Jens 'n' Frens
Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

"A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures."
  -- Daniel Webster

Thursday, June 12, 2014 :::

The second of these two notes is valuable, but I want to play with it a bit.

The system of governance established for the federal government and, by and large, for the state governments as well, delegates to the federal government certain tasks, places certain constraints on state and federal governments, and largely leaves the political branches of those governments free to use their best judgment (or whatever else they feel like using) to make decisions within their respective purviews.  For at least two hundred years it has also been fairly standard practice for the judicial branch to step in where those governments seem to have overstepped their bounds.  In the last century this has been used in highly dubious contexts and, in less dubious contexts, in highly dubious ways; it seems to me that the system in some kind of principle is supposed to leave the legislature and executive as much freedom as practical to decide how to correct these oversteps, except to the extent they can't or won't.

While much political "discourse" make the simplifying assumption that education and health care are each homogenous, atomic things, such that one either has one or doesn't or, at best, can have more or less of it, in fact actual details of what education to provide and how (best?) to provide it are, even conditional on an agreement that the state should provide them, admissible of a wide range of reasonable beliefs.  If the outcomes in some manner consistently, for example, provide better education to white students than to black students, particularly if they do so in a way that is because of decisions or actions that seem to be motivated by race, then a strong case can be made that the courts should insist on a correction, perhaps putting in place its own (approximately minimal) correction until the other branches of government can act, and certainly doing so if the other branches demonstrate repeated failure to act.  If the legislature and executive branches are trying as hard to comply with the constitution as the judicial branch is, however, then republican principles insist that they make the decisions.

A court in California has decided that California's laws regarding public education are insufficiently attentive to their role in providing some students with a worse education than others, and (I'm not quite clear how important this is) there is a tendency for students in the former group to be racially categorized differently from students in the latter group.  The (currently stayed) injunction seems, at least to me, not to be the minimal adjustment to those rules necessary to change this, though it is at least worth noting that the "minimal adjustment" would be to spread unnecessary misery equally among students rather than to eliminate it.  New Jersey, in its feature-length constitution, guarantees students an education, and if California has such a provision, that would seem more obvious grounds for the injunction that was actually produced.  (Never mind the actual rulings to which it has led in New Jersey.)

Taranto seems to indicate that the decision in California is an extension of its Supreme Court's previous moonbattery (not his word) in its most consistent manner, and while there's something to be said in jurisprudence for consistency, there's also something lamentable about the apparent succession of rounding errors that seems to sometimes lead the court rather strikingly to 0=1.  It should also be noted that there is some consensus in the legal world that the role of a lower court is in fact to apply the higher court's previous moonbattery in its most consistent manner; especially with the stay in place, it seems like the preponderance of evidence is that the judge did his job, even if it has produced a result that everyone hates for a different reason.

::: posted by dWj at 4:43 PM

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Wednesday, June 04, 2014 :::

::: posted by dWj at 1:17 PM

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Tuesday, May 06, 2014 :::

The first semifinal of the Eurovision Song Contest starts in a matter of hours, with the second semifinal on Thursday and the final on Saturday. I listened to the contestents, some of them so you don't have to. These are roughly in order from my favorites to my least favorite, with a brief reaction to each song and a link to the youtube video. A lot of these could easily be switched around, but the Icelandic entry is by far the worst.

