Your Lying Eyes

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

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31 July 2007

The Simpson's Movie - Review

Preachy and sentimental.

Philosophy or Politics?

Elsewhere on the Times op-ed page, Paul Krugman attack [$]s the philosophy behind Bush's opposition to expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (Schip). Assuming he's not being disingenuous, Krugman sounds rather naive.

Krugman makes this astonishing claim: "[Bush] wants the public to believe that government is always the problem, never the solution." What, pray tell, in Bush's 6 years in office suggests that this is what he wants people to believe? Bush is all about using government to solve things - prescription drugs, schools, drug abuse, international terror - Bush is not one to shy away from top-down, federal government solutions. Maybe not just the ones Krugman wants him to adopt.

Krugman points to his opposition to the more expansive House approach to Schip.
[It] would cover more children, is more expensive, but it offsets Schip costs by reducing subsidies to Medicare Advantage — a privatization scheme that pays insurance companies to provide coverage, and costs taxpayers 12 percent more per beneficiary than traditional Medicare. Strange to say, however, the administration, although determined to prevent any expansion of children’s health care, is also dead set against any cut in Medicare Advantage payments. So what kind of philosophy says that it’s O.K. to subsidize insurance companies, but not to provide health care to children?"
Maybe the expansion of this plan is a good idea and maybe not, but it's unlikely that philosophy is behind much of the debate, except indiretly. Bush, like Republicans generally, takes a strong pro-free-market stand. As a result, he gets strong support and lots of money from businesses. Businesses, though, are more or less indifferent to free-markets in general but are rather fanatical about their own market. In this case, no doubt, insurers who will be hurt by this Schip expansion are all putting a great deal of pressure on the administration to oppose it - on philosophical grounds, of course.

And so the pendulum swings - excesses by one side (Democrats in the early nineties) bring about Republican victories, but the money behind the Republicans soon corrupts them, leading them to oppose popular, moderate programs supported by Democrats, who then get to take more power from the mean Republicans. The Democrats have had the luxury of some fairly reasonable agenda items to promote during these first few months of power, like raising the minimum wage, but at some point their hard-core constituency will have them pissing off middle America, and the pendulum will swing back.

30 July 2007

Evil Western Medicine Man

In an op-ed in the New York Times, race-hustler Harriet Washington attempts to excuse Libya's prosecution of 6 Bulgarian nurses by answering the question "Why Africa Fears Western Medicine." The Tripoli Six, as they became known, were accused of deliberately infecting Libyan children with HIV and sentenced to death, but finally released to Bulgaria last week. To explain this paranoia in Libya, she points to actual cases of Western doctors murdering patients in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Zambie. The cases she cites aren't particularly bizarre, and sociopathic health-care workers are not exactly unknown in Western countries. She'd have done better to cite irrational Western fears such as the thimerasol/autism myth to show that baseless fear of medical care is not limited to the Third World.

But she's not interested in painting these fears as irrational - she wants us to "approach Africans’ suspicions with respect, realizing that they are born of the acts of a few monsters and of the deadly constraints on medical care in difficult conditions. By continuing to dismiss their reasonable fears, we raise the risk of even more needless illness and death." Ah yes, the old r-e-s-p-e-c-t solution. Works every time.

First off, she's delusional if she thinks anyone in Libya gives a rat's ass about what happens south of the Sahara. Second, what the mob thinks is not the issue - the African governments must be responsible for the execution of their justice system, if not for their own people then for foreigners working to help their people. The solution is simple - we let each government know that if any of our people are prosecuted without our permission, we will withdraw all medical care - people, drugs, equipment - and perhaps more, to boot. Of course, another such incident and there won't be anyone going over there to help - never mind showing "respect."

27 July 2007

LIfe Imitates Art - Quelle Horreur?

Why is it that when learn in the news that some of the ways we imagine things happening actually do happen that way, we find ourselves in fits of outrage?

So today we hear that some numbers of shuttle astronauts have violated the 12-hour bottle-to-throttle rule. We've all seen the Right Stuff and Space Cowboys, so we all assume that astronauts are hard-drinking sorts who nevertheless perform heroically despite the throbbing cranium. Yet, judging from news reports, this is simply shocking.

