Memento Mori

Memento Mori

My heart is heavy for some college-era friends who have just lost their 18-year-old son. I just stumbled on this commencement speech from Steve Jobs, who famously faced a mortal fright when it was believed that he had an inoperable form of pancreatic cancer:

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

H/t Maggie's Farm

Straw Poll

Straw Poll:

Results are in, and Rep. Bachmann won narrowly. Hot Air, whose reporting places it clearly in the Romney camp, downplays:

Bachmann comes away with a win, but not by much — and since reports had her giving out 6,000 tickets to the event, it’s not exactly a big endorsement.

Rick Perry got 718 write-in votes without showing up at all.

Of course, the big question won’t be what this means, but if it means anything at all. The consistent poll frontrunner, Mitt Romney, didn’t contest the straw poll, although he did show up for the debate and did some local campaigning this week. Perry’s entry to the race means the arguable #2 candidate in the race didn’t compete, either. Those two developments mean that the winner might be battling for third place everywhere else but Iowa, and maybe even here after a few weeks have passed.
Caveats duly noted. Nevertheless, so far, it's Bachmann on top: and victory in the straw poll tracks well to how Iowa votes in general, though the sample set is limited.

The Thinking Man's Spelling Rhyme

The Thinking Man's Spelling Rhyme

Those of you with aspiring spelling- bee contestants in the house might want to upgrade your pre-schooler's training song with this ditty from "Barenaked Ladies," reminiscent of the old joke about spelling "fish" as "ghoti":

A is for aisle, B is for bdellium
C is for Czar (and if you see him, would you mind telling him?)

D is for djinn,
E for Euphrates
F is for fohn, but not like when I call the ladies

G for gnarly, I for irk, H is for hour
J is for jalapeno, in either corn or flour

K is for knickknack, L is for llama
M for mnemonic, N for ndomo

O is for ouija board, P for pneumonia,
Pterodactyl, and psychosis; Q is for qat

R is for argyle (I couldn't find a good R word)

S is for Saar, a lovely German river
T for tsunami, a wave that makes me quiver

U is for urn, but not like earning money
V for vraisemblance, from French and therefore funny

W for wren, wrinkly, and who
X is for Xian, an ancient Chinese city, true

Y is for yiperite, a very nasty gas
And zed's the final letter and by final I mean last.

H/t Assistant Village Idiot

Individual Mandate Struck Down

Individual Mandate Struck Down

The 11th Circuit refused to follow the Florida lower court's lead in striking down the entire Obamacare act, but it did rule that the individual mandate is an unconstitutional extension of the Commerce Clause. This ruling issued from the usual 3-judge panel by a 2-1 vote. One of the two judges in the majority was a Clinton appointee.

The decision is subject to review, upon request, by the entire 11th Circuit sitting "en banc." Either the en banc 11th Circuit or the Supreme Court will have to tell us whether they agree that the individual mandate must go and, if so, whether the rest of the law is sufficiently severable that it can go forward without the mandate. There is a serious practical question, too, whether the law can be implemented without the mandate. I have real doubt whether the American insurance industry can stay in business if it's subjected to the new requirements for expanded and universal coverage, but does not receive the economic benefit of the mandated market. If that proves to be the case, will the bill be abandoned, or will Congress seek to promote a single-payer option by permitting the industry to bankrupt itself?

Here's a statistic from the ruling that surprised me: "In 2007, 57% of the 40 million uninsured that year used somemedical services; in 2008, 56% of the 41 million uninsured that year used somemedical services. . . . The medical care used by each uninsured person cost about $2,000 on average in 2007, and $1,870 on average in 2008." I would have expected the number to be higher.

The ruling contains this brief, helpful summary of the Act's nine sections:

Title I contains these four components . . .: (1) the insuranceindustry reforms; (2) the new state-run Exchanges; (3) the individual mandate; and(4) the employer penalty. . . .

Title II shifts the Act’s focus to publicly-funded programs designed to provide health care for the uninsured, suchas Medicaid, CHIP, and initiatives under the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. . . .

Title II contains the Medicaid expansion at issue here. Title II’s provisions also create, or expand, other publicly-funded programs. . . .

Title III primarily addresses Medicare. . . .

