Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Gallup: Americans worried about Obamacare

According to a new Gallup Poll, Americans aren't buying into the hype on Obamacare:
One week after the passage of historic new healthcare legislation, Americans remain worried about the bill's effect on costs -- both for the nation as a whole and for them personally. A majority of Americans say healthcare costs in the U.S. and the federal budget deficit will get worse as a result of the bill. Half of Americans believe that healthcare costs for themselves and their families will get worse.
I'm quite frankly surprised it is still doing this poorly in the polls. I expected all the victory celebrations to make Americans feel good about the health care medicine they've just been prescribed. This should put a little more steel into the backbone of the national Republicans--with the emphasis on "should."

HT: WorldwideStandard.com

Choosing your poison: Another benefit of Obamacare

Another practitioner of the dismal science spouting doom and gloom. Apparently Robert Samuelson, an economics writer for Newsweek and the Washington Post, hasn't gotten that memo about all the money Obamacare is going to save us and thinks it could end up pushing us over the financial cliff:
When historians recount the momentous events of recent weeks, they will note a curious coincidence. On March 15, Moody's Investors Service--the bond rating agency--published a paper warning that the exploding U.S. government debt could cause a downgrade of Treasury bonds. Just six days later, the House of Representatives passed President Obama's health care legislation costing $900 billion or so over a decade and worsening an already-bleak budget outlook.

...For two years, Obama and members of Congress have angrily blamed the shortsightedness and selfishness of bankers and rating agencies for causing the recent financial crisis. The president and his supporters, the historians will note, were equally shortsighted and self-centered -- though their quest was for political glory, not financial gain.

Let's be clear. A "budget crisis" is not some minor accounting exercise. It's a wrenching political, social and economic upheaval. Large deficits and rising debt -- the accumulation of past deficits -- spook investors, leading to higher interest rates on government loans. The higher rates expand the budget deficit and further unnerve investors. To reverse this calamitous cycle, the government has to cut spending deeply or raise taxes sharply. Lower spending and higher taxes in turn depress the economy and lead to higher unemployment. Not pretty.
Is the guy just not checking his box at the office? Read the rest here.

HT: Bluegrass Bulliten

Monday, March 29, 2010

More money saving ideas from Obamacare

Mark Steyn takes note of another provision hidden in Obamacare: a stiff tax on corporate drug plans for retirees. The last time we created an entitlement was the 2003 drug benefit that gave companies a 28 percent tax break for such plans. But with the new tax, much of that benefit goes away:
If you impose a sudden 35 percent tax on something, are you likely to get as much of it? Go on, take a wild guess. On the day President Obama signed Obamacare into law, Verizon sent an e-mail to all its employees warning that the company’s costs “will increase in the short term.” And in the medium term? Well, U.S. corporations that are able to do so will get out of their prescription-drug plans and toss their retirees onto the Medicare pile. So far just three companies -- Deere, Caterpillar, and Valero Energy -- have calculated that the loss of the deduction will add a combined $265 million to their costs. There are an additional 3,500 businesses presently claiming the break. The cost to taxpayers of that 28 percent benefit is about $665 per person. The cost to taxpayers of equivalent Medicare coverage is about $1,200 per person. So we’re roughly doubling the cost of covering an estimated 5 million retirees.
Just keep saying to yourself: "This is saving us money, This is saving us money..."

Will Obamacare lead to new, hidden taxes?

Ever since the passage of Obamacare, columnist Charles Krauthammer has been warning that the only way to fund it will be value added tax (VAT). A value added tax is basically a hidden sales tax: you wouldn't know it was there except by the fact that the price of a product is higher. Unlike a sales tax, it is not taken as a percentage of the purchase price the customer pays, but is taken previously, through a tax on the different steps of production that put it into your hands.

According to Krauthammer, Obama's deficit reduction commission, which will render its findings (as one would expect) after the November elections, is headed inexorably toward recommending a VAT. It is, he argues, a necessary aspect of a socialist system like the one Obama is foisting on the country:

We are now $8 trillion in debt. The Congressional Budget Office projects that another $12 trillion will be added over the next decade. Obamacare, when stripped of its budgetary gimmicks — the unfunded $200 billion-plus doctor fix, the double counting of Medicare cuts, the 10-6 sleight-of-hand (counting 10 years of revenue and only 6 years of outflows) — is at minimum a $2 trillion new entitlement.

With the passage of Obamacare, creating a vast new middle-class entitlement, a national sales tax of the kind near-universal in Europe is inevitable.

We are now $8 trillion in debt. The Congressional Budget Office projects that another $12 trillion will be added over the next decade. Obamacare, when stripped of its budgetary gimmicks — the unfunded $200 billion-plus doctor fix, the double counting of Medicare cuts, the 10-6 sleight-of-hand (counting 10 years of revenue and only 6 years of outflows) — is at minimum a $2 trillion new entitlement.

It will vastly increase the debt. But even if it were revenue-neutral, Obamacare pre-empts and appropriates for itself the best and easiest means of reducing the existing deficit. Obamacare's $500 billion of cuts in Medicare and $600 billion in tax hikes are no longer available for deficit reduction. They are siphoned off for the new entitlement of insuring the uninsured.

This is fiscally disastrous because, as President Obama himself explained last year in unveiling his grand transformational policies, our unsustainable fiscal path requires control of entitlement spending, the most ruinous of which is out-of-control health care costs.

