Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How about, don't hit people?

I remember a slogan that said there is no excuse for domestic violence. I wish more people who pride themselves for being supporters of domestic violence victims would adopt it.

Because there seems to be plenty of excuses when it's a woman striking her male partner.

Sports commentator Stephen A. Smith was suspended for his commentary on the suspension of NFL player Ray Rice after Rice hit his girlfriend in an elevator and then dragged out her unconscious form. More specifically, Smith was suspended for a straw man version of his commentary that was trumped up to make him look bad.

There's a two-minute clip going around that does a neat job of propagandizing the issue, as it snips off important details he said before and after the clip.

In the full clip, Smith said, "People get on television and they get scared to broach these subjects... You say you don't care whether she hit or not. Let me make everybody uncomfortable by telling you I do care." He then proceeded to say that some men are vile and will assault women no matter what, but others will only do so when they are provoked, by which he was referring to a woman striking first. Then, at the end, he said even if a woman strikes first it is still wrong for the man to hit her back.

So what was the fake version of his comments being shared? They claimed that his message was that women shouldn't provoke men into hitting them, making it sound like he was pinning the blame entirely on victims. He tried clearing it up and apologizing, but online outrage never accepts apologies.

I first learned about the high prevalence of "mutual combat" in domestic violence from advocate Erin Pizzey. While most people automatically sympathize with the female partner, there is still an underlying problem that needs to be addressed with couples that strike one other repeatedly and create a cycle of violence in their relationship.

I imagine mutual combat makes feminists and domestic violence advocates uncomfortable and they either don't know much about it or try to rationalize it away because they don't want to place any responsibility on a victim.

So ponder this: Overlooking the issue of mutual combat in domestic violence means this major issue is going unaddressed and more women are hitting their partners as a result. That directly means more male domestic violence victims (which I hope we can all agree is a bad thing) and indirectly means more female domestic violence from provoked male partners.

Trying to force domestic violence into a simple good vs. evil narrative actually leads to more domestic violence.

While Smith said men struck by their partners should not hit back, Whoopie Goldberg said that people struck have the right to strike back, and that Rice's fiance shouldn't have struck him first.

“If you make the choice as a woman who’s 4 foot 3 and you decide to hit a guy who’s 6 feet tall and you’re the last thing he wants to deal with that day and he hits you back, you cannot be surprised,” said Goldberg. "Don't anybody hit anybody."

That should be the real takeaway message here. No one should be hitting anyone. Period.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Smoking up state's rights

A friend recently posed this question to me:

I am wondering what you think of the inconsistency of Democrats and liberals claiming that marijuana policy "should be left to the states" while simultaneously criticizing arguments for "states' rights" as coded racist/discriminatory" language? This strikes me as a sort of wanting to have the cake and eat it too situation.

That's easy. I never saw that as a sincere criticism of states rights.

Like most accusations of modern racism, it seems to be an emotionally-satisfying way some members of the left can dismiss their opponents without having to have a real debate. I think coded words and dog whistles are largely delusional.

 I very much believe in states rights for the old laboratories of democracy reason and I think everyone should embrace them. For example, Card and Krueger's revolutionary (and still controversial) 1992 paper on small increases in the minimum wage failing to hurt employment was only possible because of the laws being different in different states.

I think liberals who support letting the states decide have figured out it's better to get some smaller victories now instead of waiting for the whole country to come around. For example, here in Massachusetts we've had legal gay marriage for 10 years. While today 19 states recognize gay marriage, 31 don't. If not for states rights we would have zero states without gay marriage today.

I do have one qualm with my friend's premise: Despite being a liberal himself, he is accusing Democrats and progressives of categorical hypocrisy. While I'm sure there's some overlap, I don't know for a fact that there are specific individuals that hold those two opposing views. He is treating a diverse group as if it was homogeneous.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Higher wages are amoral

Too many people mistake self-interested business decisions for moral action.

NPR did a piece on IKEA of America raising its starting wage by 17 percent to an average of $10.76, depending on the area.

