Thursday, August 18, 2011

Having Trouble Posting On Threads?

I've received word from someone who says Blogger won't accept his posts. If anyone else is having trouble, let me know at It's been giving me trouble too, so I may well be migrating to wordpress. Other suggestions for non-google-related free blog hosting sites also appreciated.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

John Stewart Agrees with Me About Ron Paul

Looks like I'm not the only one who has noticed that Ron Paul is being ignored by the media despite his popularity among voters:

Apparently Fox News is among the worst offenders. Huh. I was irritated that CNN gave him short shrift. I had no idea Fox was in on this.

Do The Elites Need an Eye-Opening Ass-kicking?

There's much controversy today over the colorful way in which Texas Governor Rick Perry has expressed his disagreement with the fiscal policy of Ben Bernanke.

And boy, are the panties atwist.  Perry must be interpreted literally, they insist. Not figuratively, That's not allowed.

Look, Perry is not circumspect. He's not an "iron fist in velvet glove" guy. He's just an iron fist guy. He doesn't pause and carefully chose words in order to find clever ways to say nasty things that don't sound nasty at first. Many are sure this is a bug. But how many regular folks will find it to be a refreshing feature?

Ordinarily, I don't go down the road of criticizing elitism. I usually find it to be a dumb anti-intellectual meme favored by know-nothings.

But when it comes to political speech and analyzing it, that's overwhelmingly the province of the elite. Well educated folks who are all wonky about politics, Like me, and like the posters I talk with at  Donklephant  and  Rise of The Center.:

  • People who have big vocabularies. 
  • People who enjoy reading lots of stuff, sometimes high-brow and with sophisticated analysis. 
  • People who then enjoy writing their opinions carefully and at length, using just the right words.

Such folks have a built-in bias for taking care with how one expresses one's views. So they generally fall right into line with interpreting quickly expressed ideas literally when they should quite obviously be interpreted figuratively.

Time after time after time, I have seen that the regular  non-wonk world has little patience with such nonsense. And I agree with them. How is it that so many well-educated hard-thinking Americans has developed this blind spot for the difference between literal and figurative expression? Maybe the only way to rid them of this blind spot is to just kick their asses really really until it goes away. Figuratively of course, not literally, for the dense among you.

Oh, and just let me add, to fend off ill-targeted drive-by comments: I voted for Obama in 2008 and plan to vote for him again in  2012. I don't like or support Rick Perry.

Monday, August 15, 2011

It Bothers Me That Ron Paul Gets Less Coverage

I'm not a Ron Paul supporter. But while he came in second in the Iowa straw poll, all the media seems interested in talking about is Mitt Romney versus Rick Perry. Look, they reporteded every utterance by  Sara Palin for the last 2 years. They've lately been giving Michelle Bachman the same platform. Donald Trump was treated as serious and viable.Wolf Blitzer is the Donald's lap dog, for chrissake.

If they can do all those things, then they can cover Ron Paul every bit as much. He's more popular than most of these other folks. And even if you don't agree with him, it's easy to see that he's a more useful voice. On issue after issue  he makes decently-reasoned cases for his positions that go well beyond the talking point pablum of a Palin, a Bachman, a Perry. That deserves an audience.

I don't want major news outlets to decide what the story is going to be. It's not their role to cut to the chase. Right now, they are supposed to be telling the story of which folks Americans might prefer to be the protagonists next year.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Last Time I Get Burned Like This

So here's the theme song for the 2012 elections. Vote for Republicans OR democrats? I don't think so.

Don't Get Fooled Again, Folks!

In congressional nitwit ping-pong, the people are the ball and the parties are the paddle. Back and forth we go between preferring the half-truths of one party, then the other. How will democrats seek to make their next shift back towards full power?

For starters, pay attention, and use your memory. Looking back just a little ways, it's quite easy to see that irrespective of how the GOP may have behaved recently, there's simply no reason to now entrust democrats with the keys to the car again.
  • Informed independents sat and listened for over a year while democratic supporters claimed that Obama care (which I supported, BTW) was revenue positive according to the CBO. Every time dems were told that this was based on cuts to medicare providers that would NEVER happen, they utterly ignored this and simply repeated that the CBO was trustworthy. 
  • Prior to that, for years and years, we all listened to democratic supporters who insisted that social security would not become a burden to the federal budget until after an accounting device called the social security trust fund was used up. And who was right? Not democrats.

Look, NO ONE can claim with honesty that democrats as a group have given a true shit about deficit spending. What little there is has come with way too much arm twisting. They've only just begun to grudgingly concede that it's an issue. And no one can tell us how many actual votes there are for SS and medicare reform within the democratic party. Here's the real kicker:
Democrats are trying to position their entire party as the reasonable ones almost exclusively on the back of their President's public pronouncements, none of which have been supported by actual details.
In other words, we have no idea how "willing to deal" they actually are. How recently was it that both Nancy Reid and Nancy Pelosi declared SS and medicare sacrosanct? Has it been weeks? Days? Hours? What sorts of changes are now supportable in their view? 

Sure. Republicans got serious religion about our debt only after they were ejected. But it's been a strand in their DNA for quite awhile.  And what has gotten any of the democrats "willing to deal" at all? Republican intransigence. 

To believe that the democrats are the white hats in this is naive. And to believe that they would substantially tackle America's debt problem if only they were freed from Republican intransigence is a fool's mileage.

Don't get fooled again.

It's not about blame, it's about responsibiiity. Further it's about Americans as a group opening theiu eyes and seeing that congress as an institution won't take that responsibility. So we'll  have to replace them with folks that will.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Forecast Calls For Pain, Pt. 2

In the immediate aftermath of the debt ceiling debacle, subsequent credit downgrade, market tankings, and renewed fears over a double dip recession, what's the congressional prognosis? What's the next chapter in As The Incompetent Nitwits Turn? The forecast calls for pain. Again.

