The “national divorce”: why I don’t want it

I remember the dark days of the George W. Bush presidency. Many liberals thought about “succession”; I remember the following:

Yes, I read the book. And there was this (NSFW language)

Well, now, we have a Republican representative talking about a “national divorce.” While some Republican politicians have condemned such sentiments, many Republicans, especially southern ones, support it…as do some west coast Democrats.

Now, aside from the very idea being a mess…after all, the split is really more of an urban vs. rural one…there ARE blue regions in red states and red regions in blue states, ….and some major problems….

I am not sure I’d even want to live in a “liberals rule” area anymore.

At one time, I thought “it would be great to teach science without being yapped at by the creationists. But now…we have the equally moronic “science is white supremacy and patriarchy” crowd. And just look at how low some of the old, formerly good magazines have sunk. I don’t want the daffy leftist extremists in charge either. The new leftist anti-intellectuals would have a great deal of power in a new state.

I never thought I’d say this out loud: I actually envy those who live in other countries

Yes, some intellectuals like Fareed Zakaria said that this was coming.
After WW 2 the US basically stood alone. The old USSR had a strong military but in just about everything else, save a hiccup with Sputnik, it was USA, USA for a long time..even the Olympics.
But things change, circumstances change, and challenges change.

I was born in the very late 1950’s and grew up on Air Force Bases. Yes, I remember the debacle in Vietnam all too well; our dads went there. Mine: twice.
I lived in Japan (on Air Force Bases) and, many of us got home sick; “The World” is what we called the US. “When do you get to go back to The World?” was a common question.
This was the days before things like ESPN; we saw games that were old, listened to them on shortwave radio, etc.

And I served in the Navy for a few years and saw some of Europe. Our Navy lead the way; we had ports in different places; seeing other places made me just a bit smug.

Then came the mid 1980’s to 1991 when I was in grad school. Sure, many of the students were international (“hey why are you working that hard…you are an American! Yes, I studied like the Chinese students did…) and, of course, many of them had unflattering things to say about the US of A. And yes, my American grad student friends went along..and at times I asked “if we are so horrible, why are you here?” The understanding is that we, being the Leviathan, should just accept it in good humor. But I saw cases of “The Ugly Foreigner” right in my own country and didn’t like it.

And yes, there are still aspects of the US that are outstanding, e. g. freedom of speech. Of course, the wokes and the Bible thumpers would love to change that..

But along comes the pandemic and oh my goodness, we suck, big time. Other countries (e. g. Canada) have done much better. But they have this “we are in this together” ethic that the US lacks…badly lacks.

Want to party: “can’t tell me what to do.” \

Want a massive get together sans social distancing? You aren’t the boss of me!

Oh..this great cause! Well, massive protests are ok! (yes, they probably spread it a bit) though masking (present at some of them) and many staying the hell away may have mitigated it a bit. But..I think that conservatives have a point when they attack liberal hypocrisy:

We just don’t have that “all hands on deck” unity that other countries can draw on.

We are configured to be skeptical of “expert opinion” and given how poorly the media reports said opinion (and they are awful..they ALWAYS get it wrong when it is the least bit technical; journalists are not intellectuals)

Herp Derp: “virus is smaller than your mask mesh” (yep, but gets to you via just doesn’t float by iteslf)
“if your mask works why do you care about mine?” (masks better prevent the spread from an infected person..inverse square law…and when worn by the non-infected person it can help reduce the dose of COVID19…it is risk mitigation, not risk elimination..think of resistors in series….

But people listen to such “common sense” garbage and blow off science.

Anyhow, I envy ex pats but we’ve screwed up so badly, we aren’t wanted anywhere.

Ah…we were overrated. No…I am not saying that other countries are better in all ways or even in most ways. We do some things very well. But pulling together when it requires subordinating immediate gratification..we are awful at that, at least at this point in our history.

EVERYONE thinks that THEY know what is best.

An online pledge and frustration

One downside of the internet age is that it is very easy to spread “plausible disinformation” about those you do not like; here are but two examples (here and here).

What makes this worse is that other countries have paid trolls to do just that.

It is so tempting for me to want to believe the worst about those I do not like or do not agree with (e. g. MAGAs, wokes, the sanctimonious know-it-all-activists, religious nutters, etc.). So when something comes out that purports to report an incident where they say or do something outrageous, immoral or stupid, I want to believe it..and even pass it on.

That isn’t good for anyone.

So I am pledging to fact check first..prior to believing ..and fact check multiple times prior to passing it on.

I complain about liberals quite a bit, mainly because they tend to be the people I talk to the most. And another complaint is to follow:

some yoga person complained that she got nude photos sent to her..she admitted that she sometimes posed in a thong.

One of my friends said something to the effect: “what do you expect to happen”…and that angered some feminist friends of mine (yes, I still have some).

No..that doesn’t mean “it is ok to do that” but it does mean “that is a predictable result.”

It is a bit like leaving your stuff unlocked on the porch..yes, it will get stolen, and if you don’t want it to get stolen, lock it up. Most people do that.

No, that doesn’t mean that it is ok to steal.

But that is “victim blaming” to the feminists.

In a way, the social justice liberals are a bit like the old Bible Beaters…the Bible Beaters say that if we all turned to Jesus, human evil would vanish.
The SJW’s appear to think that humans can be trained/peer pressured into eliminating evil.

Sure, peer pressure and education can help REDUCE bad behavior (and yes, sending unsolicited nudes is bad) but it will never eliminate it; most of the public understands that.

And that leads me to David Frum’s book Trumpocracy

I am early in the book where he is setting up the conditions under which Trump arose. Yes, he took many to task; even Obama (for retreating on principle when it was politically expedient to do so).
Then he talks about Trump supporters and how much of Trump’s support comes from those who are sick of political correctness.

The irony: many liberals on my friend’s list see political correctness as just plain politeness as they don’t:

1. Live in an academic environment nor
2. Watch right win media sources, which focus on the foibles of 1.

Yes, reports of PC-ness on college campuses are exaggerated; most STUDENTS are far more reasonable than that. Come to think of it, most non-humanities faculty appear to be also.

Well, Trump may be crude, vulgar, dishonest, bombastic and just plain ignorant, but at least he hits back at the noisy wokes and tells them to kiss off. And that makes him appealing to many.
Of course, he tells off anyone who contradicts him, not just the wokes…and that includes experts who are giving accurate analysis and information, but..well, those are just petty details ..and a price some of his supporters (the ones who know better) are willing to pay.

I am not. I’d vote for a rubber chicken if that was Trump’s major opposition.

Trump, womp womp and Daniel Webster vs. the Devil

First: my workout was a 5 mile walk (W. Peoria) in the heat of late morning; the stride felt fine.
Then weights: rotator cuff, pull ups (5 sets of 10: good), military: 2 sets of 15 x 50 seated, supported, 10 x 40 standing, rows: 3 sets of 10 x 50 single arm. Incline: 10 x 135 (tough), 7 x 160 decline, goblet squats: sets of 6 with 40, 50, 50, planks, knee stretches.

I honestly think my glutes are firming up.


Yeah, the Trump tweets ticked me off…you don’t tell US citizens to go elsewhere. I didn’t tell anti-Obama people that when they belly ached and complained.
If there is one thing that burns me about conservatives is that they are very sanctimonious and feel that THEY have some inherit right to say what is American and what isn’t if they were umpires. They are NOT, and Leonard Pitts says it very well:

“You, like them, take for granted that America is your house, a white house where you make the rules, you set the standards and the rest of us live only by your sufferance. That’s the assumption embedded in your tweets: that you have the right to tell the rest of us to — apologies to the Beatles — “get back to you where you once belonged.””

Yes, conservatives, it is your country, AND mine, and yes, theirs too.

But there is really no “shaming them” amount of outrage that will work.

“How DARE you…” is met with…”womp womp.”

And this reminded me of this old short story about The Devil and Daniel Webster (read the whole thing; it is short)

The plot: a farmer had some terrible luck and made an oath that he’d sell his soul to the Devil…and well, the Devil came up and took him up on it. Things got better…then the Devil came to collect. The farmer, Jabez Stone, panicked and sought out Daniel Webster’s help. So they set up a trial with..well, Webster demanded a jury of Americans, current or past, and that he got:

If Jabez Stone had been sick with terror before, he was blind with terror now. For there was Walter Butler, the loyalist, who spread fire and horror through the Mohawk Valley in the times of the Revolution; and there was Simon Girty, the renegade, who saw white men burned at the stake and whooped with the Indians to see them burn. His eyes were green, like a catamount’s, and the stains on his hunting shirt did not come from the blood of the deer. King Philip was there, wild and proud as he had been in life, with the great gash in his head that gave him his death wound, and cruel Governor Dale, who broke men on the wheel. There was Morton of Merry Mount, who so vexed the Plymouth Colony, with his flushed, loose, handsome face and his hate of the godly. There was Teach, the bloody pirate, with his black beard curling on his breast. The Reverend John Smeet, with his strangler’s hands and his Geneva gown, walked as daintily as he had to the gallows. The red print of the rope was still around his neck, but he carried a perfumed handkerchief in one hand. One and all, they came into the room with the fires of hell still upon them, and the stranger named their names and their deeds as they came, till the tale of twelve was told. Yet the stranger had told the truth—they had all played a part in America.

