Sunday, February 28, 2010

Evan Bayh

British historian Simon Schama calls him a "contemptible coward" on today's Fareed Zakaria GPS program. Its hard to say exactly why Bayh is quitting the senate. That being said, I am starting to get the impression that Bayh's voting record is going to be a lot more liberal than it would have been had he decided to run for re-election...which would lend more credence to Schama's words.

I repeat - tax unhealthy food!

In a cool experiment, it was demonstrated that taxing unhealthy food is more effective at encouraging healthy shopping than subsidizing healthy food.

Of course in the real world, we basically do what could be inferred from this experiment as being the worst of all worlds. That is, we not only do not tax unhealthy food, but we actually make it cheaper via subsidies. Because meat, dairy, corn, etc get more government subsidies than fruits and vegetables, we are making unhealthy food cheaper relative to healthy choices.

The logic of the cigarette tax is that smoking costs society. The smoker is someday going to be treated for smoking-related diseases from the medicare fund, and that is going to be an enormous financial burden on society. If smokers are going to cost more, they should pay more. The exact same argument applies to taxing unhealthy food.

Support of food taxes will beget the label of a big-government socialist or a paternalist. Case in point, this commercial that is against the soft drink tax. My rebuttal is simple. If your family is so scrapped for cash that they cannot afford a soft drink tax, don't buy soft drinks!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Condoms and the Pope

In preparation for the 2010 World Cup, the host nation (South Africa) is stocking up on condoms.

"There's going to be a large number of people who will be descending onto the country," said Victor Ramathesele, general medical officer for South Africa's 2010 organizing committee. "There's going to be a spirit of festivity and there could be a more than usual demand for measures such as condoms. So there are measures in place to ensure that the condom supply is going to be ramped up during this tournament."

About 5.7 million of the 50 million people in South Africa are HIV positive, a little over 10% of the population.

Does Pope Benedict think this is a good idea? After all, the Pope is on record saying that condoms in Africa make the AIDs epidemic worse. I am curious if His Holiness is going to stand by his previous statement and condemn these public health efforts by the South African government.

Democrats cave on Patriot Act

The Senate Democrats were trying to reform the Patriot Act before extending the law for another few years, however they were stopped by a Republican filibuster. Therefore, the Democrats gave up and passed an extension for the bill as is.

I'm so confused. Why not just refuse to pass an extension until the GOP allows the desired changes, and blame the Republicans for making America less safe by filibustering the Patriot Act reforms? Did Democrats just not think of that, or are they just that spineless?

I wish we were allowed to vote against both parties in the 2010 midterms.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Does this make me a cyborg?

If this works, an email I sent from my blackberry will update my blog, and feed that update to my twitter account.

Technology ftw.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Friday, February 19, 2010

"President Obama is making us less safe."

A man flies an airplane into a government building in Texas, killing himself and a few others. Cable news would be running wild with the story. Americans would be panicking. Dick Cheney would be on Fox News talking about how President Obama is making us less safe. Karl Rove would reiterate that Obama is failing in the war on terrorism. Sean Hannity would be advocating that we round up all the Muslims and water board them to find out who the other terrorists are.

Except for one thing. The crazed man's name wasn't Muhammad; it was Joseph. He wasn't a Muslim. It is remarkable how the simple difference of a man's name can completely change this nation's perception of the attack. Here is the one question that keeps repeating in my mind over and over again:

Isn't this great?

Isn't it great how well we are responding to this tragedy as a nation? Nobody is pointing fingers. Nobody is blaming Barack Obama, George W. Bush, homosexuals, Jews, or anyone else for this attack. Americans recognize that this man was deeply troubled, and committed a horrible crime that could not have been prevented. It is fantastic how maturely we are handling this situation.

Joseph Stack was furious at the government and the IRS, and he snapped. Crazy people will find crazy reasons to justify doing terrible things. Teenagers bring guns to school because of perceived slights, and kill their classmates. A man walked into an LA Fitness a few months ago and opened fire on a bunch of women because he couldn't ever get a date. A major in the military responded to a perceived slight to his religion and opened fire on his comrades. These things happen, and there isn't much we can do to stop them, other than to keep things in perspective and look for other troubled souls who are in need of psychological help or counseling.

There is one more lesson to take away from this situation. That Joseph Stack was on an anti-tax rampage is a potential embarrassment for the anti-tax Tea Party movement that has formed in the last few months. Therefore, it is in the interest of conservatives/GOP/Teabaggers that this incident not be hyped up, called a terrorist attack, plastered all over the news, or anything else that usually happens when a Muslim tries to kill Americans. And so it is not being hyped up, because the people who would usually hype it up have nothing to gain from doing so this time around.

Just remember this the next time there is an incident perpetrated by some crazy person and that person happens to be named Muhammad. When the hype inevitably comes, watch who it comes from, because I can promise you the people that it comes from in this future scenario will be the very people who are playing it down now. And by playing it down, I mean joking about it at the CPAC conference.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The former VP is a war criminal

"I was a big supporter of waterboarding." - Former Vice President Dick Cheney

When the Gestapo did it, it was torture.

When the Japanese did it to US servicemen, it was torture.

When the Khmer Rouge did it, it was torture.

