Sunday, December 14, 2014

Drivers Obeying the Law, Part II

I was biking South down Ladd towards the stoplight at Division, when I heard the Suburban behind me pull around to try a pass. I was going at 25 mph, and there was another car that had just turned off of Division and was heading North in the opposing lane. Once I saw that there was oncoming traffic, I knew there was no way the Suburban could make the pass without causing a head-on collision. But he made the pass anyway! The other car had to slam on their brakes; the right taillight of the Suburban passed a foot from my handlebars.

The stoplight at Division was red, so I caught him seconds after he passed me. I tapped on his window and said that he had passed too close. He had given me only a foot, and the minimum passing distance is my fall height (6 ft). He said that he had been "completely in the other lane," and that I should ride further over. Again, I was riding 25 mph--the speed limit--and had I been riding any further over I would have risked getting doored by a person stepping out of a parked car. He then said to me:

If you want to be a stickler for the rules, just remember that I'm driving a 7,000 pound vehicle, and you weigh maybe 180 pounds. That's your choice.

Remember, I did not slow him down in any way. The light was red while he was passing me. It remained red long enough for me to catch him and exchange several sentences at the stoplight. He gained no time whatsoever. He broke at least two laws and put my body and my life in danger--and the bodies and lives in the car coming towards us--for literally no reason at all. When called out on it insisted that it is my responsibility to stay out of his way.
Tonight's incident won't be in any crash statistics, but that doesn't mean that Clinton and Ladd are safe places to bike. This guy's attitude is too common on Portland bikeways. Drivers almost never allow enough travel distance to complete a pass safely, and end up risking head-on collisions, almost sideswiping bike riders, or both.
You would think that riding the speed limit would stop unsafe passes, but it doesn't. I routinely get honked at, passed too closely, or brake checked. I've even had to endure all three in close succession! I've been honked at going 20 in a 20 on Clinton and on NE 37th; I've been honked at doing 30 in a 30 on SW Steele. I've been passed too closely on the big hill on Woodstock Blvd., while biking 10 over the speed limit! I can't even imagine what it is like out there for people who ride at a gentler pace than I do.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Alan Dershowitz is an America-hating Bleeding-heart Liberal

About 8 years ago, I remarked to my eye doctor that maybe Alan Dershowitz's torture warrant idea wasn't such a bad one if the alternative was no accountability at all. Apparently he thought Dershowitz was an America-hating bleeding heart liberal, though, because he launched into a rant about how the CIA isn't stupid, they know that torture can produce unreliable information, and they always verify torture intelligence against other information gathered. (Other highlights: the ticking bomb scenario proves that using torture to gather intelligence is always justified; we don't know what is going on, so therefore no one should oppose it.)
Now that we have the Senate report, we know that my eye doctor was hopelessly naive. The CIA did indeed take intelligence gathered under torture as gospel, sometimes to disastrous ends—nearly letting bin Laden's driver get away, torturing innocent people whose names were given up under torture, etc.
I guess I shouldn't be surprised. What would an eye doctor from Bend, Oregon know about the CIA's torture program?

Torture vs. American Exceptionalism

Mitt Romney, in No Apology: The Case for American Greatness:
I make no apology for my conviction that America's economic and military leadership is not only good for America but also critical for freedom and peace around the world. (Page 2)
... What's chilling to consider is that if America is not the superpower, others will take our place. What nation or nations would rise, and what would be the consequences for our safety, freedom, and prosperity?
The world is a safer place when America is strong....
... The very existence of American power helps to hold tyrants in check and reduces the risk of precipitous war. (Page 10)
... No nation has shed more blood for more noble causes than the United States. Its beneficence and benevolence are unmatched by any nation on earth, and by any nation in history.
Abraham Lincoln understood that the destiny of the world was twined to the destiny of America. It is why he called the United States the "last, best hope of earth." It is still so. As citizens of America, we should be filled with love and gratitude for what this country has been, for what it is, and for what it can still be. (Page 33)
... I'm one of those who believe America is destined to remain as it been [sic] since the birth of the Republicthe brightest hope of the world. And for that belief I do not apologize. (Page 34)
Findings from the recently released torture report, as summarized by the Washington Post (emphasis added):
[A]ccording to CIA records, seven of the 39 CIA detainees known to have been subjected to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques produced no intelligence while in CIA custody. CIA detainees who were subjected to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques were usually subjected to the techniques immediately after being rendered to CIA custody. Other detainees provided significant accurate intelligence prior to, or without having been subjected to these techniques. While being subjected to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques and afterwards, multiple CIA detainees fabricated information, resulting in faulty intelligence. Detainees provided fabricated information on critical intelligence issues, including the terrorist threats which the CIA identified as its highest priorities.
... CIA officers regularly called into question whether the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques were effective, assessing that the use of the techniques failed to elicit detainee cooperation or produce accurate intelligence.

