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Season of Giving December 23, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in climate, economy, football, politics, taxes.
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Tis the season of giving. Time to give the loyal readers a juicy post after giving them a whole month off. With Philly Bluejay, the giving just doesn’t stop. Only the posting does. Why the long layoff? Well, I was in my lame duck session. I was tired. And I had given up on reaching my initial goal of 100 posts in the first year of Bluejay. After hitting #73 on Nov. 21st, I calculated that I needed to average a post exactly every three days to hit the century mark by Bluejay’s first birthday on Feb. 10th. And that realization made me even more tired! But perhaps the 30 day hiatus has given me a second wind. Now, if only I can average a post every 1.89 days…

Debt us all with piles of money. Tra la la la la la la la la. Where to start? How about a quick only slightly revisionist history of the tax cut compromise bill?

When the battle lines were initially drawn, I was optimistic bordering on euphoric. I thought that a tax cut for the top 2% was politically radioactive. That there was no way for Republicans to reconcile it with their rhetoric about debt reduction. That it was such a middle finger to the voters that just gave them 63 House seats that they would suffer a huge backlash in 2012, perhaps even giving Democrats the first ever 435-0 House unanimity! Of course, I wildly underestimated Republican depravity, the ideology of the liberal left, and the shallowness of my own understanding of political gamesmanship.

In reality, the tax cut for the rich was standing on two firm political legs. First, Republicans knew that it is the top 2% that wins and loses elections for them. That in the US, it’s not “one person, one vote” it’s more like “one dollar, one vote.” By November 2012 most voters will forget about October 2012 much less November 2010, and will vote by whatever ads they see on television. Those ads will be paid for by the top 2%. Second, Republicans knew that POTUS Lightning was a decent human being. That he wouldn’t allow middle-class tax cuts to expire just to make an ideological point. That he would eventually give in. And that the Democratic party would either fall in line behind him or splinter while allowing the last six weeks of Democratic majority to waste away. Win. Bigger win. And so Republicans dug in and marched single file past MSNBC cameras proclaiming that “the top 2% will use the money from the tax cuts to hire more workers.” Whether anyone believed this poppycock is debatable, but also besides the point. Republicans weren’t talking to America. They were talking to POTUS Lightning.

POTUS Lightning heard them. Congressional Democrats, Eugene Robinson, and Adam Green apparently didn’t. Either that or they are actually Republican operatives. The Democratic/Independent echo chamber led by boldprogressives.org and the two idealogues from Vermont began screaming into the wind, urging POTUS Lightning and the lame duck Democratic majority to take a unified stance alongside “98% of America” and putting the blush in John Boehner’s cheek and the grease in Eric Cantor’s hair. But seeing the bigger picture, POTUS Lighting ignored the bluster and immediately set out to cut the best deal he could. When you play hardball in a hostage situation, sometimes the hostages get killed. If you want to ensure the safety of the hostages in the present you have to give in to terrorist demands. And yes, I just called Mitch McConnell a terrorist. Personally, I preferred a different hostage exchange—if Republicans wanted tax cuts for the rich and were willing to put the entire tax code on the table to get it, they would have to swallow a carbon tax. Shockingly, that didn’t happen. But the deal POTUS cut—a 13-month extension on unemployment benefits and an increase in the estate tax—was sweet enough.

In the end, Mitch and the Boyz got a two-year stay of their precious tax cuts. In exchange, POTUS Lightning got unemployment benefits, the middle-class tax cut, and $500,000,000,000 worth of stimulus that may sufficiently improve the economy by 2012 to both keep him at 1600 Pennsylvania and restore secure majorities on both sides of the Capitol. Just in time for the Bush tax cuts to come up for renewal. Mu ha ha. Ha ha ha ha. As for POTUS Lightning, he comes out looking every inch the leader—a measured, unruffled commander negotiating a sea of political madness, a compassionate general who cares more about the people in the trenches than about the lieutenants at the extreme fringes of his own party. Lightning—you have done old TJ proud!

Tis the season to be Danny. Fa la la la la la la la la. But the Democratic haul was actually better than that. By “compromising” on taxes, POTUS freed up Congress to pass two more important pieces of legislation—a renewal of START and a repeal of DADT. Years late and ho-hum by international tolerance standards, does the repeal of DADT signal a change in American focus? Are Americans going to start worrying about actual problems rather than medicating themselves by hating on anyone who is slightly different? Let’s wait and see if the Dream Act passes.

Want to stimulate the economy? Give to the homeless! The Republican argument that giving money to the wealthy stimulates the economy is poppysmic! Rich people don’t spend additional disposable income on goods—at least not on goods produced in the US. And they aren’t likely to spend it on services either. Rich people stash additional funds in a financial market where most transactions are performed by computer—often at the behest of a baby! Not even stockbrokers get trickle down effects of tax cuts to the rich! Giving money to lower income folks is much better stimulus. Lower-income folks are likely to turn over the money quickly on food, clothing, rent, utilities, credit card debt and other basic necessities. Whereas $1 given to a rich person may represent $0.10 of economic stimulus—a tip to the dog-walker, perhaps—a $1 given to a lower income person may yield $2 of economic stimulus. By this definition, the best stimulus of all should be giving money to homeless people. Homeless people don’t pay rent, utilities, or credit card debt and don’t turn their money over to conglomerates who then stash the money in financial markets. They use it on food. Or other … “produce.” Giving a $1 to a homeless person may yield $5 in economic stimulus for all you and I know. Unfortunately, tax cuts don’t extend to the homeless and presumably unemployed. This kind of stimulus is up to you and me. Since the weather in the DC area has taken a turn for the arctic, I have given seven homeless people a total of $90. Believe me, giving $20 dollars to a homeless person feels better than giving it to your alumni association. If homeless people gave receipts, I would give to them exclusively.

Want to stimulate Philly Bluejay? Give to Wikipedia! If you read Philly Bluejay regularly, you know that I believe that Wikipedia—not YouTube, not Facebook, not even Groupon, okay maybe Groupon—is the fairest child of “Web 2.0.” For my money, there is simply no better way of getting the quick skinny on just about anything. Did you know that Ed Schultz briefly played professional football and was a Republican until 2000? Or the chain of discoveries that led to Pluto being downgraded from planet to minor-planet/Kuiper belt object? Or what Edward Fortyhands is? I know that some dismiss Wikipedia as a monoculture that suppresses the original ethos of the web while others—Nassim Taleb, your post is coming soon—consider Wikipedia as part of the Internet “shallows” and people who read Wikipedia as faux intellectuals and “bildungphilistines.” Those camps can form two lines and kiss me. Other than homeless people, the only charity/cause/goodworks I have donated to this season is the Wikimedia Foundation. I guess I just couldn’t resist the personal plea from Jimmy Wales. I mean, who can say no to Jimmy Wales? Look at that punem!

The best gift—ever! The best gift I received this holiday season? “The Miracle in the New Meadowlands“—by far the best of the 200+ Eagles games I have watched. Made better by the fact that I watched it in a bar flanked by my brother—and sister in law—on the left and an obnoxious Giants fan on the right. Four touchdowns in the last 8:17 to come back from 21 down. The first-ever “walk-off” punt return. And the driver’s seat for the NFC East and maybe a first round bye. E! A! G! L! E! S! EAGLES!

The larger gift was made possible by three smaller gifts. Gift #2 came with 7:28 remaining. Having just given up the first of the four touchdowns, the Giants fell for a “surprise” onside kick that didn’t surprise anyone at the Wing Hub on Cordell. Not only did the Giants have a conventional return team on the field rather than a hands team, but the front line was lined up 15 yards from the ball and retreated at the kick. When Riley Cooper caught the ball at the Eagles 42, there wasn’t a single Giant in the picture! Gift #3 came with 0:14 remaining. Having just gone three-and-out after giving up the game tying touchdown, the Giants had to punt from their own 30 to an Eagles team holding no timeouts. Punt out of bounds and give the eagles fourteen seconds to run two sideline plays to gain 30 yards for a field goal try. Or punt high away from DeSean Jackson and give the Eagles eight seconds to run a single play to gain the same distance. But don’t kick a line drive directly to Jackson. Or maybe do. To make things even better, Jackson muffed the punt—perhaps even intentionally—which caused the Giants to completely lose all lane and backup discipline. Here it is in case you missed it. Gift #1? Andy Reid putting the Eagles in position to stage the comeback by refusing to challenge two big plays—Nicks catch in the first and Jackson fumble in the fourth—that on replay clearly would have gone the Eagles way. Thanks SantaAndy.

