Sunday, September 30, 2012


From The Lovable Misanthrope.
Dr. Google and I may have caught David Brooks with his pants down, or something like that—I'm not saying plagiarism, but an ethical breach in the plagiarism family, and I'm not kidding—in reference to his Friday column, on its surface a relatively dull specimen of his social science dishing mode, where he attempts to show you how hot new research proves that poverty has nothing to do with our social problems (and therefore, implicitly, government ought to leave it alone and focus on more effective measures like eliminating the budget deficit, because everybody knows the budget deficit is responsible for teenage pregnancy, segregated neighborhoods, and hunger).

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Redlining their own neighborhood

This view of last week's UN highjinks from the great Iranian cartoonist Mana Neyestani, passed on from Richard Silverstein's Tikun Olam.

Also from Silverstein, an excellent rundown of the State Department's removal from its list of terrorist organizations of the Iranian exile group Mujahedin-e-Khalq, which I have fussed about before. Silverstein's post also features a brilliant postography, or whatever you call a bibliography of online writings.

I do think Silverstein is too harsh in calling the delisting one of Hillary Clinton's "great shams". The official notice is pretty honest, anyway—
With today’s actions, the Department does not overlook or forget the MEK’s past acts of terrorism, including its involvement in the killing of U.S. citizens in Iran in the 1970s and an attack on U.S. soil in 1992. The Department also has serious concerns about the MEK as an organization, particularly with regard to allegations of abuse committed against its own members.
—though it doesn't mention very recent acts of terrorism, namely those assassinations of Iranian physicists. But something really had to be done about them, especially those abused members; they are absolutely not welcome in Iraq, now that Iran and Iraq are close allies (thanks, President Bush and Ambassador Wolfowitz and all you cute kids!),  and you're going to have a lot of trouble getting some other country to adopt them if you don't stop calling them terrorists ("Hello, Prime Minister? I've got some Persian terrorists in need of a home, you don't suppose you could—Prime Minister? Are we cut off?").

Friday, September 28, 2012

Mikey Mike, poor little rich mayor

Mayor Bloomberg is getting a little snitty about this and that as his endless reign draws to a close. Man needs a hobby, and, frankly, I don't think tooling around Bermuda in a golf cart or whatever he does there is strenuous enough.

Asked about the NAACP's complaint against the city's Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, he dismissed it with a "Life isn't always fair," and, as the Daily News reported,
“It’s done strictly on merit and it’s one of the bright lights in our school system,” he said. “If you started to get rid of those schools, I think you’d really be destroying something that’s great.”
Bloomberg balked at a suggestion that some families have an advantage because they can afford special tutoring for the test.
“I don’t know how you would take away the right to get tutoring or how the public could pay tutoring,” he said. “We have tutoring for all our kids. It’s called the public school system. We do it five hours a day, roughly five days a week.”
Ah, right, except when it's his tests, eh? That's another kettle of potato chips:
Because tougher state exams meant fewer city students were found proficient in math and English, Mayor Bloomberg has pledged $10 million to state test tutoring.... The money will be distributed to 532 schools where over two-thirds of students failed the tests last year, with schools getting between $6,000 and $65,000.

And on the question of Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson's plan to put some limits on prosecuting people for trespassing in public housing or certain private buildings, according to WNYC,
“If you want to bring crime back to New York, this is probably a good way to do it,” the mayor said Thursday at a press conference in Staten Island.
Well, not so fast. As David Cole writes in the current New York Review,  New York has indeed had a very remarkable drop in crime, going back to when David Dinkins was mayor in 1990,  but nobody knows quite why:
Was it New York’s increase in the numbers of police, started by Mayor David Dinkins, and supported by President Bill Clinton’s initiative to make federal funds available to put more police on the streets? Was it the introduction of Compstat, an accountability system that allowed much closer tracking of crime, particular offenders, and police performance on a precinct-by-precinct basis? Was it the focused targeting of “hot spots” and drug markets, or the emphasis on enforcing gun laws?
Quanell Carwell, Mott Haven Houses, accused of trespassing in her own common corridor.  New York Times, 9/26/2012.
Was it, as the police claim, the city’s aggressive use of “stop-and-frisk” policies, involving hundreds of thousands of searches of young black and Hispanic men? Or was it the “broken windows” policy, in which police broadly enforce minor quality-of-life infractions such as vandalism, public drinking, or prostitution in the hope that by restoring a sense of “order,” more serious crime will also drop?
Apparently the correct answer is "none of the above". They've either been tried elsewhere to little effect,  or not actually tried at all (the Broken Windows policy seems to have existed only in mayors' and commissioners' imaginations), or in some other way fail to explain the very real phenomenon.

As a matter of fact there was something that Cole mentioned that struck me much more than it struck him:
What’s more, New York achieved these outcomes without significant changes in demographic, economic, or social factors often thought to determine crime rates. Between 1990 and 2005, for example, rates of drug use in New York were constant, but drug-related homicides dropped by 95 percent. New York’s black and Hispanic youth population increased over the period, which many criminologists would predict would lead to increased crime, yet crime fell dramatically. And most significantly, New York City reduced crime while also reducing incarceration rates. Between 1990 and 2008, the nation’s incarceration rate grew by 65 percent, but New York City’s incarceration rate fell by 28 percent. By 2008, there were ten thousand fewer New York City residents in prison than in 1990.
It's those last sentences that made me sit up and take notice: to Cole, this is another happy effect of the same mysterious cause, but why shouldn't it be a cause in its own right?

For one thing, who is it that isn't getting jailed? It's not ten thousand people who decided not to murder anybody, because there weren't anywhere near that many murderers in the first place. Given the statement on drug use, it's an easy bet that they are mainly the perpetrators of those "quality of life" crimes that the Broken Windows policy would have addressed if it had ever been implemented: dope smokers, panhandlers, prostitutes, and those youths aimlessly hanging around the projects ("Oh, what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, alone and palely loitering?").

