Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Dinner with UNHCR

My advisor had another house party last week, during which I fell into conversation with a young woman who, early on, announced her affiliation with the United Nations High Council on Refugees. (Note: I was celebrating the recent announcement of my coming publications, so the details of this conversation may get a little hazy through the blood-alcohol level.)

Φ: Wow, the U.N. has offices out here in [flyover country]?

UNHCR Babe: Well, actually, I work directly for Catholic Social Services, but we do contract work for UNHCR.

Φ: Oh. So, what work is that?

UNHCR CSS Babe: We resettle refugees.

Φ: Where do you resettle them?

CSSB: Here in the U.S.

Φ: For how long?

CSSB: Oh, permanently. They get green cards and can apply for citizenship.

Φ: Where do the refugees come from?

CSSB: Iraq, mostly.

Φ: Iraq. So, help me out here: last I heard, there were American soldiers in Iraq making Iraq, you know, safe for Iraqis.

CSSB: Yup. My husband is in the armed services, and has been deployed to Iraq several times. We have a private joke: he breaks countries, I clean up the pieces.

Φ: Yeah, there's something to be said for just staying home. How does an Iraqi qualify for refugee status?

CSSB: Well, as long as they can make a claim to having a fear of persecution, then they become eligible for resettlement.

Φ: So . . . are they part of Iraq's Christian minority?

CSSB: Actually, no. We get a handful of Chaldeans, but mostly, they're Muslims.

Φ: Muslims. Now, you're going to have to help me out here again, 'cause the TV said that Iraq is, you know, a Muslim country. So how do Muslims get to claim persecution?

CSSB: It doesn't have to be because of religion. They can claim persecution for having been friendly to Americans.

Φ: How many Muslims are we talking about?

CSSB: Last year, it was 20,000.

Φ: Twenty thousand. I didn't know we had that many friends in Iraq. So, just out of curiosity, how do we keep Muslims that aren't our friends from being in that 20,000?

CSSB: Oh, we're very careful! Refugees from Iraq have to go through four times the number of interviews we normally require.

Φ: Wow. Four times the, um, interviews. So, what's your angle? What part of the resettlement process do you handle?

CSSB: Employment.

Φ: How's that working out?

CSSB: Frankly, it's very difficult. The refugees we get were typically professionals back in Iraq, but their degrees are from, say, U. of Baghdad.

Φ: Their credentials don't transfer?

CSSB: No. And they don't want to do unskilled labor, and the economy is bad right now, so they tend to be bitter.

Φ: I thought you said they were our friends.

CSSB: Well, their attitude is, hey, you Americans invaded our country and created this mess, so now you should take care of us.

Φ: Okay . . . my brain is a little foggy, so let me run through all of this again. Basically, your job is to help bring 20,000 angry, entitled, unemployable Muslims, from a country we just invaded, into the United States in the middle of a recession. Is there anything I'm missing here?

CSSB: Well, it was only 20,000 last year. Obama just signed an agreement to bring in 80,000 this year.

Φ: Eighty-thousand Iraqis!

CSSB: Well, no, they're not all from Iraq. We also get a lot of Rwandans and Burudis.

Φ: Rwandans and Burundis. Let's see, that would be the Hutus and the Tutsis, right? So, which are we taking, the Hutus or the Tutsis?

CSSB: We take both.

Φ: Both! That's mighty damn multiculturalist of us. Any place else?

CSSB: We also get refugees from Vietnam.

Φ: Vietnam still. Wow, that's a war that keeps on giving. Hey, that's a cool looking cell phone you have.

CSSB: It's a Palm Pre.

Φ: Who's your carrier?

CSSB: Sprint. I get a big discount for banking with BigBank.

Φ: Really? I bank with BigBank. I wonder if I can get that discount . . . .

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Legal Question

Hypothetically speaking, would it be a crime for a blogger to offer, say, a $1000 dollar reward to anyone who burns a public school to the ground?

Just asking.

Vicki Christina Barcelona

I saw the movie Vicki Christina Barcelona the other day. I don’t have a lot to say about it. Its implications for any number of topics of interest to this blog – game, sex, marriage – were pretty obvious, and pretty depressing, although its treatment of these topics was more double-edged than I had any reason to expect from Woody Allen. But I do want to point out something relevant to the film’s plausibility, because I couldn't help noticing that the movie was missing something pretty conspicuous:

Children.*

Actually, it lacked much in the way of people in general. I remember a review that Ross Douthat wrote of an earlier Woody Allen film in which he pointed out that Woody’s characters “inhabited a world of touristy-type places miraculously scrubbed free of tourists.” Likewise, in Vicki, the principals lead their operatic sex lives amidst beautiful and depopulated Spanish villages and countryside, free of anyone with any claim on their behavior, especially children. Further, they are also free of any other concerns, like earning a living or paying a mortgage.

I’m pretty sure that Woody’s ability to make the principals’ behavior the least bit compelling requires just this kind of make-believe world. The Christian rules on sex -- the Ten Commandments in general, actually -- are informed by a deep understanding of the world as our original sin has made it: a world full of strife against nature and want; a world of enemies both foreign and domestic; a world in which our collective security requires us to suppress our own passions for the common good. In the world as it is, life is a team sport, and the proper functioning of the team can be undermined by so much of what Woody would pass off as mere preference or, at worst, eccentricity.

* Which, considering Woody’s own, um, preferences, is probably a good thing.

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Going Rogue with James Flynn

Via Steve, the New Zealand Herald reports that the man who discovered the Flynn Effect doesn't think it will save our demographic future.

Otago University emeritus professor Dr Jim Flynn was commenting on census figures that show mothers without a higher education were the anchor of New Zealand's current fertility rate.

"Everyone knows if we only allowed short people to reproduce there would be a tendency in terms of genes for height to diminish. Intelligence is no different from other human traits," he told the Sunday Star-Times.

"A persistent genetic trend which lowered the genetic quality for brain physiology would have some effect eventually."

