Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.—Churchill

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Stop The Presses

You'd better sit down. The Washington Post offers the following headline today: "Medicare Helps Push Drug Spending Up."

No kidding. When patients get a subsidy, they take advantage of it! And not just any subsidy: a federal subsidy defined as a budget entitlement for the purchase of prescription drugs under Medicare Part D.

Down around paragraph 2,938 it is noted as well that "The primary driver of the higher drug spending was increased consumption, not price increases..." This is not very surprising---notwithstanding the predictions of the usual suspects that prices would rise in the absence of federal negotiations of prices---in that Part D has expanded the market, for better or worse, and thus allowed the pharmaceutical producers to exploit the sizeable scale economies that characterize the cost conditions under which most drugs are produced.

And so we have some indirect but important evidence that an expansion of drug advertising would have a similar salutary effect on prices, again contrary to the simple-minded arguments of many that such advertising costs money, and so obviously it must drive prices up. How is it possible for some to get everything wrong? Good question.

[cross-posted from]

Who'd A Thunk It?

The January issue of Archives of General Psychiatry---we labor mightily day and night so that you, dear Reader, do not have to read such stuff---has a nice article reviewing the California data on thimerosal and childhood autism. You may recall that the purported link between thimerosal---a vaccine preservative containing ethylmercury---and autism is one of those conspiratorial fads promoted by the likes of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and believed with religious fervor by thousands of desperate parents despite the utter absence of systematic evidence showing any such effect.

Anyway, the article reports an examination of the evidence reported by the California Department of Developmental Services. The removal of thimerosal from childhood vaccines was accelerated between 1999 and 2001, and the data report the incidence of diagnosed autism by age and birth cohort from January 1995 through March 31, 2007. The finding? "Since 2004, the absolute increase and rate of increase in DDS clients aged 3 to 5 years with autism were higher than those in DDS clients of the same ages with any eligible condition including autism."

What does that mean? "The DDS data do not show any recent decrease in autism in California despite the exclusion of more than trace levels of thimerosal from nearly all childhood vaccines. The DDS data do not support the hypothesis that exposure to thimerosal during childhopod is a primary cause of autism."

Maybe Bobby the Child now will argue that Californians are just weird. And you know what? He's right.

[cross-posted from]

Friday, December 28, 2007

Faith, Religion and Atheists

Two articles last week had me thinking how easy it’s been for prominent blowhard atheists of late to control the terms of the debate. The first was in the Chicago Tribune, “Of books, faith and cathedrals: The mystery at the heart of religion is individual belief.” Notice how the author compares religious faith to that of the atheist:

Without question, the New Atheism sells. Even with what seems to me to be a smug, hip, self-congratulatory tone, these books do quite well. Hitchens' "God Is Not Great" is a best seller . . . . And unlike Hitchens and his fellow nonbelievers, I'm willing -- to employ the phrase of the great singer and songwriter Iris DeMent -- to let the mystery be.

Mystery. That's really the point, isn't it? The mystery at the heart of religious faith isn't about syllogisms or axioms. It's not about logic. It's not about what I think about your beliefs; it's about what you believe. Faith baffles. It's supposed to. It's as puzzling and inscrutable as the emotion one feels when strolling through a Swiss cathedral on a cold afternoon in mid-December, holding a book, minding one's footsteps on the chipped and craggy stone floor but dreaming, all the while, of sky.
Faith is in effect a synonym for religion, while the atheists get the logic, the syllogisms and axioms. Are you kidding me? As if Hitchens doesn’t have faith! We can say it is not religious faith, but it is faith nonetheless. In fact the leap of faith it takes to be an atheist is incomprehensible, because they have to believe that everything came from nothing. I would say that is impossible, but then that would be a self-evident truth that requires no proof, or yes, an axiom.

