Friday, April 21, 2006

Ironic Hypocrites

In a recent oped, Harry Reid and Hillary! together display those two traits I look for in Senators (especially of the Democratic stripe): tendentiousness and stupidity. Though on the opposite ends of the abortion debate, the point of their oped seems to be that they still hate Republicans, and you can too even if you are pro life. The Hatcher knows this from personal experience, because I have a very pro-life Catholic uncle who likes to tell me that my party and religion are completely incompatible – that I can’t be both. Anyway, Reid and Hillary! were saying that we all should agree that reducing unwanted pregnancies would lead to fewer abortions, and that discrimination against women along with irony and hypocrisy, all coming from the bastard pro-lifers of the Republican stripe (who, by the way, for all of their discrimination against women, arguably have aborted millions less of them). They were pushing legislation to make contraceptive care affordable. A couple of paragraphs display those two favored traits – stupidity and tendentiousness – in spades.

It also ends insurance discrimination against women. Right now, many policies cover Viagra, but not prescription contraceptives. That is wrong, and our legislation will change it.

Hillary! is supposed to be the healthcare guru, but this paragraph makes it clear she doesn’t understand why insurance markets exist. No one buys insurance that permit one to purchase milk that is fully reimbursable, and insurance that permits you to buy contraceptives is not offered for the same reason. Anyone who wants that particular feature in their insurance coverage is clearly a person who plans to use that feature – and the insurance companies know this – so the premium would just reflect the expected cost of buying the contraceptives outright. And if you make everybody purchase the same coverage, so that even those who don’t want contraceptives have to pay a premium that reflects their cost, you would be subsidizing those who do, but you’d also increase the cost of insurance for those not interested in that particular benefit. This would lead to fewer people being insured. I’m guessing she has a fix for that problem, too. But lack of a subsidy is not the same as discrimination.

Viagra is covered because it shares the common feature of all items covered by any type of insurance – it mitigates the bad consequences of an unanticipated adverse event – namely the failure one day to be able to get, in the immortal words of Sam Malone, the old evinrude cranking. Now, to some extent every insurance package has coverage of events that are not completely random, and for which the probability of the adverse event occurring is partially affected by the behavior of the insured person. Pregnancy is one of them. But even though pregnancy is somewhat in our control, complications during it are not, so again there is a reason for insurance markets to handle it.

The suggestion that insurance that doesn’t cover contraceptives but does cover Viagra is discriminatory against women is both tendentious and stupid! (qed) Also, and I don’t expect Hillary! to know this, sexual intimacy is an important aspect of the marriage bond, so the failure to get the evinrude cranking is an adverse event to both the man and the woman.

Ironically, those advocating the loudest for an outright ban on abortion are too often the same people who oppose prevention initiatives and instead support making contraception less accessible, particularly for low-income women who are more likely to have unplanned pregnancies.

This is not the meaning of irony, not by a long shot. Later in the same article, they refer to it as hypocrisy. The two are not synonyms.

For example, a recent analysis by the non-partisan Guttmacher Institute revealed that South Dakota is one of the most difficult states for low-income women to obtain contraceptives.

Ahh, South Dakota – the coming battleground in the abortion debate. The state legislature has banned abortion and this will likely be the first case seen by the newly composed Supreme Court where the state law directly contradicts the penumbrad precedent of Roe v. Wade. When this first passed, my first thought was that the law would never get challenged because the only 5 women left living in South Dakota were in their late sixties. But it turns out there are some young-ens on the old Indian Reservation who want to preserve the right to make one of their number truly the Last Mohican. Rather sad, if you ask me, that a culture so revered in the politically correct revisionist history for its once legendary harmony with nature should be the one relied upon by pro-choicers to break the old circle of life. Maybe Elton John should write an ironic song about that!

The term “unwanted” pregnancy is a euphemism. Really it is the kid that is not wanted, not the pregnancy. To admit you didn’t want a particular kid to continue to live (even if not in your care) would be rightly viewed as monstrous. And I’d venture to guess that the term was not an open term fifty years ago – a pregnancy may have been unplanned, but the culture at the time would have frowned upon a statement that a kid is unwanted. Not always planned, but blessings seldom are. At some point, that cultural consensus was lost, and it may never be recovered, but you can probably place the loss of consensus in time to the emergence of widespread affordable contraception, which also stoked the demand for abortion. You can argue that their legislation will in fact reduce unwanted pregnancies, but it will do nothing to reverse the troubling view that a kid is like a consumer good for which there is a right time to buy and a wrong time to buy. Maybe that view makes me an ironic hypocrite, but you’d have to be a tendentious moron to think so!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Global Warming Brown Shirts

The current issue of Vanity Fair has pictured on the cover Al Gore, Julia Roberts, George Clooney, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., as part of a cover story concerning their crusade against global warming. Which beckons the question: of the four, who has the biggest cause for complaint about being pictured with the other three losers? Answer: it is a trick question, because it is a four way tie.

