Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Globalization, take a bow

In London, home to the best Indian food outside of India, McDonald's is now selling a curry-chicken sandwich for 99p.

Top 100 Hoaxes

This is fun.

Young on Schiavo

Cathy Young has probably the best post I've read so far on why the Schiavo case is so infuriating.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Stepping up the war on third world farmers

No, not through agricultural subsidies (this time), but by cracking down on opium poppy farmers in Afghanistan. This side of the drug war probably makes me even more sick to my stomach than the jailing of innocent people for choosing to put a certain substance in their body. If terrorists obtaining money from the drug trade is a legitimate concern, then focus on that - don't try and take away one of the few means of making a living for many families in a poverty-stricken country. Amazingly, the U.S. military even seems to realize this as they promote this front:

Pentagon and military officials caution that support for the coalition's overall mission in Afghanistan could become unhinged if American forces are seen eradicating a crop that is the only livelihood for many Afghans, and they stress the importance of allowing Afghan forces to take the lead.

"We know the military is not the best tool for fighting drugs," said one senior Pentagon official. "We have the best troops in the world. We did in days what the Soviets could not do in a decade. But this is not about burning crops or destroying labs. Eventually it is about finding a better option for Afghans who have to feed their families."

Yes, support for the coalition's mission to keep drugs from Americans is what our primary concern should be when firebombing the crops of farmers (I apologize if they aren't doing this in Afghanistan, but evidence from South America indicates it could be part of the package). What is completely ridiculous about this whole situation is that the easiest and most effective way to keep drug money from terrorists warloads would be to LEGALIZE THEM. But no, that's not on the table.

I'd been feeling pretty uninspired about this issue lately (even while having to supply a urine sample for work a few weeks ago), but my passion against the drug war has been renewed.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Monday, March 21, 2005

Running the bases of Congress

Matt Welch has two excellent pieces on the rediculous MLB/steroid-use investigation by the hilariously titled (if you like black comedy) House Committee on Government Reform. We sure are in a great place right now if this is what our elected officials can devote their time to.

Weighing in on Schiavo

I don't really have a strong opinion on whether or not Terri Schavio's feeding tube should be removed, since I'm not a medical expert or a member of her family, the two points that must be raised as a result of this case are these:

1. The federal government once again oversteps its constitutional authority (in what seems to be a theme of the week even more than usual in D.C. - witness the shameless posturing in the investigation into steroid use in Major League Baseball) to create a special law for this case. The grandstanding of these politicians sticking their noses and legislative pens into this decision just reiterates that complete lack of regard the vast majority of Congress has for their enumerated powers. The fact that they even consider this to be an issue of relevance to the federal government is both insulting and sadly unsurprising.

2. The really sad part about this case for me is that it is impossible, under the law, for Terri Schavio's doctors to actively do anything to end her life. All they can do is remove her feeding tube and wait for her to starve to death. Even when knowing full well that this is tantamount to a death sentence, they aren't able to offer a hit of chemicals that would just end it sooner rather than have her suffer for the next couple of weeks (of course, whether or not she is capable of "suffering" in her condition is debatable). I realize this case isn't really about euthanasia, but it seems pretty barbaric that we are unable to assist someone who is without question going to die very soon to reach that point a little less painfully.

For the record, if I am ever in a permanently vegetative state for pretty much any length of time (say, 3 or 4 months), for reason's sake cut me off. The big personal lesson from this case is get a living will.

Lots more blogging on this is available elsewhere - here's a place to start.

Friday, March 11, 2005

"Friday Fun Link"

What does shagging mean to you? Me too, but that's not what they think in North Carolina.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Measuring Progress

Ronald Bailey discusses the myraid of ways that life in the third world is improving. Many indicators point to the fact that the quality of life gap between the majority of developing countries and the world's richest nations has narrowed. While they may not be getting the same gains in terms of monetary income, it is hard to argue that the poor are worse off than they used to be. It is interesting, because many of the same people who are very concerned with the "growing gap between the rich and the poor" are the same people who are telling us we need to use other metrics besides money to measure progress. Well, the data speaks for itself.

Social Security Choice = Size of Government Creep?

