Monday, May 22, 2017

California's Single-Payer Delusion

I somehow managed to miss Colorado's rejection of a single-payer system by a stupendous 80-20% margin in last November's election, with overall tax hikes that would have amounted to a 7% increase on employers and 3% on employees. This followed Vermont's quiet rejection of single-payer on cost grounds back in 2014. Apparently this hasn't fazed California lawmakers, who continue to pretend that the most politically popular fantasy among naive Democrats isn't also impossibly expensive. Particularly, they appear to be soft-pedaling the reality that their proposed system will dwarf all other state expenditures by a factor of nearly four, leaving me to wonder who they will bludgeon to make the whole thing work.

Look, I get it — medicine is expensive, customer service sucks, and nobody can figure out pricing. But that doesn't mean shoveling the mess onto the state will fix those problems. It's not only naive to believe as much, it's incomprehensible: you can't fix costs without dealing with the physician shortage, patent abuse and regulatory moats, and a mess of other, related problems. Single-payer is basically saying, "hey, those things are terrible — and we should totally pay those guys their extortionate fees so nobody at the point of sale has to." It turns Martin Shkreli from a robber baron into just another guy making money in medicine.

Monday, April 17, 2017

A Useful Summary Of Evolved Sex Differences In Animals

It's pretty rare to hear the words "feminist" and "evolutionary biologist" in the same sentence, let alone about the same person, but Suzanne Sadedin apparently wears both labels. She recently contributed a very good bibliography and summary of evolutionist thought on sex roles as they appear in nature at Quora. Excerpt (edited to add hyperlinks for footnotes):
  • Men and women are very similar neurologically, and the distributions of gender-correlated traits fall on a continuum; hardly anyone has a purely male-like or purely female-like brain [2]. Some brain areas are a bit larger in men, some in women. Overall brain size is larger in men, but in similar proportion to body size [3].
  • There are no consistent gender differences in average IQ, though male variance is higher [4]. Sex-specific differences in certain abilities tend to show up in studies [5], but can often be eliminated by avoiding certain biasing cues [6].

    ...
  • The term patriarchy, as used by contemporary feminists, often seems kind of meaningless. I think when we talk about patriarchy, what we’re really getting at is the re-emergence of social hierarchies that resulted from sedentary farming starting around 10K years ago. Individuals in sedentary communities were better able to control and monopolize resources, including women. This led to greater specialization, technological innovation, and social inequality [15].
 The comments range from interesting to hilarious to predictable; the many people claiming that looking to nature, and especially, to our near relatives among the great apes is an example of "the naturalistic fallacy" amounts to a hand wave. (Look, guys, if you're going to bring up outliers like bonobos, or animals far removed even from mammals like the angler fish and passerine birds, maybe your argument isn't that strong.) I disagree — in some cases, strongly — with her conclusions, especially depending on what her definition of sexual equality would look like. One that doesn't take into account evolved preferences (e.g. the perverse results in Sweden where strong child-care and time off guarantees have resulted in the most sex-segregated labor pool in the OECD) and abilities ("male variance is higher" in measured intelligence is a Clue) will produce an unachievable definition of equality, as witness the chimerical wage gap. Overall, the title piece is a good survey, and something I'll be coming back to again.

Andew Sullivan's Hillary Postmortem

An excellent essay by Andrew Sullivan on the subject of Hillary Clinton's camp followers. Excerpt:
Clinton had the backing of the entire Democratic establishment, including the president (his biggest mistake in eight years by far), and was even married to the last, popular Democratic president. As in 2008, when she managed to lose to a neophyte whose middle name was Hussein, everything was stacked in her favor. In fact, the Clintons so intimidated other potential candidates and donors, she had the nomination all but wrapped up before she even started. And yet she was so bad a candidate, she still only managed to squeak through in the primaries against an elderly, stopped-clock socialist who wasn’t even in her party, and who spent his honeymoon in the Soviet Union. She ran with a popular Democratic incumbent president in the White House in a growing economy. She had the extra allure of possibly breaking a glass ceiling that — with any other female candidate — would have been as inspiring as the election of the first black president. In the general election, she was running against a malevolent buffoon with no political experience, with a deeply divided party behind him, and whose negatives were stratospheric. She outspent him by almost two-to-one. Her convention was far more impressive than his. The demographics favored her. And yet she still managed to lose!
The bonus bit at the end about the incoherence of those insisting all Trump voters were racist (a topic I recently wrote about) is equally good, if briefer. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Vacant, Commercial Symbolism Of "Fearless Girl" (And How She Could Be Forced To Go Away)

I wanted to pass on an excellent essay by Noah Rothman at Commentary about "Fearless Girl", the statue in New York City opposing the Wall St. bull:

Via Wikimedia
 Rothman notes that
The statue’s alleged purpose—both stated by its sponsors and plainly evident in the figure’s demeanor—is to present a challenge to orthodoxy. It is a call to address the perception that there are not enough women amid the rarefied ranks of Fortune 500 boards. This audacious assault on the staid prejudices of the gatekeepers of wealth and power in America was sponsored by the exclusive Boston-based investment services company State Street Global Advisors and approved by the New York City Parks Department. If the aim of this artistic display was to challenge intractable conventions and change minds, they chose an audience that has been uniquely receptive to their message.
Ironic, then, that
Only 17 percent of State Street’s leadership positions (five out of 28) are women. In terms of gender representation—a metric that measures neither an employee’s aptitude nor benefit to their employer—SSGA trails the average S&P 500 firm.
One might ask, therefore, if this isn't a sort of very public way to atone for perceived sins, true or false. It represents tribal affiliation gone mad, yet another public exercise of empty virtue signaling. A more interesting question is, will the girl stick around? Techdirt notes that bull statue creator Arturo Di Modica is trying to get rid of the girl using a novel (in the United States) legal theory: that of moral rights.
Importantly, though, this is interesting timing as it relates to moral rights. The US has been correct in (mostly) resisting putting in place a moral rights regime, and focusing on copyright as an economic right. Unfortunately, at this very moment, the Copyright Office is "studying" the issue of whether or not moral rights should be expanded. The first round of public comments has closed (you can read those comments if you'd like), but response comments are open until May 15th. Given this example of moral rights gone mad, perhaps it might be useful for the Copyright Office to be reminded of how moral rights might be used to stifle and stamp out important expression
The story goes on with an update by law professor James Grimmelmann who claims "Di Modica probably has no legitimate moral rights claim either", which probably is just as well, but copyright maximalism knows few bounds. I would not be too surprised if someone makes a serious go at defending Di Modica's claim.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Trump Voters Are Racists Because Only Racists Would Vote For Trump