When we last left our heroes, they had begun retreating to their lush summer homes to recuperate from the exhausting effort of not budging on anything, changing their minds about nothing, and blaming the other side for everything. They left us with the promise to work from a committee geared towards compromise.

Riiiiiiiight. Today, the names of the committee members are trickling out. Let the vicious, mean-spirited squabbling begin resume continue. Let each side tell us why the other side's choices demonstrate bad faith while theirs are the height of wisdom and good faith.

Now, notice that neither party's diarrhea-mouthed PR flacks can even manage to keep their mouths shut about who gets on the committee. The sniping can't even wait until the committee gets to work and floats preliminary proposals. Really?

So, are we actually supposed to believe that this committee is going to do a single thing to get us closer to the scope of compromise we're going to need to bridge a defict gap between 2.2 trillion dollars of revenue and 3.7 trillion dollars of spending? How stupid, how guileless, how innocently faithful would we have to be?

I don't believe it for a second. Not one second. Republicans have shown nothing if not an invigorated commitment to opposing revenue increases no matter what else comes up on the table with it. They won't support restoring the previous top tax bracket rate. And they won't support any proposal that closes corporate tax loopholes while lowering tax rates if that proposal results in any immediate additional government revenue. And democrats won't heave even a smidgen of social security or medicare revisions onto the table without that. I'm calling it now. The absolute best we can hope for out of this committee is bitterness, gridlock, vitriol, and another last minute deal that does the absolute bare minimum. Along with yet another empty promise to try harder and do better next time.

Time for regular Americans to notice that we've been in an abusive relationship with both Democrats and Republicans in congress. And they're never going to change. Thy take us for granted, they beat us, and then they make empty promises that this time they're really going to change. Time to walk out. Or else we keep getting what we deserve.

UPDATE: John Avlon reports on CNN that not a single member so far named has any record of bipartisan compromise. They're all staunch partisans, says Avlon, and the committee is a recipe for more gridlock. What a shocker. It occurs to me that the should have made each party choose the OTHER party's members.

The Wisconsin Recall and The Predictable Spin

In Wisconsin's recall election, Democrats failed to unseat enough Republicans to retake the state legislature and turn back changes to collective bargaining rights that infuriated unionized state workers.
The predictable spin from the Republican Party is that this outcome represents a broad vindication of the GOP's agenda.

But it's not. A broad variety of recent polls shows that a majority of Americans do not stand with the conservatives on their hard line positions. This out come represents a narrow vindication of a GOP position,  one that happens to coincide with the views of a solid majority of Americans.:
 Regular everyday Americans DO resent sweetheart deals for unionized government workers where they exist.
It's not hard to understand:

• Where unionized government workers have very generous state pensions that will leave them WAY better off than most taxpayers footing that bill, they resent it.

• Where unionized government workers have much more highly subsidized health insurance than most taxpayers footing that bill, they resent it.

• Where unionized government workers have much better job security than most taxpayers footing that bill, they resent it.

And THAT, my friends, is what has been vindicated.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Creativity and Balls

The "why" behind the idea of avoiding tax increases harmful to economic growth basically says this:
Higher taxes divert to the government needed capital that would otherwise primarily become investment dollars. These investment dollars finance creative, sometimes risky, but ultimately economically beneficial new ventures. These new ventures create tomorrow's jobs.
And that's what we need, jobs. It's the only thing everyone seems to agree about. We're poised to suffer a 15 month debate over who is more in favor of jobs. And sadly, we're all going to get sucked into the false pretense that jobs are created by policy and politicians instead of by creativity and . . .wait for it . . . risk-taking. Also known as balls. 

 But in today's environment, where is the shortage of capital, of investment dollars? Interest rates are extraordinarily low. You can't even pace inflation with a savings account or a bond or a money market fund. There's no capital shortage. 

There's an excess of capital, in the hands of all the folks who have done very well. And it's all very risk averse. In that environment, it's hard to make a plausible argument that an upward tweak in the top bracket is going to kill job creation. There's almost no job creation to kill. What little exists is related directly to enterprises that can increase profits by adding labor. Investment capital is piling up, looking desperately for somewhere appealing to go. 

What we need is creativity and balls. Instead we're beset by rigid, simplistic, outdated ideology and fear.

Belching Clouds of Black Spew

I used to like Real Clear Politics. Along with the predictable rants, you'd get yhoughtful ideas from smart well-informed people. A smart independent could quickly and safely identify partisan cheerleading and skip it. In return,  one or two articles would provide real food for thought. Mental Nutrition. Insight. Cause to re-think or adjust my own ideas.

Used to be worth the trip from time to time. But not so much lately. Both parties in congress have been scared witless by the debt ceiling debate. Not to mention  their inability to spin positively from a debacle that the whole rest of the world can clearly see was of congress's own political manufacturing. As always, such fear has led to the usual sprint down into the basement, filled with the dirty coal of blame and old rhetoric. Each party's furnace has been rapidly filled to max and stoked. The twin smokestacks of half-truth are now belching forth vile clouds of black spew.

If RCP can't do any better than to collect and sort the simplistic bull crap that each party is trying to feed us, then their traffic deserves to dwindle. Now, that has always been part of its job, but there was always decent content to go with it. Right now, if you're an independent, there's nothing to see. Just move along. To the rise of the center or the daily beast or donklephant. Anywhere they're making some sense instead of fingerpointing.

The Cleanest Dirty Shirt

On the Tuesday after S+P downgraded US debt from AAA to AA+, the dominoes continue to fall. The national spectacle of the debt crisis debate is rippling in a way which will make it hard for anyone to claim that the embarrassing debt ceiling show was not a big deal. Maybe you can argue it shouldn't it have been, But guess what, it turns out that perception DOES matter. Oopsie! And the perception is that our nation simply doesn't have its shit together.

