Saturday, December 30, 2006

2006

We are taught to be pessimists. Optimists are supposed to be fools who live in bubbles and are just not aware of other people’s suffering. After all, the news will show you tragedies daily. The movies will remind you that rich people are all crooks. Teachers will preach to you that it is all about who you know. Pundits will predict our doom.

Still, another year goes by and we persevere. There are fewer, less bloody wars. Less people die from all kinds of disease. We have a global economy that is more prosper, more stable and more accessible to more and more countries. A lot more people are getting fat rather than dying of hunger.

It is the constant predicament of our evolution. Regardless of all our faults, we continue to build a better world.

---x---

Being an optimist is believing things will get better, while understanding that nothing is perfect.

This year I had the chance of knowing and working with a lot of very, very smart people from various backgrounds. They’re still not perfect, and actually some of them are pretty difficult to deal with. But still, they showed me how much potential human beings have and how much can be accomplished with our minds and hard work. It is like peeking through a little window into a no-nonsense future where people are productive and help each other by doing their personal best.

It is one of the most uplifting experiences I’ve ever had.

---x---

Maybe this is all a delusion based on anecdotal evidence and all that has happened to me so far is pure luck.

However… I didn’t come from a rich or powerful family. I didn’t know highly influential people who gave me a helping hand. I did not get great grades and was not the stronger or more handsome kid in my class. Still, I’ve got a good life. I’ve got a great family.

Give it your best. Things do get better. Have a great 2007.

Saddam's execution

I am not opposed to the death penalty. I think that for some criminals, like serial child molesters, the risk (no matter how slim) of having them escaping and committing more crime is just unacceptable.

However, my first reaction to Saddam’s execution was that I would not have done it. The risk of Saddam escaping and getting back to power was just non-existent. Besides that, I think it could send a message that one brutal regime is being replaced by another brutal regime.

But yesterday I was listening to NPR and at some point they were interviewing an Iraqi translator. The reporter asked the translator what the people on the streets were thinking regarding Saddam’s execution. His answer was surprising to say the least. He said that nobody really believed that Saddam would be executed because “he was America’s man” and that he was actually commanding the insurgents from jail with US’s approval.

So maybe executing him was the right decision. Maybe we are still having all this violence in Iraq because the new group in power is not demonstrating enough authority. Maybe authority for the common Iraqi is directly related to strength and violence.

I guess time will tell.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Infoquake

Check this out: David Louis Edelman has listed my brief comment about Infoquake in his Critical praise and reviews page. Now that is really cool!

I really wish that Infoquake turns out to be a big success. Not only because I am curious about the two sequels but because I think this “business world of the future” theme is one of the least explored fields of SF and one that has great potential.

So if you have 10 bucks to spend on a book go ahead and get a copy of Infoquake. It’s well worth it.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The middle-class

Here is another article that shows the odd disparity between what people think about the overall economy and their own financial situation:

"...
- Although only 32 percent rate the overall economy as "excellent" or "good," 52 percent judge their personal situation as excellent or good (35 percent said "fair" and 13 percent "poor").

- Most Americans (60 to 37 percent) think their own living standards are rising; parents of children under 18 overwhelmingly (54 to 24 percent) think the same will be true for their children.

- Almost 70 percent of Americans say they've attained or will attain the "American Dream," as they define it. More than half say success comes from a good education and hard work, not from connections (18 percent) or being born wealthy (13 percent)."


---x---

One of my "hobbies" is to listen to liberal talk shows. Most of them are garbage but some are quite entertaining. My favorite one is Thom Hartman's.

One of Thom's favorite subjects is the "war on the middle-class" being waged supposedly by Republicans. It took me a while to understand exactly what he was talking about, but I finally got it: For him, the middle-class is not an idea of bringing people out of poverty and into a decent standard of living. No sir. Middle class for Thom is another way to say income equality. If the rich are getting richer, nothing else matters. Not even if the poor are less poor.

That's a smart (and dangerous) liberal right there.

---x---

In the other side of the Atlantic, my french buddies are still not getting it. They keep taxes so high that now one of their rock stars, a guy called Johnny Hallyday, is getting his money out of France.

Now, that is one way (probably the only non-violent one) to get income equality.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Government waste

Abuse could push Katrina costs to $2 billion

It’s amusing how the liberal media just can’t link government's waste with the ineptitude of government itself. It might be just Bush bashing mania acting up again but I doubt it.

I wonder how they would report such news if we had a democrat president.... Maybe they would just not report it at all?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Multiculturalism + Eugenics

‘Designer’ babies with made-to-order defects?

Well, it makes total sense doesn't it?

If nothing is right or wrong, nobody is better than anyone, and the bottom line is just that "we are all different", why not design your babies to be like you even if you are a dwarf?

UPDATE:
God damn you, motherfuckers

Embrace the Trade Deficit (or why globalization works)

Since the 2001 recession, the U.S. economy has created 9.3 million new jobs, compared with 360,000 in Japan and 1.1 million in the euro zone excluding Spain. This despite our trade deficit and their trade surpluses. Like the U.S., Spain (3.6 million new jobs) and the U.K. (1.3 million new jobs) ran trade deficits and created jobs rapidly in this five-year period. Wages are rising solidly in these three. The economics is clear (for once) that a liberal trading environment allows more jobs with higher wages as people specialize.

More here.

Books 2006

Good books I've read this year:

The Wisdom of Crowds
Very good. I got it because I didn't quite believe the idea, but it makes a good case for collective wisdom.

America: The Last Best Hope (Volume I):
From the Age of Discovery to a World at War

Great history book. Easy to read and full of little unknowns facts.

Rendezvous with Rama
Classic. I've read it when I was younger but wanted to check the english version.

Anthem
Not as good as Fountainhead but still entertaining.

On Classical Economics
Probably too technical for non-economists. But still interesting.

Childhood's End
Kind of bizarre… but still as good as any Clarke's.

The Time Traveler's Wife
Loved all of it, except the end.

Infoquake (The Jump 225 Trilogy)
Probably the coolest SF I've read in the last 5 years.

The Economics of Life
A little outdated but still worth it.

The Bear and the Dragon
I have not finished it yet, but so far I like it.

How about you all? Any good books to recommend?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A good lesson

So, we’ve been hit by a huge windstorm Thursday night. On Friday there were a total of 1.5 million homes and businesses without power. Wind gusted to 113 mph near Mount Rainier and to a record 69 mph at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. So far 14 deaths are blamed on the storm.

We were without power for 4 days. During the night it got really cold inside the house since outside temperatures were in the middle 20s (around -4 C). There were no gas stations open. My car’s tank was less than ¼ full, so I could not go very far. All traffic lights were not working, so it took a long time to drive anywhere. On Friday, my phone line stopped working. Cell phones did not work at all, and the batteries were all out on Saturday in any case.

There were no warnings on Thursday from the weather services. Just the usual stuff about a “storm”, the kind of warning you get twice every month. There were no extra police on the streets. No government vans looking for people that were freezing inside their houses or for old people who starved after the food in the fridge went bad.

I live in King County, one of the richest counties in the country. The State Government just reported an operational surplus of 1.4 Billion dollars.

Virtually all parts of government here are democrat. From the city counsel to the mayor to the governor and senators, everybody is a blue "for the people" Dem.

Still, if you analyze what has happened here you will conclude that this was a pretty much like Katrina. The only real difference was that the winds here were a little weaker and there were no levies to break. That’s it.

Now, you won’t see the newspapers talking about all of this. After all, only 14 people died. Also, and most important, King county is mostly white and rich. Government doesn’t need to help these people, right?

However, government guarantees that it is here to help. They surely eat some nice chunk of people’s income. They build big agencies and say that the reason the county is rich is exactly because the government is so strong.

The truth is that the government didn’t help because it couldn’t. First of all, it can’t even predict these things. Second, it doesn’t scale. The daily needs of a citizen are so much smaller than the needs of that same citizen during a crisis that is simply impossible to keep an infrastructure capable of helping everybody (or something close to the majority) during such times.

What happened in New Orleans should have been a warning. Not about the incompetency and slowness of government (which are inherent and should be expected) but about this crazy notion that people could actually bet their own lives on their government!

This may sound obvious to many but is not what the press and the government wants you to think. I believe, honest to god, that this is a very important point. It is CRUCIAL that people understand that they need to depend only on themselves. The biggest the disaster, the clearer this should be.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Evil draws (some) men together

List of distinguished representatives talking today at the iranian conference questioning the Holocaust:

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
David Duke
Robert Faurisson
Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour
Wolfgang Froehlich
Michele Renouf
Fredrick Toben

And many more. A good reminder of what evil really means. The same evil that ‘peace seekers’ wants us to negotiate with.