And these jurors fed off of fury, outrage and hate. They more they saw, the more demon-like the got..the hotter their eyes glowed.

It got to Dan’l in the end, and he began to heat, like iron in the forge. When he got up to speak he was going to flay that stranger with every trick known to the law, and the judge and jury too. He didn’t care if it was contempt of court or what would happen to him for it. He didn’t care any more what happened to Jabez Stone. He just got madder and madder, thinking of what he’d say. And yet, curiously enough, the more he thought about it, the less he was able to arrange his speech in his mind. Till, finally, it was time for him to get up on his feet, and he did so, all ready to bust out with lightnings and denunciations. But before he started he looked over the judge and jury for a moment, such being his custom. And he noticed the glitter in their eyes was twice as strong as before, and they all leaned forward. Like hounds just before they get the fox, they looked, and the blue mist of evil in the room thickened as he watched them. Then he saw what he’d been about to do, and he wiped his forehead, as a man might who’s just escaped falling into a pit in the dark.

For it was him they’d come for, not only Jabez Stone. He read it in the glitter of their eyes and in the way the stranger hid his mouth with one hand. And if he fought them with their own weapons, he’d fall into their power; he knew that, though he couldn’t have told you how. It was his own anger and horror that burned in their eyes; and he’d have to wipe that out or the case was lost. He stood there for a moment, his black eyes burning like anthracite. And then he began to speak.

So, he had to find a different way to talk to make them..more …human. And so..he did:

He started off in a low voice, though you could hear every word. They say he could call on the harps of the blessed when he chose. And this was just as simple and easy as a man could talk. But he didn’t start out by condemning or reviling. He was talking about the things that make a country a country, and a man a man.

And he began with the simple things that everybody’s known and felt—the freshness of a fine morning when you’re young, and the taste of food when you’re hungry, and the new day that’s every day when you’re a child. He took them up and he turned them in his hands. They were good things for any man. But without freedom, they sickened. And when he talked of those enslaved, and the sorrows of slavery, his voice got like a big bell. He talked of the early days of America and the men who had made those days. It wasn’t a spread-eagle speech, but he made you see it.
He admitted all the wrong that had ever been done. But he showed how, out of the wrong and the right, the suffering and the starvations, something new had come.
And everybody had played a part in it, even the traitors.

And yes, he ended up winning the case, but paying a price. But that is the point: outrage will NOT move the Trump supporters, but perhaps the right approach might flip a FEW of them, in the key states..just enough to win the Electoral College. Blowing out Trump in California, New York and Illinois won’t really help.

Felix’s biography of Elizabeth Warren

There was much about Elizabeth Warren that I didn’t know, and what I’ve learned, I’ll list later in this post, which is about Antonia Felix’s book Elizabeth Warren, Her Fight, Her Work, Her Life.
You can read a review here.

The most important things I learned: (less important list at the end)

1. I knew she was a top notch scholar. But, if anything, I underestimated how good she is. Wow…let’s put it this way: Harvard recruited her to come as a full professor. That means “world class.”

2. On pages 70-72, we find that Warren, now a law professor at the University of Houston, attended a seminar on law and economics, run by the Olin Foundation. It was to teach economics to law professors, with the underlying goal, according to the foundation, to make law professors more conservative. At the time, Warren was a Republican. There, she studied and learned the principles of conservative thought on economics and, eventually, used what she learned to fight against that approach to economics!

Ah…if we had more of that these days; LEARNING the other side’s best arguments, even if it is to learn how to better fight against them. But…all too often we find some kook on the other side to lampoon. But I am digressing.

Anyway, there is much more there…and no, the “nevertheless, she persisted” incident isn’t described, her early days in the Senate are. And yes, there is a discussion of her “Native American heritage” claims.

At times, the book is too much like a cheer leading book, but there is a lot of solid fact there.

1. She grew up in Oklahoma, and won a Betty Crocker competition in high school.
2. She was on the debate team in high school and later in college (first was George Washington University).
3. She dropped out of college to get married. Warren is the surname of her first husband, who she ended up divorcing.
4. Undergraduate degree: University of Houston (where she finished)
5. Law degree: Rutgers. She taught there, and later at UH.
6. She spent time teaching law (and doing scholarship) at Rutgers, Houston, University of Texas, Penn, and finally at Harvard. She was RECRUITED to join the faculty at Harvard as a full professor.
7. Our time and Texas briefly overlapped.
8. She was a Republican for much of her early life and remains a staunch capitalist..she is for regulated capitalism NOT socialism.
9. She appears to like men’s legs (noticed that on her second husband) Yeah, that is fluff, but so what.

there is much more that I already knew e. g. her overseeing the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which came about as part of Dodd-Frank. Note that at the time, there weren’t many universal protections for those using financial products.

Joe Biden: Promises to Keep (2008 campaign memoir)

I just finished Joe Biden’s book Promises to Keep. This book was published in 2007 and ends with his decision to run for President in 2008; we know how that ended up.

The book starts out with the home life stuff; many might find it interesting but I found that part to be a bit of a slog. I found that it picks up when he graduates from Syracuse Law School and worked for a firm which defended a company from a law suit filed by a cruelly injured worker…he expresses remorse that the poor, injured guy would probably come up empty.

And so goes much of the rest of the book. Biden expresses his values via how they came up during some of the big events of his long Senate tenure.

He starts by describing his improbable Senate victory in 1972 (he was previously a county office holder), the tragic death of his wife and child, and his early political battles including:
Vietnam, the Carter administration, the Bork nomination, his failed 1988 campaign (yes, he discussed the plagiarism issue in detail, both the speech and the work in law school), the Violence Against Women Act, Kosovo, (including his meeting with Milošević ), Afghanistan, Iraq and the Bush-Cheney administration.

On a personal note: the description of his brain surgery and recovery from it was interesting.

As far as tone, there are some things that might make the heads of progressives explode:
1. He goes over “law and order/crime” quite a bit.
2. He is a conservative on abortion rights…yes, he is politically pro-choice
3. He also has the attitude that one ought to assume the best motives in those you disagree with (politically). This “those who disagree with me politically are evil and stupid” is NOT his brand.

Personally: I liked the book and learned from it.

Sarah Palin’s book Going Rogue (Encore Post)

True, I don’t care for Governor Palin (at least her politics and social attitudes) but I’d like to back up what I say. Hence, I’ll included a list of quotes that back up what I say; this will be lengthy so I’ll append these at the end of this article.

Here is what I think, in brief:

What I liked: insights to Alaska’s unique geographical challenges, discussion on some oil issues, persona life stuff, observations on the Inuit fishermen, running stories. She gave a shout out to endurance swimmer Lynn Cox who swam between an Alaskan island and a Russian one (though her joke “you can swim from Alaska to Russia is a bit misleading; Lynn Cox can and someone else did so in a wet suit; but it would kill most of us).

I was amused by her observation on Joe Biden physically stretching prior to their debate.

She also spoke correctly about the widely circulated “list of books that Sarah Palin tried to ban” and
gave a good explanation on how Alaska chooses judges: the legislature creates an “approved pool” and the governor has to select out of that.

She also explains her being unfairly tagged as having some sort of messianic view of the Iraq war. This is what she said:

which really is in line with President Lincoln’s saying that we should pray that we really are on God’s side.

One note of current interest This is from page 153:

Prior to the election it had been revealed that BP had been trying to save money for years by cutting corners on oil pipeline maintenance on the North Slope. This was very serious: leaks and spills from corroded pipelines were all too common and harmed the environment plus led to production slowdowns. So one of my first priorities (as governor) was to establish the Petroleum Systems Integrity Office…

Note: she said one thing in her book, and something different as governor:

Remember the Exxon Valdez disaster and settlement? This is what happened:

The Supreme Court handed corporate America a major victory this week when it sharply reduced the amount of money Exxon Mobil has to pay in punitive damages for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. An Alaskan jury had initially ruled Exxon should pay five billion dollars in punitive damages but in 2006, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court cut the award of punitive damages in half. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court cut the amount of punitive damages again and ordered Exxon Mobil to pay just $500 million in punitive damages – one tenth of the original jury’s ruling.

This is what then Governor Palin said:

So what does she say in her book? Page 62:

Exxon Mobil’s litigation compounded the suffering, especially for the Cordova and Valdez fishermen. Court challenges stretched on for two decades. It took twenty years for Alaska to achieve victory. As governor, I directed our attorney general to file an amicus brief on behalf of palintiffs in the case, and, thanks to Alaska’s able attorneys arguing in front of the highest court in the land, in 2008 the U. S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the people. Finally, Alaskans could recover some of their losses.

Hmm, she sure paints a rather different picture in her book than she did in the video, no? 😉

What I didn’t like: most of it was boring Fox News talking points, much of which is either false, misleading, or baseless. The policy arguments were breathtakingly shallow and not backed up by facts.