The CIA never conducted a credible, comprehensive analysis of the effectiveness of its enhanced interrogation techniques....
There are no CIA records to indicate that any of the reviews independently validated the "effectiveness" claims presented by the CIA, to include basic confirmation that the intelligence cited by the CIA was acquired from CIA detainees during or after the use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques. Nor did the reviews seek to confirm whether the intelligence cited by the CIA as being obtained "as a result" of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques was unique and "otherwise unavailable," as claimed by the CIA, and not previously obtained from other sources.

More broadly, the program caused immeasurable damage to the United States' public standing, as well as to the United States' longstanding global leadership on human rights in general and the prevention of torture in particular.
Kevin Drum's summary of the torture program seems apt (emphasis added):
The torture was far more brutal than we thought, and the CIA lied about that. It didn't work, and they lied about that too. It produced so much bad intel that it most likely impaired our national security, and of course they lied about that as well. They lied to Congress, they lied to the president, and they lied to the media.
Dick Cheney has an entirely different take on the matter:
[T]he techniques used by the Bush White House—like water boarding—were “absolutely, totally justified,” and hardly akin to torture.
“They deserve a lot of praise,” [Cheney] said, referring to the CIA, The Hill reported. “As far as I’m concerned, they ought to be decorated, not criticized.”
He also said that waterboarding and similar tactics were the “right thing[s] to do, and if I had to do it over again, I would do it. When we had that program in place, we kept the country safe from any more mass casualty attacks, which was our objective,” The Hill reported.
Cheney's argument on torture is simple: America's first duty is to protect Americans, and that which protects American's is justified. Everyone should have a sliver of sympathy for this argument, even if they reject Cheney's conclusion that his torture program was justified. But this ends-justify-the-means reasoning undermines Mitt Romney's proclamation that "[America']s beneficence and benevolence are unmatched by any nation on earth, and by any nation in history." America tortured people, brutally, without gaining any useful intelligence. America tortured innocent people, brutally, because of faulty intelligence that came from torture. Is this beneficent? Is it benevolent? If you wonder why there are so many skeptics of American exceptionalism, the Senate's torture report might have some answers.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Solidarity for me, but not for thee

On November 14, Portland's KGW TV station reported that "Portland Police Chief [Mike Reese] on Monday ordered three officers to remove 'I am Darren Wilson' images from their Facebook pages." Reese's order was not without controversy:
Maybe the Portland officers where [sic] expressing their rights of free speech when showing solidarity with their brother? [1]

I think that what they are saying is that they don't support the lynching of a white police officer without benefit of due process, a trial or even charges being brought forward.... [2]
On November 30, six members of the St. Louis Rams entered the field with their hands up in the air, in the "don't shoot" position, protesting everything that has happened in Ferguson over the last few months. The St. Louis County Police Officers Association was not amused. From the official statement by the SLPOA:
The St. Louis Police Officers Association is profoundly disappointed with the members of the St. Louis Rams football team who chose to ignore the mountains of evidence released from the St. Louis County Grand Jury this week and engage in a display that police officers around the nation found tasteless, offensive and inflammatory…
From SLPOA Business Manager Jeff Roorda:
I know that there are those that will say that these players are simply exercising their First Amendment rights. [Blah blah blah]
Jamilah Lemieux of Ebony magazine has an excellent commentary on the statement issued by the SLPOA. Read the whole thing. I will merely remark on this: if you are a black person, showing solidarity with a boy who was killed is "tasteless, offensive, and inflammatory." Indeed, it is so far outside of the bounds of civilized discourse that not even invoking the First Amendment can justify it. By contrast, if you are a "white police officer," expressing solidarity with the man who killed that boy is not just understandable, but beyond criticism.
UPDATE: In addition to believing that the First Amendment does not allow for criticism of police officers, Jeff Roorda apparently also believes that the First Amendment allows police officers abuse their position to bully and intimidate their critics.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Two Shootings

