February 2010 Archives

I've written extensively about how voting is not a "right" and that we should view democracy as a means to an end rather than an end unto itself. I would heartily endorse some form of the proposal described here by Jamie Whyte to reduce the quantity and increase the quality of American voters.

If a loan officer’s initial decision required sign-off by a majority of 100 other bankers, his own judgement would have little effect on the final outcome. So he would have little incentive to think hard about the application and the likelihood that the loan will be repaid. Since this would be equally true for each of the other 100 bankers, none would bother to think hard. Why struggle to make the right decision when your decision will have no effect?

This is the position of voters in a general election. Each individual’s vote makes no difference to the outcome. Even marginal districts are won with majorities of hundreds. If you had stayed home instead of voting, the same candidate would have been elected. ...

So what is the best way to improve modern politics? The answer is not to increase voter turnout. On the contrary, the number of voters should be drastically reduced so that each voter realizes that his vote will matter. Something like 12 voters per district should be about right. If you were one of these 12 voters then, like one of 12 jurors deciding if someone should be imprisoned, you would take a serious interest in the issues.

These 12 voters should be selected at random from the electorate. With 535 districts in Congress – 435 in the House and 100 in the Senate – there would be 6,420 voters nationally. A random selection would deliver a proportional representation of sexes, ages, races and income groups. This would improve on the current system, in which the voting population is skewed relative to the general population: the old vote more than the young, the rich vote more than the poor, and so on.

To safeguard against the possibility of abuse, these 6,420 voters would not know that they had been selected at random until the moment when the polling officers arrived at their house. They would then be spirited away to a place where they will spend a week locked away with the candidates, attending a series of speeches, debates and question-and-answer sessions before voting on the final day. All of these events should be filmed and broadcast, so that everyone could make sure that nothing dodgy was going on.

Love it. I'm not sure if all the numbers are right, but the general idea is spot-on. As a side benefit, the entire issue of "campaign finance reform" and "special interests" would be completely negated. The role of money in politics would be vastly lessened.

Bad language, but this scene from Goodfellas pretty well sums up how Obama and his Democrats want to run the government.

(HT: American Digest and Instapundit.)

(HT: AK.)

I'm glad I had the good sense to help this kind fellow out with his money transfer before he got caught.

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) - A former Nigerian state governor who serves as ranking member of the nation's ruling party was arrested for allegedly embezzling $100 million of government money meant for public projects, an anti-corruption official said Tuesday.

Agents from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission arrested Abdullahi Adamu on Monday after a more than yearlong investigation, agency spokesman Femi Babafemi said. Agents seized Adamu's passports and have asked him for his personal financial records to try and find the money they claim he stole, Babafemi said.

You'll never find it! After we hooked up via email, GovernorOfNigeria@yahoo.com transferred all the money to my personal account. I knew that if I kept helping those poor Nigerians with their money problems it would eventually pay off!

I'm not a great photographer, but one tip I've picked up that has been invaluable is that flashes should be used very sparingly, even in low light. I hate the way flash pictures look, and I wish people would just lay off the flashes and learn to take better pictures without them.

I recently spoke with the Scottish photojournalist Harry Benson, who is known for his images of world leaders, Hollywood icons, rock stars and everyday Glaswegians. (He is, as I found out, also an amiable character and a charming raconteur.) Mr. Benson’s photos, particularly his early black-and-white images, are masterly studies in the use of natural light, and I wanted to ask him for tips on shooting in low-light situations. Here’s what he had to say. ...

Any tips on using flash in low light?

I prefer not to use flash because it tends to control and take over the photo. I lose a lot of humanity with flash. I don’t want to use it in a position when I can use my brain instead. Without flash, pictures can take on a grainy feel. And if you take a photo of someone with a light in the background, the light gives a lovely warm tone to the photography. ...

If you had one tip for taking better night or low-light photos, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid. You’ll be surprised just how good your photos will be. Make sure there is some light on your subject’s face. But be brave about it. The thing about is that I’ve been awakened to see just what digital cameras can do in low-light situations. It digs right into spaces that I never thought a camera could penetrate.

Amen! Please turn your auto-flash off.

(HT: Lifehacker.)

(HT: RB.)

Apparently I am the perfect man. I always suspected it.

Most women claim to be attracted to tall, dark and handsome men, but a new study has revealed that facial stubble and a geeky personality are their biggest secret turn-ons.

