Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Our Idiot Lieutenant Governor

The President of the California Fish and Game Commission, Daniel Richards, went to Idaho on a hunting trip and bagged a cougar.   He was photographed with the cougar he shot.

It is illegal to shoot cougars in California (although quite legal in Idaho).   The San Francisco Comical had a hissy fit on Commissioner Richard's expedition and has been hyperventilating with the Humane Society and other groups to censure him for doing this legal activity.
Then our lame Lieutenant Governor decided to weigh in too.   This is a stunning demonstration of Gavin Newsome's excess hat over horse.

The Fish and Game Commission's job is to promote outdoor sports.   As an avid catch and release fly fisherman I have appreciated the Commission's work.   I am not a hunter but this tempest is simply silly.  Mr. Lieutenant Governor why don't you keep your public comments to analysis of things you are competent in, like the addressing the best types of hair spray?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Rigoletto at the Sacramento Opera

Yesterday we saw the Sacramento Opera production of Rigoletto.   This is an opera that deserves more respect.  Verdi has a lot of superb music in his operas and so it is easy to neglect this 19th century morality play.   But the music is superb.   The one below is Cornell MacNeil, who was one of the best voices for the role recent history.  (The best thing about this particular video- besides MacNeil's voice - is that it lists a bunch of baritone roles from the opera.  If you are interested click back to the performance and you will see a list of performances to compare.

The story is a simple one from Victor Hugo.  But like most operas it has a lot of twists.   Rigoletto is the sharp-tongued jester in a court of a Duke who is a bit of a player.  He is the toady of his boss and suggests that men in the court who object to the Duke's philandering should be imprisoned or killed.   A Count who objects to the Duke seducing his daughter is sentenced to prison and when he is taken out pronounces a curse on both the Duke and Rigoletto.   The one good thing in Rigoletto's life is his innocent daughter, whom the Duke meets and seduces.   In order for some members of the court to get back at Rigoletto's barbs they kidnap his daughter and bring her to the Duke.  Rigoletto is convinced that the kidnapping is of another woman and so participates in it.  (The courtiers think his daughter Gilda is his mistress.)  Eventually, Rigoletto makes a bargain with an assassin (Sparafucile) to kill the Duke and Rigoletto makes the move to get out of town with his daughter.  She is dressed in men's clothes (to disguise her) and she somehow stops in front of Sparafucile's house and hears a plot to kill the Duke (who she is still in love with) so decides to substitute herself for the Duke.   Rigoletto gets back to dump the body of the Duke into the river and discovers that his daughter is the one who has been killed.   

The story is less important than the music and this opera has a dozen memorable arias.  In the Sacramento Opera production, they got a wonderful mix of voices.  Especially strong were Rigoletto (David Small), Gilda (Katrina Thurman) and Sparafucile (Andrew Gangestad).   Unfortunately, under the current arrangements the performance is only given twice and yesterday was the last day.

The Opera company has had a lot of challenges in the last couple of years.  This performance showed what is possible.   One hopes that the coming season will begin where this one left off.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Coming Apart

Charles Murray has been a prolific scholar.   I first became acquainted with his thoughts in Losing Ground which looked at the development of welfare policy.  He detailed the debilitating effects of welfare both for society and the individuals who received the payments.   Murray has a keen understanding of the principles that created the American system and the notion that "happiness"  is a lot bigger than material wealth.   Some suggest that his 1984 book eventually led to the welfare reform act twelve years later.

His newest book is about the divergence of wealth in white America between 1960 and 2010.  He compares the one class (who make lots of dough - in a place called "Belmont") to the another (who make very little in a place called "Fishtown").  What he finds is that the first group and the second have a significant divergence of core values and behaviors. And more importantly those values and behaviors have begun to diverge significantly from earlier times.

What Murray refers to as the new upper class might number one and half million people in the country.  They live in special places (only a limited number of zip codes) - in essence they are isolated as the upper class has never been before.    Murray suggests that this class developed as the demand for cognitive ability began to become more valuable.  If you want to see whether you are a member of this elite - Murray has constructed a quiz of issues that the elites might not be familiar with.  (Example who is Jimmie Johnson?)

He then goes on to explain some details which he believes are inherent in the American character - industriousness, honesty, marriage, religiosity.  In each he suggests that these core principles are being eroded in both groups but more significantly in the Fishtown residents.   He suggests that there are three "problematic" categories - Men who are not making a living, single women with children and isolates. (those "disconnected from the matrix of community life.")