"The evil of the world is made possible by nothing but the sanction you give it."
Ayn Rand

Sunday, December 10, 2006

David Deutsch

David Deutsch talks about the universe, life and… global warming.

Deutsch's theory of “cosmic knowledge” makes all the sense to me. We should understand what makes us different and realize that our only hope to avoid extinction is not “sustainable development”. It is “knowledge for development”.

The example of global warming was a great one. I’ve always thought that this illusion (typical of “progressives”) that we can somehow solve things by limiting economic progress is lunatic. Especially because economic progress is one of the most important enablers of scientific progress.

Why aren’t we looking at solutions that really address the consequences of global warming? Why don’t we recognize that we can’t accurately predict our climate and stop wasting our time? Why don't we talk more about possible options instead of making movies only to scare people in the wrong direction?

Maybe the real problem is the mix up of politics and science. Lefties think this is a problem only with the religious right, but in my opinion the real threat is the crazy left. Things like the Kyoto treaty are more related to the idea of bringing countries to similar levels of development than decreasing pollution. The fact that only developed countries were included is a pretty good indicator of that.

Problems are soluble. Problems are inevitable.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Losing our minds... and our heads

It is obvious that one of Iraq’s problems is the media overexposure that every tragedy that happens there gets.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t care about markets being bombed. I am only saying that the world is pretty nasty in many places, and that the situation in Iraq could get worse. Much, much worse.

One good example (in so many ways) is Somalia. When was the last time you heard bad news about Somalia? Is that because they are a happy peaceful bunch? Not a chance.

Here is an interesting one:

"MOGADISHU, Somalia - Residents of a southern Somalia town who do not pray five times a day will be beheaded, an Islamic courts official said Wednesday, adding the edict will be implemented in three days.

Public places such as shops and tea houses in Bulo Burto, about 124 miles northeast of the capital, Mogadishu, should be closed during prayer time and no one should be on the streets, said Sheik Hussein Barre Rage, the chairman of the town’s Islamic court.

Those who do not follow this edict “will definitely be beheaded according to Islamic law,” Rage told The Associated Press by phone. “As Muslims, we should practice Islam fully, not in part, and that is what our religion enjoins us to do.

He said that the courts are announcing the edict over loudspeakers in the town."


So, bottom line is that even though Bagdad is a mess, most of Iraq is still better than a lot of other places.

That of course, can change in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Government Support for the Arts: A Cautionary Tale

After reading this loony interview with this Maurizio Lazzarato guy, I was left with the following question: What in the world is this "Política do Emprego Cultural"?

Well, I found the answer in this amazing article from 2004. It tells the tale of how the french created this special unemployment program for the "intermittents", the temporary arts workers, and how it quickly became a billion dollar liability and a political nightmare.

It's kind of a long history but it's worth it. It shows just how crazy the "pay for my bills or I'll kill you" French leftist ideology is, and is yet another example of how this pipe dream called social democracy just plain doesn't work.

How 'Integration' Became Discrimination

Great article by James Taranto: "How 'Integration' Became Discrimination"

"The New York Times reports on an important case the Supreme Court heard yesterday:

By the time the Supreme Court finished hearing arguments on Monday on the student-assignment plans that two urban school systems use to maintain racial integration, the only question was how far the court would go in ruling such plans unconstitutional.

There seemed little prospect that either the Louisville, Ky., or Seattle plans would survive the hostile scrutiny of the court's new majority. In each system, students are offered a choice of schools but can be denied admission based on their race if enrolling at a particular school would upset the racial balance.

At its most profound, the debate among the justices was over whether measures designed to maintain or achieve integration should be subjected to the same harsh scrutiny to which Brown v. Board of Education subjected the regime of official segregation. In the view of the conservative majority, the answer was yes.

But liberal justices disagreed:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg tried unsuccessfully to turn the chief justice's colloquy with [Seattle lawyer Michael] Madden in a different direction. The question of whether "using racial integration is the same as segregation," she said, was "pretty far from the kind of headlines that attended the Brown decision."

Bringing "white and black children together on the same school bench," Justice Ginsburg continued, "seems to be worlds apart from saying we'll separate them."

The fundamental dispute is whether antidiscrimination laws--the 14th Amendment and, by implication, the Civil Rights Act of 1964--ban discrimination altogether, or only in the pursuit of invidious ends. Broadly stated, the "conservative" position is that these laws protect individuals from discrimination, whereas the "liberal" position is that discrimination is fine in the pursuit of "diversity" or integration but not of white supremacy.

Liberals, in other words, are much more apt to say that the ends justify the means. As Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in University of California v. Bakke, "In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. . . . And in order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently."

That was in 1978. Twenty-five years later, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in Grutter v. Bollinger, upheld some racial discrimination in higher education, but wrote that she expects the need for them to have passed in another 25 years. Justice Ginsburg made a point of disagreeing, saying that one may only "hope" that it will be "safe to sunset affirmative action."

There is a curious disconnect here. "Affirmative action" is politically unpopular, having been banned by initiative in three liberal states (California, Michigan and Washington). With Justice Samuel Alito having replaced O'Connor, its legal status is shaky.

In any case, it has always been presented as only a temporary measure--a way, as Justice Blackmun put it, "to get beyond racism." Yet affirmative action's advocates act as if it is here to stay. For them, discrimination is no longer a means to an end but an end in itself. The Seattle Public Schools Web site has a statement on its Web site that expressly disavows the goal of getting beyond racism:

The intended purpose of our work in the area of race and social justice is to bring communities together through open dialogue and honest reflection around what is meant by racism and the impact is has on our society, and more specifically, our students. Our intention is not to put up additional barriers or develop an "us against them" mindset; nor is it to continue to hold onto unsuccessful concepts such as a melting pot or colorblind mentality.

As George Will notes, this statement replaced one that was much worse:

Until June, the school district's Web site declared that "cultural racism'' includes "emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology,'' "having a future time orientation'' (planning ahead) and "defining one form of English as standard.'' The site also asserted that only whites can be racists, and disparaged assimilation as the "giving up'' of one's culture.

This is in fact baldly racist. In concept it is distinguishable from white supremacy only in its refusal to condone value judgments. But the real world imposes its own "value judgments," and in practice it seems obviously pernicious to inculcate black children with the idea that because of the color of their skin, they cannot learn to plan ahead or to speak standard English.

Advocates of affirmative action, thus, have abandoned the goal of "getting beyond racism," upon which it was originally imposed on the public. Affirmative action has become a way of perpetuating discrimination rather than overcoming it. It is, at best, an experiment that has failed.
"

Monday, December 04, 2006

Politicians, clowns and the real world

The US State Department says:

"We look forward to having the opportunity to work with the Venezuelan government on issues of mutual interest."

Chavez, el bufón, says:

"It's another defeat for the devil, who tries to dominate the world. Down with imperialism. We need a new world."

Reality shows:

"US Exports to Venezuela were $4,888.4 millions between January and July, 2006, which is more than all the US exports to Venezuela in 2004 and a 140% more than the US exports in the first semester of 2005.

According to a statistical report of US Census, made public yesterday by US Commerce Department in Washington, Venezuela is the 10th US oil supplier in the world, mainly of petrol.

Venezuela also is in the group of the 10 more important commercial associates of US, only after China (the first in the list), Japan, Canada, Germany and Mexico and before France, Brazil and Russia.

These numbers will increase at the end of 2006, because during September, October and November the commercial activity is usually much more important than in the first 6 months of the year, explained Joe Tafchinski, US Commerce Department’s speaker in Washington, who made the statistical analysis.

The balance of trade with USA benefited Venezuela, who obtained a superavit of about $15,000 millions, which at the end of 2006 could increase more than $30,000 millions."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Journalists being journalists

I am not sure what the problem here is.

I mean, aren’t journalists supposed to get the information they need in any possible way? Even if the source is illegal (i.e. people leaking information that should be confidential)?

Isn’t it true that Journalists are praised even more when the information is really confidential? Some would say that success for any report is directly proportional to the damage it causes.

Therefore, I believe this is all backwards. By cheating in an open book ethics exam, these students are showing that they hold ethics in very high regard.

I'd say A+ for all of them.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Some people never learn...

Brazucas se dando mal na terra do Fidel.

E como sempre, o mais engraçado são os comentários:
"Sempre me emociono ao ler o que vcs escrevem. Me orgulho de ser mãe de Milena e Thiago, amiga de Pedro e Lígia. Ver Cuba pelo olhar de vcs me fez sentir muito próxima deste povo; passei a amá-los pelo que ensinaram a mim e a vcs. Carta Maior está de parabéns por permitir a expressão destes jovens."

Hein?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Very true

"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie -- deliberate, contrived, and dishonest -- but the myth ... persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often, we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."

