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October 31, 2004

Nonreligious Immortality

Last night we had our neighbor the urologist over for a dinner party and he was telling us that the political skirmishing over stem cell research is just a fraud on ignorant enthusiasts and a cover for the abortion debate. There are plenty of stem cell lines available for research now, umbilical cord blood stem cells are as good as fetus ones, and we don't know how to "turn on" stem cells now anyway, so any medical use is still far away, though well worthy of research. Rather, proponents of the use of fetal stem cells are trying to show that abortion has a good side to it-- and to further their idea that a fetus is just like a blood sample, something to be bought, sold, or thrown away without qualms.

The topic of cell lines made me think about immortality and the odd lawsuit over Moore's Spleen, which I posted about this spring. (My last musing on this subject, in 2003, included an excerpt fromCaptain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven.) John Moore's doctor and UCLA took his spleen cells, created an immortal cell line, and made millions. The lawsuit was over the millions, but what I think of now is that Moore is immortal, physically-- at least, unless the researchers get tired of preserving his cell line. Yet, of course, it does Moore no good.

For that matter, we are all immortal in the sense that the atoms in our body do not disintegrate when we die. Isaac Newton's carbon atoms are still around somewhere, perhaps in a tree in Scotland and a hog in Surrey.

Nor, for most of us, does our DNA vanish. Many, though probably not all of our genes are still around, in different combinations, in our descendants.

Nor does our effect on the world necessarily disappear. For most of us, our direct impact on other people slowly dissipates, as they die themselves and do not tell of us to their descendants, but authors, builders, and inventors can have increasing impacts. Mothers can too.

So immortality, even putting aside our immortal souls, is a tricky thing to analyze. The soul is even harder, and must be, I think, one of those mysteries like the Trinity or the Creation that cannot be understood using available evidence and intellect.

Lines 253-262 of Canto 3 of Pope's Essay on Man has two important ideas:


Wants, frailties, passions, closer still ally

The common interest, or endear the tie.

To these we owe true friendship, love sincere,

Each home-felt joy that life inherits here;

Yet from the same we learn, in its decline,

Those joys, those loves, those interests to resign;

Taught half by reason, half by mere decay,

To welcome death
, and calmly pass away.

Whate'er the passion, knowledge, fame, or pelf,

Not one will change his neighbour with himself.


Idea 1 is that reason and slow decline teach us to accept death. That is true for the reasonable man, though I'd also be interested to see how IQ and age correlate with fear of death. I'm afraid there might, in practice, be a positive correlation, with intellectuals and [other?] old women having the greatest fear for their health.

Idea 2 is that "Not one will change his neighbour with himself." How striking! Who would abandon his own identity for another's? I may think I am unhappy, but would I destroy myself, to be replaced in someone else. Some people do, of course, commit suicide, but not to be reborn as someone else. We humans are selfish enough for just the idea of Self to be valued above all else.

Posted by erasmuse at 07:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 30, 2004

The Situation in Sudan

It's Sudan Day here at Indiana University. Sudan now has not one but two distinct collapses of civil society: in the South, and in Darfur. The South has been in turmoil ever since the 1950's, except for one period from 1972 to 1983 when the Khartoum government made peace and allowed autonomy. There is no reason for the Moslem North and the Christian/Pagan South to be one country, really, though a federal system could work. But in 1983, the discovery of oil in the South and Northern Islamism combined to make the North end autonomy and restart the war. It's unclear how many hundreds of thousands or millions have died in the South (some say 3 million). But what is clear is that the South has been in anarchy. The North has not seriously tried to conquer the South, but it has used such things as raids, funding of bandits and militias, and aerial bombing of civilians to prevent anybody else from governing the South. The aim seems to have been to keep the South utterly undeveloped, so it could not present any kind of threat to Northern plans. The situation would be like the traditional one, where the North, in a more advanced state of development, could go South for resources (slaves then, oil now) without needing to actually govern it....

...It took 20 years, but now the oil is flowing. A couple of good reports on it are the U.S. Dept. of Energy Sudan Brief and the 3MB Human Rights Watch 2003 oil report , especially the section, "Oil Revenues Soar", and the International Crisis Group's 250-page 2002"God, Oil and Country: Changing the Logic of War in Sudan". (See also the older report of my own organization, South Sudanese Friends International). Total government revenue from all sources rose from 800 million dollars in 1999 to 1,799 million dollars in 2002; revenue from oil rose from 61 to 805 million dollars (Table 1). By 2005 oil output will have doubled-- and oil prices are up too. So time are good for Khartoum.

But not everything has been good. There are two problems for oil production: the turmoil in the South, and international-- especially American-- disapproval. The calculus of costs and benefits for the North has changed. The Islamist leader Hassan Turabi is under house arrest, and his secular ally General Bashir is firmly in power. Foreign oil companies are producing the oil, but with the exception of the Swedish-Swiss private company Lundin, they are non-western oil companies. Talisman, the Canadian company, sold its stake after criticism of its support for Khartoum became too hot. And the war in the South is bad for oil production. Thus, peace now has the possibility of being a win-win situation. The North can escape foreign criticism and produce oil at less cost; the South can have peace and a share of the oil money.

In 2004, Khartoum and the SPLA, the biggest of the many Southern groups, signed a peace, under U.S. auspices. Whether Khartoum will keep to the details of the agreement seems to me doubtful-- a 50-50 oil split and possible independence of the South in a few years seems much too good to be true-- but what is much more likely is that peace will come. That is what the South chiefly needs-- peace, so that the villages and towns can operate normally, and begin the climb from poverty that occurs automatically if official and unofficial pillage does not prevent it. Even if the oil money all goes to the SPLA leadership and Khartoum, if that keeps them off the backs of the Southern people, it will be a blessing.

"What about Darfur?" you may ask. I don't understand what is going on there. It is an immense tragedy, similar to the Southern one in that it takes the form of rampaging militias tacitly supported by Khartoum and of a refusal to govern. Khartoum's motivation is harder to see. The people in Darfur who are being oppressed are among the most Moslem in Sudan, so perhaps this is Bashir firming up his power-- wreck the political structure in Darfur, and then go in to pick up the pieces later. Torabi is on the side of the people in Darfur, which supports this, and there has apparently been a purge of Darfurians in position of power in Khartoum. They have composed a disproportionately large share of the army in the past. Unlike the South, Darfur-- in alliance with Moslems in Khartoum-- actually has been a threat to the Bashir regime. That threat is now being suppressed.

Posted by erasmuse at 05:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Baron Hill Lying about His Liberalism-- Hiding behind Courts

One thing I hate about liberals is how they use the courts to subvert the Constitution and then claim they are just defending the Constitution and "separation of powers". There is a large class (majority? 90%?) of law professors who do not even acknowledge the fact that the Supreme Court can act unconstitutionally-- for them, what the Supreme Court says is what the Constitution says, by definition. Our U.S Rep. here in Bloomington, Baron Hill, is doing the same. He claims he is against various judicial atrocities, but then he votes against any attempt to prevent them, and claims his opponents are lying when they say he favors what the courts are doing. It's sickening. I heard one of his ads this morning on the radio. It claimed he represented traditional values-- which he clearly does not. If only liberals would admit to their views! Here's what the Herald Times has to say ($) about Baron Hill.


The signs accuse Hill of supporting gay marriage and flag burning and wanting to "take God out of the Pledge of Allegiance."

"All of it is lies," said Hill, who faces Republican Mike Sodrel in a heated re-election battle. "It's really disturbing to me that somebody would just blatantly lie about my views."

...

Bernitt issued a news release Friday that denied lying about Hill, and said it's the congressman who is deceiving the public. He cited Hill's vote in September against the Pledge Protection Act, which says courts should have no say in whether language in the pledge is constitutional. The House passed it, 247-173.

...

"Baron Hill's vote was so out of step with Hoosier values that we couldn't sit by and let him get away with hiding this secret," he said in the release.

Bernitt would not answer questions about the group's funding, who is involved with it and the fairness of its claims. [note the bias of the Herald-Times here-- Bernitt addressed fairness just above here, in the same story!]

Hill said he voted against the pledge bill because it was unconstitutional.

"We have this thing in the Constitution called separation of powers," he said.

As for other issues targeted by the billboards, Hill said he voted against denying courts jurisdiction over marriage for the same reason and opposed an amendment to ban flag burning because he is leery of changing the Constitution.

Hill said the billboards go beyond disagreement on issues and misrepresent his values.

"This is personal," he said. "It's challenging my character. I hope people will see through it."

Yes, it is challenging his character. That's the point. He is not just a liberal, but lies about it.

Posted by erasmuse at 04:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 29, 2004

Comments Opened Again

MT 3.1 is working pretty well now for me. It will be some time before I restore my old weblog appearance-- I have to see how the templates work now. I've managed to merge in my old Politics entries into the archives, though, and to purge the old spam comments. I may have deleted some legit reader comments by accident-- my apologies, and it is to my regret perhaps even more than to yours. The newest version of MT-Blacklist, which I've installed, seems to deal well with spam comments, so I've opened up comments again. Note that comments on older entries are moderated now, meaning I have to approve them before they appear. Also, the first time you comment I need to click to approve it. These are the main MT-blacklist line of defense against spam.

Posted by erasmuse at 09:16 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sender-Receiver Games: Truthful Announcement, Cheap Talk, and Signalling

After a chat with Professor Harbaugh, I thought I'd collect my thoughts on communication games, thinking about revisions to my Games and Information. These notes won't mean much to non-economists, I'm afraid.

There are a variety of games in which one player, the Sender, tries to communicate something-- which we can call "his type"-- to another, the Receiver. The Sender is the informed player, so he is often an Agent; the Receiver is uninformed, and so is often a Principal.

I wonder if the games can usefully be divided into Truthful Announcement, Cheap Talk, and Signalling....

...In Truthful Announcement games, the Sender may be silent or send a message, but the message must be truthful if it is sent. There is no cost to sending the message, but it may induce the Receiver to take actions that affect the Sender. If the Receiver ignores the message, the Sender's payoff is unaffected by the message. The Sender's type varies from bad to good in these models usually.

An example of a Truthful Announcement game is when the Sender's ability A is uniformly distributed on [0,1], and the Sender can send a message Y such as "A>.5" or "A=.2".

