Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The old college try

We've been getting a lot of windshield time over the last few weeks, roaming the Midwest on college visits for the Benster. He has narrowed things down to three choices, all of which are small, liberal arts schools, of the sort that I attended. One of the schools in the running is the one I attended, Beloit College.

The college search has changed a lot since I was making college visits in 1980. I don't really remember a lot about my visit to Beloit College, but I do remember the visit seemed a bit perfunctory. I got down to the school in time to attend a class, have lunch, then meet with an admissions counselor. After that, we turned around and went home. What was more memorable was the date I visited, November 4, 1980. It was election day. The fear was palpable on the small campus -- while no one loved Jimmy Carter, the thought that the citizenry might be about to give the keys to evil Ronald Reagan was just about unthinkable.

What's unthinkable now about college is the cost, and it's evident that a lot of colleges sense that. The competition for slots in the very top institutions is insane -- Stanford rejects 95% of its potential applicants, many for reasons that are incomprehensible to the applicants. Meanwhile, smaller schools are scrapping to fill their available slots, often competing for the same kids. We met a family this weekend at Beloit who had also been at the other schools we had visited (Cornell College and Knox College), and was headed for one more visit next week, to Earlham College. All of these schools have similar reputations in the academic world; how you differentiate among them tends to be a crapshoot.

The costs associated with colleges these days are distorted for many reasons. I'll get to that next.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Still light posting for a while

We're coming to the end of the great overpriced Midwestern college tour. It's an unfortunate time to go silent, as there's rather a lot happening right now, but fortunately the blogosphere never sleeps and there are many able chroniclers of the passing scene who are taking note of things.

I'll be rejoining the fray next week. Meanwhile, a poll (more than one vote allowed):

What should Kathleen Sebelius do now that she is no longer trying to implement Obamacare?
  free polls 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Perfect Rejoinder

I wrote earlier today about the disgraceful performance of Brandeis University in disinviting Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was scheduled to speak at the commencement exercises at BU. The Wall Street Journal has published a version of the speech she planned to give at Brandeis. You should click the link and read the whole thing, but I commend her conclusion to your attention:
So I ask: Is the concept of holy war compatible with our ideal of religious toleration? Is it blasphemy—punishable by death—to question the applicability of certain seventh-century doctrines to our own era? Both Christianity and Judaism have had their eras of reform. I would argue that the time has come for a Muslim Reformation.

Is such an argument inadmissible? It surely should not be at a university that was founded in the wake of the Holocaust, at a time when many American universities still imposed quotas on Jews.

The motto of Brandeis University is "Truth even unto its innermost parts." That is my motto too. For it is only through truth, unsparing truth, that your generation can hope to do better than mine in the struggle for peace, freedom and equality of the sexes.
If you want to understand why Ayaan Hirsi Ali is fighting, you can read this account of the murder of her cinematic collaborator, Theo Van Gogh, who was slain in Amsterdam in 2004. The piece is from that notoriously right-wing source Salon. Here's the lede:
On the morning of Nov. 2 in a busy street in east Amsterdam, a 26-year-old Dutch Moroccan named Mohammed Bouyeri pulled out a gun and shot controversial filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who was riding a bike to his office. Van Gogh hit the ground and stumbled across the street to a nearby building. He didn’t make it. As the Moroccan strode toward him, van Gogh shouted, “We can still talk about it! Don’t do it! Don’t do it.” But the Moroccan didn’t stop. He shot him again, slit van Gogh’s throat and stuck a letter to his chest with a knife. He was slaughtered like an animal, witnesses said. “Cut like a tire,” said one. Van Gogh, the Dutch master’s great-grand-nephew, was 47 years old.

After shooting van Gogh, Bouyeri fled to a nearby park, where he was arrested after a gunfight with the police. One police officer was wounded and Bouyeri himself was shot in the leg and taken to a police hospital.

The letter pinned to van Gogh’s chest contained accusations aimed not at him but at Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee and liberal parliamentarian, who for years has been fighting for women’s rights in the Netherlands’ widespread Islamic community. Earlier this year, Hirsi Ali and van Gogh had made “Submission,” a short fiction film that was shown on Dutch public television. In the film, a Muslim woman is forced into an arranged marriage, abused by her husband, raped by her uncle and then brutally punished for adultery. Her body, visible through transparent garments, shows painted verses from the Koran. The film, van Gogh said in a TV interview, was “intended to provoke discussion on the position of enslaved Muslim women. It’s directed at the fanatics, the fundamentalists.
Louis Brandeis wrote that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Perhaps soon the sun will shine on his namesake university.

