Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | September 8, 2013

Sunday Link Potpourri


1. Ann Althouse has some stunning photos of the Iowa state Capitol. More at the link.



2. Andrew Gelman: “A theory of the importance of Very Serious People in the Democratic Party”:

My theory (which maybe I’ve blogged before, I can’t remember) revolves around the role of the news media. The media are a liberal, Democratic-leaning institution. This can be seen, for example, from surveys of journalists (the last one I saw showed Democratic reporters outnumbering Republicans 2-1) or political endorsements or various other studies. It is my impression that the news media lean left but the public-relation industry leans right.

Anyway, my point here is that the Republican party has a lot of resources, including much of big business, military officers, and organized religion. They don’t need the news media in the way that the Democrats do. And, I suspect one reason why Very Serious People are important for Democrats is that they are respected by the media. The Republicans can put together a budget that is mocked by major newspapers and nobody cares. But if the Democrats lose the support of the New York Times, they’re in trouble. Hence the asymmetry in seriousness. One might say that the Republicans are hurt by a similar asymmetry with regard to social issues, in that they can’t ignore the support of the religious right or talk radio. Although this is a bit different: the so-called Very Serious People pull the Democrats toward the center, while social issue groups pull the Republicans to the right.

(H/T: Will Truman at the League.)

3. Josiah Neeley on conservatives and monetary policy: “If there is one economic lesson the Right has internalized, it is Heinlein’s aphorism that There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. And attempts to improve the economy by what is often derisively described as “printing money” can at first blush seem like, if not a free lunch, then at least as free lunch money.”

4. “Joseph Stiglitz Sees Bleak Future for America If We Don’t Reverse Inequality.”

5. “So far this year there have been 848,000 new jobs. Of those, 813,000 are part time jobs…. To put it differently, an incredible 96% of the jobs added this year were part-time jobs.” More here.

6. Matt Yglesias, who grew up in New York City and got his philosophy degree from Harvard, and who, to my knowledge, has always resided in a handful of dense urban centers on the northeast Atlantic seaboard, says that we need to do more to encourage people to move to Bismarck, North Dakota, and Midland, Texas, and other locations with below-average unemployment.

7. Last month in Salon, Adam Levitin had an article (“Don’t take my pension!: The looming public worker nightmare”) on how municipal bankruptcy could affect public workers’ pensions: “The new wave of municipal bankruptcies — Detroit, Stockton and San Bernardino being the leading cases — are all set to test the question of whether pensions can be cut in bankruptcy, particularly in the face of state laws protecting those pension obligations. If municipal pensions can be cut in bankruptcy, we should expect to see more cities eyeing bankruptcy as a possibility, and other cities using the threat of bankruptcy as negotiating leverage to wring concessions from pensioners and employees.” Public sector pension plans, unlike many private sector plans, are not insured by the federal government.

Walter Russell Mead comments: “defined-benefit pensions, whether public or private, are on the way out. There are many reasons for this, but a key one is that defined-contribution plans are much safer for both employers and workers, particularly in industries where automation is decreasing the number of employees, thereby decreasing the number of new workers paying into the fund that retired workers are drawing upon. Unlike defined-benefit plans, defined-contribution aren’t bound up in the health of the company (or municipality) that provides them, and they don’t require a constant influx of new hires (or tax increases) to keep the coffers full.” (H/T: Instapundit.)

Traditionally, one of the non-salary benefits of a public sector job was security, compared to the private sector. But increasingly, that security seems to be eroding. I am put in mind of this Megan McArdle post on a similar topic (emphasis added):

In other words, the safe backup is no longer safe. In this, lawyers are going through what rust belt manufacturing workers experienced in the 1970s, middle management in the 1980s, secretaries in the 1990s, and journalism in the 2000s. I once sat on a panel with a man who had worked for the Los Angeles Times for many years. He fondly recalled the day he got the job. “And the best part,” he told his brother, “is that I never have to look for a job again.” I think he either got laid off, or took a buyout, in the early aughts.

Professionals were not always sympathetic to the teamsters and machinists who lost “bad” jobs standing at manufacturing stations eight hours a day. Many of those people had taken factory jobs because they didn’t want to bother with school, something that the folks who wrote policy briefs couldn’t quite imagine. And to be fair, those manufacturing jobs were terrible jobs. I’ve toured massive assembly lines, and they always engender twin feelings of awe: at the massive machines and complex processes that can turn out an automobile every minute or so; and at the workers who can stand to show up every day to work on that line. I’d be out of my skull with boredom in 20 minutes.

