Tuesday, September 29

Housing update

Megan thinks low-to-no downpayment loans were the biggest mortgage fraud problem, with loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration leading the way.

Ordinary Dave foresees a bloody mess in commercial real estate.

Will elective abortions be crowded out?

Some of the supporters of health care reform have rediscovered worries about crowding out. That's because it now looks as if the bill may not allow Federal subsidies to be used to buy insurance that covers abortions. Suddenly, a big chunk of the left sounds like a bunch of Republicans, warning about what happens to insurance markets when the government gets involved.

[..] Of course, if you think crowding out is real, there are a lot of other problems with the plan. Abortion is just the beginning of the distortions it will create in the health care markets.

It's still not too late to greet us as liberators

The Onion strikes again.

Monday, September 28

Libertarian purity test

Har dee har, I scored 70 out of 160:
51-90 points: You are a medium-core libertarian, probably self-consciously so. Your friends probably encourage you to quit talking about your views so much.
Sounds about right.

Another victory in the war on drugs

A grandmother in Indiana has been arrested for purchasing cold medicine. We can all sleep more safely now that this hardened criminal has been taught a lesson.

The Terre Haute News reports:
When Sally Harpold bought cold medicine for her family back in March, she never dreamed that four months later she would end up in handcuffs.

Now, Harpold is trying to clear her name of criminal charges, and she is speaking out in hopes that a law will change so others won’t endure the same embarrassment she still is facing.

[..] Harpold is a grandmother of triplets who bought one box of Zyrtec-D cold medicine for her husband at a Rockville pharmacy. Less than seven days later, she bought a box of Mucinex-D cold medicine for her adult daughter at a Clinton pharmacy, thereby purchasing 3.6 grams total of pseudoephedrine in a week’s time.

Those two purchases put her in violation of Indiana law 35-48-4-14.7, which restricts the sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, or PSE, products to no more than 3.0 grams within any seven-day period.

When the police came knocking at the door of Harpold’s Parke County residence on July 30, she was arrested on a Vermillion County warrant for a class-C misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to 60 days in jail and up to a $500 fine.
(ht Cato)

Youtube timesaver

100 hits in 4 minutes...

Manzi on Krugman's climate change alarmism

What he said.

The U.S.-Iranian triangle

Roger Cohen's latest op-ed on Iran's nuclear program makes my head hurt.

Miscarriage of judgement

Conor Friedersdorf on Glenn Beck and his defenders.

Sunday, September 27

Ich bin ein Berliner

Chancellor Angela Merkel has been returned to power in Germany, exit polls suggest, after her conservative [CDU/CSU] bloc won more than 33% of the vote.

Mrs Merkel's bloc now looks set to form a centre-right alliance with her preferred partner, the pro-reform FDP [libertarian].
If you need an introduction to Germany's parties, check out 538's. The entry on the FDP is amusing.

Yglesias editorializes:
Angela Merkel wound up winning a strange kind of election victory, the kind where your party gets less support than it got before. Still, the CDU’s support only went down a little while the Social Democrats’ support collapsed and the liberal (in a European sense) Free Democrats gained a lot. The Greens and the Left Party also picked up support. The result is going to be some controversial free market reforms for Germany (I think the evidence suggests that most Germans actually don’t want the kind of reforms that this election result will lead to) and a real moment of crisis for the SPD that needs to really rethink some things:

I note that following on the European Parliament election results and some other national results, there seems to be a continent-wide crisis of social democracy. In a great many countries, social democrats are really getting squeezed by rising far-left parties and the fact that Europe’s center-right parties tend to be inconveniently non-crazy.

Quotes by William Safire (1929-2009)

"Knowing how things work is the basis for appreciation, and is thus a source of civilized delight."

"The right to do something does not mean that doing it is right."

"Never assume the obvious is true."

"If you re-read your work, you can find on re-reading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by re-reading and editing"

"Is sloppiness in speech caused by ignorance or apathy? I don't know and I don't care."

"Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague."

(ht Tyler, NYT obit here)

Reading Hu Jintao's mind

Stephen Walt goes there.

Quality down

You may have noticed posting has gotten more sparse and whiny over the past month.

For what it's worth, my apologies...I've been busy elsewhere.

Here's a chart of my reader feed that's tagged "Must read":

Blue are total posts coming in per day, orange is the number I actually read.

In times past, I'd read every single one (yes, over 1200/day occasionally...) Alas, I don't have that kind of free time and dedication anymore.

