Mar 312008

Should an eleven-year-old be allowed to administer his school’s computer network? NetworkWorld article here.

An interesting bunch of comments follow the article, revealing that most NetworkWorld readers who comment on articles probably don’t have the maturity of the average eleven-year-old. Then there are those who say it’s child labor, depriving some adult of a job.

It isn’t, and nobody is openly suggesting the government regulate this, but it’s a great demonstration of the perils of government regulation. How do you possibly make rules to cover the huge variety of human circumstances? You don’t, except by constraining human behavior into narrow categories that don’t comprehend all of reality.

There are lessons here for health care regulation, financial services regulation, you name it.

Mar 302008

What are the consequences when a department messes up in your organization? Does it get more money and greater responsibilities, or does it get trimmed back a little?

It probably depends on whether or not you work for the government. If it’s a government regulatory agency, it gets more. If it’s a business, it gets less.

How else to describe Henry Paulson’s call to consolidate federal financial regulators and give them more power?

It looks like a second coming of Homeland Security. After 9-11 not a single bureaucrat faced consequences for being unlucky enough not to use the information at hand. Instead, the response was to grow the government.

Mar 282008

I don’t usually read New York Times editorials, but I got interested in one because of an item in the WSJ Law Blog, “Scalia to News Media: Focus on the Text!

It’s a pet peeve of mine when the news media no longer report on how courts rule on points of law, but only tell us that the court “handed a victory” to this or that party. Go google for “court handed victory” and you’ll see what I mean.

Well, Scalia’s comments are about that, sure enough, but the particular New York Times editorial being referred to, “No Recourse for the Injured,” is a fascinating one.

Whoever would have thought the NYT would favor original intent. Whoever would have thought the NYT would provide ammunition to those who like to remind affirmative-action supporters that Hubert Humphrey promised to eat a copy of the 1964 Civil Rights law if it ever led to racial quotas. But here’s the NYT talking about how unfortunate it is that the words of a law are bringing about results different from what the sponsors intended:

When it passed the 1976 law, Congress almost certainly had no intention of removing the right to sue. Senator Edward Kennedy, the Senate sponsor of the law, and Representative Henry Waxman, who sat on the House panel that approved it, have both said that Congress had no intention of granting the manufacturers immunity from lawsuits over injuries caused by their devices.

Mar 262008

According to Monday’s Wall Street Journal, big business is now getting on the global warming bandwagon.

… executives from major multinationals are calling on the U.S. government to impose a cap on greenhouse-gas emissions. As Jeffrey Immelt, General Electric Co.’s CEO, explained, because regulation is coming, “I’d just as soon have a seat at that table than have it pushed down my throat.”

In other words, a cap on greenhouse-gas emissions is a recipe for corrupt government. Policies will be made on the basis of who has the best insider connections, rather than on merit. It’ll be a sort of mutual corruption pact between leftwing regulators and big business corporations.

The Main Adversary calls them Green Robber Barons.

A plain carbon tax wouldn’t have all these possibilities for corrupt insider dealing, so I suppose that’s why politicians are pushing for emission caps instead.

(Of course, the way to get a carbon tax is to pay for it with offsetting tax cuts elsewhere. But I suppose that sort of paygo has no chance of getting any support in Congress.)

Mar 242008

A “walking supply” was what you might use to escape a Siberian Gulag, according to Anne Applebaum’s book. Escapes were difficult because the camps were a long way from anywhere. So you and your buddy might talk a third person into doing an escape with you. You’d want to pick someone who was well fed, like the camp cook. He would be the “meat”. If you ran out of food, you’d kill him and eat him. The nice thing about it was that you didn’t even have to carry him until the food was needed.

Not everyone could pull this off, though. It would help if you were already a hardened criminal.

That was in the Soviet Union. Here in the west, you don’t need to embark on a life of crime to make yourself into the kind of person who could do that. It may be only step 2 in a five-step program, but in the U.K., the prime minister is pushing for legislation that would allow the creation of “savior siblings,” according to the Daily Mail. If your kid has a rare disease, you could generate others who could be tissue or organ donors, and use genetic screening to abort any who wouldn’t fit the need. The idea is catching on in the U.S., too, according to this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article.

It’s not quite the same as a walking supply, but it’s a step closer than we were before.

And a lot of the rationalizations could come in handy when get to Step 5. Look at some of the comments at the end of that Daily Mail article:

… should church leaders in the House of Lords, who have not been elected, be allowed to influence the laws of the people?

Many such arguments have merit on both sides and tipping the scales towards the greater good is all that conscience demands.

Morality aside, there’s an interesting twist to one of the “walking supply” stories in Applebaum’s book.

The two men did as planned–they killed and ate the cook–but they had not bargained on the length of the journey. They began to get hungry again:

Both knew in their hearts that the first to fall asleep would be killed by the other. So both pretended they weren’t tired and spent the night telling stories, each watching the other closely. Their old friendship made it impossible for either to make an open attack on the other, or to confess their mutual suspicions.

Finally, one fell asleep. The other slit his throat. He was caught, Buca claims, two days later, with pieces of raw flesh still in his sack.

Mar 222008

Mark Milke, writing for the Calgary Herald, tells how Castroism took one of the wealthiest countries in Latin America, and turned it into one of the poorest. He doesn’t expect much to change under Raul.

He notes one of the old explanations we tend to get from the left:

Some will point to the U.S. trade embargo as the source of Cuba’s economic ills. I agree. It’s a significant reason for Cuba’s poverty, that and the Communist system itself — and both should end.

I, too, agree that the U.S. trade embargo should end. The remaining good reasons for having it went away in the early 90s.

