Tuesday, May 29, 2007


This is from an email sent by Michael Yon to Glenn Reynolds:
"Another day has passed without my having seen a shred of combat. The area around the city of Hit, in Anbar Province, has mostly fallen silent. A dust storm swept in late yesterday, and as normal, the enemy used the storm for cover to seed a few small IEDs on roads. The bombs were small and were discovered without incident.

I am becoming very interested by the city of Hit and surrounds; the fighting turned-off abruptly in February after Task Force 2-7 Infantry arrived. Why did the fighting end so suddenly?"
"Iraqis have told me many times that the larger part of this war is not about religion. Fanatical groups such as al Qaeda surely have wreaked havoc, but a huge part of the war is about business, influence and resources. The American Commanding General, David Petraeus, has said repeatedly that money is ammunition in this war. The meetings I attend with local leaders around Iraq are never about religion. Religion is seldom if ever brought up. The meetings are about security, electricity, jobs, water projects. The meetings often are about influence, and politics fit for a novel."
Very interesting.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Wise Government?

Russell Roberts:
"There are two themes in this short excerpt that are often linked together: government can help people so let's ask government to do so. Missing from the logic is whether it is reasonable to assume that asking government to do X is likely to lead to X happening. I understand the theory. But is there evidence for the theory? And putting evidence to the side—it's often ambiguous—is it reasonable to assume that government will act in the way you expect? Does government have the information that would enable a wise decision? And most importantly, does government have the incentive to act wisely?"
Professor Roberts is writing an explanation of his views with respect to a recent Newsweek article. His entire piece is well worth reading. It does seem to me that many people assume government is something it is not, and, by the way, something government cannot be.

The following views seem to me to be an accurate view of government:
In my view, it's best not to assume any motives on the part of "government." There's really no such thing as "government" other than an abstraction we use to describe the sausage factory of legislation. Politicians do have motives. They are the same as mine and yours—a mixture of self-interest and altruism. In the case of the poor, I think it is too easy for a politician to convince himself or herself that interest rate limitations are good for the poor. They are actually good for the wealthier constituents.

It is tempting to assume that government is our friend. My friend might see me about to make a bad financial decision and ask me whether I'm sure it's a good idea. The friend does that out of love or affection. But government does not love. Even the love of a politician is unlikely to extend beyond that of any other stranger. So why do we expect the politician to be our friend and do what is right for us? Given power, I assume the politician will often be tempted to do what is best for the politician. So I think it is best not to ask government to help us make better decisions. Politicians do not have the incentive or the information to help poor people make better financial decisions. And as for the evidence, I see none that suggests that past policies passed in the name of helping the poor have actually done so.

Friday, May 18, 2007

How Things Work: Congress 2007

"According to the draft resolution, Murtha shouted at Rogers on the House floor Thursday for offering a motion last week to expose $23 million Murtha requested in an intelligence bill.

Murtha had requested the money to prevent the administration from shuttering the National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown, Pa.. in Murtha’s district.

“I hope you don’t have any earmarks in the defense appropriations bills because they are gone, and you will not get any earmarks now and forever,” Murtha told Rogers on the House floor, according to the draft transcript given Politico.

“This is not the way we do things here -- and is that supposed to make me afraid of you?” Rogers replied.

“That’s the way I do it,” Murtha said.

Members are not allowed to threaten earmarks or tax provisions.

The showdown occurred on the Republican side of the aisle, in the so-called Ohio Corner, in front of numerous GOP lawmakers who witnessed the episode, one member present said.

Murtha could not immediately be reached for comment."

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Climate Change Models

Brandon Keim:
"Global climate models are missing a good chunk of plant information that could significantly alter long-term climate change predictions. A new technique for modeling phytoplankton -- microscopic plants in the upper layers of the Earth's waters -- could reveal a much more accurate picture."
Now this seems interesting, especially in view of the alleged scientific concensus with respect to global warming. (Perhaps this concensus should not be referred to as a scientific concensus, but instead it might be referred to as a political concensus of many scientists.)

I wonder why someone might think that microscopic plants should be part of climate change models?
"Phytoplankton perform two-thirds of all the Earth's photosynthesis -- the process by which plants turn light, nutrients and carbon dioxide into food. The amount of CO2 processed by phytoplankton during photosynthesis affects concentrations of CO2 in the water, which determines how much of the greenhouse gas the oceans can absorb."
Wow! The little microscopic plants perform 2/3 of all the earth's photosynthesis. Maybe it would be important to have a good model of phytoplankton when worrying about climate change. Apparently the model written about is "a major breakthrough." Why? It seems these little microscopic plants evolve and the new model offers a way of modeling that evolution.
Follows and his colleagues created a model ocean seeded with dozens of randomly generated types of phytoplankton. Like the real ocean, the model accounted for variations in light, temperature and food.

Having set the parameters, Follows' team turned the model on. Over 10 simulated years, the digital creatures competed to survive. Some died out, others flourished, and they gradually settled into their respective niches.

Current marine-modeling systems don't factor in the phytoplankton's ever-evolving nature.

