Tag Archives: cnn

Tragic Irony

CNN: Segway company owner dies in apparent Segway accident

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Cell Phones, Cancer, and Certainty

cell phone-2

CNN reports: “Last summer, Dr. Ronald Herberman, then director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, issued a warning to about 3,000 faculty and staff, listing steps to avoid harmful electromagnetic radiation from cell phones.”

“Electromagnetic radiation” is a fancy way of saying light waves.

Herberman has been on his cell phone crusade for a while now; I diagnosed him with a severe case of The Certainty last year.

Still, let’s assume he’s right that cell phones cause tumors. What actions should be taken? I present the following CDC data on leading causes of death as a way to guide our priorities:

Heart disease: 631,636
Cancer: 559,888
Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 137,119
Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 124,583
Accidents (unintentional injuries): 121,599
Diabetes: 72,449
Alzheimer’s disease: 72,432
Influenza and Pneumonia: 56,326
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 45,344
Septicemia: 34,234

Deaths from cancer attributable to cell phone use? Zero. There is an important lesson to be learned here.

Think of it like this: every dollar and every hour of researchers’ time spent investigating cancer risks from cell phones is money and time not spent curing heart disease. Or cancer itself. Or stroke. These “big three” combine to end more than a million lives each and every year.

Which is a better use of limited research resources? Herberman, by bringing funding and attention to a non-issue, is quite possibly costing lives that could otherwise be saved.

The Certainty has very high costs. In Herberman’s case,  measurable in lives.

To Heckle the President, or Not?

Over at CNN, John Feehery argues that it’s better not to heckle. I agree, but for different reasons.

Feehery’s line of thinking is that the office deserves respect. Holding one’s tongue is a matter of decorum. “The president is the commander-in-chief, the leader of the country, and in many unspoken ways treated as a king.”

Technically, the president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and of nothing else. The rest of his job consists of humbly executing the laws given him by the Constitution and the legislature. That’s why it’s called the executive branch.

Feehery, a partisan Republican, here manages to out-conservative Edmund Burke. Royal rhetoric pervades his piece – evidence of how far the presidency has strayed from its intended purpose. The cult of the presidency endures.

Don Boudreaux’s approach to the presidency is more realistic, if less romantic:

[T]he notion that the U.S. presidency is lofty or respectable in any ethically significant sense is ludicrous. As Saul Bellow said about politicians, “they’re a bunch of yo-yos. The presidency is now a cross between a popularity contest and a high school debate, with an encyclopedia of clichés the first prize.”

Hence the real reason to let the president have his say without being heckling him: politicians make themselves look bad far more effectively than any heckler could. He doesn’t need the help. Just take his ideas seriously:

-We can save money by spending $900,000,000,000.

-We can contain costs by isolating people from the costs they incur.

-The Medicare/Medicaid model works. Expand it.

Presidents are unremarkable creatures. Borne of much talent for campaigning and little for governing, more love for power than for principle, and the unyielding belief that they know best, presidents have the worst kind of hubris. This is perhaps their only regal trait.

President Bush thought he could win two simultaneous land wars in Asia, and use military might to build a new nation in Iraq. Hubris.

President Obama thinks he can run the auto, financial, and health care industries at the same time, all while controlling global climate patterns. Hubris.

Feehery is right that President Obama should not have been heckled. If not for the sheer harm his office causes, it would not merit the attention.

The Tax Code

According to CNN, the federal tax code stands at nearly 100,000 pages, “with a word length that is about 10 times the size of the standard English version of the Bible.”

Wow.

Surely we can do better than that. Both parties complain about the complexity of our tax code, so why not do something about it?

Turns out they are, just in the wrong direction. Reps. Dreier and Berman are proposing a targeted tax break for filmmakers, and President Bush is proposing a tax break for casinos in the Gulf region.

I’m all for lower taxes, but this is ridiculous. Instead of a cut for a few people here and a few there, why not do away with all exemptions and special treatment and just charge everyone the same rate?

Tax avoidance would be almost impossible. The entire tax code could fit on one page. Imagine that, being able to do your own taxes. Tax rates would almost certainly go down due to popular pressure since everyone would have to pay.

The only downside is that H&R Block would probably go out of business.

Well, that and it probably wouldn’t do a thing about the real problem, which is spending. I noted some of the difficulties with that yesterday.