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October 29, 2006

No More Trackbacks

I turned off trackbacks to the blog (actually, all blogs on this computer). Unfortunately, the attempted trackback spams were overwhelming the system. Even though the spam trackbacks were immediately getting junked, never mind published, the system resources necessary to support the process were too high (an artifact of the way SixApart coded MovableType). In fact, there have been times when trackback spams were coming in at such a rate that the other system functions have been negatively impacted. So, until SixApart fixes their system, no more trackbacks.

Posted by jeff at 9:17 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 28, 2006

This Tired Old Man that we Elected King

I was thinking about how the Left thought about Reagan (note the lyric that titles this post) and the way that they think about Bush, as opposed to how the Left thinks of Clinton. It occurs to me that the Left's real problem is that they cannot get their heads around the notion that if they give power to an institution — be it the Congress or the Courts or the office of the President, or what have you — the power stays with the institution even when the Left is no longer in charge of it. Though Clinton had no less or fewer powers than Reagan or Bush, and used them no less ruthlessly (in many ways, more ruthlessly), Clinton is a shining paragon of virtue and open government in the eyes of the Left, while Reagan and Bush are incarnated demons for the least exercise of their powers, even those that were inherent in the office at its inception.

I think the real problem is that the Left is content to live in a world where the government has overwhelming power to compel people to do what the Left wants, but not in one where the government has overwhelming power to compel people to do what the Left doesn't want. The Right has, to a lesser extent, the mirror-image problem. I don't want either side telling me what to do.

Posted by jeff at 10:47 AM | TrackBack

October 25, 2006

How Corporations Lose a Lot of Money

I work in IT, at a company currently taking a lot of financial hits. In such a company, you would think that every effort would be bent towards fixing problems that cost a lot of money. You would be right only at the smallest level, closest to the ground. Above that, there are counterveiling priorities that always win out. Here are three examples:

1. When a problem is occurring in a project, and you are responsible for getting it fixed, and you don't know what it is exactly, what do you do? Well, if you are a director, you might choose to look into the problem to see what is going on, and then react. You might also fly a dozen people half way (OK, 35% of the way) around the world on a moment's notice to make sure that you have all the right people in place to fix whatever the problem might be.

Now, if the problem were with a production process, such that your company is losing money in six figures or more every day, the "panic" option is not necessarily a bad one: it can easily pay for itself. But when the problem does not incur such a cost, even in the worst case, it is a lot cheaper to find out the nature of the problem, then send the right one or two people to fix it.

But the counterveiling priority in this case is appearing to your boss (a company executive) as if you are doing everything possible to fix the problem. The appearance of action takes precedence over wise use of resources, particularly money and time.

2. If you have a problem with your software development process, such that most of your projects fail, you can look at this a few ways. The first is that you can realize that it is a process problem, and fix the process. The second is that you can realize that it is a process problem, and actually adhere to the process. The third is that you can realize that it is a process problem, but ignore the process. The fourth is that you can fail to realize that it is a process problem, and just assume that your project teams are stupid at best.

I was in a meeting yesterday where we reviewed why we had gotten into a bad state with a project. The project had delivered code, but was having all kinds of performance and functional problems, and the user community is unhappy. The documentation for the project is so bad that at this point, the architects are throwing up their arms and saying they cannot even review the documentation, because it embeds all kinds of objects from tools they do not have, as well as largely consisting of links to other documents, sometimes documents that don't exist or are not viewable for some reason. (Please note: the documentation in question is the documentation that, if you follow the company's stated process for development, is used by the programmers to code the application.) All along, for over a year, the architects assigned to review the project had been throwing up red flags about performance, functionality, and documentation inadequacy.