But the worst part of it was the incessant whining and self-pity: her interview disasters were always the fault of the interviewer and she was always the one being unfairly picked on.

It appears to me that she has a huge inferiority complex (well deserved in some cases) and that she attracts others who have such complexes.

Though she whines about unfair attacks, she constantly disdains “liberal elitists”, “Berkeley graduates” and those who wear Birkenstocks and drive hybrids.

If you are the type who thinks that Fox News is “fair and balanced”, who thinks that your understanding of the Constitution rivals that of a law professor and that your understanding of the economy is on a par (or superior!) to that of a Nobel Prize winning economist, and that your “common sense” makes you a better judge of scientific facts that professional scientists, then you’ll love this book.

It is a pity because there are good things in the book, but they are scattered in a sea of boring repetitive Fox News boiler plate and self pity.

The details

Instances of resentment, name calling

p. 36: “Todd was shy and quiet in demeanor, typical of Yupik men, who, unlike some others, don’t feel the need to fill up the air around them with words all the time.”

p. 45 She whines about being ridiculed about attending so many colleges and taking so long to graduate. She claims: that it took 5 years because “she paid her own way” even after admitting that she didn’t pay enough attention to her studies on page 42. Still, why 4 different colleges?

p. 48: “For many in Alaska, being green isn’t about wearing Birkenstocks and driving a hybrid”.

p. 76-77: she attempted to insult someone by saying that they were a “Birkenstock and granola Berkeley grad”

p. 95: she argued that her husband really wasn’t “in bed” with the oil industry because he worked in the field and didn’t make executive decisions. That is fine. But she goes on to say: “I told Alaskans, “Todd’s not in management. He actually works.” (emphasis hers).

p. 99: she whines and justifies quitting her Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission post.

pp 107-108: she speaks with contempt about “Andree the Gadfly”, ironically noting that she attempted to get a license to sell homemade chickpea sandwiches. Such regulation is government intervention into the free market, isn’t it? 🙂

pp. 116-117: whines about Andrew Halcro, Andree McLeod (she calls the “falafel lady”) and the “Wasilla “town crier” being used as Palin references.

p. 134: “I had plenty of backup when telling Hollywood liberals what I thought of their asinine plan to ban guns.”

p. 151: “The fact that his shirt was buttoned one button off and his shirttail was poking though his open fly didn’t exactly inspire confidence”

Does she really want to bring up “inspiring confidence”? We’ll get to some things later. But note how superficial she is.

p. 181: Palin calls decorated combat veteran John Kerry an “elitist loon”.

p. 183: she whines about the press coverage she was getting.

pp. 185-187: she wrote a letter from God to herself. Yes, this idea might be ok to do in private. But when you publicize is, you open yourself to ridicule. Of course, she whines about getting ridiculed.

p. 201: she called a Public Safter Commissioner behavior “insubordination”; evidently she saw herself as his boss.

p. 207: whines for the first time about her being questioned about “what she reads”; after all, “she” has written op-eds for several newspapers. I wonder why she didn’t just list those newspapers? Why did she see that question as insulting anyway? After all, some might enjoy commentary type magazines (The Nation, National Review); others might prefer policy publications.

p. 214: she was talking about her knowledge of the Iraq war; she had just been selected as the VP candidate. She then says “I knew the history of the conflict to the extent that most Americans did.” That is supposed to be acceptable?

pp 217-218: she justifies her creationism here; she points out that her dad taught elementary school science and:

His lessons spilled over to the dinner table. We ate together every night and I just assumed that every kid learned clever acronyms for planet alignments and the elements of the periodic table between forkfuls of caribou lasagna. Didn’t every family talk about what differentiated a grizzly from a brown bear?

She then talks about William F. Buckley’s belief in a divine origin for mankind and called him a “world class intellect” (??? above average yes; world class: not even close)

Her “knowledge” of science can be gauged from this:

Note: personally, I love the way Maddow mocks and ridicules her. What I got is that this really gets under Palin’s skin. But it would be bad for a politician to do it this way; in my opinion many people have inferiority complexes about their intelligence (despite their bluster).

p. 221: “We felt our very normalcy, our status as ordinary Americans, could be a much-needed fresh breeze blowing into Washington D. C.”

This brings us to two big points:
1. She brags about how Alaska is so different and the challenges are so hard…that isn’t “ordinary”, isn’t it? I suppose “ordinary” is good when it suits her?
2. She appears to think that “ordinary American” means “being like her and her supporters”. That might be why she made statements like this:

We believe that the best of America is not all in Washington, D.C. We believe” — here the audience interrupted Palin with applause and cheers — “We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation. This is where we find the kindness and the goodness and the courage of everyday Americans. Those who are running our factories and teaching our kids and growing our food and are fighting our wars for us. Those who are protecting us in uniform. Those who are protecting the virtues of freedom.”

Not sure how much this helps Palin out. Is the VP candidate saying that small towns are more authentically American than, say, suburbia or cities?

As Eilperin writes: “The upshot? Washington D.C. is neither ‘real America’ or ‘pro-America.’ Other parts of the nation? It’s unclear, but if you live in a small town, you’re probably patriotic from Palin’s point of view.”

227: Claims that Obama didn’t say much during his speeches. I’d respond that she didn’t understand what he was saying…that might be closer to the truth.

232: claimed that her candidacy would draw “unprecedented onslaught of rumors, lies, and innuendo” brought on by how she was “packaged”. I wonder if she remembered the Clinton or the Dukakis campaigns?

236: complained about the “black suited laptop-toting flatlanders” as well “a defeated former opponent, a maniacal blogger, the falafel lady and the Wasilla town crank”

p. 242: “I just knew that even though the other ticket had looked down on my small-town mayor creds, the convention delegates clearly knew that national leaders are nurtured in the cradle of local service”.

p. 254: She complained about the McCain campaign keeping her from talking to the Alaska media: “Ultimately, this hurt the campaign to a degree the “experts” could never grasp.”

p. 269: She takes issue with Michelle Obama’s statement about “feeling proud of her country for the first time” and bellowed about the so-called “Blame America First” canard.

p. 270-278: this is a long protracted whine/rant about her interviews. She had a quip about Charles Gibson: “he peered skeptically at me over his bifocals like a high school principal.”


But she saves most of her spleen for Katie Couric (271-278): though she admits that she “had bad moments”, she mostly blames the line of questioning, that she is being condescended to and complained that Biden’s gaffe didn’t receive enough media coverage (that President Roosevelt calmed the country on TV after the 1929 stock market crash; Roosevelt wasn’t elected until 1932 and the mode of communication was radio at that time).

But how can she possibly blame anything other than her gross incompetence for this:

The reading question:

The Supreme Court decision (remember that she complained about the Exxon Valdez decision as governor):

The “Russia” comment:

Fareed Zakaria got it exactly right:

pp 280-285: basically a series of complaints about the McCain camp, debate prep, and the expectations of her debate:
“Weeks out, pretty much the entire Washington New York media constellation was predicting that I’d make a complete fool of myself in the VP debate.”

(psst: they were right).

p. 287: she pulls the “I’m a girl” card and complains that Hillary Clinton was mistreated in the media. She did issue a bit of an apology for this though:

She wrote in her book: “I wasn’t really accusing her of whining. Still, before criticizing her on this point, I should have walked a mile in her shoes”.

Great line Governor. But you can apply that “should have walked a mile in their shoes” to many others as well, including those who accuse of not being real Americans because they don’t think like you. And maybe you should appreciate some of the racism that Barack Obama and his former pastor (Rev. Wright) experienced.

page 288: she calls Senator Biden’s idea for partitioning Iraq “hare brained”. Really: she feels comfortable being condescending to Biden but whines and bellows when she gets condescended to?

page 292: She felt that the VP debate “went well, from my perspective anyway.”
Really? Here is the full 92 minutes:

Here is my take (with clips).

I also got immediate feedback (not from the unscientific internet polls)

CBS poll of undecideds: 46 Biden, 21, Palin, 33 a tie.

CNN poll of all viewers:

Who did the best job in the debate?

Biden 51
Palin 36


Is Palin qualified to serve as president?

Before debate: 42
After debate: 46

Before debate: 54
After debate: 53

Update Media Curves

Independents: 69-31 Biden
Democrats: 87-11 Biden
Republicans: 80-19 Palin

Kathleen Parker ( a Republican) said this:

Well, darnit all, if that dadgum girl (wink, wink) didn’t beat the tarnation out of Joe Biden. Maverick Sarah Palin fersure surpassed expectations and said everything under the sun, also. And Biden smiled and smiled.

Palin is a populist pro. She hit all the notes that resonate with non-elite Americans: family (Hi Mom and Dad!), “Can I call ya Joe?” personal responsibility, Wall Street greed, children with special needs. Her most effective technique was speaking directly to the American people and letting Joe know that’s what she was gonna do, doggonit.

Stylistically, she used the language of the people to great effect. And, you know what? If you want to know what the American people care about, you can go to a kid’s soccer game on Saturday and ask parents how they feel, and “I’ll betcha you’re going to hear some fear.”

