L.A. police chief William Bratton spoke at Hopkins last night

He was very good. The topic was Policing in the 21st Century.

Afterward, I walked out to the parking lot with a few law enforcement types. They were lamenting that the audience was mostly suits, academic types and perky students from the Hopkins public policy program.

They said Bratton's book* was terrific. And they wished that Bratton could have spoken to an auditorium filled with Baltimore police.

Bratton spoke highly of CompStat (the inspiration for Martin O'Malley/Ed Norris's CityStat program). I asked the law enforcement guys whether CityStat was working well. They said it was a good system, but wasn't being used in the right way.

*I'm not sure which book they meant. I thought he had written a memoir a few years ago, but I couldn't find it on the web. He did write the forewords to these books: What Every Chief Executive Should Know: Using Data to Measure Police Performance, and The Compstat Paradigm: Managing Accountability in Policing, Business and the Public Sector.


"Aggressive benificence"

Definition: "[interfering when one] might have more productively left things, or people, alone."

A useful phrase. I ran across it this weekend in a a Jane Smiley novel (p. 208).


Software guy Chris O'Leary "debugs" baseball pitchers & hitters

Have you ever taken out a few books or videos from the library on pitching or hitting, only to find that the advice from each source is wildly contradictory?

Have you ever tried to help your youngster unlock the secrets of baseball, only to find that many coaches simply pass on the same mumbo-jumbo that others passed on to them?

I found that it's awfully hard to tell the good advice from the bad advice. Partly because most coaches (1) don't explain why their advice is sound, (2) don't have much insight on the relevant physics or physiology, (3) haven't tested their own advice much, and (4) don't use tools like slow-motion cameras to see what's really happening.

A few months ago, I found a guy named Chris O'Leary who has covered all four of those bases and more. On his website, he has gone a long way toward exploding many misconceptions that proliferate on Little League fields. For example, the balance point myth in pitching and the myth of the level swing in hitting.

Although he has virtually no baseball background other than playing in elementary school, his website is a treasure-trove of clear thinking and useful insights. The site is well illustrated with videos and stop-action photos.

If you want to start with pitching, go here. For hitting, go here.

The energy industry; what role should government play in it?

Much of Obama and McCain's energy rhetoric is blather. Especially the part about energy independence. As Megan McArdle points out, energy independence from foreign oil is a pipedream.

In contrast to the candidates, John Tierney does a nice job of laying out the proper role of government: it should impose a carbon tax, then promptly step aside*. It should then watch from the sidelines to see which technologies private industry chooses to invest in and build.

In the comments to Tierney's article, Amory Lovins chimes in:
“Nuclear power and all other ways to produce or save energy should be allowed to compete fairly, at honest prices, regardless of their type, technology, size, location, or ownership.”
Glenn Reynolds & Dr. Helen interview interviewed Lovins a few months ago.

* Note: Stepping aside means eliminating energy production subsidies for all types of energy: nuclear, oil, gas, coal, wind, solar, geothermanl, and so on. Note, however, that the federal government should fund basic scientific research and early stage R&D for a variety of energy technologies.


Civility and political epithets

Enough of this "Democrat party" nonsense.

I like -- and vote for -- many Republicans in Maryland. The state would benefit from a Republican resurgence. One of my dreams is to live in an honest-to-goodness two-party state. But hearing Republican politicians talk about the "Democrat party" really grates on the ear.

If I hear a politician use it, my brain automatically slots him in the "nasty & ineffective" pigeonhole. he is likely to lose my vote.

I'm no fan of Hendrik Hertzberg, but in this case, he's right.


Dutch Ruppersberger on the credit crisis & bailout

As of Friday 10-10-08 here's the full text of his statement:

The Financial Rescue Package

Many of my constituents have contacted my office to express their views on this legislation. I reviewed their comments and I respect the fact that they took the time to make me aware of their position.

I voted for this legislation because inaction would seriously threaten the economy for middle-class families in my district. I do not support everything in this bill, but it is necessary because it will allow our local banks to continue lending money to families and small businesses.

Our national economy is experiencing serious financial problems. As demonstrated by the recent dramatic fall in stock prices, the largest one-day point drop in the Dow-Jones Industrial Average in our nation’s history, this situation is an emergency. Congress had to take immediate action.

