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, July 30, 2012


subtitle:  What mathematics should the citizen know and when should he know it?

This post is in response to a couple of my friends who wondered what I thought of the article:
Is algebra necessary?

Preliminary note.  Algebra has a firm place in the educational system and will long remain there for those who need it for their program of study.  The subject of this article is whether the great majority of students should be required to take algebra in either high school or college.

Beginning in high school (or sometimes in the 8th grade) we begin to put our students into what is called elementary mathematics:  algebra I, geometry, algebra II, trigonometry, and perhaps precalculus.  Only those who are inclined toward the subject take trigonometry and precalculus and the rigor of Euclidean Geometry has, for some time now, been Gone With the Wind, replaced by something considerably more accommodating.  That leaves algebra.  

Once upon a time, we valued algebra as a discipline, a complete logical system that sharpened the student’s intellectual skills.  Many of my math colleagues were certain that it was good for their students’ souls to go through it. It was not just the math people, the whole academic community bought into this mene.  (As late as 1980 I heard this argument from a history professor friend.)

And God saw mid century American higher ed, wherein we placed about 10% of our students, and it was good.

Bye an’ bye that part of our students that went to college increased to 20% then 30%.  People started asking why are we doing this algebra thing?  The answer was quite clear: 1. the logical system argument, and 2. after Sputnik, we had to have more math, science, and engineering types to get to the moon.  If they didn’t know algebra, then they might get confused between the English system and the metric.  That would be expensive.

Bye an’ bye that part of our students that went to college increased to 40% - 50% - 60%.  Well, that is how many started.  By this time we are far enough down into the second and third tier (quartile = fourth) that a lot of them were being wiped out because of that algebra requirement and freshman English.  Those two were the gatekeepers. 

Some of us in higher education argued for and got a general education course that would meet the math requirement without algebra for those who did not need algebra in their program.  Our approach was to ask the question:  “Out of all of mathematics, broadly defined, which parts are the most important for every college student to know?”  We viewed this as pertaining to the part of education that goes to preparing one for citizenship in a democracy.  The answer did not include much algebra because we calculated as very small the probability that our students would ever, in their role as a citizen, come face to face with a quadratic equation.

In the eighties that type of course spread across the collegiate landscape like wildfire.

But what about learning the logical system?  Well, the weaker students never did understand that system anyway. They memorized enough facts to get through the course the second time or they dropped out of college.  But the question deserves a more extensive answer than that.  Teaching a logical system is a good thing and we should try to do that.  But why not find a logical system that is more pertinent to the world that all students will encounter?  Why not something that is pertinent to citizenship and regularly shows up the media?  The area of (very) elementary probability offers a logical system. In combination with percentages and statistics it is one that is much more relevant to the modern world.  In fact they are frequently essential to reading a newspaper.  This is offered as an illustration not a program of study.

At the university level we have resolved this question without algebra.  You might expect that the high schools would be following suit.  But the legislature has commanded that, in high school, we put almost ALL of our students through the sausage grinder that is called algebra.  Why?   In order to prepare that very small percentage that will actually have any reason to know algebra later. 

We live in a quite different world from 1945 and the mathematical community needs to be prodded into reviewing ,on a k-12 level, the question:  “Which part of mathematics is it really important for the citizen to know?”

Predatory Lending

According to this article http://news.investors.com/article/620090/201207271807/gm-risky-subprime-auto-loans-fuel-sales.htm most of the vehicle loans made by GM Finance are being made to buyers that have a credit score of less than 660, the break point where loans fall into the subprime category.   

Isn’t that (subprime loans) a large part of what caused the current financial problem and isn’t that what we wanted to stop doing?

GM spokesperson Jim Cain offered the following statement "Our experience, however, is that with proper management they are very good risks."

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Milton Friedman On The Robin Hood Myth

Who are the payers and who are the beneficiaries of government programs.  Here is some analysis:

Milton Friedman On The Robin Hood Myth 

that every good liberal, conservative, and all those others interested in politics or economics should hear.

Friday, July 27, 2012


Evidently tolerance, like time, flows only in one direction in Chicago.

Has anyone seen any credible instances where Chick-fil-A actually discriminated against someone?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The opposite of loneliness

"We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life."
Marina Keegan, Yale class of 12 who was killed in a car crash last Saturday. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Audit the Fed

Just wondering what the YA community thinks about the "Audit the Fed" bill that passed the House today. I have three thoughts:

1) I'm generally in favor of transparency.

2) I wonder if something like this would cause the Fed to make decisions based on politics rather than economics.

3) I don't know anything about money or monetary policy. I'm just a young, liberal-ish, half-hippie who tries not to spend money he doesn't have.

Voter ID 2

Perhaps this should be subtitled "Things you get from the government."

All politics aside, I guess I am in favor of the following rule:

Rule I  If you  have a right to or are entitled to get something from the government, then you should be prepared to prove that you are eligible for it.  

It doesn't make me any difference whether it is a welfare check, tax "loophole", or the right to vote.

Rule II     Since voting is constitutionally fundamental it should get special treatment.  The state is obligated to provide for the cost free  acquisition of a suitable ID for the individual.  Otherwise you have overtones (if not the reality of) a poll tax.

The arguments against this which are based on: "Poor ole granny doesn't have a picture ID." , seem silly to me. They do have an lot of emotional appeal, but they go right down the drain in the face of rule II.

PS  Since rule two would require a bit of time to implement, you can't do one of these things just before an election.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

American Football

Two things about American football.

Personal perspective declaration:  I never played anything except backyard football and I was very bad at that.  But I am a fair weather fan of the Dallas Cowboys.

1.  There have been a number of stories in the news the last few years about how football head damage usually results, not from one jarring hit, but from the accumulation of little hits and little concussions over the years.  As this becomes more and more well known I would expect a long term decline in the sport among the very young where it is most dangerous.  Whether that will move up the ladder and lead to a long term decline in the sport I, of course, don't know.  I would speculate that it might, if long term means in a century or so.
I think that that would not be inappropriate. Because of an attitude that prevails in the NFL and elsewhere which is well represented by a story I once heard (perhaps apocryphal) of a defensive back (A player who tries to keep the pass receivers from catching the ball and stopping them if they do catch it.) who told a reporter that his objective was to "hit the receivers in the middle of their back so hard that when the next pass came in they would think more about the coming hit that the spiraling football."  That is not a sport, that is Rollerball.

2.  The NCAA imposed an appropriately harsh sentence on Penn State.  However, there is one part of it that I think may be ill advised.
 "The NCAA also erased 14 years of victories..."  

a.    What does that mean?  
Do the teams that lost now get declared to have been the victors?

b.    This would seem much more appropriate if the crimes had been related to "the winning of games" such as recruiting violations.  But they were not.

c.  Also, this rewriting of history sounds more than a little bit Orwellian.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

July's Question

This will mark the beginning of a discussion topic in the form of a question of the month series.
If you have a suggestion send it to diogenes@twc.com.
The first is from Honoria.

If you could make one change in the US Constitution, what would it be?

Specifications:  This means today not at the origin or in 1865.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tea Party, But Only For The Deserving

I have written a long post and so I decided to save the site manager's space and post it to another website and just link it. 
I Have No Issue With The Tea Party...Well, Yes I Do

E.J.Dionne and Jon Stewart

On July 19th Stewart had E J Dionne on to talk about his new book:   "Our Divided Political Heart".  They talked about liberty and community and noted that we as a nation have always been concerned about both.  They then wondered why the tea party types are not more concerned about community type things.  

It apparently never occurred to them that the fact that the Federal Government is now spending almost one fourth of the national income on programs that are "community" type programs of helping and supporting people, might have a role to play in that.  That in fact the "community" type things are getting much more attention as it is, so that perhaps it is natural for people to be more interested in the other side of that.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

It is not your fault.

I have thoroughly enjoyed watching several of the Republican governors making serious attacks on the budget problems of their states.  Those problems caused mostly by previous officials who got reelected in the past by making promises then that cannot be kept now.  

Enter Rahm Emmanuel D, the new (well sort of new) Mayor of Chicago.  He is someone that I haven't really liked much.  However, he recently told the press that he had been making the rounds among public employees telling them the bad news.  Apparently  he intends to really try to solve some problems.  But he added a very important point that I liked and I have not heard from any of the Republicans.  We should have heard it from them.  The fact that we haven't means that they are living their public image of indifference to human suffering or the media is living their public image of not being fair to Republicans.

What Emmanuel said was that he was also telling those public employees that:  "It is not your fault."

