Saturday, December 28, 2002

Why I do not listen much to the charge of racism anymore
In the Guardian, Ghada Karmi, former president of the Palestinian Community Association in Britain, asserts that the impending attack on Iraq is simply the outcome of anti-Arab racism.
A deep and unconscious racism imbues every aspect of western conduct towards Iraq - and by extension the Arabs in general.
I decline to take this seriously. But there is an interesting comparison to the griping about Bill Frist's attack on Marion Berry. In both cases, we get a systematic cheapening of the racism charge. If this is all racism is, can it be that bad? If we started charging pedophilia every time a 19 year old starting dating a 17 year old, the charge would lose its force. Same with the racism card.
Academic comedy
The Independent ran a standard end of the year piece asking fifty mostly inconsequential celebrities (journalists and the like) for their hero and villain of the year. Mostly they are silly. A couple of academics got interviewed. From Richard Dawkins, we get
Hero: Robert Fisk
He is not afraid to tell the truth, however unpleasant. His serious sincerity redeems the profession of journalist from the dishonour inflicted by the tabloids.

Villain: George Bush
This illiterate buffoon cheated his way into the White House with the help of his well-connected family and friends. Having dismally failed to anticipate or prevent the atrocity of September 11, he spent the rest of the day zigzagging around the country like a jet-propelled chicken. His personal cowardice was mirrored in the country at large, and he fanned it to his advantage in the mid-term elections, and now, to foment an unprovoked war that has nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with oil. His record on the environment is as appalling as you would expect. Bush is rightly despised throughout the world, and it is humiliating that Britain is seen as his only ally.
Tax, tax, tax the night away
Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan D.A., tells us how important it is that everyone pay taxes, lest they pay even more.
Public officials — both those who oppose new taxes and those who believe new taxes are necessary in hard budgetary times — should favor a fair deal for all taxpayers. To make that a reality, tax departments, prosecutors and other law enforcement agencies must step up their efforts against significant cases of fraud and evasion; these offices must, in turn, be afforded adequate resources to do the job.

If we are vigilant and resourceful, we can make the same gains against tax fraud that we have made against homicides and other street crime in the past decade. We might even help keep tax rates from rising out of sight.
A nice little hustle.

Friday, December 27, 2002

No gun crime in England
There cannot be gun crime in England, because the government simply will not allow people to have handguns, and heavily restricts other guns. Problem solved. But curiously, the Independent reports:
New figures to be published by the Home Office in January will show a record number of crimes involving firearms. Guns are being used to carry out revenge shootings between rival gangsters and drug dealers, for robberies, muggings, and even as fashion accessories among young men out to impress.
So what is being proposed? Another gun amnesty. The Independent is silent on what will be done with the guns collected. Are they checked for a connection to a crime? If so, would a serious criminal really turn it in? If not, it seems like a handy way to dispose of evidence.
More decline at the BBC
The Daily Telegraph runs through the evidence that the BBC has become a mouthpiece for the European Union. The best part:
A few months ago Andrew Turner, the Tory MP, wrote to Gayvn Davies, the BBC chairman, asking about the Minotaur reports - documents that contain the most detailed allegations of bias ever levelled against the corporation. Davies's reply was positively Olympian in its condescension.

"BBC management have not so far alerted us [the Governors] through the normal reporting channels of any issues raised by the Minotaur reports of bias in our coverage," he wrote. "I therefore have no reason to believe that these reports give grounds for concern."
BBC management says there is no problem, so the BBC governors assume there is none. If the BBC did not live off a taxpayer subsidy, would it be renamed Enron?

Thursday, December 26, 2002

Why do I bother with the New York Times?
Oxblog tends to note all the adolescent rantings of Maureen Dowd, on the grounds that she writes for the Times, and therefore she is worth noting. All this assumes the Times is a serious paper. More evidence to the contrary can be found in Adam Clymer's story alleging that the Bush administration is altering scientific evidence to appease social conservatives.
The National Cancer Institute, which used to say on its Web site that the best studies showed "no association between abortion and breast cancer," now says the evidence is inconclusive.

A Web page of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used to say studies showed that education about condom use did not lead to earlier or increased sexual activity. That statement, which contradicts the view of "abstinence only" advocates, is omitted from a revised version of the page.

