October 2008 Archives

Maybe I'm living in my own little right-wing bubble, but I see a substantial chance for McCain to win the election. I'll even go so far as to predict a McCain victory. Am I naive or delusional? You make the call.

My head has been so buried in political news and analysis that I completely missed last week's atrocious murder of Gayle Williams in Afghanistan.

Taliban gunmen killed a Christian aid worker in Kabul as she was walking to work on Monday, and the militant group said it targeted the woman because she was spreading her religion.

The dual South African-British national, who worked with handicapped Afghans, was shot to death by gunmen who drove by on a motorbike in western Kabul, said Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary.

The Taliban claimed responsibility.

"This woman came to Afghanistan to teach Christianity to the people of Afghanistan," militant spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press. "Our (leaders) issued a decree to kill this woman. This morning our people killed her in Kabul."

Pray for the Williams family and for the millions of lost people in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq.

Matthew 9:35-38

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."

Does anyone else get the impression that extremist racists are just attention-grabbing contrarians?

“White people are faced with either a negro or a total nutter who happens to have a pale face. Personally I’d prefer the negro. National Socialists are not mindless haters. Here, I see a white man, who is almost dead, who declares he wants to fight endless wars around the globe to make the world safe for Judeo-capitalist exploitation, who supports the invasion of America by illegals -- basically a continuation of the last eight years of Emperor Bush. Then, we have a black man, who loves his own kind, belongs to a Black-Nationalist religion, is married to a black women -- when usually negroes who have ‘made it’ immediately land a white spouse as a kind of prize -- that’s the kind of negro that I can respect. Any time that a prominent person embraces their racial heritage in a positive manner, it’s good for all racially minded folks. Besides, America cares nothing for the interests of the white American worker, while having a love affair with just about every non-white on planet Earth. It’d be poetic justice to have a non-white as titular chief over this decaying modern Sodom and Gomorrah.”

I guess racists are more complex and nuanced than I thought! I take great comfort from the fact that these nuts are supporting the other guy.

(HT: Instapundit.)

If you would be interested in taking an election survey for some researchers at New York University, go here. I've been asked to disable comments on this post so they won't influence the results.

(HT: AG.)

The conviction on corruption charges does little more than emphasize what has been apparent for many years: Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens is an embarrassment to the United States, to Alaska, and to the Republican Party. I'd say he's an embarrassment to the Senate, but he probably fits right in.

The verdict, coming barely a week before Election Day, increased Stevens' difficulty in winning what already was a difficult race against Democratic challenger Mark Begich. Democrats hope to seize the once reliably Republican seat as part of their bid for a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

Stevens, 84, was convicted of all the felony charges he faced of lying about free home renovations and other gifts from a wealthy oil contractor.

Because this kind of corruption is so often overlooked in our government, I'm sure Stevens is shocked to be facing jail time for these bribes.

Chris Dodd should be worried, and I'd be pleased if this investigation is the first of many.

Note to NPR: few people are as insufferable as newspaper political cartoonists. A political cartoonist's job requires a smug know-it-all attitude that makes others want to punch them in the face. The radio interview format is particularly unflattering to them... I can think of few worse ways to be exposed to a political cartoon than to have the creator describe verbally it to you while continuously laughing at his own subtle genius.

I'm on basically the same boat as Greg Mankiw (though not as far along) and his analysis of his marginal tax rates (no matter who wins the election) is sobering. Considering the four main taxes that we pay on money we earn and then intend to leave to our heirs:

If there were no taxes, so t1=t2=t3=t4=0, then $1 earned today would yield my kids $28. That is simply the miracle of compounding.

Under the McCain plan, t1=.35, t2=.25, t3=.15, and t4=.15. In this case, a dollar earned today yields my kids $4.81. That is, even under the low-tax McCain plan, my incentive to work is cut by 83 percent compared to the situation without taxes.

Under the Obama plan, t1=.43, t2=.35, t3=.2, and t4=.45. In this case, a dollar earned today yields my kids $1.85. That is, Obama's proposed tax hikes reduce my incentive to work by 62 percent compared to the McCain plan and by 93 percent compared to the no-tax scenario. In a sense, putting the various pieces of the tax system together, I would be facing a marginal tax rate of 93 percent.


Note that the difference between the no-tax $28 and the with-tax $4.81 or $1.85 isn't completely turned over to the government... most of the wealth is simply destroyed because the government doesn't invest it and earn a return, it spends it on depreciating assets and redistributes it to people who do likewise. The government is the great destroyer of wealth.

Maybe I'll take the afternoon off.

(HT: Instapundit.)

It's hard to be more explicit than this.

If you're undecided about Barack Obama and even vaguely open to the idea of not voting for him, you really should check out Gateway Pundit's front page. He has video and audio of Obama advocating socialism, praising foreign and domestic terrorists and terror groups, and bashing white people. Not ancient history, but from the 1990s and 2000s.

