Wednesday, December 31, 2014

TimeTree :: The TimeTree of Life Book

TimeTree :: The TimeTree of Life Book

TIMETREE is a public resource for knowledge on the timescale and evolutionary history of life. Search the database below or go to the TIMETREE OF LIFE for other resources.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

'Torture' Thought Experiment | National Review Online

'Torture' Thought Experiment | National Review Online

Here is a thought experiment I have been using for many years as we’ve debated this topic. It goes to what Obama says about the intolerably brutal nature of waterboarding, the most coercive of the enhanced techniques that were used.

If you were to take everyone in America who is serving a minor jail sentence of, say, 6 to 18 months, and you were to ask them whether they’d rather serve the rest of their time or be waterboarded in the manner practiced by the CIA post 9/11 (i.e., not in the manner practiced by the Japanese in World War II), how many would choose waterboarding? I am guessing, conservatively, that over 95 percent would choose waterboarding.

Now, if you take the same group of inmates and ask them whether they’d prefer to serve the remainder of their time or be subjected to Obama’s drone program (where we kill rather than capture terrorists, therefore get no intelligence from the people in the best position to provide actionable intelligence, and kill bystanders — including some children — in addition to the target), how many would choose the drone program? I am guessing that it would be . . . zero.

I believe President Obama is too smart not to grasp this obvious point.

So ignore the blather about how enhanced interrogation is “not who we are.” The so-called Torture Report is a partisan gift to Obama’s Bush-deranged base, which has been clamoring for it since the enhanced-interrogation program was disclosed. Even before this report was released, the Democrats’ shameful partisan attack on the war effort for the purpose of motivating their political base had seriously compromised U.S. intelligence collection — in a war against a secretive transcontinental terror network against which good intelligence is in many ways our only security.

This report is not just wildly inaccurate (as three former CIA directors attest today in a Wall Street Journal op-ed). It further endangers our country, for no good purpose.

The ‘Torture’ Report’s False Information Canard | National Review Online

The ‘Torture’ Report’s False Information Canard | National Review Online

The press appears to be stressing the finding that much of the intel provided under enhanced interrogation proved to be false or misleading.

The same thing can be said for information provided during the gentle, hyper-lawyeredMiranda-driven interrogations conducted under law-enforcement protocols.

It is simply counterfactual to contend that a person is uniquely apt to lie under enhanced coercion because he has such a powerful motive to tell his interrogator what the interrogator wants to hear – namely, to avoid infliction of more discomfort.

Detainees who provide information to law enforcement are also powerfully motivated to tell interrogators what they think interrogators want to hear, in order to obtain sentencing leniency, win early release, or improve their conditions of confinement. And many of them lie.

Unreliable information is a natural consequence of interrogating outlaws. It has to be dealt with regardless of how the information is obtained.

I have been involved in, probably, thousands of law-enforcement interrogations. In the real world, the detainee often does not know what the interrogator wants to hear — a competent interrogator will use the information he already has to confuse the detainee about the state of his knowledge and the direction of the investigation. He will create an environment in which the detainee concludes that it is in his interest to tell the truth because the consequences of lying are worse for him.

And all interrogation information has to be analyzed and corroborated, factoring in the motives (there are usually several) that the detainee has to lie, to withhold critical facts, and to confess only what he calculates the interrogator already knows.

In civilian due process, the obligation is imposed on the prosecutor to disclose to the defense all the lies the witnesses have told in their interrogations. This rule is imposed, and compliance with it is aggressively examined in almost all criminal trials, precisely because people lie to interrogators all the time – even if they are not waterboarded.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

In House testimony, Botkin dismantles the IPCC 2014 report | Watts Up With That?

In House testimony, Botkin dismantles the IPCC 2014 report | Watts Up With That?


$15/hour Minimum Wage: A Very Bad Joke | TheCollegeConservative

$15/hour Minimum Wage: A Very Bad Joke | TheCollegeConservative

$15/hour represents more than double the current federal minimum wage, which stands at $7.25. A business which has only a certain amount of money available with which to pay its employees would have to either double its income (which would be very difficult) or lay off half of its workers in order to deal with the increases in the cost of doing business.
But then again, as commentators like Senator Warren have pointed out, businesses have money to spare that they simply aren’t giving to their workers, right? Not necessarily. Contrary to popular belief, a great deal of a well run company’s profits don’t simply go to the executives. They are reinvested in the company, allowing it to grow and employ more people. This, in turn, leads to more business for other employers as well. If a factory has a good few years of profit, they might decide to purchase a new machine, meaning jobs for the people who will operate it and more profitable business for the companies producing parts for that machine. Imagine instead that the minimum wage was doubled. That profitable factory would not have the resources to expand, meaning a loss in business for the machine part makers (who would have to lay off employees of their own) and a lost opportunity for the factory’s would-have-been employees.
Some leftists, however, like to tout the supposed economic benefits of raising the minimum wage.  As Peter Drier writes at the Huffington Post “In fact, raising the minimum wage is good for business and the overall economy. Why? Because when poor workers have more money to spend, they spend it, almost entirely in the local community, on basic necessities like housing, food, clothing and transportation.” What Mr. Drier seems not to account for is the fact that this extra spending money in the pockets of the “poor workers” doesn’t represent real economic growth. These workers have more money because it was transferred to them from another part of the economy which has been made weaker as a result. It is true that the workers will spend a little more money, but it’s not as if that money would not have been spent had it remained in the hands of their employers. The economy has, at great cost and inconvenience, been slightly rearranged, but it has not truly grown.
The really troubling thing about this push for a higher minimum wage is the dishonesty behind it. It is reasonable to assume that political leaders understand the principle that making something more expensive lessens demand for it. President Obama understands this principle, at least as it applies to tobacco. In a proposal to increase taxes on tobacco products earlier this month, the president said “Researchers have found that raising taxes on cigarettes significantly reduces consumption.” I find it hard to believe that a man smart enough to successfully run for president could be unaware that the same principle might apply to employment, that making it more expensive for companies to hire new employees might lessen their desire to do so. And yet, just this week, Mr. Obama made the case for a higher minimum wage during his trip to Texas. A cynical man might get the impression that the president, and politicians of his ilk, even understanding the ramifications of such a policy, would pursue it anyway, to the detriment of their supporters, if only to gain a little political power.
The striking workers in Saint Louis, Chicago and New York are the real victims here. They’ve been duped into supporting a policy whose consequences will be hardest on them. Somehow, a $15/hour minimum wage doesn’t seem quite so funny anymore.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Why not regulate guns like cars? - The Washington Post

Why not regulate guns like cars? - The Washington Post

A commenter on a recent thread asked — seemingly from a pro-gun-control perspective — “Why can’t guns be treated like cars, regulated and available, only to those who demonstrate competence and compliance with laws?” That is a perfect excuse for me to reprise my analysis of the guns-cars analogy.