Statistics show women without tertiary qualifications who had reached their early 40s had produced 2.57 babies each.

In contrast, women with a higher education were producing just 1.85 babies each.

Dr Flynn said at 73 he was too old to worry about offending anyone.

I hope so . . .

Commissioner for Children Cindy Kiro said Dr Flynn was getting into "dangerous territory".

. . . 'cause they're already sharpening the pitchforks!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Externalities Reconsidered

Via Robin, a thought-provoking post at Meteuphoric about managing externalities between our present and future selves:

[O]ne situation where it seems quite likely that other people would be better informed on your preferences and how an outcome will affect you is when you are making decisions that will affect you far in the future.  The average seventy five year old probably has more in common with the next average seventy five year old than they have in common with their twenty five year old selves, at least in some relevant respects. The stranger people are the less true this is presumably, but most people are not strange.  So for instance a bunch of old people dying of lung cancer have a much better idea of how much you would like lung cancer than you do when you are weighing it up in the decision to smoke or not much earlier in life.

. . . . .

You could still argue that I have much more of an interest than anyone else in my own future, if only a slight one compared to how much my future self cares about herself. But I also have a lot to gain by exploiting her and discounting her feelings, so it’s not clear at all from a utilitarian perspective that I should be free to make decisions that only affect myself, but far into the future.

The simple way to make this argument is to say that the ‘individual’ is temporally too big a unit to be best ruled over by one part in a (temporal) position of power. The relevant properties of the right sized unit, as far as the usual arguments for libertarianism are concerned, are lots of information and shared care, and according to these a far future self is drifting toward being a different person. You shouldn’t be allowed to externalize onto them as much as you like for the same reasons that go for anyone else.

Of course, preventing these externalities would mean the further empowering of elites on whose goodwill and disinterest in predicting the future we would have to rely.  Nobody watching the slow-motion collapse of the AGW hypothesis should be entirely sanguine about that prospect.

In a similar vein, I want to plug Half Sigma’s post on Libertarianism and World of Warcraft:

I think that if there is a link between online role playing games and libertarianism, it’s that the economies in online games work the way that libertarians like to think the real world works.

The economy in online role playing games is much closer to the model of perfect competition, which is the standard method of analysis that libertarians like to use to evaluate the real world economy even though there is very little perfect competition in the real world.

The irony is that the key to perfect competition, based on the online gaming model, is government regulation. In an online role playing game, the company which owns the game, such as Blizzard (which owns WoW) or Square Enix (which owns Final Fantasy XI), acts as the government, and creates inviolable laws ensuring fair competition.

. . . .

Libertarians like to believe that the real world operates this way; that the only thing that prevents you from being as rich as Bill Gates is that Bill Gates put in the effort to raise his character to level 99, while you were too lazy to do the same thing. In the ideal libertarian world, there is no HBD, no luck, no credentialism, no irrational behavior, no Black Swan events (to use the term coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb), no winner-take-all effects, no insurmountable barriers to entry, no value transference.

In other words, the online role playing economy is fair in a manner that the vast majority of people would define fair, but the real world is not.

Without making a judgment about whether and to what extent the factors HS lists make the American economy “not fair”, I wonder if the belief in its fairness has utility beyond its literal truth.  Would not the belief that one is primarily responsible for his own fate produce better life outcomes for him than the belief that the game is rigged against him from the outset?

Maybe this isn’t always true.  Belief in HBD is a much darker worldview than DZGD, for instance, and I can’t think of any reason why we should prefer it . . . except for the harm that DZGD has wrought in public policy.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Published!

I just got word that my first conference paper has been accepted for publication.  I should get a trip to Iceland out of it.

So . . . what’s in Iceland?  How can I leverage the conference to get some cool pictures?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Link Love for Trumwill

Regarding the difference between “religious” and “spiritual”, Trumwill writes:

Being an atheist is undemanding but also unpopular and for a lot of people unfulfilling. Being a member of an organized religious provides you with a packaged set of beliefs but comes with a bunch of rules you have to follow. Call yourself “spiritual” and not “religious” and you can do whatever the heck you want with less in the way of social consequences and you can find meaning in whatever the heck you want to find meaning in. So if it feels good you can make it not about feeling good but about connectedness and all that jazz. The rules are typically more generous when you make them up as you go along. You get gratification from all ends.

This brings to mind how liberals attempt to define hypocrisy in a way that only conservatives can be guilty of it.  Different from its true definition – pretending to be something that you are not – they define it as a failure to live up to your publicly stated moral standards.  The liberals deftly avoid this charge by . . . not having any standards!

Somehow, Democrat politicians are never called hypocrites when they, for instance, oppose school choice while sending their own children to Sidwell Friends, or espouse environmentalism while running up utility bills greater than the median income.

And somehow Bill Bennett can be guilty of hypocrisy for gambling, even though he never spoke against gambling, but he identifies as a SoCon, and other SoCons have spoken out against gambling, so . . . ?

It’s all very complicated.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Un-Justified

I watched the premier episode of the new FX series Justified last week.  Let me save you about 42 minutes.

It is difficult to summon the words required to describe how utterly without redeeming feature this series is.  It isn’t just that the series recycles every modern cliché and caricature of southerners and southern lawmen in existence:  racist rednecks running around blowing up churches and robbing banks, tough-guy marshal with a lightning draw trying to stop them.  It’s that these clichés are poorly written and weakly acted.  This is especially true of the lead, Timothy Olyphant, who unconvincingly plays Deputy U. S. Marshal Raylan Givens, but it doesn’t end there; the acting is flat right down the line.  The “action” scenes lack spark, the dialog lacks wit, the confrontations lack edge.  There isn’t even any attempt at irony or self-awareness.  The episode was so bad, in fact, that even the appearance of the excellent Walton Goggins as the Bad Guy couldn’t save it.

