Saturday, June 30, 2007

A post script on French health care.

Economist Don Boudreaux, whose blog I read regularly, mentions something that happened in the last couple day while he was in France. And it is directly related to my previous post on French health care.

Boudreaux was visiting the parents of a friend. This couple had acquired a new dog due to the fact that dog’s owner, a neighbor, had died. Here is how Don described the situation.
Conversation at lunch revealed that the neighbor, who had a history of heart trouble, suffered severe chest pains a few weeks ago. He wisely went to the hospital seeking treatment. He was told that there was no space available for him. He was advised to go home and call back later to see if a room might have become available. He did so, but was told repeatedly that the hospital remained full to capacity. Several days later this man died at home, never having received hospital treatment.
Don notes that this anecdotal though true and then points out the real lesson, “merely declaring, statutorily, that every citizen has a right to health care, or that health care is ‘free’ to every citizen, does not make health care available to all or ‘free.’”

That is the point I keep trying to drive home. But some people see a condemnation of nationalized health care as an endorsement of the US system as the alternative. The US system is NOT the alternative. It is the most regulated, state controlled segment of the American economy around. I have never defended this bastardized hybred created by decades of politicians substituting their own decisions for those of consumers.

The point I am making is that the nationalized, politically-controlled health care systems that are proposed by ideological socialists and frauds like Michael Moore are much, much worse than those people will admit. I have lived in four countries with nationalized services and in the United States so I have some point of comparison. And I grew up around hospitals since my mother was a nurse.

Yes, socialized health care is cheaper but anyone can do that by using the same methods they use. They tend to refuse treatment to some patients for various reasons. They tend to refuse certain procedures or treatments. What care they do offere is often only available to those who wait long enough (or live long enough as in the story above). They tend to underpay their staff. Some systems do one of the above, some do more than one. But it is easy to cut costs if you deny care and every nationalized system denies care one way or another.

Again that doesn’t mean the US system couldn’t be cheaper than it is. It could be. The incentives in the US system are screwed up due to the distortions created by all the political tampering over decades. And some of those distortions encourage people to spend money needlessly. In addition we have the problem of the trial lawyers who have turned medicine into a risky business. These vultures swoop in and raise the costs dramatically.

Consider a patient who has a 99% chance of having one problem and a 1% chance of having a different problem. The physcian is fairly confided it is the first problem. Tests for the second problem might cost $200. If he orders them he raises the costs needlessly in 99 out of 100 cases. If he doesn’t order the test in the 1 case out of 100 where warranted he can personally be sued for malpractice. To interacting with the vultures he orders tests he knows will be useless most of the time. But the cost for those tests don’t come out of his pocket but they do drive up health insurance costs for everyone. And he knows the malpractice suit will cost him money. The legal systems basically creates incentives that forces him to order tests he knows will be useless just to cover his own ass.

It is this sort of thing that simpletons like Moore don’t consider. The US system needs changes. But before those changes are made people need to understand the perverse incentives that currently exist . And that means knowing something about economics. Unfortunately none of the major politicians screaming for health care reform seem to have taken economics or understand it. Certainly Hilliary and Obama are clueless. And Michael Moore, he has shown a repeated reckless disregard for facts.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

The 15,000 dead that Michael Moore forgot about.

In 2003 France experienced a heat wave and the result was almost 15,000 deaths. USA Today reported that most the victims “died during the height of the heat wave, which brought suffocating temperatures of up to 104 degrees.”

Not long ago I spent half a year in Phoenix. And Phoenix is a very hot city. That region of the world has been hot long before we started blaming everything on CO2. Just outside Phoenix is a retirement community known as Sun City. It is a town of around 33,000 elderly people. The median age in Sun City is just over 72 years of age. And the average high temperature in Sun City is 106 degrees summer after summer.

So 33,000 elderly people thrive in temperatures higher than those that hit France where 15,000 people died. And according to USA Today many of the victims in France were elderly. What are some of the reasons that elderly people in America flock to a climate that routinely exceeds the temperatures of France’s heat wave without the dire consequences that France experienced?

Like most issues there are numerous causes involved. One is that the elderly in Sun City know that the temperatures will go above 100 degrees every day during the summer. Knowing this means they are prepared.

For instance every home and business in the Phoenix area will have air conditioning. Very few homes and business in Europe have this sort of decadent luxury. On a hot day shopping in Europe is often a horrid experience since the shops are stuffy and temperatures inside often are warmer than outside.

The reality is that Europeans have a much lower standard of living. They don’t like to admit it but it’s true. They have regulated and taxed themselves to such an extent that they live much less comfortably than do their counterparts in the United States. Average income in Europe is below average income in the United States. Then the welfare states in Europe gobble up vast amounts of the income that is earned. So the average European not just earns less but pays more in taxes. And then costs for virtually everything is much higher. I suspect something in Europe has to be cheaper than in the US but I don’t know what it is.

With lower levels of income the average home is much smaller in Europe. People don’t drive as much but walk, ride bicycles or take public transit. Cars are discouraged by the Green fanatics. Of course when heat waves hit that means old people are trying to bicycle to the store. Actually I should say stores.

In the US an older person heads to one grocery market and picks up everything they need. Such large stores go against the European mentality. So there are mostly smaller stores with minimal selections. So this means going from store to store. When it is hot out this extra exertion doesn’t help the elderly.

If the elderly in Sun City had to walk from store to store to store to buy their groceries and ride their bicycles in the 106 degree temperatures, instead of driving, they would probably be dropping dead in massive numbers as well. Luckily for them they don’t live in a town that is as “eco-friendly”.

Germany has a sales tax of about 20%. And energy is especially expensive so they can meet their Kyoto requirements. Of course they don’t meet their Kyoto requirements but they do heavily tax energy. With energy being expensive the result is that people can’t afford to air condition. It’s the same across Europe.

When the heat wave hit France people died because the cost of air conditioning is above what most people can afford. The welfare state reduces living standards and people can’t afford “luxuries” like air conditioning.

So what happened what that socialized health care? Docufraud producer Michael Moore is harping on about the benefits of the French socialized health system. He says: “The French system is the best in the world.” So why the 15,000 deaths there? How did the French system respond?

Much of it didn’t react at all. France has long mandated holiday periods for workers. The French brag about them. They pride themselves as to how little work they do, which is one reason they have chronic high unemployment. And August is the big holiday month when many French workers take the entire month off. That includes physicians, nurses, etc.

Again the news report stated: “The heat wave hit during the August vacation period, when doctors, hospital staff and many others take leave.” Of course France has a union for physicians, since every special interest group must have a union or they get screwed by the other union groups. And the National General Practitioners Union denies that vacations had anything to do with it since only 20% of all physicians were off on holiday. Only 20%! That’s one out of five physicians being gone for an entire month.

Apparently it wasn’t just the physicians and their extended holidays that were the problem. “...[T]he French Parliament released a harshly worded report blaming the deaths on a complex health system, widespread failure among agencies and health services to co-ordinate efforts, and chronically insufficient care for the elderly.” So the health system in France is complex and has “chronically insufficient care for the elderly.”

But this is one of the systems that Moore drools over when he advocates a socialist system for the United States.

It was this excellent health care that explained why 15,000 French old people died from temperatures that in Sun City would be just average. It is the excellent health care that caused the French Parliament to report that their own health system provides “chronically insufficient care for the elderly.” I suspect Mr. Moore will never mention that parliamentary report

Photo: The photo was taken in a French hospital showing elderly victims of the heat wave waiting for care. One fifth of all physicians were on holiday that day.

Postscript. I have added a post script on this matter here.

The Knee-jerk Left went into hysterics and stopped worshiping Michael Moore just long enough to express their dislike of America (actually for some it was raw hatred of a rather bigoted nature). They particularly didn't like my off-hand remark that the average American is more prosperous than the average European. They have rather bizarre views on life in America. So I have laid out my arguments for the off hand remark here.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cop arrests and chokes kids for skateboarding.

Once people accept the idea that they have a right to bust heads skulls get broken. Power corrupts. It always corrupts. And that is what’s wrong with the American police. The older I get the less and less respect I have for cops. And I say that reluctantly as I have police officers in my family.

