Thursday, September 18, 2014

Everyone's mental stumbling block

If you don't struggle with this, you're not using your brain right.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A college administrator nails free speech

One of the criticisms lobbed at old-school journalism is that corrections never get as much attention as the original stories. Well, that rule applies to the blogosphere as well and I want to do my part to give an important update.

I also want to give credit to a college administrator for bucking the trend and making a real contribution to the public discussion of free speech.

Last week a letter to students from U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks drew ire from first amendment circles because it seemed to say that he thought free speech needs to be civil. Well, Dirks read that criticism and issued a second statement to clarify his position.

My message was intended to re-affirm values that have for years been understood as foundational to this campus community. As I also noted in my message, these values can exist in tension with each other, and there are continuing and serious debates about fundamental issues related to them. In invoking my hope that commitments to civility and to freedom of speech can complement each other, I did not mean to suggest any constraint on freedom of speech, nor did I mean to compromise in any way our commitment to academic freedom, as defined both by this campus and the American Association of University Professors.


I'm used to seeing college administrators go the wrong way on free speech issues, and Dirks made some great nuanced points.

Hat tip to free speech crusader Ken White for the link.


Monday, September 15, 2014

The worst rape straw man argument

I was just reading over another generic Huffington Post link defending the claim that drunk sex is a form of rape, and I saw the same tired dodge that comes up whenever this claim is criticized.

Author James R. Marsh, who claims to be a lawyer, was responding to a piece defense attorney Matthew Kaiser wrote in TIME. Kaiser did a pretty good job of summing up why two drunk college students agreeing to have sex with one another should not be assumed to be a case where the male student raped the female student.

I say Marsh claims to be a lawyer because he made a strange criticism of Kaiser that the man provides legal counsel to people accused of crimes. Marsh does not seem to understand the notions of innocence until proven guilty or that the right to an attorney is extended to all people in America accused of crimes, even terrible crimes.

Kaiser, it should be noted, has built part of his career around profiting off of sexual predators. He solicits putative pedophiles and child molesters on his law firm's website... Kaiser sells his ability to protect the "good name" of people who watch, distribute, and produce child pornography. There is no evidence that his college client is different. Indeed, Kaiser never says his client didn't have sex with the victim. He instead makes the baffling claim that the rape (which he acknowledges happened) somehow doesn't count as rape.

I can understand a member of the general public being this clueless on legal philosophy, but not someone who introduces them self as an "internationally recognized lawyer."

But I do take Marsh's word for it that he was "baffled" by what Kaiser wrote. I think he is baffled a lot because he trots out the same tired cliche response that fails to address the criticism of the "consent" standard to separate sex from rape.

Specifically, Kaiser (and me, and many other people) are saying that it is not rape when two people choose to get intoxicated and then choose to have sex. Kaiser even took the time to clarify:

Of course, if someone has sex with an unconscious woman, that’s sexual assault. And if a woman is drunk and another person forces sex on her because she’s vulnerable because she’s drunk, that’s also rape.

But Marsh, like nearly every other "consent" defender I have witnessed, shot back with an oblivious statement. Early in the statement he acknowledged that Kaiser isn't saying that drunk women are free to be raped, but then later he went on to say just that:

Drinking does not mean someone is "asking" to be raped. Drinking does not make it okay to attack another person (something most men are perfectly capable of not doing). 

This is such a tired straw man argument. No one, absolutely no one, is saying that drunk or unconscious people are free to be attacked and raped. He is making a big leap of faith by calling wanted sexual activity "rape" and describing it as an attack.

I see this exact same argument trotted out again and again when someone is asked to defend their position on consent, and it shows how weak their positions really is when they can't address the real arguments, like the idea that both partners would be considered both rapists and victims by their definition.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Small farms won't feed the world

This week I interviewed a young farmer who is in the process of adding a dairy cattle herd to his farm and I had the chance to ask him about his breed choice. I wanted to know why he was picking breeds with lower productivity.

Growing up, our farm had a herd entirely composed of Holstein cows. Holsteins produce more milk per animal than any other breed, which has made them the most popular dairy breed in the country.

Yet, there were a few families in our 4-H clubs that had other breeds - Ayrshires, Brown Swiss and Jerseys. While Jersey milk has a higher fat content than the other breeds and has its own niche market, I never understood why small farms had brown cow herds instead of black and white. I assumed some of them were part of a family tradition, or the farm already had a sizable brown breeding population from previous generations and the current generation didn't think it was worth switching.

But why do the new first-generation farmers choose these breeds? Jim, the young farmer I met, is getting Ayrshires and Brown Swiss. Why opt for unproductive breeds, it's like choosing the Tiger missiles in Top Gun for the NES?

Jim explained it's really about marketing. The locavores he caters to associate Holsteins with factory farming, and brown cows with wholesomeness. Witnessing these breeds give them emotional comfort when they are making a purchase.

So there you have it. Once again, we see consumers flocking to marketing and packaged images at the expense of productivity. Jim is being rational by appealing to the prejudices of his customers.

