7-26-14 Hodgepodge

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The "Freedom Option"

Former Senator Phil Gramm of Texas proposes to Republicans a way to win the political fight against ObamaCare:

Republicans should not underestimate the power of freedom in the health-care debate. In 1994, when 74 senators had either co-sponsored President Clinton's health bill--or a very close alternative--Sens. John McCain, Paul Coverdell and I set out to try to defeat HillaryCare. The media in Washington largely ignored our opposition, but we conducted over 40 public forums around the country in hospitals and other medical settings. We talked about efficiency and people looked at their watches. We talked about costs and they yawned.

But in Atlanta, when my mother attended the meeting and I started to talk about her freedom to make her own health-care choices, people started to respond and HillaryCare started to die. In the end the debate was not about money or efficiency. It was about freedom. This same principle offers our only real hope of stopping the suffering under ObamaCare now and and repealing it in 2017.
Earlier in his article, Gramm helpfully notes how ObamaCare threatens that freedom, and how state mandates paved the way for this to happen.

Weekend Reading

"If you handle criticism well, you'll probably not leap to the immediate (and often mistaken) conclusion that the inferior service is directed toward you personally." -- Michael Hurd, in "Coping With Bad Service" at The Delaware Coast Press

"From a psychological point-of-view, it makes the most sense to see yourself as self-employed whether or not you work for somebody else." -- Michael Hurd, in "Be Your Own Boss" at The Delaware Wave

My Two Cents

There is a truism that one can get a good idea of someone's character by observing how he treats people who are in a less powerful position, such as wait staff. It is interesting to keep this in mind when reading Hurd's piece regarding coping with bad service (and, likewise, with criticism).

The "Turban Trick"

From NPR's Code Switch comes an interesting look at the use of turbans to circumvent Jim Crow:
"He didn't change his color. He just changed his costume, and they treated him like a human," says Luther Routté, who has been a Lutheran pastor for 25 years. It "shows you the kind of myopia that accompanies the whole premise of apartheid or segregation."

Through the "turban trick," Routté['s father, Rev. Jesse Routté,] basically transformed himself from a threat to a guest -- black to invisible.

"Foreigners have a kind of exemption" to Jim Crow laws, [historian Paul] Kramer says. "They're not going to understand the rules; they're not going to obey the rules."
Ayn Rand once succinctly identified the nature of this myopia in part as "a quest for automatic knowledge ... that bypasses the responsibility of exercising rational or moral judgment". With such a quest comes a sort of self-induced gullibility, and it is no surprise to see that some succeeded in basing entire careers on this ruse.


Friday Four

Friday, July 25, 2014

1. At the age of one year, Little Man is what you might call a "late adopter" of solid food. He's been catching up lately, and I finally noticed something that might help. If he wants something, he'll reach to pick it up. If not, he swats at it.

2. If your kids like Lego, there's a beach in Britain with your name on it:

A container filled with millions of Lego pieces fell into the sea off Cornwall in 1997. But instead of remaining at the bottom of the ocean, they are still washing up on Cornish beaches today - offering an insight into the mysterious world of oceans and tides.
By coincidence, lots of marine-themed toys were among the pieces.

3. In 2012, DNA testing had become inexpensive enough that cryptobiologists began using it to verify a group of scientists offered to test fur samples thought to come from a Sasquatch. Oddly, the results from the thirty most promising samples didn't make big news:
The resulting sequences were then fed into the massive GenBank database of previously characterized sequences. Two of the samples--those from India and Bhutan--had sequences matching those of fossilized polar bears. Every other sequence matched extant animals including raccoons, sheep, black bears, cows, and even a porcupine.
Somehow, I doubt that this will end the hunt for Bigfoot.

4. The escapist hobby of a five year old boy has led to fame and fortune in adulthood:
Willard Wigan makes tiny art. His sculptures are so small that they're often presented literally in the eye of a needle; the painstaking work requires him to work late at night, when traffic vibrations are minimal, and to slow his own pulse so he can sculpt between hand tremors.
There's more, including a video of the sculptor and some of his work, at Futility Closet

-- CAV

Memo to GOP: This Won't Save You, Either

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Two recent court rulings pertaining to the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka ObamaCare) are making the news. The lion's share of the attention is going to Halbig vs. Burwell, in which a court ruled that the ACA does not call for tax breaks for people who purchase insurance through "exchanges" set up by the federal government (as opposed to exchanges run by states). Depending on whom you read, this ruling is a disingenuous exercise in context-dropping (and the tax breaks are fine) or it exposes a serious flaw in the ACA (which has effectively been gutted). I'd love it for the ACA to be rendered moot, but I strongly suspect that the ruling that has gotten all the attention will be struck down. But my layman's speculations on the news are beside the point...

