"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Monday, February 28, 2011

Why the Higher Education Bubble Must Burst (Cliff's Notes Version)

Here, from Business Insider, is a pithy, "Cliff's Notes" summary of why the bubble in college education is going to burst soon (and very soon):
If you had to sum up the education bubble in one misconception, it might be: “The average 22-year-old is a good credit risk for $150,000 in debt, collateralized by something completely intangible.”
Via Instapundit

Oh, by the way, the Business Insider article is all about how to make money off the bubble bursting by short-selling stocks in for-profit colleges (Kaplan, DeVry, etc.) and student loan companies.   Scary.  

Girl Monday - Jean Marsh

After watching Downton Abbey, my lovely and gracious wife and I have been watching the great old BBC show, Upstairs/Downstairs, which was produced by and starred the British actress, Jean Marsh.  It's a remarkable show, with each episode a self-contained drama (really a small stage play) set in the household of a wealthy Tory MP, Sir Richard Bellamy, and his wife, Lady Marjorie.   Marsh plays the parlour maid, Rose, with Gordon Jackson in a great turn as the butler, Mr. Hudson.  

Here's Marsh in costume:

And here she is in her street clothes:

"Distilled Essence" -- That's One Way of Putting It

A fellow named Robert Tracinski has an article up on Real Clear Politics that makes a point about the protests in Wisconsin over public unions that I haven't heard before, and which I think is brilliant:
... there is something deeper here than just favor-selling and vote-buying. There is something that almost amounts to a twisted idealism in the Democrats' crusade. They are fighting, not just to preserve their special privileges, but to preserve a social ideal. Or rather, they are fighting to maintain the illusion that their ideal system is benevolent and sustainable.

Unionized public-sector employment is the distilled essence of the left's moral ideal. No one has to worry about making a profit. Generous health-care and retirement benefits are provided to everyone by the government. Comfortable pay is mandated by legislative fiat. The work rules are militantly egalitarian: pay, promotion, and job security are almost totally independent of actual job performance. And because everyone works for the government, they never have to worry that their employer will go out of business.

In short, public employment is an idealized socialist economy in miniature...
I think that Tracinski has it just right here.   Public employment distils the essence of socialism, because it allows supporters to revert to the simplest pseudo-moral posture:  the child's expression when anything goes against what they want -- "that's not fair!"  

"That's not fair"... to expect people to pay anything toward their own health care.
"That's not fair"... to expect people to pay anything toward their own retirement.
"That's not fair"... to expect people to produce tangible results in their employment.
"That's not fair"... for people to ever have a concern that they might lose their jobs, whether because of poor performance, or because their employers go out of business, or move their business overseas to compete.
"That's not fair"... for mean people to care about profits, or to care how much they have to pay in taxes.

I could go on, but you get the picture.  

Friday, February 25, 2011

Girls Friday - Marilyn and Liz

Just felt the need for a little bit of kitschy wonderfulness on a Friday:

Birthdays Today

Most of the interesting birthdays today fall under the heading of the Arts.   First, Pierre Auguste Renoir, the great French painter, was born today in 1841.   Renoir, Monet, Cezanne; later Picasso; before them, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, da Vinci.   There is a small pantheon of great painters whose names become immediately recognizable even hundreds of years later.   Renoir is one of them, and perhaps the most human and accessible of them all, as in this famous work my wife and I have seen many times in the Art Institute of Chicago:

Next, we have Enrico Caruso, born in 1873.   Perhaps even more than for painters, there are only a few great tenors whose names have reached into popular culture and down through the years.   Caruso,  Pavarotti, Domingo.   Caruso has perhaps the most fame of all.... Caruso has almost become the generic word for a great singer, much as Xerox as become the verb meaning "to copy."


On a sadder note, it's also the birthday of Ron Santo, the great Cubs third baseman, who passed away last year.   Santo has never made the Hall of Fame, but should have; his statistics only seem inadequate for the Hall because he played primarily in the 1960s, when pitching was king and ballparks were spacious.   Santo "only" hit 342 HRs and "only" drove in 1331 runs, while playing Gold Glove caliber third base.   But, using the "modern" statistic of WAR (wins against replacement) Santo had 66.4 WAR in his career.   That's 75th all-time among position players.... Santo has more WAR than Gary Carter, Willie McCovey, Ernie Banks (his Cubs teammate), Ozzie Smith, Robbie Alomar, Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg (another Cubs great), Harmon Killibrew, Yogi Berra, Willie Stargell, Billy Williams (another Cubs teammate), Dave Winfield, Andre Dawson (another Cubs great), Hank Greenberg, Joe Medwick, Bill Dickey, Enos Slaughter, Tony Perez, Mickey Cochrane, Orlando Cepeda.... the list goes on and on.   Cepeda, playing in the same era, has nearly 20 WAR less.   Yet all of those guys, including Cepeda, are in the Hall of Fame.   And only six thirdbaseman in the history of baseball have more WAR -- Matthews, Schmidt, Robinson, Boggs, all of whom are in the Hall, and Alex Rodriguez and Chipper Jones, who soon will be.   Santo should be too.  

Thursday, February 24, 2011


It looks like Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals is going to have season-ending Tommy John surgery.  It's hard to overstate how good Wainwright has been for the Cardinals -- 20 wins, 213 Ks in 230 innings, and a 2.42 ERA last year -- but it's also hard to deny that savvy Cardinals fans must have known this was coming.   You can't throw breaking stuff like Wainwright's for too long before your elbow gives out.... the human body just wasn't made for that kind of torque.  

Sad.  You basically are going to try to replace a Cy Young-caliber starter with your sixth best starter -- probably Lance Lynn who pitched in AAA-ball last year.