It is not religious faith that baffles, or puzzles, and it is certainly not inscrutable (i.e. incapable of being investigated, analyzed, or scrutinized; impenetrable). What is incapable of being investigated or proved is the philosophical pre-commitment of the atheist that nothing is responsible for everything. That truly baffles. There is much mystery in religion, and Christianity in particular, but it is not incoherent or illogical. People embrace it for many reasons, but not because it makes no sense. To allow the atheists to traipse around proudly wearing the unchallenged assumption that they are the logical ones with no need of faith is absurd. It is also not accurate or true.

The other article was a wonderful piece wishing Mr. Hitchens a Merry Christmas while making fun of the blowhard atheists. But it also gives them a pass on the faith issue. Here it is:

But for those of us who don’t need a God Helmet, who intuit a Presence all on our own, what Hitchens writes doesn’t matter. Here is a man who admits he has no faith, nor capacity for it, but presumes to write volumes on the topic.
Why do we allow the atheists to determine that faith is a synonym for religion? That’s what in effect is happening here. So we let these little blowhards think that we, the religious folk, we’re the ones who need the faith, we weak minded souls looking for a crutch before a threatening and uncertain universe. In fact, not only do atheists have faith, they have a gargantuan capacity for faith bigger than a black hole. How else could one believe (there’s the word, friends, they must believe, i.e. have faith) that, I say again, everything came from nothing? The only capacity they have bigger than faith is the capacity for self-delusion. It is we, the faithful, yes the religious, who inhabit the rhetorical high ground. Let us stop ceding it to the leapers.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas from the Moon

(This was our blog's message in 2005 and 2006. Another year has passed, but do the important things ever change?

Remembering the important things, as these men did, seems longer ago and even farther away with each passing year, and to some, even more silly. But Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all those here gathered anyway, and may we smile today, give thanks, and be inspired in the coming year to perpetuate their silliness...)

It was on Christmas Eve 1968 that the astronauts of Apollo 8, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, became the first of mankind to see an earthrise from the orbit of the moon, and looking back on us, they spoke these words:

Anders: "We are now approaching lunar sunrise. And, for all the people back on earth, the crew of Apollo 8 have a message that we would like to send to you...

"In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness."

Lovell: "And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."

Borman: "And God said, Let the waters under the Heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas: and God saw that it was good."

And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth."

It is good. God bless us, every one.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Darwin Goes Fishing

The above title was the one I gave to the following article that was rejected back in '04 or so by a magazine whose editor's eye amazes me in retrospect. Some months later, I took all of this and wrapped it into a slightly longer, much quoted and celebrated, article at Jewish World Review entitled Dare To Win. That ran on Jan. 26, 2005. In recently organizing my archives, I came upon this original version and was pleased to see how well this stood up in hindsight. See if you agree:

It was announced recently that the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the school district in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that has incorporated into its curriculum the idea that the evolution of the natural world is believed by some to be so complex as to have required intelligent design. Bring ‘em on, I say, this may be a blessing in disguise. There might be a chance to turn things around and gain some ground.

Although the theist view always wins vastly more adherents in the countryside than does its counterpart, the normative intellectual or academic view for over a century has favored Darwinism. The fireworks of the Scopes Trial, with Clarence Darrow besting William Jennings Bryan in feisty public exchanges, heralded the conquest of the classroom by the forces of evolution. This is what we like to call the origin of the specious notion that the question of creation has been debated and settled for all time.

Yet the courtroom has never been a venue suited to the rigors of scientific colloquy; it lends itself to the moods and tides of rhetoric. Mastery of the rip-roaring riposte serves one better here than the measured tones of the academy and the laboratory.

That very climate can be turned to favor any underdog, even when Bryan and Darrow have their roles reversed. When I lived in Cincinnati, the old-timers described to me how Rabbi Eliezer Silver, confidante of President Taft and many Republican politicians, won the right to build a Jewish ritual bath despite being sued by the Zoning Commission. Former Senator Taft, son of the President, was his defense counsel, and Silver took the stand on behalf of his cause.

