Thursday, October 30, 2014

Street harassment in 1946

With the montage video of a woman enduring street harassment repeatedly while walking in New York City making the rounds, I'm reminded of a movie I watched with friends in 2004 and the surprise in cultural norms it presented.

In The Stranger, Orson Welles is a Nazi hiding as a professor in America. At 12 minutes in he speaks to a group of young, educated, friendly men when this happens:

Watching this ten years ago gave my friends and I a big, awkward laugh because of how absolutely inappropriate this was, yet it was treated as a normal everyday event. I'm not sure what the norm was in the mid 1940's, but this scene always appeared to me to be a dipstick for society's progress.

I've looked and it's been extremely difficult to find the demographic profiles of a modern street harasser, but I imagine it has slunk back to the uneducated and ill-mannered. This is a serious problem that we shouldn't accept or tolerate, and it shouldn't just be the feminists who speak out against it.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bill Posey is an anti-science loon

If you're in the market for a Republican to sneer at, U.S. Rep Bill Posey of Florida should be first on your list.

I'm always eager to call out members of "my side," and unfortunately, I didn't see this CSPAN clip from 2012 until just now, but it's still valid. In a congregational hearing with CDC representatives, Posey plays the tired gambit of trying to imply that vaccines cause autism, but then cowardly retreats and claims he is not against vaccines.

Where I come from, we call those kind of people "liars." Watch him for yourself:

Here's a recap. He made a naked argument of authority stating that his predecessor is a doctor who believes vaccines cause autism, then claimed Africa never had autism until they received vaccines, then rudely belittled and interrupted the CDC representatives again and again while he accused them of wasting his time for not answering questions in his leading format..

Posey is exactly what the right doesn't need right now, an obnoxious, dishonest, anti-science fool.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A pox on both sides of GamerGate

I've kept out of the GamerGate discussioon, which Clark at Popehat fairly summarized as yet another battleground between the forces of social justice and traditionalists, and I'm using this post to explain why.

Also at Popehat, Ken White did what he does best - launched a well-reasoned call for everyone to take a step back, reflect on the stupid assumptions they are making and admit that this is not a black and white issue. When I read Ken White I know there's a good chance I'm going to have my own attitudes and behaviors questioned, despite us being on the same side of most issues, and he did not disappoint:

Video game journalism has been ethically troubled for decades. There was controversy in the 1980s, when I was reading Computer Gaming World on paper like a caveman,over game magazines reviewing the same games that they were advertising. Suspicion that dollars drive game reviews have persisted, and with good reason. 
So if you choose this particular historical moment to become Seriously Concerned About Journalistic Ethics, and your timing just happens to coincide with a related pushback against women's activism in the gaming community, and just happens to be triggered by a campaign against a particular controversial woman, and just happens to be congruent with 4chan's declared campaign against "SJWs," people are going to draw conclusions about you. This is especially true if your sudden fury about ethics in journalism appears to focus on the coverage of tiny indie games instead of big-money games, which is just odd.
Well said. I've managed to have sympathies with both sides of this debate at different times, although I find myself closer to the pro-GamerGate than the opposition. Historically, video games makers have cultivated a frat-boy atmosphere and still pump out idiotic things like bikini armor that insult me as a consumer by assuming this is what I want. At the same time, online players have exhibited the worst behavior of the internet, on par with YouTube comments, and created an unpleasant atmosphere to interact in.

I am in favor of making video games more mature and classy and raising the level of discourse and civility around them, including issues with online players always wanting to discuss the novelty that a girl is interacting with them.

But then a leader emerged for that pushback, Anita Sarkeesian. At first I gave her my "nuanced" support and said while I don't like her radical feminist politics, at least someone was talking about these stubborn issues.

Sadly, over time I realized that she didn't have anything useful to add to the conversation, just a bunch of feminist textbook jargon and zero diplomacy skills. It was clear she wasn't interested in turning video games around, but using the video game world as a new territory to push radical feminism and I believe, make a name for herself. While GamerGate isn't about her in particular, the opposition has been about the ideas and tactics she represents.

So that's where GamerGate has left me: I'm stuck between defending the status quo of Maxim-magazine-style video game culture and replacing it with an oversensitive and joyless social justice pity party.

