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Friday, Dec 31, 2004
 
Junk food a health risk
John sends this BBC story to support his claim that there are lots of studies showing harm in a fast food diet. It says:
Eating fast food more than twice a week has strong links with weight gain and insulin resistance, a US study shows.

This suggests eating too much 'junk food' increases the risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, the Lancet study says.

Boston Children's Hospital experts followed more than 3,000 young people's eating habits over 15 years.

But other experts said people who ate a lot of fast food were also likely have generally unhealthy lifestyles, increasing their risk of disease. ...

The US study looked at the eating habits of 3,000 African-American and white adults aged between 18 and 30.

Participants were asked about their lifestyles, including diet, exercise, smoking and leisure habits at the beginning of the study then again after two, five, seven, 10 and 15 years.

Those who visited fast-food restaurants more than twice a week (87 people) gained on average an extra 4.5kg (9.9lbs) and had a two-fold greater increase in insulin resistance compared to those who went less than once a week.

The study was published in the Lancet. There was an editorial with it.
Professor Astrup said the fast-food industry would argue there was little compelling evidence to show large portions were damaging health.

But he said: "Appropriate action would be to reduce portions to normal sizes and to sell burgers of lean meat, whole-grain bread or buns, fat-reduced mayonnaise, more vegetables, lower-fat fired potatoes and reduced-sugar soft drinks.

"Although the price may have to be increased, at least such changes in fast-food meals can have no adverse health effects."

Professor Astrup acknowledged that some fast-food companies had launched some healthier choices, such as porridge and fruit, in their restaurants.

He added: "I hope that this trend continues."

The study complains that two of every three US adults is overweight or obese, and that fast-food restaurants have supersize portions emphasizing "primordial taste preferences".

I am skeptical about this study. What if a study showed that people who visit grocery stores more often tend to eat more? What if people who take cooking classes tend to gain weight? Another recent study showed that men who get married tend to gain weight. Is that because wife-cooked food is unhealthy? Or that marriage emphasizes primordial taste preferences?

People eat food at popular fast-food restaurant chains because they like it and it is cheap and convenient. If a study shows that some people like it so much that they eat more than they need, then that does not prove that there is anything unhealthy about the food.


Wednesday, Dec 29, 2004
 
Forcing basic medicine on hospitals
Bob sends this NY Times article on how federal bureaucrats have collected statistics on how well hospitals have followed basic life-saving medical procedures, and then shamed them into improving. It says:
At least part of the answer, he and others say, is that doctors are unaware of their shortfalls and are rewarded no matter how well they do.

"Medical care is one of those very strange parts of the economy where you get paid no matter what the quality of the service you provide," Dr. Asch said. "It is like you went to a car dealership and your Mercedes is going to cost you the same as your Yugo."

 
Real chocolate flavor
My 7-year-old daughter was puzzled by a bottle of Hershey's chocolate syrup which said, "real chocolate flavor". "Isn't it chocolate?", she said.

I agree that it is confusing. The label is intended to reassure the consumer that the syrup is made with real chocolate. But instead, the skeptical consumer might think that it is just flavored to taste like real chocolate. Hershey would be better off just putting "real chocolate" on the label.

My hunch is that the label used to say "chocolate flavor", and when people asked if it was real chocolate, Hershey's tried to solve the problem by adding "real".

Liza writes:

Hershey's syrup is certainly not pure chocolate. I don't have a can lying around so I can check - the stuff is too artificial for me - but my recollection is that it is heavily diluted with things like vegetable oil. I don't know if there is any actual chocolate, as opposed to some cocoa powder, in it. Chocolate is a combination of something like cocoa, cocoa butter and something called chocolate liquor (which isn't liquor), all of which come from cocoa beans.
My label says that it made of sugar, water, cocoa, preservitive, salt, diglycerides, emulsifier, xanthan gum, and vanillin. Vanillin is described as the only "artificial flavoring". I don't know why that is called artificial, assuming it is made from real vanilla beans. That is, why is cocoa from cocoa beans considered real while vanillin from vanilla beans artificial?

Anyway, this sounds like it can be fairly called "genuine chocolate" to me.


