Monthly Archives: June 2016

skyscraperMost mass shooters are white men… until you control for population size.

The Guardian has a pretty fantastic series on the gun problem in the US, and the difficulties that lay ahead of those that want to make headway via gun control.

The notion that the NRA stymies gun control with its deep war chest is still wrong.

Behold, the power of the AR-15.

I am not one to put on my commando gear and yell “BENGHAZIIIIIII!!!!” but the attempt to spread the blame of Benghazi to the preacher and the filmmaker despite knowing that it was a planned terrorist attack is probably the most shameful thing the Obama Administration did during its tenure.

Democrats, meanwhile, don’t know what caused Benghazi, but evidently think it’s something to do with Trump.

Amy Otto says that the problem with men is that they have too-easy access to boobs.

Just in case you were worried about subprime borrowers getting loans, the government is on top of it. What could go wrong?

Patrick clark looks at baseball stadia and their rather short lifespan. I’m genuinely quite stunned to see that a Sun Belt team is spending over $100m to buy Turner Field and then spend a lot more to transform it for their Sun Belt football team.

Some former FDA commissioners are arguing that the FDA should become an independent (cabinet-level) agency. My view on this is entirely outcome-based. What do they want to be doing that red tape won’t allow? What are they being required to do that they wouldn’t otherwise?

breakdancingonwaterAccording to one poll, enforcement of the law against unauthorized immigrants seems quite popular across races.

Animations of Kafka, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I still think Nielsen is nothing but a scam (Crackpot Theory #2), but the story behind the Mr Nielsen is interesting.

Yes, yes, let’s please find a way to turn polution into fuel!

How attention and social cues help us determine facial attractiveness.

Category: Newsroom

Mostly because I’m ignorant of the nuts and bolts, I’ve pretty much avoided the debates about whether transgender students should be allowed to use the bathroom of their choosing. My position is roughly the same as Thoreau’s over at High Clearing.

However, what little commentary I’ve read seems to leave an important point unaddressed. In my experience, schools are unforgiving when it comes to respecting students’ privacy. In my middle school, no provision was made by our gym class for those students who would have preferred not to shower in a room full of other naked boys. The gym teachers (there were 2 gym teachers who taught one class0 actually made it into some sort of right of passage, something we all had to do as a step to manhood. At least that’s how I interpreted their attitudes.

In high school, the school for whatever reason ordered the doors to all the bathroom stalls in the boys rooms to be dismantled so that if someone had to do “sitting-down business,” they had to do it in full view of others. As in the middle school shower example,

It was rumored that school policy in each case treated the girls better. I had heard (but didn’t know and still don’t know if it’s true) that for the girls’ gym classes, my middle school allowed the students to have their own shower stalls. I had heard (but didn’t know and still don’t know if it’s true) that my high school permitted girls to have bathroom stall doors. If those rumors are true, then I think that’s inexcusable sexism, not that girls should have to suffer the same as boys, but that boys shouldn’t be especially targeted.

Despite my hyper-modesty, I was able to do the middle-school showering with no problem. But in keeping with my hyper-modesty, the “no doors on bathroom stalls” policy really, really bothered me. When you gotta go, you gotta go, except when you’re too afraid to, then you can’t, but you still gotta. And well, nobody’s gonna be sympathetic.

My anecdote is just that, an anecdote. I’m sure some schools handle things better and some, worse. And maybe at a systematic level, most schools handle these things better. Or maybe I’m just hypersensitive. I realize it’s asking a lot to suggest the world needs to change to accommodate my special neuroses.

But the debate over transgender privileges needs to take privacy seriously. I’m actually optimistic that the debate can lead to greater respect for students’ privacy, if only because any workable compromise or solution on the issue may include offering things like private clothes-changing stalls, private shower stalls, and doors on bathroom stalls.

Category: School

So you may not have heard, but the Brits held a referendum and voted to exit the European Union. This has garnered some interest in the democratic process.

