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Saturday, February 09, 2002

Porno Food Fight- While I was doing other things, Natalija and Kevin traded volleys on Kevin's anti-porn piece yesterday. Pity, I had just had a nice set of e-mails with Natalija, but I have to trash her arguments (not her, no ad homs if I can help it) when they have it coming. I'll try to critique her arguments

Porn has been around longer than written language. It has been around since humans first started drawing on cave walls. If porn is unnatural, then so is writing and agriculture and high heels and teddy bears and antibiotics.
She has a point- Kevin said "Porn is bad because it is a unhealthy, unnatural, and often dangerous business that leads to emotional and often physical damage." He's got a bulls-eye if you trim off unnatural. Human nature makes lust and its pictorial cousin, pornography, natural. That doesn't make it right.

One big trouble I have with so many conservatives is the implicit arrogance that underneath it all, people basically see the world the way they do and feel as they do. Now I am as guilty as them of seeing the world through the filters of my own experience and emotions, but at least I do not claim that I think most other people secretly agree with me when it is quite clear they do not. Conservatives can claim that there is deep meaning in sex and certainly that can be true. But the truth is that sometimes sex is the banquet at the wedding feast and sometimes it is just a quick trip to McDonalds.
She links to Kevin but deigns not to mention him by name, instead opting for a conservative straw man. I know people think differently than I do; I'm not expecting to find Natalija's "inner Baptist" just under the surface. As for the deeper meaning of sex, I'm not in the mood for junk food when there's much better stuff available down the road.

The evidence is clear that much of the time people see sex as an end in and of itself. You do not have to even read Playboy to see that. Look through Vogue and you will see page after page of exaltations of female sexuality... not female commitment, female sexuality, with a strongly bisexual/sapphic overtone at that. It is all about elegant, lovely, lustful and largely unobtainable sexual perfection.
"...sex as an end in and of itself." Here's where Natalija and I truly part company. Sex was designed to be more than a pleasurable exchange of bodily fluids that can lead to procreation, it is designed as well a bonding between two people, a bond that will be weaker if the parties were sexually active with others. That bonding will often require mutual sacrifice and selflessness to make it work, but results in a more satisfying relationship. People will often want the short-term pleasure of sex without the long-term struggle of a marriage, looking for the "good" when the much better is available if one keeps control. Porn, or even clothed "cheesecake", encourage the person to fantisize about sex with the object. First, it is often treated as an object rather than a person; one typically doesn't envision having a ongoing relationship with the sex object. It detracts from the relationship with other real people and can lead one to imitate what is seen. It may not hurt a relationship in some cases, but will be a detrerment in most and can be a stimulus to violent sexual behavior.

I don't have a problem with pornography because unlike many conservatives and their socialist-feminist friends, I do not have a problem with the reality of human nature.
Excuse me while I preach a little-I don't have a problem with the reality of human nature; I know it far too well. I have a problem with human nature (a.k.a. sin) in that it will drive me to more selfish and destructive behavior if I (with God's help) don't keep it in check. I know that marriage is better than a string of one night stands, even if I had to wait until I was 40 to find it. Yes, I'm a reasonably healthy male with all the proper drives, but I've been able to contain those drives knowing that that soulmate might be out there someday. Sap alert-there was a abscess/empty spot in my psyche/soul that has ached for a quarter-century plus that Eileen fills-I am glad that we can go into our impending marriage being able to share ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually without the baggage of past sexual relationships. We're more than animals who can't control themselves when the urge to mate hits. Call it speciesist, but man, not the other beings, were created in God's image, and that is an image that includes self control and sacrifice for a greater good. This isn't going to sway too many agnostics, but it is the truth nonetheless. Short of mandating burqas, we're not going to outlaw all suggestive visual media. We can, and should, point out the pernicious effects of pornography and its clothed cousins (no Unablogger, please) and strongly encourage people to avoid them.

Warped Mind Alert- After reading reports on Rantburg of first one, then two more Palestinians blowing themselves up prematurely, it dawned on me: the Palestinian's problem is that they don't have enough veteran suicide bombers.

More Iranian Trash Talk-Iran's turned down proposed British ambassador David Reddaway as Iranian newspapers labeled (or is that libeled) him a Jew [not true] and a M16 (British CIA) operative. The UK's not sending a replacement. These guys are getting ornery. Al, Dan, Dennis, work on your Farsi. MNR may be going to Tehran this spring. How's Melissa look in a burqa?

Chavez thinks he's Caesar-In Venezuela, millitary officers are calling for the removal of President Hugo Chavez amid street protests. Chavez has reworked the Venezuelan constitution since getting elected in 1998 to give him near-dictatorial powers. He has lost popular support as his Peronista act has worn thin. Two officers, Air Force Colonel Pedro Soto and National Guard Captain Pedro Flores blasted their commander in chief this week. As a major oil exporter, Venezuela's more important that you'd first think. Keep an eye on this one. If these two officers aren't punished, then we could be looking at the opening episode of ABC's Monday Night Revolution- "They're at the palace gates.... It's a Torchdown!! That does it for the Chavez regime, as he sneaks onto a plane to Havana. Turn out the lights, the party's over. What about next week, Dennis?" "Next week on Monday Night Revolution, we'll be watching ZANU and veteran QB Bobby Mugabe in a do-or-die game against the people of Zimbabwe. Should be a barn-burner, Al."

Do You Like the Golden Flashes?- Slaaap!! Went to look at the college basketball stuff, checking on my alma maters Michigan State and Kent State. KSU has a better Sagarin rating (39) than MSU (54), giving 17-5 KSU hope of an NCAA bid even if they get knocked off in the MAC tournament, as Sagarin's a good sub for the RPI that the NCAA uses. Usually, the top 45 or so get at-large bids, as the last at-large is usually a 12 seed. MSU needs to make a run in the Big 10 tournament or be NIT-bait. This after three straight Final Four trips. Give Gonzaga their props- After three straight Sweet Sixteens, they're getting respect in the polls( #10 ). Good to see a "mid-major" do well.

Salt Lake Olympics- I'm more interested in the Winter Olympics than I've been in a while, as I've been watching less sports on TV than I've been used to via having a fiancee. I don't want my inner curmudgeon (nice try, MCJ) to ruin things.Yes, the patriotism gets sappy and the IOC officials make Don King look like a church deacon, but I still get a kick out of them. Plus, skiing and skating are things that ladies (like Eileen) will sit still and watch, thus I get to watch sports and hang out with milady at the same time. I now can relate to the "wassap" guy watching skating with his lady rather than watching the game with the guys.

Davis Cup Sweet Sixteens- It's good to get Sampras and Roddick playing, so that the US doesn't lose to Parador in the round of 64. The duo has the US up 2-0 on Slovakia, although a young unknown gave Sampras all he wanted yesterday.

Ricky and the Green Monster- Looks like Ricky Henderson will be heading to Fenway. That will be interesting, as he has the rep as one of the better fielding left-fielders (albeit a left-handed complement). Can he do a Yaz imitation playing the ball of the wall and holding people to singles, or are we talking pure DH at age 43? Catching up on some sports news as I have the computer doing reports that allow some blog time.

More Good News From the Front- (1) Taliban Foreign Minister Abdul Wakil Muttawakil gave himself up yesterday. He may not know where Omar and Osama are, but he'll know a lot. Whether he talks or not will be an issue (2) Rantburg sites a [Pakistani paper] Dawn article that has Daniel Pearl heading to the UK today. Either he's been freed and the news is being clamped down until he actually gets out of the country or it's a false alarm. While we're on Rantburg-check out this post on premature explosions, especially his yellow journalism on the subject. I do remember a Darwin Award nominee on a Palistinian bomber who forgot to adjust the bomb's timer for daylight savings time and did himself in as a result.

Good Weekend-Got the EuroTech post mentioned over at Samizdata (although as we go to press, they have it listed as Ken Hagler [8:00PM They corrected it-thanks, guys]) and made their Permalink list.

Hey, They Know Their Pork- Good NRO piece on a farm bill ammendment which would bar meat packers from "owning, controlling, or feeding livestock" more than 14 days prior to slaughter. However, it takes Dave Juday until two paragraphs from the end to point out that the controlling function would likely bar meat packers from making future contracts to buy animals. That would hurt the farmers on the other side of the trade by increasing their risks. Sen. Tim Johnson was the sponsor of the amendment- get a copy of this piece to John Thune's campaign committee and let the attack ads begin.

To the Commonwealth Gang-My condolences on Princess Margaret's passing earlier today. She seemed unhappy most of the time, living in a fishbowl and not liking it much. I don't know her spiritual state, but I pray that's she's more at peace now that she was in her troubled life.

