November 5, 2015

Do you have a sufficient supply of pronouns yet?

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

Another link I saved a while back and then didn’t get around to using until now:

A private Southern California women’s college now offers students eight different gender pronoun options from which to select, expecting professors and others on campus to use the choices.

The Claremont-based Scripps College, nicknamed “The Women’s College,” offers the gender pronoun options to students through its online student portal accounts. Students use a drop-down menu to select their preference from ten choices – eight of which are various gender pronoun sets such as “Hu, Hum, Hus,” “Per, Pers, Perself” and “Ze, Zir, Zir.” The other two are “none” and “just my name.”

Once students select their preference, a note of it appears on class rosters and other documents informing professors and others.

Though an all-female institution, the drop-down list does not default to the “She, Her, Hers, Herself” option, but instead, “Select Pronoun.” In fact, the choices are listed in alphabetical order, which places the traditional “she/hers” choice as the seventh possibility.

The list of options, along with phonetic pronunciations for the less frequently used choices, was provided to The College Fix by a campus official:

    1. E/Ey, Em, Eir/Eirs, Eirself/Emself (A, M, ear, ears, earself)
    2. He, Him, His, Himself
    3. Hu, Hum, Hus, Humself (hue like HUman,/hue-m like HUMan, hue-s, hue-mself)
    4. Just My Name Please
    5. None
    6. Per, Per, Per/Pers, Perself (per/purr, pers, perself)
    7. She, Her, hers, Herself
    8. They, Them, Their/Theirs, Themse
    9. Ze, Hir, Hir/Hirs, Hirself (zee, hear, hears, hearself)
    10. Ze, Zir, Zir/Zirs, Zirself (zee, zeer, zeers, zeerself)

September 18, 2015

What is killing small US businesses? Compliance costs and regulatory overstretch

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Okay, perhaps the headline is a bit strong, but Warren Meyer explains why even “small” businesses need to be bigger than ever in order to be able to file all the appropriate government forms, rather than concentrating on serving their customers and growing their client base:

Over the last four years or so we have spent all of this capacity on complying with government rules. No capacity has been left over to do other new things. Here are just a few of the things we have been spending time on:

  • Because no insurance company has been willing to write coverage for our employees (older people working seasonally) we were forced to try to shift scores of employees from full-time to part-time work to avoid Obamacare penalties that would have been larger than our annual profits. This took a lot of new processes and retraining and new hiring to make work. And we are still not done, because we have to get down another 30 or so full-time workers for next year.
  • The local minimum wage movement has forced us to rethink our whole labor system to deal with rising minimum wages. Also, since we must go through a time-consuming process to get the government agencies we work with to approve pricing and fee changes, we have had to spend an inordinate amount of time justifying price increases to cover these mandated increases in our labor costs. This will just accelerate in the future, as the President’s contractor minimum wage order is, in some places, forcing us to raise camping prices by an astounding 20%.
  • Several states have mandated we use e-Verify on all new employees, which is an incredibly time-consuming addition to our hiring process.
  • In fact, the proliferation of employee hiring documentation requirements has forced us through two separate iterations of a hiring document tracking and management system.
  • The California legislature can be thought of as an incredibly efficient machine for creating huge masses of compliance work. We have to have a whole system to make sure our employees don’t work over their meal breaks. We have to have detailed processes in place for hot days. We have to have exactly the right kinds of chairs for our employees. We have to put together complicated shifts to meet California’s much tougher overtime rules. Just this past year, we had to put in a system for keeping track of paid sick days earned by employees. We have two employee manuals: one for most of the country and one just for California and all its requirements (it has something like 27 flavors of mandatory leave employers must grant). The list goes on and on. So much so that in addition to all the compliance work, we also spent a lot of work shutting down every operation of ours in California, narrowing down to just 3 contracts today. There has been one time savings though — we never look at any new business opportunities in CA because we have no desire to add exposure to that state.

Does any of this add value? Well, I suppose if you are one who considers it more important that companies make absolutely sure they offer time off to stalking victims in California than focus on productivity, you are going to be very happy with what we have been working on. Otherwise….

