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

Friday, December 28, 2012

What happens without guns?


On December 26, 2012 7:44 AM Tom added a reply to the Connecticut massacre story that is so good I want to repeat it here:
On Monday (Dec 24th) a Beijing a man ran down 23 students at a middle school. On December 17th a Chinese man wounded 23 elementary school students with a kitchen knife. The article below is not specific, but it appears there were no deaths in either attack.

China largely prohibits private ownership of guns.

My take away from the article is that the lack of readily available firearms could very well have had a great deal to do with the fact that there were no deaths in either case. It also tells me that guns are probably not the root cause of such attacks.

Chinese-man-drives-car-into-students

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Hypocrisy



To engage in hypocrisy means to claim to hold a certain position while in fact (deeper down?) you hold a quite different if not contrary position.

Hypocrisy is widely viewed in a very negative light and frequently that view is justified.

However, in certain circumstances there is a significant silver lining associated with hypocrisy.  In fact, I believe that, in certain situations, hypocrisy may be a first step in moral awareness.  

When A engages in hypocrisy he implicitly acknowledges that the position that he claims to hold is, in some sense, morally superior to a common alternative position.  Some observers will see the position A claims and his alleged reasons for holding that position to represent valid arguments and be convinced of the validity of that as the morally superior position.  Later, when they learn of his hypocrisy, those observers may have different responses to A.  But for some, what was a hypocritical position for A, will remain a very real position for them.

Of course I need an example.  I offer a classic.  “We hold these truths to be self evident – that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.”  For how many generations has that been offered up as “our belief”.  Perhaps the parents of the boomer generation of Americans were especially convincing.  I do not know to what extent those parents’ claim of a belief in racial equality was real.  But many of their children took their parents stated support of the principle to heart.  The result was a large and necessary white component to the civil rights movement.

Therefore, far from being universally a negative activity I think the following is sometimes a better description.

Hypocrisy is the deference we show to those precepts that we recognize as valid, but are unable to practice. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Those spending cuts


For those of you who don't know the highest income tax rate being paid right now is 35%.  What would you think about it if the Speaker offered to count the income that is coming in from between 31% and 35% as a tax hike?

I'll bet you would agree that that little hypothetical was laughable.  The next one is not a hypothetical.

For those who do not know the interest rates that the government is paying right now are very low.  According to the PBS Newshour 12-18-12 the president is offering the interest that we don't have to pay because of those low rates as part of his spending cuts.

PBS noted it, but they didn't laugh.



Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mass Murder in Connecticut


A gunman armed with military style high fire power weapons just killed two dozen at a school in Connecticut.  Most of the dead were between 5 and  10 years old.

I just heard a congressman say that these shootings always occur in places where guns are forbidden and therefore the solution is to have lots more armed people around who can take these guys out when they do these things.

Poppycock.  There is no group of public spirited citizens, John Waynes all, who are looking for the opportunity to put their lives on the line to save the public.  Not to mention how many of them might shoot each other.

There are solutions of all kinds offered.  More mental health facilities, more security at schools, more ... , and less ... .  Probably some of those would help.

Eventually you come up against the fundamental question of guns.
It is true that guns don't kill people, people kill people.  The problem is that they usually do it with guns.

So what to do about guns?  In particular what to do about military type guns with very high fire power?  Then, of course, you eventually have to deal with the Second Amendment.

At first glance, it is not completely clear that the amendment is an unrestricted right for an individual to own any kind of weapons that they want.  It does not simply say: "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

 What it says is this:   "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."  (Curiosity:  That was as ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State. As previously passed by Congress it said:  "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.")

However, in 2010 the Supreme Court ruled that the right was independent of service in a militia.

Everyone agrees that the purposes of the amendment include providing people the right to hunt and defend themselves.  Most people believe that rifles, shotguns, handguns are sufficient for those purposes.

Why do some people want access to greater firepower, such as automatic military type weapons?

