Sunday, December 30

The ugliness penalty & the beauty premium

One of the leading students of beauty and success is Daniel Hamermesh of the University of Texas. Dr Hamermesh is an economist rather than a biologist, and thus brings a somewhat different perspective to the field. He has collected evidence from more than one continent that beauty really is associated with success—at least, with financial success. He has also shown that, if all else is equal, it might be a perfectly legitimate business strategy to hire the more beautiful candidate.

Just over a decade ago Dr Hamermesh presided over a series of surveys in the United States and Canada which showed that when all other things are taken into account, ugly people earn less than average incomes, while beautiful people earn more than the average. The ugliness “penalty” for men was -9% while the beauty premium was +5%. For women, perhaps surprisingly considering popular prejudices about the sexes, the effect was less: the ugliness penalty was -6% while the beauty premium was +4%.

Since then, he has gone on to measure these effects in other places. In China, ugliness is penalised more in women, but beauty is more rewarded. The figures for men in Shanghai are –25% and +3%; for women they are –31% and +10%. In Britain, ugly men do worse than ugly women (-18% as against -11%) but the beauty premium is the same for both (and only +1%).

That's apparently just Shanghai, which isn't necessarily representative of China; the Shanghainese have a reputation for being, let us say, superficial.

Just when you thought the Huckabee campaign couldn’t get any creepier…

Mike Huckabee held a fundraiser earlier this week at the Houston home of Dr. Steven Hotze. As Novak notes, Hotze is “a leader in the highly conservative Christian Reconstruction movement.”

Christian Reconstructionists, for those unfamiliar with the term, are Religious Right radicals who believe that America, and the rest of the world besides, should be governed in accordance with strict Biblical law.

Saturday, December 29

Cultural elite does not exist

[Researchers] divided people into four groups – univores, who only like popular culture; omnivores, who like everything from opera to soap opera; paucivores, who absorb very little culture; and inactives, who absorb practically none.

People's education, income and social class were all taken into account but this study, unlike others of its kind, clearly differentiated between "class" and "status". An out-of-work aristocrat has class, without status, while there are bright, ambitious people from poor backgrounds who have "status" but not "class".

In previous studies they have concluded that status is now determined more by the work someone does than by their birth or their wealth. Office workers consider that they have a higher status than manual workers; among office workers, professionals think themselves a cut above works managers, and so on.

The newspaper a person chooses, and the forms of entertainment that person enjoys are all tied up with ideas about social status. That does not mean that professionals in elite jobs restrict themselves to "elite" arts, but it does mean that the opera houses and specialist art galleries are likely to be filled with people who have "status".

Class, as opposed to status, does not seem to have much effect on cultural tastes. "A substantial minority of members of the most advantaged social groups are univores or inactives," the researchers found.

Entitlement Mentality

So-called entitlement programs are the reason “America faces escalating deficit levels and debt burdens that could swamp our ship of state,” as Comptroller General David Walker put it in a recent speech. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid account for 40 percent of federal spending and are expected to consume 51 percent in a decade.

Right now Social Security makes the federal fiscal picture look better than it really is, since the program generates a surplus that masks the true size of the deficit. In fiscal year 2007, for example, the official budget deficit was $163 billion; excluding the Social Security surplus, it was more than twice as high.

Since the government spends the surplus on other programs, the Social Security “trust fund” consists entirely of federal bonds, and those IOUs will come due soon. The oldest baby boomers become eligible for early retirement in 2008. They will start drawing Medicare benefits in three years.

The result, said Walker, will be a “tsunami of spending” that “will never recede.” Under current law the estimated gap between the benefits retirees have been promised and revenue to fund them is $53 trillion, of which $34 trillion is due to Medicare.

Nearly one-quarter of that long-term Medicare deficit, $8 trillion, is attributable to the prescription drug benefit championed by President Bush and approved by a Republican-controlled Congress. “Incredibly,” Walker noted, “this number was not disclosed or discussed until after the Congress had voted on the bill and the president had signed it into law.” He said the bill’s passage “arguably represents government ‘truth’ and ‘transparency’ at its worst.”

Although it was presented as a solution to the dilemma of senior citizens forced to choose between eating and taking their medicine, the drug benefit is not means-tested. Like Social Security and Medicare generally, it transfers wealth from young workers to retirees who are often financially better off, buying the votes of older Americans with their grandchildren’s money.

Not that the Democrats, who criticized the drug benefit as insufficiently generous, are any better. If you believe a Democratic president would be more fiscally responsible than Bush, have a look at the campaign ad that presents “Universal Health Care,” “Alternative Energy,” “Middle Class Tax Breaks,” and “Universal Pre-K” as Christmas gifts lovingly wrapped by a beneficent Hillary Clinton. Unlike Charlie Rangel, at least Clinton wants to buy gifts for us, but she’s still using our money.

"Our government has made a whole lot of promises that, in the long run, it cannot possibly keep without huge tax increases,” Walker noted.

Not all are mourning Bhutto

Punjabis account for almost half of the country's population and control its most important institution: the military. Yet Bhutto was a Sindhi, a member of an ethnic minority that accounts for just 12 percent of Pakistan's 165 million people.

She was also a hero to a Sindhi separatist movement, a decades-old struggle for independence pursued by a people who see Pakistan as a prison. Under British colonial rule, the Sindhis were regional ministers of their own affairs. After partition in 1947, the Sindhis were marginalized by politically powerful migrants, the Mohajirs, who led the drive to split India as two 'nations' divided by religion. The Mohajirs, who settled primarily in the capital of the province, Karachi, are now represented in Islamabad by one of their own: Musharraf.

Immediately after Bhutto died, it should come as no surprise that the most violent protests erupted in the streets of Sindh.

Because the Mohajir elite are both educated and secular, the return of Bhutto and her call for democracy should have been cause for cosmopolitan celebration. Yet she was generally loathed by Mohajirs. In Karachi, a popular comedian often played Bhutto in drag and made fun of her uncomfortable accent in Urdu. Rather than a symbol of civility, she was viewed as a chief of the hostile natives, the Sindhis.

In fact, this is not far from the truth. Bhutto's cousin Mumtaz Bhutto is the chairman of the separatist Sindhi National Front (SNF). In a meeting over tea and cookies at his well-guarded home in Karachi, Mumtaz Bhutto once told me the Sindhi separatists are inspired by the secession of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in 1971. Just as Islamabad "did not read the signs" warning of what was about to happen in Dhaka, he believes the Musharraf regime is "totally oblivious to what is going on in Sindh."

The separatist sentiment in Sindh is not unique in Pakistan.

In the neighboring province of Balochistan, a resource-rich but desperately forbidding region, many of the five million ethnic Balochis support the Baloch Liberation Army, a separatist militia that sometimes bombs natural-gas pipelines and government offices.

The BLA's longtime leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti, was killed last year when the Pakistan Air Force bombed his remote mountain hideaway. And last month, his successor, Balash Khan Marri, was shot and killed by an unknown assailant.

And in the wild, wild northwest, ethnic Pashtuns - cousins of the same people who formed the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan - battle their country's own army.

In short, aside from an observance of Islam, the Muslims of Pakistan have little else in common. The country's name offers the best illustration of its synthetic construction: Pakistan is an acronym composed of the titular provinces Punjab, Afghan (for the people of the wild northwest), Kashmir, Sindh, and Balochistan. Each of these provinces is dominated by separate peoples with distinct languages. The official language of Pakistan, Urdu, is the mother tongue of only 8 percent of its people, the Mohajirs.

Read the rest.

"Migrants", not "Expats"

If you picked up, moved to Paris, and landed a job, what would you call yourself? Chances are, if you’re an American, you’d soon find yourself part of a colorful community of “expats.” If, while there, you hired an Algerian nanny—a woman who had picked up, moved abroad, and landed a job—how would you refer to him or her? Expat probably isn’t the first word that springs to mind. Yet almost no one refers to herself as a “migrant worker.”

Laura María Agustín’s Sex at the Margins catalogues the many ways in which wealthy Westerners cast immigrants as The Other....

Comparing the ways immigrants describe their experiences and the ways NGO personnel and theorists describe immigrants, she writes, “The crux of the difference concerns autonomy; whether travellers are perceived to have quite a lot versus little or none at all.” Theories of migration portray migrants as unsophisticated and desperate people who are “pushed” and “pulled” along a variety of dimensions. “The tourism and pleasure seeking of people from ‘developing societies’, rarely figures, as though migration and tourism were mutually exclusive,” she writes, “Why should the travels to work of people from less wealthy countries be supposed to differ fundamentally from those of Europeans?” “Migrants” travel because they are poor and desperate, “expatriates,” travel because they are curious, self-actualizing cosmopolites. But Agustín searches in vain for an immigrant whose self-identity reflects the wretched portrait of the [model] migrant drawn by those who would help.

