Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The latest post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy

Radley Balko hits it on the nose as to why a study thinks there's some correlation between diet soda and heart problems, the same study admits it can't find the link, and the news nonetheless reports it as if there were a link: "It doesn't mean diet soda causes heart disease, that it leads to heart disease, or even that it leads to other habits that lead to heart disease. It means many people who will eventually develop heart disease probably hit the 7-11 for a bag of Doritos, some Ben & Jerry's, and....a Diet Coke."

He's right: unlike reporters who sensationalize a study's inconclusive conclusions, Radley sees that the diet soda isn't a cause. It's a symptom of unhealthy eating habits that already exist.

One thing I've learned during my weight loss soujourn is that it's fat people who tend to consume diet soda, not healthy people. Healthy people tend to be conscious enough that they prefer plain water, seltzer, lightly sweetened coffee or tea, or real fruit juice (whose calories they later burn off with exercise). Because they are healthy, they simply don't have a need to reduce their caloric intake via diet soda; when they need to reduce calories, they do it by proper eating. By contrast, fat people who drink diet soda often delude themselves that shaving off a few calories that way can balance out the rest of their bad habits. How often did the old Perry go to a fast food joint for a double cheeseburger, the largest size fries, and a diet soda? The old me constantly fooled himself into thinking I could sustain that unhealthy eating just by cutting out a few hundred calories via the drink.

Each day, I still drink several cans of aspartame-laden Fresca and use several packets of Splenda with my tea. I'm not worried, because it was never the artificial sweeteners that threatened me. My slow death sentence was inevitable heart trouble from all the body fat I had, which itself was purely the result of consuming an excess of calories. I've dropped 37 pounds in the last 20 weeks, and it's because I eat right 99% of the time, and I exercise regularly. I've resumed serious weightlifting for the first time in 10 years, and I go out running/walking a few times a week. I should do more cardio, but still, my heart has never been healthier in my entire life. Besides being able to run farther before tiring, a noticeable benefit is that my normal resting pulse has gone from 70-80 beats per minute to 60. In September I'll get my cholesterol checked. It was 170 two years ago, not bad, but I think it'll be even better. I've gone from eating huge portions of red meat 10 times a week to eating red meat just twice a month -- and one of those is a bison burger, so low fat and low cholesterol.


Friday, July 20, 2007

The new Putin Youth

I could only hope this is a fake story, or that it's on Russia's equivalent of April Fools' Day. The Kremlin is now sponsoring day camps where young people are taught just how good Putin is. Named "commissars," they're indoctrinated into believing Uncle Vladimir is the good guy, and anti-Putin freedom advocates like Garry Kasparov are evil fascists. When the time comes for Putin to retain power, he won't need to send out the military. He can still appear "nice," particularly when all these tens of thousands of loyal supporters appear to go out on their own.

The latest generation of young Chinese don't know about Tiananmen Square because they were too young or weren't born yet. Similarly, Putin is seizing the chance to recruit those who were too young to realize that, under the old Soviet system, their parents stood in line the entire day just for basic things like bread. I wonder if "Lena" even knows that her home city was called Leningrad for several decades. Probably, as part of the propaganda she's learning. I wonder if Lena knows the full history of the name, and what an important thing it was when its people voted to rename it back to St. Petersburg, no longer wanting the Soviet name meant to "honor" a blood-drenched tyrant.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Government authorities' incompetence in the aftermath of last night's steam pipe explosion

Most of you have probably heard of yesterday evening's steam pipe explosion in midtown Manhattan. It happened just before 6. I left work a little after 6, unaware of what had just transpired. On the mile walk to Grand Central, I tried calling a friend, but none of my 20 attempts went through. My Razr never got past "Calling," which normally lasts just a second before "Connected" and the line rings. I appeared to have a strong signal, so I figured Verizon was having problems again. Strangely enough, calls went through, after several tries, to a friend in California who is also a Verizon Wireless subscriber, although she didn't answer.

