Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Grand Game

It's been a while since we played the "Grand Game," where we at KPC post a news story, or blog entry, from some other source, and ask readers to point out the most amazing or outrageous part of the story.

Here's today's story:

(CNN) -- Monica Conyers, Detroit's embattled City Council president pro tempore, pleaded guilty Friday to conspiring to commit bribery, a federal court representative in Michigan told CNN.

Detroit City Council member, Monica Conyers, admits accepting bribes to sway a $1.2 billion contract vote.

My own picks for most amazing outrageous:

1. The mood was somber at Conyers' office on Friday, an official there told CNN. Really?

2. According to state law, Conyers will have to forfeit her seat, Tolliver said. Cockrel said there's language in the law that makes it unclear whether she needs to forfeit her seat immediately or after sentencing

"It hurts the City Council's image, for sure," Cockrel said.
Let's see, she pleaded guilty to accepting bribes to change her vote on the city council. And now they act like the only problem is some obscure state law that says she will have to forfeit her seat? Soon? I would HOPE so. As for "hurting the city council's image"....Jeh*vah, Jeh*vah, Jeh*vah! Like in Monty Python, how could it POSSIBLY get any worse? The only way the Detroit City Council could have a worse image is if they admitted to cannibalism.

Lots of other stuff to pick from. After all, this fine woman is the wife of John Conyers, my FAVE-o-rite US Congressman.

And, she is 44; that means John Conyers (He is *80*) took office in the U.S. House in 1965, the year his wife was BORN.

Finally, the ethics-minded Mr. Conyers wrote, "The Constitution in Crisis," because of his concern about good government. Perhaps now he will write, "My Wife Stole a Bunch of Stuff." Because, friends, that is just the kind of guy he is.

(Nod to RL)

Friday, June 26, 2009

And Iran, Iran so far away...Couldn't get away

John Lewis on Pajamas TV, discussing Iran. Interesting interview.

Michael Jackson died....

Michael Jackson died.

We were exactly the same age. Now he is much older.

For some reason, this struck me as very sad. The most common words in his obits (I have read at least 10 now) are "increasingly odd" and "freakish."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Schuhbeck's Orlando in Munich: A Very Fine Restaurant

As part of the service here at KPC (motto: "Where You ALWAYS Get What You Pay For!"), we do offer selective restaurant reviews. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Well, here's one that is good: Schuhbeck's Orlando. Bizarrely, it is located in the same platz that fronts the Hofbräuhaus .

And, you should go to the Hofbräu, to see the Americans be Americans. It is quite a display. Embarrassing to BE an American, but entertaining. I'd say just have a liter, and a big brezel (they are overpriced, but quite good). Then go for a walk over to the English Garden to build up an appetite for dinner.

And then have dinner at Orlando. It is 40 meters north of the Hofbräuhaus, and a world away. They have Augustiner Weissbier (!!) on tap, as well as Konig Ludwig Dunkel. (Again, !!) A fine wine list. The speisekarte is extensive, and quirky. I had "Orlando's Pan," a truly odd but wonderful mixture of vegetables, meats, and a salad. Kind of a mixed grill, not too much of anything, a delightful combination of flavors and textures. Lots of classics on the menu, and they all looked good. The LMM did her usual menu rewrite ("I want the chicken and rice, hold the chicken and rice, and give me some steamed vegetables"), and the waitress came through very well.

The desserts were rich, and delicious. Not too large, just very well done. Again, beautifully presented, different textures, wonderful.

The atmosphere is clean, elegant....makes you feel good after the nut-scene at the Hofbräu.

Laptop Toughness Tests....And a Monitor Plays Butch Cassidy

Loyal reader and acerbic commenter BR sends this link: Laptop Toughness Test

It is interesting to go shoot stuff, and to see what happens. Did you ever see this?

Then, the actual last scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Dos hombres? DOS HOMBRES?

Health Care Article....

An article I missed, back in the N&O in Raleigh. By my friend and ex-student Don Taylor, at the Sanford Institute.

