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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bush’s Speech to Congress – I Don’t Think

I don’t expect to read about this speech, but it sure would be interesting….

“As the Gulf Coast struggled to cope with and to recover from Hurricane Katrina, as I heard tale after tale of federal bureaucratic obstruction of relief efforts, I turned to aides and said, ‘Fix it!’ But I soon learned that they couldn’t fix it; and I couldn’t fix it. For that, we must turn to you.

“Federal civil service jobs are something close to de facto lifetime appointments, the significance of which we have recently been contemplating due to the vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court. However, in the case of civil service positions, the problems are not derived from an erroneous hire or an individual’s shortcomings. They are endemic, due to the nature of large bureaucracies. Bureaucracies are self-perpetuating. Its members may become more involved in the life and politics of the bureaucracy than in the task for which the bureaucracy was created. They typically become more complex and hidebound as they grow. A government bureaucracy is particularly prone to the unfortunate tendencies of bureaucracies in general, because it is not in immediate and direct competition with others, and thus has little short-term incentive to be responsive to the needs of those it purports to serve. Instead, to justify and ensure their existence and growth, federal bureaucracies promulgate ever-growing masses and mazes of regulations, which entwine themselves around the economic arteries of our nation – our businesses and entrepreneurs – and threaten their continued health and vigor. And a large government bureaucracy is particularly ill-suited to any task which requires fast responses, flexibility and improvisation. We have all learned this the hard – the tragic – way in recent weeks.

“Tinkering with details will not ‘fix it.’ What we need is a complete rethinking of our government’s entire approach to getting things done. We need to find ways to decentralize without entirely abdicating oversight. We need to restructure in ways that bring back accountability and flexibility. And we need established procedures for ignoring established procedures when necessary!

“Part of this restructuring, I believe, will have to be a fundamental change in the nature of government employment. There is no reason that civil service employees cannot be judged on their performance, much as employees in private businesses are judged. We can and must retain protections against treating employees differently based on race or gender – but it is time to treat employees differently based on whether they are indeed helping the people it is their job to serve.

“[Etc. Contributions to this speech, or revisions to put it in the proper George W. style, are invited... as are corrections to my factual assumptions about civil service employment.]

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Shark-Induced Survival Pressure?

It has often seemed to me that taking a shower temporarily slows or stops menstruation. I haven't found any studies confirming this, though I'm apparently not the only one who thinks it can happen. If it's a real phenomenon, I wonder if it's another sign that humans spent some important period of their development as a species living largely in water. (That hypothesis may be thoroughly debunked by now -- I read about it years ago and haven't checked up on it.) Sharks can smell blood in water from a very long way away. If we did do a lot of prehistoric wading around, women whose menstrual flow stopped upon immersion in water would have had a huge survival advantage.

Monday, September 19, 2005

A familiar theme in Germany

In the aftermath of the inconclusive German parliamentary elections, I've been reading about "Die Linkspartei (the Left Party)" in Germany, with whom both of the major parties currently say they won't negotiate, but without which neither is likely to be able to form a coalition government. Populists and leftover East German communists using coded racist language about immigrants.... As one writer put it, this party is "mingling right-wing nationalism and left-wing socialism at a time of huge economic anxiety". Hmmm. Sounds awfully familiar. Like the early 1930's. THAT went well.

Yikes.

Anyone remember Tom Lehrer's "MLF Lullaby", discussing the Germans having a finger on the nuclear button? "Some say the Germans are warlike and mean/ but that couldn't happen again/ We taught them a lesson in 1918/ And they've hardly bothered us since then...."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Nominee Roberts and definitions of scrutiny

In the Roberts confirmation hearings earlier today, Senator Biden and Judge Roberts got into an exchange about a 1982 memo, in which Roberts supposedly said that some sort of gender discrimination should not get "heightened scrutiny". Roberts explained that statutes differentiating on the basis of gender get "intermediate" scrutiny, and said that what the memo meant by "heightened" scrutiny was the more traditional "strict scrutiny", a very tough hurdle to pass. (Intermediate scrutiny requires the showing of an important, but not a "compelling", governmental interest. Also, the statute must be "substantially related" to the governmental interest, whereas in strict scrutiny, the statute must be necessary to serve that interest, and/or there must be no less restrictive means of serving that interest.)

I've been poking around in US Supreme Court precedent from before and a bit after 1982. It looks as if "heightened scrutiny" at least frequently meant "intermediate scrutiny", at least in the context of gender discrimination. See Rostker v. Goldberg et al., 453 U.S. 57, 69-70, 87 (1981); Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 238-239 (1982). However, there are cases where my quick and distracted read suggests that "heightened" scrutiny may mean strict scrutiny, or at least isn't clearly limited to "intermediate" scrutiny. See Regents University California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 296 (1978) (where I think the context in which "heightened judicial solicitude" is mentioned suggests strict scrutiny); City of Mobile v. Bolden et al., 446 U.S. 55, dissent fn. 15 (1980) (context is filing fees for voting).