Of particular interest to the readers of this blog will be the Ava Crowder character, who, we quickly learn, has just murdered her husband with a .30-‘06 while he was eating dinner, a crime for which she is quickly offered a manslaughter plea involving no jail time.  But he deserved it, the writers hasten to assure us, as Ava tells tales of abuse at his hands.  Conveniently, none of that abuse mars the features of the lovely Joelle Carter, who promptly throws herself into the arms of our chivalrous deputy marshal.  The misandrist plotpoint has all the marks of Lifetime Original Movie, without the poignancy.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Disparate Impact: Meet the Losers

Most of you have probably already read Steve’s take on the NYT story about the lawsuit against the Beaufort, NC school system’s disciplinary policies.

Fun facts:

  • Beaufort County, like NC in general, has an above average black population:  ~30%.
  • Beaufort County is poor:  the median household income is only $36K.
  • Beaufort County is not exceptionally educated:  only 16% of its residents possess Bachelor’s degrees.  (Some 75% have completed high school.)
  • Beaufort County has a consolidated school district, with three high schools.  The suspended students came from Southside High School, which is 44% black and 54% white.  GreatSchools gives it a rating of 5/10.  It’s test scores are at about the state average:  not great, but not cratering either.

It is not clear from the NYT article what specific role disparate impact plays in the litigation.  Nonetheless, Beaufort County provides a profile of the communities that will be on the business end of Obama’s application of disparate impact to education:  working poor and racially mixed.  Families without the means to retreat from the NAMs that surround them or they would have done so already.  Schools that attempt to provide their educable students with the best education possible and protect the rest from racial intimidation.

. . . . . . .

A couple of observations from my own one-semester experience in an “urban” school.

  • The NYT’s “boys will be boys” attitude towards school violence (itself rather ironic, considering the Times’ reaction to school “sexual harassment”) doesn’t take into account how even a low level of disruption makes it impossible for learning to take place.  In isolation, no single incident seems like it should be an expellable offense; cumulatively, however, they can drain the teacher of her teaching time in favor of “keep order” time.
  • There is a huge variance among teachers in their ability to keep order.  Among mine, the best at this was my algebra teacher, a physically imposing black woman whose students uttered nary a peep even when she was out of the room.  And the worst?  Well, the school had three-tier tracking, so it wasn’t The Wire, or even The Class, but this nice white lady flailed away ineffectually while a handful of students made life very difficult for the rest of us.  (Fortunately, she taught a bogus subject, “Career Planning”, to the content of which I was indifferent.)
  • Not all “school violence” is created equal.  I do not wish to romanticize the white working class – being a slight, bookish boy from an NPR-listening family at a rural school was no picnic, I assure you – but the kind of violence that I witnessed at an urban school was just scarier.  Was that scariness a function of the students’ race?  I don’t think so, at least not entirely, but I can’t prove it, and anyway, so what?  The psychological effect is the same whether or not it involves race or not.  Which is why I like living in my lily white little burg.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Conversion vs. Re-affiliation

Here is a tidbit that may surprise many of you, given what I have heretofore revealed about myself:  for the past 2+ years, ever since we moved from the Mountain West to the Upper Mid-West, we have been attending a Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod congregation.  Last week, we formally became members.

When we first moved here, we visited about six different churches, some of them several times.  For the first year, we divided our attendance between a small PCA congregation about 15 minutes away, and the smaller LCMS church only two blocks from our house.  But in then end, we decided to attend the LCMS church full time.

Why?

  • Proximity.  Our community is very walk-able, and walking to church is really nice.  The SWPLs are on to something here.
  • Format.  Our Sunday school class, taught by the pastor, was in a sit-in-a-circle, Bible-study format rather than a platform lecture format.  And while I can’t really claim to prefer one to the other, the Bible-study format makes it easier to meet people and build relationships.  Which brings me to:
  • Friendliness.  While the PCA church wasn’t un-friendly, we were never able to turn our attendance there into any extra-church play-dates or get-togethers.  While the church did have some mid-week Bible studies that might have generated more social opportunities, my recollection is that most of these were men-only or women-only rather than for families with children.
  • Involvement.  While the PCA church probably would have provided ministry opportunities, that doesn’t have the same draw as being recruited to (in my case) join the LCMS choir, which is really what put them over the top.  Not only is the LCMS church small, most (but not all) of its members are old, and they are eager for the elevated involvement of the following generation (or two).  The PCA, in contrast, never gave much indication that they needed us one way or the other.

These aren’t the only reasons. Truth be told, these events seriously undermined my institutional loyalty to the PCA.  It may not seem like a big deal – in and of itself, it isn’t – but the issue itself and the way it was handled brought into sharp relief a number of things that had been bothering me.  First, many PCA congregations seem to be drifting away from their theological moorings.  Locally, I had observed this in several minor ways, and while I originally written them off as anomalies, they now look like a pattern.  Nationally, the drift shows up in, for instance, the PCA’s initial support (since retracted) for amnesty.  And second, I began to wonder how well I was fitting in socially. This hadn't much bothered me before, especially since I had nothing to compare it to, but the LCMS church just felt warmer to us than the PCA did.

It could be argued that we abandoned one denomination over small political differences to join one with which we have large theological differences. The LCMS has something called the Book of Concord, which appears to play the same role in Lutheran theology as the Westminster Confession plays in Presbyterian theology. Although most of that theology is almost identical, the Lutherans and Calvinists hold subtle yet strenously debated differences in their understanding of the Lord's Supper. I will not bore you with those differences here, except to say that they were considered a Very Big Deal back in the day.

Yet, for my part, I couldn't invest those differences with enough importance to prevent me from participating in the Lord's Supper in good conscience. And when I explained to the him the Calvinist view, our pastor responded that it was "close enough" for membership purposes.

But I hope the LCMS doesn't become too heterodox in its membership standards. Their willingness to hold to their traditions, even when I disagree with them, is still one of the things I like about them.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Early Marriage Reconsidered

The excellent Robin Hanson, after quoting from a couple of articles that document the steep decline in female fertility with age, observes:

Today high status women stay long in school, start careers, and take long to match up with a man before having kids.  They are often too late, their kids have more defects, and the interruption hurts their career.  Low status women more often have an accidental early kid out of wedlock.