It's official.  Wainwright is out for the year and will have Tommy John surgery.  

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Girl Wednesday - Shirley Jones

I was 11 when the TV hit show The Partridge Family came out, so unfortunately I remember Shirley Jones most as the wise mother foil of David Cassidy, Susan Dey, Danny Bonaduce and the other Partridge kids.  It's hard to even imagine how big David Cassidy got in the early 1970s, and how weird that phenomenon looks in retrospect, so it's good to remember that Jones was the female lead in three of the greatest Hollywood musicals, Oklahoma, Carousel and The Music Man.   Here she is, singing a great love duet from The Music Man with Robert Preston, "Till There Was You."

Rumsfeld - The Lion in Winter

I once sat in Don Rumsfeld's seats at a Redskins game in Washington.  He was Princeton Class of 1954; I was Princeton Class of 1981.   A friend of mine's father had been Rumsfeld's roommate at PU; that's how we got the tickets.  I don't think that even qualifies as fifteen seconds of fame for me.  It's always interested me how the lives of average people -- I am one, hence "The Regular Guy" -- occasionally intersect with the famous or powerful, and why some individuals with intellectual talent become famous or powerful and others with perhaps as much natural talent don't.   Is it luck?  Drive?  Right place at the right time?  Or are there different skill sets -- leadership, organization, focus -- beyond pure intellectual ability?  The answer is obviously yes on all counts. 

In any case, Rumsfeld has his memoirs out now, and it appears to be a book that will make history, or at least help define the parameters of how history will tell the story of the War on Terror going forward.   Hugh Hewitt has a long interview up with Rumsfeld about the book, and it bears reading in its entirety.   Here's a passage that jumped out at me, because it highlights both the quality of Rumsfeld's mind, and the difference between how a person in the arena at a high level thinks about war and how war gets reported and over-simplified in the media:
HH: I was digging into, I’m wondering if America, being such a Western country, is just simply not equipped to understand the Muslim world and the Arab world for these long insurgencies, because we couldn’t anticipate a target like that, whereas after 9/11, we hardened up all of the symbolic targets in my conversations with your colleagues during those years. Do you think we have the ability to actually understand how insurgency will be waged long term and in a Muslim country?
DR: The implication of the question is that it would be waged in a single way. And it seems to me that probably is never going to be the case. The enemy has a brain. They watch what goes on. They adjust to the tactics, techniques and procedures that we put in place. And as they do so, then we have to adjust those tactics, techniques and procedures to adapt to fit the changing nature of the enemy’s approach. And the battlefield is a continually evolving thing. And what happens in one six month period in one area might be notably different from what happens in another six month period in other areas. And I think that’s exactly what took place. The insurgency, well, let’s use that word as a catch-all. Saddam Hussein let 100,000 prisoners loose in his country as he was being thrown out of office. So you had that element. You had a whole lot of Shia conscripts that went home and left, because they didn’t want to be in the Iraqi military in the first place. You ended up with Saddam Hussein calling for jihad, and bringing in terrorists from Iran, and a lot of them through Damascus and Syria, and coming across other borders in the area, people from all across North Africa. You had the Sunni Baathists who wanted to, they created what was called the Party of Return early on, and that was the beginning of the insurgency. I don’t know that you’d call it an insurgency, but it was an attempt by the Baathists and the Saddamists to try to take back the country. And over time, the al Qaeda came, and various other elements became part of what in the aggregate was called the insurgency. There was the Sadr militia, or army, which wasn’t an army. He just had the ability to put maybe 10,000 thugs into the street at his beck and call. So there were all of these mixed elements that came into being as part of what you and I would consider the broader insurgency.
By the way, Hewitt, a lawyer and law professor, conducts extraordinarily good interviews on his radio program, and always posts the transcripts on his website.   The other person who does really good interviews -- by which I mean interviews that really get into the substance of serious issues -- is Peter Robinson on National Review Online.   Here, for instance, is Robinson's recent interview of William Voegeli, the author of Never Enough: America's Limitless Welfare State. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Birthday Today - The Father of Our Country

It's George Washington's birthday.   Enough said.   Go read Ron Chernow's new biography (in my book recommendations), and learn about the greatness of Washington. 

To me, the neatest anecdote about Washington is the way he taught himself how to be a gentleman, relying on a booklet filled with 110 specific rules for "civility."   Here are some of them:

The Rules:
Treat everyone with respect. 1stEvery Action done in Company,
ought to be with Some Sign of
Respect, to those that are Present.

When you speak, be concise.35thLet your Discourse with Men of Business be Short and Comprehensive

Do not be quick to believe bad reports about others.50thBe not hasty to believe flying Reports to the Disparagement of any.

Do not be quick to talk about something when you don't have all the facts.79thBe not apt to relate News if you know not the truth thereof. In Discoursing of things you Have heard Name not your Author always A Secret Discover not.

Do not speak badly of those who are not present.89thSpeak not Evil of the absent for it is unjust.

Don't allow yourself to become jaded, cynical or calloused.110thLabor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

Neat stuff.  

Look, I don't quibble with the fact that we have a Martin Luther King Day.  It's a good thing.   But I feel very strongly that, if we are going to have a Martin Luther King Day, we also ought to have an Abraham Lincoln Day and a George Washington Day.   King was a great man; Lincoln and Washington were greater men, and there really shouldn't be any dispute about that.   So let's cut out all this crap about "Presidents' Day" -- I'm not celebrating Millard Freaking Fillmore, for Christ's sake -- and go back to Lincoln's Birthday on February 12th and Washington's Birthday on February 22nd.   That's the way it ought to be.