In Cheap Talk games, the Sender's message is costless, but need not be truthful. If the Receiver ignores the message, the Sender's payoff is unaffected by the message. If the Receiver acts, though, that might affect the Sender. Usually, these are coordination games, where the Sender's preferred Receiver-action, given the true state of the world that he knows, is positively correlated with the Receiver's preferred Receiver-action.

An example of a Cheap Talk game is when the Sender and Receiver want to go to the same restaurant, either A or B, but only the Sender knows which restaurant is better. The Sender send a message-- "A" or "B"-- and if the Receiver ignores it, there is no cost to the Sender.

In Signalling games, the Sender's message is costly-- or at least a false message is-- but need not be truthful. The Sender's payoff is affected even if the Receiver ignores his message. The Sender's type varies from bad to good in these models usually. The "single-crossing property" is crucial-- that if the Sender's type is better, it is cheaper for him to send a message that his type is good.

An example is credentials. The Sender is dull or bright. If he is bright, it is easier for him to acquire credentials, which is his message to a Receiver employer.

In writing this up, some awkwardnesses strike me.

1. Zero-Cost Signals. A signalling game doesn't change its essential properties if sending the message of high quality is costless for the truly high quality type. It could even have negative cost for him-- that he gets a reward for truthfully declaring his type. What matters is that the same signal be too costly for a low quality type to think worth sending.

2. Lying Being what Is Costly. In the usual models, if a high signal is sent, that is more expensive than a low signal, especially for the low type of Sender. But I think the model would work out very much the same if what is expensive is not a high signal, but a false signal. The difference is that in the usual models, it is cheap for the High type to falsely signal that he is low, but in a truth-based model, it would be expensive for him to be modest.

3. Expensive-Talk Games. Imagine a cheap-talk game in which the signal is costly-- but the cost is the same for everyone, regardless of type. The usual sort of signalling won't work, because signalling high quality is no more expensive for the Low type than for the High type. But truthful communication might still work, for reasons more akin to those of the Cheap-Talk Game, if the High type Sender has a greater desire than the Low type for the Receiver to adopt a High response.

Thus, imagine that the Low Sender could make $100 as a salesman for himself and $100 for the Receiver if the Receiver hires him, and the High Sender could make $900 for himself and $900 for the Receiver. If messages are costless, both Senders would send the message "I am a High type" (not, I guess, "Hire me--I'm high"), and the message would be uninformative. If the message costs $200, only the truly High Sender would send the message. There is now an equilibrium in which the message is informative (there is also a pooling equilibrium, perhaps implausible, in which messages are still ignored).

People might think of this as a signalling game, applying the single-crossing property to the ultimate payoffs, but it is really more akin to the cheap-talk game, I think. It is like the PHD Admissions Game in Chapter 6 of my book. Perhaps it like Mechanism Design games too, which might be thought of as a form of cheap-talk games, since they have Senders and Receivers and costless messages, though in Mechanism Design games there is commitment to the mechanism.

Posted by erasmuse at 09:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Donahue on Police and Crime: Federal Subsidies of Local Police

There's a new electronic BEPRESS journal out for public policy, nontechnical, articles. John Donohue's (September 18, 2004) "Clinton and Bush's Report Cards on Crime Reduction: The Data Show Bush Policies Are Undermining Clinton Gains" is interesting. He notes that the number of police per capita increased in the Clinton years and has declined slightly in the Bush years. Clinton had a program that was giving a billion dollars or so a year to cities to hire police, though funding was cut in half from 1999 to 2000, even before Bush took office. Of course, the most important feature of the Clinton years was a booming economy and fast-growing state and local spending generally. Donahue's data stops in 2002, and the first couple of Bush years were not prosperous ones for city governments.

Donahue says that a 10% increase in police reduces crime by about 5%, which is remarkable. If that is true, though, then we must ask why cities (and states) do not fund more police themselves, rather than waiting for federal funds for what is a local concern. The city (and state, via lower prison spending) gets the benefit, so why wouldn't they be willing to pay the cost? My main criticism of the Clinton program is that it seems like a way for the President to reward cities that support him with cash for their local spending, paid for by taxes generally, including from localities that do not support him.

Posted by erasmuse at 04:10 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 28, 2004

Piehl and DiLulio on whether Prison Pays; Drug Dealers

"Does Prison Pay?" by Anne Morrison Piehl and John J. DiLulio (The Brookings Review, Winter 1995) concludes generally that prison does pay: if the prisoners were not there, the cost of their crimes would be greater than the cost of their imprisonment. They except drug crimes from this, but only because they measure the benefit of imprisoning a drug dealer to be zero! In detail, here is what they say about crime generally:


Using the best available estimates of prison operating costs and the social costs of crime, we calculated that imprisoning 100 convicted felons who offended at the median rate cost $2.5 million, but that leaving them on the streets cost $4.6 million. We noted that for as much as a quarter of prisoners, other correctional options, such as probation, intensive drug treatment, or some other programs, might well be even more cost effective than imprisonment and we stressed the need for more research.

What we offer now is a new prisoner self-report survey, one that we conducted in New Jersey in 1993 of a random sample of 4 percent of recent male entrants to the state's prison population. Analysis of this survey reconfirms our earlier finding : prison pays for most state prisoners. Most state prisoners are either violent or repeat offenders who pose a real and present danger to the physical safety or property of any communities into which they might be released. For them, assuredly, prison pays.

As for drug dealers, they say,

We believe that the best estimate of the incapacitation effect (number of drug sales prevented by incarcerating a drug dealer) is zero, and therefore value drug crimes (sales and possession) at zero social cost.

Other analysts, including many whom no one can accuse of being soft on drug crime or in favor of drug legalization, have reached similar conclusions. For example, in a recent issue of Commentary, James Q. Wilson observed that prison terms for crack dealers do not have the same incapacitative effect as sentences for robbery. ... [A] drug dealer sent away is replaced by a new one because an opportunity has opened up. Many law enforcement and corrections officials have reached the same conclusion.

...

We are open to convincing evidence that the public is willing to pay substantial sums for retribution against drug dealers. And we are aware that certain types of prison-based drug treatment programs can work to reduce the chances that an offender will return to drugs or crime upon release. But let no one suppose that by incarcerating most drug offenders we succeed in averting lots of drug crimes. If there is an empirically sound argument for a no-parole policy that makes no distinctions between drug-only offenders and other prisoners, we have yet to hear it.

Note that at first they are careful to say that they believe there is no incapacitating effect of imprisoning drug dealers-- which allows for the possibility that there is a deterrent effect. But then in the last paragraph I quote, they talk about retribution but not deterrence. Sure, imprisoning one drug dealer just keeps him off the street and no other drug dealers, but it does deter other drug dealers to some extent. But there is even an incapacitative effect.

Suppose we randomly executed 10% of the executives of Fortune 500 companies each year. Would that reduce the number of executives? No-- there would just be a lot of promotions. Would it reduce the output of those companies? For sure.

The same is true for the heroin business, or for any business. Removing the leadership disrupts operations and deprives the business of its most talented and experienced managers. In addition, if the business is unethical, it deprives it of people who are in the doubly rare category of being both smart and evil.

How about "convincing evidence that the public is willing to pay substantial sums for retribution against drug dealers"? How about the evidence that the public *does* pay substantial sums for retribution against drug dealers? And it isn't because the public is unaware of this spending. It isn't an obscure policy. It is there because of public demand, not because politicians or bureaucrats or the elite media have an animus against drug dealers. What the public wants is simple and is what it gets-- lots of drug dealers put in prison. As DiIulio and Piehl point out earlier in the same article, this isn't a large proportion of their taxes, either. I don't know the public's motivation, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were independent of whether those drug dealers were replaced by others: it might well be a desire to punish evil and to rid society of evildoers. That more evildoers exist is beside the point.

Posted by erasmuse at 05:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 27, 2004

Weblog Transition

I'm moving to Movable Type 3 now, and am having problems. My first priority is to make my new posts readable. My second is to get a search engine working so old posts can be found.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Cramer on Vote Fraud

Clayton Cramer has a good post on a simple form of vote fraud: just pretend to be someone else and vote before they do. Absentee and early voting make this kind of fraud particularly easy. He recounts one such incident that just happened. One part of his story that struck me in particular was that the authorities were completely uninterested in pursuing whoever perpetrated the fraud. When there's no enforcement, we can expect a lot of fraud. This is a major advantage of the electoral college. If we simply elected whoever had a majority of the popular vote, that would give a big incentive to pile up fraudulent vote in the states in which you had complete control of the government. We still have a problem with this within states: a corrupt part of a state can exercise undue influence via fraud.

Cramer also writes about an easy step towards reducing the problem:

Question: Is there any good reason why a voter should not have to present valid identification at the polling place?

The answer, by the way, is No.

I consider one of the most important actions of the next Congress to be passing a law requiring anyone voting in a federal election to show an official picture ID.

The other easy step is to reduce the amount of absentee voting, or to eliminate it altogether.

Posted by erasmuse at 09:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

An Exercise for Learning Proofs

The main use of learning Euclidean geometry is to learn the idea of how to prove things-- how to go logically from assumptions to a proposition. That is especially useful because the assumptions are laid out as axioms, but doing any kind of proof can be a useful exercise. Below is an exercise that I think I heard about from Professor Aliprantis some years back:...

... Ask students to prove that adding some numbers together to equal 5, at least one number must be greater than 2.

Part of the task is to clarify the proposition. It takes some thought to come up with the following statement of the problem:

PROPOSITION 1: If x+y =5, where x and y are positive integers, either x or y is greater than 2.

Having proved that, have the students prove Proposition 2.

PROPOSITION 2: If x+y = 101, where x and y are positive integers, either x or y is greater than 50.

This is a good second step because Proposition 1 can be proved by exhaustion.

Posted by erasmuse at 09:40 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 26, 2004

Children's Attention Watching TV

Should children multi-task? In a psychology study, one group of 5-year-olds watched Sesame Street with toys in the room, and another with no toys. The researc hers filmed them to record how much attention they paid (how much they looked at the TV), and then tested them on what they remembered about the program. The surprising discovery was that although they children with toys paid much less attention, they remembered just as much-- though not as much about what was going on during the specific times they were not paying attention.

