Nov 182007

I must have missed something. I don’t know what inspired the recent spate of articles about the selection of judges, but there are a couple of new articles, both informative and insightful.

It started with Sandra Day O’Conner’s article in the WSJ, which I blogged about here.

Paul Jacobs has an article about the judicial selection process in Missouri: Where do judges come from? He points out how it’s a conflict of interest to have judges and trial lawyers (especially trial lawers) appoint the judges. He proposes letting the people back into the process by letting the voters choose a commission to select judges. Too bad Sandra Day O’Conner didn’t think of that one.

If there was any doubt about whether the organization representing lawyers should be allowed to control the process, George Will shows what happens when trial lawyers are allowed to have conflicts of interest, such as when they buy victims to be the principle plantiffs in class action suits, and then share their ill-gotten gains with the political party that supports them:

Does political money flow toward beliefs or do beliefs move toward money? Much scholarship strongly suggests the former. Democrats are rewarded for their devotion to trial lawyers, but there is another reason why they are disposed to devotion. The problem is not that Democrats are “bought” by trial lawyers. The problem is that Democrats, who see victims everywhere, are actually disposed to believe the narrative of pandemic victimization of investors.

Milberg Weiss turned that narrative into gold, which it shared with Democrats. Since 1980, the firm’s partners have given more than $7 million to Democratic candidates, and an additional $500,000 to help build the Democratic National Committee’s new headquarters.

Nov 172007

My favorite IT pundit is Bob Lewis, who has an Advice Line blog at Infoworld. I’ve been reading him for years, since long before there were such things as blogs. (I liked Bob Metcalfe, too, as an IT pundit, back when he was punditing. But now that he’s gone, it’s just Bob Lewis.)

Before he got into IT, Bob got a PhD doing behavioral research on electric eels, which means he got off to a good start. He has amazing insights into the way businesses can and should work, especially but not only on the IT side. Anyone who believes in the conservative values of free markets and limited government will find a wealth of information to help one understand why we do not want the usual leftwing solutions of centralized planning and welfare-police statism.

Unfortunately, Bob has not allowed his business insights to inform his politics. He leans way too far to the left in politics, and often acts like a frustrated political pundit who looks for any excuse to talk politics rather than business. He draws connections between business and politics, sure enough, but is usually oblivious to the real import of what he is saying. Some people find his politics annoying. But that’s no reason not to read his columns and use them as a valuable resource for libertarian-leaning conservative politics.

Here is an example, from his latest, titled “The magic formula for IT budgeting.”

I know practitioners who claim it allows them to estimate projects with high levels of precision.

My personal opinion: The best way to estimate projects is to break them into small chunks with go/no-go gates in between. That allows you to avoid estimating how long it will take to build a system before you’ve decided what has to go into it.

That’s a great argument for not letting the government design a massive health care system for our country, which if it was to work would require knowledge that no government bureaucracy could ever hope to attain.

An alternative, which I increasingly like as I grow older and less energetic, is to assign one programmer/analyst to a business change effort. The P/A sits with the end-users, learns their job, helps them think about the next logical and easy-to-implement process improvement, and makes whatever system changes are necessary to make it possible. Then they do the next one.

It’s business improvement through the removal of small annoyances. It can be surprisingly effective, and makes resource planning easy. What it doesn’t let you do easily is predict when you’ll reach the point of diminishing returns on the improvement effort so you can redeploy your P/A to the next one.

Exactly. Whether it’s transportation planning or health care reform, nothing can beat the use of the market to let people design solutions to remove small annoyances. Of course, that doesn’t feed political egos, so government has no natural motive to nurture, protect, and foster these market forces. Instead, it tries to force private parties into government-like one-size-fits-all mandates (e.g. mandated benefits) where they will naturally fail, which will give government an excuse and political support to step in, take over, and make the situation even worse. But we shouldn’t be buffaloed when they say, “Well, what is YOUR solution?” There is no one solution — probably no solution at all. There is just the ability to improve our health care system greatly through small, market-oriented reforms. That doesn’t mean there is no place or need for government welfare — just that we do not want it for a solution.

