January 2012

That’s the story I get from Trita Parsi on bhtv.

I just finished Barbara Oakley’s “Evil Genes”, which I hadn’t previously blogged since I had little to add to Razib’s review. When I went to pick it up at the library I noticed that Philip Zimbardo’s “The Lucifer Effect” was right next to it, and was tempted to grab that instead, but stuck to the original plan. About three-quarters of the way through “Evil Genes” has a giant footnote, in part dedicated to critiquing Zimbardo’s famed prison experiment. “Zimbardo’s understanding was that he had gone out of his way to select :young men who seemed to be normal, healthy, and average on all the psychological dimensions we measured.” However, as pointed out by astute researchers Thomas Carnahan and Sam McFarland, that does not at all appear to have been the case. On one test related to authoritarian attitudes, Zimbardo’s volunteers scored higher than every standardized comparison group except San Quenton prisoners!” Carnahan & McFarland found that such an unrepresentative sample results from publishing an ad referring to “prison life”. (more…)

Via OrgTheory, a study finds that the more severe penalties faced by blacks arrested for the same charge and with the same criminal history is almost entirely explained by the prosecutor’s choice of charge (particularly those with minimum sentences). It used to be the case that judges decided penalties, but there has been a great rise in the number of laws mandating minimum sentences to take that decision out of their hands, which effectively puts it in those of the prosecutor. That is a major component of the story the late William Stuntz tells in his recent book, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice.

On a less related note, a shift from procedural rules to discretion is what Paul Romer thinks is necessary for financial regulation.

I’m sure you’ve already seen the map of beer vs wine vs spirit drinkers. It’s limited to Europe, and on seeing it one may mentally overlay a map of Protestant vs Catholic vs Orthodox. I recently heard of another division of Europe, the Hajnal line. It’s strictly binary rather than a three-part division, but interesting nevertheless. It’s based on “nuptiality”, basically whether everyone marries young (more accurate explanation at the link). But as “hbd chick” points out, it also maps quite well onto the Iron Curtain. Emmanuel Todd is cited as claiming that all communist nations had a history of strong patrilineal lineages, which the western church and its marital traditions apparently disrupted.

I was alerted to a piece at Slashdot via Ferdinand Bardamu on Americans’ alleged fear of taking vacations lest they be fired or otherwise punished by their employers. Now Ferdinand is highly critical of what he calls “LIE-bertarianism” and its rosy view of creative destruction and labor market flexibility, which is probably why he neglected to notice that the Live Science article Slashdot references doesn’t actually back up its claim that workers are “afraid” of anything. Apparently the panoply of experts cited just infer that workers are terrified of taking vacation time because they don’t take it, at least to the extent they can. And when they do, they take their work with them.

The closest it comes is this:

…research shows employees who admitted to being insecure in their jobs were more likely to attend work while sick – making them present in body but not in spirit.

That’s nothing to sneeze at, so to speak, but it hardly means the feeling of insecurity is the fault of jagoff bosses who’d rather their underlings come in sick than stay at home all unproductive and sniffling. The last time I had an office job I was strongly encouraged to stay home if sick. Nobody wants my flu.

Americans report higher job satisfaction than their European counterparts, maybe due to the ease of exiting jobs you dislike for greener pastures. In that case it could just be Americans’ actual enthusiasm for the work they do. Hence fewer vacation days and “workaholism.” The recession (are we technically still in one?) is definitely freaking people out, and Americans may now be characterized by a fear of being let go from their jobs if they dare use any vacation days, but the above article doesn’t do much to support that idea.

Over at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf criticizes progressives for having no alternative to Ron Paul. Leaving aside those that Glenn Greenwald (and others) have called out for being straight up honest in not caring about the NDAA, FISA renewal or empire if it means neglecting the welfare state, Friedersdorf takes on the progressives who claim to prioritize the former but won’t back Ron Paul. He’s got his sights on Kevin Drum in particular:

Over the years, including the Obama years, I’ve known Drum to consistently speak out against needless war-making and to be alarmed by excessive claims of executive power, so I don’t doubt his earnestness, and I respect what he has to say on basically every topic. But here’s my problem: though Drum disagrees with those of us who acknowledge Paul’s flaws but value his ability to inject important issues into the national conversation, he offers no alternative. As far as I can tell, most on the left who dismiss Paul are similarly without a plan of their own.