When I got to Grand Central around 6:25, via the entrance at 43rd Street and Vanderbilt, it didn't seem chaotic. Then again, I was rather oblivious to the large crowds outside who were leaving the area. It's summertime, and there are lots of tourists. But the inside indicated something had happened: every shop's doors were locked, and the ticket windows were all closed. Fire engines sat outside the main entrance on 42nd Street, and camouflaged National Guardsmen stood around.

With a little difficulty, I was able to call a friend in Utah. I don't know if it made a difference that he uses a different wireless carrier. More likely it was that not as many people were using their cell phones. My friend said there wasn't anything on Google News. We probably could have checked a cable news channel, but I made a quick interrogative to an MTA conductor and learned what was going on. Funny, on the street I heard someone say what I thought was "a blue Transformer." He was with his family, including a small boy, so I thought they were perhaps toy shopping. He actually said "a blown transformer" or "blew a transformer."

On my walk to the station, I already knew I'd arrive too soon before the 6:30's departure to get a seat, so I had planned to take the 6:52. I'd have taken the later train anyway: a lady on the 6:52 mentioned that the 6:30 had been cancelled. Meanwhile, Grand Central's PA proclaimed that there was "no disruption of train service," even several minutes after cancelling the 6:30. Oh really? Then why were all trains on the lower level cancelled? It's understandable, especially evacuating everyone from the lower level, which is considerably deeper underground. But why cancel the 6:30? On track 41, it was as far away from the commotion as possible.

But what really got me is that the station personnel were either lying or completely incompetent by claiming "no disruption." Then as I continued talking on the phone, I hung around track 17, where the 6:52 was leaving from, near the very eastern end of the station and the site of the explosion. Some MTA flatfoot told us that we had to leave, because they were roping off that area. I said, "What about my train? It's leaving from right here." The damn moron said, "There are no trains."

For the love of whatever deity you believe in! One agent of government says everything's fine, and another says nothing's going. We have always been at war with Eurasia, but also always with Oceania, didn't you know? Well, I could see the train's doors were open, meaning it was running, so I said "Screw this" and boarded around 6:40, regardless of what Quasi-Cop said. If he had tried to stop me, then he would need to explain to a jury later on (for I would have certainly sued for false imprisonment and brutality) just why he restrained me from boarding a train that was, in fact, operating from a track that was still open. Now, the conductors and their radio-linked dispatchers would know for sure if the train was running, and the conductors on the 6:52 did nothing to prevent or discourage boarding. Some people boarded after I did, but the train still wasn't as full as it normally is. How many were fooled into skipping that train, all because that imbecile didn't have a clue?

I was trying to explain to a friend this morning that if people are wielding authority over you, you would hope they know what the hell what the hell they're talking about. They should at least have better information, perhaps not perfect, but that's just the thing. We don't live in the libertarian ideal of government where government and its agencies have authority based on the people's consent. It's based on a combination of the people's apathy and that those in authority having greater abilities in physical force. My friend excused the pig, saying the police were just trying to keep order. Yes, and Hitler and Mussolini did pretty good jobs themselves, too, of "keeping order." I didn't care about "order." I just wanted to get on the first available train, which turned out to be operating just fine. I didn't even ask him whether the trains were operating, because it was information I was perfectly capable of learning on my own.

Out on the street, civilians helped each other. For all our flaws, humans' Good Samaritan qualities are revealed in bad circumstances, and for some reason, we seem perfectly capable of deciding on our own that we'd better, for example, help this woman who's bleeding and covered in mud. In other words, people may not be the smartest, but when they're in the same situation, they can usually acquire information themselves without having to wait for government. The MTA and city police, though, were exercising power over others partially because most people blindly obey anyone with a badge, and partially because the police's very job allows them to commit violence against others. In fact, since they may not have better information than the rest of us, they need that inherent authority to use physical force even more. The rest of us must actually think before we act, in case we err.

