First, Let's Enslave All the Doctors

Calling Doctor . . . Doctor . . .?

Joseph Rago has an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal today about the Massachusetts universal coverage plan as a miniature preview of the wonders that are in store for us under ObamaCare. A Massachusetts appeals board has just shown surprising sanity in overturning an insurance commission's denial of 235 of the 274 insurance premium increases that had been requested by the state's insurance industry. The insurance carriers had trotted out that stale old free-market argument that the increases were necessary to cover their expected claims over the coming year. They were still operating under the quaint economic principle that an insurance company ought to have sufficient reserves to stay in business, even if that makes them appear unfeeling about their policyholders' household budget strains. As Mr. Rago notes, the insurance commission "was in effect ordering the carriers to sell their products at a loss." He also identifies a key question:

An entitlement sold as a way to reduce costs was bound to fundamentally change the system. The larger question—for Massachusetts, and now for the nation—is whether that was really the plan all along.

Meanwhile, he reports,

Richard Moore, a state senator from Uxbridge and an architect of the 2006 plan, has introduced a new bill that will make physician participation in government health programs a condition of medical licensure. This would essentially convert all Massachusetts doctors into public employees.

(Emphasis supplied.) Or, in other words . . . where did all those doctors go that we used to have in Massachusetts? How come I can't get an appointment?

Weren't there primitive tribes who lamed their doctors so they couldn't leave?

I had no idea this even happened.

Amedeo Guillet, who died on June 16 aged 101, was the Italian officer who led the last cavalry charge faced by the British Army.

Early in 1941, following outstanding successes in the Western Desert, the British invasion of Mussolini's East African empire seemed to be going like clockwork.

But at daybreak on January 21, 250 horsemen erupted through the morning mist at Keru, cut through the 4/11th Sikhs, flanked the armoured cars of Skinner's Horse and then galloped straight towards British brigade headquarters and the 25-pound artillery of the Surrey and Sussex Yeomanry.


Economics As a Mystery Religion

I've felt as if I were drowning in irrationality all day. I've been trying to conduct an online discussion with a bunch of people who believe that Social Security -- indeed, the entire welfare state and debt structure of the United States -- is hunky-dorey. To begin with, I found it virtually impossible to get across the idea that, although this may seem a very, very wrong, unpleasant, and inconvenient result -- Social Security will inevitably be degraded and then dismantled. The first 20 times I tried to say so, I got back the furious reaction that these benefits are a debt, a honorably incurred debt, and it would be wrong if the people expecting their benefits did not receive them.

I don't disagree, of course, but I don't see how that changes the odds that it's going to happen. "But we really are going to need that money," they'd say. Yes, I'd agree, it's going to be bad. And it doesn't change the odds that it's going to happen. "But it wouldn't be fair to expect us to do without them." No progress.

I did, at length, come to a point where we could define the difference between me and them as the belief, or doubt, that Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and unfunded federal, state, and local pension obligations, which together amount to over $500,000 per American household, can all be absorbed without the U.S. defaulting on a single one of these obligations even in part. I myself doubt whether it can be done, no matter how hard we tighten the screws on the rich people, unless we recklessly risk the health of the economy and the currency and court a fate like that of Greece. They, in turn, believe this is no problem at all, and only a mean person would say it is.

Here's the part I need help with. One commenter had this explanation for why it was all going to be possible, even without raising tax rates. The problem is, I literally cannot understand a word of the following. I'm hoping someone here can help:

I don’t think they have to turn the screws on the rich a little harder. I think they can just mark up the account balances to match the needs, and I don’t even think that, I know that. It’s a factual statement. I don’t even think the government needs to tax at all, except for to manipulate the money supply to soak up excess liquidity that might be in the market. In fact, I know that as well. It’s not a guess, it’s the way it is. We don’t operate our policies around those foundational realities, but it doesn’t make them any less real. . . . Debt and deficits just don’t mean what you think they do in a modern-money world, and they’re not indicators of the things you think they are.

I'm certainly no economist. Is this pure nonsense, or something like a respectable branch of the science?

Natural Libertarians

"Natural Libertarians"

Some people apparently react from the heart on these matters; these are my people. Not shockingly, the story comes from the Great State of Georgia.

In the radio interviews I did after the publication of my new book, its alarming title, The Next American Civil War, received much attention. Some interviewers thought it was simply wacko. Others were more sympathetic, but argued that I really meant a war of ideas. But this is not what I really meant. I was referring to the clash between two radically incompatible attitudes towards life—a far more serious clash than mere intellectual debate. Ideas can be changed much more easily than our fundamental attitude. In fact, few things are more difficult to change.

