Saturday, May 31, 2014

Do PBS stations have parking lots?

I was watching PBS's "lexicon of sustainability" web video on land trusts and family farms, which is the idea of propping up doomed family farms with a one-time payment in exchange for legally blocking the land from most kinds of development, when the narrator said this will help save the farms from becoming "parking lots for corporate industrial parks."

Why is it whenever a family farm is at risk of being shut down, the land is always destined to become a parking lot? How come it's never a youth center, hospital, minority-owned business, public park, ethnic restaurant, hospice center, soccer field, church, solar array or, say, abortion clinic?

Maybe it's because family farms are cursed lands only suitable for dirty corporate uses, and no moral person has ever had trouble finding a place to park their vehicle.

Or, maybe it's because without shallow, emotional arguments the viewer would see how un-sustainable small family farms really are.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Poisoning an arsenic well

Animal right's extremists PETA have done us all a favor once again by launching a campaign that reveals the bottom-scraping depths they will run to to advance their agenda.

PETA is claiming that milk causes autism and other diseases, and it causes health problems in autistic children.

Here's Steve Novella:

This is clearly, in my opinion, a campaign of fear mongering based upon a gross distortion of the scientific evidence. The purpose is to advocate for a vegan diet, which fits their ideological agenda. They are likely aware that it is easier to spread fears than to reassure with a careful analysis of the scientific evidence.

PETA's sloppy play on words for the "Got Milk?" campaign is to write "has your child (in small letters) got autism? (in big letters)." Jeeze guys, don't you think parents of autistic kids have enough problems without your campaign telling them its their own fault for feeding them milk?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Idiot hunting only proves one thing

Following the most recent mass-killing tragedy, I'm seeing posts being passed around saying the murderer has a lot of sympathizers, such as this one by James Michael Sama and this one by a Tumblr feminist.

This should come as no surprise: Both posts cite comments from Facebook and other social media pages from a few members of the general public to try to claim that there is a large segment of the population that supports the killer.

As usual with idiot hunting posts, their screenshots of stray comments written by nobodies proves once again that yes, there are stupid people on the Internet. Notice they did not cite Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, George W. Bush, Howie Carr, Sarah Palin, Bill Maher, Herman Cain, Ben Stein, Rand Paul, Ted Nugent, or Ben Carson. That's because no one important said it.

As Kevin Drum said, they really proved the opposite of their point when they were forced to dredge through Internet comment sections to find examples of the view they want us to believe is common.

By the way, while activists are trying to blame sexism, misogyny and the men's rights movement for the killings, Chris Ferguson, an actual expert on mass killings, said the killer's mental illness is the real reason behind it.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

At least there's still Bill Maher

People are sometimes confused that I'm a Bill Maher fan. This weekend he reminded me why I admire him with a segment telling liberals to halt the outrage and to stop trying to blacklist everyone.

I've long been a critic against efforts to yank someone's speaking platform away because of something they said, a scenario that happened to Maher a decade ago, and Maher nailed it:

A few weeks ago, the CEO of Mozilla was forced to resign because it was revealed in 2008, he supported Prop 8, California's ban on gay marriage. A bad law, yes, but 52 percent of Californians voted for it. Did they have to resign? Obama was against gay marriage in 2008, does he have to resign? Hillary came around just last year, can she be president?

The transcript is here, and the video is below.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Buckwheat for dinner? No deal

Why is it whenever someone wants to get people to eat awful-tasting food for political reasons, they always introduce it as delicious?

Local food activist Dan Barber has declared on NPR that the local food movement has failed, but his solutions to save it are Band-Aids on a stab wound.

Barber is saying that local food was supposed to replace industrial agriculture with a massive cottage industry of small-scale productions, which it has failed to do. This is 100 percent true, but I resent his assertion that changing to clumsy local food production would be progress.

He also talks about how the coveted cover crop system of planting things to replenish the soil isn't economical because no one wants to eat buckwheat and barley, so local farmers end up feeding these pricey crops to their animals. Barber concludes that in order for the system to work, humans would have to eat those filler crops as well as the main crops.