After all this data (and the book is filled with data) he argues that there are several possible responses to this problem - if one sees it as a problem.  A social liberal might argue for more redistribution of income. A social conservative would attempt to make a compelling case for policies to re-estabish those lost values.   But Murray thinks that a better way to solve these issues is to go back to a more limited vision of government.   He worries that if our political system evolves into a more European model (with the attendant loss of those elements of character) that we would evolve into a system where we get lots of freedom, except on economic issues.   When government intervenes, personal responsibility and the attached links to community institutions are reduced.

Murray's book has generated a lot of discussion.  Paul Krugman wrote a scathing response that seemed at least to me that he had not bothered to read the book before writing about it.   David Brooks did a pretty fair review of the book although he concludes that the way to solve issues raised by the book  is to create national service program which would require the residents of Fishtown and Belmont to interact, at least for the period of service.  In my mind expecting that we will rebuild the elements of national character that we have lost in recent years by forcing national service is odd.  It certainly did not work that way when we had the military draft.

The Wall Street Journal had a very interesting interview with Murray which gives you a cliff notes version of his thesis.  But like his two earlier major books (Losing Ground and the Bell Curve) the better course is to read the book.   It is bound to make you think.

The Arizona GOP Debate

AP Photo from the Net
Last night's GOP debate was interesting on a number of levels.   First, as Governor Christie commented Senator Santorum had a terrible night.   Christie argued that Santorum brought out the problem legislators face in making decisions to (as former Speaker Sam Rayburn used to say) "to get along, go along."   In several exchanges during the evening Santorum tried to defend decisions he had made that violated core principles of his.  One of the remarkable answers he gave was his support for federally funded "abstinence" programs.  Indeed, at one point he made the pointed statement that conservatives pointed out problems but then did not feel it necessary that every problem would be solved with the creation of a government program.  But then he said he voted for a bill that provided support for contraceptive services but helped to create a new program which funded "abstinence" programs.   It did not occur to him that their might not be a good reason to have the federal government fund either program.   He also got hit for supporting former Senator Arlen Specter in his re-election bid against a more conservative Pat Toomey.   A couple of times the former senator got mired in the weeds on things like earmarks.  He also supported No Child Left Behind, even though it assailed his conscience.

Romney's performance was opposite Santorum's - it was superb.  He took an odd question from John King and turned it into a stunning defense of conscience clauses including references to the President's recent attempt to require Catholic charities to offer parts of their health plans that violate fundamental church doctrine and the recent Hosanna Tabor case (on whether the government has the ability to define who a minister is).   He also seemed at ease.  He began, for the first time I have seen in this season, to begin to make a case why he should be president.  There is still some to go here - but it was progress.

From my view Gingrich seems to have reverted into the role of a professor who knows he will not win the nomination.  His key ability has always been to develop large themes was shown again.  I almost felt that Newt was there to help guide the process.  He's lost his attack dog themes.

Ron Paul was also a sidebar character.  He is at least consistent.  And in many cases he brought back the principle of why the federal government is way too large.

I have not seen overnight ratings on how many people saw the debate and the news coverage of this event was spotty at best.  But my suspicion is that Romney will begin to take control of the nomination next Tuesday in Arizona and Michigan and then will romp through Super-Tuesday the next week.   One other comment on last night, for the first time this season, I have a bit more confidence that whoever wins the nomination will be able to give the President a good run for his money.

The best line about the debate tonight came from Andrew Malcolm - he commented "Ash Wednesday and people are giving things up for Lent. Rick Santorum should give up chocolate, I think. And Newt Gingrich should give up. That’s it, just give up."

Friday, February 17, 2012

Con de and other absurdities

I have been in Xalapa for the last couple of days and encountered an interesting change in Spanish grammar.   I was at breakfast yesterday and a friend asked for "un vaso de agua."  The waiter corrected him and said "un vaso con agua?"   Evidently there are some in Mexico that argue that the word between glass and water should be "with" not "of."