Despite complaining that it looks unkempt and feels rough to touch, the unshaven look on a man is actually a turn-on for 41 per cent of women.

A slightly geeky personality came second, proving that women really do like a guy who knows their stuff when it comes to technology. ...

The poll of 2,500 women also revealed that 91 per cent would actually prefer a guy who had a few flaws over someone who is perfect.

And more than half would rather a guy who was soft and cuddly instead of toned and muscly.

Sorry ladies, I'm taken!

Homer Simpson on alcohol:

“Here's to alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems.”

Michael Ramirez points out that substituting "debt" for "alcohol" pretty well captures President Obama's view of the world.

(HT: Power Line.)

It's stories like these that make me really worry. I'm afraid that the people running our country are literally insane. Despite our ongoing economic troubles, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius continues to attack the health insurance industry for returning value to shareholders. The title of her department's "report" is especially ridiculous.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Thursday unveiled a government report which she said “shines a light on the urgency for health reform,” and pins the rise of premiums in the individual healthcare market squarely on the profit margins of large insurance companies. ...

The report, which is titled “Insurance Companies Prosper, Families Suffer: Our Broken Health Insurance System,” says that increases of that magnitude are not unique. It cites Anthem of Connecticut for requesting a 24 percent rate hike in 2009; Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan for a requested 56 percent rate increase last year; and Regency Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oregon for a 20 percent premium increase.

“The five largest insurers in America have declared more than $12 billion worth of profits in 2009,” Sebelius said. “[Anthem Blue Cross of California] alone posted a $2.7 billion profit in the fourth quarter of 2009, just a week before they filed for a 39 percent rate increase.”

So... when General Motors and Chrysler go bankrupt the government nationalizes them, and when the health care industry makes a profit the government wants to nationalize them. It's almost like our government wants to nationalize industries under any and every circumstance!

The New York Times puts the insurance profits into perspective.

The insurance industry said the report was incomplete. “Comparing the profits of individual companies today to where they were at the bottom of a recession a year ago does not tell the whole story,” said Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry trade group.

Historically, Mr. Zirkelbach said, the average profit margin for the industry has been relatively low, 3 percent to 5 percent. For example, he said, if a company made a 2 percent profit last year during the recession and is making 4 percent now, its profits would have increased by 100 percent but the profit would still only be 4 percent.

“For every dollar spent on health care in America, less than one penny goes toward health plan profits,” he said. “Health plan profits are well below other industries within the health care sector.”

David Palombi, a spokesman for WellPoint, said Anthem’s profit margin in California “is in line with, or below, many of its competitors, including our two large not-for-profit competitors.”

I'm pretty sure Sebelius and her ilk believe what they're saying, but sincerity is no defense against the appearance of insanity.

Many people unfortunate enough to have been born in third world countries (and I know quite a few) would give their left arm to live in America. Since we can't take everyone who would want to come, the next best option is to bring slices of America to the third world. A couple of hundred years ago that would have been accomplished by British/Roman-like colonization, but these days that's just too uncouth: some third-worlders may prefer their present form of government to ours. Fine! Enter charter cities.

The deeper problem, widely recognised but seldom addressed, is how to free people from bad rules. I floated a provocative idea. Instead of focusing on poor nations and how to change their rules, we should focus on poor people and how they can move somewhere with better rules. One way to do this is with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of new “charter cities,” where developed countries frame the rules and hundreds of millions of poor families could become residents.

How would such a city work? Imagine that a government in a poor country set aside a piece of uninhabited land. It invites a developed country to enter into a new type of partnership, in which the developed country sets up and enforces rules specified in a charter. Citizens from the poorer country, and the rest of the world, would be free to live and work in the city that emerges. It could create economic opportunities and encourage foreign investment, and by using uninhabited land it would ensure everyone living there would have chosen to do so with full knowledge of the rules. Roughly 3bn people, mostly the working poor, will move to cities over the next few decades. To my mind the choice is not whether the world will urbanise, but where and under which rules. Instead of expanding the slums in existing urban centres, new charter cities could provide safe, low-income housing and jobs that the world will need to accommodate this shift. Even more important, these cities could give poor people a chance to choose the rules they want to live and work under. ...