AARP's Mission a Viejos- Interesting Fox piece on the AARP looking to court Hispanic seniors, even starting a Spanish-language magazine for the elderly. Is this to help the Hispanic elderly or to add to the political clout of the Anglo aged already onboard?

Hempalumps And Woozles-The DEA is cracking down on hemp-based food products, including snack foods made with hemp-seed oil. Industrial hemp is of the same botanical family as marijuana, but has only a trace amount of THC, the buzz-inducing active compound in pot. The DEA is trying to use the trace amounts of THC to ban any hemp-based food products, a reach that is making it look a bit silly. Growing industrial hemp is currently banned in the US, so as to allow the DEA to spot cannibis and not have to run a chemical test to see if its industrial or Cheech-and-Chong-bait. While some of the industrial hemp fans are fans of ganja as well, there is a good case for allowing the use of industrial hemp as a sourse of high-quality cloth products. However, the pieces I've seen and heard are from pot-freindly liberal (NPR) or libertarian (Reason) viewpoints. I'd like to hear a clean take on the DEA's side of the story before launching into legalizing growning industrial hemp.

Bible-Dumping- The Tennessee public-school Bible class case that has made the headlines looks ugly for the religious side. One, it doesn't look winable, as it looks, even to me, that it's a couple notches over the line in that it was required unless parents asked out and that it was taught by kids from a local Bible college. Second, it's in the same county in Tennessee that the Scopes Monkey Trial was in. I think an elective class on the Bible as part of a broad history curriculum, taught for historical and cultural literacy from a spiritually-neutral perspective, might pass muster. If the class isn't promoting Christianity or Judiaism but simply explaining their historical roots, it would slide past the establishment clause. If it were elective, it would get around the free-exercise clause. There is a way to do it and get five Supreme Court Justices to sign off on it. I don't think this Tennessee class is it.

Holtsberry on a Roll-Check out two winners from Kevin. He continues the debate on vouchers/education reform (with some good comments of college departments of "education") and an excelent smackdown of porn and its allies. The porn piece is a must read for those of you who lean towards the libertarian side on the issue.

Quip do Jour-"[Former Enron CFO] Mr. Fastow appears to be the Betty Crocker of cooked books."-Rep. James Greenwood (R-PA) Edifier du jour-"The greatest among you will be your servant.For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."-Matthew 23:11-12 (The FCYA verse?) Groaner du Jour-For institutional rest rooms- John Wayne Toilet Paper-"It's rough, it's tough and it doesn't take crap from nobody" Daffynition-"Mr. T"- The British version of Mr. Coffee.

Friday, February 08, 2002

Western European Tech- David Carr at Samizdata asks-

Can anybody think of any historically-significant cultural or technological innovation to have emerged from Continental Western Europe since World War II?
Here's three quickly from a groggy mind. (1)It's on the bubble (pun not originally intended), but SCUBA gear, invented by Jacques Cousteau during late WWII and commercialized after the war, should count as one example. (2)Velcro is a Swiss invention of the late 40's. (3)If a British ex-pat working in Switzerland counts, the World Wide Web would be on that list.

Very Good Day- (1)Get a Papa Blog link from my quagmire/Unicorn Hunter Post (2) Get Blogistan's leading femme fatale, Natalija, asking about Croatian puns. Hint, say it phonetically-A-Serb-ic-ly. Belgrade go bye-bye. No offence meant to lovely Croatians. (3) Get Doug Turnbull to rethink his stance on vouchers. The last is what I'm at this for, to put my ideas out there and be a good influence. Yes, to have fun and learn a heck of a lot in the process, but making Blogistan a better place is the goal. A month in. Not bad.

Sorry, I'll have to take a rain check-The European Parliment has decided to give Israel the middle-digit salute and invite Yasser Arafat to speak to them. However, Arafat can't get out of the driveway until the Israeli tanks move. Good news in this piece-the US has a willing friend in Israel if (and when) we go after Iraq.

Fox headline-Maryland Governor Has Cancerous Tumor Removed-"Gov. Parris Glendening underwent surgery Friday to remove a malignant melanoma from his scalp." Rumors that he has become a Republican after the malignancy on his skull was removed cannot be confirmed.

Is Fannie Mae a Redneck?-A recent report showed that federally-chartered mortgage intermediaries FNMA (Fannie Mae) and FHLMC (Freddie Mac) had a lower-percentage of minority loans in most cities than had been underwritten by lenders. There could be two reasons, neither of which would be racist. One reason could be that local banks choose to hang on to minority mortgages rather than sell them to FNMA. The other possibility might be the credit scoring system or FICO that FNMA uses. It's propriatary, so we don't know what is weighted. Some FICOs can create lower scores for minorities based on non-racial financial data.

Captain on the Bridge-part 2-Troubled Teens-Here's one of the buffet items that got spiked with too much Creole Torpedo- Den Beste overstates the need to place blame on people like the Columbine shooters and Talib Johnny and not look at root causes. He is right that we tend to trot out our pet whipping boy (gun control, permissive culture, lax parenting, et al.) after these tragedies to little effect. Here's a (hopefully) representative sample of the piece.

Whenever someone commits a particularly inexplicable crime, there is always an effort to try to figure out why. We saw that happen after Columbine. It's excessive exposure to violent video games and movies. No, it's because they were socially isolated by the kids in their class. No, it was because of rock music. No, it was because they were Goths. We're seeing it again now with John Walker Lindh. People are delving into his family life, examining how his parents behaved. ... Absent extreme mental illness, either we have to hold everyone responsible for their own actions, or else we hold no-one at all individually responsible for anything. Why did Klebold and Harris shoot up Columbine high school? It's because they decided to do so. It's as simple as that. Who is responsible? They are. Since they're both dead, it's an unsatisfying answer. We want someone to blame, someone we can punish. But sometimes you can't get what you want. Is it possible to prevent that kind of thing from happening again? Yes, but the price is too high. Klebold and Harris and John Walker Lindh are statistical outliers, and when a society is as big and varied as ours is, one in a million is damned well a long way from the center of the bell curve. The only way to prevent that kind of thing is by completely regimenting society in ways I could never accept.
Well, we can't prevent all shootings or perversions. We can take a better interest in our youth (not just ours but our neighbors) and try to get them to move in more useful directions. Having been more than a bit of a loner as a teen, I could have use a few more interested adults to encourage me along. I remember helping chaperone a region-wide Vineyard youth retreat this fall. During an after-service prayer session, as the teens were circling up to pray with one another, I was led to look for the loners who wound up outside the circles, the kids that were like I was a quarter-century ago. After a few non-responses, I struck up a conversation with a recently suicidal 15-year-old who had lost his dad and was struggling being the "man of the house." My dad's still with us, but I was able to relate to a lot of what the kid was going through and allowed him to get a lot off his chest. I made sure that the people at his home church were up to speed on where he was at (they were). My trip was made when the kid went up during open-mike testimony time at the final session on Sunday and thanked me for taking him aside the night before. I don't think that kid would be the next mass murderer without my help, but somewhere, there's a kid that is on the edge of doing something that will ruin or end their life. A little bit of caring could bring that kid back from the edge. Talib Johnny should pay for what he did, but we'd be better off if someone had given a damn five years ago when he started his quest for something more certain than the relativism of his childhood.

Captain on the Bridge-part 1 Another good blog that I've slighted on the Wall of Fame is the USS Clueless. I don't always agree with Captain Steve Den Beste, but he has good food for thought. One tasty morsel on today's buffet is a good critique of Operation Enduring Freedom-his take is basically-"so far, so good." He knows his military sci and geopolitcs, so read and learn.

Velvet Divorce #2- The Washington Times interviewed Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica , who stated that he would accept a Montenegro independence referendum that was free, fair and won with a decisive majority, bringing back memories (for me) of the peaceful breakup of Czechoslovakia. This is potentially good news; better news would be a thriving Serbia that Montenegro would want to stick to.

Sending Money by South-Asian Union-Interesting and very in-depth breakdown of Hawala (the generally-honorable-but-underground money-transfer system common in Arab and South Asian countries) by the Kolkata Libertarian. Hawala got some press in October as one of the funding vehicles for al Qaeda (it had flown under Finance Man's radar until then) and is starting to get a second look. Big bullet points-"everyone" uses them in their home turf; trying to ban them or bring them into an Anglosphere banking motif won't work well.

Life Imitates Blogs- Check out this post from Jackson Murphy yesterday and this Corner post by Rich Lowry in the wee hours of this morning. I have two questions (1) Was Lowry reading Dispatches, or are the two of them both terminal Pythonheads? (2) What was Rich doing up at 3:57AM? Bad tacos? Late party? [Update 11PM-he says insomia.]

