2009-10-31

R.I.P. Mr. Hallett

Very sad news. The Sun has a very nice article:
Robert Hallett, a longtime Baltimore County school librarian who invented a spandex-clad superhero to motivate children to read, died Monday of a rare form of leukemia. . .

his library became a world designed to captivate the students coming through his doors - something he succeeded in doing so well that many remember his magic tricks and the oddities he placed around the room, including a clock with backward numbers, years after they left the school. . . .

For about two decades, he spent Friday and Saturday evenings singing on the street corner outside the Pikesville restaurant Jilly's when the weather was nice, his wife said. . .

"He's a guy that just spread joy to everybody he came in touch with," said his twin brother, Norman Hallett of Florida. "It started as a little kid, and it ran all the way through Riderwood."

2009-10-27

If a DaVinci Code symbologist analyzed the cover art for the Danish cartoons book...


. . . he'd notice that the cover has a thought balloon on it, not a speech balloon. It's an apt way to symbolize Yale's censorship of Jytte Klausen. On the forlorn, empty cover she seems trapped speechless inside the balloon.

Here's my interpretation of the cover: the balloon represents the thinking of Klausen's readers. They are non-plussed as they consider her censored situation when they should be engrossed in the subject of the book itself: the Mohammad cartoons .

And here's an idea for the Yale Press: when the paperback comes out, change the balloon to a scream. It would represent the feelings of readers who believe the cartoons should never have been removed from the book.

Another disappointing aspect of this case: apparently many of those who argued for censorship had not read the book.

Related post here.

2009-10-26

Debunking ACORN apologists

Listed below are some common defenses of ACORN followed by rebuttals.

Defense #1: Some of the ACORN people were "playing along" with what they thought were pranks.
Rebuttal: Even if this is true, ACORN still looks unethical on many levels. I saw no hints of "playing along" in any of the videos.
Defense #2: ACORN was responding to unethical practices of banks during the housing crisis.
Rebuttal: Two wrongs don't make a right. Moreover, the root causes of the housing crisis probably lie within government, not business. Check out the 1994 hearings on Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac.
Defense #3: James O'Keefe had racist motives for creating the videos.
Rebuttal: The O'Keefe-as-racist meme gained traction through a Washington Post story written by Darryl Fears and Carol D. Leonnig. The Post later made a retraction. Andrew Breitbart spoke to Leonnig before the article came out, and he predicted accurately that she would unfairly inject race into the story. (Go to 1:05 of the video.)
Defense #4: "Hapless" ACORN employees were caught in a politically motivated sting.
Rebuttal: Breitbart dismantles the "hapless" (a.k.a. "dumdum") argument very effectively (go to 2:30 of the video).
Defense #5: ACORN has done good things in the past.
Rebuttal: Even if ACORN has done "amazing" work elsewhere--a contention that I have doubts about--the pimp videos should serve as a wake-up call that triggers skepticism and scrutiny of all ACORN operations, past and present.

2009-10-24

Scholarship, slogans and not-so-free speech at Yale

I drove through New Haven yesterday.

Being curious about the recently released (and censored) book on the Danish Mohammed cartoons, I stopped in at the Yale Bookstore to see how sales were coming along and to take a look at the book.

The cover of the book is dull, sadly so. It has no art except a lonely "thought balloon". I was also struck by the huge banner on the front wall . I found the juxtaposition of censored book and slogans to be a bit troubling:



A customer service person looked up recent sales on the computer for me. The store had sold only two copies in the past two weeks.

Today, the book was #55,400 on Amazon.

2009-10-21

Ryan Mauro to political Right: Don't overdo criticism of President Obama

One key point that Mauro doesn't mention: overdoing it devalues one's criticism it and often makes it less effective.

He points this out:
The Nation Brands Index now ranks the United States as the most admired country around the world* . . .

“What’s really remarkable is that in all my years studying national reputation, I have never seen any country experience such a dramatic change in its standing as we see for the United States for 2009,” said Simon Anholt, the founder of the NBI.
Mauro's opening paragraphs resonated strongly with me:

I can remember the disgust I felt between 2001 and 2008 when so many critics of President Bush couldn’t bring themselves to applaud anything he did, instead only grinding their teeth as they mentioned his name. If boxed into a corner and forced into commending something, such as the overthrow of the Taliban, it would not be said without hateful prefaces and postscripts about how evil, dumb, incompetent, radical, etc. he is.

