Battlepanda: December 2006


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Get your fats straight

My least-favorite Nobel Prize winner, Gary Becker, strikes again:
With a small taste benefit from the use of trans fats-- the New England Medicine Journal article I cited earlier does admit positive effect of trans fats on "palatability"-- the total cost of the ban would equal or exceed total benefits. For example, suppose 1 million persons on average eat 200 meals per year in NYC restaurants with trans fats. If they value the taste of trans fats in their foods only by 35 cents per meal, the taste cost to consumers of the ban would be $70 million per year. Then the total cost of the ban would equal the benefits from the ban.

And how did he get those numbers? Especially the one that banning transfat from each meal costs consumers 35 cents in forgone taste benefits? Or for that matter the benefits of the ban would amount to less than 70 million a year? Why he pulled them out of his ass. And is it any surprise that Beckers ass-numbers seems to confirm exactly what he thought all along?

Sigh. Is it any wonder that people don't consider economics a science on par with, say physics? It's because physicists don't use ass-numbers.

Vultures bearing TV cameras

In the aftermath of a giant quake in Pingtung county, Taiwan, the press descend upon the scene:

But what really got my goat was Thursday's spectacle of a child -- whose mother was killed and home destroyed by the quake -- being harassed by reporters from SET, ETTV, CTI, CTV and ERA (there may have been others), asking: "Where is your home? Where is your home? Where is your home?"

The child, needless to say, was upset and mute throughout.

When I see reporters harassing a bereaved minor in this way I think of Thomas Hobbes. Yep, Hobbes of "state of nature" fame. If these turd reporters are so bereft of professional responsibility that they would add to a child's suffering, then they enter the State of Nature. The Law of the Jungle. They and their studio supervisors, I submit, should have no complaint if a Taiwanese Leviathan appears from nowhere and beats the living shit out of them.

And don't come blubbing to Johnny about press freedom, my friends, because each and every one of you just lost the right to call yourselves journalists.

The article I linked to did not mention this, but the child in question have not yet been told that his mother is dead. The reporters swarming him asked him whether he misses his mom to try and ramp up the pathos factor of the footage. That was really quite sickening.

Guess what my New New Year's Resolution is?

Firstly, it's a bad picture OK? Bad camera angle, bad horizontal stripes, bad, bad, bad flattening flash. Still, a bit of a wakeup call. I've been slowly gaining weight ever since I arrived in Taiwan, and the gain only accelerated after I became a reporter.

I do think that I'm "healthy fat" for the most part. I walk all over the city. I bike from press conference to press conference. All that exercise is no match for the enormous amount of food I eat (food is yummy in Taiwan.) I can certainly stand to lose a few pounds in 2007!

As for my 2006 resolution, that was to read 52 books in 52 weeks and blog them all. I'm much more behind on the blogging part than the reading part. I blogged about 30 books and read more than forty. I think I would have made it if I were in the States, where it's much easier and cheaper to get hold of a greater choice of books in English. Still, I thought it was a positive experiment and I hope to do more bookblogging in the future.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Four plus one

I've been tagged by the meme that has been spreading like a wildfire throughout the land -- Five things you didn't know about me. Except I've been infected with the interesting sub-variant where one of the five things is a big fat lie and you, dear reader, have to guess which.

Answers will be revealed next Sunday.

1) I used to take my miniature schnauzer, Dodo, to class with me during my college days. Most professors were pretty tolerant about it since their lectures usually put her to sleep within minutes.

2) I was obsessed with the idea of becoming a self-sufficient homesteader during my early teen years. I read as many books on the subject as I could while turning our family's back yard into an experimental plot where I grew herbs, tomatoes, and other assorted veggies. I composted and unsuccessfully tried to start a worm farm.

3) My absent-mindedness is legendary. On holiday once in Italy, I jumped off a boat with all my clothes on because I forgot I have not yet changed into my swimsuit.

4) In my spare time, I like to write Country & Western songs with titles such as "Another West Texas Town" and "It Ain't Right."

5) I am partially of Jewish ancestry. My maternal grandmother's family hailed from a small community of Jews migrated and persisted for centuries in Kaifeng, China. She did not self-identify as a Jew by any means, but she never ate pork and is proud of the fact that she was spared from footbinding due to her family's different traditions.

