Friday, July 31, 2009

Oil Speculation?

I received an email from AirTran:

Dear Φ,

Last summer, AirTran Airways participated in Stop Oil Speculation Now, a multi-industry coalition of businesses, associations and concerned citizens united in support of responsible energy policies and prices. Public outrage and congressional debate helped deflate the oil bubble and return prices to reasonable levels. You can help make a difference again this year.

While fuel costs have declined this year in comparison to last, there is still quite a bit of volatility in the prices that affect not only our business, but you personally-- in the prices you pay for fuel for your vehicles as well as goods that are transported to the stores.

Increasingly over the past few years, a growing group of financial players with no direct stake in the physical delivery of oil has exercised undue and unchecked influence on the price of oil, causing great pain for consumers and wreaking havoc on American businesses of all kinds - including airlines and their customers. Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that continued speculation could "worsen the global economic downturn." We cannot allow this to happen.

We need your help. Get more information and contact Congress by visiting the S.O.S. Now website. You can also follow S.O.S. Now on Facebook and Twitter.

We appreciate your business and want to keep fares low for you. Thanks for being a member of A+ Rewards, and we look forward to welcoming you on a future flight.


Tad Hutcheson

Vice President of Marketing and Sales

AirTran Airways, Inc.

But when gas was $4/gal last summer, Megan wrote:

[Speculators] provide the market with valuable information: a lot of people think that the price of oil is going to go up. The effect of that information is to raise the future price, which makes current consumers unhappy. But in fact, if the speculators are right, they're doing us a service by giving us a basically gradual price rise that helps us conserve. If they are on the money, and Congress chases them out of the market, we'll suffer more later, wishing all the while that we hadn't used the stuff so profligately. If they're wrong, later we'll have cheap gas and more fuel efficient cars, hardly a tragedy.

I'm inclined to go with Megan, but I think both sides of this argument could do with providing some details? Do you think speculation a problem? Who is doing the speculating? If "speculation" involves withholding oil from the market, where is this oil being stored? How much money have speculators made, considering that gas was selling for $4/gallon early last summer, $1.50/gallon late last summer, and $2.50/gallon right now?

On the other side: is there really a global market in oil? Does no oil producing country provide below-market-price gas to its domestic market? Are there really no "special relationships" between exporting and importing countries? I can understand how Katrina shut down gulf coast refineries, but why did the fall 2005 price still fall to around $2/gal? Why did it rise to $4/gal in the summer of 2008? What are the non-speculative production/delivery factors causing these massive changes?

I don't know the answers to any of these questions. But I'm tired of blanket assertions about "bad bad speculation!" on one hand and "good good free markets!" on the other.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The lesson is . . .

The full text of Justin Barrett's email is here.

There are some lessons here:

  • Always get someone you trust to proofread your screeds.

  • When you are the trusted friend, be sure to ask him, "What is the purpose of your writing? What outcome are you trying to achieve? How does what you actually wrote advance that goal?"

  • If the answer to the first question is, "Venting my spleen," then tell the writer that maybe he should find a more constructive goal.

  • Of course, always be careful about using the office email system.

Any others?

The Benefits of Customer Selection

Megan quotes from an NYT story on a policy change that gives NYC homeless shelters the power to expel troublesome residents:

But others said they were grateful for the ability to threaten the most difficult families with ejection.

"If you need a big stick now and then, for certain families, so be it," said Richard Motta, the president and chief executive of Volunteers of America of Greater New York, which runs three family shelters.

The lack of such a threat was a problem, Mr. Motta said.

"There's not a caseworker alive that wants to realize that threat, and as an agency, we don't want to move people to the streets," he said. "That's not what we're in business to do. But if you enter the shelter, if you know there's a threat of being put out of the shelter, you'll be more likely to follow the rules."

She then observes:

[W]hy does [Motta] want to kick them out of the shelter? Because families in crisis are sometimes in crisis because the head of household, or an older child, has a severe behavior problem. That minority can make life unbearable for the majority. They can also make life miserable for themselves, and facility managers would like to be able to open slots for new intakes by forcing refractory long term residents to, say, apply for jobs, or move into subsidized housing.

If you had asked me, I would have said that of course a homeless shelter intended for families could expel troublemakers. I'm gratified that policy is catching up to common sense.