"By taking better care of our coworkers," says Rob Olson, the acting president of Ikea U.S., "They will take better care of our customers, who will take better care of IKEA. We see it as a win-win-win opportunity."

He said the money will come out of profits, as they won't reduce staff or raise profits, but feels it will pay off in the long run with increased sales. 

Proprs to NPR for bringing in economist David Neumark, who said they may attract better workers who will increase sales, but that same strategy wouldn't work at a fast food restaurant with inelastic sales.

Olson of IKEA said this is the right thing to do for the employees, and I got the sense that NPR liked that they were paying unskilled workers more money, but I want people to refrain from looking at wage increases as a moral decision and think of it instead as a business decision for most companies.

Liberals love to cite Apple retail stores for keeping a large pool of staff on the clock at any given time and Costco for paying high wages. I don't see them praising engineering firms for paying high wages to their workers. Why is that? I think they want to see companies agree to treat wages as a form of charity to workers and set wages above the market-clearing rate for labor. That is to say, they want employers to ignore the invisible hand and just give money and jobs to people.

Of course, they always coach that in terms of how it will be good for business by improving worker performance, but as Neumark said, if employers believe raising wages will bring up their profits they will do it on their own.

Wages and compensation packages such as health insurance are not gifts employers share to be nice. They are payments used to attract the finite pool of workers. Wages are set by supply and demand, not empathy and charity.

If you're not convinced, look at this Walmart recruitment poster from oil-rich North Dakota that was shared by the American Enterprise Institute last month:

Does anyone believe Walmart is paying these high wages because of compassion or kindness?


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Peter T. Leeson is at it again

A few months ago the economics world observed the passing of Gary Becker, the academic economics pioneer who brought the profession into new areas of human interaction, such as crime, families and drug addiction. While he is gone, his influence lives on and it's clearly made a big impact on economist Peter T. Leeson who just wrote a book on anarchy and self governance.

In 2009 I read Leeson's previous book on pirates, The Invisible Hook, and since then have followed his academic papers when he writes about the economics of football hooligans, medieval ordeals, and gypsies. The new book is titled Anarchy Unbound: Why Self-Governance Works Better Than You Think.

Tyler Cowen has shared a paragraph from the book:

Twenty-two of thirty-seven street gangs Jankowski (1991: 78-82) studied have written constitutions. Sicilian Mafiosi follow a largely unwritten code of rules, and recently police found a written set of “ten commandments” outlining the Mafia’s core laws…Kaminski (2004) identifies extensive (yet unwritten) rules dictating nearly every aspect of Polish prisoners’ lives, from what words are acceptable to use in greeting a stranger to how and when to use the bathroom. And the National Gang Crime Research Center considers constitutions so central to criminal societies that the use of a constitution is one of the defining characteristics it uses when classifying gangs…

I'm not an anarchist and I don't want a society without a government, but I support most efforts to limit the scope and reach of government. Leeson's writing is always clear and intriguing and I recommend anyone in economics check him out.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A signpost in the semantics struggle

I'm intrigued by Daniel B. Klein's semantics project Lost Language, Lost Liberalism.

The basic idea is that what is now called classic liberalism or libertarianism was once called "liberalism" but progressives have stolen and redefined key words that make it difficult for us to discuss important ideas. The page contrasts the modern usage of those key words with classical uses.

For example, my ongoing struggle with hearing the term "justice" brandied about by redistributionists who think people are entitled to the fruit of someone else's labor:

I like Klein's intentions here, but I'm not sure if anyone will read it except people like me who already agree with him. The writing style is blocky and could use some exposure to George Orwell's rules of writing, which will scare away some people.

It's still interesting. I'm especially fond of his use of Google tools to track the usage of certain phrases, such as how "The United States" was used as a plural until 1880, and has since become a singular.

I think this is a great start here, but Klein has more work to do to make this project shine.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Are left wingers prepared to choose?