An excellent debate on the creation of private accounts can be found in the new print issue of Reason. Interestingly, Tyler Cowen makes a strong argument against Bush's plan, based primarily on the argument that it will lead to increased taxes now to pay for the revenue shortfall for current and near-future retirees, and these increases will be unlikely to be reduced in the longer term when the extra money isn't needed because future retirees will have private accounts. I'm not sure where I come down on that point, but I definitely agree with him that the government will be seen as a giving a de facto guarantee on these accounts, which will no doubt lead to some sticky political and legal battles in the future.

Stop Rampant Designated Driving!

Here's a really bad idea from Waterville, Maine: arrest designated drivers to crack down on underage drinking.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Taxi Driving

Sunday, March 06, 2005

This isn't helping

An absolutely awful article by Sarah Kershaw on the front page (!) of Saturday's NY Times. A very high-minded "discussion" of the flow of drugs from B.C. into the US. The ugly truth is completely avoided - that gangs and violence are associated with drugs because they are illegal, and for no other reason. Shoving drug activity into the black market only raises prices and creates an incentive for criminals to get involved in trafficking. I can only hope that the furor over the recent events in Alberta dies down before anyone tries to step up the freedom-destroying and ineffective "war on drugs".

Quote of the day

Discussing the potential for the FEC to regulate Internet political activity, including blogs, Democratic commissioner Ellen Weintraub:

"Given the impact of the Internet, I think we have to take a look at whether there are aspects of that that ought to be subject to the regulations."

Read it again. This is a perfect example of the mindset of the typical bureaucrat: if something is having an impact, then we better start looking at how we can regulate it. There's much more on this issue all over the place (generally from incensed bloggers): Here, here, here, and here.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Romans go home!

Life imitates art.

Too lazy to invest

Having experienced first-hand (and discussed) the opportunity cost aspects associated with socialized medicare versus free-market provision of health care, I feel compelled to note Thomas Geoghegan's Slate article complaining about having to spend his valuable time managing his own retirement savings. This piece has been rightly panned, but it reveals an important hurdle facing proponents of reform. And while I completely understand where he's coming from (and I think the same argument can be made about privatization/deregulation of energy markets), this strikes me as a pretty weak blow at Social Security reform. Saying the government should do something for you because you're too lazy to do it yourself exposes a pretty similar sentiment to the one conservatives complain about recipients of welfare. And the way I understand Bush's plan is currently formulated is that you could choose to opt out of the guaranteed benefits in order to create a private account. So if you're really too lazy to look after your own future, the government can continue to do it for you. But just because you want the government to take care of all that thinking, doesn't mean everyone else should be painted into the same corner. While they're at it, they can tell you what to eat, smoke, and watch on television. Oh, wait. They already do that, too.

The larger issue that interests me is the tradeoff we make when choice enters in the equation. I think the benefits of being able to make choices on your own preferences (rather than adhering to the government's or the majority's) are pretty clear, and worth the effort. Yes, there is definitely an opportunity cost associated with obtaining choice, and as George Bernard Shaw said "Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it." As far as I'm concerned, the fact that we will have to be responsible for ourselves is a better argument for liberty than against it.

The toll of drug laws

Add 4 RCMP officers to the list of victims of drug prohibition. Four Mounties were shot during a raid on a grow-op in central Alberta, Canada. The reaction of government officials and the law enforcement community is predictable and not at all encouraging:

Anne McLellan, the Deputy Prime Minister and Public Safety Minister, also offered her sympathies to the families of the slain officers. She promised that Ottawa would consider toughening laws against grow-ops, calling them a rapidly expanding organized-crime threat. Without providing details, she said the government would consider changes to a bill before the Commons to decriminalize marijuana, which includes stiffer penalties for grow operations.

RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli expressed hope the incident will encourage Canadians to reconsider their views on marijuana. "Hopefully this type of a tragedy will make us review and rethink and reflect and bring a perspective to some of these issues as Canadians," he said. "Drugs are illegal and they're extremely dangerous and people have to understand that. And when you have people who are promoting the issue of safe drugs or [that] there are harmless drugs, I think that is something that we better understand is not the right way to go. We don't solve anything in society by legalizing things or by pretending they're not harmful to society."

