Recently in Society & Culture Category


If we've learned anything from the mortgage lending debacle over the past five years it's that white collar crime pays off huge! Thanks to technology, however, low-skill crime is paying off worse than ever. McArdle wonders what would-be criminals will do when there isn't much profitable crime available, and I think I have the answer: live off the social welfare system.

The teenagers who used to boost cars, however, won't simply segue into new forms of crime. Hacking a credit card network is a different skillset from hot-wiring a car; the person who does one can't necessarily transition easily to the other. The low-skilled young men who choose crime as an alternative to low-wage work may simply find themselves with fewer viable ways to make money through criminal activity. So what happens to them?

No, I am not about to argue that we need some sort of social program for poor displaced criminals who are no longer able to practice their beautiful ancient craft. I'll be very happy if a lot of major forms of crime are thwarted. Yet I'm also interested in the empirical effects that this will have.

One of the primary reasons that the welfare system is expanding (including all sorts of programs that aren't typically included in "welfare", such as Social Security disability and unemployment insurance) is that many workers, not just criminals, are being displaced by technology. There appears to be an emerging class of people who are permanently displaced by technology and cannot contribute any economic value, and society will inevitably morph to care for them. The question is what the care will look like, especially as the productive proportion of the population shrinks.


Instapundit posts a letter that echos stuff I've read based on early blood-type testing: around 16% of people have different fathers than their mothers told them. Men in our culture are so often portrayed as the bad guys (e.g., "deadbeat dads") that I think men as a gender should get some credit for being so trusting and accepting despite these high rates of false paternity.

I am familiar with a massive ongoing multi-generational genetic study. . . . (Please don't mention either it or my name.) The participants were predominantly "greatest generation" and their kids' generation. Middle-class and white a bit more than the general population. It was looking for hereditary cancers (not too common, maybe 10% or so, last time I checked).

But, of course, in the process of all this, they discovered so-called "false paternities". (Their rules prohibited them from divulging this info to participants.) Anyway, the overall false paternity rate for this bunch from the "Leave it to Beaver demographic" was about 16%.

16%. One in six. In middle America. Not your mom, of course, nor mine, but hey, that's going to be a lot of data to discuss around the dinner table.

I haven't been able to find the study data I've read in the past that showed similar results back when blood-typing was first discovered. From what I remember, the high paternal discrepancy rate actually led early researchers to doubt the accuracy of blood types.


The Art of Manliness posts Aesop's "The Mischievous Dog":

A mischievous dog used to run quietly to the heels of every passer-by, and bite them without warning. So his master was obliged to tie a bell around his neck that he might give notice of his presence wherever he went. This the dog thought very fine indeed, and he went about tinkling it with pride all over town.

But an old Hound said: "Why do you make such a fool of yourself? That bell is not a mark of merit, but of disgrace."

Notoriety is often mistaken for fame.

A society that no longer shares a common understanding of merit and disgrace is no longer a single society, despite geographical proximity.


It's conventional wisdom that you can detect lies by watching for signs of nervousness: sweating, blinking, eye contact, etc. However, apparently it's much more reliable to watch for signs that your quarry is thinking hard: signs of cognitive load.

Lying can be cognitively demanding. You must suppress the truth and construct a falsehood that is plausible on its face and does not contradict anything known by the listener, nor likely to be known. You must tell it in a convincing way and you must remember the story. This usually takes time and concentration, both of which may give off secondary cues and reduce performance on simultaneous tasks.

When nervous we blink our eyes more often, but we blink less under increasing cognitive load (for example when solving arithmetic problems). Recent studies of deception suggest that we blink less when deceiving -- that is, cognitive load rules. Nervousness makes us fidget more, but cognitive load has the opposite effect. Again, contra-usual expectation, people often fidget less in deceptive situations. And consistent with cognitive load effects, men use fewer hand gestures while deceiving and both sexes often employ longer pauses when speaking deceptively.

[The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life]

It's also worth reading about red flags that police detectives use to identify liars.

When questioned, deceptive people generally want to say as little as possible.

Although deceptive people do not say much, they tend to spontaneously give a justification for what little they are saying, without being prompted.