The only good thing about this, and I mean this sincerely, has been watching the awful Gawker media burn as GamerGate advocates have used their own platform-yanking tactics against them. Other than that, this has all been a waste of time and a lot of empty grandiose yelling.

Friday, October 24, 2014

When did violence against women become funny?

While I believe the mainstream media has a left wing slant, I tend to find myself groaning at the tone and examples used by right wingers when they bring up the issue.

This time is different. Matt Lewis of The Daily Caller called out the jackals who were laughing at the 911 tapes of  Bristol Palin being physically assaulted while drunk. Because she's a Palin, apparently, that makes it funny.

Noah Rothman at one-eyed-watchdog has a fair juxtaposition with CNN anchor Carol Costello's laughing commentary about the 911 tape of a crying woman recounting how she was attacked by a stranger and her serious commentary about the Ray Rice domestic violence case.

Costello goes on to reveal that she, too, was the victim of what sounds like a horrible assault by her college boyfriend. It was a brave thing for her to admit, and it made her commentary on the lax treatment Rice received from the NFL that much more powerful. But this admission also branded her take on the Palin assault as one which is inexplicably hypocritical. 
“Sit back and enjoy!” Costello exclaimed as she introduced her audience recently to the audio in which Bristol Palin recounts how she was attacked. “You’ll want to hear what she told cops about how it all started.” 
Costello also confided in her audience that she had a “favorite part” of the audio which could later become courtroom evidence. Ghoulish.

If you have any doubt that Costello thought this was hilarious, another one-eyed watchdog site has the clip, including her introduction where she laughingly says "This is quite possibly the best minute and a half of audio we've ever come across – well, come across in a long time anyway."

Costello was far, far from the only one in the media who took this as a funny story. She has since issued a shallow, boilerplate apology, as have others, but I have to say the most hypocritical player in this game comes from the rapid feminist site Jezebel, which has not updated or retracted its gleeful post.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"Slow Money" is charity, not investing

"Slow Money" is branding itself as an alternative to traditional investment, but at the same time is not saying anyone will get back the money they put in.

The name is a take-off of the "slow food" movement and it has wrapped itself in all the same old "buy local" and locavore nonsense of creating a new world fed and clothed by low-impact, wealth-creating cottage industries and handmade products. See the "Buy Local" tag on this blog for many, many posts on why almost all of those claims are false and counterproductive.

This voiceless cartoon they made shows a woman putting her money in the bank and expressing concern that it is being invested in arms manufacturers, oil companies and cliche 18th century smoke-belching factories. The woman then gives her money to a local farmer, who puts the money in the ground and a big plant comes out, which eventually sprouts an identical amount of money that she put in. We then we see more plants grow more money, and eventually a farmers' market sprouts up.

This one minute, 45 second cartoon doesn't actually show the woman getting her money back, and people who participate shouldn't expect to either, but it's the closest thing to a coherent pitch the group has.

Slow Money is a network of ideologically-motivated investments clubs who give what they call "loans" to local food producers. Since local farms typically lose money, I imagine they have a high default rate. The Slow Money network has been around for four years and has given out $35 million. It's very telling that the proponents do not talk about how many borrowers pay back their loans. Instead, their website talks about their principals, which for some reason includes a quotation from a Hollywood actor,

I realize that Slow Money is trying to attract angel investors, people who are interested in the cause and the personality behind the business more than generating a profit, but for some reason they won't come out and flatly say it. I wouldn't have such a problem if the Slow Money people would just say that they deal in donations, instead of talking about "investments" and making vague references to building a new economy.

Why not just say that the money people give will not be returned to them, but instead will create things in the community they want to see? Why not just be straightforward with what they're doing, instead of presenting it as something akin to financial investments.

You have to dig deep, but their are times when the movement heavily implies that is the goal. To complete the checklist of a faux-intellectual movement, Slow Money leader Ari Derfel gave a TEDx talk in 2011. After dropping shallow buzzwords like "business 3.0", reading inspiring quotations and talking about someone's honest-to-god vision quest, he summed up what Slow Money is all about. Vaguely. In particular, he said:

What makes life worthwhile is not profit; it's relationships... We need to measure return on investment not simply by profit, but by things like soil fertility, by the jobs we make, the relationships we build, the ecology we restore.

Please note: He never said his "investors" won't make any interest, he just implied it. He never said one way or the other if they can expect to get their principal investment returned.

