I disagree with Hightower.

What you will find here is: a centrist's view of current events;
a collection of thoughts, arguments, and observations
that I have found appealing and/or amusing over the years;
and, if you choose, your civil contributions which will make it into a conversation.

He not busy bein' born, is busy dyin'. - Bob Dylan

Please refer to participants only by their designated identities.

suggestion for US citizens: When a form asks for your race, write in: -- American

Monday, August 30, 2010

“Dandy Don” Meredith

Don Meredith was a quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys from 1960-1968. He was quite successful and much loved. In one game the Cowboys were 4 or 5 points behind and it was near the end of the game. He was facing a 1st down and 45 yards to go. Incredibly, he threw three consecutive 15 yard passes, made the first down, the touchdown, and they won the game. Afterward a reporter talked to him about that sequence and then asked “Don did you know at that point that it was 1st and 45?” With what I thought was admirable restraint Meredith replied, “I try to stay as close to the game as I can.”

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mediocrates says

All cultures are equal.

Fungible – 2

So now, imagine that it is 2010 and your state is in financial trouble. You want help from the Federal government. You have shortages in a wide variety of areas: salaries for all kinds of employees, construction expense, pension benefits. How do you make your case? Do you go for the areas that have the greatest shortages? I’ll bet not. Probably you are going to go with the areas that have the most appeal to the general population. Let me see. How about teachers, police, and firefighters! Yeah, that’ll work. We’ve heard about it in the news and you can read it in the actual bill on page 4-5 .“ … REQUIREMENT TO USE FUNDS TO RETAIN OR CREATE EDUCATION JOBS.—…funds … awarded to local educational agencies --- (A)may be used only for compensation and benefits and other expenses, such as support services, necessary to retain existing employees, to recall or rehire former employees, and to hire new employees, in order to provide early childhood, elementary, or secondary educational and related services; and (B) may not be used for general administrative expenses … .”
It is all poppycock. Every dollar that goes to department X in that state is one dollar less that the state itself has to provide to department X and that frees up some other state dollar to go wherever the state wants to send it. Those who are using fungibility to deceive and those who do not understand the concept will protest: “But people will be watching. If the state uses it for those other purposes, then the state will get called on it.” That is why this maneuver is a joy to the hustler. It may be that each dollar that the feds give to department X will actually be used in department X. But the fact that money is the ultimate fungible commodity means that each of those dollars supports any other activity by that state government just as much as it supports department X.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Fungible 1 – A politician’s delight

You need money for schools, roads, and maintaining state employee pension funds. The people do not support a tax increase. How do you make it happen? Well you might try a lottery. But polls show that the people won’t support a lottery whose funds go into the general fund. But they would support the lottery if it was to pay for schools. So you introduce a bill to begin a lottery with the stipulation that ALL of the proceeds will go to education. It passes and most people never realize that it is the same as if the proceeds from the lottery were going into the general fund. Why? Because every dollar that goes from the lottery into education is a dollar that the general fund does not have to put into education. They can then spend it wherever they want to. This is because money is fungible. Fungibility is the property of a good or a commodity whose individual units are capable of mutual substitution. (Wikipedia)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

an alternative view

"I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center." — Kurt Vonnegut

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Government Knows Where You Are

For at least 20% of Americans, it is now the law of the land that the government can surreptitiously attach a GPS tracking device to your car and continuously track your whereabouts -- no warrant, no probable cause, no nothing. I anxiously await the outrage from the Left.

The dissenting opinion can be found here http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2010/08/12/08-30385.pdf, and the majority opinion here http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2010/01/11/08-30385.pdf.

"Sticking with one’s principles"

Have you ever seen a media story about some MC ( = member of congress) who is accepting for his district a federal payment that he had voted against? Some folks see that as wildly hypocritical. Those folks argue that the MC should “stick with his principles” and act the same way he voted even though reality is different from what he voted for. Their view is that he voted against it, therefore he shouldn’t take it. The media seems to support this.
But if some MC votes for a tax increase that fails to pass there will be no media story about how he should go ahead and pay that tax anyway. Those same folks do not argue that this guy should “stick with his principles” and act the same way he voted even though reality is different from what he voted for. It is NOT their view that he voted for it, therefore he should pay it. Some folks do not see that as a direct analogy.
Of course, even if a tax does pass, we can’t be sure that Treasury Secretary Geithner will pay it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I have lived 34 years in a small university town whose ambiance suits me very well. The smallness gives it a basically conservative flavor. The university gives it a liberal aspirational quality. I came of age in the sixties and “therefore” developed a liberal self-image. However, my liberal friends indicate that I no longer qualify for the label. The most important litmus test that I fail on is that I do not support the notion of the Supreme Court as a continuously sitting constitutional convention. I am probably no longer any more to that side than say “center left”. Perhaps I like this place so much because it is one of the (probably few) places where I can simultaneously hold my beliefs and retain that self-image.

