Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Incentives in Arbitration

Arbitration is a process for resolving civil cases. Instead of using the court system, the parties agree to submit the decision to an arbitrator. The arbitrator is simply another lawyer who acts like a judge in the case. He'll hear motions and, if act as both the judge and jury in the trial-like arbitration. The arbitrator then makes his award which is generally binding on the parties, barring extraordinary circumstances.

Arbitration is usually preferred to court trial because it allows the parties to save some money. Courts are slow and formal, whereas arbitrators are swift and informal. Speed saves money.

Despite the similarities, it occurred to me that while arbitrators act like judges, they are unlikely to reach the same decisions as judges. I think this is for two reasons.

First, parties are less likely to appeal an arbitration decision. The standard for overturing an arbitrator's decision is higher than for a court. Appellate court generally do not defer to trial court's decisions on questions of law. Trial courts will, however, defer to arbitration decisions on these questions.This leaves the arbitrator more latitude.

Second, the arbitrator is usually selected by an agreement of the parties. That means that arbitrators are unlikely to be extremely biased in their decision. If they were, one side of a dispute would never choose them. But it also means that arbitrators are unlikely to send one party home empty handed. A lawyer that gets a really bad decision will probably never use the arbitrator again unless it was really clear that their side of the case should fail.

So, I think if you want the result that may be in tension with the law but seems fair, you probably want an arbitrator.  And if you have a technically good case but are seeking a result that seems less fair, you probably want a judge.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sick of Reform

I know we're all "sick" of the health care debate. I'm "nauseated" every time I think about the healthcare bill passing. Still, I had a couple things to say on the subject. (And these aren't all directed at this particular health care bill)

1. We hear a lot about uninsured Americans. This number fluctuates from forty million to sixty million, which indicates to me that we really have no idea how many uninsured Americans there are. When you break down those numbers, you discover many of the uninsured fall into the following categories: illegal aliens; young, healthy individuals; people who can afford to purchase health insurance but choose not to; and people who qualify for existing assistance programs, like Medicaid, but aren't signed up.

There are probably some people who don't qualify for Medicaid, but also can't afford health insurance, and that's a problem. Here are two things that I think are often overlooked on this insurance point.

 First, not having health insurance doesn't mean you don't get health care. I, myself, purchased health care services without insurance. It's expensive, but doable. True, that's routine care, not serious surgery. But most of these people can purchase a doctors visit if needed.

Second, the comparison always drawn by single-payer advocates is between a free market system that has some people uncovered, and to a government system where everyone gets coverage. But countries that have "single-payer" health care usually have long lines for at least certain kind of tests of treatments. When you're waiting in line, you have less access to health care as a person in the U.S. with no health insurance.

2. Legislating is an ugly process. Everyone is rightly disgusted by the size of the payoffs that senators Landrieu and Nelson got for their states. Now we get to rely on the same institutions to fairly dole out or mandate services and coverages.

3. This particular health care bill mandates that uninsured people either buy coverage or pay a penalty. The bill then prohibits charging disparate premiums to sicker people than to healthier people. The result is that healthy people will subsidize the sick.

That's basically how insurance works in some sense, because it spreads the costs of people who are sick to people who are not. Now, however, insurance companies can hone in on riskier groups and charge them a higher premium. As I understand it, this bill will prohibit that.

One ways to figure out a person's potential need for health care is by age. In other words, insurance companies could charge the elderly more, and the young less. By prohibiting that risk calculation, this bill transfer money from  the young (who are now required to buy coverage) to the elderly. The young are relatively poor, while the elderly are relatively rich. So the bill takes money from the poor and gives it to the rich.

UPDATE: Here is an article making this same point that "community rating" means the healthy will subsidize the unhealthy.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Civil Obedience II

The last post on civil disobedience didn't get much response, but I keep thinking about the topic, and I can't figure out the answer. I'm trying find a theory for when it is okay to violate incorrect laws. Obviously this is a continuum problem. On the one hand, we have to obey some laws we believe are imprudent. If we didn't, the result would be anarchy. On the other hand, certainly some truly oppressive laws should be violated.

Here are the proposed answers so far.

We can/should violate laws:
1. When you are in a position to change the law through your disobedience.
2. Only in extreme circumstances
3. When the law is unjust
4. When the law violates inalienable rights
5. When the law prohibits exercising freedom of conscience
6. Something else?

The problem here is it's results driven. Can you realistically know whether your actions will have the desired affect before breaking the law? Supposing Shadrack, Meshack and Abedego would not have changed the law by refusing to worship the idol of Nebuchadnezzar II, should they have worshiped the idol? I think the answer must be no.

I agree that we should only disobey the laws in extreme circumstances. I just don't know that this test gives us much guidance to identify which circumstances warrant disregarding the law.

This is the Martin Luther King Jr. argument. I think all sorts of well intentioned laws are "unjust" under his definition of "degrading human personality" and would be continually violating laws if I subscribed to this argument. Also, is the constitution unjust before the civil rights amendments, back when slaves and women could not vote?

This is question begging. What are inalienable rights? Again maybe, but how do we recognize these rights.

This may be close, but I fear that freedom of conscience may not be broad enough to justify all the circumstances were we think civil disobedience was justified. It works for the Shadrack example. Does it justify the american revolution? Maybe. What about the civil disobedience in the civil rights movement? eh, probably not. I'm currently leaning toward this one.

Other suggestions?

Sunday, December 20, 2009


JB's comment had me laughing out loud.

My theory of comments: all comments fit into these basic categories:
1. pedantic comments
2. The holier than thou comment
3. The troll comment
4. The overly sincere comment
5. the snarky comment
6. the absurd comment
7. the joke comment
8. the praise comment
9. the insightful comment

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Civil Obedience

Do you believe in following the law, regardless of how wrong it is? Everyone in church Sunday seemed to agree that you should. One lady member went as far as to say she would send her sons off to war for Nazi Germany, had she been German at that time.
We believe in being asubject to bkings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in cobeying, honoring, and sustaining the dlaw. Link.
 and then there is this section:
 21 Let no man break the alaws of the land, for he that keepeth the laws of God hath no need to break the laws of the land.
There are no caveats in these scriptures, but certainly we don't always believe in following every law right? Then I remembered this section in Doctrine and Covenants:
We believe that all men are bound to asustain and uphold the respective bgovernments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and crebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience. Link.
Now, this scripture doesn't directly say that men are free to rebel against government when the government does not protect their inherent rights, but isn't that what it implies? I think so. However, if I remember the commentary to these verses in the orange Doctrine and Covenants study guide correctly, it essentially says that members are required to uphold the government, no exceptions. If you have that commentary, I would appreciate you posting the section I am thinking about.