N--I--Single Gah-- Errrrrr-MSNBC typoed the first name of commentator Niger Innis with a second g. Dispatches' Jackson Murphy got in trouble by repeating the typo verbatim. As a consolation prize, he gets a spot on the Wall of Fame.

More on Vouchers-Check out Junkyard Blog's critique of Turnbull's piece yesterday. My take was OK, his adds to it.

European Collectivism on Parade-Interesting interview in US News with WEF president Klaus Schwab (read the dead tree version over breakfast). Schwab had a telling response in regard to the euro.

I don't think the world is ready to accept a formalized system requiring a long discussion about what sovereignty you give up. But I wonder whether the global interest should take priority in some cases --such as environmental issues--over the national interest. A good example on the European level was the euro. Most countries would not have considered the euro in their national interest. But decision makers submitted national interest to the European interest.
Note that "decision makers" made the call to give up soverenty. The European public wasn't directly consulted and where they were, as in Demark, the euro was rejected. American expect a more responsive, less top-down government. The three-pronged (House,Senate,President) path to a law gives three roadblocks to get over, rather than just one in most European parlimentary democracies. Idiotarian policies still get through the US process, but a less-elitist, more consensual approach makes it harder to pass what the elites want in the US.

Methodist History Hour- James Rueben Haney asks "I'd be curious if anyone who knows the history of the Methodist church would be able to identify when it started to decline," bouncing off a Cal Thomas piece on the 1954 law keeping tax-deductible churches away from electoral politics. My best guess is that it pre-dated the 1954 law. I stopped going to my Methodist church as a teenager (high school sophomore?) when those "vacuous nothings" did nothing for me. This may be some evangelical bias here, but mainline Methodist theology doesn't want to offend the parishioner with the idea that they're a sinner and need Jesus. My take as a kid was that their sermons were looking to create good citizens, and it wasn't adding much to a fairly "old-school" kid's development. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement in the mid-late 1700s, was definitely an on-fire evangelical, albeit with a Arminian (God give the option of salvation to all, it's up to us to RSVP) theological perspective. A quarter-millennia of inertia have cooled the fires. While there are evangelical pockets within the Methodist church, especially in the South, there has been a watering-down of theology for better part of a century. My Dictionary of Christianity in America's [InterVarsity Press, 1990] section on Methodism noted that when the Northern and Southern branches of Methodists rejoined in 1939, a minority of the Southern churches "refused to realign... because of the apostasy they perceived in that denomination." Either those southerners were real hard-core or the decay predates WWII.

Quip du jour-"As long as there are exams, there will always be prayer in school"-anon. Edifier du jour:"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'This is the first and greatest commandment.And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Matthew 22:37-40

Thursday, February 07, 2002

Gephardt and Tax Simplification- Mr. Haney points out a Jack Kemp editorial on Richard Gephardt. Kemp was surpisingly complementary. Here's a key paragraph:

In his speech, Gephardt may have turned a new leaf on taxes for the Democrats. It waits to be seen whether the House minority leader follows through on his stated desire to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the administration on the economy for the good of the country rather than standing toe-to-toe with the president over tax cuts in pursuit of partisan gain. If he does, then Gephardt will have taken the first important step in making tax rate reductions, tax reform and tax simplification issues with broad bipartisan support once again.

Gephardt has been this way since James was on his Big Wheel. In the early 80's he and Bill Bradley had championed tax simplification, wanting to have fewer deductions and loopholes and lower rates. Those two were key in getting the 1986 tax cuts passed, lowering top rates from 50 to 28%. Yes, he's a protectionist (I can't testify to his level of shame) and liberal on a number of other issues (many people looking for higher office will lean to the standard party position), but he understands taxes better than most Democrats. [Update-2/9-this Reason article shows he knows how do demigogue and flip-flop on taxes as well]

Vouching for Vouchers-Beauty of Gray's Douglas Turnbull has a measured response against school vouchers. A cornerstone of his argument is that "[g]ood private schools cost more (in many cases quite a bit more) than most public schools spend on kids. So a voucher program wouldn't mean that every kid could go to private schools." It depends on the school. Most church-based schools are less expensive that public schools, due to a combination of lower salaries and synergies with the church. Some secular private schools will be more expensive. A voucher might not pay for Blueblood Academy, but might pay for St. Bridgit's or Calvary Baptist. There's the issue of special ed or bilingual ed, where private schools might not have the expertise and the costs are higher, but one could adjust the voucher amount for "degree of difficulty." There is a skimming effect in that the default value is that a kid goes to public school. A parent who is interested in their child's education (and pushing the kid to achieve) is thus more likely to look at private schools, while parents who are less attentive will tend to leave the kid in public school. The vision that the public school backers want to leave is a public school system full of misfits and dummies after the smart kids evacuate for the private schools. A good private school, which might challenge a kid to do better rather than baby the kid for fear of hurting his self-esteem, can often do well with the "dummies" if given the chance. In general, a parent has a better handle on what his child needs than some administrator downtown; a check to send the kid to an alternative school empowers them to do so. They might choose Taliban High or Touchy-Feely Academy, but as long as the kid gets the basic skills to be a functioning member of society, that should be the parent's call. Michigan has been experimenting with charter schools, public schools with autonomy to create their own style and curriculum (Full disclosure-my niece Jessica goes to a charter school here in Midland). These are, as public schools, secular, but within that framework can set up thing the way parents want , rather than a cookie-cutter approach from the Admin building downtown. One charter school in Freeland specialized (may still, I lost touch) in dealing with ADHD kids, while Jessica's school is a school for high-achievers. Charter schools ignore the spiritual dimension, but by being able to specialize and avoid standardization, can bring most of the benefits of a private school while staying in a publicly-run framework. Vouchers will be touchy. True, we can't send every kid to Groton. However, we can give parents options that won't bust the public's budget.

Reassessing Scalia- I questioned Justice Scalia's functioning IQ yesterday on his remarks on the death penalty. Kevin Holtsberry put a solid $0.02

I don't think Scalia meant judges should be required to resign only that if they felt deeply that they could not uphold the law then the should resign rather than seek to undermine it from the bench. I think t he quote was in a larger context. Much of this was discussed in the Corner.

I've been underreading The Corner this week; they did cover this well. After some early bombast, they talked it through to a more reasonable conclusion.I was likely dumping my frustration at liberals saying that you can't be a good public servant and have moral principles at the same time. To my ears (well, eyes, I was reading it) Scalia was hitting the same button, since my stance on the death penalty's close to the Pope's-OK in theory, not so hot in modern practice. In other occasions, I've held my fire until I had a bit of time to calm down and could say something coherent. I like Katherine Lopez's post from Tuesday

Kevin Cherry, sometimes (including today) NRO contributor e-mails me to say that we should all calm down about Scalia. "Okay, sure I understand the predictable emphasis on Scalia's Catholicism. But what is novel about the idea that a judge who has a fundamental moral disagreement with the laws he is charged to uphold should, at the very least, recuse himself from such cases or, when the dissent reaches a critical level, resign? It has nothing to do with religion; the left-liberal activists who are similarly opposed to the death penalty should similarly recuse/resign as necessary. I just don't see all the fuss, except, of course, that Scalia can't help but be provocative." I think Cherry's right. And I think Scalia adopts the middle position Ramesh mentions himself ["wherein a judge could think the death penalty wrong but uphold laws that allow it"] on abortion, and expects that most Catholic judges do on the death penalty if they oppose it. I think his answer to a question asked at a law-school conference is a lot more dog-bites-man than the news coverage or our blogging would suggest

Unlikely as it might be-If you're reading this, Mr. Scalia, I ask your forgiveness. I was taking out my frustration at critics of the faithful on you. For the rest of Blogistan-I think the reality is somewhere where Lopez is talking about.

Picasso of Cheap Shots-Of course, it's Tim Noah, who makes the finals of the Stoopid Pundit contest and will likely medal (Anthony Lewis' retirement improves his chances, but it's a tough field). The Slate headline "How the Electoral College Cost NYC $9 Billion" and the underlying premise that Dubya's giving New York the back of his hand because it's Democratic territory is bogus. It that were true, he'd be lavishing support for the laid-off Enron folks back in Texas. There may be some budgeting games afoot, but not to the level of the inner headline- "Bush to NYC: Drop Dead."