Cars are basically regulated as follows (I rely below on California law, but to my knowledge the rules are similar throughout the country):

(2) Any person may use a car on his own private property without any license or registration. See, e.g., California Vehicle Code §§ 360, 12500 (driver’s license required for driving on “highways,” defined as places that are “publicly maintained and open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel”); California Vehicle Code § 4000 (same as to registration).

(3) Any adult — and in most states, 16- and 17-year-olds, as well — may get a license to use a car in public places by passing a fairly simple test that virtually everyone can pass.

(4) You can lose your license for proved misuse of the car, but not for most other misconduct; and even if you lose your driver’s license, you can usually regain it some time later.

(5) Your license from one state is good throughout the country.

This is pretty much how many gun rights advocates would like to see guns regulated, and is in fact pretty close to the dominant model in the over 40 states that now allow pretty much any law-abiding adult to get a license to carry a concealed weapon: No need to register or get a license to have a gun at home, and a simple, routine test through which any law-abiding citizen can get a state license to carry a gun in public. And even if we require a test for all possession of a gun, at home or in public — again, something that’snot required for cars — that would still mean that pretty much any law-abiding adult (or 16- or 17-year-old) would be able to easily get a license to carry a gun. That would provide more functional gun rights in the remaining non-shall-issue states (including, for instance, New York) than is provided under current gun regulations.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Big Lie of the Anti-Cop Left Turns Lethal by Heather Mac Donald, City Journal 22 December 2014

The Big Lie of the Anti-Cop Left Turns Lethal by Heather Mac Donald, City Journal 22 December 2014

Since last summer, a lie has overtaken significant parts of the country, resulting in growing mass hysteria. That lie holds that the police pose a mortal threat to black Americans—indeed that the police are the greatest threat facing black Americans today. Several subsidiary untruths buttress that central myth: that the criminal-justice system is biased against blacks; that the black underclass doesn’t exist; and that crime rates are comparable between blacks and whites—leaving disproportionate police action in minority neighborhoods unexplained without reference to racism. The poisonous effect of those lies has now manifested itself in the cold-blooded assassination of two NYPD officers.
Some facts: Police killings of blacks are an extremely rare feature of black life and are a minute fraction of black homicide deaths. The police could end all killings of civilians tomorrow and it would have no effect on the black homicide risk, which comes overwhelmingly from other blacks. In 2013, there were 6,261 black homicide victims in the U.S.—almost all killed by black civilians—resulting in a death risk in inner cities that is ten times higher for blacks than for whites. None of those killings triggered mass protests; they are deemed normal and beneath notice. The police, by contrast, according to published reports, kill roughly 200 blacks a year, most of them armed and dangerous, out of about 40 million police-civilian contacts a year. Blacks are in fact killed by police at a lower rate than their threat to officers would predict. In 2013, blacks made up 42 percent of all cop killers whose race was known, even though blacks are only 13 percent of the nation’s population. The percentage of black suspects killed by the police nationally is 29 percent lower than the percentage of blacks mortally threatening them.

There is huge unacknowledged support for the police in the inner city: “They’re due respect because they put their lives every day on the line to protect and serve. I hope they don’t back off from policing,” a woman told me on Thursday night, two nights before the assassination, on the street in Staten Island where Eric Garner was killed.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

10 Charts to Brighten Your Century : The Freeman : Foundation for Economic Education

10 Charts to Brighten Your Century : The Freeman : Foundation for Economic Education

Follow link to see charts.
1. There is a rape epidemic caused by rape culture.
...incidents of rape are lower than they have been in 40 years and have been reduced by more than half. It’s not clear what factors brought about such declines, but the declines should be acknowledged.
2. Police work is dangerous, so cops need military gear. just isn't unusually deadly or dangerous — and it’s safer today than ever before. The data do not justify the kinds of armor, weapons, insecurity, and paranoia being displayed by police across the country.
3. Gun ownership increases violent crime.
The most remarkable statistic is that, since gun-related violence peaked in 1993, there has been an appreciable decline in gun violence ever since — all despite (or perhaps because of) significant national increases in gun ownership.
4. Concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere will lead to catastrophic climate change.
...despite significant increases in carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, average global temperatures in the lower atmosphere have been virtually unchanged for more than 18 years.
What does this mean? At the very least, it means we should be dampening some of the climate-change hysteria, questioning the models that have predicted greater warming, and embracing a reasoned agnosticism about the issue until it’s better understood.
5. The rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer.
The truth is, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting richer, too. In fact, globally, the poor are richer than they have ever been in human history.
But what about in the US? As columnist and professor Michael Shermer writes in Scientific American, “The top-fifth income earners in the U.S. increased their share of the national income from 43 percent in 1979 to 48 percent in 2010, and the top 1 percent increased their share of the pie from 8 percent in 1979 to 13 percent in 2010. But note what has not happened: the rest have not gotten poorer. They’ve gotten richer: the income of the other quintiles increased by 49, 37, 36 and 45 percent, respectively.”
6. The air is getting dirtier due to more cars on the road.
In the United States, there are more than twice the vehicles on the road today than in 1980. Yet, the air quality has never been better. Remember pictures of Los Angeles in the 1980s? Smog. L.A. hasn’t seen that kind of filthy pea soup since Magnum PI.
7. We’re nearing  "peak oil."
Ever heard of Julian Simon? He’s the doomslayer who suggested we take any neo-Malthusian predictions of resource depletion with a grain of salt. Indeed, he suggested that because the human mind is the “ultimate resource,” resources would never run out. As long as there is a system of prices, property, and a profit motive, people will have incentives to conserve, innovate, or substitute. So what happened to peak oil? TheShale Revolution happened, just as Simon would have predicted. (Sorry, Professor Krugman.)
8. Our infrastructure is crumbling.
During the worst of the 2008 recession, one popular meme was that the nation’s infrastructure was “crumbling.” We were all to fear falling bridges and the general pothole-ification of America. Governments used such fearmongering to justify Keynesian stimulus policies through more taxpayer-funded investment in roads and bridges. But transportation analyst David Hartgen countered that false narrative right here in the pages of The Freeman.
9. The US health system ranks low among developed countries for health outcomes.
Not so fast. When one factors out deaths due to homicide and auto fatalities, the United States shoots to number one in health outcomes along a number of dimensions. Yes, health care is expensive. Yes, it’s convoluted. Yes, it’s corrupt — and it’s all thanks to political meddling. But the US health care system is still probably among the best in the world.
10.The Public Schools Need More Funding
Each year, the schools get more resources. Another Taj Mahighschool goes up. Another football stadium gets built. Another administrator’s salary goes up. Another union boss enjoys champagne in a hot tub. And what happens to educational outcomes? Forty years on … no change.

