Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Some Good News About The Bankruptcy Option For Student Loan Debt

George Leef at the John Williams Pope Center for Higher Education Policy writes perhaps the most encouraging thing I've read in ages on the subject of student loan debt in a great long while. As it turns out, and contrary to my prior writing on the subject, student debt can be discharged through bankruptcy, but it requires going through special hoops to do it:
Writing on Huffington Post, Steve Rhode (who calls himself the “get out of debt guy”) states, “The general perception is that federal student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. Obviously that assumption is not true because an allowance exists for discharge in the case of undue hardship. But many incorrectly assume that threshold is impossible or nearly impossible to accomplish.”

Rhode finds the support for his conclusion in his analysis of 35 adversary proceedings in 2012 where the debtor sought discharge of student loans through bankruptcy. In those cases, the debtor won full discharge in 47 percent and received some reduction or more favorably repayment terms in another 33 percent.

Those 2012 numbers are in the same vicinity as the numbers calculated by Professor Jason Iuliano from cases filed in 2007, which formed the basis for his 2011 paper published in American Bankruptcy Journal, An Empirical Assessment of Student Loan Discharges and the Undue Hardship Standard. Iuliano found that 25 percent of the cases resulted in full discharge and 26 percent resulted in partial reduction or easier payments.
It turns out further than representing oneself in bankruptcy court is entirely plausible, as Acosta Conniff v. Educational Credit Management Corporation showed in Alabama. Further, "the Department of Education recently released a “guidance letter” pertaining to undue hardship discharge cases" that "tilts the scales more in favor of students who are petitioning for bankruptcy discharge." Leef even advocates reverting student loan debt to normal status, i.e. where bankruptcy law was prior to 1977, which would allow easier discharge of unpayable debt and force universities and banks to rationalize degree programs. It's probably too much to hope for legislative change at this point, but that's what we need.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Censor, Anita Sarkeesian

I recently had cause to discuss whether Anita Sarkeesian's "Feminist Frequency" videos amounted to censorship or not. By a strict definition, no they are not, because she had not at that point demanded state action, i.e. prior restraint on video game publishers. Criticism, of course, is not the same thing as censorship, but with Sarkeesian, there have been a number of "tells" that she has a strong itch in that direction, the principle one being that she demands the right to direct the course of video game production — of which she is not, by her own admission, much of a customer. It would be one thing to play video games and want something better. (For a parallel example in the related world of comics, see my brief remarks about Barbara Randall Kesel.) It's quite another to see content she is only peripherally interested in (or worse, demands others pay for) and then expects producers thereof will hew to her cloistered thinking. She has also been unwilling to take the stage with any opponent (most notably the firebrand journalist Milo Yiannopoulos) to debate her ideas; she appears to want a megaphone, not exchange, which again suggests she has a totalitarian's indifference to anyone else's opinion.

But charitably, the question remained at least until recently an open one, when she somehow got a report published through the United Nations on "cyber violence". (The full report can be found here (PDF), because the link from the title page appears to be broken.) This includes
Cyber VAWG includes hate speech (publishing a blasphemous libel), hacking (intercepting private communications), identity theft, online stalking (criminal harassment) and uttering threats.
 Sarkeesian expanded on those goals considerably:
According to feminist culture critic Anita Sarkeesian, who spoke at the event, online “harassment” doesn’t simply consist of what is “legal and illegal,” but “also the day-to-day grind of ‘you’re a liar’ and ‘you suck,’ including all of these hate videos that attack us on a regular basis.”

Unable to prove that they are the victims of a wave of “misogynistic hate” – no bomb threat against a feminist critic of video games has ever been deemed credible and there are serious doubts about threats supposedly levelled at transsexual activist Brianna Wu – feminists are trying to redefine violence and harassment to include disobliging tweets and criticisms of their work.

In other words: someone said “you suck” to Anita Sarkeesian and now we have to censor the internet. Who could have predicted such a thing? It’s worth noting, by the way, that if Sarkeesian’s definition is correct, Donald Trump is the world’s greatest victim of “cyber-violence.” Someone should let him know.
As a bonus points follow-on, Yiannopoulos found a Redditor willing to slog through all 120 of the report's footnotes, concluding that 30% are broken, blank, duplicated, or nonexistent in some other way, with another 15% self-referentially linking back to UN documents. (Also, yikes, for Popehat phoning it in, though at least he recognized it at the time.) The benefit of the doubt no longer applies; schoolyard taunts provide sufficient cause for Sarkeesian to demand governments silence others, and that the mechanisms for doing this be built into the technical infrastructure of the Internet. Sarkeesian is nothing more than a schoolmarm with an overgrown ego.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Is There Anything Good About Men?

I've been meaning to write about a phenomenal essay I encountered a few days ago, Roy F. Baumeister's "Is There Anything Good About Men?" Originally a lecture delivered at a 2007 conference of the American Psychological Association, he subsequently expanded on it to publish a book of the same name. He opens by taking on the feminist notion of patriarchy, the feminism that looks up and envies:
The mistake in that way of thinking is to look only at the top. If one were to look downward to the bottom of society instead, one finds mostly men there too. Who’s in prison, all over the world, as criminals or political prisoners? The population on Death Row has never approached 51% female. Who’s homeless? Again, mostly men. Whom does society use for bad or dangerous jobs? US Department of Labor statistics report that 93% of the people killed on the job are men. Likewise, who gets killed in battle? Even in today’s American army, which has made much of integrating the sexes and putting women into combat, the risks aren’t equal. This year we passed the milestone of 3,000 deaths in Iraq, and of those, 2,938 were men, 62 were women.

