Archive for March 2007

Update on the Macular Degerneration Drug

After the post below, several have written to ask about the procedure itself.  My dad wrote with details, which I believe are from Science magazine:

The drug for treating macular degenerations is ranibizumab, sold under the brand name "lucentis" by genetech, its developer and manufacturer.

It is "a monoclonal antibody - made by using biotech methods, from genetically engineered bacteria that attacks a protein responsible for the leading cause of blindness in seniors.  In clinical trials with Lucentis, the eyesight of about 95 per cent of AMD patients either improved or stopped getting worse."

Lucentis was created by tweaking the molecular structure of another, older drug Avastin, which itself was originally approved for colorectal cancer but now has been approved for certain kinds of lung cancer, and has been submitted to Food and Drug Administration to be used against breast cancer and possible kidney cancer as well.

The editors of Science magazine, the widely respected journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, selected ten "breakthrough" discoveries of the year last December.  No. 6 on the list was the results of the clinical trial results for Lucentis.

PS:  My son and I often joke that they have run out of car names.  With a name like ranibizumab, they seem to have run out of drug names too.  I can must see the ad campaign:  "With a name like ranibizumab, it's got to be good."

Hawaii 5-0 on DVD

I am thrilled to have Hawaii 5-0 on DVD.  I remembered it as my favorite TV crime drama ever, and so far, it is holding up very well.  A couple of other observations:

  • Whether you like the show or not, I think it is nearly indisputable that Hawaii 5-0 has the best intro of any TV series ever made.  Mission: Impossible is pretty good, but I never liked the practice of having scenes from the days show in the intro.
  • I am watching show 4 or so of the first season, and they have Ricardo Montalban playing a Japanese man.  Never has a Caucasian looked less like a Japanese man since Sean Connery when he was supposed to have been surgically altered to be Japanese in You Only Live Twice.  [check out Montalban's linked videography - in the last 60's and 70's he was on nearly every TV show I can remember]

Please Get This Image Out of My Head

The good news is that they have, for the first time, a treatment for macular degeneration.  My mom got her first treatment yesterday.

The bad news is that it involves getting a hypodermic needle stuck in your eyeball for a direct injection of the drug.

Eeeek.  Didn't want to think about that any more today, so I thought I would dump that image on you guys.

Update:  For those interested, I have an updated post on the details of the new drug.  I joked about the procedure, but in fact it is a god-send, and my mom says that the needle thing is a lot worse in anticipation than in reality.  Those with this same problem should definitely look into it.

At What Point Does Atlas Shrug?

From the owner of Smartflix:

So, here I am, having risked absolutely everything I own, having gone
with out salary for three years, and I am now being told that if I hire
somebody, and he gets married in Vegas while drunk, then gets a divorce
the next day, I've got to cover the bimbo into the next decade? (Feel
free to add in the gender-reversed variation of that, as well - I'm
equally apalled that I might have to pay for an employee's ex-husband's
meds)....

It is a testament to the American character that even when we are
this tightly bound by the chains of the State, we, as a people, still
start new businesses.

That, or maybe it's a testament to our stupidity.

Unfortunately, We Knew This Was Coming

The fact that this was predictable does not make it any easier to swallow:

The bill set to reach the House floor today (resembling the Senate
version) would raise taxes an average of $1,795 on 115 million
taxpayers in 2011. Some 26 million small-business owners would pay an
average of $3,960 more. The decreased number of Americans subject to
income taxes would all pay higher taxes, and 5 million low-income
Americans would be returned to the rolls.

It just flabbergasts me that anyone can make the case that the feds don't have enough money, and that there are no spending cuts to be found.

A Step Forward? Or Just Sideways?

A Judge has ruled that the Kaleidescape movie server (basically a big box that rips and stores DVDs on hard disk) did not violate its licensing agreement with the DVD-CCA:

Kaleidescape argued, first and foremost, that nothing in the DVD-CCA
licensing agreement prohibits the development of products that allow
users to copy their DVDs.

Indeed, that's exactly what Judge Leslie C. Nichols ruled today in
the non-jury trial at the Downtown Superior Court of Santa Clara in San
Jose, Calif. There was no breach of contract.

That seems to be good news for those of us who like the server concept and would like to make copies of our DVDs for our own (fair) use.  However, the judge seems to have sidestepped the copyright and fair use issues, such that this ruling probably will turn out to be pretty narrow and not constitute a useful precedent.

Because of this ruling, the Judge did not have to get into copyright
issues, so the Kaleidescape ruling has no copyright implications. It is
not a statement on the legality of ripping DVDs.

