Archive for May, 2011

Moral outrage: constructed.

One of the persistent talking points is that Republicans are heartless thugs out to abandon the poor and the disadvantaged. Speaker Boehner got a dose from a group of Catholic academics for backing a budget plan that is “particularly cruel to pregnant women and children” while dramatically revising the federal health programs of Medicare and Medicaid.

Rick at Wizbang takes note that CUA alumni Fr. Robert A. Sirico gives a substantive rebuttal.

What Fr. Sirico notes is that there is a distinction to be made between the edicts of the Magisterium of the Church and the actual means of implementation. There is a place for debate about the best way to implement a moral obligation to assist those less fortunate. That is where the talking points about Republican thugs fails.

It appears then that these Catholic academicians who have written to Speaker Boehner do not understand the distinctions the Church herself makes between fundamental, non-negotiable dogmas and doctrines, and the prudential and debatable give and take when it comes to applying the principles of Catholic social teaching.

This underscores a behavior pattern in the debate. The moral outrage moves the debate from understanding opinions to one of judgment about the moral qualities and other personal characteristics of those who do not agree. That is not a path towards learning, towards finding practical solutions, nor towards intellectual integrity.

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Irrational roads

Consumer Reports: Survey finds Americans want more laws for safer roads – this despite historic low driving risk.

The study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds that 62 percent of Americans want more laws to prevent people from dangerous behavior behind the wheel and 57 percent want their state to do more to make roads safer. Seventy percent feel that driving laws should be more strictly enforced.

The conflict to consider is the existing gap between driver behavior and traffic enforcement, especially in light of statistical safety trends. Perhaps more effort needs to be in why there are so many laws currently in effect that are ineffective and poorly enforced.

What this survey is indicating is that a majority of people think that their judgment on the road is inferior to that of ‘big brother’ and they’d rather have someone else dictate their driving behavior rather than do it themselves. The seek zero tolerance pre-emptive safety rather than responsive risk assignment. Such an approach, thinking government is the solution rather than the individual, has never been a very pleasant path.

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NLRB vs American prosperity

Whether it is the local teacher’s union president asking folks to call their representatives so the teachers can have more money, labor unions in Wisconsin making death threats and trashing the capital, or the government, there is an attack on U.S. prosperity by labor in the old Marxist style from a century ago.

The latest episode is the effort to have Boeing close down its efforts to open an assembly line in South Carolina. Mark Perry has the story.

The new jetliner assembly plant would be the first one built in the U.S.
in 40 years. It would create new American jobs at a time when most
employers are hunkered down. It would expand the domestic footprint of
the nation’s leading exporter and make it more competitive against
emerging plane makers from China, Russia and elsewhere. And it would
bring hope to a state burdened by double-digit unemployment—with the
construction phase alone estimated to create more than 9,000 total jobs.

But labor wants to shut it down with the government’s help. The unions operate on a zero sum game basis (wikipedia) much like many politicians do, and figure any gains in SC are losses in WA.

Somebody has to create the wealth for the labor unions to tap. You’d think they’d realize that a war on production has never yielded desirable results.

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Tsunami residue

It’s likely to take 3 years for Japan to get a handle on the tsunami and earthquake residue.

Two months after the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the north-eastern coast of Japan, the clear-up that will last years and cost billions has finally swung into gear. Fleets of bulldozers, dumper trucks, drills and cranes are clearing the wreckage. More than 25,000 people are dead and missing. Bodies are still being recovered, but the focus of the clear-up is to remove the corpses of dead cities and towns.

It is a phenomenal engineering and waste management challenge. The government estimates it will take three years to deal with the 25m tonnes of debris, which will have to be scrapped, burnt or recycled. This includes at least 16 towns, 95,000 buildings, 23 railway stations and hundreds of kilometres of roads, railway tracks and sea walls.

Meanwhile, there are those whose focus is on the nuclear power plant and attempt to blame it for all the troubles. Japan to set up nuke plant compensation plan. It provides an example where the terror right in front of the eyes is insufficient to outweigh the terror in one’s fantasies. Rather than accept that an unprecedented earthquake and tsunami created damage that needs the focus, it is that evil nuclear thing that is the cause and should pay. Oh, my.

As if the horror isn’t bad enough. People signal when they have cleared their houses for demolition and removal to the dump. Police collecting cars and safes for people to claim. Memorabilia such as wedding albums and mementos being set aside so owners – if they are still alive – will have something. Hundreds living in school gyms where lotteries are planned for who gets the first house rebuild effort … asbestos and many other hazards to worry about yet what gets headlines and fines and worry?

