Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Minimum Wage, Inflation, and What Rep. Blackburn Apparently Never Knew

Presently, there is a discussion about increasing the federal minimum wage to $10/hour, and (unsurprisingly) there is political talk around this issue. I'm not going to discuss the merits of any side here, except to point out that any or argument made based on the principle, of, "I remember when I used to work for much less money when I was a teenager," is invalid for many of today's US Congress-critters.

And here's why:

Age, Inflation, and Relative Monetary Value of "When I was 18" vs Now:
In the 113th Congress (i.e., the current one):
With these ages, we can use an inflation calculator to determine how much the equivalent pay would have been when these Congress-critters were 18 years old. Below is the list showing the year when the Congress-critter in question was 18 and what the equivalent value of $10 in 2012 was in that year:
  • Average US Senator: 1970, $1.71
  • Youngest US Senator: 1992, $6.20
  • Oldest US Senator: 1942, $0.72
  • Average US Representative: 1978, $2.88
  • Youngest US Representative:  2002, $7.90
  • Oldest US Representative: 1942, $0.72
Therefore, to all those Congress-critters that remember the "good-old-days" when they were hard working teenagers that were making so much less than $10, I have two things to say to you:
  1. Congratulations on having a work ethic when you were younger.
  2. Inflation exists, don't forget about it, or you'll undercut your own argument.
Case Study in Inflation Ignorance:
In fact, the perfect person to refer these points to is Representative Blackburn, who blindly and blithely failed to recognize that she was undercutting her own argument against raising the minimum wage when she made the following statement:
What we’re hearing from moms and from school teachers is that there needs to be a lower entry level, so that you can get 16-, 17-, 18-year-olds into the process. Chuck, I remember my first job, when I was working in a retail store, down there, growing up in Laurel, Mississippi. I was making like $2.15 an hour. And I was taught how to responsibly handle those customer interactions. And I appreciated that opportunity.
Representative Blackburn - for all that she sits on committees that have to deal with the impacts of inflation - completely forgot that she's no young'un any more, and that - as she aged - the value of the dollar that she earned when she was 16-18 years old is now worth far less. Rep. Blackburn is presently 60 years old, and therefore, when she was 16-18 years old (in 1969 - 1971), the value of her $2.15/hour job was $13.20-$12.02/hour if she were paid in 2012-equvalent dollars. In other words, when Rep. Blackburn was a teenager of 16-18 years, she was paid at a value that exceeded the $10/hour rate that she is arguing against.

... and she didn't even recognize this!

Now, if we assume that inflation is real (which it is), and if we assume that the value of $7.25/hour was valid back in 2009, then we should at least presume that it should keep track with that value, and this means pegging the minimum wage to the inflation rate. If we even did that minor action, it would place the current minimum wage at $7.74/hour in 2012 dollars. However, if we look at the nominal value (or the equivalent value between two years) of the US minimum wage over the decades in which minimum wages existed, you can see that it reached as high at $10/hour (in 2009 dollars; $10.67 in 2012 dollars). That was back in 1968, only one year before Rep. Blackburn started working at her rate of $2.15/hour. What's more, the rate that Rep. Blackburn was paid as a teenager was higher than minimum wage, which was $1.60/hour between 1969-1971.

... and she doesn't even recognize this!

Now, if you calculate the 2012 value of the minimum wage rate that existed when Rep. Blackburn was 16-18 years old, you get $9.88-$8.95/hour, which is still higher than the current minimum wage rate of $7.25/hour that she's saying should not be increased!

... and she doesn't even recognize this, either!

Therefore, let's "correct" Rep. Blackburn's statement by recognizing that inflation exists, and that a significant time has passed since she was 16-18 years old:
What we’re hearing from moms and from school teachers is that there needs to be a lower entry level that still ought to pay a decent wage, so that you can get 16-, 17-, 18-year-olds into the process without them thinking that a work ethic is only tied to what one "costs" a company, and that they can easily be let go once they might cost more than the next inexperienced kid. Chuck, I remember my first job, when I was working in a retail store, down there, growing up in Laurel, Mississippi. I was making like $2.15 an hour, which was 55 cents higher than the minimum wage at the time and would be the equivalent of $12-$13 an hour in today's terms. And I was taught - while being paid more than the minimum wage of $1.60 an hour - how to responsibly handle those customer interactions. And I appreciated that opportunity for useful training while being treated like a human being and not a potential cost to the company. In fact, did you know that today's equivalent value of the $1.60 an hour that was minimum wage when I was 16-18 years old would be almost $10 an hour in today's terms?