This is about our government's large and undiminishing gap between revenues and expenditures. As it relates to both our credit and our fiscal sustainability, no one outside the US really cares what pastiche of polices are used to close the gap. They just care that we close it. That means both liberal and conservative sacred cows (social security, medicare, no new taxes) need to go up on the block.  

The most noticeable trend in the immediate aftermath of the downgrade has been an increased flight to quality and security: to gold, and into the currencies (and bonds, probably, if there are any) of countries with sound balance sheets. For the time being, american treasury notes are still among the cleanest dirty shirts in the opinions of investors. But this downgrade has clearly made global investors substantially more committed to shopping for clean shirts. This is the end of the beginning of the realization that America needs to live within its means. 

Countries that produce more than they consume won't keep propping us up. We're clearly operating on borrowed time, no pun intended. I am deeply pessimistic that our current congress can come up with any solutions that amount to more than inadequate half measures coupled with WIMPY promises that they'll gladly pay us tuesday for a hamburger today.

What we all need to do as Americans is to let BOTH PARTIES know that they are sadly mistaken if they think we're going to just keep ping-ponging between their nitwit paddles. Republicans and democrats have never been more in the way than they are today.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What Does "A Failure of Leadership" Mean in August 2011?

In the aftermath of President Obama's capitulation to a debt ceiling deal that did not include tax hikes, he is being widely criticized for a failure of leadership. That makes me wonder what effective presidential leadership is supposed to look like when a divided congress disagrees fundamentally about the right approach on, well everything.

What does a solid independent middle bloc of Americans support when it comes to bringing our deficit under control?
• Reforming SS and medicare to include things like means testing? Yup.
• Closing corporate tax loopholes while lowering the rates, to broaden the tax base? Yup.
• Making serious attempts to cut discretionary spending broadly by level funding at federal agencies across the board?  Yup.
• Saving money on the big military budget by winding down our commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq while also making cuts and consolidations in all service branches? Yup?
• Ending the tax break for top bracket income earning and restoring the previous top bracket rate? Yup.
OK. Add up all those positions. Who has supported most of them. Congressional Republicans? Congressional Democrats? Or Obama? Noiw, if you believe that OBama has failed yo lead, describe to me the Oval Office Critter that could, in this climate, forge a legitmate consensus? because I can't envision it.

This is not a crisis of leadership. This is a crisis of inflexible, cowardly, politically self-interested followers. There are good reasons why there's no such thing as a successful cat herder. Obama tried anyway, because he is in the very small group of national politicians who BOTH has the entire nation's interests at heart and understands that politics is the art of the possible. Until we have a congress that gets the latter, the DC farce of 2011 will endure.

Friday, August 5, 2011

This Institution Needs An Enema

Standard and Poor's has just downgraded US credit from AAA to AA+. For the first time ever.. Let that sink in. For the first time ever. Ever.

We deserve it. Let's not waste time pretending we don't. After the sad spectacle of the last 6 weeks or so, the inadequacy of the outcome, plus our absymal deficit and debt, we deserve it. Let's skip the denial part. S + P isn't the only ratings agency that has taken this action, so shooting the messenger just doesn't work.

The United States credit rating has been downgraded because in the span of 11 years we have gone from a balanced budget to spending about $1.72 for every dollar we collect. The 2010 budget estimate figures show that we collected about 2.2 trillion dollars, and we spent 3.7. That's the problem, and the cause of this downgrade. The rest is static.

The soundbites in the immediate aftermath of the downgrade announcement should make it crystal clear to all Americans that the folks in congress are uncommitted to working together to address the issue. Or unable. The only thing either side seems eager to do is blame the other side for being unable to do the right thing. The debt council negotiations are certain to be a fiasco. I wish there was a way to bet money on it.

I'm convinced that the best way past this is for Americans to join together and sign our own pledges for the election of 2012. We should all promise to vote for every single non-incumbent congressional candidate (senate or house) that seems reasonable and promises to work outside the confines of partisan ideology to close the gap between government spending and government revenue by every means necessary.

Nothing will straighten up our alleged leaders better than an extremely loud shot across their bow. We need 60-70-80% turnover in the house and the ouster of most senators running for re-election. This institution needs an enema.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

This Bears Repeating

Tyler Cowen over at Marginal Revolution cites a tidbit that is worth repeating. Over and over. Folks should IMHO be pounded over the head with this until the lightbulb goes on:
…what separated those with modest but significant predictive ability from the utterly hopeless was their style of thinking. Experts who had one big idea they were certain would reveal what was to come were handily beaten by those who used diverse information and analytical models, were comfortable with complexity and uncertainty and kept their confidence in check.
Cowen cites that from Tetlock and Gardner's Why Most Predictions Are So Bad, at Forbes. This shouldn't be a revelation to many folks, but apparently it is. It's a multivariate world, whether you we like it or not. Base your predictions on one variable, and you'll usually get it wrong.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Use Rail to Solve Problems That Trains Are Good Solutions For

A modest proposal to guide new rail projects:
I am a fan of train projects when those projects start with a problem that might be solved by a train, and then work forward to the train. The problem is that in America, those routes are difficult to build, because they're places where there's already a lot of stuff. Rights of way are expensive and time-consuming to obtain, and the project is bound to be blocked by well-organized NIMBYs.

And so the idea seems to have become to build trains where it's possible to build trains, and hope that development follows.  But trains succeed where they are better than some alternative form of transportation.  In the case of Tampa to Orlando, they're worse than a car, and there isn't even any air travel to replace; in the case of Fresno-to-Bakersfield, it may be better than a car for a few passengers, but there are too few passengers to make the trains better than cars for the environment.

Meanwhile, projects that do make economic sense, like an actual high-speed Acela, or Southeastern High-Speed Rail Corridor, are going nowhere.  They might have a better chance of success if rail advocates hadn't abandoned them in favor of building whizzy demonstration projects with dubious economic appeal. 