But that still leave another venue where common sense has yet to reach: public schools. I assume without knowing that a process still exists for expelling students who cross some threshold of criminality. But it's also abundantly clear that that threshold is far too high. Think about it: in what other public place is verbal and physical assault considered one of the routine hazards? A man on a public street, a store, or a workplace is not expected to figure out how to "resolve interpersonal conflicts" with someone hurling abuse at him. If I am in, say, Wal-Mart, and another customer starts insulting me, I can pretty much count on Wal-Mart asking the person to leave the store. And if that person struck me, he would be criminally and civilly liable. Yet public schools and their students are forced to grapple with behavior that would never be tolerated anywhere else. But more importantly, the troublemakers know this. And the knowledge that antisocial behavior has real consequences in the real world is sufficient to curb most of it. Very few (I suspect) erstwhile school bullies try this kind of thing outside of lawless gang areas of inner cities. (Which is not to say they don't aggravate neighbors and coworkers in other ways.) But in public schools, the students have, not only a presumptive right to attend, but the legal obligation to do so. And this makes life difficult for those students there simply to learn.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Ubiquitous "Black Gentleman"

Wes Pruden writes of Gategate:

But what seems to be about race isn't always about color. Mr. Gates accused the cops of asking impertinent questions simply because he's black (or "African-American," in the current fashion). President Obama agreed. In the endless retelling of the tale, the white neighbor who called the cops told the police dispatcher that "two black guys" were trying to break into the Gates abode. A review of the police 911 tape revealed Monday that the caller actually told the dispatcher that "two gentlemen" were trying to get into the door; she subsequently referred to one of them as a "gentleman" and to both of them as "individuals." Nothing about color.

In my experience -- indeed, in my own practice -- "gentleman" is the word that whites eager not to appear racist usually apply to a black man, particularly when his race is the salient factor. Certainly in this case: a woman calling in a B&E would not normally be simultaneously impressed with the alleged perp's manners and bearing. But for a black perp, the word "gentleman" gets deployed as a reflexive self-inoculation against racism.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Power Corrupts

Steve Sailer points to a 2001 AP article on the conviction of a Chicago policeman for heisting jewelry stores:

Prosecutors had said previously that [former chief of detectives William]Hanhardt, although retired from the force, had been able to make use of police computers to get information about such matters as car rentals by jewelry salesmen. Many of the thefts were from automobiles parked by unsuspecting salesmen.

If you had asked me, I would have guessed that if police wanted to look at the records of a rental car company, they would have to appear before a magistrate, show probable cause, and obtain a warrant. I would have then conceded that, if the rental car company is not the subject of investigation, then the detectives should be allowed to see the records with the company's cooperation. But come to find out, police can see rental car records in real time from their own desks.

This is way too much power for the police to have, precisely because of this kind of scenario. There just isn't enough "check and balance" to put obstacles in the way of, not only rouge rogue policemen, but anybody else that can gain access to the police computers. At least the requirement that detectives physically visit the agency and formally make a request puts more people in the loop, and makes the bad actors easier to spot.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Is Your Blog Male or Female?

Via Elusive Wapati, I discovered uClassify, which purports to classify either specific text or a webite as either male or female in percentage terms.

Delenda Est Carthago turns out to be 99.2% male. I then tested most of the blogs on the blogroll. While their proprietors are free to report their own scores, I will brag (if such is appropriate) that the "maleness" herein exceeds them all. Even the MRA sites.

Could I put this in a personal?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Geoffrey Miller on Assortative Living

Spent concerns the ways in which conspicuous consumption serves as modern America's primary method of trait signaling. Geoffrey Miller credibly argues that this method is inefficient, decreases our happiness, and generates negative externalities. Near the end of the book, he looks at ways in which government policy encourages conspicuous consumption, and examines alternatives. The following section deals with themes familiar to the readers of Half Sigma, Steve Sailer, and the old Bobvis blog, but Miller weaves them together in a way that shows genuine insight.

Multiculturalism Versus Local Social Norms

There is a major legal problem with creating and enforcing new social norms in developed nations, and the problem concerns housing law. Humans are still embodied beings who interact mostly with other humans who liver nearby. The social norms and trait-display tactics most favored by the local community heavily influence our behavior. However, through antidiscrimination laws regarding property rental and ownership, many countries unwittingly prohibit the development and diversification of cohesive local norms. For example, the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development prohibits “housing discrimination based on your race color, national origin, religion, sex, family status, or disability.” The laws were passed with the best of intentions, but they have toxic side effects on the ability of voluntarily organized communities to create the physical, social, and moral environments that their members want.

There is increasing evidence that communities with a chaotic diversity of social norms do not function very well. Some of this evidence comes from studies of ethnically diverse communities. I mention this evidence not because I think ethnic diversity is bad, but because it is one of the only proxies for social-norm diversity that has been studied so far.