The researchers' conclusion was that the children were paying attention to the most informative parts of the program, carefully enough that paying attention to the other parts didn't yield them much extra comprehension. Thus, comprehension causes attention rather than the reverse.

An implication is that the way to get children to understand something on TV is not to grab their attention with fast pacing and gimmicks, but to slow down the pace to make it understandable, which in turn will get their attention.

I suppose this has implications for adults too, and for my teaching. I should slow down and be understandable!

The study is reported in Daniel Anderson and Elizabeth Lorch "Looking at Television: Action or Reaction?", chapter 1 of Jennings Bryant and Daniel Anderson, eds. Children's Understanding of Television (New York: Academic Press, 1983)

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Strongholds of the Left: Political Donations by University Employees

Ruth Wisse, one of my neighbors during my year visiting Harvard, wrote in yesterday's Wall Street Journal,

The Federal Election Commission could not have foreseen that when it required employment information on political donations of over $200, it would expose scandalous uniformity in a university community that advertises its diversity. The Sacramento Bee reported that the University of California system gave more to the Kerry campaign than any other single employee group, and that Harvard was second, with only 15,000 employees to UC's 160,000. Campus bloggers computed the percentages of Kerry contributions over Bush: Cornell 93%, Dartmouth 97%, Yale 93%, Brown 89%.

What is the relevance of this? --That our universities are strongholds of the Left, and of the Democratic Party. That is fine-- other organizations are equally strongholds of the Right and the Republican Party. But students should realize that their professors, as a group, are leftwing, and letters saying that 123 law professors or 234 economics professors oppose Bush should fail to impress anyone.

The Left has come to dominate universities, the judiciary, the media, the "mainline" religious denominations, schoolteachers. This is what one might expect, and is in line with what Schumpeter predicted in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. His gloomy prediction there was that capitalism would collapse because businessmen were not articulate and political enough to defend themselves against intellectuals. It is interesting that that prediction has not come true. We do have heavy government regulation, but the private sector has defended itself fairly well, has even rolled back some regulation, and has largely defeated the idea of government ownership. Instead, it is on social issues that the Left has triumphed-- abortion, homosexuality, gambling, pornography, secularism, the role of women, affirmative action. I suppose that is because of the Left's strength in the key sectors I named above, combined with the lack of strong individual interests being affected by attitudinal changes. Note that the Left has not been so successful with gun control, which though it arguably has diffuse general benefits would also impose disliked restrictions on individuals. The benefits of pornography control are similarly diffuse, and the restrictions individualized, and so we legalized it once the universities, judiciary, media, ministers, and schoolteachers changed their attitude.

Posted by erasmuse at 10:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 25, 2004

Kerry's Incitement of Racial Hatred

From the Weekly Standard, we have more evidence of Kerry's shamelessness. It is in the interest of many politicians to incite racial strife. The Democrats have merely moved from cynically inciting whites to cynically inciting blacks over the past 50 years.


John Kerry has revived his most shameless and dishonest talking point: that Republicans disenfranchised black voters in Florida in the 2000 election and are planning to do so again. He made this argument to the NAACP in
July. Addressing the National Baptist Convention on September 9, Kerry did it again.

"The other side says that a million African-American votes not counted, continuing acts of voter suppression, and the most tainted election in American history is the best that we can do," Kerry said. "That's W. That's wrong. And we're not going to let it happen again. This time, we will fight to make sure every vote is counted and every vote counts. And we are already on the ground in Florida and elsewhere to make sure that nothing stands in the way."

THere is, of course, no evidence of any blacks being disenfranchised, much less a million of them, and there are special laws in place to protect black voters that aren't even available to white voters.

The Standard noted the hyperbole of saying that the 2000 election was notable for being tainted. The taint there was the attempt by the Democrats to overthrow the standard rules and make up new ones that would let them win with the aid of allies in the judiciary. Even then, they couldn't come up with rules in time that would have let them win. Look out for heavy vote fraud this time. The main use of Kerry's race tactic may be to discourage enforcement of laws against vote fraud in mainly black precincts. Look for heavy use of "walking-around money" this year, and lots of absentee ballots in the same handwriting.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:28 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 24, 2004

Discrimination Against White Male Professors in Arizona

It's hardly a secret that in America racial and sexual discrimination is practiced on a massive scale, more overtly (in the North if not the South) than ever in history. But a federal court ruled in July 2004 that Northern Arizona University discriminated against white male professors....


Northern Arizona University violated the civil rights of 40 white male faculty members by giving raises to female and minority professors and not to them, a federal judge in Phoenix ruled last week.

The male faculty members had sued the university and the Arizona Board of Regents in 1995, claiming violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of race or sex. They contended that they had been treated unfairly because members of minority groups at the university had received one-time pay increases that averaged $3,000, and women had received increases averaging $2,400, while the white men had received no raises.

In January 2003, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had found that a 1993 pay-equity plan developed by the university’s former president, Eugene Hughes, had not unnecessarily hampered the rights of professors who did not receive raises. But the judges concluded that a jury should decide whether the raises were higher than necessary to make up for past inequities.

The plaintiffs, on advice from their lawyer, Jess A. Lorona, chose to have a fact-finder review and rule on the matter instead of a jury.

The fact-finder, Senior Judge Robert C. Broomfield of the U.S. District Court in Phoenix, ruled that in awarding the raises, Northern Arizona had failed "to attain a balance" and "went beyond attaining a balance." He noted that university data showed that when experience, rank, discipline, and tenure status were taken into account, male professors at the time made only $750 more per year than females, on average, and white professors only $87 more than members of minority groups. Judge Broomfield also noted that in determining raises, Mr. Hughes had failed to consider doctoral status and performance.

...

A. Dean Pickett, general counsel for the university, said that in 1994, after Mr. Hughes left the university, a new set of raises, totaling about $700,000, was given to white male professors and female professors. Those raises, he said, made up for any discrepancies. He also noted that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined in 1995 that those raises constituted "full relief" for the alleged discriminatory practice.

The two sides will return to court on July 26 to set a date for a trial that will determine potential damages.

I wonder who could sue universities about the practice of going into the hiring process having decided only to hire women?

Posted by erasmuse at 09:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Home Church Service

Today I was at my parents' farm and we had church at home, using Luke
16:19-29 and I Corinthians 1:20-27. Luke 16 is the story of Lazarus and
the Rich Man, and I Corinthians 1 is about "The Foolishness of This
World". I've copied both at the end of this post. The order of service was like
this:


Invocation >
Singing "Jesus Loves Me"
Reading I Corinthians 1:20-27 (Uncle Scott) .
Singing "Trust and Obey" (first verse only)
Prayer (Grandpa)
Reading Luke 16, Lazarus and the Rich Man (Grandma)
Acting out Luke 16 (Elizabeth as the Rich Man, Grandma as Lazarus, Amelia as Abraham, Benjamin as the Dog, Jacob as the Angel and the Gravedigger, Uncle
Eric narrating.
Sermon: "Simple Faith" (Uncle Eric)
Singing "Trust and Obey" (first verse only)
Singing "Jesus Loves Me"

It worked out well. Lazarus and the Rich Man is easy to dramatize, and the two passages work well together for a sermon on the Gospel and Pride. Two things I'd remember for next time are: (a) Prepare a passage for a benediction, and (b)Sing hymns like "Trust and Obey" out one line at a time, with the congregation then repeating them. That's better for kids who can't read, and eliminates the need for hymnbooks.

I Corinthians 1 says

20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world?
hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it
pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the
Greeks foolishness;
24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of
God, and the wisdom of God.
25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is
stronger than men.
26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the
flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise;
and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which
are mighty;

Luke 16:19-31 says

19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and
fared sumptuously every day:
20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate,
full of sores,
21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table:
moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels
into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar
off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus,
that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am
tormented in this flame.
25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good
things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art
tormented.
26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that
they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us,
that would come from thence.
27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to
my father's house:
28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come
into this place of torment.
29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear
them.
30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead,
they will repent.
31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will
they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

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October 23, 2004

90% of Swiftboat Vets Signed the Anti–Kerry Letter

I was just looking through some clippings. Someone was recently saying that there were witnesses on both sides, and that he thought the Swiftvets had been discredited. Of course, they have not. Kerry has never even addressed their points, just hoping for what indeed has happened: that people would assume, after time passed, that there was nothing to it. I've blogged on this at length before, pointing out that most of the problems with Kerry's medals don't even need any Swiftvet testimony to be apparent-- you just need to look at the records released by Kerry, and at his campaign bio by Brinkley, and read carefully. But it remains significant that 90% (literally) of the men who served with Kerry signed a statement saying he was unfit to be President. From World magazine in May 2004:


" In an open letter to Sen. Kerry, the Swift Boat Veterans complained that the Democrat had "grossly and knowingly distorted the conduct" of American servicemen upon returning home, making him unfit to serve as commander in chief at a time when the armed forces are once again embroiled in a controversial war overseas. The Swifties also called on Sen. Kerry to authorize the independent Navy release of his military records, putting to rest questions about his service and the recognition he received.

Some 200 Swift Boat veterans have signed the letter, according to organizers. Only 19 have refused. Most damaging of all, they said that 12 of the 18 servicemen pictured in Mr. Kerry's celebrated "band of brothers" photo had signed onto their cause."

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October 22, 2004

IQ's of Bush, Kerry, Gore: Hard Evidence

Steve Sailer has a very good article on the IQ of presidential candidates, "This Just In--Kerry's IQ Likely Lower than Bush's!" (via Drudge). The bottom line: from available hard evidence, IQ's are: Bush 123, Kerry 120, Gore 134. That makes Gore smarter than I would have thought, but, more importantly, it confirms what we should know already from knowing Bush's SAT scores and Kerry's lesser academic record, that Bush and Kerry are both much smarter than the average American, but not as smart, as, say, someone with a PhD in economics. (So are you going to vote for me? I'd lose to the average physicist or mathematician, I'm afraid, if that's your criterion.) The Sailer article is long and very educational, but here are some excerpts:

Most significantly, at the age of 22, both men took the IQ-type tests required of candidate military officers.

...

Kerry's grades and academic test scores remain wholly unavailable. But we do know that he did not graduate from Yale with honors.

...

