Friday, March 28, 2008

the internal debate about martyrdom and suicide terrorism

Bret Stephens in the WSJ...

Stephens addresses one of the difficulties in trying to use suicide terrorism (ST) as a strategy to accomplish their goal (always trying to end what they perceive as an occupation of their land). ST requires individuals who are "rational" (able to weigh costs and benefits) and altruistic (willing to sacrifice their own life for the greater good). This also allows ST'ers to maintain or even build social support. If ST leaders can't find enough individuals who are rational and altruistic, they might begin to rely on (or at least use) those who are mentally challenged (as has occurred) or children (as Stephens describes here).

Pape addresses this issue in his book. Although ST seems like the best strategy-- as they try to deal with what they perceive as an occupation of their (holy) land-- they must still find willing individuals and generate social support.

Pape argues that ST can be defeated-- or it can at least fail to accomplish its goal (withdrawal from the land). But it can also spiral &/or lead to ST'ers reaching their goals.

Do minors require their parents' consent to become suicide bombers? Believe it or not, this is the subject of an illuminating and bitter debate among the leading theoreticians of global jihad, with consequences that could be far-reaching.

On March 6, Al-Sahab, the media arm of al Qaeda, released a 46-minute video statement titled "They Lied: Now Is the Time to Fight." The speaker is Mustafa Ahmed Muhammad Uthman Abu-al-Yazid, 52, an Egyptian who runs al Qaeda's operations in Afghanistan, and the speech is in most respects the usual mix of earthly grievances, heavenly promises and militant exhortations. It's also an urgent call for recruits.

"We call on the fathers and mothers not to become a barrier between their children and paradise," says Abu-Al-Yazid. "If they disagree who should first join the jihad to go to paradise, let them compete, meaning the fathers and the children. . . . Also, we say to the Muslim wives, do not be a barrier between your husbands and paradise." Elsewhere in the message, he makes a "special call to the scholars and students seeking knowledge. . . . The jihad arenas are in dire need of your knowledge and the doors are open before you to bring about the virtue of teaching and jihad."

These particular appeals are no accident. Last year, imprisoned Egyptian radical Sayyed Imam Al-Sharif, a.k.a. "Dr. Fadl," published "The Document of Right Guidance for Jihad Activity in Egypt and the World." It is a systematic refutation of al Qaeda's theology and methods, which is all the more extraordinary considering the source. Sayyed Imam, 57, was the first "emir" of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, many of whose members (including his longtime associate Ayman al-Zawahiri) later merged with Osama bin Laden and his minions to become al Qaeda. His 1988 book, "Foundations of Preparation for Holy War," is widely considered the bible of Salafist jihadis.

Now he has recanted his former views. "The alternative" to violent jihadism, he says in an interview with the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat (translated by Memri), "is not to kill civilians, foreigners and tourists, destroy property and commit aggression against the lives and property of those who are inviolable under the pretext of jihad. All of this is forbidden."

Sayyed Imam is emphatic on the subject of the moral obligations of the would-be jihadist. "One who lacks the resources [to fight jihad] is forbidden to acquire money through forbidden means, like [burglary]," he says, adding that "Allah does not accept martyrdom as atonement for a mujahid's debts." As for a child's obligations toward his parents, he adds that "it is not permitted to go out to fight jihad without the permission of both parents . . . because acting rightly with one's parents is an individual obligation, and they have rights over their sons."

"This has become pandemic in our times," he adds in a pointedly non-theological aside. "We find parents who only learn that their son has gone to fight jihad after his picture is published in the newspapers as a fatality or a prisoner."...

The gravamen of the hardliners' case against Sayyed Imam is that he has capitulated (either through force or persuasion) to the demands of his captors, and has become, in effect, their stooge. The suspicion seems partly borne out by Sayyed Imam's conspicuous renunciation of any desire to overthrow the Egyptian regime....

But whatever Sayyed Imam's motives, it is the neuralgic response by his erstwhile fellow travelers that matters most. There really is a broad rethink sweeping the Muslim world about the practical utility -- and moral defensibility -- of terrorism, particularly since al Qaeda began targeting fellow Sunni Muslims, as it did with the 2005 suicide bombings of three hotels in Amman, Jordan. Al Qaeda knows this. Osama bin Laden is no longer quite the folk hero he was in 2001. Reports of al Qaeda's torture chambers in Iraq have also percolated through Arab consciousness, replacing, to some extent, the images of Abu Ghraib...

No less significant is that the rejection of al Qaeda is not a liberal phenomenon, in the sense that it represents a more tolerant mindset or a better opinion of the U.S. On the contrary, this is a revolt of the elders, whether among the tribal chiefs of Anbar province or Islamist godfathers like Sayyed Imam. They have seen through (or punctured) the al Qaeda mythology of standing for an older, supposedly truer form of Islam. Rather, they have come to know al Qaeda as fundamentally a radical movement -- the antithesis of the traditional social order represented by the local sovereign, the religious establishment, the head of the clan and, not least, the father who expects to know the whereabouts of his children.

It would be a delightful irony if militant Islam were ultimately undone by a conservative, Thermidor-style reaction. That may not be the kind of progress most of us imagined or hoped for. But it is progress of a kind.

Miracles and miracles

A little theology-- in particular, a touch on free will and pre-destination-- from Dave Coverley's Speed Bump...

consumer confidence as chicken or egg?

From the wire services as published in the C-J...

Americans are gloomier about the economy that at any point since just before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as slumping housing prices and soaring fuel costs have depressed consumer confidence to its lowest level in five years.

The Conference Board, a business-backed research group, said yesterday that its Consumer Confidence Index plunged to 64.5 in March from a revised 76.4 in February.

The March reading was far below the 73.0 that was expected by analysts surveyed by Thomson/IFR and was the worst reading since 61.4 in March 2003.

Declining consumer confidence foreshadows weakening spending, which could hurt the already faltering economy....

One of the interesting things here is that all of the hullabaloo over the "macro stimulus package" may have dramatically lowered consumer confidence-- as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Note, in the figure below, how things got so much worse as Bush and his Congress began to address the economy.

new IRL rule lacks weight

From Nate Ryan in USA Today (hat tip: C-J)...

An Indy Racing League rule change has Danica Patrick feeling as if she'll be penalized for being petite — which the popular driver said wouldn't happen in other sports.

Starting this season, the minimum weight for IRL cars will include the driver, and Patrick is the series' lightest at 100 pounds according to the 2007 media guide (which lists other female drivers Milka Duno and Sarah Fisher at 120 pounds apiece; Ed Carpenter is the heaviest at 165).

"If someone's going to take the hit it's going to be me," Patrick said Thursday. "It's disappointing the league decided to do that. In so many other sports, athletes don't get penalized for being too strong, or too tall or too fast."

Patrick said she asked IRL officials about the reason for the change but said "they didn't really have one....Maybe I'll get more specific reasons somewhere down the line."...

Another Harrison Bergeron-like story...

Patrick hopes to put the issue behind her by winning the season-opening Gainsco 300 at Homestead Miami Speedway on Saturday.

"Let's just do that," she said with a laugh, "and then I'll say, 'Why didn't you guys do this years ago?' "

A good reason to root for Danica!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

TARC to lose monopoly for Oaks & Derby-- and then not allowed to compete at all

From Sheldon Shafer in the C-J...

This year's Kentucky Oaks and Derby will be the last for TARC buses to transport tens of thousands of people to and from Churchill Downs.

Though the public bus company received a waiver for this year, new federal rules that take effect April 30 require the track to negotiate with private transportation companies to provide the service next year.

The new rules will cost Transit Authority of River City as much as $200,000 in yearly revenue it receives for busing roughly 40,000 people to Oaks and Derby -- using 90 coaches for Derby and 40 for Oaks.

But if TARC doesn't step aside and let private vendors have the business, it could lose all or part of $12 million to $15 million a year in federal funding, Executive Director Barry Barker said. The only way TARC could participate would be if all the private vendors agreed to that, an agency spokeswoman said.

Multiple-Choice Question:
What's wrong with all of this?

a.) TARC was given a monopoly; others were not allowed to compete
b.) TARC will no longer be able to compete
c.) TARC is subsidized by tax dollars
d.) TARC is subsidized by federal tax dollars to the tune of $12-15 million (on behalf of Louisvillians, I'd like to thank the taxpayers of Wyoming, Vermont, etc. for their assistance)
e.) It's not in the story, but entry into the field of TARC's competitors is also regulated/restricted by the government-- to benefit those interest groups.

