URLs du Jour


  • Not me, but maybe you. Astral Codex Ten muses on a thorny issue: Which Party Has Gotten More Extreme Faster? Inspired by this Colin Wright cartoon, made more famous by some guy named Elon:

    [I am not really a conservative, but]

    ACX takes his question seriously, and approaches Wright's cartoon with proper skepticism.

    I think a lot of the disagreement happens because this is more than one question. You can operationalize it a couple different ways:

    • Which party’s policy positions have changed more in their preferred direction (ie gotten further left for the Democrats, or further right for the Republicans) since 2008 - or 1990, or 1950, or some other year when people feel like things weren’t so partisan?

    • Which party has diverged further from ordinary Americans?

    • Which party has become more ideologically pure faster than the others (ie its members all agree and don’t tolerate dissent)?

    • Which party has become crazier in terms of worldview and messaging, in a way orthogonal to specific policy proposals? That is, suppose one party wants 20% lower taxes, and plans to convene a meeting of economists to make sure this is a good idea. The other party wants 10% higher taxes, and says a conspiracy of Jews and lizardmen is holding them back, and asks its members to riot and bring down the government until they get the tax policy they want. The first party has a more extreme policy position (20% is more than 10%), but the second party seems crazier.

    Read through for enlightenment.

    I'll make the standard objection, that the one-dimensional model of the political spectrum is increasingly unuseful and misleading for 21st century America. More interesting would be the classic Nolan Chart:

    Political Compass purple LibRight

    I've been wandering around that southeast corner for decades. Where have the median major party voters gone? (And how do we represent the Overton Window?)

  • Another one for the "But waste was of the essence of the scheme" department. (Ref: Pod of the Milkweed by Robert Frost.)

    Anyone see this on their MSM news source? Christian Britschgi provides: At Least 20 Percent of Federal Pandemic Unemployment Dollars Wasted, GAO Report Finds.

    The federal government sent billions in unemployment aid to ineligible beneficiaries and outright fraudsters during the pandemic, according to a new watchdog report. At least $78 billion in jobless benefits, and potentially much more, were misspent during fiscal year 2021, according to a Tuesday report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

    "Not only is the system falling short in meeting the needs of workers and the broader economy, but the potential for huge financial losses could undermine public confidence in the stewardship of government funds," said GAO head Gene Dorado in a press release yesterday, who called the report's findings "extremely troubling."

    Gene, you say that as if it were a bad thing.

  • You have the right to remain silent, except to tell us your pronouns. George F. Will records the unhappy mess: When the pronoun police come for eighth-graders.

    If the pronoun police of Wisconsin’s Kiel Area School District were just another woke excrescence on American education, they would be merely local embarrassments. These enforcers are, however, a national disgrace because they are a direct consequence of federal lawlessness with a progressive pedigree.

    Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was enacted long before Congress could have imagined today’s progressive dogma that grammar should reflect, through pronouns, the most advanced thinking about gender fluidity. Title IX’s operative language says no person “shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination” in education.

    This language has been reasonably taken to encompass sexual violence, unwanted touching and such “unwelcome conduct” as persistent spoken sexual innuendo, stalking, etc. Now, however, the Wisconsin district, which is perhaps proud of its progressive improvising, has made this category of conduct elastic enough to encompass mispronouning. The district’s behavior is trickle-down lawlessness that stems from the arrogance and cynicism of the U.S. Education Department.

    I pity the parents with kids in government schools.

  • Go your own way. Jim Geraghty's Morning Jolt wonders what the bleep happened to workplace rules, as exemplified by the David Weigel imbroglio:

    Josh Barro offered a funny and spot-on essay about this, asking if there are any adults left at the Post and observing that, “Airing internal workplace disputes in public like this is not okay, even when you are right on the merits. My statement isn’t just obvious, it’s how almost all organizations work. If you think your coworker sucks, you don’t tweet about it. That’s unprofessional. If you disagree with management’s personnel decisions, you don’t decry them to the public. That’s insubordinate. Organizations full of people who are publicly at each other’s throats can’t be effective. Your workplace is not Fleetwood Mac.”