I'm a supporter of an open borders immigration policy. I'd like to see anyone come to America and be able to become a citizen in short order, although I want screenings for medical conditions and criminal background checks to avoid a Scarface scenario where another nation can dump its prisoners on us.

That view is embraced by most progressives, or at least a more moderate version that wants much more immigration than we currently have. But what's contradictory is that those some people also want a generous welfare state.

Here's Paul Krugman on that very issue:

Democrats are torn individually (a state I share). On one side, they favor helping those in need, which inclines them to look sympathetically on immigrants; plus they’re relatively open to a multicultural, multiracial society. I know that when I look at today’s Mexicans and Central Americans, they seem to me fundamentally the same as my grandparents seeking a better life in America. 
On the other side, however, open immigration can’t coexist with a strong social safety net; if you’re going to assure health care and a decent income to everyone, you can’t make that offer global. 
So Democrats have mixed feelings about immigration; in fact, it’s an agonizing issue.

My concern here is that this is in fact not an agonizing issue for Democratic voters, while it is most likely on the radar for Democratic politicians. To often, I see rank and file Democratic voters speaking about the legend of infinite wealth, where the government should be strengthening the social safety net with no consideration on costs because America is "rich."

Perhaps I'm wrong, maybe this is something they really do agonize over in private and don't like to talk about in public.

What I find most frustrating about this is the way immigrants are often portrayed as a burden when they should really be considered an asset. Bryan Caplan's analysis of the data tells us that most studies show immigrants pay more in taxes than they use in benefits, and the ones that show a net loss only show a small one.

Our borders need to be open for everyone, even the uneducated and the poor. Maybe we'd make some progress on this issue and pass immigration reform is everyone stopped talking about poor people as victims in need of saving and instead as untapped resources that can help us if given better incentives.

Friday, July 18, 2014

"The trouble is now the thought-experimenters are creating policy"

Thorium nuclear power advocate John Kutsch just narrated the perfect anecdote to the overly-enthusiastic renewable energy crowd.

Not hiding his frustration in the least, Kutsch went at this from a pro-science perspective. That's what made this video really sing. Sadly, too many critics of solar and wind power destroy their own credibility by denying the reality of man-made global warming. Instead, Kutsch took that issue head on and the video maker backed up what he said with more arguments for why our current crop of renewables won't help the environment and won't scale.

He even made a dig 19 minutes in at the local power source crowd. A subsection of the buy local crowd, these people thing power should be produced locally, even if it's incredibly expensive and wasteful.

Kutsch does a great job of reeling in nonsense. Every moment is worth watching.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Derringer crime is serious business

I try to avoid piling on when mobs on the Internet poke fun at the same fool, but this one is so off the wall I couldn't resist.

Kristen Gwynne's article-like list, formatted to splash across six different pages and maximize page views, is titled The 5 Most Dangerous Guns in America. The folly of the piece isn't outrageous claims; besides the sneering tone it doesn't really make any. It's not the clueless writing about firearms; those are so common today that it's hard to get worked up about another "assault weapon" mistake. It's not even the conclusions.

That's because it had none. Reading it was like eating a salad made entirely out of lettuce with no dressing. It stated nothing. It's like opening the front door to a house, stepping through, and finding oneself in the backyard. It's groping in the wrong spot for the pull switch of a ceiling light.

The piece promises the reader that Gwynne combed FBI and ATF data to find out which kinds of guns are used in crimes. A reasonable person would expect specific models or even brands to be the result.

Nope. Instead, Gwyenne told us that pistols, revolvers, rifles, shotguns and, wait for it, derringers are the types of guns most commonly used in crimes or found at crime scenes.


That's like asking advice for what kind of car to get and being told "sedan."

The actual entries read like a lazy 6th grader who copied the encyclopedia word for word. This is from the "revolver" entry:

Some grenade launchers, shotguns, and rifles also have rotating barrels, but the term "revolver" is generally used to describe handguns. Revolver types include single and double-action firing mechanisms, the latter of which does not require a cocking action separate from the trigger pull.