Does Government Spending Boost the Economy? : The Freeman : Foundation for Economic Education

Does Government Spending Boost the Economy? : The Freeman : Foundation for Economic Education

A recent article in Business Insider by Jim Edwards offers putative “Proof That Government Spending Cuts Hurt Economic Growth.” He even goes so far as to claim that “war is good (economically).” In this article, I’ll explain what’s wrong with this popular and age-old fallacy.
First, I want to point out something quite amusing. Edwards relies on Financial Times story that presents a series of charts produced with data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Here is one of the charts, along with Edwards’s description:
This chart, from the FT's Matthew Klein based on data from the BEA, seems to show that government has a pretty straightforward effect on GDP. When spending goes up, it adds to economic growth. When it goes down, it subtracts from it and hobbles the economy:
Edwards seems to think that the above chart shows at least a correlation between government spending and economic growth. After all, he wrote that the BEA chart “seems to show that government has a pretty straightforward effect on GDP.” But as Scott Sumner pointed out in amusement when he saw the article, the chart does nothing of the kind.
Look carefully at the legend. The various colored rectangles are different components of government spending. Specifically, the rectangles indicate how the change in each component — positive or negative — relates to the change in overall GDP. The black line is not GDP growth, but is instead the sum of the various components of government spending. In short, Matt Klein at the FT is telling us that if we take the BEA’s word for how much each component of government spending contributed to GDP growth in each quarter, then we can stack those numbers on top of each other and even add them up! Contrary to Edwards, the FT chart doesn’t “show” anything at all, except that the BEA each quarter announces how much various components of government spending contributed to, or subtracted from, GDP growth.
But let’s move past Edwards’s hilarious misinterpretation of the chart and get to the more fundamental issue. The problem with these ostensibly scientific and empirical measurements is that GDP itself is definedto include government spending. As they teach in any introductory macro class, the expenditure-based formula for GDP is
GDP = C + I + G + NX,
where C and I are private consumption and investment, G is government spending, and NX is net exports (gross exports minus gross imports).
Now we see the problem. Even if we set aside the serious theoretical and practical difficulties with the aggregation necessary to estimate these figures, we are still stuck with the fact that the above formula is an accounting tautology, not an economic theory. Yes, other things equal, an increase in government spendingon the right-hand side will make GDP on the left-hand side increase dollar for dollar. The whole argument, however, centers on whether other things will remain equal.
For example, in a depressed economy with excess capacity, the typical Keynesian will say that an increase inwill cause private consumption and investment to increase also, so that a dollar of extra government spending will cause GDP to rise by more than a dollar — the famous Keynesian multiplier.
In contrast, the typical Austrian- or Chicago-school economist will say that an increase in will tend to make private-sector spending fall by a greater amount, so that a dollar of extra government spending will cause GDP to fall. (We could get the confident support of free-market economists for this conclusion if we stipulate that the extra government spending is financed through higher taxes, which destroy more private after-tax income than they raise in extra revenue.)
After this discussion, we can see why pretty charts from the FT showcasing government spending’s “contribution to GDP growth” quarter by quarter don’t really mean anything. It’s the same for the ex post “empirical” analyses that concluded that the Obama stimulus package “saved or created” such-and-such million jobs. The underlying models that generate these estimates assume a Keynesian world, and thus cannot test whether the Keynesian model is correct.
The critical yet missing piece of information in these analyses is the counterfactual, to know what the size of the economy and level of employment would have been in the alternate universe where government spending had taken a different course. From a naïve, “let the facts speak for themselves” perspective, the Obama stimulus package clearly hurt the economy. Remember that unemployment shot up higher with the stimulus than the Obama team warned people would occur without the stimulus.
The exact opposite happened with the so-called sequester. For example, the firm Macroeconomic Advisers, using a Keynesian model, predicted that the spending cuts would knock 1.3 percentage points off of second quarter 2013 growth, and 0.6 percentage points off of third quarter 2013 growth. Here’s what really happened:
It’s the mirror image of the Keynesians’ stimulus blunder. The economy grew faster with the sequester than the Keynesians said would occur without the “drag” of the spending cuts. In the case of the Obama stimulus, their excuse was, “Wow, the economy was worse than we realized, good thing we got that deficit spending in there, inadequate though it was.” In the case of the sequester, their response would have to be, “How about that, the economy was stronger than any of us realized. We dodged a bullet, since the sequester dragged down growth so much.”
In summary, we shouldn’t trust empirical “proof” that government spending boosts the economy, when the alleged evidence so often rests on a model that assumes as true the very issue under dispute.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Leftists become incandescent when reminded of the socialist roots of Nazism – Telegraph Blogs

Leftists become incandescent when reminded of the socialist roots of Nazism – Telegraph Blogs

On 16 June 1941, as Hitler readied his forces for Operation Barbarossa, Josef Goebbels looked forward to the new order that the Nazis would impose on a conquered Russia. There would be no come-back, he wrote, for capitalists nor priests nor Tsars. Rather, in the place of debased, Jewish Bolshevism, the Wehrmacht would deliver “der echte Sozialismus”: real socialism.

Goebbels never doubted that he was a socialist. He understood Nazism to be a better and more plausible form of socialism than that propagated by Lenin. Instead of spreading itself across different nations, it would operate within the unit of the Volk.

So total is the cultural victory of the modern Left that the merely to recount this fact is jarring. But few at the time would have found it especially contentious. As George Watson put it in The Lost Literature of Socialism:

It is now clear beyond all reasonable doubt that Hitler and his associates believed they were socialists, and that others, including democratic socialists, thought so too.
The clue is in the name. Subsequent generations of Leftists have tried to explain away the awkward nomenclature of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party as either a cynical PR stunt or an embarrassing coincidence. In fact, the name meant what it said.