-- John F. Kennedy

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Rupert Murdoch hates Brazil!

You got to be kidding.

Pelo menos os comentários foram bons, tirando algumas pérolas:
"bom, como sempre os americanos insistem em nos humilhar, este filme é uma ofensa ao nosso povo, que bem diferentes deles, somos educados e recepcionistas"

"Eu nao sei como o Brasil permite uma filmagem dessa sem ao menos ler o roteiro do filme"

"Eu penso que a FOX ganha muito dinheiro aqui com seus canais de TV CAbo e sua MASSIFICAÇÃO COMERCIAL sobre nossas crianças e adolescentes através de sesu desenhos animados e de seus seriado que instigam o consumismo, a vingança a violência e a discórdia. De certo eles fizeram um filme assim em função a pouca vergonha que temos."

"O pior é que no fim do filme os americanos vão conseguir escapar..., e como heróis, ainda. Os "cineastas" sequer dão o devido crédito aos bandidos brasileiros..." (meu preferido!)

Global warming my ass!

Arctic blast leaves thousands stranded

Vejam como ficou a famosa sede FYI:


Bonito neh? Quase compensa as 3:30h de commute (one way, of course).

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The real Brazilian inequality

The Supreme Court of the United States pays a U$171,500 annual salary for its chief justice and U$164,100 for the associate justices.

The Brazilian Supreme Court (“Supremo Tribunal Federal”) wants to raise the salary of its chief justice (ironically named “President”) to R$390,000 a year, while the other justices’ salaries will go up to R$338,000. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to convert these salaries since cost of living is so different between the two countries, but even if you do that, the salary for the Brazilian justices now total U$179,723 for the chief and U$155,760 for the others (2.17 conversion rate).

If you take into account the difference in size of both economies, the GDP per capita, and so on, these numbers are more than surprising: they are shameful. In the US, the average annual salary is around U$42,000 a year. That means that the Supreme Court Chief Justice earns a little over 4 times the average income. The Brazilian average income is around R$12,000/year, so the new justices’ salaries will amount to 32.5 to 28 times that.

In the US, the justice’s salaries are defined by congress. In Brazil, they are determined by the justice themselves. Also, in Brazil the court’s salaries are by law defined as the highest paid by the government. Needless to say that each increase like this causes a waterfall effect all over the other government branches. No limits or checks-and-balances here.

Worst of all, for all the problems and flaws of the American legal system, equating it with the Brazilian system is really ludicrous. According to the Heritage Freedom Index, "The judiciary (Brazil's) …is inefficient, subject to political and economic influence, and plagued by problems relating to lack of resources and training of officials." Judicial decisions can take years, and "decisions of the Supreme Federal Tribunal are not automatically binding on lower courts, leading to more appeals than would otherwise occur." I can vouch for that. I personally experienced both systems and no comparison is possible.

Now, Brazil is a country that abhors inequality. The left rose to power based on the “lets fight the inequality” flag.

Apparently, state sponsored inequality doesn’t count.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

It's a Dem world

2008 – The press is not wasting time

One of the "weaknesses" of Mitt Romney is the fact that he is Mormon. A lot of people still think that Mormons are in favor of polygamy. Expect a deluge (no pun) of articles about polygamy for the next two years. Not direct attacks on Romney or the Mormon Church, but little “informational tidbits” you would not usually see in the pre-Romney world. If you look at MSNBC today you can already find examples.

Ironically, there is that little unknown fact that Harry Reid, the new democratic senate leader, is also a Mormon.

But Harry is one of the good ones, of course.

Activists Dems

Talking about 2008, this last election was very interesting for me because it was the first democratic victory I’ve seen live since I immigrated to the US is 98. It is funny how tame democrats are right now. All that talk about voting fraud, the power of Republican money, the takeover of the religious right, it all disappeared magically.

This must have been the first honest election in years.

A few more predictions

I’m feeling clairvoyant today (it must be Maria Cantwell’s alien powers changing me). Here are a few more predictions for the near future:
- Democrats will NOT force the issue of getting out of Iraq until the presidential election
- John Edwards has a bigger chance to become the chosen candidate than Hillary
- Dems will start backing John McCain big time
- Even though Nancy Pelosi says it won’t happen, impeachment procedures will be initiated and there is a good chance that the House approves it. Payback is a bitch.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Be happy! Computador para Todos!!!

O Cláudio achou mais uma boa do nosso governo papaizão: Computador para Todos!!!

Melhor da história toda: como eles traduzem mouse - "dispositivo apontador!"

E depois ainda dizem que eu levo as coisas a sério demais...

Monday, November 20, 2006

I am not alone

Obrigado Moacyr Scliar

"O Partido do Pinto Alegre

A distribuição de remédios contra a disfunção erétil foi um absoluto sucesso, em todos os sentidos, e acabou tendo um efeito inesperado. Os idosos que se encontravam regularmente para receber o medicamento, muitos dos quais não se conheciam (na verdade, nem saíam de casa), agora começavam a conviver; saindo do ambulatório iam para o bar tomar uma cerveja e bater um animado papo. Muitos deles, que antes se mostravam desanimados, agora tinham uma renovada confiança no futuro. Confiança que, diga-se de passagem, era explicável.

Vários ali haviam sido pessoas destacadas no município, empresários, profissionais, líderes comunitários. Nada impedia que voltassem a mostrar o seu valor. A certa altura a idéia emergiu espontaneamente: por que não criar um partido político?

Discutiram o assunto, chegaram a um acordo -sim, aquilo seria uma grande iniciativa- e de imediato puseram mãos à obra. O que não foi difícil: o nome da agremiação emergiu naturalmente, Partido do Pinto Alegre (PPA). O hino, conforme sugestão de um dos membros, antigo esquerdista, seria o da Internacional Comunista, com uma pequena adaptação: no verso inicial, "De pé, ó vítimas da fome", a expressão "vítimas da fome" seria substituída por uma outra, engraçada e impublicável. Um dos fundadores do PPA, conhecido artista plástico, desenhou a bandeira, que era um falo estilizado rodeado pelos conhecidos comprimidos do remédio.

A convenção que fundou o PPA foi uma verdadeira festa, transmitida a todo o país pela televisão. O comitê central apresentou aos membros do partido (membros era, ali, uma palavra constantemente pronunciada, e com muito orgulho) um projeto de estatuto. Diziam, entre outras coisas, que o ingresso na agremiação era vedado a menores de 60 anos, que o partido lutaria pelos direitos sexuais -sempre, claro, com meios democráticos: "ereção pela eleição, eleição pela ereção" era a divisa proposta para as campanhas eleitorais.

Obviamente nem todo mundo estava de acordo com o movimento. Alguns achavam aquilo uma coisa francamente imoral; outros viam na iniciativa um complô da indústria farmacêutica, sempre ansiosa por vender remédios. De maneira geral, porém, as pessoas aprovavam. Um vereador lembrou a frase de Tancredo Neves, segundo a qual o poder é afrodisíaco, ponderando que a inversa é verdadeira, que afrodisíacos (ou equivalentes) também podem levar ao poder.

Ou seja: o PPA parece ter inaugurado uma nova fase na política. Como diz a grata esposa de um dos fundadores, o pinto finalmente virou galo. E o canto desse galo está destinado a ecoar longe."

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The role of the government

I shouldn’t be surprised that some people didn’t find anything wrong with the fact that a local government in Brazil was handing out free Viagra.

But still, I am.

This is one of those subjects where is easy to misplace the actual blame. You could say that this is all because of the lefty press, the socialist government, or even the “intellectual elite” that plagues Brazil since I can remember.

But that would be unfair. The real problem is the complete ignorance of the whole country about the role of the government.

The government is (or should be) just a provider of essential services. More specifically, it should be the provider of services that cannot be provided efficiently by the private enterprise and that are needed to enable private enterprise to function optimally. The list of such services is debatable but if that simple concept is understood most of the real basic disagreements go away.

So it is NOT the role of the government to “make people happy”. Just like is not the role of the government make people clean, fit, informed or entertained.

This is a classic slippery slope because someone may argue that by making people clean or informed you are enabling them to be productive and therefore fulfilling the ultimate role of government which is to enable private enterprise.

Still, the distinction should be clear: government should only get involved in tasks that cannot be done by private citizens independently. The fact that viagra is expensive and that old people like to have sex is as far away from a government issue as it can be.

It is also part of the government role to provide a structure that enables the government itself. It is clear that this is not an efficient process and waste is plentiful. However, to use this kind of problem as a justification to the involvement of the government in areas outside is role is ridiculous.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Stupidest Country on Earth

Free Viagra spices up small Brazilian town.

Who in their right mind can take this country seriously?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Remembering Milton Friedman

This is for the tax cuts for the rich crowd:

“I am favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it's possible.”