There was the possibility that copyright issues could have come into
play. The DVD-CCA submitted to the Court a particular document, the
"CSS General Specifications," that it asserted was part of the
licensing agreement.

The CSS General Specifications document includes wording about
thwarting the "unauthorized copying" of DVD's. The issue of what
constitutes an unauthorized copy could have come up, but Judge Nichols
ruled that the document in fact is not part of the DVD-CCA licensing
agreement.

Chicken Contact Lenses

Jane Galt makes a case against industrial animal husbandry, a position which she argues is not inconsistent with being a libertarian or classical liberal.  While I don't get as worked up about such practices as cruel, I don't think it is inconsistent for a libertarian to be so concerned.  And I don't rule out that I would be just as worked up if I were more informed about what was going on.

However, what really caught me eye was this:

This is an approximate description of what happens to industrially
farmed chickens . . . lifted, mind you, from a business school case
aimed at helping industrial farms be more efficient, by using rose
coloured chicken contact lenses to cut down on the need for debeaking
'em.

I can attest that this was indeed a real case that we studied at Harvard Business School*.  In fact, it so freaked me out at the time as a concept that I included it in my most recent novel.  From BMOC [warning, profanity lurks ahead]:

Poor, boring, earnest Julian
was always prepared, because he was always terrified, scared to death
that one night slacking off might somehow destroy his future Career
(always with a capital-C), and therefore future Life, much like the
fear of catching AIDS from a one night stand.  Julian participated
(unfortunately) all too much in class, droning on in that irritating
voice of his, advocating positions as spectacularly expected as
Susan's were non-conformist.

Julian,
therefore, was not really a candidate to get cold-called to open the
class discussion, particularly this late in the year.  However, it
was clear to everyone in the room, particularly the professor, that
Julian longed to open a case.  Every day Julian would look at
the professor with this hopelessly wistful expression, only to be
followed by a look of desolation when someone else was chosen.

So
today, letting Julian open was in the same spirit as the homecoming
queen giving a pity-fuck on the last day of high school to the geek
who has been mooning and sighing over her for four years.  And right
at this
moment, Julian had the same surprised and ecstatic look on his face
that the geek would have.

But it was not just the site of
Julian creaming all over himself at his chance to open that had Susan
longing for the piranha button.  Some satanic twist of fate had
Julian Rogers earnestly and painstakingly laying out a strategy and
plan for the new product roll out of ... contact lenses for chickens.
Contact fucking lenses for Christ-sake chickens.  Right this very
second he was outlining his sales pitch to chicken farmers,
explaining how putting contacts in chicken's eyes will somehow
reduce the number of chickens that have to have their beak cut off.
Did she hear that right?  This had to be a joke "“ but no,
everyone seemed to be taking it seriously, and certainly Julian was
taking it deadly seriously.

* I know those anti-capitalists out there will be using this as evidence that business school is crafted to keep us cold and heartless.  HBS consisted of studying 2-3 cases per day for about 200 days a year, which means that over two years one might read a thousand business cases.  This case was more in the spirit of breaking the monotony of yet another case on brass vs. plastic water meters rather than part of a consistent attempt to make us cold and heartless.

Global Warming Movie

I finally watched the BBC special Global Warming Swindle and have to say that it presents a pretty good counter-hypothesis to the prevailing theory of anthropomorphic CO2 production to explain recent global temperature changes.  It also hits some good points on what might be motivating the hard core of the environmental movement beyond just concern about global warming, and why the costs of CO2 control are so high.

I have historically accepted the basic hypothesis of anthropomorphic global warming but have been skeptical of the exaggerated outcomes (Al Gore's 26 foot sea-level rise, for example, which is 17 times more than even the IPCC predicts over the next century) and have posited that a warmer but richer world may well be better than a cooler but poorer one.  I have also pointed out the uncertainties in the IPCC analysis that never get mentioned in the press, like the huge uncertainty in the feedback loops that drive much of the temperature change in current models.  For example, the IPCC admits they don't even know the sign of the largest feedback loop (clouds), which is a big uncertainty since about 2/3 or more of the warming in the models come not directly from CO2 but from these feedback loops.

Anyway, most of my past skepticism has been within the framework of these IPCC studies.  However, this documentary casts off the whole framework, offering a counter-hypothesis of solar activity to explain temperature variations.  I thought the most interesting part of the documentary was when they showed Al Gore from An Inconvenient Truth with a multi-thousand year plot of temperature and CO2.  The chart certainly looks compelling, but this movie makes the point that while the two lines move together, the CO2 line is lagging the temperature line by five hundred years.  Meaning that CO2 levels may be linked to temperature, but the causality may be opposite of that implied by Gore. 