Since many cops are infected with an authoritarian mentality and an obsession for their own authority they simply are not mature enough to deal with most situations. Like spoiled children they over react constantly. These doughnut munchers falsely believe that their word is law. If they order someone to do something they think people are required to obey. That is not necessarily the case at all.

The authoritarian mentality says that there are laws and that they must rigorously be enforced by whatever strong arm methods are required. The seriousness of the “offense” and the response to it need not be balanced. So you get the assholes like the Atlanta cops who were arresting people for jaywalking. And typical of an arrest they manhandle people roughly and try intentionally to humiliate them. They will force non-violent people to the ground and push their face into the sidewalk, street or dirt to prove they are still the alpha-male on the block. It is their way of marking you with their scent. Freud might think it is macho over compensation due to the minute size of their organ. I would tend to agree, small brains and an infatuation with authority go together.

Doughnut muncher Joey Williams (I find it a bit sad when adults still use use their childish names) saw some horrible criminals in Hot Springs, Arkansas. And the chubby loud mouth went into his bad cop routine. The horrible criminals were some kids skateboarding. Listening to Joey you would have thought these kids had done something serious---like buy the last cinnamon twist at Krispy Kreme.

Kids skateboard all the time. And they don’t confine the practice to the few areas where the politicians have given them permission to do so. Most of the time it is ignored. But Joey was grumpy that day. They were out of creme filled. So he took his anger out on some kids skateboarding. So Officer Joey sees these kids and kids are always good for kicking around a bit, especially if no puppy is nearby.

Now the kids probably should have stopped when he told them to just for their own self-defense. After all people on a sugar high with guns can be dangerous. But Joey over reacted. He threatened to mace kids, he put them in choke holds and at no point did these kids try to attack him. Unfortunately for Officer Joey his over reaction was caught on video. And now he looks like the school yard bully he probably was in grade school.

Officer Joey is on leave while his actions are being investigated. Mayor Mike Bush says Officer Joey is “one of the 100 best and finest we’ve got”. I take it there are only 100 cops on the police force in Hot Springs.

A lawyer friend of mine once pointed out that the big problem in America is that once cops were seen as “officers of the peace”. Their job was to keep society civil. But along the way they became “law enforcement” officers and in any over regulated society people obsessed with enforcing all those laws and regulations, instead of promoting the peace, become a threat to it themselves.

PS: Mayor Mike Bush doesn't appear to have an email address. But I do find two phone numbers for him. I believe both are in area code 501. Home number is 623-6863 and his cell phone is 617-0085. Keep it polite it you call. City council members are:

Peggy Brunner-Maruthur ___ ___ 501-624-1965
Elaine Jones ___ direlainejon1@sbcglobal.net___ 501-321-1839
Steve Smith___ mailto:srsmith12003@yahoo.com___ 501-624-4699
Mr. Carrol Weatherford___sable@hsnp.com___501-276-7945
Bill Edwards___no email___501-321-2291
Tom Daniel___td7965@aol.com___501-623-0682

And the head of the department dealing with police is Bobby Southard, 501-321-6705 and he can be emailed Remember stay polite.

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Sick and Sicker

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Legislature bans telling the truth.

One worry people have when they deal with estate agents or property brokers is whether or not they will get honest answers to questions. Little do people realize that the Nanny State has made it illegal to honestly answer some questions. The broker can be fined or jailed for telling the truth. They aren’t allowed to lie either. They simply have to refuse to answer.

Consider how rational people look for a residence. People want to know what the neighborhood is like in the suburbs. And it the city they want to know about the building. This makes sense.

A mother with 3 children wants to know if there are other children in the building. Consider the possible problems if she doesn’t know. She moves into a building and discovers that the vast majority of the tenants are elderly. There is no one for her children to play with. Worse yet running and screaming children disturb the other tenants. Of course the opposite can happen. An older woman, perhaps recently widowed, is looking for someplace quiet and peaceful. She could end up in a building with lots of children or young singles who like to party. Either way her discomfort is increased.

The potential for conflict is almost endless. And most people prefer to minimize conflict so they seek information. In buying a home they find out about the neighbors. Lots of families are good if the buyer has children. Lots of elderly neighbors is not necessarily good if the buyer has children. People use this information and voluntarily sort out the problems in advance.

Rarely are their intentions discriminatory. It isn’t that they hate the elderly. In fact it is more respect for the elderly who are not likely to want screaming children running around all day long. In reality they are not just finding the mix that is best for themselves but they are respecting the other residents as well.

You would think that in New York City the ability of people to minimize conflict and discomfort ought to be relatively easy. In reality they are not just finding the mix that is best for themselves but they are respecting the other residents as well.

One third of the residents of New York City own their home or apartment. Ownership rates have been increasing. In 1990 it was 28.7 percent, by 2000 it was 30.2 percent and today it is 33.2 percent. And according to the New York Times “the steepest jumps occurred in some of the poorest neighborhoods.” The increase in ownership is for all racial groups and across all income groups.

According to the Times about 1 million New Yorkers now own their homes. If these represent 33 percent of households owning property then we can estimate there are about 3 million residences in New York City. Three million apartments, condos and homes are a quite a number. Out of 3 million options there ought to be something for most people.

The problem is that the city government has made answering rational questions illegal. It is assumed, without any evidence, that a building that has many families in it, which informs potential elderly tenants of this, is actually discriminating against the elderly. The elderly tenant is more likely to see it as a nice advance warning that the building won’t be a quiet one. And if the building is mainly elderly and a potential tenant is told this fact then it is discrimination against families.

In the view of the bickering politicians, always jostling for power with each other, everyone else in the city acts the same way they do. They assume that people are just waiting for an excuse to do each other dirty and that even the most innocent of questions are imbued with bigotry. Apparently this bigotry is endemic with absolutely everyone being a bigot one second and a victim the next. Old people are victims if told a building has lots of children. Families are bigots if the told the building has lots of elderly tenants.

So to protect everyone from everyone the city has banned the passing on of factual information. You can not even hint that a building is good for families with children because other children live there. As one rental agent put it: “If a family with children want to know if there are other children the same age in a building, we’re supposed to say, ‘You should stand outside the building between 2 and 5 p.m. and see who walks in.’” As the New York Times reports:
The strict interpretation of fair-housing laws prohibits brokers from providing information about people that could be construed as discriminatory in any of 14 protected categories. The categories include familiar ones like race, religion, sex and disabilities and less well-known ones like familial status, marital status, citizenship and occupation. So a broker who says something like, “There are tons of little kids in this building — it’s really family friendly” could be accused of specifically steering families to the building and driving people without children away from it.
And the New York State Legislature passed a new law which says that anyone acting as a real estate broker must take three hours of “fair housing” indoctrination. You wouldn’t want people inadvertently telling other people useful information. And a lot of the broker’s customers are very unhappy with them for refusing to provide useful information.

Neil Garfinkel works for the Real Estate Board of New York. His job is censorship training. He works for the government and spends his time telling people what words are permitted and what words are not permitted. He is to brokers what a book burner is to librarians. He tells brokers to tell tenants that they must abide by the law and when the tenant asks questions about the tenants of the building the broker is supposed to say: “Remember we talked about fair-housing laws? This is what’s against the law for me to talk about.”

When something is against the law, if the law is enforced, that means police agents, prepared to use as much force as necessary, will come along. They will take you captive or fine you. If you refuse to co-operate in either case they get increasingly more and more violent. So when Mr. Garfinkel so blithely says refers to talking as being illegal what he is saying is that we are prepared to crack some skulls in order to shut people up. That is censorship.

Garfinkel is promoting is the legal punishment of people who pass on valid, true and useful information. Censor Garfinkel warns brokers not to even tell people which school district a building is in. Follow this moron’s logic:

He said that while it is all right to name a school district when specifically asked, the fact should not be advertised because some school districts have distinctive racial compositions and advertising the district could be seen as a way of expressing preference for a specific race. Brokers are often stunned by this prohibition, he said, “but I’m a lawyer, and I’m going by the strict letter of the law.”

Garfinkel thinks the worse of people. Most people want good schools for their kids. And with a state monopoly on education, unless they can afford private schooling, the only way to try to improve their children’s education is to move to districts with better schools. Parents are more concerned about the quality of the school than the color of the students. A parent obsessed with the color of students is a bad parent who would be willing to subject their children to inferior state education just so they can sit next to someone of the same skin tone.

