Race Relations: Global Edition

RealClearWorld has a recent post that should be instructive to Americans in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case and the racism claims that accompanied it. Though racism certainly exists in America (I’m willing to bet it will always exist everywhere to some extent), to obsessively focus of America’s past and present sins while ignoring the rest of the world is problematic. Here are a few points the RCW article makes:

  • A large number of Hungarian parents will not allow their children to be friends with Jews (46%), Africans (58%), or Roma/Gypsies (68%).
  • Italy’s first black government minister was openly compared to an orangutan by a senator and had bananas thrown at her by a citizen.
  • Dutch politicians exploit racial tensions to advance a particularly anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant agenda.
  • Mexican navy cadets were attacked by some 300 “soccer fans” on a Polish beach.
  • The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party caught 7% of the Greek popular vote in June.
  • The National Front caught nearly 18% of the French vote in the April 2012 first-round presidential elections.
  • The Freedom Party in the Netherlands caused the government to collapse in April 2012.
  • Extremist parties were part of government coalitions in Italy, Switzerland, Austria until recently.
  • Similar parties are gaining momentum in Denmark, Sweden, and Finland and were met with electoral success in the 2009 European Parliament elections in Hungary, the UK, etc.

As the article concludes, “Perhaps those who continue to obsess over American race relations should try reading global news every once in a while.”

Should Women Be Allowed to Go to College? Feminists Unsure

2013-08-21 o-alma-mater

This headline is much more provocative than the blog post that inspired it (O, Alma Mater), so let me explain why I think it’s warranted. In the post, Anne-Marie Maginnis responds to the idea that women who earn Ivy League degrees and choose to be stay-at-home moms are wasting their degrees. She cites a recent article in The Guardian:

Any Harvard Law School degree obtained by a woman who then chooses not to use it in any sort of professional capacity throughout most of her life is a wasted opportunity. That degree could have gone to a woman who does want to spend her entire life using it to advance the cause of women—or others in need of advancement—not simply advancing the lives of her own family at home, which is a noble cause, but not one requiring an elite degree.

The quote is ostensibly about advanced degrees at elite schools (not “college”) and specifically about stay-at-home moms (not “women”), but the truly alarming thing about the argument–which Maginnis exposes immediately–is that it assumes that women aren’t worth educating for their own sake. If you take it seriously, this brand of feminism says that a woman’s value–her right to be educated–is dependent on her usefulness to the capitalist machine. So much for liberalism, in pretty much every sense of the word.

Little Boys Like Guns

Don’t be afraid. It’s just a poptart. Also, your son is not a sociopath.

Time recently published a compelling article on how zero tolerance policies and teacher and parent aversion to action-packed boy play is hindering the social, verbal and academic (and possibly other) development of little boys.

At the same time that more and more research has shown that creative play is essential to childhood development, policies have been decreasing the amount of acceptable pretend play.  From redirecting superhero play (but not princess play for girls) to draconian policies that suspend or expel very young children for merely making a gun with their hands or other harmless object, we are robbing boys of essential growth.

If you’re one of those parents who doesn’t allow toy guns at home, maybe the next time you think “Oh no! Are my boys too violent?” because they want to play cops and robbers you should instead rethink “Oh yes! My boys are so creative.”

NSA: We can’t because we can’t

documents

The NSA hires a lot of smart people, and smart people tend to think they’re smarter than other people because they’re smarter than other people. So it’s not surprising that when Kevin Collier of the Daily Dot asked the NSA under the Freedom of Information Act for his “file,” he was answered that because the “adversaries” of the security of the nation would inevitably monitor any “public request” for data, and the compilation of any and all such requests could result in “grave damage” to national security, they were unable to honor his request.

Catch that?

The NSA has concocted a defensible rationale for why they can’t honor FIA requests for personal data, based upon the fact of their own existence and the existence of their surveillance programs. They are saying, in essence, “we cannot exchange information because the exchange of information alerts enemies which will use the exchange of information to do harm.” The implicit premise is that their information gathering is necessary and justified in the first place, which of course begs the question. We are forced to wonder, if the information didn’t exist, would we be in more or less danger from the enemies of national security? It amounts to a rhetorical tautology, and it’s nonsense.

These are the people we’ve put in charge of our military, our money and our future, folks. Take a good look.

Mad Skillz

Over at the American Enterprise Institute, James Pethokoukis has an excellent write-up on a new study by Steven Kaplan (University of Chicago Booth School of Business) and Joshua Rauh (Stanford Graduate School of Business) on income inequality and the “1% vs. 99%” war cry. The findings:

  • The increase in pay at the highest income levels has been broad-based, ranging from public and private company executives to pro athletes.
  • Instead of drastically rising, the afer-tax, after-transfer income share of the top 1% is about the same as it was in 1987-1988, 1996, and 2001 (most inequality alarmists cite pre-tax, pre-transfer income).
  • Top earners come less from inherited wealth (which dropped from 60 to 32% between 1982 and 2011) and more from modest households, access to education (the share of those with no college dropped from 17 to 5 percent, with college grads rising from 77 to 87% between ’82 and ’11), and placing their efforts in tech-based industries.

“We believe,” write Kaplan and Rauh,

that the US evidence on income and wealth shares for the top 1 percent is most consistent with a “superstar”-style explanation rooted in the importance of scale and skill-biased technological change. In particular, we interpret the fact that the top 1 percent is spread broadly across a variety of occupations as most consistent with an important role for skill-biased technological change and increased scale. These facts are less consistent with an argument that the gains to the top 1 percent are rooted in greater managerial power or changes in social norms about what managers should earn.

Though globalization “may have contributed to greater scale,” it “cannot drive the increase in inequality at the top levels given the breadth of the phenomenon across the occupations we study.” Funny enough, increasing globalization has actually decreased global inequality over the last few decades.

