29.5.13

RUNNING AWAY WITH THE CIRCUS.

Thanks for looking in.


The Karlson Brothers Circus begins its second season on tour.

THE REAL RADICAL APPROACH.

In a commentary on the corrosive role of money in politics, former Texas Railroad Commissioner turned radio talker Jim Hightower has it half right.
Far from earning trust, [business interests have] already wrecked our economy and betrayed our nation's egalitarian ideals — while feathering their own plutocratic nests. Now they want free rein to pervert America's democratic process with clandestine election campaigns secretly financed with other people's money.

NO! These kleptocrats are the real radicals. It's time to stop them, not only by disclosing their thievery, but ultimately by outlawing it — and retuning elections to the people.
The best way to outlaw rent-seeking behavior (possibly, more accurately, privilege-seeking behavior) is to limit the powers of the regulatory state.  As long as there are extensive powers to create, destroy, or reallocate wealth, there will be attempts to capture those powers.

A TACTIC TO RAISE FACULTY SALARIES?

Shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing, Bill O'Reilly hosted Bob Beckel and Kirsten Powers to hash out a surprising proposal by Mr Beckel that the United States place a moratorium on admitting students from Moslem countries.  And from China, which in his view is sending computer science majors to graduate school to learn hacking techniques.

Mr O'Reilly doesn't post all of his transcripts, and I'm running on my aging memory here.  Mr Beckel made a similar proposal on The Five, and the Huffington Post picked up his elaboration on Chinese hackers.

Serious implementation of such a policy would, ceteris paribus, adversely affect enrollments at many a graduate program.  Whether graduate programs serve as gateways to refugees, or as symptoms of the poor technical preparation of U.S.-born and U.S.-schooled students, or as a way to allow university administrators a source of cheap immigrant labor for faculty positions is beyond the scope of today's post.

In a world where you'd understand if the American Economic Association job meetings offered a dim sum bar at the opening reception, though, a government crackdown on graduate student visas will change the dynamics of those meetings.

28.5.13

ANTICIPATING PANAMAX?

Container traffic can go east or west, and Europe to Japan can use the Suez Canal, or the Panama Canal, or let one of the North American transcontinentals use the land bridge.

The Russian rail system is also competing.
The express container train from Nakhodka-Vostochnaya takes just 7 days to reach Moscow and travels non-stop, bypassing the sorting stations en route, thus greatly improving container delivery times from the Far East to Moscow.

The current fast container service takes 11-14 days to reach Moscow, while shipping containers on the Trans-Siberian takes up to 20 days under normal conditions. Sea freight from Asia to Europe via the Suez Canal can take as little 16 days and as much as 28 days depending on which ports are used and which routes are sailed.

Russia and [Russian Railroad] are facing potential new competition for Asia – Europe rail freight in the form a new “Silk Road” rail corridor coming together as a joint effort between several former Soviet Union republics in central Asia such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan plus Iran, Turkey and perhaps even Afghanistan and western provinces in the Peoples Republic of China.
The Russian railroaders show great resourcefulness, using surplus gondolas as intermodal platforms.


Chita city administration photograph courtesy Destination: Freedom.

A math problem:  The Trans-Siberian is electrified from Moscow to the Pacific Coast.  Suppose the railroad's managers decide to raise the catenary (let's say, by three meters) in order to provide clearance for double-stack cars the length of the route.  Would you rather provide the catenary poles for the project, or the conductor wire?

THE QUICK-GROWING EUCALYPTUS TREE.

Last December, we noted the oddity of paper milled in China being exported to Wisconsin (and, for all I know, Millinocket, Maine?)

The followup articles in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel noted that something more than productivity-obsessed clear-cutting was at work.
Wending Huang, Asia Pulp & Paper Co.'s chief forester in China, calls them his "Yao Mings" - after the towering Chinese basketball star. The tiny green tissue samples, methodically implanted in Petri jars, will become hardwood eucalyptus trees that need only four to six years to reach full height, up to 90 feet or more.

"And then we harvest," said Huang.
It's difficult for naturally-grown pulpwood trees that require four to six decades to reach harvestable size to keep up.  It's in the growing of trees by that method, however, that the paper business and the friends of nature find common cause.
As Wisconsin showed decades ago, the environmental and economic benefits of trees intersect.

Trees, of course, provide a refuge for wildlife and serve as giant carbon sponges. Replacing trees that are thinned by logging can keep a forest young and healthy, less susceptible to forest fires. The logging, in turn, gives the owner an incentive to keep the land undeveloped.

"If you lose that economic value, there's less incentive to keep those lands forested," said Paul Delong, chief forester for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. "Suddenly, the incentive to keep that habitat healthy goes down."
What intrigues about the combined stories, though, is that the Chinese eucalyptus farms also appear to be taking advantage of what would otherwise be scrub land.
The plantations are at least two hours from the nearest city, by way of dusty roads populated with water buffalo, wild pigs, goats and clattering motorbikes. The labs, in the shadow of a faded water tower, are not fancy. Women from nearby villages have been trained to clone the trees and prune and tend to the precious cutlings, wearing straw hats to guard against the hot sun.

Wisconsin's mills long competed with those in other states and Europe that had a similar northern climate. In time, countries such as Brazil and Australia turned to eucalyptus plantations, but not with the assembly-line intensity of China.

The APP plantation land was once considered "degraded" - all sandy soil with scrub vegetation.

Now eucalyptus trees stand straight as matchsticks, with no branches apart from a tuft of leaves at the top, meaning less waste and more pulp.
Trees growing that fast have to capture a lot of carbon to produce the wood. The mathematics of replanting are the same whether a tree reaches full height in four years, or forty.

FOR NONCONFORMITY THE WORLD WHIPS YOU WITH ITS DISPLEASURE

When a disaffected person shoots up a school or a movie theater, or plants a bomb at a sporting event, as sure as dandelions follow the rain, will come the attempts to identify some greater flaw in Society that led the disaffected person to behave badly.

There is a passage in Emerson's "Self-Reliance" that might have more intellectual heft than much of the more recent informed commentary.
Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.
That first sentence stuck with me for years after I read it. The elaboration is turgid, but the message appears to be that, for cooperation to emerge, people have to put the desires of others ahead of their own.  Therein is the foundation for voluntary exchange.  But voluntary exchange without invention becomes stagnation, and Emerson brings out the ensuing tension in his next paragraph.
Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. I remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to make to a valued adviser, who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church. On my saying, What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? my friend suggested, — "But these impulses may be from below, not from above." I replied, "They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil's child, I will live then from the Devil." No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature. Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it. A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition, as if every thing were titular and ephemeral but he.
Stop reading it there, and it sounds as if Emerson is suggesting that a person is free to follow the verdict of his judgement, no matter where that may lead. Not so.
What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

The objection to conforming to usages that have become dead to you is, that it scatters your force. It loses your time and blurs the impression of your character. If you maintain a dead church, contribute to a dead Bible-society, vote with a great party either for the government or against it, spread your table like base housekeepers, — under all these screens I have difficulty to detect the precise man you are. And, of course, so much force is withdrawn from your proper life. But do your work, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself. A man must consider what a blindman's-buff is this game of conformity.
Implicitly, the non-conformist remains a moral and productive person, seeking to persuade by changing minds rather than to frighten by ending lives.

