November 30, 2018

Raising Alma Mater

So what gives with my alma mater begging for money?  Miami has a half-billion endowment, is the most expensive college in Ohio, has a wealth of new buildings, and gets millions in state monies in addition to tuition.  Kids going to Miami pay, their parents pay, the taxpayer pays, and they want alumni to pay.  Does it take a village to raise a university?

The problem is complex but it’s telling that stats are hard to come by since the colleges only promote the declining percentage of their budget coming from the state. This is partly due to flat-lined state giving (due to other priorities like health care spending, prisons and K-12 education), but it’s also because college education is going up much faster than the rate of inflation.

Fifty years ago 70% of Miami’s funding came from the state and now only 10-15% does. Colleges back 50 years ago didn’t try to rein in expenses because they didn’t have to. So the inflation rate of college education sky-rocketed while the amount of money given by the state barely stayed the same.

Even former Miami president James Garland admits that the university culture plays a role in the problem:
Unlike corporations, public universities have had few purely financial incentives to improve themselves and become more productive.
In my opinion, both the Ohio legislature and the universities are partially correct: the problem of rising public college tuition is driven by a combination of declining state subsidy levels and the inability of universities to exercise the cost discipline that is common for well-managed organizations outside academia.
So should the alumni kick in money to try to prop up this broken system?

On the one hand, if you just let market forces force the universities to seek profit, will colleges become available only to the rich and the intellectually gifted.  Are there too many mediocre students going to college today simply because so many jobs require a college diploma?  Or should there be more low-cost colleges much as Walmart undercut the competition in retail by going for the low-cost angle? 

November 28, 2018

The Case of the Missing Cashier

So today I found out what happened to June, the cashier from whom I’ve bought approximately 12,000 lunches from over the past 25 years.

She didn’t show up a few days before Thanksgiving. It was uncharacteristic since she normally mentioned upcoming absences. Typically it was me who announced absences since I take frequent vacations and she doesn’t get much vacation time. Despite being at least 62 years old and working there for umpteen years.

I first took notice of her when she used to chastise Ham of Bone (of the Bobber beer fame) for his “soups”. In his pre-marital frugality, he’d carefully load up no broth, just the meat. With lots of free packages of crackers, he got a meal for the price of a newspaper.

June was no-nonsense and was so fast at her job that I used to say she must be getting paid by number served. Being a victim of the modern cult of efficiency, naturally I gravitated to her line and I’d do the computations in my head (6 people in line at cashier X, meant if I could be number 9 in June’s line, I’d still come out ahead). Memory like an elephant too - she’d recall trivial things like how much I’d spent the previous day, and in the extremely rare cases of making a cashier mistake in cafeteria’s favor she’d rectify it the next day even though I’d forgotten about it.

There were things I wanted to ask but couldn’t or didn’t. I recall just after the O.J. Simpson trial wondering where she, an African-American, stood on it. It was the most revelatory thing to me ever at the time, to see the disconnect between how white America and black America viewed it. Probably not so surprising to blacks, who likely knows how white culture thinks much better than vice-versa in the same way conservatives know what liberals think better than liberals know how conservatives do, due to the imbalance in media. In hindsight it was probably good not to know.

So because she was fast - and friendly without being chatty which is always a mercy - I ended up buying three lunches a day from her for about 200 days a year times for the past quarter century. (Three lunches a day since I buy one for me, and two more for dinner for my wife and me.) The touching and funny thing was that if I went to another line she saw it (eagle eyes, she has) and would chastise me the next day. One time another cashier tried to woo me to her line and I said, “no thanks” and June grumbled about that gal trying to steal her customers.

She was like ol’ (wo)man river, so much so that though she’s much older than me I’d always expected to retire before her. I’d already planned how when I was in that last week at work, feeling light-hearted at the impending retirement, I’d get her a card and put a $50 in it as a tip for all those years. Make her day for once.

But now, to paraphrase former White Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson, she gone. Just like that. Without a goodbye or a last name. I asked the manager what happened and he said she retired. Said she took a couple days off and he guesses she liked it so much she decided not to come back. It seems an impulsive move for a woman so dependable that if she missed work you thought maybe the Apocalypse was upon us. Nothing on earth lasts forever, a timely message in November.

Stray Thoughts

Good long soaking read trying to find answers to quotidian mysteries like...

Why did U.S. faithfully and inexorably reenact France’s failure in Vietnam? From hubris to napalm to trying to piss off the locals to losing 50k+ men to not understanding that to win a piece of land only to abandon it the next day was no way to win a war ... It’s maddening that LBJ or JFK couldn’t sit down and talk with French leaders asking, “so what can you tell us about fighting in Indochina so that we don’t make the same mistakes?”. But we didn’t apparently and arguably the Vietnam War was what helped killed all authority, even extending to that of churches perhaps.
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I remember someone saying that the reason the elites don’t worry much is that often they were born on third base and think they hit a triple so there attitude is there is little cause for alarm. And the poor always live precariously and have made it this far, so there’s little cause for alarm.

But the middle class is different because most know privation and surplus and greatly prefer the latter and worry about securing it.

The rich know they can buy their way out of difficulty, and the poor that they’ll never avoid difficulty, so it’s only the middle class perhaps with something to lose.
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“Why do demons wish to excite in us gluttony, fornication, greed and other passions? So the mind, under the weight, should be unable to pray as it ought. When the passions of our irrational part begin to act, they prevent the mind from acting rationally.” - St. Nilus of Sinai
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Started reading more of the Eric Gill biography last night. One fascinating bedeviled personality is he.
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My ambition has always been to lack ambition.  Sort of my super power. But now I realize that lacking ambition is not a good or bad in itself and that the ambition I should have is God’s ambition for me, whatever that might be.  Because God, for sure, doesn’t lack ambition. Just look around. His ambition for some might look slight, but that’s only on the surface.

November 21, 2018

PGIC, Liz Bruenig before she Bruenigs you, and Tolstoy

I'm impressed if not edified by the PGIC (professional grievance industrial complex) for making "public hanging" a dog whistle and/or insulting.  Tons of whites got hung; ain't nobody seen no Westerns?

Hyde-Smith didn’t say "lynching".

It was a joke.

There hasn’t been a public hanging in almost a hundred years.

It's kind of strange how this culture has become so strange.

*

Listened to the lovely and exotic Elizabeth Bruenig on her podcast. It's not every day you hear a Catholic Marxist.  Of course it's all good until somebody gets hurt (i.e. the country, by going socialist).

the 18-yr old WaPo columnist
Then listened to her and Ross Douthat and JD Flynn talk about - what else? - the sex abuse scandal via a Livestream.

Interesting to hear the panelists respond to what one thing they'd advise the pope to do, and the three responses seemed pretty spot on (none of which have much chance of happening):

1. Tell the truth.
2. Exercise penitence, not for PR but because “it’s who we are”
3. Put a mom in charge of the abuse scandal.

Another thing that won’t happen is transparency around disgraced McCarrick. Apparently it’s impressive it’s gotten even this far - word has it that Dolan had to fight to expose McCarrick. And I’m not sure what I’m looking for really.  Not sure of my motives. Not payback for McCarrick, but perhaps payback for those who enabled him.

The European attitude is that Americans are obsessed with a “cold case”. Ancient history. Nothing to see here. Which I get on one level. I’m not interested in McCarrick's laicization since if he’s not repentant now he never will be, though perhaps it would be good as a future deterrent to others. But ultimately what bothers me is the lack of anyone owning up to it. Not looking for a penalty per se. To my knowledge there’s been a shortage of apologies. You could ask, “how did this happen?” and assume “he was glib and a good fundraiser, that’s how” but ultimately it’d be nice for someone to officially acknowledge that, maybe.

Towards that goal, I immodestly offer a USCCB press release:
"We would like to acknowledge that we supported the promotion and enabling of former Cardinal McCarrick because he was glib and a good fundraiser and we felt that uprooting the tares would disturb the wheat. We apologize and will do acts of penance." 
The other way to view it is a case where corruption is warping doctrine, where the lavender mafia that protected McCarrick has a vested interest in seeing doctrine on sexual matters change.

One wag said that the difficulty lies in that Americans are sacramentalized Puritans and Southern Europeans are sacramentalized pagans. I'd rather be the former.

*

I did not know the story of Leo Tolstoy’s last days, and how haunted he was by the fact that he felt he was “playacting” as a Christian due to his wealth:
In October 1910, at the age of eighty-two, he ran away from home, seeking to escape the world and find true peace. He did not get far. After collapsing at a train station at Astapova, he died on November 20. His last words were, “To seek, always to seek.”
A quote:
“If a person knows that he will die in a half hour, he certainly will not bother doing trivial, stupid, or, especially, bad things during this half hour. Perhaps you have half a century before you die—what makes it any different from a half hour?”—Leo Tolstoy

November 12, 2018

Adventures in Babysitting 2018 Remake

Had grandkids early and often over weekend.  Adventures in Babysitting was an '80s movie which prompted a crush on Elisabeth Shue.

I’m suitably exhausted.  We started out watching OSU game but within the first twenty minutes our middle child was crying for reasons now lost in the archives of babysitting history.  Dog Max had gotten something he shouldn’t have, and 2-year old Katherine was trying to climb over Steph while grabbing everything that wasn’t nailed down.

We made it till mid-4th quarter when game seemed wrapped up before heading out in the frigid cold. First up was cutting the grass (or rather leaves, since a heavy blanket of leaves sat on it).  Despite charging the mower for a few hours the battery wouldn’t start. So next up was leaf blower which, alas, didn’t blow leaves since not powerful enough.  This left the unpalatable solution of raking the leaves by hand. The boys and I started raking and three minutes later the kids’ hands get cold.  So I told them to go in and get gloves.  They do and next thing is Max is running loose, loose as a goose in the front yard. Someone had left the door open.  So I spent then next ten minutes chasing Max around until he went into somebody’s garage and got cornered.

Max restored, we re-started the leaf-raking, doing it for a solid hour and getting it under control before diving into leaves for photo ops.

Then to hot tub, me, the boys and Katherine. Afterward Steph took Kath home and I ordered pizza. By 7pm we were happy and full.  Rented movie Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days which was surprisingly good.  For earworm purposes I introduced the boys to ‘80s song Safety Dance after reading Amy Welborn did that for her kids recently. But no earworms were said to have formed - except for me.  I'm still singing that song in my head. No bad deed goes unpunished. They had Alexa play something more their speed: “Radioactive”.

Sleep, blessed sleep, at 9:30.  For them if not for me. I holed myself up in my room like an outlaw, drinking Edmund Fitzgerald Stout and reading from the severely underrated writer Joe Queenan.  He’s sort of a sophisticated male version of Erma Bombeck.

November 08, 2018

Predicting Presidential Elections since '60

I’m too data-driven with regard to understanding events that defy logic to some extent like how someone gets elected president. The heart has its ways where reason doth not go, or something like that. And people are complex.

But I always try to figure out a formula that will determine who will win presidency.

I think in the modern era (1960s on), there are three components.
1) A feint in the opposite political direction. (Works for popes too since many thought Bergoglio was a conservative when he feinted that way years ago.)
2) Comfort with television and/or telegenic.
3) A lack of experience. Theoretically people’s thirst for a lack of experience must eventually find a bottom, though hopefully before we amend the Constitution and start electing pre-teens. Some would argue our current occupant is a pre-teen but that’s off topic.
Character plays a role too as reactions.  Jimmy Carter was a reaction to Nixon admin and George W. Bush against Clinton.  If this holds true in 2020, a Democrat like Bernie Sanders might be helped.

Let’s see if it works.

1960: Kennedy v Nixon. Kennedy feinted as a conservative with his hawkishness and fiscal sanity. A Look magazine cover in 1946 read: “A Kennedy Runs for Congress: The Boston-bred scion of a former ambassador is a fighting-Irish conservative.” Nixon, by comparison, rarely looked liberal prior to 1960. Kennedy also wins on television obviously. Experience a wash, although slight edge to Kennedy likely.
Verdict: theorem worked.

1964: Johnson v Goldwater. Goldwater never feinted left in his life, at least not prior to ’64, and Johnson as a Southern Democrat feinted that way when he had to. They were a wash as far as television, and both were career senators.
Verdict: theorem worked, although wouldn’t have predicted a landslide.

1968: Nixon v Humphrey: This one I’m going to say the theroem didn’t work. Similar experience, slightly better TV maybe for Humprhey although Nixon had a lot of experience with the medium by this point. And both career pols.
Verdict: No.

1972: Nixon v McGovern. Similar experience, similar TV skills, but Nixon by this time had most definitely feinted left early and often (picture Bill Clinton after ’94 midterms), while McGovern never feinted right in his life except in restaurants if a waiter was coming by with a tray full of drinks.
Verdict: worked

1976: Carter v Ford: No (federal) experience for Carter, better on TV, and Carter feinted right simply by being a Southern Dem.
Verdict: worked

1980: Carter v Reagan: Reagan wins on TV easily, no federal experience for Reagan, so that’s two out of three right there.
Verdit: worked

1984: Reagan v Mondale: Reagan wins on TV, plenty of experience on both sides (wash), and Mondale didn’t perceptibly feint right.
Verdict: worked

1988: Bush v Dukakis: Bush wins narrowly on TV, less experience for Dukakis (point for him), but Dukakis never feinted right. Narrow win for Bush.
Worked, arguably.

1992: Clinton v Bush: Clinton kills on TV, less experience for Clinton, Clinton feinted right with Sister Souljah and being Southern Dem.
Worked.

1996: Clinton v. Dole: : Clinton kills on TV, experience a wash, Clinton feinted right with Sister Souljah and being Southern Dem.
Worked.

2000: W.Bush v Gore: Bush slightly better on TV, experience less for Bush than career pol Gore, and Gore didn’t feint right.
Worked.

2004: Bush v Kerry: Bush slightly better on TV, experience a wash, and Kerry didn’t feint right. Bush feinted right with “compassionate conservatism”, runaway spending, prescription drugs for Medicare, etc.
Worked.

2008: Obama v McCain: Obama killed on TV, less experience for Obama, and Obama feinted right with his 2004 “can’t we all get along unity-religious" speech at Dem convention.
Worked.

2012: Obama v Romney. Obama killed on TV, experience a wash (still slightly less for Obama arguably), and Romney didn’t feint left.
Worked.

2016: Trump v Hillary: Edge to Trump on TV for his experience and comfort with medium, experience huge mismatch in favor of Trump, and Hillary didn’t feint right.
Worked.

I want to examine why someone like Rubio wouldn’t have made it to nomination. Experience is in Trump’s favor, Rubio feinted left on immigration (not good in primary but good in general), and one would think he was better on TV but for his repetitiousness.

November 06, 2018

Fall Back Fellini

"Fall back" offers a precious extra hour of weekend and so I took time to bathe in the slow-motion documentary "Ex Libris" on Kanopy. Neat to see NYPL branches in those exotic NYC settings (Bronx, Chinatown, "Malcolm X" blvd). It blows your mind, the city does. People as art. People-watching as an activity.

Took dogs on a walk on nearby road because I wanted to read the home-made signs in one guy’s yard that I had trouble reading while passing by at 35 mph. It turns out it said something like "In 2008 you proved you weren’t a racist ... now prove you aren’t stupid. Red tsunami.".

I googled the phrase to see if it was used elsewhere and it turns out there was a book written in 2012 by a Neil Synder titled, "If You Voted for Obama in 2008 to Prove You're Not a Racist, You Need to Vote for Someone Else in 2012 to Prove You're Not an Idiot."

Seems pretty certain Synder, who has a blog called and is a retired professor from Virginia, was the inspiration directly or indirectly for the neighbor.

November 05, 2018

Halloween, Ole Miss, Voters and Old Churches

Halloween's "Trick or Treat" is no treat given our dog Max gets deeply unhappy and barks and whines at being prevented from going up to the door (we set up a gate in the hallway).  But it doesn't seem kosher to scare the kids by having a 75-lb dog coming at them full-speed. A bit too much trick.

Come 8pm I removed the gate and closed down shop and he raced to the candy and stole at least three. In trying to extract it from him he simply swallowed them, still intact in their plastic wrappings. He has the gullet of a python. Chocolate isn’t good for dogs but at his weight he can take that amount.