Possibly the dumbest thing ever published at The Intercept, "Top Democrats Are Wrong: Trump Supporters Were More Motivated by Racism Than Economic Issues" by Mehdi Hasan does nothing to advance the title thesis. Opening with the smirking "facts are stubborn things" line, he proceeds to bring none of those to bear, instead filling up with circular logic and appeals to authority (Philip Klinkner). And then there's the fallacy of the excluded middle:
Klinkner himself grabbed headlines last summer when he revealed that the best way to identify a Trump supporter in the U.S. was to ask “just one simple question: is Barack Obama a Muslim?”
Do all Trump voters (or even most) agree with that sentiment? Who knows! Klinkner appears not to be terribly interested in that question, only in pushing his thesis that racists voted for Trump. The answer to that question is obviously "yes". In the end, Hasan is stuck assuming his conclusion, using his proxy Klinkner (all emboldening below mine):
Defenders of the economy narrative have a “gotcha” question of their own: how can racial resentment have motivated Trump supporters when so many of them voted for Barack Obama, across the Rust Belt, in 2008 and 2012? “They’re not racists,” filmmaker Michael Moore passionately argued last November.  “They twice voted for a man whose middle name is Hussein.”

Klinkner, though, gives short shrift to this argument. First, he tells me, “most of them didn’t vote for Obama. There weren’t many vote switchers between 2012 and 2016.” Second, “working class whites shifted to Trump less because they were working class than because they were white.” Klinkner points out that in 2016, Clinton, unlike Obama, faced a Republican candidate who “pushed the buttons of race and nativism in open and explicit ways that John McCain and Mitt Romney were unwilling or unable to do.”
Yet, where is the data underlying this? "A vote for Trump must be racist because racists voted for Trump" fails the hasty generalization test, but that's the sum total of his argument. It's a convenient hat rack for identity politicians, but as sound politics go, a disaster.

Update: A couple non-dumb essays on this subject, the first from Andrew Doyle at Spiked:
Identity politics, as it currently operates, is a mostly tokenistic endeavour. Too often it assures progression for women and ethnic-minority people who already come from a privileged background. It’s very easy for the middle classes to make their scattershot assumptions of ‘straight white male privilege’, to pretend that opportunity has nothing to do with socioeconomic status and everything to do with race, gender and sexuality. It’s a convenient method by which they can assert their own virtue while continuing to benefit from an inherently unequal economic system.

The election of Donald Trump should have been a wake-up call for the left. Instead, we have seen a doubling down on the very strategies that guaranteed his victory in the first place. Trump supporters are scorned and derided with increased vehemence, Brexit voters are still smeared as racist, and the working classes are urged to know their place and vote in accordance with the instructions of their technocratic masters. It would also appear that the word ‘Nazi’ has been redefined as ‘anyone with whom the left disagrees’. I’ve never met a Nazi, although I’m assured by many of my liberal friends that you’re never more than six feet away from one.
Next, Mark Lilla in the NYT:
One of the many lessons of the recent presidential election campaign and its repugnant outcome is that the age of identity liberalism must be brought to an end. Hillary Clinton was at her best and most uplifting when she spoke about American interests in world affairs and how they relate to our understanding of democracy. But when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop. This was a strategic mistake. If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded. Which, as the data show, was exactly what happened with the white working class and those with strong religious convictions. Fully two-thirds of white voters without college degrees voted for Donald Trump, as did over 80 percent of white evangelicals.
You keep on keeping on, guys. I'll be here with the popcorn.

Monday, April 3, 2017

"Rule Of Law" When It's Convenient

So, the Los Angeles Times now recognizes that Donald Trump is a menace to the nation, a serial liar and a narcissist, with immense power. It is all but impossible to read their lugubrious, petulant editorial with anything other than a strong dose of schadenfreude. Where was their call that "even the president must submit to the rule of law" when Obama was symbolically evading the Constitution's demand that the Paris Accords must be submitted to the Senate for approval? Or when Kamala Harris rejected Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court because "Judge Gorsuch has consistently valued narrow legalisms over real lives", i.e. he actually applies the law as written vs. how people like Harris would like it to read? Or Hillary Clinton's famous rejection of the First Amendment's "Congress shall make no law" in favor of stifling criticism of her during an election cycle? It's clear that where the law, legal process, and actual accountability to constituencies get between the Democrats and their preferred policies, these they view as nothing more than encumbrance to evade. The hard work of actually convincing people remains undone, and to hear the Times tell it, has no place in their future; one must never speak ill of the government or its agents lest they stoke "public distrust of essential institutions". Indeed, Democrats whooped it up when Obama acted as a king, creating law by executive diktat:
Thanks a lot, liberals. It's all well and good that Joe Biden is now lecturing us that "the worst sin of all is the abuse of power," but where the hell was he—and where were you—for the past eight years, when the president was starting wars without Congressional authorization, passing major legislation with zero votes from the opposing party, and ruling almost exclusively through executive orders and actions?