That is, mostly male, mostly young, mostly residents of high-poverty districts, and if you need somebody to fill out the "race" blank here, then you're not advanced enough to be reading this (but far from all of them would be African American). They weren't going to jail because they weren't getting busted, and if there's any policy reason for that, it would be the community policing style implemented by Dinkins and commissioner Ray Kelly in his first incarnation (rehired by Bloomberg years later, he has become kind of snitty and arrest-happy himself), and never quite given up in all the waves of policing fashion since then.
Rookie cops, South Bronx. Photo by Antonio Bolfo at Criminal Wisdom.
And then guess what? Then ten thousand boys were available when their girlfriends had their babies, to be called on and nagged into helping out. Ten thousand boys thought about programs for getting your GED because they had nothing better to do. Ten thousand boys looked for jobs, and some of them got one. Ten thousand men did what the mayors and Bill Cosby and above all their mothers are always scolding them to do, because they weren't in jail.

And then guess what else? As a lovely online paper by Randall Shelden explains, ten thousand men had civil rights that ex-convicts may be deprived of: the right to vote, the right to claim parenthood, the right to live in public housing. They were citizens.

There've been plenty of studies showing that raising the incarceration rate doesn't lower the crime rate, most notably in Texas. I don't know that anyone has ever directly asked about the consequences of lowering the incarceration rate (Dr. Google doesn't seem to think so, but of course that could be my fault), perhaps because it's not something governments usually do on purpose. I guess there will be some data coming out of California's prisoner release if the state actually carries it out. In the meantime somebody could try looking at places that emerged from more authoritarian to less authoritarian forms of government in the late 20th century: Spain and Portugal and Greece; South Korea and Taiwan; all those countries in South America; Indonesia and the Philippines.

If I'm right,  DA Johnson's move in the Bronx, in the spirit of Mayor Dinkins and Young Commissioner Kelly, should reduce crime rates further still (more needed in the Bronx than anywhere else). Bloomberg and Old Commissioner Kelly aren't really fighting crime any more, they're just fighting criminals.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Red line district (addendum)

Updated 9/28/2012
From Wide Asleep in America. And read his post!

Prime Minister Netanyahu drew his red line!

He drew it on his own personal copy of Iran's nuclear bomb design, produced by Acme Mass Destruction Products, Ltd., of Monument Valley, Arizona, and brought it into the United Nations General Assembly for show and tell, so we could see how serious the situation was.

If this reminds you of General Colin Powell at the United Nations, keep in mind that the general's pictures were of actually occurring objects that simply happened, as it turned out, not to be mobile biological weapons labs, although if any mobile biological weapons labs existed they would probably look quite a lot like that. Whereas Prime Minister Netanyahu's picture is of an obviously fictional object, because what he is trying to persuade us of is not the empirical truth but the moral truth, which is that people really need to pay more attention to him and that line is really red. Not green, or thin and blue, or what have you.
What I'm saying. If he'd just drawn a figurative red line, what kind of impact would that have? Not powerfull, in any case. Just full. Of it.

Update 9/28
If the world's not listening, then "effective" is hardly the word you want; if the world is laughing, as seems to be the case, that wasn't the effect the PM was aiming at. It certainly didn't convince anybody to take the "threat" more seriously, whether they took it seriously at all in the first place or not. However "gripped" Ari Fleischer may have personally felt.

More interesting is the Times reading, that
the substance of his speech suggested a softening of what had been a difficult dispute with the Obama administration on how to confront Iran over its nuclear program.
This by putting some praise for Obama into the speech (maybe not a big thing, but not that easy for Netanyahu to push past his lips), and by an interesting feature of that red line, which is that although it is drawn on the cartoon bomb, it can move around on the calendar, and has now slipped over to next April, so that we can stop worrying about his Iran attack coming before the election. Which I interpret to mean that in the famous September 11 phone call Netanyahu lost the game of chicken, and that is extremely good news.

(The Times also mentions by the bye that
Right now, Iran does not possess enough [medium-enriched] fuel to make a single weapon. In fact, its stockpile of it has declined in recent months, as it has converted some for the research reactor.
Although it is also noted that they've got at least six years' worth of fuel for the medical reactor at this point, so I have to admit that as an excuse it is starting to wear a little thin.)

The only really regrettable thing is the suffering of ordinary Iranian people under sanctions imposed to placate this fool and keep him from causing any greater damage. And there may be a big element of bluff there, too, as I have sometimes imagined. That is, the suffering of Iranians may be caused less by the sanctions than by Ahmedinejad's economic mismanagement. They certainly don't seem to be having much trouble selling oil; I heard somewhere that they are producing less oil than they can sell, in the hope of jacking up the price, but Dr. Google can't seem to find me a citation. Here, in any case, is some evidence:
Iranian supply fell by 50,000 bpd to 2.80 million bpd, matching July's rate, the survey found. Output in July was Iran's lowest since 1988, according to figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Output from Iran is down sharply this year due to U.S. and European sanctions on the country over its nuclear program. The embargo bars EU insurance firms from covering Iran's exports, hindering imports by some non-EU buyers.

Some sources expected a small recovery in Iranian exports this month as some customers, including South Korea, returned. But some buyers say Iran's tanker fleet has been struggling to meet delivery schedules, slowing down exports.

"There is clearly a problem with the tanker issues and over the longer term it's probably going to get more and more difficult," said one industry source, who estimated Iranian exports in September were on a par with August's.

See what I mean? The authors of this don't, but this is a weird kind of embargo ("Sorry, we're fresh out—under embargo, so naturally the stuff is selling like hot, umm, springs").

