May 5, 2011 Leave a comment
Politics, parenting, science, education, and pretty much anything I find interesting
I’m so tired of Republicans pretending like they are in favor of free markets when it so glaringly obvious they are just in favor of higher corporate profits. To wit, check out the latest from NC’s Marilyn Avila (R-Time Warner):
H129 sponsor Marilyn Avila, R- Wake, didn’t say much on the House floor today during the concurrence vote on her bill. (That’s not unusual when lawmakers have counted noses and know they have the votes needed.) But after the vote that sent H129 to the governor, she was happy to explain why she felt the measure was needed.
Critics of the bill lined up at one committee meeting after another to testify that their communities hadn’t considered getting into the broadband business until Time Warner Cable refused to bring the service to their area.
Avila defended the cable company. Local officials, she said, “had a level of service they wanted, which happened to be fiber-optic, which is the most expensive there is out there. And private industry having to meet the rules of making a profit and staying above-board in order to stay in business, it was not economically feasible for them.”
So why not let cities offer what the big telcos won’t?
“Municipalities’ core services are being damaged by this particular approach,” Avila said. “They are able to subsidize their telecommunications enterprise when it loses money with other enterprise funds like electricity funds or water and sewer, and these I feel have higher priority than telecommunications. “
Shouldn’t the cities decide what core services are? “Well, that’s true to some degree. But they didn’t ask their citizens if they wanted to pay for that, if they saw that as a core service.”
Not only do you have the Republicans doing all they can to protect corporate profits, they don’t seem to actually trust the government closest to the people– the municipal governments– to know what their citizens want. Not surprising, just depressing.
[On a quasi-related note... I was so excited to sign up for the new streaming service for HBO subscribers-- HBOGo. Alas, although Time Warner owns HBO and owns TimeWarner cable, the latter is the only major cable system not to offer the service. So wrong].
Never really bothered me that we shot Bin Laden whether he was actually resisting or not. Honestly, seemed perfectly reasonable. This nice post over at the New Yorker explains why, according to accepted rules of modern warfare, it was, in fact, perfectly reasonable:
There is no military circumstance where an Al Qaeda operative of bin Laden’s stature could merely be a “combat-based target” in the way a low-level insurgent at a roadside checkpoint would be, because he is also a high-value target, and his status as such matters. In 2009, I also described why:
For many years, soldiers have also been permitted to kill people because of who they are, rather than what they are doing—such people are “status-based targets.” During the Second World War, an American infantryman could shoot an S.S. officer who was eating lunch in a French café without violating the Law of War, so long as he did not actively surrender. The officer’s uniform made it obvious that he was the enemy. In Iraq, the R.O.E. listed about two dozen “designated terrorist organizations,” including Al Qaeda, and, if it can be proved that someone is a member of one of these groups, that person can legally be killed. For a time, the R.O.E. designated as a status-based target any armed man wearing the uniform of the Mahdi Army—the militia led by Moqtada al-Sadr. (After Sadr called a truce, in 2004, the militia was provisionally taken off the list.) But most insurgent groups in Iraq don’t wear uniforms, so their members must be “positively identified” by informants or other forms of intelligence before they can legally be killed. An insurgent is positively identified if there is “reasonable certainty” that he belongs to a declared hostile group.
What was true in Iraq and in the Second World War also applies in the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Targeted air strikes are status-based operations. The drone strikes are status-based operations. Raids conducted by Special Forces to kill key militants—as in the case of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who was killed in Iraq by Special Forces working under the command of General Stanley McChrystal—are status-based operations. A status-based target can become a non-combatant (that is, illegal to kill) only if he is wounded to the point where he no longer poses a threat, or if he is in the process of surrendering. This is why Eric Holder said, during a recent Congressional hearing, that if bin Laden “had surrendered, attempted to surrender, I think we should obviously have accepted that, but there was no indication that he wanted to do that, and therefore his killing was appropriate.” In such a circumstance, the law suggests that the onus is on the target to immediately revoke his combatant status. Soldiers do not have to wait.
Did you know that along with the Navy Seals, there was a single dog along on the mission to get Bin Laden. Foreign Policy has a really cool photo essay about the historic role of dogs in military service. Here’s two of my favorite photos from the series. Do check them all out:
Listened to a really interesting interview about the myriad ways we mis-manage our water resources on Fresh Air last week. A colleague of mine, also recommended the book, The Big Thirst, quite strongly yesterday, so it’s definitely going into the queue. And then, yesterday afternoon, I checked in on a really good blog that I rarely do (NYT’s Economix blog), and came across this really interesting interview with the author. One of the main arguments of the book is that water is too cheap (essentially free, for all intents and purposes) and that has huge distorting effects on how we use it. Here’s a nice tidbit on the matter:
Q. Your discussion of the downsides of free water reminds me of parking. We think free parking is great. But it actually leads to all kinds of problems — like long waits to find a spot in some cities and too much traffic. How would you try to persuade someone that free water is actually a bad thing?
