Monday, April 30, 2007

Kisses in the mail

Life is good in the coveted public sector in Massachusetts. As for the high pensions to retired UMass employees, I'll remember this when I'm asked for a contribution or to accept higher tuition and fees. Some people gotta love Massachusetts.
For many state employees, filing retirement papers promises a modest pension.

The average pension for a state employee is approximately $25,000, Communications Director for the State Treasurer's Office Alison Mitchell said.

While few could begrudge a hardworking Massachusetts employee for receiving such a yearly stipend, some state retirees amass healthy fortunes during their golden years, and it's hardly a low five-figure payout.

Information from the State Treasurer's office indicates that 74 retired state employees collect pensions of more than $100,000 per year, including 50 retired University of Massachusetts employees.

UMass Medical School in Worcester is the employer attached to a number of the largest pension holders in the state, and also topped the list when it came to other UMass branches. UMass Medical generates 13 employees receiving pensions of more than $100,000.

Arthur Pappas, the retired vice president of affiliate relations for UMass Medical, receives the largest public pension in the state $231,638.40. Pappas turned down an interview request for this story.

Former UMass President and State Senator William Bulger follows Pappas at $197,125.92. Bulger's pension has been a source of controversy. On Nov. 9, 2006, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled unanimously that Bulger was entitled to the majority of an increase that included a housing allowance, boosting his pension from $179,000.

"It's clear that the system was never designed to benefit any one individual to this level," State Treasurer Tim Cahill told the Boston Globe of the Bulger pension at the time.

Twenty retired state police officers earn six-figure pensions, led by retired superintendent and current Boston University Police chief Thomas Robbins at $135,000. Robbins declined to be interviewed for this story.

"UMass and the State Police have the biggest pensions because their salary structure is much higher than average state employee," Mitchell said.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A thorough fisking of Lou Dobbs, protectionist blowhard

For anyone interested in rebutting the claims of protectionist Democrats, please read.

A can of legal worms

Did U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, the "swing vote" on the high court, muddle legal affairs when he ruled in favor of a partial birth abortion ban passed by Congress? Charles Fried suspects that Kennedy may be incoherent.
Senator Dianne Feinstein of California asked whether I thought a Justice Roberts would vote to overrule Roe v. Wade. I said I thought he would not, at least not in its later, less absolute version embodied in the 1992 Casey decision, which protected against governments imposing an "undue burden" on a woman’s right to choose abortion before the fetus’s viability. I told Senator Feinstein that the formulation, and the principles behind it, had become so deeply rooted - in the law relied on not only in abortion cases but by analogy in matters as widely disparate as the Texas homosexual sodomy case, compelled visiting rights for grandparents and the right to die - that its abandonment would produce the kind of violent unsettling of the law against which respect for precedent is meant to protect.

The next year, when I testified in support of Samuel Alito, Senator Feinstein asked me the same question. I gave the same answer.

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision for the court in the abortion case last week does not change my mind, because the procedure that was banned, intact dilation and extraction, is too rarely used and its importance too dubious to make much difference.

Still, this most recent decision is disturbing, because in 2000, in a similar case, the Supreme Court struck down a Kansas partial birth abortion ban. The Kansas law was unacceptably vague, but the principal reason for the court’s earlier decision was that there was responsible medical opinion that sometimes the procedure was less risky for the mother, and therefore in such cases the ban posed an undue burden. The federal ban cured the vagueness, but sought to overcome the medical testimony by a legislative proclamation of a fact that is not a fact: that the procedure was never safer for the mother.

The decision is disturbing because the court has on numerous occasions refused to allow Congress to overturn constitutional law by bogus fact finding, notably in decisions invalidating the Violence Against Women Act (which Justice Kennedy joined) and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (which Justice Kennedy wrote).

It’s disturbing because Justice Kennedy fails to come to grips with his own jurisprudence, going so far as to say that because Congress was acting under its power to regulate interstate commerce, it needed only a rational basis to justify its decision. Where a fundamental right is involved, such an explanation is evidently wrong.

It’s also disturbing because Justice Kennedy was not quite willing to embrace his own conclusion. He suggested that perhaps as applied in a particular case in which there was an increased health risk the ban might be unconstitutional after all. What can that mean? The very complaint here was that the ban was unconstitutional because it applies in just such situations. Does the court contemplate a surgeon pausing in the midst of an operation in which he determines the banned procedure might be less risky, and seeking a court order?

Finally, the decision is disturbing for a more far-reaching reason: there are indeed cases where the court in the last few years had become truly incoherent, largely as a result of Justice O’Connor’s pragmatic and underexplained abandonment of positions she had earlier agreed to or even proclaimed on affirmative action and campaign finance. The first issue has been argued and will be decided this term of court; campaign finance is being argued this week.

If the justices eliminate the confusion and restore principle in those areas, the cry will go up that the court is simply reflecting its changed political complexion, not reasoning carefully and promoting stability and clarity in the law. And last week’s decision will lend plausibility to that charge.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Boy is the Angry Economist Angry!