Tuesday, Dec 28, 2004
 
The Indonesian tsunami
How is it that 1000s of miles of Asian coastline got hit by 40-foot waves and no one has pictures of it? A lot of people had a couple of hours notice that it might happen.

Why does the news media call it a "tsunami", rather than a "tidal wave"? I understand why some scientists believe that tsunami is a more technically accurate term, but the news media is usually not so eager to use obscure technical terms. The term tidal wave has been used to describe this sort of tsunami for over 100 years, and I don't see any good reason to stop now.

Liza writes:

Like you, I am used to the term "tidal wave" instead of "tsunami." However, some news media have correctly pointed out that tidal waves have nothing to do with tides, so the term is a misnomer.
It is debatable whether the term is a misnomer. Yes, the word "tides" usually refers to the rise and fall of sea level based on the gravitational pull of the Moon and the Sun. But it is sometimes used more broadly to mean any rise or fall in water level, and the term "tidal wave" has historically been used mostly to describe water waves with non-gravitational causes (usually earthquakes or volcanoes). To complain that "tidal wave" is a misnomer is a bit like saying that "sunrise", "half moon", and "sea level" are misnomers. There are probably nitpicky scientists who want to abolish those terms as well.

Tuesday, Dec 14, 2004
 
Restricting parental free speech
Law prof and free speech advocate Eugene Volokh has written a paper on Child Custody Speech Restrictions.

He defends the practice of family court judges restricting the speech of divorced parents based on a theory that certain comments might cause psychological harm to the child, and therefore the best interests of the child might warrant such restrictions. He says:

Parents may strongly want to express themselves by criticizing the other parent. ... these self-expression rights, which are important for speech among adults, are less applicable to parentsí speech to their young children. And the stronger reasons for protecting parent-child speech donít really apply here. Itís quite unlikely that a fatherís persuading a son that his mother is untrustworthy or immoral will produce ideas that the son can later, as an adult, spread to other listeners. Restricting this speech will probably not impair public debate about any issues. Such restrictions also generally donít involve the government discriminating among political ideas or religious views; and they arenít useful tools for the government to repress such political or religious ideologies. So restricting such nonideological speech that interferes with childrenís relationship with the other parent seems to pose little danger to free speech generally.
I don't buy this argument. I fail to see how the govt could ever have an interest in sheltering a child from a parent's opinion. I don't think that there is any good evidence that such opinions can ever cause psychological harm.

I think that there is a useful distinction between expressing an opinion to someone, and harassing someone with repeated and relentless unwanted opinions. Free speech usually refers to the former, not the latter. There is some evidence that parents can harm a child by persistently badmouthing the other parent. Some call it parental alienation syndrome. I can understand family courts wanting to prevent that. But just a parent expressing an opinion seems harmless to me, and almost always beneficial. I don't think that family courts have any business trying to restrict the free speech of parents, unless it is shown that a parent is already causing harm by excessive badmouthing.

 
Singapore rules
The USA scored 12th and 15th in the world on standardized math tests in 4th and 8th grades. Singapore was first.

One reason for this is that Singapore has better math textbooks. The good news is that you can easily buy and use the Singapore textbooks if you want your kids to learn math. The books are in English. That is what I did. The books have a few quirks for Americans, but they are better than the junk the local schools use.

 
Robert Novak: How Does He Stay Out of Jail?
John sends this LA Times article with theories as to why Robert Novak is free while other reporters are facing jail terms.

I think that it overlooks a likely theory: Novak testified that the leaker said that Plame worked for the CIA and helped get Wilson the Niger assignment, but that the leaker never implied that Plame was a covert agent. The name of the leaker then became irrelevant, because Novak had no info about the commission of a crime. So the feds let him go without insisting on the name.


Sunday, Dec 12, 2004
 
States rights
Here is another article in the Si Valley paper complaining about Republican attitudes towards states rights. Jim Puzzanghera says:
It was Scalia, historically one of the leading proponents of the rights of states, who vigorously challenged the attorney for two California women who want to keep using medicinal marijuana, ...

The role reversal is emblematic of a larger one taking place in recent years ...

Landmark rulings in 1995 and 2000 voided federal laws that had banned gun possession near schools and voided federal civil remedies for violent crimes against women, in both cases because the court's majority deemed the laws a violation of states' rights.

