Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Contract law and public pensions
So, I am not a lawyerbut I am a taxpayer. A taxpayer in New Jersey, yet, which means I really know from paying taxes.
The conservative and libertarian blogospheres have been sounding the alarm about public-employee pensions for some time, to no noticeable effect. But everyone assumes that the obligations to the pensioners are inviolate.
But it is, I think, basic to contract law that contracts made under false pretencesthrough fraud, extortion, bribery, and suchhave no legal force.
Isn't the implicit quid-pro-quo between legislators and the SEIU reason enough to consider any contract between a legislature and a union null and void? I think one need only show that the public-'service' unions' efforts on behalf of politicians who vote to hand over our tax dollars to union featherbedders constitutes a form of extortion to enable any legislature to abrogate any public-employee contract.
Or am I just dreaming?
posted by vepxistqaosani 12:18 PM
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Another good reason to home school
I am incompetent to judge the legal arguments Rivkin makes, but they all seem reasonable to me. Given the laws we've got, the consequences he outlines seem straightforward enough.
However, I am competent to judge whether or not those consequences are worthwhile.
They are not, and no one who has ever been in or near a public school and has the best interests of children at heart could possibly entertain the notion that they are. It follows, therefore, that Rivkin is either ignorant or hates children.
Everything that Rivkin advocates stems from the assumption that 'mainstreaming' -- that is, putting children of the same age together in the same room to be taught by the same person, no matter what -- is the summum bonum of education practice. In short, that whatever differences might exist between individuals should be summarily erased by our schools.
For a contrary argument, see Harrison Bergeron.
Basically, Rivkin argues that, once a child has been labeled 'disabled', he is permanently immune from all disciplinary and, especially, criminal consequences of his actions. Instead, any infraction of school rules is to be answered with revisions to the student's IEP (individualized education plan), which the Federal IDEA (Individuals With Disabilities Education Act) mandates that schools prepare for all disabled students.
As it happens, I have a little experience with IDEA. My eldest daughter went through the various procedures and received a diagnosis of ADD. Reading through the material, I concluded, and said to the principal of my daughter's school, "It looks like I can make you do absolutely anything I want."
He sighed and agreed.
Now, fortunately for him (and my daughter), I'm a reasonable guy and not given to litigation. However, an educational regime that depends on parental reasonableness in order to function is not going to be particularly stable.
I also have grave misgivings about the validity of ADD -- everyone I know and like has most or all of the 'symptoms', and anyone who did not have any of them would be incredibly dull company. But that's a completely different fight ....
Eventually -- and after my daughter was knocked down during a fight between two (undoubtedly 'disabled') miscreants, who were, of course, not punished in any way whatsoever -- we withdrew her from school and taught her at home. She ended up at a local community college instead of high school, getting an AA at the age her peers were getting their diplomas, got a second AA the next year from a four-year college, and is finishing her BFA this year, at the age of 20.
So it worked out well for us, but we have resources, both financial and intellectual, that the majority of families don't have.
It should be obvious, at least to all who stop to think, that the presence of even a single disruptive child in a classroom is sufficient to prevent all the rest from learning as they ought. The Rivkins of America are attempting to ensure that every American class will have at least one such student, and in this they have largely succeeded.
Perhaps you have noticed that American students are both stupider and more ignorant than their Asian and European peers? There just could be a connection ...
posted by vepxistqaosani 8:27 AM
Saturday, March 07, 2009
Language Help for Hillary
As everyone knows by now, Hillary embarrassed herself the other day with a little mistranslation. But what is one to do, if one is a monoglot?
Consider this a free advertisement for Google Translate.
I spent 2 minutes with Google Translate to figure out how to say 'reset' по-русский. I asked for a translation of "Push the reset button". You can see the result here.