I’ll have to go to the transcript to figure out what Palin actually said and try to figure out whose facts were right. But there’s no question: She won the debate on popularity. She did her homework, studied hard, and delivered with spunk. Still, I had the uneasy feeling throughout that I was witnessing a data dump from a very appealing droid. Even the winks and jaw juts seemed slightly programmed. And the question remains: Is she ready to be president should the need arise?

I guess that counts as doing well? 🙂

pp. 304-306: she seems upset the people actually fact-checked the stuff that “Joe the Plumber” said about himself and looked into his background. She also talks about a campaign character that I didn’t know about; by then I had tuned out this sort of silly stuff (Tito the Builder):

p. 354: This is part of her build up to rationalize her quitting the governor’s job midway through. She complains “As per the left wing playbook, disgruntled personal operatives twisted the the ethics reform process that I had championed into a weapon to use against me.”

The “left wing playbook” remark is laughable enough, but this leads to a larger point: one has to carefully craft legislation so it can’t be misused; this “good old ‘merican common sense” doesn’t cut it.

p. 368: Palin whines about the 2006 midterm campaign: “It’s the story of how the Illinois congressman, now President Obama’s chief of staff, had crafted and executed the ruthless 2006 campaign strategy and won back Congress for the Democrats.”

Talk about pots and kettles…gee how pathetic is that? Has she ever heard of Karl Rove?

p. 370: “One does have to wonder though, what did Kim Elton did to earn his new job in Washington.”

p 373: more whining about the liberals; she mentions that personal legal bills were mounting and said “The liberal mentality is that if a charge doesn’t stick, personal bankruptcy has to eventually.” This is more build up as to her quitting her job.

p 378: “Left wing bloggers began feeding stories to their friends in the major media that the FBI was investigating me”.

p. 379: “Secretly, I must admit that I really wanted to see the likes of Andrea Mitchell on my home turf witnessing how happy and at peace my family was”.

385. “I do not believe I am more moral, certainly no better, than anyone else, and conservatives who act “holier than thou” turn my stomach. So do some elite liberals.”

But some Americans are “more American” than others, Governor? 😉

p 392. “The personal computer revolutionized our economy, but the “experts” didn’t see it coming.”
True, but perhaps “experts” and elitist developed the technology that made computers possible to begin with and invented the computer? 🙂

Instances of questionable accusations or statements

pp. 12-13: discusses Secretary of State Seward’s purchase of Alaska. She correctly points out that Seward was ridiculed. But then: “And so, decades later, he was posthumously vindicated, as purveyors of unpopular common sense often are.”

Uh, Seward went against the common wisdom of the time, that is why he was ridiculed.

p. 28: “In those days, ACLU activists had not yet convinced young people that they were supposed to feel offended by other people’s free exercise of religion.”

Wrong. The ACLU doesn’t oppose things like extracurricular Bible study groups, so long as they are treated the same as other kinds of study groups. What the ACLU opposes are things like prayers “lead from the podium” at graduations. Why? People have a reasonable expectation to attend a graduation but no one has the right to a captive audience for such things.

p. 29: talked favorably on title IX (the law that made government funded schools provide equal opportunities for women). Note: this is a liberal idea; e. g., the federal government telling local schools what to do.

p. 45: Gave Reagan credit for getting the hostages released. Technically, the release was negotiated while Carter was president and occurred 20 minutes after Reagan was sworn into office.

p 46: She has a long paragraph about how great President Reagan was which included: “I knew the previous administration had left a legacy of soaring unemployment, sky-high taxes and rampant inflation. Regan’s plan for growing our economy made common sense:….”

Fact: Paul Volker was the federal reserve chairman who got credit for reducing inflation; he was appointed by President Carter and had began his program while Carter was in office! Oh yes, he backed Obama during the 2008 election and continues to work with him today.

p. 67: She discussed the Exxon Valdez Supreme Court Ruling. In the book, she said that this was a victory and gave herself credit for it. When she was governor and spoke about it, she played a much different tune:

p. 100: she says: “The Democrats and the media both praised my efforts, but obviously only because it was the GOP getting hammered in that episode.” She doesn’t back this statement up.

p. 114: “we ran on small donations from all over the state, mostly from first-time political donors and we turned back some large checks from big donors if we perceived conflicts of interest.”
This appears to be false:

THE FACTS: Of the roughly $1.3 million she raised for her primary and general election campaigns for governor, more than half came from people and political action committees giving at least $500, according to an AP analysis of her campaign finance reports. The maximum that individual donors could give was $1,000; $2,000 for a PAC.

Of the rest, about $76,000 came from Republican Party committees.

She accepted $1,000 each from a state senator and his wife in the weeks after the two Republican lawmakers’ offices were raided by the FBI as part of an investigation into a powerful Alaska oilfield services company. After AP reported those donations during the presidential campaign, she said she would give a comparative sum to charity after the general election in 2010, a date set by state election laws.

p. 134: she supports the shooting of wolves from planes because they would “cause Native people to starve” and that they were “decimating the moose and caribou herds”.

I don’t have the background to asses this claim, but for those who are interested, here is a detailed, scientific report from the National Academy Press (1997) on that topic. Interestingly, enough, this attack ad against Palin was very effective.

p. 140: she described Juneau as “being a lot like Animal House”..but then went on to say: “In short, it was a lot like Washington DC”.
How would she know? On what basis does she say that?

pp 167-168: she talks about her son having an injured shoulder and how he needed parental consent to receive any treatment at all. She then goes on to talk abortion notification laws without mentioning the real problem: some of these abortions occur due to parental abuse, or occur when a parent can’t be located at all. She seems to think that the typical family is in a “Leave it to Beaver” situation; reality is much different.

p. 181: Concerning Senator John Kerry’s remark:

I recalled Senator John Kerry’s comment to California college students in 2006: “You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And if you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”
What a loon, I thought. What an elitist loon.

(emphasis hers)

Right after this happened, Senator Kerry told people that he was joking about President Bush.

Kerry stirred controversy when he told a group of California students two days ago that individuals who don’t study hard and do their homework would likely “get stuck in Iraq.” Aides said the senator had mistakenly dropped one word from his prepared remarks, which was originally written to say “you end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq.” In that context, they said, it was clear Kerry was referring to Bush, not to the troops.

It is true that this was a huge political gaffe when it happened in 2006 But remember that Palin’s book came out in 2009. And one can also remember that this “elitist” served in combat; Govern Palin did not.

pp 196-208: she went on and on about her “success” with the oil pipeline. A fact check can help here:

PALIN: She says her team overseeing the development of a natural gas pipeline set up an open, competitive bidding process that allowed any company to compete for the right to build a 1,715-mile pipeline to bring natural gas from Alaska to the Lower 48.

THE FACTS: Palin characterized the pipeline deal the same way before an AP investigation found her team crafted terms that favored only a few independent pipeline companies and ultimately benefited a company with ties to her administration, TransCanada Corp. Despite promises and legal guidance not to talk directly with potential bidders during the process, Palin had meetings or phone calls with nearly every major candidate, including TransCanada.


PALIN: Criticizes an aide to her predecessor, Gov. Frank Murkowski, for a conflict of interest because the aide represented the state in negotiations over a gas pipeline and then left to work as a handsomely paid lobbyist for ExxonMobil. Palin asserts her administration ended all such arrangements, shoving a wedge in the revolving door between special interests and the state capital.

THE FACTS: Palin ignores her own “revolving door” issue in office; the leader of her own pipeline team was a former lobbyist for a subsidiary of TransCanada, the company that ended up winning the rights to build the pipeline.

237: her is her oft repeated “bridge to nowhere” story, which she calls a lie. The facts:

In her nationally televised speech accepting the job as John McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said she “championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress” and opposed federal funding for a controversial bridge to a sparsely populated island.

“I told Congress, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ on that bridge to nowhere,” Palin said Friday in Ohio, using the critics’ dismissive name of the project. “‘If our state wanted a bridge,’ I said, ‘we’d build it ourselves.'”

While running for governor in 2006, though, Palin backed federal funding for the infamous bridge, which McCain helped make a symbol of pork barrel excess.

p. 270: She claimed that “90 percent of the newspeople covering the debate were liberal”; she used this as an excuse for people thinking that Obama won the first debate. Never mind this was a poll taken immediately after the debate (before the so-called post debate spin) from people who watched the debate themselves.

p. 278: “And the real extremism came from those who supported partial-birth abortions, those who didn’t believe that parents should have a say in whether their minor daughters underwent abortions, and those, like Barack Obama, who opposed laws that would protect babies born alive after botched abortions.”