Let me stress that this is not a "bail out of Wall Street." The bill Congress approved is very different from what the Administration proposed. It is focused on helping American families, the communities we all live in, and the local businesses we all rely upon. Any investment of federal tax dollars in financial assets of these firms will give the taxpayers an equity share and a chance to recover these tax dollars in
future profits. Both the Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional
Budget Office forecast the total cost of this action will be significantly less
than the amounts discussed in the media.

The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act provides $250 billion in initial funds now, with an additional $450 billion available if approved by Congress next year. The EESA protects American taxpayers by: Requiring that the President propose legislation to raise revenue from the financial industry in order to offset any net losses to the taxpayers. This step is to ensure that American taxpayers and future generations are not left with this debt.

Increasing the limit for federal deposit insurance from $100,000 per account to $250,000. FDIC insurance protects Americans’ checking and savings accounts if a bank becomes insolvent, and this provision was vital to give confidence to every family that their savings and their retirement funds are safe.

Permitting the Treasury Department to take an ownership share in any company that participates in the program. The ownership share would allow the government to receive a portion of the future increased value of these assets if they were to become profitable after the government bought troubled assets. This gives taxpayers an equity share in the participating companies with a chance to repay the emergency funding from appreciated assets.

Providing tax relief to over 22 million Americans by fixing the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), keeping it from impacting middle-class families.

Helping Americans keep their homes and to avoid foreclosure. It requires that firms participating in the plan help families who are behind in their mortgage payments renegotiate the terms of their loans to make them more affordable.

Requiring Congress to exercise constant oversight over the bailout funds to make sure that the money is accounted for and spent wisely. This oversight will allow for the development of responsible regulations to prevent this situation from occurring again.

Limiting compensation packages of the executives of these companies. No golden parachutes. The executives that created this problem should not be rewarded with taxpayer dollars.

The initial plan called for billions to secure failing financial institutions, administered at the discretion of the Treasury Secretary without oversight or accountability. That was a bad plan, and we worked to secure tough, real-time oversight of the process. This new package goes beyond just shoring up the economy. It provides a clear path to help homeowners stay in their homes, helps business owners get access to desperately needed capital, unfreeze the credit markets, and it starts much needed reforms of the financial sector so that we are never in this economic situation again.

Unemployment in the United States is at a seven-year high, energy prices are at historic highs, and already burdened Americans are seeing the collapse of major U.S. financial institutions. I have spoken to economists and business managers from across the political system, and they agree that Congress had to act quickly to stabilize our economy.

History gives us guidance about the right approach in a crisis like this. At the start of the Great Depression, President Herbert Hoover chose to stand aside while the financial system collapsed. We cannot stand aside and allow this crisis to harm Americans' homes, savings accounts, and retirement investments.
I believe the alternative to this bill--to do nothing--would have devastating consequences for our economy that would bring great harm to every community in America. If we let our financial sector fail, all American businesses would suffer greatly. The failure and collapse of these companies would hurt the availability of all lines of credit, so that commercial banks would not be able to lend money for a home, college loan, or small business investment.

We all have the right to know how we got here, why this rescue plan is important, and how we are going to transparently and responsibly move out of this financial crisis. One of the main reasons that we are in the crisis is the lack of proper safeguards and regulations of the financial services industry, regulations which were removed by this Administration over many years. I will fight to make sure that this plan puts the average person first, protects American taxpayers by allowing them to share in the profits and recover assets, and includes strict accountability and oversight. We also need to understand how we got into this situation. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Congress’s investigative body, is already planning hearings in the coming weeks to investigate the root causes of this crisis and hold people responsible.

I certainly hope that we begin to see the economy improve as a result of this action. Please do not hesitate to
contact me in the future if you have any questions or comments.

The difference between Baltimore City paychecks & Baltimore City utility bills

Even though I live in Baltimore County, I've had occasion to receive both bills and paychecks from Baltimore City. The bills are for water & sewer services (which the city provides to surrounding counties) and the paychecks were for serving as chief election judge a year or so ago in the post-O'Malley special election for Mayor of Baltimore.

The printing on the paychecks said they came from the Mayor and the City Council.

The printing on the bills says they go to the City of Baltimore

As JFK said, "Victory has a thousand father, but defeat is an orphan."

UPDATE: Unfortunately I didn't take a picture of my Balto City paycheck. If anyone out there sends me a jpg of one, I'll post it here. Send it to baysense (at) comcast (dot) net. Please cover up the recipient and amount on the check.

