Thursday, June 21, 2018


I just saw a posting that (forced) the use of the acronym SWEAT to describe athletic success.
I found it lacking.
Here is my proposed definition:

S -Show up on time (and on time is early!)
W- Work with intensity and focus
E- Evaluate your performance, both positively and critically
A- Accountability to yourself and your standards is the ONLY STANDARD THAT MATTERS
T- the TEAM is everything. Connections, sacrifices, success, failure - it's life in a nutshell (or, technically, a 120x75 soccer field, although if you know of a sport that's played in a nutshell the analogy is literal...)

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Keeping the Yule Blog Burning

Walter Russell Mead publishes a Yule Blog at this time every year -- "In particular, I want to blog about Christmas itself and what it means. Somehow my generation decided to leave this part out when we passed down the traditions and the lore we were taught to the next generation.... The Yule blog is a work in progress; each year I try to make it a little clearer, a little more useful, a little less hopelessly inadequate at explaining some of the most important and mysterious truths there are."

Here are some excerpts that have resonated particularly strongly with me this year:

Why talk about faith?
"In the 2016 election, American society had a little foretaste of what political life can look like when the virtues of humility, forbearance, honesty and tolerance begin to fade from our common life. Virtue is the secret lubricant that makes all our institutions work smoothly—and it is the secret glue that holds the social structures on which we all rely in place. The farther America moves from its rich heritage of faith, the less well America will work."

Whatever your faith, however you understand the meaning and purpose of your life, may the next few days be a time of rest, relaxation, and healing reflection for you that brings you closer to that wiser, happier, richer, and more generous self that it’s your hope, your duty, and, with the help of a merciful God, your destiny to become.

It's difficult to define why we feel this is true, but most people believe that it *matters* that we do the right thing: that we bring up our kids well, that we care for our parents as they age, that we remain loyal to our spouses and keep our wedding vows, that we behave fairly in our dealings with other people and that we contribute to the greater good through the way we live our lives.

"God cannot love anybody at all unless He finds a way to deal with the reality that no human being can withstand strict moral scrutiny. He knows the worst things about us and isn’t fooled by our rationalizations and evasions. And He still loves us enough to be born among us and to pay the price for all we have done. Infinite Love ... is not blind; it knows what messes we make of our lives and how we wound and damage others. But even so, God is determined to be with us."

At best, I’m in the state Gertrude Behanna describes in The Late Liz: “Oh Lord, I ain’t what I wanta be. Oh Lord, I ain’t what I oughta be — and Oh Lord, I ain’t what I’m gonna be. But Thanks Lord, I ain’t what I USED TO BE! — Amen.”

But: If only perfect people were allowed to write about faith and morals, nobody will ever say anything on the subject. Parents wouldn’t try to teach their kids right from wrong; teachers wouldn’t try to help students build moral character. No minister, rabbi, imam, or priest would stand before a congregation to preach a sermon.

Society really does depend on the imperfect virtue of its members. Self-restraint and moral behavior, even only realized in part, really are the foundations of liberty. The weaker the hold of virtue on a people, the stronger the state needs to be. When the moral tone of a people declines, bureaucrats and the police are not exempt from the decay of morals. Perhaps a stratum of high-minded elites and civil servants can keep up a moral tone that is significantly higher than the declining standard around them, but lesser officials and the police will reflect societal norms. They will steal; they will abuse their authority; they will manipulate the processes of the state to serve themselves.

Virtue has to be cultivated and developed. Young people have to be persuaded, cajoled, admonished, and, above all, inspired to seek wisdom, self-control, a life of service, and all the other virtues that are necessary for our civil lives as well as for the fullest development of our true selves. Older people have to be reminded of their ideals, encouraged to live up to them, and to continue fighting the good fight through the long years of adulthood and on into the twilight.

All this can only happen if a lot of people who are still fighting their own private moral battles stand up on their hind legs in public and praise those virtues that they have not fully attained. The intellectual, struggling with questions and doubts about the meaning of faith, must share the best case for faith with a wider audience along with those honest struggles—or no one will benefit from a lifetime of study and reflection.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

May I offer you some Investment Advice?

