The Electric Commentary

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Let's talk Summerfest

The worlds biggest music festival, believe it or not, takes place every summer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and today is opening day. If you're anywhere near Milwaukee it is well worth it to make the trip up for a weekend. Chicagoans flock up there in droves as Chicago's functional equivalent, the Taste of Chicago, pales in comparison. Where The Taste is simply a bunch of tents set up in a park, Summerfest has it's own property, with several music stages, restaurants, and, of course, bars.

This year's lineup strikes me as being weaker than usual, but even a weak Summerfest lineup still has a lot to offer. Tonight's lineup is best suited for fans of country/Midwestern rock with John Mellencamp and John Fogerty (tickets required) and Leann Rimes (free). If that's not your cup of tea (and it is certainly not my cup of tea), check out Willy Porter (free), Morris Day and the Time (free), or Pat McCurdy, who attracts sellout crowds every night and plays like 5 times a day.

I'm heading up tomorrow. What do you think? Should I pay up and see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with The Black Crowes, or save my cash and take in Rusted Root, or Sugar Ray, or Phantom Planet, or Survivor (Eye of the Tiger, and all)? I'm not quite sure yet.

Saturday has David Lee Roth, Talib Kweli, and Los Lobos. Sunday features Santana with Los Lonely Boys (tickets required), Howie Day (free), Lucinda Williams (free), Moby (free), Gavin DeGraw (free), or Steve Winwood (free). The 4th has Stevie Nicks with Vanessa Carlton, Bret Michaels of Poison, Ben Folds, Galactic, and Lewis Black doing standup. There is much more (and the following weekend has a much stronger lineup).

If you go, here are a few tips:

1. Take the bus.

Driving there isn't actually that bad, but getting out is. After a long hot day at the park, the typical person's bloodtype has morphed from AB+ or O- into MGD. There are several park and ride lots in the suburbs, as well as a bus that runs up and down Wisconsin Avenue all day. In addition to that, all of the downtown bars run shuttles too and from the festival. This is the way to go.

2. See the Milwaukee Art Museum first.

Even if art isn't your thing, Milwaukee has a relatively new addition to their art museum, and it is fantastic. It's also right next to Summerfest.

3. Do not stare directly at the hefty old woman in the leather tube top.

4. Get an appetizer sampler from Saz's.

They include fried cheese curds, sour cream and chive fries, and their famous mozzarella marinara. It is a thing of beauty.

5. Wear sunscreen. Reapply frequently.

6. If you have to go from one end of the park to the other end, you have two options. There is a path that runs through the middle of the fest, and there is a path along the lake. The lake is always less crowded. The lakeshore path also has picnic tables on either side, perfect for eating your sampler platter.

7. If you are ordering beer for a ladyfriend, have the bartender at the Leine's tent combine the Honey Weiss and Berry Weiss in a pitcher together.

8. People seem to like the fried eggplant from the Venice Club. It's not really my thing, but you should probably give it a try.

9. For most concerts that normally cost money at the Marcus Amphitheater they also have a few thousand free seats in the lawn areas. You just have to get there early enough.

10. If you get to a concert early and want to save a spot, save a spot on top of the picnic table, not just on the seats. After the sun goes down people will have no qualms about standing on top of your table.

11. In addition to leather tube top woman, you will encounter the following people:

a. Badly sunburned fat guy, sans shirt.

b. Gaggle of scantily clad teenagers.

c. The dreaded, sunburned fat guy hitting on scantily clad teenagers.

d. Harley rider, no hair, tats, pierced appendages, full leather even though it's 900 degrees.

e. MulletMan.

f. 45 year old woman who tanned too much when she was 25 year old woman, and now has skin like Charlton Heston's neck.

g. Frat boy who likes to start fights.

h. Blue collar guy with chip on shoulder who wants to start fights with frat boy.

i. Insane parents with stroller, still at park past 10:00 PM.

j. Stoner hippies, laying on picnic tables, next to...

k. Disaffected teenage gothic types, who got there early to get the tables under the trees.

Fortunately, a lot of perfectly normal people show up too. But you can't beat Summerfest for people-watching. You never know what you'll see.

If anyone else has a tip to offer, put it in the comments section. If I like it, I'll add it to the post.

Update #1 - From Danny:

Clean out a sunblock bottle really really good and replace the contents with rum and bring it into the park. Beer is really expensive.


Sandra Day O'Connor is not retiring. My bad. I didn't read this carefully enough. And from the looks of the comments section, I'm not alone.

Madison's Ban on Smoking

Update: I would just like to point out that some Madison Aldermen are stupid:

Ald. Tim Bruer said that to grant the narrowly worded exemption - which required 10 percent tobacco sales and applied only to businesses established before 2003 - would give the two bars in Madison "an unfair advantage" as the two oases in the city for smokers. He speculated that if either owner later wanted to sell, the city would have handed them a large profit.

Ald. Mike Verveer, who sponsored the proposal, said that in his conversations with tavern owners, no one had complained about the exemption. The combined occupancy of the two small bars is about 100 people, he said, and the exemption for cigar bars follows the example of New York's smoking ban.

There are two cigar bars in Madison, one of which I frequented while in college (Maduro). I did not smoke cigars, but it was a cool place to be. A cigar bar has a certain atmosphere about it that a normal bar just can't duplicate. And not once was I ever offended by smoke in a cigar bar because, and I want to be perfectly clear about this, IT IS A FRICKIN' CIGAR BAR!!!

Sorry about the yelling, but seriously, is there anything dumber than banning smoking in a place that exists to allow smoking? Tim Bruer is concerned about giving the two cigar bars an unfair advantage, but is utterly unconcerned about the prospect of possibly putting them completely out of business. In other words, he is perfectly fine with granting an unfair advantage, as long as the majority is enjoying that unfair advantage.

How progressive.

Madison's ban on smoking in restaurants and bars goes into effect on Friday. To mark the occasion, The Intensity Newsletter Crew is having a smokeout:

Thursday night! 10pm! The TIN squad will be chain smoking and drinking copious amounts of vodka at State Street Brats (top floor) on THE LAST DAMN DAY YOU CAN SMOKE IN A BAR! We'll be picking up a carton of "squares" to hand out and we're gonna get "crunk." Frankie promises to be in "rare form." This is your last chance, so make it good. "Ladies and Gentleman, we've lost the second engine and we're going down. Smoke 'em if ya got 'em." Witness the Fitness,

Rhoads and Frankie

Kenny Rogers knows when to hold 'em, fold 'em. Unclear on when to walk away.

The story is here. And don't miss the video.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Simmons' Draft Diary

is up on ESPN Page 2:

7:34 – On the clock: The Bucks, who are planning to take Andrew Bogut at No. 1. No, not in a supplemental draft – the actual draft. I thought he was going to be the next Bill Wennington until last week, when I found out he was only 20 years old. Now I'd like to upgrade that prediction to the poor man's Mike Gminski. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing – G-Mo had a few good years, and sported the best, red, mid-'80s beard except for possibly Chuck Norris. Plus, the clips of Bogut trying to guard Amare Stoudemire could fill an NBA DVD some day.

Meanwhile, Anthony worries about Bogut going to the coachless Bucks, saying, "Without a coach, you don't have a philosophy, a style or a system." Apparently he didn't watch Atlanta last season. That's followed by Tirico pointing out that the 1999 Clippers (with Michael Olowokandi) were the last team that drafted a center first even though they didn't have a coach, followed by Anthony laughing and joking, "I hope that's not an omen." Do you think a group of fans have ever been less excited by a No. 1 pick than Bucks fans? In any sport?

Nope. It's even worse thinking about what could have been in another year.