Even when those with governmental authority are elected, there's this myth about choosing the "best" and "smartest" among us, because they'll supposedly govern better based on their wisdom, experience and better judgment. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I said before, "I critique the efficacy of government because if we, imperfect as individuals, cannot make the proper and best decisions for ourselves, then how can government be any more competent, discerning and successful, since it is comprised of us?" And as it turned out, the ones who knew what was going on with the trains knew so on an individual level, not because government knew it.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Making the peace governments can't do for them

For once, here's a heart-warming story of Israelis and Palestinians learning to live in peace, sharing information on breeding barn owls to combat the vermin. The best quote is at the end: "We're doing something our governments are not able to do."

Here is the hope for the Middle East. Bastiat reputedly said, "If goods don't cross borders, armies will." Back in May, Don Boudreaux expressed uncertainty that Bastiat actually said it. I'm only a disciple, not a Bastiat scholar, but I consider myself pretty well-read in Bastiat's works, and it still bothers me that I can't pin the quote down either. Now and then I've tried to read through things, but so far I can't find where he specifically said that phrase.

Regardless, the quote is certainly a truism, and it is particularly clear in the reverse. These Israelis and Palestinians have found a means of peaceful coexistence, and unlike the facade of "peace talks" and dividing up land, they'll stay at peace as long as they find this more profitable than fighting.

Krugmanesque idiocy on American height and health care

A while back, my blogfather Don Luskin noted Krugman's lament of his supposed 5'7" height as evidence of American health care's . The claim was ridiculous then, and it's still ridiculous with the AP's propaganda on Sunday. What's worse, the thing about "Americans aren't the tallest anymore" has been old news for decades now, ever since the Dutch started getting taller after World War II. By the by, the goddamn idiot reporter needs to do his reporter. He was completely, unequivocably wrong in naming the Dutch as the tallest people in the world. The nation with the tallest people is actually now two, the recently separated Serbia and Montenegro. The Netherlands is second. As a region, the people of Montenegro's Dinaric Alps are the tallest.

Don didn't have the space for my full e-mail, where I explained why Krugman's stupidity at falling for the fallacy of "average American height":
Had Krugman bothered to reason things for a minute, he'd have understood why average American height isn't as tall as some: it's all because "American" means the world's most heterogeneous population, from tall Caucasians like you, to those of Mexican and Oriental descent. How about Filipino-Teutonic-Franco-Americans like me? Then when it's said that the Serbian and Dutch peoples are the tallest in the world, respectively, it's because the average is taken of a very specific ethnic group of only several million people, not 300 million.
"American" has no genetic meaning. On the other hand, "Serb," "Dutch" or "Filipino" very much do, and their height surveys are of a relatively very small population with closer genetics than to other ethnic groups. Germans do not consider Turks "German," for instance, not even Turks whose families have lived there for three generations; but "American" means everyone from Shaq to Danny DeVito. Every time an "American" of, say, Mexican genetics (we'll say someone born in the U.S., to filter out the immigrant factor) is counted in an "American" height survey, because people of Mexican genetics are shorter on average than those of European descent, it's highly likely to average down the final "average American height" figure. The same applies for Asian peoples.

Of course, Krugman needs to promote his agenda of socialized medicine, and the AP has at least one useful idiot who will try to spin it like real news. First, he makes a stupid claim:
Many economists would argue that [height] does matter, because height is correlated with numerous measures of a population's well-being.
Actually, any decent economist would recognize that the damn fool reversed cause and effect. Height does not matter, because as the reporter himself explained below, it's a reflection of wealth, so ergo it is wealth that matters.

Yet the reporter just can't stay away from blatant idiocy:
That makes height a good indicator for economists who are interested in measuring how well a nation provides for its citizens during their prime growing years. With one simple, easily collected statistic, economists can essentially measure how well a society prepares its children for life.
What utter nonsense. So by that logic, the Japanese are behind Brazil in terms of "how well [it] prepares its children for life," because the Japanese average a shorter height than Brazilians? The last time I checked, Japan was a far, far wealthier nation than Brazil.