Excerpt: DURHAM -- In my health policy class at Duke, I teach students two "laws" that govern all health systems: (1) Everyone dies; the only questions are when and from what? and (2) before that, the healthy subsidize the sick.

The first law is inescapable. Making the second function is the essence of health policy. These two laws hold true in Canada. The U.K. Germany. Japan. The U.S. Medicare program. Duke University's private employee plans, and every Blue Cross and Blue Shield group plan sold in North Carolina. In fact, the reason you have heard discussion of the State Employees Health Plan this spring is because Law 2 above was no longer functioning because there were too few healthy state employees and dependents subsidizing the sick ones.

The whole article is interesting. My own view is that the problem is NOT that there are too few healthy subsidizing too many sick. The problem is that there are too many demands that health care "should be" free, and so it is expensive. Our system is focused on providing expensive cure, not cheap prevention.

Look, I have auto insurance, but it doesn't pay for oil changes. People need to pay more of their own costs, not in money terms but in basic maintenance and lifestyle choices. Get off your fat ass, put down the potato chips, and go for a walk.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Interesting Tool: Snapstream

A tool for graphing, over most any period, the frequency of occurrence of words or short phrases in the media.

For example, here is the graph for "Libertarian" in 2008.


(Nod to Kevin L)

North Carolina Criminalizes Thought

The state of North Carolina has deputized teachers at public schools all over the state, forcing them to try to read the minds of children. (Assuming the Gov signs the bill, and she will)

If you see a fight in the school yard, you as a teacher must try to put your hand on the bigger kid's forehead, and do a Vulcan Mind Meld. If you detect any of the following illegal thoughts:

Dislike or bad feelings based on "Race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, socioeconomic status, academic status, gender identity, physical appearance, sexual orientation or mental, physical, developmental or sensory disability or association with a person who has or is perceived to have any of those characteristics."

If you detect these feelings, or think you do, or imagine that you might, then the punishment for bullying is different than if none of these are detected. So, you tell the kid being bullied, "Hey, punk, go wipe the blood off your nose. You are not a special protected category, with wealthy friends in the legislature. So, if you don't get out of my face, I the teacher am going smack you again. Stop your whining."

You can find this whole remarkable bill, right here.

My own thoughts:
1. The state cannot protect children in the schools from violence. Our schools are falling apart, our teachers are overworked, and have very few resources. Adding this burden of mind-reading to teachers is not going to help. It is simply a feel-good measure for the left. The bill is clearly unenforceable, and the cynical supporters know that. They can pass the bill, knowing that it does nothing to protect children from the real bullying that happens every day in the schools (mis)managed by the state.

2. There are actual, real rights being denied to gay men and women in NC. I find it incredible that committed same sex couples are being denied the right sign a basic marriage contract. But supporting bills like this, that single out gay people for SPECIAL rights, rights denied the little kids who happen not to be in a particular category, is counterproductive. That is, passing this bill HURTS the gay and lesbian cause in NC, because straight potential allies will now see gay rights as special rights, not human rights.

A mistake, this legislation. I hate it. I'm not surprised it passed, given the lack of leadership in the Dem party in NC, but I hate it. I mean, just read this account from the News and Observer (and I believe the reporters have this right):

Students and administrators might as well be living on different planets when it comes to school bullying.

Students say it is common for bullies to taunt and hit them or their classmates, and for teachers to do little to stop it. Superintendents and principals say that bullying is a small problem and that policies to discourage it work well.

Into the divide comes a bill that awaits Gov. Beverly Perdue's signature to make it law. The bill is meant to protect students who are harassed for reasons such as race, religion or disabilities. It also would protect students from being tormented because of their real or perceived sexual orientation.

Who cares WHY the kids are being tormented? We need a policy to stop the torment. While we are at it, let's have a policy to reduce gravity, also. I was a little fat kid. I got teased, and tormented, a LOT because I was a little fat kid. Pushed down, beaten up, had my lunch money taken. And, gravity affected me more than the other kids. Gravity DISCRIMINATED against me, singling out the fat kids to make them weigh more, run slower, jump less, all sorts of things that made me sad.

