Monday, December 28

Antibody 'F77' kills prostate cancer in mice

Interesting news on the cure for cancer front, here's to hoping it pans out for humans...

Greedy private investors resist government redistribution and regulation

Horror of horrors, they're even bribing public officials!

Airborne terror by the numbers

Nate Silver does the non-fancy math:
Over the past decade, there have been, by my count, six attempted terrorist incidents on board a commercial airliner than landed in or departed from the United States: the four planes that were hijacked on 9/11, the shoe bomber incident in December 2001, and the NWA flight 253 incident on Christmas.

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics provides a wealth of statistical information on air traffic. For this exercise, I will look at both domestic flights within the US, and international flights whose origin or destination was within the United States. I will not look at flights that transported cargo and crew only. I will look at flights spanning the decade from October 1999 through September 2009 inclusive (the BTS does not yet have data available for the past couple of months).

Over the past decade, according to BTS, there have been 99,320,309 commercial airline departures that either originated or landed within the United States. Dividing by six, we get one terrorist incident per 16,553,385 departures.

These departures flew a collective 69,415,786,000 miles. That means there has been one terrorist incident per 11,569,297,667 mles flown. This distance is equivalent to 1,459,664 trips around the diameter of the Earth, 24,218 round trips to the Moon, or two round trips to Neptune.

Assuming an average airborne speed of 425 miles per hour, these airplanes were aloft for a total of 163,331,261 hours. Therefore, there has been one terrorist incident per 27,221,877 hours airborne. This can also be expressed as one incident per 1,134,245 days airborne, or one incident per 3,105 years airborne.

There were a total of 674 passengers, not counting crew or the terrorists themselves, on the flights on which these incidents occurred. By contrast, there have been 7,015,630,000 passenger enplanements over the past decade. Therefore, the odds of being on given departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1 in 500,000. This means that you could board 20 flights per year and still be less likely to be the subject of an attempted terrorist attack than to be struck by lightning.
Stop. Fucking. Panicking.

Saturday, December 26

Stranger than fiction

The decade in viral videos

Daily beast has a list:
This was the decade of the viral video, thanks in part to You Tube’s founding in 2005. Watch video of the funniest, saddest, craziest viral videos, well, ever.

Friday, December 25

The Obama Way

Ross Douthat gets it:
Obama baffles observers, I suspect, because he’s an ideologue and a pragmatist all at once. He’s a doctrinaire liberal who’s always willing to cut a deal and grab for half the loaf. He has the policy preferences of a progressive blogger, but the governing style of a seasoned Beltway wheeler-dealer.

[..] Absent political constraints, Obama would probably side with the liberal line on almost every issue. It’s just that he’s more acutely conscious of the limits of his powers and less willing to start fights that he might lose than many supporters would prefer. In this regard, he most resembles Ronald Reagan and Edward Kennedy. Both were highly ideological politicians who trained themselves to work within the system. Both preferred cutting deals to walking away from the negotiating table.

Nihilism only goes so far

Kathy Kattenburg summarizes Jon Chait on Republican nihilism:
Republicans only have one arrow in their quiver—the ideology of small government—and when faced with a problem that can’t be solved with a small government approach, they can’t adapt.

Cultural fairy tale bustin'

Growing up Jewish, I was very bitter about Christmas. And for everyone saying, “Well, you have Hanukah!” No. Hanukah is not the same. You don’t even get off of school for Hanukah, and it’s mostly about your parents giving you a present to shut you up so you won’t complain about being Jewish during Christmas and possibly convert later in life. There are hardly any Hanukah songs, and the ones we’ve got sound sort of like death hymns. If you’re lucky, you get, like, one non-denominational snowman decoration hung up, but he’s usually wearing a red and green scarf. Even Frosty loves Jesus, and he doesn’t even have a soul. Or legs.

I remember having a major crisis when I realized that Santa was only going to visit the Christian boys and girls. That seemed wholly unfair; why should they get free presents just because of their religion? Isn’t that discriminatory? So I asked my parents about the whole Santa Claus thing. They confided that there was no Santa, but I shouldn’t tell my Christian friends.

That is the moment that I realized I had the power to hold something over the other children at school, torture them mercilessly, and kill their childhood by revealing that there really wasn’t a Santa. It was the ultimate retort in any situation. You don’t want to play four square with me? Well, fuck you, there’s no Santa, it’s just your parents.