Variations on a theme of market-timing are just variations on a theme of market-timing. Having a solid understanding of your financial goals, investment horizon, and desire to sleep peacefully at night are the foundations of a good financial plan. And that plan probably shouldn't change abruptly... and I'd be particularly hesitant about doing so in reaction to a set of prognosticators. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What it means to be a man

It's been a tough fall at la casa. It's been a tough fall with the health of some people that - while not in that first circle of immediate family - are closely related to those that are. Here's a short excerpt from one friend, whose daughter has been stricken:
"Daddy please don't leave, just hold my hand until I fall asleep" - so of course I stayed and had to let the tears fall down my face as I had her hand in my hand and was wiping her face etc. with the other ... The best cry this man has had in his lifetime. God it was great to provide her some comfort ... thank you God for that special time with my little girl.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Election 2016

From Paul Krugman:
The election was rigged by mainstream news organizations, many of which simply refused to report on policy issues, a refusal that clearly favored the candidate who lies about these issues all the time, and has no coherent proposals to offer.
I am frustrated that we as a country seem to lack the ability to have decent policy-focused discussions that might lead to compromise, progress, and maybe even a closer sense of community, but it's pretty galling for a member of the "mainstream news" to complain that [they] "simply refused" to report on policy.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

What Exogenous Factors?

This blog post has been making the rounds on facebook lately. It troubles me on multiple levels, because (a) it seems to resonate with people in spite of its fundamental flaws, (b) if this is scholarship then we are not demanding enough of our scholars, and (c) the author is pretty darned condescending. (On twitter, I would shorten that to: Stupid! Unprofessional! Bad Man!) I hope this young man has a decent thesis advisor. I would challenge his analysis of cause and effect in describing the policies of the 30s-70s. I mean, many people refer to it as the "postwar" era for a reason. If WW2 is what you have in mind to trigger a "political revolution", please count me out.
As you can see in the chart, between the 1930’s and the 1970’s, the United States drastically reduced economic inequality. It redistributed wealth from the top to the middle and the bottom, resulting in consistent wage increases and consequently consistent consumption increases. This allowed investment to be put to effective use–because the bottom and the middle were rising, they were able to support the additional spending that business owners needed to successfully expand. This was accomplished through a series of policies that if they were proposed today, would strike most Americans as socialist–Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, strong union rights, high minimum wages, high marginal tax rates on the wealthy (with a 90% top rate under Eisenhower), and strong enforcement of financial regulations and anti-trust laws.
As I wrote the first time this article was presented:
I'd like the author to consider -- I know, heresy! -- the impact of WW2 on his narrative. Because if we have to fight and win a global war that wrecks every other country of substance in the world, decimates both industrial capacity and male population, and leaves us relatively unscathed with a full generation headstart on recovery before they begin to catch up... well, I'd just like to know if that's what they mean by "political revolution".
I'm baffled that someone could write this as a PhD candidate.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Antonin Scalia

I think the one thing that reverberates to me when I consider engaging in some sort of political argument is the following from Scalia:
What I do wish is that we were in agreement on the basic question of what we think we’re doing when we interpret the Constitution. I mean, that’s sort of rudimentary. It’s sort of an embarrassment, really, that we’re not. But some people think our job is to keep it up to date, give new meaning to whatever phrases it has. And others think it’s to give it the meaning the people ratified when they adopted it. Those are quite different views.
Say what you will about the overall dysfunction of polticians and our political process, but I think most people would agree that the Supreme Court appointment represents a high degree of knowledge and understanding of some reasonably complex topics -- that anyone that rises to this level has enough brains to noodle through the major issues of the day. The fact that there are (at least) two opposite and competing understandings of such a basic tenet doesn't mean we should shout and give up hope, or that the republic's days are numbered, but it does argue that you are unlikely to win that facebook argument you're in the middle of.