For example, the political scientist Robert Putnam has found that American communities with higher levels of ethnic diversity tend to have lower levels of “social capital” -- trust, altruism, cohesion, and sense of community. He and his colleagues analyzed data from thirty thousand people across forty-one U. S. communities, and found that people who live in communities with higher ethnic diversity (meaning, in the United States, more equal mixtures of black, Hispanic, white, and Asian citizens) tend to have lower

  • trust across ethnic groups
  • trust within their own ethnic group
  • community solidarity and cohesion
  • community cooperation
  • sense of political empowerment
  • confidence in local government and leaders
  • voter registration rates
  • charity and volunteering
  • investment in common goods
  • interest in maintaining community facilities
  • rates of carpooling
  • numbers of friends
  • perceived quality of life
  • general happiness

These effects remained substantial even after controlling for each individual’s age, sex, education, ethnicity, income, and language, and for each community’s poverty rate, income inequality, crime rate, population density, mobility, and average education. Putnam did not set out to look for these effects; a great advocate of both social capital and diversity, he seems to have been appalled at these results, and published them only reluctantly. Many other researchers have reported similar findings.

I suspect that these corrosive effects of “ethnic diversity” on social capital are not really an effect of ethnicity per se, but of each ethnicity’s having different social norms -- different dialects, values, political attitudes, religions, social assumptions, and systems of etiquette. As Robert Kurzban and his collaborators have shown, ethnicity fades into the background when people feel motivated to cooperate with one another for the common good, based on shared interests and norms. Communities without a coherent set of social norms just don’t feel much like communities at all, so people withdraw from community life into their own families and houses.

Sadly, it has become almost impossible now for like-minded people to arrange to live together in a small community with cohesive social norms. Real norms can be sustained effectively only be selecting who moves in, by praising or punishing those who uphold or violate norms as residents, and by expelling those who repeatedly violate the norms. These are the requirements to sustain the type of cooperation called network reciprocity, in which cooperators form local “network clusters” (communities) in which they help one another. Current laws in most developed countries make network reciprocity almost impossible. Black Muslim property developers cannot set up gated communities that exclude white oppressors. Lesbians who were traumatized by childhood sexual abuse or rape cannot set up male-free zones. Pentecostals cannot exclude Satanists and Wiccans from their neighborhoods. Medical-marijuana users with cancer or glaucoma cannot set up cannabis-friendly zones. Polyamorous swingers cannot exclude monogamous puritans, or vice versa.

So, while modern multicultural communities may be very free at the level of individual lifestyle choice, they are very un-free at the level of allowing people to create and sustain distinctive local community norms and values. This is actually a bad thing, liberal ideologies notwithstanding. It means that the only way to have any influence over who your neighbors are, and how they behave, is to rent or buy at a particular price point, to achieve economic stratification. Antidiscrimination laws apply, de facto, to everything except income, with the result that we have low-income ghettos, working-class tract houses, professional exurbs: a form of assortative living by income, which correlates only moderately with intelligence and conscientiousness.

Moreover, when economic stratification is the only basis for choosing where to lie, wealth becomes reified as the central form of status in every community  the lowest common denominator of human virtue, the only trait-display game in town. Since you end up living next to people who might well respect wildly different intellectual, political, social, and moral values, the only way to compete for status is through conspicuous consumption. Grow a greener lawn, buy a bigger car, add a media room. If a Pentecostal lives next to a polyamorist, the only way they can compete with each other is at the default economic level of wealth display. But if all the Pentecostals lived together, they could establish new social norms that renounce such wealth displays, and compete for status through Bible-quoting, speaking in tongues, and spreading the gospel. And if all the polyamorists lived together, they could compete for status through good conversation, great sex, minimal jealousy, maximal affection, and emotional authenticity. In both cases, their local social norms could rein in runaway consumption, and shift their time and energy to other activities that are more congruent with their most fundamental values.

This idea -- the freedom to live near folks with shared values -- may sound radical to members of the educated Euro-American elite, who tend to take multiculturalism, diversity, and tolerance for granted as good things. But it would sound perfectly sensible to almost any of our ancestors from any well-functioning culture in any epoch of history. It’s called choosing your tribe: you have to be able to control who enters your community, and under what conditions they will be exiled. The efficiency and cohesiveness of local social life demands protection against outside threats and internal selfishness. Minimally, this requires that everyone local shares rules of etiquette for avoiding conflict, a common spoken language for resolving conflict, norms governing social, sexual, parental, kin, and economic-exchange relationships, and norms for coordinating group action, especially in emergencies. Strangely, many “communities” in developed nations lack these basic prerequisites for living together. These communities function like computers that have hardware (a physical location and infrastructure) and an operating system (a government, an economic system, and a set of metanorms concerning tolerance and diversity), but no software applications (no specific social norms governing trait display and status seeking in any domains other than wealth).

To a limited degree, people with shared values and lifestyles can sometimes coordinate their movements into particular locations. American gay men often move to San Francisco or New York. Mormons often congregate in Utah. But they are always mixed up with others hostile to their values; they must rub elbows with homophobes or atheists, and they cannot do anything about it. Under some special circumstances, people can create co-living communities with a limited set of shared rules that constrain runaway consumerism: college fraternities and sororities, communes, cooperative housing, condominium governing by internal rules and managerial boards, gated communities with restrictive covenants. However, the antidiscrimination laws still apply -- these co-living systems still cannot legally select or expel members on the basis of sexual orientation or religion, which doesn’t help gay men or Mormons create their own communities, and it still leaves wealth display as the default basis for social status.