When a sheriff in Texas did it in 1983, during the Reagan administration, it was torture. The sheriff got 4 years in prison.

Glad to see the VP pleads guilty on this one.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Fareed Zakaria hosts my favorite news show Sundays on CNN, Global Public Square (GPS). I would highly recommend the show for anyone interested in current events; it is the best show on television for that in my opinion. Zakaria always has great conversations about relevant issues with incredibly smart people, and somehow always manages to land phenomenal interviews with major world leaders. Anyway, on this Sunday's show Fareed was interviewing South African President Jacob Zuma, and he asked a question about Zuma's polygamy. Zuma has three wives, and Fareed framed the question as such that it implied an assumption that polygamy is unfair to women. This is an assumption that I would like to challenge. I will look at the case of historical Europe as the proximal example for Western society in general.

Polygamy was banned hundreds of years ago, and the push to ban the practice came from the Christian church. And yet, the predominant assumption today is that the ban on polygamy protects the rights of women. Do these facts not contradict each other? What history books are full of examples of ancient European men or the church for that matter concerning themselves with the rights of women? Women were treated as slaves for the most part in middle ages, but we're to believe that somehow in this one instance men and the church had a feminist urge and advanced women's rights by banning polygamy? With that deed done, it would be another thousand years before giving women the right to vote? Please!

If a ban on polygamy is not to benefit women, then who is it to benefit? Men, of course. Monogamy benefits men, because it ensures that every man has a wife. The ban on polygamy is the most ancient workers movement. Before social security, communists, or labor unions, there was the ban on polygamy. It was a redistribution of wealth (women, as they were a form of wealth in those days) away from the rich elite and to the common working man. I emailed a friend who has experience with polygamist cultures in Africa; here is what she had to say:

"In rural Tanzania in Masaai land polygamy is common and it works not only does it work but I would argue in Tanzanian society it works better than monogamy. First of all there are more family members to contribute to income, childcare, breastfeeding and animal husbandry but more importantly there tends to be less physical and sexual abuse for women. The very fact that the more wives that a man has results in greater respect and higher societal standing encourages men to keep as many wives as he can and in order to do that he has to keep them all happy, which means their own house, food, animals, children etc. Women love it because they don't have to do all the work. Men love it because well why wouldn't they."

Inherent in her email to me is the reality of polygamy - there is increased competition among men for females. While in our system, the losers of the competition still end up getting married, in societies practicing polygamy, that is not necessarily the case. Furthermore, a man who mistreats his wife may lose her to another man who treats his well. Consider the following thought experiment. Imagine you have two men; one is hard working, kind, and attractive. The other man is lazy, potentially abusive, and unattractive. Now take two women and give them the following option. They can either flip a coin and randomly assort one per man, or they can both agree to marry the more desirable one. This makes it easy to imagine the benefits for women of a polygamistic system. And anyway, at least if the women do decide to assort one per man, if one abuses his wife it is easier for her to leave him.

The idea of polygamy might seem repulsive, especially for women who were brought up in such a strongly monogamist society, one which idealizes the romantic connection between two people. The prospect of homosexual relations is similarly repulsive for many heterosexual men (it doesn't sound especially good to me) in our society. Yet, we know that in ancient Greece, it was common and expected for homosexual relations to take place between heterosexual men. Cultural norms may be strong enough to generate feelings of revulsion for the abnormal, but those things may still yet be relative to our culture.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Congratulations Saints!

The Saints were my favorite team in the NFL other than the Colts. They played exceptionally well in the Super Bowl, and they definitely had more heart than the Colts. Congratulations to them and to the city of New Orleans.

Anyway, I still feel like karma had it out for the Colts. Throwing away a chance at a perfect season for no reason isn't something the New Orleans Saints ever would have contemplated. For the record, I also don't think Peyton Manning's interception was what lost us the game. Even if we had scored a TD there, the Saints would have gotten the ball back with 2-3 minutes and 3 time outs, and the Colts defense had not even slowed the Saints offense all game. The Saints would have scored again. The defense didn't play well tonight, and I think that was a bigger factor than Peyton Manning's interception.

I would also like to mention one more thing. Sean Payton has some serious guts. Going for that onside kick at the start of the 2nd half was incredibly risky. If it wouldn't have worked, the Colts might have gone up 17-6 and the game suddenly starts to look a whole lot different. Especially following the 4th and 2 call on the goal line, Sean Payton would have been crucified for that decision had the Saints ultimately lost.

Thats one of the interesting things about the NFL. Statisticians have shown convincingly that coaches should punt far less often than they do, and that teams should go for a touchdown instead of a field goal more often than they do. One of the reasons I think that we don't see this is because the outcome for the coach himself is not proportional to the decisions. Going for it on 4th down, passing up a field goal, or attempting an unexpected onside kick has some benefit for the coach when it pays off. "Oh, that was gutsy and a great call". But when it doesn't work out, you have half of a city clamoring for the coach's job.

Look at Bill Belichick. He went for it against the Colts on 4th and 2 and statisticians pretty much unanimously agree that it was a great call. But it didn't work out that time, and people in New England were calling for his head. When making unorthodox calls, the cost-benefit comparison is much worse for the coach than the actual call is for the outcome of the game.