It'll Never Work!

This list is making the rounds on the internet, and with good reason. Here's a sample:

The Kölonische Zeitung [Köln, Germany, 28 March 1819] listed six grave reasons against street lighting, including these:

1. Theological: It is an intervention in God's order, which makes nights dark...
2. Medical: It will be easier for people to be in the streets at night, afflicting them with colds...
3. Philosophical-moral: Morality deteriorates through street lighting. Artificial lighting drives out fear of the dark, which keeps the weak from sinning...
(Hat tip, Dr. Tufte)

The Legality of Internet Gambling

As someone who occasionally dabbles in the seedy world of online gambling I've often wondered what the law actually is. I have a sense that it is illegal to engage in most types of on-line gambling, but that these laws were largely unenforceable. Orin Kerr tackles the question at the VC.

Update: Christine Hurt has more.

Golden Eagles it is.

Oh well. To me, they'll always be the Dumples.

Freakonomics Catches On

Bryan Caplan and Alex Tabarrok jump on the bandwagon in the WSJ. They have a fun discussion, and bring up a variety of fascinating material.

From Alex:

Hess and Orphanides define a war as "an international crisis in which the United States is involved in direct military activity that results in violence." Using data from the International Crisis Behavior Project, they compare the onset of wars in first terms when there is a recession with (a) the onset of wars in first terms with no recession and (b) second terms. Stunningly, however, they find that in the 1953-1988 period wars are about twice as likely in first terms with a recession than in first terms with no recession and second terms (60% to 30%). The probability of this result occurring by chance is low.

Need I mention that the Hess and Orphanides model has proven to have predictive power?

And from Bryan:

Since Alex has trounced Krugman for his dangerous policy recommendations, I want to give Krugman credit for coming up with a novel theoretical argument in favor of free trade. Namely: Free trade is especially beneficial for you if your trading partners are idiots.

"Chinese investment in America seems different from Japanese investment 15 years ago," he tells us, because: "[J]udging from early indications, the Chinese won't squander their money as badly as the Japanese did. The Japanese, back in the day, tended to go for prestige investments -- Rockefeller Center, movie studios -- that transferred lots of money to the American sellers, but never generated much return for the buyers. The result was, in effect, a subsidy to the United States."

And one more from Alex:

The existence of the naive, who choose where to rent based on the advertised rental price and not the full price of driving, makes shrouding profitable. But the profits attract entry, leading to an equilibrium in which rentals are priced below cost and insurance and fill-ups are priced well above cost. Why doesn't it pay to advertise and price both services closer to cost? The reason is that sophisticated consumers don't want to buy at cost -- the sophisticated consumers want to buy from the firm that attracts the naive because the sophisticated consumers know to reject the supplemental insurance and return the car after gassing it up themselves, thereby taking advantage of the low rental rate and avoiding high markups. Notice that shrouding doesn't benefit the firms that shroud (competition reduces their profits to normal); instead, it causes the dumb to subsidize the smart.

Readers of this blog should be pleased!

There is a ton more, all of it interesting.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

What do you do...

If you produce football videogames, but not for Electronic Arts?

This year EA bought the exclusive NFL license, so that only they may use official team names and player names. Even though QB-Eagles is the greatest video game QB in history, having actual player names is essential to selling a video game. So what do you do?

In an outstanding bit of creativity, Midway Games decided to name the Atlanta QB Ron Mexico.

Heh. (If you don't understand why this is funny, click here.)

(Hat tip, Outsiders. You should read their entire NFC South Preview.)

A Taking That I Can Support


NBA Draft Prediction

I won't be able to watch this evening as I will be attending the Cubs-Brewers game at the Friendly Confines, however, I'm pretty sure it will go like this:

1. Andrew Bogut to Milwaukee
2. Marvin Williams to Atlanta
3. Deron Williams to Utah
4. Chris Paul to New Orleans

After that I have no clue. I'm still guessing that Paul will be the superior NBA player.

To get in the mood, I recommend The Sports Guy's 60 Greatest Draft Moments.

Summer Tunes

It's hot out, and it's been hot out for a long time now. Personally I love it (especially considering the alternative). And it puts me in the mood for upbeat music.

There are a few universal Summer songs out there (Summer in the City, Lovin Spoonful, etc.), but for the most part everyone has their own, and I think that more than any other season, Summer tunes evoke very specific memories. Here are ten of my favorites:

1. Good - Better Than Ezra

This song always makes me think of summers in college, even though it predates me being in college by several years. I suppose it's the lyrics.

2. Hope I Never Lose My Wallet - The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

One of the best bands to see live (although I'm not sure that they still play since lead singer Dicky Barrett became the announcer for Jimmy Kimmel Live). Being crammed into a small venue for a hot ska show makes you think of summer no matter what time of year it is. It's hot, it's sweaty, and the energy is unparalleled. This, and their later tune "She Just Happened" are personal summer classics.

Once I saw them play at the Wisconsin State Fair in 100 degree heat, and they gave a great effort, considering that, like all ska bands, they perform in suits.

3. Summertime - DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince

Don't lie to me, you had MTV Party To Go, Volume 2, too. Everyone did. (You also had the Ghostbusters II Soundtrack.) This was the highlight of an outstanding collection.

4. Bad - U2

I had this on a summer mix tape right after "No Woman, No Cry" which may have contributed to its personal summer feel for me. Since it's about heroin use and all. It is still the best U2 song ever written.

In 1987 U2 played this at the Rosemont Horizon where we learned a very important lesson: The crowd will cheer for their hometown regardless of context.

Bono: This is a song about heroin. It's tearing the heart out of the city of Dublin, and it's tearing the heart out of the city of Chicago.

Crowd: (upon hearing "Chicago") Whooo! Yeahhhh!

5. Bus to Beelzebub - Soul Coughing

My wife had this great mix tape our freshman year, and this was the anchor. I'll bet I listened to that thing a thousand times that summer. I wonder if it's still around somewhere. Their "Soft Serve" is also quite excellent.

6. The Rain King - Counting Crows

Just an upbeat (I think) tune that sticks in your head. Also, on August and Everything After, the transition from "Raining in Baltimore" into "A Murder of One" is one of the greatest transitions in music history. If I'm in the right mood I still get goose bumps.

7. 1979 - The Smashing Pumpkins

That's really the whole idea behind this song, right?

8. My Name Is Jonas - Weezer

A great summertime song to kick off a great summertime album. The first chord sets the whole tone for the album. Plus I like the idea of workers going home.

9. Sick of Myself - Matthew Sweet

I can't help singing along whenever this comes on. Plus this is a great use of lyric inversion:

I'm sick of myself when I look at you,
Something as beautiful and true,
In a world that's ugly and a lie
It's hard to even want to try,

10. (Tie) Ana Ng - They Might Be Giants


When I was driving once I saw this painted on a bridge:

I don't want the world,
I just want your half.


Add It Up - The Violent Femmes

They play Summerfest every single year and I never get tired of hearing this tune live. The perfect blend of crescendo and unnecessary vulgarity.

Kelo Fallout

Radley Balko has a list of some new takings in the making, including this item:

-Milwaukee -- Developers, city economic development officials and commercial real estate attorneys - including some involved with eminent domain cases - have been waiting for the decision.


Negotiations on relocating some of Bayshore's tenants have been delayed lately, Maslowski said.

He believes the attorneys for some tenants were deliberately postponing meetings in hopes of using a court ruling that would have curtailed condemnation powers. Such a ruling would have given tenants additional leverage to negotiate better terms for their relocation, Maslowski said.

The court's ruling to uphold the expanded right of condemnation should "eliminate that cloud," Maslowski said.

