Links For May

One of the points I bring up in my Non-Libertarian FAQ is how difficult a problem it is to get trustworthy ratings of the trustworthiness of businesses from “self-regulation” type groups. People sometimes bring up the Better Business Bureau as a counterexample, but there are consistent rumors that it basically uses its rating system to extort businesses for money. This is starting to seem much more plausible after a disgruntled group of business owners got them to give an A- rating to terrorist group Hamas just by paying them the necessary fees.

A Week’s Worth Of Groceries In Different Countries

There aren’t many occasions in which it’s acceptable to ask people in your town to dress up as Nazis, start shooting at citizens, and arrest the mayor and haul him off to a concentration camp. There are probably even fewer where it’s acceptable to paint local planes to look like Nazi bombers and fly them overhead, or declare a public ceremony renaming your main street Hitlerstrasse. But Winnipeg, Canada managed to make several million dollars off of it.

Yet another basic income guarantee experiment shows extremely positive results, this one in India.

Speaking of India, this series of pictures brings back the memories of my time traveling the Third World: Be Carefull: The Road Have A Problem

The Bronze Medal For Face-Palm-Ish Science Reporting goes to the Daily Mail for their article headlined “Women Are Born To Binge: Female Brains Are Biologically Programmed To Overeat”. Guess what species of animal the actual study was performed on? (hint: SQUEAK SQUEAK)

The Silver Medal goes to…also the Daily Mail, actually…for this article headlined “Children Brought Up By Two Parents Are More Intelligent – Because They Develop More Brain Cells – Boys Get Better Memories And Learning Ability – Girls Get Better Motor Co-ordination And Social Skills”. Once again, it would be worth mentioning that every single test subject in the experiment had a tail and an inordinate fondness for cheese.

The Gold Medal goes to…about 90% of the things I have seen about Jason Richwine, especially this article making the horrible “if something is a social construct, that’s kind of like saying it doesn’t exist and has no characteristics” argument. I kind of want to drag the author to Maine in the middle of winter in a bathing suit, on the grounds that going to California in the middle of winter in a bathing suit would be fine, and US states are just social constructs so they can’t possibly differ in temperature (AAAAAH STOP PROVING TOO MUCH!). Honorable exceptions to a few decent and thought-provoking people on all sides, including Erik Mesoy speaking for the rightists, Will Wilkinson speaking for the leftists, and Andrew Sullivan speaking for that dog and cat in the adorable Thanksgiving outfits.

Words I never thought I would hear myself saying: “The new Great Gatsby video game isn’t as good as the last Great Gatsby video game

Exciting medical news: antibiotics cure back pain in almost half of patients. This is really interesting for several reasons. First because it continues the trend of finding that conditions that superficially didn’t look like they involved infections actually do (for example ulcers) and infections are very treatable. Second because back pain is one of the biggest causes of morbidity in the First World, and if half those people could go back to work and engage in normal activities again it would be a huge deal. The guy in the article who says they deserve a Nobel Prize isn’t joking.

New item for the Biodeterminist’s Guide To Parenting: Flame retardants

This isn’t technically a news article, but I was pretty shocked to learn that only about 55%-60% of people who start a bachelor’s degree program at a four year college finish within 6 years. What are our colleges DOING?

The government just Streisand Effect-ed a gun. Wonderful. I have to say, although there is a part of me that likes Sticking It To The Man, that if people end up making quiet self-regulation of 3D printers impossible, this is less likely to result in the government shrugging and saying “Okay, I guess everyone can do whatever they want unmolested” and more likely to result in them just banning 3D printers or figuring out some way to limit it to a couple of big collusive companies that don’t do anything interesting.

William McGonagall is generally considered to be the worst English-language poet ever.

Of Mice and Markets. You’ve probably all seen this experiment, where people are willing to pay to keep lab animals alive but suddenly ignore that preference when dealing via a market. But this is YET ANOTHER REMINDER that no, markets don’t just naturally reflect our true preferences and promote perfectly rational behavior. Also another reminder that psychology researchers are really mean.

And now for something completely different: scientists who are going out of their way to avoid killing animals. There is now vegetarian meat, grown in a vat without harming animals. Now they just have to iron out that “$300,000 for one burger” issue.

