Monthly Archives: February 2014

‘Correlation does not equal causation’ and other rules of logic

Stacy McCain has been hitting it out of the park for the last few weeks with stories about Kaitlyn Hunt, Miriam Weeks (the Duke p-rn star), and ‘radfem’ foibles.  But he’s swinging at balls that aren’t going over the plate in his glee to blame women’s liberation for the decline in American wages:

In the past half-century, the “family wage” system has broken down even as divorce has become widespread and more than 40 percent of children are now born to unmarried women. Are these unrelated phenomena?

Let’s talk about the big reasons why a “family wage” system (defined by McCain as a man’s salary being the sole source of income for his family) has broken down.  First up: illegal immigration and legal immigration from third-world countries.  Ann Coulter’s most recent column explains this is beautiful, succinct detail.  Second, the flow of easy money into the housing market has resulted in skyrocketing housing prices – things that few families can afford without two incomes. Third: the easy flow of federal money into education, which makes it harder for kids to get a cheap degree or get a decent job with a high school diploma. Fourth: the federal and state interference with the health-care market, which has driven up the cost of health care. Fifth: ‘environmentalism,’ which chases good jobs overseas and causes the price of energy to increase.

While these things have gone on longer than they otherwise would have because some families have two wage-earners, the underlying problem isn’t uppity women: it’s insane federal policy that makes it too darn expensive to get out of bed in the morning.  Every woman in the country could quit her job tomorrow, get married, and stay at home with the kids, and we would still have massive economic problems.

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State Universities: an expensive, but known, way to attend college

WBUR has an article about how the best poor students aren’t applying to top-notch colleges: they see the exorbitant sticker prices and then decide to apply to state schools.  They aren’t aware that the best schools usually give out very generous financial aid – so generous, in fact, that they are often less expensive than state universities.  For top students of limited means, state schools are often the most expensive way to attend university.

Let’s do the math:

UMass Amherst has merit aid awards for top students; unfortunately, those awards only cover the tuition.  Tuition is $857 per semester.  Room, board, books, and fees are another $21,500 per year.  It costs a kid at least $85,000 to get a UMass Amherst diploma, even if that student is a valedictorian.

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The unremarkable statement of the MA GOP

The Massachusetts GOP platform committee voted on its platform last night.  The platform does not address gay marriage, but states that traditional marriage is good for society.

Alleged conservatives are up in arms and claim that this will alienate potential supporters, drive away the independents, and cause the conservative movement (which is on the “wrong side of history”) to go down in flames.  Now, I’m all for data, so let’s examine the data on the effects of the decline of traditional marriage:

  • Almost all of the increase in child poverty since 1970 can be attributed to the rise of single-parent, unwed households.
  • Kids whose parents were never married when they were born are five times as likely to wind up in jail as those who were born to married parents.  (The latter category even includes kids of divorced parents and widows and widowers.)  Approximately 70% of inmates in prison are the product of unwed households, compared to 15% of the same-age general population.
  • Unwed parenthood is the equivalent of losing four or five years of education, such that a single mom with a bachelor’s or master’s degree is about equal to a married high school graduate in terms of outcomes for their kids.
  • Kids whose parents never married are six times as likely to live in poverty.  If our out-of-wedlock childbirth rate were the same as it was in the 1950s, the federal government would save $100 billion per year in direct entitlement spending.
  • Kids born to unmarried parents are more likely to drop out of high school, drop out of college if they start college, and have kids out of wedlock. Yay for cycles of poverty!
  • That $100 billion figure does not include indirect costs, such as  increased crime and costs of imprisoning people (see bullet point #2), the costs of *not* having married families buy houses and build wealth, and the costs of having kids who drop out of high school, etc.

How can a libertarian or a fiscal conservative not support traditional marriage?  Leaving aside the issue of gay marriage, if you care about the track that our country is on, you would want kids to be born to married parents.  There is simply no way to balance a budget in a society that has a large percentage of children born out of wedlock.

In a caring, just society in which we do not punish kids for their parents’ mistakes, we can either choose to go broke paying for those bad decisions or encourage adults to make good decisions.

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Misplaced Priorities

Professor Glenn Reynolds writes that a proposed scheme by the DHS track license plates across America has been scrapped. (Read the whole thing.)

First, such schemes are wrong as they invert the general order of criminal law: normally, if a crime has been committed, the government will look for a perpetrator and then develop a case.  Tracking schemes start with the assumption that we are all potential perpetrators, then look for an appropriate crime to charge us with.