War of the Worlds

Chris at the L&N Line has an early review of the new Spielberg/Crazy Tom film:

Well, now I can say, "Fuck Star Wars Episode III." This film BLOWS that space opera away--Spielberg turning the screws on Lucas, the longtime friends and co-accused of destroying cinema as we know it. It's like 1977 again--both directors coming out with similar genre films (Star Wars Episode IV and Close Encounters of the Third Kind), only Lucas created his own universe, whereas Spielberg focuses on the suspense of alien creatures coming to our own world (and he later continued this with the little-seen film E.T.--yeah, I ain't heard of it either).

Tabarrok fisks Krugman

I love it when economists argue. You should read the whole thing of course, but here's a taste:

It's hard to over-estimate how awful Krugman's column is. Consider this:

"China, unlike Japan, really does seem to be emerging as America's strategic rival and a competitor for scarce resources..."

'Strategic rival' is the kind of term that would-be Metternichs throw about to impress their girlfriends but what does it mean? Everyone is a competitor for scarce resources. Even those nice Canadians compete with Americans for scarce resources. Are Canadians a strategic rival to be feared?

The real question is how do rivals compete? Do they compete with war or by trade? China is moving from the former to the latter but shockingly Krugman prefers the former. Exaggeration? Consider this statement:

"...the Chinese government might want to control [Unocal] if it envisions a sort of "great game" in which major economic powers scramble for access to far-flung oil and natural gas reserves. (Buying a company is a lot cheaper, in lives and money, than invading an oil-producing country."

So what does Krugman recommend? Blocking the bid for Unocal. In other words, support China's fear that they may be cut off from oil and encourage the invasion of an oil-producing country.

He draws further support from Brad DeLong as well as the first liberal economist.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Real Sci-Fi Headlines

If you told someone in 1995 that the following two items were actual headlines in 2005, there is no way that they would believe you:

Boffins create zombie dogs


Space Ring Could Shade Earth and Stop Global Warming

In the wake of Grokster,

It's probably time to re-read Banapster.

Grokster, Ten Commandments cases decided.

The Court ruled that Grokster can be sued (while preserving Sony, the case that allowed for VCRs to exist in their current form). The court also split on the two Ten Commandments cases.

As always check out the SCOTUSblog for details.

Unlike Kelo, where I thought my side had a decent chance of winning, these results are unsurprising. While I would have decided a few cases differently, I can't really get too worked up about them.

Krugman a Mercantilist?

Both Tyler and Don think that the answer is "yes" in light of his most recent column.

Mercantilism is the belief that trade is a zero-sum game, that is, in every trade there is a winner and a loser. To the best of my knowledge, there are no modern economists who take mercantilism seriously, which is why this observation is even worth making.

This is a strange column by Krugman and I'm confused by it. Not only does it run afoul of modern economics in general, it also is in direct contradiction with Krugman's own theories and writings. I suspect that he intended to make a point about China eclipsing the US as a superpower and got carried away, but I'm just not sure.

While I'm used to disagreeing with the good Professor, I am not used to disagreeing with him over this. Make sure you read all of Tyler's post at Marginal Revolution, and all of Don's post at Cafe Hayek.

Update: If anyone has a non-mercantilist interpretation of this column, please leave a comment.

Where was Amnesty?

Ever since Amnesty International made a few over-the-top condemnations of the US and specifically Gitmo, many conservatives have responded with the question above. The problem with this strategy is that the correct answer is "everywhere." Paul Brewer first noted this trend here, and again here. This past weekend it went "conservative mainstream" when classical scholar and right wing pundit Victor Davis Hanson picked up on this theme:

Few mention there really are monsters and mass killers living among us -- the North Koreans who have starved 1 million of their own, Saddam's reign of terror that may have killed as many, and, of course, the Islamicist murderers who behead, blow up and torture. "Mein Kampf" still sells well in some Arab capitals, not in Washington or New York.

So cowards such as officials of the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and, yes, American politicians, prefer to showboat the purported misdemeanors of people who are civilized and will listen to them, rather than to condemn the horrendous felonies of those who are barbaric and will pay them no heed.

Professor Brewer helpfully compiled a list of links of Amnesty condemnations of totalitarian dictators. This truly is the most-easily-refuted-argument about Amnesty International ever. While Amnesty debatably screwed up here (and I suspect that their mistake was largely in their rhetoric, not their substance), they have performed admirably in drawing the world's attention to troubled spots, and in providing relief when possible. Conservatives should let this one go.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Fun Friday, Part 2

Tom Cruise kills Oprah.

(Hat tip, Andrew Sullivan)

Fun Friday

The Onion of the future...

Kilos of Kelo

Now that I've finally read the whole thing I can offer some insight. First of all, it should be noted that takings, in general, are bad. The framers of the Constitution realized this, which is why the government can only take land for a "public purpose" and why they must pay just compensation. Occasionally the government may have to build a road or a dam or a school, but these instances are rare, and it is good that they are rare. This is the policy espoused by the Constitution, and expanding the states ability to seize property is in conflict with that policy.

Second, a taking is always a poor economic transaction. As Stephen Bainbridge writes:

Unfortunately, the requirement to pay fair market value is a grossly inadequate safeguard on government power for two reasons. First, it fails to take into account the subjective valuations placed on the New London property by people whose families have lived on the land, in at least one case, for a 100 years. In other words, the government now will be able to seize land at a price considerably below the reservation price of the owners. Indeed, as Will Collier explained:

"... the price even a willing seller would be able to get from his property just took a huge hit. All a developer has to do now is make a lowball offer and threaten to involve a bought-and-paid-for politician to take the property away if the owner doesn't acquiesce."

Second, unlike the prototypical eminent domain case, in which the land is seized to build, say, a school or road, in this case the city is using eminent domain to seize property that will then be turned over to a private developer. If this new development increases the value of the property, all of that value will be captured by the new owner, rather than the forced sellers. As a result, the city will have made itself richer (through higher taxes), and the developer richer, while leaving the forced sellers poorer in both subjective and objective senses.

Whenever you force a transaction, you destroy wealth.

Third, this decision creates yet another incentive for expanded crony capitalism. Corporate welfare is already a big problem in this country, but now instead of concentrating on tax breaks corporations can lobby to acquire real estate. Increased lobbying is bad enough. This particular type of lobbying is terrible.

Fourth, this decision is subject to abuse. In the comments section of yesterday's post, Rashid Muhammad wrote the following:

Essentially this gives the cities the right to say: "We can make more money if Developer X uses your property so we are hereby relieving you of it." Before the municipality itself had to have some sort of project planned that would benefit the community as a whole. Now the "benefit" to the community is more tax revenue which "rewards" the community most substantially with even bigger and more inefficient government.

It is sad because developers aren't even talking to the people who live in the areas that they want to "revitalize," they are going directly to the city and the cities are redefining their standards for blight just to accommodate these projects. This has been going on in minority communities that weren't quite ghetto, but were old for a while. Now it's hit the mainstream.

If you think this is an overstatement, take a look at this conversation between Justices Scalia and O'Connor, and the city of New London's attorney during oral arguments (via Stephen Bainbridge):

"Justice Antonin Scalia ... describes [City of New London lawyer] Horton's position as: 'You can always take from A and give to B, so long as B is richer.' And O'Connor offers this concrete example: What if there's a Motel 6 but the city thinks a Ritz-Carlton will generate more taxes? Is that OK?