    What we’re seeing at the Post is several employees who are incapable of prioritizing the organization’s running smoothly over venting their spleen at every opportunity; in some cases, the behavior genuinely appears to be obsessive or compulsive.

    A key question for employers is: If a potential hire gives off even the slightest whiff of this kind of uncontrollable exhibitionist narcissism and a desire to hash out all differences in the public square on social media . . . is it work the risk of bringing this person into your organization?

    Well… actually, I think the problem might be that some of the participants actually do see themselves as analogous to Stevie and Christine.

  • Just a reminder: we're still doomed. Doomed, I tells ya! Veronique de Rugy throws cold water who read the latest Trustee's Report and indulged in Rash Optimism on Social Security's Solvency.

    Don't worry if you get confused reading accounts of the new Social Security Trustees Report. On one hand, you have some articles reporting that this document shows that Social Security will be insolvent in less than 15 years. Others prompt you to pop Champagne corks in celebration of Social Security's financial footing being so strong that we can supposedly increase benefits.

    But, of course, both can't be true.

    And both are not true. For example:

    Therefore, "improvement" is a strong word to describe the situation. Whether in 2034 or slightly later, when the fund runs dry, retiree benefits will be cut by 20% across the board. Congress could restore the full benefits by raising the payroll tax rate from its current 12.4% to over 15%. But this tax hike would fall especially hard on low-income workers.

    Even this may still be too optimistic. Speaking at a CFRB event, my Mercatus Center colleague Charles Blahous — a former public trustee for Social Security and Medicare — noted that some assumptions underlying these results should give us pause. First, the report incorrectly assumes only 4.5% inflation this year and 2.3% next year. This matters because benefits are adjusted for inflation, which means a larger cost-of-living adjustment than currently projected, and a higher program cost.

    I believe the "plan" is to wait until that across-the-board cut is imminent, then push through a poorly-thought-through scheme that (nevertheless) must pass, lest Granny push herself off a cliff, instead of letting Paul Ryan do it.

Last Modified 2024-02-01 9:25 AM EDT

Think Again

The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I heard good things, so I picked this up at our local library on that impulse. It's pretty good. I'm not sure how much new stuff I learned, but it was an entertaining and interesting read.

Adam Grant's overarching thesis is the benefit of maintaining an open mind, the better to avoid the horrors of the well-known paths to error: confirmation bias ("seeing what we expect to see") and desirability bias ("seeing what we want to see"). And it's not just having an open mind, but an active open mind: always checking our belief systems for holes, not just wondering if we're wrong, but searching for ways we could be wrong. Specifically, avoiding yet another bias: what he calls the "I'm not biased" bias.

Sounds exhausting for someone at my age, but …

Early on, Grant distinguishes four models of thought, and you can guess their characteristics by the labels he sticks on them: the Preacher, the Prosecutor, the Politician, and the Scientist. We should hit the Scientist model more often, Grant says. And it's hard to disagree, especially in these days when actual scientists sometimes don't think like scientists. (Grant's example here is Einstein, who famously dissented from the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. Which is kind of a bad rap, when Einstein's objections caused decades of tough-minded research into QM foundations, and arguably opened the door to quantum computing, networking, cryptography,…)

Grant takes this simple idea, and applies it in various manifestations; basically, everywhere hard thinking is required: handling your career trajectory; educating the kiddos; engineering the workplace to be friendlier to innovation and flexibility; how to be a better debater on contentious issues; and more.

Grant does a lot of TED-talking, and it shows here: there are many anecdotes, graphs, cartoons, PowerPoint slides, … Many very funny.

But one anecdote wasn't funny at all: the story of a "wildly unethical" study carried out by a psychologist on Harvard students in the 1950s, where they were subjected to verbal attacks on their cherished beliefs. One of the victimized subjects, dubbed "Lawful", only became more convinced in his odd opinions, and Grant goes on to quote from Lawful's later "magnum opus" (page 60) to demonstrate.

Hm. Magnum opus? That sent me to the references at the back of the book, and… ohmigod, is Grant not really gonna reveal "Lawful's" identity?

Never fear, though: a dozen or so pages later, Lawful is unmasked. That's the kind of dramatic reveal that makes your TED talk punchy.

Last Modified 2024-01-17 9:51 AM EDT