The plaintiff’s attorney must have had visions of Darrow and Bryan dancing in his head when he stood up to cross-examine. He used a similar approach, asking if the rabbi believed that all the events described in the Bible were literal, such as the splitting of the Reed Sea and manna raining from the sky. He acknowledged that he did.

“And do you mean to tell this court and the learned gallery that you believe the story of Balaam in the Book of Numbers, that an ass could actually speak?”

“Sure I do. I’m seeing it with my own eyes.”

The courtroom exploded in laughter and the case was essentially won by a single well-timed witticism.

This Harrisburg case needs to be joined and fought with slogans and sound bites, both inside and outside the courthouse. Especially potent will be one key phrase, one key image, namely that this is the “Scopes Trial in reverse”. The public can be, must be, made to see this battle as the mirror image of the Scopes Trial. It is not a tussle between science and religion so much as it is a power grab by one view of science over another. This needs to be pounded over and over. It is a bullet point that needs to be reloaded into the chambers again and again.


Most importantly, one prime insight can frame this battle in terms that are amenable to the position espoused by the school district and have the added advantage of being true. It will not only have a decisive impact in the courtroom, it has the capacity to transform the popular debate as well. This simple idea, if promoted relentlessly and sold, is a nuclear bomb that will ramify in the culture for generations.

Namely, that there are essentially two separate theories advanced by Darwin. The first is that the process of the world attaining its current form was characterized by evolutionary transitions in its phasing, which built themselves into permanence by providing in each instance a fitter form or functionality. The second is the idea that this could have happened by itself without a conscious design.

In the past, this distinction was obliterated by the fact that most of the religionistic resistance to Darwin overreached by challenging elements of the evolutionary science as well. This led to their being diverted from the fundamental epistemological division between these two components of Darwin’s larger presentation. It is urgent that this wedge be driven into his work, driven now and driven hard. We are not debating evolution. We are challenging the separate theory that evolution could have happened without someone turning on the switch.

This approach would be devastating in the courtroom. If an attorney won early on from the judge the right to refer to Darwin One and Darwin Two as a shorthand for the two theories, the plaintiff’s case would be literally decimated. As pedestrian as this linguistic affectation may seem, it literally divides and conquers the opposition.

Once the battleground has thus been narrowed, the absurdity of the ACLU’s position is highlighted. In what way is it more scientific to say that evolution could happen by itself? Why is it unscientific to maintain that much information had to be encoded, in individual cells and in the stuff of matter itself, to facilitate evolutionary tendencies? The truth is that Darwin Two is an intellectual choice engineered not by logic but by a distaste for the idea of being beholden to a Creator.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Free Lunch for Lefties!

Michael Simpson writes below that for whatever reason, university professors tend to lean left.


In fact, one of my correspondents, who's a philosophy prof, tells me that as a self-defined liberal, he's far outnumbered by committed leftists on his own faculty.

And I consider my philosophy prof friend more a leftist that a "liberal," if a liberal has anything in common with FDR, Harry Truman, JFK, or Bill Clinton, which he doesn't, so go figure.

I could live with all that if only a leftist educator could educate.

But as sorta-right-leaning Robert Maranto, who actually worked for the Clinton Administration, recently wrote in the Washington Post:

At many of the colleges I've taught at or consulted for, a perusal of the speakers list and the required readings in the campus bookstore convinced me that a student could probably go through four years without ever encountering a right-of-center view portrayed in a positive light.

The problem isn't that the lefties in "higher education" attempt to influence their students toward their point of view. They do, and that's understandable---we're all human, and very few of us are truly neutral.

The problem is that these university professors seem incapable of educating about other points of view. I've yet to meet a lefty who could explain my righty point of view fairly, without making me into Hitler or Satan. That's the rub, and that's what Maranto's saying here.

Now, as a conservative, it's well-known that I dig war and imperialism and torture, no taxes, huge deficits, and pushing Grandma down the stairs after her wheelchair gets a flat. I mean, now she can't even fix me the breakfast I need to go out and exploit the American working man and the undocumented immigrant. So who could blame me for getting sick of her whining as her wretched, broken body crawls to the stove every morning, lest I be forced to have her put out on the streets to fend for her own miserable self?