Censor Garfinkel makes it clear that even everyday normal conversation is illegal for a broker. If you meet someone new you ask them questions. It is considered polite. “So what do you do?” is one of those questions that people often ask each. Take a Berlitz course in any language and one of the first things they teach you is to ask a person about their employment. Normal, yes. But for brokers it is illegal. One broker who went through Garfinkel’s course on guidelines for the Holy Inquisition said that the ban on asking people about their job blew everyone’s mind. “I don’t think we’ve recovered from that yet,” he said. “The point is that what’s normal and everyday may not be legal.”

To quote Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens: “If the law supposes that the law is an ass—a idiot.” And if the law is an ass, and in this case it surely is, what does it saw about the men and women who wrote the law?

Once again this reveals the problem with the state. Government is a sledgehammer. And swinging sledgehammers is sometimes useful and necessary. But when you use them outside their proper limits you end up doing far more damage than good.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Coulter, backed into a corner, tries to lie her way out.

If there were two people I could wish out of the political debate it would be Ann Coulter and Michael Moore: the Laurel and Hardy of politics. True one is incredibly corpulent while the other is an anorexic stick figure but their styles are similar. Both concoct facts and engage in smearing. They are both shrill and have the same level of ethics as the other.

If you watch the above clip from MSNBC you will see what I mean. Elizabeth Edwards called in to the show where Coulter was appearing and asked her to not engage in personal attacks but to focus on the issues. She specifically said that debating issues is fine but that Coulter lowers the tone of political debate (a real understatement) with her ridiculing people on a personal level.

Watch how Coulter reacts. She lies. She immediately twists the comments and starts claiming that Mrs Edwards was demanding that she stop writing her books and columns. Edwards did no such thing. Coulter repeats the lie several times. This is typical Coulter style (or lack of style). Of course she won’t give up the cheap shots she uses, without them her books were be slim volumes indeed.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Court justices light up with the First Amendment.

That the current president has ever sat in the White House will be a blight that America will take a long time to live down. And it is apparent that one of his worst legacies will be his appointments to the Supreme Court. Today gave us two examples of how the big government agenda is furthered by Bush and his appointees.

Former White House insiders have openly revealed what everyone has known. The so-called “faith based” initiatives were an attempt by Bush to buy off the Religious Right. In addition it was believed that if the White House promised money to African-American churches that their congregations, in gratitude, would flock to the Republicans come election day.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation was challenging this use of taxpayer funds. They are taxpayers. Their tax money is being used to fund religious endeavors. Today the Supreme Court voted to deny the litigants the right to sue. The two justices appointed by King George both voted to deny the litigants standing in the case. It seems that, without the Bush appointments the old court would have ruled the other way. The 5 to 4 decision was a victory for the move toward state funding of religious efforts and denied voters the right to challenge an unconstitutional use of their funds.

A second ruling today also attacked free speech rights, also protected by the First Amendment. In 2002 students in Juneau, Alaska were let out of school to attend an Olympic torch rally. Senior Joseph Frederick went to the rally as well, straight from home. He was not at school that day. The rally was held in public and not on school property.

Frederick had a banner which was intended to be funny. No doubt to high school students it was. It said “Bong Hits 4 Jesus”. Principal Deborah Morris had the poster vandalized under her orders and then suspended Frederick from attending school for 10 days because she argued he was expressing a view contrary to the official “war on drugs” viewpoint. In state schools free speech rights are obviously limited although they are not entirely lost either. But Frederick was not in school. Nor was even on the same side of the street as the school. He was across the street.

Both Bush appointees ruled against the First Amendment for students off school property especially if those students are giving messages which appear to deny the drug hysteria fostered by the US government. Chief Censor John Roberts argued that that the banner “promoted illegal drug use -- and that failing to act [the principal having the sign vandalized] would send a power message to the students in her charge.”

Roberts, was joined by Bush appointee Samuel Alito, in this ruling, giving it a 6 to 3 majority. Justice Stevens, in keeping with the First Amendment said: “This case began with a silly nonsensical banner, (and) ends with the court inventing out of whole cloth a special First Amendment rule permitting the censorship of any student speech that mentions drugs so long as someone could perceive that speech to contain a latent pro-drug message.”

Justice Clarence Thomas took the position that students have no First Amendment rights at all! He said that two centuries ago “teachers taught, and students listened. Teachers commanded, and students obeyed. Teachers did not rely solely on the power of ideas to persuade; they relied on discipline to maintain order.” Sounds like the Maoist Red Guard! Thomas’ argument, if you want to call it that, is that if a right was ignored 200 years ago then you can’t claim it as a right today no matter what the Constitution actually says. Under that sort of logic he’d be out picking cotton not sitting on the Supreme Court.

Frederick said he was not “promoting drugs, I assume most people would take it as a joke.”

What is no joke is that a principal vandalized private property on a pubic sidewalk and got away with it. And the real message is the one sent by the Bush appointees that they are willing to turn their back on certain Constitutional rights when said rights conflict with a US government crusade.

The censors on the Court argued that the event was actually a school event since students were allowed out for it and were standing with their teachers in front of the school. But Frederick was on the opposite side of the street, was not with teachers and had not been in class that day. The court ruled that a principal can “restrict student speech at a school event” apparently even for students across the street from the event. The court gave no indication how far away from the “event” the student must be before Constitutional rights kick in.

The Court also made it clear that speech that is pro-drug is now on par with obscene speech. “Student speech celebrating illegal drug use at a school event, in the presence of school administrators and teachers, poses a particular challenge for school officials working to protect those entrusted to their care.... the government interest in stopping student drug abuse allow schools to restrict student expression that they reasonably regard as promoting such abuse.”

This calls into question the right of students to even question the absurdity of the war on drugs. Justice Souter in his dissent said that this decision “invites stark viewpoint discrimination” and “is deaf to the constitutional imperative to permit unfettered debate, even among high-school students, about the wisdom of the war on drugs or of legalizing marijuana for medicinal use.” “If Frederick's stupid reference to marijuana can, in the Court's view, justify censorship, then high school students everywhere could be forgiven for zipping their mouths about drugs at school lest some ‘reasonable’ observer censor and then punish them for promoting drugs.”

Souter notes:
While alcoholic beverages are now regarded as ordinary articles of commerce, their use was [during Prohibition] condemned with the same moral fervor that now supports the war on drugs. The ensuing change in public opinion occurred much more slowly than the relatively rapid shift in Americans' views on the Vietnam War, and progressed on a state-by-state basis over a period of many years. But just as prohibition in the 1920's and early 1930's was secretly questioned by thousands of otherwise law-abiding patrons of bootleggers and speakeasies, today the actions of literally millions of otherwise law-abiding users of marijuana, and of the majority of voters in each of the several States that tolerate medicinal uses of the product, lead me to wonder whether the fear of disapproval by those in the majority is silencing opponents of the war on drugs. Surely our national experience with alcohol should make us wary of dampening speech suggesting--however inarticulately--that it would be better to tax and regulate marijuana than to persevere in a futile effort to ban its use entirely.
In conclusion he said, “Whatever the better policy may be, a full and frank discussion of the costs and benefits of the attempt to prohibit the use of marijuana is far wiser than suppression of speech because it is unpopular.”

I don’t know what the Justices were smoking before they invented this “drug” exception to free speech for students. But it seems to me that they were using the Bill of Rights for rolling paper. It burns really well.

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10 simple steps to reverse the "gay lifestyle"

When you get a newspaper headline like this one you have to laugh. It is from The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Mississippi. The headline:

It is about a minister the Southern Baptists have designated as their point man in their “ministry” to (or against, depending on your point of view) gay people.

What does it mean to reverse the “gay lifestyle”?

So here are some suggestions as to what these Southern Baptists might do to “reverse” the “gay lifestyle”.
1. No more hair stylists. Back to flat tops and bad barbers the way God intended.

2. No cats, only dogs as pets. Poodles or any dog small enough to sit in one’s lap are not acceptable and should be treated like cats.

3. All walls in the apartment or home must be painted basic white.Under no circumstances are pastels or vibrant colors to be used. Wallpaper is acceptable provided it clashes with the upholstery on the furniture.

4. The only label on one’s underwear that is acceptable is a label with your own name not the name of a designer.

5. Ties, preferably clip-ons, are required on Sundays. Ties never match the socks since the socks are always white, just like the shoes.

