September 2013, Part 4
Jim Miller on Politics
Diversity Is Paramount In Higher Education: That was the message of an odd advertisement, introducing a "DIVERSITY IN EDUCATION" advertising section in Sunday's New York Times. (The ad was not written by anyone at the Times, but by Jayne Feld and Jason Forsythe, whoever they are.)
Of the six paragraphs in the ad, I thought the fourth was the most informative.
Educators agree that diversity is a strength — and that all students, minority and non-minority alike, receive a more rounded education in a heterogeneous environment. Furthermore, building a network of faculty, staff, and administrators with a wealth of experiences helps students prepare for the multicultural workplace they will join when they ultimately graduate. Therefore, achieving a broad mix of diverse faculty, staff, and students at these top public and private learning institutions, each of which is dedicated to serving its diverse community, remains a top priority. With each passing year, these efforts become even more of a critical mission, and grow in sophistication.That paragraph wouldn't win any clarity medals, but I think you can work out what they mean, and, if you are still uncertain, the next paragraph is more specific, calling for increasing the "percentage of new teachers of color".
If you read the ad carefully, you will find that their definition of "diversity" is less inclusive than some would like. There is nothing in there about sexual preferences, nothing in there about different religions, and definitely nothing about a diversity of political ideas. (If you are wondering why sexual preferences got left out, here's my guess: Often, the different kinds of diverse people end up competing with each other for a few "diverse" slots. A college that hires a white lesbian specialist in lesbian poetry may feel it need not hire a black specialist in Caribbean hip hop.)
What they do mean by"diversity" is economic, lingual, and above all, racial. So a perfect representative would be a poor black person from another country who grew up speaking a language other than English. But a well-off white student from Appalachia, who was applying after a heroic military career, would add no diversity at all, by their measurements.
If you don't work at a college or university, you may find this distressing, amusing, or both, depending on your temperament. But if you do work at a higher "learning institution", you will almost certainly know that not only do many around you take this kind of thing seriously, but they expect you to at least pretend you do, too.
(The authors disagree with themselves on how important "diversity" — as they define it — is. In what looks like a pull quote, but isn't, they say that "creating an environment of inclusiveness . . . is paramount", that is, more important than anything else. In the paragraph I quoted, they said it was a top priority, which means that there could be equally important goals. I went with paramount for the headline, because that seems like a more accurate reflection of the ad, as a whole.)
- 6:21 PM, 30 September 2013 [link]
Why Didn't OPR Choose A "Medicare Down" Strategy? Why didn't Obama, Pelosi, and Reid, when they were concocting ObamaCare, just extend Medicare down to lower ages? Why didn't they just extend our politically-popular single-payer health insurance program to younger and younger people, in stages?
Instead, as you know, they extended Medicaid up by making millions more eligible for it, and created a new set of mandatory insurance programs, which may or may not be available tomorrow.
There would have been real political benefits to extending Medicare down. It would immediately have helped those who had been laid off late in their working lives, and thus lost their employer-provided health insurance. It would have made other older people, with chronic but not serious medical problems, more employable, because an employer would no longer have to pay much of their health care costs. It would have been easier to explain. It would have received support from all those who really want a single-payer system. The proponents could have avoided difficult constitutional questions.
And so on.
My guess, and it is only a guess, is that they rejected extending Medicare down because the cost estimates were far too high — and, even worse from a politician's point of view, couldn't be hidden.
But, if they are going to increase the medical services offered to the uninsured (and many of the insured), then the costs are going to be, very roughly, about the same as they would have been with a Medicare down strategy. But many of those costs will be hidden in individual, business, and state budgets, rather than presented openly in federal budgets.
Proponents have argued that cost-control measures in ObamaCare, and there are some, will provide us many more services, for about the same amount of money. With one major exception, I don't think those measures will do much to control costs.
The exception, of course, is the increased deductibles and co-pays that the insurance companies are including in their ObamaCare plans. Those will, I am sure, discourage some from using medical services.