At the meeting, it was agreed that the problem was that the project manager kept approving deliverables over the objections of the architects on the grounds that it was necessary to meet schedule deadlines. This led to shortcutting the processes that would have found (indeed, did find) and prevented the problems, delivering a higher-quality application to the users. Now, what to do about it? There are at least two minor enhancements to the application the project delivered to fix a bunch of problems and to prepare for the next major version, and the first of those is expected to start coding any day now, with delivery in November. The next major version is also supposed to start coding any day now, with delivery in March or so.

Since the next major version is basing its coding documents on the flawed documents of the prior version, they are having all kinds of issues. These range from simply having to ignore the documentation and read the code to figure out what's going on, to replacing code wholesale because they don't realize it's there, to being unable to deliver a reviewable coding document. So again, what to do?

Well, unfortunately, the schedule pressure is such that it appears the project is going to be given the go-ahead to code without complete and workable coding documentation. Here, the pressure of time leads to taking shortcuts, which leads to problems, which increases the time pressure because the dates did not have any slack in them for fixing problems. But no one is willing to go to the business and say that we're going to slip dates, because that would look bad. The pressure to meet arbitrary deadlines counterveils the pressure to cut costs, and overwhelms it. Everyone who matters will see the missed deadline now; no one who cares about costs will really notice the long-term costs, since they will be incurred in the future. Looking good to your customer is more important, it seems, than doing a good job for your customer and actually providing for the customer's needs.

3. Let's say you are the CIO, and you have a long-term strategic vision, developed with millions of dollars of consulting time, that you want to use to change the way your company provides itself with IT services. Now, you know as the CIO that such efforts at the top are meaningless: it's only when they are applied throughout the hierarchy that they are felt. To make that happen, there are many, many necessary steps, none of them sufficient by themselves. These include the actual creation of the vision, communication of the vision to all levels, aligning the organization around the vision and measuring to detect change (or lack of change) towards compliance with that vision.

Generally, for this to work, the highest levels under you have to understand and buy into the vision, and their incentives have to be arranged so that they will push the vision to their teams, who will do that downwards and so on until everyone is moving in the same direction. With a large company, this takes notable amounts of time.

Now, the problem with strategic visions of this nature is that they are not self-enforcing. Buzzwords don't help much when you are facing the kind of day-to-day decisions that come up at lower levels of the hierarchy. Counterveiling pressures of schedule and available tools make any strategy difficult to implement in practice. Unless the incentives all point towards the strategy, the cumulative effect of the friction at the ground level overwhelms the higher ideals. How can a project manager, for example, be expected to implement a vision that "integrate[s] emerging technologies" with standardized non-functional requirements to "develop a culture that leans forward", when he is being measured on whether or not next week's release schedule is met? Particularly when non-functional requirements aren't standardized and he has no power to standardize them.

So instead, what ends up happening is that hundreds of architects from around the world are flown in for a week-long conference where the vision is communicated, with the help of numerous artists, novelists and other such aids to capturing the output of the conference in an appealing and very presentation-worthy way, packaged for display to the (always-fawning) technical press. This has virtually no effect on the day-to-day work, because it doesn't address it. The higher-level managers and directors who should be translating this into terms that do make day-to-day sense are being measured on other things, and so that is what they are responding to.

The pressure to look good to the press, and thus to your peers, though, is incredibly strong. Stronger by far, in fact, than the pressure to do the dirty work of rooting out the flaws in execution of your last strategy, and stronger than the pressure to reorganize to execute the new strategy.

In all three cases, which are really just representative of the hundreds of cases that come up over a given year in any large organization, the pressure to look good in some way overwhelms the pressure to do good work and deliver good results. Failing spectacularly is more likely to get you promoted than succeeding quietly and consistently. And it costs money by the bucket loads. On the other hand, it's very hard to figure out where the money is going, so looking good has a payoff, and being fiscally sound doesn't.

It's just that the stockholders aren't well served by that approach.

Posted by jeff at 5:46 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 23, 2006

Overheard at Our House, Without Context

"I wouldn't give a mammoth a perm."

"There's a fine line between willing and unconscious."
"There's a fine line between unconscious and Irish."

