Hypocrisy Is Hard to Live Without

7 December 2012

“Hidden Law 1: The Legal Assault” by Jonathan Rauch is more than ten years old, but I followed an Andrew Sullivan link to it today, and I’m giving it a read. I have been thinking lately about how a certain kind of hypocrisy seems very widespread, and although I tend to fight against it, maybe it is not wise and futile to do so.


The First Debate Changed Things the Way They Would Have Changed Anyway

24 November 2012

I just read a John Sides post on Ten Miles Square about the impact of the first presidential debate on this fall’s national election, and posted this response:

The first debate did move the polls, but they were bound to tighten up anyway when the Romney campaign reached full swing.

The Pollster polling average is misleading about the impact of the first debate. The Pollster average curve is smoothed in a way that makes it look like a trend was developing several days before a poll-changing event. You can get around that by looking separately at periods before and after an important event, such as the first debate.

If you go here you see a steady four-point Obama lead in the week leading up to the first debate. Then, the week after it is a nearly flat, nearly tied race, with Romney up one by 10 Oct. But Romney never had a better week, so even that seeming trend is questionable. By late October Obama was edging ahead, even before Sandy.

My conclusion is that the event of the first debate did produce a Romney bump, and he kept most of that gain but not enough to win. So the debate mattered.

But I think the mere fact of the debate mattered more than whether Romney was seen as winning the debate. It was a couple hours of free TV for the candidate who was less familiar to the public and had been painted unfavorably in news media and advertising. Just getting on TV and making a good personal impression was all he had to do. I don’t believe Obama could have stopped that from happening.

In the later debates, though, there was nothing more for Romney to gain. His human face and rhetorical skills had already got out there. They were always going to get out there eventually, even if there weren’t any debates. But the first debate was a big opportunity for him to get them out there all at once, for free. He did that and tightened up the race, but that was all he could do, and it wasn’t enough.

Gov. Brownback and the High School Kid

26 November 2011

I was just reading this, about Kansas governor Sam Brownback’s staff trying to get a high school student in trouble for tweeting bad things about him while she was on a field trip to Topeka. The student, Emma Sullivan, tweeted,

Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot

She says she got hassled by her principal about it after the Brownback people tattled on her about the tweet. She also says she didn’t really say anything to Brownback.

Lest everybody overreact to the overreaction, it is not categorically out of line for a principal to scold a student for false public statements about students behaving inappropriately at school events, and rude comments to a public official or anyone else are not appropriate by most schools’ standards. Tweeting about it even though it didn’t happen is still a public relations problem for the principal.

The governor’s staff should, however, refrain from contacting schools about trivial misdeeds like this one tweet. The principal should clarify that his only concern was false and inflammatory information about what went on on the field trip, not whether students say unkind things about the governor on their own time or in an appropriate forum.

Foreigners Have a Different Name for Your Town

21 October 2011

You’ve heard of Calcutta, right? What about Kolkata? It’s the same place, pretty much the same name, but spelled differently. Indians didn’t think “Calcutta” was a cool name, so they changed it. “Calcutta” was what the British Empire called the city, and the masses of actual Indians who live around there want to assert their ownership by giving it a home-grown name.

I can understand that. The thing is, I don’t have any problem with the name “Calcutta”. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s a British rendition. The British did invent English, and that’s the language I know best, so I’ll go with their choice. It’s not a political decision, just a natural linguistic leaning. Anyway, we’ve been calling it “Calcutta” around here for a long time now, and I’m going to keep calling it that. If you know what I mean when I say “Calcutta”, then the name works fine. If you know what I mean but you also think I’m wrong not to call it “Kolkata”, then that’s your problem.

Likewise, “Bombay” is a good enough name for what Indians now call “Mumbai”, and “Peking” was a good enough name for “Beijing”. Why should I let China tell me what to call their city when I’m speaking English to Americans, and we all have been saying it our way all our lives? When I learn Chinese, then I’ll listen to what Chinese people tell me about pronunciation.

