December 2003

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Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Happy New Year! 

I'd like to wish all of you a great new year!

My resolution: 4800 x 4800 dpi


Friday, December 26, 2003

Can Biotechnology Make Us Happy? 

I agree with Matt Yglesias and Julian Sanchez that Peter Lawler's recent NRO commentary, arguing against the idea that biotechnology can enhance our happiness, is wrong.

It's the kind of piece that really makes conservatives look stupid. Lawler makes inane assertions such as:

But we really know that it is friends, family, God, and country that make us happy; happiness is far more a matter of virtuously and lovingly performing our duties to them than anything connected with rights. What we achieve as individuals is good only if we can use what we've acquired as family members, friends, citizens, and children of God.

He goes on to agree with Leon Kass (chairman of Bush's Council on Bioethics) that an attempt to improve our lives through science (beyond, perhaps, treating diseases) is a misguided individualistic project.

If this article is at all accurate, Kass is against more than individualism; he is against the growth of human knowledge if its application could be used to help people achieve goals he considers to be beyond the "natural norm". He tries to elevate the common human emotional "Yuck" reaction to a philosophical principle ("the wisdom of repugnance"). He is anti-intellectual.

While I think it's wise to be careful before manipulating complex biological systems we may not sufficiently understand, I don't think there's anything sacred about what's natural. Modern medicine helps people every day by intervening artificially in their bodies; and sensible people think that's marvelous. There's going to be a lot more of this artificial intervention, and that's great too!

Getting back to the happiness topic; I think it's true that a pill or a genetic intervention will not be sufficient to make people lead happy lives. As I've said before, and as I think Nozick's Experience Machine thought-experiment demonstrates, what we want is more than a series of felt pleasures. We enjoy the progress of our own chosen goals and values. And choosing good goals, and solving the problems that interfere with achieving them, requires us to have good theories and these will never come from a pill or our genes.

On the other hand, our theories are produced in our brains, and our brains are biological machines that can benefit from interventions. It makes sense to me that as our knowledge of the brain grows we'll be able to manipulate it to overcome problems and enhance capabilities. These interventions should help us achieve happiness, because they'll make us more capable of solving our problems.

I am personally very conservative when it comes to altering my brain with chemicals, but I don't see any moral problem with someone voluntarily trying to do this. As time goes by, this will be less risky and more sensible.


Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Merry Christmas 

Merry Christmas

I agree with Eugene Volokh that "Season's Greetings" is kind of silly and there's nothing wrong with my wishing people "Merry Christmas," even if I am (or they are) not Christian.

I spent a very pleasant Christmas Eve with my family watching It's A Wonderful Life. This might have been the first time I've actually watched it all the way through. I noticed this the last time, but it's cool to finally understand why there's a character in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (a very amusing movie if you're in the right mood) named Zuzu Petals.

Anyway, I wish everyone who reads this blog, and everyone they like, a Merry Christmas. I hope any terrorist plans for the season (or any season) are foiled, and that we can continue our inevitable progress without too many bad days along the way.

So, remember to have fun; or the terrorists win.


Profit 

Thomas Sowell reminds us here and here that "profit" should not be considered a dirty word, nor should "non-profit", "public interest", and "consumer advocate" be automatically greeted with honor or respect.

Important points to remember.


Tuesday, December 23, 2003

A Warning to Bush 

David Boaz, of the Cato Institute, issued a warning to the Bush campaign today to be careful about alienating voters who took his limited government rhetoric during the last campaign seriously. Other than his tax cuts, his domestic program has been very disappointing.

His re-election seems reasonably secure right now, but if enough small-government-favoring citizens decide to not vote; or worse, to vote for a socially tolerant Democrat, he could lose enough close but vital states to blow the election.

I really hope he hears the warning and moves his actual policies in the correct direction.


Monday, December 22, 2003

Dieting 

I've been dieting for the past 5 weeks.

I've always been a bit on the heavy side, and it's been getting more pronounced over the years; so it seemed like a good time to rein things in a bit. I don't think I'm vain, but I'd like to avoid the health risks of carrying too much weight.

