The President of MIT emailed me

It is rare that I get an email from the president of MIT, Rafael Reif. So I was excited to see something from November 29. Was there an important engineering or scientific breakthrough achieved at MIT? Another few Nobel Prizes were pulled out of a drawer? A challenge on which my particular experience was required?

Here’s how the email begins…

In the last several weeks, the nation has once again seen evidence that sexual harassment is pervasive. I am deeply disturbed by the revelations of misconduct elsewhere – and I know it also happens at MIT. [emphasis added]

[This does raise one question: Unless he himself is perpetrating harassment, how does he know?]

The president of a school that costs roughly $ 70,000 per year to attend in person says that maybe people would be safer doing an online degree for minimal $ $ at Western Governors University:

When it comes to sexual harassment, assault and related misconduct, a community like ours presents a particular set of risks: a 24/7 environment that brings together people across a broad range of ages, incomes and backgrounds, many of whom have power over others – power to make being at MIT miserable, power enough to make or break a career. [emphasis added]

Why incur these risks if one can do a degree in 2.5 years from the comfort and privacy of one’s home? And at a much lower cost?

People who have been harassed are likely damaged goods:

For many who suffer sexual harassment, the experience seriously damages their lives, their aspirations, their confidence and their careers. In some cases, the “remedy” can be damaging too.

Maybe there is a way to predict the gender ID of those who are likely damaged?

Let me now state the obvious. Most harassers are men. As a result, the men in our community must play a particularly important role in leading and driving the necessary change in culture. [emphasis added]

Suppose that an employer is willing to assume that most men are heterosexual and therefore most people who have been harassed identify as women. Further suppose that the employer is willing to believe the president of MIT regarding the “serious damage” that has been suffered by these women and that “sexual harassment is pervasive” (see first paragraph). Would it not make sense for an employer to hire women only as a last resort? Why take the risk of being stuck with an employee who is seriously damaged?

Readers: What do you think? Is there a logical way to read the above as encouraging people to pay up for an on-campus education? Or as encouraging profit-minded employers to hire women?

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

My prediction for future president

I predicted Obamas victory back in 2007 and Hillary’s popular vote majority (but not her loss; did not budget for Democrats clustering themselves into group hugs in a few cities). As with famous Wall Street prophets, I will now predict a market phenomenon but not the date on which it will occur…. Kara McCullough will be elected President of the United States.

I became aware of Ms. McCullough, the current Miss USA, because Facebook friends kept posting derisively about her while linking, e.g., to “New Miss USA Kara McCullough Sounds an Awful Lot Like Donald Trump” (Glamour). Apparently it is okay for older white women who self-identify as “feminists”, “liberals”, and “friends of African-Americans”, to heap scorn on a young black woman if the young black woman has committed thoughtcrimes. McCullough’s worst crime seems to be refusal to adopt “feminism”:

When asked if she identifies as a feminist during an earlier question, McCullough replied that the term feminism is too polarizing and she prefers to describe herself through a lens of “equalism.”

The Glamour journalist, Maggie Mallon, tries to make McCullough look stupid by citing an obsolete dictionary definition of feminism: “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes”.

[Why obsolete? For example, women’s organizations that self-identify as “feminist” currently lobby against equal treatment for men and women in many situations. We wrote about one category in the Rationale chapter:

Legislators and attorneys told us that women’s groups and people identifying themselves as “feminists” were proponents of laws favoring the award of sole custody of children to mothers and more profitable child support guidelines. Is that a recognizably feminist goal? For a woman to be at home with children living off a man’s income? Here’s how one attorney summarized 50 years of feminist progress: “In the 1960s a father might tell a daughter ‘Get pregnant with a rich guy and then marry him’ while in the 2010s a mother might tell a daughter ‘Get pregnant with a rich guy and then collect child support.’” Why is that superior from the perspective of feminism? A professor of English at Harvard said “Because the woman collecting child support is not subject to the power and control of the man.”

We interviewed Janice Fiamengo, a literature professor at the University of Ottawa and a scholar of modern feminism, about the apparent contradiction of feminists promoting stay-at-home motherhood. “It is a contradiction if you define feminism as being about equality and women’s autonomy,” she responded. “But feminism today can be instead about women having power and getting state support.”]