As Agustín shows, nowhere are these human caricatures more exaggerated than in the contemporary conversation about human trafficking, or—to use a term Agustín detests—“sex trafficking.” While selling sex may be a rational choice for some, governmental and charitable anti-trafficking initiatives rarely discriminate between those who would prefer sex work to the relevant alternatives and those who have been wronged. Sex slavery statistics are so tenuous that debunking them is a sport for skeptical journalists, while genuine labor abuses go ignored.

Collective anxiety about women who traverse sexual and spatial boundaries is anything but new. As Agustín writes, “Women who cross borders have long been viewed as deviant, so perhaps the present-day panic about the sexuality of women is not surprising.” Immigrants are human beings with the courage to leave the comforts of home. In Sex at the Margins, Agustín asks readers to leave behind easy stereotypes about migrants and welcome the overlooked expats among us...

Agustín: Women are sometimes called “boundary markers”: When States feel threatened, women's bodies become symbols of home and the nation. This is a common sexist idea in patriarchal societies. The idea that women are domestic and symbolize home and hearth —but also that they should stay home and be home—is deeply entrenched all over the world. And while richer countries might favour gender equity for their own women, they often “domesticate” women from poorer contexts.

The U.N. protocols on trafficking and smuggling of human beings are gendered. The trafficking protocol mentions women and children, and mentions sexual exploitation, but doesn't say anything about voluntary leaving. The smuggling protocol talks about men who want to travel but have crossed a border in a less than kosher way—and sex is not mentioned.

People talk about a contemporary "feminization" of migration, but the evidence for this is shaky. There have been other waves of women migrating in numbers, as in the late 19th century from Europe to Argentina, where they were often accused of being prostitutes. Europeans didn’t want to think these white women would set out on their own like this or end up selling sex, which is where the term "white slavery" derives from. The phenomenon was similar to what we see today, only the direction has shifted...

reason: Is there a romanticization of home at work here? The idea that it's always best to stay in the place you come from?

Agustín: Immigration procedures still assume that everyone calls some country “home”, but many people’s situations don’t easily fit this idea. They’ve got more than one home or don’t want to call anyplace home. The collective fantasy says home is always a lovely place, but many people have a contrary experience.
Do Suicides Really Peak During the Holidays?
No.

Suicide rates peak in the spring or summer and are lowest in the winter, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Thursday, December 27

Unintended Consequences

With respect to lead poisoning from recycling electronics in China Tim Worstall notes
...the glass on CRT or TV is 25% lead oxide. There’s no sensible (ie economic) method of recycling this. The logical thing is to recycle all the rest and stick the glass into landfill. But, of course, you’re not allowed to stick lead into landfill, are you?

Which is something of a pity, for while metallic lead, or lead oxide, would indeed be dangerous to those in the future, lead tied up in glass is not. Glass is, in fact, one of the most stable materials known to man. The lead does not leach out into the groundwater. Not even acids extract it (which is why we use glass carboys to transport acids of course).

But the environmentalists see 'lead' and insist that it cannot be landfilled, it must be treated as poisonous and thus disposed of in a very expensive manner. This then means that the more sophisticated, mechanical, recycling methods do not make economic sense to do here in Europe. Thus the trade to China where people are, as the article points out, killing themselves and their children in doing said recycling.

Wondrous, isn’t it? By insisting on too much recycling, the rules make certain that not enough is done, by insisting that there should be no landfill, no lead entering the environment, they make sure that more lead does enter it.

Friday, December 21

A conservative liberalizes

Seoul's bulldozer
Lee Myung-bak shrugged off a financial scandal and thrashed his rivals at the polls this week to be elected South Korean president...

Mr Lee, of the conservative Grand National party...has rightly focused more on the economy than on long negotiations with the South's dysfunctional neighbour...

One way to achieve this would be aggressively to liberalise the economy....
South Korea chooses a new president
In Lee Myung-bak, South Korea has a president-elect who in February will bring to an end 10 years of liberal rule and, it is hoped, push economic growth rates back towards the levels of the 1990s.
And so "liberals" are therefore anti-growth?

Then the Economist says that "liberal in the Korean sense" is "slightly less pro-business and pro-American."

Wednesday, December 19

Too Bad!

If the USA had completely ignored the 9/11 attack - just shrugged and rebuilt the building - it would have been better than the real course of history. But that wasn't a political option.

Kill the unbeliever

Via Bryan Caplan: When to Stone Your Whole Family, citing Deuteronomy 13:6-10:
If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers;
Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth;
Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him:
But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.
That's from the holy book of the Christians so beloved by the House of Representatives. Of course, Christians rarely advocate that sort of behavior anymore, unlike the Muslims:

It is a mainstream belief among Muslims that apostasy (the repudiation of Islam by a Muslim) should be punished by death (granted, this rule is only made explicit in the hadith). It is also a mainstream belief that infidels should (if possible) be politically subjugated and forced to pay a poll tax. Yes, Muslims are counseled not to be aggressors, and thus to fight only defensive wars. But "defensive" is in the eye of the beholder. We can be sure that Osama bin Laden can tell a story about why his actions have been purely in "defense" of the faith.

Those readers who think I have offered a caricature of Islam must explain why an uncountable number of imams supported the fatwa against Salman Rushie, while not a single one (to the best of my knowledge) has pronounced a fatwa on Osama bin Laden.

Whoops, I wasn't paying attention when a resolution recognizing Ramadan and expressing the "deepest respect to Muslims in the United States and throughout the world" was passed. And the Indian festival of Diwali was honored, too. Nothing for Chinese New Year?

Monday, December 17

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion

Unless they want to.

Text of Legislation

HRES 847 EH

H. Res. 847

In the House of Representatives, U. S.,

December 11, 2007.

Whereas Christmas, a holiday of great significance to Americans and many other cultures and nationalities, is celebrated annually by Christians throughout the United States and the world;

Whereas there are approximately 225,000,000 Christians in the United States, making Christianity the religion of over three-fourths of the American population;

Whereas there are approximately 2,000,000,000 Christians throughout the world, making Christianity the largest religion in the world and the religion of about one-third of the world population;

Whereas Christians and Christianity have contributed greatly to the development of western civilization;

Whereas the United States, being founded as a constitutional republic in the traditions of western civilization, finds much in its history that points observers back to its Judeo-Christian roots;

Whereas on December 25 of each calendar year, American Christians observe Christmas, the holiday celebrating the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ;

Whereas for Christians, Christmas is celebrated as a recognition of God's redemption, mercy, and Grace; and

Whereas many Christians and non-Christians throughout the United States and the rest of the world, celebrate Christmas as a time to serve others: Now, therefore, be it

    Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

      (1) recognizes the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world;

      (2) expresses continued support for Christians in the United States and worldwide;

      (3) acknowledges the international religious and historical importance of Christmas and the Christian faith;

      (4) acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization;

      (5) rejects bigotry and persecution directed against Christians, both in the United States and worldwide; and

      (6) expresses its deepest respect to American Christians and Christians throughout the world.



What's sad is the number of people who felt they had to go along with this.

Friday, December 7

As If Bred by Alien Overlords

Three-Toed Sloth provides a Q 'n' A, in the course of which :
A: ...Doing well on standardized, multiple-choice tests calls for certain sorts of cognitive skills, certain kinds of abstract problem solving. Maybe more exactly, you need both aptitude at understanding explicit rules for manipulating symbols, communicated to you through the medium of writing, with very little contextual information to help you make sense of the message, and you need to be willing to follow those rules, even when they are pointless. These are skills that come from making your way through an industrial, or more precisely bureaucratic and mass-literate, society. (Shades of Luria!) These are skills you are more apt to learn if you grow up in a household which is already highly literate, etc., than if your parents and neighbors are all displaced peasants or harrassed proles. It's certainly not surprising if someone who grows up in a household of intellectuals (that is, clerks) finds these habits easy to learn.

Q: So the analogy suggests that IQ scores are...?

A: A proxy for the skills and habits encouraged by a bureaucratic society; skills and habits which can be at once highly heritable (because of strong transmission through family and neighbors) and highly learned (within the scope of what it is biologically possible for humans to learn and internalize).
Later,
A: ...If IQ really correlates with the ability to flourish in an industrial society (and I'm quite prepared to believe that), then it is, as I said last time, a measurement of the ability to navigate paper-pushing bureaucracies — to learn to manipulate arbitrary abstract explicit rules, and to do so on command. Presuming that people who don't manage to pull off at least some minimum level of this make very unattractive mating partners, and so have below-average reproductive success, then those of us in developed countries have spent the last one or two centuries breeding for docility, in both senses of the word.
It's really better in the original, though.

definitely an adventurous person


"If this picture makes you want to run out and eat processed salami meats, you are definitely an adventurous person, in my opinion". As a matter of fact, it looks pretty tasty to me.