Gran, I love you and all, but life is a business. Take a loan for that tire or something. Pull yourself together here.

In the real world, of course, I meself drive a 1991 Honda Civic that only has 3 cylinders left firing, and I couldn't exploit anyone even if I wanted to. Here in Los Angeles, the going rate for exploited undocumented day laborers is 10 bucks an hour, plus lunch if you're going to exploit them for more than 4 hours. I can't even afford to buy 'em lunch, let alone exploit them for the rest of the day.

So, I wish that the university could teach its young fetuses something, anything, about me, a lousy conservative whose yearly salary is often below the cost of a decent college's yearly tuition. I'd volunteer to host a student exchange program, except that the studentry would be repulsed. The dorm has cleaner floors and more regular meals.

But I'd pay to get yer typical college prof to come live how I live, oh yeah, even though I can't afford his hourly rate either. He'd learn a lot more than he teaches, and hey, I'd even make us lunch, or get Gran to do it, if she's still around here somewheres.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Right and Left in Academe

The disparity between the political affiliations of America's professoriate and the wider population is, well, a bit more than statistically significant. Something like 90% of the faculty ID as Dems and/or liberals. But don't worry, it's not bias in hiring, it's just the natural outcome of what liberals and conservatives choose to do. Libs like learning and conservatives like money. Or something like that.

Righty-o. Suppose that women were pretty much on level with men in their secondary and college educational achievements and then suppose that there was, nonetheless, something like a 9-1 male-female faculty imbalance. Just what folks choose to do, right? Oh, wait, no, THAT's an occasion for numerous conferences, subsidies for women hires, and an almost obligatory sentence at the end of every job ad that women (as well as "minorities") are "especially encouraged to apply." But conservatives? They're just greedy or stupid or whatever. Righty-o, dude.

Now, I'm not much in the conspiracy business and while I have *no doubt* that there is a liberal hiring bias in the academy, that's not the whole story. I mean, you can be as crazy Marxist/postmodernist/whatever-the-left's-flavor-of-the-month-is as you want to be and you can still get hired just about anywhere. Write a dissertation defending traditional marriage as normatively preferable and see how many places drop that application into the "it'll be a cold day in Hades" pile. But it's also the case that the grad students who are earning PhDs tend to be liberal and that is itself, I think, a product of a self-perpetuating cycle. Smart students who think that maybe they'd like to be a prof look around and see that, well, most of the profs are liberals. This has, I think, a rather natural selective effect on conservative students, some of whom (perhaps rather reasonably) think that academia must not be for them. And so you get a winnowing-out process.

The biggest problem with that explanation is that it leaves untouched the original "liberalization" - why are the professors more liberal in the first place? Patrick Deneen, a prof at Georgetown, has what seems to me a pretty good answer: the changed nature of the university. Whereas the university used to be about (generally speaking) the preservation and transmission of knowledge and intellectual capacities, it is now about (generally speaking) about the production of research and promoting change in society. That is, the university has become the citadel of scientistic progressivism (e.g. we can "solve" any problem - and will solve any problem - merely by applying the proper scientific research techniques). There's not much of a place in the academia for conservatives of an older stripe, then, perhaps helping explain the wide disparities in political temperament and identification. Go read all of Deneen's post. Fred Dead? Only in My Head

OK, OK, I admit it. I'm weak.

Although I unilaterally fired his ass from news ticker, Fred Thompson just got 50 bucks out of me. Anyone who's lazy, hates people, and is the only true conservative running for president can't be all bad, and that makes him 3 for 3 with me. Plus, he never says anything genuinely stupid.

Do not, under any circumstances, go to his website and contribute yourself. Just don't. You ain't lazy, you love people, and you're not even all that conservative.