There were more in the last few days that, sans context, were just as funny, but I've slept since then.

UPDATE: And just in the last ten minutes: "Aidan, your head is downstairs in the game closet."

UPDATE: Yet another one: "You brought Weird Al into it! Like Karl Rove wasn't enough!"

Posted by jeff at 6:12 PM | TrackBack

October 20, 2006

The Proper End of Human Consciousness

I am always suspicious of broad categorizations of human ideology as pathology or illness. Here I make an exception; this is fine, fine work on what it means to be human. (hat tip: Wretchard)

Posted by jeff at 11:04 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Then What

Fran Porretto has an interesting post on the decreasing supply of people supporting our war effort as a good policy. There is a question the war skeptics, and moreso the outright anti-war or (more usual) anti-Republican-as-President-and-whatever-he-might-do, have failed to answer: if we fail in Iraq, whether outright or by declaring victory and leaving the job unfinished, then what?

We cannot reasonably hope for the enemy to go (or stay) home; were that true, the 9/11 raids would not have happened. Nor can we sustain a policy of occupying the oil fields for the benefit of Western nations and fighting off all comers, because we are morally opposed to robbery in that sense (odd, given the income tax, but there it is). Nor can we sustain a policy of simply bombing to destruction any nation that sufficiently antagonizes us, as witness the situation in N. Korea in 1994 and in Iran today. Nor could we sustain a policy of sequestration, as Fran has advocated for in the past. Nor could we depend on others, either moderate Muslims or other first-world allies, to go into the Middle East and fight the jihadis on any terms.

Even ignoring the cascading failures that would inevitably follow in Afghanistan, Pakistan and around Israel; even ignoring the damage to our reputation which confirming the Vietnam precedent would do, after decades of trying to salvage our reputation, and the further threats, provocations and attacks that would invite; even ignoring how our military's morale would collapse — even ignoring all of this, what could we do to defend ourselves?

If we fail in Iraq with our current policies, which is certainly possible, and we can not change the situation by occupying the oil fields, or by killing the enemy and a lot of civilians from afar, then what? We could certainly surrender, which is exactly what we would we be doing if we cocoon ourselves and depend on defense. But the most likely course is that we will withdraw into a cocoon, periodically striking out ineffectually, as we tear ourselves apart internally for a while.

Meanwhile, the next real crisis will come not with a falling tower, but with fallout; not with war, but with genocide. I have yet to hear anyone who suggests leaving Iraq to its fate come up with any strategy to prevent this.

Posted by jeff at 3:51 PM | TrackBack

October 19, 2006

Pushing a Rope

Perhaps the most annoying characteristic of the IT industry is how relentlessly focused on the future the industry is. In some ways, this is good: we are constantly looking for ways to make life easier and to do things faster, better and cheaper. But there is a limit to our headlong rush: we are very often leaving our businesses behind.

The reality is, IT is not — or should not be — leading an organization unless that organization's core business is IT. IT organizations should be helping the business to advance by finding solutions to the business' problems. But this relentless future focus often puts us out in front, finding ways to incorporate emerging technologies into problems more to find a way to use the emerging technologies than because the business needs it. If you are asking, for example, how blogs can help your business, you are asking the wrong question. There are many questions to which blogs can be all or part of an answer (such as, how can I enable managers of plants on different continents to easily communicate their problems and collaborate to find solutions?), but blogs, and technologies in general, should never be the question.

We all seem to complain about managers who read a magazine article or see a vendor presentation, and then want to immediately deploy a technology into their organization without understanding it. In fact, Scott Adams has made himself a millionaire lampooning that very problem. Yet it seems just as prevalent that it is the IT people who are pushing technology on managers. And that is not unlike pushing a rope: it's very frustrating, and doesn't get you nearly as far as if the person on the other end of the rope is pulling.