Referenda have always been controversial to some extent, but for reasons unknown Reuters, Newsweek, and the Washington Post all ran pieces decrying the results of the UK/EU referendum, which coincidentally did not the way that most journalists and news outlets believed that it should have. In Newsweek, Rob Cox describes it thusly:

Imagine, as an analogy, that you are sick. You go to a doctor. But suppose your “doctor” doesn’t study the facts, doesn’t know any medicine and makes her decisions about how to treat you on a whim, on the basis of prejudice or wishful thinking.

Imagine the doctor not only prescribes you a course of treatment, but literally forces you, at gunpoint, to accept the treatment.

We’d find this behavior intolerable. You doctor owes you a duty of care. She owes it to you to deliver an expert opinion on the basis of good information, a strong background knowledge of medicine and only after considering the facts in a rational and scientific way. To force you to follow the decisions of an incompetent and bad faith doctor is unjust.

But this is roughly what happens in democracy. Most voters are ignorant of both basic political facts and the background social scientific theories needed to evaluate the facts. They process what little information they have in highly biased and irrational ways. They decided largely on whim. And, worse, we’re each stuck having to put up with the group’s decision.

Unless you’re one of the lucky few who has the right and means to emigrate, you’re forced to accept your democracy’s poorly chosen decisions.

referendumLet’s run with the doctor analogy, for a moment. He posits the people in both the position of the doctor and the patient. The more direct analogy, though, is to consider the government professionals as the doctor. Let’s assume, being the knowledgeable and good individuals that they are, that they are good doctors. At the end of the day, though, the decision on medical care is more likely to reside in the patient. The patient with little or no medical training at all, in most cases. The doctor can refuse treatment, but can’t force treatment most of the time. They are there to advise and perform.

The overall theme from the three pieces is constant: Leave it to the experts. Leave it to the doctors. What’s notable the analogy, however, is that it reveals the limitations of the very thing it advocates. For the most part, doctors don’t choose your treatment. Rather, you choose your treatment from the options that (their insurance company, the state, etc) they give you. Most frequently, their job is to inform and advise. In the case of the referendum, that’s exactly what happened. The politicians gave the public the decision, they campaigned for one option or another, and left it to the people.

If one is predisposed to believe that the Brexit is an unambiguously bad idea, it’s quite seductive to accept the argument the “doctor” shouldn’t have given “the patient” the choice, any more than a doctor would give chemotherapy to a patient with the flu. That’s fair. But that’s not an argument against referenda; that’s an argument against the Brexit. More abstractly, though, the argument is about whether or not people should be involved in the big, complex decisions. Or whether we should leave it to the experts.

More often than not, I am in agreement with Cox and the others. Leave it to the professionals. If they make bad decisions, vote them out! That’s how indirect democracy works, and it’s a good system. I generally agree with this. However, there are some questions that are so fundamental that I believe they really ought to be left to the people. One area of fundamentality would include elections, for example. We can’t trust the experts to get everything right because they have a skin in the game, and they can make decisions that make voting them out more difficult. Another area deals exactly with issues like Brexit: collective status.

One thing to keep in mind here is that “collective status” does not merely apply to Leave in the sense that the UK just voted and Scotland did last year. It also applies to joining. The EU is itself a bit complicated because, except for the most recent additions, the union was formed a little bit at a time. The “EU” the the UK originally joined is not the EU that exists today, different both in degree and kind. It’s not always easy to determine which, if any, of the alterations needed a vote (and with what threshold). It should also be pointed out that some political entities of some countries did not vote to join in the first place, which seems relevant.

In 1967, 1993, 1998, and 2012, Puerto Rico held a plebiscite to determine its legal status: State, territory, or independent. This is a very complicated issue, and it can easily be argued that the politicos of Puerto Rico know best what status is best for the territory. But I cannot imagine elevating them to statehood, or granting them independence, without a public vote. It’s too big, and too fundamental a decision to be left to people whose views and interests may diverge greatly from the populace. There is a general consensus around this, because the Puerto Rico establishment and the US establishment both tend to want statehood, but nobody is really acting until they can get at least a majority in a straight vote.