This is the precise moment where the wheels fall off the bus. Barber has a fair point that adopting to a local food system would require people make radical sacrifices to their diets, but then he turns around and suggests they actually do so.

Sorry Dan, but it's not going to happen. He must realize this on some level because customers at his restaurant are consistently complaining about the food he now serves them and how it's composition fails to meet their expectations of a meat-based main course.

A caller does chime in at the 16:30 mark and reveal the central flaw in the local food movement - that local food is great for uppity snobs with money to burn, but we need large, efficiency farming techniques to make enough money to feed the world.

Barber's response involves a tall-tale claim that local farms produce more calories in total than modern farming, but most of those calories are in things people don't like to eat. I don't believe that for a second, and once again he wants to play dictator and require people to eat unwanted plants to keep his dream afloat.

The good thing about this interview is that Barber made a strong point - the local food movement can not simply exist as an alternative source for the foods people already like. It is instead a radical, misguided approach that would require its participants make great sacrifices and changes in their diet if they wanted to live its ideals.

Good luck getting people to eat buckwheat, Dan.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Solar Roadways are a terrible idea.

I've long thought the buzz over the solar panel technology we have available now is idealistic nonsense and clueless wishful thinking.

Well, someone just brought that up an order of magnitude with the aggravatingly-popular Solar Roadways video, which says we should replace roads with glass-covered solar panels and use them to light and heat our roads.

I've seen a lot of people that I thought were reasonable jump on board this foolish bandwagon. Paradoxically, it was the folks at who put it in its place five years ago when the idea last came up by comparing it to something a 12 year old would dream up for a science fair project.

I honestly don't have the time to knock down all of the flaws in this plan. The numbers and costs are kept purposely vague, and economic concerns are waved off with a classic vulgar Keynesian pitch that says sinking all of our resources into this boondoggle will generate more money then it uses. It won't, but let's move on.

Lighting up the roads and heating them to melt snow sounds like it would consume much more power than it generates. Those flashy road pictures seem to sway some people, but the major selling point with this pipe dream is that we would save the space used by solar arrays by embedding the solar panels into existing road space.

While saving space is a good thing, the costs involved are astounding.

We'd have to put a lot resources into embedding the solar panels into a substance hardy enough to be driven on by a tractor trailer truck, which will make them more expensive and reduce the amount of light that hits the solar cells. We'd also have to care a great deal about clearing away the dust, dirt and tire marks that build up on the panels. Scratches on the surface will also reduce their ability to generate power.

Plus driving on these things creates new problems. They want the surface to be textured, but that will create havoc for plow trucks. Asphalt is expensive to install and maintain as it is, and it can be poured. This stuff is embedded with circuitry and can't simply be patched with more asphalt.

The creators of the idea claim that these things can all be solved, but they never say at what price. Even if I thought solar panels were a great idea, I wouldn't support making them more expensive and less productive just to save a little space.

On the plus side, at least the pitch video is childish and annoying.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Can't vaccinate against bias

A lot of what I do here on this blog is write posts intended for my intellectual opponents to try to sway them to my side. Of course, the human mind is very good at convincing itself to ignore information that challenges deeply-rooted beliefs

With that in mind, Darmouth College assistant professor of government Brendan Nyhan writes:

I recently conducted a study with several colleagues in which we found that parents with mixed or negative feelings toward vaccines actually became less likely to say they would vaccinate a future child after receiving information debunking the myth that vaccines cause autism.

Keep in mind that this is not all parents - only those who already had been tainted with anti-vax nonsense, but it's still a troubling revelation.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A full (insured) circle

Four years ago when a political party passed a law forbidding insurance companies to use a certain data point to determine what they charge in rates, labeling it discrimination, I wrote:

This is not discrimination, this is mathematics. Do health insurance companies discriminate when they charge smokers more? Do life insurance companies discriminate when they charge older people more? Do car insurance companies discriminate when they charge more to people with bad driving records?

