Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Explain Yourself!

NBC file photo courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle

Elizabeth Docent has requested another interview with me concerning my blog post from 7/24/2012.  Here’s the transcript…

Libby: I had to get some feedback on yesterday’s post.

Howard: Happy to comply!

Libby: It seems rather obscure.  What was your point?

Howard: It relates to the scholarship on which James Holmes was attending CU-Denver.  Reports had indicated a $26,000 amount was involved.  The Denver Post said it was $171,024.  I thought the difference was significant.

Libby: But why bother?

Howard: It has to do with vetting. The medical professionals at CU-Denver wouldn’t hand out that kind of money to just anyone off the street.  What made them think Mr. Holmes was one of the “best and brightest” and deserving of this grant?  Did they truly vet him or just fill a slot that had available grant money?

Libby: But CU-Denver, through the reporting of The Denver Post, seems to be walking back the distribution of the grant money.  They now say it was shared between six individuals, not just Mr. Holmes.

Howard: That points to the bureaucratic treatment of this issue.  On the one hand, you’ve got a person from Byers, Colorado who has underwritten Mr. Holmes and found him disqualifying.  Then you’ve got academic professionals, charged with administering grant money, underwriting Mr. Holmes and finding him exceptionally well qualified.  Why the difference?  Is that difference, in the minds of CU-Denver academics, not important because the amount of money is less?

Libby: That’s an interesting juxtaposition, but is it newsworthy?

Howard: Only if you are interested in preventing the acts Mr. Holmes is alleged to have committed.  CU-Denver, with its mentors and counselors, has insight into the motives of Mr. Holmes.  For legal and bureaucratic reasons, they are not disclosing that insight.

Libby:  OK, but what about the graphic at the top of your post?

Howard: That’s the whimsical side of the issue.  Chancellor Elliman (in the final paragraph of the story) was reported to say that he felt the university had done all it could in the stewardship of Mr. Holmes.  That brings to mind the statements of Madeline Albright in regard to the Rwanda genocide, saying the United States had done everything possible.

The graphic is essentially a wall of bureaucrats, with Kathleen Sebelius standing between Hillary “Assad the Reformer” Clinton and Joe “Master of the Sanctimonious Gaffe” Biden.  Also in the front row are Timothy “Tax Cheat” Geithner and Eric “Make My Day” Holder.  These are people who see the world in an abstract sense, and don’t understand how their actions cause personal suffering to Americans.  There just might be some of that at CU-Denver.

Libby: OK, this is starting to come into focus, but is there an anti-Republican component somewhere?

Howard: I’ve got a previous post on authoritarianism, and that is what we are seeing here.  Our current crop of authoritarians (to continue along that “abstraction” line) will save us from global warming, world opinion, financial distress and Mideast turmoil.  On a mundane level, they focus on gas-guzzling vehicles, fast-food outlets, and gun control.  Authoritarians wish to keep us from being killed by an SUV, suffering from diabetes, or dying from gunshot wounds – as long as it increases their power.  Right now, authoritarians are working an angle that gives them an opportunity to disarm Americans.  Republicans don’t think that is such a good idea.

Libby: To be continued, right?

Howard: Yes, with our elections this fall being a focal point.

Libby: Thanks for your time.

Howard: I’ll look forward to our next visit.

UPDATE 8/31/2012:
The University of Iowa, like the owner of Lead Valley Range (linked above), interviewed Mr. Holmes and found him disqualifying.  It brings up the question of whether CU-Denver did an in-person interview of Mr. Holmes.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012


The Obama Administration Cabinet, with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius standing between Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton.

The Denver Post, in a story by Anthony Cotton, covers the details of yesterday’s briefing by Barry Shur, dean of the Anschutz Medical Campus Graduate School at the University of Colorado Denver.  Dean Shur talked about the neuroscience program in which James Eagan Holmes was enrolled.

Mr. Holmes, the alleged shooter in the Aurora, Colorado murders of July 20, 2012, received an oral exam last month administered by three professors.  The exam was given to measure Mr. Holmes’ knowledge of coursework completed during the school year.