Before giving his brief summary, Derfel explained  that he would need "a whole TED Talk" just to explain what Slow Money is. Funny, the title of the video of his talk is "Slow Money." Was he really invited to speak about organic food in rich communities and cliche wise-Native-American stories? If an executive director of an organization can't sum up what they do in 15 minutes, they are either incompetent or dishonest.

He could have told us that Slow Money is an angel investment group-slash-charity that accepts the growth of small farms instead of fiscal profit? How hard was that?

Sadly, his vague summary is as close to straightforward as you will get from this movement. If you want to delight in seeing local farmers milling about your community, than you probably won't have a problem with not getting your principal investment back. You're already choosing to pay too much for food anyways. Just don't have any illusions that the money you give to this organization will eventually return to you. As in gambling, don't spend what you can't afford to lose.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Odd, I checked and I'm not homeless

For years I've seen left-wing advocates share maps claiming that there are no places in America where someone can afford to live in an apartment on minimum wage. Well, it turns out their logic is grossly misleading.

Click on the blue map above and to the left for the actual numbers of the claim.

I always mistakenly rejected this on the assumption that they simply mean that's what is costs for a person living without roommates must earn. As Bryan Caplan wrote on the social safety net and roommates:

To put it more concretely: Before anyone starts collecting welfare, it is more than fair to ask them - for starters - to try to solve their own problem by taking on some roommates. Is it beneath their dignity to live like college students? I think not.

That always seemed to satisfy me, and refute a lot of the Nickel and Dimed crowd bellyaching about it being impossible to live on minimum wage. These were people who weren't willing to make lifestyle sacrifices and wanted the government to subsidize their Starbucks and beer.

Well, it turns out I was giving the activists too much credit. A piece I stumbled across this week showed the numbers being used are dishonestly mislabeled:

It’s conventional wisdom in personal finance that housing costs shouldn’t exceed 30% of your income. What this chart is actually measuring isn’t how many hours you would have to work at minimum wage to afford a two bedroom apartment, it’s measuring how many hours an individual would have to work for an apartment meant to house two people – and have it only consume 30% of their income. 
The chart thus doesn’t measure how many hours of work it takes to pay for rent, it measures the amount of hours it takes to earn rent – times three!

Hmm, sometimes figures are presented misleadingly and we gloss over the fine points when we read a chart or graph. However, in this case the chart merely states "Hours needed to afford apartment" and later on says this is in a week, not a month. That's a completely dishonest way to say one needs to keep the rent in the 30 percent bracket.

Notice another detail that was left out - this is for a two-bedroom apartment, not a single apartment. That's an easy way to inflate figures, but not relevant when most minimum wage workers aren't the sole earner in a household.

But wait, there's more.

Politifact didn't respond to this map, but last month it did respond to a related viral image that claims "There is no state in the U.S. where a 40-hour minimum wage work week is enough to afford a two-bedroom apartment," While it rated this "mostly true," it went into the 30 percent detail that was glossed over and exposed another crucial detail: This is the average Fair Market Rent, not the average rent people pay.

The group left out a key distinction from the study they cite: Minimum wage workers can’t afford a two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent, a number determined by the federal government for each region set at the 40th percentile of all rents in that area. 
That means that in some areas, minimum wage earners would be able to find and afford housing that is cheaper than the Fair Market Rent. Though, in states where rent is more expensive, minimum wage earners would not be able to afford apartments even well below the Fair Market Rent.

I'm a little confused why they generously rated this as "mostly true" when Megan Bolton of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a spokesperson for the activist group that crunched the numbers for this claim, admitted that someone can live alone for minium wage. Using their 30 percent figure, that gives a full-time minimum wage worker $377 to spend on rent in a month.

"Absolutely, certainly there are places with rents at $377, especially if you’re in smaller areas, and they may be of okay quality," Bolton said. "If a minimum wage earner can get an apartment at that price, it would be affordable for them."

So there are indeed places where in American where someone can afford an apartment on minimum wage. Sounds like "mostly false" to me.

The above chart being passed around represents 2012 numbers. Click here for the 2014 numbers from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Notice that the chart starts by saying, "In no state can a minimum wage worker afford a two-bedroom rental unit at Fair Market Rent, working a standard 40-hour work week, without paying more than 30% of their income." That lakes the bite of the popular claim that no one can afford to live in an apartment on minimum wage, but at least they are being upfront about what the numbers represent.

