Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Technological fixes are only part of the solution

Articles like this drive me nuts. I don't disagree with the idea of green vehicles, but the rosy outcomes offered by the "magic pill" of new technologies is typical of short sighted, quick fix, too often American perspective. One excerpt shows the error:

Switching from a car that gets 20 mpg to one that gets 50 mpg will save the
average American nearly $1,100/year in gas costs at $3/gallon (given the average
distance Americans drive per year – about 12,000 miles; savings rise
considerably as gas prices and miles driven go up). That savings is nearly two
times the cash provided to us by our 2008 stimulus checks! Multiply that by the
112 million households in the U.S. alone, and that’s $123.2 billion/year that
American households are now spending on gas that with a mandate for more
efficient vehicles, they would have to spend on…everything else.

And what kind of products are we going to spend that extra cash on? We could buy a bigger house that requires more heat and air conditioning. How about a second energy hogging plasma screen TV. Or how about a bigger car, so instead of 50mpg, it is just 35?

I think the effect(s) I am pointing out here are negative feedbacks...unanticipated negatives from a positive change.

What we need to do is a combination of technological fixes and some behaviorial change. Personally, I don't think appeals ot ethics and what not are likely to be very effective. I think we need a serious carbon tax...I think there needs to be a cap and trade and dividend on business and a good tax on households with that tax money spent on sustainability models, climate change mitigation, and adaptation efforts, and a push to move us away from petroleum based fuel (or crude alternatives like ethanol) for our transportation needs.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Men and Women view Caroline Kennedy Differently...no kidding

News reports about a poll that show men and women view Caroline Kennedy (Schlosberg)'s quaqlifications differently. Women more likely to see her qualified while men do not. Ho hum. What a surprise. I wonder how many polls were taken with the appointment of the following: Jean Carnahan, Lisa Murkowski, Muriel Humphrey?

How much controversy was there around Muriel Humphrey being appointed to serve until a special election was held to elect a new senator to Sen. Humphrey's Minnesota seat after he died. Heck, Jean Carnahan's husband died before actually being elected yet he still beat John Ashcroft.

Frank Murkowski appointed his own daughter to succeed him when he left the Senate to become governor of Alaska.

Is the controversy a signal of women's growing equality? Hmm.

I think Ms. (Kennedy) Schlosberg (when did she drop her married name anyway?) is qualified but I wonder about her motivations. She claims that Barack Obama inspired her (yeah, and milions of others). If she is inspired to public service, then why not City Council, or a state legislative seat. Senate?

If Jean Carnahan, Lisa Murkowski, Muriel Humphrey, Rose Long, Dixie Bibb Graves, Vera Bushfield, Eva Bowring, Elaine Edwards, Maryon Allen, and Jocelyn Burdick (Rebublicans in italics) can be appointed, with apparent little controversy, is it only because Caroline (Kennedy) Schlossberg is who she is?

My prediction: Patterson appoints Cuomo in order to eliminate him as competition for the governor's race that Patterson will enter. He'll bet that Kennedy (Schlosberg's) inspiration doesn't include such lowly seats as governor of New York.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Can we sustain our dependence on personal cars?

previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 12/28/2008



I’ve owned 12 cars. I expect to have a couple more before I’m finished. Whether people are willing to admit it or not, cars are more than just a means of transportation. Were cars just transportation, then we would not have so many colors, so many types, so many brands, and so many options. Cars are an extension of our living rooms, a status symbol, and part of our identity.

Are personal cars as the primary means of transportation for Americans, “sustainable?” I admit, up front, that I hope the answer is yes.

“Sustainability” is not such a new idea, though it is getting increased attention these days. The most widely used definition of sustainability is the one used by the UN, adopted in 1983: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

It is easy to show the “irrationality” of relying on personal cars as the primary mode of transportation in the US or anywhere else. The current system is not sustainable as the recent flirtation with $5 gasoline showed us. Two key American values, convenience and freedom, are likely to make any radical change very difficult. Cars embody both of these values, perhaps more than any other product does (cell phones an exception). Cars give us the convenience and freedom to move about when and where we want. Never mind the incredible expense, both personally and socially, of this method of transportation. Automobile accidents kill about 40,000 to 50,000 Americans every year. Personal cars led to dependence on foreign oil and warps foreign policy in a way that nothing else does. All this and more in the name of convenience and the freedom to go 0-60mph in under ten seconds.

It doesn’t seem possible that we are going to sustain personal cars without some changes. Dependence on foreign (expensive) oil is what has our attention this time. We didn’t learn much from the 1973 oil embargo. Less than 10 years after that we were buying SUVs (stupid useless vehicles). The real threat to sustaining our love affair with cars is global warming. About half of carbon emissions come from our tailpipes.

According to figures compiled by the Sightline Institute (http://www.sightline.org/maps/charts/climate-CO2byMode), a single rider in an SUV is the worst contributor to tailpipe born greenhouse gases, 1.6lbs of CO2 per passenger mile. Carpooling with one other person reduces that figure almost in half (the extra passenger is not carbon free but the increase is very small). The two person SUV contributes about the same amount as a local transit bus ¼ full. A solo rider in a passenger car contributes about 1.2lbs of CO2 per passenger mile. Adding one car pooler brings the contribution down to about that of a Prius (Toyota’s electric-gas hybrid vehicle) with a solo driver.

Based on this, the solution is to reduce greenhouse emissions from our cars by just switching to hybrid vehicles. We could get even more reduction with the next generation of hybrid vehicle, the plug-in hybrid. This vehicle stores enough energy to run the car without the gas motor for between 20 to 50 miles. An oft cited statistic from a 1990 US Dept of Transportation study, is that 70% of Americans drive less than 33 miles per day. I wonder if that statistic is still true today, but even if the daily drive has increased to 50 miles, that is still a lot of miles covered without emitting carbon from our tailpipes.

The plug-in hybrid has a “long tailpipe,” however. The energy to run it is coming from electric generating plants. As we move toward more and more wind and solar energy, that long tailpipe becomes less of a concern. How fast are we moving?

Electric cars are not as convenient as our current cars. Think of how many times you forget to charge up your cell phone. A day without your cell phone is different than a day without your car or the amount of gas used due to forgetting to plug the car in.

Based on my and my wife’s daily drives, a plug-in hybrid would work for us. Based on the life cycle of our cars, assuming a suitable model is available, we could buy one in the next two years and the second one in four to five years. If that is average, is that fast enough to reduce carbon emissions to a sustainable level? Across the world? Unfortunately, I doubt it.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Walk like an Iranian, throw a shoe




I admit it, I am just wasting time. I should be writing a lit review for a grant application, but alas, I just can't seem to stay focused on the work.

I am surprised by how much the shoe throwing journalist has generated buzz. No not by our snarky media in the US,,,,I figured it would be a big deal here. Lots of jokes as has happened. But how Arabs and others in the middle east are responding to it, surprises me. I'm not sure this incident needs Jay Leno to keep it going.

I heard on the BBC this morning, that in Iran, street vendors are setting up targets of Pres Bush and people take out their frustrations by throwing their shoes at him. So, here is my little Iranian street vendor,....

According to Time,

And one major issue will undoubtedly be case of shoe-tossing journalist Muntader al-Zaidi, who became a hero on
the streets of Iraq and much of the Arab world after his failed attempt to bean
President Bush at a press conference. Zaidi is to stand trial on New Year's Eve,
Abdul Satar Birqadr, the spokesman for Iraq's High Judicial Council said Monday,
on charges of "assaulting a foreign head of state visiting Iraq." Even if
putting Zaidi on trial appears to risk igniting public hostility, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki
may yet seek to make the case work to his a political advantage ahead of next
month's poll, for which some 17.5 million are registered to vote.


The former speaker of the Iraqi Parliament praised Muntader the shoe thrower as "brave."

The newly resigned Iraqi parliament speaker on Wednesday praised the
journalist who threw shoes at President George W. Bush and said the legislature
should have supported him.

Is this a sign of a maturing democracy where "Muntader the shoe thrower" becomes a celebrity and hero of the political opposition aka Joe the Plumber? Such political characters have a long history in the US, so why not in Iraq?

But the effects of Muntader the shoe thrower go beyond just Iraqi politics. It has become a basis for pride and self esteem for Iraqi outside the borders of Iraq. For instance,

The Iraqi people are courageous people,” a taxi driver in Amman, Jordan, told me
a few days ago. It was strange to hear this praise after hearing years of verbal
abuse from Arabs in Jordan and Syria. When my uncle was shopping in the market
in Amman recently he heard a voice yell: “Are you Iraqi?” In the past this would
be followed by a speech about the war and the Americans. Instead the man yelled
to my uncle: “You made us proud.”

If this raises Iraqi's pride, egads, what would something more, erhm, lethal have done? Makes me kind of wonder. Political violence is one thing, but makes me feel good violence is another.