You will see that 'перегрузка' doesn't appear. However, even if you ask for a translation of 'reset' by itself, you don't get that word back. See? On the other hand, if you search for 'overcharge', there it is: here, at noun #7. And if you back-translate перегрузка, you still don't get reset: here.
To make sure this is reasonably idiomatic, I then searched the web for the phrase "нажмите кнопку сброса" (push the reset button, remember?) and got more than a thousand hits: here.
So the word Hillary was groping for was probably "сброс" (spros). In fairness to Hillary (not that she ever bothers), 'сброс' has a bunch of other meanings not obviously related to the idea of resetting. Still, I'm reasonably confident in Google's results. If it's still wrong, it's at least not laughably wrong.
Now, make the usual effort to imagine the media's reaction to Condi Rice making such an error (not that she could, of course, being fluent in Russian).
Do you suppose I have a future as a linguist at the Department of State?
Seriously -- I am far, far from expert in Russian, and I could get a reasonable word pretty quickly; there are bound to be dozens, if not hundreds, of Russian speakers in our State Department (or at least I hope so ...). How is it remotely possible for Hillary's staff to allow her to make such an ass of herself? It only reinforces the world's image of Americans as ignorant monoglots.
As long as we don't all end up completely broke, this is going to be a fun four years!
posted by vepxistqaosani 4:07 PM
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Slashdot has a discussion of a paper by T. Ord et al. which attempts to demonstrate that the probability of a world-ending disaster at the Large Hadron Collider is much greater than previously thought.
They reach this conclusion by observing that 1 in 1,000 physics papers have to be withdrawn because of miscalculations. To be 'fair' to the LHC, they use a lower number: 1 in 10,000.Let's demonstrate how this works:
My calculations show that the probability the sun will rise tomorrow is 1; however, from Ord et al., we learn that there is a probability of 1 in 10,000 that physics calculations are wrong. It thus follows that there is a 1 in 10,000 chance that the sun will not rise tomorrow.I expect to live another 50 years. Simple probability demonstrates that there is an 84% change that the sun will fail to rise during that time.
But wait! In the 5000 years of recorded human history, the probability that the sun failed to rise at least once is asymptotically equal to 1.Everything we think we know is wrong!
posted by vepxistqaosani 12:05 PM
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Learning from Islam
At least, that's the title of his essay in the February 16, 2007 issue of The Chronicle Review. But what can we learn from Islam? Ramadan never does quite tell us.
Oh, he does mention two Muslims from more than half a millennium ago who had an influence on Western thought -- Averroës and Ibn Khaldun -- but nothing more recent than that. And, in truth, how could he? There simply have been no important Muslim thinkers since Ferdinand and Isabella threw the Muslims out of Spain in 1492.
So what are we to learn from Islam? Science? Well, perhaps not -- the only important Muslim scientists of the past 500 years (Salam and Zewail) practiced their craft in the West. Nor is it possible to imagine a scientific breakthrough coming out of Cairo or Islamabad or Jakarta.
Perhaps we are to learn tolerance from the Sunnis and the Shi'ites.
Sorry. Bad joke.
Perhaps we should learn politics from the examples of, say, Libya, Iran, Palestine, and Egypt.
Oh. Worse joke.
Actually, Ramadan seems to think that we need to learn diversity from Islam.
No, that's not a joke. He writes, "... the presence of Muslims in Western societies is of vital interest for those societies themselves. The West today runs a substantial risk of seeing itself as a monolithic whole, as a civilization based exclusively on Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian tradition, to whose specific nature Islam is an outsider. The presence of Muslims makes it imperative to reconsider that selective, erroneous historical construction."
So Ramadan would have us break the monolith and replace our history with a fictional construct, as if the (wholly marginal) Averroës and Ibn Khlduns of the Middle Ages somehow have equal standing with Moses, Plato, Aristotle, Jesus, and Newton. Is this, then, learning?