You say you sat on Santa Claus’s lap at the mall? Nope, that was just an unemployed fat guy in a red suit. Oh, your precious Santa Claus is going to come down the chimney and bring you lots of wonderful presents for being such a good girl? Think about the logistics of that. How is he going to come to every house in the whole world in one night? Even if he skips my house, he’s still got like a billion more to go. As fat as that guy is, I feel like running around so much after sitting on his chunky ass all year is just a recipe for a heart attack. Or is that what you wanted for Christmas, Sally? A big, smelly Santa corpse of your very own?

Inevitably, these conversations ended in tears as I watched my classmate’s sweet naiveté die, but at least I felt better about myself.

No wonder people hate the Jews. Pass the latkes!
A digger adds:
My Brother-in-laws family is very religious. Their son told my son there is no SANTA. My son then told their son there is no GOD. I guess we are even.

France to ban head scarves in all public places

The story:
France's ruling party says it plans to present a bill to parliament next month, which would ban the wearing of full Islamic veils in all public places. The party says the move should be seen as "a law of liberation."
A redditor comments:
As a French/American dual citizen, I have a possibly different perspective on this.

If this were the United States, I would be very much against this law, for entirely libertarian reasons. The United States is a nation of immigrants, and while there are always various groups trying to claim that their particular immigrant culture is somehow more "American" than someone else's (witness anti-Hispanic sentiment, for example, or the number of people that think that English ought to be legislated as the national language, or whatever) for the most part the concensus that thankfully eventually emerges is that unless you're Native American, you can stuff it -- your particular culture has no particular monopoly on what it means to be American, and no amount of whining will change that.

France, on the other hand, is not America. Unlike the United States, it is not a country of immigrants. There is such a thing, fair or not, as "French culture", and without making any sort of value judgment here, full-veil mandating sects of Islam do not qualify.

France has been relatively willing, despite not being founded on the principles the US was founded on, to welcome immigrants from other countries. Much of this perhaps was not altruistic, but rather fallout from France's ill-advised forays into colonialism in the 19th and 20th centuries. Certainly much of France's muslim population are in France now because they fought for France in the Franco-Algerian war in the 1960s and were forced to abandon their homes essentially because they chose the wrong side in that war -- something that France has been terrible about recognizing, frankly.

But I guess what I'm saying is that ultimately, the sort of "cultural chauvinism" that we have great disdain for here in the United States -- which this law would be an example of, in my opinion -- is a bit different in France (and in the rest of Europe, too). European nations have histories dating back millenia, they didn't develop their cultural heritage by melting together the traditions of myriad peoples over the last 250 years. That mixed character is precisely what makes the United States great, but the whole world is not the US.

Ultimately, if France decides that it wants to draw the line somewhere, if they decide that they want to be a secular society and that they don't like the symbolism they feel the veil represents, why shouldn't they ban it?

It's their country, after all -- and "they", unlike Americans, are a well-defined group.
I tentatively agree.

Liquid flouride thorium reactors

Apparently these could solve the world's energy problems.

Reason editor suggests his own magazine is lying


Thursday, December 24

Photo of the day

Two teenagers ate fast food as birds hoped for a nibble during the heaviest snowfall of the year in Moscow on Monday. (Maxim Shipenkov/EPA)

Wednesday, December 23

Sunday, December 20

Critique of The Phantom Menace

Via Tyler Cowen, a wonderfully genius 70-minute review...

Play them stereotypes

Texas to have the largest city in America without a bookstore.

WTF Snowe?

TPM reports:
After months in which the Senate health care bill was held up over efforts to find some form in which she would agree to sign on to it, Sen. Snowe (R-ME) now says she will oppose it because it is being "rushed."
There are cogent reasons to oppose the Senate's health bill. Being "rushed" stopped being one back in September-October.

My suspicion is that Snowe would like to support the bill at this point but doesn't have the patience to deal with the Full Metal Malkinization that would ensue from the right.

[Take 2] Barad-dûr was an inside job

I futzed the link before, but this is funny.

Earlier: Where were you when the death star fell?

Friday, December 18


Someone posted this to reddit, titling it 'The Wages of War'.

Another countered with links to these graphic images.

The decade in news photographs

at The Big Picture.. my favorite:

On May 19th, 2005, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit captured this stunning view as the Sun sank below the rim of Gusev crater on Mars. This Panoramic Camera mosaic was taken around 6:07 in the evening of the rover's 489th martian day, or sol. Spirit was commanded to stay awake briefly after sending that sol's data to the Mars Odyssey orbiter just before sunset. The image is a false color composite, showing the sky similar to what a human would see, but with the colors slightly exaggerated.

Thursday, December 17

Monday, December 14

Handbell strikeforce

Thirteen member handbell choir provides some unexpected accompaniment for a Salvation Army bell ringer on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan.

Sunday, December 13

Religious debates of old

Via the Dish, a video interview with Reinhold Niebuhr from 1958.