I don't really get it. But then, I didn't really get the outrage at the Danish cartoons. Ha, ha. And we should all be able to laugh a bit at ourselves. Now, I can laugh at Muntader the shoe thrower, but I don't get 'brave' (perhaps misguided, impetuous, maybe even dumb). I think it goes to show how different our respective perspectives are. And how much folks in that part of the world dislike us. I don't think it is just Pres. Bush (I really wish it were), but he is a stand-in for the rest of us.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas and here is your daily downer

30 years ago, President Jimmy Carter (remember him, he was a barrel of laughs), gave us this in a speech from 7/15/79:

“Energy will be the immediate test of our ability to unite this nation, and it can also be the standard around which we rally. On the battlefield of energy we can win for our nation a new confidence, and we can seize control again of our common destiny. Our excessive dependence on OPEC has already taken a tremendous toll on our economy and our people. It's a cause of the increased inflation and unemployment that we now face. This intolerable dependence on foreign oil threatens our economic independence and the very security of our nation.
The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our nation. These are facts and we simply must face them.”


But Ronald Reagan won the 1980 election. Almost a year to the day of Pres. Carter's speech, Ronald Reagan accepted his party's nomination for the Presidency. An excerpt from that speech shows you the path taken that has lead us to our mess today:



Those who preside over the worst energy shortage in our history tell us to
use less, so that we will run out of oil, gasoline, and natural gas a little
more slowly. Conservation is desirable, of course, for we must not waste energy.
But conservation is not the sole answer to our energy needs.

America must get to work producing more energy. The Republican program
for solving economic problems is based on growth and productivity.

Large amounts of oil and natural gas lay beneath our land and off our
shores, untouched because the present administration seems to believe the
American people would rather see more regulation, taxes and controls than more
energy.

Coal offers great potential. So does nuclear energy produced under
rigorous safety standards. It could supply electricity for thousands of
industries and millions of jobs and homes. It must not be thwarted by a tiny
minority opposed to economic growth which often finds friendly ears in
regulatory agencies for its obstructionist campaigns.

Make no mistake. We will not permit the safety of our people or our
environment heritage to be jeopardized, but we are going to reaffirm that the
economic prosperity of our people is a fundamental part of our
environment.


Shouldn't the goal be: energy without poisoning our future? Nuclear produces incredibly toxic waste; coal is not clean...lots o greenhouse gas, ... and when hasn't economic growth come with development of new technologies? Well, the threat to other industries is what stops the development of new technologies mnore than its real feasibility. Hell, the Saudis work on thwarting non petroleum energy sources.

...on a completely different track....I see blue sky. Seems like a week since I saw that. A clear blue Christmas is what I prefer today.

Update (later on Christmas Day). This is from a Sept 11, 2008 article in The Economist.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Does Obama like Spam?


I feel for our President while he vacations in Hawaii. Tough duty, but hey, I love Hawaii.


The reporters that follow our President-elect around though are getting ridiculous. As reported over at Politico (sorry, no link to this one...I almost feel embarassed), a reporter got a look at the snacks Pres-e Obama ordered and on the ticket was Spam musobi. Here is a pic, don't know if the Spam can is real or not, but what is pictured is apparently the spam delight.
Okay, here is the deal. I will admit it. I like Spam. Yup. Grew up eating the stuff. And not as a regular food,,,no, this was a treat mind you. My dad and I did a lot of fishing when I was a kid, both salt and freshwater....all day, all weekend trips. Always, for lunch, we packed a can of Spam (the old stuff was packed in a gelatinous goo that we typically washed off in river, lake or gulf), and very salty. Spam sandwiches...."Hillbilly" bread (that was a brand in those days), Spam, mustard, and onions (and my dad always, always added salt...he salted bacon. a great Christmas gift for him was a salt lick). The spam always had to be cut thin as did the onions. We usually ate two apiece. I was taught how to filet fish and make spam sandwiches about at the same time. (with the same knife as I recall...yup, we used the fish cleaning knife to cut our spam and onions)
Come on my few readers....leave me a comment....tell me your Spam stories. Everyone has one. Spam is ubiquitous, else why would Spam not have come to refer to unwanted mass junk email? Share your stories here. If we get some good ones, we'll send them to President Obama. Or, if we begin a cult from this exercise, we'll change President Obama's name to President Ospama.
\
President Ospama conjures up all kinds of possibilities doesn't it.?.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

There is no pornography here

Mona Charen has a column on pornography. Read it here
Align Center
While she tries to create a divide between the right and left on this topic, pornography is the one topic that I think the right and left actually can find some agreement. Charen's agrument sounds like a pretty conventional feminist argument to me:

Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Norman Doidge, author of "The Brain That Changes
Itself," noted that pornography use actually changes the brains of consumers.
Like other addictions, pornography use breeds tolerance and the need for more
intensity to get the desired result. He quoted Tom Wolfe's "I Am Charlotte
Simmons," in which a college kid asks casually, "Anybody got porn?" He is told
that there are magazines on the third floor. He responds, "I've built up a
tolerance to magazines … I need videos." Tolerance is the medically correct
term, Doidge notes, which is why pornography becomes more and more graphic.


Pornography seems to desensitize its consumers to real sex. Now, she goes on to make an argument that I wish she quoted credible research on. I really wonder if there is anything but anecdotal evidence for this:

The men (and they are overwhelmingly men) who become hooked on this bilge
are often miserable about it. They know that it affects their capacity to love
and be loved by real women. As Doidge explained, "Pornographers promise healthy
pleasure and a release from sexual tension, but what they often deliver is an
addiction, tolerance, and an eventual decrease in pleasure. Paradoxically, the
male patients I worked with often craved pornography but didn't like it." Hugh
Hefner, the godfather of mainstream porn, apparently does not have normal sex
with his many girlfriends. Despite the presence of up to seven comely young
women in his bed at a time, he uses porn for sexual satisfaction. Think about
that.

Internet pornography truly is, as one researcher put it, "a hidden
public health hazard." It isn't cute or funny. Relationships are crashing, women
are suffering in silence, and men and boys are becoming entrapped by it. The
Witherspoon Institute has done a valuable thing by starting a more public
conversation about this cultural poison.

I'd have no problem, assuming credible evidence, if pornography were declared a public health problem. Of course, it has taken, what, 35 years and more to see alcoholism and binge drinking as a public health problem. And obesity and diabetes are beginning to be viewed that way. But pornography is protected as free speech so it will be much harder to deal with. It cannot effectively be banned and I don't think we are far from porn becoming completely mainstream. Charen's observations about Victoria's Secret and the racy ads for pajamagrams are exactly right.

I wonder, however, if a saturation might eventually occur. Porn is new for the US. Yeah, it has always been around, but the seeming privacy and anonymity of the internet has let it explode. What about societies where porn has been more readily available like the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries? I don't know if relationships are ruined, but I do have to admit, their birth rates are very low...porn instead of real sex?

I'm not sure there is any way to stop porn. Sexuality education (as opposed to sex education) in our schools might help, but I don;t see that happening anytime soon.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Justice for torture regime?

Now, a bipartisan report by the Senate Armed Services Committee has made
what amounts to a strong case for bringing criminal charges against former
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; his legal counsel, William J. Haynes; and
potentially other top officials, including the former White House counsel
Alberto Gonzales and David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief
of staff.

Read the rest here

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

President Bush knows what is best....

On CNN yesterday Pres Bush made this startling admission:

BUSH; Well, I have obviously made a decision to make sure the economy doesn’t
collapse. I’ve abandoned free market principles to save the free market system.
I think when people review what’s taken place in the last six months, uh, and
put it all in one, in one, (sigh), you know, in one package, they’re realize how
significantly we have moved.

It seems this has surprised people (at least in the blogosphere, both right and left).

But why should it? Isn't this also the same President who ignored the US Constitution in order to save it? He swore to this oath:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of
President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve,
protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Ignored reality in order to preserve fantasy (global warming, contaminants in drinking water, etc).

Why should anyone be surprised?




Monday, December 15, 2008

Will nanotechnology be new front in culture war?

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star 12/14/07

There could be very small problems lurking in your home. Do you have any of these products?: Wilson nCode tennis racket; NDlinx golf balls; a pair of stain resistant khaki pants from Dockers or Lands End; Sharper Image’s antibacterial Silver athletic and lounging socks; POUTlandish Hypermoist lip paint; NewBalance Skye crop sports bra; Fresherlonger food storage containers; FX Diamond razors; L’Oreal or Lancome “microlifting” skin cream; or Behr’s house paint; recently purchased sunglasses with anti-scratch and anti-reflective coatings.