Profiles in Courage

Louis Brandeis was, among other things, the first Jewish member of the Supreme Court. He was also an ardent Zionist. Brandeis University bears his name.

Brandeis famously wrote the following:
"Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman."
Brandeis University is now having a cloudy day:
Brandeis University has decided not to award an honorary degree to a Somali-born women's rights activist who has branded Islam as violent and "a nihilistic cult of death."

The private university outside Boston said it had decided not to bestow the honour on Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Dutch parliamentarian who has been a staunch critic of Islam and its treatment of women.
Brandeis made a big show of saying that it wanted Ali back for dialogue at some other point. Ali's not having it:
What did surprise me was the behavior of Brandeis. Having spent many months planning for me to speak to its students at Commencement, the university yesterday announced that it could not “overlook certain of my past statements,” which it had not previously been aware of. Yet my critics have long specialized in selective quotation — lines from interviews taken out of context — designed to misrepresent me and my work. It is scarcely credible that Brandeis did not know this when they initially offered me the degree.

What was initially intended as an honor has now devolved into a moment of shaming. Yet the slur on my reputation is not the worst aspect of this episode. More deplorable is that an institution set up on the basis of religious freedom should today so deeply betray its own founding principles. The “spirit of free expression” referred to in the Brandeis statement has been stifled here, as my critics have achieved their objective of preventing me from addressing the graduating Class of 2014. Neither Brandeis nor my critics knew or even inquired as to what I might say. They simply wanted me to be silenced. I regret that very much.

Not content with a public disavowal, Brandeis has invited me “to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue about these important issues.” Sadly, in words and deeds, the university has already spoken its piece. I have no wish to “engage” in such one-sided dialogue. I can only wish the Class of 2014 the best of luck — and hope that they will go forth to be better advocates for free expression and free thought than their alma mater.
That would be my wish, too.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Governor Misspoke

No oversight for you, pal:
Gov. Mark Dayton vowed Tuesday not to cooperate with a legislative panel that wants to question top officials in his administration about technical problems that marred the Oct. 1 launch of MNsure, the state’s health insurance exchange.

Republican members of the MNsure Legislative Oversight Committee want to interview several key officials involved in MNsure’s rollout, including state Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson. Their request came in response to a Star Tribune report published Sunday that revealed how problems with the website were known months before the launch and that Dayton was warned about serious shortcomings 12 days before its public debut.
Don't remind him, y'unnerstand?
During a news conference Tuesday, Dayton said Republicans are “making a mockery of the word oversight” and engaging in a “propaganda campaign” aimed at destroying MNsure.

“It is really irresponsible,” Dayton said. “The fact that they can pretend this is part of the oversight process is just ludicrous. They want to trash MNsure. … They want MNsure to fail.”
There is a problem, though, because our man in St. Paul has left himself in trouble on the eternal "what did he know and when did he know it" question, which Dayton didn't precisely acknowledge:
At Tuesday’s news conference, Dayton also addressed allegations that he misled people by saying he was unaware of MNsure’s technical problems until sometime in November.

“I misspoke,” Dayton said. “There was a meeting on Sept. 19 where I learned for the first time there were operational problems that called into question whether MNsure could start on Oct. 1.”
Misspoke, he says. As a reminder, here is how Governor Better Minnesota characterized his knowledge of things in January:
Gov. Mark Dayton said Friday that he first learned at least six months later of controversial contract changes made by the state’s health exchange.

 He said he also didn’t know about the serious technical issues plaguing MNsure until after the exchange’s Oct. 1 launch.

 Dayton said he first heard about the contract shift in late October or early November. Before that, he said, it wouldn’t have occurred to him to question such a decision by MNsure.

At this point, the governor said, he didn’t know whether it was a good idea for the state to take over the project from its lead vendor, Maximus, Inc., early last year.

“When the problems persisted by … early November, and it became apparent they were not getting resolved or eliminated or new ones were coming up … that’s when these kind of arrangements became more concerning,” Dayton said at a Capitol press conference after highlighting a new Minnesota jobs initiative. “Certainly, at some point there, I was told about this.”
"At some point there" turns out to be a month or two prior to November. In a Better Minnesota, actual timelines don't matter so much, you see.