Obama tales

The reason that I don’t believe those stories about Obama – birth – religion – commitment to destroy America – etc. is very simple. If there was anything to it, Hillary Clinton and John McCain would have produced it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mediocrates says

"Reagan proved that deficits don't matter." - Dick Cheney

Sunday, August 22, 2010


"Figure out who you are separate from your family and the person you're in a relationship with. Find who you are in this world and what you need to feel good alone. I think that's the most important thing in life. Find a sense of self because with that, you can do anything else." - Angelina Jolie

"Every form of happiness is private. Our greatest moments are personal, self-motivated, not to be touched." - Ayn Rand

"Friendship with oneself is all important." - Eleanor Roosevelt

Saturday, August 21, 2010


take a slogan:
No human being is illegal. - ACLU website
add a little logic:
An immigrant is a human being.
Therefore, no immigrant is illegal.
Therefore, all immigrants are legal.
Therefore we must have open borders.

Friday, August 20, 2010

media responsibility

The title should probably be placed in the definition of oxymoron. A minister friend asked me: Should it be the responsibility of the media to correct such shams as “Obama is a Muslim”? (For those of you who have been out of touch, a recent Pew Research survey shows that 18% of Americans believe that Obama is a Muslim.) My answer would be yes they should. But that should only be the beginning of their attempt to prevent these politicos from misrepresenting things. To choose one topic from each side they should explain: a) why “tax rate cuts will not increase revenue unless the rates are much higher than they are right now” and b) what a Ponzi scheme is and illustrate it with - Social Security as currently configured.

PS Any critique of the media should keep in mind two things:
1. Whatever their political bias is their primary bias is in hyping the story. (For a small example, in the  poll above they call 18% “1 in 5”. One in 5 is 20% while 1 in 6 is 16.67%, therefore 18% is closer to 1 in 6 than it is to 1 in 5. But 1 in 5 sounds more ominous, doesn’t it?)
2. Sometimes they get things really wrong.  For example, they didn’t know that “begging the question” is the name of a logical fallacy in which the proposition to be proved is assumed in the premise. It has nothing to do with the way they use it, which is to mean “suggesting the question”. In fact, the latter is a perfectly good description for what they mean when they say “begging the question”.

Lockerbie bomber

The following is from an AP story

“EDINBURGH, Scotland — Britain's government says it has warned Libya that any celebration of Friday's anniversary of the release from jail of the Lockerbie bomber would be deeply offensive to the families of the mainly U.S. victims of the attack.”

The statement above is an official statement issued by Britain's Foreign Office. If the US made a statement would it be - they have every right to have a party. Should we be embarrassed that the UK has to stand up for us on this?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

park 51 - 2 - The mosque 1

Everybody from Bush on down has been saying for 9 years that we are not at war with Islam. I believe that that has been a wise and proper approach. We have, with some exceptions, stuck with that. Here is our biggest test yet. The Muslim center represents Islam. Ground zero represents the 19 terrorists. If you say that they cannot be near each other, then you come perilously close to equating Islam with the 19 terrorists.
On 9-11 we were pulled into a war. But the real war is within Islam. It is between the peaceful Islamic majority and the radical Islamic minority. As I said here on 8-8-10 I agree with Goldberg: "Bin Laden wants a clash of civilizations; the opponents of the mosque project are giving him what he wants." This “dust up” is an opportunity for us to make a powerful statement about one of our fundamental principles and at the same time line up with the good guys in that other war.

