Wednesday, September 20, 2017

California's Dreadful AB 485 Masks And Exacerbates The Problem Of Puppymills

My friend Linda Kaim pointed me at an AKC complaint that California's AB 485 would cost people the "freedom to choose your own dog". As usual, it pays to be skeptical of anything from the AKC, and a quick read of the text of the bill shows that the circumstances behind it are anything but benign:
122354.5.  (a) A pet store operator shall not sell a live dog, cat, or rabbit in a pet store unless the dog, cat, or rabbit was obtained from a public animal control agency or shelter, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals shelter, humane society shelter, or rescue group that is in a cooperative agreement with at least one private or public shelter pursuant to Section 31108, 31752, or 31753 of the Food and Agricultural Code.

(b) All sales of dogs and cats authorized by this section shall be in compliance with paragraph (1) of subdivision (a) of Section 30503 of, subdivision (b) of Section 30520 of, paragraph (1) of subdivision (a) of Section 31751.3 of, and subdivision (b) of Section 31760 of, the Food and Agricultural Code.

(c) Each pet store shall maintain records sufficient to document the source of each dog, cat, or rabbit the pet store sells or provides space for, for at least one year. Additionally, each pet store shall post, in a conspicuous location on the cage or enclosure of each animal, a sign listing the name of the public animal control agency or shelter, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals shelter, humane society shelter, or nonprofit from which each dog, cat, or rabbit was obtained. Public animal control agencies or shelters may periodically require pet stores engaged in sales of dogs, cats, or rabbits to provide access to these records.

(d) A pet store operator who is subject to this section is exempt from the requirements set forth in Article 2 (commencing with Section 122125) of Chapter 5, except for the requirements set forth in Section 122135, paragraphs (3) and (4) of subdivision (a) of, and paragraphs (5) and (6) of subdivision (b) of, Section 122140, and Sections 122145 and 122155.

(e) A pet store operator who violates this section shall be subject to a civil penalty of five hundred dollars ($500). Each animal offered for sale in violation of this section shall constitute a separate violation.

(f) For purposes of this section, a “rescue group” is an organization that is tax exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and that does not obtain animals from breeders or brokers for compensation.
 As we've already seen, there's a lot of ways to hide revenue in 990s, including as executive salaries and other compensation. The way this bill is written would appear to permit puppy mills to rebrand themselves as "rescues" (or to create new intermediary "rescues") who would launder the dogs, shifting the actual profit center. Because of the perverse way USDA APHIS rules regulate commercial dog breeders, ironically it would be small-scale breeders (PDF) who would be most affected by the new language:

Q. Under the final rule, what is the new definition of a retail pet store?

A. In the final rule, “retail pet store” means a place of business or residence at which the seller, buyer, and the animal available for sale are physically present so that every buyer may personally observe the animal prior to purchasing and/or taking custody of it after purchase. [Emboldening in the passage above is mine. - RM] By personally observing the animal, the buyer is exercising public oversight over the animal and in this way is helping to ensure its health and humane treatment. Retailers who sell their pet animals to customers in face- to-face transactions do not have to obtain an AWA license because their animals are subject to such public oversight. Under the AWA regulations, a “retail pet store” is also a place where only the following animals are sold or offered for sale as pets: dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice, gophers, chinchillas, domestic ferrets, domestic farm animals, birds, and coldblooded species.
Essentially, this eliminates small-scale breeders from selling in California, because their puppies are not from a "rescue", and because they meet the APHIS definition of "retail pet store". That this is approximately insane is par for the course; it is, after all, California.