Title IV concentrates on prevention of illness. . . .

Title V seeks to increasethe supply of health care workers through education loans, training grants, andother programs.

Title VI creates new transparency and anti-fraud requirements for physician-owned hospitals participating in Medicare and for nursing facilities participatingin Medicare or Medicaid. . . .

Title VI includes the Elder JusticeAct, designed to eliminate elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation. . . .

Title VII extends and expands certain drug discounts in health care facilitiesserving low-income patients. . . .

Title VIII establishes a national,voluntary long-term care insurance program for purchasing community living assistance services and support by persons with functional limitations. . . .

Title IX contains revenue provisions. . . .

Appendix A . . . documents (1) the breadth and scope of the Act; (2) the multitudinous reforms enacted to reduce the number of theuninsured; (3) the large number and diverse array of new, or expanded, federally-funded programs, grants, studies, commissions, and councils in the Act; (4) the extensive new federal requirements and regulations on myriad subjects; and (5) how many of the Act’s provisions on their face operate separately and independently.

There's more detail about each of these Titles in the full document. It's the best summary I've run across so far.

Things You Won't Hear from the British Authorities

Things You Won't Hear from the British Authorities

From a speech by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, on the city's plan to deal with the threatened spread of flash-mob riots:

Sense and nonsense cannot exist in the same place, in the same city, in the same world, and is not going to happen here in Philadelphia.
The whole speech is well worth the read, as an antidote to the usual predictable helpless hand-wringing over "youth" and "root causes" of their disaffection. The cost of spouting and accepting nonsense in public discourse is higher than we sometimes acknowledge. The Mayor is prepared to lock up not only out-of-control kids but their feckless parents, because he's tired of hearing why the parents can't cope. His call to intellectual arms brings to mind Voltaire's warning: "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."


The Republicans:

I missed the debate last night, having just finished a thirteen-hour ride through the searing heat of August; but it sounds like it was interesting. This morning people are talking about lines of vulnerability for Rep. Bachmann and Mr. Romney.

Rep. Bachmann

Rep. Bachmann's problem is analogous to John F. Kennedy's problem when he ran as the first serious Catholic candidate, except that it's more serious. Let's watch the video, and I'll explain what I mean.

Bachmann gave a great answer, both in substance and in terms of how she managed the tone of her response. Any doctrine that you choose to guide your life must be interpreted. As we have often discussed here, submission is a very important part of marriage -- not for wives, but at times for each of the partners. It entails a deep respect and willful service, of choosing to put your own interests aside and serve the interests of the other for a time.

I prefer the medieval framing of this concept to the Biblical or Islamic ones: the medieval framing is informed by ideas of fealty, which better reflect that this is a two-way relationship of willful service and support. The medieval ethic of service between man and woman also better shows that it is sometimes the man and sometimes the woman who needs service or support!

Rep. Bachmann conveys that this issue is really about respect, and then offers some examples of things that she and her husband have been able to achieve together using this principle. Anyone who is not impressed by those accomplishments isn't taking the time to think through and appreciate the amount of work and sacrifice entailed.

Nevertheless, she's got a serious problem here. The question is really one that will dog Romney as well, which boils down to: 'You have some unusual religious beliefs. How can we vote for someone who believes differently than we do?'

The reason Bachmann's problem is worse than Kennedy's was is that she explicitly said that this religious principle of submission had guided her in public life. The Kennedy response -- that private religious principles would be kept out of public life -- is therefore not available to her.

What she has to convince people to believe is that her private religious principles will redound to the benefit of the nation. That's going to be a harder sell to people who do not share those principles.

For Americans, this principle of willful submission is one of the hardest to accept. I think it would be hard to name a principle that ran more directly counter to the current of our popular culture. Very few will take the time to do the soul searching necessary to find the great wisdom embedded in it.

Mr. Romney

Romney's problem is clear even if you take the kindest possible reading of his remarks that "Corporations are people, my friend." Even granting every argument made by his defender, there remain two critical points that Romney obviously does not get.

1) This extremely weak recovery has actually been very good for corporations: corporate profits are at an all time high. It is the small business sector, normally organized as single-proprietorships or partnerships, that has not recovered. Pay for corporate employees is flat these last few decades, adjusted for inflation, which means that all that profitability is not helping the employee any more than it is helping the small business. It is helping those who collect dividends. So, you are telling me that some people are doing very well in this economy, which I already knew: people like Mitt Romney are doing very well.

