Memos From The Road

Truck Stop Men's Room Graffiti, Georgia/Carolina Border

Due to family business, there has been a great deal of travel to do just lately. I may be a bit catching up.

The speech, translated

Richard Fernandez of Belmont Club channels the President at West Point:
Those who argue otherwise — are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics – or simply remember what I promised only 5 years ago and are holding me up to my promises. For it's true I promised to reach out to the Islamic World, win Afghanistan, stabilize the Middle East, and reset the relationship with Russia. None of that happened, because I’m playing the Long Game. You thought success would look different. I’m saying you’re not smart enough to realize what success is.
. . . Inside every Islamic extremist is a nice guy just waiting for a payoff. Today, as part of this effort, I am calling on Congress to support a new counterterrorism partnerships fund of up to $5 billion, because I need a slush fund to keep doing whatever we weren’t doing that night in Benghazi.
. . . With the additional resources I’m announcing today, we will step up our efforts to support Syria’s neighbors — Jordan and Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq — in order to spread the trouble there. That way the solution, when it comes, will not be piecemeal but comprehensive. We must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield. Nor must we help our allies when sucking up to our enemies will work just as well.
. . . NATO was the strongest alliance the world, made up mostly of us. Now that I’ve taken out the “us” we have more room for diplomacy. You see, we have to talk. We can’t fight any more. That’s why you owe me one. I’ve saved your life. Never again will you have to take to the battlefield. There’s no point. With any luck you’ll just have work as props from now on. To sit in front of me when I talk, to stand behind me when I talk. American influence is always stronger when we lead by example. Let’s show everyone that there’s no enemy, no danger, no peril we can’t run away from or try to buy off.

Isolated incidents

I'm starting to wonder whether there were any VA facilities that didn't falsify their waiting lists.
The audit, issued as VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned Friday, found that 64 percent of the 216 VA facilities reviewed had at least one instance where a veterans’ desired appointment date had been changed. The review found 13 percent of schedulers had received specific instructions to misrepresent wait times. …

"We've been looking for you for a long time."

A U.S. soldier is freed after five years of captivity in Afghanistan.

Instruction manuals

DNA uses three-base "words" for each amino acid building-block for a protein.  Some of the words, though, have alternative functions as punctuation, as in "start sequence" and "stop sequence."  Our remote ancestors settled into these punctuation conventions so long ago that most current life on Earth uses the same ones, but it seems that a few organisms here and there employ a different system.  That wouldn't matter so much if all their DNA did was talk to their own cells, but bacteria and viruses have a way of spreading their DNA around somewhat promiscuously.  What a mess it seems this would make, if DNA from a system with one convention for "start/stop" ended up in the genes of a system with another.  Somehow, they work it out.

Friday Night AMV

"Louder than God's revolver and twice as shiny"

Extra points for the pink HMMV.

The staff of life

I've been trying to make bread for years, but producing only unappealing bricks.  Our newest cookbook, "Twenty," by Mark Ruhlman, promised that it would remove all the frustration from breadmaking.  The main thing, he says, is to weigh the ingredients instead of measuring their volume.  Keep the flour and water at a 5/3 ratio by weight, and everything will work.  And just look at this gorgeous loaf:

The bread mystery is solved!  My loaf was so tender that it was hard to cut it even after it had rested for 30 minutes, and yet it has a nice crust. I hand-kneaded the dough on the first go-round for about ten minutes.  The "crumb," if that's what you call the size and patterns of holes, is satisfactory for the first time.  The recipe said to keep it up until a small piece could be stretched to translucency; I'm not sure I got there, but it must have been OK.  Then I let it rise in a bowl covered with cling wrap for about 2-1/2 hours.  The recipe said 2-4 hours, but stop when it's about doubled in size and doesn't spring back when you poke a hole into with a finger.  This is the stage where I normally fail, as the dough never seemed to rise properly.  Then punch it down and knead it briefly, let it rest 10 minutes with a towel over it, squish it into as small a ball as possible, and set it in a covered dutch oven that's been oiled on the bottom and sides.  (Whoops, edit, I forgot this part:  let it rise a second time in the oiled pan for 30-60 minutes, depending on how warm the kitchen is.  Without punching it down this time,) Oil the top of the dough slightly and score it with a sharp knife.  Put it in a preheated 450-degree oven for 30 minutes, covered, then reduce the heat to 375 degrees and remove the cover.  Bake a few minutes longer until it looks beautiful and an instant-read thermometer registers 200 degrees in the center.  I used one of those remote-sensor devices that buzzes when the temperature hits a set point.  Then cool it on a rack for 30 more minutes before cutting.