There are five meanings of the word "de" in Spanish.  De can mean pertaining to,to contain, the origin, authority, or source.   Vaso con agua does not sound right and it also does not make sense to me.  You want a glass WITH water?   If you carry the concept to its logical end you would get some odd constructions.  For example, the University that I spoke at today is called Universidad Anáhuac de Xalapa (the Anáhuac University of Xalapa) using this logic the name would hence force be changed to Universidad Anáhuac con Xalapa (the Anáhuac University with Xalapa).   The other problem of using con is also conceptual.  Often when I order Whiskey I ask for Whiskey con agua.   In most bars that either means a glass of Whiskey which is mixed with water or as WC Fields used to order it, a glass of Whiskey with a side of water (he claimed to wash his hands in).   Often to clarify, I ask for Un Whiskey, de recho, con agua.  Which means a whiskey straight up with a side car of water.   The waiter's insistence on con seems like a whole bunch of nonsense to me.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hearing "Dutch"

Edmond Morris' Novelography of Ronald Reagan received a lot of critical reviews when it was first published, both for the style (it is written as a novel) and for the content.  A lot of Reagan fans argued that Morris was harsh on the former communicator.  Some other thought the format for the book was inappropriate.

I recently downloaded the book from Audible and listened to it on the last couple of flights.  In my mind, whether Morris' characterizations of Reagan are accurate is one of those judgment calls that I think ultimately should be left to the author.   Most of us knew Reagan only from a distance, so how one person reacted to him (even a person who did a lot of research) tells as much about the author as the person.  I was also not bothered by the narrative style - it conveyed a lot of information in a very readable (or in my case listenable) story.

My negative reaction to the book is based on a key interest.   When Reagan became president, in my opinion, he had a couple of goals.   As Morris points out some of these goals came from earlier things in his life.   The Printer of Udell's is one that some other authors have identified and it remains a powerful, if dated, book.   But among the goals were reducing the size of government, improving the tax system, re-establishing the American defense system and re-invigorating the American spirit.

Morris deals mostly, at least in the Audible presentation, with only one - the defense issue.   And there may not be much to say about reducing the size of government - which he slowed growth but did not reduce it.  There is some discussion of the spirit issue.   But his discussion of tax issues, where the President took a lead role twice (1981 and 1986) is cursory at best.   Look at other discussions of the Reagan role in both of these landmark acts.   The 1981 Act is well covered in several memoirs and the 1986 act is less well covered.  But, for example, in Showdown at Gucci Gulch, Jeffrey Birnbaum did an excellent job of showing Reagan's initial and continuing role in making the simplification of taxes work.  That would be a lot like doing a book on baseball strategy and forgetting to mention that there are nine people on the team.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Just Because You Can, Doesn't Mean You Should

On Monday I went to Chicago for a meeting and returned in the same day.   That is not an extraordinary length to travel - about 1800 miles each way.   And when I was younger I did a lot of trips like that.  

At one point when I was when I was working to build a specialized insurance carrier for higher education I flew from California to Bermuda for a meeting on a Thursday, returned to California on a Friday, and then returned to Florida on early Sunday morning for a speech Sunday night.   But that was then and this is now.

Two things have changed.  First, the air traffic system from where I live in Sacramento - in order to get an inexpensive flight - requires more than one stop.  So the trip required four flight segments.   Second, I am a bit older and that make travel a bit less fun.   I have a bit more than 2 million miles on one carrier (United) and about another million on assorted other carriers but travel is still less easy than it once was.  I left on a 6 AM flight and got back about a half hour after midnight on the return.

One thing that was great - all of my flights were on time (except the last one - which was about 40 minutes late based on a screw up of the ground crew in Denver) so I was able to have a good meeting.  But at the end of the very long day I was tuckered out.   Well today is to Xalapa but I will be there for a couple of days.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Fair Oaks Rotary Crab Feed

This is purely local.   Last night we attended the Fair Oaks Rotary Club's annual Crab Feed.  In Northern California around this time of year there are many Crab Feeds.  The normal deal is for about $40 a group offers salad, bread, pasta and all you can eat Dungeness crab and then a dessert.   There are variations in the format but most give you mediocre pre-courses for a lot of fresh crab.   Often the group does a silent auction or raffle to raise funds at the event.

The Fair Oaks Rotary Crab was different. They had the raffles and the silent auction (which had some interesting stuff).  But the difference was the quality of the food - everything was first rate - and they added a tasty soup before the pasta.  The Rotary club here does a lot of things for the community and this is one of their big fund-raisers.  But if you are in the Sacramento area - you should check this one out.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Henry VIII Obama

In the mid-sixteenth century the King of England established an act which declared that he was the head of the church in England.   Last week's proposed regulations to implement the Health Care "reform" for religious related employers is a modern edition of this idea.

HHS proposed to mandate that if employers, including religious employers, offered a health plan they would be required to offer, as a part of the plans, services like abortion, morning after and contraceptive services as a part of the package.