After fighting and losing the most expensive Congressional race in the country in 1972, Kerry wound up the next year at a surprisingly non-glittering law school, Boston College.

...

...although no one in the press had noticed it, the Kerry campaign had posted on the Web the Senator's score on the IQ-like test he took when he applied to join the Navy as an officer on February 18, 1966.

...

Can we convert the average Navy officer's SAT score of 1103 into a rough IQ? There's a reasonable correlation between SAT and IQ.

The standard deviation of the SAT was around 230 back then, so if the typical Navy officer scored 1100, or 300 points above the estimated national average of 800, then his IQ was about 1.3 standard deviations above the national average IQ of 100 -- roughly 120 , or maybe a little higher, which is in the low 90s on a percentile scale.

Of course, Kerry's OQT score was average for applicants for Officer Candidate School, not for officers, who presumably score better than those who flunk the test. This suggests he might have scored under 1100 on his SAT.

...

This suggests that the 50th percentile among the norm group of Air Force Academy applicants had an IQ of about 123 , thus putting Bush in the 125-130 range-- a little better than his SAT score would imply.

By way of comparison, Bush's 2000 opponent Al Gore scored 134 and 133 the two times he took an IQ test in high school, putting him just under the top 1 percent of the public.

Not surprisingly, the former vice president's' SAT scores were also strong but not stratospheric: Verbal 625, Math 730, for a total of 1355, which would equate to the upper 130s in IQ.

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October 21, 2004

Beta Blockers for Stage Fright

Via Arts and Letters Daily, "Better Playing Through Chemistry" tells us that "beta blocker" cardiac drugs are being used for stage fright, legitimately, to block adrenalin:...


...Beta blockers - which are cardiac medications, not tranquilizers or sedatives - were first marketed in 1967 in the United States for disorders like angina and abnormal heart rhythms. One of the commonest is propranolol, made here by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals and sold under the brand name Inderal. By blocking the action of adrenaline and other substances, these drugs mute the sympathetic nervous system, which produces fear in response to any perceived danger, be it a sabre-toothed tiger or a Lincoln Center audience.

...

Musicians quietly began to embrace beta blockers after their application to stage fright was first recognized in The Lancet, a British medical journal, in 1976. By 1987, a survey conducted by the International Conference of Symphony Orchestra Musicians, which represents the 51 largest orchestras in the United States, revealed that 27 percent of its musicians had used the drugs. Psychiatrists estimate that the number is now much higher.

"Before propranolol, I saw a lot of musicians using alcohol or Valium," said Mitchell Kahn, director of the Miller Health Care Institute for the Performing Arts, describing 25 years of work with the Metropolitan Opera orchestra and other groups. "I believe beta blockers are far more beneficial than deleterious and have no qualms about prescribing them."

...

For the last two decades, such use of beta blockers has generally met with approval from the medical establishment. "Stage fright is a very specific and time-limited type of problem," said Michael Craig Miller, the editor of The Harvard Medical Letter. Dr. Miller, who is also an amateur pianist, noted that beta blockers are inexpensive and relatively safe, and that they affect only physical, not cognitive, anxiety.

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October 20, 2004

Three Key Divides on Bush v. Kerry

We were discussing the election at lunch yesterday, and someone said that this election was engendering more bitterness than most. That's right, and it's not surprising why. The reason is not, I think, that Kerry is a left-wing extremist (at the far left of the U.S. Senate in standard rankings) and Bush is a conservative, though this is indeed the biggest ideological divide since at least Mondale vs. Reagan, or perhaps even Goldwater vs. Johnson. Rather, I think it comes down to disagreement about whether a few key features of each candidate are good or are bad.

1. Bush is truly religious. This pleases some people, and horrifies others. There is a great fear of religion in America, despite its being a religious country. Ironically, what many people fear is a politician with principles, because they are afraid he will do crazy things on their behalf. A Clinton will stick safely to what is popular. It is interesting to note that Kerry being irreligious (or, perhaps, Cheney-- who knows his religion?) does not similarly horrify anyone. We are used to politicians who pay lip service to God. Even conservatives are tolerant of atheism. Liberals, however, despite their occasional claims that character doesn't matter (remember Clinton?) do think it matters-- and that religiosity is a very bad character trait.

2. Bush overthrew the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq. It's pretty clear that Kerry supporters think it would have been better if Saddam was still in power, even if they won't admit it, and pretty much the same principles apply to Afghanistan-- we overthrew a government that was a threat to us. After all, what alternative policy would they have suggested? What is usually suggested is to wait for the U.N., the French, and the Germans to come on board, which is the same as saying to do nothing.

Bush supporters think the overthrow of the two governments is a triumph for Bush; Kerry supporters think it is a big negative.

3. Kerry told lies about U.S. atrocities in Vietnam and gave encouragement to our enemies. Bush supporters think this is appalling. Kerry supporters either don't care, or think that it is to Kerry's credit that he fought U.S. policy in Vietnam with such tactics.

These differences don't apply to all Bush and Kerry supporters, but they apply to many of those who feel strongly about the election. Other supporters care only about domestic policy, or are indifferent to the character of a politician.

For comments, continue reading...

...COMMENT 1:

1. "Bush is truly religious. This pleases some people, and horrifies others." I don't think so. To characterize Bush as truly religious begs the question, and it is that characterization -not the idea of the president being religious - that many find horrifying. I myself am favorably inclined toward religious belief, though not to the illiberal variety associated with the Christian right, but even so that is not the aspect of Bush's attitude toward and use of religion that I find objectionable. You called it "religiosity"; that might be about right, since one of the two standard meanings of that word is "exaggerated or affected piety and religious zeal." Being truly religious, on my belief system and that of many other religious people I know, requires humility and some temperance of the belief that one enjoys a direct line to God's will. This is not Bush's strong point, asyou must admit. Compare Pope John Paul II, who although theologically and socially conservative and determined about his faith [and also subject to exaggerated criticism by anti-clericalists of the left] presents a very different mien, one devoid of swagger.

2. "Bush overthrew the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq. It's pretty clear that Kerry supporters think it would have been better if Saddam was still in power." This is a canard, and a smear on the level of saying that those who opposed expansion of the federal civil rights laws in the 60's [and those who oppose affirmative action now] are in favor of segregation and racial apartheid. The goal may be laudable; the means for achieving it can be questioned in good faith. Unless you think the end always justifies the means, which I don't think you do.

3. "Kerry told lies about U.S. atrocities in Vietnam and gave encouragement to our enemies." Not sure what you mean here, unless you are taking the Swift Boat claims at face value, which most reports I've read indicate to me is not reasonable. All in all I think what Kerry said about the Vietnam war was justified, but if you think that lying is not appropriate even in the service of a good cause, it's unclear how you can defend the way in which the Bush administration worked up public support for the war.

Point 3 may be arguable on the facts, but your willingness to smear the views of your opponents in points 1 and 2 [and to equate criticizing our government with giving comfort to our enemies] is itself evidence of the bitterness engendered by current political divisions.

COMMENT 2:

Although I agree with these points, I think there is more to it.

1. The left loathes Bush, and have attempted to smear him from day 1. (All the world's ills now stem from Bush.) Some of this may be backlash from Clinton days, when the roles were reversed. I think a lot stems from resentment that Bush won a narrow election, which the left attempted to steal via the courts. (This didn't work, and even the newspaper recounts demonstrated that Gore would have lost had he gotten the recount he wanted, but you still see misinformed bumper stickers indicating that the person thinks the election was stolen. Gore, and others who know better, egg this on (rather than acting like adults.)) And let's not forget the phony "intimidation" charges, etc., which some believe to this day - again, egged on by the likes of Jesse Jackson. That kind of climate is guaranteed to make hostile feelings surface - especially when Bush did not roll over and play dead to appease the left.

2. The left has engaged in an obstructionist campaign, which certainly flies in the face of the spirit of our government. That has irritated the right.

3. The left's smug condescension is irritating.

4. Bush embodies the evil enemy in the left's many religions: environmentalism, communism, humanism, transnational progressivism. Rational thought is just as easily shut off by these religious beliefs as it is by other religious beliefs. It leads to ridiculous accusations and tinfoil-hat theories, but evidently a sizable proportion believe them (e.g., MoveOn.org)

5. Biased reporting leaves many with the impression that Kerry actually has a leg to stand on, when in fact the percentage of true charges against Bush is quite small. This bias irritates the right, as does the left's denial of it.

Thus, the right feels irritated, and justified in hostile attacks as well. Add to this a deep loathing for the most liberal senator in the Senate (and his own smug condescension), and the mix is even more volatile.

So you get polarization.

That's my 0.02 for now. Probably tonight, I'll re-think it all and come to a different conclusion. (Or come up with some other reason for the polarization.)

COMMENT 3 (Eric Rasmusen): I didn't mean to say that Kerry supporters wouldn't have been happy if Saddam Hussein and the Taliban had disappeared by themselves. Rather, they don't think those ends are worth the means--that getting rid of the tyranny was worth the war. Thus, I think it is fair to say overall that they do *not* regard Bush's overthrow of those regimes as a good thing. Indeed, I would go further, and say that if it is a matter of justice, not prudence that we should not have done so, then we ought to restore Saddam to power. If we unjustly overthrew him, do we not have a duty to remedy the wrong we committed?

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October 19, 2004

Poll: Troops Support Bush

Via Bainbridge I found this October 15 AP article:

When asked whom they would trust as commander in chief, people in military service and their families chose President Bush (news - web sites) over Sen. John Kerry (news - web sites), a decorated Vietnam veteran, by almost a 3-to-1 margin.... The Annenberg poll, which does not report head-to-head preferences, did not ask the military respondents whom they support for president. The report cited a 1948 law that prohibits polling members of the military about their voting intent.

I'd wondered about this. The Democrats keep acting as if Bush is mistreating the troops. So why do the troops back Bush by a huge margin?

Again: remember the 1864 election.

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October 18, 2004

The Economics of an Altruistic Utopia

Imagine the following utopian economic system. Everyone is instructed to provide goods and services for other people if so doing is efficient-- that is, if the cost to themselves is less than the value to the other person. Let us assume that everyone does his sincere best to comply. Thus, instead of paying for groceries, the grocer will provide the groceries he thinks efficient for free, but the customer will not take any groceries unless he thinks the value to himself is greater than the cost of production. ...