... Culture has plenty of tradeoffs, in which it needs people to do dangerous or risky things, and so it offers big rewards to motivate people to take those risks. Most cultures have tended to use men for these high-risk, high-payoff slots much more than women. I shall propose there are important pragmatic reasons for this. The result is that some men reap big rewards while others have their lives ruined or even cut short. Most cultures shield their women from the risk and therefore also don’t give them the big rewards. I’m not saying this is what cultures ought to do, morally, but cultures aren’t moral beings. They do what they do for pragmatic reasons driven by competition against other systems and other groups.
He's got a lot of other questions:
  • Why is it that 19th century women didn't forge new musical paths despite increasing access to musical instruments (the piano specifically), yet African-American men, who were demonstrably poorer and "mostly just emerging from slavery", laid down the foundation for jazz?
  • What percent of our ancestors were women? ("It’s not a trick question, and it’s not 50%. ... Today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as men.") What does this mean for human social behavior? ("[M]en outnumbered women both among the losers and among the biggest winners", a fact that informs male risk-taking and creativity.)
  • How do men and women differ in their social behavior? Men, he posits, have large, shallow social networks, where women tend to few and intimate networks. 
 He also makes two observations about earned manhood:
  1. Respect is earned by producing more than you consume.
  2. Putdowns are endemic as a way to remind everyone that respect is in limited supply. ("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.")

Baumeister probably won't convince anyone who thinks patriarchy is real, i.e. a grand conspiracy, but he's got a good framework for understanding why women have it so hard in the modern workplace. A lot of evolutionary psychology amounts to just-so stories, but falsification in this field, as with all evolution, is notoriously difficult to do. I really look forward to reading his book.

Update 2021-07-09: Fixed the link to the original essay.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Dog Fancy Steals A Page From The "Rape Crisis" Hoaxers

I've previously written about the various bogus surveys of rape and its much broader sister charge, sexual assault, and how political motivation has expanded that to include clumsy attempts at hand-holding. With its engineered results that turn virtually any unwanted advance or gaffe into sexual assault, it's little wonder those trying to prove there's a huge sexual assault problem on college campuses come up with numbers vastly higher than actual rape statistics, which latter have been in decline for decades — unlike the static "1-in-5" factoid. File under "figures don't lie, but liars can figure".

The dog fancy has taken a similar approach to dealing with their flawed product. Two years ago, UC Davis published a study finding some genetic diseases common to all dogs apparently occur at the same rates in mutts and purebreds. AKC apologists rapidly seized on this finding, even though it didn't actually say what they thought it did. In fact, for 10 of the 27 diseases surveyed, purebred dogs had notably higher incidence rates than mutts. Yesterday, I encountered a similar study (original at PLOS One) with even brighter news for the KC (or so they would have you believe). Originating from a survey of English veterinary records and paid for by the RSPCA, the press release version claims "purebreds are no more likely than crossbreeds to suffer the most common disorders", i.e. the diseases they studied had equal incidence in both purebreds and mutts, based on reviews of veterinary practice data throughout that country. In fact,
So rather than a rigged study, the Telegraph article simply fails to note the cases where there were in fact more problems among purebreds; but ignoring those cases does not make them go away. Likewise, the survey doesn't attempt to address breed-specific genetic or genetically-linked diseases (hip dysplasia, cancer, collie eye anomaly, Leonberger polyneuropathy, high uric acid in Dalmatians, inability to whelp vaginally, etc.) that are much more likely in certain breeds and contribute to overall health problems. I eagerly await more detailed studies that include such conditions.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Martin Shkreli, Poster Boy For Regulatory Capture And Patent Abuse

The New York Times has an article about a hedge fund operator named Martin Shkreli, whose firm, Turing Pharmaceuticals, has the apparent sole purpose of running up the cost of certain drugs. Since buying out the manufacturer of the drug Daraprim (a 62-year-old drug developed by Gertrude Elion to combat malaria, but now the only drug licensed to treat toxoplasmosis), the price of the drug has gone up from $13.50 a tablet to $750.
Martin Shkreli, the founder and chief executive of Turing, said that the drug is so rarely used that the impact on the health system would be minuscule and that Turing would use the money it earns to develop better treatments for toxoplasmosis, with fewer side effects.

“This isn’t the greedy drug company trying to gouge patients, it is us trying to stay in business,” Mr. Shkreli said. He said that many patients use the drug for far less than a year and that the price was now more in line with those of other drugs for rare diseases.