The Big Guy Keeps The Hits Coming

Chris Christie, the Governor of New Jersey, is rapidly becoming the most popular Republican in America (with Wisconsin's Scott Walker right behind him).   Here are excerpts from Christie's budget address:
All across the country, Democratic and Republican governors are grappling with inherited budget deficits, skyrocketing pension and benefit costs, and state government cultures which embrace the status quo — no matter how destructive. They are just now coming to terms with the gravity of the situation we understood and responded to last year.
Today, they are standing up and saying just as I did last March, “the problems we have hidden for decades are evident for all to see. The day of reckoning has arrived.”
In New York, a Democratic governor has proposed dramatic reforms to Medicaid, because that program left on autopilot will lead both state and federal governments straight into a crash.
In California, a new Democratic governor has proposed to cut the number and pay of all state employees.
And in Wisconsin and Ohio, they have decided there can no longer be two classes of citizens: one that receives rich health and pension benefits, and all the rest who are left to pay for them.
Democrat or Republican, it doesn’t matter. We are all facing the same problems. These problems are bigger than either political party. The promises of the past are too expensive, and the prospects of the future are too important to stay on the old, failed course.
Across the country, we have come to a moment — the moment for real change and the return to fiscal discipline, which will create real jobs for all New Jerseyans who need them.
Some thought the change might come from the federal government. But that hasn’t been the case. It is spending more than ever. The change is coming from the states, and the charge is being led by New Jersey.
Across the Hudson River, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget also cuts the actual dollars spent by the state — for the first time in 14 years. Why? The reason Governor Cuomo gave is simple. He said, “New York is at a crossroads, and we must seize this opportunity, make hard choices, and set our state on a new path toward prosperity.” The challenge, the change, and even the choice of words are similar to where New Jersey was one year ago.
In Michigan, Republican Governor Rick Snyder has framed the issue the same way. He said, “This is our opportunity to say let’s stop living in the past and start looking toward the future. Many of us are going to have to sacrifice in the short term, but by making these sacrifices, we can all win together in the long term.”
Michigan is taking the road to fiscal discipline paved by New Jersey.
And even in California, Governor Jerry Brown proposed to cut take- home pay for state employees by 8 to 10%, because, in his words, “we have no choice,” and for years, California has had “gimmicks.” Now, he said, California must “return … to fiscal responsibility and get our state on the road to economic recovery and job growth.”
Sound familiar? These ideas are not red or blue; they are the black and white of truth.
That last line is a grace note that represents an attitude that could win a big majority, including Republicans, Independents, and Reagan Democrats who are fed up with the status quo.  

People Really Don't Like What the Democrats Are Doing in Wisconsin

According to Rasmussen:
The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Tuesday shows that 21% of the nation's voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as president. Forty-one percent (41%) Strongly Disapprove, giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -20 (see trends).
That’s the lowest level of Strong Approval yet recorded for President Obama and the lowest Approval Index rating since November.

This Says It All

This cartoon from The Corner blog on National Review Online pretty much sums up the idiocy of the Left's comparisons of the demonstrators in Cairo with the demonstrators in Madison, Wisconsin:


Monday, February 21, 2011

Girl Monday - SI Swimsuit Girl

The problem with the modern Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is that I've passed the age where it doesn't somewhat gross me out to catch myself ogling girls who are 18, 19 or 20 years old.  Having daughters only exacerbates the problem.  And the current SI swimsuit layouts are bordering on pornography given the scantiness of the swimsuits and the sultriness of the poses.  So for the girl of the day one must revert to an earlier era.  Here is the first SI swimsuit girl, Babette Beatty, from 1964.   She was twenty-three then, she's seventy now; I was five, I'm 51.  All is right with the world.

What Does It Mean For a Public Employee To "Bargain" About Benefits? - An Update on the Standoff in Wisconsin

It's snowing in southeastern Wisconsin, yet the protests go on.   Over the weekend the unions conceded on two of the three main parts of Governor Walker's budget plan -- they say they are willing to pay 50% of the cost of their pensions (roughly 5.8% of their salary) and 12.6% of their healthcare premium (depending on the salary of the person involved somewhere between 3 and 5% of salary).   But they refuse to give on Walker's position that they should give up the "right" to collective bargaining on benefits.  

There are many reasons why there is no such "right."   On the one hand, it is patently not a universal "right" -- many states prohibit public employees from collective bargaining even today, and for many, many years there was no such thing as public employee unions or collective bargaining for public employees.   On the other, since many states do prohibit it, it obviously also isn't a "constitutional" right.   Rather, it is a creature of statute, and what the legislature gives can be taken away.  That is all that is happening here.   A democratically elected Republican legislature has concluded that permitting public employees collective bargaining on benefits is a bad idea.  If Democrats think it is a good idea, let them make their case to the public and win the next election.   I think they won't be able to, because collective bargaining for benefits for public employees is, in fact, a very bad idea.

But why?  Why is it such a bad idea?   I think I have an answer to that question and it has less with the nature of "rights" and more with the nature of "bargaining" and the nature of "benefits" and even the nature of being a "public employee."

When unions and employers in the private sector enter into collective bargaining, the employers try to value the labor that the union members will give them in terms of their other costs (fixed costs or materials, etc.) and in terms of the profit they desire to make.   If the unions demand too much, the employers will "lock out" the employees because paying them their desired amount would cost them more than not having them work at all.   If the employees are intransigent, the employer might even shutter his factory and move his operation offshore to China where he can again maximize profits. 

Meanwhile, the union is making the same calculation.   How much do they think their labor is worth?   If the employer offers too little, the employees will "strike" because they know that the employer will ultimately be unwilling to forego his profits by letting his factory remain inactive.  