(Another possibility is that Obama wanted a plan he could put his name on, and didn't mind that it included a feature — mandated insurance — that he had explicitly campaigned against.
For many years, Henry Waxman pursued a Medicaid up strategy, with considerable success. Some years ago, the Washington Post ran a series showing how he had extended Medicaid to more and more people over the years. I was struck by one conclusion they came to, at the end of the series: Thanks to Waxman, many more people were covered by Medicaid, and the federal spending on it had been increased by many billions — but there was no evident improvement in health, as the result of these increases.)
- 2:06 PM, 30 September 2013 [link]
Government Shutdown Background: Here's a list of — they say — all previous federal government shutdowns.
Shutdown #1: HEWdownIf you are looking for patterns, you'll want to look at the table (link fixed) that "Cassandra" constructed, summarizing these seventeen shutdowns.
(I can't think of any shutdowns before 1976, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there were one or two.)
- 11:07 AM, 30 September 2013 [link]
Michael Ramirez is especially good today.
- 10:42 AM, 30 September 2013 [link]
Missing Some Spare Change? Then you might want to call the Moscow airport.
A cargo of 20billion euros in cash (£16.75billion) has lain unclaimed at a Moscow airport for six years amid allegations it could be the secret fortune of Saddam Hussein.If it is yours, you'll be doing them a favor by letting them know. But you should be prepared to explain how you happened to have that much money in cash.
(NHS = National Health Service.)
- 7:28 AM, 30 September 2013 [link]
The German Government Has Been Pressuring The IPCC to make their latest report alarmist.
Germany's Federal Ministry of Research would prefer to leave any discussion of the global warming hiatus entirely out of the new IPCC report summary. "In climate research, changes don't count until they've been observed on a timescale of 30 years," claims one delegate participating in the negotiations on behalf of German Research Minister Johanna Wanka of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). The Ministry for the Environment's identical stance: "Climate fluctuations that don't last very long are not scientifically relevant."Der Spiegel found a politician who was willing to be frank about the motivation for this attack on science.
German Green Party politician Hermann Ott, on the other hand, is satisfied with Germany's conduct in the negotiations. Since Helmut Kohl's government, Ott says, there has generally been consensus on the significance of climate protection, making it possible for "a great deal of continuity and a high level of expertise" to develop within Germany's Federal Ministry for the Environment.In other words, the IPCC should scare people, in order to motivate politicians.
Polls show that this tactic has become less effective in recent years, as people, and not just in Germany, are becoming less worried about climate change.
(The whole article is worth reading. They even have a handy temperature graph so you can compare IPCC predictions with recent temperatures. As is now standard in the field, they display the temperatures as deviations in centigrade from some historical norm. As happens all too often, they don't include the definition of that norm with the graph, but it is still a neat summary of the conflict between predictions and the pause.)
- 5:40 AM, 30 September 2013 [link]
1K Fashion Jeans: Ever wonder what you get when you spend a thousand dollars or so for a pair of jeans? I can't say I had, and after reading this long Wall Street Journal article on the subject, I'm still not sure I could give you the answer.
(Oh, I suppose that I could give you a tentative answer if I had to, something about the combination of comfort and status seeking, but I still wouldn't say that I really understand the feelings of the men who buy these jeans.)
But I did find the article interesting, in a perverse sort of way.
Here's the lead paragraph:
When a customer comes to see Scott Morrison at his shop, Mr. Morrison sits the visitor down and asks, "What do you really love about your jeans?" This is the beginning of a conversation that can get rather personal, and can end with a client paying up to $1,200 for a bespoke pair of jeans.They do quote one man who finds all this dubious.