Saturday, September 26

Climate change denialism and alarmism

Kevin Drum wrote:
I mean, suppose you accepted that climate change was both real and catastrophic. What options would you have if you insisted on sticking solely to free market principles? Beats me. Hell, it’s hard enough to address even if you don’t. But that’s where we are these days: an awful lot of our most pressing problems simply can’t be solved unless you accept that the government has to be involved. So conservatives are stuck.
Yglesias responds:
I think this is far too kind to the behavior of right-of-center institutions—Heritage, AEI, Cato, National Review, Weekly Standard, the Chamber of Commerce, Rush Limbaugh, etc.—on the issue of climate change. It implies that there’s some genuine ideological dilemma that makes it impossible for a committed free marketer to propose constructive policies to avert catastrophic climate change. But how about reductions in subsidies for fossil fuel production and consumption? The free market credentials seem impeccable. Or how about a “green tax shift” in which carbon is taxes or carbon emission permits are auctioned and the revenue is used to finance deficit-neutral reductions in other taxes? Again, it surely can’t be that free market principles commit people to the precise series of revenue streams currently used in the United States.

Now of course in the real world it’s going to be impossible to legislate a pure free market “tax shift” policy just as it’s going to be impossible to legislate a pure “tax polluters to subsidize clean energy” approach or a pure “cap and rebate” or a pure anything. But if people started from the premise that emissions need to be reduced, and then debated the extent to which this needs to be done in a free market way versus some other kind of way, then compromise would be easy to reach and a solution could be within reach. But that’s not what we have. Not because market-oriented approaches are inadequate to the challenge but because too many of the key institutions that espouse market-oriented approaches are run by people who are too corrupt, incompetent, immoral, stupid, or cowardly to get their side to take the problem seriously.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The German Federation of Industry had a bunch to say, not all of it sensible on the merits, about making German climate policy friendly to export-oriented manufacturers, but none of it involved ranting about “cap and tax” or denouncing “socialism” or pretending that the whole problem was made up by Al Gore.
I agree: the many climate change deniers on the right are awful.

However, alarmists from the left are also contemptible. Al Gore, Barack Obama, Matt Yglesias, et. al. did not make up the problem. But they sure do exaggerate, peddling end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenarios and distorting our extremely limited ability to mitigate the more moderate warming that's actually likely to happen.

Jim Manzi's non-denialist, non-alarmist cost-benefit analysis looks correct to me. You can read his many detailed posts on the subject at The American Scene.

New explanation for the plight of winter babies

Via Slashdot, WSJ reports on new research:
"Children born in the winter months already have a few strikes against them. Study after study has shown that they test poorly, don't get as far in school, earn less, are less healthy, and don't live as long as children born at other times of year. Researchers have spent years documenting the effect and trying to understand it... A key assumption of much of that research is that the backgrounds of children born in the winter are the same as the backgrounds of children born at other times of the year. ... [Economist] Mr. Hungerman was doing research on sibling behavior when he noticed that children in the same families tend to be born at the same time of year. Meanwhile, Ms. Buckles was examining the economic factors that lead to multiple births, and coming across what looked like a relationship between mothers' education levels and when children were born."
Here's the chart in which the effect—small but significant—jumps out unmistakably:

Friday, September 25

Bill Clinton on gay marriage

Fine stuff via Andrew:
Anderson Cooper: You said you recently changed your mind on same-sex marriage. I’m wondering what you mean by that. Do you now believe that gay people should have full rights to civil marriage nationwide?

Bill Clinton: I do. I think that, well let me get back to the last point, the last word. I believe historically, for two hundred and something years, marriage has been a question left to the states and the religious institutions. I still think that’s where it belongs. That is, I was against the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage nationwide, and I still think that the American people should be able to play this side in debates. But me, Bill Clinton personally, I changed my position. I am no longer opposed to that. I think if people want to make commitments that last a lifetime, they ought to be able to do it. I have long favored the right of gay couples to adopt children.

AC: What made you change your mind? Was there one thing?

Clinton: I think, what made me change my mind, I looked up and said look at all of this stuff you’re for. I’ve always believed that—I’ve never supported all the moves of a few years ago to ban gay couples from adoption. Because they’re all these kids out there looking for a home. And the standard on all adoption cases is, what is the best interest of the child? And there are plenty of cases where the best interest of the child is to let the gay couple take them and give them a loving home. So I said, you know, I realized that I was over 60 years old, I grew up at a different time, and I was hung up about the word. I had all these gay friends, I had all these gay couple friends, and I was hung up about it. And I decided I was wrong.