No one ever tries to get English speakers to call Vienna “Wien”, and, Olympics aside, we don’t feel the need to call Turin “Torino”.

I do think BBC newsreaders sound funny when they say “Mary-land” for the state we call “merrilind”.

The Trust Fund Is Real, and It Can Deliver

19 October 2011

When anyone tells Social Security doomsayers that the baby boomers are provided for by the Social Security Trust Fund, they tend to say that the trust fund is not real, that it is an accounting gimmick, that it doesn’t matter because the United States government still has to come up all that money it needs to pay the trust fund back, which is gong to be, like, impossible. Therefore, disaster looms.

The doomsayers have it wrong. These claims don’t hold up to scrutiny.

The trust fund is real, because it exists by law and the trustees of the Social Security system by law have the authority to redeem the Treasury obligations in the trust fund whenever they need to.

But when the Treasury needs to pay off those obligations so that baby room retirees can get their benefits, won’t that put an insupportable burden on the taxpayers? No. There will be a considerable burden, but it won’t be of any larger scale than several other major spending needs and debt repayments.

The total debt of the US Treasury at the present is 15 trillion dollars, and 2.5 trillion of that is owed to Social Security. So Social Security is a big chunk of debt but still only one sixth of the total.

To recap, then, is there money set aside to pay benefits to retiring baby boomers? Yes. Is it reasonable to believe that the government can deliver that money when it is needed? Yes.

For a later post, I’ll cover the issue of whether Social Security revenues, backed up by the trust fund, are really going to be enough to pay retirees for the foreseeable future. But the trust fund is there and will be needed, along with continued payroll tax contributions from working Americans.

The Only Good Deviant Is a Jailed Deviant?

15 October 2011

This bishop behaved decently, but of course he must be punished for not throwing one of his priests to the wolves fast enough. (Here‘s a guy who seems to know all the answers.)

I hope no one reading this has had a close friend or family member attempt suicide. But if you can imagine having the responsibility to try to help a person who seems inexorably drawn to self-destructive behavior, you might also imagine that you would hesitate to rat that person out to police if you found out he had child pornography on his computer, especially if the guy had attempted suicide within hours of that devastating discovery.

The question isn’t whether the Catholic Church has a great track record in dealing with pedophilia, it’s whether we as a society have the capacity both to protect children and to provide counsel and rehabilitation to people with abnormal sexual desires. It’s not obvious that we are prepared to temper justice with compassion in cases of nonviolent sexual offenders. I hope we are, but I don’t know.

If I were the bishop, I wouldn’t have turned this priest in to civil authorities until it was clear he couldn’t keep out of temptation’s way. I might have thought sending him to a convent was a good start. Instead, Missouri might very well send him to prison, for taking weird photos for his own viewing. Maybe that won’t be necessary, and there will be a just resolution that isn’t vindictive. I wouldn’t count on it, though.

Social Security Taxes Pay for Social Security

12 October 2011

Social Security taxes pay for Social Security. Now, I can’t say, “It’s just that simple,” because there are a few fine points. A lot of people don’t know about the fine points, or they have wrong ideas about what the fine points are. Let me run a couple by you:

1. Social Security taxes are a stream of money from workers’ earnings into the U.S. Treasury. Social Security benefits are a stream of money from the U.S. Treasury to retired workers, disabled workers, and to spouses and to children of retired, disabled, or deceased workers. The stream of money in, over the long term, should balance the stream of money out. Whether they are balanced or not depends on detailed analysis that is beyond the ken of most of us. That doesn’t mean a workable balance can’t be achieved. It just means our government has to employ some nerdy financial types to collect information and crunch numbers, and we have to apply their knowledge in structuring the taxes and benefits.

2. Keeping Social Security money flows balanced for the long term entails dealing with the baby boom, which swelled the work force for several decades and now will swell the retired population for the next couple decades. For the last 30 years, the way we approached this has been to set Social Security tax rates high enough that Social Security would pile up enough extra money while the baby boomers were working to be able to pay them their benefits when they retired.