The Angry Economist is not one for the custom of not speaking ill of the dead.
"I spit on Marx's grave today. I had a 10 hour layover in Heathrow on the way back from Mumbai. Walked around Hampstead Heath, and wound up in Highgate Cemetary (East). Interestingly, his grave is immediately opposite Herbert Spencer's grave. That's nearly as amusing as it would have been to bury Marx next to Adam Smith. Maybe they put Spencer across from Marx to keep a wary eye on him?"

Tough stuff even if you consider all the mahem Marx contributed to over the last century and an half. We're sure the left bank will not be amused even though Marx mistreated people regularly. What is it about lefists that they love humanity but they don't love people?

Also some people need to keep learning and re-learning this lesson:

Always one step ahead: WalMart

What will the antiWalMart crowd do now?
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said on Tuesday that it will contract with local hospitals and other organizations to open as many as 400 in-store health clinics in the next two to three years.

Should current market forces continue, the world's largest retailer said up to 2,000 clinics could be in Wal-Mart stores over the next five to seven years.

Wal-Mart said the effort marks an expansion of a pilot program it started in 2005, when it leased space within its stores to medical clinics. Currently, it said 76 clinics are operating inside Wal-Mart stores in 12 states.

It has said the clinics are expected to boost the health of its shoppers and should also help sales by drawing consumers into its stores.

"We think the clinics will be a great opportunity for our business. But most importantly, they are going to provide something our customers and communities desperately need -- affordable access at the local level to quality health care," said Wal-Mart Chief Executive Officer Lee Scott in a statement.

Wal-Mart has endured criticism over the years from labor unions that say it pays inadequate wages and pushes employees onto government aid programs.

The company has tried to counter such attacks, taking steps like selling generic drugs for $4 per prescription, and joining with the 1.8 million-member Service Employees International Union, one of its most vocal labor foes, to call for universal health-care coverage for all Americans by 2012.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The universe is amazing

Fruitful science reveals the wonders of the universe.
Immense coils of hot, electrified gas in the Sun's atmosphere behave like a musical instrument, scientists say.

These "coronal loops" carry acoustic waves in much the same way that sound is carried through a pipe organ.

Solar explosions called micro-flares generate sound booms which are then propagated along the coronal loops.

"The effect is much like plucking a guitar string," Professor Robert von Fay-Siebenbuergen told BBC News at the National Astronomy Meeting in Preston.

The corona is an atmosphere of hot, electrically-charged gas - or plasma - that surrounds the Sun. The temperature of the corona should drop the further one moves from the Sun.

But, in fact, the coronal temperature is up to 300 times hotter than the Sun's visible surface, or photosphere. And no one can explain why.
That's pretty cosmic don't you think?

What was the Pentagon thinking?

Months ago I heard former Pentagon flak Dorie Clark explain how the Jessica Lynch story got out hand as the press got carried away with several aspects of the story. I don't fault the Pentagon on what spiraled out of control with the Lynch story. However, there
is no excuse for the Pentagon's "cover-up" of the circumstances surrounding Pat Tillman's death. It looks bad for everyone including the President.

Don Surber
says heads should roll. Given government inertia, I don't think they will.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Oh it's only mercury

Mercury catches up with feel-good environmentalism. The Gaia crowd just doesn't understand the law of unintended consequences.

With all of the alarms raised about mercury, why are the moonbats advocating massive change to fluorescent lighting. The State of Vermont went through great lengths to rid the state of mercury thermometers and mercury batteries. Now the global warming loons want to swap all incandescent bulbs for mercury-based fluorescents.

The new way to save the planet is by poisoning it, yourself and Junior’s hamster. How you ask? Here’s how!

Fluorescent lamps work by exciting atoms of liquid mercury in an inert gas and having them excite a phosphor coating to produce visible light.
Thanks to Vermont Woodchuck for this one.

Update: Glenn Reynolds points to an article that says there isn't that much mercury in enviro-friendly lightbulbs. Still mercury isn't nice to have around if you keep listening to those public service ads warning about its disposal.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

They keep thinking: Who needs men?

KAY HYMOWITZ gets one thinking about fatherhood. In the age of the sperm bank, a man can be the worst he can be and have it affirmed by women who should know better. I'm not sure what to make about this -- whether individual choice triumphs over nature and tradition. But Hymowitz's piece is thought-provoking.

There are multiple ironies in this unfolding revolution, not least that the technology that allows women to have a family without men reinforces the worst that women fear in men. Think of all the complaints you hear: Men can’t commit, they’re irresponsible, they don’t take care of the kids. By going to a sperm bank, women are unwittingly paying men to be exactly what they object to. But why expect anything different? The very premise of AI is that, apart from their liquid DNA, we can will men out of children’s lives.

It’s not a good idea for society to erect a wall between children and their biological fathers — nor to encourage men to disown their kids. In several nations, including Britain and Sweden, sperm donors must agree to be identified if the child wishes, typically as of age 18. It would be a good idea for America to follow suit.