Me? I'd be happier if more vendors could implement 10 year old technology well. One of my favorite ways of figuring out if I'm using good processes is to ask whether I would buy product X (where X is whatever my client produces) if it were made that way. If I were working for a financial services firm, for example, I would ask if their financial services would be better or worse using processes of the maturity and with similar outcomes to the way I make IT systems. If the answer is worse, or if I would not buy it knowing their processes, then it means I'm doing the wrong thing.

I wish more people would ask, and honestly answer, that question. And then do something about it. Instead, I spent a good chunk of my day today getting tasked with incorporating emerging technologies into our standard non-functional requirements for vendors. Heck, like I said, I'd be happy if they could do a better job with old technologies, and we'd get much more bang for the buck putting our money there.

Oh, well.

Posted by jeff at 7:40 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 18, 2006

Which Way the Rafts are Going

A few years ago, I heard a report on a study that found that some astonishingly high proportion of Americans did not wash their hands after using the bathroom. The study was done by observing people in public restrooms. But it turns out that the definition of "wash their hands" meant at least 15 seconds of "vigorous scrubbing" with soap. So someone who, say, washed their hands but didn't vigorously scrub them, was not counted as having washed their hands at all.

When people with an agenda want to put it across, they have to find a way that makes the idea — no matter how ludicrous or stupid; no matter how draconian or pointless (or both!) their proposed remedies — sound reasonable and appealing. This is true for everything from selling soap to selling political ideology. It used to be, in a more religious age, that the agenda-driven person would use religious arguments to push their agendas. (Indeed, that is exactly the way that the jihadis sell their nihilist arguments today in Muslim cultures.) Today, in the developed world, the equivalent of religion is "science."

I put "science" in quotes for a simple reason: very few people, even many scientists, do not understand science. Take, for example, the fact that Pluto exists. Well, for me, it's not a fact, it is a belief. I believe that the people who have looked through their telescopes and seen Pluto, and who have reported on it, are not lying en masse, particularly when combined with the people who have reported their measurements of the motions of the planets as observed and as predicted by the theory of gravity and Kepler's theories of orbital motion. I myself, though, have never seen Pluto, nor do I know enough at present to duplicate the measurements of planetary motion for myself. Similarly, I have only faith to go on when I read of the distance of various stars from the Sun and their size and heat, or planets around those distant stars, or that hydrogen and oxygen bond to form water. I have enough experience with the very basic science that led to those conclusions that I can trust them, but I cannot duplicate the evidence leading to those conclusions with what I know today and what I have today. I have faith that I could do so with time, equipment, and the will to do so.

Indeed, the very basis of science is an act of faith: faith that the natural laws we observe do not vary with time or place; faith that natural explanations exist for observed natural phenomena; faith that logic and reason can discover those explanations. Yet to most people, faith is anathema, to the extent that &mash; well, see the Richard Dawkins book I linked. In an interview on NPR recently, he came across as so lacking in humility — where humility seems to me the very basis of good science — so certain about his beliefs on how evolution leaves no room for gods in the Universe (and I think, really, that he only meant the Christian conception of God, given how he was talking), that I suspect he has somehow forgotten that science is inherently questionable if it is worth anything at all. If science moves beyond question, as some global warming alarmists are trying to do, it is no longer science but faith — and not faith backed by reasoning and knowing the basics, but faith backed by "in an elegant world, in a world I'd like to live in, this would be true." That is certainly not science, whatever you might call it.

Even to those to whom faith is not anathema, most in the developed world still put huge amounts of trust in science. I do. You probably do. Science, and good engineering based on good science (the two are often confused, for some reason), has produced good results. Modern medicine, to pick just one area, is heavily dependent upon chemistry, double-blind studies, and statistical projection. But as we have all seen, bad studies and flawed statistical analysis, or badly-reported studies or analysis, can lead to all kinds of snake oil, from many of the dietary supplements to the recent Lancet study on "excess deaths" in Iraq since the invasion.