However, I'm still not convinced it's accurate. Matt, Palumbo, showed that the numbers don't make sense in New Jersey where he lives. Looking at their related chart of what a full-time worker needs to make to pay rent, I can see that in my apartment in Massachusetts I must make $24.08 to be able to pay my rent.

When I first moved here in 2011, I was making $13.50 an hour, hardly minimum wage but still below what they say is needed to live. I was also living in a one-bedroom apartment. With what I'm making now, this chart says I'm still only making five-eighths, or about 62.5 percent, of what it would cost to have a second bedroom, despite the difference in rents between single-and-double apartments being rather small.

So how come I'm not homeless? I'll admit, I'm still on my parents cell phone plan, but I'm not getting any government assistance or regular outside source of income. Perhaps these numbers are horribly skewed by the high rents in Boston. Either way, I've been living below what they say is possible for a long time.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

How to actually convince conservatives to fight global warming

Scott Alexander has penned a compelling and thought-harvesting piece on political tribalism and biased thinking, with specific examples including the Ferguson shooting, the ISIS violence campaign and the Rotherham rape scandal. He said people's positions on current issues are heavily determined by the narrative advanced by the two major political sides, liberal and conservative.

What stood out the most to me is when he took to task the condescending examples of counter-narratives written to get conservatives to get involved in the fight against global warming. I had also seen these new narratives in reporters on a recent Stanford University paper that showed a Jonathan Haidt-style to moral reasoning.

First, Alexander penned this as the blue tribe narrative on global warming:

Global warming proves that unrestrained capitalism is destroying the planet. Global warming disproportionately affects poor countries and minorities. Global warming could have been prevented with multilateral action, but we were too dumb to participate because of stupid American cowboy diplomacy. Global warming is an important cause that activists and NGOs should be lauded for highlighting. Global warming shows that Republicans are science denialists and probably all creationists.

Thats an accurate summary of the left-wing view, and when asked if global warming is caused by pollution, conservatives are largely being asked if they accept that narrative. Alexander argues that's a big part of why so many say "No" despite the overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. I completely agree with him.

The Stanford study in question attempted to create a useful conservative narrative that would allow right-wingers to accept climate change science without compromising their world view. Sadly, the results were uninspired and disingenuous:

Being pro-environmental allows us to protect and preserve the American way of life. It is patriotic to conserve the country’s natural resources.

Ugh. As Alexander said, "I can’t imagine anyone falling for this." Yet, the study showed conservatives were more likely to get on board the climate change resistance when presented with this narrative. Like Alexander, I found the proposed narrative too contrived.

His solution was to pen a political diatribe that would actually work to get conservatives on board. I don't use this word very often, but what he wrote is epic.
In the 1950s, brave American scientists shunned by the climate establishment of the day discovered that the Earth was warming as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, leading to potentially devastating natural disasters that could destroy American agriculture and flood American cities. As a result, the country mobilized against the threat. Strong government action by the Bush administration outlawed the worst of these gases, and brilliant entrepreneurs were able to discover and manufacture new cleaner energy sources. As a result of these brave decisions, our emissions stabilized and are currently declining.

Unfortunately, even as we do our part, the authoritarian governments of Russia and China continue to industralize and militarize rapidly as part of their bid to challenge American supremacy. As a result, Communist China is now by far the world’s largest greenhouse gas producer, with the Russians close behind. Many analysts believe Putin secretly welcomes global warming as a way to gain access to frozen Siberian resources and weaken the more temperate United States at the same time. These countries blow off huge disgusting globs of toxic gas, which effortlessly cross American borders and disrupt the climate of the United States. Although we have asked them to stop several times, they refuse, perhaps egged on by major oil producers like Iran and Venezuela who have the most to gain by keeping the world dependent on the fossil fuels they produce and sell to prop up their dictatorships.

We need to take immediate action. While we cannot rule out the threat of military force, we should start by using our diplomatic muscle to push for firm action at top-level summits like the Kyoto Protocol. Second, we should fight back against the liberals who are trying to hold up this important work, from big government bureaucrats trying to regulate clean energy to celebrities accusing people who believe in global warming of being ‘racist’. Third, we need to continue working with American industries to set an example for the world by decreasing our own emissions in order to protect ourselves and our allies. Finally, we need to punish people and institutions who, instead of cleaning up their own carbon, try to parasitize off the rest of us and expect the federal government to do it for them.

