Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Preparing for life in the twenty-first century. Uh, and a half.

Democrats endorse public school elections, teacher recalls?—Wednesday, July 20th, 2016
Evaluate teachers like legislators

I recently saw an odd meme on Facebook that both illustrates the poor state of education among the left today, and suggests an interesting idea for improving public schools that does not involve vouchers. A group called “Winning Democrats” started a meme calling for treating legislators and teachers the same when it comes to measuring job performance.

Making teachers elected and recallable is an interesting idea.

Now, the group didn’t seem to realize that’s what they’re calling for. Their meme suggested devising a method for tying legislative pay to job performance:

Legislators want teachers to be paid according to their effectiveness as evaluated by student test scores.

How about paying legislators according to their job effectiveness, as evaluated by job creation and economic growth?

They don’t seem to realize that such a method already exists for legislators: elections and recalls.

Their ignorance is probably a reflection on the poor state of Civics instruction in the government-run schools they attended. But the idea is worth thinking about. Attempting to measure teacher performance is an understandable attempt to mimic a free market; but government always fails when it tries to fake a free market. Any rules put in place to pretend to be a free market end up being gamed by those taking part in the system, usually the administrators on both ends of the system. We saw this in California’s power exchanges, we see it today in the federal insurance exchanges, and we see it in all of the corruption attendant in trying to hold government schools accountable for the education they provide.

In a sane school system, parents of children who were not being served well by one school would simply take their children to another school. Teachers who failed to serve students well would be out of a job, or relegated to less remunerative non-teaching roles; any school that retained poor teachers would go out of business. This, of course, already happens in private schools, but because most people can’t afford to pay twice for their children’s education most parents cannot use private schools.

For most parents, there is only one option for school just as there is only one option for government: the government-run school that their tax dollars pay for.

Divisive double standards—Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

It’s easy to see that someone taking part in a left-approved movement has committed a horrendous crime. The media is filled with journalists and politicians calling for togetherness and reason.

This would be fine if it weren’t so hypocritical. Black Lives Matter spokespeople are absolutely right to say that we shouldn’t judge a group based on the actions of one or two members. But their rhetoric since the start has been about judging a group based on the actions of one or two members. Sometimes, even, judging a group based on the non-actions of non-members.

If they really wanted togetherness, reason, and non-judgmentalism, they’d switch their slogan to all lives matter. But they can’t, because they were founded on the principle that brown lives don’t matter and that blue lives don’t matter. Black Lives Matter was formed to protest self-defense by a Hispanic against a black man who, it came out in the trial, had told his girlfriend he was going to assault the Hispanic—who was returning to his vehicle. Medical analysis—and police photos from the night of the assault—corroborated the girlfriend’s testimony. Forgoing self-defense would have meant death for the brown man.

After its founding, Black Lives Matter gained prominence by protesting self-defense by a police officer against a criminal who tried to take the officer’s gun1and was now attacking again. Forensic experts—both for the police and for the dead man’s family—as well as the Obama Justice Department corroborated this, and rejected the myth of hands-up don’t shoot. Forgoing self-defense would have meant death for the officer.

Using the slogan “black lives matter” in response to these incidents is the same as saying that “brown lives don’t matter” and “blue lives don’t matter”.

The response from Black Lives Matter was that the attackers had become “symbols” of victimhood, and that the facts were not relevant because of that. But symbolic or not, it doesn’t change the fact that they still believe Zimmerman should have let Trayvon Martin beat him to death, and that Officer Wilson should have let Michael Brown take his service weapon.

BLM’s response is the left’s reaction to horrendous crimes writ small. When a crime is committed on behalf of the left or a left-approved group, downplay the perpetrator and call for togetherness. When a crime is committed that isn’t clearly on behalf of the left, ascribe it to conservatives and engage in shrill, unreasoning partisanship.

Broken but Unbowed—Tuesday, July 12th, 2016
Shaking Hands with Governor Abbott

Shaking hands with the Governor at our local Barnes & Noble.

This is a short and clearly heartfelt book. The first half is a sometimes touching, sometimes humorous account of his life from the freak accident that paralyzed him to winning the governorship of Texas. This part of the book is less about him than it is about his family, his friends, and his colleagues, who provided him the help and inspiration he needed to move forward.

He talks about how his priorities changed from the moment of the accident. In the very beginning of the book, lying under the tree, he began to realize, through the pain, that he could not move his legs or feet.

This, I realized, must be paralysis. My injury could be really bad.

… I remembered watching a movie with my wife a year earlier about a man who had been paralyzed by an accident. At the time, I told my wife that if that ever happened to me, just put me to death.

Faced with the actuality, however, he chose to focus not on what he couldn’t do, but on what he could.

The second half of the book is a heartfelt appeal for the slate of constitutional amendments he’s proposed, Restoring the Rule of Law, with States Leading the Way. Whether you agree with them or not, it’s going to be hard to argue that he doesn’t have a deep respect for the constitution and what it stands for after reading these chapters.

