Thursday, April 18, 2013

"No, not Boston"‏

I donate at times to MDA, the Israeli version of the Red Cross -- so I am on their mailing list.  I received the following email (under the above heading) from them

Last night, Israelis observed the end of Yom HaZikaron, commemorating the thousands who've died fighting to defend the Jewish State, which is followed at sundown by Yom HaAtzma'ut, the celebration of Israel's independence. Our celebrations for this holiday were tempered, however, when we were confronted with news footage reminiscent of what we saw here in Israel on a nearly weekly basis about a dozen years ago. Only this time the carnage wasn't in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, or Haifa, but Boston, the very city where America's bid for independence began nearly 240 years ago.

Even for Israelis, who live amid the sectarian violence of the Middle East, the footage was particularly shocking. Once again, an international sporting event bringing people together from around the world in pursuit of peaceful competition has been marred by the politics of hatred, a reminder of our own ordeal during the Munich Olympics 40 years ago. And for this latest bombing to happen in America, which has always been for Israelis a symbol of peaceful coexistence between people, is particularly distressing.

We were heartened, however, to see the exemplary work of Boston's paramedics and emergency services personnel, who risked their own safety to treat the wounded, pushing aside thoughts of when yet another device might explode. And we were touched to see bystanders assisting the wounded, many of them strangers, in the aftermath of the bombings, just as Israelis did when the bombs went off here.

Our thoughts are with the people of Boston, and all Americans, in this time of sadness and uncertainty. And, like you, we find ourselves hoping that this tragedy is "only" the work of a lone lunatic, and not a larger movement of some hate group.

We have a personal connection with the head of Homeland Security for Massachusetts and Magen David Adom has offered to assist the Boston emergency medical response community in any way we can. This includes offering them additional training in responding to mass-casualty trauma events, a skill we lead the world in because of our own vast experience in coping with terrorism.

Our thoughts are with all Americans at this time. And just as the American community has always been there for Israel, we will assist our American colleagues in any way we can.


We need to accept inequality

To begin: The country desperately needs to embrace an uncompromising elitism, this being simply the belief that the better is preferable to the worse. Somehow America has gotten this simple principle (if I may employ the Latin phrase) bass-ackward. In the things of civilization, we worship the lame, the halt, the dim-witted, and the proven unable. How smart is this?

In correction, I will first raise the voting age to thirty. The present practice of allowing children of eighteen to wield the ballot is transparent madness. The excessively young are callow, uninformed, and lacking experience of the things they affect with the votes. Hormonal turbulence and an eigtht-grade education—about what a high-school diploma is worth these days—do not recommend them as fit to stir the pots of governance. If you are parent to teenagers, you will see the unwisdom of letting our tender sprouts decide anything beyond their choice of godawful music.

When the Teen-Vote Amendment was being pondered, the argument was made that since eighteen years was sufficient to die in Vietnam, it was sufficient for suffrage. This is like saying that because a five-year-old can die in a traffic accident, he should have a driver’s license. Youth is a serviceable substitute for stupidity. We regularly outgrow youth and, occasionally, stupidity. We should give future voters the chance.

By the age of thirty, most people have experience of life as it is actually lived, perhaps of parenthood, of making a living and of the shocks the flesh is heir to. I grant that my laudable policy runs against the cult of brainless youth which is thought the apotheosis of democracy. Good. This opposition constitutes near-perfect proof of its advisability.  As a rule, any idea that you cannot utter without losing your job is a good idea.

My second contribution to enlightened government will be to reinstate the literacy test as a requirement for voting. It is not evident why an inability to read qualifies one to influence policy regarding, war, schooling, and the intricacies of national finance. The situation is dire. In Detroit, for example, the rate of functional illiteracy has been measured at some fifty percent. If half of the population cannot read at all, most of the rest don’t read much. In most cases this will mean never having willingly read a book. I don’t want these running a country. Or a car wash.

The objection will be raised that to require literacy will be to disenfranchise various minorities. The solution is for the various minorities to learn to read.