Park 51 - 3 -The mosque 2

I don’t see why Obama jumped into this. He defends religious freedom and then refuses to go further and state an opinion about the wisdom of it. All my life I have heard of these polls that show that the American people overwhelmingly support this or that Constitutional right and by similar majorities they oppose some actual implementation of that right. (Classic examples: freedom of speech and either burning the flag or spending money on a campaign.) Surely he knows about that. If he felt he had to do something he could have gotten Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43 to issue some statement about it. They are past worrying about votes. Obama isn’t. In fact there is whole branch of government specifically designed to be independent of public passions so that they can handle the maintenance of Constitutional protections. Maybe he was just trying to help the Supreme Court again.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Revising the 14th amendment

It might be a good idea to revise the criteria for birthright citizenship someday, but not right now and not because of “anchor babies”. The argument is that (contrary to established immigration law) we are going to be intimidated into granting immediate citizenship to the relatives of a baby who obtained its own citizenship by being born here. That we will wilt in the face of the claim that if we do not give citizenship to illegal aliens who have a citizen baby, then we are “tearing families apart” and worse we are: “ripping babies from their mother’s arms”. I don’t doubt that the case will be made and I don’t doubt that the media will be unable to resist playing up such an emotional appeal. But the proper response to that “argument” is: “No we are not doing anything to families because the parents have the right to choose. They can take the child with them.” If our policy making procedures cannot overcome that kind of emotionalism, then we cannot be saved by a constitutional amendment.

Monday, August 16, 2010

First amendment parallels.

The media’s response to Obama’s remarks about the mosque is a beautiful parallel to their response to the Arizona immigration bill.
The AZ bill said that it would apply only in limited circumstances. The media reported that it was a profiling law. AZ explicitly eliminated profiling. The media reported that it was a profiling law.
Obama said Muslims had a right to build a mosque. The media reported that he supported building it. Obama said he supported the right to build. The media reported that he supported building it.
It is not just freedom of religion that cannot choose whom it protects. Freedom of the press is stuck too.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Janiece and Terry welcome to the conversation.

Julian Bond

I got to see Julian Bond speak in the early seventies at what is now the University of North Texas in Denton, TX. After speaking he opened the floor up for questions but not before asking that folks avoid certain kinds of questions that are really little speeches in disguise. If memory serves he phrased it like this: “You know the kind of questions I mean. Those that begin with: isn’t it true that … or everyone knows that … or don’t all the experts agree. So if it is true and everyone knows it and all the experts agree, then why bring it up here?”

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Is it time to decriminalize drug use?

Lauren Frayer LISBON, Portugal (Aug. 14) -- Ten years ago, Portugal had some 100,000 heroin addicts -- about 1 percent of its entire population. HIV infections from injecting drugs were among the highest in Europe.

Now the addict count has been cut nearly in half. HIV infections from drug use have fallen more than 90 percent. And the policy shift responsible for such a dramatic improvement in Portuguese life is something U.S. lawmakers -- watching an escalating drug war on their southern border -- might consider worthy of some attention: decriminalization.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Once upon a time at the court

In TODAY’S NOTE 7-27-2010 I mentioned the speed with which Harold Burton, one of Truman’s appointees to the Supreme Court, was approved. While that one was unusually fast it was not uncommon for things to move pretty quickly in those days. Perhaps that is an indication of how political the court has become. Truman’s 4 appointees to the court had (in reverse order) the following nomination-confirmation dates and votes according to wikipedia.

Sherman Minton Sept. 15, 1949 - Oct. 4, 1949 - 48-16.

Tom C. Clark Aug. 2, 1949 - August 18, 1949 - 73-8.

Fred Vinson June 6, 1946 - June 20, 1946 - voice vote.
Harold H Burton AM Sept. 19, 1945 - PM Sept. 19, 1945 - unanimous voice vote

The maximum number of days between nomination and confirmation was 19 and only 64 of the 96 Senators voted on that nomination.
The practice of holding hearings apparently did not become a regular feature of the nominating process until 1955.

racist yet?

Can we agree that Harry Reid is a racist yet? See http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/harry-reid-i-dont-know-how-anyone-hispanic-heritage-could-be-republican and http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/harry-reid-08-obamas-race-plus-because-he-doesnt-have-negro-dialect.

The most recent comment seems all the more strange in light of the fact that Reid's son is running for Governor and getting creamed by a Hispanic Republican. See http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2010/governor/nv/nevada_governor_sandoval_vs_reid-1137.html

What if Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, or Rush Limbaugh had made the same comments?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The media

Toward the end of Justice Alito’s confirmation process a CNN reporter said that his mother must surely be proud that her son was about to become a member of the highest lawmaking body in the land.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Amazing Grace

 I have always liked the fact that (in addition to being very touching) this hymn contains a clear and simple description of what it means to be an infinite set (in this case an infinite set of days):

“When we've been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing his praise, than when we'd first begun.”