Well, have at it guys. People who know me in real life can't play since it won't be fair. In return, I tag Gene, Brock, Lawrence and...erm, I guess I too am a leaf node of the blogisphere.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Letter from an Unknown Soldier

Priceless. The Corner picks up a supposed email from a marine in Iraq assuring us that things are hunky dory in Iraq, P.S. send more troops. Unfortunately, the email is more than an year old, when it made the rounds amoung the winger blogs, often presented as the writings of a Friend of a Friend. Hmm...either this marine is one well-connected individual or we might wanna call Snopes.

Keep a pinch of salt handy next time you debate a winger on healthcare and he or she miraculously reproduces a friend of a second cousin who said Canadian healthcare was just the pits and she had to fly all the way to the U.S. for her knee surgery.

Monday, December 25, 2006

It doesn't feel like Christmas

Probably because I spent today working, including tagging along for a surprise safety inspection of a highway overpass. I've never really thought about it, but pouring concrete 30 meters the air presents challenges. They way they do it is with a humungous cantelivered device that holds the mould while the concrete sets before moving on to the next section.

There was a female engineer at the build, which I think prompted the following amusing conversation in the car.

Inspector A: Do you know, there are lots of women engineers working at the builds now.

Inspector B: I know. They all studied construction.

Inspector A: Do they not mind climbing over the scaffoldings?

Inspector B: Actually, they love to climb.

Inspector A: They take it very seriously, don't they.

Inspector B: They do a good job. People always thought girls won't want to work outside because they would get dirty.

Inspector A: that's the old attitude.

Now I have this mental image in my head of women engineers merrily scampering up and down scaffolding like monkeys...

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Digital realism

No, not the geopolitical kind. I'm talking now of representational realism. At the risk of oversimplifying the creative impulse, I think it's fair to say that capturing the world visually was a tremendous impetus behind a lot of artistic creation before the advent of photography. Now, near-literal realism is available to all of us with a camera, at practically zero cost if it is a digital camera. Where does this leave realism as an artistic endeavor?

I believe we have come full circle with these images done with Adobe Illustrator that might as well be photographs. In many cases working from photographs, artists painstakingly recreate images from scratch using the building blocks of the program until they achieve a disconcerting degree of convincing verisimilitude. Although they consider themselves artists, these creators of images are outsiders in the mainstream art world. This makes it all the more fascinating to me that the Adobe Illustrators makes art that is so stylistically simiilar to many of the photorealists working within high art, most notably Chuck Close. Compare the two following images...

These images come from completely different paradigms -- the first, "angel" by I-evermind, is a pin-up-esque image enlivened with an unusual figure position; the other, by Chuck Close, is an example of the ever-popular genre of artist's self-portraits. Despite their different intents, both images seek to signal merit in the same way -- look at me! I am absolutely artificial. I am absolutely genuine. You know this by comparing me with reality.

Notice the absence of a background in both images and the dominance of a single figure in the foreground. Exquisite attention is paid not to capturing the gesture or essence of the figure, but its physical nature, its surface textures. The grain of the skin, the wisp of the hair, the way light would hit the figure or the face are all captured with brute clarity. Why the artist would want to depict such a figure is all but forgotton as we revel in their virtuoso display of skill.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Bizarro world "starve the beast"?

Mark Thoma and Brad DeLong quote extensively from Paul Krugman's latest NYT column, in which he argues that Democrats should abandon Rubinomics. Krugman writes:
Now that the Democrats have regained some power, they have to decide what to do. One of the biggest questions is whether the party should return to Rubinomics -- the doctrine, associated with former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, that placed a very high priority on reducing the budget deficit. The answer, I believe, is no. Mr. Rubin was one of the ablest Treasury secretaries in American history. But it's now clear that while Rubinomics made sense in terms of pure economics, it failed to take account of the ugly realities of contemporary American politics. And the lesson of the last six years is that the Democrats shouldn't spend political capital trying to bring the deficit down.
I wish that Profs. Thoma and DeLong had offered some commentary on this column, because (a) I admire both of them as liberal economists, and (b) this Krugman column makes absolutely no sense to me. It sounds like some sort of Bizarro World version of the "starve the beast" hypothesis, and makes just as little sense.