The documentary goes on to offer solar activity as an alternative explanation, with graphs of moving curves of solar activity and temperature that seem to show at least as much correlation as Gore's CO2 graphs.  They hypothesize that rising temperatures driven by changes in solar
activity heat up oceans over time and cause them to release CO2 into
the atmosphere.  I don't think the evidence is definitive, but it certainly casts doubt as to whether we really know what is going on.  I always thought it a bit odd that people would search for the causes of changing temperatures without first checking out the sun, sortof like walking in a room that is too hot and trying to fix it without first checking the thermostat.  This is particularly true given new evidence that other planets are warming, presumably due to solar activity (unless, of course, it's an Exxon plot).

By the way:  Advocates of the anthropomorphic theory are criticizing this movie in part because it does not use Mann's hockey stick temperature chart.  Sorry, but if they want to claim the scientific high ground, I think they need to stop tying their argument to this weak study.  Statisticians have dumped on it repeatedly (apparently random white noise fed into their model produces a hockey stick) and the evidence for eliminating the Medieval warm period is based on the rings in one or two trees.

Another Leftish Howler on Government Health Care

From Kevin Drum, who I consider one of the smarter folks on the left (but not this time):

A few days ago, during an email exchange with a
friend, I mentioned that I don't usually tout cost savings as a big
argument in favor of universal healthcare. It's true that a national
healthcare plan would almost certainly save money compared to our
current Rube Goldberg system, but I suspect the savings would be
modest. Rather, the real advantages of national healthcare are related
to things like access (getting everyone covered), efficiency (cutting down on useless -- or even deliberately counterproductive -- administrative bureaucracies), choice
(allowing people to choose and keep a family doctor instead of being
jerked around everytime their employer decides to switch health
providers), and social justice (providing decent, hassle-free healthcare for the poor).

Name one industry the government has taken over in a monopolistic fashion and subsequently increased efficiency or individual choice?  Anyone?  Buehler?  In fact, I am not sure I can name one government program that even provides the poor with decent, hassle-free services. 

Lets take the most ubiquitous government monopoly, that on K-12 education. 

  • Efficiency?  My kid's for-profit secular private school has a administrator to student ratio of at least 1:15.  How many assistant principals does your public school have?  Many public schools are approaching 1 administrator for every 1 teacher.
  • Choice?  That's a laugh.  The government and its unions fight choice in education tooth and nail.  In fact, in the context of education, Drum and others have effectively argued that choice is the enemy of his last point, social justice, so it is absurd to argue that government monopolistic health care will optimize both.  Yes, people may be frustrated their insurance company does not cover X procedure, but this will only get worse when the government is making the choices for us.  Oh, and by the way, about the evils of those employers running our health plans?  They do so only because of WWII wage controls and decades of federal tax policy that have provided them strong incentive to do so. 
  • Decent, hassle-free service?  Ask a concerned black family in an inner-city school how good their kid's government-provided education is.  In fact, I will bet that most inner city parents get healthcare of better quality today despite the admittedly Rube Goldberg system we have (courtesy of years of silly government interventions) than the quality of education they receive from the government education monopoly.  After all, most of them walk out of the hospital today with their life, while many of their kids are walking out of worthless government schools with no life.

As to the claim that national health care would "almost certainly save money," that is hard to argue with for this reason:  The government, once in charge of health care choices, can simply start denying procedures and care ("rationing").  This is in fact how costs are managed in most socialist medical systems.  So while this statement is technically true, it would be very hard for anyone to really believe that for the same quality and quantity of care, the government could do it cheaper.

13 Identical Litigatable Injuries Sustained in One Week

Patterico has a link to this interesting account of a week in the life of Jarek Molski, who makes a living from filing ADA suits (emphasis added):

For example, in Molski v. El 7 Mares Restaurant, Case
No. C04-1882 (N.D. Cal. 2004), Molski claims that, on May 20, 2003, he
and significant other, Brygida Molski, attended the El 7 Mares
Restaurant for the purposes of dining out. Molski alleges that the
restaurant lacked adequate handicapped parking, and that the food
counter was too high. After the meal, Molski attempted to use the
restroom, but because the toilet's grab bars were improperly installed,
he injured his shoulders in the process of transferring himself from
his wheelchair to the toilet. Thereafter, he was unable to wash his
hands because of the lavatory's design.

Although this complaint appears credible standing alone, its
validity is undermined when viewed alongside Molski's other complaints.
In Molski v. Casa De Fruta, L.P., Case No. C04-1981 (N.D. Cal. 2004),
Molski alleges that he sustained nearly identical injuries on the exact
same day, May 20, 2003. In Casa de Fruta, Molski alleges that he and
significant other, Brygida Molski, patronized Casa de Fruta for the
purpose of wine tasting. On arrival, Molski was again unable to locate
van accessible parking. Once inside, Molski again found the counter to
be too high. After wine tasting, Molski again decided to use the
restroom, and again, injured his upper extremities while in the process
of transferring himself to the toilet. Thereafter, he was once again
unable to wash his hands due to the design of the lavatory.

