Beautiful day today

Just heard  Tubthumping on the radio. Even though it's by a group of wacky anarcho-punksters, it's one of my favorite feel-good songs.


Arnold Kling on education reform

I think this is about right:
before policy makers have figured out how to get everyone into college, college will have become obsolete.


Irony alert: Another professor departs academia to focus on teaching

The latest example, Sebastian Thrun leaving Stanford for Udacity, comes via Glenn Reynolds.

As I recall, Edward Tufte, author of the wonderful book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, stopped lecturing at Yale decades ago so that he could "spend more time teaching."
Now Tufte tours the country teaching his one-day course, Presenting Data & Information. My father took it about 20 or 30 years ago and loved it.

Just more evidence of what Glenn calls the higher education bubble. I keep asking academic types whether they're concerned about such a bubble. Amazingly, most have never heard the term.



The Mythbusters guys are fighting the "Stop Online Piracy Act"

Here's what he Adam Savage has to say about SOPA in Popular Mechanics:

SOPA Could Destroy the Internet as We Know It

Soon the U.S. Congress will reconvene to consider the Protect IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Mythbuster and PM contributing editor Adam Savage says that if these sweeping pieces of legislation pass, the U.S. will join the likes of China and Iran in censoring the Internet, and destroy the openness that made the Web perhaps the most important technological advance of his lifetime.

I'm glad to say that--according to a staffer who I spoke to today--my congressman Dutch Ruppersberger is planning to vote against it.

Thank you Dutch.


Epic FAIL by BCPS school board task force

County Councilman David Marks is appalled:
An Inexcusable Vote by the School Board Task Force

For the past several months, a task force has been considering whether the Baltimore County school board selection process should be reformed. The central argument is whether some—or all—members should be elected by the voters of Baltimore County.

Community leaders and parents have testified in favor of school board elections. State legislators from both political parties support this change, and last month, a majority of the County Council endorsed a partially elected Board.

Yet despite bipartisan support from leaders across Baltimore County, the task force last week dismissed the idea, like someone swats an annoying housefly.

One of the members motioned to preclude any consideration of School Board elections from any future review. The vote was allowed to proceed—without no notification, and with several members absent.

The task force has only two Republican members, both of whom support school board elections. They were absent. One of the two Republicans, Senator J.B. Jennings, was on State Senate business at a committee visit at the University of Maryland.

The other absent member was the County Council’s representative, Chairman John Olszewski.

Again, the issue of school board elections is the key element of the debate. The vote should have been publicized in advance to all members of the task force.


The determinants of economic growth

Jerry Pournelle's message to President Obama:
My general principle is that economic growth happens when energy is cheap and there is a maximum of economic freedom, and of those two, economic freedom is probably the more important.


"Black English as linguistic progress"

Language nerd John McWhorter rocks. Superb interviewerer Josh Knobe asks good short questions and gets out of the way:

The next segment is good too, "The grammar of slang, yo":


7 questions government agencies should ask themselves before creating any new regulation

Veronique de Rugy has a good list over at NRO's The Corner.
  1. Is there a large, systemic problem that is unlikely to resolve itself in the near future?
  2. Is [this] government [agency] in the best position to solve this problem?
  3. Does the regulation actually address the identified systemic problem?
  4. What other solutions are available?
  5. Would the proposed solution give rise to other significant problems?
  6. Would the preferred solution solve the problem at a reasonable cost?
  7. Will the agencies be able to recognize when the problem is actually solved and eliminate the regulation when it becomes obsolete?


When a calm, polite, team-playing PTA president like Julie Sugar reaches her "boiling point" . . .

. . . you know that something is deeply wrong with the recent performance of the BCPS school board. From her recent editorial on the Sun website:
[The] summer study task force to examine the current school board selection process in Baltimore County . . . was formed after legislators received numerous complaints from parents and community groups regarding BCPS and their poor handling of issues such as botched school renovations, major overcrowding in schools, AIM, and banning PTA craft fairs and community groups from public schools.

I have been involved in these issues over the past four years, and my frustration has reached a boiling point. Each time a problem arises, the BCPS administrators at Greenwood deny the problem, and then the board ignores it. Our only recourse has been to complain to our elected leaders to intervene on our behalf. Why? Because our lawmakers represent us, and our school board does not.