But let’s not kid ourselves that such a rule would also put an end to fatherlessness — which is nourished by our cultural predilection for individual choice unconstrained by tradition, the needs of children, or nature itself.
Does a child conceived with the "help" of a sperm bank have a right to know her biological father?

Lieberman answers Reid

Honest Joe versus Blowing-in-the-Wind Reid.
WASHINGTON - Senator Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) today made the following statement in response to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's comment that the Iraq War is "lost:"

"This week witnessed horrific terrorist attacks by Islamist extremists in Iraq, killing hundreds of innocent civilians and leading Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to declare that the war is 'lost.'

With all due respect, I strongly disagree. Senator Reid's statement is not based on military facts on the ground in Iraq and does not advance our cause there.

Al Qaeda's strategy for victory in Iraq is clear. They are trying to murder as many innocent civilians as possible in an effort to reignite sectarian fighting and drive us to retreat from Iraq.

The question now before us is whether we respond to these terrorist attacks by running away as Al Qaeda hopes - abandoning the future of Iraq, the Middle East, and ultimately our own security to the very same people responsible for this week's atrocities - or whether we stand united to fight them.

This is exactly the wrong time to conclude that we have lost the war in Iraq, or that our new strategy has failed. Instead, we should provide General Petraeus and his troops with the time and the resources to succeed. We should not surrender in the face of barbarism."

Friday, April 20, 2007

Wish I could be there, today at Sanders Theatre: Barro on Friedman

Robert Barro lectures at Sanders Theatre on Milton Friedman. I hope someone records this.

Mankiw updates with a post to Barro's paper on MF.

Christians under attack in Turkey

Sad story. Why can't we just get along?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

While I was away



Spring break brought us to Ogunquit, Maine only to be holed up in a resort because of the nasty weather. We made the best of it and took in a lot of television as the Virginia Tech massacre unfolded.

As the motto for Maine proclaims the state is "worth a visit, worth a lifetime." Nice place. If you are up in Ogunquit you have to get a burger from Wild Willie's.

Nikki is one tough woman

If Nikki Giovanni, the great American poet, had a problem with the nutcake Cho then you knew this madman was a real problem.
The mood in the basketball arena was defeated, funereal. Nikki Giovanni seemed an unlikely source of strength for a Virginia Tech campus reeling from the depravity of one of its own.

Tiny, almost elfin, her delivery blunted by the loss of a lung, Giovanni brought the crowd at the memorial service to its feet and whipped mourners into an almost evangelical fervor with her words: "We are the Hokies. We will prevail, we will prevail. We are Virginia Tech."

Nearly two years earlier, Giovanni had stood up to Cho Seung-Hui before he drenched the campus in blood. Her comments Tuesday showed that the man who had killed 32 students and teachers had not killed the school's spirit.

"We are strong and brave and innocent and unafraid," the 63-year-old poet with the close-cropped, platinum hair told the grieving crowd. "We are better than we think, not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imagination and the possibility we will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears, through all this sadness."

In September 2005, Cho was enrolled in Giovanni's introduction to creative writing class. From the beginning, he began building a wall between himself and the rest of the class.

He wore sunglasses to class and pulled his maroon knit cap down low over his forehead. When she tried to get him to participate in class discussion, his answer was silence.

"Sometimes, students try to intimidate you," Giovanni told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday. "And I just assumed that he was trying to assert himself."

But then female students began complaining about Cho.

About five weeks into the semester, students told Giovanni that Cho was taking photographs of their legs and knees under the desks with his cell phone. She told him to stop, but the damage was already done.

Female students refused to come to class, submitting their work by computer instead. As for Cho, he was not adding anything to the classroom atmosphere, only detracting.

Police asked Giovanni not to disclose the exact content or nature of Cho's poetry. But she said it was not violent like other writings that have been circulating.

It was more invasive.

"Violent is like, `I'm going to do this,'" said Giovanni, a three-time NAACP Image Award winner who is sometimes called "the princess of black poetry." This was more like a personal violation, as if Cho were objectifying his subjects, "doing thing to your body parts."

"It's not like, `I'll rip your heart out,'" she recalled. "It's that, `Your bra is torn,and I'm looking at your flesh.'"

His work had no meter or structure or rhyme scheme. To Giovanni, it was simply "a tirade."

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Tax history as natural history

The morally discredited U.S. tax system has evolved taking with it a bit of the American character to question authority. Bit by bit, the tax system has made us a bit fatalistic, as the power of central government grows. Neo-socialists take note of Kevin Hassett's offering:
Today taxes eat up about 30 percent of income, a much heavier burden. And like our ancestors, we don't believe that our money is particularly well spent. A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken last April found that Americans believe that 51 cents of every tax dollar is wasted. But where's the outrage? Most of us don't even own muskets, and the few of us who have revolted against the IRS are settled safely behind bars, to popular acclaim.

Which makes the U.S. tax system, ugly as it is, something of a marvel. It raises revenue without raising a ruckus. A simpler and more efficient system would undeniably serve everyone better, but the current hodgepodge is so entrenched as to have become a political third rail, and attempts to reform it almost always fail or are gradually reversed. Witness Ronald Reagan's Tax Reform Act of 1986.