Bob also publishes a column called “Keep The Joint Running” at Highly recommended. Bob dislikes conservative politics, but that doesn’t matter. His column is one of the best conservative resources out there now that Milton Friedman is gone.

Nov 172007

I’ll bet George W. Bush didn’t know he was being a folksy character when he called reporter Adam Clymer a major league asshole.

And I’ll bet Dick Cheney didn’t know he was being a folksy vice president when he told Patrick Leahy to fuck himself.

But if they would read Reuters, they would know.

On Tuesday, [Chavez] said the king’s “arrogance” exposed that colonial attitudes toward South America have not died out.

But the folksy president also showed he had a sense of humor over the flap.

When a reporter asked him a series of questions about the raft of constitutional changes expected to be passed in next month’s plebiscite, he joked: “Why don’t you shut up?”


Nov 162007

Sandra Day O’Conner thinks it threatens judicial independence to have special interest groups pouring money into judicial campaigns. (WSJ: Justice for Sale : How special-interest money threatens the integrity of our courts.)

She says, “Whether or not they succeed in their attempts to sway the voters, these efforts threaten the integrity of judicial selection and compromise public perception of judicial decisions.”

It’s good that somebody understands that our judicial system rests in large part on the willingness of the public to accept its decisions. That’s a point I was trying to make during the Clinton scandals. While that willingness can stand a lot of abuse, it can’t stand an infinite amount of abuse.

O’Conner proposes that states eliminate the use of elections to choose judges. I disagree with that for reasons I’ll omit here, but her point is correct that partisan elections can undermine confidence in the judicial system.

O’Conner also proposes that the government propagandize the voters on what makes a good judge. I guess that’s harmless enough, so long as people continue to understand that the government is its own partisan, special-interest group.

But she doesn’t say anything about the greatest danger to public confidence in the judiciary: the tendency of courts to overstep their bounds and make partisan political decisions that should be the domain of the legislative or administrative branches. When high courts not only overturn unconstitutional laws (which is their job) but order legislatures to pass laws to their liking, they are playing a partisan political role and should not be surprised that big money gets involved in the process of selecting judges.

Nov 162007

There’s a lot of back-and-forth lately about Ronald Reagan’s speech in Neshoba County, complete with Paul Krugman using McCarthyistic smear tactics slightly modified from the 1950s. I have nothing to contribute to the debate, but it reminded me that my wife and I did visit Neshoba County ourselves last year. It was our first trip to the south outside of a drive to Atlanta in 1993.

I had planned to bicycle there, and still wish I had had time to do so. I was more-or-less following the trail that Tecumseh took on his recruiting mission to the Creeks in 1811. I started my ride from Vincennes in late March 2006, crossed the Ohio River on the ferry at Cave-in-Rock, and then rode on the Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky and Tennessee. I spent part of one day on the Natchez Trace trail, which took me into Alabama.

I had planned to follow the Natzhez Trace to Tupelo, MS, then take back roads to some of the sites where Tecumseh tried to recruit Choctaw people to his cause (without success). But I had been battling headwinds for several days, the Natchez Trace was boring, and I was running out of time. My main destination was Tuckabatchee, near Montgomery, Alabama, where I wanted to spend several days. So we put the bicycle on top of the car, drove the Trace to Tupelo where we hunted down a good book of maps of rural Mississippi, and drove to some of the sites instead.

By the time we got to Neshoba County, it was getting late — too late to visit any of the Choctaw sites there. We got a quick meal in Philadelphia, and then drove to Selma, Alabama. The next day I resumed riding. In part I followed the trail of the Civil Rights marchers to Montgomery, but my main interest was some War of 1812 sites along the Alabama River. My wife spent some of her time in Selma, visiting sites of the Civil Rights marches.