On one side of the clash are the people like those who visited the libertarian booth in Tucker, Georgia, and whose attitude was: “Hell, no, nobody owns me.” Perhaps some of these people have joined the Tea Party movement, but I suspect most have not. Yet they still remain natural libertarians, who instinctively place their locus of control within themselves. Like Rotter’s internals, they resist any effort by others to manage and control their lives.

On the other side of the clash are those who stand to benefit from encouraging others to rely on them instead of relying on themselves. Those who seek to exercise power and influence over others will naturally be hostile to the independent attitude of the natural libertarian, simply because this attitude is ultimately the one thing that stands in the way of achieving their own ambitions to rule, manage, and govern others. Today, far too many people in governmental circles, in our universities, and among the custodians of mass culture all share the goal of encouraging ordinary men and women to stop being self-reliant, cease to think for themselves, embrace their status as victims of circumstances, and to blame others for their own misfortunes instead of rousing themselves to overcome difficulties, as Frederick Douglass did.

The stakes in this clash are enormous. Natural libertarians find themselves in a desperate struggle to keep alive the traditions of independence that have shaped and molded their attitudes. They see themselves battling forces that seek to create a state of helpless codependency among their fellow citizens. Often, like the natural libertarians of the past—for example, our own revolutionary ancestors and the seventeenth-century English parliamentarians who resisted Charles the First—today’s natural libertarians display a paranoid tendency to imagine that wicked men are conspiring to rob them of their liberty.
I suggest you read the rest of this piece.

Brains and Killers

Brains and Consciousness:

A Neuroscientist you may have heard of, James Fallon, reveals two things: first, that his family includes a number of murderers, including alleged killer Lizzy Borden. Second, that his brain scan says he's a psychopath.

"And I took a look at my own PET scan and saw something disturbing that I did not talk about," he says.

What he didn't want to reveal was that his orbital cortex looks inactive.

"If you look at the PET scan, I look just like one of those killers."
So he tested this with another marker that reveals murderous behavior.
Along with brain scans, Fallon also tested each family member's DNA for genes that are associated with violence. He looked at 12 genes related to aggression and violence and zeroed in on the MAO-A gene (monoamine oxidase A). This gene, which has been the target of considerable research, is also known as the "warrior gene" because it regulates serotonin in the brain. Serotonin affects your mood — think Prozac — and many scientists believe that if you have a certain version of the warrior gene, your brain won't respond to the calming effects of serotonin.

Fallon calls up another slide on his computer. It has a list of family members' names, and next to them, the results of the genotyping. Everyone in his family has the low-aggression variant of the MAO-A gene, except for one person.

"You see that? I'm 100 percent. I have the pattern, the risky pattern," he says, then pauses. "In a sense, I'm a born killer."
But he isn't, of course, a killer at all. Not only that, he doesn't have the impulse control problems -- one doesn't succeed at neuroscience if one cannot delay gratification, and he has a wife who's known him since he was 12 and feels entirely comfortable with him.

He has a theory that you need a third factor -- abuse.
Significantly, he says this journey through his brain has changed the way he thinks about nature and nurture. He once believed that genes and brain function could determine everything about us. But now he thinks his childhood may have made all the difference.
With respect to the scientist, that's not a convincing answer. It would be adequate to explain the presence of a gene in someone with no wicked impulses; but it doesn't adequately explain the brain scan. A gene may be a predisposition to developing in a certain way; untriggered, that potential may simply not develop.

A brain scan, though, shows what is happening in your brain right now. His brain really is showing low activity in the impulse-control region; and yet his impulse control is perfectly fine.

This suggests that brain activity isn't as closely related to consciousness as we have come to believe. Indeed, the leading theory in "philosophy of mind" is close to his own "genes and brain function... determine everything" about our conscious experience; or as that is put in philosopher-speak, "mental states supervene on brain states."

It may be that we aren't looking at the right part of the brain scan; it could be that "happy childhood" people have another part that is more active than "unhappy childhood" people with the same markers. In that case, his theory could prove out.

The alternative is that there is something to the mind besides the brain. That's always been my sense of where the truth lies; but it will be something of a revolution among both scientists and philosophers if it proves out.

The Government Is Making Us Fat

I'm thinking of putting in for compensatory damages. A Canadian university study finds a correlation between cigarette taxes and obesity. Just as you might have suspected, forcing citizens to stop smoking by making it too expensive merely causes them to gain dangerous amounts of weight. I predict a fat tax next.

Kindness to Widows

Kindness to Widows:

Not always a good idea.

Found today in the tomatillo patch.