...It radically expands Medicaid (adding 15 million new recipients/dependents) and shamelessly raids Medicare by spending on a new entitlement the $500 billion in cuts and the yield from the Medicare tax hikes.

Obama knows that the debt bomb is looming, that Moody's is warning that the Treasury's AAA rating is in jeopardy, that we are headed for a run on the dollar and/or hyperinflation if nothing is done.

Krauthammer observes that all European countries who have socialized health care have such a tax.

Is Krauthammer right? I guess we'll find out in November. After the debate is over.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why the Cheney endorsement doesn't necessarily help Trey Grayson.

Trey Grayson has gotten the endorsement of Dick Cheney, an establishment Republican who is, of course, directly connected with the fiscally profligate Bush administration. Rand Paul has the endorsement of Sarah Palin.

In a year in which it is fashionable to be running against the establishment (particularly in a Republican primary), which do you think redounds more to the respective candidates' benefit?

The answer should be obvious.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Politicians say the darndest things: More on how much health care costs when it's free

It takes some nerve to claim that a massive new federal entitlement is going to save the taxpayers money, but anything goes in Washington when it comes to political rhetoric. Everyone is talking about how the CBO is claiming that the President's new health care plan is going to save $1.3 trillion. No joke.

But here is Fred Barnes explaining this whole process of claiming how thrifty you are going to be when you pass entitlement legislation and how taxpayers end up buried underneath the bills when the big federal program gets a good head of steam:

Take Medicare, enacted in 1965. The initial projection was it would cost $9 billion a year by 1990. The actual figure for 1990 turned out to be $67 billion. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the baseline for Medicare in 2010 is $521.3 billion, which includes $55.3 billion for the prescription drug benefit approved in 2003.

Or take one part of Medicare, the End Stage Renal Disease program (ESRD) that entitles every sufferer, regardless of age, access to dialysis. It was created in 1972 and its spending for 1974 was projected at $100 million. The real cost was $229 million. In 2007, ESRD cost $23.9 billion, nearly 6 percent of Medicare’s overall spending that year.

Or take Medicaid’s program of “disproportionate share hospital” payments. Passed on 1987, it was projected to cost less than $1 billion in 1992. Its actual cost in 1992: $17 billion. The program’s cost would still be ballooning if it hadn’t been brought under control by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.

These faulty projections are not exceptions to the rule. They are the rule. The projection for the first year (1948) of the National Health Service in Britain was 260 pounds, far below the real cost of 359 pounds. The under-projections have continued to miss the actual demand for health services.

In Massachusetts, the universal coverage plan was predicted to cost $472 million in 2008, but the price tag turned out to be $628 million. Now Governor Deval Patrick wants to cap insurance rate increases to less than 5 percent annually, which would force insurance companies to cut payments to providers or quit the program. In 1994, Tennessee sought to control Medicaid spending with a new program called TennCare. By 2004, costs had more than tripled.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Former CBO head on the cost of the health care bill

There are those who really believe that we can have more available health care more cheaply without any diminution of quality. And the government is going to accomplish this. Yeah, right. And the evidence for this is that the Congressional Budget Office says so. Here is a former director of the CBO in the New York Times pointing out this magic is done:
Last Thursday, the Congressional Budget Office reported that health care reform legislation would, over the next 10 years, cost about $950 billion, but because it would raise some revenues and lower some costs, it would also lower federal deficits by $138 billion. In other words, a bill that would set up two new entitlement spending programs — health insurance subsidies and long-term health care benefits — would actually improve the nation’s bottom line.

Could this really be true? How can the budget office give a green light to a bill that commits the federal government to spending nearly $1 trillion more over the next 10 years?

The answer, unfortunately, is that the budget office is required to take written legislation at face value and not second-guess the plausibility of what it is handed. So fantasy in, fantasy out.

In reality, if you strip out all the gimmicks and budgetary games and rework the calculus, a wholly different picture emerges: The health care reform legislation would raise, not lower, federal deficits, by $562 billion.
~Former CBO Director Douglas Holz-Eakins (and currently president of the American Action Forum).

HT: Carpe Diem

Did the health care bill violate the Constitution?

Where I come from the same bill, in the same form, must be passed by both chambers before it goes to the chief executive for his signature, at which point it becomes law. In my 20 years in my own state legislature, I've never seen anything different. And yet the President is signing today the health care legislation in a form in which it has not been passed by the Senate.

This is quite literally preposterous.

Here is the Constitutional language on the matter:
Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by Yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.
The question is: if one chamber passes a piece of legislation in one form, and it is not approved in the same form by the other chamber, is it the same law? It only seems common sense that it is not, and to pass the law with only one chamber consenting is an abuse of the process. I can't imagine that this would pass a court challenge.

What hath Congress wrought?