Private transportation companies applaud the change, saying they have been unfairly shut out of the chance to provide Derby service for decades.

The new federal regulations are "long overdue," said John Miller, president of Miller Transportation, adding that the new rules "level the playing field."

Yes and no. Why isn't TARC allowed to compete?

The new federal regulations would allow TARC to continue busing track patrons on Derby and Oaks days -- if it charged its usual $1.25 fare. But that would translate into a loss of revenue for TARC and would not be acceptable, Barker said.

Think about what this means. Even when TARC has full buses, they lose money with their regular fare!

Schellinger and Thompson talkin' econ (and politics)...

From Lesley Stedman Weidenbener in the C-J...

With jobs taking an early spotlight in the campaign for governor, Democrat Jim Schellinger introduced an economic-development plan that would let out-of-work Hoosiers take college classes for free and give companies tax credits for environmentally friendly buildings.

Schellinger, who is battling for his party's nomination with former U.S. Rep. Jill Long Thompson in the May 6 primary, said yesterday that his package of 13 proposals would bring thousands of manufacturing jobs back to Indiana.

"We must act now," said Schellinger, an Indianapolis architect and first-time political candidate.

Schellinger also accused Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican who is seeking re-election, of "poor stewardship" of the state's economy and blamed him for losses of manufacturing jobs and high rates of personal bankruptcies.

Mr. S. apparently has a little too much faith in government on these things...

"The reality is personal income dropped again last year and now Hoosiers make 90 cents on the dollar," Thompson said yesterday. "The high school dropout rate is unacceptable and going up."...

Thompson presumably supports the government's monopoly power over education, so I'm not sure why she's bothering to talk about drop-out rates.

Thompson released an economic-development plan earlier this month that would provide small businesses with more health-care options, boost vocational education programs and provide incentives to make high-speed Internet access available statewide. She also proposed to make more economic-development incentives automatic, eliminating what she said is a cumbersome application process that raises roadblocks for job growth.

Not enough details here: More health-care options? Sounds good, but how so? Boost voc ed? Good, given that the state is already heavily subsidizing college ed. Internet? Hmm... Automatic development incentives? Sounds dangerous...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Noonan on Obama's speech (she was mostly impressed)

Peggy Noonan (a fine speech-writer in her own right) in the WSJ with a wonderful essay on Obama's now-famous (for now) speech on race.

Not having heard the speech or paid enough attention to comment intelligently-- and hearing a bit of the rabble-rousing on conservative talk-radio-- I was surprised to hear her speak/write in such glowing terms. But obviously, she was quite/mostly impressed...

I thought Barack Obama's speech was strong, thoughtful and important. Rather beautifully, it was a speech to think to, not clap to. It was clear that's what he wanted, and this is rare.

It seemed to me as honest a speech as one in his position could give within the limits imposed by politics. As such it was a contribution. We'll see if it was a success. The blowhard guild, proud member since 2000, praised it, and, in the biggest compliment, cable news shows came out of the speech not with jokes or jaded insiderism, but with thought. They started talking, pundits left and right, black and white, about what they'd experienced of race in America. It was kind of wonderful. I thought, Go, America, go, go.

You know what Mr. Obama said. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright was wrong. His sermons were "incendiary," and they "denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation." Mr. Obama admitted that if all he knew of Mr. Wright were what he saw on the "endless loop . . . of YouTube," he wouldn't like him either. But he's known him 20 years as a man who taught him Christian faith, helped the poor, served as a Marine, and leads a community helping the homeless, needy and sick. "As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me." He would not renounce their friendship.

Most significantly, Mr. Obama asserted that race in America has become a generational story. The original sin of slavery is a fact, but the progress we have lived through the past 50 years means each generation experiences race differently. Older blacks, like Mr. Wright, remember Jim Crow and were left misshapen by it. Some rose anyway, some did not; of the latter, a "legacy of defeat" went on to misshape another generation. The result: destructive anger that is at times "exploited by politicians" and that can keep African-Americans "from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition." But "a similar anger exists within segments of the white community." He speaks of working- and middle-class whites whose "experience is the immigrant experience," who started with nothing. "As far as they're concerned, no one handed them anything, they've built it from scratch." "So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town," when they hear of someone receiving preferences they never received, and "when they're told their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced," they feel anger too.

This is all, simply, true. And we are not used to political figures being frank, in this way, in public. For this Mr. Obama deserves deep credit. It is also true the particular whites Obama chose to paint -- ethnic, middle class -- are precisely the voters he needs to draw in Pennsylvania. It was strategically clever. But as one who witnessed busing in Boston first hand, and whose memories of those days can still bring tears, I was glad for his admission that busing was experienced as an injustice by the white working class. Next step: admitting it
was an injustice, period.

Then, her analysis of what went well...

The primary rhetorical virtue of the speech can be found in two words, endemic and Faulkner. Endemic is the kind of word political consultants don't let politicians use because 72% of Americans don't understand it. This lowest-common-denominator thinking, based on dizzy polling, has long degraded American discourse. When Obama said Mr. Wright wrongly encouraged "a view that sees white racism as endemic," everyone understood. Because they're not, actually, stupid. As for Faulkner -- well, this was an American politician quoting William Faulkner: "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past." This is a thought, an interesting one, which means most current politicians would never share it.

The speech assumed the audience was intelligent. This was a compliment, and I suspect was received as a gift. It also assumed many in the audience were educated. I was grateful for this, as the educated are not much addressed in American politics.

Here I point out an aspect of the speech that may have a beneficial impact on current rhetoric. It is assumed now that a candidate must say a silly, boring line -- "And families in Michigan matter!" or "What I stand for is affordable quality health care!" -- and the audience will clap. The line and the applause make, together, the eight-second soundbite that will be used tonight on the news, and seen by the people. This has been standard politico-journalistic procedure for 20 years.

Mr. Obama subverted this in his speech. He didn't have applause lines. He didn't give you eight seconds of a line followed by clapping. He spoke in full and longish paragraphs that didn't summon applause. This left TV producers having to use longer-than-usual soundbites in order to capture his meaning. And so the cuts of the speech you heard on the news were more substantial and interesting than usual, which made the coverage of the speech better. People who didn't hear it but only saw parts on the news got a real sense of what he'd said.

If Hillary or John McCain said something interesting, they'd get more than an eight-second cut too. But it works only if you don't write an applause-line speech. It works only if you write a thinking speech.

They should try it.

Noonan does have a concern about what he communicated...

Here's what didn't work. Near the end of the speech, Mr. Obama painted an America that didn't summon thoughts of Faulkner but of William Blake. The bankruptcies, the dark satanic mills, the job loss and corporate corruptions. There is of course some truth in his portrait, but why do appeals to the Democratic base have to be so unrelievedly, so unrealistically, bleak?

This connected in my mind to the persistent feeling one has -- the fear one has, actually -- that the Obamas, he and she, may not actually know all that much about America. They are bright, accomplished, decent, they know all about the yuppie experience, the buppie experience, Ivy League ways, networking. But they bring along with all this -- perhaps defensively, to keep their ideological views from being refuted by the evidence of their own lives, or so as not to be embarrassed about how nice fame, success, and power are -- habitual reversions to how tough it is to be in America, and to be black in America, and how everyone since the Reagan days has been dying of nothing to eat, and of exploding untreated diseases. America is always coming to them on crutches.

But most people didn't experience the past 25 years that way. Because it wasn't that way. Do the Obamas know it? This is a lot of baggage to bring into the Executive Mansion.

That said, Noonan ends on a hopeful note...

Still, it was a good speech, and a serious one. I don't know if it will help him. We're in uncharted territory. We've never had a major-party presidential front-runner who is black, or rather black and white, who has given such an address. We don't know if more voters will be alienated by Mr. Wright than will be impressed by the speech about Mr. Wright. We don't know if voters will welcome a meditation on race. My sense: The speech will be labeled by history as the speech that saved a candidacy or the speech that helped do it in. I hope the former.