Hitch a Ride with the Next Russian Supply Ship

The National Aeronautic
Self-Esteem Administration

Speaking to al-Jazeera on a recent trip to the Middle East, National Aeronautics and Space Administration head Charles Bolden heralded a new age in international space relations:

When I became the NASA Administrator . . . [Obama] charged me with three things: One was he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, [second,] he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.

Bolden also said that in the past, NASA had worked with countries that were capable of space exploration, but now Obama has

asked NASA to change . . . by reaching out to "nontraditional" partners and strengthening our cooperation in the Middle East, North Africa, Southeast Asia and in particular in Muslim-majority nations.

So we won't be restricted by the need to work with countries that actually can explore space, but can expand to those that can't.

I applaud this escape from hidebound tradition. It's not the Muslim countries' fault they aren't capable of space exploration, and it's time to end the pale male hegemony. If we ever need a landing strip again, we may need one of these countries to provide it. Even if we don't, what's more important: our space program, or helping predominantly Muslim nations feel good about their accomplishments many centuries ago? Also, the diplomatic mission is bound to be cheaper, and it will get NASA out of the way while the private sector knuckles down.

Bankers with Pitchforks

Wall Street and San Francisco Are Revolting

Per today's Washington Post, contributions to the Democrats' House and Senate congressional campaign committees from New York are off 65 % from two years ago. The drop-off is attributed to relentless Wall Street bashing.

Although the overall drop is only 16%, the trend is much sharper among big-dollar ($1,000+) donors, down to under $50 million from over $80 million. The New York area accounts for half of that big-dollar-donor drop: $24 million then vs. $9 million this year. In 2008, 28% of Democratic House and Senate committee donations came from the New York area, including 20% from Manhattan alone. This year, New York accounts for only 10% of the total.

Contributors in San Francisco aren't much happier, with donations falling by 34%. Fundraisers explain the drop there by disaffection with overly conservative Democratic initiatives.

The Romans Took Themselves Out

The Romans Took Out Themselves:

A post from the Anchoress, who is guesting at Hot Air. Eric's point is her own.

It goes with this video.

Threats and the Tea Party

Threats & the Tea Party:

What I find very interesting about this poll is not the top-line finding, which tells us that the Tea Party is much more concerned than other Americans about the massive debt and the size of the Federal Government. I'm not even interested in what Hot Air notes -- that there is minimal difference in Tea Party supporters' and opponents' opinion on racial matters.

What interests me is the subject of percentages that view a given issue as an "extremely serious threat" to the future of the country. It's worth noting that only 49% -- under half! -- of Tea Party supporters view the size and scope of the Federal Government as an "extremely" serious threat.

What I find more interesting, though, is that there is no issue -- no issue -- that a majority of non-supporters find to be such a threat. Only 44% of those who are neutral feel that the government's debt is a such a threat, and that is the very largest level reported among non-Tea-Party-supporters. Among Tea Party opponents, no issue approaches a majority; only "health care costs" even achieves a third (33%). The Tea Party supporter is even more concerned about that issue! 41% feel that is an extremely serious threat.

Confer all of that with this set of papers on genetics and political leanings. The upshot of these studies is that conservatives are far better at recognizing threats in the environment -- but are also more likely to produce false positives of threats. Liberals are much less likely to correctly recognize that there is a genuine danger, but also much less likely to falsely perceive a threat.

That seems odd in the wake of eight years of hearing about how BushCo was about to overthrow the nation; but it does line up with these polling results. (A further refinement: looking at the table comparing "Tea Party supporters" and "Republicans," we see that Republicans are also much less worried about things -- and therefore, much less conservative on this model.) Tea Party supporters are more deeply concerned than liberals about even the issues that concern liberals. There are only three issues where the numbers flip, and Tea Party opponents are more concerned: the size of corporations (just under a third for opponents, with about half as many supporters being concerned); the environment and global warming (opponents: 30%/ supporters: 13%); and racial issues (17%/13%).

Yet even here, the liberal concerns are not great. On the three issues of greatest concern to Tea Party opponents, only one of them achieves a bare third of respondents. Two-thirds of respondents in the "opponents" category see no extremely serious threats to America at all. Over half of neutrals see no extremely serious threats to America at all.

One is tempted, at this point, to post a whole bunch of graphs that illustrate the deadly dangers to the nation; but the point is, if the conjecture is right, doing so wouldn't matter. People are predisposed to worry about these things or not. If they aren't, they won't worry no matter how ugly the graphs are. If they are, the graphs could be rather less ugly than they actually are, and would still produce concern.