That is not to say, however, that Cox and the others are completely wrong. Far from it, as voters are actually pretty terrible. They are subject to campaigns built on hyperbole and falsehoods. They have collective moods that can turn out to be quite transient. It’s one thing for this to be the case when handling day-to-day affairs, and even who is elected to government. But when we’re talking about such fundamental and foundational decisions, we really don’t want them to be made based on a whim or a transient mood. So the problem is not, as many have said, that the people are given a direct voice. The problem is that a temporary 51% can overrule everybody. The problem with the Brexit vote is not that it was held, or even that they made the wrong decision, but that the decision was (theoretically) made by 52% of the population, and that 52% could be 47% a year from now. Or today. Who knows?

Big decisions are best made when made by a consensus. Sometimes you can’t get a consensus, of course. And what to do then? Well, assuming it’s not time-critical, nothing. Status quo bias is often considered fallacious, but it’s often quite reasonable. The status of a political entity is one of those times, generally speaking. Dynamism has its virtue, but so does stability. It’s hard to invite investment when legal status is always up for grabs. That applies to both the private sector and the public sector. If Puerto Rico has one foot out the door, we’re not likely to institute many 20-year plans, and a lot of good plans can take 20 years. If Britain’s status within the EU is tenuous, then so will be investment in either direction.

What constitutes “a consensus”? Well, the more agreement the better, obviously, but it’s not 50%+1. I wish I could look at the UK, Scotland, Puerto Rico, Catalonia, Quebec, and a spectrum of states and give a number like 60% or 2/3. It’s going to depend. I look at the first three of these situations (I don’t know enough about Catalonia or Quebec) and I believe 60% ought to be sufficient, though in the case of the UK you might also want more than 50% in each of its constituent parts. Even if there was less than 60%, though, there could be wiggle room. If instead of 52% the Brexit vote had gotten 56%, and then five years later another referendum got 58%, it might be worth pulling the trigger so that investment (and everything else) can move forward. The important thing is that you have more than a majority that is not a product of transient sentiment, preferably with support moving in the right direction and the youngs on the right side and the olds on the wrong.

All of this ends up putting the power right back into the legislature and government. Which, contra my seeming disagreement with Cox and others, is as it should be. And is, it’s worth noting, what is happening with the Brexit, Puerto Rico, and so on. Parliament has the power to put a stop to this, and if they choose not to that is the decision that the duly elected representatives of the United Kingdom chose. Congress (including supporters of Puerto Rican statehood) disaregarded the results of the 2012 Puerto Rico plebiscite because the results just didn’t provide sufficient clarity of consensus. The fault in the Brexit campaign, and Scotland before it, was giving so freely the impression that 50%+1 makes it a done deal. That lead to what seems like a commitment that they are either going to have to follow through on or reneg on.

That’s not a position they should have put themselves in. That’s not a position we should ask or expect countries to put themselves in.

Category: Newsroom


Monster truck vigilantes!

Drill, baby, drill! An Obama appointee says so! What will they say about the Keystone lawsuit?

britishrefugeeswelcomeUltra-orthodox Jews… turning to Jesus? This… makes me kind of queasy.

There is a significant gravitational pull on daycare research to reach a particular conclusion. Granted, though it’s worth pointing out somewhere that the benefits of daycare to parents are manifest. So there are priorities to balance.

If nothing else, I’m honestly surprised that they’re willing to destroy this much capital because they’re not cheap to train. Sigh. The site of a pile of dead dogs really gets to me, and don’t click on the link if it gets to you.

While Britain is the epicenter, the Brexit has some ramifications for Poland, too. From what I understand Britain is still likely to bring in a lot of Poles due to other agreements. If they don’t, though, could there be any benefit to Poland from not losing the human capital?

If Blade Runner and typeface are your thing, this is the story for you. Personally, I enjoy stories about people obsessing over seeming minutiae.

Women in the US are twice as likely as Canadians to die from pregnancy and childbirth.

gaypoundHumans are intellectually ill-equipped for democracy, says science. The general public was unavailable for comment because they were too busy watching Upworthy videos.

Adam Ozimek argues that low-skilled labor markets need better information, on the basis of disparate Armed Forces Qualification Test results.

Marcus Winters takes issue with Hillary Clinton’s portrayal of charter schools as succeeding-through-skimming.

Cheaper desalination? Cheaper desalinization!