“This is still one of the smallest pharmaceutical products in the world,” he said. “It really doesn’t make sense to get any criticism for this.”
And yet. And yet. As always, the invaluable Techdirt has much, much more background on this than the NYT piece, which includes a look at the long-expired patents, and what Shkreli's actual plans are:
Turing, of course, defends the increased price by claiming the exorbitant profit margin will result in increased R&D. But let's take a closer look at what its spokesman is actually saying.
Rothenberg defended Daraprim's price, saying that the company will use the money it makes from sales to further research treatments for toxoplasmosis.
Translation: this money will be dumped into finding another variation to patent, thus locking out potential competitors and allowing Turing to continue charging whatever it wants for the medication.
They also plan to invest in marketing and education tools to make people more aware of the disease.
Translation: we will market the hell out of this new drug.

This sort of thing isn't exclusive to Turing. It's standard MO for all pharmaceutical companies. Rather than engage in meaningful competition, these companies are awarded lengthy monopolies on drugs and treatments by the US government. Turing is no different than Amedra -- part of the holding company acquired by Turing along with the Daraprim rights. But when Amedra acquired the rights from GlaxoSmithKline, it somehow managed to keep its price hike to a couple of dollars, rather than several hundred.
The FDA has built a regulatory moat around pharmaceutical companies which con artists like Shkreli use to their advantage, and to the detriment of everyone else. Patents are surely part of the story (they figure large in Turing's future plans for keeping the price of Daraprim high). The argument favoring patents is that without them, inventors wouldn't invent, but it's unclear that's ever true. The reverse, an endless stream of arbitrary restrictions and high prices for very old drugs, seems to be playing out almost every month now. Similar problems exist for regulating drug makers; why was there only one manufacturer of an elderly but still useful drug?

Update 2015-09-23: Techdirt once more has a useful followup; apparently Shkreli will do something good in the future about the price, but we don't know how much it will go down or when. Sounds great to me!

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Dumb Rejoinder To Ahmed Mohamed's Arrest: Common Sense Clocks Out

So in case you've been living in a cave the last couple of weeks, an Irving, Texas boy, Ahmed Muhamed, claimed to bring a clock of his own manufacture to school. In his English class, he plugged it in to a wall socket, whereupon it made some noise that the teacher decided was suspicious. Someone at the school declared the device a "hoax bomb", i.e. not a real bomb, whereupon police arrested and handcuffed Ahmed while they waited for his parents to take custody of him. As one Facebook poster observed, it is entirely clear neither the school officials nor the police believed he had a bomb; the observation of the "bomb", and his arrest and detention all took place within the school; the bomb squad was never called, and the "bomb" was never isolated.

More recently, poster Jeremy at Artvoice wrote a long-form piece about the incident that makes a compelling case against at least Muhamed's title claim, i.e. that he made the clock, a sentiment also endorsed by Richard Dawkins (who cited that piece). I won't go into that, because his photographs provide sufficient evidence that it's highly likely Muhamed merely stripped the cover off an old Radio Shack digital clock and threw it in a pencil case to make it look homebrew. But Jeremy then drifts into speculation and sophistry when he endorses subsequent police and administration behavior:
If we stop and think – was it really such a ridiculous reaction from the teacher and the police in the first place? How many school shootings and incidents of violence have we had, where we hear afterwards “this could have been prevented, if only we paid more attention to the signs!” Teachers are taught to be suspicious and vigilant. Ahmed wasn’t accused of making a bomb – he was accused of making a look-alike, a hoax. And be honest with yourself, a big red digital display with a bunch of loose wires in a brief-case looking box is awful like a Hollywood-style representation of a bomb. Everyone jumped to play the race and religion cards and try and paint the teachers and police as idiots and bigots, but in my mind, they were probably acting responsibly and erring on the side of caution to protect the rest of their students, just in case. “This wouldn’t have happened if Ahmed were white,” they say. We’re supposed to be sensitive to school violence, but apparently religious and racial sensitivity trumps that. At least we have another clue about how the sensitivity and moral outrage pecking order lies.

Because, is it possible, that maybe, just maybe, this was actually a hoax bomb? A silly prank that was taken the wrong way? That the media then ran with, and everyone else got carried away? Maybe there wasn’t even any racial or religious bias on the parts of the teachers and police.
Well, yes, it was a ridiculous overreaction. Arresting a kid for having a clock? For what crime? Handcuffing him? If the charge is that the kid lied about its manufacture, in what universe is that a colorable crime? And if the point was it might have been a hoax bomb (when the kid consistently declared otherwise, per the Dallas Morning News report), who made that determination? Subsequent investigation prompted Irving police chief Larry Boyd to say "there’s no evidence to support the perception he intended to create alarm". In other words, the only people stirring up trouble were the paranoid panicky teachers, administrators, and police at the high school. (Wait, police at a suburban high school?) I get his point that "none of us were there", but if we take media reports seriously (i.e. based on evidence presented), this is a zero-tolerance nightmare. To dismiss criticism of the actions of the officials on the scene as specious ("we jump to conclusions and assume we’re experts") is equally misguided. The Muhumad case joins a long list of official freakouts over very little, and if anything, should open a dialogue about the wisdom of using police to perfect society.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Susan Brownmiller's Refreshing Views On Rape Prevention

Susan Brownmiller long ago wrote Against Our Will, a largely fact-free jeremiad that has since informed modern feminism's belief in rape as a political tool. That this is true only in distant lands populated principally by itinerant goat herders has not much changed the canon; if anything, it's gotten shriller and even more untethered from reality. Yet, despite her book's foundational status, Brownmiller seems to have views on rape that diverge wildly from modern feminist orthodoxy. Uncovered in a recent interview in New York magazine, they come as an utter shock to anyone aware of her earlier work. She recoils from developments in the theory she originated (emboldening in Brownmiller's responses are due to me):

I was wondering if you have been following the discussions of rape activism on college campuses.
Yes, very closely. In the 1970s we had an extraordinary movement against sexual assault in this country and changed the laws. They [the campus activists] don't seem to know that. They think they are the first people to discover rape, and the problem of consent, and they are not.

