Thursday, January 29, 2015

Jonathan Chait, Oppressor And Oppressed

Jonathan Chait, one of my least favorite columnists thanks to his willful obtuseness (especially in his coverage of Obamacare), recently wrote a long piece at New York on the subject of free speech. It's been widely praised (in libertarian circles, Matt Welch was one such), and in the limited sphere of his criticism of fellow liberals, with good reason. But as Sean Davis at The Federalist points out, Chait's insistence on tolerance pretty much ends once you get outside his ideological comfort zone. Alex Pareene spies some of the exact same problem from the other direction, writing that now
Chait, like many liberal commentators with his background, is used to writing off left-wing critics and reserving his real writerly firepower for (frequently deserving) right-wingers. That was, for years, how things worked at the center-left opinion journalism shops, because it was simply assumed that no one important—no one who really matters—took the opinions of people to the left of the center-left opinion shop seriously. That was a safe and largely correct assumption. But the destruction of the magazine industry and the growth of the open-forum internet have amplified formerly marginal voices. Now, in other words, writers of color can be just as condescending and dismissive of Chait as he always was toward the left. And he hates it.
I find Pareene's review of the exchange with Ta-Nehisi Coates to be much less satisfying; claiming he "embarrass[ed] himself" largely amounts to exactly the kind of dismissive and condescending attitude Chait condemns. (And Coates, for his part, is a man running out some very old ideas while he is running out of time; what do reparations for slavery mean to a Mexican immigrant forced to pay for them?) But the weirdest response so far has to be from Fredrik deBoer, who flat out calls Chait "a jerk who somehow manages to be both condescending and wounded" and then cites examples of exactly the kind of narrow-minded ideological beatdowns on offer from the modern left. This one, in particular,
I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 20 year old black man, a track athlete who tried to fit organizing meetings around classes and his ridiculous practice schedule (for which he received a scholarship worth a quarter of tuition), be told not to return to those meetings because he said he thought there were such a thing as innate gender differences. He wasn’t a homophobe, or transphobic, or a misogynist. It turns out that 20 year olds from rural South Carolina aren’t born with an innate understanding of the intersectionality playbook. But those were the terms deployed against him, those and worse. So that was it; he was gone.
Yes, well. It's hard, reading that and his other examples, to understand how Chait "gets the basic nature of language policing wrong". Worse, since Chait appears to embrace a liberalism committed to free speech whose "glory rests in its confidence in the ultimate power of reason, not coercion, to triumph", this puts deBoer in the uncomfortable position of appearing to support speech codes. Chait's indifference to actual freedom of speech treads frequently in the gray area of criticism, i.e. the sort of thing Sarah Palin used to gripe about when she said dumb things and expected no one would notice, but with the stridency of critics who brook no heterodox opinions, it lives in another area code altogether. If you want free speech, support that. Criticism is what we have instead of censorship. And if the left is intellectually intolerant, if it has its secret codes of intersectionality and religious, gender and racial orthodoxy that none within its walls dare broach, perhaps it's worth examining why someone like Chait, who cites many of the same problems, should also get slammed as "a jerk" and "an asshole" by a fellow traveler merely for pointing that out.

Update: Elizabeth Nolan Brown has a nice roundup of more lefty reactions to the Chait piece. Unsurprisingly, neither Jezebel nor Vox were too pleased with it.
Chastising the "radical left" (or "radical feminists") for this sort of thing only muddies things up. It is very much mainstream liberalism, or at least one branch of it, taking up the p.c. mantle these days.

Similarly, I think it's a mistake to read this nouveau-p.c. cult as coming from academia. Sure, it shows up there frequently, but where are 18-year-olds taking their cultural cues from? It's not professors but media and online culture. As Sessions suggests, "the misguided excesses of the Social Media Left" are in very large part a product of "the dynamics of the Internet." In part, this means the way Twitter and Facebook incentivize certain sorts of attitudes and actions (in the vein Sanchez mentioned above). And in part, it's a product of the fact that "identity-based outrage is now one of the most reliable sources of clicks and Facebook shares" for the mainstream press.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Overuse Of "Hater": No, It's Not "Cool" To Hate Breeders

One of the most pernicious tendencies in recent years has been that of inserting "hater" and all its variants into various kinds of discourse. Google gives it as "a negative or critical person", but I incline to add "for irrational reasons"; that is, a "hater" is someone who doesn't actually have an argument or evidence or facts behind them; they merely hate, for whatever reason. I bring this up because of this blog post about how "Hating Dog Breeders Is Cool Now", by which I infer that even small-time breeders are terrible humans (never mind apparent puppy millers that the GoDaddy ad actually lampoons as insensitive and commercial). In case my comment gets eaten or rejected, I cut and paste it below in its entirety.

The feud to define “reputable breeder” is a long way from over, and probably never will be, but it is utterly inconceivable that any such would ever agree to sell to a third party. I cannot discern the author’s position on this matter, but the lack of condemnation of the practice comes very close to at least tolerating it.
This is a conversation that the AKC has been decidedly absent from. The biggest name in purebred and well-bred dogs in the United States seems reluctant to campaign for the people that support them. Yes, the AKC has a part in fighting legislation occasionally. But a group with so much reach should be doing so much more, in my humble opinion. Let’s figure out a way to help them do it, or just do it ourselves if they are unwilling to.
This is a futile pursuit. The AKC is dying, slowly, a victim of its own “success”, which mostly is opposite of any rational and scientific concern for dogs, a subject I wrote about some months ago. (An even better source is my friend Heather Houlahan in 2010 in her essay, “The Emperor’s Striptease”.) The AKC is at war with itself; it cannot tell the puppy millers to get lost, as they generate so many registrations. Neither can it blow off the Westminster participants and their multi-thousand-dollar campaigns. But the two have fundamentally different and opposing interests. The question therefore becomes, which breeders?
4) Advertise: Advertise your puppies absolutely everywhere that will allow you to do so. Facebook, Kijiji, Puppyfind, Ebay, Hoobly.
My question is, why are you creating puppies for which you had not ascertained qualified homes long before the prospective pairing? My background is in working dogs — herding dogs, particularly — and no breeder of my acquaintance with any repute would sell their dogs in such a manner.

Rule By Telephone Sanitizers

A busy Tuesday precluded me from posting anything about this Harvard Business Review essay (hat tip to Robyn Weisman) asking a deep, sad, and entirely relevant question: when do regulators become more important than customers?
While working with a huge Russian hydrocarbon company in Texas last year, our innovation conversation quickly zeroed in on customers. Who was the energy giant’s most important customer? Which customer had the biggest impact on new value creation? What customer would matter most in five years?

The wide-ranging English/Russian debate raged for 20 minutes. Then one of the engineering executives, a fracking enthusiast and unconventional extraction technologies champion, spoke up. The answer, he declared, was now obvious. The company’s most important customer — by far — was Russia’s government. Strategic success required pleasing Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin.

The room went quiet. That single comment rebooted the entire discussion. No one disagreed. The innovation roadmap was hauled out and reviewed less in the spotlight of global opportunities than the cold reflection of domestic politics. State satisfaction mattered more than market disruption.
"Your most important customers", Michael Schrage goes on, "may not be the people who buy your products but the ones who regulate your company and industry." And the world is filled with people all but sure they need to inflict their vision on your company, both from without — and from within e.g. Emma Watson, whose heart's desire is to add another layer of telephone sanitizers. That such people desperately need to be fired should be trivially obvious. The Constitution as written was engineered to prevent the proliferation of dickless meddlers, but the modern regulatory state is a kind of agar, and we all are in the Petri dish.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Fantasist's Pony