This may illuminate the "incompetence or malice" debate, which is ongoing. Part of the competence issue could be the ability to recognize the harm being done. Another potential anti-malice line of argument: they really just can't see how dangerous their actions are, how badly they're harming the nation and undermining its foundations; or yet another, that at least some of the "malice" readings are false positives.

Den Beste Speaks

Malice or Incompetence? Den Beste Speaks

Everyone who has read blogs for a long time knows the name of Steven Den Beste. He isn't answering the question of malice versus incomptence, but he is raising it.



I wasn't going to say anything about the Gore business, because frankly I don't want to talk about Al Gore; I can't muster the interest. However, I have to admit that this Taiwanese news animation does a remarkable job of conveying the story even when you can't speak the language. I hadn't really thought of animation as a good tool for the news: it's too easy to tell a misleading story even with actual video! Still, as long as you don't put any faith in the notion that things happened as depicted, this depiction does at least convey the content of the accusation in very clear terms.

Since we're doing an animation today, I found this one while following a link from Cassandra's page. Some of you who like animation may find it amusing.


Voters Still Don't Like It

Per Rasmussen, 78% of Republicans believe ObamaCare will be bad for the nation, as do 66% of unaffiliated voters. But 67% of Democrats believe ObamaCare will be good.

I don't understand why the levels of support are veering around so wildly. There's nothing obvious in the news to explain it. The smoothed-out overall trend looks slightly discouraging for ObamaCare enthusiasts who were hoping that voters' initial enraged reaction would moderate when we "find out what's in the bill."

Another Enlightening Fact

Another Enlightening Fact:

From Professor Bainbridge, this:

A 2004 study of the results of stock trading by United States Senators during the 1990s found that that Senators on average beat the market by 12% a year. In sharp contrast, U.S. households on average underperformed the market by 1.4% a year and even corporate insiders on average beat the market by only about 6% a year during that period....

Under current law, it is unlikely that Members of Congress can be held liable for insider trading.
This is a failure of justice -- perfectly in accord with the law, for the lawmakers are the ones who are manipulating the law to their advantage. When law and justice sharply diverge, there are consequences.

Fisking The Declaration of Independence

Fisking the Declaration of Independence:

Snide pretentions of superiority and intentional misunderstandings are the order of the day. What if they had been, in Jefferson's time?

Well, you may as well read through it. Just expect to hear the same arguments fielded soon, for we are going to be having many of the same debates in the next few years.

We've begun, actually. Consider:

"You can’t simultaneously complain that he’s providing too much government and not enough. Pick one."

Who among us hasn't heard one or another on the Left say something like, "Well, this BP thing sure shows the case for Big Government, doesn't it?" The idea of Constitutionalism is ignored: that it is not a case of "big" versus "small" government, but of government restricted to its proper place and role. The seas have always been the Federal government's responsibility: they have the right to maintain a navy, and to set maritime rules, and rules governing letters of marque and reprisal, and so forth. It was clearly the Founder's intent that the deep waters should be a Federal concern.

The government has abandoned all traditional restraints and limits, and as a consequence it cannot, or will not, perform its actual duties. Or, as T99 put it:

"If the entire federal bureaucracy did not exist and not one penny of federal funds was available, the cleanup process would be helped instead of hindered."

Calvin Coolidge


I wouldn't have guessed who said this:

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

It was Calvin Coolidge.

Grand Old Flag

On a Slightly Brighter Note

Here's an obsessive painting project after my own heart. The building covers 3.5 acres and is near Hobby Airport in Houston. It took a couple of weeks to paint.

Mexican Meltdown

When Democracy Blows Up

I failed to find anything inspiring today, other than this nice picture of fireworks. So here goes with the bummer stuff. Today is election day in 14 of Mexico's 31 states. Twelve states will try to elect governors. Things aren't going well.

Last Monday, the man favored to win the governor's seat in Tamaulipas, just south of the Texas border on the Gulf Coast, was killed in an ambush on his campaign car. His brother has replaced him in the election. A mayoral candidate in the same state was shot dead in May. Over 550 electoral officials have resigned. In the state of Sinaloa, on the West Coast of Mexico just off the southern tip of Baja, the campaign headquarters of a candidate for governor were attacked with bombs this week. Nearly 23,000 people have been killed since Mexican President Calderón launched a military crackdown on organized crime over three years ago.

On Thursday, 21 people were shot dead in a battle between rival drug gangs in the state of Sonora, about 12 miles over the border from Arizona, "along a known trafficking route for drugs and illegal immigrants."