That our society has an interest in coherence and strength and commitment and mutually reinforcing loyalties, then if gay couples want to call their union marriage and a state agrees, and several have now, or a religious body will sanction it, and I don’t think a state should be able to stop a religious body from saying it, I don’t think the rest of us should get in the way of it. I think it’s a good thing not a bad thing. And I just realized that, I was, probably for, maybe just because of my age and the way I’ve grown up, I was wrong about that. I just had too many gay friends. I saw their relationships. I just decided I couldn’t, I had an untenable position.

Fear of trusts

Andrew is concerned:
It seems to me that a public option which allows the government to use its huge buying power to achieve cost cuts that no private company could manage would be a Trojan horse.
A Dish reader replies:
You call the public option a "Trojan horse." I take it that you do not mean that allowing a public plan in which the government could generate savings by using its collective buying power will not, in fact, result in lots of Greeks with swords jumping out and killing us in our sleep. I am at a loss, however, as to what exactly you imagine the danger to be -- your sentence follows with no explanation. This is one of those things that I just do not understand at all when public option opponents gesture in this direction: what is the perceived worst case scenario here and why do you find it objectionable?

Let's say that such a government public plan would prove so effective at negotiating low rates that it would price private plans out of the majority of the health care insurance market. Is this a problem in some way? Anyone who had enough money could assuredly buy whatever high-end services or plans they would wish--you can't seriously believe that such a government plan would result in the absolute legal preclusion of private payment for medical insurance or services, can you? Or is this just a generalized fear that people will overwhelmingly prefer the public option, and the portion of our collective income going to the government in taxes (rather than private insurance policies) will increase? Really wondering what your fear is.
Andrew doesn't respond further, but I'll bite: I would have the same kind of fear if the government or a large private entity got a similar near-monopsony over any market. Monopsonies and monopolies are bad for well-understood reasons, which is why we have antitrust law. I elaborated on this several months ago in "Public health insurance, antitrust, and price controls".

For instance, today Medicare has a near-monopsony on care for the elderly. You might think that, per liberal health-care theories, this would make geriatrics a thriving field!

KINGMAN - As baby boomers reach retirement age, the need for geriatric physicians in America will increase.

However, slow or less-than-adequate reimbursement to them by Medicare and/or Medicaid is discouraging doctors from getting into or staying in that field of medicine. Jane Potter, president of the American Geriatrics Society, responded to several questions last week.

[..] "The best indication that physicians are leaving the field is the fact that the number of practicing geriatricians is declining," Potter said. "There are more physicians leaving than entering the field.

"In September 2006, a group of leading educators who operate the nation's top geriatrics fellowship programs told us that finances are a major disincentive for physicians in training to enter geriatric medicine.

[..] "Geriatricians have the lowest expected salary of all medical specialties.
Those shamelessly evil, profit-mongering doctors! Oh, wait...

Meanwhile, progressives like Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein often ridicule more conservative Democrats who both:

(a) Wish to reduce the cost of health-care reform.
(b) Simultaneously oppose a public option, which the CBO scores as lowering the deficit.

But as I've explained in the past, economic conservatism is not limited to reducing the cost of government.. Some of us actually want a healthy market in which the government does trust busting instead of, you know, creating and running one.

It is on these grounds that we consider a "robust" public option--one that uses outsized bargaining power to reimburse at Medicare's below-market rates--to be a trojan horse.

If I could be assured that a public option would compete on a level playing field (not take taxpayer funds, not pay below-market rates) I would still oppose it. But for different reasons, because I would think it as doomed to failure as, say, the government launching a new department store. Governments suck at running things competitively (see: Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, economic history of).

This is why progressives are so adamant that the public option be "robust" and allowed to leverage its large size to create a "real alternative" to private health-care providers. It's the only way their idea has any merit.  Alas, it's merit of the trojan horse, we-play-by-different-rules variety.

Worst economy since..the 1980s?

Mark J. Perry at AEI:
A Google News search shows that the phrase “since the 1930s” has been used 7,454 times in the last month, and the phrase “since the Great Depression” has been used almost 6,000 times in the last month, and most of these news references are comparisons of today’s economic and financial conditions to the 1930s and the Great Depression. In contrast, the phrase “since the 1980s” has been used only 758 times in the last month.

By comparing today’s economic conditions to the 1930s and the Great Depression, the news media have apparently skipped the terrible economic conditions of the early 1980s and gone all the way back 75 years to the 1930s.

