Your Lying Eyes

Dedicated to uncovering the truth that stands naked before your lying eyes.

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31 January 2006

Gov. Tim Kaine: Dangerous Democrat

Dangerous to Republicans, that is, based on his response to Bush's State of the Union. On Fox News, Newt Gingrich called it the best response by anyone from either party ever, and I agree. Most notably missing was any suggestion that white people need to feel guilty about the plight of 'people of color' or that the travails of homosexuals are of even the remotest consequence in the nation's affairs or that our fundamental liberties are at risk if even one woman finds it slightly inconvenient to get an abortion. He went right at the issues affecting the middle class and didn't waver. The closest he came to discussing poverty was to note that "the White House has made efforts to cut Medicaid funds for our most vulnerable citizens." And what about healthcare - Universal Health Care for all Americans? His goals are more modest - "Health care reforms must focus on making the system serve consumers better." If Republicans think they only have to worry about defeating the finger-wagging, head-shaking blusterers they saw during the Alito hearings, they could be in for a rude awakening this fall.

You Need a PhD to Be This Stupid

Will Europe's welfare-state mentality doom its economies to perpetual under-performance? Or is that just a lot of free-market hooey? A Boston Globe article "Vive la Welfare State" (via A&L Daily) describes a new book by Princeton political economist Jonas Pontusson where he presents a more complicated portrait of Europe:
Pontusson places European economies into two categories: "continental social-market economies" (Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland) and "Nordic social-market economies" (Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway). Among other differences, the continental countries tend to have fewer workers in unions than their Nordic peers and less state-run day care to make it easier for women to join the workforce. (For complicated reasons, France, Italy, and Spain don't fit comfortably into either of these models, he says-but he discusses these countries individually).

Uh, among other differences the Nordic countries are Scandinavian, the "continental" countries are generally Germanic, and France, Italy and Spain are more Mediterranean. Wouldn't the simplest explanation be that Scandinavians are more community/civic minded and thus function better under a welfare system? That Germanic peoples are more strict and rules-oriented, and thus less likely to be as accommodating to slackers than Scandinavians but still be able to have a structured welfare system? Or that France, Italy and Spain would be likely to have a welfare system but that this would be more dysfunctional, with more deadbeats taking advantage of the system?

He then compares these not to the United States but another type of economy: "liberal-market economies: America, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia." Gee, anything else tying these countries together besides their economic policies? I can't think of any, can you? I'm surprised he didn't discover a fourth type of economy, a "mobilized industrial technocracy" that might just happen to include, say, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan?

How is it that these guys manage to knock on the door of reality and then walk away when the door is opened for them? Isn't it obvious that these groups of countries have different economies because they're different people? Wouldn't that be a far more interesting - and useful - perspective to have taken? Has the academic world become such a stifling place that truth must be so fearfully avoided?

Note: Dennis Dale had some (differently oriented) thoughts on this article yesterday.

26 January 2006

Do Humans Really Have 'Personalities'?

Steve Sailer links to this interesting NYT article on, as Steve puts it, "the belated rediscovery by scientists of the fact, which is utterly obvious to anyone who has owned more than one pet of the same species, that animals have varying personalities and feel emotions that are often similar to ours."

I kind of view this a little differently. To me it suggests that what we think of as personality is really just a set of various evolved behaviors we inherited from animals. Our use of language and our own individual self awareness have deluded us into thinking these behaviors constitute some rich complex of cognitive activity that bestows on each of us a "personality" - but it's just a mirage. While this may seem overly pessimistic, it actually makes me feel better - all this time I always felt so deprived having no personality - I thought I was missing something!


There is very little to comment on as the news is very boring of late. But I feel I need to post something, so here's a quick roundup:

NSA Surveillance: President Bush and his supporters in the press continue to defend the practice of secretly monitoring some Americans' communications without a warrant while his critics and Democrats continue to condemn it. This will presumably go on at least until Bush leaves the White House.
Senate Debates the Alito Nomination: Democrats are upset that the nominee didn't provide clearer answers that would have allowed them to more confidently label him a racist, sexist, fascist, and bully. Republicans, on the other hand assure us that the nominee, who they fervently hope will vote to overturn Roe v Wade, outlaw affirmative action, rein in civil suits, and uphold the Patriot Act, is in fact completely open-minded on these issues.
Palestinian Election: The people who danced in the streets on 9/11 and have been proudly sending their young men into Israeli territory to kill jews by incinerating themselves have ovewhelmingly elected their own home-town terrorist organization, Hamas, to run their government.
Canadian Election: Conversely, Canadians - although not all that many of them - decided 12 years of liberal rule were enough, and so barely elected a conservative government. Apparently the difference between liberals and conservatives in Canada is that the liberals favor the slow disintegration of the country via expansive welfare and third-world immigration while conservatives would prefer to just break it up now and be done with it.
Iran Standoff: Iran's silly president makes one outrageous statement after another while the country insists it will continue to do stuff with nuclear energy - what exactly is not entirely clear. The U.S. and Europe insist that Iran cease and desist while China and Russia act like they agree but don't really seem to be very concerned, even though they're right next to Iran while the U.S. is on the other side of the world.

Like I said, boring stuff. I'll try to find something more inspiring to blog about tomorrow.

23 January 2006

Bush Admin Not Real Aggressive on Voting Rights Cases

I know that's a real shocker, but that's what's alleged in this WaPo article. But the real bizarre thing about this article is that it's basically the same article that appeared in the Post 3 months ago (see my comments on that article here), except targeting the Voting Rights section of Justice rather than the Civil Rights section. Reporter Dan Eggen seems to have a handy template for writing stories - every few months, talk to some career lawyers at some DOJ section who are disgruntled over the conservative tilt and write about how badly it's affecting morale and how the political appointees are ruling against their professional recommendations. What will be next - is there an environment section at DOJ? That should be some easy pickins.

Why this is news at all is beyond me. Isn't it obvious that when Democrats are in charge they're going to be very aggressive on voting rights issues because the more blacks who vote the better it is for Democrats, and that we should expect the opposite when Republicans are in charge? The article didn't really uncover anything dramatic - we would expect career lawyers in this section to be more liberal than the political appointees, and so we would expect them to be unhappy with the current administration. That's all the article really tells us. If Eggen had instead found that the current DOJ was just as aggressive as it was under Clinton on Voting Rights cases, now that would be news.

19 January 2006

Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth in Boston

Deep disappointment hangs over the Bay State as its enlightened policies have failed to lessen the "racial acievement gap." According to this Boston Globe article
Not one Boston elementary school is significantly boosting the scores of black and Hispanic students on the state's English and math tests, renewing concerns that the schools have made no headway in narrowing the achievement gap between those students and whites and Asians, according to a report announced last night.
And this is not a new development.
The gap in achievement between blacks and Hispanics and other elementary students has not narrowed since the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams were first given in 1998, school officials say.
Imagine that. Eight straight years of failing to make any progress whatsoever on a primary objective. I confess I would pretty much give up and pronounce the whole endeavor hopeless and admit to having fought the good fight but ultimately powerless to change the sociological constant*. But then again, Boston's Red Sox went 85 years without winning the world series and then finally won one, so perhaps Bostonians just don't quit that easily. Sawx fans blamed their plight on the "Curse of the Bambino." The Boston school system seems to have no firmer finger on the root causes of its losing streak:
At the Winthrop Elementary School in Dorchester, where 97 percent of students are black or Hispanic, an independent consultant began training teachers last September on developing high expectations of students. Principal Emily Shamieh and teachers met with 75 parents on a Saturday, asking the parents to describe the dreams they had for their children and to discuss ways to overcome the obstacles.
The result of this well-thought-out program?
Only 20 percent of black students and 10 percent of Hispanic students at the Winthrop scored "proficient" on the 2005 English MCAS. In math, 7 percent of blacks and 5 percent of Hispanics scored "proficient."
Now my question to anyone reading this post - do you really believe any of this nonsense? Does anyone, in their heart-of-hearts, believe that this "achievement gap" is under any foreseeable scenario (that would exclude major advances in technological therapies) significantly reducible? Or is everyone just going thru the unending motions of making a good-faith effort to show they care, constantly expressing shame at the failed result and vowing to readdress the problem with renewed fervor, all the while cognizant of the inevitable futility of their efforts?

* Although probably just an artifact of the testing or due to the younger age of the cohort, the math score gap as shown by this graphic is 10 percentage points narrower than the typical 1 s.d. gap. The 84% of white children passing the math test would suggest closer to 50% of black children would pass, while their actual pass rate was 60%.

17 January 2006

Were They Sending a Message?