Hitler told Hermann Rauschning, a Prussian who briefly worked for the Nazis before rejecting them and fleeing the country, that he had admired much of the thinking of the revolutionaries he had known as a young man; but he felt that they had been talkers, not doers. “I have put into practice what these peddlers and pen pushers have timidly begun,” he boasted, adding that “the whole of National Socialism” was “based on Marx”.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Interview with an Interrogator: Megyn Kelly Gets the Scoop

Interview with an Interrogator: Megyn Kelly Gets the Scoop

Fox News’ Megyn Kelly got a big interview this week following the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA interrogations in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on America on September 11, 2001. It was compelling TV, and journalism. Dr. James Mitchell, a former Air Force psychologist, contracted with the CIA to help develop a program to interrogate CIA detainees while America, and those tasked to protect this country, prepared for a second wave of attacks.
Mitchell had spoken with the British newspaper, The Guardian, back in April, after an executive summary of the Senate Intelligence report had been leaked to McClatchy News. At the time, as reported by The Guardian, Mitchell “mounted a full-throated defense of the Bush administration’s counter-terrorism policies and attacked ‘partisan Democrats’ for ‘throwing me under the bus’ and ‘rewriting history.’” Now he clearly feels even more free to speak out.
Mitchell was never interviewed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) committee. In fact, none of the CIA people involved in the interrogations, nor the directors or deputy directors, were interviewed. In other words, the purpose of this report was not to actually get to the truth of what happened. It was an attempt, for various political and PR reasons, to accuse and indict the Bush administration and the CIA for allegedly using torture on the detainees.
Mitchell revealed that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) didn’t break, or provide information that eventually led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, because of waterboarding, but rather because of other EITs (Enhanced Interrogation Techniques). The technique that did work on KSM, according to the American Enterprise Institute’s Marc Thiessen, a former George W. Bush speechwriter, was sleep deprivation. But Mitchell revealed something that KSM did tell him: “Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told me personally, ‘Your country will turn on you, the liberal media will turn on you, the people will grow tired of this, they will turn on you, and when they do, you are going to be abandoned.’”
What comes through in Megyn Kelly’s interview is a thoughtful, patriotic American who was moved by the image of Americans leaping out of World Trade Center buildings, and by the courage of those on Flight 93 who helped bring the plane down, rather than allow it to successfully strike the third of three targets of the “decapitation” that Mitchell said was their goal. The terrorists hit our financial center in New York, they hit the Pentagon—the headquarters of the U.S. military—and the third plane was intended to crash into the Capitol building in Washington, DC.
America is divided over this, but a recent Washington Post – ABC poll shows that the American public overwhelmingly think that “the CIA treatment of suspected terrorists” was justified, by a margin of 59% to 31%. Clearly a significant majority believe the CIA was trying to protect this country at that time, and aren’t too worried about the few cases of excess—even death—that occurred. They don’t see it as a “stain” on our country. In fact, many view the stain as this one-sided report that cherry-picked information and revealed selective portions of emails, contradicted by other portions not revealed in the report—if that’s what they needed to make their case. Many believe that the release of this report has given aid and comfort to America’s enemies, and put American lives at increased risk.
It turns out that KSM was right about the “liberal media,” but it seems that a significant majority of the American people are quite okay with what was done to these terrorists—and other detainees—and don’t believe it damaged us as a country. Many of those in the liberal media—such as Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, Jane Mayer of the New Yorker (who actually interviewed Dr. Mitchell back in 2005), and Erin Burnett of CNN—freely call what happened “torture.” To them, it’s not an opinion, it’s a fact.
Kudos to Megyn Kelly for getting the interview, which aired in two parts on Monday and Tuesday nights this week. I urge you to watch for yourself, and to also read this column, “The Feinstein Report is Going to Cost Us,” by Andrew McCarthy. He was the lawyer who successfully prosecuted the Blind Sheikh, the man responsible for the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. McCarthy has a lot of interesting things to say about the report, such as this: “As I have frequently argued here over the years, there is a world of difference between what is couched in political rhetoric as ‘torture,’ a conversation stopper that the Left cavalierly applies to every instance of prisoner abuse, and the federal crime of torture, which has a strict legal definition and is a difficult offense to prove, precisely to ensure that torture is not trivialized.”

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Clayton Cramer.: Where Does 1 In 5 Come From?

Clayton Cramer.: Where Does 1 In 5 Come From?

That’s because the statistic comes from a 2007 study that is based on a survey of just two colleges. Funded by the National Institute of Justice, the "Campus Sexual Assault Study" summarizes the online survey results of male and female students at two large public institutions. Nineteen percent, or about one in five, of the female respondents said they had experienced an attempted or completed sexual assault since starting college.

Defining Sexual Assault
Other critics have focused not so much on the limited scope of the survey, but rather its broad definition of sexual assault, which includes kissing and groping. The study's definition of sexual assault includes both rape -- described as oral, anal, and vaginal penetration -- and sexual battery, which was described as "sexual contact only, such as forced kissing and fondling." Some argue that an unwanted kiss should not be conflated with other kinds of more severe sexual assault or rape.

Laura Dunn, executive director of sexual assault prevention group SurvJustice, said the fact that some people still balk at the idea of unwanted kissing being considered sexual assault is a result of the criminal justice system frequently focusing on only the worst kinds of sexual violence. It’s caused a particular image of sexual assault to form in people’s heads, she said, and it's an image denies a much broader expanse of offenses.
“People who deny this issue don’t believe something like an unwanted kiss is harmful, but it is,” Dunn said. “I think there’s an idea in our society that says if a man’s not using a gun or beating a woman, then it’s O.K. to be pushy and aggressive, or to wait until she’s drunk. We really think of some sexual aggression as really not that bad, and that mentality extends to the survivors as well. In these surveys, if you use broader legal terms, you actually get less reporting.”...

Despite the Campus Sexual Assault Study’s shortcomings as a national barometer of the issue, other research has yielded similar findings – though with some caveats. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey found that the rate of women who experience sexual assault is one in five, though that rate is for all women in instead of just those going to college. That survey, too, has been questioned for its classification of having sex while intoxicated in any way as a sexual assault.

Then there’s the statistic that gives John Foubert’s organization its name: one in four. That comes from a Justice Department survey of 4,000 college women in 2006 that found that nearly one-quarter of college women have survived rape or attempted rape in their lifetime, a figure that doesn't account for sexual assaults that are not rape. While the study is of college women, the rape could have occurred at any point in their lives.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Feinstein Report Is Going to Cost Us

The Feinstein Report Is Going to Cost Us

Still, notwithstanding the revelation of a few new gory details, this is old news and its disclosure serves no useful purpose — it is just a settling of scores.

“Old news” is not used here in the familiar Clinton/Obama sense of acknowledging a few embarrassing scandal details on Friday night to pave the way for dismissing scandal coverage as stale by Monday morning. The CIA’s interrogation program happened over a decade ago. It was investigated by Justice Department prosecutors for years — and not once but twice. The second time, even Eric Holder, the hyper-politicized, hard-Left attorney general who had promised Obama’s base a “reckoning,” could not help but concede that the case against our intelligence agents should be dropped because the evidence was insufficient to warrant torture prosecutions.