Worth of mention as another damn fool is this Eileen Crimmins, who actually thinks "Maybe we've reached the point where we're going to go backwards in height." According to her USC home page and Wikipedia entry, she's a gerontologist, and she's done some demographics work, although it escapes me what "expert qualifications" or research she has to predict Americans will "maybe" "go backwards in height."

But the greatest stupidity of the whole article is its Krugmanesque degeneration into "Government must fix it!":
[John Komlos'] latest research paper, published in the June issue of Social Science Quarterly, suggests the blame may lie with America's poor diet and its expensive, inequitable health-care system.

"American children might consume more meals prepared outside of the home, more fast food rich in fat, high in energy density and low in essential micronutrients," wrote Komlos and co-author Benjamin E. Lauderdale of Princeton University. "Furthermore, the European welfare states provide a more comprehensive social safety net including universal health care coverage."
It just goes to show that a Ph.D. doesn't mean you'll understand the absurdity of measuring small homogeneous populations against large heterogeneous ones. It also goes to show that a Ph.D. doesn't mean you won't contradict yourself, for Komos found in another study:
In Kansas, for example, white males are about as tall as their European peers; it's big cities like New York, where men are about 1.75 inches shorter than that, that drag America's average down.
Didn't Komos ever consider that Kansas will be a principally heterogeneously Caucasian population, while New York attracts far more genetic types of greatly varying heights?

I had seen another recent article on height, which linked it to Americans' average life span, but presently I can't find it. While it's true Europeans live a little longer than Americans, on average, there are so many other factors at play besides the health care systems and how much money is spent. For one, Americans do tend to make worse dietary choices that contribute to more heart attacks. Let's compare the numbers after specifically factoring out black Americans, who tend to have much higher rates of heart disease.

The most important question about socialized medicine is, even if you'll have others pay for it, do you want the inevitably long waiting periods, because everyone thinks the care is "free" and ripe for consumption? What is the point of living a few more years when, in Europe, you might just have to wait for a few years before getting a life-saving operation -- and quite possible die miserably while waiting in some God-forsaken, overheated hospital. Napoleon had to knock on the gates of Moscow in the middle of winter and go back home before tens of thousands of his men died. Modern France killed 15,000 just by sending their doctors on government-scheduled vacation.

So, that's wonderful your children might, might be a little taller and live a year or two longer, if government socializes the health care system. Your children can tower over the doctors that tell them how long it will be before they can receive a life-saving operation, assuming it will be approved in the first place. Under socialized medicine, your enemy is time, which you cannot buy. In the United States, the enemy is money, and you can at least appeal to fund-raisers and other charities.

Naturally, the article is propaganda to the end
"In some ways it gets to the fundamentals of the American society, namely what is the ideology of the American society and what are the shortcomings of that ideology," Komlos said. "I would argue that to take good care of its children is not part of that ideology."

Whether that's true is debatable; the height gap doesn't measure how much Americans love their children. But at a minimum it does indicate — in raw feet and inches — whether the nation is giving its youngsters what they need to reach their full biological potential, or selling them short.
Well, when is this reporter-propagandist going to make a speech before the Japanese Parliament, accusing them of not giving their young people the same potential as, say, those poorer Brazilians?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Like other cockroaches, Ted Stevens fears the light

He's worried that a corruption probe might hurt his chances for re-election. Read that article and tell me that Stevens isn't a damn little piece of trash. He said, "I'm working to get this concept out of my mind that someone is trying to make something illegal out of all this." So Stevens isn't even denying that he did anything wrong. He's merely wants to stop thinking about the accusations, hoping they'll all go away.