Cordelia's Not-So-Fine Book Testosterone Rex Wins Royal Society Prize

No, seriously, Cordelia Fine's Testosterone Rex won the annual Royal Society science book prize.  Fine staunchly advocates the blank slate theory of human sexual differences, i.e. that cultural norms drive behavioral and other visible differences. That Fine's book is the purest tosh has been addressed elsewhere, as for example West Hunt's long-form review, Stuart Ritchie's review in Quillette, or Jerry Coyne's criticisms.  She botches her analysis of, the subsequent meaning of, and corrections/improvements to Angus Bateman's groundbreaking fruit fly research in the 1940's. She ignores research on congenital adrenal hyperplasia on other mammals, including among our near evolutionary cousins, the great apes. (Girls born with this condition secrete unusually large amounts of testosterone, and exhibit more male-typical play.) Ritchie notes that she elides significant criticism:
This fits into a pattern: evidence contrary to Fine’s position is often cited, but it’s not mentioned in the text, instead being relegated to endnotes where it can’t cause too much trouble. Witness, for instance, Fine’s mention of “stereotype threat”, where a single supporting study is discussed in the text but a contrary meta-analysis is only mentioned in the endnote. Or her discussion of a 2015 paper on how males’ and females’ brains aren’t essentially different, but are a mosaic of features: you wouldn’t know that four strong scientific critiques of the study had been published (with a response) unless you flick to the back of the book. This allows Fine to use the main text to critique only the most overblown claims about sex differences, and avoid having to deal at length with more reasonable arguments. of "stereotype threat": "a single supporting study is discussed in the text but a contrary meta-analysis is only mentioned in the endnote".
It seems foreordained that this award will serve as a significant data point for the notion that politics has corrupted the academy. Or will it? The panel issuing the award consisted of
  • Richard Fortey (paleontologist, committee chair)
  • Naomi Alderman (novelist)
  • Claudia Hammond (broadcaster, writer, social psychologist)
  • Dr. Sam Gilbert (brain researcher)
  • Shaminder Nahal (broadcast TV editor)
That is to say, it is predominated by non-scientists. How this might have happened would prove an interesting story, but it is not the same thing as a vote by the bulk membership (as with the Hugo Awards). Yet it points in a disturbing direction, cloaking badly-executed science with the imprimatur of the Royal Society. I hope this draws a strong reaction from actual biologists.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Vox's Sad Apologia For Hillary's Coal Gaffe

There are other reviews of Hillary Clinton's new, question-mark-deprived book, What Happened, that cover more ground (e.g. David Harsanyi's in Reason), but I want to focus on David Roberts' absurdist comments in Vox regarding her "coal gaffe". He quotes Ms. Clinton directly (formatting is all theirs):
Instead of dividing people the way Donald Trump does, let’s reunite around politics that will bring jobs and opportunities to all these under-served poor communities. So, for example, I’m the only candidate who has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right, Tim? [Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) was in the audience.]

And we’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories. Now we’ve got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don’t want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce energy that we relied on.
Roberts' point — that there were plenty of media outlets who took the emboldened passage out of context and used it to slay her — was true as far as it goes, but also trite. In every election of consequence, people will do their damndest, even lie, to change the outcome. Yet it shocked Hillary, who then was trying out for the role of politician. It is clearly a skill set beyond her, despite Vox's earlier fatuous claims to the contrary. You don't say things that can be used as a bludgeon against you. The steel collapse of the 1970's is still within living memory. Peabody Energy filed for bankruptcy only last year, in April, well before the election. Her words got traction precisely because workers affected by those bloodlettings stopped listening past the first paragraph.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday Links

  • In reaction to Betsy DeVos rescinding the "Dear Colleague" letter, 29 US Senators have signed a letter condemning this action. The Constitution still isn't popular.
  • Ross Douthat has a decent reaction to Ta-Nehisi Coates' essay about race's role in the 2016 Presidential election, accusing Coates of attacking a straw man (emboldening mine):
    Certainly there are many Americans whose beliefs fit Coates’ description, who regard Trump’s racial vision as basically benign if occasionally insensitive, who think he’s an unjust victim of the liberal media’s race card, and so forth. These Americans are Trump supporters, for the most part, plus a smattering of left-wing gadflies and other contrarians. But Coates is very clearly not arguing with Fox-watching Trump supporters in his essay: His piece quotes and critiques anti-Trump conservatives and Democrats and liberals, not Sean Hannity or his epigones, and his examples of the supposed “race is incidental” consensus are figures like Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, Mark Lilla and my colleague Nick Kristof, Charles Murray and Anthony Bourdain. His great complaint is not that Trump backers deny their own racist impulses, in other words, but that the “collective” of Trump opponents barely acknowledge the role of race and racism in his rise.
    Douthat repeats the same error that marred Coates' essay, namely, its refusal to look at anything resembling polling data, but it still represents a step up from that "caricature" in that it seeks to understand individuals who might have voted for Trump for reasons wholly (or even mostly) divided from racism or sexism.
  • One potentially underreported cause of anti-Clinton sentiment: military voters (or people with family members in the military). Glenn Greenwald sets out a case (not as strong as he thinks) for a significant stream of such people making a difference in November:
    A study published earlier this year by Boston University political science professor Douglas Kriner and Minnesota Law School’s Francis Shen makes the case quite compellingly.