John Yarmuth shines while Baron Hill panders on the price of gas

Hill won't be able to use his simplistic line this time-- that gas prices rose so much during Sodrel's term, since they've risen much more during his most recent term.

So, now, he's taking a poke at President Bush's decision to purchase oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Hill, Yarmuth, and Co. may have the correct policy position. But it's difficult to imagine their empirical claim-- that this could lower the price of gas by a quarter per gallon. I don't know much about this particular market, but I'd be surprised if the impact was that large.

Here's James Carroll in the C-J, reporting on their efforts...

32 lawmakers, including Reps. John Yarmuth of Kentucky's 3rd District and Baron Hill of Indiana's 9th, have sent a letter to President Bush urging him to delay purchasing more oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

That could increase the amount of oil on the market and perhaps reduce prices.

Such a move, they said, "can have temporary benefits that would go a long way towards helping American families who are being squeezed, and also stimulate the economy."

There's disagreement among economists about how much impact -- if any -- such a move would have.

But the lawmakers cite an investment firm's analysis that gas prices -- now in the $3.25-a-gallon range around Louisville -- could be cut by 25 cents.

Again, it's difficult to imagine that such a small decision (relative to the entire market-- and the entire cost of a gallon of gas) would make that big of a difference!

If Bush doesn't take the step voluntarily -- and the White House says it won't, even though it did briefly halt purchases two years ago -- Yarmuth and fellow Democrats plan to push legislation.

It would require a suspension in oil purchases for the reserve this year, or until the average price of crude oil falls below $50 a barrel, whichever comes first. Oil prices recently have been around the $100-a-barrel level.

Again, maybe it's the right decision-- you know, buy low and sell high-- but that doesn't mean it will have a significant impact on the price of gas.

I wish Congress were this aggressive about ending the War in Iraq-- or dealing with issues that impact us much more (e.g., payroll taxes and Social Security).

OK, here's the numbers:

The Department of Energy is scheduled to take in 12.3 million barrels of oil for the reserve over the next six months -- an amount that's less than two-thirds the daily U.S. consumption.

Less than 2/3rds of one day's consumption: less than .2% of our annual consumption....

In an interview, Yarmuth said he doesn't think postponing oil purchases for the reserve is a long-term solution to rising gasoline prices.

OK, Yarmuth seems to get it.

Hill said the White House doesn't get it.

"It may not be an emergency for Bush, but people are hurting out here," he said. "I think we ought to be offering some relief to the common folks. That to me is an emergency."

Hill doesn't seem to get it-- at least the policy angle. He does seem to have a clearer understanding about the usefulness of this issue for his political ambitions.

with property taxes reduced, now the focus turns to local govt

In cases where property taxes were reduced, the flip side of that coin is that local governments will need to cut spending or raise local taxes.

Here's Lesley Stedman Weidenbener in Sunday's C-J on this angle-- covering the general issue and then thankfully applying it to a number of local contexts...

First, an overview...

Only days after the Indiana legislature approved new limits on property owners' tax bills, local government officials began debating how to deal with the millions of dollars in revenue they'll lose as a result.

In Floyd County, where New Albany is one of the hardest hit cities, the talk is turning to a possible increase in the local income tax.

In Crawford County, where the County Council will have to cope with a loss of more than $320,000 in 2010, it could mean cuts in programs or services.

And in Jefferson County, where Madison will lose nearly 5 percent of its total budget, elected officials are unsure how to proceed....

Statewide, 92 percent of the 2,255 local government taxing units — including cities, counties, fire districts, libraries and others — will lose money when the property-tax-reduction plan is fully implemented in 2010.

That's because the new law phases in limits on tax bills. The limits mean homeowners will pay no more than 1 percent of their assessed value — unless voters authorize more. The bills for rental property can't be higher than 2 percent of assessed value and 3 percent for commercial property.

Every dollar that taxpayers save because of limits is a dollar that local governments lose.

In all, local taxing units — not including schools — will collect $365 million less in 2010 when the limits are fully implemented, according to the Legislative Services Agency.

Back to specific examples...

In some cases, the losses are marginal. In Clark County, all local government units combined would lose only about $180,000, a fraction of their total budgets.

The same is true in Harrison County, where some taxing units wouldn't lose a dime.

But in Crawford County, where tax rates and tax bills are higher, the losses will be more substantial. There, the limits will reduce local government budgets by 5 percent to 11 percent in 2010, depending on the unit.

Crawford County Council President Jerry Brewer said he's thrilled with the legislature's action, despite the cuts it will cause.

"If we see a reduction in local property taxes, it will be well worth it," Brewer said. "The main thing everyone wanted to see is property-tax relief. So we'll be able to deal with this. It will be a little tough in places, but we'll have a couple years to get ready for it."

Homeowners in Crawford County will be among the state's bigger winners under the property-tax changes. Not only will their bills be reduced by the new limits, but the state is also taking over some costs — including child-welfare programs — that are especially high there....

An analysis by the Legislative Services Agency shows that increasing the income tax in Floyd County by 1 percentage point would all but wipe out any losses for local governments. It would also substantially cut property-tax bills.

But Daniels said increasing the income tax should not be local governments' first option for dealing with the reduced revenue.

"That's a very bad instinct. That should be their last resort," Daniels said last week. "Their first resort should be to trim the growth of spending, to look at cooperations, collaborations, consolidations."

New Albany Mayor Doug England said last week, however, that he would be open to a plan to increase Floyd County's income tax rate to reduce the losses caused by the new law. New Albany is projected to lose nearly $472,000 in 2010, about 2 percent of its annual budget....

Similar conversations are just starting in Jefferson County, where local governments (not including schools) are projected to lose nearly $750,000 in 2010.

In Madison alone, the cut will be more than $351,000.

"We don't want to raise taxes," said Armstrong, who was elected in November. "We have to try to save the best we can and cut where we can."

a cure for hypochondria?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

global plateau-ing?

From The Australian (hat tip: Drudge)...

Maybe this newspaper and this scientist are a-scientific partisans, but this is interesting in any case...

Last Monday - on ABC Radio National, of all places - there was a tipping point of a different kind in the debate on climate change. It was a remarkable interview involving the co-host of Counterpoint, Michael Duffy and Jennifer Marohasy, a biologist and senior fellow of Melbourne-based think tank the Institute of Public Affairs....

Duffy asked Marohasy: "Is the Earth stillwarming?"

She replied: "No, actually, there has been cooling, if you take 1998 as your point of reference. If you take 2002 as your point of reference, then temperatures have plateaued. This is certainly not what you'd expect if carbon dioxide is driving temperature because carbon dioxide levels have been increasing but temperatures have actually been coming down over the last 10 years."

Duffy: "Is this a matter of any controversy?"

Marohasy: "Actually, no. The head of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has actually acknowledged it. He talks about the apparent plateau in temperatures so far this century. So he recognises that in this century, over the past eight years, temperatures have plateaued....So (it's) very unexpected, not something that's being discussed. It should be being discussed, though, because it's very significant."...

Duffy then turned to the question of how the proponents of the greenhouse gas hypothesis deal with data that doesn't support their case."...What would people associated with the IPCC say to explain the (temperature) dip?"

Marohasy: "Well, the head of the IPCC has suggested natural factors are compensating for the increasing carbon dioxide levels and I guess, to some extent, that's what sceptics have been saying for some time: that, yes, carbon dioxide will give you some warming but there are a whole lot of other factors that may compensate or that may augment the warming from elevated levels of carbon dioxide....

Ayn Rand's writings and worldview

From John Piper in World (October 2007)...

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of the novel Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. As I write, the book ranks Number 237 at That is phenomenal for a 1,200-page novel that contains philosophical speeches, one of which stretches to 90 uninterrupted pages. The book has sold over 6 million copies. In one survey from 16 years ago, Atlas Shrugged was ranked second only to the Bible as the book that influenced people most.

My Ayn Rand craze happened in the late '70s when I was a professor of Biblical Studies at Bethel College. I read most of what she wrote and was both attracted and repulsed. I was blown away with powerful statements of what I believed, and angered that she shut herself up in what Jonathan Edwards called the infinite provincialism of atheism. Her brand of hedonism was so close to my Christian Hedonism and yet so far—like a satellite that comes close to the gravitational pull of truth and then flings off into the darkness of outer space.