"The Exceptionally Tough Politics of Cyber Security"

Ambers explores:
Fact: if the NSA were to detect the presence of a malicious worm or destructive virus on a U.S. Internet server targeted at a bank, perhaps stealing money from that bank, it could do nothing but warn the bank. The bank, most likely, does not have the capacity to deal with the worm itself; the NSA does not have the legal authority to employ methods to screen out the bad code, even though it has the technological capability. You can employ any type of thought of experiment you want here. Entities like utility companies and banks often rely on overtaxed communications networks to assess their performance; those communications networks are extraordinarily vulnerable because they rely on vulnerable machines -- machines that are old and were built with technology that, in many instances, originated elsewhere. The backbone of the Internet itself is very fragile; the VeriSign corporation, which essentially runs the Net, deals with thousands of attacks per day, some of them harmless, some of them dangerous, some of them from state actors (like China), others from well-funded and savvy techno-terrorists.

This is a tech problem and a law problem. Congress is trying to come up with ways to designate certain types of corporations that are responsible for large segments of some major activity -- power generation, money transferring, information sharing -- as, essentially, too big to fail -- or be shut down -- by cyber intruders. The idea, in essence, would be to require these entities to submit to a cyber audit. In the event of a major attack, the government (actually, the Department of Homeland Security, using NSA technology) would have the authority to quarantine the problem until it was removed. As you might imagine, this approach raises hackles with a lot of people. The corporations resist the idea of government intrusion. Their CFOs don't see the risk, so they're not interested in spending money to preemptively solve the problem. Civil libertarians properly ask about oversight; who's going to watch the watchers? Technologists wonder whether there aren't other ways to protect the nation's information grid from systemic threats.

Friday, December 11

Quote of the day

"Swiss voters underestimated the impact on religious liberty when they voted to ban minaret construction. But Muslims whose nations persecute Christians, Jews, and other religious minorities have no standing to complain. The Islamic world needs to respect religious liberty at home before lecturing the West about intolerance, racism, hatred and Islamophobia."

—Doug Bandow on the minaret ban in Switzerland

SR-71 groundspeed check

A fine day's work.


My 7 year old son was on the computer last night, as I worked on dinner.  When he quit and went upstairs,  I jumped on to finish an article I had started earlier.  I clicked on my history and I see:

“Google search….Big Boobs”

He checked out a few pages. Then I see:

“Google search….Really Big Boobs”
Radley adds:
I was a seven-year-old boy once. That progression totally makes sense.

[..] The good news is, the kid’s probably headed for a long, healthy life.
 Where oh where was Google when I was seven?

One-sided thinking

Ignoring drawbacks makes any proposal look good.

How Newt Gingrich broke congress

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer explains.

Sentences to ponder

The Hill:
The College Football Playoff Act of 2009 would ban promoting, marketing or advertising a "national championship game" unless the game is part of a single-elimination playoff tournament like the National Football League playoffs. The bill threatens to hold college football's governing body in violation of Federal Trade Commission truth-in-advertising provisions.


Thursday, December 10

Deep thought

Broken clocks may be right twice a day, but clueless partisans are right half the time.

A response to Climategate

The Pew Center on Global Climate Change did a nice job (.pdf)

No Medicare buy-in?

Lieberman and Snowe may save us.

At this point my > 50% odds scenario is that we get something like the present Senate bill with its subsidies, excise tax, no denials for preexisting conditions nor recissions, the FEHBP-like national nonprofit on exchanges, no public option, no Medicare buy-ins, and it passes with Snowe's vote. That could be 61 for cloture, but I would bet on 60 without Ben Nelson.

Not a happy day for those of us on the right, but a small enough pill that I won't be gagging.

And it'll sure be a relief to finally have this health reform hoopla behind us.

Good news: we're still a center-right nation!

My takeaway from Douthat on Tony Judt.

"Take away their shovels and give them spoons"

Cato explains job creation.

Why did we divert so much capital into housing?

Read Megan on asset bubbles.

Chart of the day

But do note that it's misleadingly based at 25 mil.

NYT: "one in eight Americans and one in four children" receive food stamps.

I suppose that if we were to replace all welfare with a negative income tax, as I advocate, some of the resulting tax credit for low earners could be provided in the form of food stamps if we're worried that too much of the money is wasted on non-food items.

(ht nc)

Types of global warming skepticism

A dish reader writes:
The problem with your reader's simplification of the AGW deniers' argument is that he's speaking very generally and generously about one small battalion in a broad coalition of deniers.