LaShawn Barber: "More like him, please!"

She's found a fast-talking, twenty-something, west-coast, black male musician who supports McCain/Palin and presents an entertaining nine-minute case for black conservatism:

I met LaShawn briefly at BlogNashville. She's a sweetheart.


A suggestion for my Congressman, Dutch Ruppersberger

[UPDATE: D'oh! My mistake. Apologies to Dutch. Congressman Ruppersberger did have a statement on his website. I looked on the left side of the website unders "Issues" and didn't see the "Top Issues" section on the right. ]

Dear Dutch,

I've checked your website a few times in the past week and found nothing about the credit crisis or the bailout. I'd like to hear your take on the crisis and an explanation of your vote on the bailout. Your constituents deserve an update from you, pronto.



p.s. Here's your website as of Wed. 10-8-08. The two lead items are (1) the changeover to digital TV and (2) a trip you took four months ago.

"Think" vs. "Know": wordclouds from Obama-McCain debates

Here's Obama from debate #2:

And McCain from debate #2:

I'm not sure what these mean, but they seem to confirm the notions of McCain as an aggressive pilot who makes quick decisions (but has crashed several fighter jets and rubs many people the wrong way) and Obama as a temperate lawyer who digs methodically through the pro's and con's (but hasn't accomplished much other than getting many people to like and elect him).

In any event, I watched only the first half of the 2nd debate last night. It was dull and not very informative.

Then, from 23/6 ("some of the news, most of the time") here's a one-minute video wordcloud of the first debate:


The best explanation of the mortgage mess, bailout & stock market plunge

Jeff Jarvis says he's found it.

UPDATE: He's right. Ira Glass and company did a terrifically excellent job.

They give easy-to-understand explanations of mortgage-backed-securities, commercial paper, tranches, credit-default swaps, and an alternative to the Paulson bailout plan called "stock injection". Apparently this bailout variation is preferred by a majority of professional economists.

Jeff also points to a site that tries to pull together the best thinking about the mortgage/credit/stockmarket crisis. It's called TheMoneyMeltdown.com.

UPDATE: The folks who did the explaining for Ira Glass now have a website with daily podcasts called Planet Money.


Pro-American slapstick at the movies

I saw An American Carol this weekend. It wasn't as good as I had hoped -- the humor was hit-or-miss -- but I got big belly-laughs in a few places, especially when I first saw the "choreography" of the ACLU lawyers.

Although it was heavy handed in places and confusing at times, I'm glad I went. Most Dems won't think much of it, but if you tilt to the center or right, go see it. Kelsey Grammer and Jon Voigt are both good. Dennis Hopper is in it too.

Andrew Sullivan vs. Glenn Reynolds: Vive la difference!

I doodled this list while watching little league baseball on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon this weekend.

These days, Andrew and Glenn don't seem to get along much.

But I like 'em both!

Sullivan ... Reynolds
Believer ... Skeptic
Esthete ... Engineer
Passionate ... Measured
Brit ... Scots-Irish
Torture ... Pork
Pictures (from reader windows) ... Podcasts
Journalist ... Lawyer
Gay ... Straight
Beagles ... Puppies
Butter ... Guns
Semi-numerate ... Tech savvy
Writerly ... Insta(nt)
Harvard ... Yale
Theory ... Practice
Heart on sleeve ... Between the lines
Thinker ... Linker
Knoxville ... P'town
Mental health breaks ... Cookware reviews

Another difference: Instalanches tend to spike for only a day or two while "Dish-a-lanches" have legs. They gather momentum more slowly and tend to last for a week or so.

How not to interview an author

On BloggingHeadsTV, Jim Holt gives a textbook example. As the interviewer, you're supposed to be the showcase, not the show. Holt asks rambling questions, monopolizes the conversation, and steals the author's thunder.

To see author interviews done right, watch anything done by Brian Lamb on C-Span's BookNotes. Or listen to the Glenn & Helen Show.

By the way, the book is Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). The author is Tom Vanderbilt. Hard to tell from the interview, but I'm guessing it's very good.

As for BloggingHeadsTV, check it out. My favorite regulars are Mickey Kaus!/Robert Wright, and John McWhorter/Glenn Loury.