Republican version of "starve the beast": A high budget deficit is a good thing for the Republican Party, because it will prevent the Democrats, when they inevitably come to power, from enacting their dangerous, expensive right-wing agenda.

Democratic version of "starve the beast": A high budget deficit is a good thing for the Democratic Party, because it will prevent the Republicans, when they inevitably return to power, from enacting their dangerous, expensive right-wing agenda.

Let's set aside any arguments that a high budget deficit is actually a good thing economically, since it's clear that Krugman doesn't believe that. He thinks it's a somewhat bad thing, although not a terrible thing, but that the positive political ramifications of the budget deficit for the Democrats override its inherent badness.

Let me first observe that given the situation of divided government that we find ourselves in, at least one of the two "starve the beast" hypotheses presented above must be false. A high budget deficit can't prevent both the Republicans and the Democrats from enacting their expensive agendas, as it can only block the expensive agenda of the party that takes control in 2008. (If the government remains divided in 2008, neither party will be in a position to enact its expensive agenda.) Krugman seems to be betting that the Republicans will be the next party to control both Congress and the White House, whether that's in 2008, 2010, or further down the road. Given the turn of the 2006 elections, should we Democrats put all our bets on that possibility?

Second, let me ask what the most disastrous Republican policy of the past six years has been, and what the most disastrous policy is likely to be during the next period of Republican dominance, whenever that is. I'm sure Krugman would agree that the greatest recent failure of Republican Party has been in foreign policy, between the senseless Iraq War and its "What, me worry?" attitude toward nuclear proliferation that allowed North Korea to obtain nuclear weapons, and has Iran on the verge of obtaining them. And the greatest danger we face the next time the Republicans take power is that they will start another senseless war based on lies and self-delusion.

If I thought that a budget deficit could prevent another senseless war, I'd be in favor of it, even if it meant spending the money on abstinence programs and bridges to nowhere. But the warmonger faction of the Republican Party has proved that the cost of a war -- whether in lives, money, or American standing in the international community -- is no object to their crazed plans of remaking the world through American military power. The only thing that stands in their way is the good sense of the American public, which was in seeming short supply in 2002 and 2004, but appears to be making a comeback.

At the risk of committing the Pundit's Fallacy, let me suggest that the next few years represent the Democratic Party's best chance to claim the mantle of responsibility in fiscal affairs, just as we have the chance to claim the mantle of responsibility in foreign affairs. It won't keep the Republicans out of power forever, but it may buy us enough time to partially undo the damage that the Republicans have done on the international stage. It would be a shame to throw that chance away on this half-baked left-wing version of the "starve the beast" hypothesis.

UPDATE: Prof. Thoma offers some commentary on Krugman's column.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Warning: This class makes you conservative

I can't help but feel that Greg Mankiw's explanation for why students tend to become more conservative after studying econ is a mite self-serving:
My experience is that many students find that their views become somewhat more conservative after studying economics. There are at least three, related reasons.

First, in some cases, students start off with utopian views of public policy, where a benevolent government can fix all problems. One of the first lessons of economics is that life is full of tradeoffs. That insight, completely absorbed, makes many utopian visions less attractive. Once you recognize, for example, that there is a tradeoff between equality and efficiency, as economist Arthur Okun famously noted, many public policy decisions become harder.
And the way econ 101 encourage students to "absorb" this insight is by hammering home 'government intervention = bad, bad, bad!" over and over again. See 3.a.
Second, some of the striking insights of economics make one more respectful of the market as a mechanism for coordinating a society. Because market participants are motivated by self-interest, a person might naturally be suspect of market-based societies. But after learning about the gains from trade, the invisible hand, and the efficiency of market equilibrium, one starts to approach the market with a degree of admiration and, indeed, awe.
This insight is indeed a necessary corrective to any naive and unreasoned anti-capitalist sentiments many students may have, but "awe"? Are we talking about a (social) science or a religion here?
Third, the study of actual public policy makes students recognize that political reality often deviates from their idealistic hopes. Much income redistribution, for example, is aimed not toward the needy but toward those with political clout. This Dave Barry column, which is reprinted in Chapter 22 of my favorite economics textbook, describes a good example.
Let's see...when we talk about market activity, we talk in terms of parables and widgets and cute little triangles of consumer surplus. However, when we talk about government intervention, all of a sudden is a closeup of the wart that is agricultural subsidies?