Friday, October 24, 2014

I've got my mind made up

Katrice Albert, the university's vice president of equity and diversity, told reporters Friday that "some of our community think that the Washington team name is offensive and other parts of our community don't really understand why it's offensive." She said the intent is to share "all voices" on the issue.
Hmm. I wonder if there are any perspectives missing from her list?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Local school board loses budget battle, seems angry

To the editor:
The threat to close Loudoun's small elementary schools seems so poorly planned, and poorly advised, that it is difficult to attribute it to thorough analysis.

School Board Bylaw §2-32 defines the process for considering school closure/realignment. The four initial considerations are to promote the effective use of facilities, keep students in close proximity to their schools, encourage the link between schools and their community, and recognize the demographic characteristics of students and communities.

The current reaction -- I hesitate to call it a plan -- ignores most of these priorities. For example, in Aldie, the school is projected to be at or over capacity until 2020, and its per-student operating costs are $11,090 -- less than the LCPS average. That's effective usage, for a school that is embraced by its community and provides a good central location that's consistent with LCPS priorities.

Further, Aldie in particular serves a still-growing area, and projected attendance at the other nearby schools does not leave sufficient space to handle Aldie's current students along with planned growth. The temporary savings of a few staff member salaries (80% of the assumed "savings") will be completely overwhelmed by the requirement to plan, buy, build, and staff the proposed ES-28 any earlier than 2019 -- when the current schools in the zone will be over capacity by 2017. Every year after ES-28 is bonded is another $2.5M in debt payments we'll have to budget for.

Beyond that, it is essential to evaluate the transition of Middleburg to a charter school to determine if that is a viable way forward for the small schools. Mr. Hornberger said he believed that has been the right approach, “but we need to ask, can we afford to operate small schools at a much higher than average operating cost” while waiting for communities to develop charter proposals. Since the small schools are generally not operating at a much higher cost -- and in fact, two of the four are below average -- I'm sure he agrees with me that we must continue on this path.

Closing a school is not a single-year budget-saving measure; the money saved is very small, and the timing, just as we can begin to see how charter schools work, could not be worse. The school board has generally done a reasonable job of balancing competing priorities -- but this seems like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Obama Doctrine

Now that we've had a chance to see how the president and his branch execute under stress, I believe that it's time to formalize and confirm the foundational principle of the Obama Administration.

Each occupant of the oval office has placed an imprint on the nation, and indeed the world, by either formally articulating or implicitly adopting a fairly consistent set of attitudes, objectives, and stances that guide their actions and behavior. While the most public (and famous) of presidential doctrines relate mainly to foreign affairs, it's clear that -- as domestic policy has become more federal and more transparent -- the same attitudes are applied to domestic affairs as well.

So it is with Mr. Obama, who has selected an administrative team on both foreign and domestic policy that appear to me to be a very consistent reflection of his approach.

I summarize that approach as: "If it's hard, we don't have to do it."

I'll let the interwebs serve as the best place to show you examples of the Doctrine at work (consider it my own little moment of homage to the Obama Doctrine itself).

To be clear, I don't intend or expect to convince his supporters of my opinion. This simply allows me to use a bit of shorthand when discussing current politics with friends over the holidays.

Uncle Pete: "I think that the administration should ride out the storm of current bad publicity in the interests of accomplishing a great public service."
Me: "Oh. Well, Obama Doctrine."

Hope this helps you too.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree

My reaction to the Supreme Court's striking of the historical formula for determining the need for federal oversight of voting rights rules in such hotbeds of racism as Alaska (sorry, I'll strike that as it seems somewhat leading) is that if laws aren't informed by any currency of context, then they completely lose their effectiveness -- and, in the main, their legitimacy.
Two current examples leap out at me.
First, the "other" SCOTUS big decision striking down the Defense Of Marriage Act was, in my mind, a proper decision that is informed by the increasing legitimacy and normalization of 'non-traditional' family living arrangements. The fact that many states have legalized such relationships is less important than the fact that the preponderance of Americans have legitimized them. Since there is little or no public appetite to delegitimize gay marriage, it is 'fitting and proper' to provide the same legal protections and encumbrances that other families have.
Right now, that is the only "defense" I can see against legalized polygamy; there's a pretty strong consensus that it's wrong. But how long can that hold?
Second, several states have attempted to -- and succeed in -- modifying the latest date at which a woman can terminate a normal pregnancy from 23 weeks (let's call it "2/3 baked") to 20 weeks (let's call it "half baked"). Again, the preponderance of societal judgement is that we have to compromise between total disregard for the child and the complete loss of control by the mother. "Forcing" the woman to make her choice within the first four months has now become the rallying cry for a war on women. It's difficult not to get snide about that attitude -- at what point does "I'm getting around to it!" cease to be a legitimate response? -- but the consensus will continue to push that date earlier as technology improves our understanding and ability to support the development of the child outside of the womb.  There will come a day when the gap between popping a Plan B and "ma'am, we'll take those cells out and give them to someone that wants to care for the child" will be a tiny sliver of hours.
You might want to consider whether the right color of sneakers will change that debate.