A century-plus of enlightened thinking fails to improve.  First, in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, a lot of the chin-pulling went into the realm of erroneous profiling.
Most of us understand that even if all school shooters are white males, it's a mistake to be suspicious of all white males because they might be school shooters. A lot of us also understand that even if all school shooters are gun owners, it's a mistake to be suspicious of all gun owners because they might be school shooters. Being suspicious of Muslims generally because a lot of terrorists are Muslims is the exact same mistake.
That post appeared the day after the Boston Marathon bombing, for all the good it appears to have done for run-of-the-mosque Moslems in the northeast, or, more recently, in England.

In place of Emerson suggesting that there are limits, we have several destructive forces at work.
In sum, what I’m proposing is that a large part of the toxic culture of white/privileged masculinity is fed by parental permissiveness, so that what privileged boys learn as they grow up is that there are no limits or boundaries which they must respect.  Little boys are permitted to be more destructive in their play and in their relationships with others than little girls are.  Drug and alcohol abuse is more tolerated among bigger boys than among adolescent girls, not to mention the ownership and use of dangerous tools and weapons from pocket knives to semi-automatic rifles and handguns.  Poor academic performance is more tolerated among boys than girls–we’re told that the boys are just “different learners,” not meant to sit in academic classrooms quietly and obediently all day long.  (Never mind the hundreds of years of history in which only boys and young men were permitted to sit quietly and learn–and most of them did pretty well, and a damn sight better than their female peers who were excluded from classrooms entirely.)  Again–I don’t think this works to the advantage of these boys or the men they become. What I’m suggesting is that this permissiveness is bad for them, yes, but it’s also bad (and potentially dangerous) for everyone else.
I'll leave for another day whether destructive play and dysfunctional relationships still vary among boys or girls. For now, it suffices to note that those quiet and obedient boys (perhaps encouraged because the teacher was pretty good with his fists if required) might have been reading and understanding Emerson after they'd finished McGuffey.

That's too simple-minded for the culture-studies types, who see masculist conspiracies and unrequited privilege at work.
Perhaps the greatest asset that unearned privilege conveys is the sense that public spaces “belong” to you. If you are—like James Holmes last week, or Charles Whitman, who killed 16 people on the University of Texas, Austin campus in 1966—an American-born, college-educated white man from a prosperous family, you don’t have a sense that any place worth being is off-limits to the likes of you. White men from upper middle-class backgrounds expect to be both welcomed and heard wherever they go. When that sense of entitlement gets frustrated, as it can for a host of complex psychological reasons, it is those same hyper-privileged men who are the most likely to react with violent, rage-filled indignation. For white male murderers from “nice” families, the fact that they chose public spaces like schools, university campuses, or movie theaters as their targets suggests that they saw these places as legitimately theirs.
That passage, in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting, preceded Sandy Hook and the Boston Marathon, where the perpetrators do not fit the Frustrated Achiever profile so well. When the perpetrator doesn't fit the profile, perhaps a more sensitive approach is in order.
Profiled in the Lowell Sun in 2004, Tamerlan said he liked the USA.

“America has a lot of jobs. That’s something Russia doesn’t have,” he told the newspaper. “You have a chance to make money here if you are willing to work.”

He later said, in a photo essay about his boxing exploits, that he hoped to be selected for the US Olympic team, and that he dreamed of becoming a naturalized citizen. But he also lamented his alienation, saying, “I don’t have a single American friend. I don’t understand them.’’
Still alienated, but now it's the privilege of the dominant culture leading to the alienation, rather than the failure of the dominant culture to deliver on the privilege.

Put it together, and we have a flimsy, ad-hoc set of explanations why some disaffected people behave badly, and when it's all said and done, nothing available to make it better.

Emerson had both the diagnosis and the corrective, years ago.
Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.
Deconstruct that.

WHEN YOU HAVE ELIMINATED THE IMPOSSIBLE?

Perhaps the case for taking seriously the notion of enumerated and limited government powers is that somewhere, there exists an unmanageable expansion of powers.
Among the core problems that skeptics of big government have long highlighted is precisely the inability of even the best-intentioned government leaders to successfully supervise and keep honest the legions of bureaucrats employed to carry out all the tasks that “progressives” assign to government. So one cannot legitimately, when seeking to expand state power, assure us that such power will be exercised with sufficient attentiveness to avoid abuse, but then — when reality exposes those assurances as fanciful — plead innocent by noting that the degree of attentiveness necessary to prevent abuse is humanly impossible.

The fundamental question raised by the IRS scandal isn't whether Obama ordered, or even knew of, the apparent misuse of the taxing power to punish political opponents. Rather, the fundamental question asks about the wisdom of creating in the first place government agencies that can so easily abuse their power in order to play political favorites.

In the private sector, we rely upon two core features of markets to protect against such abuse. First, each person is free not to patronize firms that fail to deliver sufficient value. Second, firms prosper only by — and only so long as they continue — competing successfully for consumers' dollars. But because government agencies are funded with taxes — and because those agencies face no competition — greater reliance than is necessary in the private sector must be put on the integrity, altruism and diligence of elected officials to oversee government agencies in ways that ensure that those agencies don't abuse their awesome powers.
Note, in the third paragraph, the implicit case for limiting the power of corporations to use the police power of the state to build storm shelters.  Perhaps in that recognition is the beginning of wisdom among people who see Governance as a Force for Good, that the force remains when the idealists retire, and then the rent-seekers take over.

27.5.13

TO REMEMBER.

Our President seeks to conclude the various wars to contain terrorism this Memorial Day.

The Military Times present a roll call of those we have lost since 2001.

The Los Angeles Times have a memorial gallery, with tributes from families and friends.


In DeKalb, there are new portraits of Illinoisans who fell in service.

LEARNING TO LIVE FREE.

Victory Day is a national holiday in Russia.  The casual observer of the news might be forgiven for thinking that the traditional May Day rollout of heavy weapons on Red Square has simply been moved to V-E Day.


Associated Press photograph by Ivan Sekretarev from Sacramento Bee.

There's even a former General Secretary of the Communist Party on hand for the occasion.


Associated Press photograph by Alexander Zemlianichenko from Sacramento Bee

Official parades take place in most of the big cities of Russia, although in Novosibirsk it appears as though the brass have to inspect the troops from Ford Falcon convertibles.


English Russia image.  No photographer credit provided.

The English Russia coverage from Novosibirsk includes a time-lapse photograph of the day's festivities.

Near Novosibirsk is Akademgorodok, where the local parade takes a form that would be more familiar to Middle America.  The video is in the style of a home movie, complete with a trip to the beach later in the day.


It's not clear when the official parade begins.  In the video, we see a Siberian version of Rolling Thunder, kids on go-karts, marching school groups, and veterans with their friends and relatives, as well as a group of friends and relatives of the war dead carrying portraits.  No scouts tossing candy to the spectators, although some adults appear to be issuing balloons to children along the route of march.

In Moscow, there are still a few veterans of 1941-1945 on hand to enjoy the day.


Associated Press photograph by Ivan Sekretarev from Sacramento Bee.


26.5.13

THE PRICE OF SUCCESS.

A Michigan expatriate reflects on the inevitability of his state's most promising young people working in Chicago.
The North Side of Chicago is such a refuge for young economic migrants from my home state that its nickname is “Michago.” In 2000, a quarter of Michigan State University graduates left the state. By 2010, half were leaving, and the city with the most recent graduates was not East Lansing or Detroit but Chicago. Michigan’s universities once educated auto executives, engineers, and governors. Now their main purpose is giving Michigan’s brightest young people the credentials they need to get the hell out of the state.