So governments should give people the freedom to create local housing communities with the power to sustain their own social norms, as long as a few basic human rights are respected. Adults must be free to move away from a community they don’t like. The punishment for violating social norms must not exceed temporary ostracism or permanent exile. As John Stuart Mill argued, children must not be subject to abuse that is permanently physically or mentally disabling (such as, arguably, circumcision, clitoridectomy, religious indoctrination, or anorexia-inducing ballet lessons). Clearly, it is hard to draw the line between normal acculturation and disabling child abuse, but that has always been true, and I can’t offer a panacea. Civilization progresses in part through people arguing about these issues and reaching the most enlightened, provisional, pragmatic consensus that they can achieve within their culture. At any rate, the government still has a crucial role to play in protecting the oppressed or vulnerable from the tyranny of the majority, even within the most radical of the local communities. However, if the local majority cannot impose some distinctive social norms on our forms of trait signaling, conspicuous consumption will remain the only game in town.

I will make a couple of comments. First, Miller's "educated Euro-American elite" -- in which Miller himself is a member in good standing -- is well-served by our current assortative housing patterns. Beyond a certain price point, "diversity" costs nothing: the interaction of zoning and finance means that nobody able to afford a large house in "good school district" full of other large houses will rank low on the social traits that make for bad neighbors. These houses may strain the budgets of the middle and upper middle classes, but not of the elites. And at higher thresholds, our elite is remarkable in its social uniformity. Its members, regardless of race, came from the same social background, went to the same Ivy League schools, and hold the same values. They have no interest in polyamory and Mormonism. They are already surrounded by exactly the people with whom they would freely choose to associate. Extending assortative opportunity to the middle class gives them no benefit.

It would, however, carry a heavy psychic burden on their own moral vanity. Miller is naive, or pretends to be, about what assortative neighborhoods would look like down the income scale. Outside of, say, Idaho, the social taboo against overt racial discrimination would prevent race-exclusive neighborhoods -- at first. But the imposition of middle-class behavioral norms would have -- wait for it -- a disparate impact on non-Asian minorities. Kind of like how the young black male character on MTV's Real World always got chucked mid-season: it was never because of his race but because of his behavior . . . which correlated with his race.

For an idea of how intolerable this would be to our "educated Euro-American elite", consider poor Huntingdon Valley Swim Club. Their half-hearted effort to enforce behavioral norms at a private club -- in full compliance with the law -- has generated outraged commentary across the entire country for a couple of weeks. Miller's voice in defense of Huntingdon Valley has been conspicuously absent.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Do Schools Gentrify?

A friend of mine attended Decatur High School some 25 years ago. Back then, he told me, the school's student body by reputation was 80% black. (Although to a 120 lb white freshman from the sticks, it looked closer to 95% black.)

Not anymore. Decatur High School's student body is now only 47% black . . . and 46% white! It has a respectable 8/10 rating from

How did this happen? Normally among families with school-aged children, blacks are displaced by Hispanics, not whites. And while neighborhoods can gentrify, they are usually gentrified by homosexual or otherwise childless whites. People contemplating families usually move to the 'burbs, of which the Atlanta area has an abudance. Once schools become "black", no white family wants to send their kids there, even if whites are a majority in the community.

Consider, for instance, the Buckhead area (of A Man in Full fame) in north Atlanta. Overwhelmingly rich and (~85%) white, Buckhead's public high school is nonetheless only 13% white and scores a dismal 3/10 from Clearly, even with per pupil expenditures in excess of $12k, white families have written off North Atlanta High.

Decatur, meanwhile, is presently 65% white. I have no knowledge about its demographics over time, but as the longtime home of Agnes Scott College and Columbia Seminary, it certainly has its share of white pointy-heads. But how did white students achieve parity at Decatur High?

Any ideas?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Geoffrey Miller on Male Agression and Female Conformity

From Spent: Evolution and Consumer Behavior:

Highly agreeable people want to get along with everyone, so they tend to be conformists, whether with respect to peer-group opinions, fashions, or product choices. Conversely, anti-conformity can signal dominance, assertiveness, and low agreeableness.

To test the idea that people use conformity strategically to signal agreeableness, Vladas Griskevicius and his colleagues ran another “mating prime” study. They expected a sex difference, because women have a stronger preference than men do for mates who display assertiveness, dominance, leadership, and risk taking. So, mating primed males may try to display these lower-agreeableness traits through conspicuous anti-conformity  by resisting and rebelling against peer influence. On the other hand, mating-primed females may try to display their higher-agreeableness traits (kindness, empathy, social networking ability) through conspicuous conformity to peer influence.