There now. All fixed. See how the facts completely undermine her argument of "when I was a kid, I wasn't paid the grand sum of $10/hour!" since the fallacy of her point is made clear by the very evidence that she presents as the example of her own hard-work-at-low-pay, her nose-to-the-grindstone-ness, and her pulled-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps attitude. It just shows her (apparent) self-righteousness to be blithely ignorant blather, wrapped in nostalgia for a "simpler time" and tucked into bed with a healthy dose of political ideology of "the rugged individual" that actually never existed. Will Rep. Blackburn's office release a statement, explaining her misstatement of the facts? Don't hold your breath.

Side note: You can also do the same thing with figures that are found in those "can you believe it?!?" e-mails that show how much "simpler" and "cheaper" it was to live back in 1910, 1920, etc. Without a conversion that takes inflation (and hyperinflation) into account, they're next to worthless. (Also, without any recognition of the benefits that have accrued in society and technology since that time, these sites are similarly worthless.) Sites like The Cost of Living, though, make for a better-informed relative comparison with the past.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Getting Rid of Only the Penny vs. All "Cents"

Canada recently stopped issuing pennies, and likely will phase out accepting pennies. Last year, I wrote about why pennies might be a good thing to get rid of in the US, too. Recently, an episode on the BBC World Service made me wonder when all "cent" coins should be gotten rid of. They were asking people what the smallest denomination coin they used to buy something was, and this was immediately after being made aware of the fact that the Zimbabwean 5 cent coin was next to useless and rarely (if ever) encountered, but that the 20 cent could still be used to buy "a bunch of spinach" at the market.

This reminded me of the Hungarian filler. When I moved to Hungary in 1994, there were still fillers used in circulation, but even at that time inflation made them next to useless as a means of transaction. Sure, you might find something that would give change in filler, but you generally had to go well out of Budapest to find a place like that. In my case, I ended up with a small tin filled with tin fillers. (Pun intended.) I remember there being a 50 filler, a 20 filler, and the really occasional 10 filler. (The 2 filler and 5 filler had already been discontinued in 1992, two years before I moved to Budapest, and the 1 filler was never even used after 1939.) What got rid of the filler? The answer is the same as what has effectively done away with the Zimbabwean 5 cent piece and the Canadian penny: inflation.

However, unlike Zimbabwe and Canada, Hungary got rid of the entirety of its decimal coinage. After 1999, the Forint no longer had any decimalized coinage, and the idea of 1/2 Forint - something that was real and actually meant something in the mid-1990s suddenly (in 1999) no longer meant anything at all. This quick trip down memory lane brought me to realize that the same thing happened to Japan after World War II (both times characterized by hyperinflation). I remember my mother showing me a box of old coins from before World War II, complete with sen coins intermixed with yen bills of 500 yen and less.

Good luck finding sen coins today (or even many Japanese who even remember them). And the loss is no longer felt as a tragic one or even an economic one. Indeed, the Japanese may well be considering the value of continuing with 1 yen coins...

Of course, all of this could be done away with if we moved to a completely digitalized currency system. In a completely digital currency system, the somewhat arbitrary nature of being limited to only 100 cents would go away. Why let gas stations get away with always taking 0.9 cents for every gallon they sell? at $X.999? Why let banks pocket the remainder of the interest that has accrued (but remains) below 1 cent? Why let companies keep all the less-than-one-cent portions of salaries? Why allow the government(s) to collect on all the taxes below 1 cent?

Why? Why? Why?