The Wall Street Journal yesterday on the ramifications of the government's Health Care Heist:
This week's votes don't end our health-care debates. By making medical care a subsidiary of Washington, they guarantee such debates will never end. And by ramming the vote through Congress on a narrow partisan majority, and against so much popular opposition, Democrats have taken responsibility for what comes next—to insurance premiums, government spending, doctor shortages and the quality of care. They are now the rulers of American medicine.
Good point. A lot of people have been blathering on about how this was just like Medicare and Social Security, except, well, it's not. These pieces of legislation passed with bipartisan support, and therefore it was in the interest of both parties that they succeed--or be seen as succeeding. Not so Obamacare. It is no in the political interest of one of the two major parties that it be seen as a failure and no danger that it will be seen as responsible for it. This can't bode well for the legislation.
While the subsidies don't start until 2014, many of the new taxes and insurance mandates will take effect within six months. The first result will be turmoil in the insurance industry, as small insurers in particular find it impossible to make money under the new rules. A wave of consolidation is likely, and so are higher premiums as insurers absorb the cost of new benefits and the mandate to take all comers.
So there goes affordability. And there there is the matter of Bart Stupak:
We have never understood why pro-lifers consider abortion funding more morally significant than the rationing of care for cancer patients or at the end of life that will inevitably result from this bill. But in any case Democratic pro-lifers sold themselves for a song, as they usually do.
And most people think the health care industry didn't want this. If that is so, it is hard to figure out why they helped bring it about:
We also can't mark this day without noting that it couldn't have happened without the complicity of America's biggest health-care lobbies, including Big Pharma, the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, the Business Roundtable and such individual companies as Wal-Mart. They hope to get more customers, or to reduce their own costs, but in the end they have merely made themselves more vulnerable to the gilded clutches of the political class.
The crocodile will eat them too--even if they get eaten last. So now it we'll have to see what happens at the polls:
While the passage of ObamaCare marks a liberal triumph, its impact will play out over many years. We fought this bill so vigorously because we have studied government health care in other countries, and the results include much higher taxes, slower economic growth and worse medical care. As for the politics, the first verdict arrives in November.
Read the rest here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Is a trade imbalance with China the real problem?

Here is Don Boudreaux responds to Jeremy Warner on suggestions that we should place a "surcharge" on Chinese imports (As Mark Perry points out, what this really amounts to is not a surcharge on imports, but a tax on consumers):
You write as if the alleged trade imbalances between the U.S. and China are real. They are not. The Chinese sell Americans goods; we pay with dollars; the Chinese then use many of these dollars to buy IOUs issued by Uncle Sam. Although the result is a measured U.S. current-account deficit with China, there’s no more any economically meaningful “imbalance” in such a result than there would be if, say, Texans lent a lot more of their dollars to Uncle Sam.

Talk of imbalances in trade diverts attention from the real problem: Uncle Sam’s gargantuan debt. That fast-accumulating debt is a huge problem. It is caused, though, not by trade with China but, rather, by Washington’s lack of fiscal discipline. [emphasis mine]
But that won't stop the politicians from blaming it all on China, rather than themselves.

HT: Carpe Diem

The coming Medicare catastrophe: Further evidence of what happens when health care is "free"

A health care problem in its own backyard the Obama administration could have addressed but didn't because it was too busy trying to take over the health care industry:

HT: Mercatus Center

House passes Obama's health care bill

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Did Constantine start the Christian religion?

Yellow Dog, a self-described "progressive" over at Blue in the Bluegrass, after bemoaning that Kentucky is the home of Ken Ham's Creation Museum, notes that it was also the home of atheist Charles Chilton Moore. He is so kind as to include a short excerpt of Moore's eloquence:
Fifteen hundred years ago, Constantine, who murdered his own wife and children, started the Christian religion.
Funny, I could have swore Christ started the Christian religion. Here he goes to the trouble of a trial and whipping and crucifixion and Resurrection and then some other dude gets the credit.

It's a cruel world.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Democracy, Casino-Style

March 12, 2010

LEXINGTON, KY— A State Senate committee yesterday held what gambling opponents called a surprise secret meeting in which it approved an expanded gambling measure without hearing testimony from opponents of the bill. "They might as well have done this in the dead of night," said Martin Cothran, spokesman for Say No To Casinos. "This is democracy, casino-style."

As a consequence of the secret meeting, said Cothran, senators voting on the measure were completely unaware of the controversy surrounding whether instant racing is pari-mutuel wagering. Supporters of the bill did not tell the committee that only two months ago, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway issued an attorney general's opinion earlier this year finding that instant racing is not pari-mutuel wagering as its supporters claim.

Cothran, whose group has been the leading opponent of expanded gambling in the state, said he only realized the bill was coming up for consideration when he saw it on the legislature's internal cable channel, but that when he showed up, the room was already filled with gambling industry representatives.

"I'm not upset that I wasn't invited to the party," Cothran said, "but I do wonder why the gambling industry has apparently been given control of the invitation list to committee meetings at our state capitol. In a democracy, everyone should be invited to the public policy table. The result is that we have lawmakers voting on bills without adequate information on the issue."

Cothran said it was clear over the course of the meeting that committee members knew little about what instant racing was and how it worked. "They were asked to vote on the basis of a one-sided description of what instant racing is that made no mention of the controversy over it."

The bill is a House Bill that was amended in a Senate committee, and will be sent back to the House for concurrence. "What you basically have here is a bill on which the opposition will never have been given an opportunity to present its case,” said Cothran. “This is no way to determine public policy in our state."

Cothran said his group believes mechanized gambling in any form is a threat to the long-term health of the horse industry and questions whether instant racing is really a "game of skill" as supporters claim. "Instant racing requires about the same level of skill as it takes to select which slot machine you're going to play," said Cothran.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

When your predictions go sour, just go into denial.