Today the Supreme Court ruled that the attorney general does not have the power to prevent assisted suicides in Oregon. The court split along ideological lines but with O'Connor and Kennedy joining the liberals to hand the administration a 6-3 loss. We can assume that Alito would have voted with Scalia, Roberts and Thomas, so the important thing to note is Kennedy's role. He not only sided with the liberal side, but he wrote the opinion to boot. I can't help thinking that this didn't just happen this way - a clear signal is being sent that a rightward lurch is not going to happen. I've explained to my readers before that O'Connor's retirement would not significantly alter the court's overall moderately leftward tilt - here the court drove the point home for everyone else.

14 January 2006

CIA Sharp as a Marble

The CIA's inability to kill Al Qaeda's Number Two despite killing 17 villagers reminds me of one of the great Bill Buckley lines. Commenting on a failed grenade attack on Indonesia's leftist leader Sukarno, he observed: "The recent assassination attempt on Sukarno has all the earmarks of a CIA operation. Everyone in the room was killed - except Sukarno."
(Disclaimer: quote from memory - unable to locate source in attic.)

12 January 2006

Murderer Also a Liar

I have to admit I am often disturbed when a condemned man protests his innocence to the end - I mean, what's in it for him? Why not confess at the last minute and apologize to the victims - there's nothing to be gained from denying the crime when the needle is about to go into the arm. So I worry that we've just executed an innocent man. Last month "Tookie" denied his guilt right to the end, and made me wonder.

Of course I'm thinking like a relatively normal human being. Capital murderers of course are far from normal - they've done something that is unthinkable to others - killed someone in cold blood. That such a person could also be a pathological liar is hardly surprising. In fact, such lying has been linked to the inability to feel remorse - another hallmark of a murderer. It's not surprising that as their last act they would withhold any possible comfort to their executioners.

Apparently, a number of death penalty advocates fell victim to a murderer's lies in the case of Roger Coleman, executed in 1992 for the murder of his sister in law.
"An innocent man is going to be murdered tonight," the 33-year-old said moments before he was electrocuted on May 20, 1992. "When my innocence is proven, I hope America will realize the injustice of the death penalty as all other civilized countries have."
Death penalty opponents also hoped to do the same by having DNA evidence re-tested under the more sophisticated testing available today (it was last tested in 1990). They were surely hoping against hope, as the previous test put the odds of the semen sample being his at 999 to 1 (not to mention other evidence in the case). After the new test, it's 19 million to 1. His advocates obviously mistook his utter lack of remorse for sincere protestations of innocence.

11 January 2006

Sanctions for Iran?

Or perhaps an Israeli air strike? Must it come to this? What happened to good old-fashioned industrial sabotage? How about slipping some faulty designs to some Iranian spies like we did to the Soviet Union in the 80's? Must we go through this wearying diplomatic charade trying to gain unenforceable agreements among unwilling parties? Must we alienate more people in the Middle East with an imperial attitude so indelibly aligned with Israel? Just asking.

Some Drama at the Alito Hearings

"Alito's wife leaves in tears over questions on Princeton group." Let me first say that I do not believe that the feelings of a nominee's wife need to be taken into account during questioning. Still, this doesn't sound like a wise strategy for the Democrats to pursue - suggesting that Judge Alito might be a racist. Anxious to gain ground in Middle America, Democrats have benefited from Republican missteps on health care, good jobs, and their brushes with corruption.

But there's few things that turn off the average white American more than smug liberals delivering sanctimonious lectures on other people's "racism." Since the overarching goal of most Americans is to find a home in a safe (i.e., white) neighborhood where they can send their kids to a good (i.e., white) school, they are very suspicious of Democrats in this regard, as Democrats in the past have often favored policies that would make it difficult to keep neighborhoods safe (white) and to take kids going to good (white) schools and bus them to failing (black) schools.

Judge Alito claims to have no recollection of being associated with the group Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP), which is unfortunate since it appears to have been a worthy group. It's not really clear what CAP stood for exactly - but it seems likely they objected to preferential admissions criteria for minorities, a position that could only be opposed by Marxists, cowards or the feeble-minded. CAP was founded by the very salty and sensible former publisher of National Review, William Rusher, and we can assume that the group's (undoubtedly sensible) positions were not timidly put forward. So the Democrats, if they can more firmly tie Alito to the group, could score some points with their left-wing base, but this will surely alienate the blue-collar voters they've been trying to win back.

