Monday, May 29, 2006

On Why You Should Be Worried About a Powerful Government

It is profoundly interesting to observe how short-sighted people are when considering government authority. Many conservatives who are supportive of the Bush administration’s expansion of federal powers might not be so enthusiastic about it once Hillary (or whoever) is in charge in ’08 or at some point thereafter, yet still have no problem supporting a growing government under the watchful eye (ha!) of President Bush. On the other hand, liberals are bemoaning the concentration of power in the executive branch, worrying about government surveillance, or criticizing the role the government is playing in the economy (i.e. subsidies for oil companies). Most of these people had no problem offering the government the ability to have these powers when their party was holding the reins. What is forgotten is that a government powerful enough to give you everything you want is powerful enough to do everything you don’t want, at your expense. As Jane Galt says in a recent post on the late John Kenneth Galbraith:

The basic problem with Galbraith is the same issue I have with most of the urbane prophets of the nanny state: they confuse their preferences about things like lawns, large automobiles, and television programmes with moral imperatives. Then they are confused when the power they have handed the state to impose their preferences on everyone else instead gets used to provide gas tax rebates and NASCAR stadiums.

Be careful what you wish for, my friends, because they just might get it.

It's "Pick on Tom Friedman Month" at Northern Exposure!

Following up this post on the exploits of Thomas Friedman, I'm forced to call attention to this expose on his continued (and ongoing, and continued, and ongoing) use of the concept that "the next 6 months will really tell us what's going to happen in Iraq" and we should let the current situation "play out". Since Nov. 2003, the NY Times columnist has used a variation of that exact phrase at least a dozen times, in separate columns and interviews, dating up to May 11th, 2006. Each time, the turning point in understanding the situation in Iraq is just around the corner. Until a few months later, when the best-before date gets pushed back another few months. Frankly, it's pretty hilarious.

The War on the Windy Streets

Residents (and future residents) of Chicago, take note: the Chicago Police Department (former employer to Carl Winslow, I believe) will be operating with an increased presence on the streets this summer. "Operation Safe Summer" will in essence, create a police state in many high-crime neighborhoods. This plan is similar to one tried in Fresno, CA, in the 90's that had one Fresno cop saying "if you're a young black man and you're not in our system yet, there's something wrong." Sounds like a wonderful experience to live in such a 'safe environment'.

Explanations for why Chicago is known as "The Windy City" here.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Obligatory American Idol Post

Apparently the dude with the grey hair won American Idol last night. For two very different takes on the Idol phenomenon, read this piece in Slate that discusses how the show has improved over the years, and then check out this cynical piece in the NY Times that once again proves that any mainstream culture must be too lowbrow for the Times. I have to agree with the Slate article: American Idol isn't near as annoying as it used to be, musically, and it's found a niche where I can mostly ignore it while it remains popular. And the world awaits the next hometown hero Theresa Sokyrka.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why Not Ban Swimming?

Texas has banned high dives from their swimming pools. Someone could get hurt, you know?

And I'll add something to the obvious points being made elsewhere about this quote:

So even though Kerry Little, assistant superintendent of aquatics for Richardson, says [since the 1964 opening] no one had ever suffered an injury while jumping from the high dive, it had to be torn down this past winter.

This of course makes the ban seem even more ridiculous, but I don't even like the implication of what's being said: that if one person had suffered an injury while jumping from the high dive, it would justify banning them. I don't buy that for a second.

(By the way: the cynical piece linked to above, from the Dallas/Fort Worth Magazine, is excellent)

CFL: Canadian Freedom League

If you're one of the best football players in the U.S. and you don't like your employer (the NFL) telling you what you can put into your body (i.e. subjecting you to mandatory drug tests), what options do you have? Well, there's always the CFL, home of those athletes who weren't quite big enough or fast enough to crack the lineup in the NFL. Or, apparently, the ones who couldn't pass their ridiculous drug tests. I for one welcome these drug-crazed madmen to the league, and give kudos to the CFL for not putting adults through tests to see if they like to consume "illegal drugs" on their own time.

(Note: these are tests for "substance abuse" of recreational drugs, not for steroids)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A Principled Stand

It's good to see high school students taking a stand for free speech - in this case, the right to wear clothes with the confederate flag on it, as 15 year old Candice Hardwick is doing in South Carolina. But what's even better is when a black man marches right along beside her defending her right to free expression.

Monday, May 22, 2006

At Least We're Ahead of Nigeria

Despite indications that a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage could be in the works in the US, we can take heart that we're still more tolerant than Nigeria, where a proposed bill makes it a crime to even speak out in favor of equal rights for homosexuals.

Why should we have any level cultural sensitivity for these backwards societies that refuse to recognize individual rights (i.e. towards women, gays, etc.)? A plague on their houses.