Each of them is taking risk in pushing their positions too hard.   The employer risks losing profits he might earn if he hired the union laborers to do productive labor in his plant.   The unions risk losing their jobs entirely if the employer decides he can't do business with them, and instead decides to move his plant to a right-to-work state, or overseas.   The employees have the leverage of threatening a strike.   The employers have the leverage of threatening to move.   It's an arm's length negotiation, and it's a fair fight.  

The problem with "public employees" is that no one knows how to value their work, for the simple reason that the government is not a profit-maximizing institution.   No one really knows what the services the government provides are worth, because there is no competition and no market for government services.   The employer (us) doesn't know how much is too much to pay to the unions; and the unions don't have a realistic idea of how much is too much to ask for.    Beyond that, the public employer can't decide not to operate its factory or business; the public employer can't up and move to a more business-friendly state or even offshore to China or Korea or Singapore.   In other words, they can't do what normal bargainers do when the employees demand too much.  There's no factual basis for pricing the value of public sector union labor, so there's no real basis for negotiation. 

The problem is even worse when you add benefits into the calculation.   Wages are costs today that drop to the bottom line this year.   The value of a wage is precisely the dollar paid.   But the value of a promised benefit is imprecise... health insurance costs might go up more rapidly than expected, and the cost of pension benefits under current actuarial practices is hostage to the expected investment returns of the pension fund.   The employer simply does not know how to value those benefits, so again there is no real basis for bargaining.  

Instead, what happens is that the public employer in negotiating a benefit package takes risk.... risk that health insurance will cost more, risk that the pension fund with suffer investment reversals and require future infusions of cash to pay promised benefits.   But, here's the rub.... the public employer is not risking its own profits or capital, it's risking the wealth of its citizenry, which it will have to tax to pay for those future benefits.   And the governor of a state or the mayor of a munipality has generally not even risked reelection, because the tab for promised benefits could always be kicked down the road to the next governor or the next mayor or the next county executive.

Until now. 

Anyway, the point is that permitting collective bargaining in the public sector is a bad idea, not because of any question of "rights," but because it's economically unsound, because the normal incentives and disincentives of of bargaining don't apply.  

Haven't completely thought this through, but it seems imperative to me that we do so as a country, rather than get caught up in the silly and tired rhetoric of "rights."  


On another happy note, the Wisconsin Medical Society criticized doctors who wrote medical excuses for protesters during a weekend rally at the state Capitol.   In a statement issued Monday, the Society said the actions "were not consistent with established medical practices."

Good for them.  Any doctor who issued "excuses" to protestors in Madison committed fraud, just as sure as if he had forged a prescription for Vicodin for an addict.


Finally, Richard Pollack has a very good article up about why the Democrats have blundered in Wisconsin from the perspective of political image-making.    Here's the money quote:
For in the end, the images and messages tell the story. The showdown in Madison pits pampered public employees against hard-pressed taxpayers. It portrays union workers as an angry mob against those seeking orderly legislative deliberation. It paints Democratic lawmakers as outlaws on the run, undermining the democratic process. It launched a national debate about the generous salaries and benefits for government workers during a time of economic shortages. And it showcased school teachers who abandoned their children in favor of narrow, partisan political gain.

Brian Greene and Parallel Universes

One of my guilty pleasures is reading pop science books, especially on esoteric particle physics and cosmology.   One of the best writers in the genre is Columbia University physics professor, Brian Greene, whose first two books were The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos.   Greene is a proponent of string theory, which is a beautiful if unproven (unproveable?) hypothesis about the deep structure of atomic reality.  (Lee Smolin wrote a good book a few years ago about the problems with string theory, called The Trouble with Physics.)  

Anyway, Greene has a new book out that I'm reading now called The Hidden Reality, which describes in fascinating and sometimes funny chapters how modern physics may imply the existence of parallel universes where another me (or infinite me's) is sitting in the same music store waiting for the same (or slightly different?) son to finish guitar lessons and writing on his parallel blog about someone named Brian Greene who also writes books about parallel universes except millions or even billions of light years from here.   It's a fun book so far, if you're secretly a nerd, like I am.

Birthdays Today - The Little Man!

Not so little anymore.... the Little Man turns 14 today.   Best son ever.   Here he is (#81) last fall after crushing Catholic Memorial's quarterback in 8th Grade football.

Here's the hit right before that.

Happy birthday, son!   Here's a little something for you that I know you'll like, just between us:

Friday, February 18, 2011

Girl Friday - Film Noir Version

My son asked me a few days ago what "film noir" was.   (It must have appeared in a Bruce Springsteen lyric somewhere.)   Anyway, today's Girl of the Day, Joan Bennett, was in two of the classics of the genre, Fritz Lang's The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street:

Jimmy Ballplayer

Former Cardinals centerfielder Jim Edmonds announced his retirement today at the age of 40.  It was nice that the Cardinals signed him this spring, so he could retire a Cardinal.   Is he a Hall-of-Famer?   Close.   With 393 HRs and 1199 RBIs, together with eight Gold Gloves, he's on the cusp.   If he had extended the peak of his career another year or two, and gotten to 450 HRs and 1400 RBIs and 10 Gold Gloves, I'd say he'd have to go in eventually.  But I think he's going to be one of those guys who is great, close to a Hall-of-Famer, but not quite.