Philadelphia 2—New York 0. Eagles 38—Giants 31 was the second comeback beatdown administered by Philadelphia team to a New York team last week. Here is the first.

Climate change 1—California 0. Here’s a lump of coal in your stocking. If you can even find your stocking.

Delusion Points November 14, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in books, climate, economy, family, football, politics, taxes.
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I like to read. I also have a healthy dose of morbid curiosity. But I will not be adding Decision by King George XLIII to the Philly Bluejay reading list. At least not as long as I have to pay for it. It’s not that I mind spending money on books. Au contraire, mon cheri. I dropped $200 at Kramer’s last month, and another $110 at Amazon a few weeks ago. It’s just that I don’t want any of my money going to Bush. Especially because it’s certainly all about the money for him. About “replenishing the old coffers.”

I’m not being cynical and presumptive. When invited to speak to the Chicago Union League, Bush didn’t thank mayor Daley for a chance to talk to the hardworking people of Chicago, he thanked him “for a chance to sell his book.” And in interviews with Matt Lauer, Oprah, and Greta van Susteren, he repeatedly answers pointed questions with “Read my book and draw your conclusions.” I guess one could interpret this answer as evasive, as Bush unable to defend the actions and inactions of his presidency on camera. But it isn’t. He isn’t at all interested in defending himself, in explaining himself, in polishing his image, in apologizing or rationalizing, or in brightening the dim view history will take of him. He’s too intellectually lazy for that degree of reflection and too morally void for that sort of aspiration. He could care less what history thinks of him. He just wants money so that he can spend the rest of his days kicking around on the farm. This is probably all he wanted even while he was president. To him, the presidency wasn’t some great opportunity or awesome responsibility, it was the quickest way to a rich, lazy retirement.

And he evidently took the same route with DP. Unable to give Crown Publishing an original manuscript, Bush lifted passages from journals and other memoirs that describe his presidency. And who didn’t see this coming? Did anyone believe that Bush could write a 700-page book? Or even have enough original thoughts to give a ghost-writer 700 pages of material? Of course not. Bush has probably never read 700 pages worth of books. This is the same man who claimed that his favorite book was “The Very Hungry Caterpillar“—a book that was written when he was 19 years old! Someone should check whether any quotes from TVHC appear in DP. “On Tuesday, the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were attacked and I felt really bad. I had a tummy ache. On Wednesday, I ate a bright green leaf and I felt much better!”

The most telling thing about this episode? No one is shocked or outraged by this. It’s what we’ve come to expect from Bush. The man who cheated his way into the White House—does everyone realize how different would the world be today had Katherine Harris allowed the 2000 Florida recount to proceed? the mind boggles—who lied us into a war, who sanctioned torture, who spied on American citizens, who stopped stem cell research, and who made one thoughtless, dogmatic decision after another over the course of eight years the world may never recover from. Why would he start doing things the right way now? Why, when he repeatedly got away with doing them the wrong way during his presidency?

And so I will not purchase a copy of DP. At least not until it drops below the price of toilet paper. From the looks of it on Amazon, that should be the case before Thanksgiving.

P.S. Speaking of Bush, one of the most asinine moves by the increasingly Machiavellian GOP is the way in which they are holding the middle class tax cuts hostage for tax cuts for the top 2% of earners. Debt, shmedt! Middle class, kiss our @$$! People making half a million or more will get their tax cuts or no one is getting anything! Ladies and gentlemen, your new House majority!

P.P.S. This past Friday, I attended the ACEEE Conference on transportation efficiency in the 21st century. The most memorable speaker of the day? Joe Romm of climateprogress.org. Joe is a fiery and abrasive man. He prefaced his talk by saying that it was usually a waste of his time to speak to such small audiences and ended it by getting into a shouting match with David Greene about the future of fuel cell cars. He was assistant secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy under Clinton. Had he still held the post, he would have been my boss’ boss’ boss. It’s hard to imagine someone with his personality as assistant secretary. Then again, maybe he developed this personality during the eight years of the Bush climate “policy.”

P.P.P.S. In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed questions and comments from Israeli readers on several NFL blogs, including TMQ and John Clayton’s 1st and 10. Evidently, football is gaining popularity in the land of milk and honey. Witness the Kraft Family Israeli Football League. I wonder how an IFL all star team would fare against the worst NFL team? Or against University of Wisconsin? Or Trinity High School?

P.P.P.P.S. Speaking of the NFL. Eagles-Redskins. MNF. The Mrs. and I will be in Section 450. This would never happen if the game was in Philly.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Happy belated birthday, sista!

The Hangover November 6, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in economy, football, politics, taxes.
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Oh, my head! Did anyone get the number on that Hummer?

This past Tuesday night, Philly Bluejay’s home district PA-7 turned from Blue to Red from top to bottom. Outgoing—both personally and politically—Democratic governor and Eagles booster Ed Rendell was replaced by Republican and likely Steeler fan Tom Corbett. In the Senate, Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter’s seat was won by Republican Pat Toomey. Toomey defeated PA-7 Rep. and Philly Bluejay favorite Admiral Joe Sestak. Democrat Bryan Lentz couldn’t keep Sestak’s seat warm for him, getting thrashed by Republican Pat Meehan. And so we went from Rendell, Specter, and Sestak to Corbett, Toomey, and Meehan. Philly Bluejay’s house in PA-7 has a blue front door. It is possible that on January 20, Philly Bluejay may be required by law to paint the door red. And perhaps also to change his name to Philly Redjay or Philly Cardinal. This would never have happened if actual bluejays still wintered in PA-7.

By the way, some of you may have noticed that some posts are written in ultra-annoying third-person self-reference while others are written in only slightly less annoying first-person and wondering why that is? Does Philly Bluejay have dissociative disorder or megalomania? Yes. No. Who are you talking to, me or Philly Bluejay? Seriously though. In the past, there may not have been a method to the voice madness, but in the future all political-themed posts will be written in third person whereas all other posts will be written in first person. You see, when it comes to important matters like politics, it helps to think of oneself as the blog rather than as the person so that opinions can be shared without regard to personal consequence. It’s not me! It’s the blog! I’m not a flaming liberal, I just write a flaming liberal blog! Philly Bluejay is glad we got that sorted out. And so am I.

In other Philly news. Former Philadelphia Eagles right tackle, interview favorite, and McDonald’s coffee spokesman Big Jon Runyan is now in Da House representing Philly suburb NJ-3. For the wrong party. Although looking at Jon’s stance on the issues, I see potential for an Arlen Specter-like party-switch in the future. No potential party switch in KY-4, where former Phillie pitcher Jim Bunning’s seat will be occupied for the next six years by Dr. Rand Paul. For his first act, Dr. Paul will very politely ask the Senate to deliberate on this—we have six years of Rand Paul!

Insult and injury extend beyond the immediate environs of the Mason-Dixon line. Speaking of which, it was only a few years ago that Philly Bluejay learned that Mason-Dixon is the line that separates Maryland from Pennsylvania and Delaware. For the preceeding twenty-some odd years, Philly Bluejay was convinced that it was the line that separated Maryland from Virginia, i.e., the Union from the Confederacy. For the ten-odd years prior to that, Philly Bluejay was completely unware that the Mason-Dixon line existed. The fact that Philly Bluejay is now residing south of Mason-Dixon is somewhat disturbing. Although not as disturbing as the fact that in our new world, Russ Feingold is not a Congressman but Ben Quayle is. Who is defense secretery in this universe, Walter Bishop? Quayle claims that “Obama is the worst president in history.” Ben must not the old saying that people whose father was the most laughable veep in history shouldn’t throw stones.