We have the supposedly literate folks like George Will who don't understand what a trend is, and therefore they think the Earth has been cooling since 1998, ergo AGW is a hoax. Then we have the folks who think that the Earth may indeed be warming, but it's not because of human activity, or if it is, the absolute proof hasn't been found yet. Then we have the folks who think that it's too late, too hard, and too expensive to do anything about it, so, oh well, we'll deal with it and we'll "evolve." Then we have the Christian right, which thinks that God sets the thermostat, period, and scientists are evil ghouls who bring about things like the Holocaust. Then there are the worshipers of "common sense" who think it's a stroke of genius to say things like "carbon dioxide only makes up a tiny percentage of the atmosphere." And let's not forget the paranoid viral email forwarders who think that the East Anglia story is evidence of a genuine conspiracy fronted by Al Gore that seeks to make money by setting up carbon offset programs. And on and on and on.

It's a vast army of millions that is supported by the apathy of millions of others who, understandably, don't know what to think. The common bond is denial, and the common goal is to do absolutely zilch to change our habits.
Bold is my flavor. I further suspect that models of warming's deleterious effects are more uncertain and exaggerated than those sounding the alarm will admit, and am also not fully convinced temperatures are at a significant high compared to a millenia ago (pre-Little Ice Age).

I'm not against a Pigovian framework to reduce unnecessary emissions, but I insist that it be done in an economically efficient manner so that we're not wasting resources and can be sure it passes cost-benefit muster.  There are worse things than doing nothing--a convoluted giveaway to special interests like Waxman-Markey, for instance.

Quote of the day

"If the people that believed the moon landing was staged on a movie lot had access to unlimited money from large carbon polluters or some other special interest who wanted to confuse people into thinking that the moon landing didn't take place, I'm sure we'd have a robust debate about it right now." —Al Gore

Well there are other differences. No one is proposing drastic economic changes on the basis of the moon landings being faked. You can't pin the entire debate on people with a particularly strong vested interest in pollution (say, oil and coal companies). There are other things at stake.

Climategate: was data faked? [updated]

Read Megan and Willis Eschenbach.

Update: Kevin Drum responds here and cites Tim Lmbert of scienceblogs as well as Chris Mooney of scienceprogress (author of The Republican War on Science) on the bigger picture.

Wednesday, December 9

Game theory on innovation

Angus writes:
Class, repeat after me:
  1. Green jobs are NOT a zero sum game where nations are competing for a fixed number of them.
  2. If China or Germany or anyone develops “innovative energy technology”, that is NOT bad for us.  It is in fact *awesome* for us, as we can then adopt it and use it.
People, ideas are public goods. That is the whole basis of new growth theory. If China is now doing cutting edge R&D, that is an unmitigated blessing for everyone on the planet.
Wilkinson adds:
This is why it ought to be an embarrassment to exclaim in horror that the U.S. may be “falling behind” in the development of green technology. It is rather more illuminating to see government subsidies to research and the development of speculative technology as contributions to a collective global effort to explore the space of technological possibility.

The expected return to the average German taxpayer from German state science and technology subsidies is probably negative. But the global citizen’s expected return to global investment is probably positive. And the more others invest, the more positive the expected return is.  If some Taiwanese firm makes an enormous breakthrough, everyone will get to internalize the benefit of this new technology. We just don’t know in advance if the Germans or the Taiwanese or the Canadians or the Americans or whoever will make the discovery.

This kind of global cooperation sounds nice, doesn’t it? But we know all about games like this, don’t we? If Canada, say, puts an end to all state subsidies for science and tech, this really won’t much affect the probability of a major efficiency-enhancing discovery somewhere or other. Which implies that the average Canadian taxpayer, now paying for no national R&D subsidies, would see her expected return from international R&D subsidies go up. (And the greater the extent to which subsidies tend to go to the best subsidy-seekers rather than to the best innovators, the less taxpayers should worry about the downside of withdrawing their state’s support from the global effort of discovery.)

As a general rule, if nothing bad will happen to you if you free ride, it’s smart to free ride. Worrying that other countries are pulling ahead is like worrying that the other oarsman in your boat will beat you to the destination if you’re lazy. You’re in the same boat! The smart thing is to goad everyone else into going as fast and hard as they can. For a good while now, America has been a dim kid with ape strength happy to carry half the world as long as he gets to fist-pump, flex his pecs, and chant U.S.A.! U.S.A.! in the mirror each night. It’s a darn good deal for the rest of the world. America’s just too dumb to feel exploited. And too idiotically vain to enjoy a free ride.
Commenter nickbacklash goes further:
Worth noting though that, according to a fairly quietly released OECD study, state R&D subsidies don't make any net contribution to technological innovation, explained in this talk by Terence Kealey.