Although Greg tries to make it sound like intro to Econ courses are just put tools at people's disposal that leads them to the "right" conclusions, I think the truth is a lot less subtle. Many people who go through Intro to Econ classes end up being more conservative because Intro to Econ classes tend to have a very definite point of view. That same very different point of view turns off many students to economics all together.

I don't think it is a job of an intro course to either turn people into true-believers or cynics.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Detainee No. 200343

American guards arrived at the man’s cell periodically over the next several days, shackled his hands and feet, blindfolded him and took him to a padded room for interrogation, the detainee said. After an hour or two, he was returned to his cell, fatigued but unable to sleep.

The fluorescent lights in his cell were never turned off, he said. At most hours, heavy metal or country music blared in the corridor. He said he was rousted at random times without explanation and made to stand in his cell. Even lying down, he said, he was kept from covering his face to block out the light, noise and cold. And when he was released after 97 days he was exhausted, depressed and scared.

His name is Donald Vance and he is a former navy veteran who was working in Iraq as a defense contractor when he was siezed, ironically in connection with suspicious activity at his company that he exposed as a whistleblower.

Why is Donald Vance important? He is not brown. He is not Muslim. He is an American citizen who committed no crimes. As much as I wish we live in a world where this isn't so, Vance is important because he is a living, breathing wake-up call that even more egregious cases of abuse like the Mahar Arar case can never be. If it could happen to Donald Vance, no demographic group can mentally file away detainee abuses and the attack on constitutional rights as something that does not apply to them.

Rawls called it the veil of ignorance. Religious folks might say "there but for the grace of God goes I." Liberals talk about empathy and the obligations that binds us all together as human beings. Conservatives, on the other hand, never seems to see the injustice until it happens to them. Here's John Derbyshire, coming around on the idea that our "free market" healthcare system might not be the best in the world after all:
My health insurer has just notified me, in a brief form letter, that my monthly premiums are to rise from $472.33 to $857.00 on January 1st. That's an increase of 81 percent. ***E*I*G*H*T*Y*-*O*N*E* *P*E*R*C*E*N*T*** Can they do that? I called them. They sound pretty confident they can. Ye gods!

Can't really talk about this, I'm still in shock. But yes, anyone who says right now that our entire health-care financing system is nuts to the fourth power, won't be getting any argument from me.
"Can they do that?", he asks incredulously. One can't help but get the feeling that he really meant to say "Can they do that to me?"

Literal child sex offenders

OK, you thought the Wilson case was ridiculous? How about Utah, where they charged a 13 year old as a sex offender for having sex with her 12 year old boyfriend, and vice versa?
Salt Lake City - Utah Supreme Court justices acknowledged Tuesday that they were struggling to wrap their minds around the concept that a 13-year-old girl could be both an offender and a victim for the same act - in this case, having consensual sex with her 12-year-old boyfriend.

The Ogden, Utah, girl was put in this odd position because she was found guilty of violating a state law that prohibits sex with someone under age 14. She also was the victim in the case against her boyfriend, who was found guilty of the same violation by engaging in sexual activity with her.

"The only thing that comes close to this is dueling," said Associate Chief Justice Michael Wilkins, noting that two people who take 20 paces and then shoot could each be considered both victim and offender.
I have a very specific picture in mind when I think "child sex offender", and those kids ain't it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Intra-Palestinian fire

Rival Palestinian factions exchange fire in Gaza.

So much for the unifying power of an external foe.

Criminal justice

He is seventeen. She is fifteen. Ten years on an aggrevated child molestation rap for consensual oral sex? It strikes Volokh as "unduly harsh."

His fellow conservative "moderate" Dan Riehl however isn't afraid to call 'em like he sees 'em:
The other boys had the sense to take a deal, Wilson declined. Isn't it a bit disingenuous to stand on principle when underneath that principle lies the using of a young girl by six guys all at least two years older than she? He deserves the ten years for stupidity, if not the original crime.

Meanwhile, the judge (and the prosecutor, to some extent) agrees that the sentence does not fit the crime. However, he is bound by mandatory sentencing laws. Did I mention that this case took place in Georgia?

