February 2007

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John Ruberry, the Marathon Pundit, just did some actual reporting about the veterans’ scholarship scandle at the University of Illinois.

This didn’t sound like much of a story when I first heard about it. The University of Illinois had offered 110 scholarships to Illinois veterans for the night MBA program in downtown Chicago. A bunch of veterans were accepted and received confirmation letters. Later, however, the University cancelled a lot of those scholarships, accepting only 37 of them.

Some people seemed to be trying to spin this into an example of anti-military attitudes in academia, but having worked at a university for a while, it sounded to me like a typical foul-up. The academic side of academia works best when it is very decentralized, with each department making staffing and curriculum decisions on its own. The administrative work, however, requires rigorous standards and careful attention to detail, and departments get themselves into trouble when they try to cut corners. It sounded like the department that runs the night MBA program had promised something that the rules wouldn’t allow it to deliver.

Now that John Ruberry has delved into the story a bit, including an interview with one of the principles, it’s sounding a lot shadier than I thought:

What happened next is shocking. Ghosh, DeBrock, Admissions Dean Sandy Frank and Ikenberry decided to take matters into their own hands. So they got a copy of the admissions database from the Executive MBA program, studied it, and in an ex post facto manner, put in new procedural deadlines for the completion of application materials in order to reduce the number of military veterans in the program.

They basically looked at military candidates’ application data and came up with new deadlines that they knew military candidates hadn’t met. Sort of like betting on a horse a couple days after the race…or moving the goalpoast before a field goal attempt.

Read the whole thing.

My 13 year old dog Lady was diagnosed with a bladder tumor 7 months ago. She was the best dog, always eager to please. She did a very good job of hiding her discomfort, trying to carry on as normally as possible (between peeing). She barked happily when my wife and I came home, ate heartily, followed me everywhere, as she always did, up and down stairs in our split-level home.


In recent weeks, my wife Mary and I discussed with greater frequency whether it was time to let her go. But she still had that light in her eyes and seemed to be having many more good moments than bad. The bad being increased urination and some whimpering in her sleep. Over the last weekend I noticed her trembling somewhat as she stood eagerly waiting for a treat. She must have been using every ounce of energy trying to maintain as much normalcy as possible. We thought it might be time, but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to make the final decision.

Last Monday when I left for work, I told Lady that she had done her job very well for the time we were together and that she did not have to do it anymore. I said that it was time that we both let go.

When our neighbor came by to let her out and give her a pill that day, Lady did not greet her as she normally would in excitement of the treats that the kind neighbor-lady always brought. In fact, she was so weak, she would not get up at all. When Mary and I got home, we took her to the vet to be put to rest.

Despite being almost completely deaf, and being a dog unable to comprehend human speech, she still was able, being the obedient companion she was – she somehow listened that morning and did what she was told. What a good girl. Too good.

We will miss her terribly.


A few weeks ago, my friend Cindy’s cat Bootsy passed away. Her other cat, Pupkiss, has had severe kidney problems which Cindy has nursed her through for two years. Last week Pupkiss’s health took a turn for the worse, and Cindy had to make the decision to let her go.

Protest Signs
Larger ImageProtest Signs

I’ve got hundreds of photos from the Des Plaines River-Rand TIF, and it’s about time I posted a few of them. I’ll start with this batch from Geiser-Berner Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning. Its owners, Robert Janczak, Ed Lehman, and Scott Olson are among the more outspoken opponents of the TIF.

Larger ImageGeiser-Berner

Their shop is a standalone building with a somewhat out-of-date look. In these photos you can see that it’s not particularly run down, but you wouldn’t confuse it with a new building. Still, it’s hard to see it as “blighted.”

I glanced into the showroom when I visited and took a couple of shots. You can see that they’re putting some money into making it look nice. Depending how the TIF turns out, they may be sorry they did that.

