Your Lying Eyes

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

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28 February 2006

Connecticut to Accept Venezuelan Charity

One of the (if not the) richest states in the world, Connecticut (per capita income $42,104), will now be accepting subsidized oil shipments from Venezuela (per capita income $6,400). Venezuela is offering a 40% subsidy for poor Americans and free oil for homeless shelters. The program is an obvious attempt by Hugo Chavez to embarrass America - but Connecticut is clearly not too proud to be embarrassed (nor are a number of other Northeast states). Connecticut's Attorney General, who gave the plan his legal imprimatur, claimed neutrality on the policy implications:
"As a matter of policy or political perspective, there may be sound reason to have reservations about the source of this assistance -- a company effectively owned by a foreign government that may have questionable policies or motives," he said. "There is also sound reason to be critical of Congress whose ill-advised neglect makes the assistance necessary."
Explain to me, please (anybody), how it is "necessary" for the richest state in the union to get assistance from people in Arkansas (p/c income $23,858) and Mississippi ($22,861) to help it take care of its less fortunate citizens, never mind Venezuelans?

Seis Días en El Camino

According to the Times, Truckers are faced with a current shortage of 20,000 drivers due to retirements and stricter work rules.
Faced with what trucking experts describe as the worst labor shortage in the industry's history, recruiters like Ms. Cromer are canvassing cities and holding job fairs. To meet the growing need, some carriers are turning to new sources of labor like women, retirees and especially Hispanics. "The industry realizes that Hispanics are the fastest-growing population in the country, and they're eager to tap into them," said Ms. Cromer, who works for Congreso de Latinos Unidos, a community group in Philadelphia that joined forces in 2004 with the Truckload Carriers Association to begin recruiting more Hispanics into long-haul trucking.
They're still required to speak and read English to get a federal license. You read this stuff and you get awfully skeptical after awhile - is this a real labor shortage, or is this another industry enviously eyeing that economical Latino labor market? Is truck driver to be added to the list of jobs that "Americans just won't do."

Acknowledgements: Story via Drudge, translation via

26 February 2006

Free-Traders Admit That They're Wrong

Well, not exactly, but they are now making arguments that would guarantee their political defeat. No longer do they, in the face of unrelievedly bad news for America on the trade front, argue that free-trade is good for the country; they now argue that it's good for the world - and who cares about the country! Arnold Kling refers to such quaint concerns - like whether it's good for America - as "Economic Nationalism." In his latest post on this theme, Arnold's fellow traveler Don Boudreaux pretty much lets the cat out of the bag with this comment:
Suppose someone calculates trade statistics for the town that Arnold lives in, and suppose that those statistics show that that town has a trade surplus...why should Arnold care more about the nation than he cares about his town? What is so right, so obvious, or so noble about someone who lives in Maryland giving as much weight to the fortunes of people in Oregon and Florida as he gives to the fortunes of people in his local community?
See where this is going - here's the coup de grace:
And what's so wrong about someone who gives as much weight to the fortunes of strangers living in foreign lands as he gives to the fortunes of strangers living in his own country?
I wonder how many pro-free-trade politicians realize the un-American turn free-trade arguments have taken? Are they aware that the viewpoints espoused by the "thinkers" who have given them academic cover in supporting free trade now profess to be unconcerned about its impact on the Americans they represent? But then again, as with immigration or our continued military involvement in Iraq, the worse something is for the U.S. the less likely are politicians to oppose it.

23 February 2006

150 Killed in Sectarian Violence

And that's just in Nigeria! Christian and Muslim clashes over the Mohammed cartoons have left 150 dead. Now why in the world would they be rioting in Nigeria over cartoons printed in Denmark? Pretty crazy, huh? Well, it's a pretty crazy world - and we're crazy to be involved in it.

It's really time the U.S. stops getting involved in other countries. Let other countries take care of their own problems - there's little we can do except maybe screw things up worse.

And the mess in Iraq right now - what kind of people destroy a beautiful shrine like that. What madness (yes, of course I know about Monte Cassino - that was a madness we had no choice but to join). Sure, it never would have happened if we hadn't invaded - but it's a madness we're ill equipped to deal with, and unlikely to improve. It's been about 3 years, and the overall situation just keeps getting worse. What makes anyone think we can improve things?

What about Israel? We don't need to be intimately involved with the situation there to ensure Israel's survival. Perhaps our involvement is needed to protect the Palestinians from Israel. But interjecting ourselves over there hasn't made anything any better, so I can't see how our involvement is needed.

