URLs du Jour


  • I have only myself to blame. I turned on CBS to watch "The Equalizer" at 8pm on Sunday. (I don't like it much, but Mrs. Salad does.) Unfortunately, sportsball caused the network programming to be delayed, so we wound up watching "60 Minutes" for a while, apparently still on the air even after Rathergate.

    What perked up my ears a little was this segment, looking at housing inflation. The on-air title was "Through the Roof" (get it?), but the online headline is wordier: "Would-be home buyers may be forced to rent the American dream, rather than buy it."

    It followed the tried-and-true strategy: "Let's look for a bad guy we can blame, and make uncomfortable with gotcha questions." That didn't work well in this case. Lesley Stahl opened:

    Every American is feeling the bite of inflation. Groceries cost more, gas costs more, everything seems to cost more. This past week, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates in an effort to tame the highest inflation in 40 years.

    The cost of rent is really through the roof. Residential rents across the country went up an average of 15% last year – nearly twice the overall inflation rate. That's particularly painful for tenants, because according to Census Bureau data, they now often have to spend as much as half their total income on rent.

    Why are rents rising so much? Well, it turns out that big Wall Street firms are playing a role, but we found the fundamental problem was years in the making…and will take years to fix.

    Lesley, I don't know a lot about economics, but I'm pretty sure that prices are an effort to match (1) supply and (2) demand. Rising prices are often a case where demand is growing and supply is not keeping up.

    That's a very boring story, though, and so Lesley concentrated on those "big Wall Street firms". Her Sunday Scapegoat was Gary Berman, "CEO of Tricon Residential, a Toronto-based company that has quietly become one of the largest owners of single-family homes in the United States."

    Ooh, "quietly"! Note the implication of shadiness.

    Unfortunately for Lesley, Berman didn't cooperate by being a nervous Nathan Thurm type. He appeared straightforward and honest, explaining as best he could that the success of his company was providing a product (rental housing) that people wanted.

    The piece tried to use "Wall Street" as a swear word, implying that its nasty investors were running up prices by buying housing in hot markets like Jacksonville and Austin. Which mixes up cause with effect.

    There were tiny glimmers of actual cause:

    In the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009, construction of new housing came to a grinding halt. But even when the economy recovered, home construction didn't.

    Um. Why not?

    60 Minutes leaves that largely unexplored. Kind of a lost opportunity. They could have looked at (a) zoning laws; (b) growth restrictions; (c) onerous regulation of financial markets; (d) building codes and regulations. All these tend to restrict supply, driving prices up.

    As for their claim that "the fundamental problem … will take years to fix": guess what, Lesley? It will take even longer when you misstate what the "fundamental problem" is.

  • The non-virtue of selfishness. Chris Stirewalt has had it up to here with A Selfish Kind of Historical Relativism. Specifically, current claims that we live in a unique time of sociopolitical upheaval.

    Between November 1963 and April 1975, America ripped itself to pieces. In a period shorter than it’s been for us since the financial crisis of 2008, we assassinated our president, assassinated his brother, assassinated the world-historic leader of the civil rights movement, after having assassinated the second most prominent civil rights leader. We almost killed segregationist George Wallace during one of his presidential campaigns, which is less frightening than the fact that Wallace won 46 electoral votes. There were riots in more than 100 cities, and not the looting of a Ferragamo store,  but the wholesale destruction of big chunks of cities. Chaotic destruction raged through the large industrial cities of the north. From Philadelphia to Los Angeles, there was hell on earth.

    On foreign policy, the United States faced its first military defeat overseas in our history, and did so after the federal government perniciously lied to the American people about the nature of that conflict. The tragedy of Vietnam was a heartbreaking consequence of a federal policy that was confused, dishonest, and impossible to ever fully implement even if it had been on the level. We abandoned our allies in south Vietnam and left them to certain slaughter.

    Our president and vice president both resigned in disgrace but over separate scandals. Our leaders failed the American people in profound ways, unthinkable to the previous generation. And that all happened in a period of time about the same as it has been for us since Barack Obama’s first term.