Please join our brave men and women in uniform in pushing for an end to climate change now.

Bear in mind, Alexander isn't approaching this narrative as an accurate, fair take on the world, but as a narrative that conservatives would swallow. It is still well done, and it shows a lot more effort and familiarity than trying to cram "patriotism" in where it doesn't belong.

Hat tip to Tyler Cowen for the link. 


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Affirmtive consent is the new Patriot Act

I've been writing against "consent" campaigns for years, as they promote the idea that all sex is assumed to be rape unless any female participants blatantly declare they want to partake. I even wrote about this when I was a college student myself.

Last month it become an actual law in California, although it strangely only applies to college students. In my conversations with supporters of the law, I was constantly told that it will not be used against innocent people, that it sets a reasonable standard for bedroom behavior and absolutely will not declare loving couples to be mutual rapists.

In short, I was told that the law is well-written and there will not be any negative side effects.

Well, Ezra Klein completely threw that narrative out the window this week. He confirmed that all of my fears would come true, called the law "terrible" but then he went ahead and said it's worth it.

For example, Klein wrote:

It tries to change, through brute legislative force, the most private and intimate of adult acts. It is sweeping in its redefinition of acceptable consent; two college seniors who've been in a loving relationship since they met during the first week of their freshman years, and who, with the ease of the committed, slip naturally from cuddling to sex, could fail its test.

But, Klein claims, it's all worth it because there is an ongoing epidemic of rape on college campuses. That's a dubious claim, but suppose it were true. He's saying that since we're in the middle of a crisis we need to sacrifice civil liberties and due process to protect people.

Does it sound like the Patriot Act yet?

If the Yes Means Yes law is taken even remotely seriously it will settle like a cold winter on college campuses, throwing everyday sexual practice into doubt and creating a haze of fear and confusion over what counts as consent. This is the case against it, and also the case for it. Because for one in five women to report an attempted or completed sexual assault means that everyday sexual practices on college campuses need to be upended, and men need to feel a cold spike of fear when they begin a sexual encounter.

Okay, now he just sounds like a supervillain talking to a chained-up hero.

Klein's remarks drew a lot of criticism, prompting a second post where he doubled down and argued even louder that there's an ongoing crisis, then made some bogus claims about the legal system, which drew even more criticism.

This same week, 28 Harvard law professors, including Alan Dershowitz, penned a joint statement criticizing efforts to bring affirmative consent laws to Harvard. The New York Times put the law professors head to head with social justice undergrads in an article featuring non-insightful comments like, “It just seems like they’re defending those who are accused of sexual assault."

Guilty as charged on this accusation, among other things. I completely confess that opponents of these witch hunts are indeed motivated by wanting people accused of terrible crimes to have a fair legal defense.

I want to live in a free country, and you can't have a free country where loving couples are labeled rapists if they refuse to follow a seduction checklist provided by puritanical busybodies.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Why Jean Tirole won the Nobel Prize

French academic Jean Tirole has been announced as the sole winner of this year's Nobel Prize in Economics, officially known as the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.*

Tirole's work has splashed into many areas, including game theory, finance and behavioral economics, but most of his contributions have been in industrial organization, which is a branch of economics dealing with how firms, industries and markets work and interact.

He has changed the way experts think about regulating large businesses. He papers show over and over again that different industries need to be regulated in very different ways, but there are a few themes that run through his work.

For one, he saw a large principal-agent problem with regulators. That is to say, The government and the people it hires to regulate private firms are different groups of people who have have different incentives from one another. The government will want the regulators to make sure the private companies protect the public interest, but the regulators may find it more profitable to join forces with the private companies they are supposed to be watching over.

That is known as regulatory capture and many of his papers are different techniques to prevent that from happening. He also repeatedly deals with asymmetrical information problems, where the regulators know less about specific operational details likes costs than the companies they are regulating. This can lead to cheating, lying and bribery, and Tirole found ways to discourage those bad behaviors.

For example, in a heavily-regulated monopoly such as a power utility company, the private firm needs permission from the regulator to increase the prices it passes on to consumers. If the company becomes expensive to run, it will honestly inform the regulators that its costs have gone up. On the other hand, if it suddenly becomes cheaper to run the company, the utility will have no reason to inform the regulator about the cost savings. The firm could make higher profits by keeping those savings a secret from the regulator, or bribing the regulator outright.

