Quotulatiousness

December 20, 2014

“The Freight Yard” – New York Central Railroad

Filed under: Business, History, Railways, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 00:03

Uploaded on 14 Apr 2011

New York Central Railroad (NYC) publicity film from the late 1940’s, part of their “Running the Railroad” series. Archival footage shows freight yards of all types, along with steam and diesel locomotives.

The New York Central Railroad (NYC), known simply as the New York Central in its publicity, was a railroad operating in the Northeastern United States. Headquartered in New York, the railroad served most of the Northeast, including extensive trackage in the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Massachusetts, plus additional trackage in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. The railroad primarily connected greater New York and Boston in the east with Chicago and St.Louis in the midwest along with the intermediate cities of Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Detroit. The NYC’s Grand Central Terminal in New York City is one of its best known landmarks.

December 19, 2014

Mark Steyn on the collapse of moral fibre at Sony

Filed under: Asia, Business, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

Mark Steyn is never one to hold back an opinion:

I was barely aware of The Interview until, while sitting through a trailer for what seemed like just another idiotic leaden comedy, my youngest informed me that the North Koreans had denounced the film as “an act of war”. If it is, they seem to have won it fairly decisively: Kim Jong-Un has just vaporized a Hollywood blockbuster as totally as if one of his No Dong missiles had taken out the studio. As it is, the fellows with no dong turned out to be the executives of Sony Pictures.

I wouldn’t mind but this is the same industry that congratulates itself endlessly — not least in its annual six-hour awards ceremony — on its artists’ courage and bravery. Called on to show some for the first time in their lives, they folded like a cheap suit. As opposed to the bank-breaking suit their lawyers advised them they’d be looking at if they released the film and someone put anthrax in the popcorn. I think of all the occasions in recent years when I’ve found myself sharing a stage with obscure Europeans who’ve fallen afoul of Islam — Swedish artists, Danish cartoonists, Norwegian comediennes, all of whom showed more courage than these Beverly Hills bigshots.

While I often find Mark Steyn’s comments amusing and insightful, the real lesson here may not be the spineless response of Sony, but the impact of a legal system on the otherwise free actions of individuals and organizations: if Sony had gone ahead with the release and someone did attack one or more of the theatres where the movie was being shown, how would the legal system treat the situation? As an act of war by an external enemy or as an act of gross negligence by Sony and the theatre owners that would bankrupt every single company in the distribution chain (and probably lead to criminal charges against individual theatre managers and corporate officers)? While I disagree with Sony’s decision to fold under the pressure, I can’t imagine any corporate board being comfortable with that kind of stark legal threat … Sony’s executives may have been presented with no choice at all.

I see that, following the disappearance of The Interview, a Texan movie theater replaced it with a screening of Team America. That film wouldn’t get made today, either.

Hollywood has spent the 21st century retreating from storytelling into a glossy, expensive CGI playground in which nothing real is at stake. That’s all we’ll be getting from now on. Oh, and occasional Oscar bait about embattled screenwriters who stood up to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee six decades ago, even as their successors cave to, of all things, Kim’s UnKorean Activities Committee. American pop culture — supposedly the most powerful and influential force on the planet – has just surrendered to a one-man psycho-state economic basket-case that starves its own population.

Kim Jong-won.

Eugene Volokh makes some of the same points that Steyn raises:

Deadline Hollywood mentions several such theater chains. Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security stated that there was “no credible intelligence” that such threatened terrorist attacks would take place, but unsurprisingly, some chains are being extra cautious here.

I sympathize with the theaters’ situation — they’re in the business of showing patrons a good time, and they’re rightly not interested in becoming free speech martyrs, even if there’s only a small chance that they’ll be attacked. Moreover, the very threats may well keep moviegoers away from theater complexes that are showing the movie, thus reducing revenue from all the screens at the complex.

But behavior that is rewarded is repeated. Thugs who oppose movies that are hostile to North Korea, China, Russia, Iran, the Islamic State, extremist Islam generally or any other country or religion will learn the lesson. The same will go as to thugs who are willing to use threats of violence to squelch expression they oppose for reasons related to abortion, environmentalism, animal rights and so on.