  • Malta – Malta likes Mumford and Sons. So do I. This might be my favorite.
  • Armenia – The oddsmakers' favorite. A well-constructed ballad.
  • Sweden – I didn't care for the bent notes – or whatever the vocal music term is – but this is still a pretty song.
  • Spain – Very nice ballad.
  • Switzerland – Like last year, the Swiss have produced a simple, catchy, quirky, enjoyable tune that probably won't make the final despite being better than songs that will.
  • Slovenia – Moving into soft rock territory. The video is slightly strange, but I like the song.
  • Georgia – Reminds me of late-70's Jethro Tull or early-70's Yes. I actually liked this song, but I can fully understand someone's hating it. It's hard to place in the rankings because it's quirky. I don't think folk music fares well at Eurovision.
  • Ukraine – The Ukrainians could have tried not to call attention to their geopolitical situation, but instead they entered a song called "Tick-Tock." It may have carried less of a "time is running out on our independence" connotation at the time the choice was made. It's fast-paced and not regrettable and the singer is pretty, which doesn't hurt.
  • Finland – It's like emo music except that I like it. Actually, the opening reminds me of Peanuts, but telling you that before you listen to it probably just poisoned your listen. Anyway, give it a shot.
  • Albania – This is different and not bad. Reminds me of something I listened to in college in the mid 90s, though I can't think of a name. Not my favorite, but give it a shot.
  • Belarus – Fun, though Marc Anthony's version was better (someone in the comments says, not unreasonably, "Robin Thicke," but I think Marc Anthony is closer). Maybe a little bit of a Maroon 5 sound.
  • Latvia – Sort of similar to the Swiss entry, but quirkier and simpler. My wife likes it as a kid's song.
  • Italy – I think this is a harder rock sound than anyone else in the contest, which still only puts it with the likes of Roxette or No Doubt – it won't draw any comparisons to Loordi (except, I suppose, the one I just made).
  • Germany – Not terribly creative. This is both a strength and a weakness.
  • Romania – Kind of a power ballad. It seems like it's missing something.
  • Netherlands – Think Lady Antebellum, or that sort of pop song that you hear on country radio stations these days. I wouldn't avoid this song, but I wouldn't seek it out, either.
  • Montenegro – A pretty good ballad. Not among my top few choices, but probably above the median.
  • San Marino – This could play over the end credits to a James Bond movie. It probably wouldn't keep me in the theater. To be fair, the movie probably wouldn't, either.
  • Austria – This makes me think of James Bond (as San Marino did). I haven't decided what I think about the concept of a drag queen with facial hair.
  • Ireland – Decent Europop. I can't think of anything else to say.
  • Russia – Apparently, Russian alchemists have distilled the essense of the decent but unmemorable, middle-of-the-pack Eurovision song.
  • Portugal – See Russia, but replace the word "decent" with "mediocre."
  • Moldova – Kind of interesting in places, but not very many of them.
  • Denmark – The ESL lyrics perpetuate a long-standing Eurovision tradition. Among the oddsmakers' favorites, but not among mine.
  • Hungary – You can always count on Eurovision to produce light, entertaining pop songs, unlike this one about child abuse. It isn't a bad song, but it seems more out of place than, say, the French and Polish entries.
  • Israel – More ESL lyrics, though not as good an example as the Danish entry. I don't really listen to Pink, but I think this is what she sounds like; if you're a fan of hers, maybe you'll like this more than I did.
  • Macedonia – More on the rock end of the spectrum. Pretty forgettable.
  • Belgium – Yes, he's definitely a tenor.
  • Azerbaijan – I kept waiting for it to really get going. I'm still waiting.
  • UK – Pointless. Pretty high in the odds I saw, probably because those odds were from English bookees.
  • Norway – A minimalist ballad. If I were in a different mood when I heard it, maybe I would have found it pretty, but it just bored me.
  • Lithuania – This feels more like the second draft of a Europop song than like a finished and tested Eurovision entry.
  • France – What the heck was that?
  • Estonia – No
  • Greece – Greece used to reliably produce good candidates, but for the last few years, they have instead produced candidates like this one.
  • Poland – I've never heard a Polish joke about entering a nationalistic song in an international competition, but maybe I will. I'm not sure whether the video is supposed to be sexy or whether its over-the-top sexiness is supposed to be comically ludicrous, but I don't think it works on either level. Repetitive and hostile to the concept of melody. To be clear, when I describe a song as "hostile to the concept of melody," I rarely mean it as a compliment.
  • Iceland – It's okay to write a song with a message - even a banal message - but you should try to follow two rules that this Icelandic entry missed: first, deliver the message with some subtlety and, second, make the song not be utter crap.


::: posted by Steven at 2:37 PM

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Monday, April 14, 2014 :::
FYI, the three paragraphs I'm quoting here are not consecutive paragraphs in the story I am quoting:

In the year since two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, Adrianne Haslet-Davis has become one of the most recognizable survivors.

On Sunday, she was to be the face for survivors of the attack again, this time on NBC's "Meet the Press," but she left the studio in tears Friday saying on Twitter that she felt "so disrespected."