They tend to repeat questions before answering them, perhaps to give themselves time to concoct an answer.

They often monitor the listener's reaction to what they are saying.

They often initially slow down their speech because they have to create their story and monitor your reaction, and when they have it straight "will spew it out faster," Geiselman said.

They tend to use sentence fragments more frequently than truthful people; often, they will start an answer, back up and not complete the sentence.

They are more likely to press their lips when asked a sensitive question and are more likely to play with their hair or engage in other "grooming" behaviors. Gesturing toward one's self with the hands tends to be a sign of deception; gesturing outwardly is not.
Truthful people, if challenged about details, will often deny that they are lying and explain even more, while deceptive people generally will not provide more specifics.

When asked a difficult question, truthful people will often look away because the question requires concentration, while dishonest people will look away only briefly, if at all, unless it is a question that should require intense concentration.


Calculate the cost of raising your kids and then freak out when you read the article. Are you back?

I'm expecting a third baby "any day now". My two ex utero children feel expensive at times, but I can guarantee you that I'm not spending anywhere close to the yearly estimate of that calculator. When our new baby is born my wife is going to stop working full time to take care of the kids and do some freelancing. When those paychecks stop it will "cost" us some money, but she's still going to be very productive with non-baby activities and likely still earning some income.

As with many financial articles, I'm left wondering "what are they spending all that money on???". The top rated comment to that CNN article, by "Guest", sums up my perspective quite well:

The hardest financial way for a parent to raise a kid? To try and live up to the American Upper Class ideal with a bedroom for every child, multiple bathrooms, car payments, smartphone plans for every teen, all the cable TV channels, all the brand name clothes, etc., etc., etc..

As a parent, when you quit being materialistic, and help your kids be free of materialism - it is amazing how much more affordable it is to raise children!

Here's an article from 2007 that mentions some flaws in the USDA's methodology.


The "average" husband and wife work roughly the same number of hours each week (paid + unpaid), but since it still doesn't "feel" fair to the average wife, the average husband should do more. Or should the average wife somehow adjust her feelings to reality?

It's important to remember that fairness isn't just about absolute equality. It's about the perception of equality. Women may work fewer paid hours than men, but because they devote nearly twice as much time to family care (housework, child care, shopping), it doesn't look to women like their husbands are sharing the load evenly when they're all home together. It looks instead like their husbands are watching "SportsCenter."

It's hard to overstate how stressful these perceived imbalances can be. At one point, the UCLA researchers took saliva samples from most of the subjects of their study to measure levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. They found that while leisure time went a long way toward relaxing fathers, it did far less to subdue anxiety in mothers. So what, you may ask, did calm the mothers?

Simple: Seeing their husbands make a bigger effort to reduce the pandemonium in the house.

I wonder if the working time includes time sinks like commuting?


Yesterday was the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address, probably the most beloved speech in American history. When I heard it on the radio this morning it almost brought tears to my eyes. It's hard to imagine a modern politician saying so much with so few words.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain--that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


Japanese youth are abandoning love and sex because relationships are mendokusai.

Mendokusai translates loosely as "Too troublesome" or "I can't be bothered". It's the word I hear both sexes use most often when they talk about their relationship phobia. Romantic commitment seems to represent burden and drudgery, from the exorbitant costs of buying property in Japan to the uncertain expectations of a spouse and in-laws. And the centuries-old belief that the purpose of marriage is to produce children endures. Japan's Institute of Population and Social Security reports an astonishing 90% of young women believe that staying single is "preferable to what they imagine marriage to be like".

Sounds very sad and lonely, but the people interviewed don't say they feel that way. Dystopian. Is this cultural self-destruction a byproduct of World War 2? It's hard to imagine that the end of that war wouldn't have consequences that would rebound across generations. Is it technology run amok? Generation-long economic stagnation? Lack of religious morals? Something in the water?

Do cultures die like this all the time, and Japan is just the largest and most recent example?


60 Minutes has a distressing account of how many people are turning to disability fraud because they economy is so bad. I can understand that people are desperate to care for their families, but this is an abuse of the disability system. We need to encourage unemployed people to move away from distressed areas and into parts of the country that are hurting for labor.