Meanwhile, April Todd-Mamlov, who ran MNSure's spectacular rollout until she was cashiered in December, but after she'd taken a 2-week vacation to Costa Rica with the state's Medicaid director, would rather not explain things, either:
Legislative Auditor James Nobles, who is conducting a review of MNsure, said Todd-Malmlov has so far declined to discuss her stewardship of the agency. Nobles said he will take the unusual step of issuing a subpoena and using the courts to compel her testimony if she does not come in voluntarily for an interview.

“We think there are a lot of questions that need to be answered in a thorough and objective way,” Nobles said. “We want to hear her perspective. … She was at center stage, so to speak, and knows more than probably anybody.”

Todd-Malmlov, who resigned from MNsure in December after she refused to accept a demotion, did not respond to a request for comment.
It's a Better Minnesota now. You don't need to have things explained to you. Just enjoy it.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Pennies from heaven

Happy days are here again, the skies above are clear again:
Minnesota’s legislative Democrats have struck a deal to raise the wages of the state’s lowest-paid workers.

Details of the agreement are expected to be released by House and Senate leaders Monday morning, but two sources with knowledge of the deal said Sunday that the minimum wage would rise to $9.50 an hour and future increases would be linked to increases in inflation.

“I feel really good,” said Deputy Senate Majority Leader Jeff Hayden, a Minneapolis DFLer who had long worked on the minimum wage issue. “I think there are going to be a tremendous amount of smiles [Monday.]”
Especially at this company:
This self-contained, automatic device sees raw ingredients go in one end and the completed custom-made burgers come out the other at the rate of up to 400 per hour. The machine stamps out the patties, uses what the company says are "gourmet cooking techniques never before used in a fast food restaurant,” applies the toppings (which are cut only after ordering to ensure freshness), and even bags the burgers.
Meanwhile, I got this great news from the internet yesterday:

See -- if we raise everyone's wages at WalMart by $5/hour, mac and cheese will only be a penny more per box! We can vote ourselves rich!

You'd think it wouldn't be necessary to explain this to people, especially the highly successful professional who posted this video on Facebook yesterday as if it were holy writ, but here goes: if the only thing that mattered were the price of mac and cheese, the video would make sense. Everyone who is involved in making the box of mac and cheese -- the farmer who grows the grain, the factory that turns the grain into pasta, the box maker who prints the box, and the transportation company that gets the box into Walmart's supply chain -- will also pass their costs along if minimum wage changes go into effect. There's not a chance in hell that the price of the box of mac and cheese will only go up a penny. And meanwhile, the cost of everything else in your basket will go up, too.

But it's all good -- Jeff Hayden is happy. And of course, the lege took care of the home fires, too:
The minimum wage deal came just after resolution of another contentious issue at the Capitol: a new senate office building. Bakk had insisted the new building was needed.

On Friday, House leaders gave their approval.

Many Republicans and some Demo­crats had said that draft plans for the building were too luxurious and at $90 million, including parking structures, were too expensive, especially since the building would not have housed all 67 senators.

The plans House leaders approved last week actually increased the total cost of the building itself but included office space for 67 senators, stripped out some amenities and eliminated a parking ramp. Senate leaders are expected to give the building final approval Monday afternoon, clearing the way for construction of a $77 million office space.
A penny here, a penny there. It's a good bet that the Slate video people helped with the financial analysis.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Marketing 101

Before we begin, let's establish a baseline. Quickly:  Inbee Park is:

(a)  a 60s hit for the Small Faces
(b)  a bee sanctuary in Utah
(c)  the best female golfer on the planet in 2014

If you guessed (c), good for you, because very few people know that. Among her many exploits, Park won three majors on the LPGA tour in 2013, including the U.S. Women's Open. That's a remarkable accomplishment. So when Golf Digest decided to feature a woman on its most recent cover, it was obvious that they'd put Inbee Park on it, right?

Guess not. Here's your cover subject, supermodel Paulina Gretzky:

Nice mashie niblick you've got there, ma'am

Does Gretzky, who is the daughter of hockey great Wayne Gretzky, play on the LPGA tour? No, but she is the fiancee of PGA tour pro Dustin Johnson. So yeah, she's likely been on a golf course recently, although not necessarily wearing that particular outfit. And not surprisingly, some of the golfers on the LPGA tour aren't happy about it:
"It's frustrating for female golfers," Stacy Lewis, the No. 3-ranked player in the world, told reporters at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, according to USA Today. "It's the state of where we've always been. We don't get the respect for being the golfers we are.

