Your Lying Eyes

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

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30 June 2006

'Conservative' Cluelessness

I just heard Bill O'Reilly make this remarkable statement in arguing that Mexico needs to clean up its economic policies (I'm working from memory here - we can check the "Talking Points Memo" later: "Canada is a prosperous country. There's no reason Mexico can't be just as prosperous as Canada." This is a good example of how even supposed conservatives have been co-opted by Marxist philosophy. There's no difference between Mexicans and Canadians - just a faulty economic system keeping the former down.

O'Reilly is not an aberration - well not in this case - crypto-marxism infects many conservatives leading to some dubious policy positions. Such as school vouchers - black kids would do just as well as white kids if only they didn't have to go to those lousy schools. Or enterprize zones - just lift those onerous taxes in minority neighborhoods and they'll be humming along like silicon valley. Or that spreading democracy will cure third-world ills. Regardless of what reforms are put into place in Mexico, it will never be Canada. People are indeed very different. West Virginians and Minnesotans are different and differ markedly in their achievement, never mind Canadians and Mexicans. Failure to consider this inevitably leads to bad policy.

29 June 2006

Cell Phone Use As Bad As Drunk Driving?

That's what the headlines are saying. A University of Utah study of 40 volunteers using a driving simulator found those talking on cell phones (hands-free or not) performed worse (not 'as bad') than those with blood-alcohol levels of 0.08, the standard lower limit for impaired driving. Maybe that's because having a BAC of 0.08 does not actually mean your "drunk"? It would have been interesting to pump up the alcohol consumption of the volunteers to see how high the BAC would have to go for them to be worse drivers than cell-phone talkers.

Israel Shows Who's The Boss

I am organically inclined to support Israel in its reaction to the kidnapping of their soldier. Israel is a modern, Western, democratic country making important scientific contributions to the world having transformed a parched desert into a lush garden of progress. The Palestinians, on the other hand, are (to me) a mob of screeming meemies, incapable of governing themselves and destined to be a drain on others' resources. So when Israel decided to confront the situation directly, I was right with them. But even I have to ask whether the Israeli response might be, oh, just a tad disproportionate?

Meanwhile, Arab voices are reacting to the incursion, as summarized in this WaPo article.
Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood Movement, the kingdom's largest and most powerful opposition group, said Israel "reached the door of Syria for the sake of one soldier, while Arabs, Muslims and the free world remain silent on the arrest of 10,000 Palestinians, including women and children."
Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, called Israel's Gaza incursion and buzzing of Assad's house an "unprecedented blackmailing threat." Noting that Gaza residents were without electricity because Israel bombed the coastal strip's main power plant, he asked in an editorial posted on the Internet: "Is the life of the captive soldier worth the suffering of all of those people?"
What this really highlights is how nearly impervious Israel is to any meaningful threat from its neighbors. There are no credible restraints on Israel's military options, and she is free to react with impunity to any provocation. It is a triumph of American policy, which since 1967 has been to defend Israel's right to exist. Israel is now more secure from its neighbors than we - everday, thousands of people swarm across our borders, some of them criminals who kill Americans, yet we haven't bombed a single Mexican power plant in response. Israel is secure - when formulating policy in the Mideast, we should start from there.

28 June 2006

Maybe Some Real Progress on Malaria

According to this NYT article, there is some renewed vigor in the fight against malaria. Part of it comes out of the Gates Foundation, but also from politicians on both sides of the aisle and the White House, of all places. There seems to be some real genuine concern about the ineffectiveness of past efforts. One of the problems has been too little spent on actual relief efforts:
Only 1 percent of the agency's 2004 malaria budget went for medicines, 1 percent for insecticides and 6 percent for mosquito nets. The rest was spent on research, education, evaluation, administration and other costs. The Bush administration is changing that approach.
Even with more spending, in Africa, nothing is as simple as it seems. We can give millions of dollars to African governments to buy insecticide-treated mosquito nets or to buy drugs for treatments, but the material never gets purchased. While we might find it hard to imagine, even the most basic bureaucratic function of procurement is a steep challenge in these countries. As far as actually delivering nets or spraying the insides of homes, forget it. Aid agencies seem to be recognizing this, and now are proposing actually buying and distributing the nets, and training locals to spray. Interestingly, the article noted DDT spraying as part of the plan without even a hint of controversy - that alone is good news. Queasiness about DDT use among Western liberals is another unnecessary roadblock to malaria prevention in the tropics. Indoor spraying of DDT poses no environmental risk and does not lead to resistance the way agricultural spraying does.
800,000 young African children still die of malaria per year — more than from any other disease — when there are medicines that cure for 55 cents a dose, mosquito nets that shield a child for $1 a year and indoor insecticide spraying that costs about $10 annually for a household.
Malaria kills more like 2 million people per year worldwide. Amazingly, there seem to be people in high levels of government sincerely intent on turning this around.