On the bright side, Democrats retained control of the Senate thanks to clutch wins by Democrats in Colorado, Washington, and Nevada. For his second act, Dr. Paul will go to the Senate and respectfully ask them to deliberate on this—we have six more years of Harry Reid and Patty Murray! That fact is obviously lost on minority leader Mitch McConnell. By the way, whereas some people believe McConnell was separated at birth from Steve Forbes, Philly Bluejay believes he was separated from Jean Stapleton. On Wednesday, McConnell WikiLeaked the Republican agenda for the next two years—make sure Obama doesn’t gain a second term. That’s pretty much it. Not jobs. Not the economy. Not immigration. Not the environment. Just make sure that Obama is a one term president. Actually,that’s not fair. There was one actual plank in McConnell’s agenda. Oh yes, make the Bush tax cuts permanent for the top 2% of Americans. I knew there was something. Perhaps sensing the unseemliness of his position, on Thursday McConnell hedged by saying that he needs a Republican in the White House so that he could roll back all of Obama’s policies. Someone, please tell McConnell that in order to do that he first needs a Republican majority in the Senate! McConnell has been so smug he makes John “Pledge to America” Boehner look like a Democrat by comparison! To his credit, Boehner—who actually is majority leader—has been humble and conciliatory and pledged to work with Obama to move the country forward. Is Charlie Francis still alive? John Boehner! We may have to officially change the spelling of his name to Bayner!

The most ridiculous outcome of delusion 2010? MSNBC suspending Keith Olbermann indefinitely because he contributed $2,400 to Jack Conway, Dr. Paul’s opponent. MSNBC, why do this? Because it undermines the network’s image for balanced and impartial journalism? Let me tell you, you don’t have that image! Do you think FOX would suspend Bill O’Reilly for donating to Dr. Paul? FOX would probably suspend him for not donating to Dr. Paul.

If there is a something to hold onto in this mess—aside from the fact that Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, and Propositions California 23and Colorado 300 were defeated—it’s that we still have POTUS Lighting. You want to see a mensch? Watch Lightning’s post-election news conference. I have a feeling he’s going to come through this stronger than ever. Dr. Paul, please go to the Senate and politely ask them to deliberate on that!

P.S. With Rahm Emanuel leaving for Chicago and a Republican “shellacking” in the midterms, many are looking for Obama to shuffle his staff. Philly Bluejay has a suggestion—Admiral Joe Sestak! Admiral Joe—a rising star in the Democratic party—will be sitting on the sideline for the next two years. POTUS Lightning, I know the Admiral scoffed at your request that he not run against Arlen Specter in the primary. But you want him on that wall! You need him on that wall!

P.P.S. Speaking of the Fringe alternate universe, Eagles giving a field goal to the Colts? I know the Eagles are at home and coming off a bye while the Colts are coming off a short week, but … come on! Is Vegas trying to make Peyton mad? Perhaps the line should be Eagles +17. Then again, what if Peyton’s MO is to just try to cover? Maybe the line should be Eagles -10.

P.P.P.S. Several weeks ago, the knuckles on my right hand had a run-in with the escalator at L’Enfant Plaza. Well, the escalator has struck again.

P.P.P.P.S. Philly Bluejay is considering starting a “Bethesdan of the month” feature, featuring prominent people who live in Bethesda, and may or may not shop at the Whole Foods on River and Dorsey. We’ve already covered Tom Friedman and Gregg Easterbrook. BOTM for November 2010 is Washington Post columnist and NPR political commentator E.J. Dionne.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Belated happy birthdays to Mrs. Bluejay, Safta Bluejay, cousin George, and William. And belated happy Guy Fawkes Night everyone.

A Rally to Restore Anti-Climax November 2, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in politics, society, sports.
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Dedicated readers of Philly Bluejay—hi Mom—may have noticed that posts during this election season have been surprisingly sparse and that the occasional post has been either rambling or milquetoast—by the way, I love the word milquetoast, it just sounds so delicious. But back to my main point, how could a flaming liberal like myself sit on the sideline while the Boys and Girls in Blue are taking one revisionist insult after another and party stalwarts like Harry Reid and Russ Feingold are getting ridden out of town by clueless lunatics. Well, obviously that was not my the intent. The plan was to have a very digitally active election season, but somehow life, work, travel, and the constant stream of media blather got in the way. Every time I saw some outrageous piece and started to either fan or flame the author, a more outrageous piece came out which immediately caused me to suspend my previous piece and shift gears. As a result, my dashboard shows nine half-finished posts with titles like “Smokin’ TEA,” “The Sharron Angle,” and “Do Any Republicans Actually Know Why Deficits Are Bad?” Well, we’re down to the 11th hour of what must be the nuttiest midterm season since 1994. By the end of today, we’ll have the House we deserve, hopefully not the Senate we deserve, and zero shot of getting a serious energy bill passed in the next two years. On the bright side, the Dallas Cowboys are 1-6 and Donovan McNabb just got benched! A few personal notes from this election season:

Mrs. Bluejay and I attended The Rally to Restore Sanity on Saturday. Or maybe it was The March to Keep Fear Alive. Or Scared-Dem-a-palooza. Actually, attended poorly describes what we actually did. First, we waited for 50 minutes on the platform at Van Ness while eight red line trains, each more packed than the previous, rolled by. On the ninth train, I power-rushed off left guard, pushed the pile forward, and then pulled Mrs. Bluejay behind me just before the doors decapitated her. On the train, the Mrs. and I figured out why so many people on the platform we actually taking the train in the other direction—they were hoping to catch the train further out in hopes of catching it while it wasn’t full. The ride was pleasant enough. I spent it chest-to-chest with a woman in a San Francisco Giants jersey—not my wife, she’s a Royals/Phillies girl—while getting a sensual massage from a sixty year old man on the other side. All is forgiven. Getting off at Metro Center, we attempted to swim our way to the mall. We got as far as 7th and Independence, largely because we slipped in behind a pulling block from an ambulance, and ended up not far away from this dude. From the angle, it looks like we were standing next to the person taking the video. The woman on the other side of us held a sign that said “Don’t tread on me, I just got a pedicure!” After about an hour of not being able to hear or see anything, but enjoying the second-hand high—the highlight of the hour was a woman heading to the meetup point because she got separated from her six-year old daughter—we decided to make our way back home. The highlight of the event was definitely the handmade signs. In addition to “DTOM,” other winners were “Is this the line for Georgetown Cookies?”, “Am I late for the Glenn Beck rally?,” “Actually, I’m pretty content!,” and “When I think about Christine O’Donnell, I touch myself!” In the end, it was pretty … milquetoast—there goes that word again. Just a little pre-Halloween party, notable mostly for the exaggerated ratio of hype to happening. Controlled experiments are obviously impossible, but it’s doubtful whether this particular Comedy Central special increases Democrat voter turnout much less turns any race blue. Someday, will I tell my kids I went to this rally? I didn’t even tell them where I went when I got home.

Speaking of insanity and anti-climax. Mrs. Bluejay and I missed the deadline to register for absentee voting in Pennsylvania’s 7th district by a scant three hours. And so for the last week, I have been monitoring theRCP poll aggregator—the new official website of Philly Bluejay—to see whether Sestak v. Toomey was close enough to prompt me to drive 360 miles round-trip from Bethesda, MD to Havertown, PA so I could vote. Early last week, Sestak was trailing by a point—well within the polling error margin—and six hours in the car was looking likely. Towards the end of the week and through the weekend, though, the margin grew to 4.5 points leaving me with the choice of violating my political principles or my environmental ones. In the end, environmentalism won—I am keeping my vote in my pocket and 190 pounds of CO2 in my gas tank. Mr. Sestak—I will see you in 2012. Mr. Lentz—keep Mr. Sestak’s seat warm for him, will ya? Mr. Easterbrook—I know you disapprove, and I will avert my eyes in shame the next—first—time I see you at Georgetown Bagelry or Moo Cow. But I will continue to bitch, moan, and parody. Because, as my daughter says, “I just like to.”