Second, this is a gross misallocation of our resources.  The government claims that it cannot possibly track twelve million illegal aliens, develop a coherent scheme for voter identity verification that doesn’t infringe on voting rights, or regulate administrative agencies.  Yet, it is able to develop a system to track every single one of our license plates as we, law-abiding citizens, go about our business of living. As one Insty commenter astutely noted, our resources are being used against us.

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Tufts 1+4 Plan: Gap Years!

As those who know me “in real life” know, I’m a big fan of gap years – after all, I did drop out of law school, move across the country, and take up surfing.  So I’m happy to hear that Tufts will be doing a fully-funded gap year programme for incoming freshmen. (Story here.) Through the 1+4 initiative, Jumbos will be able to do community service at home or abroad, then return to campus with hopefully more focus and energy:

While the program is expected to ramp up over time, the target is to have 50 students participate in the first year. The goal is to place four to six students at each site to create satellite Tufts communities that will support them and foster their development as civic leaders. Each cadre of students will have an academic advisor who will sustain their connections to Tufts and encourage students to consider how the bridge year will shape their education and career aspirations. The hope is that the 1+4 experience will equip the students to be campus leaders when they matriculate at Tufts.

I’m a fan of almost all of this – the fact that even working-class kids will have access to this, the way that students from all majors and disciplines can participate, the way in which learning takes place outside of the classroom – but find myself mildly irked by the “leadership” component.

We’re talking about teenagers here. While it’s good for them to do the young-person version of leadership (leading clubs, teams, etc.), we shouldn’t elevate “leadership” in teenagers to such a status symbol.  Heaven knows, the world is full of bad leaders, leaders with no ideas, leaders who alienate their followers, and leaders who have never done any of the grunt work things that their employees/underlings have done. Perhaps we ought to be teaching young adults to do basic tasks well, rather than groom them to be “leaders” simply because they are smart and good at taking tests.

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A movie star returns home

A few months ago, the crew at Atlas Shrugged III put out a call for props.  My W&L walking stick (a beautiful piece of carved rosewood with a brass topper) was accepted as a prop.  I shipped it out to Hollywood in January.

Today, I went back to UPS to arrange for a return pick-up and shipment back to me.  The man behind the counter asked for the contents of the container.  “A walking stick,” I replied.  He was a bit confused (and saw the Toluca Lake address), so I explained that it would be in a movie; the deal was that I had to pay to have it shipped.

UPS Guy: With all the money that these billionaires in Hollywood have…. They should have paid you for it.

Me: It’s not in one of the big studios.  A guy out of Medway – John something – is the CEO of Cybex and is paying out of his own pocket to have this produced.

UPS Guy: NO WAY! My dad works at Cybex!  He was telling me just the other day that the head man over there was making a movie – paying to have it done.

Me: Yes! That’s the one.

UPS Guy: Cybex.  They make great equipment. I go over to their gym in Medway; since my dad works there, his family, like his kids, get in for free.  Wow, I can’t believe this.  He told me about this just the other day.  I’m going to call him right now to tell him.

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“I believe in a girl being fitted to earn her own living whether she ever has to or not” – Anne of Green Gables

The wisdom of nineteenth-century feminists has been lost on young women.  In the latest round of news articles about women selling their bodies to pay for their educations, a young Duke woman with the nom de plume “Lauren” describes her life as a star of the adult films. (Hat tip.)

Once upon a time, parents sent their daughters off to school so that they could support themselves if the need arose. (Of course, many women were sent to ‘finishing school’ of sorts, but presumably, a widow armed with a B.A. was better off than an uneducated widow.)  We have now gotten to the point at which the best way to ensure that your daughter has to sell her body for money is to give her an advanced education at a fancy school.

Contemplate that for a while.

Discussions about the ‘autonomy’ of p-rn stars or the ‘culture’ of elite universities fail to address the underlying issue: the cost of college is so absurdly high that many brilliant women get into p-rnography, formerly a profession of last resort for desperate women with no skills, in order to pay their bills. Financial aid doesn’t obviate the problem: low-interest loans have to be paid back, and there is often a substantial difference between what a college thinks a family can pay and what that family can pay.  When the sticker price of college is lower, these issues matter less.

So congratulations are owed to elite universities, the federal government, and well-meaning public intellectuals: you’ve turned a system that kept women from selling their bodies to one that forces women to sell their bodies, then labeled it “feminism” and “career advancement.” That’s one impressive con job.