So, yes, I believe that the facts on the ground have changed in the last 50 years, in most places, in most states, such that a separate legal framework for some places simply isn't justified by the facts on the ground. When we started this, trying to register was life-threatening. Now, the most fervent complaints are that the rules subject you to the ennui of having to wander down to the DMV sometime in the year preceding an election. This is not precisely Kafkaesque, at least in the same way that fighting a privately-administered speed camera that catches you going 35 while stopped at a light is, or trying to appeal felony* finger-gun possession by a six-year-old can be.
* Just a teeny bit of hyperbole there.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

I think we found an extra First Responder...

As the frenzy over fiscal crisis "Dennis" reaches its peak, we may have found evidence of just a teeny, tiny speck of surplus in the machinery of government.

Charge dropped against 10-year-old
School officials searched the boy’s backpack the following day, found the toy gun and called police.
To each school official who voted to call the police... thank you.
To the 911 operator who didn't hang up at the words "... toy gun"... thank you, too.
To the two squad cars that rolled to reports of a "2319" (young miscreant with plastic weapon)... thank you.

To the fourteeen members of the Commonwealth’s Attorney office who wrestled with this decision... thank you.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

On to the next Crisis

The best thing that's come from this most recent bit of policymaking buffoonery has been the decision of the punditocracy to start naming their fiscal crises. I presume that their intent is to honor the founder of the 'crisis to crisis' movement, Mr. Obama, by making his entrance the 'alpha' of this process.
This makes the 2011 debt ceiling crisis the 'beta', and I believe at this point we've switched over to person names in order to make them sound friendlier, much like hurricanes. I know I've appreciated the ability to refer to 'the visit from Helen' as if it were an elderly aunt dropping by, rather than a week-long power outage.
So fiscal crisis 'Cliff' murmured across the land, and apparently most of US Americans have survived.
Next up -- fiscal crisis 'Dennis', where the two major parties agree to significant, substantial reductions in federal spending in exchange for an increase in the debt ceiling, only to have it collapse at the last moment when they determine that some of them (D and R alike) could lose their jobs as part of the process.
Looking at the employment statistics for recent law school grads -- and let's face it, a typical politician is by definition the type of lawyer that John Houseman ("you come in with a brain full of mush, and you leave thinking like lawyers") wasn't able to fully fix -- you can see why they're not interested in rejoining the 'normal' economy.

Friday, November 23, 2012

No bias, not here!

