Saturday, July 30, 2005

Blog Depression


As a public service, we are releasing this image from The Nonist's helpful brochure on blog depression.

Please consider the dangers of blog depression before embarking upon your own electronic printing press project.

Blog depression can be staved off in many ways, one of which is to add think tank all-stars to the contributor list. Welcome, Herb London.


Friday, July 29, 2005

More Leadership From the Left Coast

I have a short essay today in Medical Progress Today on an initiative on the California ballot forthcoming this November. It essentially is a full-employment act for the lawyers, masquerading as pharmaceutical "compassion" for the middle class. If passed, upheld, and implemented, it would destroy the pharmaceutical sector nationwide. It can be found at
http://www.medicalprogresstoday.com/spotlight/spotlight.php.

Comments welcome.

U.S. Economy Continues Growth

From AP: "The economy clocked in at a chipper 3.4 percent annual growth rate in the second quarter, fresh evidence the country's business climate is healthy despite surging energy costs." (See "Economy Grows Despite High Energy Costs.")

The story notes, "The solid increase in the gross domestic product for the April-to-June quarter, reported by the Commerce Department on Friday, came on the heels of a larger 3.8 percent growth rate in the opening quarter of this year."

Unemployment continues to fall: "With the economy on solid footing, the nation's job market continues to plug ahead. The unemployment rate dropped to 5 percent in June, a nearly four year low, as employers expanded payrolls modestly."

The AP story noted that growth has been slighly slower than expected: "Economic growth averaged 2.8 percent over the last three years, down from the 3.1 percent that originally had been reported for the period.

"For all of 2004, the new figures show the economy expanded by 4.2 percent, versus the old estimate of 4.4 percent." However, the story noted, "Even with the slightly lower growth, last year's performance was still the best since 1999."

The Bush economy began in 2002.

Columbo: Season One, Pilot

I am now in possession of the first season of the Columbo television movies. Last night I viewed the pilot for the first time. Very interesting. Peter Falk's Columbo is a little different in this version and so is the obligatory villain played by Gene Barry.

Barry is a psychiatrist who crafts the perfect murder of his wife who is threatening to ruin his medical practice with a scandalous divorce. His execution is picture perfect. Enough issues to keep Columbo on his tail, but no proof, not even circumstantial evidence. The scenes where Columbo and the murderous psychiatrist engage in conversational duels are outstanding, particularly when they begin to speak more frankly.

At one point, the two speak of a hypothetical murderer and Columbo asks the psychiatrist to construct a profile. They both know he will be speaking of himself. He states that the murderer is highly intelligent, a professional man, patient, strong nervous system, etc. Columbo interjects: "But wouldn't someone who takes a human life in cold blood be insane?" "No," the psychiatrist answers, "Morals are all relative and murder is simply one option among many. An intelligent man would use it if need be." Paraphrasing a bit here. This is the great part. Columbo says, "Well, that's interesting. I guess a fellow like that would figure he's very hard to catch, but there's a problem. The murderer gets one chance to commit the crime. One chance to learn. But a man like me sees a hundred crimes like this in a year. It's my business." Finally, the psychiatrist begins to pale a bit as he realizes he may be outgunned.

The Columbo of the pilot is a little bit different from the detective of the long-running series. He is younger, better groomed, and angrier, much angrier. Any fan of the series needs to see this episode, which is surely the least-aired of the bunch.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

And Now for Something Completely Different. . .

Click here to read the real story of how Supreme Court Justices finish their careers.

Fighting a War Against Fanatics

The jihadist attack on innocent London residents as they made their way to work during the morning rush hour two weeks ago, and the subsequent failed attack, illuminate the grim reality of this era. Despite all of the claims about assimilating radical Moslems or moderating their sentiments, it is clear that whatever Western motives may be, jihadist goals are unremitting: undiluted destruction and sanguinary nihilism.

With another 700 injured and at least 50 killed, it is time to face this truth. These fanatics are intent on killing and maiming as many people as they can. Negotiations are not possible. With whom would one negotiate in any case?