But here’s a question. How come politicians of the left want to blame the U.S. embargo for Cuba’s poverty, yet are eager to emasculate NAFTA? On the one hand they want to cut off trade with other countries, because they think it will make us prosperous. On the other they say Cuba’s lack of trade with us has made the country poor.

Even if they subscribe to the ridiculous notion that the benefits of trade are a one-way street, helping our Latin American neighbors but hurting us, why is it only Cuba they want to help? What do they think will happen if we reduce trade with Mexico?

Mar 212008

I was home sick today, and in the times when I wasn’t sleeping I finished Anne Applebaum’s book, “Gulag”. Back in 1979 or 1980 I read Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago” while sick in bed, so it seemed appropriate to read this one when sick, too.

It was interesting that in her final paragraph, she wrote: “This book was not written ‘so that it will not happen again,’ as the
cliche would have it. This book was written because it almost certainly will happen again. Totalitarian philosophies have had, and
will continue to have, a profound appeal to many millions of people.”

Leading up to this statement is her account of how this whole episode in Russian history has gone down a memory hole in present-day Russia. In her travels in Russia she encountered some people who were glad she was helping to bring these episodes to memory, but she encountered a lot more who were antogonistic or indifferent. Applebaum discusses the following categories of reasons for the silence on the topic.

  • Russians are too busy dealing with the present.
  • They already discussed it all in the early 1990s.
  • Discussion of the gulag is associated with the democratic reforms that went bad.
  • There are so many tragedies, such as the war dead and famines. Why pick on this one?
  • The fall of the old system is a blow to Russians’ personal pride in their country as a world power.
  • They might not like what they find — relatives and friends who were collaborators and informers.
  • Many of the former leaders of the old system are still in positions of influence and power. They have an interest in concealing the past.

Applebaum then goes on to discuss some of the bad effects of this silence and concealment on Russian society:

  • “…if scoundrels of the old regime go unpunished, good will in no way have been seen to triumph over evil.” The sight of villains who got away with it leads to cynicism.
  • The elite have not come to value the lives and rights of all of Russia’s citizens
  • It has deprived Russians of heroes (compared to Germany, where those who participated in anti-Hitler plots are now heroes)
  • It has lead to an insensitivity to continued censorship and intrusions into private life by the FSB.
  • There has been no judicial or prison reform

After reading the book, I found the following web site that contains a number of Applebaum’s articles and columns:

I think I’ll be reading a lot of them for more insights.

Mar 192008

   Regarding the alleged release of Hillary Clinton’s papers, the AP says:

The archives said 4,746 pages of documents have parts blacked out, mostly to protect the privacy of third parties, including their social security numbers, telephone numbers, and home addresses.

“Mostly”, it says.   I’ll bet that word is even accurate, in a Clintonian sense.

Mar 182008

As a cost-cutting measure, we went without the Wall Street Journal for a few years. What I missed most during that time was Mary Anastasia O’Grady’s column about the Americas. She writes about things that I don’t know where to find elsewhere.

I liked Monday’s column about Hugo Chávez’s worst nightmare.

It’s about a student leader, Yon Goicoechea:

Mr. Goicoechea is the retiring secretary general of the university students’ movement in Venezuela. Under his leadership, hundreds of thousands of young people have come together to confront the strongman’s unchecked power. It is the first time in a decade of Chávez rule that a countervailing force, legitimate in the eyes of society, has successfully managed to challenge the president’s authority.

There are lessons in what he says that conservatives in the U.S. ought to take to heart if they ever expect to defeat Leviathan. Conservatives have won some electoral victories, but even while doing so the welfare-state has only grown. Here are clues as to how to make real progress, say, in health care:

Mr. Goicoechea takes a different stance, stressing reconciliation. He speaks about understanding the grievances of the disenfranchised, and looking for common ground that can give rise to solutions. The student leader says that two ideals hold his movement together: liberty and democracy, both of which he says have been absent in Venezuela for a long time. “Populism is not democracy.”

I ask him if he wants to restore the country’s institutions. “No, we want to build institutions. To say that we are restoring institutions would be to say that we had democracy before President Chávez, and I don’t think so. We may have had an independent Supreme Court, but the poor had no access.”

Mr. Goicoechea sees the current state of affairs as a continuation of the past, with different players. “Mr. Chávez says that his government serves the lower-income classes, but the reality is that the system still only serves those in the middle and high-income classes.” That resonates with people.

Ensuring access to legal institutions, so that all Venezuelans are guaranteed the protections of the state, is for Mr. Goicoechea the path to “social justice.” As an example he cites Petare, a notoriously poor Caracas barrio. “Private property rights protection does not exist there,” he says. “No one owns their own land, even though the laws say that you earn that right if you live there for a certain number of years. We will have a true revolution in Venezuela when we have strong, liberal institutions that defend the rights of the people.”

Mar 182008

I’m still reading Anne Applebaum’s book. One thing that is new to me is how the gulag hospitals were in some places very nice — a completely different world from the prison camp for those prisoners unfortunate enough to be fortunate enough to be sent to them.

“Paradise” is what Evgeniya Ginzburg called the hospital where she worked in Kolyma. “We felt like kings,” wrote Thomas Sgovio of the “recovery barracks” in the Srednikan lagpunkt, where he received a “fresh, sweet roll in the morning.” Others write with remembered awe of the clean sheets, of the kindness of nurses, of the lengths to which doctors went to save their patients.

Of course, they weren’t all like this. Some were filthy, overcrowded death-traps. But it’s interesting that some were.

The problem was that there was usually some sort of quota system that allowed only a certain number of patients to be admitted to them each day. In the meantime, other prisoners were dying from disease, overwork, abuse, and malnutrition outside the hospital. And doctors sometimes had to reserve a few hospital slots for the criminal prisoners who terrorized the camps, which meant even less were available for the prisoners who really needed them.