There is a Senate hearing scheduled tomorrow on a subject of some importance to millions of Americans, but with the government shutdown it's not clear that the Senate Committee on Government Affairs will be able to pay for a stenographer to record the event. The hearing involves the Federal Disability Insurance Program, which could become the first government benefits program to run out of money. When it began back in the 1950s it was envisioned as a small program to assist people who were unable to work because of illness or injury.

Today, it serves nearly 12 million people -- up 20 percent in the last six years -- and has a budget of $135 billion. That's more than the government spent last year on the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, and the Labor Department combined. It's been called a "secret welfare system" with it's own "disability industrial complex," a system ravaged by waste and fraud. A lot of people want to know what's going on. Especially Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

Tom Coburn: Go read the statute. If there's any job in the economy you can perform, you are not eligible for disability. That's pretty clear. So, where'd all those disabled people come from?

The Social Security Administration, which runs the disability program says the explosive surge is due to aging baby boomers and the lingering effects of a bad economy. But Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Subcommittee for Investigations -- who's also a physician -- says it's more complicated than that. Last year, his staff randomly selected hundreds of disability files and found that 25 percent of them should never have been approved -- another 20 percent, he said, were highly questionable.

I'm sure that non-disabled people would rather sit at home and collect a check than move to the Northwest and pick pears, but why should taxpayers finance that preference?

Over 80 percent of America's fresh pears are grown in the Pacific Northwest, and this year's harvest is slated to be one of the biggest on record.

But some of the fruit is rotting in the orchards because there aren't enough workers to pick them.

Mike McCarthy farms about 300 acres of pears in Oregon's Hood River Valley. He has about 60 workers harvesting in his fields, but would like to have about 30 more.

"Normally we would have picked these Comice [pears] at least 10 days ago, but we're just getting here now," says McCarthy. "And it's not a good thing."

Many farmers are short-staffed this year. For McCarthy, it's the third year in a row he has had a labor shortage. He's tried the employment office, but those workers didn't have any agriculture experience, and they didn't last more than a couple of days. He's looked for workers in Arizona and California, but found those states facing similar shortages.


What's the point of this blog? It's a work-in-progress, intended to eventually be compiled into an autobiography and published to wide acclaim. Why would I want to do such a thing? Because my life is fascinating to modern and future readers, of course. Also because there's a movement afoot to restrict the First Amendment to "journalists".

Uh-oh, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, best known for likening American servicemen to Nazis, is looking to limit your First Amendment rights, if not ours. "Everyone, regardless of the mode of expression, has a constitutionally protected right to free speech," he writes. So far so good. "But when it comes to freedom of the press, I believe we must define a journalist and the constitutional and statutory protections those journalists should receive." ...
A journalist gathers information for a media outlet that disseminates the information through a broadly defined "medium"--including newspaper, nonfiction book, wire service, magazine, news website, television, radio or motion picture--for public use. This broad definition covers every form of legitimate journalism.

Since I'm working on a nonfiction book, my autobiography, I'm sure to qualify for whatever special privileges are given to "journalists". All the rest of you losers had better watch what you say!


Married couples in Japan are required to have the same surname, but the law may be changing soon. I'm in favor of people being able to name themselves whatever they want, but I think it's a mistake to mock the arguments being made in Japan for the status quo.

But some lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party voiced opposition to the proposal, arguing the new system would cause the collapse of the family and undermine the sense of unity among family members.

"Collapse" might be a little strong, but there's no doubt in my mind that having different names can undermine family unity. You may believe that the effect is minor or that the matter shouldn't be of concern to the government, but I don't believe that the argument for family unity is worthy of mockery. People should have the freedom to change their names, but children in families with multiple last names will certainly be affected to some non-zero degree.

Surnames are an important part of identity, which is why people should be free to change them but is also why a person should weigh any decision about his name very carefully. Children especially build a sense of themselves and their family from the name they share, and a child with a different name will certainly feel like an outsider rather than an integrated part of a greater whole.

(HT: Paul Hsieh.)


A brilliant generosity experiment conducted by a homeless man who asks "which religion cares most about the homeless"? A collection of labeled bowls reveals the results! A smart way to exert social pressure to collect money.

begging-experiment.jpg

(HT: Boing Boing.)