... Such a system would run into immediate trouble because of information problems. How is the grocer to know what goods the customers want, so he can stock up? He can observe which goods disappear from his shelves, but that only shows which goods the customers *think* cost less than the benefit to themselves. How are the customers to know which goods have a benefit to themselves greater than the cost to the grocer? Without prices, they have little idea of the cost-- of whether salmon is cheaper to produce than steak, for example.

Thus, such a system would need prices anyway, just for information. Could it operate with prices, but without actually charging people? That would be an improvement over the no-price system. We could, for example, auction off a rare painting, awarding it to the highest bidder, but not make the highest bidder actually pay. Under our assumption that everyone is honest, the auction would reveal willingness to pay accurately.

In the grocery store, we would have the grocer acting as if he was profit-maximizing, even though he was altruistic. He would, for example, raise the price when demand increased for a good, so as to make sure that everyone would know to take it only if it were particularly valuable to them.

For goods and services, would altruism help efficiency to any considerable extent? It is hard to see how it would hurt, because an altruistic society could just imitate a selfish one, but it sounds like that might be what would happen. Otherwise, altruism simply requires too much information.

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October 17, 2004

Planned Economies and Free Trade

In response to an April post arguing that welfare states should not mind free trade, J. N. suggested to me that intrusive states would dislike free trade because it creates unpredictability. That is an interesting idea.

Which kinds of states need predictability? Ones with lots of planning and rigid regulations, I guess. Intrusiveness per se is not it-- I don't think a moralistic theocracy would be especially concerned about an unpredictable economy. But a state with a 5-year-plan, that uses Authority rather than Prices for coordination, would be disrupted by uncertain trade flows. Similarly, a state that uses price controls would find things not working out as planned.

This would also extend to economic growth. If economic growth involves unpredictability-- say, in which sectors are gaining in employment-- it would mean that having a price-based, flexible system is more important. A non-price system would be more willing to give up some growth if it could thereby get rid of some uncertainty.

I've forgotten how it works in Weitzman's old RES "Prices Vs. Quantities"article works, but that might be relevant.

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Behavioral Economics

I recently blogged on the Trust Game or Investment Game. J. O.N. refers me to this Newsweek article on it. Some people in "behavioral economics" like to say that people are not economically rational. What I think is more correct is to say that people do try to maximize utility but 1. People make a lot of dumb mistakes, and 2. People have moral preferences as well as material ones.

Why trust someone to whose material advantage it is to take your money and return you nothing? It could be a dumb mistake-- not realizing that they could take advantage of you. That's why investment scams work. Or it could be that you are relying on the fact that most people are moral, to at least a small extent, and would feel guilty if they did not return anything to you. Sometimes the gamble will work out, sometimes it won't.

There's nothing in economics that says all preferences have to be for material consumption. In fact, that would be a hard position to make coherent, since what we really consume are particular sensory outputs of material objects (think of the old Kelvin Lancaster idea of utility over characteristics, used in hedonic regressions of how valuable a car is in terms of speed, acceleration, roominess, etc.) It is no more objectively rational to pay a $100 to hear some music waft across a concert hall than to pay $100 to go to the concert hall to impress someone else with my good taste, or to pay the $100 to subsidize musicians because I like them. And, getting back to mistakes, I and everyone else might have paid the $100 thinking I'd hear nice melodies but we get Schoenberg instead, and regret it.

The biggest ideas in economics are, I think, markets, incentives, and efficiency. All these apply to situations where there are mistakes and nonmaterial preferences. Raise the price of an activity, and people will do less of it is the usual rule, and a very powerful idea. That applies to all the concert examples above-- if I have to pay $200 to get teh same effect (including to benefit musicians by $100), I may well decide not to go to the concert.

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Medical Marijuana-- Marinol

A reader wondered whether there really was a legal way to use marijuana medically. There is-- in every state, I suppose, since the FDA has approved it. The active ingredient in marijuana, THC, is available via the prescription drug Marinol. See WordIQ. Thus, the push for "medical marijuana" is highly misleading. It is based on claims that Marinol is too expensive and that for some reason plain marijuana works better than the concentrated active ingredient.

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Organizing a Weblog

I've been writing writing this weblog for over a year now, and I see that for it to achieve its original purpose of being a record of useful thoughts I had better give it some organization. If I forget what I've written, the record is not working, despite the idea (from Nietszche, I think, that "The reason I write down my thoughts is to rid my mind of their bothersome presence." How, though?

Perhaps I should go over all my archives and look for good thoughts. A good project would be for me to maintain a "Top Ten Posts" list, or something like that. Will I get round to it? We'll see. I have three papers under submission now, three more (Gratitude, Options, and Trade Reputation) to get into good shape, and three book projects that ought to be moved along. We'll see.

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Faith-- A Decision Theory Analog

I thought of an analogy for faith today that may be helpful to people who think in terms of economic models.

Imagine that you have 100 hours to devote to a project that will yield a million dollars if successful. If you devote 0 hours to the project, it will have a 10% chance of success. Spending an hour on the production side of the project, you will increase its chances of success by either 0% or 0.4%, with equal probability. Spending an hour on the marketing side of the project, you will increase its chances of success by either 0.1% or 0.2%, with equal probability.

What should you do? You should spend all 100 hours on production, for an expected 40% increase in the probability of success, compared to 15% for marketing. You should resist the temptation to "split the difference" and spend some time on production and some time on marketing. You may be wrong-- and production time may be completely useless-- but you need to make that leap of faith.

The same goes for religious faith. I have my life to spend on attaining The Good. If I just avoid thinking about Big Things, I might still succeed. If I think a little, I will realize there are certain paths which are most likely to help. Christianity has, perhaps, a 0% or a 40% chance of being correct. Atheistic hedonism has, perhaps, a 10% or 20% chance of success. I must make a decision, though, and compromise is not a sign of wisdom. Rather, I should be willing to be brave, and put my efforts where my mind directs them (and heart-- if my heart is helpful), even knowing that I cannot be sure of what is true. That, indeed, is the key reason for faith: that lack of certainty should not paralyze us, and in the case of the Big Things, reason will not take us anywhere near Certainty.

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October 16, 2004

Freedom, Minimum Wage, Affirmative Action, and Political Posturing

I'm coming to be more sympathetic to the view that we economists have had a bad influence on political thought with our emphasis on prosperity and efficiency as opposed to freedom and virtue. The end is happiness, I will grant, but material prosperity is only a part of that. In fact, it is a shrinking part: as we get more prosperous, efficiency considerations become less important relative to other things. We are such a rich country now that we can afford to lose some material efficiency if we can thereby gain freedom and virtue. ...

...Two topics in the third presidential debate made me think of this: the minimum wage, and affirmative action. Bush was very soft in his responses on both. Neither he nor Kerry confronted the truth about these issues. The minimum wage is government intrusion into the right of people to make private arrangements with other people-- specifically, it makes it illegal to hire somebody who isn't worth more than the minimum wage. Affirmative action is the practice of giving special treatment to blacks at the expense of more qualified whites-- of saying that someone is more deserving simply by virtue of his skin color.

Both are outrageous injustices, and complications to our lives-- requiring us to think about violating the government wage regulation, and inserting race into decisionmaking.

It is interesting, of course, that some people try to use justice to defend these policies too, and feel strongly that for other people to pay low wages or not engage in racial discrimination is unjust. I do wonder whether such people really follow those principles in practice-- when they hire a babysitter, do they pay minimum wage and hire blacks who seem likely to take significantly less good care of their children?

The main motivation for the beliefs might be the common one in politics: that Smith's political beliefs will not affect national policy (Smith is too unimportant), but they do play a role in the impression Smith leaves on himself and other people. Smith would like to be generous and compassionate. That is expensive if it requires actually giving out money, but it is very cheap if it just means expressing support for the minimum wage and for affirmative action. Support for those positions does not seem so compassionate if Smith thinks things through-- there are the employers, consumers, and whites to think about too-- so Smith avoids thinking them through. And, in fact, Smith will get quite angry if someone tries to remind him of those unpleasant effects-- they ruin the whole purpose of his political position, which is to make him feel good. If Smith were made dictator, he might well start thinking and change his positions, but till then, the main purpose of his politics is to posture.

Are conservatives any different? On some positions, they are not. A conservative might support war just to show he is tough. On most issues, though, the conservative position is not the one you'd take to show you had a good heart or a romantic disposition-- it is, rather, the kind of position a cold and calculating person would take, or a moralistic one. It is not an unrelated fact that the conservative position is the minority one among people who talk politics. This means that expression of the conservative view also is deviant, another reason not to express it insincerely. Thus, conservatives are more likely to have thought through their positions and to not adopt them simply to impress other people.

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October 15, 2004

Are Economists Selfish? The Laband-Beil Association Dues Study

I just read "Are Economists More Selfish than Other 'Social' Scientists?" by David Laband and Richard Beil (Public Choice, 1999, 100: 85-101). They looked at lying by members of the American Economic Association, the American Sociological Association, and the American Political Science Association. Each association has higher dues for members with higher incomes, so if you lie and say your income is low, you save on your dues. Laband and Beil surveyed members about their incomes, and then compared the income distribution to what members reported when paying their dues. Page 96 has the result: in the category of incomes above $50,000, it seems that 26% of political scientists underpay dues (15.3/60.6 from Table 2), 33% of economists, and 50% of sociologists. More economists earn high incomes, so the actual numbers of cheating high-income economists and sociologists look about the same. But the sociologists also have more cheating of middle-income members saying they are in the low-income bracket. Laband and Beil have a clever single summary statistic: an estimate of the percentage of dues not collected because of cheating. The amount lost by cheating is 7% for the economists, 9% for the political scientists, and 22% for the sociologists. The implication seems to be that studying economics or politics does not make people more selfish or dishonest, but sociology is bad for one's morals.