Estonia… the Hong Kong of Europe?


So it looks like I’ll be making a trip to Burger King.

The FDA has let it be known that it believes it will be a good thing when the ecigarette industry consolidates. Maybe they should have just gone straight to what Indiana is doing, and just say these are the only six companies we’re going to allow to sell the stuff. It’s a good deal for the six, anyway.

Category: Newsroom

Long-time readers can skip the first paragraph if they remember this story.

The longest Christmas Party I ever attended was with my ex-girlfriend Julia. She was my ex-girlfriend at the time, and had been for about a week-and-a-half. I had broken things off a couple weeks before Christmas, and that was going to make things difficult for her. So I agreed, without much hesitation, to go to the family Christmas party and she would let everyone know we broke up after. Her brother’s then-girlfriend (now wife) didn’t like me for some reason. She got wind of it, and told everybody. But she didn’t tell me, or Julia, that everybody knew. Nobody said a word, but it was three hours of exceptionally cold treatment.

Last week was the Residency Dinner for my wife’s work. That’s where they honor the residents and instructing physicians, like my wife, are expected to be there. Which, hey, it’s free food and a nice night on the town. There are worse things.

One of my wife’s colleagues is on her way out, and not by her choice. In the jobs where my wife has worked, doctors aren’t fired but rather have contracts that are not renewed. The result is that you are fired way in advance of your departure date. Sometimes months. This can be kind of awkward because your final couple months there, everybody knows that you’ve been fired. And so it was this this doc. Except this doc, by dint of the occasion, was actually given an award. By the director that fired her. In front of a room full of people that know exactly what happened.

The thing is, this isn’t even the first time this has happened. It’s the first time it’s happened at this job, but it happened twice under her previous one (which did the same contract thing) at the “Physician Appreciation Dinner”. One involved a doctor who wasn’t fired, but was pressured to resign due to health reasons. But she had the social obligation to go to the PAD, be a part of the slideshow, accept some certificate thing, and be thanked for the job that she was being told not to do anymore. The other one was even more complicated, with a physician that was fired and then was mysteriously unfired. All in the run-up to the PAD.

It’s all kind of a surreal experience.

One that kind of hits close to home. In Arapaho, Clancy really got the sense that the only reason they didn’t fire her was because they couldn’t replace her. It’s not that she was bad at her job – in fact, none of the three mentioned above were actually bad at their jobs – but some people (or at least one person) just didn’t like her. But there was always a feeling like if they could just find someone else to do the job, they wouldn’t renew. Well, it’s good to be needed and all, but it’s not fun to work in a place where you are merely tolerated. Attending a PAD by people who are just tolerating you isn’t as bad as doing so when they just fired you, but it’s vaguely familiar.

I am happy to report that none of this is an issue at her current job. Her contract was renewed last week without much fanfare.

Category: Elsewhere


Category: Statehouse

In the comment thread of my broken primaries post Over There, Michael Drew said the following:

There’s a literature on the Basic Purpose – I think it’s among other things (obviously) coordination around shared goals, and then disseminating (political) information (basically telling people why they might assent to this or that ruler). The rise of the media age therefore put parties significantly on their back feet compared to earlier times (not pre-media per se, but pre-the notion that a working-class individual might independently gather information from nonpartisan sources, look at who might be a good person to be a ruler, and make that decision on that basis, rather than only based on what the dominant party in their area or for their Group says would be best for them). Parties still do solve the coordination problem – you need to move from a population of a million having, say, 10,000 people they support for Ruler, which is maybe as far as non-partisan information sources could get us on their own, to say 10 or 100. My intuition is that parties exist even prior to what that literature suggests, or at least that they have to exist logically because of that last reason – there has to be some intermediation to get from Many to Few potential Leaders.

That’s a really basic, almost logically necessary reason that parties have to exist. But it’s not some kind of general permission slip from The Sky do what they want. In fact, to me, that they are maybe ordained by logic is precisely a reason to less-credit this claim that Hey, we’re just private membership organizations; unless you’re a member, you have no claim on how we behave.

