Diego Velazquez

Diego VelazquezOn this day in 1755, Nathan Hale was born. He is know for his death. When he was being hanged by the British as a spy, he said, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” Maybe he didn’t actually say it. But after people die, they become mythical. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” And so of course Nathan Hale said that his only regret was blah blah blah. He was 21 when he was put to death.

Speaking of the Revolutionary War, American painter John Trumbull was born in 1756. He really wasn’t very good. The Russian Romantic poet Alexander Pushkin was born in 1799. Radio pioneer Karl Ferdinand Braun was born in 1850. And scandalous Flowers in the Attic author V. C. Andrews was born in 1923.

Bass/stick player Tony Levin is 67 years old today. The great singer Holly Near is 64. Here she is singing “Gentle Angry People”:

And speaking of lesbians, Sandra Bernhard is 58. The great tennis player Bjorn Borg is 47. Borg allows me to spend a moment talking about how much watching tennis on TV sucks. Borg was known for his heavy top-spinned fore and backhands. But watching tennis on TV, you would never know that they put spins on the ball at all. In other words, 90% of the craft of tennis playing is lost on TV. It’s a great game, but you really have to be there.

But as much as I admire Borg and Near, the day belongs to the great Spanish Baroque painter Diego Velazquez who was born in 1599. He is mostly known for his portraiture, but I prefer his historical and “everyday” painting.

Happy birthday Diego Velazquez!

Gas Mileage Ain’t All You Think

SUVBrad Plumer presented a fun math problem this morning. But instead of using it to discuss why math makes everything better, he insisted upon discussing policy. Environmental policy, in fact. Now I’m all for that. You can decide for yourself if the article is worth reading from its title, Want to Boost Fuel Economy? Stop Thinking About Miles Per Gallon. It is worth reading! But I will give you the important conclusion: small increases in the mpg of gas hogs are far more important than big increases in the mpg of tiny cars that already have decent fuel economy. In other words, if you are shopping for a hybrid, mpg doesn’t matter that much. But if you are shopping for an SUV, you should pay close attention to minor differences in competing model fuel ratings.

How do we know this? Mathematics! All is revealed in the following puzzle:

Dylan decides to get rid of his Toyota Corolla, which gets 29 mpg, and buys a shiny new Prius, which gets 50 mpg.

Sarah, meanwhile, is selling her hulking Chevrolet Suburban, which gets just 12 mpg, and buying a nearly-as-hulking Cadillac Escalade, which gets 15 mpg.

Assuming they both drive the same amount each year, who just saved more gas by upgrading?

Let’s assume that x is the number of miles that Dylan and Sarah each drive in a year. (I’ve already lost you, haven’t I? Pay attention! This is not just interesting; it is fun.) That means that the gallons of gas they each use is given by x divided by the mpg they get. So originally, Dylan uses x/29 gallons of gas per year. With his new car, he uses x/50 gallons. Similarly, Sarah uses x/12 gallons and x/15 gallons. The amount of gas they each save is given by the amount of gas they use with the new car subtracted from the amount they used with the old car:

δD = x (1/29 – 1/50)    and    δS = x (1/12 – 1/15)

To figure out who saves more gas, we just divide these two equations. This causes the number of miles (x) to cancel out and we get:

δS/δD = (1/12 – 1/15) / (1/29 – 1/50) = 1.15

So Sarah will always save 15% more gas than Dylan for her small 3 mpg increase (25%) compared to his large 21 mpg increase (72%). You probably already know why this is: Sarah starts by using a huge amount of gas. In Plumer’s example, he uses 1,000 miles for his x value and finds that while Dylan decreases his gas consumption from 34 to 20, Sarah reduces her consumption from 83 to 67. In other words, she has more gas usage to save. Or think of it this way: imagine you have a car that gets a million miles to the gallon. If you drive 1,000 miles, you would only use 0.001 gallons of fuel. Getting a car with better gas mileage can’t same you more than 0.001 gallons.

So remember this if you are buying an SUV. And if you’re buying an SUV, I certainly hope that you have a very good reason!

Gabriel Gomez Can’t Win

Gabriel GomezDavid Bernstein wrote a good overview of last night’s Massachusetts Senatorial debate.If you’re interested in the race, I recommend clicking over and reading the whole thing. All I’m interested in here is the way that politics really does make a reasonable discussion impossible.

Current House representative Ed Markey is the favorite in this race. Republican Gabriel Gomez has spent the campaign thus far trying to get traction against Markey. And you can sympathize with Gomez. He is, after all, running in a very liberal state. What’s more, Markey is popular and experienced. So one of Gomez’s complaints is that Markey is an ineffective legislator as proved by the fact that Markey has never gotten his own bill signed into law by the president.

This was discussed at the debate last night. And Markey had a good answer. He has written and sponsored a number of bills that were later integrated into larger bills that became law:

Ed Markey authored and sponsored a series of bills to improve cargo screening—for example, Air Cargo Security Act, H.R. 2044 in the 109th Congress. His efforts eventually led to the inclusion of the legislation in the omnibus H.R. 1 bill of the 110th Congress, which was passed; the legislation Markey wrote and introduced and sponsored is now law.

Normally, that would be the end of this discussion. But Gomez doesn’t accept it, claiming that this is some kind of lawyer’s trick. As Bernstein notes, even if that were true, it makes no sense. Gomez only brought up the “you ain’t passed no laws” claim to argue that Markey was ineffective. Clearly getting his bills passed inside a larger bill with someone else’s name on the top is effective.