September 5, 2015

Raising the minimum wage also means raising prices for many retailers

Filed under: Business, Economics, Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Louis DeBroux on the plight of some marginal businesses in California who are seeing lower support from their customers as they raise prices to ensure they can keep paying their current employees at the new mandated minimum wage:

Earlier this year, labor unions in Los Angeles whipped up low-wage workers into a frenzy with demands for a minimum “living” wage of $15 per hour. They achieved their goal and the $15/hour wage bill was signed into law. This was supposed to be a huge victory for the workers (though, it should be noted, within days of the law going into effect, the same labor unions that lobbied for the $15/hour minimum wage were lobbying government for an exemption for union companies, so that union companies could pay well below the new minimum wage).

Even so, some California business owners decided to show solidarity with the cause of low-wage workers, significantly increasing their starting wage of their own volition.

Vic Gumper, owner of Lanesplitter Pizza (with stores in Albany, Berkeley, Oakland, and Emeryville, California), voluntarily raised wages for his employees to between $15 to $25 per hour. In order to cover the cost of the higher “living” wage, Gumper began advertising $30 “living wage pizzas” to his customers, which include patrons from the Pixar Animation Studios and biotech companies located near his shops. In doing so he declared these pizzas “sustainably served, really … no tips necessary”.

The result? Sales have dropped by 25% as liberals in these communities have balked at having to pony up more money for the pizzas. The hit has been so significant that Gumper has had to close during lunch hour at several locations (think about that…a restaurant that has to close during LUNCH because it can’t afford to stay open!).

Gumper says that “The necessity of paying a living wage in the Bay Area [which has one of the highest costs of living in the nation] is clear, so it’s hard to argue against it, and it’s something I’m really proud to be able to try doing…At the same time, I’m terrified of going out of business after 18 years.”

There really isn’t a free lunch … if you use the power of government to raise the costs of doing business, either the local businesses pass on that increased cost by way of the prices they charge to their customers or they economize by reducing their labour costs (and the number of employees they support). A more drastic solution is going out of business or moving out of the jurisdiction: neither of which is typically considered during the legislative process.

July 26, 2015

The problems when you try to resolve complicated discrimination problems with laws

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

Warren Meyer explains why he — who organized and lead an effort to legalize gay marriage in Arizona — is not reflexively in favour of using the blunt force of the law to “solve” problems of discrimination:

There are multiple problems with non-discrimination law as currently implemented and enforced in the US. Larger companies, for example, struggle with disparate impact lawsuits from the EEOC, where statistical metrics that may have nothing to do with past discrimination are never-the-less used to justify discrimination penalties.

Smaller companies like mine tend to have a different problem. It is an unfortunate fact of life that the employees who do the worst job and/or break the rules the most frequently tend to be the same ones with the least self-awareness. As a result, no one wants to believe their termination is “fair”, no matter how well documented or justified (I wrote yesterday that I have personally struggled with the same thing in my past employment).

Most folks grumble and walk away. But what if one is in a “protected group” under discrimination law? Now, not only is this person personally convinced that their firing was unfair, but there is a whole body of law geared to the assumption that their group may be treated unfairly. There are also many lawyers and activists who will tell them that they were almost certainly treated unfairly.

So a fair percentage of people in protected groups whom we fire for cause will file complaints with the government or outright sue us for discrimination. I will begin by saying that we have never lost a single one of these cases. In one or two we paid someone a nominal amount just to save legal costs of pursuing the case to the bitter end, but none of these cases were even close.


To make all this worse, many employees have discovered a legal dodge to enhance their post-employment lawsuits (I know that several advocacy groups in California recommend this tactic). If the employee suspects he or she is about to be fired, they will, before getting fired, claim all sorts of past discrimination. Now, when terminated, they can claim they where a whistle blower that that their termination was not for cause but really was retaliation against them for being a whistle-blower.