I didn’t realize how parochial the element-naming process was until I read Wikipedia’s History of Astatine (SHUT UP I MANAGE MY TIME JUST FINE). The first team to claim to have synthesized it was a group in Alabama who named it “alabamium”. When their claim was disproven the next attempt came from chemists in Dhaka who proposed the name “dakin”. When their claim was also rejected, attention turned to a Swiss guy who named it “helvetium” and then an English-Swiss team with “anglo-helvetium”. Finally it was actually discovered by a team in Berkeley who gave it its current name of “astatine”, probably because Berkeley is so awesome already that naming an element after it too would just be rubbing it in everyone else’s face (this was actually before berkelium)

Ozy links me to this very good and balanced article on Monsanto in India. I wasn’t previously aware of the extent of the dishonesty of the attempt to link Indian farmers’ suicides to GM crops.

Sometimes NASA fills me with pride in humanity. Other times, not so much.

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33 Responses to Links For May

  1. Sam Rosen says:

    Damn. Miller’s response was amazing.

  2. Randall Randall says:

    “I kind of want to drag the author to Maine in the middle of winter in a bathing suit, on the grounds that going to California in the middle of winter in a bathing suit would be fine, and US states are just social constructs so they can’t possibly differ in temperature […]”

    So, you believe that Maine is cold in winter because we call it Maine and think of it as a state? If you swapped the names (and every other social construct, say), the place formerly known as southern California would be too cold for a bathing suit? 😉

  3. sam rosen says:

    How are “proving too much” and “reductio ad absurdum” different?

  4. Ben L says:

    Compulsive unproductive nitpick: mice don’t really prefer cheese, it’s what they had access to around humans. Given the choice, they’d prefer grains and fruit. Naturally, a high google result for this is….the daily mail. Of course, this shouldn’t be too surprising, since I doubt there was a lot of cheese for mice before humans…

  5. naath says:

    ” back the memories of my time traveling the Third World” I parsed this wrong on my first go, and was very confused…

    The Daily Mail is a scurrilous rag; doesn’t everyone know this?

    Flame retardants> interesting; although setting your children ON FIRE is also presumably bad for them. So I’m not sure what the logical parent should do (fortunately I’m not a parent).

  6. Doug S. says:

    “This isn’t technically a news article, but I was pretty shocked to learn that only about 55%-60% of people who start a bachelor’s degree program at a four year college finish within 6 years. What are our colleges DOING?”

    Giving people failing grades?

    (I took six years to graduate.)

  7. Fnord says:

    This isn’t technically a news article, but I was pretty shocked to learn that only about 55%-60% of people who start a bachelor’s degree program at a four year college finish within 6 years. What are our colleges DOING?

    Finish AT THAT INSTITUTION. That statistic appears to exclude all transfer students, whether they eventually graduate or not. And, here’s a source that says a third of all students transfer at some point. Now, not all transfer students go on to get a bachelor’s degree, of course (indeed, half of the students who transfer from 4-year institutions transfer to 2-year colleges, not other 4-year institutions). But presumably SOME do, which makes the statistic not quite as bad as it looks.

  8. WhoWhom says:

    “Will Wilkinson speaking for the leftists”

    By the memory of Galton, that counts as decent and thought-provoking?

    “What are our colleges DOING?”

    They’re letting in idiots.

    • Multiheaded says:

      Don’t get so riled up, reactionists. I don’t think it’s possible for him to be speaking for the “leftists”. He’s speaking for the liberals, of course; American press doesn’t publish leftists and what’s called the “left” in American politics is on the right wing of liberalism elsewhere. So, say Noam Chomsky is a leftist. Mark Ames is a leftist. Connor Kilpatrick is a leftist. Major activists like Angela Davis are, I suppose. But there’s absolutely no place for people like them in the real American political discourse. You get someone like Yglesias and that’s it.

      Proof: see the American mainstream coverage of Chavez’s presidency and legacy. Steve fucking Sailer objected to his tarring and feathering, for fuck’s sake, arguing with “libertarians” on Marginal Revolution. It’s like this:

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I’m avoiding the word “liberal” because whenever I use it some Europeans get confused and point out that it means “proponent of capitalism” over there. If you have better terms than “rightist” or “leftist”, lemme know.

