Thursday, June 19, 2003

MOVING: Ok, I'm outta here. If all continues to proceed according to plan, this will be my last post to Blogger. Fare thee well.

My new home is at, and it's still obviously under construction. Assuming there isn't another war for the next few days, I'll probably be spending most of my time fiddling with the new Movable Type stuff and trying to make the place look presentable.

I would greatly appreciate it if the people who have linked to me in the past would update their blogrolls with the new URL
SHRINKING GOVERNMENT: Bill Hobbs writes that Laffer Associates, the firm founded by the creator of the famous "Laffer Curve" of supply-side economics fame, is moving from San Diego to Nashville because Tennessee doesn't have an income tax. Sucks for us Californians, but oh well.

Bill quotes a site that sums up the idea behind the Laffer curve and supply-side economics quite well:
The curve suggests that, as taxes increase from low levels, tax revenue collected by the government also increases. It also shows that tax rates increasing after a certain point (T*) would cause people not to work as hard or not at all, thereby reducing tax revenue. Eventually, if tax rates reached 100% (the far right of the curve), then all people would choose not to work because everything they earned would go to the government.
In theory, there's an "optimal" tax rate such that if the rate goes either up or down, government revenue will go down. The rate is "optimal" in the sense that it maximizes government revenue, but may not be optimal from other perspectives (such as burden on the economy, for instance).

In his update at the end of the post, Bill makes an important point: many conservatives want to shrink the size of government, and try to enact tax cuts in order to do so. However, if we're currently taxed at a rate above the optimal rate, government revenue will actually rise when taxes are cut.

Ideally, from my perspective, taxes would be cut down past the government-optimal point and government revenue would then continue to fall. My own optimal point is different from the government's; I don't want to maximize government revenue, I want to maximize my freedom and quality of life. I believe that eliminating many functions of government would benefit me greatly, and so my optimal tax rate is lower than the Laffer optimal rate. For more of my opinions on the matter, see this previous post.

In a sense, a tax rate below Laffer's optimal is "benignly sub-optimal", since the lesser government revenue isn't due to harm inflicted on the economy (and should actually benefit the economy as a whole). "Lost" government revenue that's caused by a tax rate that's too high, however actually reflects a real economic loss.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

ABORTION: Clayton Cramer links to an affadavit recently written by Norma McCorvey, a.k.a. "Jane Roe" from Roe v. Wade (1973). In it, she decries her former involvement with the abortion industry and gives some rather graphic descriptions of the two decades she spent working in abortion clinics.
I worked in several abortion facilities over the years. In fact, I even worked at two clinics at the same time, and they were all the same with respect to the condition of the facilities and the "counseling" the women receive. One clinic where I worked in 1995 was typical: Light fictures and plaster falling from the ceiling; rat droppings over the sinks; backed up sinks; and blood splattered on the walls. But the most distressing room in the facility was the "parts room". Aborted babies were stored here. There were dead babies and baby parts stacked like cordwood. Some of the babies made it into buckets and others did not, and because of its disgusting features, no one ever cleaned the room. The stench was horrible. Plastic bags full of baby parts that were swimming in blood were tied up, stored in the room, and picked up once a week. At another clinic, the dead babies were kept in a big white freezer full of dozens of jars, all full of baby parts, little tiny hands and feet visible through the jars, frozen in blood. The abortion clinic's personnel always referred to these dismembered babies as "tissue." Vetrinary clinics I have seen are cleaner and more regulated than the abortion clinics I worked in.
There's lots more in the affadavit. She talks about how she only met with her lawyers twice, never stepped into a courtroom, and found out the results of the court case through the newspaper. She claims that the abortion industry (as she calls it) exists only to make a profit, and cares nothing about the women whose lives are devestated.

What's the difference between an abortion clinic's "parts room" and one of Saddam's mass graves? Saddam killed children against their parents' wishes? The children Saddam killed were larger, and spatially separate from their mothers?

More than 35 million babies have been killed in America since 1973.
MOVING: It looks like I spoke too soon. Despite the fact that Verve Hosting's signup form told me that was available, it turns out that it's not a legal name. I was surprised they said it was, but I thought I could rely on their information. It looks like I'll actually be moving to or something like that. We'll see.