On April 17, 2005, during an interrogation, Esteban Carpio shot and killed police detective James L. Allen of Providence, RI. Carpio was re-arrested 45 minutes later. He was punched in the face three times by police detective Christopher Zarella, breaking bones in Carpio's face.
Comments on Carpio:
  • The streets are not like a court room. There is such thing as street justice, which compensates for the crimes that are not paid for by the legal justice system.
  • That's what he fucking gets.
  • He brought that upon himself
  • Should have let the family's of the people he killed go at him, I promise it would have been much worse. Sympathy sorry we're all out here.
  • Cops should be commended. He walked into the court alive even after shooting a cop. Now that is something!
  • Bet the two people he killed are still dead...
  • Justice bitches...  maybe you shouldn't shoot people in the face
  • This dude took a mans life away. He desevered to be killed. Hopefully he looses sight, can't talk, and spends his life in jail.
  • Bet the cop still has no face and a family torn apart by this persons attempt at flight. What bothers me is now taxes have to pay to house this fool. He should have been taken out. Eye for an eye as in Old Testament fashion.
  • This footage makes me feel all warm inside.  I am so glad he got beat like that...yes, yes..yes... because he is an animal!!!!  Kill him, smash him tare him apart.  I hope the cops do this to all these scum bags!!!
  • He got A well deserved beating,they should have not stopped and finished him off'.I can't find one good reason for scum like this to be kept alive,let the taxpayer's money go to something worth while.
In Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014, police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager. Evidence about the shooting was presented to a grand jury, which on November 24 decided not to indict officer Wilson of any crime. In the aftermath of the grand jury decision, residents of Ferguson protested, both violently and nonviolently:
  • National Review: There is clearly significant racial tension in Ferguson. But the best way to resolve it is... by working peacefully through the available democratic mechanisms.... [T]he grand jury resisted the mammoth political pressure to indict strictly to assuage racial grievances, instead opting to follow the evidence. When it comes to justice, that is as much as any American can hope for.
  • Ian Tuttle: There is in fact a law in Missouri that “protects and values” not just Michael Brown’s life but every life — namely, statutes that punish homicide and manslaughter. A grand jury, weighing the evidence, determined that Darren Wilson did not transgress those laws.... As a body politic, perhaps Ferguson should not “move on,” but, legally, Darren Wilson is not a criminal according to the law of his home state, and to punish him as if he were one would be to dismiss the law as illegitimate. That serves no one.
  • Jonah Goldberg: I can’t muster sympathy for the looters, car-burners, the dress-up Bolsheviks and that ilk.... Michael Brown’s family ... should be applauded for their honorable and responsible public statements against violence and rioting.
  • Kathleen Parker: We see in Ferguson, Mo., what happens when respect for our legal process is lost: Arsonists and looters expressed their outrage that a grand jury didn't act as they thought it should.... Ferguson is what you get when mob rule overwhelms the rule of law, which was created as the defense of civilized people against the mob.
  • David Koller: Michael Brown got what he deserved.  Justice was served.
  • The problem with protests in general is they do nothing but create inconvience...and in some cases damage and injury.   The real way to pressure for change is to work through the government, who were elected to govern and who can actually change things.
  • all I see is a bunch of troublemakers that cover their faces like it was Halloween.
  • Why is it that the lowest common denominator, the thugs, get so much press and support. Oh wait, it's other thugs and lowlifes who support them. My bad.
  • The Grand Jury heard the facts and read the testimony - that's law.  What we're now witnessing is criminal trespass, vandalism and maybe homicide. Lock em up!
  • Civil Disobediance used to mean something constructive, now it's just garden variety thuggery.
  • They didn't want justice. They wanted  a lynching. If they had gotten a lynching they would have demanded Wilson burned at the stake. If they had gotten that they would have rioted looted and burned anyway. It's what they do. It's all they can ever do.  What you saw on the streets of Ferguson is the uncivilized gutter trash of society.
  • The moral principle they're fighting for seems to be, if you don't like a justice system ruling, you have the right to act like a pack of insanely rabid jackals and loot burn and destroy everything you can to show your displeasure. The philosophy of the Ferguson maniacs is about as far from Dr Martin Luther King as Adolf Hitler but by the looks of the cowardly punks destroying private property in the name of justice, very few of them would even know who Dr King was, let alone be intelligent enough to emulate his methods.
  • For all the folks who are giving the “black community has no other voice other than to commit acts of senseless violence crowd”, anarchy is anarchy. What about the Caucasian community in California who are now technically a minority? If a Caucasian was shot by a latino officer under similar circumstances, is burn baby burn OK? If every aggrieved community is given the go ahead to burn down the town, that is what we will have. [1]
  • Let's all have a peaceful protest.  What is the protest about? Racism? Poverty? Rule of law?  Desire to loot a licka sto?