What we are seeing in the last couple of years is a much more gruesome kind of killing, beheadings, dismembering, hanging corpses up on highway overpasses, all of that, with messages left by the cartels, all of that to send a message, either to the law enforcement authorities, who would go after them, or to their rivals or to the local government. . . . [W]e're starting to see some Mexicans even talking about, well, maybe it would be better just to make a deal with some of the cartels. . . . A lot of candidates have just stopped campaigning.

The most amazing thing to me is that the news reports generally add that this is the worst violence in Mexican elections "since 1994." Gosh, has it been that long since the last collapse of civilization? Also, I've just about given up trying to figure what might distinguish one Mexican party from another, since concepts like "right" and "left" seem to have lost all meaning down there. Per the Wall Street Journal, the current trend in distinguishing between Mexican parties is to focus on the number of voters who would never consider voting for them:

A survey by the Mitofsky polling group showed the PRI is now the country's "least rejected" political party, with only 19% of Mexicans saying they would never vote for it. Some 30% said they would never vote for the PAN [Calderón's "conservative" party], and 38% would shun the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, which has been hurt by internal divisions and a hard-left faction that has turned off middle-class voters.

This is what it means when we let inmates take over the asylum. Happy Fourth!

There's Always Somebody Better

There's Always Somebody Better:

Via PowerPoint Ranger:


Dogs and Cats Living Together

I'm too bummed to keep reading about the bungled spill cleanup for a while, so, as they would say over at Ace, it's time for kittehs and a little unnatural interspecies action. This is old National Geographic footage; my apologies if you've all seen it before.

Translation, Technology

Translation, Transliteration, and Technology:

There are two fascinating stories today on the subject of texts of supreme historic importance, and the new things that technology is allowing us to do with them. One is the Declaration of Independence: using spectral analysis, we now know something about a moment of enlightenment in Jefferson's thinking.


That's what Thomas Jefferson first wrote in an early draft of the Declaration of Independence to describe the people of the 13 colonies.

But in a moment when history took a sharp turn, Jefferson sought quite methodically to expunge the word, to wipe it out of existence and write over it. Many words were crossed out and replaced in the draft, but only one was obliterated.
The word he replaced it with was "citizens."

The second story, which I have from Lars Walker, is to do with translating the Bible. How do you translate the Bible into a language that has no written form? First, you must work with the speakers of that language to develop a writing system.
"Wycliffe missionaries don't evangelize, teach theology, hold Bible study or start churches. They give (preliterate people) a written language," Edwards said. "They teach them to read and write in their mother tongue."

The missionaries develop alphabets. They create reading primers. They translate the Bible.

About 2,200 languages remain without a Bible. About 350 million people, mostly in India, China, sub-Saharan Africa and Papua New Guinea, speak only these languages.
This work has been going on for some time. Before the age of technology, the motto of the Wycliffe missionaries was, "One team, one language, one lifetime." Now, they say, they can do several languages in a lifetime -- indeed, they expect to finish the rest within fifteen years.



Now here is a lesson. You've seen this before: but look at the subtitles, especially in the final moments.

"In anul Domnului 1314."

"Patriotii Scotiei"



Every one of you knows enough Latin to understand what is said there, if you didn't know the English at all: "In the year of our Lord, 1314... patriots of Scotland... warrior-poets... freedom."

Yet it's not Latin. It's Romanian. Enough of the old tongue survives.

Our friend Lars Walker is writing about American echoes in Viking sagas. Yet we should also recognize that this Scottish moment was a moment that touched the world, and changed it. 1314 was the battle on the Bannock burn. 1320 was the Declaration of Arbroath, which inspired our Declaration of Independence as much as anything ever written before it. That was written in Latin, addressed to the Pope:

"Non enim propter gloriam, diuicias aut honores pugnamus set propter libertatem solummodo quam Nemo bonus nisi simul cum vita amittit."

That is to say, "It is not in truth for glory that we fight, nor for honors, but for freedom alone: that freedom that a good man lays down only with his life."

And now I will quote a piece from Anthony Kenny's Medieval Philosophy, as regards a document written by certain Franciscan friars in 1324. William of Ockham was with them, and wrote supporting pieces in their train. It does not intend to speak to the Scottish situation particularly, but to the Pope in general. Having published it, they fled to the Holy Roman Empire for protection from the Church. There, in what is now Germany but was then a place of endless free states and cities, these ideas were welcome.

The work, Defensor Pacis ("The Defender of the Peace," 1324) became a classic text of political philosophy.... There are two types of government: rule by the consent of the ruler's subjects, and rule against their will. Only the former is legitimate and the latter is a form of tyranny. The laws of the state derive their legitimacy neither from the will of the ruler nor directly from God: they are given authority by the citizens themselves....