It's rather hard to pick a domain name.
PROFILES: This morning I randomly came across the profiles of two very different men: Duane 'Dog' Chapman, and Paul Bremer.

Duane Chapman is the bounty hunter who just captured Andrew Luster (what an ironic surname), the heir to the Max Factor cosmetics fortune who was convicted of drugging and raping three women and then skipped out of town.

Paul Bremer is the Viceroy in charge of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and arguably the most powerful American outside the United States in over 50 years.
MINORITIES: According to the WaPo, Hispanics are now the nation's largest minority. Well, the largest racial minority, anyway. I expect that men are the largest minorty overall, since very slightly fewer than 50% of the people in the country are male.
The new census figures also show that Latinos accounted for half the country's population growth in the two years after the 2000 Census was taken. ...

The Hispanic population is growing rapidly because of high birth rates and immigration. Immigration accounted for more than half the recent Latino population increase, census officials said.

Despite the heavy influence of immigration, another census report released today said three in five Hispanics are born in the United States.
So, half the Hispanic population increase is due to immigration... what percentage of that half do you figure is legal immigration? Uh huh.

The good news is that Hispanic immigrants tend to assimilate well into the greater fabric of American culture; one-third of Hispanics marry non-Hispanic whites, for instance.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

DOES THE FDA SAVE LIVES? 2: Following up on the post below, Allen Glosson writes in the comments:
For a somewhat more pointed view about reforming the FDA, you might also see, in particular the essay about "Consumer Rape".

The story I like the most about the FDA involves Beta Blockers. Back in 1984, Dr. Kessler proudly announced that the FDA had approved Beta Blockers to treat high blood pressure and that the approval would save 17000 lives each year. What he didn't tell us was that Beta Blockers had been approved in Europe in the mid 1970s and approval was sought with the FDA back in 1977. The FDA took 7 years to approve a drug which had already been shown effective in European markets. Thus, the FDA had willfully and deliberately allowed over 100K people to die needlessly while they dotted i's and crossed t's in the approval process.

Do we still believe that the FDA saves lives? I for one, do not.
Incredible, and damning.
MOVING: Thanks to Dean Esmay, I'm beginning the process of moving my blog to Movable Type and my own domain. Picking a domain name is pretty hard, especially when you have a common name like "Michael Williams". I did a few searches but there wasn't anything particularly elegant available in the normal top-level domains, like .com, .net and .org, so I finally settled on registering Don't try to go there yet, I imagine it will take a few days for this all to get worked out.

I was leery at first, but .biz seems like the perfect TLD for a capitalist like myself, even though this blog isn't exactly a business.
TAX GIVE-AWAY: Everyone's complaining about the $400 billion bribe that Bush is offering to old people in exchange for their votes, but no one has any outrage left for the ridiculous child tax credit that's paid to people with children. Under Bush's new plan, an average family of four will see their taxes cut by $1600. An average family of one -- like me -- will see their taxes reduced by a lot less. I can't even find a source on the web that will tell me how much I'll save... every article gives numbers for "a family of four" that will save "ten gajillion dollars!"

What this setup means is that single people and people without children are subsidizing tax breaks for married people and people with children. The situation hardly seems fair. Families with children consume more public services, not less, and there's really no reason that society should create a financial incentive for people to have children. The problem is that, as Donald Sensing points out, politicians "take money from the demographic groups of people who vote less and give it to the groups who vote more."

Most people either have children, have had children, or plan to have children in the future, and so they think it's great that at some point they'll benefit from these tax breaks. I plan to have children someday, too, but I'm critical enough to realize that the child tax credit really is nothing more than a bribe that's so entrenched that it's never going to go away, regardless of how unfair and unbalanced it may be. (Some might make the same claim about tax-deductable mortgage interest, but this is a very different issue. As I've mentioned before, promoting property ownership is a valid interest for a democratic society to promote because it strengthens the sense of individual ownership of the society.)