This was, apparently, not the end of Molski's day. In Molski v.
Rapazzini Winery, Case No. C04-1881 (N.D. Cal. 2004), Molski once again
alleges that he sustained nearly identical injuries on the exact same
day, May 20, 2003. Molski, again accompanied by Brygida Molski, claims
he visited the Rapazzini Winery for the purpose of wine tasting. Again,
Molski complains that the parking lot lacked adequate handicapped van
accessible parking. Upon entering the establishment, he discovered that
the counter was too high. After tasting wine, he again needed to use
the restroom. In the course of transferring himself from his wheelchair
to the toilet, he injured himself yet again. Thereafter, he was again
unable to wash his hands due to the lavatory's design.

The Court is tempted to exclaim: "what a lousy day!" It would be
highly unusual "” to say the least "” for anyone to sustain two injuries,
let alone three, in a single day, each of which necessitated a separate
federal lawsuit. But in Molski's case, May 20, 2003, was simply
business as usual. Molski filed 13 separate complaints for essentially
identical injuries sustained between May 19, 2003 and May 23, 2003. The
Court simply does not believe that Molski suffered 13 nearly identical
injuries, generally to the same part of his body, in the course of
performing the same activity, over a five-day period
. This is to say
nothing of the hundreds of other lawsuits Molski has filed over the
last four years, many of which make nearly identical allegations. The
record before this Court leads it to conclude that these suits were
filed maliciously, in order to extort a cash settlement.

$5000 A Day Fine for Dancing

Congrats Pinal County, which border phoenix to the southeast, for pushing government intrusiveness to a new level:

At the conclusion of what Pinal County officials said was the longest
code compliance hearing in the county's history, San Tan Flat owner
Dale Bell was ordered to pay an initial $5,000 fine Tuesday for
customers dancing in the open-air portion of the restaurant. He will
also be fined $5,000 for every day people dance at his restaurant
starting Feb. 17.

Bell, who does not advertise or encourage dancing at San Tan Flat,
acknowledges that people do dance on weekend nights and it's usually
parents with children or senior couples. He has even put up signs
discouraging it.

   "It's impossible to ... ensure no one breaks out in the waltz or two step," Bell said....

County Attorney Seymour Gruber said dancing outside violates a
county code because it's not happening in an enclosed area with walls
and a roof. The county wants Bell to stop the dancing, limit it to
inside only or get a special use permit which requires public input
from neighboring property owners.

We wouldn't want people dancing without wall or a roof, would we?  I mean, there is probably a 0.5% chance they could get rained on or something.  If you are thinking this is some grizzled biker joint or a shack of a place, you are wrong.  Its actually one year old and quite nice - check out the picture.  For those of you in other parts of the country, where the idea of a family honky-tonk may seem odd, this concept is very popular in Arizona.

So why is this government harassment going on?  Well I have gotten better at decoding these things, and my sense is that it started with noise complaints, which many commercial establishments get:

There have been no complaints against San Tan Flat for dancing,
but both the county and Bell have received noise complaints about the
live music. The restaurant has not been cited for noise because the
volume has been within acceptable levels.

So the county got noise complaints, and my guess is that one of the complainers had some strong political pull (or else they would never have pursued it this far).  Particularly since this is not a population-dense area, and there is little housing directly nearby (see Google satellite map, just click on satellite in the upper right to see all the surrounding, uh, dirt).  I mean it's right next to an airport, for god sakes.   Thus, wanting to satisfy what could only be a high-profile complainer, the county moved in and pulled out the rubber glove and gave the restaurant a good probing.  And, since it is impossible to be in compliance with every stupid ordinance on the books (many conflict, so that you can't be in compliance) the city found something they thought they could make stick.  The only issue I can't decode is whether they are trying to use this as a bargaining chip to get operating hour or noise level changes, or if they are using it a s a club to close the place down.  It probably depends mostly on how much juice the key complainer has who is driving this.

The good news is that the IJ is on the case.

PS-  If you really want to get pissed off, read some of the other economic liberty cases being handled right now by the IJ.  Many of them are great examples of a point I have made for years, that state licensing of professions is more about protecting the professions from competition than they are about protecting the consumer.  If you haven't seen it, George Will had a great editorial on the same topic, which includes this gem:

In New Mexico, anyone can work as an interior designer. But it
is a crime, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in
prison, to list yourself on the Internet or in the Yellow Pages as, or
to otherwise call yourself, an "interior designer" without being
certified as such. Those who favor this censoring of truthful
commercial speech are a private group that controls, using an exam
administered by a private national organization, access to that title.