The article is nonsense. Those "landmark rulings" had nothing to do with states rights. The Court did not address the issue of whether the states could ban guns near schools. A couple of states have passed such bans, but they apparently conflict with the 2A, and the Court has not ruled on the matter.

The ruling against the Violence Against Women Act also did not involve states rights. That Act offered a federal remedy that largely duplicated remedies that were available under state law. The Court ruled against the federal remedy, but did not change the state remedy.

 
Supremacist judge favors illegal aliens
Andy writes:
Another Bush judicial appointee strikes again! Judge David C. Bury, known by the Tucson locals to be a born-again Christian, just enjoined enforcement of Proposition 200 (which had passed last month with 56% of the vote). That referendum cut off public benefits to illegal aliens and required proof of citizenship to register to vote.

In this insightful analysis, it is observed that "Judge David C. Bury is not a bad guy. He's just a Bush guy."

Beware, however, that the Washington Times was a remarkable ten days late in reporting this news story (see below). Judge Bury issued his order on Nov. 30th and it was widely reported by the Associated Press and criticized by editorials soon thereafter.

The article points out that the plaintiffs refused to be indentified, because they are illegal aliens! The judge said:
It seems likely that if Proposition 200 were to become law, it would have a dramatic chilling effect upon undocumented aliens who would otherwise be eligible for public benefits under federal law.
Yes, I suppose it would. Just about any effort to enforce the laws against illegal aliens would have a chilling effect on their ability to collect welfare here.

Here is some more of this judge's wacky reasoning:

If this court denied the TRO [temporary restraining order], plaintiffs would serve defendants with their motion for preliminary injunction ... and there would be a trial. In the meantime, Proposition 200 would become law and it would be implemented, but under the specter that it might be preliminarily enjoined sometime in the future. Such uncertainty would benefit no one.
It would benefit the citizens of Arizona. 56% of the voters voted to pass Prop. 200 in the face of very strong opposition. Now they have the uncertainty of wondering whether their votes will mean anything.

Friday, Dec 10, 2004
 
Vietnam war lies
Bob has been tracking down an often-repeated story that American efforts in the Vietnam war were impeded by falsely negative reporting. Bob writes:
The claim is made in this story that:
Even Giap admitted in his memoirs that news media reporting of the war and the antiwar demonstrations that ensued in America surprised him. Instead of negotiating what he called a conditional surrender, Giap said they would now go the limit because America's resolve was weakening and the possibility of complete victory was within Hanoi's grasp.
I can't find a reference for Giap saying anything of the sort. I think it is manufactured disinformation.

Related disinformation is debunked here.


Wednesday, Dec 08, 2004
 
Recent decisions
Andy writes:
1. An anti-gun decision by Rhode Island Supreme Court, with a strong pro-gun dissent. Charles H. Mosby, Jr., et al. v. William V. Devine, 851 A.2d 1031; 2004 R.I. LEXIS 120 (June 10, 2004)

2. Upholding the power of Catholic schools to fire teachers who advocate abortion rights. MICHELE CURAY-CRAMER, Plaintiff, v. THE URSULINE ACADEMY OF WILMINGTON, DELAWARE, INC., a Delaware corporation, MICHAEL A. SALTARELLI, CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF WILMINGTON, INC., a Delaware corporation, BARBARA C. GRIFFIN, and JERRY BOTTO, Defendants, Civil Action No. 03-1014-KAJ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23544 (November 12, 2004)

3. Indiana state court judge invoking the state's passage of the federal ERA as a basis for overturning an abortion regulation. CLINIC FOR WOMEN, INC., et al., Appellant-Plaintiff, vs. CARL J. BRIZZI, COURT OF APPEALS OF INDIANA, FIFTH DISTRICT, 814 N.E.2d 1042 (Sept. 17, 2004).

4. Third Circuit ordering school district to allow distribution of Christian fliers: Child Evangelism Fellowship of N.J., Inc. v. Stafford Twp. Sch. Dist., No. 03-1101, UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT, 386 F.3d 514, October 15, 2004

5. Ninth Circuit blocking a deportation by Ashcroft: Cheema v. Ashcroft, No. 02-71311 , UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT , 383 F.3d 848; 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 16213, June 24, 2004, Filed, As Amended August 6, 2004. Second Amendment September 8, 2004.

