Friday, February 22, 2008
Well, I am stilling mulling over whether to vote for McCain or for none of the above (actually, I would either vote for a third party candidate or write in someone). I probably won't make up my mind for quite a while. It is hard to focus on the issues and not react emotionally. Michelle Obama's outburst really does hint at what we might be in store for. The Obama campaign can say what they will, but anyone who knows many left wing people knows she meant what she said: This is the first time she was proud of her country. A spoiled child is never very attractive.
There are so many weird positions out there this year. So Ann Coulter will vote for Hillary against McCain (don't know what she will do if Obama wins). Well, that is not my position. McCain is better than Hillary. The reason not to vote for McCain is that the country may be better in the long run if Hillary is elected. But I would never actually vote for her. As my mother used to say about voting for Republicans, her arm would fall off before she could do that.
Megan McArdle writes that she favors Obama in the primary.
In the general [election]? I might not vote for Obama; I will not vote for McCain. There are some things more important than the economy, and free speech is among them. I dislike the steps Obama is willing to take in order to achieve his goals of economic equality. But these are as nothing to the notion that citizens have to be protected from information because Big Daddy John thinks we'll get bad ideas in our heads.
Wow. I think campaign finance is pretty bad also, but to think that is more important than tanking the economy or significantly increasing state control over the economy -- well, all I can say is Megan and I have different priorities.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Over at Andrew Sullivan, Jim Manzi has a great post on school choice.
School choice improves the performance of participants today. As per my earlier post on evidence of causality in social science, one can make this statement with about as much certainty as one can make any non-trivial statement about causality relevant to public policy because we have multiple replications of true random assignment trials.
These results have been achieved within almost comically artificial “markets”. Conditions vary, but one fundamental issue is that in many localities schools don’t lose the funding for a student if the student leaves the school by participating in a choice program. This would be like your local hardware store having its annual revenues set by a “hardware board” based on the number of people who live in the area that need flashlights and screwdrivers, independent of now many flashlights and screwdrivers it actually sold. My guess is that they wouldn’t be staying open late on Saturdays. Another issue is that when, as in many systems, some tiny fraction of the population is allowed to participate (normally by lottery, which is why we have so many replications of random assignment trials), there is insufficient demand to stimulate the creation of much alternative school capacity, achieve scale effects that would induce large enterprises to start new school chains and so forth. In other words, these are markets with huge limitations on the demand side and the supply side.
I spent my entire life going to public schools -- in the city schools, if not always inner city schools -- until law school, and my children have only gone to public schools. Still, I regard opposition to vouchers as one of the most statist, authoritarian positions that is out there today. I just have no sympathy for it.
In fact, I think opposition to vouchers is very much like the support of the old Corn Laws. The public school system provides unjustified protections for certain groups. The teachers unions are protecting their special privileges and suburban families, who purchased houses near good schools, don't want to take a risk on a new system.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Monday, February 18, 2008
Here is a fascinating website about world cities: Urban Tours by Rental Car. The authors have posted shrewd and very realistic essays about cities around the world, with lots of photos that capture the look and feel of each city.
Urban Tours by Rental Car offers perspectives on urban development obtained by automobile tours through urban areas. Rental cars are not the favored method for visiting cities, especially those outside one's own country. Instead, tourists and urban planners favor packaged tours or local public transport systems. Both are splendid ways for seeing the city as it used to be --- the very reason for most tourist visits. The historical core areas contain monuments, prime government and religious edifices and quaint neighborhoods that are often centuries old. This is particularly important to tourists from the newer urban areas of the American, Canadian or Australian West, where history extends not far before World War II.
For the urban planner interested in understanding the whole urban area, it is not enough to study the core alone. Both public transport and packaged tours miss the larger part --- the expanse of sprawling residential and business development that rings virtually all major urban areas. They may be of little interest to many urban planners, but they should be.
It is no wonder that tourists return to the United States thinking that all Paris looks like the second arrondissement (less than one percent does)... For any seeking to study the urban area in its entirety - not just the favored haunts of core-dwelling elites - there is no alternative to "getting behind the wheel." Thus, "urban tours by rental car."
The authors are scathing about "smart growth" and other restrictive land use schemes, which they rightly see as usually amounting to bureaucratic NIMBY plans that protect the fashionable and well connected, and marginalise or impoverish everyone else. But each essay and photo album is also wonderfully evocative and specific about the city it portrays. I found the website when I searched for information about Delhi, where I travelled recently. The Delhi posting is spectacular and revealing. But there are posts about many other cities around the world.
Have a look at your hometown. Or journey virtually to cities far away.
Given John McCain's positions on a variety of high profile issues, such as campaign finance and illegal aliens, I have often wondered how he has this 82 percent American Conservative Union rating. Ann Coulter provides some information:
We keep hearing about McCain's "lifetime" rating from the American Conservative Union being 82.3 percent. But McCain has been a member of Congress for approximately 400 years, so that includes his votes on the Spanish-American War. His more current ratings are not so hot.
In 2006 -- the most recent year for which ratings are available -- McCain's ACU rating was 65. That year, the ACU rating for the other senator from Arizona, Jon Kyl, was 97. Even Chuck Hagel's ACU rating was 75, and Lindsey Graham's was 83.
Since 1998, only four Republican senators have had worse ACU scores than John McCain -- and none were from Goldwater country: Lincoln Chafee, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe and Arlen Specter. The last time McCain ranked this far down in his class, he was at the Naval Academy.