This pride-filled childishness, intellectual unfairness, and overall resistance to acknowledge any success propelled me to promise myself that I’d never adopt the same attitude, would remain as independent as possible so as not to be seduced by the partisan rage, and would take pride in supporting my president whenever I felt comfortable doing so.
Bush Derangement Syndrome was counter-productive for the country **, and so is knee-jerk dumping on President Obama. Criticism of President Bush's environmental record is a good example of exaggeration from the Left. The Right needs to avoid this kind of thing.

Well done, Ryan.

via Instapundit


*A dubious achievement, perhaps, but notable nevertheless.
**It damaged the credibility of the Left as well

2009-10-14

Free home energy audits in Baltimore from BGE

Sign up at BgeSmartEnergy.com. It includes free CFLs, pipe insulation, shower head, etc.

Characteristics of Alinsky's ideal community organizer

Here they are, as listed in Rules for Radicals:
1. Curiosity
2. Irreverence
3. Imagination
4. A sense of humor
5. A bit of a blurred vision of a better world
6. An organized personality
7. A well-integrated political schizoid
8. Ego [but not egotism]
9. A free and open mind and political relativity
Only a few of these require much explanation.

The "blurred vision of a better world" (#5) means the ability to see the whole picture of Alinsky's "better world" even when the organizer is immersed in--and working to organize--just a tiny part.

What he means by "integrated schizoid" in #7 is this:
. . . the organizer must split himself into two parts--one part in the arena of action where he polarizes the issue to 100 to nothing, and helps to lead his forces into conflict, while the other part knows that when the time comes for negotiations that it really is only a 10 percent difference--and yet both parts have to live comfortably with each other. Only a well-organized person can split and yet stay together. But this is what the organizer must do.
By "political relativity" in #9, Alinsky is referring to: (1) flexibility of personality, (2) rejection of ideology and dogma, (3) being comfortable with uncertainty, and (4) recognition that "all values are relative."

One thing that surprised me about Alinsky's thinking was his rejection of ideology and dogma, including socialism and Marxism.

2009-10-13

SunshineReview.org: Baltimore County's rates only C- in government transparency

Where our county government falls down:
Are you listening, Jim Smith? It would be nice if Mr. Smith could bump up the grade a few notches before term limits end his tenure as county executive in 2010.

Here's the main site for SunshineReview.org.

Saul Alinsky's 11 rules on "the ethics of means and ends"

Alinsky's list of 13 tactics for community organizing have gotten more press lately, but his 11 rules on means and ends are just as thought-provoking:
  1. One's concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one's personal interest in the issue.
  2. The judgment of the ethics of means is dependent upon the political position of those sitting in judgment
  3. In war the ends justify almost any means
  4. Judgment must be made in the context of the times in which the action occurred and not from any other chronological vantage point.
  5. Concern with ethics increases with the number of means available and vice versa.
  6. The less important the end to be desired, the more one can afford to engage in ethical evaluations of means.
  7. Generally success or failure is a might determinant of ethics.
  8. Morality of a means depends upon whether the means is being employed at a time of imminent defeat or imminent victory.
  9. Any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical.
  10. You do what you can with what you have and clothe it with moral garments.
  11. Goals must be phrased in general terms like "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," "Of the Common Welfare," "Pursuit of Happiness," or "Bread and Peace."
Alinky's intelligence, his pragmatism, and his impulse to describe things as they are remind me of Niccolo Machiavelli.

Source: Alinsky's 1971 book titled Rules for Radicals

2009-10-10

"I know that. You think I don't know that?"

Martin Short reveals the inspiration for his cigarette-puffing lawyer character Nathan Thurm:



via The Daily Beast

2009-10-08

Asian "stink bugs" migrate to Baltimore County via Pennsylvania


I've seen a few of these around and wondered what they were. Susan Reimer explains in the Sun:
[This] variety of stink bug . . . is Halyomorpha halys, which arrived in Southeastern Pennsylvania from Asia in the mid-1990s and has kind of hitchhiked its way into Maryland since.

It is different from the several species of domestic stink bugs that are more uniform in color, less numerous and less of a danger to crops.

This species is distinguished by its patterned legs, antennae and shield-shaped back. . . .

Unlike the domestic stink bug, which is not a threat to crops, this species favors stone fruit trees, such as peach and cherry, and legume crops, such as soybean.