In the wake of a series of catastrophic hurricanes, which are often offered as supportive evidence for global warming, the global warming topic is once again hot (no pun intended). That is why I read with interest an interesting article on global warming last week on The Wall Street Journal website The author, a professor of armospheric studies at MIT, explains that fewer tropical storms would result from global warming:

If the models are correct, global warming reduces the temperature differences between the poles and the equator. When you have less difference in temperature, you have less excitation of extratropical storms, not more. And, in fact, model runs support this conclusion. Alarmists have drawn some support for increased claims of tropical storminess from a casual claim by Sir John Houghton of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that a warmer world would have more evaporation, with latent heat providing more energy for disturbances. The problem with this is that the ability of evaporation to drive tropical storms relies not only on temperature but humidity as well, and calls for drier, less humid air. Claims for starkly higher temperatures are based upon there being more humidity, not less--hardly a case for more storminess with global warming.

The author smells a conspiracy in the air:

"Ambiguous scientific statements about climate are hyped by those with a vested interest in alarm, thus raising the political stakes for policy makers who provide funds for more science research to feed more alarm to increase the political stakes. After all, who puts money into science--whether for AIDS, or space, or climate--where there is nothing really alarming? Indeed, the success of climate alarmism can be counted in the increased federal spending on climate research from a few hundred million dollars pre-1990 to $1.7 billion today. It can also be seen in heightened spending on solar, wind, hydrogen, ethanol and clean coal technologies, as well as on other energy-investment decisions.

But there is a more sinister side to this feeding frenzy. Scientists who dissent from the alarmism have seen their grant funds disappear, their work derided, and themselves libeled as industry stooges, scientific hacks or worse. Consequently, lies about climate change gain credence even when they fly in the face of the science that supposedly is their basis."

Granted, it is not the type of conspiracy that would have George or Julia running out to produce a movie showing the seedy, greedy underside of NSF funding for climactic research. If anything, they'd be rushing to produce a movie in support of the libel that dissenting scientists are industry stooges, the tools of some greedy polluting CEO who is bent on world domination.

Now, in general I am not much in favor of theories that explain the behavior of adversaries by appeal to their greed motive exclusively, because such theories smack so much of Marxism. When such theories are offered, it is rarely admitted that the same behavior might be explained by less malignint interests. But in this case I like it - what's good for the goose is good for the gander!

And it is also important to remember, in the anti-scientific climate created by the Bush administration and Republicans in general, that any article supporting global warming is to be treated with the same authority the Jews granted to the Ten Commandments brought down by Moses - that is, supported without question:

So how is it that we don't have more scientists speaking up about this junk science? It's my belief that many scientists have been cowed not merely by money but by fear. An example: Earlier this year, Texas Rep. Joe Barton issued letters to paleoclimatologist Michael Mann and some of his co-authors seeking the details behind a taxpayer-funded analysis that claimed the 1990s were likely the warmest decade and 1998 the warmest year in the last millennium. Mr. Barton's concern was based on the fact that the IPCC had singled out Mr. Mann's work as a means to encourage policy makers to take action. And they did so before his work could be replicated and tested--a task made difficult because Mr. Mann, a key IPCC author, had refused to release the details for analysis. The scientific community's defense of Mr. Mann was, nonetheless, immediate and harsh. The president of the National Academy of Sciences--as well as the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union--formally protested, saying that Rep. Barton's singling out of a scientist's work smacked of intimidation.

All of which starkly contrasts to the silence of the scientific community when anti-alarmists were in the crosshairs of then-Sen. Al Gore. In 1992, he ran two congressional hearings during which he tried to bully dissenting scientists, including myself, into changing our views and supporting his climate alarmism. Nor did the scientific community complain when Mr. Gore, as vice president, tried to enlist Ted Koppel in a witch hunt to discredit anti-alarmist scientists--a request that Mr. Koppel deemed publicly inappropriate. And they were mum when subsequent articles and books by Ross Gelbspan libelously labeled scientists who differed with Mr. Gore as stooges of the fossil-fuel industry.