Science is not a standard public good. Not that this invalidates your wider point, there is just an even better reason for not [publicly] investing in R&D.

Photos of the day

Physically challenged Chinese swimmer Xuqing Jin dived into the pool as he competed in the men’s 400-meter relay race at the Basavanagudi Aquatic Centre in Bangalore on Tuesday. More than 800 athletes from 43 countries are participating in the weeklong International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation’s World Games. (Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images)

QUADRIPLEGIC HUNTER: James Cap, a quadriplegic since a 1979 high school football accident, held the tube in his mouth that he uses to aim and fire his shotgun in a shed where he hunts in Manville, N.J., Tuesday. Mr. Cap recently won a court battle to use the contraption.

The Gatekeeper

Peter Suderman profiles the CBO:
Created as an afterthought and initially intended as a low-profile congressional calculation service, the CBO has quietly risen to a place of unique prominence and power in Washington policy debates. Widely cited and almost universally respected, it is treated as judge and referee, resolving disputes about what policies will cost and how they will work.

But the agency’s authority is belied by the highly speculative nature of its work, which requires an endless succession of unverifiable assumptions. These assumptions are frequently treated as definitive, as if on faith. In practice, this means the CBO is not merely an impartial legislative scorekeeper but a keeper of the nation’s budgetary myths, a clan of spreadsheet-wielding priests whose declarations become Washington’s holy writ.

Take the logic further

Senate Democrats have reached a "broad agreement" on a health reform bill, Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday night — a plan that would replace the public option in the current Senate bill with a new national insurance plan offered by private insurers, and a chance for older Americans to “buy in” to Medicare.
How about also giving the rest of us a chance to opt out of Medicare?

I would gladly free the state from my future Medicare entitlements in exchange for being allowed the courtesy of keeping my own damn wages.

Why do progressives want to give us the option to opt in to more government insurance, but never out of it? And tell me again how these expansions of government health insurance are something other than incrementalism towards single-payer Medicare-for-all?

Anyhow, to the first part of the agreement: private national (as opposed to state-specific) insurance plans sounds great to me.

Tuesday, December 8

Data presentation

This is about the most effective presentation of data I've ever seen. I'm not even going to tell you the topic. It's just really, really good data presentation.

Copenhagen dispatch

Nate Silver doesn't have much to report yet, but what he does say is amusing:
It's been a long 20 hours or so in various sorts of planes, trains and lines. I'm used to keeping a relatively, uh, abstract schedule, but the overnight flight left a little bit too early for me to be tired, and then by the time I was getting tired, it was light out, and now -- even though it's just 2:30 PM here -- it's already about to get dark again.

The conference, at this point, feels more like a trade show than a political event, but it's cool to be surrounded by so many people from all over the world -- imagine the international terminal at JFK, but with even worse food and people walking by in giant tree costumes.

I did have a good conversation with a couple of Brits while waiting in line for my NGO badge. They were very bright and keyed in -- they run a green taxi company in London -- but I was surprised at how confusing they found American politics to be. How can the Senate require 60 percent to pass something? How can Delaware have as many senators as New York? What's up with the whole electoral college thing? How can Obama go from 70 percent popularity to 50 percent in a half a year? Could Sarah Palin really become President someday? The Guardian, among others, has some very good Washington coverage, but I think there's an opportunity for one of the UK dailies to provide a Washington column that's specifically geared toward a British or European audience: we tend to take for granted how freakin' weird our politics can be to the rest of the world.

Show them the money

Ezra op-eds:
In 2009, the average employer-sponsored health-care plan cost a bit less than $13,500. But virtually no one cut a check for $13,500. Employers generally pay more than 70 percent of their employees' health-care costs. To employees, that seems like a good deal, particularly given how fast costs are growing. A "benefit," as it's called.

But health-care coverage is not a benefit. It's a wage deduction. When premium costs go up, wages go down. When premium costs go down, wages go up. Yet workers don't know that. In fact, the information is hidden from them. That means that cost control seems like all pain and no gain, which makes it virtually impossible for Congress to pass. It's like asking someone to diet when they don't realize it will help them lose weight.

Cost control is not, in fact, all pain and no gain. It's some pain in return for a fat raise. A 2006 study, for instance, by Harvard's Katherine Baicker and Amitabh Chandra used malpractice payments to estimate the effect of premium increases on wages. They found that a 10 percent increase in health-care premiums "results in an offsetting decrease in wages of 2.3 percent" and an increase in unemployment of 1.2 percentage points. Compensation is basically a set sum for employers, and they don't seem to care much whether it goes into wages or into health-care costs.