Plus, you dig candidates who say stupid stuff all the time. Here's your man. Or maybe this one. Not Fred, though.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Huckabee, Schmuckabee, Fred's Dead: Is Mitt a Twit?

Like Fred Thompson before him, Mike Huckabee is about to squander bump that comes with the honor of being the subject of our news ticker in the right column.

Huck has leapt to near the top of the polls, but you just don't accuse your opponent of believing that Satan is Jesus' brother. Even if it were true, which it apparently ain't, that's just bad form.

Neither do I, a putative Christian, want a president who advertises himself as a "Christian Leader." I'm also putatively a Catholic, and I don't want any "Catholic Leaders" as my president either. I prefer my sectarianism in this republic mellow and understated, invisible even, just like the Founders did. "Christian Leader" means Pat Robertson, and the Republican Party didn't like that noise the first time around after he finished second in the 1988 Iowa Caucuses.

The general electorate liked it even less. Huck, you're out. I like Christians. I'm married to one. But too much is way too much.

National Review, which founded modern conservatism, and which historically has been more Catholic and Jewish than Protestant, has endorsed Mitt Romney, who is none of the above, Mormonism being its own thing.

Harkening back to Abraham Lincoln, who said he'd fight to preserve the Union even if it meant not freeing a single slave, National Review endorses Romney to preserve the unity of the conservative movement, even if it means not electing a Republican to the presidency in '08.

[Well, they didn't admit the last part, but that's what's going on here.]

So, OK. I can dig that. Mitt Romney gets ticker now. Me, I think Mitt's a plastic man and genuinely weird, like Gore and Kerry before him, who deserved to lose. Weird like he put his family dog on the roof of his car for 10 hours on a trip, and then insisted the doggie liked it, even though the car was covered in doggie poo.

I mean, that's weird, I don't care how cleancut His Mittness looks.

I don't want a weird president. If Romney's the GOP nominee, I can't guarantee he gets my conservative vote, just because I happen to be a conservative. But Brother Mitt, you have our news ticker now, with all the perks and responsibilities it entails.

Prove to us that you ain't weird, please? I wanna believe.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Word About "Authorized" Generics

Patents are valuable, often enough, and economic value attracts the sort of attention that honey elicits from bugs. And so whole industries evolve around legal challenges to patents, and the more valuable a given patent, the stronger the incentive to use the courts to redistribute wealth. Moreover, litigation is expensive, and the risk of losing a pharmaceutical patent to a challenger---to a generic drug producer in this context---analytically is equivalent to a shortening of the patent period expectationally. The process, therefore, reduces the expected returns to investment in the research and development of new medicines, and reduces as well the development of me-too drugs, that is, competition in the pharamceutical market.

And that is why the geniuses in Congress who want to limit the ability of innovative pharmaceutical producers to settle such lawsuits with payments to the challengers are utterly myopic in their view that such limits would increase (generic) competition and thus lower prices. In the very short run, maybe. But the increased challenges to patents would have the longer-run effect of reducing the flow of new medicines, and thus competitive pressures from them with respect to older, more-established drugs. That this is so obvious is the central reason that many in Congress cannot understand it.

[cross-posted from]

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The View From the Top...

... is always top-down, particularly in that city of the exalted, Washington D.C. So what is it this time? "A Food and Drug Administration medical reviewer said it wasn't clear if consumers could safely and effectively use a proposed Merck & Co. cholesterol-lowering drug without a prescription." (Wall Street Journal, December 11)

And that just about sums it all up, doesn't it? Forget consultations between doctors and their patients. Forget the heterogeneous characteristics and needs of millions of individual patients. Forget the huge informational advantage engendered by ongoing experience, modern mass communication, and individual trial and error. Forget the reality that some very substantial proportion of prescriptions are for off-label uses. Sorry: The Beltway knows best, children---because it says so---and "safety and effectiveness" is one-size-fits-all.

It is not only inside the Beltway that this sort of arrogance is to be found, but it is the Beltway in which it is rewarded so consistently and in which it simply is more than a way of life. It is a mindset.