But those jobs provided good paychecks, and something that human beings turn out to value very much: predictability. We want to know that if we invest years of our life in building a career somewhere, the investment will pay off. From the 1940s through the 1960s, committing to a union job meant, to be sure, some boredom and repetitive motion injuries. But you would not wake up at the age of 35, or 55, to find that your years of investment in a company and a skill were suddenly worth nothing. Even if your firm went under . . . well, other folks would be hiring machinists.

Now the professionals are discovering what it feels like to bet your youth on something that may not pan out. These articles on the decline of the industries that absorbed decades of humanities graduates have a panicked tone. If an education doesn’t guarantee you a good job, what does? Are we living in a society in which all but the most ruthless go-getters will be economically insecure?

Well, probably. But welcome to the world most people live in — and have always lived in.

8. Horrible news: Narendra Dabholkar, a rationalist or anti-superstition activist, was shot and killed last month, near the city of Pune, Maharashtra. From the New York Times:

For nearly three decades, an earnest man named Narendra Dabholkar traveled from village to village in India, waging a personal war against the spirit world.

If a holy man had electrified the public with his miracles, Dr. Dabholkar, a former physician, would duplicate the miracles and explain, step by step, how they were performed. If a sorcerer had amassed a fortune treating infertility, he would arrange a sting operation to unmask the man as a fraud. His goal was to drive a scientist’s skepticism into the heart of India, a country still teeming with gurus, babas, astrologers, godmen and other mystical entrepreneurs.

That mission ended Tuesday, when two men ran up behind Dr. Dabholkar, 67, as he crossed a bridge, shot him at point-blank range, then jumped onto a motorbike and disappeared into the traffic coursing through this city.

(H/T: Eugene Volokh.)

9. “Portraits Before and After Drug Abuse.”

10. Mark Crawford and Eugene Volokh both link to and comment on the report out of Saudi Arabia about a man who has been sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for “insulting Islam.”

11. How did Firefly become libertarian? That is, how did Joss Whedon’s short-lived sci-fi series become a “darling” of libertarian economists (among others)? Vikram Bath has some theories.

12. School district plans to data-mine students’ social media posts: “Glendale school officials have hired a Hermosa Beach company to monitor and analyze public social media posts, saying the service will help them step in when students are in danger of harming themselves or others. After collecting information from students’ posts on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter, Geo Listening will provide Glendale school officials with a daily report that categorizes posts by their frequency and how they relate to cyber-bullying, harm, hate, despair, substance abuse, vandalism and truancy.”

I’m sure the resemblance to the Stasi is purely accidental. Or just in my head. Or something.

13. Is New York the next Detroit? (Let’s hope not.)

14. “New Yorkers Aren’t Rude. You Are.” John Skylar (emphasis added): “a huge number of tourists to New York seem to totally forget that when you are a guest somewhere, it behooves YOU to learn the unwritten rules of conduct so that you will not upset the delicate social balance of the place you are visiting. Because New York relies so much on foot traffic, these people often utterly disrupt the flow in the subway or on the street, and then complain that New Yorkers are ‘rude’ when we do not accommodate their interference with our lives. Don’t understand what I’m talking about? At peak hours, there can be 150 people walking on a given avenue block trying to get to work. There can be 1000 or more people on a subway train. There can be 50 people trying to get off of a bus or a subway car. 100 people may be trying to go up or down a staircase or escalator at any given time. And yet, every day I see tourists and just general social malefactors who stop in the middle of sidewalks, who hold up entire subway trains because they try to force the doors open, who block a stairwell or who try to get on a subway car before they let anyone else off. This is a sense of entitlement that the pace of this city cannot abide. I assure you, you do not have an excuse for delaying 1000 people who are trying to get to work. If you do, you’d be in a job where you’d have a car with sirens, at the very least.”

15. So, in 2003, the New York Times ran a long article by Lisa Belkin about (affluent) women who were choosing to “opt out” of the workforce to be stay-at-home moms. Recently, Judith Warner wrote a 10-year follow-up article, “The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In.” An excerpt: “Most of the women, Hewlett found, stayed home longer than they had hoped. Eighty-nine percent of those who “off-ramped,” as she puts it, said they wanted to resume work; but only 73 percent of these succeeded in getting back in, and only 40 percent got full-time jobs. “It was distressingly difficult to get back on track,” Hewlett told me. In addition, the women Hewlett surveyed came back to jobs that paid, on average, 16 percent less than those they had before. And about a quarter took jobs with lesser management responsibilities or had to accept a lower job title than the one they had when they left. The impact of those sacrifices, Hewlett noted, was in many cases amplified after the financial meltdown, when 28 percent more of the women she surveyed reported that they had a nonworking spouse at home.”