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Has anyone offered a cournterpoint to Justice Souter’s Harvard commencement address on May 27, 2010?
In the Washington Post EJ Dionne wrote glowingly of Souter’s address:
Souter attacked the fatal flaw of originalism -- which he relabeled the "fair reading model" -- by suggesting that it would have led the Supreme Court in 1954 not to its Brown v. Board of Education decision overturning legal segregation but to an affirmation of the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling upholding "separate but equal" public facilities.
A layman is, of course, reluctant to disagree with such an august pair, but words do have meaning.
Plessy and Brown were both decided in a society which was opposed to black people having the rights guaranteed by the Constitution’s 14th amendment. In both cases the Court had the opportunity to read the plain words or allow their imaginations to construct a device that would provide for a “modern” interpretation of the 14th amendment that would be more consistent with their contemporaries' preferences.  It required a "living Constitution" perspective to discover Plessy’s “separate but equal” travesty in the 14th amendment. 
In the Brown case the Court looked at the same 14th amendment to the Constitution and discovered that it said “No State shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” They ruled that way. That is reading the Constitution. That is originalism.


Adam Madison and Deanna Futrell- welcome to the conversation

Monday, August 9, 2010

Cato the Elder 234 BC - 149 BC

Cato the Elder was a Roman soldier and statesman who fought against Carthage in the Second of the 3 Punic Wars. He believed that Rome could not allow Carthage to even exist and made a habit of ending every speech in the Senate, regardless of the topic, with “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.” (Furthermore, I think Carthage must be destroyed.) which in shortened form is rendered “Carthago delenda est!” (Carthage must be destroyed!). In 146 BC Carthage was in fact destroyed by Rome after the Third Punic War.

not quite 1 - Able was I ere I saw Elba

The title is perhaps the most famous English palindrome ( = an expression that reads the same forward and backward). Supposedly it was by Napoleon about his first exile. But Napoleon’s native languages were Italian and French and though he learned a little English the English people were his lifelong enemies? Is there any evidence that Napoleon actually composed it, uttered it or ever even heard it?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Park 51 - 1 - The ground zero mosque

“I will pass over and leave unmentioned” the fact that the right to build a mosque near the 9-11 site is clearly a protected activity on God only knows how many grounds. It may irritate, but that also is a protected activity. I will simply support the argument by The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg: "Bin Laden wants a clash of civilizations; the opponents of the mosque project are giving him what he wants." Or as I’m sure someone has said “If we give up the first amendment, then the terrorists have already won.”

Saturday, August 7, 2010

National popular vote 3

I do not think that the NPV proposal (see 8-6-10) is a reasonable method. There are two major problems that I see with it and both involve assuming that, even though you have changed the rules, the whole process will continue along just like it has before (see Stasis Fallacy 5-27-10). They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. It is also pretty crazy to think that if you change what you are doing, then you are going to get the same result.
The first problem is that this is a pure plurality system election. There is no runoff, no matter how few votes he gets the candidate with the largest vote wins. If both parties nominate centrist candidates you could have the wingnuts on each side throw in two more candidates and then the election can be won by someone whose vote is in the high twenties. This could easily draw in a couple more candidates and suddenly you could have a vote tally of: 23%, 21%, 20%, 18%, 14%, 4%. A president who only got 23 % of the vote! The electoral college has never produced that kind of minority president. Contemplate the idea of how a president could govern if 77% of the voters had voted against him.
Why didn’t they provide for a runoff? Because they can’t. There is no way to include a runoff in their program because you’re options are limited when you are trying to amend the constitution through a back door maneuver. Their response is that the scenario above won’t happen. It has never happened before. They don’t mention that in all of the “befores” we were using that other system … .

Friday, August 6, 2010

National popular vote 2

The proposal is a compact among several states that centers around the adoption of an 888 word law by each of them separately. The law commits the state to cast all of its electoral votes in favor of the candidate who wins the national popular vote. (note: wins the national popular vote means a plurality winner – more than anyone else – it does not mean get a majority of the popular vote) As soon as the states that have adopted it have a total of 270 electoral votes among them, then the pact takes effect. The 270 comes from the fact that that is the number of electoral votes that is required to obtain a majority in the electoral college and that is what will win the election. Go to http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/ to find out all about the NPV (= national popular vote) movement.
The first thing to note is that this would not mean that the states that are not party to the pact will be left out of the election. Each person’s vote would count the same whether their state was among those that had adopted the pact or not.
Go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_College_(United_States) for a full discussion of the pros and cons of the Electoral College.
There have been many attempts to abolish the EC (= Electoral College). These attempts have usually been directed toward replacing the EC with some sort of popular vote. These attempts have usually been dashed by the stringent requirements for amending the constitution. If we go this way my preference among those that I have seen would award the election to the plurality winner of the popular vote provided that plurality was greater than 40%. If no one obtains more than 40%, then hold a runoff between the top two. That is a reasonable method which came close to success in the late sixties (the Bayh-Celler Amendment ).