"Yes, says Horton." (Link)

Finally, there was no good reason to make this ruling. The Supreme Court has now ruled that purely intrastate commerce is interstate commerce, and that private is public. The language of the Constitution exists for a reason, and that reason is specifically to limit the power that the government has over individuals. The Raich decision and the Kelo decision fly in the face of this ideal. I eagerly await the case of Gonzales v. Gravity, in which the government will assert that up is down, followed closely by Gonzales v. Math, in which they will argue that 2+2=5.

The Volokh Conspirators have been prolific. Don't miss Orin Kerr, Randy Barnett, and Todd Zywicki.

Stephen Karlson makes several good points.

Ann Althouse has more here, and she notices an embarrassing spelling mistake here.

Will Baude and Raffi Melkonian chime in.

OK, back to work. I wonder if I could get the Tennessee government to seize the Instapundit site for me if I promised to turn it into a pornographic website. It would bring in increased revenue, increased tax revenue for the state, and it would create jobs. Who could be against that?

Thursday, June 23, 2005


Note: I've changed the time on this post to keep it at the top for a while.

This decision, by the US Supreme Court, is absolutely terrible. More later.


Start with Ed Brayton and go from there. I'll comment further after I've read it.

Update 2:

Check out Will Collier at Vodkapundit.

Update 3:

Christine Hurt compares the rationale in Kelo to an organ lottery.

Update 4: I'm still waiting to get my hands on concurring and dissenting opinions, but the majority opinion is quite short. The reason that government can seize your property for a non-public purpose is as follows:

(a) Though the city could not take petitioners’ land simply to confer a private benefit on a particular private party, see, e.g., Midkiff, 467 U.S., at 245, the takings at issue here would be executed pursuant to a carefully considered development plan, which was not adopted “to benefit a particular class of identifiable individuals,” ibid. Moreover, while the city is not planning to open the condemned land–at least not in its entirety–to use by the general public, this “Court long ago rejected any literal requirement that condemned property be put into use for the … public.” Id., at 244. Rather, it has embraced the broader and more natural interpretation of public use as “public purpose.” See, e.g., Fallbrook Irrigation Dist. v. Bradley, 164 U.S. 112, 158—164. Without exception, the Court has defined that concept broadly, reflecting its longstanding policy of deference to legislative judgments as to what public needs justify the use of the takings power. Berman, 348 U.S. 26; Midkiff, 467 U.S. 229; Ruckelshaus v. Monsanto Co., 467 U.S. 986. Pp. 6—13. (Emphasis added.)

So, as long as you have a plan you can get the government to steal someone's property for you. Nice.

Eugene Volokh has a very interesting take:

More here.

Update 5: The economists weigh in.

Don't miss Tyler Cowen, Arnold Kling, and especially Don Boudreaux:

I’m not talking here about belief in spiritual deities. Many libertarians (like myself) are atheists; many others (like my co-blogger Russ Roberts) are deeply religious. But almost by definition, all libertarians reject the notion that the state is something other than a human institution deserving more credence, respect, deference, and trust than is commonly given to other human institutions such as supermarkets and bowling leagues.

Libertarians understand in their guts that flags, anthems, marble domes and columns, fancy titles, embassies, and majoritarian-voting procedures do not transform human beings and human institutions into something higher than human beings and human institutions.

There’s nothing special about the policemen who protect my house from burglars, my son from kidnappers, and my wife from rapists. There’s nothing special about the troops who protect us from foreign armies and terrorists. These activities are important and valuable when done properly. But there’s nothing special about them. Nothing about these activities gives the people who carry them out any exceptional claims upon our affections or wallets.

Read the whole thing.

The Coyote Blog has more.

Here is Thomas's dissent. Here is O'Connor's. Here is Kennedy's concurrence.

A Watershed Moment

Professor Brewer points to an interesting post by Professor Karlson (whom I would like to thank for the link) on the use of water from the Great Lakes Wisconsin.

One ring to rule them all...

Check out this picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, courtesy of Will Collier.

Why did the Bucks fire Terry Porter?

This is the question on the minds of all Milwaukee sports aficionados today. A few weeks ago Bucks GM Larry Harris held a press conference to express his support for Porter. His firing was unexpected, and there has been much speculation regarding the cause. Some have speculated that the Bucks are pursuing Flip Saunders or Nate McMillan. Some say there was disagreement over who to draft with the number 1 overall pick.

The real answer has to do with the new collective bargaining agreement. You see, many years ago when Herb Kohl hired George Karl, he made Karl the highest paid coach in all of sports. After Karl's tenure came to an end, Kohl became a bit of a penny pincher and went on the cheap with the inexperienced Porter. Porter still had a year left on his deal when he was fired.

Most reports state that Kohl was unhappy with Porter's performance so the bigger mystery was why the team seemed so committed to Porter when Harris gave that press conference a few weeks ago. The answer is that a few weeks ago, it looked as if the NBA was headed for a lockout.

Kohl has been wanting to replace Porter for some time now, but he also did not want to pay a high priced coach for a season in which no basketball was played. If a lockout would have occurred, he simply could have let Porter finish his tenure at his minimal salary and hired a new coach when play finally resumed. When the league and the unions agreed to a new CBA and a full season of basketball was ensured, Kohl had a small window in which to act. He needed to fire Porter before the draft (hopefully he will also hire someone before the draft) and so he simply seized this opportunity.

So now you know the reason. I hope they do land Saunders or McMillan, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Update 2

In the comments, Paul Brewer points out that Brian Leiter has (apparently, sort of, kind of,) retracted his threat to out the anonymous Juan Non-Volokh:

Point taken here. I would like to find out who he is, but perhaps I won't publicize it.

One of Leiter's criticism's of JNV was that he ignored the main point of the post on which he was commenting. Leiter repeatedly accused JNV of a lack of reading comprehension. He then showed his own superior reading comprehension skills by quoting Steve Hamori, in this post, but attributing the quote to JNV:

Putting aside the misreadings designed to make the target look ridiculous, how about this line from Mr. Non-Volokh's second posting: "I doubt Leiter knows anything about the history of fascism. Intellectually, the progressive left has a lot more in common with it than the 'libertarian right' (the real liberals)." Was this claim about my ignorance, and allying me with fascism, intended as a compliment?

(Lest my reading comprehension skills be impugned, Leiter does not directly attribute this line to JNV via clever use of language when he writes, "this line from Mr. Non-Volokh's second posting." However, he is clearly attempting to associate JNV with this insult for the purposes of making his point, and therefore it is fair to treat his statement in the way in which I treat it.)

Then, in a craven attempt to cover this faux pas before it was noticed, he allowed a quote from an e-mailer to do his work for him:

His comments were just as craven as his anonymity -- allowing quotes from other to do the hatchet work and then feigning surprise when it's pointed out that he's attacked you.

Leiter also wrote the following:

Until he comes out of hiding, however, I'm done commenting on Mr. Non-Volokh's displays.

And proceeded to comment at length. This particular pissing match did net a few interesting posts by Eugene Volokh here and here.

Finally, one of the issues that started this whole thing was a passing comment by Leiter on originalism:

Originalism (whether about intentions or meanings) is now the dominant, almost entirely unquestioned touchstone of constitutional argument and interpretation in the United States. This is odd since there is no plausible, theoretical justification for it that speaks to the kinds of issues I noted in passing and that are taken up by Professor Marmor in the piece linked to, above. Although there analagous [sic] questions that could be raised about constitutionalism itself, the issue of originalism as a theory of interpretation is severable.

JNV links to Michael Rappaport's response. Here's a taste:

This supermajoritarian defense of the Constitution is reinforced by the fact that original meaning interpretation guides and constrains judges. Under the loose interpretive approach favored by Marmor and most liberal academics, there is little to stop the Supreme Court Justices from imposing their own views on the nation. Since this amounts to constitutional amendment by a majority of 9 unelected judges, as opposed to constitutional amendment by a supermajority of elected officials, this process of judicial amendment is far worse than following the original meaning.