Difficult as it may be for well meaning liberals to accept, jihadists are different from those of us who share Judeo-Christian principles. They are at war with the West and it is a war in which civilization itself is at risk.

This is not merely a war for hearts and minds, it is a war of life and death. The West is at the crossroads. It is one thing to say, as Tony Blair has, that we will prevail. How we will prevail; what we must do to prevail? These need to be answered.

It is instructive that MI5 reports that “only 1 percent of Muslims in the U.K. are extremists.” However, that one percent translates into 16,000 potential terrorists. The “only” in the intelligence report speaks volumes about British political correctness.

A call for realism is in order. We can no longer tolerate sermons from mosques that justify slaughter or martyrdom. We can no longer allow foreign-born, noncitizen fanatics to live in our nation or any civilized nation where they plan attacks or marshal support for attacks. We can no longer simply assume that through Herculean effort radical Muslims will embrace the essential creed of our civilization. We can no longer allow our Constitution to be used against Americans. Freedom of religion is not freedom to promote carnage. The Constitution is not a suicide pact.

Even after 9/11 our Secretary of Transportation refused to consider “profiling.” From any perspective he was more intent on the maintenance of a liberal agenda than public safety. That decision is a metaphor for the war on terror. We cannot fight this war effectively with at least one hand tied behind our backs.

Now that body parts have been exploded on to London streets, the public may awaken from its tranquilized state. This war depends on an all-out effort to win. Half measures won’t do, nor will good-will. The time has come to remove our ideological shackles and fight this war with every once of strength we, as a people, can muster. Our destiny and the destiny of our civilization depend on it.

A longer version of this item appeared on FrontPage magazine.


New Member of Reform Club Blog

I am delighted to announce that Herb London has joined the Reform Club blog. Herb is president of the Hudson Institute, Professor Emeritus at New York University, and author of hundreds of articles and numerous books, the most recent of which is Decade of Denial (Lexington Books). Herb, as most reasonably well informed people know, is a brilliant and respected commentator on a wide variety of subjects, and we are extremely fortunate to have him on the team.

The Economics of Willy Wonka

Update: Welcome, Carnival of the Capitalists readers! Check out more great stuff on the Reform Club homepage.

The Viking Child and I saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this afternoon. I’ve liked Tim Burton for a long time, and this film is one of his best. Johnny Depp is certainly one of the most interesting, and most talented, actors of his generation. A Dahl purist might object to the invented backstory of Willy’s disturbed childhood as the son of Saruman the Dentist; it didn’t bother me, it was sufficiently Dahlian to fit, and it helped flesh out the persona of a man who looks like Anna Wintour on purpose.

But if I want to blog about a movie two weeks in the theaters already, I have to have some oddball schtick and here it is: Willy Wonka as a primer on economics.

When we first meet the Bucket family, they are mired in comically desparate penury: one breadwinner, five dependents, and cabbage soup every night. Mr. Bucket is an honest and industrious man, but he can’t earn much, because he puts caps on toothpaste tubes by hand. Since an employer can’t afford to pay him more than the value he adds to the product at the margin, he makes a peasant’s wage and eats a peasant’s diet.

There’s a massive, modern, efficient factory right next to the Bucket house – the Wonka works – but there are no employment opportunities there. Grandpa Joe once worked for Mr. Wonka, but that all ended with a rash of industrial espionage. Some of the Wonka workforce were bribed to steal secret recipes for his competitors, and in response Wonka fired everyone and closed the factory. Wonka’s competitive advantage at candymaking is his fertile creativity; if his intellectual property rights can’t be defended, he can’t afford to keep inventing things. And although this was bad for Wonka, it was worse for Grandpa Joe. Wonka eventually found an alternative source of labor that wasn’t so untrustworthy. Grandpa had to go lie in bed with three other old people and eat cabbage soup every day.

Keep that in mind the next time you feel like bashing Big Pharma when they defend their drug patents.