So I think you can commit civil disobedience if the government does not protect your "inherent and inalienable rights." But what are those rights? The only one identified here is freedom of conscience.


What I'm looking for is some sort of guiding principles that helps explain when breaking laws is appropriate. Here's one such principle from Martin Luther King Jr.'s letter from Birmingham Jail (which I think is flawed in some respects):

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.
Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state's segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?
Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.
I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.
We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Lost in the Public Woods

Conventional wisdom says that what happens on the streets adjacent to Tiger Wood's house stays in Tiger Wood's house. That is, whether Tiger crashed his car and his wife heroically tried to pull him out of the back window of his SUV (instead of the windshield, driver's side or passenger side windows or doors) to save him or she was actually trying to knock his head off with a golf club because he had an affair is none of our business.

But I think it is our business. It's our Nike, Buick, Gillette, General Mills business. Sort of.

Tiger has been good about not thinking that, because he is really good at golf,  he is also really good at politics, and I appreciate that. Still, he, like most great sports athletes, has profited, not from his golf winnings as much as his endorsements. He's traded on his fame, and it made him a lot of money. I don't really think it's fair for him or for any other celebrity to use the public's interest in their lives and personalities to make money when it's convenient, only to later argue that the public should stay out of their private life when the public scrutiny is inconvenient.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reading the Tree Rings

If the majority of the world's most top notch climatologists or whatever they're called all agree that global warming is occurring at an alarming rate and we, as men, are largely to blame and they are in fact wrong,that really it's just a big media-hyped farce (like witches in Salem) why are all these scientists in agreement? What's their motive? Why do they want to squash dissent (or maybe they don't, maybe that's just the media). In other words, what's in it for them to lie or to distort or to exaggerate?
I've asked this question to people smarter than me before and they've said something along the lines of: so they can keep getting gov. funding for their science projects. It's easier for me to see the motives of the few scientists who say man isn't causing or quickly accelerating global warming--most of them (correct me if I'm wrong) are funded by oil companies. Link.
looooove the East Anglia climategate story.  

Deference to experts is a logical fallacy. So is attacking motives instead of arguments. 

But in case you really did think that climatologists were some sort of impartial arbiters of fact and truth, I'm glad you are now totally disabused of this notion. Whatever motivates them, it is now very clear that they are, in fact, ideologues committed to stifling dissent.

Of course, that doesn't mean they are necessarily wrong.

Global warming alarmist who want the world's inhabitants to significantly reduce their carbon foot prints have the burden of proving their case. They need to show, with some degree of certainty, 1) the earth is warming, 2) it is, at least partially, caused by man (anthropogenic) 3) warming is bad, 4) it's bad enough that it justifies a drastic reduction in our standard of living 5) technology will not be able to solve the problem. Only if they can prove all of these does it make sense to dramatically reduce our use of hydrocarbons without a adequate substitute.

I could never get past one. Not that I know the earth isn't getting warmer; just that I doubt that anyone can accurately measure or show that it is. I agree with Derbyshire, that measuring the earth's temperature within one tenth of a degree is basically a fool's errand. And it's not just the temperature now, but the temperature going back hundreds of years from different points all over the earth, measured from ice cores and tree rings, etc. 

A lot of smart scientists do seem to think that the earth is getting warmer and that the warming is caused by man. And even though that has no bearing on the merits, it certainly makes the theory of global warming seem more plausible. However, we now know that the original East Anglia temperature data was deleted, and that even the data Anglia kept was inadequate and improperly processed. So, did this consensus of  scientist come from each individual scientist collecting his own data, or are they relying on the "treated" data from the likes of East Anglia?

UPDATE: There is also some money to be had and influence to be peddled by being a climate change believing scientist (again, not that this means they are wrong). See here and here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Econ Talk Quiz

My commute is about 35 minutes. That gives me a lot of time to listen my iPod/iPhone. One of my favorite things to listen to is Russ Robert's podcast, Econ-Talk.

Here's a hypothetical question Russ asked one of the podcasts. How would taxing each cup of coffee 20 cents affect the size of the cup? I'll put my answer in the comments. The blog is also supposed to have an answer,and if I find it, I'll paste the URL in the comments, too.

Plasma vs. LCD vs. 720p vs. 1080p vs. My Pocket Book Bleg

Dear Blog Reader(s) (Brett):

I may or may not have some money to buy a high definition TV, and I am looking for some guidance. The two  main questions In my mind are: 1) should I get an LCD or a Plasma? and 2) Should I get a 1080p or a 720p?

I'm leaning strongly towards a plasma. The drawbacks to plasma compared to LCDs are that they are heavier, break easier, subject to screen burn, and use more electricity. The pluses are that plasmas have better refresh rates, are cheaper, and have darker blacks.

I'm also leaning towards a 720p, mostly because of price. Obviously, 1080p means a lot more pixels, and potentially a much sharper picture. Apparently, however, it's really hard to tell the difference between the two, and nearly impossible if you sit far from the screen. I'm eying a 50 inch, which is pretty big. Still, in our upstairs room, we currently sit about 10-12 feet from our 22 inch TV. To get the effect of the extra pixels in a 1080p, you are supposed to sit no further than 1.5 times the diagonal from the screen. With a 50 inch TV, you are not supposed to sit further than 6 1/4 feet from the TV. Pretty unlikely. Thus, I am not sure higher resolution will even be discernible, and with a TV that big, I'm not sure I'll ever want to sit that close. Also, most HD sources, like broadcasts (which I don't have in HD now, and which I don't want to pay for) and video games, aren't in 1080p, although blue ray is.

My basic thought process is: darker blacks, plus bigger TV, plus less money, equals the best deal. That said, I always have this fear that I'll discover there is just some feature, (like resolution) that I must have after I buy the TV. For now, though It seems like 1080p is not worth paying an extra $300-$500.