And that (hopefully) ends that.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

This may be their best idea since they decided to land a man on the Sun at night.

The EU constitution was defeated in France partially on the strength of a xenophobic advertisement claiming that Polish plumbers would steal French plumbing jobs. The Polish have done an absolutely brilliant job of responding.

Richard Hamilton's True Identity Revealed!

Everyone who saw the game will get it. Anyway, to this point it's been a crazy busy week, and I had to take care of some stuff at home this morning so I was late getting in today, which means I have extra work to do now that I'm here. Thanks to co-blogger Jason for pitching in while I've been swamped. Back in a few.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


The Leiter/Non-Volokh pissing match has devolved to the point that Leiter is threatening to out Non-Volokh.

The Distance

I know this isn't a normal topic around these parts, but I need to get one post in before we enter the no-man's land between the NBA finals and the first college football games, a period of time unaffectionately known to many (or at least by me) as Regular Season Baseball.

Most people care very little for this small-market NBA Finals, and that's fine. Very few are watching, but anyone who has actually played basketball can appreciate the high-quality displays being put on by the Pistons and the Spurs. It's unfortunate that in the first four games, these sparkling displays were sequential rather than concurrent, resulting in the most lop-sided games in Finals history. However, game 5 had everything a basketball fan could ask for (except a Pistons win).

And now, Eric Neel writes, we need it to go 7. It's a great story.

In case you don't have the time, at least picture this in your mind's eye:

And lastly, and maybe most importantly, I want seven because I have adream, and it goes like this: Seventh game, seven overtimes, 132 personal fouls, and just two men left standing. That's right: Darko and Rasho for all the marbles.

Lost in Translation

Brian Leiter and Juan Non-Volokh (who's really paying for his anonymity in this fight) are having a pissing match about fascism, which was bound to happen at some point, as Brian Leiter must have some sort of "Fascism Tourette's Syndrome." Either that, or he named his dog "Fascist" and it's misbehaving so he keeps yelling its name and typing at the same time (these are the most plausible answers that I have come up with so far. Think I'm overstating things? Juan made a similar crack and Brian promptly helped him out with this link).

Anyway, Leiter makes the following claim:

. . . as the Italian philosopher, and Mussolini contemporary, Giovanni Gentile put it, in a definition Mussolini subsequently claimed credit for: "Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power." And herewith a modern American Heritage Dictionary definition of "fascism": "A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism."
Ah, but an alert VC reader named Steve Hamori was paying very close attention, and knows his Italian history:

The problem is that a 'corporate' in Italian of the period is not a business organization. A corporate is a production planning board made up of workers, owners, and others involved in production advocated by the syndicalist school of socialism. Their beloved quote is actually Mussolini (or maybe Gentile) making a connection between fascism and socialism . . .

And concludes with:

I doubt Leiter knows anything about the history of fascism. Intellectually, the progressive left has a lot more in common with it than the 'libertarian right' (the real liberals). . . . If anyone advocates a merging of 'business corporate' and state it is the regulation happy / anti competition left. The average 'right winger' says let an uncompetitive business fail.

The Men Who Stare At Goats

I reviewed this book a few days ago. Arts & Letters Daily points to a more substantive review:

One of Ronson's sources, none other than Geller (of bent-spoon fame), led him to Maj. Gen. Albert Stubblebine III, who directed the psychic spy network from his office in Arlington, Virginia. Stubblebine thought that with enough practice he could learn to walk through walls, a belief encouraged by Lt. Col. Jim Channon, a Vietnam vet whose post-war experiences at such new age meccas as the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, led him to found the "first earth battalion" of "warrior monks" and "Jedi knights." These warriors, according to Channon, would transform the nature of war by entering hostile lands with "sparkly eyes," marching to the mantra of "Om," and presenting the enemy with "automatic hugs." Disillusioned by the ugly carnage of modern war, Channon envisioned a battalion armory of machines that would produce "discordant sounds" (Nancy and Barney?) and "psycho-electric" guns that would shoot "positive energy" at enemy soldiers.

Read the whole thing. It was an interesting book.

The Reasons for Shoplifting

based on the most frequently shoplifted items:

1. Man, I've got a headache.
2. A serious headache.
3. We're talking migraine here.
4. Because she's pregnant.
5. I need to make myself look different and skip town.
6. Before someone takes a picture of me.
7. I was busted. I guess now I'll have to feed the kid.
8. And it's a fat kid.
9. What a pain in the ass.
10. Maybe if I start running...

More here.

Hat tip, Tyler Cowen.

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Nerdiest Thing Ever Written

can be found here.

Money Down The Cornhole

Coyote Blog has an excellent post about everything that is wrong with Ethanol:

Ethanol subsidies do nothing to add energy to the US market and just pass tax dollars to Archer Daniels Midland and other similar Ag conglomerates. Stupid, stupid, stupid. The only thing uglier than these distortions in the energy bill is the scene of Republican and Democratic candidates falling over themselves every four years to support these subsidies in order to compete in the Iowa caucuses.



Read this. Then tell me who looks worse, the US, or Castro?


Cracking down on responsible parenting, here.

Friday, June 17, 2005

The 50 Book Challenge

The 50 Book Challenge

#18 Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

One of the most interesting things about Ender’s Game is actually a subplot about Ender’s brother Peter attempting to take over the world by means of what is essentially the blogosphere. I kid you not.

As for the main plot, Ender Wiggin has been selected since birth to be trained as a military commander. Earth has twice been invaded by aliens knows as “Buggers.” The first time they almost wiped out humanity, but the second time Earth managed to score a close victory. It is believed that a third invasion will commence shortly.

Ender is hauled off to Battle School, a space station where the troops of the future are trained to fight in zero gravity environments. While there are many students at the school Ender has clearly been singled out by the staff. They make his life more and more miserable over the years but he still succeeds at every turn.

The book is compelling because the motives of those in charge remain secret for most of the book. The buggers seem to be a real threat, but no film of Earth’s successful defense of the second invasion seems to exist. Meanwhile, the members of the Warsaw Pact seem to be gearing up for an invasion of their own. And why did the Buggers attack in the first place?

Ender is placed in an environment where these concerns must become secondary to surviving. As a result, Ender’s decisions always seem perfectly rational. And scary.

#19 The Men Who Stare At Goats, by Jon Ronson

A friend lent me this book, and I had no idea what it was about. I spent the first 75 pages or so thinking that I was reading a fiction book. It became clear over the course of the rest of the book that I was not. I went through several different stages:

1. This can’t be true.
2. I hope that this is not true.
3. Some of this is probably true.
4. Most of this is probably true.
5. The only things in this book that are not true are the claims of the psychics and other supernatural weirdoes. Everything else is true.
6. How depressing.

This book is about the US Military’s use of pseudoscientific bullshit, the money it costs us, and the problems that come with it. The title refers to a martial artist hired to train troops who could allegedly cause animals to die by looking at them. The evidence is underwhelming.

It is a recent book and it covers Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, and the techniques used there. Ronson talks with a general that used a task force of psychics to battle Noriega (who responded in kind), a scientist who designed subliminal records for the government (during Waco Charlton Heston was allegedly supposed to play the voice of God on such a recording), and Uri Geller, who claims that he was employed by the government as a psychic spy.

My only problem is that for most of the book Ronson isn’t skeptical enough. As the end approaches he lets his skepticism seep through more often, but by this point I realized that it was not Ronson that I was upset with. It was everyone else in the book.