One Brow, a frequent commenter on this blog, has decided to give me a lecture on logic--and science. And then, just to top it off, he adds a short critique on my use of English. His point would be more convincing if he didn't utter sentences such as this one:
It turns out his English is not nearly sufficient to warrant [Cothran's] casting of dispersion on other posters, or maybe it's his grade-school-level-science that is lacking.
Casting "dispersion"? I think he means casting "aspersion." Normally I wouldn't take note of it, but when it occurs in a passage remarking on my command of English, it's hard to ignore.

I don't mind be corrected on my use of English; I only request that those doing so speak it more competently than I.

One Brow argues that increased snowfall is not necessarily an indication of colder weather, and that therefore more snowfall is not evidence against Global Warming. But how can increased snowfall not be evidence against Global Warming if reduced snowfall is evidence for it? In fact, one of the things we've been told repeatedly is that reduced snowfall is the result of Global Warming:

What a comfortable little ideological world these people live in. Absolutely nothing counts against you! You can make all kinds of predictions, and when something completely different happens, you just shrug your shoulders and say that it doesn't matter.

And what is that about scientific theories being falsifiable? If a theory makes a prediction, and the exact opposite thing happens, in what ideological world is that not evidence against the theory that made the prediction?

Here is One Brow's argument:
Notice the slide from "the record level of snowfalls" to "individual cool weather events"? However, it snows regularly during individual warm-weather events in places like Nome (where even a warm winter day can be well below freezing), while I certainly experienced a few cold-weather events this year with no snow at all falling from the sky. The phenomena are distinct, and treating record snowfalls as indicative of cold weather is a non sequitur.
But it's the IPCC saying that Global Warming is inconsistent with increased snowfall. One Brow's argument is with them, not me.

But it's not just snowfall per se; it's also where the snowfall is happening:

As we have been discussing on WUWT, three of the last four months have seen top ten Northern Hemisphere snow extents and the decadal trend has been towards increasing (and above normal) snow extent during the autumn and winter. It appears that this month will achieve snow extent among the top two Februaries on record.

As you can see in the Rutgers University maps below for mid-February, the excess snow cover is necessarily found at lower latitudes. Snow cover radiates out from the pole, so the only place where snow extent can increase is towards the south.

The implication of the observed trend towards increasing snow extent is that the Northern Hemisphere autumn/winter snow line is moving southwards over the last ten to twenty years.

Now maybe One Brow could explain how more snow at lower latitudes is consistent with Global Warming.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Has man been diminished by the modern mechanistic world view?

In an earlier post, I made the tongue-in-cheek observation that Jeffrey Shallit at Recursivity could not, in critiquing Rebecca Bynum at The New English Review from a materialist reductionist perspective, logically expect anyone else to derive any meaning from his critique since, from the perspective of his reductionist materialism, all his words are are collections of pixels on a computer screen.

Art, a frequent commenter on this blog and a science professor at the University of Kentucky, appeared not to get the jist of this at all and tried to argue that, in disagreeing with Shallit's attempted refutation of Bynum, I was somehow committing myself to the soundness of Bynum's arguments in her article, an article which I had not read and on which I was not making a comment. I simply pointed out to Art that the disagreement with a critique of something is not an automatic affirmation of whatever it was a critique of--an obvious truth which Art didn't seem to understand either.

Well, now I have read Bynum's article and I'll say for what it's worth that I think it is quite good. Bynum argues, in the article tited "The Progressive Diminishment of Man," against what Arthur Koestler has called the "Ratomorphic Fallacy": the idea that studying man as one would study any other natural thing, he becomes, by virtue of that scientific act, just a natural thing. I have pointed out elsewhere the self-defeating nature of this procedure, since the one doing the observing is diminished to the extent that man in general is diminished, throwing the whole project into doubt and inconsistency.

Art's chief argument against Bynum is that--through intellectual carelessness or simply a typo--she got the chemical composition of water mixed up in an illustration of one of her points, indicating that water was made up of one hydrogen and two oxygen atoms rather than two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen. He seems to think that this one error somehow calls her entire argument into question. This is sort of like saying that if a scientist, in trying to illustrate a scientific point using a literary analogy and got Rosencrantz mixed up with Guildenstern his whole scientific case would crumble, which, let's face it, is just silly.

Bynum's case is a philosophical, not a scientific one. But when all you've got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And Art--like Shallit--seems to think that the scientific manner of analysis is the only legitimate one, and can't seem to get past the chemical composition of water.

Bynum simply points out that the kind of scientific rationalism of which Art and Shallit are proud practitioners has displaced a real humanistic view of the world:
In the space of a few short generations, man has descended from seeing himself as a little less than the angels to king of the beasts to nothing more than a complex machine. The effect this has had on culture, on art and literature, has been devastating. For as the essential importance of man has decreased, so has his ability to portray life in anything other than absurd terms. In literature the concept of tragedy, which once hinged on the idea that the individual loss of freedom was of tragic proportions, has been all but lost. In Shakespearean tragedy, for example, a character flaw often compelled the central character to follow a predictable, tragic fate. But even in Shakespeare the idea of the hero, so prominent in Greek tragedy, was already diminished. Satire remained, of course, and continued from Pope through Byron. Then, in the 19th Century, we witnessed the rise of the psychological novel which then waned as the anti-hero rose to dominance. Today, literature has been reduced to a prolonged and tedious exploration of the aberrant. The hero has long been vanquished, with the exception of children’s comic books, because man no longer sees himself in a great spiritual struggle with eternal stakes. Even that last bastion of heroism, the military, has reduced the description of its mission to nothing more than a “job.” Indeed, the importance of human life has been so reduced that certain philosophers argue, with dead seriousness, that it is actually immoral to prefer human life over than the life of an animal.
Not only is this true, it's so obvious I'm trying to conceive what the argument against it could be. So what is Art's response?
It's a collection of unsupported assertions, plainly stupid statements, and a vague defense of vitalism as a valid description of reality.