Sadly, that paragraph has become relevant again.

In 2010, I was writing about the Democrats passing a federal law forbidding health insurance companies from charging women higher premiums. Today, every word of it applies to a state bill Florida Republicans passed that prevents home and auto insurance companies from charging higher rates to gun owners, labeling it discrimination.

Ken White rightly labeled this as allowing a pet issue to trump principles, adding:

Treating guns as an asterisk to principles — treating the Second Amendment as if it empowers the government to regulate private conduct, rather than just limiting the government — is incoherent and un-conservative.

By the way, incase you thought Florida House and Senate Republicans were alone in this awful position, the NRA's legislative organ is in full support of the bill and also uses the "discrimination" label.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Smith College failed its ignorant students

The whiny petition-signing college student who got International Monetary Fund Chief Christine Lagarde to withdraw as the commencement speaker are getting too much of the blame here. Sure, their platform-yanking approach is contemptible, and their vague online-petition reveals platinum-level ignorance, but where did those values come from.

Kathleen McCartney, the president of Smith College, said in a statement that "Those who objected will be satisfied that their activism has had a desired effect. But at what cost to Smith College?"

Sorry Kathleen, but their actions will not cause problems at Smith College - they have revealed them.

Why are 500 members of the student body so radicalized that they will agree with statements like "We also do not want to be represented by someone whose work directly contributes to many of the systems that we are taught to fight against" and "The IMF has been a primary culprit in the failed developmental policies implanted in some of the world’s poorest countries. This has led directly to the strengthening of imperialist and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide" ?

I realize that college campuses are breeding grounds for unchallenged left wing claptrap, but maybe the school wouldn't be a national embarrassment right now if it didn't foster an environment that promotes misinformation on important global issues and a vampire-and-holy-water response to other viewpoints.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Progress is coming - unless we stop it

Four years ago I wrote that destroying jobs is progress, in my post titled Destroying Jobs is Progress.

Now, Bryan Caplan says the same thing, but this time it's animated, and therefor, much more compelling.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Hashtags don't solve problems

If I'm ever in a situation where I need help from others, I want anyone who responds by creating a hashtag to be beaten with a stick.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Airplane sexism

A short essay from a mom who doesn't want men to be allowed to sit next to her kids on an airplane has drawn some much-needed criticism. The idea that all men should be considered rapists and pedophiles, and treated as such until proven otherwise, is a modern sickness

I came across the following comment from a man named Michael in Virginia that is worth preserving here:

I once got on a standby flight that was filled up by a travelling youth group (a choir or something) and one of the chaperons pitched a fit with the airline when they tried to give me the one empty seat. Her argument was that the seat was paid for, but the ticket holder was out sick. I wasn't sure why she was making such a big deal out it until I realized that I was an adult male and these were teenage girls. Believe me, if anyone was getting abused on this flight, it was going to be me. I just wanted to put on headphones and listen to music and drown out the chatter. 
After many arguments with various airline personnel, including the captain of the plane, the woman finally compromised by having the seats reshuffled so I was sitting in between two chaperons and not next to any of the girls, which really irritated me more because I was now forced to sit for three hours next to a woman who thinks I am a rapist.

Treating adult men and adult women differently is sexism, and it's disturbing to see how often pedophilia is on the minds of some parents.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Why I need to read Piketty

I haven't read Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century yet, but I need to.

From what I've read, his history of inequality is top-notch and makes the book a must-read, but his predictions for the future and his policy suggestions are not.

I'm of the opinion that inequality is an unimportant distraction from the real issue: The well being of the poor. That's what people should care about.

It's flawed to believe that inequality itself causes riots and social disorder (which is not the same as saying they are bad, but encourage bad behavior). Those uprisings occur when people can no longer afford food, and capitalism, globalization and technology have made food cheap and readily available in developed nations. Agricultural subsidies deserve no credit.