Overlawyering, Part II

Shorter Kathleen Parker: Having a personal opinion about whether Bill Cosby is a rapist is a violation of his due process rights. Blog posts and tweets must meet the same evidentiary standards as a criminal conviction. Also, FERGUSON!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Even Prime Fallacy

The simplest possible Even Prime Fallacy is shown below:
Salviati: Most prime numbers are odd.
Simplicio: Two is even! Your argument completely falls apart.
We may express this idea more formally:
Salviati: p is sometimes true.
Simplicio: Yes, but p is sometimes false! Your argument completely falls apart.
Simplicio has failed to disprove Salviati, not because Simplicio's rebuttal is illogical or irrelevant, but because it is literally the exact same argument as the one Salviati made! "p is sometimes false" is an inevitable logical consequence of "p is sometimes true."
Someone who invokes an even prime fallacy probably thinks of an argument as "words you say in response to words someone else says," rather than as an exercise in logic.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Today in Drivers Obeying the Law...

The sign says NO TURN ON RED. It very clearly indicates what lanes you are legally allowed to turn into.

Naturally, the car in front of me turns, on red, into a lane in which it is not allowed. He joins a veritable parade of cars illegally blocking the transit lanes, for what purpose I cannot discern. Further up the street, a car honks at a bus pulling away from the bus stop, even though the car is breaking the law by being in a transit lane. Behind me, a train has to slow to a crawl. The trains take a full block to come to a stop, so the operator has to hit the brakes early to avoid crushing all the cars parked on the tracks.
Drivers think the law is very important, which is why they always obey it.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Consent Schmonsent

At any given moment, one person wants sex more passionately than the other. What's more, whether due to nurture or nature, there is usually a difference in tempo between men and women, with women generally requiring more "convincing." And someone who requires convincing is not yet in a position to offer "affirmative" much less "enthusiastic" consent. That doesn't mean that the final experience is unsatisfying—but it does mean that initially one has to be coaxed out of one's comfort zone. Affirmative consent would criminalize that.
I am finding it next to impossible to read this passage in any other way than "women just need to be raped a little bit or they won't want to have sex." It is deeply, deeply creepy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Rhetorical Bestiary: Free Speech is Censorship