Subjects were randomly assigned to one of three priming conditions. In the mating-prime condition, they read a romantically arousing story about being on a vacation with friends, meeting and spending the day with a highly desirable person of the opposite sex, and kissing passionately on a moonlit beach. In the “threat prime,” they read a frightening story about an intruder breaking and entering when they were home alone at night. In the “neutral prime,” they read a happy story about going to a much-anticipated live music event with a same-sex friend. After experiencing one of these primes, the subjects were shown various artistic images. They were told that all three of their peers gave either positive or negative ratings to each of the images, and then they gave their own ratings. Their level of agreement with the peers indicated their degree of conformity.

As predicted Griskevicius found that mating-primed men showed less conformity than in the threat or neutral conditions, whereas mating-primed women showed more conformity. These mating-prime effects were modulated an a fascinating way by the direction of the peer evaluations. If all the peers rated a particular artistic image positively, mating-primed men showed neither conformity nor anti-conformity; they just followed their previously measured aesthetic tastes. But if all the peers rated a particular artistic image negatively, mating-primed men showed strong anti-conformity (and thus higher openness) by rating the image much more positively. However, mating-primed women showed stronger conformity if all their female peers rated the artistic image positively, and neither conformity nor anti-conformity if their peers rated the image negatively. It looks as though each sex wants to act “positive” in their aesthetic ratings, but the males prefer to act positive most strongly when all the other males act negative, whereas the females prefer to act positive most strongly when all the other females are also positive. Conformity interacts with positivity in the strategic signaling of this personality trait. (By contrast, the threat prime concerning the home intruder led both sexes equally to show higher conformity in their ratings of the artisit images, as if a self-protection motive were favoring group-mindedness.)

In a follow-up study, Griskevicius discovered a further nuance in human self-presentation: the sex-specific effects of the mating prime on conformity are influenced by whether a person’s judgment concerns subjective taste or objective fact. Mating-primed males show especially strong nonconformity when they make subjective judgments about which consumer product they would prefer (a Mercedes or BMW luxury car, a Ferrari or Lamborghini sports car), but they switch to showing very high conformity when they are asked objective knowledge questions (is it more expensive to live in New York or San Francisco? Which airline has more on-time arrivals, Southwest or America West?). So mating-primed men want to stand out from the crown when it comes to having distinctive taste, but they rely on peer opinion to avoid factual errors. On the other hand, mating primed females show strong conformity when making the subjective judgments, but they show neither conformity nor anti-conformity when answering the objective questions.

Thus, men seem especially keen to show off their assertiveness and independence through their anti-conformity when they want to impress a woman, as long as the anti-conformity doesn’t make them look more negative and closed-minded than their rivals, and doesn’t lead them to make an embarrassing factual error. Women are keen to show off their agreeableness through conformity when they want to impress a man, especially when they’re conforming to a positive, open-minded judgment. At least in these experiments, women were less influenced than men by peer opinion when answering factual questions.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


I've been working my way through Spent, Geoffrey Miller's application of evolutionary psychology to consumerism.

Miller has written an outstanding pop-science book on an important subject, and when I have more time I would like to quote from it more extensively. But for now, I want to address myself to its most irritating feature: the author's snide leftism.

Stuff like this:

In traditional symmetric warfare both sides play be certain tacit rules of engagement. You line up your phalanxes, musketmen, or tanks, and we line up ours, and both sides fight it out until one concedes or flees, and the other declares victory. In asymmetric warfare, the side that is weaker by traditional criteria seeks victory by using new tactics or technology. The British longbowmen defeated the French knights at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 by firing volleys of arrows from absurd distances, rather than waiting honorably to be squashed by the cavalry charge . . . . Al-Qaeda terrorists on 9/11 infuriated the Pentagon by hijacking our airplanes, rather than buying their own from our arms dealers.

That's pretty typical.

Miller perhaps has his own reasons for wishing to buttress his left-wing credentials:

One of the most frustrating experiences in human life is to adopt an unfashionable new worldview after much evidence-based research, rational consideration of alternatives, and ethical soul-searching, only to have one's peers misconstrue that worldview as a personality signal that conveys the opposite of one's true traits and intentions. This is a common experience among evolutionary psychologists, and it nicely illustrates the way that ideology signals can fail under certain conditions.

Critics such as Stephen Jay Gould, Steven Rose, and Richard Lewontin have convinced a substantial portion of the educated public that evolutionary psychology is a pernicious right-wing conspiracy, with the hidden ideological agenda of reviving biological determinism, sexism, racism, and elitism. They conflate the worst excesses of 1860s social Darwinism, 1890s union-busting capitalism, 1930s Nazi eugenics, and 1970s sociobiology with the twenty-first-century science of human nature.

