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Monday, March 31, 2014

Terrifying Inequality

The French economist Thomas Piketty is concerned about growing income and wealth inequality:
[I]f current trends continue, “the consequences for the long-term dynamics of the wealth distribution are potentially terrifying.”
We're doomed! Doomed, I tell you, Dooooomed!!!

Errr, well, what are these terrifying consequences?  Scanning the article, I don't see any terrifying consequences at all.

The article above is in a nice liberal rag, The New Yorker, so I decided to go to that bastion of conservative thought, the New York Times, which summarizes the current understanding of inequality's effects thusly:
For all the brain power thrown at the problem since then, however, specific evidence about inequality’s effects has been hard to find.
Apparently, terrifyingly hard to find. As a result, folks like Piketty seem to have decided they might as well jump on every little terrifying possibility:
“People that worry about inequality for normative reasons have been very quick to jump on plausible hypothesis and a little bit of evidence to make sweeping conclusions about its consequences,” Professor Kenworthy told me.
Professor Kenworthy himself had been hoping to write a terrifying book on inequality's impacts, but disappointingly (for him), couldn't really find anything that would hold up to close scrutiny:
To avoid misleading correlations and better isolate inequality’s impact, Mr. Kenworthy studied its evolution over time, comparing how changes in income concentration across the world’s industrialized nations related to changes in a whole set of social and economic outcomes, from growth and employment to health and educational attainment.He came up mostly empty-handed: “My tests suggest it seems to be a small player in the overall story.”
Professor Stiglitz notes that the United States grew faster during the decades of low inequality immediately after World War II than it did after inequality started rising in the 1980s. But Mr. Kenworthy finds no meaningful impact of inequality on growth one way or the other. “Income inequality isn’t the only thing that differed between these two periods,” he said.
Similarly, Mr. Kenworthy found no significant relationship between increasing inequality and life expectancy, infant mortality or college graduation rates, among others. Even when some patterns do mesh — teenage pregnancy rates fell a little more slowly in countries where the share of income going to the top 1 percent grew fastest — the relationship is weak. If you take the United States and Britain off the list, the relationship disappears.
The relationship between inequality and the alleged stagnation of others' incomes is also not yet terrifying according to a colleague of Kenworthy:
“Most economists don’t feel there’s a logical mechanism that really is persuasive” linking the rise of the 1 percent and the stagnation of incomes for the rest, Professor Jencks said.
Even though hardly terrifying, Mr. Jencks still thinks we should take action:
Mr. Jencks describes the state of the debate between friends and foes of inequality in these terms: “Can I prove that anything is terrible because of rising inequality? Not by the kind of standards I would require. But can they prove I shouldn’t worry? They can’t do that either.”
That, alone, is enough to spur action. “Something that looks bad is coming at you,” he said. “Saying that we shouldn’t do anything about it until we know for sure would be a bad response.”
So not terrifying, but hey, something looks bad. So. We. Must. Do. Something!

And there's no doubt in my mind that "something" involves reduced freedom, bigger government, and more taxes. What a surprise!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Guess the author

In short, we repudiated all versions of the doctrine of original sin, of there being insane and irrational springs of wickedness in most men.  We were not aware that civilization was a thin and precarious crust erected by the personality and the will of a very few, and only maintained by rules and conventions skillfully put across and guilefully preserved.  We had no respect for traditional wisdom or the restraints of custom.  We lacked reverence ... for everything and everyone.  It did not occur to us to respect the extraordinary accomplishment of our predecessors in the ordering of life (as it now seems to me to have been) or the elaborate framework which they had devised to protect this order.  ...   As cause and consequence of our general state of mind we completely misunderstood human nature, including our own.  The rationality which we attributed to it led to a superficiality, not only of judgement, but also of feeling.


author: John Maynard Keynes

Although Keynes showed some willingness to change his mind when the facts changed, his near certitude expressed on many matters left me in the position of being rather stunned to learn of this quote.  It is particularly relevant for the conflict of visions that are at the heart of many disagreements that underlay policy differences and differing attitudes towards the desirability of limited government.

