06 March 2011

Hodgepodge

Excellent advice for science journalists from SMBC:


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David Henderson on "Do Labor Unions Promote the Middle Class?". Summary: they raise the wages of those in unions, and perhaps some of those not in unions,* above the competitive rate but in both cases only amongst the people who still find work. Those with jobs will be paid more, but fewer people will have jobs.

* Clarification: Henderson is arguing against an op-ed in today's WaPo claiming trade unionism raises the wage of non-union workers.  He presents empirical evidence that this is not the case, but allows the assumption  that it is for the sake of argument.

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Marginal Revolution | Tyler Cowen | What is the ultimate left-wing novel?

I would say that the story per se is usually left-wing, in both good and bad ways. It elevates the seen over the unseen, can easily portray a struggle for justice, focuses on the anecdote, and encourages us to judge social institutions by the intentions of the people who work in them, rather than looking at their deeper and longer-term outcomes. Precisely because the story is itself so left-wing, there won't be a definitive example of the left-wing novel. Story-telling encourages context-dependent thinking, although not necessarily in an accurate manner. One notable feature of Atlas Shrugged is how frequently the story-telling stops for a long speech or an extended dialogue, in order to explain some first principles to the reader.
It sounded odd to hear that narratives themselves are left-wing at first, but I posted several times [e.g. one, two, three] that I think pro-Left bias in media is not as important as pro-narrative bias, so perhaps this is not so odd a position.

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Great exam question from David Freedman about abdicating dictators.

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Very good thoughts from Noah Millman about teacher compensation and related issues. Nuanced.

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LabRat offers solid commentary on BYU's suspension of star basketball player Brandon Davies for having sex. Since ND is one of the few other schools with these sorts of behavioral codes, and probably the only other one who plays top-level collegiate sports, this was interesting to me.

The rules at BYU and ND are foolish to me. But Davies, like ND's football and basketball players, agreed to them when they voluntarily signed up. They are perfectly happy to accept the upside of playing at schools which happen to have wowser rules. They need to accept the downside as well.

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Writing in Free Exchange, R.A. planes Ford chairman Bill Ford for economic illiteracy.

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Via Jeffrey Ellis, a great passage from Scott Adams:
If you think government should reduce spending, that's a philosophy, not a plan.

If you think small government is good, that's a philosophy, not a plan.

If you think the government should provide a safety net for the poor, that's a philosophy, not a plan.

Somehow we elected a bunch of philosophers to run the country. I hope they find out how many angels are dancing on the head of the pin before the country goes broke.
I think the rest of Adams' post has some errors, but it is still a more sophisticated take than most you see in print and all you see on television.

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Also from Jeffrey Ellis, a Brink Lindsay article critically, and correctly so, of much of the conservative agenda. Ellis adds on a great quote from Greg Gutfeld that describes me perfectly: “I became a conservative by being around liberals, and I became a libertarian by being around conservatives.”

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OpenSecrets list of the top political donors of the last 20 years. Here are the top 20:


Draw your own conclusions about the necessity of trade unions to "balance" the impact of corporation on politics.

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A great post on Reddit satirizing the overblown Koch Bros. conspiracy theories and "Argumentum ad Kochus Pochus". Here's the beginning:
The KOCH brothers must be stopped. They gave $40K to Scott Walker, the MAX allowed by state law. That's small potatoes compared to the $100+ million they give to other organizations. These organizations will terrify you. If the anti-union thing weren't enough, here are bigger and better reasons to stop the evil Kochs. They are trying to:
  1. decriminalize drugs,
  2. legalize gay marriage,
  3. repeal the Patriot Act,
  4. end the police state,
  5. cut defense spending.
Who hates the police? Only the criminals using drugs, amirite? We need the Patriot Act to allow government to go through our emails and tap our phones to catch people who smoke marijuana and put them in prison. Oh, it's also good for terrorists.
Wikipedia shows Koch Family Foundations supporting causes like:
  1. CATO Institute
  2. Reason Foundation
  3. cancer research ($150 million to M.I.T. - STOP THEM! KEEP CANCER ALIVE!)
  4. ballet (because seriously: F***. THAT. SHIT.)

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Brian Goff pushes back against Buzz Bissinger's "the NBS is loosing popularity because white viewers don't want to watch black atheletes" theory.  Bissinger has a huge amount of good will from me for writing Friday Night Lights, but he's solidly wrong about this, as Goff demonstrates.

For starters, there aren't actually more black players in the NBA than there were in the league's most recent heyday.

My counter argument to Bissinger would be to ask why white fans have not abandoned baseball if they are primarily influenced by racism and xenophobia.  The MLB has become increasingly foreign and "ethnic" in my lifetime, and I don't see that driving people away from the ballparks.

A simpler explanation than racism for the decline in popularity of the NBA: they don't provide a very good product.

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This isn't a great example of these text-to-animation things, but it's worthwhile.  It also occurs to me text-to-animations are the new Socratic dialogs.

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Tyler Cowen points to an interesting essay on Pippi Longstockings, "Sweden, statism, how collectivism and individualism interact," and a triangular relationship between families, individuals and the state. Here is a previous post on this, which references this solid Bagehot column.

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Illka on innumeracy and one of the charts that's been making the rounds from that Mother Jones post on inequality.

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This Popehat post has the single best reason anyone has ever given for why they are not responsible for a car crash.

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John Merline on "What does government do?"
Pop quiz. What's the biggest single job the federal government undertakes?

National defense? Nope.

Homeland security? Wrong.

Transportation? Not even close.

Law enforcement? No way.

Education? Getting colder.

Foreign aid? Are you kidding?

Nope, the biggest single thing the federal government does these days is ... cut checks.

Lots and lots and lots and lots of checks that go to individual citizens -- $2.3 trillion worth last year alone.

In fact, according to a table buried deep inside the little-noticed Historical Tables volume of the White House's 2012 budget, these "direct payments to individuals" accounted for more than two-thirds of federal spending in 2010.
Here's a nice chart for you:
Merline concludes:
Now, depending on your political perspective, you could view this is a good thing or a bad thing.

But whatever your view, this situation will make getting the federal budget under control increasingly difficult, since it will invariably involve pitting those writing checks against those cashing them.
File this away under "reasons we can't limit cuts to discretionary spending."

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