It may be simply a numbers game, or it may be due to a limitation in human nature, but my intuition strongly tells me that we are condemned to do our politics through parties if we are going to try to govern polities larger than the classical Polis. If they’re that fundamental a part of human society in the age of Nations, then to me there is no reason that it should follow that they should be immune to claims about the demands of democratic justice, merely because they claim to be private organizations. They are seeking to fill a necessary purpose that is necessary to achieve public ends – the coordination of the choice about who gets the power to make and enforce laws (if there are laws). If they don’t want the public accountability that comes (should come, anyway) with that, then they can choose some other aims for their organization. If they’re doing things wrong, including not being accountable to the public (not just membership), then just by being a person trying to live in the society whose public life they seek to influence through coercive government, you have a claim against the ways they are doing wrong procedurally or substantively.

I wanted to unpack this a bit.

There is a natural question on what we mean by “parties,” and the distinctions are different when we talk about how much freedom to give, or not to give them. Parties can be informal alliances between factions in pursuit of a series of mutually-beneficial goals, or it can be a very formal arrangement of organization. The degree of formality given to the parties is quite relevant to the degree of freedom that we give them. Orientationally, the more formal the recognition a political party, the more rules that can be imposed.

In the United States, we have two competitive parties. We have a system that favors not only the number two, but that they be Republican and Democratic. This wasn’t always the case, but there is a reason that the Federalist gave way to the Whigs gave way to the Republicans and yet we’ve had the Republicans for 150 years. The parties adapt over time rather than become displaced, because the barriers to displacement have gone up considerably due to formal changes, such as public finances and party-listed ballots, and circumstantial change such as the nationalization of politics and media.

This may be desirable, or it may not be desirable. It is not, however, immutable. Parties may have existed for some time, as Drew says, but the formalization of politics was indeed a choice. There are a number of things we could do to loosen the grip of the Republican and Democratic Parties. I favor some (IRV) and oppose others (multimember districts), but they are options on the table. These are things that would create more options for parties, and give the existing two less leeway.

Alternately, we can devalue the notion of political parties. We couldn’t eliminate them even if we wanted to, but parties are given quite a bit in the way of privileges. States often pick up the tab for primaries, for example. They also put party affiliation on the ballot, which they don’t have to do (and in some city elections, as well as in Nebraska, they don’t). That’s not even getting into guaranteed ballot access, public financing, and other deferential behavior. All of which may be advantageous to the public at large, but none of it is necessary. Pulling the rug out of those benefits would be extremely disadvantageous for the parties, who would have to foot the bill to communicate to voters who their members are, and would have less leverage over the candidates and office-holders generally.

You can look at cities and heavily-tilted states to have an idea of what informal parties might look like. Back in Colosse, partisanship exists but city elections are non-partisan. No non-Democrat has been elected mayor in recent history, but at any given time there are some on the city council. But where the real partisanship occurs tends to be on the informal level. There is almost always a liberal faction and a moderate/conservative faction. People who follow politics tend to know who is on whose teams, though because it’s not a part of the election process there is more flexibility. A moderate Democrat, for example, knows that when she is up for re-election, she can pick up conservative endorsements and votes to make up for ones lost. There is still a natural pull away from the center because term limits force them to look at running in partisan elections later, but it’s none-the-less a functioning system.

Is an ideal system? That’s a judgment call. But either way, there are options available. What does seem clear to me, though, is that the more privilege we give parties, the more we can ask of them. There are, however, limits to this.

While I believe that there are various levers to be pulled, I believe there is a Permission Slip From The Sky of sorts, in the form of Freedom of Association. We can force parties to make the difficult decision between financing their own primaries or losing ballot designation and having their own nomination mechanisms, but we ultimately can’t make the decision for them. And we can’t say “We want the formal parties, and we want to impose these obligations on you so that we can have them precisely the way we want them.”

All of this is something of a moot point, though, because parties are the government, and the government are parties. Except in states with a referendum process, the parties themselves are gatekeepers of policy. I would like to see some reforms that would open the system up a bit and allow parties to be more easily displaced, but you know who has not only the motivation but the power to prevent that from happening? The existing parties. So even in systems with more flexible party structures, such as Canada, reform is difficult. Almost any substantive reform would hurt one party or the other at least, and would leave both more vulnerable in the long run. And with party leadership threatened to a degree it hasn’t been before, it seems more likely than not that both parties are more likely to want to tighten, not loosen, their hold on the democratic process.