This one is for the minimum wage lovers:

"The high rate of unemployment among teenagers, and especially black teenagers, is both a scandal and a serious source of social unrest. Yet it is largely a result of minimum wage laws. We regard the minimum wage law as one of the most, if not the most, antiblack laws on the statute books."

And these two go to my protectionist friends:

“Most economic fallacies derive - from the tendency to assume that there is a fixed pie, and that one party can gain only at the expense of another.”

“The black market was a way of getting around government controls. It was a way of enabling the free market to work. It was a way of opening up, enabling people.”


And finally, the best one:

"There is all the difference in the world, however, between two kinds of assistance through government that seem superficially similar: first, 90 percent of us agreeing to impose taxes on ourselves in order to help the bottom 10 percent, and second, 80 percent voting to impose taxes on the top 10 percent to help the bottom 10 percent -- William Graham Sumner's famous example of B and C decided what D shall do for A. The first may be wise or unwise, an effective or ineffective way to help the disadvantaged -- but it is consistent with belief in both equality of opportunity and liberty. The second seeks equality of outcome and is entirely antithetical to liberty."

So simple, yet so many still don’t understand.

He will be missed.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Build It and They Will Come

The New York Times reports that last month Nissan bought an Island and built a driving course to promote its new Sentra model. But while Nissan paid real money to the promotional assets, the island and the driving course were imaginary. They were part of the online game Second Life.

Find more about the new markets being created by massive online games here. Another little reminder of why this silly thing called videogame moves 10 Billion dollars a year. It should also be another good way to show that those who try to stay out of the race will fall more and more behind.

That is true for all kinds of protectionist policies. They will ultimately fail, and the damage is not always evident. Capitalism is our nature. Those who understand this will always lead.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

General politics

Now that is interesting. Gen. Abizaid, the same one that asked for Rumsfeld resignation just a few days before the last election, said today that setting a time table for withdrawal would be a great mistake and that “he remains optimistic that we can stabilize Iraq”.

This is just another example how politicized this whole Iraq deal is. It is undeniable that the decision to keep Rumsfeld AND the fact that people thought the Dems’ strategy of quick withdrawal was agreed on by generals played a big role on the election.

Now that push comes to shove, things change. Nobody wants to be responsible for the carnage (much worse than the current situation) that would ensue after a quick American withdrawal.

That’s politics.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The right to be wrong

Poucas pessoas escrevem mais bobagens do que Emir Sader.

Nenhum blogueiro é tão chato e presunçoso quanto o Sr. do biscoito.

Mas nessa aqui, estou do lado dos dois. É um absurdo total o que fizeram contra o Sader.

E o Brasil avança rápido. Ladeira abaixo.

UPDATE
O Claudio lembra que racismo no Brasil é crime hediondo (matar não é, logo se você odeia um negro, mate-o mas não chame-o de termos racistas). Como o Emir chamou o sujeito de racista, acusou de crime hediondo... E por isso a punição pesada.

Olha, eu sei que pode ser ironico que a esquerda pague por mais uma lei cretina que ela mesma empurrou goela abaixo, mas não acho que um erro justifique o outro.

Então minha revolta é dupla: contra essa lei estúpida e com a punição absurda que surgiu da lei estúpida.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The America Democrats want

I was talking with an American friend about the Democrat’s victory, and explained that for me it is especially hard to hear about all these projects they have in mind because I come from a place where most of that stuff has been actually implemented.

My friend didn’t quite believe me, so I came up with a list:

- High taxes
- Universal Health care
- Minimum wage (updated frequently)
- Expensive gasoline
- Strong labor unions
- "World's most advanced labor legislation"
- Strict anti-gun regulation
- Low spending with defense

So, the America Democrats want already exists. Is it too much to ask them to move south? I’m pretty sure they would love the parties and our famous jeitinho.

If you really stop to think about this it’s a win-win situation.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Why?

Xbox 360 chega em 1º de dezembro ao Brasil, por R$ 2.999,00

Custo nos EUA:
Console: $399
Kameo: Elements of Power: $49.99
Perfect Dark: $49.99
Project Gotham Racing 3: $49.99
Remote Control: $29.99

Total: US$ 578.96 = RS$ 1273.71

Antes de eu colocar a culpa em lugares indevidos, pergunto aos que sabem mais: De onde vem esses RS$1,726.278? Impostos? Outros custos de importação?(quais?) Margem de lucro? (Porquê a MS cobraria mais num país que tem poder econômico menor?)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Be careful what you wish for...

Jane Galt reminds everybody just how quickly the libertarians that changed sides yesterday will be regretting their decision.

Somehow saying 'I told you so' turned out to be a lot less satisfying than I imagined.

The day after

So, the Dems did win. How about that? What does it prove?

First of all, even though the Dems gained a lot the overall results were still close. There is no big shift in basic issues. I think that changes were motivated by immediate issues, mostly Iraq.

So something will change regarding Iraq. What will happen? Nobody knows, since Democrats never defined what they want. Why people still voted for change? Frustration is not the most logical sentiment.

Obviously is not the end of the world. A lot of Republicans were pissed because this congress was not conservative enough. Spending is a big concern. But in many ways, the best thing is that now Democrats will have to take responsibility for whatever happens. They want to change, and now they will be forced to define what and how this will be. Another good consequence about yesterday is to prove again how absurd this whole deal about republicans stealing elections or being part of an ignorant immovable mass that can never change their minds. Americans historically revise their opinions and we should be happy about that.

I am a big believer in the wisdom of the crowds. Not mobs, but crowds. It is not a perfect system, but it is the best one. The people spoke and some ideological variety was introduced. Now Democrats need to worry about what they will actually do and Republicans need to try to understand what has changed in 2 years.

The reason I am not pessimistic as I was with the Brazilian elections is that the alternatives are still there. Maybe yesterday will help the quality of the 2008 presidential candidates.

Monday, November 06, 2006

About "the wave"...

"The last Pew Research poll was taken in early October. In a month, the Democrats have lost non-minorities altogether. The gap among all whites went from +5 Democrats to +5 GOP, a ten-point swing. White females had supported Democrats by a 15-point margin and a majority (55-40), but now give the GOP a 2-point lead. The Democrats have also lost the middle class, a big problem in this election.

Households earning between $50K-$75K and $30K-$50K have both slipped to the GOP. The former switched from a 14-point margin for the Democrats to an eight-point Republican lead, while the latter has had an even more dramatic shift. Those earners had favored Democrats by 22 points, but now go Republican by 3. The Democrats even lost the tie they had with earners above $75K, and now trail there by seven. They did extend their margin for earners below $30K from 25 points to 30."

From Captain's Quarters

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Who Are the Recruits?

Income

Like their peers in 1999 and 2003, recruits in 2004 and 2005 came primarily from middle-class areas. Poor areas are proportionally underrepre­sented in the wartime years (2003–2005).



Education

Given the nature of the military rank structure, most enlisted recruits do not have a college edu­cation or degree. Members of the armed forces with higher education are more often commis­sioned officers (lieutenant and above). In 2004, 92.1 percent of active-duty officer accessions held baccalaureate degrees or higher.

While the military has changed its policies to allow flexibility in recruiting standards, it has cer­tainly not abandoned them. The current guidelines allow each force the flexibility to accept recruits who satisfy only one criterion: either a high school diploma or an above-average score on the AFQT, which is a standard equal to or exceeding the gen­eral youth population.



Race



Conclusion

With regard to income, education, race, and regional background, the all-volunteer force is repre­sentative of our nation and meets standards set by Congress and the Department of Defense. In con­trast to the patronizing slanders of antiwar critics, recruit quality is increasing as the war in Iraq contin­ues. Although recent recruiting goals have been dif­ficult to meet, reenlistment is strong and recruit quality remains high. No evidence supports argu­ments for reinstating the draft or altering recruiting policies to achieve more equitable representation.

Who Are the Recruits? The Demographic Characteristics of U.S. Military Enlistment, 2003–2005
by Tim Kane, Ph.D.
Center for Data Analysis Report #06-09

Friday, November 03, 2006

It’s not the end of the world as we know it



I know the press has to sell the news, but isn’t silly how they exaggerate everything?

People are calling this next election the “Democratic wave”. At the same time, analysts think democrats *might* pick up 4 or 5 seats in the senate.

If you look at this graph (senate distribution since 1857) you can realize how stupid this notion of “great change” is. If it does happen, it will be a blip.

You want a tidal wave? Look at 1866 when Republicans gained 18 seats, or 1960 when the Democrats won 16. You want a “great divide”? Look at the 40th Congress (1867-1869) where the Republicans lead 57 to 9 or the 75th Congress (1937-1939) when the Democrats had 76 against 16.

There is no huge change going on. And that is good.