The other purpose, clear from the original debate in Congress, of the amendment was to provide for citizen resistance to a tyranny from either the Federal Government or a foreign nation.  This was a widely held concern and was not unreasonable in a time when tyranny was widespread and the average man's household gun was comparable to a government issued military weapon.

However, since that time, we have had a Civil War which tested, among other things, how well those militias and state power could stand up against the Federal Government, even when the weaponry was still somewhat comparable.

Fast forward to today and imagine those citizens armed with even the greatest firepower that some claim to have a right to keep and bear under the amendment: automatic rifles and handguns and perhaps even assault rifles. 

Consider now what would happen when they are called upon to meet their presumed mission:
         a)  to defend us from a rogue Federal Government with its superpower military  or 
         b)  to defend the nation against a foreign country which has already invaded and destroyed the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps of the United States.

To expect a good outcome of that conflict is to live in Wonderland.

It is time to abandon such fantasies and get rid of this other purpose of the Second Amendment.

Without that other purpose, simpler weapons are sufficient.

The Court has said to "keep and bear" is an individual right unattached to a militia.

Perhaps they could also say that if you are an individual unattached to a militia, then the weapons that you are entitled to keep and bear must also be "unattached a militia".  


Friday, December 14, 2012

Unions - some thoughts


If people who work hard for a living can't make a decent life, then we have lost America.

I agree with the following analysis by Abraham Lincoln: Italicised parts are implied.  

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. (Therefore) Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. (Which is not to deny that) Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights."  Abraham Lincoln – POTUS – 1861-65

Except for a short stint before college I have never been in a union.  But I support them because I think that they are the only way for the working people to get a big enough share of the fruits of their labor to raise a family.  Notice I avoid the word "fair" since I agree with Tom (who writes here) that fair is way too subjective to have any real meaning.  I wold add that, like FDR, I am not as enthusiastic about public employee unions.  The conflict of interest of the elected managers is too great.

I would even support the use of state power to assist the unions, because I believe that the disparity between the lower middle class and the upper middle class is becoming dangerous in this country.  It is not a classic rich vs poor.  The disparity is between the poor working class and the well to do knowledge class.

There are many of us who make (or made) a living with our minds and are doing very well in this new world.  If the disparity becomes too great it will produce instability.  This situation cannot continue in a nation which is fundamentally democratic and has even a large minority of poor people.  So how do you require the knowledge workers to grant the working class a greater share what they produce?  I see three ways to do that.

1.  Take it in taxation and mail them checks.
2.  Provide a broad array of free services – free education, medicare, and SS so that the obligations of the middle class are reduced.
3.   Have stronger unions.

I prefer a combination of 2 and 3.

I do have one problem with unions and that is this whole business of being required to join (or just pay) in order to work.  I see the validity of the argument that if you don’t pay, then you are a free rider and that is not fair.  But I find the argument that you have to join an organization that you may not agree with and pay for the things that it does in order to work there to be pretty offensive as well.  Huge amounts of that money go to the support of one political party.  If you oppose that party, then you are being forced to financially support something you are against.  Is there no reconciliation of this?  Is it not possible to just have the union contract apply only to union members and everyone else deals with management on their own?

Anyway, let me finish my note on unions with my real nightmare.

With the rise of multinationals and states and nations competing to attract industry (capital) the coin of the realm in which those deals are made is labor.  I find that very scary.  One can imagine this new world rising to be much like that of late nineteenth and early twentieth century America in which the states and the industrial leaders treated the workers as less than chattel. In that earlier environment there was the very powerful and overarching organization that was fundamentally controlled by the people:  the United States of America.  It eventually gave the people some leverage.  But in this larger world environment that same US will be just another one of the competitors.  The world itself is not fundamentally controlled by the people. This time there is no international entity that the people of the world can turn to for support.  

Throw into that mix the fact that some players and nations who are new to the whole capitalism game have no reason to respect the traditional rules which were made by those who are now their competitors.  Why should they be respectful of patents and copyrights made by those who happen to have gotten into the game first.  Then there is the possible rise of state capitalism where an entire nation might function as some corporate-state unit with people playing the roles of ants in a colony.  