Rape culture

Filed under: Government, Law, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 00:02

Michael Brendan Dougherty on the real rape culture in the United States:

… we don’t have to descend to the netherworld of Greek life to find evidence of an insidious rape culture. There are indeed state-supported institutions where gang rape is used as ritual initiation. There are institutional authorities that meet this culture with indifference or outright support. And we file the poor souls of this system under the heading: deserving victims. We joke in ways that suggest that if these rape victims did not want it, they should never have put on a prison uniform.

In this manner, rape is treated as a feature of our justice system when it happens to prisoners, rather than what it is: another grave crime.

[…]

Statistics on rape are notoriously unreliable. In or out of prison, victims often fear reporting on their assailants. And so the above statistics are likely to underestimate the problem. But we do know that once you include the prison population, men are raped more often in the United States than women.

In prison, men may become the victim of repeated gang rapes. Prisoners can be locked into cells with the men who prey on them. Some live under the constant threat of sexual assault for decades. Their efforts to report their rape are ignored or even punished, both by prison personnel and an inmate culture that destroys “snitches.” The threat of rape is so pervasive it causes some inmates to “consent” to sex with certain prisoners or officers as a way of avoiding rape by others.

Acceptance of prison rape is a stinking corruption. No conception of justice can include plunging criminals into an anarchic world of sexual terror. And obviously it thwarts any possibility of a rehabilitative justice that aims to restore criminals to lawful society. Inmates are not improved or better integrated into society through physical and psychological torture.

QotD: The twin rise and fall of unions and manufacturing

Filed under: Business, Economics, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Unions only help if the underlying economic situation is that the employer is able to charge a great deal more for the amount of product generated per worker-hour than the worker is getting — there is headroom for the worker’s wage to expand into while the manufacturer still makes a net profit. (If the manufacturer doesn’t make a net profit the business collapses and nobody gets paid.)

During the age that manufacturing nostalgisists remember nostalgically, this was true. For most of that period (roughly 1870-1970), the capital goods required to manufacture in a way price-competitive with the U.S. were so expensive that almost nobody outside the U.S. could afford them, and in the few places that could they were mainly preoccupied with supplying their domestic markets rather than the U.S. World War II prolonged this period by hammering those “few places” rather badly.

In that environment, U.S. firms could profit-take hugely, benefited by being scarce suppliers not just to the U.S. but (later on) to the whole world. And unions could pry loose enough of that margin to make manufacturing jobs comfortably middle-class.

All that ended in the early 1970s. A good marker for the change is the ability of the Japanese to make cheap cars for export and sell them for the U.S.

In the new world, the profit margins on manufactured goods narrowed dramatically. The manufacturing firms could no longer effectively ignore overseas competition in the U.S. domestic market. U.S. consumers no longer had to to pay the large price premiums required to sustain domestic manufacturing wages at pre-1970 levels, and they jumped right on that option.

In this environment, unions don’t help because they have almost no negotiating room. If they bid up workers’ wages, the jobs will evaporate or move overseas – not because corporations are being “greedy” but because they can no longer charge the prices that would allow such high wages to be sustained. Too much foreign labor and capital is ready to pounce on the first hint of price-taking.

Eric S. Raymond, “Why labor unions have lost their moxie”, Armed and Dangerous, 2014-11-29.

December 18, 2014

“[C]onservatives are underrepresented in academia because they don’t want to be there, or they’re just not smart enough to cut it”

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:55

The advantage of the quote in the headline is that it allows the person saying it to feel more positive about his or her own worldview, while side-stepping the real issue. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry looks at a new report that addresses this issue:

I have had the following experience more than once: I am speaking with a professional academic who is a liberal. The subject of the under-representation of conservatives in academia comes up. My interlocutor admits that this is indeed a reality, but says the reason why conservatives are under-represented in academia is because they don’t want to be there, or they’re just not smart enough to cut it. I say: “That’s interesting. For which other under-represented groups do you think that’s true?” An uncomfortable silence follows.

I point this out not to score culture-war points, but because it’s actually a serious problem. Social sciences and humanities cannot be completely divorced from the philosophy of those who practice it. And groupthink causes some questions not to be asked, and some answers not to be overly scrutinized. It is making our science worse. Anyone who cares about the advancement of knowledge and science should care about this problem.

That’s why I was very gratified to read this very enlightening draft paper [PDF] written by a number of social psychologists on precisely this topic, attacking the lack of political diversity in their profession and calling for reform. For those who have the time and care about academia, the whole thing truly makes for enlightening reading. The main author of the paper is Jonathan Haidt, well known for his Moral Foundations Theory (and a self-described liberal, if you care to know).