This loaf contains 33 ounces of white bread flour and 20 ounces of water, about 2-1/2 tsp. of salt, and 1-1/2 tsp of active dry yeast.  I really meant to use 20 ounces of flour and 12 of water, but I got confused and poured in 20 oz. of water.  No problem, I just added another 13 oz. of flour and increased the yeast and salt a bit from the original recipe's call for 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp yeast.  The final loaf was a suitable size, taking up most of the room in a large Le Creuset enameled cast-iron pot and producing sandwich-worthy slices.

This truly is a lifetime triumph.  For this and other reasons, Ruhlman's cookbook is well worth the price.  It has 20 chapters, each focusing on something basic like stock or eggs.

Cheer up, conservatives!

Jim Geraghty points to a number of hopeful signs, and advises us to quit putting our savings into gold and scouting out property in Belize:
Faith in the future is returning; we're making more new Americans — a.k.a. "babies" — again: The newest child birth rate numbers have just been released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the report indicates that there were 4,736 more births in 2013 than there were the year before, which shows an increase that America hasn't seen in five years. 
We're doing this while reducing teen pregnancy, births, and abortions:  In examining birth and health certificates from 2010 (the most recent data available), Guttmacher Institute found that approximately 6 percent of teenagers (57.4 pregnancies per 1,000 teenage girls) became pregnant — the lowest rate in 30 years and down from its peak of 51 percent in 1991. Between 2008 and 2010 alone, there was a 15-percent drop. 
At 34.4 births per 1,000 teenage women, the birthrate was down 44 percent from its peak rate of 61.8 in 1991. The abortion rate is down too: In 2010, there were 14.7 abortions per 1,000 teenagers, which is the lowest it's been since the procedure was legalized. . . .
The scale of the U.S. energy boom is jaw-dropping: "According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of new jobs in the oil-and-gas industry (technically a part of mining) increased by roughly 270,000 between 2003 and 2012. This is an increase of about 92% compared with a 3% increase in all jobs during the same period. The BLS reports that the U.S. average annual wage (which excludes employer-paid benefits) in the oil and gas industry was about $107,200 during 2012, the latest full year available. That's more than double the average of $49,300 for all workers." 
We're at the dawn of the era of private spaceflight: "SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada are building new manned spacecraft with the goal of restoring U.S. human spaceflight capability by 2017." 
. . .  As David Plotz lays out, there has never been more news published than there is today; web sites of media organizations from the New York Times to Fox News publish literally hundreds, sometimes thousands, of new items a day. Sure, you can say a lot of it's crap. A lot of anything is crap. But the barrier to entry in the news world is obliterated. We're no longer in an era where the number of pages and column-inches in the New York Times, and the time limits of the nightly news,set the limits for what the public sees and reads. Despite the commencement mobs and the political-correctness enforcers, this is a golden age for free speech.

Customer choice, space exploration department

SpaceX unveils a manned capsule.

Star Wars in a nutshell

Via Ace:
The reason the first three Star Wars movies were so terrific, and the second three sucked so bad, is actually very simple.  The first three were about rebels, shooting guns and driving fast, and speaking with American accents. The second three were about politicians, discussing treaties and holding court, and speaking with British accents. 
          -- Bill Whittle

The Unlegislature

This kind of thing almost gives me hope:
It’s no longer a crime in Minnesota to carry fruit in an illegally sized container. The state’s telegraph regulations are gone. And it’s now legal to drive a car in neutral — if you can figure out how to do it. 
Those were among the 1,175 obsolete, unnecessary and incomprehensible laws that Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature repealed this year as part of the governor’s “unsession” initiative. . . .   
“We got rid of all the silly laws,” said Tony Sertich, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board commissioner who headed Dayton’s effort.
OK, "all" surely is an exaggeration, but I commend the effort anyway.

