Monthly Archives: March 2016

Connecticut is looking at instituting a Yale Tax. Specifically, a tax on endowments for universities meeting certain qualifications. Basically, Yale.

Taking a suggestion from Yale alum Walter Olson, Ira Stoll argues that the university should consider relocating to Boston. Boston? Meh. That might help with the tax situation, and he makes some other arguments, but on the whole seems penny-wise and pound-foolish and ignores other Yale issues.

Florida Governor Rick Scott has extended an invitation:

Florida Governor Rick Scott on Tuesday called on Yale University to consider a move south if Connecticut legislators follow through on a proposal to tax the net investment profits of the university’s $25.6 billion endowment. {…}

“With news that the Connecticut Legislature wants to unfairly tax one of the nation’s most renowned universities to deal with the state’s budget shortfall, it is clear that all businesses in Connecticut, including Yale, should look to move to Florida,’’ Scott said. {…}

“If Connecticut lawmakers are seriously considering another tax on Yale, businesses and families should be concerned about the other tax increases their Legislature will consider. We would welcome a world-renowned university like Yale to our state and I can commit that we will not raise taxes on their endowment. This would add yet another great university to our state.”

General Electric may have moved out of the state, but of all of the institutions to leave a state for tax reasons, universities would be among the most difficult. And sure enough, the university has expressed disinterest in the prospect.

That’s a shame. (Sort of.)

I have long been of the belief that it’s been to the detriment of this country that as our population has grown considerably, our premier institutions of higher learning have not. I’ve long said “We should have a Harvard West! Harvard Texas!” But hey, Yale Florida would work.

The typical argument against my proposal is that you just can’t have more than one Harvard and have it hold the same prestige. This is both true and false. It is true that the prestige of Harvard and Yale revolve around their exclusivity, but it’s not as though we have fewer premier academics per-capita than we did fifty years ago. It’s not as though we have fewer stellar students per capita that we did fifty years ago. The universities themselves talk about how nearly impossible it is to choose among such an amazing crop of students. There are probably enough students that could have gotten into Harvard fifty years to fill a dozen schools. It’s just that now they go to Rice, Duke, and other universities. But no matter how good those schools get, even if their median student is better than that of Harvard of yesteryear, almost none of them will completely get their due.

For the most part, it’s not in the interest of the universities to be anything but as selective as they can be. If only being able to accept 1 out of 50 of the equally indistinguishably greatest students in the country is good, then accepting only one out of 250 is even better! Or something like that.

Yale, though, could be an exception. Not just because of the tax thing, but also because being where it is it lives so much in shadow of Harvard. I mention above that the students accepting the Harvard students (and Harvard professors) of yesteryear aren’t getting their due, but there is one major exception: Stanford. There’s the Ivy League, and there’s Stanford. Arguably, these days, there’s Harvard and there’s Stanford. Stanford has a benefit that separates itself from every other Not Harvard, which is that it is far away from Harvard’s shadow. Yale, in contrast, seems to exist almost entirely in Harvard’s shadow.

Florida would fix that!

Now, Rick Scott wants them to move their entire university. That really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But if Yale set up a school in Florida, that could be a different story. Why would anyone go to Yale if they can go to Harvard? Most of the time, I’m not sure. Stanford, sure! Silicon Valley and California weather. Florida has no Silicon Valley, and the weather is different, but it has a great winter climate and beautiful beaches. There are students and faculty who would likely be interested in going there for all sorts of lifestyle reasons that Connecticut just can’t provide. They can move the endowment there and along with student tuitions the thing could pay for itself.

While Harvard Texas would run a risk of being a notably inferior institution, Yale Florida would have a lot more potential to possibly even exceed Yale Connecticut or at least challenge it like Stanford challenges Harvard. The biggest problem with my preference for expanded Ivy League schools is real estate, and regional campuses can be a tough sell. Yale Florida satisfies both concerns.

Also, tax breaks.

