes that
air pollution declined, but asthma prevalence continues to rise. One
possible conclusion from this is that air pollution is not actually a
cause of asthma. In fact, that's the most plausible conclusion. Every
pollutant we measure has been dropping for decades pretty much
everywhere, while asthma prevalence has been rising pretty much
everywhere. This is true throughout the entire western world, not just
the U.S. In fact, asthma incidence is highest in countries with the
lowest levels of air pollution. Asthma is rare in developing countries
with much more polluted air. Asthma incidence is simply unrelated to
air pollution. Asthma attacks are probably unrelated as well. But even
if air pollution can cause asthma attacks, it is a minor cause,
responsible for less than 1% of all asthma attacks.

Despite these two trends going in the opposite direction, environmental activists still insist that large increases in asthma rates are driven by pollution:

A report by E&E News
(subscription required) makes it clear that what's in EPA health
reports doesn't actually matter. The story opens with "While the number
of children living in areas violating ozone and particulate matter (PM)
standards has declined in recent years, adolescent asthma that results
from exposure to such pollutants continues to rise, according to new
U.S. EPA statistics." The journalistic goal is to raise health alarms,
whether warranted or not. Thus, the news story itself says air
pollution, the presumptive cause of asthma, went down and yet asthma
prevalence went up. However, the reporter claims air pollution is
responsible for rising asthma just the same.

Wow.  These guys could be the poster-children for refusing to adjust their beliefs in the face of actual facts.  They even acknowledge that pollution and asthma are going in opposite directions and still they insist on their causation theory.

P
ostscript:  I am willing to believe, maybe, that there is some unknown, unmeasured and unregulated pollutant out there that is increasing and is causing increases in asthma.  However, that is not the argument these folks are making - they are using asthma increases to lobby for tougher standards on known pollutants.

Update:  The best guess I have for the increase in asthma in this country, and the strong positive correlation between asthma and economic development, is that it has something to do with indoor pollution.  The spike in asthma cases seems to parallel the rise in energy prices.  Beginning in the 1970's, we began sealing up houses tighter and tighter to conserve energy.  Increasing penetration of air conditioning simultaneously caused people to close the windows.  I am convinced its something inside, not outside.

The Statist Trap

David Boaz of Cato makes this comment in the context of an article on suppressing speech in modern South Africa:

In the last days of apartheid, some libertarians pointed out to South
Africa's rulers that if they left a government broadcasting operation
in place, they would one day regret the way a different government
would use it. Looks like that day has come.

This is a point I make time and time again.  When statists push their policies, it is always with the assumption that they themselves will be in control of the government machinery they create.  In contrast, the miracle of the US Constitution was that the government was constituted with the assumption that rogues and scoundrels would take control, and the founders put protections in place to limit the damage these scoundrels could do to our individual liberties.

As I said previously
:

I am reminded of all this because the technocrats that built our
regulatory state are starting to see the danger of what they created.
A public school system was great as long as it was teaching the right
things and its indoctrinational excesses were in a leftish direction.
Now, however, we can see the panic.  The left is freaked that some red
state school districts may start teaching creationism or intelligent
design.  And you can hear the lament - how did we let Bush and these
conservative idiots take control of the beautiful machine we built?  My
answer is that you shouldn't have built the machine in the first place
- it always falls into the wrong hands.  Maybe its time for me to again invite the left to reconsider school choice.

Today, via Instapundit, comes this story about the GAO audit of the decision by the FDA to not allow the plan B morning after pill to be sold over the counter.
And, knock me over with a feather, it appears that the decision was
political, based on a conservative administration's opposition to
abortion.  And again the technocrats on the left are freaked.  Well,
what did you expect?  You applauded the Clinton FDA's politically
motivated ban on breast implants as a sop to NOW and the trial
lawyers.  In
establishing the FDA, it was you on the left that established the
principal, contradictory to the left's own stand on abortion, that the
government does indeed trump the individual on decision making for
their own body
  (other thoughts here).
Again we hear the lament that the game was great until these
conservative yahoos took over.  No, it wasn't.  It was unjust to scheme
to control other people's lives, and just plain stupid to expect that
the machinery of control you created would never fall into your
political enemy's hands.

As I concluded before, even Star Trek figured out this whole technocrat losing control of the fascist state thing 40 years ago.