So, I am a bit skeptical about Roberts' explanation, but depending on the context, maybe I shouldn't be....

Monday, September 12, 2005

what citizens of other countries may not realize

I've read about the shocked reactions of citizens of various foreign countries to the post-Katrina tragedies in New Orleans, Mississippi, etc. What they're seeing looks as if it belongs in a third world country, not in the modern, powerful United States.

I don't know enough about the media in other countries to really know what I'm talking about... but here goes anyway.

In some countries, the press is largely or entirely government-controlled. Disasters in those countries would be minimized, particularly if to show them in more detail would suggest failures in government's response. Citizens of those countries may assume that for these TV images to be broadcast, things must have fallen apart so much that government censorship can't function or can't keep up.

In Europe, it's possible that viewers don't realize how much of the mainstream U.S. media is intent on trashing the U.S. in general and anything conceivably related to the Bush administration in particular. They may thus lack the information to perceive and adjust for the media's emphasis on, and in some cases exaggeration of, the death toll, the chaos, the suffering, and its failure to cover the extent to which the relief effort was unprecedented in its scope and perhaps even in its successes.

teenagers and adventure

A young teen of my acquaintance (going on 14) doesn't like the sound of a nearby train. It sounds to her as if the universe was rushing at us to consume us (or something of that sort -- I forget the exact phrasing). I tell her that to me, a train is the sound of heading off to adventure. She exclaims most earnestly: "I don't want any adventures! I just want to sit in my room and draw!"

This young woman is a highly talented cartoonist, and does indeed like to sit and draw (and instant-message her friends, and listen to loud edgy rock music on itunes) for hours on end. She thoroughly enjoys friends and any outings with them. Is she skipping any desirable phase of growing up by brushing aside any desire for adventure, for the big and disruptive and unexpected? (That sounds more like an earthquake -- which I guess is what many adventures feel like at the time....)

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

relying on Toby Keith's sense of humor

I've liked Toby Keith's country music for years. I didn't, at first, register his name as I enjoyed his songs. It wasn't until "How Do You Like Me Now" that I made that connection. The song is a taunting missive to the once-popular girl back home, from a now-popular country singer. (It's "taunting" quite literally -- toward the end, there's an instrumental of the familiar playground "naaah-naaah-na-naaah-naaah" tune.) (Does anyone know whether that tune is whined at kids in other countries? In non-English-speaking ones?) Whether there's any resemblance between Mr. Keith and the song's narrator (if that's the word), I of course couldn't say.

Anyhow, I liked the song while finding the narrator's attitude somewhat annoying. He writes a "good girl's" phone number on the football field with "Call for a good time", and he's miffed that she doesn't fall for him?!?...

So I wrote a response from that girl, or by that point woman, set to the tune of the original. I'm not anywhere near as good at writing lyrics as Toby Keith, but I had fun. Though the girl/woman doesn't show much of a sense of humor. And she probably could have been nicer to the boy in high school....

I've continued to like Toby Keith's songs -- with varying attitudes to the personas adopted therein.

And here, for the brief bloglike version of posterity, all rights reserved, with apologies and thanks to Mr. Keith, is the response I wrote. I tried to post it side by side with the original, but couldn't make the formatting work -- so I'll put a verse of the original followed by a verse of the response.

Original:

I was always the crazy one
I broke into the stadium
and I wrote your number on the 50-yard line
You were always the perfect one
And the valedictorian
So under your number, I wrote "call for a good time"
I only wanted to get your attention
But you overlooked me somehow
Besides, you had too many boyfriends to mention
and I played my guitar too loud
How do you like me now?

Response:

The night we got the first lewd call,
I heard my ma cry down the hall--
she didn't think it was much of a joke.
I told her not to worry much,
it was just some jackass with a grudge --
I guess those words were the truest I've spoke.
Maybe you wanted to get my attention,
but boy, what it showed about you --
You had no clue what a girl could've cared for --
So what if your dream came true?
Why should I like you now?

Original chorus:

How do you like me now,
Now that I'm on my way?
Do you still think I'm crazy,
standing here today?
I couldn't make you love me, but I always dreamed about
Singing on your radio --
How do you like me now?

Reply chorus:

Why should I like you now,
just 'cause you think you're hot?
With everything you are, think of
everything you're not!
Making it to the big time
was never what it's about.
You may win a Grammy, but
why should I like you now?

