Recently in Society & Culture Category

A professor in Texas has quit his job because he's afraid of his students exercising their civil rights.

A professor emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin very publicly quit earlier this month in response to a new state law that allows students to bring their handguns into all classrooms and offices -- including his 500-person introductory economics lectures. The professor, Daniel Hamermesh, has become a symbol for frustrated faculty nervous over the spreading of campus concealed-carry laws.

Gun rights are civil rights. As Glenn Reynolds notes:

I'm sure that many professors in the past were uncomfortable about having women, or blacks, or openly gay students in their classrooms, too. But happily, progress marches on and people's visceral fears and dislikes weren't allowed to rule.

I feel like this should be obvious by now, but "gun-free zones" endanger lives. If the goal is really to protect innocent people from criminals, we should eliminate "gun-free zones".

Every public mass shooting since 1950, except for two, has occurred in a gun-free zone. This shooting is no different.

The Umpqua Community College is a gun-free zone, as are the locations of many recent shootings: the Lafayette, La., theater; the Charleston, S.C., church; the military recruiting center in Tennessee.

Guns were outlawed at all these locations, and yet the killers ignored the bans. Plus, the shooters passed background checks -- as did the Oregon shooter, who passed several background checks in purchasing his firearms.

It seems that topless feminists usually disrupt Christian events, but these two are a lot braver than most and storm the stage at a Muslim conference. The video shows the women being thrown to the ground on-stage and kicked brutally.

Two topless feminists have stormed the stage at a Muslim conference in France. The activists, from hard-line feminist outfit Femen jumped on stage, with "Nobody makes me submit" scrawled across their bare chests. The most prominent protester shouted, "Nobody makes me submit, me nobody owns me, I'm my own prophet!" before being dragged and kicked off the stage by angered Muslims.

James Taranto notes that the Left support speech by corporations, as long as the speech lines up with the Left's viewpoint. Everything makes sense once you realize that the modern Left is totalitarian.

The Times's position is that corporations (with the convenient exception of "media corporations" like the New York Times Co. itself) have no rights under the First Amendment. That view underlay its histrionic objections to both Citizens United and last year's Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, in which the high court extended the religious-liberty protection of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to corporations that objected to the ObamaCare abortifacient mandate on conscientious grounds.

But now the Times is urging corporations, and executives acting in their corporate capacity, to speak out aggressively in favor of a political cause the Times supports. How could they even do so without free speech?

That seems like a rhetorical question but isn't. Opponents of free speech, such as the Times editorial board, do not oppose speech. They oppose freedom. Authoritarian and totalitarian regimes may not brook dissent, but they encourage speech in favor of the regime. Totalitarian regimes frequently compel pro-regime speech.

Not for the faint of heart, but here's a look into human sacrifice and cannibalism in the Aztec Empire. Unsurprisingly, much of it comes down to geography.

In the Old World, domestication of herbivorous mammals, such as cattle, sheep, and pigs, proceeded apace with that of food plants. By about 7,200 B.C. in the New World, however, ancient hunters had completely eliminated herbivores suitable for domestication from the area anthropologists call Mesoamerica, the region of the future high civilizations of Mexico and Guatemala. Only in the Andean region and southern South America did some camel-related species, especially the llama and the alpaca, manage to survive hunters' onslaughts, and thus could be domesticated later, along with another important local herbivore, the guinea pig. In Mesoamerica, the guinea pig was not available, and the Camelidae species became extinct several thousand years before domesticated food production had to be seriously undertaken. Dogs, such as the Mexican hairless, and wildfowl, such as the turkey, had to be bred for protein. The dog, however, was a far from satisfactory solution because, as a carnivore, it competed with its breeders for animal protein.

It seems that the whole Aztec Empire was organized around cannibalism:

At first glance, this prohibition against commoners eating human flesh casts doubt on cannibalism's potential to mobilize the masses of Aztec society to engage in wars for prisoners. Actually, the prohibition was, if anything, a goad to the lower class to participate in these wars since those who single-handedly took captives several times gained the right to eat human flesh. Successful warriors became members of the Aztec elite and their descendants shared their privileges. Through the reward of flesh-eating rights to the group most in need of them, the Aztec rulers assured themselves an aggressive war machine and were able to motivate the bulk of the population, the poor, to contribute to state and upper-class maintenance through active participation in offensive military operations. Underlying the war machine's victories, and the resultant sacrifices, were the ecological extremities of the Valley of Mexico.

