Friday, December 30, 2011

The Top Ten Unfounded Health Scares of 2011 > News & Commentary > ACSH

The Top Ten Unfounded Health Scares of 2011 > News & Commentary > ACSH
(link fixed: 9/1/2014)

1. The HPV Vaccine
2. Apple Juice
3. Gulf Coast Fish
(oil spill chemicals)
4. Hydraulic Fracturing, or “Fracking”
(cylons contaminated everything)
5. Sunscreen
(carcinogens and hormone disruptors)
6. Fluoridated Water
(a whole laundry list)
7. Cell Phones
(non-ionizing radiation and cancer)
8. Genetically Modified Fish
(health problems from inserted genes)
9. Fragrances
10. Phthalates
(developmental risk)

Monday, December 26, 2011

#Occupycalypse Now, Part I: OWS Rises to Power

#Occupycalypse Now, Part I: OWS Rises to Power

via Big Government by Tom Stilson on 12/24/11

For some of us, it's difficult to take the Occupy movement seriously. However, for once, let's do just that and ask the simple question, "What if the Occupiers take power?" To answer that, I need to first address what they would need to do to rise to power (I will address the consequences of them in power in a later post). We need to understand the means through which the Occupiers will reach their ends — communism or anarchy. The answer can be discerned from the perspective of experts on mob mentality and mob rule.
To stand any chance at gaining control over our nation, the Occupy movement would first need to disrupt our current system of governance and commerce. Jim Rawles, editor of, New York Times best-selling author, and a former US Army Intelligence Officer, offers a historical perspective on the matter by referencing the International Workers of the World (IWW) protests of the 1920s and 30s.
"In that situation, The IWW relocated people from very long distances. They intentionally overwhelmed the local police by relocating large numbers of protesters. It's analogous to the military massing their firepower for an offensive…If there is an overreaction on the part of the police or conceivably the military, if the protests grow to a large scale beyond the police's ability, there's the potential for a lot of violence."
Further violence from the Occupy movement is not a far-fetched expectation; it's something we have already seen. Historically, mass sit-in protests, such as those of the 1960s or the Veteran's Bonus Encampment of 1932, have the capacity to generate a violent and confrontational end result. After all, Occupy has already attempted to disrupt our economy on Black Friday through mass action protests (and miserably failed). History does repeat itself, by the way, as the IWW is heavily involved with the Occupy protests.

Jerry Ahern, an expert and author of dozens of fiction and non-fiction books on survival, firearms, and defensive strategies proposed another possibility for disruption:
"If [the Occupy movement] continues to grow and branches out into other areas beyond their current movement and if it's still around when the conventions occur, you will see some really, really nasty demonstrations not unlike the riots we saw at the '68 conventions."
With winter on the horizon, there should be a wane in the energy of the Occupy protests. As spring and summer return, a resurgence within the movement is certainly reasonable to expect. In reality though, the only way the Occupy movement could garner power would have to be through direct, possibly violent, confrontations with authority figures. Their demands are too absurd to be accepted by the general public en masse. Even then, action from a potentially sympathetic White House will most likely fail to deter, and could seek to encourage, the protesters. Our President has shone the utmost respect and support for what is a very violent and disruptive movement — not dissimilar to his support of mob rule in Libya, Syria, and Egypt. Even then, OWS's ranks have failed to cause a significant enough disruption within our system — something that could be proven wrong if they are aided by other organized factions during their upcoming planned disruption/"shut down" of West Coast ports on the 12th.
Naturally, I had to ask (to satiate the left's palette), could the right wing be the one to initiate a violent upheaval?
Ahern responded:
"The majority of the right wing is not looking to change much of anything, nor is it into confrontation. By the same token, the left wing wants to change things. The left wing accepts confrontation as a necessary tactic for bringing about sweeping social change. For instance, a topic brought up in Alinsky's 'Rules for Radicals' is it's OK to lie. The political or social goal you want to achieve is so much more important than something as mundane as the truth. It doesn't matter what you do to accomplish your goal because the goal supersedes all else. When you have a situation like that, it becomes very dangerous."
Therein lies the issue: For Occupy to have power in this country, they may very well have to destroy the very system that, ironically enough, ensures their survival. They will have to disrupt our commerce (which they have tried to do) or garner sympathy from a largely apathetic general public. For now, the consequences of those actions are left up to "when" Occupy takes power.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Secular Theocracy: Newsroom: The Independent Institute

Secular Theocracy: Newsroom: The Independent Institute

We live in an increasingly secularized world of massive and pervasive nation states in which traditional religion, especially Christianity, is ruled unwelcome and even a real danger on the basis of a purported history of intolerance and “religious violence.” This is found in most all “public” domains, including the institutions of education, business, government, welfare, transportation, parks and recreation, science, art, foreign affairs, economics, entertainment, and the media. A secularized public square policed by government is viewed as providing a neutral, rational, free, and safe domain that keeps the “irrational” forces of religion from creating conflict and darkness. And we are told that real progress requires expanding this domain by pushing religion ever backward into remote corners of society where it has little or no influence. In short, modern America has become a secular theocracy with a civic religion of national politics (nationalism) occupying the public realm in which government has replaced God.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Why Pilot Projects Fail

Why Pilot Projects Fail

via Megan McArdle : The Atlantic by Megan McArdle on 12/21/11

It seems that the LA Unified School District recently revamped its lunch menus to eliminate fattening standbys like chicken nuggets, nachos, and flavored milk.  The resulting meals are much healthier, but apparently also much less appetizing.  As a result, participation in the program is down, and the LA Times found students replacing the Beef Jambalaya and lentil cutlets with things like Cheetos.

This happened despite the fact that the menu was tested extensively before they put it into operation:

Andre Jahchan, a 16-year-old sophomore at Esteban Torres High School, said the food was "super good" at the summer tasting at L.A. Unified's central kitchen. But on campus, he said, the chicken pozole was watery, the vegetable tamale was burned and hard, and noodles were soggy.

"It's nasty, nasty," said Andre, a member of InnerCity Struggle, an East L.A. nonprofit working to improve school lunch access and quality. "No matter how healthy it is, if it's not appetizing, people won't eat it."

At Van Nuys High School, complaints about the food were so widespread that Principal Judith Vanderbok wrote to Barrett with the plea: "Please help! Bring back better food!"

Among other complaints, Vanderbok said salads dated Oct. 7 were served Oct. 17. (Binkle said the dates indicate when the food is at its highest quality, not when it goes bad. They have been removed to avoid misinterpretation.) On campus, even adults -- including a Junior ROTC officer and an art teacher -- have been found selling black market candy, chips and instant noodles to hungry students, she said.

"I compare it to Prohibition," Vanderbok said.
This is one more installment in a continuing series, brought to you by the universe, entitled "promising pilot projects often don't scale".  They don't scale for corporations, and they don't scale for government agencies.  They don't scale even when you put super smart people with expert credentials in charge of them.  They don't scale even when you make sure to provide ample budget resources.  Rolling something out across an existing system is substantially different from even a well run test, and often, it simply doesn't translate.