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October 14, 2004

Kerry's Divorce

There's been some comment about how in the third Presidential debate last night, then John Kerry was asked about his wife he talked about his mother instead (and her worry that he might lose his integrity if he ran for President). Another response from him could have been, "Which wife? I've had two." I find it interesting that nobody comments on Kerry's first wife, Julia Thorne Kerry, the mother of his two daughters, except to note that she, like Theresa Heinz, was immensely wealthy. The first Mrs. Kerry is quite bitter about his annulment of their marriage, as I've
posted on before. If the honesty and fidelity of a President is important, and his willingness to stick to a task when the going gets tough, and his responsibility to children even when it inconveniences him, the circumstances of that divorce are relevant. Maybe knowing more facts would exonerate Kerry. Reagan, after all, was divorced, but it seems he was the wronged party. But as with the military records that Kerry won't sign a Form 180 to release, when we get no information, it's reasonable to deduce that the information would not reflect well on Kerry.

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October 13, 2004

The Dewey Ballantine Contract Typo Case

At the Midwest Law and Economics conference this weekend I learned about "the Dewey Ballantine Case", Prudential Ins. Co. of Am. v. Dewey Ballantine, Bushby, Palmer & Wood, 80 N.Y.2d 377 (1992). It is an example of a serious typo-- or boobytrap-- in a large commercial contract, one that I might have used in my article, "Explaining Incomplete Contracts as the Result of Contract-Reading Costs." Here is what happened. Mr. Gilmartin, a lawyer from the Dewey Ballantine law firm representing U.S. Lines, wrote a letter for Prudential to assure Prudential that the documents were all in order.

... Gilmartin, at the specific direction of U.S. Lines, thereafter drafted and delivered an opinion letter to Prudential. The opinion letter contained an assurance that the mortgage documents that were to be recorded in connection with the debt restructuring, and which, incidentally, had been prepared by other counsel, represented "legal, valid and binding" obligations of U.S. Lines. Moreover, according to Gilmartin's letter, neither federal nor state law would interfere "with the practical realization of the benefits of the security intended to be provided" by those documents. Prudential ultimately accepted Gilmartin's opinion letter as satisfactory, and permitted the recording of those mortgage documents. Prudential later learned that one of the recorded documents erroneously stated the outstanding balance of the first preferred fleet mortgage securing the debt as $92,885, rather than the correct sum of $92,885,000. As a result, Prudential suffered significant losses when U.S. Lines subsequently filed for bankruptcy.

Leaving out the 000 looks to me like an unintentional mistake rather than a trick. Notice that in the end, Prudential lost out not to U.S. Lines,but to its other creditors-- though U.S. Lines would have benefited if it had pointed out to later creditors that it didn't owe much to Prudential.

At any rate, Prudential couldn't collect much from U.S. Lines, and went after Gilmartin instead, on the theory that he had misled them. The law gets complicated at that point (Gilmartin wasn't Prudential's lawyer!). Here's what the court decided:

In sum, a duty of care was owed to Prudential in these circumstances, and the facts do not prove a breach of that duty. In preparing the opinion letter, Gilmartin represented that it took the particular procedural measures, as discussed above, in investigating and substantiating the mortgage documents in question. After taking those measures, Gilmartin made certain general assurances to Prudential in the opinion letter. Those assurances did not set forth a specific dollar amount as securing the debt. It was agreed that the letter was to be in a form satisfactory to Prudential, which condition was satisfied when Prudential accepted the letter containing no more than general assurances.

That seems reasonable. Gilmartin missed something in the documents, but the court decided it was not so sloppy a job he did as to justify holding him liable for his mistake.

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October 12, 2004

Ishiguro's An Artist of the Floating World.

In June I praised Kazuo Ishiguro's 1989 novel, The Remains of the Day, which is about butler Stevens who pridefully sacrifices all for dignity and for doing his little bit, as a butler, to bring about world peace by serving the peacemakers. The problem is that the peacemakers turn out to be the appeasers of the 1930's, people entirely mistaken whose efforts are worse than useless, and with them Stevens's life.

A similarly elegant, sad, and perceptive book is his 1986 An Artist of the Floating World. Here, the protagonist is a Japanese artist who rebelled against his teacher's partying and paintings of actors and geishas ("the Floating World") to instead use painting to advance political progress and the reform of Japanese national spirit. The book is set in 1948, though, when the artist, his wife dead in a bombing raid and his son dead as a soldier, sees that his idealistic fascism (if that is the right word for the 1930's militarists in Japan) was a mistake. He manages, however, to rise above his pride and to confess that he was mistaken. It is a novel about the conflict between generations, and the struggle-- so often unsuccessful-- of men to do something significant with their lives, and to make the best of failure.

"...if we'd seen things a little more clearly, then the likes of you and me, Matsuda-- who knows? -- we may have done some real good. We had much energy and courage once. ...

But then I for one never saw things too clearly. A narrow artist's perspective, as you say. Why, even now, I find it hard to think of the world extending much beyond this city...

We at least acted on what we believed and did our utmost. It's just that in the end we turned out to be ordinary men. Ordinary men with no special gifts of insight. It was simply our misfortune to have been ordinary men during such times." (p. 199, last chapter).

Such a book is good for teaching humility, and some sympathy, perhaps, for the modern Hollywood artists who are trying to advance evil causes. It takes great talent to write a sympathetically critical book about such a man.

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October 11, 2004

The Trust Game

I just heard a good presentation by James Cox of Arizona on his experimental work trying to figure out exactly how altruism works. The basic game in this literature is the Trust Game, one version of which goes as follows:

There are two subjects, a Sender and a Responder. Each is given $10.

The Sender can keep his entire $10 or send X to the Responder. If he sends X, then it is tripled for the Responder, who receives 3X.

The Responder then can keep his entire pile of money, or send Y back to the Sender.

The game is played only once. The Sender and Responder do not meet face to face, and it is best if the experiment is done double-blind, meaning that the researcher does not find out who sent what (and possibly shame them). All the rules are common information for all the subjects.

If people follow the simplest "homo economicus" behavior, the Sender sends nothing to the Responder. A pure altruist or a utilitarian Sender would send his entire $10, since it would turn into $30 for the Responder.

In practice, some Senders send nothing, and most send a few dollars, and a few send all $10. Most Responders respond with a fraction (often half) of the value they received, but some respond with nothing. On average, Senders don't get back as much as they send, but they are close to breaking even.

This is relevant to the thinking I've been doing on the subject of Gratitude, which Professor Cox calls Positive Reciprocity in this context. He is very interested not just in the Responder, though, but also in the Sender, who needs what is conventionally called "Trust" that the Responder will be properly grateful.

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October 10, 2004

Does Christian Libertarianism Make Sense?

Summer 2004 posts by Jay Caruso and Josh Claybourn express their opposition to the Family Marriage Act as Christian libertarians. That bill is not the best example to use, though, since it involves lots of federal issues. Even someone who believes in criminalizing homosexuality might oppose a federal bill forbidding homosexual marriage, on the grounds that marriage is matter for state legislatures, not the federal government.

So let us use a different example-- an extreme one, to sharpen the issues. What should the Christian position be on whether there should be a state law forbidding a parent from killing his children? Is such a law legitimate, or is it an undue intrusion on people's rights?

The first response will no doubt be, "It is an intrusion on the rights of children." That begs the question. Why does a child have the right not to be killed? He would like having such a right, of course, but the parent would like to have the right to kill him. Different societies judge these things differently. Modern America does not allow a father to kill his child, but ancient Rome did.

The reason America differs from Rome is, I think, Christianity. Christians, unlike other people in the Roman Empire, thought it was sinful to abandon infants to die. It was a religious issue. I don't know how other non-Christian societies come out on this issue, but I wouldn't be surprised if tolerance of parents killing children was the norm. It really is quite rational, if we put aside the modern morality we all have inherited from Christianity. Suppose your baby is born crippled. Why should you have to ruin your life raising it, instead of smothering it and having another baby? Indeed, modern America comes close to this in the routine eugenic practice of aborting babies with Down's Syndrome. Since we can diagnose birth defects in the womb now, we are not so tempted by waiting till the child is born to kill it, and there has been less pressure on the cultural norm that post-birth killing is wrong.

But let us think now of the Christian libertarian. He will oppose the killing of crippled children by their parents as a matter of morality, but should he say that despite the immorality of the practice, he does not want to inflict his morality on other people and so opposes a government law against such murder?

Yes, it seems to me, if he is to be consistent. As a matter of secular prudence rather than religious morality, he could support laws against murdering adults. Such laws are convenient for keeping a society prosperous and orderly, arguments which cannot be made in favor of making infanticide illegal. We could imagine the voters all agreeing out of pure self-interest to a pact under which they are not allowed to kill each other. But banning infanticide would be the voters each giving up a right for nothing in return except the pleasure of thwarting someone else's right to kill children.

This last pleasure is, I think, the key to why we have infanticide laws in post-Christian societies. Even if the father wants to kill the child, the grandparents, cousins, neighbors, and schoolteachers might feel unhappy, and they are willing to impose their preferences on the father. This consideration, however, is one which gives ground to all kinds of morality laws: even if I want to engage in homosexuality, drug use, bear baiting, and cannibalism, my activities might make my relatives and neighbors unhappy.

So I think ifyou are to be a Christian libertarian, you must oppose laws against infanticide if you are to be consistent. If you are one who does not, you should rethink your opposition to other kinds of morality laws. Remember, to say that "Infanticide is different because the child's rights are being violated" is begging the question. Where do you get that idea of rights? In any case, why do you think you are justified in imposing your notion of children's rights on other people?

My hope here is that the Christian libertarian will decide there is something wrong in his position, and favor laws against infanticide, and thereby other morality laws. I'll have to wait till another day to address the Christian libertarian who sticks to his guns and says that although infanticide is immoral, ti should nonetheless be legal, to keep government intrusion to a minimum.

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October 09, 2004

A Mechanism for Eliciting One Buyer's Reserve Price

How do you figure out how much consumers might pay for a new product? I came across a good idea yesterday in a paper by George Geis, though it is not new with him. The problem is that if you simply ask people for the greatest price, P, they will pay, they will not think hard enough, and you will get an inaccurate estimate of their maximum value, V. Or, if you offer to sell it to them for some price P and they accept, all you know is that V>P, but not V exactly.

So here is another idea. Tell the person to give you a price P that equals their value, V, and tell them what will happen next. What will happen next is that you randomly pick a price, R, for the product. If P>R, they may buy the product at price R. If P

This mechanism is truthtelling-- the person's best strategy is to choose P=V. If they choose lower, they might miss their chance to buy the product at a price they'd like-- maybe R>P but R

I think you could also run this with slightly different rules, saying that they MUST buy at R if RV. That might be a better idea, since my original rules (which might be different from what Geis had--I forget) would make a very high P an easy strategy that would keep all the consumer's options open.