I remember one employee in California taking just this tactic, claiming discrimination just ahead of his termination, though he never presented any evidence beyond the vague claim. We wasted weeks with an outside investigator checking into his claims, all while customer complaints about the employee continued to come in. Eventually, we found nothing and fired him. And got sued. The case was so weak it was eventually dropped but it cost us — you guessed it — about $20,000 to defend. Given that this was more than the entire amount this operation had made over five years, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and led to us walking about from that particular operation and over half of our other California business.

June 3, 2015

The great Los Angeles minimum wage experiment

Filed under: Business, Economics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

I missed this post a few weeks back from Kevin Drum at Mother Jones, pointing out that we won’t really know the full impact of the Los Angeles experiment with significantly higher minimum wages:

So my near neighbor of Los Angeles is poised to raise the minimum wage to $15. How should we think of that?

Personally, I’m thrilled. Not because I think it’s a slam-dunk good idea, but because along with Seattle and San Francisco it will give us a great set of natural experiments to figure out what happens when you raise the minimum wage a lot. We can argue all we want; we can extrapolate from other countries; and we can create complex Greek-letter models to predict the effects — but we can’t know until someone actually does it.

So what do I think will happen? Several things:

In the tradeable sector, such as clothing piece work and agriculture, the results are very likely to be devastating. Luckily, LA doesn’t have much agriculture left, but it does have a lot of apparel manufacture. That could evaporate completely (worst case) or perhaps migrate just across the borders into Ventura, San Bernardino, and other nearby counties. Heavier manufacturing will likely be unaffected since most workers already make more than $15.

In the food sector, people still need to eat, and they need to eat in Los Angeles. So there will probably be little damage there from outside competition. However, the higher minimum wage will almost certainly increase the incentive for fast food places to try to automate further and cut back on jobs. How many jobs this will affect is entirely speculative at this point.

Other service industries, including everything from nail salons to education to health care will probably not be affected much. They pretty much have to stay in place in order to serve their local clientele, so they’ll just raise wages and pass the higher prices on to customers.

Likewise, retail, real estate, the arts, and professional services probably won’t be affected too much. Retail has no place to go (though they might be able to automate some jobs away) while the others mostly pay more than $15 already. The hotel industry, by contrast, could easily become less competitive for convention business and end up shedding jobs.

While I’m certainly in favour of people being able to afford to live on their base income, I’m afraid that this experiment is going to hurt a lot of already at-risk poor people who will have few other options if their jobs go away. I’m especially amused that LA-area union reps are now reported to be pushing to exempt the businesses where their members work (so that unions will have an effective monopoly on low-wage jobs because non-unionized companies would have to pay a higher wage). That, after putting all their organizational muscle behind getting the minimum wage raised in the first place. That’s a high grade of cynicism.

May 29, 2015

QotD: Buying modern indulgences for Silicon Valley billionaires

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

Silicon Valley is an American success story. At a time of supposed American decline, a gifted group of young entrepreneurs invented, merchandized, and institutionalized everything from smartphones and eBay to Google and Facebook. The collective genius within a small corridor from San Francisco to Stanford University somehow put hand-held electronics into over a billion households worldwide — and hundreds of billions of dollars in profits rolled into Northern California, and America at large.

Stranger yet, Silicon Valley excelled at 1950s-style profit-driven capitalism while projecting the image of hip and cool. The result is a bizarre 21st-century 1-percenter culture of $1,000-a-square-foot homes, $100,000 BMWs, and $500 loafers coexisting with left-wing politics and trendy pop culture. Silicon Valley valiantly tries to square the circle of driving a Mercedes or flying in a Gulfstream while lambasting those who produce its fuel.

But the paradox finally has reached its logically absurd end. In medieval times, rich sinners sought to save their souls by buying indulgences to wash away their sins. In the updated version, Silicon Valley crony capitalists and wheeler-dealers buy exemption for their conspicuous consumption with loud manifestations of cool left-wing politics.

Victor Davis Hanson, “The Valley of the Shadow: How mansion-dwelling, carbon-spewing cutthroat capitalists can still be politically correct”, National Review, 2014-07-22.