Dear reader(s), do you have any experience with this? any advice? Is there anything I should be considering that I am not?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Who are you?

Are we more than just our behavior? Is it nonsensical to say, that you love the sinner but hate the sin? Or that you like someone, but disapprove of their lifestyle?

"Who we are" is mostly what we do and say.  However, it's a serious mistake to take one flaw or behavior and use it as a basis for generalizing about a person. Teachers are not all alike. Lawyers are not all created equal. I like all sorts of people who have habits that I disapprove of, and I wouldn't say those people are "their bad" behaviors. We also all have inherent worth as humans,--or if you're religious, as god's children--regardless of our actions.

This works the other way, too. If you have one talent or trait that you are proud of, that's great, but that's not "you."

All this is obvious enough, but some people apparently don't know it.

This one's for (but not about) you, Leigh.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Economic Intuition

conversation this week demonstrated once again how otherwise smart people do not understand or intuit the principles of supply and demand.

I and two other educated people were talking about getting a college education, and how with the bad economy, more people wanted to going to school. This increase in demand, one person thought, would decrease the price of tuition. The other person seemed to agree. I smiled. More people seeking a particular service make that service less expensive? That's exactly backwards.

Perhaps they assume that with increased demand comes an even bigger increase in supply. But there's no rule that says that is the case. Increasing supply, takes time, and in this case, some significant fixed costs (buildings, etc.) That cannot be implemented over night. The near term result of more people wanting to go to school is going to be higher tuition.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why Most Elders Quorum Lessons Generally Suck and How to Improve Them

I think there is a general consensus that elders quorum lessons are usually painfully bad. I have a few thoughts on why this is.

First, elders quorums are generally large--too large. With smaller groups you get more of a discussion dynamic. With a larger group, you get one of two results. Either there are fewer commenters and they are eccentric in some way, or there are too many comments that take the lesson off on tangents, or bogged down on one particular aspect of a lesson.

Second, elders quorums are too diverse. You have people in their 20s up to their 50s. People with kids, and people without. Married and not married. It's harder to teach to a diverse audience.

Third, elders quorums usually get the leftover room for their meetings, so they are frequently in the gym or on the stage. These are places of high traffic and echo, making it harder to pay attention to the lesson.

Fourth, elders quorum instructors are not always the best. Most of the talented teachers are teaching young men or other classes, or they happen to also be talented leaders, and so serve in a leadership position.

Despite these difficulties, I think that there are a few keys to a good lesson.

First is good participation. A good instructor gets participation with questions. but not just any questions--and this is the key--they ask good questions.

What makes a good question? First, the answer to the question can't be too obvious. This happens all the time. If the answer is "read your scriptures" or "pray regularly" then you have asked a bad question.

The question also should get at the heart of the lesson. It should be in the "trunk" of the tree, so to speak, instead of calling for speculation.

It's good if the question has an answer. Sometimes this is impossible because the best discussion questions will not have one answer. Still, I think that the instructor should have a model answer in mind, and should use that answer to move on to another topic.

In my mind a good lesson goes like this: (1) topical instruction (perhaps supported by authority) (2) good question (3) discussion of question (4) instructor's answer to question (perhaps supported by authority) (5) segue to next topic. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The other key element to a good lesson is story telling. The keys to making stories work with the lesson are: (1) the story has to be topical--like a really good illustration of something in the lesson, (2) its better if it actually has happened to the instructor, and (3) the story should be well told (not too long, not too short).

A lesson with a few good questions and one or two good stories will pretty much be a good lesson.

Every good lesson should also have a short testimony at the end.

 I think if instructors spend their time thinking of a few good stories and a few good questions, and proceeded in this manner, EQ lessons would be a lot better.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Church, Government and Marriage

My boss thinks that the LDS Church should encourage the government to get out of the marriage business. I slightly disagree. I think the government should mostly get out of the marriage business, but I don't know that the Church should take what is essentially a libertarian position.

While the Church reserves the right to speak out on moral issues, unless it's going to speak out on everything political, it doesn't really have a reason to take a libertarian stance. Marriage, however, is a moral issue as it's an integral part Mormon conception of life after death. Thus, the Mormon church has an important interest in how that institution is treated in law. Speaking out on this moral issue and supporting prop. 8 was entirely appropriate.

You could say, what does it matter to the church what the law says?--it can simply do its own thing. After all, Mormons only believe Mormon marriages are eternally valid, yet they doesn't object to all non-Mormon marriages. But Prop. 8 was a funny law. It gave essentially equal substantive rights to gay couples. The difference between same sex and normal couples was in what that relationship was called. In essence the Prop. 8 fight was over the word "marriage" and its meaning. That seems like an appropriate moral fight for a church that believes marriage between man an woman is sacred and that homosexual relationships are inappropriate.

Despite sitcom jokes, apparently "marriage" is still viewed positively, because Prop. 8 was essentially a big fight over how the government uses that word. A homosexual couple can go and get "married" in their own ceremony, and then get a certificate of "civil union" from the state and essentially have all the same rights as a heterosexual couple. But that's not good enough. Gays need the state to tell them that their arrangement is actually "marriage." I find it a little strange that gays so want the approval of their hetro peers. It's like they're saying "please, please accept me!"  That's because government approval is essentially majority approval. But the majority doesn't approve and doesn't think these relationships are okay. So the majority is saying, we don't want to harm you gays in any way, but, while we appreciate your affinity for musical theater and your fashion advice, we don't actually approve of your sexual practices or proclivities.

I generally support getting the government out the marriage business. I don't trust government to regulate "moral" behavior, which doesn't actually impose negative externalities on others. We can disagree about where to draw that line, but I think it's pretty clear that same-sex married couples do not create many more negative externalities than unmarried same-sex couples. Getting government out of the marriage business would also alleviate the need for the Church to fight these fights. But as long as, the government is in the "marriage business," it makes perfect sense for the church to fight these battles.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Who's Cooler?