Ann Althouse notes that the Warner article “dwells on the travails of the affluent.” Georgeta Dragoiu says that the article has a rather narrow focus: “conversations on empowering women that have flooded the media’s gateways—the ones encouraging us to ‘lean in,’ telling us what it’s like to ‘opt out,’ or prescribing what we should look and sound like in order to be successful—overlook the minority reality. It’s been mostly a debate about the fate of well-educated, well-off women, without incorporating the voices of minority women, who, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, make up 33 percent of all women in the workforce.” But those women are probably not the target audience for the Times.

Megan McArdle has some thoughts on the topic: “I am struggling hard to be sympathetic to the women in Judith Warner’s new piece for New York Times magazine, which revisits Lisa Belkin’s 2003 piece for the same magazine, The Opt-Out Revolution. And she finds that many of the women who enthusiastically left the workforce to raise children are now kinda wishing they hadn’t. It’s not that I’m unsympathetic to the plight of parents, especially ones who are struggling to re-enter the workforce. This is genuinely hard, and I wish it were easier. But the article is so relentlessly focused on the experience of ultra-elite women who went to expensive schools and had jobs that only a tiny handful of people ever get. And those ultra-elite women generally seem to believe that there aren’t supposed to be tradeoffs.”

Moraine Lake 17092005

16. On homophobia in the Russian government: “Watch the members of the Russian Duma, listen to the President or any of the Ministers, and you will see that they practically foam at the mouth with homophobia. The ‘popular sentiment’ is actually getting more enlightened and open to sexual minorities, especially if we are talking about people of my generation and younger. Yes, it’s a slow and painful process but more and more Russians are awakening to the ideas of tolerance. The reason why the government in Russia lags behind the rest of the population in this sense is that everybody in power is a remnant of the Soviet times. The same people who were in power when homosexuality in the USSR was punished by a prison sentence are in power now. They are not letting younger, more progressive folks to come to power.”

17. At the end of July, President Obama went to Chattanooga and gave a speech in which he proposed a “grand bargain” on corporate tax rates:

The goal, as outlined in his speech to an enthusiastic audience at an Inc facility in southeastern Tennessee, was to break through partisan gridlock in Congress with a formula that satisfies Republicans and Democrats alike.

The president’s plan combined a proposed corporate tax rate cut – desired by Republicans – with new spending on infrastructure projects like roads and bridges as well as education investment – desired by his fellow Democrats.

“I’ve come here to offer a framework that might help break through the political logjam in Washington and get some of these proven ideas moving,” Obama said.

And how will Republicans respond to this proposed compromise plan? “Obama’s proposal immediately drew fire from the top Republicans in Congress. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said, ‘It’s just a further-left version of a widely panned plan he already proposed two years ago – this time, with extra goodies for tax-and-spend liberals.'” Ah. It was probably a significant sign that none of the Republicans in Tennessee’s congressional delegation, nor Tennessee’s Republican governor, chose to join the President at the event. (I am told that Zach Wamp, a former GOP congressman, was in attendance, but of course he is out of office at the moment.)

18. “Mississippi Supreme Court reverses DNA ruling in murder case.”

19. It appears that this Chinese version of Battlestar Galactica includes the starship Enterprise. (The Enterprise-D, to be specific.) Also, please note that blueprints for the Galactica are not, in fact, blueprints for a real American aircraft carrier.

