Saturday, September 21, 2002

Quotation for the Day:The Mountain Village Resort in Stanley, Idaho produces this bumper sticker

"Vegetarian" An old Indian word for lousy hunter

Friday, September 20, 2002

Blogging tends to attract people who like technical things, and so it tends to draw people who like science fiction and people who like science (not mutually exclusive). I am not one of them, so I have not paid close attention to the fascination in blogs for things like colonizing the moon. One issue that has arisen is who should do the exploring, and whether the government should be monopolizing it. I offer this bit. Jonathan Karpoff of the University of Washington Business School looked at some earlier explorations, specifically to the Arctic, and came up with some interesting results.

Public versus private initiative in Arctic exploration: The effects of incentives and organizational structure
Karpoff, Jonathan M
Journal of Political Economy, v. 109(1), February 2001
From 1818 to 1909, 35 government and 57 privately funded expeditions sought to locate and navigate a Northwest Passage, discover the North Pole, and make other significant discoveries in Arctic regions. Most major Arctic discoveries were made by private expeditions. Most tragedies were publicly funded. Public expeditions were better funded than their private counterparts yet lost more ships, experienced poorer crew health, and had more men die. Public expeditions' poor performance is not attributable to differences in objectives, available technologies, or country of origin. Rather, it reflects a tendency toward poor leadership structures, slow adaptation to new information, and perverse incentives.

There is also a brief description from ABC News of his work here.

Three cheers for Benjamin Netanyahu, this time in the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal. I am a regular reader of his web page, too.
A dispatch from Reuters tells about a post-modern version of payola.
Andrew Sullivan picked up a bit of comedy at the BBC. A group of actors and TV presenters are against war against Iraq. How cute. If you look closely at the page, you will note that the BBC classifies the story, not under politics, but under entertainment. Appropriate.
Michael Dorf, a law professor at Columbia, has an interesting take over at Findlaw on the problems of holding elections and getting the right winner. He points out what ought to be obvious, but isn't, and needs saying: there is no unique, perfect solution to counting ballots. There are certainly bad ways, but there are a lot of unpleasant trade-offs. Introducing human, subjective judgement is an invitation to corruption, but is hard to avoid. As a simple example, someone has to interpret write-in votes. After two very close elections in Florida, Dorf's points are worth giving some thought to.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

There is an interesting attempt by Jonathan Irom at Israpundit to explain why the left is so fanatically hostile to Israel. I have been curious about my response to the Israpundit site. Twenty years ago, I would have dismissed them as paranoid militants. Now, I take them seriously. I wonder how much of this is watching Palestinian life take on the appearance of a death cult, and how much is a reaction to the rabid anti-Semitism of so much of Europe. Even where I do not suspect anti-Semitism, there is a knee-jerk and often embarrassingly ignorant hostility to Israel. The other evening, I found myself in a conversation with people who were upset by the way Israel had replaced Netanyahu with Sharon. They had never actually heard of Barak. I have been told again and again that before 1948, there was no hostility to Jews in any part of the Arab world. I have even been told that as an American, I should still be denouncing the Israelis for the Liberty incident. So, so weird.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Pop-up ads drive me nuts. Following up a suggestion from the Volokh Conspiracy, I tried this free software. It has worked very well so far.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

In today's Daily Telegraph, Mary Kenny writes about girls growing up without fathers. Although a lot has been said about boys without fathers, too little has been said about girls without fathers. Her column was motivated not only by her own experience, but by a new study from Civitas, "Experiments in Living: The Fatherless Family" by Rebecca O'Neill (be warned: it is a 181K pdf file, although a short summary with links to the pdf and html versions can be found here). I remain amazed that some people think single motherhood is such a cute concept. Are these the same nitwits who admire Mary Robinson? This needs more investigation.
Jane Galt has some arguments about market efficiency, to which Cold Spring Shops has some useful comments. But Jane Galt decided to toss on some comments about taxes and the Laffer Curve. She tells us that the Laffer relationship just does not happen, at least at current US tax levels. Maybe not. Not particularly my field. But Austan Goolsbee has a skeptical (and difficult) paper on it, whereas James Gwartney offers a more favorable (and easier) assessment.
Jeff Jacoby has an interesting and angry column about forgiveness. He is angry at the pope for praying for God's forgiveness of the September 11 killers, which he believes is contrary to both Christian and Jewish notions of compassion. I am hardly a theologian, so I have no plans to mediate between Jacoby and the Pope (both of whom I admire). It is, though, worth thinking about what forgiveness involves, both for the forgiver and the forgiven.