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October 08, 2004

Light blogging--Gratitude

My blogging will be light this couple of days, since I'm busy with a conference. I'm presenting a paper on gratitude-- on what response people should have to unrequested favors. I think there are three basic scenarios to consider:

1. Purely altruistic favors. These will be given even if totally unrecognized.

2. Purely selfish favors. These are given only if some material compensation is expected.

3. Semi-altruistic favors. These are given in the expectation of receiving the goodwill or esteem of the recipient.
More another time.

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October 06, 2004

Plastic Guns and Cop-Killer Bullets as Fiction

I just saw an op-ed by John Lott, "Gunning for Cheney", which says....


...No guns have ever been produced without metal in them, nor is there any evidence that such guns can be made. At the time of the vote in 1984, no gun had less than 3.5 ounces of metal.

So what did this supposedly crucial law do? It had nothing to do with Glocks. The minimum metal requirement for a gun to be considered legal was set at 3.2 ounces -- less than a fifth of the metal contained in the then controversial Glocks and less than any other gun.

The standard was picked because it did not affect anything, not because evidence suggested that some threshold was necessary for public safety. Gun control groups got their hysteria, while politicians were able to posture that they were "doing something."

During the 2000 election, Cheney was also attacked for his earlier vote on so-called "cop-killer" bullets, but the discussion was just as misleading. The bullet was invented by police officers in the 1960's to fire at suspects hiding behind objects or wearing bullet-resistant vests. These specialty bullets were only sold to police and were not available in stores anywhere in the United States.

...


Despite the phrase "cop-killer," only police used these bullets, and even then extremely rarely. No officer has ever been shot at, let alone killed, with such a bullet.

Erik Helland had a working paper on "placebo laws" for gun control sometime in the past year, I think. Vice laws are often like this, too,-- passed to satisfy one group, but then not enforced, to satisfy another group. These also, however, illustrate how bills may be proposed just to get people on record as opposing them. Cheney, it seems, has principled objections to gun control laws, even ones that are largely symbolic.

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October 05, 2004

Divorce in Chile

"Divorce, Chilean Style: Now, It Will Be Legal But Not Exactly Easy" says the Wall Street Journal of October 5, 2004. Here are details:...


...On Nov. 17, Chile's first divorce law, passed by Congress and signed by the president earlier this year, goes into effect. It promises relief for Dr. Saavedra and an estimated 900,000 Chileans -- -- who are trapped in marriages that exist in name only. The coming of Chile's D-Day -- which will leave Malta and the Philippines as the most prominent countries prohibiting divorce -- will be a leap into the unknown for this Catholic nation.

To keep his campaign pledge to get a divorce bill through Congress, Socialist President Ricardo Lagos had to compromise with conservatives. Under the law, the product of a nine-year parliamentary debate, judges are to try to "preserve and recompose" marriages, if necessary, by recommending court-sponsored mediation.

Thus, it seems unilateral no-fault divorce is being allowed. That's the worst part of divorce-- that one spouse can dump the other without good reason and without penalty.


Despite their misgivings, in Chile, where women's rights have lagged because of Catholicism, geographical isolation and life under a repressive military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s, when the feminist movement was flowering elsewhere.

It seems clear that no-fault divorce hurts women, not men. Men can get remarried more easily, are more unfaithful, and have more earning power. and I'm surprised the belief that it is good for women still persists. I suppose feminists like divorce because it is anti-marriage and anti-family, even though it makes women poor and unhappy.


According to Carlos Briceño, a Justice Ministry official, there appears to be an 11th-hour surge in applications for annulments, a widely winked at form of fraud that Chileans with financial means have traditionally used to get around the divorce prohibition. To obtain such an annulment, a couple goes to court with witnesses willing to offer perjured testimony that the address on the marriage form was wrong. Dr. Saavedra, the gynecologist, couldn't get an annulment because it takes the collusion of both husband and wife to annul , and his wife wouldn't go along with it.

We see from this that in effect, divorce has long been legal-- but only if both spouses agree. Thus, the big change now is to override the desire of one spouse to block divorce. If the facts in this article are correct, this suggests that Chile may have as high a marital breakdown rate as the US, with the 10% figure mentioned above just being the breakdowns in which only one spouse wants a divorce.

A little more than half of all Chilean children are born out of wedlock , many to couples who would have liked to get married but couldn't because one or both parents were still bound to a previous mate, according to specialists on the family.

I'm skeptical that lack of divorce is a major reason, given that annulments are easy and that most births would be to first marriages anyway. But this is a shocking figure anyway. Or has it always been that way in Chile, because marriages are informal?

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October 04, 2004

Acebay, a Card Game for 5-Year-Olds

I just invented a card game that my 4-year-old and 5-year-old want to play over and over. They named it "Acebay", to remind themselves that an ace is better even than a King. Here are the rules. The dealer shuffles, and someone else cuts. Then the dealer deals 4 cards to each of the 3 players, dealing them one by one going clockwise, and the players look at their cards, but keep them secret. The player to the left of the dealer starts by putting out one card, and then each of the other players puts out a card. The highest card wins the trick, with the Joker being even higher than an ace. In case of ties, a coin is flipped to decide the winner. The winner starts the next round. At the end, the overall winner is whoever took the most tricks.

The game does have some strategy to it, but though I find it tedious, my girls love it. It is their first card game, and they find just dealing the cards challenging. My 5-year-old has caught on to the idea of strategic play, but my 4-year-old asks me which card she should play next. The game is a good way to learn numbers, since one can count the symbols on the cards to see who has the biggest card and wins.

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Poems for Children to Memorize

I think I'll repeat this old entry, since I've updated it:

UPDATE, OCTOBER 4: See also Joanne Jacobs and The City Journal "In Defense of
Memorization"
by Michael Knox Beran, to which Pete DaDalt kindly drew my attention. By the way, we haven't gotten round to memorizing any poems-- kindergarten and preschool have somehow displaced it. By the time I figure out how to raise children, mine will be grown! That's why tradition would be helpful; it's hard to roll your own. ...

... We had a 5-year-old visiting us Saturday while her parents were moving from one one house to another. She was able to read a phrase painted on our breakfast nook wall, "Faith, hope and love-- but the greatest of these is love," and it turns out her mother has taught her to read in about three months. That made me wonder whether we should teach our Amelia something formally. How about poems? She won't learn those at school. She already has learned most of "The Owl and the Pussycat". Her Grandma Rasmusen had the good idea of asking each of her grandchildren for a child-specific performance for her birthday in April-- for example, 1-year-old Benjamin's singing a song and Amelia's recitation of a poem.

So I put together a list of poems for children to memorize. Half of these are too long, and it may be the whole plan will dissipate, but I'll see what happens, and keep my eyes open for other good poems. So far I have the following


A Story (Unknown)

Chartless (Emily Dickinson)

Whistling (Jack Prelutsky)

Little Seeds (Else Minarik)

A Spike of Green (Barbara Baker)

Hiawatha's Childhood (Longfellow)

The Wonderful "One-Hoss Shay" (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Senior)

The Spider and the Fly (Mary Howitt)

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS (Clement Moore)

Home (Edgar Guest)

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Closing Comments Because of Spam

Alas, the spammers have defeated me. Even with the MT-Blacklist software, the number of spam comments is so overwhelming that I see I won't be able to notice legitimate comments if I use the comment forms. I'd like feedback, though, so if you have something you'd like me to post, just email me at [email protected] and say I can post it, and I'll put it at the end of my weblog entry.

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Pager on Criminal Stigma for Employment

I wrote a paper called "Stigma and Self-Fulfilling Expectations of Criminality" and am on the lookout for examples such as this one from the WSJ (free link): " As Background Checks Proliferate, Ex-Cons Face a Lock on Jobs"....


...While Peter Demain was serving a six-year sentence for possession of 21 pounds of marijuana, he did such a good job working in the prison kitchen that he quickly rose to head baker. After his release, the Durango, Colo., resident filled out 25 job applications at bagel shops, coffee houses, grocery stores and bakeries. All turned him down. Some even asked him to leave the premises immediately after learning of his conviction.

It's never been easy for someone with a criminal history to find work, but it is becoming increasingly difficult. More businesses are using criminal-background checks to guard against negligent-hiring lawsuits, theft of company assets and even terrorism. About 80% of big companies in the U.S. now do such checks, up from 56% in 1996, according to a January survey of personnel executives.

Two weeks ago, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation's largest corporate employer with more than 1.2 million workers, said it would conduct criminal-background checks on all applicants in its U.S. stores, beginning in September. Wal-Mart's former policy was to order background checks only for certain personnel, including loss-prevention and pharmacy employees.

...

"Forty-six million people in this country have been convicted of something sometime in their lives and our economy would collapse if none of them could get jobs," says Lewis Maltby, president of the National WorkRights Institute,a nonprofit human-rights organization founded by former staff of the American Civil Liberties Union. That figure includes everybody in the FBI criminal records database, which includes people convicted of a relatively minor misdemeanor.

...

Blacks with criminal records also pay a bigger penalty in the job market. According to a study of applicants for low-level jobs conducted by Devah Pager, a Northwestern University sociologist, having a prison record cut by two thirds a black man's chances of getting called back by an employer, while it cut a white man's chances by half.

The explosion in background checks is occurring in part because technological advances have made them faster and cheaper. Businesses commonly pay $25 to $100 per search, and the price is dropping. Several months ago, SecurTest, a Florida- based applicant-screening company, began offering background checks using its own proprietary system that culls public criminal records. The service, which costs about $10 per applicant, focuses mainly on felony-type convictions.

Bottom line: It's now affordable for businesses to do checks for the very sorts of entry-level jobs in which rehabilitated criminals are encouraged to seek employment.

Wal-Mart came under fire last month for two separate incidents in South Carolina in which its employees were accused of sexually assaulting young female shoppers. Both of the accused employees had prior criminal convictions for sexually related offenses. Several weeks after the episodes at Wal-Mart came to light in news accounts, two members of South Carolina's legislature proposed a bill requiring all retailers that sell toys or children's clothing to conduct background checks on potential employees. A spokesman for Wal-Mart says the Bentonville, Ark., company was unaware of the criminal records of the two employees in question.

