Two cheers for Sen. Dodd

“At a news conference at the state capitol, Mr. Ritter said he wanted to find a better balance in life and spend more time with his family.”

“In his statement, Dorgan said his retirement was borne out of the desire to spend more time with his family.”

“‘Now there is nothing more pathetic than a politician who announces they are only leaving public life to spend more time with their family…,’ Dodd said.”

The kind of girl you read about in new-wave magazines

Having read the Superfreakonomics climate-change chapter before it was taken down, I’d have thought that, surely, it must be the book’s stupidest chapter.  Perhaps not.  Dubner and Levitt also take a courageously contrarian view on high-end prostitution.

Allie was smart, capable, technically sophisticated, and she also happened to be physically attractive, a curvaceous and friendly blonde whose attributes were always well appreciated in her corporate setting. But she just didn’t like working all that hard.

So she became an entrepreneur, launching a one-woman business that enabled her to work just 10 or 15 hours a week and earn five times her old salary.

Well, good for her.  I hope she meets a nice governor one day.  But Dubner and Levitt are not, of course, columnists for Elle.  There must be an economics lesson in this fairy tale.  Allie enjoys

high wages, flexible hours and relatively little risk of violence or arrest. So the real puzzle isn’t why someone like Allie becomes a prostitute, but rather why more women don’t choose this career.

That is puzzling.  I look forward to reading the entire chapter, so I can find out why more men don’t choose to become high-end gay escorts.  It has to be much easier than waiting tables or accounting or laying pipe.

The Scalias of Justice

I rarely find myself at a loss for words, but Antonin Scalia has made me so.  What is the most apposite term to describe this argument?

The question of the meaning of a cross in the context of a war memorial did give rise to one heated exchange, between Justice Scalia and Peter J. Eliasberg, a lawyer for Mr. Buono with the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California.

Mr. Eliasberg said many Jewish war veterans would not wish to be honored by “the predominant symbol of Christianity,” one that “signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins.”

Justice Scalia disagreed, saying, “The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead.”

“What would you have them erect?” Justice Scalia asked. “Some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David and, you know, a Muslim half moon and star?”

Mr. Eliasberg said he had visited Jewish cemeteries. “There is never a cross on the tombstone of a Jew,” he said, to laughter in the courtroom.

Justice Scalia grew visibly angry. “I don’t think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead,” he said. “I think that’s an outrageous conclusion.”

Casuistry?  “Specious or excessively subtle reasoning intended to rationalize or mislead.”  Specious implies “having the ring of truth or plausibility,” so that’s out, and excessive subtlety is not the problem here.  Sophistry?  “Plausible but fallacious argumentation.”  Again, plausibility is not in play.  Special pleading?  “A presentation of an argument that emphasizes only a favorable or single aspect of the question at issue.”  What would that favorable aspect be—that crosses are indeed the most common symbol, in some places, of the resting place of the dead?  Chicanery?  “Deception by trickery or sophistry.”  Sophistry (q.v.).  Idiocy?  “Extreme folly or stupidity.”  I’m no formal debater, but I don’t think that an argument from stupidity is what the good Jesuits at St. Francis Xavier taught Scalia, and he is plainly not an idot.  Babbittry? “Narrow-minded self satisfaction with an unthinking attachment to middle-class values and materialism.”  That’s getting warmer, but it’s unfair to middle-class materialists.

Does Justice Scalia actually not understand that the cross is, in the United States, the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead because most of those dead were Christians?  He’s plainly receptive to Ted Cruz [sic], representing the VFW and American Legion, who contends that the cross is not a religious symbol: “For many, many years, we have used the symbol of a Latin cross to memorialize fallen veterans.”

I don’t understand the penchant of so many devoutly religious people to insist that symbols of their faith are otherwise.  Every winter, when The War on Christmasâ„¢ flares up, you can count on some yahoo, who might happen to have a national radio program, insisting that there’s no problem with a crèche on the steps of City Hall—not by a narrow reading of the First Amendment—but because it’s not religious, it’s “historical.”  Of course, considering how things might appear to someone of another or no faith would constitute empathy, and we can’t have any of that in the high court.