You might be surprised and what you see.

Alan Greenspan testified before Congress and dodged any responsibility for the financial meltdown by claiming that no one could have predicted it.

In a four-hour appearance before the House Oversight Committee Thursday, Mr. Greenspan encountered legislators who interrupted his answers, caustically read back his own words from years ago, and forced him to admit that, at least in some ways, his predictions and policies had been wrong.

Returning to Capitol Hill amid a financial crisis rooted in mortgage lending, Mr. Greenspan said he had been wrong to think banks' ability to assess risk and their self-interest would protect them from excesses. But the former Fed chairman, who kept short-term interest rates at 1% for a year earlier this decade, said no one could have predicted the collapse of the housing boom and the financial disaster that followed.

No one? Really?

Andrew Lahde made millions betting against subprime mortgages.

The boss of a successful US hedge fund has quit the industry with an extraordinary farewell letter dismissing his rivals as over-privileged "idiots" and thanking "stupid" traders for making him rich.

Andrew Lahde's $80m Los Angeles-based firm Lahde Capital Management in Los Angeles made a huge return last year by betting against subprime mortgages.

Yesterday the 37-year-old told his clients that he had hated the business and had only been in it for the money. And after declaring he would no longer manage money for other people, because he had enough of his own, Lahde said that instead he intended to repair his stress-damaged health; he made it clear he would not miss the financial world.

And don't forget Nassim Taleb's Black Swan characterization of the financial market.

When Nassim Taleb talks about the limits of statistics, he becomes outraged. "My outrage," he says, "is aimed at the scientist-charlatan putting society at risk using statistical methods. This is similar to iatrogenics, the study of the doctor putting the patient at risk." As a researcher in probability, he has some credibility. In 2006, using FNMA and bank risk managers as his prime perpetrators, he wrote the following:
The government-sponsored institution Fannie Mae, when I look at its risks, seems to be sitting on a barrel of dynamite, vulnerable to the slightest hiccup. But not to worry: their large staff of scientists deemed these events "unlikely."

So, Mr. Greenspan, it's not that no one could have predicted the crisis, simply that you did not.

Two teens in the Netherlands have been convicted of stealing virtual property. First such case I've heard of.

A Dutch court has convicted two youths of theft for stealing virtual items in a computer game and sentenced them to community service.

Only a handful of such cases have been heard in the world, and they have reached varying conclusions about the legal status of "virtual goods."

The Leeuwarden District Court says the culprits, 15 and 14 years old, coerced a 13-year-old boy into transferring a "virtual amulet and a virtual mask" from the online adventure game RuneScape to their game accounts.

"These virtual goods are goods (under Dutch law), so this is theft," the court said Tuesday in a summary of its ruling.

How would such a case play out in America?

Here's an analogy that does a pretty good job of explaining our "progressive" tax system.

Intrade is offering a new kind of contract that allows users to bet on political polling errors.

Intrade has just launched new Polling Error Markets to shed light on the possibility that the final polling averages will significantly misrepresent the final state of the race. ... Intrade's Polling Error Markets will compare the spread between the final Real Clear Politics polling averages for Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain to the final true spread in the popular vote as published by the Federal Election Commission.

These new markets will provide unique information on the likelihood that a candidate will significantly over or underperform the final poll averages.

Here's a link to the baseline contract. It just opened, so there aren't any bids yet.

I should get paid by Intrade, but I don't.

Jeffrey Goldberg and Bruce Schneier demonstrate that airpoint security is a joke by carrying all manner of illegal items through security while using boarding passes they printed on their home computer.

Schnei­er took from his bag a 12-ounce container labeled “saline solution.”

“It’s allowed,” he said. Medical supplies, such as saline solution for contact-lens cleaning, don’t fall under the TSA’s three-ounce rule.

“What’s allowed?” I asked. “Saline solution, or bottles labeled saline solution?”

“Bottles labeled saline solution. They won’t check what’s in it, trust me.”

They did not check. As we gathered our belongings, Schnei­er held up the bottle and said to the nearest security officer, “This is okay, right?” “Yep,” the officer said. “Just have to put it in the tray.”

“Maybe if you lit it on fire, he’d pay attention,” I said, risking arrest for making a joke at airport security. (Later, Schnei­er would carry two bottles labeled saline solution—24 ounces in total—through security. An officer asked him why he needed two bottles. “Two eyes,” he said. He was allowed to keep the bottles.)

That's nice. And how about that no-fly list?