As I have frequently argued here over the years, there is a world of difference between what is couched in political rhetoric as “torture,” a conversation stopper that the Left cavalierly applies to every instance of prisoner abuse, and the federal crime of torture, which has a strict legal definition and is a difficult offense to prove, precisely to ensure that torture is not trivialized. Not surprisingly, then, the fact that the interrogations investigation was terminated has never been regarded as a clean bill of health.

Friday, December 12, 2014

‘Torture’ Thought Experiment

‘Torture’ Thought Experiment

Here is a thought experiment I have been using for many years as we’ve debated this topic. It goes to what Obama says about the intolerably brutal nature ofwaterboarding, the most coercive of the enhanced techniques that were used.

If you were to take everyone in America who is serving a minor jail sentence of, say, 6 to 18 months, and you were to ask them whether they’d rather serve the rest of their time or be waterboarded in the manner practiced by the CIA post 9/11 (i.e., not in the manner practiced by the Japanese in World War II), how many would choose waterboarding? I am guessing, conservatively, that over 95 percent would choose waterboarding.

Now, if you take the same group of inmates and ask them whether they’d prefer to serve the remainder of their time or be subjected to Obama’s drone program (where we kill rather than capture terrorists, therefore get no intelligence from the people in the best position to provide actionable intelligence, and kill bystanders – including some children – in addition to the target), how many would choose the drone program? I am guessing that it would be . . . zero.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Debunking the Debunking of Dynamic Scoring and the Laffer Curve - Daniel J. Mitchell - Townhall Finance Conservative Columnists and Financial Commentary - Page full

Debunking the Debunking of Dynamic Scoring and the Laffer Curve - Daniel J. Mitchell - Townhall Finance Conservative Columnists and Financial Commentary - Page full

He asks nine questions and then provides his version of the right answers. Let’s analyze those answers and see which of his points have merit and which ones fall flat.
But even before we get to his first question, I can’t resist pointing out that he calls dynamic scoring “an accounting gimmick from the 1970s” in his introduction. That is somewhat odd since the JCT and CBO were both completely controlled by Democrats at the time and there was zero effort to do anything other than static scoring.
I suppose Yglesias actually means that dynamic scoring first became an issue in the 1970s as Ronald Reagan (along with Jack Kemp and a few other lawmakers) began to argue that lower marginal tax rates would generate some revenue feedback because of improved incentives to work, save, and invest.
Now let’s look at his nine questions and see if we can debunk his debunking.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Edging towards Irrelevance - part 1

Edging towards Irrelevance - part 1

Suppose you published a book making a set of very specific claims. Then, after highly critical reviews of your book are published in major scientific journals, an international research team publishes a detailed study in the Proceedings of the National Academy (PNAS) on the very system that was the focus of your book. Great news?  Well, maybe, except for one little problem. That research paper shows, in great detail, why the claims at the heart of your book were wrong. Do you walk away quietly, hoping no one notices?

Monday, December 08, 2014

New estimates of the effects of the minimum wage | Econbrowser

New estimates of the effects of the minimum wage | Econbrowser

A large literature has examined the effects on employment of raising the minimum wage, with different researchers arriving at conflicting conclusions. The core reason that economists can’t answer questions like this better is that we usually can’t run controlled experiments. There is always some reason that the legislators chose to raise the minimum wage, often related to prevailing economic conditions. We can never be sure if changes in employment that followed the legislation were the result of those motivating conditions or the result of the legislation itself. For example, if Congress only raises the minimum wage when the economy is on the rebound and all wages are about to rise anyway, we’d usually observe a rise in employment following a hike in the minimum wage that is not caused by the legislation itself. UCSD Ph.D. candidate Michael Wither and his adviser Professor Jeffrey Clemens have some interesting new research that sheds some more light on this question.

Clemens and Wither study the effects of a series of hikes in the federal minimum wage signed into law in May 2007. The first of these raised the minimum rage from $5.15 to $5.85 effective July 2007, the second from $5.85 to $6.55 effective July 2008, and the third from $6.55 to $7.25 in July 2009. They note that such legislation would be expected to affect some states more than others, since many states already had a state-mandated minimum wage that was higher than the federal. They therefore chose to compare two groups of states, the first of which had a state-mandated minimum wage of $6.55 or higher as of January 2008, with all other states included in the second group. The hope is that this gives us a kind of controlled experient, with the federal legislation effectively raising the minimum wage for some states but not others.

The hike in the federal minimum wage should also matter more for some workers than others. To allow for the latter possibility, Clemens and Wither considered two different groups of workers. The first group had an average wage in the 12 months leading up to July 2009 that was below $7.50, while the second group had an average wage over this period between $7.50 and $10.00. We would expect the legislation to matter more for the first group than for the second. The quasi-experiment is thus to compare the change in wages between low skill and slightly higher skill individuals between states that were affected by the federal legislation and those that were not.
The hike in the minimum wage thus appears to have raised the wage for low-skilled workers but made it harder for them to find jobs. Clemens and Wither conclude:
Over the late 2000s, the average effective minimum wage rose by 30 percent across the United States. We estimate that these minimum wage increases reduced the national employment-to-population ratio by 0.7 percentage point.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Please Don’t Price Low-Skilled Workers Out of Jobs

Please Don’t Price Low-Skilled Workers Out of Jobs

The economic reasons against raising the minimum wage are too many to rehearse in a short letter. So bear with me as I focus on what I believe is the most important of the reasons: raising the minimum wage will harm the very people who I know you seek to help.

Employers of minimum-wage workers almost all operate in highly competitive industries, such as retail food service, cleaning services, and lawn-care services. These industries have at least three characteristics that make a minimum-wage hike not only especially unlikely to result in higher incomes for low-skilled workers, but actually to reduce to zero the incomes of workers who can least afford to suffer such an economic calamity.

First, profit margins in the industries that use lots of low-skilled workers generally are razor thin. So there’s no way that mandated higher labor costs can be absorbed by these employers – that is, there is no way that the costs of a higher minimum wage will be paid for exclusively, or even largely, by employers.

Second, many of the tasks performed by low-skilled workers are manual and rote and, hence, are especially easy to mechanize. Third, many of these tasks are of such low value to consumers that they are readily avoided if the cost of their performance rises significantly. The incidence of such mechanization and avoidance will increase with the costs of employing human workers. For example, some fast-food restaurants are now experimenting with computers that allow customers to place orders and pay without the assistance of cashiers. And just a few weeks ago I stayed at a hotel in Manhattan that gives extra awards points to guests who stay for multiple nights and who agree to forgo daily maid service.

The result of this reality is that a government-enforced hike in the cost of employing low-skilled workers will cast many of the lowest-skilled workers indefinitely into unemployment lines. These workers’ pay will fall to $0. Worse, they will be denied opportunities to gain work experience. The ranks of people lacking skills and experience – and hope – will swell.