This is done in the name of "professionalization," but it really
amounts to cartelization. Persons in the business limit access by
others "” competitors "” to full participation in the business.

"¦in Las
Vegas, where almost nothing is illegal, it is illegal "”
unless you are licensed, or employed by someone licensed "” to move, in
the role of an interior designer, any piece of furniture, such as an
armoire, more than 69 inches tall. A Nevada bureaucrat says that
"placement of furniture" is an aspect of "space planning" and therefore
is regulated "” restricted to a "registered interior designer." Placing
furniture without a license? Heaven forfend.

Bugs Bunny, Libertarian Hero

Bugs Bunny was never one to knuckle under to arbitrary power.  I always like the episode when he protects his home from a freeway development, and eventually the freeway ends up going around his home, which has been turned into a pillar of concrete.  I am reminded of all this by this picture from Radley Balko of a woman who would not sell out to developers in China.

Chinahouse_450x323

Update on the State of the World

The sun rises in the east, politicians love pork, and my bracket sucks, again. 

The current bracket challenge leaders are as follows:

Bracket Rank Points Correct Games Upset Risk % Possible Games
Michael Lindsey 1 100 47 18.6 50
Lincoln Beachey 2 98 48 16.3 49
Rob Nieweg 3 97 49 14.1 51
Jeff Haught 4 96 44 27.0 47
Thomas Roeschlein 5 93 47 11.7 50
Bob Woodfield 6 93 44 11.3 46
Zak Barron 7 93 43 18.8 46
Joe Sandusky 8 90 47 13.5 50
Darren Munford 9 90 45 15.1 47
skunk 10 89 46 7.8 49
Coleen Eicher 11 88 47 8.9 50
Richard Pitchford 12 88 46 11.7 49
eagles dare 13 86 42 21.6 45

I have run the 8 different remaining scenarios, and here are your possible winners:

  • Rob Nieweg (2 different possibilities)
  • Skunk
  • Jeff Haught
  • Thomas Roeschlein
  • Eagles Dare (all the way from 13th)
  • Michael Lindsey (2 different possibilities, basically he needs the #2 seeds to reach the finals)

Why I Worry About Single-Payer Health Care, Part #, Uh, Whatever

The best answer, of course, as to why single-payer is bad is that the single-payer will not be me, and therefore will not make trade offs about my health, money, time, etc. in the same way I would.  One of the many problems with polling on issues like this is that someone asks a question like "Are you satisfied with your health care" and when XX% of people say "no", the person using the poll goes on to postulate that the people are dissatisfied for Y reason.  But people may be dissatisfied for many reasons.  For example, I know that many people's main source of dissatisfaction is that their current insurance company was callous in rejecting them for so-and-so procedure.  But do they really think the government is going to be less callous?

Unfortunately, this best answer does not seem to be getting anywhere, so I will offer another answer.  Single payer health care will almost certainly lead over time to single provider health care.  What is my evidence?  Well, that is what happened in K-12 education.  And note the very very strong opposition to migrating education from single-provider to single-payer by the exact same people who are the intellectual driving force for some kind of massive new federal intervention in health care.  Kevin Drum and Matthew Yglesias both argue that single payer is inherently unfair.  So get ready, Walter Reed and the Post Office may soon be teaming up to provide your medical care. 

The Boston Globe's Non-Existent Ethics

I am a big fan of the Mises blog, but in this post on a Boston Globe editorial they miss something pretty substantial.  S.M. Oliva takes as a starting point this absurd editorial on the pending XM-Sirius merger:

the proposed merger of the two US satellite radio firms is premature at
best. At this point, it should be rejected. In half a decade, the two
firms have gone from barely broadcasting to throwing up their hands in
defeat. But it is hardly clear that the nation's two satellite radio
firms will wither and die unless they unite, or that a merger would
benefit consumers.

Oliva does a good job at debunking this argument, but why bother?  It is patently absurd.  How is can one possible define a market at just satellite radio?  Where have I heard this same ridiculous argument before?  Aha!  Right in the press release from the National Association of Broadcasters, the organization most threatened by satellite radio and who would benefit most if it would just go away.

When
the FCC authorized satellite radio, it specifically found that
the public
would be served best by two competitive nationwide systems. Now,

with  their stock prices at rock bottom and their business model in
disarray
because of profligate spending practices, they seek a government

bail-out to avoid competing in the marketplace.