The argument over whose custom denim is most custom isn't of interest to everyone in the industry. "It repulses me. People just want custom everything these days," said Mordechai Rubinstein, a New York-based style blogger. "I thought Levi's 501s were custom. You buy them, you wear them, you finally wash them and they mold to you. It's suits that I want to fit right. When it comes to jeans, I'm about off the rack."But even he doesn't mention my objection to jeans, whether they cost $20, or fifty times that much. Years ago, I realized that, despite their heritage, they weren't very practical for outdoor wear anywhere that you might encounter rain.
Like almost every other garment made of cotton, they absorb water too readily to be practical, even for something as simple as walking a quarter of a mile in the rain. And if you are wearing a cotton "hoodie" for a top, you are simply asking for hypothermia.
(What does work for outdoor wear? In warm weather, this pair of pants, or something similar, would be a good choice.
If you read the article, and were wondering what "selvage" means, here's the Wikipedia answer.)
- 4:11 PM, 29 September 2013 [link]
Oktoberwet: As I mentioned three weeks ago, my suburb chose to have an Oktoberfest at the end of September. I assumed that they chose the earlier date to have a better chance at decent weather.
Which they didn't get yesterday, and won't get this afternoon.
The rain came down in sheets, the wind blew in gusts, and there was even a little sleet from time to time. All in all, it was not the best weather for a partly-outdoor celebration.
And today, the weather folks are predicting more of the same.
(Incidentally, many, perhaps most, Oktoberfests are held in different months. Cincinnati, which has a bunch, even has one in August. (Thanks to an alert Ohioan for that information.) Even the original has often been celebrated in September.
If you go to one, you can show off your knowledge of history by drinking a toast to that happy couple, Ludwig and Therese.)
- 9:15 AM, 29 September 2013 [link]
IPCC's Staged Release Of AR5: Let's begin by decoding that headline. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been releasing their fifth assessment report (AR5) in stages. Much of it has been leaked in the last week or so (deliberately?), and on Friday the IPCC released the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM).
Tomorrow, they will release the full report.
So, their conclusions are out, officially, but not all the evidence and reasoning that led them to those conclusions — which seems backward to me.
I would like to at least look at the full report before saying anything about it, but I will pass on this one-paragraph summary of the summary from Ross McKitrick:
SPM in a nutshell: Since we started in 1990 we were right about the Arctic, wrong about the Antarctic, wrong about the tropical troposphere, wrong about the surface, wrong about hurricanes, wrong about the Himalayas, wrong about sensitivity, clueless on clouds and useless on regional trends. And on that basis we’re 95% confident we’re right.Most of the IPCC's predictions have been proved wrong, but they are even more sure that they are right about the threat of global warming.
Here's what I will be looking for in the full report: A set of simple and direct temperature graphs from the main official sources. An honest discussion of the unexpected temperature "pause". Honest discussions of the failures of the computer models to agree on regional specifics. And admissions that some of the predictions in earlier assessments have been proven wrong.
(Even better than graphs would be a set of tables containing the data sets, or links to those tables on the net.)
- 8:01 AM, 29 September 2013 [link]
Alaskans are tough.
The bartender was right to act as she did, since a black bear probably wouldn't be of legal age, and certainly wouldn't have a photo ID, or cash.
- 8:22 AM, 28 September 2013 [link]
No, Enormity Doesn't Mean Something Enormous: Or at least it didn't, until recently. But it still retains the earlier meaning, which adds a delightful ambiguity to some politicians' speeches.
"Even though you're around it for a long time, you don't get a sense of the enormity of it until you get into it," Bill Daley said the other day, explaining why he dropped out of the race for governor of Illinois.You may be amused by some of the other examples.
(Here's the first definition from my Shorter OED: "Orig., deviation from moral or legal rectitude. Now, the quality of being outrageous; monstrous wickedness."
- 1:16 PM, 27 September 2013 [link]
The Problem Of Privacy In ObamaCare Exchanges: It may be the most difficult problem for the designers of those exchanges. Let's start with the obvious; the exchanges are supposed to be able to access your IRS records, so that the program can tell you what subsidy, if any, you will receive when you sign up for a plan.