I know, Dave, that you mean well. I know also that some ‘experts’ assure you that studies exist that contradict the economic analysis that I summarize above. But for every empirical study that denies the negative consequences of minimum-wage legislation, I can show you several top-flight studies that confirm that these negative consequences are real.

So in light of the dueling empirics on this matter, I suggest that common sense combined with human decency counsel against raising the minimum wage. If (as is the case) the empirical evidence drawn from a multi-trillion-dollar, complex, and ever-changing economy doesn’t overwhelmingly contradict the fundamental economic proposition that raising employers’ cost of hiring low-skilled workers will prompt employers to more strictly economize on the number of such workers they hire, then to nevertheless forcibly increase employers’ costs of hiring low-skilled workers is to unjustifiably put in greater peril the most economically vulnerable people in our society.

I would be happy to testify, in Richmond, in much more detail on both the theoretical and empirical case against raising the minimum wage. Such a policy is, despite its fine-sounding name and the excellent intentions of you and many other of its proponents, profoundly if invisibly anti-poor and anti-minority.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

Libel law and the Rolling Stone / UVA alleged gang rape story - The Washington Post

Libel law and the Rolling Stone / UVA alleged gang rape story - The Washington Post

Several readers have asked: If the Rolling Stone article describing the alleged gang rape of a UVA student at a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity party is materially false, could the Rolling Stone be successfully sued for libel? This is a good illustration of some important libel law principles, so I thought I’d write about it.
The answer turns out to be, most likely yes. However, various plaintiffs might not want to.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

A Story Too Useful to Verify? | National Review Online

A Story Too Useful to Verify? | National Review Online

Rolling Stone has published an incredible story about a rape at the University of Virginia, sending shock waves around the country.

But when I say the story is incredible, I mean that in the literal, largely abandoned sense of the word. It is not credible — I don’t believe it.

I’m not saying that the author of the story, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, deliberately fabricated facts. Nor do I believe that all of her reporting was flawed. There may be an outrageously callous attitude toward sexual assaults at UVA. Rape, particularly date rape, may be a major problem there. I’ve talked to enough people with connections to the campus to think that part is credible enough. But the central story isn’t about a spontaneous alcohol-fueled case of some creep refusing to take no for an answer (an inexcusable offense in my opinion). It’s an account of a well-planned gang rape by seven fraternity pledges at the direction of two members. If true, lots of people need to go to jail for decades — if.

The basic story is this: Jackie is asked out on a date her freshman year by a junior named “Drew” (not his real name). After dinner, they go to a party at Phi Kappa Psi. Quickly, Drew asks Jackie, “Want to go upstairs, where it’s quieter?”

Jackie is led to a “pitch-black” bedroom. She’s knocked to the floor. A heavy person jumps on top of her. A hand covers her mouth. When she bites it, she’s punched in the face. And for the next three hours she’s brutally raped, with Drew and another upperclassman shouting out instructions to the pledges, referring to Jackie as “it.”

Many alleged details (though Erdely never uses the word “alleged”) aren’t suitable for a family paper. Others are simply hard to believe. The pitch-black darkness doesn’t prevent Jackie from recognizing an attacker or seeing them drink beer. The assault takes place amidst the wreckage of a broken glass table, but the rapists are undeterred by shards of glass.

The most unbelievable dialogue comes later. Sometime after 3 a.m., Jackie leaves the still-raging party, “her face beaten, dress spattered with blood,” without anyone seeing her. Distraught, she calls three friends, Andy, Randall, and Cindy (not their real names) for help. They arrive in “minutes.” One of the male friends says they have to take her to the hospital. Cindy replies, “Is that such a good idea?” adding, “Her reputation will be shot for the next four years.”

Erdely expounds: “Andy seconded the opinion, adding that since he and Randall both planned to rush fraternities, they ought to think this through. The three friends launched into a heated discussion about the social price of reporting Jackie’s rape . . . ”

Really? Neither boy put Jackie’s medical needs above their pledge prospects? What a convenient conversation for an exposé of rape culture — it reads like a script written for a feminist avant-garde theater troupe. Similarly, when Jackie reports what happened to school authorities — again, a brutal, premeditated gang rape by nearly half the pledge class of a prominent fraternity — the dean is described as responding with all of the emotion you’d expect if Jackie requested to change majors. Meanwhile, it was all kept hush-hush until Erdely reported it.

Erdely admits she set out to find a sexual-assault story at an elite school like UVA. She looked at lots of other colleges first, but “none of those schools felt quite right” in the words of a Washington Post profile of Erdely. But UVA, which Erdely describes in Rolling Stone as a school without a thriving “radical feminist culture seeking to upend the patriarchy,” was just right. As Worth magazine editor Richard Bradley noted last week, the whole thing seems like an adventure in confirmation bias.

Initially, Erdely wouldn’t say whether she even knew the names of the alleged rapists. Late Monday, according to the Washington Post, Erdely’s editor said Rolling Stone “verified their existence” by talking to Jackie’s friends, but the magazine couldn’t reach them. Uh huh.

Erdely’s story was reported uncritically for days as a powerful example of the “rape epidemic” that is somehow taking place amidst a 20-year decline in reported rapes. News outlets repeated the claim that one in five college women are sexually assaulted. This bogus statistic comes from “The Campus Sexual Assault Study,” a shoddy online survey of just two universities that counted attempted (forced) kissing and the like as “sexual assault” — and never even asked female respondents about rape.

Erdely’s story may be proven true after a needed investigation, but I suspect it will turn out to have been one of those stories too useful to verify.

The Laffer Curve: Will Tax Cuts Pay for Themselves? : The Freeman : Foundation for Economic Education

The Laffer Curve: Will Tax Cuts Pay for Themselves? : The Freeman : Foundation for Economic Education
As someone who worked for Laffer (in 2006–07), I thought I would clarify some of the misconceptions that leftist progressives and even many libertarians have about supply-side economics and the Reagan years.

In my view, Laffer’s biggest contribution to policy debates was to show the ambiguity in the terms “tax cut” and “tax hike.” In his own writings, Laffer would always distinguish between a tax rate reduction and a drop in tax revenues. If the analyst adopts a static model of the economy, and assumes households and businesses act the same regardless of tax rates, then the two ways of speaking are identical. In debates over government policy, people typically rely on the static approach. For example, they refer to a “tax cut of $x billion” or say that the president’s proposal would “raise taxes by $x billion over 10 years.” Laffer’s insight demonstrates that the world is a far more complicated place.