In the 2000s, Michigan dropped from 30th to 35th in percentage of college graduates. Chicago is the drain into which the brains of the Middle West disappear. Moving there is not even an aspiration for ambitious Michiganders. It’s the accepted endpoint of one’s educational progression: grade school, middle school, high school, college, Chicago. Once, in a Lansing bookstore, I heard a clerk say with a sigh, “We’re all going to end up in Chicago.” An Iowa governor once traveled to Chicago just to beg his state’s young people to come home.
We've looked at this phenomenon before.  The export of human capital is not necessarily a bad thing.  One passage in the article, though, suggests something about the human cost of the traditional corporate contract.
As [the notorious high-rise public housing at] Cabrini-Green was dismantled to make way for the outriders of the bourgeois white invasion, an old black man made an astute observation on how his new neighbors’ pursuit of professional achievement had isolated them personally. “I’ve never seen so many dogs,” he said.
More stressed, and the presence of a Michigan State themed bar in the shadow of DePaul, or the chance to watch Iowa or Nebraska or Wisconsin at Soldier Field at what is notionally a Northern Illinois home game may be scant compensation.

THE VALUE OF TENURE.

Prime numbers greater than 2 cannot be even, and larger prime numbers cannot be divisible by ever-larger lists of candidate prime factors.  Intuitively, it would seem as though prime number twins, such as 3,5; 5,7; 11,13; 17,19; 29,31; 41,43 ought to become fewer, farther between, and perhaps beyond some value, nonexistent.  Not so fast.
Last week, Yitang “Tom” Zhang, a popular math professor at the University of New Hampshire, stunned the world of pure mathematics when he announced that he had proven the “bounded gaps” conjecture about the distribution of prime numbers—a crucial milestone on the way to the even more elusive twin primes conjecture, and a major achievement in itself.

The stereotype, outmoded though it is, is that new mathematical discoveries emerge from the minds of dewy young geniuses. But Zhang is over 50. What’s more, he hasn’t published a paper since 2001. Some of the world’s most prominent number theorists have been hammering on the bounded gaps problem for decades now, so the sudden resolution of the problem by a seemingly inactive mathematician far from the action at Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford came as a tremendous surprise.
Sometimes, being able to reflect on a problem without feeling the obligation to deliver a workshop or write a grant or race another colleague into print can be a blessing.  Too much academic effort goes into producing minimal publishable units.

The proof has an intuitive explanation.
You might think that, because prime numbers get rarer and rarer as numbers get bigger, that they also get farther and farther apart. On average, that’s indeed the case. But what Yitang Zhang just proved is that there are infinitely many pairs of primes that differ by at most 70,000,000. In other words, that the gap between one prime and the next is bounded by 70,000,000 infinitely often—thus, the “bounded gaps” conjecture.

On first glance, this might seem a miraculous phenomenon. If the primes are tending to be farther and farther apart, what’s causing there to be so many pairs that are close together? Is it some kind of prime gravity?

Nothing of the kind. If you strew numbers at random, it’s very likely that some pairs will, by chance, land very close together.
I'm struck with the frequency with which winning Power Ball tickets, including the big jackpot ones that are rational for even modest risk-averters to play, have a pair of adjacent numbers in them. (It's crazy, though, to guess which pair. Might be simpler, if you want to roll your own, to have a random number generator give you four numbers, then construct a set of tickets by pairing up one number at a time, above and below.)  The theorem, which establishes that the set of primes that differ by at most 70m is countable, asserts the existence of prime twins anywhere along the natural number line, but finding them is harder than finding winning Power Ball tickets.

Via 11-D.  The article has a number of references for the reader who would like to study further.  The Simons Foundation release includes a reference to a proof of the ternary Goldbach conjecture.

CONFUSING STOCKS WITH FLOWS.

The heirs to Leon Trotsky comment on the failure of the Skagit River bridge.
Interstate 5 runs from Canada, through or near most major west coast US cities, and south into Mexico. It serves as a major thoroughfare for travelers and trucking. As Skagit River Bridge acts as a major link between Canada and the US, and as a much-used route for commuters in the area—where Boeing has major operations—repairs are expected to take less time than the thirteen months of the collapsed Interstate 35W highway bridge in Minnesota. In the mean time, traffic is being thrown onto alternate routes, with local commutes that once averaged half an hour now hitting 70 minutes.

The area’s roads apart from the highway are not designed for such heavy traffic, to say nothing of major truck commerce, and the smaller bridges over the Skagit River will undergo additional strain. One of the alternate routes recommended by Washington State Department of Transportation (crossing the north fork of the Skagit River on Best Road) includes a bridge already noted as “structurally deficient,” with its last inspection being in August of 2010 when its substructure was given a rating of 4. The [state department of transportation] recommended alternate route to Canada, or for those who can bypass Mount Vernon along SR 9, likewise crosses a “structurally deficient” bridge with a substructure rating of 4.
Nowhere in the article is there any analysis of whether the deficiencies in the other highways are evidence either of insufficient influence exerted by the trucking companies in getting sturdier bridges built, or whether even the existing bridges are a form of corporate welfare.  It's apparently simpler to look at the large houses of a few wealthy people to stir up the peons.
Washington is home to eight of the Forbes 400 Richest people in the world, including Bill Gates (#1), and Steve Ballmer (#19) of Microsoft, Howard Schultz (#311) of Starbucks, and Jeff Bezos (#11) of Amazon.com. Together, just these four individuals hold US$106.6 billion—more than two and a half times that earmarked for infrastructure in the Fiscal Year 2014 national budget proposal by Obama.
That some of those people might have gotten rich by making it possible for people to engage in commerce without necessarily having to be in office buildings, or even in the same city, doesn't occur to the writer. That those capitalists might owe some of their large fortunes to people who opt out of commuting in cars doesn't occur to the writer.  That accumulated net worth is a stock, and road repair is a flow, is too sophisticated a concept for the heirs to Comrade Trotsky.

THE QUINTESSENTIAL KNOWLEDGE PROBLEM.

Executive over-reach, as manifested in the Internal Revenue Service, the surveillance of subversives at Associated Press, and the emerging unintended consequences of the so-called Affordable Care Act, ultimately illustrates the folly of concentrating more powers in the executive. Here's Gordon Crovitz at Wall Street Journal getting to the heart of the matter.
President Obama is accountable for the IRS, State Department and Justice Department. His longtime adviser David Axelrod last week blamed a too-big government for the scandals: "Part of being president is that there's so much beneath you that you can't know because the government is so vast."

Messrs. Obama and Axelrod helped create that problem, but the argument against big government rings especially true in an era when not even the government can control information.
Why the commentariat is discovering this phenomenon only now comes as a bit of a surprise. Readers with long memories might remember the conglomerate firms of the mid-to-late 1960s. The conceit in those years was that Scientific Management with Harvard Business School degrees could create additional value in stodgy companies. It didn't matter much what those companies did, because Management by Objectives or whatever the business fad of the era was would enhance productivity.

The buzzwords stay the same, although the failure of conglomeration could not be laid off on the absence of presentation software, smart 'phones, or the Black-Scholes formula. Our political masters in Washington have all those things, and they're coming undone. Here's Daniel Henninger, also in Wall Street Journal, extending Mr. Crovitz:
[B]ack to David Axelrod. It behooves us to focus on the implication in his assertion that the government has become too vast for a mere U.S. president to bear responsibility. This may be the most significant Freudian slip in 50 years.