A Good Way to Start the Week...

Is with a comic strip by Seattle's awesome Peter Bagge, who takes it to the war on drugs.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Your Friday Comic

The Last Post on Gas Prices

And by the way, why are so many calling for cuts in subsidies to oil and gas companies and linking it to calls to establish lower fuel prices? Wouldn’t the actual effect be just the opposite? I completely agree that we do need to eliminate corporate subsidies, but the reason to do so isn’t to have lower gas prices. Don’t we hear farmers saying the we “need” farm subsidies because otherwise a loaf of bread would cost $7.00? So yes, get rid of the handouts to the oil companies, but don’t expect it to lower fuel costs. In fact it may even increase prices (although I wouldn’t expect that effect to be especially large).

OK, I’m done. Really, I’ve got to let go.

Hey You Kids, Stop Thinking for Yourself

Tell me if you think this is racist:

"emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology"

I'd say it's a real stretch utter B.S. But that's just one of the points included in the definition of "cultural racism" in the Seattle public schools diversity policy.

Gas Prices and Coservation

On the issue of gas prices yet again, Jerry Taylor has a good piece up at Cato-at-Liberty on the paradox that many seem to have over this issue. He correctly points out that many who are today wailing that something "needs to be done" about high gas prices are the same people who have for years encouraged conservation through reduced driving, using public transit, driving more fuel efficient cars, etc. What they are missing is that high gas prices are easily the best mechanism to encourage exactly these kinds of behaviors, especially over the long term. If, like me, you believe in the importance of energy conservation then high gas prices are the best thing you can hope for.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: After listening to the audio from the NPR debate, two things come to mind: first, after Taylor says that Cato is in favor of consumption taxes such as gas taxes, rather than income taxes, she responds by saying "of course Cato will be for consumption taxes and against gas taxes!". Maybe she just misspoke, but after her other arguments I can't be sure. Secondly, how is is possible that someone with a PhD in economics (from MIT!) can have such a distorted view of how the economy works? It's hard to criticize politicians for not getting it when people who have multiple degrees in economics aren't able to let go of their partisan politics and look at an issue through an economic lens.

Bad Economics at the Lunch Table

I have some very intelligent colleagues, but their understanding of economics sometimes leaves a little to be desired. Today, the discussion came around to the fact that someone had seen on TV that rental car companies were charging a higher price for smaller cars than for larger cars, as a result of the high gas prices. This was widely seen as being "awful", "crazy", and cynically "the American way". Well, yes, if the American way includes capitalism (which I hope it does, despite what people want to happen to gas prices. What's happening is that the high gas prices have increased demand for smaller cars. What happens when demand is increased for a given product? Any of my economics students could tell you that the prices goes up. Let's hope they remember that rule for the rest of their lives so they can avoid frustrating their econ-literate colleagues at the lunch table.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

In Celebration of My Visa Renewal

Sorry about the long time between posts, it's been a really busy week or so in the teaching game. I'll try to catch up over the next few days with some posts I've had in the wings.

I just got word that my work visa was approved yesterday, so I'm on the legal side of the immigration debate for another 3 years. With that in mind, it's worth pointing to this excellent op-ed in the LA Times by Tyler Cowen and Daniel Rothschild discussing the benefits of immigration. A key point is that the net gain to the US economy from immigration is $7 billion (and this comes from a study by someone who's an opponent to immigration). I also very much appreciated this perspective:

Some argue that we should employ a more restrictive policy that allows in only immigrants with "needed" skills. But this assumes that the government can read the economic tea leaves. Most bureaucrats in 1980 did not foresee the building or biomedical booms of the 1990s, or the decline of auto manufacturing. We should not trust government to know what kind of laborers we will need 20 years from now. The ready presence of immigrant workers — including the unskilled — makes all businesses easier to start, and thus spurs American creativity.

This piece is a must-read.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Peace and Civility (or a lack thereof)

Nick Gillespie, editor of Reason magazine (one of my favourite publications), was on the O'Reilly Factor this week debating Senator Lamar Alexander on the proposed bill that would "ban" singing the national anthem in Spanish. I won't get into why it's a stupid piece of legislation right now, but here's what saddens me the most: the response Nick received from O'Reilly viewers, which was absolutely vicious, ignorant, racist, and completely lacking in thought. It's this kind of shit that really makes me long for the more tame politics in Canada, where it seems like most people can be civil to each other. I know there are many, many exceptions - but I just can't imagine reading stuff like this north of the border.

Incidentally, how is it possible that Nick's opinions are lambasted as being "communist" so frequently, when the it's the other side that is displaying the totalitarian mentality? "Commie" has to be one of the most misunderstood put-downs in the modern era.