With an understanding of the importance of cannibalism in Aztec culture, and of the ecological reasons for its existence, some of the Aztecs' more distinctive institutions begin to make anthropological sense. For example, the old question of whether the Aztecs' political structure was or was not an "empire" can be reexamined. One part of this problem is that the Aztecs frequently withdrew from conquered territory without establishing administrative centers or garrisons. This "failure" to consolidate conquest in the Old World fashion puzzled Cortés, who asked Moctezuma to explain why he allowed the surrounded Tlaxcalans to maintain their independence. Moctezuma reportedly replied that his people could thus obtain captives for sacrifice. Since the Aztecs did not normally eat people of their own policy, which would have been socially and politically disruptive, they needed nearby "enemy" populations on whom they could prey for captives. This behavior makes sense in terms of Aztec cannibalism: from the Aztec point of view, the Tlaxcalan state was preserved as a stockyard. The Aztecs were unique among the world's states in having a cannibal empire. Understandably, they did not conform to Old World concepts of empire, based on economies with domesticated herbivores providing meat or milk.

Kyle Smith says Brian Williams' lie wasn't an innocent mistake. I think he's right to look at the direction of the deception:

What Williams' lie was about was what lies are always about: No one who actually scored the winning touchdown on the high-school football team misremembers it as sitting on the bench. The term "fish tale" does not mean you mistakenly tell people you caught a sickly ­8-ounce catfish when actually you snagged a 95-pound monster marlin.

It's hard to tell the truth all the time, especially when you can personally benefit from lying just a little bit. If telling the truth were easy we wouldn't value it so highly.

As a society, we're wise to penalize a person who is caught in a single lie. We have to assume that 90% of lies won't be caught, and that a person who is caught is likely to lie more than most people.

William H. Davidow and Michael S. Malone echo an observation about robots replacing ever-more-capable workers and how the shift to automation will affect society. They even follow my example and use IQ as a proxy for generic capability -- though they ignore the gender implications.

Suppose, today, that the robots and smart machines of the Second Economy are only capable of doing the work of a person of average intelligence - that is, an IQ of 100. Imagine that the technology in those machines continues to improve at the current rate. Suppose further that this rate of technological progress raises the IQ of these machines by 1.5 points per year. By 2025 these machines will have an IQ greater than 90% of the U.S. population. That 15 point increase in IQ over ten years would put another 50 million jobs within reach of smart machines.

Impossible? In fact, the vanguard of those 115-point IQ machines is already here. In certain applications, the minds of highly educated MD's are no longer needed. In 2013, the FDA approved Johnson & Johnson's Sedasys machine, which delivers propofol to sedate patients without the need for an anesthesiologist. An emerging field in radiology is computer-aided diagnosis (CADx). And a recent study published by the Royal Society showed that computers performed more consistently in identifying radiolucency (the appearance of dark images) than radiologists almost by a factor of ten.

Politicians, economists, and scientists might debate these particular estimates, but to do so is to miss the larger point. Machine intelligence is already having a major effect on the value of work - and for major segments of the population, human value is now being set by the cost of equivalent machine intelligence.

The shift to automation will be a growing challenge for capitalism as the dependent class grows.

Conservative Party London Mayor Boris Johnson comes to the defense of Philae mission astrophysicist Matt Taylor and his sartorial whimsy. Here's a picture of the supposedly offensive shirt:


Says Mayor Johnson:

This mission is a colossal achievement. Millions of us have been watching Philae's heart-stopping journey. Everyone in this country should be proud of Dr Taylor and his colleagues, and he has every right to let his feelings show.

Except, of course, that he wasn't crying with relief. He wasn't weeping with sheer excitement at this interstellar rendezvous. I am afraid he was crying because he felt he had sinned. He was overcome with guilt and shame for wearing what some people decided was an "inappropriate" shirt on television. "I have made a big mistake," he said brokenly. "I have offended people and I am sorry about this."

I watched that clip of Dr Taylor's apology - at the moment of his supreme professional triumph - and I felt the red mist come down. It was like something from the show trials of Stalin, or from the sobbing testimony of the enemies of Kim Il-sung, before they were taken away and shot. It was like a scene from Mao's cultural revolution when weeping intellectuals were forced to confess their crimes against the people.