...

Wal-Mart says it will use background checks on a case-by-case basis, and that people with a criminal record could still be offered a job. It will all depend on the nature of the crime, how long ago it occurred, and the type of job being filled, the company says.

...

Such scrutiny has tempted some applicants to lie. When Jeffrey Calwise first got out of prison for unarmed robbery, he disclosed his criminal history on work applications. But after numerous rejections, he decided to fib. The Detroit resident got a factory job making $6.50 an hour, but was later fired after the company performed a background check and discovered his criminal record.

Then, Mr. Calwise decided to begin writing "will discuss at interview" on applications that asked about whether he'd been convicted of a crime. That didn't work, either: He got some interviews, but his explanation didn't get him any jobs.

...

The U.S. Fair Credit Reporting Act requires employers to give job-seekers a copy of their background report if they are rejected due to a criminal offense. The law also permits applicants to challenge the reports. But companies can always cite different reasons for rejecting someone. Another loophole: Employers aren't required to give a person a copy of the report if they conduct the search themselves, such as by mining publicly available court records.

Typically, this article is sympathetic to the ex-cons and doesn't ask why the employer prefers to hire someone else instead of the selected ex-cons here. If there are 46 million people with criminal records, most of them have gotten jobs anyway, and certain employers in the past have been quite willing to hire ex-cons. It is all a matter of supply and demand. When an employer has a choice between an ex-con, or someone identical except for that who wants 20% higher pay, the employer will have to think hard.

The Devah Pager study caught my eye. It finds that blacks lose more by having a criminal record than whites, the opposite of what I suggest in my paper (as a theoretical prediction). That is interesting, because if blacks have less future-wage incentive not to be criminal, that makes high black criminality rates all the harder to explain. It's possible, though. In my theory, that finding would be a hopeful sign: it says that instead of thinking most blacks are criminal and some just don't get caught, employers do reward black men with clean records. This, too, is a point missed by the public: it might be that an employer who doesn't have access to criminal records would be reluctant to hire *any* black youths, but with the comfort of finding no criminal record,he is willing to hire one. If this is true, it would be bad to forbid employers to look at criminal records-- they would respond by not hiring at all rather than by hiring blind.

Professor Pager's article, "The mark of a criminal record." American Journal of Sociology 108(5): 937-975 (2003), looks pretty good. She did an experiment with matched job applicants, a good methodology.

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October 03, 2004

A History of the Work of Redemption

I was just reading about Jonathan Edwards's A History of the Work of Redemption, which was a history of the world from the point of view of God's plan. I haven't seen the book itself, but I like the idea. There's a lot of study of God's plan in the part of history covered by the Bible, but what about the 2,000 years since then? Just because we have not had prophets and apostles in that period does not mean its history is unimportant, or even that it is less important than the history in the Bible. It seems unlikely that God would have put such a long period between the Resurrection and the Last Judgement without some purpose, and since the world has changed so much in that time, should we not deduce that that change is part of God's plan?

I'll muse a little about how such a history might be structured. It would be a life's work, but I'll give it about half an hour.

That Israel was located in what is essentially the center of the world cannot be accidental, under either a religious or a secular view of history. Christianity was poised to take off, as a new religion that appealed to both the head and heart of those dissatified with both paganism and philosophy in the Roman Empire. That Empire was the breeder for Christianity. When the Church was old enough to survive without the peace of the Empire, the Empire collapsed under the barbarian invasions.

The barbarian invasions set the scene for the next phase of Christianity. It ended the stagnation of the Empire, which had made amazingly little progress in the arts and sciences during its 450 years of prosperity. And it prevented the Church from becoming a mere state religion under the thumb of the Emperor. The cost was high, of course-- the Dark Ages, with a heavy decline in prosperity and learning. Christianity, however, prospered, as the barbarians were one by one converted-- a surprising success, given that it was not Roman power that brought about the conversions.

The Middle Ages were a period of both savagery and piety, of illiteracy and theological development. They also saw the institutionalization of the Church, and its corruption. To what end? I don't know.

The Reformation clearly improved the Church, both in Protestantism and via the reforms it brought to the Roman Catholics. It also set the scene for the strong Church in America, which I suppose is due to the Puritans and the frontier Baptists and Methodists setting the tone for other denominations.

The next phase of history saw the rise of Christianity in the United States and its decline in Europe. Despite some valiant rear-guard actions, the Church in Europe again became corrupt, while in America a decline in some denominations was matched by a strengthening in others.

The main story of the 20th century was the rise of Christianity in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, a rise which is in full throttle now. History is pointing towards a replacement of both Europe and America as the strongholds of the Church-- unless, that is, those continents are infused with new strength from the Third World.

As to what happens next, that is a mystery. The history I am thinking of would not be like the Dispensationalist books on the present signs of the End of the World. I see no such signs-- indeed, as I said, we seem to be in the middle of important developments, not near the end of some phase. I don't think we can know if the Last Judgement is going to be next year or 2,000 more years from now, but there might actually be some clue in the developments of the first two millenia of the Church, if only some wise man were to study them.

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Kramer on Meeting Criticism Targets; Lincoln on Condescension

Jay Nordlinger's "The Joy of Tokenism" has three good separate bits, on Kramer's attitude on meeting people who's work he'd criticized, the Chicago Times on Lincoln, and Lincoln on being condescended to. ...

... Hilton Kramer, the eminent art critic and co-founder of The New Criterion. At a dinner once, he and Woody Allen were seated next to each other. The actor said, "So, Mr. Kramer, do you find it embarrassing when you encounter people whose work you have slammed?" "No," replied Hilton: "I think they should be embarrassed for having made such lousy art." Later on, Hilton realized that he had once criticized a movie that Allen was in (The Front).

...

It so happened that, during this weekend, I was reading a biography of Lincoln, and noted that many of the denunciations of the 16th president sounded familiar. After a Lincoln speech, the editor of the (Democratic) Chicago Times wrote, "The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States."

The speech to which the editor was referring was the Gettysburg Address.

...

And a good many liberals were awfully warm to this conservative. Most of the compliments were sincere, I'd say. Others were of the "For a fat girl, you don't sweat much" variety. I noted something else in that Lincoln biography. He said, "I have endured a great deal of ridicule without much malice, and have received a great deal of kindness not quite free from ridicule. I am used to it." I'm no Lincoln, believe me, but I know what he is saying.

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October 02, 2004

The Attrition Strategy in Vietnam: Intended as WW III Prep?

All the fuss about Kerry's Vietnam service has made me read about the Vietnam War. One of the striking feature of the war is the incompetence of American strategy under President Johnson and General Westmoreland. The "big units" war, with its "attrition strategy" seems to have involved sending over huge numbers of American draftees for short terms in Vietnam, led by officers who were also rotated rapidly in and out. While there, the troops were sent on patrols, often in jungles of no strategic value, so as to attract enemy fire and allow the Americans to respond with superior ground and air firepower. The stated reason for this was that we would end up killing more Communists than they would kill of our troops. ...

... Then, after 1969, the number of American troops dropped drastically and the strategy changed to using South Vietnamese troops, to killing off Viet Cong village leadership (the Phoenix program), to hitting the enemy in Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam, and, generally, to fighting sensibly. Results were far better, with far fewer U.S. troops, and by 1972 the South Vietnamese could resist a major North Vietnamese offensive with hardly any involvement of US ground troops, though with heavy US aid and air support.

So why did we have such a dumb strategy before 1969?

(Incidentally: the period of dumb strategy largely corresponds to the period of popularity for the war too-- partly because it was the Democrats who were responsible for it, partly because its folly and ailure took a while to sink in.)

I have a novel possibility. Was it that the generals thought the Vietnam War was a stupid idea, and were trying to get at least some good out of it as practice for World War III? Remember, the military focus in the Cold War was on tank warfare in Germany. That mattered a lot more than some little country in Asia. When ordered to Vietnam, the generals may have thought to themselves that this was a foolish mission-- that there wasn't much they could do, and it wasn't worthy trying. What use, then, might be made of the situation? Well, it was a chance to give the junior officers some practice under real fire. If they were rotated in and out quickly (necessary since this would probably be a short war), they could all get a chance at some practice. Moreover, we could train our reserves that way too. These draftees would get some practice under fire, and could be returned to service if another World War broke out. The best tactics for this purpose would be to send the troops out on meaningless patrols, so they would get shot at and learn how to keep their heads down. Something like invading North Vietnam, on the other hand, was to be avoided at all costs, because that would result in a genuine war, like the Korean War, that would be a distraction from Europe and might end the careers of the generals in charge if things turned out badly.


Far-fetched? Maybe. I could probably be disproven by someone who knew the historical record. But this theory makes some sense out of our strategy in the first half of the Vietnam War.

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October 01, 2004

Wordorigins.org; Rope a Dope

I came across Wordorigins.org, a good site about terms like the ones below. I was looking up "Rope a Dope", so the three excerpts below are from the "R" section:

Ring Around the Rosie...

The common folkloric explanation is that this is a rhyme about the bubonic plague. "Ring around the rosie" refers to buboes on the skin. "A pocket full of posies" refers to flowers kept in the pocket to ward off the disease. "Ashes, ashes" is a reference to death, as in "ashes to ashes, dust to dust." The common variant of the third line, "Atishoo, atishoo," is a reference to sneezing and sickness. Finally, falling down is a representation of death.

A neat tale. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support it...

Rope-A-Dope

The term dates to the 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" between Mohammed Ali and George Foreman. Ali spent the early rounds against the ropes in a defensive posture, taking a series of blows from Foreman. After Foreman had tired himself out, Ali went on the offensive and beat the exhausted Foreman. It wasn't a pretty victory or a fan-pleasing strategy, but it was effective. So to employ the "rope-a-dope" strategy is to feign being weak and on the defensive, like a dopey boxer who is on the ropes, in hopes your opponent will exhaust himself in the early going. The term was coined by Ali.

Rule of Thumb

The phrase is almost certainly an allusion to the fact that the first joint an adult thumb measures roughly one inch, literally a rule (or ruler) of thumb. Since human dimensions vary, any measurement so taken would be only a rough approximation and not to be trusted where precision was required.

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