What the critics fail to explain, however, is why evolutionary psychology has attracted the support of so many socially conscious progressive thinkers, ranging from the animal rights philosopher Peter Singer to the economist Robert Frank, the archcritic of runaway consumerism. They likewise fail to explain why so many prominent evolutionists (E. O. Wilson, Robert Trivers, John Maynard Smith) have had strong ties to left-wing politics in their private lives. And they fail to explain why right=wing American fundamentalists see evolutionary psychology as an ultraliberal attack on family values and religion.

For the most part, the leftism is just background noise that doesn't really have much affect on his thesis. But the one exception to this is his confounding of the personality trait "openness" with political liberalism.

Now at one level, openness -- "curiosity, novelty seeking, broad-mindedness, interest in culture, ideas, and aesthetics" -- doesn't sound like a salient feature of the conservative temperament, given our stated preference for stability, practicality, and the tried-and-true. So his assertion that it correlates positively with "social tolerance" and political liberalism is certainly plausible. The problems start when he gets down to specifics.

For instance, he gives some examples of bumper stickers that he claims advertise levels of openness:

High Openness

  • Question reality
  • Legalize freedom
  • My karma ran over your dogma
  • Sorry I missed church. I was busy practicing witchcraft and becoming a lesbian.
  • Reality is where the pizza delivery guy comes from

Low Openness

  • Live it up, sinner
  • Shut up, hippie
  • Welcome to America. We speak English. Learn it or leave
  • Stereotypes make life easier
  • If God didn't want us to eat animals, he wouldn't have made them out of meat
  • Gun control means using both hands

Let's take look at these in detail.

"Legalize Freedom", has been the conservative rallying cry for nigh 30 years, especially among "low-openness" religious people who want the federal government to leave them alone.

"Karma . . . dogma": so, are you Hindu? No? Then the bumper sticker doesn't really signal openness to Eastern religions, does it. It just indicates hostility towards Catholicism, a religion to which you are dogmatic in your lack of openness.

Are you a witch? A lesbian? No? See above.

Do you eat pizza? Yes? Then other than showing contempt for the people who work for low pay making your life easier, what's your point, exactly?

Among the "low openness" stickers, granted that the first four show "low openness" and appear to indicate conservatism. But what does eating meat and gun ownership have to do with openness? He could have made a more plausible assertion (that I would nonetheless dispute) that they indicate low agreeableness. But why should people who want to restrict the firearms and food of other people get credit for openness?

Miller repeated claims to be an individual of exceptional openness; however, in Miller's telling, being "open" only means buying in to ideas he already likes. It never means buying in to ideas he doesn't like. For instance:

Conspicuously displayed aesthetic taste is a convenient, visible way for people to display their deeper personality traits. For example, if I were rich, I would collect paintings by the contemporary artist Fred Tomaselli, rather than the usual Post-Impressionists or Abstract Expressionists collected by Upper East Side hedge-fund mangers. Why? Because I find Tomaselli's work visually and intellectually richer, and I appreciate the biological materials, compositional skills, and psychedelic themes. In other words, I would want my art collection to reflect my personal taste, meaning in this case I would (unconsciously) want it to proclaim my openness (to wierd hallucinogen-inspired art) . . . .

Personal taste should not just attract like-minded individuals; it should also repulse differently minded ones. To be effective, in must be a high--risk, high-gain form of taste signaling, rather than a meek nod to the least common denominator. The Tomaselli paintings would be effective for my social-screening purposes because few people of low openness could bear to sit through a dinner party with such disorienting works on the walls. They would feel existential nausea and never come back. On the other hand, visitors who admired the work articulately, without gagging, would reliably signal their higher openness. Conversely, Christians can repulse atheist intellectuals like me by hanging black-velvet Jesus paintings on their walls, just as Van Helsing repelled vampires with garlic.

Leaving aside the relative artistic merits of Tomaselli and Jesus paintings, on what grounds can Miller claim high openness (as opposed to, say, low agreeableness) by displaying artwork he hopes will gag people he doesn't like, but his repulsion at images of Jesus does not indicate a similar hole in his own much-heralded openness?

To his credit, Miller identifies "openness" as conspicuous among the "Central Six" (intelligence, openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness, stability, and extraversion) as being dangerously maladaptive when taken to extremes, and he is at his funniest when he describes where the combination of high openness and low intelligence will take you. But the over-identification of openness with hostility to religious conservatism is the book's biggest failing.

Still, though, it's a good read.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Employment Testing, USAF Edition

This is interesting:


FROM: AF/A1, 1040 Air Force Pentagon, Washington DC 20330-1040

SUBJECT: AFOQT Revision – Technical Officer Survey Participation

We are initiating a major revision of the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test (AFOQT). The AFOQT, in its many forms, has had an effective track record of predicting officer training and pilot training success since it was implemented in 1953. Its screening has saved tens of millions of training dollars by reducing attrition and contributed to an effective officer accession process. Since initial development, the AFOQT has been revised 17 times. The current version, Form S, was implemented in 2005. With our rapidly changing mission and Air Force culture, we want to ensure the next revision assesses all of the current critical officer skills.