I favor a flat tax rate with a poverty-line deduction of, say, $20,000, and deductions for charitable giving. I would also favor -- as an alternative -- a flat consumption tax. The current income-based tax structure is nothing more than a social engineering tool that those in power use to manipulate and control the population.
PARABLES: I love writing short fiction although I'm not really very good at it (yet). One of my dreams is to be able to write parables that teach important truths using simple, everyday allegories -- like many of Jesus' teachings and like Aesop's fables, for instance. The parable is a powerful teaching tool because it helps the listener translate an abstract philosophy into concrete terms which he can later extrapolate from -- abstract to concrete and back to abstract again. In the funneling process some of the initial abstraction is stripped away, but the student reconstructs it later on his own thereby enhancing learning even further.

Mark Aveyard has posted a tidy little parable by CK Chesterton that illustrates the difficulties that can arise from situations in which it is much easier to destroy than to create, when the majority agrees on the means but not the ends.
DOES THE FDA SAVE LIVES?: Bill Hobbs has a post with a great letter from Allen Glosson of St. Louis, Missouri, who gives a good description of the difficulties drug companies face trying to recoup their R&D costs by selling their drugs under patent. Drug patents last 17 years and...
It takes about 15 years for the entire drug approval cycle to be completed, previously leaving only 2 years for the drug company to recover all of its R&D costs.
Bill suggests that the "patent clock" shouldn't start until FDA approval is granted, but a) 17 years seems like a very long time to go without generic substitutes, b) what about drugs that never get approved? Sounds like it would create a new disincentive construct that might change the dynamics of the whole industry in some unforseeable ways.

But on to the real issue at hand. Allan writes further:
Currently, the drug can't be sold to anybody until after the FDA finally approves it. If you've ever read the writing of cancer patients, slowly dying, desperate for that new drug begging with the drug company and the FDA to allow them one more shot at life, you'll know that the FDA process is deeply flawed.
The Food and Drug Administration essentially has veto power over all new medical drugs and devices, and is controlled by a lopsided set of incentives that tends to make it overcautious -- the repurcussions are far worse for the FDA if it mistakenly approves of a treatment that turns out to be dangerous than if it mistakenly delays or fails to approve a treatment that is actually beneficial, even if the number of lives lost in each case is equivalent. The fact that the FDA can prevent sick people from voluntarily assuming the risk of unproven (but potentially beneficial) drugs has undoubtedly claimed thousands or even millions of lives.

The best proposal I've read was put forward by the Competitive Enterprise Institute and suggests that the FDA's veto power be eliminated and that unapproved treatments be made available under medical supervision and with clear warnings of the potential risks involved. The FDA would continue to serve as a state-run evaluator of treatments, and drug companies could choose to seek FDA approval if that approval was sufficiently valued by the public. Competitive market forces would then take hold in the medical industry, bringing costs of production down and thereby lowering prices all around. Additionally, and even more importantly to some, a greater number of treatments for a greater number of diseases would become available for use, which could save an uncountable number of lives above and beyond those saved by the lower prices.
RITUAL: Courtney went to a Catholic funeral and mentions how she loves the ritual. I'm a protestant (Baptist, technically, I suppose) and I can totally see where Courtney is coming from. My mom's side of the family is Catholic, and the rituals are quite impressive and do give a sense of weight that is often not encountered in protestant churches and services.

Most protestant churches (at least in Southern California) are more populist than Catholics are and aim to be accessible to non-Christians who come to visit. I sometimes enjoy the substance and symbolism behind ancient rituals, but they make the average man-off-the-street feel uncomfortable and out of place. Rituals are impressive, but they can make God seem unapproachable and distant rather than immediately and intimately close. God is powerful and awesome, but he is not aloof; the whole point of Jesus coming to earth was to bring mankind into an intimate relationship with God.

Over the past 5 years, my church has really tried to eliminate any ritual or formality that might prevent a visitor from being able to listen to God's message. Our goal is have a church such that if a visitor feels uncomfortable it's because of the message, not because of the religious trappings.

In response to Courtney's post, Zach points out that there are rather significant doctrinal differences between Catholics and protestants. The Catholic church has done a lot of good through the centuries, but as with most organizations with tightly centralized power structures, they've also done a lot of evil. Aside from huge spiritual questions such as transubstantiation and praying to saints, this organizational issue alone sets off warning lights in my libertarian-ish brain.