We could only be so lucky that his re-election bid will be hurt. There are so many idiots in Alaska, being so fond of other people's money, that keep sending that bastard to Washington to bring them more. But I have no hope that they'll wake up, because like with other pork barrel kings like Robert Byrd, and the plainly corrupt like Dan Rostenkowski, Stevens' constituents care principally that he's in a powerful position of seniority to bring back funding, courtesy of everybody else, for their bridges to nowhere and what-not.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not ignoring that people all across the country are greedy for their neighbor's coerced money. I've written before that it's all about getting as large a share as possible of the federal budget pie, at the expense of other states. However, Alaskans receive far more money via the D.C. wealth redistribution conduit than they send in. Such is the problem with our federalized tax system. It didn't take long for the federal government to start ignoring the 10th Amendment, when in the early 19th century it began spending on "internal improvements" like canals and railroads. However, until the 16th Amendment, the federal government was limited in size by the nature of the tax system.

After the 16th Amendment, Congress started taxing individuals. Originally, Congress received money from the states: each state paid a percentage of the federal budget according to its percentage of the population. This is the second, forgotten reason that the Constitution mandates a census every 10 years. Under that old system, Alaska with 0.2% of the population must use its own internal tax structure to pay 0.2% of the federal budget, and California with 12% of the population is similarly responsible for 12% of the federal budget. This is the most important reason that the Constitution mandates that "No state shall...coin money; emit bills of credit; make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts," lest a state merely print worthless paper to pay its federal budget obligations.

Under that system of proportional burden, Alaskans would therefore not want a lot of federal spending, since they must share a percentage of the budget no matter what the federal government spends on. How strange that people don't want to spend a lot on things when it's their own money.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Independence Day

Today, we celebrate the independence of the United States, the anniversary of its declaration that it was no longer a part of a tyrannical Crown. Sadly, many Americans don't know what real freedom is.

We have many stupid laws, but this one is particularly insulting to everything this country stands for. Several states are now requiring "American-made" flags to varying degrees, whether flags sold at "state stores" (presumably any old state-operated store like at a tourist center or state park?) or flags flown at schools.

Well, patriotism is the last refuse of protectionists as well as scoundrels. The "concern" of increasing numbers of foreign-made flags is a concern only of the domestic manufacturers, those goddamn hypocrites. Sandy Van Leiu is like any other protectionist, seeking to keep people enslaved to his company's higher prices: for if people start buying more and more Chinese-made flags, Annin & Co. will sell less and less until they go out of business. But when you form something noble-sounding like the "Flag Manufacturers Association of America," you can lobby government under the guise of patriotism and convince people you're the good guys. In the end, all you're

The "biggest honor" you can do for the flag is actually respect the country and its freedom that the flag represents, rather than put on some sanctimonious display of putting out the flag on every appropriate holiday. How do you respect freedom by denying people the freedom to buy from whomever they want?

I'm off to the airport very soon, and I'll be back Sunday night. I'm making it an annual Fourth of July tradition to go out to Utah for the long weekend and visit my oldest friends. Everybody be safe, and think about what freedom really is, and ask yourselves if you're really free.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

What is your blog's rating?

I would have been surprised had my blog been rated less.

Maybe it's from reading my friend Billy Beck, which isn't a bad thing. I've developed a more blunt, earthy style now that I lack the time to write near-daily essays as I once did. But as I've learned from Billy, sometimes you need to speak the truth plainly, as you'd say it out loud, and pull no punches.

What's wrong with GM?

Almost everything, but its latest stupidity is another poor marketing strategy: it hopes the new "Transformers" movie will help its sales for certain cars, which turn out to be gas-guzzlers that sell relatively poorly.

GM may finally move a step in the right direction when it realizes, among many other things, that it's erroneously thinking automobile sales will work in the same way as easily affordable, disposable toys that parents buy to placate clamoring children. When a kid sees a contemporary movie based on a cartoon that Dad watched, Dad probably won't think twice about spending $50 to buy him a few new Transformers toys. Then Dad decides he wants to buy a Camaro for himself, after seeing the movie? Really, what marketing dumbasses at GM dreamed this up?