Although things are bad for the Buckets at the beginning of the film, they get worse. Mr. Bucket loses his job at the toothpaste factory, when the demand curve for toothpaste shifts east in response to an exogenous demand increase for candy caused by the Wonka Golden Ticket craze (since of course toothpaste and candy are complementary goods). You might think that what’s good for toothpaste is good for the Buckets, but paradoxically the firm’s increased revenues give them the cash position to enter the capital market and purchase a machine that screws caps on toothpaste tubes and makes Mr. Bucket redundant.

Then Charlie finds a 10 pound note (or maybe it was a 10 euro note, or some made up currency. Ten somethings, though) half buried in the snow, takes possession of it, buys a Wonka bar and gets the last Golden Ticket. You might cavil that Charlie should have taken the note to the police and reported it as lost. I say he mixed his labor with an abandoned physical good, all according to John Locke, and it became rightfully his.

Most of the time spent in the Chocolate Factory is microeconomics free, but afterwards the Bucket fortunes improve when the toothpaste makers hire Mr. Bucket back at a significant wage increase to fix the machine that screws the caps on the tubes. This illustrates that Mr. Bucket’s previous poverty was in part due to insufficient capital to mix with his labor. While in the short run the capital purchase seemed bad for Mr. Bucket, in the end it’s once again shown that workers are more productive and better compensated when they have more capital to work with.

Next week: Baseball’s Antitrust Exemption and The Bad News Bears

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Philosopher's Dream

After yet another round of head meeting wall of denial in the comment room, I am reminded of a story about a philosopher who kept having the most interesting dream. In his dream, the philosopher saw himself meeting the greatest minds of history in debate. With a single remark, he sent each of them away despondent and defeated. No matter whether they were natural law theorists, Christians, atheists, agnostics, continental, analytic, Freudians, Marxists, behaviorists, nihilists, whatever, he sent them away with his awe-inspiring single remark.

The only problem was that he would wake up each morning completely unable to remember what his atomic statement was. The greatest piece of argumentation of all-time and he couldn't remember it!

After having the dream several more times he read that some dreamers could wake themselves long enough to take notes on their dreams before collapsing back into unconsciousness. He resolved to do so himself. He placed a pencil and notepad by his bed and spoke very sternly to himself about the need to wake up. Despite the tension caused by such rigorous concentration and self-talk, he finally managed to fall asleep.

The dream faithfully recurred. Amazingly, he managed to rise and scribble the deadly argument on the pad. As he finished his note unconsciousness descended and he immediately returned to slumber.

He awoke to the sound of his alarm clock with great expectation. He remembered having woken from his dream and having made a note. He could barely get his eyes to focus on the pad he held with shaking fingers. With great discipline he mastered himself and read the inscription only to go pale with disappointment as he read what it said:

"Well, that's what you say. . ."

Krauthammer on Gitmo

I'm linking to this column by Charles Krauthammer because it recapitulates my sense of what's happening in Guantanamo and how we should respond to it.

I'm open to a revised opinion based on hard fact, but for now I think Krauthammer has it about right.

Here's an excerpt:

The self-flagellation has gone far enough. We know that al Qaeda operatives are trained to charge torture when they are in detention, and specifically to charge abuse of the Koran to inflame fellow prisoners on the inside and potential sympathizers on the outside.

In March the Navy inspector general reported that, out of about 24,000 interrogations at Guantanamo, there were seven confirmed cases of abuse, "all of which were relatively minor." In the eyes of history, compared to any other camp in any other war, this is an astonishingly small number. Two of the documented offenses involved "female interrogators who, on their own initiative, touched and spoke to detainees in a sexually suggestive manner." Not exactly the gulag.

The most inflammatory allegations have been not about people but about mishandling the Koran. What do we know here? The Pentagon reports (Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, May 26) -- all these breathless "scoops" come from the U.S. government's own investigations of itself -- that of 13 allegations of Koran abuse, five were substantiated, of which two were most likely accidental.
Let's understand what mishandling means. Under the rules the Pentagon later instituted at Guantanamo, proper handling of the Koran means using two hands and wearing gloves when touching it. Which means that if any guard held the Koran with one hand or had neglected to put on gloves, this would be considered mishandling.

