Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The debate is over/the behavior is eternal

Joel Kotkin noticed:
Let’s call it “the debate is over” syndrome, referring to a term used most often in relationship with climate change but also by President Barack Obama last week in reference to what remains his contentious, and theoretically reformable, health care plan. Ironically, this shift to certainty now comes increasingly from what passes for the Left in America.

These are the same people who historically have identified themselves with open-mindedness and the defense of free speech, while conservatives, with some justification, were associated more often with such traits as criminalizing unpopular views – as seen in the 1950s McCarthy era – and embracing canonical bans on all sorts of personal behavior, a tendency still more evident than necessary among some socially minded conservatives.

But when it comes to authoritarian expression of “true” beliefs, it’s the progressive Left that increasingly seeks to impose orthodoxy. In this rising intellectual order, those who dissent on everything from climate change, the causes of poverty and the definition of marriage, to opposition to abortion are increasingly marginalized and, in some cases, as in the [Mark] Steyn trial, legally attacked.
A few observations:

  • People who are serene in their beliefs don't worry about being challenged. They don't necessarily enjoy the challenge, but they accept that the challenge is coming.
  • As Eric Hoffer and others have noted, the nature of the belief isn't as important as the need to impose the belief, if you are a true believer. And faith in a mass movement is usually a substitute for a lack of faith in oneself.
  • You will always find people who are authoritarian in nature, or willing to support authoritarians. The predilection to boss people around is present in any setting.
  • Every generation becomes the Establishment eventually.
Back to Kotkin:

This shift has been building for decades and follows the increasingly uniform capture of key institutions – universities, the mass media and the bureaucracy – by people holding a set of “acceptable” viewpoints. Ironically, the shift toward a uniform worldview started in the 1960s, in part as a reaction to the excesses of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the oppressive conformity of the 1950s.

But what started as liberation and openness has now engendered an ever-more powerful clerisy – an educated class – that seeks to impose particular viewpoints while marginalizing and, in the most-extreme cases, criminalizing, divergent views.
On this observation, Kotkin is wrong. The tendency toward a clerisy has always been part of human interaction. There's little difference operationally between Michael Mann and Caiaphas, the high priest who plotted to eliminate Jesus. The whole point of being the high priest is that you get to impose your will. And the high priest will always have supporters.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Starting over in Woofieland

Rick Adelman is leaving:
Stepping away from a 23-year NBA career that included 1,042 games won, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman formally announced his retirement Monday morning, setting in motion the search for the franchise’s 11th coach.

“You know, it’s time,” he said in ending three seasons on the job, none of which ended up taking the Wolves back to the playoffs for the first time since 2004. “I wish I could have done more, but I enjoyed my time.”
It's tough to turn around a team with 25 years of dysfunction. Adelman gave it a shot, but his wife's health issues and his own advancing age were both pretty significant barriers to success. Meanwhile, Flip Saunders has a search to do:
Team President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders vowed an “extensive” and secretive search in which he would prefer a candidate with substantial head coaching experience, preferably in the NBA. He said he wants to find a successor who would bring a similar kind of offensive identity Adelman lent the franchise and used such qualities as “demanding,” “adaptable” and “flexibility” he will seeks in a coach.

He also once again refused to rule himself out as a possibility, even as he pledged to use his vast network of coaches to search “in a lot of places” for that new coach.
I really hope that Flip doesn't do his search by looking in the mirror. It would be a mistake. Some of the names that are floating around -- Fred Hoiberg, Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan -- are pretty unlikely. I've also heard that they might consider bringing in a random Van Gundy to do the job. Given the history of this franchise, they'd be likely to get Shemp Van Gundy, so maybe that's not the answer.

When in doubt, poll it:

Who should be the new coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves? (Multiple answers allowed) free polls 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Go go

He didn't last long in Minnesota, but Carlos Gomez is turning out to be a heck of a player. And a heck of an agitator, too.

He was known as the "Loose Cannon" when he played here, because apparently Ron Gardenhire decided that calling him "Gomsie" would be problematic. Bet a few Twins fans wish he were still here, though.

Crisis of faith

One of the many reasons that second terms don't go well in modern presidencies is that the passage of time has a way of revealing unpleasant things. Barack Obama is learning that now, as the Washington Examiner notes:
What Fox News found in its most recent public opinion survey was that 61 percent of Americans believe Obama “lies” about important public issues either “most of the time” or “some of the time.” No other president in living memory has conducted himself in a manner that warranted even asking if such a description was appropriate.

It comes as no surprise today that Obama's defenders are sparing no invective for Fox News in the wake of that survey. But it was the president, not Fox News, who repeatedly and knowingly misled the American people with two infamous Obamacare lies: “You can keep your health insurance if you like it. Period. You can keep your doctor. Period.” For better or worse, Obama will forever be known as the president who chose repeatedly to propagate two falsehoods. Those two lies were profoundly significant because they were designed to hide the truth about how Obamacare would affect the daily lives and health of hundreds of millions of Americans.

Since it became painfully clear in 2013 that Obama had lied about Obamacare since 2009, it has been increasingly difficult for many Americans to continue accepting at face value his statements on other major public issues. 
And yes, he said it repeatedly:

At this point, well over five years since the financial crisis of 2008, it's getting difficult to blame things on George W. Bush, who has kept an exceptionally low profile. While I suspect the Democrats will continue to try, it's going to be a stretch.