Ron Swanson or Bert Cooper? Discuss.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hip Revelation

A co-worker recently argued that LDS revelation actually often reflects trends in society, but that Mormons don't like to admit it because it tends to undermine the assertion that revelation is inspired by god. To support this thesis he gives two examples: The first is the word of wisdom, which he says followed the dietary trends of the day, and the second is allowing blacks to hold the priesthood, which followed the civil rights movement. I added the ban on polygamy, which arguably caved into federal government pressure brought on by political forces of that day.

This argument really seems to get at three separate questions.1) Do Mormons acknowledge these trends as context for the revelations? 2) Do LDS revelations follow these trends? and 3) If so, does that mean that these revelations are not inspired?

I think the answers to these questions depend on the exact revelation at issue. Take the word or wisdom, for example. Mormons generally don't talk about this revelation in the context of the dietary movements at the time, however, Sylvester Graham was a contemporary of Joseph Smith, and preached eating bland foods to suppress sexual desire. That movement lasted some time, as Corn Flakes were also part of it, which were not created until the early 1900. The word or wisdom was received in 1833, but was advisory at that time, and only really enforced after the turn of the century. 

So there is a rough correlation, but I have to wonder what this means. Was it the original revelation or the subsequent interpretation making following the revelation mandatory that was the trend-following act? Or was this simply a 80 year trend influencing the initial revelation, and subsequent change from advisory to mandatory status. Doesn't it seem as though the revelation was actually precipitated by trend-following it would have come at the peak of The Graham diets influence instead of over time in two separate revelations? I also have to wonder why the word of wisdom is not or has not, to my knowledge, been justified as suppressing sexual desire (has it?). So while there is some correlation, it does not seem very likely that there is actual causation between the two (not that I've actually done any research to determine whether LDS leaders were influenced by the Graham diet/movement).

As to the extending the priesthood to blacks, LDS church members do talk about the civil rights context sometimes in church. Also, many member were alive at the time of the movement and are aware of when the revelation came down. Again the revelation was close in time with the civil rights movement, but actually some time after it. The priesthood was extended in 1978, which is a good time after the civil rights act of 1964, although obviously the act isn't necessarily when prejudice was "overcome." So, Mormons generally acknowledge the civil rights context, and an argument can be made that the revelation trend following, although that argument seems only based on the close proximity in time of the revelation and civil right movement.

In banning polygamy, however, Mormons always acknowledge context. At the time there was considerable political pressure to end the practice, and Wilford Woodruff acknowledged that he had a vision of government suppression if it continued, so polygamy was ended. Again, you could argue that the revelation was simply opportunistic caving to political pressure, but Mormons readily acknowledge the circumstances and pressure.

So you can argue that these revelations correlate with trends or events of the day. 

Mormons, however, also believe in modern revelation. The premise of modern revelation, is that the church needs to adapt or change doctrine or policies to accommodate changing circumstances in the world. Thus, it makes complete sense that, as circumstances change, the doctrine is going to change, too, otherwise, there would be no need for modern revelation. While sometimes the doctrine changes in a way the reflects worldly wisdom--such as extending civil rights--at other times, the doctrine changes or repudiates worlds wisdom, such as LDS modern revelation that gender is innate, spiritual part of who we are, or that marriage is for heterosexual couples only. Similarly some doctrines don't change in the face of social trends, like the doctrine that premarital sex is immoral has remained constant, despite a strong worldly consensus that it perfectly fine. So my conclusion is that my co-workers argument suffers from the assumption that correlation amounts to causation, and also from selection bias.

Keys to the Kingdom III

Here's my latest theory: The locution that apostles have "all priesthood keys but lack the authority to exercise those keys" actually means that they have some actual keys they can exercise, and they also have the right to exercise all priesthood keys if certain contingencies happen--namely, they outlive all the apostles ahead of them, or all other apostles. The locution is a claim on future power to govern.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

More Cowbell!

Here's kind of an interesting video with Michael Moore. Reports say that in his new movie Capitalism: A Love Story, Moore takes shots at capitalism for bailing out big business, and calls for a government run by the people.

The irony is that Moore is calling for more government to fix a problem created by government, not free markets. The bailout money paid to politically connected businesses was government's doing, and had nothing to do with free markets.

Markets, in contrast, create competition among businesses, which lower prices, creates efficiency and gives consumers choices. Free-marketeers support markets because they are pro-consumer, not pro-business. They only praise business when it succeeds by giving consumers what they want in free markets. Businesses, on the other hand, would like nothing more to establish monopoly power, which hurts consumers and markets.

It's funny how people who criticize markets and call for more government regulation, are frequently, if not usually, criticizing not markets, but the consequences of some unnecessary government intervention into markets.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Party of Death II

How does the position that, from conception on, humans have a right not to be killed mesh with Mormon theology? At first glance, you'd think that because Mormons are strongly and almost uniformly pro-life, (both culturally and as a mater of doctrine) this conception-is-the-beginning position would mesh well. However, Mormon doctrine, which allows for abortion in cases of incest and rape, is inconsistent with life beginning at conception. Also, Mormons are allowed to use the pill.

Ponnuru argues that drawing any line after conception leads to a strange, unworkable duality. While specifically addressing the argument that humans acquire the right not to die when they acquire some higher level of brain function, he writes:
First: By treating human organisms and "persons" as separate, though mostly overlapping, categories, it assumes that a distinction can be made between a person and the body that person merely "inhabits." The "person" is an aware, conscious "self" that floats above the body, as a sort of ghost in the machine. An embryonic (and fetal, and infant) body comes into existence before this person does, and the person can die before the body does. But this dualism is untenable. It contradicts everyday experience: We sense and perceive, which are clearly bodily actions, but also engage in conceptual thinking, which cannot be reduced to bodily actions; and it is clearly the same subject who does both types of things. The dualist who utters his idea refutes in the act of voicing it. We are (among other things) our bodies. p.86
I guess you could say he recognizes some separation when he says "engaging in conceptual thinking . . . cannot be reduced to bodily actions." So we are more than just our bodies, but also our bodies. Still it seems to me that Ponnuru decries the idea that we are somehow separable from our bodies, and that is exactly what Mormons believe: body and spirit are separate (duality). Our spirit enters our body at (or probably some time before) birth and exit our bodies at death.