Alan Dershowitz:
I would bet anything that 99 percent of the people who are demanding that [Salaita] be restored tenure would be on the exact opposite side of this if he’d been making pro-Israel but equally uncivil statements.
Hypocrisy about free speech is universal. Even among Supreme Court justices, who are supposed to be non-ideological, Epstein, Parker, and Segal found a strong tendency to support the free speech rights of their ideological brethren and oppose the free speech rights of their ideological opponents. No doubt your average Joe is even less principled than Scalia, Ginsburg, or Kennedy.
If free speech hypocrisy is so banal, why make so much of it? The argument goes something like this:
  1. Supporters of X's right to say p claim they care about free speech rights.
  2. Were X saying ¬p, X's current supporters would not defend his free speech rights.
  3. Therefore, censorship is good! P.S., I am not a crackpot.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Clinton Street: Still Too Scary

Two weeks ago, Bike Portland ran a story on Portland's Clinton St. bike boulevard. It included a quote from PBOT traffic safety specialist Greg Raisman:
Our safety performance [on bike boulevards] over time has been excellent. 70 percent of our streets are residential. Less than 20 percent of bike and pedestrian crash activity happens there. … There’s comfort factors that are important in how many cars are on the road. But from a pure safety perspective, the big threat is where you’re crossing the busy streets.
Immediately after finishing the article, I hopped on my bike and rode down Clinton to go to dinner with my girlfriend and her coworkers. Just after I passed 43rd Ave. heading toward Chavez, I saw a group of three cyclists heading in the opposite direction with a Subaru following close behind. I kept my eye on the Subaru, because dangerous passing is a daily occurrence on Clinton. Suddenly and without warning, the car swerved into my lane and started heading straight for me. I had to steer hard to the right, almost colliding with a parked car; the Subaru passed within a foot of my handlebar.
I have been bike commuting for thirteen years, and this is by far the scariest thing that has ever happened to me on my bike. I am thankful to have escaped without injury, but I worry even more about other riders. I had two or three seconds at most to react before a collision happened. What if it had been my girlfriend? She's newer to cycling and can't steer as tightly as I can. What if she hit her brakes too hard and lost control of her bike? What if she avoided the head-on but slammed into a parked car at 15 mph? What about an 8 year old or an 80 year old?
As harrowing as this incident was, this isn't the first close call I've had on Clinton. I've lost count of the number of times I've had to dart off the road to avoid a head-on. I ride Clinton between 51st and 21st to get to work, and not a day goes by without a dangerous pass or two in the morning and another couple in the evening. I applaud Raisman for bringing crash data to the table, but in this case the data can't possibly measure the risk properly. There is an epidemic of aggressive, dangerous driving on Clinton. The only reason why it's not showing up in the crash data is because (thank God) it's been near misses so far. Sooner or later, one of those near misses won't be a miss at all. I am quite certain that if a less skilled rider had been on Clinton that night you'd have read about the crash in the Oregonian, not on some insignificant blog.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Reverence for the Law

Patrick George was caught driving 93 in a 55. He doesn't think he should be accountable, though:
I didn't hurt anyone, or kill anyone, or sell drugs, or drive drunk, or beat my wife, or steal[.]
Next time someone yells at you for rolling your bike through a stop sign, try using Mr. George's excuse. I'm sure your interlocutor will find it persuasive.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


Almost incidentally to his main point about the firing of Steven Salaita, Scott Lemieux wrote:
Whether he had signed all the paperwork might be relevant to his legal remedies, but from that standpoint of norms and ethics the job was his[.]
All too often the law is used to narrow a discussion as much as possible. Salaita didn't have a contract signed, nothing to see here, move along. None of Dylan Farrow's allegations against Woody Allen have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law, nothing to see here, move along.
Couple arrested for repeatedly threating mountain bikers at a dedicated mountain bike trail system with mace and a gun. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Freedom Is Slavery

Robert Birgenau on violence against protesters:
It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the police from gaining access to the tents. This is not nonviolent civil disobedience.
Robert Birgenau on violence against himself:
[A]s a long time civil rights activist and firm supporter of non-violence, I do not respond to violent, untruthful verbal attacks.
I cannot imagine a definition of "violence" under which being held responsible for an assault that you ordered is more violent than pepper spray and nightsticks.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Rhetorical Bestiary: iPhone

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every old dude who has ever complained about kids fiddling with iPhones spends about 88% of his time fiddling with his iPhone.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Rhetorical Bestiary: The Perfect Number of Teeth

If you do not accept the theory of evolution, I will probably not change your mind. However, I hope I can convince you not to offer this as an anti-evolution argument:
We have the perfect number of teeth to fit in our mouths. While creationism perfectly accounts for that result, evolutionism predicts a contrary result: As our faces evolved from chimpanzee-like faces to human faces, the shortening of the muzzle would have caused the teeth to become badly overcrowded in the front of the mouth.