Well, yes: that is apparently what passes for learning among the Muslims. Ramadan rambles for 3300 words, but can find absolutely nothing -- or nothing factual -- that the West can learn from Islam. Yet he is, by all accounts, the best scholar Islam has to offer.
But isn't that a relief? There is no longer any reason for any of us to give Islam a single moment's further thought. Tariq Ramadan has proven that it is utterly irrelevant to the Western -- which is to say, the modern -- world.
posted by vepxistqaosani 8:56 PM
Thursday, September 08, 2005
Doers vs. RegulatorsNearly everyone is unhappy with the response to Katrina. While Republicans can point to fields of flooded buses in New Orleans and Democrats can point to a slow response by the Bush administration, it seems to me that that's not the most important duality.
The horror stories coming out of New Orleans are not evidence of conflict between Republicans and Democrats or between liberals and conservatives -- much less between blacks and whites -- but between Doers and Regulators.Consider the devastating story, widely blogged, of a thousand highly trained first responders being given sexual harassment training in Atlanta while people were dying a few hundred miles to the southeast. Can there be any doubt that some FEMA bureaucrat -- a Regulator -- realized that there was a regulation on the books that everyone in FEMA had to undergo such training? And can there be any doubt that the firefighters, paramedics, and rescue workers -- all Doers -- would much rather have been saving lives that fulfilling bureaucratic requirements?
Government attracts Regulators, not Doers. It hardly matters whether they're Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, gay or straight, Christian or atheist -- folks who like to do useful and interesting things have limited patience with bureaucracy. That's why, for instance, we lose so many young teachers -- they might love the work of teaching, but they are driven away by the paperwork and the (over-) regulation.And this, finally, is why conservatives have not made the inroads in the culture of government that their electoral dominance would suggest. Anyone who stays in an office -- elected, appointed, or hired -- for more than a few years is guaranteed to be a Regulator: an enemy of common sense and flexibility. The government will never be run on conservative principles so long as the Regulators' butts are stuck in the majority of the seats in government offices.
This is the real lesson of Katrina: Regulation kills. And so long as the Regulators are doing the investigating, reforming, and restructuring of FEMA, regulation will kill again.
posted by vepxistqaosani 8:54 PM
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Well, Somebody Had to Do It
I couldn't find a good Fisking of Brian Reade's fulminations in the Daily Mirror.I had ignored it, but then I got this missive from my brother in California:
This was forwarded to me from someone who titled it "my sentiments exactly." Wow.
I was wondering if you could write a counterpoint version (if you had the time and desire).
Since I couldn't point him to someone else, I did it. So here goes.
GOD HELP AMERICA
Better than 'God help the world', don't you think?
THEY say that in life you get what you deserve. Well, today America has deservedly got a lawless cowboy to lead them further into carnage and isolation and the unreserved contempt of most of the rest of the world.
The contempt of the world is a matter of sublime indifference to us -- for you spineless Eurotrash will still buy our products, lend us money, watch our movies, and eat our fast food. Does it make you feel better to complain as you do so? Then feel free ... we'll still be happy to take your Euros.
This once-great country has pulled up its drawbridge for another four years and stuck a finger up to the billions of us forced to share the same air. And in doing so, it has shown itself to be a fearful, backward-looking and very small nation.
Ah. I had wondered why so many millions risk everything -- and even sometimes lose their lives -- to get here. It's because they're so fearful that they risk so much. Makes perfect sense, doesn't it?
This should have been the day when Americans finally answered their critics by raising their eyes from their own sidewalks and looking outward towards the rest of humanity.
Hmmm. You wouldn't happen to remember either of the two great European wars of the last century, would you? And would you happen to know what country is responsible for the agricultural innovations that daily save hundreds of millions from death by starvation?
And for a few hours early yesterday, when the exit polls predicted a John Kerry victory, it seemed they had.
But then the horrible, inevitable truth hit home. They had somehow managed to re-elect the most devious, blinkered and reckless leader ever put before them. The Yellow Rogue of Texas.