Barack Obama was the president who on entering the White House promised an era of "smart government." It was Barack Obama who told graduates at Ohio State that the government is good. In that light, the Axelrod admission is historic. Historic because it was during Franklin Roosevelt's presidency that liberal policy makers and intellectuals promised good government forever via something called the administrative state—in which dedicated bureaucrats would carry out benevolent public policies designed by smart social scientists.
Yes, imagine Penn Central's Stuart Saunders or LTV's James Ling or Litton's Charles Litton conceding that the expertise involved in running a railroad or a control systems company didn't generalize to charter aircraft leasing or a shipyard or an office equipment factory. (Among my examples there are railroads getting into electronics, electronics getting into railroads, and promoters getting into trouble.)

If there are limits to the administrative state, if even High Government Officials have to think through the implications of spans of control, that must be to the good. It's particularly newsworthy when Georgetown's Jonathan Turley, more frequently heard supporting the Eastern Establishment on MSNBC, sees administrative bloat. "Our carefully constructed system of checks and balances is being negated by the rise of a fourth branch, an administrative state of sprawling departments and agencies that govern with increasing autonomy and decreasing transparency." His elaboration notes that expense-preference behavior isn't just for university athletics departments and executive vice-presidents any more.
The rise of the fourth branch has occurred alongside an unprecedented increase in presidential powers — from the power to determine when to go to war to the power to decide when it’s reasonable to vaporize a U.S. citizen in a drone strike. In this new order, information is jealously guarded and transparency has declined sharply. That trend, in turn, has given the fourth branch even greater insularity and independence. When Congress tries to respond to cases of agency abuse, it often finds officials walled off by claims of expanding executive privilege.
Perhaps, though, Professor Turley pulls his punches for fear of losing his MSNBC gigs by drawing a stronger conclusion. "We cannot long protect liberty if our leaders continue to act like mere bystanders to the work of government."

He is, however, making a case for taking seriously the notion of enumerated and limited powers for government.  The commentariat might be able to marginalize invocations of British Regulars invading houses, imposing arbitrary taxes, and confiscating weapons.  It's going to be less easy for those court intellectuals to marginalize invocations of self-serving government officials acting in something other than The Public Interest.

25.5.13

NO CLEAR RESPONSIBILITY FOR CHECKING CLEARANCES.

An out-of-diagram truck hits a bridge beam, and the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River in northwestern Washington falls down.  The usual political posturing is well under way.  The reality is probably more prosaic.
An official with Canada-based Mullen Trucking, which employed the truck driver, said state transportation officials had given clearance to take the oversize load across the bridge.

"Hopefully we will get some answers," said Ed Scherbinski, vice president of operations for Mullen Trucking, adding that the company was sending its own investigative team to the scene.

Scherbinski declined to immediately provide the height of the oversize load the trucker was hauling. The truck had been bound for Vancouver, Washington, he said.
Nobody knows, nobody has the primary authority, everybody has the opportunity to blame somebody else for not paying attention. It's enough to make Ayn Rand giggle.

Meanwhile, with this bridge out, and no other public roads capable of handling heavy trucks and oversize loads between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., expect the special pleading to get very loud.

It's unlikely, though, that anyone will suggest that if the trucking companies are to receive the benefit of sturdier bridges, they ought to bear the burden of building them, and perhaps hire the managers responsible for checking clearances.  That's loosely what the Roadmaster does on the railroad.

TO REMEMBER.

Flynn Robinson, first all-star for the Milwaukee Bucks.

YOU ARE DUMBER. YOU ARE MORE STRESSED.

Just because you have the capability to reach others or be reached by others doesn't mean you should.
"It's like an arms race … everything is an emergency," said Tanya Schevitz, spokeswoman for Reboot, an organization trying help people unplug more often. "We have created an expectation in society that people will respond immediately to everything with no delay. It's unhealthy, and it's unproductive, and we can't keep going on like this."
The good news is that some productive people, or, more importantly, some people in authority, get it.
Laura Vanderkam, who recently published the eBook, "What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekends," says that many executives she's worked with have learned they can unplug for a weekend without dire consequences.

"Many of us have an exaggerated sense of our own importance," she said, speaking on the eve Memorial Day weekend. "I can tell you that come Tuesday morning, the Earth will still be revolving, whether you have checked your email or not."

Besides driving each other crazy, we are also robbing our brains of critical downtime that encourages creative thinking when we skip weekends and vacations. At extreme levels of exhaustion, rest-deprived brains experience memory loss and hallucinations. But without regular rest, brains fail at more basic tasks. A study at the University of California, San Francisco, found that new experiences fail to become long-term memories unless brains have downtime for review.

Vanderkam also argues that taking breaks makes you more focused when you work. People who work 50 or 60 hours rarely get more done than people who work 40 hours, she argues.
Editor's note. Yes, this post is going up on Saturday. But Cold Spring Shops was idle from Monday through late Friday, and if there's anything in my university electronic mail, none of it must have been so urgent as to drive somebody to leave a message at my home 'phone.  Tonight, the cyber-space gets turned off in favor of sports on the radio, and modelling supplies down cellar.

BRING BACK STAGNATION.

Russia Today reports on a poll to identify the best former Russian or Soviet supremos.
Over half of Russians believe Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was the best head of state in the past century, followed by Bolshevik Revolution mastermind Vladimir Lenin and dictator Joseph Stalin, a poll by Levada Center has revealed.
One of the authors of the poll summarizes Russian social attitudes.
Gorbachev and Yeltsin’s time brought “only defeats” and no material prosperity, political analyst Sergey Chernyakhovsky explained.

Gorbachev’s rule ended up with the dissolution of the USSR, which is still considered by Russians as the 20th-century catastrophe,” said Aleksey Grazhdankin, deputy head of the Levada Center. Attitudes towards Yeltsin worsened following his 1992 reforms, which lead to inflation and the closure of many businesses, he added.

Harsh politicians are always perceived better than liberal ones, Grazhdankin said: “Freedom brings uncertainty, while people prefer certainty and clear perspectives… Rights and freedoms are too abstract, and the majority of people don’t need them. First of all, people appreciate the right to social guarantees and labor.”
Before you get too smug about something in the Russian character loves a tyrant, make sure you understand the symbiosis between desperate people and the politicians who exploit that desperation without ameliorating it.

INTRODUCING THE CORN KING ZEPHYR.

Illinois legislators are contemplating a cross-state train.
The route would run from the Quad Cities to Danville through Galesburg, Peoria, Bloomington-Normal, and Champaign-Urbana and would have connections with existing state-supported rail passenger corridors.

The bill is sponsored in the state house of representatives by Rep. Don Moffitt, who says the route could start as state-supported bus service and eventually transition to rail passenger service. “This doesn’t compete with the other corridors,” Moffitt tells the paper. “It enhances because it gives you more options for connecting and going different places.”

Supporters note the new route would be a boon to college students as it would connect 14 college and universities across the state.
Such a bus service already exists, it's Amtrak Thruway runs 8890 and 8892 toward Indianapolis, and 8893 and 8895 toward Galesburg or Davenport.

As a through Passenger Rail service, it might never have been offered previously.  The named train I refer to is a service from the Quad Cities to Indianapolis jointly operated by the Burlington Route and the Illinois and St. Louis Railroad.  It exists as an HO Scale service only.  Seeing it on the 12" to the foot rails would be pretty neat.

19.5.13

MARKING OFF.

Grades in, garden in, electronic mail autoresponse set to "Leave me alone", time to go off the grid for a few days.  Thanks for looking in.

TODAY'S COMMENCEMENT ADVICE.