Not to say there won't be some people who will go out and buy a Camaro or Hummer after seeing the movie, but even if the movie die have an influence, automobiles are not exactly an impulse buy for most people. So the buyers will mainly be those who were already considering the purchases and were finally pushed over the edge by the movie. Automakers do not rely on a market base of people wealthy enough to buy a new car on the spur of the moment. Advertising is said to be about convincing you to buy things you don't really need, but the difference between what you want and what you can afford become quite evident after you realize you just put thousands down and still owe many thousands more.

Ford reportedly paid 14 million pounds for the Mondeo's cameo in "Casino Royale," but the Mondeo is a car that actually sells (and has been for years, in its several incarnations, in international markets). When we consider automobiles selling in the U.S., people are concerned about gas mileage, so they're buying a million Toyota hybrid, and GM's fuel-efficient pickups, the Silverado and Sierra. They're buying regular Toyotas and Nissans, which have superior gas mileage to their American counterparts.

GM posted sales increases in May 2007, but June may be bleak since it's continually losing market share to "Japanese" cars made right here in the U.S.. So with a sales upswing no sure thing, think of how many additional cars GM will need to sell to break even for all it pumped into a movie.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

How government made my earache worse than it had to be

My right ear started feeling a little tender Friday afternoon and had occasional jolts of pain. I figured it was the first stage of an infection and bought some over-the-counter ear drops, which relieved the pain along with hydrogen peroxide and vodka rinses. I just didn't have time to call a hundred people to get a referral to an ear-nose-throat specialist, and it was possible my body could take care of the infection anyway. We don't notice that our bodies constantly fight infections, because our immune systems are pretty good and take care of most bacteria before we notice anything. But late last night, my ear canal suddenly swelled almost completely shut, and I had to go to the emergency room.

The doctor prescribed 800 mg doses of Motrin, Amoxycillin tablets, and Neomycin/Polymyxin B drops. Now, in a true free market system, I could have bought the stronger painkillers and antibiotics myself -- on Friday, which would have killed the infection early on and saved me unnecessary pain last night. Taking antibiotics early would have also saved the health care system the hundreds of dollars that my ER visit cost. Remember, even if your insurance covers everything, even if you don't have a co-pay, you are still paying for every last dollar via your health care premiums. Don't delude yourself otherwise. And don't delude yourself that your insurer won't raise your premiums when they start paying out more than what you pay in premiums. They're in business to make a profit, not be charitable.

Proponents of the nanny state, part of the subset of the state-worshipping population, would argue that a medical layman like me wouldn't know enough to buy what's right. These are the same who want us to be protected from Adjustable Rate Mortgages or raw milk, because we supposedly are too stupid to assume risk for ourselves. Actually, I already knew that I needed both topical and oral antibiotics, which carry relatively low risk in normal dosage. Topical antibiotics are sufficient for most ear infections, but for a couple of weeks I've had slightly swollen lymph nodes by my left ear and on the left side of the back of my neck. That's not uncommon at all and merely means your body is fighting an infection, and you rarely need to worry unless there's pain or a high fever. However, with the the coincidence of my ear infection, the doctor felt that an oral antibiotic would be prudent in addition to topical, exactly as I wanted in the first place. I didn't need to go to medical school to know I'd also need an antibiotic to work within my bloodstream, not just on the surface of the infection.

Government wants to protect us from ourselves, and no reasonable person has any basis to argue for it. Morally speaking, it's criminal to prevent people from doing what they want to do with their own bodies, when they harm no one else. Practically speaking, when government denies people the right to get new stem cell treatments for failing hearts or new clot-buster drugs for strokes,, or when government denies me the right to buy antibiotics in an early stage, it protects a few people who might have killed themselves via their own choices and theirs alone, while making me and countless others suffer (and sometimes die) unnecessarily for the sake of others' stupidity.