As a proponent of “equalism” (her own coinage?), Ms. McCullough has the potential to appeal to a broad category of voters on a broad range of issues. The Glamour journalist laughs at McCullough for responding to a question about health care being a “privilege or right” with “for one to have health care, you need to have jobs. So therefore we need to continue to cultivate this environment that we’re given the opportunity to have health care, as well as jobs, to all the American citizens worldwide.” I think that’s a good answer for a 25-year-old. Zimbabwe can declare that Swiss-grade health care is a “right” but if they don’t have the economy and jobs to support it, the term “right” will be meaningless because they won’t be able to deliver on it. By contrast, anyone with a good job can, if necessary, fly to France, Israel, or Switzerland and get some decent health care at a price that is bearable.

Our centrally planned economy produces some stark inequalities (e.g., a free house worth $ 100,000 per year pre-tax or $ 0 and a position on a waiting list). There are a lot more losers than winners in this unequal government-created world. So a politician claiming adherence to “equalism” should get votes from the unfortunates (not to say Deplorables) on the waiting list, thus prevailing over a status quo politician who gets votes from the fortunates who are actually occupying free housing.

Other advantages: McCullough is tall and Americans like to vote for tall Presidents.

Readers: What do you think? Is this gal on track to be a future President?

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

A president has to deal with debt and the temptation to print money

A federal government struggling to pay debts? A Congress that wants to roll the money-printing presses? These issues apparently aren’t new… from American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant:

A major problem left over from the Johnson administration was the federal debt. When Grant assumed the presidency, the national debt, which stood at $ 64 million in 1860, had grown to a staggering $ 2.8 billion. The problem was compounded as hundreds of millions of dollars in unredeemable paper money—“greenbacks”—had pushed gold coins out of circulation. All of this left the nation’s credit in precarious shape. As his first presidential act, Grant signed a law promising that the federal government would pay holders of U.S. bonds in “gold or its equivalent” and would redeem the greenbacks as soon as practicable. Grant initiated strong federal action to pay down the national debt. He believed “sound money” was the best way to restore the economy, whereas Democrats focused on relief for farmers and small-business owners through printing paper money—injecting more money into the economy.

After months of debate, the Senate and House agreed on Bill S.617, known as the “inflation bill.” It would increase the number of greenbacks placed in circulation to $ 400 million. At the same time, it would advance circulation of specie-backed moneys to an equivalent amount. The Senate-sponsored bill received overwhelming approval in both houses of Congress. Everyone expected Grant to sign it.

Finally, after spending many hours at his desk, he concluded he could not sign it, stating it to be “a departure from true principles of finance, national interest, national obligations to creditors, Congressional promises, party pledges (on the part of both political parties), and of personal views and promises made by me in every annual message sent to Congress and in each inaugural address.” Grant recognized the views of proponents of the bill—a majority in Congress—and stated these views in their best light, then countered them with his own financial convictions.

Grant had the last word: “I dare say the first result will be a storm of denunciation. But I am confident that the final judgment of the country will approve my veto.” Congress attempted to override Grant’s veto, but the Senate could muster only 34 yeas to 30 nays. The veto was sustained. No one was more surprised than Grant at the outpouring of support for his decision.

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Is Donald Trump running for president mostly for the temporary flight restriction?

Most articles in the New York Times about Donald Trump have the form “He promised in a speech to do X and here are the horrible things that would happen if X were to occur.” (i.e., the journalist starts from the assumption that Donald Trump would be America’s first political candidate to fulfill all campaign promises). “A President Trump Could Trump His Club’s Fight Over Planes” is interesting to me, though, because of the aviation angle. Ever since 9/11, the FAA establishes all kinds of flight restrictions around places where a U.S. president either is or might be. If the president isn’t around then airplanes may be restricted to overfly no lower than 5000′ (see Prohibited Area P-40 over Camp David).

Trump has been fighting with the FAA and the local airport (Palm Beach International) regarding departures over Mar-a-Lago. It turns out that it was the airport manager who suggested, back in 2011, “The solution for him is to get elected president.”