I’m not familiar with Kevin Drum, but it’s a mistake to think that rejecting Paul must come coupled with an alternative electoral plan of action. Friedersdorf’s (whew, what a mouthful) of the libertarian persuasion, so he should be more than familiar with options for change that don’t involve electoral politics at all. In fact here’s one from Matt Zwolinski, though it does read a bit like an advertisement for the Institute for Humane Studies as one Facebook commenter pointed out.

Of course if civil liberties and US hegemony are paramount for you, a Paul election would do far more and quicker than any outreach efforts by the likes of IHS  – at least if you were even close to being the decisive vote caster. But even so, maybe there’s a strategy of foreign disentanglement than would yield fewer short term benefits but greater long term benefits, making it superior to Paul’s. I don’t know. In any case, it isn’t prima facie off base to think that imperialism and the like aren’t the only issues of importance. To bring in a dose of self interest, which readers here should have no problem understanding, could a libertarian really say that an end to the US military footprint across the world is worth some kind of Hugo Chavez style takeover of the US itself? Because that’s probably the equivalent of what the left thinks will come of a Paul presidency. No drug war, sure, but no war on poverty either. No foreign intervention, yes, but no foreign aid too.

Politics doesn’t allow for the revealed preference that would tell us  just how much any person values one outcome over another. It’s a package deal, as Public Choice theory reminds us. Friedersdorf’s upbraiding of Drum for not having an alternative to Paul is akin to criticizing  a car buyer for not liking the Chevy Volt when they can’t tell you what car they do want. If the analogy comes off as obscene because we’re talking about war – war! – here, then I’ll cop to being emotionally obtuse in favor of seeking an ecology of mutual satisfaction. I’ll just point out that ironically this leaves me de facto more sympathetic to lefty concerns about inequality and poverty than many libertarians are apt to express, so there.

Of course the obvious criticism of the above is that non-libertarians prefer to get what they want via the power of the state, which is precisely the way you don’t achieve an ecology of mutual satisfaction. But this assumes that lefties and many conservatives are in love with the political means per se, and not just what it can obtain with a given end in mind. It’s really about personality differences and their attendant priorities (speaking of package deals), so it’s probably a more fruitful task to seek a structural libertarian rather than policy libertarian solution to our disagreements, to utilize one helpful dichotomy. The latter just so easily sinks into this whole “Yea, well if not Paul, then who?” stuff.

I’m recalling John Hasnas’s The Myth of the Rule of Law and this article, but I don’t want to get into why they’re relevant because I’m off to see the new Mission Impossible right now.

Oh, and now only somewhat off-topic because I brought up movies: I have a review of that new film about sex addiction, Shame, up at In Mala Fide. I hesitate to use the word “review” given I ain’t got the film studies chops nor movie writing experience to back it up, but there it is.

I read this post at John Cochrane’s blog and attempted to comment, but commenting isn’t open to the general public. So I sent him the following email. (more…)

I dislike twitter, to a significant extent because it is suited for “real time” communication, whereas I want information to be indestructible (and easily accessible). Josh Barro uses it a lot though, including in a recent argument about the defects of local government. I wanted to reference it in a discussion with mtraven, but just passing along one link wouldn’t cut it. The relevant comments weren’t that numerous or scattered though, so I figure I’ll compile them here.

At IOZ I left a comment that many of the folks who come there for laughs (or venting) won’t give a shit about. I suppose it might fit better here, although it might strike readers as banal.

For someone called the “philosophical architect” or “father of the welfare state”, you’d expect to hear about the guy. But I hadn’t until recently (recently being around Dec 21, so this wasn’t due to Razib highlighting the domain). I found an article about his perspective on education, which makes the interesting point that Ward himself was self-educated. The source wasn’t very pleasant to read in one go, so as in the post before last I am compiling it onto one page.

I read the name mentioned here with Irving Kristol as a founding father of neoconservatism. His wikipedia page is here.

Some of the pages at Caplan’s personal site are now annoying to read, and it’s split up into three parts, so I’ve complied it all into one page here. (more…)