Accepting this duality, Mormons can then draw a principled line after conception. The question for a Mormon is not: when does "biological" life begin, but instead when does the spirit enter the body? Drawing the line there means Mormons can allow for some abortion before the spirit enters the body, for instance in cases of rape and incest. It also means Mormons can support embryo destructive research if the embryo is destroyed before the spirit enters the body.

Still there are problems with this line. For instance, if it's okay to kill an embryo before the spirit enters, why is it not okay to have an abortion for other reasons, (like birth control) before the spirit enters the body? Also when does the spirit enter the body?

There may be an answer to the first question. Mormons believe that the we come to earth to get a body. Clearly what is forming inside the mother at conception is a body, so perhaps there is still some moral reason not to disrupt this process or destroy this body even though it doesn't contain a spirit. Perhaps the reason that abortion is "like murder" , but not actually murder, is because abortion destroys the forming body, which is clearly an important part of our souls (body and spirit together). if we are prohibiting abortion for this lesser reason, then we might also permit abortion in cases where there is compelling reason, like to find a cure for disease or to restore choice to a woman who was raped. But if this is the case, what is the compelling reason for allowing abortion in the case of incest? The mother was not denied her initial choices. Or what is the reason for allowing Mormons to use the pill? Convenient birth control doesn't seem like a great reason to allow for even pre-spirit abortions.

And the second question is harder. If we suppose that Mormons permit abortion in cases of rape and incest because the abortion happens before the spirit enters the body, Mormons should still prohibited abortion after the spirit enters the body. So when exactly does that happen? Mormons doctrine allows women who fit within one of the exceptions to make the decision to have an abortion based on their own revelation. Not exactly a bright line.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Party of Death

Just finished reading The Party of Death.  I wanted to sharpen my thinking about life-and-death issues, and the book has helped me do that, so it's a worthwhile reading. Being pro-life, I agree with the majority of the positions Ponnuru takes. Still there are areas where following the principles in the book lead to uncomfortable, or possibly incorrect, conclusions.

Boiling down the arguments in the book, Ponnuru contends that all humans have the right to life and that life begins at conception. Abortion, then, is killing human life and immoral. (A pretty standard pro-life argument). While abortion proponents argue that there is some other line to draw after conception, Ponnuru counters that those arguments rest on the premise that not all humans have the same claim on life. He then goes through these arguments and shows why the different line in the sand are unprincipled or unworkable.

My first problem with saying the right to life begins at conception is that some forms of birth control then become abortion. The morning after pill, which discharges fertilized egg, is the same as having an abortion. Normal birth control pills sometimes also discharge fertilized eggs too. Ponnuru says taking the pill is different from abortion because, in abortion the intent is to end human life, whereas taking the pill may have that effect of ending life, but the intent is not to end life. Intent certainly is an important part of our culpability for our actions, but actions that result in death still result in death, regardless of their intent. Thus, I think that, if you view conception as the beginning of human life you also have to be against the pill as a form of negligent killing. As an analogy, if abortion were the equivalent to first-degree murder, then using the pill would be negligent homicide--not as bad, but still morally reprehensible.

Ponnuru does concede "there may be an argument against playing Russian Roulette [by using the pill]." That's an understatement. There's not just an argument; the logic compels a ban on using the pill. (Other birth control methods that prevent conception, like condoms, would still be fine, though.)

The second problem with contending that conception is the beginning of life is that no allowance should be make for abortion cases of rape or incest. People like to frame the abortion debate in terms of whether or not a woman has a "right to choose [an abortion]." The-right-to-choose language, however, is a canard because a right to choose will always give way to the right to life. The issue is not choice, but when life begins (or the right to no be killed begins). But once this "meaningful" life begins, what does it matter whether or not the mother ever had a choice in the matter? If the baby has a right not to die, it shouldn't matter how it came into existence. If meaningful life begins at conception, there should be no exceptions to ban on abortion for incest or rape.

I think this logic has some important implications for Mormons, which I'll get to in a future post.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Women Judges

Here's an interesting post on why women judges, who apparently do worse than men by most academic measures, actually turn out to to be decent judges (at least by some measures). The three proposed explanations for this apparent paradox are:
1) women are, innately or by virtue of their experience, better judgers than men, 2) that the legal hierarchy's traditional measures of success don't work, or 3) that the study's empirics are off because it's not measuring judicial quality correctly.
Here's my theory/fourth option: being a judge is such an easy job that anyone of average legal competence can do it. In contrast, developing a case is hard work. The lawyers litigating the case have to develop the right facts and good legal arguments. But once the case is before a judge, all the judge has to do is select the correct legal theory to decide the case, which more likely than not, has been extensively briefed by the lawyers. Recognizing the strongest argument is way easier than actually thinking up an argument. Then the judge writes an opinion, rewording and essentially plagerizing the selected argument the prevailing party's lawyer made. Should the correct argument not be before the judge, or should it be hard to spot, the judge can rely upon his or her clerks to do research and/or spot the correct argument.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Can I like Pearl Jam Again?

At one point in my life there was nothing I'd have liked more than to be the third guitarist in Pearl Jam. I stopped intensely liking Pearl Jam some times ago. I'm exactly sure why.

A large part of the change has gotta be just changing musical tastes. Also, Pearl Jam is linked with certain memories in my life,--mostly good memories, true--but, I don't like to look back that much. I can usually only remember two things: past good memories and past embarrassing memories. Remembering the embarrassing things is, well, vicariously embarrassing. Remembering the good times brings back that slightly painful nostalgia.

I think probably the thing that made it so that I never listen to Pearl Jam, however, are their politics. Eddie Vedder was always liberal, writing "pro-choice" on his arm during MTV unplugged session, and doing pro-choice monkey wrench radio DJing. But until Bush was elected, the politics didn't make it into the music. After, however, it was "Bu$hleaguer" "Life Wasted" "Army Reserve" "World Wide Suicide", "Marker in the Sand" and probably other songs I can't think of. Basically every song in the Pearl Jam album was a protest song. There was rock the vote, too. And despite all the songs about "love," Vedder was smashing effigies of George W. Bush on stage.

So one good thing about Obama's election is that Pearl Jam can finally stop writing songs about George Bush, and maybe I can start liking them again.

So here's the new single, which I do very much like.