Now there's a brave new world, so to speak.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Daily Show as a news source


On Tuesday night Jon Stewart did a piece on the Michigan Right to Work Law in which he related that:

 1.Gov. Richard Snyder had stated earlier in the year that he wasn't interested in a right to work law because it would cause division,

3. after the election the Republican controlled legislature adopted a right to work law, and

4.  Gov. Snyder signed it.

5. Jon thought this was very hypocritical of the Gov.

What Jon left out was

2.  The governor's preference for avoiding divisiness was not shared by the unions.   They proposed an amendment to the constitution which would have made union power much stronger than it was before.

That is, the unions insisted on divisiveness.

The amendment failed badly.

Elections have consequences.

One can only speculate as to why Jon left out that part.

If called on it I expect that Jon would say, as he has said before, I am just a comedian.


Gerrymandering

Rachel Maddow did a segment last night (found here) about gerrymandering in various states and I thought I would share in order to get some YA reaction.

No doubt that the D's would have engineered favorable voting districts for themselves if they could have, but that fact that there is such disparity between the popular vote tallies and number of representatives from the respective parties doesn't sit well with me.

I don't want to sound all "sour grapes" about my party not winning more seats, and should note that I was equally unsettled when some of the TV pundits were predicting an Obama win in the electoral college and a Romney win in the popular vote.

Prodigies


I am told that there are only three areas of human endeavor in which prodigies arise and those are music, mathematics, and chess.

The three activities which have been the loves of my life have been music, mathematics, and chess.

Why could I not even have approached being a prodigy in any of them?

Oh, well.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Right to Work


On Monday President Obama told UAW members in Michigan “What we shouldn't be doing is try to take away your rights to bargain for better wages or working conditions."

I agree. Does the President know of any efforts to do so?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Affirmative Action 2


The Data Plan 

What will replace affirmative action if the Supreme Court kills it?

from the New Republic


Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Ever since conservative courts and voters began trying to eliminate affirmative action in the 1990s, universities have sought creative ways to boost their enrollment of minority students without explicitly relying on race. When California voters banned racial preferences in public universities in 1996, for example, the University of California responded by adopting admissions preferences based on socioeconomic status instead. And after a federal appellate court struck down the University of Texas’s race-based affirmative action program, the school adopted a plan that guaranteed admission to those students graduating in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

When the Texas effort—known as the Top Ten Percent Plan—failed to generate the racial diversity school officials sought, the university returned to using explicit racial preferences. Those preferences are now being challenged in the Supreme Court case of Fisher v. Texas, and many expect the conservative justices to deal what could be a fatal blow to race-based affirmative action at American public universities. Once again, however, the universities have a secret weapon they hope will allow them to circumvent such a ruling: data mining.

Whether it’s used in airport security or online advertising or education, data mining works by finding patterns and correlations. Based on census data, the spending patterns of my neighbors, and my Washington, D.C., ZIP code 20016, the Nielsen Company classifies me as someone who lives among the “Young Digerati”—that is, high-income consumers who are “tech-savvy and live in fashionable neighborhoods on the urban fringe.” My fellow Washingtonians a few miles to the southeast in Anacostia are categorized using very different terms. They are the “Big City Blues,” a community of “low-income Asian and African-American households occupying older inner-city apartments.” Based on where we live and what we spend, Nielsen creates aggregate predictions about our likely buying habits so that advertisers can send us ads that reflect our interests. That’s a little creepy—but then again, we’re talking about advertising. To some education experts, however, data mining also represents the future of public education.

