Wednesday, September 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

Vox's Sad Apologia For Hillary's Coal Gaffe

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

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

Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday Links

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Ta-Nehisi Coasts Again On Race

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

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

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

Friday, September 8, 2017

Betsy DeVos Declares An End to Weaponized Title IX Persecutions

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Obverse Godwin's Law

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

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

Monday, August 14, 2017

Vox Ladysplains The #GoogleMemo, And Other Related Stuff

I want to start with Cynthia Lee's "ladysplain"-ing of the #GoogleMemo in Vox, not because it is good but because it serves as an exemplar of how the blank slatists insist on misreading James Damore's essay on the futility of Google's approach to coder "diversity". She opens by writing that "It’s important to appreciate the background of endless skepticism that every woman in tech faces, and the resulting exhaustion we feel as the legitimacy of our presence is constantly questioned." This recalls work by Roy Baumeister in which he observes that putdowns are endemic to male culture, a constant reminder that respect is earned and in limited supply:

Lee's reaction to this shows exactly how right Baumeister was when he wrote
This, incidentally, has probably been a major source of friction as women have moved into the workplace, and organizations have had to shift toward policies that everyone is entitled to respect. The men hadn’t originally built them to respect everybody.
 Her next complaint is against the "sleight-of-hand" of averages she claims Damore uses that she claims turns women "against their own gender." However, Damore is very careful to note that, "Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions. This doesn't matter; Lee has no interest in the real, measured preferences of populations, and as we see in the next section, this has catastrophic consequences for her argument (emboldening mine):
If, as the manifesto’s defenders claim, the population averages do not have anything to say about individual Googlers, who are all exceptional, then why is Google the subject of the manifesto’s arguments at all? What do averages have to do with hiring practices at a company that famously hires fewer than one percent of applicants? In the name of the rational empiricism and quantitative rigor that the manifesto holds so dear, shouldn’t we insist that it only cite studies that specifically speak to the tails of the distribution — to the actual pool of women Google draws from?
Funny you should ask. That, actually, is the exact problem, and the fact that Lee misses it is unsurprising. Implicit in her argument here is the idea that men and women, taken as populations, will be interested in exactly the same thing, so that by the time you get to that narrow tail, you will have exactly the same number of individuals. This is categorically false; Damore cited evidence that, on average, women have more interest in working with people rather than things. The narrow tail of people interested in thing-work is where Google is hiring. She addresses this aspect of the population not at all. This is the crucial part of his argument, and indeed is what we see in practice, as her very next example demonstrates!
For example, we could look to the percentage of women majoring in computer science at highly selective colleges and universities. Women currently make up about 30 percent of the computer science majors at Stanford University, one key source of Google’s elite workforce. Harvey Mudd College, another elite program, has seen its numbers grow steadily for many years, and is currently at about 50 percent women in their computer science department.
Yet as Scott Alexander showed, MIT and Harvey Mudd get their female graduation rates by stuffing the pipeline with more women than most institutions that don't discriminate:
...MIT admitting 2x more women than men matches nicely with their computer science department being 40% women (= 2x the national average of 20%). Harvey Mudd admitted 2.5x more women than men matches nicely with their computer science being 55% women (just a hair over 2.5x the national average of 20%). Plus everyone in this discussion agrees that a bunch of colleges are desperately trying to admit as many women as they can to get even close to parity in CS.t
(While I don't have figures for Stanford, it would certainly be interesting to learn the percentage of female applicants accepted into their program. I would not be shocked at all if they did the same as Harvey Mudd, and indeed recent figures make it appear that is the case.) The reality is that computer science, and engineering more broadly, has been stuck at about 20% female (or less) for decades, regardless of gimmicks. Using two cherry-picked institutions that in turn cherry-pick their candidates is a perfect example of Damore's argument: they haven't magically found a way to get girls to like coding so much as they've found more girls who do (at the expense of other institutions' admissions). The strong argument would be explaining away why the female CS/engineering population is what it is at, say, Iowa State, or at a random sample of universities. Lee does not attempt it. (I also note in passing she does not wrestle with something Alexander observed, and that is that CS/engineering gender parity is best in nations such as Zimbabwe and Thailand, countries "not exactly famous for [their] deep commitment to gender equality.") In so doing, she cedes her entire argument.