Mostly exhorting Obama to act "unilaterally" and "without Congress" on terrorism, immigration, guns, and whatever because you couldn't dream of a day when an unrestrained billionaire reality-TV celebrity would wield those same powers toward very different ends. Hell, in the early months of Obama's presidency, The New York Times's Thomas Friedman held up China's "one-party autocracy" as the model to emulate.
It is impossible now to pity them, and just as hard to take seriously calls for a return to the "rule of law" they would forego the instant it became inconvenient.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Jill Filipovic's Weak Case Against Neil Gorsuch and Originalism

For some reason, absurd lightweight and "recovering attorney" Jill Filipovic has escaped my comment before, though I've noticed her typings previously; she came to my attention mostly because she thinks men accused of rape need not be accorded due process, having signed on for the idiotic "affirmative consent" concept. (Protip: it does nothing to change the fundamental he-said/she-said nature of determining consent after the fact, unless one gets a signed affadavit at the time. This is not how any human sexual encounter actually operates.) It says a good deal about her personally that she blocked me on Twitter despite our having no prior interactions, which tells me my ID ended up on an automatic blocklist somewhere.

She most recent styled a jeremiad against constitutional originalism generally and Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch particularly. Laden with straw men, half-truths, and orthodoxy, it serves more as a weathervane for a certain subspecies of liberal opinion than any sort of intelligent analysis. In trying to understand Gorsuch the jurist, wouldn't we want to look at some of the cases he was asked to decide? That would seem reasonable, but here we do not deal with a reasonable person — or even someone conversant with the law and why it is as it is.

Filipovic's dedication to postmodernist interpretation ignores actual arguments in the texts of decisions she criticizes, if she even gets that far. Her total failure to understand the majority opinion in Heller v. District of Columbia, her mischaracterization of the judicial history of the Second Amendment prior to that decision, and her claim that Heller represents a revisionist view (despite a fair number of high-profile liberal legal scholars reluctantly agreeing with its historical accuracy) is common enough, if wrong. Her claim that "The framers of the Constitution didn’t offer any instructions for how to interpret the document, nor did they get into specifics on what each of its provisions meant" is ultimately a cop-out on making any effort to find out what that meaning might be. (Apparently, plain English is no longer a requirement in law school.)

Tediously and redundantly making the "living Constitution" argument (she spends three of her nine points on the same thing), she deceitfully claims that "the writers of the Constitution arguably intended for it to be a living document" while ignoring the amendment process they left us to change it. To Filipovic, the Constitution is whatever she wants it to be, a slab of political copper for a legislative majority to hammer into shape on a whim. That is, she subscribes to the same legal regime that delivered unto us Dred Scott v. Sandford, Wickard v. FilburnSmith v. Maryland, and Korematsu v. United States.

In her telling, Gorsuch is merely a damned conservative, a zombie Antonin Scalia "originalist", which according to her, no one really is. (Indeed, Scalia's deference to original intent was rather situational.) It's true that Gorsuch follows Scalia's footsteps in some matters of criminal law, but there one would think liberals might take some solace; he has shied away from strict law-and-order deference to agents of the government. As we have seen thus far in his confirmation hearings, antagonistic Democrats are having a hard go to latch on to a single, clear reason to oppose him.

Filipovic is narrowly right when she observes, "The founders weren’t fortune tellers and couldn’t predict every possible legal issue", but only to the literal extent of that sentence. That is because their intent was that the vast majority of governing would occur at the state or local level; indeed, assent to the Constitution was enacted by the states themselves. The premise and promise of federalism was accountability to those most directly affected by law. One-size-fits-all approaches (e.g. a Federal minimum wage law that sets the floor for rural Wyoming workers as well as Manhattanites, or health care mandates that result in higher prices and fewer choices for people outside the coastal states) have a tendency to backfire. When she writes, "A strictly textual reading of a law isn’t neutral; it also invites in the reader’s own biases and assumptions", presumably she's upset because it isn't her biases and assumptions.

It's not a little ironic, then, when she cites UC Irvine's Erwin Chemerinsky, who rails about the hellscape an originalist legal environment might inflict on his fellow citizens. Among these mostly imagined complaints, he makes the fraudulent, asinine claim that "No longer would the Bill of Rights apply to state and local governments." Do they not teach the 14th Amendment at UCI? The Temperance activists rightly understood that federalism meant they couldn't create a nationwide ban on alcohol without passing a constitutional amendment, thanks to the 10th Amendment delegating most lawmaking to the states. In the post-FDR, "living Constitution" era, the War On Some Drugs can go on with barely a legal peep. Chemerinsky's view of federalism is really the substitution of whatever is most popular at the moment: rights of minorities bear no examination.

There's something odd about her screed appearing in the pages of Cosmopolitan, orthogonal as Filipovic's politics are to Helen Gurley Brown's message of sexual liberation for women. At least Brown understood the risks she undertook (if they frequently turned bitter); Filipovic wants to remake the world into a giant crib — or a jail for men.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Frauds at PUPscan

I forgot to mention Carol Beuchat's excellent two-part series on PUPscan (part 1, part 2). Mostly, what they appear to be doing is taking the public's money and playing with an ultrasound imaging device. As Carol writes in her second piece, "A published, peer-reviewed study failed to find any evidence that ultrasound examination of young puppies was predictive of the development of hip dysplasia as adults."
We don't know what they are measuring. We don't know if they have any evidence that these mystery measurements tell us anything about hip dysplasia. We don't know how measurements of a structure that is cartilage in a puppy can tell us something useful about what to expect in the adult dog after it has been converted to bone. We don't know why they think they can ascribe to genetics any problems they see in their ultrasound examination.

As far as I can tell, they have no data that link whatever they are measuring to a diagnosis of or predisposition to hip dysplasia. If that's the case, then this is essentially a research project (and note that they call it the "PUPscan Project") in which the owners of the dogs will pay for collection of data that may or may not be useful, and at best it will be several years before they will even be able to say.