An irregular or incompetent prince should be removed from office by the legislature.
And if the legislature will not do it?
[W]e should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule.
Thus they said, in 1320. Four hundred years later, and a bit, they said thus at Philadelphia. Two hundred years later, and a bit, it may be time to say it again.

Constitutional Question

A Constitutional Question: How Does This Work?

Dad29 has an interesting report from Wisconsin, which made me recognize a void in my knowledge.

Jackson County District Attorney Gerald R. Fox has declared that, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling this week that the Second Amendment clearly applies to the states, he will no longer prosecute people for carrying concealed weapons, or certain other gun related offenses.

The high court's ruling in McDonald vs. Chicago, "immediately renders some of Wisconsin's current laws unconstitutional," Fox said in a news release. Therefore, he said, his office won't take any cases police might refer that are solely about violations of concealed carry, uncased or loaded weapons in vehicles, guns in public buildings or where alcohol is sold or served. Nor will Fox prosecute the possession of switchblade and other types of easy-opening knives.
When we've seen other landmark SCOTUS cases -- Lawrence v. Texas, say -- I've always heard that the ruling would overturn laws in many states besides the one where the suit originated. Exactly how that works is not clear to me. SCOTUS presumably does not do the work of identifying similar laws, and sending a note to the state governments; so my guess is that the work is done at the state level -- perhaps by the Attorney General?

Here we have a D.A. making the call, which seems strange. It makes sense that they would not want to prosecute cases that have just been rendered untenable, but it also seems odd that you might have two districts making different calls on whether SCOTUS has just voided the law.

So, my friends who do this for a living -- how does this work? What is the process for recognizing which laws have just been rendered invalid, and harmonizing them with the fundamental right that SCOTUS has just announced that it intends to protect?


More Missing Cat Humor

Not that I want to get everyone started on the kind of physics humor that took over Cassandra's site the other day, but . . . .

Gulf Oil Spill Update July 2, 2010

All Spill, All the Time

This cartoon is about the war, of course, but it seems to apply equally well to the spill. The public conversation about whether the feds are obstructing the spill cleanup is degenerating into a lot of exchanges that amount to "You lie!" "No, you lie!" Here are some links to sites where people are trying to muddle through whether and to what degree EPA regulations, Jones Act restrictions, and other federal laws are part of the problem instead of the solution.

Today's Wall Street Journal opinion piece may give the subject some welcome publicity, and it's a nice summary, but it contains no links to primary sources. The comments section, though, does have some useful links. For instance, here is a Houston Chronicle story about the Dutch consulate confirming that its offer of help was rebuffed. This Christan Science Monitor piece from a few weeks ago is a good summary of the conflicting accusations concerning the Jones Act.

This is the most recent piece I can find by Yobie Benjamin, the San Francisco reporter who's been following the issue and pursuing Freedom of Information Act requests. Ever pursued one of those? "Stonewalling" doesn't begin to describe the usual response. I honor his effort.

Even the AP has begun acknowledging the problem, which can't be a good sign for the White House. This week's article from Tom Breen quotes from the devastating Issa report and adds some more anecdotal complaints of assets kept sitting around. White House Press Secretary continues the usual line of asserting that the accusation has been repeatedly debunked, but providing no information with which to debunk it.

I've just found a useful site collecting these stories, There I discovered that, three days ago, the Coast Guard and the EPA finally felt enough urgency to alter the rules that kept most of the nation's skimmer fleet away from the Gulf in case they were needed for an emergency elsewhere. The NOLA site reports that the White House is complaining today that a separate congressional panel to investigate the oil spill response is "unnecessary." Tough; the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 15-8 Wednesday to set up one up anyway. It's a 10-member bipartisan panel with subpoena power. "[T]he congressional commission, which would be jointly appointed by Democratic and Republican members, is attached to a bill strengthening regulation of the oil and gas industry. It's uncertain whether the president would veto the bill; a more robust regulatory system has been one of his administration's top priorities since the BP spill."

This editorial in the New Orleans Times-Picayune decries the red tape and speaks to the Jones Act issue, which remains elusive. The feds say it's not a problem, while the players report that it remains one. How about waiving it for a year, just in case?

Here is an SFGate article reporting on the delays caused by Hurricane Alex, including the EPA 15 ppm problem.

And here is a blog charging that the whole "obstruction" issue is Republican propaganda.


The Principled Genius

Former mathematician Grigori Perelman made the news today by deciding, after considerable delay for pondering, to turn down the million-dollar "Millennium Prize" awarded by the Clay Mathematics Institute, which set up these prizes in 2000 for the solutions to a set of seven basic problems that had been bedeviling the field. Perelman's award, for solving the famous Poincaré Conjecture, was the first to be announced.