Don't even get me started on this guy's comments (I'm sure I'll get started on it soon enough).

I hate to use the death of four people to prove a political point (although Commissioner Zaccardelli doesn't seem to mind pouncing on it), but this just reaffirms what anyone with any sense realizes about the effects of drug prohibition. And of course, this will spark a debate about "tougher laws" on drugs, because it seems that nobody in the government or the police force has ever considered the fact that the violence associated with drugs is a result of them being illegal.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Social Security Choice

The debate rages on, and while I firmly (but cautiously) come down on the side of private accounts (as much for philosophical reasons as pragmatic reasons), there seems to be a great deal of mis-used language in discussions of this issue. Obviously pretty much everyone is coming at this with a great deal of preconceived ideas about what should happen. It's interesting to see the way people always manage to frame this issue in a way that allows them to confirm their suspicions.

Easy now...

As encouraging as recent events in the Middle East are, I don't think we should get ahead of ourselves and consider the Iraq adventure an unqualified success. Max Boot disagrees. He may turn out to be correct, but we're merely seeing baby steps at this point. And although I think optimism is the name of the game, it would be unwise to declare victory too early.

Horrible, Awful Progress

More on what's happening in the Middle East and its effect on domestic politics: Matt Welch checks in with a short commentary on Fred Kaplan's Slate article on the scary proposition that maybe this is a positive thing, no matter how it paints the president.

When will somebody in the government (or, for that matter, anyone with strong party preferences) try and look at current events with a wider lens than simply how it will effect your party's chances of being elected?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Democracy on the march?

It's time I logged a few lines on the ongoing developments in the Middle East, specifically Lebanon. My gut instinct is cautioned optimism, bordering on excitement. I can't believe I'm saying it, but it does feel like something is happening. Categorically, I don't support a foreign policy of "nation-building". But the outcome of the Iraq adventure is, at this point at least, appearing to vindicate almost everything Bush had to say about the positive role a democratic Iraq could play in the region. I am far from thinking that any of the problems faced by the nations of the region are solved, but these steps in the right direction are encouraging. So, I have to hand it to Bush and the pro-war hawks: so far, they've got the objective high ground (although I doubt many of them really had this in mind even when they conceived of it as a way to sell the war).

I've long been hesitant to try and understand what's going on in the Middle East, because it seems that the issues are incredibly complex, but I'll try and stick with this story and see if I can reach a moderate level of comprehension about at least some aspects of the most insane region on Earth.

Free-riding on health care

Found this short piece on the question of whether Canada is free-riding on the research and innovation in health care found in the US (which I discussed earlier). The author is specifically looking at drug innovation, and comes to the conclusion that Canada is pulling its weight in terms of R&D. I'm skeptical, but I'll look into it in more detail.

The Benefits of Trade for Dummies...

...or even better, let's teach it to kids when they're young. This is a beautiful little teaching activity from Robert Lawson.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Downsize Me

Anyone who has seen the movie "Super Size Me" will be interested in this article from the National Post that reports on an Edmonton man who has mimicked the month-long, all-McDonald's diet practiced by director Morgan Spurlock in the film. He's lost weight.

Clearly, I'm not a big fan of the corporate-bashing ideology that underpins projects like "Super Size Me". Although the film didn't go as far down that path as I feared before I saw it, drawing many conclusions (besides symbolic ones) from such an experiment would be unwise. The Edmonton teacher's story confirms what many studies have shown: exercise is more important than food intake in determining health. Most studies indicate that active, overweight people are "healthier" than thin, sedentary people.

UPDATE: I don't want to rag on nutritionists, because I know some personally (ironically, one who lives in Edmonton) and they do some excellent and useful work, but I thought the following quote was rather humo(u)rous:

"Just because he's saying there's weight loss, doesn't mean it's healthy weight loss. It may not be sustainable," said Megan McCrory, an associate professor at the School of Nutrition and Exercise Science in Kenmore, Wash. "He's probably losing weight because he's burning more calories than he's eating."

Probably? Isn't that pretty much the only way to lose weight? I totally agree with her that not all weight loss may be healthy, but if the metric for success is weight loss, then by all means, let's measure the pounds lost and I think we can be pretty confident that a negative caloric balance was the cause.