Sometims the "success" of the earlier project was simply a result of random chance, or what researchers call the Hawthorne Effect.  The effect is named after a factory outside of Chicago which ran tests to see whether workers were more productive at higher or lower levels of light.  When researchers raised the lights, productivity went up.  When researchers lowered the lights, productivity also went up.  Obviously, it wasn't the light that boosted productivity, but something else--the change from the ordinary, or the mere act of being studied.

Sometimes the success was due to what you might call a "hidden parameter", something that researchers don't realize is affecting their test.   Remember the New Coke debacle?  That was not a hasty, ill-thought out decision by managers who didn't care about their brand.  They did the largest market research study in history, and repeated it several times, before they made the switch.  People invariably told researchers they loved the stuff.  And they did, in the taste test.  But they didn't love the stuff when it cost them the option of drinking old Coke.  More importantly, they were being offered a three-ounce cup of the stuff in a shopping mall lobby or supermarket parking lot, often after they'd spent an hour or so shopping.  New Coke was sweeter, so (like Pepsi before it) it won the taste test.  But that didn't mean that people wanted to drink a whole can of the stuff with a meal.

Sometimes the success was due to the high quality, fully committed staff.  Early childhood interventions show very solid success rates at doing things like reducing high school dropout and incarceration rates, and boosting employment in later life.  Head Start does not show those same results--not unless you squint hard and kind of cock your head to the side so you can't see the whole study.  Those pilot programs were staffed with highly trained specialists in early childhood education who had been recruited specially to do research.  But when they went to roll out Head Start, it turned out the nation didn't have all these highly trained experts in early childhood education that you could recruit specially--and definitely not at the wages they were paying.  Head Start ended up requiring a two-year associates degree, and recruiting from a pool that included folks who were just looking for a job, not a life's mission to rescue poor children while adding to the sum of human knowledge.

Sometimes the program becomes unmanageable as it gets larger. You can think about all sorts of technical issues, where architectures that work for a few nodes completely break down when too many connections or users are added.  Or you can think about a pilot mortgage modification program.  In the pilot, you're dealing with a concrete group of people who are already in default, and in every case, both the bank and the individual are better off if you modify the mortgage.  But if you roll the program out nationwide, people will find out that they can get their mortgages modified if they default . . . and then suddenly the bank isn't better off any more.

Sometimes the results are survivor bias.  This is an especially big problem with studying health care, and the poor. Health care, because compliance rates are quite low (by one estimate I heard, something like 3/4 of the blood pressure medication prescribed is not being taken 9 months in) and the poor, because their lives are chaotic and they tend to move around a lot, so they may have to drop out, or may not be easy to find and re-enroll if they stop coming.  In the end, you've got a study of unusually compliant and stable people (who may be different in all sorts of ways) and oops! that's not what the general population looks like.

So consider the LAUSD test.  In the testing phase, when the program was small, they were probably  working with a small group of schools which had been specially chosen to participate.  They did not have a sprawling supply chain to manage.  The kids and the workers knew they were being studied.  And they were asking the kids which food they liked--a question which, social science researchers will tell you, is highly likely to elicit the answer that they liked something.

That is very different from choosing to eat it in a cafeteria when no one's looking.  And producing the food is also very different.  Cooking palatable food in large amounts is hard, particularly when you don't have an enormous budget--and the things that make us fat are, by and large, also the things that are palatable when mass-produced.  Bleached grains and processed fats have a much longer shelf life than fresh produce, and can take a hell of a lot more handling.  Salt and sugar are delicious, but they are also preservatives that, among other things, disguise the flavor of stale food.

I think one anecdote in the article is particularly telling.  People complained that salads dated October 7th were served on the 17th--and the district responded by first, pointing out that that was the "best served by" date, not the date when the food actually went bad; and second, removing the labels because they were "confusing".  Now, as anyone who has forgotten to eat a bag of lettuce knows, while it may not actually be rotten after 10 days, it probably doesn't look much like something you'd eat voluntarily.  This is not something that you can change by stamping a different "sell by" date on the container.  If that were my choice, I too would come to school with a backup bag of Cheetos.

So why would he say something so obviously weird?  There are two reasons I can think of:  1) in a large and complicated distribution system, and with their limited funds, he knows that there is no way to actually solve this problem, so they mounted the only defense they could.  Or 2) the school district still has the mentality of the old system, which is mostly focused on not poisoning anyone.  In fact, there isn't much difference between Chicken nuggets that won't poison you, and Chicken nuggets at their absolute peak of freshness.  And the employees just sort of assumed that the same set of rules would work for lettuce.

That's what real world applications are up against.  They're not an awesome pilot project with everyone pulling together and a lot of political push behind them; they're being rolled out into a system that already has a very well established mindset, and a comprehensive body of rules.  The new program implemented by the old rules often turns out to be worse than the old program.  You don't move kids from pizza to salad; you move them from pizza to cheetos.

This is not, obviously, an argument against ever changing anything.  It is, however, an argument against assuming that your changes will work.  No, not even if you had a great pilot.

Obama: There He Goes Again

via The American Spectator and The Spectacle Blog by Aaron Goldstein on 12/21/11

You probably know by now that President Obama told Steve Kroft in an unaired portion of his 60 Minutes interview earlier this month that he had accomplished more in his first two years in office than any other President ""with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln."
John Hinderaker of Powerline (who drew everyone's attention to this display of immodesty) does a nice job of comparing Obama's first two years in office with that of Ronald Reagan.
Well, it's good to know that President Obama believes that signing the Stimulus Bill into law is a greater accomplishment than George Washington presiding over the passage of the Bill of Rights.
It's good to know that President Obama believes that caving into Russia on ballistic missile defense is a greater foreign policy achievement than the Louisiana Purchase under President Thomas Jefferson.
It's good to know that President Obama believes that apologizing for America's sins, real or imagined, did more good than President John F. Kennedy establishing the Peace Corps.
If Reagan were still around to hear Obama's bragging I suspect he would say, "There he goes again."

Conservatives and Climate Change-Part II

via Commentary Magazine by Peter Wehner on 12/19/11

As I pointed out in a previous post, many conservatives and Republicans are skeptical of global warming and the role humans play in it. (In a March 2011 Gallup survey, for example, 36 percent of Republicans said they believed pollution from human activities had contributed to increases in Earth's temperature during the last century, while 62 percent of Republicans attributed the warming only to natural changes in the environment.)
They hold this view despite the fact that the science on global warming is near-unanimous: anthropogenic global warming is real. Groups like the National Academy of Sciences, which in the early 1990s issued a report saying that "there is no evidence yet" of dangerous climate change, have shifted their stance, arguing that human activity is having a substantial impact on increases in global temperatures. But what is less clear are the implications of global warming and what steps need to be taken to address it.