  • Disney’s private airspace gets some press coverage (Disney has better political connections than other theme park operators, so they have a “permanent temporary” flight restriction over their parks, purportedly for security but in reality to eliminate advertising competition from planes towing banners; i.e., the government has issued regulatory guidance to Al Qaeda that if they want their terrorism flight to be legal until 1000′ above the point of impact (see FAR 91.119), they are required to attack a theme park not owned by Disney)

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

President Trump will be good for aviation?

A pilot friend was displaying his virtue on Facebook by denouncing Donald Trump with a reference to a BBC article saying that “Trump presidency rated among 10 global risks.” I responded with

Given your passion for private aviation, I am surprised that you aren’t looking forward to King Donald I. He won’t be shutting down New England by vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard. He himself has been a user of small airports and FBOs. He ran an airline so he knows what it is like to deal with the FAA.

Pilot Readers: What do you think? Will it be good for us aviation nerds to have a user of the U.S. aviation system as president?

[Separately, my friend won’t have to worry too much about economic risk from whoever occupies the White House. He took the advice from the Introduction to Real World Divorce:

“When young people ask me about the law as a career,” said one litigator, “I tell them that in this country whom they choose to have sex with and where they have sex will have a bigger effect on their income than whether they attend college and what they choose as a career.”

(i.e., he married the daughter of a guy who got rich decades ago; he lives as “the dependent spouse” in no-fault Massachusetts so he can also count on lucrative property division and alimony in the event of a divorce occasioned, e.g., by his having an affair with a younger woman).]

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

What would President Donald Trump do that would actually be so bad?

As a resident of Massachusetts I am purely a spectator of the U.S. political scene. Though I will try to get down to the local school to vote for Bernie on Tuesday, our votes generally don’t count; most candidates on our ballots are running unopposed and, for the rest, the outcome is seldom in doubt.

Tomorrow is Super Tuesday and people have been in a tizzy for months over the prospect of Donald Trump as President. My Facebook feed is about 30 percent comparisons of Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler.

Stupid Question of the Day: What could Trump actually do that would be so bad/dramatic?

Let’s assume that Trump isn’t going to start a nuclear war. He has too much property to protect, even if much may be mortgaged.

Now what? The President can travel around the country making fine speeches (if Obama) or blunt ones (if Trump), but the President doesn’t make laws, set tax rates, or determine the budget. Maybe Trump wants to build a 100′-high wall somewhere but if Congress doesn’t fund it then he will have to pay for the wall himself, just as you or I would.

President Trump would appoint federal judges. Is there any evidence that he would do a worse job at this than anyone else? His own sister is a Federal appeals court judge, nominated to that job in 1999 by President Clinton. Presumably Trump, like other Presidents, would delegate the grunt work of finding good candidates for various positions. Are we afraid that Trump will hire inferior advisors somehow? Why wouldn’t he just ask his sister for help with judges and similarly qualified people for help in other areas?

Barack Obama has said that he was going to do a bunch of stuff that never got done. He was going to close Gitmo. He was going to tax oil.  Politifact has a longish list. In retrospect it seems that it didn’t make any difference what Obama said since Congress has the real power. What’s the practical downside of President Trump for those of us who don’t watch TV and who don’t pay close attention to what the current President says?

He’s not a candidate that I have ever considering supporting, but I would like someone to explain why does the sky fall if Donald Trump is elected?

[And, separately, what if Barack Obama were to nominate Donald Trump’s sister to the Supreme Court?]


Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Is Bernie Sanders too old to be President?

At age 74, Bernie Sanders is 20-25 years too old to be hired as a computer programmer (to judge by employers’ actual hiring practices). Is he too old to be President of the U.S.? I might have said “yes” until this week when I signed up for a group lesson at Beaver Creek, Colorado. Wink started ski instructor school at 48 and has been working full-time since then. He’s 77 years old, recently did a two-day 200-mile bike ride, and teaching every day at Beaver Creek or Vail.

2016-02-09 12.03.27 HDR

Readers: What do you think? Bernie would be working as President from age 75-79 or from 75-83? Is that too old? Or has railing against Wall Street kept him young at heart?