Romney's political problem is that he is seen as a symbol of northeastern corporatism, that wing of the Republican party that cannot be trusted by the common man. He has done nothing to help himself with voters who are not already corporate executives with this remark.

2) Telling me that 'corporations are people' is no different than telling me that 'governments are people.' Well, yes, indeed in some sense they are: but it makes no difference if my complaint is that the government is profiting unfairly by using its power to extract wealth from what has become a subject population.

That is the substance of the Left's critique against corporations -- and indeed it is also the non-Left, TEA Party populist critique against both corporations and government. The populist complaint is that the rich and powerful use their alliance with government to do so by having unreasonable barriers to entry raised for small businesses.

Both the Left and the TEA Party agree on this problem: what they disagree about is the solution. The Left believes in increased regulation by government, which is odd since "increased regulation" is exactly the mechanism that raises the aforementioned unfair barriers; the TEA Party believes in slashing regulation, so that I can easily and cheaply go out and start a business if I want.

We can debate which approach is the right one, or if there may be occasions for each approach. The problem, though, enjoys broad agreement across the ideological spectrum. It is only among a very narrow band of voters that the pro-corporate argument will fly.

Real Issues

As Allah notes, apparently there was time to ask about submission in marriage, but not about entitlement reform. I would like to see the Republicans -- and any Democratic challengers to President Obama -- speak to this issue more than any other. Entitlements and government pensions are the big rocks we need to figure out how to move.

They're Coming for Us out of Perseus

They're Coming for Us out of Perseus

Although this year's Perseid meteor shower won't peak until Saturday night, the best viewing may well be just before tomorrow at dawn, since the waxing moon will wash out the show somewhat by this weekend. Perseus rises near midnight this time of year. It lies right along the Milky Way in the northeast sky, near the distinctive "W" shape of Cassiopeia, to the left of the Great Square of Pegasus. Perseus is between Cassiopeia and the brilliant star Capella in the constellation Auriga. The constellation contains the variable star Algol, considered the Medusa head that Perseus holds, which is not a single star but a triple-star system that waxes and wanes every three days depending on whether one of the system's dimmer or brighter stars is in front eclipsing the others.

The Perseid cloud stretches along the 130-year orbit of the comet Swift-Tuttle and consists of a stream of particles ejected each time the comet approaches the sun. The August meteor shower, which results from the Earth's annual passage through the relatively static stream, has been observed for about 2000 years. Most of the meteors we see this week will have been ejected about a thousand years ago, but there is a new filament that was ejected only in 1862, which generates a higher volume of visible falling stars than the older portion of the stream.

A multicolored, long Perseid striking the sky just to the left of Milky Way in 2009

For years I've wanted to try a trick I read about: you set out a large flat pan the first time it rains after a meteor shower, then carefully let the pan dry out. Supposedly the remaining dust will react to a magnet, because it contains traces of iron from meteor dust in the upper atmosphere. I've never made it work. It would be hard to try this year, as we're beginning to wonder if it will ever rain again.

That reminds me of a quotation of Mark Twain that my husband cited to me yesterday: During a thunderstorm, someone asked whether he thought the rain would stop. "It always has before," he replied.



It looks like the voters narrowly endorsed the death of public sector unions. This has been one of the nation's early attempts at wrestling entrenched government interests, and so far it's proving out.

This is important, because fixing America means fixing both the famous entitlements (Medicare and Medicaid) but also, and especially, slimming public sector pensions. The Wisconsin decision shows that voters can resist a public relations campaign and long-running protests, even if it was a close-run thing. This is a good sign for the future of our country, and somewhat of a surprising one. It is this approach we'll have to build on, in every state and at the Federal level, in order to be sure that the government does not devour the People.

Not Getting Mad

The Non-Agitated:

A headline that Rep. Bachmann surely wants to see often during the early days of her run at winning the Republican Nomination is, "Why Michele Bachmann is no Sarah Palin."