Critics say those changes, far below the political radar screen, illustrate how the Bush administration can satisfy conservative constituents with relatively little exposure to the kind of attack that a legislative proposal or a White House statement would invite.
So what does Clymer offer by way of evidence? He asserts the change on breast cancer and abortion was a consequence of protests by unnamed "anti-abortion congressmen". Who? He does not say. How does he know? He cannot bother telling us. He talks at length about a complaint to Tommy Thompson by Henry Waxman and thirteen other House Democrats (who Clymer does not label, either as pro-abortion, pro-choice, or pro-abortion rights) and quotes a statement from Planned Parenthood, a leading advocate of legalized abortion. Big surprise here, but where is the evidence?
The Danish research, praised by the American Cancer Society as "the largest, and probably the most reliable, study of this topic," is not mentioned in the government's recent posting, which says the cancer institute will hold a conference next year to plan further research.
Dorie Hightower, a press officer at the cancer institute, attributed the revision to the institute's periodic review of fact sheets "for accuracy and scientific relevance." Asked whether the institute now thought that the Danish study failed on either count, Ms. Hightower said no. But she said there was no scientist available to explain the change.
That is it. A distinctly unhelpful press officer. In a twenty paragraph story, the evidence is wrapped up in two paragraphs. Clymer is at the supposedly all important Times. Did he insist on talking to a scientist and did she refuse? Did he raise a stink with White House press office and get stonewalled? Did he approach the American Cancer Society for their take on the changes? No comment, apparently. Is the Times becoming simply a high school paper?
Endangered species
A conservation biologist and a social psychologist have been looking at the effect of Viagra on the sale of endangered species by looking at their prices.
Viagra's effect on many species used in traditional medicines cannot be monitored because the trade in those products, such as the eggs of green sea turtles, is illegal. Many more rare or endangered species, such as rhinoceros and tigers, are used for purposes in addition to or other than erectile dysfunction.

But the sales of three species that can be tracked and that are traditionally used to treat impotence suggest Viagra has eroded their markets, the von Hippels contend. By extension, they wrote, "Such data provide a proxy for the impact of Viagra on illegally traded species."

Sales of the sex organs of Canadian harp seals and hooded seals plummeted after 1998, when Viagra became available. In two years, the cost of a single organ fell from as much as $100 (Canadian) to $15-20, they wrote. Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans attributed part of that market collapse to the new drug.
Imperial?
Sam Tanenhaus, the author of a superb biography of Whitaker Chambers, takes on the critics of Bush who have dug up the old "imperial presidency" charge.
Can you say "Elena Ceausescu"?
Rember Elena Ceausescu, the corrupt wife of the Romanian dictator? She was executed by firing squad. I thought about her when I read this little piece in the Telegraph about Grace Mugabe, the wife of Zimbabwe's dictator. She has finally decided which farm she is going to steal.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Merry Christmas to one and all, and thank you John Howard
I went out to pick up the wine for the Christmas day party. All of it Australian, and a thank you to all the Australians who put John Howard in charge.

Monday, December 23, 2002

Inflation
CalPundit has a bit on tort reform. I have not thought about the issue enough to comment, but he should be more skeptical of inflation numbers. He notes that the medical price index has risen much more rapidly than the overall price index, but is left unsure how to properly discount insurance payouts. He suggests some mix of the overall index and the medical index. Leaving aside the question of which mix, he misses the point that the medical price index overstates the cost of medical care. The difficulty is that the index focuses on goods and services that are sold, but leaves out the cost of consumers' time. My father had an ulcer that was never treated because it was not serious enough for surgery, the only treatment available at the time. A few years ago, I developed an ulcer which was rapidly progressing to the kind that, in my father's day, would have required surgery. Instead, I was put on an expensive drug called Lozec. I had pretty much recovered in less than a month, and I did not have to spend time in the hospital undergoing and recovering from surgery. The medical price index would count the cost of Lozec as the cost of the drug treatment. It would count the the surgery and hospitalization as the cost of the surgery treatment. It would not count the cost of my time out of work as part of the cost of the surgery option. Drug treatments are expensive, but part of the reason for their popularity is the time savings to the patient that are not included in the medical price index. When laser surgery replaced regular surgery for a lot of problems, such as gall bladder removal, the index did not count the value of the time saved by patients who recovered in days rather than weeks.
The government grinch
In the general rush yesterday, I missed Michelle Malkin's column catching out local government attacks on private charity.
Death from gun control
Jacob Sullum assesses the New Jersey legislature's demand that all phasers be set to stun.
NBER
That is to say, the National Bureau of Economic Research. Did you think the government announced when the economy was in or out of a recession? Nope. The NBER, a private, non-profit think tank does. Its current head is Martin Feldstein, a Harvard professor who is frequently tagged as Alan Greenspan's replacement as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Economic Principals raises a more interesting question than whether Feldstein will replace Greenspan. He asks, if Feldstein goes to the Fed, who will replace Feldstein at NBER. Because the NBER is a major driver of economic research, this is not an idle question.

