Thursday, June 27, 2013

Something There Is That Doesn't Love a Wall

There's probably a lot that's good about S. 744, the sprawling immigration reform bill that was recently approved by the senate.  But one piece of it is crazy.  The immigration package includes provisions that call for a border security “surge” that would put 20,000 additional federal agents, hundreds of miles of new fencing between the U.S. and Mexico and 24 hour surveillance by drones.  At a cost of some $30 billion.  You really ought to start worrying when a senator promotes any bill by claiming that it would transform the U.S.-Mexico boundary into “the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall,” as Sen. John McCain proudly claimed.  

I'm not even going to go into why the whole effort is mostly wrongheaded.  Militarizing the border will stifle trade and economic development in the area, the real solution to the issue of illegal immigration.  Congressman Henry Cuellar whose district includes the border crossing of Laredo, said it as well as anyone:  “You tell Mexicans that we need a border ‘surge’ and everyone thinks of the surge in Iraq, as if we’re saying they’re an enemy to overcome.  I’m for strong border security, but a fence is a 14th-century solution to a 21st-century problem.”

But here's the real kicker.  According to the Pew Research Center, illegal immigration has come to a standstill.   Indeed, the data show that the net migration flow from Mexico to the United States has stopped and may have reversed.  The standstill appears to be the result of many factors, including the weakened U.S. job and housing construction markets, heightened border enforcement, a rise in deportations, the growing dangers associated with illegal border crossings, the long-term decline in Mexico’s birth rates and the improvement of economic conditions in Mexico.  In any event, today, it appears that more Mexican are leaving the U.S. for Mexico than are coming here from Mexico.    Read all about it here.  Net Migration from Mexico Falls to Zero -- and Perhaps Less.

These two graphs are instructive:

So, the border surge may well have the opposite effect than that intended.  By preventing Mexicans to return home, it will actually end up increasing the number of illegals that would otherwise be in this country.  I think we can come up with a better use for that $30 billion.

Mending Wall

SOMETHING there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:         5
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,  10
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.  15
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.  20
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
He is all pine and I am apple-orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.  25
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.  30
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down!" I could say "Elves" to him,  35
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,  40
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

                                                                                                          Robert Frost

Friday, June 21, 2013

Organizational Salvation

The AMA of today votes and agrees
To treating over-eating as a weighty disease.
It is hoped that the scope of the illness regresses
As doctors seek health insurance successes.
A cure, I'm sure's but a discovery away:
A gene, or a screen curbing intake each day,
A drug with a hug to boost self-esteem
While solving by dissolving all cake and ice cream.
A fat-free operation for elimination of plump,
We'll crack this attack on humanity's rump.

For reliance on science is not just for facts,
But our path, here at last, now redemption is back.
Our sins can be lifted and shifted to sickness.
I believe this will save us, as God is my witness.
We can switch from that which destroys our excuses,
To a new one that excuses our gluts and abuses,
But cures all before we fall from the slippery, greasy weight that we chooses.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Government Spending and Perceived Risk - Detroit

I could not believe the statements and statistics presented by Felix Salmon concerning Detroit. I immediately thought of the discussion on spending money on perceived versus real risks, i.e. terrorists vs. deer. Detroit looks like a real risk.

Average income: $15, 261
Average auto insurance: $4,000
Murders in 2011: 344 (39 solved)
Crime rate: ranked No. 1 for major cities; 5 times the national average
Average response time for an emergency call to police: 58 minutes
Street lights: 40% are not working
Abandoned buildings: 78,000
Fires: 12,000 per year
Detroit has $9 billion in debt excluding pension liabilities and healthcare and life insurance liabilities, which are estimated at another 6 billion

The Copyright Lawsuit We Have All Been Waiting For

Happy Birthday Warner.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Can I Start Getting Excited About the Pirates Now?

As Heraclitus says, "All is flux, nothing stays still."  

But as I write this, the Pirates, having won their rubber game with Los Angeles today, stand with the third best record in all of major league baseball, and a winning percentage slightly below .600.  Unfortunately, the only two teams with better records than the Bucs, Cincinnati and St. Louis, are also in our division.

This alone sets this season a part.  For much of it, these three teams have led all of baseball.  When was the last time that one division produced, not two, but three teams with winning percentages hovering near or above .600?

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, Pittsburgh's lumber company is a distant memory.  This is not a run producing team.  Out of the 30 major league teams, Pittburgh is 23rd in runs produced, and 24th in team batting average.  But the pitching is something else altogether.  We are 3rd among 30 teams in team ERA and 2nd in runs allowed -- behind only Boston.

But the statistic that I find the most fascinating is the differential between runs produced and runs allowed.  St. Louis, the juggernaut of major league baseball this year, leads in the differential with a whopping plus 102 runs.  In other words, over the season so far they have scored 102 more runs than they have allowed.  Cincinnati, with the second best record in baseball, has a differential of plus 63 runs.  Boston, also doing well this year, has a differential of plus 73.  Detroit, which has a more modest winning percentage of .567, has a differential of plus 85.