A more common depiction in movies than the hard-living astronaut is the covert spy operation. Since the end of World War II, novels and movies alike have shown our brave intelligence agents scurrying about the globe saving our freedoms by tracking down bad guys and dealing with them in ways that would not be entirely appreciated by the local governments. The popularity of these tales suggests that that is exactly what we hope they're doing. I can't offhand think of a popular spy tale centered around data collection and diplomatic contacts, suggesting that playing by the rules in tracking down international villains does not excite our imagination.

So when it was reported that the CIA had been engaged in "extraordinary rendition" - the practice of tracking down a suspected terrorist, bundling him up and sending him off to a place where he can be interrogated the hard way - we were "shocked, shocked" to find that our spy agencies are behaving exactly the way we always expected them to act.

So what is this all about - is this outrage real, or is it drummed up by a sensationalist press egged on by leftists and politically motivated pundits? Perhaps the astronauts pounding down shots and spies breaking laws in the movies are characters of unrealistically heroic qualities, while we suspect the real deals are considerably less valiant in practice, and so we're less comfortable ?

18 July 2007

More Diversity to Celebrate

Note the relaxed, uninhibited, even jocular manner with which the amiable Brazilian fishermen deal with the annoying dolphins that insist on getting caught in their nets, as shown in this video. Isn't the internet great how it provides us opportunities to challenge the rigidity of our cultural norms. (Via Drudge).

Dolphins Not So Smart?
Japanese Hunt Dolphins for Fertilizer

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17 July 2007

Benoit Was on Steroids!

Big news, huh? If every professional wrestler in the world murdered his family and hanged himself I still would not consider that big news - nor particularly tragic.

14 July 2007

Advice for Men

Men, never get yourself involved in any kind of relationship - casual, platonic, or heaven forbid intimate - no matter how desperate you may be for social contact - with a woman who looks like this:

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Advice for Women

Truck-stop Killer

For the women out there, a bit of friendly advice: Do not, under any circumstances, have any contact whatsoever with any man who looks like this:

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13 July 2007

Sub-prime Mortgages Are Abominations

The sub-prime mortgage debacle continues to haunt financial markets. Abomination may be too strong a term for these instruments, but they are at a minimum perverse. Sub-prime lending means that you are charged more because you're poor. Is there any other such product? Granted that in many poor urban neighborhoods people pay substantially more for groceries than are paid in wealthier suburbs, but not because of their poverty, but because of crime, which drives away supermarkets. But I can't think of any other product where the poor are expected to pay more by virtue of their indigence.

Sub-prime loans make sense under certain circumstances. If the borrower is speculating - say buying property expecting to flip it for a profit but has no assets or steady income to back up the loan - then it might make sense to pay a premium for what is a risky investment. Or a young person whose current income is low and has no assets but expects to be making a lot of money in a few years might wish to take advantage of a costlier mortgage offer.

But otherwise providing a sub-prime mortgage to someone simply because they are poor is irresponsible. It's also irresponsible to take on such a loan under those circumstances, but we expect poor people to be either irresponsible or not too bright or both - that's almost always why they're poor to begin with. But lenders should know better. So why do they make such loans? No doubt for short-term profit, which is no doubt substantial, and we know how much short-term profits drive decision making in American businesses.

Admittedly, lenders might have a hard time distinguishing between the promising young buyer vs. the hopelessly poor - legally, anyway, given the ethnic disparities that are bound to occur with such a lending strategy. Thus it might be more practical to ban them outright (for residential home loans). Could it really be such a terrible thing if people need to wait until they actually can afford a house before they buy one.

By the way, this is another issue where free-market economists show themselves incapable of understanding the real world. Here's Alex Tabarrok absurdly denouncing "Credit Snobs." Less preposterously, Becker and Posner provide a little better argument. But they compare sub-prime mortgages to junk bonds, but the latter are intended to be paid for with business profits while the former are only to buy a place to live.