September 3, 2015

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To close the week we have an unintended consequences edition. Starting us off, the Wall Street Journal Editors write on the economic problems caused by this president’s explosion of student loan debt. 

For years we’ve warned readers about the burgeoning calamity known as student loans, and the latest news is that the debt bomb is hurting the economy as well as the federal fisc. New evidence from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia illustrates how subsidized student loans sap small business creation.

Student loans have ballooned tenfold since 1999 to more than $1 trillion, the authors note in a July report. Other consumer debt—mortgages, car loans, credit cards—dipped during the 2008 financial crisis, but student debt doubled from $547 billion in 2007, nearly all of it on Education Department books. The Philly Fed is the first to examine how mortgaging an education influences entrepreneurship.

Here’s the connection: Entrepreneurs borrow money to get rolling. But the average student-loan customer owes $28,000 and so some enterprising adults are loaded up with debt, even decades after graduation. Nascent business (with no employees) report capital of about $44,000, according to a recent survey; half comes from loans and lines of credit. Debt-financing, the Fed points out, is critical for expanding a business in the years following its founding.

Yet graduates have sunk too far into the red to amass more liabilities, and not even bankruptcy can liberate them. The Fed found that new firms with roughly five employees dropped 17% on average between 2000 and 2010 in counties where relative student debt grew by 2.7%. …




Ed Driscoll posts in Instapundit about a restaurant in San Francisco that is using iPads for patrons to place orders. So, idiot liberals pass a $15 minimum wage and jobs are lost. Just another example of unintended consequences or is it a new chapter in the left’s war on the poor.

Eatsa in the city’s financial district offers iPad-based ordering, with meals prepared by people whom customers never have to see: …

… Riley Thomas, a San Francisco resident who works near Eatsa, was one of the few patrons who questioned the concept at a time when more and more families are struggling to survive in the city. “I like the food and love the price,” he said. “Still, it worries me that people will begin to think that this is how all restaurants should be run and it could really hurt jobs that are needed right now.”

Co-founder Scott Drummond said: “There is a fast food business model that we need to hit and we’re looking at ways that technology can increase efficiency … That way we can get the price down.” …




Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit with another example of left/liberal foolishness. This time from France where the government mandated 35 hour work week is creating problems. Go figure!

French Minister: Hey, that 35-hour work week isn’t working out so well.

His comments, which echoed similar sentiments from an interview almost exactly a year ago – made a splash across front pages of French newspapers on Friday.

‘ “The left was wrong to think that France would improve if people worked less. It was a false idea,” he said during his closing statement at the conference.

He added that “one shouldn’t ask what your country can do for you, rather what you can do for your country’s economy”.

Supporters say the flagship policy of the French left creates jobs by limiting the amount of time employees are allowed to work, thereby encouraging companies to take on more staff.

But critics at home and abroad say it is an inflexible law that hampers business and creates a bloated workforce. ‘

Yeah, I’m going with #2 here.




And our betters in the bien pensant class have begun to notice that college is not always a good deal. As an example we have a recent article by John Cassidy who writes on business for The New Yorker; one of the left/liberal house organs. In a hyperbolic mood Pickerhead once called the education establishment “a vast criminal conspiracy.” More to the point, there is no other part of our economy that does a poorer job serving its customers while charging higher and higher fees. And what do you know? Even the slow people who set government policy are beginning to figure it out. Of course, this is from the New Yorker so, Cassidy can’t seem to figure out these problems are typical unintended consequences of left/liberal messing with our economy.

… The “message from the media, from the business community, and even from many parts of the government has been that a college degree is more important than ever in order to have a good career,” Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at Wharton, notes in his informative and refreshingly skeptical new book, “Will College Pay Off?” (PublicAffairs). “As a result, families feel even more pressure to send their kids to college. This is at a time when more families find those costs to be a serious burden.” During recent decades, tuition and other charges have risen sharply—many colleges charge more than fifty thousand dollars a year in tuition and fees. Even if you factor in the expansion of financial aid, Cappelli reports, “students in the United States pay about four times more than their peers in countries elsewhere.”

Despite the increasing costs—and the claims about a shortage of college graduates—the number of people attending and graduating from four-year educational institutions keeps going up. In the 2000-01 academic year, American colleges awarded almost 1.3 million bachelor’s degrees. A decade later, the figure had jumped nearly forty per cent, to more than 1.7 million. About seventy per cent of all high-school graduates now go on to college, and half of all Americans between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four have a college degree. That’s a big change. In 1980, only one in six Americans twenty-five and older were college graduates. Fifty years ago, it was fewer than one in ten. To cater to all the new students, colleges keep expanding and adding courses, many of them vocationally inclined. At KansasState, undergraduates can major in Bakery Science and Management or Wildlife and Outdoor Enterprise Management. They can minor in Unmanned Aircraft Systems or Pet Food Science. OklahomaState offers a degree in Fire Protection and Safety Engineering and Technology. At UticaCollege, you can major in Economic Crime Detection. …

… “It is certainly true that college has been life changing for most people and a tremendous financial investment for many of them,” Cappelli writes. “It is also true that for some people, it has been financially crippling. . . .The world of college education is different now than it was a generation ago, when many of the people driving policy decisions on education went to college, and the theoretical ideas about why college should pay off do not comport well with the reality.” …

… If almost everybody has a college degree, getting one doesn’t differentiate you from the pack. To get the job you want, you might have to go to a fancy (and expensive) college, or get a higher degree. Education turns into an arms race, which primarily benefits the arms manufacturers—in this case, colleges and universities. …

… It is well established that students who go to élite colleges tend to earn more than graduates of less selective institutions. But is this because Harvard and Princeton do a better job of teaching valuable skills than other places, or because employers believe that they get more talented students to begin with? An exercise carried out by Lauren Rivera, of the Kellogg School of Management, at Northwestern, strongly suggests that it’s the latter. Rivera interviewed more than a hundred recruiters from investment banks, law firms, and management consulting firms, and she found that they recruited almost exclusively from the very top-ranked schools, and simply ignored most other applicants. The recruiters didn’t pay much attention to things like grades and majors. “It was not the content of education that elite employers valued but rather its prestige,” Rivera concluded. …

… Increasingly, the competition for jobs is taking place in areas of the labor market where college graduates didn’t previously tend to compete. As Beaudry, Green, and Sand put it, “having a B.A. is less about obtaining access to high paying managerial and technology jobs and more about beating out less educated workers for the Barista or clerical job.” Even many graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—the so-called STEM subjects, which receive so much official encouragement—are having a tough time getting the jobs they’d like. Cappelli reports that only about a fifth of recent graduates with STEM degrees got jobs that made use of that training. “The evidence for recent grads suggests clearly that there is no overall shortage of STEM grads,” he writes. …

September 2, 2015

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To continue to try to take our minds off the fools in DC we have a few interesting items. The first is from a blog named PulpTastic. It is 20 quotes from children’s books that every adult should know.

Some of life’s greatest lessons can be found in children’s literature, and ironically, most of us only realize this once we are no longer kids. The following quotes are some of our favorites from books we used to read, and they may very well send you down a trip to memory lane. …

“A person’s a person no matter how small.” – Dr. Seuss.

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard” – A A Milne; Winnie the Pooh.



Then Five Thirty Eight has a Nerds Guide to the 2229 Paintings at the Museum of Modern Art. This is a large enough file so that many of the images had to be deleted. Follow the link if you want to see all of those in the article.

Through the lobby thronged with tourists, the line for tickets, the line for the cloakroom, and the line for the ticket taker, up the narrow escalators, past the cafe and bookshop on the second floor, the photographs and drawings on the third, and the installations in progress on the fourth, we finally arrive at the fifth floor of The Museum of Modern Art.

This is where they keep the really good stuff — the paintings reproduced in framed prints and on postcards in the gift shop — giants of impressionism, post-impressionism, abstract expressionism, Fauvism, cubism and color field.

Step off the escalator, and we’re greeted by our first painting: Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Glenn.” Press on. To the right is Balthus’s “The Street.” Hang one more left, and we’ve really arrived: Gallery 1. Staring at you or, more accurately, staring at the floor right in front of you, is Paul Cézanne’s “The Bather.” And just feet away, somewhere through that knot of cell-phone-camera-wielding museumgoers and just to the side of that hyper-vigilant security guard, is an image you’ll surely recognize: Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night.”

The picture, of the view from van Gogh’s room in a French asylum to which he’d committed himself after mutilating his own ear, may well be van Gogh’s highest achievement. But “The Starry Night” — that instantly recognizable image, pulsating with the energy of nature — also goes by another, icier name: ObjectID 79802.