Customer choice, education division

New Orleans was so ravaged by Hurricane Katrina that apparently people were willing to try anything. The city became a one-of-a-kind petri dish for student choice, and (to the amazement of many) accomplished an incredible feat:
Before the storm, the city’s high school graduation rate was 54.4 percent. In 2013, the rate for the Recovery School District was 77.6 percent.  On average, 57 percent of students performed at grade level in math and reading in 2013, up from 23 percent in 2007, according to the state.
How did they do it?  By spending a boatload of money? Well, in part:
When Katrina struck in 2005, the public schools in New Orleans were considered among the worst in the country.  Just before the storm, the elected Orleans Parish School District was bankrupt and couldn’t account for about $71 million in federal money. . . .
The city is spending about $2 billion — much of it federal hurricane recovery money — to refurbish and build schools across the city, which are then leased to charter operators at no cost. . . .
After Katrina, the Orleans Parish School Board fired more than 7,000 employees — nearly all of them African American — while the charter schools hired scores of young teachers, many of them white recruits from Teach for America.  The fired teachers sued for wrongful termination and won a judgment that could total more than $1 billion.
So some new money definitely has been injected into the city's education system.  On the other hand, a lot of that money was spent bribing teachers to go away so they could be replaced.  The comments to this WaPo story contain the predictable complaints that school reformers just want to make a buck.  Whether or not making a buck is a bad thing, though, the fact is that the New Orleans experiment isn't about profit vs. non-profit schools.  It's not even about private vs. public schools.  There is a small voucher program in Louisiana that permits some public-school students to attend private schools, some of which no doubt are for-profit institutions.   And in some parts of the country, there may be a lot of for-profit charter schools.  But what's happened in New Orleans is that the public schools are still public and still non-profit.  The difference is that parents can now leave a failing school and choose another. All that changed was customer choice:  the power of competition and consequences for failure to improve an institution's performance.

On Working Together

A writer from Jezebel named Erin Gloria Ryan drops into the PUAhate chatroom for a while, and listens to E. Rodger's friends wax lyrical about rape and the murder of women.
12:42 PM

I am in a hotel in Washington, DC, and my boyfriend is taking a bath, reading. I barge in, demanding to know if all men are terrible, eyes blazing. He tries to calm me down, but I am upset.

I leave the bathroom in a huff.
The answer to your question, which your boyfriend probably doesn't quite know how to express, is approximately yes. Men are killers by nature, especially when they are young. I think this is one of the things women have the most trouble imagining about what it is like to be a man, and it is certainly one of the thing that civilization works hardest to hide about the human condition. Civilization works very hard to achieve social harmony.
Very nearly all the violence that plagues, rather than protects, society is the work of young males between the ages of fourteen and thirty. A substantial amount of the violence that protects rather than plagues society is performed by other members of the same group. The reasons for this predisposition are generally rooted in biology, which is to say that they are not going anywhere, in spite of the current fashion that suggests doping half the young with Ritalin.

The question is how to move these young men from the first group (violent and predatory) into the second (violent, but protective).
I imagine the young woman would think I was a terrible person too, but I would never harm a lady. I have spent a fair portion of my life learning how to kill other men. I would, though, lay down my life on any instant -- today or any day -- to stop one of these massacres from happening. California has done everything it can do to put the brakes on people like me.

Since the massacre a lot of the momentum has been not directly related to the kind of deadly dangerous misogyny displayed by these little monsters, but on feminist objections to what they call 'everyday sexism.' Amanda Hess explains that her male readers are shocked by this, because they never encounter it:
Among men, misogyny hides in plain sight, and not just because most men are oblivious to the problem or callous toward its impact. Men who objectify and threaten women often strategically obscure their actions from other men, taking care to harass women when other men aren’t around.


It was early on a weekend morning, and the streets that had been full of pedestrians the night before were now quiet. When I paused outside a convenience store to stretch, a man sitting at a bus stop across the street from me began yelling obscene comments about my body. When my boyfriend came out of the convenience store, he shut up.

These are forms of male aggression that only women see. But even when men are afforded a front seat to harassment, they don’t always have the correct vantage point for recognizing the subtlety of its operation. Four years before the murders, I was sitting in a bar in Washington, D.C. with a male friend. Another young woman was alone at the bar when an older man scooted next to her. He was aggressive, wasted, and sitting too close, but she smiled curtly at his ramblings and laughed softly at his jokes as she patiently downed her drink. “Why is she humoring him?” my friend asked me. “You would never do that.” I was too embarrassed to say: “Because he looks scary” and “I do it all the time.”