A False Claim We Hope Won't Stick

"I don't have to prove that it causes cancer," an attorney told the Associated Press. "I only have to prove that DuPont lied in a massive attempt to continue selling their product."

So reports Michael Fumento in this excellent report on the latest example of rich lawyers trawling for big corporate pockets to plunder. Fumento notes that two law firms have filed a class action lawsuit against Dupont, Inc., makers of Teflon, for $5 billion. Their claim: that a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, which is used in the production of Teflon, is dangerous to humans because it causes cancer in rats when administered in dosages just short of instantaneously poisonous levels.

The purpose of the tort system, of course, is to provide redress to individuals harmed by other persons within the society. And if anyone has truly been harmed by Teflon, they have a right to sue the persons responsible.

As the lawyer's comment above demonstrates, however, the nation's tort system has been perverted into a proxy for the criminal justice system: a means of punishing supposed wrongdoers through the use of a weaker standard of proof—preponderance of the evidence instead of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Frankly, abusing the tort system in this way is a crappy, cowardly thing to do.

Any decent judge in a reasonable system would throw such a suit out immediately. Unfortunately, that probably won't happen. Read Mike's account here.

A Little Happening Christian Humor . . .



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We're also alerted to the fact that this filter "PROTECTS THE JOHNSONS!"

The Incredible Lightness of Howard Dean

His Airness (and that doesn't refer to his vertical leap) Howard Dean fired another shot into the alternate reality-based community in which he lives. By Dean's account:

"The president and his right-wing Supreme Court think it is 'okay' to have the government take your house if they feel like putting a hotel where your house is."

Dean perhaps missed out on the fact that the four dissenters to the Kelo eminent domain decision included the three most conservative justices: Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas. Get that man a newspaper, wouldja?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Club G'itmo

I've stated before that I think Rush Limbaugh transformed talk radio as much or more because of his talent and humor than because of his ideology. Assuming Guantanamo is more a detainment facility and less the raging chamber of torture horrors the Daily Kos groupies think it is, I'm linking to the hilarious merchandise Rush has for sale in the Club G'itmo line.

Sample lines from mugs, t-shirts, etc.:

"What happens at Club G'itmo, stays at Club G'itmo."

"My mullah went to Club G'itmo and all I got was this lousy t-shirt."

"Your tropical retreat from the stress of Jihad."

I think the last is my favorite.

Face Transplants and Face/Off

We've all seen the news accounts of the face transplants that will soon begin to take place. Interesting, hopeful stuff, particularly for those who have been severely disfigured. As I read, I began thinking of the highly implausible, but really entertaining film Face/Off which starred Nick Cage and John Travolta. What was hard to believe was that two men with really different bodies, hairlines, etc. could trade faces through surgery.

My wife, the doctor, pointed out a much better reason it would be implausible while I told her about the new transplants. She informed me (duh, why didn't I think of that) that face transplant recipients would not look like the donors because the bones of the face play a great part in defining the way the face looks. Interesting point.

Durbin/Turley/Roberts: The Real Scoop

Get it here from the good lawyers of Powerline.

Can a (Yuk!!!!) Catholic Uphold the Constitution?

There seem to be increasing doubts, among many on the political left, that U.S. Catholics are sufficiently respectful of America's constitutional system to be able to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. There are, of course, partisan reasons for this. The ongoing efforts to find something wrong with President Bush's current choice for the vacancy on the Court, John Roberts, have failed to uncover anything sufficiently damning to give Democrats a pretext for filibustering his nomination or turning moderate Republicans against him. Hence the focus has turned—rather desperately, I think—to his religious beliefs and the beliefs of his wife.

This past weekend, the New York Times reports, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin asked Judge Roberts directly whether he could uphold the Constitution.

"An opinion-page article in The Los Angeles Times on Monday by Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor, included an account of Mr. Durbin's question. Professor Turley cited unnamed sources saying that Judge Roberts had told Mr. Durbin he would recuse himself from cases involving abortion, the death penalty or other subjects where Catholic teaching and civil law can clash.

"A spokesman for Mr. Durbin and Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, who spoke to Judge Roberts on Monday about the meeting, said Professor Turley's account of a recusal statement was inaccurate.