On GitHub, an online data and code hosting service, sits the entire MoMA collection: 123,919 pieces, including 1,656 sculptures, 28,411 photographs, 11,420 drawings, 1,936 films and — most important for our tour today — 2,229 paintings. One of the rows in this giant spreadsheet: ObjectID 79802. …

… At the museum today, we’re armed not only with our love of art, but also with this big pile of data. We’ll appreciate the beauty, to be sure. But if you have questions, I’ll also turn to the hard numbers for answers.

The technical hallmark of “The Starry Night,” as you’ve surely noticed, is its exaggerated brushwork — “a thick, emphatic plasma of paint,” wrote the late, great art critic Robert Hughes. The painting is, emphatically, oil on canvas.

And our data can shed some light on this painting’s most striking feature. “Is this combination of materials typical in modern art?” you ask. Great question — we’re going to have fun! Indeed, oil on canvas is the dominant medium for MoMA’s paintings; nearly half of them use those materials. Synthetic polymer paint on canvas is a distant second. Oil painting, around for some 900 years, still dominates in the modern era. …



Written records of commerce and trade from 4,000 years ago are reported by the NY Times Magazine. This is a fascinating example of the instincts for trade and commerce that are in our genes.

One morning, just before dawn, an old man named Assur-idi loaded up two black donkeys. Their burden was 147 pounds of tin, along with 30 textiles, known as kutanum, that were of such rare value that a single garment cost as much as a slave. Assur-idi had spent his life’s savings on the items, because he knew that if he could convey them over the Taurus Mountains to Kanesh, 600 miles away, he could sell them for twice what he paid.

At the city gate, Assur-idi ran into a younger acquaintance, Sharrum-Adad, who said he was heading on the same journey. He offered to take the older man’s donkeys with him and ship the profits back. The two struck a hurried agreement and wrote it up, though they forgot to record some details. Later, Sharrum-­Adad claimed he never knew how many textiles he had been given. Assur-idi spent the subsequent weeks sending increasingly panicked letters to his sons in Kanesh, demanding they track down Sharrum-Adad and claim his profits.

These letters survive as part of a stunning, nearly miraculous window into ancient economics. In general, we know few details about economic life before roughly 1000 A.D. But during one 30-year period — between 1890 and 1860 B.C. — for one community in the town of Kanesh, we know a great deal. Through a series of incredibly unlikely events, archaeologists have uncovered the comprehensive written archive of a few hundred traders who left their hometown Assur, in what is now Iraq, to set up importing businesses in Kanesh, which sat roughly at the center of present-day Turkey and functioned as the hub of a massive global trading system that stretched from Central Asia to Europe. Kanesh’s traders sent letters back and forth with their business partners, carefully written on clay tablets and stored at home in special vaults. Tens of thousands of these records remain. One economist recently told me that he would love to have as much candid information about businesses today as we have about the dealings — and in particular, about the trading practices — of this 4,000-year-old community. …

September 1, 2015

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Roger Simon on who shot the sheriff and perhaps why. 

“Investigators were trying to determine Sunday what may have motivated a 30-year-old man [Shannon Miles, black] accused of ambushing a uniformed suburban Houston sheriff’s deputy [Darren Goforth, white] filling his patrol car with gas in what authorities believe was a targeted killing,” saith the AP in the newspeak of our time.

Well, I can help them with that.  Let’s start with the obvious.  Shannon Miles (a black man) is a crazy guy, just as Dylann Roof (the white man from the Charleston church shootings) is a crazy guy and Vester Lee Flanagan (the black man who killed his white co-workers at a Virginia TV station the other day) was a crazy guy.  The latter two claimed they wanted to start a race war.  No word yet on Miles, but if we believe in what our grandmothers told us — that actions speak louder than words — he’s already more than half way there.

(You will note that I am not using the neologism African-American, which I think is part of the problem, not part of the solution.)

Also obvious, Barack Obama and Eric Holder (and now Loretta Lynch) are to blame for encouraging an atmosphere of racial divisiveness and, yes, hatred in our society. Anyone honest can see — and the polls have reported — a serious increase in racial tension and violence (Baltimore, Ferguson, etc.) since the beginning of the Obama administration.  The racist-to-the-core “Black Lives Matter” movement is quite simply their evil spawn. …

… But all is not ill. Maybe we don’t deserve it, maybe it’s a sign of divine intervention (who knows?), but America is getting a second chance.  A man is running for president who is a true healer like we haven’t seen since Dr. King.  And he’s resonating with the public because I suspect many of us realize he is just what our country needs at this moment (with or without Donald Trump by his side).  You know who I mean — Dr. Ben Carson.



Streetwise Professor has found someone dumber than Trump and O’Reilly when it comes to economics.

Yesterday I said Trump and O’Reilly were in a cage match to determine the world champion of economic ignorance. There is another contender of course, the current occupant of the office to which Trump aspires. Actually, I would say that Obama is the undefeated reigning world champ, and that the O’Reilly-Trump set-to was merely to see who might contend for the title in the future.

Obama’s gobsmacking ignorance-served up with a heaping side of superciliousness-was on full display at the “Clean Energy Summit” in Las Vegas on Monday. Time is finite, and my energy is only intermittently renewable, so I can’t possibly deconstruct these vaporings in detail. So I will limit myself to a few high-level comments:

Obama’s claims that his policies on renewable energy and carbon will make a meaningful impact on climate is a massive fraud that would land you or me in jail. Obama’s own EPA acknowledges that the policy will reduce global mean temperatures by an imperceptible and irrelevant .02 degrees by 2100. Farenheit? Celsius? Who cares? It matters not. It is rounding error on any scale.

Obama’s ignorance is on full display when he claims that conventional electricity generation was not characterized by “a lot of innovation.” This is just a crock. Compare heat rates of plants 20 years ago to those of today: in California, for instance, thermal efficiency has improved by 17 percent over the last 13 years. Heard of combined cycle, Barry? There has been considerable innovation in electricity generation. Well, not at the light switch plate, which is probably the extent of Barry’s familiarity with the electricity value chain.

Obama mistakes opposing subsidies with being anti-free market. Welcome to bizarro world. And, as is his wont, he did so in an Alinskyite fashion, demonizing his opponents (the always handy Koch Brothers) in a very personal way. …



Richard Epstein writes on a new NLRB decision that will hamper labor markets. Yet another example of the problems caused by the current occupant that we will have to deal with for a long time.

… the new joint employer rules will likely batter today’s already grim labor market, as they will not only disrupt the traditional workplace but will completely wreck the well established franchise model for restaurants and hotels. As the majority conceded, the so-called joint employer does not even know so much as the social security number of its ostensible employees. It has no direct control over the way in which the current employer treats its workers, and yet could be hauled into court for its alleged unfair labor practices. That second firm knows little or nothing about the conditions on the ground in the many businesses with which it has forged these alliances, which eases the operations for both. Those advantages will be lost if the joint employer rule holds up in court. At the very least, the majority’s decision would require each and every one of these contracts and business relationships to be reworked to handle the huge new burden that will come as a matter of course, leaving everyone but the union worse off than before.

It would be one thing, perhaps, if the majority saw the light at the end of the tunnel. But over and over again it disclaims any grand pronouncements, making the legal question of who counts as an employer a work in progress that will be finished no time soon. Against this background it is irresponsible to undo the current relationships by a party-line vote. That point should also be clear to the courts and to Congress. The quicker this unfortunate decision is scrubbed from the law books, the better.



Financial Times editors call for Hillary to come clean.

… What, at this point, can she do about it? The answer is very little. Several probes are under way. Yet even at this stage, with months of potentially embarrassing revelations in front of her, Mrs Clinton has yet to acknowledge her mistakes. Last week she downplayed the gravity of the situation by making a joke about having opened an account at Snapchat, where messages disappear “all by themselves”. This will not do. Unless Mrs Clinton comes clean and makes amends, voters will rightly doubt her suitability to be commander-in-chief.



Glenn Reynolds writes on Katrina lessons. 

It’s been a decade since Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. What were the lessons? Here are a few:

1. The press did a lousy job.  Forget Brian Williams’ “huge lies.” Though the press patted itself on the back afterwards, in fact, as American University Journalism Professor W. Joseph Campbell writes, “it’s instructive to recall how extreme and over the top the reporting was from New Orleans in Katrina’s aftermath.” Reports of wandering bands of rapists, a 10-year-old girl raped in the New Orleans Convention Center, claims that people were shooting at rescue helicopters, sharks haunting the floodwaters, bodies stacked like cordwood — all were false.