Other linky goodness before (hopefully) closing this chapter:
  • David Brooks thinks Sundar Pichai should resign as Google CEO.
  • Conservatives are lining up to protest Damore's firing, via The Hill:
    Right-wing activist Jack Posobiec and a coalition of free speech groups are organizing marches against Google next week to protest Damore’s firing.

    “We are going to raise awareness about Google’s one-sided bias and campaign against dissenting opinions and voices,” Posobiec told The Mercury News on Thursday.
  • Also at The Federalist Bre Payton finds the media broadly insists on misreading Damore's memo, as one would expect.
  • Robert Tracinski writes in The Federalist about "the Google inquisition":
    A Wired profile digging into Damore’s personal history (this is politics now, so we do opposition research) gives us this description: “Damore’s fellow students at Harvard remember him as very smart but awkward around people.” Gosh, it would be a real shame if people like that were allowed to be hired in Silicon Valley.

    I’m joking, of course, because this is precisely the kind of personality that built Silicon Valley. But maybe not any more. Yet that’s not the biggest, most dangerous part of this story for Google and the other tech giants. The most dangerous part is that they are now beginning to be seen by the public (or revealed, depending on how you look at it) as politicized entities. Politicized entities to whom we are giving enormous amounts of data on our lives, thoughts, and interests.
    Surveying this landscape, it's easy to imagine how the politics will align going forward. Having collected Damore's scalp on the basis of merely acknowledging that men and women have divergent interests (as populations), what else could the diversity mavens accomplish with sufficient dudgeon behind them? I have previously noted Anita Sarkeesian's censorious tendencies. It does not seem even a slight stretch, given the Euros have introduced a "right to be forgotten", that Google is or will soon be on the list of targets. That is, at some future date, they will demand wrongthink such as Damore's be banished to PageRank purgatory. No pinnacle in modern content distribution is higher, and for that reason we must fight this at all costs.
Update 2017-08-15:
Damore got an op-ed into the Wall Street Journal defending himself. Excerpt:

Everything changed when the document went viral within the company and the wider tech world. Those most zealously committed to the diversity creed—that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and all people are inherently the same—could not let this public offense go unpunished. They sent angry emails to Google’s human-resources department and everyone up my management chain, demanding censorship, retaliation and atonement.

Upper management tried to placate this surge of outrage by shaming me and misrepresenting my document, but they couldn’t really do otherwise: The mob would have set upon anyone who openly agreed with me or even tolerated my views. When the whole episode finally became a giant media controversy, thanks to external leaks, Google had to solve the problem caused by my supposedly sexist, anti-diversity manifesto, and the whole company came under heated and sometimes threatening scrutiny.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Google Heretic

The news arrived a couple days ago that Google's engineering ranks include someone with unorthodox opinions on the subject of "diversity" as practiced in Silicon Valley, the actual text (minus graphs and hyperlinks) leaking out in the pages of Gizmodo Saturday. The essay itself senselessly adopts some of the worst flaws of modern political discourse from the left, particularly "psychological safety", a fatally damaged concept that has no place in grownup discussion. He (I assume the author is male) also mislabels as "authoritarian" the idiotic and badly misguided private efforts toward an inflexible and unachievable "diversity" goal; I note the author is free to leave Google, and work elsewhere. He also adopts the whiny language, itself extracted from Marxism's leaden skeins, that makes so much feminist writing unbearable: what does "swaths of men without support" even mean?

But those criticisms aside, the author is right about biological origins of a number of disparities between the sexes, particularly in mathematics, which are of long-standing and universal at the higher end of achievement. That is to say, from a population standpoint, women are more uniform in ability than men, and thus you end up with fewer geniuses — and fewer morons. (There are nations where female averages are actually higher than male averages [PDF, see page 10], but male-female average math score gaps exist for the majority of OECD countries save Iceland, where it is reversed, with some less significant than others.) Unfortunately, he does not provide substantiation for his claims, unless of course Gizmodo's editorial decision to strip the jeremiad of hyperlinks was an act of deep political cowardice.