Blind Squirrel Finds Acorn-Robert Wright is a favorite whipping boy in Blogistan, but he may manage a passing grade this morning with "Legalizing War Against Iraq". I don't know what other bloggers are thinking (the outgoing server seems to be down this afternoon) but Wright's basic take of using the kicking out of weapons inspectors in 1998 as grounds for military action is good. The rest of the article is snarky and takes a B+ opener into a D+, but the premise is something the State Department should keep up its sleeve. Multilateralism, at least on paper, is nice if you can get it without costing too much effectiveness.

Talkin' Serious Smack in Iran- ""The Iranian nation does not want to create another Vietnam for America, but if the U.S. government wants to drown in another quagmire we are ready" is the bluster from Revolutionary Guards deputy commander Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr. Sorry, but quagmire just got sent to the Unicorn Hunters for banishment from the political lexicon after misuse in Afghanistan. It won't work this time. Thanks to USS Clueless for the link-but the Vampire analogy doesn't quite work. Would a Shiite warrior be holding up a cross? If he did, would it work (since that symbol isn't part of his faith)? Garlic might still work.

Good News, Better Applet- A Samizdata post on Libertarians doing well in Costa Rican elections has been enhanced with an applet of two animated happy faces toasting the victory, clinking beer mugs. Cute.

Olympic Exhibition Sport-Mormon Bashing-The media's getting in their licks, but not on a theological critique, but on either being straight-laced or making fun of their polygamist past (and occasional present). Other than slurping down too much Diet Pepsi (with caffeine), my lifestyle is about as tame as a stereotypical Morman, so I have sympathy for them on this front; much of this coverage is a Blue State-Red State food fight with the Mormons standing in for the rest of flyover country.

Reinventing Japan Inc.- Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was riding high in the polls until he fired foreign minister Makiko Tanaka;Koizumi's approval ratings have plummeted from the 70s to 49%. The popular and outspoken Tanaka, the daughter of former PM Kakuei, may have not been ready for prime time as a diplomat. However, she represents the reform-wing of the Liberal Democrats and could bring about a nasty split in the party. A greater reliance on the dinosaurs of the LDP may slow needed reforms.

Do You Like Pickering? Yes, But My Mom Insists I Use a Kleenex.- Getting serious, the Senate will be taking up Charles Pickering for a promotion from federal district to appelate judge. The Mississippi native has a good record of fighting injustice and the Klan, but some quarters of the left are in Bork mode. Byron York makes the case for Pickering in this NRO piece, as he debunks the bogus spin being put on 40 years of service. Thanks to Andrew Sullivan via Instipundit for the reminder.

So Long, Mom, I'm Off to Drop the Bomb (on Shays-Meehan)-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert has declared "Armageddon" on the Shays-Meehan (the House's version of McCain-Feingold) campaign finance bill, stating that "Republicans could lose their slim House majority if Congress approves the proposal." The coalition of Democrats and some centrist Republicans will war with more conservative Republicans and some black Democrats (who use soft money to get out the vote) in a poli-sci textbook case of political trench warfare with odd-bedfellows coalitions.

Amtrak go bye-bye?- A congressionally-chartered Amtrak Reform Council is recommending dismantling the government-subsidised passenger rail service. The report stated that "[t]he council believes that passenger rail service will never achieve its potential as provided and managed by Amtrak." Amtrak Chairman Michael Dukakis (I didn't know he surfaced there) retorted with "I think this report should be rejected out of hand.'' Well, Mike, the public rejected you out of hand 14 years ago; that's why you're heading Amtrak rather than working out of your presidential library in Cambridge.

Euro Off the Hook in AIB Case?- It was dollar-yen trading by the alleged Baltimore scamster that did in AIB, according to a report via public radio Marketplace show.

Quip du jour-"Post modernism:not to be confused with the more popular Toasties and Raisin Bran"-Rantburg's Fred Pruitt Edifier du jour: "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." Matthew 6:14-15 (example of how not to do this can be seen on Tuesday's posts)

Wednesday, February 06, 2002

GerryPandering-Airstrip One leads with a (pre-9/11) picture of Dubya chatting up what appears to be Sinn Fein boss Gerry Adams. Caption: "You're either with us or you're with the Terrorists" It's a tough call how to deal with Sinn Fein if they are playing somewhat nice. 9/11 has allowed the 2-by-4 approach to diplomacy more room. People recognize evil a bit better than before, and understand that there are some people that don't respond to diplomacy. While there are large irredentist pockets in the IRA, I'm not ready to throw in the towel on the Good Friday process. I'm talking out of marginal knowledge, but things seem to be better with the current process than they were before.

The Wall of Fame is Getting Crowded- I'm adding Banana-Counting Monkey and Airstrip One to my permalink list. Banana Counting Monkey ("Go thou and blog likewise") is a witty Canadian Blog, complete with daily tracking of the Loonie's descent into the Marianas, scratching my Canadaphile streak. Airstrip One ("Foreign policy as if the national interest mattered ") is a graphically sparse but information-dense British international-affairs site, a no-nonsence analog of Rantburg. Anyone who has an ongoing "Zim Watch" to follow Mugabe and gang wins points with me. One of the guys is an Antiwar.com vet, but I haven't seen that streak yet. I've also beefed up my international news link section, covering a good hunk of the Anglosphere, including associate members Israel, India and Japan. It's not complete, but a good start.

Judicial Brain Damage-I'm not sure how much of an IQ deficit Scalia was working with when he was suggesting that anti-death-penalty Catholic judges should resign. He is quoted as saying, "In my view, the choice for the judge who believes the death penalty to be immoral is resignation rather than simply ignoring duly enacted constitutional laws and sabotaging the death penalty." Article VI of the US Constitution says that "...judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." This sounds like a Religious Test to me. If you can make a case that the judges are not supporting the Constitution, then impeachment would be an option. Short of that, your argument is toast. You'd depopulate the judiciary real quick if a loyalty oath to the majority opinion of the Supreme Court were required.

Bail is posted at 10 Trillion Dollars- Talib Johnny isn't going anywhere. Judge Curtis Sewell denied bail, stating that Lindh "has every incentive to flee." Like OJ said to Howard Cosell, "you have a firm grasp of the ovious."

Papa Blog's Victory Conditions-Instapundit has set up a set of victory conditions for the War on Terror

1. Iranian mullahs, Saudi royals, Saddam Hussein out of power, replaced by nonhostile, preferably democratic regimes. Islamic fundamentalist leaders around the world neutralized or dead. 2. Friendly, more-or-less democratic regimes in place in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asian republics. ("More or less" means better than at present, though not necessarily up to standards of U.S., India, etc.) 3. Leaders of remaining hostile nations, if any, thoroughly cowed. New conventional wisdom is "don't piss off the Americans."

Let's break it down. Condition set 1- I'll settle for a Kuwait-level of benigness in Riyadh (if we can get that, I'm not invading), but Iran and Iraq need an overhaul. The Iranians seem to be months rather than years away from doing it themselves; we may need to do Iraq ourselves with some local help a la Afghanistan. Condition sets 2 and 3- Bingo! Some of the thugs in the Stans may need some changing. We don't want to get back into the "he's an SOB but he's our SOB" Cold War motif; we might get the next Osama kicking out the anti-Islamist goons if we don't get good governments in the region. Central Asia will require some deft diplomacy (and probably a few Special Forces sorties) to get the job done.

AmeriCorps draws fire from Armey- One of Dubya's SOTU lines was to increase AmeriCorps. Dick Armey is rightfully bashing the move. AmeriCorps seems to be nation-wide pork for more-liberal charities (since overtly religious ones aren't in the mix) that may be using the aides to lobby for more money or otherwise do things that run counter to the intent of the program. A lot of Republicans aren't happy with this addition, but don't want to stick their neck out.

NPR Food Fight?-Check out this exchange between the usually unflappable Terry Gross and KISS's Gene Simmons. The repartee looks like The West Wing on acid, witty but weird. You want reasons not to like these guys? This interview puts Simmons out front for the Anal Orifice of the Year award, with a bemused Robert Altman looking on in second. The year is still young, unfortunately. Prior to this, the public spin on KISS was that the stuff was an act and that they were normal guys when out of uniform. Maybe not.

Wearing of the Red-Ireland's largest bank (and the largest cap on the Irish exchange), Allied Irish Bank, reported a $860 million theft by a Baltimore foreign exchange trader. The stock dropped 16% on the news. Denbeste points out that Price Waterhouse that did the auditing for AIB. This one could be interesting. A big bank fiasco could have some fallout on Irish politics with an election coming up this spring. There might be another volley of punditfire at the accounting industry, as another firm gets egg on its face. Expect a lot of reflexive big-business and banking bashing by the usual suspects. Ireland's already in the EuroZone (I'm getting used to the E with two middle prongs Euro sign) , so cries to "join the Euro and lessen foreign exchange trading" aren't in play here, as there might be if a British bank got caught with its pants down.