Imagine a different equilibrium, where females pick a male at 15, then school more slowly to have kids till some standard age (20? 25? 30?), when females return to full-time school and uninterrupted careers.

While it is not entirely clear if this new equilibrium would be better or worse, it certainly has some positive features.  Kids and moms would be healthier, kids more numerous and less accidental, moms more energetic, older folk would enjoy more grand kids etc., and career interruptions wouldn’t make female employees suspect.

Early parenting would have to be paid for by grandparents or via loans (or perhaps income shares), presumably in trade for some loss of autonomy.  While childhood does seem to be lengthening, it is not clear if this autonomy loss could be accepted.

For the male pattern, there are two obvious variations: males switch life-plans along with females, or males stay on the current plan.  Having males also switch would keep mates at similar ages, promote healthier kids and more energetic dads, and reduce opportunities for gender discrimination.

You knew this was coming . . . .

In fairness to Hanson, he almost certainly realizes the thoroughgoing cultural change we would have to affect in order to realize these kind of downstream effects.

The most obvious problem is that, as Taylor Swift candidly sings, there is no evidence that fifteen year old girls are especially competent decision makers, especially in matters of love and sex, and even more especially in choosing with whom they should spend the rest of their lives.  As I have argued previously, our culture sends a lot of false signals to young women in the regard, but that only deepens the required cultural retrenchment.

Hanson hints that parents should take a more active role in screening their daughters’ suitors, and indeed advocates greater involvement by extended families in helping new couples get their start in life.  Certainly this would be both necessary and appropriate; however, were they to actually follow Hanson’s apparent advice and match their teen girls with teen boys, they would have very little in the way of useful signals as to which of these suitors will be capable of providing for their daughters in The Manner To Which They Have Become Accustomed, or even which of them will tubs-o'-lard by age 40.

Hanson continues:

Randomness in kid timing and number would make it a bit harder to estimate student quality based on student performance – could we find ways to correct for this?  And the fact that low status moms now have kids early makes it harder to coordinate a switch to this new equilibrium.  But still, it seems an interesting thing that never was, about which to ask: why not?

On the contrary, my understanding is that this has been the arrangement throughout most of the history of civilization. It is our current equilibrium that is historically anomalous. But again, our historical antecedents offer little of a roadmap on how to get from here to there, even if we agreed that we wanted to.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that Hanson's timeline appears to assume that families surrender the primary education of their children to conventional schools. But homeschooling families undertake full-time child-rearing responsibilities for a good twelve years longer. At some point, we should be realistic about the chances of a woman returning to "high school" at age 35. Indeed, the "historical antecedents" to which I referred took for granted that a woman's education would peak at a level far below that of a man.

That said, it will not surprise my readers that I would be largely complacent about this development. On the one hand, I want positive life outcomes for my daughters, and quitting school at age 15 makes these outcomes highly improbable, given the culture we actually have. But in general, I'm not especially enthused about the mass production of female corporate drones, and as far as education's claims to making a woman more "cultured", I would question the efficiency of conventional schooling to achieve this relative to, say, a library card.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

It’s Official: Mexico Goes to Sh!t

A friend in the Armed Forces passed me the following message this morning.  I can’t otherwise vouch for its authenticity, except to say that it seems too elaborate to be a hoax.

UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY.

MSGID/GENADMIN/HQ USNORTHCOM//

POC/ USNORTHCOM J34/TEL COMM 719-554-8307 OR 3897/DSN 692/ NC.J34.RM.OMB@NORTHCOM.[SMIL.]MIL//

1. (U) THIS MESSAGE ISSUES A USNORTHCOM TRAVEL DIRECTIVE FOR MEXICO. IT SUPERSEDES AND RESCINDS PREVIOUSLY ISSUED GUIDANCE AND ADVISORIES (REFS B, D, AND E) AND AMPLIFIES PREVIOUSLY ISSUED GUIDANCE (REFS A AND C). THIS MESSAGE APPLIES TO ALL DOD PERSONNEL OVER WHICH COMMANDER USNORTHCOM HAS FORCE PROTECTION RESPONSIBILITY IAW THE UNIFIED COMMAND PLAN (UCP) AND IS VALID UNTIL 15 MAY 2010.

1.A. (U) CURRENT SITUATION UPDATE.

1.A.1. (U//FOUO) WORSENING VIOLENCE AND INSECURITY IN NORTHERN MEXICO HAS SEVERELY IMPACTED THE SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC FABRIC IN TOWNS AND CITIES LIKE CIUDAD JUAREZ, NUEVO LAREDO, MONTERREY AND REYNOSA. THE URBAN CENTERS HAVE BECOME BATTLEGROUNDS IN A NEW ROUND OF CARTEL-ON-CARTEL VIOLENCE. THE FEAR OF BECOMING A STATISTIC OF 'COLLATERAL DAMAGE' IN CARTEL FIREFIGHTS AND TARGETED KILLINGS HAS CREATED AN ATMOSPHERE OF FEAR.

1.A.2. (U//FOUO) ON 13 MARCH, 2010 PRESUMED (REFER TO PARA 1.C. BELOW) MEXICAN DRUG CARTEL HIT TEAMS FIRED ON US CONSULATE GENERAL CIUDAD JUAREZ VEHICLES IN TWO SEPARATE LOCATIONS IN CIUDAD JUAREZ RESULTING IN THREE FATALITIES (TWO AMERICAN CITIZENS AND ONE MEXICAN CITIZEN). BOTH VEHICLES LEFT THE SAME CONSULATE GENERAL SOCIAL EVENT BEFORE BEING ATTACKED. AN AMERICAN CITIZEN CONSULATE EMPLOYEE AND HER HUSBAND WERE KILLED IN ONE LOCATION (ONE CHILD SURVIVED UNHARMED) AND A MEXICAN CONSULATE GENERAL WORKER TRAVELING WITH HIS WIFE AND TWO CHILDREN (ALL THREE WOUNDED) WAS KILLED IN THE OTHER LOCATION. THE INVESTIGATION IS ONGOING.