6. Unless a “little woman” is cooking food options are as follows: TV dinners (any kind), International House of Pancakes, any restaurant with a drive-through window, and Denny’s. Exception: subject is allowed to cook for himself provided he does so over an open fire, in the backyard with large slabs of meat. Please note: sauces that are not red in color are not permitted at any time.

7. Subject must vacate any of the following locations: New England down to and including New York, the region from Silicon Valley north to the Canadian border, Miami or Key West, Los Angeles, Madison, Wisconsin, the north side of Chicago beginning at the Loop, the French Quarter of New Orleans and any small town described as an “artists colony”. Europe is strictly off limits. Preferred living locations: anywhere in Texas, except Austin and any state that voted for George Wallace in 1968.

8. As a general rule of thumb clothes purchased from any store ending in “mart” are acceptable such as K-Mart and Wal-Mart.

9. The following entertainment must be avoided: all films with subtitles; any film produced in the last 30 years that is in black and white; live theater and cabaret shows.

10 Fishing is allowed as is any sport where animals die. Baseball is permitted but not softball. Football (except touch football) is allowed. Any sport popular in England or Europe is forbidden. Golf is allowed (except miniature), tennis is not. Badminton and croquet are strictly forbidden. Checkers is permitted, chess is not. Diving and swimming are forbidden but boxing is encouraged.
I supposed by now the whole venture looks a little silly doesn’t it? I find that the term “gay lifestyle”, along with the equally absurd “gay agenda”, are terms that have no meaning whatsoever, not even to the people who use them -- who themselves are rarely gay. If one spoke of “the heterosexual lifestyle” we don’t know if one is speaking of Pat Robertson, Hugh Hefner, Bill Clinton or the Pope. In reality there is no heterosexual lifestyle nor is there a gay lifestyle.

But the idea that such a lifestyle exists is a necessary component of the creation of a scapegoat. The idea that there is some “gay agenda” allows the bumpkins to find an easy target on whom to pin their problems. The successful rallying of a political lynch mob requires that the participants in the mob see their victim as “the other”, someone who is clearly not them. The more alien the better. The term “gay lifestyle” is supposed to constantly remind people that “those people” just “aren’t like us”. And when people aren’t like us then many people conclude they are legitimate targets, sometimes literally.

The reality is that the Religious Right has been engaged in this sort of enterprise since the earliest days of the Republic.

In 1800 they warned Americans of the dire consequences of electing someone as immoral as Thomas Jefferson, a man they said was a leader of the secret Illuminati plot to destroy America. A few decades later they were screaming about the Masonic threat. Then it came time to attack Catholics, immigrants, liquor, “bobbed hair”, pants suits on women, Hollywood movies, Jews, immigrants again, liberals, the Civil Rights movements, etc.

The wonderful writer H.L. Mencken wrote that the common man is difficult to educate “but it is always easy to scare him.” And that task... the daily business of the evangelical pastors of the Republic. They are specialists in alarms and bugaboos. The rum demon, atheists, Bolsheviks, the Pope, bootleggers, Leopold and Loeb—all of these have served them in turn and in the demonology of the Ku Klux Klan all have been conveniently brought together. The old stock company of devils has been retired, and with it the old repertoire of sins. The American peasant of today finds it vastly easier to claw into Heaven that he used to. Private holiness has now been handed over to the Holy Rollers and other such survivors from a harsher day. It is sufficient now to hate the Pope, to hate the Jews, to hate the scientists, to hate all foreigners, to hate whatever the cities yield to. These hatreds have been spread in the land by rev. pastors, chiefly Baptists and Methodists. They constitute with their attendant fears, the basic religion of the American clodhopper today. They are the essence of the new Christianity, American style.
Mencken wrote that 82 years ago. Things haven’t changed very much in the meantime. It is true that, on a whole, the Methodists have since joined Western Civilization. In the process they lost a lot of their members who were still baying for a good old fashioned lynching. The would-be social exorcists switch demons now and then just to keep the crowd, with their notorious short attention span, interested. But the sniffers and snoopers frequently return to the same old demons for the sake of tradition.

Today it would be difficult, if not comically, for them to try to get people riled up about dancing, miscegination, or “mixed bathing” (swimming pools). And the hullabaloo about “bobbed hair” is, in retrospective, rather funny. Perhaps all their devil sniffing and witch hunting would be equally funny if, in the process, they didn’t hurt real people.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Reagan judge blasts Bush.

A Reagan-appointed judge has openly criticized President George Bush. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth has said that the president's use of warrantless wiretaps are a flagrant assault on civil liberties. Even something like the “war on terror” does not justify eroding constitutional rights.

“We have to understand you can fight the war and lose everything if you have no civil liberties left when you get through fighting the war.”

Lamberth served as a judge on the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court from 1995 to 2002. This court was established precisely to hear the need for wiretapping. Lamberth says it is simply false, as the White House claims, that there are cases so urgent that there is no time to go to the court for permission.

Lamberth says that on 9/11 he was on the highway near the Pentagon when the hijacked airplane hit the building. He called federal marshals to come get him so he could get to work, understanding his presence was crucial under these circumstances. But while waiting he was able to use his cell phone to approve five warrants. He said he has approved warrants in the middle of the night as well.

He said that separation of powers must be protected because “what we have found in the history of our country is that you can’t trust the executive.” Amen.

Now Democrats. Remember this is true even when someone you like is the executive!

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

School will suspend students who shake hands.

Government schools are disaster zones, at least for the kids. The problem is that you have a school controlled by politicians and run by trade unions. Since the teacher’s union is rich and powerful they can shower lots of money on bad politicians. The result is a school system that puts the interests of the union, teachers and politicians ahead of the interests of the kids.

There are many teachers who are decent, smart people who really want to teach. Many are dullards barely ahead of the kids they teach. I realized this when I was around 10 years old and the teachers went on strike. Of course the kids loved it since it closed the school. So a bunch of went down there to support them, not because we cared or understood what it was about, but because we liked having the day off. When I got there I was shocked to see how many of the picket signs had words that were misspelled. And since then my opinion has dropped.

I have covered the idiotocracy that runs the schools before. We had 10-year-old Aaron Pereze thrown out of school because he asked a teacher for a hug. Zero tolerance for sexual harassment is what they call it. In another case a four-year-old “pre kindergartener” was getting on a bus that was to take him home. He hugged the teacher good bye and when he did so he briefly came in contact with her chest. It would be hard to hug a woman and not have that happen. He was reprimanded and the school sent home a letter complaining about “inappropriate physical behavior interpreted as sexual contact and/or sexual harassment.”

We have schools officially teaching “chastity” these days and kids being chucked out for hugging someone. This anti sexual hysteria is fueled by both the Religious Right and the fanatical feminist Left. Both hold similar views on the matter and want “zero tolerance” of sin.

Now there is the case of Hal Beaulieu. He was at the Kilmer Middle School in Vienna, Virginia having lunch in the cafeteria. He finished eating and sat down next to a girl he is seeing. He put his arm around her shoulder. He didn’t grope her, fondle her, molest her. They weren’t making out or fornicating. He put his hand on her shoulder.

He was sent to the school office and reprimanded for violating one of the hardcore rules the school has established. No student in the school is allowed to touch any other human being in any matter whatsoever.

You have to understand how absolute this rule is. A student meeting someone is not allowed to shake hands. No “high fives”, no hand holding. Nothing.

And the moronic principal, Deborah Hernandez says it has to remain this way. Her problem is that she allows touching of any kind she simply doesn’t know where to draw the line. She’s not smart enough to figure out the difference between a handshake and molestation. “You get into shades of gray. The kids say, ‘If he can high-five, then I can do this.’” And handshakes, she says, can be secret gang signs. (You all heard about those gangs running wild in Vienna, Virginia especially at the middle school level.)

She claims that normally dirty looks from teachers is sufficient to stop anyone from touching anyone. But repeat “offenders” will get in trouble.” You have to have an absolute rule with students,” she says. Yes, mein Führer!

The boy’s parents are upset. They say that they encourage hugging and that they have taught their son it is polite to shake hands when meeting someone. Obviously they don’t know how evil physical contact really is.