The Contractions Stopped-Was This False Labor?-Baseball won't be contracting after all this year- Minnesota fans can rejoice that they'll have another year of the Twinkies. Yes, Expos fans (all sixteen of you) can rejoice, too. One of my old Bible Study friends, Dave Pasek, is a huge Twins fan-the local paper would up interviewing him (the sports editor went to that Bible study in the late 80's) when the original news of contraction came out. One of my favorite same-wavelength stories was when he hosted a Christmas party, playing a mean accordion (yes, it's possible). When a couple went to leave, I hollered across the room, "Play some White Sox music!" Without having talked with him on that topic, I knew he'd remember that it was the White Sox's organist who popularized playing "Nah Nah Nah Nah Hey Hey Hey Goodbye" at the end of a winning game. Working wavelength-he did just that, flooring the crowd.

Give the 'stros Some Self-Esteem- The Houston Astros are moving to recind the naming rights to Enron Field, filing a claim before a the judge overseeing the bankruptcy. An Astros spokewoman said "The Houston Astros have been materially and adversely affected by the negative public perception and media scrutiny resulting from Enron's alleged bad business practices and bankruptcy." No kidding, Sherlock.

"I'm looking for a stimulus package." "Are you over 18?"-Looks likes our old friend the filibuster has stopped a stimulus package, since neither the Democrats or the Republicans can pry 60 votes loose to pass something. I've never been a fan of active recession management-by the time a recession is spotted and a bill is passed, the economy is on the way back on its own and the pork and questionable spending/tax subsidies needed to grease the skids may slow the economy down more in the long run. Just set a good long-term fiscal policy and allow the economy to adjust itself.

Iranians Talkin' Trash- Rumor is that the Israelis are ready to take out an Iranian nuke facility like they did in Iraq in 1981. Iranian defense minister Ali Shamkhani was doing the Mother of All Battles thang on al-Jazeera, saving "If Israel carries out any military action against Iran, it will face a response that will be unimaginable to any Israeli politician." Host a Billy Graham crusade? Establish a full democracy? Have the mullahs sing Hava Nagila? Thanks to Kesher Talk for the link. I'll apologize in advance for the times I'll wind up spelling it Kosher.

Quip du jour- "Conservatives are generous with their money, while liberals are generous with other people's money"-anon. Edifier du jour:"I rejoiced with those who said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD."" Psalm 122:1

Tuesday, February 05, 2002

I'm among the in goyim- Found a G-rated version of the 72-Virginians joke at Kesher Talk, Howard Fienberg's site. Fienberg seems to be a dynamist, practicing Jew from his bio and writings. He's got me in an extensive link list- my evangelical ranting hasn't scared him off yet. I think I'll return the favor. He has a solid, somewhat Jewish/Israel-centric blog, but with Israel a regular in the news, he'll be a good resourse.

One Tub of Huddled Masses to Go, Please--Gregory Hlatky over at A Dog's Life has a good take on European collectivism, riffing on this Eurosniffing MSNBC piece. His closing take was a keeper-

Europe is becoming a bureaucratic autocracy where the individual freedoms American's cherish will be subordinated to the "welfare of society." The bright side for the U.S. is that we'll be the beneficiaries of those intelligent, industrious individuals who will come here to escape Europe's increasingly stultifying atmosphere and constricted liberties.

Well, the ocracies change, but the collectivist spirit continues through the ages, and freedom-loving Europeans will bail out until the Anglosphere manages to infiltrate Europe. Minor bone to pick, Greg. Jerry Jones may deserve the 72 Virginian treatment, but Cowboy fans. like my mom, my future inlaws and Junkyard Blog don't deserve a lifetime of 0-16's.

We now return you to your regularly schedued blogging. I was able to edit the BCN post via AOL up at Eileen's, but can't do it on IE on either of my work computers or my one at home now. Go figure. Had a nice evening with milady, came home and caught the tail end of a butt-ugly Pistons win over the Sixers, and have some time to do some posting before hitting the hay.

Update on forgiveness. I got the correction ablitity back on the problem child below. However, the typo taught me a lesson. We can give a pro-forma fogiveness, just putting the offence in a foggy past. However, the sun will come out eventually and bring back that hurt. We need to actively give the hurt to God, rather than say "fogitaboutit." It's a common habit in Blogistan to give both barrels to offending people. However, we should take after Jesus on the cross, when he said "Forgive them; they know not what they do." Truely, many of these beauzeaus don't. I'm blogging on Eileen's PC for the first time, while she gets dinner ready. She was looking over my shoulder and approving this post.

Blogger-to-blogger help- I'm stuck trying to edit this last post-it won't show the row of icons, including Cancel or Post, when I try to edit it, even in safe mode, thus I can't save any edits to it. Any suggestions, crew? I can edit this one, but the BCM post below won't budge. For now, I'm stuck questioning fogiving Bono, rather than forgiving him. Maybe that's God's way of saying I should forgive the beauzeau even if his politics suck bilge water. {update-I was able to access it as of 6PM]

Should I retract that forgiveness? It's tempting.- Banana Counting Monkey links to this Globe and Mail piece, where Bono is praising Chretien for his work overseas. BCN's comment-"Memo to J.C: Having Bono say that you are running the country in a way he likes, may not be the best way to persuade currency traders that your have your head screwed on right." Hold your cards, we have a winner.

Bomb Iran?-Not Yet-Airstrip One makes a good case for not going after Iran at this point. Given the signs of increasing unrest about the theocracy we've been seeing in the last few months and the fact that, other than Hezballah in Lebanon, they have generally behaved themselves recently outside their borders, we're better off holding off for now and letting Khatami's backers to continue to apply internal heat. If the Shiite mullahs are shown to be ecumenical and helping Wahhabi Sunni al Qaeda, then we've got a case. For now, let's let them roast slowly with internally-generated heat. Twisted-mind alert- I'm picturing the Bud "wassup" guys talking about Islam, playing off the wasabi ad. Wah-haaaaab-bi.

Stormin' the Mormons- One of the things we'll be getting the next two weeks as the Winter Olympics is going on is a lot of free PR for the Mormons. There are some people who don't understand why the Mormons ("Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints" is the offical title) are a "cult", or at least so unothodox in their theology that they shouldn't count as Christans. Here's my quick-and-dirty on the subject. I'm doing this off the top of my head at work, with some refreshers from Gospelcom.net; my dead-tree resoures are at home, so I reserve the right to modify this later today when I get home. The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, claims to have found extra books dictated by God. The Book of Mormon is the best know, but two other books, Pearl of Great Price and Doctrines and Covenants are the books where the heterodox Mormon theology comes from. "Back when God was a buck private" would fit Mormon theology, since the core divergence comes from the idea that both Jesus and Elohim (sp?) (God the Father) were once men themselves and evolved into godhood. Believers can themselves be promoted to godhood, ruling over planets of their own. "As God once was, we are; as God is, we may be" is a key Mormon saying. In Mormon theology, Jesus is god of this planet-there are other planets with other gods. Mormon theology holds Elohim personally came down to have sex with Mary to start Jesus along in his earthly form. Another funny part of Mormon theology was the relationship of Jesus and Lucifer. There was a vote in the heavens over which of the two would get to run Earth. Jesus ran on a platform of free-will to the spirits, while Lucifer ran on required obedience. Jesus won, and the spirits who voted for Lucifer got placed into black bodies. Thus the Mormon had a theological footing for liking the church to be "white and delightful." It wasn't until the 70s that blacks could be full members (adult male members are all priests, carrying the "priesthood of all believers" a bit too literally) of the church. Baptizing the dead and the continuation of marriage after death (going against Jesus’ words) are two other unbiblical quirks of the Mormons. If this reads like bad sci-fi, I'm reminded that Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard was a sci-fi writer before (and after?) he founded his crack-pot faith. Joseph Smith had one very wild imagination, put into overdrive with the Devil's help. The "Latter-Day Saints" part of the official Mormon title gives the LDS acronym. That gives those familiar with the Mormons a good laugh in Star Trek 4 when Kirk tells the fellow bus-rider that Spock was "into LDS in the 60s." Most Christians groups, including the Catholics and Methodists (hey, they get one right for a change) can see that Mormons are theologically off-base and, while they may use Biblical terms, aren't practicing the same faith.