Women who have experienced this can recognize that placating these men is a rational choice, a form of self-defense to protect against setting off an aggressor. But to male bystanders, it often looks like a warm welcome, and that helps to shift blame in the public eye from the harasser and onto his target, who’s failed to respond with the type of masculine bravado that men more easily recognize.
What comes across strikingly to me, reading this, is the degree to which the most effective solution to the problem of bad men is good men. The protection afforded by a good man who loves you or befriends you is so great that the problem effectively disappears while they are around. This is not because harassers respect other men more than you, but because they are afraid of us.

They ought to be. Some of us are far, far more terrible than they are.

This seems to me to be a clear-cut case when men and women ought to be working together. If a man is making you uncomfortable, tell a man you know and trust. If you see another woman and recognize, from your experience, that she is afraid, help a man you know and trust understand what is going on and ask him to help her. Then back him up, especially if other women question why he is intruding -- tell them why you asked him to help. Defend the principle that it might be OK to ask a man for help with another man, that it isn't an affront to women's rights to have friendships with men who will defend them and help them enjoy the freedom to move and live as they wish. Say that they are being good men, and requite their defense of women with a defense of them.

There is a section of links on the sidebar called "Frith & Freedom," which includes debates about the role of friendship in making us free. This is the Old English word frith, which is related to the root word for freedom. The idea was that the world is dangerous, full of natural forces and enemies alike. To live a free and worthy life, we needed friends who would fight for us and for whom we would bear friendship in return. This is how a free life, a good life, becomes possible in a hostile world.

Democracy in the Age of Obama

Asking the right questions is important, says Cold Fury. He links to what he takes to be one of the right questions, from Human Events:
Where do we go to vote against the Commissar of Undesirable Businesses, if we decide we disagree with his or her judgments… once we penetrate the veil of secrecy and discover those judgments have been rendered?

No one’s even pretending DOJ had anything resembling the authority to do this.
Another of the right questions, then: "So what?" Is there any mechanism of accountability or consequence?

Well, there's an election in several months, and another one in two years. If you win both of them, you could move to impeach the President right after his term will already be over.

Paranoia in the Age of Obama

UPS is loudly insisting that it is not helping the NSA interdict packages containing computer equipment in order to install backdoor spying equipment, as is Cisco. What an absurd and paranoid thought! Why would anyone think they were doing such a thing anyway?
After Glenn Greenwald's book came out last week, one of the big stories was the additional revelations about the NSA's interdiction program -- in which the NSA grabs packages of computer equipment that are being shipped, outfits the equipment with backdoors -- and sends them along their shipping route as if nothing happened. Most famously, it included an image of it happening, showing a clear Cisco box[.]

A Slight Delta

A comparison of the enthusiasm of West Point cadets in welcoming a Presidential speaker, the examples being this week's speech and President Bush's last speech. The ones who count are the people in the gray uniforms, though it turns out the civilian audience wasn't much more enthusiastic this week.

Reviews of the speech in the press have been terrible, but the ones I'm getting in email are vastly worse. The left hand limit on commentary for this speech is that it missed a significant opportunity to accomplish anything of moment. The right hand limit is that it will produce a rapid destabilization of American alliances, especially in Asia.

Time Passes On

Hot Air mocks Shinseki's claims to be serious about VA reform now, after five years on the job.

But hey, after six years of 'unexpectedly' slow growth, and endless White House 'pivots' to the economy as its top issue, that same economy is back in contraction. So really, we're right where we should expect to be.

Those of you who are veterans (or have a very high tolerance for salty language and bloody-minded humor) might want to watch the RangerUp video on the VA. (Bonus: the Wicked Witch of Westboro!)

RU says about this today:
When we launched our VA Damn Few episode, some people said it was too harsh. In light of the IG determining that they were, in fact, pretending vets didn't exist, this makes this episode that much better (and worse). Watch it now or the VA will ignore the problem and not even fire the guy that is in charge of this whole mess! (oh wait)
Sometimes it's hard to be too harsh.