Greg Sargent today has a longish piece that pretty well captures the level of pants-down delusion Obamacare supporters are left with in opposing King v. Burwell (which they have to pray goes for the defense). It's pretty harebrained, but most of these arguments are, too:
If Congress intended to threaten states with the loss of subsidies, why were so many government officials — including many Republicans in Congress and even officials in the states themselves — entirely unaware that any such threat existed, for many, many months after the law passed, at the very moment when those state officials were grappling intensely with the implications of the law for them?
The obvious rejoinder to this is, because nobody reads the damned bills.  This is a convenient and bogus excuse for what appears entirely to be either bad drafting, or malicious drafting; the Jonathan Gruber videos make it clear it was the latter. The depressing part, of course, is this:
This week, a number of states will file a brief siding with the government, arguing that nothing in the ACA indicated opting for the federal exchange would cost them subsidies. They will argue — as in a similar, previous brief — that the challengers’ interpretation raises serious constitutional questions: The states were never given clear warning that the failure to set up exchanges could bring them serious harm, and thus the Supreme Court should opt for the Constitutional interpretation — the government’s — when that option exists.
That many of these are Republican-majority states should call into question a lot of the assumptions about that party's bona fides in the small-government department, but no matter.
To this argument, the challengers respond that of course the states didn’t think they’d lose subsidies, because the IRS rule — first proposed in late summer of 2011 and made official in the spring of 2012 — told them so, a key reason many states declined to set up exchanges. Thus, the challengers argue, if invalidating the IRS rule now would hurt millions in these states, that’s the fault of the IRS’s original act of lawlessness, i.e., departing from the ACA’s plain text to make subsidies available in them.
Well, duh.
... [L]aw professor Laurence Tribe suggests, that the Justices could conclude this case is about more than statutory draftsmanship, and see at stake momentous questions about the relationship between the federal government and the states.
Tribe supports very expansive readings of law, which is to say, he is an enemy of textualism. King is about the rule of law in no small way; if it fails, the law is whatever the mandarins say on a given day. Somewhere in the room full of shit is a pony, they're convinced, and will go to their graves believing.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The North Star

Amelia Earhart:
The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life and the procedure. The process is its own reward.
 It seems to me that a great deal of the "we must have more women in STEM careers" chanting is driven by people who assume that other things than the work itself will prove rewarding. This is a difference between intrinsic and extrinsic reward, and the former will always outmatch the latter for the very best in any career.

When Did You Stop Beating Your Wife?

I was not a little shocked to see Mary Anne Franks make a terrifically disingenuous argument about Arizona's recently overturned, insanely broad revenge porn law:
But the American Civil Liberties Union sued in September, arguing House Bill 2515 was so broad it made anyone who distributes or displays a nude image without explicit permission guilty of a felony. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton issued an order putting the law on hold in November as part of an agreement between the Arizona attorney general's office and the groups that sued. The order blocks enforcement of the law to allow the Legislature time to work on changes.

The ACLU sued on behalf of several bookstores and publishing associations, the owner of the Village Voice and 12 other alternative newsweeklies nationwide, and the National Press Photographers Association.

The groups sent Mesnard and legislative leaders a letter early this month suggesting changes to the law to address its concerns that the law was overly broad. They said, for instance, that the law would make it a felony to publish a book containing a Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnam war photo of a burned and nude little girl running from her bombed village.
As Mark W. Bennett writes,
The argument is either ignorant or dishonest. Franks doesn’t get to plead ignorance here. She knows the argument is dishonest and she makes it anyway.
This strikes me as a constant with many feminist lawyers, as for example the horrible Alexandra Brodsky essay that dispenses with due process by substituting a totalitarian and ironic "fair process". Brodsky is presumably conversant enough with the law that she should know the difference — or perhaps does and doesn't care. Similar issues hold with Russlyn Ali and her "Dear Colleague" letter (PDF). It reminds one of nothing so much as the awful, complex question, "When did you stop beating your wife?" The ends are what is important; the means, not so much.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Snarking At Leslie More Rigorously

What an awesome rejoinder to Leslie et al. (PDF):
This is the paper that concludes that “women are underrepresented in fields whose practitioners believe that raw, innate talent is the main requirement for success because women are stereotyped as not possessing that talent.” They find that some survey questions intended to capture whether people believe a field requires innate talent correlate with percent women in that field at a fairly impressive level of r = -0.60

The media, science blogosphere, et cetera has taken this result and run with it. A very small sample includes: National Science Foundation: Belief In Raw Brilliance May Decrease Diversity. Science Mag: the “misguided” belief that certain scientific fields require brilliance helps explain the underrepresentation of women in those fields. Reuters: Fields That Cherish Genius Shun Women. LearnU: Study Findings Point To Source Of Gender Gap In STEM. Scientific American: Hidden Hurdle Looms For Women In Science. Chronicle Of Higher Education: Disciplines That Expect Brilliance Tend To Punish Women. News Works: Academic Gender Gaps Tied To Stereotypes About Genius. Mathbabe: “The genius myth” keeps women out of science. Vocativ: Women Avoid Fields Full Of Self-Appointed Geniuses. And so on in that vein.

Okay. Imagine a study with the following methodology. You survey a bunch of people to get their perceptions of who is a smoker (“97% of his close friends agree Bob smokes”). Then you correlate those numbers with who gets lung cancer. Your statistics program lights up like a Christmas tree with a bunch of super-strong correlations. You conclude “Perception of being a smoker causes lung cancer”, and make up a theory about how negative stereotypes of smokers cause stress which depresses the immune system. The media reports that as “Smoking Doesn’t Cause Cancer, Stereotypes Do”.

This is the basic principle behind Leslie et al (2015).

The obvious counterargument is that people’s perceptions may be accurate, so your perception measure might be a proxy for a real thing. In the smoking study, we expect that people’s perception of smoking only correlates with lung cancer because it correlates with actual smoking which itself correlates with lung cancer. You would expect to find that perceived smoking correlates with lung cancer less than actual smoking, because the perceived smoking correlation is just the actual smoking correlation plus some noise resulting from misperceptions.
Alexander goes on to analytically dispose of this silly argument by looking at GRE Quantitative scores and finding — shockingly — "a correlation of r = -0.82 (p = 0.0003) between average GRE Quantitative score and percent women in a discipline". In other words, the better you score in those areas, the more likely you are to end up in a STEM career, and men typically are the ones on the right side of that graph (with higher scores). There's a lot more solid analysis there, including the observation that Leslie overweighted verbal and writing scores. It's well worth the read.

The Non-Reciprocal Value Subtraction Of #HeForShe

I had my attentions drawn to Emma Watson's latest bloviations about her #HeForShe program, and in particular, this:
On Jan. 23, the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador took the stage in Davos, Switzerland to speak about the HeForShe campaign, the influence it has had on her own life and the new initiative Impact 10x10x10. "Women share this planet 50/50 and they are underrepresented -- their potential astonishingly untapped," she told the crowd.

The HeForShe campaign encourages men to join the movement towards achieving gender equality. As the campaign's website reads, it "brings together one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity, for the benefit of all."

So, questions:
  1. Why is it that women need outside help to achieve their potential?
  2. Isn't this just a recasting of chivalry using modern, dead, and bureaucratic language?
  3. What benefit, specifically, do men receive for assisting women?
As an adjunct to the third question, I found myself curious to read her website's "Strategy" menu page, which, if you go to the PDF for corporations, includes this sleep-inducing passage:
  1. Women’s Empowerment Principles: As an initial step, these CEOs will sign the CEO Statement of Support for the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), a set of Principles for business offering guidance on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community. The WEPs are the result of collaboration between UN Women and the UN Global Compact.1 Companies will establish targets and benchmarks aligned with the 7 Principles and will commit to publicly report on their progress by September 2015. 
  2. Launch and Leadership: IMPACT 10x10x10 corporations will launch HeForShe mobilization activities within their organizations, including the use of tools such as the ‘HeForShe Commitment API’ (a geo-located intranet app allowing men to register and visualize in real-time the number of male activated on the map globally within their organization) as a performance indicator for male engagement. 
  3. Commitment: Within each corporate structure, a commitment will be made to make a difference to gender equality and women’s empowerment. That might mean making a commitment to make an internal change or to create programs that empower women employees or customers, or to encourage male employees and customers to better understand what gender equality means and what their role is in achieving it; or it could mean an externally facing commitment to support programming that advocates for women and girls globally.
So, in other words, this has nothing to do with offering companies value, and everything to do with creating parasitic agencies within them. (The link to the UN piece on Women's Empowerment Principles is even more idiotic and bureaucratic.) How these agencies will serve the employer, and more importantly, the customers of the companies is omitted entirely. That, of course, is because we are to assume all their conclusions, i.e. that women provide valuable services for which they are obviously undercompensated. One wonders — I suspect the answer is, "no" — whether Ms. Watson has ever run a company, and what benefit such a department might bring to the bottom line. As with all such nonsense, Watson's prescriptions are entirely ego-driven; she considers neither the investors, nor the customers, nor (arguably) the employees, substituting her judgment for their interests. Such a program might produce landing places for the army of feminist studies majors who would otherwise be waitressing, but it is wholly toxic.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Invaluable Christina H. Sommers On Exaggerated Campus Rape