May 21, 2015

QotD: Silicon Valley hypocrisies

The point of reviewing these hypocrisies is not to suggest that the rich profit-makers of Silicon Valley are any greedier or more cutthroat than the speculators of Wall Street or the frackers of Texas, but merely that they are judged by quite different standards. Cool — defined by casual dress, hip popular culture, and the loud embrace of green energy, gay marriage, relaxation of drug laws, and other hot-button social issue — means that one can live life as selfishly as he pleases in the concrete by sounding as communitarian as he can in the abstract. Buying jet skis is as crass a self-indulgence as buying an even more expensive all-carbon imported road bike is neat.

If Silicon Valley produced gas and oil, built bulldozers, processed logs, mined bauxite, or grew potatoes, then the administration, academia, Hollywood, and the press would damn its white-male exclusivity, patronization of women, huge material appetites, lack of commitment to racial diversity, concern for ever-greater profits, and seeming indifference to the poor. But they do not, because the denizens of the valley have paid for their indulgences and therefore are free to sin as they please, convinced that their future days in Purgatory can be reduced by a few correct words about Solyndra, Barack Obama, and the war on women.

Practicing cutthroat capitalism while professing cool communitarianism should be a paradox. But in Silicon Valley it is simply smart business. The more money you make, any way you can make it, the more you can find ways of contextualizing it. At first these Silicon Valley contradictions were amusing, then they were grating, and now they are mostly just pathetic.

Victor Davis Hanson, “The Valley of the Shadow: How mansion-dwelling, carbon-spewing cutthroat capitalists can still be politically correct”, National Review, 2014-07-22.

May 15, 2015

This is why California’s water shortage is really a lack of accurate pricing

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

David Henderson explains:

Of the 80 million acre feet a year of water use in California, only 2.8 million acre feet are used for toilets, showers, faucets, etc. That’s only 3.5 percent of all water used.

One crop, alfalfa, by contrast, uses 5.3 million acre feet. Assuming a linear relationship between the amount of water used to grow alfalfa and the amount of alfalfa grown, if we cut the amount of alfalfa by only 10 percent, that would free up 0.53 million acre feet of water, which means we wouldn’t need to cut our use by the approximately 20 percent that Jerry Brown wants us to.

What is the market value of the alfalfa crop? Alexander quotes a study putting it at $860 million per year. So, assuming, for simplicity, a horizontal demand curve for alfalfa, a cut of 10% would reduce alfalfa revenue by $86 million. (With a more-realistic downward-sloping demand for alfalfa, alfalfa farmers would lose less revenue but consumers would pay more.) With a California population of about 38 million, each person could pay $2.26 to alfalfa growers not to grow that 10%. Given that the alfalfa growers use other resources besides water, they would be much better off taking the payment.

May 2, 2015

A revolutionary fix for California’s water problems – pricing

Filed under: Economics, Environment, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Last month, Megan McArdle pointed out that the state of California is reacting to the water shortages in one of the least effective ways by mandating rationing, rather than addressing the absurd under-pricing of the resource:

I’ve seen a lot of apocalyptic writing about California only having a year of water left (not true), and I’ve heard some idle talk about whether California can continue to grow. But California’s problem is not that it doesn’t have enough water to support its population. Rather, the problem is that its population uses more water than it has to. And the reason people do this is that water in California is seriously underpriced, as Marginal Revolution‘s Alex Tabarrok notes. While the new emergency rules do include provisions for local utilities to raise rates, that would still leave water in the state ludicrously mispriced. According to Tabarrok, the average household in San Diego pays less than 80 cents a day for the 150 gallons of water it uses. This is less than my two-person household pays for considerably less water usage, in an area where rainfall is so plentiful that the neighborhood next door to me has a recurrent flooding problem.

Artificially cheap water encourages people to install lush, green lawns that need lots of watering instead of native plants more appropriate to the local climate. It means they don’t even look for information about the water efficiency of their fixtures and appliances. They take long showers and let the tap run while they’re on the phone with Mom. In a thousand ways, it creates demand far in excess of supply.