1.B. (U) ON 14 MARCH 2010, THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE ISSUED A MEXICO TRAVEL WARNING (REF F) THAT SUPERSEDES THE 22 FEBRUARY 2010 TRAVEL ALERT UPDATING THE PREVIOUSLY ISSUED INFORMATION FOR U.S. CITIZENS TRAVELING TO AND LIVING IN MEXICO. THE CURRENT TRAVEL WARNING INFORMS U.S. CITIZENS TRAVELING TO AND LIVING IN MEXICO OF CONCERNS ABOUT THE SECURITY SITUATION IN MEXICO, AND THAT IT HAS AUTHORIZED THE DEPARTURE OF THE DEPENDENTS OF U.S. GOVERNMENT PERSONNEL FROM U.S. CONSULATES IN THE NORTHERN MEXICAN BORDER CITIES OF TIJUANA, NOGALES, CIUDAD JUAREZ, NUEVO LAREDO, MONTERREY AND MATAMORAS UNTIL APRIL 12. DUE TO RECENT VIOLENT ATTACKS THE U.S. EMBASSY CONTINUES TO URGE U.S. CITIZENS TO DELAY UNNECESSARY TRAVEL TO PARTS OF DURANGO, COAHUILA AND CHIHUAHUA STATES AND TO ADVISE U.S. CITIZENS RESIDING OR TRAVELING IN THOSE AREAS TO EXERCISE EXTREME CAUTION.

1.C. (U) USNORTHCOM CONCURS WITH THE SECURITY ASSESSMENT OF THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE TRAVEL WARNING AND HAS NO OFFICIAL CONFIRMATION OF DIRECT TARGETING AGAINST DOD PERSONNEL. THE HIGH CRIME RATE AND ESCALATION OF VIOLENCE BY THE DRUG CARTELS CONTINUES TO BE OF CONCERN; BOTH OF WHICH MAY INDISCRIMINATELY THREATEN THE WELL-BEING OF DOD TRAVELERS IN MEXICO.

1.D. (U) THIS FP DIRECTIVE MAY BE AMENDED OR RESCINDED PENDING THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE U.S. EMBASSY EMERGENCY ACTION COMMITTEE.

2. (U) THREAT LEVELS AND FORCE PROTECTION CONDITIONS.

2.A. (U) DIA WORLDWIDE THREAT LEVELS FOR MEXICO: TERRORISM THREAT ASSESSMENT- LOW, CRIME ASSESSMENT- HIGH.

2.B. (U) FPCON BASELINE FOR MEXICO REMAINS UNCHANGED AT BRAVO. NO TRAVELER OR DEPLOYED UNIT FPCON MEASURES HAVE BEEN DIRECTED.

3. (U) TRAVEL DIRECTIVE.

3.A. (U) DUE TO THE ONGOING VIOLENCE ALONG THE U.S.-MEXICO BORDER AND THE RECENT KILLING OF THREE AMERICAN CITIZENS IN CIUDAD JUAREZ ALL NON-OFFICIAL TRAVEL (LEAVE AND PASS) IS PROHIBITED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE TO THE STATE OF CHIHUAHUA; STATE OF DURANGO; AND THE CITIES OF NOGALES, PIEDRAS NEGRAS, NUEVO LAREDO, MONTERREY AND MATAMORAS. OFFICIAL DOD TRAVEL TO THESE AREAS IS LIMITED TO MISSION ESSENTIAL TRAVEL ONLY. GRANTING OF PERMISSION TO ALLOW SERVICE MEMBERS OR DOD EMPLOYEES TO RESIDE IN MEXICO REMAINS AT THE DISCRETION OF THE SERVICE COMPONENTS, DEFENSE AGENCIES AND DOD FIELD ACTIVITIES. SPECIFIC GUIDANCE PERTAINING TO THIS POLICY, INCLUDING REQUESTS FOR EXCEPTION ARE CONTAINED IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPHS. EMERGENCY TRAVEL MAY BE AUTHORIZED UPON APPROVAL OF COMMANDERS/DIRECTORS OF SERVICE COMPONENTS, DEFENSE AGENCIES, AND DOD FIELD ACTIVITIES PER PARAGRAPH 3.C. BELOW.

3.B. (U) THIS TRAVEL DIRECTIVE APPLIES TO ALL ACTIVE DUTY AND RESERVE COMPONENT PERSONNEL IN TITLE 10 STATUS. USNORTHCOM ENCOURAGES DEPENDANTS, DOD CONTRACTORS, AND DOD CIVILIANS TO ABIDE BY THE TRAVEL PROHIBITIONS AND RESTRICTIONS IMPOSED.

3.C. (U) EXCEPTIONS: SERVICE COMPONENTS, DEFENSE AGENCIES AND DOD FIELD ACTIVITIES WILL DEVELOP A PROCESS TO APPROVE EMERGENCY NON-OFFICIAL AND OFFICIAL TRAVEL TO MEXICO AT A LEVEL OF COMMAND DEEMED APPROPRIATE TO THEIR ORGANIZATION.

3.D. (U) OFFICIAL TRAVEL REQUESTS. THE APPROVING AUTHORITY FOR OFFICIAL TRAVEL SHALL BE NAMED IN THE REMARKS SECTION OF THE APACS THEATER CLEARANCE REQUEST ALONG WITH THE APPROVAL JUSTIFICATION. DISAPPROVAL OR ABSENCE OF APPROVAL BY ANY CLEARANCE-GRANTING AUTHORITY CONSTITUTES DENIAL OF AUTHORITY TO ENTER THE RESTRICTED AREAS. LEAD TIME FOR THEATER CLEARANCE REQUESTS IS 14 DAYS.