"We know that if climate changes a lot, the oceanic ecosystem will change," says Raleigh Hood, a University of Maryland oceanographer. "This model has the power to change itself under changing conditions."

It sounds like the new model has great value because ocean biology will evolve and this should apparently have an impact on the earth's carbon cycle. The new model may offer a way of guessing about how significant aspects of the earth's climate may evolve in response to carbon emissions. It sounds like models upon which the alleged scientific concensus are grounded may not have enough of the "ever-evolving nature" of nature embodied in them.

In view of news like this, I wonder how much comfort we should find in the scientific concensus on global warming? And, I wonder, in view of news like this if the scientific concensus might also be due for some evolving?

[HT: Instapundit]

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Iraq Politics: Here & There

Max Boot:
"An article in USA Today reported on a Pentagon-funded study which confirms what military historians already know--an average insurgency can run for a decade, but most fail in the end. Translation: If we're going to be successful in Iraq, we're going to have to make a long-term commitment. That doesn't mean 170,000 U.S. combat troops stationed there for 10 years, but it does mean a substantial force--tens of thousands of soldiers--will be needed for many years to come. If we're planning to start withdrawing in September 2007--or even September 2008--we might as well run up the white flag now and let the great Iraqi civil war unfold in all its horror."
Slow progress toward an acceptable modus vivendi may still be possible as long as the U.S. doesn't insist on artificial timetables to resolve complex and emotional issues. What incentive do Iraqi politicians have to make compromises if they think that American troops are heading out the door? If that's the case, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds would be well advised to avoid making any concessions that would strengthen their mortal enemies. Thus all the talk in Washington about troop withdrawals has the opposite effect from what is intended. Instead of spurring Iraqi politicians to compromise, it leads them to be more obdurate.
I'm not so sure all the talk in Washington is intended to spur on Iraqi politicians and influence Iraqi politics. Instead I think the talk in Washington is primarily intended to influence our own election politics. But, I do agree with Boot's suggestion that the politics in Washington creates incentives for people in Iraq to hedge their bets with respect to which force will ultimately emerge as the long-term government of Iraq.

What do those in Washington who are pulling for withdrawal of our forces predict is likely to happen with that withdrawal? What is the future they see for Iraq if our forces are withdrawn prior to our next Presidential election? Max Boot writes a bit about what he thinks might happen, and you should read the rest of his commentary to get that picture. I don't think the proponents of withdrawal talk much about the future they picture for Iraq with our near-term withdrawal. I wonder if that is because the picture Boot paints is something like the picture they see as well?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Medicare Meltdown -- Wake Up

Thomas Saving (WSJ $$):
"What's going to happen when the money runs out for Medicare? A recently released report by the program's trustees found that within seven years Medicare taxes will fall short of Medicare expenses by more than 45%. What's more, Medicare and Social Security combined are on track to eat up the entire federal budget.

While the bulk of Medicare dollars comes from payroll taxes and beneficiary premiums, a large and growing share of Medicare expenses is borne by general taxpayers. And although the same law that created the new Medicare drug benefit also requires the president to propose remedial legislation, Congress is not required to actually do anything.

The trustees' wake-up call comes none too soon. But what is needed are not minor adjustments. A major overhaul is in order.

The projected cash flow deficits in these two programs are staggering. For Social Security, the trustees estimate the 75-year burden on general revenues at $6.7 trillion. For Medicare the comparable burden on general revenues is $24.2 trillion, even after allowing the current transfers to grow with the economy. Thus the total burden these programs will impose on federal finances over the next 75 years is $31.9 trillion, more than six times the current outstanding federal debt. Looking beyond 75 years into the indefinite future, the combined long-run funding gap for Social Security and Medicare is $74.8 trillion in today's dollars.

Members of Congress will not have to wait long to experience the practical effects of all of this. Until a few years ago, Social Security and Medicare were taking in more than they spent, on the whole. Thus they provided revenue for other federal programs. That situation is now reversed, and last year the combined deficits in the two programs claimed 5.3% of federal income tax revenues. In 15 years these two programs will require more than a fourth of income tax revenues: In other words, in just 15 years the federal government will have to stop spending one out of every four non-entitlement dollars in order to balance the budget and keep its promises to the elderly."

In conclusion:
"If nothing is done, Social Security and Medicare deficits will engulf the entire federal budget. If our policy makers wait to address the growing deficits until they are out of control, the solutions will be drastic and painful. Let us hope that the current wake-up call is not ignored."
So, what are the chances that our policy makers will ignore these problems? Who on our national political stage is making these problems their issue?

You should read the entire piece, both to understand the nature of our future if nothing is done soon, and also to understand the sorts of things that should be done now.

If this issue is not part of the presidential election season we are already in, aren't the odds that these issues will continue to be ignored pretty high?


As a perfect complement to my last post, check out this cartoon.