The reactions to these rulings on the part of conservatives is what interests me, and it all reminds me of the atmosphere just before the Supreme Court first rescued ObamaCare (via calling the individual mandate a tax). Having failed to oppose the ACA on the principle that it (like the rest of the welfare state) violates individual rights, the conservatives, unsurprisingly, saw the law passed and seemed to be wishing for it to just go away. (I think the court should have ruled differently, but we shouldn't have gotten to that point, anyway.)

The first article I cite brings this to mind in a couple of ways, primarily by means of the scenarios its author contemplates, obviously salivating at the prospect, should the ruling be upheld:

[T]he conservatives' "victory" would turn into a big political liability for red- and purple-state Republicans. An adverse ruling would create a problem that could be fixed in two ways: With an astonishingly trivial technical corrections bill in Congress, or with Healthcare.gov states setting up their own exchanges. If you're a Republican senator from a purple Healthcare.gov state--Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, and others--you'll be under tremendous pressure to pass the legislative fix. If you're a Republican governor in any Healthcare.gov state, many thousands of your constituents will expect you to both pressure Congress to fix the problem, and prepare to launch your own exchange.

Conservatives would like to believe that they could just leave something as deeply rooted as Obamacare permanently hobbled, or that they could use the ensuing chaos as leverage, to force Democrats to reopen the books, and perhaps gut the law in other ways. I think they're miscalculating. Just as government shutdowns and debt default threats don't create leverage because the public doesn't support inviting chaos in pursuit of unrelated goals, I don't think an adverse ruling in Halbig will create leverage for the GOP. [bold added]
In other words, the battle the GOP shrank from the first time hasn't gone away. Had ObamaCare never been passed, there would have remained calls for the government to "do something" about the uninsured and the choice to do something -- or not, and explain that it is wrong for the government to do so. Had the individual mandate been struck down, those calls and that choice would have come. Those calls and that choice are set to return if -- contrary to what I expect -- the Halbig ruling stands.

And if the ACA remains untouched? Republicans won't have to stand up to self-righteous thieves (at least for the moment), but some other excuse for the government to loot the productive and pass it around will come -- maybe even as a result of economic distortions caused by the ACA. And that familiar call and that choice will return.

It is high time that conservatives question the moral basis of government looting and start to argue from the moral high ground that limited government actually possesses.

-- CAV

Obama Lends a Hand to Hamas

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Caroline Glick gets Americans up to speed on events in Israel, which is currently using ground troops to destroy an extensive network of technologically advanced tunnels built by Hamas, the terrorist organization that runs the Gaza Strip. In the process, she also gets us up to speed on just how bad Obama's foreign policy regarding Israel has been:

Due to their recognition of the threat Hamas and its allies pose to the survivability of their regimes, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have taken the unprecedented step of supporting Israel's efforts to defeat Hamas.

They understand that a decisive Israeli blow against Hamas in Gaza will directly benefit them. Not only will Hamas be weakened, but its state sponsors and terrorist comrades will be weakened as well.

Presently, Hamas's most outspoken state sponsors are Qatar and Turkey.
And later:
IDF forces in Gaza had destroyed 23 tunnels. The number of additional tunnels is still unknown.

While Israel had killed 183 terrorists, it appeared that most of the terrorists killed were in the low to middle ranks of Hamas's leadership hierarchy.

Hamas's senior commanders, as well as its political leadership have hunkered down in hidden tunnel complexes.

In other words, Israel is making good progress.

But it hasn't completed its missions. It needs several more days of hard fighting.

Recognizing this, Israel's newfound Muslim allies have not been pushing for a cease-fire.

In contrast, the Obama administration is insisting on concluding a cease-fire immediately. [bold added]
While I regard "allies" is too strong a word to use for the Moslem regimes backing Israel due to Hamas being a common enemy, it speaks volumes that Israel has the backing of three such regimes for this offensive, while Barack Obama wants to bring it to a halt.

The editor of Jewish World Review, where I found this piece, wishes to "make [this article] go viral", and I concur that it deserves to. The parts I have excerpted are just the tip of the iceberg regarding the threat Hamas poses to the most civilized nation in the Middle East. Glick also paints a vivid picture of what having to live near Hamas has meant in the daily lives of Israeli citizens. That aspect of the article alone makes it a powerful tool against the pervasive -- and wrong -- notion that both sides in this conflict are morally equivalent.

