Quote(s) of the Day

Thanksgiving was my last entry? Let me rectify that with two quotes from reading the Internets today. First, from Rogier van Bakel on free speech.

Denying others the rights and protections you demand for yourself is the zenith of arrogance.

That’s an excellent, condensed way of stating it. You already know another discussion where I apply that sentiment, in various ways.

Next, from David Henderson writing on a 1999 quote by Ben Bernanke on government response to economic crisis:

You don’t get output to be higher by making it lower.

The desire to Do Something is strong, particularly among politicians. Unless the crisis is “the house is on fire” urgent, everyone should suppress this desire vigorously until after arriving at a considered plan. Unlike what Congress, the President, and the President-elect are doing.

Thankful for Capitalism

It might seem ridiculous to be thankful for capitalism today. It’s supposed to be about “important” things like family, health, and so on. I am, but so is everybody. But capitalism is how we’re able to gather together in comfortable houses, with food on the table, and football on our shiny HD televisions.

Today’s reprint of an old Calvin & Hobbes comic demonstrates this. The first panel:

I’m old enough to remember VCR rentals. Today, VCRs are obsolete, DVD players are cheap enough to be disposable, and our movies take up only a portion of a compact hard drive. Our lives are more enjoyable and more convenient because men and women have ideas and make them real. In an effort to make themselves richer, they make our lives better.

Uncivil Debate

Everyone on the Internets knows about Godwin’s Law, right?

“As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”

It’s been adapted from Usenet to now apply to the Internets. And it does, because we’ve all seen it in action.

What about YouTube? Has anyone expressed the necessary observation? Maybe, but if not, I’m proposing Tony’s Law:

As the number of comments on a YouTube video grows, the probability that a gay slur will be introduced approaches one.

I’m researching cellphones, so I watch videos. I figure, maybe the comments will help, since actual user experience is good. And there, the most recent comments are just ignorant attacks on sexuality. I remembered this is why I don’t read YouTube comments any more. This probability of bigotry is also why I installed YouTube Comment Snob. (Which clearly didn’t work 100% effectively in this case, but it’s better than nothing.)

So, consider that a new Internets rule if someone hasn’t proposed it already.

Around the Web: Vigorous Nodding Edition

John Cole assesses the Senate’s asinine behavior in passing the anti-liberty FISA bill with telecom immunity and pursuing the NFL over Spygate perfectly:

There is a very real and perverse possibility that the NFL will face tougher sanctions for spying on practice squads and covering it up than the telecoms and this President will face for spying on the citizenry and lying about it.

That the Democrats caved so easily on the former is another reason to ignore them as a party of leadership.

Next, Jacob Sullum dissects the problem with too many science journalists and editors:

Any journalist who doesn’t feel comfortable going beyond what appears in a medical journal to put a study’s findings in context and offer caveats where appropriate has no business writing about science. Reporters can’t be experts on everything, but they can ask smart questions and seek informed comments regarding a study’s potential weaknesses. If news organizations refuse to do so on the grounds that the study was peer reviewed and therefore must be faultless, they might as well just reprint researchers’ press releases. Which is pretty much what they do, all too often.

This is essentially every bit of “journalism” in America regarding circumcision over the last 125 2½ years. For example.

Finally, Colman McCarthy wrote in yesterday’s Washington Post on the current steroids brouhaha in Congress:

This is the second time members of Congress have posed as drug-busters cleaning up the great American pastime. Except that drug use — whether involving legal or illegal drugs — already is the American pastime, and it is far bigger than baseball.

I’m hoping that Roger Clemens polls the members of Waxman’s committee on their use of performance-enhancing drugs. Start with Viagra. Or Cialis, ready for action “when the moment is right” — say, a congressman stumbling home after a late-night floor vote on an earmark bill. Clemens might ask the members how many need shots of caffeine drugs to get themselves up and out every morning. He might ask the members how often they reach for another shot of Jack Daniels to enhance their performance while grubbing for bucks from lobbyists at fundraisers. And before leaving Capitol Hill, he should grill the allegedly clean-living baseball reporters on how many of them sit in the press box enhancing their bodies with alcohol, nicotine and caffeine drugs. And a blunt or two when night games go extra innings and deadline nerves need steadying.