With the reference to Christian hedonism, I realize that Piper is in an ideal position to evaluate Rand from a Christian worldview.

I never had a Rand craze, but read Atlas Shrugged and then Anthem during the late 1980s as I was putting together my worldview-- and in particular, combining economics, politics and Christianity. I was certainly impressed by her, but can't say that I was repulsed by her. Either I was naive, overly-tolerant, read her as hyperbolic, or just took with a grain or shaker of salt as appropriate.

Atlas Shrugged was a long but exhilirating read. Anthem is in some ways more provocative but much shorter (100 pages or so) and reflects mostly on a single idea. If you haven't read Rand, I'd recommend Atlas Shrugged. If that's too ambitious for you, then I would recommend reading Kurt Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron" followed by Anthem. (If you'd like to read a former student of mine, commenting on the story, click here.)

She was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1905, graduated with a degree in history from the University of Leningrad in 1924, and emigrated to the United States in 1926. "I am an American by choice and conviction," she wrote. "I was born in Europe, but I came to America because this was the country based on my moral premises and the only country where I could be fully free to write." She died on March 6, 1982.

She abominated altruism. All self-sacrifice is evil because: "Sacrifice is the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or of non-value. Thus altruism gauges a man's virtue by the degree to which he surrenders, renounces or betrays his values (since help to a stranger or an enemy is regarded as more virtuous, less 'selfish' than help to those one loves). The rational principle of conduct is the exact opposite: always act in accordance with the hierarchy of your values and never sacrifice a greater value to a lesser one."

It's been a long time, but looking back, I'm not clear on whether she hated altruism per se or the idea of altruism (sacrifice for its own sake). I think it was the latter. It's also difficult to distinguish what she found bothersome about Christian theology-- and what was baggage from what she saw in institutionalized religion, particularly Catholicism.

From there, Piper wraps up by talking about her views within Christian theology.

Ayn Rand had no place for mercy, whereas Christianity has mercy at its heart. And the reason for the difference is that God was simply missing in Ayn Rand's universe. Since there was no God from whom she had received everything undeserved, and since there was no God who promised to reward every act that showed His supreme worth, she could only conceive of sacrifice as the immoral suicide of one's own values.

What Ayn Rand meant by altruism is seen in the words of Lillian Rearden to her husband in Atlas Shrugged: "If you tell a beautiful woman that she is beautiful, what have you given her? It's no more than a fact and it costs you nothing. But if you tell an ugly woman that she is beautiful you offer her the great homage of corrupting the concept of beauty. To love a woman for her virtues is meaningless. She's earned it, it's a payment, not a gift. But to love her for her vices is to defile all virtue for her sake—and that is a real tribute of love, because you sacrifice your conscience, your reason, your integrity and your invaluable self-esteem."

Since Ayn Rand had no place for a sovereign, all-sufficient God who cannot be traded with, she did not reckon with any righteous form of mercy. It is indeed evil to love a person "for their vices." But mercy in the Christian sense is not "because of" vices, but "in spite of" vices. It is not intended to reward evil, but to reveal the bounty of God who cannot be traded with, but only freely admired and enjoyed. It aims not to corrupt or compromise integrity, but to transform the values of the enemy into the values of Christ. While it may mean the sacrifice of some temporal pleasures, it is never the sacrifice of greater values to lesser ones. It is the sacrifice of lower values to higher ones.

Therefore, Ayn Rand's philosophy did not need to be entirely scrapped. Rather, it needed to take all of reality into account, including the infinite God. No detail of her philosophy would have been left untouched.

government outsourcing (with a focus on Indiana's welfare program)

Stephen Goldsmith (former mayor of Indy, privatization guru, and professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government) in The American on "outsourcing" by government...

It is difficult to get Democrats and Republicans to agree about much of any­thing these days, but politicians of every stripe are likely to concur on this proposi­tion: government at all levels has promised much more than it can deliver, and every year the gap grows worse. One potential solution to this intractable problem is the outsourcing of govern­ment functions to the private sector, but it appears almost certain that any significant steps toward privatization are going to occur at the state level. Why? Because that’s where the most exciting work is going on right now, and because Washington appears allergic to public-private innovation. Congress not only clings to the view that gov­ernment workers must produce all government services, but also even tries to impede progress when it surfaces outside the Beltway—witness the provision tucked inside the 2007 farm bill that would prohibit outsourcing by states and require government employees to process all applications for food stamps....

Functions such as law enforcement and public safety are typically considered inherently govern­mental. But as the mayor of Indianapolis for two terms (1992–1999), I outsourced the operation not only of a jail but also of an airport and a utility—with good results. It was hard not to be amused, as the GAO panel debated the definition of an inher­ently governmental function, by the fact that the federal building we were meeting in was under the protection of a private security firm. Even if we could agree on core government functions that had to be walled off from contractors, we would be left with a thorny question: what happens when government turns out not to be very good at inher­ently governmental work?

At the state level, several governors and legis­latures are not getting hung up on philosophical questions and are instead rushing to try private-sec­tor solutions to pernicious public-service problems. Officials do so at significant political risk, but the potential for success—and for breaking with age-old failures—seem worth the gamble.

In 2004, Mayor Richard Daley secured a $1.8 billion deal to lease the operation of the 7.8-mile elevated toll road known as the Chicago Skyway to a private consortium for 99 years. Two years later, Indiana made a deal with the same consortium: a 75-year lease for $3.8 billion to operate the Indiana Toll Road. Other states have outsourced the operation of toll roads and bridges, and more are consider­ing it. Privatizing state lotteries is also under discussion.

But leasing out toll roads and lotteries is relatively simple; some states are showing much bigger ambitions. Texas has attempted to outsource the way that welfare eligibility is determined, for instance, and Florida has privatized its human-resources operations. Neither venture has found much success, but they offer lessons that might help officials elsewhere as they attempt their own innovations. Certainly, the efforts in Texas and Florida are an indication of how today’s public-private partnerships differ significantly from those of recent decades. No longer limited to ownership of a public asset, privatization initia­tives nowadays are increasingly adventurous. Businesses and government are clearly ready to consider tackling complex policy problems using modern technology and the creative spark of pri­vate enterprise.

Perhaps no state or local effort in the last several years better represents the future of privatization than the welfare-eligibil­ity modernization project launched last year in Indiana. The complex undertaking points to the substantial potential and pitfalls of government outsourcing.

Goldsmith then goes into great (historical) detail on the potential privatization of welfare in Indiana-- before turning to analysis of key considerations for going forward...

...Despite all these reasons to look to the private sector, Roob and Main had to consider three fac­tors that favored an internal transformation. None was related to the inherently governmental nature of the FSSA’s services.

First, no state had ever successfully outsourced its eligibility-determination system for all major benefits programs. Florida and Texas were the only states that had attempted anything similar, and, at the time, their prospects didn’t look good....

Second, an approach toward internal trans­formation would avoid the inevitable political considerations typically involved in a major priva­tization initiative. Governor Daniels was facing opposition to the privatization of the Indiana Toll Road, and there was a chance that similar oppo­sition from state elected officials, interest groups, or the general public might create obstacles to the transformation of the FSSA.

Third, the KPMG audit identified the FSSA’s severe lack of contract-monitoring capac­ity as a major risk factor. Despite holding more than 10,000 contracts with service provid­ers, the FSSA made few efforts to ensure vendor accountability. A contract of the size, scope, and complexity being contemplated would expose the FSSA to even greater liabilities, from abuse to poor performance.

As Indiana’s decision-making process illustrates, the line between public and private is permeable. A state could use some combination of private and public elements, such as management, employees, and technology. However, the critical question is less about which sector to employ than about the avail­ability of the requisite skills and technologies....

Having weighed the FSSA’s available capac­ity and resources, Roob and Main decided to take the work outside. Indiana awarded a $1 bil­lion-plus, seven-year contract—with an option to extend to ten years—to a group of private and nonprofit agents led by IBM and its subcontrac­tor ACS. Indiana charged the IBM coalition not only with taking over the client-intake and wel­fare-to-work functions that state caseworkers had been performing, but also with finding solutions to major problems within the state’s social service sys­tem: inefficient and outdated business processes, out-of-control Medicaid expenses, poor customer service, and one of the nation’s worst records for implementing federal welfare reforms. Any one of these challenges would be a major test for an agency or contractor; taken together, they pre­sented a monumental task.

