Archives for March 2012

Dr. Madeleine Albright’s Warning Sign

Well, so much for aging with grace and dignity.

In an appeal for donations of $3 or more, seventy-four-year-old former secretary of state Madeleine Albright described those opposed to the legalized killing of human fetuses and those who oppose socialized contraception with such respectful language as “extremists“, “attackers on women’s rights” and purveyors of “vicious misogyny”.

A genteel and above-the-fray elder stateswoman she is not.

Another term she used was “radical Republicans”. Why thank you Dr. Albright. Little do you realize it but that’s actually a compliment. Those up on their history know that the famous Radical Republicans were the ones who pushed for unconditional abolition of slavery before and during the Civil War, and civil rights for former slaves after the war.

Madeleine Albright being in the news again brings to mind an amusing incident described in Walter Isaacson’s recent biography of Steve Jobs. Former Apple CEO Gil Amelio, who presided over the company when it was hemorrhaging massive amounts of cash, is described in an unflattering light. “He was just such a buffoon, and he took himself so seriously,” recalled Jobs. “He insisted that everyone call him Dr. Amelio. That’s always a warning sign.”

(Note: Jobs was notorious for his insults and intolerance for folks who don’t think like him, so I’m sure Dr. Amelio didn’t deserve such harsh language from Jobs.)

Yes, insisting that everyone call you doctor-so-and-so just because you spent an additional two or three years studying at a university, can be a warning sign. I remember reading a news article back when Dr. Albright was secretary of state, describing an incident where she insisted that everyone call her “Dr. Albright”, especially since people addressed one of her predecessors as Dr. Kissinger.

Yep, that was a warning sign all right.

 

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Update: a few months later. I listen to a C-Span radio interview with Dr. Albright on a recent book of hers about her family’s experiences in Czechoslovakia during the Nazi and Soviet eras, and she was wonderful to listen to. Elder-stateswomanly-like. Too bad she has to go and sign her name to some crass political mailing which someone else probably wrote.

Intelligent Life Out There? Maybe, But They’ll Never Come Here

Astronomers have concluded there could be billions of other planets in our galaxy capable of supporting life, and hundreds of them within just 30 light years of earth.

Just 30 light years? Get me my astronaut suit! If we were to set out for one of those planets in one of our 20,000-mph spacecraft, we’d reach it in a mere one-million-five-thousand years!

As far as ever reaching the speed of light or even just 1 percent of that speed, that’s impossible. Aliens from other worlds may exist, but they have never and can never visit us. All those stories you hear about UFOs and alien abductions? Total bunk. The distances are just too vast.

Cozying Up to One of the Only Campfires in Antarctica

A related but different subject: Next time you’re feeling miserable in the hot sun, just picture this: Antarctica during the dark season, with only a few campfires scattered throughout the whole continent, and you happen to be next to one of those campfires feeling its warmth (but not close enough to burn yourself). That’s how it is with us vis-à-vis our sun. We’re in the middle of trillions and trillions of cubic miles of emptiness and near-absolute zero and desolation, but happen to be just close enough to a star to feel its warmth but not close enough to burn up. (To put it into scale, if the sun were the size of a campfire, it would be about 1,000 km away from the next closest star.)

Likewise, next time you’re out in the cold, just remember that cold is only relative. You’re actually feeling heat from the sun, but less of it than you’re used to. You want cold? Try absolute zero, or 455 below zero on the Farenheit scale. That (or a couple of degrees above that) is the norm in this universe.

The potential temperature range is from near-absolute zero out beyond Pluto, to a thousand degrees near Venus (and of course a lot hotter closer to the sun). The temperatures most of us experience  – from summer to winter – are just a tiny, tiny fluctuation within that larger temperature range. A small blip downward makes us feel cold, and a small blip upward makes us feel hot.

We happen to be just the right distance from one of the huge nuclear reactors that are peppered throughout the galaxy, separated by unimaginably large voids of near-absolute zero.

So be thankful we’re living just close enough to a galactic campfire so that, most of the time, we’re neither too cold nor too hot.

Another One Becomes Part of the Solution

Things can get so bad as a result of the liberal/left agenda that sometimes even liberals/leftists recognize the folly of their ways.

That’s what happened to Gina Raimondo, the Rhode Island state treasurer who was mortified to see the union-driven state pension system turn into a black hole, sucking in money and resources at the expense of everyday public services. The leftist-dominated state has resulted in there being more public pensioners than workers paying into that system.

Ms. Raimondo read “an article in the paper about libraries closing and public bus service being cut nights, weekends and holidays, and I just thought it doesn’t have to be this way.”