Sunday, December 22, 2002

When the government fails to enforce the law, it just creates new ones
In the Sunday Telegraph, Anthony Daniels asks why the British have given up protecting children, and so fall back on mindless symbolism.
Terrified by the sexual anarchy that we have loosed upon the world, however, we commit absurdities such as forbidding parents to take photographs of children in nativity plays, in the hope that such idiocy might restore a semblance of order. And social services that won't allow smokers to adopt babies are sometimes helpless to protect children against the predictably murderous assaults of their parents.
. . .
Ainlee Labonte, aged two, was tortured and neglected to death by her parents. When she died, she was half of what she should have weighed, and had 64 scars, scabs and bruises on her body. Her mother conceived her first child at the age of 14. In other words, in the eyes of the law, the father was a criminal. No efforts were ever made to prosecute him: they never are in such circumstances. So the boundary laid down by the law was disregarded with complete - and by now customary - impunity.
The Telegraph requires registration. Just for the regular writings of Anthony Daniels, the registration is more than worth it.
And about time too
The Independent claims that Nestle is being wicked. Based on a report by the Pakistani charity Punjab Lok Sujag, the Independent writes:
Nestlé has been accused of exploiting Pakistani dairy farmers by buying up their milk for less than it costs to produce – and selling it back to local people at inflated prices. In a new twist to the row over the company's demands for £3.7m from Ethiopia, The Independent on Sunday can reveal that it is bulk-buying cheap milk from peasants and selling it on as "long life" at a profit of 200 per cent.
. . .
While farmers are paid around 21.5 rupees (23 pence) for two litres of dairy milk, "the industry" charges consumers Rs68 to 92 for the same amount, according to the report. The price of a litre of processed milk, around Rs38, is more than a farmer's average daily wage, and could buy 4kg of wheat – enough to feed a family of seven for two days.
Apparently, the Independent thinks the difference between wholesale and retail prices is profit. The report is not available online, so I offer no comment on it other than this. The Independent writes:
The report's author, Tahir Mehdi, who has also written an acclaimed study on breastfeeding funded by Unicef, wants Pakistani ministers to introduce tough controls over the market. "There is so little development in this area that the only hope is the state," he said.
Protection by the Pakistani government? Even the Independent must find this laughable. But the part I really like is Nestle's response. Does Nestle cower in a corner, cringe, beg for forgiveness?
Francois Perroud, corporate spokesman for Nestlé, dismissed the report's findings as "bovine excrement". "We are selling an industrial product. It has been collected at great cost."
Good for them.
Dave Barry to the rescue
Dave Barry offers up last minute shopping suggestions for Christmas. Do not read him. You have been warned.
A shameful time for American Jews
The American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress have decided to cut and run on race quotas.
For many Jews at the time of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the concern was that universities would use affirmative action as an excuse to shut out Jews, thus restoring the notorious de facto caps on Jewish enrollment that had only recently been abolished.

But fears of a new "Jewish quota" were not borne out after Bakke, in which the court prohibited quotas but permitted the use of race to achieve diversity, said Alan Dershowitz, a professor of law at Harvard, who assisted the American Jewish Committee on its 1977 brief in Bakke.

"We feared that our hard-earned right to be admitted on the merits would be taken away," he said. "The WASP quotient would be held constant, and the Jews and African Americans would be left to fight over the crumbs. What happened is that Jews have become the WASPs. They are among the dominant groups on campus, in terms of numbers."
Hey, we got ours, so maybe we can get the NAACP to switch on Israel. After all, the right already backs us.
The Washington Post reports, however, that the Anti-Defamation League still takes a stand against racism.
Shocking news
The Washington Post is shocked, shocked.
Washington insiders have focused much of their scrutiny on the role of the White House in Lott's downfall: A public repudiation by Bush, followed by his silence on the issue, set the climate for the coup in the Senate. But the opposition didn't come to a head until a small group of senators, acting out of their own ambition as well as concern about the damage the spectacle was doing to their party, forced Lott out long before the leadership meeting scheduled for Jan. 6.
Imagine that. Ambitious senators. Next they will discover that Senator Hillary is ambitious too. Will they go to bed on Christmas Eve, hoping to hear reindeer bells on the roof?
The crook is back
The Washington Post reports that Carol Moseley-Braun, the, shall we say, ethically challenged former Illinois senator, is thinking running for her old seat. How charming. With Strom Thurmond retired and Trent Lott out as majority leader, I suppose the senate could use an examplar of racial bigotry.
A bit too quiet
AtlanticBlog is not shutting down. I have just been a little swamped by the day job (did you ever have to move office during exam week? not recommended), and a flu bug running through the house. I'll be picking up the pace, and I will be moving to a new site shorty, somewhat more reliable than blogspot.