6. A decision denying relief to a parent of a public school who committed suicide, and detailing other student suicide cases. The student was on medication. KATHLEEN SANFORD, Individually and as Administratrix of the ESTATE OF MICHAEL R. SANFORD, Plaintiff, v. PAMELA STILES, DENNIS MURPHY, and EAST PENN SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendants, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22948 (Nov. 10, 2004)

I have copies of these decisions if anyone wants to read them.


Tuesday, Dec 07, 2004
 
1A also means free exercise
Brian writes:
I've only recently discovered your site, and have barely even begun to read through some of the most recent material there, so this may be an issue that has been discussed in depth before.

However, I have a question: Why is it that the ACLU, and/or whoever else wants to play, can so eagerly file lawsuits predicated on the Bill of Rights provision asserting that Congress shall make no law establishing a religion...and yet so utterly ignore the second half of the same sentence, which states, "...or preventing the free exercise thereof?" And why, when such things go to court, do Judges seem not to make that connection for themselves?

There is a history of US Supreme Court decisions (since the 1950s) that blurs the distinction between those 2 clauses. I agree with your point. Both clauses were designed to promote freedom of religion, but an excessively broad interpretation of the first can actual limit the second.

The Supreme Court is currently hearing a Ten Commandments case, so it is possible that we could have some clarification in about 6 months. More info on 10C cases at Eagle Forum.


Thursday, Dec 02, 2004
 
3d Cir invalidates Solomon Amendment
Andy writes:
2-1 opinion here. My cursory review leads me to think the grounds were slightly different from our previously discussed court decision that held for Yale:

I expect this important issue to go to the Supreme Court. It is astounding, even to me, how dependent American universities are on federal money today. Without the federal government all these universities would collapse immediately.

By the way, shouldn't we be pressing the Bush Administration to cut off funding for the California universities lining up to take embryo "research" money under its recently passed referendum? Just an administrative hint of less funding, without another Solomon Amendment, would have a big effect on the behavior of the subsidized institutions.

John writes:
This decision strikes directly at Congress's most basic and absolute power - the spending power. It must be appealed.

No doubt, the liberal majority is very pleased with itself for basing this pro-gay decision squarely on two anti-gay decisions of the Supreme Court (Boy Scouts v. Dale, 2000, and the 1995 Hurley decision involving the St. Patrick's Day Parade). However, such reliance is thoroughly disingenuous and too clever by half, as the British say.

The majority's basic fallacy is its finding that a law school is an "expressive association," as the Boy Scouts and the sponsors of the St. Patrick's Day Parade were properly held to be. Under the First Amendment, expressive associations cannot be forced to express viewpoints with which they disagree.

Law schools and other institutions of higher education are (or at least claim to be) the exact opposite of an agenda-driven "expressive association." On their face, at least, they are open to scholars and students of all viewpoints who are chosen by neutral criteria of academic excellence.

Higher education is supposed to promote scholarship in various academic fields, not enforce political correctness. Academic freedom, which affords maximum freedom to individual scholars, is inconsistent with the adoption of controversial policy positions by the institution itself.

Exception: religious institutions whose religious mission is set forth their charter and bylaws. All other institutions of higher learning disclaim any ideology; their mission is simply the advancement of scholarship in the arts and sciences, etc. Hence, they are not expressive associations and do not have the First Amendment right to limit their membership to those who share an ideology.

This neutrality and commitment to open scholarship is contained in the charter and bylaws of every school. It is a condition of accreditation which, in turn, is legally required before the school can receive any federal funds, including student financial aid as well as federal research funding. Hence, it legally precludes the school from enforcing one particular viewpoint as an "expressive association."

Andy writes:
Excellent analysis, John, which will come in handy as this issue winds its inevitable way to the Supreme Court. There will be much public debate in the meantime.

The Boy Scouts and Irish parade were not taking billions of dollars in federal money the way that universities are (indeed, Ivy League schools along are grabbing more than a billion federal dollars).