Perelman is another of those Russian Jews who so often seem to turn up in stories like this. He studied in the USSR, then held posts in several American universities in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He then turned down positions at Princeton and Stanford to return to Russia. He has since ceased working on mathematics altogether and is unemployed, living with his mother in St. Petersburg.

In turning down the $1 million Millennium Prize, Perelman explained that he did not find the process of awards in his field to be just. He already had been awarded the FIelds Medal for his work in 2006, and declined that one, too. In fact, he consistently turns down prizes, saying things like "[the prize] was completely irrelevant for me. Everybody understood that if the proof is correct, then no other recognition is needed." Or "I'm not interested in money or fame. . . . I don't want to be on display like an animal in a zoo. I'm not a hero of mathematics. I'm not even that successful; that is why I don't want to have everybody looking at me." He has expressed the opinion that prize committees are unqualified to assess his work, even positively.

This quotation sums up his alienation: "[T]here are many mathematicians who are more or less honest. But almost all of them are conformists. They are more or less honest, but they tolerate those who are not honest." He has also said, "It is not people who break ethical standards who are regarded as aliens. It is people like me who are isolated."

So what was Perelman's work all about? Wikpedia explains that the Poincaré conjecture claims that if a closed 3-manifold has the additional property that each loop in the space can be continuously tightened to a point, then it is necessarily a three-dimensional sphere. Yeah, that didn't help me either. This is more my speed:

The Poincaré Conjecture says "hey, you've got this alien blob that can ooze its way out of the hold of any lasso you tie around it? Then that blob is just an out-of-shape ball." Perelman and Hamilton proved this fact by heating the blob up, making it sing, stretching it like hot mozzarella and chopping it into a million pieces. In short, the alien ain't no bagel you can swing around with a string through his hole.

The author goes on to explain that mathemeticians classify both 2-dimensional and higher-dimensional shapes. She says that the only 2-dimensional shapes are the surfaces of "doughnuts" with multiple holes:

These surfaces can be classified neatly according to their number of holes. (The picture includes a sphere; does that count as a doughnut with zero holes?) Anyway, it seems the Poincaré Conjecture pertains to the analysis of 3-dimensional shapes, which I guess are like the surfaces of 4-dimensional shapes. Geometer William Thurston (a Fields Medal winner who didn't turn down his prize) "made the daring conjecture that three-dimensional shapes, too, can be classified in a more complicated but equally structured way," which is the kind of thing that makes mathematicians use words like "daring" and really rings their bells. Perelman "proved this conjecture, which has Poincaré as a straightforward corollary" -- once again, using the word "straightforward" in a slightly eccentric sense.

The author of this article readily admits that Perelman's work "won't help anyone build a bridge, aim a rocket, crack a code, or privatize Social Security. " She concludes, a little defensively, that it's nevertheless something worth caring about "if you prefer order to chaos."

This whole thing makes me nostalgic on my father's account. The only time I can remember his expressing an opinion about what I ought to do with my life is when he mused mildly that he'd always thought it would be nice if I studied algebraic topology. That was not, to put in mildly, really in the cards. He must have thought it was awfully boring of me to study law, though he never said so and clearly was pleased that I'd be able to make a living. I still don't know what algebraic topology is. Wikipedia supplies this less-than-helpful definition:

Algebraic topology is a branch of mathematics which uses tools from abstract algebra to study topological spaces. The basic goal is to find algebraic invariants that classify topological spaces up to homeomorphism. In many situations this is too much to hope for and it is more prudent to aim for a more modest goal, classification up to homotopy equivalence.

I'm even more prudent and must aim for goals whose modesty makes that goal look positively overweaning.

Some decades ago Fran Lebowitz wrote a piece about being awakened by something unpleasant, a phone call or alarm clock. She said something like, "This is not my favorite method of being awakened. My favorite method is to have my Swedish lover whisper in my ear that, if I don't want to be late to pick up my Nobel Prize, I'd better ring for breakfast." This is a dream I learned to relinquish quite early on, but I'm still pleased to read about people who might reasonably aspire to these things, even if they're too high-minded to accept.

Grim's Hall Book Club: Vikings

I promised you Vikings to follow on this last reading of Plutarch. I was trying to decide between The Saga of Burnt Njal and The Saga of Egil Skallagrimsson. Of the two, Burnt Njal is really the one we ought to read. The lawyers among you will love it particularly; but in Gunnar, it has a Viking fit for the best-bearded and bloodthirstiest of us.

So: let us begin.

