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Friday, June 03, 2005

Supreme Exorcism

But wouldn't that violate the separation of church and state?
OpinionJournal - Taste: "In January, M. Scott Peck, the author of the personal-growth blockbuster 'The Road Less Traveled' (1977), published what he has said will be his last book, 'Glimpses of the Devil.' It describes his role in two exorcisms. Like Malachi Martin's 'Hostage to the Devil,' which became a best seller following the box-office success of 'The Exorcist,' Mr. Peck's new book uses pseudonyms to hide identities.

Yet in promoting 'Glimpses of the Devil,' Mr. Peck has not shied away from naming names. 'I think that the group of people around Hitler was probably likely a possessed group,' he told Then came the humdinger: 'I have wondered specifically about the Supreme Court in the case of Bush v. Gore where, astonishingly, I believe that the majority--five out of nine justices--were engaged in an evil act. And I wonder how that could happen without Satan hanging around.' Astonishingly, indeed. (Imagine the gnashing of teeth if Tom DeLay were to say that the Supreme Court needs a house blessing.)"
Better send in the bunnies.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Airbags Increase Automobile Accident Deaths

Since 1974, in the cause of safety, Americans have been paying several hundred dollars extra for airbags in the form of higher new car prices. In 1989 the choice to not have an airbag in your car was eliminated by our benevolent, paternalistic government. After an accident just replacing an airbag can often cost more than the value of an older car, making repairs impractical. But the lives saved more than justify the extra costs, don't they? Maybe not (H/T Lyle):
Airbags Associated With Increased Automobile Accident Deaths, According To New UGA Study: "Athens, Ga. - The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that airbags installed in automobiles have saved some 10,000 lives as of January 2004. A just-released study by a statistician at the University of Georgia, however, casts doubt on that assertion.

According to a number of independent and government studies, automobile airbags have decreased fatalities by 21-22 percent for unbelted drivers and by 9-16 percent for drivers wearing seatbelts.

In fact, said UGA statistics professor Mary C. Meyer, a new analysis of existing data indicates that, controlling for other factors, airbags are actually associated with slightly increased probability of death in accidents.

'NHTSA recorded 238 deaths due to airbags between 1990 and 2002, according to information about these deaths on their Web site,' said Meyer. 'They all occurred at very low speeds, with injuries that could not have been caused by anything else. But is it reasonable to conclude that airbags cause death only at very low speeds? It seems more likely that they also cause deaths at high speeds, but these are attributed to the crash.

'For any given crash at high speed, we can't know what would have happened if there had been no airbag; however, statistical models allow us to look at patterns in the data, and compare risks in populations, in a variety of situations.'"
So how about a class action lawsuit against the groups that forced these things down the throats of the carmakers and the public? Maybe we can recover the costs we were all forced to pay for these things?

Humorous Tidbit

Our paper copy of the July issue of Reason magazine arrived this week. On the cover is a "splash" with this quotation:
"More intersting than any other political mag." -- Glenn Reynolds,
It's amusing to see a magazine in business for over 30 years touting an endorsement by a blogger. Of course Reynolds is not just any blogger.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Eminent Domain - What's Yours Is Ours

PTG at Plains Feeder has a post about a bill before the Unicameral to create a special set of tax breaks for Cabella's to build a store in Sarpy County. The Lincoln Journal Star article linked by PTG doesn't specifically mention eminent domain one way or another, but a previous, similar Cabella's deal in Kansas (also linked by PTG) did include that. Even without eminent domain the bill looks like a sweetheart deal for Cabella's, who stand to get a juicy tax break for a retail store that "promotes tourism." What's in it for the taxpayers is not quite so clear.

In a previous post here on eminent domain at DLMSY, Tycho wrote about the Kelo v. New London case currently before the US Supreme Court. We also opined on the City of Lincoln's recent plan, which collapsed in a firestorm of opposition, to misuse eminent domain for a private development effort.