[HT: Don Boudreaux]

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Earth's Human Virus

Paul Watson:
"Curing a body of cancer requires radical and invasive therapy, and therefore, curing the biosphere of the human virus will also require a radical and invasive approach

It won’t be easy but then it’s better than the alternative."
What does Mr. Watson think should be done?
There is only one cure, only one way of stopping this rising epidemic of extinctions. The solution requires an extraordinarily immense effort by all of human society but it is achievable.

We need to re-wild the planet. We need to “get ourselves back to the garden” as Joni Mitchell once so poetically framed it.

This is a process that will require a complete overhaul of all of humanities economic, cultural, and life style systems. Within the context of our present anthropocentric mind-set the solution is impossible. It will require a complete transformation of all human realities.

But the alternative is unimaginable. Unless we address the problem, we will be faced with the complete transformation of the planet from one of diversity to ecosystems shattered, weakened, and destroyed by mass extinction and the collapse of bio-diversity.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Henry David Thoreau wrote that “in wildness is the preservation of the world.”

We should not be living in human communities that enclose tiny preserved ecosystems within them. Human communities should be maintained in small population enclaves within linked wilderness ecosystems. No human community should be larger than 20,000 people and separated from other communities by wilderness areas. Communication systems can link the communities.

In other words, people should be placed in parks within ecosystems instead of parks placed in human communities. We need vast areas of the planet where humans do not live at all and where other species are free to evolve without human interference.

We need to radically and intelligently reduce human populations to fewer than one billion. We need to eliminate nationalism and tribalism and become Earthlings. And as Earthlings, we need to recognize that all the other species that live on this planet are also fellow citizens and also Earthlings. This is a planet of incredible diversity of life-forms; it is not a planet of one species as many of us believe.

We need to stop burning fossil fuels and utilize only wind, water, and solar power with all generation of power coming from individual or small community units like windmills, waterwheels, and solar panels.

Sea transportation should be by sail. The big clippers were the finest ships ever built and sufficient to our needs. Air transportation should be by solar powered blimps when air transportation is necessary.

All consumption should be local. No food products need to be transported over hundreds of miles to market. All commercial fishing should be abolished. If local communities need to fish the fish should be caught individually by hand.

Preferably vegan and vegetarian diets can be adopted. We need to eliminate herds of ungulates like cows and sheep and replace them with wild ungulates like bison and caribou and allow those species to fulfill the proper roles in nature. We need to restore the prey predator relationship and bring back the wolf and the bear. We need the large predators and ungulates, not as food, but as custodians of the land that absorbs the carbon dioxide and produces the oxygen. We need to live with them in mutual respect.

We need to remove and destroy all fences and barriers that bar wildlife from moving freely across the land. We need to lower populations of domestic housecats and dogs. Already the world’s housecats consume more fish than all the world’s seals and we have made the cow into the largest aquatic predator on the planet because more than one half of all fish taken from the sea is converted into meal for animal feed.

We need to stop flying, stop driving cars, and jetting around on marine recreational vehicles. The Mennonites survive without cars and so can the rest of us.

We can retain technology but within the context of Henry David Thoreau’s simple message to “simplify, simplify, simplify.”

We need an economic system that provides all people with educational, medical, security, and support systems without mass production and vast utilization of resources. This will only work within the context of a much smaller global population.

Who should have children? Those who are responsible and completely dedicated to the responsibility which is actually a very small percentage of humans. Being a parent should be a career. Whereas some people are engineers, musicians, or lawyers, others with the desire and the skills can be fathers and mothers. Schools can be eliminated if the professional parent is also the educator of the child.

This approach to parenting is radical but it is preferable to a system where everyone is expected to have children in order to keep the population of consumers up to keep the wheels of production moving. An economic and political system dependent on continuous growth cannot survive the ecological law of finite resources.

There is, of course, a complexity of problems in adjusting to a new design that will simply allow us to survive the consequences of our past ecological folly.
Wow. Pretty inspiring future, eh? There is much more in Mr. Watson's commentary. You may want to read the rest of it, just so you might understand why he sees us as a virus.

I wonder how many people who are environmental activists agree with Mr. Watson?

I wonder what Mr. Watson thinks of liberty?

[via Instapundit and Dan Gainor]

Patent Predators

Wall Street Journal commentary ($$):
"Patents are only worth the paper they're printed on unless governments protect them. So when Thailand browbeat Abbott Laboratories into dropping its prices for an HIV/AIDS drug last month by threatening to break its patent -- with nearly no international repercussions -- we were alarmed.

Now there's reason to be downright worried. On Friday Brazil declared it would seize the patent for Merck's HIV/AIDS drug, efavirenz. It's the first time Brazil has seized a patent, and it's a slap in the face of the World Trade Organization and the market system for drug innovation.

WTO rules allow countries to seize drug patents in times of 'national emergency' or for 'public non-commercial use.' But President Lula da Silva announced the patent expropriation on Friday after price negotiations broke down. Did Brazil's HIV/AIDS problem suddenly turn into an epidemic overnight, or did Lula just not like Merck's terms -- a 30% discount off the market price? Perhaps he was thinking, instead, of Brazil's huge generic drug industry, which could commercially benefit from a free invention and a big domestic market for selling it."
This can't be good.