... On the bright side, Bynum's world view is but a short hop, skip, and jump from the sorts of relativistic thinking that ID proponents embrace.
Vitalism? Bynum's argument is a fairly standard articulation of classical literary humanism. It operates on an organic metaphor of how the universe works, which is common to any classical view of the world. That is, of course, in contrast to the mechanical analogy upon which modern scientism operates. If Art thinks the mechanistic metaphor better captures what the world is than the organic metaphor, then he should argue for it. Just calling the other view stupid is fairly typical of those of his viewpoint, but it isn't very convincing.

Relativistic? That Art--and Shallit--can't even recognize the type of thing they are criticizing is a measure of the intellectual impoverishment they represent. Exactly what is relativistic about it? Art doesn't say. Apparently the process of taking Bynum's essay and analyzing with his laboratory instruments hasn't yielded much in the way of understanding.

I guess Ludwig Wittgenstein, who she quotes concerning the limitation of the scientistic world view, is just an ignorant hack too, huh?

Now of course Art believes that if you disagree with someone, then you must agree with everyone who disagrees with him, and must accept all his beliefs. I guess we can put Art down as believing, with Darwin, that thoughts are just secretions of the brain, and that organic creatures are just complex machines, and that the one discipline of science contains all truth.

Materialists inhabit a very small world indeed.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Kill the Fish

Tilikum, the killer whale who caused the death of his trainer should be executed.

Tilikum, in case you haven't heard, is a killer whale residing at the Orlando marine park who is getting into the bad habit of drowning his hosts. A couple of weeks ago he grabbed the pony tail of Dawn Brancheau, his trainer, dragging her under water to her death.

Now I realize there are a lot of people out there sticking up for the bloodthirsty thing, arguing that despite his personality profile--which consists of occasionally treating the very people who helped to make him famous like some kind of cetacean chew toy--he should be spared. But this was Tilikum's third such indiscretion.

The animal psychologist community (yes, there really is such a thing) has given the incident a good going over. "What," they ask, "made Tilikum snap?" They have combed through the available evidence--which includes the fact that they are large, violent marine predators who run in packs and hunt down their prey in the ocean, systematically ripping them apart with their sharp teeth (starting, in the case of other whales, with their tongues)--and come to the conclusion that they are "complicated creatures."

If I were a large bloodthirsty mammalian predator with a record (and the first name, "Killer"), I would want these people on my side.

And besides, how can you blame a six-ton carnivore when it sees its trainer, swimming around in the same tank looking just like Purina Killer Whale Chow?

According to Bernd Wursig, a professor of marine biology at Texas A&M University, Tilikum's behavior could have been the result of the mammalian version of a bad hair day (Mammals, after all, are partly defined by the fact that they have hair). Tilikum may, he says, have been "lashing out": "Even though whales are bright and very well trained, they can show aggressivity if they feel threatened or if they’re in a bad mood," he said. "It can also be displacement, if they haven’t had a good time with their pod members."

There you have it. "Aggressivity." Caused by a killer whale party gone sour.

And besides, how would you feel if you were built for roving the world's oceans eating everything in your path and someone captured you and put you in a tank which, to you, is the equivalent of a moderate-sized bathtub, to perform tricks--among which, by the way, is having humans stick their heads in your mouth?

If I were taking a bath and someone put me in front of a bunch of people to perform tricks and the person put his head in my mouth? I'm biting it off.

But there's one thing no one is talking about in this whole debate and it's this: In recent years animals have been given new and important privileges, the chief of which is that they're now being considered more like humans. We now talk about "animal rights."

They can be trained to to do human-like things. They can be taught to talk. They can express emotions. Okay, fine. They're just like us.

But with rights come responsibilities.

If your going to be promoted up the evolutionary ladder, there are benefits--and obligations. If you're going to enjoy the privileges of occupying a higher branch on the biological tree, then you had better be prepared to make some lifestyle changes--among which is that you can't drown your fellow creatures on the same branch just because you're in a bad mood.

If you are a mammal looking to move up on the evolutionary scale and you are reading this post, you need to understand that there are expectations you will be required to meet. It may be acceptable in your world to just go out and, for example, ingest your neighbor. But you're going to have to get it through that puny little primitive brain of yours that if you aspire to be a rational animal, there are going to have to be some behavior changes.

No more grabbing people by the hair. No more dragging them underwater. No more making a meal of close evolutionary relations.

If you think you can master your passions in this way, we higher primates will establish a committee and consider your application. We'll make copies of your paperwork, groom each other, discuss your fitness for your desired status, groom each other some more, and then make a decision. But once our application is approved, there will be consequences to what you do.

Tilikum's application was already approved. Whales, we have known for some time, are just like us. And then he goes and does this.