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

President Obama visits the Upper West Side of Manhattan for a fundraiser

A friend who lives on the Upper West Side send me this link to a video of President Obama traveling to a mansion for a fundraiser yesterday. The taxpayers bought gasoline and paid drivers for 41 vehicles according to a commenter on the post.

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

President Putin Pisses on POTUS………Last Evil Plan by BDI?

Good afternoon my fellow Slope-a-Dopes.  I’m sure you’re asking yourselves what the hell is he doing back here after having made such a fuss about his taking a leave of absence due to serious health concerns.  Well, I’m currently laying in bed wired for sound with about 40 electrodes taped to my shaved chest, which […]
Slope of Hope

A President Who’ll Cut Social Security — And Liberals Who Love Him Too Much

Richard Eskow  points us to a trend with liberals media types and Social Security:

A President Who’ll Cut Social Security — And Liberals Who Love Him Too Much

The spectacle of a supposedly liberal president repeatedly and needlessly trying to cut Social Security is enough to bring a reasonable, economically literate person to the point of existential despair. To see leading liberal lights like Rachel Maddow and Ezra Klein chuckle indulgently at those foolish Republicans in Congress over the subject — Don’t they know he’s already giving them what they want? — is to risk plunging into the depths of that despair.

This week the president hosted a dinner for Republicans leaders where he worked to sell his budget proposal, including his harmful plan to cut benefits through the “chained CPI.” National Security was the main course and Social Security was the dessert. And guess who wasn’t coming to dinner: The elderly, the disabled, or any policy experts who understand the disastrous implications of the chained CPI.

The Maddow/Klein exchange (which we’ll bring to you as soon as a transcript is available) is the crest of a building wave in pro-Democratic Party commentary which says, as Klein puts it, that “what we have here is a failure to communicate.” Klein says that at least “some of the gridlock (in Washington) is due to poor information.” Jonathan Chait bemoans the fact that Republicans “won’t acknowledge [Obama’s] actual offer, which includes large cuts to retirement programs.”

But Democrats like Maddow, Klein, and Chait know better. They know exactly what Obama’s been trying to do. And their only complaint seems to be that he’s not doing effectively enough. We’re not hearing much from the ‘left’ side of the debate about the profound flaws, biases, and inherent cynicism behind both the President’s policy and his rhetoric.

Here are the facts:
1.Research suggests that Social Security cost-of-living increases are already inadequate. (See studies on “CPI-E” for more details on the best ways to increase them.)

2.Obama’s proposed chained-CPI cut would typically reduce benefits for 3 percent, and by as much as 6 percent for some recipients.

3.The White House’s decision to label this cut the “superlative CPI” is grotesque. It suggests that elderly women who receive an average of $ 950 or so per month are receiving “superlative” benefit increases each year.

4.The administration’s insistence on speaking of “entitlement reform,” mixing Medicare (which has a real cost problem because of our for-profit health system) with Social Security, is a cheap trick first devised by Republican consultants.

(hat tip Nancy Ortiz)

Angry Bear

Obama’s achievements as president

At a dinner party the other night in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was asked if I was looking forward to November 7, 2012, when the U.S. presidential election would be over. I responded that I hadn’t been following the election because (a) I assume the Barack Obama will be reelected, and (b) there wouldn’t be any dramatic changes if Mitt Romney were elected. The host, who’d grown up in a wealthy New York family, and is a passionate Obama supporter, questioned me regarding this. I said “Well, under Bush we were embroiled in foreign wars, subsidizing government cronies with tax dollars, watching states bankrupt themselves with public employee pension commitments, and watching our children walk into some of the world’s most expensively funded and least effective schools. Obama is about as different from Bush as a U.S. politician could be and yet nothing substantive has changed. Why would we expect huge changes from Romney? And if we don’t expect huge changes, why it is worth spending a lot of time and energy following the election?”

This segued into a discussion regarding Obama’s achievements in office. It turned out that, for the host, Obama’s most important achievement was “standing up to Netanyahu”. The host regarded Israel’s 7.5 million people as the greatest reservoir of wrongdoers on the planet, apparently, and was impressed by the Commander in Chief of the world’s largest military “standing up” to the leader of a country whose $ 243 billion GDP is comparable to the combined GDP of Baltimore and Cincinnati.