This is unfortunately the nature of politics. Gomez can concede the point and look like an idiot or not concede the point and look like an idiot. There is no room for him to win by manning up and admitting that the new information means that Markey really has been an effective legislator. Of course, the original idea was wrong. Legislators are successful in a lot of different ways; they don’t need to author legislation. But what is a conservative to do in Massachusetts? He can’t argue about ideology. So the debate is necessarily about technocracy. And even in that way, Republicans are at a distinct disadvantage.

I’m not sure there is a solution for this. I would think that blue state Republicans would liberalize more to become competitive. But they can only go so far before they become Democrats themselves. The process works better with Democrats in red states. Blue state Republicans have the advantage that if they can just get a low-turnout election, they might win. But the problem is more fundamental: we don’t want a real debate about issues. And so Gomez is using the only tools he can.

Why Should Republicans Support Immigration Reform?

Scared RepublicansI’ve been trying to figure something out. How does immigration reform help Republicans? I mean, I understand if Republicans actually embraced it. They could changed their tune and say, “Of course we are for immigration reform. Immigration has made America great. People who risk death to come to America for economic opportunity are exactly the kind of people we want!” But they aren’t doing that. Even the big Republican advocates approach immigration reform as something they do reluctantly. “Okay, we’ll let the evil brown skinned people already here stay—but no more!” Then, as Greg Sargent reported this morning, Republicans in the Gang of Eight are trying to make the immigration “compromise” less “you can stay” and more “protect the border.”

The argument for Republicans embracing immigration reform is that it acts as a kind of political poison, keeping Latino voters focused on this one bad aspect of the Republican Party. But as I was arguing last year after the election, Republicans have much bigger problems with Latinos than the immigration issue. As long as Latinos are poorer than other groups, they will continue to vote for the Democrats in large numbers.

This isn’t all about political tactics. I think it is a bit of a stretch to say that Democrats want immigration reform because it will broaden their base of support starting in about 15 years. Similarly, I don’t think that Republicans are against reform because it might hurt them starting in about 15 years. I know some commentators have argued this, but politicians just don’t plan that far ahead. From a tactical standpoint, it is just about constituencies. Latinos are a major Democratic constituency. They are not a major Republican constituency. In fact, a major Republican constituency hates immigration reform.

A better argument in favor of the Republicans supporting reform is not that they want to win the Latino vote; it is just that they want to improve it from the pathetic 27% that Romney received. They remember the halcyon days when Bush won 43%. But I still don’t see how this helps them. If immigration reform passes, those Latinos who really care about the issue will see it as something that the Democrats gave them. Immigration reform could make Latinos even less likely to vote Republican.

In the long run, Latinos will stop being a minority group. They will just be like the Italians or the Irish. And in that case, they will vote as their interests dictate. But even if our immigration laws never get reformed and Latinos still strongly associate with the undocumented community, they will not blame Republicans of that time for the inaction of Republicans now. They will judge the Republicans on the positions that they hold at that later time. So again, I ask: if Republicans are unwilling to appeal to the Latino community in any other way, why should they try to appeal in this one way? Especially when their support is at best grudging and at worse nonexistent.

Dyslexia, ADHD or Both?


In January I attended a Dyslexia presentation at my son’s school, you see my son is also dyslexic. He struggles with far point (from the board) and near point (from a book) copying, phonics, written expression and reading comprehension.

The speaker was Susan Barton, Founder of Bright Solutions for Dyslexia, and wow, what an amazing speaker and how eye opening her presentation was. She spent three and half hours speaking about dyslexia, the warning signs, programs that work and programs that don’t work. Dyslexia is more common then you think, approximately 3-4 out 20 kids in a classroom are dyslexic. Dyslexia is also very common with ADD/ADHD kids, and a dyslexic and ADD/ADHD diagnosis are often confused. I also learned that the saying, “People with dyslexia don’t know how to read”, is a myth, they do know how to read, they just read differently.

Here are a few warning signs of dyslexia she mentioned.

In Preschool

  • Delayed speech
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Constant confusion of left versus right
  • Late establishing a dominant hand
  • Difficulty learning to tie shoes
  • Trouble memorizing address, phone number or alphabet
  • A close relative with dyslexia

In Elementary School

  • Dysgraphia (slow, non-automatic handwriting that is difficult to read)
  • Letter or number reversals continuing past the end of first grade
  • Extreme difficulty learning cursive
  • Slow, choppy, inaccurate reading
  • Terrible spelling
  • Difficulty telling time
  • Trouble with math
  • Extremely messy bedroom, backpack and desk
  • Dreads going to school

In High School

  • Limited vocabulary
  • Poor written expression
  • Unable to master a foreign language
  • Poor grades in many classes

I am fortunate that my son’s school has an inclusion program and I was thrilled he qualified for their dyslexic reading program, Barton Reading & Spelling System.  My son gets pulled out of class 2 days a week reading one-on-one with an inclusion specialist. He has a long ways to go but he has made great strides and is a stronger and more confident reader, and has learned reading tactics that he will use for many years to come. We also listen to Audio Books when we travel in the car and I just learned about the Braille and Talking Books Library (check with your state library for details) and I am planning on using this resource for the upcoming school year.