As I stood in the bathroom, ripping up boarding passes, waiting for the social network of male bathroom users to report my suspicious behavior, I decided to make myself as nervous as possible. I would try to pass through security with no ID, a fake boarding pass, and an Osama bin Laden T-shirt under my coat. I splashed water on my face to mimic sweat, put on a coat (it was a summer day), hid my driver’s license, and approached security with a bogus boarding pass that Schnei­er had made for me. I told the document checker at security that I had lost my identification but was hoping I would still be able to make my flight. He said I’d have to speak to a supervisor. The supervisor arrived; he looked smart, unfortunately. I was starting to get genuinely nervous, which I hoped would generate incriminating micro-expressions. “I can’t find my driver’s license,” I said. I showed him my fake boarding pass. “I need to get to Washington quickly,” I added. He asked me if I had any other identification. I showed him a credit card with my name on it, a library card, and a health-insurance card. “Nothing else?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“You should really travel with a second picture ID, you know.”

“Yes, sir,” I said.

“All right, you can go,” he said, pointing me to the X-ray line. “But let this be a lesson for you.”

But on the plus side, the TSA makes flying such a terrible experience that terrorists might not have the patience for it anymore.

The WSJ editorial page posits a terrifying laundry list of new legislation we're in store for under an Obama presidency with a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Great. Now I'm really scared of an Obama victory.

Fortunately for my sanity, I'm still predicting a McCain win.

Here's a good question about leftists that I think I can answer.

What is it about those on the left, including some very intelligent and thoughtful people, who get whipped into a frenzy any time anyone takes issue with their ideas? What accounts for their repeated attempts at character assassination of their critics?

I doubt we’ll find the answer in studying their worldview, but we might it by studying their character and considering their hysteria. The answer has more to do with their psychology than their adversaries’ politics.

I believe the reason that leftists get "frenzied" when people disagree with their ideas is that they recognize that socialism can only work in a homogeneous culture (like mythical Sweden). The Left uses pop culture and the media to as tools to promote this socialist mindset in America ("diversity" means racial/sexual diversity only) and they get reflexively angry whenever anyone says anything that endangers the homogeneity they're working so hard to promote.

The Right, on the other hand, purposefully favors policies that don't require everyone in the society to think in lockstep. Capitalism, small government, and low taxes don't require us to "work together", they give us freedom to each do our own thing. Not coincidentally, because the Right's philosophy doesn't require everyone to think alike in order to succeed, the Right is also a much more vigorous proponent of free speech and free-thinking now than are modern "liberals" (who don't deserve to be called by that name).

It's called "liberty", and it endangers the socialist dream. That's why Leftists hate it. (Despite often deluding themselves into thinking that they're promoting liberty by pushing socialism.)

(HT: Instapundit.)

There needs to be a word for when you drip, e.g., spaghetti sauce but instead of falling neatly onto a nearby flat surface the single drop makes a huge mess by, e.g., landing half on the flat surface, then sliding down the side of a cabinet, splattering on your foot, and finally getting smeared on your wife's leg.

I think Obama and the "mainstream" media are making a big mistake by going after Joe the Plumber. I know it's reflexive and they just can't help destroying people who expose and decry their Marxist redistribution schemes, but I think Joe the Plumber will get a lot of sympathy from Obama's must-win voting blocs.

William Graham Sumner wrote, regarding FDR's New Deal:

They are always under the dominion of the superstition of government, and forgetting that a government produces nothing at all, they leave out of sight the first fact to be remembered in all social discussion — that the state cannot get a cent for any man without taking it from some other man, and this latter must be a man who has produced and saved it. This latter is the Forgotten Man.

I don't think people will forget Joe the Plumber for a while.

The MSM is too busy to look into Obama's past, but they're investigating Joe the Plumber. Good question by Allahpundit about Joe's lack of a plumbing license:

Exit question: The law’s the law and it is, after all, his own fault for not having the papers he needs. If, say, an illegal alien had asked McCain a tough question and some righty media source responded by bringing his status to light, would the left feel the same way?

(HT: Tennessee Guerrilla Women, Jonah Goldberg, and Instapundit.)

Via Sound Mind Investing: "I bought a toaster the other day and they threw in a free bank!"

Even though the vast majority of Christians are as willing as the general population to make use of every available medical treatment when they have a physical malady, it seems that some Christians are unwilling to accept that mental health problems are as real as physical health problems.

In a study of Christian church members who approached their church for help with a personal or family member's diagnosed mental illness, researchers found that more than 32 percent were told by their pastor that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness.

The problem was solely spiritual in nature, they were told.

Here's the thing: Other studies have found that clergy, and not psychologists or other mental health experts, are the most common source of help sought in times of psychological distress.

"The results are troubling because it suggests individuals in the local church are either denying or dismissing a somewhat high percentage of mental health diagnosis," said study leader Matthew Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University in Texas. "Those whose mental illness is dismissed by clergy are not only being told they don't have a mental illness, they are also being told they need to stop taking their medication. That can be a very dangerous thing."

Being a Christian, I think I can identify the two obstacles that hinder Christians from properly understanding mental illness.