Is it because we don't think of the value of money less than 1 cent to be worth out consideration? If that's true, then why worry about the value of money less than 5 cents or less than 10 cents? After all, almost nothing can be had in much of today's United States at a value of 9 cents or less. And if you're going to make the argument that we should keep the penny, you are effectively also making an argument for giving away all money accrued at values less than that penny. (Or maybe you're just making an argument from emotional, nostalgic, hamburgers-used-to-cost-a-nickel days of the childhoods of people born in the 1940s.)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Why the "Overthow a Tyrannical Regime" Justification Doesn't Hold Water

Over the past months and years, I've been encountering the following premise as to why we have a Second Amendment and why we need a Second Amendment, expressed most recently (and publicly) by the NRA's Wayne LaPierre:
Our Founding Fathers wrote the Second Amendment so Americans would never have to live in tyranny.

For any foreign entity to attempt to encroach on that great freedom is offensive to every American who has ever breathed our free air, or who has ever used a firearm to fend off an evil attacker – whether a criminal breaking into their home, or in defense of their family against a tyrant halfway around the world.

Our Second Amendment is freedom’s most valuable, most cherished, most irreplaceable idea.  History proves it.  When you ignore the right of good people to own firearms to protect their freedom, you become the enablers of future tyrants whose regimes will destroy millions and millions of defenseless lives.
A brief search for "second amendment tyrannical regime" throws up a number of websites that - to a large degree - parrot this premise, what I call the "overthrow of a tyrannical regime" premise. There are many reasons why I find the arguments that use this premise to be disturbing, and one of them is that it's just indefensible on so many fronts, especially Constitutional, historical, and definitional ones. (I'm not even going to cover the completely laughable logic-fail that even a quick assessment of the tactical lopsidedness of civilian armament versus military armament, which the DailyKos did a good job of covering from a historical context as well.)

Not a Valid Equal Protections Defense
The US extends all the protections of the Bill of Rights to all citizens in addition to all residents of and visitors to the nation. A Kyrgyz tourist has the same Bill of Rights protections as a Spanish work visa holder, a Vietnamese holder of a green card, a naturalized Pakistani, and a "native born" US citizen. (And the point that the Bill of Rights extends to everyone in the US, including non-US citizens, ought not to be a controversial position.) As David Cole wrote:
In particular, foreign nationals are generally entitled to the equal protection of the laws, to political freedoms of speech and association, and to due process requirements of fair procedure where their lives, liberty, or property are at stake.
Indeed, Cole points to Founding Father James Madison as to the rationale behind this position that many xenophobic citizens and lawmakers in the past and present (conveniently) fail to fully recognize:
[I]t does not follow, because aliens are not parties to the Constitution, as citizens are parties to it, that whilst they actually conform to it, they have no right to its protection. Aliens are not more parties to the laws, than they are parties to the Constitution; yet it will not be disputed, that as they owe, on one hand, a temporary obedience, they are entitled, in return, to their protection and advantage
In short, if you have to follow the rules of the Constitution, then you should be protected by those rules and enjoy those right, just like every US citizen that has those protections and enjoyments. That's just fair. Indeed, the Founding Fathers only limited the following two things to US citizens:
  1. the right to vote
  2. the right to run for federal office
Nothing else was written into the US Constitution as specific rights and liberties that only US citizens could have.

All of this is important, because you have to recognize that the entirety of the Constitution is effectively a protection for all people who follow the laws of the United States, citizen and non-citizen alike. (You do something illegal, especially a felony, and then your rights become curtailed, and if you're not a citizen, they can get curtailed significantly more than for citizens, since citizens don't get deported or held for deportation.)

What this preamble means, though, is that "Arab-looking" male non-US citizens have the same right to purchase and carry firearms as the average US-citizen gun owner (i.e., a White man). If you find this problematic, then you don't actually believe in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Your position on the gun regulation debate is therefore invalid.

Let's move further, though, and use the logic behind many gun-rights proponents who say that the PURPOSE of the Second Amendment is so that people can overthrow a tyrannical regime. If you believe that this is true, and you believe that the Bill of Rights covers all people in the US, then you must also believe that foreign nationals should be allowed to purchase weapons for the purpose of overthrowing a tyrannical regime (and since no definition is ever really given for what a "tyrannical regime" is, other than a hint that it's what the speaker says it is, we will have to also allow foreign nationals to use their own definitions). If you find this problematic, then you either don't actually believe in the universality of the Second Amendment, or you can start to see the problem of the "logic" used by anti-gun-regulation groups.