Failure of the War on Drugs

Frequent readers of this site will know that I support the legalization of most illegal narcotics for adult use, not because I am a secret user who wants to come out of the closet, but because prohibition and efforts to save people from themselves always result in failure.  In particular I remember the old joke that communicates so well the inherent contradictions embodied in the drug war.  It goes: "What is the worst thing that can happen to a teen who smokes marijuana?  Answer: He can get thrown in jail."

Whenever I make the argument for drug legalization, 100 out of 100 times the first response is "what kind of message does that send to kids."  They argue that even if kids under 18 are not allowed access to drugs, legalization for adults will send the message to kids that drug use is more acceptable, and their use of drugs will increase.

What is most surprising about this statement is how easy it is to test.  The approach was suggested to me by something I read in Reason the other day.

Check out this press release from the Department of Health and Human Services on youth drug use:

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration today
announced that current illicit drug use among youth ages 12-17
continues to decline.   The rate has been moving downward from 11.6
percent using drugs in the past month in 2002 to 11.2 percent in 2003,
10.6 percent in 2004 and 9.9 percent in 2005....

The  rate of past month cigarette use among youth ages 12-17 declined from 13.0  percent in 2002 to 10.8 percent in 2005.

The counter proof to the "what about the kids" argument is right here in these two paragraphs.  Tobacco today, which is illegal for teens while legal (but frowned upon) for adults, is a good proxy for post-legalization narcotics.  Note therefore that illicit drug use among teens is 9.9 percent, while tobacco use is 10.8 percent.  There is virtually no difference!  The legal-for-adults substance is used by teens at only slightly higher a rate than illicit drugs, and this from the drug warriors' own figures.  At most, the"message" sent by legalizing tobacco seems to be no different than the "message" sent by making narcotics illegal. Tobacco is legal for adults, does not carry nearly the same stigma as illegal drugs, is far easier for a teen to obtain, and carries much lower penalties for its use, and still it is used by teens at about the same rate as illegal drugs.  In fact, in the figures you can see the legal tobacco use falling faster than illegal drug use.

So what has prohibition, prohibition-related drug violence, and hundreds of thousands of people in jail for drug use achieved?

Public Schools Not Underfunded, Teachers Not Underpaid

The single post from way back that I still get the most Google hits from (and the most nasty email, I might add) was my post on the myth that public schools teachers are underpaid.  This was a follow-on post to my lengthy post fisking the NEA's school improvement plans and here too.  The premise in all these posts was that 1) Public schools actually spent more per pupil than private schools that do a better job and 2) Teachers, when you adjust their total hours to match other workers who don't get summers off, make a salary very competitive to other professionals, even before their hefty government benefits package.

The Goldwater Institute has just completed a study of Arizona private schools, and has come to many of the same conclusions.  The study's author, Andrew Coulson, summarizes the findings:

In a study released yesterday
by the Goldwater Institute, I analyze the results of their most recent
private school survey. Among the other fascinating findings is that
public schools spend one-and-a-half times as much per pupil as do
private schools. Or, looked at the other way, private schools spend a
third less than public schools.

Some other fascinating tidbits:

Teachers make up 72 percent of on-site staff in Arizona's independent education sector, but less than half
of on-site staff in the public sector. In order to match the
independent sector's emphasis on teachers over non-teaching staff,
Arizona public schools would have to hire roughly 25,000 more teachers
and dismiss 21,210 non-teaching employees.

When teachers' 9-month salaries are annualized to make them
comparable to the 12-month salaries of most other fields, Arizona
independent school teachers earned the equivalent of $36,456 in 2004 "”
about $2,000 less than reporters and correspondents. The
12-month-equivalent salary of the state's public school teachers was
around $60,000, which is more than nuclear technicians,
epidemiologists, detectives, and broadcast news analysts. It's also
about 50 percent more than reporters or private school teachers earn.

My kids go to an absolutely fabulous private school here in Phoenix.  It is secular and (gasp) actually runs for-profit, so it has no endowments or sources of grants or charitable funds.  In exchange for a great education that far outstrips the quality of even the best local schools, it charges a tuition substantially less than the Phoenix-area per-pupil public school spending (and it offers a 20% discount for each child over one).  If you are considering a move to the area, email me and I will give you more detail.

More here on the virtues of school choice.  This is a sort of related post on the barriers to starting a private school.

