Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Nanny Plutocracy

So Bloomberg's ban on 16 oz or greater sugary drinks in certain location and in specific kinds of containers passed. It is, we are assured, an attempt to deal with the obesity crisis in these United States. It seems like an attempt to stop people smoking by limiting the pack size to 10 cigarettes, which is to say silly, a waste of time, and generally a misuse of the state legitimate regulatory function.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Matt Yglesias Still Dumb

Re the Chicago strike he writes that
[i]f you think that Chicago's teachers deserve the right to form an association to advocate, lobby, and bargain on behalf of the interests of its members (and why shouldn't they?) then you have to think that they deserve the right to advocate for ideas that may not be in the public interest
Without a rough definition of "public interest" the claim that if I support public unions then I must support advocating anti-public interest ideas is devoid of content.

Indeed, given that teachers have a set of concrete demands, both in this case and in general, it would be helpful in Yglesias offered some examples of anti-public interest advocacy or policies. Given that his example drawn from private sector unions is the increased cost associated with increased wages, he seems, although given his dunderheadedness it is hard to know, to mean that increased wages mean increased taxes.

The problem here, of course, is that only neoliberals and libertarians fully support the notion that providing adequate funding for public services is anti-public good.  Paying teachers a decent wage, protecting them from the  arbitrary authority of administrators in thrall to the latest educ-scam, and the like are, actually, policies that promote the public good. Smaller classrooms and more teachers make for better schools. Limiting the power of the administration or rabid maniacs riding various political, religions, or other hobbyhorses to dictate curriculum or tenure and promotion decision is another public good. And so on.

People babble on about rubber rooms and lazy teachers but the fact of the matter is that teaching is a highly competitive profession and thee most teachers care about students and want their schools to continue to improve. Assuming that they and their unions want to advocate for policies that decrease the public good is one way to assure that the best and the brightest of this and any future generation will seek to join a profession, like banking, investing, or punditry, where failure is not an option and even the dimmest  of bulbs is free to fail upwards.

Pay Attention to the Details

 Over to The New Yorker there is long and well done evisceration of evolutionary psychology. It has in it, however a howler of an interpretive error. Gottlieb offers a little anecdote from Darwin's reception:
The idea of natural selection itself began as a just-so story, more than two millennia before Darwin. Darwin belatedly learned this when, a few years after the publication of “On the Origin of Species,” in 1859, a town clerk in Surrey sent him some lines of Aristotle, reporting an apparently crazy tale from Empedocles. According to Empedocles, most of the parts of animals had originally been thrown together at random: “Here sprang up many faces without necks, arms wandered without shoulders . . . and eyes strayed alone, in need of foreheads.” Yet whenever a set of parts turned out to be useful the creatures that were lucky enough to have them “survived, being organised spontaneously in a fitting way, whereas those which grew otherwise perished.” In later editions of “Origin,” Darwin added a footnote about the tale, remarking, “We here see the principle of natural selection shadowed forth.”
The problem here is obvious. Natural selection and Empedocles' just so story have nothing whatsoever to do with one another. Darwin hadn't heard or read and was not working in that intellectual tradition. He was, rather, engaged in a  modern scientific endeavor in which the facts mattered. Take, as an example, the peacocks tail or sexual selection. As Gotlieb points out Darwin, like all of us, was a prisoner of his culture. Nonetheless, he recognized that females had enormous influence on evolution even though it violated his cultural assumptions about women's inferiority.
In addition, Lamarcks' theory of acquired characteristics, which is a nearly perfect example of just soing, was one of Darwin's targets as were all the then current just so stories about speciation.  Darwin, for all his faults and warts, was most emphatically not just soing and, indeed, one reason why the Darwinian solution to evolution, natural selection plus descent with modification, was and is so important is that it provides both a wealth of evidence against just so but also a nearly-perfect example of how the application of scientific method to a knotty problem can resolve the problem and limit the distortion of cultural assumptions.

Who is the Real Crook?

In a review of Hamilton's book on why he doped the NYTimes reviewer makes a key point:
Rightly, Mr. Hamilton notes in “The Secret Race” that punishment has focused far too much on cyclists while minimizing the role of team owners, sponsors, race organizers and cycling’s bureaucracy. Yet for someone who repeatedly preaches the value of speaking the truth, Mr. Hamilton lets himself off lightly.
Unfortunately this comes in the third to last paragraph. And the conclusion, Hamilton didn't either have to dope, undermines the argument that systemic doping in a profitable business owes more to the structures created by the sports owners then to the workers yet some how or another the workers are the guiltier party.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Unequal Forces

From The New Yorker comes this image of one or another of the recent conventions:

Seems about right.