That information is private, very private, most of us would say. (In the United States, but not in every country. Norway makes those records available, publicly, which probably cuts down on cheating, and certainly destroys privacy.)
So, how will the program know it is you requesting that information? With a password? We know that many people do not understand how to create good passwords, or how to protect them. (For example: An old, old trick for stealing passwords is simply to watch the fingers of a person typing one in. ATMs may have made us more sensitive to that trick, but I am sure that many are still unaware of it.)
Or, and this would be rarer, but is still something to worry about: How will the program know that you are not under duress, that someone is not holding a gun to your head in order to get your information from the IRS? I can't see any way to avoid that problem.
And there will be opportunities for attacks on every part of these systems, once they get up and running (and, most likely, before they are in service, too.)
Imagine an immense system of water tanks, connected with many pipes. To prevent water from leaking out, you have to make every single joint leak proof and, worse yet, highly resistant to deliberate attacks on every single joint. It may not be impossible to stop leaks in such a system, but it will be extraordinarily difficult.
Similarly, it will be extraordinarily difficult to prevent private information from leaking out of these exchanges.
Some of the worst threats will come from within the system. The programmers who build and maintain the system must, inevitably, have the ability to abuse it. And if there are many of them — and there must be — a few, inevitably, will abuse it.
(There are similar risks to privacy in medical matters from electronic records. And I very much doubt that most doctors and nurses understand those risks.)
- 9:16 AM, 27 September 2013 [link]
From Unification To Demonization: Barack Obama gained fame in 2004 by calling, in a speech to the Democratic convention, for unity.
Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us -- the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of "anything goes." Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America -- there’s the United States of America.In his 2008 campaign, he made similar arguments, though not so eloquently.
But in governing, especially in his second term, he has gone back to his Alinskyite roots, gone back to demonizing his opponents.
In the face of these setbacks, the president has reverted to form: dishonest and ad hominem attacks against his political opposition. To listen to his rhetoric, there are no honest differences with Republicans; his opponents are not wrong but wicked, motivated by vicious desires to hurt their fellow Americans and the country.Members of his administration often follow his lead; for example, his spokesman, Dan Pfeiffer, just compared House Republicans to arsonists, hostage-takers, and suicide bombers.
Let's be blunt and call this kind of talk from Obama and Pfeiffer what it is: slander, perhaps not in a legal sense, but certainly in the ordinary meaning of the word.
It is also self-defeating, if Obama hopes to achieve any significant policy goals before the 2014 election. He needs to work with Republicans to achieve those goals, and the more often he slanders them, the less cooperation they are likely to give him.
(Presumably, Obama is using these tactics as part of the 2014 election campaign, as part of his efforts to win back control of the House, and keep control of the Senate. In my opinion, these attacks are not even a good political strategy, but we will have to wait until next year to see if I am right.)
- 6:39 AM, 27 September 2013 [link]
Senator Charles Grassley, Work Horse: For many years, and for many reasons, I've admired the Iowa senator.
He came from a humble background, worked hard and succeeded, but never lost touch with his roots. Even at 80, he is one of the hardest working members of Congress.
Grassley was also named the hardest working member of Congress by The Hill newspaper in June 2010, tied with Max Baucus.These selections from the 2012 Almanac of American Politics will give you an idea of some of the things he's done, in all those years of hard work:
In his other career as a part-time farmer, Grassley runs an 80-acre farm that he inherited in 1960 and has added to it over the years. It's now a 710-acre concern that produces corn and soybeans. Grassley's son manages the farm, but the senator likes to go back to help out in the fields on weekends, sometimes conducting congressional business on the cell phone that he keeps tucked under his cap. He stays in touch with his state in other ways, too. He has held meetings in each of the state's 99 counties every year that he has served in the Senate.(I wouldn't put "fairness" in quotes as the Almanac did.)
In short, he has been just the kind of senator many conservatives claim to want (as would many leftists, were it not for his stands on social issues). But he has drawn little attention over the years from those who value talk more than accomplishments.