Does This Really Work? Stock Scam Update

About once a week, I get a call from some stock sales boiler room that begins "My name is ________, do you remember me?  We talked about 6 months ago about a company named ________."  He then, if I let him, will proceed to tell me that he gave me a buy on this stock at that time and it's gone up some unbelievable percentage since then.

There is one problem.  We never talked before about a stock.  I never, ever let a boiler room guy go more than two sentences without hanging up or challenging his BS, so we couldn't have talked about it.  On a couple of occasions when one of the guys who called actually made the mistake of giving a specific date in the past for his call, a quick check of my calendar showed that I was out of town both times.  One guy got kind of scary.  I made the mistake of saying "Look, I know that Tony Soprano or whoever is standing beside you pushing this stock, but I am not interested and I can spot your line of bullshit a mile away."  The guy then proceeded to tell me, as a thinly veiled threat I guess, about his prior convictions for throwing a Molotov cocktail into the offices of someone he did not like.

What these guys are trying to do is to fake a track record of good stock picking.  Reputable brokers used to call me once in a while and say -- here are ten stocks, write them down and I will call you back in 6 months and you can see for yourself if I know how to pick stocks.  These new guys skip this step, looking backwards to find a stock that did well over the last 6 months and then trying to convince you they told you about it months ago before it went up. 

Is anyone out there so busy that they fall for this, and allow themselves to be convinced they had such a conversation in the past?  I get these calls at least once a week, so if they are expending this effort, it must be working on someone.

Firefox 2.0 Is Here

Come and get it.

Update:  First impression, the inline spell checker alone is worth the upgrade.

OK, the Post Office Still Sucks

I had been lulled into thinking maybe the US Postal Service was modernizing, but I was wrong.  I have a PO Box in Colorado where I have my mail for our business forwarded to our Phoenix office for the winter months.  However, there is apparently absolutely no way to have all the mail coming to that box forwarded.  It can only be forwarded by name.  So, if I have 7 business names and 12 employees with mail in that box, I have to submit 19 change of address cards.  And, if anyone makes a typo in mailing to one of these 19 names, it won't get forwarded - only if the letter is addressed to the name exactly as it is written in the change of address card will it get to me.  Anyone want to guess how often that happens?

Congrats to Scott Adams

Scott Adams and his Dilbert cartoon have brought me a lot of mirth over the years.  In fact, Dilbert and Dogbert look down on my right now from an animation cell over my desk.  So I was very excited to see his good-news story about his partial recovery from a disease that stole his voice. 

As regular readers of my blog know, I lost my voice about 18 months
ago. Permanently. It's something exotic called Spasmodic Dysphonia.
Essentially a part of the brain that controls speech just shuts down in
some people, usually after you strain your voice during a bout with
allergies (in my case) or some other sort of normal laryngitis. It
happens to people in my age bracket.

I asked my doctor "“ a specialist for this condition "“ how many
people have ever gotten better. Answer: zero. While there's no cure,
painful Botox injections through the front of the neck and into the
vocal cords can stop the spasms for a few months. That weakens the
muscles that otherwise spasm, but your voice is breathy and weak.

The weirdest part of this phenomenon is that speech is processed in
different parts of the brain depending on the context. So people with
this problem can often sing but they can't talk. In my case I could do
my normal professional speaking to large crowds but I could barely
whisper and grunt off stage. And most people with this condition report
they have the most trouble talking on the telephone or when there is
background noise. I can speak normally alone, but not around others.
That makes it sound like a social anxiety problem, but it's really just
a different context, because I could easily sing to those same people.

Except in Scott's case, he may have actually recovered.  How he got there is an amazing story, read it all.  From it, you can pick up three lessons:

  • The human brain is weirder than we can imagine
  • You do not want to get Spasmodic Dysphonia
  • Never give up

What are Business Ethics?

The Market Power blog noticed something that also tweaked my interest, in an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Today's M.B.A. students are not as ethically challenged as recent
reports make them out to be, according to the findings of a study being
released today at a global conference of business educators and
leaders. In fact, 81 percent of those responding to a recent survey
believe businesses should work to improve society, and 78 percent of
them want "corporate social responsibility" integrated throughout their
core courses.

The survey results will be presented during a three-day
conference, "Business as an Agent of World Benefit," at Case Western
Reserve University, in Cleveland. The conference, which began on
Monday, has drawn 440 management educators and business leaders, as
well as about 1,000 online participants.