The Pirates, with only three less wins over the season than St. Louis, have a run differential of plus 18.  At least we make our runs count, something like Colonel Prescott's troops' use of bullets at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

In part because of Pirate recent history and in part because of their anemic run production, I'm not reading a lot of lofty predictions for the Pirates this year.  But we do have one other thing going for us that may be decisive.   A website called "Team Rankings" has a page on MLB Luck Rankings and Ratings .  I have no idea how this ranking is calculated.  The page says only that 
These new ratings are part of an updated power ratings system we are developing. They are also the basis for our recently launched end of season projections.  We plan to continue to refine these new ratings in the weeks and months ahead, but have tested them enough to be comfortable posting them to the site.

In any event, the Pirates lead all of baseball in the Luck Ranking with a 6.1 rating.  The next team, Baltimore, is more than two points behind at 3.9.   Check out the page and you will see that the Pirates totally dominate this category.  If you have luck going for you, I'm not sure that you need much else.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Greatest Amusement Park Ride Ever?

Here is a ferris wheel reportedly located in India. George W. Ferris, Pittsburgh native, would be proud. As you watch you will discover new features about the ride.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Edward Snowden Continued

Jim writes:  
The other concern, I guess, is to have all that information in the hands of people who are so paranoid that, even though the nation is physically isolated, has friendly neighbors, and has never had a war on its soil other than against itself, it spends 5 times more than any other nation and about 40% of all nations on military. I hope they believe they have bigger fish to fry, but the budget does not seem to reflect that out at the moment.
While the War of 1812 was partially fought on our soil, I otherwise don't disagree with Jim on this.  Terrorism poses a relatively slight risk to our well-being.  In their 2010 report for Foreign Affairs, John Mueller and Mark G Stewart constructed a comparative analysis of terrorism compared to other potential causes of death as follows:

As we can see, the results show that the average American on an annual basis is more likely to be killed by a home appliance, drowning in a bathtub, or in a car accident involving a deer, than they are to be killed in a terrorist attack. This is to say nothing of the threat of ordinary violent crime, which poses a greater threat by several orders of magnitude than that of terrorist violence.  Traffic accidents pose an even greater risk.  As far as I know, there's no government surviellance of deer or home appliances.  And, apparently, we as a nation are willing to little to stem gun violence.

Unfortunately, Al-Qaeda and the other terrorists have won this aspect of the conflict.  They know too well that they pose no real threat to the existence of the United States, and that they will never, for example, occupy any American territory.  So, their strategy is to create enough fear to generate an exaggerated response in the hopes that we will end up tripping over our own feet somehow.  In this, they have been entirely successful.

Even today, Americans are totally comfortable with sacrificing privacy for security, as shown in the latest national survey by the Pew Research Center and The Washington Post, conducted June 6-9: 

Even on the more specific questions, people opted for security: 

We live in a democracy and, if the majority of Americans are more worried about terrorism than their appliances going haywire or deer running about, then that's where the money's going to go.  Perhaps, its not the NSA that is the threat but the American public.

(Of course, there is always the correlation vs. causation concern.  There are those, I'm sure, who would argue that the reason that terrorism appears to pose such a slight threat is because we have neutralized it by our supposed exaggerated response.  "People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."  Ascribed, probably incorrectly, to George Orwell.  This is a question for another day.)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Anki Drive

A new company, Anki, formed by Carnegie Mellon robotics PhD students announces its first product, Anki Drive. Unfortunately, they are now located in California. It's a pretty cool demo despite the hiccup. As in many new things, the future stirs the imagination.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Works of Mercy

Catholicism is a religion of lists.  A list is a memorizing technique, and Catholics love to memorize things.  It avoids having to actually think about them.  

Of course, our family is also very familar with the technique.  First, Bob memorized all the stops of the Erie Lackawanna Railroad between Maplewood and New York City (partial list:  Maplewood, South Orange, Mountain Station, Highland Ave., Orange, Brick Church, East Orange. ...).  Then, Steve memorized the names of all the guys in his platoon (or some other military unit -- you have to ask him) in alphabetical order at Norwich.  Then, came the "one hen, two ducks," etc. memorization mania which occupied several weeks of our lives one summer.  My son John, in first or second grade, with no prompting from anyone, decided one day to memorize all the ranks of the U.S. Navy, for no other reason than they happened to be listed in a book he discovered at school. In my attempt to be like Bob in all ways, I memorized all the stops of the Amtrak line betweeen Harrisburg and 30th Street Station (I dragged Sue and later Ellen into the same project).