There are large swathes of uninhabited land on the coast of sub-Saharan Africa that are too dry for agriculture. But a city can develop in even the driest locations, supported if necessary by desalinated and recycled water. And the new zone created need not be ruled directly from the developed partner country—residents of the charter city can administer the rules specified by their partner as long as the developed country retains the final say. This is what happens today in Mauritius, where the British Privy Council is still the court of final appeal in a judicial system staffed by Mauritians. Different cities could start with charters that differ in many ways. The common element would be that all residents would be there by choice—a Gallup survey found that 700m people around the world would be willing to move permanently to another country that offers safety and economic opportunity.

Author Paul Romer cites Hong Kong as the archetype and compares its success under British rules to the decades of failure experienced by mainland China.

Why won't this happen? Despite the billions of average people who would benefit, consider the long list of powerful interests who would end up losers if charter cities took off: existing despots and their inner circles; the United Nations; zillions of Non-Governmental Organizations who parasitically exploit aid streams; socialists; nationalists; and probably many more. These loser groups would all band together to prevent the average people of the world from moving en masse into charter cities with better rules.

So how about that sporting even last weekend? That one team totally out-played the other team! They moved the ball around well and scored a lot of points, while preventing their opponents from scoring quite as many. I can't wait until next year's match!

But anyway, here are two sites that review the various Super Bowl ads. Super Bowl Commercials is mostly user-generated content. Entertainment Weekly attempts to round up the five best and five worst ads. My main disagreement is that I hated the "I'll put my socks in the basket" Dodge Charger commercial. I get the premise, but the ad is too long and the emasculating things the men list out is too PC to really nail it.

Reader TMLutas followed up with the US distributor of spray-on liquid glass and received the following information:

Hi quantum LiquiGlas should be available in retail form in 201o.

Best wishes,


So... I'm guessing we'll be able to buy it soon.

Matthew Yglesias says that America has become ungovernable.

The smarter elements in Washington DC are starting to pick up on the fact that it’s not tactical errors on the part of the president that make it hard to get things done, it’s the fact that the country has become ungovernable.

But I'm not aware of any Constitutional Amendments that have been ratified since President Obama took office, or since the Democrats took control of Congress in 2006. I remember President Bush passing a lot more bills than Obama has, even when Bush had far fewer votes at his disposal in Congress (setting aside the question of whether or not those bills were good).

The smarter voters are starting to realize that America is not ungovernable, America is ungovernable by Democrats.

More from Ed Morrissey and Glenn Reynolds.)

California is quietly shifting funds away from failed embryonic stem cell research and into adult stem cell research. Despite the state's passion for killing unborn babies, it's hard to justify it on an industrial scale without any hope of turning a profit.

California's Institute for Regenerative Medicine came into being five years ago, fueled by a conviction that the Bush administration's restriction on embryo-destructive research in the National Institutes of Health was stifling the progress of science.

But after years of fruitless work, the Institute has now quietly diverted funds from embryonic stem cell research (ESCr) to adult stem cell research - which has already produced dozens of treatments and all-out cures for maladies ranging from spinal cord injury, to Alzheimer's, to type I diabetes.

The California government - which is again teetering on the brink of bankruptcy - in 2004 passed the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, or Proposition 71. The initiative pumped $3 billion into research seeking some medical use for stem cells harvested from human embryos, which are killed in the process.

But an editorial in the Los Angeles-based Investor's Business Daily magazine January 12 pointed out the abysmal failure of the state's massive investment in research that has procured no effective treatments to date.

"Five years after a budget-busting $3 billion was allocated to embryonic stem cell research, there have been no cures, no therapies and little progress," notes the IBD editors.

"ESCR has failed to deliver and backers of Prop 71 are admitting failure."

Too bad for all those dead babies, but at least the researchers made a boatload of money.

(HT: Adam.)

The inevitable collapse of Social Security has always been a problem for "the future" that "someone else" could deal with, but apparently the future of Social Security is now.

No one has officially announced that Social Security will be cash-negative this year. But you can figure it out for yourself, as I did, by comparing two numbers in the recent federal budget update that the nonpartisan CBO issued last week.

The first number is $120 billion, the interest that Social Security will earn on its trust fund in fiscal 2010 (see page 74 of the CBO report). The second is $92 billion, the overall Social Security surplus for fiscal 2010 (see page 116).

This means that without the interest income, Social Security will be $28 billion in the hole this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Why disregard the interest? Because as people like me have said repeatedly over the years, the interest, which consists of Treasury IOUs that the Social Security trust fund gets on its holdings of government securities, doesn't provide Social Security with any cash that it can use to pay its bills. The interest is merely an accounting entry with no economic significance.