After Michiganders voted in 2006 to ban the use of racial preferences in college admissions, the University of Michigan wasn’t willing to give up on the goal of enrolling more minority students. So it turned to a data-mining program called Descriptor Plus, which was originally developed by the College Board to help admissions officers more efficiently target likely students. The program employs the same kinds of algorithms that Nielsen uses to provide consumer data to advertisers based on demographic patterns and spending habits, but in this case, it sorts those data into categories that are useful for higher-education institutions. Descriptor Plus works by dividing the country into 180,000 geographic neighborhoods, and then regrouping those neighborhoods into 30 more manageable “clusters” whose residents share similar socioeconomic, educational, and racial characteristics.

Take two distinct clusters identified by Descriptor Plus. High School Cluster 29 is most likely to include high-achieving students who have aced standardized tests, stand out in their elite private high schools, and demonstrate superior math ability. “There is very little diversity in this cluster,” notes Descriptor Plus. By contrast, the students in High School Cluster 30 are much more likely to be ethnically diverse. While also college bound, they have far fewer resources than the junior achievers in Cluster 29. “These students,” concludes Descriptor Plus, “will typically end up at a local community college.”

Armed with the Descriptor Plus categories, the University of Michigan could give preference to applicants from low-income clusters like 29, in which African-American students were disproportionately represented, without explicitly relying on race. The method worked. Two years after Michigan voters banned the use of racial preferences, Michigan’s freshman class saw a 12 percent increase in African-American enrollment, even as the overall class size shrank and other minority groups lost ground.

If the Supreme Court’s decision in Fisher puts new restrictions on racial preferences, it is likely that universities will expand their use of data mining to get around the ruling. But data mining has proved to be an even less effective a way of promoting racial diversity in the classroom than the explicit preferences it’s designed to replace. In a new book, “Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It,” Richard H. Sander and Stuart Taylor, Jr. note that as seniors in high school, African Americans are more likely than whites to express interest in majoring in science, technology, engineering or math majors, known as STEM. Once admitted to elite schools, however, African Americans pursuing STEM majors were more than half as likely as whites to finish with a STEM degree: students who feel less prepared than their classmates tend to leave science for less challenging humanities courses after their freshman year. Sanders told me that the minority students admitted under Descriptor Plus are, by definition, less academically qualified than those admitted under the Texas' Top Ten Percent Plan—because if they had graduated in the top 10 percent of their class, they would have gained automatic admission without the Descriptor Plus boost. By admitting minority students with lower levels of academic preparation than those admitted under the Top Ten Percent Plan, Sanders said, programs like Descriptor Plus might exacerbate the problem of racial mismatch and self-segregation.

WHILE LEGAL PRESSURES on affirmative action prompted the initial expansion of data mining as an admissions strategy, schools are also beginning to use it for other purposes—and in ways that may result in ever more segmentation and segregation of students based on their racial backgrounds, tastes, and preferences.

Tristan Denley, the provost of Austin Peay State University in Tennessee, has developed data mining programs designed to steer students toward the courses and majors in which they are most likely to succeed. One such program, Degree Compass, uses predictive analytics to estimate the grade a student is most likely to receive if he or she takes a particular class. It then recommends courses in which the student is likely to earn the highest grades. “It uses the students’ transcript data, all of their previous grades, and standardized test scores, and it combines that with the data we have with thousands of similar students who have taken the class before,” Denley told me. He said the predictions are accurate—within a half letter grade, on average. And he noted that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who used the program to select their classes experienced a more pronounced grade swing—from lower to higher grades—than students from higher socioeconomic groups, perhaps because they were being steered into easier courses. Although the program also records students’ race and ethnicity, Denley said he found a disproportionate grade swing in students from lower socioeconomic groups, but not from minority groups in particular.

Another program his university uses, My Future, employs similar predictive analytics to recommend majors in which students are most likely to get good grades and graduate on time. “Students are less likely to choose sociology as an incoming major,” says Denley, “because people don’t do sociology in high school; instead, lots of students choose business, pre-law or pre-med.” He hopes that by exposing students to a broader range of majors they may not have considered, My Future will help to match them with fields and careers in which they’re likely to thrive.

As college and even public high school and elementary schools record the race of students as part of their data-mining programs, there’s likely to be increased pressure to steer students with similar backgrounds into similar classes, reducing diversity in the classroom as a whole. Public high schools and even some elementary schools are beginning to input information about students’ race and ethnicity in giant databases that track their academic performance in order to construct models about what kinds of students are most likely to succeed in particular classes.

Highland Park Elementary School in Pueblo, Colorado, recently adopted a data mining program called Infinite Campus that is operated by Pearson, the textbook publishing giant. Ronda Gettel, who coordinates math and English programs at Highland Park, and she tells me she was shocked when her supervisors asked her to input information about the ethnicity of individual students while grading a math and reading program. “I was putting in how they self-reported their ethnic background, whether they’re black or Hispanic, and whether they’re getting free or reduced lunches, and their socioeconomic patterns,” says Gettel. “I thought maybe we shouldn’t be doing this—I’m a person that’s against tracking.

Of course, guidance counselors have always had the power to steer students toward classes that coincide with their interests and ability levels. But Gettel and others are concerned that by slicing and dicing students into profiles and clusters, data mining threatens to segregate classrooms in more permanent ways, creating profiles from which students can’t easily escape, and placing minority students into less rigorous classes because of the predictions of computer programs.

Diversity in the classroom is valuable because it encourages students to interact with peers from very different backgrounds and to explore classes and careers that might not have occurred to them before they enrolled. But not all human choices can be predicted by algorithm. If the Supreme Court eliminates the use of race-based affirmative action, and drives schools to pursue an ersatz diversity through profiles and computers models, it may inadvertently encourage the proliferation of technologies that allow even less consideration of students as individuals than the racial preferences they’re designed to avoid.

As a minor point I include one of the comments to the original in the NR that caught my attention.  The reference is in line 8 of paragraph 7.

12/08/2012 - 7:40pm EDT |

You write: "...African Americans pursuing STEM majors were more than half as likely as whites to finish with a STEM degree". You probably mean "less than half as likely". Or maybe not; it's not clear what you mean. One of my grade school teachers, Eleanor Wilson Orr went on to teach math in high school, many of her students were Black; she concluded that one of the causes for the difficulty they had with math is that Black English lacks certain kinds of language to describe quantity. She wrote a book about this and what to do about it, titled Twice as Less because some of her students would say "twice as less" where she would say "half as much". Maybe Mr. Rosen should take a look at it.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

My, My


And we have the quote from actor Jamie Foxx at the 2012 Soul Train Awards show: "First of all, giving honor to God and our lord and savior Barack Obama." 

So many things come to mind.

Taxes 2


  You have been hearing the elected Republican officials acknowleging that taxes will have to go up on the "rich"!  I  saw Democrat Howard Dean on TV acknowledging  that taxes will have to go up on the middle class as well!

Ezra Klein of MSNBC states clearly and plainly that, if we are going to continue providing government services at the current level, then the amount of revenue taken by the federal government is going to have to go significantly above the historical level of 18-19 percent of GDP .

He also suggested that it couldn't be collected through the income tax.

He also suggested a value added tax

My, my!

These guys (other than some of the republicans) are not the players, but perhaps they are harbingers.

Is there, in our future, a serious discussion of our fiscal situation?

PS 11PM  I am referring to what may or may not happen after the smaller fiscal cliff thing is done.

From Gib


This came from the Rev. Gib Field to a few of his friends.

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
John Donne, Meditation XVII
English clergyman & poet (1572 - 1631) 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The debt limit farce


One part of the president’s proposal on the “fiscal cliff” is that in the future the debt ceiling can be raised by the president alone (subject to reversal by law).

My first reaction to this was negative because it seemed to transfer a lot of power to the president.  While the Congress could override his decision by law he could in turn veto the legislation and Congress could have its way only if it obtained a two thirds majority in both houses to override the veto.  That would mean that the president could set the debt limit if he had the support of one third + 1 of just one house of congress.  Essentially that would be a complete transfer to the president while the congress would only be able to posture extensively about it to no effect except to further poison the political well.