In short, you can't both say (A) that the Bill of Rights protects citizen and foreigners alike while they are in the US and (B) foreign nationals cannot take up arms against what they perceive to be a tyrannical regime, but US nationals can. If you believe (A) to be true, you must believe (B) to be true if you do believe in the "overthrow of a tyrannical regime" premise. If you don't believe them both to be true, then there is a fault in either (A) or (B).

Not a Valid Historical Defense
One might argue that a foreign national who tries to overthrow the US government is committing an act of war. Well, but a US citizen who tries to overthrow the US government is committing an act of treason (and possibly an act of war, too). The reason why these would be acts of war and treason is simply because there is no Constitutional protection for taking up arms against the US government, even if you are a US citizen. This ought to be pretty clear when you look at the history surrounding the Civil War and every assassination attempt (whether successful or not). If it were legal to try and overthrow the US government, then the Union's entering into a Civil War would not have happened for the reasons that it did. Furthermore, if it were legal for individual citizens to try to overthrow the US government by getting rid of a tyrant, then that should have been a justifiable line of defense during trials of assassins, would-be assassins, and conspirators. The fact that overthrowing a tyrannical government was never used (let alone used successfully) as a defense for the actions taken to try to topple or overthrow the government should (in a sane world) imply that it's not a valid defense of this line of argumentation.

Furthermore, we can look at the reason why the Second Amendment was written: Shay's Rebellion. It was also first tested in the Whiskey Rebellion. As Pierre Atlas wrote over at IndyStar:
One reason the framers replaced the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution in 1787 was the inability of that older system to aid Massachusetts in putting down Shays' Rebellion -- an armed insurrection by men who believed their government had become tyrannical. Shays' Rebellion was on everyone's minds at the Philadelphia convention, and the Constitution they crafted empowers the national government to suppress any armed resistance to its authority.

A few years after Shays' Rebellion, another group of men used their guns to resist what they believed was a tyrannical government. Only this time the country was operating under the Constitution, not the weaker Articles of Confederation. In 1794, proclaiming that the federal government had no right to tax whiskey, hundreds of armed men in western Pennsylvania went on a rampage, terrorizing local tax inspectors and a U.S. Marshal. President George Washington called up an army of 13,000 men from four states and, leading the force himself on horseback, put down the Whiskey Rebellion.
Indeed, the arguments used for gun ownership at the time of the writing of the Constitution and the subsequent Bill of Rights was not that of overthrowing a tyrannical regime. Pierre Atlas describes the prevailing anti-regulation sentiments of the time:
Here is how those constitutional skeptics understood gun rights in 1787: "That the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and their own state and the United States, or for the purpose of killing game; and no law shall be passed for disarming the people or any of them unless for crimes committed, or real danger of public injury from individuals." Significantly, these original pro-gun activists did not suggest a right to own weaponry in order to defy the government.
In short, there is no historical evidence to point to the rights of gun ownership stemming from a need for the citizens to overthrow a tyrannical regime. Not at the founding. Not at the time of the Whiskey Rebellion. Not at the time of the Civil War. Not at the various times when assassination was attempted.

Not a Valid Definitional Defense
People who use the "overthrow of a tyrannical regime" logic seem to fail to recognize that there appears to be no actual legal definition of how to determine exactly what constitutes a tyrannical regime; one which would be Constitutionally legal to overthrow. Indeed, many people who use this rationale appear to be implying that their definition is the correct one; that they know best, and that if your definition doesn't match with theirs then your definition is wrong, and you're a criminal. This is one of the major problems that comes about when a Constitutional, legislative, regulatory, or judicial definition doesn't exist (or isn't widely promulgated): the public tend make up their own (or adopt the arbitrary definition held by a group). And many in the public believe themselves to be reasonable (and - by extension - their personal definitions are reasonable), which makes positions opposite to theirs unreasonable. Therefore, even while citizen A and citizen B might both agree with the "logic" behind the "overthrow of a tyrannical regime," if they don't agree on whether this government (or any successive government) is sufficiently tyrannical, then each will consider the other to be a criminal for even proposing its overthrow. In short: definitions are important, but we don't have a working definition of "tyrannical regime", which means that the public are making up their own individual definitions.