And while we're talking music, here's some other good stuff I've been listening to:

Metric is now on my short list of good bands. I discovered them a long time ago, but again, couldn't swallow the politics. Apparently Emily Haines is kind of a cokehead. Also the guitarist seems like guitarist guy cliche. Their stuff is so good, though.

With Sarkozy and Phoenix, and the fact that more than half of French people would move to U.S if they could, I might actually have to start liking France:

I don't know If I like this band, but I do like this song (and yes I did hear it in that Palm Pre commercial).

Ahh, the Yeah Yeah Yeah's. Yes, Karen O has the worst 1970 low budget Sci-Fi movie costume on. Yes, her hair is cut like a pre-pubescent boys. Show Your Bones is still one of my favorite albums.

Noticing a trend? Female rock vocals. Here's a pretty sweet band I discovered only the other day. The singer kind of freaks me out, though, because while she's attractive, she also looks like John Heder.

And finally, let's finish off with The Velvet Teen. They're recording a new album and I'm excited. Listening to the Velvet Teen is like living in your own world, because no one knows who they are. And that's a shame. First something easy to listen to.

Now for the advanced listener:

Paradox of Thrift II

You can read the first post in this series here. I think I now see Fazzari's point.

Fazzari presents an example where a family has a choice of spending 5 dollars at a restaurant or saving 5 dollars. He proposes spending the 5 dollars is better than saving--I think--because you get 5 dollars of economic activity plus the economic activity created by the bank loaning out the money, whereas when the family simply saves the 5 dollars, they are 5 dollars of economic activity behind.

So "saving" then creates a multiplier, like spending, but the savings mutiplier is weaker than the spending multiplier because the entire amount is not spent initially. Instead the bank-savings multiplier is like the tax-cut multiplier. In keynsian economics, the tax cut multiplier is smaller than the government-spending multiplier because when the government cut taxes, the person recieving the tax cut has the option of saving part of the initial amount instead spending it, reducing the multiplier effect of tax cuts. Although under my new understanding, the saved money will also be spent by the bank-loan reciepient, some small portion (the reserve portion) will in fact be saved, making the tax-cut multiplier effect smaller than the spending multiplier.

Except it turns out that the actual evidence is that the tax multiplier is greater than the spending multiplier. Mankiw gives a possible explaination here. Maybe economics is intuitive and not a paradox at all.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Penist

I wanted to write something about Roman Polanski's arrest, but what is there to write? He admitted to doing the crime. Rape is illegal and for good reason.

Apparently, people who think he shouldn't be extradited either believe 1) talented (or rich, or famous) people need not follow the law, 2) people who avoid arrest for long enough should be rewarded for being wily or 3) rape is okay? It's hard to believe anyone is willing to take one of these positions, but they do.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Second Amendment Incorporation

Does the Second Amendment restrict the powers of individual states? Initially, the restrictions on government power in the Bill of Rights only applied to the federal government. For example, the First Amendment begins "Congress shall make no law . . ." indicating that the restrictions in that amendment only apply to the "congress" of the federal government. However, since the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, The Supreme Court has gone right by right through the amendments in the Bill of Rights, determining whether or not the right in question should be incorporated against the states. Most of the Bill of Rights, has in fact, been incorporated.

One of the few remaining incorporation questions is whether the Second Amendment should be incorporated against the states. The recent Heller decision, holding that individuals have a right to keep and bear arms for self defense, was taken on appeal from Washington D.C. City ordinance. The Second Amendment clearly applied in that case because D.C. is not chartered by a state, but by the federal government.

If you think that for consistency's sake a court has to incorporate the rights in the Second Amendment, you'd be wrong. While the Ninth Circuit has sort of ruled that the Second Amendment is incorporated, The Second and Seventh Circuits have already rejected incorporation based largely upon precedents, like Presser and Cruikshank. Those cases, however, are not directly on point as there are three methods of incorporation, and those cases deal reject only the first two methods of incorporation. Direct incorporation is rejected because the case Duncan says none of the first eight amendments are binding on the states. Incorporation through the privileges or immunities clause was also rejected in the Slaughterhouse cases.

The last method of incorporation is through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and is the method by which most of the Bill or Right has been incorporated. This test--a shoot off of substantive due process--asks whether the right is "fundamental, meaning 'necessary to an Anglo-American regime of ordered liberty.' "Nordyke v. King, (9th Cir. 2009) (citing Duncan, 391 U.S. at 149 n.14 (emphasis added).) That's a fuzzy standard, but obviously a good argument for incorporation can be made.

How conservative and liberal justices are likely to answer the Second Amendment incorporation question is ironic. Liberals, who always seems ready to find new rights in the constitution, weren't excited about the robust Second Amendment rights created/reaffirmed in Heller. Now, those same liberals, who favor incorporation and top-down federal regulation, are the jurists most likely to vote against incorporating the Second Amendment.

Conservatives face the reverse problem: they are usually seen as supporting states rights, but will be imposing a restriction on the state. But, to be fair "conservatives" (some of whom are originalist) usually believe in following the constitution's requirements, even when it infringes upon state rights. So the question isn't so much policy, but the constitution. The liberals have this same argument, but because they've already incorporate almost every other right, they'd be acting more inconsistent to oppose this rights.

The real problem for the originalist is that he generally does not believe incorporation is constitutionally mandated. Scalia says that he does not believe the incorporation is proper under the Fourteenth Amendment. Still, he accepts incorporation because the cases were decided long ago, and the doctrine is too settled to overturn it now. Still, in order to incorporate the Second Amendment, Scalia will probably have to rely upon substantive due process, a legal doctrine he has long disparaged.

And what should an originalist who is less deferential to precedent, like Thomas, do? As Justice Scalia says, "Clarence Thomas does not believe in stare decisis, period." "Or even setting aside Thomas's views, suppose you're an originalist that does not believe the incorporation is proper but you are faced with the question of whether to incorporate the Second Amendment. Do you follow the incorporation precedents that you believe are wrong and incorporate a right against the states because it is consistent with what has been done before, and open yourself up to criticism that you are abandoning your principles of interpretation for policy reasons? Or do you not incorporate the Second Amendment and leave one of the few rights in the Bill of Rights unincorporated to be faithful to your originalist understanding of the constitution, even though that understanding will never be law?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Pardox of Thrift

I'm trying to understand Keynesian business cycle theory. I think I get this much. There's a shock to the system that causes consumers to worry about the future. In order to smooth consumption, consumer spend less and save more. Spending less decreases the demand for goods and services. The resulting drop in demand for goods and services causes a drop in demand for people providing those goods and services, resulting lower GDP and unemployment.