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Jefferson in Paris

Benjamin Franklin was the beloved American ambassador to France for 9 years.
In 1785 Thomas Jefferson, the new ambassador, was introduced as Franklin’s replacement.
He won the hearts of the French by responding:
“No one can replace Dr. Franklin. I am merely his successor.”

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Roman Gods

It was said that in Rome all the gods were equal.
The people thought them all equally true.
The philosophers thought them all equally false.
The politicians thought them all equally useful.
-Edward Gibbon

Monday, August 2, 2010

national popular vote 1

The passage by the Mass. Legislature of the National Popular Vote compact and the expectation that Gov. Patrick will sign it has brought this project to major public attention.
This is an intro to a topic about which more will come later. The EC (= Electoral College) is the constitutionally specified method we use to elect the president of the United States. The essence of it is that each state is given a number of "electors" = electoral votes that is equal to the number of members of congress that that state is entitled to. Each state (and later the DC) then elects its set of "electors" who actually vote for president. In the beginning the people did not even cast votes for president but for electors who would cast the votes of their state (technically it is still that way). Originally it was intended that those electors would exercise their own discretion about who to vote for. The motivation for creating this structure varied from straight forward to subtle. I think that the main reason was the power of the presidency. They were concerned about a “man on horseback” – a man hugely popular with the “mob” - who would, like Julius Caesar in ancient Rome, sweep away the Republic and establish a dictatorship. Many attempts have been made to replace the electoral college with some variation of direct popular vote.
But the actual wording of the Constitution is very interesting and provides the opportunity for some very high stakes shenanigans. Article I section 10 “ … No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, … enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, … . Article II, section 1. “… Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress …”.
In combination the two appear to open the door to an agreement among the states which would effectively do away with the Electoral College without a constitutional amendment. Mass. is about to join such a movement.  To find out more about it go to http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/ .  For a critique stay tuned.

Stasis fallacy 2

It was suggested to me that the stasis fallacy (May 27, 2010) was simply the law of unintended consequences (= LUC). I agree that they are related. But one may have an unintended consequence that could not have been predicted and therefore does not involve fallacious reasoning. Consider Columbus’s discovery of America.
On the other hand if one makes a change without properly thinking it through and obtains an unexpected consequence, then the issue of fallacious thinking is independent of one’s intentions. (I am assuming a good faith effort. Treachery is another matter.) Consider the example that led me to consider this in the first place. Al Gore obtained more popular votes for president than George Bush did in the presidential election of 2000. But Bush won the electoral vote and the presidency. We heard over and over again: “If the election of 2000 had been decided by popular vote, then Gore would have won.” The response was always some variation of: “But the election was not by popular vote”. For some purposes that is a sufficient answer. But I think that this is worth a bit more reflection. Put aside your own political perspective and consider the logic of the statement: “If the election of 2000 had been decided by popular vote, then Gore would have won.” This is certainly true if one is talking about God coming down after the election is over and decreeing that the voting system has been changed to popular vote. If that is what was meant by the statement, then the statement is obviously true but also silly. For the statement to be meaningful it has to be about what would have happened if the rules had been changed (to popular vote election) before the election took place. To claim that the vote as actually cast would have been duplicated with those other rules, then one has to assume (among other things) that the candidates would have campaigned in exactly the same way. That is nonsense. In fact, if the rules had been changed, then the candidates would have campaigned very differently. With the existing system it was totally irrelevant whether Gore won California (or Bush won Texas) by 1 million votes or 3 million votes. Either way he still got all of the electoral votes of that state. There was no reason for either candidate to try to win the national popular vote. And they didn’t. If the rules had been changed to national popular vote, then Gore would have spent more time on the coasts and Bush on flyover country getting out their base voters. It is very possible - perhaps even likely - that Gore would have won. But if so it would not have been because of how the votes were actually cast in 2000 but because of how they would have been cast in a completely different kind of election.

I believe that most people’s thinking about this topic involved a straight forward error in analysis. However, one has to note that many of the folks who made this argument would have preferred a different outcome to the election. It is hard to believe that, for them, their error led them to unintended consequences.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mediocrates says

No human being is illegal. - ACLU