May 132008

Neil Boortz is a useful idiot of the welfare-police state, and it’s sad to see that the normally sensible Mike Adams is buying his book and buying what he says.

These Fair Tax people ought to think about about how this country’s first consumption tax at the federal level brought about a huge expansion of governmental power in order to enforce it, and almost brought about civil war. (I’m referring to the Whiskey Rebellion.) Introducing an excise tax on the scale that these Fair Tax people are proposing will result in huge motivations for people to use the black market to get the things they need, which will result in a huge new regulatory and enforcement mechanism.

This will be in addition to the IRS, which, contrary to what they claim, will not go away. The Fair Tax people will tell you that their tax is not regressive, because there will be rebates for those of low income. But in order to determine who has a low income, you need an organization and mechanism to do what the IRS does now.

And even with rebates, the tax will still be regressive among those who don’t qualify for the rebates, so there will be pressure to re-institute an income tax for the very, very rich. That will be extra easy to do, because a handy enforcement mechanism will already be in place, ready to resume all the rest of its old work, too.

The Fair Tax is a recipe for growing the government. But Neil Boortz opposes one reform that could actually control the size of government and perhaps cut it down to a reasonable size: term limits.

May 082008

So John Schwartz has threatened to run against Tim Walberg as a Democrat. It figures.

I learned about it from Pat Toomey’s article in the WSJ titled, “In Defense of RINO Hunting.” And to think, Tommey gets criticized on the grounds that he shouldn’t do anything to get Republicans unelected.

Here’s what I wrote about John Schwartz just after he got elected in 2004. It was in response to someone who said, “I actually like Specter.” (I’ve edited it slightly and cleaned up my language a bit. Maybe I’m mellowing.) My reply was:

Then I’ll bet you’ll like my new Republican congressman, John Schwartz, who is also a slimy, two-faced, backstabbing [deleted].

My old congressman, Nick Smith, is one who didn’t go along with all of Bush’s spending plans, so Bush’s people and Delay retaliated, threatening to see to it that his son, who ran for his seat this year, didn’t get elected. Not that Schwartz will support Bush — I don’t think he likes him.

Schwartz, unlike the previous rep, is from my end of the district. I’ve gotten to see a lot more of him than I would like. He made small talk with my youngest son when I took him to an election-night uncelebration 16 years ago. He’s a physician. I know people who were in his graduating high school class. I’ve seen him come out of the operating room to talk to family members in the waiting room. He once got into a parking-lot fist fight with another doctor who [happened to have] been one of my daughter’s physicians. His opponent made use of that episode to sink an earlier run for Congress for him.

But that’s not what makes him a slimy, two-faced, etc. In the early 80s the Republican challenger for congress was a woman named Jackie MacGregor, a slightly crackpot rightwinger. I think she had had a job in the Reagan education department. Anyhow, Jeanne Kirkpatrick had gotten to know her and had promised to campaign for her. I don’t know if she regretted that promise, but she came to our district and there was a $50/plate dinner, the only such event my wife and I ever attended. All the local Republicans were there, and all of them got to say a few words before Kirkpatrick’s speech.

All except John Schwartz. He didn’t want to be on the same platform with Jackie MacGregor, and maybe Kirkpatrick, too, for all I know.

OK, I can understand that. It happens that sometimes one person wants to distance himself from another in the same party. But did he stay away like a decent human being would do? No, he has to have his say too. He comes to the outside door of the hall where were meeting, just off the downtown mall, and stands in the open doorway to say how busy campaigning he was so he was sorry he couldn’t join us, but blah, blah, blah. Instead of just staying out of sight, he has to [go out of his way to] give a visible snub to the candidate. What a lowlife.

Later, when he ran for Congress himself and lost, he waited until AFTER the election was over to tell the newspapers just how much he detested conservative Republicans.

He has been the top guy in the state senate, ran John McCain’s campaign in Michigan, had a run for governor, and now the slimy piece of RINO finally has his national office.

He and Arlen Specter are two of a kind. They suck up to conservatives when they need their votes, and then after they’re safely elected, are the first to turn on them and stab them in the back with their snot setting turned up to high.

Was I glad when Pat Toomey and the Club for Growth helped defeat him in 2006? You betcha. I would never vote for the guy. In 2004 I cast one of my rare votes for a Democrat in order to vote against Schwartz. If he wants to run as a Democrat, fine. He should have done it long ago.

May 072008

Here are a couple of items that need reticulating.

The first is this article at Wired Magazine about Piotr Wozniak and how to remember things. No, it’s not all in the wrist. Instead, as with stand-up comedy, it’s about timing.

The second is this web site about block scheduling, one of the latest fads that’s ruining our secondary schools. Actually, the fad started some time ago. We had a big battle about it in our own school district several years ago, back when I still had a kid in high school. But the battle is still being waged — the educational establishment vs. actual evidence about how people learn.

One thing the Wired Magazine article didn’t mention was the Pimsleur language courses, which as far as I can tell are based on the very same principles that Wozniak is studying and promoting. It criticizes Rosetta Stone (which I’ve never used) but for some reason doesn’t mention Pimsleur. And I think the Pimsleur method does work, even though for me the switch from tape cassettes to MP3 has been a step backwards in getting the timings right as Pimsleur intended. MP3 players *could* be a huge improvement over cassettes, but… well, that’s a rant for another day.

There is one piece of the Wired article that could be guaranteed to draw jeers from the educational establishment. I’ve been there myself at a board meeting where the superintendent argued against me, repeating all the educational cliches about why learning facts doesn’t matter. So I was glad to see this article take on that particular canard:

The problem of forgetting might not torment us so much if we could only convince ourselves that remembering isn’t important. Perhaps the things we learn — words, dates, formulas, historical and biographical details — don’t really matter. Facts can be looked up. That’s what the Internet is for. When it comes to learning, what really matters is how things fit together. We master the stories, the schemas, the frameworks, the paradigms; we rehearse the lingo; we swim in the episteme.

The disadvantage of this comforting notion is that it’s false. “The people who criticize memorization — how happy would they be to spell out every letter of every word they read?” asks Robert Bjork, chair of UCLA’s psychology department and one of the most eminent memory researchers. After all, Bjork notes, children learn to read whole words through intense practice, and every time we enter a new field we become children again. “You can’t escape memorization,” he says. “There is an initial process of learning the names of things. That’s a stage we all go through. It’s all the more important to go through it rapidly.” The human brain is a marvel of associative processing, but in order to make associations, data must be loaded into memory.

And as for the Block Scheduling controversy, it’s not as though the traditional scheduling of high school classes was designed to get the spacing effect just right. (I hadn’t known about the term “spacing effect” before reading the Wired article, but I knew about it.) But Block Scheduling is a huge step in the wrong direction. When we were doing research on it during our local controversy, we came to find out that language and music teachers were some of the biggest opponents. They know how their subjects get learned, even if they don’t know about it to the degree of mathematical precision described by Wozniak. And that sort of learning also plays a huge role in other subject disciplines. But anti-intellectualism now rules in our schools.

Educators will tell you that education is about a lot more than memorization.   Very true.   It is more than that.  But it shouldn’t be less than that.

May 052008

In Monday’s WSJ, Mary Anastasia O’Grady gives us more information about Peru. In the weekend edition she told about President Alan Garcia’s transition from socialism to democratic capitalism. In this article she tells about the turnaround in Peru itself.

I suppose it would be wearisome to have to point out that the changes Peru has instituted are 180 degrees different from the changes that Clinton and Obama want to make in our country. The changes in Peru include removing barriers to international trade. Here in our country, on the other hand, two of our presidential candidates want to raise barriers.

May 032008

The usual course of human events is for politicians to become corrupted by power. That means the longer they are in office, the more authoritarian and (these days) the more leftwing they become. Look what’s happening in California, for example.

The rare exceptions seem to come about during extended periods out of power. George McGovern’s journey from leftwingism to liberalism is an example.

So what happens to one of these politician once he’s back in office? In today’s WSJ, Mary Anastasia O’Grady recounts her interview with Peru’s President Alan Garcia. After 16 years out of power, he is returning to the presidency as a free-market libertarian. Or at least he is talking like one. O’Grady and the people of Peru are waiting to see if his deeds will match his new words, but she gives evidence that “he firmly graps the principles behind the arguments he now professes to believe.”

That he can articulate his principles is a good sign. He talks in favor of “individualization of decisions” and the decentralizing of economic activity. Peru has a large underground economy. Instead of the usual proposals to crack down, Garcia wants to lower the cost of being in the formal economy. That probably means less of the usual type of government regulation designed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. He says, “Price controls are my enemy.”

It is indeed a bright spot in a world that has been tending more authoritarian the last several years. But there will be enormous temptations to backslide. Perhaps we can be sure his new politics are for real when we hear that the likes of Clinton and Obama are trying to keep Peru down like they’re now doing to Colombia.