This is part two in that series from the Washington Post. Today's lesson: when the media does something really unfair, just ignore them. The American people already know they're a bunch of rascals. What they need to know is that you're not the kind of person who can get worked up by a bunch of rascals.


Walking the Edge:

London's mobs seem to be using social media to organize themselves. There's no reason this can't be done very efficiently, as an asymmetric way of overcoming even the most robust police presence. After all, even a rich community with a very high normal police density can be the sudden locus of a flashmob of a few hundred gangsters, who can easily overwhelm the few policemen who would constitute a 'very high normal police density.' As with a terrorist attack, there is really no defense here except to harden the general society, so that there is a ready made 'anti-flashmob' of ordinary citizens who can pin down the gangsters long enough for a response to arrive. That response can be police, military, or what Major General Rick Lynch used to call 'concerned local citizens' with equal effect. What is important is that we have lost the 'find' phase of the old military rule to 'find, fix, and finish.' We need to be prepared to 'fix' them wherever they should happen to 'find' themselves. Finishing, assuming the fixing can be done, isn't that hard a nut to crack.

In America this phenomenon has a dangerous racial tendency, and in both directions. For all that commentators spoke of America being 'post-racial' just a few short years ago, the truth is that America has not become 'post-racial' at all. What America has become is antiracist. American culture is currently devoted to the proposition that racism will not be the rule in our society.

America has not forgotten its racial divisions, though. As the Buddhist proverb says, "To say you have forgiven but not forgotten is to say that you have not forgiven." What we have put in place is a set of protocols and social controls designed to suppress anything like racist expression. This is formalized and legal at the margins -- anti-discrimination suits are not unheard of -- but it is a system of social control as much as it is a system of political control. We, the People, have decided we do not want to be racists. At the same time, we remember what it was like to be racists: indeed, it is precisely because we remember what it was like to have a racist society that we have become so devoted to doing it otherwise.

This antiracism marks a real change from the bad old days, but it is far from a "postracial society." There is grave danger of having the old fault lines brought back into focus. The very young people who are engaging in this violence are the ones among us with the least memory of what the 'bad old days' were like -- they are least likely to believe in the change, because they did not live to see it.

That's the way it goes, as the opening lines of Quentin Tarantino's True Romance say, but sometimes it goes the other way too. We may be watching the tide break at the high water mark. This was as good as it got, perhaps: and now we shall roll back to the sea.

If not, it will only be because we dug in, and clawed the rest of the way.

President Dunning-Kruger?


One of the more entertaining of Obama's campaign promises was his oft-repeated vow to "Restore Science to Its Rightful Place":
How is his administration doing so far? It has failed to strengthen protections for endangered species, appointed officials with long records of suppressing politically inconvenient science, ignored new evidence-based recommendations for breast-cancer screening, failed to remove all restrictions from embryonic stem-cell science and ignored decades of research in a politically motivated effort to prevent nuclear waste from being stored at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

Dude... why so harsh? I can't think of a single public servant who has done more to increase public awareness of the Dunning-Kruger Effect:
ERROL MORRIS: Knowing what you don’t know? Is this supposedly the hallmark of an intelligent person?

DAVID DUNNING: That’s absolutely right. It’s knowing that there are things you don’t know that you don’t know. [4] Donald Rumsfeld gave this speech about “unknown unknowns.” It goes something like this: “There are things we know we know about terrorism. There are things we know we don’t know. And there are things that are unknown unknowns. We don’t know that we don’t know.” He got a lot of grief for that. And I thought, “That’s the smartest and most modest thing I’ve heard in a year.”

Give Barack his due: when it comes to increasing public awareness of the value of scientific inquiry, he walks the walk. Thank God the Smart Folks are back in charge:
"I think I'm a better speech writer than my speech writers," [Obama] reportedly told an aide in 2008. "I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I'll tell you right now that I'm . . . a better political director than my political director."

And unlike the ignorant and arrogant BusHitler administration, they're humble, too.



Ya'll are cheating yourselves if you don't watch the last few minutes of the last one, at least.

Rass 17%

Rasmussen: 17% Say the US Gov't Has Consent of Governed

That's the top line finding, in any case.

