Man Without Qualities

Saturday, February 01, 2003

Hearts and Heads

John Ray looks into the left's appeal to some young. [Scroll down to February 1]

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Wednesday, January 29, 2003

While The President Spoke ...

... some Oregonians counted the ballots for a measure raising State taxes as an alternative to proposed big cuts in spending.

Taxes lost:

Polls had shown voters closely divided over Measure 28, but with 61 percent of the votes tallied, the measure was failing 55 percent to 45 percent. Measure 28 called for raising income tax bills for most residents by 5 percent over three years.

The cuts would include 129 state troopers, assistance for thousands of low-income seniors and the disabled, community mental health treatment and $95 million in school funding.

This, together with Oregon's decisive rejection by about 80% of the votes cast last November of a "single payer" medical care law, should provide a little something for the Democrats to chew on as they mount their opposition to the President's proposed tax cuts and other proposals.

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The Sequel To Ghostbusters VII

There are still many questions that need to be answered concerning TIME's peculiar practices in the recent flap over its now-withdrawn report that the Bush White House had "revived a practice," discontinued by his father, of "paying homage" to Jefferson Davis by sending a wreath to the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

The original TIME story stated: John Edward Hurley, head of the Confederate Memorial Association in Washington, says, "No one saw a wreath from 1990 until George W. Bush got elected," and other participants in the annual event support his account.

But Howard Kurtz writing in the Washington Post now reports: Time based its account on interviews with participants in the ceremony and former Clinton officials.

So which is it? Did TIME even talk to anyone outside the Clinton Administration? If Mr. Kurtz is correct, why did TIME not name its Clinton Administration source or even note that there was such a source for the story? Why were no representatives of either Bush administration interviewed? Why didn't any TIME editors or fact checkers (if there are any) ask questions?


Washington Post link thanks to Croooow Blog.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2003

The Feds

There are reports that the Federal Reserve Bank will hold rates steady when it meets today, largely because Congress is expected to enact a stimulus plan and the Fed does not want to be engaged in overkill. The coming war is also presumed to be bad for the economy in ways the Fed can do nothing about.

It's a curious argument. Any fiscal stimulus plan is an uncertain proposition as immediate short term economic stimulus simply because what is given to consumers as tax cuts is, in the aggregate, removed from the bond market. The "stimulus" comes from supposedly giving the immediate use of the money to people who will spend it (often presumed to be lower income consumers) and withdrawing its use from people who save. This kind of calculation is notoriously uncertain (see, for example, Japan over the last ten years) and, worse, slow.

It would be strange for the Fed to hold off on a rate cut until the war is over. Indeed, war tends to frighten people into conservative investments, and stimulating the economy short term through an increase in liquidity becomes even more important. Of course, longer term wars can increase inflationary pressures - but that is a long way off.

There is sluggishness in the economy, no risk of inflation and concern that the housing market, which has provided much of recent support, may turn sluggish. The Fed could therefore do a great deal of immediate good by cutting short term interest rates, especially by reducing one specific reason for the housing market to soften - a softening which could have serious near term effects. Absent fear of a "housing bubble," there is no good reason for the Fed not to cut rates right now.

My guess is that they know that. We'll know around 2:15 p.m. (1915 GMT).

UPDATE: The Fed left rates unchanged, which, in my view, was a fairly serious mistake.

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Well, Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!

The New York Times today naively bloviates:

The mixed report on Iraqi weapons compliance presented yesterday by the United Nations' two chief weapons inspectors begins an intense week of diplomacy and decision-making on the next steps in the international campaign to disarm Saddam Hussein. Their findings argue strongly for giving the inspectors more time to pursue their efforts and satisfy international opinion that every reasonable step has been taken to solve this problem peacefully

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Society, science and responsible people place a heavy, affirmative burden on those advocating a medical procedure to demonstrate that it is both safe and effective. And "effective" means consistently and objectively effective. It is perfectly fine for those with a certain deep religious faith to journey to Lourdes and admire the associated miracles, for example. A miracle is supposed to be something operating beyond the bounds of predicable scientific law, so it is no criticism of Lourdes to point out that it is not "scientific." The Man Without Qualities deems people who find their faith in Lourdes or other miraculous events neither weak of mind nor unintelligent. But a doctor, medical association or medical school that recognized a journey to Lourdes as a medical procedure would not easily find favor here - or in most of the medical or scientific community. The main question would be whether mere denunciation is enough, or whether an officially sanctioned tarring and feathering is appropriate.