On deck:
Gravity's Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon (on page 250).
Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond.
Interface, by Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George

Is Robert Horry overrated?

Felix Gillette thinks so.

These are a few of my favorite things.

Yesterday the NYT had an article by Virginia Postrel on a crime study conducted by Jonathan M. Klick and Alex Tabarrok:

As a back-of-the-envelope calculation, Professor Klick offered an even more striking suggestion. "It wouldn't be unreasonable," he said, "based on our estimates and based on conservative estimates of the costs of crime, to say it would be cost-effective to actually double the number of people working in police forces, which is pretty amazing."

Update: While I was writing this I noticed this interesting post at Marginal Revolution.

Fun Friday: Scientology Edition

Scientology has taken center stage with the recent conversion of The Gift’s Katie Holmes, as well as a now infamous appearance on Oprah by Tom Cruise, the EC thought it was high time that we got to the bottom of this mysterious religion. Over the last few nights I managed to track down a person that has been more influential in Scientology circles than anyone short of L. Ron Hubbard himself. I am referring, of course, to Xenu. According to Scientology the alien ruler Xenu murdered billions of people from around the galaxy on Earth 75,000,000 years ago by setting them next to volcanoes and dropping hydrogen bombs on them. He then brainwashed their spirits, or Thetans, as the church calls them, and they started sticking to living bodies, creating all sorts of trouble. Xenu was then imprisoned under a mountain at an undisclosed location, but he was kind enough to join me via cell phone.

Paul: First of all, thank you for joining me Xenu. By the way, how exactly are you talking to me?

Xenu: It’s no problem Paul, I’m happy to do it. And I’m using a free and clear plan. (Laughing). Sorry, just a little Scientologist humor.

Paul: Very nice. Now Xenu, is it true that you brainwashed a bunch of Thetans into annoying humanity?

Xenu: This is just a big misunderstanding. We were all in a big ship on our way to a concert, and we were trying to avoid paying to park, so we parked on Earth, and the next thing you know this volcano starts going off.

Paul: So the Thetans were not packed in alcohol?

Xenu: Well, they weren’t packed in it, but there was alcohol present.

Paul: I see. So you didn’t murder anyone then?

Xenu: No. Well, I did park the ship, but it was an accident.

Paul. So are these Thetans going around and attaching themselves to people.

Xenu: They’re just sightseeing.

Paul: Taking in the Earth’s natural beauty and such?

Xenu: Right. They especially like Broadway. Have you seen Spamalot?

Paul: It’s a tough ticket. Now Xenu, does the Church of Scientology E-Reader remove Thetans?

Xenu: Actually, I hear they like it. It gives them a little buzz. But they do tend to leave the bodies of those that enter the church because sitting in a room and being audited is a terribly boring process.

Paul: Moving on, how did L. Ron Hubbard discover your existence?

Xenu: It’s a funny story actually. You see, being stuck inside this mountain is rather dull and for a brief period in the early 1950s I started amusing myself with prank phone calls. I started with the heavy breathing thing, but I became more elaborate over time. Hubbard was a sci-fi writer and so I thought that he would enjoy my story, but he got a little bit carried away.

Paul: Scientology is very critical of psychiatry and psychology due to your alleged use of psychiatrists to brainwash Thetans. Can you offer any insight into why Hubbard pushes this view?

Xenu: I occasionally follow your Earth news, and there is a common belief among your American right wing that your American left wing maintains policies to promote poverty because the poor tend to be a part of the left wing. Your left wing has a similar view of the right wing and its lack of promotion of education and intelligence. Psychiatrists promote mental stability.

Paul: I see. What do you think of the number of celebrities that have joined the Church of Scientology?

Xenu: This sort of relates to the last question. Since Scientologists believe that psychology and psychiatry are so dangerous, they have decided to employ actors, as they are also skilled at influencing others.

Paul: Have you seen Battlefield Earth?

Xenu: I actually just got it off of Netflix a few days ago. Just a terrible movie. Travolta really lost it after Pulp Fiction.

Paul: Let’s get back to the Church practices. Scientologists believe that you can become more spiritually developed by examining past traumatic experiences called “engrams” through an e-meter, and that you are the cause of these experiences. How did the e-meter come about?

Xenu: I’m not sure why Mr. Hubbard thought that a little electronic machine would be able to expel 75,000,000 year old beings from people. Besides, it’s actually a love tester.

Paul: Really?

Xenu: Yeah. And Tom Cruise is still a “cold fish.”

Paul: Well, we should wrap things up. Do you have any final comments?

Xenu: Scientologists are cultist weirdoes who have devoted their existence to thwarting me. They charge hundreds of thousands of dollars for useless audits. They claim that I am a monster and was once responsible for billions of murders.

I on the other hand, am trapped under a mountain. You decide who is a bigger threat.

Paul: Thank you again Xenu, it was great to get your perspective.

Xenu: No problem. Thank you.

For more on Scientology, see Scott Burgess's three part series here, here, and here.

Update: Kevin Drum makes a very good point here.

Krugman and Kling

Charles is apparently on vacation.

It's a strange day today. First, Neal Stephenson pops up in the NYT, and then I almost completely agree with Paul Krugman. He writes on Ohio's coingate scandal, which I wrote about here. Pauly K makes the point that a united government is more likely to be scandal ridden as there is little opposition to impose oversight:

Now, politicians and businessmen are always in a position to do each other lucrative favors. Government is relatively clean when politicians are sufficiently afraid of scandal to resist temptation. But when a political machine controls all branches of government, and those officials charged with oversight are also reliably partisan, politicians feel safe from investigation. Their inhibitions dissolve, and they take full advantage of their position, until the scandals become too big to hide.

In other words, Ohio's state government today is a lot like Boss Tweed's New York. Unfortunately, a lot of other state governments look similar - and so does Washington.

Meanwhile, Arnold is arguing with both Krugman and with his own co-blogger Bryan Caplan about health care. In TCS he writes about the benefits of higher administrative costs:

The incentive to treat expensive or complex illness is similarly lacking under capitation. Thus, it is not surprising that capitation-based systems, such as HMO's, produce friction when patients have severe needs. Under capitation-based systems, as long as you are reasonably healthy, you can get the care that you need. However, once you develop an expensive illness, you run into conflicts with the budget constraints of the health care supplier. The recent Canadian Supreme Court decision giving Quebec citizens the right to obtain private health care shows what happens when the supply of health care is based on a fixed budget with rationing. The court found in favor of a plaintiff who had to wait a year for hip replacement surgery, saying that he should have had the right to seek care elsewhere.

The opposite problem exists in the United States, where effort is the primary basis for compensation. Under our system, a patient who requires a lot of procedures represents a cash cow, not a cash drain, to medical suppliers. We pay for procedures, and so we get lots of procedures. The question is whether the procedures that we get are necessary and cost-justified.

How can suppliers be incented to balance costs and benefits in choosing treatment plans? One solution is to study the results of different treatment approaches, in order to identify the best practices, based on criteria of costs and benefits. This information can be used to construct guidelines, and doctors can be compensated according to how well they adhere to guidelines. That is what I call process-based compensation.

Neal Stephenson in the New York Times

My favorite author, Neal Stephenson, has an op-ed in the NYT today in which he discusses Star Wars, geeks, and the peril of not respecting your societies geeks. You should absolutely, positively, read the whole thing. But just in case, here is a snippet:

"Concentrate on the moment. Feel, don't think. Trust your instincts," says a Jedi to the young Anakin in Episode I, immediately before a pod race in which Anakin is likely to get killed. It is distinctly odd counsel coming from a member of the Jedi order, the geekiest people in the universe: they have beards and ponytails, they dress in army blankets, they are expert fighter pilots, they build their own laser swords from scratch.