What do the readers think? Perhaps we can fill up the comment section with what folks think are Obama’s biggest achievements over the past 3.5 years. For comparison, here’s the semi-official list for Eisenhower.

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

… And Whom Would President Romney Pay Off? Do Tell!

sales “are growing so fast that Detroit can barely keep up,”
according to an AP report published this evening bearing a Detroit
dateline.  “Three years after the U.S. auto industry nearly
collapsed, sales of cars and trucks are surging. Sales could exceed 14 million
this year, above last year’s 12.8 million.”
report says that as a result, carmakers and their suppliers are adding shifts
and hiring thousands of workers around the country.  Most
of the added jobs in the upper Midwest are for the Big Three carmakers and
their suppliers. 
the good news.   But two of these carmakers, and many of the
suppliers in the Midwest and elsewhere in the country, would have collapsed in
2009 but for the government bailout of those two carmakers.
the good news is really bad news, Romney told Fox News today, in sticking to
his anti-bailout stance.  “The president ‘was paying off the people
that supported him and that, by the way, are trying to get him re-elected,’
Romney said,” according to the AP report.
What?  No
longer a Detroit-would-have-been-better-off-without-the-bailout claim?  Just
I dunno.  This
doesn’t sound to me like a winning complaint for the general
election.  Especially since the obvious question is: And whom will you be
paying off as president, Mr. Romney?

Angry Bear

Obama is my kind of war president

One of the things that I did not like about King Bush II was his publicly personal involvement in the Iraq war. Here’s something that I wrote during a 2002 trip to Alaska:

From June through October 2002, every time we emerged from the wilderness we’d find George W. Bush complaining about Saddam and Iraq and every time we felt diminished.  Iraq is a country that, before the Gulf War, had a GDP comparable to that of West Virginia.  George W. Bush represented the entire American public.  Was it possible that we the American People had nothing better to think about than a tiny country on the other side of the globe?  It occurred to us that, as a matter of protocol, Queen Victoria would not have dealt directly with the potentate of an insignificant foreign land. It would have diminished the citizens of England to see their leader treating one-on-one with the leader of an inferior nation. A problem like Saddam would have been delegated to a 3rd undersecretary in the Foreign Office. When asked about Iraq, we kept expecting to hear George W. say “I’m not sure. I delegated that problem to Colonel Smith and he is going to report back to me in three months.  Can we move on to questions that more directly concern our society?”   But of course it never happened.

I’m therefore thrilled that the Libyan war is coming to an end while President Obama is on the golf course on Martha’s Vineyard. As U.S. military power fades (due to our fading economic power), this is how I’d like us to be remembered, i.e., our hero president casually squashing a Third World dictator while sitting on the beach with the family.

[I myself would be on the Vineyard as well right now, visiting a close friend who is getting on in years, but it is not practical for peasants to fly personal airplanes there during Obama’s visit. I was there the day before the lockdown began and the airport was crammed with cargo planes, vehicles that had been flown in, etc. Before my departure, my friend and I shared the pilot’s lounge with some of the Secret Service employees. We were amazed that the country could afford to take so many young intelligent people out of the productive workforce, put them on taxpayer-funded salaries, rent them cars with tax dollars (or fly SUVs in on C17 cargo planes), and rent them beach houses on Martha’s Vineyard for two weeks.]

[Note that even had we stayed we would not have been able to see Air Force One land. The main runway at MVY is just over a mile long and when your personal airplane is a Boeing 747 it means you need to fly to Otis Air National Guard base to meet one of the helicopters that has been previously flown up there to greet you. Then you transfer from the B747 to the helicopter for the flight back south to the MVY airport, then shut down Vineyard traffic for the motorcade trip to the $ 50,000/week estate (it is unclear why he couldn’t take a helicopter directly to Blue Heron Farm, but maybe his Marine One helicopters are simply too big to land on the small private golf course associated with the house (aerial photo inside this article)). Michelle Obama and her daughters arrived four hours earlier via a similar collection of taxpayer-funded jet-powered aircraft (an extra $ 500,000 cost to taxpayers, considering operating costs and the Secret Service details required?).]

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog