Thursday, December 30, 2004

Should the Nuremburg Laws be constitutional?

So Judge Posner liked Frank Lutz’s idea of making the homosexuals the new jews so much that he is saying the Nuremberg laws may not even be that unconstitutional. Restriction of marriage rights: Check!

But why stop there? Maybe only married people should be eligible for public office? We don’t have any Constitutional protections saying who can run for office, only a few prohibitions on who can’t.

And if the government can constitutionally intrude on the liberty of an individual to do what ever they please with their livestock, because it is icky, then maybe we don’t want those icky homosexuals holding our flag. In fact, I don’t see why we couldn’t make them wear a little patch identifying themselves as homosexuals.

Theoretically, nothing in the Constitution currently forbids the removal of voting rights from non-married persons. We cannot discriminate whom gets voting rights on basis of age, race, or sex, but marital status is not technically on that list.

The point is that we should not be concerned over what is or what is, but what should be. Twice Posner confuses what is with what should be. He asks:

But should the Constitution, or political philosophy, be understood to prescribe utilitarianism, whether in the Benthamite or J. S. Mill versions, or maybe “secular humanism,” as our civic religion?

And later answers:

And so if the population is religious, religion will influence morality, which in turn will influence law, subject to constitutional limitations narrowly interpreted to protect the handful of rights that ought not to be at the mercy of the majority.

And who interprets those constitutional limitations? Judges. Technically, they can decide what should and shouldn’t be (and whether that should be narrowly or broadly interpreted).

He sets up a potential counter argument:

Rawls and others have thought that religious beliefs shouldn’t be allowed to influence public policy, precisely because they are nondiscussable.

And refutes it with a literal description of the mechanisms by which we are attempting to realize some ideal:

It [modern democracy] is about forcing officials to stand for election at short intervals, and about letting ordinary people express their political preferences without having to defend them in debate with their intellectual superiors.

Whether admitted to or not, the Judiciary constitutes an American dictatorship practically. Since they are the only people who can interpret the Constitution, they can practically dictate law. If they interpret “The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.” to imply that they are owed sexual favors from interns, what Constitutional recourse would exist?

This is not a bad thing, in fact I believe it may have been by design. In times of stability, a benevolent dictatorship can be the best form of government. The fickle nature of the demos does not usually produce ideal conditions for leadership decisions from elected politicians. In times of moderate instability the Executive can take power through martial law (though that is still subject to the ruling of judges constitutionally), and is in direct command of, well, government assets that can execute commands. The people of course are the ones in control in situations of total instability. Theoretically they are lead by the members of our legislature. If the Judiciary plays its role correctly, then stability will ensue and never allow other branches to take away its control, creating incentive to be benevolent.

So if one aspires to be one of these benevolent dictators, the questions of what should be are the most vital ones to answer.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Democrats and Republicans while Meeting the Press

Let’s compare Republican and Democrat Senate leader reactions to a poor showing in a Presidential election while being met by the press.

Today, Meet the Press:

MR. RUSSERT: President Bush had said that he wanted to change the tone in Washington and you said he did for the worse. Do you think his second term will be different?

January 19, 1997, Meet the Press:

MS. MYERS: Achieving a balanced budget--the word out of the White House this week is that the president's budget that he sends up next month will be essentially the same as last year's; that he specifically rejected the kind of good faith efforts that you asked him to make. Your reaction?

I think these questions are suggestively similar. President has broken policy promises in the past; how do you react? The essential differences between the two are that in 1997 we talked about issues, while now we talk about “issues”. Also, in 1997 there was such thing as objective reportable truth, while now there is only the subjective “you said”.

The reactions:

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, this is a golden opportunity for him, Tim. He has to make a decision on whether he tries to placate his base or whether he moves to the middle and creates that consensus and that common ground that is there. There's a desire. And the one good thing about a new Congress is that--I think generally people start out with the very best intentions. As senators and congressmen talk to one another, there's a feeling of beginning anew and a belief that maybe we can start differently this time. I've had conversations with Senator Frist who has reiterated his desire to find this politics of common ground. So we'll see. The opportunity is there.

SEN. LOTT: Well, I hope that's not the case. He hasn't sent it yet. He needs to show leadership. It's not enough to have good rhetoric in the campaign. It's not enough to say, "Oh, yes, we can come to an agreement," and appear to reach out and then send up a shell or a shell game in a number of areas. We would be disappointed if it was the same as last year's budget. I think that his new head of OMB would like to have more. Perhaps, the political types in the White House are calling on the president, "Oh, don't do it now. You can do it later."

Once again, we're looking to the president to show some courage and some leadership. And if he does, we will match him and we can keep moving the ball forward.