[..] consider that as bad as the economic conditions were back in the early 1980s, the U.S. economy started on an economic expansion in November of 1982 that didn’t end until July 1990, 92 months later, and marked the third longest expansion in U.S. history. Given the current environment with historically low interest rates and inflation, today’s economic and financial conditions are much more favorable for economic growth than the conditions of the early 1980s. If the economy of the early 1980s recovered even when handicapped with historically high interest rates and inflation, today’s economy is much better positioned for [recovery].”
Meanwhile, as every lefty knows in his or her bleeding heart, Reaganomics was a miserable failure.

Folks like me and Mr. Perry who would cite Volcker-Reagan as an objective success that rescued us from the inflationary and statist profligacy of the LBJ-Nixon-Carter era must be looking at the wrong indicators.

Thursday, September 24

Evangelical delusion, ctd.

Anonymous comments:
I don't see anything terribly unreasonable with this clip.

Actually, it's quite brilliant from an evangelical perspective.
Nothing terribly unreasonable? It's bullshit and lies.

I'll let ZOMGitsCriss explain:

Wednesday, September 23

Quote of the day

"Because Democrats hold power at the moment, they face the greater peril of paternalistic overreaching. Today’s morality cops are less interested in your bedroom than your refrigerator."

Jacob Weisberg and Will Saletan

Indiscriminate airstrikes as political cover for withdrawal

"Nixon couldn’t leave Vietnam until he bombed Cambodia; Obama won’t leave Central Asia until he levels Afghanistan", Ordinary Will argues.

Against the death penalty

I don't have a clear position, just a vague wish for the threshhold of evidence to be extraordinarily high. Yet this conflicts with another wish: for the process to not take decades and not be more expensive than life in prison.

Lately the arguments against it have seemed more persuasive to me...

Tuesday, September 22

Did you know 4.0

Evangelical delusion

This is exactly the kind of Christianity I was part of.

Presidential PowerPoint

The sales pitch:

Bailout mania

NYT: "Tired of the government bailing out banks? Get ready for this: officials may soon ask banks to bail out the government."

Sunday, September 20

Pre-emptive usage of Hillary Clinton condemned

The cost of magic pills

Another excellent column by Greg Mankiw.

Obama favorability by region

Northeast: 82-10, net +72
Midwest: 62-31, net +31
West: 59-34, net +25
South: 27-67, net -40


As Andrew mentioned last week:
For the first time in 16 years, the South does not have a native president in the White House. For the first time in 45 years, we have a Democrat not from the South in the White House. In trying to understand the passion and hysteria and anger out there, this may be worth taking into account.

Quote of the day

"When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called religion."

—Robert Pirsig

Wednesday, September 16

In praise of a pre-9/11 world

What Wilkinson said.

It really says something that the Glenn Becks of the world are celebrating 9/12, doesn't it?

Factoid of the day

Eight percent of poll respondents in New Jersey think Obama is the Anti-Christ.  A further thirteen percent aren't sure

Among Republicans, fourteen percent think so, with fifteen not sure. That's 29% of Republicans who think there's at least a possibility he's the Anti-Christ.

I suppose it makes sense for Obama-messiahism to be paired with countervailing anti-messiahism.  I wonder what comparable figures were for GWB five or six years ago...

Tuesday, September 15

Medicare prescription drug benefit: most underrated program ever?

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution:
Megan and Andrew Sullivan are having a squabble about how much it cost (and here).  I would remind everyone of this recent research result:
In spite of its relatively low benefit levels, the Medicare Part D benefit generate $3.5 billion of annual static deadweight loss reduction, and at least $2.8 billion of annual value from extra innovation.  These two components alone cover 87% of the social cost of publicly financing the benefit. 
Overall, a $1 increase in prescription drug spending is associated with a $2.06 reduction in Medicare spending.
Both papers are from very reputable sources.  Left-wingers focus on the "giveaways" in this plan and conservatives focus on the cost or maybe they don't walk to talk about it at all.  It's a little late to go through all the usual pro and con arguments on the policy as a whole.  I'd just like to note that -- relative to its reputation -- the Medicare prescription drug benefit is one of the most underrated government programs of our time.  If the goal is to cut or check Medicare spending, and I think it should be, we should do it elsewhere in the program.
This set ringing some enormous bells of cognitive dissonance in my mind.

Many are the times I've railed about the prescription drug benefit (including at LG) as the bastard spawn of an unholy alliance between stalwart tax and spenders like Ted Kennedy, and the deficit-happy Rovian cynicism of Bush neocons who wished to secure the senior vote in Florida.