There's no decision yet on the Kelo case, but it won't be long now. The Washington Post has a review of the case with a fear that upholding property rights might hinder Governments' Power to Do Good:
Revitalization Projects Hinge On Eminent-Domain Lawsuit: "City officials around the nation are watching uneasily as the Supreme Court deliberates. D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), who is president of the National League of Cities, said he is worried that the case could interfere with 'the critical need of cities to use this tool -- reluctantly -- for public purpose and benefits.

'Williams said the success of the Kelo lawsuit represents the growing political strength of what he views as radical property-rights activists.

'Some of these people wouldn't use eminent domain to build a highway or a railroad,' Williams said.

The Institute for Justice says it accepts the use of eminent domain for roads, schools and parks and opposes it for privately owned, for-profit operations. Lawyers there say they have taken Kelo's case because they think it represents a classic case of excessive use of government power. 'It's an unholy marriage between land-hungry developers and tax-hungry local governments,' said John E. Kramer, an institute spokesman. Institute officials say they found 10,282 incidents of filed or threatened condemnation procedures in which land was given to private, for-profit parties, such as Target or Costco stores or casino parking lots, between Jan. 1, 1998, and Dec. 31, 2002."[emphasis added]
Yeah, they're "reluctant" to (ab)use eminent domain--like Planned Parenthood wants abortions to be rare. Leave it to the WaPo to try to cast those trying to defend traditional property rights against ever larger government as "radical." It's not the continuous expansion of government power into whole new areas that's "radical," it's trying to stop that.

The Institute for Justice, which brought the Kelo case to court has a long history of defending individual rights against goverment oppression. Check out their web site, and make a contribution, if you can. They are what the ACLU should be and never has been.

There's also a blog, Eminent Domain Watch, specializing in tracking eminent domain abuses.

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Nightline Reads Names, Rosett Fills in the Blanks

They did it again: Nightline read off the names of the American servicemen and women killed this year in the WoT. It's not supposed to be political, and Koppel insisted it wasn't. However, focusing exclusively on the loss makes it too easy to forget what these brave people have done for us. Claudia Rosett to the rescue:
"OpinionJournal - The Real World: It seems fitting to add some further context. These troops did not die in the purely abstract cause of freedom. They were killed going up against enemies who also have names and faces. Here, I am not talking about the roll call of the individuals who fired the guns or threw the grenades at our troops, but about those who created the climates in which liberation is answered with terrorism and murder. In our civilized living rooms, we rarely speak of 'enemies'--but that is the unspoken context here. Who killed these troops?

In Iraq, first and foremost, that would be Saddam Hussein, who for close to two generations took Iraq down the path of fascism, terror and war. His reign created the conditions in which liberation of the many would be answered by carnage spread by a deadly few; in which Iraqis going to vote would be targeted enroute to the polls, in which police recruits would be slaughtered; in which innocent civilians would be bombed while trying simply to get on with their lives.

Much energy has been spent on the debate over whether Saddam actually backed al Qaeda, or merely spent some of his billions purloined out of the United Nations Oil for Food relief program in supporting such folks as Palestinian suicide bombers and buying the kinds of conventional weapons used to kill the troops whose faces we just saw on 'Nightline.' The larger point is that nations export to our globalizing world whatever it is they specialize in. Saddam specialized in terror. His legacy includes a roster of Iraqi dead so vast that it would take weeks if not months to read the full list of names, if anybody even knew the list. That is the kind of rule, or grotesque misrule, he brought to the international table--corrosive to all, and dangerous even to the great American superpower. Which is why, after 17 failed U.N. resolutions, our troops had to go to Iraq."
Read the rest of her excellent article.