A self-serving, dim-witted, draft-dodging, gung-ho little rich boy, whose idea of courage is to yell: "I feel good," as he unleashes an awesome fury which slaughters 100,000 innocents for no other reason than greed and vanity.
I do so love the 'dim-witted' charge. You see, George Bush put his academic records out for everyone to see and ridicule -- for all that they show that he's in the 95th percentile of intelligence. (I'm at 99.5, myself, for what it's worth -- but I recognize my limitations; I am no politician, nor do I wish to be.) John Kerry (also no politician) did not release his Yale records, for reasons that we can only guess at. But Kerry did display (some of) his military records, including -- inadvertently, no doubt -- some aptitude test results.
Kerry is not as smart as Bush; he scores about five percentage points lower.
See the New York Times (that fabulously pro-Bush organ) for details (but you'll have to pay).
A dangerous chameleon, his charming exterior provides cover for a power-crazed clique of Doctor Strangeloves whose goal is to increase America's grip on the world's economies and natural resources.
I do not recall that those were the goals of the original Dr. Strangelove, but we can easily forgive such minor ignorance of American culture in one who so despises it.
It is doubtless foolish to try to explain economics in so small a space as this, so let me just say that America does not force anyone to sell us anything at the point of a gun. If anyone be truly unhappy with the price we offer for their natural resources, then they are perfectly free to sell them to someone else at a higher price.
And in foolishly backing him, Americans have given the go-ahead for more unilateral pre-emptive strikes, more world instability and most probably another 9/11.
Why else do you think bin Laden was so happy to scare them to the polls, then made no attempt to scupper the outcome?
There's only one headline in town today, folks: "It Was Osama Wot Won It."
And soon he'll expect pay-back. Well, he can't allow Bush to have his folks whoopin' and a-hollerin' without his own getting a share of the fun, can he?
Heck, guys, I hope you're feeling proud today.
Our dear friend Osama famously said 'When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.' Were Kerry to have been elected, then we would have seen an explosion of anti-American terrorism, since al Qaeda would have (correctly) calculated that Kerry would not have the will to take casualties. Cf. the Madrid bombings, the craven response of the Spanish thereto, and the new comity that exists between Spain and the Islamic world.
What's that you say? That no such new comity exists? Why, imagine that!
To the tens of millions who voted for John Kerry, my commiserations.
It is a mark of the noble mind to pity the mentally infirm.
To the overwhelming majority of you who didn't, I simply ask: Have you learnt nothing? Do you despise your own image that much?
Ah, but you see, we don't care about our image. We care about reality. You may control our image now -- just as you despised Ronald Reagan twenty years ago -- but history will out. The politics of appeasement have never and will never produce anything but temporary ceasefires and disastrous wars. Bush, like most Americans, understands that. How Europeans cannot, given their history, is beyond my poor powers to comprehend.
Do you care so little about the world beyond your shores?
Bingo! (That's an Americanism for 'Precisely so, old chap'.)
How could you do this to yourselves?
The real question is, 'How can we do so much for Europe at so high a cost in the face of such hatred?' What would happen to your sclerotic economies were we finally to abandon all our military bases in Europe? Do you not remember the squeals last year when Bush announced that he was paring back our military presence there?
How appalling must one man's record at home and abroad be for you to reject him?
Oh, I should say it should be at least as appalling as Jacques Chirac's or George Galloway's.
Kerry wasn't the best presidential candidate the Democrats have ever fielded (and he did deserve a kicking for that "reporting for doo-dee" moment), but at least he understood the complexity of the world outside America, and domestic disgraces like the 45 million of his fellow citizens without health cover.
No, he didn't. The mark of one who understands complexity is the ability to explain it simply. Bush could; Kerry couldn't. But, as I said above, Bush is smarter, so that shouldn't be a surprise.