The effects of this heavy, affirmative burden can be quite controversial. For example, chiropractory claims to be scientifically based medical procedure, and has been beating at the door of medical legitimacy for quite some - generally to be rebuffed. The Man Without Qualities lives in Los Angeles, perhaps the world capital of chiropractory, and knows many people who routinely submit themselves to its care. For the most part, I find their claims of benefits from these procedures to be more a testimony to their personal inability to locate the right brand of good masseur than to any efficacy of chiropractory. But my point here is not to condemn chiropractory. Instead, I note that chiropractory has been broadly refused acceptance as a medical procedure because its advocates have not been able to carry the required heavy, affirmative burden of demonstrating sufficient efficacy. No serious person tarries for more than a moment or two over the argument that the mere existence of a great many patients willing to testify that they were helped by chiropractory is substantial evidence of efficacy. Obviously, controlled, scientific studies are the only acceptable evidence. That is the rule.

What, then, is one to make of the curious persistence of psychoanalysis (as distinguished from other forms of psychotherapy) as an acceptable medical procedure? The body of materials documenting the lack of psychoanalytic efficacy is huge. Psychoanalysis is expensive and, worse, time consuming. The field itself harbors a truly disturbing focus on its founder, Freud, bearing a strong similarity to the focus of a religious cult on its main prophet. In this sense, psychoanalysis is at a distinct disadvantage to chiropractory.

Yet, the New York Times reports today on the survival of psychoanalysis as an apparently approved, if minority, medical procedure. Worse, the Times article all but endorses psychoanalysis as a medical procedure.

The article almost willfully avoids the basic question that is almost always thrown up at chiropractory: Where is the demonstrated ability of psychoanalysis to carry the heavy, affirmative burden on those advocating a medical procedure that it is both safe and effective?

Instead, we are given snapshots of patients willing to state they like psychoanalysis, a survey of how psychoanalysis has changed, and the ultimately preposterous conclusion that much of the tarnish that clings to psychoanalysis derives from an earlier time, when rigid neo-Freudian orthodoxy was the rule.

The Times is grossly in error. The "tarnish" that "clings" to psychoanalysis is the absence of repeated, broad, hard, clinical, scientific studies demonstrating that psychoanalysis is efficacious. Until that support is provided – and psychoanalysis has had almost a century of failure in this regard – psychoanalysis and chiropractory are medical and scientific equals.

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Monday, January 27, 2003

It's A Three Dog Night At Davos

From Tom Maguire's account, it sounds like the Davos theme song should be Momma Told Me Not To Come.

But that's OK, because the United Staes is apparently going to take out Saddam Hussein anyway, at which point most people will be singing another song entirely.

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Among much other sage advice provided by Peggy Noonan to the President on this State of the Union Eve:

It would be helpful here if the president would speak of things he has not revealed before. This would include some hard intelligence that has not been divulged to the public. He needs more than "bleeding Belgium" rhetoric: "Saddam gassed his own people." He needs uncommon unknown data.

Ms. Noonan could not be more correct as far as constructing a persuasive case against Iraq.

But one should keep in mind the rather daunting limitations to which the President is subject in releasing uncommon unknown data. There is the usual restriction imposed by the simple fact that releasing uncommon unknown data can easily and inadvertently release the identity of the people who provided or helped the United States to obtain that data. That limitation is particularly important here, since detailed, classified information - the subterranean location of an anthrax deposit, for example - cannot be explained by airily asserting some unspeakably clever CIA analyst deduced it from a satellite photograph. No. Much uncommon unknown data must be provided by well placed Iraq insiders: traitors. And once the Iraqis know that information is out, they will often have a very short list of suspects.

But there is an additional limitation here, a limitation with which the United States should not have to contend, but does: Hans Blix.