In this opposition I've had much company from the left, gleefully at the opportunity to scornfully chastize the Bush administration's fiscal profligacy—and from the right, who insist that Bush betrayed them with a massive expansion of the entitlement state they abhor. A lot of ink has been spilt, most recently by Andrew and Megan in the posts linked above.

Can we all have been so wrong?

Protectionism watch

Brad DeLong calls the tariff the Obama administration slapped on Chinese tires "really stupid." Soren Dayton doesn't pull punches:
[W]here was the logic in this? He helps his allies, with one hand, but hurts them with the other. He hurts the economy. He hurts the government run companies. And he opens a trade war just in time for the G-20...
Mish piles on:
Not a single job will return to the US as a result of these tariffs. Imports from China will drop but imports from elsewhere will rise. Thus, the unfortunate tragedy in this mess is that Obama's kowtowing to the unions is going to cost union jobs. The ultimate irony is misguided unions are cheering every step of the way.
I second the ugh. When asked about this a couple weeks ago, I said I didn't think Obama was protectionist enough to so stupidly mess with free trade, and that I expected him to let this pass and take the hit from the left. Shows what I know : (

Addendum: Drezner assesses the threat.

Sunday, September 13

A fitting epitaph

Norman Borlaug (1914–2009)


Saturday, September 12

Friday, September 11


I made it until 11:20 AM before being reminded that today is September 11th...you know, the day that "changed everything".

And this is what reminded me:

Grad student etiquette

Thursday, September 10

Tuesday, September 8

Monday, September 7

Excise taxes and health care reform

Ezra explains how Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-ND MT) plans to do a good thing in an inefficient way.  Ah, politics.

21 most libertarian representatives

Paul, RonTexas14R-33.35
Scalise, SteveLa.1R-28.4
Hinojosa, RubenTexas15D-22.44
Dreier, DavidCalif.26R-20.92
Brady, KevinTexas8R-20.4
Braley, BruceIowa1D-20.12
Loebsack, DaveIowa2D-20.12
Nunes, DevinCalif.21R-19.65
Berry, MarionArk.1D-18.64
Boyd, AllenFla.2D-18.64
Boyda, NancyKan.2D-18.64
Ross, MikeArk.4D-18.64
DeGette, DianaColo.1D-18.12
Tauscher, EllenCalif.10D-17.17
Cantor, EricVa.7R-16.8
Cole, TomOkla.4R-16.3
Larsen, RickWash.2D-16.12
Conaway, MikeTexas11R-15.26
McCarthy, KevinCalif.22R-15.22
(From Secular Right)

Fake Afghan polls went for Karzai

More votes than voters, in some cases 10 times more. The U.S. is now in the position of defending a government widely seen as illegitimate.

Remind me why we have 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after eight years, again?

Movement conservatives vs. pragmatists

A battle is joined.

Sunday, September 6

Better be a DAMN good book...

Another warm and fuzzy drug war moment

(via Radley)

Gibbs on the public option and competition

(meme) ABC:
STEPHANOPOULOS: "[Obama] wants a public option, but… "

GIBBS: "And he still does."

STEPHANOPOULOS: "But -- he wants it, but will he sign a bill that doesn't include it? Because it can't get through the Senate."

GIBBS: "Well, we're not going to prejudge what the process will be when we sign a bill, which the president expects to do this year. The president strongly believes that we have to have an option like this to provide choice and competition, to provide a check on insurance companies, because without it, again, we're going to have markets as big as a whole state of Alabama, almost 90 percent of which is dominated by one insurance company."
So the answer isn't to campaign against the milieu of state-by-state regulation that are more difficult for small companies to comply with, prevent interstate competition, and encouraged consolidation into near-monopolies for each state (and groups of states) to begin with?

Instead the answer is to create a new government-run insurance option to provide the competition these government-caused near-monopolies lack?

The left's folly in a nutshell: When regulation doesn't work as desired and instead consolidates industry into uncompetitive conglomerates, advocate a government takeover of that industry. If the dream of national single-payer can't be met, sell a new government-run option as providing a replacement for the competition that it regulated-out of the market to begin with...

Small wonder that small business owners are among the most Republican voters in the country.  Nobody wants insurance reform more than these most burdened with health care cost inflation...but the reforms  these business people would advocate to restore competition to the insurance market are much different from the left's tomfoolery.