Indiana imposed one critical condition on its hir­ing of outside help: the vendor would be required initially to hire all caseworkers not retained by the state. This stipulation proved to be an impor­tant difference between the approach in Indiana and the failed privatization in Texas, where new hires were undertrained and underinformed....

Indiana expects that the modernization will radically improve its ability to reduce mistaken benefit expenditures for ineligible applicants. The resulting savings—plus the fact that the vendor will be responsible for errors in eligibility determina­tions—mean that the true reduction in costs will be considerably higher. Governor Daniels estimates total savings will equal $1 billion over ten years.

Now, for Goldsmith's conclusion and application to other efforts...

While it is too early to determine whether Indiana’s daring plan will succeed in bringing about such substantial cost reductions, saving taxpayers’ dollars cannot be regarded as the sole criterion of success. It will be just as essential for the pro­gram to show that a true, effective transformation of government services has been accomplished—an achievement that will provide a blueprint for other public officials as they try to meet escalating demands on resources.

Three emerging developments explain why now, more than at any other time, we are on the verge of a true transformation of the public sector: digital platforms consolidate important data sources and make them more accessible; private-sector part­ners, with their experience as network integrators, are more adept than a patchwork of state agencies at meeting the multiple needs of individual clients; and decision-support systems employ algorithms to analyze large amounts of data, helping public employees identify problems and structure indi­vidualized solutions.

The state will have only one hand to shake if things go well, or, if the modernization goes sour, one neck to wring....

Indiana’s progress represents an important early step in what may well become a dramatic revision of the way we think about public-sec­tor services. Public-private collaboration in the 21st century will not only provide solutions to complex public-sector problems, but it will also harness the power of data and information to unlock value hidden even deeper inside govern­ment programs.

more immigrants, less crime

The subtitle to a small but perhaps surprising report by Brian Doherty in Reason...

Despite popular prejudices to the contrary, a new paper reports that immigrants in the U.S. are far less likely to end up locked in a public institution than the native-born, with an incarceration rate one-fifth as high.

The study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, was conducted by the economists Kristin F. Butcher of Wellesley College and Anne Morrison Piehl of Rutgers. It’s based on U.S. Census data from 1980, 1990, and 2000. The data, which are not broken down by immigrants’ legal status, include not only prisons but also mental institutions, hospitals, and drug treatment centers.

Butcher and Piehl find that the difference in institutionalization rates is not due to a policy of getting tougher on immigrant criminals by, say, expanding the crimes that can lead to deportation (as Congress did in the 1990s). Rather, they conclude, “the process of migration selects individuals who either have lower criminal propensities or are more responsive to deterrent effects than the average native.”

Among natives, Hispanics and those with lower incomes do have higher institutionalization rates, a fact that may underlie the common assumption that immigrants, who are also largely Hispanic and poor, would as well. But given that they do not, and given the authors’ finding that natives who have moved to a different state also have lower incarceration rates, it seems that the type prepared to roam is also the type that tends to walk the straight and narrow.

MIT struggles with math

From Keith Winstein in the WSJ...

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology helped invent radar, high-definition television, computer memory and the Black-Scholes model for pricing stock options. Its faculty and staff include 20 MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" recipients.

But for some time, MIT now says, it wasn't properly calculating the average SAT scores of its freshmen.

Those scores are closely scrutinized as a barometer of college quality. They are part of the formula used by U.S. News & World Report's influential annual rankings of schools.

When MIT dropped this year to seventh place from a three-way tie for fourth, its student newspaper, the Tech, asked why. In response, MIT revealed that its latest numbers factored in the SAT scores of non-native English speakers -- and that the school had excluded them for years.

The change contributed to a 16-point drop in MIT's average SAT scores between 2005 and 2006. The reported SAT average was inflated by six points in 2005 and four in 2004. The school says it isn't sure the scores ever were correct before this year.

"We were not at all trying to do this in any way to increase our rankings," says interim admissions dean Stuart Schmill.

Excluding the test scores of foreign students -- which tend to be lower than those of U.S. students in reading -- is one of many tricks that have plagued the U.S. News numbers. These days, the magazine asks schools to certify that international students who provided test scores are included, and deducts points for those who don't. MIT said it did.

Mr. Schmill says the Cambridge, Mass., school excluded some lower-scoring students because its admissions criteria don't consider SAT scores when a student's native language isn't English.

Students who scored better on a rival admissions exam, the ACT, also were excluded -- another violation of the U.S. News rules.

Mr. Schmill says MIT realized its mistake only by chance, after switching database software, and redid its methodology.

In the end, says Robert J. Morse, director of data research at U.S. News, a number of fluctuations -- including an increase in class sizes -- caused the school's drop in the rankings.

Says Mr. Shmill: "It was a pretty harmless error, or we wouldn't be talking about it."

Aside from this troubling last "admission" (haha!) and the amusing and ironic trouble with basic arithmetic, I'm reminded of the times when my accounting friends have trouble with numbers-- or when management faculty don't get along...

censorship through lame libel litigation (and the countries that allow it)

From Kelly Jane Torrance's interview in Reason with Robert O. Collins. Collins is the co-author of Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World (with J. Millard Burr) and a professor emeritus of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara...

The book had been published last year by Cambridge University Press, before being "pulped" last summer. The book "details how money is funneled to Islamic terrorists through charitable foundations" and was destroyed after Cambridge was threatened with legal action.

Q: Were you surprised by your publisher’s response?
A: When I submitted the manuscript, which they liked, I said it would be contentious. We named names, places, money; it’s very specific. In March 2005, their lawyers spent a month vetting the book. I wasn’t surprised when we got the letter from Mahfouz. That’s why the book has 100 footnotes—in other words, we substantiated everything. But the British courts will not recognize evidence that the American courts will. When I heard Cambridge was settling, I was upset. I was angry. But if I were in Cambridge’s shoes, I would probably do the same thing. Mahfouz had already won three cases in Judge Eady’s London High Court. It’s called the Club Med court for libel tourists.

Q: Cambridge sent a letter to about 280 libraries asking them to withdraw the book from circulation. How have librarians responded?
A: It’s been met with a great deal of resistance. The American Library Association said, “No way, we’re not going to do that.” I had a marvelous letter from a librarian at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She was outraged, telling me, “There’s no way I’m going to withdraw this. In fact, I’m putting on an exhibit of banned books and this will be featured.”

Q: Will you be able to republish the book elsewhere?
A: Yes, I now have the copyright. Half a dozen publishers are interested—two very mainstream, and four modern houses. It has become a very rare and valuable book.

Q: Does this saga have implications beyond the fate of one book?
A: Besides freedom of speech, there’s this threat of intimidation. It’s very real in the British press. You’ve got international intrigue, freedom of speech, libel. It’s far beyond the ability of Hollywood to put something like that together.I spent last week in Washington. Homeland Security has taken this whole thing very seriously and followed it closely since it broke in August. They are very concerned to see that United States citizens are not intimidated and afraid to write because of threats from rich Saudis. With the threat of expensive litigation, there have been publishers refusing to accept a manuscript that would be otherwise perfectly publishable.

this land is (not your) land

The title of Jonathan Last's review of Carla Main's Bulldozed on eminent domain...

The legal phrase "eminent domain" has become all too familiar to nonlawyers in recent years as the U.S. Supreme Court has gradually expanded the power of municipalities to condemn private property and seize it for "public" use -- even if they just end up handing property over to another private party. The court's now infamous Kelo decision (2005) no doubt pleased the city fathers of New London, Conn., who had taken possession of some residential neighborhoods for the sake of private developers. But it outraged nearly everyone else, not least Susette Kelo, the plaintiff whose home was coveted.

Outrage, appropriately, is the sustained effect of Carla Main's Bulldozed, the case study of another instance of eminent-domain abuse, this time in the working-class town of Freeport, Texas (pop. 13,500), on the Gulf coast. Six years ago, after decades of decline, Freeport decided to revitalize itself by building a private marina on the Old Brazos River, which runs through the center of town. City leaders hoped that the development would attract hotels, restaurants, art galleries and tourists. But to make it all happen, they needed the land of a local family business. "Bulldozed" tells the story of a fight over domain, eminent and otherwise....

