The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Certifiably annoying

My new employer requires that I get an appropriate Microsoft certification by February 2012. This requires that I take six certification tests. I've started preparing, after not having bothered in four years. And, as I was in 2006, and 1999, and 1996, and 1993, the last times I jumped into the MCP Pit of Despair, I am unhappy.

Why, pray, have I not bothered to get certified? Why only one test in the last 10 years? Because I really, honestly, truly, hate these exams. The last time I took one, I literally walked in off the street and winged it. This didn't work. Not, I assert, because I lack the skills the test purported to measure. No, because the exams, for reasons of economics and volume, don't demonstrate ability; they screen for something else entirely. (I'm still trying to work out what.)

Having just taken a practice test, I am saddened to see things haven't improved. Here's an example, which I first demonstrated in 2006. Imagine you want to get a "Chicago Certified Driver in Stick-Shift Transmissions (Automobile)" badge. This credential establishes that you are certified by the city of Chicago to drive cars equipped with manual transmissions. To get this credential, you take a computerized, multiple-choice test. Here is question 1:

You're driving from 1200 West Fullerton Parkway to 741 West Cornelia Avenue. What is the route you follow?
A. East on Fullerton, North on Halsted, West on Cornelia.
B. East on Fullerton, North on Clark, North on Sheffield, East on Cornelia.
C. West on Fullerton, North on Western, East on Addison, South on Halsted, East on Cornelia.
D. East on Fullerton, North on Clark, North on Broadway, West on Cornelia.

Do you know the answer? You have 60 seconds, closed book.

The correct answer is C, because the other three are illegal. Of course, no one would ever, ever, ever, choose C in real life, because it takes you three miles out of your way. But that's not the point. Certified Chicago Drivers may not know how to use a manual transmission, but they absolutely know all the one-way streets in the city.

See, in order to get this question right you need to know several things. First, Halsted is 800 West, so you need to be East of it to get to 741 W. Cornelia. Second, Cornelia is a one-way street that goes East and West from Halsted. In other words, if you're on Halsted, you can go either East or West on Cornelia, away from Halsted.

Further, if you got the question wrong, so what? So you're going up on Halsted and you turn the wrong way on Cornelia. Oops: you're on the 800 block of Cornelia, the numbers are getting bigger, so you waste maybe 15 seconds turning at the next street and trying again in the other directon.

And even more: Anyone who has ever spent time in that neighborhood knows you won't find a parking space on the 700 block of Cornelia unless you get really, really lucky. So you may want to turn West on Cornelia anyway, because it's sometimes easier to find parking over there.

You may be wondering, why would anyone who wants to demonstrate mastery of driving stick-shift cars (a) take a multiple-choice test requiring him to (b) memorize all the one-way streets in Wrigleyville? Good question. And I have the one and only answer that should ever, ever make you do this:

Because someone is paying you to do so.

That is a good enough reason for me.

Stupid Constitution tricks, ctd.

Sean Wilentz at The New Republic has a better explanation of the nullification nonsense this morning than I had yesterday:

Now, as in the 1860s and 1960s, nullification and interposition are pseudo-constitutional notions taken up in the face of national defeat in democratic politics. Unable to prevail as a minority and frustrated to the point of despair, its militant advocates abandon the usual tools of democratic politics and redress, take refuge in a psychodrama of "liberty" versus "tyranny," and declare that, on whatever issue they choose, they are not part of the United States or subject to its laws—that, whenever they say so, the Constitution in fact forms a league, and not a government. Although not currently concerned with racial supremacy, the consequence of their doctrine would uphold an interpretation of the constitutional division of powers that would permit the majority of any state to reinstate racial segregation and inequality up to the point of enslavement, if it so chose.

That these ideas resurfaced 50 years ago, amid the turmoil of civil rights, was as harebrained as it was hateful. But it was comprehensible if only because interposition and nullification lay at the roots of the Civil War. Today, by contrast, the dismal history of these discredited ideas resides within the memories of all Americans who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s—and ought, on that account, to be part of the living legacy of the rest of the country. Only an astonishing historical amnesia can lend credence to such mendacity.

The whole idea is childish in a way. Little children and extremist politicians have a definition of "fair" that only encompasses what they want. Seriously, doesn't this whole thing look like a temper tantrum? When you start to think about the far right as a bunch of little kids more concerned with winning than governing, their whole ethos becomes clearer.

In other words, my message to Western legislatures is: Grow the hell up. We have real problems that need real solutions. Act like adults and get back to work.

Stupid Constitution tricks

He really should know better:

Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert has signed two bills authorizing the state to use eminent domain to seize some of the federal government's most valuable land.

Supporters hope the bills, which the Republican governor signed Saturday, will trigger a flood of similar legislation throughout the West and, eventually, a Supreme Court battle that they hope to win -- against long odds. Starting with the Supremacy Clause, moving on to the Federal applicability of the 5th Amendment, and ending with the unfortunate result of the 1832 Nullification Crisis[1], this bill has less chance of having legal effect than the Cubs have of winning a post-season game. In fact, of the two events, I'd wager on the Cubs.

This silly act is merely the latest in a disturbing trend of Republican legislatures imagining that the last 150 years of U.S. history didn't happen.

Or maybe it's not their imagination. Maybe, on top of being ornery, they might in fact be ignorant of the late unpleasantness and its aftermath. Utah has no excuse, though. They entered the Union in 1896, four decades after all that stuff about, you know, Federal supremacy had been decided.

[1] President Obama will probably not send the U.S. Navy to Utah, owing to certain practical difficulties, but you get the idea.

No rest for the weary

Yesterday I expressed more relief than dread after finishing my Term 3 finals. Dread just won:

Subject: FedEx Shipment Notification

[Redacted] of Duke Fuqua School of Business sent David Braverman 1 FedEx Express Saver package(s).

This shipment is scheduled to be sent on 03/29/2010.

Oh. Joy. The Term 4 books are coming.


Respite? I wish

I've just finished my final exams for Duke CCMBA Term 3. Total time: 10.8 hours on statistics, 8.2 hours for marketing, 4.9 hours sobbing quietly at my desk about not having studied more.

As the program has six terms, in a sane universe this would mean I'm half-way done with my MBA. Sadly, I'm not even done with Term 3 yet. And anyway the end of Term 3, officially April 7th, isn't really the half-way point.

First, I have the Delhi Culture Dash video to produce. My team has succeeded mightily with a divide-and-conquer approach, so for each the three projects that remain in Term 3 (two, technically, being term 4 projects due before term 4 officially starts), we have one project author and one reviewer. I volunteered for the video project when the entire team thought it was due April 6th. It's actually due Thursday. I'm guessing this is another 10 hours of work. Good thing I have all that time to do it, otherwise I'd continue sobbing at my desk.

Second, Term 6 will really be two terms. During the residency we have four classes, then after the residency we have two 6-week distance periods, with two sets of finals.

Third, the chronological midpoint of the program is actually April 11th.[1] So, really, we're almost there, though I suspect the psychological midpoint will be April 25th, when we leave Shanghai. Or maybe December 12th, the day before the thing ends.

Sorry about that. I may have spent too much time doing statistics this weekend. I will now retire to the pub, with The Travels of a T-Shirt in a Global Economy, which I need to finish reading (for Global Markets and Institutions) before next week.

[1] The program officially started with Term 1 pre-reading on 8 August 2009; our last final exam is due 13 December 2010; that's 492 days; so 246 days after August 8th is April 11th. QED. If you use the first day of the London residency, August 15th, as the starting point, the midpoint is April 14th.

Right-wing rage

To hear the right wingers describe it, passing the Health-Care Reform Act ranked somewhere between breaking the second seal and sending Federal troops to Birmingham in atrocity. I cannot fathom the rage, not one bit. Nor can I fathom the hypocrisy. For example, as the New York Times reported this morning, a sizable chunk of the Tea Party movement have the luxury of banging on against the welfare state because—why else—they're supported by it:

Tom Grimes, [who] lost his job as a financial consultant 15 months ago...has organized a local group and a statewide coalition, and even started a "bus czar" Web site to marshal protesters to Washington on short notice. This month, he mobilized 200 other Tea Party activists to go to the local office of the same congressman to protest what he sees as the government's takeover of health care.

Mr. Grimes, who receives Social Security, has filled the back seat of his Mercury Grand Marquis with the literature of the movement, including Glenn Beck's "Arguing With Idiots" and Frederic Bastiat's "The Law," which denounces public benefits as "false philanthropy."

"If you quit giving people that stuff, they would figure out how to do it on their own," Mr. Grimes said.

Now, I believe Grimes has an absolute, without-a-doubt, Congress-given right to Social Security. (I also think that people who receive assistance can spend it any way they want. Assistance should not mean paternalism.) I just can't figure out why he's against it.

Possibly, though, we on the left are trying to apply reason where none exists. People like Grimes are nuts. People like Glenn Beck are either nuts or sociopathic. And people like John Boehner are craven opportunists who will probably preserve their own seats at the expense of their party.

I know many smart, conscientious conservatives. I go to school with a bunch. (Yes, there are Republicans in business schools.) None, to my knowledge—all right, maybe one or two—is nuts, craven, or sociopathic. Oddly, though, their critiques of HCR come from the economic and fiscal uncertainty they worry it will cause. I've yet to hear one (ok, maybe one :) ) denounce the Democratic party as a bunch of fascistic Communists.

The Times' Frank Rich has a hypothesis about the rage:

If Obama's first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It's not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend's abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan "Take our country back!," these are the people they want to take the country back from.

Racism? Really? It's not the craziest theory. But I'm not as worried as Rich that the far-right loonies are about to take over. They didn't in the 1850s, though they did put up a fight. Similarly, the far-left loonies didn't take over in the 1970s—or 1870s, or even the 1760s, for that matter.[1]

I would like the opposition party to think, just think, about the long-term damage they're doing to their party and to the country by encouraging their loony fringe. Take it from a Democrat: after our loony fringe took over after the 1968 election, we spent 24 years in the wilderness.[2] So unless you want Democratic majorities until the 2030s, you might want to move more to the center.

[1] Far-left radicals like Tom Paine got pushed aside as the country swung back to the right during the 1780s. Loonly-left radical Samuel Adams never had much popularity outside New England, unlike his right-leaning brother John. Even Jefferson didn't govern as a radical, though he was considerably left of his two predecessors.

[2] President Carter, wonderful man that he is, got the Democratic nomination and won the 1976 General Election almost accidentally. Absent Watergate, Reagan would likely have won in 1976. It's an interesting story, but not one that undermines my basic premise.

Darwin's Tears

My dad has a new novel out. Right now it's available for the Amazon Kindle only; in a couple of weeks he'll have paperbacks as well. As soon as he does, expect to find them in random locations around the world.

I've read about 20 different drafts of the book, and each was better than the last. It's a page-turner. And creepy. And funny. An excerpt:

It all played out in less than three seconds.

Like an errant missile, the two-and-a-half-ton stretch Cadillac slammed into the stunned crowd of mourners, carving through them before planting itself into the back of the standing hearse. One mortuary attendant and two elderly women, whose unfortunate timing had them standing on the street between the two hearses, were instantly crushed, their bones pulverized by the explosive collision of metal into metal. Other bodies were tumbled and tossed like stuffed toys into the street or dashed against the red brick wall of the mortuary. And for those not directly in the path of the hearse, the blizzard of glass and metal shrapnel exploding outward from the collision sliced through their soft flesh with the lethal efficiency of whirling Cuisinart blades.

The force of the impact knocked Garland backwards off his feet. The stinging tintinnabulation resounding in his ears deafened and disoriented him. When he was finally able to lift his head, he saw Eugene Kessler writhing behind him on the flooded street, clutching his shoulder a few feet from where Carolyn Eccevarria was lying lifelessly on her back.

It only just came out half an hour ago so I'll need to read the latest version. (After finals...ugh.) But if you have a Kindle and you're looking for a fun, quick novel, download it now.

Thus endeth all dispute

An island claimed by both India and Bangladesh has vanished, ending a territorial dispute going back to 1971:

The uninhabited territory south of the Hariabhanga river was known as New Moore Island to the Indians and South Talpatti Island to the Bangladeshis.

Recent satellites images show the whole island under water, says the School of Oceanographic Studies in Calcutta.

"What these two countries could not achieve from years of talking, has been resolved by global warming," said Professor Sugata Hazra of the School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavpur University in Calcutta.

Professor Hazra said his studies revealed that sea levels in this part of the Bay of Bengal have risen much faster over the past decade than they had done in the previous 15 years.

And he predicts that in the coming decade other islands in the Sundarbans delta region will follow New Moore, or South Talpatti, beneath the waves.

The article doesn't explain that both countries claimed the tiny uninhabited island because the law of the sea allows countries to claim a 370 km exclusive economic zone around any land they "control," even if it's just a speck poking above the water. This means the total disputed territory was actually over 430,000 km²—an area about as big as California or Thailand. But with the island gone, the competing claims have vanished as well.

(With the island sitting right at the mouth of a major river, however, the 22 km territorial waters were probably more important to both.)

Too much dark humor, but too many victims

Today the Vatican announced that there has been no cover-up in the latest U.S. sex-abuse scandal, and could we all just leave the Pope alone?

This whole thing must feel like someone stampeded cattle through St. Peter's.

But let's be serious. It looks quite like the current Pope intervened in the Ecclesiastical trial of a priest accused of molesting 200 deaf boys, and failed to act on dozens of other cases:

The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal.

The documents emerge as Pope Benedict is facing other accusations that he and direct subordinates often did not alert civilian authorities or discipline priests involved in sexual abuse when he served as an archbishop in Germany and as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer.

The Wisconsin case involved an American priest, the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, who worked at a renowned school for deaf children from 1950 to 1974. But it is only one of thousands of cases forwarded over decades by bishops to the Vatican office called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led from 1981 to 2005 by Cardinal Ratzinger. It is still the office that decides whether accused priests should be given full canonical trials and defrocked.

Andrew Sullivan:

What's fascinating in the steady onslaught of new incidences of previous cover-ups of child rape and molestation in the Catholic hierarchy is the notion that the hierarchs tended to see child rape as a sin rather than a crime. Hence the emphasis on forgiveness, therapy, repentance - rather than removal, prosecution and investigation. Obviously, there's one reason for this: they were defending the reputation of the church by hiding its darkest secrets, and they were using the authority of religion to do so. But I suspect it's also true that this is how they genuinely thought of child rape or abuse.

How could that be, one asks? Well: imagine you are a young gay Catholic teen coming into his sexuality and utterly convinced that it's vile and evil. What do you do? I can tell you from my own experience. You bury it. But of course, you can't bury it. So you objectify sex; and masturbate. You cannot have sexual or even emotional contact with a teenage girl, because it is simply impossible, and you certainly cannot have sex with another teenage boy or you will burn in hell for ever ... so you have sex with images in your own head. Your sex life becomes completely solitary. It can be empowered by pornography or simply teenage imagination. Some shard of beauty, some aspect of sensuality, some vision of desire will keep you sexually energized for days.

Now suppose your powers of suppression and attachment to religious authority are also strong - perhaps stronger because you feel so adrift you need something solid to cling onto in your psyche. And you know you cannot marry a woman. But you want to have status and cover as a single man. If this is the 1950s and 1960s, it's into the Church you go. You think it will cure you. In fact, it only makes you sicker because your denial is buttressed by their collective denial. And the whole thing becomes one big and deepening spiral of lies and corruption.

As Sullivan said only last week, "If this were a secular institution, the police would move in and shut it down."