You can't have a policy to make kids like each other, any more than you can reduce gravity. The teachers might be able to keep better discipline, if the public schools would let the teachers actually run the school, like in a charter or private school. But teacher are prevented by policy from actually exercising discpline.

This new law just means that teachers will have to fill out police reports, after the fact, and using Vulcan Mind Meld. Damn.

An Interesting Video: Libertarians Can't Win?

Peter Schiff of CT issues a challenge:

Libertarians have never won anything.
To matter, Libertarians have to take over the Republicans.
As an ex-Republican, I am not so sure.

Iranian Non-Election

Good friend, and ex-student, Josh Koster has an interesting Esquire article.

And, he did play a small role in the world media non-reporting of the Iranian non-election. He did manage to help pull down this web site for a bit:

I'm pretty sure someone important once said something about evil winning when good people do nothing. It seemed, at least to this (somewhat liberal, somewhat skeptical, but not emotionally so) activist, that the evil in Iran had begun to win because the watchdogs were acting like lapdogs. So I decided it was time to cut off the flow of false information and force them to, you know, report. If Ahmadinejad's propaganda machine stopped functioning, maybe the truth would start to. Twitter can stop and start at the same time.

The link that I repackaged and distributed on Twitter this week was to a tool called It does exactly what you'd expect it to do: refresh whatever Web site you want at whatever frequency you set. Sure, the site's intentions center more on winning eBay auctions than, say, affecting the outcome of a democratic election, but democracy's a loose term in Iran. All people had to do, then, was click my link and leave it open, and the lie-spewing servers of The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) would be slammed 3,600 times an hour.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Econtalk: Franchises

Had a fine time talking with good bud Russ Roberts, about franchises, and car sales.

Give a listen....

Not Sure About This....

This photo has made its way around the interwebs. Variously attributed, to different cities, but always to a "Walmart parking lot."

I find myself wondering how it all worked out, viewed from the front. Not a lot of "lifts and separates" in upside down men's briefs with the crotch cut out.

A Cookie for your guess....

"...the Certificate of Hawaiian Birth was issued based on ***'s typewritten testimony, rather than on any documentation from witnesses... After receiving a few years of local school, at age thirteen, *** went to live in Honolulu...*** enrolled in Oahu College (now Punahou School) for further studies for one semester, from which he graduated. He was soon sent home to *****, but he returned to Hawaii at least twice, in **** and ****...In ****, his alleged birth in Hawaii was certified. He applied for naturalization and became a citizen of the United States and was issued an American passport...*** attached particular importance to the ideas of Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln...He incorporated these ideas, later in life, in two highly influential books...His ideology remained flexible, however, reflecting his audience as much as his personal convictions...It is an open matter of debate whether this eclecticism reflected a sincere effort to incorporate ideas from the multiple competing schools of thought or was simply opportunistic posturing." [Wikipedia]

Sun Yat Sen, of course. And if you knew that, here's your cookie.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Faculty Turtles, and Media Relations

I have an article in this week's CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, "No Turtles: Faculty Media Relations."

You may like it....

Hotel Sublim Eiffel in Paris

The hotel where we stayed in Paris was small, completely anti-geometric, and strange. And we ended up liking it a lot. Sublim Eiffel, on Bd. Garibaldi, in the 15th. Just check the pix on the web site. Somehow, it works.

1. Location. Exactly on the Metro, across the street from the Sèvres Lecourbe stop on the 6 line train. Easy walk to lots of places to eat, several small groceries with wine and other necessities, and a short trip to lots of shopping.

2. Staff. Amazingly friendly and cheerful. Not all of them spoke perfect English, but if there was a problem they would find someone who DID speak English. Now, the staff was better at sympathizing with problems than with fixing them. But...good staff. Quick with more towels, great at answering many questions, even complex ones, about the city.