Finally, everyone has an explanation for the anti-Democrat backlash, but here’s one that caught me off-guard. And I don’t really mean the article. I mean the comment by Jennifer from Texas. Women are turning away from the Democratic party because they are still angry about Barack over Hillary in the 2010 primary? Because they are turned off by Democrats portraying Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell as clueless bimbos? Because they want to identify with a party that promotes strong women rather than discarding them? Wow. I always thought that calling Palin and O’Donnell clueless bimbos was an insult. But I thought it was an insult to clueless bimbos.

Anyways, post mortem tomorrow. Or Thursday. Or next week.

P.S. Here’s a top-15 list of “best blogging practices.” Philly Bluejay is a pathetic 5 for 15. You choose which 5.

P.P.S. Congratulations to Buster Posey, Pat Burrell, Brian Wilson, Tim Lincecum, Drew, Barb, Charlie and Ty Kunz—that’s right kids, Ty Kunz—and Martha and Bill Brook on the Giants winning the World Series. You want to win the World Series? Get as many ex-Marlins on the team as possible.

The Expert Problem October 30, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in books, politics, society.
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My current DC Metro book is “Black Swan” by Nassim Taleb—a full report is coming when I finish. The Black Swan theory says that history is largely a product of low-probability, high-impact, unpredictable events—think fall of the Soviet Union, 9/11, Facebook—and that bell-curve events are low-impact essentially by virtue of their predictability. There are several interesting and counter-intuitive conclusions that fall out of the BS theory. One is that “book” smarts are often useless—even dangerous—in the real world because the artificially simplified world of the academy often prejudices one to believe that he understands the world more than he does, to underestimate the unknown and its effects, and to willfully ignore risk. Another is that fields that are fundamentally dynamic and prone to exogenous influences also fundamentally resist expertise—only static, self-contained fields can have true experts. Physics lends itself to expertise—it’s a closed system and the rules don’t change over time. So does brain surgery. And plumbing. But economics doesn’t have experts—economists are only slightly and insignificantly better than non-economists at predicting future economic events. Neither does politics. Nor business. Nor, fundamentally, can any discipline that deals with human subjects. The famous adage that “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it” is trivially both true and false. It’s trivially false because history never exactly repeats itself, even in microcosm. The same social and techonolgical context never comes up twice, nor does the exact sequence of external events. It’s trivially true because in a rough sense even those who do know history are doomed to repeat it, insofar as history repeats” itself. Knowledge of historical events does not help much in predicting the future. And you laugh dismissively when I tell you that I could run the Eagles or be a decent Senator! Well, I don’t know about the Eagles, but I would certainly be a better Senator than some of the yahoos who will appear on actual ballots this coming Tuesday. You don’t need to know much about the theory and history of politics and economics to be an effective legislator. Theory—which doesn’t capture large unpredictable events—and history—which never repeats—exactly are largely irrelevant in determining whether a given piece of legislation will achieve its desired effect.

The political “expert problem” is interesting in light of the alarming number of (Republican) candidates for national political office who are ignorant and seemingly proud of it. I parenthesized Republican because all the ignorant candidates I can think of are Republican. Christine “I didn’t go to Yale! I’m YOU!” O’Donnell. Ron “This election is not about ‘details’” Johnson. Sharron “I can’t spell Sharon” Angle. If BS is right and deep knowledge may be as much a hindrance to legislative and governance success as a pre-requisite, then maybe TEApublicans are on to something. Maybe Samantha would make a kick-ass Senator.

Nah! Taleb downplays domain-specific knowledge in some domains but not the process of acquiring knowledge or the tools used in acquiring it—intelligence, curiosity, and skepticism. Deep reserves of knowledge are rarely helpful in dealing with a given economical-political situation, what is helpful is the ability to gather information specific to the situation at hand, to weed out low-order details, and to weigh outcomes of different strategies.
While Team Christine certainly lacks domain specific knowledge—at least in constitutional law although perhaps not in other domains—she also lacks the tools to deal with real-world situations. All she has is doe eyes, white teeth, and Sunday-school dogma.

The ironic thing about the “I didn’t go to Yale! I’m YOU!” campaign is that it actually proves Christine’s point. What Christine is hopefully trying to say is that she didn’t have the opportunity to go to Yale because she isn’t an old-boy/old-money elitist like her opponent Chris Coons. But whereas old-boy/old-money may describe Yale of the 1950s, Yale of the 1990s has need-blind admission policies and enrolls more women than men. Christine didn’t go to Yale because she wouldn’t have gotten close to getting in if she tried. By saying “I didn’t go to Yale” Christine may as well be saying “I’m not intelligent!” and by saying it with the tone that suggests “I wouldn’t want to go to Yale even if I could!” she is effectively saying “I don’t want to be a Senator!”

Christine, what do you think the Senate is if not Yale 2.0? The point of Yale is not to learn more than you would learn at Fairleigh Dickinson or the Claremont Institute or Wilfred Beauty Academy or wherever it is you went, it’s to get to hang out with other people smart enough to get into Yale! Christine, you are obviously ignorant. But that’s not your biggest problem. The biggest problem is that you lack the mental tools and desire to overcome your ignorance to suit the situation. What is the last book you read? Facebook? Could you give a specific action item for any one of your issues? A cap-and-trade system is a “market-based” approach to the energy problem—do you favor that? How many points behind Coons are you polling? What’s four plus two? By the way, the answer to the last question is 6. And to the one before that is 18. Which thankfully means that after Tuesday, we will never hear from you again.

Unfortunately, we might still hear from Mr. Johnson—leading stalwart Russ Feingold by an incomprehensible six points—and Ms. Angle—ahead of majority leader by four points, albeit in a beaten-down state like Nevada. I understand the anti-incumbent backlash. I don’t agree with it but I understand where it comes from. But anti-incumbent does not equal pro-idiot! How did we as a society get to a place where a large swath of us values ignorance over erudition? Blind faith over intellectual curiosity? Claremont Institute—which by the way is a conservative think tank, not a college—over Yale Law? If you had to have brain surgery—or even a root canal—would you like to be treated by Christine O’Donnell or Chris Coons? If you were on trial and facing the death penalty—or even six months in Martha Stewart-ville—would you want to be defended by Sharron Angle or Harry Reid? How did we get to a place where we value intelligence and competence in most places except for politics? How did we get to a place where we simultaneously scream about the incompetence of government but fawn over clearly clueless politicians? People, we have huge problems. Now is not the time to be putting crackpots and morons in Congress! An ignorant doctor can kill a few people. An ignorant politician, properly placed, can actually do a lot more damage than that.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to go restore sanity! Woot!

P.S. This post was partially inspired by Anne Applebaum’s “Rise of the ‘Ordinary’ Elite.” The piece describes a new kind of populism which is not “anti-elite”, but “anti-elite-education.” Its targets are not the old-money, old-boy elite but the new, upwardly mobile, self-made elite. Working-class to White House elites like the Obamas. The piece is interesting precisely because of the angle it avoids—racism! Applebaum may not want to touch this subject because she likes her job at the Washington Post, but I have no such problems and I will touch most things. Merit-based elite education is the great equalizer. It’s the “in” to the circle of national politics and power. What could be worse if you are an ignorant white person than to see a black family use that vehicle to get into the passing lane and blow by you. While elite education was the privilege of privilege, you could always pretend that “you could have been a contender” if only you were born to the right parents. That elite status was not fairly earned and—by juxtaposition your non-elite status—was not your fault. But now that elite education is open to all and you still can’t get a sniff, you have no one to blame but your ignorant self and perhaps your ignorant parents. And given this what could be a more transparent self-preservation strategy than to pretend that elite education doesn’t matter anyways? And that you wouldn’t avail yourself of it if you tried? Who do you think you’re fooling other than ignorant people like yourself? Pfffft.