To elaborate on the last sentence, the Social Security fund has been earning huge amounts of interest for decades, but that interest hasn't been put back into the fund, it has been spent by Congress to pay for other things. Instead of that cash being put into the fund, Congress has put IOUs into the fund, and when Social Security goes cash-negative those IOUs will have to be repaid out of current taxes.

The net effect of this is that not only is my generation paying the payroll tax to fund Social Security for current retirees, we're also paying BACK the interest those retirees spent on themselves decades ago. It's a double-whammy of generational theft, and the retiree generation should be ashamed by the debt they're imposing on their children and grandchildren.

Here's a disturbing story: now that China is growing reluctant to lend America money, the federal government wants to "borrow" your retirement savings by force.

The Department of Labor and the Department of the Treasury (the "Agencies") are currently reviewing the rules under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the plan qualification rules under the Internal Revenue Code (Code) to determine whether, and, if so, how, the Agencies could or should enhance, by regulation or otherwise, the retirement security of participants in employer-sponsored retirement plans and in individual retirement arrangements (IRAs) by facilitating access to, and use of, lifetime income or other arrangements designed to provide a lifetime stream of income after retirement. The purpose of this request for information is to solicit views, suggestions and comments from plan participants, employers and other plan sponsors, plan service providers, and members of the financial community, as well as the general public, on this important issue.

I.e., the government is considering nationalizing your IRA, Roth, and 401(k) and replacing the money there with some new form of Treasury bill that will pay a "guaranteed" "lifetime stream of income".

Homework questions:

1. Isn't this what Social Security is already supposed to be doing?

2. China doesn't think t-bills are a good investment anymore... do you?

The fact that the message of this billboard is obvious to all viewers, despite lacking an explicit subject, certainly means something.

OK, this sign on Interstate 29 is over the top. For the record, I don't think President Obama is a Marxist. But what's funny is that it's instantly clear to whom the sign refers, which makes it, literally, a sign of the times.

After annihilating Harry Reid's re-election chances by mocking Las Vegas President Obama issued a "you misunderstood me" non-apology. First, the offending comments:

During the president's town hall meeting in Nashua, New Hampshire, he discussed the need to curb spending during tough economic times. "When times are tough, you tighten your belts," the president said. "You don't go buying a boat when you can barely pay your mortgage. You don't blow a bunch of cash on Vegas when you're trying to save for college."

Despite President Bush's media-constructed reputation for ineloquence, I can't recall the former president sticking his foot in his mouth as many times in eight years as President Obama has in one. Naturally everyone in Nevada was offended by the off-hand insult of their premier city.

His statement Tuesday drew sharp criticism from Nevada lawmakers. "The President needs to lay off Las Vegas and stop making it the poster child for where people shouldn't be spending their money," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat. "Las Vegas is suffering through one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, and we cannot afford for the President to bring us down any further," added Republican Senator John Ensign. "Nevada has one of the most distressed economies in the country, and the President has done little to focus on job creation over the past year. Discouraging people from coming to our state to make a political point adds insult to injury," said Republican Congressman Dean Heller.

So let's take a look at the non-apology letter he sent to Harry Reid (but not to the citizens of Nevada).

Dear Harry:

I hope you know that during my Town Hall today, I wasn't saying anything negative about Las Vegas. I was making the simple point that families use vacation dollars, not college tuition money, to have fun. There is no better place to have fun than Vegas, one of our country's great destinations. I have always enjoyed my visits, look forward to visiting in a few weeks, and hope folks will visit in record numbers this year.

The needless proliferation of commas is a topic for another day... let's focus on the utter lack of an actual apology. The words "sorry" and "apologize" don't appear anywhere in the letter -- instead, the President uses extremely condescending language to defend his statement as-said and to belittle the offense taken by anyone who understood his plain language to mean anything different than this post hoc explanation.

The primary points of condescension are the phrases "I hope you know" and "simple point". "I hope you know" is crafted to appear to be expressing the sincere hope that you were not misunderstood, but what it really means is "I will be surprised by your stupidity if you don't believe". "Simple point" doubles down (ha! a Vegas pun!) on the implication that your preferred interpretation of the earlier statement is so obvious, clear, and easy to understand that only a fool would read it any differently. You aren't a fool, are you? Of course not! So "I'm sorry" and "I apologize" are not needed!