The terrible headline notwithstanding (no, "rape culture" isn't a real thing, unless you live in Somalia, etc.), the underlying Daily Beast piece by Christina Hoff Sommers is, as always, entirely worth your time. Deconstructing what appears to be a politically-biased hit job from NPR that galvanized political action — including Russlyn Ali and her infamous "Dear Colleague" letter. Excerpt:
On the evening of April 4, 2004, according to the NPR/CPI [Center for Public Integrity] version of events, [Laura] Dunn, then a freshman and member of the crew team at the University of Wisconsin, consumed so many raspberry vodkas at a crew party that the student-bartenders refused her more drinks. She left with two young men she trusted from her team. They planned to go to another party, but decided to make a quick stop at one of the men’s apartment. According to Dunn, once they arrived, her teammates raped her as she fell in and out of consciousness. For many months, she tried to dismiss the evening as a “just a mistake.” Still, she couldn’t sleep, she lost weight, she dropped out of crew.

Fifteen months later, Dunn attended a philosophy class where the professor was discussing how rape is a weapon of war. The professor suddenly stopped the lecture, turned to the students, and told them she knew many of her students had been raped, and she assured them they could do something about it. A tearful Laura Dunn told NPR’s Joseph Shapiro what happened next. “The moment that lecture let out,” she said, “I walked across to the dean of students’ office and I reported that day.” She also reported the alleged rape to the campus police.

The investigation did not go well for Dunn. Because she reported the assault nearly a year-and-a-half after the event, one of the men had already graduated. The other insisted the encounter had been consensual, and since there were no witnesses or evidence, both the police and the university dropped the case.
Yet, independent investigation into the claims discovered that
When Dunn first spoke to the dean (15 months after the alleged rape), she said that “a portion of the sexual encounter was consensual.” (p.5) A few days later when she spoke to a campus police detective, Dunn said twice that she did not remember being raped by one of the men (the one still on campus). She found out about it only when the men told her what happened the next day (p.6). She also told the detective that in the months after the alleged rape that she went—twice—to one of the men’s residence, where they engaged in consensual “physical contact.”
 None of this, of course, made it into the NPR/CPI account. Sommers also takes up a widely-cited study by David Lisak claiming that 1-in-16 engaged in acts that amounted to the legal definition of rape. Moreover, "[m]ore than half of this group admitted to raping more than once and also confessed to crimes such as choking an intimate partner, deliberately burning a child, or forcing a child to perform oral sex." The resulting moral panic cascaded unto the present day. Backlash was almost immediate, and well-expressed in the "Dear OCR" open letter she cites. It is, simply put, required reading.
Sexual assault is indeed a difficult and ubiquitous problem in our work. Drunk students are vulnerable to becoming victims. Drunk students are emboldened to become assailants. And I have a lot of drunk students. We all do. Despite our best efforts to provide alcohol-free activities, alcohol education and significant sanctions for alcohol-fueled behavioral problems, there is still no activity on our campuses that can compete with drinking for students' interest and affection. I work for a selective institution whose students are academically pretty strong. It's not as bad on my campus as it seems to be on others. But it's bad, and I have the incident reports to prove it.
Let me say this respectfully and with as much clarity as I can: you do not know my work. You do not know what I face every day in responding to a student culture of alcohol-infused hook-ups, where regrettable sex is a daily occurrence. The law has defined sexual misconduct as any activity that takes place with a person who is incapacitated by alcohol or other drugs. That makes sense, until you have to determine what "incapacitation" entails.
Justice, in any meaningful sense of the word, is nowhere to be found in such an environment.

Earlier:  Another Rape "Victim" Recants Her Story, Confesses She Made It Up

Another Rape "Victim" Recants Her Story, Confesses She Made It Up

A Riverside City College woman admitted she made up claims of fighting off an attacker with a pencil after she was unable to produce the pencil or blood.
College officials sent out a statement today saying that the 18-year-old woman admitted she made up what happened, reported The Press-Enterprise. "Video footage, the lack of physical evidence, including blood or the pencil, and other factors led investigators to question the student’s claims," officials said. It's not clear though why the student lied.
It's not that all women lie about rape, or even a large fraction of them, but the charge that we are obliged to "listen" (which is, apparently, code for "accept without investigation") is fundamentally unsound.

Conor Friedersdorf's Disappointing Analysis Of The Scott Aaronson Fracas

Prior to the Michelson-Morley experiment, belief in the luminiferous aether was something like universal among physicists, who posited that, as with waves on water or sound waves in the air, a wave needed a medium to transmit it. Albert A. Michaelson and Edward W. Morley put an end to such talk, by measuring the speed of light perpendicular to and in the direction of the Earth's rotation. Finding it the same in both directions, they rightly concluded no such aether existed. Yet the hobgoblins of feminism, being all specters, can never be disproved to their believers; they exist with all the firmness (and justification) of the holy Trinity to a Christian. That was why it was so very saddening to see The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf's disappointing essay analyzing Scott Aaronson's now infamous "comment 171" and subsequent responses from Laurie Penny, Scott Alexander, and (briefly) Amanda Marcotte (treated at my blog here, here, and here). After going through the three essays above, Friedersdorf actually endorses the intellectually vacant concept of "privilege":
In my view, the "privilege" framework, as described by Peggy McIntosh in her seminal essay, is one of many useful frameworks for understanding the world. It's important for people—whites and men, college graduates, women, U.S. citizens—to be cognizant of unearned advantages, and to identify and remedy unfairnesses that result. But if an omniscient being told us the precise degree of absolute and relative privilege possessed by nerds of both genders, feminists, and women in STEM—giving group averages as well as individual privilege scores for all—and if accurate trauma scores were available for groups and individuals too, what good would that do? Would that resolve any useful real world debate? Would it suggest any certain answer to the problems that confront us?

It would not.
Privilege tells us nothing other than the desire of the speaker to lump certain people into one group and ascribe to them a theft or thefts. McIntosh's essay is surely tiresome; she lists forty two grievances against white males, things which she feels she should be able to do like men do, but can't, because, privilege. Such a concept, especially as an explanatory force, merits discussion only to the extent it is dismissed with great force, as Scott Aaronson did.

I reproduce here, with mild editing, my remarks in the comments.
"Privilege" is a group slur, and is no more valuable for discussions of sociology than any other sort of slander. In its more vacuous and extreme forms, it becomes an excuse for all manner of failures. "Male privilege", "rape culture", "patriarchy" -- all ghost stories ("rape culture", especially in the West), yet fundamental parts of the feminist canon. Penny's casual dismissal of Aaronson's very specific claims -- particularly, how feminist anti-sexual harassment haranguing made him feel like his normal male sexual desires were entirely wrong and awful -- along with her unfounded and wholly spectral response to the origin of his problems -- shows her as a dogmatic and unoriginal thinker. Contrast this with Aaronson's genius-level retort to her claims about "patriarchy", which dismiss such stuff as the kind of religious first principle nonsense they are.
What I find deeply disturbing about Friedersdorf's piece here is the apparent inattention to detail it takes to write this:
In his experience, he writes, "feminists throwing weaponized shame at
nerds is an obvious and inescapable part of daily life," citing an awful collection of images that are hard to distinguish from anti-Semitic cartoons mixed in to underscore his point. (All together now: #not-all-feminists do this–nor most, I'd add.)
Contrasted with this footnote:
*This being the Internet, there were also responses that were strikingly uncharitable. For example, Amanda Marcotte paraphrased Scott Aaronson's blog post as follows: "Having to explain my suffering to women when they should already be there, mopping my brow and offering me beers and blow jobs, is so tiresome."
Marcotte is no small voice in the femosphere, and a quick descent into the comments will readily show that she has many supporters. Moreover, it betrays a disturbing inattention to Penny's history as a misandrist to miss the deep irony in this comment of hers:
Weaponised shame - male, female or other - has no place in any feminism I subscribe to.
Ho, ho, ho, Ms. Penny, what do you know: she came out for a sort of original sin among men, one which can never be questioned or redeemed. If that isn't weaponized shame, I'll eat my male privilege.
I probably overstate my objection to Friedersdorf's piece, but the slander of "privilege" needs the strongest possible rebuttal wherever it appears. If you've been following along here at all, he doesn't add much new to the debate, and he does (rightly) condemn Marcotte as "strikingly uncharitable". Still worth reading in its entirety.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