Simply put, with respect to most revelations of uncommon unknown data it is quite clear that Hans Blix will do whatever he can to give the Iraqi's cover. For example, [w]hile the Bush administration appears close to declaring that weapons inspections in Iraq have ended in failure, United Nations inspectors say their work is just getting started. Mr. Blix's nuclear inspection counterpart Mohamed El Baradei said his teams needed an additional "few months."

If the inspectors are just getting started, then anything the President reveals tomorrow is just something that the inspectors would have found if, in the words of Messrs. Blix and El Baradei's chief enabler, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, they had only been "given the time to do their work and all of us, the council and the assembly, must realize that time will be necessary, a reasonable amount of time, I'm not saying forever, but they do need time to get their work done and I suspect the council will allow that to be done."

In other words, today's statements of Messrs. Blix, El Baradei and Annan seem intended to prepare for their inevitable argument that any uncommon unknown data the President releases in tomorrow's State of the Union address is just more evidence that the inspectors need more time to do their work ... time will be necessary, a reasonable amount of time.

And now there's this: U.N. weapons inspection chief Hans Blix on Monday issued a toughly worded assessment of Iraq's performance over the past two months, saying Baghdad had not genuinely accepted the U.N. resolution demanding that it disarm. He said Baghdad was cooperating on access but needs to do more on substance.

At this point it should be possible for the President simply to release uncommon unknown data that Iraq has not revealed to the U.N. inspectors certain sites at which prohibited weapons programs have been recently conducted. But, as the above reports indicate, Messrs. Blix and Annan are doing everything they can to make a case that while Iraqi failure to actively provide the locations of violations may cost Iraq an "A" on its report card, and Iraq really should try harder to genuinely accepted the U.N. resolution demanding that it disarm, none of that amounts to a material breach that justifies war. After all, Baghdad was cooperating on access. In other words, if the inspectors say they want to visit a particular, general location, the Iraqi's eventually let them in. The Iraqis just won't tell the inspectors where to look.

And when the inspectors do find something, such as the under reported chemical weapons missiles, Mr. Blix is at pains to explain that it is no big deal.

With that attitude, what happens if the President reveals something specific, such as there is a box of anthrax in a lab located at the intersection of Maple and Main in downtown Baghdad? Well, the Iraqis immediately move the box, Messrs. Blix and Annan move to give them cover by suggesting that, for example, there is no reliable way to tell if the anthrax remnants found in the recently looted lab were old, left-overs from a prior program, the fruits of an unauthorized project or, yes, some preliminary work the Iraqis should not have been doing - but certainly not grounds for a war. Maybe there's some delay in obtaining access - but Messrs. Blix and Annan would explain that the delay was caused by the inspectors having to get the address from United States intelligence and the fact that the particular Iraqis who gave them access didn't know where that address was (there are two "Maple Streets" in Baghdad, you see). But the inspectors eventually got in - and in a reasonable time, just not immediately. Not "A+" compliance, mind you - Iraq really must try to do better to accept the UN resolution - but a "B" or "C" is not cause for war! After all, there's no proof here! The inspectors might also take careful note that a particular Iraqi biologist they wanted to talk to about the site instead died in a car wreck (or one of the sons of that biologist). But Messrs. Blix and Annan would also note that there is no reliable way to tell if he was murdered.

There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Yes, Ms. Noonan is right. And, yes, there are types of uncommon unknown data which might avoid all of the above limitations.

But not many.

UPDATE: United States intelligence services make the limitations express.

FURTHER UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal list some of the things which Messrs. Blix, El Baradei and Annan do not so far care to call "material breaches," and will probably argue are not "material breaches."

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Sunday, January 26, 2003

The French Games Continue

Colin Powell is again sent forth to tell the French and Germans that their obstructionist gambit will not work.

... and again.
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Double Taxation And Pension Fund Failure

One of the most pernicious aspects of "double taxation" of dividends is that it encourages companies to take on too much debt because interest payments are deductible where dividend payments are not.

Too much debt obviously leads to too many bankruptcies.

And now this:

The U.S. agency that insures pensions for about 44 million Americans has seen its $8 billion surplus wiped out in one year by growing pension fund failures, and has fallen into deficit, The New York Times reported on Saturday. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. will disclose a deficit of $1 to $2 billion in its 2002 annual report, expected to be released at the end of next week, the newspaper said.