First Lady Michelle Obama delivered the commencement address at Bowie State University.
For generations, in many parts of this country, it was illegal for black people to get an education.  Slaves caught reading or writing could be beaten to within an inch of their lives.  Anyone -- black or white -- who dared to teach them could be fined or thrown into jail.  And yet, just two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, this school was founded not just to educate African Americans, but to teach them how to educate others.  It was in many ways an act of defiance, an eloquent rebuttal to the idea that black people couldn’t or shouldn’t be educated. 
She juxtaposes this history with a contemporary idea that strongly requires rebutting.
Take a stand against the media that elevates today’s celebrity gossip instead of the serious issues of our time.  Take a stand against the culture that glorifies instant gratification instead of hard work and lasting success.

And as my husband has said often, please stand up and reject the slander that says a black child with a book is trying to act white.  Reject that.
Indeed.

I recall first encountering that slander during my final year in Detroit, and being dismayed by the rejection of all that was proper in the civil rights struggles that it entailed.

Thank you, Mrs Obama, for being a more effective messenger than I could ever hope to be.

INDEED.

With commencement season wrapping up, an encouraging story of a recent graduate who found something she enjoyed doing.
A transfer student from Highland Community College in Freeport, Ill., [Heather] Jurs said the decisions to major in geography and to transfer to NIU were clear choices.

“I had always loved geography, but I selected it as my major because I had two great teachers in my high school and community college that opened my eyes to the world around me. I chose NIU because of its great geography and teaching programs,” she says. “The transition from Highland to NIU was really smooth. All of my classes transferred easily, I was able to begin my major and teaching classes as soon as I transferred, and I was able to complete my degree in the same number of years it would have been if I had started as a freshman at NIU.”
There tend to be opportunities, even in difficult times, for determined people.  Our graduate has this concluding comment. “Pick your major based on what you love doing and don’t worry about what others think. I can’t tell you how many times I had to answer the question, ‘What are you going to do with a geography major?’”I propose that practical-minded people invert that question. It usually doesn't come up with business or engineering or programming majors, but perhaps it is those majors who should have to explain what they propose to do with that degree. "Be miserable, if well-paid, for the next 40 years" doesn't cut it.

GOVERNMENT FAILURE

Despite the best efforts of various Daleys, current mayor Rahm Emanuel, and the Illinois Democratic Party, Chicago is the kind of place that people decide it is good to be from, and there are fewer young people enrolling in the common schools. The logical thing for a school board to do is to consolidate and close a few schools, but to do so allows the Perpetually Aggrieved to express a multiplicity of grievances
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who is [as is Chicago Public Schools superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett] African American, has called the planned closures “racist” and “classist.”

“What I cannot understand and what I will not accept is that the proposals I am offering are racist,” Byrd-Bennett said, prompting shouts of “They are!” from the often-raucous crowd.

“To refuse to challenge the status quo that is failing thousands of African American students, that’s what I call racist.”

Addressing safety concerns about children crossing gang lines to get to new schools, Byrd-Bennett said she has no patience for adults who use the “excuse of gangs to leave children trapped in failing schools.”

However, CPS itself considered the gang factor when it agreed with a school closings commission’s recommendation to keep high schools off the closing list out of concern for teens’ safety if gang territories were disrupted.
The government is that institution within a society that holds a monopoly on violence. Apparently the same government that can persuade the owner of a baseball team to back off on questioning Our President cannot maintain order in the bad neighborhoods, and the people within those neighborhoods have developed survival strategies to use in the absence of government control of the streets.
Most of the schools on the “hit” list are located in socio-economically depressed areas of our city. That is the root problem that needs to be addressed. WBEZ’s recent program on Harper High School recounts in stark terms how our children are suffering. For example, here’s a list of rules that the students recounted for how to survive in their neighborhoods located in gang territory:
  1. Know your geography – you must always be aware of where you are and what gang controls that specific territory.
  2. If you must go out, never walk alone because it makes you the target of a gang member; never walk with someone else either because that makes you appear to be a gang member. Walk with someone but separately so that you have each other’s back.
  3. Don’t use the sidewalk, walk in the street to feel safer.
  4. If you hear shots, don’t run, fall to the ground.
  5. Watch what you say and do.  You can be shot for big and small reasons (boyfriend-girlfriend stuff, money owed, petty stuff, he said-she said, retaliation, off your block).
  6. Never go outside if you don’t have to.
  7. Stay at school as long as possible.
These students recognize their school as a safe haven.  We should celebrate and nurture that within our communities, not destroy it.  I would ask that you consider delaying the decision until you have had time to explore other solutions that affirm our city’s commitment to the poorest communities, support their schools and support them in their struggles for a better life.
(Emphasis in the original).  Apparently, walking in the street, risking being hit by a car, is safer than walking in the sidewalks.  Does it come as any surprise that people might be fleeing schools in such neighborhoods?

In an editorial, the Chicago Tribume first quotes approvingly and at length from the statement by the superintendent.
First, the overwhelming majority of students in the CPS system are children of color. Any significant change in the status quo is going to affect those children. That is not racist; that is a fact.

Second, the greatest population losses in our city over the past decade have taken place on the South and West sides. School underutilization in those areas is the result of demographic trends, not race.

Third, and most important, to refuse to challenge a status quo that is failing thousands of African-American students year after year — consigning them to a future with less opportunity than others — now that would be racist.
In the view of the editors, blaming the superintendent for the willingness of people to leave unsafe neighborhoods, and implicitly blaming the city government for failure to provide the proper environment, is a mistake.
This debate must recognize the population changes that Byrd-Bennett noted.  Chicago's African-American population declined by 181,000 people from 2000 to 2010. The schools slated for closing are largely in communities that saw significant population declines.

As a school's population dwindles, so does its ability to muster resources to educate kids. Students in half-empty schools are more likely than other CPS students to be in split-grade classrooms. Forcing CPS to spread its resources too thinly "makes it harder to ensure that kids have art, music, physical education, well-stocked libraries and well-maintained playgrounds," concluded the school closings commission that was chaired by civic leader Frank Clark.

Students who have to change will go to schools with new libraries, new computer labs, air-conditioning in every classroom. How is that racist?

CPS will face a challenge guaranteeing the safety of students going to new schools and ensuring they get a better education in those schools.
It's the failure of the government that I wish to address further. Not long after the Chicago school closings controversy erupted, MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry made a foolish statement in a promotion for her network, which prompted Erick Erickson to fire back, "All your kids are belong to us."
This is amazingly stupid commentary. All of us who own property (real property, not children) pay property taxes to fund a public education system to educate our children. We have democratically elected school boards to make the decisions on how to collectively educate our kids to common, state approved standards.

It is failing spectacularly. And I suspect that the tangible efforts to improve it, from neutering teachers unions to giving parents choices in where to send their children, are opposed by Melissa Harris-Perry.

I never thought I’d see the day when self-styled progressives advocated the state owning the people.
National Review's Rich Lowry offers a less polemical reaction raising similar points.
As the ultimate private institution, the family is a stubborn obstacle to the great collective effort. Insofar as people invest in their own families, they are holding out on the state and unacceptably privileging their own kids over the children of others. These parents are selfish, small-minded, and backward. “Once it’s everybody’s responsibility,” Harris-Perry said of child-rearing, “and not just the households, then we start making better investments.”