Which brings me back to Albert Pujols.   Edmonds' career is not a perfect parallel to Pujols, but it's instructive.   Edmonds last great year was in 2004 at the age of 34, when he hit 42 HRs and had 111 RBIs and an OPS of 1.061 while playing Gold Glove centerfield.   The next year he fell off to 29 HRs and 89 RBIs, the year after that to 19 HRs and 70 RBIs, and after that he was basically just hanging on as a fringe part-time player.   What if the Cardinals had given him an eight or nine or ten year deal beginning at age 32 like Pujols wants?   Well, you would have gotten three great years, a couple good years, and then you would have gotten screwed on the back end for 3 or 4 or 5 years of a bad contract.  

The upshot?   Aging is real.  (Don't I know it!)  Father Time waits for no man, not even Albert.   Giving anyone a ten-year deal beginning at age 32 is a fool's errand.   

But, while Jimmy Ballplayer was great, he was very special to watch, particularly in the field.

"Protests" and the Silent Majority

Patrick McIlheran of the Journal Sentinel got national attention yesterday with his column, "Unions want to overturn election result."   A minor point in the article deserves a little more notice, because it provides needed perspective on the so-called "massive" protests in Madison by public employee unions.   McIlheran writes,
Union activists in Madison Tuesday spoke apocalyptically of "class war," hinting wildly at general strikes and takeovers of the Capitol. They correctly see their control of the state slipping and must figure that if they bring 13,000 shouting people to Madison, they can overrule the election.
Any worried legislators should keep in mind that Walker drew about five times that many votes in Dane County alone in November
Exactly so.   Newspapers and media often report what they see and use adjectives like "massive" to describe what they see, but they rarely report what they don't see.   For example, if you want to get your faces in the paper, get together 10 or 12 students at Marquette University here in Milwaukee and do a pro-choice "protest" outside of Jesu Church on campus.   Bring your signs saying things like "Keep Your Rosaries Off My Ovaries," and you'll be certain to get on the local News at Six.  But meanwhile there are thousands of students at Marquette (a Jesuit university) who go to Mass at Jesu every week and who, if asked, would give reliably Pro-Life opinions, but who generallly just go about their lives working and studying without feeling the need to publically announce those opinions through something called "protesting."   They don't get press, because they aren't doing something that registers within our culture's conceptual biases as "news."  

With regard to the Madison protests, it is well to remember that there are thousands of teachers in Wisconsin who haven't walked off their jobs, and there are millions of Wisconsin residents who aren't protesting, and who, in fact, voted for Governor Walker and the new State Senate precisely because they wanted them to rein in spending without raising Wisconsin's already too-high tax burden.   The news media doesn't report on that "silent majority," but they are out there.  

To put it in somewhat more concrete terms, if the news reports are accurate, something like 13,000 people came to Madison to protest yesterday.   The news media calls these protests "massive" routinely, as shown by this Google screen shot. 

Search Results

  1. News for massive protest madison

    Washington Post (blog)
  2. Wisconsin gov.: GOP emboldened by protests
    2 hours ago
    ... emboldened by massive protests against his controversial budget plan. ... the demonstrators who filled the state capitol building in Madison and the ...
    The Hill (blog) - 3996 related articles - Shared by 10+

  3. Hearing day in Madison: Hundreds come to testify on budget bill

    Feb 15, 2011 ... Related Galleries. PHOTOS: Local groups organize bus trips to Madison: (5) Photos. PHOTO GALLERY: Massive protests in Madison: (17) Photos ...
    www.journaltimes.com/.../article_7fbefd44-391e-11e0-b9eb-001cc4c002e0. html - Cached
  4. Collection : PHOTO GALLERY: Massive protests in Madison

    Feb 15, 2011 ... The majority of the group was protesting Gov. Walker's ...
    www.journaltimes.com/.../collection_99e99a92-3943-11e0-9aad- 001cc4c03286.html - Cached
  5. Live Reporting from the Massive Protests in Wisconsin -- Over ...

    Feb 17, 2011 ... 4:20pm Eight year old Cleo Johnson joins her teacher Mr. Marks from Lapham Elementary School at the massive protest in Madison today. ...
    www.alternet.org/.../live_reporting_from_the_massive_protests_in_wisconsin _--_over_30,000_assemble_at_the_capitol
  6. 40% of Madison Teachers call in Sick, Schools Shut; Video of ...

    Feb 17, 2011 ... 40% of Madison Teachers call in Sick, Schools Shut; Video of Massive Protest in Wisconsin Capitol Building; If Jackasses Could Think ...
    foreclosureblues.wordpress.com/.../40-of-madison-teachers-call-in-sick- schools-shut-video-of-massive-protest-in-wisconsin-capitol-building-if- ...

But guess how many people came to Green Bay to celebrate the Packers' Super Bowl parade less than two weeks ago?   50,000.   These people are the silent majority in this state:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

On Union Thugs and "Sick Outs"

Wisconsin is making the national news today because of extraordinary events that I believe will soon be replicated across the country, because they stem from a simple problem that many other states and municipalities suffer from -- Wisconsin cannot afford the pension and health benefits it has promised to its public employees.  

Facing this problem, new Governor Scott Walker has proposed an obvious solution -- government workers going forward will have to pay 50% of the calculated contribution to their pension system and 13% of their health insurance costs out of their own paychecks.  Walker, a Republican, proposed this cost-cutting measure instead of raising taxes based on the sound moral proposition (to me anyway) that well-paid government employees with great benefits shouldn't get to pass the costs of those benefits onto less well-paid private citizens.  For those of us who pay for our own retirements and health insurance out of pocket, being taxed so that public employees with little accountability and no requirement to turn a profit can retire at age 55 with a lavish pension and free health care for life is an outrage.  