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High-Achiever ‘school culture’ isn’t the only problem

In the past few months, four teenagers in Newton, Massachusetts, have committed suicide.  WBUR has a discussion about whether the school’s culture contributes to the stress that leads kids to think that they are failures and asked readers for their opinions: Readers, do you agree that the Newton school culture may be toxic, and more must be done to address that? If so, what?

This blog post is adapted from my comments.

*Get rid of the laundry list of extracurricular activities. If a college doesn’t want to take you because you are only a varsity athlete, then don’t go there. Pick one activity per season/semester and excel at it.

*Point out to students that 90% of kids aren’t going to be in the top 10%, but that most all of them will lead very happy lives. Then act like you believe it by helping your kid to find colleges that are interesting, challenging, and don’t require you to be a superstar.

*Don’t even joke about things like “Where did that A- come from? Why not an A?” It can sound like a joke, but it also sounds like passive-aggressive kvetching about human flaws in your kid.

*Tell your kids that the academic road is long, and it’s far more important to do well in college than to be an outstanding high school student.

*Consider gap years.  I loved my gap year in law school and was pleasantly surprised to learn that my professors thought highly of me for taking it. (“I wish I had had the balls to do that,” was the general consensus around the faculty lounge.)

*Have your kid spend time with people who aren’t in the pressure cooker.  The problem with high school and college is that everyone who isn’t a teacher is your age, under the same stresses you are, trying to do the same things you’re doing, and at the same level of maturity (or lack thereof).  Spending time with adults who aren’t parents and teachers – happy, well-adjusted adults who had their scrapes in their youth – provides invaluable perspective.

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Short Answer: Yes

The New York Post discusses the economics of sex and asks if the price has gotten too cheap.  What it doesn’t really discuss is how sex has always been very expensive for young women, and not just in the ways of a ruined reputation.  Women are the only ones who get pregnant.  (Even if you are rabidly pro-choice and have access to free abortion, it’s still surgery. Surgery, and your partner isn’t undergoing the knife.)  STDs are more harmful to a woman’s fertility than to a man’s.  Speaking of fertility, women have a much shorter window of fertility than do men, leaving us with a shorter time in which to find someone, marry, and have kids.

In economic terms, it would be like someone doing a very dangerous job (e.g. welding, coal mining, firefighting) without the hire pay or increased benefits typically associated with such a job, or making a risky investment for the same ROI that one could get on a low-risk investment.

Generally, those who take higher risks are compensated for those risks, or they choose to not engage in the activity at all.  Only the very foolish do risky things for the same compensation as unrisky things.

Young women of the world, you’re not nearly as “empowered” as you think you are.

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A (former) scientist’s take on Anthropogenic Global Warming

This is a general rant, inspired by a recent post by Instapundit and a recent article about Mark Steyn’s legal woes.  In the latter, James Delingpole writes,

Einstein’s rigour and integrity inspired Karl Popper to form his influential theories on falsification: that a scientific theory is only useful if it contains the key to its own destruction. This, critics argue, is the fundamental flaw with anthropogenic global warming theory: it has been couched in such a way as to be unfalsifiable; it is being kept alive not by science and free enquiry, but by the kind of appeals to authority we see exemplified by Mann’s response to Steyn’s criticisms.

It cannot be overstated how anti-science the “science” behind global warming is: I would say that it’s the creationism of the Left, but it’s less falsifiable than is creationism.  Moreover, the former R&D engineer in me cannot help but add another criteria to actual science: it pass the laugh test.

Back in the day, I made nanomaterial samples that were approximately the size of your thumb.   We quickly figured out that there were a number of variables that we hadn’t even considered and spent several years working out the kinks.  Now these “climate change scientists” (I’m snickering just saying that) are telling us that they have so accurately quantified every single variable that affects climate on Earth – Earth, which is 25,000 miles around the Equator, so that if you started driving on it today at 60 mph you wouldn’t be back to your starting point for almost a month – that they can determine the exact temperature change which will result from a small increase in CO2 emissions?  Getting back to the nanomaterials, I don’t think that “climate scientists” even understand a lot of the variables that go into climate, let alone are able to quantify them to such a perfect extent.

Give me a [expletive] break.  That’s comical.  And it’s the type of thing that you could only believe if you’ve never done any actual science in your entire life.  Hello, signal-to-noise ratio.

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