Of course for most liberals, the solution would be simple: raise taxes. But the now-bankrupt town of Central Falls provides a good example of what happens when you do that. When it raised property taxes to finance worker pensions, “many residents fled, sending the city into a tailspin.”

So Raimondo helped push through pension reforms in order to help stem the state’s deteriorating situation.

Hey all you Wisconsinites who want to throw out Governor Walker: can’t you see that Walker has been doing almost exactly what Raimondo has been doing? He’s trying to prevent your state pension system from turning into a black hole that gobbles up everything in sight like libraries and roads and schools and parks. Quit being part of the problem and be part of the solution for a change.

Of course the only difference is the label – Raimondo calls herself a Democrat while Walker calls himself a Republican. Walker is having a tougher go of it because the term Republican has been so demagogued by the left, even though he, like Raimondo, is only trying to save the state from the ravages of union-created black holes.

Systematic Deception at High Levels of Government, With Devastating Consequences

There’s an organization called the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA) that reportedly published a paper in 2007 that instructed Muslim jurists to “do everything within their power to make the Islamic Shari’a supreme, even if that means engaging in deception in certain cases.”

I don’t know how influential AMJA is among Muslim jurists; hopefully not much. In any case it’s an outrage that it’s encouraging legal professionals to engage in deception in order to implement its agenda.

But you know what? Legal professionals in the Justice Department got caught red handed in what appears to be a clear case of engaging in deception. It wasn’t with the purpose of making Sharia law supreme, but it had the effect of making Obamacare law supreme.

In their attempt to convict Republican Sen. Ted Stevens (who later died in a plane crash) for alleged monetary improprieties – a conviction that was later overturned – at the trial the DoJ prosecutors allegedly withheld key evidence that would have exonerated Sen. Stevens, according to a report. Not only that, but they “selectively quoted the foreman to make it appear as if he had said the opposite, and they used his comments to falsely attack Stevens.” In other words they deceived and misled in order to convict him. That doesn’t reflect well on their character or integrity.

It has all the markings of how things get done in corrupt governments of third world countries. And this wasn’t some little private law firm in Podunk, Kentucky doing this. It was the United States Justice Department.

A report ordered by Judge Emmet Sullivan found that the attorneys engaged in “systematic concealment” of “significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated Senator Stevens’s defense and his testimony, and seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government’s key witness.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, the names of the DoJ attorneys in question are Matthew Friedrich, Rita Glavin, Brenda Morris, Joseph Bottini, James Goeke and Edward Sullivan. To be sure, some of them could deserve less blame, if any, than others; e.g. it’s possible that factors such as incompetence or naïveté rather than willful misconduct played a role, for some of them. Sullivan appears to have been the victim of management problems. And he, Goeke and Bottini reportedly urged disclosure of material that would have helped the defense, only to be rebuffed by Friedrich and Glavin. Still, the report concluded that Goeke and Bottini  deliberately withheld the information. Confusing, eh? (Update, March 23. In today’s WSJ a letter to the editor written by a partner of Matthew Friedrich states that “Mr. Friedrich was not among those under investigation and is not accused of any ethical improprieties in the report’s findings,” and that Mr. Friedrich is “a lawyer of the highest integrity.” But that adds to the confusion, because Friedrich appears to be one of those who rebuffed other attorneys’ request to disclose the key information. Still, If more information is forthcoming on Friedrich or any of the other attorneys, it will be duly noted.)

Despite the legal hot water they found themselves in, one wonders if they took solace in a certain event that took place a year and a half after the Stevens conviction. That was when Obamacare got passed, with all the devastation it’s wreaking on our healthcare system. You see, DoJ’s conviction of Sen. Stevens came just a couple of weeks before the 2008 election. That caused him to lose the election to Mark Begich, an Obamacare supporter. Sen. Begich provided the 60th vote to pass it.

The ends justify the means, perhaps some of them were thinking. Which is what the folks at the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America are probably thinking as well.

The Greatest Person Who Ever Lived Redux

This Saturday the atheists are planning a big rally on the National Mall. With that in mind, allow me to put in my two cents.

While purging some old files I came across a short write-up of mine from December 19–. Wait. Scratch that. It was from so long ago that I’m not giving away the year for fear of revealing how many decades I’ve been around. Let’s just say it was from the 1990s.

It was addressed to Max Wilkinson, Competitions Editor, Weekend FT – a.k.a. Financial Times. The competition was to explain in a few paragraphs who one thinks is the greatest person who ever lived and why.