Though the extremism generated ratings, and satisfied the anti-American urges of the foreign press, it did real harm. New Orleans, a city battered by disaster, was portrayed as, in Maureen Dowd’s words, “a snake pit of anarchy, death, looting, raping, marauding thugs, suffering innocents, a shattered infrastructure, a gutted police force, insufficient troop levels and criminally negligent government planning.” Dowd used this portrayal to take shots at then-President George W. Bush, and I suspect a lot of the media pile-on was similarly motivated, but it had the effect of stigmatizing victims and, by playing up anarchy and danger, may even have delayed the arrival of aid, as rescuers feared to go in without armed escort. Overall, a horrible media performance. …



Paul Mirengoff posts on the type of reporter hired by the Washington Post.

Yesterday, Jimmy Carter taught Sunday school in Plains, Georgia. It was Carter’s second lesson since he announced that he has brain cancer.

The Washington Post sent Dave Weigel to cover the event. He reports that (in the words of the Post’s sub-headline, print edition) “pilgrims pour[ed] into Plains Ga.” for the event with “an outpouring of good wishes.” When it rains, it pours.

It’s to Carter’s credit that he teaches Sunday school and that he perseveres in his present condition. But the Post uses the occasion to lionize the former president and attack Republicans who dare criticize his presidency.

In Dave Weigel, the Post has identified the perfect man for the job. I can think of no reporter more capable of unctuousness and viciousness, depending on what the politics of the occasion and his personal interests require. …

August 31, 2015

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We have a few items noting the tenth anniversary of Katrina’s visit to New Orleans. First from Wired Magazine a series of graphics that show the paths of the last 160 years of hurricanes in North America. The first is for category one and so on. The last shows all storms. There are no dates or names, but the swarm informs. These are large files so we have to pass on any cartoons today.


The Wall Street Journal reports on the Katrina diaspora in Houston, TX.

HOUSTON—Before Hurricane Katrina, Danny Cook was working three low-paying jobs in New Orleans and struggling to pay rent and tuition for a master’s program in computer science.

Now, 10 years after he was rescued by a helicopter in the wake of the storm and boarded a bus headed to Houston, he has built a life here that he said would have been impossible in his former city. He bought a home, started a business and continued his studies.

“It has been a miracle,” said Mr. Cook, 39 years old, sitting in his living room, beside a set of shelves bearing his diplomas.

He is one of tens of thousands of people uprooted by Katrina who ended up settling permanently in new cities such as Atlanta and San Antonio. The storm scattered evacuees across 45 states and the District of Columbia, though most landed in the South, according to U.S. Census data.

A 2008 Bureau of Labor Statistics study found that about 410,000 of the roughly 1.5 million people from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama who were displaced hadn’t returned to their homes more than a year after the storm. How many still haven’t gone back is uncertain, because tracking their whereabouts became increasingly difficult with time, researchers say. …



From Five Thirty Eight we learn about the results of school reforms in post Katrina New Orleans.

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans is still debating the merits of Louisiana’s experimental overhaul of its flooded schools. But research released this month signals that student outcomes in the city have improved and that the reforms are responsible.

Before Katrina, New Orleans had a traditional public school system. At the time of the August 2005 flood, that district was the second-worst-performing district in the second-worst-performing state. Now, it’s the country’s first free-market education system. Whether New Orleans’s radical reforms have worked matters not only for students there, but also for kids in classrooms around the country where similar models are being applied.

In November 2005, the Louisiana State Legislature voted to allow the state-run Recovery School District, which had been created to take over failing schools across Louisiana, to take control of 102 of 117 schools in the city (on top of the five it already controlled). Under pressure to reopen schools as quickly as possible, the Orleans Parish School Board fired all the public school employees, and the board and the RecoverySchool District turned the schools over to organizations to run as charters. According to the Cowen Institute at TulaneUniversity, 93 percent of New Orleans public school students attended charter schools in the 2014-15 school year — the highest proportion in the country.

With the influx of charter schools came a suite of other reforms, including greater school autonomy, open enrollment, reliance on nonprofits such as Teach for America to provide training and staff, and accountability measures that allowed the state to close underperforming schools. By the available metrics, these reforms have been a success. But it’s difficult to assess other consequences — like community engagement and trust in the process — that are less quantifiable. …



From hurricanes to earthquakes (Segues are Us!) we learn from Physics World that radon emissions might predict earthquakes. Apparently we can get a warning when the earth breaks wind.

A combined analysis of the concentrations of radon and one of its radioactive isotopes called “thoron” may potentially allow for the prediction of impending earthquakes, without interference from other environmental processes, according to new work done by researchers from Korea. The team monitored the concentrations of both isotopes for about a year and observed unusually large peaks in the thoron concentration only in February 2011, preceding the Tohoku earthquake in Japan, while large radon peaks were observed in both February and the summer. Based on their analyses, the researchers suggest that the anomalous peaks observed in that month were precursory signals related to that earthquake that followed the following month.

Earthquake prediction remains the holy grail of geophysics, and an oft-proposed but highly contested method for quake forecasting revolves around the detection of abnormal quantities of certain gaseous tracers in soil and groundwater. These are believed to be released through pre-seismic stress and the micro-fracturing of rock in the period immediately before an earthquake. …



Live Science has 20 startling facts about insects. (The real insects, not the ones in Washington. We’ll get to them tomorrow.)

Almost everywhere you look, you’ll find one — or dozens — of the six-legged critters called insects. A wildly diverse bunch, the class Insecta includes ants, bees, flies, beetles and much more. These creatures all possess a body composed of three segments — head, thorax and abdomen — encased in a hard exoskeleton. All insects also sport a pair of antenna, compound eyes and three pairs of jointed legs. From that basic body plan, emerge all sorts of amazing behaviors and abilities, as Live Science reveals here in 20 startling facts about insects.

1. The most successful creatures. To date, scientists have catalogued about 1.5 million species of organisms on the planet, with insects making up about two-thirds of this bounty, researchers report in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But scientists have only begun to scratch the surface: Studies estimate the total number of species on Earth is probably closer to 9 million. Of the planet’s wildly diverse collection of creatures, some 90 percent of species are reckoned to belong to the class Insecta. Reasons for insects’ success include their tiny size, which both makes hiding easier and reduces overall energy requirements; wide diet of both natural and artificial foods; tough, protective exoskeletons; frequent possession of wings, which help them reach safety, grub and mates; and prodigious ability to reproduce. …

August 30, 2015

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Pickerhead grew up in the fifties, a Yankee fan. Then to perform penance, allegiance was switched to the Chicago Cubs. But, this is a happy year. Five Thirty Eight blog found a way to measure fan enthusiasm and Cub fans are in the lead.

Baseball teams have a way of dragging their fans’ moods with their fortunes on the field. It’s no fun to root for a perpetually losing team, especially if its performance seems unlikely to improve. Conversely, an unexpected contender has a way of lifting one’s spirits.

But wins and losses are much easier to measure than happiness. We do have a proxy, though: the masses at Reddit. I scraped comments from each team’s subreddit on the website and determined how happy their comments were. To do that I used sentiment analysis, collecting the words used by each fan base to determine their overall level of joy. More positive words (“win,” “wow,” “wonderful”) point to a happier fan base, and more negative words (“unimpressed,” “miserable,” “wrong”) suggest the opposite.

Here are some highlights of what I found; …

… Every fan base lost some of its happiness from the preseason, save one: the Chicago Cubs, who increased their sentiment score by a bit. The Cubs have not only been contenders in the crowded National League Central, they have also seen a number of top prospects called up, most notably Kris Bryant (but also Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber). Not only are the Cubs contending a little earlier than expected — the future is even brighter. …




Scientific American describes coyote hunts in NY City.

Three wildlife biologists swat at the forest undergrowth, still soaked from the morning’s summer thunderstorm, trekking deep into the woods until they find what they are looking for: a camera tied to a tree. They had set it up weeks ago to spy on the coyotes. A plane suddenly flies overhead, interrupting the tranquil hush of the forest. This is a New York City park, after all.

The camera traps are one of several methods the Gotham Coyote Project is using to track coyotes as they migrate into New York City, along with citizen science sightings, scat collection and now environmental DNA surveys. Mark Weckel, co-founder of the project, which is affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), estimates that at least 20 coyotes live in the city, most of them in the Bronx. But the wily animal is slowly claiming territory in Queens and Manhattan, as numerous news outlets reported this spring, ranging as far south as Battery Park at the tip of Lower Manhattan.

The spread of coyotes into New York City and other urban areas across the U.S. is the latest chapter in their impressive success story, says wildlife specialist Stan Gehrt of The Ohio State University, who has studied Chicago’s coyotes for more than 12 years. …




The NY Times reports half of social psychology studies are flawed.