I don't expect this "apology" to soothe many hurt feelings, and I don't expect the President to receive a warm welcome if he actually goes to Nevada to campaign for Harry Reid's re-election. My bet is that the trip is canceled.

Uh... this sounds too good to be true, but apparently "spray-on liquid glass is about to revolutionize almost everything".

Spray-on liquid glass is transparent, non-toxic, and can protect virtually any surface against almost any damage from hazards such as water, UV radiation, dirt, heat, and bacterial infections. The coating is also flexible and breathable, which makes it suitable for use on an enormous array of products. ...

The liquid glass coating is breathable, which means it can be used on plants and seeds. Trials in vineyards have found spraying vines increases their resistance to fungal diseases, while other tests have shown sprayed seeds germinate and grow faster than untreated seeds, and coated wood is not attacked by termites. Other vineyard applications include coating corks with liquid glass to prevent “corking” and contamination of wine. The spray cannot be seen by the naked eye, which means it could also be used to treat clothing and other materials to make them stain-resistant. McClelland said you can “pour a bottle of wine over an expensive silk shirt and it will come right off”.

In the home, spray-on glass would eliminate the need for scrubbing and make most cleaning products obsolete. Since it is available in both water-based and alcohol-based solutions, it can be used in the oven, in bathrooms, tiles, sinks, and almost every other surface in the home, and one spray is said to last a year.

Liquid glass spray is perhaps the most important nanotechnology product to emerge to date. It will be available in DIY stores in Britain soon, with prices starting at around £5 ($8 US). Other outlets, such as many supermarkets, may be unwilling to stock the products because they make enormous profits from cleaning products that need to be replaced regularly, and liquid glass would make virtually all of them obsolete.

If this is real, I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot more about it.

(HT: Instapundit.)

Penelope Trunk points to an article in the Harvard Business Review that describes why time is more important than talent for aspiring experts.

Back in 1985, Benjamin Bloom, a professor of education at the University of Chicago, published a landmark book, Developing Talent in Young People, which examined the critical factors that contribute to talent. He took a deep retrospective look at the childhoods of 120 elite performers who had won international competitions or awards in fields ranging from music and the arts to mathematics and neurology. Surprisingly, Bloom’s work found no early indicators that could have predicted the virtuosos’ success. Subsequent research indicating that there is no correlation between IQ and expert performance in fields such as chess, music, sports, and medicine has borne out his findings. The only innate differences that turn out to be significant—and they matter primarily in sports—are height and body size.

So what does correlate with success? One thing emerges very clearly from Bloom’s work: All the superb performers he investigated had practiced intensively, had studied with devoted teachers, and had been supported enthusiastically by their families throughout their developing years. Later research building on Bloom’s pioneering study revealed that the amount and quality of practice were key factors in the level of expertise people achieved. Consistently and overwhelmingly, the evidence showed that experts are always made, not born. These conclusions are based on rigorous research that looked at exceptional performance using scientific methods that are verifiable and reproducible. Most of these studies were compiled in The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, published last year by Cambridge University Press and edited by K. Anders Ericsson, one of the authors of this article. The 900-page-plus handbook includes contributions from more than 100 leading scientists who have studied expertise and top performance in a wide variety of domains: surgery, acting, chess, writing, computer programming, ballet, music, aviation, firefighting, and many others.

So let's look at the three things required for mastery of a domain.

1. Intense practice. Frequent, focused practice in the domain you are mastering. In "Outliers", Malcolm Gladwell proposed a "10,000-hour rule" and claimed that the key to proficiency in any field is to spend 10,000 hours practicing it. Additional hours of practice no doubt lead to diminishing returns, but if you want to be a world-class expert you'll need every bit of incremental improvement.

2. Devoted teachers. Finding someone better than you who is willing to coach you can be difficult, but is critical for success. Research and and practice are great, but a coach can provide immediate constructive feedback that will multiply the value of your R&P. In addition to finding a good coach, you must cultivate yourself as a good student and be open to honest criticism. A good coach can tell you when you just don't have what it takes to make forward progress and that you should adjust your focus.