Plan A and Plan B

Mark Kleiman has a clever post up that draws parallels between anti-condom fundies and rabid greens who thinks the only way to combat global warming decrease our fossil fuel use drastically. Stay with me here...he's not comparing the substantive strength of their cases, but their common M.O. -- take a value-neutral problem such as AIDS or global warming and fitting a moralistic narrative around it so that they can utilize that problem as a hammer to beat over the head of those who do not share their worldview. Thus AIDS becomes a punishment for loose living and homosexuality and global warming a cosmic comuppance for our earth-disrespecting consumer culture and the ugliness of our strip malls. Yes, I know that Mark and I are tarring with a broad brush here, but I've written before that there is an anti-consumerist, sanctimonious edge to the environmentalist movement that is tremendously off-putting to many people, and I stand by that assertion.

Having agreed with Mark and congratulated him on the ingenious way he set up his post by leading with an example that will have liberals nodding their heads before switching to a parallel example that cuts against liberals, I have to provide a bit of balance. Yes, I think that the radical, ideological wing of the green movement did tremendous harm by making environmentalism seem extreme. However, I think that there are a lot fewer of those uncompromising extremists in the far more diverse and mainstream anti-global warming movement.

According to Mark, geoengineering is not getting enough attention as a possible solution to global warming because it is "non-Gaian" and will not cut our consumerist ways down to size. That seems off-base to me. First of all, what was the last time you heard the word "Gaia" used by an environmentalist as opposed to those mocking environmentalism? It's simply not a metaphor that is in favor any more. Gore himself, which Mark singles out, is not ideologically opposed to nuclear and positively bullish on cellulosic ethanol. The Sierra club is working with coal-fired energy plants in Illinois ways that seem very reasonable and moderate. These are not folks that sees consumption as an evil in and of itself.

So, why no love for geoengineering? I think the answer is more simple. Even it's investigators caution that geoengineering measures like deflecting sunlight with trillions of wafer-thin lenses or spraying clouds with seawater are "fall-back options", and perhaps rather desperate ones at that. Do they merit more investigation, hell yeah. But I don't blame environmentalists for being cautious, or even guarded about promoting it as a possible solution. They have enough on their plate just trying to convince everyone that global warming is a real problem and that something should be done about it.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Price of Loyalty

John at Gordon's Notes notes received a negative discount for supplying his "loyalty number" when pricing a car rental from Avis.
The 'arms race' of modern pricing continues apace. I priced a personal 5 day van rental twice on Travelocity - once with no loyalty number added and again with the loyalty number.

The price of loyalty, was a $200 increase. Yes, I would pay Avis for the joy of being a loyal customer.

To their credit Travelocity listed Avis twice after I entered my registration number, once at the disloyal price and again at the inflated loyal price.

These days it is increasingly foolish to do any price negotiation directly with a travel related vendor.
(Via Brad DeLong.)


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Literal media whores

Sigh. Is there any wonder why journalism can be such a disrespected profession in Taiwan? Of course, this is the action of an individual and it will be unfair to smear all journalists as brazen hucksters. But I think it does say something about the general media environment that this sort of thing is tried at all.

The richest person in Taiwan is Terry Guo (郭台銘), who heads Hong Hai (for which FoxConn is a subsidiary). Recently, Guo received an email from a reporter named Zang Jiayi (臧家宜) with Next Magazine (part of the Next Media group and a sister publication of Apple Daily in Taiwan). In the email, Zang indicated that she intends to publish a book on Terry Guo titled "The Blazing Sun Scorches The Body: The Guo That You Don't Know About." The email included an outline of the proposed book as well as some of the content. The email was sent under the guise of asking Guo to write the foreword. Guo read the email and considered the contents of the book to be sensationalistic and malicious, with plenty of unsupported negative information which will cause him grave personal damage. Zang and her boyfriend then informed Guo that the book need not be published and proposed a payment of NT$32 million. Guo decided to call the police instead. The police instructed Guo to meet with Zang at a VIP room in a bank, whereupon an agreement was assigned after the payment of NT$32 million in cash. The police then burst in and arrested Zang and Huang. The two denied that they were extorting and claimed that the NT$32 million was for the transferral of copyrights.