Monday, October 30, 2006

My homage - Some Kind Of Monster

Some Kind Of Monster



These are the eyes that can't see me
These are the hands that drop your trust
These are the boots that kick you around
This is the tongue that speaks on the inside
These are the ears that ring with hate
This is the face that'll never change
This is the fist that grinds you down
This is the voice of silence no more.

These are the legs in circles run
This is the beating you'll never know
These are the lips that taste no freedom
This is the feel that's not so safe
This is the face that you'll never change
This is the god that ain't so pure
This is the god that is not pure
This is the voice of silence no more.

We're the people
Are we the people?
We're the people
Are we the people?



Some kind of monster
Some kind of monster
Some kind of monster
This monster lives.

This is the face that stones you cold
This is the moment that needs to breathe
These are the claws that scratch these wounds
This is the pain that never leaves
This is the tongue that whips you down
This is the burden of every man
These are the screams that pierce your skin
This is the voice of silence no more.

This is the test of flesh and soul
This is the trap that smells so good
This is the flood that drains these eyes
These are the looks that chill to the bone
These are the fears that swing over head
These are the weights that hold you down
This is the end that will never end
This is the voice of silence no more.



We're the people
Are we the people?
We're the people
Are we the people?

Some kind of monster
Some kind of monster
Some kind of monster
This monster lives

This is the cloud that swallows trust
This is the black that uncolors us
This is the face that you hide from
This is the mask that comes undone.

[Chorus]
Ominous
Hide in us
Ominous
Hide in us
Ominous
Hide in us
Ominous
Hide in us

This is the cloud that swallows trust
This is the black that uncolors us
This is the face that you hide from
This is the mask that comes undone.



[Chorus]
Ominous
Hide in us
Ominous
Hide in us
Ominous
Hide in us
Ominous
Hide in us



Are we the people?
Some kind of monster
Some kind of monster
Some kind of monster
This monster lives

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Forever young

I am completely disillusioned with Brazil. Today’s election is probably the most depressing one since the return of democracy.

It is not just the fact that Lula is part of this “retrograde left” that has been controlling the country for who knows how much time. The real problem is the overall lack of alternatives.

Among all the gazillion parties that call themselves opposition, there is no discussion around real reform. Just the stupid generalities about how one party privatized this and that and how the other party is keeping the interest rates too high. No one talks specifics about how to reform the education system; or how to improve the business environment; or even if we should have more taxes, less taxes, etc.

And when I remember how big and rich in resources Brazil is, it just drives me nuts.

Especially when you look at countries like Georgia. That’s a piece of land less than 1/100th of Brazil’s, frozen for half of the year and who still got big bad Russia huffing and puffing on its heels. Still, they try hard to improve: According to the Doing Business index 2007, Georgia has moved from place 112 to 37 in just one year – unprecedented in the history of the report (via Johan Norberg).

Georgia has a GDP per capita of $3100 (less than half of Brazil’s $7600) and has an incredible 54% of its population below the poverty line. Even so, they elected a President with law degrees from Columbia and George Washington. On the other hand, Brazil politicians used its population below the poverty line (approximately 20%) to justify the election Lula, an illiterate in every sense of the word.

It’s been like that for ages. Brazil is a country made of excuses. First it was Portugal’s fault. Then it became capitalism’s fault. Ah, if we could only get rid of the hyper inflation, IMF, corruption, the US, the multi party system, NAFTA, the constitution, China, the lack of representation at the UN, etc, etc. There is always an excuse, ready to be used.

When is Brazil going to grow up?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Brutal imperialists

One Democrat who gets it

Amy Sullivan seems to be one of the very few Democrats who get it.

Like here:

"Despite the uproar over Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction a couple of years ago, most parents don't fret that the accidental sighting of a breast or hearing of a swear word will scar their children. They're more concerned about the unrealistic ideas kids get from popular culture about consumption and body image and violence as a way of handling conflict.

Sadly, too many liberals react to complaints about popular culture as if they're teenagers. They either jut out their chins and growl, "If you don't like it, don't watch it," or they stay silent for fear of looking like prudes. Given the ridicule that Tipper Gore faced for promoting warning labels for explicit music lyrics and the derision that followed Hillary Clinton's effort to keep violent video games away from kids, perhaps it's no surprise that most keep their mouths shut. That silence, however, hands conservatives a victory. As David Callahan points out in his book The Moral Center, "When the right complains about the media's descent into tawdriness, it puts them on the side of most Americans."


And here:

"Even an issue on which Democrats seem to have the winning position can turn out to be a loser for the party in the long run. Most Americans now believe that research on stem cells should be allowed. But as Noam Scheiber recently pointed out in The New Republic magazine, the polls also suggest that they have serious concerns about the morality of unrestricted scientific research. They don't want to wake up tomorrow and discover that we're cloning humans without ever having a conversation as a society about the moral issues involved. By framing the debate as a choice between theology or science, Democrats essentially argued that anyone who has qualms about scientific progress is a troglodyte. That puts them on the losing side of the moral question, even as they win the specific policy debate."

Most of all, here:

"The average American doesn't want to overturn Roe v. Wade or start locking up doctors. But neither does she buy the liberal line that 1.3 million abortions per year are just the price you pay for living in a free and modern society."

All very good points.

I don’t think however that she gets the economic part right. I don’t think most Americans want universal health care once the tax implications are understood. I think there is discontentment with the current system, but there are other solutions. Some liberal policies, like increasing the minimum wage, are so populist that both parties play with it once in a while. But it is far from being a election winner subject. Economically, I think Americans care about 2 things: jobs and jobs. That is why most of the times Republicans win that debate.

But in any case, I think the article is right in the sense that the biggest mistake democrats have been making for the last 8 years is about the culture.

Can they change? I am not so sure.

Monday, October 23, 2006

What Iraqis say - Should we leave?

USA Today has published today a Gallup survey about Iraq. Here are some interesting results:

"Taking everything into account, do you think the coalition invasion of Iraq has done more harm than good or more good than harm?
More harm 46%
More good 33%
The same 16%

Is Iraq much better off, somewhat better off, somewhat worse off or much worse off than before the U.S. invasion?
Much better off 11%
Somewhat better off 31%
About the same 17%
Somewhat worse off 24%
Much worse off 15%

Are you and your family much better off, somewhat better off, somewhat worse off or much worse off than before the US invasion?
Much better off 14%
Somewhat better off 37%
About the same 25%
Somewhat worse off 15%
Much worse off 10%
"

It is interesting how these last 2 questions show clearly what I spoke about on the last post about media bias. The difference between what people think is happening to the country (39% think is worse now) compared to what actually happens to them (only 25% say it is worse now). Amazing.

But let’s continue:

"To what extent can you personally justify the following actions morally?
Current attacks against US forces in Iraq

Cannot at all 25%
Cannot somewhat 22%
Sometime can/can’t 22%
Can somewhat 17%
Can completely 13%

Attacks and bombings targeting Iraqi police
Cannot at all 81%
Cannot somewhat 11%
Sometime can/can’t 4%
Can somewhat 2%
Can completely 1%
"

Only 30% thinks it is ok to attack Americans. It is a lot of people obviously, but it’s a lot less than the media implies.

Now the really important and surprising stat: only 3% thinks it’s ok to fight the Iraqi police! How can I country in civil war think that? Something does not add up here…

"Should US/British forces leave immediately (next few months) or stay longer?
Immediately 57%
Stay longer 36%

How have US forces conducted themselves?
Very well 10%
Fairly well 24%
Fairly badly 29%
Very badly 29%
Don’t know 9%

Do you say this from personal experience, from things you’ve seen yourself or from what you’ve heard?
Personal experience 7%
You’ve seen 39%
You’ve heard 54%

You or members of your household had any personal contact with US military forces?
Yes 6%
"

Wow. If only 6-7% had personal experiences how can 67% think that the troops did not behave well? Can you spell hearsay?

"Do you think now of Coalition forces mostly as occupiers or mostly as liberators?
Occupiers 71%
Liberators 19%
Both 8%

At the time of the invasion, did you think of Coalition forces mostly as occupiers or mostly as liberators?
Occupiers 43%
Liberators 43%
Both 9%

If Coalition left today, would you feel safer or less safe?
More safe 28%
Less safe 53%
No difference 12%
Don’t know 8%
"

Ok, so people are considerably more hostile to the US. However, only 28% would feel safer if we left… Does that mean that they only want us out for pride? Hmmm.

Now look at this:

"Thinking about any hardships you might have suffered since the US/British invasion, do you personally think that ousting Saddam Hussein was worth it or not?
Worth it 61%
Not worth it 28%

Has there been an increase or a decrease in the family income compared to that of before the war?
Increase a lot 5%
Increase somewhat 36%
Same 43%
Decrease somewhat 12%
Decrease a lot 4%
"

All of this is enormously different than what the American press portrays. I wonder if the people who believe in the 650000 deaths poll have any type of explanation for this.