If people respond to incentives — as they always do — then changes in the tax rate and tax revenues may be quite different, and can even go in opposite directions. For example, when it comes to the personal income tax, did the Reagan administration “cut taxes”? Well, tax rates certainly fell sharply: the top personal income tax rate went from 70 percent in 1980 down to 28 percent by 1988. However, during the Reagan years, tax receipts went up — from $599 billion in fiscal year 1981 to $991 billion in FY 1989 (in historical dollars), an annualized growth rate of 6.5 percent. It’s definitely true that the federal debt mushroomed under Reagan’s tenure. In my view, this is one of the failures of Reagan’s “conservative” and “small government” legacy. However, it is ludicrous that critics deride his “tax cuts for the rich” as the source of the deficits; total federal outlays went from $678 billion in FY 1981 to $1,144 billion in FY 1989, for an annualized growth rate of 6.8 percent. Over the whole period, therefore, total federal tax receipts grew by a cumulative 65 percent while total outlays grew 69 percent. The problem with “Reaganomics” wasn’t that it “starved the beast” of revenue, but rather that the federal government let spending grow faster than tax receipts.

Of course, my discussion above relies on what has become known as the “Laffer curve,” which is the source of both confusion and ridicule among economists and pundits alike. The Laffer curve epitomizes the distinction between tax rates and total receipts by plotting them against each other. The two endpoints are easy enough to calculate. At a tax rate of 0 percent, the government will collect $0 in tax receipts. However, at a tax rate of 100 percent, the government will also collect (virtually) $0 in total receipts, because people will either stop generating income, or they will operate in the black market and fail to report their income to the IRS.

Between these extremes, the government will collect positive revenue. If we assume a smooth curve, then there is a tax rate — greater than 0 percent but smaller than 100 percent — that maximizes total tax revenues. This has been dubbed the “Laffer point” by some, but the title may sow seeds of confusion. In neither his scholarly nor his popular writings did Laffer ever argue that this point is optimal. (You can read about it at the Laffer Center website if you don’t believe me.) Rather, his modest point was simply to underscore the trade-offs involved. Clearly, it made no sense to set tax rates above the inflection point on the Laffer curve, because then the government would not only cripple economic growth, but also forfeit potential tax revenue.

In other words, the only rhetorical significance of the “Laffer point” would be to convince all sides in the policy debate that surely tax rates should be reduced at least to that level, because doing so would allow citizens to keep more after-tax income while also allowing the government to increase its revenue. To repeat, the purpose for this rhetorical point wasn’t that Laffer himself was holding up “more government spending” as a goal; it was instead to avoid truly absurd rates of taxation that were counterproductive even from the perspective of big-government liberals.

Critics like to deride the Laffer curve as “voodoo economics” by pointing to counterexamples, say of tax rate reductions that didn’t increase total revenue, or by pointing to tax rate hikes that brought in more revenue. But these possibilities were contained in the original Laffer curve itself. Specifically, if the tax rate starts below the inflection point, then a tax rate reduction will shrink receipts, while a tax rate hike will increase receipts. Laffer never drew his curve with the inflection point hovering above 1 percent, so how in the world did critics get the idea that Laffer thought “tax cuts always pay for themselves”? Did the critics think Laffer couldn’t read his own curve?

Now what Laffer did stress — and I can speak with authority here, because at his firm I had occasion to read plenty of his old papers going back to the early 1980s — is that a tax rate reduction would have a smaller impact on tax receipts than a “static” scoring analysis would indicate. So, for example, if California cut its marginal personal income tax rates across the board by one percentage point, the drop in total tax receipts would be smaller than one percent. The increase in economic activity would not only increase the base of the personal income tax, but it would also increase receipts from sales taxes, property taxes, and so on. Depending on how onerous the initial tax rate was, it was even theoretically possible that the drop in revenue would be negative — meaning that total tax receipts would actually increase — but that was never a blanket prediction of the Laffer approach.

Let me close with one last analytical twist I learned while working for Laffer. When it comes to assessing the incentives from a tax rate change, you need to look at the after-tax return on the margin from additional activity. For example, at first it might seem as if a tax rate hike from 10 percent to 20 percent is a bigger deal than a hike of 90 percent to 95 percent, because the first hike is a 10-percentage-point increase and a doubling of the rate, while the second hike is a 5-percentage-point increase and a comparable jump in the proportion. Yet, if someone is considering investing in a project that will pay $1,000, in the first scenario his after-tax return goes from $900 to $800, while in the second scenario it goes from $100 down to $50. The measured rate of after-tax return has been cut in half in the second scenario, while it only fell about 12 percent in the first scenario.

The Reagan years were certainly not a textbook model of small government and fiscal conservatism, but the derision of the theoretical apparatus of supply-side economics — and of the Laffer curve in particular — is misplaced. The point here was and is a simple one, yet to this day it is routinely ignored in policy debates.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Don’t Hate Me ‘Cause I’m Human — A blast from the past post Dec. 2010 | According To Hoyt

Don’t Hate Me ‘Cause I’m Human — A blast from the past post Dec. 2010 | According To Hoyt

There’s this disturbing trend I’ve observed recently – okay, the last thirty years.

It’s part of what I was talking about yesterday, in a way. For a book to be considered serious, or introspective or relevant, it has to attack the past or western culture or civilization or tech or… humanity.

Not that there is anything wrong with attacking these, mind, to an extent. And they used to be shockers and a very good way to attract attention immediately. And I’m not saying the mindlessly chauvinistic “our people, right or wrong” was much better. For instance, the cowboy-and-Indian trope became really tired after a while and when my brother gave me a book called – I think – (in Portuguese translation) The Mace of War, detailing all the injustices against Native Americans it was a mind-altering experience. Literally. And very worth it. [Though I later found it was also full of politically correct made up stuff like the small pox blankets. In fact the book might have been of the school of false-Amerindian “History” that gave us what’s his face at Colorado College. OTOH it was a good way to make me think outside the mindless trope of afternoon serials — note from 2014 Sarah.]

I’m just saying that these days, by default what you hear is against-whatever-the-dominant-culture is.

I first realized this when I was studying for my final exam in American culture in college. The book changed opinions and contradicted itself but it was ALWAYS against the winners and against whatever ended up being the status quo. So, the book was against the North of the US, because the North… won. Even though it had before been against slavery. It was very much against modern US and raged against… embalming practices for three or four pages. (Because they divorce us from the Earth. Just SILLY stuff.)

And then I started noting this trend in everything, including fiction. Think about it. Who is to blame in any drama: the US; the successful; the British; the Europeans; the… humans.

Years ago when Discovery Channel put out its “future evolution” series, my kids and I were glued to the screen. We’re the family for whom the Denver Museum of Nature And Science is home away from home, the place we will visit if we have an afternoon free, the place where we have watched lectures and movies. I refer to it as “molesting dinos” and it’s usually my way to celebrate finishing a book.