Unemployment update

Saturday, September 5

Diversity: Good or Bad?

by Matt Flaherty

This is from an article (not available for free online) by a leading scholar in the field, Robert Putnam. (Putnam, R. D. “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture.” Scandinavian Political Studies 30.2 (2007): 137-174.) Unsurprisingly, it turns out that there are both good and bad effects of diversity. The summary is that:
In the long run immigration and diversity are likely to have important cultural, economic, fiscal, and developmental benefits. In the short run, however, immigration and ethnic diversity tend to reduce social solidarity and social capital. New evidence from the US suggests that in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods residents of all races tend to ‘hunker down’. Trust (even of one’s own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer. In the long run, however, successful immigrant societies have overcome such fragmentation by creating new, cross-cutting forms of social solidarity and more encompassing identities.
Here's the good news:
Creativity in general seems to be enhanced by immigration and diversity (Simonton 1999).

Many (though not all) of the scores of studies of collective creativity in work groups (in business, education and so on) find that diversity fosters creativity (Webber & Donahue 2001; O’Reilly et al. 1997; Williams & O’Reilly 1998). Scott Page (2007) has powerfully summarized evidence that diversity (especially intellectual diversity) produces much better, faster problem-solving.

Immigration is generally associated with more rapid economic growth. The economics profession has debated the short-run economic consequences of immigration for native workers. While there are important distributional effects to be considered, especially the impact of immigration on low-wage native workers in the US, the weight of the evidence suggests that the net effect of immigration is to increase national income. One recent study, for example, suggests that the income of native-born Americans rises more rapidly, ceteris paribus , if they are living in places with more immigrants than if they are living in places with fewer immigrants. 4

In advanced countries with aging populations, immigration is important to help offset the impending fiscal effects of the retirement of the babyboom generation (Smith & Edmonston 1997, Chapters 6 and 7).

...immigration from the global South to the richer North greatly enhances development in the South, partly because of remittances from immigrants to their families back home and partly because of the transfer of technology and new ideas through immigrant networks. So powerful is this effect that despite ‘brain drain’ costs, increasing annual northward immigration by only three percentage points might produce net benefits greater than meeting all our national targets for development assistance plus cancelling all Third World debt plus abolishing all barriers to Third World trade (World Bank 2005; Pritchett 2006).
And the bad:
In areas of greater diversity, our respondents demonstrate:
• Lower confidence in local government, local leaders and the local news
• Lower political efficacy – that is, confidence in their own influence.
• Lower frequency of registering to vote, but more interest and knowledge about politics and more participation in protest marches and social reform
• Less expectation that others will cooperate to solve dilemmas of collective
action (e.g., voluntary conservation to ease a water or energy shortage).
• Less likelihood of working on a community project.
• Lower likelihood of giving to charity or volunteering.
• Fewer close friends and confidants.
• Less happiness and lower perceived quality of life.
• More time spent watching television and more agreement that ‘television is my most important form of entertainment’.

Diversity does not produce ‘bad race relations’ or ethnically-defined group hostility, our findings suggest. Rather, inhabitants of diverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life, to distrust their neighbours, regardless of the colour of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more , but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television. Note that this pattern encompasses attitudes and behavior, bridging and bonding social capital, public and private connections.
Putnam takes care to emphasize that these negative effects may only occur in the short to medium run, while in the long run he thinks responses to diversity are likely to improve. His closing practical thoughts:
• Tolerance for difference is but a first step. To strengthen shared identities, we need more opportunities for meaningful interaction across ethnic lines where Americans (new and old) work, learn, recreate, and live. Community centers, athletic fields, and schools were among the most efficacious instruments for incorporating new immigrants a century ago, and we need to reinvest in such places and activities once again, enabling us all to become comfortable with diversity.
• Most immigrants want to acculturate – to learn English, for example. Expanding public support for English-language training, especially in settings that encourage ties among immigrants and natives of diverse ethnic backgrounds, should be a high priority.
• Since the long-run benefits of immigration and diversity are often felt at the national level (scientific creativity, fiscal dividends, and so forth), whereas the short-run costs (fragile communities, educational and health costs, for example) are often concentrated at the local level, there is a strong case for national aid to affected localities.
• Our field studies suggest that locally based programs to reach out to new immigrant communities are a powerful tool for mutual learning. Religious institutions – and in our era, as a century ago, especially the Catholic church – have a major role to play in incorporating new immigrants and then forging shared identities across ethnic boundaries. Ethnically defined Scandinavian social groups (such the Sons of Norway or the Knights of Columbus or Jewish immigrant aid societies) were important initial steps toward immigrant civic engagement a century ago. Bonding social capital can thus be a prelude to bridging social capital, rather than precluding it. To force civic and religious groups who work with immigrants to serve as enforcement tools for immigration laws, as some have suggested, would be exceptionally counterproductive to the goal of creating an integrated nation of immigrants.