Many climate scientists fear that unless dramatic steps are taken soon, we'll see rising sea levels, contracting ice sheets, more floods and intense tropical cyclones, the spread of tropical diseases like malaria, the submergence of parts of continents, alterations in our ecosystems, and food and water shortages. Perhaps so; those concerns are certainly worth considering. But as Jim Manzi –who combines a sophisticated understanding of the scientific and economic stakes of the climate-change debate — has pointed out, pumping out more CO2 triggers an incredibly complicated set of feedback effects, and the most important scientific debate is really about these feedback effects. In Manzi's words, "Climate models generate useful projections for us to consider, but the reality is that nobody knows with meaningful precision how much warming we will experience under any emissions scenario. Global warming is a real risk, but its impact over the next century could plausibly range from negligible to severe."
Conservatives should be part of that conversation. There's an intellectually credible case to be made that it's unwise to embrace massive, harmful changes to our economy in the face of significant uncertainties based on incomplete knowledge of how the climate system will respond in the middle part of the 22nd century. It's reasonable to argue that a meaningful deal to cut carbon emissions among the worst emitting nations (China, the United States, the EU, India, and Russia among them) is almost surely beyond reach and that our focus should be on adaptation (see here) and relatively low-cost investments in technologies rather than drastic carbon cuts. And it's fair to ask whether the best data suggests that Earth's temperature has not risen in more than a decade; and if so, why that's the case.
To acknowledge global warming does not necessarily lead one to embrace Al Gore's environmental agenda.
But rather than offer constructive ideas on how to deal with global warming, some conservatives simply deny global warming has occurred. Their concern is that admitting global warming is real opens the door to government restriction on liberty, so it's simply better to keep the door bolted shut. Given the undeniable political agenda some global warming advocates embrace, those concerns are understandable. And some climate scientists have not helped their cause by endangering their role as honest brokers (see the Climate Research Unit scandal at the University  of East Anglia for more). Nevertheless, the problem for those who deny global warming is empirical: Earth's temperatures have increased and human activity has contributed to it. To deny this is to deny reality, to subordinate truth to ideology. And in the long run that can only damage conservatism.
As I mentioned before, I'm quite open to those who would refine, amend, or contradict my interpretation of things. And in the process we can all agree we should be open to revising our views based on the best evidence we have; that we let facts and data determine our views rather than the other way around. Because even in science, the wish can be father to the cause.

Friday, December 16, 2011

How To Plot A Coordinate Dataset In Google Maps [Aardvarchaeology]

How To Plot A Coordinate Dataset In Google Maps [Aardvarchaeology]

via ScienceBlogs Select by Martin R on 12/14/11

As an archaeologist I often need to plot coordinates on maps and plans. At every scale, really: from individual finds on the plan of an excavation trench to the distribution of something across Europe. Just dots of varying shapes and colours on various background maps. Most often, it's GPS data from field walking and metal detecting. My colleagues in contract archaeology and academe use ArcInfo for these things, but I've never had incentive or opportunity to learn to use it. Also, once you know the software, you still need a map to plot stuff on, and those are expensive. So I've been wondering if I could somehow plot my coordinate data via Google Docs in Google Maps. Free software, free maps, free updated aerial photographs.
Turns out, you can. And today I figured out how. I believe it was David Petts who nudged me in the direction of Google's "Fusion Tables". And Hans Persson (who is an inveterate geocacher) asked me to write my findings up on Aard.
1. Data formatting
Convert your coordinate data to decimal lat & long after the WGS84 datum and with a decimal dot, not the Swedish decimal comma. For instance, my house is at lat 59.289576 long 18.258234. Call the northings column "Latitude" and the eastings column "Longitude". (There are Excel macros to do coordinate conversions. For the Swedish systems, I find Robert Larsson's on-line conversion utility handy, though it doesn't do batch jobs.)
You may also want to add a "Text" column to describe what each point marks, and an "Icon" column that takes entries like "small_red" and "large_blue".
(The Map function is pretty smart and also happily works with street addresses or place names if you put them in a "Location" column.)
2. Where to put the data
Stick this data into a spreadsheet in Google Docs. Save and close the spreadsheet.
3. Plot your dots
Now click the Create button on the start page of Docs and select "Table (beta)". Tell the software to grab the data from the Docs spreadsheet you just created. (At this stage you can also tell it to disregard any extraneous data columns.) I don't quite know how to conceptualise the distinction between these tables and standard Docs spreadsheets. But for practical purposes, tables are useful because (unlike spreadsheets) they have a Visualize menu including a Map alternative. Use it and zoom in on your area of interest.
4. Colour your dots
At first, all of your dots will be small and red. To get the software to use the data you entered into the "Icon" column, (such as "large_blue"), click "Configure styles", change the "Marker icon" settings to "Column", and select "Icon".
Tell me how you're doing with this, Dear Reader, and I'll update the entry as I learn more. The first thing I want to find out now is how to create a dynamic link between my spreadsheet and the map, so that any changes to the data appear automatically on my maps. At the moment I have to make a new table every time I change the spreadsheet. Also, the only way I currently know of to get maps out of the software is screen grab, which doesn't make for great resolution.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

If I Were a Poor Black Kid

If I Were a Poor Black Kid

via Megan McArdle : The Atlantic by Megan McArdle on 12/14/11

Gene Marks has been taking some entirely justified twitting for outlining what he'd do if he were a poor black kid. Like most of the people making fun of him, I assume that if I had been a poor black kid, I would have made the same choices that poor black kids make in those circumstances.  I was as easily led as any other sixteen year old--I wanted to be liked, and I preferred hanging out with my friends to doing schoolwork.  The main differences, as I see them, are that I grew up knowing a lot of people who had achieved enjoyable and remunerative careers via college degrees; and the peer group available to me at the Riverdale Country School all thought that it was really, really important to graduate high school and get into a good college.  I was willing to work much harder to impress my friends than for a nebulous shot at a future job that was, from my perspective, a half a lifetime away.

After yesterday's post, someone asked me: why am I cutting more slack to fat people than I am to poor kids?  After all, when I write about obese people, I write about the biological systems making it hard to eat less than your body wants.  When I write about poor kids, he said, I emphasize choice.

Not exactly.  Yesterday, I was writing about an argument for an environmental intervention (more jobs) that was supposed to be a "silver bullet" for the problems of educating poor kids.  And when people have proposed such silver bullets for obesity (menu labeling, sugar/calorie taxes, restrictions on fast food restaurants), I've made approximately the same argument as I did yesterday: heavy people are choosing to eat because they want to, not because there aren't enough carrots available at McDonalds.

But when people blithely say "They're fat because they're lazy/greedy/insert bad character trait here", I point out that the people making the accusation have a much easier time making "good choices".  Their bodies are not insistently demanding food in the same way that obese bodies are, so of course it's easier to pass up that big helping of pasta.

I'd say the same thing about people who are poor.  They could be middle class if they made a serious of hard choices.   But those choices are really hard--much harder than they are for the people who are already there.  Chances are, you would also have a hard time making those choices.

Obviously, I am not going to adequately characterize all the difficulties of being poor.  And since I have not actually been poor, I can only write about what I understand from a combination of imagination, interaction, and academic research.  With that caveat, here are some of the constraints that strike me as powerful: 

1.  Not knowing anything different  Middle class people have a very strong image of everything they'd lose if they'd end up in a housing project.  Kids from poor neighborhoods, who do not see, say, successful people who have gotten out, have a much less clear idea of what leaving would look like.  It's hard to work towards something you can't really imagine.