"Obviously, Golf Digest is trying to sell magazines, but at the same time you like to see a little respect for the women's game."
Yep -- they're trying to sell magazines. And the last time they had a woman on the cover, it was another supermodel, Kate Upton, along with the legendary Arnold Palmer, in a variation of the ol' American Gothic pose that would have made Grant Wood drop his palette:

Not exactly Grant Wood
There are certain things in life that are immutable. Men like to look at beautiful women. And while Inbee Park is a great golfer, she's not precisely photogenic:

Play on, playa
And for her part, Park understands the game:
Top-ranked player Inbee Park related how it could affect the LPGA's ability to gain on the men's tour in popularity.

"That's just been the way it is for over 20, 30 years," Park said. "We are trying to get closer to the guys, but obviously we are never going to get there. That's for sure. The LPGA is getting better and better."
Actually, it's been longer than 20 or 30 year. If you're old like me, you might remember this magazine cover from back in 1977, which featured a successful Australian golfer named Jan Stephenson, who won three major LPGA events in her career. As a 13-year old boy at the time, it was a source of significant interest to me, as you might imagine:

Yeah, tell me about your backswing again
I had a subscription to Sport at the time, along with Sports Illustrated. As I recall, my mother tried to throw this particular issue away a number of times, as she also did with the Cheryl Tiegs-laden SI swimsuit issues of that era, but I became pretty adept at retrieving it.

Yes, we don't want to encourage adolescent behavior, but there's always a market for adolescents. And while women are rightly celebrated for their athletic achievements, beauty is always going to sell first. And even Stacy Lewis knows this:

Marketing 101

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Still busy

Only time for a few brief observations:

  • Prayers are in order for the victims of the shooting yesterday at Fort Hood, which from initial reports bears more of a resemblance to the Washington Navy Yard incident than the jihadi attack that Maj. Hasan perpetrated in 2009. I'm still struck at the absurdity of a "shelter in place" order going up on a military base. There's a lesson involved, I suspect.
  • The Supreme Court decision handed down yesterday is good, but I'd still like to see Buckley v. Valeo go away entirely. As always, I refer to the wisdom of P. J. O'Rourke's observation -- when buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first thing that is bought and sold are legislators.
  • You can believe that Obamacare has turned the corner if you'd like. From what I can tell, the fun is just beginning.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Taylor Strib

Interesting move:
Minnesota billionaire Glen Taylor has made a formal offer to acquire the Star Tribune, a purchase that would add the state’s largest media company to his diverse business empire.

Taylor said in an interview Tuesday that he has made a cash offer as an individual without any other investors. He declined to say how much he would pay, but he emphasized that the Star Tribune is the only media company he is pursuing.
Taylor is best known for being the owner of the Timberwolves, but his primary business is Taylor Corporation, which grew out of printing wedding invitations into becoming one of the largest privately-held businesses in the United States. And to a certain extent, his acquiring a newspaper is a matter of keeping up with the Joneses:
Taylor would be the latest billionaire to buy a major U.S. newspaper if he acquires the Star Tribune. Last year, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos paid $250 million for the Washington Post, and Boston Red Sox owner John Henry paid $70 million for the Boston Globe and other media properties.
I'm guessing that any changes in the way the Strib does business will be incremental, but I suspect there will be changes.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Light posting right now

Things are very busy. We'll get back to normal soon, though. So let's call this an open thread.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Get Those Cameras Rolling, Carrie

Since the moral standards and behavioral choices of public officials are of paramount importance, even long before they become public officials, I want to call this revelation to the attention of Alliance for a Better Minnesota, buried over 25 paragraphs deep in a Pioneer Press article in an "oh, by the way" manner:
Also Friday, MNsure spokesman Joe Campbell disclosed that Leitz was arrested in Minneapolis in August on a charge of driving while intoxicated. The incident happened before he took over MNsure.

In a statement, Leitz said: "I consider this one of the biggest mistakes I've ever made. It is humiliating and, as with any mistake, I will learn from it and will not repeat it."

In a separate statement, MNsure board chairman Brian Beutner and vice chairman Peter Benner said "we want to voice our strong support" of Leitz.
As we learned in 2010, traffic arrests for DWI, even those that happened 30 years ago, are an intolerable outrage, I eagerly await a denunciation of Leitz similar to this one:

We'll be sure to watch for it.

And oh by the way, you might have missed this story:
Minnesota state lawmakers would no longer have immunity from drunk-driving arrests under a bill that's passed a House committee.

The Civil Law Committee passed the measure Friday. But its future is in doubt because a Senate panel tabled its version of the bill on Thursday.
A Better Minnesota requires better. Get after 'em, Carrie Lucking!