Original, next verse:

When I took off to Tennessee,
I heard that you made fun of me --
Never imagined I'd make it this far
Then you married into money, girl --
Ain't it a cruel and funny world
He took your dreams and he tore them apart
He never comes home and you're always alone
and your kids hear you crying down the hall
Alarm clock starts ringing, who could that be singing
It's me, baby, with your wake-up call
How do you like me now?

Response, next verse:

I've made mistakes and I have paid,
but it's not just mistakes I've made --
I have my kids, and
I'm glad they're not yours!
If you want someone who's in awe
of every voice on the radio,
I'm sure you'll find some on
all of your tours!
I'm often alone and yes, I do get lonely --
but boy, it would never have worked.
It's not just that you played your guitar too loud, boy --
it's that you were always a jerk!
Why should I like you now?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Why "Yo Mama" Isn't Slander

This morning, I was musing about whether insults of the "your mother [insert obscene activity here]" variety would constitute slander. Slander is a verbal false statement made to someone other than the subject of the statement -- and by definition, "your mother [etc]" statements are made to someone other than the mother. And it would be quite a coincidence, in most cases, if they were anything but false. I wondered whether the fact that such statements were meant to insult, rather than to persuade -- that the content was understood by all concerned to be false -- would keep the statement from being slanderous.

A little homework reminded me that to be slanderous, the statement must be one that would harm the reputation of the subject. If it's not meant to be believed literally, and would not be believed, then no harm, no foul (except possibly the language used), no slander.

Malevolent Design

At breakfast with friends this morning, someone mentioned that Daniel Schorr had asked whether Hurricane Katrina could be considered consistent with the notion of "intelligent design". Someone else mentioned the tsetse fly as incompatible with the idea of a loving designer-creator. However, there's nothing about the intelligent design hypothesis that requires the Designer to be benevolent. How about teaching Malevolent Design as an alternative explanation in biology classes? Will someone, pretty please, propose this to the Kansas Board of Education?

Crying Wolf about Supreme Court

Justice Rehnquist's death at this time will, I think, show the down side of the decision by opponents of the Bush administration to gear up against the Roberts nomination.

Roberts is superbly qualified to be on the U.S. Supreme Court. His records suggests that he will not be reckless in approaching precedent, and will justify any decisions with painstaking and scholarly reference to the Constitution and prior USSC cases. He is less predictably conservative than many other basically-qualified candidates Bush could have picked to replace Justice O'Connor. Yet because Bush picked him, and because he is likely to ally with conservatives in some case somewhen, the opposition has rather visibly strained to find credible reasons to oppose his nomination.

Now that Bush has a chance to replace Rehnquist, he is likely to pick someone more obviously conservative, as Rehnquist was more obviously conservative than O'Connor. Yet for most observers not already members of the choir, the likely objections to the new candidate will sound like somewhat dubious echoes of the less well-founded objections raised to Roberts. Crying wolf is a very short-sighted strategy.

UPDATE: Obviously, I didn't predict what actually happened. Given O'Connor's promise to stay until her replacement was confirmed, it made eminent sense for Bush to move Roberts over to the Chief Justice vacancy. Bush may or may not go for a tough conservative the next time around. If he doesn't pick someone glaringly controversial, the cry-wolf analysis still makes sense to me.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

In trying to find out whether the New Orleans schools had started before Katrina, I did a Google search to find out what county New Orleans was in. I found a site that is gruesomely out of date: all about New Orleans real estate, real estate values, realtors.... Links included "View New Orleans Homes for Sale" and, even worse, "What's My Home Worth?"...

I also found a long, long list of schools in New Orleans. When, if ever, will those schools have students again? How many of the students who should have gone there this fall will return someday?

I finally found the info I was looking for. Schools in New Orleans started on August 18th. An article described the school system as in "turmoil" -- because of deteriorating buildings and budgetary and administrative messes. What's a strong enough word now for what has happened to New Orleans schools?

What made me start searching was a thought that sickened my heart, for the who's-counting time today. I thought of kids starting school not long before the storm hit, some in new schools or in school for the first time, meeting their teachers, and some of them coming home in happy relief that they liked their classrooms, their teacher was nice, their best friend was in the same class....

Damn, damn, damn.

Sinking In, so to speak

My reaction to the horrible situation in New Orleans, Biloxi, etc. is very like my reaction to 9-11 in one respect: it took a while for me to realize how many people were trapped in the disaster. When I first saw one of the towers collapse, I hadn't yet had a chance to find out whether the towers had been evacuated. I hoped they were nearly empty. When I found out otherwise, I had a weird, hollow, disoriented feeling at having seen something whose tragic dimensions I hadn't understood.

I had been reading Glenn Reynolds' urgings that people evacuate, days before Katrina hit. I didn't know how many were left in New Orleans, hadn't known where else the storm would hit. I hadn't comprehended how logistics and lack of resources would make it hard or impossible for many people to leave. I'm only now understanding how many.