What I find especially disturbing is the fact that they are leading people to believe that they are providing useful information and "new hope for breeders of 'dysplastic' dogs", as in the title of their published article. Unless they can provide answers to the very basic questions I have asked them, I don't see that they have anything useful to offer.
But they still want your money, I'm sure.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Shelby Steele On The Exhaustion Of American Liberalism

One of the better writers on the subject of race, Shelby Steele, earned a great deal of notoriety with his The Content Of Our Character (1998). He returns with an essay appearing in the Wall Street Journal on that same subject, "The Exhaustion of American Liberalism". Key passage (emboldening mine):
White guilt is not actual guilt. Surely most whites are not assailed in the night by feelings of responsibility for America’s historical mistreatment of minorities. Moreover, all the actual guilt in the world would never be enough to support the hegemonic power that the mere pretense of guilt has exercised in American life for the last half-century.

White guilt is not angst over injustices suffered by others; it is the terror of being stigmatized with America’s old bigotries—racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. To be stigmatized as a fellow traveler with any of these bigotries is to be utterly stripped of moral authority and made into a pariah. The terror of this, of having “no name in the street” as the Bible puts it, pressures whites to act guiltily even when they feel no actual guilt. White guilt is a mock guilt, a pretense of real guilt, a shallow etiquette of empathy, pity and regret.

It is also the heart and soul of contemporary liberalism. This liberalism is the politics given to us by white guilt, and it shares white guilt’s central corruption. It is not real liberalism, in the classic sense. It is a mock liberalism. Freedom is not its raison d’ĂȘtre; moral authority is.
"Mock guilt" is what drives the "check your privilege" nonsense, words mouthed to evade actual accountability for the things real world encounters with politics inflict on people. Here, I am thinking of David Simon's inexplicable, apparently branding-driven endorsement of the execrable Martin O'Malley, or the belief of Hillary voters in her moral superiority on matters of race. Privilege (despite the absurd and obvious problems with its explanatory power) in this reading is merely a catalyst for public displays of guilt  — but one need never actually do anything about whatever it is that makes one guilty.

Steele's essay is not without its flaws, and it has some gaping ones, particularly his insistence that "we all... know that [Donald Trump] isn’t [racist]". Trump's handling of his father's apartment complexes is enough to excite the charge, at least, and the Nixon-era DOJ was hardly radical. But overall, some excellent points.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Laurie Penny's Spiteful, Censorious Take On Milo

As I hope I made clear Wednesday, Milo Yiannopoulos has earned the social opprobrium that has resulted in rather severe commercial consequences for his career, i.e. it appears extinct. Yet whenever I read anything by Laurie Penny and agree with large parts of it, my immediate reflex is to ask whether I've missed something. I can answer that now with a "no" with respect to Milo's behavior, but in nearly every other aspect, Penny's analysis is plainly wrong.

First, it's important to lay out the areas of agreement. They are two:
But that is the end of it. The serial misandrist employs the worst epithet in her arsenal against his camp followers, labeling them "sweaty teenage trolls". Men are bad enough, but in their protean form, intolerable, something she emphasizes with a snide, cheap shot at Dungeons & Dragons players. She imagines a deeply, obviously wrong reason why an openly gay man might find acceptance among religious conservatives — "for all that the American right likes to show off pet homosexuals to prove its modernity, it turns out that it still hates gays" — which fails to consider how it is that such a flamboyantly open homosexual could have gotten where he is in the first place. (Walter Olson's explanation makes the most sense of any: briefly, Yiannopoulos confesses his sin but embraces the mother church, which plays better with certain religious conservatives than culturally-conservative-but-not-sinning Log Cabin Republicans.) She looks deep into the soul of a Milo fan, and sees only bigotry (emboldening mine, as usual):
It is horribly ironic that of all the disgusting nonsense Yiannopoulos has said — about women, about Muslims, about transgender people, about immigrants — it is only now that the moderate right appears to have reached the limits of what it will tolerate in the name of free speech. The hypocrisy is clarion-clear: This was never, in fact, about free speech at all. It was about making it OK to say racist, sexist, transphobic, and xenophobic things, about tolerating the public expression of those views right up to the point where it becomes financially unwise to do so.
How is it that the "moderate right" was responsible for expelling him from a CPAC address? Were they the same ones who threatened to resign from Breitbart if he didn't?  In the end, it's just another label for her to feel superior to, just as she declares "Milo Yiannopolous [sic], possibly alone of all the smug white people in the world, is not a racist", as though the rest of them are. (Presumably, Penny feels guilty about her racism, and of course we need not ask her about sexism.) Too, she fails at understanding what it is that finally felled Milo. She chalks it all up to moral conservatism, rather than Milo's ambiguity and indifference to appearance. Even in apology, he failed to understand what he appeared to defend.

But what is most puzzling about that passage is her claim that Milo was never about free speech. We see this directly here:
Rewind two weeks. It’s a wet night in Berkeley, California, and Yiannopoulos is running away from the left. He was scheduled to speak at the University of California–Berkeley, but the event has been shut down. It was shut down because thousands of anti-racist and anti-fascist protesters decided that there should be no platform for what they called white supremacy. They are marching to say that free speech does not extend to hate speech, that the First Amendment should not oblige institutions to invite professional trolls to spout an auto-generated word-salad of Internet bigotry just for fun, and that, if the institutions disagree, students and allies are entitled to throw fireworks and smash things until the trolls run away. Which is exactly what has happened.
 People actually smashing things, exercising the heckler's veto, silencing the "trolls" — these people receive not a word of vituperation or contempt from her, unlike everyone else in this essay. Does her conception of "free speech" include "hate speech", whatever that is? For all she claims she opposes "no platforming", she clearly granted herself some wiggle room when she wrote, "I think no-platforming is a bad tactic in almost all circumstances." Almost all. We do not know the precise dimensions of that space, but we can guess them, and they fill a void near the size of Milo Yiannopoulos. Why does she think she should be able to demand, at some website where the user base clearly opposes her opinions (viciously and crudely), she should be able to moderate comments out of existence she finds offensive? Hers is the voice of an expansionist and totalitarian view of speech that uses "safe spaces" as a sword; it is not the voice of tolerance. As with Anita Sarkeesian, whose censorious tendencies only became explicit censorship advocacy through her work with the ITU, the answer may come eventually, whenever an opportunity arises.