Sound thoughts via Megan McArdle here, for sure. The Acela, which goes right behind my house, could travel the 222 miles from Boston to NY with a handful of stops in, what, 90 minutes at 150 mph? Or in 2 hours at 120 mph. So, make that happen? Oh, no! Keep it slow, take 4 hours or more, and charge almost as much as a plane ticket. Spend money, accomplish almost nothing.

See, this gets right at Obama's alleged goal of investing in ideas that will really make us better and keep us ahead. Let's get rid of "if we build it they will come" and replace it with"if we really need it we should build it." File this under not brain surgery.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

So, Do We Do Acid Tests Or Not?

Does evidence matter? If something that seems like a great idea has been shown not to really pan out, are we capable of moving on and trying something else instead. Or is it the case that once an imagined virtue has been embraced by the heart, it must forever endure? Are we impervious to evidence?
Head Start -- the romance of a government program that would provide care, nutrition, education, and skills to impoverished preschoolers in order to erase, to the degree possible, the handicaps poverty imposes. That was the idea in 1965, when Head Start was founded. Lyndon Johnson declared, upon signing the enabling bill that "Today, we reach out to five and half million children held behind their more fortunate schoolmates by the dragging anchor of poverty." Head Start, he promised, would be their "passport" out.

By 1987, even the program's founder, Yale psychologist Edward F. Zigler, declined to claim educational benefits for the program. But as the Thernstroms concluded, "Everyone could agree that poverty was hard on blameless children, so any federal effort purporting to help them was difficult to attack without seeming mean-spirited."....

A just-released study by the Department of Health and Human Services delivers incredibly harsh news about Head Start. A large, nationwide survey of 4,600 preschoolers who were randomly assigned to either the Head Start (experimental group) or no program (control group) were studied on 114 different measures ranging from academic skills to social-emotional development, to health status. The study found no statistically relevant effects from the Head Start program by the end of first grade.

So, what's the deal? What say you? How much evidence is enough for us to be willing to conclude that something that seemed like a no-brainer just isn't helping? Isn't it true that if one has occasion to cite studies in support of their views, then one must be willing to adjust their views when a host of studies indicates something contrary to what you'd hoped?

And what's the best case that can now reasonably be claimed as the virtue of Head Start?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Middle East Revolutions and the Bush Doctrine

The count on middle east Revolutions stands at 2.9 by my count. Tunisia. Egypt. Libya set to topple in days, if not hours. And in addition to the despots already given the hook, it looks like there's bullpen action in a few other spots already.

So obviously revolution and reform in the Middle East is a huge and growing story right now. It occurs to me that few if any folks seem eager to talk about this in the context of the Bush doctrine. You know, where we'd set up a starter democracy or two, hold some open houses, see if anyone else wanted to buy in. Marketing via twitter, facebook, skype, and so on.

From the beginning, I viewed the Bush Doctrine first and foremost as extremely risky. Too risky for my tastes, in fact. Bush decided to gamble big and roll the dice. And at this point in time, I would say that the dice are still a-tumblin'.

Maybe that's why neither liberals nor conservatives seem eager to discuss the connection. Generally, partisans prefer to know the outcome first, and then opine comfortably in sanctimonious hindsight. That's precisely why NOW is such a great time to talk about whether there's a real substantive connection, and what its extent is. C'mon, say whether you think it makes sense to connect things before you know whether you're handing out credit or assigning blame. Now THAT would be revolutionary.

Monday, January 31, 2011

From Shame to Saintliness

Food for thought on ed reform in urban schools and one big problem it doesn't address:
Here’s my prediction: the money, the reforms, the gleaming porcelain, the hopeful rhetoric about saving our children—all of it will have a limited impact, at best, on most city schoolchildren. Urban teachers face an intractable problem, one that we cannot spend or even teach our way out of: teen pregnancy... .Within my lifetime, single parenthood has been transformed from shame to saintliness. In our society, perversely, we celebrate the unwed mother as a heroic figure, like a fireman or a police officer. During the last presidential election, much was made of Obama’s mother, who was a single parent. Movie stars and pop singers flaunt their daddy-less babies like fishing trophies....

Connecticut is among the most generous of the states to out-of-wedlock mothers. Teenage girls like Nicole qualify for a vast array of welfare benefits from the state and federal governments: medical coverage when they become pregnant (called “Healthy Start”); later, medical insurance for the family (“Husky”); child care (“Care 4 Kids”); Section 8 housing subsidies; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; cash assistance. If you need to get to an appointment, state-sponsored dial-a-ride is available. If that appointment is college-related, no sweat: education grants for single mothers are available, too. Nicole didn’t have to worry about finishing the school year; the state sent a $35-an-hour tutor directly to her home halfway into her final trimester and for six weeks after the baby arrived.

In theory, this provision of services is humane and defensible, an essential safety net for the most vulnerable—children who have children. What it amounts to in practice is a monolithic public endorsement of single motherhood—one that has turned our urban high schools into puppy mills. The safety net has become a hammock.

As the author suggests, this is a real 3rd rail. We're cowards if we can't face that there's a lot of truth to what the author says. I certainly don't support a return to stigmatizing per se. But I see no way out of this part of the problem without a serious effort to combat teen pregnancies.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Obama Planning Crafty Copycat Gambit?

From Taxes: What people forget about Reagan

Two bills passed in 1982 and 1984 together "constituted the biggest tax increase ever enacted during peacetime," Thorndike said.

The bills didn't raise more revenue by hiking individual income tax rates though. Instead they did it largely through making it tougher to evade taxes, and through "base broadening" -- that is, reducing various federal tax breaks and closing tax loopholes.

"What people forget about Ronald Reagan was that he very much converted to base broadening as a means of reducing deficits and as a means of tax reform," said Eugene Steuerle, an Institute Fellow at the Urban Institute who had helped lay the groundwork for tax reform in 1986 and served as a deputy assistant Treasury secretary during Reagan's second term.