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Seeking credibility at any cost

The effort to legitimize the homosexual lifestyle by social acceptance has reached into many corners. Recent headlines mention Navy Chaplains and gay marriages. The judicial oligarchy is trying to overturn a public referendum in California in regards to the matter. Mark Roberts notes that Presbyterians Will Revise Ordination Standards: A Brief Response to This Change in the PC(USA).

I am actually more distressed by the way our new paragraph speaks of how we are to regard biblical authority over our personal and corporate life. Until now, we have said “Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life of obedience to Scripture . . . .” Now we will say “Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture. . . .” Nowhere do we call individual leaders or governing bodies to obey Scripture. Guidance implies far less than obedience.

It would be one thing to just let it be, to not punish the chosen lifestyle. But, for the homosexual community, this is not enough. That community not only seeks rights and privileges of marriage, for instance, they also demand the social and religious trappings thereof. The thirty year battle with the Presbyterian Church illustrates that they also want to whitewash any implications of their behavior and gain the credence of authority for it as well.

It is an elevation and an escalation that is somewhat like that Roman who washed his hands of the blood of Christ a couple thousand years ago. All of the efforts one might make to cleanse oneself and construct credentials testifying to quality do not change the substance of the matter. One has to wonder why they do not seek a less telling approach to their desires and behaviors.

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About that political discourse

A review of the book The Lies of Sarah Palin describes the Palin Derangement Syndrome evident in the book. That provides a behavior overview for those trying to understand modern political hate dialog from the left. It is a cutting review full of zingers.

It seems that everyone has something to say about Palin, not least Geoffrey Dunn, an investigative reporter and Huffington Post contributor who has regurgitated the political bile of the last two election cycles in 400-plus pages of unsubstantial but toxic prose. “The Lies of Sarah Palin” is an extended ad hominem attack with little fresh information, analysis, or insight. …

The book’s central thesis is that Palin is ambitious and deceitful. The first accusation seems irrelevant. Unless we alter our political process so as to foist public office on resisting citizens as punishment, we must accept that our representatives will be ambitious. Let it go.

Dunn’s second point – that Palin habitually plays fast and loose with the truth – has more significant implications for a public official. Though, again – really? A politician fudged? This merits a book? Dunn’s argument is made particularly thin by the examples he provides. …

His indignation might be more persuasive if he offered new or compelling information for his charges; however, the bulk of his case against Palin is built out of conversations with people who don’t like her. The result doesn’t feel so much like rigorous reporting as a transcript of the seventh grade. …

Dunn’s extensive interviews might have been put to better use in analyzing why Palin inspires such strong reactions, or what she suggests about contemporary politics.

even as he laments how snarky and petty Palin’s discourse is, he gleefully serves up more of the same.

The review is about a book that attempts to create a reality to fit the author’s desires. In this case, it appears that the divergence from the creation and the reality is rather wide – a gap that can only be glossed over if one is rather invested in the false reality presented.

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A (the?) source of civil unrest?

The education bubble isn’t only about the cost of a college degree rising faster than the CPI. It is also about utility and envy and diversion. Professor Sowell explains.

Students can graduate from some of the most prestigious institutions
in the country, without ever learning anything about science,
mathematics, economics or anything else that would make them either a
productive contributor to the economy or an informed voter who can see
through political rhetoric.

On the contrary, people with such
“education” are often more susceptible to demagoguery than the
population at large. Nor is this a situation peculiar to America. In
countries around the world, people with degrees in soft subjects have
been sources of political unrest, instability and even mass violence.

When people think about the ‘benefits’ of education they are often thinking of a technical or scientific education that fosters innovation and entrepreneurship. On the other hand, the reality of education is evident in public debate as seen in complaints about deteriorating standards and social imprinting. This is a realization that much of the educated population have gone for the soft side. The study of education – teaching – is itself a subject on the soft side. Even such topics as business management and technical training tend this way as they focus on development of specific skill sets and not on an educated mind.

There are many outcomes. One is the employer seeking a specific skill set who can’t find what he needs because what he is really looking for is an educated person. Another is the disillusionment of the student who has invested so much into schooling and has not realized promised returns. The third, which Sowell describes, is the social upheaval as people turn their feelings into envy. This last can be seen in recent MSM stories  and headlines about the CEO superstar wages or in the NLRB intrusion into Boeing’s efforts to build a plant in South Carolina.

Such people have proven to be ideal targets for demagogues promoting
polarization and strife. We in the United States are still in the early
stages of that process.

Education is a process. The focus has not been on the desired result. While it can be argued that the process of education is having some success as seen in, for example, U.S. per capita economic production numbers, there also appears to be a lot of inefficiency in that process. The results of that inefficiency is what Sowell warns about.

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Tortured logic, indeed.

Steve Chapman illustrates the current problem with the state of debate about torture.