First, it may appear that acknowledging the reality of a mental illness undermines the Christian doctrine of sin. If sin is caused by illness, then how can God hold anyone accountable for anything? Yes, it's a slippery slope from (A) "that person has schizophrenia and is not responsible for his actions" to (B) "that person is a victim of society's injustice and is not responsible for his actions". But the fact that there's a risk of a slippery slope to (B) doesn't negate the truth behind (A).

Just as God will not condemn a person for missing church the day after they're injured in a car wreck or have a baby, God will not condemn a person for sins of omission or commission that are out of their control due to mental illness or disability. God's standard for each of us is that we honor him according to how he has enabled us.

Read the parable of the talents ("talents" are units of gold). The man who invested two talents and earned two more got the same reward as the man who invested five talents and earned five more. The man who had one talent wasn't condemned because he earned too little, but because he failed to use the talent he had at all. God doesn't expect more from us than he enables us to do. In the parable, God gave each man the talents he had, and God wasn't disappointed when the man to whom he gave two talents "only" earned two more.

I hope the connection I'm making is clear between the talents in the parable and the level of physical and mental health that God blesses a person with. The point is that mental illness or disability do not negate a person's responsibility to repent of their sin and accept Christ's payment to the degree they are able to do so, but that degree may be less than what a person in full health is capable of.

Second, while secular humanists are too extreme in their belief that man is purely material and mechanical, Christians have a tendency to view man as purely spiritual. It's true that men have spirits that stand outside the bounds of the natural physical world. For now, though, these spirits are bound to our physical bodies and must suffer the limitations of our mortal lives.

When Jesus was tortured and crucified he didn't dismiss the pain as merely a physical irritation that his spirit could ignore. No, he cried out in agony! And not just physical agony, but mental agony as well.

Matthew 27:46: About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Has there ever been a deeper pain than that Jesus suffered when God turned his back on him for the sake of our sin? Not even the nails in his hands and feet compared to it. Jesus is God, but when he bound himself to a mortal body he experienced all the pain and suffering that goes along with the human experience -- physical and mental.

Christians who believe that mental illnesses or disabilities are merely matters of the will that can be overcome by the strength of our spirits have a fundamental misunderstanding of our dual nature. Our spirits and our bodies are not independent (as the Buddhists teach) but are intimately linked until they are finally separated at death. Some mental illness is the result of physical problems in physical brains, and can be no more overcome by willpower or therapy than can be diabetes.

When therapy is the best possible treatment for a mental illness, then I've got no doubt that such therapy should be Biblical in nature, but it should also be informed by medical expertise. When drugs are required to treat a physical problem in the brain, then they should not be rejected any more than a diabetic would reject insulin.

It's unnerving to accept that physical changes in our brains can affect our mental processes, but they can. Does this undermine the concept of free will? No, but it qualifies our free will. A man with a broken leg may want to run a marathon, but his failure to do so isn't the result of a lack of willpower. His free will may desire to, but his body simply cannot. A man with schizophrenia, or mania, or depression may want to act normally, but his brain will not cooperate.

Therapy is an important part of treatment for these diseases, but therapy alone will often not mitigate their symptoms enough to allow the normal exercise of free will. A man with diabetes receives therapy and instruction on how to manage his disease, what he should eat, and what sorts of activities he needs to limit, but even with the best therapy and willpower a diabetic may require insulin injections. A man with depression may require drugs to enable his body/brain to act on the instructions he is given in therapy and that his free will wants to carry out.

As with many issues, consideration of mental health issues requires a great deal of discernment on the part of Christians. It's true that many people are simply looking for ways to escape responsibility for their decisions and are quick to claim that some force outside of their control compelled them to act badly. Sometimes that's true and sometimes it's not, but Christians who dismiss all such claims will end up ignoring some of the most hurting people in the world who are in desperate need of God's love.

In Heaven there will be no mental illness just as there is no physical illness. As Christians we live with an expectation for that future, but we haven't reached it yet. Christians need to properly understand the nature of mental illness and mental disability if we hope to share God's love with people who are suffering.

I thought this was McCain's best debate and that he won every round, even if he didn't get a "knock out" punch.

However, the commentators on FoxNews unanimously thought otherwise. Then the "undecided" voters in the focus group all seemed to think that Obama won the debate.

Maybe I'm crazy.

Via The Pirate: "This financial crisis is worse than a divorce. I've lost half of my net worth and I still have a wife."

The starlings just migrated back into town and are trying to drive the sparrows and barn swallows out of the large English Walnut in our back yard. They're making quite a racket. There's still a lot of flapping and chirping, but the starlings appear to be victorious.

Although we're about 700 billion miles from it, I like tomcal's description of what it would look like if conservatives won in our society.