Rhetorical Bestiary: The Myth of Graded Quantifiers

Salviati: Most prime numbers are odd.
Simplicio: Two is even! Your argument completely falls apart.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Obviously Good Public Policy

The trouble with the water bill is that the Water Bureau just sends everyone a dollar amount each quarter, and the sheeple pay it.
The Water Bureau should email every customer a full table of the rates for water volume, sewer volume, stormwater, and the Superfund surcharge for the harbor. Customers will have to check their meters every quarter and calculate how much they owe to the Water Bureau. (Presumably the billing folks at the Bureau would have to do the same calculations in parallel to ensure they don't get stiffed.)
This will lead for a swell of demands for more efficient water and sewer managment.
Inspired by Jay Ackroyd.

Build Moar Highways!

It has never been clear to me how borrowing money at a negative interest rate will ruin the nation's finances, but fear that it might has led to a shortage in the Highway Trust Fund, which is scheduled to run out of money in August. The solution to this problem, of course, is to build more highways.
Portland did a great job of building us out of congestion, until the 1980 and the last freeway built, I-205. [1]
Apparently this person has never heard of induced demand. This is particularly ironic, because I-205 is the canonical example of induced demand in the Portland metro area.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Other People's Children

Frances Coppola comes down hard on a narrative of children as a lifestyle choice:
[D]escribing children as a "lifestyle choice" is ... economically illiterate, at least at the macro level. At the individual level, having children is indeed a choice. But for society as a whole, children are essential. Without children, there can be no future growth. Just look at Japan.
You can save and invest all you want in order to get ready for retirement, but if there are no younger humans to ship your groceries and stock them at stores, to drill for oil and truck it to gas stations, or to work the electrical stations that provide power to your house, you will have a fucking miserable retirement. You need other people's children even if you decide not to have your own.

The New FiveThirtyEight

Paul Krugman has a hypothesis for why the new FiveThirtyEight has been so roundly criticized:
But data never tell a story on their own. They need to be viewed through the lens of some kind of model, and it’s very important to do your best to get a good model. And that usually means turning to experts in whatever field you’re addressing.
Krugman thinks that Silver misunderstands why his election models were so successful:
Unfortunately, Silver seems to have taken the wrong lesson from his election-forecasting success. In that case, he pitted his statistical approach against campaign-narrative pundits, who turned out to know approximately nothing. What he seems to have concluded is that there are no experts anywhere, that a smart data analyst can and should ignore all that.
Silver's key insight, which predated him by decades, is that the best way to find out how people will vote is to ask them how they will vote. In most fields Silver's competition will be a wee bit smarter than the campaign-narrative pundits were.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Rhetorical Bestiary: Choice

You should be able to choose how you get around, as long as you choose to drive a car.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Rhetorical Bestiary: Choice

Washington County Chairman Andy Duyck:
We expect a doubling of the population (in the next 50 years), but yet what we identified as urban reserves only accounted for an 11 percent increase in the urban growth boundary. It means much higher density. It means than in about 15 to 20 years, there will be no new single-family homes being built in this region (…) There are some people that don’t want you to have a choice, I think that’s what this election is really all about.
You should be able to make any choice you want, as long as you choose to live in a single-family home.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


America is a nation of whiners. Whining is our national pastime. We whine about traffic. We whine about the weather. We whine about politics. We whine about our spouses, our bosses, our kids. We whine when we get up in the morning all the way until we go to bed at night.

But when you take your whine to the internet, you are a narcissist.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Rhetorical Bestiary: Bad Apples

It is ironic that "it was just a few bad apples" is so often proffered as an excuse, when the full aphorism is "A few bad apples spoil the bunch."