Recess Appointment for Bolton

National Review Online makes the case.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Gulag of Our Time

Steve Donohue at A Republic, Madam, If You Can Keep It has a great piece on reckless comparisons:
"While the Nazi comparison is always reliable, there are other acceptable analogies for those looking to make a point. Over time, comparisons to Russia under Stalin have become acceptable, although still rarer than the run-of-the-mill Nazi reference. Maybe that’s why I noticed when Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International, piously determined that 'Guantanamo has become the gulag of our time'. After all, the confidence that Khan has that average Joe Bushvoter would know what the gulag was- or so-called gulag, as CNN online so-felicitously phrases the work/death camps- is remarkable. After all, to proclaim that 'Guantanamo is our generation’s concentration camps' would have been just as historically coherent, and she would have even been able to get through to those historically-dense red staters. And since Bush is seen by many as the reincarnation of Hitler and a rebirth in neo-fascism, the reference would have worked on so many levels."
Read the rest.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Manila Times in CYA Mode on Escultura and Wiles

The Manila Times is doing its best to cover up the mistakes in its previous article about Dr. Edgar Escultura, Dr. Andrew Wiles, and Fermat's Last Theorem (FLT). In particular The Times is still claiming in a recent column by Escultura that:
  1. Escultura has "refuted" Wiles' proof of FLT
  2. A phony guestbook entry on Escultura's web site is from Wiles
  3. This guestbook entry represents some sort of admission by Wiles that his proof is "wrong"
  4. It doesn't really matter whether the "Wiles" note is a real concession or not
We will take each of these in turn, but for those needing more background we have five previous posts on this topic at DLMSY. The two most recent, which include links to the older ones, are found here and here. For additional information see also Alecks Pabico's excellent article (and comments) at The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and several posts on Roy Choco's blog, Random Thoughts. Here is a link to Escultura's letter to the editor of The Manila Times, making his case. (This link may break in the future, but the PCIJ site has the complete text in the comments.)

Has Escultura Refuted Wiles' Proof of FLT?

The answer is clearly, "No." A valid refutation would have been big news in the world of mathematics and science, as big as the original proof was. The silence of the media on this "news" has been deafening. Other than The Manila Times no reputable publication has accepted Escultura's claims to have done so. In as much as The Times has already admitted that Escultura himself is the only source they have consulted on this issue, all this does is raise the question of whether The Times should be considered "reputable."

We have read all the entries on this topic in discussion groups and blogs that Google finds in English and French. We have yet to see someone with a strong math background who accepts Escultura's "refutation" as fact. Those posters who initially proclaimed the proof refuted did so entirely on the basis of the alleged "letter from Wiles" in the Manila Times.

As noted previously, Escultura is not claiming that Wiles' proof is wrong in the normal number system. Instead he claims that the number system itself is "flawed" at its foundations and that Wiles made a "blunder" in formulating his proof in the standard number system. Escultura asserts that individual axioms of standard mathematics are "wrong." To correct these "problems" Escultura constructs his own number system, and it is in this alternate universe that he finds Wiles' proof of FLT is not valid.

Alternative number systems can be of use in special circumstances. However, validity or invalidity of a theorem/proof in one system says nothing at all about the alternative systems. Furthermore, if Escultura has indeed built a better mousetrap, the world of math has yet to beat a path to his door.

To the extent that Escultura has published his "refutation" in reputable, peer-reviewed journals, he has staked his claim. Wiles's proof was heavily scrutinized before and since its publication in a prestigious, peer-reviewed journal. Time and other professional mathematicians will be the judge of who is correct, if there is even any real disagreement beyond which number system to apply to FLT.

Are the Escultura Guestbook Entries from Wiles?

The answer is almost certainly, "No." There is no evidence at all that these were written by Andrew Wiles. In emails to Alecks Pabico Wiles has denied writing them, denied having seen them before Pabico directed him to them, denied ever having visited Escultura's web site, and denied even knowing what a "guestbook" on such a site is.

The original Manila Times article quoted a "letter" supposedly from Wiles. Later this was downgraded to an email, and eventually it turned out to be a guestbook posting on Escultura's web site. Letters are more verifiable than emails, and emails are more verifiable than guestbook entries.