Yeah, that's true, but was there a point here? There is no one in the world who knows about revolver shotguns who fails to understand what an "assault rifle" it, yet she started off this absurdity with the lede:

Contrary to what those who defend the right to own high-powered assault rifles believe, not all guns are created equal. Due to a combination of availability, portability and criminal usage the following five types of guns are the country's most dangerous.

Look, I appreciate how hard it can be to come up with a good lede, but that was phoned-in. If we thought all guns are equally useful in all situations why would we care about efforts to ban or restrict AR-15s?

I know entertainment media like Rolling Stone dip left and will print progressive claptrap with little thought, but this article's real problems are quality-control, not politics. Sure, Gwynne is a lazy hack who rewrote a few technical descriptions and likes to pretend she can do data analysis, but she had to submit her work to an editor who approved it. They even got stock photos to flesh it out. This is a total catastrophe on a quality level and it's frankly embarrassing to see a national media company publish something that isn't even suitable for LiveJournal.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Carol Tavris is ready for war

Social psychologist Carol Tavris apparently stole the show at this year's Amazing Meeting scientific skepticism conference by taking the feminist branch head-on with her talk about apply skepticism to rape allegations.

From my perspective, the skepticism community has developed a social justice tumor that is trying to turn skepticism into a generic left wing group. Their efforts include trying to get skeptic groups to advocate for abortion rights and using affirmative action in organizations and conferences.

For example, members of that camp have taken the stance that accusations of sexual assault or sexual harassment are exempt from evidence and the accused should be assumed guilty. In February Tavris wrote an essay about why that is wrong and how accusers can lie, be manipulated into lying or obtain false memories of abuse.

Tavris continued that theme in her talk, which I have not heard. However, conference organizers have promised to post Tavris's talk. Until then, one of her targets says she is aware of the talk and is waiting to see it for herself, but did make a collection of Twitter remarks about the talk that gives us a glimpse.

Tavris cited an Occidental College case where two drunk students willingly had sex, and text messages show both were into it, but afterwards the female student changed her mind and the school is charging the male student with rape. She also criticized modern feminism and rape statistics that claim their is a crisis on college campuses.

I am patiently waiting to see the video of the talk for myself, but it's clear in the meantime that Tavris has declared war on the social justice faction of skepticism.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Farmers' Market franchisee

I was talking to a baker at a farmers' market yesterday. My girlfriend bought the loaf of break pictured to the left and I asked about where the recipe came from for the sold-out apple pie bread.

I turned out it came from another baker within the corporation.

As loyal shills of this blog will remember, I do not think there is anything wrong with going to a farmers' market or buying from a local company; I just don't see it as a virtue or a way to make the local economy wealthier.

However, the activists that do may feel bamboozled when they learn that Great Harvest Bread Company packages its food and surrounds itself in the veneer of what appears to be a locally-owned independent company but is actually a national franchise - one that costs $55,000 to $90,000 to join and charges royalties that start at 7 percent.

So much for that silly "keep the money in the community" nonsense.

Now, there is nothing wrong with Great Harvest Bread Co., they have been around a lot longer then the snobby local food movement and the bread I had from them was great. They make a product people clearly enjoy at prices they are willing to pay. This is not a criticism of their business, but a nod to their ingenuity.

It only makes sense that large corporations would tap into the locavore movement and the farmers' market game, such as Sprouts Farmers Market. What's clever here is that Great Harvest Bread Company is slipping seamlessly into the markets instead of trying to organize an entire market on its own.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Bees love capitalism

Economist Timothy Taylor has written an impressive post about the history of changes in the academic understanding of beekeeping economics, and showed how market forces have already provided a solution to the colony collapse issue of mysterious bee deaths. Taylor shows that despite the high bee deaths, private beekeepers have grown the bee population while the government is just not putting a task force together to find a policy solution

Economists have often used beekeeping as an example when discussing externalities, as apple farmers benefit from the bees who dutifully pollinate their apple trees as a side effect of living next t a bee keeper. There has always been a lot of discussion in how compensation can be worked out between apple farmers and beekeepers, and the issue has been shaken up a few times among academics.