Monday, January 27, 2014

Lawful Evil

Should Stephen Glass be a lawyer? Natasha Lennard argues that he's no worse than most:
The [legal profession] is littered with self-interested careerists willing to put themselves above all else. But here’s the difference between a Glass and, say, a John Yoo. The latter used the letter of law to enable evil. Glass went against the rules of his profession. The law makes room for evil before it will make room for rebels.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Newsflash: Politics is Rife with Hypocrisy and Cynicism

Every once in a while, some says something that I have thought about for ages but have never been able to phrase so eloquently. Kevin Drum:
[L]iberals and conservatives tend to be tolerably consistent and principled on matters of policy. Working politicians obviously tailor their messages depending on when, where, and to whom they're speaking, but generally speaking, liberals aren't going to suddenly oppose national healthcare just because Obamacare is having some growing pains and conservatives aren't going to suddenly favor high capital gains rates just because bankers have become a wee bit unpopular.
However, when it comes to matters of process, neither liberals nor conservatives tend to be very principled. Both sides have switched their view on filibuster reform based on who happens to be in power, for example. Likewise, they've traded places on their tolerance for broad claims of executive power between the Bush and Obama administrations.

Rhetorical Bestiary: Social Engineering

On social engineering, I must defer to Aimai's eloquent definition:
It's “social engineering” to try to get people to share but it's just nature to let the free market reign. It's “social engineering” to try to stop bullying but it's just nature to let the jocks and the high status people bully the gays and the outcasts. It's social engineering to institute Title 9 and affirmative action policies but it's not social engineering to have legacy acceptance criteria for private schools or for there to be all male organizations.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Unemployment is Down, Hooray!

In most of the employment reports over the last year, the headline unemployment rate has declined. This is almost invariable coupled with the caveat that the decline did not come from more people finding work, but from more people choosing not to look. (The denominator in the unemployment rate excludes anyone who is not trying to find work, such as children, the retired, and anyone who has given up looking.)
There have also been monthly employment reports where the employment rate ticked up due to an increase in the number of people looking for work. I hope you will forgive me for not recalling which months, or whether the uptick was lost in the revisions.
If a declining unemployment statistic is often a bad thing, and an increasing unemployment statistic is often a good thing, why is the statistic even being reported? It is clearly unable to convey how well the economy is doing.
One common alternative is the employment-to-population ratio. Unfortunately, the employment-to-population would be trending downward even in a better economy, because the baby boom generation is retiring from the workforce. A neat way around this problem is constant demography employment.
To calculate this statistic, you first divide the population into age groups. In Paul Krugman's post, linked above, he uses the groups 16–24, 25–54, and >54 because they are provided by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. You then choose a reference year (2007 for Krugman). Finally, you compute the weighted average of the age groups' respective employment-to-population ratios, weighting according to the relative sizes of the age groups in your reference year.
Unlike the conventional unemployment rate, constant demography employment won't produce screwy numbers when people drop out of the labor force. Unlike the conventional employment-to-population ratio, it won't trend downward as the boomers retire. It is time to see this statistic included in the monthly articles on the employment report.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

No, It Will not Be Mandatory to Hire Potheads. Why Do You Ask?

Douglas Wilson is even more worried about marijuana legalization than David Brooks.
[W]hat we are seeing is not an expansion of personal choice, but rather a transfer of personal choice away from responsible citizens and to irresponsible ones.
Perhaps Douglas Wilson has a different definition of personal choice than I do? In my definition, personal choice means that you get to make personal choices. In Douglas Wilson's definition, you apparently get to make personal choices only if Douglas Wilson approves of the choices you make.
Suppose an employer does not want to employ potheads.... [For] a job that the employer believes (rightly) will be affected negatively by the pot.... Suppose... [the employer] has sound reasons for his concern about likely impairment. He has a factory full of very expensive and high-precision equipment. Or he is a hospital administrator writing standards for the neurosurgeons. Or he hires airline pilots who fly passengers around the country.
If the employer does not want to employ potheads, they do not have to, no matter how legal marijuana may be.
Anybody who thinks that the inevitable clashes that are coming between bosses and potheads are going to be decided in favor of the bosses... is a person who hasn’t been paying attention recently.
Illegal reasons to fire or refuse to hire someone:
  1. They are female.
  2. They are not the same race as you.
Legal reasons to fire or refuse to hire someone:
  1. They are gay.
  2. They are pretty.
  3. They are not pretty enough.
  4. They like My Little Pony.
  5. They donate a kidney to their boss.
  6. They have a Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker.
In case you aren't getting the picture, employees can be fired at any time, for any reason. Anybody who thinks that the ongoing clashes between bosses and potheads are going to be decided in favor of the potheads hasn't been paying attention recently.