Workers saw this in the 1990s. This was the era of the managed-care revolution, which most remember as a horrifying failure. Famously, audiences applauded when Helen Hunt broke out into a profanity-laden rant against HMOs in the movie "As Good as It Gets." The popular backlash was so intense that by the turn of the century the managed-care experiment was virtually over. The problem with this historic failure? The data showed the experiment to be a tremendous success.

From 1989 to 1995, median wages actually fell a bit. Then, managed care kicked in. Annual growth in health-care costs fell from more than 10 percent in the early 1990s to less than 5 percent in the late '90s. Meanwhile, wages shot through the roof, rising more than 11 percent from 1995 to 2000. Then we ended the managed-care experiment, and health-care costs resumed their normal speed of growth. Predictably, wages slumped back down from 2000 to 2006. "By every observable indicator," says Harvard's David Cutler, "managed care was a huge success. It cut spending, cut the growth of spending and didn't seem to kill anyone. And yet everyone hated it."

Of course they hated it. They didn't see its benefits, only its costs. They knew they were suddenly trapped in networks and being hassled by their insurers. As for their raises, those were nice, but why are you changing the subject?

When Americans rejected managed care, in other words, they didn't know they were ending wage increases, too. But since 1990, wages have tracked changes in premiums more closely than they've tracked the growth of GDP. Maybe if more workers knew that, they would be more interested in efforts to control health-care costs.
And adds on his blog:
The column ends by summarizing some ideas that have already been rejected (Ron Wyden's Free Choice Act, Chuck Grassley's proposal to add health-care costs to W-2 forms), and proposes one idea that should be added to the bill: "attach health-care costs to each paycheck. If employers listed the cost of health care alongside the bite taken by payroll taxes, it would be much clearer to workers that health-care coverage was coming out of their wages, not out of their employer's largess."

One of the lessons of this health-care reform process has been that cost control is extremely hard, in part because few of the system's participants really see an upside. Neither workers nor Medicare beneficiaries nor Medicaid recipients feel the full cost of their insurance coverage. Clarifying the connection between the cost of health care and, say, wages, would do a lot to make clear that cost control isn't just sacrifice. It's a trade, and you get something in return. That, in turn, would make cost control an easier lift next time. And there will be a next time, and health-care reform should be designed to make it easier.
Hiding health insurance from wages and calling it a "benefit" serves no purpose other than to increase the power of health providers, insurance companies, unions, and to some extent employers.

Markets are dysfunctional without price signals. Bring 'em on!

Hallelujah (Jeff Buckley)

A most beautiful song.

Monday, December 7

Atheist cat

Financial regulation

A way forward (ht Mankiw)


Australia, unfree

"Australia refused to give Rebellion's new Aliens Vs. Predator game a rating, effectively banning it in the country. Rebellion says it won't be submitting an edited version for another round of classifications, however. (As Valve did with Left 4 Dead 2.) They said, 'We will not be releasing a sanitized or cut down version for territories where adults are not considered by their governments to be able to make their own entertainment choices.'"

Sunday, December 6

Internet-enabled atheism

Via Andrew, Unreasonable Faith floats a theory:
Atheists have always been a minority. Religious minorities are frequently in an awkward position, particularly when the majority considers their very existence to be a challenge. So atheists have tended to keep quiet, sometime not even realizing that the person they are speaking to is another atheist.

The internet has alleviated some of this problem. First it provides a semi-anonymity, which allows people to speak freely. Second, it’s created a way for people who are geographically spread around the world to meet together and discuss. So the internet provides something of a support group, which makes the atheists stronger and more confident. This also produces a group polarization effect, which makes the stronger atheists more confrontational.

So when folks like Dawkins came along, there was a ready made audience for their work. The success of The God Delusion helped get other atheist works published, creating the wave of “New Atheists” we see today.
I remained a theist in 1999. Without internet access to open my mind over the past decade, I might still be one. Or at least the transition would've been slower.

In god we trust

MANHATTAN - The money ran out first. Then the food.

Over three months in 2006, as her five children grew more emaciated and listless by the day, Estelle Walker made no move to find a job, no effort to scrounge up a meal, her kids told a jury yesterday.

"We were supposed to wait for God to provide," said Walker's oldest daughter, now 21. "And that's what we did."

At one point, the daughter said, she and her siblings went 11 days without food. When police were at last summoned to the Sussex County cabin by neighbors, investigators found the children so malnourished they had difficulty talking.

[..] they said Walker never tried to get any assistance for her family, either from her estranged husband or from other relatives. She likewise avoided seeking help from two churches near the Hopatcong cabin where they had been staying, the children said.
Though she had previously worked as a teacher, Walker made no effort to earn money, her children said.