But you never get that kind of rhetoric out of Hugo Chavez or Ted Kennedy, so there has to be something to it. Words do mean something.

And perhaps even Ted Kennedy might have become more liberal if term limits had kept him out of public office for a while.

May 012008

Who would have thought Sweden would adopt such sexist stereotypes as this new “Walk” sign. What about the women who don’t wear skirts and don’t carry a handbag? How are they supposed to get across the street? And what about all the other genders? Are they going to be left standing at the curb forever?

May 012008

I’m not quite sure what to think about this from the WSJ: “As Doctors Get a Life, Strains Show“.

The new generation of doctors doesn’t like being on call. The young ones are going to jobs where they can clock in at 8am, clock out at 5pm, and turn their pagers off when they’re off duty.

That means a woman giving birth is less likely to have her regular obstretician do the delivery. The baby could come when her doctor is off duty. Or the doctor who handled your case one day may not be the one who deals with you when you come back with complications. It requires good recordkeeping such that information can be handed off from one doctor to another.

Maybe it’s just a continuation of the trends of the industrial era. Doctors are becoming more like factory assembly line workers, and patients are becoming more like cars on an assembly line. It’s no longer a matter of craftsmanship. It’s now all a matter of routine procedure and interchangeable parts. It’s probably what we’ll get anyway, with nationalized health care.

One thing the article didn’t point out is that this trend is not restricted just to the medical profession.

I had noticed it myself among ecology researchers. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, the place where I work was humming day and night. There would be grad students and post docs working in the labs at all hours of the day. Some people practically lived there, and I was there myself during a lot of odd hours.

True, those who calculated how much of that time was spent actually working found that they weren’t working quite as many hours as they thought. For example, there were the long hallway conversations that we all felt free to indulge in, because we were working all the time anyway. Those who took the trouble to keep track found that yes, they were working a lot of hours — certainly more than 40 — but not anything like the 80 or 100 hours a week that they seemed to be working.

But then I noticed a change with newer cohorts of grad students. One could look out the window and see a grad student with golf clubs in the parking lot. Our director would predict that it would turn out badly, and I’d give my friends a hard time for indulging in bourgeoise activities like golf. These people were working more or less normal hours. They were spending evenings at home with their families. Amazingly enough, they were going on to have successful careers, even though the buildings weren’t humming day and night like they used to.

I’ve read in Perspectives, a publication of the American Historical Association, that it’s the same way in the history profession. The older faculty members need to be reminded that it’s not like the 70s when grad students would slave away for long hours with little or no pay.

I’ve been told recently that there still is a little tension between the older faculty members and grad students at my workplace over how much time the younger ones are devoting to their work. It’s not quite like the conflicts described in the WSJ article, where some of the older practitioners feel they’re having to pick up the slack for the younger ones who aren’t willing to give up their family lives for their work. But there is a little bit of generational conflict.

It’s an interesting phenomenon. I’ve seen enough that I don’t think I can predict with any confidence just how well or poorly this new trend is going to work.

May 012008

Barak Obama says we need to talk about how to bring jobs to Anderson.

BTW, I liked this headline from “Obama focuses on jobs during town hall meetings in Anderson, Marion.” I read the article and watched the TV clip. The one thing I didn’t find was a focus on jobs, either by the news reporters or by Obama. You could say there was a focus on what Obama was wearing (shirt sleeves, blue-collared look). But the article was remarkably unfocused about jobs.

Well, if Obama won’t focus on how to bring jobs to Anderson, maybe The Reticulator can. It turns out there is a way. (Drum roll, please.)

Governments can create government jobs! True, the cost of government will eliminate some private sector jobs, at about a ratio of 3.7 private sector jobs lost for every government job created. But at least jobs are being created.

I read about it in USA Today

Federal, state and local governments are hiring new workers at the fastest pace in six years, helping offset job losses in the private sector.

Governments added 76,800 jobs in the first three months of 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

That’s the biggest jump in first-quarter hiring since a boom in 2002 that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks. By contrast, private companies collectively shed 286,000 workers in the first three months of 2008. That job loss has led many economists to declare the country is in a recession.

Job numbers for April, out Friday, will show if the trend is continuing. Some economists say a government hiring binge could soften a recession in the short term.

“Government jobs are an important cushion for the economy when the private sector falters,” says North Carolina State University economist Michael Walden.

286,000 private sector jobs lost and 76,800 government jobs gained. Isn’t government a wonderful thing to have?