Got it? Reagan decreased tax rates, and then he dealt with revenue shortfalls with tweaks that weren't tax hikes per se, but led to more tax dollars being collected. Here's Obama in his SOTU:
Over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries. Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all. But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and it has to change.

So tonight, I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system. Get rid of the loopholes. Level the playing field. And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years – without adding to our deficit.

Someone has been looking over the Gipper's  playbooks, I'm good wit' it.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Growth the Magic Dragon

I was quite taken by the apparently guileless conclusion to a recent pro-growth editorial by Harvard economist Edward Glaeser in the Boston Globe.

So when you wonder why more people aren’t moving to Massachusetts, don’t blame the weather. That explanation lets us off the hook too easily. Instead, think about how difficult it would be to add a couple hundred homes in your town and recognize that the Bay State stagnates by design. While our anti-change rules may keep our communities looking the way we like them, they also mean that we do a worse job of providing affordable housing than deep red states, such as Texas. This country is being shaped by local land-use rules, and around here, those regulations have now resulted in Massachusetts losing a seat in the House of Representatives.

Is this really how we want to live?
Glaeser is in favor of substantially reducing regulations so that Massachusetts can add a lot more housing and new residents. Heh. I don't recall any of my fellow Massholes wondering why more people weren't moving to Massachusetts. Or pining for them. Should we really be troubled that Texas does a better job with "affordable" housing when Texas's population density is a full order of magnitude lower? Massachusetts has a population density of 810 people per square mile. Texas? 80.

 Ought we really to suppose that Texas would be just as delighted by growth if its population were 10 times as great? I doubt it.

Predictably, a Harvard economist thinks that growth is the magic dragon. The tail that should wag the dog. Well, none of us regular folks needs to be anti-growth to worry a bit about our quality of life here in the overcrowded northeast corridor. Maybe Glaeser can walk to work, or telecommute. Maybe he doesn't have to drive on the expressway or catch a rush hour subway car.

 Massachusetts has one big city, Boston. And we're piled up ass to elbow anywhere within an hour's drive of it. So, is this really how we want to live? I'm not sure. But do we want lots more folks living here? No. Not really. To quote Jack Nicholson, "don't come selling crazy round here. We're all full up."

Acknowledging Muslim Intolerance

Cathy Young, cogent and reasonable yet again. This time on the subject of  islamic intolerance.
While the attempted murder of an American Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, has prompted an outpouring of grief and soul-searching, the fatal shooting of a prominent elected official in another country around the same time has provoked a very different reaction. After Salman Taseer, governor of the Pakistani province of Punjab, was murdered by his own bodyguard, there was a wave of support for the murderer -- from religious figures and ordinary citizens, from several political parties, and even from a group of lawyers. The reason? Taseer had spoken out against Pakistan's blasphemy laws and in support of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
Such harrowing stories cannot be ignored in the discussion of Islam and religious tolerance. Last year, the controversy over Cordoba House, the planned Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero, turned into a debate about Islam and "Islamophobia." There is no question that some of the rhetoric in that debate crossed the line into anti-Muslim bigotry -- the portrayal of all or most Muslims as "the enemy" -- and that the self-proclaimed "anti-jihadists" who spearheaded anti-mosque campaign, such as bloggers Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs and Robert Spencer of JihadWatch, routinely traffic in gross caricatures of Islam as inherently and uniquely evil, oppressive, and violent. But all too many in the pro-mosque camp argued as if violent extremism in Islam today was as much of a fringe phenomenon as in Christianity or Judaism. This month's events in Pakistan remind us that is simply not the case.
There is not a single majority Christian nation today that executes or imprisons people for blasphemy or apostasy. Several leading majority-Muslim countries punish these offenses with death, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan. The Aasia Bibi case is a frightening example of the precarious position of religious minorities under these laws. Bibi, a rural laborer, was asked to bring water to a group of other women with whom she was working in the fields. Some of the women refused to drink the water after it had been touched by an "unclean" Christian. Bibi got into an argument with them and defended her faith -- and was reported for blaspheming against Mohammed. The mother of five was sentenced to death after a trial during which she apparently had no access to a lawyer. Leading Pakistani clerics have urged President Zardari to reject her clemency petition.

Don't neglect to  read the whole thing. Only by reading it all do you get to her final takeaway, which is that opposing bigotry against muslims here will be a fruitless task until Islam faces its own intolerance.

Who Is the Correct Not Obama?

As the 2012 field of GOP prez nominees begins emerging, there is still plenty of reason to think that  any such nominee stands a great chance of winning simply by virtue of being the Not Obama. But obviously, that could change with a better economy and 2 years worth of Obama playing the pragmatist against cranky ideologues.

 The greater the number of potential nominees at the Iowa starting gate, the more it makes sense to consider the "game theory" dimensions of the primary process as it intersects with media coverage and financing. Unless any given candidate can develop truly long-term staying power (translation: a giant pile of dough or a steadily flowing money hose), that candidate is at the mercy of appearing viable as one of the top 3 within the first, what, 5 or 6 primaries.That can be sensitively dependent upon the number of other candidates who hold similar positions.

For example, if socons split between 2 or 3 socon darlings, then someone else from a different GOP faction with less internal competition can emerge. In 2008,  McCain, seemed to emerge because his support was broader than anyone else even though it wasn't especially broad.  Just as a big a problem was that it lacked any real depth of passion.

Ultimately, whoever becomes the nominee really stands a great chance of winning by being the Not Obama. But being the Not Obama means different things for socons and for independents. And being the Socon Not Obama means risking alienation of independents. Is that risk bigger than the risk that the Independent Not Obama alienates socons? I would guess yes, but then I'm an independent. Who really knows?