This impulse toward the state as ├╝ber-parent is based on a profound fallacy and a profound truth. The fallacy is that anyone can care about someone else’s children as much as his own. The former Texas Republican senator Phil Gramm liked to illustrate the hollowness of professions to the contrary with a story. He told a woman, “My educational policies are based on the fact that I care more about my children than you do.” She said, “No, you don’t.” Gramm replied, “Okay: What are their names?”

The truth is that parents are one of society’s most incorrigible sources of inequality. If you have two of them who stay married and are invested in your upbringing, you have hit life’s lottery. You will reap untold benefits denied to children who aren’t so lucky. That the family is so essential to the well-being of children has to be a constant source of frustration to the egalitarian statist, a reminder of the limits of his power.
Precisely. Witness the response of Chicago parents who can get out of those unsafe neighborhoods.

In responding to her critics, Professor Harris-Perry concedes her critics' point, and inadvertently or not makes mine.
I believe wholeheartedly, and without apology, that we have a collective responsibility to the children of our communities even if we did not conceive and bear them. Of course, parents can and should raise their children with their own values. But they should be able to do so in a community that provides safe places to play, quality food to eat, terrific schools to attend, and economic opportunities to support them. No individual household can do that alone. We have to build that world together.
Well, yeah.  If the government has full responsibility, you get the south and west side of Chicago. If you grow up in Professor Harris-Perry's old neighborhood, you get parents involved in the life of their kids, and each other's kids. They're not absent or active in the gangs themselves or pinning their hopes on lottery tickets.
I don’t want your kids, but I want them to live in safe neighborhoods. I want them to learn in enriching and dynamic classrooms. I want them to be healthy and well and free from fear. I want them to grow up to agree or disagree with me or with you and to have all the freedom and tools they need to express what they believe.
But to do so, Conor Friedersdorf notes (via the old 11-D site), the village must work with, but not undermine, the family.
Mother and father are in fact responsible for getting baby her shots, strapping her into the car seat, childproofing the house, noticing her allergic reaction to peanuts, and enrolling her in primary school. If they fail to do these things, or to find someone who'll do them on their behalf, baby suffers. A kindly passerby won't peek through the living-room window, notice the child crying, and attend to it. I suspect that if a young couple leaving the hospital, newborn in arms, were to ask Harris-Perry for advice, she would not tell them, "Don't worry, this kid isn't all your responsibility." The fact that most parents feel this responsibility deep within them is literally indispensable to our civilization. Kids whose parents don't feel or ignore it are often seriously disadvantaged.

Recognizing that parents bear primary responsibility for their children's well-being isn't just important for most families. It is a collective necessity in any pluralistic society. Progressives are prone to talking as if optimal policies and methods can be agreed upon if only right-thinking people vest trust in appropriately enlightened technocrats. But outside the wonk bubble, Americans have deep, legitimate disagreements about what ought to happen. Child rearing is no exception. If kids belong to their families, some can spend their Saturdays taking piano lessons, others can mark the Jewish Sabbath, and still others can play baseball or attend Chinese or Korean school.
When the village doesn't care, it doesn't work well with duly constituted authority, and Chicago happens. When the village becomes too overweening, that's also trouble.
Maybe [Harris-Perry] merely is is inviting me to share my fatherly wisdom with America's children as if they were my own progeny. If that's the case I invite them to shut off the damn internet, finish their damn homework, and clean up those damn pigsties they call rooms.
It's really old stuff:
To the extent that policy wonks of varying persuasion sound the same message: the bourgeois habits have the potential to reduce poverty, there is the possibility of developing income policies, and school policies, that might reinforce rather than undermine those habits.
I'll give Dr. Ben Carson, in Henry Payne's column, the final word:
"There is your elite group of intellectuals who pass judgment on everything. They see the people who are on the lower end of society and they say 'you little poor thing' and they pat you on the head and say, 'we're going to take care of you,'" he says. "Of course, that just enables them to remain in that situation without real incentive to improve themselves. You need a lower class in order for you to be the elite intellectual."
And, to complete a recent train of thought, you may need a lower class to persist as a way of retaining your power.

KOCH'S COKE.

The New York Times publishes what may be an environmental report, although it appears to be more of an attempt to shore up its base.  Apparently river-front property in Detroit is so devoid of other commercial prospects that it becomes a cheap place to pile up petroleum coke for trans-shipment.
Detroit’s ever-growing black mountain is the unloved, unwanted and long overlooked byproduct of Canada’s oil sands boom.

And no one knows quite what to do about it, except Koch Carbon, which owns it.

The company is controlled by Charles and David Koch, wealthy industrialists who back a number of conservative and libertarian causes including activist groups that challenge the science behind climate change. The company sells the high-sulfur, high-carbon waste, usually overseas, where it is burned as fuel.

The coke comes from a refinery alongside the river owned by Marathon Petroleum, which has been there since 1930. But it began refining exports from the Canadian oil sands — and producing the waste that is sold to Koch — only in November.
This coke doesn't have the strength to serve as reducing agent in a blast furnace, although it apparently can be used as fuel in Chinese and Mexican power plants.  Whether shipping the stuff to China rather than shipping Powder River or Crowsnest coal is on balance environmentally more friendly the story doesn't say.

The story, curiously, doesn't have as much to say about the third Koch brother.
One of the world’s largest dealers of petroleum coke is the Oxbow Corporation, which sells about 11 million tons of fuel-grade coke a year. It is owned by William I. Koch, a brother of David and Charles.
You'd think Times readers (the paper, after all, runs wedding announcements that David Brooks famously characterized as more like merger announcements or alliances among the 1% royalty) might want to be reminded that Bill, along with Buddy Melges, once defended an America's Cup.


Race 5, May 16, 1992.

(Was that really 21 years ago???)

But, once the reminder that nasty limited-government types might be engaging in rent seeking in the energy sector is out there, the paper's mission is accomplished.  You probably wouldn't use an America's Cup-class sloop to fish for Midgaardsormen.

MISCHARACTERIZING DEMOCRACY.

Milwaukee's Palermo's Pizza (disclaimer: frequently purchased frozen at Jewel for the Cold Spring Shops commissary) have been involved in some sort of labor dispute.  Although the legalities are mostly behind us, the Perpetually Aggrieved never miss an opportunity to be aggrieved, here holding a stand-in at one of the Palermo pizza stands on the Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus, and engaging in the usual semi-literate chanting.  Democracy looks like unwashed people desiring food not to be sold, apparently.  The stand-in gave some diversity hustler in the UWM administration a chance to show his solidarity with Occupy types by ordering the stand be closed, leading a Milwaukee observer to quip, "UWM will serve jello instead of Palermo's."  Or both.
Now, UWM officials are saying the school continues to offer Palermo’s Pizza products for sale on campus.

UWM officials said in a statement released Thursday: “What has changed in the past two days is the availability of the pizza in the Student Union food court where a long planned renovation project got underway this week.”

UWM officials say the school did not intend on closing the pizza stand on Tuesday — “but because of the presence of protesters in the kitchen preparation area, it was determined that the food in the stand would need to be discarded because it had potentially been contaminated.  As a result, UWM administrators and police announced the stand was being closed.”

Because the pizza stand had been scheduled to close for the summer at the end of business on May 8th due to the renovation project, UWM administrators made the decision not to open the stand for one additional day — and closed it on Tuesday.
Playing in the middle of the road is a good way to be hit by traffic going both ways. With final exams approaching, perhaps the Perpetually Aggrieved will take their victory, such as it is.  But with the job market for college graduates being what it is, we've probably not seen the last of the Palermo shuffle in Wisconsin.