On June 10, 2012, three days after taking the exam, Mr. Holmes withdrew from the program.  On the form indicating his voluntary withdrawal, Mr. Holmes did not give a reason.

Mr. Holmes received a $171,024 grant from the National Institutes of Health for his first year of study.  Of that amount, $26,000 was available for personal expenses.

The National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, under the direction of Kathleen Sebelius.

UPDATE 7/24/2012:
The news story linked above has been corrected by The Denver Post to indicate that $176,000 in grant money from the Eunice Kennedy Schriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development partly funds six pre-doctoral students who each receive $1,800 per month.

UPDATE 7/25/2012:
As the content of the story appears to be in a state of revision, here is the original text of the story from the 7/24/2012 print version of The Denver Post:

The dean of the University of Colorado Denver graduate school that James Eagan Holmes withdrew from last month said Monday that the school had rigorous measures in place to monitor, coach and counsel students who may have been having academic or personal problems.

“If any program would be put on a pedestal, it would be this one,” said Barry Shur, speaking of the neuroscience program that Holmes was enrolled in.

Holmes, 24, is accused of fatally shooting 12 people early Friday morning in an Aurora movie theater during a showing of the new Batman movie.  Fifty-eight others were injured, many critically.

Shur was a participant in a 45-minute briefing that included CU-Denver Chancellor Don Elliman, executive vice chancellor Lilly Marks and Doug Abraham, the chief of police on the Anschutz Medical Campus.

The officials, referring to the ongoing investigation, would not answer specific questions about him or his academic standing.  They did say Holmes withdrew from the program June 10, three days after taking a preliminary oral examination before three professors.

The exam measures knowledge of core coursework done during the school year, and Shur said anyone who struggles academically or personally is given help so they can continue in the program.

“It’s very, very rare for a student to be terminated for academic reasons.  The percentage of students we admit who don’t receive their Ph.D. is very small,” he said.  “In the neuroscience program, there’s remediation; there’s the ability for the student to retake the examination.”

Holmes received $171,024 from the National Institutes of Health for his first year in the program.  Of that total, $26,000 is allotted for “personal expenses.”

When officials were asked whether that money could have been used to buy weapons or ammunition, Elliman and Shur said they could not comment because it is part of the ongoing investigation.

“It’s considered an honor to receive the grant,” Shur said.

The neuroscience program is one of about a dozen Ph.D. programs on campus, focusing on how the brain works, specifically how the nervous system processes information.  In existence since 1986, the program is funded, in part, by training grants from the NIH, awarded to “the most prestigious Ph.D. training programs in the country,” Shur said.

CU receives about 10 applications to the program each year, with five or six students admitted.  Shur said there are about 35 students enrolled in the four-year program, which has had great success, he added, in areas such as drug treatment for Down syndrome, injuries to the central nervous system and treatment for the prevention of strokes.

During the first year of the program, students choose three faculty members and do 12-week rotations within that instructor’s specific discipline.  At the end of the year, the student chooses one of the faculty members to be his thesis mentor.

When Holmes withdrew, he was required to fill out a form saying it was voluntary.  Program directors then sign off on it and send it to the dean.  As part of that process, the directors try to determine why the student is leaving the program.  However, Holmes left that area blank on his withdrawal form.

Shur said that paperwork was being processed for Holmes but had not been completed.

“You have to understand that the program directors are with these students daily.  This is not something where they’re saying, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll see the student in six months,’ ” he said.  “This is a family.  It’s a team-building environment.  They’re very much in contact with the students in the program.

“Especially with any student that might have any kind of academic or other difficulty – those are the ones that program leadership would focus their interest on, more than anyone, the students who are in need of help.”

School officials said a background check is required for any student applying to the school.  Elliman said he felt that the university had done all it could.
UPDATE 7/27/2012:
Howard Nemerov has an interesting viewpoint on gun control.  (h/t Glenn Reynolds)

UPDATE 8/5/2012:
Karen Auge and Jennifer Brown, writing in the Denver Post, provide information on the program in which James Holmes was enrolled at the University of Colorado Denver.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Upper Limit

Do Americans have an upper limit for tolerance?