How Regulation Inflates The Cost Of Even Generic Drugs

I pay for my own drugs, 100%. That's because I chose to opt out of Obamacare entirely, and use the services of a concierge physician, which means I also have to pay for catastrophic (high-deductible) insurance in case I get cancer or a horrible accident. If I need to see a specialist, I pay for that out-of-pocket, too. But in exchange, I have my doctor's cellphone number, and I can get in pretty much whenever I need to. She's also really flexible: when my father-in-law visited and had a flare-up of his COPD, she was able to see him that same day and didn't charge us extra. It's far from my ideal situation, because I'm paying a relatively large sum annually for what amounts to an annual physical (I also must pay for the labs) and any incidental visits, though I do get the occasional benefit in the way of a flu shot or whatnot.

All this is to say, I was utterly flabbergasted when I was asked to pay $85 for a prescription of methylprednisolone, a drug that has been in the formulary since at least 1985 (PDF), and should be well out of patent. This led me to voice my frustration and shock on Facebook that such a basic drug should be so expensive. (It's routinely administered as an inexpensive means to shut down immune responses to various conditions, although it's something of a blunderbuss and has a nasty lot of side effects with routine, extended use.) It's a generic, right? Aren't they supposed to be cheaper than name-brand drugs?

Well, it turns out, no, they aren't. And, as you may have guessed, there's a reason for that.
Numerous factors may cause price increases for non–patent-protected drugs, including drug shortages, supply disruptions, and consolidations within the generic-drug industry.3 These factors generally lead to a decrease in market competition. For example, between 2002 and 2013, some manufacturers of digoxin — which is still used for atrial fibrillation and heart failure — faced safety-related drug recalls and FDA inspections, and the number of manufacturers of oral digoxin (tablet) fell from eight to three. During that time, the drug's price reportedly increased by 637%. Similarly, the price increase for doxycycline was most likely exacerbated by a national shortage in 2013, which the FDA attributed to increased demand in the face of limited manufacturing capacity.
The case of albendazole reveals additional circumstances that may contribute to price increases for older drugs. Although GSK continues to manufacture albendazole, the company sold its U.S. marketing rights to Amedra Pharmaceuticals, a small, private firm, in October 2010.4 In 2011, Teva Pharmaceuticals discontinued manufacturing of the only therapeutically interchangeable antiparasitic agent, mebendazole (Vermox), for non–safety-related business reasons, and prescribing of mebendazole slowed (see graph). Although many contributors to the price a manufacturer sets for a drug, such as shortages of raw materials or price markups elsewhere along the pharmaceutical supply chain, are out of a particular manufacturer's control, Amedra's business strategy may be to corner a niche market for a pharmaceutical agent. Amedra has similarly acquired from GSK dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine Spansule), a treatment for attention-deficit disorder, and pyrimethamine (Daraprim), which is used to treat toxoplasmosis. The prices of both drugs increased after their acquisition, though to a lesser extent than albendazole's price.
Although high prices charged for albendazole and other drugs by manufacturers that hold a monopoly (or a near monopoly) on them can hinder access for certain patients, U.S. antitrust laws protect consumers only from anticompetitive strategies such as price fixing among competitors. Manufacturers of generic drugs that legally obtain a market monopoly are free to unilaterally raise the prices of their products. The Federal Trade Commission will not intervene without evidence of a conspiracy among competitors or other anticompetitive actions that sustain the increased price. Amedra did acquire albendazole's only near-term potential competitor, mebendazole, from Teva in 2013, though that move may not rise to the level of anticompetitive behavior.
 All of which is to say, patent reform is not enough; the heavily regulated generic drug sector also needs to be taken behind the woodshed. That regulation appears to be driving the cost of medication in that it creates competitive moats around certain drugs and even classes of drugs for particular diagnosis areas. Political pressure to change this, thanks to Obamacare and third-party payment systems more broadly, will necessarily be diluted, as few people in my situation exist; the "ouch" factor simply isn't there. All they see is a copay, regardless of the total cost of medication.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Restoring Rational Rape Law Won't Be Easy: Sen. Gillibrand's Disturbing Guest

In case anyone thought it might be easy to restore rationality to rape law — or as it is more broadly defined, sexual assault law — on campus and elsewhere, the events of the last 24 hours have shown exactly the kind of fight we're up against. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) invited Emma Sulkowicz to the State of the Union address yesterday. Sulkowicz carried a mattress around Columbia University as an "art installation" in protest of the university's inaction following her accusations of rape by Paul Nungesser. That Nungesser was subsequently cleared of all wrongdoing by the university (and the police apparently found nothing worthy of investigation) makes no nevermind:
Nungesser maintains that he is innocent and says that is why he has never been disciplined or charged. "Sulkowicz’s accusation is untrue and unfounded: I have never sexually assaulted anyone. This is why Columbia University after seven months of detailed investigation in November 2013 found me to be not responsible." He claims that the NYPD decided not to bring charges after Sulkowicz filed a police report in May 2014. "I voluntarily let myself be interviewed by DA chief of Sex Crimes at SVU in New York City, in August 2014," he said. "Shortly after this interview, the DA’s office informed me that they decided not to pursue the case further."
That someone with as much clout as a United States Senator should be not only willing to be seen in public with such an individual, but invite that person to a significant formal political event is very telling, and deeply troubling. Many such individuals undoubtedly litter the various bureaucracies that run the college-industrial complex. The itch to water down due process is similarly strong (see how badly eroded Fourth Amendment protections are, to name just one decision, by Smith v. Maryland). The "message" is more important than what Sulkowicz has actually done, i.e. smear a man's reputation. We deal here with religious zealots.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Feminists Demand Wikipedia Echo Chamber

Thanks to Charlotte Allen on Twitter for this piece at Alpha Game highlighting how some women are proposing a sex-segregated workspace for women, because "Wikipedia needs a place where women can feel safer and not always overwhelmed by male advice, criticism, and explanations." I'm not sure what "safe" means in this context, but I get the sense author Lightbreather intends it as a antonym for "critical". The Talk page in opposition to this harebrained idea is well worth reading; a few examples:
  • Will fight this tooth and nail. This is ridiculous, and is in strictly prohibited by the WMF non-discrimination policy. 09:04, 8 January 2015 (UTC)
  • As a female editor, this is wholeheartedly and painful discrimination. I don't need a special place where only I can speak, nor where my male editors which I encounter every day can't contribute. Plus, the proposal is just plain vague. A place where male editors can't contribute where 'advice, criticism, and explanations' from men are not allowed. Seriously, this whole proposal is based on the false premise that male editors are intimidating, that Wikipedia is deserving of being segregated by sex and that women need their own space where they can't be criticized by the other sex. This is out of the window in terms of civility, wikilove, and everything like it. Oppose. Tutelary (talk) 19:55, 9 January 2015 (UTC)
  • Oppose: per Tutelary, but also because it would lock out women (cis, trans, whatever) who for some reason do not wish to identify as such online. BethNaught (talk) 20:50, 9 January 2015 (UTC)
  • Nowhere is it explained how a discussion being "dominated by male voices" constitutes an actual problem. If anything, this notion strikes me as patronizing, especially in an environment where participants do not see each other face-to-face and thus there is normally no reason for their gender to come up. It's antithetical to the notion that women are equal to men. Would anyone similarly object to a discussion being dominated by the voices of the right-handed? Or the brown-eyed? 23:48, 9 January 2015 (UTC)
What I see repeatedly in such calls is a wish that the world simply did not have men in it, and that the proposer is some sort of hothouse flower. A functional marriage is a dialogue, not a harangue, and the third-wave feminists have yet to figure this out.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Anti-Empirical Feminism, #1 In A Series