North Korean nukes? Not really our problem, is it? Were North Korea to use their bomb, the country would cease to exist - and they know that. If they invaded South Korea, it would barely exist. Japan and China might feel uncomfortable with a nuclear North Korea - let them worry about it (although, to be fair, this isn't far from the administration's actual approach thus far).

Russia? Well, I think we have pretty much given up caring about what goes on there. The country's really in too much of a mess to amount to much of a threat even if so inclined, and as long as she keeps sending us her most valuable exports, we've got no cause to complain.

After 9/11, Americans felt they had to start kicking bad-guy ass around the world. I know I certainly felt that way. But we've since seen the result of this aggressiveness, and it hasn't gone all that well. We were right to get rid of the Taliban - they attacked us, and it's important that we took it right to them. But even Afghanistan today is more or less a mess, having returned to a medieval economy of camel dung and opium. Elsewhere we've just pissed people off and at home we are divided.

Plus, we really can't afford to be the world's watchdog. We experienced negative savings in the 4Q 2005. Gas prices went soaring, and we just kept right on spending. Meanwhile our trade deficit hit $725 billion. Our economy grows at a little over 3% a year, just enough to handle our annual population growth which is mostly driven by immigration from third world countries.

Rather than trying to kill terrorists abroad, we need to concentrate on keeping them out of the country. Rather than trying to control drug production abroad, we need to concentrate on keeping drug dealers out. Both these require very strict immigration controls - but that's all they really require. I don't think international relations are a lot different than everyday interactions. People don't resent neighbors who keep to themselves and don't invite others over to their home - they resent neighbors who are constantly nosing around and inviting themselves over to others' homes. Yeah, it's nice to live in neighborhood where you don't have to lock your doors and live behind fences, but we don't live in that kind of neighborhood.

While Iraq and Afghanistan have exposed our weakness - i.e., we really can't control a foreign country very well by sending in our troops - we've also shown the world we can do an awful lot of damage by sending in our troops - and that the American people can handle casualties. Not to mention a huge fleet of B-52's, B-1's, cruise missiles, etc. ready to go anywhere, anytime. We have nothing to fear from any other country, militarily - at least not for now, and not unless we continue to squander what we have.

21 February 2006

I Want A Name!

From the BBC: Forensic scientists could use DNA retrieved from a crime scene to predict the surname of the suspect, according to a new British study. Well, sure - surnames are inherited, just like DNA.
The method exploits genetic likenesses between men who share the same surname, and may help prioritise inquiries. The technique is based on work comparing the Y chromosomes of men with the same surname. The Y chromosome is a package of genetic material found only in males. It is passed down from father to son, just like a surname.
This follows on some interesting studies recently indicating that surnames may indeed be indicative of actual patrilineal ancestry.
To me this really puts in perspective the outrageously incompetent investigation of Cape Cod prosecutor Michael O'Keefe into the murder of fashion writer Christa Worthington. Worthington's body was found on her kitchen floor, naked from the waist down, her 2-year old daughter by her side. The idiot O'Keefe had a DNA sample but couldn't match it to his main suspects, men who had the audacity to be romantically involved with the attractive, single woman. After floundering for 3 years, Sherlock O'Keefe resorted to asking every man in the town to provide a DNA sample, an outrage that was rightfully resisted. It turns out that the DNA belonged to the victim's black garbage man, who was interviewed three weeks after the murder and whose DNA was finally taken two years later. O'Keefe could have found out the race of the suspect just from the DNA, if he'd only thought to ask. Sounds like a typical latter-day New England Puritan - equally horrified that an unmarried woman in her 40's could be having sex or that a man's DNA could tell you his race.

18 February 2006

Merck Takes Another Round

Merck has won its first Vioxx caase in federal court, and is now 2 for 3 overall. Merck has vowed to fight each case individually, which seems to be the right strategy given the unusual circumstances involved here.

Here's the situation as I understand it. Vioxx is an anti-inflammatory that conveniently doesn't irritate the digestive tract and so is much in demand for older people with arthritis. (About 6 years ago I had a wicked case of tendinitis in my left elbow. The orthopedic gave me a shot of cortisone and prescribed Vioxx. But my health-care provider refused to cover it, claiming it was no more effective than Advil. The doctor kindly handed me a pile of samples, and I've lived to tell about it.)

Sometime after Vioxx entered the market, further clinical trials showed conclusively that Vioxx was causing some of its patients to have heart attacks. The link is statistically undeniable, but the actual mechanism is not known. Extrapolated to the general population of Vioxx users, the victims would number in the tens of thousands- and it's clear that Merck management knew this for a few years and withheld it. So Merck essentially sat back and watched while thousands perished using its deadly drug. Yet who's to say that any given heart attack was caused by Vioxx use, since statistically tens of thousands would have had heart attacks without Vioxx? Our legal system requires that legal liability be established in an actual specific case - there's no provision for anyone bringing to court a general liability claim. Even a class-action has to be able to identify specific plaintiffs.