Part of the reason why such a definition doesn't exist is that it would either need to already be defined by the US government (which is the very body that would not relish defining the terms of its violent-yet-legal overthrow) or be defined after a successful coup d'etat. Since there doesn't exist any definition, then we have to presume that "tyrannical regime" would be defined after a successful coup d'etat (which is usually how coup d'etats work).

Since there is no valid definition of "tyrannical regime", any military action taken against any regime could easily be argued to be criminal, and it wouldn't be surprising that the justice system of that regime would be inclined to agree that the action was criminal and rule accordingly. Therefore, the lack of a definition of "tyrannical regime" makes for a very dangerous (and irresponsible) justification for armed revolt.

However, let's presume that an armed revolt against the government was successful (even though there was no prior definition that outlined how that government actually was tyrannical). After the successful armed revolt, there effectively is no US government and no US Constitution. To the victors go the spoils, and - much like the founding of the country, one gets to re-conceive and re-write the rules. In short, the justifications of the entire US Constitution as they currently stand are null and void, and this also negates the entire "overthrow of a tyrannical regime" premise.

Not a Valid Constitutional Defense
Finally, the "overthrow of a tyrannical regime" premise is not a good Constitutional argument against governmental gun regulation. The Second Amendment actually calls for a well regulated condition for the bearing of arms. Indeed, the premise of not wanting to maintain a large standing army in the new (and heavily indebted) nation of the early 1780s meant that Congress wanted each of the states to maintain well-regulated militias for the purpose of secondment to the US Army, if the US were ever to go to war again. These regulations were executed staring with the 1792 Militia Acts and culminated in the 1903 Militia Act that effectively disbanded the structure of the militias and reformed them as the national guard. The Founding Fathers did want regulation in the ownership and bearing of arms that they wrote the words "well-regulated" directly into the Second Amendment.

Also, let's not forget that the last SCOTUS decision actually said that there could be Constitutional regulations placed on gun ownership. As Justice Scalia stated in a recent interview:
What the opinion Heller said is that it will have to be decided in future cases. What limitations upon the right to bear arms are permissible. Some undoubtedly are, because there were some that were acknowledged at the time. For example, there was a tort called affrighting, which if you carried around a really horrible weapon just to scare people, like a head ax or something, that was I believe a misdemeanor. So yes, there are some limitations that can be imposed. What they are will depend on what the society understood was reasonable limitation.
In short, the presence of government regulation is written into the Second Amendment. Government regulation is Constitutional, even if you might argue about the interpretation of the SCOTUS decision under Heller.

I presented four lines of argumentation that show how the whole "overthrow a tyrannical regime" line of argumentation is just plain false. It's false on so many fronts that it's still amazing to hear people using it. (And knowing why it's just so plainly wrong makes it really annoying that it continues to be used as if it were a real, justifiable, and defensible position.) To summarize the above arguments against the logic of "overthrow a tyrannical regime" as a valid reason to halt any gun regulation:
  1. If you don't relish the idea of foreign nationals being allowed to purchase guns to overthrow what they believe to be a tyrannical regime, then you really shouldn't be swallowing this brand of anti-gun-regulation rhetoric.
  2. If you recognize that the US Civil War and the myriad assassinations and assassination attempts have not been justified upon the "overthrow of a tyrannical regime" logic, then you really shouldn't be swallowing this brand of anti-gun-regulation rhetoric.
  3. If you recognize that there is no valid definition of what is a "tyrannical regime," and that a successful overthrow of the government means that you don't need a definition, which throws the whole premise of the justification out the window, then you really shouldn't be swallowing this brand of anti-gun-regulation rhetoric.
    • Furthermore, since there is no definition, the operational definitions that people use are the ones they make up by themselves (or adopt as a member of a group), which means that there is no consistent social definition, either, which is why you really shouldn't be swallowing this brand of anti-gun-regulation rhetoric.
  4. If you recognize that the Constitution actually stipulates that the bearing of arms is to be well-regulated and that one of the most conservative members of the current SCOTUS openly states that certain regulations on gun ownership are Constitutional, then you really shouldn't be swallowing this brand of anti-gun-regulation rhetoric.
To put it more elegantly (and with more historic and military perspective):
No, the Second Amendment has never guaranteed individuals a right to use their arms to resist the government or its laws. As I learned myself when I enlisted in the Army more than 25 years ago, all personnel joining the Armed Forces swear to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." Domestic enemies are those who would attempt to overthrow, or resist with violence, the government of the United States.

