Archive for November, 2007

Vaccines

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Megan McCardles on vaccinations:

I’m opposed to many sorts of state interventions, but public health measures strike me as a no-brainer. I mean real public health measures: not nannying people about their trans-fat consumption, but preventing the transmission of infectious disease. The negative externalities of infection seem to me to give the state a perfect right–indeed, an obligation–to curtail your freedom to fanny about spreading cholera.

Vaccines work primarily not by protecting you, but by creating “herd immunity”: denying the virus a reservoir in which to incubate. Public schools* used to be the perfect incubators, because there you have large numbers of people with no prior immunity herded together, making disease transmission a near-certainty. Vaccines have destroyed those disease reservoirs.

Now that the disease reservoirs are destroyed, of course, parents are tempted to free ride on society. They trust in other parents to vaccinate their children, thus maintaining a disease-free environment in which their own precious princes and princesses can run around safely without taking precautions. They do this for reasons logical and illogical–vaccines do pose some very small risk to kids, but more of their fears seem to be based on junk science like the thimerosol-autism connection. But even their real fears about the safety of the vaccine would be vastly outweighed by their fears of disease if other parents didn’t vaccinate, so it’s accurate to describe their behavior as free riding.

I agree with every word, although I still oppose mandating the HPV vaccine.

Bah on the Bluenoses

Monday, November 26th, 2007

Reason on the growing hysteria from the MADD folks. They now want zero tolerance on drinking. In principle, that’s OK. In practice, there is no impairment at low BAC levels. The problem is habitual drunk drivers with high BACs, not the person who has a glass of wine with dinner and has a low BAC.

Although alcohol nannies generally support zero tolerance, one dissenting voice doesn’t. “I thought the emphasis on .08 laws was not where the emphasis should have been placed,” Candace Lightner told the Los Angeles Times in 2002. “The majority of crashes occur with high blood-alcohol levels, the .15, .18 and .25 drinkers. Lowering the blood-alcohol concentration was not a solution to the alcohol problem.”

That’s one of the founders of MADD, BTW.

I especially like the idea of forcing everyone in America to blow into tubes to start their cars. Yeah, I’m sure that won’t have any unintended consequences.

Read the whole thing.

Campaign Books

Monday, November 26th, 2007

A hilarious overview:

Like Castro, like Ceausescu, like many other politicians, Mrs. Clinton prefers to be photographed surrounded by schoolchildren, an image that suggests either a kid’s birthday party or a hostage situation, depending on your point of view. I got past the cover photo, with its army of youngsters and Mrs. Clinton’s mandible-cracking smile, to search through the actual text, in hopes of finding some mention of Barbara Feinman who, in addition to other professional accomplishments, wrote the book. A decade ago, when Village was first published, Feinman was much talked about for having gone unmentioned.

Shortly before the book came out, Mrs. Clinton boasted of having “written a 320-page book in longhand over the last six months.” This came as a surprise to her ghostwriter. Feinman had often worked late nights at the White House and even followed Mrs. Clinton on vacation in hope of picking up stray thoughts she could use to bulk up the manuscript, and she had been assured her role as ghost would be generously acknowledged. Yet when Village finally appeared there was no mention of Feinman either on the cover or in the Acknowledgments. News stories appeared detailing Feinman’s role, but White House spokesmen backed the first lady in her contention that the book was her work alone.

It became a minor controversy, stoked not only by Mrs. Clinton’s political adversaries but also by Feinman’s friends in the Washington press corps (she’s a former researcher for Bob Woodward). With Mrs. Clinton’s claims of sole authorship long ago disproved, I picked up this expanded edition of Village to see whether she had expanded it enough to make room for Barbara Feinman. Nope: Mrs. Clinton still believes that while it takes a village to raise a child, it takes nobody worth naming to write her book for her.

We are left, unhappily, with the book itself, turgid and sanctimonious. It remains what its author called it in a speech a few years ago: “At best a mediocre political tract on the virtues of governmental responsibility in the raising of children.” I’m quoting Barbara Feinman, of course, not Mrs. Clinton. Anyway, the episode is worth recalling, and Village is worth keeping at hand, as another instance of the creepy, and often self-defeating, pettiness that marks every phase of the Clintons’ public life.

But … but … she’s a woman!

His review of Huckabee’s book hits everything I dislike about the man.

Parity

Monday, November 26th, 2007

Is it just me, or is there more parity in college football than there is the NFL? The only NCAA unbeaten left is Hawaii and only three teams have 1-loss. There is a chance a 2-loss team will play for the national championship. (And it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the polls don’t reflect team quality, but the voters trying to gerrymander the best 1-2 matchup).