The Madison campus continues to serve Palermo pizza, although with Paisan's available not far from campus, why would anyone bother?

GOVERNANCE IS FORCE.

An editorial in London's Telegraph urges the fanatics who see Richard Nixon and Watergate behind every Obama Administration abuse of power to back off.
The breaches of public trust not only threaten the bipartisan votes necessary to pass key second term legislation like immigration reform, they undercut the president's ability to make his larger legacy case that progressive governance can be efficient and effective.
There are several possible ways to proceed.

First, there's the Cafe Hayek claim that such governance can be neither.
Because the regulators have the same psychological foibles as the regulatees – yet face far less direct feedback on their decisions than do those whom they regulate – turning more decision-making power over to government increases the frequency of human error and amplifies its ill-effects.  Markets keep those errors less numerous and their effects more confined.

Human beings are not laboratory rats to be controlled and conditioned by some elite of their number who, somehow and without explanation, manage to become higher-order creatures simply by working for government and professing deep concern for the welfare of their lab animals.
It's a challenge for me to introduce the challenge to optimal taxation and targeted tax cuts and subsidies implied by that second paragraph.  Perhaps it's too flip to suggest that carefully crafted tax incentives turn humans into gerbils, but all the same.

There's a more troubling suggestion from John Kass.  Democratic politics are not about Herbert Croly and Promise, they're about Richard Daley and Clout.
Joe Ricketts considered funding a political group critical of Obama before last year's campaign. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff, made it clear that if the Cubs wanted City Hall's approval to refurbish decrepit Wrigley Field, Ricketts better back off.

It happened. He backed off. It was sickening. But it was and is Chicago.

And now — with the IRS used as political muscle and the Obama administration keeping that secret until after the president was elected — America understands it too.
Clout works, as long as there are rents to be generated and dissipated. But large stretches of Chicago are starting to look more like Detroit -- the ultimate case of what happens when there's nobody productive yet to strike a deal with -- and Belmont Club issues a caution.
A lying president debases his own words and undermines his own ability to hold a coalition together. Nobody completely trusts reassurances from a double-crosser. Only a fool would accept a kiss from Judas. The day comes when not even the liberals can fail to notice.

A nation as large as the United States works only if trust in its institutions is maintained. Destroy that and it’s pay as you go and as-is-where-is. Once everything comes down to the caprice of one man, to basing contracts on the secret will of cabals, then it’s all over. It’s bad for business — whatever business you happen to be in.
Doesn't matter whether that cabal is of Democrat operatives in government, descendants of Long March parents in China's Communist Party, or bridge-playing Harvard graduates in finance. People will devote their effort to opting out.

17.5.13

IF EVERYTHING IS HARASSMENT, NOTHING IS.

Thus does Daniel Luzer summarize Our Rulers Latest Attempt to impose liberating tolerance on campus.

Minding the Campus compiles additional Bronx cheers.

I repeat a bit of advice from the shop floor: the way to demonstrate the folly of the rule is to comply with it.  Mr Luzer notes, "Enacting such a broad and absurd definition could well cause real sexual harassment to go unnoticed, since the policy would prove so difficult to enforce." Use that feature to get the policy changed.

THE PRETENSE OF KNOWLEDGE.

VIA Knowledge Problem, a reminder (with music) that if public choice theory didn't exist, somebody would have to think of it.
Public choice theory and history have shown that “benevolent” men set above others are subject to the same faults and selfishness as the rest of us, regardless of the good intentions with which their offices were created. As C.S. Lewis said, “Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
Sometimes, though, the tormentors reveal the limitations of their condition.
Contemporary progressivism depends upon faith in bureaucracy: to collect data, to manage daily affairs on the local and national levels, and to serve as an impartial arbiter of fairness. Many of the major initiatives of the Obama presidency — from Obamacare to his expansion of executive authority to comprehensive immigration reform — demand this bureaucratic faith.

So every scandal that reveals a bureaucracy’s capacity for corruption deals a methodological wound to this centralizing enterprise. While the president might deride those who fear the subversion of a free republic into a less-than-free state, these sorts of scandals — whatever their outcomes — reveal that such fears are hardly misplaced. After all, we now know that federal tax-collection authorities systematically targeted opponents of the reigning ideology. We now know that federal agents could blithely monitor the phone calls of journalists. Those are not the figments of tea-party paranoia; as far as we can tell, they are facts.

The way it looks at the moment, there are two possible impulses behind these scandals: malice or incompetence. Neither one bears good tidings for bureaucratic progressivism. Obviously, the notion that high-level political actors would use the mechanisms of a bureaucratic empire to target their political enemies would be a very unpleasant idea. Right now, there is no evidence that such high-level actors did abuse their power in this way; it is possible that only a few rogue individuals abused or misused their authority. Media reports seem to indicate that the IRS scandal, at least, involves complicated technicalities and managerial disputes.

But incompetence is not exactly a winning defense for the case of centralized bureaucracies. The lack of approval, and the extent of the abuses, would show a bureaucracy out of control, with a broken chain of command and administrative rules. If the right hand truly does not know what the left hand does — if the brain of authority does not know what its administrative limbs do — how can we place blind faith in any supreme bureaucracy?
You're depending on the conscience of the pencil-pushers, and that conscience might be smugly confident that the pencils are being Pushed For The Greater Good.  George Will elaborates.
Liberalism’s agenda has been constant since long before liberals, having given their name a bad name, stopped calling themselves liberals and resumed calling themselves progressives, which they will call themselves until they finish giving that name a bad name. The agenda always is: Concentrate more power in Washington, more Washington power in the executive branch and more executive power in agencies run by experts. Then trust the experts to be disinterested and prudent with their myriad intrusions into, and minute regulations of, Americans’ lives. Obama’s presidency may yet be, on balance, a net plus for the public good if it shatters Americans’ trust in the regulatory state’s motives.
On the other hand, Our President may be campaigning rather than governing, precisely to head that off.

SECOND SECTION.  Ben Domenech outlines a Fourth Turning scenario.
Obama isn’t running for office again. Liberalism is. Making this about him is a short term boost to the pleasure center of the conservative brain. Making this about the inherent falsehood of the progressive project will help conservatism win.

The point is that these scandals cut at the core conceit of Obama’s ideology: the healthy and enduring confidence of big government to be good government. As technological capabilities advance and the scope of government expands, the types of domestic scandals we’re seeing here are only going to increase in frequency and invasiveness, with personal information shared more frequently, easier for even low level bureaucrats to acquire and manipulate. At the same time, Americans are becoming increasingly skeptical and cynical about their public institutions, with their trust in the federal government at historic lows. They distrust the agencies and bureaucrats even as the politicians of our age are investing more and more power in them.

Today, the media, the Obama administration, and David Axelrod are undertaking the task that conservatives could not: illustrating with each passing day that the progressive approach to modern governance and policy is inherently flawed and that vast governments are ripe for abuse. What we are seeing from the IRS and the DOJ is not something new, nor does it represent a perverse approach to benign bureaucracy: it is the inevitable consequence of an approach which puts mechanisms in place and then assumes they will not be used for ill. You should expect government to go as far as it can, whenever it can, in any ways that it can, toward the full exploitation of the power made available to it. Expecting government to behave otherwise is to expect the scorpion not to sting the frog.

The progressive answer to this is more rules and regulators, more agencies and safeguards and accountability projects. Republicans should recognize this intervention for the ridiculousness it is – creating more federal entities to watch over federal entities – and focus their arguments instead on the only solution which will actually work: removing power from the federal government and returning it to the states or the people. The only way to ensure that government doesn’t abuse a power is to make sure it doesn’t have this power in the first place.