Despite what Robert Reich claims, real incomes and standards of living have been increasing in America. Reich cherry pick one way of calculating interest rates - the CPI inflation calculator - and underestimate wages by ignoring non-monetary forms of compensation like health care.

So in comes Piketty with the idea that at certain points in history, interest rates outpace growth. He's not just accidentally invoking the idea of of a negative sum game: he's pursing it head on. That's a terrible trend and if he's correct that it is happening now and here to stay, everything I believe would be suspect and ripe for revision.

So that's the big question for me, is Piketty correct in his future predictions, and what about the policy recommendations he makes? Surely his fans already supported them and are using his book to rationalize that view, and just as surely people who oppose those policies are going to ignore his book because it challenges their world view.

There's some troubling talk about Piketty having a soft spot for command and control policies and the USSR. I'd have to read it for myself to make that call, but if true it's a serious flaw.

The thing I find most interesting is that Tyler Cowen is a critic despite having recently written "Average is Over" which also predicts a future of structural inequality. Tyler is one of my favorite living economists and his response implies that Piketty doesn't have a slam dunk, but still wrote a book people need to read.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Remembering Gary Becker

There is a lot to say about the passing of Chicago School economist Gary Becker, I think his insight that criminals are rational actors was his most important contribution, but nothing sums it up as succinctly as left-wing economist Justin Wolfers declaring Becker was his intellectual hero.

There is no good time to lose a great mind like his, but I'm thankful the world got to enjoy a glorious 83 years of Gary Becker.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Maggie Anderson is not an economist

I was curious to whatever happened to the Buy Black scheme from a few years ago, officially called the "Ebony Experiment" and later changed to the "Empowerment Experiment. The idea was for black people to only buy from black-owned businesses. Most people got so upset about the upfront racial discrimination that they forgot to ask if it actually helps enrich the black community.

A Google search revealed that Maggie Anderson, the wife in the couple behind the campaign, wrote a book and has a website that introduces her as "Author, activist, speaker, economist..."

While Maggie Anderson may make claims about economic ideas, she is no more an economist than creationist Ken Ham is a biologist. Anderson's classic mistake was to only look at what black merchants stood to make in profits and ignore about the higher costs and other difficulties experienced by black customers. She doesn't understand mainstream economic thinking, in fact, she is oblivious to it and relies on novelty and gimmicks.

She received the highest honor bestowed on a pseudo intellectual-earlier this year - she was invited to present a TEDx talk.

She made one compelling point - that white people can also choose to shop from black merchants (most likely out of guilt). While this fails to help the economy as a whole and will create a net economic loss, the section of the economy she cares about will benefit.

The last time I saw her, Maggie Anderson's group was operating an ignored Facebook fan page. The page was filled with spam posts for get-rich-quick swindles peppered with assigned updates asking followers "Did you EE today?"

Now she has become an evangelist on the stage, making the same tired old promises that if we only agree to buy a few products here and there at an inflated price we would save the community by creating jobs. It's an old claim polished up with an ebony coating, and the core is as hollow as ever.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A real example of a religious freedom violation

Despite being a godless heathen, one of my friends is a pastor in the United Church of Christ. He passed along this link about his denomination's new lawsuit against the state of North Carolina.

Often when someone claims their religious freedoms are being violated I find it a bit of a stretch. This one is a home-run.

Under Amendment One, which passed in late 2012, it is a crime in the State of North Carolina for clergy to officiate a marriage ceremony without determining whether the couple involved has a valid marriage license. United Church of Christ ministers, interested in conducting a religious marriage ceremony for same-gender couples, could face up to 120 days of jail and/or probation and community service if found guilty, since North Carolina marriage laws define and regulate marriage as being between only a man and a woman. As lead plaintiff in this lawsuit against the State, the United Church of Christ asserts that these laws are unconstitutional and violate clergy's First Amendment rights.

Not only does the state not recognize gay marriages as a social contract, they also have made it a crime for a church to have a spiritual ceremony that doesn't claim to be legally binding? That's foul.

Good luck UCC, this is a clear case of a violation of religious freedom.