Saturday, May 16, 2009

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff 26

Sex with Chinese Prostitutes reports that "[t]he National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will pay $2.6 million in U.S. tax dollars to train Chinese prostitutes to drink responsibly on the job." Ralph Hingson, director of epidemiology and prevention research at NIAA, tried to justify the program:

There are many Americans who travel to China each year and they should be made aware of the HIV problem.

This may be true, but so what? The government should not be spending money to alert Americans that having sex with prostitutes poses a danger. Anyone who doesn't realize this gets exactly what they deserve.

I am not sure which is worse: That the government is spending money on such nonsense, or that someone can justify it with a straight face.

If Cutting Taxes Helps Businesses...
This week Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire reduced the state's main business tax on newspapers by 40 percent to help them address declining revenues. By implication the governor is admitting that taxation is harmful to business. Why then, doesn't she cut taxes for all businesses? Or better yet, do away with all taxes?

This is nothing more than trying to keep the goose that lays the golden eggs alive long enough to lay some more eggs.

The Selflessness of John Edwards
In a column for the Chicago Tribune, Matt Mackowiak repeats a typical shallow explanation for the downfall of John Edwards:

Rarely in the history of American politics has a politician risen so far, so fast only to fall purely as a result of his own selfishness, ego, dishonesty and vanity.

Dishonesty and selfishness are mutually exclusive. Dishonesty--faking reality--is never in one's best interest, and Edwards' fall from grace demonstrates that fact. His political career is probably over, and his marriage is on the rocks. Edwards believed that he could deceive those closest to him and get away with it. He couldn't (for very long) and he didn't.

True selfishness is a huge achievement. It requires a devotion to rationality and the identification of one's values and goals. Edwards was apparently moved by his short-term desires, placing his immediate gratification above his professed values. In doing so he acted contrary to his self-interest.

Ayn Rand was writing about her character Peter Keating, but she could have been speaking of John Edwards:

What was his aim in life? Greatness—in other people’s eyes. Fame, admiration, envy—all that which comes from others. Others dictated his convictions, which he did not hold, but he was satisfied that others believed he held them. Others were his motive power and his prime concern. He didn’t want to be great, but to be thought great. He didn’t want to build, but to be admired as a builder. He borrowed from others in order to make an impression on others. There’s your actual selflessness. It’s his ego that he’s betrayed and given up. But everybody calls him selfish . . .

The Politics of Road Closures
In April the city turn Rivercrest Drive in west Houston into a one-way street to eliminate traffic that was cutting through the neighborhood. The closure allegedly increased the traffic in nearby Briargrove Park, and now residents of the two neighborhoods are battling with City Hall to address the issue.

Such political skirmishes could not and would not occur if the streets were privately owned. The owner would have the right, and the ability, to determine the conditions of use. But when streets are owned by the government, the use of those streets become a political football.

An Interesting Book Review
What happens when you assemble an abundance of data and mix it with bad premises? According to the Wall Street Journal, you get Fool's Gold (HT: JM McCulloch). While the author of the book--Gillian Tett--concludes that greed caused the financial crisis, the Journal sees it differently:

Ironically, Ms. Tett's reporting describes not an out-of-control free market but one tragically distorted by government regulation. If she struggles to reach a logical conclusion, then, she still does an excellent job of assembling the facts necessary to form one.

I haven't read the book, but apparently Ms. Tett ignored the very data that she assembled. So even if the author wants to turn a blind eye to reality, the facts speak for themselves.

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