On forgiveness, the Catechism of the Catholic Church offers these comments on forgiveness: "There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest." Pope John Paul II made these remarks on forgiveness as well. (It is harder to talk about the views of non-Catholic Christians, because there are many denominations, and the denominations are usually less centralized.) On Jewish ideas, I ran across "Repentance and Forgiveness", a summary of Jewish doctrine by Rabbi David Blumenthal (a professor of Judaic studies at Emory University) in Cross Currents, although I am not competent to say how representative or good it is.

The Jerusalem Post ran a nice editorial today, "Get on the Bus". The best line:
Put simply, Bush made a stand, insisted the world take sides, and offered other nations, through the UN, a face-saving way of joining him. Sensing the stiff windward breeze, the rest of the world immediately tacked accordingly. This is called leadership.

I grant that this position is not too surprising from them, but still, it needed to be said, and good for them.

I have been reading James Franklin's The Science of Conjecture: Evidence and.Probability before Pascal. It covers the many millenia of thinking about issues of evidence before Pascal modernized and quantified statistics. In particular, Franklin talks at length about the way people struggled to come to terms with notions of more and less certain. For example, how certain do you have to be someone committed a crime before you can punish him? How reliable are confessions extracted under torture?

As I read Franklin, I keep thinking about the Iraq debate. The "don't invade until you are certain Saddam has weapons of mass destruction" crowd is pretty silent on what would be necessary to establish certainty, and what kind of evidence makes for certainty. These questions have been worked on for centuries. This crowd ought to look at them too.
Finally, a Democrat comes out of the closet. Hank Perritt, a Democratic congressional candidate in Illinois, says Iraq must not be invaded. After months of crap about discussions, blah, blah, blah, finally one of them tells the truth. Perritt is not only a Democrat, he is a lawyer and a professor as well. Yeech.

Perritt is running for the seat in the Illinois 10th district. Roll Call, describing him as a "second tier" candidate, does not give him much chance of winning (, and he has raised much less money than his opponent.

Perhaps Perritt's article is a safe feeler. If the article gets a positive reception, it gives Perritt's campaign a boost, and the Democrats gain. If the article gets a hostile reception, Perritt is too unknown to cause damage, and he wasn't likely to win anyway. In short, Perritt appears to be the Democrat's cannon fodder on Iraq. Better him than Daschle.

The Washington Times editorializes on the anti-gun fanatics in Maryland. The Republican gubernatorial candidate says that gun control laws should be assessed on the basis of whether they work, and the anti-gun mob goes hysterical. Why does anyone credit this pack with anything other than a "say anything" approach?
Don Coursey has some interesting observations on the risks of trying to estimate the value of life.

Monday, September 16, 2002

First the Saudis pay for schools for terrorists, now we get a home grown version.
The "don't touch Saddam" lobby gets a lovely smackdown from Amir Taheri in the Jerusalem Post ("The Arabs' crocodile tears for Saddam").

The Jerusalem Post has a page linking to all their stories on the carnage wrought in Israel since 2000 by the Arab Nazis, aided and abetted by the EU and the UN, the same people who admire Mary Robinson.
The Telegraph runs a "moral highground" editorial, by the forgettable Robert Harris. Are they trying to compete for the stupid people readership? The Guardian, Independent, and Mirror have that crowd pretty much locked up.