In other words, Walker is counting on tapping into the growing frustration in America that public employees (the government) are parasites living well off the work of everybody else.   (Note: the proposal would also strip most government employees of their collective bargaining rights, under the theory it is inherently corrupt when politicians whose campaigns are supported by public sector unions are asked to sign off on higher wages and benefits for those same unions under the guise of collective bargaining.)

Not surprisingly, the public employee unions and their Democrat party stooges don't like this one bit.  So, yesterday, teachers in Madison staged a "sick out" and shut down the Madison public schools, and are essentially trying to shut down the Capitol with protests, as you can see above in the Capitol rotunda.   Then, today, Democrat senators in the state senate have fled the jurisdiction to avoid a quorum call to vote on the Governor's budget plan.

My thought is this:  if Scott Walker wants to become an immediate national figure on the level of a Chris Christie, the great governor of New Jersey, he has one obvious course of action.   Fire them.   Any teacher who lied to her employer by claiming to be sick and then going to the Capitol to protest has undoubtedly breached their contract.   Fire them.   I think his approval rating would skyrocket.


One sidebar too:  Walker is a relatively young guy, only 43, and he has two boys in high school.  Union thugs showed up at his home in Wauwatosa -- my hometown -- to protest yesterday, knowing of course that he was in Madison.   Is there any reason they would do that other than to say, implicitly, that they know where he lives?   Can you imagine what would happen if this was a Democrat politician and his family home was threatened by Republican protestors?


Oh, and remember this sort of thing the next time a liberal lectures you about "civility" in political discourse.

Birthdays Today

A titan of American business was born today, Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM.

Watson was born in 1874.   His father owned a modest lumber business in rural New York and he worked on the family farm.   Watson quit his first job teaching after one day, then quit his second job as a bookkeeper almos tas quickly.   Then he became a traveling salesman, first peddling organs and pianos, then sewing machines, a job from which he was fired, and then shares in a building and loan, from which he was also fired.   Then he opened a butcher shop, which went bust.   Finally, having had an NCR cash register in his shop, he went to NCR to arrange a new repayment schedule, and ended up joining the company as a salesman.   It was at NCR that he first became a big success, and from there he moved to become general manager of Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation in 1914 at age 40.   In 1924 he renamed the company International Business Machines.  And the rest, as they say, is history.... just this week a computer named "Watson" defeated humans on the TV game show Jeopardy, signaling for some the "singularity" when artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence. 

What does Watson teach us (the original, not the machine)?   That business success is inextricably linked to salesmanship, and that salesmanship is inextricably linked to perseverance, and that perseverance is part and parcel with a willingness to risk failure and keep trying.  One wonders whether the current generation, which expects financial security and success almost as a birthright, has the same mettle.


It's also Michael Jordan's birthday.   He's now 48.   Jordan's success is also instructive, but perhaps in a negative way.   Certainly his greatness had much to do with his athletic ability, but the separation between Jordan and the other great players of his day had less to do with athleticism and much more to do with his will.   Jordan simply wanted to win more than other players, and that will to win was palpable when he stepped on the court.   More than even natural physical ability, I would tend to think that level of will power is innate.... you either have it, or you don't, and no amount of coaching (in business, the equivalent would be no amount of success seminars attended or how-to books read) can give it to you.

On the other hand, maybe physical ability had a little to do with it too:

Girl Thursday - Joni Mitchell

My son is turning into a really good rock-and-roll guitarist, and he's starting to get into playing (and sort of singing) acoustic songs so that he can, at some point, perform a live set for people.   So I thought I'd show him a really great acoustic performer as today's Girl of the Day, Joni Mitchell:

Pujols and Musial

On Tuesday Stan Musial was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award America can bestow.   Musial, the greatest Cardinal, was and remains an "iconic" figure in the team's history. 

The word "iconic" has been used to describe Albert Pujols' status with the Cardinals in recent days.   It has apparently astonished many that the Cardinals' ownership and management would let an "iconic" player such as Pujols go to free agency.  He is the Cardinals' "brand," it is said.   He should be a "Cardinal for life," just as Musial has been.   (You'll note that Musial is wearing a Cardinals red blazer for the ceremony.)

The problem with this attitude is that times have changed.   Musial was paid $80,000 a year from age 30 through age 36 (1951-57),   He got a raise to $100,000 per year for his age 37 and 38 years, but then was cut back to $80,000 for his age 39 year, and $65,000 for playing at age 40 to 42.   A lot of money for the time, certainly, but it also has to be put in perspective.  In 1958, at the top of his earning power, Musial commanded a salary that was roughly 20 times the median family income in America for that year ($5100).   A comparable athlete's salary today would be roughly $1,000,000 per year.   But Pujols is asking to be paid something on the order of 600 times what the median family makes (roughly $50,000) -- $30 million per year.   Where it might have made sense to pay an "icon" like Musial more than he was worth in his declining years, it's a different order of magnitude when you're deciding whether to pay Pujols more than you think he's worth.

And make no mistake... upon reflection, the Cardinals are making the right decision.  Consider the comparison of Musial and Pujols.  Two all-time great players, no doubt.   Musial was an 8.4 WAR (wins-against-replacement) player on average for years 22-31 (this is almost exactly what Pujols has averaged over his first ten years).  But beginning at age 32 -- the age Pujols' new contract would start -- even Musial began to slip.   He was a 6.7 WAR player from age 32 through 36, but he was only a 2.2 WAR player on average for years 37-41 (years 6 through 10 in the ten-year deal Pujols is apparently looking for).  You could pay Musial $100,000, or $80,000 or $65,000 to be an "emeritus" presence on the team.   But you can't pay Pujols $30 million if he turns out, like Musial, to be a 2.2 WAR player at the same age.   Not in St. Louis anyway.   There's just not enough money to waste that much on a player who, once great, has become mediocre. 