Kill the fish. It's the right thing to do.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Down with Shrek--and other issues involving Disney

My friend Andrew Kern writes at Quiddity against the movie Shrek, a review in which I am in significant agreement:
Humble comment number one: This movie should never be watched by anyone under any circumstances.
Here is the comment I posted there, however, taking issue with his issue with Disney:

I agree with you wholeheartedly about this movie. The other aspect of this is that Shrek plays off of an assumed knowledge of fairy tales that many children today simply don’t possess. In many cases all they know about fairy tales are the satires of them. They don’t know the story of the Three Little Pigs; but they know the story of the Three Little Pigs from the Wolf’s Perspective. This is very tragic.

But you talk about “every fairy tale ever ruined by Disney.” I know it is fashionable to bash on Disney, but I find their early animated movies to be well within the spirit of the traditional fairy tale. Tell me the problem with Snow White, or Sleeping Beauty or Pinocchio. I think even Beauty and The Beast was quite well done. And don’t miss Disney’s Tall Tale, a fundamentally agrarian movie that exalts home and family–and tradition. Not to mention that it is an apologetic for the poetic.

I know many people who point out that Disney completely changed the ending of Han’s Christian Andersen’s “Little Mermaid,” but, quite frankly, its ending needed to be changed–as do many of the endings of Andersen’s pessimistic tales. They’re obviously not comedies, but they’re also not tragedies, since there is no satisfaction in the losses that punctuate their endings.

If someone is going to perpetrate the pessimism of his unrequited love affairs (some with other men), I’d prefer it not be done in a fairy tale.

Sorry, I’m being too hard on Andersen, but I would love to know your reasons for bashing on Disney–at least if you mean to include classic Disney films.

Read the rest here.

Commander Ratched Gets Promoted

One of the charges made in the debate over women in the military is that they have to meet lower standards to get where they are--and that they have to comply with lower standards to maintain their positions. This newest revelation about what Time Magazine calls a "female Captain Bligh," can't possibly help the cause:

Navy Cmdr. Maurice "Mo" Kaprow was stunned to watch then-Cmdr. Holly Graf in action. He saw her for the first time after arriving aboard her ship, the destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill, in Italy just before the Iraq war began in 2003. A Jewish rabbi and a Navy chaplain, he'd been sent to the Churchill on temporary assignment as the vessel readied for war. Usually pulling out of port is a methodical and precise process. "But I never in my life saw such chaos as there was on that bridge — Holly Graf began yelling and screaming rudder orders, engine orders, insulting people," Kaprow recalled Friday. "I'd never seen anything like this."

It got more bizarre as the ship pulled out of Sicily's Augusta harbor. "Just after clearing the breakwater the ship began to rumble and shake — now she's screaming even louder because nobody knows what's happening," Kaprow recalls. "I begin to hear young sailors' voices from the fantail and they're singing, `Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead.'" Kaprow remembers being perplexed at the sudden song. "Then someone came up to me and said, `We've ran aground. She's finished" — assuming the accident would mean the end of their commander's career. "They were jumping for joy and singing on the fantail." Actually, one of the ship's props had broken, but the crew's reaction still amazes Kaprow. "I was flabbergasted."

... Questions continue to swirl about how Graf not only retained her command, but kept getting promoted despite reports from eyewitnesses like Kaprow.

I wonder. Read more here.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

What's Wrong with Schools

Three guesses as to where the following paragraph came from:
If you saw Sunday's Free Press that shown Robert Bobb the emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools, move Mark Twain to Boynton which have three times the number seats then students and was one of the reason's he gave for closing school to many empty seats.
Wrong. It came from an e-mail from the President of the Detroit School Board, which directs the education of over 90,000 students.

And then there are the three out of four aspiring elementary teachers in Massachusetts who failed a basic math test last year.

And Texas teachers who fail certification exams multiple times and still get certified.

Oh, and then there is Illinois, where teachers can get into teacher certification programs by only getting 35 percent correct on basic skill tests.

Just in case you were wondering what was wrong with our schools.

Can you learn in an old school building?

It is nothing short of amusing to see so much money being proposed in the state budget for the construction of new school buildings at a time when the actual learning that goes on inside them is so poor.

I am co-founder and still part time teacher at a school that is housed in a building constructed in 1924 (1910, if you want to count the date of the original building). The school has among the highest test scores in the Jefferson County School District, one of the largest school districts in the United States. And so far, no one has noticed that the age of the facility has hampered the learning that goes on inside the least little bit--largely because everyone inside the building is focused solely and exclusively on the learning.

The school has been housed in much more questionable facilities in the past, with no noticeable diminution of the learning that takes place. Now the school has purchased a new facility. Well, not exactly new. The building it will be partially housed in was originally an orphanage and was built in 1950.

Now I don't know that the state department of education would automatically categorize a school housed in a building that is 86 years old as a category 4 or 5 school (I have searched the Department of Education website and can't find the relevant document), but I wouldn't put it past them. And, of course, people could argue that the caliber of student the school attracts better than the average public school child and so forth. Those are certainly factors. But there is a strong argument that the techniques used at the school work equally well when actually tried at public schools.

But the point is that Kentucky public schools have far worse problems than their facilities and that most of the policy discussions about what is wrong with them consist primarily of shifting chairs on the deck of the Titanic.