I know this issue has been debated in circles, but I still have real heartburn defining business ethics as "corporate social responsibility."  In my mind, and as reinforced by cases like Adelphia and Enron, the number one overriding ethical responsibility of corporate managers is their fiduciary responsibility to the company's owners.  Second is their responsibility to comply with the law (though sometimes the law is so muddled and contradictory that may be difficult).  Third is the obligation to be honest in dealings with employees, suppliers, and customers and to honor the commitments that the company has made to all three. 

In this context, asking a manager to divert the company's resources away from honoring these commitments or providing a return on the shareholder's investment, instead focusing them on some other nebulous entity called "society," is wholly unethical. 

Awesome Statement of Principles

From Arnold Kling, one of those articles so good I have trouble excerpting it to do it justice.  Here is just a small taste of some of the principles he puts forward:

1. Liberty is important for its own sake. People are entitled to make their own choices.

2. There are other values in addition to liberty. However, many
noble causes end up infringing on liberty without achieving their
desired ends. Government policies should be evaluated on the basis of
their consequences, not on the basis of how they make us feel. It may
feel good to set a minimum wage, to impose rent control, or to declare
a war on drugs, but the evidence is that such policies tend to work to
the detriment of their intended beneficiaries.

3. I value relieving the suffering of others. However, compared with
liberals, I have considerable humility when it comes to advocating
taking other people's money in order to satisfy my urge to alleviate
poverty.

4. Corporate power is adequately checked by market forces.
Competitors are the main force protecting consumers. Alternative job
opportunities are the main force protecting workers. For corporate
power to be a threat, it must be allied with government power.

Please, go enjoy the whole post.

PS- OK, if you really aren't going to read the whole thing, here is another taste:

I believe that in reality what has helped the less fortunate is
economic growth. Today's elderly are affluent not because of Social
Security, but because of all of the wealth created by private sector
innovation over their lifetimes. Government involvement in health care
and education is an impediment to progress in those fields. Job
training and welfare are demonstrable failures.

The Feds May Have to Come Clean

From Marginal Revolution:

The FASAB has asked
that the United States government start including future Medicare and
Social Security liabilities in current budget deficit figures:

Monday,
the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board released a proposal in
which the government would have to account for the cost of future
Social Security payments year by year as people build up entitlements.

Seen in advance of its release by the Financial Times, the switch in
accounting practices would be an international accounting anomaly, as
most other governments treat social insurance as a political commitment
to pay future benefits rather than a financial liability, the newspaper
said.

The FASAB is made up of six independent members who support the
proposal and three opposing members from the U.S. Treasury, the White
House Office of Management and Budget and the Government Accountability
Office.

I support this change despite the fact it may result in what I consider bad outcomes (e.g. big tax increases) as the magnitude of future liabilities become clear.  Tyler Cowen also argues it may make these programs harder to scale back, since it shifts the future payments from a political promise to a financial commitment.  But just like free speech, one has to be consistent in one's support for transparency.

If this all seems arcane to you, let me give you some perspective.  Today, Jeff Skilling was given over 30 years in jail for various accounting-related frauds, supposedly hiding losses and liabilities from shareholders's view.  But what Skilling was convicted of doing were minor, subtle accounting tricks involving penny-ante sums of money compared to the egregious games Congress plays with accounting for the federal government's future liabilities.  Skilling was accused, for example, of booking future liabilities in certain joint ventures where they were hard to find; the feds, in contrast, do not book future liabilities at all.

Dave Barry was Right about Having Sex with Dogs

In a really funny interview, Dave Barry lamented that the first argument he always heard against being a libertarian was that in a free society, "everyone would have sex with dogs."  Among other funny stuff, he said:

I got a few letters, mostly pretty nice. One or two
letters saying, "Here's why it wouldn't work to be a libertarian, because people
will have sex with dogs." Arguments like, "Nobody would educate the kids."
People say, "Of course you have to have public education because otherwise
nobody would send their kids to school." And you'd have to say, "Would you not
send your kids to school? Would you not educate them?" "Well, no. I would. But
all those other people would be having sex with dogs."

He was right!  Here is Sean Gleeson, via Glen Reynolds, arguing that libertarians are wrong, because they ... wait for it .. will allow people to have sex with animals.