Have You Two Met?

Police have a funny way of talking sometimes - I particularly like the description I heard yesterday from a sheriff on Anderson Coooper of the deadly end to the hostage standoff in Florida yesterday: "It was at this point that the sniper made contact with the driver." I guess that's one way to "make contact" alright, though not likely to lead to any follow-ups or even an acknowledgement. Congratulations to the sniper, though, for not missing his contact or accidentally contacting the hostage.

09 January 2006

Hostel #1; Depravity Reigns

With an entire family (mother, father, two little girls) in Virginia bound and slaughtered in their home by burglars on New Year's Day; an earlier trio of quadruple murders around the country; and the hideous escapades of Joseph Edward Duncan who last year broke into a home and bound and beat to death 3 people so he could kidnap and repeatedly rape two children, eventually strangling one of them - one would think there would be general revulsion at yet another film glorifying demented thrill killings. One would be wrong - apparently we can't get enough of it.

What about the critics? One might think the same crowd who thought The Passion of the Christ an unseemly gore-fest would roundly denounce the blood-and-guts of this latest trash. One would be wrong again. To be fair, not all critics felt the movie to be within the bounds of good taste. But what bounds? Nathan Lee in the Times said "no civilized person will remain unscathed by the film's relentless bigotry - this is one of the most misogynistic films ever made." Ah yes, we can always count on the Times' critics to relentlessly enforce the bounds of propriety!

06 January 2006

We Need More Math and Science Majors

Agreed, but I fear that anyone who's trying to do something about it is misdiagnosing the problem and blaming it on our not properly preparing our kids to become scientists. This Times article is a good example of a program that is likely not to succeed.
[Education Commissioner Richard] Mills, who said he had been struck by the high level of math and science training in China on a recent trip, called the State Board of Regents' emphasis on more rigorous math and science standards an important foundation for increasing the number of graduates.
In other words, let's make it harder for kids to succeed in math - that should really pump up the numbers. There may be good reason to strengthen the standards, but that's going to lead to less, not more students interested in the subject. Then there's the inevitable other side of the coin: One official also said the university is exploring ways to attract more women and minorities into these fields Well you're not going to accomplish that by making the Regents' exams harder, that's for sure.

To succeed in science, you need to be smart - not just educated - but plain smart. Not all scientists need to be geniuses, but they need to have above average intelligence (Linda Gottfredson suggests IQ's above 120). There aren't any less smart people these days than there used to be - so the smart people must be deciding on their own to pursue other interests. So what could possibly convince a smart young man or woman to pursue, say, law or finance rather than science or engineering? Obviously, there's not enough high-paying jobs in science and engineering. In fact there's a double whammy hitting this job market - our manufacturing sector (the most important consumer of science and engineering skills) has been in serious decline the last few years; and companies are finding cheaper engineers through H1-B visas. Here's a Microsoft manager on his company's "need" for foreign workers: "For instance, there is the H1-B visa, on which Microsoft and other technology companies rely on to hire foreign nationals where there is not a U.S. candidate with the skills required for a particular position." Bull! He adds: "The limits on the H1-B program seriously impede U.S. companies’ ability to compete in the global market" Now that's a little more honest - to compete in the global market" - in other words, "there is not a U.S. candidate with the skills required for a particular position" who will work cheaply enough! So the next time you hear Bill Gates crowing about his foundation's efforts to improve math and science education in the U.S., be aware he's just blowing smoke. Gates hires thousands of H1-B visa holders at bargain prices. If he's truly interested in increasing the number of math/science majors, he'd lead the way in paying higher salaries to attract them.

I'm not saying we should not have any H1-B visas. There are often very good reasons to hire people from abroad for particular specialties. Many H1-B holders are Canadian, working and living in the U.S. just like someone from New York might move to Arizona (or Toronto) to work (well, almost like - we are still separate countries). But using an H1-B visa to hire an "Application Developer" - i.e., a programmer - from China is an abuse of the system, pure and simple. The bane of employers in the Advanced Industrial Economy is that workers expect to be paid enough to live in the Advanced Industrial Society and expect to be employed until they retire. The H1-B - which is a temporary visa - is being abused to solve both of these annoyances.