God knows that mankind is flawed and falls short of his perfection, and in the Bible he instituted a power structure for the church that would serve to dilute the selfish motivations that take over from time to time, even the best of us. Individual churches should govern themselves independently as God leads them, rather than receive central direction from an earthly authority. Ultimate leadership within each church should not rest with any one man, but should be divided among several elders. Read 1 Timothy and Titus for details.
THE RING: I just watched The Ring and it was quite good. I'm still a bit creeped out, which is why I'm up surfing the net rather than in bed sleeping. The end has a bit of a twist that really makes the movie stand out, and I highly recommend it to anyone who's looking for a good thrill.

Nothing is as scary to me as eerie little girls. The Shining is a perfect example, and there are plenty of others. There's probably some deep psychological explanation, but my psychologist ex-friend isn't talking to me anymore, so I can't ask her.

Ok, now I am going to go to bed -- I'm just rambling.

Monday, June 16, 2003

CONSTITUTION, SCHMONSTITUTION: California's constitution requires that the legislature pass a budget by June 15th. That's the law. Over the past 25 years only 4 on-time budgets have been passed, and this weekend marked yet another failure by our pathetic state legislature. Via Rough & Tumble I found this San Francisco Chronicle article which describes some of my feelings quite well.
Deadline day and nary a lawmaker in sight.

As the final hours ticked down toward the constitutional deadline for the Legislature to pass a budget Sunday night, a canvass of the state Capitol failed to uncover a single lawmaker tucked away in an office, crunching numbers or making deals. ...

"When they want your vote, they say they are going to work for you. Why aren't they working now?" said Sergio Jimenez of Baldwin Park in Los Angeles County.

Jon Boice of Potrero Valley (San Diego County) labeled the lawmakers' absence disgusting.

"What are we paying them for?" he wondered as he left the gallery overlooking the empty Assembly chamber.
Democrats blame the Republicans. The state constitution requires a 2/3 majority to pass tax increases, and the Republicans in the legislature have determined that they will not vote for to raise taxes under any circumstances. Republicans blame Democrats for years of over-spending, but Democrats are unable to cut their precious social programs and reduce their union bribes without alienating their masters. So, we're pretty much stuck.

Tourist Jeff Peterson has a good point when it comes to legislators being away from the office:
"There is no accountability," Jeff Peterson said. "I'm not really sure we're better off when they are here or gone."
JUSTICE: The WaPo has an article about a man named Charles T. Sell who is refusing the anti-pychotic medication which would make him mentally competant enough to stand trial. What's interesting is that the crimes he is accused of aren't violent in nature -- he's a dentist who has been charged with Medicaid fraud. The Supreme Court has just ruled that since he isn't a danger to himself or others, and hasn't been charged with any violent offenses, forcibly medicating him against his wishes does not "significantly further" an "important" government objective, and would not be "medically appropriate".

The vote in the Supreme Court was 6-3, and I really have no problem with it; I'm pretty much neutral. Justice Bryer does raise one issue that causes me some distress, however:
The U.S. government indicted him on charges of Medicaid fraud in 1997, but courts have found him to be so mentally ill that he is not competent to stand trial. Those courts have agreed with government doctors who say the only hope of rendering him competent is to administer anti-psychotic drugs -- by force, if necessary -- but Sell, citing the drugs' sometimes debilitating side effects and his own constitutional rights, has refused. ...

During the arguments on in March, Justice John Paul Stevens noted that Sell has already been confined longer than he would have been if convicted on all counts of the Medicaid fraud indictment.
Society has no compelling interest in further prosecuting this man, guilty or not. It's a tremendous waste of government resources to pursue this issue any further, and Charles T. Sell should be released immediately based on his non-violent condition and the time he has already been imprisoned. The prosecutor in charge of the case, however, feels differently.
But Deputy Solicitor General Michael R. Dreeben, arguing for the government, told the court that Sell has himself to blame for his extended stay behind bars, since he is one of only a handful of people who have ever litigated their refusal to be medicated to such an extent.

"Most individuals accept the fact . . . that medication is the appropriate, medically sanctioned way" to get better for trial, Dreeben said.
The Supreme Court has just ruled that the "fact" Dreeben refers to is actually false.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

GOOGLE: I love Google's special picture days. Happy Father's Day!