So we were glued to the TV. Except that after the beginning, I realized the way it was going, and I started predicting it. Instead of taking a “what might humans become” the people who wrote this went down a path where first humans and then everything VAGUELY related to humans became successively extinct, till the only warm-blooded survivor was a bird, and then that too became extinct. In the end, tree-dwelling SQUIDS inherited the Earth.

Yes, you DID read that right. Tree. Dwelling. SQUIDS.

The contortions were capricious and often absurd, but you could predict where it was going.

It’s been a while since we had cable, but I understand there was a very popular series called “Life After US” about what would happen to the works of humans if we were suddenly extinct. And people watched it, fascinated and – from the tones of posts about it – a little wistful.

This is when you must step back and go “What is wrong with us?” “Is this a sickness of the soul?”

The answer? Yes and no.

Part of it, of course, is wanting to shock, wanting to revolutionize, wanting to be innovative… in safe ways – in (dare we say it?) politically correct ways. It’s easy and approved of to attack: males, America, western civ, humans.

People who select works at publishers and studios and all that are often liberal arts graduates and they come from this curious world where they still think the establishment is circa 1950s and that they’re telling something new and wonderful.

Part of it is, of course, that we do see problems in our own culture, in our own society, in our own species. Of course we do. We are an introspective culture. We examine our consciences, we find ourselves lacking, we try to improve. This is, in general a good thing – though perhaps a little perspective is also in order.

Part of it is politeness/sensitivity to other cultures, mingled with the consciousness our ancestors were often wrong. We’ve been taught the crimes of colonizers in various lands and most of those colonizers (and colonized, at least for most of us) were our ancestors. We’re conscious we’re big and others are smaller. It’s a peculiar form of noblesse oblige. We don’t want to trample others by pointing out faults in other cultures or other species. I understand this, because I learned to drive in my thirties and lived in a mountain town with lots of foot traffic downtown. I was excruciatingly careful driving through there, because I could crush a pedestrian and not notice. This is why we tend to turn our flagellation upon ourselves.

And part of it is sicker/darker. I notice this tendency every time we discuss a great figure of the past, from George Washington to Heinlein – as different as they are. I call it “counting coup.” George Washington? Well, he was slave owner. And he had wooden teeth. And Lincoln? Well, he was very ill, and besides, he was probably gay and in the closet. Heinlein? Despite all his efforts at including – for his time – minorities and giving women starring roles, he must have been closet racist and sexist, donchaknow? Because he doesn’t fit OUR superior notions of inclusiveness.

What is going on here – besides tearing at our own past, and thereby continuing the self-flagellation – is being able to prove we are “superior” to these high achievers. We might do nothing and achieve nothing, but we are superior beings because we’re more moral than they are. Individually, none of these trends is really bad – or at least not for those of us who grew up with the opposite tradition.

Oh, the constant and predictable chest-beating becomes boring. At least it does for me. Maybe it doesn’t for other people?

But think of (grin) the children. They have no perspective. All they hear is how their country, their culture, their SPECIES is evil. How things would be so much better without us… How things would – ultimately – be much better if… THEY hadn’t been born.

It’s not healthy. It’s vaguely disgusting. And the best it can do is engender the MOTHER of all backlashes and bring about a cultural chauvinism the likes of which you’ve never seen. The worst… well, one of the other cultures we don’t criticize because they’re small and we’re big becomes the norm.

And before you cheer them on, let me put this in perspective: Western civ has committed crimes. ALL human cultures throughout history have committed crimes. Slavery? Since the dawn of time. Exploitation? Since the dawn of time. Murder? War? Genocide? Yep, and yep, and yep. And many of those cultures STILL do all of those things and don’t feel in the slightest bit guilty, mostly because we handily and frequently blame OURSELVES for their behavior and they get our books, our TV series and our movies.

Such as it is, the West has brought the greatest freedom, prosperity and security to the greatest population.

Yes, there were crimes committed, but a lot of them were the result of a clash of world views – tribalism met the state. Look, it’s not that Native Americans or Africans lived in a state of innocence and harmony with nature. If you believe that, you need to study history and put down Jean Jacques Rosseau. And get out of your mom’s basement. And take the Star Trek posters off the wall. And the Avatar poster, too, while you’re at it.

To the extent the native peoples were innocent and helpless, it was because of their mental furniture. What gave colonizers the edge was not their weapons or civilization (Oh, come on, back then, there wasn’t that much of a distance.) It was their mental furniture. To wit, they had overcome tribalism and organized on a large scale. Most of the colonized (excepting some small empires) hadn’t. So they would attack in ways that worked in tribal warfare: exterminate a village or an outpost. And the reaction of the colonizers (who by the way also didn’t understand the difference in mental furniture and therefore thought this made the native peoples’ “bestial” or “evil) was to exterminate all of a tribe or a federation of tribes. And it worked because westerners were united as a MUCH larger group. Which made them stronger. Western civilization started overcoming tribalism with the Romans. That was the real innovation.

If you think that we’re rich because of those acts, you must study economics. It doesn’t work that way. If anything those acts made all of us worse off. We’re way past any wealth we could plunder off others. We’ve created wealth. The whole world lives better than it did five hundred years ago.

And if you’re going to tell me the fact that all humans are flawed proves that we’re a bad species, you’ll have to tell me: As opposed to what? Dolphins are serial rapists. Chimps commit murder. Rats… Every species we examine has our sins, but none of our redeeming qualities.

Heinlein said it was important to be FOR humanity because we’re human. Beavers might be admirable, but we’re not beavers. He was right. But beyond all that, we’re the only species that tries self-perfecting. We exist – as Pratchett said – at the place where rising ape meets falling angel, but as far as I know, we’re the only species reaching upward. (Of course, we wouldn’t know if there are others and again, we have to assume we are it. The others have flaws too.)

We are part of the world and in it. To love the other animals of the Earth – or the hypothetical alien – and hate us is strange. Are we not animals? Are we not of the Earth? And who the heck can compete with sentients who exist only in the story teller’s imagination?

By all means, let’s protect the weaker. Let’s shelter the little. But let’s not beat ourselves because we’re bigger and stronger. Let’s USE our powers for good instead.

Am I saying that you shouldn’t tell these stories then?

No, I’m not. I would never repress anyone’s right to create, or anyone’s opinion. But I’m asking you to think. I’m asking you to pause and go “The west is bad… as opposed to? Humans are bad… as opposed to?” And tell your kids that, ask them those questions.

And then, perhaps, every now and then, try to imagine a story from the contrary view point. Just to wake things up. And to keep others thinking.

Because six decades of hating our own history, culture and species is enough.