Dome Fans Can't See the Air Force Flyover- Bring a U2 Inside-In the cloying display of patriotism (I am happily American, but when commercial endeavors try to be patriotic, it usually comes across off-key) that went on at the Super Bowl, the crescendo came at halftime, with that great American rock band, U2. While they did a good job, it was a bit weird to see an Irish band (from the Republic, not Southie) being the cornerstone of this commemoration of 9/11, with the Stars and Stripes liner on Bono's jacket and the transparent Vietnam Memorial/Star Wars listing of the 9/11 dead behind/over the stage. Was this an example of the Anglosphere at work? A group of left-leaning Irishmen coming together in a joint statement of solidarity with their American bretheren. Bono has more in common with Bush pere (who helped with the coin flip) than Osama than he'd like to admit; this kind of thought makes smart leftists rethink their world-view. For the forced corniness of the show, it went over well, making me ready to forgive Bono for the "F--- the System" line at the Grammy Awards years ago.

Refuseniks- Bad Use of a Good Word- I had been seeing pieces on Israeli reservists not wanting to serve in Palestinian areas, thinking the current policy unjust, but my dander got raised this morning by an NPR piece that referred to them as "refuseniks." A quick Google shows that other articles have also used the term. For those with a quarter-century worth of memory, you might recall that refusenik came into the vocabulary in the 70s to describe Soviet Jews (and other oppressed minorities) refused exit visas to leave the country. Former refusenik Natan Sharansky is a leading center-right Israeli politician. That takes an honorable word and places it on some dubious politics. I'm ticked, and in a quick Google, I haven't seen anyone make this connection yet.

Divided Loyalties-The Men's Hockey at the Olympics points out how the NHL has changed since the end of the Cold War. As a Red Wings fan, I'll have a rooting interest in five countries, as the US (Hull and Chelios), Canada (Yzerman and Shannahan), Russia (Federov and Larionov), Sweden (Lindstrom) and the Czechs (Hasek) will have Red Wings playing for them. I was remembering a few years back when they would have the Red Wings would have the "Red Army" unit of five Russians, with Federov, Larionov and Kozlov up front and Fetisov and Konstantinov on defense. That would get opposing fans chanting "U-S-A, U-S-A!" Fetisov's acoach with the NJ Devils (if memory serves), Kozlov got traded to Buffalo in the Hasek deal and Konstantinov was paralyzed in a limo crash, but it was good fun while it lasted.

Utah, Get Your Mitts Outs-A lot of bloggable things came to mind on the way to work today. One of them is the Salt Lake Olympic chair Mitt Romney. After the bribery scandals surrounding Salt Late City getting the games, he seems to have done a good job. Some bloggers might remember him in a previous incarnation as a Massachusetts Republican running (and losing, natch) against Ted Kennedy, giving Teddy one of his tougher runs. He's a bit moderate for my tastes, but props to the guy for a good try. He's also the son of George Romney, the late Michigan Governor who was in the hunt for the '68 Republican nomination before quipping about being "brainwashed" about Vietnam.

Quip du jour-"Am I Angospherical? No, I went on a diet after Christmas. "-Natalie Solent Edifier du jour-"But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first."-Matthew 19:30 (Eddie the Eagle's Verse?)

Monday, February 04, 2002

Leader of the Pak- Rantburg's Fred Pruitt has this take on the hard-core Islamic crowd wanting to go toe-to-toe at the polls with Musharraf

The fundos have defined themselves as the opposition to Musharraf. They'll either push him into trying to mend fences with them or they'll push him from a moderate Islamism all the way into secularism. If they've overestimated their own strength, as they have a habit of doing, and the beards lose in the elections, their power will be broken - at least until memories fade and a little revisionism takes place. If they see a hefty defeat coming, though, they're going to press sympathetic elements in the armed forced and the ISI to either fix the election or to oust Musharraf. It'll be something to watch.

I'm not sure if they have the street support to beat Musharraf in a fair fight. If Musharraf keeps a lid on the more militant Islamists and avoids turning the average devout Muslim against him, he's got a long stay ahead of him. I would be leery of using Turkey as a model; supressing Islam too much could backfire and turn the average mosque-goer against the government. A long-but-firm leash is the answer, but that's easier said than done.

Cry Havoc and Let Loose the Blogs of War-That's the motto of Rantburg, a new favorite I've just stumbled into. He seems to have a fairly in-depth review of the War on Terror, broadly defined, done with good insight and a solid wit. Describing the Axis of evil as being on a "poop list" is a good example of his blend of tactical tackiness , as is his new French concoction, Beauzeaus (say it out loud and laugh). He seem to keep his commentary PG rather than R, which is a prereq for getting on the Wall of Fame (exception- Penny busts into R on occasion, but his content redeems him). Check the dude out.

Pollution and the Environment II- The Coase is Clear One of the nice things about blogdom is that you learn a lot as you go. In critiquing part I, Econ student and anarchocapitalist James Haney pointed me to the work of Ronald Coase, the 1991 Nobel Economics laureate. As I noted this morning, my education on externalities somehow missed Coase, and once I got over the mild sting of being "showed up" by an (very kind) undergrad, I did some reading. This David Friedman piece on Coase is a good starter for a more in-depth look at the issue. There are three ways to regulate externalities. One way is to regulate the pollution, mandating a level of pollutant that cannot be exceeded. A second way is for the government to levy a fee for each unit of pollution, called Pigouvian taxes in the literature. The third option was introduced by Coase in a 1960 article, "The Problem of Social Cost"- give someone either the right to not be polluted or the right to pollute and allow people to trade those rights. The basic thrust of his argument is "Coase's Theorem"

Regardless of the specific initial assignment of property rights, in market equilibrium the final outcome will be efficient- provided that the initial legal assignment is well defined and that transactions involving exchange rights are costless.

Instead of government fixing the price of pollution, which may not be optimal, assigns rights to pollute (or rights to cleanness) and allow the market to decide what a fair price is. An early stab at a Coasian market is the trading of sulfur dioxide (SO2) rights. This system allows plants with efficient ways to reduce SO2 emissions to trade their rights to plants that have a harder time reducing emissions, thus (in theory) allowing pollution to be cut efficiently. It's an imperfect start, as EPA regulations make the market murky and the cost-plus nature of establishing utility rates discourage cost savings, but the basic idea has proved workable. CO2 trading was placed into the (thankfully-departed) Protocol of the Elders of Kyoto to make cost-effective reductions in "greenhouse gasses." A Coasian market avoids all-or-nothing solutions, such as shutting down a plant, to meet goals-the plant can buy the rights to pollute from the offended parties and if the cost is too high, they'll find ways to avoid the pollution. This strategy will run into fire from some circle who would consider a clean environment priceless and will be offended at the idea of being bought off by the polluters. It would be a major political trick to set up a system where a certain amount of pollution is acceptable. The public will have to be educated and convinced of the merits of a system to establish and sell rights to pollute. Smart environmentalists can use Coasian markets to their advantage; the SO2 system allows environmentalists to buy rights and take them out of the system. The trick to a Coasian market is to have well-defined rights and to have low exchange costs. One of the problems with the SO2 market is that the government sets the overall pollution level, which can change from year to year, thus making the value of cutting pollution over time problematic. A coherent system of establishing rights and prices for such rights has yet to be established. Also, exchange costs are high if lawsuits are needed to establish damages to be paid; an unholy alliance of trial lawyers and environmentalist will try and stop more efficient pollution rights markets from developing. Setting up such a system will be hard, but worthwhile. The media will not be helpful and liberals will try and twist the plan beyond recognition. However, people who want to lower pollution in an efficient manner can be won over to a Coasian framework. The next step is to figure out what items to target for a Coasian solution and selling it as an alternative to more-intrusive government solutions.

Where's that Aggie Spirit?- Texas A&M president Ray Bowen canceled the 2002 Thanksgiving bonfire, citing high insurance costs. The 1999 bonfire collapsed during construction, killing 12 students. The bonfire had been a tradition as part of the lead-up to the grudge-match football game with the University of Texas. Mike Yonan (of Yonan's Law fame), my Aggie classmate at Kent State, gave me some detail that they don't tell you on the football broadcast. Part of the tradition was to put a wood outhouse (the UT S___house) on top of the bonfire, with the big cheer coming when the outhouse collapsed into the fire. I would think with all the rich alums that a million or so could be raised to cover the insurance, but the Aggie brass seemed to have wimped out, seeming to counterdict the can-do spirit I associate with Aggies.

Maxima Leader?- Cute story I missed this weekend, where Dutch crown prince Willem-Alexander married an Argentine banker, Maxima Zorreguieta, who this piece called "the Dutch Diana". Her father was persona-non-grata at the wedding, having served as Agriculture minister in a nasty milliary junta.