I'm doing the South Beach diet (low carb) and have lost about 15 pounds and 3 waist-inches before plateauing. I'm not being fanatical about it; I've gone off it intentionally a couple of times already (for Thanksgiving and my birthday); but only briefly, intending to continue and make up any lost ground.

I had an interesting experience on Friday afternoon. As I was filling my water bottle before leaving work, I saw a Krispy Kreme box in the break room that someone had left there for anyone to eat. I opened it, saw three nice-looking donuts and considered taking one. I thought about eating one. I considered how it would taste, how much I'd enjoy it, how bad it would be for my dieting progress, etc. I decided that I didn't really want it that much, and furthermore, this was a good chance to prove to myself that I am in control of what I eat; not urges. So I didn't eat any. And walking away, I decided that I felt much better thinking about this small victory than I would have from the taste of the donut.

I'm not an ascetic or anything. I don't like self-denial for its own sake, and heartily approve of having fun and indulging in pleasures. But, I also like the idea of living deliberately; of acting because of explicit choices and not just operating on auto-pilot.

So, while I'm dieting, I'm enjoying the opportunity to think more about what and when I eat, and to reaffirm that these things are up to me. I'm not going to be on a permanent diet; but, after reaching my goals, I'll continue to be more conscious of my eating and will choose to eat those things that cause the most fat accumulation less often.


Wednesday, December 17, 2003

100 Years of Flight 

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight.

I think it's worth taking a moment to appreciate what a tremendous achievement it was.


Tuesday, December 16, 2003

No Law 

It appears that Thomas Sowell isn't very happy about the recent Supreme Court campaign finance decision; nor with judicial activism in general.

He has a point.

UPDATE: Eugene Volokh has a post on NRO that explains why criticisms like Sowell's are often based on myths about how the First Amendment has been and should be interpreted.


Monday, December 15, 2003

Iraq's Odious Debt 

I agree with these guys.

James Baker has just begun a trip to meet with creditor nations about Iraqi debt. I think he should give them an opportunity to establish a good relationship with the recently freed Iraqi people by making a grand gesture of forgiving the Iraqi debts. If they refuse, then the United States should suggest and support the new Iraqi government's repudiation of these debts as odious.

It seems to me that it would be a good thing if tyrannical dictators had a harder time securing loans from prospective creditors, and unjust to saddle the Iraqi people with the debts of Saddam.

If the creditors would like, we can agree to deliver any collection notices to the actual debtor at his undisclosed location.


Saturday, December 13, 2003

New Comments 

I'm testing out a new commenting system. I hope it will perform better than the enetation one I've been using. For now, I've got both the new comments and the old comments (labeled BackupComments) enabled. Feel free to try out either. I might be tweaking the new one over the next few days. For now, the counts don't seem to be displaying properly [update: I got them working].

If it works out, I'll see about automating the conversion of all the old comments into the new system (doing it manually would be way too boring).

Thanks to David Schneider-Joseph, author of Tewata, for letting me use PHP-enabled space on his site.


Thursday, December 11, 2003

Fair and Balanced? 

Glenn Reynolds is somewhat dissatisfied with the major media's coverage of the large anti-terrorism demonstration in Baghdad.

I think he has a point. It really seems that they have no interest in conveying an accurate picture of the overall sentiment within Iraq.

That's shameful.


Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Movie Recommendations  

I signed up for Netflix a short time ago and am having a good experience with it so far. There seems to be only a two-day turnaround to send/receive a DVD, which makes it possible to see quite a few movies in a month (I can have three out at a time). Also, although I'd heard that there was an availability problem now, I haven't experienced it. Maybe I'm just not asking for the most popular ones.

If anybody has some movies that they think I might enjoy and might not have seen (I'm not sure how you'd know either of those things), feel free to post a list (along with a short description of why you liked each) in the comments or in an email to me.

Thanks!


Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Winning The War 

Steven Den Beste has another interesting post today. The part that caught my attention was this:

The war we're in has already included two major battles, and will involve ongoing military operations of various kinds and intensities for a long time. But we won't win with guns and tanks and bombs. It won't be won with big events, things that make headlines.
The real struggle, the one which will win the war, is not like that. The critical battle in the war is being fought in a billion locations: the minds of a billion Muslims. Each such battle is separate, and we'll win some of them and lose some of them. If we win enough of them, we'll win the war, but it isn't possible to describe how many is "enough".