Anyone who knows how things work in Frankfort really knows that the proposed $500 million is pork designed to help Democrats get reelected in their districts. I wonder what would happen if you took the same pile of cash and devoted it to training primary school teachers how to teach, say, intensive systematic phonics--something they literally cannot learn how to do in Kentucky's teachers colleges thanks to an education ideology that spurns anything traditional (whether it works or not) in favor the newest postmodern fads and gimmicks.

That's what they did at Lincoln Elementary School several years ago, raising test scores by an astounding 65 percent over a two year period. But the district bureaucrats killed the program before it embarrassed too many other schools. That's the way it works in public education these days.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Cakewalk to the Top: Did Kentucky (and some other states) deserve to be finalists on education progress?

Andrew Smarik, at the American Enterprise Institute, on the fact that 16 states, including Kentucky, are "Race to the Top" finalists. Race to the Top is the Obama administration's attempt to hold states accountable on education improvement:
I’m very disappointed with the department’s decision to name 16 states RTT finalists (Wall Street Journal coverage here, New York Times here ). A number of these states have glaring deficiencies that would make them unable to get over a medium bar, much less the “very, very high bar” that Secretary Duncan said he would set.

... Take for example New York, which wrangled over reform legislation until the very last day before deciding just hours before the filing deadline that they were going to reject the department’s priorities. That is, the state publicly considered and rejected RTT reforms. Yet New York is a finalist. Kentucky doesn’t even have a charter law, one of the most important reforms of the day, but they too made the finals.

Many good teachers grade tough early in the semester. It sets high expectations and shows students that they must up their effort. I had hoped that Secretary Duncan would follow that line of thinking and reject most if not all applications, telling states that they could and must do better. “We’ll see you in the next round,” I envisioned him saying, “You simply didn’t meet the mark this time.” Instead, he advanced nearly one in three proposals. Not only will this instill an unjustified sense of complacency in those chosen, it shows the rest of the states that the bar wasn’t all that high.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

NY Times features KY "Teach the controversy" bill on human origins, global warming

For Immediate Release
March 4, 2010

LEXINGTON--A Kentucky bill that calls for critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion concerning the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories was featured today in the New York Times. The bill, House Bill 397, was introduced by State Rep. Tim Moore (R-Elizabethtown).

"The Family Foundation is in full support of an open-minded approach to issues of human origins, global warming, and human cloning in our schools," said Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst with The Family Foundation of Kentucky. Cothran has also written for the Discovery Institute, which has worked for similar legislation in other states.

"Our students need to be learning how to think about all these issues," said Cothran, "they don't need to be indoctrinated with the current fads in science. Global Warming is just one issue in which some in the scientific community have decided which views are acceptable and which are not. We need to make sure our students are taught that there are others sides to some of these controversial issues."

The Bill, called the "Kentucky Science Education and Intellectual Freedom Act," allows a teacher to use materials other than state-approved textbooks, with the approval of the local site-based council, "to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, including but not limited to the study of evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."


Witch discovered at the University of Kentucky

Back in 2007, The Family Foundation of Kentucky brought public attention the lack of political diversity at the University of Kentucky. UK now has whole departments devoted to left-wing political and social activism with no balance in sight. So-called "Women's Studies" and "Queer Theory" now grace the supposedly "Diverse" curriculum of a university that wants the public to take it seriously--and the legislature to continue to give it taxpayer money.

Anyway, the Foundation published several publications that featured members of the UK staff. They recounted the university's own website rhetoric about their staff's involvement in Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and their cutting edge scholarship in faux academic disciplines. The publications were characterized in a Lexington Herald-Leader editorial as an "academic witch hunt."

Well, we are happy to report that a witch has been uncovered.

More precisely, one of the professor's featured as examples of left-wing political activists disguised as teachers was a man by the name of Robert S. Tannenbaum, director of the undergraduate research office in the University of Kentucky's undergraduate education office. At the time, Tannenbaum was a board member of the Kentucky ACLU and was teaching a course called "I Know My Rights," which was a course about civil rights law taught by a guy who apparently specialized in computer IT services and who holds an Ed.D.

What a gig.

Well, Tannenbaum may know his rights, but he apparently doesn't know his wrongs. He was charged last Tuesday with four counts of incest with an 8th grader.

No word yet from Lee Todd about whether incest too is covered under academic freedom.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Did Jim Bunning relent? Or did he win?

Never have we come so close to the Apocalypse. Maybe the last time a large asteroid narrowly missed the earth. Or when the Cold War superpowers flirted with mutual assured destruction. But these do not compare to the near calamity we just experienced when Sen. Jim Bunning nearly brought the entire country to the brink of ... of ...

Fiscal responsibility.

Today's headlines are declaring that Sen. Jim Bunning has "given in" and "has relented" on his demand that a spending bill be paid for and not simply added to the already burgeoning budget deficit.

Now why would the media be trumpeting this as a defeat for Bunning when, in fact, Bunning won? That's right: Bunning won.

But if Bunning won, doesn't that mean that people are not going to get their unemployment checks and that public employees are going to be furloughed and that roads aren't going to be built and that The End Is Near generally speaking for all of us?

Of course, it means nothing of the kind.

Despite all the absurd media rhetoric about Bunning trying to stop unemployment benefits from being given to poor unemployed families, all the Kentucky senator wanted was for the benefits to be paid for. Harry Reid and his deficit spending minions wanted to put one more item on the federal credit card. And when Bunning got up and protested that we shouldn't be further increasing the already burgeoning federal deficit, he was attacked for being some sort of out-of-control old coot who had lost his mind.