One of my favorite quotes is one by Schumpeter: "The first thing a man is willing to do for his ideology is lie." Not sure how that applies to this next paragraph, but it is a great quote:

And then there are the peculiar standards in place in scientific journals for articles submitted by those who raise questions about accepted climate wisdom. At Science and Nature, such papers are commonly refused without review as being without interest. However, even when such papers are published, standards shift. When I, with some colleagues at NASA, attempted to determine how clouds behave under varying temperatures, we discovered what we called an "Iris Effect," wherein upper-level cirrus clouds contracted with increased temperature, providing a very strong negative climate feedback sufficient to greatly reduce the response to increasing CO2. Normally, criticism of papers appears in the form of letters to the journal to which the original authors can respond immediately. However, in this case (and others) a flurry of hastily prepared papers appeared, claiming errors in our study, with our responses delayed months and longer. The delay permitted our paper to be commonly referred to as "discredited." Indeed, there is a strange reluctance to actually find out how climate really behaves. In 2003, when the draft of the U.S. National Climate Plan urged a high priority for improving our knowledge of climate sensitivity, the National Research Council instead urged support to look at the impacts of the warming--not whether it would actually happen.

It is a not infrequent theme of this blog that any theory presented as consensus truth from the scientific community will invariably have a mix of evidence in favor of the theory, along with a certain level of belief that is unconnected to the evidence. Thirty years ago there were consensus warnings about us entering the next Ice Age. So you can see that when it comes to climate studies, perhaps the ratio of belief to evidence tends to the high end of the scale among its leading lights. And as I said long ago in the paper version of Ideas Hatched, even if Al Gore is right, I'd rather die slowly like a frog brought to a boil in a pot of water than suffer through him as president. Of course I'd rather neither eventuality, and my guess is that I'll have my druthers. What we really have to worry about is getting hit by a comet.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Admit It Matt!

Phil Mickelson wins his second Masters. Here is something interesting: on the site meter for Ideas Hatched, I (and I think you) can view the traffic on the site, and where it came from. Google searches often come up as a source of traffic to the site, and one that repeatadly leads to readers of Ideas Hatched is the string "Phil Mickelson illigitimate child." Now, I've never written that Phil has an illigitimate child - my only complaint about Phil is that a professional male athlete shouldn't look like they could suckle an illigitimate child on his breast. But I have written Phil Mickelson and illigitimate child in separate posts, so that google search always scores my site. If you google it and follow the links, it seems there is nothing to it - most hits are like mine. Some people want to believe the worst about certain successful people. God knows I do (though not about Phil Mickelson). Today's entry is in that spirit.

I have a very slight fear of flying. So every time I board a plane, I envision it going down and I mentally prepare myself for how I'll behave while the plane hurdles me to my death. As Harry O used to say - it's all just a movie - an outlook that I've criticized before, but which I do embrace at certain times. You want to picture the camera fixed on you and how you deal with your last moments on earth. Do you want to go out screaming like a baby, or cool and composed? Do you want to try to provide comfort or seek it from others? Do you try to pen a note to your wife and kids - do you know what you want to see in that event? I think it is probably crucial to decide these things in advance, because you cannot afford to be reactive, or you may end up just soiling your pants.

Anyway, under certain circumstances, I alter the plan fundamentally. On one such occassion, all thoughts of a noble ending went out the door, and I formulated a plan to go out the way of the cynic. I was boarding the shuttle from LaGuardia to Reagan National one evening, and right there in front of me on the shuttle sat Matt Lauer, of Today show fame. He's shorter than me, which surprised me, and also implies that the rest of the Today show cast are a bunch of shrimps.

Anyway, his presence provided me the potential opportunity to cynically perform a public service for all on board in the event of a major engine failure. I would jump up, start in on a speech about how we are probably all on the brink of our own death, and that one particular passenger on board can bring comfort to us all by granting a simple admission of fact. It would cost that passenger nothing to admit to the fact, and may even unburden him to some extent, so it would be a win-win for all of us. And the sooner he does it, the sooner we can join in a chorus of Amazing Grace. That passenger - Matt Lauer. That admission - that he, who worked side by side with Katie Couric for over a decade, privately believes, like everyone else on board, that she is a phoney little bitch! (So as not to have this plan interrupt the possibility of saying goodbye to my loved ones, I wrote that goodbye prior to take-off, thus freeing me to provide a public service to everyone on the flight.)