They have been tremendously influenced by the idea that "You can drink as much as you want because you are the equal of a guy," and it is not true. They don't accept the fact there are predators out there, and that all women have to take special precautions. They think they can drink as much as men, which is crazy because they can't drink as much as men. I find the position "Don't blame us, we're survivors" to be appalling.

Also, they [college women] are not the chief targets of rapists. Young women and all women in housing projects and ghettos are still in far greater danger than college girls.
Holy smoke, did you hear that? Men and women are different! Yikes! And the last, at least,  comports with empirical Bureau of Justice Statistics data showing young women off campus are much more likely to be raped than college students. And then, this:
And my feeling about young women trapped in sex situations that they don’t want is: "Didn’t you see the warning signs? Who do you expect to do your fighting for you?" It is a little late, after you are both undressed, to say "I don’t want this."
Interviewer Katie Van Syckle makes a weak attempt at a late save:
I guess the hope is that young men would respect [a naked woman in bed telling them "no"].
That would be nice. There is not much attention on them is there?
Predictably, Amanda Marcotte tars her with the epithet "former feminist hero". Break out the popcorn:
There's a real irony here, because our cultural allergy to focusing on men who actually rape also prevents us from having a productive conversation: one that should be had with both men and women—ideally starting when they are boys and girls—about why rapists rape. We would talk about how our culture valorizes male domination. How some men learn to feel big by putting women down. How both men and women often stand aside and let some men express toxic views about women without being challenged.
 This is, of course, the purest bullshit, because she's been one of the principle drivers pushing for an expansion of rape away from coercive sex. That is to say, while she presumably cares about men who actually rape, she's also eager to inflate the charge to include regetted and even imaginary sexual encounters, despite her own denials. Whether it's the Rolling Stone hoax set at the University of Virginia or Emma Sulkowicz's sordid lies ("rape apologists", LOL), she's only ever prepared to believe the "victim", even if the accuser has but a fleeting grasp of reality. To force everyone else to adopt the correct, guilt-stricken pose, she plans on "having a productive conversation", which we assume starts young and is indistinguishable from harangue.

She goes on to discuss the Steubenville rape case, which is rather atypical for her because it has actual perpetrators, clear evidence (along with video confessions), and a real victim.
If you want to see the cause, you have to look at the culture around the assault: the guys who made a video laughing about it, the spreading of the images, the unwillingness of anyone to interfere, the congratulations for domineering, abusive behavior. That is why assault happens, not because some girls drink too much. We need to help young people, both men and women, spot predatory behavior for what it is, and to push against it instead of laughing it off.

But having that conversation requires talking with and about men. As the Brownmiller interview shows, even for feminists, policing women and talking about their choices is just a lot easier to do. It's comfortable, like an old nightgown (one that hopefully doesn't show off too much thigh!). We've tried the woman-policing route for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years now. It's time to switch it up and start focusing on male choices instead.
 A number points worth mentioning here:
  1. The sort of "culture" she describes derives from a number of poor choices by men. This is an ancient problem, and one that appears to have no ready solution, despite it being of obvious import. No OECD country has a per-capita rape rate of zero, though they vary quite a bit. This suggests the "just teach men not to rape" silver bullet beloved of modern feminists has been tried everywhere and found wanting. While she doesn't come out and say it, that's the only solution she appears to know.
  2. I suppose we should be grateful she wants to talk to men at all.
  3. The large majority of men do not, in fact rape. So her "don't rape" message there will do no good. In fact, it is liable to result in the opposite: contempt. This will likely have negative consequences in the jury box.
  4. For the minority that does commit rape due to some combination of hormones, alcohol, drugs, poor impulse control, and misplaced or nonexistent empathy, this message will fall on deaf ears.
Because she does not understand male behavior and its underlying driving factors, she cannot reasonably prescribe preventative courses of action. (Indeed, it's unclear that there is much that can be done, outside of women taking defensive measures.) It has nothing to do with idiotic "men are taught to" nonsense, and everything to do with male nature. This is, of course, no excuse for rape, but modern feminists seem utterly incapable of distinguishing advice to minimize exposure to potential rapists from victim-blaming. That Marcotte savages the iconic Brownmiller for suggesting otherwise signals just how unhinged from reality she and her fellow third-wave sisters have become.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Dilemma Of Women In Film