"Fundamental conservative messages" -- Mark Tapscott recites four of them

I like his list a lot:
individual freedom, limited government, a strong national defense and a recognition of the special role of America as the shining city on a hill
I don't self-identify as a conservative however, because the term carries so many stray meanings. Too many people -- on both sides of the aisle -- think conservatism is about taking specific positions on issues like abortion, gay marriage, and religion.

The Reagan quote in Tapscott's post still resonates.

Del. Frank hits Sun for 'selective outrage' on election fraud

Del. Bill Frank (R-42) wonders why a Baltimore Sun editorial on election fraud focuses entirely on Republican tricks and leaves out any mention of ACORN's electoral misconduct.

Well done, Bill.

Give the Sun credit for printing his letter. But the GOP tricks mentioned in the editorial are so ridiculous they probably have little effect anyway. Ironically, such tricks may benefit the left in the long run because loud responses from Democrats tend to get good play in the press.

SNL skit: Pelosi lied about Dems' role in mortgage meltdown

From a "C-Span Bailout" skit on Saturday Night this weekend:
Nancy Pelosi: Let's not forget, Mr. President, that it was the Democrats who first sounded the alarm about the risky mortgage loans that Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac were encouraging. And that your party resisted all our efforts to rein them in.

Pres. Bush: Wait wait wait. Wasn't it my administration that warned about the problem six years ago? And it was the Democrats who refused to listen?

Pelosi: What? No, who told you that? That's crazy. It's completely the other way around.

Bush: Okay.

Barney Frank: Actually, this time, he's sort of right.

Pelosi: Sssh. Don't say anything. He doesn't know.
I was surprised that SNL portrayed Democratic mendacity so clearly and directly.

Here's some real-life video that confirms what the skit was talking about. It juxtaposes Pelosi's recent statements with bits from congressional hearings in 2004. The clips of Maxine Waters ("we do not have a crisis"), Gregory Weeks ("I'm just pissed off at [criticism of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac]" ), Lacy Clay ("political lynching of Franklin Raines") and Barney Frank ("safety and soundness ... shibboleth") are particularly egregious.

The real-life video also shows various Republican congressmen sounding the alarm in 2004 and calling for more regulation. Including: Richard Baker (R-LA), Don Manzullo (R-IL), Ed Royce. (R-CA), and Christopher Shays (R-CT).

If there is comparable video that makes Democrats look good on the mortgage mess, I haven't seen it.

UPDATE: Some related links:

WSJ "What They Said About Fan and Fred"
Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA): I do think I do not want the same kind of focus on safety and soundness that we have in OCC and OTS. I want to roll the dice a little bit more in this situation towards subsidized housing.
Recollections of Paul Gigot.

ANOTHER UPDATE: NBC seems to have taken the bailout skit off its website.

UPDATE: The skit is back up on NBC (with later parts about the Sandlers cut out).


"Googlified health insurance"

Jeff Jarvis makes a rough sketch of the possibilities: finding new ways to align the interests of doctors, patients and insurance companies.

And Jeff thinks doctors don't get it:

At Davos last year, I sat at a table with a bunch of doctors who complained about their patients going to the internet to get what they said was misinformation. They didn’t want the internet to get in the way. They wanted to remain in control. I told them they were looking at this the wrong way. Instead, I said, they should point their patients to what they though were the best resources.

Do you know what your kids' grades mean? Most parents don't

We're a Baltimore County Public Schools family. Last June, toward the end of the school year, I asked a question that I had been wondering about for some time:

What is the actual distribution of letter grades given out by the school?

I was pleased and a little surprised that I got some numbers. All it took was a few months and one followup request. Here's the spring 2008 distribution at our middle school (for all kids, all classes and all grades):

A ]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]] 50%
B ]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]] 31%
C ]]]]]]] 13%
D ]] 4%
E ] 2%

We're not in Lake Wobegon territory yet, but we're getting close. The median grade is at the dividing line between a high B+ and a low A-.

After some conversations with other parents, it became clear to me that very few ask for this information and nearly all underestimate the extent to which grade inflation has taken hold. In other words, they don't know what their kids' grades mean.

So, next time you're looking over your child's report card, send a polite email to each of his teachers and ask for a decoder ring: the percentage distribution of letter grades. If your school is like ours you won't get it unless you ask for it.

UPDATE: Here's a somewhat-related article on some unusual things being done around the country to manipulate GPAs. (h/t Joanne Jacobs)