The Lancet study is the second in an apparent series designed and timed to influence US elections. But it is deeply flawed in so many and such obvious ways that its amazing that anyone takes it seriously. Well, ok, it's not amazing that those whose primary goal is to make the Iraq invasion seem a monstrous act take it seriously. But to take such obvious malarky seriously brings one's own credibility into immediate and serious question. Even Iraq Body Count, who are rabidly against the Iraq war and often inflate their own body counts by double counting and by conflating innocents with enemies, couldn't stomach the Lancet's study.

There is really a simple test for this kind of thing, though, an easy way to see if people are using "science" to lie to you. It's the test proposed by Bill Whittle: which way are the rafts headed? There is a saying that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, which is why it took so long for black holes to be accepted by most scientists: it took a long time for their evidence to be sufficient to match their claim. In the case of the Lancet study, can anyone doubt that, were their conclusions true, the media would be constantly harping on the piles of bodies around Iraq? Given the vicious and unrelenting attacks on the President over 60 or 100 civilian deaths over a weekend, does anyone doubt that such a large body count as the Lancet claims — even at their low-end figure — would be front page news every single day? For that matter, if those body counts are true, does anyone seriously believe that US soldiers would not be screaming about it?

The evidence of our eyes and ears, as well as the tiniest shred of reason and logic, tells us that the rafts aren't heading to Cuba, and there have not been well over half a million Iraqis killed above and beyond the natural Iraqi death rate. To believe otherwise brands one as wilfully blind on the level of young Earth creationists. If that's what your faith requires, of course, that's your own business. Just don't be surprised when the only people who take you seriously are as nutty as you are.

Posted by jeff at 5:20 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 13, 2006

Border "Security" : Arriba!

You simply have to watch this political stunt, where a congressional candidate "snuck" across the border. On an elephant. Led by a mariachi band. No, I'm not kidding.

Thanks, Glenn, for the laugh.

Posted by jeff at 9:42 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 12, 2006

Snow Day

At lunch time, I had to run to another office. It was 34 degrees Fahrenheit, and I drove through two snow storms. Michigan ain't gonna be nothin' like Texas this Winter, that's for sure.

Update: Steph got a picture.

Posted by jeff at 4:21 PM | TrackBack

October 10, 2006

Geeky Fun

Google has a (beta) tool for searching code. Anyone who knows programmers knows that they are a little off in the best of times, and thus their comments to explain their code are sometimes, um, colorful. Here's my favorite so far.

I could waste hours with this tool.

Posted by jeff at 11:22 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Funny and Tasteless

Here is a political commercial you won't be seeing on TV this campaign season. And what a shame, since it mercilessly mocks Madeleine Albright. The only thing that could make it more perfect was if it managed to eviscerate Henry Kissinger.

(hat tip: Instapundit)

Posted by jeff at 9:30 PM | TrackBack

October 9, 2006

Supporting Somebody's — Anybody's — Troops

So, on the Democrats' web site, they have a whole bit about how they "support the troops" — and the picture is of a Canadian soldier.

Posted by jeff at 4:53 PM | TrackBack

Crossing the Rubicon

In detonating a nuclear weapon in an underground test, North Korea has provided a clarifying event. While there seems to be a lot of discussion about who is to blame (focusing on Clinton v Bush or N. Korea v China v S. Korea v Japan), the reality is that it does not matter, in strategic terms, how North Korea came to this point, only that it has. While there is still some small room for denial (sure, they have nuclear weapons, but can they deliver them?), the nations of northeastern Asia must now add the certainty of North Korean nuclear weapons to their strategic calculations.

While this situation is useful for China if everything rolls their way, Japan and South Korea in particular (and to a lesser extent Taiwan and Russia) have to reconsider their interests rather dramatically. The North Korean regime bases its legitimacy on a religious worship of military force. (In a very real way for the North Korean leadership, this test is an act of worship, the programs developed only through starving the people are an act of sacrifice to their demonic and insane gods.) But the North Korean state is teetering on the brink of collapse, brought about largely by the famines induced by the leadership's constant brinksmanship and failure to allow any but the most pure Communist theory into such practical areas as agriculture and transportation.