Doctors without competition

When you take away the profit motive, you don't get altruism, you get non-monetary self-interested incentives.  Unfortunately, there's no reason to suppose that the alternative incentives lead to improvement in performance.  The point isn't profit or non-profit, it's whether customers have choices.

From a doctor's OpEd in the WSJ today:
In my experience, the best thing that a patient in the VA system could hope for was that the services he needed were unavailable.  When that is the case, the VA outsources their care to doctors in the community, where their problems are promptly addressed.  But these patients still need to return to the VA system for other services and get back on a long waiting list.

The VA vs. the NHS

Will things improve if Obamacare enthusiasts get their wish and parlay the law's spectacular failure into what they wanted from the beginning, which is single-payer?  Charles Cooke describes the future in the form of what the NHS already is in Britain:
Because mistakes in delivering health care are catastrophic for those seeking reelection or trying to push an agenda, politicians in Britain spend the vast majority of their time worrying about perceived rather than actual improvement.  Government, by definition, has no competition, which means that those who staff it can lie and spin and cover up mistakes not just with impunity but with the full force of the state at their back.  Thus do results become less important than statistics, reforms less important than spending, and patients less important than careers.  Dishonesty is widespread.  Per the Telegraph, the British National Audit Office discovered in 2013 that
one in four hospitals is recording false waiting list times, with patients waiting on average three weeks longer than NHS records show.
Patients groups have said the findings were “scandalous,” and that hospital managers had been able to routinely fiddle figures so they could claim to be hitting Government waiting time targets, when patients were enduring far longer waits for care. 
Sound familiar?
Obviously people can lie to their customers whether they're in the private or the public sector.  The problem is enormously more difficult to handle, though, when the customers are stuck with a single provider in a state-protected monopoly.

Texas is the Alamo

Bill Whittle on how the Tea Party thrives in Texas, if nowhere else. Tea Party candidates swept the primary runoffs yesterday.


From Andrew Klavan:
Now, we don’t want to dwell on the distant past when Democrats defended slavery against Abe Lincoln and his Republicans… or when they formed the Ku Klux Klan or passed oppressive Jim Crow laws… or when Democrats like Al Gore Sr. or Robert Byrd… or George Wallace or Lester Maddox… or Bill Clinton’s mentor J. William Fulbright… stood as staunch segregationists.
The modern Democratic party is much different. Appalled by the way evil slavemasters once tore black families apart, Democrats fashioned welfare to subsidize unmarried motherhood so that free African Americans could tear their families apart themselves.

Just make the Potemkin village bigger

People stuck in a monopoly (unexpectedly!) find that service is terrible:
So far, the VA affair is running the usual course of Obama administration scandals, with the requisite denial and lack of accountability.  VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has referred to the incidents as “isolated cases” (even though 26 facilities are now under investigation).  No one has been fired.  One of Shinseki’s deputies, Dr. Robert Petzel, resigned, but was scheduled to retire this year anyway.  It was an appropriately Potemkin departure in a scandal involving Potemkin waiting lists. 
The White House has reverted to its default position of maintaining that it doesn’t know much about what’s happening in the vast government it always wants to make bigger.
It's pretty much like the public schools:  until they're credibly threatened with the ability of their customers to go elsewhere and take their funding with them, no amount of money will make them deliver good service, let alone good service at a reasonable cost.

The Gibson Raid

Forbes has an article that claims the Federal raid on Gibson Guitars was in service to a labor union with whom the company was having a dispute. The raid was highly aggressive:
“What is happening?” asks Gibson Guitar CEO Henry Juszkiewicz when he arrives at his Nashville factory to question the officers. “We can’t tell you.” “What are you talking about, you can’t tell me, you can’t just come in and …” “We have a warrant!” Well, lemme see the warrant.” “We can’t show that to you because it’s sealed.”

While 30 men in SWAT attire dispatched from Homeland Security and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cart away about half a million dollars of wood and guitars, seven armed agents interrogate an employee without benefit of a lawyer. The next day Juszkiewicz receives a letter warning that he cannot touch any guitar left in the plant, under threat of being charged with a separate federal offense for each “violation,” punishable by a jail term.

Up until that point Gibson had not received so much as a postcard telling the company it might be doing something wrong.
Why would you seal a warrant in a raid of this kind? There's no national security interest. Citizens should ordinarily have a right to see the warrant, for one thing so they can verify that it is lawfully executed and that the police have a right to do what they are doing. (For another, to make sure the cops are at the right address.)