Daniel W. Drezner asks if he's missing anything:

The first line line of defense has been breached, but the second line of defense looks increasingly robust. Public opinion poll after public opinion poll in the wake of the debt deal show the same thing -- everyone in Washington is unpopular, but Congress is really unpopular and GOP members of Congress are ridiculously unpopular. At a minimum, S&P needs to calculate how the current members of Congress will react to rising anti-incumbent sentiment. If they did that analysis and concluded that nothing would be done, I'd understand their thinking more. I didn't see anything like that kind of political analysis in their statement, however.

In the end, I suspect Moody's and Fitch won't follow S&P's move, so this could be a giant nothingburger. Still, if these guys are going to be doing political risk analysis, it might help to actually have some political scientists on the payroll. Based on their statement, S&P is simply extrapolating from the op-ed page, and that's a lousy way to make a political forecast.

Am I missing anything?
Well, yes, you are: national public opinion polls cut very nicely against the President, whoever he is; but Congressmen are elected by district, and Senators by state. A Senator can be 0% popular outside his state and still win re-election; and a Representative can be 0% popular outside his district and still do so.

Opinon poll after opinion poll has shown, and for decades, that people hate Congress but roughly speaking support their own representatives. That being so, the findings on Congress aren't especially relevant to our diagnosis.

As my time at the undisclosed location comes to a close -- I'll go so far as to name it the Tampa region -- I'd like to take a moment to speak to what I'll remember about the place.

Here a couple of Mr. Wolf's bikes.

The "small" one in the foreground -- it's a 1200 cc Harley -- is one I spent about a month riding. It's a good little bike, though you can't go a day without stopping by a gas station. The bigger one with the red rims and the whitewall tires is his bagger.

Here is my current bike, which I have named "Lady Luck." There are good and sufficient reasons for this which I won't go into as at this time.

Lady Luck outside a hole in the wall on the Gulf of Mexico which I highly recommend to those of you who normally carry knives about your daily business. The guitarist on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday is the most talented I've ever seen in person. He not only seems to know every song written between 1940 and the present day, he can improvise with them -- and lead his three-or-four piece band along while he does it. The fourth piece is a harmonica, wielded sometimes by an old hippie who drops in when he feels like it.

Not every bike survived the approach.

A shrine to the owner, Master Sergeant John Susor, whose service was in WWII. The place is full of tributes to him, especially news clippings with headlines like: "Bar owner says he was acting in self-defense when he took up his pickaxe" or "Bar owner arrested for gambling" or "Notorious bar owner running for mayor." He passed on in 2008, and I'm sorry I didn't have the honor of meeting him in person.

One of two cats and two Pit Bulls who live at this bar. The elder Pit Bull is quite old, and mostly sleeps on the couch nearest the band. She is quite content to have a man -- a man fearless of dogs, at least -- sit on the couch and spend an hour petting her.

The rules posted on the bar advise complainers, "The animals live here, and you don't." Fair warning!

Ah, "folk art."

More folk art. The table is as off-level as any I've ever played on, and we could only find one pool stick in the place with cork on its tip. Good game, all the same.

If any of you find yourselves with business at SOCOM or CENTCOM, and share my own impulses, you could do worse for yourselves.

Truck Driver

The Story of a Truck Driver:

The personal part of this story is tragic, but the basic facts of truck-driving are universal.

His truck is governed to 68 miles an hour, because the company he leases it from believes it keeps him and the public and the equipment safer.

The truck he passed was probably running under 65 mph to conserve fuel. You see, the best these trucks do for fuel economy is about 8 miles per gallon. With fuel at almost $4 per gallon -- well, you do the math. And, yes, that driver pays for his own fuel.

He needs to be 1,014 miles from where he loaded in two days. And he can't fudge his federally mandated driver log, because he no longer does it on paper; he is logged electronically.

He can drive 11 hours in a 14-hour period; then he must take a 10-hour break. And considering that the shipper where he loaded held him up for five hours because it is understaffed, he now needs to run without stopping for lunch and dinner breaks.

If he misses his delivery appointment, he will be rescheduled for the next day, because the receiver has booked its docks solid (and has cut staff to a minimum). That means the driver sits, losing 500-plus miles for the week.

Which means his profit will be cut, and he will take less money home to his family. Most of these guys are gone 10 days, and home for a day and a half, and take home an average of $500 a week if everything goes well.