Parliaments of Dunces

All this discussion of Congressional decorum will seem quaint to people in…just about anywhere else.  Forget the harsh questioning the British PM is subjected to–parliamentarians around the world routinely behave  like Jerry Springer guests. In 1972, an MP punched the Home Secretary during a debate over Bloody Sunday.  To find such a ruckus in Congress, you’d have to go back to 1856

or 1798.

Parliamentary donnybrooks are all too common today, in such varied locales as Iraq, Turkey, and Germany.  Which assemblies, it seems, do not have a C-SPAN equivalent.  Thanks to legislative panopticons elsewhere, we now present a video gallery of the vigorous exercise of democracy.
Continue reading “Parliaments of Dunces”

Seeking a position as necromancer

Looking for a job for the first time in years, I’m being introduced to the wonders of online application forms, some of which appear to have been designed by applications programmers with no comprehension of what non-programming jobs entail. But a few drop-down menus contain hidden delights.

At one consulting firm, the options for “Salutation” include Alhaji, His Holiness (I thought that Pope was a salaried job), Jonkheer (no, I had no idea what that was, either), and Viscount. I went with Field Marshal.

And here’s the first page of the menu for “Languages” at an international-development contractor.


They appear to have positions available in Ur and Kush.

I know you are but what am I?

National stereotypes are fun!

It’s nice to see that essentialism hasn’t gone out of style in the UK:

Indeed, Estonia’s success has excited other countries. President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, for example, is a huge fan of Estonia, and based his policies of deregulation, low taxes and privatisation explicitly on policies pioneered by Estonia in the 1990s. Scores of Estonians have spent time in Georgia, advising on everything from anti-corruption efforts to spy-catching.

The temperaments could hardly be more different: Estonians are reserved, unhierarchical and efficient. That makes them excellent team players—one reason why Estonia’s public institutions are the strongest and cleanest in the ex-communist world. Georgians, by contrast, are emotional, status-conscious and individualistic. This leads to a rather different style of work, to put it mildly. But opposites attract: Estonians and Georgians get on splendidly (much more so, in fact that either country does with its immediate neighbours).

The editors of The Economist clearly are not up on the latest research.

National Character Does Not Reflect Mean Personality Trait Levels in 49 Cultures

Continue reading “I know you are but what am I?”

No shortage of B.S. (or B.S.E.)

Let’s make the new Secretary of Education’s job easier, and take one worry off his plate.

Steven Teles writes that

If the US is to maintain its status as a great power in this century, there is simply no question that we need to get more of our students into math, science and engineering. Despite programs throughout the federal government, fewer students today receive undergraduate degrees in math, science and engineering than they did forty years ago. The Secretary of Education needs to be familiar with the problem and have a high degree of sophistication about strategies for remedying it.

Please, whatever the new Secretary of Education does, do not let him meddle with the production of S&T degrees. There is no shortage. We’ve been down this road many times before, most notoriously with the 1987 NSF report, the lessons of which seemed to have been forgotten by 2004.

For more and better-informed rebukes of the shortage myth, go here, here, here, here, here, here, here, or here. I’ll spare you my anecdotes, dispositive though they may be.

Widespread innumeracy and scientific illiteracy among non-technical college graduates is a bigger threat to the republic than declining enrollment in S&T programs, which is a perfectly rational response to market signals. Higher standards and expectations for all high-school students would be welcome, and probably would require higher pay to attract well-qualified teachers; if the Secretary wants to take on the teachers unions, godspeed to him.

A math, hard science, or engineering course of study is an excellent preparation for many careers that don’t require such a degree, and these subjects are as worth pursuing for their intrinsic rewards as are the parental nightmares of philosophy and art history. But we’re not suffering from a shortage of art historians, and it shouldn’t be federal policy to remedy a chimerical problem.

The Mayor of Simpleton

I hope that Obama’s seating chart is a setup for a rigged game of musical chairs, with Antonio Villaraigosa left standing when the music stops. He was a Hillary national campaign chair, so this would be a strange quid pro quo. Hmm, he’s the only invitee whose name ends in a vowel (Irish “y”s not included)–can’t he be given an ambassadorship to someplace he can do no harm? I hear that Luxembourg is lovely this time of year.

One might expect that being mayor of a huge city would confer more economic expertise than being governor of a state bought from Russia would foreign-policy acumen, but one would be wrong.

Villaraigosa: Faking an Economic Miracle: Mayor sought a study saying East and South L.A. are booming. They’re not.