2.  Leaving means living among strangers.  Most of the middle class readers of this blog would--quite apart from the crime rate--find it very difficult to start a new life as a welfare mother in a housing project in the South Bronx.  The kids from the housing project find college just as alien.  That's not to say that poor people somehow prefer the irritations of crappy housing projects, high crime, and hassling with various government bureaucracies--they do not.   But that doesn't therefore mean they actually want to abandon their friends and loved ones and the world they know.

3.  Economically sound long term decisions have uncertain payoffs.  Middle class kids can assume that if they work hard enough, they'll make it through college and get some sort of a decent job.  Most poor kids can't assume that--a lot of those who try, flunk out--and those who try and fail won't have much help to get a second chance. 

4.  Their payoff matrix is different.  Middle class kids can make $75,000 out of school if they get a solid degree in engineering, or a job at an investment bank.  But most poor kids who study hard and go to college are not going to get one of those jobs.  Realistically, dealing drugs probably offers many of them a more certain chance of making good money in their twenties than staying in high school.

Is it crazy that poor black kids focus on being entertainers and sports stars?  Numerically, yes.  But the odds must seem longer still of becoming an investment banker.  People from their backgrounds become rap stars and football players.  Few of them end up as the president of Merrill Lynch.

5.  If your peer group accepts bad short-term decisions, you will often make bad short term decisions.  I like to think that I work hard simply because I'm such a stellar human being, but the fact is, I would be utterly humiliated if I had to tell people that I got fired.  Ditto if I'd had a baby at 21.

You can spin this into "bad culture" or "bad values" but this seems irrelevant to me, because there is no way to replace someone's values; there is no context in which the necessary discussion could take place.  I don't see much likelihood that we can influence a bunch of 15 year olds to suddenly remake their value matrix to something more pleasing to a bunch of contemptuous affluent white people.  If I recall high school correctly, the contemptuous affluent white people weren't very good at doing this even with their own kids.

6.  Criminal records make it very, very hard to get a good job.  A middle class kid who joy rides in a car or gets a DUI gets the benefit of the doubt when he claims that this was just youthful hijinks.  Poor black kids with recognizeably "black" names--or poor white kids with recognizeably "poor" names--mostly don't.  Once you're in that place, what's the point of trying?

7.  Little economic social capital.  If you're a poor kid who screws up, Mom doesn't have three relatives and a college roommate who can help you find a job to get you back on your feet.

8.  Too much other social capital.   Poor people have very little financial capital.  But they have very strong help networks that help them survive.  These networks are vital to keeping them off the bottom, but also make it harder to rise--there's a much greater expectation that if you get your hands on some money, you share it; that you will take in needy friends and relatives even if that makes your life much harder, and so forth.  (There's some really interesting work on how microfinance actually functions as savings for people who cannot save because their savings will be tapped before they can be used by needy relatives and friends.  The EITC seems to work the same way here).  The more you have, the more you have to share.  This erodes the incentive to get more.

9.  Short time horizons There are all sorts of arguments about whether this is cultural, genetic, driven by the harassments of poverty, or whatever.  All I can say is, if I was contemplating the possibility of the rest of my life in a housing project, I would do my best not to think about the future.

10.  Lack of capital is really expensive.  If you have to keep buying a $1,000 car every six months because your last $1,000 car broke down, you end up spending a lot more than if you could have bought a $5,000 car.   If you don't have the money for an apartment deposit, you end up living in a much more expensive motel.  Buying in bulk from Costco is cheaper than buying in small lots from a corner store.  Etc.

The upshot is that the poor have to defer a lot more consumption to get their hands on a given amount of capital.  That makes it hard to decide to amass the capital.

11.  The jobs the poor do are really unpleasant.  Yes, yes--we all did them in high school and college!  But that was temporary.   It's very different to work your way through college as an orderly at a school for the retarded (as my mother did) and to have that be your actual whole life.  Particularly since that sort of thing wears on your body.  I'm 38, and I can no longer raise my left arm all the way over my head.  Thank God my job doesn't actually require that sort of thing.  

When I've had a particularly crappy, tiring day, I throw money at the problem: I get nice takeout instead of cooking, pay Peapod to deliver my groceries instead of trekking to the store, treat myself to a manicure or a massage, whatever.  I have fewer crappy tiring days than people who do unpleasant manual labor for years on end--and I have more money to make the associated stress go away.

I'm thinking it's a lot harder to get out of bed on Monday in year 13 of your stint as a janitor than it was on day 300--and that it's harder to get out of bed on Day 300 if you know there's probably going to be a Year 13. 

12.  Super high marginal tax rates  Because of benefit losses and tax-credit phase outs, it is very possible for working poor people to be made actually worse off by getting a raise or a better job.  They face higher marginal tax rates than all but the most affluent people in our society, which makes it less than surprising that they find it hard to move that far above the poverty line.

13.  Discipline is a finite resource.  Having a low-wage, low status job is usually not very enjoyable.  Nor does it leave you much money for enjoyments outside of work.  This makes it harder to get up the mental energy to do even more joyless tasks, like studying or harassing your kids about their homework.

14.  Not everyone likes school.  I've always been struck by this passage of Orwell's in The Road to Wigan Pier:

The time was when I used to lament over quite imaginary pictures of lads of fourteen dragged protesting from their lessons and set to work at dismal jobs. It seemed to me dreadful that the doom of a 'job' should descend upon anyone at fourteen. Of course I know now that there is not one working-class boy in a thousand who does not pine for the day when he will leave school. He wants to be doing real work, not wasting his time on ridiculous rubbish like history and geography. To the working class, the notion of staying at school till you are nearly grown-up seems merely contemptible and unmanly. The idea of a great big boy of eighteen, who ought to be bringing a pound a week home to his parents, going to school in a ridiculous uniform and even being caned for not doing his lessons! Just fancy a working-class boy of eighteen allowing himself to be caned! He is a man when the other is still a baby. Ernest Pontifex, in Samuel Butler's Way of All Flesh, after he had had a few glimpses of real life, looked back on his public school and university education and found it a 'sickly, debilitating debauch'. There is much in middle-class life that looks sickly and debilitating when you see it from a working-class angle.
It's still true: the mania to get more and more people into college is the brain child of people who think that school is fun, and that anyone who doesn't go is being deprived of something like a trip to Disneyland packaged with a job guarantee.  

Lots of people think school is rather miserable, and they wish to leave as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the "school is fun" crowd has made an education a virtual pre-requisite for a stable and well paying job in this century.  If you don't like school, and aren't good at it, what do you do?  Spend the rest of your life popping chicken tenders into the deep fry at Popeye's?  Or deal drugs?

15.  Loss aversion is more powerful than potential gain.  Over a period of years, you will work harder to keep from falling out of the middle class, than you will for a 15% chance at $100 million.

16.  Racism in hiring still exists.  It's harder to get your resume picked out of a pile if your name is LaShonda (or Elvis).  Maybe your mother shouldn't have named you something so strongly identified with low-income mothers, but the fact remains, you may find it harder to get a job.  And changing your name to please employers who are prejudiced against your ethnic group is just as fraught for LaShonda Washington as it was for Moishe Rabinowitz and Mairead Murphy--especially if you suspect that passing the initial screen just means you'll get dinged in the next round when you walk in looking identifiably Jewish, Irish, or Black.