I came across this recently on Facebook:
Several points there. First, Hollywood's entire business is about constructed realities. While I couldn't find the source material here — neither nor Google turn up this graph — someone is getting their panties in a bunch over the number of men vs. women onscreen? So what? The obvious rejoinder would be, well, MONAYZ:
Using Bechdel test data, we analyzed 1,615 films released from 1990 to 2013 to examine the relationship between the prominence of women in a film and that film’s budget and gross profits. We found that the median budget of movies that passed the test — those that featured a conversation between two women about something other than a man — was substantially lower than the median budget of all films in the sample. What’s more, we found that the data doesn’t appear to support the persistent Hollywood belief that films featuring women do worse at the box office. Instead, we found evidence that films that feature meaningful interactions between women may in fact have a better return on investment, overall, than films that don’t.
So it seems possible that there are two effects here (at least!):
  1. Films passing the Bechdel test have better return on investment.
  2. They also have lower budgets.
 The second point suggests studios are unwilling to make the sorts of budgetary mistakes on such films they more readily do on other sorts of films, i.e. there is a kind of discipline involved in making character-driven stories that does not attach to, say, cop buddy pictures or action-adventure films. If the second point drives the first, it points to the Bechdel test as a sign, not a cause.

The way forward is unclear, at best; losing money in Hollywood is axiomatic, and informs their rapacious accounting. It does not seem likely, for the reason that film making is both a business and an art, that producers or investors will be particularly eager to have a mechanistic version of the NFL's Rooney Rule, as proposed by Stacy L. Smith in the Hollywood Reporter; accounting for every person onscreen rings of the old Communist art machine that demanded conformance to socialist realism, whatever that meant. If advocates like Geena Davis want films with more women in them, go her; and let her also finance them and take the risks such necessarily entail. Telling others how to run their lives without taking that risk is the first sign of a fraud. Yet there may well be entirely sound commercial reasons for changing the status quo.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Freddie deBoer Shows Us Why The Passive Voice Sucks

Fredrik deBoer writes in the NYT about the supposed "corporate taming of the American college" thanks to a "corporatism" he claims is responsible for the pussification of the modern university, the enormous expansion of its administrative staff, i.e. many of its current ills. I want to take on one of the specific claims here regarding Title IX. Discussing the Laura Kipnis case, he writes
The Kipnis affair was extreme, but it demonstrates the double-edged sword that is Title IX. The law, designed to enforce gender equality on campus, grants members of campus communities broad latitude in charging gender discrimination and mandates formal response from universities. The law can be a powerful tool for justice, but like all tools, it can be misused — especially as it ends up wielded by administrative and governmental functionaries. In this way, it becomes an instrument of power, not of the powerless. And because the law compels the self-protective, legalistic wings of universities to grind into gear, for fear of liability and bad publicity, invocations of Title IX frequently wrest control of the process and the narrative from student activists themselves, handing it to bureaucrats, whether governmental or institutional.
"[I]t can be misused"! Really, Freddie? And who do you think instigated that in Laura Kipnis' instance? From his own description earlier,
...[S]tudents held a protest, some of them carrying mattresses, calling for formal censure of Kipnis. Worse, multiple Title IX complaints were filed against Kipnis, claiming that her essay had created a ‘‘chilling effect’’ that prevented students from feeling safe to pursue claims of sexual harassment or abuse.
So, yes, Freddie, that would be students, not some feckless administrators, who made a stink, and the administration reacting to specious claims of harm, thanks to an insane diktat that Title IX means no one should ever feel "threatened". These students — and their demands — didn't arise ex nihilo, and used a weapon derived from the same political process that feeds administrative bloat. Big government becomes its own constituency, and its prime agenda is expanding its own authority and resources, and suppressing opposition.
Rather than painting student activists as censors — trying to dictate who has the right to say what and when — we should instead see them as trapped in a corporate architecture of managing offense. Have you ever been to corporate sexual harassment training? If you have, you may have been struck by how little such events have to do with preventing sexual harassment as a matter of moral necessity and how much they have to do with protecting whatever institution is mandating it. Of course, sexual harassment is a real and vexing problem, not merely on campus but in all kinds of organizations, and the urge to oppose it through policy is a noble one. But corporate entities serve corporate interests, not those of the individuals within them, and so these efforts are often designed to spare the institutions from legal liability rather than protect the individuals who would be harmed by sexual harassment. Indeed, this is the very lifeblood of corporatism: creating systems and procedures that sacrifice the needs of humans to the needs of institutions.
This inverts causality and sidesteps volition and agency. If you give someone a tool, it will get used. Title IX, like all bureaucratic bludgeons, has undergone epic mission creep, to the point now that it encompasses censorship as a means to supposedly promote "equality". deBoer can't quite bring himself to observe that the administration's behavior is both predictable and bureaucratic; instead, he reaches for the worst epithet he can think of, "corporate". Considerations of how we got to this point bear no examination, apparently.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Rise Of "Commercial Feminism"

I've written damned near nothing about #GamerGate, with the justification that it's one of those culture war thingies that makes you always wrong no matter what side you take:

(Cathy Young's short course at Reason, the best there is on the subject, is worth reading, but even that makes my head spin.) But I read something today that came across my transom on Twitter via Ms. Young by one Chihiro Onitsuka at VGChartz entitled "Journalism Is Dead" providing an unusual perspective on the matter. Armored as she is against the charge of owning a penis, her interactions with various media outlets is telling:
As I am myself a woman in the games industry - one that has worked on a number of major blockbuster titles - I have been approached a number of times from news outlets such as the BBC and several US news stations requesting an interview, and each and every time this has happened I have been asked various questions about my experiences in the industry and "what I think about how Anita has been treated", and each and every time when I have made my opinions clear, the desire to interview me moves swiftly from wanting to nail down a specific day and time to conduct it to "thanks for your time, we'll be in touch", which is seemingly journalist lingo for "you don't have the right opinions we want to share, bye".
Onitsuka has a sharp take on the cultural reasons for the hostility of so-called "gaming journalism" sites covering that beat (Kotaku, TechCrunch, Polygon, even to some degree Ars Technica, etc.) to their purported audience versus that of the actual game publishers: it all comes down to dollars.
To developers and publishers, gamers are potential customers and something they need in order to stay in business, The gaming media, on the other hand, sees gamers as a commodity; a page impression and potential advertising click, and thus a revenue stream. By acting as the aggressor the resulting argument draws in both gamers and social warriors for a grand battle, all the while they stand back and watch with glee as their views and ad revenue both increase.
It's a cynical approach, but expanding the audience to taking the side of people who are in fact hostile to your nominal audience makes good business sense. I just can't think of a single place elsewhere this has been tried; imagine Daily Kos running essays favoring Donald Trump or Jeb Bush while decrying the state of the Democratic Party.  Onitsuka then turns her guns to Anita Sarkeesian and the gaming press that plays along with her; she claims (without linking to) Polygon's 5/10 rating for Mad Max was entirely due to political considerations, i.e. it contained scantily clad women, one of Sarkeesian's perpetual bugaboos. (In fairness, Philip Kollar does cite that consideration ["The closest thing Mad Max has to a female lead... is a concubine for the villain and a love interest for Max"], but other reviewers have been similarly harsh on the game and for reasons of tedious game play, e.g. Chris Suellentrop in Kotaku.)

To her credit, Onitsuka waded into the residual Twitter wars still lingering, and found label-based argumentation is bullshit, per usual, and on both sides, but then she dropped a phrase I hope will have real staying power:
All of this, combined with the lust for being in the news, on the news, and at the center of news reports themselves, has led me to coin this approach to "feminism" as "Commercial feminism", where the plight of feminism and equality is exploited for commercial gain.
She's on to something. Whether Title IX "rape" adjudication (which seeks ever more picayune dating fiascoes to police) or Anita Sarkeesian and her shrill, ceaseless criticisms of others' efforts that has remarkable staying power as a business model — both are parasitic attempts to garner sinecures atop or adjacent to others' work. Both are best thought of as jobs programs for their advocates, fueled by a shift to a victimhood culture that can only end badly. Predictably with both, the size of the offenses diminish over time; as Jonathan Haidt observes,
... [A]s progress is made toward a more equal and humane society, it takes a smaller and smaller offense to trigger a high level of outrage. The goalposts shift, allowing participants to maintain a constant level of anger and constant level of perceived victimization.
This ability to turn even the tiniest of faults into epic screechfests means Sarkeesian will be in the green for a good long while; patriarchy means never having to examine your first principles.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The English Shepherd Club's Open Registry: Doing Studbooks Better

The breed club for my own dogs, the English Shepherd Club, recently launched a new website for breeders, which includes my friend Heather Houlahan's impassioned jeremiad for the (then-new) ESC open registry. Unlike the AKC and virtually all other registries, the ESC is open because it satisfies two particular requirements:
  1. The data is openly visible to all.
  2. Dogs not in the registry may be registered based on consensus. That is, does the dog appear to satisfy knowledgeable individuals that it is an English Shepherd?
The post, of course, is worth reading in its entirety, but I wanted to focus on the final graf because of its importance:
...[W]e need to step away from the weird “pedigree as a valuable secret” attitude that has been deliberately fostered by IESR and UKC — especially the former. The only way to break their stranglehold on information is to give it away en masse to those who will make it available for free. Breeders who jealously guard the information that they have picked your pocket for is exactly what allows them to charge hundreds of dollars for a few names on a sheet of paper. It’s a liberating act to make that information free. (Remember that urban legend about the Neiman-Marcus cookie recipe? There’s a reason that people take such glee in freely passing around a recipe that they believe someone was “robbed” — or at least overcharged — to acquire. Now the Neiman-Marcus story is made up — but there’s a greater truth behind the legend, which is that the empowering response to being ripped off is not to rip someone else off in turn, but to deny the holdup artist the ability to do it to someone else.) But more than individually liberating — sharing pedigree information is a cost-free way to conserve the future of the breed.
 I hasten to add that this is by no means a complete solution; a closed studbook is ultimately fatal, whether by good intentions or not. And with the kind of holes that the ESC has in its studbook (speaking from experience, as I have extensively examined them), there are a lot of potential problems, up to and including misleading coefficient of inbreeding (COI) calculations. But the relatively promiscuous approach of the ESC, compared to its AKC brethren, put them head and shoulders above most other breed clubs (and not a few arrogant ignoramuses) in this regard.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