The past several years have been bruising ones for the credibility of the social sciences. A star social psychologist was caught fabricating data, leading to more than 50 retracted papers. A top journal published a study supporting the existence of ESP that was widely criticized. The journal Science pulled a political science paper on the effect of gay canvassers on voters’ behavior because of concerns about faked data.

Now, a painstaking yearslong effort to reproduce 100 studies published in three leading psychology journals has found that more than half of the findings did not hold up when retested. The analysis was done by research psychologists, many of whom volunteered their time to double-check what they considered important work. Their conclusions, reported Thursday in the journal Science, have confirmed the worst fears of scientists who have long worried that the field needed a strong correction.

The vetted studies were considered part of the core knowledge by which scientists understand the dynamics of personality, relationships, learning and memory. Therapists and educators rely on such findings to help guide decisions, and the fact that so many of the studies were called into question could sow doubt in the scientific underpinnings of their work.

“I think we knew or suspected that the literature had problems, but to see it so clearly, on such a large scale — it’s unprecedented,” said Jelte Wicherts, an associate professor in the department of methodology and statistics at TilburgUniversity in the Netherlands. …

… The project began in 2011, when a University of Virginia psychologist decided to find out whether suspect science was a widespread problem. He and his team recruited more than 250 researchers, identified the 100 studies published in 2008, and rigorously redid the experiments in close collaboration with the original authors.

The new analysis, called the Reproducibility Project, found no evidence of fraud or that any original study was definitively false. Rather, it concluded that the evidence for most published findings was not nearly as strong as originally claimed. …




More on this important subject from Scientific American.

Investigators across five continents reported that they were able to replicate only about 40 percent of the results from 100 previously published studies in cognitive and social psychology, in a study described today in the influential journal Science. The massive collaboration, called the Reproducibility Project: Psychology, could serve as a model for examining reproducibility of research in other fields, and a similar effort to scrutinize studies in cancer biology is already underway.

Central to the scientific method, experiments “must be reproducible,” says Gilbert Chin, a senior editor at Science. “That is, someone other than the original experimenter should be able to obtain the same findings by following the same experimental protocol.” The more readily a study can be replicated, the more trustworthy its results. But “there has been growing concern that reproducibility may be lower than expected or desired,” says corresponding author Brian Nosek, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia.

To address the problem, scientists across many disciplines established the Center for Open Science (COS) in Charlottesville, Va. The Reproducibility Project: Psychology, their first research initiative, began recruiting volunteers in 2011. They asked teams of researchers, totaling 270 collaborating authors, to choose from a pool of studies—all reflecting basic science and not requiring specialized samples or equipment—that appeared in 2008 in one of three respected psychology journals: Psychological Science; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; and Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition. …



Last week we previewed the publication of the fourth volume of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Now reviews are out, and for the most part, are favorable. We’ll start with the NY Times.

Fans of Stieg Larsson’s captivating odd couple of modern detective fiction — the genius punk hacker Lisbeth Salander and her sometime partner, the crusading investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist — will not be disappointed by the latest installment of their adventures, written not by their creator, Stieg Larsson (who died of a heart attack at the age of 50 in 2004), but by a Swedish journalist and author named David Lagercrantz. Though there are plenty of lumps in the novel along the way, Salander and Blomkvist have survived the authorship transition intact and are just as compelling as ever.

“The Girl in the Spider’s Web” finds the pair drawn into the case of the enigmatic computer scientist Frans Balder: a prominent expert in artificial intelligence who’s become ensnared in a global intrigue involving the Swedish Security Police (Sapo), the Russian mob, Silicon Valley industrial spies and United States national security interests.

Mr. Lagercrantz’s efforts to connect unsavory doings in Sweden to machinations within America’s National Security Agency are strained and fuzzy — a bald attempt to capitalize on Edward J. Snowden’s revelations about the agency and the debate over its surveillance methods. But then, readers weren’t smitten by “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” because of its plotting (which relied heavily on straight-to-video serial-killer-movie clichés), its plausibility or Larsson’s anti-authoritarian politics. They were smitten with that novel and its two sequels — “The Girl Who Played With Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” — because of the fierce charm of Salander and Blomkvist, and their unlikely chemistry. And because Larsson was so adroit at conjuring a moody, noirish Sweden that turned the stereotype of a clean, bright Scandinavia (where people drive Volvos and buy Ikea furniture) back into a land of long winters, haunted by the ghosts of Strindberg and Bergman. …

… “Spider’s Web” is less bloody, less horror movie lurid than its predecessors. In other respects, Mr. Lagercrantz seems to have set about — quite nimbly, for the most part — channeling Larsson’s narrative style, mixing genre clichés with fresh, reportorial details, and plot twists reminiscent of sequences from Larsson’s novels with energetically researched descriptions of the wild, wild West that is the dark side of the Internet. Presumably, the N.S.A. has been dragged into the story partly as a means of paying homage to Larsson’s anti-authoritarianism and his dark view of state power (developed most fully in “Hornet’s Nest,” which grappled with political corruption in Sweden and the malfeasance of Sapo). …



The reviewer at the Washington Post was less taken with the whole enterprise. Even though reviews were mostly good, we’ll add that so we can be fair and balanced.

One of the great sagas of modern publishing began in Sweden in 2004 when a left-wing journalist delivered a ridiculously long manuscript to his publisher. The aspiring novelist, who died of a heart attack a few months later at the age of 50, was of course Stieg Larsson. His editor recognized the value of what he had written and also that it should be published as three related novels. She later said that when the first of the novels, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” appeared, she would have been happy if it had sold 10,000 copies. Instead, at last report, the three novels in Larsson’s Millennium trilogy have sold in excess of 80 million copies worldwide. Their success was richly deserved. The novels offer a strikingly intelligent, gripping, angry look at political and corporate corruption in Sweden and, by implication, throughout the Western world.

Like countless readers, I would welcome a fourth novel in the series that equaled the high standard set by Larsson, but “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” is not that novel. Authorized by Larsson’s father and brother, who were his heirs, and written by Swedish writer David Lagercrantz, the new book brings back Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, the heroes and occasional lovers of the trilogy. It’s fitfully interesting, but more often the story is disjointed and annoying.

“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” started out as a conventional mystery about a missing girl. More than anything else, “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” is a novel about hacking. … 

August 27, 2015

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Streetwise Professor says Trump is the “Leader of the Mercantilist Zombie Apocalypse.”

Running the risk of serious brain damage, I watched Trump on O’Reilly last night. It was a cage match to determine the world champion of economic ignorance. I declare it a tie.

The “discussion” started out with China. O’Reilly asked Trump about China’s alleged devaluation policy. Except O’Reilly couldn’t pronounce “devalue”: he kept saying “devaluate.” But Trump took the bait and ranted (but I repeat myself) about how China has relentlessly devalued its currency over the years.

Except, of course, it hasn’t. It devalued years ago, but since the financial crisis it has pegged the yuan to the dollar, and only recently made two small devaluations. …

… Perhaps to give him more intellectual credit than he deserves, Trump is a died-in-the-wool mercantilist who believes trade is a zero sum game, and who favors protectionism and beggar-thy-neighbor currency policies. He talks like it is the late-80s, and Japan is still an economic juggernaut that will overwhelm the US, completely overlooking the fact that Japan’s crypto-mercantilist policies gifted it a 25 year long lost decade, and that neo-mercantilist China is on the brink of the same fate. If it is lucky.

Adam Smith is spinning in his grave.

But alas, mercantilism is a like a zombie. It has no brain, and has proven impossible to kill. Which means, I guess, that in Donald Trump, it has found its perfect advocate.




Taking a more benign view of Trump, Roger Simon says the presidency is his to lose.

… He’s unafraid.  He’s upbeat.  He’s funny.  He despises political correctness (as anybody with half a brain does).  He’s so rich no one can buy him, has an absolutely drop-dead gorgeous wife the likes of which we have never seen as first lady (not even Jackie O, well maybe Dolly Madison) and most of all he really, truly loves America.  Of course, compared to the incumbent, a dead centipede loves America, but you know what I mean.  He’s an all-American success story and that’s what we need right now — a winner, even a braggart.  He’s also, as my wife Sheryl says, “bad medicine,” just the kind of medicine we need in extreme times.

Now I could change my mind on a dime, as we all could, or indeed as I have, if other information comes to light or if Donald starts to act looney or, more precisely, excessively looney.  But as of now, it would be dishonest not to say that not only he is the frontrunner, he is THE MAN.  I can think of no greater antidote to Obama than a Trump presidency.

Well, yes, I can. It would be a Trump/Carson presidency. Watching Dennis Miller Wednesday night, I see he is on my wave length.  He’s talking about a Trump/Carson ticket too.  And while we’re at it, throw Carly Fiorina in as secretary of State or Treasury.