Saturday, December 1

You are too stupid

You are too stupid to save for retirement, too stupid to stop eating fatty foods, too stupid to wear a seat belt, and/or too stupid to accept employment on the right terms -- so we will take control of these decisions for you, whether you like it or not.

Saturday, November 24

Undesirable

It is undesirable to believe in a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true.
–Bertrand Russell

Monday, November 19

Regulation: just try holding on to your wallet

Milton Friedman via Coyoteblog:
The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber.

Why We Trade

By Russell Roberts

We’re used to shrugging off all sorts of rhetorical gobbledygook from our politicians. But when you hear U.S. presidential candidates start to mouth off about free trade, watch your wallet: A discredited 14th-century theory of economics is enjoying a dangerous renaissance in the 2008 campaign.

To hear most politicians talk, you’d think that exports are the key to a country’s prosperity and that imports are a threat to its way of life. Trade deficits—importing more than we export—are portrayed as the road to ruin. U.S. presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama want to get tough with China because of “unfair” trading practices that help China sell products cheaply. Republican candidate Mitt Romney argues that trade is good because exports benefit the average American. Politicians are always talking about the necessity of other countries’ opening their markets to American products. They never mention the virtues of opening U.S. markets to foreign products.

This perspective on imports and exports is called mercantilism. It goes back to the 14th century and has about as much intellectual rigor as alchemy, another landmark of the pre-Enlightenment era.

The logic of “exports, good—imports, bad” seems straightforward at first—after all, when a factory closes because of foreign competition, there seem to be fewer jobs than there otherwise would be. Don’t imports cause factories to close? Don’t exports build factories?

But is the logic really so clear? As a thought experiment, take what would seem to be the ideal situation for a mercantilist. Suppose we only export and import nothing. The ultimate trade surplus. So we work and use raw materials and effort and creativity to produce stuff for others without getting anything in return. There’s another name for that. It’s called slavery. How can a country get rich working for others?

Then there’s the mercantilist nightmare: We import from abroad, but foreigners buy nothing from us. What would the world be like if every morning you woke up and found a Japanese car in your driveway, Chinese clothing in your closet, and French wine in your cellar? All at no cost. Does that sound like heaven or hell? The only analogy I can think of is Santa Claus. How can a country get poor from free stuff? Or cheap stuff? How do imports hurt us?

We don’t export to create jobs. We export so we can have money to buy the stuff that’s hard for us to make—or at least hard for us to make as cheaply. We export because that’s the only way to get imports. If people would just give us stuff, then we wouldn’t have to export. But the world doesn’t work that way.

It’s the same in our daily lives. It’s great when people give us presents—a banana bread or a few tomatoes from the garden. But a new car would be better. Or even just a cheaper car. But the people who bring us cars and clothes and watches and shoes expect something in return. That’s OK. That’s the way the world works. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the goal of life is to turn away bargains from outside our house or outside our country because we’d rather make everything ourselves. Self-sufficiency is the road to poverty.

And imports don’t destroy jobs. They destroy jobs in certain industries. But because trade allows us to buy goods more cheaply than we otherwise could, resources are freed up to expand existing opportunities and to create new ones. That’s why we trade—to leverage the skills of others who can produce things more effectively than we can, freeing us to make things we otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.

The United States has run a merchandise trade deficit every year since 1976. It has also added more than 50 million jobs during that time. Per capita income, corrected for inflation, is up more than 50 percent since 1976. The scaremongers who worry about trade deficits talk about stagnant wages, but they ignore fringe benefits (an increasingly important part of worker compensation) and fail to measure inflation properly.

In a recent Republican presidential debate, one of the moderators said that since 1989, the United States has lost 5 million jobs to foreign trade. He wanted to know what the candidates were going to do about it.

I have no idea how you measure that number, but the implication was that 5 million lost jobs over 18 years is a big number. Five million is a large number if we’re talking about the number of pennies I have to carry in my pockets. It’s a big number if we’re talking about the number of people coming to my kid’s birthday party. But it’s a very small number when you’re talking about job destruction and the job creation that follows in a dynamic economy.

On the first Friday of every month, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics produces an estimate of how many new jobs are added to the U.S. economy. That’s the net change, the gains minus the losses. The bureau also estimates quarterly gross job changes, the absolute number of jobs created and destroyed. In the fourth quarter of 2006, there were 7.7 million jobs created and 7.2 million jobs lost. That happens every quarter when there isn’t a recession—that’s how you add 50 million jobs over three decades.

Five million jobs lost over 18 years? Every three months, the U.S. job market more than makes up for those losses.

Trade is just one economic force that creates and destroys jobs. Tastes change. Innovation makes workers more productive. Some industries shrink. Others expand. Some disappear. New industries get created. Joseph Schumpeter called it creative destruction. He understood that it is the underlying mechanism that transforms our standard of living for the better.

Let’s stop trying to scare people with the Chinese threat to our economy. The world would be a better and more peaceful place if we stopped measuring the trade deficit. But if we’re going to measure it, the least we can do is talk about it sensibly.



Russell Roberts is professor of economics at George Mason University and a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is the host of the weekly podcast EconTalk at EconTalk.org and the author of The Choice: A Fable of Free Trade and Protectionism (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2006), a primer on trade issues written in the form of a novel.

Friday, November 16

Beijing’s Demonstration Sports

by John Derbyshire
Tibetan Snow Shooting. In their bid for a future Winter Olympics, the Communists will demonstrate their skills at picking off Tibetan refugees attempting to cross snow-covered Himalayan passes into Nepal. (This event may be scrapped because of a dispute with the Olympic authorities over the use of telescopic sights and snow goggles.)

Synchronized Slimming.
Competitors here have to devise an agricultural policy so irrational that 30 million peasants starve to death simultaneously. Traditionally the winning contestant has his portrait hung in a prominent position overlooking Tiananmen Square, but for Olympic purposes a medal award will be substituted.

Organ Extraction.
A test of speed and skill in wielding surgical instruments. A succession of convicted criminals, or members of obstreperous religious sects, are strapped to operating tables and their organs are removed without anesthetic, to be sold to intermediaries for transplant into wealthy foreigners. Points are awarded based on the total market value of the removed organs.

Indignathon.
Competitors have to bluster continuously for six hours, maintaining an attitude of sustained righteous indignation about the Opium Wars, the burning of the Summer Palace, the Siege of Peking, the Chinese Exclusion Acts, and other wrongs inflicted on the long-suffering and ever-righteous Chinese people by cruel, dastardly foreigners. (Some other traditional events — the 10,000 meters Self-Pity, the Triple Emotional Blackmail — have been folded into this one for Olympic purposes.)

Buddha Tossing.
Infant children declared by the Dalai Lama to be incarnate Buddhas must be seized and tossed into a barbed-wire enclosure, where they will spend the rest of their lives eating rice gruel and sewing export-quality gunny sacks. Extra points for family members of the living Buddha rounded up and incarcerated. (Half points for those dead on delivery to the enclosure.)

Korean herding.
Competitors operating in groups of four must surround parties of North Korean refugees and hustle them back across the Korean border to the warm embrace of the Dear Leader.

Chest thumping.
In this rather advanced event, competitors attempt to intimidate each other by shooting down satellites, threatening to nuke major cities, asserting ancient claims to other people’s countries, and setting up missile installations aimed at long-independent provinces.

Student Crushing.
Yet another attempt to introduce motorized sports into the Summer Olympics. Competitors driving tanks are let loose among crowds of student protestors with the aim of crushing as many students as possible beneath the tank tracks.

Toy Painting.
In a test of manual speed and dexterity, competitors try to load as much lead-based paint as possible onto small children’s toys.

Currency Manipulating.
In this financial-trading sport, competitors struggle to keep their currency undervalued and nonconvertible against pressures from foreign bankers and trading partners. The competitor who, beginning from a fixed stock of currency, amasses the largest amount of foreign reserves, gets the gold.

Fingernail Pulling.
Developed by the Communists’ superbly trained security police, competitors in the fingernail-pulling event race against the clock, equipped only with pliers, to remove as many fingernails as possible from Falun Gong practitioners in a fixed time period.

Land Seizing.
A modern Chinese team sport in which teams must drive peasants off their land to make way for commercial or industrial development. Points are lost for dead peasants and residential structures left intact after the designated period.

Electric Hurdles.
Middle-aged women who have been seen practicing meditation are driven over a 110-meter hurdles course with the aid of electric cattle prods, the hurdles wrapped with electrified barbed wire.

400-Fetus Relay.
Teams of competitors administer forced abortions to women who have violated the one-child policy. A complicated scoring system awards points to each termination based on age and sex of fetus.