It will be many decades, perhaps, before it's possible to cut through all this multilateral bluffing to find out what was in fact going on, but I think at that point it will become clear that Obama (or the team of Obama and Clinton) was as refined and ruthless a diplomatic maneuverer as Talleyrand, and that he has prevented some pretty awful things.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Alien corny

Recently appearing at American Thinker is a delightful piece by one James Arlandson, Ph.D., one, or possibly all, of the authors of  Answering-Islam, with a massive kvetch about how the "religious left" thinks the government ought to "take up the cause of caring for the poor."
Despite the 126 programs [alleged by the Cato Institute to be run by the US government for the poor], does anyone notice that we still have poor people?  Maybe we need another way.
What does the Bible say about helping the poor?
Well, it turns out—you probably knew this already—that the Bible has a lot to say about helping the poor, and Dr. Arlandson finds that you can use it to prove that God does not want government getting involved.

For example, there's the Miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes:
To begin with, five thousand men followed Jesus to a mountainside in the country to hear him speak.  After a while he saw they were hungry, so he asked what food the disciples could gather from the people.  One boy had five barley loaves and two fish (John 6:9). Working a miracle, Jesus multiplied the food and fed the entire crowd, with seven basketsful left over (Mark 6:30-44).
That is, Jesus did not call Peter, James, and John over to him and say, "Hey, you three! Run like the wind to Jerusalem and report that there are a lot of poor people out here! The Jerusalem central planners need to form a committee and set up a bureaucracy to feed them!"
Exactly. What kind of idiot runs to the government over every silly little problem when you can fix it yourself with one small miracle? Not only is it more efficient, but it helps you feel so much better about yourself!
Cornelius Edmund Sullivan, Loaves and Fishes, ca. 2000. From Icons and Imagery.

By the same token,
Paul also says widows can be cared for, but only if they meet certain requirements, like living a godly life and not being busybodies (1 Timothy 5:9-16).
Whereas the government would be heedlessly distributing it to all the yentes, with the same incomprehensible attraction that our own government feels for Cadillac-driving black ladies. But I digress, or Dr. Arlandson does.

More useful to the inquiry would be the Old Testament, I think, since the ancient Hebrews actually developed an explicit model of self-government, while for the early Christians the power of government was represented by occupying Roman troops, and a faraway emperor who claimed literally to be a bigger god than YHWH, and if they wanted government to do anything they could hardly have called a senator and asked for it.
Boaz encounters Ruth. From the Maciejewski Bible, ca. 1250, Morgan Library.

Arlandson finds even more evidence there, naturally. There's the story of Ruth, which clarifies the principle that the recipients of charity need to work:
the landowners were commanded to leave behind some of the crops and grapes so the poor could go out to get them; in other words, the poor had to work (Leviticus 19:9-10).
The Book of Ruth shows this harvesting law for the poor in action.  Boaz, a righteous man, left part of his harvest for Ruth, an impoverished Moabitess, a foreigner.  She regularly went out to the field to gather in the leftover grain.  Eventually they got married and lived happily ever after.
God smiles on the dumpster diver! I have to admit I hadn't thought of this interpretation before.

Another principle is that assistance to the poor should be physical and local:
In one law, the people are to bring the tithes (one tenth) to the local town, every third year, and store them, so the poor, orphans, widows, and resident aliens could take what they needed.  The Levites who had no allotment or inheritance in the land also received from this once-every-three year tithe (Deuteronomy 14:28-29).  So this act of charity was done locally and physically.
In still another law, about celebrating the Feast of Weeks, people are to swing the sickle on the crops, harvest them, and then celebrate a feast at the place God chooses.  Not only do the well-off celebrate, but the Levites, resident aliens, orphans, and widows do, too, thus breaking down class distinctions (Deuteronomy 16:9-11).
In these passages and others, a big central government, such as it was back then, does not stand over the shoulders of the people and perform charity in their place.  People did it with their own hands.
Obviously! If God had wanted them to write a check and mail it to some bureaucracy in Jerusalem he would have said so, right?
Bernard Picart, Jewish Meal during the Feast of Tabernacles, 1724.
But the fact is, alas, that Dr. Arlandson is not getting things quite right. The ancient Hebrews, as a matter of fact, developed a strong centralized state, and one that took responsibility for caring for the needy, and was in all respects quite unlike the Republican platform. That "place God chooses" isn't some random picnic site, either ("Hey, kids, God wants the barbecue pit over here!"), as we shall see—it's more like the main office of the IRS. And these passages from Deuteronomy are where it happens: where you can as it were see the Articles of Confederation of Exodus giving way to the Deuteronomic Constitution. Dr. Arlandson has homed in right to the spot that disproves his stupid point.

We could start with the Levites, who Dr. Arlandson seems to think were some kind of poor folk with a capital letter, like Untouchables perhaps, alongside the widows and orphans. Of course they weren't, though, they were the priestly caste, the descendants of Jacob's son Levi, the tribe from which Moses and Aaron came, and the top of the heap, with Aaron's own descendants, the kohanim, on the tippy-top. The reason they have "no allotment or inheritance" is that
They shall live on the food offerings presented to the Lord, for that is their inheritance. They shall have no inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them.This is the share due the priests from the people who sacrifice a bull or a sheep: the shoulder, the internal organs and the meat from the head. You are to give them the firstfruits of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the first wool from the shearing of your sheep, for the Lord your God has chosen them and their descendants out of all your tribes to stand and minister in the Lord’s name always. (Deuteronomy 18:1-5)
Indeed, the children of Levi are not assigned one part of the Promised Land to dwell in, but dispersed all over it, in towns,  surrounded by commons where they can graze their animals, and take care of religious matters, dispense justice, and provide education for those who live on the land, and the tithe is given to them as compensation for the work they do, which includes passing on some of the goods to the widows, orphans, and resident aliens. The tithe is a tax, in short, and the Levites are the civil service.