"We have been seeing crop damage in stone fruits in New Jersey and Pennsylvania," said Dr. Michael Raupp, professor of entomology with the University of Maryland. "And we are starting to see it in soybeans."

2009-10-07

"Classical liberalism" in a nutshell

Classical liberalism is pretty close to what I mean by "liberal-tarian conservatism". Here are 12 key ideas that help define the concept:
  1. Dignity of the individual
  2. Individual liberty
  3. Private property
  4. Natural law and natural rights
  5. Freedom of the press, freedom of speech
  6. Limited government
  7. Rule of law
  8. Religious toleration
  9. Domestic free markets and international free trade
  10. Peace and harmony
  11. The right of "exit"
  12. Ideas of spontaneous order
This list seems to differ somewhat from the Wikipedia entry. Here's a syllabus and reading list.

Source: Mario Rizzo, NYU Economics Department

Kingman Brewster + Hakimullah Mehsud = Yale Taliban again

Someone recently showed me Kingman Brewster's advice on how to select Yale students. Apparently, its a famous letter, at least within the Yale community. It's a great read for admissions directors and also for college applicants.

Then this morning I found that Hakimullah Mehsud, chief of the Pakistani Taliban, is still alive.

This made me think of the Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, aka the Yale Taliban.

The Yale admissions folks could have saved themselves a boatload of bad publicity if they had just looked at their own website when considering Hashemi and applied their own admissions criteria:
Fourth, moral concern and consideration for others has its place high in the list of attributes worthy of reward. Not only should demonstrated amorality and selfishness be held against an applicant no matter how bright he may seem, but outstanding public motivation and capacity to sacrifice the self for something larger seems to me to deserve positive appreciation in the admissions process.

. . .

"Moral concern and consideration for others" is almost impossible to weigh in the competitive terms which the admissions process requires. However there may be some cases where its demonstration has been so dramatic or objectively convincing as to deserve reward. On the negative side a demonstrated failure of moral sensitivity or regard for the dignity of others cannot be redeemed by allegations that the young man is extremely "interesting."

2009-10-01

Cause of obesity? The yin-yang of spring and fall fats

Amazing if true department. Susan Allport author of The Queen of Fats, writes:
the essential fats—the omega-3s and their close cousins, the omega-6s—change with the seasons. It might sound like a small idea, but it may soon fundamentally change the way you think about food.
Omega-3s:
are likely the most abundant fats in the world, but they don't originate in fish, as many believe. Rather, they are found in the green leaves of plants. Fish are full of omega-3s because they eat phytoplankton [...] and seaweed. [...] The spring fats speed up metabolism. They are fats that animals (humans included) use to get ready for times of activity, like the mating season. They're found in the highest concentrations in all the most active tissues: brains, eyes, hearts, the tails of sperm, the flight muscles of hummingbirds. [...] These fats protect our brains from neurological disorders and enable our hearts to beat billions of times without incident.
Omega-6s:
originate in plants as well, but in the seeds of plants rather than the leaves. The fall fats are simply storage fats for plants.
Yin-yang:
Animals require both—omega-3s and omega-6s—in their diets and their tissues. But omega-6s are slower and stiffer than omega-3s. Plus, they promote blood clotting and inflammation, the underlying causes of many diseases, including heart disease and arthritis. Omega-3s, on the other hand, promote blood flow and very little inflammation, which may prevent things like heart disease. The proper mix of these two fats helps create tissue with the right amount of blood flow and inflammation.
The imbalance:
because they're in constant competition to enter our cells, if your diet consists of too many omega-6s, your body will be deficient in omega-3s. And that is what's been happening to us as we've been eating more and more seed fats in the form of soybean, corn and other vegetable oils.
The problem & the result:
Since 1909, according to the USDA, Americans have more than doubled their daily intake of omega-6s—from about 7 grams to around 18. One hundred years ago, heart disease was much less common in this country. Over the past century, though, heart disease has risen in tandem with our increasing intake of these seed fats, or omega-6s, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). So have neurological disorders like Lisa's, as well as depression, arthritis, obesity, insulin resistance and many cancers.
I don't know if all of this is true or not, but it sure seems to make sense to me, and probably Occam too.

Allport gives advice at the end of the article on how to increase Omega-3s and reduce Omega-6s in your diet.

Via Glenn Reynolds