Friday, September 4

Red State Update: Health care and town hall yell meetin's

I'll drink to the second half.

A different sort of health-care system

India's is more market oriented.

Of course, their average life expectancy is a full decade and some change below America's. But this would seem to be a consequence of the country's relative poverty and poor sanitation, not an inferior health-care model.

An interesting thought from the piece:
There's an unstated assumption that the institutions that have grown up around the American and European medical systems are a cause of our higher standard of living. But what if they're a product of that wealth: vast bureaucracies that no nation needs but only the richest can afford?

Flight of the wingnut

Mannahatta, circa 1609

Top is computer-generated, of course.

Forget everything you've been told about income mobility?

This looks pretty good to me. A commentator there bets that a similar study of Europe would show lower income mobility. Considering the US economy's higher dynamism and creative destruction, I second that bet.

Against the Status Quo Sanctification and Extension Act

David Brooks gets fundamental. Here ye, hear him.

How not to do propaganda

Apparently Masa, a programme funded by the Israeli government that tries to build Zionism among young diaspora Jews bringing them to Israel for a year, is about to release a set of new ads in America warning of the dangers of intermarriage. The ads use a missing-persons theme, depicting Jews who marry gentiles as having disappeared or been abducted. By extension, the gentiles they have married are presumably analogised to kidnappers, murderers, terrorists, or perhaps (to take a charitable interpretation) natural disasters.
Pretty damn offensive... someone should re-introduce these folk to the Book of Ruth.

Placebos are getting more effective

...drug makers desperate to know why.

Thursday, September 3

Attractive women make men stupid

"The Telegraph reports that men who spend even a few minutes in the company of an attractive woman perform less well in tests designed to measure brain function than those who chat to someone they do not find attractive. This leads to speculation that men use up so much of their brain function or 'cognitive resources' trying to impress beautiful women, they have little left for other tasks. Psychologists at Radboud University in The Netherlands carried out the study after one of them was so struck on impressing an attractive woman he had never met before, that he could not remember his address when she asked him where he lived. Researchers recruited 40 male heterosexual students and had each one perform a standard memory test. The volunteers then spent seven minutes chatting to male or female members of the research team before repeating the test. The results showed that men were slower and less accurate after trying to impress the women. The more they fancied them, the worse their score."
Trying to impress—or just plain fantasizing? Did we really need a study for this?

"See, the problem is that God gives men a brain and a penis, and only enough blood to run one at a time." —Robin Williams

Movie recommendation:The Man from Earth (2007)

Jerome Bixby of Star Trek thought this up in the 60's and completed the screenplay on his deathbed in 1998.

IMDB rates 8.1 and has the comment: "Make absolutely certain you do not miss this film."

Critic on RT: "It's that rare film that rewards inquisitiveness."

I agree, this movie is simply a must-see. Like the commenter on IMDB, I could have paid $50 and still felt like I'd gotten my money's worth. Easily the most intellectually edifying fiction I've seen.

If you can't rent, it's $12 on Amazon. However, wiki notes: "the movie gained recognition in part for being widely distributed through Internet peer-to-peer networks and its producer publicly thanked users of these networks for this," so it seems you're also welcome to download it. (Update: See the producer's comment below.)

More reviews via Wikipedia:
"A considerable achievement... a picture which deserves wide exposure... The Man From Earth gradually and stimulatingly builds to a pitch of near hypnotic intensity." – Neil Young, The Hollywood Reporter
"The Man From Earth restores dignity to science fiction of the mind." - Michael Guillen, Twitch
"A tall tale... that ends with a devastatingly clever twist." - Michael Janusonis, The Providence Journal
"Great acting performances... with an ending you wouldn't want to miss... Jerome Bixby's last written work has turned out to be his best." - Hock Teh, IGN
"A mind bending drama... It sure beats watching Transformers." - Nick Lyons, DVD Talk
"The Man From Earth is very much a labor of love from all involved... it's well worth the effort. The final work from the writer responsible for some of the finest episodes of The Twilight Zone and the original Star Trek gets a thoughtful, low-budget treatment." – Ian Spelling, Sci Fi.com
"Jerome Bixby's The Man From Earth is one of the most intelligent science fiction films ever made... probably one of the best science fiction films of the decade." – Mark L. Leeper, Stephen Hunt's SF Crows Nest
"The Man From Earth really has a chance of being the single best piece of screenwriting you will see on a screen large or small this year (really!)." – Late Film
Addendum: I've done a little further digging and reviews seem to be almost universally positive. Small wonder.