One thing to look out for is candidates who will try to thread the needle by using different customized speeches for different audiences. Though many politicians seem to persist in this approach, the advent of various social media suggests it's problematic. In 2012, can a reasonable-appearing candidate successfully obscure substantial socially conservative views simply by endlessly chanting "jobs, jobs, jobs?" Sooner or later, you're expected to speak at Bob Jones U. They want their pound of red meat, everyone's watching.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Healthcare Reform: The Beta

I visited an old publishing buddy the other day, and he related a story about how a boss had said "You DO NOT want to miss the dates on this project. We can find places to hide low quality." I immediately remarked that publishing seemed to be getting further down the road towards the software industry production model. You rush a buggy product to market to be first to meet a need, and you let customers find and maybe even fix the bugs. You can release patches or a beta version later. Customers? They're used to it, especially if they are early adopters.

When it comes to healthcare reform, I think the software production model is a useful analogue. A buggy product was rushed to market within a short time frame. Perhaps for defensible reasons and perhaps not. Doesn't matter.

What we now have is something that meets some needs, solves some problems. Like access. And does nothing about others. Especially cost. Because our politics is characterized by the bipolarism of the Democrats and Republicans, the debate is being framed in terms of whether or not to reject it as is.

I don't ultimately care which we do, only that we find ways to manage access and cost. In other words, as long as the next result is better for regular folks. But we all know that any "from scratch" effort
• Will face all the same problems the last one did, and 
• can't begin in earnest until the current reform is repealed, which cannot happen until 2013 at the earliest
So, if congress really wants to work now on making our healthcare system better, what they should really do is work on an Obamacare Beta that finds patches to the bugs found by customers and accountants and so on. If Republicans were willing to fake this tack, they should ask in return that Democrats concede that existing law does nothing substantive to control costs.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Krugman: Long Live the Fray

Paul Krugman thinks there's the way one side sees it, and the way the other side sees it. And that's it:

One side of American politics considers the modern welfare state — a private-enterprise economy, but one in which society’s winners are taxed to pay for a social safety net — morally superior to the capitalism red in tooth and claw we had before the New Deal. It’s only right, this side believes, for the affluent to help the less fortunate.

The other side believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That’s what lies behind the modern right’s fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.

There’s no middle ground between these views.
Paul Krugman, polarizer in chief. Is it really that hard to find a middle ground between "the poor deserve the rich's money" and "taxation is theft?" No, it's not. The more this goes on, the greater the chances that 2012 finds voters looking long and hard for opportunities to reject BOTH parties. Even if it means voting for ex-party-members who are just as likely to be opportunists as committed independents. Give me a candidate I can vote for to represent "neither," and I'll vote for him. Time to send the message both parties need to hear.

In Case You Were Warming to 1st Amendment Exceptions

First the santized huckleberry. Now this. Does the world feel better. safer, and more tolerant yet?

Well there goes another new year's resolution. I had pledged to go a whole year without making fun of Canadian "rock." But now that it's official that no good canadian would have the balls to sing this:
That little faggot with the earring and the make-up? Yeah buddy, that's his own hair. That little faggot's got his own jet air plane. That little faggot is a millionaire.
Dire Straits, a band banned:
The Dire Straits song "Money for Nothing" was ruled by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council to be "extremely offensive" and thus inappropriate for airing on radio or television because it uses an anti-gay slur.

The decision against St. John's radio station CHOZ-FM in Newfoundland was released Wednesday. In it, the panel ruled that the word "faggot" "contravened the Human Rights Clauses" and its ethics code and is "no longer" permitted "even if entirely or marginally acceptable in earlier days."

Ron Cohen, the CBSC's national chairman, told The Washington Times on Thursday that the decision effectively sets a "nationwide" precedent binding on all private license holders for TV, cable-TV and radio broadcasting. It does not cover the state-run Canadian Broadcasting Corp. or "community and university" stations.
People get paid money to do this stuff. To protect the rest of the people. But can they protect us from Rush? Or Bryan Adams? Or April Wine? Oh, no.

The worst part of all is that no weight was given to the iussue of banning possibly the best riff ever. Thus destining Canadians to remain forever locked in their status as "rock-challenged." They've been overtaken by Eastern Europeans who dress like pansies, emulate Poison,  and play flying V's. Seriously. Flying V's.

Althouse's Gratuitous Turdism

In the wake of the Arizona shootings, the First Lady tossed off some bland pieties about nice things we should teach our children. No biggie, right? First ladies and bland pieties go together like cookies and milk, which is itself a good subject for first ladies. Here's a taste of her sweet and very first-ladyish homily:
We can teach our children that here in America, we embrace each other, and support each other, in times of crisis.  And we can help them do that in their own small way – whether it’s by sending a letter, or saying a prayer, or just keeping the victims and their families in their thoughts.

We can teach them the value of tolerance – the practice of assuming the best, rather than the worst, about those around us.  We can teach them to give others the benefit of the doubt, particularly those with whom they disagree.

We can also teach our children about the tremendous sacrifices made by the men and women who serve our country and by their families.  We can explain to them that although we might not always agree with those who represent us, anyone who enters public life does so because they love their country and want to serve it. 
Nothing to see, right? Bland homilies. Pretty common Christian values about love and idealism. Blah, blah, blah. Next!  Right? Nope. If you're Ann Althouse, it's grist for the mill. It's an opportunity to take a nit-picking mean-spirited swipe, so that your idolators in the comments can use the word libtard. What fun:
... some of the individuals among us are, in fact, mentally sick and need something other than tolerance and wishful thinking about how good they might be? So why is the First Lady telling us to teach kids the opposite?...Some people seek power for the wrong reasons or go astray after they've reached power....It would make more sense to teach creationism instead of evolution than to teach these wishful lies about government... .
Silly me, for thinking that"wishful lies" by another name might be "simplifications for young children's minds." Teach the ideals first, in a way that makes sense. Exceptions can come later.