20. Steven Michael Ledbetter: “Reasons Stonewall Jackson was the Quintessential Southern Man.” An excerpt:

Like the South, he died young.
Jackson was 39 when he was shot by his own men and died of pneumonia a few days later. He was at the height of his fame and his single-minded approach to the tactics of waging war had appeared invulnerable during his campaigns. But the war he was waging was only half over.
The South was never going to win. The naval blockade of southern ports had crippled the economy and the armies were running out of food, boots, ammunition, recruits, and coffee. Even before Jackson’s death, the Union Armies had been defeated in the west, lost control of the Mississippi, and Robert E. Lee was forced into fruitless maneuvers that were already weakening him for an inevitable defeat at Gettysberg. But to the South, Stonewall Jackson is the great “What if?”
“What if Stonewall Jackson had not died at Chancelorsville… could Lee have won Gettysburg? Could we have won the war?”
Stonewall Jackson’s Legacy is largely a result of the “Lost Cause” revival which gave us Gone With the Wind and Stone Mountain, GA. Jackson’s legacy was irrevocably intertwined with a South that never was and was never able to take shape. A South that stood for traditions in a country where most of the citizens had inhabited it for less than two generations. A purely political economical war that is remembered as the fight for a culture that only existed in the memories of the vanquished. And a General who wielded command briefly to become the Quintessential Son of a culture who needed a son to pin her hopes upon. Like all great historical figures, Stonewall Jackson was created because he was needed; quintessential in his legend more than his life; carved in stone because he did not outlive his usefulness.

21. A note on just war and pacifism: “even if one disagrees with the tradition of writing about ‘the just war’ (which, as Schudel’s obit notes, goes back to Augustine [and possibly earlier, esp. if one looks outside the ‘Western’ tradition]), even if one thinks that there can never, under any circumstances, be such a thing as a just war, there is no point in parading one’s ignorance, as a commenter on the WaPo obituary did when he wrote: ‘”Ethicist” and “just war” make for an oxymoron that proves, once again, that educated does not mean intelligent.’ That is a dumb remark. ‘Ethicist’ and ‘just war’ do not make for an oxymoron unless you think that Augustine, Grotius, and everyone else who has ever written about just-war doctrine are people who (a) don’t deserve to be taken seriously, even if you disagree with them, and (b) don’t deserve to be treated as writers who confronted difficult moral questions. And anyone who believes (a) or (b) or both is foolish. It is possible to be a principled pacifist, it is possible to believe there is no such thing as a just war, without at the same time being like the commenter who wrote the sentence quoted above.”

22. “Attention, Shoppers: Store Is Tracking Your Cell.”

23. “Reconsidering ‘Strong’ Female Characters”: “After Twilight made me want to rip the pages of the novel and set them on fire, I felt a need to find the anti-Bella Swan in everything I read. … It’s easy to think about the physical strength of our female characters. But what about other characteristics? Do women always have to be strong? Can’t they be brilliant? Flawed? Narcissistic? Emotional? Open to love? Leaders? Calculating? I am guilty of using the word ‘strong’ to cover these traits, but the fact is that “strong” is just a terrible adjective. Women are not just strong. What I really love and appreciate in a novel are women who are complex, flawed, and realistic. Women who are equal to male characters.”

24. A review of Qatar: Small State, Big Politics, by Mehran Kamrava: “Qatar depends on the United States’ security umbrella and the two major US bases for protection, but at the same time enjoys friendly relations with Iran and regional Islamists. It is also sandwiched between two major powers in the region Iran and Saudi Arabia and must rely on being smart because it does not have the military to be a hard power. Instead of spending on the military Qatar develops its infrastructure. From universities, desalinization plants, luxury residences, and a modern society, Qatar has built an unique country in the Middle East. It’s capital, a dusty fishing village in the 1930s, is now a modern growing city, out classing many western cities. The government’s social net is huge and supported by large oil and natural gas reserves and smart investments by the government. Qatar owns 10% of Porsche, and percentages of Tiffany’s, the London Stock Exchange, the Nordic Stock Exchange, and also went on a buying spree during the banking collapse. Smart government also budgets well under the expect price of oil and gas. Qatar has managed to separate itself from the usual single commodity economy of many oil nations.”

Also: “Smart government has spared Qatar from civil unrest experienced in other Arab countries. Qatar supported the rebels against Qaddafi.”

25. “Serendipity and Samples Can Save Barnes & Noble”: “Books are what economists call ‘experience goods.’ Unlike blue polo shirts or AAA batteries, they have characteristics that are hard to observe in advance. You have to consume them before you know whether you like them. That’s why people rely so much on trusted friends to recommend books, and it’s also why browsing is so important. One big reason readers find it more satisfying to “showroom” in physical bookstores is that many publishers deliberately make it hard, if not impossible, to examine books online. In a physical bookstore, the proprietor decides whether letting people read the books on display is likely to turn into sales. Most rule in favor of extensive browsing, allowing potential customers to stand, or in some cases sit, around for long periods reading their books. On Amazon or Google Books, by contrast, the publishers rule, and too many seem determined to keep your dirty eyeballs off their merchandise. Although some works are relatively easy to look through, often you can’t even read the entire index or table of contents, much less actual prose, because publishers or authors are more concerned with would-be pirates than potential sales.” (H/T: Tyler Cowen.)