Category: School

A new study suggests that laws banning drug tests and credit checks may hurt black applicants:

Why were African-Americans put at a disadvantage when states banned employer credit checks? It could be that black job-seekers found it harder to meet the increased education and experience requirements that employers started to impose. Or it could be that employers simply started to become tougher on black applicants because they couldn’t verify their credit histories and assumed the worst.

A powerful study published last year in the Review of Economics and Statistics shows something of the opposite happening: When employers began to require drug tests for job applicants, they started hiring more African-Americans.

“The likely explanation for these findings is that prior to drug testing, employers overestimated African-Americans’ drug use relative to whites,” the study’s author explained in an op-ed. Drug tests allowed black job applicants to disprove the incorrect perception that they were addicts.

This corresponds with a thought that I’ve been having for a while now on a related issue: IQ tests. While IQ tests are not universally banned in hiring, they do leave companies with hoops to be willing to jump through if they’re challenged, and so a lot of companies that might utilize them don’t.

Which, as the article points out, can lead to an increase in requiring credentials that aren’t challenged. I’ve been wondering if we could poach the higher ed bubble (if there is one) by simply applying disparate impact to that as a job requirement, leaving it to employers to demonstrate that the job really requires a degree. But in addition to potentially contributing a bit to credential inflation, the thought had occurred to me that it could actually hurt high IQ black applicants. Potentially by requiring a college degree that they don’t have, or by leaving it to (possibly unconscious) racist hiring manager judgment.

Which is to say, if allowed to take a test, David Alexander can demonstrate his intelligence. So a hiring manager that subconsciously looks at a black man and thinks “probably dumb” can have his concerns in that area satisfied. If the manager is systematically underestimating black IQ’s, this can act as a corrective! At least in individual cases. Now, you don’t even have to believe in the validity of the IQ test, so long as he does. If you don’t, you can try to disabuse him of that notion, but it might be better for David (or any other individually intelligent black person) to simply be able to produce a good score.

Instead of using an IQ test, you could use “successful at Super Mario Bros 2.” If some employer believes that’s a worthwhile metric, then that gives minority applicants, poor applicants, and whatever else something to strive towards. Only if they can get ahold of the game, though, which is a concern. Also a concern is that if this became widespread, you’d start to see training classes and it might become a part of the curriculum in well-heeled suburban schools. Asian-Americans might become unusually good at it. Then you might run into a Disparate Impact problem as black and Hispanic kids are disproportionately be unable to buy the game, unable to afford SMB2 tutors, and won’t have playing that game ingrained in their culture. But even then, at least it would provide an opportunity to answer the important-to-the-employer “Can play Super Mario Bros 2” metric. And it would be vastly less expensive than the alternative, which might be “Has a Bachelor’s Degree.”

Of course, that’s not what we want employers to do. Because as we know, SMB2 performance bears no resemblence to the ability to do all but a few jobs. And we want to be fair. In a perfect free market economy, we might say “Employers that make their hiring decisions based on a lackluster video game will be at a competitive advantage and so they’ll weed themselves out.” But that’s probably not what would happen. What we would be left with is a hiring qualification with the only three advantages being (a) less susceptible to stereotypical impressions than subjectiving interviewing, (b) not as reliant on networking as recommendation hiring, and (c) less expensive than college.

Which, come to think of it, isn’t the worst list of advantages I’ve ever heard. But it’s transparently dumb. Less transparently dumb is the subject of the Washington Post article, credit checks. You can at least see the rationale for using that as a criterion. But by its very nature it’s discriminatory towards those we as a society don’t want discrimination against: Poor people, those down on their luck, people who have gotten sick, and so on. Like companies refusing to hire people that are unemployed, it may make sense for any given company (whether the metric itself has empirical foundation or not) but is not good for society as a whole.

In this sense, the laws against credit discrimination continute to make sense. They are still too unfairly discriminatory. That they are not as discriminatory towards black folks in particular as the next most likely alternative may be unfortunate, but stands in suggestion that maybe bad, discriminatory policies don’t have to disproportionately affect non-Asian minorities in order to be bad policy.

Category: Office

bunnyaxThis fog harvesting contraption made me think of Dune. Which, for whatever it’s worth, I did not really enjoy.