I know I didn’t win because I never heard back. Today I did an Internet search to see if I could find out who did win, but there’s no trace of the competition – apart from someone who said their claim to fame was that they won an essay contest on the greatest person who ever lived (and didn’t reveal their pick). A search for the whereabouts of Max Wilkinson came up dry as well, so I can’t ask him directly.

My pick? Jesus Christ. He’s by far the greatest person who ever lived just by virtue of being God and the Redeemer. But even if one is an atheist and doesn’t accept that, one still should concede that Jesus was the greatest person who ever lived.

Obviously, volumes have been written about why Jesus is the Greatest Person who Ever Lived from a religious perspective. Here’s why that’s the case even from a secular perspective (but of course, the religious trumps the secular):

The Greatest Person Who Ever Lived

Jesus Christ was the greatest person who ever lived because He more than any other person was responsible for helping to suppress humans’ innate tendency for aggression.

For the vast majority of human existence, our species were hunter-gatherers in which people lived in self-sufficient small bands primarily consisting of the extended family. They depended on no other bands for their sustenance. Indeed, outsiders were usually regarded as competition for resources.

These conditions shaped them to be loyal to and supportive of members of their own group, while none of these built-in tendencies developed vis-à-vis persons outside of the group. Lack of concern and suspicion toward outsiders often engendered outright hostility and violence.

Beginning about 8000 B.C. this simple, stable way of life largely disappeared in the western world. The agricultural revolution and subsequent urbanization radically altered “in-group” and “out-group” relations. Economic interdependency caused the number of face-to-face contacts to increase enormously—not only among family members and workmates, but also among casual acquaintances and complete strangers. Survival now depended on cooperation, not competition, with out-groups.

Humans’ innate propensity to be unfriendly toward out-groups ran directly counter to this need for cooperation. Happily, Jesus Christ helped solve the problem. He created an all-powerful social institution that instructed humans to show love, benevolence, and forgiveness toward fellow humans. His Golden Rule probably has done more to promote smooth relations among humans than any other mechanism.

Unlike virtually all other animals, humans have the ability to employ cultural adaptation in order to get around our biological shortcomings. Christianity has been our most important cultural adaptation.

Cancer Incidence from Fukushima Disaster: Negligible

On this one-year anniversary of the tragic Japan earthquake and Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, there’s one bit of positive news. It turns out that the release of radioactivity was far less than initially feared. It was so small that, according to Japanese government researchers as cited by a Wall Street Journal article, so far no one has gotten cancer from that radiation exposure.

Among people living in three towns that were at high risk, 95 percent of them were exposed to less than 5 millisieverts, which is half as much what one is exposed to during a typical CT scan. The highest level of radiation that anyone was exposed to, a worker at the disaster site, was 679 millisieverts. So far he’s fine. In fact his chances of getting cancer from that are still quite low. According this chart, exposure to 500 millisieverts puts you at a lifetime cancer risk of 1 in 250. That means if 250 people were exposed to that amount, just 1 would get cancer during their lifetimes, as a result of that exposure.

To be sure, the article also says that over the long run, 300 to 500 people could develop thyroid problems as a result of the Fukushima radiation release.

So one can rest a little easier over nuclear power plant worries, at least in developed countries. Even a large-scale disaster like Fukushima resulted in far fewer radiation exposures than initially feared.

Hey Germany, ya think you acted a little too hastily in deciding to shut down all of your nuclear power plants, in the wake of Fukushima?

Of course, sabotage of nuclear power plants is always a concern, as is terrorism and destruction resulting from war. Regarding terrorism, a common worry is crashing an airliner into a reactor. But here’s one bit of reassurance: when they crashed an F-4 Phantom jet into a 6-foot concrete wall, the jet disintegrated and nothing happened to the wall. I’m certainly no expert but perhaps crashing an airliner into the thick metal and concrete containment building of a nuclear reactor would yield similar results.

What about shooting a barrage of missiles into a containment structure, and/or a full-scale release of radiation? I actually got hold of a book on that. Book report to come soon.

An Incomplete Apology to the Posterperson of the Gimme Generation

If there’s one thing that the whole Rush Limbaugh flap has made apparent, it’s that society holds conservatives to much higher standards of decency than it holds liberals.

When a Bill Maher or an Ed Schultz or others on the left make gratuitous and vulgar remarks about women, it’s met with a shrug, a laugh, or silence. People don’t expect them to have high moral standards. When a Rush Limbaugh does the same thing, there’s heck to pay. That’s because the right is expected to have higher moral standards than the left.

And I have no beef with that. I’d much rather be a part of the group to which society holds a higher standard.