What Carly, Ben and Donald all have in common is obvious. It’s why we like them.  None of them are career politicians.  Double bravo for that.




Kevin Williamson writes on what Trump gets wrong about trade.

… Trump fancies himself an ace negotiator, a skill that he has had some chance to hone in an embarrassing series of corporate bankruptcies, and he proposes to employ those skills to ensure trade that is “fair” by whatever ethical standards occur to this particular serial adulterer/crony capitalist/pathological liar/reality-television grotesque. While Trump himself is fundamentally unserious, the Right has witnessed a destructive reemergence of the old anti-trade populism articulated by Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot.

Perot was the Trump of the 1990s, a billionaire businessman with an absurdly high estimate of his own importance, though Perot at least had the distinction of having made his own fortune. It was Perot who famously warned of the “giant sucking sound” that would accompany U.S. capital shifting south if NAFTA were to pass. And as many election scholars figure it, it was also Perot who ensured the election of Bill Clinton, a previously obscure political figure if a gifted campaigner. Another billionaire megalomaniac ensuring the election of another Clinton would be almost pleasing in its symmetry if it weren’t for the fact that it would do tremendous damage to the country and the world. …




Nate Silver says so far Trump’s a perpetual attention machine.

… Is it sustainable? In the long run, probably not. There are lots of interesting candidates in the GOP field, whether you’re concerned with the horse race, their policy positions or simply just entertainment value. Sooner or later, the media will find another candidate’s story interesting. Cruz has a lot of upside potential in the troll department, for instance, along with better favorability ratings than Trump and a slightly more plausible chance of being the Republican nominee.

But there’s not a lot of hard campaign news to dissect in August. Fend off the occasional threat by throwing a stink bomb whenever another story risks upstaging you, and you can remain at the center of the conversation, and atop the polls, for weeks at a time.




Matthew Continetti writes on how the media use Trump.

… Why do the media love Trump so? Bombastic, direct, and occasionally hilarious, Trump has been grabbing headlines and performing on television for decades. He’s a master of the medium and generates ratings for viewer-starved cable networks: He’s not wrong when he says he’s responsible for the massive audience that watched the first GOP primary debate on Fox.

Trump also shares the same obsessions as the media, spouting off on the latest twist in the horse race, the newest polling, the cable-show back-and-forth, the dueling campaign strategies, all the minutiae of the electoral process that voters don’t care about and that have no bearing on governance, but dominate the airwaves nevertheless.

But there’s another—and more important—reason the press can’t stop talking about Donald Trump. He conforms to, he exuberantly personifies, he seems to go out of his way to prove correct the worst media stereotypes of old pale cisgender plutocratic sexist nativist blowhard conservatives. (I should point out that these stereotypes are unfair. I, for instance, am only 34.)

The 69-year-old white male makes constant reference to his fortune. He brags about how he takes advantage of bankruptcy law and uses political donations to buy access to politicians. His most controversial statements on Mexicans and women seem tailor-made to alienate from the GOP the very demographic groups the Republican Party has been told it must win to capture the White House. His unfavorable ratings are sky-high—and he leads the polls for the Republican nomination. …



John Podhoretz says Trump’s appeal is that he is an obama for the right. That’s great! Two ignorant president’s in a row.

… So how is this happening? Many say it’s because of his hard line on immigration. Trump believes this. Others, Bill Kristol in particular, have observed cleverly that Trump is the only unrestrained nationalist in the race.

I think there’s something else at play here. Trump has basically declared himself the anti-Obama, an all-American (he still believes Obama was born in Kenya) who has built things and run things and hasn’t just been an egghead and government guy.

In fact, what Trump is promising is simply a different form of Obamaism, and that is what perversely makes him attractive to so many people.

Obama’s astonishing second-term efforts to do an end-run around the constitutional limits of the presidency have given Trump’s approach peculiar resonance with certain conservatives.

They’ve watched in horrified amazement as Obama has single-handedly postponed parts of the Affordable Care Act; unilaterally installed people in federal jobs (at the National Labor Relations Board) that require congressional consent and announced in November 2014 that he’d cease enforcing certain immigration laws and effectively grant protection to 5 million so-called “dreamers” — when it is his constitutional obligation to enforce existing laws passed by Congress.

Trump is, in effect, promising to be a right-wing Obama, to run roughshod over the rules to fix things Obama and other politicians have broken. …



Topping off our week, late night from Andrew Malcolm

Conan: Scientists have grown a tiny human brain in a lab. And guess what— It’s already announced support for Trump.

Conan: Hillary Clinton’s new ad stresses her personal, humble economic background. In it, she says, “Just 15 years ago, my family and I were evicted from our house.”

Meyers: Donald Trump says Jeb Bush is “totally out of touch on women’s health issues.” That’s like Jared Fogle saying you’re creepy.

August 26, 2015

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Elliot Abrams, who served in foreign policy positions for Reagan and the Bushes, reviews Michael Oren’s book Ally. It is a long read, but provides an ‘inside baseball’ look at relations with one of our most important allies.

… Presumably Netanyahu decided not to send a Likudnik to Washington in 2009 because in the newly elected Congress, both houses had strong Democratic majorities and the new president was a liberal Democrat himself. The choice of Oren was a gesture and a hope: Dispatch an academic, an intellectual, who might develop better relationships with Democratic politicians in Congress, with Obama and his new team, with the liberals (many of them liberal Jews) in the media, and with the overwhelmingly liberal American Jewish community.

Oren has now told the tale of his four years in Washington in Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide. (Random House, 432 pages) The first thing to say about the book is that it should not have been published—not before January 2017, that is. Oren writes about Netanyahu, Obama, and many other people who are still in power, and he writes about issues and problems over which they are still fighting. Revealing such matters while Netanyahu and Obama are still in office complicates their relationship. …

… Ally is very well written, engaging, and enormously interesting. Beginning with his own youth in New Jersey, and going chronologically through his aliyah to Israel, education, military service, and writing career, Oren then takes us almost day by day through his four years as ambassador. What emerges is an absolutely devastating portrait of Barack Obama and his minions, whose distaste for Israel infects the president’s thinking, his diplomatic activities, and by the end even his willingness to send Israel badly needed military supplies.

Oren began his posting by reading everything by and about Obama he could get his hands on. What he read alarmed him, and that included the portrait of the United States in Obama’s memoir: “Vainly, I scoured Dreams From My Father for some expression of reverence, even respect, for the country its author would someday lead.” …

… Adding insults to the injury of serious policy disagreements over Iran, Israel was handled shabbily month after month. Oren cites one small incident as revelatory of the Obama treatment: Haiti. When a terrible earthquake struck there in January 2010, Israel was—as usual after natural disasters around the globe—first on the scene with assistance, sending a field hospital. The day after the quake, 220 Israeli doctors, nurses, and rescue workers landed. Three days later, President Obama issued a statement: “Help continues to flow in, not just from the United States but from Brazil, Mexico, Canada, France, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic.” Can anyone believe this omission of Israel, which had already made a far larger contribution, is anything but a deliberate slight? …

… Oren also describes the unprecedented personal attacks on Netanyahu, which clearly amazed him. These culminated in Netanyahu’s being called a “chickenshit” by an administration official who was speaking to Atlantic correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg. He does not note, but it is important to remember, that the comment was not made off the record. It was meant for publication (as long as the reporter kept the speaker’s name out of the story). This was not only a shocking breach of elementary protocol on the part of the administration, but also a blow to the foreign-policy purposes of the United States. “An America that slanders the democratically elected leader of its ally,” Oren writes wisely, “is one that is respected neither by its friends nor its enemies.” …

… Oren’s portrait of Obama is extremely tough. The president “seemed to prefer contemplation to leadership” and “ideas to hands-on action.” Even worse was his “coldness” and “insularity,” and Oren says that “a similar chill distanced him from traditional American allies—not only Israel—whose ambassadors complained to me of the administration’s unprecedented aloofness.” In fact, Oren quotes an unnamed European ambassador as saying “Obama’s problem is not a tin ear, it’s a tin heart.” …

… Oren describes Netanyahu as “one of the world’s most complex, seasoned, divisive, and hounded leaders, and perhaps its loneliest.” And he draws Netanyahu’s personality as “part commando, part politico, and thoroughly predatory.” Those words are not as nasty as they might appear, given the context of Israel’s rough-and-tumble politics—and Israel’s own history and current security challenges. Netanyahu rejected, on several occasions, Oren’s advice “to conciliate rather than confront Obama,” but on the evidence Oren himself provides in this book, Netanyahu had the better of the argument between them. After all, selecting Oren was itself a conciliatory gesture, as were the decisions to apologize to Turkey at Obama’s insistence, and to impose a 10-month (partial) moratorium on construction in settlements. From these it seems Netanyahu learned that conciliation would gain him little in the Obama White House, which had fixed and unalterable views on Israel—and on its prime minister.