And to be fair, Hal did break two rules. Students have strictly assigned seats and he left his when he finished eating and sat in a seat not assigned to him. One more serious infraction like that and Hernandez will kick his sorry butt out of school or put him in detention.

Deborah Hernandez, congratulations. You are our moron of the week.

Photo: The children in this photo could be put on detention for doing this if they went to Kilmer Middle School. Lucky for them they don’t.


Friday, June 22, 2007

How to distort the facts about school vouchers.

An article by Sam Dillon for the New York Times is a decent example of bad journalism. He won’t think so. Apparently the New York Times didn’t think so either since they published it. I say it is shoddy, not because it was badly written, but because there was an obvious bias in it. I would not fault an opinion piece having bias but this was a news story.

Let’s start with some Journalism 101 as I was taught it. A journalist is supposed to write an article with the more important facts at the top and the less important facts at the bottom.

One should be able to read the first paragraph and have a synopsis of the story. This is done due to space limitations. An editor can’t know precisely how much space he will have for any one article. He may think he has 10 column inches of space and find he has only eight. With deadlines he can’t ask the journalist to rewrite the piece. Instead he takes a pair of scissors and simply cuts the bottom paragraphs until it fits.

If the story is written correctly no critical information is lost. You may lose some clarification or some back up material. But the basics of the story are there at the beginning of the story.

Dillon’s story is about Washington, D.C. education vouchers. In the first sentence he says that students in the voucher program “did not show significantly higher math or reading achievement”. That is the main point he stresses or the most important fact he found in this story.

His second point was that the students attended “private schools” “at taxpayer expense”, which he later tells us was $7,500 per student.

His third point was that the parents, mostly African-Americans, love the program because they said they felt the schools they were sending their children to were much safer. However, the students didn’t seem to think they were much different. (And we all know how well kids are at determining risks.)

Dillon’s lead fact was that there was no major improvement in test scores for voucher students. But if you go down to the 7th paragraph, about halfway through the story, you discover his lead fact isn’t so critical after all. “The students had been attending private schools for an average of less than a year when they were tested for the study, not much time for their new academic environment to affect performance.”

Now why is that buried halfway through the article when the claim that there was no improvement is in the first sentence? If the students hadn’t even completed their first year at the new schools, then why make a big deal about the lack of improvement? And why separate these two details by several paragraphs?

Every journalist knows, or ought to know, that the farther down the story that a fact appears the less likely it is to be noticed. Many people will read the first paragraph or two and then go on to another article. If you want to distort the perceptions of the readers you can make a claim at the beginning of the article but only present the counterclaim near the end of the article.

In the first paragraph we learn the students attended “private schools” at “public expense”. About two-thirds down we find out that each student in the voucher program actually cut the cost for the District. The money for the vouchers “was about half the average public expenditure per student in the District of Columbia public schools.”

I also thought I’d check. The budget for the public school system in DC is $1.53 billion for the coming fiscal year. And the number of students in the school system is 62,110. If every student in DC were on a voucher the cost would be $466 million. That’s not half the cost, as Dillon claimed, but less than one third the cost, actually about 30%. There is a huge differences between 30% and 50%. Perhaps Mr. Dillon learned his math at a public school.

Let’s assume that there will be no improvement at all for these students ever -- a major assumption and a false one. Does that show vouchers are a bad idea? First, in this case it shows that the private schools can do just as well as the public schools at a much lower cost. Even a 50% savings in costs, without a decrease in learning, is of some importance. This article could just as easily have said: “A study released today showed that students in a voucher program received the same level of education, but at half the cost, of those in state schools.”

Imagine a gasoline brand being sold that gave the same performance as what you use now at one third the cost. That would be considered a major advance for the motorist and newspapers stories would be hailing the cost cutting. The same education, at a significantly lower cost, is a major improvement even if Mr. Dillon doesn’t think so.

Various studies show students in voucher programs do have a modest improvement in their test scores. But that doesn’t tell the full story by any means. While better testing scores are an indication of success the real improvement is in the percentage of students who manage to graduate. For instance ,Milwaukee’s voucher program had a graduation rate of 64 percent. That is poor in my opinion but it was well above the graduation rate for government schools there the same year: 36 percent.

And while various studies have shown improved test scores and higher graduation rates for voucher students not one study has shown the opposite. The most the critics of vouchers have claimed is the line that Dillon was feeding people in his article -- that there was no major improvement. And that rests on the assumption that learning the same skills at half, to a third, of the cost is not an improvement.

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A great parody on politicians and the war on drugs.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Securing the borders: Did anyone think this through?

So a gaggle of right-wing racists and faux libertarians want to build a wall on the border. They are going to “secure” the borders. Nice.

So what does securing the borders mean? Well, one taste of it is that the historic right of Americans to cross into Canada or Mexico without a passport is gone. To travel you have to a government document giving you permission to do so. You can see why I think the “libertarians” who support this measure are not really libertarians at all.

And they want to build a big wall on the Mexican border. Also nice. Real nice. (You do know I’m being sarcastic.)

Since the United States was founded (and before) the borders with Canada and Mexico were never “secure”. Never. So the communities developed often without regard of that imaginary line in the dirt.

Now the authoritarians want “secure borders” and that means problems. It doesn’t mean problems for would-be terrorists. After all the 9/11 criminals didn’t cross the border illegally. They came in with government permission. They had passports and the US government said to them: “Welcome to America. Want some flying lessons?”

No one came in through Canada or Mexico. They didn’t cross the borders but flew in and handed over their permission slips to the hall monitors at the airports. They were roaming around killing people because they passed government security and had state permission to be in the US. You would think the government would look at how they approve would-be terrorists to enter the US. Instead Americans are being forced to get passports to spend a few hours shopping in Mexico.

But with hundreds of years of open borders the problems of imposing a Berlin Wall of security around the country are immense and very costly. Now think of this Border Wall for a second. The estimated cost is $2.2 billion. Like most government boondoggles that is the estimated cost. The real cost no doubt will be significantly higher.

A 14-mile section of wall in the San Diego area has been in the works since 1996. That project spent $39 million to date and the government plans another $35 million for it. By my calculation that is about $5,286,000 per mile. This is in an area much more easily accessible than where the American “Berlin Wall” is being installed. Even if this new wall costs the same as the one in San Diego the final price will be closer to $4 billion. And the New York Times says the cost could reach $49 billion. I suspect the feds will still be building when I go to my grave and that ultimately it will be scrapped unfinished. It will only stand as a monument to the stupidity and waste of government and to the bigotry of the xenophobic Right.

Now that cost is for the wall itself. What isn’t counted is that the US government is going to purchase or confiscate by eminent domain miles of privately owned land abutting the border. Again the faux libertarians supporting the wall will tell you that they oppose eminent domain. Yet only a total moron would have to say this wall can be built without the use of eminent domain. No doubt some of these “new” libertarians will find a way to justify eminent domain the way they have justified their other non-libertarian policies.

How will the wall and the confiscated land be paid for? Taxes, of course. Yet one conservative Republican is telling everyone he has never voted for a tax increase. But he has voted to spend billions of dollars walling in America. In fact he has made the border hysteria a major focus of his campaign. He imposed billions of dollars in costs on the American people and wants to pretend it was done tax free. Sure I believe that.

The Tohono O’odham Indians are not happy with that border wall. And they are supposed to be somewhat sovereign on their own land. But they say the wall will prevent them from crossing onto their land in Mexico and prevent wildlife from crossing. But this tribe may have it easy compared to other Americans.

University of Texas vice president Antonio Zavaleta says the border fence is going to cause a problem for students. “Part of our university would be on the Mexican side of the fence.” He wants to know if students are going to need a passport to travel between classrooms. The New York Times reports:

In Brownsville, Dr. Zavaleta said, that path would cut off not only the International Technology, Education and Commerce campus of the University of Texas and Texas Southmost College, which is in a former shopping center about a mile from the main campus, but also its golf course and a national historic site, Fort Brown, where an upright cannon marks an opening skirmish of the Mexican War.

According to the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram “officials with the Department of Homeland Security mentioned its condemnation authority ‘within the first 15 words’ spoken to landowners” in the Rio Grande Valley where this Orwellian agency is “eyeing numerous private tracts for the wall.” Rep. Henry Cuellar says the landowners were told: “Keep in mind we can take away your property through eminent domain.”