However, in my humble (but infallible) opinion, the bare ability to read is hardly grounds for participation in government. For that matter, neither is the possession of an alleged college education. Survey after survey has shown that, with exceptions to be sure, college graduates do not know in what century the Civil War was fought or what countries engaged in World War One, cannot name the three departments of the federal government, list three cities in Mexico, or find Japan, or for that matter Africa, on an outline map of the world. The universities in America have become a profitable fraud, and should be prosecuted under the RICO act. (I will consider this happy prospect in a future column.)

My solution to this measureless ignorance will be to require potential voters to sit for the Graduate Record Exam and score modestly on it. Why is it thought that people who hardly know what they are voting about will do it wisely? I repeatedly see that about half of the public believes that Iraq was responsible for dropping those buildings in New York. Here we have categorical proof that half the population should not be allowed within rifle shot of a voting booth.

Actually, while spilling forth these my luminous policies, the thought comes that it might be reasonable to limit the franchise of those of IQ 130 or higher: roughly Mensa intelligence, the top two percent. This will outrage those of us who do not meet this standard. But why? If I need brain surgery, I want it done by someone who can do it better than I could do it myself. Why should this principle not apply to government? Do we not hire plumbers because they plumb better than we do?

Registration of voters by IQ  strikes me as a good idea if only for its value as amusement. Think what it would do for campaigns. No longer would election be possible by orating endlessly of The American People, and The American Dream, twelve times per teleprompter screen. I love to imagine: “Yes, Mr. Bush. You are against evil, doubtless because it is a very short word. But what consequences do you see of de-Baathification in light of the doctrinal divides of the eighth century?”

Now, the US being a profoundly anti-intellectual society, my admirable plan will be objected to on grounds that Americans don’t want to be ruled by pointy-headed intellectuals at Harvard. Let us think about this. An intellectual is one who deals in ideas. He is not necessarily of high intelligence, nor necessarily right. The majority of the highly intelligent aren’t intellectuals, and they are not clustered in ivory towers. They are doctors, engineers, scientists, soldiers, and businessmen. They are geographically dispersed and politically all over the map. And they would be a hell of a lot harder to herd by the imbecile-ranchers and con men of Washington.

Of course the distaste for intellectuals means distaste only for those intellectuals with whom one disagrees. Conservatives love Rush Limbaugh and detest Rachel Madow, while liberals take exactly the opposite position. Both Limbaugh and Madow are intellectuals.

However, a major current in American political life is resentment of one’s superiors. It isn’t universal, but it’s there. Thus the whole edifice of fiat egalitarianism: the insistence that all children should go to college when most haven’t the brains, putting students in advanced-placement courses on grounds of race and sex instead of ability, the desire to abolish grades, the insistence that intelligence doesn’t exist and that all people and groups have the same amount of it. Me, I’m happy to let those smarter than I am invent things for me. If the world had waited for me to come up with Newtonian mechanics, it would still be waiting.



How to Lie With Statistics: A Recent Example

A recent post by Chuck Marr on a Huffington Post blog provides a nice demonstration of how to use true facts to support a false claim. It contains a series of charts with information on taxes, mostly federal. One of them is labeled: "Bush Tax Cuts Heavily Tilted to the Top," and shows that the percentage increase in after-tax income as a result of the tax cuts was almost three times as large for taxpayers with incomes of more than a million dollars as for those with incomes of $40,000-$50,000.

What it does not mention, but what one can see from other charts on the page, is that high income taxpayers pay in federal taxes about three times as large a fraction of their income as middle income tax payers. So if the tax cuts reduced everyone's taxes by the same percentage, the result would have been almost exactly what the chart shows. Indeed, the author could have made his claim even more striking by pointing out that taxpayers near the bottom of the income distribution got nothing out of the tax cuts—and neglecting to mention that the reason was that they were not paying any taxes.

Another somewhat misleading chart shows that it is possible for a middle income family with relatively little investment income to pay a higher tax rate than a high income family whose income is mostly from investments. It is clear if you read carefully that the author is not claiming this situation is typical--an earlier chart shows that, on average, high income families pay a much higher rate than middle income families. But the author does not mention that his calculation ignores corporate income tax, which arguably should be attributed to the owners of the corporations—the people receiving investment income.