Having artificially goosed demand, the government then tries to curb it by mandating efficiency levels and outlawing water-hogging landscaping. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work nearly as well as pricing water properly, then letting people figure out how they want to conserve it. For one thing, you can only affect large and visible targets, such as appliance manufacturers or lawns. For another, people will often try to evade your regulations — my low-flow showerhead came with handy instructions on how to remove the flow restrictor. And, perhaps most important, you limit the potential conservation to the caps. So people have an efficient dishwasher but don’t consider doing small loads by hand; they have a low-flow showerhead but don’t consider taking shorter showers. In short, no one is looking for ways to conserve more than whatever you’ve mandated. This may be enough to temporarily manage the current crisis, but it does nothing to set California’s water usage on a more sustainable path.

May 1, 2015

Statistical myths in California’s water shortage

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Environment, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Devin Nunes debunks the common claim that California’s farmers use “80 percent” of the available water in the state:

As the San Joaquin Valley undergoes its third decade of government-induced water shortages, the media suddenly took notice of the California water crisis after Governor Jerry Brown announced statewide water restrictions. In much of the coverage, supposedly powerful farmers were blamed for contributing to the problem by using too much water.

“Agriculture consumes a staggering 80 percent of California’s developed water, even as it accounts for only 2 percent of the state’s gross domestic product,” exclaimed Daily Beast writer Mark Hertsgaard in a piece titled “How Growers Gamed California’s Drought.” That 80-percent statistic was repeated in a Sacramento Bee article titled, “California agriculture, largely spared in new water restrictions, wields huge clout,” and in an ABC News article titled “California’s Drought Plan Mostly Lays Off Agriculture, Oil Industries.” Likewise, the New York Times dutifully reported, “The [State Water Resources Control Board] signaled that it was also about to further restrict water supplies to the agriculture industry, which consumes 80 percent of the water used in the state.”

This is a textbook example of how the media perpetuates a false narrative based on a phony statistic. Farmers do not use 80 percent of California’s water. In reality, 50 percent of the water that is captured by the state’s dams, reservoirs, aqueducts, and other infrastructure is diverted for environmental causes. Farmers, in fact, use 40 percent of the water supply. Environmentalists have manufactured the 80 percent statistic by deliberately excluding environmental diversions from their calculations. Furthermore, in many years there are additional millions of acre-feet of water that are simply flushed into the ocean due to a lack of storage capacity — a situation partly explained by environmental groups’ opposition to new water-storage projects.

December 26, 2014

A close encounter with an almost-kinda-sorta hate crime

Filed under: Media, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:54

Mark Steyn on how the brave and timely action of a “special-events employee” in Riverside California just barely averted a horrific hate-ish crime-ish:

I passed through Shannon Airport in Ireland the other day. They’ve got a “holiday” display in the terminal, but guess what? It says “Merry Christmas.” The Emerald Isle has a few Jews, and these days rather a lot of Muslims, and presumably even a militant atheist or two, but they don’t seem inclined to sue the bejasus out of every event in the Yuletide season. By contrast, the Associated Press reports the following from Riverside, Calif.:

    A high school choir was asked to stop singing Christmas carols during an ice skating show featuring Olympic medalist Sasha Cohen out of concern the skater would be offended…

I hasten to add this Sasha Cohen is not the Sacha Baron Cohen of the hit movie Borat. The Olympic S. Cohen is a young lady; the Borat S. Cohen is a man, though his singlet would not be out of place in a louche Slav entry to the ice-dancing pairs. Likewise, the skater-puts-carols-on-ice incident seems as sharply satirical of contemporary America as anything in Borat, at least in its distillation of the coerciveness of “tolerance”:

    A city staff member, accompanied by a police officer, approached the Rubidoux High School Madrigals at the Riverside Outdoor Ice Skating Rink just as they launched into ‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’ and requested that the troupe stop singing…

The cop and the staffer — “special-events employee Michelle Baldwin” — were not acting on a complaint from the celebrity skater. They were just taking offense on her behalf, no doubt deriving a kinky vicarious thrill at preventing a hypothetical “hate crime.” The young miss is Jewish, and so they assumed that the strains of “Merry Gentlemen” wafting across the air must be an abomination to her. In fact, if you go to sashacohen.com, you’ll see the headline: “Join Sasha On Her Christmas Tree Lighting Tour.” That’s right, she’s going round the country skating at Christmas tree lighting ceremonies. Christmas tree lighting ceremonies accompanied by singers singing Christmas music that uses the C word itself — just like Sasha does on her Web site.