This recession is exactly what we need to bring some reality back into the picture. We have raised a generation, maybe two generations, of selfish, whining crybabies – both in and out of Government – whose primary business is trying to take money from others without providing any meaningful long term service to society. They need to be brought to their knees and shown the facts of life. As everyone starts to get it, as cities and hopefully even states go bankrupt, they will be forced to re-think just what is important. When the public sector gets it, to the point that many public sector employees and retirees see their benefits dramatically cut; when it is longer be possible for a 20-year civil servant to retire at 90% of his salary, and those that already have retired have their dole funds cut off by public sector bankruptcies, I will reach nirvana.

I'll need to think on it more to decide how much I agree with, but tomcal is looking in the right direction anyway.

(HT: Slublog.)

I just wrote this comparison in a comment on my earlier post about saving society with handcuffs:

Here's how I see it.

Capitalism: high average growth, but with lots of intermediate volatility that enriches some and makes others destitute (generally due to their own choices).

Socialism: low average growth (historically negative) but with less volatility until everything collapses due to demographics.

Basically socialism seems like a graceful way to spend down your societal capital as your society dies off.

I like it enough to it quote myself!

Thinking about the election in a few weeks has really highlighted just how chaotic our Supreme Court Justice appointment process is. I think the intention of the Founding Fathers was to make the Supreme Court less responsive to political pressure by giving the justices lifelong appointments, but this has had at least one very strange consequence: Supreme Court judicial philosophy is chaotic in the sense that it's future has very little relationship to its present.

Voters have short attention spans. Decisions on whom to vote for are often made in the last few weeks before an election and are based on policy preferences that take into account little more than the past year... maybe less. This short time frame is fine for electing officials who serve two-, four-, or even six-year terms, but should e.g. the state of the war in Afghanistan really have a strong influence on a capital punishment case 30 years from now? Should the financial crisis influence abortion law? Should preference for one energy independence plan over another affect free speech law?

When our immediate political concerns are juxtaposed with the kinds of cases the next Supreme Court justices will probably be deciding over the coming decades, the chaotic nature of the system is revealed. If voters support Barack Obama because he wants to pull our troops out of Iraq, they might also get stuck with mandatory "equal pay" for women when he puts Hillary Clinton on the Supreme Court. Or, flip it: voting for John McCain because he was right on the surge doesn't necessarily mean that you'll agree when his appointee overturns Roe v. Wade.

It doesn't make sense for matters that are so unrelated to be tied together politically. I'm not sure I've got a better system in mind, but I bet we can come up with something. Here are some options, but each has problems of its own:

  • Shorter terms. Back when the Constitution was written lifespans were much less anyway, so why not limit justices to a single 20-year term?
  • Elect justices directly.
  • Elect justices regionally. The states in each circuit get to elect one justice together.

I think I like the first the best, what about you?

It's fascinating to read Richard Dooling's account of how artificial intelligence destroyed the financial market. It looks like the AI guys on Wall Street succumbed to the same hubris that most academic researchers fall prey to.

The Wall Street geeks, the quantitative analysts (“quants”) and masters of “algo trading” probably felt the same irresistible lure of “illimitable power” when they discovered “evolutionary algorithms” that allowed them to create vast empires of wealth by deriving the dependence structures of portfolio credit derivatives.

What does that mean? You’ll never know.

Actually, I do know! I had a job offer to work on financial AI but decided against it because I didn't want to move to New York. I bet I could have made a lot more money, but hey, I could have just lost it all too! With the connectedness of it all, I might be able to get into this from St. Louis these day.

But anyway, who would have guessed that Skynet would come from Wall Street and not the Pentagon?

More discussion as I learn more.

Instead of yet another press conference, how about some executives, lobbyists, bureaucrats, Congressmen, and Senators in handcuffs? I bet the market would respond well to that. This is exactly the type of scenario that cries out for a special independent prosecutor, and I think investigations need to start while emotions are still running high.

I don't know about you, but I want to see some perp-walks. i want to see Chris Dodd and Barney Frank in orange jumpsuits answering questions under oath. I want to see executives from Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Countrywide, AIG, and all the others dragged out of their mansions and arraigned without bail.

These characters played it fast and loose for decades, and I'm inclined to believe that their trials, convictions, and sentences should be handled similarly.

Jack Cashill makes a compelling circumstantial case that Willian Ayers ghost-wrote Dreams From My Father for Barack Obama. Maybe Obama should release some more of his writing so he can put these silly issues to rest.

(HT: Someone I can't remember.)


Oops. I accidentally posted this entry twice, and then deleted the copy that had two comments on it instead of this one without any comments. Here's are the two comments I deleted:

October 9, 2008 5:25 PM, jwilliamson08.myopenid.com wrote:
Michael, I've been reading your blog for quite some time now. Its one of my favorites. I think the articles you write about, especially the ones on technology, are interesting and exciting.

Frankly, I'm very taken aback by how much political spewing I've read so far. I'd like this place to be one of the few places that just avoid this political controversy. The facts remain:

Obama is most probably going to win this election. The polls couldn't be stronger for him. There are distinct reasons for this, despite how much you may think him to be not genuine. While all presidential candidates may have different outlooks and plans for a change in government, I've learned that a core responsible and morally sound person will always do a good job.