Some folks are surprised that Bernie Sanders did so well in Alaska. They shouldn’t be! Without sarcasm, I will say this: Mineral wealth socialism is the best socialism.

The NCAA may have a “women problem” but women’s basketball is not a good example of that. The NCAA and networks put forth a heroic effort into making women’s basketball a major sport, and it just didn’t take.

Though I haven’t seen the new one, I agree with Jack Butler about how great the animated Superman/Batman movie was. Which may be something of a pattern. Also, Jonathan Last’s run-down on the Batman/Superman history is worth reading.

Cavity-free candy? That’s neat.

Stephen Silver looks at Trump in the context of hate speech and anti-PC.

Frederick Hess writes of the isolation of the conservative academic, and Josh McCabe relays what was said in a symposium on the subject.

How gamergate appropriated anime on Twitter and toxified anime avatars.

Ebb. Flow. Suburbs in, suburbs out, suburbs back in. The domestic migration map is pretty cool, though.

Well, yeah. That’s a part of it, certainly.

Dara Lind is outraged by Ted Cruz’s unAmerican plan to secure Muslim neighborhoods, but Eli Lake says he’s basically describing France. Hopefully, these folks will be able to help.

John Burnett and NPR look at Irish illegal immigrants.

Jesse Singal explores the idea that prosecutions should be literally race-blind.

Wait, the Ego Depletion theory isn’t true? I’ve supported nanny-ish regulation on the basis that people have finite will power. Hmmm.

Is disagreement becoming personal prejudice? I don’t know. What I do know is that if you are ever – ever tempted to tag something as the “last acceptable prejudice”… just don’t.

Category: Newsroom


Category: Statehouse

snowwhitegunGwen Ifill lamented on Twitter that politicians used to respond to tragedies with thoughts and prayers. Of course, we know what happened to that.

Vox says that shutting down Muslim immigration won’t solve Europe’s security problems. I’m inclined to agree, but let’s be honest: Would Vox ever run a piece that came to the opposite conclusion?

New Zealand won’t be changing its flag after all. Previously discussed here.

Cool! Obama’s new education secretary has a charter school background.

How Mitt Romney came to the rescue in Utah! It wasn’t really just Mitt, though he certainly helped.

I really, really, really hope this doesn’t factor heavily into Hillary Clinton’s game plan. I mean, sure, go ahead and make the argument, but I just hope they’re not depending on it. I’m still reeling over her arguing that one of her main attacks against Trump is going to be “America’s standing in the world.” {shudder}

I’ve been predicting, for a little while now, that the GOP’s stranglehold on the House may be in jeopardy. It turns out maybe not in the most optimistic (for them) scenarios, because Democrats are idiots.

I have mixed feelings about limiting the ability of homeowners to rent their house out for short periods, AirBnB style, but I am otherwise pretty sympathetic to the army contractor dude and being able to rent out to students, and pretty hostile to hard caps.

Are our wind energy tax credits coming to an end?

Toronto to Vancouver in three hours sounds kind of cool.

Culture clash in Pocatello, Idaho. How a university’s need for foreign students (and their money) generated community conflict.

The Challenger engineer who tried to sound the alarm has died.

A ruling in New Mexico may mean that they can’t get doctors in Texas.

How The Sims promotes conservative family values.

We think of flying as having been normalized in the west, but it’s still the province of the elite. I remember back before airline deregulation and before Dad got a few raises and we drove halfway across the country to visit family. It’s weird to consider that people still do that.

At Cracked, Michael Hossey gives seven weird and dispiriting ways that companies screw their workers.

Category: Newsroom

In a recent post at the Blinded Trials sub-blog Over There, Tod Kelly offers his thoughts about what he calls “online people.”