Hardy Har Har September 28, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in business, climate, economy, football, politics, society, taxes, transportation, war.
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The GOP is always good for a laugh. Regardless of how it’s pronounced, the party’s House leader spells his name Boehner. They gave us tea-bagging. And Sarah P. And wiccan-cum-Palin Christine O’Donnell. And now, just in time for the midterms, they’ve given us the Pledge To America. Yes America, congressional Republicans have an actual agenda other than filibustering Democratic legislation!

What is this agenda? Why are you asking me? Download and read it yourself! Don’t let the 10 MByte file size or 48 pages put you off. Text doesn’t take up much file space—one or two bytes per character—a 10 MByte document has to contain a large number of pictures. And in fact, PTA has 15 full pages of pictures! Of the Statue of Liberty, the Deepwater Horizon Rig, Mount Rushmore, Montcoal, the White House, Gitmo, the Capitol, K Street, House Minority Leader Boehner, Christine O’Donnell, main street USA, prison USA, a cowboy silhouetted against a sunset, Tony Romo, three old dudes at a supermarket beef counter, a CAFO, soldiers, caskets. Pictures that make you proud sick to be an American! There are also nine pages of content tables and titles like “Checks and Balances” and “Speak Out!” Plus two pages of figures for the sake of figures, including a nice one of Obama-spaghetti-care. That leaves you with only 22 pages of text. Still too much? Not to worry, the text itself is in large font, 1.5 spaced, and has huge margins. I banged it out on my iPhone between Tenleytown and Metro Center. And if this is still too long, there is the handy pocket card. Perfect for parties, or just around the water cooler! Alright, enough boilerplate and lace. Let’s briefly go over the “contents” of this bad boy, shall we?

Theme I: “shrink the government, reduce spending, and cut the Federal debt.” End TARP! Privatize the mortgage industry! Cancel the stimulus bill and reclaim all unspent Recovery Act funds! Return government spending to pre-bailout/pre-stimulus levels! Excuse me, but not even Sergey Brin is this rich! TARP was expensive, yes, but TARP also prevented a complete Wall Street meltdown and saved several US financial giants. The Fannie and Freddie bailouts were also expensive, but they did keep millions of American home “owners” temporarily afloat and the housing market from spiraling even more than it did. And yes, the unemployment was 7.7 before ARRA and 9.5 now, but what would it be now without the recovery act? And where would Philly Bluejay swim? Philly Bluejay currently swims at the sparkling Wilson Aquatic Center, proudly built using ARRA funds! But back to my point. All of these programs were and are expensive. And government spending was lower before they were enacted. But all of these programs were necessitated by Republican-led de-regulation of the financial and mortgage industries! And do you know which government programs were and are even more expensive? That’s right, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Strangely, no mention of canceling those in PTA. In fact, the only mention of Iraq and Afghanistan in PTA is in an item related to Iran. Which brings us to …

Theme II: “make America secure at home and abroad.” Protect our borders! A stronger visa program! Don’t let anyone out of Gitmo! Clean troop funding bills! Tough sanctions against Iran! A fully-funded missile shield! Let’s put the borders/visa/hate-of-Mexico/love-of-waterboarding issue aside for a minute and focus on the last three points. “Clean troop funding bills” essentially means a blank check from Congress to the Pentagon. Yes, that will definitely help to decrease spending! Tough sanctions against Iran because … well … Iran hates us and they will have nuclear capability by 2015. Actually kids, Iran will go nuclear before Passover and “tough sanctions” have as much of a chance of getting Ahmadinejad to back down as a personal plea from Philly Bluejay. Please Mahmoud, please dismantle your nuclear program. I promise not to make fun of your height or use your name and Kim Jong Il’s in the same sentence any more! That work? No? Bummer. And so what will definitely work against mini-me—oops, I did it again—Korean mini-me, and any other vertically-challenged-head-of-nuclear-state-gone-wild is a missile shield! The same missile shield will also stop hijacked planes, bombs in the New York subway system, IEDs, cyberterrorism, and attacks on our energy and water infrastructure. And it won’t blow the budget. Much. And also, to defeat attacks from the sea, the US coast will be patrolled by ill-tempered seabass with frikking lasers! A missile shield? Seriously? Do you know what would be far more effective against Herve Villechaise and Nelson de la Rosa—shame on me, I’ve just made fun of three dead dwarves in the span of 100 words—and far cheaper than a missile shield? About 50 F-16 Falcons and 10 B-2 bombers! A missile shield? A missile shield? Why not just run on “We will build a Death Star?”

Theme III: “no more Federal funding for abortion.” Ah, the abortion card! Apparently, they are saving the stem cell card for later.

Theme IV: “increase access to domestic energy sources.” Does this mean offshore wind farms in the North Atlantic and solar in Arizona or lifting the offshore drilling ban and opening up Alaska? I’m confused. Actually, I’m not. Of all the ludicrous statements in PTA, this might be the worst. I guess the fact that DC was buried under three feet of snow this past winter proves that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by Liberal scientists and that an ice age is coming! Drill baby drill!

Theme V: Two items Philly Bluejay supports: “make the Bush tax cuts permanent … for all Americans” and “oppose any carbon ‘cap-and-trade’ system.” These are solid proposals. Payroll taxes should be reduced. Even tiered income tax systems discourage people from working while doing nothing to curb massive consumption at the top. Meanwhile, cap-and-trade is complicated, provides the government with uncertain income, and doesn’t cover a sufficient number of sectors. The US needs to gradually reduce payroll taxes and combine those with a gradually increasing economy-wide carbon tax—payroll taxes should decrease by 1% per year for the next 10 years and CO2 emissions should be taxed by an additional $10 per ton per year over the same period, maxing out at $100 a ton. Think that’s high? It’s actually pretty pathetic—only about $34 per barrel of oil or $0.80 a gallon. Either way, Philly Bluejay salutes you, GOP! These two planks alone are enough to make Philly Bluejay forget about the rest of your nonsense, move to Delaware, and vote for Christine O’Donnell!

P.S. Philly Bluejay’s temporary new employer, US DOE/EERE—United States Department of Energy/Energy Efficiency and Renewables Division for the TLA/TLA/FLA impaired—has some cool programs like CYES (California Youth Energy Services). Philly Bluejay is not personally involved with these programs. Philly Bluejay is only involved with double-secret (i.e., obscure) programs.

P.P.S. Philly Bluejay’s namesakes—the Philadelphia Phillies—just wrapped up their fourth consecutive division title as for all practical purposes the number one seed in the conference. Good job, men! Red October 2010! Woot!

P.P.P.S. More “baseball news.” A California jury found Andrew Gallo—the drunk driver who last summer killed Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart and two 20-something female friends—guilty of three counts of second-degree murder. Gallo could spend the next 50 years in prison. Gallo is no doubt a LEED Platium moron, but his biggest shortcoming is not being a NFL player! Less than a month before Gallo’s unfortunate accident, then Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donte Stallworth killed pedestrian Mario Reyes in a drunk driving accident in Miami Beach. Stallworth was convicted of second-degree manslaughter, spent 30 days in jail, another two years in house arrest, and came to an “undisclosed” financial settlement with the Reyes family. He was subsequently signed by the Baltimore Ravens! Oh, the hypocrisy! Philly Bluejay wonders what the sentence would have been had Stallworth killed Adenhart.

P.P.P.P.S. In other Philadelphia sporting/avian news—week 2 of the Michael Vick era and the Eagles sit atop the NFC East! This weekend, prodigal son and recent cast-off Donovan McNabb—just “recent cast-off” is not specific enough—returns to Philly. Oh, the drama! Opening line from Vegas? Eagles -7! Whowouldathunkit?