These are just a short list of consumer products that employ nanotechnology. Nanotechnology, according to Wikipedia, “is a field whose theme is the control of matter on an atomic and molecular scale. Generally nanotechnology deals with structures of the size 100 nanometers or smaller, and involves developing materials or devices within that size.” A nanometer is very, very small. Too small really to readily understand, but a sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick. Nanotechnology is manufacturing products at the molecular (or smaller) level.
What are the possibilities for improving the human condition beyond the trivial (poutier lips and bouncier balls)? According to UNESCO, vastly improved drug delivery, the precision deployment of anti-cancer treatments at the cellular level, and improved therapies for many diseases, improved water filtration techniques that could deliver astounding health and development benefits to poor nations where major shortages of drinkable water are a daily threat, vastly improved batteries (a major advancement as we try to wean ourselves from using oil for transportation purposes). There are many others.

What is the small problem lurking in your home? According to a recent issue of “Environmental Toxicity and Chemistry” there might be many. Among them: nanoparticles may be toxic due to metals associated with their structure or their structure themselves; ingestions of nanoparticles by insects can affect their metabolic processes; absorption of nanoparticles on algal cell walls can be toxic; some garden vegetables, like tomatoes, can be effected; the list goes on. The point is that something this small can get in lots of places that we don’t know the effects of. Uncertainty is always scary and after about 20 years of development and application, we are just now beginning to carefully examine the “downsides.”

This week three studies were released that according to one of the teams, nanotechnology poses the possibility for another front in the “culture war.” Why? Because it appears that values influence our view of nanotechnology (surprise, surprise, values matter). The Yale study of 1500 US adults found that once learning about the new science, “the determining factor in how people responded was their cultural values. … People who had more individualistic, pro-commerce values, tended to infer that nanotechnology is safe. … while people who are more worried about economic inequality read the same information as implying that nanotechnology is likely to be dangerous.”

In another study, by North Carolina State University and Arizona State University researchers, Americans were found to be more willing to support nanotechnology when the activity is not seen as “playing God.” So, a better drug delivery system is okay, but “enhancing” human performance is not.

Lastly, a comparative study of the US and European countries, found that in the US and a few European countries where religion plays a larger role in everyday life such as Italy, Austria, and Ireland, “nantechnology and its potential to alter living organisms .. is perceived as less morally acceptable.” In more secular European societies, like France and Germany, “individuals are … less likely to view nanotechnology through the prism of religion and find it ethically suspect.” In short, according to the study’s lead author, “religion was the strongest influence over everything.”

Nano-pollution likely will lead to the unintentional altering of living organisms. Is that okay? How many human lives are worth stain resistant pants, poutier lips, or bouncier balls? How many human lives are worth nano-manufactured cancer therapies that save human lives? Bio-ethicists seem confident that we can come to ethical decisions about this technology. But will that happen before it it used to open a new front in the culture wars, which is arguably a creation only to gain advantage in electoral politics.

It takes two sides to go to war, even a culture war. Proponents of nanotechnology should avoid dismissing concerns arising from religious positions about it. Similarly, those with moral and religious concerns should not move to ban such technology because that would leave the leadership in its development to countries without the moral “breaks” we have in the United States.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Wind, Water And Sun Beat Biofuels, Nuclear And Coal For Clean Energy

Fron Science Daily News:

The best ways to improve energy security, mitigate global warming and reduce the number of deaths caused by air pollution are blowing in the wind and rippling in the water, not growing on prairies or glowing inside nuclear power plants, says Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford.


But big money interests are heavily weighted on the dirtier alternatives.

Read the rest here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

First the press, now universities....the demonization continues

I think Mary Grabar's critique is an excellent example of what is wrong with American Higher Ed. The triumph of opinion over reason. Yup. that is right. All Ms. Grabar is doing is disgreeing with a study because, well, she disagrees with it. She doesn't examine the methdology, she doesn't examine the evidence, only the conclusions and since it is contrary with her views, then she dismisses it. That is exactly what I teach my students...ignore all evidence to the contrary. Actually, that pretty much defines 'stereotype'....a characterization of a people (or institution in this case) that ignores differences and persists despite contrary evidence.

I tried to get a look at "Closed Minds? Politics and Ideology in American Universities” but alas, I would have to purchase it or get it from my library. My library doesn't have it yet, and it is snowy out and I don't feel like running out to purchase. I do recall and earlier discussion of this, and there are some questions about the methodology, but more to the point, whether college should be more important to this issues than family, previous schooling, etc.

What does Mr. Grabar offer as evidence? Only her anecdotal examples. That is not systematic, it is not reproducible...all canons of science...which, by the way, conservatives have an issue with, too.

I'm not going to argue that there isn't alot of ideology in the classroom ,college or public or parochial school. Mostly what I find in my students is just ignorance...which is really the point of Closed Minds. It is entire areas that are no longer taught, like polical and military history. Why??????????????

I am a sociologist. My university just closed us down. It wasn't because we didn't have students, we did. The reason? We were politically weak. But now, there is no institutional examination of inequality, poverty, social class, the effect of religion on society and vice versa, no more examination of the importance of human values in society......One long term project I have been doing with my students is to calculate how much they "cost." Not how much they spend, but how much they cost. Because that class is likely to never be taught here again, that exercise is not likely to be taught again. It is a real mind opener, I promise you, regardless of political stripe.

When higher ed became just a processor of human capital, that spelled the end of the stuff that matters to folks who care about the ideology of college professors. Adam who? (Smith), Ayn who? (Rand), karl who? (marx?) Except for college professors, what is any of that going to help in the workplace? That is the watchword today, especially in public schools where academic freedom is praciced at its strongest.

Finally, since we are dealing in the anecdotal. My experience is that most faculty teach "theory" and "persepctive" that they don't connect to existing political ideological scales. I've heard those who teach evolutionary perspectives argue both: 1) it is liberal because it undermines ideas of morality; 2) it is conservative because it suggets biological basis for things like gender, achievement, etc. So, which is it? ahhhh...perhaps it isn't ideological until someone uses it that way. Of course to even recognize the difference between ideology and "science" is to suggest a finely tuned critical ability that is absent in Ms. Grabar's critique.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A different perspective on US education woes

We see a familiar education discussion beginning again. For example, see here. The conservative, free market answer: do away with public schools, pay for performance among teachers, even pay for performance (cash)for students, bust up teacher unions, and do away with the professionalization of teachers. On the other side are the liberal "reformers:" they cite the public's continued support for the concept of public schools (although the numbers heading to private or private-lite schools keep increasing, especially among the middle classes),they advocate smaller classes and teacher quality. The arguments are old, evidence is almost always self-serving, depending on the evidence provided.

I'll provide some evidence here, enough I think to make the prima facie argument. First off, my evidence comes from the BLS annual surveys on wages and salaries and the data I could obtain online is over a ten year period, 1997 to 2007 and I offer data from 97 to 07 to make the point.

Okay, here are my facts: teachers have been historically and continue to be today, mostly female. Indeed, teaching today is probably more female dominated than 20 years ago...we are beginning to show the problem already.

Second, the occupational and economic opportunities for talented women have increased astronomically over the last 35 years...that is important because the teachers from 35 years ago, faced a very different opportunity structure than do women today.

So, think of it this way: In the mid 1970s, 75% of women worked as teachers, nurses, secretaries, librarians, and in food service. hence, the most talented women were likely distributed between nursing and teaching. Now i don't have salary data for then, but I do for 1997, by then the opportunity structure had really begun to change. but I think the point will still be made:

In 1997 Registered nurses averaged $41,400 a year. In 1997 teachers averaged, depending on what kind, kindergarten, elementary, seconary, or special ed, 34,100; 37,300; 39,010; 39,200. These are comparable salaries.

But, by '97 the opportunity structure for women, especially for talented women, had changed. Among the most rapidly feminizing occupations were accountants and editors. In 1997 the average pay for those occupations was 45,500 and 36,940 respectively. These are still comparable to that of teaching, though accounting is clearly more pay.

Now for the point. If talented women once concentrated in teaching, and one thing that no one seems to disagree with is that the teacher matters, is that the talent level among today's teachers is likely less than what it was in the past. This is an unintentional downside to greater economic equality for women.

In May 2007 look at the average pay differences among these occupations. Nurses increased by 50% to 62,480. accountants increased 39% to 63,180; editors increased by 49% to 55,020. Nurses have kept up with the occupations that once were not available to women. what about teachers? for kindergarten teachers pay has increased 40% to 47,750; elementary teachers have increased 34% to 50,040, secondary teachers have increased 34% to 52450; special ed teachers have increased 33% to 52000.

In short, if you believe that talent follows the money, one traditional female occupation, nurse, has kept up economically with the new opportunities for talented women. But teaching has lagged behind, seriously behind.

Now, someone who really understands this stuff will say, now wait a minute there is much behind these statistics....they are averages, they don't show starting salaries or the effects of lenght of time in service, etc. All that is correct....but then those who disagree with the main points here, do that analysis. I'm standing pat for now on this.