After reading Jeff Miller’s posts on Facebook I now lament my lack of imagination and esprit de Halloween corps. He came up with these ideas:
I am having fun shifting the colors of my porch light via the phone app as Trick-and-Treaters approach. Beautiful night so just sitting on my porch with my laptop handing out future dental problems. Next year I am going to have two bowls of candy. The first full of generic candy nobody likes, the second full of the good stuff. Will show the first one first, wait for the reaction and pull out the second.
Brilliancy.  Won't solve my dog problem though of course.
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Enjoyed the 2016 election returns from PBS via YouTube. It ne’er gets old, the dawning shock and dismay of the elites. It’s interesting to see who gloms onto the storyline early. I’ve watched most of ABC and PBS now. Next up NBC, FOX News, CBS.

PBS’s Mark Shields mentioned before any returns were in that the Democrat party has become elitist and no longer attracts white working-class votes. That indeed turned out to be THE story.

Another guest mentioned that a surprise was that the gender gap was similar to past elections - she said she thought women would turn on Trump due to the Access Hollywood tape - and that could be accounting for Hillary not winning by a landslide.

David Brooks wrung his hands and was crestfallen, looking as grim as Gen Robert E. Lee immediately after Gettysburg.

Jeff Greenfield intelligently picked up early that the seemingly mythical extra white voters that Ted Cruz was always hoping for seemed to have materialized for Trump. Someone said something like “looks like white voters have some fight left in them” (before their demographic winter).

It's perhaps surprising how everything was seen completely in terms of race and ethnicity and gender instead of the candidates, issues, class, change versus more of the same. I get that, being a data guy myself.  It's a good thing to recall how voters, who are supposed to adhere closely to their caricatures, can fail to do so.
_________

Interesting to hear Lino Rulli on Catholic Channel of Sirius XM say Michigan football isn’t even in his 5 top college football experiences.

He says Notre Dame is in top 5 but number one is.... Ole Miss. He said the tailgating, the Southern hospitality, the smaller-sized stadium all make it the best college football.
_________

Read some of Tucker Carlson book Ship of Fools. It's scary how no one is talking about the fact that the nation’s truckdrivers are going to lose their jobs with driverless vehicles given the tremendous number of truck-drivers. He laments the passing of the old Democrats, pests to be sure but pests needed in the nation’s ecosystem. Now, alas, they have become both indifferent to the little guy and socially liberal, a fatal combo for the country. Kill the family and the working man in one fell swoop.

Also read some WSJ, an intriguing article about how some millennials are looking to retire at 40 via heroic 70% savings rates.

Listened to some of Eric Scheske podcast about how crucial it is to train your brain, aka "Catholic mindfulness". He recommended “The Virgin Eye” big time (he bought copies for al his seven kids, first time ever he’d done something like that).

Grandkids came over and one of them is bad at “transitions” and so he was sullen and angry when his mother was taking him home and wouldn’t give my wife a hug. Rebuffed her and didn’t say a word. His father wasn't happy about it when he heard from his wife.  Around 5:30 we got a tearful Facetime call from a tearful one that appeared to be a hostage video. He would get a spanking if he didn’t execute this apology with sincerity and eye-contact and one sensed he would've proclaimed an indifference to candy under those circumstances.  But it is what it is. It ain’t easy raising kids.

Local Dominican priest comments on twitter: "Central Ohio is full of little towns with really neat 19th century Catholic churches."

And there was a response from a Deacon Ambrose Dobrozsi: "Some of the best to the west in our diocese of Cincinnati - St. Patrick in Glynnwood; St. Remy in Russia; St. Augustine in Minster; Holy Angels in Sidney. St. Patrick in Bellefontaine is undergoing work to be restored to its pre-V II glory."

Shocked to see St. Patrick’s of Glynnwood get a mention on Twitter! Especially given how large the Cincy diocese surely is.

Undeniably, I think, the most beautiful church in the area hands-down belongs to neither diocese -- I’m thinking of the basilica in Covington, KY.

And for the heck of it, I checked out Google reviews for churches on the web.  The Covington church got a stunning 4.9 of 5.0 scale and 55 reviews.

Cincy’s cathedral got a 4.5 on 46 reviews.  Columbus cathedral got 4.5 on 36 reviews.  Cleveland’s cathedral got 4.7 out of 49 reviews.  St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC got 4.8 out of 5,308 reviews. The Washington D.C. Basilica got 4.8 out of 12,000+ reviews.

I think of all of them for me, the D.C. church still number 1, but Covington number 2.