As I understand it the national debt comes in two parts:  The public debt - treasury notes that are sold on the market - and the agency debt –the amounts that accumulate in agency accounts, e.g. SS, and are used to buy treasury notes.  If that is correct, then you could be in the ironic situation in which a sudden influx of money into one of those government accounts could trigger the need to raise the debt limit.

So what is this debt limit anyway?  Why do we need it?  After all, any expenditures have to be approved by congress anyway, so what it the point?  It seems that the point is more symbolic than anything else.  It is to remind us that we are still a frugal nation - long after we quit that and became more profligate than a drunken sailor.  Apparently the conservatives view it as way to control spending.  The debate last time led to all sorts of claims about what would happen if we didn’t raise the debt limit.  (It was claimed that the reduction in our credit rating was because we were debating whether or not to raise the debt limit.  I would think that annual deficits of 6% of GDP with no end in sight may have been a factor in the credit rating reduction.)  It seems to me that there are 4 ways to  deal with getting close to the debt limit: 1.  Default on our loans and obligations, 2.  Raise taxes, 3. Reduce spending, or 4. Raise the debt limit.  The Republicans are unwilling to raise taxes and the Democrats are unwilling to cut spending so the public presentation of the problem is: raise the debt limit or default. 

In practice no one can long oppose the raising of the debt limit.  Do so and you will very soon be labeled as someone holding the ‘full faith and credit' of the United States as a "hostage" to get whatever it is you want.

I think that the conservatives should give up trying to use the debt limit to control spending.
and
We should recognize that the debt limit is a sham and either abolish it or let the President set it.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Hostages



The debt talks provide an ideal opportunity for the Democrats to pull out one of their current techniques.  It goes like this.

If the Republicans keep us from having what we want, then they are holding such and such “hostage.”  

This is a horrible technique because it attempts to delegitimize and dehumanize the opposition.  It is similar to the claim that anybody who supports abortion rights is for “killing babies.”  It is perhaps worse since it can be applied to anything.  

It is particularly pernicious coming from a president who, during campaigns, preaches that there are no red states and no blue states there are only the United States.

One measure of the independence of the media would be whether they supported this kind of talk which it poisons the well of the national debate.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lincoln, the movie


I will add my voice to the cacophony that is saying, "Go see Lincoln."

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Where to look to see our future?


I remember twenty or thirty years ago there regularly appeared in the media, descriptions of where one should look to see the future of America.  These were the cutting edge places  in the country.  The places where all of the cool people hung out.  The places where "what is happening there now will be happening all over the country in the future".

Almost always at the top of that list was:  California.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Secession!



I understand that the President has announced that he will respond to any petition which has 25000 signatures on it.
There are petitions requesting permission for this or that state to secede from the union.

I believe that Obama should accept their petitions and then answer them, more or less, as follows.  

 The eagle (our national symbol) which holds in his beak a banner of the symbol of our union:
                                                    e pluribus unum,
which means one out of many.  I thought that I should consult with them about it.

I found a group of them near a Hotel in California and The Eagles say:
"You can check out any time you like, but you can nevverr leave."


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Breaking the law


The quote of the day for December 2nd is as follows:

 “An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.” Martin Luther King

A fine line indeed and a concept  that has been touched on by yellowarmadillos in connection with civil disorder during the  “occupy wall street” movement, the behavior of congress persons in Wisconsin to avoid a vote on public unions, and organized disruptions on college campuses (the pepper spraying incident).

I can accept, and appreciate, the concept expressed in the quote.   Being a child of the 60s I have seen many instances of civil disobedience with which I agreed and I am glad they did it. Further,  I can imagine situations, in which all legal avenues have been exhausted, where I might even do so.

That having been said, the fact that I would be willing to break a law in protest against a law that I feel is unjust does not make it right and I see no logical path to justify saying it shows respect for the law.