These pro-bestial arguments are disarming to any honest and consistent libertarian. Even Instapundit Glenn Reynolds allows
that he's "got nothing against" bestiality, explaining "since I'm happy
to eat animals it's hard for me to consider people having sex with them
to be, you know, more exploitative."

That's because libertarianism is fundamentally wrong.

The worthiest argument against bestiality is not that it is "cruel," nor that it is "exploitative." It is that it is a violation of human dignity.

Bestiality
is so very wrong not only because using animals sexually is abusive,
but because such behavior is profoundly degrading and utterly
subversive to the crucial understanding that human beings are unique,
special, and of the highest moral worth in the known universe"“a concept
known as "human exceptionalism."

Within the
narrow blinders of libertarianism, laws can only be justified by appeal
to an unconsenting victim. Human dignity has no place in the
libertarian worldview, and the libertarian is left with no basis to
outlaw what he calls "victimless crimes." Prostitution, polygamy,
pornography, incest, drug abuse, bestiality, and a host of other
crimes, being consensual, must be legal, and that's that.

And
this is libertarianism's greatest failing. The libertarians happen to
come to the right conclusions on a great many issues of policy, and I
am happy to ally with them on those issues. But libertarianism is not
an adequate theory of governance.

By the way, just so all of you can think less of me, I have no problem legalizing prostitution, polygamy,
pornography, incest, drug abuse, and bestiality involving consenting adults (kids, who by definition are not legally capable of making adult decisions, are a different legal matter).  Here for example is my rant on legalizing prostitution.  Here is my favorite ode to Polygamy.  Here is my summary post on letting individuals run their own damn life.

When people come to tell you that it is OK for them to use coercion and force against you, but only to protect you from yourself, or even more nebulously to protect your "human dignity," run away screaming.  Here is a bet:  Give me absolute dictatorial powers but limited only to things I could justify as "protecting human dignity" and I would have a full-bore fascist state built by the end of the week.  Because that phrase can freaking mean anything at all.  And it is always, always, always the person who makes such statements who envisions themselves (not you our me!) defining the terms.

I am not sure what my "dignity" is or where it rests, but please, as long as I am not hurting anyone else, leave the protection of it to me alone.

Burning Climate Skeptics at the Stake

Ronald Bailey makes a plea for free scientific inquiry in response to Dave Roberts proposal vis a vis climate skeptics.  Mr. Roberts said, in part:

When we've finally gotten serious about global warming, when the
impacts are really hitting us and we're in a full worldwide scramble to
minimize the damage, we should have war crimes trials for these
bastards"”some sort of climate Nuremberg

Oh goody, yet another reason I will be put up against the wall come the progressive revolution.  I would give Mr. Roberts a helpful suggestion:  A better analog for prosecuting people over their scientific beliefs would be the Catholic Church's various attempts to stamp out heresy, including their prosecution of Galileo for his views that the earth orbits around the sun, rather than vice-versa.

My views on the reasonable skeptical middle ground on climate change here. (and more here)

Besides, I would argue that progressives like Mr. Roberts willful ignorance of the science of economics has been far more destructive than potential scientific misreadings of global warming.

Slavish Devotion to Political Correctness

With the proviso that I don't know anything about the people involved, I will say this controversy seems to be about nothing. 

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele accused a leading Democratic
congressman yesterday of racial insensitivity for saying the Republican
candidate has "slavishly" followed the GOP.

Steele, an African
American running for the U.S. Senate, was reacting to remarks by House
Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, who characterized Steele this week as
having had "a career of slavishly supporting the Republican Party."

To say someone is "slavishly following" or showing "slavish devotion" is so common that I think you have to give the benefit of the doubt that the intention was not racial.  Here are some Google searches:

This is perhaps the dumbest fake-racial-gaffe since the kerfuffle in Washington about the word "niggardly" or the airline passenger lawsuit against saying "eenie meenie minie moe."  I could not find even one article in a quick scan that seemed to have any racial context -- these are merely very common phrases used in political discourse because they imply someone is somehow an unthinking tool of some organization rather than a person who thinks for himself.

By the way, it's illuminating to see the Republicans play the race / political correctness card in the
heat of political battle just as fast as the Democrats would.  Which, ironically, seems to be just as fast as Democrats are willing to play the "Don't vote for the gay guy" card, which is usually thought of as a Republican political tool.  Can anyone still believe that there is any real difference between the two parties?