4. (U) USNORTHCOM SERVICE COMPONENTS, DEFENSE AGENCIES AND DOD FIELD ACTIVITIES ARE DIRECTED TO TAKE IMMEDIATE ACTIONS TO ENSURE ACCOUNTABILITY OF ALL PERSONNEL LIVING IN OR TRAVELING TO MEXICO. PROVIDE A REPORT OF ALL UNACCOUNTED PERSONNEL TO THE NORAD-USNORTHCOM COMMAND CENTER WITHIN 72 HOURS OF MESSAGE RELEASE.

5. (U) USNORTHCOM AOR TRAVEL POLICY.

5.A. (U) PREVIOUSLY ISSUED GUIDANCE (REF A) REMAINS IN EFFECT AND AS SUPPLEMENTED BY (REF C). THERE ARE NO ADDITIONAL COCOM DIRECTED TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS OTHER THAN THOSE CONTAINED IN THIS MESSAGE. USNORTHCOM HAS NOT DIRECTED SUBORDINATE COMMANDS TO IMPOSE ADDITIONAL TRAVEL LIMITATIONS OR RESTRICTIONS BEYOND PARAGRAPH 3.A ABOVE; HOWEVER, THIS COMMAND REMAINS SUPPORTIVE OF ANY SUBORDINATE COMMANDERS ACTION TO INITIATE ADDITIONAL TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS DEEMED PRUDENT. SUBORDINATE COMMANDS ARE REMINDED OF THE REQUIREMENT TO NOTIFY THIS HEADQUARTERS OF ANY RESTRICTIONS IMPOSED.

5.B. (U) FOREIGN CLEARANCE PROGRAM. COMMANDERS AT ALL LEVELS ARE RESPONSIBLE TO HAVE TRAVEL PROCEDURES IN PLACE TO ENSURE THEIR PERSONNEL TRAVELING FOR OFFICIAL OR NON-OFFICIAL PURPOSES ARE IN COMPLIANCE WITH THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE FOREIGN CLEARANCE MANUAL (REF G). PARTICULAR EMPHASIS SHOULD BE GIVEN TO THE GENERAL ENTRY REQUIREMENTS; SPECIFICALLY, IDENTIFICATION CREDENTIALS, CLEARANCE REQUIREMENTS, AND IMPORTANT INSTRUCTIONS FOR NON-OFFICIAL TRAVEL.

6. (U) TRAVEL ADVISORY.

6.A. (U) COMMANDERS SHOULD CONTINUE TO REVIEW EXISTING POLICIES REGARDING TRAVEL FOR BOTH OFFICIAL AND NON-OFFICIAL PURPOSES TO ALL OTHER AREAS OF MEXICO AND CONSIDER IMPOSING LIMITATIONS ON TRAVEL TO MEXICO UNTIL THE SECURITY SITUATION IMPROVES.

6.B. (U) OFFICIAL TRAVEL TO AREAS OTHER THAN SPECIFIED IN PARA 3.A ABOVE. COMMANDERS SHOULD IMPLEMENT PROCEDURES TO ENSURE OFFICIAL TRAVELERS REVIEW CURRENT TRAVEL ALERT AND FOREIGN CLEARANCE REQUIREMENTS, ENSURE CONTACT PLANS ARE DEVELOPED AND REHEARSED WITH IN-COUNTRY HOSTS, COORDINATE FOR AN IN-COUNTRY THREAT BRIEF AND PERIODIC THREAT UPDATES, AND REVIEW IN-COUNTRY FP ACTIONS SHOULD THE THREAT ENVIRONMENT AND FP CONDITIONS CHANGE.

6.C. (U) NON-OFFICIAL TRAVEL TO AREAS OTHER THAN SPECIFIED IN PARA 3.A ABOVE. DOD MEMBERS TRAVELING FOR PERSONAL ACTIVITIES AND WITH NO OFFICIAL IN-COUNTRY HOSTS CONTINUE TO BE A CONCERN DUE TO THE POTENTIAL FOR BEING VICTIMS OF INDISCRIMINANT OR TARGETED ACTS OF VIOLENCE AND CRIME. WHILE THIS CONCERN SHOULD NOT BE THE SOLE REASON TO INVOKE TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS, IT SHOULD PROMPT ACTIONS TO CONTINUE IMPLEMENTATION OF POLICIES AND PROCEDURES ENSURING PERSONNEL UNDERSTAND THE RISK AND ARE BEST PREPARED FOR TRAVEL. IMPOSITION OF TRAVEL LIMITATIONS (I.E., CURFEWS, BUDDY RULES, AND BOUNDARIES) SHOULD BE REVIEWED FOR IMPLEMENTATION, IF NOT ALREADY DONE SO. RECOMMEND THE CONTINUANCE OF FORMAL PROCEDURES TO APPROVE/DENY TRAVEL, PROVIDE PRE-TRAVEL BRIEFS, PREPARE INDIVIDUAL AT PLANS, AND REQUIRE CHECK-IN/OUT CONTACT.

6.D. (U) DOD CIVILIANS AND FAMILY MEMBERS ARE ENCOURAGED TO FOLLOW COMPONENT, DOD, AND USNORTHCOM AT GUIDANCE AND PROCEDURES FOR THEIR OWN SAFETY AND SECURITY.

7. (U) ADDITIONAL INFORMATION. THERE ARE MULTIPLE SOURCES FOR ACQUIRING CLASSIFIED AND UNCLASSIFIED INFORMATION PERTINENT TO ASSESSING TRAVEL RISKS AND DEVELOPING FP PLANS. MANY OF THESE LINKS MAY BE FOUND ON THE USNORTHCOM TRAVEL PAGE, HTTPS://OPERATIONS.NORADNORTHCOM.MIL/SITES/NCJ3/NCJ34/DEFAULT.ASPX.