In any case, what to make of all of this? A few things in my opinion:

- Violence against Iraqis (civilian and police) seems to be either exaggerated or coming from an underground movement that has no public support.
- Americans public image is deteriorating.
- Iraqis seem to be afraid that we have some ulterior motive, like setting up military bases and staying there forever.
- They also seem to believe that they would be able to keep it up, even though they expect the violence to grow. This part makes me suspicious.

So, should we just leave?

The American objective currently is to have a government that is at least not supportive of terrorists. Would leaving now help or hurt this objective?

Another thing to consider is that American will is faltering. If democrats win this midterm election, there is a big chance that Republicans will change their tactics and accept a quicker withdrawal. Look at what Kerry and Hillary have been saying.

So even though staying the course is probably the best military option, politically we might be getting close to a point of where a withdrawal is inevitable.

Let’s hope we can pull this one off.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Average American: 1967 and Today

Forbes has a very interesting comparison between the economic situation of the average American in 1967 and today. Clearly things have improved tremendously: (all numbers were adjusted for inflation)

Median Income (Men)
1965 $28,599
2005 $41,386

Median Income (Women)
1965 $9,533 (33% of men)
2005 $31.858 (77% of men)

Changes in Purchasing Power
From 2005 - 10 years: 5.7% 20 years: 8.0% 30 year: 7.5% 40 years: 6.2%

Productivity Increases Since 1965
1965 (baseline)
2005 +220%

Home Ownership Percentage
1965 63%
2005 69%

However, the article mentions that "according to a Parade Magazine survey, 48% of Americans believe they're worse off than their parents were. A study by GFK-Roper group showed that 66% of Americans said that their personal situations in the "Good Old Days"--defined by the bulk of respondents as anywhere between the 1950s and the 1980s--were better than they are today. And in May, a Pew Research Center poll showed that half of U.S. adults believe the current trends point toward their children's future being worse than their own present."

How can that be? The article says that a lot of this current feeling of discontentment comes from the increase of inequality:

Income Share of Middle 60% of Wage Earners
1965 52.3%
2005 46.2%

Compensation of CEO of largest U.S. Corp. vs. Median Household
1965 Frederick Donner/General Motors 3.9 million (med. household income = 0.2%)
2005 Lee Scott/Wal-Mart $19 million (med. household income = 0.2%)

Compensation of highly paid athlete vs. Median Household
1965 Joe Namath/football $142,333 (med. household income = 5%)
2005 Tiger Woods/golf $87 million (median household income = 0.1%)

The cover story for Time follows the same line:

“The very idea of redistributing wealth can feel un-American in the land of Horatio Alger, until you look closely at how it's spread now. Half of us earn less than $30,000 a year, 90% less than $100,000. To get an idea of how we value our values, Howard Stern earns every 24 seconds what takes a cop or a teacher about a week.”

I just don’t buy this whole thing. What difference does it make whether Howard Stern or some football player makes millions? Do people think they are stealing money from them? If everybody were really so disgusted with this disparity, why would they keep listening to the radio/TV/sport shows and buying products these people sell?

It just doesn’t make sense.

I have a theory (impossible to proof of course) that all this complaining is caused by my favorite demon: press bias.

It should be obvious how this works. If you keep hearing that people are poor and that is unfair that Howard Stern makes gazillions of dollars a minute, you will eventually believe that this is common knowledge. And so, even if you personally don’t care about celebrity’s salaries or don’t really know that many people going through financial hardship, you assume that the problem is with you.

Michael Medved does a little thing on his radio show that illustrates how this works. Whenever someone calls to complain about the current economic situation, he asks whether that individual is personally going through a tough time, and whether he/she was better or worse 10 years ago. The huge majority always says they are doing ok, and justify their opinion saying that things are bad for other people, not themselves. What other people? They are not sure.

The numbers show that Americans have no reason to think that things are worse than before. On top of that, we need to remember all the immeasurable advances we benefit from. How do you calculate the benefit of paying 100 dollars in an air ticket that used to cost 300 before deregulation? How much better is your life because of the internet or better dental anesthesia?

So the big question is: Why is the press doing this?

Again, I think the answer is simple: politics and ideology. It is in the interest of “progressives” to propagate discontentment so people can keep looking for them for the so needed progress. If things are going great, conservatives have a natural advantage.

By the way, that is one of the reasons Fox News is so successful. It is not because it is more or less biased than other networks. It has also nothing to do with the fact that it is pro-Republican while the others are pro-Democrat (if that was the case audience would be horrible currently). The main difference is just the simple fact that it makes more sense to people to hear that things are not falling apart all the time.

Just because they are not.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Our insane abortion laws

A 22 year old woman named Tammy Skinner shot herself in the belly in order to kill her unborn child. She was scheduled to give birth on that same morning.

A Virginia judge has dismissed all charges, saying that the law did not make it a crime for a mother to cause her own abortion.

That means that in the eyes of the law, this woman has not killed anyone. Even though all science proves that the child was completely formed and alive, the law sees it otherwise. If someone had shot her, then it would be murder. But since she decided to murder her own child, nothing else matters. Just keep on moving folks, nothing to see here.

-- x --

I am divided on the pro-life / pro-choice debate. I love children and my instincts all push me to be pro-life. However, after I became a father I became much more aware of how sensible and vulnerable children are. Is it death the worse thing that can happen to a child? How much suffering would these aborted children have to endure in the hands of these unprepared, selfish and stupid parents?

If I were king, abortions would only be permitted when the mother life is in danger, when the woman was raped, or when it has been proven the fetus has a terminal disease. I would also greatly simplify adoption laws, and invest and improve orphanage homes.

Roe vs. Wade was a huge mistake in every possible way. It was legally bogus and it has been turning more and more socially destructive every day. In typical liberal fashion, a problem was solved but a bigger one was created. By taking the issue out of the State legislature and covering it with this “free for all” legal blanket the judiciary has basically opened the doors to a complete disregard of children. Yes, a fully formed baby that is ready to be born is a child, not a fetus, no matter what the ACLU pin heads say. I held one in my arms, I know.

Something has to be done. This is barbaric beyond reason.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

What some other Iraqis think about the Johns Hopkins poll

"...

Iraq Body Count -- a nonpartisan outfit that keeps track of Iraqi mortality figures -- has also issued a devastating critique of the Lancet/Johns Hopkins survey. It points out that the study implies that a thousand Iraqis died violently every day in the first half of 2006, with fewer than a tenth of them being noticed by "public surveillance mechanisms" and the press, as well as "incompetence and/or fraud on a truly massive scale by Iraqi officials in hospitals and ministries." It adds that death totals of the Lancet magnitude "are unnecessary to brand the invasion and occupation of Iraq a human and strategic tragedy."

Of course, the latter is precisely the agenda of the majority of those trumpeting the Lancet findings. Their goal isn't merely to nail the Bush Administration for incompetence in failing to achieve a sustainable victory in Iraq. They also, and perversely, want to discredit the war as a moral enterprise by suggesting there's no difference between Saddam Hussein's now well documented mass murders and the violence taking place today.

Omar Fadil, who with his brother writes from troubled Baghdad at IraqTheModel.com, has no doubt that the Lancet figure is a gross exaggeration. "All they want is to prove that our struggle for freedom was the wrong thing to do," he writes. "This fake research is an insult to every man, woman and child who lost their lives."

Source: WSJ Editorial

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

More info about the Johns Hopkins Iraq survey

After doing survey research in Iraq for nearly two years, I was surprised to read that a study by a group from Johns Hopkins University claims that 655,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the war. Don't get me wrong, there have been far too many deaths in Iraq by anyone's measure; some of them have been friends of mine. But the Johns Hopkins tally is wildly at odds with any numbers I have seen in that country. Survey results frequently have a margin of error of plus or minus 3% or 5%--not 1200%.

The group--associated with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health--employed cluster sampling for in-person interviews, which is the methodology that I and most researchers use in developing countries. Here, in the U.S., opinion surveys often use telephone polls, selecting individuals at random. But for a country lacking in telephone penetration, door-to-door interviews are required: Neighborhoods are selected at random, and then individuals are selected at random in "clusters" within each neighborhood for door-to-door interviews. Without cluster sampling, the expense and time associated with travel would make in-person interviewing virtually impossible.

However, the key to the validity of cluster sampling is to use enough cluster points. In their 2006 report, "Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional sample survey," the Johns Hopkins team says it used 47 cluster points for their sample of 1,849 interviews. This is astonishing: I wouldn't survey a junior high school, no less an entire country, using only 47 cluster points.