Increasing economic opporunties for women have, inadvertently hurt the teaching profession, which in turn, has hurt education, especially public education. The solution is to make teaching as economically attractive as other professions requiring similar talent, like nursing, editing, and accounting. how that is done, whether through merit pay or just raising the salaries (productivity increases are not likely to increase the pay..indeed, more teachers are needed, not less), is one key to improving US public education.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Patriot or Trader?

My title is meant to be provocative. I have no doubt the answer is patriot. A couple of days ago the Washington Post printed a column by a former interrogator working in Iraq. Complete article here (you should read it)

Why do I say patriot and not rrader? Because:
I'm not some ivory-tower type; I served for 14 years in the U.S. Air Force, began my career as a Special Operations pilot flying helicopters, saw combat in Bosnia and Kosovo, became an Air Force counterintelligence agent, then volunteered to go to Iraq to work as a senior interrogator. What I saw in Iraq still rattles me -- both because it betrays our traditions and because it just doesn't work.


Not only is torture a betrayal of our American traditions and it doesn't work..it makes things worse:
Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there's the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives.

I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans.


Then should we conclude that those who authorized the use of torture have American blood on their hands?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Another Poll Shows Americans are Dumb as Posts...so what

Kathleen Parker is one of my favorite columnists. I don't often agree with her, but, she writes very well, will skewer her own kind when they are wrong (an odd thing for hard ideological writers), and she makes me think.

She is a regular in our Sunday paper here, usually trailing several days her columns from WaPo. The headline for her column today says it all: "Bailing Out Ignorance."

This is another in a cottage industry of stories about what Americans don't know. Now, I recognize that for a college professor to suggest that only 21% of American's recognize phrases from the Gettysburg Address may not be the cultural fracture that the "illuminati" like to suggest it is, is odd, but the fact is, the only effect that can be shown with such ignorance is the ignornace it self. Instead of only 0.8% of the sample getting an A, that 80% earned an A, what tangible differences would it make?


Remember the early 80s with the conservative push on a loss of traditional values/culture? Allan Bloom and his ilk of elitist illuminati?

How many Christians do you suppose would score highly on bible trivial pursuit?

In a book that I am a third author on, "Tabloid Justice," in data I don't recall if we really delved into, it seems I recall finding a negative relationship between people who watch TV and their knowledge of the criminal justice system. But, so what? This is not to suggest that judges, lawyers, and cops don't know enough to work the system, but regular folks are going to serve as jurors, but lawyers like ignorant jurors, so that seems to be potentially a good thing.

A quick Google search shows how many similar such polls demonstrate ignorance:

A Pew Center study shows that the proliferation of new media isn't necessarily informing people any better, indeed, in many areas, there is a reduction, but not across the board:














"Most Americans Don't Know 'Better Fats' Benefit Heart Health" Even in something as self-serving as their health, Americans are dumb:
Fewer than half of Americans know that the "better" fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) can help reduce their risk of heart disease, according to a recent survey(1) by the American Heart Association.


Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans. Go figure why people don't know about that either.

Even Pravda has noticed how damn dumb we are, citing a National Geogrpahic Study (American's geographic ignorance is well known and little repaired since being discovered nearly 20 years ago). I like the headline on this one: "Being too proud of themselves, many Americans don’t know where New York is"

Most of the story looks lifted directly from Nat'l Geographic, but this study is of youth, which paints an ominous picture of the future. Some of the startling findings:

The results showed causes for concern. Here are the most evident examples of young Americans’ illiteracy.

Only 37% of young Americans can find Iraq on a map - though U.S. troops have been there since 2003.

6 in 10 young Americans don't speak a foreign language fluently.

20% of young Americans think Sudan is in Asia. (It's the largest country in Africa.)

48% of young Americans believe the majority population in India is Muslim. (It's Hindu—by a landslide.)

Half of young Americans can't find New York on a map.

Three-quarters cannot find Indonesia on a map – even after images of the tsunami and the damage it caused to this region of the world played prominently across television screens and in the pages of print media over many months in 2005.

The majority of the American young adults overestimate the total size of the US population and fail to understand how much larger the population of China is.

Three-quarters believe English is the most common spoken native language in the world, rather than Mandarin Chinese.

Only Two-thirds (67%) can find Louisiana on a US map and half (52%) can find Mississippi – leaving a third or more who cannot find these states, in spite of months of intensive media coverage of the 2005 hurricanes and their aftermath.


From over 20 years ago, another ignorance poll about our constitution. What Americans Don't Know About the Constitution (I wonder if our current President wsa one of those surveyed?) Remember, these facts are from a study in 1987:

Well over half of those surveyed believed:

The president, acting alone, can appoint a justice to the Supreme Court.
The Constitution established English as the national language.
The Constitution guarantees the right to a free public education.
Here are some other findings from the survey:

Almost half of those surveyed mistakenly thought that a Supreme Court decision can never be overruled.
Nearly half believed that a president can suspend constitutional liberties in a time of national emergency.
Eighty-five percent thought that any important case may be appealed from state courts to the Supreme Court.
Forty-six percent of adult Americans did not know that the purpose of the Constitution was to create a federal government and define its powers.
Twenty-six percent believed that the Constitution's purpose was to declare independence from England



And a fifth example:

Nanotechnology And Synthetic Biology: Americans Don't Know What's Coming (yet it is still coming and some of those responsible are dumb ass Americans)

At least this study suggested specific problems with ignorance, specifically in the public policy realm:

"
Early in the administration of the next president, scientists are expected to take the next major step toward the creation of synthetic forms of life. Yet the results from the first U.S. telephone poll about synthetic biology show that most adults have heard just a little or nothing at all about it," says PEN Director David Rejeski. The poll findings are contained a report published September 30.


Okay, this entry is getting way to long, and my hope is that Kethleen Parker might actually read it.

Three points: first, we have no idea what our citizens knew in the past. The assumption is that we knew more in the past. But what evidence do you really have? 20 years ago we didn't know the constitution, and I could demonstrate more of the same from the past, but I didn't look...my simple search produced enough to make these points.

Second, this measure of knowledge, a multiple choice test, is a BAD measure to measure cultural knoweldge. Would conducting the test with a group composed of a cross section of 5 people do any better? Based on my own testing procedures for multiple choice exams, yes. Knowledge is social. And telephone surveys are especially bad at tapping knowlege like this. What would focus groups demonstrate, after all, we discuss things as we need to.

Third, how many people need to know stuff? We have a specialized division of labor. In simpler societies, every one pretty much knows the same stuff, but in more complex industrial societies, and now global societies, we are very interdependent; we rely on a variety of authorities to signal the right stuff to us. If i have a constitutional question, I listen to Jonathan Turley; if I have a medical question I listen to my doc. Now, I also try to find stuff out myself. A far better study would be to see how people use the tremendous information available to them. It is one thing to not know stuff on a random multiple choice test, it is far another to show the ability and wherewithall to find it out.

Kathleen Parker fears a "demogogue." You mean like the unitary executive of the
Bush Administration? Fear, in the form of fear of terrorism, will overwhelm rational action, which is fact based, no matter what. Ms. Parker cites a history prof, a member of the condescending illuminati:
In his book, Shenkman, founder of George Mason University's History News Network, is tough on everyday Americans. Why, he asks, do we value polls when clearly The People don't know enough to make a reasoned judgment?

The founding fathers, Shenkman points out, weren't so enamored of The People, whom they distrusted. Hence a Republic, not a Democracy. They understood that an ignorant electorate was susceptible to emotional manipulation and feared the tyranny of the masses.


This is an old argument. What knowledge would you test to establish rational?
Give drivers a book test after 20 years of driving, will they pass it? Could I pass my phD prelims again, today, without preparation?

Knowledge is a use or lose it proposition. On what occasions do most Americans need to know what is contained in the first Amendment...this doesn't suggest they don't know they have a right to free speech; or what the electoral college does..that hasnt made it any easier to get rid of!; or that Congress has the power to declare war: well, since the last formal declaration of war, we have been to Korea (a UN action, right), Vietnam (War Powers Act basically gave the Pres power to go to war without Congress' approval...subverting the Constitution....that was over 30 years ago);

Had Americans shown incredible knowledge, instead of ignornace, what would be different today? No Iraq war? No terrorist attacks? No economic crisis? Would we have freed ourselves of our dependency on foreign oil back in the 70s? Would we have traveled to Mars intead of just to the moon? Would diabetes not be a epidemic? Would we have not developed cable tv, the internet, and cell phones for their dumbing down effects as Parker suggests?

Such studies make for great American bashing...and I'll admit to having done it myself (see early post on ignornace abounding in the income tax discussion), but as far as a harbinger of the end of America as we know it, I doubt it. I am not even sure it reflects poorly on our educational system. That Americans are "anti-intellectual" is nothing new. And these tests merely show that. And yet, we survive, thrive, and lead.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Convenience is the key to unlocking individual adaptation to climate change

I found this link to an article in the Windsor Times (Canada) on a recent survey on declining willingness to adapt to global climate change.