He isn't perfect; he supports ethanol subsidies — but it would be hard to find an Iowa congressman or senator who didn't. But on the whole he deserves our respect, and more recognition than he usually gets.
- 7:52 PM, 26 September 2013 [link]
ObamaCare Exchange Software Will Be Late: And that's the good news, relatively speaking.
Megan McArdle has some experience with software development, which is why she is drawing attention to these difficulties. But almost everyone else with similar or greater experience would make similar points.
How bad is it? This bad: Years ago, I heard two experienced software developers give me the same times-four rule they had learned to use, independently, from their own experiences. Each had learned, painfully, to make careful estimates of how long projects would take — and then multiply those estimates by four.
But if you use rules like that, you will not be the low bidder on many contracts.
(The estimates get somewhat better if the same team is building the same program, in a series of versions.)
But, as I said, that's the relative good news. There are many large software projects that never produce a useful program, or set of programs. For example, when four American airlines decided to produce airline reservations systems like SABRE, only two of them succeeded.
As some of the commenters to the McArdle post noted, governments are especially likely to sponsor such failed projects. Commenter "bfwebster" mentioned two, including this one.
It is likely that some of the programs at those state exchanges will be so bad that they will have to be abandoned.
(If you are wondering why software projects have so many problems with lateness, you might begin by looking at Brooks's Law.)
- 3:30 PM, 26 September 2013 [link]
Here's A Strange smuggling case.
After the France24 story of the former French ambassador to Baghdad who got caught with 350,000 Euros in cash, we get Laurent Zecchini's story of the French consulate chauffeur in Jerusalem who was found to be crossing across the border to Jordan with 152 kilos of gold bars, 500 kilos of tobacco, hundreds of new cel phones, and $2 million in checks.If he had been caught with just the tobacco and the cell phones, I would have guessed that he was engaging in a little private, and illegal, free marketing. But I doubt that a chauffeur could afford to buy that much gold, or would have legal access to that many checks.
So he was working for someone else — but it isn't obvious from the story who he was working for. One obvious possibility is that he was working for the French government, and transferring gold and money to some other government, or, more likely, some organization. (I think that's most likely, because the story has received so little attention, which suggests to me that the Israeli and French governments don't want much coverage.) But there are other possibilities.
(The tobacco may have been a bit of private enterprise on his part; he may have decided to make a little extra money while doing the run for whatever organization was shipping the gold and checks. The cell phones could be either his or belong to the organization.)
- 10:02 AM, 26 September 2013
More: The Israelis expelled the chauffeur to France, rather than arresting him, which is one of the reasons I think they knew what his main task was, knew who the gold and checks were coming from and going to. If I had to guess, I would say they were from the French government, and were intended for some faction in the Syrian opposition.
- 7:28 AM, 27 September 2013 [link]
Two Different Audiences, Two Different American Strategies: The Washington Post calls attention to an Obama shift.
In his second inaugural address, President Obama delivered a ringing pledge of U.S. support for American ideals around the world. “We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East,” he promised, “because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom.”Or was it a shift?
Another way to interpret the change between those two speeches is that President Obama was trying to please his audiences. Americans would have been the primary audience for the first speech, and almost all Americans believe in democracy. World leaders would have been the primary audience for his second speech, and a great many of them do not believe in democracy.
If that interpretation is correct, then we are left wondering what Obama believes in, and what global polices he will pursue — which may not always be consistent with his beliefs.
- 8:04 AM, 26 September 2013 [link]
France Is Expelling Gypsies: Or, as they would call them, Roma.
France’s socialist Interior Minister, Manuel Valls, announced on September 24 that “the Roma should return to Romania or Bulgaria” because “these populations have a way of life that is extremely different to ours, and they are obviously in confrontation” with local populations.The French socialists are continuing a policy that was begun under conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy.