That’s right: When tortured detainees provide truthful information, they prove torture works, and when they lie, they prove it works. … If treatment like this were inflicted on captured American soldiers, no American would dispute that it was torture. … If waterboarding is OK, why not crushing testicles? Why not pulling out fingernails? Why not the most agonizing methods an evil mind could devise? The advocates of waterboarding are much more eager to declare what is allowed than what is forbidden—if anything.

One issue is that we have the case of someone complaining about tortured logic and then illustrating the point. There are three primary issues raised here. For each quotation separated by ellipses above:

1) Why the term ‘enhanced interrogation technique’ is not a euphemism. Torture often brings to mind a demented effort to obtain a confession and that meme is often seen underlying the anti-torture arguments. In regards to the U.S. anti-terrorism efforts, it is an interrogation where the desired result is information, not confession. Information is a collection of small pieces that have to fit together with a much larger picture. It fills in gaps between known points and reinforces and enhances other things that are known.

2) The fact is that actual torture has often been inflicted on American soldiers. The inability to discriminate between U.S. policy in regard to military prisoners and that of U.S. enemies is a phenomena that calls into deep question the ability to see reality.

3) U.S. enhanced interrogation is distinguished from actual torture by the manner of training its own troops. The U.S. does not engage in interrogation techniques that it will not apply to its own troops in training exercises. The implications of this distinction seem to go right past those who cannot define torture.

In law, the prosecution of a crime is based on means, motivation, and method. The allegation about U.S. torture is an attempt to attack its motivation by distortions of the methods and the actual crime. It is thus exposed as just another dishonest bash America effort.

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Claptrap about chemicals

Chemicals are to blame! Much like big business, chemicals have be used as a convenient enemy for the true believers. There was a report by the President’s cancer panel that took this approach. Whelan and Miller describe it as Chemicals, Cancer And Claptrap (from Forbes.com).

If the authors had only bothered to consult a standard textbook on cancer epidemiology, they would have learned that lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption and overexposure to sunlight–not chemicals in air, water and food–are the underlying causes of most preventable human cancers.

They could also have referred to the summary statement from one of their own previous meetings, “Strategies for Maximizing the Nation’s Investment in Cancer,” held in San Diego in 2007, … Significant impact on morbidity and mortality could also be achieved by ‘following the evidence’ and applying what we know–screening and early detection of cancer; better preventive interventions and treatments for those cancers with the highest morbidity and mortality (e.g., breast, colon, lung, prostate); and expanded access to cancer care.”

But instead of following the available evidence, the current panel relied on several specious premises.

Those “specious premises” are rather common when it comes to issues like this – almost signature items. They include:

  • Hidden basic absurd assumptions – e.g. “chemicals, by definition, are dangerous”
  • The reduction to the absurd – the goal is to eliminate all risk
  • The false binaries – the critical relationship of dosage in whether something is a poison or not.
  • The false negative – cast as the precautionary principle that tries to put the burden on a suspected villain to prove its safe.

The example is about a misuse of science. A trashing of science for the purpose of political ideology. Whether matters of cancer, vaccination, climate change or other such issues, it is damage done not only to political process but to science as its own endeavor.

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Who pays the pipes?

What is the net neutrality debate all about? Nick Schulz provides a clue at Forbes.

Expensive networks need to be built and maintained. And networks need to
adapt to new uses and demands. Great risks must be taken at great
expense. The only question is how it will all happen.

Up to now, it has been the free market. The problem is that the I’net has matured from a new technology to a commodity where people start taking things for granted. Rather than let private interests invest capital and innovate to find ways to make money from their investment, the pressure is for governments to treat the I’net as a public utility. That means using taxation as the billing method.

Of course, when taxation comes into play, it is not symmetrical. The end user tends to get off light and the heavy hitters get all the attention with the guys in the middle, those actually providing the pipes, getting trod upon with regulation.

It is kind of like governmental medical care where the hospitals are supposed to underwrite costs for the patient while the doctor in the middle, who actually provides the service, gets buried in paperwork and regulatory nonsense.

The best way to ensure the networks of the future get built is to rely
on the market’s unique power to experiment with new business models and
technologies. Can we?

The problem here, of course, is that people disagree about what is the “best way.” Sometimes the hardest part of raising children is to be able to stand back and let them do their own thing. It may be a difficult task but it will be done one way or another. Socialist countries try to put it off as long as possible and they fail eventually. Look at how long it took the Soviet Union, for example. The question is why people choose as ‘best way’ a way of demonstrated failure than one of demonstrated success.

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Weaseling fantasies with dictionary distortions

Using the word “torture” instead of “enhanced interrogation” makes a great sound bite, but it’s dishonest, disrespectful, shallow, and stupid.