Like a finch in the Galapagos Islands, the tax code has gradually evolved in a manner that maximizes its chances for survival. So a natural history of our tax system provides an interesting mirror on ourselves and reveals some surprising facts.

At it again, Michael Moore

Like a true American.

"I would rather die in America than go to Cuba," said Joe Picurro, a Toms River, N.J., ironworker approached by the filmmaker via an e-mail that read, "Joe and Mike in Cuba."

Would Michael Moore have the freedom to offend communist dictator Castro the way he has carte blanche in the U.S.? I don't think so.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

One upmanship on some name calling

People should be a bit wary if they decide to take on Mark Steyn. Particularly if they are misinformed Canadians.
I'm not sure whether it's the "Belgium" or the "Jew" bit I'm hiding, or both. But oddly enough, as I had cause to mention in a q-&-a session in New York a couple of days ago, it was the state of England's obsession with a Portuguese Jew that embodied 19th century Britain at its most confident
Britain at its most confident was a age of long ago. On the path the multicultural mahem that is Great Britain they forget history.

Read a little British history.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Drew Bledsoe, Class Act, retires

Drew Bledsoe was a great quarterback and helped resurrect the Pats from the team's doormat status in the early 1990s. He set records, earned four Pro Bowl visits and won a superbowl in a supporting role. Not bad for the 14 year veteran. He wasn't always treated well in New England after Tom Brady took over but he never seemed to complain extensively.

Like most football stars Bledsoe credited his father for his upbrining. The Drew Bledsoe Foundation is a proud sponsor of Parenting with Dignity run by Mac Bledsoe. More on the program here.

Thank you Drew for allowing us to know you. Hold your head up high. You are a great role model. All the best.

Who is an American and who would want to be?

Must read: John McWhorter

I will never forget a conversation I had with two twentysomething Muslims not long after 9/11. One had been born and raised in the United States, the other had come here at a young age. It was clear from our conversation, though they gingerly avoided putting it explicitly, that neither of them entirely disapproved of what Osama bin Laden had done. There were, of course, multiple recitations of "I think what he did was terrible" - but delivered with a certain lack of emotional commitment. What came through was a sentiment that, in the end, something terrible had been necessary for bin Laden to get across a valuable message. . .

The killer quote however is this:
The urgency of defending the life we know, American life, against murderous barbarians would instantly wake us up to the value of what America, its flaws acknowledged, is, and what it has achieved.

To all the beautiful, one-worlders and postmodernists I have this to say:

I'm proud to be an American.

Got it?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The charlatans in full regalia: "White people suck"

Get a load of this! Racist Collectivists attack individuality and thus freedom. That's right individualism is a problem on the road to racially harmonic nirvana.
White people, you're privileged, and guilty, guilty, guilty of oppressing disadvantaged minorities. Denial only makes things worse.

This is the message currently emanating from the Seattle School District. Never mind that this dubious construct undercuts needed emphasis on minority student achievement.

District officials this month are sending students from four high schools to an annual "White Privilege Conference" in Colorado. The conference is billed as an "opportunity to examine and explore difficult issues related to white privilege, white supremacy and oppression" — "a challenging, empowering and educational experience."

The conference has little to do with mastering reading, writing, math and science; or with graduating from high school and keeping one's head above water in college. Those are the lessons high-school students should be learning, not that they will be given social promotions in the name of equity and inclusion.

The focus of Seattle Public Schools bureaucracy is clearly political indoctrination, not academics. The district is even planning an "equity summit" in the spring, which White Privilege Conference attendees are to help lead.

What's the thinking behind this theory of white privilege? For the 2006 conference, a paper by Tobin Miller Shearer (who is white) argued that white people could not enter the kingdom of God unless they confronted the way racism and white privilege shaped their lives and spirituality. He maintained that white people tend to be far too individualistic and need to acknowledge their membership in a group that is unavoidably racist.

Robert Jensen, a journalism professor writing in the Kansas City Business Journal, echoed those sentiments. Breaking free of white privilege means "challenging the pathological individualism of this culture so we can see how our successes and our failures are always partly social, not strictly individual," Jensen asserted.

So, there you have it. Somehow, in 2007 in the United States, "society," racial bias and stereotyping are still controlling forces, oppressing minorities.

I have a different view. What we have here is an institutional evasion of personal responsibility. Why is it such a great bugaboo to think that actions have consequences?

The emphasis in Seattle Public Schools on "institutional racism" and "white privilege" flows from unpleasant outcomes that must be spun politically to explain such things as the district's most recent state achievement test scores.

In core academic subjects, whites and Asians still exceed blacks, Latinos and Native Americans. The disparity is not simply a matter of color: School District data indicate income, English-language proficiency and home stability are also important correlates to achievement.
Racial politics and white guilt at its worst. I trust that likes of Shearer and Jenson have never experienced working class life in an Italian or ethnic "ghetto". They are collectivist idiots who should never be placed near the levers of power never mind a classroom. I would never send my kid to this "seminar." After all what would it do to his or her "self-esteem?"