    Friday, February 15, 2013

    Regarding the Names of Countries: Who Gets to Decide what they're Called in English?

    Recently, Andrew Sullivan at the Dish wrote briefly about President Obama's use of Rangoon and Burma instead of Yangon and Myanmar during the State of the Union:
    10.02 pm. A personal note of thanks for using the words Rangoon and Burma. Then the Arab Spring: it will be messy, we cannot control events, but we should back freedom. Pretty much: stay out of the way. A minor note on Israel: emphasizing security and a “just peace.”
    This apparently occasioned people to write in and offer their two cents about who gets to decide what a country - and its various cities, presumably - are called, and Sullivan posted one response:
    I also used to make a big deal about using the terms ”Rangoon” and “Burma”.  That was before I actually had been there. On each visit, I found that everybody in Myanmar says they live in Myanmar and that their capital is Yangon. Foreigners don’t get to decide that for them; they declare it stoutly, even if those changes were made by their despicable military regime.  We can all mourn the lost years in Myanmar, but we don’t need to fixate on the linguistics of their own place names. Several people, certainly not military sympathizers in any way, will point out that Myanmar is the country’s original name, that the Brits changed it to Burma to reflect the overweening power of the majority Bamar ethnic group in civic life. ... I think it’s fine to call it Burma or Myanmar, and certainly folks there wouldn’t bother to correct you.  I just think it’s time to stop being smug about using the term Burma to indicate a political viewpoint that in Myanmar itself is pretty irrelevant.
    I read this reply and I was a little bit torn between sentiments of fairness and recognition of the reader's bloody obvious double-standard. The latter won out as the list of countries (and cities) that - in English - carry labels that were totally standardized as foreign constructs grew and blossomed, and ballooned. Therefore, even while I do agree with the spirit of what the reader states, I'll bite when he starts referring to Zhōngguó, Nihon or Nippon, Hanguk or Joseon, etc., instead of "China," "Japan," and "Korea". There are many countries that carry with them Anglicized versions of (often) other European names for countries (like "China," "Korea," and "Japan"). (Sullivan also apparently recognized the reader's double-standard, writing, "I’ll agree when my reader is fine visiting München and Москва with me. Till then I’ll call it Burma – which is an anglicized version of what Brits heard when they listened to the locals.")

    If the responder doesn't like whether "foreigners don’t get to decide [what to call their country and capital city] for them", then the responder will have to make a lot of changes, even throughout England's continental neighbors. On a short list, you've got to stop referring to Deutchland as Germany, learn how to pronounce Österreich instead of Austria (and while we're at it, why are we going to still call it the foreign name of "Australia", or does hundreds of years of British colonial rule dissolve the whole "foreigners don't get to decide it for them" requirement?), learn to pronounce France as [fʁɑ̃s] and not /ˈfræns/, recognize that the countries of northern Central Europe are actually supposed to be called Polska, Slovensko, Česká republika, and Magyarország (U+2190.svg and learn how to pronounce those properly, too, btw) instead of the foreigner-decided "Poland," "Slovakia," "the Czech Republic," and "Hungary."

    And what are we going to do when referring to countries and cities throughout Africa, where the names of many current countries and cities were so obviously a result of being named by foreigners, just as their borders were written by foreigners? Liberia? What's that except a name that was bestowed by foreigners. Ivory Coast? That's definitely NOT a name that has a single shred of a link to pre-colonial cultural, linguistic, or national heritage, but is derived from an objectified label of the commodity that was traded from that area. Nigeria? That country's name was coined by the future wife of the colonial administrator after the river that was also named by foreigners. One could easily go on and on and on.