Remodeled Showroom
Larger ImageRemodeled Showroom

The decision to remodel a showroom can be analyzed like any other business decision: What’s the return on the investment? If it costs $10,000 to remodel, and the new design is expected to be in use for 10 years, then the remodeled showroom had better produce an increase in net income sufficient to pay back the cost, plus a discount for the fact that you have to spend the $10,000 now, but the payback is spread out over a decade (kind of like interest on a loan). If the discount rate is 10%, a $10,000 remodeling job has to earn roughly an extra $1,600 per year to be worth it.

However, if the property will be seized in three years, that $1600 per year amounts to only about $4800, less than half the remodeling cost.

For Geiser-Berner, it’s too late. The remodeling price has already been paid…for this remodel. Future remodeling jobs and future repairs to the building, will have to be judged against the shorter time period enforced by the pending eminent domain seizure. This will have the effect of discouraging remodeling and repairs, bringing about some of the blight that the City of Des Plaines is so worried about.

Showroom Under Construction
Larger ImageShowroom Under Construction

Note: I’m not an expert in either corporate finance or valuation of condemned properties, so I’ve done violence to both in my explanation above. For one thing, eminent domain seizure of the property is not a certain thing, so it would be treated as just one of several risk factors affecting the decision to remodel. For another, remodeling that increases the value of the building should result in a higher payment for the property (reducing the loss from the short period of use) but the rules for such calculations are complex beyond my understanding.

[Update: Visit the next Des Plaines entry.]

Underdog is Here!

And I’m so there.

When I was a child, I used to watch that show when I could work up the nerve. The villain’s evil schemes just creeped me out, and the level of peril for the hero and Polly were far too intense for me to bear.

I suspect it will seem more tame now.

(Hat tip: Lammers)

When I took my father to the hospital two days ago, he was feeling really bad. He even threw up after getting in the car. While he was in the emergency room getting tests, I drove to a nearby do-it-yourself car wash to clean out the car.

I wore latex gloves to avoid catching what he had, but apparently I wasn’t careful enough. Now I’m puking and crapping and running a fever of 101.6°F.

My father’s diagnosis was gastroenteritis, so I figure I’ve got the same thing. If this were an episode of House, that would be misdirection, and I’d really have some rare and dangerous condition that mimics gastroenteritis in its early stages before the more disturbing symptoms start.

My father is 45 years older than me, so they gave him IV liquids and a big dose of Cipro and admitted him to the hospital for a few days.

Me, I’m going to ride it out at home.


A few days ago, Kip Esquire posted a fascinating thought experiment. Imagine that whatever biological mechanism it is that makes some people gay also produced a clear and unmistakable sign of its presence, such as a birthmark on the forehead. If you see a person with this mark, you know they’re gay. Children with the mark are sure to grow up to be gay adults.

In other words, what if there could be no “closet”?

Kip thinks this would turn out pretty well:

One could imagine either of two cultural responses:

1. Kill the infants upon birth.

2. Or not.

I can’t conceive a theory of anthropology or sociology where Option #1 would be the equilibrium outcome. If it were clear, from birth, that being gay is not a choice, if it were clear that a noticeable — even if small — minority of the population were gay, and if it were impossible to conceal one’s true identity, then how, exactly, could bigotry arise in the first place?

My first thought was that a visible mark would be similar to a racial characteristic, and we all know how much bigotry there is about race. But as Kip points out, the birthmark’s presence would track the prevalence of homosexuality, which is (mostly) not a hereditary characteristic, so there wouldn’t be pre-existing family and social groups that have the mark.

Consider that about 14% of the U.S. population has very dark skin because they have African ancestry. Suppose that instead of being inherited, dark skin was a random occurrence at birth, meaning that regardless of the skin colors of the parents, every infant had a 14% chance of having dark skin. Would we still have bigotry over skin color?

Kip basically says no, and also no bigotry over the “gay mark” either. I say maybe a little.

There are real-world examples of the kinds of phenomena Kip is imagining. The first one that comes to mind is left-handedness. The U.S. has about as many southpaws as African Americans, but left-handed people don’t face the same kinds of discrimination as African Americans. They do have problems because most tools are designed for right-handed use, as is our writing system, but they don’t face active hatred for being left-handed.

However, that hasn’t always been true here, and it’s not true all over the world. The pattern is similar for other conditions that follow Kip’s pattern, such as epilepsy, dwarfism, colorblindness, and deafness. I don’t believe these people have faced the sort of organized hatred that characterises racism, but they have certainly faced some discrimination and prejudice.

There’s a bigger problem. Kip says he “can’t conceive a theory of anthropology or sociology” that would cause people to kill gay-marked infants at birth. I don’t know enough about either discipline to tell if he’s right, but I know one applicable theory that implies the death of gay-marked infants: Evolution.

Roughly speaking, the theory of evolution causes organisms to try to increase their genetic representation in future generations.

I’m no expert on evolution, so take what follows with a grain of salt, but it seems to me that a perfectly gay organism would have no future generations, so the forces of natural selection neither favor it nor disfavor it. A gay organism is no longer playing the game of evolution.

However, the gay organism’s parents do have future generations, so they are still in the game. If the parents are involved in raising their children at all, as is certainly the case for humans, then from an evolutionary standpoint it is wasteful to spend time and energy raising the gay child. They would be better off lavishing more care on their other children, or having more children. One way to accomplish this is for organisms to evolve an instinct to kill their gay children.

Evolution is an unplanned process, so it would simultaneously follow other paths to try to eliminate the waste of resources. It’s not hard to imagine that the species would evolve a way for parents to have fewer gay children, or a way to have children that are less than perfectly gay. Either of these might be accomplished by changing the biochemical conditions in the womb, but the latter could also be achieved by social pressure to reproduce despite the gay sexual preference.

Once that happens, gays are back in the game of evolution, and to the extent there is any genetic component to gayness, they will evolve. If their parents have evolved the instinct to kill gay offspring, then the gay offspring will evolve a way to to resist. One solution would be to evolve a way to hide their gayness, in which case the gay mark will go away.

A few notes are in order: I have taken the liberty of describing evolution as if it had a purpose. It doesn’t. But its results often seem to have a purpose, which is good enough for my purposes. Also, as far as I know, how homosexuality fits into the theory of evolution is not well understood. We might figure it out when we learn more about how the sexual modules of the brain develop and function. Finally, don’t assume this theory means it’s natural or right for parents to hate their gay children. Human psychology and culture is a lot more complicated than the simple reasoning of this article. In any case, nature is a terrible guide to morality.

There was no blogging yesterday because my father got sick and I had to take him to the hospital. It’s apparently nothing too serious, but because of his age and other conditions, they want to keep him for a couple of days.

All I know about hospitals I know from House. The real thing is just as annoying as on TV, but much, much slower. Everything seems to happen at a glacial pace. That’s probably a good thing, since they save the speed for emergencies, but it’s frustrating and tiring.

The worst part is that it’s so hard to understand what’s going on. In my little world of computer programming, photography, and blogging, I understand in considerable detail how things work or how to make them work. Even when it comes to things I don’t usually do myself, such as auto repair, I understand what it is that I want out of the process—”make that noise stop”—but at a hospital, I don’t even understand what they’re trying to do most of the time. It’s an uncomfortable lack of control or input.

Via Lindsey Bayerstein comes this link to photographs of U.S. soldiers receiving care at Walter Reed Hospital. (The whole Washington Post article is here).

If you prefer something more abstract, check out icasualties.org. As I write this, there are 3133 confirmed U.S. war dead. Here’s a list of all of them.

The same site shows 23,471 wounded in combat, and another 6,835 with non-combat injuries bad enough to need medical air transport.

We can stop all this bloodshed, just by leaving.

(See also this companion piece.)

All week long, I’ve been covering the story of Barry Cooper’s Never Get Busted Again video and of the reactions to it from various places, especially the folks at the Flex Your Rights Foundation. The difference in approach is fascinating.

I didn’t say much about it in my review, but Barry Cooper is fun to watch. When he’s talking about claims that drug dealers sell to children, just his face and the tone of his voice as he says “that’s BULLcrap” makes me smile every time. The folks at Flex Your Rights are more staid and professional.

In part, that’s because everything at Flex Your Rights is couched in terms of protecting your legal rights during an encounter with police. It’s all legal advice. Cooper, on the other hand, is very blunt about the fact that he’s explaining how to smuggle drugs.

Cooper tells you where to hide your stash, and how to keep the cops from finding it. Over at Flex Your Rights, they don’t use words like “stash” or even “drugs.” When discussing consent to search, they refer repeatedly to your “private items.”

The most serious difference shows up in the dispute over the consent to search issue. Simplifying greatly, the Flex Your Rights folks say you should never consent to a search, whereas Barry Cooper says you might as well, because the cops will just do an illegal search anyway.

In other words, the liberal ACLU-types are assuming that police officers will be professional and respectful of your rights. The ex-cop, on the other hand, is assuming that the cops will act like thugs.

Amusing. But also sad.

Everyone who’s talking about Iraq is talking about “the surge” and whether it will work. Taken literally, that’s a silly question. Of course the surge will work: The surge is just a troop movement. It’s difficult to move 21,500 troops—and everything they need to fight a war—to the other side of the world, but it’s the kind of difficult thing the U.S. military is very, very good at. It’s going to happen.

So the surge will work, but the surge is not the plan. Baghdad is the plan. Instead of talking about the surge, we should be talking about the Baghdad strategy.

The plan is to secure Baghdad. Our troops will attempt to kill or chase away most of the enemy insurgents and prevent them from re-entering the city. Planners say that will require putting five additional bridades of U.S. soldiers into Baghdad. Rather than pulling those soldiers away from other duties in Iraq, the plan is to keep our existing forces in place and bring in additional troops to support the additional operations in Baghdad. That’s the surge.

If you think this would have been more effective three or four years ago, you’re in good company. A lot of people who support the broad goals of the war are not happy with the way it’s been fought. (I haven’t followed the war in detail for a long time, so I can’t claim to have been calling for reform, but it did seem like our military goals became a lot less clear after the first few months. I assumed it was just me, and maybe it was.) I’m sure the historians will figure out how it went wrong, but I think it’s more than just a coincidence that the U.S. military is once again seizing the initiative now that Rumsfeld is gone.

Our new Baghdad forces will be accompanied by a large portion of the new Iraqi army, bringing the total of additional forces in the capital city to over 40,000. Smaller forces will be sent to help pacify Anbar Province and to interdict enemy infiltration into Iraq over the borders with Syria and Iran.

Actually, some of this activity has already started:

U.S. and Iraqi troops moved into a Sunni neighborhood in southern Baghdad on Thursday, while insurgents struck back with car bombs that killed seven people. In southern Iraq, British troops sealed off the border with Iran to prevent weapons smuggling.

Helicopters buzzed overhead as a joint U.S.-Iraqi force headed into the Dora neighborhood – a longtime Sunni militant area – on the second day of a long-awaited security operation in the capital, according to Iraqi officials. U.S. troops searched three Shiite areas Wednesday, meeting little resistance in house-to-house searches.

The Interior Ministry also said U.S. and Iraqi forces were sweeping through four main districts, including Sunni and Shiite areas, seizing weapons and ammunitions.

It’s unfortunate that so much of the focus in the media and in Congress has been on the surge rather than on the new strategy the surge is supporting. It has lead to a lot of discussion about the number of troops in Iraq, with very little discussion of what they should be doing there.

I don’t know much about military matters, so I have no idea how the new strategy will work out. Maybe it will work, maybe it’s too late, and maybe it would never have worked. But it’s what we should be talking about.