Over the past four years, the appointed board has rubber stamped every decision and priority of the superintendent – when in reality the superintendent works for the board.
She supports a hybrid board, but seems afraid that the task force will ignore public testimony and go off in a different direction. I share her fear.


Low-cost, flexible Megabus from the private sector vs. budget-busting, inflexible high-speed rail from the public sector

Michael Barone spots the winner.

It seems to me that two rarely-made comparisons work against high-speed rail:
  1. Any kind of railroad is comparable to older telecom technology (landlines, dedicated circuits and the like), while cars and buses are comparable to newer telecom technology (cell phones, packet switching and so on).
  2. The car-bus-and-road approach is more like modern distributed computing on the internet, while railroads are more like clunky mainframe technology.
"Big, centralized and inflexible" has worked OK at some times in the past. But "small, decentralized and flexible" usually wins out in the long run.

It also seems to me that high-speed rail proponents usually leave last mile considerations and other inconvenient numbers out of their analyses:
Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute notes that high-speed rail connects big-city downtowns, where only 7 percent of Americans work and 1 percent live. “The average intercity auto trip today uses less energy per passenger mile than the average Amtrak train.” And high speed will not displace enough cars to measurably reduce congestion. The Washington Post says China’s fast trains are priced beyond ordinary workers’ budgets, and that France, like Japan, has only one profitable line.
And, of course, railroads are less robust and more vulnerable than highway systems to terrorism, sabotage, and military attacks.


Cause & effect: Why gerrymandering is a root cause of so many ills in the US Congress & state legislatures

[UPDATE: Most people yawn at the issue of gerrymandering, but I think it is a critical problem. I drew this chart partly to clarify the issue in my own mind and partly to illustrate for others how pernicious and damaging gerrymandering really is.]

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Brendan Loy compares Mayor Bloomberg to Mayor Nagin

He doesn't like Bloomberg's choice to delay a decision on evacuation of New Yorkers living in "Zone A" low-lying areas:
Two days short of six years later, with a big-time hurricane hurdling toward a Sunday strike on his city, is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg making the same mistake? He has announced that he will wait until Saturday morning to decide whether to order a mandatory evacuation of the “Zone A” low-lying areas that are home to roughly 250,000 people. So, like Nagin, he’ll be ordering an evacuation on the very day before the storm’s landfall or closest approach, and with perhaps 12 hours or less before conditions begin to deteriorate. That seems pretty foolish. Heck, I thought late Friday was pretty late to get started. Saturday morning? Really?!
Loy also thinks it's a terrible idea to play the Jets-Giants pre-season game, even with an early start:

One thing I know is the wrong call is the decision to play the Jets-Giants preseason NFL game on Saturday, albeit with an accelerated kickoff time of 2pm instead of 7pm. Playing this game at all on Saturday is absolutely absurd, full stop. Saturday should be a day for evacuations and last-minute preparations, and that’s it. Adding pre- and post-game traffic to the evacuation traffic is beyond irresponsible, and even worse is the message that this sends to the public: that it’s business as usual, the hurricane is no big deal, let’s go watch a football game!

Look, I love football. But let me be clear. Going forward with the Jets-Giants game on Saturday is an unbelievably terrible, inexcusably irresponsible, utterly indefensible decision, and it must be overturned. I strongly urge Andrew Cuomo, Chris Christie and Michael Bloomberg to use the power of their offices to convince the NFL to call off this game, and if the NFL refuses to cooperate, I urge them to publicly shame the league into doing so. Anything less would be a failure of leadership. It’s an utter absurdity that going forward with the game is even being contemplated under the circumstances.


It's time for Maryland to start fixing the hugely damaging gerrymandering problem

The WaPo makes some good points on gerrymandering in their recent editorial.

1. It leads to extremism in both parties:
By planting more and more districts firmly in the camp of one party or the other, the [gerrymandering] process, abetted by computer wizardry and the hard-line leanings of both parties’ primary voters, leads directly to uncompromising, line-in-the-sand politicians.
2. It's already really bad in Maryland:
As even a cursory glance at Maryland’s current congressional map illustrates, the state’s district lines are so tortuously drawn as to be almost comical.