Here's the thing: I'm the first to agree that we need to analytical and critical, and perceptive, as Althouse asks. But any developmental psychologist can tell you that the capacity for such analytical thinking is quite limited in kids. Is Althouse really such a imperceptive and gratuitious turd in the punchbowl as to think we shouldn't ever raise our children with a little bit of hopeful idealism? Won't they have the rest of their lives to learn about the exceptions? Do we really want 8 year old kids in grocery stores asking "Mommy, is that man buying probiotic yogurt a libtard?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Chomsky Throws Postmodernists Under the Bus

Hat tip to Marginal Revolution for unearthing this fascinating bit where Noam Chomsky utterly eviscerates postmodernists while sounding like a nice guy. A  taste:
It's entirely possible that I'm simply missing something, or that I just lack the intellectual capacity to understand the profundities that have been unearthed in the past 20 years or so by Paris intellectuals and their followers. I'm perfectly open-minded about it, and have been for years, when similar charges have been made -- but without any answer to my questions. Again, they are simple and should be easy to answer, if there is an answer: if I'm missing something, then show me what it is, in terms I can understand. Of course, if it's all beyond my comprehension, which is possible, then I'm just a lost cause, and will be compelled to keep to things I do seem to be able to understand, and keep to association with the kinds of people who also seem to be interested in them and seem to understand them (which I'm perfectly happy to do, having no interest, now or ever, in the sectors of the intellectual culture that engage in these things, but apparently little else).

Since no one has succeeded in showing me what I'm missing, we're left with the second option: I'm just incapable of understanding. I'm certainly willing to grant that it may be true, though I'm afraid I'll have to remain suspicious, for what seem good reasons. There are lots of things I don't understand -- say, the latest debates over whether neutrinos have mass or the way that Fermat's last theorem was (apparently) proven recently. But from 50 years in this game, I have learned two things: (1) I can ask friends who work in these areas to explain it to me at a level that I can understand, and they can do so, without particular difficulty; (2) if I'm interested, I can proceed to learn more so that I will come to understand it. Now Derrida, Lacan, Lyotard, Kristeva, etc. --- even Foucault, whom I knew and liked, and who was somewhat different from the rest --- write things that I also don't understand, but (1) and (2) don't hold: no one who says they do understand can explain it to me and I haven't a clue as to how to proceed to overcome my failures. That leaves one of two possibilities: (a) some new advance in intellectual life has been made, perhaps some sudden genetic mutation, which has created a form of "theory" that is beyond quantum theory, topology, etc., in depth and profundity; or (b) ... I won't spell it out.

Again, I've lived for 50 years in these worlds, have done a fair amount of work of my own in fields called "philosophy" and "science," as well as intellectual history, and have a fair amount of personal acquaintance with the intellectual culture in the sciences, humanities, social sciences, and the arts. That has left me with my own conclusions about intellectual life, which I won't spell out. But for others, I would simply suggest that you ask those who tell you about the wonders of "theory" and "philosophy" to justify their claims --- to do what people in physics, math, biology, linguistics, and other fields are happy to do when someone asks them, seriously, what are the principles of their theories, on what evidence are they based, what do they explain that wasn't already obvious, etc. These are fair requests for anyone to make. If they can't be met, then I'd suggest recourse to Hume's advice in similar circumstances: to the flames.

In the latter stages of my college education, a strong internal voice began to shout that the inscrutability of these brands of thought was due to just these things that Chomsky derides. But to hear one of the godfathers say it? It's like finding out that Keith Richards only listens to classical now.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

When Your Classmate is Disturbed

In the wake of the deeply troubling killing spree by Jared Lee Loughner in Arizona Sunday, we're being subjected to pious homilies against "inciteful rhetoric." I don't doubt the sincerity of most of the folks connecting these dots, even though I do question their rationality.

To describe quickly and looslely, the notion is that crosshair graphics and the use of the common language of competition and combat contributes in a very substantial way to violent actions, especially by mentally unstable individuals.

I don't buy it. That is to say, I think any such language is a feeble spit into the ocean of human motivation. Your mileage may vary. If it does, then maybe you think altered individual motivations can result from curbing aggressive, mean-spirited, and angry political talk. Even if so,  you have to ask yourself whether you think such a substantive change is even remotely likely.

What troubles me is this: the pissing contest about the relationship between so-called inciteful political rhetoric and violent individual actions has sucked up all the bandwidth. The result is the loss of a legitimate opportunity for a broad spectrum of Americans to focus in a meaningful way on how to recognize truly serious mental disturbance and to respond usefully. Here's Dr Helen with a useful takeaway:
My point is that as long as schools and society simultaneously place the rights of the mentally ill above other citizens while refusing the mentally ill the help that they may desperately need, we will continue to see mass killings like the one in Arizona. People will seemed dazed and ask "why?" until they forget and another horrible killing takes place.
Many of us understand that it's sort of politically incorrect not to have the utmost respect for the rights of the mentally ill, and that bureaucracies will, by law, enforce that perspective. I think we need to do better than that. When the classroom environment suffers and the disturbed person in question is really not benefitting, we owe it to all concerned to ask what we're achieving.

It's extremely important to note that the vast majority of folks who have some mental issue represent no threat at all. Among the ranks of those who have mental disorders, most are invisible and highly functioning members of society: our friends, family, and colleagues. They might be obsessive-compulsive, or suffer from chronic depression or one of its analogues. They may have had a serious breakdown as the result of a cascade of unfortunate and highly stressful circumstances, and then bounced back. Many of them stronger and less brittle for the experience, believe it or not.

But there are some number of folks who suffer from fairly serious mental disturbances, and who are prone to deteriorate quickly if they are unmonitored and untreated. Or treated and monitored in a haphazard or threadbare fashion, which is quite sadly the rule and not the exception. Even among these ranks of folks who have periodic psychotic episodes, there's usually no general threat to public safety even if interacting in public with such folks can be painful and disturbing.