Update 2017-02-27: this is good:
So why are conservatives cozying up to such hideousness? The best explanation they offer is that inviting someone so beyond the pale will shatter the tight boundaries drawn by political correctness and open the space for a wider airing of ideas. But the problem is that by using a stink bomb like Yiannopoulos they'll make their own ideas malodorous. Who will take conservative praise of civility, tradition, family values, manners, honor, moderation, and dignity seriously if a 31-year-old, out-of-control adolescent is their champion?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Freddie deBoer Vanishes

I was greatly disturbed to see that Freddie deBoer has purged all his old tweets from Twitter (without, so far, eliminating the account) and has removed the entire contents of his blog. I am very much saddened by this. We disagreed deeply about many things politically: he is an unalloyed socialist at heart, his views on the intersection of copyright and the Internet are deeply naive, as is his odd belief that Kickstarters are inevitably scams. Despite these differences, he was also honest about the increasingly neglected work of convincing others politically, and knew how to craft a well-assembled argument, even if you disagreed with key parts of it. His refusal to engage in snarky personal attacks, the house style at Gawker and so many other Internet-era publications, set him above all of them and made his writing worth reading. I'll miss him, and I hope he finds another online home soon.

The End Of Milo Yiannopoulos

I probably shouldn't even bother with this one; Milo Yiannopoulos has finally supplied the rope for his own hanging, which in the end was unsurprising. It's unlikely I will get everything right about this story, filled as it is with lurid but stupid details, ones that in the end are deeply boring, precisely because Milo is at heart a troll. Whatever it is, he's throwing bombs for public attention, never more so than with his "daddy Trump" nonsense during the late election cycle. It was inevitable that one of those bombs would detonate on the maker.
Yiannopoulos, who was recently credentialed for a White House presidential briefing, once penned a Breitbart column to blame the left for defending pedophilia. Now, this newly released audio reveals him endorsing the practice (and praising priests who molest underage boys). In the clip, he describes a disturbing scenario, which prompts an unnamed person to remark, “It sounds like Catholic priest molestation to me.”

He receives this response from Yiannopoulos: “But you know what? I’m grateful for Father Michael. I wouldn’t give nearly such good head if it wasn’t for him.” Here’s more of what he said about pedophilia:
“We get hung up on this sort of child abuse stuff to the point where we are heavily policing consensual adults … In the homosexual world, particularly, some of those relationships between younger boys and older men — the sort of ‘coming of age’ relationship — those relationships in which those older men help those young boys discover who they are and give them security and safety and provide them with love and a reliable, sort of rock, where they can’t speak to their parents.”
 His response to this own goal error was at first to declare it a "witch hunt", adding an unhelpful non-clarification addressing anyone who found his earlier remarks distressing as "A note to idiots". This raised a lot of irrelevancies, did nothing to dispel his earlier remarks, and smeared anyone who might reasonably find in his comments support for pederasty. It's a poor workman who blames his tools, and Yiannopoulos' refusal to acknowledge his own failings was a huge missed opportunity. It might be his last. Having lost his book deal with Simon & Schuster, he's also had to resign from Breitbart amid stories circulating that other staffers would resign en masse if he didn't.

There are kinder takes on Yiannoupoulos, for instance this unsigned piece on Rare ("The Internet bully is himself a victim; perhaps the two are related"), or this essay from Current Affairs which treats his remarks about sexual contact with an older man in the context of historical gay man/young teen sex:
Yiannopoulos may not have made his point very well. But there’s something nuanced and defensible here. First, he’s saying that the relationships between gay men and teenage boys (according to their own accounts) have historically been messier than simple categories allow for. And second, it’s absurd to say that he can’t make dark or crass jokes about his priest if it’s his way of dealing with what happened to him.
One might agree with that if he were a better communicator. To accept that, you have to excuse his lack of clarity: which is it? Was his giving head to a priest at 13 a terrible thing? Or was it good in hindsight? We still don't know, and we have Milo the bomb-thrower's imprecision to thank for it. Ultimately, the problem with Yiannopoulos is he stands for nothing, only in opposition, i.e. he is largely if not entirely a reactionary.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Audi's Wage Gap Pratfall

I've treated the mythical "wage gap" multiple times before, but yesterday's Audi ad during the Superbowl was a sort of tour de force of unrepentant cant:


Of course, with an organization as large as Audi, it's almost impossible to keep everyone within the organization on message:

You've gotta wonder about ends of the organization that came to such wildly differing conclusions about the role and pay of women in the workforce. What are they saying with that film? That everyone else in society is the bad guys, but Audi isn't one of them? Oh, and, do these faces look terribly female to you? (Notwithstanding Jeri Ward, who was presumably in charge of this fiasco, and HR director Christine Gaspar.) The story about how this ad came to be made would be an interesting one, and is lightly touched upon in an Ad Age piece issued contemporaneously with its release:
What is notable about Audi's spot is that it was directed by a woman -- Aoife McArdle, a top director repped out of Somesuch and Anonymous Content who has directed big-brand work for the likes of P&G (Secret), Under Armour, Honda and Samsung. Last year, Ms. McArdle directed a spot for Secret that also carried an equal pay message.