Nonetheless, the Special Events Commissar and her Carol Cop swung into action and decided to act in loco Cohenis and go loco. Many of my fellow pundits find themselves fighting vainly the old ennui when it comes to the whole John Gibson “War On Christmas” shtick, but I think they’re missing something: The idea of calling a cop to break up the singing of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” would strike most of the planet as insane.

November 26, 2014

The rising tide of microaggression activism at UCLA

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:44

Heather Mac Donald looks at what she calls “The Microaggression Farce” at UCLA:

In November 2013, two dozen graduate students at the University of California at Los Angeles marched into an education class and announced a protest against its “hostile and unsafe climate for Scholars of Color.” The students had been victimized, they claimed, by racial “microaggression” — the hottest concept on campuses today, used to call out racism otherwise invisible to the naked eye. UCLA’s response to the sit-in was a travesty of justice. The education school sacrificed the reputation of a beloved and respected professor in order to placate a group of ignorant students making a specious charge of racism.

The pattern would repeat itself twice more at UCLA that fall: students would allege that they were victimized by racism, and the administration, rather than correcting the students’ misapprehension, penitently acceded to it. Colleges across the country behave no differently. As student claims of racial and gender mistreatment grow ever more unmoored from reality, campus grown-ups have abdicated their responsibility to cultivate an adult sense of perspective and common sense in their students. Instead, they are creating what tort law calls “eggshell plaintiffs” — preternaturally fragile individuals injured by the slightest collisions with life. The consequences will affect us for years to come.

UCLA education professor emeritus Val Rust was involved in multiculturalism long before the concept even existed. A pioneer in the field of comparative education, which studies different countries’ educational systems, Rust has spent over four decades mentoring students from around the world and assisting in international development efforts. He has received virtually every honor awarded by the Society of Comparative and International Education. His former students are unanimous in their praise for his compassion and integrity. “He’s been an amazing mentor to me,” says Cathryn Dhanatya, an assistant dean for research at the USC Rossiter School of Education. “I’ve never experienced anything remotely malicious or negative in terms of how he views students and how he wants them to succeed.” Rosalind Raby, director of the California Colleges for International Education, says that Rust pushes you to “reexamine your own thought processes. There is no one more sensitive to the issue of cross-cultural understanding.” A spring 2013 newsletter from UCLA’s ed school celebrated Rust’s career and featured numerous testimonials about his warmth and support for students.

It was therefore ironic that Rust’s graduate-level class in dissertation preparation was the target of student protest just a few months later — ironic, but in the fevered context of the UCLA education school, not surprising. The school, which trumpets its “social-justice” mission at every opportunity, is a cauldron of simmering racial tensions. Students specializing in “critical race theory” — an intellectually vacuous import from law schools — play the race card incessantly against their fellow students and their professors, leading to an atmosphere of nervous self-censorship. Foreign students are particularly shell-shocked by the school’s climate. “The Asians are just terrified,” says a recent graduate. “They walk into this hyper-racialized environment and have no idea what’s going on. Their attitude in class is: ‘I don’t want to talk. Please don’t make me talk!’”

November 4, 2014

Alongside Nineteen Eighty-Four‘s “Freedom is Slavery”, we can now add “Censorship is Free Speech”

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:45

Sean Collins on the spectacle of the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement demanding that speakers must not say “hurtful” things, lest students be upset:

Students at the University of California, Berkeley, are demanding that the administration ‘disinvite’ comedian Bill Maher who had been asked to be the commencement ceremony speaker in December. An online petition from the Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Coalition (MEMSA) declares that Maher ‘has made statements that are blatantly bigoted and racist’, in particular about Islam. Examples of ‘hate speech’ cited by the petitioners include Maher’s recent statement that ‘Islam is the only religion that acts like the mafia, that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing’.