In fact, McCain and Romney are mirror opposites: As Romney had to tailor his conservative views to the liberal voters of Massachusetts, McCain has had to tailor his liberal views to the conservative voters of Arizona. While Romney's record in a liberal bastion is as bad as it will ever be, McCain's record from a conservative bastion is as good as it will ever be. Which isn't very good.
These strike me as important points. McCain was running from Arizona and so there were incentives for him to be conservative, yet he was the fifth most liberal Republican since 1998 -- the four above him, coming from liberal states.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Various paths into the story here. I knew there was some controversy, but I had not realized that it had gone so far. Of course, I am always the last one to find out about these things.
Gene Nichol was dean of the law school at the University of Colorado, a school that has a special place in my heart since they gave me my first job in law school teaching, a visiting assistant professorship, and then a tenure track appointment offer which I, possibly stupidly, turned down. UC Boulder law school has had, so I have heard, lots of conflicts within its faculty extending over years. I don't know much about it, and these things always tend to be murky and complex. But I do know Boulder has to be one of the coolest places to live in the world, not even just in the US. If, that is, you have any interest in all the outdoor stuff you can do in the mountains, or on roads, trails, stadiums or gyms. It is awfully expensive, though. Anyway, as usual, I digress. I wonder what Gene Nichol will do now.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
In the big storm a couple of days ago one of my biggest pine trees was blown down. It was an Aleppo Pine, not a native to this part of California, but very popular. They grow fast, are handsome, and provide a lot of shade. They don’t seem to require an inordinate amount of water. But they do seem pretty vulnerable to wind damage.
This pine was maybe 25 years old and was about 40 feet tall, and maybe two or two and a half feet thick at its thickest. It grew a lot taller and straighter than many of my pines, some of which have been completely gnarled and twisted by the wind.
The pines out here have lots of enemies. Being exotic no doubt puts them more at risk. A variety of tiny bugs my gardener has shown me like to eat them, and rats (I did not know this until I moved here) like to eat them too. The rats gnaw on the bark, and if they complete a circuit around the tree, it dies.
This pine had survived all that. But the wind, combined with torrential rain and, bizarrely for Jamul even in February, some snow, pushed it over. It fell south to north, down a slight slope, and revealed where its uphill roots should have been, a kind of big nub, like what a hand might look like where fingers had been severed and healed over. Strange, deformed roots. Some sort of rot seemed to have afflicted what remained as well. This whole giant (by my standards) tree was holding on to the ground, as it were, with just a couple of the fingers on its hand. The wind came, and just pushed it over.
This seems like a metaphor waiting to happen, but I don’t
have any great lesson to draw. My lovely
wife Jeanne told me to, in effect, lighten up. “It was just its time,” she said. I suppose. I’m glad no kid was
under the tree when it fell. It would
have crushed a car, let alone a person.
It doesn’t take much these days to get me ruminating on the
emphemerality of things. LWJ tells me
not to think about that either, and she is probably right. Watching these big trees fall down reminds me
of the emphemerality of my bank account, since a lot of twenties are going to
have to fly out of my wallet to get it trimmed, chopped up, split and stacked. I think of how much money I spent on the water
to get the thing that big in the first place.
Then, inevitably, I think of my kids, the oldest almost grown. My yellow female lab I sometimes refer to now as my little tumor girl, she has so many ugly, if benign lumps on her once svelte chest. At least my wife looks young. There’s nothing for it, just hanging on as tight as you can, with whatever you have left. Some metaphors, there’s no point in resisting.
I find this bit of news a bit more affecting than I would have thought. Steve Fossett was of course the rich adventurer who set a dazzling series of records, such as the first the sail a balloon solo around the world . Yet he died (apparently) on a routine flight scouting landing zones somewhere between Reno and Bishop.
I don't know. Fossett was resented by quite a few for having the money to follow his flashy dreams, but I think to resent him for that is pusillanimous. He seems to have been a decidedly curious fellow, perhaps not so much courageous and nerveless. Though that may be wrong. His obituary also suggests that he was meticulous about managing the large risks of his feats very carefully. I admire that. Perhaps it reflects his background as a commodities trader, where mere stupid risk-taking is (usually) punished ruthlessly.
He wasn't just some physical slob either who let his machines do all the work. He had swum the English channel, and climbed Aconcagua. Climbing Aconcagua is something anybody who could, say, run a marathon could do, so long as they acclimatized themselves to the altitude. It's sort of like running a half-marathon every day for a week, at altitude, with weight on your back. But swimming the Channel, however slowly (he set the record for the slowest crossing his year) is impressive. That water is cold, and it's a long way.
He chose, so to speak, some good country to take his rest in. The rugged basin and range country between Reno and Bishop is some of the most heartbreakingly and unsentimentally beautiful in the American West. It's no big mystery that they couldn't find him. He could be a million places in that fractured land.
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He puts me in mind of another adventurer who died doing what he did, H.W. Tilman. To forestall any outrage, I would agree that Tilman should occupy a higher place in the pantheon of adventure than Fossett, but there are some similarities. Tillman died with his crew sailing around the horn, on one of the sailing-climbing expeditions he took to when he got too old to climb the big peaks anymore. He would sail in his refitted Bristol pilot cutter to extremely remote islands and coastlines in the high latitudes and then scale the frequently virgin peaks he found there. His body was never found either.