Since the attack, Haslet-Davis has refused to speak the names of the two bombing suspects. She said she agreed to do the show on the condition that the names wouldn't be mentioned. Upon arriving to tape the show, however, she was told that producers couldn't make that guarantee given the nature of the discussion, NBC News spokeswoman Erika Masonhall told the Associated Press.

I don't want to blame the victim here, and I don't want to say that nobody should appear on NBC news, but you should keep in mind whom you're dealing with. At least they didn't rig her gas tank to explode.

I suppose I should acknowledge that they haven't done anything that egregious in the last 20 years, as far as we know, but even recently they have a pattern of bad behavior, and you should always be prepared to walk away, as she did.


::: posted by Steven at 12:24 PM

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Saturday, April 12, 2014 :::
There has been some recent discussion in the blogosphere of confirmation bias. The best I've seen is by Yuval Levin, at that link, and he links to several others (including Paul Krugman, whose photograph appears next to the dictionary entry for "confirmation bias," claiming to be immune). What I haven't seen pointed out, perhaps because it's not especially important, is that confirmation bias can be rational - if you get new information which may or may not be reliable, less skepticism is warranted if it conforms to your priors than if it challenges them. If I believe that (probably) most cows are blue and you believe that (probably) most cows are green and we both learn that a random sample of cows is overwhelmingly green, it would be rational for me to think it more likely that the sample was badly formed than if the sample were overwhelmingly blue. After all, if most cows actually are blue - as I believe - most good samples will be dominated by blue cows. To be sure, I don't believe all, or even most, of people's tendency to prefer information that confirms their preconceptions is simply Bayesian updating of different priors. But I think it's worth noting that a small piece of it could be.

::: posted by Steven at 7:31 PM

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Far from trying to rig the system, I have spent decades opposing cronyism and all political favors, including mandates, subsidies and protective tariffs—even when we benefit from them. I believe that cronyism is nothing more than welfare for the rich and powerful, and should be abolished.

Koch Industries was the only major producer in the ethanol industry to argue for the demise of the ethanol tax credit in 2011. That government handout (which cost taxpayers billions) needlessly drove up food and fuel prices as well as other costs for consumers—many of whom were poor or otherwise disadvantaged. Now the mandate needs to go, so that consumers and the marketplace are the ones who decide the future of ethanol.

Those are the first two of the last four paragraphs of an op-ed by Harry Reid obsession Charles Koch, published by the WSJ last week. The whole thing is worth reading - as an op-ed, it's not terribly long - but I do especially like the end:

Instead of fostering a system that enables people to help themselves, America is now saddled with a system that destroys value, raises costs, hinders innovation and relegates millions of citizens to a life of poverty, dependency and hopelessness. This is what happens when elected officials believe that people's lives are better run by politicians and regulators than by the people themselves. Those in power fail to see that more government means less liberty, and liberty is the essence of what it means to be American. Love of liberty is the American ideal.

If more businesses (and elected officials) were to embrace a vision of creating real value for people in a principled way, our nation would be far better off—not just today, but for generations to come. I'm dedicated to fighting for that vision. I'm convinced most Americans believe it's worth fighting for, too.

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::: posted by Steven at 6:57 PM

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Tuesday, April 08, 2014 :::
A quick question about norm establishment: Do Russia's imperial depredations in Ukraine increase the probability that China will invade Taiwan? (Or at least the Senkaku Islands. I don't know whether Arunachal Pradesh needs to worry; picking a fight directly with India over one of its states seems likely to result in more resistance than taking uninhabited islands from Japan, or invading a militarily much weaker neighbor.)

::: posted by dWj at 9:27 AM

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Monday, March 17, 2014 :::
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday accused Republicans of holding up crucial assistance to Ukraine in order to protect the Koch brothers.
There is a natural comparison between Reid's recent obsession with the Koch brothers with Joe McCarthy's obsession with communists — the communists were obviously a more serious threat than the Koch brothers, and did, in fact, constitute the biggest national security threat of their day, but they were not as big a threat as McCarthy made them out to be, and his standards of evidence in deciding that specific individuals were threats were not up to par. But the way Reid combines his paranoia with more general wackiness more calls to mind the character in the Manchurian Candidate that was invented to lampoon McCarthy than it does McCarthy himself.

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::: posted by Steven at 12:10 AM

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Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

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