    Titled “Battlefield Casualties and Ballot Box Defeat: Did the Bush-Obama Wars Cost Clinton the White House?,” the paper rests on the premise that these wars have exclusively burdened a small but politically important group of voters — military families — and that “in the 2016 election Trump was speaking to this forgotten part of America.” Particularly in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan — three states that Clinton lost — “there is a significant and meaningful relationship between a community’s rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump.” Examining the data, the paper concludes that “inequalities in wartime sacrifice might have tipped the election.”
  • Why does Hillary Clinton think comparisons to Cersei Lannister is a good idea?
  • Anita Sarkeesian's censorious tendencies perhaps have a limit.  
  • Amber Tamblyn apparently has a long-ago beef with actor James Woods, who tried to pick her up as a teenager. She writes an open letter to Woods (who disputed the charges on Twitter) in the pages of Teen Vogue, and wishes for a world in which women's charges would just stick regardless of corroborating evidence or testimony:
    The saddest part of this story doesn't even concern me but concerns the universal woman's story. The nation's harmful narrative of disbelieving women first, above all else. Asking them to first corroborate or first give proof or first make sure we're not misremembering or first consider the consequences of speaking out or first let men give their side or first just let your sanity come last.
    Because false accusations never happen? Because memory is selective and frequently faulty? This coming from a political magazine in heels is par for the course, but it points at a dystopia.
  • Update 2017-09-16: Okay, so no longer Friday, but too lazy to open a new post. Here's Jason D. Hill in Commentary responding to Ta-Nehisi Coates' recent essay:
    In the 32 years I have lived in this great country, I have never once actively fought racism. I have simply used my own example as evidence of its utter stupidity and moved forward with absolute metaphysical confidence, knowing that the ability of other people to name or label me has no power over my self-esteem, my mind, my judgment, and—above all—my capacity to liberate myself through my own efforts.

    On this matter, you have done your son—to whom you address your book—an injustice. You write: “The fact of history is that black people have not—probably no people ever have—liberated themselves strictly by their own efforts. In every great change in the lives of African Americans we see the hands of events that were beyond our individual control, events that were not unalloyed goods.”

    I do not believe you intended to mislead your son, but in imparting this credo, you have potentially paralyzed him, unless he reappraises your philosophy and rejects it. In your misreading of America, you’ve communicated precisely why many blacks in this country have been alienated from their own agency and emancipatory capabilities. The most beleaguered people on the planet, the Jews, who have faced persecution since their birth as a people, are a living refutation of your claim. ...

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Ta-Nehisi Coasts Again On Race

It's hard to look at Ta-Nehisi Coates and not conclude he is a sort of pet intellectual of the left, or at least, someone who has the reputation of an intellectual, in much the same way that certain of New York's elite celebrated the radical chic of the Black Panthers. He voices the right sounds: he radiates contempt and anger when talking about whites. In his latest The Atlantic essay, he blames racists for putting Trump into the White House. Trump, he tells us, has one ideology, "white supremacy." (This is not without basis.) "White", to Coates, is an epithet in the same way that "nigger" is. Trump, he hisses, "must be called by his rightful honorific—America’s first white president." Never mind the much more deserving honorees of that title — say, Woodrow Wilson, who oversaw the expansion of Jim Crow to the Federal civil service, or Franklin Roosevelt, whose FHA enshrined redlining into Federal lending practice. Actual policy objections to Barack Obama's administration driving rejection of a second helping (real or imagined) in the form of Hillary Clinton do not enter his equation.

Coates is not especially troubled by the issues raised by actual data, though to his credit he does do some digging there, making the salient point that Trump won the white vote overall. In doing so, he ignores Clinton's many failures as a candidate (which also, ironically, caused blacks to shirk their duties at the polls as well as casting more votes for Trump as a percentage vs. Obama in 2012), or even bothering to look at why whites might have pulled the lever as they did. For actual investigation there, we must retire to Five Thirty Eight, or to the Voter Study Group's survey that identified five large pools of Trump support. In Coates' telling, it was Kristallnacht at the polls. That is to say, Coates has a one-size-fits-all, theological explanation for the election results — white racism — and he intends to use this hammer upon a world he perceives as full of nails.