The release of the survey seems to be aimed at influencing next week's round of discusions about adaptation to climate change in Poland:

There is both growing public reluctance to make personal sacrifices and a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the major international efforts now underway to battle climate change, according to findings of a poll of 12,000 citizens in 11 countries, including Canada.

Results of the poll were released this week in advance of the start of a major international conference in Poland where delegates are considering steps toward a new international climate-change treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.


While individuals indicated less willingness to do anything, they do want their governments to do something:

Results of the poll suggested that 55 per cent of respondents in the 11 countries said their governments should be doing more by investing in renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and wave power.

That's more than double the 27 per cent who wanted their governments to participate in Kyoto-style international agreements to reduce emissions.


I tried to find the report, but couldn't, though I admit, I spent more time shopping online than I did trying to track down the referenced report.

From this news article, I conclude this: people want more, not less. (surprise, surprise). What I mean is that people want more investment in long term solutions, more wind, more solar, probably hoping for a perfect substitution to the carbon based economies we have now. A reduction in carbon emisions sounds too much like "restrictions" or accountability (carbon tax) for one's use of carbon.

Regular folks don't really care where the "juice" comes from as long as it works.

Also, simple things like changing light bulbs, buying "green" are the models. People will do stuff if they believe it is convenient (a key value no one ever addresses) and will save money. (Even if it doesn't). Belief is key.

So, when I see stuff like this, article headlined Five Ways to Prevent Global Warming That Big Media Won’t Tell You I begin to shudder, because these are the kinds of changes that freak people out (no matter how right it might be). If you don't want to click on the article, here is the run down:

1. "Avoid high gas prices and carbon emissions" by getting rid of your car altogether and riding a bike (yup, sounds good for urban, not too snowy, cold, or rainy places, but not really pratical for probably half of us)

2. "Eat fresh, local foods for a healthy environment and you" this is the farmer's market solution. Convenience is he killer here. It means more trips to the market (since everything is fresh and doesn't last..no cans, no frozen stuff), AND, if I am only going to eat local stuff here, in Indiana, not much growing now, until june....so need to preserve during summer.

3. "Learn how to reduce your home’s carbon footprint" this is about expensive renovations to one's home including the very stuff one's home is constructed of...lumber bad because of transportation costs and concrete bad because of transportation....corn cobs and hay bales? come on. Changes in behavior like turning off lights when not in use nad just caulking windows, etc. is more likely and more likely to make a dent in the problem. 10% of people destroying their current home and rebuilding with hay stacks is not going to have as much an impact if 50% adopting just money saving, energy saving behaviors in their existing homes.

4. "Keep money in your pocket and carbon out of the air" I like this one, spiritually, this is about "consumerism." yes, buy less, fewer stuffsssssss. yes, but the article suggests this:
But you can take a jab at the consumerism machine by reducing your consumption. For example, you can do this by buying used clothing, joining a co-op, and participating in events like Buy Nothing Day.


5. "Live your values happily with friends" or join a commune, now called an ecovillage. What I like best about this is that the picture that accompanies this section is clearly very rural...so, the 10 mile bike ride to work becomes a reality.

I wonder what the effects of these ideas have on folks answering surveys about how much time, money, and effort they are willing to expend to deal with climate change?

I can't speak for other societies, but I am pretty sure that individual responses by Americans will have to be sold as convenient. That is why I think fuel cells will win out over electric cars. Electric cars will require daily recharging...maybe people are used to recharging their cell phones and ipods and computers will easily adapt, but I think "when I need it, I get it" which is the pattern for gas powered cars...hydrogen fuel cells will be the same, even if there are huge infrastructure issues.

Look, the ideal solution is going to be changed to create a realistic solution. Certain values are going to have to be dealt with, covenience being a huge one.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I'm BAAAAAAAck. with beer

I did not intend to take a hiatus from blogging. It just sort of happened. Part of it was because of burn out after the election and that I was out of town at a conference.

Okay, I also want to steer clear of the easy stuff...electioneering and politics for a while.

Found this interesting nugget at Science Daily: Bottoms Up: Individualists More Likely To Be Problem Drinkers

In short, the researchers found that those who are more "individualist" compared to "collectivist" are more likely to be problem drinkers. An excerpt:

The researchers found that people with more interdependent mindsets were less likely to over-consume when they were with peers. "The results suggest that people with collectivistic cultural orientations tend to be more motivated to regulate impulsive consumption tendencies than those with individualistic cultural orientations, which in turn makes them less likely to engage in beer or alcohol consumption," the authors conclude.


Now the authors have no direct measure of drinking behavior, just an indication after a "manipulation." So, I am skeptical to generalize much about this, like libertarians are more likely to be problem drinkers than socialists.

But it is interesting that even the manipulation that caught a person's orientation and there was variance does indicate the cultural influence on individual drinking.

I'm working with a local group focused on reducing our county's underage and binge drinking. My county is among the worse in the state for this. We are taking a public health approach, treating underage and binge drinking as a public health problem. I like the approach, it is far less moralistic, and very data driven. So, I am more interested in research on alcohol than I have been in the past. The research reported on by Science Daily evidences the importance of local culture. I am not convinced that being individualistic or collectivist is just a personality trait...it is social psychological (being involved in a collective, team, family, etc) is going to effect one's "orientation" as well as particular belief system. What is interesting is that being the individulist is highly prized in our culture. And locally, individualism is highly, highly valued. But then so is church going, which is an emphasis on the collective (American culture is a tension between the "individual" (an ideal) and the reality of high pressure conformism.

So, is American culture a "risk" factor or a "protective" factor when it comes to alcohol consumption? Of course, influencing the broader culture is not really possible.

In our local situation, just raising awareness that the alcohol problem among underage folks is a greater problem here than in most other places, is the goal. After all, if everyone just thinks the local situation is normal, how do you effect change?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Obama wins the affluent vote

Here is an article from another pollster, one with not as good a reputation as Mark Rasmussen (see below), but who makes a better argument, based on evidence that is not suspectible to the whims of the times or the socially obvious answetr. Mark Penn writes at Politico:

While Obama received record votes from the expanded minority communities, that alone would not have led to victory had he not also secured so much support among the growing professional class — and in doing so went beyond the successful 1996 coalition that also climbed the income ladder to include newly targeted soccer moms. Back then, President Clinton got 38 percent of the vote among those making over $100,000. This year Obama earned 49 percent of that vote. He also got 52 percent of a new polling category — those making over $200,000 a year who were no longer among the top 1 percent of earners, as they had been in past elections, but were now the top 6 per cent.


I like the explanation. It is not ideological, though it favors the dem's position, it is pretty sociological, esentially that the educated and monied don't work in entreprenuerial enviroments, they work in corporate environments. If you want to be leftist, it is a case of doctors not being entreprenuers anymore, now they are contract employees...in other words, many "professionals" have been "proletarianized." The former petty bourgeosie, are now high priced employees. Feeding off the communnal efforts of the clinic and not just on their own billable hours. So, they voted for Obama EVEN though he promised to raise their taxes.

Reaganism lives?

What is fascinating is whether the democrat base is switching from blue collar voters to the educated service economy voters, which is what our economy has been producing. More educated, less religious, more communal. Shudder. A bunch of folks who are creatures of bureaucracies.

Reaganism Lives?

Scott Rasmussen is a respected pollster, but when he tries to become the pundit, well, propagandist is probably a better term. Much is being made, of his article in the WSJ here TownHall repeats the claim and at Instapundit
He cites the following statistics from a poll taken Oct 2(?):

Mr. Obama's tax-cutting message played a key role in this period of economic anxiety. Tax cuts are well-received at such times: 55% of voters believe they are good for the economy. Only 19% disagree and see them as bad policy.


When are tax cuts not popular with voters? Too me, what is surprising is that only 55% thought tax cuts would be good for the economy. So, this seems nothing more than saying Reaganism is nothing more than a truism, which I wouldn't agree with.

Mr. Rasmussen goes on in his argument that Reaganism still lives:

A Rasmussen survey conducted Oct. 2 found that 59% agreed with the sentiment expressed by Reagan in his first inaugural address: "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." Just 28% disagreed with this sentiment. That survey also found that 44% of Obama voters agreed with Reagan's assessment (40% did not). And McCain voters overwhelmingly supported the Gipper.


This survey was taken at a time of great crisis, when gov't needed to act (so many believed) and the blame for the credit collapse was laid at the feet of who? Free enterprise? Nope, gov't, so who would be surprised at such a statistic. Again, what is surprising is not that 59% agreed with the sentiment, that more did not.

