Sunday, October 30, 2005

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Woo-hoo! In other words, Miers has withdrawn her nomination. I should probably reserve my elation until after Bush makes a replacement nomination, but at this moment it just feels very good to see Bush reach the limit of what he can do over conservative objections (possibly because I'm still nursing wounds over things like the 2003 Medicare bill, which conservative came within two votes of stopping in the House).

Apparently Bush is following Krauthammer's advice, and is giving the following transparent excuse:
"It is clear that senators would not be satisfied until they gained access to internal documents concerning advice provided during her tenure at the White House -- disclosures that would undermine a president's ability to receive candid counsel," Bush said.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

New Orleans wasn't as poor as advertised. Using New York City as a baseline, the latest City Journal has the stats:
Yes, New Orleans has a 28 percent poverty rate, and yes, New Orleans is 67 percent black. But nearly two-thirds of New Orleans’s blacks aren’t poor.

Yes, it’s true that nearly 25 percent of New Orleans’s families live on less than $15,000 a year, according to the 2000 Census. But 19 percent of New York’s families live on less than $15,000—and it’s much more expensive for poor people to live in New York, making them poorer. The median monthly New York rent is $705, and the median monthly mortgage is $1,535—compared with monthly costs of $488 and $910 respectively in New Orleans.

Despite the images of collective helplessness broadcast after Katrina, New Orleans does not have a stratospherically high government-dependency rate. In 2002, it had 6,696 families on cash welfare, or 3.6 percent, compared with New York City’s 98,000 families, or 3.2 percent. In 2000, 7.8 percent of New Orleans households received Supplemental Security Income, compared with 7.5 percent in New York.

Anyone familiar with New Orleans knows that the city is filled with hard-working people—most of them black. Welfare reform, in New Orleans as in the rest of the country, worked; between 1996 and 2002, Louisiana cut its welfare rolls by 66 percent. The only virtue of New Orleans’s tourism-dependent economy is that those with few skills who want to work can work; the city’s unemployment rate was 5.2 percent during 2004, lower than New York’s 7.1 percent.
On the other hand,
In 2003, New Orleans’s murder rate was nearly eight times the national average—and since then, murder has increased. In 2002 and 2003, New Orleans had the highest per capita city homicide rate in the United States, with 59 people killed per year per 100,000 citizens—compared to New York City’s seven.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Hope for the best, but keep realistic expectations: pork wins 82-15.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The limits of redistricting reform

Redistricting can only do so much to increase competitiveness in elections:
In any case, engineering districts for the benefit of incumbents or political parties seems easier to accomplish than creating more competition. Despite all the work on a new Arizona map done by the independent commission, nearly half of the State Senate seats weren't even contested in last year's election, according to the Center for Voting and Democracy, which promotes competitive elections. In Iowa, where an independent commission serves in an advisory role and is often cited as a reform model, the group found that Congressional incumbents have still won 98 percent of their re-election bids since 1982. In the end, the process had changed but the results were much the same.
A top priority of [California] Proposition 77 is to keep cities and counties whole. That would make it very difficult to create many competitive districts because Californians - and most Americans, for that matter - don't live in politically integrated communities. "It's not going to lead to a massive transformation, with 50 percent of the seats being competitive, because the state isn't laid out that way," Cain said of the measure. The institute's computer modeling shows, so far, that at most a dozen or so of the state's 53 Congressional districts could have competitive races.
To achieve districts with a political-party balance in California would require, in some instances, extending lines from the Pacific Ocean to the Nevada border - contortions that conflict with the goal of compactness.
I believe term limits would produce a lot more competitiveness than redistricting reform. In a district where one party dominates, the primary election becomes the de facto general election. More likely than not, a primary election for a national or statewide office will be competitive unless, of course, there's an incumbent running. (See here, Table 2 on page 28.) Moreover, even in districts where the two parties are evenly matched, the incumbent usually has the advantage.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Yay for Chinese PhDs

I am getting extremely tired of reading the following little prediction. "By 2010, China will produce more science and engineering doctoral graduates than we will." I've read this and paraphrases thereof many times; this is merely the straw that broke the camel's back. The prediction is always accompanied by handwringing about how the United States is losing its leadership role in science and how we're on the wrong path in various other ways, making it all too easy for the China juggernaught to surpass us. Yet, all things being equal, the ratio of Chinese to Americans among new doctoral graduates in any given field should be 4.4, simply because for every American, there are 4.4 Chinese. But things are so unequal that folks are losing sleep at night at the prospect of the ratio exceeding 1.

We should be rejoicing that there are so many Chinese scientists. The entire world, including us, can benefit from their published research. (And the better stuff is published in English.) Similarly, we can enhance our productivity using the new and/or better widgets designed by Chinese engineers. If we're really clever, we'll modify our immigration policy to encourage more of these well-educated Chinese to work in America. Also, as Chinese intellectual output increases, it seems likely that their intellectual property laws will be better enforced, making it more profitable to license our intellectual property to them.