So far, very similar. They each try to frame the partisan divide as a potential opportunity to show strength and courage. There is a word about intentions, and then they both appeal to possibility of more ameliorable parties within the opposition. But then Trent takes it that extra step:

SEN. LOTT:But we've made it very clear, "Mr. President, you must have a responsible budget, no shell games or moving things around into Medicare accounts to make it look like you're spending less when, in fact, you're just moving programs around," like the home health care, for instance, and maybe even with the managed care program. And we also said you can't have this deal where the deficits go up and then down; where the spending goes up and then down because, in fact, he's just passed the buck on to the next president, if you will.

He makes a clear definition of the terms of the promise, attempting to frame the debate. Daschle just completely whiffs at this opportunity, leaving open all possibilities as potentially fulfilling the promises of “changing the tone.” He could have said “But that doesn’t mean gambling our young people’s retirement in the stock market or their lives in Iraq.”

Similarly, Today on Meet the Press:

MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator Daschle, isn't that a growing problem?... [Congress people] really do toe the party line, ideologically, philosophically, and are afraid to work out issues in a bipartisan way.

January 19, 1996:

MR. RUSSERT: President Clinton, in an interview with The Washington Post, said that there is poison in the atmosphere. Is he right?

Ok, each is asking about the increasing polarization of the political landscape. Daschle is characteristically conciliatory:

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, I think that there's more of that problem today than any time that I've been in the Senate, Tim. I think that you're right. The parties and the pressures politically tend to nudge, and sometimes move even more aggressively, people in the opposite direction. Rather than towards the center, they move to the far left and the far right. And that then creates the chasm that Don was talking about earlier. Instead, I think what you've got to do is look for what I'd like to call the politics of common ground, finding ways with which to find the center once again. But the political system doesn't address that as satisfactorily today as I think it should.

However, Lott puts the onus right where it belongs, on the opposition:

SEN. LOTT: I think so. Part of it goes back to last year's election. There was some bitterness in the election and the way some of the issues were handled. We felt that he and the Democrats demagogued some issues, particularly Medicare. But I think it's time to put that bitterness behind us.

before toning down his remarks:

This week the president is reinaugurated, second term. I think he deserves that, inauguration in the tradition that is, you know, typical for our presidents. They get a honeymoon. I think he deserves that and I think his numbers show that people like the way he's talking. They like the way he's talked about reaching out. And, in fact, he has been doing that personally. We've had communications. He's talked to other members of the Congress, House and Senate. I think that's positive.

However, within a few months, Lott was saying:

You know, one of the things [Clinton] needs to understand -- he acts like a spoiled brat. He thinks he's got to have it his way or no way.

So when are we going to get some Democrat leadership that will organize an agenda and then ruthlessly implement it?

Saturday, December 25, 2004

A brief analysis

Ezra at Pandagon is a little worried about this LA Times story. The subtitle of the article reads “[B]eyond the coasts, California is trending Republican.” He blegged for this registration data.

My brief analysis of the data show that the decline in voter registration for both the Democrat party in the period between 2002 and 2004 is only surpassed by the decline between 1974 and 1976 in percentage terms. However, since 1996, California voter registration for both major parties has declined. The Democrats had 56% of the major party registration in 1996 but now only have 55%. So at this rate, the Democrats will have just until about 2044 before there are more Republicans then Democrats in California. Then again, we all know how ridiculous it is to make projections about the 2040’s.

Monday, December 13, 2004

SCL Bloggers

The so called liberal bloggers I trust have neglected to mention this particular news item:

It seems the entire media must have forgoten about the whole messy situation in falljah immediately after that Thanksgiving tryptophan hit their brains. It seems as if they all said "OK, break in the news cycle, time to get an all new set of narrative arcs for our stories." Atrios hasn't mentioned Fallujah since December 5th, when he made a very brief comment on the (unfathomably stupid) plans to turn Fallujah into a work camp. CNN hasn't run a story on Fallujah since December 5th also, when it ran this story about the Marines KICKING OUT the Red Crescent. The last time the battle for Fallujah was mentioned on CNN it was in past tense in Bush's speech to Camp Pendleton.

Fox News was actually a little better, last reporting on Fallujah on Dec. 6th when it ran this quote:

The U.S.-led coalition had hoped its invasion of the insurgent hotbed of Fallujah last month would cripple the insurgency. Instead, the rebels appear to have scattered, and, after a brief lull, resumed their campaign.

Buried in this story. However, by the next day they were referring to Fallujah in the past tense as well.


Not only that, but we have yet to return those Red Crescent aid workers to Fallujah as the CNN story suggested. I only learned that the Battle of Fallujah is not in past tense after reading Riverbend's recent post. She also talks about a new gasoline and electricity shortage.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

I can't believe stuff like this actually happens anymore

Holy shit. Holy Shit! Holy shit holy shit holy shit!!!

Apparently Yushchenko was poisoned with this dioxin. The analyst CNN dug up at 4:00pm on a Saturday apparently didn't really know that much about dioxin. He said that it is a herbicide, but in fact it is only a very famous contaminant of a herbicide, namely it famously contaminated batches of agent orange in Vietnam. Here is a study from 2001 with graphic photos of the effects of high levels of dioxin exposure (pdf here). The scars on the patients closely resemble Yushchenko's disfigurement.