Mr. Fishman: First, let’s agree that water isn’t literally free — people say, “Hey, I pay a water bill, it’s $30 a month, that’s not free!” Almost, though. A half-liter of bottled water costs 99 cents. The average U.S. water bill at home is $34 a month. So for what we thoughtlessly spend on a few gulps of water at 7-Eleven, we get a day’s water at home — 300 gallons, for everything from bathing to cooking. One dollar a day.
Free water — water so cheap you never think about cost when making water use decisions — is a silent disaster. When something is free, the message is: It’s unlimited.
Free water leads to constant waste and misallocation. Farmers and factory managers, hotels and gardeners never consider how much water they are using, and whether they are using it smartly — because the water bill itself sends no signal to be careful. (Half the water used by farmers worldwide is wasted.) There’s no incentive for efficiency.
Cheap water also means that the organizations we rely on to supply water — utilities, irrigation districts — never have the money to modernize, to replace crumbling systems, to find the “next gallon” of water supply.
Meanwhile, the poor pay the highest cost of all — hundreds of millions of people spend half of every day walking to fetch water that usually isn’t even clean. That water is “free” in that they don’t pay for it — except in terms of their health, their children’s health and their economic opportunities.
If you could change one thing that would fix almost everything about water — from better environmental stewardship to getting water to people who don’t have it now — it would be price. We can afford a bit more for our remarkable water system. We’ll be in trouble if we let it slide into obsolescence.
A pretty simple fix. A good start is graduated pricing where as you use more water, the price goes up. As I told somebody the other day, we do about as well as we can in our household considering there’s six of us and one of us (Alex) has autism and loves playing with water.
I suppose I should be all upset that 8th graders don’t really understand separation of powers, but I’m not. Could we do better with civics education in this country? Assuredly. Is civics (and probably science, too) education suffering because it is not tested every year from 3-8 and reading and math are? Assuredly. Still, I just cannot get all worked up from stuff like this:
Fewer than half of American eighth graders knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights on the most recent national civics examination, and only one in 10 demonstrated acceptable knowledge of the checks and balances among the legislative, executive and judicial branches, according to test results released on Wednesday…
“The results confirm an alarming and continuing trend that civics in America is in decline,” said Charles N. Quigley, executive director of the Center for Civic Education, a nonprofit group in California. “During the past decade or so, educational policy and practice appear to have focused more and more upon developing the worker at the expense of developing the citizen.”
Undoubtedly true. But… Salon has a sampling of 10 of the 8th grade questions– some of them strike me as really hard for an 8th grader.
2. A military government in Country X is taking away the political rights of a particular group in the country. What impact would this most likely have on the United States?
- An increase in inflation in the United States
- An increase in immigration from Country X to the United States
- A decrease in United States import tariffs
- A decrease in the number of cases brought before the Supreme Court
3. The United States and Japan disagree most about the
- growing power of the Japanese military
- openness of Japanese markets to American products
- need to give aid to underdeveloped countries
- number of Japanese who can immigrate to the United States
4. Which of the following has been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court?
- Requiring students in public schools to recite prayers
- Requiring journalists to reveal the names of people who provide information for news stories
- Allowing citizens to sue the federal government
- Allowing states to require that children be vaccinated against diseases
The fact that 8th graders (much less HS seniors, honestly) just doesn’t bother me that much. At that point in their education, I just hope that they are learning the value of being a good citizen and have the basics of our structure of government figured out. Heck, I’m pretty sure a good number of my current students would miss #3.
A couple days ago, I speculated that whether Obama’s call on the Bin Laden operation was “gutsy” or not, I was not inclined to think so just because one his top advisers said so. After reading this really interesting counterfactual of all that realistically could have gone wrong, I’m going with definitely gutsy. A sampling:
After seconds that seemed like hours, the door-breachers broke through. The lead team members burst into the building but quickly realized that the house had been rigged with explosives. Tell-tale signs of a house-borne IED were everywhere: copper wires hugged the walls, leading to several plastic jugs filled with explosives. Before the strike team could pull out, the home exploded, burying several people under its rubble.
In a situation where seconds were critical, it would take hours to dig the operators out of the rubble. Worse yet, their intended target was not among the debris. The gunmen were not the most senior leaders of al-Qaida, but, rather, members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, an anti-Indian terrorist group that works closely with the Pakistani government (though some of its members have links to al-Qaida). Even worse, the botched raid had inadvertently led to the deaths of several children living in the compound. As the SEALs salvaged what they could, Pakistani forces from nearby military bases responded quickly, arriving on the scene and demanding their surrender, leading to a standoff covered live on satellite television.
The debacle was a disaster for the president. The nightmares of special operations past all resurfaced: the failed hostage-rescue attempt in Iran in 1980 and the capture of Somali militants in Mogadishu in 1993 that led to the Blackhawk Down fiasco—operations in which eight and 18 American soldiers died, respectively—both resurfaced to haunt the intelligence and special-operations community. Republicans derided the president for his ineffective and weak leadership, while members of his own party privately expressed their doubts about the strategic prowess of their professor-turned-commander-in-chief.
I gotta say, something in the neighborhood of that, does sound plausible. If things had not gone well, this could have been very bad for Obama. I’d have to say he took a real risk here and indeed made a gutsy call.