But, look, we shouldn't stand by holding our breath in trepidation about what a few liberal judges might or might not do. The proper response to this latest outrage is for Congress and the Bush Administration to start pulling the plug on the money immediately. Conservative websites, starting with Eagle Forum, should start posting the grants and programs flowing to unpatriotic universities and demand that Bush and Congress stop it. No court will dare overstep its authority and tell Congress or the President that it *must* fund someone.

These universities are so badly parasitic on government that I bet a conservative campaign alone, even without action by Congress or the Bush Administration, would cause them to allow the recruiters on campus.

John writes:
This decision is in the supremacist model: an effort by judges to go beyond the particular parties to the case, to make a broad ruling that purports to bind the whole country.

The actual defendants are the U.S. Secretaries of Defense, Education, and 4 other cabinet departments. (Presumably, each department funds research projects at the plaintiff universities.)

The simple solution is for each secretary to step aside for 1 day, or just long enough for the assistant or deputy secretary, on orders from the President, to defund Harvard and any other university that reinstates or imposes a ban on military recruiting, thereby carrying out the will of Congress.


Wednesday, Dec 01, 2004
 
The evil of Dred Scott
John sends this Newsday column by Sol Wachtler:
Despite his "personal opinion," Taney felt that he was duty bound to interpret the words of the Constitution. As Judge Bork put it, Taney was trying "to be what the public at that time would have understood the words to mean."

As Justice Taney himself wrote: "(The Founders) spoke and acted according to the then-established doctrines and principles, and in the ordinary language of the day, no one misunderstood them. The unhappy black race were separated from the white by indelible marks, and the laws long before established, and were never thought of or spoken of except as property."

It is not true that negroes were only considered property. Only 4 of the original 13 states were slave states. But more importantly, Taney's opinion is not based on the words of the Constitution, but on his perception of popular opinion. Contrary to Wachtler, Pres. Bush was quite correct when he said the Dred Scott decision was a good example of an improperly reasoned decision.

John writes:

Only 4 of the original 13 states were slave states?? Actually, 6 of the original 13 were slave states at the start of the Civil War, of which 4 seceded and the other 2 remained in the Union.

But in Dred Scott, Taney was looking back at the situation when the U.S. Constitution was drafted in 1787. At that time, slavery was legal in almost all of the original 13 states. e.g., NJ and NY did not finally and totally abolish slavery until the 1840s.

But what Taney failed to notice was that even in 1787 there were a significant number of free blacks, and there is no good argument that they should not have had civil rights.

Also, I think one has to concede that Taney did base his opinion on some of the words of the Constitution: "No person shall be ... deprived of ... property without due process of law." But the problem is he failed to give similar weight to other words of the Constitution, including: "The Congress shall have power to ... make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States."

Taney's opinions deprived free negroes of their rights. He had no words in the Constitution to justify that.
 
Lawyer joke about cigars
Bob sends this story:
A Charlotte, NC lawyer purchased a box of very rare and expensive cigars, then insured them against fire among other things. Within a month having smoked his entire stockpile of these great cigars and without yet having made even his first premium payment on the policy, the lawyer filed claim against the insurance company. In his claim, the lawyer stated the cigars were lost "in a series of small fires." The insurance company refused to pay, citing the obvious reason that the man had consumed the cigars in the normal fashion. The lawyer sued ... and WON! (Stay with me.)

In delivering the ruling the judge agreed with the insurance company that the claim was frivolous. The judge stated nevertheless, that the lawyer "held a policy from the company in which it had warranted that the cigars were insurable and also guaranteed that it would insure them against fire, without defining what is considered to be unacceptable fire" and was obligated to pay the claim. Rather than endure lengthy and costly appeal process, the insurance company accepted the ruling and paid $15,000 to the lawyer for his loss of the rare cigars lost in the "fires."

NOW FOR THE BEST PART... After the lawyer cashed the check, the insurance company had him arrested on 24 counts of ARSON!!! With his own insurance claim and testimony from the previous case being used against him, the lawyer was convicted of intentionally burning his insured property and was sentenced to 24 months in jail and a $24,000 fine.

This ... was the First place winner in the recent Criminal Lawyers Award Contest.

The story is not really true.