And (as is made clear in the "Clone Wars" novels) the masses and the elites both claim to admire them, but actually fear and loathe them because they hate being dependent upon their powers.

Update: The link didn't show up for some reason. It should be working now.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Today's sign of the apocalypse

The fact that people will probably buy this stuff makes me want to cry.

"One man's trash, it has been said, is another's treasure.

Take mud, for example.Most folks spend many hours as well as many dollars removing it from their machines to keep them sparkling clean.

But in England, you can spend about $14.50 for a quart bottle of mud to apply to your vehicles to give them the always popular grunge look.

And the product, Sprayonmud, doesn't cater to just any vehicle. According to the company's Web site (, the target buyers are owners of sport-utility vehicles.


'"To give your friends, family and neighbors the impression you've just come back from a day's shooting or fishing, anything but driving around town all day."'

-Chicago Tribune

Heaven forbid you have to admit that the furthest off-road your super-duper-offroad-Australian-bush-rated Hummer has ever been is over the curb while failing miserably to parallel park.

More on School Choice

at Cafe Hayek.

2 Years in Wisconsin

Both Marquette University Law Professor Christine Hurt and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor Paul Brewer are celebrating their two year anniversaries of living in Wisconsin with top ten lists.

From Christine:

4. I once heard that Texans used more electricity than the rest of the country because of beer. I took that to mean that Texans drank more than the rest of the country. Not so. People in Wisconsin drink much more than people in Texas, on average. Maybe it's the cold. Maybe it's a Catholic v. Protestant thing. Maybe it's because the Packers haven't won so much since we've been here. All I know is that at Hallowe'en, I saw a Dad walking his kids around pulling a cooler. However, this may be related to #5.

Now that is classic Wisconsin.

And from Paul, who lists ten things that he likes (followed by five that he doesn't):

7. The custard. For people (such as myself) who think that ice cream isn't bad enough for them.

But no love for Brats?

3. Not a big fan of the sausages and brats, either. Sorry, Paul Noonan.

Oh well, more for me.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Carnival of the Vanities

is at Mr. Snitch's. Thanks to Mr. Snitch for the link.

And don't miss this post from Brian Noggle. Gillette has been lying to you.

School Choice: Religion

In today's ongoing series on School Choice in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel they focus on the extensive use of vouchers to attend religious schools. Ann Althouse gets right to the meat of the subject:

Courts have already upheld the program, so the question is not whether it violates the Establishment Clause, but whether it is good policy. What do you think?
Good question. I think that it is good policy, and that excluding religious schools from the choice program would be unscientific and arbitrary. There are a lot of way to educate kids, but not a lot of agreement on the best way to go about it. Small class sizes seem to be an attractive feature to most people but I believe them to be overrated. If there existed a teacher capable of captivating 10 year olds with his/her wit and wisdom, if that teacher's students showed superior development when compared with their peers, does it not make sense to increase that teachers classroom size? Perhaps DVDs of that teacher's classes would be superior to an average teacher's live classes.

I'm not sure myself, but I do know that allowing for innovation and differences in technique will eventually lead to superior overall teaching. Some people (myself included) have a strong skepticism of religion in general, but religious schools should not be prohibited simply because a few people are skeptical. Perhaps, as proponents of religious schools argue, there is something to be said for being instructed with a moral grounding. If there is not, then those schools will eventually fail.

I can make educated guesses about the types of schools that will be successful, but exposing ideas to a market will lead to better information, and more scientific conclusions, provided that the market is allowed to have proper input. Denying choices to the choice program strikes me as a phenomenally bad idea.

My friend Brian was kind enough to throw me a link from his column at the Badger Blog Alliance, and he has a personal connection to the choice program as his nephew attends Eastbrook Academy, which was discussed earlier in the week as a high performing school. You can find Brian's views on education (as well as my brother and I in the comments section) here.

Update: A great quote from the Coyote Blog:

Of course, there is one caveat that trips up both the Left and the Right: To accept school choice, you have to be willing to accept that some parents will choose to educate their kids in a way you do not agree with, with science you do not necessarily accept, and with values that you do not hold. If your response is, fine, as long as my kids can get the kind of education I want them to, then consider school choice. However, if your response is that this is not just about your kids, this is about other people choosing to teach their kids in ways you don't agree with, then you are in truth seeking a collectivist (or fascist I guess, depending on your side of the aisle) indoctrination system. Often I find that phrases like "shared public school experience" in the choice debate really are code words for retaining such indoctrination.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Who researches

this stuff?

School Choice

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is running a weeklong series on Milwaukee's School Choice program. So far they have been fairly even handed in their reporting, as they have highlighted both the positives and the negatives. I think that their report leads to an overwhelmingly positive conclusion, even when they did highlight negatives. For instance, on Monday they wrote:

About 10% of the choice schools demonstrate alarming deficiencies. The collapse of four schools and the state's limited ability to take action against others have led to some agreement on the need for increased oversight to help shut down bad schools.

10% seems pretty strong to me. I would wager that Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) fail at a much higher rate. Moreover, the paper has done an admirable job identifying exactly which schools are failing. Assuming that parents are rational actors they should pull their kids out of these schools in droves. That is, after all, the whole point of choice, and the major limitation of MPS. This has been a bit of a problem, but we'll get to that later.

Parental choice by itself does not assure quality. Some parents pick bad schools - and keep their children in them long after it is clear the schools are failing. This has allowed some of the weakest schools in the program to remain in business.

This is true. What do you do when you're not dealing with rational actors? This vexing question continues to plague economists to this day. My first answer is that there are still positives. It allows kids with parents that do care to escape bad situations where they previously would have been trapped. It is unfortunate that some parents can't (or choose not to) see a bad school for what it is. Fortunately there is a solution to this problem too.

Just because products are operating in a market does not mean that we can not observe fact separately from the outcome of that market. If a certain school sees 60% of its students leave when on average a school sees 10% of its students leave, that school is clearly failing even if it retains enough students to survive financially. I would like to see the city create some kind of minimum requirement for the school to survive based on test scores as well as rate of retainment.

(Ed - Did you just advocate government intervention in a market? Sort of. I occasionally believe that tinkering is justified if the rule imposed is not so much an order as it is an impediment. An example of the former would be ordering the school to use whole language learning techniques in English class. This restricts flexibility and experimentation. An example of the latter would be the English Premiere Soccer League rule wherein the bottom teams are booted from the league, and the top teams of the next league down are promoted. This is not a hard and fast direction on how to play soccer, it is an incentive to play it well.)

The article points to a few examples:

Is it Eastbrook Academy, where elementary school students learn Latin, where top-notch student work fills the hallways and where the principal, Julie Loomis, draws on her years on the staff of blue-blooded Brookfield Academy to set similar expectations for central-city kids?

Sounds pretty good, no? I could see sending my kids there. Other schools can and should learn from this school.

Is it Grace Christian Academy, located in a dimly lighted, rented space in the basement of a church? Here, school leaders say they have developed their own curriculum, but one staff member said privately that there is none. When a reporter visited, many of the bookshelves were empty and students completed worksheets downloaded from an Internet site. Only one of four teachers on the staff has a teaching credential. The principal, Reginald Armstrong, said the founder of Grace Christian is a "very godly woman" who had a vision she should start a school.

This school sounds miserable, and should be shut down. Hopefully it will be. There are lessons in poor schools as well.

Or is it St. Adalbert Catholic School, a century-old school, a once all-Polish but now all-Latino program, where a traditional curriculum is taught by fully licensed teachers in a crowded, bubblingly energetic atmosphere?