NT $32 million is a shade under one million USD, by the way. Talking about corrupt reporters in Taiwan, I'm reading an interesting book written by an ex-journalist called "How to defeat reporters" -- sort of a kind of extreme machiavellian PR handbook. Here's some translated snippets:
There are ways to make a reporter feel like you're his best friend. For instance, involve him in your campaign. Ask him to write your news releases or publicity materials. Have him outline your speeches. Many reporters are indeed experts at such tasks. Since you would have had to pay for these services anyhow, you need to give the reporter reasonable renumeration. For the same price, you have purchased a media outlet along with the necessary services. A very good deal indeed. [snip]

However, there may be greedy reporters who make requests without anything being offered to them first. How to deal with this situation? [snip] Evaluate whether or not they have the potential to be utilized. If they can be of service, pay them a wage. If they cannot, refuse their requests.

Will a refusal result in negative repecussions? Especially in a campaign that might cost tens or even a hundred million taiwanese dollars, would offending a clown by refusing to pay one or two hundred thousand taiwanese dollars have catastrophic consequences? Can you afford to offend a reporter?

This is a complicated question.
I'm glad I never went to journalism school, never built up any serious notions of the nobility of the profession or the sacredness of our duty and our essential role in a democracy. If I did, I might be a sight more upset by the state of journalism in Taiwan now than I am right now.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A good idea or 100

The New York Time's 6th Year in ideas issue is awfully entertaining. I read all of them and here are my faves:

1) Bicycle helmets put you at risk
My friend Mark actually told me about this already. I still wear a helmet though. After all, for the effect to work, the driver will actually have to see you, register that you have a helmet on, and decide to give you less leeway (at least subconsciously) as a result of it. It won't save you being t-boned by a crazed taxi driver who charges into the intersection or the bus drivers who never bother checking their mirrors before moving in and out of stops.

2) Digital Maoism
The flipside of the hivemind.

3) The Lady Macbeth Effect
I'm fond of psychological studies that sheds light on unexpected facets of the human consciousness. According to this study, we're really quite literal beings when it comes to washing our hands of something. Quite interesting, as long as this is not an example of...

4) Publication Probity
...publication bias.

5) Voting Booth Feng Shui
Does voting in a church effect how one votes on questions of abortion? Does voting in a school, on public funding for education?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I'm buying Slate an Occam's Razor for Christmas

Am I the only one that is puzzled by this 2-page Slate article worrying about the source of the polonium used to kill Alexander Litvinenko?

I thought that it was pretty much assumed by everyone that the Russian government offed Litvinenko. Obtaining that radioactive isotope might be difficult for most people, but I assume it is not a problem for the Russian government as most of the world's polonium is produced in Russian reactors under Russian government supervision, as the article helpfully informs us. So why the speculation about black market polonium getting into terrorist hands? I know that Slate always tries to come up with a "but the real story is..." hook, but this is one contrarian angle that just doesn't make much sense.

If anything, the difficulty of obtaining polonium almost seems like a signature touch -- Litvinenko might have had many enemies, but how many could get their hands on polonium 210?

Ain't nothing but a lid thing?

"Double eyelid" surgeries are getting even more popular and losing their stigma among Asian women. In a trend led by Koreans, but of course.

As far as plastic surgeries go, blepharoplasties are relatively benign. A crease is created in the eyelid surgically. The stigma arise because caucasian eyes are naturally creased while most asian eyes are not, leading to the assumption that those who get the surgery must be trying to make themselves look more western. Which is nonsense.

Still, one has to wonder about beauty standards that require a significant proportion of the population to go under the knife. At least it seems less of a bummer than shaving off part of your mandibles to achieve a slimmer-looking face.