Now, you may say that it is sad that I can harbor a hatred for a TV personality, and that I really have no basis for it, both of which I am willing to grant you. But it is also rather sad that people love her with the same lack of any basis. And clearly this irrational connection people feel with her helps her financially, and she has in the past cited this as a justification for her stratospheric salary. It is how an inordinately rich liberal justifies criticizing Republicans for trying to help the rich, while paying an army of accountounts to work every income tax loophole possible. It is other rich people who should pay more taxes - not ones like me with vaunted sensibilities and a real connection to the common folk. I bring a little sunshine into their lives with my perkiness; let the rich people who only give them jobs pay the taxes.

Of course, now she is making history as the first solo woman anchor for the nightly news. But such a position is really a figurehead for the journalism profession. They lap the praise on her as a journalist's journalist, because they like to praise their own, but in truth night in and night out she'll just spend 30 minutes reading from a teleprompter. No doubt there is some skill involved in that, but it hardly makes you Edward R. Murrow.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Supreme Court Girls Gone Wild!

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of our shining lights on the Supreme Court, recently gave a speech wherein she defended pulling legal arguments out of her ass, or if not out of her ass, from legal decisions made in more enlightened societies, such as the nations of Europe:

... A mid-19th century U.S. Chief Justice expressed opposition to such recourse in an extreme statement. He wrote: No one, we presume, supposes that any change in public opinion or feeling . . . in the civilized nations of Europe or in this country, should induce the [U.S. Supreme Court] to give to the words of the Constitution a more liberal construction . . . than they were intended to bear when the instrument was framed and adopted.

Those words were penned in 1857. They appear in Chief Justice Roger Taney's opinion for a divided Court in Dred Scott v. Sandford, an infamous opinion that invoked the majestic Due Process Clause to uphold one human's right to hold another in bondage. The Dred Scott decision declared that no "descendants of Africans [imported into the United States], and sold as slaves" could ever become citizens of the United States.

The probably some Latin term for the error in logic here, but it seems to go something like this: I don't like the result of a decision made by this guy, and we all can look back and see that it was wrong on policy grounds (if not on the grounds of what a Supreme Court Justice is bound to be constrained by), so anything that he said in this particular case, whether it be specific to this case or a more fundamental and general point, is therefore wrong. And you have to be a racist not to see that.

While the Civil War and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution reversed the Dred Scott judgment, U.S. jurists and political actors today divide sharply on the propriety of looking beyond our nation's borders, particularly on matters touching fundamental human rights. Some have expressed spirited opposition. Justice Scalia counsels: The Court "should cease putting forth foreigners' views as part of the reasoned basis of its decisions. To invoke alien law when it agrees with one's own thinking, and ignore it otherwise, is not reasoned decisionmaking, but sophistry."

Wow! How about that? Is she admitting that there is actually a democratic political process for correcting injustices foisted upon us by antiquated laws? And here all this time I thought the world's hopes hinged upon the enlightened opinions of 5 SC Justices to save us from ourselves, handing down their decisions as if they are Moses descending Mount Sinai.

... Many current members of the U.S. Congress would terminate all debate over whether federal courts should refer to foreign or international legal materials. For the most part, they would respond to the question with a resounding "No." Two identical Resolutions reintroduced last year, one in the House of Representatives and the other in the Senate, declare that "judicial interpretations regarding the meaning of the Constitution of the United States should not be based on judgments, laws, or pronouncements of foreign institutions unless such [materials] inform an understanding of the original meaning of the Constitution."

All of this sounds eminently reasonable to me. So what is the argument against it and in favor of selectively and arbitrarily choosing decisions we like from other countries to support votes we want to cast today that otherwise enjoy no support from within the U.S. legal system?

These measures recycle similar resolutions and bills proposed before the 2004 elections in the United States, but never put to a vote. Although I doubt the current measures will garner sufficient votes to pass, it is disquieting that they have attracted sizable support. And one not-so-small concern - they fuel the irrational fringe.

Why is it disquieting? On what logical basis? Fueling of the irrational fringe? It would seem to me that unless you want to argue against the point on its merits, you should expect the irrational fringe to be fueled. So Ginsburg gives no rational support for her view, feeling like she is entitled to do whatever the hell she pleases as SC Justice, and it is the fueling of the irrational fringe that is problematic?

A personal example. The U.S. Supreme Court's Marshal alerted Justice O'Connor and me to a February 28, 2005, web posting on a "chat" site. It opened:

“Okay commandoes, here is your first patriotic assignment . . . an easy one. Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg and O'Connor have publicly stated that they use [foreign] laws and rulings to decide how to rule on American cases.