Atmosphere is important, but I wish they has included a more substantive analysis. So, how are the choice schools doing overall?

Based on firsthand observations and other reporting, Journal Sentinel reporters concluded that at least 10 of the 106 schools they visited appeared to lack the ability, resources, knowledge or will to offer children even a mediocre education. Most of these were led by individuals who had little to no background in running schools and had no resources other than the state payments.
Hopefully with the publication of this series those ten schools will soon go the way of the dodo., like these four examples:

Four of the worst schools have closed - Alex's, Mandella, Academic Solutions Center for Learning and Louis Tucker Academy. But the closures were the result of outside intervention or financial malfeasance, not parents voting with their feet.
And maybe outside intervention will ultimately be necessary where parental involvement is lacking, but if nothing else we now have a mechanism to identify these students.

Part 2 takes a closer look at accountability. I will be very interested to see if they look into the more notorious MPS schools as part of this series. More as the week progresses.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Brewers Update

Rickie Weeks was called up to replace Junior Spivey, as expected. Now comes word that Prince Fielder will be called up to DH in the upcoming Brewer American League road trip in Tampa Bay and Toronto.

But at least our cereal is safe.

From Marginal Revolution:

More than a year before the 9/11 attacks the FBI runs across some Arabs stealing Kellogg's Cornflakes. The FBI doesn't give a damn about cornflakes so they let them go. Sixteen months later come the attacks and now Arabs are hot property so the FBI rounds them up again, asks them a few questions about terrorism (making this a terrorism investigation), and charges them with conspiracy to possess stolen property. No terrorism charges are ever filed but the three grocers remain on the federal list of successfully prosecuted terrorism cases.

For this we need the Patriot Act?

The New Batman

I haven't willingly seen a Batman movie in a long time. The last one was one of the worst movies ever made. For some reason the new Batman Begins seems promising (it's probably related to the inclusion of the best Batman villain ever, Ra's Al Ghul).

Chris, at the L&N Line liked it quite a bit.

Goodbye Hyde Park

Hyde Park is nestled into a lakeside corner on Chicago's south side. Actually, "nestled" probably isn't the right word. Those Texans were not exactly "nestled" into the Alamo. Hyde Park is stuck there, surrounded on all sides by hostile forces.

It is truly unfortunate that the University of Chicago happens to be located in Hyde Park, although the presence of the university does at least keep the area tolerable. Without the University it would likely degenerate into yet another crime ridden ghetto. Fortunately for me this is now someone else's problem. My wife and I are settling in to our new Wrigleyville apartment, and simply being able to walk to a grocery store at night (and actually buy fresh produce and Diet Coke, which can not be consistently accomplished at the single Hyde Park grocery store) without fear of being shot is quite liberating.

That said, Hyde Park was not all bad.

Campus is beautiful, and it has a ton of bookstores. Hyde Park: Where you can get anything you want, as long as its a book.

However, it lacked bars (It had five, none of which were terribly impressive), a movie theater (except the University's DOC films), good public transportation, and an adequate grocery store. Hyde Park: Where fun comes to die.

Crime is rampant, but alternatively, parking is ample. While I was packing boxes on Saturday I saw two youths get arrested on the street below. I'm not sure what they were arrested for, but it looked serious. Three patrol cars stormed onto the scene simultaneously to make the arrest. Recently two people were shot within 100 yards of our old apartment. At least one victim was killed after being shot in broad daylight.

My old neighborhood has been in steady decline for the two years that I lived there. Crime has increased noticeably. My apartment complex, which was 6/7 full, is now mostly vacant. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 high school students were recently arrested for beating up white males unfortunate enough to be walking alone. This was at least partially racially motivated. A new CVS drug store opened up and within a day someone was shot and killed directly outside.

What is truly sad is that most of Hyde Park's problems are self inflicted. Zoning is just terrible. There is some ordinance (maybe city wide, I don't know) that forbids the operation of a tavern within 100 yards of a church. One of the few decent bars, Jimmy's Woodlawn Tap, was forced to shut down for an extended period and fight for a variance when Jimmy died due to the presence of a church across the street. Even the ministers were in favor of letting Jimmy's continue to operate, as the ministers were Jimmy's regulars. A while back U of C professor Jacob Levy wrote the following (and you should really just click over and read the whole thing, which is terribly interesting):

Chicago is, generally, zoned so as to make commercial development extremely difficult-- and institutionally arranged so that an individual Alderman (one's local city councillor) exercises tremendous discretionary power over zoning waivers. Vulgar public choice theory is overrated by many libertarians; but the rent-seeking dynamic doesn't get much more vulgar than the Chicago zoning code. The system is not designed to allow commercial (or residential) supply to spring up to meet demand. It's designed to allow elected and unelected officials to control their neighborhoods, for political or economic gain. There's clearly market demand for more commerce in Hyde Park-- and for commerce closer to campus than 53rd Street or Lake Park Avenue. But commerce can't get in the door. The landmark off-campus bar, Jimmy's Woodlawn Tap, was closed for a year and a half when Jimmy died and left the place to his bartender, because it was now under new ownership and had to re-apply for lots of licenses to continue doing what it had always done in exactly the same space. Bar Louie was delayed for who knows how long. Borders had to struggle for a good long while to get permission to open.

As I understand things, the rest of the story has to do with the way the U of C is laid out, with the university's history of entanglement with Daley-Sr.-era urban renewal and urban planning, and with contemporary neighborhood politics. The layout is a real but minor problem. For as small a student body as we have, the dorms are spread all over the place, some farther away than one wants to walk at night or in the winter. That diffuses the student demand that ordinarily gets concentrated in a few blocks surrounding campus. We also have a very small undergraduate population for a research university, especially an urban research university. (Columbia's is huge by comparison, and of course NYU's is huge by any measure.) And undergraduates tend to have access to more discretionary income than do the doctoral students who make up such a large share of Chicago's student body. So demand is weakened that much further.

Much, much more important is the University/city alliance on urban planning some decades ago-- an alliance that, like everything else to do with Daley-era zoning and urban planning, was about race. Hyde Park was once one of the nation's great centers of jazz and blues. But that was a long, long time ago. The University and the city shut the clubs down; they attracted the wrong element into the neighborhood, donchaknow. Not coincidentally, the clubs were on 55th Street. Jane Jacobs could have predicted the result all too easily. The neighborhood's economic ecology has never really recovered from the decision to shut 55th Street down as a commercial district; and, as big stretches of the neighborhood became unpopulated at night, safety declined, further frightening away other businesses.

Megan McArdle has more, here.

It is a strange place where the rich and the brilliant walk next to (or cross the street to get away from) scary guys with shopping carts (by the way, after those kids were arrested outside my apartment on Saturday my wife and a friend heard a bum outside rooting through the dumpsters in the alley while talking on his cell phone. He said the following:

Yeah, I found some wire racks and a stroller. Not bad. Last year when the kids moved out I found a lap top! I also dug up an enema. No wait, that's not the right word...

What I want to know is who he was talking to. Is there a network of bums operating?).

On any given day I'll pass by Louis Farrakhan's house (which is always diligently guarded by the NOI security detail) and Operation Push national headquarters. I'll see Richard Posner or Steve Levitt, or Dan Drezner walking around. I've seen Barrack Obama at the grocery store. But for every Nobel Prize winner there is some thug walking around keying cars, breaking windows, and participating in drive-by shootings.

And in the grand scheme of things it's just not worth it.

So good riddance Hyde Park. I hope that some day they fix you up because that University is a beautiful place, and it deserves better.

I think that I'll walk to one of the many grocery stores in my new neighborhood tonight, just because I can. And it makes me happy.

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