And it is remarkably amusing to hear a Britisher denounce American health care. Admire this, for instance: 'Surgeons Close Wounds with Paperclips'.
How is it, do you suppose, that such things happen (and happen regularly) in the utopia of nationalised health care, but not in the dog-eat-dog catastrophe of free-market health care?
He would have done something to make that country fairer and re-connected it with the wider world.
Instead America chose a man without morals or vision. An economic incompetent who inherited a $2billion surplus from Clinton, gave it in tax cuts to the rich and turned the US into the world's largest debtor nation.
Yes, and you will continue lending us money, won't you? Because investors can make far more, far more reliably, lending to the US than, say, Britain. The other economic nonsense we can leave to one side; I think that Bush has done rather well overcoming the Clinton recession (the economy began to fail at the end of Clinton's term) and September 11th (which took many billions [or is that milliards?] out of the American economy).
A man who sneers at the rights of other nations. Who has withdrawn from international treaties on the environment and chemical weapons.
The right to torture and murder the regime's opponents? Why is such a right not worth so much as a sneer?
As for the environment, pointing you to the (socialist) Bjorn Lomborg probably isn't going to help, is it? You don't sound like the kind of person who can read, much less understand, actual data. Suffice it to say that our environment will continue to improve, even as the environment in the third world all you bien-pensants idolize continues to deteriorate.
A man who flattens sovereign states then hands the rebuilding contracts to his own billionaire party backers.
*sigh* There are two companies in the world capable of doing the work necessary in Iraq. The other one is French. Should we really reward our enemies -- and make no mistake, France is an enemy of the United States; their foreign minister has said as much -- with such contracts?
A man who promotes trade protectionism and backs an Israeli government which continually flouts UN resolutions.
Ah, the UN. Knew that would show up eventually. We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the UN and have precious little to show for it.
Perhaps you've heard of the Duefler report? It shows that France and Russia were being systematically bribed by Saddam and that the UN itself has been utterly corrupted by the billions in Oil-for-Food money that it was given charge of. Moreover, the UN's "peacekeeping" and "humanitarian" forces have been consistently found guilty of the vilest sexual abuses of those they are charged to protect -- each story mentioned once in the American press and then forgotten; the UN is more-often-than-not incompetent to save those whom it graces with its attentions (see Rwanda and Sudan); and the UN's High Commission on Refugees bears the majority of the responsibility for the plight of the Palestinians (whose camps did you think they were living in? Israel's? Jordan's?). These facts should, one would think, cause any sensible person to question the doctrine that the rest of the world has the moral authority to judge the United States.
But sensibility doesn't seem to be your strong suit ...
America has chosen a menacingly immature buffoon who likened the pursuit of the 9/11 terrorists to a Wild West, Wanted Dead or Alive man-hunt and, during the Afghanistan war, kept a baseball scorecard in his drawer, notching up hits when news came through of enemy deaths.
A RADICAL Christian fanatic who decided the world was made up of the forces of good and evil, who invented a war on terror, and thus as author of it, believed he had the right to set the rules of engagement.
Which translates to telling his troops to do what the hell they want to the bad guys. As he has at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and countless towns across Iraq.
Oh, dear. That again. The Geneva convention applies only to those who make war by its rules. It does not apply to spies, saboteurs, or terrorists; nor should it. Anyone attacking American troops who is not in the uniform of a regular army is not covered by the convention.
We may, in our large-heartedness, extend such protections, but we are not required to. And may I point out that the inmates of Guantanamo gain weight in captivity? That most of them have never been fed so well in their lives?
You have to feel sorry for the millions of Yanks in the big cities like New York, Washington, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco who voted to kick him out.
Indeed you do.
These are the sophisticated side of the electorate who recognise a gibbon when they see one.
This from the continent that sand-blasts 'Thou shalt not kill' as hate speech?