This is either a flat out lie or a statement from an ignorant or rather stupid person. Here are the facts:

As Obama and other opponents noted, criminal code already prevented killing of children. In attacking Obama, Palin joined other conservatives in misleadingly referencing Obama’s opposition in the Illinois legislature to legislation that amended the Illinois Abortion Law of 1975. Opponents of the bill noted that the legislation was unnecessary, as the Illinois criminal code unequivocally prohibits killing children, and said that the bill posed a threat to abortion rights. When tasked by the Illinois attorney general’s office with investigating allegations that fetuses born alive at an Illinois hospital were abandoned without treatment — the alleged incident that inspired the “Born Alive Act” — the Illinois Department of Public Health reportedly said that it was unable to substantiate the allegations but said that if the allegations had proved true, the conduct alleged would have been a violation of existing Illinois law. The Obama presidential campaign subsequently cited specific provisions of the Illinois Compiled Statutes in stating that the “born alive principle was already the law in Illinois.”

p. 288: she calls Joe Biden’s idea to return Iraq to a three country system of Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites “hare brained”. Really? Why? Does she even know that the current country is not a natural unit but rather made up by the British? From here:

Ottoman rule over Iraq lasted until World War I when the Ottomans sided with Germany and the Central Powers. In the Mesopotamian campaign against the Central Powers, British forces invaded the country and suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Turkish army during the Siege of Kut (1915–16). After the war the Ottoman Empire was divided up, and the British Mandate of Mesopotamia was established by League of Nations mandate. Britain imposed a Hāshimite monarchy on Iraq and defined the territorial limits of Iraq without taking into account the politics of the different ethnic and religious groups in the country, in particular those of the Kurds and the Assyrians to the north. During the British occupation, the Shi’ites and Kurds fought for independence.

p. 307. She stands by her “Obama pals around with terrorists” claim but provides no basis for it. Where did it come from? Once, while running for State Senate, he had a fund raiser at Bill Ayres home and Ayers gave 200 dollars. Another time, they served on a same board. That’s about it.

p. 317. She whines about the reporting on her clothes and bitterly complained about the McCain staff. As far as her clothes, no one in the McCain camp backs up her version of events:

For that reason, Palin has devoted a dismayingly prominent chunk of her book to scapegoating communications aide Nicolle Wallace for supposedly forcing her to wear designer clothes. This claim is preposterous. No one aspiring to be vice president of the United States takes orders from a communications aide. The purchases themselves are fully documented in RNC records, including $75,062.63 at Neiman Marcus and $49,425.74 at two Saks locations. Wallace, a former spokeswoman for George W. Bush, has no history as an outfitter. No one close to the campaign backs up Palin’s version.

“Totally fabricated,’’ said Wallace.

“Total fiction,’’ declared McCain’s campaign adviser Steve Schmidt.

“Petty and pathetic,’’ said John Weaver, McCain’s former strategist.

If this were a normal politician – say, Mitt Romney – blaming an aide for a misstep would be laughable. It would seem cruel. Back in the ’60s, critics dissected Richard Nixon’s otherwise stately “Six Crises’’ memoir for excessive bile. But Palin puts the bile up front. She claims victim status for herself. Her narrative requires that she be a neophyte in perpetual war with the political pros. Kicked around by the vicious media (for her family!), straitjacketed by the McCain campaign, forced to wear fancy duds, Palin is the Pitiful Pearl of her tale.

The subsequent pages deal with other whines.

p. 348 She complains of “left wing bloggers” coming out with false porn pictures of her. Yes, the people who did that were disgusting. But why does she call them left wing?

p. 357 She complains that Obama’s stimulus package “defied the lessons of history and common sense.”
Really? Paul Krugman (who “only” won a Nobel Prize in economics) said that the stimulus was too small. He pointed out that WWII spending is what finally got us out of the great depression (President Roosevelt had an economic stall when he tried to balance the budget too soon) and that our current debt is a smaller percentage than our post WWII debt.

Lessons of history? Well, take Palin’s word over Krugman’s if you like. 🙂

Oh yes, she seems to indicate that President Obama could learn from her daughter Bristol.

p. 360: “I wish we had talked more about them (Ayers) and about Obama’s close relationship with ACORN, the voter-fraud specialists.”

I don’t know how to describe this statement: stupid and unethical?
Here is a non-partisan fact check:

The McCain-Palin campaign accuses ACORN, a community activist group that operates nationwide, of perpetrating “massive voter fraud.” It says Obama has “long and deep” ties to the group. We find both claims to be exaggerated. But we also find Obama has understated the extent of his work with the group.

o Neither ACORN nor its employees have been found guilty of, or even charged with, casting fraudulent votes. What a McCain-Palin Web ad calls “voter fraud” is actually voter registration fraud. Several ACORN canvassers have been found guilty of faking registration forms and others are being investigated. But the evidence that has surfaced so far shows they faked forms to get paid for work they didn’t do, not to stuff ballot boxes.

o Obama’s path has intersected with ACORN on several occasions – more often than he allowed in the final debate.

The “fraud” consisted of some drunks signing up “Donald Duck” and “Mikey Mouse” as registered voters so as to pad their statistics and get paid more. ACORN flagged these cards and there is zero evidence that Mr. Duck or Mr. Mouse voted. 🙂

page 363: she complains that she got a bill after the campaign which included 50,000 dollars for her being vetted. Is that true?

But what appeared to upset her most was that about $50,000 of the legal bills was her share of the expenses for being vetted to become McCain’s running mate, Palin writes.

In her book — which is due to be released Tuesday, but which the Associated Press purchased Thursday — Palin said that no one had informed her she would have to take care of any expenses related to the selection process.

Palin writes that when she asked officials at the Republican National Committee and the McCain campaign if they would help her financially, she was told that the bills would have been paid if the Arizona senator had won the presidency, but since he lost, the bills were her responsibility.

Trevor Potter, general counsel for the McCain campaign, told the Associated Press that the campaign had never asked Palin to pay a legal bill.

“To my knowledge, the campaign never billed Gov. Palin for any legal expenses related to her vetting, and I am not aware of her ever asking the campaign to pay legal expenses that her own lawyers incurred for the vetting process,” he said.

Potter said that if Palin’s personal lawyer billed her for any work related to her vetting, “we are unaware of it. It was never raised with the campaign.”

p. 364: she takes up for Newt Gingrish: “instead of defending their own, Republicans on certain committees forced Newt to concede to one charge”.


In his final opportunity to defend his client Friday night before the House ethics committee, an attorney for Newt Gingrich conceded that the speaker had made “glaringly inconsistent” statements to the panel’s investigative subcommittee about a politically oriented college course financed with tax-exempt funds.

The concession was among the most dramatic of any Gingrich representative. The speaker in December admitted to having provided inaccurate information to the ethics panel. The full ethics committee on Friday voted 7 to 1, just two hours after the comments by Gingrich attorney J. Randolph Evans, to recommend a $300,000 penalty and a formal reprimand of the Georgia Republican, concluding a week of partisan wrangling that convulsed the Capitol. The committee vote is likely to be followed by approval of the sanctions by the full House when it votes on the recommendation Tuesday.

The ethics panel’s subcommittee originally accepted special counsel James M. Cole’s proposal that Gingrich be charged with submitting information he “knew or should have known” was false. But in exchange for Gingrich admitting his guilt, the panel altered the charge, deleting the word “knew,” in what amounted to a plea bargain.

A review of the committee’s toughly worded 214-page report and of a six-inch stack of investigative documents released yesterday shows that Gingrich repeatedly declined to acknowledge the inaccuracies in statements he made to the ethics subcommittee until last November — weeks after the panel had announced publicly that it was expanding the inquiry to include the veracity of his answers to investigators.

The documents released yesterday also contain new references to the importance Gingrich placed on using a college course he taught, called Renewing American Civilization, to further his grand plan to win a Republican majority in the House. And they disclose that one foundation used to fund an earlier televised town meeting transferred to GOPAC, the political action committee Gingrich then headed, $42,500 more than it had borrowed. The subcommittee was unable to interview the accountant involved because she asserted “a constitutional privilege,” the committee report said.

p 365. “I had spent less on travel and personal expenses than my last two predecessors, despite having a much larger family”. Sure, but even if she meant “over two years compared to their average two years”, she spent much of the time on the 2008 campaign trail. Duh. Then there is this:

PALIN: Says she made frugality a point when traveling on state business as Alaska governor, asking “only” for reasonably priced rooms and not “often” going for the “high-end, robe-and-slippers” hotels.

THE FACTS: Although travel records indicate she usually opted for less-pricey hotels while governor, Palin and daughter Bristol stayed five days and four nights at the $707.29-per-night Essex House luxury hotel (robes and slippers come standard) overlooking New York City’s Central Park for a five-hour women’s leadership conference in October 2007. With air fare, the cost to Alaska was well over $3,000. Event organizers said Palin asked if she could bring her daughter. The governor billed her state more than $20,000 for her children’s travel, including to events where they had not been invited, and in some cases later amended expense reports to specify that they had been on official business.

p. 388: “The mortgage crisis that triggered the collapse of our financial markets was rooted in a well-meaning but wrongheaded desire to increase home ownership among people who could not yet afford a home”.
Actually, it was packaging risky mortgages into other investments and selling them as bonds is what caused it, as did some very bad assumptions (if a home owner defaulted, the value of the home was assumed to be worth more that what was owed…and that ceased to be true in many cases).

p. 388: “President Obama put the United States on track to double its already staggering national deficit.”