However, why did he feel it necessary to pen such a document? To know that, it is necessary to ask, how is it that Google has a Vice President of Diversity, whose job presumably is to root out and destroy a would-be modern T.J. Rodgers accidentally joining the Googleplex ranks? Google, simply, has become a huge visible success, to the extent that it can afford to operate many companies with dubious or nonexistent paths to profitability. Throwing some bones to the commercial feminists is a no-brainer, for now; if you can lose a billion dollars in a quarter, you're doing something right. But as with Microsoft and its seemingly invincible computing platform that took a dive once they made (wholly necessary) forays into mobile, nothing is guaranteed, and today's juggernaut could easily be tomorrow's roadkill. Advanced parasitism of that kind will have no place in a smaller company, either devourer or devoured. Asking "why are there so few women coders?" is as pointless as asking "Why are there so many Jews in Hollywood/banking/diamond cutting?" The answer is, and should always be, who cares?

Update, 2017-08-08: Google yesterday fired author James Damore on the ground that he was  "perpetuating gender stereotypes", thus essentially proving he was right about the company acting as an echo chamber. (I would observe that companies set up thusly are also liable to fall apart in other ways.) As usual, Scott Alexander has a terrific followup:
Galpin investigated the percent of women in computer classes all around the world. Her number of 26% for the US is slightly higher than I usually hear, probably because it’s older (the percent women in computing has actually gone down over time!). The least sexist countries I can think of – Sweden, New Zealand, Canada, etc – all have somewhere around the same number (30%, 20%, and 24%, respectively). The most sexist countries do extremely well on this metric! The highest numbers on the chart are all from non-Western, non-First-World countries that do middling-to-poor on the Gender Development Index: Thailand with 55%, Guyana with 54%, Malaysia with 51%, Iran with 41%, Zimbabwe with 41%, and Mexico with 39%. Needless to say, Zimbabwe is not exactly famous for its deep commitment to gender equality.
As usual, the whole damned thing is worth reading.Also, this:

And, this:
Update 2017-08-08 9:31: Also a good read at In A Crowded Theater:
Google CEO Sundar Pichai acknowledged that these topics are “fair to debate.”   He claimed that Googlers are free to discuss these topics so long as they do not advance “harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”  But by firing Damore, Pichai belied any commitment to real discussion.  A true debate about these issues requires grappling with all of the thorny premises.
 The good news is that now a woman can be hired to replace Mr. Damore, thus ensuring Google's comittment to diversity. Also, they will make sure she has the right opinions before hiring, and the Vice President of Truth Diversity to make sure she keeps them with the party line.

Update 2017-08-08 9:58: Also Inez Feltcher at The Federalist:
Damore is guilty of nothing more than gently stating the obvious truth, backed by a laundry list of scientific studies: on average, men and women have divergent talents, interests, and skills. Because of these differences, men and women make different career decisions in the aggregate. Damore’s great offense was recognizing that maybe, just maybe, the imbalance between men and women in software engineering has more to do with freedom of choice than being the six-figure salary counterparts to the handmaids in Gilead.

Instead of fighting these “gaps” as the result of discriminatory systems and attempting to force men and women to be the same, we should consider the possibility that their divergent choices are the result of our true diversity.
Also useful in that Federalist piece is a link to the essay, links intact. As I expected above, the stripped links point at buttressing evidence for his thesis, which Gizmodo made the political decision to shamefully omit in their rebroadcasting.

Update 2017-08-09: Before passing on this subject, it's worth quoting this passage from the Scott Alexander post upthread:
We know that interests are highly malleable. Female students become significantly more interested in science careers after having a teacher who discusses the problem of underrepresentation. And at Harvey Mudd College, computer science majors were around 10% women a decade ago. Today they’re 55%.
I highly recommend Freddie deBoer’s Why Selection Bias Is The Most Powerful Force In Education. If an educational program shows amazing results, and there’s any possible way it’s selection bias – then it’s selection bias.

I looked into Harvey Mudd’s STEM admission numbers, and, sure enough, they admit women at 2.5x the rate as men. So, yeah, it’s selection bias.

I don’t blame them. All they have to do is cultivate a reputation as a place to go if you’re a woman interested in computer science, attract lots of female CS applicants, then make sure to admit all the CS-interested female applicants they get. In exchange, they get constant glowing praise from every newspaper in the country (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, etc, etc, etc).
Now, we don't know if female CS candidates are admitted at 2.5 times vs. men — the rate could be higher or lower in that specialty — but this definitely points to at least a potential problem for their headline story about women in CS: it's not so much that they support women as they throw enough women at the problem that eventually some of them will get through.