Online People are men and women (but mostly men) who spend a significant amount of their work and personal time interacting with others online. As in the real world, some get along with people they disagree with better than others, but regardless, those disagreements greatly shape their online persona. Which is to say that while most people in the real world define and group themselves by what they are, Online People generally define and group themselves by what they are not. To take myself as an example: In the real world I am a father, a husband, a brother, a person lucky enough to be surrounded by scores of amazing friends, a Portlander, a writer and risk manger, etc. As an Online Person, however, I am someone who is not a movement conservative, not an ideologue, not a knee-jerk hack baiting for clicks, not a SJW, etc.

There are some apparent inconsistencies in his overall post. But it’s always easy to disagree and to find inconsistencies in what someone else has written. If it weren’t, all graduate history programs would evaporate immediately. And Tod is not trying to assert an a priori TRUTH about how the world must always and forever work. He states upfront that “Online People…are a figment of my imagination based on my own personal anecdotal experience.”

The best approach, I think, is to take his post as a hypothesis and to examine the ways and situations in which his hypothesis works and doesn’t work, and then to offer some thoughts on whether what the hypothesis describes is a good or bad thing.

His hypothesis does not describe a peculiarly “online” phenomenon. I find it hard to look at any political movement, large or small, in American history whose membership did not somehow define themselves by what they are not. Sometimes the negative self-definition was subtle and co-mingled with much positive self-identification. See 1890s Populism. Sometimes the negative outpaced the positive. See the Popular Front of the 1930s. Sometimes it wasn’t so much a question of identity, but of policy, and being opposed to a policy as a policy can actually mean being for a different policy. See Abolitionism.

Still, I take Tod not to say that the internet causes negative self-definition. Instead, I take him to be saying one or both of two things. First, the internet and online communities are somehow more conducive to negative self-definition. Second, whether or not the internet is inherently more conducive to this way of self-identifying, online communities as a fact tend to self-identify negatively more than in-person communities.

If I read his hypothesis correctly, I think it’s at least even money that he’s right. If he is right, I think I have one way of demonstrating how and why it is correct. I offer a hypothesis of my own. I refer you to a distinction between what I call the “hot seat” and the “cheap seat.”

In the blogosphere, the “hot seat” is the position occupied by the author of a post or an article or a column. The “cheap seat” is occupied by the commenter, who usually enjoys pseudonymity and always enjoys the luxury of not having just created something that is now subject to critical examination.

I’ve found that writing posts–being in the hot seat–makes me feel vulnerable. I put an argument out there and it’s subject to review and comment. Even a friendly comment and one that agrees with me can feel like a disagreement, and a comment that disagrees with even just a portion of what I write can feel like an attack, no matter how well-reasoned or how politely put it is. I know better, but it still feels that way. While there are exceptions–e.g., if it’s about something I don’t feel strongly about–my inclination is to defend whatever point I was making as if I were defending myself.

In the cheap seat, however, I as a commenter often feel free to single out a portion of what someone else says in their post and critique or praise it. Well, it’s almost always a critique and not praise. Or if neither praise or critique, it’s a tangent. And tangents are usually hard to read as anything other than a critique or disagreement. I’m saying “critique” and not “criticism.” All criticisms are critiques, but not all critiques are criticism. Sometimes a critique is a qualification, or another way of agreeing, or an elaboration, or a suggestion.

There are variations on that theme. Sometimes people gang up on a commenter and that commenter is now in the hot seat. Sometimes a blog author will make a “comment rescue” that doesn’t rescue a comment so much as it uses the author’s bully pulpit to criticize what the commenter said. Sometimes, to quote Gandalf, we just have to ‘fess up that there’s such a thing as malice and revenge.

I’m suggesting that this on some level might be others’ experience, too. Perhaps not everyone’s experience, but most people’s. Perhaps not fully consciously, but at some, maybe visceral, level.

This hot seat and cheap seat distinction isn’t all there is. It doesn’t explain how and why some commenters tend to, for lack of a better word, “ally” with other commenters or continually criticize certain others not only for what they say but for how critcizer feels personally about the other. Both things I have been guilty of, by the way.

But if this distinction doesn’t explain everything, it might explain something. A blog moderately to heavily trafficked with comments–even ones like Over There, with its very liberal guest posting policy–evinces in any given thread this distinction between the person who has put themselves out there and the people who choose to comment. I think this is somehow related to the perception–and perhaps the reality–of “Online People” who define themselves by what they are not.