MJ medley

Give it at least 2 minutes, it progresses (plus that's when Billie Jean starts)

Health-care legislative projections

Keith Hennessey does the work so you don't have to.

Spoiler: the ride will be rough.

Congratulations are in order

Jason Kuznicki and Scott Starin's first daughter, Alice Nia Starin, was born September 1, 2009, at 1:56 PM, weighing 7 pounds, 12 ounces. She’s doing well and so is her birth mom.

From the FAQ:
2. How did you get to be parents?

Open adoption, a legal process in which the birth mother is not completely cut out of our child’s life. Indeed, our birth mom chose us to adopt her child after meeting us and getting to know us.

Alice will always know she’s adopted, obviously, but this way she will also know who her birth mom was, which is important these days for genetic counseling, and also for the sense of belonging that it offers. She won’t have to wonder about — or dread — the unknown. Her birth mother will at minimum get pictures and a letter at regular intervals. We are free to arrange for more contact than that, and we may well do so.

Our agency is called Adoptions Together. They were great, and we highly recommend them.

[..] The daughter we just adopted would have been born in any case. Our family adopting her seems likely to improve her life, and her birth mother agrees.

On a population level, our adoption will decrease the overall amount of time that all adoptive children spend waiting for placements. This is a clear and objective good.

[..] When it is settled, we’ll have one of those gender-neutral birth certificates that seems to terrify the religious right. Yes, we understand it’s going to read “Parent One” and “Parent Two.” And have our names on it. It’s the collapse of western civilization, I tell you.
In closing, Jason admonishes:
The personal isn’t political. The personal is, and the political is at best a distraction. Try to remember that if you can.
Right. But please pardon me for using this to make a teensy political/moral point...

Most of the people categorically opposed to Jason's new family are also adamantly pro-life. These people ought to be ashamed of their incoherence.

Quote of the day

"I don't recall ever having a sitting president addressing schoolchildren. For major events, maybe, but not the first day of school. The whole thing makes me angry as an American."
Andrew Palomo, the parent of a student at Barrington Middle School in Illinois, panicking about the president's planned address to schoolchildren on September 8th. George H.W. Bush actually addressed schoolchildren in a national broadcast 18 years ago. It's odd what makes people angry these days.

Inertia's such a bitch

Obama's Politics of Reconciliation... Overrated?

by Matt Flaherty

From Yale English Professor David Bromwich, an insightful analysis of the potential problems with Obama's temperament and leadership style. In short, Obama's style generally attempts to mute dissent and partisanship by, like some good-natured teacher or coach, getting everyone to believe that they are on the same team. I found Bromwich particularly enlightening since--sharing Obama's temperament myself--I've been inclined to simply be rapturous about his charismatic leadership, his ability to make everyone feel like their voice counts rather than simply snuffing out opposing contributions as illegitimate and uninformed, and leading to the shrill partisanship and grand-standing that this can lead to. But charismatic leadership (which can sometimes slide into merely rhetorical appeasement) Bromwich suggests may also have its price:

The strange thing about Obama is that he seems to suppose a community can pass directly from the sense of real injustice to a full reconciliation between the powerful and the powerless, without any of the unpleasant intervening collisions. This is a choice of emphasis that suits his temperament.

...Reconciliation, however, can't be genuine or lasting without some polarization, a careful (not generalized) exposure of injustices, and a fight that feels like a fight. In the absence of these, reconciliation dwindles into a rhetorical device; it leads to short-term salvation formulae and a renewal of discontents.

...taken to the circuitous lengths Obama allows, pragmatism is another word for the compulsive propitiation of unnecessary partners. It expands the work and blunts the achievement of reform.

...Somewhere at the bottom of the missteps of the last few months is a failure to recognize the depth of the popular ignorance a president of the United States confronts on any issue.

... To take control of his presidency, he must give up the ambition to serve as the national moderator, the pronouncer on everything, the man with the largest portfolio. If the public option in health care reform is finally defeated, Obama will not soon recover his credit as a national, a party, or a general-issue leader. To avoid that fate, he will have to grant to politics, mere politics, an importance he has not allowed it thus far.

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