Some more stats.   Between ages 32-36, Musial had five straight 100 RBI seasons; after 36, he never had another one.   Between ages 32-36, Musial hit between 27 and 35 HRs a year; after 36, he never hit more than 19.   Between ages 32-36, Musial received MVP votes every year, finishing 2nd in the voting in one year and never finishing below ninth; after age 36 Musial still received MVP votes in three years, but never finished higher than 10th.  

Finally, it's perhaps worth remembering that, in 1964, the year after Musial retired, the Cardinals won the World Series.   In 1963, Musial had gotten nearly 400 plate appearances playing primarily in left field.   In 1964, those plate appearances went to a young, unknown left fielder the Cardinals picked up mid-season by the name of Lou Brock, who just so happened to end up being a Hall of Famer himself.

Pujols, being human, is going to begin the decline phase of his career soon.   He'll still be great for a few more years, but he won't be as great, and then he won't be great at all, and then he'll be mediocre, and then he'll be gone.   I wish all that would happen as a Cardinal, but we can't pay him $30 million a year to be a mediocre 38-41 year old. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Girl Wednesday - Esther Williams

Trolling SI.com for Albert Pujols information this morning, I was bombarded by marketing for SI's annual swimsuit issue.   It's a little rough for the father of two daughters approaching their teenage years to deal with girls who aren't all that much older -- some of the SI models are as young as 18!   But I guess some things don't change, as shown by today's Girl of the Day, the star of Hollywood's somewhat bizarre aquatic musicals, Esther Williams.  

On the other hand, maybe things do change a little:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Is Pujols Worth It?

If Pujols' demand is for $30 million a year for 10 years, in a word, no.  Pujols will be 32 in the first year of his new contract.   If you pay him, you'll have a right to expect him to put up all-time great years for that amount of money.  But, of the 150 highest OPS years in baseball history for hitters (on base average plus slugging average), only 34 (roughly 22%) occurred when the player was 32 or older.  Of the Top 50 OPS years, only two happened when the player was 37 or older, and both were by Barry Bonds when he was, shall we say, doing some suspicious things.  And, the three players who Pujols' career most resembles through age 30 (again, through the miracle of online baseball statistics) -- Jimmie Foxx, Frank Robinson and Ken Griffey, Jr. -- had a grand total of 17 seasons between them with an OPS of 1.000 or more and none of them occurred when they were 32 years old or older.  

The Cardinals were extraordinarily smart and lucky when they signed Pujols to his current eight-year deal in 2004, locking him up for $111 million through his prime.   Pujols, in turn, traded the potential of hitting it even bigger for the security of that deal, when he was only three years into his career.   He's been paid extraordinarily well in real terms, but less certainly than he was worth during an historic first ten years (years in which he posted 8 years with an OPS of 1.000 or more)   The Cardinals won that deal.  It happens when parties enter into contracts.   But the Cardinals would be foolish from a business perspective to assume that Pujols will continue to produce at that level from age 32 through age 41.  It hasn't happened without steroids in the history of baseball.  

I'm really sad to say this, because I've enjoyed watching Pujols so much, but I think the Cardinals are going to have to let him walk.  

Birthdays Today

It's Galileo's birthday today.   Born in 1564, Galileo, of course, is the man who first theorized that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and who was tried by the Roman Inquisition for his heresy.   Galileo has had the last laugh in history -- Einstein called him the father of modern science -- but he lived out his life under house arrest.

Girl Tuesday - Barrie Chase

Barrie Chase was Fred Astaire's dance partner in a series of TV specials from the late 1950s through the 1960s.  A beautiful gal and a great, very balletic dancer:

Here are Chase and Astaire from a 1966 special:

Monday, February 14, 2011

The President's Budget - Not Serious

President Obama released his FY 2012 budget today, and it is an astonishing document.   In my 51 years I don't think I've ever seen a President abdicate leadership with such gusto, as if he simply doesn't care what happens to his country.  It's a deeply unserious proposal that borders on impeachable -- a President, after all, is bound by his oath to of office to "faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States," and to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."  This budget does neither, and does so with a degree of cynicism that is palpable.  Obama clearly wants to force Republicans to propose cuts, and then plans to demagogue those cuts as heartless or cruel, even while the country goes off a fiscal cliff from which there will be no return.  

Here are the key facts, drawn from The Corner on National Review Online: 

$3.73 trillion — total spending this year (25 percent of GDP, highest levels since World War Two).
$46 trillion — total spending over the next decade.
$8.7 trillion — total new spending over the same period.
$26.3 trillion — Total new debt, including entitlement obligations, predicted by 2021.
$7.2 trillion — Total deficit predicted by the end of the decade.
$1.1 trillion — How much the White House estimates the proposal will reduce the deficit over the next ten years.
$4 trillion — How much the president’s deficit commission recommended reducing the deficit over the next ten years to avoid financial catastrophe.
$1.6 trillion — The projected annual deficit for 2011 (11 percent of GDP), up from $1.3 trillion in 2010.
$2 trillion — Amount the budget will raise taxes on business and upper-income families over the next ten years, which includes letting the Bush-era tax rates expire in 2012 (for incomes $250,000 and up).
$50 billion — Amount the administration plans to spend this year on infrastructure and transportation “investments.”
$30 billion — Amount dedicated to a “National Infrastructure Bank to invest in projects of regional or national significance to the economy,” including the much-touted high-speed rail initiative.
$77.4 billion — Funding allocated for the Department of Education, a 22 percent increase from 2010 levels, and a 35 percent increase from 2008 levels.
$29.5 billion — Total spending on the Department of Energy, a 22 percent increase from 2008 levels.
$9.9 billion — Funding allocated for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a 30 percent increase from 2008 levels.
$150 billion — Total amount the White House plans to spend next year on research and development programs.
If your brother-in-law was deeply in debt, to the point where you feared from the security of your sister and your nieces and nephews, and yet he was proposing borrowing hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next few years in order to finance some get-rich-quick scheme and to maintain a lavish lifestyle that his income has never been able to support, wouldn't you at some point think it was time for a family intervention?   Obama and the Democrats are the profligate children in the American family.   It's time for the adults to intervene.  