The point here is that we would probably all benefit from increased awareness that uninstitutionalized folks who have serious mental issues do periodically deteriorate and suffer psychotic breaks, and when the deterioration starts, these folks need assessment and treatment. The worst of all possible worlds is for bucks to be passed and asses to be covered.

Ideally, Pima CC and other schools should not simply suspend such a student on the condition of getting a psych eval. They should do their best to make sure that eval and treatment occurs. Classmates of disturbed individuals should at the very least make a calm expression of concern as an official written statement to school administrators. And schools should have an expedited process for this.

We won't fix episodes like this by toning down how we talk about politics. But we could mitigate the frequency and severity of such episodes if we beef up both individuals' understanding of serious mental illness and the cultural framework for ensuring appropriate treatment. If we can do that instead of obsessing about inciteful rhetoric, the lives lost in Arizona will not have have been entirely in vain.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Jefferson Not a Fan of Fetishists Either

My take on the recent trend of constitution worship is this: our constitution deserves the utmost respect and reverence. So long as we don't turn that into a fetish. [BTW, that term had already sprung independently to mind before I saw Alex Altman's rant at Time.] Turns out someone much wiser than me agrees. Here's Thomas Jefferson:
Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment..."But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. 

None of us ought to give an inch when a precious opponent wraps himself in a very simple and convenient version of what he says the constitution means. We're all stuck keeping pace with the times. And that means that when the constitution is broad and vague, it's up to all the folks involved in our constitutional processes to make a good faith effort to figure out how it applies.

Like it or not, the constitution is not a cookbook. Protecting and extending the magnificent ideals embodied in our constitution into our future is a much more difficult and serious matter than "Two cups of liberty, a teaspoon of free speech, 3 tablespoons of the right to bear arms. 4 cups of equal protection.... ."

We're all responsible for doing the hard work. grasping the details, appreciating the fine balances needed when ideals conflict, and moving forward as best we can. This was made quite obvious to me as a child in school. It's not rocket science. But even though it's clear and obvious, it's not easy. Tough shit.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

As Mark Twain Spins

Even though I'm a career publishing professional, I've spent a lot of time complaining that copyright laws are too long, that creative works deserve no longer a protection than patented items. I love to say something like this:
You can spend 40 years in your basement and emerge with a cure for cancer, and you only get exclusive profit rights for 17 years. But if you get drunk and scribble a jilted love song about your high school sweetheart, that's protected for a century. Where's the justice in that?

Was thinking about it earlier today, in fact. So it's with some considerable amusement that I submit exhibit A in the case for longer copyright protections:

Huckleberry Finn published with the word "nigger" removed.

Word fail. And the last bit of hope fades that we'll ever be saved from people who JUST. DON'T GET. IT. In fact, I don't think I can come up with another author who would be more pissed and amused by this.

UPDATE: I followed one of the links and took a poll asking whether or not sanitizing Huckleberry Finn is justified. 93% of people say "Yes, the word is offensive and children should not be exposed to it." Comic if you think, tragic if you feel.

When Do Bad Individual Choices Cost Everyone More Money?

This thread is being started for the express purpose of continuing to pursue an interesting area of inquiry that a balky Donklephant is hindering here. I'll use a comment of my own as a point of departure:
What’s your basis for believing that society bears a higher overall financial cost for obesity?

Since it limits lifespan, there’s plenty of reason to believe that a taxpaying and bill-paying society benefits financially from letting people made bad health choices and die sooner. That thins the herd, and preserves sparse resources for things like medicare and social security. Thereby financially benefitting those who make the allegedly wiser health choices.
I wish I had simply said "there's reason to speculate that." An error of enthusiasm, one that I would not expect to get clobbered on if I were talking with folks committed to good-faith inquiry.

This post will almost certainly be revised to add more stuff later. But I look forward to hearing from folks as soon as they have time and feel like it.

UPDATE: I'll try my best to summarize my lines of thought and some of the relevant questions that I wonder about on this issue.

At base, we're talking about what personal failures might legitimately justify paternalistic intervention by, say the government, or maybe an insurance company. That's a very broad and fundamental question. And obviously, even though lots of us don't like the idea, we know that it has been happening for a long time in areas of broad cultural agreement (you go to jail for your habit of violence, you may pay higher insurance rates for a poor driving record, and so on).

What we also know is that such intervention is slowly but surely seeping into areas where there isn't nearly as broad a cultural agreement on right and wrong and fairness of penalty.

Miscellaneous random questions and concerns, numbered for ease of reference:

1. How far down that road do we want to keep going?

2. When do me mistake petty resentment for moral rectitude?

3. Are we counting everything? If not, what is the basis for counting within a more limited domain?

4. Do all people who make bad health choices incur higher medical costs that are subsidized by folks who make "good" choice? Or Only some. If only some, which ones?

5. What is the difference in average "end of life" costs for a "good chooser" versus a "bad chooser?"

6. How much more, annually, does it cost taxpayers in social security costs for every additional year of lifespan?

7. In general, do good health efforts undertaken by employers and health insurers increase or decrease total healthcare costs? Which ones?

8. Which cost figures should we use when we try to perform such calculus? For example, if the list price of an MRI is, I dunno, $900 but insurers only pay $590, how should we do the math?

8. Should good health efforts be pursued further only on the basis of cost savings, or should they be pursued simply as a matter of moral rectitude?

That's probably more than enough. I should be upfront, that my basic bias here is a visceral reluctance to go much further down a road where more and more of our private human behavior is scrutinized, judged, and affixed with a dollar figure of penalty or reward. It seems like a fools errand, like it will lead to a more unpleasant, more exhausting world where our real choices are ever more constrained. I see a sort of a statist business-government beast that won't actually deliver healthier happier more prosperous people, but will still crawl up our arses at every opportunity.