This status came to them, according to the story, during the Hebrews' wanderings in the desert, after the incident of the Golden Calf:
25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him.
27 Then he said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’” 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.” (Exodus 32:25-29)
In return, the Levites were given charge of the Tabernacle, the tent in which the Ark of the Covenant was housed, and no one else was permitted to come near it. (Exodus 38:21; Numbers 1:53)  And they were endowed with 48 towns, including the six sanctuary cities where murderers were permitted to hide out from the law. (Numbers 35:6)
The Levites are rewarded for their obedience. From Barbara Griffiths, Moses Saves the People.
Then in Deuteronomy, which completes the narrative of the Pentateuch, bringing the Israelites from Sinai to the east bank of the Jordan and Moses' death, something different happens: the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, vanishes from discussion, and is replaced by a strange new description of something in the future, in full, "the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name." This place, and no other, is where they are to bring their sacrificial offerings. (Deuteronomy 12:8-14)

What had happened was in an entirely different time dimension, that of real life, in the reign of King Josiah, late 7th century B.C.E. As Norman Cantor slyly puts it,
The official story was the discovery, in the course of purifying and repairing the Temple, of a law book that outlined how the blending of prophetic and traditional practice could be accomplished.
Hilkiah and the Lost Book of the Law. From Charles Horne, The Bible and its Story, 1909.
 What had really happened, it seems, was that Josiah's Levites had put this book together out of some authentic sources and some new ideas, as a way of justifying reforms that the king was busily carrying out, suggesting that what he wanted to do was merely to put into practice the plans that Moses had made so long ago, and that David and Solomon might have been aiming at with the construction of the Temple as a permanent home for the Ark of the Covenant some three centuries before:
the plan to centralize all worship in the Temple at Jerusalem. The shrines that dotted the mountains of Judah were destroyed, and the priests who had attended them were brought to Jerusalem and made subordinate to the priests of the Temple. The Temple itself was purified, and an austere ritual was mandated....
The Temple was, of course, the "place that the Lord will choose"; indeed, Solomon had centralized the animal sacrifices there before. And the book was what we now know as Deuteronomy, the "repetition of the law" (that is the meaning of Greek deuteronomia, though not, they say, of the book's Hebrew name—a mistaken translation with a meaning).

Anyway, it demanded that the whole people of Israel converge on Jerusalem three times a year, at Passover, Shavuot (Weeks), and Sukkot (Tabernacles), with their tithing offerings presented to the kohanim there—except that once in three years they are to bring their own tithes—in other years reserved for partying—to their own local Levites as well. These are the regulations described in the passages from Deuteronomy 14 and 16 that our friend Dr. Arlandson leaps on.

Furthermore, they went for economic stimulus, and redistribution of income,  on a scale that would give your average Democrat a severe heart attack (though it would appeal to Occupy Wall Street, and apparently to our Founding Fathers as well). They took the Exodus provisions for the sabbatical year (every seventh year), when the land lay fellow and debt slaves were released, and added a new one, the remission of everybody's debts!

Comically enough, Dr. Arlandson drives right by that one too, noticing only the debt slaves, whom he takes as more proof that the recipients of Hebrew charity had to work it off (no: just as nowadays, if you have to work it off it isn't charity; the charitable would be to give the debtor a job, with wages and benefits, and say, "Look, pay me when you can").

Well, enough for today. I just want to add that the way Dr. Arlandson and his cohorts read the Bible is exactly the way Justice Scalia reads the Constitution—call it the Scalian Hermeneutic. I might get around to talking about it some time. Meanwhile, may your High Holy Days be as happy as you want them to be, and, leftists, atheists, read that Bible! Only get an edition with footnotes.

The day Edmund Burke died

It's happened, folks. David Brooks has made it through.

Denial, 8/21/2012
The Hose, 7/9/2010
When you look at Mitt Romney through this prism, you see surprising passion. By picking Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney has put Medicare at the center of the national debate. Possibly for the first time, he has done something politically perilous. He has made it clear that restructuring Medicare will be a high priority.
This is impressive. If you believe entitlement reform is essential for national solvency, then Romney-Ryan is the only train leaving the station.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Wanker of the weak

Fried chicken. From
Not since Ward Connerly (last spotted in trouble with the IRS, even though he gave himself a huge pay cut, down to $850,000) have I seen such a deeply self-hating black man as the Drive-By Pundit (via Sarah, Proud and Tall at Balloon Juice), making his debut at American Thinker with the claim that Obama is losing the African American vote, and thus the election:
I see that loss reflected in the faces of my fellow blacks, who at the mention of Obama’s name no longer beam with rapturous joy—something we blacks normally reserve for winning lottery tickets and intimate getaways with persons not our spouses.
Hey, Drive-By, aren't you forgetting about watermelon? Why, I suspect that you may have gotten a little out of touch with the brothers. Numbers, adultery, watermelon... and fried chicken...
I know what I'm saying can be dismissed as anecdotal, but there really is something refreshingly conservative in the air again in the black community.  Black "pastors say their congregants are asking how a true Christian could back same-sex marriage as President Barack Obama" does.  If the story can be believed, some black pastors are encouraging their congregations not to vote on Election Day, given the choice between the Rock Star in Chief and a Mormon.
Oh, I can just about believe the story. I remember it from way back in 1993 and New Jersey, when Ed Rollins bragged about distributing the "walking-around money" to black pastors on behalf of Christie Whitman. But it wasn't true then, * and I doubt that it's particularly true now. Not because the Republicans wouldn't do it—there's certainly something Republican about the concept of paying people to not vote, Democrats traditionally doing it the other way around—but because few if any black pastors would accept those thirty pieces of silver, knowing as they do what the vote represents to the community in suffering and triumph. And for the same reason the ones who are talking about not voting for free will turn out to be very few.**
Oh sure, when it comes to their waning ardor for Obama, blacks put up a good front, especially around whites -- i.e., pollsters.  But I know my people "like every square inch of my glorious naked body" (a little Rush Limbaugh lingo there).  When in the wrong and confronted by whites, blacks will always hide their true thoughts and feelings, much in the same obstinate way as their refusal to admit that O.J. did it.  (He did, by the way.)
Every square inch? Are you calling yourself a wanker, there, in the old-fashioned sense? And how do you and your glorious naked body keep up with your people, out there in Plainfield,*** Illinois (95.85% White, 0.84% African American)? Through your pals at Move-On-Up?
With apologies to the great, late Sherman Hemsley.