Memorial Bix

Just because I felt like it today... my old man's favorite jazz:

Birthdays Today

The randomness of fame - which in turn suggests the futility of seeking fame -- is perhaps best demonstrated in almost mathematical form by how some days have multiple "famous" births, and others have relatively few or none at all.   In any event, the only birthday that interests me today is Jack Benny, who was born in 1894.  Jack Benny was ubiquitous as a comedian in the 1950s and into the 1960s when I was a kid.   He was always known as a clean comedian who didn't do "blue" material, but I recall that my dad had a bootlegged Friar's Club tape (is Youtube anything more than a way of compiling and searching all of the world's bootlegs?) in which Benny went pretty blue, up to using the "f" word.

Benny was a funny, funny man, and I can't help thinking he was funnier than most of what passes for comedy today:

Girl Monday - Grammy Version

It's my general view that the Grammy Awards -- and popular music in general -- are at a nadir.   Perhaps that's just the view of an old fogey.  But I can't help thinking that the "best song" of the year, "Need You Now" by Lady Antebellum, is absolutely generic, and won't be listened to in another five years, much less another fifty years.   Meanwhile, if you look back to 1960, the best album of the year was "Come Dance With Me!" by Frank Sinatra.   No contest.

On the other hand, you have to admit that Katy Perry is semi-cute and has assets that would have been valued back in the day. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Girl Saturday - On Wisconsin!

The Badgers beat No. 1 Ohio State today at the Kohl Center in Madison, 71-67.   A great win for coach Bo Ryan, who always seems to get relatively unathletic, relatively unrecruited players to play hard, play defense, play smart, and play winning basketball.

Birthdays Today - The Greatest American?

I am willing to entertain arguments that George Washington is the greatest American -- military leader of the American Revolution, President of the Constitutional Convention, first President of the U.S.   Washington's act of stepping down from the Presidency after two terms may be the single greatest and most seminal act in the history of the country, because it proved that we were a country of laws, not of men, and that we were never to devolve into dictatorship or monarchy.  Dwight David Eisenhower might be the favorite of some -- certainly the leadership of Allied armies in the European Theater during World War II is the largest undertaking in human history; and he was an underrated President during a period of prosperity at home and Cold War abroad. 

But I think if there were a poll taken, the overwhelming choice for greatest American would be Abraham Lincoln, born today in 1809.   Through his wisdom, perseverance, and moral courage -- Lincoln bore the weight of sacrificing hundreds of thousands of young men on the altar of liberty, and he gave his own life to an assassin (something he must have known could and likely would happen) -- he saved his country at its moment of greatest peril.   No one else can make that claim.  

Every school child should be made to memorize the peroration of Lincoln's First Inaugural Address, if they learn nothing else, because it captures best who we are as a country, even better than his Gettysburg Address:
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
Amazingly, on the same day Lincoln was born in 1809, another world historical man was born, Charles Darwin, the discoverer of the theory of evolution.   Just as there are few, like Lincoln, who can lay claim to saving their country, there are few, like Darwin, who can lay claim to fundamentally changing the way we think about our world.   Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein.   It's a small pantheon.  

Finally, it's also another great American's birthday, General Omar Bradley, born in 1893.  Bradley was the last surviving five-star general before his death.   Commander of II Corps in Tunisia (after Patton) and Sicily, commander of 1st Army on D-Day and the 12th Army Group for the breakout from Normandy and thereafter, Bradley was known as the "G.I.'s General" for his unfailing courtesy and concern for his men; it is legendary that he never issued an order without saying "Please."

Friday, February 11, 2011

Palinus Maximus

Sarah Palin, whose birthday is today (she's all of 47), spoke last weekend at the Young America's Foundation at a dinner honoring Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday.   Here is a key passage:

... we are at a crossroads. This is a time for choosing and the choices before us are as clear now as they were in 1964.

Do we still believe in the values that this country was founded on? God-given individual liberties and limited government and free-market capitalism?

Or do we surrender to big government and a corporatism agenda?

Do we believe that we can compete and succeed by individual initiative or do we need government to take care of us and plan for us?

Do we still have the courage and the will to not only endure, but to soar and to succeed?

How we answer will be Americas glory or our shame.

And these are not easy questions because today for many, there is fear in the air. The little guy, the individual American is made to feels ill-equipped and helpless and afraid in the face of our challenges.

First lets remember, if we do just ask, remember God doesnt give us that spirit of fear. He gives us a spirit of power and love and a sound mind. Seek that spirit and we can we can have courage and confidence to make sound decisions.

Friends, we are not helpless. Our future is in our own hands. Our success and our greatness lies in the courage and the hard work of individual Americans. We are an exceptional nation because we were built on and we are to affirm those values of freedom and hard work.

Palin was criticized this week for turning down an opportunity to speak at CPAC, the big conservative convention.   But she clearly wants to position herself as the heir to Reagan -- a positive, sunny Westerner who can lead us forward by leading us backward to our better, pioneer selves.   It's a ballsy strategy.