Now keep this in mind when evaluating preposterous claims that the world should return to local food production. Holsteins are better at feeding the world than Ayrshires, but local farmers have incentives to choose inferior breeds.

A 2013 article in Hoard's Dairyman attempts to estimate the percentage of America's cattle population by breed. This is difficult because there's no official count, but about half of the cows are registered in the Dairy Heard Improvement program. These records show that the percentage of dairy cows who are Holsteins in America has fallen from 92.55 percent in 1985 to 85.56 percent in 2012.

However, this decline isn't from locavores, as small farms make up a small percentage of the national herd. The analysis concluded that a greater demand for cheese is pushing up the Jersey breed percentage, and well as an increase in mixed breeds. There is indeed a use for brown cows in the modern world, but notice the striking difference between choosing a breed for utility and choosing a breed for marketing.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Sam Sutter is unfit for office

What do you call a district attorney who won't prosecute a crime because he agrees with the political cause of the defendants?


Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter has dropped criminal charges against a pair of environmentalists who anchored a boat to block a shipment of coal bound for a power plant in Somerset Massachusetts, opting instead to fine them each $2,000 to pay back the Somerset and State police departments.

The two defendants are global warming activists and Sutter is a big supporter of climate change prevention.

“Because of my sympathy with their position, I was in a dilemma,” Sutter said afterward. “I have a duty to go forward to some extent with this case and to follow the applicable case law, but they were looking for a forum to present their very compelling case about climate change.”

Sutter is claiming the "necessity defense," which is normal reserved for immediate threats, and that the fines were sufficient punishment for breaking the law. He said charges weren't dropped, but were reduced to a civil infraction.

Kudos to NPR reporter Robin Young for asking Sutter about the dangerous precedent this set:

What if somebody who is anti-abortion dropped charges against people who stormed an abortion rights center, or prevented people from coming into that center?

Sutter dodged this question by saying the charges weren't dropped, just reduced. He then said the abortion clinic example involves "risk to others" and is therefor different.

He doesn't think people opposed to abortion believe there is a risk to others involved? The hypothetical anti-abortion prosecutor will say people are being directly killed right away. If anything, that's closer to the necessity defense than this case.

It must be great for the police to get some money back for the resources they wasted getting these protesters out of the way, but what about the coal company that was harmed by their actions? Doesn't that company deserve normal legal protections or compensation?

Sam Sutter is unfit for office. He's correct that man-made climate change is a real issue that needs to be addressed somehow, but by inappropriately excusing criminal actions and playing utilitarian games he has failed in his sworn duty to uphold the law.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Don't ban the criticism of politicians

Why do people have so much trouble understanding that the Citizens United ruling did not allow unlimited campaign contributions, but ended legal bans on the criticism of politicians near election time?

Al Franken is just one of 49 cosponsors of a senate bill that would reverse the Citizens United ruling. That's 47 Democrats and one crypto-Democrat, Angus King of Maine (Officially an Independent). The basic argument is that corporations and unions should not be able to broadcast ads criticizing candidates for office near an election or primary because those ads function as ipso de facto campaign ads for the benefit of other candidates, and that could be used to circumnavigate campaign donation limits.

Well yes, that much is true, and while people can disagree with the legitimacy of campaign donation limitations, even people who want strict campaign limits have to admit there is something sinister about a law that would make it illegal for a corporation like Nintendo from airing an ad criticizing a candidate who wants to ban all video games, or ban similar ads from the ACLU, NRA or Planned Parenthood.

That's clearly a violation of free speech.

Franken said the Citizens United ruling is "One of the worst decisions in the history of the Supreme Court." Does he actually mean that, and understand what the ruling was about, or is he just playing to the ignorance of his base?


Sunday, September 7, 2014

New evil with the face of old victims

Ross Douthat has written an excellent column on the Rotherham rape crisis, where a Pakistani community in England contained about 1,400 rapes because authorities failed to respond to reports.

In a somewhat similar way, what happened in Rotherham was rooted both in left-wing multiculturalism and in much more old-fashioned prejudices about race and sex and class. The local bureaucracy was, indeed, too fearful of being labeled “racist,” too unwilling, as a former member of Parliament put it, to “rock the multicultural community boat.” But the rapes also went unpunished because of racially inflected misogyny among police officers, who seemed to think that white girls exploited by immigrant men were “tarts” who deserved roughly what they got.

Well said, Douthat, but he went on to make a point that I think speaks well of the harm and vileness  that comes from hyper-aggressive social justice crusaders:

The point is that as a society changes, as what’s held sacred and who’s empowered shifts, so do the paths through which evil enters in, the prejudices and blind spots it exploits. 
So don’t expect tomorrow’s predators to look like yesterday’s. Don’t expect them to look like the figures your ideology or philosophy or faith would lead you to associate with exploitation. 
Expect them, instead, to look like the people whom you yourself would be most likely to respect, most afraid to challenge publicly, or least eager to vilify and hate. 
Because your assumptions and pieties are evil’s best opportunity, and your conventional wisdom is what’s most likely to condemn victims to their fate.

In many cases, the counterculture is now the establishment, and former victims are forming lynch mobs.

Hat tip to Tyler Cowen for the link.