Fashioned by Democrats in 2001 after the last census, the map pays little heed to counties and communities and dilutes Republican votes where possible by dispersing them among districts. Montgomery and Prince George’s counties as well as the city of Baltimore are each split among three districts . . . . The 2nd Congressional District — curlicue territories strung together by impossibly delicate tendrils of land — is a crazy-quilt confection drawn for the express purpose of ousting the incumbent at the time
3. Gov. O'Malley's redistricting committee is all about window dressing:
A redistricting committee appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, is crisscrossing the state gathering the views of citizens. The panel’s five members include just one Republican, but in any event it is little more than a dog and pony show.
4. Few people are optimistic that we'll get a better result this time around:
And no one should be surprised when the district lines end up even more crooked and cockeyed than they are now, nor when elections become even less competitive than they already are.
5. Other states are starting to fix things:
There is a better way of doing things. About a dozen states have established nonpartisan or bipartisan commissions to draw electoral maps, and studies suggest that elections have become more competitive in those states.
6. Fixing gerrymandering is beneficial in ways that regular citizens of both parties support:
Competitive districts tend to favor more moderate candidates, at the expense of ideologues of all stripes. That alone would be an important step in the direction of compromise and a workable political system.
Bottom line: things are a mess here in Maryland, but there's no reason why we can't start start fixing the redistricting process. If other states can do it, we can too.


The connection between culture, stories and politics

Lawrence Meyers at Big Hollywood lays it out and suggests that the connection is so important that we should all be paying closer attention.

The tag line in the title: "politics is downstream from culture."

The job-killing NLRB

Joe Nocera of the NY Times gives an update on the Boeing fiasco:
In April, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Boeing, accusing it of opening the South Carolina plant to retaliate against the union, which has a history of striking at contract time. The N.L.R.B.’s proposed solution, believe it or not, is to move all the Dreamliner production back to Puget Sound, leaving those 5,000 workers in South Carolina twiddling their thumbs.

Seriously, when has a government agency ever tried to dictate where a company makes its products? I can’t ever remember it happening. Neither can Boeing, which is fighting the complaint. J. Michael Luttig, Boeing’s general counsel, has described the action as “unprecedented.” He has also said that it was a disservice to a country that is “in desperate need of economic growth and the concomitant job creation.” He’s right.


"Baltimore a national leader in unfounded rape cases"

Reports the Baltimore Sun.
The Baltimore Police Department has for the past four years recorded the highest percentage of rape cases that officers conclude are false or baseless of any city in the country, according to The Baltimore Sun's review of FBI data. More than 30 percent of the cases investigated by detectives each year are deemed unfounded, five times the national average. Only Louisville and Pittsburgh have reported similar numbers in the recent past, and the number of unfounded rape cases in those cities dropped after police implemented new classification procedures. The increase in unfounded cases comes as the number of rapes reported by Baltimore police has plunged — from 684 in 1995 to 158 in 2009, a decline of nearly 80 percent.
This could mean that women in Baltimore make more false accusations. It could also mean that police here are more likely to ignore legitimate cases of rape. Most likely, it's some of both.

UPDATE: Somewhat related, from Dr. Helen:
Pressured by the Obama administration, universities abandon any pretense of due process in sexual assault cases.


Gov. O'Malley and his redistricting commission: arrogance with no accountability

At the start of the redistricting hearing last night, State Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller, House Speaker Michael Busch and their three colleagues could not have looked more bored.

But Annie Linsky of the Sun describes some testimony that seemed to wake them up:

Though the hearing was sparsely attended compared to others elsewhere in
the state, commenters made some of the most pointed criticism to date. David
Greene, a city resident, took lawmakers to task for the “arrogance” of
Maryland’s current congressional map.

Particularly in Central Maryland, that map cuts through counties and neighborhoods in a tangle of lines designed to link Democratic voters together and limit Republican power in Congress. He said one district resembles a cow-brand that lawmakers stamped on the state.

He compared the public lack of concern about gerrymandering to what he
says was once a similar attitude toward date rape.