Dispatch from the Banana Republic addicted to oil

One good reason to pray for the emergence of alternative energy or a radical drop in oil prices. In Venezuela they never seem to learn and Little Castro is proof of that.

Dependence on one export has strapped the country’s financial fortunes to a roller coaster. When oil prices are high, many Venezuelans enjoy an enviable quality of life, particularly for a developing nation. The state doles out subsidies to domestic businesses, adds thousands of state jobs, and keeps the domestic currency artificially strong, which makes imports cheap. This state-dispensed bounty has helped create a carefree, let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may mentality in Venezuelans and fostered a concomitant sense of entitlement. After all, with money seeping out of the ground, what incentive is there to work? Of course, government can only apportion handouts when the cash box is full. When oil prices fall, government revenue plummets, and the state is forced to curtail the spoils.

The prudent approach would be to leverage the country’s petroleum wealth to fortify other sectors of the economy. But Venezuelans gravitate to leaders who swear oil reserves can keep the party going indefinitely. Chávez is the latest in a long line of irresponsible, populist presidents, and if he has his way, his successor won’t emerge for many years. Chávez is demanding—and is expected to receive— authority to run for unlimited reelection. Still, even as he concentrates power, broader trends could determine how long his unlimited term in office lasts. Chávez’s standing—like so many things in this country—may depend more on the price of oil than he would like to believe.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Should latte liberals in NYC switch to Dunkin Donuts?

Oh the pity of it all and in New York City no less! It's bad enough Starbucks serves inferior coffee (burnt to taste)But to suffer the indignity of not being liberal enough in America's premier union town after all that "fair trade" blather. What is a liberal to do?
Judging by the lines at Starbucks stores in Manhattan, one of the most progressive and union-friendly towns in the country, the accusations of union-busting and poor pay may not matter a lot. New Yorkers will probably continue to queue up in the thousands for the privilege of shelling out $4 or so for a caffeine injection. (There are more than 200 Starbucks outlets in the five boroughs.)

Activists are asking consumers to sign petitions and send e-mail messages protesting Starbucks’ practices. But they may have a hard time matching the success of the campaign against Wal-Mart.

One could chalk it up to the nature of the product Starbucks peddles. Many customers feel they simply can’t get their day started without a caffeine-laden beverage. But some powerful, far-reaching trends — like consumers’ viewing their spending choices as political expression — may also help explain why a company can maintain its assiduously polished progressive reputation while also bitterly fighting unions.

A dream course for Classical Liberals

I'd love to dig into the reading list for this course.

Mario J. Rizzo Fall, 2007
New York University
Department of Economics

Description: Classical liberalism is the political philosophy that holds that society, within a legal framework of private property and liberty of contract, largely runs itself. This course is an interdisciplinary exploration of the fundamental principles of liberalism and its application to issues of broad relevance to the law. These principles are developed through classical and contemporary sources from Marcus Tullius Cicero to Richard Epstein and Randy Barnett. The applications include eminent domain, religious toleration, the legal status of homosexuality, the war on terror, the market for parental rights, and the moral and economic status of profiting from the ignorance of others.

Farm subsidies are immoral

Let's get normative in our analysis. U.S. farm subsidies are hurting African farmers. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats seem poised to do much about it. This is immoral.
The cotton market, which provides nearly 70 per cent of impoverished Burkina Faso’s cash exports and income for more than a quarter of its 13 million people, has been brought to breaking point by factors known locally as “the monster with three heads”: a weak dollar, low world prices and US cotton subsidies.

This year will be crucial for the futures of 10 million West African farmers as the US rene-gotiates its Farm Bill, which has attracted international condemnation.

America’s 25,000 cotton farmers receive subsidies totalling some $4bn, allowing them to undercut their developing competitors. The subsidies were ruled illegal by the World Trade Organisation three years ago, yet only 10 per cent have been dropped so far, and Washington still pays many times more in subsidies to these farmers than it gives in aid to Africa each year. As a result, world cotton prices are now at the lowest since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The answer isn't "fair trade," nor more foreign aid. The solution is more open, free trade.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Just finished: Cicero's De Senectute (On Old Age)

Montaigne was most correct when he said that Cicero gives "one an appetite for growing old."
"For what advantage is there in life? Or rather, are not its troubles infinite? No there are advantages too: yet all the same there comes a time when one has had enough. That does not mean that I am joining the large and learned body of life's critics! I am not sorry to have lived, since the course of my life has taken has encouraged me to believe that I have lived to some purpose. But what nature gives us is a place to dwell in temporarily, not one to make our own. When I leave life, therefore, I shall feel as I am leaving a hostel rather than a home."
They don't make Stoics like Cicero the staple of sound learning anymore. What a shame!

Einstein the deist

Walter Isaacson on Einstein, brilliant! Do you believe in God? Einstein was asked. He replied:
"I'm not an atheist. I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws."