From there, Last and Main detail the importance of political connections, lack of competition in bidding, tax abatements, and other "cozy arrangements"-- before wrapping up:

"Bulldozed" is at heart a story about trouble in a small town, a sort of eminent-domain version of "In Cold Blood," although it lacks a satisfying conclusion. In 2003, the Gores and Freeport took one another to court and fought a long, rancorous battle. After a series of defeats, the family was seemingly victorious. Freeport abandoned its plan for a private marina -- only to unveil a plan for a public marina that would also need much of the Gores' land. As "Bulldozed" closes, the two sides are heading back to the courthouse once more.

Two other blog entries on eminent domain: how it harms the poor and a mini-documentary on the topic from Drew Carey and Reason

the $2,500 car?!

The title of Ralph Kinney Bennett's piece in The American on what may be the newest thing in cars (at least, world-wide)...

The automotive world is abuzz about what might be the next Model T Ford or Volkswagen Beetle—an entry-level sedan to be built in India by Tata Motors Ltd. for about $2,500.

That would be about half the cost of the low­est-priced car now available in India—the bare-bones Maruti 800, which is essentially unchanged from its introduction in 1983. If Tata pulls this off, it would be one of the cheapest cars ever built, and it could have a huge impact not only on India’s growing car market but also all over the semideveloped world....

Many have said Tata’s goal is impossible. The so-called “One Lakh” (equaling 100,000 rupees) car is a four-door compact sedan with a small luggage compartment under the front hood and a rear engine producing 33 horsepower. It will be a base model by all means, but it will not be one of those go-kart or jitney-like vehicles so com­mon throughout India and Southeast Asia....

But that’s not the point. If Tata comes near its objective it will mark a huge achievement. And rival auto companies, while skeptical of the One Lakh, are already moving to counter it. Renault-Nissan is reportedly working with an Indian maker on a car with a price point somewhere between $2,500 and $3,000. Volkswagen sub­sidiary Skoda, South Korea’s Hyundai, and even mighty Toyota are also looking with renewed interest at the “bottom of the pyramid” in the Indian market....

Those who say these cars might not be as safe as “Western” cars need to spend a little time in the Third World and see five people (yes, five people) riding on a single motorbike or on some of the other two- and three-wheel get-ups that people use....

...even a little $2,500 four-door can be a dream machine, a freedom machine.

And then, looking back to the time when the Model T was introduced...

By 1900, auto­mobiles had been long established in Europe, particularly France, which was not only the fount of automotive technology but also the lead­ing automobile producer in the world. But the industry was quickly glutting its market, which was pretty much confined to the wealthy or near wealthy.

The idea that these newfangled (and expen­sive) motorcars were only “toys for the rich” had spread to the United States as well, but the notion withered quickly before a new reality. America was a nation of people with rising incomes and a people spread out over great distances. They were hungry for a way of getting around that was faster and less troublesome than the horse and more articulate than the railroad car....

The first truly popular car—at a price ($650) that brought it within the cost of a horse and buggy—had been introduced. The legendary Curved Dash Oldsmobile, with its distinctive toboggan-shaped front end, looked like little more than a two-seat carriage without the horses. But with the 1-cylinder, 4-horsepower engine beneath its seat, tiller steering, and 28-inch buggy wheels, the Olds was amazingly easy to drive and proved to be nimble even on the horrible American roads.

People were mad for it and made it the first mass-produced car. Ransom E. Olds sold as many as 5,000 a year before the car went out of production in 1907. Its reliability and charm were not enough. Automobiles had swiftly surpassed it in power, appointments, and appearance. People no longer wanted “gas buggies.” The clas­sic auto form, enduring to this day, of the engine mounted forward between the front wheels, its power transmitted to the rear axle by the drive shaft under the passenger compartment—a configuration introduced in France in 1891 by Panhard-Levassor—had taken hold throughout the automotive world.

But the plucky Curved Dash Olds had whet­ted an already growing American appetite for a car that everyone could afford. And the man who would assuage that appetite with “a car for the great multitudes” was Henry Ford.

As the automotive writer Ralph Stein put it, “On October 1, 1908, the most maligned and most praised, the most reliable and the most can­tankerous, the ugliest and the most functional of all cars was born—the Model T.”

It was introduced at a price of $825 for the two-seat “runabout” and at $850 for the tour­ing car. It is important to note that the Model T cost $250 more than Ford’s previous car, the acclaimed 1906 Model N, which Ford had con­sidered “the crowning achievement of my life.”

The Model N was a good car and selling very well, but Ford knew he could build a better car. And he did. The Model T was rugged. It used chrome-vana­dium steel for its axles—more costly, but much lighter and stronger than other steels. It was a forgiving car with a drive train and components that could take a beating, be easily repaired, and still function. Its loose and limber engine could climb hills with less shifting of gears. It looked high-wheeled and ungainly next to other cars, but it could clear the rutted, potholed, muddy rural roads of America with comparative ease. Most important, it could be driven by the aver­age person, not a chauffeur....

In 1908, the year the T was introduced (its for­mal debut was December 31 in New York’s Grand Central Palace), Ford sold 10,202 cars. In the 1909 model year the company sold 17,771, all Ts. In 1910 it was 32,053, a figure which more than doubled to 69,762 in 1911. By 1915, sales were over half a million.

As sales rose and production efficiency improved, the price of the Model T dropped dramatically. In 1912, the $575 price for the two-seater T was less than the average annual wage in the United States. By 1916 the popular touring model was priced at $360, less than half its orig­inal price. By the time the sturdy T was phased out in 1927, more than 16 million of them had been sold all over the world.

Henry Ford had truly “put America on wheels” with the Model T, and the impetus toward cars for the masses, begun with the Curved Dash Olds and a few other imitators, had vaulted the United States into the automo­tive leadership of the world. France would remain the auto-industry leader in Europe until 1924, but its production numbers were minuscule by American stan­dards. The United States surpassed France in sales volume in 1904. By 1913, when world­wide production of motor vehicles was 606,124, America accounted for 485,000 of that number (more than a quarter of them were Fords). Talk about “broadening the market.”...

a hot topic: Lomborg's "Cool It"

An excerpt from Pete Geddes' review of Bjorn Loomborg's Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming-- two paragraphs detailing the "scientific" response...

The environmental movement has mastered the art of crisis entrepreneurship, and Lomborg's book was a direct assault on this carefully crafted narrative, which has been nurtured over decades, abetted by a compliant media, and digested by a largely scientifically illiterate public. The reaction from the environmental establishment was swift and ugly.

Critics demanded Lomborg's editor at Cambridge University Press be fired and that "all right-thinking scientists … shun the press." The past president of the American Academy of Science wondered how Cambridge could have ever "published a book that so clearly could never have passed peer review." (The manuscript did pass peer review. The reviewers unanimously recommended publication.) Scientific American asserted the book was "rife with careless mistakes." In eleven pages of vicious ad hominem attacks (e.g., comparing Lomborg to a Holocaust denier), the magazine came up with nine factual errors. When Lomborg asked for space to rebut his critics, he was given only a page and a half. When he put the critics' essays on his webpage and answered in detail, Scientific American threatened him with copyright infringement.

So much for freedom of speech, scientific endeavor, tolerance, and so on...

Vaclav Klaus on global warming

From the Heartland Institute, Vaclav Klaus' speech to the U.N. about global warming. Klaus is the President of the Czech Republic, a professor of economics, and the author of a book on the environment...

Several points must be made to bring the issue into proper context:

1. Contrary to artificially-created worldwide perception, the increase in global temperatures has been – in the last years, decades and centuries – very small by historical comparison, and practically negligible in its actual impact upon human beings and their activities.

2. The hypothetical threat connected with future global warming depends exclusively upon forecasts, not upon past experience. These speculative forecasts are, however, based on relatively short time series of relevant variables and on forecasting models that have not been found reliable when attempting to explain past developments.

3. There is no scientific consensus about this issue. There exists an unresolved scientific dispute about the causes of recent climate changes. An impartial observer must admit that both sides of the dispute – the believers in man’s dominant role in recent climate changes, as well as the supporters of the hypothesis about their mostly natural origin – offer arguments strong enough to be listened to carefully by the non-scientific community. To prematurely proclaim victory of one group over another would be a tragic mistake.