22 June 2006

Big Terror Plot Foiled in Miami

It appears that a government informant managed to convince a group of losers to talk to him about something that could perhaps suggest some ideas that may have some relationship to potential conversations that might be construed to be tangentially associated with terrorist-type discussions - hard to tell from the initial reports. While no bombs or weapons were found in an extensive search, one of the suspects went so far as to "take an Al Qaeda oath."

This could be good news - that actual terrorist activity inside the U.S. is so non-existent that the government is reduced to making up threats in order to entrap some pathetic fools into an arrest. Or it could be bad news - that despite all the surveillance and supposed-intelligence gathering that we are still unable to find the real terrorists and instead are manufacturing them for public consumption.

Or - who knows - this might turn out to be the real thing, but I very much doubt it.

19 June 2006

It's Kennedy in Charge

Justice William M. Kennedy, that is. With newest justice Samuel Alito comfortably settling into the conservative wing of the court, there are now two solid 4-robe teams on each side, leaving Kennedy alone to play the decisive role in any controversial cases.

For the second time in less than a week, Kennedy decided with the conservatives but issued a concurring opinion that largely undercut them. Last week in Hudson v. Michigan he agreed that failure to "knock and announce" should not in and of itself exclude evidence seized during a search warrant, but emphasized his fealty to the exclusionary rule generally. Then this week in Rapanos v. United States, an environment vs. property rights case, he joined with the conservatives in sending it back to the lower court, but, in his concurrence, generally agreed with the liberals on the broad interpretation of "navigable waters" to include whatever lands the Army Corps of Engineers says it includes.

Being the only moderate on the court gives Kennedy tremendous power. While a bit to the right of O'Connor, he clearly enjoys the notoriety of spoiling things for the conservatives just as she did, and will no doubt move a bit to the left if necessary to play this role effectively. As I noted before, the court was slightly liberal last year, and so O'Connor's replacement by Alito should move it a bit rightward. But Kennedy will no doubt keep it from being a decidedly conservative court.

18 June 2006

Profits - Who Gets to Make Them?

Brokerage powerhouse Goldman-Sachs reported a surge in profits in the second quarter. I bring this up because no one seems to have been bothered about this news - there were no calls for congressional hearings, Justice Department investigations, or a special windfall-profits tax - the way everyone was up in arms over the recent surge in oil company profits. And that's funny because what oil companies do - taking crude oil and delivering it to consumers in the form of usable petroleum products - is a helluva lot more critical to the well-being of Americans than what brokerage firms do. Anger at the $400 million dollar retirement package given to Exxon-Mobil's retiring CEO is one thing. But why would we want to deny big profits to the single most important industry in the modern economy?

Capitalism surely won its century-long war with socialism - won it in a rout. Outside of Cuba and North Korea private ownership of capital is generally the norm. The reason capitalism won out is due to two powerful mechanisms that socialism completely lacks. The first of these is profit, which provides an incentive for talented people to produce things. The second is free-market pricing, which communicates the relative supply and demand for goods and services.

Both these mechanisms right now appear to be working exactly as we'd want them to in the petroleum market. The high price of gasoline tells everyone that supplies are relatively tight but that people still need it. The ability of the oil industry to turn these high prices into big profits means they're going to keep supplying it. Mess with either the price or the profits and we will have one big mess on our hands, for sure.