This is a huge threat to our Republic and Constitutional freedom. . . . If you are what you say you are, and NOT armchair patriots, then those two justices will not live another week.”

So if you disagree with her, you clearly want to kill her. And because you want to kill her, you cannot possibly be right about your view.

To a large extent, I believe, the critics in Congress and in the media misperceive how and why U.S. courts refer to foreign and international court decisions. We refer to decisions rendered abroad, it bears repetition, not as controlling authorities, but for their indication, in Judge Wald's words, of "common denominators of basic fairness governing relationships between the governors and the governed.

If they are not cited as controlling authorities, what is their relevance to the decision at all? Who needs a common denominator of fairness? If a decision goes against a common denominator of fairness, does that mean it's a problem? Presumably not, as long as it is consistent with controlling authorities. Or would she reverse her decision and ignore controlling authority in favor of a common denominator of fairness. If so, that is a big problem. If not, I guess she just throws these opinions into her rulings to show the world how enlightened she is in contrast to those of us on the irrational fringe. That qualifies her to be a NYT editorialist, no doubt, but I'm not sure that qualifies her for the SC.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Republicans are Banning Sex

The movie Basic Instinct 2 is bombing at the box office, and the most logical explanation coming from those who used to be able to bank on some good money as long as they produced a movie with a modicum of titillation in it is that the Republicans are banning the erotic. The target audience for movies is from 15-35, making Sharon Stone old enough to be a grandmother to a not insignificant portion of that demographic, and yet the Republicans are to blame for the fact that no one is really interested in seeing Sharon Stone's breasts anymore. They should have had Heath Ledger play the Sharon Stone roll. Apparently we are not doing a very good job in banning sex, especially since we are the only ones who have kids anymore. Or maybe that is just another glaring example of our hypocrisy.

Paul Verhoeven, director of the first "Basic Instinct" (which scored $353 million worldwide) as well as the widely ridiculed "Showgirls" (now regarded as something of a camp classic), attributes the genre's demise to the current American political climate.

"Anything that is erotic has been banned in the United States," said the Dutch native. "Look at the people at the top (of the government). We are living under a government that is constantly hammering out Christian values. And Christianity and sex have never been good friends."

Scribe Nicholas Meyer, who was an uncredited writer on 1987's seminal sex-fueled cautionary tale "Fatal Attraction," agrees, noting that the genre's downfall coincides with the ascent of the conservative political movement.

"We're in a big puritanical mode," he said. "Now, it's like the McCarthy era, except it's not 'Are you a communist?' but 'Have you ever put sex in a movie?'"

How distorted is your view of the world that you make comments like these? The notion that anything erotic in this country has been banned is clearly belied by the fact that of the 25 million websites in existence, all but approximately 4 are pay-for-porn sites. Even this site will temporarily have porn when Professor Vic is up for tenure at Holy Cross (he has an article written for the old Ideas Hatched on his CV), and I am a Republican. Of those 25 million websites, about 2 cater to showcasing women who remember where they were when Kennedy was shot (or so I'm told), so again, maybe the problem is at central casting. (Indeed, the Chartreuse Alcoholic stumbled onto my website while performing an experiment at work. He had a theory that no matter what you googled, within three pages of results there would be a pay-for-porn site. He sat there all day at work googling things from his past, and stumbled upon my story of the Bat Bike Regatta, which is his noteworthy contribution to the drunkards of the world.)

This, I know, will come as a shock to Sharon Stone, who recently said that Hillary Clinton will have a tough time getting elected because she is not yet past her "sexuality," and that too much sexual power will handicap her. If she believes that about Hillary, I could see where she wouldn't understand why we're not lining up to see her bare some skin. Independent of age, Hillary Clinton lost all her sexual power when her ankles started resembling her thighs. And I'm sure there is some strange psychological theory that suggests good old Bill was paradoxically driven into the arms of any women who would have him due to Hillary's sexual power (and even a few that wouldn't have him), but surely he too could see those ankles, and Okun's Razor requires that the ankle theory surely must trump the modern psychological theory.

Look, I'm all for banning sex in some circumstances. In particular, after being subjected to watching Joakim Noah lead the Florida Gators to a national championship with that ugly mug, I think there ought to be a law against hot Swedish chicks marrying black French ("African-French?", "French-African?") tennis stars, but other than that I think I'm OK with most of this sex stuff. I just really have no interest in seeing Basic Instinct 2.

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