    So, in sum, go ahead and try to be equitable in the rights of people to determine the name of their country, but if you're going to insist that we do it for the citizens of Myanmar who "say they live in Myanmar and that their capital is Yangon," but also, " wouldn’t bother to correct you [if you refer to them as 'Burma' and 'Rangoon']", then you will have to do the same thing for all the countries and all the cities for all those people who - when speaking within their own language and with their own countrymen - refer to their country and cities by different names than what English speakers would use (and who also wouldn't likely correct an English speaker for using the English name). In other words, try - as an example - to have a conversation with people about how - for example - "The foreign policy decisions of Deutchland will have ramifications in newer EU countries, especially Magyarország and Polska, let alone the more-central countries of Elláda and España" and see how many of your English-speaking conversation partners think you're being insightful and liberating instead of "smug about using the [foreign name of a country] to indicate a political viewpoint that in [that country] is pretty irrelevant."

    Finally, would the responder allow for transliteration of foreign names that were written in Latin script? (I'm assuming that the reader would allow for transliteration of foreign names written in non-Latin script, since I'm assuming that the reader is somewhat sensible to what would be obvious flaws in their argumentation.) If so, then would we now have to spell "Deutchland" as "Doychlahnd"; "France" and "Frahns"; "Magyarország" as "Mahjahrohrsagg"; etc., which would then impose a foreign decision upon the spelling of their name just as much as the imposition of transliterating into Latin script from non-Latin script imposes a foreign decision upon the spelling of the names of so many other countries.

    Thursday, February 14, 2013

    Nerdy Valentine's Day Videos

    Just a little techy-geeky video by one of the founders of OKCupid on this Valentine's Day:

    And the Science of Love:

    And methods to determine if that person you're going to dinner with tonight is a psychopath:

    And for those budding writers out there, 10 tips to writing fantastic sex:

    And now that you've had a good dose of the mathematics of matchmaking and the physiology of love, here's a remake of Willie Nelson's Valentine that I really like:

    Monday, February 11, 2013

    Sorry Sen. Casperson, but Humans DO Cause Losses to Biological Diversity

    Last week a number of Michigan senators decided that they wanted to severely limit the ability of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to set aside lands for the purposes of preservation and restoration. The Herping Michigan Blog summarizes Michigan Senate Bill 78:

    The bill would amend several parts of the Natural Resources and Environmental
    Protection Act to do the following:

    • Prohibit the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Natural Resources Commission from promulgating or enforcing a rule or an order that designates or classifies an area of land specifically for the purpose of achieving or maintaining biological diversity. 
    • Delete the conservation of biological diversity from the DNR's duties regarding forest management, and require the Department to balance its management activities with economic values. 
    • Eliminate a requirement that the DNR manage forests in a manner that promotes restoration.
    • Provide that a State department or agency would not have to designate or classify an area of land specifically for the purpose of achieving or maintaining biological diversity.
    • Eliminate the restoration of natural biological diversity from the definition of "conservation."
    • Eliminate a reference to "unusual flora and fauna" in the definition of "natural area."
    • Delete a legislative finding that most losses of biological diversity are the result of human activity.

    Perhaps Senator Casperson should watch the following video, so as to understand what's wrong with the bill's suppositions (especially the supposition that humans don't cause losses of biological diversity):

    Note to Senator Casperson: just writing a bill that denies reality does not change reality; only the official recognition of what is real, which actually creates perverse actions and outcomes that often run counter to the very point of the public good that bills like this one lead to. In this case, the bill is ostensibly for preserving the ability for hunters to hunt and loggers to log. However, without lands that operate as functioning habitat for deer (and all the things that help deer thrive, including predators), you won't have robust and resilient deer herds, and the state will have to pay for stocking forests with farm-raised deer so that hunters will have something to hunt. Similarly, without a functioning habitat for trees, the state will have to pay large costs for fertilization and pest management so that monoculture forest plantations are productive enough for a contractor to come in and cut down the trees. (And I'm not even going to consider the impacts of clear-cutting on soil quality, changes in local deer populations, and the knock-on impact to hunters - one of the groups this bill is ostensibly written to help.)