A slightly more extended excerpt is here.  A video from which I became aware of this quote is here (with a slightly extended version of the quote starting around 18:00).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Ever Deeper in Political Correctness

I know most of the readers here also read Instapundit, so you're probably at least vaguely familiar with a recent kerfuffle at UCSB between a small "pro-life" group and a professor:
Dr. Mireille Miller-Young — an associate professor with UCSB’s Feminist Studies Department — approached the demonstration site and exchanged heated words with the group, taking issue with their pro-life proselytizing and use of disturbing photographs. Joan claimed Miller-Young, accompanied by a few of her students, led the gathering crowd in a chant of “Tear down the sign! Tear down the sign!” before grabbing one of the banners and walking with it across campus.
While wrong and probably in violation of the law, acting out on the basis of strong emotion is neither surprising nor can I get too worked up about it since no one was significantly hurt.  What's slightly more surprising and definitely more disconcerting, is that after the heat of the moment passed, Miller-Young still believed herself to be the victim. From the police report:
I asked Miller-Young what crimes she felt the pro-life group had violated. Miller-Young replied that their coming to campus and showing “graphic imagery” was insensitive to the community. I clarified the difference between University policy and law to Miller-Young and asked her again what law had been violated. Miller-Young said that she believed the pro-life group may have violated University policy. Miller-Young said that her actions today were in defense of her students and her own safety. 
Miller-Young said that she felt that this issue was not criminal and expressed a desire to find a resolution outside of the legal system. Miller-Young continued and stated that she had the “moral” right to act in the way she did. 
I asked Miller-Young if she could have behaved differently in this instance. There was a long pause. “I’ve said that I think I did the right thing. But I acknowledge that I probably should not have taken their poster.” Miller-Young also said that she wished that the anti-abortion group had taken down the images when they demanded them to. 
Miller-Young also suggested that the group had violated her rights. I asked Miller-Young what right the group had violated. Miller-Young responded, “My personal right to go to work and not be in harm.”
I guess free speech can be traumatic and "harmful" to others.  And many rallied to Miller-Young's defense.  For example, from the Belmont Club:
Stephanie Gilmore at The Feminist Wire lost no time in supporting Miller-Young, describing what happened to the professor as “domestic terrorism is intended ‘to intimidate or coerce a civilian population’” — meaning Miller-Young —  from feeling safe at her workplace."
Domestic terrorism? Wow. A couple of signs at a small, peaceful rally or bombs and jetliners flown into buildings.  Apparently, much the same.  Afterall, they do say that the pen is mightier than the fuel-laden jumbo jet.

But it turns out that Ms. Gilmore herself then stepped beyond the politically correct pale of the left by proclaiming:
But I stand with Mireille Miller-Young because she stands with women – ALL women – in the face of political intimidation and harassment.
As Heidi Cautrell pointed out in a comment to Ms. Gilmore's article:
“stand with” is abelist toward those who are unable to stand.
I hate to admit it, but I had no idea what "ableism" was prior to following the above thread.  In case you were also equally unenlightened, here is the definition:
a form of discrimination or social prejudice against people with disabilities. It may also be referred to as disability discrimination, physicalism, handicapism, and disability oppression. It is also sometimes known as disablism, although there is some dispute as to whether ableism and disablism are synonymous, and some people within disability rights circles find the latter term’s use inaccurate. Discrimination faced by those who have or are perceived to have a mental disorder is sometimes called mentalism rather than ableism.
By now I am so far into the unknown that I hardly know which way is up. Take any active verb and there's probably someone who can't do it.  If so, perhaps ableism should be called active-verbism?  What a crazy world.  As is often the case, I found much of Belmont Club's commentary on this topic insightful:
“Abelist” is a word from the world of Mireille Miller-Young, Stephanie Gilmore and Heidi Cautrell. If you don’t recognize the word, you might be forgiven. The Left is another country. They do things differently there. Even the words are different. The inhabitants of that strange country routinely refer to objects you might not recognize. They talk about Whiteness Theory, Phallogocentrism, Gynocriticism, and the Écriture féminine as you would WD-40, grass, spare tires or doorknobs.  They are everyday objects of their world though you may never have heard of them. 
If it has never occurred to you that to use the phrase “to stand with” is a mortal insult then you’re not with it. [...]
The inhabitants of the strange country take umbrage for reasons known only to themselves and it’s all that matters. It’s a clash of cultures, a collision between one part of America and another. 
The pro-life demonstrators holding up their poster can be forgiven for thinking they were still in America. After all they had crossed no marked boundaries. So they thought it was alright to peaceably assemble. But in reality they had wandered into the precincts of some strange tribe where such things are not tolerated; a kind of Twilight Zone; a place governed by mysterious customs, prey to obscure taboos and worshipping some monstrous, unnamed  idol. Everything was different there. Thus what followed was predictable. 
When Mireille Miller-Young snatched away the banner from Joan and Thrin Short, she was doing no more than fulfilling her tribal duty, defending her “workplace” against some interloper from Flyover Country, rumored to exist somewhere beyond the borders of the University of California, a place imbued with strange ideas about the First Amendment and the Constitution. [...] 
Neither Mireille Miller-Young nor the Short sisters are bad people judged by the standards of their own cultures. But they are different cultures.  Mireille Miller-Young has a simple desire: not to stop until her tribe conquers all the rest. And in that she is just as ordinary; just as commonplace, just as unimaginative as any tribesperson who ever lived in the long and doleful history of the world.
I disagree with the last sentence though.  I could never be so imaginative to create such a convoluted and crazy world.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Delayed Informative Speculamatation: MH370 is a Precedented, Prosaic Tragedy

Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 disappeared two days before I left on a trip that left me no time for blogging, so at the time I was scarcely able to delve into that stygian space between speculation and cogitation on the whats and whys. (Much of what follows comes from an email I dashed off to a friend of mine on March 11th, just before heading for the airport. This, too, is a bit dashed.)

At first I didn't pay it much mind, since I automatically assumed that some group had managed to get a bomb on board and blow the thing up. However, after a day without finding any debris, as improbable as it might be, the lack of debris from a 600,000 pound airplane along the route of flight could only mean one thing: it wasn't there.

Then I saw this graphic showing the last ATC radar contact with MH370.

Hmmm. The moment I saw it, I had that very ugly feeling that comes along with being among the first (excluding airline pilots) to know how a terrible tragedy transpired.

This is a screen shot from my iPad showing the first part of the route to Beijing. The coordinates I marked are essentially in the same place as shown in that graphic.

I have flown out of Penang (WMKP, about 180NM northwest of Kuala Lumpur, WMKK). At a glance, it was obvious that the last radar hit was at the boundary between Malaysian and Vietnamese airspace.

Someone specifically picked that point to turn off the transponder, because at that point MH370 was no longer Malaysian ATC's responsibility, and it would be awhile until Vietnam realized MH370 didn't check in because of a botched handoff, but rather due to something far worse. Because airliners (almost) never willfully deviate from assigned routing, everyone immediately assumed crash.

Meanwhile, as it turns out, the plane was flying southwesterly along the Flight Information Region boundary between Malaysia and Thailand.

(Air Traffic Control radars do not display primary (i.e., reflections from the aircraft itself) radar returns. Rather, they show transponder information (Callsign, altitude, airspeed) at the primary return location. However, military radars, since they are looking for things not announcing themselves, would see primary returns. That accounts for the discrepancy between ATC and mil radars about what they saw. What remains unexplained is that if the plane went southwest to west, it would have gone through an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) without air defense trying to identify it. (I have no idea what Jakarta's or Malaysia's air defense capabilities are.) UPDATE: The Malaysian has plenty of capability, and even more complacency.

Therefore, someone intentionally diverted MH370, and knew precisely where to do it in order provide the maximum time until someone noticed. In and of itself, that is not particularly arcane knowledge. Nor is the primary automation (heading and altitude controls on the glare shield control panel). Plenty of people have enough "hands-on" experience with the B777 via personal computer based simulation to have understood what needed doing (Here is an example of how detailed these things are.)

So, in theory, at this point it is well within the realm of reason that a great many people, sufficiently motivated, could have pirated the airplane.

However, there are other facts demanding attention.

The first, and most important, is the Intrusion Resistant Cockpit Door (IRCD) installed on all airliners since 9/11. The odds of someone getting onto the flight deck without cooperation from the other side of the door are extremely small; not quite zero, but so close as to render any piracy by that avenue so unlikely as to deter the attempt.

Second, and nearly as fundamental, once commandeered, then what? Per the 9/11 plot, the airplane should have been used as a missile.