3. Colors and Layout. The hotel has very few right angles. The rooms are curved, and the showers are...well, the showers are complex. Lights, sound, water from five different possible sources, choosing some or all at once.

The sink... The bed The loo...(yes, that is bright pink toilet paper)

Anyway, we stayed there three nights. Terrific breakfasts, and the whole thing really grew on us. We started out feeling like we were on Mars, and ended up wanting to be Martians.

Regimes and the Rule of Law

Regimes and the Rule of Law: Judicial Independence in Comparative Perspective

Gretchen Helmke & Frances Rosenbluth, Annual Review of Political Science, 2009, Pages 345-366

According to popular wisdom, judicial independence and the rule of law are essential features of modern democracy. Drawing on the growing comparative literature on courts, we unpack this claim by focusing on two broad questions: How does the type of political regime affect judicial independence? Are independent courts, in fact, always essential for establishing the rule of law? In highlighting the role of institutional fragmentation and public opinion, we explain why democracies are indeed more likely than dictatorships to produce both independent courts and the rule of law. Yet, by also considering the puzzle of institutional instability that
marks courts in much of the developing world, we identify several reasons why democracy may not always prove sufficient for constructing either. Finally, we argue that independent courts are not always necessary for the rule of law, particularly where support for individual rights is relatively widespread.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Free! Fearing Aix-en-Provence...

A friend responds to the story about the Stolen Euro and the Shopping Cart....(The answer to her first question is this: At the Frankfurt flughafen, the carts are free.)

How hilarious! Yes, the carts! It usually begins at the airport (how did you avoid that?) And yes, they want their money back! Usually, we put the money in and then for whatever the reason, the cart won't come free, so we just jerk on it and make a really interesting American scene.
Also, have you come across any grocery stores (you'd have to be in car for this) where you do your shopping (involving cart there or your own pushcart) and then to get OUT of the parking lot you must have your grocery receipt and key in a code at a gate to get out. The first time this happened to us, we got to the gate, saw the keypad and {husband} said, "I don't know what the hell I'm supposed to do with this." Cars lined up behind up and blew their horns (no one was there to tell us what to do.)
{son} just sat in the back like "I'm glad I'm not old enough to have a driver's license yet, so none of this involves me. I don't even know if I really know the man driving our car." Someone behind us real ly lay on the horn and {husband} swung open his car door and walked back to the folks behind us." He came back and said (kind of frantically), "we have to have the receipt. Give it to me."
I said, "I don't know where it is." He said, "You had it." Me: "I didn't. Where did you put it?" (Horns blowing loudly.)
{husband} said, "I feel like just plowing through this gate." {son} said, "Cool." I looked through the bags for the receipt. I found it on the floor, wadded up (I guess I'd stepped on it--it was raining out and the numbers were blurred. Plus the code to push wasn't exactly easily found as there were several code looking numbers on the paper.
{husband} grabbed the receipt and punched in a number. Nothing happened. A person in the car behind us, or behind them, or further back, who knows---appeared at {husband}'s window. {husband} shrugged that said, "I don't know what the hell to do." The person looked that the receipt, pointed to a code on the paper, showing {husband}, and then keyed it in. The gate (or bar ) lifted. {son} shouted, "We're free!" We thanked the man, said we we re sorry (in our lovely French) and sped away in a heavy sweat. That was at Aix-en-Provence and to this day the name of the city makes us nervous. :)

Best Signs in the World--1

A new feature here at KPC, one I hope that we will be able to keep up with, is: Best Signs in the World! We may need help from sharp-eyed readers, but then we usually get that.

To start out, let me present a pair of signs, in front of a bar, in Erlangen, Germany. Have to credit the sharp-eyed LMM for this one. Well done, dear. The sign on the left says, "Tonight: Karaoke!" The sign on the right says, "Cocktails to go, only 4 Euro!"

Karaoke talent a little scarce in these parts, maybe?