I think that she meant “national debt” and if she said that, it is true but:
1. Obama is using more honest accounting.
2. Much of the future projected debt was from obligations made under President Bush.

p. 391: Palin claims that President Reagan faced a worse recession. False, though this avoided the “pants on fire” rating.

Instances of “attitude”
Note: I am not saying that these are negative, but rather pointing out the tone of the book:

p. 15: “…my life truly began. I became a mom.”

pp. 18-19: says that all Alaskan animals “have a place: right next to the mashed potatoes.”

p. 67: was amused when a male politician appeared to be uncomfortable with her breast feeding.

p. 111: “Kris is a kick-butt, tell-it-like-it-is soccer mom” (eyeroll)

p. 145: “The guy was right about this much: a few of our forty representatives and twenty senators did appear to need adult supervision.”

p. 287 she quotes Margaret Thatcher: “If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman”.

(yeah right…I wonder where most science and engineering advances came from? 🙂 )

page 43:
Palin talked about some of the beauty pageants that she entered. She said that she was reluctant at first:

Linda also reminded me that the scholarship money was generous, especially if I won individual competitions within the pageant, in addition to the Miss Wasilla crown. I enlisted the advice of a fomer pageant winner, my friend Diane Minnick. Then I shocked my friends and family, put on a sequined Warrior-red gown, danced the opening numbers, gave the interview, and uncomfortably let my butt be compared to the cheerleader’s butts. I played my flute and I won. In fact, I wond every segment of the competition, even Miss Congeniality.

Encore post: Mitt Romney’s book “No Apology” (hardback version)

Note: this was written on July 1, 2012 and reproduced from my old blog.

I finished Mitt Romney’s book No Apology (hardback edition). I’ll give a brief summary and then follow the summary with some specifics.

Brief Summary

In many ways, Mr. Romney’s book is a decent book; it is well written and it is at its best when it explains things like economic metrics. Note: Mr. Romney wrote this himself; he didn’t use a ghostwriter.

I can recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the 2012 election. I also recommend Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope as a counter…a different vision.

Mr. Romney’s book contains one amusing inconsistency: he, at times, correctly points out that anecdotal arguments are weak and not to be trusted…and then he provides data (sometimes appropriate data) to back up his argument. Then at other times…well, Mr. Romney provides anecdotal arguments!

Mr. Romney also takes a “daddy knows best” tone in many places, suggesting that the rest of the world “know its place” (e. g. that it isn’t up with the United States). In domestic matters, at times it appears that Mr. Romney feels that some (the wealthy?) “know best” and that others just be quiet and listen.

He talks about the importance of The American Dream (to raise one’s economic status) all the while talking up policies that, well, retard that dream.

Still, the book contains an adult discussion of ideas in the way that Sarah Palin’s book does not and has gotten me to at least acknowledge some points of view that hadn’t occurred to me before.

And yes, this book is light years ahead of Sarah Palin’s book. There is no comparison at all.

Detailed Reaction
I think that the strongest part of his book is the first 9 chapters where he gives a detailed discussion of policies. He admits early on that his discussion will be brief because the details are inherently complicated. Still, the outline is reasonably well done.

In the last two chapters he does his fatherly finger wagging. Social conservatives will love this part, but this is the most fact-free region of the book; little is backed up by data here. Instead, he attacks strawmen and relies on anecdotes.


Mr. Romney appears to be interested in education. He points out that we are lagging in the mathematical/technical areas and he points out that our slipping standings in the world rankings (e. g., how we do on science tests) isn’t merely due to poor and minority students dragging the scores down.

He makes the point that the United States tends to NOT pay its teachers well and that we draw them from the bottom 1/3’rd of the college graduating classes, whereas other countries take their teachers from much higher up.

He talks about his experiences as governor and he makes some interesting claims:
First, he says that the quality of the teachers has the biggest impact on how well the students learn. I don’t know how to evaluate this metric, though I think that teacher excellence is a key factor.

Next, he says that there is no correlation between student achievement and class size, and he presents data that charts student achievement versus class size. Wow, that is impressive…until you realize that the class size charts list class sizes from 10 students to 18 students!


Professionally done studies often use a class size of 17 for the cut-off point for a “small class” and use a mid-20’s size for the larger class sizes. And yes, some schools are dealing with class sizes in the 40’s.

Mr. Romney also presents a chart on “spending per pupil”. What I’d like to know: what is this spending for? Is it spending on things like free lunches, breakfast, after school programs and the like? Then sure, you could make a case that spending (by the school system) and student achievement don’t correlate.

He talks about how “teaching to the test” isn’t a bad thing and that there is a need for teacher accountability for how well the students do. Ironically, he touts Finland as a country that has had success in educational outcomes:

In the United States, which has muddled along in the middle for the past decade, government officials have attempted to introduce marketplace competition into public schools. In recent years, a group of Wall Street financiers and philanthropists such as Bill Gates have put money behind private-sector ideas, such as vouchers, data-driven curriculum and charter schools, which have doubled in number in the past decade. President Obama, too, has apparently bet on compe­tition. His Race to the Top initiative invites states to compete for federal dollars using tests and other methods to measure teachers, a philosophy that would not fly in Finland. “I think, in fact, teachers would tear off their shirts,” said Timo Heikkinen, a Helsinki principal with 24 years of teaching experience. “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.”

There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school. There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions. Finland’s schools are publicly funded. The people in the government agencies running them, from national officials to local authorities, are educators, not business people, military leaders or career politicians. Every school has the same national goals and draws from the same pool of university-trained educators. The result is that a Finnish child has a good shot at getting the same quality education no matter whether he or she lives in a rural village or a university town. The differences between weakest and strongest students are the smallest in the world, according to the most recent survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “Equality is the most important word in Finnish education. All political parties on the right and left agree on this,” said Olli Luukkainen, president of Finland’s powerful teachers union.

Emphasis mine. Yes, this bolsters Mr. Romney’s claim that excellent teachers make a huge difference. But it counters him on some of his other most important points: Finland does NOT measure teachers by the their student’s test scores and…yes, they have a strong teacher’s union.

Mr. Romney spends a few pages attacking teacher’s unions. He doesn’t say that they shouldn’t exist or that they shouldn’t bargain hard. He says that politicians (especially, surprise, Democratic politicians) are afraid of them (really?) and that the teacher’s unions strength undermines academic achievement. Of course he provides no data, only anecdotes.

The actual data, even within the United States, at least suggests otherwise:

Average 2009 NAEP Score By State Teacher Contract Laws

States with binding teacher contracts
4th grade: Math 240.0 Reading 220.7
8th grade: Math 282.1 Reading 263.7

States without binding teacher contracts
4th grade: Math 237.7 Reading 217.5
8th grade: Math 281.2 Reading 259.5

As the table shows, the states in which there are no teachers covered under binding agreements score lower than the states that have them. Moreover, even though they appear small, all but one of these (8th grade math) are rather large differences.

To give an idea of the size, I ranked each state (plus Washington D.C.) by order of its performance —its average score on each of the four NAEP exams – and then averaged the four ranks. The table below presents the average rank for the non-contract states.

Average Rank Across 4 NAEP Tests
Next to each state is its average rank

Virginia……. 16.6
Texas……… 27.3
N. Carolina.. 27.5
S. Carolina…38.9

Out of these 10 states, only one (Virginia) has an average rank above the median, while four are in the bottom 10, and seven are in the bottom 15. These data make it very clear that states without binding teacher contracts are not doing better, and the majority are actually among the lowest performers in the nation.

In contrast, nine of the 10 states with the highest average ranks are high coverage states, including Massachusetts, which has the highest average score on all four tests.

If anything, it seems that the presence of teacher contracts in a state has a positive effect on achievement.

Now, some may object to this conclusion. They might argue that I can’t possibly say that teacher contracts alone caused the higher scores in these states. They might say that there are dozens of other observed and unobserved factors that influence achievement, such as state laws, lack of resources, income, parents’ education, and curriculum, and that these factors are responsible for the lower scores in the 10 non-contract states.

My response: Exactly.

Big Business and the economy
Mr. Romney has some interesting things to say here. Much to my surprise (and delight) he admits that regulations ARE necessary, if for no other reason, to level the playing field for honest companies. He also chides some businesses for being too short sighted and he admits that there is a role for government to play furthering basic research, much of which is unlikely to be economically profitable in the short term.

But, true to form, he goes with the “taxes prevent businesses from reinvesting”. He never mentions where customer demand is going to come from; supply side economists rarely do.

He makes one interesting swipe at President Obama: he chides the President for talking about how big businesses can afford to have their meetings in very expensive, very lavish resorts. Of course, the President’s point is that the problem is NOT that big businesses don’t have enough cash; they have plenty. They don’t have enough demand to warrant hiring more people.

In his “finger wagging” section, Mr. Romney talks about our society being one in which people have the freedom to take risks and fail; but the successes are what make our country great. What Mr. Romney fails to mention is that our society has less social mobility than other societies; that is, the rules Mr. Romney wants to impose would make the American Dream even harder to attain. Witness his recent remarks about higher education; “get all you can afford.” Hmmm, and he doesn’t think it relevant that he came from a wealthy family?