P.P.P.P.P.S. Still more football news. Philly Bluejay major icon and fellow Bethesda resident Gregg Easterbrook had absolutely nothing to say about the Andy Reid/Kevin Kolb/Michael Vick/Donovan McNabb love-hate quadrilateral in this week’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback. Although TMQ did have a funny piece about acronyms disowning their full-word namesakes. Perhaps Philly Bluejay will shoot Easterbrook a text and ask! Perhaps Philly Bluejay will also shoot Easterbrook a text to ask about licensing the name “Tuesday Morning Third-String Emergency Quarterback” or perhaps “Wednesday Afternoon Practice Squad Safety.” Although perhaps TMQ stands for nothing, in which case no text is necessary. Starting this weekend, Philly Bluejay will be known as WAPSS.

Trifecta September 24, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in books, clean energy, football, politics.
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It’s been a good six months. If you took the fossil fuel disaster three team teaser. What? Vegas doesn’t give odds on such things? Are we sure? Each of the big three fossil fuels has experienced a major US calamity in the past six months. April 4th, an explosion at the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch coal mine in aptly named Montcoal—that’s coal mountain for the Franco-unwashed—West Virginia kills 25 miners. April 20th, an explosion on the Beyond Petroleum/TransOcean/Halliburton Deepwater Horizon rig 50 miles southeast of the Mississippi delta in the Gulf of Mexico kills 11. September 9, a PG&E gas line in San Bruno, California ruptures starting a fire that kills six, including an acquaintance of an acquaintance and her eight year old daughter.

Shortly after the Deepwater Horizon disaster I posted that there are two costs associated with fossil fuels. There is the slow and certain, low-margin-but-high-probability, frog-in-a-boiling-pot-of-water cost of CO2 emissions. This cost is much talked about. But there is also the awful but random, high-margin-but-low-probability, shock-and-awe cost of disasters. This cost is usually much talked about in the immediate aftermath of the disaster—”if it burns, it earns”—but soon forgotten as the “cost of doing business” or the “price of progress.” And it is rarely if ever mentioned in the fossil vs. renewable fuel as a major point for renewables. And why not? Because of the rare and random nature of the disasters themselves and because blame is always assigned to the companies rather than to the fuel. It’s not coal’s fault, Massey Energy ignored safety regulations and preferred to appeal fines than to bring its mines up to code! It’s not oil’s fault, Beyond Petroleum didn’t install the acoustic blowout prevention valve and Halliburton used sub-standard concrete to seal the well! It’s not natural gas’ fault, PG&E didn’t properly inspect the pipes! Well, that may all be true but the deeper truth is that no company, however earnest and by-the-book can avoid disaster indefinitely. Disasters happen. Screws fall out all the time. The world is an imperfect place. And to the degree that molecules can be at fault, coal, oil, and natural gas are themselves the problem. The thing that makes fossil fuels useful is that they burn. But this same property is also responsible for disasters—sometimes they burn prematurely and spectacularly. And yes that is the cost of doing business … with fossil fuels. Perhaps it’s time we take our business elsewhere.

The same dichotomy plays out on the grander scale of climate change. The kind of climate change that gets the bulk of the press is the high-probability-but-low-impact kind—and here I am using the adjective low in the relative sense, specifically relative to the climate change not talked about. There is a one hundred percent chance that global average temperature will increase by one degree Celsius by mid-century. A one hundred percent chance that floods, droughts, heatwaves, hurricanes, and wildfires will increase substantially in both frequency, duration, and intensity. A one hundred percent chance that ocean levels will rise by about 20 inches displacing 500 million people and robbing the world of 20% of its food producing river deltas. A one hundred percent chance that we will lose between 10 and 20% of all plant and animal species on earth. A one hundred percent chance that climate change mitigation will eat as much as 3% of world economic output. That’s the climate change most Americans know about and the kind that frankly probably doesn’t sound that bad to most Americans who don’t live in Florida and Louisiana—8% of Florida’s land area and 24% of Louisiana’s is within 20 inches of sea level. But there’s the climate change almost no one talks about, the low-probability-but-high-impact kind. There is a one percent chance that global average temperature rises by five degrees Celsius by midcentury. A one percent chance that we lose all the ice in Greenland and Western Antarctica and sea level rises by 43 feet, displacing two billion people and robbing us of 60% of all arable land. A one percent chance that we lose as many as 50% of all plant and animal species including … maybe … humans. I made up the one percent number. I don’t know what the probability of climate disaster is. No one does. The earth’s physical, chemical, and biological systems have too many non-linear feedback loops. But the point is that this kind of climate change—climate disaster—is also part of the equation. The price of progress. The cost of doing business. And while there may be a way to rationalize the risk of the occasional mine explosion, oil spill, and gas main rupture, is there a way to rationalize this kind of risk?

P.S. The DC Metro vs. Philly Bluejay score is now 2-1 Metro. On vacation at my sister’s a few weeks ago and out of reading material, I borrowed her copy of David Sedaris’ “Naked.” I generally do not read fiction—one of my mottos is “real life is fiction enough”—but “Naked” is not really fiction. It’s autobiography. And it’s pretty funny. My favorite short was “A Plague of Tics” or any mention of David’s mother. I was about 20 pages from the end when I left “Naked” by the SmarTrip machine at Friendship Heights. When I returned that evening, it was gone. And so was my faith in mankind.

P.P.S. Speaking of DC Metro. Anyone else notice the geometrical theme of the stations? Federal Triangle. Judiciary Square. Pentagon. Dupont Circle. Ballston.

P.P.P.S. I wasn’t planning on running my streak of sports related items to whatever it is now—four straight posts? five?—but I feel that I have to comment about the situation currently going on with the Philadelphia Eagles. Six months ago, head coach Andy Reid jettisoned 11-year quarterback Donovan McNabb to division rival Washington, largely on the strength of two spot starts by backup Kevin Kolb. This despite repeated proclamations that Donovan would be the Eagles quarterback in 2010. The move was seen as a slap in the face to McNabb—who along with late defensive coordinator Jim Johnson “made” Reid—but not as knee-jerk, or self-serving. After all, Donnie 5 had ample opportunity to get the Eagles a Lombardi trophy. Now, two quarters into the Kevin Kolb era Reid has effectively jettisoned Kolb, largely on the strength of two spot appearances by backup Michael Vick. This despite repeated proclamations that Kolb would be the Eagles quarterback in 2010. This move is a slap in the face to both Kolb and a slap in the face to McNabb and knee-jerk and self-serving. Not to mention self-destructive. Will Kevin Kolb ever be a starter in the NFL? I hope so. He deserves a shot. Can he ever play for Andy Reid? I don’t think so. Would you ever play for someone who threw you under the Liebherr T282B? For that matter, will anyone play for Andy Reid having seen what he’s done to McNabb and Kolb in the span of six months? Andy, this better work or this year will probably be your last coaching in the NFL. Mike Kafka, get your helmet ready!

P.P.P.P.S. Kolb/Vick-gate happened late Tuesday night. Too late for TMQ to weigh in. Tune in next week.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Rumors are flying that Philly Bluejay icon and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel may be stepping down after the elections to run for mayor of Chicago. Who will replace him? What about moi? I’m Israeli. I’m a ballbuster. I will cut off my finger if I have to!

Nuclear Football September 20, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in football, politics, transportation, war, weird.
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It’s football season. And I couldn’t be happier. Well, until the Eagles lost their opener plus four starters to injury anyways. But hey, Dallas lost also! Football is a game of war metaphors. Football players are “warriors.” Quarterbacks are “field generals.” Linemen play in the “trenches.” Quarterbacks get “sacked.” Running backs get “blown up.” “Bombs” get “intercepted.” It’s like the Middle East! With cheerleaders!

Three weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi “Benjamin” Netanyahu met with Fatah leader Mahmoud “The Tall One” Abbas in POTUS Lightning “Barry” Obama’s house for what was described as a hopeful opening round of peace talks. They met again this past week in Egypt accompanied by SOS Clinton. And they will continue to meet every two weeks thereafter. Until either a two state solution emerges. Or until next spring when when Mahmoud “Napoleon cum beard” Ahmadinejad wipes them both off the map with a nuclear warhead.