To better identify theses technical skills, we are conducting a survey . . . .

The survey goes on to ask participants drawn from technical and aviation military career fields to rate the importance to success in their careers of 54 different mental, physical, and social facilities:

  • Cognitive Abilities: Oral Expression, Listening Comprehension, Reading Comprehension, Written Expression, Mathematical Computation, Mathematical Reasoning, Inductive Reasoning, Deductive Reasoning, Memorization, Perspective Prioritization, Task Management (Multi-tasking), Pattern Recognition, Planning Resourcefulness, Foresight, Technology Literacy, Spatial Orientation, Visualization, Adaptability, Situational Awareness, Information Processing/Sensor Management, Electro-Mechanical Science, Earth/Weather Science, Critical Thinking, Perceptual Vigilance, Aviation Knowledge

  • Psychomotor Abilities: Static Strength, Physical Fitness/Stamina, Finger Dexterity, Arm-Hand Steadiness, Multi-limb Coordination, Choice Reaction Time, Rate Control, Hand/Eye Coordination, Color Vision, Depth Perception, Auditory Acuity, Visual Acuity

  • Interpersonal Abilities: Persuading/Influencing, Mediation, Cooperating, Assuming Responsibility, Responsiveness, Decisiveness, Resilience, Teaching/Mentoring, Work Effectively in Isolation Settings, Work Effectively in Stressful Situations, Empathy, Self-Assessing, Self-Discipline, Integrity, Selflessness

I once had an opportunity to ask a military engineer how much opportunity she had to actually apply her engineering education. The dirty little secret, she said, was that most military engineers did what she did: technical management. Specifically, most of them spent most of their time engaged in some facet of the military procurement process, a byzantine administrative function in which the Armed Services spend a great deal of effort educating officers to perform effectively.

But on the other hand, she went on, their experience in bringing in non-ABET-accredited degree holders was not good, even though the work they did was not, strictly speaking, engineering. People with B.A.s, even in management, tended to get lost in the technology. It was just easier to train engineers to be managers than to train managers in technology.

I was thinking about this in the context of the Ricci decision. As articulated by Justice Kennedy, the test of "business necessity" for purposes of avoiding disparate impact liability is whether the employment standard is "manifestly job related". But what if the evidence for job relatedness is only statistical? Ricci's exam avoided that problem because its questions were obviously specific to firefighting. But what if someone objected to the disparate impact of the AFOQT (and you know there is one) on the grounds that pilots and engineers did not actually have to solve the kinds of problems on test in their day-to-day jobs? The military could presumably point to the correlation between AFOQT scores and performance, but would that satisfy the courts?

I think the survey mentioned above wisely chose to rate broad categories of ability rather than narrow ones. I suppose that, say, mathematical computation and reasoning are measured by the ability to solve a second-order differential equation, but while professional engineers only seldom face the second problem, the first is indispensable to success in the profession.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Dissident Perspective on the Huntingdon Valley Club

Blogger "Kate-A" (who appears from her photo to be a mulatto, if it matters) writes:

I don't believe that [John] Duesler, club president and Obama fundraiser, is a bigot or racist - he's your typical white liberal who sincerely believes blacks are equal to whites, but his exposure has been predominantly to educated blacks, those in the same income bracket as himself. Like most white people in leafy hillside villages, he doesn't hang around with folks from the 'hood.

While Duesler has put foot in his mouth trying to explain the club's reason for cancelling the kids, with the din and roar of 65 kids freed from an inner city basement still ringing in his ears - it was nothing more than culture shock. Duesler and his fellow ghetto-shocked villagers are pathetically struggling to be politically correct. I've seen it happen to liberal white folks before ... when thrown into certain integrated settings, many of the racial stereotypes they refused to believe, are suddenly right there slapping them in the face. It's one thing for white leafy villagers to see inner city kids actin' a fool on TV or in a movie - quite another when up close and personal.

. . . .

The problem is not whether the kids are black or poor - but you have to admit they always seem to be black and poor, the problem is not racism - the problem is the kids have no social etiquette, no sense of personal space, no respect. And as adults, most will be like the adults around them now - crying racism when their behavior doesn't serve them well.

UPDATE: I couldn't confirm whether or not John Duesler is an Obama fundraiser, but according to, Huntingdon Valley residents in zip code 19006 collectively donated $46,687.00 to the Obama campaign and only $34,875.00 to the McCain campaign. (Hillary Clinton also pulled in $24,050; none of the other candidates broke into five figures.)