In response to the clamour for Maher’s disinvitation, the undergraduate committee at UC Berkeley responsible for selecting speakers voted to rescind the invitation to Maher. But the university administration announced the invitation will stand.

The controversy resonates historically at Berkeley. The university is currently celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Free Speech Movement (FSM), a coalition of Berkeley staff and students who fought for free-speech rights for students on campus. ‘I guess they don’t teach irony in college any more’, quipped Maher, in response to his disinvitation.

Maher does not have a ‘right’ to speak at Berkeley’s ceremony; this is not a First Amendment issue. But the campaign to remove him as the speaker at the graduation event is thoroughly censorious and antithetical to the free exchange of ideas. Trying to silence certain views is especially problematic at universities, institutions in which students are expected to engage with a variety of ideas. The attempt to oust Maher is part of a regressive anti-intellectual trend. In the past year alone, there has been a wave of speakers – including Condoleezza Rice, Christine Lagarde, Ayann Hirsi Ali and George Will – who have had invitations rescinded or who decided to decline following protests.

The slogan used by the UC Berkeley campaign against Maher is ‘Free Speech, Not Hate Speech’. This formulation is a contradiction in terms: if you seek to prevent certain speech – say on the grounds of being ‘hateful’ – then you do not support free speech. Alongside Nineteen Eighty-Four’s ‘Freedom is Slavery’, we can now add ‘Censorship is Free Speech’.

November 3, 2014

UCLA students on the new Affirmative Consent rules

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

In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf talks to actual UCLA students to find out what they think of the new rules for how they must conduct themselves in intimate situations:

Imagine serving on the campus equivalent of a jury in a sexual-assault case.

The accused testifies, “I thought I was reading all the signals right. Once we started kissing it felt like things progressed naturally, like we were both into it. Neither of us said, ‘Yes, let’s do this,’ but I definitely wanted to hook up. I felt sure we both did.” The accuser says, “I was totally comfortable when we started kissing, but as things progressed I felt more and more uncomfortable. I didn’t say stop or resist, but I didn’t consent to being groped or undressed. I wasn’t asked. I didn’t want that.” If both seem to be telling the truth as they perceive it, what’s the just outcome?

Last week, I spent some time at UCLA asking students about California’s new “affirmative-consent” law. In our conversations, I described the law and asked them whether they supported it or not. I also posted this scenario to them. I was surprised by how common it was for students to express support for the law and then to say a few minutes later that they wouldn’t feel comfortable convicting the accused in that example. But there were also students who opposed affirmative-consent laws and later said that they would find the accused guilty.

That conflict fit with a larger theme that ran through my conversations with undergraduates, from freshmen to seniors. Asked about California’s law, many supporters focused on how affirmative consent squared with their notion of what campus norms, values, and culture ought to be, rather than its effect on disciplinary cases, which they treated as a tangentially related afterthought. Opponents expressed abstract concerns about unjust convictions and due process, yet some felt that convicting the accused in that hypothetical would be just.

In short, forcing both sides to confront a specific scenario made them see a thornier issue than they’d imagined. And it increased the conflicted feelings of many of those who had no definite position.

August 11, 2014

The science of “wine fingerprints”

Filed under: Science, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:27

Okay, the title of this post is a bit ahead of the facts: scientists are still developing ways to detect the differences in wine from various regions, but they think they’re on the right track.

Malbecs from Argentina and California made by the same winemaker and using the same protocol had distinct molecular signatures and flavours.

But the delicate aroma of a rare vintage can quickly be eroded by poor storage after bottling, the team said.

Details were reported at the American Chemical Society meeting.

Despite the cynicism over wine critique — and the rather grandiose adjectives lavished upon certain appellations — it really does matter where your plonk comes from, according to the researchers from the University of California Davis.

They are attempting to fingerprint “terroir” — the unique characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place bestows upon a wine.

Subjective regional character is based on the appearance, aroma, taste and mouthfeel (texture) of the wine — all of which combine to create its flavour.

But demand is growing for a more objective test — to help consumers bypass woolly terminology, protect artisan producers’ intellectual property, and help auction houses detect fraud — a growing problem.

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