I will have further points in later posts, but these two points are a good start. Both 1. and 2. are real governing principles of Social Security, and they are good principles. However, the latest information from the Social Security trustees is that the tax and benefit schedules aren’t quite balanced for the long term, so if we are to follow those principles, some adjustments are called for.

The rest of the federal budget, unfortunately, is a lot further out of whack. We need to keep focused on fixing the general budget, and we ought to get going on that before we touch a hair on Social Security’s old gray head.


28 September 2011

As in, I’ve been. Remiss. Not posting. Short on creative juice.

I could blame the weather. It’s suddenly turned to a run of dismal weeks.

I have been dropping a comment in now and again on some of my favorite blogs, as well as one or two that aren’t favorites. I like to aim my comments at the blog author, but I do read other people’s comments, and man, that can be a drag. Are these commenters representative of the nation? Are they actually more intelligent than the national average? They seem to be highly literate, but not very thoughtful.

Maybe a lot of them aren’t for real. Some may be true trolls: just out to provoke a reaction. It’s been said a million times, “Don’t feed the trolls,” but lately I see an awful lot of maniacally extended exchanges where one guy who seems reasonable won’t stop responding to some buffoon’s flood of fact-free ideology and crude polemics.

These blogs, sheesh. It’s like a bar somewhere where you can’t ever go in sit down, have a drink, and talk with friends, there has to always be a guy coming in to start a fight and always a few jumping up to get their licks in, and every brawl goes on for twenty minutes.

No 9/11 Post

12 September 2011

I do have something to say about the 9/11 tenth anniversary, and it is fitting that I did not say it on 9/11, because what I have to say is that there wasn’t much that needed to be said about it. Indeed, too much was said about it.

Of those who wanted to come together and share their continued grief at memorial ceremonies, God bless them. Everyone else talking about 9/11 on or around the anniversary was more or less angling to make some coin off it, or to use it to leverage some political point, or to emphasize their ability for remembering historical dates, or to get a dark thrill about having lived through that totally awesome deathfest.

I don’t necessarily knock people for suiting themselves in any of these ways, but my personal preference, which I do urge on others, is to respect the terrible loss of 9/11 by curbing my excitement about it. Many good ordinary Americans would just as soon let the horror of 2001 continue to fade, and that should be allowed.

Islam Is Not an Evil Empire

5 September 2011

A lot of Americans are eager to fight the whole of Islam, from its roots with Mohammed and the Koran to its vast reach in the world of today, and especially its involvement in various conflicts, great and small. Basically, the rhetoric is in the evil empire vein, which might be the simplest response, but it’s not very accurate.

It’s pretty weak to condemn modern-day Islam on the basis of its early history of expansion by warfare, or to make generalizations based on warmongering parts of the Koran written during those ancient conflicts. Judaism and Christianity have plenty of murderous aggression in their respective histories and scriptures. In more recent times, all these faiths have advanced to allow mutual respect and tolerance, and judging any of them by the actions of their radical elements is not fair.

The conflict between Israel and the Arab world, on the other hand, is a true hatefest, but it doesn’t stem from religious principles. It’s a war over territory. No appeals to holy scripture or tradition are necessary to fuel that fight.

Islam-bashers also justify themselves by pointing to the supremacy of autocrats over many Islamic countries and the institution of Islam as state religion in those countries.

If the status of Islam as a state religion worries you, consider that Christianity is the official religion of a number of countries, including the United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway, Greece, and Argentina; from this we can conclude—nothing. Those states aren’t acting in concert or as individuals to advance the cause of Christianity in other lands—but neither are the Islamic states.

Like Christianity, Islam is now long past its peak of consolidated political control; as a state religion in various lands today, Islam is no more coherent a global power than Christianity is.

What about those Islamic dictators? Well, most of the dictators are neither enemies of Western democracies nor friends of radical Islamists. The House of Saud, Saddam Hussein, and Hosni Mubarak have all been hated enemies of Islamic extremists and brutal oppressors of Islamic radicals.

As both a practical and moral matter, Americans should continue to distinguish between the Islam we can get along with and the radicals we cannot.