Of course, even a combined XM-Sirius would have to compete in the marketplace -- in fact with the members of the NAB, whose asses Satellite has been kicking for a few years.

Oh, but here is the good part: the Boston Globe's parent company is a member of the NAB, owning two radio stations and 9 TV stations.  So in fact, the Globe was not editorializing in favor of the consumer, but in fact was shilling for its own trade group, working to weaken a dangerous source of new competition for its own broadcast radio and TV stations.  And nowhere in the editorial does the Globe disclose this massive conflict of interest.  Which makes this closing line a joke:

A Sirius-XM merger would snuff out competition within a potentially
lively market at a time when the technology is still evolving. And by
creating one dominant satellite radio firm, the move would likely keep
new rivals from emerging in the future.

As any economist will tell you, it is ridiculous to define satellite radio as a "market."  At its smallest, the market is reasonably "radio."  The delivery mechanism of radio (satellite vs. terrestrial) is meaningless to the definition of a market (the editorial tries to deal with this logical fallacy by creating a straw man that the market does not include iPods, when of course the main issue is that it does include terrestrial radio stations).   The Globe, along with the NAB whose talking points the Globe is just repeating in this "editorial", are in fact interested in reducing competition for themselves, not enhancing it.

Oh, and by the way, if approving a merger of broadcast or media companies is a "bail-out," then I invite the Boston Globe to calculate how much of a bail-out the Times corporation has been given, as the government has approved the merger of the NY Times, Boston Globe, IHT, 20 other papers, 9 TV stations, 2 radio stations, and 35 commercial web sites.  And by the way, what is the market share of each of their papers in their own local "markets?"

I will leave you with a quote from Milton Friedman vis a vis licensing but entirely appropriate here:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason
is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for
the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are
invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of
the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone
else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is
hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary
motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who
may be a plumber.

Chicken Little Needs to Stay on Message

Michael Cannon had this funny reaction to the downward revision, by the Census Beaureu, of the estimated number of Americans without health insurance:

It is important that we not over-react to these numbers. The worst
thing we could do would be to stop panicking about the uninsured. A lot of interest groups have spent a lot of money and misused a lot of data to convince the public that this mostly healthy bunch of people
are America's #1 health care problem. If we were to go off-message now,
then Barack, Hillary, Mitt, Arnold, and all the other Chicken Littles
we've created . . . well, they might get horribly confused. Thank you
for your continued support.

I would add to this:  "And never, ever let anyone question the assumption that 'being uninsured' is the same as 'being without medical care' and never allow anyone to ask whether all of those uninsured are uninsured against their will, rather than by personal choice".

Statements I Never Expected to Read

"Arizona Republic gave an unqualified endorsement of school choice today"

From Adam Shaeffer at Cato.  The AZ Republic editorial is here.  It is really rare to see a local paper break with the established monopoly education interests.  However, before we get too excited, I will observe that the Arizona school choice plan discussed falls pretty short of full school choice, but it is a step in the right direction.

National Security Letters

From the beginning, national security letters had to end badly.  One only has to understand incentives to know that things were going to go off the rails.  Specifically, national security letters are an easy way to for investigators to short-circuit a lot of procedural steps, including review and approval of warrants by judges, steps that have been put in place for a real Constitutional purpose.  Anyone who is at all familiar with the operation of any government bureaucracy had to know that their use would steadily grow well outside the narrow bounds of urgent national security issues.  Anytime government employees can grow their power without supervision or accountability, they will tend to do so.  What absolutely guaranteed that this would happen, and sooner rather than later, was the legal non-disclosure requirements around these letters that prevents anyone from discussing, investigation, or discovering their abuse and misuse.

The Washington Post carries a great anonymous editorial from one person served with such a letter:

Three years ago, I received a national security letter (NSL) in my
capacity as the president of a small Internet access and consulting
business. The letter ordered me to provide sensitive information about
one of my clients. There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or
approved the letter, and it turned out that none had. The letter came
with a gag provision that prohibited me from telling anyone, including
my client, that the FBI was seeking this information. Based on the
context of the demand -- a context that the FBI still won't let me
discuss publicly -- I suspected that the FBI was abusing its power and
that the letter sought information to which the FBI was not entitled....

Without the gag orders issued on recipients of the letters, it is
doubtful that the FBI would have been able to abuse the NSL power the
way that it did. Some recipients would have spoken out about perceived
abuses, and the FBI's actions would have been subject to some degree of
public scrutiny. To be sure, not all recipients would have spoken out;
the inspector general's report suggests that large telecom companies
have been all too willing to share sensitive data with the agency -- in
at least one case, a telecom company gave the FBI even more information
than it asked for. But some recipients would have called attention to
abuses, and some abuse would have been deterred.