13 June 2006

Marin County Folk - They Crack Me Up

There's an absolutely (though unintentionally) hilarious article linked without comment on Jerry Pournelle's Mail page about the Sausalito-Marin School District. The article, in the Marin Independent Journal, discusses the exodus from the school district by local residents who are displeased with the quality of the education, despite a $22,232(!) per pupil budget. The article goes on vaguely discussing how bad the schools are, and how determined they are to change it, but no one seems to know what to do, and how people are just giving up on them.
Stratigos, a former city councilman who grew up in Sausalito, said that based on anecdotal evidence, he estimates 50 families a year leave Sausalito and Marin City in search of better schools. That has been happening for at least 10 years, he said.
Of course you know the answer (which is finally revealed in the article) - it's the same as it always is to the question of why a certain school is 'bad' - but it's quite entertaining reading all the hand-wringing anguish of the good people of Sausalito trying not to admit it - although "trying" stops short - here as it does everywhere - of actually sending their kids to the schools.

12 June 2006

Immigration Bad for Honest Analysis

Noted economist Tyler Cowen has surrendered to abject disingenuousness in his desperation to promote Mexican immigration. In an op-ed in the Washington Post today, Cowen insists that Latino immigrants are too assimilating - or, as he obliquely puts it in the opening paragraph, "we see a higher level of Latino assimilation than is often presumed." That's a taste of what's to come.

Learning English? Not a problem, he insists, because "national magazines such as Hispanic Business (circulation 265,000) and Latina (circulation 2 million) are published in English." Wow - two magazines. What about the full-time Spanish-language stations on TV? He's confident that "in a generation most Latino-interest publications will probably be in English." The problem is that assimilation should mean there would be few "Latino-interest" publications in any language - but we're supposed to be relieved if "most" are not in Spanish.

What about family values? "Census data show that 62 percent of immigrants over age 15 are married, compared to 52 percent of natives." Note the use of the term "immigrants" here - this particular sleight of hand - interleaving stats on all immigrants with assertions about Latinos is used throughout the article. He then points out that "Latino immigrants are more likely to live in multigenerational households rathe than just visiting grandparents a couple of times a year." Yeah - that's actually bad news, Tyler. Greater assimilation would mean less multigenerational households. His allusions to visits to Grandmother's House is cute - but the multigenerational household is more likely due to teen and other unmarried mothers living home than sweet little gray-haired grannies knitting in the parlor.

Few immigration restrictionists argue that Latinos are lazy, but the myth of the hard-working immigrant is a bit overblown. This might explain why the best factoid a prominent economist could put his hands on to advance this myth is that "data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that Hispanic men are more likely than white men to be in the labor force." What does that mean? Including retirees? Since immigrants pretty much have to be working, wouldn't that bump up the Hispanic work-force totals? At any rate, that's a pretty slim bit of data to support really the only reason most Americans tolerate immigration at all - because they're supposed to be hard workers.

Are native born Latinos closing the gap? Here's why Mr. Cowen thinks so: "Immigrant Latino men make about half of what native whites do; their grandsons earn about 78 percent of the salaries of their native white friends." In other words, second-generation Hispanic-Americans are only making 78% of white American salaries. That's pretty poor - there should be no gap at all by the second generation in this day and age, particularly given that Hispanics receive preferential treatment in college admissions, hiring, and set-asides.

It's really a pathetic effort. Even ignoring the deception, his arguments are really weak - almost half-hearted. On his own blog, he has been torn to shreds by knowledgeable commenters when he has made similar arguments. Undoubtedly not used to receiving such merciless drubbings as a professor and pundit, his blog has announced a more restrictive policy on comments. I read his blog regularly and enjoy most of what he writes - interesting thoughts and some solid economic reasoning - but his slavish devotion to free-trade and immigration leads to some bizarre lapses in logic. I'd recommend that you not rely on economists to understand the effects of immigration - instead use the best analytical tool available - your own lying eyes.

08 June 2006

Zarqawi is Dead; Insurgency Withers

Seriously, how significant might Zarqawi's death be? Could it be as important as Stonewall Jackson's death was in the Civil War? Of course that suggests that the insurgency will lose in a year or two, so the comparison is a bit strained right there.