"De Minimus Non Curat Lex, Bro": Scott Greenfield On Campus Rape Tribunals

A great piece from Scott Greenfield on the subject of rape court grand inquisitors:
In a twit, K.C. Johnson pulled out a bit from lawprof Paul Gowder’s comment to Tamara Lave’s post at PrawfsBlawg that looks, well, just horribly bad.
Honestly, I’m not even sure why we need an adversary process at all. In light of the fact that the fundamental purpose of such process is to exclude individuals who prey on these closed communities, it seems reasonable as a first-pass to me to have an inquisitorial process in which accusations are investigated by neutral trained professional staff, and then action is taken based on an overall conclusion as to the impact that that student’s presence would have on the learning environment.
Posted by: Paul Gowder | Sep 3, 2015 12:49:05 PM

The notion of an “inquisitor” has a bad rap, harkening back to the Spanish Inquisition, though in other countries, the inquisitorial system is the norm and, if done properly, isn’t such a terrible thing. By “done properly,” I mean that the inquisitor is truly a “neutral trained” person.

Gowder’s idea sounds horrible for two reasons, the first being that he contorts the purpose by saying “[I]n light of the fact that the fundamental purpose of such process is to exclude individuals who prey on these closed communities.” That’s one of those “begging the question” assertions, since no one knows whether the accused “preys” on anyone until after it has been determined that a wrong has occurred and the accused is the person who committed the wrong.

But worse, Gowder conflates the harm envisioned by our imaginings of dangerous rapists with the reality of what colleges call sexual assault. Assuming Gowder’s right, then most of the accused shouldn’t be subject to inquisition because their conduct has nothing to do with preying on anyone.  Claims of consensual sex with, say, post-hoc regret, or a beer and a claim of intoxication, don’t fit his “preying” fact, so nothing to see here, everybody go home.

The other part of his inquisitorial notion is that, as a “first pass,” with the next pass inclusive of appropriate due process protections, it should vet the bad claims out if the inquisitor was, indeed, neutral and trained. The problem is that they are trained, but trained to condemn, rationalize common excuses for evidentiary lapses, see rape and sexual assault in every contact, and believe the accuser no matter what. That ain’t exactly neutral.
No, it's not. The parallel manufacture of kangaroo courts for rape cases on campus is a disaster for due process and the men who suffer under such broad definitions. As Greenfield says, "You’re a survivor of an attempt to hold your hand? That’s what it’s come to, what these researchers intend to include to prove their desired outcomes?" 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Repost: A Brief Look Into "Not In Labor Force" Statistics

Originally posted June 2, 2012.
One of the stronger arguments made by Reason regarding the nature of the late recovery has been that the unemployment figures are padded downward by decreases in the labor participation rate. That is to say, a reduced labor pool also reduces unemployment. As an example of this, imagine you have 15 people, eight of whom are employed, five of whom are "not participating in the labor force" for whatever reason, and two of whom are unemployed but looking. This means the unemployment rate in this group is 20% (2/10). But say one of those unemployed people becomes discouraged and stops looking for work. They now are part of the "not participating" group, and now unemployment becomes 1/9, or 11%. With only a definitional change, unemployment has been nearly halved, and so we apparently see a similar sort of thing going on with BLS data.

I wanted to look more closely at the labor participation rate, which in turn is based on the "not in labor force" numbers (NILF hereafter). The BLS keeps four different subcategories of NILF data in addition to the overall total, but the BLS data seems to treat them all as subcategories of "want a job if they could have one", so I will do the same. (If I'm misreading this, please let me know.)

The upshot of this is that while the "Want A Job Now" pile does indeed continue to grow, the overall "Not In Labor Force" figures are growing even faster, and is on a fairly consistent ascent. One likely cause for this is the retirements of the Baby Boom generation, which would have been foreseeable. Indeed, Dean Calbreath alerted me to this possibility in another discussion when in 2002 the BLS projected this very scenario (PDF).

So what's the takeaway from all this? It's not clear to me. On the one hand, if the bulk of the increase in non-participants were from the "want a job" pile, the answer would be quite obvious: they've become stymied by the poor labor market. On the other hand, even if we assume that 100% of the growth in the rest of NILF is a function of retirees, that's a lot of people to be taking out of the labor market, and presumably, people who are at or near the peak of their earning potential. From a productivity standpoint, that means you've lost their brains in the work force; from a spending standpoint, they're downshifting their spending to match their newer circumstances. Neither are particularly good for the economy.

Update 6/7/12: One additional thought, something I should probably research: among the NILF, how many are really discouraged workers who are counted as retirees? Given what we know about how little Americans are saving for retirement, I do wonder whether a lot of baby boomers wouldn't take a job if they could find one, but because they are officially (and permanently) retired they don't count as being part of the labor force.

What Does "Fair" Mean In Sexual Differences?