3. Enthusiastic support from family. If your family doesn't support you, then you need to choose between them and your quest for mastery. It's as simple as that. Intense practice takes time and energy, and if your family is not supportive then no one will be happy, and you will not be effective. No matter how supportive your family is, you will sometimes need to make a trade-off between your family and your quest -- and every time you choose your family you will fall one step behind the people who didn't. It's harsh but true. For myself, I'm fine with sacrificing incremental mastery for my family, but my eyes are open and I recognize the cost.

What I crave most are teachers and mentors... not just one, but as many as I can get my hands on. Most of the people who can teach me are on their own quest for mastery, so I have to position myself as a student who can be taught without distracting them from their own ambitions.

Do these keys to mastery ring true in your life? Have you found the perfect teacher for your domain? How do you balance your quest and your family?

(HT: LM.)

U.S. President Barack Obama bows to Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio at MacDill Air Force Base on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010 in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Edmund Fountain, Pool)

Just a reflex now or what?

Senator John Cornyn says no, but Larry Kudlow is more optimistic.

There are 18 Democratic senators up for grabs. Right now, the GOP is in excellent shape to take Illinois (President Obama’s seat), Delaware (Vice President Biden’s seat), Nevada (Harry Reid’s seat), and North Dakota (Byron Dorgan’s seat). So that’s four. It would give them 45 seats. So they need six additional seats out of 14.

If Scott Brown can do it, riding the tidal wave of conservative, populist, low-tax-and-spend, free-market revolt, including tough stands on terrorism and national security, then the GOP should be proclaiming a tidal wave that could carry them to Senate victory this fall.

On top of all that, it’s not out of the question that independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut could switch parties. Nor is it out of the question that beleaguered Ben Nelson of Nebraska could switch parties. So I was very disappointed in my friend John Cornyn for making this statement.

I'm optimistic about the House, but I've been skeptical about a Republican takeover of the Senate (despite my prescient wife's optimism).

In December, Karl Rove thought that a Republican Senate takeover was unlikely despite stellar recruits, but his article didn't mention Scott Brown or Massachusetts even once, so his views may have changed.

Predictably, Wikipedia has a good laydown of the facts surrounding the 2010 Senate elections.

The Senate is currently composed of 57 Democrats, 41 Republicans, and two independents who caucus with the Democrats. Of the seats currently up for election in 2010, 18 are held by Democrats and 18 are held by Republicans.

So Republicans would need to keep all 18 seats they already control and then win 10 of the 18 seats currently controlled by Democrats. Six of these seats look to be pretty safe: Hawaii, Maryland, Schumer in New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. If that's true, then Republicans need to win 10 of the following 12 seats:

  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Nevada
  • New York (Gillibrand)
  • North Dakota
  • Pennsylvania
  • Wisconsin

North Dakota, Nevada, Delaware, and Arkansas all seem to be within easy reach for the Republicans. I can imagine New York splitting their seats and giving the seat currently held by Kirsten Gillibrand to a Repblican. Arlen Specter is growing increasingly unpopular in Pennsylvania. That's six.

The rest are more of a stretch, in my inexpert opinion. Scott Brown's election in Massachusetts had completely overturned my expectations, and at this point I won't be surprised by anything. It will be a very exciting year!

It sounds like President Obama is neglecting a strategy for his administration and Congress that the majority of the American people could get behind:

"They didn't send us to Washington to fight each other in some sort of political steel-cage match to see who comes out alive. ... They sent us to Washington to work together, to get things done, and to solve the problems that they're grappling with every single day."

Actually, I'd rather have the steel-cage match. I bet CSPAN would enjoy the ratings boost.

Despite what logic may suggest, switching from regular to diet soda doesn't appear to lead to weight loss -- so proposed "soda taxes" that are intended to socially engineer weight loss are unlikely to have any beneficial effect. Discussion and evidence here.

A 2007 British study used government data on household diets and food expenditures to predict the effect of extending the country's 17.5% sales tax to various foods. When items high in saturated fat were slapped with the tax, the model estimated that deaths would rise by 1,800 to 4,000 a year because consumers would be prompted to switch to foods with more salt.

To fix that problem, the scientists ran a model in which the tax applied to all kinds of unhealthful foods. This time, deaths fell by as many as 2,500 a year, but cholesterol levels rose as people switched from salty foods to fatty dairy items.

And unfortunately, consumers in both scenarios did the last thing any anti-obesity crusader would want: Facing higher grocery bills, they bought fewer fruits and vegetables.

Social engineering on the grand scale rarely works as desired and generally has many unanticipated consequences.

(HT: DP.)

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