Is there any evidence, whatsoever, behind this wild-eyed, lachrimose statement?
Gender-based violence is not like the weather. It has direct, immediate human agents and is structural and systemic at its core. But the new campaign de-politicizes and de-genders sexual assault, portraying it as an easy-to-avoid problem solely between individuals, and making perpetrators out to be vague “someones” who do “something” to other “someones.” In reality, perpetrators are disproportionately likely to be men and their victims are disproportionately likely to be women (particularly queer and trans women, women of color, and women with disabilities), queer men, and gender non-conforming folks.
Given that homosexuals make up less than five percent of the population (the LGBT community as a whole is 3.8% in the United States per the Williams Institute as of 2011), this falls into the "extraordinary claims requires extraordinary evidence" category. I guess they're so used to people nodding and agreeing they don't ever expect to have their claims examined with even the weakest carbolic acid of skepticism.

Linus Torvalds, Hero

I really don't know what else to say about Linus Torvalds' characteristically abrasive comments about diversity at the conference (and did anyone else catch the irony of an Australian conference happening in New Zealand?).
Afterward, another question from the audience asked for Torvalds' thoughts on diversity in the open source community, an issue emphasized by the lack of minority keynote speakers at the Auckland event (and only one female keynote speaker, to boot). Torvalds offered a the-work-is-what-matters sort of response, stating, according to Twitter accounts, that "the most important part of open source is that people are allowed to do what they are good at" and "all that [diversity] stuff is just details and not really important."
He later elaborated to Ars Technica, but fundamentally refused to back down:
"I don't know where you happen to be based, but this 'you have to be nice' seems to be very popular in the US," Torvalds continued, calling the concept an "ideology."

"The same way we have developers and marketing people and legal people who speak different languages, I think we can have some developers who are used to—and prefer—a more confrontational style, and still also have people who don't," he wrote.

He lambasted the "brainstorming" model of having a criticism-free bubble to bounce ideas off of. "Maybe it works for some people, but I happen to simply not believe in it," he said. "I'd rather be really confrontational, and bad ideas should be [taken] down aggressively. Even good ideas need to be vigorously defended."
This, not the false tolerance demanded by the Anita Sarkeesians and Jessica Valentis of the world (who, by the way, have not produced anything of value in this area), is what makes for great products. You want to get credit for that, roll up your sleeves, don your armor, and start producing code — and be prepared to defend your ideas, too. And if that's too painful, well, tough.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Feminism's Jackboot: The New Sexual Assault Law Proposals

Wendy McElroy recently alerted me to a rather dire situation with a set of proposed penal code changes concerning sexual assault (PDF) drafted by the American Law Institute. The ALI functions as a source for model laws, in much the same way (though with less intent) as the Uniform Commercial Code harmonizes business law across the states. Because of its membership, consisting of prominent jurists and law professors, its legislation has considerable impetus.

I should first of all caution that, in the now-ancient argot of the Internet, I Am Not A Lawyer.  As the Simple Justice blog writes on the matter,
For those of us not indoctrinated into the new conceptions of rape and sexual assault, we envision forcible rape, a man with a gun to the head of a woman, pushing her into a dark alley where he forces himself onto her.  At best, we imagine a woman passed out, unaware that the man she was drinking with earlier removed her clothing and forced himself on her.

But to others, force is only the extreme.  Rape is now the word used to describe sex when a woman has had a few drinks, falls somewhere along the buzzed spectrum and decides the next day that she didn’t really want to do it, even though she was an enthusiastic participant the night before.

Or rape is the word used to describe the woman who is persuaded by a man to engage in sex, or the woman who agrees to sex, not because she wants it but because she secretly feels she has no choice.  And then there is sexual assault where no touching occurs at all, from “stare rape” to the undesired “hey baby” on the street.

The question isn’t whether these behaviors are good, bad or otherwise, but whether they are, or should be, crimes.  And by crime, I include college disciplinary rules, as any determination that carries a penalty is one that cannot be swept under the rug as insignificant.
This latter is the subject of no small amount of discussion; while I can't now lay hands on the first time I read this argument, it has been observed that the curiosity of Title IX sexual assault law means that an actual rapist convicted for that crime under university procedure may go free to molest others, while the innocent man so convicted bears a very real legal scar that follows him elsewhere, without rejoinder or appeal. That is to say, the truly guilty aren't punished enough, and the innocent are punished too much.

The proposed law is a radical shift in English-speaking jurisprudence, though less so if one includes the abusive tactics used on the War On Drugs. (Here, I think of asset forfeiture, in which the possessions of a party are confiscated because they are supposedly involved in some criminal activity, which charge need not ever be ascertained.) The substantive material starts on PDF page 23. My particular objections:
  • 213.1(1)(c)(iv) makes drunken hookups a second-degree felony retroactively if the woman so decides.
  • 213.1(2)(b): a roommate who closes the door behind the couple in question upgrades the felony to first-degree crime.
  • 213.1(3)(iii-iv): the right of confrontation in open court is eliminated or at least severely constrained.
  • 213.4: adoption of the "affirmative consent" standard for distinguishing rape from consensual sex.
  • 213.7(1)(a)(ii): rejects "beyond a reasonable doubt" needed to prove other crimes, and replaces it with the much lower "preponderance of evidence" standard. Furthermore, prior false accusations are inadmissible unless themselves proven false by the same standard.
 Affirmative consent is necessary, the commentary tells us, because
Section 213.4’s embrace of an affirmative-consent requirement is grounded in the increasing recognition that sexual assault is an offense against the core value of individual autonomy, the individual’s right to control the boundaries of his or her sexual experience, rather than a mere exercise of physical dominance. The decision to share sexual intimacy with another person, whether undertaken casually or with great deliberation, is a core feature of our humanity and personhood and thus should always be a matter of actual individual choice. Beyond this, evolving social standards around sexual behavior have increasingly favored more open and honest expressions of sexual needs and stressed the importance, in ambiguous circumstances, of discouraging sexual intimacy without first seeking greater clarity. In terms of prevalent behavior and perceived norms of social etiquette, of course, that aspiration remains disputed, and in practice no doubt it is frequently honored in the breach. But however this may be, given that the harm of unwanted sexual imposition greatly exceeds any harm entailed in having to make arguably awkward efforts to clarify the situation or (temporarily) missing an opportunity for a mutually desired encounter, the appropriate default position clearly is to err in the direction of protecting individuals against unwanted sexual imposition.
The obvious rejoinder here is that the law cannot protect anyone from any crime, only investigate and prosecute them after the fact.  The law is what we have instead of blood feuds. It should be deeply disturbing to anyone even a little cognizant of how the law operates that an august organization of the American Law Institute's membership so profoundly clanks on such a basic matter.
That position finds additional support in the prevalence of circumstances that make the expression of unwillingness much more difficult than intuition might suggest. One such circumstance is the well-documented phenomenon of “frozen fright”: a person confronted by an unexpectedly aggressive partner or stranger succumbs to panic, becomes paralyzed by anxiety, or fears that resistance will engender even greater danger.240 To be sure, the individual’s passivity might signal willingness, but it also could signal simply a terrorized inability to react to the situation. To permit an inference of consent in these circumstances, when that person’s actual desires are relatively easy to clarify, is to expose individuals at risk to severe and readily avoidable danger. A similar analysis applies with respect to the frequent intersection of heavy drinking with sexual encounters. As previously discussed241 heavily intoxicated individuals often become too disoriented or “tipsy” to express their wishes clearly. To permit an inference of consent in this situation is, again, to expose individuals in a vulnerable position to entirely unnecessary dangers of unwanted sexual intrusion.
So instead of recognizing that consent may be fluid and exist on a continuum, the law now is to change so as to make the default case an assumption of rape unless one has documented assent? This is so insanely at odds with how actual humans couple, it appears to have been written by Martians.
The argument has been made‐and no doubt will be repeated‐that equating silence with unwillingness, as Section 2134 does, “patronizes” or “infantilizes” women, treating them as if they were incapable of expressing their own desires.242 The charge is highly misleading. The law of sexual assault inevitably must address itself to behavior that potentially threatens extremely serious violations of bodily integrity and autonomy, and it must choose standards that seek to minimize the incidence of risky behavior, when that behavior can claim few countervailing benefits. The uncontroversial requirement that a physician obtain informed affirmative consent prior to performing surgery, no matter how objectively appropriate that medical procedure might seem to be, is grounded in a similar analytic framework. Of course, a legal standard requiring the affirmative expression of consent to sex will—inevitably—entail many false negatives, in the form of findings of unwillingness when in fact passionate desire was present. But the contrary standard now prevalent in American law will just as inevitably entail many false positives, assumptions of willingness and subsequent sexual intrusion when such intimacy was entirely unwanted. Section 213.3 reflects the judgment that the harms that arise under the latter standard present far greater reason for concern.
It is significant that the authors' puerile and legalistic understanding of sex starts by likening the circumstances of even consensual intercourse to the highly controlled situation of a surgery theater. That this might be highly impractical apparently does not occur to them.
Section 213.4 allows words or conduct to transmit willingness to engage in sexual intimacy. Some scholars have urged a requirement of explicit verbal assent, noting that body language is inevitably ambiguous and a potential source of many false positives.243 Yet that standard finds no support in existing law and departs too far from current social practice. Section 213.4 recognizes the social reality that consensual sexual encounters quite frequently are not preceded by an explicit verbal “yes.” Body language such as taking off the other party’s clothes and aggressively touching him or her in an ever-more-intimate way may not inevitably signal willingness to proceed to intercourse, but it can be sufficiently clear to leave little doubt about the intentions of the person actively initiating these steps. Of course, this is particularly true between persons who have previously been intimate, and a verbal “yes” requirement could conceivably be limited to first‐time relationships. But the symbolic and practical drawbacks of a standard that formally differentiates between established and first-time relationships would far outweigh its advantages.