“Everyone says 'politicians will be politicians,' “ Greene said. “It is time for us to shift our attitudes just as we did with date rape. Not acceptable.”

He drew applause when he asked: “Are you going to fix this problem or are you going to rape us again?”

If Miller and Busch want to stop the gerrymandering, it is easily within their power. Will they wake up and smell the coffee? Too early to say, but I think they might be surprised at how closely people will be watching them.



Watch it to the end. Of all the Powerline contest videos, this is the one that went viral even though it didn't finish in the top tier.

The idea of the $100,000 contest was to "effectively and creatively dramatize the significance of the federal debt crisis"


Testimony from tonights redistricting hearing

I have four things to say about redistricting.

1. If you think about what's wrong with Congress -- arrogance, corruption, incivility, and so on -- one root cause is safe districts. And of course a root cause of safe districts is gerrymandering.

2. At every level, I'd like to see compact districts that keep communities together. These districts should be drawn up by neutral bodies containing zero elected officials.

3. The fight against gerrymandering is a "strange bedfellow" kind of issue. In writing an article called Gerrymandering is Bad for the Bay I interviewed someone I often disagree with, the Executive Director of Maryland LCV, and found that I agreed with almost everything she said about redistricting. She said that it makes people less likely to vote, reduces the responsiveness of politicians, and makes it more difficult for *any* kind of community group to get help from elected officials. Republicans should build bridges with Dem-leaning groups like Maryland LCV and fight gerrymandering together.

4. In the fight against gerrymandering many of the "enemy" are on our side of the aisle. Gerrymandering is like chocolate. If you put a chocolate bar in front of a chocaholic he will probably eat it. And if you let a politician of any party choose the districts, he will probably gerrymander. Furthermore, most politicians at every level -- including Republicans -- tend to shrug at the problem of gerrymandering, deny that it is a problem and worst of all claim that there is nothing they can do about it. Here's how the blameshifting works:
  • County Council people say disingenuously "go talk to the Redistricting Commission" .
  • State Legislators say they are hamstrung by federal election laws, and
  • Congressmen say "Don't look at me, the state legislature and governor decide on what my district looks like."
In conclusion, we can't let politicians get away with this kind of misdirection. All elected officials in every party at every level should do two things at minimum. First, talk about gerrymandering in public and acknowledge that it is a huge problem. Second, remove themselves from the redistricting process.


A catchy anthem for small government

You're Gonna Pay by Wilson Getchell. I like the part where Harry Reid points a pistol at six sperm and says "Give me all your money."


When, where and how to testify at Maryland redistricting hearings

These hearings cover both congressional districts and Maryland state legislative districts. Dates and locations for the twelve hearings:
  1. Sat Jul 23, 11 a.m. Hancock High School (auditorium), 289 W. Main St., Hancock, Washington County
  2. Sat, Jul 23, 2 pm, Hood College (Rosenstock Hall-Hodson Auditorium), 401 Rosemont Ave., Frederick
  3. Mon Jul 25, 7 pm, Prince George’s CC (Largo Student Center-Rennie Forum), 301 Largo Road, Largo, Prince George’s Co.
  4. Wed Augt 10, 7 pm, Universities at Shady Grove (Building #1 Auditorium), 9630 Gudelsky Drive, Rockville, Montgomery Co.
  5. Fri Aug 12, 7 pm, Morgan State U, Student Ctr (Calvin & Tina Tyler Ballroom #4), 1700 East Cold Spring Lane, Balt City
  6. Wed Aug 24, 7 pm, College of Southern Maryland (Ctr for Bus and Industry, Room BI-113), 8730 Mitchell Road, La Plata, Charles Co.
  7. Sat Aug 27 11 am, Harford CC (Amoss Ctr), 200 Thomas Run Rd, Bel Air, Harford Co.
  8. Sat Aug 27, 2 pm, Towson University (Stephens Hall Theater), 8000 York Road, Towson, Baltimore County
  9. Tue, Aug 30, 4 pm, Anne Arundel County (Location to be announced)
  10. Tue Aug 30, 7 pm, Howard County (Location to be announced)
  11. Sat Sep 10, 12:30 pm, Salisbury University, 1101 Camden Avenue, Salisbury, Wicomico County
  12. Sat Sep 10, 4 pm, Chesapeake College (Todd Performing Arts Center), Routes 50 and 213, Wye Mills, Talbot County
Rules on how to testify:
Public hearings will start at the designated time and end following the last testimony of registered persons. More specific details about the hearings will be updated as soon as information becomes available at http://planning.maryland.gov/Redistricting. Guidelines for the public hearings and third-party plan submissions are also posted at the web site.