Of course the border nazis insist they want to work with the landowners and that the landowners are “partners” with them. (Sort of the way a woman is a partner to a rapist.) Border Patrol spokesman Xavier Rios says: “The amount of property that would be used for this is only the property that has been identified as essential for completion of the project.” Now doesn’t that clear it up? In other words they will only take as much land as they think they need. Doesn’t everyone feel better now?

The Star-Telegram reports that in Rio Grande Valley section a 90 mile long wall is planned “most of it on private land and that the landowners “have expressed fears that a wall will disrupt cattle and ranching operations, block access to the Rio Grande and -- unless they agree to the government’s financial terms -- spur nasty court battles over the condemnation of private property.”

Noel Benavides, had a border patrol official show up at his ranch and show him a map indicating the wall would come right through his property. But Benavides was told he couldn’t have a copy of it. Benavides says: “What really got me upset was the individual mentioned eminent domain. We can’t stop Homeland Security. It is the law right now that we have to have a fence in this area. But to come in and say we will take it anyway we can, we can exercise eminent domain, that really got me upset and it still does.”

The land was in Benavides’ wife’s family since 1763 and includes large sections of untouched wilderness. And the Rio Grande was a river his family as uniting two countries, not dividing them. As a boy he swam in the river. Now he wonders if he will even be able to use the water rights he has to the river. “How are we going to be able to pump water if a fence separates us from the river? What is going to happen to all those animals that drink water from the river?” Benavides wonders which Mexican president is going to say: “Mr. President, tear down this wall... like Reagan said.”

Hey boys and girls! Aren’t you glad that those private property loving, small government conservatives (Ron Paul included) pushed through this idea?

It also appears that entire sections of Laredo, Texas are built up right to the border with Neuvo Laredo in Mexico. That would means wide sections of private property, people’s homes and businesses, will have to be confiscated to build the wall. We now have conservatives, who whined about the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision on eminent domain, proposing a wall that is only going to be built through the confiscation of thousands and thousands of pieces of private property. But don’t expect them to mention that.

So far there are no plans to wall in the Canadian border. But Americans are going to need passports to cross into Canada shortly. But how, for instance, will that work in the town of Derby Line, Vermont? Derby Line and Stanstead, Canada share common streets.

Over a century ago the Haskell Library was built there. As Associated Press reported:
Step through the front door of the Haskell Library and you're in the United States. Walk across the carpeted floor to the circulation desk and you're in Canada. But if you sit down on the couch, you're back in the U.S.

The two towns, in different countries, share a common water system, sewer system and emergency crews in both towns help one another. Will people need passports to go to the local library?

The residents of Canusa Avenue in Beebe Plain, Vermont have a bigger problem. This new found desire to “secure the borders” is one that troubles them. The street is named as it is as because it combines Canada and the USA (CanUSA). The residents on the south side of the street live in the US while those on north side live in Canada. Under the new Bush rules residents will need a passport to cross the street. As one lifelong resident of the street put it, referring to the new regulations: “This is quite a rats’ nest, if you think about.”

Ah, but in DC they never think about it and the Decider has decided and logic and reason never plays a role in his decisions. And what would Republicans campaign on if they didn’t have “illegals” around to scare their voters. They’ve already pretty much played their hatred of gays to death. It’s really time to move to on to another group of people to attack and why not the Mexicans?

Photos: 1) The wall, or one version of it. 2). Haskell Library, part in Canada, part in the US. 3) Canusa Ave: north side is Canada, south side is US. Passports will be need to borrow a cup of sugar from the neighbor?

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Congressman blames internet for child gambling 30 years ago.

Washington, D.C. is infested with Congresscritters. Now some of these species are monsters. Most I suspect are just morons. Unfortunately with all the perks for the position congresscritters are not an endangered species. One reason is that it’s against the law to hunt the vermin. I suspect that absent that law there would be a lot fewer of the critters pestering people.

One perfect illustration of the moronic breed of congresscritter is Spence Bachus. He recently questioned Radley Balko of REASON magazine who testified before Congress regarding the absurd ban on internet gambling. Now when I read the remarks by Bachus I was struck by the utter and complete stupidity of them. I made two assumptions I fear. I confess I prejudged the man. I assumed he was a Republican and I suspected he was a Southern Republican. Somehow the combination of those two factors impacts on rational thought.

And I must admit to everyone that my presumptions were correct. Mr. Bachus is a Republican from Alabama. Enough said, it all falls into place now. His House website runs photos of him, and then for a clue to the Theopublicans from Alabama it also runs a picture of a church. Just the church. Nothing else. No reason for it being there other than to hint when the congresscritter’s sentiments lie.

I tried to read up on the guy. After all if you are going to show someone up as a fool you ought to investigate them. He is an attorney and a Baptist and he’s proud of all the pork he gets for his district. He brags about how much money he spends on his website. Of course it isn’t his money so why should he worry? And like a good Baptist he brags about his “long campaign” “to ban illegal internet gambling.” Okay, first clue he’s a moron. It is only illegal when you ban it. You ban legal gambling not illegal gambling. A ban means it is illegal. You would think an attorney would get something that simple.

He says the gambling industry “preys on minors and gambling addicts”. Notice all those kids in the poker tournaments and how people shot up with poker chips, shoving those chips up their veins.

Do people have gambling problems? Sure. They have eating problems and so far no moron has tried to ban food.

It was his fundamentalist fervor to ban gambling that caused Bachus to go after Balko.

Bachus apparently wanted to prove how internet gambling with adult verification systems are routinely used by children to gamble away their fortunes. He asked Balko if he had ever read the biographies of some prominent poker players listed on a gambling website. He asked specifically about the biography of Ross Boatman. Balko said he had not read that biography.

Bachus now circles in for what he assumes is the kill. Ah, ha! Doesn’t Balko know that the biography says that when Ross was ten years old that he played poker for the first time with his older brother! Hell, if the boy wanted to marry his sister at 10 plenty of good folk down in Alabama wouldn’t have a problem with that. But the boy played poker! Jesus was weeping.

Now Bachus had Balko. He then comes in for the coup de grâce. He announces: “I guess the verification system didn’t work.”

Apparently the Congressman thought that the internet age verification system failed. The problem with that theory is that this was thirty some years ago and it wasn’t over the internet. Boatman learned to play poker, not on line, but at home with his brother. He first started gambling with other school boys in games behind the school gym.

Of course the age verification system didn’t work. How could it? Balko realized he was dealing with a brain dead Theopublican. He said: “I believe that all took place well before the age of internet gambling, Congressman.” Gee, Radley, so respectful. The Congresscritter had to digest this for a minute and said: “Okay, was it?” In other words the moron didn’t have a clue. But then he comes up with what passes as a clever retort back home. He wanted to know “why it’s still on the site today.”

Now try to comprehend that for a second. This is a classic non sequitur. That this fact appears in a biography on an internet gambling site doesn’t mean that Boatman started gambling on the internet in the 1970s. I can read about the assassination of Lincoln on the net but that doesn’t mean he was killed in an on-line chat room.

But Bachus wants to know why, if he isn’t right, that the bio appears on a gambling website. It is mind numbing to watch the Theopublican in action. Logic flies out the window entirely.

Prior to this little escapade Bachus was mostly known for his claim that jokes by comedian Bill Maher were "treasonous comments". On CNN he claimed that there "is a correlation between drug dealers and gambling sites" because "the younger someone starts gambling, the more likelihood that they become a compulsive gambler." Sort like the more times a congresscritter is elected the more likely they are to be a compulsive liar. Old Spence has been elected seven times. But then his district is something like 90% Theopublican.

It’s been a while and this site has been negligent. For that I apologize. I hereby award our “Moron of the Week Award” to Congressman Spence Bachus. The runners-up are the thousands of Alabamans who voted this idiot into office.

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Autism and scapegoating Big Pharma

Nature sometimes deal out a raw deal. It is not kind, benevolent, motherly or generous. It just is. And sometimes the results for us, and other living creatures, is awful.

One of the most potent myths around is that nature is good and man is evil. It really is just another version of the old religious view that had man as an evil sinner destroying the Garden of Eden and leading the world toward Apocalypse. The green Left is far more religious than they actually realize -- they sure aren’t science based.