By contrast, the NFL has one remaining unbeaten and two 1-loss teams. This weekend saw NFL games with spread of 14, 11.5, 10.5 (for Arizona!!), 9.5, 22 and 16 points — margins we normally associate with Texas playing East Yachupitsville State. Last night’s game had New England favored by 22 points. According to Sagarin, top-ranked Mizzou would be favored by less if they hosted North Dakota State.

As an aside, check out the pre-season college football rankings. Current #1 Missouri — unranked. Kansas, Boston College, Arizona State, Illinois, Clemson, BYU, Oregon — all unranked. Michigan was a top five team (now unranked), Louisville was in the top 10. So was California (what a collapse!), UCLA, Nebraska (!!), Florida State (!!!) and Texas A&M.

Yeah, those media guys know what they’re talking about. I can’t find CNNSI’s football preview on their page. Guess it was too embarrassing.

Smoking Numbers in the Dark

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

You know how Scotland’s smoking ban dropped the rate of heart attack? Bullshit

Paul vs. Huckabee

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

Jonah Goldberg does it right:

What’s troubling about The Man From Hope 2.0 is what he represents. Huckabee represents compassionate conservatism on steroids. A devout social conservative on issues such as abortion, school prayer, homosexuality and evolution, Huckabee is a populist on economics, a fad-follower on the environment and an all-around do-gooder who believes that the biblical obligation to do “good works” extends to using government — and your tax dollars — to bring us closer to the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

For example, Huckabee has indicated he would support a nationwide federal ban on public smoking. Why? Because he’s on a health kick, thinks smoking is bad and believes the government should do the right thing.

And therein lies the chief difference between Paul and Huckabee. One is a culturally conservative libertarian. The other is a right-wing progressive.

Whatever the faults of the man and his friends may or may not be, Paul’s dogma generally renders them irrelevant. He is a true ideologue in that his personal preferences are secondary to his philosophical principles. When asked what his position is, he generally responds that his position can be deduced from the text of the Constitution. Of course, that’s not as dispositive as he thinks it is. But you get the point.

As for Huckabee — as with most politicians, alas — his personal preferences matter enormously because ultimately they’re the only thing that can be relied on to constrain him.

In this respect, Huckabee’s philosophy is conventionally liberal, or progressive. What he wants to do with government certainly differs in important respects from what Hillary Clinton would do, but the limits he would place on governmental do-goodery are primarily tactical or practical, not philosophical or constitutional. This isn’t to say he — or Hillary — is a would-be tyrant, but simply to note that the progressive notion of the state as a loving, caring parent is becoming a bipartisan affair.

Amen.

Bleg

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

I’ve been debating with rpl about the decision to have children and the opportunity it costs high-IQ people. It occured to me that I have no idea if having children actually reduces someone’s future earnings and career prospects. You *can* make a case in the opposite direction — that having children gives greater work motivation, forces better time management and has a positive social impact leading to better career prospects. Let’s not forget that one of the reasons the presumptive Democratic nominee had a child was to advance her husband’s political career.

I’m just curious if anyone knows of longitudinal study that has been done on this subject. Does having chiildren reduce your future earnings? Google is coy, not giving me the information I need.

I know that having children at a young age has a massive negative impact on future earning, especially if it’s out of wedlock. But I suspect the impact of people having children in their late 20′s or in their 30′s is either minimal or positive.

Humiliation Week

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

Good gravy. In less than 24 hours, ASU and LSU were knocked out of the national title picture while Texas suffered the humiliation of losing to a bad A&M team. More will fall tomorrow. Kansas and Mizzou play each other. And West Virginia, Georgia, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma and Oregon all have tough games. All this should set up Ohio State nicely to back into a national championship game. And if West Virginia chokes and Oklahoma wins the Big 12, not only will Ohio State get into the championship game, they will face a 2-loss team.

The bobbleheads on TV were saying we don’t need a playoff since the season is a playoff (at least that’s what i think they said, it was difficult to tell since they were fellating the BCS as the same time).

Fine. But then quit pretending that this is a way of selecting a national champion.

West Virginia is now poised to play for the national championship — at least partially because they are in a weak conference that doesn’t have a championship game. If WVU stumbles or Oklahoma wins the Big 12, Ohio State will have moved into the national championship without playing a game — again benefiting from a down conference and the lack of a conference championship game.