I have no regrets taking my gibbon over your sophisticates; for gibbons, limited though they be, at least have a refreshingly straight-forward ability to distinguish between those who wish them harm and those who wish them ill. In a dangerous world, gibbons are far more likely to survive than, say, you.
As for the ones who put him in, across the Bible Belt and the South, us outsiders can only feel pity.
Were I a Kerry voter, though, I'd feel deep anger, not only at them returning Bush to power, but for allowing the outside world to lump us all into the same category of moronic muppets.
The self-righteous, gun-totin', military lovin', sister marryin', abortion-hatin', gay-loathin', foreigner-despisin', non-passport ownin' red-necks, who believe God gave America the biggest dick in the world so it could urinate on the rest of us and make their land "free and strong".
And why do _you_ think God gave America the 'biggest dick in the world'? And is this really what passes for reasoned discourse in Europe?
This is getting tiresome ...
You probably won't be surprised to learn of would-be Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn who, on Tuesday, promised to ban abortion and execute any doctors who carried them out.
He also told voters that lesbianism is so rampant in the state's schools that girls were being sent to toilets on their own. Not that any principal could be found to back him up.
These are the people who hijack the word patriot and liken compassion to child-molesting. And they are unknowingly bin Laden's chief recruiting officers.
Al-Qaeda's existence is fuelled by the outpourings of America's Christian right. Bush is its commander-in-chief. And he and bin Laden need each other to survive.
Both need to play Lex Luther to each others' Superman with their own fanatical people. Maybe that's why the mightiest military machine ever assembled has failed to catch the world's most wanted man.
That's 'Lex Luthor'; funny that you should so often use American cultural tropes and equally often get them wrong.
Or is the reason simply that America is incompetent? That behind the bluff they are frightened and clueless, which is why they've stayed with the devil they know.
VISITORS from another planet watching this election would surely not credit the amateurism.
The queues for hours to register a tick; the 17,000 lawyers needed to ensure there was no cheating; the $1.2bn wasted by parties trying to discredit the enemy; the allegations of fraud, intimidation and dirty tricks; the exit polls which were so wildly inaccurate; an Electoral College voting system that makes the Eurovision Song Contest look like a beacon of democracy and efficiency; and the delays and the legal wrangles in announcing the victor.
Yet America would have us believe theirs is the finest democracy in the world. Well, that fine democracy has got the man it deserved. George W Bush.
But is America safer today without Kerry in charge? A man who overnight would have given back to the UN some credibility and authority. Who would have worked out the best way to undo the Iraq mess without fear of losing face.
Yes! And the UN is incapable -- but I said this already -- of displaying either credibility or authority. It never had much, and it has now squandered what little it had on desperate efforts to support anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism.
Instead, the questions facing America today are - how many more thousands of their sons will die as Iraq descends into a new Vietnam? And how many more Vietnams are on the horizon now they have given Bush the mandate to go after Iran, Syria, North Korea or Cuba...?
Now, if you love Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Cuba so much, why are you still living in England under Tony Blair? (And isn't he just as bad as the gibbon? If not, why not?) I'm sure all those countries are desperately eager to have a solon such as yourself grace their parliaments.
Today is a sad day for the world, but it's even sadder for the millions of intelligent Americans embarrassed by a gung-ho leader and backed by a banal electorate, half of whom still believe Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11.
Yanks had the chance to show the world a better way this week, instead they made a thuggish cowboy ride off into the sunset bathed in glory.
And in doing so it brought Armageddon that little bit closer and re-christened their beloved nation The Home Of The Knave and the Land Of The Freak.
God Help America.
It occurs to me that hatred -- and what is this bile but hatred? -- always disguises fear. What are you so afraid of? Is it the spectre of the Islamicisation of Europe? Or merely Europe's inconsequentiality in an Americo-Pacific world? Or, perhaps, you are so used to failure -- social, moral, economic, military, cultural, and spiritual -- that you can no longer abide success anywhere?
posted by vepxistqaosani 10:20 PM