My stance remains unchanged. McCarthy’s essay holds up a mirror to the hypocrisy of today’s moralizers, both inside and outside of government.

Apparently money isn’t green.

Interesting (via Fark):

Jeffrey Lee is not interested in the soaring price of uranium, which could make him one of the world’s richest men.

“This is my country. Look, it’s beautiful and I fear somebody will disturb it,” he says, waving his arm across a view of rocky land surrounded by Kakadu National Park, where the French energy giant Areva wants to extract 14,000 tonnes of uranium worth more than $5 billion.

“I’m not interested in white people offering me this or that … it doesn’t mean a thing.

“I’m not interested in money. I’ve got a job; I can buy tucker; I can go fishing and hunting. That’s all that matters to me.”

How exactly is white relevant?

Well, hello (again)

A few stories to catch up from my unplanned absence.

First, Don Boudreaux offered a fascinating comparison of Sen. Barack Obama’s fund-raising and economic populism.

… Last quarter Sen. Obama raised, as the Times puts it, “a whopping $31 million.”

These funds, of course, are all voluntarily contributed. The fact that I, personally, do not care for much of what Sen. Obama espouses is irrelevant: lots of people like what he says. They like it enough to contribute to his campaign. The result, designed by no one, is a huge campaign chest for Sen. Obama. He will be well-financed to pursue his ambition. (In my opinion, this ambition is an especially greedy and venal one, but that’s just my opinion.)

In May, however, the very same Sen. Obama called for Senate hearings into allegedly excessive pay for CEOs of corporations.

The rest of Mr. Boudreaux’s analysis is perfect. When someone earns achieves superior results through voluntary exchange, any action to alter those results by a third party is wrong. “Too much” success notwithstanding.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, I will not be voting for Sen. Obama if he wins the Democratic nomination precisely because he is an economic populist. I did not vote Democratic in the last election to institute economic populism. Severe displeasure at the current administration and climate should not be seen as an overwhelming desire to be economically stupid.

Next, I still think public money for this is questionable, at best, but I like the approach this writer uses to explain proposed funding for circumcision as an HIV prevention.

One of the suggested health campaigns reviewed by the Global Health Program is provision of adult male circumcision to decrease individual likelihood of sexually acquiring HIV infection. Some recently published studies performed in Africa suggest circumcision may offer an impressive 60 percent margin of protection against HIV infection, which is well below consistent condom use and complete sexual abstinence, but far better than any other currently available interventions for men. Ambassador Mark Dybul, who runs the PEPFAR program, told the Council that he would provide funds for circumcision programs if the governments of the 15 countries PEPFAR works with requested such support. But strong concerns have been raised regarding the quantity and skill level of medical personnel required to perform this bloody surgical procedure. Though the procedure itself is inexpensive, adult circumcision risks exposing both healthcare workers and patients to blood-borne infections, including HIV. Diverting scarce health talent to large circumcision campaigns could impede other public health and clinical efforts.

In that context, my only concern is the public financing. The writer mentioned all the key aspects of circumcision as an HIV prevention technique. It should be up to the adult male, it’s effectiveness is significantly outpaced by non-invasive methods, and there are considerable risks to be addressed before applying it to African countries facing a severe epidemic. Radical solutions should be tied to real-world facts, considerations, and consequences.

Speaking of radical solutions needing to be tied to real-world facts, I haven’t seen Sicko yet. I don’t make it a priority to pay for propaganda. Anyway, I’m fairly certain what my opinion will be when I get around to it. I imagine it’ll be something like Kurt Loder’s opinion. (Someone else deserves credit here, but I can’t remember where I saw this link.) The entire piece is worth reading, but I like this best:

Moore’s most ardent enthusiasm is reserved for the French health care system, which he portrays as the crowning glory of a Gallic lifestyle far superior to our own. The French! They work only 35 hours a week, by law. They get at least five weeks’ vacation every year. Their health care is free, and they can take an unlimited number of sick days. It is here that Moore shoots himself in the foot. He introduces us to a young man who’s reached the end of three months of paid sick leave and is asked by his doctor if he’s finally ready to return to work. No, not yet, he says. So the doctor gives him another three months of paid leave — and the young man immediately decamps for the South of France, where we see him lounging on the sunny Riviera, chatting up babes and generally enjoying what would be for most people a very expensive vacation. Moore apparently expects us to witness this dumbfounding spectacle and ask why we can’t have such a great health care system, too. I think a more common response would be, how can any country afford such economic insanity?