As for Rush, in his apology he said he descended to the left’s level when he used the disparaging words to describe Sandra Fluke. He became like them, he said, instead of maintaining a high degree of integrity on his radio program.

OK Rush, that’s a good start, but demonstrating your sincerity requires more than just renouncing the use of those disparaging words. You have to go beyond that. If you mean what you say about not adopting the tactics of the left, you have to pledge to renounce the use of the term “feminazis” to describe feminists, “Chicago thug” to describe President Obama and any similar words you’ve used to describe those on the left. You can’t just not say those words in the future. As part of your pledge, you have to explicitly say that you’ve been wrong to use those words, that you were adopting the tactics of the left in using those words (many, but certainly not all, of them sickeningly call their political opponents “nazis”), and that integrity means erasing those words from your lexicon forever – unless of course you’re talking about actual National Socialists or actual thugs.

Regarding Sandra Fluke herself, in the 1980s young people were said to be in the “me generation” because all they wanted to do was make money and supposedly not share it with others. Well 30 years later, Sandra Fluke is the posterperson for the gimme generation, a large and growing group of Americans who expect other people to give them money – even money for accessories (i.e. contraception) that enable them to engage in pleasures of the flesh!

Note that the gimme generation, aka the entitlement generation, doesn’t just include people in Fluke’s age group, and doesn’t imply that all of them are of that mentality. There are many in the younger generation who shun the entitlement culture and who prize independence and self-reliance. The gimme generation refers to anyone, of any age, who accepts welfare but who doesn’t need it. Remember, two-thirds of welfare goes to the middle class and rich.

Wow – so with Obamacare, we Americans are not only being coerced into financing the routine healthcare costs of rich and middle class Americans, including law students who attend expensive, elite universities, but we’re also being coerced into financing what enables them to engage in their worldly pleasures.

Yes the boiling frog principle is alive and well. Five or 10 years ago if someone were to tell you that’s what’s in store for Americans, you’d think they’d be out of their minds. But that reality is here. And the water boils on.

Swedish Tax Rates in a Spanish Culture

Spain is becoming one of Europe’s highest-taxed countries, with a top marginal tax rate of 52 percent, near that of Sweden at 56 percent.

It isn’t going to work. (Felt like saying “ain’t” but want to set a good example.)

Such a high tax rate is more feasible in Sweden (or less unfeasible) because the rule of law is much stronger there – perhaps the strongest in the world. There’s something about Sweden’s culture such that people comply with the law to a much greater extent than anywhere else. Although to be sure, even Swedes can have trouble paying that much. One of my sports heroes, Swedish ski racing legend Ingemar Stenmark, moved to Monaco. Why? According to Wikipedia, for tax reasons. Tennis star Bjorn Borg moved to Monaco too, as did lots of other Swedish millionaires.

Generally, the farther south you go in Europe, the less strong is the rule of law. People flout the law to a greater extent. Greece is a prime example. They kept jacking up the tax rates on the rich, but many rich don’t pay. And they can get away with it due to a weaker rule of law.

It’s a similar culture in Spain. I haven’t been there, but I’ve been to other southern European countries –  Italy and Greece. Just from a country’s “curb appeal”, you get sense of how orderly things are there. How well drivers obey the traffic rules. How well pedestrians wait for the walk signal before they cross the street. How clean the streets are. How well things are maintained. The more orderly things look in a particular country, it’s a good bet that the more people comply with paying their taxes, too.

So if Spaniards see Sweden with a 56 percent tax rate and wonder why they can’t have the same thing in Spain, there’s good reason why they can’t. You’re not going to raise the same kinds of revenues that you would in Sweden. Tax evasion will be rampant.

(It’s a similar situation with the United States. Lefties here look upon Sweden’s and Germany’s tax rates with wistful eyes, but those rates aren’t going to work here. Ever seen a German at a crosswalk and refuse to budge when the don’t walk sign is flashing, even though there are no cars around? Happens a lot. The rule of law is stronger there than here. In America, if there are no cars, then why stand there – walk!… And in Mexico, I’ve noticed that if you’re in your car at a red light and there are no cars around, then drive! Like I said I haven’t been to Spain, but maybe it’s a similar situation there. If you know, then let me know.)

So until Spain gets out of its debt predicament mainly by cutting spending rather than by raising taxes, it’s going to remain mired in debt and stagnation.

That’s confirmed by a study, referred to in a previous post. After analyzing the experiences of dozens of countries in attempting to reduce their debt-to-GDP ratios, the researchers found that the instances of failure mainly relied on large tax increases and only modest spending decreases, if any.  Instances that succeeded mainly relied on large spending decreases and only modest tax increases, if any.