What emotions do men and women find sexually attractive? Of pride, shame, and happiness women find male emotion most attractive in this order:

1. Pride
2. Shame
3. Happiness

And men prefer women who display:

1. Happiness
2. Shame
3. Pride

The advice is for men to smile less (at least until dominance is established) and women to smile more.


Even if you support at-will abortion you must be horrified by the casual attitude of abortionists towards infanticide, right? Details of what goes on in abortion clinics continues to emerge from hidden camera sting operations.

In an exchange laden with euphemisms on both sides to conceal the gruesome nature of the discussion, the pregnant woman wondered aloud what would happen if "it" (her fetus) emerged from her intact and alive.

The employee assigned to take note of medical history reassured the woman, "We never had that for ages" (a seeming admission that a baby did survive abortion at the clinic at least once) but that should "it" "survive this," "They would still have to put it in like a jar, a container, with solution, and send it to the lab. . . . We don't just throw it out in the garbage."

Oh, and this innocuous-sounding "solution" was, of course, a toxic substance suitable for killing an infant.

"Like, what if it was twitching?" asked the pregnant woman.

"The solution will make it stop," said the clinic employee. "That's the whole purpose of the solution . . . It will automatically stop. It won't be able to breathe anymore."

As for any qualms a woman might have about seeing her newborn child being poisoned and drowned in a jar, the employee advised her "patient" not to worry: She'd be under sedation, and the murder would take place in another room anyway.


Pro-lifers and pro-choicers often disagree on terminology, but who can deny that Kermit Gosnell is a baby murderer?

The trial testimony is graphic, and should make "choice" advocates sick to their stomachs. Again, see the AP: "A medical assistant told a jury Tuesday that she snipped the spines of at least 10 babies during unorthodox abortions at a West Philadelphia clinic, at the direction of the clinic's owner."

Later, AP mangled the medical facts: "Abortions are typically performed in utero." When babies are killed over a toilet, as alleged in this trial, this is not an "unorthodox abortion" of a "fetus." This is a baby who is born and then murdered. Liberals claim to revere "science," but this trial is not about tiny "zygotes." It's about viable babies.

It gets more grotesque at every turn. Clinic assistant Adrienne Moton testified she took a photo of the child described as "Baby A" with her cell phone before Dr. Gosnell took the baby out of the room. "I just saw a big baby boy. He had that color, that color that a baby has," Moton said in court. "I just felt he could have had a chance....He could have been born any day."

Another Gosnell assistant said the abortionist joked about one child he murdered: "This baby is big enough to walk around with me or walk me to the bus stop." But AP reported that Gosnell sits serenely in the courtroom, undisturbed by the accusations.

Is this kind of atrocity acceptable within the pro-abortion community? Is it common? Do pro-choicers have their heads buried in the sand to avoid the horror they've wrought?


James Taranto characterizes feminism as a failure of wit.

Now think of the traditional 1950s household with an employed father and a stay-at-home mother. The mother is able to devote her full efforts to the children and the home. The father may have some secondary household duties--taking out the trash and playing ball with Junior--but most of his time is spent away from home, doing a boss's bidding, in order to raise money to meet the family's needs.

Let's stipulate that in the latter scenario, the mother could do the father's job just as well as he can. Would that be the highest use of her time? Only if one thinks that office work is intrinsically superior to the development of the next generation.

In some sense the prefeminist understanding of the family was based on the supposition that it was. The father, after all, was the "head of the household," a dominant figure, even if most of what he did for the household involved submitting to another man in an office. We'd like to suggest that this was a useful fiction that helped encourage social cohesion by meeting both the male need for respect and the female need to look up to her mate. In reality, it was Mom's house; Dad just lived there.

Feminism was in part a failure of wit. It mistook fiction for reality and thought men really were dominant. Now, increasingly, men are redundant, women are overburdened, and what pass for families are producing fewer and worse-developed children.