Would the North Koreans, in the act of their eventual collapse strike out at South Korea and Japan, even at China? Does massive food aid, per South Korea and Japan for the last decade, stave off the crisis or merely prolong it? Does giving food aid make the North Korean military more capable, or make the population less likely to revolt in desperation, or both, or neither? What does North Korea plan on doing? What would they do if their plans were frustrated? And in all cases, the neighboring countries must be asking themselves two questions: how does this affect me, and what can I do to make the situation fall more in my favor.

My guess is that the "sunshine policy" is now dead letter; neither Japan nor South Korea can afford to give aid to North Korea hoping either to buy favor or to buy time: the favor is clearly not forthcoming and the time has clearly passed. China will likely not halt food and fuel shipments to North Korea, even though that is the one move that anyone other than the North Koreans could take that would be most likely to bring about an end to the North Korean nuclear and missile programs.

I would also assume that Japan will re-militarize. At least to the extent of building up their military, and particularly their air force and anti-missile systems (which they are developing in cooperation with the US). Japan might very well develop nuclear weapons themselves, or purchase them from the US or France (we'd probably not sell, but the French probably would). If Japan were to go down this route, they could have sophisticated and deliverable nuclear weapons within a very short time. They have the technical expertise, the sources of fuel and the industrial base necessary. I suppose we'll know in two years or less.

South Korea, in a similar position to Japan but complicated by land borders, might well be too paralyzed by fear of North Korean collapse to do anything at all productive. They would likely cut off aid to the North (see above), but would be far less likely to develop nuclear weapons. However, if China were to provide North Korea with sufficient political cover, and especially if the US were to withdraw from the Korean peninsula, South Korea might feel the need for nuclear weapons of its own. In that event, North Korea is much like Japan: it would have working, deliverable nuclear weapons within two to three years.

Taiwan is not directly threatened by North Korea's move. However, if China succeeds in brandishing North Korea as a deniable threat to keep others from interfering in the region, Taiwan could see this as prelude to a Chinese attack on Taiwan. Whether Taiwan's internal resistance (provided by the former mainland Chinese who fled to Taiwan in 1948) to military procurement and self-defense would weaken is an open question. Whether Taiwan would acquire nuclear weapons is even more doubtful. It is likely that Taiwan's policies would not change over this, unless China becomes a much more looming threat than they are today.

For the US, the worst thing we could do would be to withdraw our troops from South Korea. While I generally favor doing so (the South Koreans can defend themselves), such a move at this point would encourage those seeking nuclear weapons (particularly Iran) as well as the North Koreans themselves, to think that the US will backdown from even a miniscule nuclear threat. That would result in much worse consequences down the line, because any minor crisis between the US and a nuclear or nuclear-seeking state would immediately be escalated into a serious risk of nuclear war. Just because it's the worst thing we could do does not mean that we won't do it. Sometimes we are that dumb.

The second worst thing that we could do would be to do more than make pro forma diplomatic noise. We don't want to hand North Korea a propaganda victory, and Dave's advice (linked above) to not panic is good advice. We should continue the policy of politically minimizing North Korea, making sure that no one is unaware of North Korea's fundamentally-evil regime, but not giving North Korea the legitimacy it seeks. In other words, we would be making a mistake if we change anything about our negotiations policy based on this; that would be escalating North Korea's position and stature, which largely derives from how much they get other nations to bend to their will. And even if their will is simply to get us talking again so that they can walk out on us again, we buy their regime life simply by taking them too seriously in the international arena.