Although the paper focuses on the field of social psychology, its introduction as well as its overall logic make many of its points applicable to disciplines beyond social psychology.

The authors first note the well-known problems of groupthink in any collection of people engaged in a quest for the truth: uncomfortable questions get suppressed, confirmation bias runs amok, and so on.

But it is when the authors move to specific examples that the paper is most enlightening.

Admiral Grace Hopper

Filed under: History, Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

The US Naval Institute posted an article about the one and only Admiral Grace Hopper earlier this month to mark her birthday:

The typical career arc of a naval officer may run from 25-30 years. Most, however, don’t start at age 35. Yet when it comes to Rear Adm. Grace Hopper, well, the word “typical” just doesn’t apply.

Feisty. Eccentric. Maverick. Brilliant. Precise. Grace Hopper embodied all of those descriptions and more, but perhaps what defined her as much as anything else was the pride she had in wearing the Navy uniform for 43 years. Ironically, Rear Adm. Grace Hopper — “Amazing Grace” as she was known — had to fight to get into the Navy.

Grace Brewster Murray was born into a well-off family in New York on Dec. 9, 1906. She could have followed what many of her peers did during those times: attending college for a year or two, getting married then devoting their lives to their families and volunteer work.

Instead, Grace’s path would be less traveled. Encouraged to explore her innate curiosity on how things worked, a 7-year-old Grace dismantled all of the family’s alarm clocks trying to put them back together again. Rather than banishment from the practice, she was allowed one to practice on.

[…]

When she joined the WAVES in December 1943, Lt. j.g. Grace Hopper was 37 years old. Williams noted that after graduating at the top of her class of 800 officer candidates in June 1944, Hopper paid homage to Alexander Wilson Russell, her great-grandfather, the admiral who apparently took a “dim view of women and cats” in the Navy and laid flowers on his grave to “comfort and reassure him.”

Hopper was sent to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard University under the guidance of Howard Aiken. The Harvard physics and applied mathematics professor helped create the first Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (ASCC), better known as Mark I. He ran a lab where design, testing, modification and analysis of weapons were calculated. Most were specially trained women called computers. “So the first ‘computers’ were women who did the calculating on desk calculators,” Williams said. And the time it took for the computers to calculate was called “girl hours.”

What happened next put Hopper on a new path that would define the rest of her life, according to a passage in the book Improbable Warriors: Women Scientists in the U.S. Navy during World War II also by Williams.

On July 2, 1944, Hopper reported to duty and met Aiken.

“That’s a computing engine,” Aiken snapped at Hopper, pointing to the Mark I. “I would be delighted to have the coefficients for the interpolation of the arc tangent by next Thursday.”

Hopper was a mathematician, but what she wasn’t was a computer programmer. Aiken gave her a codebook, and as Hopper put it, a week to learn “how to program the beast and get a program running.”

Hopper overcame her lack of programming skills the same way she always tackled other obstacles; by being persistent and stopping at nothing to solve problems. She eventually would become well-versed in how the machine operated, all 750,000 parts, 530 miles of wire and 3 million wire connections crammed in a machine that was 8-feet tall and 50-feet wide.

A mandatory registry that might actually do some good

Filed under: Law, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

At Reason, Ed Krayewski suggests that a Police Offenders Registry might be an excellent start to reduce some of the worst interactions between the police and the public they are supposed to serve:

This week, the Department of Justice announced new guidelines against racial profiling. The changes don’t actually change all that much. As regular incidents of police brutality get more and more mainstream media attention, it’s time for a bold move from the White House.

There’s a moral obligation to keep bad cops off the streets. A job with a police department is not a right and shouldn’t be treated like one. Police unions that push for permissive rules that end up protecting bad cops pose a serious public safety threat. Nevertheless, dismantling them where they’ve taken root is a difficult prospect even in the long-term. There are other ways to keep bad cops off the streets. The federal government, and state governments, ought to create and encourage the use of a police offender registry list. Such a list would register individuals who while employed as law enforcement officers were found unfit for duty or faced serious disciplinary issues they may have resigned to avoid. Just as any other component of comprehensive police reform, this won’t eliminate excessive police violence, but it’s a start.