Internet Blocking.
In this completely new event appropriate to the computer age, hackers must try to block access to all websites containing a long list of key words and phrases: “democracy,” “liberty,” “rule of law,” “East Turkestan,” “Dalai Lama,” “Taiwan independence,” and so on.

Petfood Doping.
A popular sport that has emerged quite recently from China’s crowded factories, petfood doping involves trying to kill off as many domestic pets as possible with a single can of contaminated pet food. (The variant form, practiced in south and southwest China, in which the winner of the event is determined by aggregate body weight of dead pets, is not favored by the Olympic monitoring committee.)

Friday, November 9

Do you believe in God?

How about the one found in "the ancient legends of Ultimate Chaos, at whose centre sprawls the blind idiot god Azathoth, Lord of All Things, encircled by his flopping horde of mindless and amorphous dancers, and lulled by the thin monotonous piping of a demoniac flute held in nameless paws"?

Via Overcoming Bias

Inconsistent Paternalism

...we are much more paternalistic toward the low in status. We allow rich people to invest in most anything they like, but limit poor people to investments approved by regulators, and we are far more concerned about alcohol and illegal drug use by the poor than the rich, even though both groups use them at similar rates. An inner city activity with a similar mortality rate to BASE jumping would be illegal so fast it would make your head spin.

John M. Ellis

A sophisticated man of letters, disillusioned and even embittered by the flaws, inconsistencies, and retrogressions of a great civilization, deludes himself that a world of primitive innocence and natural goodness exists in peoples who are untouched by the advances of that civilization. So intense are his hostile feelings toward his own society that he is unable to see the one he compares it to with any degree of realism: whatever its actual qualities, it is endowed with all of the human values that he misses in his own. Consequently, he sees his own culture not as an improvement on brutish natural human behavior but as a departure from a state of natural goodness. This recurring Western fantasy runs from Tacitus' idealized Germans all the way to such twentieth-century versions as Margaret Mead's sentimentalized Samoans and ultimately to one of the most far-reaching outbreaks of this illusion--the political correctness of our own day.

...

John Searle recently defended Western thought against the criticisms of the politically correct by pointing out that it is uniquely self-critical. But an even stronger point can be made: political correctness itself is a thoroughly Western phenomenon. From earliest times, Western society has been prone to recurring fits of this self-doubt. Those who are seized by this mood may imagine that they are taking an anti-Western stance, but that is all part of the same pattern of self-delusion.

...

There is more than a broadbrush similarity between today's political correctness and these recurring fantasies of the primitive innocence to be found outside a corrupt Western society. Many of the views that are currently cherished as the sophisticated products of modern theory are in fact neither modern nor derived from theory) they are instead a replay of earlier episodes in the history of Western culture. Take, for example, the view that the Western canon of great books reflects ruling class values and that when reconstructed it reveals hidden power relations that have the repressive function of social control of the lower classes. This sounds like the very latest thought of those among us who have absorbed the teachings of Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Antonio Gramsci. But now look at the same point, made in a more felicitous style over two hundred years ago: "Princes always view with pleasure the spread among their subjects of a taste for the arts.... The sciences, letters and arts ... cover with garlands of flowers the iron chains that bind them, stifle in them the feeling of that original liberty for which they seemed to have been born, make them love their slavery, and turn them into what is called civilized people."

This is again Rousseau, and here he presents all the essential elements of the avant-garde thought of our daring modern theorists: both the literary canon and scientific inquiry are really about social control and serve the interests of rulers by brainwashing the lower classes.

...

All the major elements of modern political correctness can be found in the Western tradition, and in every case we can learn something from the way they have played out. One worth a careful look is the currently fashionable theory of cultural relativism.

In the modern context, what has become known as political correctness has two distinct strands. The first consists of people who are rather like Tacitus--intellectuals who are alienated from their own society and who in their disgust with its imperfections imagine a primitive society full of sweetness and light. The second reaches the same conclusion as the first but by a different route. We might call the two groups the alienated insiders and the resentful outsiders. The outsider denigrates the dominant culture not because of his disgust with its imperfections but because he does not feel part of it. Resentment is the reason for his adulation of primitive cultures. The alienated insider is motivated by self-disgust, the outsider by self-defense) and that defensiveness takes the form of cultural relativism.

...Anyone who thinks that cultural relativism and the celebration of ethnicity will ensure democracy and egalitarianism is sadly mistaken: history has shown us, to the contrary, that these attitudes are more likely to unleash the dangerous forces of tribal chauvinism and resentment. Encouraging people to think of themselves first and foremost as members of a tribe is a perilous undertaking. If Serbs and Sinhalese could have thought of themselves as human beings first and Serbs or Sinhalese second--the Enlightenment's way--much bloodshed might have been avoided.

When some scholars argue that we should pay less attention to the history of the Western tradition and more to both our own age and Third World peoples, we should be aware that this is a very Western thing to say. The Third World cultures so favored by these scholars are generally far more insistent on their own traditions that we are.

...

Given our knowledge of the world through modern communications, it rakes an extraordinary act of self-deception nor to see that it is the developed countries that are slowly leading the world away from racism and male dominance. To demand an end to racism and sexism is not to reject Western society but, on the contrary, to ally oneself with certain Western values. "Enlightened" attitudes toward the relations between men and women; social justice; torture, rape, and other forms of physical brutality; tribalism; and even imperialism have slowly coalesced in Western societies. Only someone who reads history blindfold could think that the absence of these evils is a normal state of humankind from which the West deviates. In denouncing any deviation from their own value system as "oppression," race-gender-class scholars by implication denounce non-Western cultures and measure them rigidly by Western standards, the reverse of what they think they are doing.

...

Some degree of dissatisfaction with one's society, or more specifically with one's place in it, is normal and rational.... Experience shows, however, that when these feelings reach a certain level of intensity, all perspective is lost. Antagonism toward one's own society then becomes so great that nothing can be conceded to it. Its imperfections can no longer be compared to those of other societies, yet it is the imperfect implementation of its own values that has caused the anger. The alienated insider is so much a creature of his own society that the values that are the basis of his criticism are uniquely its values.

When most of us reflect on the shortcomings of our society, we are likely to remember that the frailty of human nature is always the biggest problem...

It is this critical step that determines the nature of politically correct thinking, because from this beginning it must follow that people are not responsible for, since they are inherently better than, what the alienated insider complains about. They are dragged down by this society, and their current state of degradation need not have happened. The politically correct impulse thus leads inexorably to thoughts of a place where people are simply allowed to be what they can be. And this, in turn, leads to the idea of a primitive harmony and Rousseau's idyllic state of nature.

Primitive harmony is therefore not simply a daydream that arises through fantasy but a result that follows with ironclad logic from the premises of the initial impulse... For some, the disparagement of Western culture has had the effect of impoverishing their education so that they have been protected from any knowledge of Rousseau's thought and of the disasters that it has helped bring about. But even for those whose education was not deficient in this respect, the force of the impulse is still strong enough to make them dream of the elusive primitive harmony that allows them to denounce their own society. It is there in the idyllic life of the American Indians, according to Annette Kolodny, before the white man raped the country; or it was there in the Americas before Columbus brought the evils of European society; or it was there throughout the world, before Western civilization destroyed the reign of the "Goddess," a benign deity who presided over human life just before recorded history began; or it was there in Africa before colonization by Europeans brought misery with it; or it was there before capitalism. In each case we are told of lives of great beauty and simplicity, without exploitation of people or abuse of the environment; in short, these were ecological and human paradises. But they all appear to have existed before we could actually witness them and, in most cases, before recorded history began. In such settings, imaginative fantasy and wishful thinking encounter fewer obstacles.

It would be an understatement to say that arguments can be mounted against all these imagined conditions and more to the point to say that it is embarrassingly easy to show that none really existed. Our knowledge of pre-Columbian society, of North American Indians, or of precolonial Africa establishes that all the Western vices that race-gender-class scholars complain of were there, and more: human sacrifice, cannibalism, slavery, ethnic hatreds, rigidly hierarchical societies, and even a taste for cruelty and torture that would have put medieval Europe to shame...

Most would agree that Western society, though far from perfect, has made very real progress: compared with the rest of the world, its system of laws keeps cruelty and torture in check, its people live longer and are healthier than those in other societies, it feeds its people comparatively well, it manages to change governments without civil war or bloody coups, and so on. But to say this simply angers alienated intellectuals, who know that the core of Western society is rotten, however rosy its surface appearance. Starting again will not return us to natural goodness, however, but only to a natural chaos where all kinds of natural human nastiness flourish; that would mean both undoing the progress made by the Enlightenment and abandoning much practical experience about the calamity of naive utopian political thought.