I guess we’re supposed to fall back on the argument that it’s somehow free. No need to trouble ourselves with economic laws or evidence that demonstrates those laws or even the nuances of any argument that millions of Americans don’t have health insurance. The facts, although interesting, are irrelevant. Right?

I will see Sicko at some point, if only to understand what stupid people are believing. I don’t really want to give Moore any money, but I’m thinking back to how people paid for a different movie and saw Fahrenheit 9/11 instead. It’s tempting as a “gotcha”, but I wouldn’t do it. Unlike Moore, I consider honesty an asset. Whatever small price he’ll get from my (matinée) viewing is surely worth remaining above his level.

Useful Thought on Perspective

While last night’s 60 Minutes story on nuclear power raised good points, including the obvious point that there are only so many ways to continue our way of life without perpetuating carbon dioxide emissions, this quote on nuclear power in general struck me as most useful:

“When there’s a small probability of a catastrophe people think about the catastrophe and not the small probability,” [David Jhirad, the head of science and research for The World Resources Institute] says.

I’m not interested in the planet dying, if global warming is serious, but I’m not interested in living in a mud hut just to avoid interfering with nature. Mr. Jhriad’s statement is applicable to almost everything, and it’s something we should all remember. Everything in life involves risk. Our objective should be to minimize and contain that risk to the extent reasonably possible. When we understand that, we’ll realize that we can never completely avoid risk without avoiding benefits, as well.

I choose the small probability, not the catastrophe, as my starting point.

Introducing Economic Breezefalls

Here’s a bit of personal finance advice from the Washington Post:

Here’s another reader’s debt dilemma: “I got a huge tax refund that would . . . pay off a good chunk — about half — of my credit card debt. But I am embarrassed to say that I have no savings at all aside from my 401(k). I am wondering if I should divvy up my refund between establishing an emergency fund and paying down my credit cards. I need your common sense advice.”

The sensible thing would be to establish an emergency fund. The ideal is to have between three months and six months of household expenses in a rainy day fund. In this case just one month’s worth will do. Use the rest of the refund to reduce your credit card debt.

I disagree, partially. Keep enough cash aside to cover one month of expenses that can’t be paid with a credit card. Use the rest to pay down credit card debt. If trouble arises, run the card back up. Groceries can be purchased with a credit card, for example. Even if the break in interest is only one month, it could be significant.

Contrast that with this:

Another reader had a similar question. “I’m 25 and will receive an $8,000 tax refund this year as a new homeowner. My rainy day fund has two months’ worth of expenses, and I can’t decide between building it to a full three months first then putting the rest of the refund toward my biggest student loan, or paying the loan (9 percent interest) off entirely. I’d love to see that one loan (I have three more) disappear and not pay any more interest. But I worry that it would take another eight months to build up to a three-month reserve. What would you do?”

I would pay off the one student loan, entirely.

However, let’s get real. Most people won’t let the money just sit in a savings account. They end up spending it on a big-screen television, vacations, car repairs or whatever. Before they realize it, the windfall is gone, and yet the debt is still there.

I disagree completely. Even at 9 percent, the student loan is stable. If something happened and this person needed access to a rainy day fund, there’s nothing there. The student loan is paid off, but then the credit cards build. That’s not a reasonable trade.

I accept that both of those fit my personal preference more than anything, with a significant dose of experience in both included. Still, I find it odd to imply that a 25-year-old who can be responsible enough to buy a house and build two months of rainy day fund won’t let the larger rainy day fund remain in an account, opting instead for a big-screen television. That makes no sense, especially when looking at the previous advice to build a rainy day fund for someone who has revolving credit card debt. Without more information, who would you bet on to blow the money? That seems a no-brainer.

I know the unaddressed issue is that these people are getting large tax refunds. That makes my head explode. If you have debt that you want to pay off, and you’re getting a significant refund, you’re managing your money horribly. Stop lending it to the government for free for up to 16 months. Keep your money and use it to avoid building up (or not paying down) those debts that you then use the refund to fix. This is not hard.

Yes, I think the author should’ve pointed this out. If people will spend a huge “windfall”, why not suggest that they manage it as twelve tiny “windfalls” instead?