You and I both know McCain's ethics are questionable. We both know his ties to the Bush regime. We both know his pick for Palin was based on PURELY political stunted reasons, and frankly we both know that Palin is VERY unfit to be president. Heart attacks are rare, but the fact that McCain would gamble our leadership with someone as poorly sound in mind as that women, I find it insulting.

Now I know that this is simply just political spewing of my own, but lets just face some facts before we nitpick each candidate for more subtle reasons. Subtle reasons are always different. I wish this would be a place for news that combos of entries aren't for or against political candidates, as emotions are running high this election... big time.

October 9, 2008 6:25 PM, DeoDuce wrote:
*sigh* Yet another Kool-Aid drinker.

The debate last night was pretty boring, but Barack Obama had one of his dumbest moments ever. When asked if health care is a right, responsibility, or privilege, Obama answered "it's a right". Let's look at all the ways that's stupid.

First, what level if health care is required by Obama's "right"? Top-of-the-line Western medicine? Such health care is a right for whom? Just Americans? Or everyone in the world? Are we violating the rights of Chinese peasants by not invading China and providing Western style health care? Or would Obama do this if he thought he could?

Second, setting aside what Obama thinks would be nice in an ideal world, where in the Constitution is this right to health care established? He's running for President, not philosopher-in-chief, so I assume when he says "right" he means it within the American Constitutional framework and not any other moral or legal construction. So, where's the health care clause of the Constitution? Obama is supposedly a Constitutional scholar, so maybe he can enlighten me. When did the people and the states write health care into our national compact?

Third, think about what it would mean for health care to be a right. When you consider the ramifications even an inch beneath the surface you run into all sorts of problems.

Every right one person has imposes an obligation on someone else:

  • Right: Free speech. Obligation: We have to let you talk, even when you stay stupid or dangerous things.
  • Right: Free religion. Obligation: We have to let you go to any church you want, or none at all, even if we think you're corrupting our country.
  • Right: Free assembly. Obligation: We have to let you meet with your dumb friends.
  • Right: Due process. Obligation: We have to give you a trial, even when it's clear that you're guilty.
  • Right: Jury trial. Obligation: We have to take time out of our lives to serve on juries.

You get the point. With the exception of the right to trial-by-jury, I think all the rights specified in the Constitution create negative obligations on the rest of society. Your right obligates me and the government to not do anything to impede it. In contrast, positive obligations require me not just to leave you alone, but to actually do something for your benefit.

So, back to health care. Does Obama mean that we have a right to buy whatever health care we can afford, without interference from the government? Doubtful. What he really means is that people (only Americans? Africans? who?) have a "right" to have other people pay for their health care. Obama's health care right creates a whole host of obligations on the rest of us, not merely to refrain from interference with the right, but to act positively to enable it.

  • Taxpayers will be obligated to pay for others' health care under threat of force
  • Doctors will be obligated to provide health care at the government's direction
  • Insurance companies will be obligated to cover or not cover people or ailments at the government's direction
  • Employers will be obligated to pay for health care of whatever kind mandated by the government

The issue of health care really cuts to the core of the difference between leftists and conservatives.

Conservatives believe that "rights" express our fundamental freedoms that cannot be taken away by anyone. The only obligations created by conservative "rights" are negative obligations that require you to stay out of my business.

Leftists believe that "rights" express obligations that the government can impose on us by force. Leftist "rights" create obligations on us to spend our time, money, and effort on other people regardless of our own desires. That's not freedom, that's slavery.

Sure, the title is overwrought, but Representative Barney Frank deserves (along with Senator Chris Dodd) a plurality of the blame for the present financial meltdown. Instead of accepting responsibility though, he's blaming "racist" Republicans for pointing the finger at him.

Rep. Barney Frank said Monday that Republican criticism of Democrats over the nation's housing crisis is a veiled attack on the poor that's racially motivated.

The Massachusetts Democrat, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said the GOP is appealing to its base by blaming the country's mortgage foreclosure problem on efforts to expand affordable housing through the Community Reinvestment Act. ...

Frank also dismissed charges the Democrats failed on their own or blocked Republican efforts to rein in the mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The federal government recently took control of both entities.

No discussion of Frank's involvement in the mortgage crisis can be complete without mentioning that he was in a long-term relationship with the Fannie Mae executive in charge of subprime loans, which the Associated Press mysteriously forgets to mention in its story.

Now that Fannie Mae is at the epicenter of a financial meltdown that threatens the U.S. economy, some are raising new questions about Frank's relationship with Herb Moses, who was Fannie’s assistant director for product initiatives. Moses worked at the government-sponsored enterprise from 1991 to 1998, while Frank was on the House Banking Committee, which had jurisdiction over Fannie.