The cruel paradox of the politically correct impulse is that it is impatient with imperfection and wants something better, but its actual results are always destructive. As Marxism is to the economic sphere, so cultural political correctness is to the cultural sphere. Marxism promised a utopian economic abundance to be shared equally by all--if only we would dismantle the existing bad economic structure. But only the dismantling was ever realized, with the result that the formerly socialist countries must now suffer severe hardships during the long process of rebuilding their economies. In just the same way, cultural political correctness now promises cultural abundance for everyone in a new egalitarian culture if only we are willing to reject our elitist Western culture. The result is just as predictable: we shall all be culturally poorer as, once again, the destruction succeeds but the promised state of cultural utopia that is to replace it never materializes. Our Western cultural inheritance is not perfect, but it has succeeded in raising us from the barbarism of a state of nature. It has managed to abolish many forms of human cruelty, has given us forms of democratic government that actually work, and has a record of human thought in literature and philosophy that offers extraordinary range, depth, and complexity. Far from debasing human beings, it has enhanced their dignity in a thousand different ways. We can build on it, extend it, modify it; but if we allow the politically correct to pull it down with their characteristic utopian promises about what they can replace it with, we have only ourselves to blame. We can be sure that if we allow their destructive resentment to destroy yet again so that they can create perfection, we shall witness the destruction but never see the benefits promised. We shall soon be faced with cultural ruin and a painful period of rebuilding--a cultural disaster analogous to the economic disaster that has befallen eastern Europe.

Thursday, November 1

Aka 关系 or 人情

From Shankar Vedantam again:
"Most people in America get their jobs because of who they know, not what they know," said Robert Putnam, a political scientist at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "It's not nepotism -- one person knows me and another person finds out and someone says, 'Did you hear there is a new job at the bank?' or they say, 'Do you know a good lawyer?' "

[This] highlights the importance of something that Putnam calls social capital: a measure of how closely people in the community are interconnected. Levels of social capital predict everything from the quality of schools and local government, to the risk a country will go down in corruption or blow up in civil war.

...

The problem with an external agent handing down largesse -- building bridges, roads and schools, for instance -- is that it runs counter to everything known about how social capital grows, Putnam said. And without social capital, societies fall apart, even if the roads are smooth and the trains run on time.

So what exactly is social capital? Putnam, the author of the 2005 book "Bowling Alone," said it describes how much people in a community feel responsible for each other.

...

[Duke University political scientist Anirudh Krishna] also found that government aid and nongovernmental organizations could do virtually nothing to build social capital -- contractors and aid agencies can build bridges, but they cannot build connections between people.

"You cannot build social capital from above," he said. "It can only be built by the people involved."

Wednesday, October 31

Be Wary of Creating Centralized Power

Milton Friedman (via Coyote Blog)
The error of believing that the behavior of the social organism can be shaped at will is widespread. It is the fundamental error of most so-called reformers. It explains why they so often feel that the fault lies in the man, not the "system"; that the way to solve problems is to "turn the rascals out" and put well-meaning people in charge. It explains why their reforms, when ostensibly achieved, so often go astray.

Tuesday, October 30

1905

Fernando M. Treviño's web page at SIUC does not list his publications mentioned earlier; does that say something about SIUC?

Hilsenrath P, Trevino FM, Singh K. An Institutional Retrospective on South African and American Health Sectors. Journal of the Academy of Business and Economics. 1905 Jun; 2(2): .

Carrillo JE, Trevino FM, Betancourt JR, Coustasse A. Latino Access to Health Care: The Role of Insurance, Managed Care, and Institutional Barriers. Health Issues in the Latino Community. 1905 Jun; (): .

. Quality of Health Care for Ethnic/Racial Minority Populations. Ethnicity and Health. 1905 Jun; 4(3): .

Trevino FM. Quality of Health Care for Ethnic/Racial Minority Populations. Ethnicity and Health. 1905 Jun; 4(3): .

"Illegals"

“Illegal” is accurate insofar as it describes a person’s immigration status. About 60 percent of the people it applies to entered the country unlawfully. The rest are those who entered legally but did not leave when they were supposed to.

...

We are stuck with a bogus, deceptive strategy — a 700-mile fence on a 2,000-mile border to stop a fraction of border crossers who are only 60 percent of the problem anyway, and scattershot raids to capture a few thousand members of a group of 12 million.

None of those enforcement policies have a trace of honesty or realism. At least they don’t reward illegals, and that, for now, is all this country wants.

The irrational clustering of political beliefs

Yep:
For most people, a lot of their beliefs are consumption goods. The irrational clustering of political beliefs--there is no logical reason that one's views on abortion should be so tightly correlated with one's view on business regulation or nationalized health care--indicate that there is a very strong social component to the formation of allegedly principled beliefs. The anger with which opposing views are met, and the in-group/out-group social dynamic of most political debate, suggest that for most of us, fitting in with our friends and feeling good about ourselves are at least as strong a component of belief formation as careful reasoning from first principles.

Yep. Both the Democrats and Republicans are full of it.

Monday, October 15

oops!

From China's One-Child Mistake by Nicholas Eberstadt:
In Beijing, Shanghai and other parts of China, extreme sub-replacement fertility has already been in effect for over a generation. If this continues for another generation, we will see the emergence of a new norm: a "4-2-1 family" composed of four grandparents, but only two children, and just one grandchild. The children in these new family structures will have no brothers or sisters, no uncles or aunts, and no cousins. Their only blood relatives will be their ancestors.

It is no secret that China is already a "low trust society": Personal and business transactions still rely heavily upon guanxi, the network of personal relations largely demarcated by family ties. What exactly will provide the "social capital" to undergird commercial and economic development in a future China where "families" are, increasingly, little more than atomized households and isolated individuals?

One final consequence of China's population-control program requires comment: the eerie, unnatural and increasingly extreme imbalance between baby boys and baby girls. Under normal circumstances, about 103 to 105 baby boys are born for every 100 baby girls. Shortly after the advent of the one-child policy, however, China began reporting biologically impossible disparities between boys and girls--and the imbalance has only continued to rise. Today China reports 123 baby boys for every 100 girls.

Over the coming generation, those same little boys and girls will grow up to be prospective brides and grooms. One need not be a demographer to see from these numbers the massive imbalance in the "marriage market" in a generation, or less. How will China cope with the sudden and very rapid emergence of tens of millions of essentially unmarriageable young men?

All of these problems just described are directly associated with involuntary population control. Scrapping this restrictive birth-control policy would surely ease China's incipient aging crisis, its looming family-structure problems and its worrisome gender imbalances. Some in China's leadership may worry that the end of the one-child policy might mean the return to the five-child family--but in reality, modern China is most unlikely to return to pre-industrial fertility norms.

Friday, September 28

Islam, the Marxism of Our Time

Islam is fast becoming the Marxism of our times... The dictatorship of the proletariat, it seems, has given way before the establishment of the Caliphate as the transcendent answer to...personal angst.
Theodore Dalrymple is referring to Germany, but I believe the theory has wider application.

People are like that

Most people think in essentialist and non-statistical terms, as if all the members of a category were uniform copies of an invariant prototype.

Wednesday, September 26

See a Problem? Make It Illegal!

The first of several quotes from Shankar Vedantam
In recent decades, [say Douglas Husak and Lawrence Solum, legal theorists and philosophers], Congress has passed innumerable laws that no one seriously expects will be enforced. Such laws largely seem to serve symbolic purposes and are often designed to placate some powerful constituency -- conservatives in the case of immigration, or the entertainment industry in the case of laws that seek to deter people from swapping copyrighted music and movies.

The yawning divide between reality and what such laws say should happen is what produces the dilemmas that lead to amnesties.

...

The consequence of symbolic lawmaking is over-criminalization, which turns out to be as difficult a problem to deal with in the long run as crime itself.

When laws are passed that cannot or will not be enforced, people quickly come to understand that the law does not mean what it says. This is why, if you actually happen to drive at the 55 mph speed limit on the Capital Beltway, you seriously run the risk of getting rear-ended by the flood of vehicles that are whizzing by 5, 10 or even 20 miles per hour faster.

There is a law about speeding, but it is not the law that is on the books. Exceed a certain speed -- it might be 60 or 65 or 70 mph -- and you are going to get a ticket. What Solum and Husak are arguing is that, if the cops are going to give you a ticket when you cross 65 but not when you cross 55, set the speed limit at 65. Get the law to mean what it says.

"When we set up laws that are intended to express symbolic disapproval, but that we are not willing to enforce, we send a message that we are not expecting people to obey the law," Solum said. "The immigration laws are a perfect example of that."

The problem is not just that when people start interpreting the law on their own, they come up with wildly different interpretations-- some people drive 5 mph over the speed limit, others think the magic cushion is 15 mph. The bigger problem with setting the bar too low, so that large numbers of people become lawbreakers, say Solum and Husak, is that it greatly enhances the discretionary powers of police, prosecutors and the executive branch.

...