Classical economics says that the creators of goods and services will respond to lower demand by lowering prices, and at the lower price they will be able to sell what they could have earlier. Similarly, workers will respond to lower demand by working for less.

Keynesians believe that prices and wages are sticky--that it takes time for people to understand that the labor that used to be worth more in nominal dollars, is actually worth less now in nominal terms. Thus, the necessary adjustment does not take place for some time, and that results in prolonged periods of unemployment and depressions.

Keynesians view the solution to this problem as increasing aggregate demand, or the total demand in the system for goods and services. If demand falls because of some shock to the system, it can be restored by government stepping in to supplement the demand, by spending money.

I'm having a hard time understanding the idea that saving reduces consumption, also called the paradox of thrift. Russ Robert and Steve Fazzari go a couple rounds on this point, here. I've now listened to this podcast twice, and I still don't quite get it. And I've been thinking about this occasionally since I first studied Keynes in college some years ago.

I do understand on one level that if a dollar comes to me, and I put 20 cents under my mattress, and spend 80 cents, and then someone else does the same thing (saving 20% and spending 80%) that will result in X number of dollars of economic activity. If you "save" less, and spend more, like say you save only 10%, and spend 90%, there will be more economic activity.

But "saving" in this instance is putting the money under your mattress. Saving, at least in common parlance, also means putting the money in the bank. The bank, however, is going to lend all but a small portion of that money out. So suppose you put a dollar in the bank instead of spending 90% of it, the bank will lend most of it out, and the person who get that loan will spend the money on consumption. It seems to me that, saving, then is actually mostly investing, which is also a specific type of consumption, which does not, in fact, reduce consumption, triggering the paradox of thrift.

So despite Fazzari's efforts, I don't understand the paradox of thrift.

UPDATE: ask and ye shall receive. Here is an article about Keynes by Richard Posner. Still not sure I understand the paradox, though.

Glenn Beck II

I should say two more things about Beck. First, he has a tendency toward conspiracy theories, which I eschew. Second, I never watch or listen to him. But I do think he brings something to the table.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Glenn Beck

Not sure how I feel about Glenn Beck. He's fidgety. He's melodramatic. I find it hard to watch him at times. I prefer satire, but he's sarcasm. He makes me laugh sometimes, but not always. I prefer Limbaugh's humor.

Beck boarders on being a populist and a demagogue. I have a really hard time watching the sort of self righteousness that people like O'Reilly and Beck sometimes display. But then, Beck also get self righteous for good reasons, like his big scores against Van Jones and ACORN.

Beck can be cringe inducing--like when he says he only married his wife because she wouldn't sleep with him otherwise.

Beck also runs his mouth. Calling Obama racist was, I think, pretty dumb. This is maybe my biggest beef with Beck. People in positions like his should pick their words carefully. (Same complaint about Ann Coulter and her 9/11 widows remarks). I even knew what he meant, and agree in general, but his words give the opposition too much ammunition.

On the plus side, we pretty much agree on most things. Also, Beck's a principled libertarian, where as O'Reilly is a a populist without consistent guiding principles.

Beck is criticized unfairly. Beck isn't "dividing us." Americans are divided because we disagree about how this county should be governed. That's what democracy is about. We should battle out our differences, not try to suppress them.

Beck is also a convert to the church. He bears a strong testimony and seems quite genuine in this respect. I very much enjoy watching him when he is talking about church and religion.

So, with those reservations, I say, two one cheers to Glenn Beck!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Keys to the Kingdom II

One other thing about priesthood keys--what are they exactly?

Again, the standard church manual explanation is that "priesthood keys authorize priesthood holders to preside over and direct the Church within a jurisdiction, such as a stake, ward, or quorum."

That definition works fine in most circumstance. But there is one problem: Members of the Quorum of the twelve have all the priesthood keys, but do not have the authority to exercise them; only the president of the church has the authority to exercise them.

If you put the definition of priesthood keys together, with the restriction on the member of the quorum of the twelve it goes like this: Members of the Quorum of the twelve have authority to preside over and direct the church, but not the right to exercise that authority.

If you can't exercise the authority to preside, do you actually have the authority to preside? What exactly do you have?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tsk, Tsk,

I'm watching Michael Moore on Leno. Leno keeps saying that Moore's film "Capitalism: A Love Story" is "bipartisan", and implicity arguing that the film is balanced, because it criticizes both Republicans and Democrats. Since when is criticizing both parties from the left being balanced?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Death of the Media

It's no secret big news is dying. I wish this was because the media are so obviously biased. (If you don't believe it, here are two examples from this week alone.) Unfortunately, I think their downfall has way more to do with the internet and Craigslist than politics.

Should we lament the downfall of the media or celebrate it? Someone has to do fact gathering and doing it takes time and work. Newspapers used to be able to make money doing this because theere was a serious barrier to entry, namely, you had to have a printing press. Furthermore, there was a good way to tie advertising services to the product, because there was physical copy of the paper. With the internet decoupling the advertising and product, and also removing the barrier to entry, papers are struggling to make a profit. With fewer papers, there are fewer jobs for reports and less investigative reporting.

That's the downside. But on the upside, I'm really glad that we don't have to rely upon the mainstream media's gate-keeping decisions. If we did, it seems we would never know about Bill Ayers, Jeremiah Wright, ACORN, Dan Rather, Van Jones and a host of other important stories. Furthermore, while the incentives to do investigative reporting are down, the costs associated with doing that work are down, too. Specifically, research is much easier with the internet. In fact, many hobbyists do a much better job of looking into the facts of "inconvenient" stories.

The real pluses, however, come on the analysis side. the questions still remains: what do the facts mean? Now anyone can weigh in on that question. A slight reduction in fact gathering, but a large increase in free content, voices, and competition between ideas equals progress in my opinion.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Keys to the Kingdom

This is kind of an obscure Mormon topic. But it's what I'm thinking about, I find church government interesting, and this is my blog.