        • Multiheaded says:

          “Social democrats?” “Centrists?” “People to the right of socialism?”

        • Alejandro says:

          A better example than Wilkinson of a bona fide leftist (not a left-leaning libertarian but a true out-of-mainstream leftist) taking what I think you would agree is a “decent, thought-provoking position” on the issue, is Freddie deBoer.

        • Multiheaded says:

          (Although – given the overton window of American politics – even the European social-democratic politics of the last century are consistently to the “left” of American liberalism.)

        • Multiheaded says:

          Yep, DeBoer’s okay, although I find Ames much more enjoyable to read. A true gonzo journalist.

        • im says:

          God damn it, we broke the political language. What about ‘progressive’?

          I see ‘neoliberals’ which are apparently the same thing as neoconservatives, and are somewhere between grounded moderates and evil people who love the rich without actually having reactionary or rightist ideas, you have ‘leftists’ who sometimes are just the left wing and soemtimes are the remnants of the Communist old guard, you have ‘the left’ which is humungously broad, libertarians on BOTH sides…

        • Scott Alexander says:

          The problem is that these claims are themselves politically polarized. People on the left claim that there are no real leftists and we only have rightists and moderate-rightists. But people on the right (and you know this as well as I) claim that there are no real rightists and we only have leftists and moderate leftists. To privilege one of these claims over the other is to use biased language to discuss issues, which is something I really really try to avoid.

          And instead of taking both claims at face value and talking about “slightly left of center centrists” vs. “slightly right of center centrists”, it seems easier to just shrink the spectrum and talk about rightists and leftists.

      • BenSix says:

        Matt Taibbi deserves a mention for great radical journalism and being hilarious. Jeremy Scahill has produced some of America’s finest investigative journalism from the left as well.

        • Multiheaded says:

          Generally the whole Exile/d crew – Ames, Taibbi, Dolan, Kilpatrick, Brecher (“The War Nerd”) has been consistently kickass for, damn, a decade and a half now. Shame that Exiled updates so infrequently. Ames runs his own partly-paywalled thing now, and Kilpatrick went on to Jacobin.

          Speaking of Kilpatrick, it was his review of The Reactionary Mind that helped me articulate my vague feeling about the need for explicitly anti-neofeudal/anti-reactionary politics.

          As a commenter said:

          This article is like a stinging line of meth.

      • Multiheaded says:

        I’m not against him. (well, against his politics, obviously, but I don’t think he’s a racial racisty racist.) That’s why I brought him up – as a sane conservative type.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Why did you bring up Sailer? If Chavez is your benchmark for leftism, then the hatred of American liberals for him is evidence that they are not leftists. But what do the opinions of libertarians and conservatives have to do with anything?

        In fact, Sailer’s point is that Americans are ignorant of Venezuela, which seems to undermine the benchmark.

    • Deiseach says:

      If American colleges work anything like Irish ones, they allow a disproportionate amount of first years to start, expecting them to drop out either sometime during the year or after the exams at the end of the year (or stay and repeat them and pay for the privilege of doing so).

      The idea being, they’ve paid the course fees which – if they don’t leave until after a set period, are non-refundable – and the college gets to raise money while reducing the numbers of students who will continue on to second and subsequent years of the degree.

      Though in fairness, some of those ‘take six years to do a basic degree’ types may be like my youngest brother, who enjoyed entirely too much student life and the opportunity for escaping parental supervision making him actually get up and go to class, which meant he did have to repeat exams etc. 🙂

  9. Deiseach says:

    It’s the “Daily Mail”, I’m only surprised they didn’t manage to tie in a conclusion involving property prices and immigration 🙂

    That mouse trading thing sounds odd on several levels. First, if there were fewer buyers than sellers, of course the splits would favour the buyers (that part about the sellers getting less than the €10). Secondly, it’s mice. Lab mice, sure, but anyone who has had a mouse infestation in their house will not be squeamish about dead mice.

    I was perfectly happy to put down poison and clear pathetic little carcases out when they were running all over the upstairs, gnawing on the walls (you could hear the chewing noises late at night), leaving droppings everywhere. Yes, it was sad to hear the little squeaks and chirps, but believe me: I’d jump at the chance for a tenner a time for each dead mouse.

