Happy Mother’s Day, especially to all of you family caregivers

Today is Mother’s Day. I just want to give a shout-out to all of those family caregivers–usually though not always moms–who should be honored today, as well. Yeah, that is my wife and my brother-in-law in a fairly recent picture.

Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 10.03.37 PMMore than 800,000 Americans diagnosed with intellectual or developmental disabilities currently live with a caregiver over the age of sixty. That’s usually “Mom,” with spouses, daughters, or others helping out.

Props to all of them. They’re working some serious overtime, in more than one way.

Congratulations to Dr. Vivek Murthy, our 19th Surgeon General

Just a nice moment.

Congratulations to Dr. Vivek Murthy, our nation’s nineteenth Surgeon General. Here’s a nice article in Vox about what he hopes to do in the position. Here’s another on why I am especially gratified by the outcomes of the successful nomination fight.

Also congrats to Dr. Alice Chen, with whom I worked closely at Doctors for America, which I advise.  I remember especially fondly sharing a burger with Alice and my brother-in-law Vincent while Vinnie and I were on a Hollywood vacation. Alice is a whirling dervish of energy. And she does it all with a smile.

PS. Congratulations to both Dr. Murthy and Dr. Chen on their engagement.

PPS: Dr. Murthy’s grandmother was on-hand to see Vice President Biden officiate at the swearing-in-ceremony. What kind of nachas is that?


The Rolex Caliph

We wish all our readers and especially the commenters a peaceful and fulfilling 2015.

In some parts of the world such wishes would be a cruel fantasy. That includes the swathes of disintegrating Syria and Iraq under the control of Islamic State and its charismatic leader, the Rolex-toting and self-proclaimed Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.


Photo source

US officials are baffled how to fight this new kind of enemy. Al-Qaeda had a bizarre and fantastical goal, the restoration of a purified Caliphate of all Muslims, and a too-clever bank shot strategy, attacking the “far enemy” American sponsor rather than the corrupt governments of Muslim states directly. But its structure and methods were straight out of the 150-year-old manual for conspiratorial violent revolutionaries, and would have been familiar to the Fenians, the Black Hand, or Carlos Marighella – and to the governments who fought them. Islamic State has similarly crazy ambitions, but it rules a territory, and possesses a useful army and a Twitter account.

The NYT reports on the puzzlement. Continue reading “The Rolex Caliph”

John Bewick

John Bewick, for whom I worked when he was Secretary of Environmental Affairs in Massachusetts, died this morning, surrounded by his family and celebrated by his friends. With all due respect to my various deans and chairs, I think John was the best boss I ever had, and a week doesn’t go by that I don’t teach off my years in EOEA, shamelessly retailing what I learned from him and from the rest of the gang he assembled.  Ed King, the governor in whose administration we served, was a sort of Harry Truman/business-oriented Democrat from whom almost nothing was expected on the environmental front, but John discerned that King (i) liked finished product rather than being asked permission even though King asserted the opposite (ii) was basically indifferent to environmental issues but loved anything with an economic development payoff. Especially at the time, this set was a target-rich environment. Generally regarded as the most successful executive agency in that administration, we put through a series of important environmental initiatives affecting (for example) endangered species, cleaning up the Charles River, a depuration plant that put Massachusetts shellfish back on menus up and down the East Coast, a whole series of environmental regulations implementing delegated environmental powers, and an innovative hazardous waste facility siting law.  It was an exciting time in environmental policy and we had the unusual opportunity to make up a lot of it as we went along.

John’s achievements in public service, when I worked for him, are inseparable from the team of assistant secretaries he chose by a rule of never hiring anyone not smarter than he in at least one useful way, and no two people alike.  I (and the others) remember our first meeting together, when we all looked around the table at the Newton fireman’s son who finished a GI Bill BA at U.Mass in two years, the dollar-a-year hi-tech exec, the pointy-head MIT professor, etc., all thinking, “I have nothing in common with anyone here. This is going to be awful!” We were completely mistaken. John made the team work by being patient with everyone who wasn’t smarter than he in all the other ways, namely all of us, by being almost radiantly committed to each of us as individuals and to the public good, by forcing us to educate and challenge each other, and by his terrier-like obsession with getting the science right and understanding the politics of the current issue. It’s significant that the whole team, including various commissioners and other staff, have had well-attended reunions every five or ten years, the last this past summer.   Here is a brief formal biography.

If you fall out of your dinghy into the Charles and don’t get sick, or see an eagle flying around the Quabbin, or for that matter if you think you learned anything in a course I taught, thank John Bewick.

When you are white in America, anything is possible….

Last week, I attended the American Society of Criminology annual meetings. (Mark Kleiman, Johann Koehler, Keith Humphreys, and others were also in attendance.) My friend Peter Reuter and I got bored and decided to take a walk. Not far from the conference, we encountered the Moscone convention center. A door was propped open. So we went inside. We spotted some sort of football-field-size convention hall at the bottom of a long escalator.

We went inside, where we encountered people setting up for a big auto show. There were maybe one hundred Porsches, Ferraris, and other fancy sports cars, classic cars from the 1930s, and more. We strolled around for about thirty minutes, taking pictures among the people polishing the cars. It was a very pleasant self-service private session at an upcoming auto show of some kind.


We wore our ASC conference badges, which of course had nothing to do with whatever everyone else was wearing around us who were actually supposed to be there.

We left the same way we came in. No one gave us a second look. Maybe they would have given us one of the cars, if we had only asked for the keys.

Continue reading “When you are white in America, anything is possible….”

November 11

The Menin Gate at Ypres.

It’s still Armistice Day in Britain; officially, Victoire 1918 in France, though it’s not a day of joy.

The Menin Gate at Ypres, a British Empire Commonwealth war memorial whose walls are densely packed with 54,000 names of dead soldiers whose bodies were not recovered identifiably from the Flanders mud. Many more lie in orderly war cemeteries nearby. There are plenty of flowers stuck to the walls at Menin; Ypres is far more accessible to British visitors than the other mega-monument lost in the Somme beetfields at Thiépval. A busy road with bus routes passes through the Menin Gate, so the memorial is pleasantly integrated in the life of the town.

EUROPE FOR THE CWGC BY BRIAN HARRIS © 2006Credit New Zealand War Graves Project

The memorial includes a miniature, four-foot bronze version of itself, explained in Braille. (I didn’t check if it includes a tiny self-referential model of the emodel.) Did it take the Great War for the disabled to start being treated as citizens?

At Menin, a bugler plays the Last Post (Taps) every evening at dusk. Here is his Aussie counterpart in Anzac hat at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Bad day in the blogosphere

Kevin Drum is one of the high-candlepower sources in public deliberation.  This did not begin my day well.  My aunt succumbed to this disease fifty-odd years ago, and  one bright spot here is that Kevin’s prospects are so much better than hers. Another is Kevin’s completely unwhiny, thoughtful affect.  Get better, Kevin, and my best to Marian. And the cats.

Why we should fund medical and all science research more, I leave for another post.