When actually identified, a surprising (or not) number of officers involved in controversial, high-profile use of force incidents have previously disciplinary history. Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the New York City cop who put Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold, had been previously accused, at least twice, of racially-motivated misconduct, including strip searching a man in the middle of the street and allegedly hitting his testicles. The police union in New York City is among the strongest in the country. When a rookie cop shot Akai Gurley in apparent panic last month, he didn’t think twice to reportedly contact his union rep first. A man lay dying in a stairwell for no other reason that he startled a rookie, and the fact that the officer called his union representative before calling for assistance isn’t shocking enough to lead to the officer’s termination. Even if it were, it would still be impossible to terminate the officer immediately. While all this is happening, the state of New York is on the verge of placing even more of the disciplinary regime that applies to cops under the purview of the police unions.

December 16, 2014

America’s “terribly warped justice system”

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

Conrad Black talks (partly from first-hand experience) of how badly served the United States is by its justice system:

… everyone in the United States, from the president and the wealthiest and most admired citizens down, is, in some measure, a victim of this now terribly warped justice system. No one is safe and everyone pays for it. The legal cartel is riveted on the back of the country like a horse-leech and extracts $1.8 trillion a year from the American economy as the legislators and regulators add 4,000 new measures with weighty sanctions each year, for the delectation of their confrères at the bar. At any time, 1 percent of the entire adult population is incarcerated, at a cost of about $150 billion annually and usually in unconstitutionally inhuman conditions; another 6 or so percent of all adults, male and female, are awaiting conviction (99.5 percent of those tried are convicted, an absurdly implausible number rivaled only by North Korea) or are under supervised release by often pettifogging probation officers at further great cost to the country. There are 48 million convicted felons in the United States, and even if decades-old unstigmatizing offenses such as failing a breathalyzer or being disorderly at a fraternity party are omitted, this means that approximately 15 percent of American adult males are designated felons. This is an absurd and barbarous number achieved by equal-opportunity multi-ethnic injustice, albeit unevenly applied. It presents African Americans a chance to form an invincible coalition in whose victory they would be the principal winners.

Though evidence of police and prosecution abuse pours in through the media every week, the majority of Americans, personally unaffected by the failings of the system, complacently believes that they live in a society of laws envied by the world. Neither supposition is correct. The United States has six to twelve times as many incarcerated people per capita as other prosperous democracies: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom. This appalling state of affairs has developed gradually over the last 40 years, as the percentage of prosecutions resolved by (very often) abusive applications of the plea-bargain system without a trial has risen from about 80 (an unheard of number in other democratic countries) to 97. The percentage of incarcerated people among the population has multiplied by five in that time, so the U.S. today has 5 percent of the world’s people, but 25 percent of its incarcerated people (and 50 percent of its lawyers – counting only those countries in which a serious professional entry course is required to practice that occupation).

The Supreme Court has sat like a shelf of suet puddings while the criminal-justice system has become a conveyor belt to the country’s bloated and corrupt prison system, and lawyers have become an immense industry, hiding its avarice behind a fog of insipid pieties about the rule of law (which, as the phrase was meant by the authors of the Bill of Rights, can scarcely be said to exist in the U.S.). New York federal judge Jed S. Rakoff wrote in the New York Review of Books on November 20 that the traditional American notion of the day in court is “a mirage” because of the corruption of the plea-bargain system, in which inculpatory evidence is extorted from witnesses in exchange for immunity from prosecution, including for perjury. Every week there is some new exposé of horror stories of prosecutorial abuse, yet prosecutors enjoy an absolute immunity, even when it is revealed that they have committed crimes of obstruction of justice, as in the infamous Connick v. Thompson decision of 2011: An innocent man spent 14 years on death row because prosecutors willfully withheld DNA evidence they knew would, and ultimately did, acquit him; the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly overruled the damage award to the wrongfully convicted Mr. Thompson on a spurious technicality.

QotD: Gentlemen and politics

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

I do not say that a gentleman may not thrust himself into politics under democracy; I simply say that it is almost impossible for him to stay there and remain a gentleman … If he retains his rectitude he loses his office, and if he retains his office he has to dilute his rectitude with the cologne spirits of the trade … the man of native integrity is either barred from the public service altogether or subjected to almost irresistible temptations after he gets in.

H.L. Mencken, Notes on Democracy, 1926.