The French Roma repatriation is a programme initiated in July 2010 by the Government of France to repatriate thousands of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma, an ethnic group without its own country, as part of a crackdown on allegedly illegal camps in the country. Although Bulgarian and Romanian citizens have the right to enter France without a visa, due to their countries of origin being in the European Union, under French immigration rules they must have work or residency permits if they wish to stay longer than three months.Gypsies, or Romani as most scholars call them, have been pests everywhere they have settled, and they have been persecuted, sometimes horrendously, almost everywhere.
Their resistance to assimilation, or even to following the laws of their host countries, is extraordinary, and should be a lesson to those who, without much thought, favor more multiculturalism.
(Are these expulsions a trial run for expelling another group that does not always fit well into a secular country like France? I am certain that some French politicians and bureaucrats saw that possibility long before I did.)
- 7:17 AM, 26 September 2013 [link]
ObamaCare Did Not Go To A Conference Committee: As more and more "glitches" in the law become apparent, it is worth reminding ourselves that the bill did not pass in the usual way, for important legislation.
Usually, for such bills, the House passes one version, the Senate passes another, and then the two bodies appoint members of a conference committee, who sit down to work out the differences.
Since most members expect this to happen, the House and Senate bills may not be drafted with as much care as one would like. The two bills are often filled with bargaining positions and items that have not received much examination in either body.
The election of Scott Brown deprived the Democrats of their 60-seat Senate majority, and forced the party leaders to either scale back the bill, or pass the Senate bill in the House, without the revisions that a conference committee would have made. Rahm Emanuel favored the first; Nancy Pelosi favored the second, and she won.
The result is an enormous mess, with unpleasant surprises showing up almost every day.
It would, I believe, have been a mess anyway, even had there been a conference committee, but it would have been a somewhat smaller mess.
- 6:46 AM, 26 September 2013 [link]
The Supreme Court Has Trouble with link rot.
According to a new study conducted by Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain and his student Kendra Albert, a whopping 49 percent of those links are now broken. Since 1996, the researchers found, justices have cited materials found on the Internet 555 times. And, now, nearly half of those links lead "to nowhere."And so do I.
An alert reader reminded me that the live link to a map of earthquakes had died, and I had noticed earlier that the link to the Halifax camera I have been using to head the Canadian section was also no longer working. So I have temporarily removed them, and hope to have replacements for them soon.
As I have said a few times before — but not often enough — you do me a big favor when you tell me about an error on this site.
Similarly, I only send corrections to the sites that I like, so if you get a correction from me, you should understand that it is a kind of compliment, though it may not feel that way.
As for the Supreme Court, I suppose what they will have to do is archive the material at their links, so they can replace a link when it is broken. (I'm not sure whether, in some cases, they might run into problems with copyright laws, but since they are all lawyers, I imagine they can fix them, if there are any problems.)
(I have thought for some time that I should save a copy of every article I link to, not just because it might disappear, but because it might change.)
- 2:14 PM, 25 September 2013 [link]
New Babies Smell Great to new moms.
That's not terribly surprising, but it is fun to see the direct evidence from the MRI scans.
- 8:00 AM, 25 September 2013 [link]
New York Mayoralty Candidate De Blasio Was A Hard Core Leftist: And probably still is, at heart.
Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio was on the defensive Tuesday, explaining his support for the socialist government of Nicaragua and a honeymoon in Cuba that was so secret that he never told his kids.As you probably guessed, that honeymoon in Cuba was illegal.
De Blasio hasn't just supported Latin American tyrants; he has also backed Robert Mugabe.
Castro and Mugabe have been economic disasters for their countries, something that should be obvious to any reasonably informed person.
New York Democratic voters wanted a change — and it looks as if they may get one — but I doubt whether many of them will like it, if it comes.
(If you want more details on de Blasio's history, check out the Monday New York Times article. He didn't just briefly flirt with the hard left; he's been married to them all his adult life.)
- 7:30 AM, 25 September 2013 [link]