Mr. Romney talks a bit about the economically disadvantaged families (and the usual finger wagging at single parent families) and he points out (correctly) that some safety net rules DISCOURAGE poor couples with kids from marrying. I agree that should be fixed. However his fix is the usual Republican one: get more stingy rather than to get more generous.

He has this idea that rewarding the rich even more will make them work harder and that making the poor work harder for less is good. (???)

Economic Issues
Perhaps the best feature of the book is how he explains things like the housing bubble (excellent graph showing what happened) and how one measures claims such as “China spends X on defense”. Of course, on the housing bubble, I wish he had hit the greedy lenders a bit harder(the ones who issued the sub-prime loans and didn’t worry about default because “housing prices always go up”). But he took some appropriate shots at the financial speculators and the problems with the rare events and how the models didn’t account for those.

He talks a bit about TARP; here the Bush version is good, the Obama version is bad, but hey, this is a political book. 🙂

This part is the best the book has to offer; I can recommend it.

Energy Policy
When you read his take on energy, you will be reminded that this was written prior to the BP spill and prior to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Still, the energy mix he talks about makes sense. Yes, he talks about nuclear and yes, he doesn’t seem to mention the problem with uranium mining and the disposal of nuclear waste. As far as Fukushima: remember that those plants started construction in 1967 and went online in 1971; they were literally 40 years old and the design was over 50 years old. We can do much better now.

As far as domestic energy development: he admits that more drilling won’t bring down prices and that over production would be a mistake. He is in favor of exploration and developing the capacity for production as a type of “energy reserve”.
He is in favor of conservation measures (e. g., giving tax credits or breaks for energy efficient vehicles) which he thinks will encourage better fuel efficiency standards. He also seems to be in favor of encouraging more efficiency by a gradual program to make energy more expensive; he is in favor of things like tax swaps (raise energy taxes while lowering another tax in return).

Yes, Mr. Romney discusses climate change and thinks that human activity probably contributed to it. He expresses concern at the possibility that if the United States takes large, expensive measures to cut emissions that the other developing countries (India, China) won’t. He recommends following a “no regrets” policy: taking measures that we will be glad that we took even if it turns out that the climate change skeptics were right. He also says we should work with the global community.

Health Care
In chapter 7, he gives an excellent defense of Obamacare, though he is talking about Romneycare. 🙂

Foreign Policy
This is the weakest part of the “policy section.” Of course, he blasts the Obama “apology tour”; this is one of the Zombie Lies that Mr. Romney insists on running with. Reading this: I get the feeling that Mr. Romney desperately wants a contest of the United States vs. Everyone Else, though he is eager to set up some bogeymen. Sure, the terrorists are awful (and probably don’t approve of President Obama either 🙂 ) and yes, this stuff was written prior to the killing of Bin Laden.

Mr. Romney quotes some interesting works. He mentions Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs and Steel and seems to have only partially read it (crib notes version?) Diamond does claim that a region’s geography can heavily influence how the society develops, but then Mr. Romney accuses him of underplaying the value of “culture”. That sort of misses the point: a region’s geography heavily determines HOW a culture can develop (e. g., the society first needs to become efficient enough to have a class of people who don’t have to be concerned with food gathering, /hunting/growing on a full time basis to allow for a culture to develop in the first place).

Mr. Romney also mentions Fareed Zakaria’s book The Post-American World. What Mr. Romney doesn’t seem to understand is that the decline that Mr. Zakaria talks about is a relative one: other countries are rapidly catching up.

Mr. Romney attacks President Obama over reduced military spending not seeming to care that much of the reduction comes from admitting that the cold war is really over and that there new challenges. After all, drones are cheaper than bombers or “boots on the ground.”

Mr. Romney says that he wants a commitment to defense spending to be at least 4 percent of GDP.

The Finger Wagging
The last two chapters are the weakest part; reading them I get the feeling that he was growing tired of the book and just wanted to finish the writing. I’ve mentioned some of the finger wagging already.

I’ll give you an example. On page 261 he dismisses those who want to legalize marijuana:

Some of the battles of the sixties still linger, however, as with the current push to legalize marijuana, which reflects the passion and zeal of those members of the pleasure-seeking generation that never grew up. Their arguments are elaborate but empty-a great nation has never been built on hedonism.

Such nonsense! I favor legalization of marijuana (and other drugs) and I have never used it (or them) and never plan to. I just think that our war on drugs has been costly and has fueled the rise in prison population and the rise in drug related crime.

Mr. Romney spends a lot of time lecturing the poor on their lack of morals without considering that perhaps the economic situation (the dearth of good paying blue collar jobs) lead to the morality situation rather than the other way around.

He did have some interesting things to say though. While he was governor, he sometimes spent the day doing different jobs (e. g. working as a garbage collector). And he described the “feeling of being invisible” to the public! That was a good thing to talk about; kudos to him on that.

But, on the whole, the last chapters seemed to be aimed at the “1 percent”; people who do things like this.

Mr. Romney mentions his religion in passing (e. g., “when I was doing this as a church leader, I saw that”) and mostly doesn’t make a big deal out of it. He even throws a small bone to atheists.

Ok, onk, the passage on page 5, chapter 1 invites ridicule:

My father knew what it meant to pursue the difficult. He was born in Mexico, where his Mormon grandparents had move to escape religious persecution.

That is, his grandfather wanted to practice polygamy; this makes me smirk when I read Mr. Romney’s lectures about “one man, one woman” stuff:

COLONIA JUAREZ, Mexico — Three dozen of Mitt Romney’s relatives live here in a narrow river valley at the foot of the western Sierra Madre mountains, surrounded by peach groves, apple orchards and some of the baddest, most fearsome drug gangsters and kidnappers in all of northern Mexico.

Like Mitt, the Mexican Romneys are descendants of Miles Park Romney, who came to the Chihuahua desert in 1885 seeking refuge from U.S. anti-polygamy laws. He had four wives and 30 children, and on the rocky banks of the Piedras Verdes River, he and his fellow Mormon pioneers carved out a prosperous settlement beyond the reach of U.S. federal marshals. He was Mitt’s great-grandfather.

THIS is the “religious persecution” that Mr. Romney speaks of…and he wants to lecture the rest of us on social norms? Really???

Faith Versus Fact: a good book but not really for me?

I just finished this book; I bought it when I bought several others I was interested in. Yes, I finished it. A decent review is here.

My biggest problem with this book: it reflects what I already think; it didn’t challenge me at all. I found myself wondering: “yes, it is well written but there is nothing surprising or challenging in it for me…” (I loved Professor Coyne’s book Why Evolution is True; it was outstanding and influenced how I see the world).

I even wondered: why is this book even needed? Then I read this.

What I have forgotten, and continue to forget, is that much of the rest of the world has no problem assigning “truth authority” to religious texts, church/religious dogma, etc.

So…I’d say that this is the book I wish I had read 30-35 years ago, back when I still had some vestiges of “faith” in me. I was growing serious doubts and many (most?) of them were outlined in this book.

If I had to sum the book up in a few paragraphs, I’d say:

1. Religious faith..or any religious system worthy of the word “faith” makes concrete claims about our world and universe and ..I’ll leave it to Mano Singham:

What is being asserted is that sophisticated theologians and philosophers, people who are much smarter than me, have studied these issues in great depth and have already explained everything and we need to go to them to find answers. God is so subtle that it is only through immersion in the works of these theologians and philosophers that we can obtain an understanding of him. Those of us who are not professional theologians and philosophers should shut up about our demands for dumb old evidence and not draw any conclusions on the question of god’s existence until we have devoted years to carefully studying the works of these theologians and philosophers.

This idea that god is so hard to grasp will no doubt come as news to the billions of religious believers who think they know god pretty well and have a good relationship with him without such study.

But we atheists are not talking about understanding the nature of god. We are not talking about the meaning of god. We are talking about whether god exists or not. This should surely be the prior question and is one that depends on evidence for an answer.

What atheists like me say to religious believers is simply the following: If the existence of your god has empirical consequences, then provide empirical evidence that supports your contention. If it has no empirical consequences whatsoever, then say so and we will not interfere with your theological and philosophical ruminations because we do not really care to speculate on the properties of what we consider to be a mythical entity.

(bold face is mine)

In other words, any “faith” worth pondering must leave some honest to goodness detectable signature. So where is it? If one doesn’t exist, then this conversation is over.

And no, the universe was not designed for us.

Two books about the 2016 campaign: Shattered and What Happened (encore posts)

These are taken from my previous blog:

What Happened. By Hillary Clinton.

The tl;dr take:

1. This won’t change your mind about Hillary Clinton. If you despised her before, you’ll feel the same way after the book. If you loved her before, you’ll still love her. If you thought “ok, decent policy wonk but not really charismatic”, well, you’ll leave this book with the same opinion.