There is absolutely no verification process for making guestbook entries on the site, so the notes attributed to Wiles could have been written by anyone with access to the Internet. We were able to create the following guestbook entry:
Name: Richard M. Nixon
Referred By: Just Surfed In
City/Country: USA
Comments: I am not a crook.

Did the Writer(s) of the Guestbook Entries Admit Wiles' Proof is "Wrong?"

Again, the answer is "No." The guestbook contains many entries that are cruelly sarcastic and insulting to Dr. Escultura. Apparently someone thought it would be "funny" to pretend to be Wiles and pretend to concede "error" to Escultura. Unfortunately, the Internet is home to many such people. However, whoever wrote those guestbook entries is most certainly not an admirer of Dr. Escultura, nor is the writer in any way conceding any error.

Evidently Dr. Escultura believes that the guestbook entries were from Wiles. He may have thought the writer was sincere. He may have recognized the sarcasm and decided to play a little joke of his own by publicizing the message through The Manila Times.

Does It Matter Whether or Not Wiles Conceded?

We can't really improve on Alecks Pabico's comment in the PCIJ thread:
I disagree that the authenticity of the guestbook entries made by the 'Andrew Wiles' poster is irrelevant as far as the Manila Times story is concerned, especially in light of the repeated denials from Prof. Wiles himself.

Because having proven the messages to be dubious, to say the least, there's nothing newsworthy to report here. There's no story at all. Dr. Escultura's refutation of Wiles's proof to FLT is old hat. Diaz's article even mentions it: 'In 1998 he published his formal refutation in "Exact solutions of Fermat's equations (A definitive resolution of Fermat's last theorem)" in the Journal of Nonlinear Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp.227-254.
We can understand Dr. Escultura's desire to vigorously defend his work by all the means at his disposal. However, we think he would be wiser to admit that there is no reason whatsoever at this point to think that the guestbook entries are from Wiles.

The Manila Times is not doing itself any good by pretending that the original story was accurate and giving full backing to Dr. Escultura's claims. If they are paying any attention at all, the Times editors must realize they erred in publishing the phony "Wiles letter" without even attempting to validate it. No doubt they hope to avoid an embarassing retraction and believe everything will soon blow over and be forgotten. Perhaps they are right. However, by letting Dr. Escultura continue to make these claims in their paper they are prolonging the problem and destroying their own credibility.

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Remembering My Grandfather

Yesterday we visited the graves of my grandparents in Plattsmouth, Nebraska. A couple of years ago I wrote this essay about my Grandfather's effect on my life. He was born in 1875 and died in 1966, when I was 14. Obviously, the world he knew was very different from today.
How did I come to be who I am today? Well, the short, snappy answer is: One day at a time. The serious answer, as always, is more complex. To begin to answer, I must first ask myself, “Well, who am I today?” I’ll return to that at the end, and get on to how I got here.

Certainly, my ideas of what a man should be were formed in part by my relationship with my maternal grandfather. Throughout my childhood we trekked to Omaha every other weekend to visit Grandpa and Grandma. This was never a bother, as my brother and I loved visiting them, and we had plenty of kid-friends in the neighborhood, too.

Grandpa was quite old when my mother was born, and he doted on his only child. He was already 77 when I became the first grandchild, which must have made it all the sweeter for him. He would play for hours with my brother and me. For outdoor fun our favorite was to walk along the nearby railroad tracks with Grandpa. He always brought along a snack for the journey: cut up fruit or some crackers. We could climb on things, explore, find pieces of coal or smashed coins. Grandpa was happy just to be there with us.

Indoors we would play hide and seek. Although the house was small, my brother and I never got suspicious as Grandpa “struggled” to find us hiding in the same spots we always chose. I also loved to play card games and board games with Grandpa, and he was happy to oblige. They had a piano in the house, and I sat on his lap while he played and sang the Irish folk song, “Danny Boy.” In a sense, I was named after that song, and it still reminds me of him.