In truth, it is not all that uncommon for individual leaders to dislike each other. What is striking in Oren’s book is that the Obama team did not view this mutual aversion as a problem to be alleviated but as a license to further the assault on Netanyahu, his government, and his country. When I was an official in the George W. Bush White House, we found that the president and French President Jacques Chirac cordially despised each other. So we worked around that to maintain the alliance and solve any problems our nations faced. The French national-security adviser flew over to Washington every few weeks, and he and the French ambassador in Washington would meet with the secretary of state, the national-security adviser, and several of us handling key issues. We managed despite the hostility at the top. But Obama’s and Netanyahu’s dislike for each other was exacerbated, not alleviated, by Obama’s staff, who happily cursed out Netanyahu to the press and threw around threats about how this or that move would permanently damage the bilateral relationship.

This phenomenon was worsened by matters of style that are frankly shocking to someone like me, who worked in previous administrations. White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel called Oren before dawn about some development and began the call by saying: “I don’t like this fucking shit.” At a reception following a Netanyahu visit to the White House, Emanuel poked his finger into Oren’s chest and said, “You do not fucking come to the White House and fucking lecture the president of the United States.” Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides, worried about legislation that would call for defunding any UN agency that recognizes Palestine as a state, told Oren, “You don’t want the fucking UN to collapse because of your fucking conflict with the Palestinians.” Oren went into the State Department to see Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg, and was dressed down and read a list of demands (including, of course, a total construction freeze in East Jerusalem as well as the West Bank) in a tone Oren describes as “furious.” But Oren adds that he later heard that this was less of a private conversation than an anti-Israel rally: Via an open phone line or hidden microphone, “department staffers listened in on our conversation and cheered.”

These matters of language and comportment could be viewed as trivial, but they are not. They suggest an attitude toward Israel’s government that is quite simply contemptuous, disrespectful, and hostile. It is unlikely that such treatment was accorded to the British or French ambassadors, even by people like Emanuel who appear to equate vulgarity with strength or persuasiveness. Nor, as we have been seeing week after week, was such treatment ever accorded to the vicious Communist dictatorship in Cuba or to the brutal theocracy in Iran. …




The mess created by obama in foreign affairs has a carbon copy in domestic affairs. Phil Gramm describes how the “transformation” has a foundation of sand.

… The Obama transformation was achieved by laws granting unparalleled discretionary power to the executive branch—but where the law gave no discretion Mr. Obama refused to abide by the law. Whether the law mandated action, such as income verification for ObamaCare, or inaction, such as immigration reform without congressional support, Mr. Obama willfully overrode the law. Stretching executive powers beyond their historic limits, he claimed the Federal Communications Commission had authority over the Internet and exerted Environmental Protection Agency control over power plants to reduce carbon emissions.

When Obama empowered himself to declare Congress in “recess” to make illegal appointments that the courts later ruled unconstitutional, he was undeterred. In an action that Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon would have never undertaken, Mr. Obama pushed Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid to “nuke” the rights of minority Senators to filibuster judicial nominees and executive appointments by changing the long-standing 60-vote supermajority needed for cloture to a simple majority.

American democracy has historically relied on three basic constraints: a shared commitment to the primacy of the constitutional process over any political agenda, the general necessity to achieve bipartisan support to make significant policy changes, and the natural desire of leaders to be popular by delivering peace and prosperity. Mr. Obama has transformed America by refusing to accept these constraints. The lock-step support of the Democrats’ supermajority in the 111th Congress freed him from having to compromise as other presidents, including Reagan and Mr. Clinton, have had to do.

While the Obama program has transformed America, no one is singing “Happy Days Are Here Again” or claiming it’s “morning in America.” Despite a doubling of the national debt and the most massive monetary expansion since the Civil War, America’s powerhouse economy has withered along with the rule of law.

The means by which Mr. Obama wrought his transformation imperil its ability to stand the test of time. All of his executive orders can be overturned by a new president. ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank can be largely circumvented using exactly the same discretionary powers Mr. Obama used to implement them in the first place. Republicans, who never supported his program, are now united in their commitment to repeal it.

Most important, the American people, who came to embrace the Roosevelt and Reagan transformations, have yet to buy into the Obama transformation. For all of these reasons it appears that the Obama legacy rests on a foundation of sand.

August 25, 2015

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We’ve had three days of postings without mention of the DC creeps, but now it is time to return to their monkey business. Joshua Muravchik starts us off with his article on the Iran agreement.

How might the United States end up in a boots-on-the-ground shooting war with Iran? 

This is the specter that President Obama summons when he warns that congressional rejection of his nuclear agreement with Iran would lead to “some form of war . . . . if not tomorrow . . . then soon.”  But it is Obama’s deal itself that is more likely to lead to such a regrettable outcome. It is all but guaranteed to make a region that is already convulsed in violence, thanks to Obama’s strategy of reducing America’s presence, that much more violent. …

… There are other scenarios in which the current violence in the Middle East will redouble thanks to Iran’s imperial appetite being whetted by its new nuclear status. Tehran might stir up Kuwait’s sometimes restive Shiite minority which amounts to one-third of the population. More Sunnis may be impelled to view ISIS and al Qaeda as necessary shock troops against surging Shiite power. The consequent infusions of money and volunteers could bring these fanatics new conquests in Iraq, Syria, Libya, the Sinai, and perhaps elsewhere. Israel might be confronted with its largest war since 1967, pitting it against Hamas and Hezbollah and even Iranian forces. The distraction of mounting Middle Eastern violence might embolden Vladimir Putin to new steps toward his goal of reassembling the USSR, perhaps devouring more of Ukraine or even attempting a go at Latvia or Estonia, using their large Russian minorities as a pretext as in Ukraine.

Any of these scenarios could draw the United States into just the kind of briar patch that President Obama says he wants to avoid. He mocks his critics as warmongers, but it is his ill-conceived policy that is most likely to get us into a war.



Rick Richman is next.

To appreciate the key paragraph in Senator Bob Corker’s Washington Post op-ed opposing the Iran deal, you need to review his extemporaneous remarks at the August 5 hearing of the Senate Banking Committee – addressed to both the witness, Under Secretary Wendy Sherman, and to his Democratic colleagues. Corker was one of the few Republican senators who did not sign Senator Tom Cotton’s letter to Iran, and he worked across the aisle to craft the Congressional review of the deal. On August 5, he spoke first to the Democratic senators sitting there: “I want to say that I think Senator Donnelly, Senator Heitkamp, Senator Warner, Senator Tester, Senator Schumer, Senator Menendez all know that I have been very open to supporting an agreement.” Then he recounted a Saturday phone conversation he had had the previous month with Secretary of State Kerry, when “I actually thought he was listening to what I was saying.” …



David French writes on the president’s misguided view of the world.

… If more than six years of Obama’s foreign policy have taught us anything, it’s that he’s thoroughly adopted the academic Left’s view of America’s international troubles — the view that such troubles are largely America’s own fault. Our Islamic-supremacist enemies, this thinking goes, exist because we and our allies have marginalized the dissenting, “authentic” voices of the Middle East in favor of propping up oppressive, unrepresentative secular dictators in the region. By switching sides from such “establishment” dictators to the “authentic” voice of the region’s people, we can bring these dissenters into the international community, deprive terrorists of recruits, and usher in a new era of international relations. The truly extreme holdouts — the “tiny few” who are irredeemable terrorists — can then eventually be dealt with by international law enforcement.

Obama’s foreign policy fits this thinking to a tee: In Libya, he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped depose Moammar Qaddafi by transforming allied squadrons into the jihadist militias’ air force. In Egypt, Obama and Clinton quickly threw longtime American ally Hosni Mubarak under the bus and wrapped both arms around the short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government, sending American taxpayer-funded F-16s and M1 Abrams tanks to Egypt even as the Brotherhood violated the Camp David accords and forged closer ties with Hamas. In Gaza, the administration has consistently condemned Israeli acts of self-defense (though Israel uses tactics often more restrained than those dictated by America’s rules of engagement) and presented cease-fire proposals more in line with Hamas’s demands than Israel’s needs. In Syria, the administration came dangerously close to deploying American pilots as al-Qaeda’s air force to help topple the Assad regime. …



Noah Rothman posts on the effects of the current occupant.