In essence the HHS bureaucrats said they could interpret religious doctrine because a statutory enactment trumped a constitutional requirement for the free exercise of religion.   The determination turned the recent Hosanna Tabor decision on its head and ignored that such a pronouncement would introduce the government into making "establishment clause" judgments.

There is some talk that the Administration is trying to figure out how to step out of this mess by making the same kind of dodge they tried with former congressman Bart Stupak.   Hopefully, this bizarre ignorance of a basic constitutional principle will be yet another inducement to overturn the entire statute.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Planned Parenthood and Susan Komen

My wife have been listening to a book called Bloody Crimes (The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Abraham Lincoln) which describes in great detail the end of the Civil War including the events surrounding Lincoln's funeral events and the hunt for Jefferson Davis.   It goes into great detail about both sets of events.  A key point of the book is that Jefferson Davis is largely a forgotten figure today - even though he was an important member of the US Senate before the Civil War.

Oddly, the book got me to look a bit more closely at the dust up between Planned Parenthood and the Susan Komen Foundation.   Planned Parenthood began to grow significantly when I was in Washington.  At the current time about a third of its funding comes from government sources. And its operating revenues amount to about a billion dollars annually.  So it is a true public private partnership. But like some other "quasi-charities" (public broadcasting comes to mind) it has achieved almost untouchable status.  

The Komen Foundation also had (until this week) achieved the same kind of status.  But its funding stream was considerably different.   It distributes about $400 million annually to support breast cancer research including the support of exams for low income people.  According to Charity Navigator 100% of its funding comes from private sources.   But it has developed a significant level of support from corporate linkages through cause marketing.

I am not very interested in the issues which led up to this dust up or indeed in the clumsy way that Komen seemed to respond.   What intrigued me about this drama was how a story was established almost immediately that favored one side over the other.   The author of the book we just finished concludes that Davis is largely forgotten because he lost.  He goes on to suggest that political correctness has even made discussion of the ideas of Davis suspect in some circles.    While Davis' support for slavery is reprehensible in today's climate, the author points out that a good deal of Davis' argument with the north was that they were equally "racist" in their attitudes to Blacks.   Davis' writing also reflected some on the role of the Tenth Amendment in our Constitutional structure.

Orthodoxy can produce odd and curious results.   While it is clear what was gained and lost (in terms of understanding the appropriate level of government) from elevating the status of Abraham Lincoln over Jefferson Davis, it is still unclear what will be gained and lost from the controversy which seems to have come down so much on the side of Planned Parenthood.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Leviathan defined

When Hobbes wrote his opus about government he might well have had something like the new HHS proposed regulations that have generated so much controversy in the last few days.   HHS, as a part of their implementation of the new healthcare bill, will now require employers to offer health plans for their employees that fundamentally violate their religious tenets or face fines for not offering their employees healthcare.   So the health plans offered by religious charities will now be required to include provision for sterilization, morning after pills and other forms of contraception even though those issues violate Catholic doctrine.

Yesterday in one of the places where I engage in discussion on the net I posted a summary of the Bishop of Philadelphia's pastoral letter on the subject and was surprised at the responses.   First, one person on the left compared the church's reluctance to efforts to exclude people based on race.   A second person commented that if the church took any government money they should be required to live under government rules.   He went on to say that if the church got the benefit of the charitable deduction that they were taking a government subsidy.

What nonsense.   Do any of these people worry at all about the potential for crowding out charitable activity - or is their purpose to crowd out those non-governmental activities?   Have they bothered to think of the benefits of the "diversity" of options that they whine for in so many other venues?  Do they really believe that government provision of things like health care is actually better than charitable provision?

The claim that the charitable deduction is a subsidy is such a canard.  The deduction was put in place to allow individuals to make provision for things they care about - outside the government.     But if you believe government is the alpha and omega of all life - then that gentle fact is one to be ignored.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The NEW Sacramento Children's Museum

Yesterday we went to the new Sacramento Children's Museum with our younger grandson.   When you enter you are told that the kids are the guides - and indeed they are.    We spent about two hours in all sorts of venues.  There are some science experiments and some places like the one above which is a recreation of a store (the type changes every few months - currently a Japanese store - in December it was Mexican).  It is unclear whether some of the other exhibits will change over time.  There is a water play area, a painting area, a couple of opportunities to dress up in various professions, a solar project, a couple of elementary motion experiments and a flow project which uses a clear tube system to move things around like scarves and soft balls.

The colors are bright and cheery and our grandson seemed to have a wonderful time.  It is a superb new resource for kids in the city.