    You may have heard the famed Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times." Well, we early boomers pretty much did.

    (And, by the say, "May you live in interesting times" is not an actual Chinese curse.)

  • Worthwhile New York Times initiative. Matt Taibbi has some fun with the NYT and its critics: World's Dullest Editorial Launches Panic. It's about the recent editorial and the reaction thereto, e.g.:

    One might think running botched WMD reports that got us into the Iraq war or getting a Pulitzer for lauding Stalin’s liquidation of five million kulaks might have constituted worse days — who knew? Pundits, academics, and politicians across the cultural mainstream seemed to agree with Watson, plunging into a days-long freakout over a meh editorial that shows little sign of abating.

    “Appalling,” barked J-school professor Jeff Jarvis. “By the time the Times finally realizes what side it’s on, it may be too late,” screeched Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch. “The board should retract and resign,” said journalist and former Planet Money of NPR fame founder Adam Davidson. “Toxic, brain-deadening bothsidesism,” railed Dan Froomkin of Press Watch, who went on to demand a retraction and a “mass resignation.” The aforementioned Watson agreed, saying “the NYT should retract this insanity, and replace the entire editorial board.” Not terribly relevant, but amusing still, was the reaction of actor George Takei, who said, “It’s like Bill Maher is now on the New York Times Editorial board.”

    I believe the argument goes something like this: "Cancel culture doesn't exist, and the people claiming it does should be fired."

    [Obscure headline reference explained here.]

  • Darn, I missed it. And I would guess you did too: the University Near Here's Drag Ball 2022, back on March 4. The theme this year was "Wild, Wild West". You'd think that an event practically demanding that attendees let their freak flags fly wouldn't want, let alone need a dress code. But no. Lest things get too wild:

    Drag Ball Dress Code
    Don't wear: Headdresses, tribal patterns, Indigenous person costumes, cultural face paint, weapon props

    Do wear: Cowboy hats, fringe, flannels

    The theme for this Drag Ball is strictly old west and cowboys. Cultural appropriation of any kind will NOT be tolerated.

    Just cowboys? What about cowgirls, you sexist bastards? I had my Annie Oakley outfit all cleaned and pressed!

  • On a related note, Slashdot unwinds a twitter thread: US College Education Is Nearer To Collapsing Than It Appears.

    Most of all, it's clearly a bad deal for many students, or we wouldn't have the student debt crisis. Cancelling student debt is good if it's tied to fixing the problem going forward, which means not offering it, or having the colleges be the guarantor, or ISAs, or something. But cancelling all student debt and then continuing to issue new debt to students that the university fails (i.e. by not putting them in a position to make enough money to easily pay it back) doesn't make sense. Tech jobs (I assume other jobs will follow) are increasingly willing to hire with no degree if an applicant can do well in an interview/on a test.

    It seems very clear that elite colleges discriminate against Asian-American students, and that the Supreme Court is going to find this. (One expert said no discrimination would result in around 65% Asian-American admits.) The fact that this has been so tolerated speaks volumes. Stopping standardized tests -- which are imperfect and correlated with socioeconomic status -- seems to be bad. Other items like the personal essay are surely more correlated and more hackable. I'm all for looking at test scores in context, but dropping entirely denies opportunity. (I wonder if this is correlated to the earthquake coming when colleges can no longer discriminate against Asian-American students.)

    Monocultures suck. It's hard to know how many of the stories about ridiculous stuff happening on campuses to believe, but even if a small fraction of them are true, these are clearly no longer places hyperfocused on learning. (A personal anecdote: I was invited a few years ago to speak at a college but I was asked to give a 'privilege disclaimer', essentially stating that if I didn't look like I did I wouldn't have been able to succeed... Although I understand the spirit and obviously I am privileged, I consulted with friends from different backgrounds and then declined: what kind of message does that send to listeners?) The list could go on for a long time, but the point is: What a time to start an alternative to college! The world really needs it.


  • And finally...

    … married to a world where diversity is celebrated, unless it involves cultural appropriation.

Last Modified 2022-03-22 7:05 PM EDT