The knowledge that employers do not trust members of your ethnic group changes the payoff of investments in human capital.  We can argue about whether such statistical discrimination is rational for employers, or whether it's less powerful than poor black kids may think.  But it still changes the calculation.

I think of poverty as a bad equilibrium--a pretty stable bad equilibrium, unfortunately.  The coping skills that make it easier to live in poverty make it harder to get out.  Bourgeois employers are actually completely correct that it is not safe to trust someone with a prison record around their cash drawer--and also, it is actually going to create more crime if criminals have no hope of rehabilitation.  Poor people would actually be economically better off if they separated themselves from their friends and relatives, and used their money to attend college rather than help out struggling relatives--and also, if they fail, they'll actually be worse off than they were before.  People will lead more economically successful lives if they are ashamed to skip work, go on benefits, or lose a job--and a community where most of the available jobs are unstable, pay low wages, and require pretty sound health, cannot possibly enforce such norms.

Sum it all up and the answer is: if you grew up as a poor black kid, you'd be making decisions under the same constraints, which probably means you'd make the same decisions.  The fact that different decisions could produce different outcomes is important--but to state this is not to state an obvious solution.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Left Turn: When hell broke loose

via Power Line by Scott Johnson on 7/18/11

Tomorrow is the official publication date of Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind, by Tim Groseclose. Groseclose is the Marvin Hoffenberg Professor of American Politics at UCLA. He holds joint appointments in the political science and economics departments.
The publication of Professor Groseclose's book — previewed here by Paul Bedard at USNews and here by Professor Groseclose himself — is a signal event. To the vexed question of media bias, Professor Groselose brings the methodology of the social sciences. Professor Groseclose and his publisher have kindly granted us permission to publish the preface (here) yesterday, introduction and eighth chapter of his book (Tuesday through Friday), starring our friend Katherine Kersten, over the course of this week.
When Professor Groseclose published his findings with Professor Jeff Milyo in 2002, all hell broke loose. It is a revealing story with few twists and turns as well as a happy ending. He tells the story in the introduction to the book. Here it is:
Discussions about media bias can really inflame people's passions.
In the Spring of 2002, I began a research project with Jeff Milyo, who at the time was a public policy professor at the University of Chicago. Our goal was to create a method that would objectively measure the bias of the media.
The motivation was simple. In social science we have lots of precise, numerical devices that measure how liberal or conservative politicians are. There ought to be something similar for the media.
Three and half years later, after thousands of hours of gathering and analyzing data, we achieved that goal. For 20 major news outlets, we estimated a score, between 0 and 100, that described how liberal the outlet was. The beauty of the scores—which I now call Slant Quotients—is that they are directly comparable to Political Quotients. This means that they can answer questions such as: (i) "Is the New York Times to the left or right of Hillary Clinton?" or (ii) "Is Fox News to the left or right of John McCain?".
The results generally agreed with the claims of conservatives. For instance, our method found that 18 of the 20 outlets were left of center. The only two that were not were the Washington Times and Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume.
Our findings, however, contradicted a few claims of conservatives. For instance, they showed that some mainstream news outlets are nearly perfectly centrist, albeit still left-leaning. Two were ABC's Good Morning America and [PBS's] The Newshour with Jim Lehrer. Also, we found that many supposedly far-left news outlets were not that far left. For instance, we found that National Public Radio was no more liberal than the Washington Post, Time, or Newsweek. And we found that it was less liberal than the average speech by Senator Joe Lieberman.
We thought that, maybe, people on both sides of the political spectrum would appreciate the study, that each side would say something like "finally, an answer to the age-old debate."
We now realize how naïve that thought was.
We posted the results on my website. The public relations office at UCLA, where I work as a professor of political science and economics, wrote a press release that summarized the results.
Then came the firestorm. Our study was denounced by hundreds, and maybe thousands, of left-wing blogs, including Media Matters, the Daily Kos, and the Huffington Post. At one point if you googled "crap UCLA study," most of the first ten listings would refer to our study.
On January 5, 2006, I appeared on CSPAN's Washington Journal to discuss the study. That morning, the Daily Kos, made me the focus of an "action alert," which encouraged readers to call CSPAN and force me to "answer some tough questions" about my and Milyo's "highly flawed study."
Many of the blogs attacked us personally and tried to insinuate that right wing groups had paid us to fudge our results.
The emails were even more vicious. "I've been in media relations for twelve years, and I've never seen anything like this," said Meg Sullivan, the UCLA publicist who wrote the press release and who was listed as the contact person. "Every other study that I've been involved with will get maybe a few emails. This one has gotten hundreds. And some are scary. I hope your home address is not public."
A few people emailed the UCLA chancellor, insisting that I be fired. One of them noted on the subject line "Groseclose must be fired IMMEDIATELY," as if simply firing me next week would a grave injustice.
Of the many emails that leftwing strangers sent me, the first one was representative of the anger and viciousness:
Dear Tim,
Sounds like that cockamamie load of bulls**t study of yours started with the results you wanted (i.e., that Fox News is "fair and balanced") and then concocted the most ridiculous, asinine set of parameters you could think of to ensure the results you were after.
You've obviously never watched Fox News, [otherwise you'd realize how many people] will be laughing at your "study".