Most people who get in trouble are the ones who police and prosecutors decide, for whatever reason, should be punished, Husak says. Enacting impractical laws that have largely rhetorical value, in other words, leads to selective enforcement -- with all the attendant risks of unfairness and bias.

The Actor-Observer Bias

When people do something unforgivable, we often find it easy to conclude that the wrongdoing is a manifestation of their nature. This allows us to go after them with a vengeance -- when you are dealing with fundamentally bad characters, anything that can undermine them is fair game.
...
When we do something wrong ourselves -- drive 60 mph in a 40-mph zone, for example -- we explain our actions in terms of situational factors. We say we are speeding because we are running late, or that we got held up at work. But when we see someone else do something wrong, we are far more likely to link the behavior to the nature of that individual.

A Disturbing Reality

...once an idea has been implanted in people's minds, it can be difficult to dislodge. Denials inherently require repeating the bad information, which may be one reason they can paradoxically reinforce it.

We'll See

...contrary to conventional explanations, suicide attacks follow a certain strategic logic. From 1980 to 2006, Pape has counted 870 completed suicide attacks -- with the Iraqi insurgency accounting for the majority of such attacks in recent years.

Of the total, Pape has found that 824 of the attacks, or 95 percent, have come from groups that are fighting against military occupations of their homeland. Pape found that 85 percent of all the suicide attacks in the last quarter-century have come about in response to U.S. combat operations. There were eight times as many suicide attacks in Iraq in 2006 as there were in 2003.

...

Pape believes his findings offer empirical proof that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have not lowered the risk of suicide attacks. Contrary to President Bush's argument that those wars provided the best way to lower the risk of suicide terrorism, Pape says the data show that launching overseas wars appears to be a way to increase the risk of suicide attacks. Improved homeland security, rather than foreign military occupations, the political scientist argues, is the way to lower the risk of suicide terrorism.

Unlike many of the other theories circulating in Washington, his theory can be put to a simple test, Pape said. For the first time, Pape said in an interview at the political science convention in Chicago, the troop buildup in Iraq has aggressively targeted Shiite groups, such as Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. Until now, suicide attackers have been largely limited to Iraq's minority Sunni population. Pape believes that U.S. operations against Shiite groups will cause increasing numbers of Shiites to see the Americans the way many Iraqi Sunnis do -- as occupiers, rather than liberators.

Why People Buy Stuff They Don't Need

  • people buy unnecessary features because of two cognitive errors -- they overestimate the risk that a product without such features will become obsolete, and they overestimate the likelihood that they will learn to use the new features.
  • parents, especially poor parents, tend to buy products they cannot afford because they are acutely focused on whether their children are fitting into peer groups....[T]hey are acutely sensitive to how certain consumer products influence their children's "search for dignity."

In Judging Risk, Our Fears Are Often Misplaced

Lerner found that anger and fear systematically bias people's risk estimates in opposite directions. Anger causes people to underestimate risks, which may be why drivers in the grip of road rage confidently attempt perilous maneuvers that place themselves and others in danger. By contrast, people who are afraid overestimate risks.

...people worry a lot more than they should about the kind of scenarios depicted in Hollywood thrillers and the nightly news, and worry a lot less than they should about 'mundane' risks that do not make for gripping entertainment but kill a lot more Americans every year.

Malevolence or negligence on the part of others also seems to trigger our warning systems much more easily than the risks we pose to ourselves by smoking or leading sedentary lives. The number of Americans who have committed suicide in the past six years is more than 50 times the number of Americans killed by al-Qaeda operatives on Sept 11, 2001.

'The risk for any given person for suicide, particularly for middle-aged older white males, is dramatically higher than the risk of being mugged or being in a terrorist attack,' Lerner said.

Tuesday, September 25

Iran executes more Arabs

While condemning Israel for abusing the Palestinian people, Arab states are silent about the abuse of fellow Arabs by the Iranian regime. The anti-imperialist left is also mute. Why the double standards? Palestinian Arabs get the support of progressives and radicals everywhere; Iranian Arabs get no support at all. They swing from nooses in public squares like cattle hanging in an abattoir. Does anyone care?

Sunday, September 23

Not Exactly Intelligent Design

Life seems the handiwork of a mad designer, who fits several DSM diagnoses from the American Psychiatric Association. He--only a male would do this--is obsessed with intricate details so long as they do not get too much in the way of other devices he concocts. For example, he designs and builds a bird such as the Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea, apt name, that), which annually migrates in a figure-eight pattern across the North and South Atlantic from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back. Brilliant, brilliant design, a navigation system with two routes from pole to pole, sturdy enough to survive earth's cruelest seas--all madly miniaturized in a brain the size of a plum. But why on earth, were it not for a lunatic fascination with design itself? A proof, thus, that the earth with its denizens is the work of a crazed design-freak.

Wednesday, September 19

Political Censorship: Bad; Religious Censorship: Good

On Sept. 18, in an item titled Chilling effect on free speech
NBC Nightly News had a report whose blurb read:
America is supposed to be an open society. But more and more, speech is being stifled. NBC’s Bob Faw reports.
But aside from a reference to Janet Jackson, it was all criticism of the stifling of anti-war speech. Fair enough. But the report said nothing about Kathy Griffin's remarks after her Emmy win, which were apparently not telecast. According to the Voice of America:
In her speech, Griffin said that "a lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus." She went on to hold up her Emmy, make an off-color remark about Christ and proclaim "this award is my god now!"
So what was the "off-color remark" that the VOA didn't dare mention?

Tuesday, September 11

Fair trade and protectionists

Advocates of "fair trade" effectively work to ensure that poor people "get charity as long as they stay producing the crops that have locked them into poverty." Campaigners for trade barriers to protect poor countries from globalization are "idiots," and rich-country bankers who hide and invest kleptocrats' assets are "pimps."

Monday, September 10

THE FEDERAL BUDGET: Fact File

This looks like it's helpful to understand where federal expenditures are going, and how much a billion means in those terms.

Sunday, September 9

Don't Drink the CAFE Kool-Aid

  • more stringent CAFE standards would increase the cost of making a car, which would be passed on to buyers
  • if a carmaker sees an opportunity to add value for their customers in excess of costs, it will do so; regulation typically reduces profits
  • an increase in the price of cars would generate fewer car sales

What if all patients could be seen on the day they call?

The challenge of reducing waiting times is a classic queuing problem in operations research. Professionals in all sorts of service industries, from restaurants and hotels to banks and department stores, have faced it in one form or another. Most of them handle the juggling of clients far better than physicians, despite the lower stakes. Mounting evidence shows that doctors can see patients quickly, too—even in perennially backlogged practices—and that when they do, they benefit themselves and the people they treat.

...

When a patient calls in the morning asking to see a doctor who uses open access, the office offers an appointment for that same day. Why are there openings available? Well, the main reason most doctors defer today's work to some time in the future is that today's schedule is clogged with appointments made weeks ago. Doctors following the same-day scheduling model, on the other hand, are free today because they saw yesterday's patients yesterday. Using open access, doctors might still schedule some early-morning appointments in advance, for follow-up visits or for patients who actually prefer a future appointment. But the key is that they keep most of their time free for same-day visits and fill up their schedules as the day goes.

...

Taking into account the total number of appointment requests is the first step to open access, but it doesn't do the trick on its own. It seems like common sense to balance the number of daily appointment slots with the average daily number of appointment requests. But a mathematical model built by operations researchers at Columbia University shows this intuition to be wrong. That's because demand varies from day to day, and not always predictably. If the average number of appointments is 20, for example, some days there may be 25 and other days only 15. Scheduling 20 slots every day won't work because extra service capacity can't be transferred from day to day: The unused slots from slower days cannot be recouped any more than empty airline seats can be sold after takeoff.

The only solution is to build in a margin of safety in the form of more appointment slots than an average day will ever use. That sounds like wasted capacity, but it's actually more efficient than filling up the appointment book in advance. That's because the further in advance patients make appointments, the likelier they are to miss them. A no-show rate of 30 percent is not uncommon. According to one study, many patients don't understand scheduling systems and find long waits insulting, so they think nothing of missing their appointment without calling to cancel. All these no-shows also add up to waste and lost revenue—the very problems traditional scheduling would seem to prevent. The strange upshot: By juggling too many patients, doctors lose income even as their backlog grows longer and longer.

Princess and Her Pea-Sized...

...Legacy.

Yep. Who cares?

Saturday, September 8

It must be great to be a man

...I’m certainly not denying that culture has exploited women. But rather than seeing culture as patriarchy, which is to say a conspiracy by men to exploit women, I think it’s more accurate to understand culture (e.g., a country, a religion) as an abstract system that competes against rival systems — and that uses both men and women, often in different ways, to advance its cause.

...