Category: Server Room



Category: Newsroom

I’ve been listening to music lately while driving (instead of audiobooks). Somehow my player ended up without a CD and so I grabbed the first one out of my case. It’s an independent artist from Deltona who you’ve never heard of and, as far as I know, stopped making music years ago. His band at the time followed a pattern I’d seen many times: A little rocky at first, getting progressively better, then right when they’ve gotten really good and people see me singing along with the lyrics are asking me questions about the band… they break up and go their separate ways. He rebounded a couple times with other bands, but never really recaptured the magic.

Part of what made me think that Todd might “make it” is that he is a really good looking guy. I mean really, really good looking guy. He started off singing country and my then-girlfriend’s friends would come to shows with us even if they didn’t like country music because they liked to watch him sing. His looks would stand out in a Hollywood film. He was a good singer, a better-than-decent songwriter, and an improving performer, but all he really had to do for the female contingent of his fan-base was stand there and smile winsomely.

One of the themes of his music has to do with his struggles with the ladies. More specifically, the lack of leverage he often feels he has in his relationships, former relationships, and near relationships. It’s not an uncommon theme, but it’s a weird theme coming from him. How can a guy like that have difficulty with the ladies? Which is not entirely fair, because the better looking a man or woman is, the higher the standards they have for a potential partner, and the less leverage their looks buy them. It’s also the case, if his music is any indication, that he may not be the best boyfriend. One of his woe-is-me songs involved infidelity.

The other thought I had was that he could have difficulty with the ladies despite his looks and charisma because he’s not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed.

Then I realized that wasn’t true at all. At least, I had no particular reason to believe it’s true. He had a college degree and his day job at the time was as a mortgage accountant. I don’t know that such a job requires genius, but it almost certainly requires more than being a dull tool in any objective sense. He may be dimmer than the average mortgage accountant, or dimmer than the average college graduate (though I have no particular reason to believe that either is true), but his general level of intelligence is likely to be no less than average and probably higher.

Why did I think otherwise? The comparative lack of depth of his music? Maybe. His friendly manner making him seem dim? Or do I have a bias against good looking men? The latter is a female stereotype, but that’s only because it’s under-observed in men and not because it’s absent. I’ve found myself on at least a couple of occasions coming to a quick, and wrong, conclusion about attractive guys.

It’s also likely the case that my estimate of average is revised upwards by virtue of the fact that most of the people that I communicate with non-superficially most of the time are of higher intelligence. On Ordinary Times, at Hit Coffee, and in meatworld. Throw in Facebook and Twitter, while we’re at it. This says nothing special about myself and more about how we tend to organize along these lines. It correllates genetically with our families, our jobs, and society more generally.

This leads to some skewed perceptions generally. You see this especially in the political world, where obviously intelligent people are dismissed as unintelligent when that’s almost certainly not the case. The dismissal can come from partisan instincts: This person takes political stands I believe are stupid so they must be stupid. You see this applied in some of the oddest places to obviously intelligent individuals from Barack Obama to Ted Cruz.

Beyond that, though, it tends to attract to people who display a seeming lack of intellectual curiosity, such as George W Bush and Sarah Palin. There is no real reason to believe that GWB is not intelligent. It was taken for granted by some that between Bush and Kerry it was obvious the latter had an intellect the former lacked, but there was never much basis for believing that and there was a little bit of basis for believing it was not the case. Kerry got points for his affectations, while Bush lost them for the same reason as well as the “lack of intellectual curiosity” thing. The latter of which can be associated with intelligence, but it’s rather tricky to do so.