So what do we get? "The moral high ground will be lost if we attack Iraq now" as a headline. (I know, I know. Writers don't usually pick their headlines. Maybe the Telegraph was just making fun of Harris.) The usual tripe about there being no evidence that poor little Iraq is bothering anybody. But the doozy is the opening, so mindlessly awful that maybe the Guardian turned it down.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the population of Oceania is daily conditioned to fight its enemies by newsreel screenings known as the Two Minutes Hate. These are insidiously effective. As Winston Smith, the hero of the novel, reflects: "The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in."

Perhaps it was my imagination, but it seemed to me that something similar occurred last week, only our Two Minutes Hate was a Two Minutes Silence: harrowing footage of grieving families mourning those killed on September 11 was screened again and again, while British and American politicians seized the moment to whip up a war psychosis about Iraq.

Clearly the consensus opinion, that Bush has pretty much creamed his opposition on this whole issue, is pretty much correct. How else to explain this sort of decrepit excuse for thought?

Today's Washington Post has a story about Eddie Willner, who as a teenager had escaped from a Nazi concentration camp and was rescued by 3rd Armored Spearhead Division, Company D, 32nd Regiment. They had a reunion over the weekend.
He was just 18 when they found him, half dead. After surviving five years in concentration camps, where both of his parents were killed, Eddie, a German, and a Dutch friend named Mike Swaab managed to flee their SS guards while on a death march in the waning weeks of World War II. Four others were shot in the escape, and a German shepherd chasing them down bit Mike in the leg. Crawling at night from bush to bush, the two Jewish teenagers slowly made their way toward a sound they recognized as U.S. artillery.

On April 12, 1945, they heard the rumble of tanks approaching and ran out in their ragged prison uniforms, pointing to the identification numbers tattooed on their arms. The "A" stood for Auschwitz.

"They could have just thrown us K-rations and moved on," said Eddie, now 76. Survivors liberated from the camps were supposed to be sent to special compounds for displaced persons. But Eddie and his friend pointed out the German foxholes they had spotted during their three days of hiding, and the Americans easily took the nearby village as they pressed east toward the Elbe River. There was no big debate, no official decision, to let Eddie and Mike stay.

Orwell wrote about the British left and their rabid appeasement of Hitler. Their followers want desparately to appease the latest batch of Nazis. Try this story from the left-wing Mirror (link from InstaPundit)

Sunday, September 15, 2002

The Washington Times offers an overly polite farewell to Mary Robinson. The editorial has a nice title, "Good Riddance to You, Mrs. Robinson." The downside is the closing line.
Mrs. Robinson will be replaced by Sergio Vieira de Mello, a Brazilian who has served in a variety of U.N. posts over the past few decades, including high commissioner for refugees. He would do well to learn from her many mistakes, and avoid Mrs. Robinson's practice of permitting democracies under siege by terrorists to be smeared as violators of human rights when they defend themselves.

Mrs. Robinson did not merely permit this sort of behavior, she practiced it regularly. She is an unpleasant bully suffering from a severe case of the arrested adolescence of leftist European intellectuals. She belongs in a university or mental hospital (like there's a difference).
The state of the Irish economy is at issue at TechCentralStation. I am not at all sure I understand the article. The author, Benjamin Powell, credits the recent boom in the Irish economy to freer markets and lower taxes. He also expresses concern that the boom may be curtailed because of talk of government involvement in research and development. Ireland is not, and never has been, a libertarian utopia. Powell should worry less. If the largely ineffective Mary Harney had talked about, say, capital controls, there is cause for worry. Research and development simply means handing out grants to friends and the well-connected in universities. It is wasted money, but unlike much other spending, does no particular damage except to the taxpayers who get robbed. Indeed, by doling out some money to university types, it keeps them off the streets where they might do real damage.
The Washington Times offers an overly polite farewell and good riddance to Mary Robinson.