At least he didn't have rape rooms

I've always thought that the right-wing answer to the moral relativism that they so decry in liberals was straight-up hypocritism. However, I see that in the case of the late Chilean dictator Augustus Pinochet we're getting treated to a little bit of both. This gem was freshly nutpicked from a lovely site I found through LGM's early roundup of Pinochet apologia.
One thing we must be sure to do is place everything into context. What time in history was this? What else in the world was happening? These questions also have to answered before we can judge a person.
And just what are some of the things we're being asked to put in context? Randy Paul has the roundup.
  • September 1974: Has DINA, his secret police organization plant a bomb in the car of General Carlos Prats, his predecessor in Buenos Aires. The bomb kills General Prats and his wife, Sofia. Debris from the explosion is found on the ninth floor of a building across the street.
  • October 1975: Has DINA, through Italian fascist terrorist Stefano Della Chiae, attempt to murder Christian Democrat politician and regime opponent, Bernardo Leighton in Rome Italy. Leighton and his wife survive, but live in constant pain for the rest of their lives.
  • September 1976: Has DINA blow up the car of Orlando Letelier in Washington, DC, killing Letelier and his American assistant, Ronni Moffitt.
  • November 1978: The bodies of fifteen men who were "disappeared" are found in an abandoned limestone mine in Lonquen.
  • June 1990: The bodies of 19 men who disappeared in the 1970's are discovered in a mass grave in Pisagua.
  • September 1991: The bodies of 127 victims of Pinochet's regime are found buried secretly, two to a grave in some cases. Pinochet responds to television reporters by praising the economy of burying two to a grave.
And here's Mark Steyn, dregging up an eight year old piece defending Pinochet from the culturally insensitive outrage that is international law.
In a way, this is the new colonialism. The old imperial powers were more tolerant of local customs and culture than the monolithically Leftist body or international law. So, recently, the British Government forced its reluctant Caribbean colonies to abandon their prohibitions on homosexuality and bring their laws into compliance with the European Convention.
Ah...right-wing multiculturalism.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Milking the system

It always seems faintly absurd to me that innoculous household staples like milk and sugar have big lobbying groups zealously defending their interests. Big Milk. Big Sugar. Big Asparagus. OK, I made the last one up. But hey, who knows.
A maverick dairyman named Hein Hettinga started bottling his own milk and selling it for as much as 20 cents a gallon less than the competition, exercising his right to work outside the rigid system that has controlled U.S. milk production for almost 70 years. Soon the effects were rippling through the state, helping to hold down retail prices at supermarkets and warehouse stores.

That was when a coalition of giant milk companies and dairies, along with their congressional allies, decided to crush Hettinga's initiative. For three years, the milk lobby spent millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions and made deals with lawmakers, including incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

Last March, Congress passed a law reshaping the Western milk market and essentially ending Hettinga's experiment -- all without a single congressional hearing.

Hettinga, who ran a big business and was no political innocent, fought back with his own lobbyists and alliances with lawmakers. But he found he was no match for the dairy lobby.

"I had an awakening," the 64-year-old Dutch-born dairyman said. "It's not totally free enterprise in the United States."

How do we get outraged about 20 cents in a jug of milk? This is a serious question. Dairy firms are getting unjustified breaks at the expense of everybody else through currying favors with legislators. The facts of the case are as plain as can be and I don't think Big Milk is even bothering to come up with some sort of justification for their actions. They don't really have to because people don't really care enough about 20 cents in a jug of milk to get excercised about it.

By the way, this whole article is worth reading. It seems to be a part of a big WaPo series on farm subsidies, which I'll be checking out more of. I'm glad this issue is getting more attention. Farm subsidies, like all forms of corporate welfare, is a disgrace upon our democracy.

Presidential mettle, or lack thereof

Senator Clinton is trying to prove something, but what?
Hot on the heels of the release of the Iraq Study Group Report -- and a day in which 10 U.S. servicemen were killed and at least 84 Iraqis were blown up or shot -- prospective presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will join with Joe Lieberman to hold a press conference today at 3 pm ET to announce the launch of a television PSA campaign about... video game ratings.

Oh. My. God.

The violence in Iraq is becoming more savage by the minute -- among the dead yesterday were 45 bullet-riddled corpses found in Baghdad, many of whom had been tortured before being executed -- and Hillary is worried about video game violence? Are you kidding me?

If you just look at their resumés, Senator Clinton is the second most qualified of the possible contenders for the 2008 Democratic nomination. (The most qualified, of course, is Al Gore, at least on paper.)

But then she goes and pulls silly stunts like this, which show that she has little sense for the proper business of the federal government, and little for the concerns of Americans, proper or not.

By all accounts, she's got an extraordinary talent for raising money, which will give her a strong advantage in the 2008 primary. But while fund-raising talent is what you need in a university president, it's not a qualification for President of the United States.

(Via The Editors.)


Saturday, December 09, 2006


Yesterday I received an email from my credit card company, telling me "A credit has posted to your account."

I didn't recall having returned a purchase, so I logged in to my account online to see what the credit was for.