I expect this to take a few weeks. For next week, read sections 1-20.

Hanging Offenses

"Nice Gulf. Wouldn't Want to See Anything Happen to It."

Is the answer really as simple as the amnesty-vs.-secure-the-border logjam? Are the feds obstructing the oil spill cleanup in order to create leverage for Cap'n'Tax? I know I keep wavering on the malice-vs.-incompetence quandary, but even I didn't expect a report quite this shocking on the federal role in the cleanup to date, per the Washington Examiner:

Phantom Assets

The number of assets claimed [by the White House], however, does not appear to match what is actually in the field. This is corroborated by Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, who shared a similar story with investigators. BP and Coast Guard provided Mr. Nungesser with a map of the Gulf allegedly pinpointing the exact locations of 140 skimmers cleaning up oil. Sensing that the chart may have been somewhat inaccurate, Mr. Nungesser requested a flyover of the assets for verification. After three cancelled trips, officials admitted to Mr. Nungesser that only 31 of the 140 skimmers were ever deployed. The rest were sitting at the docks. According to Mr. Nungesser, the chart appeared to have been fabricated.

. . .

Resources Used as Bargaining Chip to Mute Criticism

In some instances, it appears that equipment is provided simply to quiet public criticism. Mr. Nungesser, who has frequently appeared on local and national television, was apparently visited by two White House officials at his office on Fathers’ Day. According to Mr. Nungesser, the purpose of their visit was to find a way to keep him from calling attention to the lack of equipment. Specifically, they asked him, “What do we have to do to keep you off tv?” He simply replied, “give me what I need.” On another occasion, Placquemines Parish officials requested 20 skimmers at a town hall meeting held by the Coast Guard. According to Mr. Nungesser, “They gave us two skimmers to shut us up.” These accounts raise serious questions about whether the Administration is more concerned with fighting a public relations battle than combating the oil spill.

There's more in the Washington Examiner preliminary report, and more to come this afternoon when the full report is released. OK, this report was spearheaded by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calf.), so you might think it was inclined to be harsh. Someone once told me that the best defense against slander was to live so that no one would believe it. I don't believe the Obama administration has lived so that no one would believe it. And if the Republicans take the House and Mr. Issa gets a chance to follow through with a fraction of the investigations he has promised to undertake, the only thing keeping the heads from rolling will be their position on pointy spikes.

On a more positive note, Yobie Benjamin, a San Francisco reporter who has been following the EPA wastewater-discharge-skimmer problem and pursuing Freedom of Information Act requests, reported that the EPA apparently waived its standards for the Dutch skimmers a couple of weeks ago -- a full 50 days after application. The giant A-Whale, however, still has not received a waiver, and is still sitting at the dock in Louisiana.

A-Whale UpdateThe

This Is Progress, However Criminally Delayed

The A.P. reported about an hour ago that the A-Whale, "the world's largest oil-skimming vessel," had arrived on the Louisiana coast, and that the government was "pinning its hopes" on this new asset. It's supposed to be able to suck up 21 million gallons (500,000 barrels) of oily water a day. (Recall that the Dutch skimmers, which were offered free of charge on Day 3, could pick up 400 cubic meters an hour, which is over 2.5 million gallons a day, or about 180 million gallons -- 4.3 million barrels -- so far. The entire effort of the whole fleet as of three days ago was reported to have picked up 600,000 barrels.)

Without a trace of embarrassment, the A.P. spins this as the fastest result anyone could have expected, and some kind of coup the White House has pulled off, because the A-Whale has "just emerged from an extensive retrofitting to prepare it specifically for the Gulf." In fact, the A-Whale's owners have been fighting the Coast Guard and the EPA since at least June 25, and probably a lot longer than that, for permission to join the clean-up team, having hired a fine firm, Bracewell & Guiliani, to press their regulatory case. The reporter does admit, as an aside, that there still is that pesky little EPA/Clean Water Act problem:

[the vessel] takes in contaminated water through 12 vents on either side of the bow. The oil is then supposed to be separated from the water and transferred to another vessel. The water is channeled back into the sea. But the ship has never been tested, and many questions remain about how it will operate. For instance, the seawater retains trace amounts of oil, even after getting filtered, so the Environmental Protection Agency will have to sign off on allowing the treated water back into the Gulf.

So on Day 73, the EPA is still hung up on that same issue (see 6-27-10 post) of whether the water can be returned before it can be proven to contain no more than 15 parts per million of oil. For the life of me I can't understand why Republican Senators and Congressmen, if not all of them, aren't pounding this issue in Congress and in the press. We should all be calling and emailing our reps relentlessly.