So how does Tirole propose we stop that? There's a few ways, such as minimizing the difference between what the company charges when operating costs are high and what it charges when operating costs are low. This kills the incentive to cheat. Alternatively, the government could reward the regulator when it reveals proof of cheating from the firms. This would make the cost to bribe higher.

Conomist Tyler Cowen wrote about Tirole:

Many of his papers show “it’s complicated,” rather than presenting easily summarizable, intuitive solutions which make for good blog posts. That is one reason why his ideas do not show up so often in economics blogs and the popular press, but they nonetheless have been extremely influential in the economics profession. He has shown a truly remarkable breadth and depth over the course of the last thirty or so years.

It's been all but engraved on a plaque that Tirole would have shared the award with his mentor and frequent collaborator Jean-Jacques Laffont, who died of cancer in 2004 and was thus ineligible as only living persons can be nominated.

Tirole has two engineering degrees in addition to economic and math degrees, and I'm fond of how Tore Ellingsen, chair of the economic sciences prize committee, summed him up:

Like an engineer, [Tirole] offers a tool kit for problem-solving,

His recommendations walk a lot of tightropes in saying how much regulation is appropriate and what form it should take. For more examples of what's in Tirole's tool kit for regulating industries, see the Nobel Prize Committee's two summaries. There's a piece written for a general audience and a longer, more technical version.

* That's because it is not one of the the original five Nobel Prizes dreamed up by Mr. Nobel and wasn't first awarded until 1969.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

You can't kill ideas with bullets...

...But you can help spread them.

I wonder if the cowardly gunman who shot Malala Yousafzai in 2012 has heard she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her fight to make sure girls are educated too.

More importantly,I wonder if he is aware that his attempt to kill her is what made her fight international news in the first place and directly lead to the Nobel. Strictly speaking, her crusade would have remained obscure if he hadn't drawn attention to it.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Whiny humor isn't funny

I'm a consistent hater, as inspired by the website's bad science fearmongeringunexamined superficial politics and "articles" that are just a collection of stupid GIFs.

One of the other trends I've noticed is Buzzfeed's collection of social justice complaints presented as comedy videos. Examples include If Black Women Said The Stuff White Guys SayIf Lesbians Said The Stuff Straight People Say and If Asians Said The Stuff White People Say.

They feature quick cuts of minority actors and actresses saying stupid, offensive things to other people ad nauseam. Somehow, it manages to get old and repetitive in less than two minutes

Satire and humor have long been tools used to advance ideas and political positions, but in this case the execution is too hamfisted and preachy to be funny. Go on, watch one. Are we really supposed to believe that white people in conversations with Asians regularly say "Look at me, I'm Asian" and slant their eyes with their fingers? Are we supposed to knowingly laugh in response, saying to ourselves how true and insightful this is?

Whining isn't funny, and the prevalence of these videos suggest that social justice humor isn't really about humor.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Take Mitch McConnell with you

Please oh please let Mike Huckabee's follow through on the threat he made on a radio station Tuesday, where he criticized the GOP for not fighting hard enough against gay marriage, and potentially giving up on the issue.

If the the Republicans want to lose guys like me and a whole bunch of still God-fearing, Bible-believing people, go ahead and just abdicate on this issue and while you're at it, go ahead and say abortion doesn't matter either. At that point, you lose me. I'll become an independent. I'll start finding people that have guts to stand.

Does he mean it? If so, not only would the Republicans lose a major social conservative leader, but he could potentially siphon off a large portion of similar party members. Imagine that, we could potentially have Republican leaders who focus on economic issues and don't get bogged down holding back science and human rights.

Who knows, some of them might even try to cut spending, instead of merely cutting taxes


Monday, October 6, 2014

"Urban farming is a scene"

Saturday's post on Naomi Klein's latest anti-capitalist screed included a link to a detailed takedown by freelancer Will Boisvert, He was previously unknown to me and reading his piece lead me to stumble upon a piece he wrote last year about urban farming in New York City.

It's brilliant. While the focus is on the environmental fake-outs, he does indeed go into the economic arguments I focus on. Here's a sample.