Large settlements have been made with far less certainty of wrong doing - Erin Brokovich's chromium-6 case being a good example. But when faced with victims of terrible - and rare - diseases, a jury is far more easily convinced of malfeasance, despite inconclusive scientific evidence. But heart disease is the biggest cause of death in the country - everybody knows at least a few people who've had them. And since it's not known exactly how Vioxx brings one on, Merck is smart to fight these cases individually, daring the victims to prove that their heart attack was one of the ones caused by Vioxx rather than like all the other run-of-the-mill heart attacks.

I would think a good argument could be made that Merck management is guilty of manslaughter by allowing their drug to continue to be used knowing that thousands would die. But, again, for a crime to be proven, you need a victim - you can't be convicted of statistical murder. Fascinating.

16 February 2006

Curry - I Mean Ketchup - With Those Fries?

From his latest VDARE article, Paul Craig Roberts reports that even McDonald jobs are no longer safe:
Why pay an error-prone order-taker the minimum wage when McDonald can have the order transmitted via satellite to a central location and from there to the person preparing the order. McDonald’s experiment with this system to date has cut its error rate by 50% and increased its throughput by 20 percent. Technology lets the orders be taken in India or China at costs below the minimum wage and without the liabilities of US employees.
My first reaction to this was "well there goes my retirement plans." Actually, the whole article is well worth a read, especially as an antidote to the very kinds of economic analysis he's denouncing. A typical specimen is a recent TechCentralStation article Stop Worrying About the Trade Deficit, by economist Don Boudreaux, an article truly remarkable in its willfull flouting of reality. He doesn't mince words, Professor Don: "Contrary to popular opinion, this so-called "deficit" is a blessing" he states right off. After laying out out a rather unconvincing trade scenario involving China and a factory in Utah, he lets loose with this stunning salvo: "In fact, America's trade deficit is evidence, not of any imbalance, but of the happy fact that our economy is so strong and stable that foreigners invest here eagerly." Well I certainly feel much better now knowing that when I went to Home Depot last year and came home with 3 Chinese-manufactured Maytag air conditioners for less than $600 I was really taking part in a secret plot to dupe the Chinese into investing in our surging economy. I thought I was just saving a couple hundred bucks by not buying American.

But what I find most disturbing about this line of argument is its utter dishonesty. A month before this article appeared, one of our most distinguished economists, Martin Feldstein, wrote an article on this very subject. In "Why Uncle Sam's bonanza might not be all that it seems", Feldstein notes that the Treasury data on the Current Accout Surplus is easily misinterpreted to suggest that private investment is the source of the capital inflow (as Boudreaux clearly suggests it is).
The very large current account deficits are now being financed by bonds and shorter term fixed-income funds. Some of this has recently come from Opec governments and other oil producers that are temporarily placing revenue in dollar bonds and bank deposits until they can spend those funds on investment or consumption. Much of the inflow in recent years has come from Asian governments that wanted to accumulate foreign ex-change to eliminate the risk of speculative attacks of the sort that hurt those countries in the late 1990s. A large amount is coming from China and other Asian governments to stop a falling dollar reducing their net exports. If they decide to buy fewer dollar bonds, the US current account deficit could not continue to be financed at current exchange rates and interest rates.
Now Boudreaux, as a professor of economics at George Mason University, had to be aware of this analysis. Perhaps he disagrees - but he gives no hint that there's even a question about the nature of our trade deficit's financing, never mind that one of the most highly respected economists is certain that it is not private investment but foreign government holdings of US currency, ready to be dumped at the nearest sign of trouble. Do guys like Boudreaux even think about what they're writing - do they just automatically take a certain side and argue it without a care about reality? Are they just more examples of the kinds of people Greg Cochran simply calls "liars"?

13 February 2006

Brokeback Mountain Breaks Out into Mainstream

"Brokeback Mountain" has broken out into Middle America - as the latest gay epithet. Some Gonzaga University fans have apparently taken to chanting it at opposing players, much to the embarrassment of university officials.
The chants were the subject of several classroom discussions over the past week, and the faculty advisers for the Kennel Club booster group urged students this week to avoid "inappropriate chants" during the Bulldogs' Saturday game against Stanford, which was nationally televised on ESPN. - via Drudge
Well, sure, a college ought to insist its students act in a respectful and civil manner when representing the school.