"It’s absolutely a conflict," said Dan Gainor, vice president of the Business & Media Institute. "He was voting on Fannie Mae at a time when he was involved with a Fannie Mae executive. How is that not germane?

"If this had been his ex-wife and he was Republican, I would bet every penny I have - or at least what’s not in the stock market - that this would be considered germane," added Gainor, a T. Boone Pickens Fellow. "But everybody wants to avoid it because he’s gay. It’s the quintessential double standard."

A top GOP House aide agreed.

"C’mon, he writes housing and banking laws and his boyfriend is a top exec at a firm that stands to gain from those laws?" the aide told FOX News. "No media ever takes note? Imagine what would happen if Frank’s political affiliation was R instead of D? Imagine what the media would say if [GOP former] Chairman [Mike] Oxley’s wife or [GOP presidential nominee John] McCain’s wife was a top exec at Fannie for a decade while they wrote the nation’s housing and banking laws."

The Democrats desperately want to pin this crisis on President Bush, but most of the fault lies with Congress. There's plenty of blame to go around, but the lion's share belongs to Congressional Democrats, and particularly to Barney Frank and Chris Dodd.

For the first time in 13 years the Juice is not loose. In the years since his acquittal OJ Simpson has basically convinced everyone of his guilt, and everyone (but him) seems willing to accept that this trial is society's second chance to get the verdict right. Not sure if that's "justice", but it feels like it.

What happened? O.J. happened. He has been bitten by the very source of his support at the beginning, and the reason he could afford those lawyers and sway those jurors: his celebrity.

We kept watching O.J. He revealed himself to be who prosecutors said he was.

A civil jury found him responsible for the murders. Simpson said he would spend the rest of his life searching for the "real killers" and has made no effort to do so. ...

Recently, Simpson wrote a book called "If I Did It," in which he tells the world how he could have killed his ex-wife and her friend hypothetically, of course. (The book was eventually published by Ronald Goldman's family.)

These are not the actions of an innocent man. If the world thought you had killed two people, including your ex-spouse, and you hadn't done it ... well, come on. In a thousand years, you would never write a book about how you might have done it.

The charges and punishment he's facing will probably be disproportionate to his recent actions, but will certainly be justified based on his past. Of course, our justice system is supposed to preclude this sort of double jeopardy, and OJ will probably make a convincing appeal.

What do you think should happen?

A few years ago I wrote extensively about the ChatNannies hoax, and it looks like journalists are being a bit too credulous again if they're thinking that any software is yet close to passing a Turing test.

In the Turing test a machine seeks to fool judges into believing that it could be human. The test is performed by conducting a text-based conversation on any subject. If the computer's responses are indistinguishable from those of a human, it has passed the Turing test and can be said to be "thinking".

No machine has yet passed the test devised by Turing, who helped to crack German military codes during the Second World War. But at 9am next Sunday, six computer programs - "artificial conversational entities" - will answer questions posed by human volunteers at the University of Reading in a bid to become the first recognised "thinking" machine. If any program succeeds, it is likely to be hailed as the most significant breakthrough in artificial intelligence since the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997. It could also raise profound questions about whether a computer has the potential to be "conscious" - and if humans should have the 'right' to switch it off.

But I can guarantee you that none of the programs mentioned in the article will even come close to passing. The two sample conversations are indicative. If you can't tell which is the computer... maybe you aren't human yourself.

Can you tell human from machine?

One of these conversations is between Professor Kevin Warwick (KW) and a human; the other between Warwick and a computer. Can you tell which is which?

Conversation one:

Subject: Hello. My name is Nick and I am a human.

KW: Are you happy being a human?

Subject: Yes, I am. Are you? Good. Then we are both happy.

KW: Yes, I am. Are you happy with your life at present?

Subject: Parts of it. I hate my job, but most people do, right?

KW: I'm OK with mine. What is your job?

Subject: I work as an 'online internet advertising monitor', which is fancy language for electronic filing. What do you do?

KW: I interrogate humans and machines.

Subject: Which ones do you prefer, humans or machines?

KW: Which do you prefer?

Subject: Hmm. Depends on for what purpose you mean.

KW: To go to a restaurant, for example?

Subject: Then I would much prefer going with a human.

Conversation two:

Subject: Hello, my name is Mike and I am a man.

KW: Are you happy being a human?

Subject: Judge, I'm a guy.

KW: Does that worry you?

Subject: Don't worry, we'll work everything through.

KW: Do you have worries then?

Subject: Let's move on from that basis.

KW: Why?

Subject: Why? I like this subject.

KW: What is the subject, do you think?

Subject: What is the subject I wonder if I think? I know that it's good to thonk about. Think deeplt about mysterious subjects.

KW: What mysterious subjects?

Subject: Think deeply about mysterious dubjects.

KW: What's a dubject?