He believes that these amendments must come from outside the federal government because “It’s simply the nature of the system to perpetuate the system.”

He talks heavily about how federal solutions to economic problems, because of regulatory capture, often exacerbate the very problem they were meant to solve. For example,

Dodd-Frank was intended to prevent banks from being too big to fail, and, hence, avoid the necessity of government bailouts. Instead, the high cost and heavy hand by which the regulations are imposed are leading to the opposite result: eliminating banks that are too small to succeed [under the greater regulatory burden].

Dodd-Frank has had the very predictable effect of increasing regulatory costs. Because of this, it privileges larger banks over smaller banks. Larger banks have more lawyers and bureaucrats to manage greater regulatory costs.

This is, according to Abbott, exactly to be expected. It’s simply the nature of the system to perpetuate the system.

The slate of amendments Abbott proposes are designed specifically to throw a wrench into the system, to make it work better for smaller, local businesses than for larger, national and multinational ones. By moving the levers of power closer to the people, the people can more easily access them.

It makes a lot of sense.

Climate priests cry wolf one more time?—Wednesday, July 6th, 2016
Spinner dolphin jumping

There’s a wolf in the water! Run! (photo by Magnus Kjaergaard, CC-BY-3.0)

It’s getting a bit tedious comparing the occasional global warming article in Science News to the real science articles they run, but the contrast is often so wide it’s hard not to discuss them. In the April 30, 2016 issue there is an amazing juxtaposition between three articles: a nearly-literally fuzzy article about cute white bunny rabbits, a serious article about a potential discovery of a new white dwarf in astronomy, and what looks for all the world like an article from some apocalyptic prophet about how we will not see any sea level rise (unless we do, or unless we see a sea level drop) until about two and a half decades from now when it will SUDDENLY SHOOT UP AND DROWN US ALL UNLESS WE REPENT IMMEDIATELY!!!

I’m going to ignore the white fuzzies article. It’s just “aw, nature is mean & evolution is stupid”, although if you’re interested it does have a cute photo of a snowshoe hare. It doesn’t have bad science in it; it doesn’t have any science at all. Below it, on the left page, is Christopher Crockett’s Odd white dwarf offers peek at core. It’s about the discovery of what is potentially a smaller white dwarf than one would expect to find, with a much different atmosphere. And after describing the potential benefits to finding a low-mass white dwarf, the article ends with some serious caveats:

Dufour says the idea is plausible, but he’s skeptical. “It could work,” he says, “but I doubt it would leave a low-mass white dwarf.”

In 2007, Dufour and colleagues reported a similar strange sighting: several white dwarfs whose atmospheres were loaded with carbon instead of hydrogen and helium. Those also appeared to be missing mass, he says, though the problem was found to lie not with the stars but with the mass estimates. The white dwarfs are heavier than initially thought, and Dufour now suspects that each one arose from a collision between two white dwarfs.

It’s too early to draw strong conclusions from a single oxygen-laden white dwarf. “There are lots of open questions before we can say that this changes our view of white dwarf evolution,” Dufour says.

Why now for the alt-right?—Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

I was reading in the June Commentary about a faction in American politics called the alt-right that appears to have some heavily establishment politics: policy decisions by a technocratic elite, a disdain for the democratic process, and a preference for dealing with strongmen rather than engaging with and convincing voters.

They also appear to go in for bullying those who disagree with them, and many have aligned themselves with Donald Trump.

I can’t say whether James Kirchick paints an accurate picture of the movement. I honestly haven’t seen much of it except some comments in blogs, mainly the Ace of Spades HQ1.

But one thing missing from the article was any discussion of why now?2 There will always be angry factions ready to lash out, on every side. Usually, however, such factions remain tiny and ineffectual. To paraphrase Chauncey Gardiner, such movements will not take root unless the soil is prepared. In other words, why do they grow? Why now?

And the answer to that is, they grow when their tactics work, and their tactics clearly work now. Trump’s alt-right wasn’t first the first to use fascist tactics like these, nor are they the most common and blatant users of it. The tactics that Kirchick describes are no different from the left’s finger nannies who storm the phone lines and social media and even physical barricades to get people like Brendan Eich fired, or to get people fired from colleges.

Why don’t gun owners trust the left?—Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016
The real concern of gun control

Immediately following new of the Orlando shooting, the left’s finger nannies got onto social media and began trying to convince their friends to support new gun control laws—specifically, gun control laws that wouldn’t have stopped the Orlando shooter.

Here’s an example from my feed:

I think the terrorist thing, while real in this particular case, is not really the issue. As I stated before, from my point of view, the larger issue has more to do with the relative value we put on our right to free and easy access to fire arms and the cost in human lives that access entails… guns make us less safe, not more, by a huge margin…

To support this, he also wrote:

You are 800 times more likely to die of gun violence if you have guns in the home. That is a fact.