But there's a basic problem here: in heated athletic contests, partisan observers and the contestants themselves will look for metaphors that suggest the other side is relatively lacking in courage. The most obvious metaphor is one that suggests that the other side is less masculine. Thus, insults to gays or women are rather inevitable. And a novel or clever (I use the term loosely) metaphor is always in demand - and so the "unenlightened" will be quick to jump on the Brokeback bandwagon. I myself was a recent victim. In a discussion with a friend about chicken-fried steak (which I've never had - and shouldn't), I mused that a red-wine/fresh tomato sauce might be a good accompaniment - and was immediately met with a "Brokeback" retort (white gravy is apparently the sauce de jure).

Further reading: Here's Mickey Kaus summarizing his now notorious nay-saying on Brokeback's alleged mainstream appeal. And here's Sailer's quasi-review/analysis.

Is There Anything These Guys Can Handle Right?

Even something as innocent as a hunting accident involving the Vice President apparently requires White House mismanagement - in this case not disclosing the news at all and instead having the owner of the property where the incident occurred report it to the media. The property owner, Katharine Armstrong, who was in the hunting party, made a point of pinning the blame on the 78-year-old victim for failing to announce himself. But hunting experts have questioned this:
"Be absolutely sure you have identified your target beyond any doubt," the NRA says in the gun-safety rules on its Web site. "Equally important, be aware of the area beyond your target. This means observing your prospective area of fire before you shoot. Never fire in a direction in which there are people or any other potential for mishap. Think first. Shoot second."
This should have been no story at all, but Bush's White House can't seem to relax about anything. What are they afraid of that they felt they needed to control this story so? Might it cast doubt on the VP's mental stability? On his hunting prowess? Perhaps people might think that if Cheney made a mistake while hunting, well then maybe the whole Iraq war was a mistake, too! I still think they did it right in Afghanistan - but beyond that is there anything this administration has handled well?

11 February 2006

Woman Carrying Human Skull Arrested At Airport

From the Florida Sun-Sentinel:

A woman was charged with smuggling after federal security screeners found a human skull in her luggage at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport late Thursday. The woman had flown in from Cap Haitien, Haiti. Her bag was being searched at the U.S. Customs counter when the grisly discovery was made. Agents said she did not disclose the skull -- complete with teeth and hair -- was in the luggage. Myrlene Severe, a Haitian-born permanent U.S. resident, said the skull -- a male's -- was to be used in rites as part of her Voodoo beliefs. She also said she bought the skull in the belief the head would ward off evil spirits.

A U.S. Customs storage room at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport where confiscated skulls smuggled in from Haiti are processed (photo via John Hawks)

09 February 2006

More on Climate Change

The BBC reports on a new study contending that recent climate is the warmest in the last 1,200 years. This contention is known as the "Hockey Stick" based on a temperature graph which is flat until the late 20th century when it starts to suddenly climb, resembling a hockey stick. The Hockey Stick allows climate change proponents to write off the "Medieval Warm Period" as only slightly warmer than average rather than dramatically so as many had considered it. This is important because global warming skeptics would typically point out that the world got much warmer before without high levels of CO2 being released into the atmosphere, implying the same could be happening now. With the Hockey Stick, climatologists have a new weapon to brandish against the skeptics. The metaphor is apt because this group (the Hockey Team) aggressively defends their position.

Unfortunately for the Hockey Team, they ran into someone they couldn't intimidate or even skate around. Steve McIntyre is a retired mining executive who has the native skills and, more importantly, the time to review their work. As so often seems the case with high profile studies (gun control, stem cells, abortion cuts crime), errors and questionable methods abound in the Hockey Stick work, which McIntyre writes about regularly in his blog, Climate Audit (the Hockey Team writes on RealClimate). More remarkable is the poor state of the documentation underlying the Hockey reconstructions, and the reluctance of the Hockey Team members to share data. While McIntyre is not a climatologist, these studies are really all about statistical methods, and McIntyre's partner, Ross McKitrick is an econometrician. They have produced two peer reviewed studies of their own questioning the hockey team's work.

At any rate, McIntyre has a response on his blog to this latest study (I don't have a link to the study itself). My own view on all this is that it sure seems plausible that the earth is warming due to fossil fuel burning, and it sure seems warmer that it used to. Unfortunately, the politics behind this are so strong that I can't help but think many scientists are swept along in it, not to mention the impact this work can have on a climatologist's career. It is also not clear that there's anything we can realistically do about global warming if indeed it is man-made. It doesn't sound like reductions on the order of 10% are going to have much effect. And so skepticism remains the order of the day around these parts.