Yet, as with his widely praised essay on racial reparations, he never quite arrives at the destination he imagines he does. As with that flawed essay, his aim here is not persuasion but the signaling of virtue. He does not, for instance, extend to white voters the same courtesy he does "long-neglected working-class black voters ... rightfully suspicious of a return of Clintonism" of equal (if not more) suspicion in the face of her very explicit embrace of racial and sexual identity politics. In fact, as Pew put it the day after the election, "Trump won white voters by a margin almost identical to that of Mitt Romney, who lost the popular vote to Barack Obama in 2012." So, how did white Americans become racist between 2012 and 2016? In large part, because the Democrats offered the smug, arrogant Hillary Clinton — a horrible, twice-before-failed candidate whose only successful elective experience was a safe Senate seat in solidly blue New York (she beat Republican Rick Fazio by more than 12%). A dreadful public speaker, she expressly rejected the advice of the man she putatively shared a bed with (and the principal political genius of her party). For Coates, anti-Clinton sentiment only satisfies for blacks. It places him solidly in the same ranks as race-baiters like Jesse Jackson, or the even cruder Al Sharpton.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Betsy DeVos Declares An End to Weaponized Title IX Persecutions

The show isn't over,  and you get the distinct sense that political haymakers like Kirstin Gillibrand will fight this in the courts and elsewhere. The New York Times' story on the announcement contained a passage that is positively Orwellian in its revision of history (as ever, emboldening mine):
How to enforce Title IX, the 1972 law requiring schools to protect students from rape and sexual assault, is one of Ms. DeVos’s most difficult policy tasks, and her department has been under fire for comments made this week by Candice Jackson, who leads its Office for Civil Rights.
This is of course a fiction manufactured for public consumption that simply did not exist prior to the 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter. As the Reason story points out,
The problems with the Obama-era Title IX guidance are essentially threefold. First, it isn't obvious that Title IX—a one-sentence statute—could or should be read as having anything to do with violent crimes.

Secondly, the guidance raises constitutional questions, since it appears to many civil libertarians that a federal agency was instructing public institutions to violate the due process guarantees of the Fifth Amendment. ...

Finally, since the guidance is legally dicey, it led to lawsuits left and right. Many students who were found responsible for sexual misconduct under the new guidelines have filed suit against their universities, and a nontrivial number of them have prevailed in court.
Emily Yoffe in The Atlantic has a well-timed story on the state of Title IX which hints at the problems to come: "Many college administrators have said they will not alter the adjudication policies now enshrined on their campus even if recent federal guidelines are rescinded; capacious campus bureaucracies that were created at the behest of Obama’s OCR are likely to resist change." The bureaucracy is its own constituency. People for whom "justice" is merely a matter of collecting sufficient scalps are unlikely to stop the head-carving just because they were told to. Defunding needs to happen, and soon.

Update 8:44 PM CDT: I had forgotten this exceptional tweetstorm from Walter Olson:

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Obverse Godwin's Law

This meme recently showed up on CNN host Chris Cuomo's Twitter feed (and elsewhere):
Pretending that people who insist on punching Nazis as private citizens are the moral or legal equivalent of the men who stormed Normandy is not only false, it is idiotic and ahistorical. Allow me to introduce you to Mssrs. Harold Sturtevant and E.C. Lackey, USN:

Harold Sturtevant was a sailor in the United States Navy. In January 1941, he and fellow sailor E.C. Lackey climbed up the fire escape of the building which housed the German consulate in San Francisco, California and slashed and tore down the flag of Nazi Germany which was flying there in honor of the 7th anniversary of the founding of the Third Reich. The two men were arrested, tried, court martialed for malicious mischief and received a dishonorable discharge from the Navy. The German Foreign Ministry protested the incident and the United States Department of State expressed their regrets.
 Which is to say, the United States, then being at peace with the German Reich, issued a formal apology and punished the perpetrators. Yes, the modern white supremacists are odious and worthy of full-throated denunciation (something President Trump apparently couldn't quite bring himself to do), but punching Nazis doesn't make you a hero, it just makes you a thug and a vigilante. Mike Godwin's famous law about discussions eventually hauling in Hitler and Nazis is fine as far as it goes; his point was to force people to use such analogies thoughtfully. But it has no obverse, and we desperately need one.