Cheung pointed out that while Meade and others had interpreted the externality of bees as a reason for government subsidies and taxes, the actual real-life beekeeper industry had dealt with the issue through property rights... In short, while economists like Meade were hypothesizing about how markets couldn't address the issues of bees, actual beekeepers in real market were signing contracts that seemed to address these problems just fine.

The entire post is an interesting read, and should be required reading for science fans who need a reminder to why economics should be considered before they make policy recommendations.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The buzz on Converse fuzz

Here's a good economics lesson: Why do the popular Converse shoes come with a fuzzy layer on the bottom that is soon rubbed off through normal wear and offers no physical benefit or utility?

A few years ago someone at a party told me he works at Converse, makers of the popular canvas shoe and said it's there to dodge a tariff.

Converse sneakers are like Pabst Blue Ribbon beer: They developed a cult following because they were cheap and stylish, but after capturing a big market share and gaining customer loyalty, they pushed the brand further and raised prices, but managed to hold on to customers.

Even with that popularity the company has an incentive to save money wherever it can to maximize profits, and the purpose of the fuzzy layer is to save money.

Under American trade law, Chinese-made sneakers incur an import tariff of 37.5 percent. However, slippers have a much lower 3 percent tariff and the fuzzy layer makes the shoes count as slippers, despite everyone knowing full well that they are outdoor shoes.

A friend at that party asked that since Converse is so profitable why doesn't it just pay the full tariff. The answer is they've found a simple way to avoid it, so they have no reason to pay it.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Bring it on

I've seen this Twitter screen shot passed around. I don't get it.

Am I supposed to be offended that an American Indian activist who opposes Indian mascots was wearing a parody shirt labeled "Caucasians?" Was anyone actually offended? Who found this amusing enough to share?

It's like being called honkey, cracker or bossy: I know on an intellectual level that I'm supposed to find them offensive, but there's no actual sting when I hear them.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Here's what you get when you tolerate black racists

I absolutely loathe the way some racists get a pass today because they're black.

Some white liberals, not all but some, are quick to excuse or dismiss black racists, saying they are justified or inconsequential. Some won't even call them racists and tout a phony definition of racism that requires one to have societal power in order to qualify.

For example, Spike Lee gets to glare at interracial couples and complain about white people moving into black neighborhoods, but is held up as someone we can learn from about race.

I had a college professor who said she wasn't welcome at a friend's wedding because her friend's black mother has hated white people ever since KKK members killed someone in her family. In her defense, my professor didn't give that woman a pass, but sadly many will.

It's as logical as saying someone who was mugged by a Korean man is allowed to be prejudice against all Koreans. My professor wasn't even from this country, but was seen as guilty of a murder that took place before she was born. Racism is racism, it's as simple as that.

Well that logic doesn't seem to convince everyone, so adding fuel to the fire is this interview with Tamera Mowry-Housley, former co-star of the sitcom Sister, Sister, about the harassment she is receiving for marrying a white man.

Black racists are harassing a bi-racial woman for her interracial marriage. How can anyone consider that tolerable? Black racists are not cute or novel, and they target minority members too. They are racists and all racists should be treated the same, no matter what color they are.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Choosing a side

I'm having a hard time trying to understand if foodies are supposed to be cultured cosmopolitans or backwards survivalists.

A few years ago I was seated in the audience waiting for an event to start when I heard the person sitting behind me declare that she and her husband "try to do everything as locally as possible." This included trying to live off locally-made food and limiting her purchases to local merchants whenever possible.

What struck me is how that statement was extremely elitist on the surface, but it bore the structure of something said by a backwater nationalist militia member who sneers at products that aren't made in America.

So which is it food-snob hipsters, do you want to eat ugly tomatoes and gamey meats from the farmers' market, or are you willing to indulge in globalist foods like Nutella, sushi and hummus?