I agree.  The American citizen is operating inside a system.  You cannot fault them for making the best deal that they can.  As Rob would say: blame the game not the player.

The ones who are at fault are the ones who constructed that system.  The ones that got elected year after year by promising I will give you this, YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO THAT, and YOU DESERVE ...  . They did that without arranging to pay for it.  It is harder to persuade the people to buy those things with their own money. So those guys bought people's  votes to give them those things with their descendants' money.  

So I agree that it is not your fault when you make the best deal you can as a player in the system.

But when you are voting, then you in on the construction of the system.  It is clearer now that what happens when the government spends like a drunken sailor is very similar to what happens when an individual does that.   Therefore you (7-23) if you continue to support these "unsustainable" policies, then you are responsible. 

Then it is your fault.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Vive la booze?

Well, while some of you were arguing about POTUS's semantics here, a truly historic election was taking place, and the results are in.  Murray, Kentucky is now wet*.  The final result of today's referendum: 2109 YES to 1822 NO.

Speaking as a Murray local and as a YES voter, I have to say that it'll be nice to be able to pick up a six pack at the grocery store.  Somewhat sadly, though, this marks the end of the venerable tradition of Goin' South (i.e. heading down to Tennessee) to get booze.  I expect that the next phase of wrangling will be over city council positions, zoning for the new taverns and package liquor stores, etc.

All of this brings to mind Homer Simpson's classic toast: Here's to alcohol: The cause of -- and solution to -- all the world's problems.

* Of course, this is not a reference to precipitation (which unfortunately cannot be instituted by a local vote) but to the availability of alcohol.

Obama on business -2

On 7-16 I posted a quote from President Obama:    “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.”  Of course the president said some other things.  If I had known about the next sentence, (Somebody else made that happen.), I would have included it as well.  I don’t remember my source, but it was apparently not FoxNews since  Media Matters says that FoxNews added the second sentence and more in their presentation.

MM offered the following rendition. [my emphasis]
 OBAMA: “[L]ook, if you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own. You didn't get there on your own. I'm always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. 
If you've got a business -- you didn't build that.   Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don't do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That's how we funded the GI Bill. That's how we created the middle class. That's how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That's how we invented the Internet. That's how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that's the reason I'm running for President -- because I still believe in that idea. You're not on your own, we're in this together.”
End MM quote

Except for the two sentences (in red bold above) I would agree with everything that President Obama said.  In fact I would agree with variations of those two sentences as well.  For example:  If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that alone.  Somebody else made that happen a contribution to that

I have argued all of my adult life (which began at about age 35) that I have been very fortunate to be born in this time and place and that it would be silly for me to claim exclusive credit or moral superiority for what little I have achieved.  I have had help from many directions including the various governments.  Consequently, I have no quarrel with the state saying “good for you” and claiming a right to a significant part of what I have received for my work (incidentally, not in business) because they contributed to the environment.  On the other hand, I did do my part.  If I hadn’t worked at it, it wouldn’t have happened for me.

These two statements by the President go well beyond what is described in the previous paragraph and they also go well beyond what he was saying in the rest of his remarks. There is no reference here to the other things he said. 

If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.

Those two sentences stand completely alone in their meaning and their meaning is ominous.  They do not say that you ought to share credit for your accomplishments with the economic and political environment.  They say that you didn’t have anything to do with it.  The environment did it.  “Somebody else made that happen.”  In political and economic terms, what are the logical consequences of that? 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Obama on business

"If you've got a business, you didn't build that."   Barack Obama

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Here's is a new word that doesn't even require a definition.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Murray's alcohol vote

There is the sad case that the vote will be yes or no and it is not clear what these votes mean.

This story is by   at WKMS. Color and emphasis added.