If it’s West Virginia-Ohio State for the national title, I will not regard either as the best team in the nation. Not when the SEC and Pac 10 have spent the season slugging it out. Not when there are half a dozen 2-loss teams I think could beat them.

Tell me. Why will Ohio State be ranked over LSU on Sunday? Is it because people have done a sophisticated analysis? Is it because they’ve considered strength of schedule, home-road balance and other things? Or will it be because Ohio State has one loss and LSU has two?

How many people do you think realize that LSU, Kansas, Georgia, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma and Ohio State have played seven home games against five road games while West Virginia, USC, Oregon and Mizzou were six and six? Does this factor at all into their thinking?

It is a simple fact that college football schedules are neither far nor balanced enough to proclaim that a 1-loss team from Conference A is better than a 2-loss team from Conference B. The selection of the top teams in the country is entirely a matter of opinion, whether that opinion is forged in the mind of an SMT or a computer. Ranking are based entirely on number of losses first and pre-season hype second. It is patently ridiculous to claim that anyone or any system can sort through over 100 teams and over a thousand games and divine the two best teams in the country.

We can play it this way but we can’t pretend this process produces a legitimate national champ. Have a playoff between eight conference champs. Settle it on the field.

Kennedy

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

Goddammit, Wired. Can’t you even try to respond to the whackjob conspiracy theory nonsense about the Kennedy Assassination? How about pointing out that the so-called “Magic Bullet” only takes a wacky trajectory when you have Connally sitting in the wrong place? When he’s positioned correctly, the bullet follows a straight line.

For a magazine like Wired to give serious credence to Kennedy conspiracy garbage is insane. Everything the conspiracy theorists say is wrong. All the evidence is consistent with a single shooter from the Book Depository.

Jesus.

I used to buy conspiracy theories. But then I learned how to research issues and think critically. Then I learned how to reject unsubstantiated garbage. The I learned that the basic principle operating our government is not conspiracy but gross ineptitude.

The basic thought process behind conspiracy theories is this:

“I don’t understand some aspect of [insert event here] because I haven’t bothered to do any research into firearms, ballistics, chemistry, structural engineering or physiology. I can therefore cram in whatever unproven nonsense I want even if it contravenes all evidence, common sense and physical law.”

If only we could turn bullshit into energy — our global warming problems would be over.

I’d Still Prefer Him to the Wolfman

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

Cool.

This was a bug you couldn’t swat and definitely couldn’t step on. British scientists have stumbled across a fossilized claw, part of an ancient sea scorpion, that is of such large proportion it would make the entire creature the biggest bug ever.

How big? Bigger than you, and at 8 feet long as big as some Smart cars.

The discovery in 390-million-year-old rocks suggests that spiders, insects, crabs and similar creatures were far larger in the past than previously thought, said Simon Braddy, a University of Bristol paleontologist and one of the study’s three authors.

That’s almost as big as what we have here in Texas.

BCS Shenanigans

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

The BCS is considering lowering their standards to fill out the quota of big conference teams. We’re headed for a BCS slate of the six major conference winners, the loser of Kansas-Mizzou, Georgia or Florida and the #2 Pac 10 team (ASU, USC or Oregon). Since they can only put in two from each conference, that’s a problem because the ACC, Big 10 and Big East are unlikely to have a non-champion in the top 14.

My solution? Just grant a bid to the Boise State-Hawaii winner. I would much rather see Boise State or Hawaii in the BCS than Illinois or West Virginia (if they choke against UConn) or Virgina Tech (if they choke against UVa). Why lower the threshold to #18 to get a major conference team when you could lower it to #14 and get an exciting mid-major conference champ?

Because that would make too much sense. And the big conferences wouldn’t like it.

Some Humor

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

I’ve been a bit of a windy gasbag lately. So here is something funny; Star Trek’s cheesiest monsters:

REDJAC

Episode: “Wolf in the Fold”

Description: As it turns out, Jack the Ripper was actually a swirling pool of colorful clouds that traveled with humanity into space, killing ever more women and taking on ever more stupid names. It takes control of the Enterprise’s computers, and is defeated by a combination of Bones injecting everyone with happy juice and Spock telling the computer to calculate π to the last digit.

Powers: Serial murder, fear eating, starship control.

Weaknesses: Drugs, math.

No Parks For You!

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

In the latest in wooly thinking, we get a study claiming that the reason poor kids are obese is because they have no public places to get mugged parks.

Uh-huh. It wouldn’t have anything to do with tendencies to eat at McDonald’s and park in front of the TV.

Your Zero Tolerance Nonsense of the Day

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

The latest crime? pretending to take drugs.