Consider some iconic acre of Brooklyn vacant lot. You could grow food on it — or you could throw up a 30-story apartment complex housing 600 people. That’s 600 people who won’t be settling in low-density exurbs where they would be smeared across 60 acres of subdivision; in turn, those 60 acres of vacant exurb could remain farmland or forest. Using communal laundromats and lacking basements to put junk in, those new Brooklynites would lead lives of anti-consumerism. And because they would use mass transit instead of driving everywhere, their carbon footprints would be roughly a third as large as the average American’s. That fundamental land-use equation is the key to understanding how cities promote global sustainability. By concentrating high-density housing, business and lifestyles inside its borders, New York lifts enormous burdens from the ecosystem outside its borders, but that potential is squandered when we consign pristine brownfields to low-density crop-growing. We may root for the community gardeners in their eternal battle with real-estate developers, but it’s the developers who are, despite themselves, the better environmentalists.
Well said. The entire piece is brilliant and covers a lot of ground. It's also seeded with gems like this one:

Above all, urban farming is a scene—a classic New York cultural fantasia that’s “about” farming in roughly the same proportion that Oklahoma! is about Oklahoma.

It's thought provoking and draws some comparisons I haven't seen before on the topic, like the unscaleable reliance on volunteer agricultural workers, and brings in the environmental virtues of city life.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Naomi Klein flips over the table

Japanese culture has a phenomenon of angry people flipping over their own dinner tables, usually men who are at severely frustrated.

I've noticed a similar, metaphorical response from the far left. When the reforms they support fail time after time, they declare that the system itself is broken and society has to fundamentally change, but they can't be bothered to present a working solution. They want to flip the table and start over, but they don't know where to go after that.

That's the only way to describe the message of serial hack Naomi Klein, who is promoting her latest book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Klein declares that we've run out of options and the only way to stop the greenhouse gas pollution behind climate change is to end capitalism and replace it with, well, uh, something else.

You see, she doesn't actually have a good solution in mind. NPR's Tom Ashbrook read her book and recently tried to squeeze out of her what her actual solution is, but she weaseled out of it again and again.

I've meticulously tracked each time he asked her details about her vision for society, such as how it would function and why capitalism can't be a part of it.

The episode started with an interview with another guest about the climate protest, so it wasn't until 20 minutes and 21 seconds in when Ashbrook asked her to justify her thesis. Klein had just agreed with an anti-capitalist caller and said they need to get money out of politics and Ashbrook asked her to clarify, saying, "You want more than money out of politics, you want a different economic system."

She didn't answer that question.

Another called, Ted, challenged her position. He wanted something done about climate change, but wasn't convinced that ending capitalism was necessary. At 26 minutes and 38 seconds, Ashbrook said "This call goes kinds right to the heart of the issue because Ted says its not an issue of capitalism versus climate change; it's a false choice. You don't think so, why?"

Her response was: "Well like I said before, it's not that we can't have a healthy economy-" Ashbrook cut her off:

"You're not being straightforward there. You want a change of system. I read the book, it's very clear. Ted says you don't need one, please address that. Don't gloss it."

She declared, "The system is not capable of responding rationally." but didn't explain why before drifting off the subject.

At 31 minutes and 13 seconds, Ashbrook tried again. "Lay out in more detail for us what kind of transformation you see as necessary."

He made another attempt at 33 minutes and 10 seconds after Klein said radical solutions are need. Ashbrook followed that up with, "So if only radical solutions will work now, let's hear yours. Let us judge how radical it is."

At 35 minutes, 39 seconds he said, "If capitalism is the culprit then in your view, what's the alternative system that you're proposing?"

Now it became rapid fire. At 36 minutes and 32 seconds, Ashbrook said, "So paint the picture. If it's not that and it's not capitalism, what is it? what's the Naomi Klein vision of what would work here?"

Klein started a naive tale of Germany's Energiewende plan but left out the sticky details before Ashbrook said, "
But Germany is still capitalist. So are you saying yes capitalism is fine, just do it the German style or are you saying something else. Are you ducking this question? I'm asking you to lay out of a vision of an alternative system."

Klein said she is not Lenin, and this is not a 10-point plan, so Ashbrook asked, "What is it though?"

He gave it one more attempt at 38 minutes and 29 seconds when he asked her about several policy changes she suggested. Ashbrook said, "So are you talking about going back to American capitalism circa 1975, 65, 55 when there was much more regulation, or something different?"