I think he's right.

It's not enough, or even possible, to continue to try to snuff out every threat that arises. If they continue to multiply then the process will be futile. For us to be relatively secure from these threats, people everywhere must understand that there are better ways to live, and leave terrorists no place where they can be confident of local support.


Saturday, December 06, 2003

Laissez Faire 

CATO recently posted an excerpt from Ludwig Von Mises' Human Action on The Meaning of Laissez Faire. I thought that was a cool idea, and forgot to post a link to it last week.

If you haven't read it lately, you should probably read it now.


John Kerry is Getting Fucking Desperate 

According to the New York Post, Kerry is quoted in a Rolling Stone interview as saying:

"I voted for what I thought was best for the country. Did I expect Howard Dean to go off to the left and say, 'I'm against everything'? Sure. Did I expect George Bush to f - - - it up as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did,"

I'm not offended at all by the word, but it seems unlikely to increase the number of voters who think he's the best man to represent the U.S. in the world.

I think the article is wrong to call this language "X-rated", though. It's R-rated, isn't it?


Friday, December 05, 2003

The Medicare Drug Benefit 

I'm trying very hard to think optimistically about this, but I'm having a lot of trouble.

At first glance, it seems like a disaster. And things like this worry me a great deal. It seems like the best Republicans, those who take the rhetoric about limited government seriously, are being punished by the unprincipled politicians (including Bush) who are more concerned about their next election than the general welfare.

Ok, here's my most optimistic theory about what the Republicans are thinking, but not saying:

It's vital to the national interest (security, economy, judiciary, etc.) for Republicans to maintain power for the next four years. Passing this bill, while bad, is necessary to help make that happen because it takes the issue away from the Democrats. And, if the Democrats do manage to gain power, they would surely pass a much worse bill. So, of the only two feasible possibilities this is the better one.

Does that make any sense?

I guess another possibile consideration is that they delayed the benefits until 2006 so that they might have time to declare that it turns out to just be too expensive and repeal it before that becomes nearly impossible. But, I think I'm really dreaming with that one.


Good Economic News 

I realize that I haven't been blogging very much lately, and most of it has been negative. So, here's some good news about the recent soaring economic indicators in the U.S.

It's interesting that a 6% unemployment rate used to be considered full-employment, and yet Bush's critics are still managing to call this a "jobless recovery". Actually, just today it was announced that the rate for November is down to 5.9%.

The bottom line is that nobody can honestly say that the tax cuts did not help the economy.

We should have more tax cuts, and less government spending.


Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Howard Dean 

Howard Dean seems to have a lot of people confused. Some have bought into his self-proclaimed fiscal conservative record in Vermont, but it isn't true (see here and here). I can understand the desire to flee from Bush's disasterous fiscal record toward a divided government (Republican congress, Democrat president). Then we could have some gridlock. But Dean is the wrong choice. He's much further to the left than Clinton was, and he would do more damage; even with a Republican congress.

Andrew Sullivan takes Dean to task for this gaffe on Chris Mathews' Hardball:

Iran is a more complex problem because the problem support as clearly verifiable as it is in North Korea. Also, we have less-fewer levers much the key, I believe, to Iran is pressure through the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union is supplying much of the equipment that Iran, I believe, most likely is using to set itself along the path of developing nuclear weapons. We need to use that leverage with the Soviet Union and it may require us to buying the equipment the Soviet Union was ultimately going to sell to Iran to prevent Iran from them developing nuclear weapons.

Ok, he did call Russia the Soviet Union four (not three) times. But, to be fair, I can imagine myself slipping into calling it that while trying to focus on another issue. And, he did call it the former Soviet Union earlier in the interview. So, he just misspoke (although Sullivan is right that if Bush had said this, the press would have a field day with it). Thus, I disagree with Sullivan that this reveals why he is unqualified to be president.