But before that, on our way from Tupelo to Neshoba County, we did stop at a Tecumseh site near Crawford. Here are a couple of photos from Crawford.



I don’t know what this building was, but it got my attention. The site of the Tecumseh meeting was a few miles out of town along the road shown here.

I didn’t take a single photo in Neshoba County. But I did take this one just on the northeast border, of the Nanih-Wayia mound. A few young people of Choctaw descent were there, too, in a park on the near side of the road, learning about their heritage.


I wouldn’t mind going back there someday for more riding. The rural roads looked bicycle friendly, and I would have taken more and better photos if I had been on my bicycle.

Nov 132007

Do we really want to bring back polytheism? Mary Lefkowitz of Wellesley College prefers that to the one true God of monotheistic religions, in this LA Times article: Bring back the Greek gods : Mere mortals had a better life when more than one ruler presided from on high.

She is described as “professor emerita” so presumably she wasn’t born yesterday. But judging by the article, at least, she shows no awareness of things that need to be part of this discussion, and at the same time has set up some sort of strawman monotheism to knock down.

  • What about Hitler-Nazi paganism? Those weren’t Greek gods, exactly, but Lefkowitz is claiming that polytheism is a lot more wonderful than monotheism.
  • She writes approvingly: “Zeus, the ruler of the gods, retained his power by using his intelligence along with superior force.” Well, if she likes a God who doesn’t force himself on people, perhaps she needs to read about the self-abnegating god of the Christmas and Good Friday stories.
  • She writes: “The existence of many different gods also offers a more plausible account than monotheism of the presence of evil and confusion in the world?” It does? It offers a plausible account of conflict (confusion) but if you’re going to recognize that such a thing as evil exists, you need a standard by which to say it’s evil, and that suggests monotheism more polytheism. In polytheism, who is to say that evil is evil? It’s just another side that’s opposed to your side.
  • She writes: “The separation between humankind and the gods made it possible for humans to complain to the gods without the guilt or fear of reprisal the deity of the Old Testament inspired.” Huh? The knock against the transcendant god of Christian and Jewish monotheism is usually that it’s so separate from humans. So now transcendance means gods and people are buddies who get together to debate? But more seriously, how polytheistic gods can be more transcendant than a monotheistic god suggests to me that the good professor has not spent her many years thinking very hard about this issue, or reading much about it. And maybe she should read the story of Jacob, in which a human is actually praised for wrestling with god. A wrestling match among polythestic opponents is just a rumble, but a wrestling match between humans and god is an event of consequence.

Not that I’m your go-to guy for information on these topics. But Lefkowitz certainly is not. She raises some questions worth talking about, but she needs to dig a lot deeper before she starts presenting answers.

Nov 112007

What exactly was the point of going to all the trouble of winning World War II if Britain was just going to adopt the moral values of Nazi Germany, anyway? (And what’s the purpose of having a debate if it’s a foregone conclusion that it will become law?)

News item:

PARENTS of sick children in Britain will be allowed to use IVF to create “spare-part babies” under controversial laws published yesterday.

The legislation will dramatically relax rules on IVF clinics creating “saviour siblings” who can help cure their older brothers and sisters of medical conditions such as leukemia.

Experts said that one day they could create a “designer baby” with kidneys perfectly compatible with a sibling suffering renal failure.

More immediately, saviour siblings could give umbilical cord blood or bone marrow to family members in the hope of treating conditions such as sickle cell anaemia.

The Government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill will be debated in British Parliament and is expected to become law in 2009.

What lessons are children going to learn from this? How about these:

  • Saving our own skins is worth more than anything in the world.
  • No sacrifice is too great for someone else to make for my sake.
  • My parents value me for my health more than for anything that might give meaning to my life.
Nov 102007

The media are now talking about how Bernard Kerik’s indictment may affect Giuliani’s campaign.   Does this pose a danger to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, too, in that it will remind people that Giuliani is not the only one who associates with unsavory characters.  Will we now see a lot more coverage of the Sandy Berger national security scandal?