Wow. Where to begin? In a first encounter situation, one must always have a "yes" at each stage? And how is a man to prove "yes" was the answer given at the time if a woman subsequently changes her mind? Moreover, what if "yes" apparently came in the wake of a breakup? This is not some hypothetical instance; it is a very real and concrete case that recently came up in a Scott H. Greenfield post about an alleged sexual assault at Swarthmore College:
[George] Will raises a 2013 case out of Swarthmore College, where a student “was in her room with a guy with whom she’d been hooking up for three months”:
“They’d now decided — mutually, she thought — just to be friends. When he ended up falling asleep on her bed, she changed into pajamas and climbed in next to him. Soon, he was putting his arm around her and taking off her clothes. ‘I basically said, “No, I don’t want to have sex with you.” And then he said, “OK, that’s fine” and stopped. . . . And then he started again a few minutes later, taking off my panties, taking off his boxers. I just kind of laid there and didn’t do anything — I had already said no. I was just tired and wanted to go to bed. I let him finish. I pulled my panties back on and went to sleep.’”
Six weeks later, the woman reported that she had been raped.
U. Kansas law professor Corey Yung tut-tuts Will's rejection of that claim with the definitional slipperiness we see in the proposed law. And then:
In a comment to Yung’s post, Brett Bellmore provides an incisive reaction to Yung’s political myopia.  The comment is so good that I reprint it in its entirety (with apologies to all involved):
  1. The only basis we have for believing the allegation, IS the allegation. All the circumstantial evidence (Mentioned in the account, anyway.) is perfectly consistent with no rape having taken place. We’re going to convict people of serious crimes on the basis of unsupported allegations?

    The prior sexual relations DID create a presumption of consent, just as “Didn’t know him until they met in the alley” creates a presumption of no consent. So does the not immediately reporting it.
  2. All acts exist on a continuum. Sex exists on a continuum from voluntary to rape. THIS incident, even if the account is accurate, is awfully close to the transition point. And yet, we’re supposed to treat it as just as serious as an act as unambiguous rape?
  3. Believing her, she knew of a rapist at large, and didn’t bother warning anybody for six weeks? We’re supposed to treat this as a serious crime, even though SHE didn’t?

    We can’t have a system where you can have sex, and six weeks later decide it was rape, and the guy gets nailed for a major felony on your bare word. That’s insupportable. That’s half the population being given a license to jail the other half.
  4. It was, if we believe her, a “prior” relationship by a matter of minutes. “Prior” to nobody else’s knowledge. Possibly not even prior to the guy’s knowledge. Like nobody has ever changed their mind. She broke up with him and then climbed into bed with him? Said no, and then let him have sex with her?

    Doesn’t she have any responsibility to make things clear on her end? Saying “no” a second time was too much trouble? Not getting into the bed, or even getting back out of it, an impossible demand?

    What conservatives are complaining about is a demand that, essentially, women be given power without responsibility, the power to jail men, and no requirement that they behave prudently or responsibly, or even in a manner consistent with the claim they’re making.
Had it been any subject other than rape and sexual assault, and had the “victim” or “survivor” been anyone but women, there would be little question but that all the prawfs would rally around the need for evidence, due process, viable definitions and the knee-jerk demand for vengeance.
Which is exactly the point. Regret is not the same thing as rape. These changes define a cartoonish and infinitely elastic view of rape that expands to include even sex between formerly consenting partners. It fails to grapple with the real ambiguity of human experience. And, ironically, at a time when the War On Drugs is broadly winding down, it will result in more young black and Hispanic men being thrown into jail on sex crimes, because that's just how it works. By defining down what rape really is, its advocates trivialize the crime.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dirty Jobs

Some links contravailing the narrative about women and dirty jobs:
I came across these in another discussion elsewhere. Not that these aren't real, but they're far from routine, and still lack evidence that women are either currently knocking at the door of such opportunities, or have in the past in large numbers in the absence of better prospects. (The link on coal mining particularly is interesting, inasmuch as it was used as propaganda against women in such jobs.) Men still form the vast majority of the labor force in difficult, dirty jobs; and in the case of the first two, it's a matter of an arguable jackpot situation, depending on the damages sought. Certainly, the commentariat is remarkably absent in these matters. One does not see, for example, a Jessica Valenti demanding there be more female coal miners, or an Amanda Marcotte stumping for more men in the veterinary medicine field. Always, it is STEM fields, because
  1. Science is important
  2. Women must do important things
  3. Women must be scientists
even if "you go first" applies.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Repost: Response To The Dog Snobs "That's Not How That Actually Works..."

Note: originally posted here, reposting because it fits the scheme better in this space, with minor edits for style.

Recently, The Dog Snobs ran a story entitled "That's not how that actually works you know a.k.a. The AKC is not the enemy and why you sound stupid when you say so.". I normally love the Snobs, but it is exactly when they start talking about the AKC that they end up making really dumb comments. Having been a sometime observer of the AKC and its defenders, I now understand why they write this sort of apologetic -- but refuse in the strongest possible terms to excuse it. And if you presume to lead with the provocative headline that "you sound stupid" when decrying the AKC as an enemy of dogs, you either clearly haven't done your homework, you cling to prejudice about an organization whose real flaws you do not wish to address, or both. Neither prospect reflects well on the Snobs.

The myriad institutionalized failings of the AKC should come as no surprise to anyone who has befriended me on Facebook for any substantial period of time. I have had the great good fortune to acquire a number of knowledgeable friends of long history with dogs and vastly more detailed understanding of genetics. My friend Heather Houlahan back in 2010 penned a fantastic analysis of the AKC's dysfunction and decline, "The Emperor's Striptease". While there is a great deal there worthy of discussion, I want to focus first on her synopsis of Donald McCaig's excellent book, The Dog Wars. The short version is that the AKC mounted a hostile takeover of the Australian Shepherd Club of America, except
... the Aussie owners' club had no interest in being so honored. It was doing just fine by itself, with a registry, pageant shows (there was their mistake -- a topic for another day), and open-to-all obedience and working trials.