Many of those blinkered political commenters who allowed themselves to be swept up in the diaphanous hysteria that resulted in Barack Obama’s presidency convinced themselves that he was a change agent of divine wisdom. A “lightworker,” as the San Francisco Gate’s Mark Morford called him. They said Obama would restore America’s faith in the United States, in government in general, and even in ourselves. “That campaign restored a faith in politics that most of us thought we had lost,” gushed The Hill’s Niall Stanage. “America has restored the world’s faith in its ideals,” The Guardian averred without evidence. Seven years later, it’s clear that the effects of Obama’s presidency have not been to restore but to sap faith in the American system. We have so little reverence for the order bequeathed to us by the nation’s enlightened founding generation, in fact, that we deface it with adolescent acts of directionless defiance. 

The presidency that was allegedly destined to repair the damage Bush did to the credibility of the federal government has only quickened the pace of America’s disaffection with politics. Today, the three co-equal branches of the federal government inspire confidence in only a handful of Americans. The media, organized labor, banks, schools, and big business, too, are no longer trusted. Among government-run enterprises, only the police and the military retain the trust of a majority of American citizens – a dangerous place for any civilian-led republic to find itself. Even on the matter of racial comity, a perpetual sore spot for most Americans, Obama has not lived up to his transcendental promise. In fact, the state of racial tensions in the Obama era makes the Bush presidency look like a utopian epoch characterized by ethnic harmony. The Obama presidency has failed on a variety of fronts, but its most injurious may be the ruinous effect it has had on faith in the republican experiment itself. …




From a misguided president to a misguided pope. Michael Rubin posts on how free markets help the poor; contrary to the opinions of the anti-capitalist pope.

… In contrast, countries like Pope Francis’ birthplace of Argentina, Cuba, and Venezuela increasingly condemn their population to greater poverty as they punish initiative and constrain economic freedom. These may be extreme examples, but remember that until the 1970s, the North Korean economy was arguably as strong if not stronger than South Korea’s, but now has fallen exponentially behind. Poland has emerged from decades of socialist repression to become a growing powerhouse: drive across the border into Belarus, and the juxtaposition could not be greater. Talk of social justice is too often rhetorical crack. It may make proponents feel good and it can be addictive to the self-righteous and those genuinely seeking to do good, but it can be very corrosive to health, happiness, and holistic prosperity.

Will gaps between rich and poor exist? Certainly. And do many persons who consider themselves poor resent those who have more? Absolutely. But recent history shows that those who generate wealth—even if they make far more than the mean—often repair economies and reduce poverty in ways that decades and centuries of well-meaning rhetoric and talk of social justice have not. Pope Francis and his supporters most certainly would not consider themselves as ‘hating’ the poor, but if they did, they could do nothing better than embrace the sort of liberation theology that retarded economic growth in some Latin American countries, as others prospered and grew their middle class. Conversely, if Pope Francis wants to help the poor, let’s hope he’ll delve more deeply into economics and history to separate fact from fiction, and use his soap box to encourage more capitalist investment and less state intervention. That is the key to poverty reduction, and it deserves holy support.

August 24, 2015

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Fans of Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy will be pleased to learn Tuesday will see the the publication of the fourth book in the series. WSJ has the story.

In the latest top-secret, world-wide literary event of the summer, publishers are preparing for the return next week of punk hacker Lisbeth Salander—in the first book of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series to be written by a different author.

“The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” written by Swedish journalist and author David Lagercrantz, is one of the biggest book launches of the year, with a global first print run of 2.7 million copies, including 325,000 from U.S. publisher Alfred A. Knopf. The book will be released in 24 countries Thursday, then in the U.S. and Canada on Sept. 1.

The original three books in the Millennium series—“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”—have sold 80 million copies in 50 territories, including 24 million copies in the U.S. Mr. Larsson died of a heart attack in 2004 at age 50.

“The Girl in the Spider’s Web” continues the adventures of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative reporter. The new installment uses Silicon Valley as a location and introduces a character from the National Security Agency. …




A post in Nate Silver’s Five Thirty Eight Blog says umpires are less blind than they used to be.

Dusty Dellinger knows how difficult it is to be an umpire. “There’s an old saying that they expect you to be perfect from day one and get better,” the former Major League Baseball official said over the phone. As the director of Minor League Baseball Umpire Development and the Minor League Baseball Umpire Training Academy, he knows how elusive perfection can be.

Correctly calling 140 pitches flying 90-plus mph and breaking six inches or more is a near-impossible standard. And when mistakes are made, players and managers aren’t bashful. Jonathan Papelbon said D.J. Reyburn should “go back to Triple A” after a confrontation over balls and strikes. Joe Girardi complained about inconsistency. Larry Andersen did too after he retired, labeling the men behind the plate arrogant. You don’t have to look too hard for more examples.

That’s led plenty of people to wonder when robots will come for the umps’ jobs. But lost amid those blue-sky dreams is what’s happened to the way we judge the blue behind the plate. Technology has changed how we can evaluate umps. It shows that umps are getting better, that there’s a significant gap between the best and worst, and that the best umps aren’t working the biggest games. …




WSJ OpEd reports on the amazing success of a simple fix for drunk driving in South Dakota.

… Members of Alcoholics Anonymous like to joke that when alcoholics get arrested for drunken driving enough times, it finally sinks in that they need to make a change in their life, so they quit…driving. The joke is directed at alcoholics themselves, but it also applies to the criminal justice system. Legislators and judges have responded to repeat drunken drivers by trying to eliminate their driving—through incarceration, license suspension, ignition locks and vehicle impoundment. Their approach has been to separate the drivers from their vehicles, not from their drinking habits.

A decade ago, as attorney general of South Dakota, Larry Long saw the need for a more direct approach and launched a program called “24/7 Sobriety.” I first encountered 24/7 Sobriety five years ago, and it confounded much of what I had learned in my years as an addiction-treatment professional.

On a clear South Dakota morning, I found myself in a Sioux Falls police station, waiting for more than a hundred repeat offenders to appear for court-mandated appointments. They had to blow into a breathalyzer to prove that they had not been drinking. I expected that many wouldn’t show up; I felt sure that many of those who did show up would be intoxicated—and the rest would be surly.

But every single offender trooped peacefully by, chatted briefly with a friendly officer, blew a negative test and went on his or her way. This was remarkable and new to me, particularly because it was almost absurdly simple.

Offenders in 24/7 Sobriety can drive all they want to, but they are under a court order not to drink. Every morning and evening, for an average of five months, they visit a police facility to take a breathalyzer test. Unlike most consequences imposed by the criminal justice system, the penalties for noncompliance are swift, certain and modest. Drinking results in mandatory arrest, with a night or two in jail as the typical penalty.

The results have been stunning. Since 2005, the program has administered more than 7 million breathalyzer tests to over 30,000 participants. Offenders have both showed up and passed the test at a rate of over 99%. …




The Atlantic says we come by our drinking habits honestly.

… Early America was also a much, much wetter place than it is now, modern frat culture notwithstanding. Instead of binge-drinking in short bursts, Americans often imbibed all day long. “Right after the Constitution is ratified, you could see the alcoholic consumption starting to go up,” said Bustard. Over the next four decades, Americans kept drinking steadily more, hitting a peak of 7.1 gallons of pure alcohol per person per year in 1830. By comparison, in 2013, Americans older than 14 each drank an average of 2.34 gallons of pure alcohol—an estimate which measures how much ethanol people consumed, regardless of how strong or weak their drinks were. Although some colonial-era beers might have been even weaker than today’s light beers, people drank a lot more of them.

In part, heavy alcohol consumption was a way to stay hydrated: Often, clean water wasn’t always accessible. Hard liquor, on the other hand, was readily available, Bustard said; farmers frequently distilled their grain into alcohol. …




Countering prevailing wisdom, a post in Science 2.0 claims there is no dementia epidemic. Of course, the studies they report on were not conducted in DC.

The notion of a dementia epidemic has been a big concern in ageing societies across the globe for some time. With the extension of life expectancy it seems to be an inevitable disaster – one of the “greatest enemies of humanity”, according toUK prime minister David Cameron.

Many shocking figures have been published pointing to dramatic increases in dementia prevalence and massive predicted costs and burdens. Yet new evidence seems to suggest otherwise. In a review of dementia occurrence in five studies in the UK, Sweden, Spain and the Netherlands between 2007 and 2013 that used consistent research methods and diagnostic criteria, we found none that supported headlines about dramatic increases in dementia. They report stable or reduced prevalence at specific ages over the past few decades – despite aging populations.

How to reconcile this relatively optimistic picture with what looks like panic on the part of governments, charities and the mainstream media? …




E Science found a study that tries to determine why women live longer than men.

Across the entire world, women can expect to live longer than men. But why does this occur, and was this always the case? According to a new study led by University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology researchers, significant differences in life expectancies between the sexes first emerged as recently as the turn of the 20th century. As infectious disease prevention, improved diets and other positive health behaviors were adopted by people born during the 1800s and early 1900s, death rates plummeted, but women began reaping the longevity benefits at a much faster rate.