Yup, I think you may be a little out of touch. And I bet you're not making money on the Connerly scale either, huh?

*At least, there's no evidence that Rollins actually committed this serious federal crime, or none that the FBI was able to find. When the US attorney asked him, he said he'd made it all up, and tbe feds, after an investigation, agreed. The Times commented,
Mr. Rollins may be happy that he is only a liar, not a crook. Democratic victims of his campaign management and blacks victimized by his boasting are less satisfied. The prosecutors have swept a menacing cloud from Mrs. Whitman's inauguration next week, but not the lingering smell.
**According to no less an authority than Bill Clinton, this year's Republican tactic in Florida is to cancel early voting on the Sunday before the election, when African American church congregations traditionally hire buses to bring elderly and disabled people to the polls after services.

***Click for the great article where Drive-By finds solid evidence that the Democrats supported slavery back in the 19th century. You can just imagine him saying, "Bet you won't hear about that on NPR."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A twee grows in Brooklyn her fascinating new book, “The End of Men,” Hanna Rosin posits a different theory. It has to do with adaptability. Women, Rosin argues, are like immigrants who have moved to a new country. They see a new social context, and they flexibly adapt to new circumstances. Men are like immigrants who have physically moved to a new country but who have kept their minds in the old one. They speak the old language. They follow the old mores. Men are more likely to be rigid; women are more fluid.
--David Brooks, 9/11/2012
My father was an accountant, but he couldn't accommodate himself to computers. "Bah, women's arithmetic," he'd say, curling his lip, and nowadays, when I think of his cloth-bound double-entry ledgers and multicolored pencils, and strong fingers flying across the abacus, and the pungent smell of the salami and Swiss to his right, I can see the romance of it, the physicality. But back then, to us kids, it seemed as if he was simply afraid, and that was how Mom saw it as well.

It's why we moved to Williamsburg in the first place, with the idea the Satmars might like getting their taxes done by somebody who could make a number stay erased instead of floating around eternally in the electronic ether, waiting for the Feds. But in any event Mom's phone sex business was starting to really take off around then, so it didn't matter, as long as he had pocket money enough for the shvitz and maybe some vodka in his tea.
Yoshitoshi Tsukioka, Bon Festival Moon, 1887.

As the youngest of four and the only boy, I was the object of Mom's special anxiety. "Just like your pa," she said whenever she caught me channel surfing, or peeing standing up. "It's not that I don't love him, God knows, but he's too good for this economy. You have to be a little softer, a little more careful about your clothes. And you have to network."

"I'll try harder," I said. But I was fidgety, and disrespectful to my teachers, and whenever it came to the Test too distracted by the poetry of the wrong answers:
In the passage, "fatigued" means that Ruby was
     (a) tired
     (b) strange
     (c) in the army
     (d) in the desert
By the time I was in fifth grade—Mom was now making a comfortable living in the Chinese orphan trade—I'd been tested for everything from ADD to Tourette's syndrome. Finally, an exasperated guidance counselor told her, "He's a boy, for heaven's sake. There's no known cure."

But she didn't give up on me. In the business, she was hanging with a different class of people; a Chinese orphan was a pretty substantial purchase, and the clients were mostly decidedly well-to-do. And she noticed that the men in those circles were not by any means more like women—some of them were and some of them weren't—but more equal to women in some respects; better educated, smoother, and with more access to the kind of jobs you'd expect a woman to have. And they were good jobs: attorneys and editors, professors, management consultants, dentists.

"It's probably private school," suggested one of them. "How much gym does your kid get in P.S. whatever? Two short periods a week, three?"

"And fifteen minutes of recess, at lunchtime," said Mom, "if they can finish eating in five."

"Well, there you are," he said. "When I was at Blandings we had an hour of gym every day, and two twenty-minute recesses. Plus lacrosse practice after school. We were too exhausted to fidget, or even fight over the homework."

"Hmm," said Mom.

So after Christmas I found myself at St. Everard's, a little K-12 of Anglican origin in an ivied building on the East Side, learning to be a gentleman. A future classmate named Dawn, a heavyset girl with an officious air,  carrying a clipboard, showed me around.

At one point, trotting up the stairs, she bumped into me from behind. "Dumbass," I remarked, under my breath.

She had me down in a flash, I have no idea how, and was sitting on my stomach on the landing. "Listen, fuckhead," she said. "Disrespect me again and I'll tear your ears off and stuff them up your ass, is that clear?"

"Yes," I said.

"Good," she said. "And if you behave, I can take care of you. There are some mean kids in this school, you know."