Sorry man, sounds like a bunch of BS to me, and that's from an independent. …
Xxxx Xxxx
One of my colleagues at UCLA, whom I'll call Byron B. Bright, may be the smartest political scientist on the planet. He knows seemingly everything about politics, economics, math, and computers. And he's the best person to ask if you need your car, refrigerator, or anything else fixed. Once, a statistical software package wouldn't do what he wanted. So, to solve his problem, he wrote a computer program that would write a series of other computer programs, which would successively execute the statistical package—that's right, he wrote a computer program that would write other computer programs.
At the same time, he's a staunch liberal, approximately as staunch, maybe more staunch, than I am a conservative. Our first debate occurred only a few weeks after meeting each other, almost twenty years ago. He casually mentioned how the only people who listen to Rush Limbaugh are ignorant extremists. I quickly explained why he was wrong, and told him, in fact, that I had been listening to Limbaugh that day.
In a more recent debate, I told him, "No, it's not true that liberals and conservatives are equally decent. Liberals have worse manners, they go to church less, they more often live in aggressive, urban environments, they shout people down at public speeches, and they use more vulgarity when they talk." At first he didn't respond. I think he decided that the best response was just to give me a look as if I had just claimed that the earth was flat. But then, just for good measure, he said "Funny how all of those well-mannered conservatives favor pre-emptive strikes against innocent Iraqis."
So after I received the above email, I gleefully showed it to Byron. I responded to the email even more gleefully:
Dear Mr. Xxxx,
Thank you for your thoughtful comments.
Please keep in mind, however, that in creating the statistical estimation method and in designing the set of parameters for it, I have benefited greatly from the help and comments of Byron Bright, a colleague at UCLA. An argument could be made that he deserves to be a coauthor. His email address is
At the University of Missouri, where my coauthor Jeff Milyo had just taken a job, the press office described our study in favorable terms and posted it on a prominent university web site.
Soon after the posting, the chairs of the humanities and social-science departments held a regular meeting with the dean. Although it was not supposed to be a topic for the meeting, our study soon became the focus of a heated discussion. The chairs of the departments of sociology, religion, and German and Russian languages were especially angry, and they called it "offensive" and "scandalous." One said "The study isn't research. It's agitprop for the conservative blogosphere."
After the meeting, one of the professors sent Milyo an email to reprimand him:
… In that lay part of my objection, and here I have to say that it's not to your work qua research at all. Rather, its presentation on the website made a pretty categorical claim about bias that taps into a charged political environment. There are difficult issues that underpin the website headline, and your study is complex and sophisticated enough to treat many of them; far more subtle and nuanced than the journalistic reductio. There are of course issues outstanding or open to discussion (what's included by way of news sources, whether conceptual categories like liberal and conservative have veridical legitimacy as identity markers, where and how one designates boundaries of same [i.e., you can call something X and cite as reason a widely accepted standard, but that in no way means that the thing really is X, or so a philosopher would say], how one categorizes constellations of dispositions, how one treats what Bakhtin called dialogism in discourse analysis, and so forth. …
Milyo and I couldn't understand him either. But the fact that he would take the time to write such an email is yet another example of the passions that the study inflamed. It wasn't Milyo's idea to post a description of the study on the university web site. Also remember, Milyo had just moved to the University of Missouri. That was his welcome.
The most vicious response of all was by Eric Alterman, a writer at Media Matters. He insinuated that we were paid by rightwing think tanks to fudge our results. "Rigging the Numbers" was the title of his essay. The following were his concluding paragraphs:
Check the fine print and one finds this study—naively touted as both objective and significant by the UCLA public affairs office and published, inexplicably, by the previously respected Quarterly Journal of Economics, edited at Harvard University's Department of Economics, was the product of a significant investment by right-wing think tanks. In 2000-2001, Groseclose was a Hoover Institution national fellow, while Milyo has been granted $40,500 from the American Enterprise Institute; both were Heritage Foundation Salvatori fellows in 1997.
And yet despite its shockingly desultory intellectual underpinnings and almost comically obvious ideological imperatives, we can be certain we will hear about this study over and over for the next decade—from the very people who have written off normative knowledge and scientific research as some sort of liberal plot to subvert the values of Heartland America.
Really, you just can't make these people up.
At one level I can understand why so many leftwing strangers sent me angry emails, and why writers, like Eric Alterman at Media Matters, would say such false and vicious things about Milyo and me.
If people believe the results of our study, then they will begin to believe that they are not getting the whole truth from the media.
They might begin to think, "Maybe lower taxes are a better idea than I thought." "Maybe government should scale back its involvement in the economy." "Maybe affirmative action is not such a great idea."
Larry Greenfield, a fellow at the Claremont Institute, has made a profound observation about the psyche of the far left: "They worship the god of Equality." A corollary of his observation is the following: While other virtues, such as kindness and honesty, are important, they are secondary when they clash with Equality.
Our study, at least in small ways, harms the goal of Equality. In at least small ways, it works to make U.S. public policy less "progressive" and less consistent with "social justice." If you are an advocate of "social justice" and "progressive" values, then, even if you believe that our study is true, you should hate it. Further, if you value Equality more than other virtues, then it would be appropriate for you to conclude, "Smearing Groseclose and Milyo's study is justified, even if the smears are false." You would also be justified in attacking us personally, even saying false and vicious things about our character. As the leftwing icon Saul Alinsky advised, "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it [my emphasis], and polarize it."
At this point, let me warn you, if you are such an advocate of "social justice" and "progressive" values, then you will hate this book even more than my and Milyo's original study. I provide additional objective, precise measures that show that the media is at least as liberal as the original study concluded.
Plus, I provide evidence that the bias really does affect people's views. As I will explain, the left does not yet understand that they should disagree with the latter fact. It implies that the present views of the average voter are distorted—that is, if it weren't for media bias, then those views would be more conservative. While my original study found that the media is to the left of the (distorted) position of the average voter, the above fact means that the media is even further away from the natural, non-distorted position of the average voter. That is, not only is the media biased, it's even more biased than people realize.
But before I describe that research, let me describe the most surprising response to our study—that of professors at elite universities.
First, before the study was published, several professors invited me to present the research at their universities. I gave presentations at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Duke, as well as two presentations at Stanford. Although the audiences at those universities were overwhelmingly liberal, and often they raised methodological objections, not once did anyone attack me personally; nor did anyone ever suggest that I was anything but honest while conducting the research.
Next was the response at the University of Missouri. At the heated meeting of the department chairs, the chair of the economics department suggested, "Hey, we're all scholars here. Maybe we should settle this like scholars—with a debate. Let's allow Milyo to present his findings at a public forum, and we'll allow others to have a chance to criticize it." The dean agreed, and he set up such a forum. Not one of the professors who criticized the study showed up at the debate.
We submitted our paper to the Quarterly Journal of Economics. This is the oldest scholarly economics journal. It is based at Harvard University, and the three editors of the journal, all professors in the Harvard economics department, are almost sure to win Nobel prizes someday. All professional economists consider the QJE one of the top four economics journals, and some consider it the top journal.
One of the most wonderful aspects of the response to our paper is something that Milyo and I—and most other scholars—usually take for granted. This is that at no point in the review process did anyone at the QJE ask, "Are you currently, or have you ever been, associated with any conservative organization?" Many leftwing blogs, including Media Matters, denounced our paper because of our prior affiliation with conservative groups. Some blogs, for the same reason, even denounced the QJE for accepting our paper. The writers at these blogs should consider how much they sound like Joe McCarthy—once you substitute "conservative" for "communist." The beauty of the review process at the QJE—and all other scientific journals of which I am aware—is that they don't care about the political views and associations of the authors who submit papers. They judge the papers strictly by their merits.
It may surprise some people that a group of Harvard professors approved of a paper that concludes that the media has a liberal bias.
But if you think that's strange, just wait.
A few months after the QJE accepted our paper, instead of firing me, UCLA promoted me—from Associate Professor of Political Science to "full" Professor of Political Science.
That one surprised me. Out of the many hundreds of professors at UCLA, I'm aware of only nine who voted for John McCain in 2008, and one of those nine asked me never to reveal that fact to anyone at UCLA. I am almost certain that not one dean, chancellor, or vice-chancellor at UCLA voted for McCain in 2008 or Bush in 2000 or 2004.
A few months later, the professors in the economics department at UCLA voted to give me a "joint" professorship in their department. Around the same time, Caltech invited me to be a Visiting Professor for a quarter.
Shortly after, the University of Missouri promoted Milyo—from Associate Professor of Economics to "full" Professor of Economics.
Then it got really, really strange. Yale University offered me a job … as a full professor. The average professor at Yale, I am certain, is even more liberal than the average professor at UCLA. Although I believe that Yale offered me the job in spite of, not because of, my media-bias research, Yale did not consider that research a reason to blackball me.
Soon after that, the University of Chicago offered me a job as a full professor with an "endowed chair." UCLA responded with an endowed chair, plus a significant increase in salary.
But from a personal standpoint, the most wonderful response came from an email that I received one day. "Dear Mr. Alterman," it began. Alterman, you may recall, was the writer at Media Matters who said that Milyo and I "rigged" our numbers and insinuated that we did it because rightwing think tanks had "invested" in us.
I was very disappointed to read your review of my colleague Timothy Groseclose's paper on media bias. The lack of civility and the personal nature of your review struck a tone that I had not expected from you. …
As much as you and, indeed, I want to believe that the results of Tim's study are false, they are not the result of cooking the books. Tim is nothing if not careful. Yes, he is a conservative and, yes, I am sure he is pleased with the way the results turned out. But, the method was laid out before the data were collected and I am confident that the paper would have been published regardless of the outcome.
For what it is worth, here is the truth about the paper from someone who does not share Tim's politics. … It is academically honest research by careful and serious scholars who do not pursue a research agenda at the behest of any conservative patron.
Once I realized that the email was written by one of my UCLA colleagues, I quit reading and bolted down the hall. This deserved an immediate thank you.
But as I approached his door, it occurred to me that I might not be able to express my thanks without my voice breaking or eyes watering. So I slowed my walk, cleared my throat, and blinked my eyes. The reason the email was so touching was not so much its words but who wrote them … Byron B. Bright.
From Left Turn by Tim Groseclose, PhD. Copyright © 2011 by the author and reprinted by kind permission of St. Martin's Press, LLC. All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