But AKC was in an acquisitive mood. It cobbled together a little group of Aussie owners who wanted to enter the big pageants, declared them the official club, and to Hell with the studbook -- they'd just take your word for it on the pedigree.

Most of the Aussie people I knew at the time took a fatalistic view -- they didn't like it, but basically rolled over and peed themselves. "I guess I have to double-register, or else lose puppy sales. They're going to close the studbook." (Edit: I do not mean to imply that all Aussie owners went this way; I was just shocked and disappointed about the ones I knew at the time, who all did.)
The AKC next tried to absorb the Border Collie, which effort was marginally successful, in that there are now BC's registered with the AKC, but as Heather notes,
The ABCA continues to register over 20,000 border collies a year -- more than ten times as many as the AKC. Most of those latter are "captured" agility and obedience dogs, and many of those are dual-registered.
So when the Snobs tell us that "The AKC is first and foremost a registry business", what they omit is that it has done so against the wishes of Aussie owners and breeders, and as well of the Coton de Tulear, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and Leonberger, in varying degrees. But this transgression amounts to petty larceny compared to the felony assault that the AKC commits on the canine genome. And it is here, at the Snobs' item (3) -- "The Breed Clubs are not the AKC" -- that the bulk of their argument collapses in a heap. It takes either willful blindness or a refusal to comprehend how the AKC being a mere "registry" (their item 1) drives the operation of their constituent breed clubs.

The AKC is a closed registry. This, really, is in two dimensions:
  1. It is closed to outside review, that is, outside of the AKC. Breeders and buyers alike have but limited visibility at the contents.
  2. It is closed to new dogs, i.e. there is no such thing, as in the Border Collie registries, as a "Registered on Merit".
So when the Snobs say that "the breed clubs are not the AKC", what they're really trying to imply is that the AKC has no responsibility for the actions of the breed clubs. This is disingenuous in the extreme. And the reason why is that breed clubs must use the closed registry, without exception.

The AKC promotes breeds with terrible health. The most visible example I can think of here is the blog entry Patrick Burns wrote in 2010, in the case of Ch. Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscot, the Scottish Terrier that won Westminster that year. Not only was it the Westminster winner, it was a triple crown winner, also winning the 2009 National Dog Show and the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship that same year. And yet, as Burns points out,
  • This is a breed in which 45 percent of all dogs die of cancer.
  • This is a small breed dog where the average lifespan of the dog is just 10.15 years -- not the 15 years it should be.
  • This is a breed where a person buying a professionally-bred Scottish Terrier is twice as likely to have that well-bred dog die at two years of age as they are to have that Scottie live to age 16.
  • This is a breed where AKC show breeders have demonstrably less healthy dogs. As Joesph Harvill, editor of Great Scots Magazine notes, professionally bred Scotties are more expensive than casually-bred dogs, but they are not healthier. He concludes that "The empirical evidence indicates that the best shot -- even if a long shot -- at a long-lived Scottie is from a non-professional breeder."
  • This is a breed in which the health of the dog is in rapid decline. When Joseph Harvill, the editor of Great Scots Magazine compared health survey results between 1995 and 2005, he found "an alarming trend" that "may signal the rapid declension in a gene pool which can happen when inbreeding depression reaches critical mass in a small, closed population."
  • This is a breed where owners spent an average of $492 per dog per year on medical bills -- and 12.9% spent between $1,000-$5,000 per dog per year.
This is the result of the AKC's idea of "improving" dogs. It is a direct consequence of the closed studbook. While it is true that closed studbooks are a consequence of the actions of the breed clubs themselves, how many exceptions can you name? I personally am aware of only one, the low-uric acid Dalmatian project, which backcrossed Pointers to reintroduce the normal uric acid gene into the Dalmatian gene pool. (AKC Dalmatians often cannot convert uric acid to purines, which frequently results in kidney stones.) And even still, the Dalmatian Club of America (the AKC's subsidiary breed club) voted against inclusion. In the face of a known and serious health problem, the DCA clung to its closed stud book rather than attempt a fix. This brings me to my next issue: their proposed solution, one pillar of which includes
Some tighter reins on the breed clubs who are being deliberately ridiculous (I know, dog people being insane? Say it ain't so!) would be nice. We're not saying they have to shove modifications of the standard to reduce extremity and mandatory health testing down the breed clubs' throats, but holding them down and making them chew on it a little isn't the worst idea.
If mere "education" and "modifications of the standard" were all it took to repair the damage wrought by supposed renegade or ignorant breed clubs, why did it take so long to garner any measure of acceptance for the LUA Dalmatian? And why is the LUA Dalmatian an apparent anomaly? To answer that question, you'd have to have an understanding of the social aspects of the AKC and its breed clubs. As the estimable Ms. Houlahan put it,
The AKC cannot make up its mind whether it is a Most Anciente and Exclusive Order that has charged itself with governing a small, fanatical, and timorously obedient cadre of social-climbing dog-pageant addicts, or the divinely-ordained Government of Dogs in all of America.

One identity is primarily insular and snobbish. The other is primarily totalitarian and expansionist. They commingle gracelessly into something resembling a Stalinist Switzerland.
The AKC is fundamentally at war with itself, as can be seen by its imperious treatment of its own internal delegates. And here, the point that the breed clubs are not the same thing as the AKC proper is largely a copout, and ultimately meaningless. The problem isn't simply the many breeds ruined by extreme standards -- think, for example, of Pugs and Bulldogs, brachycephalic breeds that have overheating problems, as well as the many breeds that can no longer deliver puppies vaginally, such as the Scottish Terrier. Such degradation is widespread across multiple breeds, and exists in the European fancy as well; see, for instance, this pictorial history of European German Shepherd Dog champions, which feature the increasingly misshapen hindquarters common in the US. It also ignores the consequences of closed gene pools, which stem from the itch to "breed the best to the best". The "popular sire syndrome" is both nearly irresistible and all too common, as is the urge to deliver "typy" looks.

The problem, really, is this pre-Mendel ideal that ignores genetic diversity, that pretends nothing aside from immediate, known traits will be transmitted to the descendants of the proposed parents. As John W. Campbell observed, you can't do just one thing. Genetics are nothing if not tricky, and the AKC and its constituent clubs routinely ignore the real-world complications that inevitably follow from those flawed assumptions. If you are going to lecture others about "sound[ing] stupid", if you are going to claim you "don't just know better; we are better", you had damned well better have a rudimentary understanding of the subject of which you discuss. And it is crystal clear the Snobs, for reasons political and emotional, do not, and are not even slightly interested.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Review: Into The Woods

I will come out now as an unabashed Stephen Sondheim fan, which immediately aligns me in the anti-Andrew Lloyd Webber camp. As all loves, it is not absolute; I can walk away from Company or Follies (though individual songs still catch my ear, as "The Ladies Who Lunch"). Still, Sondheim at his acme is among the best tunesmiths this or any other country has put on the stage, Gilbert & Sullivan included. The best of his canon — the three foremost in my heart include A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Sunday In The Park With George, and Into The Woods — set an unequaled high water mark in American musical theater.

The Bernadette Peters-starring 1991 American Playhouse version of Into The Woods has remained my benchmark for that piece, so I had a high bar for the new version; and yet, with James Lapine, the book author, as the screenwriter, I needn't have worried. There are choices here that mark a concession to current tastes, most particularly Johnny Depp as the Wolf (and his costuming), but overall, the film stays true to the play, even though the limitations of film become more obvious in this work. Meryl Streep's Witch is vastly darker than Bernadette Peters' in the show's first run, which saps some irony from her introductory song.

Overall, the casting is good, and in places (as with the princes, Billy Magnussen and Chris Pine) inspired, though everywhere, the focus is on acting rather than singing. This is nowhere more visible (or audible) than in Cinderella, Anna Kendrick, whose vocal limitations at times are quite obvious yet forgivable (her nasal tones belie less-than-formal training). I found myself wanting more from Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), but couldn't tell, in the end, if it was her or the editing or direction. And there's the sense that both the sets and the CGI accumulated to so much visual distraction, in a way a stage play could never be. Still, if this is your introduction to Sondheim, they've done him proud. You'll still want to see the 1991 version, but this is a worthy adaptation.