Grandpa was quite a prankster. He once put a rubber rat out by the clothesline to scare Grandma, and she hit it several times with a broom before she realized it wasn’t a real rat. One of his favorite tricks was to help someone put their coat on while squeezing the second sleeve behind them. The victim thrashed about, arm behind the back, searching desperately for the sleeve that seemed to have vanished.

Grandpa was very even-tempered, and he subscribed to the Teddy Roosevelt school of discipline. If my brother and I were acting up, Grandpa would ceremoniously “Get Out The Stick.” The Stick was actually a rather large, wooden yardstick. He never hit us once with his hand or The Stick, but he made a great show of brandishing it and hitting the countertop with it for effect.

So what am I today? I’m an even-tempered, family-centered person. I take an interest in the games my children play, and I often play along with them. I am a bit of a prankster, and I still enjoy using Grandpa’s coat trick on an unsuspecting victim. Recently, I was trying to find a rubber rat…

Memorial Day Quotation

Via Move America Forward:
"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself." -John Stuart Mill
To all our troops serving all around the world, past and present: Thank you so much. We owe you a great debt.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Nebraskans Survive Ambush in Iraq

Here's a great story from the Omaha World Herald (H/T Ryne) about an insurgent ambush of a Nebraska National Guard convoy near Baghdad. The article includes pictures and diagrams, as well as the whole story. The link to the World Herald will break in three weeks, so read it right away (free registration required):
"On a highway south of Baghdad, the young, part-time soldiers from Nebraska's 1075th Transportation Company found 30 minutes of hell. In an unusually large and coordinated attack March 20, the convoy of National Guard troops and civilian contractors was ambushed by up to 50 heavily armed insurgents.

Army officials called it the biggest and most sophisticated convoy ambush in Iraq since April 2004, a disaster in which eight soldiers and contractors died and one man - who later made a celebrated escape - was taken hostage.

In the harrowing Nebraska ambush, it appears the insurgents, many carrying handcuffs, again were intent on taking hostages. Their early success in stopping the convoy left the Nebraskans in grave danger. But once the lead stopped flying, every military and civilian driver in the convoy made it out alive. And 27 insurgents lay dead on the roadsides - one of the highest battle tolls in the two-year-old war.

The way the March 20 attack was fought off by the Nebraskans and then routed by a crack squad of Kentucky National Guard military police has been discussed in the highest levels of the Army as a textbook tactical defeat of an ambush."

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Abe Fortas Filibuster II

We haven't had much time for posting lately, due to a business trip. The previous post on the Abe Fortas Filibuster deserves a followup. Here's a part of what The Encylopedia Britannica (Std. Ed. 1999) has to say about Fortas:
President Lyndon Johnson nominated Fortas, an old and trusted friend, to the Supreme Court in 1965. Three years later he nominated him to replace retiring Chief Justice Earl Warren. Fortas generally had sided with the liberal court majority, and his nomination was quickly assailed by various critics. When the nomination came to the Senate floor, a filibuster ensued. Shortly afterward, Fortas requested that his name be withdrawn, and the president complied. In 1969, Fortas' earlier financial involvement with a financier who was subsequently imprisoned for securities violations appeared likely to precipitate impeachment proceedings in Congress; in May Fortas resigned, returning to private practice.
It doesn't say much about the issues or anything about the fight in the senate over the confirmation, but it does use the "f-word." It's interesting to note that had Fortas been confirmed in November, 1968, he would most likely hold the record for shortest tenure as Chief Justice after resigning in May 1969 to avoid impeachment.

There is this report on the confirmation fight from the Senate's official web site:
"A seasoned Senate vote-counter, Johnson concluded that despite filibuster warnings he just barely had the support to confirm Fortas. The president took encouragement from indications that his former Senate mentor, Richard Russell, and Republican Minority Leader Everett Dirksen would support Fortas, whose legal brilliance both men respected.