Gender inequity remains a huge issue in the ad production business. Women comprised only 9.7% of the rostered directors of the production companies that made Ad Age and Creativity's Production Company A-List in 2015, according to an analysis Mashable did of the list for a story published last year.
Previously, the Ad Age story mentions a "Free The Bid" initiative to address the lack of women in the field, but it takes with it the cast that women are in need of special protection from the same environmental hazards men are, i.e. it perpetuates women as "damsels in distress".

Keeping everyone on the same page is a tough thing, especially as your company gets larger. This disjoint fiasco shows why.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Apple Watch: Married In Haste, Repent At Leisure

I open this piece by noting I have had three other fitness trackers, all Fitbits:
  • I started with the Flex, which was then at the price point and functionality the best available unit on the market. It suffered from horrible mechanical defects, particularly in its charging port, which became less and less stable over time. This was made even worse by the incredibly tiny cable that came with the unit. If the distance between the outlet to the nearest horizontal surface was larger than that, you could be assured the Flex would sooner or later (the older it got, the sooner) it would fall out.
  • The second Fitbit unit I owned was a Force. Again, mechanical issues with the charging port caused me to abandon it, unlike a number of owners who had contact allergic dermatitis with the surgical stainless steel bezel.
  • The third (and last?) unit was a Surge. Shockingly, it wasn't actually issues with the charging port that caused me to abandon it, but the wristband. The thing simply broke in two, and because of the nonstandard, single-piece construction, could not be replaced.
Thus Fitbit. Since Apple had previously given me a number of products I have used and enjoyed dating back to the Apple II days, I finally broke down and decided to get an Apple Watch. Also, because the Apple Watch had (so they claimed) fitness functions mirroring the more popular ones available in the many fitness tracking devices now available. Mainly, I looked forward to Apple's superior history of making mechanically bulletproof devices. It's been a mixed bag.
  • There's really no way to change step count or other fitness-related targets outside the watch's tiny user interface itself. This is, to put it mildly, extremely annoying for those of us with big man fingers. On the Fitbit, you had the option of making these changes on either the iPhone or website interfaces, but Apple doesn't even offer an iCloud web interface for their fitness functions.
  • The limited touchscreen size means a great deal rests on various gestures. Unfortunately, it is too easy to accidentally engage one of them and change something inadvertently. I have several times turned on my watch, only to discover that the watch face has changed, or some other app has randomly taken over the display (because it was engaged accidentally last).
  • I had a worst case scenario of this happen yesterday when my Watch made an unwanted 911 call for me! I had my wrist bent at 90°, and next thing I know, the phone's making a call to the local emergency dispatcher! This apparently is some kind of default, something I had to shamefacedly explain to the woman from the dispatcher's office who called me back because I hung up after making the call. (I have since disabled the default dial-911 state.)
  • Those glaring flaws notwithstanding, it's got some nice features. Particularly, the ability to answer calls (with lousy sound quality) is useful, especially if you don't immediately know where your phone is. Likewise the ability to control your music, if the phone must be somewhere else than on your person, the best thing if you're using Bluetooth. (The low power Bluetooth interface can be spotty if there's any large enough physical thing between transmitter and receiver... like a human bent in half, say.)
By far, it's not a good replacement for the Fitbit, and in fact is so weak in this area it probably shouldn't be on anyone's list for this purpose. Since launch, Apple has treated it like an afterthought, especially in the way it interacts with apps. A disappointment, especially at the price, which may be one reason Apple has materially dropped the price for its entry level watch to well below $200.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Saturday Bullets

  • Hey, didja know that penises and vaginas are a social construct?
    Fine is a sure guide to the science, building up complexity without sacrificing clarity. By the time she’s finished, any lingering confidence that hormones exert a simple dose-response influence on our behaviour is thoroughly done for. Instead, testosterone works in intimate concert with relationship structures – a blow to its dignified reputation as the singular, commanding “male hormone”. Even something as incontrovertibly binary as our male and female genitals is shown to be part of a complex cultural system. As Fine says, “it’s the genitalia – and the gender socialisation this kicks off – that provides the most obvious indirect developmental system route by which biological sex affects human brains”.
  • Now that Trump is president, even journalists can apply critical thinking skills again.
  • Editors, please.
  • Econ 101 still works, no matter how much "living wage" advocates wish otherwise.
    The real impact of the minimum wage, however, is much less clear than these talking points might indicate. Looking at historical experience, there is no obvious relationship between the minimum wage and unemployment: adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum was highest from 1967 through 1969, when the unemployment rate was below 4 percent—a historically low level.
    If you use general unemployment as a basis for your comparison (the real problem is specific unemployment among the low-skilled), you've already failed to address the argument.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Jerry Coyne's War On Blank Slate-ism

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, author of the terrific blog Why Evolution Is True (which I haven't previously linked to, but need to add to my sidebar posthaste) has gotten into a row about human sexual behavioral dimorphism with a post, "The Ideological Opposition To Biological Truth". Men and women have coevolved but differing responses to environmental pressures, and this has led to lasting effects on behavior. The left rejects these categorically, because "ideological blinkering leads to the conclusion that when we see a difference in performance between groups and genders, the obvious explanation is culture and oppression, and the remedy is [enforced] equal outcomes rather than equal opportunities."
To claim that there are no evolutionary differences in behavior and psychology between men and women is fatuous.  The data show otherwise, though of course for most traits we don’t know if it’s genetic. But the default hypothesis, based on observation of other species (especially primates) is that at least some psychological and behavioral differences will be based on genes that evolved via selection in our ancestors. Why is the brain immune to evolved, sex-specific differences but the body is not?
Holly Dunsworth at U. Rhode Island posted a series of claims on Twitter about human sexual dimorphism, and was picked up in a New York article, wrapping up with these tweets:


There's a lot of things one could say about this, but what's most preposterous about it is the idea that science is somehow responsible for being thoughtful or kind — i.e., adhering to "safety", the prevailing groupthink, a problem the atheists ran into a while back. Coyne answered these silly remarks resoundingly well here, and at even greater length, here. He makes four points, three of which are strongly supported by data:
  • Among species of primates, there’s a good correlation between the polygyny of a species and sexual dimorphism: those species in which males have a higher variance in offspring number, and in which males thus compete more intensely for females, also show a greater ratio of male/female body size, even when corrected for phylogeny. (Too, in primate species in which males fight each other over females, the relative size of the canine teeth, used in battle, is larger than in species showing less direct male-male competition.)
  • In humans, as in many other species in which males compete for females, the sex ratio at birth favors males. They then die off at a higher rate due to higher risk-taking and exploratory behavior, and also senesce faster, which is why among older humans there are so many more females than males. (Check out any Gray Line tourbus.) This is predicted by sexual selction theory.
  • In line with the above, in humans and other primates, males show from the outset great exploratory and risk-taking behaviors, and as adults show many other behaviors that differ from those of females, such as greater dispersal. Is this due to the Primate Patriarchy? Probably not, given that these differences in behavior are shown in many species besides ours and make evolutionary sense.
Moreover, regarding Dunsworth's remarks, female growth emphatically does not stop after menarche (females continue to grow even into their late teens). "Dunsworth’s hypothesis is not only unsupported by data, but fails to explain the growth data that do exist." He concludes:
I can’t believe that simply my writing a post on human sexual dimorphism and its implications would drive anybody away from studying human evolution. After all, the give-and-take of hypotheses, critical thinking, and data are the very meat of science, and if you disagree with somebody, you don’t simply walk away from a field. I sure as hell am not leaving evolutionary biology because Dunsworth and New York Magazine took out after me!
This is a great response, and I'm glad to see someone pick up this flag.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

We're Doomed Dep't: Now Docs In Their 60's Outnumber Those In Their 30's (Updated With Some Good News)

I cannot make this stuff up (PDF, see the 2014 population statistics on p. 4). I have written about this before; the insane problems of new physician minting will not go away, and apparently are not being attended to, titular but comically small efforts notwithstanding. In two years, about thirty thousand doctors entered their sixties, i.e. near retirement age, while physicians in their 30's actually diminished, both in absolute population and as a percentage of the overall population. The problems of healthcare costs can not be properly addressed until we get the physician shortage addressed.

Update 2017-01-14: Last night, in a Facebook conversation Jerry Thornton made the point that the headline good news was a 4% increase in the overall physician population from 2012 to 2014. It's useful to do some quick checks to make sure this is of significant import relative to the larger problem, i.e. that of overall physician-to-population ratio. From my earlier work, the OECD average is 30.6 physicians per 10,000 population, or 3.06x10-3, expressed in scientific notation. How long will it take to get the US from where it is to there?
  • 2012 estimated US population: 314 million. (Population is only known precisely in census years, but is estimated between them. Source page here.)
  • 2014 estimated US population: 319 million. (From the same source above.)
  • OECD most recent year physician-to-population ratio: 3.29x10-3 physicians/population. (It's actually gone up.)
  • US most recent year physician-to-population ratio: 2.56x10-3 (from the prior link)
  • US physician population, 2012: 878,194
  • US physician population, 2014: 916,264
 Let's find the annual physician growth rate first.

916 264 = 878 194(1+x)2

Solving for x, the annual physician population growth rate, gets us

x = sqrt(916 264/878 194)-1 = 2.14x10-2

Now, the general population is growing at the same time. How much? Let's do the same math:

p = sqrt(319/314)-1 = 7.93x10-3

So when will these converge at the OECD average of 3.29x10-3 physicians/population? (I ignore the growth in the OECD average physician-to-population ratio.) Note that the Journal of Medical Regulation census physician population divided by the US Census general population figure gives us 2.87x10-3, which is higher than the OECD physician-to-population figure; we'll use that as a basis anyway, as both numbers are presumably more up-to-date, and won't make much of a difference relatively.

916 264 physicians * (1+2.14x10-2)n/3.19x108 population * (1+7.93x10-3)n = 3.29x10-3 physicians/population

Solving for n, the number of years until the US meets the OECD average physician-to-population ratio, we get 10.5 years, which is pretty fast as these timelines go. However, given OECD physician-to-population ratios are rising (almost certainly in response to population aging), it's probably somewhat misleading.

Update 2017-01-15: Even more interesting: feet-on-the-ground physicians vs. state populations for the 50 states ratio is 385 physicians per 100,000 population, which puts the US in the upper half, at least, and maybe the upper third. This makes me wonder about the OECD methodology; do they count expats in the denominator?

Monday, January 9, 2017

Lindy West Resigns From Twitter

In my pantheon of online annoybots, Lindy West is fairly far down the list. Unlike, say, Anita Sarkeesian, she hadn't proposed a centralized censorship regime for the Internet. However, she has endorsed the unprovable standard of "affirmative consent" in rape cases, has a history as a victimhood miner, and I suspect a bunch of other fairly middle-of-the-road (for modern feminists) policy nostrums. For a number of reasons, West has largely flown beneath my radar. So when I found a Vox piece on her voluntary exit from Twitter, I was not terribly surprised, given what I had read of hers. What interested me about that Vox piece was this passage (emboldening mine):
Rather, her breaking point — what made her feel she could no longer participate in the platform’s “profoundly broken culture” — was that Twitter has failed to acknowledge and deal with the alt-right’s use of the social network to spread its racist ideology, leading to severe, real-world repercussions:
The white supremacist, anti-feminist, isolationist, transphobic “alt-right” movement has been beta-testing its propaganda and intimidation machine on marginalised Twitter communities for years now — how much hate speech will bystanders ignore? When will Twitter intervene and start protecting its users? — and discovered, to its leering delight, that the limit did not exist. No one cared. Twitter abuse was a grand-scale normalisation project, disseminating libel and disinformation, muddying long-held cultural givens such as “racism is bad” and “sexual assault is bad” and “lying is bad” and “authoritarianism is bad,” and ultimately greasing the wheels for Donald Trump’s ascendance to the US presidency. Twitter executives did nothing.
Which is to say, she very expressly wished Twitter would have shut up those mean people over there with the temerity to disagree with her, in public, even.  This is not a surprise, and in fact there was at least one significant "tell" previous that she very much wanted her own echo chamber: her response to the Washington Post investigations showing the Rolling Stone story about a gang rape at U. Virginia was a hoax:
Or, you could just take her word for it:
Whenever I advocate for the safety of marginalized groups on the Internet, some genius always pipes up to say, “Oh, so you just want to live in your echo chamber?” And YES. OF COURSE I JUST WANT MY ECHO CHAMBER, DINGUS. If by “echo chamber” you mean “a space online where I can communicate in good faith with informed people who don’t derail every conversation with false equivalencies and rape threats,” then yes, I’m dying for a fucking echo chamber.