In short, science and technology have positive externalities. Those who fund R&D subsidize those who don't. Rather than dreading a deluge of Chinese researchers, our attitude should be more like, "you Chinese have freeloaded off of our research for too long already; hurry up and pull your own weight."
U.S. out of ROK. It's really past time for this. We've only marginally increased our overall troop strength since 9/11, and training an Iraqi army is taking longer than we had hoped it would. The result is that our military is being spread too thin for too long. Expedience dictates we pull out of South Korea. A symbolic deployment of a battalion of "trip wire" troops (as opposed to our current deployment of 33,000) would be plenty demonstration of our committment to fight against a North Korean attack

Thursday, October 20, 2005

News like this gives me hope. But remember, if we don't cut Medicare, then the rest is pocket change.

Ethics down to the disulfide bond

Writing about new, less ethically objectionable stem cell production techniques, William Saletan predicts that "The stem-cell war will be dead. So will the biological sanctity of human life." Huh? If we end up going through a bunch of extra technical hoops to make sure we don't kill an actual embryo, we will have established a de facto ethical consensus that human organisms, even in their earliest stages of development, are something we may not kill like livestock. To me, that sounds like affirming the biological sanctity of human life. (Or perhaps I misunderstand what Saletan means by "biological sanctity.")

Some people think that if the difference between some human organisms (zygotes) and mere human tissue (products of ANT) is just a matter of a few chemicals, then the moral value of these human organisms sinks to the moral value of human tissue. But why can't a great moral difference be a matter of a few chemicals? The vaccine for yellow fever is live but attentuated versions of the very viruses which cause the disease. Yet, the moral difference between giving someone the vaccine and giving him the virus is very great indeed. By itself, this argument by analogy doesn't prove that a few genes and/or proteins constitute a line between manslaughter and mere cell slaughter, but I do believe such moral lines exist, and that we will discover many of them as biology advances.

The greater bioethical quandaries lie where there are continua instead of dichotomies. For example, after we have the technology to create (for lack of a better term) subhumans (possibilities include human-animal chimeras), I doubt a clear moral line between human and subhuman ever will be found. Similarly, if a man could radically alter his brain, then after how much alteration would he become a different person? Does it matter if the alteration is abrupt or gradual?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Rich autocracies won't last

Here's yet another article pondering whether China will democratize (giving me yet another excuse to throw in my two cents). Let's go back to one of the basic reasons we prefer liberal democracy in the first place: power corrupts. If we could trust in a wise, benevolent dictator, then, from a utilitarian perspective, would that not be better than to risk the population voting for ruinous policies? I believe China will eventually democratize not simply because economic growth empowers the middle and upper classes, but because eventually the corrupting effect of autocratic power will produce a period of such poor governance that the empowered classes will not tolerate it. Such intolerance of the current regime could occur as soon as China's next economic downturn, or it might be a century away, but it's coming. (There is also the slim possibility that the current regime will gradually politically liberalize.) Take a look at the Declaration of Independence: it's mainly a long list of practical complaints about British misgovernment.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

More prescience: a pessimistic 1999 article by Ramesh Ponnuru on Bush and limited government.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Behold the prescience of Gattaca.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Tyler Cowen has an interesting post on Mexican immigration.
The composition of Mexican immigration has changed dramatically. Go to El Paso, where many Mexican-Americans have been around for a few generations, and you will see mostly mestizos. Over time, more of the immigrants come from deeply rural Mexico. Often they cannot read or write, their knowledge of Spanish (never mind English) is rudimentary, and they have no idea of decent medical care. They will get a witch doctor to boil corn for a divination. For them, coming to the United States is a major and new encounter with Mexican culture, never mind Yankee culture.

This is one reason why current Mexican immigration is bringing more social problems than before; it is not just the numbers. Nor is there much solidarity amongst immigrants, many of whom hold cultural grudges based on disputes from back home. One acquaintance of mine returned to his home village about two years ago, complaining of "all those Mexicans" in Los Angeles.
I'd like to see some hard numbers to back this up.

Initial reaction to Miers nomination

After Roberts got my hopes up, we get Miers. What happened to "no more Souters?" Appearances can deceive, but Miers appears to be a stealth nominee, a crony nominee, and a "diversity" nominee. (Federalist No. 76 has been invoked.) Oh, and Harry Reid suggested Bush nominate Miers.

Cheney has already defended Miers on the Rush Limbaugh show.
I've worked closely with Harriet for five years. I've seen her and worked closely with her, hand-in-glove with her, really, through this process of reviewing candidates for the Supreme Court, and that's how we got to the Roberts nomination. She believes very deeply in the importance of interpreting the Constitution and the laws as written. She won't legislate from the federal bench, and the president has great confidence in her judicial philosophy, has known her for many years, and I share that confidence based on my own personal experience.
Interesting---just as Cheney vetted possible running mates for Bush only to become the running mate, Miers vetted possible Supreme Court nominees, and then she was nominated. I wish I could trust Bush like Hugh Hewitt does, but I can't. I want a nominee that conservatives outside the administration have no trouble vouching for; an informative paper trail is ideal. Miers is preferable to a counterfactual Kerry nominee, but this is a rather small consolation.