I found it
particularly difficult to be silent about my concerns while Congress
was debating the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2005 and early
2006. If I hadn't been under a gag order, I would have contacted
members of Congress to discuss my experiences and to advocate changes
in the law.

Tim Lynch makes a point about the national security letters I found intriguing and that has not been discussed very often, that the letters represent effect conscription of ordinary citizens into an intelligence or even big brother role.  The author of the WaPo editorial makes the same point:

I resent being conscripted as a secret informer for the government and
being made to mislead those who are close to me, especially because I
have doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying investigation.

Schilling Blog

I know Curt Schilling is kind of a love-him or hate-him kind of athlete, but I will say his current blogging effort is pretty impressive.  No big revelations in this post, but note the detailed observations he makes about a pre-season game that many pitchers of his experience and profile might not even think twice about.

I Couldn't Be More Pleased

I couldn't me more pleased that Congress is about to enter an orgy of hearings on the US Attorney firings.  Not because of the issue itself, since I really don't have a clue what is going on.  But nothing would make me happier than to see Congress dissipate itself on this crap for a couple of years.   Maybe we could even revive interest in impeachment hearings.  Anything that soaks up time from passing new boneheaded legislation and gives Congressmen a chance to demagogue without threatening my individual freedoms is OK by me.

Update:  OK, I am catching up and learning bit by bit about this case.  I found this in particular to be hilarious:

One of those attorneys was Paul Charlton of Arizona.  Adult Video News  (link NSFW) did some sleuthing, and found some interesting stuff. Charlton did
in fact bring one federal obscenity case in Arizona. But while he was
bringing that particular series of indictments, it turns out that
another chain of adult video stores based in Arizona continued to sell
and rent the same titles the other store was indicted for selling.

The
kicker is that the unindicted store had recently declared bankruptcy,
and was being run by trustees from the federal government. So while the
federal government was indicting one business for breaking federal
obscenity laws, the government itself was breaking those same laws just
a few miles away, in order to recoup federal taxes owed by a rival
store.

Even more interesting, it looks like Charlton may have
balked on the case after learning about the discrepancy via a brief
from attorneys for the indicted store. And that balk may have cost him
his job.

By the way, I was a bit flip up top, because I was trying to make a separate point.  However, I do believe strongly that principled prosecutorial discretion is absolutely critical in this world where everything is illegal.  If the Bush administration turns out to have fired these guys for exercising sensible discretion, then they deserve to be toasted for it, though I have a number of other issues I would tend to toast them for first.

That Vanishing First Ammendment Thingie

Via Overlawyered:

They're doing it again in California: "State and federal authorities
have opened an investigation into a Norco housewife, alleging that her
vitriolic protests against a high-risk group home in her neighborhood
may constitute housing discrimination." Federal officials asked state
fair housing regulators to investigate Julie Waltz, 61, who had
protested plans to open a group house next to her home for
developmentally disabled residents; among those eligible to reside
there under state law would be persons deemed not competent to stand
trial on sex crime charges.

Yes, you heard that right.  She is being threatened with a housing discrimination charge by the government for exercising free speech on a public policy issue.

My Health Plan Is Now Illegal In Massachussetts

Yesterday, I posited that current proposals for government health care are worse than other welfare programs, because they not only will cost a ton of money, but they will also, unlike say government housing, make my personal health care worse.

I only had to wait one day for an example
(actually, I didn't have to wait at all, since I could just mine Europe and Canada for examples).

Massachusetts has now set the minimum level of insurance required to
comply with the state's individual mandate. Not only will every
resident of the state be required to have insurance by July of this
year, but by January of 2009, no one in the state will be allowed to
have insurance with more than a $2,000 deductible or total out of
pocket costs of more than $5,000. In addition, every policy in the
state will be required to cover prescription drugs, a move that could
add 5-15 percent to the cost of insurance plans.

After a lot of study, my family chose a high deductible health plan combined with a medical IRA (they actually call them something else, but I can't remember the abbreviation).  We had a low deductible plan, but ran the numbers, and found we would save tons with a higher deductible plan, particularly if we dumped the savings into the IRA.  We set the deductible at the level of economic pain we thought we could bear in a bad year.  Even if we had a medical disaster once every three years, we would still be ahead with the lower premiums and the IRA-style tax savings.  And if we don't have a disaster that frequently (we never have had even one in our lives) then we will build up some nice savings for retirement.

Of course, this makes too much sense to be legal.  It actually involves individual choice and stuff, and god forbid we be allowed to exercise that.  For our own good, of course.