David Brooks v. 21st Amendment

In a recent column, David Brooks writes with melancholy about the spreading decriminalization of marijuana. Some people will read it and nod sympathetically through the whole thing; I did to a degree. Many will still favor decriminalization, even after accepting Brooks’ premise. Perhaps because there is another drug with similar effects that is legal to use for those older than 21.

For a while in my teenage years, my friends and I drank liquor. I have fond memories of us being silly together. Those moments of uninhibited frolic deepened our friendships.
But then we all moved away from it. We didn’t give it up for the obvious health reasons: that it is addictive; that drinking and driving kills you; that young people who drink go on to suffer I.Q. loss and perform worse on other cognitive tests.
We gave it up, first, because we each had embarrassing incidents. Drunk people do stupid things (that’s basically the point). I took a few shots one day during lunch and then had to give a presentation in English class. I stumbled through it, incapable of putting together simple phrases, feeling like a loser.
We gave it up, second, because one member of our clique became an alcoholic. He may have been the smartest of us, but it was sad to see him sink deeper into his cups.
Third, we developed higher pleasures. Drinking was fun, but it was repetitive. Most of us figured out that drinking liquor doesn’t make you funnier or more creative (academic studies confirm this). We graduated to more satisfying pleasures. The deeper sources of happiness usually involve a state of going somewhere, becoming better at something, learning more about something, overcoming difficulty and experiencing a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
One close friend devoted himself to track. Others fell deeply in love and got thrills from the enlargements of the heart. A few developed passions for science or literature.
Finally, we saw that drinking liquor was not something to be proud of, not something to be admired. We were trying to become more integrated, coherent and responsible people. This requires the powers of reason, temperance and self-control—not usually associated with being drunk.
I think we had a sense, which all people should have, that the actions you take change you, making you a little more or a little less coherent. Drinking less gave us a better shot at becoming more integrated and interesting. Drinking all the time seemed likely to cumulatively fragment a person’s deep center, or at least not do much to enhance it.
So, like many who try liquor, we aged out. We left alcohol behind. I don’t have any problem with somebody who gets buzzed from time to time, but being drunk is not an uplifting form of pleasure and should be discouraged more than encouraged.
We now have a couple states—Michigan and Wisconsin—that have gone into the business of effectively encouraging alcohol use. By making liquor legal, they are creating a situation in which the price will drop substantially. One Carnegie study suggests that gross liquor prices could plummet. As prices drop and legal fears go away, usage is bound to increase. This is simple economics, and it is confirmed by much research. Michigan and Wisconsin are producing more users.
The people who debate these policy changes usually cite the health risks users would face or the tax revenues the state might realize. Many shy away from talk about the moral status of alcohol use because that would imply that one sort of life is better than another sort of life.
But these are the core questions: Laws profoundly mold culture, so what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture? What sort of individuals and behaviors we want to encourage? In healthy societies government should tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being drunk.
In ratifying the amendment, citizens of Michigan are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom. But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Fuzzy Math

In 2012, the mean annual income of the bottom quintile of American households was $11,490. In 1979, the comparable figure (adjusted for inflation) was $11,808. Seeing that $11,808 is bigger than $11,490, I am at a loss to explain how Bret Stephens thinks that the mean annual incomes of the bottom quintile of American households have increased by 186% since 1979.