I do think that we should pressure China to crack down on North Korea, and that we should (as part of that and independent of that) encourage Japan at least to obtain a nuclear counterweight to North Korea and China. It also seems to me to be a good idea to issue a declaration that any nuclear or radiological explosion in the United States, Europe, Japan, or the territory of any other US ally would be met with an immediate and overwhelming nuclear attack on North Korea, on the assumption that North Korea either undertook the attack or supplied the weapons, and that this policy will be extended to any other nations (such as Iran) that develop nuclear weapons and support terrorism. Pakistan can be left out of that list, or added in, as circumstances require it. (We'd be wiser to leave Pakistan off the list, I think, at least while Musharraf is in power.) The idea there is to replace NPT's failed attempt with a more brutal (but more likely workable) form of pressure.

Speaking of which, the NPT is dead and we should stop pretending it is alive. We should announce that given the obvious failure of the NPT, we will not rely on its mechanisms alone or even primarily to ensure that states like Iran remain non-nuclear. Rather, we will use all of the instruments of our power to that end, and will ignore the NPT mechanisms where they are not producing concrete results in meaningful time. Yes, this means that we should explicitly make clear that we would use force if necessary, without regards to the UN's positions or anyone's negotiations, to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Posted by jeff at 10:00 AM | TrackBack

October 6, 2006

Classy, but Also Stupid

Radio host Mike Gallagher gave airtime the the Westboro Baptist Church assholes, in exchange for them not protesting at the funerals of the Amish girls slain earlier in the week at their school. While I appreciate Mike Gallagher's efforts to bring some comfort — or at least, to prevent the addition of insult to injury — to the girls' parents, there is the unfortunate side effect that the Westboro assholes are now confirmed in their faith that being assholes not only generates publicity, it can get them a relatively prominent (and monetarily quite valuable) platform to spew their hatred, bigotry and poison ideology. So they are likely to escalate, rather than de-escalate, their unacceptable behavior in the wake of this act by Mr. Gallagher. It's an old lesson: what you subsidize, you get more of.

On the other hand, how much of an investigation would there be if, say, a couple of hundred people were to show up at the funeral of an Amish girl or a soldier slain in Iraq or what have you, and beat the Westboro assholes to a pulp? (Ideally, leaving them alive: the idea is to teach them a lesson in what is and is not tolerated by a civil community which hopes to remain civil, which they desperately need to learn.) A few such examples might actually convince them to take their bigotry and hatred back into their walled compound, and drink their own kool-aid, rather than spreading their filth in public.

Actually, there's a larger point here, under the banner of "tolerating the intolerant." A civil society can only remain so as long as its norms of civility are maintained. Once those norms are thrown aside, and incivility becomes acceptable, incivility eventually becomes common, and civility uncommon.

Posted by jeff at 12:17 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

October 5, 2006

An Impossible Standard

So Rep Foley appears, it turns out, to have sent sexually suggestive IM's not to a minor, nor to a person of the age of consent, but to an 18 year old. Foley is still a big bucket of sleaze, of course, for using his position of power in an attempt to pressure young people into having sex with him against their better judgements. And it is a good thing that he resigned. But it does make me wonder: can more than ten people in the House and Senate survive a standard that high? Do we have that many elected representatives who do not use their positions of power for gaining more power, more money, or more personal perquisites — more often than not using public money and property to do so? Have we so easily forgotten Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Cynthia McKinney, Gerry Studds (all Democrats) or for that matter the various and sundry Republicans who have behaved just as badly? Can any person who seeks the power and prestige of elected office in the US stand up under such a standard of review?

I say we apply that standard, broadly and immediately. Because the truth is, a quick look at our laws and the behavior of our elected representatives indicates that the number of representatives who deserve to remain in office is statistically indistinct from zero. Of course, instead, we keep electing these slimeballs, as Massachusetts seems to be ready to do.

(Prediction, though: this standard can only, in a politically realistic sense, be applied to Republicans. Anyone attempting to smear a closeted (but widely known) gay Democrat acting sleazy with the Congressional pages would have their character assassinated and reputation ruined. Being called a homophobe would be the mildest approbation applied, and newspapers would not be filled with inaccurate and damning details of the conduct, but inaccurate and exculpatory denials of the conduct. The elected Republicans are sleaze with a sense of shame. The elected Democrats are sleaze with no sense of shame.)