In the past I have covered their knee-jerk tendency to scream and point fingers at humanity as the culprit anytime some thing seems to go wrong. For instance, when bees started dying environmental groups in the US were announcing the role of genetically modified crops in the die out. In Europe where such modern technology for crops was not yet used some blamed mobile phones instead. In the end it appears that a naturally occurring fungus was to blame.

Just a few days ago we mentioned the retreating ice cap on Kilimanjaro which was repeatedly blamed on man. When the studies were done it appeared to be another entirely natural occurrence. Man was again exonerated and nature was to blame.

I suspect part of this is out of a desire to have a scapegoat. People want there to be a “reason” that something happens. Preferably a reason that has someone to blame. It is so much easier to take our anger out on people than on natural processes.

Add to that mix the often hysterical nature of environmental fear propaganda which immediately targets any new technology, most old ones, chemicals, genetic modification, and just the presence of humans. Now toss in some of the old fashioned greed encouraged particularly by the US legal system where juries can award multimillion dollar awards to people for any perceived or believed wrong. And then the constant scapegoating of humanity makes sense.

I was taken by the sad story recently published in the New York Times about a family that is dealing with autism which illustrates my point.

Bob Wright, in his day job is chairman of NBC/Universal. He and his wife Suzanne are also the founders of Autism Speaks, a charity dedicated to finding a cure for autism. The Wrights founded the charity when their grandson Christian was diagnosed as autistic. Yet the family is now split apart.


Daughter Katie, Christian’s mother, has bought into the argument that autism is caused by environmental factors. The environmental group says man is to blame for their woes. They claim that preservatives found in vaccinations are responsible for autism. And that only vitamin supplements and right diet can solve the problem. And Katie is pissed off that her parents haven’t embraced the “environmental” causes of autism sufficiently.

Katie insisted that vaccinations were the causes of her son’s problems. She told America that much on Oprah. Yet, as the Times notes, “No major scientific studies have linked pediatric vaccination and autism”. Of course today that means nothing. People have been taught by the environmental lobby to ignore science. Man is to blame. So the paper notes, “many parents and their advocates persist, and a federal ‘vaccine court’ is now reviewing nearly 4,000 such claims.”

This claim has potential I fear. First, vaccinations are produced by pharmaceutical companies and they have very large budgets. That means they can be held ransom for very large sums in settlements. And this can happen even if there is NO evidence they are responsible. All people need do is bring into court grieving mothers with their autistic children and present emotive accusations. The companies will produce scientists. The weeping families will present environmental lobbyists or hacks for the green movement. Jurors won’t know enough science. They will feel sorry for the families. No one ever feels sorry for pharmaceutical companies. The jurors will reason that Big Pharma can afford it and those poor families sure could use the help.

Jurors will find it easy to rule against the producers of vaccinations and award hefty settlements to each litigant and their child. Of course, there are many more such families waiting in the wings who are not part of the lawsuit. And the jury will never consider the long term ramifications of their generosity.

Vaccinations might become more scarce. At the very least they will become more expensive. Billions from Big Pharma’s budgets will be diverted to settlements for something for which they were not responsible. Research will suffer as a result. Even if all the settlements could be taken from profits that makes pharmaceuticals less profitable and thus discourages investment in the field. Less investment still means less research. Others will suffer.

As the prices of drugs go up the professional haters of “Big Business” will point to that as proof of the cruelty of capitalism and demand nationalization of the industry. Michael Moore might even make another one of his fictional documentaries. And they will point to the lack of research is some field as even more evidence.

The Wrights found themselves under attack by their activist daughter. She did an interview, with a man hawking his own book on the evils of vaccines, where she demanded that the “old guard” (her parents) give up their “failed strategies” and allow others (herself?) to “have a chance to do something different with this money.” The money in question is the funds raised by the Wrights to try and help find a solution to autism. Of course the Wrights were hurt and said their daughter doesn’t speak for them or for the charity. The daughter responded attacking her parents for “character assassination”.

But Autism Speaks has funded those who are in line with science and those who are not. Why the later I don’t know. One board member and contributor said: “If you look at what projects Autism Speaks has funded, we are agnostic.” That means they give the claims of the environmental lobby equal validity as that of science. This is sort of like the “intelligent design” of autism.

Bob Wright suggested that his daughter’s campaign is out of desperation. Her son’s condition worsened. “When you have that sense of hopelessness, and don’t see results you do things that other people think are too risky. The doctors say, ‘Wait for the science.’ But you don’t have time to wait for the science.”

And that is the problem with junk science. In this case they have an immediate scapegoat: vaccines. And they have an immediate solution: vitamin supplements and diet.

The daughter insists her parents aren’t doing enough: “Show me evidence that they’re actively researching vaccines.” (That is vaccines as a cause of autism not as a preventative.) But the science doesn’t back the vaccine argument. Never mind reality she knows what she believes. The daughter is understandable upset but she seems to be more hysterical and angry than rational and she seems to be blaming the wrong target.

Certainly there is plenty of reason to think that genetics, not environmental factors, are responsible for autism. Remember all children are vaccinated. So if vaccines are responsible then the number of cases ought to be pretty evenly distributed throughout the population.

Yet boys are more often victims of autism than girls. And the age of the father, when the child is conceived, seems to have a role. Fathers over 40 years of age are more likely to parent an autistic child. And they are just as likely to father an autistic daughter. Younger fathers are less likely to have autistic children and much less likely to father an autistic daughter.

One study has shown that that there is a 60% concordance rate for autism among monoszygotic twins but only a 4% rate between dizygotic twins and other siblings. So if the twins are identical the rate is 15 times higher. Other research says that the concordance rate could be as high as 90%. In other words the pattern of autism does not fit the theory that vaccines are the cause. But it fits the pattern that the causes are genetic and natural.

And if that is isn't enough researchers at the Institut Pasteur, in Paris, have pinpointed a specific gene responsible for some, though not all, cases of autism.

Perhaps something will blow the genetic theory out of the water. It can happen. But if one is trying to help find a cure for this problem then it makes sense to bet according to the odds. And the numbers strongly point to a genetic component not to vaccines. But that won’t appeal to some.

Science will take longer. Vaccines could be changed now. If naturally caused there is no one to blame but nature. If vaccines are responsible you can blame pharmaceutical companies. If nature is to blame there will be no settlements. If vaccines are blamed then settlements for everyone. If nature is to blame then the anger becomes internalized as there is no one to attack. If vaccines are to blame you can vent your anger at the pharmaceutical companies. If genetic, many parents fear that means they are responsible. Far better to blame Big Pharma.

There certainly are some benefits to blaming pharmaceuticals for autism. Unfortunately finding a solution to autism doesn’t appear to be one of them.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Why you should remember Mildred.

A lot of readers probably won’t recognize the name Mildred Loving. But her’s is a critical story in the history of American law. And it was 40 years ago that her story became a major issue in the courts.

Mildred was born, raised and lived in Virginia. And that is where she fell in love with soon to be husband, Richard. The couple went up to Washington to marry. But as she puts it, that wasn’t her choice. They married in the capitol because they could. In Virginia it was against state law for her and Richard to become husband and wife. She is black and Richard, now deceased, was white.

But they married legally and they had the marriage certificate to prove it. The in very late one night the couple found themselves being awakened by the local police. Mildred and Richard Loving were under arrest. As Mildred put it they were “arrested for the ‘crime’ of marrying the wrong kind of person.”

But Virginia refused to recognize legal interracial marriages from other states -- something a lot of conservatives would like to return to. So Richard and Mildred were put on trial for their relationship. The judge was quite clear. Tradition was against interracial marriage. The law was clearly against interracial marriage and even God was against interracial marriage.

With the majority of the population on his side, along with God, the law and tradition the judge sentenced the couple to prison. But he made them an offer. He would let them go free if they packed their things and left the state of Virginia never to return for a minimum of 25 years. Their sentence for the crime of marrying would be exile from their home.

The couple reluctantly left but they took the matter to the courts. And then on June 12, 1967 the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously that: “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.” As Mildred put it, she wasn’t fighting for a cause. She was fighting for the man she loved.

For the anniversary of that ruling Mildred Loving, now approaching 70 years of age, issued a statement:
Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.

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There goes the neighborhood.

