Sunday, February 28, 2010

The case of the self-refuting linguist

John McWhorter, in his book "Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English", has an interesting contradiction in thought that doesn't seem to have occured to him. It is connected to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which McWhorter starts to poo-poo on page 138:
The idea that grammar is thought became influential from the writings of Edward Sapir. We met him in the previous chapter venturing that English speakers came to find nuance irritating. Even that point had hints of the language-is-thought persuasion -- supposedly the erosion of various aspects of English grammar was due to some psychological leaning in its speakers. But Sapir ventured only passing speculations in this vein.

It was Sapir's student Benjamin Lee Whorf who picked up the ball and ran with it, in the 1930s, publishing several pieces on the subject which served as its foundational texts. The hypothesis is known, therefore, as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

The hypothesis has also failed. Repeatedly and conclusively.
Earlier in the book, he devotes a large amount of space arguing for the usage of the singular pronoun "they" instead of the singular pronoun "he" when refering to an person of unspecified sex, basically on grounds of sexism (p. 66; italics in original):
My own books are full of resorts to he, which I find sexist, occasional dutiful shes, which stike me as injecting a stray note of PC irrelevance into what I am discussing, or he or she, which I find clumsy and clinical -- for the simple reason that I was required to knuckle under. At best I can wrangle an exceptions and get in a singular they or their once or twice a book.
But why do contemporary writers consider the singular, indeterminate sex "he" to be sexist? It's the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: eliminate sexist grammar from English and sexism will magically disappear!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Liberals can be really f***ing stupid sometimes.

Liberals are really pissed off about these Right-wing tea parties, so much so that they have started liberal "coffee parties" of their own (emphasis in original):
Furious at the tempest over the Tea Party -- the scattershot citizen uprising against big government and wild spending -- Annabel Park did what any American does when she feels her voice has been drowned out: She squeezed her anger into a Facebook status update.

let's start a coffee party . . . smoothie party. red bull party. anything but tea. geez. ooh how about cappuccino party? that would really piss 'em off bec it sounds elitist . . . let's get together and drink cappuccino and have real political dialogue with substance and compassion.
Obviously many liberals have no understanding of American history, because the whole point of "tea parties" is that the participants are NOT drinking tea!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

What planet is this Obama guy from?

Pretend for a second that you are President Barack Obama. You don't just want to reform the nation's health care system; you want to fundamentally overhaul the nation's health care system to benefit generations to come. Yet, for some reason, the Republicans aren't going along with your plans. The Republicans keep complaining about too much government control, too much government waste, job-killing tax cuts, health care rationing, and death panels. You don't really want any of those bad things, and you don't think your health care reforms will produce any of that stuff, but your health care reforms still can't pass Congress in the face of Republican opposition.

You decide that the way forward is a game-changing new proposal that will bridge the Republican-Democrat divide and finally win bipartisan support for passage of health care reform. What new proposal do you announce?

The real Barack Obama decided to propose price controls:
President Obama will propose on Monday giving the federal government new power to block excessive rate increases by health insurance companies, as he rolls out comprehensive legislation to revamp the nation’s health care system, White House officials said Sunday.
Nothing could possibly better prove that the President of the United States is utterly not competent to reform health care than the fact that he put price controls on the table. Price controls are not a serious reform because they represent "Pee Wee Herman" economics: if we all just close our eyes, the problem disappears. The unfortunate reality is that we can't all keep our eyes closed forever. Sooner or later, the price controls are going to fail and the original problem is going to be much, much worse than before.

Or think about it this way. The Baby Boom generation is currently in the process of retiring. As that generation ages into retirement, they are going to put a new, increased demand for medical care onto the existing system. The health care system will need to raise rates in order to produce the profits necessary to expand the amount of care available to meet the upcoming demand for care. If the government imposes price controls onto health care, those profits won't exist, which means that the supply of care will lag behind demand and produce substandard care and/or health care rationing. If the government doesn't get health care prices exactly right -- and it is absolutely guarenteed that the government will bungle them -- the ramifications will be catastrophic.

The real problem with health care in the United States is very simple if one looks at it in economic terms. Health care is an industry in which very large increases of capital input are required to expand and improve the health care output to the consumer. Putting government bureaucrats in charge instead of private-sector CEOs will not fix the problem. Rationing care will not fix the problem. Subsidizing care will not fix the problem. Throwing government money at the problem will not fix the problem.

The only possible way to fix the problem is to increase the efficiency of the system! That requires free market economics, competition, accurate pricing, and trust that the common private-sector economic agents across the economy can do their jobs correctly. If we want the health care system to be reformed, this is what we're going to need.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

America's First Parliament

I've been trying to determine the meaning of President Obama's upcoming health care summit with Democratic and Republican leaders. Then I read a description of how the summit is going to begin and the answer hit me:
The administration's letter invited Democrats Pelosi and Reid, McConnell and House Republican Leader John Boehner, and asked each to designate four other members of Congress to participate.

The invitation list also includes Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate Finance Committee; Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; House Ways and Means Committee; House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the House Education and Labor Committee, all of which oversaw the health legislation in both chambers.

The White House said Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Sebelius, and Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the Office of Health Reform, would also attend.

Obama will make opening remarks, followed by remarks from a Republican leader and a Democratic leader chosen by leaders of their parties, and then the president will open discussion on insurance reform, cost containment, expanding coverage and the effect of health reform legislation on deficit reduction.
In hindsight, the meaning of the event is obvious. President Obama is abandoning the unwieldy American-style government that he can't control and doesn't seem to understand in favor of a parliamentary-style government favored by the European welfare states. Obama's health care conference represents the convening of the "de facto executive branch" or parliamentary cabinet.

Obama will be there as a first-among-equals Prime Minister to both enforce the rules and advance his party's interest. There will be various "Cabinet ministers" present in the form of the most prominent House and Senate leaders. And, of course, there will be a few extra "senior members of the executive" there to give the majority party a modest majority at all times. Once the Cabinet has reached a consensus on health care legislation, they'll send the agreement to the House of Commons and the House of Lords (the House and Senate respectively). Once it passes, Obama in his role of figurehead of state will rubber-stamp the bill and enact it into law.