I never believed in Barack Obama, because you can never trust a Chicago politician. It's taken a while, but most people understand that now.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Reuben, Reuben, I've Been Thinking

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Michael Saltsman pokes a few holes in the minimum wage balloon:
 In a visit this month to the University of Michigan, for instance, the president stopped at the local deli Zingerman's. He raved about its Reuben sandwich as well as the generous wages that the business offers. Like [Costco CEO] Mr. Jelinek, Zingerman's co-founder Paul Saginaw supports hiking the minimum wage. He posted a minimum-wage manifesto on a company website last September.

As Mr. Obama relished the perfect sandwich prepared by well-paid employees, he neglected to mention how much he paid for the happy experience: Zingerman's Reuben costs $14. That's about three times as much as a Subway foot-long. When I was an undergraduate student at Michigan, I rarely dined at Zingerman's because it was so expensive.

If every deli could charge $14 a sandwich, then perhaps an $11 or $12 minimum wage would be feasible. But your local sandwich shop cannot match the price points of a shop serving a parent-subsidized clientele in a college town. Expecting restaurants everywhere to do so is a recipe for business failure.
Actually, the prices at Subway have gone up a fair amount in recent days and you can only get a $5 footlong when they have a sale going. But Saltsman is correct concerning the prices at Zingerman's. But it looks like they throw in a pickle, so that's something. But if you want chips and a drink, you're looking at about $20 a head. So a family of four wanting a quick lunch? $80, maybe more. I suppose some families can swing that, but I'd imagine that most people can't. I certainly can't, at least not very often.

And Saltsman makes an equally good point about pricing:
The president seems oblivious to pricing pressures that exist outside of high-end restaurant concepts in tony metropolitan areas. Labor Secretary Tom Perez's March visit to a Shake Shack in Washington, D.C.—again, to promote the company's above-minimum starting wage—was typical. While praising the restaurant's wage structure, Mr. Perez did not mention that the least-expensive double cheeseburger on the menu sells for $6.90, or more than 40% more than a Double Quarter Pounder at the McDonald's nearby.

If McDonald's could raise burger prices by 40% without losing customers, it would have done so already without input from Messrs. Obama and Perez. But customers are price sensitive. The same dilemma exists at restaurants, grocery stores and countless other service businesses across the country. If higher prices aren't an option for offsetting a wage hike, costs have to be reduced by eliminating jobs and other employment opportunities.
Emphasis mine. The Shake Shack's prices are closer to what you might see at a Champps or Red Robin, but if you're looking for a quick, inexpensive lunch, you're not going to be going to either of those places. And if you are looking at over $50 for lunch for four people every time you go out to eat, even at a McDonald's, you're not going to see as many people eating out, and those that do will decrease their frequency of doing so. So yes, some people will make more money, but if business is down you'll have less people working. Maybe that will work out well for everyone, but I kinda doubt it.

Friday, April 18, 2014

More Bad News for Winston Smith

Orwell was right -- there is a Junior Anti-Sex League:
Earlier this year, a psychology study found that babies will fake cry to get what they want — which was often their parents' attention. But according to new research at Harvard, manipulative babies have another reason for their crocodile tears: They want to prevent their parents from having sex.

According to David Haig, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard, babies don't want additional siblings competing for their parents' love. "I'm just suggesting that offspring have evolved to use waking up mothers and suckling more intensely to delay the birth of another sibling," said Haig. He encourages parents to train their babies to sleep through the night.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


What a mess:
After a harrowing two years on the sidelines, Todd Hoffner reclaimed his job Wednesday as head football coach at Minnesota State University, Mankato, only to be blindsided by a player rebellion at his return.

Instead of taking the field in uniform for a spring practice attended by Hoffner, the players gathered and read a statement proclaiming their allegiance to Aaron Keen, the coach who led them to two sterling seasons after Hoffner was dismissed following allegations that he had made pornographic videos of his young children.

“As a collective unit, we’ve all agreed that we will stick together and show our support in having Aaron Keen as the head football coach at Minnesota State University, Mankato,” junior safety Samuel Thompson read from the statement. “We’ve all become outstanding community members, students and athletes, in the last year and a half since the removal of Todd Hoffner. Throughout this process, our voice has been silent. It is time our voice is heard. We want information, we want answers, because this is our team.”
A few thoughts:

  • Hoffner was wronged, grievously wronged. He deserved to get his job back.
  • Having said that, I'm not sure he ever could go back to Mankato and expect things to be the same.
  • I do feel that the interim coach, Aaron Keen, was wronged as well. The players certainly are within their right to point that out, although their actions yesterday were pretty petulant.
  • Having said that, the town isn't big enough for Hoffner and Keen to both be the coach.
  • While Hoffner deserves to prevail, it would probably be better for all concerned if he instead took a big check and went back to Minot State, where he was the coach in his period of exile.

Paying the college

One of the things you learn when you look at colleges is that the price of attendance is not the real price. The real price is whatever the feds say you can pay. Once we filled out the FAFSA, that was it. The number it spit out was what the real price.

All three schools gave grants and scholarships that knocked off about half the price. All three gave out a combination of subsidized and unsubsidized student loans in the exact same amounts. The only difference is that one school tacked on an additional Stafford Loan.

The obvious thing about the process -- the schools really aren't competing on price. You might be able to negotiate a few things, but the FAFSA number is essentially the same. The differences among the expected family contributions were neglible.

There are some liberal arts colleges that can do more for students -- offer less in loans, more in outright grants. These schools are the ones that sit on bigger endowments; prominent examples in this area are Macalester and Grinnell, which both have endowments north of $1 billion. Because they have the money, they garner more applicants and can be more selective. You see the news reports that admissions rates at the Ivies and places like Stanford are now in the neighborhood of 5-8%; that's how the game works.

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.