Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cato's Analysis of the Financial Crisis

What Didn’t Happen

Some commentators (and both presidential candidates) have blamed the current financial mess on greed. But if an unusually high number of airplanes were to crash this year, would it make sense to blame gravity? No. Greed, like gravity, is a constant. It can’t explain why the number of financial crashes is higher than usual. There has been no unusual epidemic of blackheartedness.

Others have blamed deregulation or (in the words of one representative) “unregulated freemarket lending run amok.” Such an indictment is necessarily skimpy on the particulars, because there has actually been no recent dismantling of banking and financial regulations.
Read the whole thing.

Paglia Mail Bag

Camille Paglia answers her mail. It is almost an affront to quote her since duplication belies the very originality of her prose, but I can't resist highlighting.

On Sarah Palin:

As I have repeatedly said in this column, I have never had the slightest problem in understanding Sarah Palin's meaning at any time. On the contrary, I have positively enjoyed her fresh, natural, rapid delivery with its syncopated stops and slides -- a fabulous example of which was the way (in her recent interview with John Ziegler) that she used a soft, swooping satiric undertone to zing Katie Couric's dippy narcissism and to assert her own outrage as a "mama grizzly" at libels against her family.

On the Fairness Doctrine:
If there's anything that demonstrates the straying of the Democratic Party leadership from basic liberal principles, it's this blasted Fairness Doctrine -- which should be fiercely opposed by all defenders of free speech. Except when national security is at risk, government should never be involved in the surveillance of speech or in measuring the ideological content of books, movies or radio and TV programs.

Speaking of fairness, here is her response to an emailer that likens the Global Warming demagoguery to Bush's evidence of WMD in Iraq. Ouch!
In both cases, there are "experts" who tell us that evidence justifying action is undeniable. They say, "The risk of doing nothing is too great for us to do nothing." And as a fallback position they say, "Even if we're wrong, we'll still be doing some good in the world." Kind of makes me think man-made CO2 emissions will turn out to be the biggest case of nonexistent WMD since Saddam Hussein's nukes. Jim Carroll
Wonderful letter! I became a vocal opponent of the onrushing Iraq incursion when I was shocked by the flimsiness of evidence presented by Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations in 2003. Similarly, I have been highly skeptical about the claims for global warming because of their overreliance on speculative computer modeling and because of the woeful patchiness of records for world temperatures before the 20th century.
In the 1980s, I was similarly skeptical about media-trumpeted predictions about a world epidemic of heterosexual AIDS. And I remain skeptical about the media's carelessly undifferentiated use of the term "AIDS" for what is often a complex of wasting diseases in Africa. We should all be concerned about environmental despoliation and pollution, but the global warming crusade has become a hallucinatory cult. Until I see stronger evidence, I will continue to believe that climate change is primarily driven by solar phenomena and that it is normal for the earth to pass through major cooling and warming phases.

Don't miss her insightful comments about gay genes, post-structuralism, and the tongue-lashing she gets for her praise of Titanic. God! I love this woman. Amid the huge quantities of regurgitated bird-seed we are forced to swallow in what passes for our literary culture, Camille never fails to deliver pulsating, live worms. Delicious!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Top Ten Science Breakthroughs of 2008

Science Magazine lists its top ten picks for greatest breakthrough of 2008. Here is a condensed list of the runners up and the number one pick. [Free registration required]

In reverse order (David Letterman style) they are:

10. Sequencing Bonanza: New genome-sequencing technologies that are much faster and cheaper than the approach used to decipher the first human genome are driving a boom in sequencing.

9. Proton's Mass 'Predicted': The new results show that physicists can at last make accurate calculations of the ultracomplex strong force that binds quarks.

8. Fat of a Different Color: Researchers finally uncovered the mysterious roots of so-called brown fat. Hardly blubber, the energy-using tissue turns out to be one step away from muscle.

7. The Video Embryo: The dance of cells as a fertilized egg becomes an organism is at the center of developmental biology... This year, scientists observed the ballet in unprecedented detail...

6. Water to Burn: Researchers in the United States reported that they've developed a new catalyst that may serve as a first step in finding cheaper renewable energy.

5. Watching Proteins at Work: After studying proteins for more than a century, biochemists pushed the boundaries of watching the molecules in action--and received surprises at every turn.

4. New High-Temperature Superconductors: Physicists discovered a second family of high-temperature superconductors, materials that carry electricity without resistance at temperatures inexplicably far above absolute zero. [This is relative. High temperatures in this case means 56 Kelvin, which is about -360 F].

3. Cancer Genes: Researchers this year turned a searchlight on the errant DNA that leads tumor cells to grow out of control.

2. Seeing Exoplanets: With more than 5 years of observations using the latest technology, astronomers are suddenly busting down the doors to announce candidates for directly detected planets orbiting other stars.

And, the number one scientific breakthrough of 2008 is...

1. Reprogramming Cells: By inserting genes that turn back a cell's developmental clock, researchers are gaining insights into disease and the biology of how a cell decides its fate. [i.e. turning skin cells into stem cells.]

ICR, the principle advocate of Creation Science in the U.S., notes that none of these breakthroughs required a belief in the outdated 19th century theory of evolution:

Each of the breakthroughs came about through quality empirical science, with researchers employing the scientific method to discover how natural phenomena work. It is significant that none of these breakthroughs required an evolutionary framework for any part of their discoveries—not for the development of their hypotheses, not for the testing of those hypotheses, and not for their results or conclusions. If evolution is truly to be regarded as essential to empirical science and a necessary component of science education, then why were its tenets irrelevant, by virtue of their conspicuous absence, to the top scientific discoveries of 2008?