Megan McArdle mars an otherwise fine piece on sexual differences with this graf:
It wouldn't prove that we can stand pat even if we've realized that we've reached a place where female and male brain differences are accounting for most of the difference in workplace outcome. If male brains do a better job at certain things -- say, competition or negotiating -- then the answer might be "we need to restructure the economy so that it better rewards female talents." Science can tell you what is. It cannot tell you what ought to be. And after all, gents, we are the majority. Fair is fair.
Once you've decided on arbitrary visions of "fair", you're lost. This, fundamentally, is an argument with the idea of competence. How do you make the world "fair" save by imposing outcomes you prefer on third parties who otherwise wouldn't decide in the manner you chose as "fair"? Is it "fair" that there are vastly more male Nobel laureates than female? Shall we distribute track times in this way, too? What about death rates? The world is what it is, and trying to erase fundamental, biologically determined (and thus arrived at via evolution) sexual differences with arbitrary notions of "fairness" will not produce good outcomes, for either sex. I fear McArdle here is subject to the same problems we so often see in modern feminism, in that she looks up at the men with status and power, but ignores the ones beneath her who have nothing or vastly less than her, anyway.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Histamine Reaction To Choice

Meagan Tyler gripes about "choice feminism" because it doesn't comport with her vision of what feminism is or ought to be, and then:
First of all, the choice arguments are fundamentally flawed because they assume a level of unmitigated freedom for women that simply doesn’t exist. Yes, we make choices, but these are shaped and constrained by the unequal conditions in which we live. It would only make sense to uncritically celebrate choice in a post-patriarchal world.
Since the religious tenet of "patriarchy" cannot be measured, it also cannot be dispelled or dispatched.
Second, the idea that more choices automatically equate to more freedom is a falsehood. This is essentially just selling neo-liberalism with a feminist twist. Yes, women can now work or stay at home if they have children, for example, but this “choice” is fairly hollow when child-rearing continues to be constructed as “women’s work”, there is insufficient state support for childcare, and childless women are decried as selfish.
The idea that women might choose to be mothers and homemakers is apparently lost on her, but it is evident in the Swedish labor market, where women — with enormous paid maternity benefits — nevertheless elect to remove themselves from higher-paying positions in favor of jobs with more schedule flexibility. And if she's waiting for everyone to agree with her choices, guess what: that's not gonna happen, either, just as she disagrees with a lot of other women's choices. (But apparently it's okay when she does it.) It turns out her big problem with "choice feminism" is that it's not Marxist enough:
It doesn’t demand significant social change, and it effectively undermines calls for collective action. Basically, it asks nothing of you and delivers nothing in return.
The first sentence is true, the second false. Collective action won't address women who don't go into STEM careers, who decide to become mothers and drop out of the labor market, thus pulling down overall female wages earned and contributing to the bogus "wage gap". "Social change" in this context demands special treatment for women, and only women; choice feminism says women need to be grownups and own their lives and the choices made therein. Blaming "society" for every bad thing infantilizes women, claiming they can't change anything unless everyone agrees to their utopian worldview. Imagine, for instance, Nellie Bly or Amelia Earhart subscribing to that nonsense; it's impossible. Ayn Rand said, “The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me.” The modern feminist says, "I can't, because all these people might stop me."

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Everything Is Bullying

I ran into Julia Shaw's two year old essay on why marrying young was a good idea (at least for her):
Marriage wasn’t something we did after we’d grown up—it was how we have grown up and grown together. We’ve endured the hardships of typical millennials: job searches, job losses, family deaths, family conflict, financial fears, and career concerns. The stability, companionship, and intimacy of marriage enabled us to overcome our challenges and develop as individuals and a couple. We learned how to be strong for one another, to comfort, to counsel, and to share our joys and not just our problems.
Marriage, as she sees it, is a strength in her own life. So, go, her, though it appears her marriage just proves a rule from recent research that there's considerable evidence that marrying or cohabiting before age 23 is likely to result in a breakup, while marriages/cohabitations set up after that age are statistically much stronger. But mostly, what I wanted to treat was Amanda Marcotte's predictably silly reaction to Shaw's essay, and in particular, this:
Not that any of this matters anyway. Watching conservatives desperately try to bully women into younger marriage with a couple of promises and a whole lot of threats is highly entertaining but clearly not persuasive.
The word I take issue with there is "bully". How is Shaw "bullying" anyone? Is she harassing Marcotte, or anyone else for that matter? Or is it simply that arguing in favor of a life you have led and love that has brought you happiness you wish to share with others amounts to contradicting Marcotte's third-wave feminist narrative, and thus wrongthink? Feminism has become totalitarian and expansionist in its dotage, as witness this cartoon about makeup (!); "the personal is the political" is really just another way of saying, "get in line, you".

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Mandatory University Of Kentucky Study Finds Vastly Lower Sexual Assault Numbers

It shouldn't be surprising that a mandatory University of Kentucky survey (more than 24,000 respondents) found a mere five percent of students had been sexually assaulted over the course of the last year. Even that's probably overstating things, given the frequent, intentional conflation of "rape" (forcible penetration) and "sexual assault", which has a vastly broader (and frequently, non-criminal) definition:
Regarding sexual violence specifically, students were asked about “unwanted sexual experiences” in the past year. These experiences were defined using federal reporting criteria, and included incapacitation due to alcohol or drugs (whether voluntarily taken or slipped into a drink), threats of harm, physical force, as well as escaping from attempts to force sex. Based on these measures, 4.9 percent of UK students reported experiences of sexual assault.
But, as The College Fix observes, it does not count "unwanted kissing or sexual touching", a principle feature of other surveys, which unsurprisingly garner much higher and invariant numbers over time. This won't gain traction among those pushing the "college rape crisis" myth, but it should prove ample ammunition anywhere else.