"But in an interview last night, Professor Turley said Mr. Durbin himself had described the conversation to him on Sunday morning, including the statement about recusal. Whatever the conversation in the senator's office on Friday, Mr. Durbin's question hit the fault line between liberal anxiety about theocratic intolerance and conservative fears about hostility to religion."

Durbin, however, would not confirm Turley's claim, and an aide cast doubt on the professor's interpretation of his conversation with Sen. Durbin, according to the Times:

"Mr. Durbin declined to discuss the issue on Monday. A spokesman, Joe Shoemaker, said, 'What Judge Roberts did say clearly and repeatedly was that he would follow the rule of law, and beyond that we are going to leave it to Judge Roberts to offer his views.'"

What I find fascinating here is the readiness to believe that membership in a church that has 65 million members in this country is sufficient to cast doubt on a person's devotion to their nation's constitutional principles. The Times story reports, however, that at least one major political activist on the left finds that conclusion to be unfair:

"Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way said, conservatives were 'laying a foundation or somehow setting up a dynamic that if you are against John Roberts you are somehow anti-Catholic, and that is just pure poppycock.'"

But if there's nothing else particularly wrong with him, and people keep asking him about his religious beliefs, and then they say that they oppose confirmation of him for the Supreme Court, one can hardly blame Catholics for concluding something from that.

Unless, of course, it is all about abortion after all.

It would seem unwise for politicians in most states to offend Catholics by using religion as a stalking horse for abortion opinions.

In which case, I should respectfully suggest that the opponents of Roberts' confirmation simply come out and say that they will oppose any nominee who does not explicitly say that he or she will support Roe v. Wade with no alterations and no exceptions. Then, let the voters decide what to do about it when Senators from both sides of the argument face reelection. That is how a representative democracy is supposed to work, isn't it?

Moral Truth and the Existence of God

Joe Carter at the Evangelical Outpost has an interesting post on something we argue about quite a bit here, which is objective moral truth and whether God exists. Click here to read more. I particularly like this sketch of the argument because it includes stuff from the American C.S. Lewis, Elton Trueblood.

Harry Potter and the Editorial Half-Wit

The Writer's Write blog has the goods on the guy who missed out on the chance to buy the first Harry Potter book. Turns out his father missed Goodnight Moon, too. As Bugs Bunny would say, "Wotta Maroon!"

Here's a tidbit:

At lunch some time later I overheard our chief executive talking about the success of the Rowling book. So I happened to mention, with a chuckle, that we'd had a chance to buy it. Why is it that one remembers a long pause? "Chief?" I said, though to this day I don't know why, as no one called him that. "You what?" he asked, his voice trembling slightly. "May I speak with you in my office?"

The editor in question has moved on to another line of work.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Turner South and My Yard

I happen to rent the crappiest house and yard on one of the best streets in Athens, Georgia. The property is a real outlier compared to the well-groomed beauties around it. My landlord says he has a plan to rehabilitate, but it hasn't happened yet.

I said that to say this. Turner South showed up on my doorstep and asked if I'm interested in letting them remake my horrible yard. I said yes and referred them to my landlord. If the family gets some TV time, I'll be sure to alert the Reform Clubbers.

Here's the link for the show.

Details One, Devil Zero

Because a minor comments box riot broke out over the weekend, I've spent more time than any sane human would staring at government receipts numbers. Several charges were made in re: the Reagan era tax cuts (specifically ERTA, passed in 1981 and effective with the 1982 fiscal budget, although Reagan also oversaw another major tax restructuring, TRA, in 1986) with regard to the effect on tax revenues, budget deficits, and total debt:

Claim: Tax revenue decreased after ERTA and did not reach 1980 levels again until 1994.