No, that came earlier (pardon the poor transcription):

MATTHEWS: There are so many things that have been deregulated. Is that wrong trend and would you reverse it?
DEAN: I would reverse in some areas.
First of all, 11 companies in this country control 90 percent of what ordinary people are able to read and watch on their television. That’s wrong. We need to have a wide variety of opinions in every community. We don’t have that because of Michael Powell and what George Bush has tried to do to the FCC.
MATTHEWS: Would you break up Fox?
(LAUGHTER)
MATTHEWS: I’m serious.
DEAN: I’m keeping a...
MATTHEWS: Would you break it up? Rupert Murdoch has “The Weekly Standard.” It has got a lot of other interests. It has got “The New York Post.” Would you break it up?
DEAN: On ideological grounds, absolutely yes, but...
(LAUGHTER)
MATTHEWS: No, seriously. As a public policy, would you bring industrial policy to bear and break up these conglomerations of power?
DEAN: I don’t want to answer whether I would break up Fox or not,
because, obviously
(CROSSTALK)
MATTHEWS: Well, how about large media enterprises?
DEAN: Let me-yes, let me get...
(LAUGHTER)
DEAN: The answer to that is yes.
I would say that there is too much penetration by single corporations in media markets all over this country. We need locally-owned radio stations. There are only two or three radio stations left in the state of Vermont where you can get local news anymore. The rest of it is read and ripped from the AP.
MATTHEWS: So what are you going to do about it? You’re going to be president of the United States, what are you going to do?
DEAN: What I’m going to do is appoint people to the FCC that believe democracy depends on getting information from all portions of the political spectrum, not just one.
MATTHEWS: Well, would you break up GE?
(APPLAUSE)
DEAN: I can’t-you...
MATTHEWS: GE just buys Universal. Would you do something there about that? Would you stop that from happening?
DEAN: You can’t say-you can’t ask me right now and get an answer, would I break up X corp...
MATTHEWS: We’ve got to do it now, because now is the only chance we can ask you, because, once you are in, we have got to live with you.
(LAUGHTER)
DEAN: No.
MATTHEWS: So, if you are going to do it, you have got to tell us now.
(CROSSTALK)
MATTHEWS: Are you going to break up the giant media enterprises in this country?
DEAN: Yes, we’re going to break up giant media enterprises. That doesn’t mean we’re going to break up all of GE.
What we’re going to do is say that media enterprises can’t be as big as they are today. I don’t think we actually have to break them up, which Teddy Roosevelt had to do with the leftovers from the McKinley administration.
(CROSSTALK)
MATTHEWS: ... regulate them.
DEAN: You have got to say that there has to be a limit as to how-if the state has an interest, which it does, in preserving democracy, then there has to be a limitation on how deeply the media companies can penetrate every single community. To the extent of even having two or three or four outlets in a single community, that kind of information control is not compatible with democracy.
MATTHEWS: How-how far would you go in terms of public policy?
(APPLAUSE)
MATTHEWS: This is not-what you describe is not laissez-faire.
It’s not capitalism.
DEAN: It is capitalism.
MATTHEWS: How would you-what would you call it?
DEAN: I am absolutely a capitalist. Capitalism is the greatest system that people have ever invented, because it takes advantage of bad traits, as well as our good traits, and turns them into productivity.
But the essence of capitalism, which the right-wing never understands
” it always baffles me-is, you got to have some rules. Imagine a hockey game with no rules."

This all bothers me a great deal because the president does have a great deal of power to affect regulation of the economy and Dean seems like a dangerous man in this area.

The impression that I have of Dean, and many leftists, is that they think they know how resources should be allocated and are willing to use the force of government to make that happen. I suggest that if they think that there's an unmet demand for more media companies (for example) then there's a great option for them to choose: they can enter the marketplace (or invest in entrants) and make a fortune while improving the competitive landscape. But they don't want to do that; they'd prefer to tear down people who have succeeded in the market. They claim to have great concern for the poor and powerless, but they seem more preoccupied with attacking the successful than with helping the unsuccessful. It's not the same thing.

President Dean would be a disaster for America.


Monday, December 01, 2003

This Blog Gets Results 

Well, I'm sure it must get some results.

But, also, the Bush administration seems to have decided to do the right thing and repeal the horrible steel tariffs.