Advance sign-in for the public hearings is required (by e-mail only) and must be received by 12:00 noon the day prior to the public hearing. People interested in speaking can sign up electronically in advance at planning.maryland.gov/Redistricting. Click on the “bell icon” for the Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee & Public Hearings and then click for the link for the hearing at which you want to speak. Any e-mails requesting advanced sign-in received after 12:00 noon the day prior to the hearing will not be included on the speaking roster. After that time, sign-in sheets will be available at the public hearing location.

Testifiers are also requested to provide electronic written comments to the committee by 12:00 noon the day before the hearing. Comments should be sent by e-mail as a PDF attachment to Redistricting2011@mdp.state.md.us. A hard copy will also be accepted at the hearing from people who testify who did not submit an electronic copy.


5 ways to deflect public anger and demonstrate accountability

For any BCPS board member, admininstrator or task force member who is feeling under siege lately, here are some tips from a very perceptive guy*:
How to deflect anger and demonstrate accountability
  1. [Create] a video record
  2. Let the voters speak first.
  3. Vote NO on additional compensation.
  4. Zero tolerance for ethical lapses.
  5. "Say what you mean and mean what you say."
The list is excellent. And it's remarkable that BCPS leaders and the politicians who oversee them have failed to do any of these things adequately in recent years.

*Frank Luntz. The list comes from page 125 of his recent book What Americans Really Want . . . Really: The Truth About Our Hopes Dreams and Fears.


Congressional redistricting is shaking things up in California

The tremors are happening in Mickey Kaus's back yard and he likes the feeling:

I thought one of the points of passing an anti-gerrymandering law was to shake things up. Well, it looks like things are being shaken. Politicians will have to explain themselves afresh–and actually worry about losing.

California has a long way to go to fix the dysfunction caused by gerrymandering, but they seem to be making pretty good progress.

I hope this kind of thing happens in Maryland this year too.

UPDATE: background music from Carole King:


Typography and minimalist web design

Good stuff from Kurt Edelbrock, via Glenn.

I think I need to take some of his advice.


Steven Hayward: It's time to "serve the check"

Hayward gives the conservative case for raising income taxes. Here's a longer quote:
if you want to limit government spending, instead of starving the beast, serve the check.
Makes sense to me. And if you're concerned about putting too much burden on low income folks, then reduce some regressive taxes at the same time, such as the payroll/FICA taxes.

Gov. O'Malley finally announces congressional redistricting panel . . . on the 4th of July

O'Malley's choice of a verrrrrry slow news day for the announcement speaks volumes. Voters should expect some serious gerrymandering to come out of this group. The official name of the panel: the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee (GRAC).

It consists of:
  1. Jeanne Hitchcock (Chair) - O'Malley's Secretary of Appointments
  2. Mike Busch - Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates (D-30, Anne Arundel County)
  3. James J. King, former state delegate (R-33A, Anne Arundel County)
  4. Thomas V. "Mike" Miller, Jr; Maryland Senate President (D-27, Calvert & Prince Georges Counties)
  5. Richard Stewart, owner of of Montgomery Mechanical Services, Inc. (Hmm: Google can't seem to find a website for Stewart's company. Perhaps he is a well-connected insider who doesn't need to advertise?)
Here at BaltoNorth, we look forward to following the activities of this panel closely.

UPDATE: A new Sun article has more details and bio information.

The Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee meets tomorrow [Wed July 6] in Annapolis to set a series of public hearings. [The committee] is charged with recommending a redistricting plan to the governor, who then must seek approval from the state legislature.