Evidence: I have looked at every variant of revenue I can find, and I see no indication that this is true. I can't even divine where such a claim could have originated. It's not true for total receipts, on-budget receipts, individual or corporate income tax receipts....if the person who made this claim could clarify the source I'll look further, otherwise this one's tagged false. Total receipts did fall from the 1981 FY maximum of $1.077 trillion (constant 2000 dollars) to $1.037 tn in FY 1982 and were lower yet ($0.962 tn) in FY 1983. Thereafter, however, they began rising again, and exceeded the FY 1981 level in 1985, when the government collected $1.083 tn. Moreover, while the major effects of ERTA should have been reflected in individual income tax receipts, there was never a decline in that series (although there was a decline in corporate income tax receipts in 1982 and 1983).

Claim: The national debt quadrupled under Reagan.

Evidence: I can't get this figure out of the historical data, even if I measure gross debt in current dollars. Using FY 1981 as the base year (this is the last budget prepared by the Carter administration) gross debt during Reagan's two terms increased by 161% in current dollars but just barely doubled, increasing by 102%, in constant dollars.

Claim: Reagan's tax cuts caused the deficit, and the national debt, to soar. This refutes the claims of the supply siders, who swore that the tax cuts would "pay for themselves."

Evidence: The deficit, and consequently the national debt, did increase substantially under Reagan. But to blame this on tax cuts is rather like saying that if my husband gets a $5000 bonus and I go out and buy $10000 worth of furniture the next day, that our budgetary shortfall the next month was caused by his employer. The one did follow the other, certainly. It may even be the case that the windfall motivated me to go furniture shopping, and things just got out of hand. But it would be stupid to suggest that everything would be far better next year if his boss just didn't give him a bonus. It would be better still if he got the bonus, but his wife restrained her impulses. And I think that pretty much sums up Reagan and the Democratically controlled Congress with which he was saddled. It's true that Reagan didn't spend any political capital trying to rein in spending. He thought it more important to increase defense spending and end the Cold War once and for all. In hindsight, he was right. To continue my lame analogy, it's like I didn't run a $5000 deficit buying furniture, but hiring an exterminator to get rid of the termites that are eating the joists.

All the numbers I have used are available as tables in Bush's last budget. Or if you prefer to do your own spreadsheets, zipped Excel files are available from the GPO website.

As The Jay Flies

Some magnetic impulse has drawn me away from my Miami cocoon of comfort, inching ever northward alongside the Atlantic Ocean.

I would love to have someone offer me a boatload of money to write a travelogue, in which case I would engage every convenience store clerk and motel chambermaid in conversation, but in the absence of such incentives, I mostly avoid eye contact and concentrate on piloting my automobile from Point A to point B - or, if the flesh is weak, to Point A +300 miles.

Here is one smidgen of free sociology: there is a peculiar convention of formality that attends the conversion of verbal instruction into signage.

For example, almost every person behind a counter will point to the receptacle in the corner and inform you that it awaits your "trash" or your "garbage". However, virtually any printed sign to this effect will refer to its subject as "refuse" or "waste".

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Further Thoughts on Masonry

In his comment on my Perry Mason post of yesterday, Hunter Baker is absolutely right about the difference between the TV character of Perry Mason and the book version. Original Mason author Erle Stanley Gardner had control over the TV show, so the Perry you see there is the one Gardner wanted to present at that time to a mass audience. However, I think that the Perry of the books—especially during the first couple of decades of the book series—is far more interesting, and I am convinced that the TV movie or miniseries format would be an excellent way to recapture the full effects of the books for a new audience.

It's interesting to consider the A&E Nero Wolfe and Granada Poirot TV series in this regard: neither felt it necessary to go to great efforts to make the central detective character more personable and easy to "relate" to than they were in the books. These great characters are largely as the authors wrote them (allowing for the natural difficulties of translating characters and stories from one medium to another), and the series benefit greatly from these interesting , complex, and often unpredictable central characters.

I think that the Perry Mason TV series' domestication and bourgeoisification of Mason makes the stories far less interesting and effective than the novels were and still are. Given the recent precedents, I believe that a new series of movies could work brilliantly.

It appears to me that this would be an excellent project for A&E, the Hallmark Channel, TNT, or the USA Network—or perhaps even Granada or the BBC—to take up. There are dozens of great stories there just waiting to be retold for a new audience.