December 14, 2014

Jonah Goldberg on the Gruber hearings

Filed under: Government, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

In this week’s Goldberg File, Jonah Goldberg talks about the show Jonathan Gruber put on in front of some Washington political types:

I learned from Twitter this morning that Gustave Flaubert, born this day in 1821, said, “The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” So, as Jay-Z says every morning he enters a music studio and as Joe Biden says every time President Obama gives him a fresh 64-pack of crayons, “Let’s make some art, bitches.”

Let’s start with Jonathan Gruber. I have to say I was disappointed by the hearings. Oh, sure, it was good theater-as-human sacrifice of the sort Washington does so well (though I am glad they stopped short of rectal rehydration).

But this was one of those moments where they really could have put the system on trial. Gruber’s consistent answer was that he’s a shabby, shallow, little man who belittles others, including the American people, to make himself look good. “I tried to make myself seem smarter by demeaning others.”

In almost every exchange, Gruber fell back on language you’d expect from a stockbroker tied up in an S&M dungeon. I did it because I am a flea! A worm! I am no master of the universe, I am nothing! Punnnniissshhh meee!

All that was missing were some riding-crop and melted-candle-wax welts, and maybe a shorn scrotum. But, hey man, it’s a defense.

But it’s not a good one. You can blame your arrogance for calling the American voters stupid, but you can’t blame your arrogance for claiming that the bill was designed to hide taxes and deceive the public. If I stab someone 34 times, the jury might want to hear about my arrogance, but whether I’m arrogant or humble, it doesn’t change what I did — and apologizing for it doesn’t clarify where the body is buried.

Gruber’s strategy of emotional self-abasement was very clever because it distracted from the central arguments of fact.

[…]

As for Gruber, he said this week that he wasn’t an architect of Obamacare. And yet, for several years he let the New York Times, The New Republic, PBS, and countless other media outlets describe him as exactly that. That label was of great financial value to him. But it was probably of greater social, psychological, and professional value. And that is probably why he seems to have not once taken the time to ask them to stop calling him that. Gruber is of a class of people who take great satisfaction from the belief that they are not only smarter and better than normal Americans, but that their superiority entitles them to manipulate the public and system in whatever way they think necessary.

There’s another reason Gruber never corrected anybody when they described him as an architect of Obamacare: Because it’s true!

Which leads to another important point: Gruber’s a huge, monumental, Brobdingnagian liar.

To believe his testimony before Congress is to believe that on one occasion after another, he baldly lied over and over again to his peers, colleagues, students, and friends. Darrell Issa sort of gets at this here at the end of Gowdy’s interrogation when he asks Gruber, “Did anybody come up to you and tell you that what you were saying was inappropriate?”

That’s an interesting question and tells you a lot about the sovereign contempt the expert class has for the American people. But a better question would be, “Why didn’t anybody correct you on your factual claims? Or simply say ‘What you’re saying isn’t true’?” Gruber was on panels with other health-care experts. The audiences were full of people who were deeply informed about Obamacare and all its details. And yet no one said, “Hey, that’s not the way it happened.” Why? Because Gruber was telling the truth when he said they had to deceive the American people. And before you ask me what proof I have, I would like to direct you to the fact that Barack Obama deceived the American people over and over and over again when he said things like “You can keep your doctor” and “You can keep your insurance” etc. (and not one liberal journalist cheerleader for Obamacare ever felt compelled to push back on this obvious lie). Are we really so stunned that the same president might be willing to play accounting games with the CBO?

Sure maybe Gruber exaggerated his role or involvement. Maybe he embellished this or that. But you can’t exaggerate a lie; you can only exaggerate the truth. For years he told the truth to anyone who would listen, and now that it’s politically problematic he says it was all a lie.

So we’re forced to choose: Was he lying when talking to countless audiences full of peers, colleagues, and experts, or was he lying in front of Congress in order to save his team any further embarrassment and preserve a law he’s sincerely proud of (because he was an architect of it)? Personally, I think you’d have to be too stupid to beat Joe Biden at tic-tac-toe to think the “real” Gruber testified before Congress this week. But whichever side you come down on this question, one thing has been established: He’s a huge liar.

December 13, 2014

Tobacco – 480,000. Alcohol – 88,000. Marijuana – > 0

Filed under: Health, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:06

It’s ridiculous to claim that smoking marijuana is a healthy habit. It does increase the risk of certain kinds of cancers, although the numbers are not huge, they’re also not zero. Jacob Sullum says “Marijuana Kills! But Not Very Often. Especially When Compared to Alcohol and Tobacco.