I'm not arguing here that Reaganism still lives or not. But, Mr. Rasmussen, as skilled a pollster as he is, should know better than to make the claims he is with this data. This is nothing more than propaganda...Mr. Rasumssen, do you measure pupblic opinion or try to shape it?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tom Steiger on GMA

While I'd rather be on the national news for winning a prize, this is better than doing a perp walk with a voice over "professor discovered eating his students"

My "glaring" interview on video here:

Spread the Wealth? What's New?

An Article from Newsweek, here. Expands on my own but with less exasperation.

Who's to blame for polarizing the nation?

An interesting article here from the Dallas Morning News
The author, Wayne Slater, asks whether the two candidates, both vowing to end the polarization, can do it.

I wonder where the polarization came from...not that the tendencies weren't already there, but G.W. Bush, who lost the popular vote, won the presidency with a supereme court decision that said, stop countring ballots, and then governed like he won every state. Any reasonable person would have realized, I have to tread softly, that the nation is seriously divided and my own presidency is not as legitimate as the past few. Instead, he did the exact opposite, and even with 911, where he had tremendous backing, instead, he polarized the world and the nation..leading to the divisive 2004 election, which Mr. Slater points to as an important event in the polarization of the nation.

If Senator Obama wins, he has to be cautious not to overstep, given that the Dems are likely to increase their numbers in Congress. People are not so much voting for democrats as much as voting against republicans.

If Senator McCain wins, he will have to work with a democrat congress. He gets nothing done if he continues with the polarization and demonization of the other side.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ignorance abounds in the discussion of U.S. tax system

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, November 2, 2008

Are Americans so dumb that they don’t realize that any tax is “redistributive?” Don’t Americans know that we have had a progressive income tax for nearly a century? What do they teach in high school these days? How about college?

The 16th Amendment to the Constitution (something our presidents are sworn to defend) legally established the federal income tax and shortly following ratification in 1913, upon our entry in World War I, responsible leaders introduced a “graduated” or “progressive income tax” to pay for the war (unlike how we funded the Iraq war). The lowest rate was 1 to 2 percent with a top rate of 15% on individuals who earned more than $1.5 million. The progressive income tax has been with us ever since.

Ronald Reagan began to curb it, to reduce the progressivity of the tax structure. Today, we have the spectacle of politicians suggesting that a progressive income tax is somehow “un-American” or “socialist.” Some believe the idea for the progressive income tax came from none other than Adam Smith, a well known “socialist” to be sure. From Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature of and Causes of the Wealth of Nations: “It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.”


If Americans knew their own history; if they knew even how American institutions worked, just a basic sense of how public goods like schools, police, roads, prisons, fire houses, libraries and our courts were financed then we’d be discussing a completely reasonable question: is now the time to introduce more progressivity into our tax structure or not? Or, even, has the time come to flatten the progressive income tax?

Instead, we have regular Americans parading their ignorance. For instance, as reported in the 10/16/08 Dallas Morning News the Krajewskis from Albuquerque said they didn’t like the idea of subsidizing others. Do you mean like the students at the University of New Mexico? Or a local Albuquerque community college? Or maybe public elementary school students? How about police protection? Should that only extend to taxpayers? Or people “willing to work” (the unemployment rate there is right at 5%.) Twelve percent of Albuquerque’s population is 65 and older, collecting Social Security, which is an income transfer from younger workers to retirees—a subsidy. I am sure these informed citizens object to the $28 billion spent on food stamps. Do they object as much to the agricultural subsidies and other corporate welfare that amounts to $96 billion a year according to the conservative CATO Institute?

There have been attempts to do away with the progressive income tax. Steve Forbes ran for the Republican nomination for president in 1996 and in 2000 on his flat tax idea. He didn’t win and his idea didn’t make it to the Republican platform. Others have called for a national sales tax to replace the income tax, a value added tax, and other ideas. But so far, none have even come close to replacing the tax system that has served the US to pay for World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

At its outset, there were those who claimed this system was socialism, communism, even ‘devilism,” but the system has served us pretty well. Nevertheless, serious discussions about income taxes around issues of fairness should never be categorically dismissed. Things are different today than in 1913 and maybe the tax system no longer serves the public interest.

I am exasperated with the stupidity that equates an income tax with socialism. And yes, that makes me an elitist. I do think that people should know something of what they speak, especially when there is so much information available at the tip of our fingers through the Internet. We have the most educated populace in the world, we should expect more of them. Instead, we make a virtue of being dumb and uninformed as a post. We have abandoned the responsibility of being informed about the choices we make! This is outrageous, sad, and dangerous because democracy requires an informed citizenry, which we no longer seem to have.

One last blast at the ignoramuses: With the socialist revolution in 1959, Cuba abolished its income tax. A graduated income tax was introduced in the mid 1990s amid a liberalizing of the socialist economy due to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Changes viewed as moves toward free markets.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Could "liberal/feminist" policies help conservatives?

Our local columnist Stephanie Salter wrote anogher gem. I urge you to read it, article here.

She juxtaposes recent comments by Gov. Sarah Palin, the current "it" girl of social conservatives, with a former "it" girl, Phyllis Schafly. One decries Title IX, while the other credits it with her "upbringing."

Could "liberal/feminist" policies help conservatives?

Our local columnist Stephanie Salter wrote anogher gem

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Australians interested in Vigo County's bellwether rings

here is an article from an Australian newspaper. The reporter contacted me. Too bad she didn't get the right university.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Republican ticket and war

A quote from Senator John McCain: "I know how to win wars. I know how to win wars," McCain told the audience at a town hall in Albuquerque. And Governor Sarah Palin agrees: "What I want is a president who has spent 22 years in uniform defending our country," she said. "I want a president who isn't afraid to use the word victory when he talks about the wars we are fighting. I want a president who knows how to win the war and wants to win the war."

Who could argue with that?

I can. I want a president who can keep us out of war, who isn't so gung ho about them in the first place.

Which candidate is that? That candidate has my vote.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

What Would Bipartisanship Look Like?

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 10/15/2008

Dear Sens. McCain and Obama,

For the good of the country, both of you, please, stick to the issues and stop engaging in character assassination. Yes, yes, you can rationalize this poison as important, that the character and past associations of each be scrutinized. Both of you know this is bunk. Sen. Obama is no more a terrorist because of William Ayers than Sen. McCain is the Manchurian Candidate because he was a POW. And what is worse, it adds to the divisiveness and hyper partisanship that I bet our enemies count on when we face times of hardship, like during a multi-front war and the current economic meltdown.

Sen. McCain, a week ago you finally showed your true colors by facing a booing crowd of your own supporters and telling them that Sen. Obama is not Arab, is an honorable, decent, family man, who would make a good President, but that you would make a much better one. Sen. Obama, while your rally supporters are not yelling “treason” and “terrorist” about Sen. McCain, there are scurrilous and damaging misinformation on the internet by your supporters about Sen. McCain and his family. May I suggest that your “Fight the Smears” website include smears about your opponent, too.

How shallow you both sound in your campaigns for change. This campaign is looking like more and more of the same. But what boggles my mind is that it seems the both of you are playing chicken; the problem is when one of you blinks, its not damage to your campaign but to America. Maybe I don’t get it, but bipartisanship is more than just occasionally voting with the other side. It is also about recognizing our shared fate, something both of you seem to have forgotten or you would not engage in the politics of personal destruction. And forget about justifying it with “they started it.” Both of you are capable of stopping it.

Bipartisanship is a theme both of your campaigns embrace, then why not show it? Show the American people that you at least understand what it means and then act that way. One of you is going to be the next President of the United States. And one of you will return to the US Senate as a leader of your party. President McCain, would you like Sen. Obama’s help on your health care plan? President Obama, would you like Sen. McCain’s help on your energy policy? Or, are both of you going to engage in hyper partisanship to the degree that if one compliments the other’s wife, you will reflexively disagree with the compliment?

How can you, or let your supporters without correction, call each other “terrorist,” “unhinged,” and “dangerous” and then expect to work together? Moreover, aren’t you also hobbling the next President with these kinds of attacks? Is hobbling the President of the United States in this way a good thing for the country?

Here is what you should do. Call a joint press conference. Skip the part about who called first because it undermines your calls for service to country as you argue over who should get the credit.

Sen. Obama, after being deferred to by the more senior Senator, you announce that you are now embracing Sen. McCain’s health plan. And that either as President or as Senator you will work hard for its passage. Sen. McCain then announce that after three debates, that Sen, Obama has convinced you, that his energy policy is the best for America, and vow to fight for it as either President or Senator.

Sen. Obama, you next announce that after three debates, you are convinced that Sen. McCain’s veterans policy is the one to support and vow to help make it the law of the land either as President or Senator. Calling Sen. Obama’s raise, the gambler Sen. McCain calls Sen. Obama with “I support your climate change policy” and will work next year, either from the Oval Office of the Senate to make it law.