I had heard that Tom Cruise was wandering around the neighborhood. Apparently that was confirmed. Mr. Cruise was in town on several missions including promotion of the bizarre Scientology cult. They opened a headquarters not far from here. But they are not widely welcomed.

Not long ago they were caught using a new recruiting tactic. They set up "tutoring schools" which purported to help students improve their grades in particular topics. But all the "tutors" are Scientologist and the students are encouraged to take the psychobabble tests which the cult administers. Of course they will discover that they way to improve their grades is to buy into the utterly strange theories of scifi writer L. Ron Hubbard.

I wouldn't recommend their rights be inhibited legally but I would warm people to stay as far away from these crazies as is humanely possible.

What did annoy me a bit is that Tom got special treatment from our zoo. Now the main entrance is two blocks from my flat and the zoo has become very popular of late. People are flocking in to see the new polar bear. But the bear is only out twice a day and I can't find out when. I would love to go see him but don't want to pay the admission price and then find I have to wait 4 or 5 hours to see him or missed the last opportunity entirely and have to come back the next day. Tom didn't have that problem. They opened the zoo just for him and gave him a personal visit with the cub. I bet the SOB didn't even pay admission price.

The cub was handed an E-meter and told how $50,000 worth of courses based on the teachings of L. Ron will improve his life. Okay, maybe not. But I shouldn't joke. Tom doesn't have much of a sense of humor and has been known to set his attorneys on people, a tactic his church uses as well. And since he apparently bought property not far from here it doesn't help to piss off the neighbors. So I should not mention that he's completely bonkers or that his cult leader was one of the most successful con men of the last century. And before he threatens a lawsuit I want to make it perfectly clear: I have never said he was gay. And that reminds of the hilarious Kathy Griffin comedy routine where she says: "How much fun is the Tom Cruise meltdown? Here's my favorite thing about it. He's so crazy the gays don't want him anymore." Funny stuff. Almost as funny as Scientology.

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Replace one bad idea with another.

I have commented on the lunatic theory of the “North America Union” conspiracy. And I was pleased to see AlterNet taking on this paranoid delusion. As with much you find at AlterNet it is some good and some bad. And I thought I’d mention what they had to say and respond.

First, they poo-poo the idea of an international plot of “globalists” to set a transnational government. And they are right when they say it is “an offspring of the John Birch Society right, with its attendant xenophobia and paranoia.” The conspiracy theory of the Birchers is bizarre.

First, the founder Robert Welch, went on about the Communists “conspiracy”. Now he was fairly solid ground except in thinking that there was a monolithic agreement among Marxists. There never was. The Soviets did present a problem and were a monolithic government which did do some horrific things. But the Left was not in lock step with the Soviets.

Welch got even more bizarre when he wrote that President Eisenhower was a communist agent controlled by his brother. Welch did have many loose screws.

Then in the mid 60s the Birchers latched on to the ideas of Dan Smoot that the Council on Foreign Relations was involved in a plot to merge the United States with the Soviet Union and to establish a one world government. He laid out his theories in his book The Invisible Government which was published by the Birchers. Smoot presented himself as an FBI expert. He did serve as a field agent in the FBI but the Bureau was rather unhappy with the quality of his work and he left under a cloud. He was reprimanded on several occasions. Smoot also claimed he was an “administrative assistant” to J. Edgar Hoover but the FBI says this was entirely false.

The Birchers, however, moved on. Now they started looking at the “banking conspiracies” espoused by various groups, especially by anti-Semites who argued the bankers were “Jews”. At this point Welch started concocting a grand conspiracy theory tying all this strands of conspiracism together. Welch was reading the wacko conspiracy books about Freemasons and such and came across the idea that an obscure order, the Illuminati, was involved. Eventually they became the main culprits controlling, from behind the scenes, all the other conspiracies.

Normally one would say: “And the rest is history.” But very little of what the Birchers claims holds up well when scrutinized. One ends up on an endless loop of conspiracy claims using the books of other conspiracy nuts to back up the book being read. Along the way there is a conspiracy for everyone. If you hate Catholics you can find books documenting the Vatican’s involvement with the plot. Hate Jews and there are hundreds of books you can turn to for “proof”. If you hate Protestants you can find Catholic conspiracists arguing that the Protestants are part of the conspiracy. Some argue the Mormons are and others argue the Mormons are good guys.

So out of this jumble of bad history and delusional thinking has emerged the “conspiracy” to merge the US with Canada and Mexico. That’s today. Tomorrow the world.

AlterNet, however, goes off the deep end as well. They pull in their left-wing obsessions. They argue that people are attracted to such wacko ideas as “an entirely logical reaction to the process of corporate-driven global integration that feeds in Americans’ very real and wholly valid economic anxieties.” This would be a good time to throw up.

The movement for free trade is often opposed by corporations who don’t want the competition locally. Everyone wants to be able to sell abroad and to have a protected market at home. So many corporations are leaders pushing for protectionist measures to limit their own competition.

But the really asinine comment is that the fears of the public are “real and wholly valid economic anxieties.” That is just garbage. It is mostly based on fallacies and economic illiteracy. It is not true and the economists of the world are pretty much in agreement on the benefits of free trade.

To back up the claim that these economic fallacies are legitimate the author of this piece resorts to counting heads informing us that 46 percent of the public thinks free trade deals are bad for America. And they believe they lowered wages -- in spite of rising wages to the contrary. Yet the same site laughs hysterically went Right-wing nuts pull out public opinion polls against evolution.

So the author realizes that the conspiracy theory is fringe material but is convinced that his own fringe economic theory (at least among professional economists) is absolutely valid. And he finds the fault to be the very thing he himself hates: free trade. How convenient. He speaks in way that implies he was one of “those” “who have spent years in trying to raise awareness of what’s really going on in the movement to blanket the earth in “free trade” deals...” In fact the author sounds like a nutter when he says: “Make no mistake, I’ve shed blood opposing corporate trade deals like NAFTA and the Free Trade Areas of the Americas, and there are very real and very significant problems with the push toward harmonization.....”

By the way harmonization is not the same thing as free trade and it is not good. It is a means by which bad policies are imposed on nations that have decent policies to limit competition. For instance the old EU countries are lumbering dinosaurs unfit to survive the modern world. They face stiff competition from the rising stars in Eastern Europe. So the old countries, instead of reforming their failed policies, are trying to impose the same burdens on the emerging markets in order to stifle their growth and make them less attractive.

The major difference between the AlterNet author and the lunatics he sets out to debunk is that he wants them to concentrate on his favorite hate group: corporations. He hates free trade, corporations and I would guess he isn’t found of free markets in general. And he wants the lunatic fringe on the Right to adopt his targets. I’m glad to see him debunk some of the lunatic conspiracy theories that he does. I’m disappointed to see him replace those Right-wing wacko theories with Left-wing wacko theories of his own.

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A cause for celebration.

Here is an excellent 20 minute video. More information below.

I hadn't heard of Hans Rosling until today. He is a professor of global health and a co-founder of the Swedish chapter of Doctors Without Borders. But this is a great presentation.

One of my personal "passions" has been on Third World development. I have long argued that one should not look at situations as static. Focus on the trend. The direction of the trend is more important than the current state of affairs since it tells you what you can expect. All the trends in the Third World have been good, for the most part. Thirteen years ago I argued that the "population explosion" was a dud and that the statistics showed rapidly declining birth rates around the world. The main cause of population growth was even more rapidly declining death rates. But the long term trend was toward a declining world population. I estimate the decline to begin around 2045.

In addition the wave of globalization has meant rapid increases in wealth for those nations that joined the free trade revolution. Those that refused to join had stagnant or declining economies. Nations like India, China and Vietname liberalized their economies and growth rates exploded reducing poverty and hunger. Old farts like scare monger Paul Ehrlich were wrong in the most spectacular ways. Based on trend the old Soviet bloc, or what I now call "free Europe", is good but the core EU nations are limping along, saddled by bad policies and stupid EU regulations.

This 20 minute presentation uses some fantastic animated graphics which illustrate the actual trends in the Third World. It is worth the 20 minutes of your time to watch. It goes a long way in destroying the perpetual gloom. There is a group of people predisposed to predicting disasters because if the public is alarmed they might be able to push through their "urgent" policies before people have a chance to consider the consequences.

This video has also been added to our on-line library of videos.

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