Then there’s Sarah Palin. Good ole’ Sarah Palin. Not only was she tagged dumb, but this view has largely been considered vindicated by almost all of the left, most of the center, and a good chunk of the right. Except that it probably isn’t so. The assessment of Palin’s intelligence is probably informed most of all by her surroundings. Specifically, that she is surrounded by people who are more intelligent than she is. Her IQ is probably about average. It just looks low by comparison. Her failures are the product of being in an environment where average simply won’t cut it. And so she is considered dumb. It’s no mistake that she managed Wasilla and Alaska with a degree of adeptness, but then flopped so badly at the national level. The jobs got harder, and she didn’t have the reserves. Most people would probably handle it worse than she did, as hard as that may be to imagine.

The same could be said for Bush, if we consider him a failure: The presidency requires unusually high intelligence merely to function competently. If it’s a matter of brainpower, though, it seems likely that Kerry would have been just as unsuccessful. Or alternately Bush may have had the intelligence for the job but not the temperament. Or beyond that, the biggest problem was just that he got some bad ideas and ran with them, which is not as good an indicator of a useful definition of intelligence as we might think. A lot of smart people devote themselves to bad ideas – seemingly dumb ones – and to believe otherwise is to be pretty ideologically blinkered (as evidenced by attempts to portray Ben Carson as anything other than exceptionally intelligent).

In all likelihood, most of us have run into this in the office place. Early in the days of Hit Coffee I wrote about a guy named Charlie Belcher. The key primer on him was lost to the sands of WordPress, but the long and short of it is that he was worse than deadweight. Not only did he not actively contribute to the XML programming team, but his presence cost resources even if he’d been there for free because the rest of us had to devote extraordinary amounts of time trying to explain over and over again how to do the job and correcting his innumerable failures. He -along with another coworker named Edgar who was also worse than deadweight – personally did a lot to convince me of the limited potential being able to bring the masses into the knowledge economy. While Edgar’s intelligence very likely was below average, Charlie’s was probably about average. He was just working in a job where that wasn’t enough. Both were very motivated to do well, both had every opportunity to succeed, and both washed out because neither of them could.

PS This post is about intelligence. Not about the comparative failings and virtues of the Republican and Democratic Party. Please comment accordingly.

Category: Coffeehouse

wantedWell this is a perfectly Australian story: Venomous spider traps a snake in the garage.

My wife has complained about EMR inbox notifications, and now her complaints have been backed by science.

Related: Living with yourself (or not) after a professional mistake kills someone. Even when there are no lawsuits, hospitals are a liability factory.

Sigh. Also, why are all of Mario Cuomo’s kids so bad.

I suppose “bad lapse in judgment” is one way of putting it.

I have myself seen some connections between the Ascension of Trump and the French Revolution. In mentality, if not trails of blood.

Australia is running so low on koala food that they might have to start euthanizing. Good think they can’t eat flesh anymore.

When practice doesn’t make perfect! Scott Stanley and Galena Rhoades investigate why extensive relationship history (experience!) doesn’t lead to marital success.

Americans are increasingly accepting of social change in most respects, but not divorce. I attribute it to the triumph of experience over hope. {Related}

The retirement of Shamu: SeaWorld announces that its ending its orca program.

I hadn’t thought about it explicitly in this manner, but the Australia-Siberia connection kind of makes sense. And here is Stanislav Zakharkin talking about the Siberian movement.

Volvo is working on a kangaroo avoidance system for Australia.

Well this makes sense. Given the sprawling storyline of Game of Thrones, I can see why it might appeal to prisoners that their prison terms should seem short by comparison.

Australia has something of a Wyoming problem with the Northern Territory, which is insufficiently populated for statehood but too big to be ignored. What about merging it with South Australia?

Matt Novak looks at Australia’s secret history as a White Utopia.

Category: Newsroom

Something to file away. Bitzer is a professor in North Carolina and was a useful Twitter resource during both the South Carolina and North Carolina primaries.

Here is the full exit poll, which makes for useful comparison. It has varied from state to state, but it is definitely the case in North Carolina that the more educated a voter is, the less likely they are to vote for Trump. Even with that, though, it should be noted that he won 35% of college graduates and 30% of postgrads. In terms of income, he won mostly on the basis of those making $30-50k a year, though again did impressively across the board (and won among those who make more than $100k a year).

Category: Newsroom