For whatever reason, the Fox news article quoted below had nary a word to say about Sandy Berger.

The indictment of former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik on a long list of federal charges Friday could turn into a huge weapon for Republican presidential contenders trying to topple frontrunning candidate Rudy Giuliani.  Kerik is much more than just a former associate of Giuliani.

Nov 072007

In case anyone ever doubted, this is not about non-discrimination in the workplace. It’s about thought control. It’s not even enough for the government to regulate your speech. They want to regulate your thinking, too.  Rep. Clyburn says as much.   He wants to regulate sentiments, not just words and actions.

Backers of the House bill proclaimed it a major civil rights advance for gays. “Bigotry and homophobia are sentiments that should never be allowed to permeate the American workplace,” said House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C.

House passes job bias ban against gays

I wonder if the supporters of this bill recognize the irony of destroying the very foundation that supports tolerance and freedom.

Nov 072007

George Will, in his 22-October Newsweek article, made a good analysis of the cost-benefit of doing something about global warming. His article is as usual, educational. He compares the global warming zealots with Bush on Iraq:

Zealots say fighting global warming is a moral imperative, so cost-benefit analyses are immoral. Like our Manichaean president, they have a simple fixation: Are you with us or not?

I hadn’t thought of that one, although I do often mention how the nationalized health care zealots act from same hubris as George W Bush on Iraq.

But I have a nit to pick with Mr. Will. It’s in this section where he explains how if we really want to save lives, there is something we can do: Institute a 5 mph speed limit. (He doesn’t mention that a 5 mph speed limit would also reduce transportation fuel consumption.)

Recent loopiness about warming has ranged from the idiotic (an academic study that “associated” warming with increased Italian suicide rates) to the comic (London demonstrators chanting, “What do we want? Carbon taxes! When do we want them? Now!”). Well, you want dramatic effects now? We can eliminate what the World Health Organization says will be, by 2020, second only to heart disease as the world’s leading cause of death.

The cause is traffic accidents. The surefire cure is speed limits of 5mph. In 2008 alone, that would save 1.2 million lives and $500 billion in damages, disproportionately in the Third World, which will be hardest hit by increasing traffic carnage. But a world moving at 5mph would be, over the years, uncountable trillions of dollars poorer, which would cost some huge multiple of 1.2 million lives through forgone nutrition, education, infrastructure—e.g., clean water—medicine, research, etc.

The costs of such global slowing would be the medievalization of the world, so the world accepts the costs of velocity.

Now I can’t say I favor the idea of a 5 mph limit. That speed is getting dangerously close to the minimum I need just to stay upright on my bicycle. But I do favor some policies that would slow down the world’s personal transportation system, e.g. a substantial tax on fossil fuels (to be offset, of course, by countervailing tax cuts elsewhere). And Will is right, even if he exaggerates, about what that would cost us. So I would not favor something quite like what Will is mocking.

But that’s not the nit. The nit is that word “medievalization.” I don’t think these changes, whether in the extreme form held up to ridicule by Mr. Will or in more modest forms, would necessarily have to result in medievalization. He has picked the wrong word.

The medieval system was governed by a federated system of personal relationships rather than market relationships. It was a world of institutionalized personal loyalty and obligation rather than fee-paid-for-services-rendered.

A world with a slowed-down transportation system might be a more federated world, in both commerce and politics. It might be less Walmartized. People would shop more at local mom and pop stores rather than at distant shopping centers. People would work and entertain themselves closer than home, and local institutions might become more important at the expense of far-off celebrityland (Hollywood, Washington D.C.). So there would be changes — not all of which we would be able to predict. (Though I predict that central planners who think they can predict everything might have their influence diminished.)

But those changes would not need to be accompanied by a change to a system of lord-vassal relationships and fixed societal roles. Medievalization? It could just as easily result in LESS medievalization and MORE free market.