Most experts agree that Iran is about six months away from joining the nuclear club. The recent freeing of hiker/alleged-spy Sarah Shourd does not mean that Mahmoud suddenly gives a pigeon’s ass about what the West thinks. If it did, her male companions would be freed as well. It doesn’t even mean he has respect for women. If he did, there wouldn’t be this. Ahmadinejad sees twin openings in the Middle East/Central Asia and in the world of Islam and he is ready to pounce on both simultaneously. From a geopolitical standpoint, he is determined to make Iran a major world player—on par with the US, Russia, China, and the European Union, most of whom he repeatedly and deliberately thumbs his moustache at. From a religious standpoint, he sees an opportunity to leapfrog Saudi Arabia and to make Shiites the dominant Muslim sect. Nuclear armament is a quicker path to the first goal than social and economic reform. And it’s a quicker path to the second than decades of brainwashing-by-madrasah in Pakistan. And what a grander entrance to the world stage, holier ascension to the throne of Islam, and more absolute show of force and the will to use it than to eradicate the enemy of Islam—to finish off what the Holocaust couldn’t. It’s as if he’s trying to recreate the scene from Episode IV where Darth Vader forces Leia to watch as he tests the Death Star on her home planet—”Now witness the power of this fully armed and operational battle station!” Actually, given that it’s Ahmadinejad, it would be more like Dark Helmet from Space Balls, but the fate of Alderaan would be the same. Ahmadinejad is six months away from the Muslim nutbag end zone. He’s at the 35. 30. He’s in the clear and he’s starting to high step it. 25. 20. He’s looking at the Jumbotron and holding the nuclear football over his head. 15. 10.

Some experts believe that Israel has a good tackling angle on Iran. That it is ready to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities the same way it took out Syria’s in 2007 and Iraq’s in 1981. Israel—itself unofficially nuclear for at least 35 years—has never let an Arab neighbor get to the end zone. And they are about to go Don Beebe all over Iran’s Leon Lett. The Atlantic’s Jeff Goldberg’s has literally kept a running column/blog about this. It will happen. The world has enough problems without a nuclear Iran. The US is probably not going to take military action on its own—there may be a limit on the number of Arab countries that can be attacked in one decade—although it should. The world will applaud. And Israel’s other Arab neighbors will not protest. Saudi Arabia knows that once Iran is done with Israel, Riadh is next.

Which brings us back to the biweekly—bimonthly?—Israel/Fatah talks. Long term, an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank is a necessary component of any stable configuration in the region. Israel cannot keep barricading and illegally settling the West Bank indefinitely nor will it accept 2.5 million Muslims into what is at core a Jewish state. But until the Iran situation is resolved, Palestine 2.0 is a distraction. Peace with Fatah will not significantly change Israel’s security situation. Fatah is already not a security threat to Israel proper—as opposed to Israel improper, the Jewish settlements within the West Bank—neutralized partly by the wall and partly by its leadership. Hamas to the south and Hezbollah to the north operate independently of Fatah and will remain intermittent threats whether a West Bank Palestinian state is established or not. And so perhaps this is a misdirection play—Israel making the world look in the backfield while it sends fifty F-16s deep. Then again, if recent Israel has anything in common with Iran it’s that it doesn’t seem to care much for world opinion. Perhaps this is all political cover for POTUS Lightning. Israel needs to make nice with Lightning—it can’t wait until 2012 and hope that a militant pro-Israel anti-Arab Republican lands in the White House.

Disclaimer. Most of Philly Bluejay’s readers already know this, but I started out as Petah Tikva Starling—there are no Bluejays in Petah Tikva, but plenty of starlings. From what I can remember. This—and cousins—gives me more skin in this issue than the typical American bird, not to mention more cred. Ahem. Of course, I became Philly Bluejay at the age of eleven, never served in the Israeli army, and never lived in Israel as an adult during wartime or Intifada—I spent May-August 2000 in Haifa and the Second Intifada started that September. This gives me significantly less skin and cred than anyone who had actually spent significant time in the .il as an adult. My general stance is pro-Israel, but pro-Israel is not the primary criterion by which I judge US or other non-Israeli political figures. I’m glad we clarified this.

P.S. Sherley, you must be joking! I’m dead serious, and don’t call me Sherley!

P.P.S. Ummmmm … wow!

P.P.P.S. I love the DC Metro—never more than a three minute wait, never less than 80% full. Apparently, the feeling is not mutual. At approximately 8:50am this past Friday, at the Metro Center station, the Orange Line to New Carrolton grabbed me by the right ankle and refused to let go! Isn’t the door supposed to open automatically if it feels an obstruction? Fellow passengers tried to pry the door open but failed. Isn’t the door supposed to release if it feels people pulling on it? I was about to channel Aron Ralston, but I didn’t have my trusty Leatherman with me as it will not go through DOE metal detectors. Instead, I slipped off my shoe, used it to brace the doors while pulling my foot free, then turned it 90 degrees and pulled it through. Next station, Federal Triangle! Philly Bluejay 1-Orange Line 0! This morning, the Orange line to New Carrolton was waiting with doors open as I was heading down the escalator. Rather than run and risk another incident—why don’t train doors have the same countdown timers that most streetlights have these days?—I let the train go and waited three minutes for the next one. Buck, buck, brawwwck! Philly Bluejay 1-Orange Line 1.

P.P.P.P.S. Pastor Jones, how about this for a compromise? You call off the Koran burning and return James Hetfield’s moustache, and we move the planned Cordoba House mosque from Ground Zero to the Dove World parking lot. Haven’t you done enough damage?

P.P.P.P.P.S. What’s the first thing you learn in baseball? No, not “There’s no crying in baseball”—that’s the second thing you learn. It’s “When you get into a fight with a drunk, you don’t hit him with your pitching hand!”!

No Trade Left Behind July 30, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in education, politics, society, taxes.
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I was going to title this post “No Race Left Behind” as a play on “Race To The Top”® and “No Child Left Behind”®. Then it occurred to me that such a title may sound racist. Especially because the subject of the post is education and any discussion about education is bound to tread on racially sensitive ground. And so I thought better of it—yes, I know, what’s happening to me?—and settled for a subtle homage to the MLB trade deadline, which the Bluejay Phillies “aced” yet again. Ha!

Did you happen to catch POTUS BO’s at the National Urban League—henceforth, the “NUL”? If you haven’t figured this out yet, I overly fond of TLAs, FLAs, FLAs, and the occasional SLA. Just think of how long one of these posts would be without them. It would be like a cricket match. Anywhos, I caught BO’s NUL speech obliquely, listening to it while working. I filtered out most of the stuff about Shirley Sherrod and the de-ridicu-criminalization of crack cocaine relative to powder, and foregrounded POTUS during the RT3® part—RT3 is a registered trademark of Philly Bluejay along with Dumb-and-Plumber 2012®. If you are not familiar with RT3, here is a nice piece in the Atlantic that covers the basics in context. The premise is simple, compelling, and strangely revolutionary to the US and to the traditionally pro-union democratic party in particular—marry public education with free-market economics! Free information! Quantitative measurement! Performance-based pay! Frictionless labor markets! Competition! Unregulated derivatives! Collateralized debt obligations! Taxpayer funded bailouts! What a concept! RT3 would abolish the systems of teacher tenure and seniority based pay and replace them with a more conventional labor arrangement, potentially retaining some of the pieces of the current collective bargaining structure. And surely competition—on both the supply side and the demand side—will do the teaching profession some good. Teachers will compete with each other for better pay on performance metrics. Schools will compete with each other for better teachers on pay metrics—if you think schools are not competing, check out greatschools.org. Teacher performance will improve. Teacher pay will improve. Public education will improve. Everybody wins. Except for entrenched interests like poor teachers with tenure.