Why was he forced into this humiliation? Because he was subjected to an unrelenting tweetstorm of abuse. He was bombarded across the internet with a hurtling dustcloud of hate, orchestrated by lobby groups and politically correct media organisations.

And so I want, naturally, to defend this blameless man. And as for all those who have monstered him and convicted him in the kangaroo court of the web - they should all be ashamed of themselves.

Let's celebrate the brilliance of Dr. Taylor and the rest of the Philae team and reserve our faux outrage for really offensive shirts.

California has passed a new "affirmative consent" law that apparently only affects colleges and college students. I don't believe that there's a rape epidemic on college campuses, but I do believe that our cultural morals have completely collapsed. I think most people understand that college students shouldn't be getting drunk and screwing each other randomly, but our culture is so degraded that we can't say so anymore.

At California colleges, students must now ensure they have the affirmative consent of their partners at the beginning of a sexual encounter and maintain that consent throughout the activity. The law states that consent "can be revoked at any time." The absence of "no," the law says, is insufficient to indicate consent.

The law is written to be gender neutral (as Constitutionally required) but I'm sure the assumption is that the complainants will women and the accused will be men. However, the new law isn't just about what most people think of as "rape", it covers any situation in which the participants aren't vocalizing their "yes"es. And in that ambiguous grey area, according to the CDC, men are frequently victims of women, too.

Unsurprisingly, when the definition of rape -- or, as it's often now called in order to provide less clarity, "sexual assault" -- expands to include a lot more than behavior distinguished by superior physical strength, the incidence of rape goes up, and behavior engaged in by women is more likely to be included in the definition. (At juvenile detention centers nine out of 10 reporters of sexual assault are males victimized by female staffers.)

Thus, as Young points out, the CDC finds that men make up over a third of the victims of "sexual coercion," which can include such things as "lies or false promises, threats to end a relationship or spread negative gossip, or 'making repeated requests' for sex and expressing unhappiness at being turned down."

So it will be interesting to see what happens when men start filing complaints.

Camille Paglia identifies one part of the absurdity by exhorting young women to overcome the naivety of modern feminism.

Misled by the naive optimism and "You go, girl!" boosterism of their upbringing, young women do not see the animal eyes glowing at them in the dark. They assume that bared flesh and sexy clothes are just a fashion statement containing no messages that might be misread and twisted by a psychotic. They do not understand the fragility of civilization and the constant nearness of savage nature.

I'll go farther. The civilization we enjoy-- the civilization that enables this naivety -- was founded on a simple sexual morality: don't have sex outside of marriage. Throughout history lots of people paid lip-service to this morality while ignoring it privately. We're now getting into the second generation that actively denigrates traditional sexual morality in both deed and word, and we're starting to reap the consequences.

(HT: Althouse.)

This glossary of gestures will come in very handy at your next TED talk. Example:

shelf sweep.gif

The Shelf Sweep.

Begin with both hands at right hand shoulder. Sweep across the top shelf of imaginary bookcase. When level with left shoulder, make sharp rotation of wrists and sweep across lower shelf.

Use when explaining hierarchies.

This post is only partially tongue-in-cheek. Body language is an important element of communication, and using the right gestures is certainly as significant as idiom choice when signaling your membership in a particular social group.

Is it ever better to make a quick decision than to take your time and be more deliberative? This anonymously-sourced account of President Obama's deliberations about ISIS portrays the President as very thoughtful and concerned with making "the right decision", and he seems keenly aware that his opponents (myself included) view him as indecisive. In my opinion, the President is wrong to ignore the emotional dimension of leadership -- sometimes you can make the best decision at the wrong time and come out worse than if you had made a worse decision at the right time.

"Oh, it's a shame when you have a wan, diffident, professorial president with no foreign policy other than 'don't do stupid things,' " guests recalled [Obama] saying, sarcastically imitating his adversaries. "I do not make apologies for being careful in these areas, even if it doesn't make for good theater." ...

It was clear to the guests how aware Mr. Obama was of the critics who have charged him with demonstrating a lack of leadership. He brought up the criticism more than once with an edge of resentment in his voice.

"He's definitely feeling it," said one guest. At one point, Mr. Obama noted acidly that President Ronald Reagan sent Marines to Lebanon only to have hundreds of them killed in a terrorist attack because of terrible planning, and then withdrew the remaining ones, leaving behind a civil war that lasted years. But Reagan, he noted, is hailed as a titan striding the earth.