It was at that point that things suddenly became clear to me. Dad's problem wasn't being a man, my problem wasn't the lack of lacrosse. It was all about patronage. You've got to know who'll be responsible for you, who'll hear your confession, who'll do the telephone tree for the bowling team, who'll beat the shit out of you when you fail to meet your obligations. Dad and the other men of his generation, having lost their union halls and their factories, their lodges and coffee shops, churches and newspapers, were like those masterless samurai, those rônin, who wandered Japan in desolate little bands after the shogunate tore their social fabric apart; creating their own little pockets of meaningfulness against the howling winds of chaos, but only just barely. Whereas women hadn't really lost anything at all.

Nor had the upper classes I was now getting to know. Their networks of privilege and obligation remained in force, stronger perhaps than before. And I wanted in.

Dad's doing fine now; he does taxes for the local hipsters, who love his meticulous retro work. Every April 15th, they bring their returns to the old 9th Avenue post office together and party on the marble steps. Mom sold the call center to a Ghanaian consortium and is looking into buying a sushi bar. I write my weekly 1600 words of conservative opinion for a famous newspaper, and spend time at the country place. I married Dawn; she still sits on my stomach once in a while, but my ears are intact.
Yoshitoshi Tsukioka, Preparing to Kill the Earth Spider, 1892. Ukiyoe Gallery.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The PM who cries wolf

Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again.
George W. Bush

From Superman #173, via Comic Book Cartography.
Collected and laid out by the genial Nima Shirazi in his Wide Asleep in America: Binyamin Netanyahu's testimony before the House Committee on Government and Oversight in September 2002, and things he says today. I thought it really needed to be spread around.
Benjamin Netanyahu, September 12, 2002:
"[I]t is simply not reflecting the reality to assume that Saddam isn’t feverishly working to develop nuclear weapons, as we speak."
Benjamin Netanyahu, April 18, 2012:
"Today, the regime in Iran openly calls and determinedly works for our destruction. And it is feverishly working to develop atomic weaponsto achieve that goal."
Benjamin Netanyahu, September 12, 2002:
"How imminent is it [the threat from Iraq]? Look, do you want to wait and find out?  The answer is no."
Benjamin Netanyahu, September 11, 2012
"The world tells Israel, 'Wait, there's still time,' and I say, 'Wait for what, wait until when?'...The fact is that every day that passes, Iran gets closer and closer to nuclear bombs."
Benjamin Netanyahu, September 12, 2002
"[Iraq] happens to be one of the two - now, as we know, one of the three - regimes that is racing to build nuclear weapons."
Benjamin Netanyahu, September 16, 2012:
"And for me, the issue is, as the prime minister of a country that is threatened with annihilation by a brutal regime in Tehran that is racing to develop nuclear bombs for that and, obviously, we cannot delegate the job of stopping Iran if all else fails to someone else."
Benjamin Netanyahu, September 12, 2002:
"Today the United States must destroy the same regime because a nuclear-armed Saddam will place the security of our entire world at risk."
Benjamin Netanyahu, March 5, 2012:
"For fifteen years, I’ve been warning that a nuclear-armed Iran is a grave danger to my country and to the peace and security of the world."
Benjamin Netanyahu, September 12, 2002:
"Every indication we have is that he [Saddam] is pursuing, pursuing with abandon, pursuing with every ounce of effort, the establishment of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons."
Benjamin Netanyahu, September 16, 2012:
"Come on. We know that they're working towards a weapon. We know that. It's not something that we surmise. We have absolutely certainty about that. And they're advancing towards that nuclear program."
Benjamin Netanyahu, September 12, 2002 
"There is no question whatsoever that Saddam is seeking and is working and is advancing towards the development of nuclear weapons — no question whatsoever."
During a March 7, 2012 interview on Fox News, Greta Van Susteren asked Netayahu about the case for illegally attacking Iran in light of what the world now knows about the lies that led to the invasion of Iraq.  "Do you have any doubt they [Iran] have a nuclear weapons program?," Van Susteren wondered.  The Israeli Prime Minister replied: "I think there is no question."

Van Susteren continued, "[I]n 2003, with weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, there was so much certainty and it turned out, our intelligence was wrong on that. So I am trying to balance the two."

The response from Netanyahu was immediate.  It was also confounding, considering his testimony to Congress ten years ago.  He told Van Susteren:
"First of all, there is no question. There is no comparison. In the case of Iraq, I was on the Israeli cabinet when we discussed this issue. We didn't know. We couldn't say that they didn't have a nuclear weapons program, we couldn't say if they did. In the case of Iran there is absolutely no question."
Astonishing how little he bothers even to rewrite the script. He's not ashamed of his part in driving the US to that unnecessary and criminal war ten years ago, he's anxious to do it again. It doesn't prove Iran is not building a nuclear weapon--but it makes it so clear what the quality of the evidence is!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Got paranoia?

Port Petermann Glacier, 2009 and 2011. Photos by  Alan Hubbard and Jason Box / Byrd Polar Research Centre
Here's a scary fantasy from the New York Times, page 1 below the fold, datelined Nuuk--I'm not sure whether they even realize what story they're telling, but the headline makes it pretty clear:

Race Is On as Ice Melt Reveals Arctic Treasures

Not only are the Petroleum Powers aware of the human-driven process of global climate change, they're rejoicing at it. There's more stuff under the glaciers and permafrost and sea ice, not only oil and gas but who knows what rarer minerals, to say nothing of the opened Northwest Passage for shipping us our cell phones and knockoff designer clothes and American flag pins, and they can't wait to get their hands on it. The only fear is, what if China gets there first?
Arctic nations and NATO are building up military capabilities in the region, as a precaution. That has left China with little choice but to garner influence through a strategy that has worked well in Africa and Latin America: investing and joining with local companies and financing good works to earn good will....

But Chinese officials have cast their motives in more generous terms. “China’s activities are for the purposes of regular environmental investigation and investment and have nothing to do with resource plundering and strategic control,” the state-controlled Xinhua news agency wrote this year.