Saturday, April 07, 2007

It depends by what you mean when you say "consensus"!

Are those environmentalists who oppose genetically modified farming in the same camp as Holocaust deniers. If global warming skeptics are fellow travelers of Ahmedinejad then why is the iron clad consensus on GM ignored by the tree huggers? Yes Ron Bailey's wise to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson on inconsistency. He also is right to point out the hypocrisy of Al Gore's natural constituency. Inconvenient truths abound.

Tyler's take on the ever improving economy

Conservatives: The economy is doing well; look at the unemployment rate.
Liberals: No it's not; look at real wages, they've been stagnant for years.

Tyler Cowan provides a great starting point for the Great Debate over the state of the current U.S. economy. He's worth reading.

I believe that the much-heralded "real wage stagnation" consists of three major factors: a) potential real wage increases being absorbed by rising health care premiums in the broader employment package, b) unmeasured improvements in the quality of economic life, the internet being one example, and c) an unusually long lag between rising productivity and real wage gains. I am increasingly of the belief that the third factor no longer operates.

Are atheists the new fundamentalists?

Is the ever-clever Richard Dawkins a simpleton shilling for the authoritarism of science? Are believers evil?

A high debate takes place in Britain around the proposition: "Are we better off without religion?" As is custom for the debating society, Intelligence Sqaured, a vote is held before and after the arguments. Apparently the atheists won the "popular" vote and were able to draw even more undecided observers into their column by the end of the night.

But Charles Moore of the Daily Telegraph, who voted against the proposition, observes the continuing trend: Atheists who aren't careful for what they wish. Their rhetorical and argumentive skills are turning them into the what they dislike about organized religion: dogmatism, arrogance and self-centeredness.

I feel that atheism may be acquiring precisely those characteristics that atheists so dislike about religion - intolerance, dogmatism, righteousness, moral contempt for one's opponents.

When you hear or read people like Richard Dawkins, you have to admit the force of many of their arguments. Religious people do often say extraordinarily indefensible things about their faith, and can be astonishingly evasive or confused. Very few of us (certainly not I) can competently maintain the standard arguments for the existence of God against a determined onslaught.

And yet the Dawkinses and Graylings, the Hitchenses and the Parrises, seem somehow to be missing the point. What they say is dry and unnourishing. I think one reason for this lies in their underlying conception of what it is to be human - they think that the highest quality is to be clever.
More from the Associated Press, via the Christian Post.

A more civil debate between Rev. Purpose (Rick Warren) and the St. John of Secular Humanism Sam Harris here.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Carla Howell's annual rite to sing her song

It's tax time which means it's time for libertarian activist Carla Howell's little ditty on the joys of filing taxes. I'm not sure Carla's into paying taxes on principle but the song reminds us all of the need to simplify the tax system either with a national sales tax or a flat rate income tax.

Today, Americans spend more than 6 billion hours at a cost of $265 billion preparing their taxes in what amounts to tortuous deadweight loss to the economy.

Soccer: The world sport of peace

The Brits may have cowered to Little Hitler in Iran, but they're still tough when it comes to soccer, apparently.
Tottenham fans fought with Spanish police in riot gear Thursday night during the English team's UEFA Cup quarterfinal at Sevilla. Seven fans of the London club were reportedly hospitalized — mostly with cuts to their heads. A policeman also was reported to have been injured in the disturbances.

The violence appeared to begin at about the 30th minute of Sevilla's come-from-behind 2-1 win, after the home team tied the game on a disputed penalty kick by former Tottenham player Frederic Kanoute. Tottenham goalkeeper Paul Robinson was called for a foul in the 18th for taking down Adriano Correia. Television replays showed Robinson got a hand to the ball before making contact with Adriano.

Fans ripped up plastic seats at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium and hurled them at police, who then hit spectators with night sticks. Before the match, about 50 Tottenham fans reportedly clashed with police outside the stadium.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

More Pelosi

One has to admit that George Bush is blessed by his political enemies and opponents.

Where was Speaker Pelosi, the guardian of all that is true, liberal and San Franciscan speaking out against Arab oppression?

No it's a lot easier to bash Bush on both sides of the Atlantic and engage in futile diplomacy on an unmitigated pretentious level.

Pelosi’s visit took place at a time when several Syrian political and human rights activists are facing trial for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Former prisoner of conscience Kamal al-Labwani is due back in court on April 10. He was arrested in November 2005, on his return to Syria after several months in Europe and the United States, where he met with officials to call for peaceful democratic reform inside Syria. He is charged with “encouraging foreign aggression against Syria.” Prominent writer Michel Kilo and human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni have been detained since May 2006, following their signature of the Beirut-Damascus Declaration, which called for improved relations between Syria and Lebanon.
Hat tip: Austin Bay.

Quote for the day

By way of the dedication page of Manfred Fuhrmann's Cicero and the Roman Republic

I have resolved to take
wisdom for my playmate;
for I know she will be a good
counsellor and a comforter to me
in trouble and in sorrow
The Wisdom of Solomon 8, 9

Now playing...Marin Marais


Delightful after dinner music.

