some thoughts on swine flu

--No one in public health has anything to gain by being the guy/gal who said "this probably won't be a big deal". That is to say, no one has ever been given a commendation for accurately predicting a non-event, but many careers have ended because "they didn't see the signs". On the other hand, if they end up overestimating the scale and deadliness of this thing, they get to say that being cautious worked...and may very well be correct in saying so.

--Mortality rates in Mexico may be inflated, because utilization of health services there is much lower than here. There could be many mild cases of H1N1 that have not been reported at all, because they never went to the doctor. You can bet anyone with a sore throat and a mild fever in the U.S. (a combination of symptoms I routinely tough out 1-2 times a year) will be running to Urgent Care.

--I'm not terribly concerned. That said, I'm glad I don't have to fly anywhere any time soon (and wish my wife didn't have to), and I wouldn't go to Mexico right now.


with great power...

I'm still catching up on the torture memos released this week, and the commentary thereon. There has of course been a great deal of more timely and insightful blogging on this than I can hope to produce. (See here and here, for starters.)

Generally speaking, I'm actually in favor of giving people in positions of great responsibility tremendous latitude in the execution of their duties. All possible contingencies cannot (and I think, should not) be prepared for within a broad and practical legal framework. This is true whether we are talking about the protocol for a traffic stop or how suspected terrorists in custody can be interrogated.

Where I part ways with what was apparently the prevailing wisdom of the previous (and possibly current) administration with regard to the latter is that I take the "great responsibility" part every bit as seriously as the "tremendous latitude" part. If you are someone with the power to make the decision to torture people, you are also someone who can and should take full responsibility for that decision.

By this, I mean a great deal more than standing up at a press conference and saying "I take full responsibility for the decisions I made pursuant to the execution of my duties," stepping away from the microphone, and going back to your job. I mean that you actually, you know, take responsibility for your actions by accepting the consequences thereof in real and personal way.

To allow government officials to make criminal decisions without any criminal repercussions is to put them above the law. It is the very antithesis of (lower-case) republicanism. If you made it policy for the CIA to engage in illegal acts of torture, then you are complicit in a criminal conspiracy. You can and should be prosecuted for it. Jay Bybee, I'm looking at you. (Again, for starters.)

At a bare minimum, these people should have the decency to resign from public service, publicly beg the forgiveness of the innocent people wronged by the policies they put forth, and write a big fucking check to Amnesty International.

Putting it another way...isn't allowing government officials (elected and/or politically appointed) to act outside the law with impunity--even if they did so in what they may have genuinely believed was in the best interest of the country, and I think that many did--the moral equivalent of "capitalizing the gains and socializing the losses"? What's a few years in prison if you actually save the world? Take the risk. Make the decision. And accept the consequences.

The problem with the Bush team seems to have been that their threshold for extra-legal* action was clearly much, much too low. Neither the world, nor the country, was ever at stake. A bunch of political appointees who never served in the military or intelligence services thought they were living in a real-life episode of 24. And acted accordingly.

All of that said, I'm actually in a agreement with Dick Cheney--yes you read that correctly--in that I also think information obtained from the interrogations in question should be made public. If the ticking time-bomb scenario really did happen, and this really did make us substantially safer, that would absolutely mitigate all of this to a considerable degree. At this point I don't believe for a minute that such evidence exists, because if it did, they would have hauled it out a long time ago. But if I turn out to be wrong, let the record show I'm willing to revise my position in light of new information.

Which is a damn sight more than will ever be said of the Bush administration.

*This modifier is spelled "illegal" when applied to the actions of mere mortals.


cosmetic neurology

I just want to publicly thank Margaret Talbot for giving me the lecture I was trying to fill for summer term.


dwt to be banned in nc

I don't really have a problem with NC banning texting while driving, in principle, because let's be real: texting while driving is a supremely stupid thing to do. (I can't even text while walking.) That said, I really wonder how it will be enforceable, particularly since talking, using GPS, and using pretty much any other functionality of a cell phone behind the wheel will remain legal. I worry that this, like the seatbelt law, will simply be a pretext to pull people over.

I also wonder how a certain local mayor feels about it, since I had the pleasure of observing him a couple of weeks ago (he helpfully has a vanity license plate that is his name) wheeling around the downtown loop, Blackberry prominently at 12, hands at 11:55 and 12:05.

To be fair, he seemed rather well-practiced at it, staying in the lane and everything.


tax day in the old north state

It's a forgone conclusion that I am unhappy about income tax, generally. So I'll not belabor that point.

I do want to say a word or two about the state income tax in North Carolina, however.

NC's tax rate in our bracket is not as high as, say, California's. That is as it should be. It's only slightly lower than Oregon's--a place I would very much prefer to live, if we ever manage to land two jobs there--though it is worth noting that Oregon has no sales tax (it's 7% here), which I imagine puts Oregon ahead overall.

It is noteworthy that NC's rates (in our bracket at least) are higher than both "Taxechusetts" and New York. For the life of me, I don't know what I get for it. It certainly isn't forward-thinking transportation infrastructure, or a pleasant and efficient DMV.

To be sure, income tax isn't everything (see the example of Oregon, above.) Property taxes, gas taxes (NC's are the highest in the southeastern US), etc., also make a big difference; my observations here are by no means a complete assessment of the relative tax burden of the several states.

But what really gets me is the sheer retardedness of NC's D-400-TC form, which clocks in at a whopping 6 pages, sends you flipping back and forth to do calculations that could be handled in a much more straightforward manner, and (to top it all off) won't give you .pdf file in which you can save changes. And to add insult to injury, they instruct you to add a "consumer use tax" to recapture the sales tax they assume you would have otherwise paid on money you had the temerity to spend somewhere other than North Carolina. (There's a table that's essentially a straight percentage of your income. Then it says you can make an adjustment if you feel you owe more or less. Guess what I adjust mine to?)

I love Durham, and will miss it when I'm gone. But the State of North Carolina leaves much to be desired. I look forward to taking my income elsewhere.


i'm smiling next to you in silent complicity

Today's post by Will Wilkinson is nominally about libertarian agnosticism in the debate over gay marriage, but this bit applies beautifully as a general principle:

One cannot use an ideological image of perfect justice to excuse or ignore an obvious injustice within the actual imperfect system. That these injustices could not arise within one’s vision of the best society does not mean that they have not in fact arisen. That a debate would not occur in an ideal world does not mean that it is not occuring or that nothing morally hangs on its conclusion. To decide to sit out the debate, with an eye on utopia, is not a way to keep one’s hands clean.

shovel ready

Dirt is being moved in Northgate Park! Any chance we're going to be able to walk on the west side of Ellerbee Creek any time soon without the benefit of hip boots?


ted stevens walks

"I always knew that there would be a day when the cloud that surrounded me would be removed" --Ted Stevens

Um, you haven't exactly been exonerated here, sir...the prosecution screwed up the case.

That said, I have to agree with Jacob Sullum, who notes:

It seems safe to say that the actions of the prosecutors in this case are more worrisome than the crimes of which Stevens was accused, which amounted to filling out inaccurate paperwork.... the problem is that his real crimes, which involved funneling billions of dollars in taxpayer money to Alaska, were perfectly legal.

Anyway, I am happy to see the new AG taking prosecutorial misconduct seriously. I will be much happier when he applies the same standard to cases in which the defendants are not extremely well-connected former senators.