That’s an open-ended question, but it keeps coming up.

There is a Political-Religious Movement in Afghanistan that demands legitimacy.  When we see Taliban followers publicly execute a young woman, does that reach our upper limit?

How about politics?  It is culturally fashionable to mock Americans who value Republican principles.  Does this reach our upper limit?

San Bernardino, California is in financial difficulty.  Most American municipalities don’t want to engage in spending restraint.  Is there an upper limit (short of bankruptcy)?

We hear that federal tax rates on certain individuals can be increased indefinitely and that deficit spending is a good economic stimulus.  Are there upper limits here as well?

2012 might very well be the year when we find out.

UPDATE 8/2/2012:
San Bernardino joins Stockton and Mammoth Lakes in officially filing Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Cultural Heroine

Last week, president Obama made a trip to Ohio, jetting in on Air Force One to start up a “man of the people” bus tour in the state.

One of his supporters was celebrated by the press as she tearfully thanked him for passing the Affordable Care Act.  The story had broad cultural appeal, as it emphasized the emotional and personal impact of the president’s health care law.

The context of the story was also newsworthy.  Jim Hoft at GatewayPundit wondered if Ms. Miller was a “plant.”  Did the Obama campaign deploy her as a press darling for the Sandusky visit?  To the press, she came across as a thoughtful, caring individual who uplifts our culture.

But there is another side to Stephanie Miller.  While Ms. Miller doesn’t Tweet very often, she (@obamasbestfan) keeps a Twitter page of her feelings for Republicans:

Our culture celebrates this person as sympathetic, and broadcasts that characterization at ThinkProgress, Politico, the Democratic Underground, and the various media.

But the side of Stephanie that borders on the uncivil, and is an interesting part of her story, is not conveyed by our culture.

In America, she is a heroine.

The fact that she hates Republicans is just not that important.

UPDATE 7/7/2012:
Apparently Ms. Miller has deleted her Twitter page.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Egypt is worth watching.

Mohamed Morsi was elected president of Egypt last week, and his ascension to power was not without controversy.  Talk about your cognitive dissonance!

Try putting these facts into a coherent context:

--Dr. Morsi represents the Muslim Brotherhood.  He also has a PhD in rocket science from the University of Southern California.

--Mohamed Morsi grew up in a village in Egypt and married a woman from Cairo.  Neither came from positions of power or wealth.

--Dr. Morsi served for a year in the Egyptian military – in a chemical warfare unit.

--Dr. Morsi’s wife, Najla Mahmoud, is his first cousin.  They have four sons and a daughter.  Mrs. Morsi enjoys wearing the hijab and traditional muslim dress.

--Hillary Clinton will meet with Dr. Morsi in Cairo on July 14.  Mrs. Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Huma Abedin (married to former Representative Anthony Weiner) shares a common link with Dr. Morsi: Their mothers are members of the Muslim Sisterhood!

Cue the characterizations.

There is plenty of material on hand.  Mohamed Morsi is perceived as either a dupe of the Muslim Brotherhood, working to release convicted terrorists, or a moderate reformer working for the betterment of the Egyptian people.

What will be fascinating is the unfolding character traits of Mohamed Morsi.  The graphic at the top of this post is a Venn diagram of the relationship between authoritarianism, politics and religion.  All are in play in Egypt, and all will impact the writing of the Egyptian constitution.

Will Dr. Morsi be influenced by our American constitution and set up separation of powers, checks and balances and the rule of law?  Or will he succumb to the siren of authoritarianism and use the political forces of the military along with the religious intensity of the Muslim Brotherhood to bring about another despotic state?  Will Egypt end up looking like Iran, Israel, or Iraq?

This is definitely worth watching.

UPDATE 11/23/2012:
Prime Minister Morsi has issued a decree giving himself broad powers as the guardian of Egypt's revolution.  The New York Times reports that Mr. Morsi requires powers over the judiciary to "protect the transition to a constitutional democracy."  It appears we are watching another instance of Authoritarianism being necessary for "the greater good."

UPDATE 1/15/2013:
The New York Times gives us background on a 2010 interview with Mr. Morsi. This does not look good.