Posted by jeff at 5:38 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 4, 2006

Deep in the Art of Texas

I haven't written a "why we homeschool" post in a while, but it is clearly time.

So an art teacher in Frisco, TX (hello, Nemo) took her class to the DMA, a fine museum in downtown Dallas, having followed appropriate procedures (including taking the same route through the museum before taking her class, having other parents and teachers along, getting approval from the principal and getting signed permission slips from the parents). After the tour, the teacher was suspended, on a variety of "causes," by the principal, apparently after a parent's complaint that their child had seen a nude sculpture.

Now, I know enough of Texas to believe that a parent might complain about such a thing, regardless of how gobsmackingly obvious that probability was even before the parent signed the permission slip. And I know enough of how schools work to believe that a principal, faced with a complaint from a parent (particularly if the parent was influential in the community) would both suspend the teacher, and make up all kinds of bogus reasons for doing so. And I know enough of lawyers to believe that the school district's lawyers would compound the problem with "even if we didn't suspend her for the reasons we gave, here are all of the other valid reasons she should have been suspended". And I know enough of newspapers to realize that they are only telling the teacher's side of the story here, and there may well be more to it than that. (Remember, the teacher has a lawyer, too.)

I am struck by this part of Education Wonk's commentary:

In a case that is all-too-familiar for many of us who work in public education, "accountability" seems to be a concept that is readily applied to the individual who actually works in the classroom while those who have oversight (and make the final decisions) are exempted altogether from the consequences of their actions. (or lack thereof)

It seems that classroom teaching is destined to become little more than a McJob, where initiative, dedication to students, and hard work aren't rewarded, but, to the contrary, are often punished by a system that offers little or no chance for advancement based upon merit while those who are in authority (and do make the decisions) often obtain their positions sinecures through those Evil Twins who've plagued public education for decades: Nepotism and Cronyism.

Is it little wonder, then, why I can no longer recommend public school teaching as a career choice for our nation's brightest young people?

I would be more impressed if such problems were enough to have Education Wonk recommending to parents that sending their children to public schools, apparently so heavily infested with circumstances that almost guarantee the school's failure in its primary stated mission (providing a quality education to children), is a bad idea, and they should consider other alternatives.

Posted by jeff at 5:41 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 3, 2006

Bye Bye to a Bad Law

Congratulations to Southwest Airlines and the people of Dallas and Fort Worth. With the Wright Amendment dead, the DFW area will finally have two full-service major airports, and thus better service at lower prices for people flying there. If Ft. Worth decides to refurbish Meacham Field, there can be three major airports in the DFW area. Given the amount of air traffic needed to support that many passengers, three fields (DFW as the major one, with smaller airlines and shorter hop flights at the other two) makes a huge amount of sense. The only losers are American Airlines (which effectively has a controlling vote in what happens and D/FW International), and D/FW International's airport board. For everyone else, this is a huge improvement.

For those not aware, the Wright Amendment was instituted when D/FW International was built, to ensure that it would be viable. That is, the Wright Amendment was effectively the granting of a monopoly by the Federal government. Like most monopolies, the effect has been largely negative. D/FW was built because the two existing airports could not handle expected air traffic increases in the Dallas and Fort Worth municipal airports. Unfortunately, D/FW alone could not handle that traffic, either, by the middle of the 1990s. The lack of competition resulted in D/FW being one of the most expensive airports in the country to fly into or out of.

Posted by jeff at 7:57 PM | TrackBack

October 2, 2006

I Want One

The Mohammed bobblehead. Someone, anyone, get me one of these for a present, OK? I want to hang it on my heavily-Pagan Christmas tree.

Posted by jeff at 11:14 PM | TrackBack