In a new Heritage Foundation video, anti-pot activist Kevin Sabet bravely tackles “the myth that marijuana doesn’t kill.” Although cannabis consumers (unlike drinkers) do not die from acute overdoses, he says, “marijuana does kill people” through suicide, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, car crashes, and other accidents.

I won’t say Sabet is attacking a straw man, since overenthusiastic cannabis fans have been known to say that “marijuana doesn’t kill anyone” (although the top Google result for that phrase is an article by Sabet explaining why that’s not true). But I will say that Sabet manages to obscure the fact that marijuana does not kill people very often, especially compared to the death tolls from legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol, which is the relevant point in evaluating the scientific basis for pot prohibition. Let’s take a closer look at the four ways that marijuana kills, according to Sabet:

Suicide. Some research does find a correlation between suicide and marijuana use, but that does not mean the relationship is causal. A longitudinal study published by The British Journal of Psychiatry in 2009 reached this conclusion:

    Although there was a strong association between cannabis use and suicide, this was explained by markers of psychological and behavioural problems. These results suggest that cannabis use is unlikely to have a strong effect on risk of completed suicide, either directly or as a consequence of mental health problems secondary to its use.

Furthermore, there is some evidence that letting patients use marijuana for symptom relief reduces the risk of suicide. Still, if reefer has ever driven anyone to kill himself, that would be enough to prove Sabet’s point. You can’t say it has never happened!

QotD: Political careers

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Out of the muck of … swinishness the typical American law-maker emerges. He is a man who has lied and dissembled, and a man who has crawled. He knows the taste of boot-polish. He has suffered kicks in the tonneau of his pantaloons.

He has taken orders from his superiors in knavery and he has wooed and flattered his inferiors in sense. His public life is an endless series of evasions and false pretences. He is willing to embrace any issue, however idiotic, that will get him votes, and he is willing to sacrifice any principle, however sound, that will lose them for him. I do not describe the democratic politician at his inordinate worst; I describe him as he is encountered in the full sunshine of normalcy.

H.L. Mencken, Notes on Democracy, 1926.

December 12, 2014

Modern parenting: just go right ahead, dear, Mommy’s got your back

Filed under: Randomness, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

Amy Alkon didn’t enjoy her most recent flight … but not because of the TSA goons, scheduling issues, or the ordinary wear and tear of flying. It was an encounter with the most modern, up-to-date parenting style:

I’ll take snakes on a plane. Snakes are quiet.

Last Saturday, I woke up at 4 a.m. to fly to an event across the country. “I’ll sleep on the plane,” I told myself. And no, I wasn’t being naive.

I came prepared: I had my “asshole-canceling headphones” (big Bose over-the-ear “cans”), industrial-grade earplugs to wear underneath, and an iPhone with selections of white noise.

The cute blonde 3-year-old seated in front of me wasn’t a screamer. She was a talker — in a tone and volume appropriate for auditioning for the lead in “Annie.”

I figured she would quiet down after takeoff. She did not. And, sadly, even $300 worth of Bose technology was no match for this kid’s pipes. After about 20 sleep-free, “SUN’LL COME OUT TOMORROW!!” minutes into the flight, I leaned forward and whispered to the child’s mother, “Excuse me, could you please ask your little girl to be a little quieter?”

“No,” the woman said.

No?

No?!

Lucky me, seated behind another proud purveyor of “go-right-ahead!” mommying. And in case you’re wondering, I didn’t ring the call button to “tattle” on her. Those uniformed men and women walking the plane are flight attendants, not nursery school dispute resolution experts. Also, a mother who sees no reason to actually, you know, parent, is unlikely to start because a lady with a pair of wings pinned to her outfit tells her she should.

We experience more and more of this these days — parents who apparently see any correction of their children’s behavior as a form of abuse. We have “parents” like this in my neighborhood. Throughout the day, through closed windows, you can hear this horrible high-pitched screaming. No, nobody’s taken up urban goat slaughter. Those are the impromptu audio stylings of their 3-year-old going underparented.