Look! More stupid!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

I'm Entitled To Your Opinion Dep't: Mehera Bonner Reviews Dunkirk

The meat of her criticism is actually apt; the film doesn't appear to have an actual plot, but instead is a series of pastiches of interwoven stories: the older man (Mr. Dawson) piloting a private pleasure boat to rescue Tommies on the Dunkirk beach, the outnumbered fighter pilots taking on relentless Luftwaffe adversaries hectoring ground troops and sinking transports, the young soldier separated from his unit trying against the odds to make it home (Tommy), the commanders in charge of moving the men off the beach and onto the absurdly small (and shrinking daily) numbers of available military transports. That is, she's not wrong in this specific complaint.

But the film itself has earned a great deal of praise, and deservedly so, despite the overall failing of lacking apparent narrative. Part of that is because we already know the outcome: Britain's fathers came to the rescue of her sons, and even a significant number of French troops as well. It is beautifully photographed, flawlessly acted, and rippling with dramatic tension from the opening until almost the close. None of these virtues apparently appeal to Bonner:
But my main issue with Dunkirk is that it's so clearly designed for men to man-out over. And look, it's not like I need every movie to have "strong female leads." Wonder Woman can probably tide me over for at least a year, and I understand that this war was dominated by brave male soldiers. I get that. But the packaging of the film, the general vibe, and the tenor of the people applauding it just screams "men-only"—and specifically seems to cater to a certain type of very pretentious man who would love nothing more than to explain to me why I'm wrong about not liking it. If this movie were a dating profile pic, it would be a swole guy at the gym who also goes to Harvard. If it was a drink it would be Stumptown coffee. If it was one of your friends, it would be the one who starts his sentences with "I get what you're saying, but..."
How terrible — someone makes movies that appeal to men? Her reaction isn't quite "THIS MUST STOP NOW", but you can hear her mentally outfitting anyone who actually likes the film with an invisible fedora (the universal headgear of the MRA). The idea that men died in battle so that someone like Bonner could spout narcissistic and childish opinions is itself cringe-worthy, but as Kyle Smith ably answers in National Review Online, the problem is really a branch of the Annie Wilkes model of culture (emboldening mine):
In a moment of clarity I understood what the two main imperatives of higher education were to Absurd Feminist and to so many of her peers: First, instead of broadening her horizons and taking her outside herself to discover the world, she demanded the educators filter all knowledge through her own experience to make it relatable to her. Second, all learning was to be valued in proportion to how effectively it could be made into a cudgel in the identity-politics war. Dispatches, with its virtually all-male cast, represented a pernicious advance for the patriarchy, even if it was about the agonies suffered by men.
It seems unlikely that Marie Claire’s reviewer, Mehera Bonner, has before her an exceptionally bright career of writing about film. As for a career of writing about feminism, though, the sky, for Bonner, is the limit. Her essay could plausibly have appeared on any number of bristling feminist sites. What is her reasoning except feminism taken to its logical extreme? Feminists often declare to the world that they stand merely for an entirely reasonable proposition — say, that women’s lives are as important as men’s. Who would dispute that? Yet feminist writing usually continues far past this point into a need to prove women and men have been equally important in every context, even in history. If women turn out to be mostly irrelevant to an incident, then it is the moral duty of socially conscious creative artists to ignore the matter. They should retrain their sights on something that will give absurd feminists something they can relate to, something that will advance the cause of feminism in general.
 She doesn't like the movie; fine, we get that. But as Smith observes, "Feminism means constant maintenance of an imaginary set of scales, and she fears Dunkirk adds weight to the masculine side, tipping the culture away from women." What could be more absurd?

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Bullety Stuff, Sunday Edition

Friday, July 14, 2017

Goodbye, Moo

The toughest little dog I ever met. The biggest heart. She survived Montana winters without shelter. She killed songbirds and gave them to us, as if to say, "today, we eat!". She barked me in to the house, and out from it. She bit my calves to keep me from leaving the room. She taught me so much about dogs.

And now she is gone, a week ago yesterday, the fatal injection after days without eating, in our home and among friends and family. The house still seems empty without her.