2. I was disappointed: I expected it to be more of “I should have opened X field offices in Pennsylvania and spent Y in ads in Wisconsin” and perhaps a bit more introspection. There was some introspection, but it was scattered throughout. On the other hand, I did learn that what sort of breakfast egg dishes she likes, that she likes an occasional hamburger, that she likes kids, that Justice Ginsberg does planks twice a week and yes, that she (Hillary Clinton) wears yoga pants. Seriously (page 19 for the yoga pants mention)

3. I’d say that about 2/3 of the book is worth reading. The best section is the one called Frustration, which features the 5 chapters Country Roads, Those Damn Emails, “Trolls, Bots, Fake News and Real Russians”, Election Night, Why. I was expecting most of the book to be like this section. It did give a nice summary of the issues of e-mails, Russian meddling, how the press handled things and some of the prevailing headwinds. The chapter “Sweating the Details” in the section “Sisterhood” is good too. And she flat out admitted that much of the country simply does not like her.

4. I’d say that she is finished running for elective office; she really did burn some bridges and say a few things sans a politician’s filter. Here is a beauty: (page 276; she is describing people in Appalachia)

But anger and resentment do run deep. As Appalachian natives such as author J. D. Vance have pointed out, a culture of grievance, victimhood, and scapegoating has taken root as traditional values of self-reliance and hard work have withered. There’s a tendency toward seeing every problem as someone else’s fault, whether it’s Obama, liberal elites in the big cities,
undocumented immigrants taking jobs, minorities soaking up government assistance–or me.

5. And yes, about the “basket of deplorables” remark: she admits that it was a political mistake to make that statement, but she stands by the actual logic of the statement (about half of the Trump supporters fall into that category). Actually, I do too, but it is an interesting statement to least from a politician not named “Trump”.

6. Oh yes, she really doesn’t like Trump. She does take shots at Sanders, Comey, the press, etc. But she really doesn’t like Trump.

7. Above all, this book is, without apology, aimed mostly at women; I’d say at educated, upper middle class women.

More detail: the book is not a linear time progression. It starts out describing the inauguration and her decision to attend (later to go home and put on a fleece top and yoga pants). Chronologically, it skips around quite a bit.

Much of the early part of the book is a bit like NBC’s Olympic coverage: human interest stuff (what she eats, when she wakes up, day to day stuff…kids, grand kids, relations between her staff, etc.).

She does get onto issues, including Black Lives Matter, Mothers of the Movement (black victims of gun violence), Police (yes, she talks about the massacre of police officers), climate change, and the lead in the Flint water supply (and wonders if advocating for poor blacks in Flint cost her votes in Michigan). She also talks about NATO and some of the complexities of foreign policy.

She does have some beefs though:

1. Press coverage. They seemed to be fixated on her e-mail problems (way overblown) and that ate up much of her press coverage; it hurt her ability to talk about issues. It also blotted out coverage about other things, such as he bus tour. She also pointed out that Trump appeared to send the press a “new rabbit to chase” almost daily; that appeared to keep the press from drilling down on his honest to goodness issues.

2. Russian interference: she goes into this in detail; the main issue is not only did they hack into the DNC and into her Podesta’s e-mails, but they also strategically planted fake news and gamed the social media and search engine algorithms so that these stories appeared on the feeds of likely undecided voters living in battleground states.

3. Bernie Sanders: she took shots at his unrealistic “we could have this or that” claims and ridiculed the idea that if we could somehow just get the PACs out of business, his proposals would be popular NATIONWIDE; he seemed to disregard regional differences in attitudes. She resented the implication that she was somehow crooked.

4. She flat out admit that the history of “Clinton scandals” (mostly untrue) dogged her and made people ready to believe new “non-scandals” about her. And on page 399

Moreover I have come to terms with the fact that a lot of people–millions and millions of people, decided they just didn’t like me.


5. Introspection: she said that she should have not used the line “we are going to put a lot of coal miners out of work” even though it was quoted out of context.

Here are her full remarks, with the most relevant parts in bold:

Look, we have serious economic problems in many parts of our country. And Roland is absolutely right. Instead of dividing people the way Donald Trump does, let’s reunite around policies that will bring jobs and opportunities to all these underserved poor communities.

So for example, I’m the only candidate which has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right?

And we’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories.

Now we’ve got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don’t want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce the energy that we relied on.

So whether it’s coal country or Indian country or poor urban areas, there is a lot of poverty in America. We have gone backwards. We were moving in the right direction. In the ’90s, more people were lifted out of poverty than any time in recent history.

Because of the terrible economic policies of the Bush administration, President Obama was left with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and people fell back into poverty because they lost jobs, they lost homes, they lost opportunities, and hope.

So I am passionate about this, which is why I have put forward specific plans about how we incentivize more jobs, more investment in poor communities, and put people to work.

She did discuss her “basket of deplorables” remark on page 413 and noted that she wasn’t talking about all Trump supporters but “about half of them”. She then goes on to provide data (from polls) regarding the attitudes of Trump supporters to back up her claim of accuracy!

She does not pull punches about those who overlooked some of Trump’s ugly statements either.

Getting back to introspection: she acknowledges that perhaps, when listening to angry voters, she jumped straight to proposed solutions instead of listening to the venting to assure the voter that she “got” and “felt” the depth of their anger and pain …first.

6. Resentments: I’ve discussed her stated, well resentments about some of Trump’s supporters. She also took shots at “my way or the highway” activists, shots at those who attempted to “disrupt” her rallies (she made a point to put the word in italics (page 203). About the woman’s marches: she approved of them but wondered where that passion was during the election itself and why some did not vote. She resented Sander’s bumper sticker depth of policy, the press, the timing of the Comey letter (which probably DID cost her the election), the Electoral College and…

7. Being a woman: I’d say that the underlying thread of her book is about being a female and the disadvantages that brings from sexism (e. g. her being a female is one reason to be against her), misogyny (on page 114-115 she explains the difference between the two). She complains about the extra time a woman (in the public eye) has to spend on make up. And yes, she acknowledges that she lost the white women’s vote and especially the non-college educated white woman’s vote.

8. Yes, she discusses race and thinks that she did suffer some backlash from those who resented having a black president for 8 years.

9. She did discuss campaign strategy just a bit and pushed back on the narrative that she didn’t campaign enough in the former “blue wall” rust belt states.

Clearly, there is much more in the book than what I said, but hopefully, you’ll get a sense of whether you want to read it or not.

Update: here is a fact check of her book (it comes out pretty well) She also mentions a Facebook meme that I not only saw but passed around (Bernie and the pony) and a Facebook group that I belonged to (Pantsuit Nation).

Shattered by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes.

Like many, I thought that Hillary Clinton would win but was aware that she was not in as strong of a position as Obama was in during the 2012 campaign.

Still, I thought that the “worst case” was 272-266 Clinton

And I misread the coalition that Trump brought aboard in key states.

So, what went wrong? Oh I know what went wrong with the models that overstated Clinton’s probability of winning; it was the statistical idea of independence and the width of the confidence intervals.

But what about with the election and campaign itself? The book Shattered examines that question. Yes, the book makes it clear that the Comey letter, Russian meddling and other forces played a factor; for example, in some key areas of key states, she did just as well as Obama did with the female vote but did much worse with the male vote. This book does NOT discount these factors.

But it does talk about how dysfunctional the campaign was (the goal was often to maintain access to HRC rather than to get her elected…loyalty was rewarded, sometimes at the expense of competence..and there was too much focus on analytics and “getting one’s people to the polls as opposed to trying to win at least a few votes over”.

Yes, I know; many times there are people that you are wasting your time with. But there is value in persuasion; sometimes losing red counties 65-35 instead of 75-25 can help you carry the state.

And, they painted a portrait of a candidate who, while knowing every white paper on the issues, just could not connect with voters outside of a narrow circle. And it wasn’t as if HRC was good with public introspection; she appeared to place little blame on herself, at least at that time. She does some of this in her own book, which came out later.

I found that the book was a good complement to Clinton’s own book What Happened.

Oh yes, if you Loooooove Hillary you’ll think that this book is a “hit job”. This book will be dismissed by Clinton cultists. If you hate her, you’ll find a lot you like in the book, though the book DOES admit that other factors played a big role; any one of these could have tipped the scales in such a close election.

But, realistically, I think that the book shows that attempted to run a 2012 style campaign against a very unconventional opponent with the country being in an unconventional mood.

And yes, while Obama was a ground breaking candidate, he was also a “purple unicorn” with extreme intelligence, charisma and political skill. Clinton had only the ‘intelligence” part; being a woman didn’t seem to help her a higher percentage of the female vote and she was hurt with the male vote. Though one might exclaim “sexism”, and I have no doubt that it was a factor, I wonder if there was a difference: Obama got to where he was under his own steam. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton got to where she was because of Bill; had she never married him, she might have well been some successful lawyer, professor or policy expert.

And while her being saddled to Bill got her into the arena, it may well have harmed her during this particular election itself.

Now of course, every campaign makes mistakes and has some dysfunction; after all, Trump did horribly during the debates and had all sorts of gaffes and missteps ..many which might have sunk him in a different election. But he had enough showmanship (“political campaign skill”) to overcome those missteps….at least during THIS election.

Other reviews: here, here and here.