Ezra Klein Finally Admits Obamacare Affects Employment

I confess I was much disappointed to read Reason's Peter Suderman's negative assessment of the recently passed GOP Obamacare "fix". This changed the employer mandate threshold from 30 hours per week to 40, with the net effect that more people will be forced into individual plans, with attendant public subsidy:
The problem is that, far from being a practical improvement, the change the Republicans have chosen makes the health law worse.
For one thing, it would make it more expensive. By rewriting the rules so that businesses no longer have to cover individuals working between 30 and 40 hours a week, the change would shift roughly a million people off of employer coverage. About half would then end up enrolled in coverage either through Medicaid or Obamacare’s subsidized exchanges. The public, in other words, would be picking up the tab. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the change would increase the deficit by about $53 billion by 2025.
In addition, it would probably not end the cutting or limiting of work hours in response to the law. Instead, it would shift the point at which the cutting and capping is done.  Rather than capping employees who might otherwise have worked, say, 30 or 32 hours, employers under this provision would have an incentive to cap hours for employees who work roughly 40 hours each week. That’s an awful lot of workers. As Yuval Levin noted at National Review Online last November, one study found that, amongst the large employers affected by the requirement, about 29 million work between 40 and 44 hours a week. Just seven million work between 30 and 39 hours.
Of course, this assumes that King v. Burwell won't void subsidies for states without exchanges. If that does happen — and there's a significant chance it will (thank you very much, Jonathan Gruber) — the legal, fiscal, and most importantly, political landscape changes considerably. Just as a first-order-of-magnitude thumbnail guess at places that might vote for a measure repealing Obamacare, I first looked at the states with exchanges, and their representation in the House:
  • California - 53
  • Colorado - 7
  • Connecticut - 5
  • Hawaii - 2
  • Idaho - 2
  • Kentucky - 6
  • Maryland - 8
  • Massachusetts - 9
  • Minnesota - 8
  • Nevada - 4
  • New Mexico - 3
  • New York - 27
  • Oregon - 5
  • Vermont - 1
  • Washington - 10
This gives a grand total of 150 Congressional seats, not including Utah, which has promised to open an exchange but has yet to do so. So, subtracting that from the 435 seats in the House, states without exchanges approach a two-thirds, veto-proof supermajority needed to pass overriding legislation. While this is an oversimplification, it shows that the terrain for partial or whole repeal is not, at first glance, as daunting as some might think.

So to Ezra Klein's ill-considered Vox explainer. His is a reactive trap, and moreover, a very bad tactical move for the Democrats. Klein:
The problem, however, is that the mandate creates a cliff from an employer's point of view. As soon as a worker becomes full-time, he becomes much more expensive. That creates strong incentives to cut workers' hours. Thus this issue has become a lynchpin of a conservative narrative about "part-time America" and a key example of how Obamacare is making the economy weaker.
Well, wait just a minute now. Does that finally mean, as conservatives, libertarians, and virtually all economists not named Krueger and Card have been saying for years, that a higher labor cost causes employers to cut hours, i.e. that labor is not magically inelastic? And if it's true that a 40 hour cutoff is dire, why is the 30 hour threshold — other than the absolute number of people affected — less important? This answer to Republican Obamacare critics opens a Pandora's box that its supporters probably don't want to see the light of day.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Trouble With Legos

I encountered a fine interview with Maritsa Patrinos at the blog of Dr. Rebecca Hains over a charming and arresting comic Patrinos published earlier in the week about how Lego didn't need to manufacture a separate girl-themed line of products, but rather integrate female characters as options within the individual sets. That this plain and common-sense approach might work perfectly is in fact almost as old as Lego itself, as a recently resurfaced note that came with early sets attests. This is not a company that has given no thought to the matter, or came to it only recently. Here's the part I want to focus on (emboldened text in the responses are all my doing):
REBECCA HAINS: Your LEGO Friends cartoon has clearly struck a chord with people, and as someone who does work in this area, it’s been really gratifying to me as a bystander to see your piece go viral—as of this writing, it’s been reached by 106,304 people from my facebook page alone. The traction it has gained is really impressive. Can you tell me what inspired you to create this cartoon?
MARITSA PATRINOS: Thank you! This past week has certainly been a surprise! I definitely don’t consider myself an expert on anything regarding gender roles or LEGO. I can only speak for myself, someone who started playing with LEGO as a girl in the 90’s (and still plays with them now… I just bought a minecraft set…). 
But I made this comic after I saw the short documentary Inside Lego. It was very informative, but the last stretch of it highlighted the “Friends” line and I was a little surprised. I had thought LEGO was a company that prided itself with being a unisex toy, so it seemed strange that now they would create a line targeted towards just girls. I actually don’t have a problem with the content—I know there’s absolutely nothing wrong with playing with juice bars or shopping malls. I just don’t know if those things should be associated with gender. I thought about the girls who don’t like those things, and the boys who do like those things, and wondered if they felt alienated at all. 
I’m sure LEGO’s heart was in the right place and I’m sure they’ve done tons of research to pick their content. But when I saw the men in this documentary talk about how to connect with girls, it sounded a little like they were trying to decipher how to make contact with an alien species.
I am very much inclined to agree with that last sentence; as I have said before, the opposite sex lives in a foreign land (and that, by the way, goes both ways). Finding out what might please them, and in this case, get them (or their parents) to buy things is an even more delicate business, one that should give people more appreciation for the likes of Maksymilian Faktorowicz.

But Patrinos does not get to speak for all girls, and while her cartoon has garnered much attention, neither she nor Dr. Hains have presumably any actual market research backing their preferences, and, unlike Lego, they have no skin in the game. Hains' outlined prescription in her book, The Princess Problem, sounds like one part sensible critical thinking skills (people who want to sell you things don't always have your interests at heart) and two parts feminist indoctrination (must resist pink things).

The idea that girls might not make choices preferred by people such as Hains is ultimately very difficult to escape at the far end of the STEM pipeline. Anita Sarkeesian appears to have succeeded in bullying Intel into a renewed jab at the Sisyphean rock, as the New York Times reported they are about to spend $300 million on improving "diversity" within the company in the wake of the stupidly named GamerGate. I take this to mean ad campaigns to improve their public image, and a few efforts here and there to get more girls into STEM careers. It's enough to make one pine for the days of Cypress Semiconductor's T.J. Rogers, and his blunt letter to meddling nuns about the consequences of hiring on anything other than merit. It's important to remove structural impediments to women entering those careers, but it's also important to recognize that attempts to pink-ify the sciences in an effort to attract more women are also demeaning. If girl-Legos are broken and miss the point of Legos overall, then so are Intel's efforts.

The Real Reason They Run

California's Sen. Barbara Boxer announced her retirement recently, which may be the big story, but Californians — and anyone interested in politics — owe an obscure political consultant a considerable debt for his blunt honesty here:
“There's a lot of pent-up demand among Democratic officeholders for opportunities to advance their careers,” said Parke Skelton, a Democratic strategist. “This is like a keystone coming out of the bridge.”
Because "public service" no longer has anything to do with public office anymore; it's really all about the career ambitions of the politicians involved. Well, it's probably been a long time since anything else has been a factor, but the reminder is a good one.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

An Addendum: How Not To Shut Down Internet Arguments

Freddie deBoer, on the ridiculous cartoons supposed to shut down Internet arguments I mentioned last Saturday:

...[S]ome Facebook friends of mine last year were sharing a comic about white privilege that was essentially the “argument through aggressive disdain and ridicule” thing to the absolute zenith. It literally ended with a cartoon character looking into the frame and saying “fucking educate yourselves!” to its implied audience. Let me assure you of something: no one, in the history of persuasion, has ever been persuaded by someone indignantly ordering them to educate themselves. Telling people to educate themselves in that manner is essentially ensuring that they won’t. At some point you have to decide if you’re more invested in the fun of feeling righteously superior or the actual need to convince others.