I cannot believe that anyone could do something like this to themselves. Not only is dioxin poisoning incredibly (and invisibly) painful and disfiguring, but it will shorten the lifespan by drastically increasing the chance of developing cancer.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Drugs lower crime rates (maybe)

Kash over at Angry Bear writes this post postulating that tough drug laws may have caused the decline in violent crime over the past eleven years.

I looked at the change between the 1994 per state violent crime numbers and the 2003 violent crime numbers per state based on whether that state has decriminalized marijuana according to NORML.

I find that a states that have decriminalized marijuana have gone from 791 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 1994 to 460 violent crimes per 100,000 in 2003. States that have not decriminalized marijuana went from 699 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 1994 to 479 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 2003.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Why Invading Canada is Justified According to Gary Becker:

preventive war is justified because of the potential severe consequences of waiting until attacked to apprehend.

Preventive: 2. Carried out to deter expected aggression by hostile forces.

Hostile: 2. Feeling or showing enmity or ill will; antagonistic.

So, given what we know about quantum weirdness, let alone geopolitics, the probability of a Canadian use of a non-zero amount of force against the US is non-zero. Therefore, the expectation of the amount of force being used against us is non-zero. Therefore a preventive invasion of Canada is justified according to the formulation of Becker (Jew).

Perhaps a superior formulation would be that pre-emptive war is justified against a hostile entities.

Pre-emptive: 3a Relating to or constituting a military strike made so as to gain the advantage when an enemy strike is believed to be imminent.

Imminent: About to occur.

About to: Ready to, on the verge of,

Because Canada has not been observed to be at all prepared to invaded the US and because there would be several intervening steps which the Canadians would have to take (like troop mobilization) in order to attack the US, Canada is neither ready to nor on the verge of attacking the US.

Secret Sins of Liberal Bloggers

SCL Blogger Matt Yglesias repeats what apparently is a common misconception perpetuated by this Catalogue For Philanthropy um, thing. This chart reproduces the Red/ Blue division that Yglesias talks about (with Iowa, Ohio, Virginia, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado being the only red states ranked below blue states) and the 49 Massachusetts ranking commenter DaveMB refers to.

Unfortunately they use a very odd computation that doesn’t measure what it purports to measure. They rank according to their “Generosity Index” which takes the difference between their rank in per capita income and their rank in “Giving”. Let alone the problem of a skewed income distribution, the real problem is their flawed “Giving” data. The “Giving” data is computed by taking the average charitable contribution claims per return making such a claim. That is, they divide the amount of charitable giving claimed by the number of returns taking a charitable deduction. The ranking could easily be skewed by the income inequality -a few wealthy individuals donating a large amount, but everybody else being too poor to make a charitable deduction.

In fact, when income and charitable giving is measured per 2001 household rather than per tax return making a claim, the new ranking (in terms giving per dollar of income) puts two blue states in the top ten for giving and five red states in the bottom ten. Massachusetts comes in just outside the bottom ten (ranked 40). The ranking, from least to most charitable, is:

West Virginia
New Hampshire
North Dakota
South Dakota
Rhode Island
New Mexico
New Jersey
New York
North Carolina
South Carolina


I just discovered how easy Excel is to use.

I ran the numbers and found out that Blue States actually claimed charitable contributions of $1,431 per 2001 blue state household compared to $1,199 claimed charitable contributions from red state households.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

A solution to oil supply shocks

A large part of the difficulty of fluctuating oil prices is that consumers can’t alter their (direct) consumption of oil very much in the short run. Over the long run, they can purchase more fuel efficient autos.

We should restrict the amount of oil coming into this country by selling oil import permits. The resulting increase in price would eliminate the effect of supply shocks on US oil prices. As supply is restricted, the price of oil on the international market rises, pushing down the value of the import permits auctioned off by the government, creating a stable price for the end consumer.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Oh yeah, almost slipped my mind

There is another war in Africa. This time it's between Rwanda and Congo. People should at least take note when thousands are at risk of dying violently.

The Rise of the West

Okay, I have a link now, so I better start writing.

I started this blog when I became seriously dissatisfied with the search function on Slate’s bulletin boards (the Fray), hoping to take advantage of Google indexing to keep track of what I have said. So here is an idea I came up with over the summer that I have yet to commit to, um, page?

The reason the West advanced so much more quickly than the East in terms of science is due to glass technology.

Over the summer I had become curious as to what the West sent back up the Silk Road to China in exchange for silk. When I found out it was glass, I almost immediately saw the connection. What of import is made out of glass? Lenses, specifically the lenses that allowed Galileo to observe that the Earth was not the center of the universe, and the lenses that revealed microorganisms caused illness, not spirits. This explains the persistence of Eastern Mysticism (acupuncture anyone?).