Marin Marias, French composer and viol player, had time for more than music. According to Wikipedia, Marin Marais married Catherine d'Amicourt in 1676 and had 19 children together. Wow!

My longtime favorite after hearing it for the first time on WCRB-FM years ago is the title ttrack from Sonnerie de Sainte Genevieve du Mont.

What the grown-ups say about Democratic foreign policy ala Pelosi

This from the Washington Post says it all about the holiday-from-history-crowd (i.e. The Democrats) that might capture the White House in 2008.
HOUSE SPEAKER Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) offered an excellent demonstration yesterday of why members of Congress should not attempt to supplant the secretary of state when traveling abroad. After a meeting with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, Ms. Pelosi announced that she had delivered a message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that "Israel was ready to engage in peace talks" with Syria. What's more, she added, Mr. Assad was ready to "resume the peace process" as well. Having announced this seeming diplomatic breakthrough, Ms. Pelosi suggested that her Kissingerian shuttle diplomacy was just getting started. "We expressed our interest in using our good offices in promoting peace between Israel and Syria," she said.

Only one problem: The Israeli prime minister entrusted Ms. Pelosi with no such message. "What was communicated to the U.S. House Speaker does not contain any change in the policies of Israel," said a statement quickly issued by the prime minister's office. In fact, Mr. Olmert told Ms. Pelosi that "a number of Senate and House members who recently visited Damascus received the impression that despite the declarations of Bashar Assad, there is no change in the position of his country regarding a possible peace process with Israel." In other words, Ms. Pelosi not only misrepresented Israel's position but was virtually alone in failing to discern that Mr. Assad's words were mere propaganda.

Ms. Pelosi was criticized by President Bush for visiting Damascus at a time when the administration -- rightly or wrongly -- has frozen high-level contacts with Syria. Mr. Bush said that thanks to the speaker's freelancing Mr. Assad was getting mixed messages from the United States. Ms. Pelosi responded by pointing out that Republican congressmen had visited Syria without drawing presidential censure. That's true enough -- but those other congressmen didn't try to introduce a new U.S. diplomatic initiative in the Middle East. "We came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace," Ms. Pelosi grandly declared.

Never mind that that statement is ludicrous: As any diplomat with knowledge of the region could have told Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Assad is a corrupt thug whose overriding priority at the moment is not peace with Israel but heading off U.N. charges that he orchestrated the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. The really striking development here is the attempt by a Democratic congressional leader to substitute her own foreign policy for that of a sitting Republican president. Two weeks ago Ms. Pelosi rammed legislation through the House of Representatives that would strip Mr. Bush of his authority as commander in chief to manage troop movements in Iraq. Now she is attempting to introduce a new Middle East policy that directly conflicts with that of the president. We have found much to criticize in Mr. Bush's military strategy and regional diplomacy. But Ms. Pelosi's attempt to establish a shadow presidency is not only counterproductive, it is foolish.

Government-run health care will be a disaster

Government health care will have the efficiency of the post office in the age of e-mail.

As H. L. Mencken said: "For every problem, there is a solution that is simple, elegant, and wrong." Universal healthcare is a textbook case.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A socialist kill-joy in Venezuela

Hugo, the protofascist sure knows what's "good" for his people.

Venezuela's government left bar-owners reeling by imposing an alcohol ban over Holy Week and Easter weekend, forcing drinkers in the whisky-mad Catholic country to use covert methods in search of a fix.

The ban outlaws drinking alcohol from 5:00 pm to 10:00 am each night from March 31, and all day from the following Thursday to Easter Sunday. It aims to lower the toll of traffic accidents due to drunk-driving over the period.

But it has led the South American country's top beer brewer, Cerverceria Polar, to cancel a series of festive events it had planned for the week on the tourist island of Margarita and other resorts.

In a shop in the neighborhood of La Carlota, near the president's residence in Caracas, drinkers have taken to ordering "a kilo of beans" from their grocer -- code words for a pack of beer.

Traders in the seaside resorts have complained they will lose up to 70 percent of their business during the ban. Other celebrations -- salsa, reggae and rock concerts -- have also been called off at beaches on Venezuela's Caribbean coast.

Hardened bar and restaurant-owners in the coastal capital Caracas were not cowed, however, saying that in parts of the city the police will be unable to enforce the dry-out.

"In the working class areas there is no alcohol ban," said one bar owner in the central district of Chacao. "The police won't go in there because the delinquents are better armed than they are."

Pedro Carreno, the interior and justice minister in the government of firebrand socialist President Hugo Chavez, has championed the ban, insisting: "You don't have to have alcohol to have a good time."

The finance ministry meanwhile has announced new taxes to curb the country's taste for mature Scottish imports. Venezuela is the world's biggest consumer of 18-year-old whisky.

Can we question his patriotism now?

Arson. Clear and Simple. I hope the prosecutor presses serious charges.

Three Yale University students were arrested early Tuesday morning for burning an American flag on a pole attached to a house in New Haven, the Yale Daily News reported today.