It also helps you construct a defense. What if the warrant remains sealed as you await trial, so you can't really know just why you are under threat of jail?
In the end, formal charges were never filed, but the disruption to Gibson’s business and the mounting legal fees and threat of imprisonment induced Juszkiewicz to settle for $250,000—with an additional $50,000 “donation” piled on to pay off an environmental activist group....

With no clear legal standards, a sealed warrant the company has not been allowed to see too this day, no formal charges filed, and the threat of a prison term hanging over any executive who does not take “due care” to abide by this absurdly vague law, Gibson settled. “You’re fighting a very well organized political machine in the unions,” Juszkiewicz concluded. “And the conservation guys have sort of gone along.” Hey, what’s not to like about $50,000?"
As the article points out, 95% of cases brought by the Feds never go to trial, because the prosecutors set the charges at such a level that a plea deal is the only rational choice. Fifty grand as a payoff to an environmental group, and you can go home and get back to making guitars. Go to trial, and we'll do our best to put you in prison for decades.

Mourning in the Hall

Today my uncle died, following complications resulting from brain surgery. He was a great man solely because he was a good man, and that is quite an achievement.

When he was young, in East Tennessee, he looked like Elvis at a time when that was desirable. My mother, his younger sister, told me once how she was always popular as a young girl because all the other girls wanted to have a reason to come visit the girl whose brother looked like Elvis.

He married young -- too young for his own mother's liking! A few years ago I attended my cousin's wedding, his granddaughter, and the band called for a dance only for married couples. As the song progressed, they began to name off years: one, two, five, ten, fifteen, twenty. The idea was that, as they gave the length of time you had been married, you would leave the floor. He and his wife were dancing at the very last but for one couple in their nineties.

He owned a small business in civil engineering, and by means of it raised a family. Twice at least his honest nature caused him to be defrauded by people he had elected to trust, but he stood good for all the debts they had run up in his name.

For the entire part of his life that I knew him, he was a deacon in his church. He lived according to the strict rule of Southern Baptists, which he was, not drinking nor smoking nor chasing after girls. He made one exception I can recall, allowing a keg onto his property to celebrate his son's graduation from college. He was invariably kind, and almost invariably full of a gentle good humor.

He is survived by his wife, two children, four grandchildren, and several great-grandchildren -- I am not sure of the number myself.

We will miss him.

Better suspension

In God We Trust: Everybody Else, Cash Only

Dad29 suggests that the DOJ aims to destroy the ability of ammunition manufacturers, among 30 types of worrisome businesses, to operate except on a cash-only basis. That's surprising if the goal is, as the DOJ says it is, better oversight of these allegedly-worrisome industries. Generally electronic transactions leave better records. The reason to force banks to stop dealing with them can't, then, be that it would enable better oversight.

It might be a desire to destroy the business, or the industry.

UPDATE: The Sage of Knoxville on the same topic. For some reason he prefers to describe it in terms of a war on pornography, though he notes that 30 different types of businesses are being targeted. (Perhaps he thinks that Americans won't care about ammunition sales in the same way they care about access to porn.)

Memorial Day

I spent the day with family, walking a battlefield and trying both to learn and to teach something about how we came to where we are.

It is a solemn day. I trust you all spent it well.

Low humor

Never mind the cause, we need a remedy!

Sheldon Richman expresses a grudging admiration for the staying power of Keynesian economics.   One explanation is that Hayek et al. made people feel gloomy, with their insistence that misallocations of resources had to work themselves out before the economy could return to health.  Who wants to wait for that to happen?  We need jobs now!
Rather than getting bogged down in an attempt to explain the dynamics of the business cycle—a subject that remains contentious to this day—Keynes focused on a question that could be answered.  And that was also the question that most needed an answer: given that overall demand is depressed—never mind why—how can we create more employment? 
Indeed, if you’re trying to end mass unemployment, why would you want to get bogged down trying to understand what actually caused the mass unemployment?  It’s not as though the cause could be expected to shed light on the remedy.
Enter the era of stimulus spending, which is always about to create sustainable jobs, if we just keep increasing it.  In some fields, unexpected results might lead us to rethink our theories of causation.  Well, not in education, or child-rearing, or climate science, of course, but there must still be some fields somewhere that remained tethered to reality on some level.