As Steve Sailer might ask, how's this working out for them?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ne le dis à personne

I watched the excellent French movie Tell No One on DVD this weekend. It's an outstanding film about which I will say nothing that will give away the mystery. But I have two quick points.

1. Actor François Cluzet is fully 15 years older than the actress that plays his wife. I'm curious about how often age differences of this magnitude occur in real-life relationships, but it's a fairly common in movieland, for obvious reasons. The problem is that the story asks us to believe that the couple fell in love as children. Indeed, the movie shows them as children at roughly age 12-13. (IMDB doesn't list the actors ages, but they are obviously children.) The fact that one of them aged 15 years faster than the other was pretty hard to miss. (Parenthetically, why did the director go out of the way to coach child actors in how to deliver adult-style kisses? I know, they're supposed to be in love, but they would still kiss like children.)

2. When the movie shows Dr. Alex Beck (Cluzet) helping an rough-hewn "Ali G"-style gangsta early in the film, the audience just knows that this will be the one who helps Alex out of a tight spot later in the film. This particular kind of relationship -- hero does a good deed for a lowlife, lowlife turns out to be useful later -- is almost a movie cliche'. But it occurred to me that French popular culture has glorified its criminal underclass in the same way that American popular culture has. Somehow I had thought that, what with the street violence in Paris becoming so bad a few years ago that it made American television, these kind of people had lost their romance. But the movie street gang, at great risk to themselves, hide Alex from the police and help him prove his innocence. Just what criminals always do, right?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Why No Posting?

I've been busy. Very busy. In fact, I shouldn't even be taking time to blog about why I haven't done much blogging. I've got a "major sequence exam" already overdue, and a prospectus defense to prepare by the end of the summer. So posting will be light for the next couple of months.

In the mean time, please read Megan's flurry of posts on healthcare:

The final point is that while people commonly think of administrative costs as "wasted", in fact, they are an important part of the market system. As Alex Tabarrok points out, and I have myself from time to time, many of the arguments in favor of national health care are literally socialist. And no, I am not using that term to apply to "anyone who is in favor of redistribution" or "government programs". But consider the following common arguments:

  • National health care will be cheaper because we will reduce administrative overhead
  • National health care will reduce wasteful competition in the form of me-too drugs
  • National health care will reduce wasteful competition in the form of advertising and other marketing expenses
  • National health care will allow us to rationally distribute care to where it does the most good rather than the current messy, wasteful hodge-podge
  • National health care will use resources for production instead of profits
  • National health care will achieve economies of scale in purchasing and record-keeping
  • People will not overuse free goods because there are hard limits to desired consumption.

These were all arguments advanced in favor of socialism. Contrary to popular conservative belief, socialists were not unfamilier with either the incentive problems of communism (people will not work hard if there's no benefit to doing so) or the Hayekian argument about the value of prices, aka the Socialist Calculation Problem. Rather, smart socialists thought that they could overcome these problems with a combination of status competitions (Hero of the Soviet Union, Second Class) and massive efficiencies gained by wringing all that fragmented, wasteful competition out of the system. Economists who would be ashamed to make these sorts of arguments about Proctor and Gamble or the used car market suddenly start parroting these things as if they hadn't been thoroughly discredited by the last seventy years.

. . . .

[A]s Ezra points out, people in Germany and France are not dying in the streets. So centralization does work better on health care than it does in steel.

But I'd argue that the difference is that Germany and France, unlike the Soviet Union, have companies which produce in American markets to provide them products. One key thing to remember is that there's a big difference between a situation where the government is a sizeable buyer/producer, and one where the government is essentially the only buyer/producer. In the latter case, the market still works, even if the government presence distorts it--prices are set by supply and demand, research is done, and so forth. Indeed, it is not well appreciated on the left how dependent Medicare is on private insurers to tell them what the competitive price is for the treatments and products it pays for--if the private sector went away, Medicare would have to develop some sort of pricing system, and so would all the health care systems abroad. Once the government becomes the dominant player, however, everything changes.

. . . .

Right now, the US has a market--no matter how screwed up--for medical goods. It is not a good market. But no one in the market, except Medicare, has enough pricing power to totally undermine the market mechanism, so it grinds out an equilibrium that bears some resemblance to consumer demand. In turn, Europe can buy those market-produced products. But if you kill the last market, everything suddenly looks very different. What's the right price for innovation? What should we research? Those questions stop being decided on the basis of the number of consumers served, and start being decided on the basis of who has the best lobby.

There's one more difference, which is that health care is not transportable. When British coal was overpriced and delivered erratically, this was obvious, because other countries had a steady supply of the commodity at a lower price. Healthcare is hard to measure and impossible to transship, and almost no one consumes health care internationally (though I'll note that as the internet has facilitated comparisons, Europeans have become disenchanted with their rationing boards).