Xavier Sala-i-Martin, Maxim Pinkovskiy, 2010

So, maybe the superrich aren’t all Gordon Gekkos. Maybe they’ve just got mad skillz in the globalized economy.

Malice Towards None: Orson Scott Card, Gay Marriage, and the “Ender’s Game” Film Controversy, Part Two

Note: This is the second part of this essay. Part one can be found by clicking here.

“It was just him and me. He fought with honor. If it weren’t for his honor, he and the others would have beaten me together. They might have killed me, then. His sense of honor saved my life. I didn’t fight with honor… I fought to win.”
–Ender’s Game

“Somebody with that much compassion could never be the killer we needed. Could never go into battle willing to win at all costs. If you knew, you couldn’t do it. If you were the kind of person who would do it even if you knew, you could never have understood [them] well enough.”
Ender’s Game

Perhaps one of the most troubling things to me about the whole Ender’s Game boycott is the chill and fear it creates not only for those who, on personal, religious or ethical grounds, oppose gay marriage, but also to those who choose to work and associate with them. In these scenarios, all tainted parties are punished, even those who happen to be supportive with the gay rights movement.  It’s a modern McCarthyism, creating a feeling that all people who do not pass that sociopolitical litmus test must be shunned and, if you do not shun them as well, you’re suspect as well. Thus, in the case Ender’s Game, Lionsgate, Harrison Ford, Gavin Hood, Asa Butterfield, and the rest of the cast and crew of the film would be punished by this kind of attitude, even though they have all come out staunchly in the favor of gay rights, and insist the story of Ender’s Game is a story about compassion and empathy, so has nothing to do with Card’s stance on gay marriage.

Fortunately, a lot of the more level headed members of the liberal community see the implications of such actions. Juliet Lapados at the New York Times, even though she hardly agrees with Card’s more extreme views, called out this sort of action:

Generally, boycotts are used to pressure companies or governments to end objectionable activities; consider the boycott of Chick-fil-A to protest the chain’s financial support of antigay organizations. What Geeks Out has in mind is closer to blacklisting. The group wants to “send a clear and serious message to Card and those that do business with his brand of antigay activism — whatever he’s selling, we’re not buying.” This isn’t about stopping the dissemination of antigay sentiments; it’s about isolating Mr. Card and shaming his business partners, thus cutting into their profits.

If Mr. Card belongs in quarantine, who’s next?

Read moreMalice Towards None: Orson Scott Card, Gay Marriage, and the “Ender’s Game” Film Controversy, Part Two

Science of Smiling

2013-08-15 Smiling

This is an interesting article about the science behind smiling, and most importantly the beneficial effects of smiling:

Smiling stimulates our brain’s reward mechanisms in a way that even chocolate, a well-regarded pleasure-inducer, cannot match.

The article even includes directions on how to practice your smile. That sounds off-putting initially (to me, at least), but it’s interesting that it’s specifically teaching you to practice your genuine smile. Fake smiles, apparently, just don’t give the same benefit.

Honest Company vs. Honest Toddler

2013-08-14 Honest Toddler

Something that sucks about the US legal system: sometimes it doesn’t matter who is right and who is wrong. It matters who is funded and who is not. I hope that’s not how the feud between The Honest Toddler (which is a hilarious and independent mom blog) and The Honest Company (which is backed by celebrity Jessica Alba and the guy behind LegalZoom) ends up. Read about it at the aptly named blog: People I Want to Punch in the Throat, but here’s the gist:

The Honest Company appears to think that any company with the word “Honest” in the title infringes on their trademark. (Except for Honest Tea, of course, because that’s owned by Coca-Cola and The Honest Company only picks on companies smaller than itself.)

So far Honest Toddler has refused to give in, and I hope she never does and that she ends up kicking ass.

“I, Pencil” and the Providential Invisible Hand

In the December 1958 issue of The Freeman, economics writer and FEE founder Leonard Read published his now-famous essay “I, Pencil.” The essay traced the “family tree” of the modern pencil, demonstrating the complexity of its creation and the numerous people involved. Nobel laureate Milton Friedman was so impressed with the essay that he used it in one of the episodes for his TV series Free to Choose. More recently, science writer Matt Ridley borrowed from the idea by declaring that literally nobody on the face of the planet knows how to build a computer mouse. Despite the individualistic rhetoric that often accompanies markets, Read’s essay provides a much needed reminder that markets on the whole are more communal, more cooperative, and more interdependent than the centralized planning that often employs these rhetorical fronts.

The discussion of the “invisible hand” toward the end is almost spiritual in nature. And with good reason. As Peter Harrison, historian and director of the Centre for the History of European Discourse at the University of Queensland, explains,

[D]uring the early modern period, in addition to increasing frequency of occurrence, we witness the emergence of a more distinct pattern of use or, more correctly perhaps, of two related concepts of the operation of ‘‘the invisible hand.’’ Most commonly the invisible hand was used to refer to the manner in which God exercised providential control over the course of history by subtly influencing human actions in order to bring about his ends. These ends are thus accomplished in spite of the intentions of human actors and without their knowledge. The second pattern of usage also refers to God’s providential action, but in the context of his superintendence of the natural world. Thus God’s invisible hand was glimpsed in the contrivances of the creatures and in the wisdom and foresight evidenced by the laws of nature, which again promote his ends. These two conceptions between them represent the most predominant uses of the expression in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and hence the most relevant background for Smith’s uses of the expression.

Just as the laws of nature were originally seen as “exemplif[ying] design, so too…did the laws of morality.” For Smith and his contemporaries, “the general laws of the moral, as well as of the material world, are wisely and beneficently ordered for the welfare of our species.”

Seems to be working out alright.