A final problem, not of dishonest presentation but of the difficulty in adequately analyzing the effect of taxes, is that all of the charts show who pays taxes, not who actually bears the tax burden. It is easy enough to describe situations where the result of taxing the income of group A is partly a reduction of their after tax income, partly an increase in their before tax income, ultimately paid by those who consume the goods or services they produce. To put it in conventional terminology, it is not clear to what extent a tax on A is passed on to B. That problem applies to corporate income taxes as well—the reason for the word "arguably" in the previous paragraph.

One other chart has a different sort of problem. It shows taxes as a fraction of GDP for a range of countries, with the U.S. near the bottom. The author does not mention that the federal government for the past few years has been going largely on borrowed money—at one point almost half of total expenditure—hence that the chart badly misrepresents the more important question, which is what fraction of national income each government spends.



Fact-Free Crusades

 Thomas Sowell

Amid all the heated, emotional advocacy of gun control, have you ever heard even one person present convincing hard evidence that tighter gun control laws have in fact reduced murders?
Think about all the states, communities within states, as well as foreign countries, that have either tight gun control laws or loose or non-existent gun control laws. With so many variations and so many sources of evidence available, surely there would be some compelling evidence somewhere if tighter gun control laws actually reduced the murder rate.

And if tighter gun control laws don't actually reduce the murder rate, then why are we being stampeded toward such laws after every shooting that gets media attention?

Have the media outlets that you follow ever even mentioned that some studies have produced evidence that murder rates tend to be higher in places with tight gun control laws?

The dirty little secret is that gun control laws do not actually control guns. They disarm law-abiding citizens, making them more vulnerable to criminals, who remain armed in disregard of such laws.

In England, armed crimes skyrocketed as legal gun ownership almost vanished under increasingly severe gun control laws in the late 20th century. (See the book "Guns and Violence" by Joyce Lee Malcolm). But gun control has become one of those fact-free crusades, based on assumptions, emotions and rhetoric.

What almost no one talks about is that guns are used to defend lives as well as to take lives. In fact, many of the horrific killings that we see in the media were brought to an end when someone else with a gun showed up and put a stop to the slaughter.

The Cato Institute estimates upwards of 100,000 defensive uses of guns per year. Preventing law-abiding citizens from defending themselves can cost far more lives than are lost in the shooting episodes that the media publicize. The lives saved by guns are no less precious, just because the media pay no attention to them.

Many people who have never fired a gun in their lives, and never faced life-threatening dangers, nevertheless feel qualified to impose legal restrictions that can be fatal to others. And politicians eager to "do something" that gets them publicity know that the votes of the ignorant and the gullible are still votes.

Virtually nothing that is being proposed in current gun control legislation is likely to reduce murder rates.

Restricting the magazine capacity available to law-abiding citizens will not restrict the magazine capacity of people who are not law-abiding citizens. Such restrictions just mean that the law-abiding citizen is likely to run out of ammunition first.

Someone would have to be an incredible sharpshooter to fend off three home invaders with just seven shots at moving targets. But seven is the magic number of bullets allowed in a magazine under New York State's new gun control laws.

People who support such laws seem to blithely assume that they are limiting the damage that can be done by criminals or the mentally ill -- as if criminals or mad men care about such laws.

Banning so-called "assault weapons" is a farce, as well as a fraud, because there is no concrete definition of an assault weapon. That is why so many guns have to be specified by name in such bans -- and the ones specified to be banned are typically no more dangerous than others that are not specified.

Some people may think that "assault weapons" means automatic weapons. But automatic weapons were banned decades ago. Banning ugly-looking "assault weapons" may have aesthetic benefits, but it does not reduce the dangers to human life in the slightest. You are just as dead when killed by a very plain-looking gun.

One of the dangerous inconsistencies of many, if not most, gun control crusaders is that those who are most zealous to get guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens are often not nearly as concerned about keeping violent criminals behind bars.

Leniency toward criminals has long been part of the pattern of gun control zealots on both sides of the Atlantic. When the insatiable desire to crack down on law-abiding citizens with guns is combined with an attitude of leniency toward criminals, it can hardly be surprising when tighter gun control laws are accompanied by rising rates of crime, including murders.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, EYE ON BRITAIN and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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