RT3 is certainly admirable. Whether POTUS BO, SOE Duncan, and the rest of the Sunday morning pickup basketball crew pulls it off remains to be seen. But here’s another aspect of the education puzzle that didn’t get any lip time during the NUL speech and is rarely mentioned in the press. RT3’s stated goal is “preparing every student for college”—a mission statement which has the twin positive attributes of being unassailably good and unassailably vague. But does it make sense? Not really. Yes, a college education increases lifetime earnings by nearly one million dollars. A Master’s degree by one million more. Seriously, they do. But this is the paradox of thrift all over again. A college degree increases earnings by one million dollars for one individual operating in a perfectly elastic job market. That person can trade in a low paying job for a higher paying one. But the economy as a whole has a pyramid of jobs and someone has to work the lower paying ones. Preparing the people who will ultimately work at lower paying jobs for college—not to mention actually sending them to college—is a waste of resources on the part of society and a waste of time and money on the part of the individual. Not to demean any particular honest profession, but would you go to—and pay for—college knowing that you would ultimately become a bus driver? Or a pizza tosser? Or a computer programmer? I’m not being facetious about this last one. Programming does not require a college education, witness the hordes of kids who learn to do it on their own in high school. If not earlier. Yes, programming well is difficult. Doing anything well is difficult. But becoming a passable programmer capable of carrying out 90% of tasks is not.

I’m all for neoteny, lifelong learning, and good citizenship and I would never tell any individual person not to go to college or to pursue a high-paying career. But public education needs to cater not only to future lawyers and dentists and MBAs. It needs to do a better and more efficient job for would-be bus drivers, and pizza tossers, and computer programmers. Is prepping these students to do well on the SATs/ACTs/TLAs the right thing? For these students, shouldn’t primary education be reoriented along the lines of a terminal (professional) degree? Shouldn’t primary education be—WARNING: politically insensitive suggestion alert—more vocation and less renaissance? In the US, assaulting teachers unions is past its political half life, but vocational education is still radioactive. Why? Because of the million dollar fallacy of composition. And because it smells racist. Or classist. Or X-ist. But in fact, it’s no more racist or classist or X-ist than funding public education using local property taxes. For many people, a free career-oriented terminal education would be a gift. Rather than graduating high school being prepared to do nothing in particular—and spending their lives doing nothing in particular—vocational students would graduate prepared for a job that paid a living wage. I am not advocating tracking based on IQ or aptitude tests—that’s the European model—or some other variant of Plato’s Republic. I am thinking of something much more voluntary. Not interested in general purpose stem cell high school? A vocational alternative would be available to you. Why should any voluntary system be political anathema?

Think of RT3 amended with a vocational “public option” for lack of a better term. There is still teacher competition. And school competition. But now “stem-cell” teaching is more attractive because class sizes are smaller and classes have fewer students not interested in stem-cell learning. And the pool of good stem-cell teachers is not only larger—because again such teaching is more attractive—it is also spread less thin. And vocational teaching is now a high volume career option. And there will be fewer people whose terminal degree doesn’t qualify them to do anything in particular.

POTUS BO. You, SOE Duncan, and the rest of the crew should discuss this as you are running up and down the court on Saturday mornings. And maybe you can talk about it at next year’s NUL address. You know, after the midterms. It’s a message that would sound better coming from you than from almost anyone else.

P.S. My latest Wikipedia entry? Michigan governator Jennifer Granholm. She’s packed quite a lot into 50 years. Did you know she’s a failed actress, a beauty queen—take that Sarah P—and a Canadian? That last fact is especially deplorable as Jen would have looked good on the 2016 Democratic ticket. That’s okay, Rachel Maddow will do nicely.

P.P.S. Speaking of Rachel. Watch her interview with Richard Holbrooke. Also speaking of Rachel? Come back soon! Because the guy who is sitting in for you is absolutely killing the show. Same goes to you, Mike Missanelli—John “Missanelli 1.7” Marks is not doing it for me. Olbermann? You can hang out wherever you are for a little while longer.

P.P.P.S. I have a new favorite television show. No, not Kate + boobjob + eight. How It’s Made on Sc. Who knew that it takes 428 machines to make a socket wrench? Or that soy sauce has to be fermented for four months? Or how peanuts are shelled by machine? Or how glass bottles with matching caps are made? I could watch this show for 48 hours straight! It’s really amazing not only how many different things there are, but what it takes to mass produce them. It seems like more goes into inventing and perfecting the process for mass-producing something than it takes to invent the thing.

P.P.P.P.S. As if you need one more reason to stop eating frozen mice. Notice, the piece was written by someone named Anemona, not to be confused with Anemone.

Shock and Awe June 25, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in clean energy, climate, politics, war.
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Not in Afghanistan—where Stanley McChrystal is out and David Petraeus is in. Hey, that’s what happens when you badmouth the boss in the open rather than on WikiLeaks. In Canberra, Australia—where prime minister Kevin Rudd is out and form deputy Julia Gillard is in. Rudd is only the first Australian PM to be ousted in his first term since 1930. Gillard is only the first female Australian PM. But the real shock is the reason for the switch and the way it went down.

By most accounts—and, forgive me, but I don’t follow Australian politics closely or even remotely—Rudd’s first two years in office have been successful or at the very least non-disastrous. Hey, Australia is one of the few modernized countries which hasn’t been bludgeoned by the global recession! But Rudd ran on an environmental platform—he promised to be a leader in Copenhagen and to implement aggressive carbon measures at home. And he did neither. Rudd couldn’t have prevented Copenhagen from melting down—pun intended. With only 20 million people, separated by oceans from any other country, and unable to support forests, Australia is simply not a global carbon player of any consequence. But he could have implemented his national environmental strategy, starting with an energy cap-and-trade program. However, after the legislation was defeated in the Senate by a Conservative coalition, Rudd decided to table it until 2013. Infuriated by this “cowardly” political maneuver, many of Rudd’s supporters switched allegiance to the Green party. Rather than facing a humiliating defeat in the next election, Rudd’s own party’s power-brokers forced him out.

Ladies and gentlemen—we are witness to a historic moment. A political head of state has been removed for failing to implement climate change measures. I hope every head of every state was watching.

P.S. If you get a chance to read the The Runaway General—the Rolling Stone piece that got McChrystal “resignated”—you should. Not only to get a picture of McChrystal, but also to get a multi-dimensional view of the War in Afghanistan. First, the man. He’s essentially Jack Bauer. Now that “24” is over, FOX should pilot a follow-on series called “48” starring Stan. Stan could pull it off too—he doesn’t eat, sleeps four hours a night, and runs seven miles a day. Stan’s problem is that he’s a field seargent in a major general’s uniform. He likes the dirty work too much and has too little respect for civilians and politicians—and he resents having to deal with the latter at the expense of the former. He’s not a conventional modern general like Schwartzkopf or Powell or Petraeus—who have field experience, but largely rose up through the ranks of American military colleges. McChrystal is a former ranger and climbed the ladder in the field. He’s a “soldier’s soldier,” not a “politician’s soldier.” He’s trying to carry out his originally stated mission as best as he can—he can’t see that it’s mission impossible. He should never have been in this position in the first place. He’s almost a tragic figure.

As for the war, oy! If you didn’t think it was unwinnable before reading this article, you will afterwards. By the way, did you know that this is now the longest war in US history? We can only hope it doesn’t end up being the longest war in Afghan history too.

P.P.S. One of the few “funny” things in the article? McChrystal’s inner circle calls itself Team America and throws around more F-bombs than Team America does—if that’s possible. This reminds me, one of the saddest days for television in the last 25 years was the day MTV canceled Super Adventure Team. Sigh. At least we’ll always have YouTube.

P.P.S. The equivalent of this in baseball would be a 30-inning game. With no pitching changes.

P.P.P.S. It’s that time. Bluejay Jr. wants to know—”how big is the hole that babies come out of?” What do I say—”It’s small but stretchy, like SillyBandz?”