"She never tried to get money or food or get a job," the 16-year-old daughter said.

In 2005, Walker and the children -- then ages 8, 9, 11, 13 and 18 -- had been placed in the cabin by their church, Times Square Church of Manhattan, to help them escape what Walker claimed was her husband's alcoholism. The cabin is owned by church members who open it for retreats.

Walker was due to leave the cabin in May 2006 but refused, saying God had told her to stay, church members have said. The church then cut off her support and began eviction proceedings.

The invocation of God has been a theme throughout the trial's first three days. Before the jury entered the courtroom yesterday, public defender Ronald Nicola told Judge N. Peter Conforti that Walker had been refusing to take an active role in her defense.

"She says, "God is my defense,' Nicola told the judge. [..] Asked by Conforti why she is not participating in her trial, Walker told him she saw no point in it.

"I don't feel the need to continue to go over the documents that we've been going over for three years," she said. "God will defend me."

[..] Last year, Walker rejected a plea-bargain offer that would have required no additional incarceration other than the one year she already served in the county jail, if she agreed to undergo additional psychiatric testing.

Sunday viewings

The Prisoner (1967)

Available labor rate increases to 10.2%

WASHINGTON—In what is being touted by the Labor Department as extremely positive news, the nation's available labor rate has reached double digits for the first time in 26 years, bringing the total number of potentially employable Americans to an impressive 15.7 million.
Enlarge Image Solis

"This is such an exciting time to be an employer in America," said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, adding that every single day 6,500 more citizens join America's growing possible workforce. "There's such a massive and diverse pool of job-ready Americans to choose from. And each month the number only gets higher."

"While our current available labor rate of 10.2 percent isn't quite as robust as it was in 1982 or 1933, we're happy to say that reaching that benchmark is no longer out of the realm of possibility," Solis continued.

According to the Department of Labor's report, nearly 200,000 more Americans suddenly became fully hirable in October alone. And November saw unprecedented gains in the number of high-quality auto workers, teachers, lawyers, part-time retailers, and even doctors who could be employed.

Saturday, December 5

Energy efficiency and the Age of Petroleum

Perry has some thoughts:
The Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stones, and the petroleum age won't end because we run out of petroleum.

Likewise, the age of horse/animal power didn’t end because we ran out of animals, and we didn’t stop using steam power because we couldn’t build enough steam engines.

And the age of whale oil didn't end because we ran out of whales, and the age of using wood for heating homes didn't end because we ran out of trees.
There have of course been problems with overwhaling ("Save the Whales", anyone?) but this was long after alternatives to whale oil.

Twenty years for a download

Two years ago, Matthew White searched Limewire for porn. He was looking for 'College Girls Gone Wild,' but ended up downloading some images of child pornography. This was accidental, according to White, and he quickly deleted the images. A year later, the FBI showed up on his family's doorstep and asked to search the computer. After thorough sleuthing, the FBI found some images 'deep within the hard drive.' According to White, the investigators agreed that he himself could not have accessed the files anymore. Matthew now faces 20 years in jail for possession of child pornography. On advice from his lawyer, he intends to plead guilty so that he will 'hopefully' end up with 3.5 years in jail, 10 years probation and a registration as a sex offender. 'The FBI could not comment on this specific case, but said if child pornography is ever downloaded accidentally, the user needs to call authorities immediately. They may confiscate your computer, but it's better than the alternative.'"

I see dumb people

Friday, December 4

Government cost control is a joke

MR again:
Breaking a three-day stalemate, the Senate approved an amendment to its health care legislation that would require insurance companies to offer free mammograms and other preventive services to women.

The vote was 61 to 39, with three Republicans joining 56 Democrats and the two independents in favor.
This happened directly after the release of evidence showing that many mammograms do not pass a comparative effectiveness test.  Once the test became a public issue at all...well, now you see what happens.  CBO, take note.
A real market in consumer-driven health plans and HSAs remains the only effective health reform, but nobody's listening.

Instead Democrats are on the cusp of passing more mandated coverage and increasing subsidies to the system they've broke (to no small extent with similar mandated coverages or "patients' bill of rights" at the state level). This of course is in addition to the other market distortions like tax credits for employer-based healthcare and spreading the stigma that employers should be responsible for the (grossly inefficient practice) of negotiating for their employees' health plans.

Herein lay Democrats' political power: they keep breaking the market and then promise to save you from its evil.

Addendum: Megan discusses.