This July 17th, Murray residents will head to the polls to decide whether or not the city should go wet. That is, whether to allow the sale of alcohol within the city limits. Murray’s current alcohol status could be described as “moist”, as restaurants can sell alcoholic beverages, by-the-drink with some restrictions. Gary Pitts looked into the upcoming vote to find out about possible outcomes.
GARY: Earlier this year, a group called “Grow Murray” began circulating a petition to hold a vote to allow the city to go wet. The petition was certified earlier this month with signatures to spare. So Calloway County Judge Executive Larry Elkins set the date.
ELKINS: “There are statutes that specifies it has to be held within so many days. There’s some exceptions to that if that window falls within 30 days of a primary or general election.”
GARY: That window did fall within 30 days of this year’s primary election on May 22nd, so the vote had to be postponed until at least 30 days after that. Elkins set the date for July 17th. That particular date could have an effect on the election outcome, as it falls during the summer, when much of Murray’s college student population is not in town. Elkins says that factor didn’t play into his decision though.
ELKINS: “I really didn’t consider that one way or the other. You know, people who vote in these elections are residents and the polls will be open, and those people will be certainly welcome to vote. If they’re gone for the summer, then that’s their choice.”
GARY: There’s not much data to show how much of an effect that could have on the election. The last alcohol related vote in Murray was in 2000, when the city decided to allow alcohol sales by the drink in restaurants. Calloway County Clerk Ray Coursey Jr. was in office during that election, which was held in November, while the University was in session. The clerk’s office doesn’t keep up with whether or not voters are students. But Coursey says in that election, Murray’s then number nine precinct was made up of mostly apartments rented to college students. "Yes" votes outnumbered "No" votes by 262 in that precinct. That's in an election that was decided by just 268 votes. This year’s election could shape up to be a close one. If the city votes "No", the current by the drink policy would remain in place. But what happens if the city votes "Yes"?
HUMPHREES: “There’s a 60 day period that you’ve got to wait before the election actually becomes effective.”
GARY: Steve Humphrees is the General Counsel for the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. He says that 60 days allows the city time to begin working on ordinances that could among other things set hours of operation for businesses that sell alcohol, require server training for clerks at those businesses, and establish licensing fees.
HUMPHREES: “Normally, they’ll establish an additional regulatory license fee. This is in addition to the regular license fee to reimburse them for any additional costs of policing or regulating alcoholic beverages.”
GARY: In addition to that, businesses that want to apply for a license have to do so with the city first, then the ABC. As far as the number of licenses available, Humphrees says there are standard quotas used in most cities.
HUMPHREES: “You get one liquor drink license per every 2,500 people, and for LP licenses, it’s one per every 2,300.”
GARY: LP licenses are for packaged liquor. Murray’s population in the 2010 Census was just over 17,000 people. That comes to 7 liquor stores and 7 bars. Humphrees says specific regulations outside of that are generally left up to the city. Mayor Bill Wells says he and the rest of the City Council haven’t begun looking at anything like that. They, like everyone, are waiting to see what happens at the polls on July 17th.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


At the moment President Obama is engaged in painting his opponent, Mr. Romney, as an outsourcer. Which, by implication, must be very bad. 

Here is my issue.  Some, perhaps many, of those who demonize outsourcing also profess to be 1.) world citizens and 2.) supporters of wealth re-distribution.  Wouldn’t outsourcing address both of those concerns on a global basis?  (p.s. this post was driven by my conservative trait of “intolerance for ambiguity”).

The article below provides an alternate view of outsourcing.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Legislative salaries

From time to time you will see a story about how horribly overpaid the people in congress are.  I disagree.

The salary of an MC (member of congress - aka congressman, congresswoman or the generic: congress critter) is $174,000 plus some regular insurance, pension, and SS matching call it 250 K.  The (legitimate) extras can come from speaking fees et cetera after they leave congress.  I have no problem with that or with Reagan or Clinton making a bundle after their presidencies.

Now consider the magnitude of their responsibilities.  One way to measure it is just the expenditures that they manage.  (Yes, sometimes they mismanage them.  But you should pay people based on the size of the job they are hired to handle, not based how some individuals have mishandled it.

The more informed readers can correct me if I am wrong, but I believe an individual in the private sector who managed a company with a revenue steam of $100 million would be paid well over $250,000.  That would be 0.25% of their budget.  

According to a study by the Chronicle of Higher Education private colleges spent an average of 0.4 % of their budgets on presidential salaries.

So what is the size of the budget that the Congress Critters manage?  About 3 trillion.  But, to be more than fair, we note that a lot of that is fixed, so we will cut it to 1 trillion.  There are two houses so we will divide it again and get 500 billion.  This would be about 5 billion per Senator and just over 1 billion for each Member of the House.  So 250,000 is what percentage of 1 billion?  It is 250,000 / 1,000,000,000 = .00025 which is 0.025% of the budget that they "manage" for Representatives and 0.005% for Senators. 