The president soon lost Russell's support, however, because of administration delays in nominating the senator's candidate to a Georgia federal judgeship. Johnson urged Senate leaders to waste no time in convening Fortas' confirmation hearings. Responding to staff assurances of Dirksen's continued support, Johnson told an aide, 'Just take my word for it. I know [Dirksen]. I know the Senate. If they get this thing drug out very long, we're going to get beat. Dirksen will leave us.'
Johnson was a seasoned political fighter who knew exactly how the Senate worked. In those days it did work, more or less. The next paragraph from the Senate site contains some startling information (emphasis added):
Fortas became the first sitting associate justice, nominated for chief justice, to testify at his own confirmation hearing. Those hearings reinforced what some senators already knew about the nominee. As a sitting justice, he regularly attended White House staff meetings; he briefed the president on secret Court deliberations; and, on behalf of the president, he pressured senators who opposed the war in Vietnam. When the Judiciary Committee revealed that Fortas received a privately funded stipend, equivalent to 40 percent of his Court salary, to teach an American University summer course, Dirksen and others withdrew their support. Although the committee recommended confirmation, floor consideration sparked the first filibuster in Senate history on a Supreme Court nomination."
Wow. A Supreme Court Justice sitting in on Presidential staff meetings and briefing the President on secret deliberations of the Court? What an unbelievable abuse of the system. Talk about "extraordinary circumstances."

Since both of these neutral sources describe the Senate actions as a filibuster, we will concede that there was one. It is interesting to note that Sen. Griffin and others tried to avoid the use of the term, and claimed it was "extended debate." It was widely believed on both sides that filibusters of judicial nominations were wrong, if not unconstitutional. The John Dean article cited in the previous post points out that Richard Nixon spoke out against the filibuster of Fortas (and filibusters in general).

So does this one filibuster in 214 years, 37 years ago justify routine filibusters today? Hardly. The counter case is made well by Rich Lowry on National Review Online:
"Democrats point to a filibuster of Lyndon Baines Johnson's 1968 attempt to elevate Abe Fortas from an associate justice to chief justice of the Supreme Court as a precedent. But it was different in kind from today's filibusters. It was bipartisan. Twenty-four Republicans and 19 Democrats voted against ending the filibuster. Fortas almost certainly didn't have the support to pass on an up-or-down vote in the Senate. Hurt by ethics charges, he soon withdrew his nomination, and ended up resigning from the court. The case was truly exceptional.

One Democrat who worried it wouldn't be was Sen. Mike Mansfield. He feared that a minority of senators would 'frustrate the Senate's constitutional obligation on the question of nominations': 'In the past the Senate has discussed, debated, at times agonized, but always it has voted on the merits. No senator or group of senators has ever usurped that constitutional prerogative. This unbroken tradition in my opinion merely reflects on the part of the Senate the distinction heretofore recognized between its constitutional responsibility to confirm or reject a nominee and its role in the enactment of a new and far-reaching legislative proposals.'

Mansfield's fears were unfounded -- at least for 35 years. Now they have been realized at the hands of an obstructionist Senate Democratic minority. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist should take away their ability to mount unprecedented judicial filibusters through the so-called nuclear option, then sleep the sleep of an utterly justified defender of Senate tradition."
The Dean article asserts that the Senate article cited above "suggests that LBJ had the votes to get Fortas confirmed, but not to get past the filibuster." Dean must be divining this from penumbras and emanations. The statement that Johnson believe he "just barely had the support to confirm" was referring to LBJ's thinking when he made the nomination, not when he withdrew it. The Senate site also quotes LBJ as saying privately that if he had another term the outcome would have been different, but that doesn't mean he though he could have gotten 50 votes to confirm absent the filibuster.

Of the appellate judge nominees who have been strung along for years, it is likely that all would be confirmed if brought to a vote, although there have been some suggestions that one might be defeated. There is nothing radical or "out of the mainstream" about them, despite the ridiculous smears that have been attempted. In short there has been no case of "extraordinary circumstances" that would justify the tactics of the minority. The Fortas case, in its uniqueness, proves that point.

UPDATE 5/29: Here's a nice fisking of the John Dean article by ConfirmThem. (H/T Mike)

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