In fact, maybe that’s what we’ll call it: Echo Chamber, the first feminist social network.
Given that presumptive bestie (or at least sister-in-arms) Marcotte is on Twitter's Orwellian "Trust & Safety Council", her kvetching here takes an interesting color. The subtext is a bitter complaint that, if they can make Milo Yiannopoulos go away, why can't they get rid of all these other people she doesn't like, too? In that, it amounts to a positive sign for the beleaguered Twitter, which continues to struggle to find profitability. Chasing those eyeballs out en masse makes no sense. Bon voyage, Lindy, and don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Obamacare As Bad Slasher Pic

The cliché being that the thing has so many false endings, you never really know when it's over, but Obamacare's demise looks closer than it did before Trump got into office. The Democratic defenders of the law continue to delude themselves about the realities on the ground there, but decreasing numbers of providers (many counties have only one now) and dramatically increasing premiums (around 22-25%, depending on who you listen to) have set in motion real problems that cannot be wished away. Well, they can be wished away, as witness Kevin Drum, one of the bill's big proponents at the time, now a peddler of bizarre counterfactuals that would have been politically impossible at the time. Megan McArdle takes him to task (emboldening all mine):
So “lying” was simply not an option. Neither was “doubling the cost and whacking up the mandate.” Democrats were already having trouble getting their $1 trillion bill passed. This was a bill so unpopular that the state of Massachusetts (!) sent a Republican senator to Congress to stop it.

Let’s stop for a moment and ponder that. It’s common to hear Democratic pundits lament that centrist senators like Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman held the bill hostage, forcing it to be underpowered to the task and leading to the failures of today. But if Massachusetts balked at signing up for this, then the problem wasn’t just with a few squishy moderates. Had Democrats pushed for a $2 trillion bill with a much larger mandate, as Drum wishes, the issue wouldn’t have been a handful of DINO senators -- it would have been the folks from deep-blue states fleeing for cover ahead of a mob of angry constituents.
Democrats have been running from that mob for three straight Congressional election cycles now, and appear to have learned nothing from it. The most common defense of the bill, one I hear most often from the bill's promoters, essentially amounts to, "I got mine". That is, because the speaker has subsidized insurance (or at times, insurance at all), Obamacare has no perceptible flaws and thus needs no "fixing". I have some sympathy for this position; my autistic brother was ineligible for medical insurance prior to ACA passage, on the bizarre grounds that he had a preexisting condition of some sort that precluded it. (Insofar as I know, autism comes with no other health problems that would make him a bad risk in that way, but the insurers wanted none of him.) So he is one of the "winners" in this game. Ditto Mat Gleason, the retired Angels blogger (and still publisher of Coagula Curatorial), who needed very expensive life-saving heart surgery he could have never afforded otherwise.

But these anecdotal wins are not statistical or electoral wins. By clinging to "I got mine", ACA defenders ignore the real problems the law inflicts on others. This has gone on for a while now; I posted back in August about Sarah Kliff's delusional attempts to woo her way out of that deep well. Well before the late election, Democrats had started to distance themselves from the law:
In October, Minnesota's Democratic governor, Mark Dayton, complained publicly that although the health law had "many good features," it was "no longer affordable to increasing numbers of people." Around the same time, Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, whose determination to pass health care legislation helped push the bill over the congressional finish line in 2010, was asked on Meet the Press about the high price of health insurance premiums under the law. "Let's see how it works, and let's improve it," was her response. She also noted, as she has before, that what she would really "love" is a single-payer system. Just three years before, as the law's coverage expansion kicked in, she had touted it as a path to "more affordability, more accessibility, better-quality care, prevention, wellness, a healthier nation honoring the vows of our founders of life, a healthier life."

Also in October came complaints from former President Bill Clinton about a provision of the law that provides financial assistance to individuals at between 100 and 400 percent of the poverty line. "The people that are getting killed in this deal are small business people and individuals who make just a little too much to get any of these subsidies," he said at a rally in Michigan. He called the subsidy scheme "crazy" and declared that "it doesn't make sense. The insurance model doesn't work here."
 So, will the Republicans repeal the law? It's not clear; as Peter Suderman writes,
Several GOP legislators said that a provision allowing dependents up to age 26 to stay on their parents' plans would almost certainly be kept. In anonymous interviews, GOP aides suggested that the Medicaid expansion, responsible for much of the law's coverage gains, might also stay in place. And any major rollback that did occur would almost certainly be delayed for a year or two while Republicans tried to put a replacement plan together.
"Sen. Lamar Alexander (R–Tenn.), the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which would be critical to the development of any real plan, suggested that crafting a detailed alternative would take around six years", which tells you that the political struggles are real within the GOP. The political will to change the law is there, but wholesale repeal is another matter, and unlikely. Sadly, it's the popular features of subsidies and mandated issue that cause the most damage in terms of higher premiums, yet those are the least likely to go away. Stay tuned.