When did fiscal responsibility become a sign of mental instability?

The media profile of Bunning was of an old, out-of-touch and possibly senile senator who wanted revenge on his political enemies, his action a sort of political suicide bombing.

But the more appropriate metaphor would be of a political Sampson, shorn of the future prospect of serving in office and bound by the chains of his minority status, pulling down the columns in the house of the political Philistines.

In fact, the whole episode makes you wonder: how did Bunning, a member of the minority, single-handedly confound the entire majority party--and a few of his fellow Republicans into the bargain? And why aren't more people doing it?

In the end, it wasn't Bunning who relented: it was Harry Reid and his fellow drunken sailors who were forced to pay for the program now rather than pass it on to our children.

The Wall Street Journal was right when it lauded the Kentucky senator's Herculean efforts in the cause of fiscal common sense: It was Jim Bunning's "finest hour."

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

State family group assails higher ed costs, calls on lawmakers to make cuts, cap tuitions

LEXINGTON, KY—A state family advocacy group released a report today that shows college tuitions are rising faster than health care costs and questions the ability of colleges and universities to control their own costs. The group also called for limits on tuitions at state schools and said it favored budget cuts for public universities. "Kentucky families are being crushed under the burden of college tuitions," said Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation.

"While our university presidents appear before legislative committees begging for lawmakers to let them have more taxpayer money to build pretty new buildings, Kentucky families have to dig deeper into their pockets to be able to afford a college education for their children. If university leaders can't control their own costs, then the legislature needs to do it for them."

Cothran said his group favors both tuition caps and budget cuts for four-year public universities. "These are the two ways our universities take advantage of taxpayers," Cothran said. "State legislators need to lay down the law and tell our institutions of higher learning that they need to get their houses in order before they come begging for more taxpayer money."

The report, titled "Kentucky Higher Education Access," argues that increasing taxpayer support for education will not bring college tuitions down, since such subsidies are quickly eaten up by tuition increases. It also finds that cost increases at state colleges and universities are rising at more than twice the rate of median household incomes.

The report includes three findings:
  • Higher education costs have been rising nationally faster than any other sector in the economy, including health care.
  • Although taxpayers have diligently supported state institutions of higher education, affordability—and therefore access—has declined and the responsibility lies within the institutions themselves.
  • Higher education costs as a percentage of household income in Kentucky have continued to increase.
According to the report, Kentucky State University, University of Kentucky, and Morehead State University were among the worst offenders among public universities when it comes to lack of cost control. UK's student costs have increased from $10,526 in 2000 to $17,236 in 2006.

The report was authored by Robert Martin, a professor emeritus at Centre College in Danville.


Monday, March 01, 2010

Jim Bunning: the man who brought the entire federal government to a screeching halt. Good for him.

The collection of drunken sailors known as the Democratic-controlled U. S. Congress was threatened with sobriety late last week when Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky demanded that a bill providing an extension in unemployment benefits (brace yourself for this outlandish concept) actually be paid for.

"Whut?" they hiccupped. "Who izz thisss man?" they slurred, as they stumbled to their feet, wakened from their prodigality-induced stupor and stumbling to their microphones to condemn the insensitive action that threatened to spoil their deficit spending party.

Instead of hailing Bunning's defense of fiscal responsibility, the politicians now grown fat and torpid from feeding at the public trough unmolested got up and--after stabilizing themselves by firmly grasping their podiums--portrayed themselves as heroes and claimed that Jim Bunning was bringing on financial Armageddon.

Only, I am afraid, in our dreams.

Here is the U. S. Department of Transportation's press release claiming that Jim Bunning has done everything, if you listen to Jake, except bring the entire federal government to a screeching halt:
That legislation covered tax credits for COBRA health coverage, unemployment insurance for 400,000 people, as well as the short-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund. The Fund supports all surface transportation programs for the nation – highways, bridges, transit and safety inspections, as well as efforts to encourage seat belt use and to fight distracted and impaired driving.
The DOT claims it is putting 2,000 workers on furlough, "temporarily shutting down highway reimbursements to states worth hundreds of millions of dollars, national anti-drunk driving efforts, and multi-million dollar construction projects across the country."

Yeah. Right.

Of course none of this will ever happen. And if it did, it would be because the Congress didn't take the simple expedient of paying for what it proposes.

He who lives by materialism must die by it

Jeffren Shallit at Recursivity, complains about an editorial in the New English Review which he characterizes as "anti-science":
Here is yet another "oh those nasty scientists" rant from the senior managing editor of the New English Review, Rebecca Bynum. Some highlights:

For example, science can describe the effects of electricity, but it cannot tell us what electricity is any more than it can tell us what life is or what gravity is. This poor woman obviously did not attend 10th grade science, or she would know that electricity consists of a flow of electrons.

... And if pattern does not exist in mind or as mind, then where does it exist? Utterly moronic. Pattern exists as a configuration of atoms and molecules. I wonder what she thinks differentiates hexane from dimethylbutane.
Shallitt's arguments are easily refuted, however, since all they are are collections of dots on a screen in a particular arrangement and transmitted digitally over the Internet. Didn't he learn this in 10th grade science?