When I say I am researching how culture exploits men, the first reaction is usually “How can you say culture exploits men, when men are in charge of everything?” This is a fair objection and needs to be taken seriously. It invokes the feminist critique of society. This critique started when some women systematically looked up at the top of society and saw men everywhere: most world rulers, presidents, prime ministers, most members of Congress and parliaments, most CEOs of major corporations, and so forth — these are mostly men.

Seeing all this, the feminists thought, wow, men dominate everything, so society is set up to favor men. It must be great to be a man.

The mistake in that way of thinking is to look only at the top. If one were to look downward to the bottom of society instead, one finds mostly men there too. Who’s in prison, all over the world, as criminals or political prisoners? The population on Death Row has never approached 51% female. Who’s homeless? Again, mostly men. Whom does society use for bad or dangerous jobs?
...

Culture has plenty of tradeoffs, in which it needs people to do dangerous or risky things, and so it offers big rewards to motivate people to take those risks. Most cultures have tended to use men for these high-risk, high-payoff slots much more than women.


Sunday, August 26

Why some people are so upset with Michael Vick

Dogs may be known as man's best friend, but for most of their owners, even that lavish sobriquet appears to undershoot the mark. Fully 85% of dog owners say they consider their pet to be a member of their family, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

And most cat owners (78%) feel the same way...

Nearly six-in-ten (57%) of all adults in this country own a pet or pets of one kind or another, with dog owners (39% of all adults) outnumbering cat owners (23%) – and owners of all other pets trailing far behind, the Pew survey finds. More whites (64%) than blacks (30%) or Hispanics (39%) have a pet....

Friday, August 24

Not very likely

Accordint to Kip Viscusi via Bryan Caplan ,
[T]he median number of deaths from domestic terrorism in the coming year will be zero, and the mean number of deaths in the coming year will be 50 - "or about half the number of motor-vehicle related deaths per day."
Caplan adds,
If Viscusi is right, it's safe to say that we're annually spending more than a billion dollars per life saved. Good grief!

Sunday, August 19

Wood pulp in your Twinkie

Not to long ago, a Chinese journalist reported that bāozi 包子 were being made (and sold) in China with cardboard soaked in caustic soda as an ingredient. Soon after, Beijing TV issued a retraction and apology, but some people in China continued to believe that the story was true.

Then I started to read Twinkie, Deconstructed. Chapter 12, "Cellulose Gum", covers the conversion of wood into food-grade pulp, which like cotton seed fibers is bleached in a warm caustic soda solution, which is then further processed, including being treated with toxic substances like extremely caustic lye and sodium monochloro acetate (a hazardous, toxic substance). Finally, what was originally wood or cotton is converted to cellulose gum, which replaces fat with its "moist, glossy, fatlike texture, without contributing a single calorie because cellulose gum is not digested." (I haven't had a Twinkie in decades, but after this book, I want to try one.)

So did the Chinese reporter misunderstand something, and were the bāozi harmless? Or did the bāozi makers misunderstand the making of cellulose gum? Not long ago, Ariana Eunjung Cha of the WaPo wrote In China, Farming Advances Lie Fallow
China's vast network of food research centers and laboratories churns out mountains of papers on the latest farming techniques and technology. Their work on chemical use, pollution risks and genetically engineered crops is considered to be among the most advanced in the world. The Ministry of Agriculture keeps close tabs on the developments, constantly issuing new advice and new regulations based on the research.But the information doesn't reach the peasant farmers.

...

As the country has grown, the government is losing control over how the latest scientific ideas are communicated and applied in the countryside. There poverty is still widespread in contrast with the growing wealth of urban China, and there have been tens of thousands of violent protests in recent years...

The Chinese government has also published numerous research articles to help farmers and food producers maximize profit, including pieces about various kinds of cheap additives that can boost the protein content of animal feed. Some of this research may have been misinterpreted, leading to incidents such as the poisoning of pet food that was recalled in the United States in March.

U.S. investigators think that companies added melamine -- a byproduct of coal burning that artificially inflates protein levels in feed-- to deceive buyers seeking higher-quality feed. The Chinese government portrayed the practice as the scheme of two rogue companies. But the idea actually may have been sparked by state-sponsored research.

In 2003, the Chinese academic journal Feed Review published an article with information on how to boost the protein content of animal feed by mixing in unconventional industrial ingredients such as melamine.

The recommendations by authors Zhang Li and Zheng Zhongzhao were for animals with more than one stomach, such as cows, that can convert such substances into protein. But chemical dealers may have promoted the practice for pet food, even though cats and dogs do not have that ability.

A recipe for bāozi ("Steamed Buns") from The Chinese Kitchen by Deh-Ta Hsiung (St. Martin's Press; January 2000; ISBN: 0312246994; PB)

Makes about 24 buns
Preparation time about 1 hour, plus up to 1 1/2 hours rising time.
Cooking time 15-20 minutes

  • For the dough:
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dried yeast
  • 10 fl. oz. warm water
  • 4 cups (1 lb.) self-rising flour
  • Dry flour for dusting
  • Filling:
  • 6 dried Chinese mushrooms
  • 14 oz. pork (or lamb or beef)
  • 3/4 cup (3 1/2 oz.) bamboo shoots, drained and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped scallions
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  1. Dissolve the sugar and yeast in the warm water for 5-10 minutes until frothy. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl, then gradually stir in the yeast mixture to make a firm dough. Knead for 5 minutes, then cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place to rise for 1-1 1/2 hours.
  2. To make the seasoned filling: soak the mushrooms in warm water for about 45-50 minutes, then squeeze dry and discard any hard stalks. Coarsely chop the mushrooms, meat and bamboo shoots. Mix with the scallions, ginger, salt, sugar, soy sauce, wine and sesame oil. Blend thoroughly.
  3. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for about 5 minutes, then roll into a long sausage. Cut into about 24 pieces and flatten each piece with the palm of your hand. With a rolling pin, roll out each piece into a circle about 4 in. in diameter.
  4. Place 1 tablespoon of the filling (sweet or seasoned) in the center of each flattened circle of dough, then gather together the edges to meet at the top around the filling. Twist to enclose the filling. Stand for at least 20 minutes before cooking.
  5. Place a piece of wet cheesecloth on the rack of a steamer, arrange the buns 1 in. apart on the cheesecloth, cover and steam vigorously for 15-20 minutes. Serve hot.

Saturday, August 18

Overlooking the Bible's moral problems through self-deception

Eliezer Yudkowsky writes:

Back in the old days, saying the local religion "could not be proven" would have gotten you burned at the stake. One of the core beliefs of Orthodox Judaism is that God appeared at Mount Sinai and said in a thundering voice, "Yeah, it's all true." From a Bayesian perspective that's some darned unambiguous evidence of a superhumanly powerful entity. (Albeit it doesn't prove that the entity is God per se, or that the entity is benevolent - it could be alien teenagers.) The vast majority of religions in human history - excepting only those invented extremely recently - tell stories of events that would constitute completely unmistakable evidence if they'd actually happened. The orthogonality of religion and factual questions is a recent and strictly Western concept. The people who wrote the original scriptures didn't even know the difference.

...

Not only did religion used to make claims about factual and scientific matters, religion used to make claims about everything. Religion laid down a code of law - before legislative bodies; religion laid down history - before historians and archaeologists; religion laid down the sexual morals - before Women's Lib; religion described the forms of government - before constitutions; and religion answered scientific questions from biological taxonomy to the formation of stars. The Old Testament doesn't talk about a sense of wonder at the complexity of the universe - it was busy laying down the death penalty for women who wore men's clothing, which was solid and satisfying religious content of that era. The modern concept of religion as purely ethical derives from every other area having been taken over by better institutions. Ethics is what's left.

Or rather, people think ethics is what's left. Take a culture dump from 2,500 years ago. Over time, humanity will progress immensely, and pieces of the ancient culture dump will become ever more glaringly obsolete. Ethics has not been immune to human progress - for example, we now frown upon such Bible-approved practices as keeping slaves. Why do people think that ethics is still fair game?

Intrinsically, there's nothing small about the ethical problem with slaughtering thousands of innocent first-born male children to convince an unelected Pharaoh to release slaves who logically could have been teleported out of the country. It should be more glaring than the comparatively trivial scientific error of saying that grasshoppers have four legs. And yet, if you say the Earth is flat, people will look at you like you're crazy. But if you say the Bible is your source of ethics, women will not slap you. Most people's concept of rationality is determined by what they think they can get away with; they think they can get away with endorsing Bible ethics; and so it only requires a manageable effort of self-deception for them to overlook the Bible's moral problems. Everyone has agreed not to notice the elephant in the living room, and this state of affairs can sustain itself for a time.

...