Photo by DonkeyHotey

Category: Statehouse

respectfullydisagreeMegan McArdle’s post about Brexit is worth a read. I thought of it when I was reading this.

While the University of Texas at Austin seeks diversity through affirmative action, Texas A&M went another route.

Vaping is not just for nicotine. I am increasingly envisioning a future wherein I will be assuring police officers that my vaporizer has marijuana in it and not nicotine so leave me alone.

No, CT May is wrong. Ghostbusters really was a good film, and holds up pretty well.

As Uber and Lyft pull out of Austin, others move in and drunk driving may be going up.

Americans have a love affair with European cities, but in looking for inspiration a couple of urbanists say we should really be looking at Canada.

dogsniffThere used to be concern that people were not waiting long enough to find a good made. Now there is concern that they are waiting too long.

Well this is a shock: If you’re agreeable, attractive, and clean, you’re more likely to get married. The good news is that if you’re low in one, you can try to bone up on the other.

Roberto Ferdman interviews Stanford sociologist Michael Rosenfeld about the success of online dating.

The Book of Life has a primer on how to break up with somebody. The “be cruel to be kind” is probably right.

Vaclav Smil argues that advanced economies can’t leave manufacturing behind. He seems to be sort of arguing that we can’t because manufacturing employment is helpfully labor-inefficient, though.

It really does seem like one of the three most important things about Universal Basic Income is the extent to which we can expect the poor to mind their money carefully… and what we do if they don’t.

From the Daily Nebraskan, an interesting article on young people making the transition from home school to college. Also, homeschooling for heathens.

Taking a test? Best dress up.

This is aggressively unsurprising: Professors with more and better career alternatives make more than those without.

Category: Newsroom

Here are some actors reading for parts in The Office:

It’s hard to say for sure since there is almost certainly some status quo bias going on, but I think they largely made the right choices.

Seth Rogan is very unimpressive as Dwight, but Judah Friedlander (who played Frank on 30 Rock) could totally have pulled it off in the direction I think he would have taken the part.

Bob Odinkirk is a good Michael Scott, but we knew that because he played a doppleganger in a late episode of the season.

Adam Scott was passable as Jim.

Category: Theater

eekAccording to some research, conspiracy theorizing really is a BSDI thing.

This is one of the best liberal pieces on gun control I have ever read.

Well, when you put it that way, Trump is kind of ridiculous. (Or any other way, while we’re at it.

Ryan Cooper argues that the EU screwed up and that contributed to what increasingly looks to be a bad vote on the Brexit. Maybe. Or maybe the EU as it was imagined was not a great idea because you can’t turn peoples into a people by government fiat without speartips?

As we rush to (rightly) condemn rapist Brock Turner, it’s worth pointing out that sex offender registries are still questionable in terms of efficacy and justice.

Japan Times looks at the Japanese custom of having kids clean up the classroom. Note, however, that contrary to rumor they do actually employ custodians.

It turns out, giving away condoms may not be the best way to reduce teen births. At least, not without counseling.

Third grade? I didn’t learn cursive until the fifth, and that was back when it was a relevant skill.

Josh Blackman argues that the government cannot actually mandate that employers, landlords, and so on use of preferred pronouns.

The description of the plot of Neon Genesis Evangelion here is off, but I do kind of think that Asuka might actually be a Trump fan if they existed in the same universe.

Noah Smith is worried about Canada becoming a petrostate. Well, diversification is good, but oil per se isn’t precisely Russia’s or Nigeria’s problem, and the fact that the only other liberal democracy that is a petrostate is just fine, I suspect that’s where you would look for the good and the bad.

The Southern Baptists are going after the Confederate Flag. This… is a very good thing.

Dixie, land of the gender pioneers.

Eli Lake reports that somewhere along the way, Natan Sharansky became a realistic.

I did not know this was a thing, but apparently Hasidic Jews in New York have their own private police force.

Category: Newsroom