Goodbye, Moo. I will always love you.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Dumb Polls And The Value Of College

Pew recently released the results of a poorly-worded poll showing that Republicans now believe that college is a net detriment to the nation. The poll did not inquire about particulars of why this might be, e.g. the crippling debt colleges bequeath their inmates. There is a cost-benefit tradeoff that is simply not getting done on college sheepskins, in the main. University professors, and more importantly, the vampire army of administrators hiding behind them count on the anesthetic of widespread American cultural approval of college as a means unto itself. Consequently, a lot of degrees end up providing poor returns on the substantial sums required to get them. Pretending that college is an unalloyed good in this way is deeply dangerous, as the ranks of young people with poor job prospects and mountains of debt show.

Despite the weak wording of the poll, the answers hint at who might think of colleges as a negative thing, and why. It is simply undeniable that academia remains one of the serious redoubts of Marxism in the west; there are things so stupid only a college professor can believe them. As they age, the academics and academia more broadly have become increasingly illiberal: legal racial segregation, a modern Jim Crow, now finds its primary impulse, not in the rural south, but in places like UC Berkeley and CSU Los Angeles, both of which operate black-only dorms. Students employ the heckler's veto to disinvite heterodox speakers from campus. Title IX, originally designed to provide gender equity in things like college sports, now is used to peddle false, hysterical tales of rampant campus sexual violence, fueling witch hunts pursuing chimerical dating fiascoes, ruining the lives of young men whose accusers may never be known or confronted; such young men have no right to legal counsel or due process. Modern women's studies programs are home to one of the most pernicious, anti-scientific lies ever told, the idea of humans as a "blank slate". That is, they promote the notion that there are no distinctly male and female behaviors and modes of thinking driven by biology, but that all these things result exclusively or primarily from social conditioning. You will look in vain in any of their supposed scholarly papers for reference to anyone doing work with functional magnetic resonance imaging, or evolutionary biology; it as if they operated in an academic silo.

So it is entirely comprehensible why people might look upon the university today as a horrifically expensive, self-indulgent, and even dangerous institution. Academia has become a haven for progressive dogma. It is deeply intolerant of divergent opinions. And it has the mammoth support of the Federal government.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Letter to David Noe, General Manager Of Rev-A-Shelf, LLC

Sent to David Noe, General Manager of Rev-A-Shelf, LLC this morning:
I have ordered three of your products for our kitchen, two of which have not fulfilled the basic requirement of fitting in the minimum advertised depth. The first was a clear manufacturing error (installed on slides at least two inches too long for the space, and so large they broke through the provided shipping box) and was replaced. The second, more vexing issue is with a 4WCSC-1835DM-2 two-bin drawer that extends approximately 3/16” past the limit of the 21-3/4” depth it is supposed to fit in. I have been in contact with Joe Dowdle in your customer service department, and have provided him with photos of the product and the obvious problem we have with it. He has twice told me he would get in touch with manufacturing and would call back, but never did. When I contacted him today, he didn’t even know my phone number (which I provided in my initial email on the subject) or email address (which he would have known had he kept it).

Frankly, your customer service is atrocious. It is simply inconceivable that for an organization this large you don’t have a trouble ticket system for dealing with such issues that retains such basic information as customer contact data (he didn’t remember that), product model (neither that), description of the problem (also forgotten), and history of the problem (nope) with its resolution. This is the third call I have had to initiate to get this resolved one way or another. It’s clear your company is shipping defective products; whether you care to rectify that situation will tell how much longer you stay in business.
In response, I got an autoresponder saying he would be out of the office until June 12. SRSLY.

Update 16:29 CDT: After sending this and posting it to Rev-A-Shelf's Facebook page and Twitter account, I heard back from a very contrite Mr. Dowdle. He at last determined that the issue was a manufacturing change that altered the depth requirement, which had not been propagated to the customer-facing parts of the company, including the website and resellers. He apologized for the delay as well. I also received a call from a woman who identified herself as the head of customer service for Rev-A-Shelf, and she, too, apologized. She also told me that she was surprised to learn that he had said they had no trouble ticket management system, because the company uses Salesforce internally.  Clearly if they have it, their support people aren't using it.

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.

Update 2017-05-23: Reason says the figure is only twice the overall state budget. Win!

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.