The idea that religion is a separate magisterium which cannot be proven or disproven is a Big Lie - a lie which is repeated over and over again, so that people will say it without thinking; yet which is, on critical examination, simply false. It is a wild distortion of how religion happened historically, of how all scriptures present their beliefs, of what children are told to persuade them, and of what the majority of religious people on Earth still believe. You have to admire its sheer brazenness, on a par with Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia. The prosecutor whips out the bloody axe, and the defendant, momentarily shocked, thinks quickly and says: "But you can't disprove my innocence by mere evidence - it's a separate magisterium!"

Is the Academy liberal?

What do you think?

I actually filled out a questionnaire that included a question about this, and I wasn't sure whether to label myself liberal or conservative. Certainly not a moderate!

Wednesday, August 15

Regulation isn't the answer

China's new revolutionaries: U.S. consumers
In the name of sovereignty, China's leaders for a long time have gotten away with suppressing their own citizens while ignoring the get-gloriously-rich-quick corruption that has thrived in the absence of the rule of law. But, thanks to globalization, China's export reliance on the U.S. market has imported the political demands of the U.S. consumer into the equation. Americans won't hesitate to cut the import lifeline and shift away from Chinese products that might poison their children or kill their pets.

Unlike organized labor or human rights groups, consumers don't have to mobilize to effect change; they only have to stop spending. And their bargaining agents -- Wal-Mart, Target, Toys R Us -- have immensely more clout than the AFL-CIO and Amnesty International in fostering change in China.

Ironically, the United States' "most favored nation" trade treatment for China (and its later entry into the World Trade Organization), which labor and human rights groups so virulently opposed in the past, has become a Trojan horse. China's future is now so linked to the American consumer that Beijing will be forced to curb corruption and strengthen regulation through the rule of law or face the certain doom of its export-led growth.

No sanction is more devastating than consumer choice. Live by the market, die by the market.
So far, so good. But then he promotes regulation.
For consumers to trust Chinese products, they must trust regulation of those products. And regulation cannot be trusted without the rule of law, which doesn't bend to bribery, fraud and quanxi (connections).
By the way, that's "guānxì" 关系, with a "g".

In any case, If the goal is to make products safe, the best hope lies with companies eager to protect their profits
...our options are to (1) rely on the Chinese government, (2) have our government regulate what is brought to the U.S., or (3) let the market figure it out.

The Chinese government has the resources to act. China's $1.2 trillion in foreign reserves is either enough to wallpaper every dining room in the country with greenbacks or, one would think, regulate product quality. But despite China's willingness to execute the occasional official, government agencies at the national, regional and township level are too bureaucratic, or corrupt, to warrant our trust.

Those who advocate regulation by the West as the solution might be smoking unregulated substances. Aside from the obvious point that we have plenty of inspections and regulations of our own to worry about, the opportunity for Western manufacturers and anti-globalization interests to lobby against particular Chinese imports would be irresistible. They would use the new bureaucracy to reduce the general flow of Chinese goods. That would forward their objectives, but the results would be bad overall policy.

Waiting for the market to fix Chinese product quality -- doing nothing -- sounds like an unattractive solution. But the market is already reacting.

Consumers are thinking twice about buying no-name Chinese products with long lists of ingredients. U.S. distributors are checking their sources. Retailers, especially those who stock a lot of Chinese goods, are becoming a lot more concerned about their reputations. And Chinese firms and their partners are investing in brands.
...
So how long will it take for the market to respond? Less time than it would take for new regulations to take effect.

Progressive?

[According to Harvard Law School Professor Elizabeth Warren and her daughter Amelia Tyagi] for the typical 1970s family, paying 24% of its income in taxes works out to be $9,288. And for the 2000s family, paying 33% of its income is $22,374.

Although income only rose 75%, and expenditures for the mortgage, car and health insurance rose by even less than that, the tax bill increased by $13,086 -- a whopping 140% increase. The percentage of family income dedicated to health insurance, mortgage and automobiles actually declined between the two periods.

During this period, the figures used by Ms. Warren and Ms. Tyagi indicate that annual mortgage obligations increased by $3,690, automobile obligations by $2,860 and health insurance payments by $620 (a total increase of $7,170). Those increases are not trivial -- but they are swamped by the increase in tax obligations. To put this in perspective, the increase in tax obligations is over three times as large as the increase in the mortgage payments and almost double the increase in the mortgage and automobile payments combined. Even the new expenditure on child care is about a quarter less than the increase in taxes.

Overall, the typical family in the 2000s pays substantially more in taxes than the combined expenses of their mortgage, automobile and health insurance. And the change in the tax obligation between the two periods is substantially greater than the change in mortgage, automobile expenses and health-insurance costs combined.

This suggests that the most important change in the balance sheets of middle-class households over the past three decades is a dramatically higher tax burden caused by the progressive nature of the American tax system. In turn it follows that the most effective way of alleviating the household budget crunch would be to adopt lower and flatter tax rates that would reduce the government's take.
"The progressive nature of the American tax system"? That's progress for you.

Monday, August 13

Does it matter where you sit in an airplane?

["Black box" recorders] used to be located near the point where the wings joined the fuselage, the theory being that this was the most heavily constructed part of the plane. Problem was, being heavily constructed, the parts of the plane falling on the recorders often crushed them. Now the recorders are put in the tail section so that, assuming your typical crashing plane goes in nose first, the forward part of the airframe absorbs most of the impact.

Sitting back there won't help you, though. When you mix stuff in the Cuisinart, you think it matters which end of the banana went in last?

Classic questions: "Which end of the banana went in last?"

Sunday, August 12

The shaky-cam aesthetic

There are sections of "The Bourne Ultimatum" that make the most excessively antsy episode of "NYPD Blue" look like Ozu.
So funny. The first time I saw Ozu's "Tokyo Story", I found the static style suffocating. I like it now, but I image people who love the "shaky-cam aesthetic" would hate it.

How to get people to do it less

...big tax hikes on tobacco have dramatically reduced consumption of cigarettes. This is hardly surprising. Indeed, politicians openly state that they want higher tobacco taxes to discourage smoking, and their economic analysis is correct (even if their nanny-state impulses are not).

It is frustrating, though, that the same politicians quickly forget economic analysis when the debate shifts to taxes on work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship. But just as tobacco consumption fell when taxes rose, it is inevitable that there will be less productive activity if statists in Congress follow through on plans to hike tax rates on capital gains and corporate income...

Saturday, August 11

How to pay for infrastructure

Even if we assume that maintaining local bridges is a federal project, the involvement of politicians means perverted priorities, and maintenance of existing infrastructure, which has no clear constituency, isn't going to rank very high.

Consider the earmark debate. As the Wall Street Journal recently editorialized, "The $250 million in emergency appropriations now flying through Congress for Minnesota is slightly more than half the amount appropriated to Alaska for the 'Bridge to Nowhere' and 'Don Young's Way,' two of the more infamous earmarks from the 2005 bill."

...One possible solution would be to turn each state road system into a non-profit corporation funded entirely from tolls, not taxes. The stockholders in the corporation would be the road users. They elect a board to run the roads and determine road spending and tolls. Funds cannot be diverted to other vanity projects since all funding belongs only to the road corporation. And the only source for funding would be the tolls, not taxes subject to political manipulation.
Absolutely. The people who use it should pay for it.

Jerry Costello loves congressional pork

Like most congressmen, he cares more about lining his buddies' pockets than he cares about protecting American taxpayers.

This isn't getting much coverage

Tiananmen protest prisoner released. So the fact that the demonstration & massacre occurred doesn't really matter, except to people like this guy.

Thursday, August 2

Raise taxes on pot, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines...

What happened in 1930 that suddenly gave the repeal movement political muscle? The answer is the Great Depression and the ravages that it inflicted on federal income-tax revenues.

Prior to the creation in 1913 of the national income tax, about a third of Uncle Sam's annual revenue came from liquor taxes. (The bulk of Uncle Sam's revenues came from customs duties.) Not so after 1913. Especially after the income tax surprised politicians during World War I with its incredible ability to rake in tax revenue, the importance of liquor taxation fell precipitously.

By 1920, the income tax supplied two-thirds of Uncle Sam's revenues and nine times more revenue than was then supplied by liquor taxes and customs duties combined. ...

Before the income tax, Congress effectively ignored such calls because to prohibit alcohol sales then would have hit Congress hard in the place it guards most zealously: its purse. But once a new and much more intoxicating source of revenue was discovered, the cost to politicians of pandering to the puritans and other anti-liquor lobbies dramatically fell...

From 1930 to 1931, income-tax revenues fell by 15 percent.

In 1932 they fell another 37 percent; 1932 income-tax revenues were 46 percent lower than just two years earlier. And by 1933 they were fully 60 percent lower than in 1930.

With no end of the Depression in sight, Washington got anxious for a substitute source of revenue.

That source was liquor sales....

So, if the history of alcohol prohibition is a guide, drug prohibition will not end merely because there are many sound, sensible and humane reasons to end it. Instead, it will end only if and when Congress gets desperate for another revenue source.