4. As a result of this scientific dispute, there are those who call for imminent action and those who warn against it. We have to choose. Rational response depends – as always – on the size and probability of the risk and on the magnitude of the costs of its avoidance. As a responsible politician, as an economist, as an author of a book about the economics of climate change, with all available data and arguments in mind, I have to conclude that the risk is too small, the costs of eliminating it too high -- and the application of a fundamentalistically interpreted “precautionary principle” a wrong strategy.

5. Even the politicians who believe in the existence of a significant global warming, and especially those among them who believe in its anthropogenic origin, remain divided: some of them are in favor of mitigation, which means trying to control global climate changes (and are ready to put enormous amounts of money into it), while others rely on adaptation to change, on modernization and technical progress, and on favorable impact of the future increase in wealth and welfare (and prefer putting public money there). The second option is less ambitious and promises much more than the first one.

6. The whole problem does not only have its time dimension, but a more-than-important spatial (or regional) aspect as well. This is highly relevant, especially here in the UN. Different levels of income (and wealth) in different places of the world make worldwide, universal solutions costly, unfair and to a great extent discriminatory. The already developed countries do not have the right to impose any additional burden on the less-developed countries. Dictating ambitious and for them inappropriate environmental standards is basically wrong and should be excluded from the menu of recommended policy measures.

Maunder Minimum

Harpers reports very briefly on new research about our sun entering a Maunder Minimum which "could lead to a period of global cooling lasting as long as a century".

The Wikipedia entry mentions greatly reduced sunspot activity and then offers this:

The Maunder Minimum coincided with the middle — and coldest part — of the Little Ice Age, during which Europe and North America, and perhaps much of the rest of the world, were subjected to bitterly cold winters. Whether there is a causal connection between low sunspot activity and cold winters is the subject of ongoing debate.

Harpers does not identify the researchers, but with a brief search, I found this...

It's always been fun to point out that scientists were greatly concerned about global cooling in the mid-1970s. If one takes the current consensus seriously, it'd be great-- and great fun-- to see global cooling return to the front pages.

turn those lights "down"

From Ben Harder in U.S. News & World Report...

The night is not what it was. Once, the Earth was cast perpetually half in shadow. Man and beast slept beneath inky skies, dotted with glittering stars. Then came fire, the candle, and the light bulb, gradually drawing back the curtain of darkness and giving us unprecedented control over our lives.

But a brighter world, it is becoming increasingly clear, has its drawbacks. A study released last month finding that breast cancer is nearly twice as common in brightly lit communities as in dark ones only added to a growing body of evidence that artificial light threatens not just stargazing but also public health, wildlife, and possibly even safety.

Those findings are all the more troubling considering that an estimated 30 percent of outdoor lighting—plus even some indoor lighting—is wasted. Ill-conceived, ineffective, and inefficient lighting costs the nation about $10.4 billion a year, according to Bob Gent of the International Dark-Sky Association, a nonprofit that aims to curtail light pollution, and it generates 38 million tons of carbon dioxide a year....

People who are working while others are stargazing may face the greatest risks. Hormonal disturbances triggered by nighttime exposure to white or bluish light can disrupt circadian rhythms and fuel the growth of tumors, experiments show. Two decades of research indicate that women who work night shifts have unusually high rates of breast cancer, and some data suggest a parallel effect on male workers' prostate cancer rates. Last December, a unit of the World Health Organization deemed shift work a probable human carcinogen.

The second sentence sounds like good research-- looking at the causal effects of disrupting circadian rhythms rather than the correlations between health and those who work night shifts. The difficulty with this sort of (common) research is distinguishing between the likelihood that those who are more likely to get cancer (e.g., because they are poor or live in an urban environment) are also likely to work night shifts or live in cities.

Light beamed into the sky is squandered, since it's not illuminating any target. Yet many fixtures—like old-fashioned spherical streetlamps—send plenty of photons upward and outward. "If you fly into a city at night and you can see the streetlights from the airplane," says Chad Moore, leader of the National Park Service's Night Sky Program, "that light is counterproductive."...

Hippocratic hypocrisy

From Richard John Neuhaus in First Things...

Here’s a forceful editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine. The editors say in no uncertain terms that nobody should think “that the medical profession will be available to assist in the taking of human lives.” When called upon to kill, doctors should “remember the Hippocratic Oath and refuse to participate.”

The editorial is, as you might expect, in opposition to capital punishment. There is, of course, no mention of abortion or doctor-assisted suicide. About the latter, the NEJM is ambivalent, while it is unequivocally in support of the former. It is encouraging to see the reference to the Hippocratic Oath—which, unfortunately, is not taken in most American medical schools—but the editors’ reading of that venerable text is, to put it gently, very selective.

I had blogged earlier on the limited use and application of the Hippocratic Oath, so it's funny to see it invoked so passionately here!

it IS better to give than to receive...

From the AP's Randolph Schmid in the C-J, scientific results on money can buy happiness-- if you're buying for others...

The Bible counsels misers that it's better to give than to receive. Science agrees. People who made gifts to others or to charities reported they were happier than folks who didn't share, according to a report in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

While previous studies have shown that having more money can increase happiness, the researchers at the University of British Columbia and Harvard University wondered if the way people spent their money made any difference.

Turns out, it does.

Lead researcher Elizabeth W. Dunn, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, said she wasn't surprised that doing something for others made people happy.
But she was struck by how big the effect was and that how people spent money was more important than how much money they had.

"This work suggests that even making small alterations in how we spend money on a daily basis can make a difference in happiness," Dunn said in a telephone interview....

She added, "there's nothing special about money," giving can involve time or special skills to help other people....

The researchers started by asking a sample of 632 Americans, 55 percent of whom were women, to rate their happiness on a scale of 1 to 5, the higher the number the happier.
Then they asked the participants to report their annual income and estimate how much they spent on paying bills, buying gifts for themselves, buying gifts for others and giving to charity.

The first two were considered personal spending and averaged $1,714-a-month, the second two were termed "prosocial" spending and averaged $146-a-month.

"Personal spending was unrelated to happiness," said the researchers. "But higher prosocial spending was associated with significantly greater happiness," they found.

Not content with that, they then studied 16 employees of a company in Boston, asking about their happiness one month before and six to eight weeks after each received a profit-sharing bonus from their employer.

In the second interview they also asked about personal and prosocial spending and once again those who spent more on others were happier.

"The manner in which they spent that bonus was a more important predictor of their happiness than the amount of the bonus itself," the researchers found.

Finally, 46 Canadian students were asked to rate their happiness and then each was given a random envelope containing money, ranging from $5 to $20. Some were instructed to spend it on themselves, others were told to buy a gift for someone else.

At 5 p.m. that day, they were called together again and asked to rate their happiness.

The amount of money had no impact on happiness, but those assigned to buy something for another person reported greater happiness than those told to get something for themselves, the researchers said.

bribing the super-delegates...

According to the most recent issue of Harpers....

Obama and Clinton have given more than $1.6 million to the campaigns of super-delegates. (I'm sorry to say that I didn't save the original source or the relevant date. But I'd suspect they got the data from the common sources and that this covers contributions through December.)

Democracy-- and special interests-- in action...

identity politics for both Dems and the GOP

A funny little letter to the editor of U.S. News and World Report...

Suppose McCain wasn't a former POW, Hillary wasn't a woman, and Obama wasn't black. We might have to focus on the real issues at hand.

Actually, it's not all that surprising to see politicians emphasize something other than politics-- when politics is unlikely to lead to viable solutions.

Mamet revisited: waiting on the Left (to comment)

I had blogged on the original piece earlier, but here's more: Daniel Heninger in the WSJ on David Mamet's change of heart and politics...

Toward the end of the essay, he names names: "I began reading not only the economics of Thomas Sowell (our greatest contemporary philosopher) but Milton Friedman, Paul Johnson, and Shelby Steele, and a host of conservative writers, and found that I agreed with them: a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism."

This of course is an outrage against polite American wisdom. Isn't Paul Krugman supposed to be our greatest living philosopher? One would have thought that David Mamet saying bye-bye to liberalism would have launched sputterings everywhere. But not a word....