[cross-posted from]

What Is a Mandate?

A good fight is always fun to watch, particularly if it is only political blood that is being spilled, and it is flowing freely in the Democratic free-for-all in the context of health care reform. Senators Clinton, Edwards, and Obama are united in their policy preferences for "reforms" that inexorably will lead to a single-payer system of health care insurance and to all of the perversities attendant upon it. Anyway, one way to reduce the taxpayer cost---not the true economic cost---of such a system is to force those who otherwise would find health insurance not worth its cost to buy it anyway. They would pay more than the benefits they receive, and so would subsidize others.

Such an "individual mandate" for all is part of the Clinton and Edwards proposals, and for children in the Obama plan. So: How would the government enforce this requirement? Edwards is quite clear: He would require proof of insurance with the annual filing of income-tax returns, and in the absence of such documentation the IRS would automatically enroll the scofflaws in a plan. And if the freeloaders refuse to pay the premiums? Wages will be garnished! The IRS becomes ever friendlier!

Hillary, after having blasted Obama for not having a mandate, and thus not "covering" everyone, finally has been forced to admit, sort of, that a mandate is meaningless without enforcement, and that she too might consider garnishment of wages and the like. Obama, more honest than the other two---not an exacting challenge---has not responded with a proposal for expanded coercion, and indeed has not explained even how the mandate for kids is to be enforced.

So let us be very clear: Mandates will be hard to enforce, and so the cost estimates in the respective plans---for this reason and host of others---will come a cropper. Which illustrates an eternal truth: Government planning cannot work, never has worked, and always yields unexpected effects less than salutary. Will our crack journalists covering this issue understand any of this? Not a safe bet. Not at all.

[cross-posted from]

Monday, December 10, 2007

Super-Sized Stupidity, Beltway-Style

Well, not exactly the Beltway this time, but instead a member of the D.C. Council, David A. Catania, who without any doubt at all looks in the mirror and sees Senator Catania. After all, they all drink the same water. Anyway, Comrade Catania now proposes to license pharmaceutical sales representatives, in an effort to rein in "disreputable agents who drive up the costs of prescription drugs."

Got that? Restricting the supply of reps through licensing will reduce costs! And how will this bit of alchemy be achieved? Elementary, Watson: No longer will we have pharmaceutical representatives who can "mislead doctors and patients into buying the most expensive drugs on the market, shunning reasonably priced generics or drugs that could be just as effective." After all, sayeth the deep-thinking Catania, "the agents' salaries are dependent on sales, [so that] they sometimes give the wrong impressions about drugs and present themselves as medical professionals."

So there we have it. Doctors who are licensed are fools, but pharmaceutical representatives who are licensed are wise and scrupulous. Oh, by the way, since Comrade Catania seems not to propose a change in the way that "the agents' salaries" are determined, it is not quite clear how licensing would change their incentives. And speaking of which, incentives for deception are far weaker than Catania assumes, given that the reps and the pharmaceutical producers have ongoing relationships with the medical providers, so that deception now carries a real risk of damaged business tomorrow. After all, do the representatives not place some value on their credibility? And, of course, there is the FDA: Is Catania oblivious to the fact that the reps are not allowed to make claims not approved by the FDA? Perhaps Catania is generalizing from the record of dishonesty observed eternally in the world of politics---the D.C. government is not exactly a model of good-government progress---a possibility magnified by the view of reality shaped by a lifetime outside the real world.

More wisdom from Comrade Catania: "If [licensing] is good enough for cosmetologists, it ought to be good enough for the pharamceutical company." Catania, naturally, has this precisely backward: Just as market forces are quite sufficient to lead cosmetologists toward honest behavior, so the same is true for pharamceutical representatives, who have to deal with physicians and others who are not idiots. But Catania must truly believe that they are idiots, just as the political class believes that the rest of us are children rather than citizens. That we have to pay their salaries is a monument to the perversities of that sausage factory known as lawmaking.

[cross-posted from]