In the wake of this massive but uneven decrease in mortality, a review of global data points to heart disease as the culprit behind most of the excess deaths documented in adult men, said USC University Professor and AARP Professor of Gerontology Eileen Crimmins.

“We were surprised at how the divergence in mortality between men and women, which originated as early as 1870, was concentrated in the 50 to 70 age range and faded out sharply after age 80,” Crimmins said. …

August 23, 2015

Click on WORD or PDF for full content



Craig Pirrong at Streetwise Professor continues his Elon Musk skepticism.

… There are some major cracks beginning to show in the Musk facade. The most telling is the fact that one Musk entity-SolarCity-sold $165 million in bonds (that are backed by the cash flows from SCTY’s solar installations) to another Musk entity, SpaceX (which just experienced an embarrassing spacecraft malfunction.) When money is taken out of the left pocket to put into the right pocket, eyebrows should be raised. Especially when the explanation is this lame:

So why is SpaceX buying these up? According to SolarCity’s Vice President of Financial Products, Tim Newell, the answer is “very straight forward.” The bonds offered SpaceX an attractive rate of return for a one-year investment compared to other investment options out there. SpaceX carriers a fair amount of cash at times, noted Newell, and the company wanted to put that cash to work in the short term with a high degree of reliability

Sure. If it’s offering such a great rate of return, why isn’t anyone else buying it? And why does it have to offer a better rate than “other investment options out there”? A more plausible story is that the bonds weren’t selling, or that they would only sell at yields Musk didn’t want to pay, so  he had to use one of his companies to prop up another. Those kinds of shell games can only last so long.

Moreover, some executives have left, most recently the head of service, who is taking a leave of absence. This follows the departure of the CFO (announced in June).

Then there is the recent Tesla earnings report, which showed that despite the massive subsidies it has received, it still can’t earn a GAAP profit and, is burning cash at a hellacious rate, $565 million in the last quarter alone. …




One of our country’s best writers, Malcolm Gladwell, reports on studies of Katrina post-partum New Orleans neighborhoods.

The first time that David Kirk visited New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was at the end of 2005. His in-laws were from the city. Kirk and his wife visited them at Christmas, just four months after the storm hit, and then went back again on several more occasions throughout 2006. New Orleans was devastated. Thousands had fled. “I’ll admit I’d drive around the Lower Ninth, taking it all in, feeling a little guilty about being the gawking tourist,” Kirk said not long ago. “It made an impression on me. These neighborhoods were gone.”

Kirk is a sociologist at the University of Oxford. He trained at the University of Chicago under Robert Sampson, and, for Sampson and the small army of his former graduate students who now populate sociology departments around the world, neighborhoods are the great obsession: What effect does where you live have on how you turn out? It’s a difficult question to answer because the characteristics of place and the characteristics of the people who happen to live in that place are hard to untangle. As Kirk drove around the Lower Ninth, however, he realized that post-Katrina New Orleans provided one of those rare occasions when fate had neatly separated the two variables. In the course of bringing immeasurable suffering to the people of New Orleans, Katrina created what social scientists call a “natural experiment”: one day, people were in the neighborhoods where they had lived, sometimes for generations. The next day, they were gone—sometimes hundreds of miles away. “They had to move,” Kirk said. What, he wondered, were the implications of that? …

… Kirk’s idea was to look at convicted criminals from New Orleans who had been released from prison after Katrina. As a group, they were fairly homogeneous: largely black, largely poor. For years, their pattern was to return to their old neighborhoods after they were released: to their families, homes, social networks. But for some, by the most random of circumstances, that was now impossible. Their neighborhoods—the Lower Ninth, New Orleans East—had been washed away. How did the movers compare with the stayers? …

… One of the tragedies of Katrina was that so many of New Orleans’ residents were forced to move. But the severity of that tragedy is a function of where they were forced to move to. Was it somewhere on the Salt Lake City end of the continuum? Or was it a place like Fayetteville? The best answer we have is from the work of the sociologist Corina Graif, who tracked down the new addresses of seven hundred women displaced by Katrina—most of them lower-income and black. By virtually every measure, their new neighborhoods were better than the ones they had left behind in New Orleans. Median family income was forty-four hundred dollars higher. Ethnic diversity was greater. More people had jobs. Their exposure to “concentrated disadvantage”—an index that factors in several measures of poverty—fell by half a standard deviation.

The women weren’t going to Fayetteville but, rather, to places like Houston. “For low-income people in the South, Houston is a pretty darn great place,” Hendren said. “It’s not a beacon of phenomenal upward mobility like Salt Lake City. But it’s kind of the Salt Lake City of the South.” The odds of going from the bottom to the top in Houston are 9.3 per cent, which puts it fifteenth out of the top fifty U.S. metro areas.

“I think that what’s happening is that a whole new world is opening up to them,” Graif said. “If these people hadn’t moved out of the metro area, they would have done the regular move—cycling from one disadvantaged area to another. The fact that they were all of a sudden thrown out of that whirlpool gives them a chance to rethink what they do. It gives them a new option—a new metro area has more neighborhoods in better shape.”

That is, more neighborhoods in better shape than those of New Orleans, which is a crucial fact. For reasons of geography, politics, and fate, Katrina also happened to hit one of the most dysfunctional urban areas in the country: violent, corrupt, and desperately poor. A few years after the hurricane, researchers at the University of Texas interviewed a group of New Orleans drug addicts who had made the move to Houston, and they found that Katrina did not seem to have left the group with any discernible level of trauma. That’s because, the researchers concluded, “they had seen it all before: the indifferent authorities, loss, violence, and feelings of hopelessness and abandonment that followed in the wake of this disaster,” all of which amounted to “a microcosm of what many had experienced throughout their lives.”

Katrina was a trauma. But so, for some people, was life in New Orleans before Katrina. …

… The way New Orleans handled public education after Katrina was very different. New Orleans had one of the worst-performing public-school systems in the country: the year before the storm, sixty-two per cent of public-school students in the city were enrolled in a school rated F by the state of Louisiana. The government decided to start over. All of the city’s public-school teachers were fired. Public education was changed—in the words of one city official—from “a school system” to “a system of schools.” In the most radical educational experiment in the country, students were allowed to apply anywhere they chose throughout the city, principals were given wide autonomy, and countless school buildings were renovated or rebuilt. The educational system, in the wake of a hurricane that battered its buildings, doubled down and finished the job itself. …

… At the same time, however, Katrina reminds us that sometimes a clean break with the past has its advantages. The fact that you may have lived in a neighborhood for generations, or become attached to a set of long-standing educational traditions, does not mean that you should always return to that neighborhood if you are displaced, or reconstruct those traditions. The schools of New Orleans made a necessary and painful sacrifice: they extended the pain of Katrina in order to build a better future for the city’s children. Those who chose to stay in Houston made the same hard choice. The calculations done in the Chetty-Hendren-Kline-Saez study concern the benefits of good neighborhoods for the children of the people who move. The child who moves from Central City to Salt Lake City at the age of five or six gets the benefit of all of his or her education in a better school, an adolescence largely free of violence and crime, and an early adulthood in a place with jobs and opportunities. The benefits are less obvious for the parents: they leave behind their networks and family ties and the pleasures of crawfish. In the past ten years, much has been said, rightly, about the resilience and the spirit of those who chose to rebuild the neighborhoods they had lost. It is time to appreciate as well the courage of those who, faced with the same disaster, decided to make a fresh start. 




NY Times OpEd calls on universities to stop hoarding money.

WHO do you think received more cash from Yale’s endowment last year: Yale students, or the private equity fund managers hired to invest the university’s money?

It’s not even close.

Last year, Yale paid about $480 million to private equity fund managers as compensation — about $137 million in annual management fees, and another $343 million in performance fees, also known as carried interest — to manage about $8 billion, one-third of Yale’s endowment.

In contrast, of the $1 billion the endowment contributed to the university’s operating budget, only $170 million was earmarked for tuition assistance, fellowships and prizes. Private equity fund managers also received more than students at four other endowments I researched: Harvard, the University of Texas, Stanford and Princeton. …

… But the amount universities pay to private equity reveals the deeper problem: We’ve lost sight of the idea that students, not fund managers, should be the primary beneficiaries of a university’s endowment. The private-equity folks get cash; students take out loans.

As part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act expected later this year, Congress should require universities with endowments in excess of $100 million to spend at least 8 percent of the endowment each year. Universities could avoid this rule by shrinking assets to $99 million, but only by spending the endowment on educational purposes, which is exactly the goal. …