-- CAV

Regulatory Capture "vs." Socialism

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

An interesting example of cronyism (This involves government meddling in the economy, so please don't call it "crony capitalism".) surfaces at a web site devoted to the idea that free broadband would be a great way for governments to distribute loot.

The Broadband Report enumerates and details "19 State Laws That Stop Your City From Installing Blazing Fast Internet". Whether the government can or cannot provide superior Internet service is immaterial here, because it can only do so by stealing from individuals. (I do not mean this as a defense of these "roadblock" laws, although they are forestalling the government entering the ISP market with a huge price advantage.)

Here's an example of such a law, which the article holds (and I have no trouble believing) a small number of internet service providers (ISPs) lobbied to have put on the books:

Virginia allows municipal electric utilities to offer telecommunication services such as broadband.

But there is a catch.

Legislators in Virginia have forbidden cities from cross-subsidizing money for the purposes of creating a municipal broadband installation. (This is something corporations can do without regulation.)

Then to make matters worse, municipalities are required to artificially inflate prices to match the costs of private industries for materials, taxes, licenses, and more.

Certainly, administrative hurdles can act as one of the largest barricades to a municipality starting their own broadband service when legislators are involved.
It is interesting to see how the outfit presenting this information has decided to frame this issue, as an obstacle to lots of people getting "free" broadband. I propose that we re-frame this as: ISPs have successfully thrown up roadblocks to subsidized competition from the government in their most profitable markets.

As far as I know, telecommunications is one of the most regulated industries in the country, and has been for quite some time. Many of the players have doubtless not just grown accustomed to regulation, but have earned a share of the guilt for this sordid state of affairs via "regulatory capture", gaming the rules to avoid real, free-market competition -- much like the alcohol industry and taxi companies have.

This is wrong, but even if this were not the case, ISPs might still end up lobbying the government, like railroads once did. Commenting on such a state of affairs (after providing historical context I don't have time to rehash here), Ayn Rand notes, in Chapter 7 of Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal:
[W]hat could the railroads do, except try to "own whole legislatures," if these legislatures held the power of life or death over them? What could the railroads do, except resort to bribery, if they wished to exist at all? Who was to blame and who was "corrupt"--the businessmen who had to pay "protection money" for the right to remain in business--or the politicians who held the power to sell that right?
Sadly, in today's mixed economy, the parties on both side of this battle want it both ways: (1) The now-corrupt businesses, which should instead be competing for profits on merit are lobbying for profits with protection from hard work and competition; and (2) Too many disappointed (or potential) customers are demanding the removal of these regulatory hurdles -- not to unleash the power of the free market, but so an entity (the government) can force some people to subsidize Internet service for others. At best, the ISPs are blind to the fact that government control of their businesses isn't freedom, and those who want broadband are blind to the fact that, in the government, they are putting themselves at the mercy of an entity that is larger and more powerful than the businesses currently getting fat off its rules.

Perhaps, if we wanted cheap, "blazing fast" Internet (and better ISPs), we (and any pro-capitalist ISP's out there) should agitate for a prohibition of the government from interfering in the economy. Then, the profit motive could work again for cheaper, higher quality service, and the people who actually used it would be the ones paying for it. (As an added benefit, for those concerned with any remaining people "under-served" by the freer market, they would be free to subsidize (at lower cost) as many as they could afford.)

One final note: As much as I disapprove of regulatory capture, it is ironic that this phenomenon seems to be all that (temporarily) stands in the way of a de facto government takeover of the Interent (via loot-funded competition) in some states.

-- CAV

Soccer: A Cultural Touchstone?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Reader Snedcat recently pointed me to a blog posting titled, "No, Conservatives, There Is No Left-Wing Soccer Conspiracy" by John Pepple, author of Soccer, the Left, & the Farce of Multiculturalism. Pepple's ruminations about the phenomenon of conservative commentators railing against soccer raise many interesting issues, but two stand out. Before I dive in, let me note that, contrary to Pepple, I do see some leftists glomming on to the soccer bandwagon and trying to politicize it (as I note in the last link). However, I do agree that the left hasn't been a major force behind its now widespread and growng popularity in the U.S.