Aussie Wussies-Australian intelligence officers advised against helping with an American missile defense plan, fearing an arms race in East Asia. Prime Minister Howard ignored the advice. Let's look at the two worldviews. View 1-A missile shield will encourage development of more missiles or better evasive capabilities of missiles to get around/overwhelm the shield. Development of missiles will be slower without a shield program. View 2- A lack of a shield will encourage development of more missiles, knowing they'll get through. A shield will slow development of missiles less likely to get through and shoot down the ones that are launched. I think there will be an arms race in Asia regardless of a shield. Can the critics of missile defense guarantee that the Chinese and North Koreans will play nice if we skip building a shield? The question should be whether the money plowed into a system will be worth the improved safety from attack provided by it. That is still an open question, but one worth further research. I'd like to give a future president, faced with missiles heading towards LA and Seattle (or Taipei or Tokyo) an option to shoot them down and say to the offending country, "You really shouldn't have tried that" rather than being forced to parking-lot the offending party. The system, if feasible and affordable, will save lives on both sides. The argument that the money could be better spent improving relations with the likely suspects is problematic; bribes won't likely keep these countries peaceful forever.

GOP-Teamster Axis?-The Teamsters seem to be gravitating towards the Republicans these days, with ANWR being the latest example. I'll posit a good reason- a growing economy helps the Teamsters, and the GOP is the party of economic growth. The Democrats are the party of economic redistribution. Economic growth means more stuff being shipped, and the Teamsters will be there to help move the stuff around. Unlike manufacturing unions who have a protectionist agenda and public-employee unions whose jobs depend on big government, the Teamsters and other private-sector non-manufacturing workers don't have a natural tie to the Democrats. The Carpenters are another union that are leaning Republican-you can't import buildings (not easily at least) and a growing economy means more construction. As long as unions are given decent legal protections allowing organization, the private-sector non-manufacturing workers will be fair game for Republicans. As a kid I thought it was a side-effect of being mobbed-up that made the Teamsters GOP-leaning. No, there is an honest self-interest in backing the party of economic growth.

Ran across this broadside from an Irish abortion-rights backer railing against a proposed anti-abortion constitutional amendment-“The proposed legislation is profoundly discriminatory against women and couples who are prevented from making informed choices; against the socially deprived, who cannot afford to travel to a more compassionate jurisdiction; against individual citizens and minorities who may hold contrasting, but in their opinion, valid views” (my italics). Doesn't any controversial bill discriminate against people who hold contrasting views? Didn't the al Qaeda guys have "contrasting, but in their opinion, valid" views on plowing a plane into the WTC? The tax code discriminates against higher-income people who think they should pay less. Political systems come up with a general consensus on what should be done, but never a 100% agreement on everything. Someone will always disagree on a bill. Abortion, among many issues, has highly-charged partisans on both side, but politics often means one side will be ticked off. The alternative to having a majority ticking off a minority, since 100.0000000% unanimity is impossible, is anarchy.

North American Climate Dispute- Groundhogs in Canada disagree with Punxsutawney Phil's late-spring forcast. Are they Liberal groundhogs trying to pump up the Loonie by forecasting an early spring? They aren't talking (they never do).

Did a little reading on externalities before going to bed in response to Mr. Haney's post yesterday. I realized he knows more on the topic than I do, and that's good. I mentally went through what I studied on externalities in my Econ classes, and noted that it was only covered in my intro to micro class as a freshman back in 1980; neither my intermediate micro nor my doctoral micro theory class covered it. The intro class was pre-Reagan, so a lot of market-based solutions weren't in play back then. I remember that they have pollution-rights trading (sulfur dioxide being most prominent if memory serves) as an example of market-based pollution controls, but have only looked at this more as a layman than as a teacher or student. I cracked open my micro theory textbook [Jack Hirshleifer, “Price Theory and Applications 4th Edition” Prentice Hall 1988] and found this on Coase’s Theorem: "Regardless of the specific initial assignment of property rights, in market equilibrium the final outcome will be efficient- provided that the initial legal assignment is well defined and that transactions involving exchange rights are costless." Hirshleifer goes on to say "the thrust of Coase’s Theorem is that the Invisible Hand is much more effective than our above discussion of externalities may at first suggest.” Coase won the 1991 Nobel for his work, so he's got something going. Film at eleven, folks. There's too much to cover for a work-break blogging session.

Quip du jour-"If all the economists were laid end to end, they'd never reach a conclusion."-George Bernard Shaw Edifier du jour: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven"-Matthew 18:3

Sunday, February 03, 2002

Quantum Econ Smackdown- Mr. Haney gives me too much credit-I didn't gloss over Coase, I kinda, well, forgot all about him. Note that that was part I this morning-once I refresh/expand my memory on Coase, there will be a part II. Not right now, I'm a bit groggy after the Super Bowl, but I will respond to Haney's critique.

"The Idiot" Wins the Big One-When I was working as a programmer while finishing up my doctorate, one of my curmudgeonly co-workers would refer to Bill Belichick, then coaching the old Browns, as "The Idiot." Well, the guy just won a Super Bowl. I thought the Pats made a mistake when they hired him. My bad.

SermonWatch- Check out this sadly-funny link about practical compassion. Pastor Milton referenced this modern parable and I managed to Google my way to it just now. Even an agnostic will get a kick out of it. The sermon was on "Possessing the Heart of Christ," pointing out that compassion and action go together. His primary text was Mark 6:30-34, with verse 34,"When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things." being a focal point. This is just before the feeding of the 5000 later in Mark 6. Jesus didn't just feel, he did. While he didn't mention this verse, I was reminded of James 2:15-17 "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." This isn't to get us into a mentality that we need to earn our way into heaven, but that by following God, we'll be doing the compassionate things he wants us to do. The verse that struck home the most was when he quoted Psalm 103:8. Here's versus 8-10 "The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities." Many people picture God with His zapper, looking for people to send to Hell. Just the opposite, he's looking for people to bring to Himself. People tend to dwell on the downside of rejecting Him and not the blessings of being able to snuggle close to Him. Jesus referred to God as abba, Aramaic for "daddy." I remind myself of that when we do old hymns with thees and thous. Other languages have a second-person you (for example, the German du or the Spanish tu) for friends and intimates and a third-person you (German Sie or Spanish usted) for more formal relationships. Modern English lost the second person, which was thou. Those old hymns looked at God as an intimate. So should we.

Covering the Anglosphere III- L'affair Woomera - The Australian government didn't quite know what to do with Afghan refugees. Current policy have refugees placed into detention centers until asylum is granted; Some refugees were pawned off on Papua New Guinea and Nauru, while other Afghans are stashed at a remote base in Woomera. Some of the detainees have staged a hunger strike. Keeping them locked up is peeving a lot of the left in Australia, but the opposition Labor party is divided on the, holding its fire as a group for now. The left also wants to point out that Australia actively discouraged Asian immigrants with a "White Australia" policy until the 70's. The ruling Liberal (center-right) party also may want to keep a hard line of refugees to keep losing ground to a Buchananesque One Australia Party. The government is currently erring on the side of law-and-order and getting some flak for it.