This is just four areas to agree upon. This is bipartisanship. This is recognizing shared fate. This means we both have a stake in not burning down each other’s house (otherwise called America). There are plenty of other issues to debate, but these are settled. It makes the debates seem real and that neither of you are ideologues. “Look,” doing that will introduce a little bit of certainty into an uncertain situation. And that, “my friends,” is leadership.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sarah Palin's response to the troopergate findings

It strikes me that the outsider is certainly acting like an insider with this kind of response: "The truth was revealed there in that report that showed there was no unlawful or unethical activity on my part." (in reponse to reporters).

This reminds me of President Clinton's famous, "depends on what is, is." (I'm paraphrasing).

I actually think if she was just honest about it, no one would care. But even her small town supporters are going to be put off by this.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Presidential Debate #2

Been a week since I posted anything...things are busy in the academic calendar.

Watched the debate last night, such as it was. I did not think there was any clear winner, though some of the focus groups that certain news organizations had set up seemed to lean McCain's way.

I did not like the format at all. The questions, I thought were predictable. They were questions of regular people who aren't paying much atetntion until now, so we wore over old ground again. Too much stuff that has already been heard.

Sen McCain's "maverick" proposal was good political theatre, whether it is good policy, I don't know. I thought we were essentially doing what he proposed, except instead of buying bad mortagages, we are buying bad paper. What difference to the financial markets that would make, i wonder. Could Secy Paulson do that with the 700B he already has?

On the atmospherics, I thought neither candidate did a great job of "connecting." This was supposed to be McCain's strength. As Chris Matthews (I think) predicted, there would be vet in the audience who would get to ask a question and sure enough, a CPO did, and Sen McCain acted exactly as the pundit predicted...in other words, predictable. Later, I noticed, that CPO speaking comfortably with Sen Obama after the debate was over.

Two excellent questions: health care a right, privilege, or responsibility. Sen McCain did not hesitate and said responsibility (though I wondered what that really meant..) while Sen Obama, without hesitation, said right. And then the audience member who asked is health care a commodity? Neither candidate directly answered the question...but Sen McCain's answer was a clear "yes" to that question. Sen Obama's was more hedging (as appropriate to his view of it being a right) but certainly doesn't embrace the idea that health care is (or should be) a ocmmodity.

More on atmospherics: I think one of the punidts I was switching between last night noted that Sen Obama has a nice smile. Indeed, and I hear many women, including white middle aged women, what a good looking man he is. And he is. Sen McCain, though when he was young, perhaps was a good looking man..(seems most young men in uniform look good), is an older man and while he may be in good shape, I don't think many would agree that he is a good looking man...I mean, compare to Ronald Reagan, for instance. Indeed, I kept thinking that last night about Sen Obama...he is Reaganesque is many, many ways. And while I didn't care for that about him, I did say, I wish he was "on our side."

I don't know what to make of Sen McCain's "this one" comment. I think this is his sense of humor which tends to be sarcastic. Sarah Palin could pull that off and no one would think anything negative about her. Sen MCCain doesn't look Presidential when he does that.

Overall, as I said above, no winner last night. A draw, which means a win for Obama because he did nothing to turn the trends which seem to support him, while Sen McCain needed to do something. He tried with his bold suggestion for baling out homeowners with bad mortgages, but that will anger his base, which he absolutely needs to have any chance to win.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Financial crisis and cheaper oil

Finally, something that brought the price of oil down. Our financial/credit market crisis. So....no credit but cheaper gas. This morning oil was a $96 a barrel. How soon before the gas prices actually come down?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Crisis Constructing so we need a Manager

just watch it....you'll laugh and be informed.

http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=186052&title=clusterf#@k-to-the-poor-house

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

John McCain's Country First Gambit

So now Senator McCain wants to suspend the presidential campaign to focus on the economic crisis. Looks like a gambit to me. First off, his campaing is tanking, so why not? But more importantly, let's dissect this.

If Senator McCain really thinks he cannot do both his job, being a senior Senator from Arizona and campaign for President of the United States (let's admit it, that is a hard thing to do...ask Bob Dole, Fritz Mondale, George McGovern...Losers everyone) then he could put country first and resign his senate seat and Gov Napolitano appoint his replacement. But, that would give a democrat Barry Goldwater's seat. Given that Sen McCain is the putative head of his party, he still has a strong bully pulpit to work on the economic crisis on the campaing trail. Or, Senator mcCAin could just stop campaigning. he could put country first and turn over the election to his hand picked successor.

But he does all this in the public eye, as if he is laying down a guantlet....this is the cynical part of this...he almost dares Sen. Obama not to follow his lead, which is of course the only true "country first" path.

It could be that a younger man, Senator Obama, can do both jobs. Lord knows Obama's campaign days are far more strenuous and long than Sen. McCain's. Why should we be surprised? I don't have what I had 25 years ago...I'm smarter, but don't have the sheer energy. So, why shouldn't age catch up with Sen McCain who is nearluy 30 years older than Sen Obama.

I used to like Sen McCain's occasional bouts of independence. I heard a speech he gave some time ago today about his respect for Sen Goldwater and his youthful exuberances. This was after hearing about his 'dare" to Sen Obama to cease campaigning. I think he is so desperate to live up to the older men in his younger life that he doesn't have a sense of who he is. He just covets the presidency.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Could the $700 billion bailout make Congress work like it should

In reading about the objections raised by Senators and Congressmen to the Bush plan for a bailout of the financial markets made me think: is Congress beginning ot act like it is supposed to? As a check on the power of the President? For too many years, the President's party just moved the Democrat or Republican agenda.

The Congress is responsbile for the tax monies. This Administration is a spendthrift. We need a Congress, this Congress to act as a check. That won't happen if they bicker among themselves, but they (Congress) can deliberate and make the plan better, if it must be done.

If I am seeing what I think I might be seeing, Congress acting like Congress and not the back drop for mortal kombat, then a better functioning Congress could emerge from this...whether we bailout the financial market boobs or not.

700 billion dollar power grab

I don't pretend to understand the crisis in the financial markets. As simply as I can understand it, the "financial products" are smoke and mirrors; there is no equity, there is nothing. I heard someone, perhaps it was John McCain who referred this kind of stuff as a casino economy. That seems realistic.

How this kind of junk leads to this kind of crisis is beyond me. Is our economy really that much a house of cards. The 90s Savings and Loan bailout was due to deregulation that led to bad management decisions. In fact, can anyone show me one of these bailouts that ultimately is about bad management decisions?

yet, some firms seem to gain a position that is so powerful, that they cannot be allowed to fail. So we socialize the risk but privatize the gains. Yup, that is capitalism that few will defend.

What is the effect of such a nationalization of these markets?

The Bush Administration is playing the same kind of crisis game that they did with the patriot Act. At least Congress is not playing this time. But investors, put the pain to the markets today. Is it extortion?

I'm queasy about this bailout. $700 billion would pay a lot of unemployment if that is the alternative.

If we avoid a depression as many calm,rational types, (not like Bush and McCain, hysterical ones those) claim, then isn't government a BIG part of the solution instead of the problem. I mean, this is like a perfect hegelian dialectic. The Conservative/Reagan revolution demonized the government, undermined virtually all public institutions. The market was unfettered. And now, we bailout the financial markets just 28 years later. And BIG government is back.

I've been reading for the past couple of weeks German social theory. Ulrich Beck has a notion of what the post capitalist/post-industrial society is...risk society. The meltdown in the financial markets is a perfect example of it. He was promulgating this theory, beginning in 1985.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Regulation Good, Regulation Bad

I am of two minds. One the one mind, I don't care for unduly regulation and cumbersome bureaucracy. To me, it seems to be a way to create jobs for mediocre bureaucrats and politcal cronies. Take "welfare." A half or more of "welfare" costs are in the admnistration of the welfare to make sure people don't cheat. let 'em cheat, its cheaper. Of course, what happens to all those case workers and clerks who staff that welfare adminisration, many of whom would be on welfare without that job. See what I mean, by "two minds."

Big government bailouts and degrulation seem to go hand in hand. When is the last time a heavily regulated area went belly up? Any water companies out there go belly up? Electric generating companies go out of business leaving their customers in the dark?

Was it 1979 when the Carter administration deregulated the airlines? Prices went down, profits went up (Carter imposed a windfall profits tax) and the Air Traffic Control system began to degrade.

Flying used to be almost a pleasant experience...not any more. Though, it is probably still cheaper than it was in 1979 under regulation. And the industry, as a whole, doesn't seem profitable. Time for the amtrakization of the airlines??? Both are about as good right now.

About the same time didn't Chrysler need a bailout because they were too big to fail, as well? The auto industry is not a heavily regulated industry and has resisted increased regulations for years and years, witness CAFE standards.

Then banks were deregulated under Reagan and then later bailed out under Reagan...because of mismanagement and risky loans to Latin America.