Neither would anyone else. For its 2004 survey of Iraq, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) used 2,200 cluster points of 10 interviews each for a total sample of 21,688. True, interviews are expensive and not everyone has the U.N.'s bank account. However, even for a similarly sized sample, that is an extraordinarily small number of cluster points. A 2005 survey conducted by ABC News, Time magazine, the BBC, NHK and Der Spiegel used 135 cluster points with a sample size of 1,711--almost three times that of the Johns Hopkins team for 93% of the sample size.

What happens when you don't use enough cluster points in a survey? You get crazy results when compared to a known quantity, or a survey with more cluster points. There was a perfect example of this two years ago. The UNDP's survey, in April and May 2004, estimated between 18,000 and 29,000 Iraqi civilian deaths due to the war. This survey was conducted four months prior to another, earlier study by the Johns Hopkins team, which used 33 cluster points and estimated between 69,000 and 155,000 civilian deaths--four to five times as high as the UNDP survey, which used 66 times the cluster points.

The 2004 survey by the Johns Hopkins group was itself methodologically suspect--and the one they just published even more so.

Curious about the kind of people who would have the chutzpah to claim to a national audience that this kind of research was methodologically sound, I contacted Johns Hopkins University and was referred to Les Roberts, one of the primary authors of the study. Dr. Roberts defended his 47 cluster points, saying that this was standard. I'm not sure whose standards these are.

Appendix A of the Johns Hopkins survey, for example, cites several other studies of mortality in war zones, and uses the citations to validate the group's use of cluster sampling. One study is by the International Rescue Committee in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which used 750 cluster points. Harvard's School of Public Health, in a 1992 survey of Iraq, used 271 cluster points. Another study in Kosovo cites the use of 50 cluster points, but this was for a population of just 1.6 million, compared to Iraq's 27 million.

When I pointed out these numbers to Dr. Roberts, he said that the appendices were written by a student and should be ignored. Which led me to wonder what other sections of the survey should be ignored.

With so few cluster points, it is highly unlikely the Johns Hopkins survey is representative of the population in Iraq. However, there is a definitive method of establishing if it is. Recording the gender, age, education and other demographic characteristics of the respondents allows a researcher to compare his survey results to a known demographic instrument, such as a census.

Dr. Roberts said that his team's surveyors did not ask demographic questions. I was so surprised to hear this that I emailed him later in the day to ask a second time if his team asked demographic questions and compared the results to the 1997 Iraqi census. Dr. Roberts replied that he had not even looked at the Iraqi census.

And so, while the gender and the age of the deceased were recorded in the 2006 Johns Hopkins study, nobody, according to Dr. Roberts, recorded demographic information for the living survey respondents. This would be the first survey I have looked at in my 15 years of looking that did not ask demographic questions of its respondents. But don't take my word for it--try using Google to find a survey that does not ask demographic questions.

Without demographic information to assure a representative sample, there is no way anyone can prove--or disprove--that the Johns Hopkins estimate of Iraqi civilian deaths is accurate.

Public-policy decisions based on this survey will impact millions of Iraqis and hundreds of thousands of Americans. It's important that voters and policy makers have accurate information. When the question matters this much, it is worth taking the time to get the answer right.

Source: WSJ

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

You can't close Guantanamo and get rid of terrorists too!

"British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett last week issued the latest European demand to close down the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba," The Washington Post reports. "The existence of the prison is 'unacceptable' and fuels Islamic radicalism around the world, she said, echoing a recent chorus of complaints from Europe about U.S. counterterrorism policy."

What to do with these folks? Hey, now you are asking too much!

"Behind the scenes . . . the British government has repeatedly blocked efforts to let some prisoners leave Guantanamo and return home.
According to documents made public this month in London, officials there recently rejected a U.S. offer to transfer 10 former British residents from Guantanamo to the United Kingdom, arguing that it would be too expensive to keep them under surveillance. Britain has also staved off a legal challenge by the relatives of some prisoners who sued to require the British government to seek their release.
Other European governments, which have been equally vocal in assailing Guantanamo as a human rights liability, have also balked at accepting prisoner transfers. A Turkish citizen who was born and raised in Germany was finally permitted to return from Guantanamo in August, four years after the German government turned down a U.S. proposal to release him."


And these are our strongest allies…

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Bias in many forms - Amazon style

This is an interesting one. I was browsing around Amazon and noticed that the only editorial review for Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal is the following:

"As an interesting relic of the past, this outlandish piece of propaganda is worth the listener's time, even though the author's overconfident sense of her own rightness and persistence at pressing her points with little respect for opposing views can quickly become more than a little annoying. Using outdated words such as "altruists" to represent the forces of evil who would overburden the poor, beleaguered American business community, Rand "protesteth" far too much. Americans have seen many of the abuses come to pass that Rand, writing in 1946, claimed would never happen if free enterprise were just left to its own devices, so many of her arguments will be lost on a modern listener. For instance, the antitrust laws forced railroad barons to use illegal payoffs to forge ahead with expansion, and they shouldn't, therefore, be blamed the antitrust laws are the real problem. Narrator Anna Field's cold, crisp voice is actually well suited to such a heartless piece as this. Recommended. Mark Pumphrey, Polk Cty. P.L., Columbus, NC”

Honestly, I have never seen this before. The only endorsed opinion available is bashing the book they are supposedly trying to sell! Compare it to the Amazon Editorial for this grandiose piece of garbage:

“Noam Chomsky is considered the father of modern linguistics. In this richly detailed criticism of American foreign policy, he seeks to redefine many of the terms commonly used in the ongoing American war on terrorism. Surveying U.S. actions in Cuba, Nicaragua, Turkey, the Far East and elsewhere over the past half a century along with the modern American war in Iraq, Chomsky indicates that America is just as much a terrorist state as any other government or rogue organization. George W. Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq drew worldwide criticism, in part because it seemed to present a new philosophy of pre-emptive war and an appearance of global empire building. But according to Chomsky, such has been the operating philosophy of American foreign policy for decades. Opponents of the Bush administration's tactics consistently point out how the American government supported Saddam Hussein for many years prior to the 1990 invasion of Kuwait (pictures of Donald Rumsfeld shaking Saddam's hand are easy to come by) as a means of pointing out how the United States is happy to fund despots when it's in American interests. But Chomsky, armed with extensive historical notation, takes this notion further, arguing how the repression of other nations' citizenry is, in fact, the very reason Americans support certain foreign leaders. The charges made throughout the book are severe, as are the dire consequences he posits if current trends are not reversed, and Chomsky is no more likely to make friends or gain supporters from the mainstream now than he's ever been. But Hegemony or Survival is relatively dispassionate. Instead of relying on camp or shock value or personal attacks as some of his contemporaries have done, Chomsky drives his well-supported points steadily forward in an earnest and highly readable style. --John Moe”

Pretty amazing.

The Good Fight

This rocks

Thursday, October 12, 2006

O Brasil neoliberal continua cada vez mais neoliberal!

Ano passado eramos posição 119 de um total de 155 no ranking do Doing Business.

Que diferença um ano faz! Agora somos 121 de um total de 175! (Ajustando a colocação de 2005 para o novo total de países subimos 1 posição!)

Destaques para Registering Property (124), Closing a Business (135), Dealing with Licenses (139) and Paying Taxes (151).

Just one more proof of how capitalism is destroying this neoliberal paradise.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Bye bye Sunshine


Kim. Albright. "I am so happy I won't have to destroy you until the next govenment takes over!" "Me too!"

People say politicians love war. That’s probably true. But I have no doubt in my mind that politicians love diplomacy even more.

This should be obvious. There is much more money in diplomacy. Think about all the give it and take deals that were made in name of diplomatic efforts, especially in limit situations. It is all very logical: war costs a lot, especially if you lose. If there is a chance that two governments can settle a dispute by exchanging favors that end up costing less, it’s a done deal. Pure game theory.

Besides the monetary aspect, there’s also the obvious popular appeal. We the people love peace. We love even more peace makers! Think about Clinton walking out of Camp David with the Palestinians and Israelis. Man that felt great.

Actually, I can’t think of any immediate down side in any type of appeasement. It’s all good: You are good; the other side is good, let’s smoke the peace pipe and cash those checks.

The only flaw is that on the long term, problems have this annoying tendency of coming back. If it ain’t broken, why the hell would anyone fix it?

The US has tried for almost 10 years to appease North Korea at unimaginable levels. South Korea’s Sunshine policy went even farther. Both groups justified these deals based on the fact that they were “cheaper” than the alternatives. I can’t argue with that.

Now, the problem is still there. Only bigger and nastier. What do we do now? Have we reached the point of diminishing returns of appeasement? Is the price we have to pay now worth the postponed period we got?

Can we at least ask our money back?