07 February 2006

Russian Scientist Predicts Ice Age

A UPI wire report, frustratingly spare in detail, quotes a Russian astronomer predicting a "mini-ice age" in the middle of this century due to reduced solar activity. He claims the earth's temperature has risen recently due to increased solar activity which is peaking and will begin to drop in six or seven years.

So, who are we to believe? Say you have a condo in Florida and you're concerned this might not be a good investment given global warming. On the one hand we have international teams of climate scientists securing all kinds of government grants, running these highly-complex climate models on super computers, using inputs from thousands of weather stations across the world, satellite data, ocean current temperatures, myriad greenhouse gas measurements, going to conferences in Rio, and coming to a consensus that the earth is warming and will continue to warm due to "anthropogenic forcings" - i.e., burning of fossil fuels.

On the other hand, we have this lone Russian astronomer presumably utilizing relatively straight-forward measurements of solar heat radiation that he has observed or measured himself over the last couple decades, concluding that the earth will soon begin to cool.

Not much of a contest there - I'd hold onto that Florida condo.

Mine Safety Issues: Time to Torture the Miners

The federal government has decided it's time to step in to the coal-mining safety fray, and boy are they going to make a difference. They're asking for a "Mine Stand Down for Safety." How's that? "This Monday, we urge that extra time be taken at the beginning of each shift and before the start of any mining activity to go over the hazards involved with mining and the vital safeguards that need to be taken" asked Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health David Dye. Right. It's the miners' fault that there was a huge explosion in the mine while they were heading down in their truck - so let's add one more hour of misery to their day so they can be bored to death listening to some excruciating safety lecture they've heard a thousand times before. This reminds me of Congress's reaction to the Enron scandal where upper management robbed the company blind: Sarbanes-Oxley, which basically promises each CEO that they won't have to spend a day in jail as long as they promise to submit their employees to slow torture by clueless auditors.

Why coal-mine safety is a federal issue at all is beyond me. Recently the governors of West Virgina and Pennsylvania have announced initiatives to improve safety. This is how it should be. I live in New Jersey - we don't have coal mines. We have beaches. Our job is to keep the sand dunes in good shape - West Virginians shouldn't have to worry about our sand dunes, nor we their coal mines. Being that coal mining is a profit-making enterprize, it's a no-brainer that the state could easily collect enough revenue to pay for any safety measures it sees fit to enforce. It's not like the mining companies could move their business out of state.

One rationale for making it a federal responsibility would be the greater likelihood of corruption at the state level. But then whenever there's a Republican in the White House we hear how the administration is in bed with industry and rolling back worker protection - so that doesn't seem to be a compelling argument. And, as Senator Sarbanes, Congressman Oxley, and Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health David Dye have shown, the federal government's solutions aren't exactly on point, anyway.

05 February 2006

Calif. Jail in Lockdown After Race Riot

A little race war between black and latino prisoners erupted into a full-scale riot out in California. The prison has a temporary solution, but alas only a temporary one: "Black and Hispanic inmates at the facility remained segregated Sunday. It is illegal to segregate prisoners based on race or ethnicity, but legal advisers said it could be done in emergency situations, said Sam Jones, chief custody officer with the Los Angeles County jail system." Segregating prisoners would be dangerous, you see, because "by insisting that inmates be housed only with other inmates of the same race, it is possible that prison officials will breed further hostility among prisoners and reinforce racial and ethnic divisions." Yep, that's what Sandra Day O'Connor said in her majority opinion in Johnson v California. Whatever will our nation do without her down-to-earth, practical wisdom to guide the court?

01 February 2006

No More Middle Eastern Oil! Give Us That Venezuelan Crude

Diana Moon is "beginning to wonder whether the whole issue of Middle East oil isn't a total red herring." Indeed it is. It really doesn't matter where we import our oil from - it only matters that we import oil. If we were totally self-sufficient, we could be a little less concerned about crises in the Middle East. But since we import oil, we do need to be concerned about the world supply. Even if we imported all of our oil from non-Mid-East sources, Mid-East supply shocks would hurt us just the same - it's a global market. Choosing not to import oil from the Mid-East, for other than market reasons, would be a bad idea - it would put us in a poor bargaining position with other suppliers, like Hugo C. So yes, it's a red-herring.

And what trail is the red-herring throwing us off of? The real reason we are doomed to seemingly perpetual strategic error in the Middle East is, of course, our relationship with Israel, pure and simple. Now that the cold war is over you'd think we could simply pledge to send a fleet of B-52's over any country that attacks Israel and that should pretty much take care of our obligations. But it's never that simple, is it?

Does Insensitivity Know No Bounds?

It gives me enormous satisfaction to link to this post while disengenuously remarking on how irredeemably insensitive it is.