Except it wasn't.

That still leaves the possibility that the plan was to disappear the airplane for some future horror show, perhaps, or especially, including 249 human shields.

Yet this raises further obstacles. To bring some such atrocity to fruition would first require bringing the airplane back to earth in a reusable condition. In order to attain that end, at least 5,000 feet of runway is essential. At night, that runway would have to be lit (for a manual landing) or have an Instrument Landing System. GPS will get an airplane in the close vicinity of a runway, but isn't suitable for an automated landing. An ILS is extremely precise, but the citing and operational requirements are extremely demanding. So in the former case, a very skilled pilot is required; in the latter, the facility requirements are so demanding that there is no possibility of a 777 showing up unnoticed. Yet given the extreme improbability of breaching the IRCD, the only source of a skilled pilot (Asiana not withstanding) is the flight deck. And there are hardly any runways that meet the most minimal requirements and could hide an unnoticed B777.

In the words of Sir Conan Doyle, via Sherlock Holmes, having eliminated the impossible, whatever is left, no matter how improbable, is the explanation.

MH370 is both precedented and prosaic.

The only non-impossible explanation is that one of the pilots commandeered the airplane. It has happened. Someone I met flew an A10 into a mountain west of Denver. An Egypt Air pilot committed suicide, and took 217 people with him. A FedEx pilot attempted to kill the crew with the goal of crashing the plane into the Memphis hub. A Singaporean Captain likely crashed a B737.

So this the least unlikely sequence of events. On some pretext, one of the pilots got up out of the seat approaching the handoff point, grabbed the crash axe and killed the other pilot. That pilot then turned off the transponder, flew along a course most likely to exploit military radar complacency, and used cockpit circuit breakers to remove power from almost all the aircraft reporting systems. (All of this was glaringly apparent by March 11th.)

Then he flew the airplane to one of the most remote parts of the planet and committed suicide.

Sexist Math Nerd Humor

In mathematics, a manifold is "a topological space that is connected and locally Euclidean," that is to say flat and predictable, at least in the region of interest.

But what if it's still curvy and unpredictable locally? Would that be a womanifold?

Back to the Garden of Eden

Many people are concerned about (allegedly) increasing inequality and some people are concerned about fertility rates permanently decreasing to below non-replacement leading to eventual extinction of the human species.  While I'm not personally worried about either of those issues, the good news is that there are long term forces that may eliminate both of these "problems."

I base this on the glorious and well-known (though not universally accepted) fact that stupid people have more children than smart people:
Demographic studies have indicated that in humans, fertility rate and intelligence tend to be inversely correlated, that is to say, the more intelligent, as measured by IQ tests, exhibit a lower total fertility rate than the less intelligent.
We're getting stupider at a pretty good clip:
Retherford and Sewell examined the association between the measured intelligence and fertility of over 9,000 high school graduates in Wisconsin in 1957, and confirmed the inverse relationship between IQ and fertility ..., they calculated a dysgenic decline of .57 IQ points per generation.
So that's 20 to 30 IQ points per millennium, making a person of average intelligence, one-thousand years from now, borderline imbecilic.

And probably plenty fertile.

The intelligence range of humans will probably be quite compressed as well.  That has the added benefit of compressing inequality since nobody will be smart enough to "get ahead" and humans will eventually become one big happy tribe wallowing in the muck in a new Garden of Eden, where ignorance and stupidity is bliss.

Hopefully, no one will then be stupid enough to eat the fruit of knowledge and bring the numerous problems associated with intelligence upon humanity again.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Oh The Possibilities!

One of my facebook friends posted the following:
Sitting next to a woman in Starbucks with her toddler and I overhear her say "Yes, someday you will marry a nice woman." 
How sad. Not only is she not allowing for the fact that maybe her son is gay and might marry a man [...]
I started to chuckle as I imagined the poor woman trying to explain the full range of LGBT options to her toddler: "Someday you might marry a nice woman - or a man, or you might have a sex-change operation in which case you could still marry either the man or the woman but it would be a little different, or by the time you grow up anti-polygamy laws will probably be repealed in which case you could marry one of each, or two of each, or heck, go for a dozen of each, and you could live on a sheep farm and..."  I don't know, but given the complexity of possibilities and the fact that even where gay marriage is allowed there are still one-hundred times as many hetero marriages as gay ones, I can't blame the woman for playing the odds and keeping the explanation as simple as possible. Hopefully, if the toddler does end up gay, he'll not be forever traumatized by this one conversation with his mom.