That is “in fact” a pretty huge margin. It was also, of course, completely false. When challenged on it, he immediately dropped it from 800 to 8—no longer a huge margin, but still with no references. Challenged on that, he provided a study that didn’t mention any 8 times greater likelihood of dying from gun violence, or any 8 times greater chance of anything whatsoever.

Then he clammed up, claiming the other people in the discussion (me, mainly) were “just looking to win instead of learning” and that we should “learn some critical thinking skills.”

It turns out that in order to reach “8 times more likely” he was adding two unrelated rates of increase together, and, as is often the case when the left begins to realize that their arguments are filled with bad logic and worse math, he accused those questioning him of his own failures.

Now, no one expects random social media posters to be mathematically literate or even logical. What was amazing to me, though, was how closely his evolution in that one set of comments over a few days mirrored what gun owners get from the left in general, and has been getting, for decades—since before I stopped supporting gun control.

Ironically, the study he quoted just before he petulantly clammed up in the face of a collapsing argument was a 1993 study by Kellerman, once a leading light on the left who followed the same pattern: first, a wildly outrageous statistic (43 times more likely to die from your own gun!) downgraded to a merely moderately outrageous statistic (2.7 times more likely to die from your own gun!) to, when it was pointed out that it looked like, from his tables, that there was actually a moderate benefit to owning a firearm, clammed up and refused to release his data. It was this latter study that provided the “800 times more likely!”, then, “8 times more likely!”, to “you’re a meanie, I just wanted to talk about larger issues”.

But the rhetoric’s so much better here under the tragedy!—Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

At this point, it’s a pretty standard playlist. There’s a mass murder by someone who was enabled by the left’s policies. Most people voice their condolences and prayers on social media; but a handful on the left exploit the tragedy to call for more bad policies that wouldn’t have stopped the murderer to begin with but that would make it harder to defend against future murderers.

When other people complain that they’re politicizing a tragedy to pass bad laws, they rant that prayers and condolences aren’t enough. Ignoring the real charge that their proposed laws would at best not change the outcome, and at worst, would make these tragedies easier to commit.

In this case, an Islamic terrorist took his religion’s hatred to heart and killed nearly fifty in the gay community in a gun-free zone. The security contractor he worked for didn’t seriously investigate him when coworkers complained he was going to kill people for Islam, because they didn’t want to investigate a Muslim.

That would have appeared racist.

Omar Mateen told his coworkers that he wanted to provoke a confrontation with the police so that he could die a martyr’s death. His coworkers complained to their superiors and to the FBI. When the FBI interviewed him, his excuse was that he’d only said this because his coworkers were racist.

And it was accepted. The FBI closed the investigation and took him off the terror watch list.1 If they had left him on the watch list, they would have been warned when he purchased those two rifles, and could have taken another look at him.

But that would have appeared racist.

This is beginning to make The Black List look like a reality show. I love the show, but always thought the ease with which Red and his enemies infiltrate federal security services was completely unrealistic. I was wrong.

J. K. Rowling’s retroactive racism—Tuesday, June 14th, 2016
Chipmunk Hermione

This is the closest image I could find to how Rowling describes Hermione in the books. Consider this with the skin tone altered to black. (unknown artist)

It is usually a bad idea for a writer to get into an argument with their readers en masse. In their zeal to defend their work, they have a tendency to argue too much, and reveal more than we wanted to know.

Recently, J. K. Rowling became angry at what she calls “a bunch of racists” and “idiots” who never pictured Hermione as black. If this were just a defense of a good actress, that would be fine. But in arguments such as these, the author often goes too far.

Rowling, for example, quotes her own work as having always left open the possibility that Hermione was black, tweeting the “canon” physical characteristics that prove it:

Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione 😘

Alice Vincent in the Telegraph goes on to say that:

Rowling never described Hermione’s race in the books, but only that she had “bushy brown hair and brown eyes”, as well as very large front teeth.

This is true, but not the whole truth. In the first book, Hermione didn’t just have large front teeth. She was full-on buck-toothed. Sort of resembling a chipmunk, according to the other characters in the fourth book.

So I’m guessing most readers chose not to think Hermione was black because they didn’t expect a modern writer to resort to stereotypical descriptions straight out of early comic strips. A writer who wrote those descriptions and explicitly made their character black would have come under fire for racism.

And in this case, that fire may well have been justifiable. Rowling has some serious issues with racism if she always meant Hermione to possibly be black. In The Goblet of Fire, Hermione undergoes magical alterations to remove the stereotypical racial characteristics that Rowling now says show Hermione as possibly black. First, Hermione has Madame Pomfrey shrink her teeth so that they are permanently “normal”1. Then, when going to the ball, Hermione spends hours using liberal amounts of Sleekeazy’s Hair Potion to straighten her bushy hair.

The movie doesn’t do this scene justice. In the book Hermione became practically unrecognizable because she literally changes her appearance: “she didn’t look like Hermione at all”.

She went from looking mediocre at best to stunningly beautiful.

What’s egregious is that if Rowling always meant Hermione to include the possibility of blackness, then the book also makes clear that jettisoning her blackness made Hermione beautiful.

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