Think about how many executives in your district make more than your Congress Critter.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Political Court

Those who would like a more political court are invited to check out how things work in Egypt:

Egypt’s highest court has spoken: the decision to dissolve the country’s parliament is binding. Monday’s ruling is a blow to newly-elected president Mohammed Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood party won most seats in the chamber in a the recent election. The military has enforced the court order to dissolve the parliament since last month, after some party members contested seats reserved for independents. In a presidential decree issued Sunday, Morsi ordered parliament to reconvene, and held an emergency session of the assembly. Egypt’s Supreme Court responded Monday saying its ruling to disband parliament is “final and not subject to appeal.”

For more see the BBC story.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Why Conservatives Are Happier Than Liberals?

To find out follow this link that comes to us from KW.

Renouncing US Citizenship

According to the article at the URL below rich Americans are renouncing their US citizenship at a record rate.  I see two responses to this trend.
1.   Impose a higher penalty for renouncing US citizenship or

2.   Remove the reason people are renouncing their US citizenship

Of the two possible corrective actions above I would predict that one’s preference would be pretty much split along  party lines or if you like conservative/liberal.  To avoid being evasive I will note that my preference would be to address the root cause.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Maxine Waters

It has been suggested to me that one the quotes on July 7, 2012 about peace and justice was an unfair characterization of MC Waters.  The quotes were:

July 7  “Peace and justice are two sides of the same coin.” Dwight D. Eisenhower
July 7  “No justice, no peace!”   A slogan attributed to Maxine Waters D of CA, a Congressional leader, which she used to incite the Rodney King riots in LA.
Upon reflection, perhaps I should have replaced the word "slogan" with the word "theme".
I do not remember the source.  But a short search revealed the following article from WSJ.  If you read it keep in mind that many of her comments were made in a very public venue while the riots were still going on.  That is the basis for the use of the word incitement.

'Riot Is the Voice of the Unheard'
Tea-party foe Maxine Waters once made excuses for real political violence.

I will not further characterize MC Waters beyond noting that (according to the story above) in the middle of the riots which included widespread looting she told the Washington Post that: "We have a moral responsibility to share the resources of this country."

Friday, July 6, 2012

Green Fleet Exercise

The Navy will be fueling a carrier task force using bio-fuel costing $27/gallon (vs. $3.60 for diesel).  The article at the URL below presents solid logic, with which I agree, for using bio-fuel.  Still, considering the difference in cost/gallon multiplied by the number of gallons the Navy uses I cannot convince myself this extra expenditure is justified.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Studying studies

From the "Findings" report, Harper's Magazine, July 2012. "A Government Accountability Office study deemed ineffective a Pentagon study on the efficacy of Pentagon studies."

Monday, July 2, 2012

Civil Discourse and the ACA

You will see all sorts of interpretations of how Chief Justice Roberts was, in one way or another, scheming when he decided how he would vote in the ACA case.

I believe that for democracy to work we have to have a civil discourse and I believe that begins by assuming that the opposition has honorable motives.  That's right, even if in some cases they don't have such motives.

This case presented us with some good evidence that doing so is not foolish.

Many people think that judges do, and some people think that they should, cast their vote on the bench in the same way that a legislator votes:  Do I want this to become law?  That is not their job.  Their job is to keep the political branches inside the bounds of the Constitution.  As Roberts said in this case, "It is not our job to say whether it is a good law or whether it is a wise law."  Their job is to say whether the Constitution permits that law to be made.  There is no appeal beyond them which means that they are very powerful and it also means that it is imperative that they act with great restraint.

The ACA case presented good examples of judges making decisions that were contrary to what most people think is the way they would have voted if they had been in the legislature when the bill came up.
Roberts decision is well known.  But there was another decision which limited the federal government's power vis a vis the states.  Two of the liberals on the court ( Kagan and Breyer) voted with the 5 conservatives in saying that, if a state chose not to take advantage of the expanded Medicaid program, then the Federal Government could not withdraw funds from the original Medicaid program.  This was viewed as a victory for the conservative values of limiting federal power and maintaining federalism.

The AZ immigration case offered some other examples.

Perhaps at least one branch of the Government is stepping back from precipice of rancid partisanship.

But, as you know by now, I am a hopeless optimist.