Since the director of the CIA has asserted that “enhanced interrogation techniques” helped find UBL, the torture meme has come up for a new round. Neill Arnhart provides a comparison and contrast to consider at Canada Free Press. He also takes on the platitudes about what is obtained in prisoner interrogation.

We don’t need them to confess. We know what they did. We caught them in the process of doing it, in many cases. What we needed was information to help stop other people from committing the same types of crimes.

Condemning US torture is on a par with the assertions about US imperialism. Both are based on fantasies not truly represented in reality. Zbigniew Mazurak says America is not an empire and explains why such an assertion is absurd on its face.

But being an absurd reflection of reality does not seem to bother some folks. That is a worry.

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Peak commodity – probably a flatter curve than you think

A while back the scare stories were about China restricting the supply of rare earth elements used in electronic devices. Those scare stories ignored, as seems usual, what happens when a cheap source decides to not be so cheap. Engadget reports Global rare earth supply deficit should turn into a surplus by 2013, Goldman Sachs says.

Goldman’s analysts constructed their projections based on evidence that many Western companies have begun building their own mines, in response to China’s overwhelming market dominance. Today, the People’s Republic produces about 90-percent of the world’s rare earth minerals — a group of 17 elements that are used to manufacture many of the flat screen TVs, hybrids and cellphones

Like with oil right now, the sources are constrained and will be until the pressures mount to open new sources or technology invents improvements or replacements. With oil it is mostly political but the recent surge in natural gas production due to technology improvements has not only got the anti-oil contingent in full fear mongering mode, it also has sales of Honda’s natural gas powered civic up.

Another story had copper prices down as well.

It’s not a simple market and there are many influences and factors that come down to a simple number – the price. And that doesn’t hold still. Try to get a hold on something like the rare earth elements or oil and you have to be careful not to push too far. The more your control becomes evident or the higher the prices you try to maintain, the greater the odds that someone else is out to bypass you. OPEC has been playing the game for years to keep prices as high as they can without loosing the market. China is learning about this with their efforts. It is one reason why the peak commodity fear mongering really doesn’t have much reality to go with it.

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The size of that carbon footprint

Luboš Motl has a chart that provides a bit of perspective on atmospheric carbon dioxide. See iMatter: Your house is uninhabitable for most species. The concentration that is causing worry today is less than half that usually encountered in a kitchen. The level expected as catastrophic is still quite a bit less than usually found in a living room.

The warming induced by the increase from 391 ppm to 500 ppm is smaller (by about 20%) – because of the logarithmic law – than the warming by the same 109 ppm between 282 ppm and 391 ppm which was about 0.7 °C and pretty much unnoticeable without accurate gadgets and contrived statistical methods.

Then there are the feedback mechanisms, which are poorly understood, that make prognistications based strictly on carbon dioxide levels quite suspect.

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Gates on energy sense

At GreenTech, Bill Gates On Nuclear Energy: Compared To Coal, It Is Still Safer In Terms Of People “Killed Per Kilowatt Hour”. From a talk at a Wired business conference Gates sees three main problems which need to be addressed: cost, security, and environmental impact: “Other than it is too expensive, you can get cut off at any time, or it can destroy the planet, it’s okay.”

“We get sloppy” in the rich world, he says, because we can afford to pay extra for solar or wind power. But in order to make a real impact, the costs have to become competitive with current fossil-based energy. “In 80% of the world, energy will be bought where it is economic.” says Gates. “You have to help the rest of the world get energy at a reasonable price.”

It may be a good summary of a modicum of rationality in regards to energy and its social impact.

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What they’ve done to the War Between the States

Scott describes the Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities given at the Kennedy Center. Harvard President Faust took up “Telling war stories: Reflections of a Civil War historian.”

What Faust gives us in this lecture is a jejune and clichéd postmodern take on war generally and the Civil War specifically — war drained of genuine meaning and rendered as meaningless horror. “War stories” can supply the meaning of meaningless “violence” and “fighting.”

It is part and parcel of the racism shown in such things as Nevada deciding to honor Juneteenth. A political expedient to attempt an earlier end to a horrific conflict has been turned into a celebrated cause in its own right. Meanwhile, the actual reasons for the conflict are sent to the background as curiosities, if that. War becomes only its expression and nothing more.

Faust’s lecture, however, is not completely worthless. It provides grounds for thinking about, maybe even thinking through, the problematic nature of “ongoing self-consciousness” when the chips are down.

Meanwhile, there is the peaceful approach to schoolyard bullying and the denigration of those who attempt to protect themselves that has to find some congruence with taking out bin Laden in another country’s territory.

There are reasons people fight wars and it is not blood lust. People studying the humanities should be expected to have a better grounding into human motivations and behavior than to assert such things – or is it maybe that they seek what they want to be rather than what is?

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