In which I agree with the President, for once

Shocking news:  I don't think the President's proposal for a ratings system for universities is lunacy:
The rating system, which the president called for in a speech last year and is under development, would compare schools on factors like how many of their students graduate, how much debt their students accumulate and how much money their students earn after graduating.  Ultimately, Mr. Obama wants Congress to agree to use the ratings to allocate the billions in federal student loans and grants.  Schools that earn a high rating on the government’s list would be able to offer more student aid than schools at the bottom. 
Many college presidents said a rating system like the one being considered at the White House would elevate financial concerns above academic ones and would punish schools with liberal arts programs and large numbers of students who major in programs like theater arts, social work or education, disciplines that do not typically lead to lucrative jobs.
This controversy will get derailed into the usual complaints that education is too ineffable to judge accurately, but that misses the point.  The ratings system is designed to help people decide whether the federal government should subsidize tuition.  No matter how ineffably fabulous a basket-weaving studies degree is (and it would appeal to me enormously), the federal subsidies should be tied in some rational way to an increased ability to earn a living.  Cold and bourgeois of me, I know.  But when you look at a university's rating in that light, it's no mystery how to craft it, and no need to confuse the result with whatever personal views one may hold about the abstract value of education.

How did we get to the point where we worry that a system for deciding how to allocate federal subsidies elevated financial concerns inappropriately?

A break for warmth

From Bookworm Room, two happy-making videos.  One is about inclusion:  not the kind where you pretend everyone is alike, but the kind where you take your blinders off, find out what people can do instead of what you expected they could do, make a place for it, and honor them for it.  The other is about what the Bible might call the "widow's mite":  gifts from the heart, with no strings attached or guilt invoked.

Feedback plus-or-minus

This link is to an interesting comment at Watts Up With That analyzing the difficulty of deciding whether the interaction of CO2 (a weak greenhouse gas) with water vapor (a much stronger greenhouse gas) produces a negative feedback loop, which would tend toward equilibrium, or a positive feedback loop, which would spiral into permanent warming.  The question is fraught, because water vapor can serve either to warm the atmosphere, via the greenhouse effect, or to cool it, via other well-observed mechanisms.  When all the dust settles, how do these effects net out?

All alarmist climastrology in recent decades has depended on climate models that assume a net positive sign on the "feedback" or "sensitivity" factor; most of the quarreling has been over the size of the factor, especially since the past 17 years of little or no warning have demonstrated that the factor has been grossly overestimated.  In fact, however, there's scant evidence one way or the other on the more fundamental question of whether the feedback is negative or positive.  No amount of tinkering with the exact size of the positive feedback factor will help the models' ability to predict real experience if the problem really is that the feedback is negative.

Overcoming Barriers

The Wilson Quarterly has an article on economic development, relative to our recent discussion of reparations in several ways. The most obvious is this:
Geography, however, doesn’t always play a direct role—sometimes its effects are more roundabout. Rugged, mountainous terrain isn’t great for growing crops or conducting trade, but one study from 2007 found that such regions in Africa nonetheless reached higher levels of development. Why? Because historically, that same treacherous landscape protected certain areas from slave traders.
So if the most successful regions of Africa are the least well-endowed, just because it was too hard for slavers to extract their wealth and human capital, how much of Africa's suffering is directly due to the slave trade?

But there's this, too:
Other studies have shown that people matter more than institutions or locations. Many poorly endowed lands have experienced a “reversal of fortune” since 1500, producing more income per capita than their past would have suggested. Those economies benefited from the European colonizers and their human capital—a familiarity with centralized state institutions, efficient agriculture techniques, and new technologies that let one generation build upon the advances of the last.
Now that seems to be a reversal of the first argument: Europeans colonized the parts of Africa that are worst-performing, too. I assume this is a way of talking about India, which wasn't subject to the slave trade and thus wasn't plundered in the same way. But India and Pakistan sit next door to one another, and were subject to the same British rule. There's an element of responsibility that goes beyond "what did the Europeans do to them?" and lies at the question of what they have done with their inheritance.

The piece ends on a note of hope, which is where I think we should aspire to go as well. The question shouldn't be one of punishment or vengeance, but of development of human capacities. We want people to come to flourish.