We're a long way from a conversational artificial intelligence, but human-like conversations are probably one of the things that AI is least suited for. The advantages that AI has over human intelligence are:

  • much larger working memory
  • perfect and immediate recall
  • much faster number-crunching
  • flawless rule-following (the rules may be flawed, but they'll be followed perfectly)

None of these advantages really contribute to conversation, but they do let AI perform well in many other domains. Asking a computer to carry on a conversation like trying to build a house with a lathe. The problem isn't that you need a better lathe, it's that you're using the wrong tool.

I haven't seen a grin like these since OJ heard "not guilty".

Were I in their shoes, I'd be a little more somber and a lot more humble.

(HT: Michael Silence.)


I only watched the first half because it was so boring and frustrating.

Or maybe I'm just upset by the money I've lost in the past couple of weeks. I understand the socialist urge: someone do something! If I believed that our government was capable of any beneficial action at least I'd have some hope.


It's a couple weeks late, but the NYT has just posted an an interview with some Somali pirates that's interesting both because it involves pirates, but also because it highlights the absurdity of the modern "international law" perspective on national sovereignty.

In a 45-minute interview, Mr. Sugule spoke on everything from what the pirates wanted (“just money”) to why they were doing this (“to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters”) to what they had to eat on board (rice, meat, bread, spaghetti, “you know, normal human-being food”).

He said that so far, in the eyes of the world, the pirates had been misunderstood. “We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits,” he said. “We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard.” ...

He said the pirates were asking for $20 million in cash; “we don’t use any other system than cash.” But he added that they were willing to bargain. “That’s deal-making,” he explained.

Ridiculous, as even the impotent Somali government acknowledges.

“It’s true that the pirates started to defend the fishing business,” [Mohamed Osman Aden, a Somali diplomat in Kenya] said. “And illegal fishing is a real problem for us. But this does not justify these boys to now act like guardians. They are criminals. The world must help us crack down on them.”

Countries that can't wield a monopoly on the use of force within their own borders and along their own coastlines aren't really countries at all. The lines on the map may say "here's Somalia", but if the government can't exercise sovereignty in more than name only, does the country even really exist?

Reader AG sends in this interesting analysis of the financial crisis and considers how land-use restrictions in various parts of the country may affect the aftermath.

One thing I haven’t seen discussed much is the effect of land use restrictions on inflating housing prices. Coming from CA, you probably have a much clearer perspective on that than I do, however, that effect would seem to me to be not only non-trivial, but also highly non-linear. In most places where land use restrictions are small (Houston, Dallas, most non-coastal cities), the percentage of the assessment/valuation for a house due to the land on which the house is built is pretty small with the actual dwelling comprising the bulk of the valuation. In coastal cities or where land use restrictions prevent supply from meeting demand (under normal conditions), I would think that the land is a significant, perhaps even majority, of the valuation.

Looking at this in context with the CRA [Community Reinvestment Act -- MW], those areas where the CRA would be most needed/desired are precisely in those areas where land use restrictions would artificially inflate the cost of a house in the first place. Then, continued restriction of the supply while artificially increasing the demand would exponentially inflate the cost of home ownership to the point that even normal, middle-class borrowers, would be cut out of the market (silicon valley or Seattle are other examples.) In places in the Midwest, there really hasn’t been too much of a run-up in prices simply because more houses could be built – supply could expand to meet the demand. Thus, we have a couple of different results.

We have areas where supply is restricted and demand was encouraged leading to very lofty prices which may not yet have fully returned to a rational level. In those locations, demand has to fall off as there is still limited existing supply. Those locations will normalize pretty quickly, I would think. In other areas, there is a supply glut and prices will stagnate, maybe fall a bit, until the glut is pushed through the system. These areas are going to take a while to digest that glut, much longer than locations with a restricted supply. In a few places, I think, there is very little mismatch between supply and demand, so prices may well continue their steady upward move. To try to put that in more user-friendly terms, the recession will be deeper, but shorter in those locations with significant land use restrictions, but shallower and longer in the rest of the country.

We may also see second order effects from state-wide tax policies wherein states with lower tax rates (TX, TN, etc.) will see less of an impact (due to continued job growth) even in the face of a nationwide downturn. This seems reasonable to me, although without looking at the data, I hesitate to draw such a conclusion. The first point, however, regarding land use restrictions, is an obvious and significant factor. If this is the case, I would expect little to no recessionary effects in states like TX (except what bleeds across the borders), higher effects in higher tax mid-western states (like IL), with the most significant effects in coastal states (CA, OR, WA, NY, etc.) Imagine, dropping many rocks, of varying sizes, into a pond are roughly the same time and watching the ripples move outward.

There's definitely a large supply of new houses here in the St. Louis area, but we haven't seen our prices drop very much. The house I bought in 2006 is worth pretty much the same today (according to Zillow).

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