Which raises the question: If a liberal falls in the liberal forest and no one says they heard it, can you say it didn't happen? Mr. Mamet must feel like the guy in a mob movie who knows the hit is coming but has to sweat through to the bullet.

There is a more benign explanation for the silence of American punditry's liberal lambs. They have their hands full with Barack and Hillary. No playwright since blood-soaked Greece would have tried to script the furies let loose by the struggle between these two senators....

If David Mamet says he can't take it anymore, can others be far behind? Were I a Democratic Party strategist, out on the frontier of voter sentiment, my thought would be: This is not good for Democrats. David Mamet's mind is a tuning fork of regular-guy sentiment. He's the one who wrote "Glengarry Glen Ross." He says he's been a reliable liberal all his life. All of a sudden, the party sounds off-key. What if other guys are starting to think this? What if, after Barack's charisma gets stripped away, all you're left with is "universal health care" and Hillary's blind ambition?...

In a remarkable coincidence with the Mamet essay, the playwright Tom Stoppard just published a piece in the Sunday Times of London ripping the 1968 student demonstrations there, in Paris, and elsewhere. Admitting he was thought by the left even then to be "politically dubious," Mr. Stoppard says he "was embarrassed by the slogans and postures of rebellion in a society which, in London as in Paris . . . seemed to me to be the least worst system into which one might have been born -- the open liberal democracy whose very essence was the toleration of dissent."...

Unless the Democrats figure out a way to back down big brother, the years ahead likely will bring more Mamet drop-outs. Belief in autonomy may even reach Hollywood.

Greg Allen in the C-J on the SE Easter Pageant

An interview-- or "lunch conversation"-- with Greg in the C-J...

Hundreds (of the tens of thousands) of tickets are still available by clicking here...

Tell us about the genesis of this pageant.
I joined the staff in '83 and was youth minister until '90, when I switched to doing he worship. And our pastor at that time was Bob Russell, who was also a longtime fixture in Louisville. He was here for 40 years. He had seen Easter or Christmas pageants in other churches around the country, and so he said, "Greg, go ye and see all the pageants and come back and build one."...

After a second visit to First Baptist, Ft. Lauderdale, we resonated with their performances the most of what we thought God wanted us to do here. We also happened to have some connections there. Some leaders here knew some families there who gave us tours. It turned out to be a very warm experience. So after the second visit, which would have been in '91, I believe, we sat in the Delta Crown Room in the Ft. Lauderdale airport waiting to fly home, and we where there for like two hours early that morning because we were so juiced up about doing a pageant here. We sat in the Delta Crown Room and on a legal pad filled out act by act, scene by scene, what we wanted to do, most of which we were just stealing, plagiarizing right from First Baptist, Ft. Lauderdale. They knew it, and they were kind of thrilled that we were doing that. And we made a few notes of things we'd rather do different. Then when we flew home to Louisville, we had it on a legal pad....

How large is your congregation?
Our average weekend attendance is right around 17,000. There's probably about 22,000, 23,000 members, but those who are actually here on a weekend, probably about 17,000 people. But in the early `90s, that would be probably 4,000 or 5,000. So we had less of a pool to draw from to try to find good actors and players and singers. To show you how hard up we were for good actors, I actually played Joseph that first year, and the reason is that even though I cannot act at all — I'm horrible — we needed a guy that could sing the Joseph song, so I was the last guy available, so I said, "OK, I'll do it." I was mortified.

...probably about '96 is when we really, really started: we moved it to Easter off of Christmas for two reasons. One, we wanted to do the full life of Christ, and we felt that was more appropriate coming down at the end of Easter because of the death, burial and resurrection, and that's where we wanted to end. But the other reason is purely practical: In the month of December, to do a big event — there are so many other events. The whole city has something going on....And it has turned out to be the greatest decision we've made. All the other big churches we visited are still doing theirs at Christmas, and still have big attendances. But ours have doubled their attendances, and I think it's because we moved it to this time of year...

Why did you decide to take a break for a year?
We moved to this facility in '99. Attendance went out the roof. We were quite shocked at how many people almost over night started coming here on weekends. Pageant attendance went way up. And in 2002, the senior minister and I were actually talking about — because pageant tickets sold out so quickly: like 75,000 before the show even started – we were contemplating ways over the next year of encouraging our congregation not to come in order to make room for other people. The attendance was so huge. We were living at the top of the bell curve. Business and revenue were at their peak, and we knew at some time it was going to start going down the other side. So you want to shock the system at the top of the bell curve so you don't decline. Well, we waited one too many years. We had talked about it in 2004. In 2002, 2003 and 2004, we had sold out before the show even started and we thought, "Can it get any better than this?" So all the leaders of the pageant went to the leaders of the church and we said, "We think it's probably time to make a change," and they said, "No, this is going too wonderful, surely not." That next year, in 2005, the ticket sales went from 75,000 to 65,000....So it was two things: One, the ticket sales told us that our community had said, "Been there, done that...." But the second reasons we wanted to do it is that even all of the artistic people who were in the show were becoming tired of doing the same old show....

What was the impact of "The Passion of the Christ" on your program?
I knew — four years in college, I was a Bible major, Greek minor. I did my master of divinity here in Louisville at Southern Seminary as a biblical studies major. So I know the story — studied the history behind it....At the scourging scene in Mel Gibson's movie, I was struck not so much by the pain and suffering that Christ endured, but by the depth of my own sin that brought on the reason God sent us Christ in the first place. I don't have to be a murderer or a convict. The scripture teaches we all have strayed away from Christ....So we were impacted by that, and our thought was this: We loved our old show, but it was more described by fanfare and pageantry, which means it's a happy show. Yes, he was crucified at the end of it, and it was very emotional, but the resurrection is 10 minutes afterward in the show — three days later in reality — but 10 minutes later in the show, you've already recovered from so much pain and agony. And so, "The Passion of the Christ" movie influenced us to want to make the whole life of Christ the overwhelming majority of the show. In the old pageant, the life of Christ was probably 50 percent of the actual time. This show, it's about 99 percent. We don't start with the birth. We don't do a chronology. We start with the crucifixion, and it's on film. Then we go live to the stage and do flashbacks through the whole show....

We have heard that this show is more intense and perhaps it isn't right for young children, whereas the pageant was a natural for young children.
Yes. We are already rethinking how we're going to advertise this for next year. We say for 6 years old and under, don't come. But we also told our parents here, "Every child's different. You know your child, and you make that decision." My 8-year-old is actually in it, and she's seen all the film, and she's OK, but her temperament is very different than when my oldest was her age. She wouldn't have been able to take it....It's not that this is that much more graphic. It's that before, the graphic scenes, let's say the scourging, the crucifixion, was on the stage, and that's anywhere from 40 to 80 feet away. The film screens in our room now are IMAX screens. They're 50 feet wide and 30 feet tall. So it's not more graphic. It's just more visible....It's not anything as intense as Mel Gibson's movie. That's two hours of intensity, and it never lets up. Ours gets intense. It's an hour and 57 minutes long. I would say there's probably 10 minutes that's as intense as Mel Gibson's movie....

Are all the people who work on this volunteers?
All volunteers. It's amazing to me.

What about the animals? Where are they? How do you handle them?
They are living in a parking lot out there. We get a big circus tent that we put up for them every year. It's a company right outside Branson, Mo. — really a husband and wife who are animal handlers. They bring them on a huge truck: a camel, horse, two donkeys — it's the smallest cast of animals ever this year — a whole crew of precious little lambs, several ravens and doves — they rotate — a snake for the temptation scene. So we pay them a contract to bring the animals. When they get here, we have the retired Louisville Zoo curator, Steve Taylor, who's a church member. He gets a crew of volunteers. And every single day they're caring for those animals until the show is over....

Finally, this from the middle of the interview-- but it doesn't fit under the questions I wanted to emphasize:

A lot of people come to a big church for as much as three or four years before ever coming forward to let you know they're there, because they like hiding. That's why a lot of people come to a big church. They don't want to be confronted like they would at a little church. If you walk into a little church of 200, more than likely somebody is going to say something to you. A lot of people are afraid of that. That's why they don't go to church. They'll come and sit in a big room, because they can get lost and stay anonymous. That's one of the reasons we like being a big church: People can feel safe to come in and hear what's going on, but they can leave without anybody saying anything to them....