Large-scale pension fund failures in the past few years, in particular from steel companies such as LTV Corp. and Bethlehem Steel Corp., have drained the agency's surplus, the Times said.

While the paper said the agency could make its current payments, things are only likely to get worse in the coming months, as more bankrupt companies are likely to have their pension obligations assumed by the PBGC.

But, of course, Senator Daschle and House Minority Leader Pelosi say that only the rich would benefit from abolishing taxes on dividends.

UPDATE: An astute reader reminds me that Paul Krugman argues:

Twenty years ago most workers were in "defined benefit" plans — that is, their employers promised them a fixed pension. Today most workers have "defined contribution" plans: they invest money for their retirement, and accept the risk that those investments might go bad. Retirement contributions are normally subsidized by the employer, and receive special tax treatment; but all this is to no avail if, as happened at Enron, the assets workers have bought lose most of their value.

It seems to be Professor Krugman's opinion that a threat to the nation's "defined benefits" plans can be no real crisis because most workers today don't have defined benefit plans. Does the Times know this?

But it is also Professor Krugman's opinion that workers should have defined benefit plans, which are undermined by excess corporate debt, which is encouraged by "double taxation," which he opposes abolishing.

Ah, yes, Herr Doktorprofessor Krugman shares the latest, refined extensions of his Weltanschauung from the highest reaches of Ostelfenbeinturm!

The people tremble to receive the noble wisdom lest their seer be abducted to Guantanamo Bay before he can flee to the safety of das Vaterland!

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... that these dead shall not have died in vain ...

Maureen Dowd just can't seem to understand what has been going on in Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day, and it's further confusing her already confused misunderstanding of what's going on in Michigan.

Big Mo admits: In my last column, I cited a Time article reporting that the president had "quietly reinstated" a custom of sending a wreath to the Confederate Memorial. Time has since corrected the story, saying he didn't revive the custom, but simply continued it.

Fair enough. But she just can't help herself, and again plunges into howling error when she writes:

Why keep a tradition of honoring the Confederacy while you're going to court to stop a tradition of helping black students at the University of Michigan?

The Arlington memorial to the Confederate Civil War dead is just that: a Memorial to certain Civil War dead. It is not a memorial to the Confederacy.

Sending those wreathes is not a tradition of honoring the Confederacy. It is a tradition of remembering and honoring that class of Civil War dead.

That tradition follows the great insights of Abraham Lincoln, who understood, in one of his most inspired strokes of graceful political genius, that after a civil war it is urgent that people set aside their vindictiveness, differences and hard feelings, no matter how justified - as much as possible. The dead Confederate soldiers should be honored despite their false cause because it is possible to honor these dead and not honor their cause. We can love and remember even those whose cause was wrong, and send wreathes to their graves, without honoring their cause. Thank God for that miracle, for it also makes our love and honor of our own parents right, even when they cleave to a false cause. We tolerate ignorance of such matters in our less insightful young. But people who do not eventually make peace with such aspects of human life become sad, permanent juveniles.

Not honoring the Confederate dead would also rub the noses of their people in their defeat and impose unnecessary obstacles on their again being part of the Union. Extending our grace to the Confederate dead helps to honor and preserve the very Union that defeated and negates their cause. Lincoln understood that. The Radical Republicans didn't understand, and advocated a vindictive Reconstruction largely consistent with Big Mo's harsh approach - but even the Radical Republicans didn't go so far off track as Big Mo, and they didn't have all the advantages she has had.

These Confederate dead didn't just die - they were killed by Union soldiers - many of whom also died for that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion: the preservation of the Union through extinguishment of the Confederacy and its principles. These Confederate soldiers fought and died in a war largely waged by the United States to defeat the principle that government may favor people because of their race. To reject that false principle is to assure that these Union dead shall not have died in vain.

Michigan's government may not favor people because of their race because that policy maintains false and defeated principles of the Confederacy.

Big Mo asks us to stop honoring the Confederate Civil War dead as ordinary soldiers we remember for the unity of the nation, and instead honor a disgraced portion of their false and divisive cause.

I decline. I hope everyone will.

MORE: Fritz Schranck has more on Big Mo's odd little column.

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