The decreased interest in math and science among college students is surely due to better prospects for smart young people in other fields. Improving job prospects for scientists and engineers is necessary to reverse the trend. It will also be necessary to reduce the allure of non-science jobs. Tort reform, which would reduce the total amount of money flowing into lawyers' pockets, would be a step in the right direction. Finance can be particularly lucrative (as this salary chart for invesment bankers from 1999 can affirm). There's clearly an awful lot of money around to pay some people extraordinary amounts of money - we need to figure out how to get it to people who actually can do something other than just move money around.

04 January 2006

Lesbian To Head NYC Council!!!

You probably don't have to live in the NY Metropolitan Area to be sick of hearing about the new lesbian speaker of the New York City Council, but I can assure you that I am. Even before the New Year, local public radio station WNYC was breathlessly informing us of the exciting possibility that the next speaker of the city council could be not just the first woman but the first "openly gay or lesbian" one. I personally found this to be as startling as the Yankees announcing, say, that there next equipment manager would be the first Hispanic equipment manager in their history. But over the next few days even the intrusion of actual news didn't seem to dampen the enthusiasm of our local news media. Even the fact that the Speaker's position has only been around since 1989 and that there's only been two speakers since did nothing to constrain the trumpeting of her "first" status. So it's been Christine Quinn week here in the NY region.

The New York Times assures us that "as an openly gay woman, she could become a trailblazer for other gay politicians" because, presumably, being gay is such a terrible handicap in New York.
"This has extraordinary significance in its own right: Chris will be the second most powerful person in the largest city in America," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "In terms of raw political power, the size of the city budget and the Council's powers, she will become the most powerful openly lesbian or gay official in the country."
And that means...what? She's going to apply lesbian accounting standards to budget management? New York is already about as pro-homosexual as a city can be - what more can she do? She gained the spotlight in 2004 opposing the building of a new west-side stadium for the Jets, a position which made sense given the presumed lack of interest in the NFL found in her district (Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Clinton, parts of SoHo and Murray Hill). Her ascendancy is clearly due to her being one tough politician.
"She's a person who's not afraid to stand up for what she believes in," said George Arzt, who has known Ms. Quinn for more than a decade. Mr. Arzt was press secretary for Mayor Edward I. Koch. "But she tries to sit down and reason with you. If not, she will go her own way."
In a more insensitive era, cruder voices might have simply characterized her as a "pushy broad." The Times attempts to paint her as a lesbian Henry Clay: As chairwoman of the Health Committee, she has sponsored legislation to provide health care benefits to domestic partners and grocery workers over the objections of Mr. Bloomberg. But she also provided support for his ban on smoking in most restaurants and bars. Gee, what a sport; it must have killed her to give in on that smoking ban.

My fear now is that this hype will never fully dissipate. All year long we will be reminded of Ms. Quinn's trailblazing achievement, the role-model she provides other Openly Gay or LEsbian (OGLE) politicians. Each and every controversy, from police brutality to garbage pickup, will require that we consider that the speaker of the city council is the most powerful lesbian politician in the country. If Salt Lake City elects a lesbian, then let's by all means recognize it as big news, but in New York City there ought to be a little higher bar for defining something as a major news event.

03 January 2006

Time to Go Nuclear

The tragedy of the 13 trapped coal miners highlights the value of nuclear energy. Jerry Pournelle put it best: there are more people killed annually at grade crossings by coal trains than ever died from nuclear power Except for Chernobyl, of course, but you can't base anything on Soviet debacles, and even the death toll there was fairly limited. Just last year over a dozen died in a refinery explosion in Texas. Then there is the environmental damage done by mining and burning coal and oil spills. Hydroelectric power is also damaging to the environment. Nor does nuclear energy release greenhouse gases. Aside from the hot water to run turbines and whatever negatives accrue from any large construction project, nuclear energy's only negative environmental side-effect is waste disposal, which really only presents a problem thousands of years into the future by which time humanity presumably will have learned to solve such problems or vanished from the face of the earth anyhow.

The only negative to eliminating coal mining would be the loss of yet more decent-paying industial jobs for men to do. Still, while coal mining is one of those folkloric occupations, unlike, say, truck driving, it's hold on the imagination (as shown in song) is hardly romantic. Merle Travis's Dark as a Dungeon lays it out starkly:
Where it's dark as a dungeon
And damp as the dew
Where the danger is doubled
And the pleasures are few
Where the rain never falls
And the sun never shines
Oh it's dark as a dungeon
Way down in the mine