Finally at 40 minutes and 46 seconds in, with about five minutes left in the interview, Klein admitted she has no plan.

"In terms of sketching out exactly what the post-capitalist economy looks like, I will leave it to somebody else to write that book. That's not what this book is, I've never wanted to be Lenin, that's not who I am. I am first and foremost a reporter."

Her attempt to hide under the journalist mantle is worthy of mockery, but she already made this post long enough by making poor Tom ask her to back up her thesis over and over again.

Klein provides intellectual cover, through the use of bogus statistics and specious arguments, for people to justify their anti-capitalism emotions. As Ronald Bailey at Reason reminds us, Klein's writing career has been a hunt for new justifications to end capitalism and she's just shoehorning climate change into her act. Will Boisvert spears her much more soundly from the left:

Given the vigor of the green movement and its impressive success at influencing policy makers and capturing the public imagination, these ideas will help shape the world’s response to global warming. Klein’s book therefore provokes a disturbing question: having done so much to put the crucial issue of climate change on the agenda, does the Left have anything coherent to say about it?

One piece of wisdom Klein follows is that she knows calling her alternative "socialist" or "communist" will turn people off. She even declares that she isn't advocating socialism, as socialist states have caused many of the same environmental problems she wants to fix. But with nowhere left to turn, she hides behind vagueness and platitudes.  Klein flips over the table, declares the system broken but offers no alternative.

This reminds me of two similar left-wing demagogues.  There's last year's angry, faux-intellectual rant from comedian Russell Brand, who boiled over about the state of the world, called for revolution, but declined to provide details of how his new utopia would operate. Dishearteningly, this caterwauling won him enthusiastic followers.

The other table-flipper that comes to mind is, surprise surprise, Karl Marx. Marx identified what he saw as major flaws in society, but gave no real description of how society would function after the revolution. Hundreds of millions died when Marx's followers tried to follow his advice.

Alternatives to capitalism are stuck in a bind. If they try to be specific, they will be exposed as dangerous nonsense because of humanity's recent experiences with socialism. Their only other choice is to be vague, and in Klein's case, that's a flaw she is reluctant to discuss. Her response is to flip over the table and run away before the pieces are put back together.

And let's be honest here: Her primary concern is ending capitalism, not protecting the environment. Climate change is just the latest cause she is leeching off of to advance her real goal.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Local food is still not financially substainable

Let's take people with no understanding of basic economic theory and allow them to tamper with the economy.

That's what Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is doing, on behalf of our elected officials. The New York Times writes:

The United States Department of Agriculture plans to announce Monday that it will spend $52 million to support local and regional food systems like farmers’ markets and food hubs and to spur research on organic farming. 
The local food movement has been one of the fastest growing segments of the business, as consumers seek to know more about where, how and by whom their food is grown. 
But local farmers still struggle to market their food. Distribution systems are intended to accommodate the needs of large-scale commercial farms and growers. Grocery stores and restaurants largely rely on big distribution centers and are only beginning to figure out how to incorporate small batches of produce into their overall merchandise mixes. 
Farmers’ markets are proliferating around the country, increasing 76 percent to 8,268 since 2008, according to the Agriculture Department, but they have trouble marketing themselves. And few consumers are aware of a website the department created to help them find a farmers market in their area. 
“These types of local food systems are the cornerstones of our plans to revitalize the rural economy,” Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, said in a telephone interview. “If you can connect local produce with markets that are local, money gets rolled around in the local community more directly compared to commercial agriculture where products get shipped in large quantities somewhere else, helping the economy there.”

There's that same bogus broken window argument, that local people buying things at higher prices helps the economy here and deprives it elsewhere.

If these food movements are so successful, why can't they afford to market their own products? As pointed out on Mike Munger's blog, the writer just got done reminding us of how much money farmers' markets and local foods are bringing in, but the industry still needs a bailout.

Once again, the issue isn't simply that the local food advocates are making bogus hyper-protectionist claims based on myths and fallacies. It's that they want the rest of us to help pay for their expensive, luxury goods like local, organic and hand-raised foods. Local food programs need to be able to stand on their own, and it's shameful that influential people like Vilsack get to regurgitate this nonsense to a major publication like the New York Times with zero pushback.