The three men, all of foreign origin, were charged with offenses ranging from reckless endangerment to arson and were held in jail Tuesday night after a judge refused to release them without bail.

According to the newspaper, the New Haven police said the men — two freshmen and a senior — first attracted police attention at about 3 a.m. Tuesday when they asked two offcers for directions back to their residence. They were identified as Said Hyder Akbar, 23, Nikolaos Angelopoulos, 19, and Farhad Anklesaria, also 19.

The two officers returned to the neighborhood shortly afterward and found the flag burning in front of a house. One officer pulled down the flag to keep the fire from spreading and the other tracked down the three men. The police said the men admitted to starting the blaze, the newspaper reported.

Mr. Anklesaria was identified as a British subject and Mr. Angelopoulos as a citizen of Greece. Mr. Akbar was born in Pakistan and is a naturalized American citizen, the newspaper said.

Mr. Akbar is the author of a published memoir, “Come Back to Afghanistan,” describing his experiences over three summers spent observing reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and acting as an informal translator for American forces there.
Can we now question Said Hyder Akbar's patriotism? Or his stupidity?

Over and out at the Philly Inquirer

One of my favorite economics writers is calling it quits. Andrew Cassel has written his last column for the Inquirer. And he goes out on a tall note calling for better economic education for students.

A smart financial-education program would give kids the tools to understand that, and also help them avoid investment fads and emotion-laden financial sales pitches down the road.

But economics learning doesn't - or shouldn't - end with investing and personal finance.

At its core, economics isn't about managing money at all; it's about making choices, balancing risks and rewards, and creating wealth in the broadest sense.

The primary focus, in fact, should be on developing what economists call "human capital" - a fancy term for whatever each of us has to offer the rest.

In my own idealized economics-education program, kids would learn mainly about investing in themselves, and only secondarily about investing in stocks and bonds.

They also would learn that markets and commerce - which for many still carry a bad odor of greed and exploitation - are neither immoral nor amoral, but simply a way for human beings to cooperate with one another as strangers.

If we want to get along with people we'll never meet, competition and trade are the keys. The former spurs us to do our best, and the latter lets the whole world share in the fruits of our effort.
Hear! Hear!

An archive of his columns can be found here.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Keith Richards is a degenerate, period!


I don't care if he can craft great rock riffs. Or that he loves to tour. Or that he has talent. Keith Richards is hardly a role model and if he weren't rich, he'd be a lost soul in a gutter. He's as bad as Pete Doherty. To paraphrase Nils Lofgren, "Please Keith do go!"

He is the embodiment of rock and roll excess. But Keith Richards' latest admission is likely to surprise even his most hardened fans.

The Rolling Stones guitarist has told how he snorted his own father's ashes in a drugs binge.

"The strangest thing I've tried to snort? My father. I snorted my father," he said.

The 63-year-old detailed in a magazine interview how he mixed the ashes with cocaine and inhaled them.
And God does he look awful!

Update: Richards' manager said she can't believe anyone took story seriously.

He's still a degenerate. If he weren't rich, he'd be in jail. Keith sends the wrong message that you can be a rock star and a druggie and a success. For 99% of the world (rock stars included) it doesn't work out that way.

Never give Bush credit for pushing back A-Q

From the Best of the Web's James Taranto:
President Bush has done a good job in the war against al Qaeda, Reuters reports. Seriously:

Bush's administration has crippled al Qaeda's ability to carry out major attacks on U.S. . . .

Even as al Qaeda tries to rebuild operations in Pakistan, experts including current and former intelligence officials believe the group would have a hard time staging another September 11 because of U.S. success at killing or capturing senior members whose skills and experience have not been replaced.

But of course you know this is really bad news. The dispatch is titled "Bush Success vs. al Qaeda Breeds Long-Term Worries," and the text we omitted from the lead paragraph reads, ". . . but at a political and economic cost that could leave the country more vulnerable in years to come, experts say."
We can't be seen giving Bush credit for anything, can we?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

That British stiff upper lip has been sucker-punched!

The British spine has bent. The ghost of Nelville Chamberlain fouls the British sensibility. No Falkland Islands bravado here. They are not the Aussies here. They are the French. What a shame!
Forget that it was an act of war, just think of it in criminal terms. A man takes your wife or your daughter hostage, does who knows what to them, then insists you and they were responsible because you allowed them to walk around looking appealing. To free them, you promise to not allow it again, ending the matter.

What is it that you have accomplished other than eroding any sense of decency or law? Nothing, that's what. And I fear it is what we increasingly have to look forward to from a once proud ally. Britain is done.

Their socialist system can't support a resurgence of their military, including their Navy, which one Brit recently characterized as no more than an adequate coast guard. And their chief battle in the war on terrorism is already taking place within their borders. Under siege and unable to project power around the world, the future of any vital Britain we once knew is very seriously in doubt. While the root causes are domestic moves weakening them as a state, that only made them vulnerable. It is radical Islam that's now positioned to take advantage and which may ultimately do them in.
Hat tip: Gateway Pundit.