Covering the Anglosphere II-Bloody Sunday-I have heard the term used for years, especially in the U2 song, but the coverage of the 30th anniversary of Bloody Sunday this week brought this part of the Troubles to light, as I had never heard it explained until now. The quick summary- British soldiers in Derry (more formally Londonderry, but locals tend to go with Derry) opened fire on Catholic marchers, killing 13. The army line was that they were answering IRA sniper fire, the Catholic/Republican line was that they were trigger-happy and firing on unarmed, largely innocent, marchers. I had been reading the coverage by British and Irish bloggers, as well as hearing a Fresh Air piece with two Times writers who covered the aftermath of Bloody Sunday. Their account mentioned that the area of Derry was a nationalist stronghold, with a large IRA-dominated section of town nearby, and that the elite troops that would up opening fire were ready for a fight with the IRA. Their investigation after the shootings counterdicted the army story; that the people shot were not IRA snipers, none of the people killed were armed. While I don't know the politics of the two Times reporters, they seemed to be calling it straight in the interview. My first response what that Bloody Sunday reminded me of Kent State, but the comparison is flawed. There was much more enmity to be tapped in Catholics than in the American anti-war movement and there was no near-civil-war (the Weathermen and other radicals notwithstanding) in the US over the Vietnam war. The IRA used (and still uses) this event coupled with that latent enmity to harden the hearts of Catholics to the British and their Protestant brethren. It will take time to heal the wounds that have been festering for a half-millenium, but people of goodwill on both side have to shout down the goons on both sides. The IRA is the primary offender, but there are also some Protestants that sound like Klansmen in their anti-Catholic bile. Over the years, the issues seem to have become tribal rather than religious, with Catholics resenting past mistreatment and Protestants fearful of being sucked into a Catholic country and resentful of IRA attacks. Before we Americans hold our heads too high, remember that we have a bit of this bigotry in the US as well. The KKK has it in for Catholics as well as Jews and blacks. As recently as 1960, Kennedy's Catholicism (his womanizing wasn't public knowledge at the time) was an issue with many people. There is still an unhealthy anti-Catholic streak, going beyond a healthy critique of Catholic extra-biblical doctrine, in many evangelical circles; pamphleteer Jack Chick and Bob Jones U being two examples. This has eased in the years since 1960. Conservative Catholics and evangelicals have made common cause on many issues recently; Catholic Alan Keyes was the darling of many evangelical voters in the last two Republican presidential primaries and William Bennett has become a co-warrior with evangelicals on many moral issues. In the US, the political divide has become whether you go to church on Sunday rather that where; churchgoers of all stripes tend to vote Republican. The blogs have been educational, as people like Natalie Solent have given an additional perspective. Solent notes that the Protestants are left out of the coverage of Bloody Sunday, that the fight is portrayed as a British Army/Catholic fight and that while more Catholics were killed than Protestants, that Republican goons killed twice as many people as Loyalist ones. Belfast resident Dale Amon noted the anti-Catholic bigotry in the North that bred that IRAs enmity. It may be just a bit of a stretch to liken pre-Troubles Northern Ireland to the Jim Crow US South, but Catholics were surely crapped on. We're starting to get past our black/white bigotry and have all-but gotten rid of anti-Catholic bigotry in the US. I pray that the same thing happens in Northern Ireland, that thoughtful people of both sects be brought to the fore and that the bile-spitters be pushed aside in time. It will take time for the enmity to subside, for the bigots of today to have their hearts softened by evidence of humanity in the people going to the other church.

Covering the Anglosphere I-Irish Abortion Referendum-The ruling Fianna Fáil party appears ready to set up a March 6th referendum on a proposed constitutional amendment banning abortions, overturning a court precedent allowing a suicidal woman to have an abortion. Tánaiste ( "heir", deputy prime minister) Mary Haney (any relation, James? [No, Her name is Harney,I typoed/brainoed-James politely corrects]), the leader of the libertarian-leaning Progressive Democrats, has gone along with the proposal, endorsing it personally but not asking her party to vote for it. The main left-of-center parties, including Fine Gael, are opposing the measure. The measure has a modest 39-34 poll edge at present. The speculation was that the PDs went reluctantly along with the referendum in trade for scaling back the Campus/Stadium Ireland project that ran into cost overruns.

Quantum Economics- Pollution and the Environment (part I) One of the more interesting concepts I took away from my first Microeconomics class is the concept of “external costs.” An external cost is a negative side effect of economic activity that the producer doesn’t pay for. Pollution is a classic example of an external cost; the community at large gets the bogons from the bad air and water but the plant owners don’t have to reflect that cost in their bottom line unless forced to by law. The air and water supply are commonly shared; some law or social construct needs to be in place to protect them. “The tragedy of the commons” is the metaphor frequently called upon, where a common grazing pasture is overgrazed since no one is in charge of maintaining the property. Without laws (or shunning of the offender by the community) there is no good way to manage the commons; since it belongs to no one, people will abuse it if it is to their advantage. For regular real estate, there are two options for management-one option is to divide the commons into individual plots and then let the owners manage their own plots. Since the owners will fully get the downside of overgrazing, they will better protect against overgrazing. People will manage their own property better than communal property. This is one of the better arguments for private property. I remember reading in Hedrick Smith’s book, “The Russians”, about communal farms in the old USSR. Along with the big communal fields they would manage together, farmers would get their own small plots to farm and sell the produce themselves. Those small plots were very productive, making up only 1% of the farmland but producing (if memory serves) 20% of the country’s crops. This link says 30%. The other option is for government (or other communal entity) ownership and regulation of the property, limiting the amount of time each person’s flocks can be on the commons. Some grazing areas out west are done this way, but it is not an overly satisfactory method for most real estate. However, it is the only workable model for the air and water supply, since air and water don’t stay put in one place. [Correction 2/4-Maybe not, check back here for link to part two later] Let’s look at a classic pollution case-the plant has a smokestack that emits nasties into the air. The plant could install an expensive scrubber to clean up the emissions, but it would raise the cost of the products and possibly force the plant to shut down if the addition of the scrubber would make the plant a money-loser. The owner of the plant, especially if it is a corporation with owners spread out across the country, gets only a fraction of the pollution but all of the savings of not putting in the scrubber. A local proprietor could be taken aside by his neighbors and threatened to be made a pariah in the community if he didn’t clean things up, but big corporations don’t have owners you can shame at church or the football game. Unless the owner is a big environmentalist, he’s not going to put that scrubber in if he doesn’t have to. The public policy question on how to fight pollution comes back to the basic quantum economics equation-do the bogons prevented by the policy outnumber the bogons caused by the policy. Let’s look at the quantum economics of installing the scrubber. Who likes the scrubber-(1) The scrubber manufacturer and its workers. (2) People affected by pollution in the downwind communities. If the pollution causes extra problems with asthma or is a cancer-causer, there are real economic effects to the pollution. (3) Environmentalists-even if they aren’t downwind, they get a psychic benefit from cleaning something up. Who disses the scrubber (1) The plant owners-business just got more expensive. (2) Workers at the plant- this might cost them their jobs or cut into their paychecks if they have to take paycuts to keep the plant competitive after adding the scrubber. (3) Businesses and their workers in the plant community-less money coming from the plant means less business for them. (4) People who buy the plant’s product-it will get more expensive. Note that category 2 in the likes will include categories 2 and 3 in the dislikes, people near the plant may not like the smoke, but they like the jobs the plant generates. Growing up in sight of (but not downwind of) the smoke coming from Dow Chemical, I saw how the people of a company town rally around a company despite the pollution. When Jane Fonda was trashing big corporations in general and Dow in particular in the late 70s, you had to go to Saginaw to see one of her movies; her movies were conspicuous by their absence in the two Midland movie theaters. There are thus four major players against environmental regulation and two key parties (environmentalists and people affected by the pollution) in favor of it. This would seem to be a hard sell for the environmentalist, with consumers, labor unions and business interests joining forces to stop regulation. However, some pollution is definitely harmful and the cost to the economy will be outweighed by the bogons removed by cleaning up the pollution. Many environmental laws have been net joytron producers, slowing emissions of a number of very toxic substances; a reflexive negative reaction to the word environment isn’t proper. However, many regulations are counterproductive; when a small amount of pollution would require a large expenditure to overcome; we might be better off without it. I think the media have a hand in over-regulation. If you haven’t already, read my piece on network news investigative work. It may be a parody, but it is too close to the truth for comfort. An environmental piece will look at victims of pollution but not look at the effects of the regulation until after the laws are passed. In the first “there oughta be a law” piece, consumers, factory workers and the businesspeople in the communities the plants are in won’t be interviewed, just a token piece from the company saying that the regulation’s too expensive. The company management is thus seen as bad, greedy people who don’t care about Susie Jones’ asthma. A few years later, after the plant has closed or scaled down, they’ll come back and interview the union guys in line at the unemployment office or the barkeep who notes how business sucks these days, but not until after they get the laws past. The effect of this type of coverage is an over-emphasis on the benefits of regulations while all-but-ignoring the downside of regulation. The secondary and tertiary costs of regulations (lost jobs, costlier products) don’t get reported well, and swing voters are swayed by the environmentalist who is over-eager to clean things up and the reporter looking for an easy story. Even if a reporter isn’t acting as a closet environmentalist, it is hard to do those stories right, since a five-minute report doesn’t lend itself to describing the multiplier effect of regulation affecting not just the “rich businessman” but the stakeholders (employees, neighbors, customers) of the company. Thus, the media coverage will tend to be pro-environment, with any liberal bias magnified by the difficulty of presenting the anti-regulation argument in short-form journalism. This coverage will help make the less-informed voter lean towards accepting more questionable environmental regulation. Without a fuller set of knowledge, they will accept the pro-regulation spin that comes out of the media. As voters and citizens, we need to help educate ourselves and others of the pros and cons of environmental regulation, doing what the conventional broadcast and print media don’t do well. The beauty of blogs is that you can do a one-paragraph cutter or a two-page extended takedown. Even conventional Internet journalism will allow more long-form articles, going beyond the template to fully cover an issue. We'll need to direct people to more extended pieces that give fuller coverage environmental topics, and be able to cite them to people when needed to buttress an argument.

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