06 June 2006

On To Iran

David Rifkin and Lee Casey in today's WaPo, on A Legal Case Against Iran:
When a clear threat to peace arises, it is incumbent upon the Security Council to act in defense of the threatened party to head off the unilateral use of force and to advance "collective security." This imperative is particularly compelling when the very legitimacy of the threatened party and its right to independent national existence have been challenged. Such a challenge goes beyond the violation of Article 2.4 and raises the specter of the most heinous international crimes, including genocide.
In 2002, the same duo in the WSJ's OpinionJoural on how We Have the Right To Oust Saddam:
Moreover, separate from Saddam's past regional misdeeds--and even assuming that he had no involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks--his dedicated efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, combined with his open hostility towards the U.S. and its allies, would alone justify American military action against Iraq. Under the international law doctrine of "anticipatory self-defense," states may take preemptive action against an enemy before an actual attack.
Now I realize that they're lawyers, and in the court a lawyer is not obliged to refrain from reusing a previous argument even if it ended up a loser. But as pundits wouldn't even a speck of humility chasten them from goading us into attacking Iran? They don't think to themselves - or discuss among themselves - about how Iraq ended up not having any WMD, how they obviously weren't involved in 9/11 or with Al Qaeda, and how the war has ended up one big f-ing mess, and maybe they might not want to get all self-confidently hawkish on Iran? I guess not.

05 June 2006

Vegas Housing Cooling Off

According to this CSM article, housing prices in Las Vegas are beginning to sag a bit. I personally could not imagine ever desiring to live in such a place. That it was one of the hottest real-estate markets the last few years says a lot about America. It says that a place can become a highly desirable location by offering nothing but service jobs in the most culturally decrepit businesses - gambling, nightclubs, prostitution, and awful restaurants. It says that older people see an attractive place to retire though it is an utter wasteland - scenically a vast, brown desert, a civic environment dominated by corruption and special interests, and offering little more than slot machines and cheesy shows for leisure. So the fact that there appears to be less demand for this nirvana than developers had hoped is somewhat reassuring - except that the dampening is probably not due to a growth of better opportunities elsewhere or an interest in more self-fulfilling lives among retirees. It's probably due to rising interest rates, over-stretched finances, increased hiring of immigrants in the casinos, or over-building by developers.

03 June 2006

The Greatest Conservative Song

I see that John Miller has posted some additional 'conservative' songs to supplement his National Review piece on the 50 Greatest Conservative Rock Songs. He does acknowledge one omission I thought rather glaring - not just one that should be on the list, but should be number one on the list - Dylan's My Back Pages. In this taught, spare number, later covered by the Byrds, Dylan sends up the dominant leftist culture in academia. The clever refrain suggests he hewed to the mainstream, conformist ideology but he's now more open to other viewpoints - I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now. At least that's my interpretation (always a bit dicey with Dylan lyrics). What's amazing is that the song dates from 1964 - the complete liberal brainwashing of society was only just beginning and Dylan is already fed up with it. Here's a run-thru of the song's targets:

First, he mocks activism itself:
Crimson flames tied through my ears
Rollin' high and mighty traps
Pounced with fire on flaming roads
Using ideas as my maps
"We'll meet on edges, soon," said I
Proud 'neath heated brow
Next he seems to doubt the sincerity of equal-rights radicals:
Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth
"Rip down all hate," I screamed
Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull, I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers
Foundationed deep, somehow
In the next verse I'm really not sure what he's getting at. He seems to be almost belittling the feminine presence in universities. At any rate, he sure doesn't seem to think they contribute much:
Girls' faces formed the forward path
From phony jealousy
To memorizing politics
Of ancient history
Flung down by corpse evangelists
Unthought of, though, somehow
Egalitarianism then takes a hit:
A self-ordained professor's tongue
Too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty
Is just equality in school
"Equality," I spoke the word
As if a wedding vow
He then takes on Maoism as he skewers the anti-professional ethos that questioned the legitimacy of authority, particularly in education:
In a soldier's stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I'd become my enemy
In the instant that I preach
My existence led by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow
And, finally, he ridicules idealism itself - or at least the dogmatic variety prevailing in universities and activist circles:
Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I defined these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow

Ah but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now.