nutmeg maple butter cookies | smitten kitchen

nutmeg maple butter cookies | smitten kitchen

oak leaves and tiny acorns

Nutmeg Maple Butter Cookies
Adapted, just a smidge, from the late great Gourmet Magazine
1 cup (2 sticks or 226 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (118 ml) maple syrup (Grade B is ideal here, but the original recipe suggested that Grade A with a few drops of maple extract would also work)
1 large egg yolk
3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (because it packs more tightly)
1 1/4 teaspoon flaky salt or 1 teaspoon table salt
Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. With mixer running, add yolk and slowly drizzle in maple syrup. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, nutmeg and salt. Add to butter mixture and mix until just combined. The dough will be in loose clumps. Gather them together into a tight packet with a large piece of plastic wrap and chill dough for at least two hours (and up to four days) until firm.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a few baking sheets with parchment paper. I like to roll out a quarter to half the dough at a time, leaving the rest in the fridge. On a floured counter, roll dough to 1/8-inch thickness and cut into desired shapes.
(I started with conservative circles, moved into ridged circles, then maple leaves and then, after reading a fascinating article about the acorn harvest this year, got forrest-ed away with acorns and oak leaves that a reader sent me a few years ago. Not that you asked any of this.)
Arrange cookies on baking sheets and bake for 8 to 11 minutes each, or until lightly golden at the edges. Transfer to racks to cool. Cookies keep in airtight containers for a week, or in the freezer until their dance number is up.

Eight Warning Signs of Junk Science

Armed and Dangerous » Blog Archive » Seven Eight Warning Signs of Junk Science
Here is a non-exclusive list of seven eight symptoms to watch out for:

Science by press release. It’s never, ever a good sign when ‘scientists’ announce dramatic results before publishing in a peer-reviewed journal. When this happens, we generally find out later that they were either self-deluded or functioning as political animals rather than scientists. This generalizes a bit; one should also be suspicious of, for example, science first broadcast by congressional testimony or talk-show circuit.

Rhetoric that mixes science with the tropes of eschatological panic. When the argument for theory X slides from “theory X is supported by evidence” to “a terrible catastrophe looms over us if theory X is true, therefore we cannot risk disbelieving it”, you can be pretty sure that X is junk science. Consciously or unconsciously, advocates who say these sorts of things are trying to panic the herd into stampeding rather than focusing on the quality of the evidence for theory X.

Rhetoric that mixes science with the tropes of moral panic. When the argument for theory X slides from “theory X is supported by evidence” to “only bad/sinful/uncaring people disbelieve theory X”, you can be even more sure that theory X is junk science. Consciously or unconsciously, advocates who say these sorts of things are trying to induce a state of preference falsification in which people are peer-pressured to publicly affirm a belief in theory X in spite of private doubts.

Consignment of failed predictions to the memory hole. It’s a sign of sound science when advocates for theory X publicly acknowledge failed predictions and explain why they think they can now make better ones. Conversely, it’s a sign of junk science when they try to bury failed predictions and deny they ever made them.

Over-reliance on computer models replete with bugger factors that aren’t causally justified. No, this is not unique to climatology; you see it a lot in epidemiology and economics, just to name two fields that start with ‘e’. The key point here is that simply fitting historical data is not causal justification; there are lots of ways to dishonestly make that happen, or honestly fool yourself about it. If you don’t have a generative account of why your formulas and coupling constants look the way they do (a generative account which itself makes falsifiable predictions), you’re not doing science – you’re doing numerology.

If a ‘scientific’ theory seems tailor-made for the needs of politicians or advocacy organizations, it probably has been. Real scientific results have a cross-grained tendency not to fit transient political categories. Accordingly, if you think theory X stinks of political construction, you’re probably right. This is one of the simplest but most difficult lessons in junk-science spotting! The most difficult case is recognizing that this is happening even when you agree with the cause.

Past purveyers of junk science do not change their spots. One of the earliest indicators in many outbreaks of junk science is enthusiastic endorsements by people and advocacy organizations associated with past outbreaks. This one is particularly useful in spotting environmental junk science, because unreliable environmental-advocacy organizations tend to have long public pedigrees including frequent episodes of apocalyptic yelling. It is pardonable to be taken in by this the first time, but foolish by the fourth and fifth.

Refusal to make primary data sets available for inspection. When people doing sound science are challenged to produce the observational and experimental data their theories are supposed to be based on, they do it. (There are a couple of principled exceptions here; particle physicists can’t save the unreduced data from particle collisions, there are too many terabytes per second of it.) It is a strong sign of junk science when a ‘scientist’ claims to have retained raw data sets but refuses to release them to critics.

It would be way, way too easy to list the ways these symptoms have manifested with respect to the AGW panic. It’s a more useful exercise for the reader to think back and try to recognize them in previous junk-science flaps. Go and learn. And don’t get fooled again.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

‘Occupation’ Is Not ‘Speech’: #OccupyBoston, #OccupyDenver Lose in Court

‘Occupation’ Is Not ‘Speech’: #OccupyBoston, #OccupyDenver Lose in Court

via Big Government by Joel B. Pollak on 12/7/11

McIntyre: permission to occupy the bench! (Photo credit: AP)

Suffolk County Superior Court Judge Frances McIntyre, who was prematurely panned for granting Occupy Boston a temporary reprieve (and for being a Mitt Romney appointee), delivered an elegant decision against the protestors today:

Plaintiffs claim that their occupation of the site and the community they have established thereon are protected by the First Amendment. They seek a preliminary injunction against their removal by the defendants.