Thursday, December 3

The view from Pakistan

Regarding the Af-Pak situation, here's commenter Vaneeza at Library Grape, lightly edited:
The situation is much more complicated than it seems and definitely too complicated for Sarah Palin to understand. The war in Afghanistan is not one that can be "won". I think the Obama administration still understands the situation better than the Republicans. We are seeing changes in their way of dealing with us. When Hillary Clinton came to Pakistan, although her visit was short still she utilized it pretty well. She did a number of debates with our top journalists on tv who asked many difficult and critical questions. The way she answered them and took all the questios and criticism tactfully and gave replies to them was wonderful. I myself watched many of her interviews on TV. She went to a number of mosques and shrines. She showed her respect by covering her head going there. These are the things that mean a lot to the common man here. For me, it was a refreshing change that she pronounced “Pakistan” correctly unlike other Americans.

The aid that is coming from America, for the first time is going to non-governmental organizations instead of the pockets of our corrupt politicians. They will get some part of it but the fact that any part of it will be going directly to NGOs too is amazing. Although the common man can still not be won by just these measures as the history of mistrust goes back to decades but these measures still do at least some pat in easing the tension. Increasing troops in Afghanistan might help a little but you need to understand that Pakistan is at the center-stage of this whole drama. Some Taliban in Afghanistan are locals but most of them are foreigners and we all know that a huge number of them come from Pakistan who are trained at here. Whenever the America launches a full scale military offensive against them, they just come here to Pakistan which they consider a safe haven and as soon as things get better there they go back.

Even if they are stopped from escaping to Pakistan by tighter border control and lets say all of the Taliban are killed in Afghanistan, more will be recruited from these same madrassahs and extremist training camps from Pakistan. America keeps launching drone attacks from time to time in our tribal areas which have been effective but have caused a large number of civilian casualties as well. What needs to be done is better intelligence services and attacking the militant safe havens and training grounds in Pakistan secretly in association with Pakistani government. This goal can be achieved with the help of American intelligence agencies. It is true that Pakistani government needs to do more in fighting these terrorists. Unfortunately our politicians are just as bad as the military dictators. I do believe that the government in some ways is trying to make things bad here to get more aid from America which obviously wont go to the people but to the pockets of the politicians themselves.

Some people do believe that some or even most of the bomb blasts in Pakistan are actually arranged by the government so they can show to the world and especially America that “look what Taliban have done and what they are capable of and what they can do to you also, so give us more and more money in aid and funds that we can use to fight Taliban”. Most of the money in fact goes to their own pocket and little goes to do what it was given for. The government of Afghanistan lead by Hamid Karzai is also very corrupt. He is sometimes called the “the corruption king”. Until more schools and hospitals and factories and jobs are created in Afghanistan and the quality of life of afghans is improved , no real change can come. Sometimes they become Taliban because that’s the only option they have. Also there are a number of madrassahs still operating in Pakistan who turn regular people who just want to get knowledge about Islam into terrorists. Even in a lot of mosques, the Friday sermon is more America bashing speeches than anything related to Islam. There are religious shows and channels on TV that preach extremist ideology and urge people to take up arms.

Nothing is being done about them by the Pakistani government . All that is very important, because nobody can deny Pakistan’s role in the war that is going in Afghanistan. There is a lot of social unrest here in Pakistan. The poverty, unemployment and inflation are out of control. People are selling their children and committing suicide because they cannot provide for their families. It is much easier to persuade a person like that to take up arms to go on a “road to heaven” than someone who actually has some part of his/her life in control. Our mullahs come in all shapes and sizes, hair styles, beard styles and clothing to cater to the religious needs of all social strata. It is more like a business. The other day a more modern looking mullah on TV with a shorter beard and a pant suit with few sentences of English sprinkled here and there in his speech was urging young people to India as it was the prophecy of prophet Muhammad. This is so frustrating that these type of psychos are allowed to spread their message of hate and war on TV with no restrictions.

So America should urge Pakistani government to do something about these mullahs and madrasshas and TV channels also who are misleading people, recruiting more Taliban and making things worse for America in Afghanistan.

Sentences to ponder

This comes via MR:
Remember too that when you have a progressive tax system, especially when there are surcharges on people making seven-figure incomes, you also have a system where for any given level of national income, the greater the inequality, the greater the government’s tax revenues. And indeed federal revenues have been rising faster than median wages for decades now, thanks to the rich getting ever richer.

Given the government’s insatiable appetite for cash, it’s only natural that it would prefer to tax plutocrats, spending some of that money on poorer Americans, rather than move to a world where poorer Americans earn more (but still don’t pay that much in taxes), and the plutocrats earn less, depriving the national fisc of untold billions in revenue.

The government’s interests, then, are naturally aligned with those of the plutocrats — and when that happens, the chances of change naturally drop to zero.
Even yet another reason to support a flat tax.

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