I'll be you all can quickly guess which city in the United States this woman lives in.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Challenge Accepted

Harry, being the local stand-in for progressives everywhere, frequently hauls out the racist slime bucket, which, subject to merely cursory examinations, has thus far proved completely empty.

The goal, right out of Alinsky's playbook, is to demonize dissent, stifle disagreement, and force those too stupid or evil to accept Progressives' glorified self-estimation into defending themselves against scurrilous nonsense.

This time, though, they have heartless conservatives dead to rights. Via Harry(page search on "heartless"), and provided by that bastion of unexamined ideas, ThinkProgress, comes this clip from a GOP presidential primary debate, entitled "Crowd Yells Let Him Die":

Yep, no doubt about it, conservatives are heartless.

Hmmm. Instead of indulging progressives in their leaping to self-congratulatory conclusions, perhaps it might be worth a few seconds to — and I know this sounds extreme — consider facts, context, and consequences.

Wolf Blitzer asks Ron Paul this question, slightly paraphrased:

A healthy 30 year old young man has a good job makes a good living, but decides not to spend 200 or 300 dollars per month for health insurance because he's healthy, decides he doesn't need it, but something terrible happens, who pays for that?

Ron Paul's response focused on freedom and personal responsibility.

To which Blitzer replies:

But Congressman, are you saying society should just let him die?

First, a couple trivial facts. As it happens, the crowd clearly did not yell "let him die" even once, never mind, pace Harry, chant it; instead, it was Blitzer himself. Oh, and Think Progress Instead of Accuracy cut off the bulk of Ron Paul's response. Dowdification is strong in progressives.

Where reality is allowed to rear its ugly head, several people in the crowd did in fact yell "yes" in response to Blitzer's prompting. Which really isn't the same, or even remotely like, the crowd chanting it. But never mind, in this case I'm happy to take progressive feelings as a stand-in for reality, and that heartless conservatives really want to let him die.

Which is precisely where progressive thinking, such as it is, stops, and reaching for the slime bucket starts.

Perhaps, though, there is rather more going on here than the instant offense brigade either understands, or acknowledges.

Remember the question's context: a healthy young man who could afford to purchase health insurance instead rolls the bones, and loses.

Now what? To Blitzer, who is so steeped in progressivism he, despite having a great deal of time to prepare still asked the wrong question, the answer he is trying to trap Ron Paul into giving is obvious: society must step in.

To non-progressives, though, this isn't the least bit apparent. For those who don't buy earthquake, fire, or flood insurance, should society be on the hook if their house is knocked down, burned to a crisp, or swept away? For those who neglect to pay for car insurance, should society pony up to replace for the unlucky their rides that ended up nose first in the jersey wall?

What those "heartless conservatives" are reacting to, and progressives can't spot, is a question that, shorn of its emotional baggage is asking precisely this: what do the rest of us owe parasites?

Progressives' reflexive accusation of conservative heartlessness, instead of even casting a glance at the underlying situation, proves they are unable to ascertain the moral hazard that is at the heart of socialism. It inevitably rewards vice, penalizes virtue, makes personal responsibility worse than futile, and positively encourages dependency.

In that light, "yes" isn't heartless, but rather an expression of the seemingly obvious. The best way to get more of something is to pay for it. If the goal is to make responsibility the inferior option to shirking, then by all means subsidize the parasite.

While at the individual level being compassionate with other people's money may be emotionally appealing, it isn't perhaps the acme in heartlessness to not be wild about an entire society like the feckless hypothetical.

So why do progressives keep trotting out these transparently fallacious instigations for two minutes hate? Only one reason I can think of: progressivism is a religion that worships the sanctity of progressivism. Because it is self-evidently correct, everything that at first glance confirms the wonderfulness of progressives to themselves is ipso facto true.

And just like unquestioning religionists throughout history, nothing, not even their own repeated failures (Robertson, Justine Sacco, Carlton, Walker staff emails, this video, to name but a few of the most recent examples), will either stop their drive to demonize, or start them thinking.