When Joseph Smith died there was some uncertainty about who would be the next leader of the church. For several years the quorum of the twelve apostles governed the church until Brigham Young eventually was called to be prophet. According to Wikipedia, Brigham Young relied upon current section 104 to make the argument that the Quorum of the Twelve should lead the church in the interim. That bring up the first question-- what does D&C 104:22-36 mean?
22 Of the aMelchizedek Priesthood, three bPresiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and cupheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.
23 The atwelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve bApostles, or special cwitnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.
24 And they form a quorum, aequal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned.
25 The aSeventy are also called to bpreach the gospel, and to be especial witnesses unto the Gentiles and in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.
26 And they form a quorum, equal in aauthority to that of the Twelve special witnesses or Apostles just named.
Now these verses say that the quorum of the twelve and seventy are equal in authority to the first presidency, but that clearly is not the case. When the first presidency is properly formed, then it controls the church, not these other quorums. See President Hinckley's explanation here. So the quorums of the twelve is not equal in authority to the first presidency unless the first presidency is not in existence, (such as after Josephs Smith's death) in which case the lower quorum steps into its shoes and governs the church.

This makes sense for quorums that have priesthood keys. Priesthood "keys authorize priesthood holders to preside over and direct the Church within a jurisdiction, such as a stake, ward, or quorum." Some priesthood callings come with keys. Others do not, but use the keys of another through delegation. The President of the church has all the priesthood keys for the church, and is authorized to use them. Similarly, the Apostles have all the priesthood keys necessary to govern the church, but are not authorized to use them (unless there is no president). The seventy, however, "do not receive additional priesthood keys, but with each assignment they receive from the First Presidency or the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, they are delegated authority to accomplish the assignment given." (Additional Keys? I didn't think they had any keys at all.)

So, what does it mean that the quorum of the seventy is equal in authority to the first presidency and quorum of the twelve? It could mean that if both the first presidency and the quorum of the twelve are dissolve, the seventy govern the church. But that can't be the case because the seventy have no keys, which are necessary to govern. The only answer I can think of is that there is no first presidency, and for some reason, the quorum of the twelve (or at least someone from the quorum with the keys) is around, but cannot govern for some reason. It actually doesn't make sense.

Someone in church on Sunday suggested that, because the seventy have no keys, if all the members of the first presidency and quorum of the twelve should die, then the stake presidents from throughout the world must gather together to have all the keys necessary to govern. That can't be right. They would have the keys of presidency for the stakes, but there are other keys, like the keys for the gathering of Israel and the sealing power. Stake presidents don't have these keys. Plus having the keys is not the same as having the authority to confer those keys on another.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Suppresion of the Nauvoo Expositor

The Nauvoo Expositor printed only one issue attacking Joseph Smith before it was destroyed. The press was destroyed by the marshal under the direction of the Nauvoo City Council and Mayor, who happened to be . . . Joseph Smith.

Nothing about the destruction of the printing press ever seemed right to me. Where are the owners' due process rights? The destruction happened three days after the first issue was printed. The owners of the press had no notice or opportunity to attend a hearing before the destruction. There was no trial. The people making the decision to destroy the press--namely Joseph Smith--obviously had a personal interest in the outcome, as they were attacked by the paper. Also, where are the owners' free speech and free press rights?

Despite what seem like glaring legal problems, smart LDS people insist that the destruction was legal. After a little poking around, I discovered that Elder Dallin Oaks wrote a law review article answering that very question. Oaks, Dallin H. "the Suppression of the Nauvoo Expositor" Utah law Review 9 (Winter 1965): 862-903. Surprisingly he concludes that the suppression of the expositor was mostly legal.

Most federal constitutional rights didn't apply to the acts of the city because the events occurred before the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment(which is interpreted as incorporating most of the Bill of Rights against the states). Nauvoo was a charter city, and thus was operating under state law power, not federal law. Thus, the first amendment restrictions do not apply to the city council's acts.

Furthermore, the destruction of the press was done pursuant to legislative power, not judicial power. Thus, many of the due process rights that would likely apply under state constitutional law do not apply. Freedom of press rights in the Illinois constitution only apply to prior restraints on publication. Here, there arguably was no prior restraint on publication only a post hoc act to abate a nuisance caused by the first issue's publication. Furthermore, Blackstone's commentaries seem to specifically contemplate that this type of legislative nuisance abatement is permissible.

Elder Oaks's article has convinced me: The suppression of the Expositor was probably mostly legal. But I still think it was a bad policy choice, and probably a bad political choice too.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Climate Change as Macroeconomics

Here's a graph showing the projected unemployment rate with the stimulus (dark blue), the projected unemployment rate without the stimulus (light blue) and then the actual unemployment rate with the stimulus (red dots).

Is the stimulus working? You wouldn't think so after looking at this graph. In fact, according to the graph, not only are we worse off than we should be with the stimulus, we're also worse off than we should have been without the stimulus. The graph seems to suggests that, not only did the stimulus not help, it actually hurt the economy.

But the counter argument is simple: The predictions were wrong! The economy was much worse than thought when the Obama administration make it's unemployment projections, and unemployment actually would have been much higher without the stimulus.

Of course, with this we-underestimated-the size-of-the-problem argument always at hand, there's no real way to determine whether the stimulus is actually working. (Greg Mankiw already made this same point much better than I can, here.)

This same prove-me-wrong problem applies to climate change science, too. It could be that human activity is changing the temperature on earth, even though the earth's temperature has steadied in the last few years. But for human activity, the earth might have cooled significantly during that period. Instead, the human interference may kept the temperature of the earth artificially high. Or the affect of human activity might simply be sporactic warming such that we shouldn't expect the earth to warm consistently (although from what I've read I understand that most models predict consistent, gradual warming).

Because of these uncertainties, there is basically no way to prove or disprove anthropogenic global warming, just as there is no way to prove or disprove the effect of the stimulus. We simply don't have any scientifically rigorous way of controlling for all of the other factors that can affect the variable we are trying to measure.

That's ok. Both economics and climatology still provide useful ways of organizing and thinking about the world. But from now on, let's give climatologists the same credence we give economists.