When this period of scandal draws to a close, if the idea still survives that a more competent and ethical president would be able to effectively govern a $4 trillion bureaucracy, it will be a sign Republicans have failed. They can succeed by ignoring the tempting bait of making this about the president they despise, and focusing instead on the false philosophy of expansive government which represents the true danger to the American experiment. Doing so will require them to go against their own short-term viewpoint, so prevalent in recent years, and look instead to the long game.
Put another way, another layer of management simply creates an additional source of rents to seek, generate, and dissipate.

A NATIONAL WARD-HEELER POLITICIAN.

Rush Limbaugh comes close to getting it.
The way that Obama gets away with this is to be disengaged, or to appear to be, and ultimately not responsible for it.  That's the key to this.  He's sitting pretty. He's not in any trouble, not with the people that elected him.  And that's what you have to understand.  With the people that elected Obama, he's not in any trouble at all.  This is all somebody else's doing, and the government is so big that not even the most competent, brilliant president ever can control it and therefore he can't possibly be to blame for it.  It can't possibly be his fault.
He's reacting to the commentariat, and the commentariat, so marinated in the Eastern Liberal Establishment's vision of Activist Presidents Promoting The Common Good in order to be able to devote Sunday mornings to mutual admiration with High Government Officials under pictures of the Capitol Dome, seem surprised that Our President is campaigning, rather than governing.  Read the full transcript, which summarizes the failings of Activist Government as seen by the ditto-heads.

The key to Our President remaining popular despite disappointing the commentariat by a lack of activism is in this passage.
You can point to Detroit; you can point to New Orleans; you can point to any state or city that's been run by liberals without opposition for any serious length of time, and you'll see an utter disaster. You've got the IRS running amuck. You know the details in the IRS scandal, and I can give you the latest today, and I will. You know all that. It's not just Obama. This is who liberals are.
More precisely, this is how ward-heeler politicians operate.  There's a symbiosis between desperate people who like having a ward-heeler "fighting for them" and a ward-heeler who mau-maus the rest of the polity about the continued parlous condition of his or her constituents.  A ward-heeler cannot call out the constituents for engaging in self-destructive behavior, nor get re-elected in a district in which constituents discover, or re-discover bourgeois habits.  Better to have constituents rendered helpless by years of Democratic policies.  That's how Gwen and Bobby and John and Maxine achieve seniority in the Democratic caucus.

16.5.13

THE CASE FOR BOURGEOIS MANNERS.

Being punctual and attentive might be so old school, but it still works as an evolutionarily stable strategy.
Younger workers believe they can multitask and remain productive, the human-resources people told the York researchers. Thirty-eight percent of respondents blamed multitasking for the lack of “focus” among younger workers. The authors of the study explained that the younger generation “believes that it is possible to multi-task effectively” and that using social media, for example, is an efficient way to communicate. In interviews, the applicants check their phones for texts and calls, dress inappropriately and overrate their talents.
The article offers a mixed evaluation of the role of the education system in enabling irresponsible behavior.
Let’s agree that everyone is at fault, more or less. The burden falls heaviest on the workplace. High-school teachers have few direct incentives to toughen up their classrooms. The steady drag of uninterested students and school bureaucracy beats them down to the point where using higher grades and lax discipline are the easiest ways to make it through the week.

College professors, too, have no direct incentive to raise the bar on behavior, given the influence of student ratings of their performance and pressure from administrators and parents. Most of all, poor behavior by students doesn’t immediately threaten the livelihood of teachers.

A bad worker, however, jeopardizes a whole unit’s productivity, and a manager can’t simply pass a low performer to the next level. Teachers who allow delinquent students to slide merely compromise their own integrity. Dereliction in the workplace puts profits at risk.

This, then, is the real transition into adulthood in the U.S. today -- not graduating from high school, leaving home or learning how to succeed in college, but performing full-time work for bosses who can’t compromise, and all too often must say, “Your work isn’t up to par, you’re not as great as you think, and if you don’t improve, you’re fired.”
There's another dimension of the school dynamic that might reward careful study. Is there more than anecdotal evidence of coaches, whether in high school or college, seeking special treatment for academically marginal yet athletically talented people? The coach gets to screen for focus, for proper performance, and doesn't have to negotiate standards.  Why not apply that model more generally?

TOM SWIFT AND HIS ELECTRIC LOCOMOTIVE.

Amtrak's order of the latest attempt to replace the GG-1 is rolling out, and the greenies are enthusiastic about regenerative braking.
Each engine centers on a regenerative braking system that can recover up to 5MW of energy, much of which goes back to the power grid. The machinery is smarter, too: it can self-diagnose problems and mitigate the impact until repairs are possible. Commuters won't immediately notice the difference when ACS-64 trains reach the rails between this fall and 2016, but there should be important behind-the-scenes savings.
With a simple enough locomotive, sufficient instrumentation, and a competent engineer, you can cut out the misbehaving circuits and roll on. Regeneration is a simple flick of a switch.

Contemporary control circuitry, with a.c. transmission and thyristors, achieves results that the traction pioneers could only dream about.



You put all that technology over fewer wheels and less unsprung weight.

On the other hand, that Bi-Polar is more distinctive than the beefed-up Class 87 profile of Amtrak's latest power.

15.5.13

LIBERATING TOLERANCE AT WORK.

Ron Radosh suggests that the use of liberating tolerance might be too subtle for the Internal Revenue Service.
If you criticize Obama Care, by Marcuse’s logic, you are what the Soviets called “an enemy of the people,” and the full power of government should be put into place to stop you. And were he still with us, he would be penning an op-ed praising the IRS for its clever action in denying conservative groups non-profit status.

Who would make that judgment? Perhaps it would be the people’s courts, the revolutionary assemblies, or the left-wing professoriate, which is acting on behalf of the people before they realize their duty to develop revolutionary consciousness.

Let me end on a serious note. The IRS personnel are probably not smart enough to read or even know about Herbert Marcuse. But they have acted in a way he would have been proud of, having obtained an understanding of how to act against conservatives all on their own. And, it seems, they have an unknowing ally who lives in the executive mansion on Pennsylvania Avenue.
It strikes me as rash to suggest what position a mid-twentieth century intellectual might take on a contemporary policy issue, particularly a mid-twentieth century intellectual who late in life had to deal with the pushback his epigones engendered.

I also suspect that the practitioners of liberating tolerance have more than an unknowing ally in the Executive Mansion.
[T]he Departments of Justice and Education have mandated a breathtakingly broad definition of sexual harassment that makes virtually every student in the United States a harasser while ignoring the First Amendment. The mandate applies to every college receiving federal funding—virtually every American institution of higher education nationwide, public or private.

The letter states that "sexual harassment should be more broadly defined as 'any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature'" including "verbal conduct" (that is, speech). It then explicitly states that allegedly harassing expression need not even be offensive to an "objectively reasonable person of the same gender in the same situation"—if the listener takes offense to sexually related speech for any reason, no matter how irrationally or unreasonably, the speaker may be punished.
Apparently the efforts of Student Affairs to develop a revolutionary consciousness in their students haven't been good enough.

The way to demonstrate the folly of this rule, though, is to comply with it.  Rather than make a federal case out of the law, overwhelm the enforcers in the administration with complaints.  There's a good list of complaints to consider right at the post commenting on the policy.