8. (U) USNORTHCOM PUBLIC AFFAIRS GUIDANCE IS PASSIVE, RESPOND TO QUERY ONLY. COMMANDERS AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICERS MAY USE THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT TO ADDRESS THIS ISSUE. QUOTE: RECENT VIOLENT ATTACKS HAVE CAUSED THE U.S. EMBASSY IN MEXICO TO URGE U.S. CITIZENS TO DELAY UNNECESSARY TRAVEL TO PARTS OF DURANGO, COAHUILA AND CHIHUAHUA STATES AND TO ADVISE U.S. CITIZENS RESIDING OR TRAVELING IN THOSE AREAS TO EXERCISE EXTREME CAUTION. END QUOTE. AS A PRUDENT MEASURE, THE COMMANDER, U.S. NORTHERN COMMAND HAS RECOMMENDED THAT SUBORDINATE COMMANDERS REVIEW THEIR EXISTING POLICIES AND CONSIDER IMPOSING RESTRICTIONS ON TRAVEL TO MEXICO FOR THEIR PERSONNEL. U.S. NORTHERN COMMAND WILL CONTINUE TO ASSESS THE SITUATION WITH RESPECT TO THE SECURITY AND SAFETY OF U.S. MILITARY PERSONNEL. END QUOTE. LOCAL COMMANDERS MAY PROVIDE ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FROM THIS MESSAGE REGARDING THIS SITUATION TO THE PUBLIC AND MEDIA AS NECESSARY. MEDIA QUERIES BEYOND THE SCOPE OF THIS GUIDANCE SHOULD BE REFERRED TO USNORTHCOM PUBLIC AFFAIRS AT (719) 554-6889//

AKNLDG/YES//

GENTEXT/AUTHENTICATION/USNORTHCOM OFFICIAL: CC//GEN RENUART/

BT

NNNN

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Only One Party?

Jonathan Chait writes in TNR:

But nobody who recalls Bush v. Gore could completely rule out five Republican justices deciding on a wildly activist ruling on a high-stakes political fight.

Since as far as I know, SCOTUS justices have no political affiliation, I decided to do a Google hit count:

  • “Republican Justices”:  16100
  • “Democratic Justices”:  3880

Not as bad as I expected, but pretty bad.

Bleg: can someone explain to me how this is supposed to work? If you had asked me, I would have said that legislation passed by Congress – not "deemed passed", but actually passed – had to be identical in both their House and Senate versions; if they were not, then the legislation went to a House-Senate conference to hash out the differences.  Now the House is attempting to pass the Senate’s version of Obama care “with changes” as part of a “rule”.  Doesn’t the Senate have to vote on those changes?  And if so, does it not require a 60% cloture vote?

This is all supposed to be part of a process called “reconciliation”, but Byron York’s attempt at explaining that process contains sentences like this:

On August 2, 1989, the House adopted a rule (H.Res. 221) that automatically incorporated into the text of the bill made in order for consideration a provision that prohibited smoking on domestic airline flights of two hours or less duration.  [Emphasis added.]

SweetMotherofJesus, is that even a complete sentence?  What is that bold-faced clause that seemed to have parachuted into the middle of sentence in which it doesn’t actually belong!

Giggle of the Day

H.T.: Ace.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Elegy

In response to B’s email asking about the topic of my PhD research, I stated the lengthy title of my dissertation, following it with the words “. . . or something similarly pretentious.”  B replied,

You're so self-deprecating. Do you feel a need to do that because of your self-confidence, that you don't want to appear arrogantly self-assured?

His observation was not made in a vacuum but came hard on the heels of some self-deprecating remarks I had made about this picture.  (Full disclosure:  B, who happens to be gay, is one of my oldest friends, and probably knows me better than anyone not actually in my family.

I never answered B’s question, and I won’t attempt to answer it here, but the exchange crossed my mind as I watched the excellent movie Elegy, wherein an older college professor (Ben Kingsley, 66) has an affair with one of his much-younger students (Penelope Cruz, 35).

The characters’ ages are never explicitly stated in the movie; however, based on her biography, I think the audience is supposed to take the undergraduate Cruz as approximately 25.  But this doesn’t really work.  First, while Cruz’s body is still exquisite, it no longer belongs to a 25 year old.  And second, although Kingsley’s narration describes her as someone who “knows she is beautiful, but hasn’t decided what to do with her beauty,” it becomes quickly apparent that Cruz’s character possesses great self-assurance and maturity – more maturity than any twenty-five-year-old I’ve ever met, and indeed more than Kingsley’s playboy professor.  Cruz, with no hint of flakiness, has decided what she wants to do with her beauty:  have an adult relationship with Kingsley.

But it is instead the college professor that can’t handle this relationship, and Kingsley gives a compelling portrayal of why this would be so:  as he candidly admits to her, she is young, beautiful, and could easily have a younger and better-looking boyfriend; “I’m afraid that one day you will wake up and realize this.”

So . . . he sabotages the relationship, first with low-key jealousy and then with his own flakiness.  He fails to attend her graduation party, afraid that her parents will think of him as a dirty old man.  (A not-unjustified assessment, in my opinion.)  She concludes, not unreasonably, that he is incapable of a committed relationship, and in tears breaks up with him.

Now, this isn’t the whole of the story in real life.  The movie touches on, but doesn’t really resolve, the issue of whether or not the typical undergraduate female’s infatuation with a charismatic professor is an adequate basis for, say, lifelong marriage.  And no reader of this blog would fail to note that, since the movie is told through Kingsley’s eyes rather than Cruz’s, it doesn’t really delve into the impact that markers of relative sexual status have on a woman’s attraction to a man.  Nonetheless, the movie eloquently shows this aspect:  how difficult a relationship is when a man can’t answer, to his own satisfaction, the question, “why would this woman stay with me?”  Call it status; call it self-esteem; but a man needs it, for his own sake, if he is to make a viable romantic partner.  Kingsley and Cruz return to each other in the movie’s denouement; events conspire to equalize their status as Kingsley recons it, and he finally is able to answer the question.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Who Benefits?