Depressing Fact of the Day

I would like to say that I am surprised, but:

An academic survey
study conducted in 1990 compared how much Americans and Russians
understood about the way markets work. It found no significant
difference. Americans understood free markets no better than a nation
of people with virtually no personal experience of them. That's
sobering. And since the heaviest academic emphasis of the last fifteen
years has been on elementary mathematics and reading, there is little
reason to believe that we have improved our grasp of economics in the
interim.

This is a funny but probably true observation:

it would be institutionally suicidal for a monopoly school system to do
a good job of teaching market economics. The very fact that we continue
to have a monopoly school system is retroactive proof that market
economics has not been well taught. Monopolies, after all, tend to be
frowned on by the economically savvy.

Intellectual Welfare and Credit

A few years ago I coined the term "Intellectual Welfare."  I originally devised he term to describe Social Security, where it was arguable that most people in the program were not receiving a transfer payment, but they were instead receiving for-your-own-good government restriction of individual choice.  In the case of Social Security, government takes over the management of some of our retirement savings (at an appalling cost) because we lunkheads can't be trusted to manage our own savings for ourselves.

I was going to prepare a similar post about cries for regulation in the sub-prime credit market, but Alex Tabarrok did it already:

Roubini and others generating hysteria about defaults in the
mortgage market are credit snobs - they think credit is something that
only the rich can handle.  Just look at the language that Roubini uses
to analogize borrowers - they are "reckless patients" who "spent the last few years on a diet of booze, drugs and artery clogging junk food."  Similarly, the Washington Post tells us that it's the end of the "borrowing binge."

Yeah, we get it.  Credit is ok for us, the "sober" borrowers but poor people can't
handle credit.  Too much credit among the poor generates decay and
social pathology.  Credit must be regulated.  We can't, for example,
have credit stores in poor neighborhoods.  Don't you know that credit is bad for people without self-discipline?   Let the poor buy on installment credit?  That's unconscionable.  Today's furor over sub-prime mortgages is the same old story.

Update: This really ticks me off:

Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who heads
the House Financial Services Committee, said in an interview on Friday
that he intended to move legislation in the coming weeks. He said the
measure he was preparing would discourage abusive loans by imposing
legal liability "up the chain." It would give borrowers and others the
ability to sue the Wall Street firms that package those mortgages and
then sell them as mortgage-backed securities, as well as the purchasers
of those securities in the secondary market.

"Anybody, including the original borrower, can make a claim, and the
liability would go up the chain," he said. "People say it may
discourage certain kinds of lending. But that's precisely what we want
to do. We will pass a bill that won't allow companies to loan people
more money than they can pay back or loans for more than the value of
the house."

GRRRR.  Does no one remember what it was like to get a mortgage before they were so easily securitized?  The paperwork in the credit application was horrendous, as was the time it took to complete the mortgage.  Today they check two or three numbers, and if these numbers match the requirements of the Wall Street companies that package the loans, the loan is approved.  This legislation, which is aimed at slamming the securitization process, will hurt everyone.  All of our lives will be made worse so a few politicians can demagogue an issue that will be forgotten in 12 months. 

 

LOL, I Love This

Sorry Mac folks, but as a guy who builds his own PC's, I am rolling on the floor laughing with Charlie Booker (via Market Power)

I hate Macs. I have always hated Macs. I hate people who use Macs. I
even hate people who don't use Macs but sometimes wish they did. Macs
are glorified Fisher-Price activity centres for adults; computers for
scaredy cats too nervous to learn how proper computers work; computers
for people who earnestly believe in feng shui.

PCs are the
ramshackle computers of the people. You can build your own from
scratch, then customise it into oblivion. Sometimes you have to slap it
to make it work properly, just like the Tardis (Doctor Who,
incidentally, would definitely use a PC). PCs have charm; Macs ooze
pretension. When I sit down to use a Mac, the first thing I think is,
"I hate Macs", and then I think, "Why has this rubbish aspirational
ornament only got one mouse button?" Losing that second mouse button
feels like losing a limb. If the ads were really honest, Webb would be
standing there with one arm, struggling to open a packet of peanuts
while Mitchell effortlessly tore his apart with both hands.

The two-button mouse thing has always been a mystery to me.  Clearly it is better.  Hell, I can't do without my two button mouse and its scroll-wheel.  Only a pathological desire not to copy anything from the PC world (copying from Xerox* is OK, I guess) has prevented Apple from adopting this no-brainer improvement.

* I may be one of the few people around who ever worked on the old Xerox workstations from which so much of the Mac was derived.  They had their issues, but they were unbelievable for their time.  I would put Xerox's failure to capitalize on this technology right up there with Amiga in the category of lost technological opportunities.  </dating myself>