I'm a man, and I'm making career decisions that will impact my children and my relationships with them forever. I definitely don't feel like I can "have it all", despite my wonderful and supportive wife. Everyone has to make trade-offs, and you should do it with your eyes open. I've spoken to a lot of older folks who only recognized the trade-offs they'd made decades after it was too late to change course.


James Altucher interviews Alex Day who gives a first-person account of how to make success in the new economy.

I'll get to the meat of his story in a second. But basically, with no record label and mostly just the suppot of his YouTube fans, he released his latest album in the UK the same day Justin Timberlake did.

Here's the result:

tumblr_mjtdga6W7W1rb0z3bo1_400.jpg

Read the whole interview and then watch Alex's video about why record labels are rubbish.

I'm on the edge, but my kids will live entirely in this new economy.


It seems there are a lot of theories about how humanity escaped the Malthusian Trap, defined as such:

The Malthusian trap, named after political economist Thomas Robert Malthus, suggests that for most of human history, income was largely stagnant because technological advances and discoveries only resulted in more people, rather than improvements in the standard of living. It is only with the onset of the Industrial Revolution in about 1800 that the income per person dramatically increased in some countries, and they broke out of the Trap

That is: more total wealth led to more people, and the per capital wealth remained unchanged. I'm sure lots of historians and economists have covered this ground before, but the explanation for how humanity escaped this trap seems pretty obvious to me.

At some point in history, wealth started being generated more quickly than humans were generated. The percentage growth of wealth may have remained the same, but the absolute value of that growth kept increasing. At some point, the absolute value of the wealth increase was more than could be absorbed by simply having more kids. The "wealth/person" ratio had stayed constant, but at some point the numerator started growing faster than the denominator could, due to biology.


I'm starting to think that it's fortunate that ObamaCare (a.k.a., the Affordable Care Act) is full of holes. Maybe some semblance of sanity will be able to leak through.

The core problem with Obamacare is that it depends on ripping off the young and healthy to subsidize the old and infirm. On the one hand, we're glad that young people are able to escape the clutches of this trap, but we can't help but notice that their escape will bankrupt the system. It's almost as if the politicians didn't read the law before they passed it, and had no idea how its various provisions would cause car crashes as they tried to roll it out.

Maybe it'll be so bad that it gets repealed or basically ignored.


President Obama wants gun control so badly that he is resorting to one of the dumbest arguments ever made, one that is usually trotted out when you know you're losing: "if there's even one life that can be saved":

President Obama on Wednesday formally proposed the most expansive gun-control policies in generations and initiated 23 separate executive actions aimed at curbing what he called "the epidemic of gun violence in this country."

While no legislation can prevent every tragedy, he said in announcing the proposals, "if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there's even one life that can be saved, then we've got an obligation to try."

The argument is absurd on many levels.

1. Assume he's talking about saving lives in the gross, not net. There are innumerable things we could ban that would save at least one life gross, such as: cars, airplanes, knives, shoveling snow, boxing, cell phones, swimming pools, coal mining, and drone attacks on suspected terrorists. Why doesn't the President offer to ban any of these? If it would save even one life then doesn't he have an obligation to try?

2. Would banning guns save lives, net? Well, that would be a tough argument to make and the President doesn't really try. Estimates vary, but the Easy Bake Gun Club counts news stories about defensive gun use and here are their entries for December, 2012. The Cato Institute has a defensive gun use map. Both of these resources are based on news reports, but the vast majority of times that a gun is used in self-defense it isn't actually fired and the use isn't reported to the police or media. No one can know for sure, but it seems overwhelmingly likely that guns save more lives than they cost.

3. What's the value of a human life? It's obviously not "infinite" because we make trade-offs all the time between money and lives. Would you borrow money to buy a $500,000 car that was 10% safer than your $25,000 car? Of course not. Do you even have working smoke detectors in your house? It's sad when someone dies in a fire or is shot by a gun, but those deaths don't necessarily mean that we have to change the system. All factors need to be weighed.

4. How about low-probability catastrophic events such as invasion, tyranny, or nuclear holocaust? Sure, these aren't likely to happen, but if they did then having guns in the hands of trained and loyal citizens would be very valuable. The authorities are always trying to get us to be prepared for disasters, and there are many circumstances in which a gun would be a useful tool for survival.

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