    • MugaSofer says:

      Um … I’ve had mice in my house. Cleared ’em out with those “box” non-lethal traps. Would totally pay to save a mouse’s life regardless of how annoying their wild cousins might have been.

      You monster.

      • Intrism says:

        Remember that box traps, if poorly-attended, can actually cause the mouse to suffer substantially more than the typical mousetrap. Normally, they kill instantly or nearly so; theoretically, a box trap can starve the poor mouse to death.

  10. suntzuanime says:

    That “mice and markets” study sounds like a load of crap. Did they do anything to screen off the possibility that people might value other people getting money? Their control should have been the dictator game, not a straight up cash-for-mouse-death scenario.

  11. Personally, I take great pride in the fact that my species has managed to draw a picture of its genitalia on another planet. I mean, what are we *supposed* to draw on other planets? We are a species that greatly values our genitalia.

    Granted, the picture is much cruder than the pictures we’ve managed to draw on on our own planet while tricking each other into thinking we’re aliens, but drawing a picture on an entirely different planet is *really hard.*


  12. Romeo Stevens says:

    +1 on “they deserve a Nobel”. I feel like there should be parades when this sort of thing happens, a quiet press release seems inappropriately low key.

    I too used to be in the “self-regulation” camp. But I’ve increasingly come to view ridiculously disproportionate punishments as a vital part of a functioning civilization. Generally only governmental type entities are able to get away with doing this.

    • Multiheaded says:

      But I’ve increasingly come to view ridiculously disproportionate punishments as a vital part of a functioning civilization.

      Let me guess, you’ve never in your life suffered a “ridiculously disproportionate punishment” of this kind (whether social, economic or legal), with the Authorities and the Decent People ignoring your perspective and offering no explanation for your behavior other than you being a “deviant”/etc.

      Generally only governmental type entities are able to get away with doing this.

      What the hell are you talking about? Employers are able to get away with disproportionate punishment of employees in proportion to the economic power the former wield over the latter. Many elite social circles would “disproportionately punish” people who express incorrect opinions via social pressure, stigma and exclusion. Parents have enormous and mostly unsupervised power over their children.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        with the Authorities and the Decent People ignoring your perspective and offering no explanation for your behavior other than you being a “deviant”/etc.

        He didn’t say any of that…

    • Multiheaded says:

      Sorry for all the bile, it might come across as unprovoked, I know – but I keep reading… stuff. Stuff about how often the “ridiculously disproportionate punishments” really mostly punish members of non-dominant groups for existing and being visible, and how appropriating the label of “a functioning civilization” is a purely ideological rationalization to justify the billion daily abuses of power that make up the hierarchy of dominance.

      Just one more illustration:

      The author echoes what I just said about society’s power to inflict disproportionate punishment:

      Just consider this a footnote for the entire post, but all of these oppressions would hit a fuckton less if we actually were allowed to have a functional safety net in place. Being disowned by family members wouldn’t matter if you were always guaranteed a roof and a meal. Being discriminated out of a job wouldn’t matter with a guaranteed living wage that made it possible to use the free market to legitimately punish workplaces that discriminated by allowing the discriminated against to form rival companies and bleed off all the non-bigots. Being hated in public wouldn’t matter if the legal protections for minority groups had real enforcement that ensured that no one slipped through the cracks. Which is sort of the real reason that conservatives are so anti-safety-net. If people could be themselves without living in fear for what that might mean to their job prospects, familial support, or ability to survive in the world, then they’d simply do so, forcing everyone to see and discover that minority group members aren’t actually the evil monsters they’ve been led to believe, which would lead to even further social growth away from the archaic social values that conservatives love to cling to. And no, I don’t at all forgive them for casually condemning so many people to misery and death simply because they don’t want to have to grow up like the goddamn adults they pretend to be. And that’d be true even if I wasn’t one of the ones in the rubbish bin.

      Man, this fucking shit really gets me going.

      • naath says:

        I’m sorry but… what has discriminated against minority groups suffering from horribleness got to do with punishing giant multinationals for exploiting the poor and trashing the environment?