December 11, 2014

Megan McArdle on whether we should “automatically” believe rape accusations

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

Megan McArdle isn’t impressed by the statement from Zerlina Maxwell in the Washington Post: “We should believe, as a matter of default, what an accuser says. Ultimately, the costs of wrongly disbelieving a survivor far outweigh the costs of calling someone a rapist.”.

Where to begin with this kind of statement?

For one thing, even an outlandish accusation would not exactly be cost-free; it could be devastating. There would be police interviews, professional questions. As Maxwell blithely notes in the piece, the accused might be suspended from his job. Does he have enough savings to live on until the questions are cleared? Many people don’t. What about the Google results that might live on years after he was cleared? Sure, he can explain them to a prospective girlfriend, employer, or sales prospect. But what if they throw his communication into the circular file before he gets a chance to explain? What about the many folks who will think (encouraged by folks like Maxwell) that the accusation would never have been made if he hadn’t done something to deserve it?

But while the effect on the accused is one major problem with uncritically accepting any accusation of rape, it is not the only problem. There’s another big problem — possibly, an even bigger one: what this does to the credibility of people who are trying to fight rape. And I include not only journalists, but the whole community of activists who have adopted a set of norms perhaps best summed up by the feminist meme “I believe.”

[…]

So let’s look at how these sorts of rules are actually being applied to rape victims on campus. Emily Yoffe’s new article on how these cases are being handled is an absolute must-read to understand this landscape. Seriously, go read it right now and come back. I’ll still be here.

What do you see in this article? People are frustrated by rape on campus and want it to stop. Their frustration is righteous, their goal laudable. In the name of this goal, however, they are trying to drive the rate of false negatives down to zero, and causing a lot of real problems for real people who are going through real anguish that goes far beyond weeping in the doctor’s office. The main character is a boy who had sex with a friend. According to his testimony and that of his roommate (who was there, three feet above them in a bunkbed), the sex was entirely consensual, if extremely ill-advised. According to Yoffe, after the girl’s mother found her diary, which “contained descriptions of romantic and sexual experiences, drug use, and drinking,” the mother called the campus and announced that she would be making a complaint against the boy her daughter had sex with. Two years later, after a “judicial” process that offered him little chance to tell his side, much less confront his accuser, he is unable to return to school, or to go anywhere else of similar stature because of the disciplinary action for sexual assault that taints his record.

As I’ve written before, the very nature of rape makes these problems particularly difficult. On campus, especially, sexual assaults usually offer no physical evidence except that of an act that goes on hundreds of times every day, almost always consensually, at those campuses. It involves only two witnesses, both of whom were often intoxicated.

December 10, 2014

US child poverty is bad … but nowhere near as bad as they say

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

Tim Worstall debunks a headline statistic from earlier this month:

We’ve a new report out from the Mailman School of Public Health telling us that in some urban parts of the US child poverty is up at the unbelievable rates of 40, even 50% or more. The problem with this claim is that it’s simply not true. Apparently the researchers aren’t quite au fait with how poverty is both defined and alleviated in the US. Which is, when you think about it, something of a problem for those who decide to present us with statistics about child poverty.

[…]

Everyone else [in the world] (as well as using a relative poverty standard, usually below 60% of median earnings adjusted for family size) measures poverty after the effects of the tax and benefits systems on alleviating poverty. So, in my native UK if you’re poor you might get some cash payments (say, unemployment pay), some tax credits, help with your housing costs (housing benefit we call it), reduced property taxes (council tax credit) and so on. Whether you are poor or not is defined as being whether you are still under that poverty level after the effects of all of those attempts to alleviate poverty.

In the US things are rather different. It’s an absolute standard of income (set in the 1960s and upgraded only for inflation, not median incomes, since) but it counts only market income plus direct cash transfers to the poor before measuring against that standard. Thus, when we measure the US poor we do not include the EITC (equivalent of those UK tax credits, indeed our UK ones were copied from the US), we do not include Section 8 vouchers (housing benefit), Medicaid, we don’t even include food stamps. Because the US measure of poverty simply doesn’t include the effects of benefits in kind and through the tax system.

The US measure therefore isn’t the number of children living in poverty. It’s the number of children who would be in poverty if there wasn’t this system of government alleviation of poverty. When we do actually take into account what is done to alleviate child poverty we find that it’s really some 2-3% of US children who live in poverty. Yes, that low: the US welfare state is very much child orientated.

(Emphasis mine)

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