"He's not a softy," Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter and attended the dinner Monday, said of Mr. Obama. "I think part of the problem with some of his critics is they think he's a softy. He's not a softy. But he's a person who tries to think through these events so you can draw some long-term conclusions."

President Reagan was a master of the emotional side of leadership, a talent that President Obama appears to completely lack -- or intentionally avoid. I can relate to the President: acting on emotion is not something that comes naturally to me -- my tendency is to sideline my emotions and attempt to make decisions based on reason alone. However, I've come to realize that when it comes to leading others it's critical to engage emotionally with your team, and decisiveness is an important component of that engagement.

Apparently I'm not the only one:

The new NBC News/ Wall Street Journal/Annenberg Poll finds 62% of Americans support Obama taking action against ISIS.

But fully 68% of his countrymen say they have "very little" or "just some" confidence that Obama will achieve his newly-discovered strategic goals of degrading and defeating ISIS through bombing and an international coalition.

Perhaps worse, only slightly more than one-in-four (28%) have "a great deal" or "quite a bit" of confidence their president will achieve the murderous group's demise.

Part of the faith deficit stems from Obama's chronic tardiness, in person and in policy. You may recall for years now, even after the deadly Benghazi attack proved him delusional, Obama's been touting how badly al Qaeda's leadership had been "decimated" and how dead Osama bin Laden was.

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

This New York Times editorial from 1987 advocates eliminating the minimum wage, which was $3.35/hour at the time. No doubt the current editors would disagree with their predecessors. However, the suggestion to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit was a good idea then and is a good idea now. The EITC is basically a way to distribute the cost of the minimum wage, and expanding the EITC in exchange for repealing the minimum wage would be a huge win.

Perhaps the mistake here is to accept the limited terms of the debate. The working poor obviously deserve a better shake. But it should not surpass our ingenuity or generosity to help some of them without hurting others. Here are two means toward that end: Wage supplements. Government might subsidize low wages with cash or payments for medical insurance, pensions or Social Security taxes. Alternatively, Washington could enlarge the existing earned income tax credit, a ''negative'' income tax paying up to $800 a year to working poor families. This would permit better targeting, since minimum-wage workers in affluent families would not be eligible. Training and education. The alternative to supplementing income for the least skilled workers is to raise their earning power in a free labor market. In the last two decades, dozens of programs to do that have produced mixed results at a very high cost. But the concept isn't necessarily at fault; nurturing the potential of individuals raised in poverty is very difficult. A humane society would learn from its mistakes and keep trying.

The idea of using a minimum wage to overcome poverty is old, honorable - and fundamentally flawed. It's time to put this hoary debate behind us, and find a better way to improve the lives of people who work very hard for very little.

(HT: James Taranto.)

Glenn Reynolds has been on a roll quoting brilliant commenters recently, and here's another: libertarians should go to Ferguson to make their case.

A friend writes on Facebook: "This presents such a great opportunity for libertarians to flip a significant fraction of blacks from big government to limited government. If Rand Paul wants to do outreach to the black community, get there now. Preferably with some other libertarians. Talk about drug war, killing men for cigarette taxes, drones, NSA spying, out of control cops, and how the problem that the government is making up dumb reasons to abuse its authority, not that this abuse would be better if applied in a more evenhanded way. Then sponsor national reform and try to mobilize these non traditional allies. Big opportunity just sitting there."

Megan McArdle discusses the unreliability of memory and how this applies to the ongoing suit about subsidies for participants of the federal Obamacare exchanges. But the parts about memory specifically:

People don't remember things that happened a while ago; they remember the stories that they have told themselves about it. I vividly remember sticking a key into an electric socket when I was (I am told) about 18 months old. Do I remember it? Or do I remember being told about it? It feels like a real memory, but all the research indicates that that tells you precisely nothing.

Conversely, I am told that when I was a teenager, a horse reared up and pawed around my ears, miraculously not kicking me in the head. Multiple people agreed that this had happened, but I have no memory of it. Either I've forgotten something I certainly ought to remember -- or they are misremembering something that happened to someone else. No way to tell, because we don't have contemporaneous documentation.

As for Obamacare... we need to go by what's written, not by what people supposedly remember or intended.

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?

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