Next big deregulation was in the telecommunication industry. We got cable TV, and goofy phone service. A lot more services (really toys if you want to know the truth...I mean it is nice, but we can't live without text messaging and v-cast?). I pay A LOT more for phone service now (but I am getting so much more). And my cable never works right.

And following telecom deregulation, while no bailouts, we did have massive scandal, about the same time with Enron, remember??????????

And now, we have bailouts of the mortgage lenders. After deregulation of course of the financial markets, or reallly, a failure to regulate as they developed and new products came aboard.

In the end, we pay, meaning taxpayers and who is hurt by any of this. There are little guys, who shoulndt' have dabbled in house flipping who have pretty much lost everything and then the moguls who had to sell their multi-million dollar mansions and move into a single million dollar mansion.

I read a piece where Franklin Raines, the once wunderkind, now scandal tainted, divorced, and living in a single million dollar mansion, said, he told the gov't that not backing Freddie or Fannie, whichever he was running at the time, was a mistake, but the Bush administration refused to do so. We doing it big time now....half a trillion. What happens if this doesn't work? I mean the Republicans cynically know that deficits don't matter politically, but what about economically???

I may be wrong, but I seem to remember when I bought my first house, in 1987, that there was a rule of thumb about how much house one could afford. There was a simple formula. Of course, I recall, that I thought that was ridiculous, becuase it seemed more than I could afford (I didn't follow, and bought much less house), but maybe regulations, at least in the home mortgage industry, should be long term.....a bit paternalistic with first time home buyers, and not facilitate putting themselves into bad situations. Make that first home an easy one to afford and build equity in, not one that requires everything to go perfect. Think about keeping the person for a customer not just a transaction.

Lastly, this is a good object lesson in what happens if we "deregulate" social security. There will be a period of unbelieveable success, then abject failure and the gov't (meaning taxpayers) will be bailing out social security and a half trillion won't cover it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Barack Obama Health Insurance Plan....no change for me (probably)

According to Barack Obama's Health Care Plan, I wouldn't have to see any change. if I have insurance through my employer, I don't have to do anything. Like the good politician that Sen. Obama is, he still throoughs in a goodie, somehow I am supposed to save about $2500 a year (that is a savings of 37% on my current premiums). I assume that about half of that savings would actually go to my employer, not to me. Sen. Obama doesn't mention that.

No tax increases except letting the Bush tsx cuts expire on the households making $250000 or more. Which ain't very many, 2,245,000 according to the March 2007 CPS. That is out of over 116,000,000 households.

So, Sen Obama's plan is to cover the uninsured, shore up insurance by setting government competition, working the anti-trust laws, and so on and so on and so on. Very complicated. I'm sure he means well, but by the time this is legislated, some will not be done and it all depends on the whole working. So, we could end up with the very expensive Medicare part D, drug card....yeah, good idea, except no savings.

I don't care for either plan. Sen. Obama's is going to cost more, no question. And if he is successful, he will reduce the profits in the very profitable insurance industry. But costs are high due to incredible overhead. Little is said about that except medical IT. That will save money in nursing homes, but that isn't covered by anything but Medicaid anyway.

So, we have a big contrast. McCain would just push everyone into the private insurance market...people with jobs who don't qualify for government insurance, Medicaid, SCHIP, are going to end up hurt, I think with McCain's plan. And the insurance companies will just cherry pick, just like they do with Medicare patients. I saw that first hand with my mom and dad. Sen Obama's plan says it won't allow that...more regulation in an already pretty regulated industry.

I think we should decouple health insurance from one's job. I think it would be very good for the economy and would provide some flexibility for large firms. But, we have a very expensive health care system, it is irrational, due to the the remarkable costs of medical technology (do we reallly needs better than a half dozen MRI machines in my town of 50,000?), Medical competition doesn't drive costs down, paradoxically it drives costs up!

While Sen McCain's plan is not good for me personally, it is more radical. It will chnage things, but lots o risk. No risk for the rich, the poor will be the one's to bear the worst of that. Why should we be surprised at that?

Sen Obama's plan, is more modest, more focused, more bureaucratic, and legilsatively more risky to deliver the goods. And likely more costly to the taxpayers, (mcCain's is more likely to be more costly to those who must buy individual health insurance...and the little gift to the healh insurers with that HSA).

We need a single payer system. Even the doctor's agree (I've blogged about that before). America is ready for it. Put everyone on Medicare/Medicaid and let the helath insurance companies become contractors. Decouple health care from employment, and folks will probably end up with a bit more income, and tax it, tax it big to help pay for the monster. I;d personally make it bear bones...encourage HSA and very targetted private insurance.

But I'm not a politician. I just want a system that works for regular folks like me. I don;t mind paying more if it works and is stable.

John McCain's Health Insurance Plan...not good for me

Was reading a crique of Senator McCain's health insurance plan. Now, the critic claimed his plan was going to raise my taxes becuase he would tax health insurance benefits like it was cash. It doesn't say that on Senator McCain's website, but I suspect in order to pay for the generous tax credit, something like that is going to have to occur. It has been a goal of conservatives for a long time.

the gist of the plan is that I can opt out of my employer covered group and get inusrance on my own, and my family would get a 5K tax credit (if I can find a plan for cheaper, the residual goes into a health savings account).

So, between my employer and me, I pay 572 a month for my health insurance. I don;t pay taxes on my contribution nor on my employers. That apparently would change. I'd pay income tax on an additional $6800 in income. At my tax rate, that translates to about 2K. so, I pay 2K more in taxes but I get a 5K tax credit...I'm 3K ahead. Sounds good.

I can stick with my health plan. But why, the market is much better right? I checked and the best I can do "on my own" is no where near as good a coverage as I have right now. My deductible is 900 right now, best I can find is a 2K deductible. Prescription coverage looks, without looking at the details, about in par with what I have right now. So, double my deductible and 20% of office visits after deductible. I pay #15 right now--period. But, the plan is cheaper, by $100 bucks a month, so I save $1200. With the tax credit, I'd just be out of pocket an additional 600 bucks..plus the extra $1000 deductible

but I can stick with my employer's insurance if I wish. I still get the tax credit, so, I'm up 3K (except it has to go into a HSA). Right now, I would never use 3K, so that money just funnels to the insurance company anyway. If you don't use it, you lose it. So, I pay 2K more in taxes, and get a 3K HSA, which I might use 1-2K of. My deductible of 999 would come from the HSA. We've had those before, they worked when we had braces, but don't work easily now, "unfortunately" we are pretty healthy.

But, my employer is self-insured. We don't permit opt outs, or we couldn't insure ourselves. I'm assuming that for Senator McCain's plan to work, there must be an opt out. So, some folks, especially younger ones and single ones, or those who have options with their spouses (I didn't think about opting out and moving to my wife's insurance), that my employer's plan will probably get more and more expensive (read degraded coverage(, until I probably would find the admittedly cheaper but not as useful plan, my preferred option.

All the while I can be jealous of my mother's medicare plan, which does a better job of covering stuff than my private, employer provided plan does.

I'll look at Senator Obama's tax plan for my next posting.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Monday, September 15, 2008

Never called it propaganda

Kathleen Hall Jamieson spoke at my university this evening. It was very good, as I expected. She spoke tonight about the new media of political communicaiton, viral videos, the sophisticated political messages we are being bombarded with. She could have presented a real doom and gloom, but instead she was very hopeful and pinned her hopes on the "new" generation of 18-29 year olds, who are more media savvy and internet skilled to demand facts and accountability. She also pointed out that research the Annenberg Policy Center was conducting showed that conversations within families that crossed political boundaries acutally occured, which she found to be very helpful.

She showed several political videos. She "deconstructed" them for the audience, giving all of us a primer on political communication deciphering. She never, once, however, called any of it propaganda.

Propaganda is a dirty word in the US. Of course, it is all around us, we just call it advertising. Information meant to "move" you toward a particular view or action is propaganda. Communications directors are propagandists.

I admire Hall Jamieson. She keeps it very even, despite what I think are her political leanings (having watched her on TV for many years). And that I think she is a democrat/liberal is her belief that facts matter. Always the democrat/liberal achilles heel. To use some of her own message tonight, if we look at her framing of her own message, the assumption is that reality/facts matter to people.

Yes, I know, how could you argue with that. If it is about power and winning, then facts do not matter. Her arguement is that facts don't matter when you only speak to people who you agree with ideologically. But, if we begin to cross lines, then facts matter.

I agree that facts matter (I'm a materialist afterall), but perception and construction matter more. As W.I. Thomas put it, if a people define their circumstances as real, then they are real in their consequences. So, it matters little that Senator Obama, for instance, is not a Muslim...but that people believe he is. The consequences of that belief are just as real if Senator Obama actually was a Muslim.

I think Hall Jamieson is pretty good. I like her scholarship. I hope she is right about the future.
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