The Washington Post coyly accuses a cabal of house republicans of racism:
Another is blatant disregard of established facts. Drawn up by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), the letter alleges that “Ambassador Rice is widely viewed as having either willfully or incompetently misled the American public” about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. But as congressional testimony has established, Ms. Rice’s comments on several Sunday television talk shows on Sept. 16 were based on talking points drawn up by the intelligence community. She was acting as an administration spokeswoman; there was nothing either incompetent or deliberately misleading about the way she presented the information she was given.
 Hmm. So, "if it's from the Intelligence Community, it's got to be good!" (apologies to Campbell's Soup). I seem to recall a situation in the recent past where that supposition was tested and found wanting.
The nine-member panel, officially called the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, blamed intelligence agencies for overselling their knowledge and not disclosing conflicting information to policymakers....
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) was even sharper. "The president's decision to go to war in Iraq was also dead wrong," she said, adding, "The investigation will not be complete unless we know how the Bush administration may have used or misused intelligence to pursue its own agenda."
In fact, the commission concluded that policymakers should in the future challenge analysts harder to justify their conclusions, even at the risk of being accused of politicizing intelligence. "It's very important for policymakers to question and push hard on the intelligence community to explore and to fill gaps," Silberman said.
But this case was clearly different. It was really a slam dunk, not just something we thought was a slam dunk:
Though investigations are not complete, what has emerged so far suggests that the attack was staged by local jihadists, not ordered by the al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan. Officials believe that it was inspired in part by demonstrations that took place that day in Cairo. That is not so far from Ms. Rice’s explanation that “this began as a spontaneous . . . response to what transpired in Cairo.”
So it was a spontaneous combined small-arms fire/indirect mortar fire onto preplanned coordinates/10+ hour sustained attack on the Anniversary of 9/11. Nothing quite like youtube to inspire me to go out and dig a mortar pit.

So, the lesson to unlearn is that policymakers either must or should not question the analysis of the intelligence community, depending on what seems to be the motivations of the questioners.
Could it be, as members of the Congressional Black Caucus are charging, that the signatories of the letter are targeting Ms. Rice because she is an African American woman? The signatories deny that, and we can’t know their hearts. What we do know is that more than 80 of the signatories are white males, and nearly half are from states of the former Confederacy. You’d think that before launching their broadside, members of Congress would have taken care not to propagate any falsehoods of their own.
"... we can't know their hearts (but we're sure they're racists -- that's why they have an R after their name)." Luckily, it's an editorial, so we don't have to presume that the WaPo editors would take care not to propagate any falsehoods.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Honestly, you can't make this up

Froma Harrop, in the Providence Journal, wanders around for a few paragraphs trying to make a point that Obamacare is good. It's so good, in fact, it's a gift. To humanity. Signed, the Obamas. Perhaps they got it on Black Friday at Walmart; since people won't die anymore (see below) it sounds like the deal of the century... actually, the deal of all eternity.
Go back to a gift Romney did cite -- coverage on the parents' plan to age 26. Think of the 23-year-old, out of school in a tough job market but with a boatload of computer skills. Energetic and possibly not supporting others, these young Americans are at a perfect age to test an idea in the marketplace. True, they are probably healthy and more willing to skip getting insured, but still.
But still what? But still, my point is valid even though it's "probably" irrelevant?
So here's a government benefit that actually encourages the creation of new entrepreneurs. Guaranteed health coverage is a freedom card for those who want to spread their wings in a business of their own. It's a gift to ourselves.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

So it is just a marketing problem!

On MSNBC Thursday night, Jonathan Alter spoke out against the repeal of Obamacare.
“People will die in the United States if Obamacare is repealed,” Alter said on air last night. “That is not an exaggeration. That is not crying fire. It’s a simple fact.”

What an outrageous miscommunication! If I had known that Obamacare promised immortality, I'd probably end up supporting it.
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, my foot.... they should have called it the End of Death as We Know It Act.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

It's good to be the king...

 I should rather title this "It takes two to tango". Timothy Stanley writes in The Telegraph:
“The Prez could go seal-clubbing and much of the media would see it as a new epoch for winter sports. ‘Barack Obama Becomes the First President to Kill Six Seals in Under One Minute,’ The New York Times would proudly report, while Twitter would be all abuzz with how hot he looks in snow shoes.”... All politicians are ambitious; all powerful men are self-absorbed. But few have competed with Obama’s extraordinary sense of intellectual self-importance. But then, this is a man who had written his autobiography before the age of 35. It used to be that only reality TV show contestants did that.
A narrator and his spellbound audience walk into the bar...

Friday, April 13, 2012

The perils of snapshots taken during a rousing speech

Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design. Your friends, up there on the sanctuary moon, are walking into a trap, as is your Rebel fleet. It was *I* who allowed the Alliance to know the location of the shield generator. It is quite safe from your pitiful little band. An entire legion of my best troops awaits them. Oh, I'm afraid the deflector shield will be quite operational when your friends arrive.