UPDATE: If those comments depressed you, like they did me, then you might want to check out the comment thread at Hit & Run on the subject, where some sane people are able to look at it with a sense of humour. It made me feel better.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Thursday Night Comedy Break

If anyone else besides To the People linked to awesome stuff like this, I wouldn't have to link to them all the time. But here's two hilarious drug-related videos:

First, a dude on The Price Is Right who keeps on bidding $420 over and over.

Then, a clip of Ali G interviewing a DEA agent. Pretty much speaks for itself.

Hey! I 'Get' Something Written in McSweeny's!

I usually find I'm not either: a) literary enough; b) smart enough; or possibly c) quirky enough, to really understand most of the humor in the much-adored-in-certain-circles McSweeny's (or maybe it was just becuase there wasn't any pictures). But if you are familiar with the hyper-methaphorical, anecdote-filled, and cliche-ridden (though genuinely interesting and thoughtful) writing of The World is Flat author and NY Times op-ed contributor Thomas Friedman, this Friedman MadLibs column is fantastic.

The Right to Take Risks When You’re Already Dying

Some good news from the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. yesterday: in a 2-1 decision, they ruled that that terminally ill patients have the right to take experimental drugs that have passed Phase I of FDA review (which determines whether a product is safe), but have not yet been formally approved by the agency. Kudos to the court for making a decision that puts power into the hands of patients, not bureacrats, to make decisions about the risks they want to take. Typically, there are worry-warts shouting from the sidelines about safety and that the Court has “invented” the right to take a substance into your own body. The WaPo also manages to make the “slippery slope” argument in a whine-filled editorial:

If this right is real, it potentially calls into question the whole fabric of drug regulation. Why do only terminally ill patients have it? Why doesn't an itchy eczema victim have a right to some new cream? Does the government have an obligation to fund the right for indigents who cannot afford access on their own? For that matter, why does the right only apply to drugs that have passed Phase I testing -- that is, preliminary safety trials? Why, in other words, doesn't the principle the court embraces create a right to LSD or marijuana, for which people have made all kinds of extraordinary medical claims?

Exactly (although this isn’t the point they’re trying to make) – we SHOULD be calling into question the hole fabric of drug regulation. The question shouldn’t be whether someone has the “right” to a certain drug (for medical reasons or not), but whether the government has the “right” to keep those drugs away from people who want them (and may have legitimate medical reasons for wanting to try them).

[HT: To the People]

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Excuse Me While I Lose My Cool


There. Not likely do to much good, but I feel better having screamed. Don't you?

Monday, May 01, 2006

It's Their Party and We're Not Invited

If your internet connection has been down this weekend, you may have missed the excitement rolling across the blogosphere surrounding Stephen Colbert’s speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner (video here, a transcript here). While I’m a big fan of The Colbert Report (and I seriously think he should get into politics sometime) in all honesty the monologue isn’t gut-busting funny (I think it actually makes better reading than watching). But it is a spot-on scathing takedown of the president and the mainstream media – his audience, in other words. You can hear and see the discomfort in the room when he makes jokes that cut too close to the bone – he’s clearly an outsider in the Washington press corps, and in their eyes he has crossed the boundary between friendly the little jabs that constitute journalism in the capital and really trying to land a punch on the power brokers in the government and the press. Jim Henley has a nice take on this:

To watch Stephen Colbert’s performance before the White House Correspondents’ Club dinner last night is to see a performer relentlessly refusing to let the audience congratulate itself. Hence the relative paucity of laughs from the crowd. The instant Colbert confides in the President from the podium that “I have complete contempt for these people too” and they realize he means it, the audience is lost to him. They were inviting him to join the club, as so many “outrageous” performers before have joined when given the chance, and he spat on their fingers as they prepared to show him the secret handshake. What they wanted was safe, American “of course we can laugh about ourselves, ha ha, it’s the national duty!” pseudosatire. What they got was an ass-ripping by a man who could barely contain his disgust with his surroundings.

By the way, my favorite line of his speech was this one:

Because really, what incentive do these people have to answer your questions, after all? I mean, nothing satisfies you. Everybody asks for personnel changes. So the White House has personnel changes. Then you write, "Oh, they're just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic." First of all, that is a terrible metaphor. This administration is not sinking. This administration is soaring. If anything, they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg!

And “boxing a glacier” was a nice one, too – especially coupled with the global warming reference.

And while it is somewhat interesting about the lack of (MSM) press about this, I really can't get my shirt tied in a knot over this supposed oversight. They're complaining because the mainstream media is paying more attention to what Bush said than Stephen Colbert? Get a grip, guys. That's why God invented the internet.

"I would rather have a clean government than one where quote 'First Amendment rights' are being respected"

John McCain actually said that. [via DoL]