Monday, October 09, 2006

I have the solution to the North Korea crisis

Temos que mandar o Lula negociar uma solução. Duvida? Veja aqui:

"É difícil discutir com alguém que pensa ainda que nós estamos na Guerra Fria. Possivelmente o governador não saiba que nós temos um superácift commercial com a China . Possivelmente ele não saiba que nós acabamos de fazer contrato de 100 aviões da Embraer com a China . Possivelmente ele não saiba que nós temos com a Bolívia , com o Uruguai e com o Paraguai responsabilidade de ajudar a economia desses países se desenvover. Porque é muito fácil fazer a bravata (?) que o Bush fez.

Se o Bush tivesse bom senso como eu tenho, não teria tido a Guerra do Iraque. Ele teria acreditado no brasileiro que negociava, saberia que não tinha arma química, e ele então ficaria tranquilo. Ele foi avisado. Ele poderia ter seguido o conselho do Brasil, da Alemanha, da França, mas não seguiu. Pensava que nem você, Alckimin, e fez uma barbárie dessa. Pode estar certo que eu acredito no bom senso, e na conversa, e vou conversar defendendo os interesses do Brasil.
"

O hómi é um gêniu!

Party of fear

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Economic bias

The most irritating press bias for me (and there are many) is the economic.

Yesterday's job growth report is a classic example. Take this ABC News piece: Notice the difference between the way they report bad news (“That's the lowest level since the October 2005 post-Katrina report and well below the 125,000 consensus estimate of economists.”) and good news (“The nation's unemployment rate — the result of a different, but simultaneously released survey — showed a slight improvement during September, ticking down one-tenth of a percent to 4.6 percent. Realistically, this is nothing more than a statistically insignificant wobble in the number.”).

You have to dig around to get a nicer (and more realistic) view of yesterday’s data. Looking at one such report (WP article) you will find out that:
- The Labor Department said payrolls for the 12 months that ended in March 2006 will be revised upwards by a whopping 810,000 jobs, the biggest revision since 1991.
- The unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent in September from 4.7 percent in August, which was down from 4.8 percent in July. The jobless rate has varied from 4.6 to 4.8 percent all year. Considering that a few workers have such poor skills as to be nearly unemployable, many economists consider a rate below 5 percent to constitute full employment, meaning just about every worker with the skills and desire to work can find a job.
- 6.6 million new jobs have been created since August 2003
- Demand for labor helped drive workers' average hourly wages, not including those of most managers, up to $16.84 last month. That's a 4 percent increase from September 2005, the fastest wage growth in more than five years.

Now, if you are really ‘lucky’, you will find other reports like this WSJ editorial. Then you will learn that:
- The federal budget deficit estimate for the fiscal year 2006, which ended Sept. 30, has dropped to $260 billion from $319 billion deficit recorded in fiscal 2005 (approximately 21% decrease).
- The deficit is now about 2% of our $13 trillion economy, well below the 2.7% average of the last 40 years. Most states and localities are also afloat in tax collections, and including their revenue surpluses brings the total U.S. public sector borrowing down to roughly 1.5% of GDP
- The main cause of this decline -- 90% of it -- is a tidal wave of tax revenue. Tax collections have increased by $521 billion in the last two fiscal years, the largest two-year revenue increase -- even after adjusting for inflation -- in American history. (Tax cuts for the rich. Go figure!)
- Tax collections from Corporations have climbed by 76% over the past two years. Personal income tax payments are up by 30.3% since 2004 too, despite the fact that the highest tax rate is down to 35% from 39.6%. The IRS tax-return data just released last month indicates that a near-record 37% of those income tax payments are received from the top 1% of earners.

Want more? Here it goes:
- Inflation is low
- Dow at all time high, up 9.1% this year
- Crude oil prices have dropped about 20 percent since late July, from $75 a barrel to $60 a barrel. Gasoline prices have dropped 60 cents a gallon since last month (around 20%)

It goes on and on. Maybe Rush Limbaugh is right: the only way to get good economic news from the press is to elect a democrat.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Grocery Game or another reason why I love the internet

I am not sure why but the first time my wife told me about “The Grocery Game” I thought it was phony.

But let me tell you this: it works like a charm. We have saved hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars with this thing.

The concept is really simple. They search for coupons and sales among all grocery stores and let you know which one is cheaper. That’s it! The reason it works so well is because usually these coupons are buried inside a newspaper or a magazine. The information is so dispersed that no one is able to find out what stores have the best deals for what products.

Of course there’s still some work left. You have to organize your trips to each supermarket based on whatever you need and where the best prices for such products are. You usually need to buy brands you are not very familiar with.

This kind of saving is one of the aspects that I doubt is taken into consideration when people analyze the benefits of the internet. Can you imagine the economic implications of saving, let’s say, one thousand dollars a year in groceries per family? This is huge.

Determinism

I like Scott Adams: he’s funny, smart, and unpredictable. I read his blog almost daily.

Unfortunately, he is a determinist. Worst of all, Scott believes in the most absurd type of determinism: Biological determinism (we are nothing but moist robots as he calls it).

Now, I don’t want to go into a philosophical/semantic discussion here. Of course I believe the environment, your genes, your friends and your education affect the way you behave at some level. Human beings are social creatures that can be influenced, and are ultimately (at least at this point) genetically flawed. The problem is when one believes that one or some of these factors actually determine with complete precision all your actions during your whole lifetime. Just like software determines all the possible actions of a computer.

One of the reasons why people can get away with such absurd theory is the fact that we are very complex organisms. At this point we do not fully understand how our genes work, how our environment influence us and how this all match together.

However, to try to simplify all of this by believing that we are nothing but a collection of instincts and reflexes goes against every single evidence we have about our world around us. It is worth remembering that we do have a lot of organisms in this planet that behave in such way. And to say that we are no different than them, just “smarter”, is basically to say that we are NOT as they are.

More uncompressible to me is the notion that free will is somehow “easier to accept” that it’s deterministic counter parts. Human beings long for security and predictability. All kinds of studies show that.

If there was such a deterministic force behind our existence, be it our genes our social environment or even a supernatural entity, it would be much easier to just make us ignore free will than to believe it is there.

Free will is a great destabilizing force. It is unpredictable by definition. How could any force account for people changing behaviors during a life time? How could “human progress” be accounted for? And how about all the uncountable combinations and permutations of how each one of us affect and change the other?

In my opinion determinism is nothing but a cheap cop-out. No matter what you do, nothing is your fault. Don’t worry about improving yourself or the world: things will always be the way they are. Nothing matters.

It is probably one of the more destructive philosophical propositions ever.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

It does get worse

Comunista de 25 anos tem a maior votação para deputada federal no Rio Grande do Sul

"Usando como bordão o cumprimento ''e aí, beleza?", a vereadora Manuela D'Ávila (PC do B), de Porto Alegre, foi a candidata a deputada federal mais votada no Rio Grande do Sul, atingindo a marca de 271.683 votos.

Se em 2004 ela surpreendeu ao ser eleita vereadora, em 2006 surpreendeu mais ainda pelo alto número de votos conquistados.

Jornalista, militante da política estudantil, Manuela, 25, manteve o discurso próximo dos
estudantes. Vem daí sua expressiva votação, que no próprio PC do B é atribuída ao contato fácil com a juventude, de quem se credenciou como representante. "E aí, beleza?" é o nome do blog dela e seu bordão na propaganda eleitoral.

''Votei nela porque é bonita, sincera e passa coisas boas. Se eu não votasse nela, minha filha não me perdoaria. Não conheço nenhum estudante que não tenha votado nela", disse a estudante do ensino básico Ingrid Betancourt, 31, que tem uma filha de 10 anos.

A deputada eleita, porém, procura relativizar esse perfil, referindo-se ao seu eleitorado como mais plural. ''Foi a vitória de muitas mãos, de muitos homens e muitas mulheres que acreditaram que é possível construir política de maneira séria, sem transformar a política em algo distante das pessoas, que é possível política com alegria. Muitos juntos podemos mudar este país", disse ela.

Manuela, que mora com o namorado, definiu sua primeira missão como deputada federal eleita: ajudar a reeleger os petistas Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva como presidente e Olívio Dutra como governador --o PC do B está coligado com o PT.

Ela critica a cláusula de barreira, que fixa um desempenho mínimo nacional dos partidos nas eleições. ''Não vamos nos submeter a essa cláusula antidemocrática. Nos 84 anos de história do PC do B, 61 foram na clandestinidade real. A semi-clandestinidade da cláusula não nos assusta. Assusta muito aos partidos que não têm políticas sólidas", disse ela.

''Esse é o meu partido, é o lado em que estou, que meus eleitores escolheram. Não vamos abrir mão do que acreditamos."