First, Pepple, who strikes me as a disaffected, old-fashioned leftist [Update: I may be wrong. See comment by Snedcat below.], finds zero evidence of broad left-wing support for the game or -- and I find this even more interesting -- any other sport:

Think about this. Every now and then Legal Insurrection shows a photo someone has taken of a car whose rear end is filled with leftist bumper stickers. Have you ever seen one of these cars with a soccer bumper sticker on it? Of course not. Leftists who are soccer fans are few and far between, and even when they are fans, they don't make a big political thing about it (which goes against their habit of politicizing everything, but that is their business). When I go to games, many of the cars in the parking lot have bumper stickers related to soccer on their bumpers, and they never have anything related to leftist causes, but when I go to Whole Foods (which is almost never), the bumper stickers I see in their parking lot never have anything related to soccer. [format edits]
Considering what sports offer vis-a-vis the leftist idea of equality, this comes as no surprise. (But still, don't expect facts like these to cause Ann Coulter and her ilk to question their emotional associations, or do anything other than double down on their peculiar brand of patronizing cluelessness.)

Second, Pepple notes that the lukewarm reception of soccer by the left in general is despite the fact that one would think it a shoe-in, based on multiculturalist rhetoric:
... The "activists" have been inactive when it comes to advancing soccer, even though (as I spent a chapter arguing in my book) it seems to be right up their alley (especially in terms of multiculturalism). And this may be what conservatives are picking up on, that it seems perfectly natural for the left to adopt soccer, even though they mostly have not done so.
This is because the "activists" aren't. They're bullies, from their style of argumentation, through their rhetorical approach, and down to their hypocrisy. Multiculturalism isn't about ending racism, but about perpetuating injustice to Western civilization through lip-service to a just cause. The lack of interest in soccer, even in terms of promoting it, is just a symptom.

Pepple has helped me see that soccer is one of those rare cultural phenomena that can show much about both its more vocal detractors and those who seem like natural allies, but who remain oddly silent about it. And I have hardly scratched the surface regarding the issues his piece brings  up.

-- CAV


7-22-14: Added a note. 

7-19-14 Hodgepodge

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Possible Consequences of Legalized Prostitution

The state of Rhode Island accidentally legalized indoor prostitution for six years, beginning in 2003. Although none of this would sway the religious opponents of legalized prostitution, it is interesting to note some of the possible consequences of this inadvertent experiment:

In a new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, economists Scott Cunningham and Manisha Shah look at the six years when residents knew prostitution in Rhode Island wasn't a crime. And they show evidence that Rhode Island's decriminalization caused a steep decline in both forcible rape offenses and the incidence of gonorrhea. [link in original, bold added]
The implied consequences of the illegality of prostitution show just part of what's wrong with having improper laws on the books. What's truly wrong is that (a) such laws make crimes out of behavior between consenting adults that harms no one, and (b) they set a precedent for the government to meddle with many other aspects of our lives.

As the authors are aware, the bad consequences of these barbaric laws alone will not lead to a public outcry for their appeal. I would add: Such laws must be opposed as improper on moral grounds -- as violations of individual rights.

Weekend Reading

"Find a therapist who doesn't try to tell you what to do." -- Michael Hurd, in "Bad Therapy: Worse Than No Therapy? You Bet!" at The Delaware Coast Press

"[F]or most people fear of flying raises issues of control." -- Michael Hurd, in "Afraid to Fly?" at The Delaware Wave

"By any rational standard, the aggressor in war is culpable for the death or injury of civilians on both sides." -- Elan Journo, in "How the International Laws of War Abet Hamas, Undercut Israel" at Breitbart

In Further Detail

Elan Journo makes it clear who is to blame (and why) for civilian casualties in a war. Because he does so, it is equally clear that it is time to question the international laws of war.

A Bleg

Well, dash it all! I'm allergic to something...

Last week, my physician diagnosed an itchy rash on my arms as allergic contact dermatitis. (I thought that the rash might have originated in an unnoticed mosquito bite that became infected. The persistence of the original site and the appearance of new, smaller lesions prompted me to get help.) My doctor suspected the cause to be poison ivy (which can take a couple of weeks to cause symptoms) or some other poisonous plant. A look in my journal pointed to some yard work -- brush clearance -- I did a couple of weeks before as the likely source of exposure. A look in my yard yesterday turned up three poison ivy plants, one where I removed some branches from a shrub. Needless to say, I want to get rid of these, especially since I have kids.

The plants are all commingled wih ornamental plants that straddle a fence on the property line, so nuking everything and starting over probably isn't an option. I've started researching the tricky problem of poison ivy eradication, but if anybody who stops by has advice, I'm all ears. Feel free to leave a comment or email me.