The General Assembly is expected to call a special session in mid-October to approve the governor's Congressional map, in time for the 2012 presidential election; state legislative districts will take shape early next year.

More on James King:

Small business owner who employs more than 100 Maryland residents. Recently named Business Owner of the Year by the West County Chamber of Commerce and in 2008, named Taxpayers Advocate of the Year by the Maryland Taxpayers Association.

More on Richard Stewart:

A member of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, Mr. Stewart also has held positions as a board member, director and past president of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Metropolitan Washington. Member of the Maryland Stadium Authority since July 2007.

UPDATE 2: Pamela Wood at HometownAnnapolis.com says the special session of the Maryland General Assembly will start on October 17, 2011.

UPDATE 3: The WaPo yawns.

UPDATE 4: Here are two graphic reminders of how bad the gerrymandering problem is in Maryland:


Economist Michael Spence looks beyond his field of expertise and gets an insight on growth in the developing world

When I started studying growth in the developing world, I thought the subject was mainly about economics. I no longer believe that.
Spence is a very accomplished fellow. The quote is from Spence's new book The Next Convergence: The Future of Economic Growth in a Multispeed World. In his interview of Spence, Peter Robinson asks about the quote (at 5:25) and draws this response (at 5:40):
Complicated high speed dynamics in the economics sphere turns out to be only a piece of the puzzle and what I really believe now is that the critical things are the governance. The interaction of economics and politics. The policy-making process. The wisdom with which it is conducted. The intent to help all the citizens in the country as opposed to grab as much as you can for yourself. When I go across the developing world and ask myself what's the largest single explanation for the huge diversity of economic performance [from country to country], it falls in this territory.
This strikes me as one of those "obvious" things that no one ever pointed out before.


The great secular faith of our age: "education is the key to economic growth"

Most politicians keep repeating it, so the idea must still resonate with lots of voters. But it's not true.

via Tim Black, from his interview with professor Alison Wolf, author of Does Education Matter?


Science is just a distraction from Al Gore's biggest climate failure, policy

Walter Russell Mead on Al Gore's failure, part 2:
[The] entire green policy vision was so poorly conceived, so carelessly constructed, so unbalanced and so rife with contradictions that it could only thrive among activists and enthusiasts. Once the political power of the climate movement, aided by an indulgent and largely unquestioning press, had pushed the climate agenda into the realm of serious politics, failure was inevitable. …

… the global climate movement has become the kind of embarrassment intellectuals like to ignore.

[The aim of Gore and his movement was] to stampede the populace into embracing one of the most dubious and unworkable policy prescriptions ever presented to the public eye. . . .

To argue with these people about science is to miss the core point. Even if the science is exactly as Mr. Gore claims, his policies are still useless…

… The policy makers and the heads of state who only two years ago were ready to follow Gore up the mountain have softly and quietly tuned him out.

[UPDATE: Gary Jones has a related item on Mead here. The post also points to Quandrant Online, which claims that "renewables are not green." Well, duh! Gary has another good post that points to an AGW climate science skeptic with separate messages for friends on both the Left and the Right.]


The failure of Al Gore and "why the global green movement has tanked"

Part I from Walter Russell Mead
objects of great value (Nobel prizes, Oscars) turn dull and leaden at [Al Gore's] touch. . . .

[his recent essay in Rolling Stone] illuminates his shortcomings more than his strengths and makes crystal clear that if global climate policy is going to change, then Al Gore must get out of the way. . . .

[Gore] speaks, he writes, he speaks again, and the [climate change] movement lies on the ground, crippled and inert.

A fawning establishment press spares the former vice president the vitriol and schadenfreude it pours over the preachers and priests whose personal conduct compromised the core tenets of their mission; Gore is not mocked as others have been. This gentle treatment hurts both Gore and the greens; he does not know just how disabling, how crippling the gap between conduct and message truly is. The greens do not know that his presence as the visible head of the movement helps ensure its political failure. . . .

I am not one of those who thinks him a hypocrite; I think rather that he shares an illusion common amongst the narcissistic glitterati of our time: that politically fashionable virtue cancels private vice. . . .

If Al Gore really wants to understand why the global green movement has tanked, he should start by taking a long hard look in the mirror.