But the injunction is denied because, while Occupy Boston protesters may be exercising their expressive rights during the protest, they have no privilege under the First Amendment to seize and hold the land on which they sit…[T]his court seriously doubts that the First Amendment permits the plaintiffs to seize and hold a public forum to the exclusion of others. (1, 15)

Judge McIntyre noted that "the setting up of tents, sleeping, and governance" on a public square is "expressive conduct," albeit subject to local regulations that have a merely "incidental" impact on free speech, and which are consistent with established time, place, and manner restrictions on the First Amendment. However, the fact that protesters sought to "Occupy" that public square crossed the line from speech into land seizure.

(Time to rename that movement, perhaps?)

Meanwhile, in Denver, a federal judge ruled against Occupy Denver's request for a restraining order to stop city policy from ticketing them, ahead of a lawsuit to decide the substance of their claim.
The Denver Post reports that U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn (a George W. Bush appointee) ruled that Occupy Denver had failed to show evidence that the police were acting in retaliation to the protestors' opinions.
The attorney for the activists blasted the judge: "The problem with the court system today is there are so few judges willing to stand up for civil rights and civil liberties and so many judges willing to enhance the power of the police."

(Time to try a different legal strategy, perhaps?)

The Left still shapes the debate

via Bookworm Room by Bookworm on 8/30/11

One of the big issues heating up for the election is "science."  I noted the other day that Krugman has thrown down the gauntlet, saying that the Republicans are returning us to a flat earth world, and, many, including Roger L. Simon, have picked it up, pointing out that Krugman and others have totally abandoned scientific method in order to support their ever-more-dubious claims. Rich Lowry continues in the Simon vein, elaborating on the way in which Leftists use science as a political and social bludgeon, instead of a method of rigorous analysis.
Jonah Goldberg, however, makes the best point of all, which is to challenge the way in which the Left still determines which science matters:
Rich: I liked your column today. But you only struck a glancing blow at my biggest peeve about the whole anti-science thing: Why does the Left get to pick which issues are the benchmarks for "science"? Why can't the measure of being pro-science be the question of heritability of intelligence? Or the existence of fetal pain? Or the distribution of cognitive abilities among the sexes at the extreme right tail of the bell curve? Or if that's too upsetting, how about dividing the line between those who are pro- and anti-science along the lines of support for geoengineering? Or — coming soon — the role cosmic rays play in cloud formation? Why not make it about support for nuclear power? Or Yucca Mountain? Why not deride the idiots who oppose genetically modified crops, even when they might prevent blindness in children?
Goldberg has focused upon a small subset of a much larger issue:  not only does the Left still control the dissemination of information (so that its decision to be silent about Obama's history with Rev. Wright meant most people didn't hear about it), it also decides what topics are worthy and what aren't.  Using it's still bullyish pulpit, it dictates that Republican candidates deserve to have their colons examined, while Democrat candidates get kudos.
During the Bush era, the media focused obsessively on battle deaths, but during the Obama era, that tragic information is all but ignored, even if it takes a more startling or extreme form than it did under Bush's watch.  It takes the Army to tell us what the MSM ignores.  (Proving, definitely I think, that the focus on deaths was never out of respect for the dead but was always intended to make Bush look like the man murdering, en masse, American youth.)
I am reminded of George Orwell's point in Newspeak:  if the vocabulary is killed, the ability to think the thoughts dies too.  The media, which has a weakened, but still strangling, hold on American discourse, is trying to place some ideas in our minds (Perry is a stupid, anti-scientific troglodyte) while utterly erasing others (anything bad about Obama).  Since it frames the debate, and sets the rules, it's going to win or, at the very least, have an disproportionate advantage.
This media framing may be why the guy who picked winners in the last seven elections thinks Obama will win the next one.  Obama fits the majority of Lichtman's 13 "keys" to election or, in Obama's case, re-election.  Most interestingly, he counts ObamaCare and the stimulus in Obama's favor ("major domestic-policy changes in his first term").  Allahpundit rightly points out that these are deeply unpopular measures, so they shouldn't count:
[S]urreally, he's counting the stimulus, which the public reviles, and ObamaCare, about which the public is deeply suspicious, as a point in Obama's favor because they are, after all, major "changes" to American domestic policy. By that standard, even the dumbest, most hated piece of legislation should be treated as an asset to a presidential campaign so long as it's significant enough to constitute "major change." If you flip that Key to the GOP, then you've got six for the Republicans — enough to take the White House by Lichtman's own metrics.
What Allahpundit isn't considering, though, is that the media, which will shape the prism through which the election plays out, will constantly sell both the stimulus and ObamaCare to the public as "good things."  The question is whether the public is going to believe the media or its lying eyes.  Past elections, sadly, have shown that, to paraphrase Mencken, you can never go broke underestimating the analytical abilities of the American public.  (Although Ace wonders if even the public can be that dumb.)

The Failure of Market Failure | The Freeman

People object that there's no such thing as a free market.  (Therefore, I suppose, we need not worry about how unfree a market may become.) 

The proper response to that objection is, "so what?"  What's important is now how close to error-free a system is, but how good its error correcting mechanisms are.

...In the technical literature a market failure refers to any situation in which a market does not produce the "Pareto-optimal, general equilibrium" outcome.  Standard neoclassical theory argues that "perfectly competitive" markets will produce outcomes in which resources are allocated to their highest valued uses and no one person can be made better off without making at least one other person worse off.  In general equilibrium, prices of all goods are exactly equal to the marginal cost of producing them and all households maximize their utility.  In addition, all firms are profit maximizing, but the level of real profits earned is zero, as no reallocation of resources could improve on the current one.

Unreal Conditions

Strictly speaking, any market outcome short of this reflects a "market failure" in that markets have failed to produce the ideal outcome that theory predicts.  However, in the real world the conditions necessary to produce a general-equilibrium outcome are not remotely feasible: perfect knowledge, homogeneous products, and a large number of small firms in every market with none able to influence price.  Given that such a world is not possible, the charge of market failure boils down to the claim that markets don't produce a level of "perfection" that is unattainable under any realistic circumstances.

In this sense of the term, markets "fail" constantly.  It takes an Austrian perspective to understand that these sorts of imperfections (a better term than "failure") are not only part and parcel of real markets; they also are what drive entrepreneurship and competition to find ways to improve outcomes.  In other words, what markets do best is enable people to spot imperfections and attempt to improve on them, even as those attempts at improvement (whether successful or not) lead to new imperfections.  Once we realize that people aren't fully informed, that we don't know what the ideal product should look like, and that we don't know what the optimal firm size is, we understand that these deviations from the ideal are not failures but opportunities.  The effort to improve market outcomes is the entrepreneurship that lies at the heart of the competitive market.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

MercatorNet: A mortal threat to marriage


What gays and lesbians want is marriage lite, not real marriage. This confers the right to do karaoke versions of  "Going to the Chapel of Love" in public, but little more. Divorce is an ever-present possibility, fidelity is unnecessary and children are optional. Big deal.

What compelling reason is there for the state to support such an impoverished institution? Traditional marriages nurture children, who are the future of society and deserve protection. But why should the state get in the business of supporting what is little more than friendship with benefits?