Here is a question I posted over at Steve’s place regarding his coverage of Obama’s attack on the Los Angeles Unified School District:

Who benefits?

I mean, it's easy to see who will be hurt: White and Asian students (and above-average children of any race) who use magnet/charter/AP programs to extract a decent education from LAUSD; their families who then have to abandon the public schools and/or pack up and move to communities with no minorities to disparately impact; and the LAUSD tax base. Meanwhile, the minority students themselves will not be helped by this, and will probably be harmed in the long run.

Politically speaking, this appears to be a Democrat administration pouncing on a heavily Democrat jurisdiction. Granted, it's hard to see how it hurts Democrat fortunes in California -- whatever centrists start leaning Republican will be offset by white-flight -- but I don't see how it helps, either.  Nationally, it will attract the notice and ire of any public school parents in school districts with substantial minority populations, but aren’t these already heavily Democrat?

So . . . why is Obama doing this? It's very difficult to see the upside for him or his party.

UPDATE:  One possibility crosses my mind:  this represents Obama’s effort to force LAUSD to re-introduce bilingual education.  In theory, this will benefit professional Hispanics, who like keeping their people in a linguistic ghetto.  But Hispanics are already heavily Democrat, so the upside to Obama has got to be small.  And I’m not sure it will work:  English immersion is in the California constitution, and LAUSD couldn’t officially abandon it even if it wanted to.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Monday, March 08, 2010

Symptoms of Corrupting Sickness

Since lately I’ve had my head in my own research, I missed this story about the three Navy SEALs being court-martialed for apparently giving a murdering terrorist scumbag a fat lip in the course of his capture.  A couple of websites urging support for these heroes are here and here.

As my regular readers know, I’ve been opposed to our continued involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan since early 2006.  Unlike so many others, however, I acknowledge that as long as we are fighting these wars, we should do so with the gloves off.  The current policy, assuming that it is worthy of the name, is to extend to our enemies the same constitutional protections due American citizens.  This is the worst combination imaginable.

Parenthood

I watched Tuesday's premier of NBC's new series Parenthood last night on DVR. It sports an impressive cast, bracing dialogue, and enough family dysfunction to fill several seasons. I hope the writers can keep up the pace they set in the first episode, but it's definitely one to keep an eye on.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Wasting Away in Margaritaville

DSCF5734 Mrs. Φ and I deposited the children with my parents on the way to Key West, FL for our first-ever no-children vacation.  It was a long time in coming.  I love my daughters, and sometimes I even enjoy their company, but I can’t think of words to describe how utterly and completely relaxing it was to spend several days with each other without having to worry about what destruction they were wrecking, what chores they weren’t doing, whether they were practicing the piano or doing their homeschooling, whether they were eating their dinner, whether they were safe.  It’s sobering to think about:  if I, the arch-conservative Christian, while on the one hand taking some satisfaction in knowing that I am contributing to the future of civilization in raising the next generation, can nonetheless luxuriate in a few days of freedom from the responsibilities of parenthood, can you imagine the incentives faced by the average go-along American, with so much less invested?  It’s amazing we manage even the birthrate we have.

DSCF5777 Key West was a lot like what I imagine New Orleans to be:  warm, inebriated, and a little sleazy.  Not really sleazy; I had read somewhere that the place was something of a gay mecca, and some of the resorts advertise themselves as catering to that particular demographic.  But Castro Street it wasn’t.  On the other hand, Duvall Street, the main tourist shopping area, is lined with the kind of establishments that elsewhere are heavily regulated.  Lots of bars, many advertising lap dances and the like.  I even saw one advertising a full-array of sex-related services, including escorts.  And then there were the t-shirts.

DSCF5762 Old Town, the “historic” district with the 19th Century architecture, was about as crowded as I would want in to be.  Supposedly, February is the “off season”, but at least two carrier-sized cruise ships were in port there, which may have had something to do with it.

DSCF5770 A noticeable fraction, if not an outright majority, of the proprietors sported foreign accents.  It occurred to me to wonder the extent this was authentic, or a marketing strategy.  I wonder if we Americans are more tolerant of the high-pressure peddling there in evidence when it comes from people we perceive to be alien.  But taking it at face value, there were large numbers of middle-easterners and Europeans hawking the over-priced junk that is the main feature of tourist traps.  (Relatively few Latin Americans appeared to be doing this.

DSCF5766 I have to hand it to my wife:  she was content in my efforts not to spend a huge amount of money on what could have been a very expensive vacation.  Rather than stay at a resort in Key West proper, we stayed in Boca Chica at a fraction of the cost.  Since our accommodations came with a refrigerator and microwave, we at breakfast and dinner in our rooms, saving on food cost.  So I made it up to her by financing all the overpriced junk souvenirs she wanted.

My wife and I are both certified scuba divers, but we haven’t been diving since having children.  There are a log of dive operations in Key West, so the prices aren’t especially high.We took a “refresher” course in the expectation of getting in a couple of reef dives, which are supposed to be quite good in Key West, but the weather didn’t cooperate:  scattered thunderstorms one day and high winds the next kept all the dive boats ashore. It also apparently interfered with the shrimping operations, but the shrimpers dropped anchor offshore rather than come into port so as to prevent the crews from coming into town and getting plastered.  (Or so our divemaster explained.)

DSCF5792 When we were driving down to Key West, the traffic heading north appeared to be pretty heavy.  I speculated that these were the service-sector workers heading on a long commute home, perhaps to the mainland, but supposedly amidst the million dollar homes there are a fair number of housing opportunities for poor people.  The “quality” of the public schools are highly variable, and not especially impressive.  I suspect that most of the owners of those million dollar homes aren’t actually raising their children there.

homepricedistro

Travel tip:  if you are taking I75 across the Florida Everglades, be sure to get gas in Naples.  It’s an 80 mile drive with no rest areas or gas stations.