There was a one cent credit posted to my account, for "SHEA CLASS ACTION LIT. SETTLEMENT AWARD."


Friday, December 08, 2006

What's the matter with libertarians?

Some libertarians, most notably the Reason ilk, have been extending something of an olive branch to the Democratic party. It seems to this commentator that if the olive branch had come when it might have mattered, say 2000, or 2004, it would have been graciously accepted. As it is, not only did the libertarians choose to observe one and a half terms of a disasterous presidency mutely before declaring their switch, they only enthusiastically rolled out the 'liberaltarian' label after it becomes obvious that the Republicans have imploded. Really, what can Brink Lindsey expect for his progressive manifesto but a cold, hard, rebuff, which was exactly what he got, and how, from Rob. Libertarians, present company excluded of course, have carried water for the the conservatives for far, far, far too long to expect the progressives to recieve them with open arms. Their road to damascus experience about how the Republicans are mean ol' daddies who lied about being fiscally responsible and are now coming after your civil rights came right after the Democrats regained both houses of congress? What a wonderful coincidence. [Just so that we're triple-dog clear, I'm talking about the Catoids, the Reasonites, OK? I'm sure that most of the libertarians on my blogroll, if they vote at all, would not have voted Republican for years and years.]

Snark aside though. I disagree somewhat with Rob post, fun as it was to read. I think that any time any constituency anywhere comes to you with their votes in hand, our party should take it, as long as it is clear that we're forging and alliance built on shared goals and that the newcomers are not in a position to dictate sweeping changes. I think that Brink Lindsey is right in that, historical factors and allegiances aside, a sober look at what both parties stand for at this point in time would probably cause most people under the nebulous yet divisive libertarian umbrella to pitch blue. In the comment thread to Rob's post, commenter 'Mona', who took exception to Rob's broad brush excoriation of libertarians, was ridiculed by 'Atrios' thusly: " I'll never understand people whose voting preferences seem to depend on whether random bloggers are nice to them or not." Actually, I don't really know what's there not to understand. If people percieve you as being hostile to them, they won't vote for your side. It's as simple as that. I mean, didn't Thomas Frank write a whole book on that?

In his post, Rob has basically labelled all libertarians as Glenn Reynoldses and Barry Goldwaters when in fact they are incredibly diverse. To me, that's putting a big "return to sender: Republican party" stamp on a group that has build up a political identity that's been very useful for the Republican party in appealing to voters that would have been utterly turned off by its social conservatism. Think "South Park republicans". If for no other reason than to prevent the Republicans from continuing to profit undeservedly from the libertarian brand, Democrats should be cautiously rolling out the welcome mat for libertarians instead of dismissing them out of pique.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The cheesecake bug

I've been stricken with some awful cold. I feel like I've been turned into a hacking, coughing, snivelling, gravel-voiced swamp hag that only emerges from my lair for hot tea. And cocao. And cheesecake, and cookies, and chocolate dipped butter biscuits. I think that by the time I finally get better I might have gained two pounds just from my inexplicable cold-related craving for baked goods.

Does this ever happen to anyone else? Does it?


Democratic vs. Republican phrases

Jesse Shapiro and Matthew Gentzkow, in their paper "What Drives Media Slant?", offer up lists of phrases more commonly used by Democrats than Republicans, and vice-versa, based on the 2005 Congressional Record. Here's a sample from each list. I've trimmed each list to ten entries.

Two-word phrases more often used by Democrats:
private accounts
trade agreement
american people
tax breaks
trade deficit
oil companies
credit card
nuclear option
war in iraq
middle class
Three-word phrases more often used by Democrats:
veterans health care
congressional black caucus
va health care
billion in tax cuts
credit card companies
security trust fund
social security trust
privatize social security
american free trade
central american free
Two-word phrases more often used by Republicans:
stem cell
natural gas
death tax
illegal aliens
class action
war on terror
embryonic stem
tax relief
illegal immigration
boy scouts
Three word phrases more often used by Republicans:
embryonic stem cell
hate crimes legislation
adult stem cells
oil for food program
personal retirement accounts
energy and natural resources
global war on terror
hate crimes law
change hearts and minds
global war on terrorism


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Saturday catblogging

This is what happens when I leave the folded laundry on the table, instead of putting it away.