Anyway, the following is a partial list of the lists Catholics should memorize:

The 7 Sacraments
The 7 Corporal Works of Mercy
The 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy
The 3 Eminent Good Works
The 7 Gifts of the Holy Ghost 
The 12 Fruits of the Holy Ghost
The 3 Theological Virtues
The 4 Cardinal Virtues
The 7 Capital Sins & Their Contrary Virtues
The 6 Sins Against the Holy Ghost
The 4 Sins That Cry Out to Heaven
The 3 Conditions of Mortal Sin
The 9 Ways We Participate in Others' Sins
The 10 Commandments
The 2 Greatest Commandments
The 3 Evangelical Counsels
The 6 Precepts of the Church
The Holy Days of Obligation (they differ from country to country)
The 3 Powers of the Soul      
The 4 Pillars of the Catholic Faith
The 3 Pillars of the Church's Authority
The 3 Munera (Duties of the Ordained)
The 3 Parts of the Church
The 4 Marks of the Church
The 12 Apostles
The 12 Tribes of Israel
The 8 Beatitudes
The 14 Stations of the Cross
The 7 Sorrows (Dolours) and 7 Joys of Our Lady
The 7 Sorrows and 7 Joys of St. Joseph
The 15 Mysteries of the Rosary
The Order of Creation
The 9 Choirs of Angels
The 3 levels of reverence
The 14 Holy Helpers
The 7 Last Words of Christ
The 4 Last Things (The Novissima)

The whole reason for this post was to say a just few words about the Works of Mercy, both corporal and spiritual.  A recent discussion with a fellow attorney in my office, more steeped in Catholicism than I, led me to an internet search for the works of mercy, and I discovered some pretty interesting things.  First,  let's consider the corporal works of mercy.  Here is the original list:

To feed the hungry;
To give drink to the thirsty;
To clothe the naked;
To harbour the harbourless;
To visit the sick;
To ransom the captive;
To bury the dead.

It's hard to argue with the first three.  The next one gives one pause:  harbouring the harbourless.  Does one need to buy a dock to do this?  I think, quite letigimately, it's a metaphor for giving refuge to anyone in need.  Perhaps, it might have been stated as giving refuge to the refugee, or shelter to the homeless.

And then visiting the sick and burying the dead seem clear enough, but who has ransomed a captive lately?  That's one we should all probably work on.

OK, on with the spiritual works of mercy:

To instruct the ignorant;
To counsel the doubtful;
To admonish sinners;
To bear wrongs patiently;
To forgive offences willingly;
To comfort the afflicted;
To pray for the living and the dead.

I was also impressed with the spiritual works.   These are all good things to do.

None of the works of mercy have any particularly Catholic or even religious content.  If you just substitute wrongdoer for sinner in No. 3 and overlook No 7 of the seven spiritual works, even atheistic, secular humanists can perform all 14 works without any compromise of principle.  Even No. 7 can be secularized to read without too much of a stretch, "to show concern for the living and the dead," for isn't that what prayer is?  To me, they seem to provide some pretty solid guidelines for how to be a decent human being.  

Anyway, let's get out there and start ransoming some captives.  

Edward Snowden, The Guardian interview

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Roethlisberger has surgery for the fun of it

You have to question our medical system or our sport system as Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger undergoes knee surgery that according to head coach Mike Tomlin, "will have no long-term effects on his health.” I wonder if it will have any effect at all. I remember someone doing fake placebo surgery, but it had an effect. Perhaps it will have a short term effect on the economy, or at least someone's wallet.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Naming Children and Other Stories

So Bill and I and mother are idly chatting Sunday afternoon and the subject turns to naming children, since we picked up Tom's wedding invitation. (Kehr or someone like that was getting married.) 

Mother, of course, has a stock thing or two to say on any subject. This one is that she didn't like her name growing up because it was too confusing. Her rightful name is Mary Elizabeth, but her parents called her Betty. "It was so confusing. I hated that at school I would have to explain all the time to my teachers that my name was Mary Elizabeth but also Betty." 

I, of course, gave the "Thousand Clowns" example of naming, and Bill commented upon the old wealth American families who would name their child some ridiculous name such as 'Worthington' (the 12th undoubtedly), if a boy, or 'Margaux Bethany', if a girl, and then use some even more ridiculous nickname to call them. Bill, searching for such a nickname, absently came up with 'Bozo'. I suggested 'Biff' and 'Bunny'. 

Anyway, after we had our little laugh at all the people who are rich enough to act ridiculously, we asked mom what she would name a child if she had another one. We didn't know if she had even heard us, let alone followed our reckless conversation. Without hesitation she says, "Bozo!"

Saturday, June 1, 2013

John Cleese: Alerts to threats in 2013 Europe

The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Syria and have therefore raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to "A Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.

The Scots have raised their threat level from "Pissed Off" to "Let's get the Bastards." They don't have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.

The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide." The only two higher levels in France are "Collaborate" and "Surrender." The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France 's white flag factory, effectively paralysing the country's military capability.

Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout Loudly and Excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."

The Germans have increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbour" and "Lose."

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from "No worries" to "She'll be alright, Mate." Two more escalation levels remain: "Crikey! I think we'll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!" and "The barbie is cancelled." So far no situation has ever warranted use of the last final escalation level.

-- John Cleese - British writer, actor and tall person 

A final thought -“ Greece is collapsing, the Iranians are getting aggressive, and Rome is in disarray. Welcome back to 430 BC."