26. Before and after photoshop. Amusing.

27. Fukushima: One Man’s Story.

28. Faces of the Flood.

29. Really? “China bans reincarnation without government permission”: “beyond the irony lies China’s true motive: to cut off the influence of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual and political leader, and to quell the region’s Buddhist religious establishment more than 50 years after China invaded the small Himalayan country. By barring any Buddhist monk living outside China from seeking reincarnation, the law effectively gives Chinese authorities the power to choose the next Dalai Lama, whose soul, by tradition, is reborn as a new human to continue the work of relieving suffering.”

30. “The importance of punctuation.” (I guess they still send telegrams in India.)

31. “Storytelling in games: How it should be done”: “Games can now tell a story on par with your average film. Okay, that’s not saying much, but the medium has certainly come a long way since its humble roots. There is now a focus on delivering not only fun gameplay but also a deep and layered story. Sometimes the gameplay drives the game, its fun mechanics enticing gamers to play ‘just one more level.’ Other times the story drives the game, its complex characters and plot drawing players in to play ‘until the next cutscene.'”

32. “Why my humanity isn’t beholden to SCOTUS.”

33. “Foucault and social media: life in a virtual panopticon.”

34. Mapping pronunciation in the United States.

35. Kerodon rupestris.

36. “Australian naturalist catches night parrot on film”: “An Australian naturalist has photographed a rare, nocturnal parrot that has not been caught alive for more than 100 years. Bird-watcher John Young also videoed and recorded the sound of the parrot – known as the Pezoporus occidentalis. But he said he would rather go to prison than reveal where he found the green and yellow bird. He does not want the remote desert site, in Lake Eyre basin in Queensland, over-run with other bird-watchers.”

37. “Goldwater Institute Tells Senator Durbin to ‘Pound Sand'” (emphasis added): “Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) has sent letters to corporate and non-profit donors and supporters of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) demanding to know whether these organizations continue to support ALEC and whether they support ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws. ALEC is right-of-center non-profit organization of state legislators that, among other things, develops and promotes model legislation on various issues. One model statute ALEC promoted was a Stand Your Ground law much like the one on the books in Florida. (Indeed, ALEC claims to have based its model statute on the Florida law.) Senator Durbin said he plans to hold a hearing on such laws later this year, and wants to identify supporters and funders of ALEC in the hearing record. Such disclosure is not required by law and, as the Chicago Tribune editorialized, this appears to be an effort to intimidate ALEC supporters: ‘while the letter acknowledges that recipients have a right to participate in policy debates, Durbin’s intent is transparent: Renounce ALEC, and quit donating money, or I’ll shame you but good.’ The Arizona-based Goldwater Institute is one of the groups that received Senator Durbin’s letter. In response, they told the Senator to ‘pound sand.’ …”

38. “Russell Saunders” on adoption: “As far as mandating that open adoptions be truly open to the degree desired by the birth mother and agreed to in advance, you’ll hear no argument from me. Those commitments are indeed incredibly important, and there should be force of law behind keeping them. I’m fully on board. But make no mistake — adopting a child is fraught with risk for adoptive parents, too, to say nothing of the expensive and invasive process of getting approved to adopt in the first place and the indefinite wait before you finally get matched. The Better Half and I have had to submit so many sets of fingerprints for background checks and the like that we have gotten to be on a first-name basis with many of the local cops. Do I dispute that this degree of scrutiny is necessary? No. But let’s not elide the difficulties that adoptive parents face.” Do read the whole thing.

39. “Redesigning ‘Star Trek’: the original series brought to life in 80 pulp posters.” Neat.

40. “An Open Letter to My Son About Microsoft Excel”: “Dear Son, I know you’re only four, and I know that you can’t read. I know that I haven’t let you on my computer much, and I’m sorry. Because what I’m about to tell you is of utmost importance: it’s high time you learned Microsoft Excel. A lot of people think that Excel is simply a tool for boring suits to map out data. Well, son, that’s partially true. But Excel is exciting and Excel can be pretty rock and roll if you trust Excel.”

Image Credits: (1) Ann Althouse, via Flickr; used under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license; (2) Wikimedia Commons.


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