Michael Byers, a professor of politics and law at the University of British Columbia, said the Chinese were unlikely to overstep their rights in a region populated by NATO members. “Despite the concerns I have about Chinese foreign policy in other parts of the world, in the Arctic it is behaving responsibly,” he said. “They just want to make money.” 
 Oh, if that's all...

But suppose they're not only aware of global warming, but aware that they're driving it; suppose they're driving it on purpose! They don't need to worry about their children and grandchildren, you see, who will be living in air-conditioned splendor; when the rest of the world has turned into a half-desert, half-flooded nightmare like the central Indian plain, they'll be in the hill stations and the Vale of Kashmir, or the Kashmir of Vail, living forever off the rent of today's adventures.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Is Willard Mitt Romney a neo-Marxist?

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Adams Memorial, Washington, 1891. Photo by Joan Hart, 2011.
David Brooks has passed over as predicted to stage 4 of his grief over the presidential campaign, despair:
he really doesn’t know much about the country he inhabits....
Romney doesn’t know much about the culture of America....
Romney doesn’t know much about the political culture....
he has lost any sense of the social compact....
The Republican Party, and apparently Mitt Romney, too, has shifted over toward a much more hyperindividualistic and atomistic social view — from the Reaganesque language of common citizenship to the libertarian language of makers and takers....
Romney knows nothing about ambition and motivation....
I think he’s a kind, decent man who says stupid things because he is pretending to be something he is not — some sort of cartoonish government-hater. But it scarcely matters. He’s running a depressingly inept presidential campaign. Mr. Romney, your entitlement reform ideas are essential, but when will the incompetence stop?
Charles Pierce paints a heartbreaking picture of his misery. It's all because of that Mother Jones video, from the $50,000 a plate dinner in Boca Raton last May, where Romney explained some of his campaign strategy:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.
 A lot of commentary has been devoted to the contempt this shows for the more or less poor and struggling, not least by Pierce, but I wanted to note something different, about Rommey's assumption that he has more or less all of the votes of people who pay income tax and more or less none from those who don't. How's that?

You and I know, so well we don't bother to look up the numbers—David Brooks knows, for Pete's sake—that many Republican voters do not pay income tax: retirees and military personnel, and the church-addled poor whose only political thought is about the murder of all them babies, and all those people who tell you, "I'm not a racist, but..." And then of course there are those like Romney himself, who can afford to hire superhero accountants (as Harry Reid continues to say, we still don't know if he pays income tax or not). By the same token, many Democratic voters do pay income tax, and not just your Hollywood stars and Harvard professors, but all sorts of teachers and firefighters, teamsters and librarians, and people of innumerable professions, many of them dark-skinned, many of them women, and so on.

Romney himself must know, in some corner of his brain, but it's not what occurs to him when he's chatting with his $50,000 dinner dates; here, he's assuming that everybody votes according to pure economic interest: for taxes if you benefit from them and against taxes if you pay them (as if government spending didn't ever benefit any rich people, but that's another story). Which is, of course, classical German-Ideology Marx-and-Engelsism: the base determines the superstructure, and your role in the system of production relations determines your political beliefs:
the Tories, — in the end, are Bourgeois as much as the remainder, for where is the Bourgeois who is not a protectionist of his own purse? They are distinguished from the other Bourgeois, in the same way as the rent of land is distinguished from commercial and industrial profit. Rent of land is conservative, profit is progressive; rent of land is national, profit is cosmopolitical; rent of land believes in the State Church, profit is a dissenter by birth. (Karl Marx in the New York Daily Tribune, August 21 1852)
Augustus Saint-Gaudens, The Puritan. From Wikipedia.
It's also likely that Romney is really not very bright in a certain sense, and has difficulty visualizing what the numbers mean, as when he told us that the "Middle income is $200,000 to $250,000 and less." (Who sees a numerical range shaped like that, like a fishhook? Where was that "less" going to end up?*) In the same way, if you told him how many Democrats there are in the country earning more than, say, $80,000 a year, he might be unable to see the number as significant. Perhaps his business success, indeed, was due in part to his inability to understand just how big a risk he was taking in any given deal.

Anyway, I'd like to start entertaining the thought that all these money-minded Republicans, as opposed to the baby-murder ones, are really Marxists in a fairly serious way, with the difference that they think the bourgeoisie can win the class war.

*Actually, I think I know that one already: He was realizing as he spoke that 200K to 250K as "middle income" was too laughable to live with, so he tacked on "and less" to make it acceptable.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mysteries of bloat

To explain to us all what's going on with the Chicago teacher strike, David Brooks has come up with a totally new basic economic theory!

In place of the conventional Samuelson model of consumption goods

excludable non-excludable
rivalrous private goods
(cars, shoes)
common goods
(forests, fish)
non-rivalrous club goods
(movies, golf)
public goods
(water, knowledge)

he has devised one that is an order of magnitude more efficient, that looks something like this:

Economy I Economy II
tradable sector bloatable sector

Whereas the conventional model looks at the world of goods from the demand side, the narrow and selfish standpoint of the consumer, the new model is from the supply side, that of producers, job creators, people who make a difference, so it's much more important and serious.
Economy I is the tradable sector. This includes companies that make goods like planes, steel and pharmaceuticals. These companies face intense global competition and are compelled to constantly innovate and streamline. They’ve spent the last few decades figuring out ways to make more products with fewer workers.
Economy II is made up of organizations that do not face such intense global competition. They often fall into government-dominated sectors like health care, education, prisons and homeland security. People in this economy believe in innovation, but they don’t have the sword of Damocles hanging over them so they don’t pursue unpleasant streamlining as rigorously. As a result, Economy II institutions tend to get bloated and inefficient as time goes by. 
Naturally getting things from Economy I is good for consumers, who benefit from that intense global competition when it lowers the prices you have to pay for stuff; you will have noticed how much cheaper airplanes and prescription drugs have become in recent years. Or maybe you haven't noticed, if your insurance plan pays for the meds, but it's probably true.
Pencil draw graph image by Anatoly Tiplyashin from The source, "How to make a Pareto graph", explains that "A Pareto chart is used to graphically illustrate a complex set of data. It is based on the Pareto Principle, which says that 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes."
By the same token, when your Economy II stuff starts getting bloated, the best thing you can do is start getting it produced in a more Economy I kind of way. Prisons, for example, used to be ridiculously luxurious institutions, like cruise ships, with as much as a one-to-one ratio of staff to customers and who knows what kinds of on-board facilities: gyms, celebrity lectures, single rooms for those who don't care to socialize so much, etc.

This bloat has been remedied by the introduction of market forces in the form of privately run for-profit prisons; the competition inspires them to cut costs drastically, making every penitentiary a taut, profitable hell-hole. Of course your government won't see any of the resulting cash, but it'll be in the hands where it can do the most good, those of job creators.

The same kind of thing holds for public schools, as in Chicago, horrible places pullulating with children and overpaid teachers earning nearly as much as a  management consulting consultant for Accenture, whatever that is; compare that to the quiet, refined atmosphere of a typical private school, with its small classes and friendly non-union teachers. They'd better be, you say, at tuition fees of $40,000 a year, but that's not the point.

In traditional economics, it's hard to see how you could make a public school (public goods) more like a private school (club goods) without charging tuition. Brooksian economics explains it with the simple and elegant Sword of Damocles principle: keep your workers in a permanent state of fear. This is bound to make them as innovative as you could want.
Charter Schools under the Microscope. By Nathan Golub for IndyWeek.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A little wonky

This is a brief lesson in lying with statistics--to yourself.

The Census Bureau's report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage came out and the Heritage Foundation and Center for American Progress's Think Progress responded almost simultaneously, giving us an instructive picture in how reality gets its coloring.

To Heritage, the news is unambiguously bad:
Despite a small reduction in the uninsured by 1.4 million from 2010 to 2011, 48.6 million, or 15.7 percent of Americans, remain without health insurance.

Another area of disappointment comes from the number of uninsured young adults: 27.7 percent of the uninsured fall in this age group. While this group saw a decrease of 2 percent—partially due to Obamacare’s extension of coverage to dependents up to age 26—it is much less than President Obama and his Administration promised. In August, the President claimed, “Nearly 7 million young people have health insurance because they’re able to stay on their parents’ plans.”
But for CAP, it's terrific:
Thanks to Obamacare, the uninsured rate in the U.S. dropped in 2011 to 15.7 percent from 16.3 percent in 2010, and 1.4 million Americans have health insurance now who did not have coverage a year ago, according to data from the Census Bureau. 2011 was the first year in more than a decade in which the number of people with private health insurance remained steady. “Our main finding is coverage increased between 2010 and 2011,” said David Johnson, chief of the Census’s Chief, Social, Economic, and Housing Statistics Division.

A key factor that drove down the number of people without insurance — 48.6 million people last year compared to 50 million in 2010 — is a provision in the Affordable Care Act allowing young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance plans up to age 26. A study in June estimated that 
6.6 million young adults have taken advantage of this regulation. About 40 percent of the drop in the uninsured rate for those 19-25, which feel the most of any age group, is because of young adults keeping their parents’ insurance coverage.
So is 1.4 million a big number or a small number? That would depend on how you look at it. Compared to 48.6 million, the number of Americans who still don't have health insurance, it's pretty small; but if you think of it as a down payment on the Affordable Care Act, when hardly any of the act's provisions are yet in place, it's not bad. And if you look at it as the first definitive change in the trendline that got started in 1987, when the statistics first began to be collected and the big number was 30 million, it's a pretty good sign.
Diagram of the Eye, Sloane 981, f. 68 (© The British Library) . From Medieval Fragments.
More seriously, perhaps, was President Obama lying about the number of 19-to-25s staying on their parents' plans? Is his seven million a rounding up of CAP's 6.6 million, and why doesn't Heritage know about the latter?

The reason Heritage doesn't know is that it isn't looking: they simply subtracted the 2011 number from the 2010 number to find how many fewer young adults were without insurance and got the "disappointing" 539,000. But this has no necessary relationship to the number of young people on their parents' plan, which includes people who were insured through their parents in 2010 and then stayed that way after turning 19 (or 23 if they were college students) in 2011; those who were insured by their employers or bought their own until the new law came into effect; and those who were just uninsured.

That was the number sought in a study by the Commonwealth Fund, which found that
between November 2010 and November 2011, an estimated 13.7 million young adults ages 19–25 stayed on or joined their parents' health plans, including 6.6 million who likely would not have been able to do so prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act. 
Presumably some six million of those would have been insured in some other way--by an employer, on an individual policy, or on Medicaid--so that they aren't reflected in the Census Bureau figures on the newly ensured.

It's funny Heritage didn't notice, because they're worried about precisely that possibility:
as Heritage’s Drew Gonshorowski warns, there are unintended consequences from these “gains” in coverage: The net effect may hide the substitution effect. He writes, “In the case of insuring more young people, recent analysis shows that Obamacare encourages young adults to enroll in dependent coverage and drop their own coverage, causes employers to stop offering coverage, and will likely increase premiums.”
But they don't notice that it's already happened on a very large scale. And guess what? It certainly hasn't caused employers to stop offering coverage (why? because they have employees who are 26 years old and up, sucker) and it hasn't increased premiums. Of course. And ThinkProgress got it right.