    The fact that Senator Casperson also appears to be a believer in the Agenda 21 conspiracy also makes me wonder whether he actually understands that (A) the UN is not going to swoop in and take away private property rights because of biodiversity (after all, the UN can't be both an incompetent bureaucracy and a highly organized world-wide government hell-bent on using military tactics to take away American citizens' private property), (B) that conservation of natural resources OUGHT to be a conservative principle, (C) that all systems (ecological, social, economic, etc.) are connected, and if you change things in one area, you'll have knock-on effects on another.

    Tuesday, February 05, 2013

    Complaint Choirs: Who Says you Can't Complain in an Upbeat Manner?

    In a recent jaunt through YouTube, I came across the Tokyo Complaint Choir:

    Tokyo complaint choir

    And from there to so many more:

    Birmingham, England

    Helsinki, Finland

    Hamburg, Germany

    St. Petersburg, Russia

    Budapest, Hungary

    Chicago, USA


    Hong Kong

    Florence, Italy

    Turns out that this is really an organized thing, complete with a website and a Wikipedia entry:
    Complaints Choir is a community art project that invites people to sing about their complaints in a choir together with fellow complainers. The first Complaints Choir was organized in Birmingham (UK) in 2005, followed by the Complaints Choirs of Helsinki, Hamburg and St. Petersburg in 2006. The project was initiated by artists Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen. A video installation consisting of the documentation of the public performances of the four choirs were shown at Kiasma (Helsinki, Finland), S.M.A.K. (Ghent, Belgium) and Museum Fridericianium Kassel (Germany) among other venues. When the video clips of the choirs were distributed through online magazines and video sharing websites, the idea spread quickly to many other countries. To date additional Complaints Choirs have been organized in Bodø (Norway), Poikkilaakso primary school (Helsinki, Finland), Budapest (Hungary), Chicago (Illinois, United States), Juneau (Alaska), Gabriola Island (Canada), Melbourne (Australia), Jerusalem (Israel), Singapore, Breslau (Poland), Hong Kong, Philadelphia, Enschede in The Netherlands (as part of its international Grenswerk art festival) in the Netherlands and Tokyo (Japan).
    I guess the shitty world economy has exacerbated the desire to kvetch, but to do it in style. After all, anyone can bellyache, squawk, and whine all they want. However, melodious complaining makes it all the more fun to actually listen to.

    A YouTube search for "Complaint Choir" also pulls up a lot of other places. Interestingly, I don't find any complaint choir entries for France, or in Latin America. Hrm. Maybe I'm just not looking hard enough.

    Monday, February 04, 2013

    "We Are the World": A Song the Blast from the Past

    I was living in Japan. I was in third grade. This song was literally E.V.E.R.Y.W.H.E.R.E. We sang it in choir. I sang it on my way home. We saw the video on TV alongside those heartwrenching photos of famine and death that were coming out of Africa that year. It was the massive, worldwide hit, We Are the World that written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and gathered and directed by Quincy Jones.

    What I find amazing about this video, watching it through the eyes of an adult, is that this is such a great array of popular vocal talent from that time, but they are all singing together. True, there are solos, and a lot of the assembled singers get to belt out a phrase or two, but much of the song - and of the video - shows these super-A-list singers standing together as a chorus; melding their voices together.

    And that I now find so amazing.

    After 25 years, in 2010, there was a re-make of the song:

    in addition to a Spanish version - Somos El Mundo - to raise funds for rebuilding after the Haiti earthquake.

    Woah. To me, they are still powerful songs, and (hopefully) they remain powerful political songs.

    Friday, February 01, 2013

    Response to Soc. Images. Re: Are Conservatives Happier than Liberals?

    Yes, it's again with Soc. Images. This time, though, it's on the post entitled, "Are Conservatives Happier than Liberals?" Let's just gloss over the inherent difficulties in defining what happiness actually is, let alone measuring it in any meaningful manner. Let's just assume that there is some sort of objective metric that can be pulled together, like in this post:
    In the New York Times, Arthur Brooks argues that conservatives are happier than liberals.

    Brooks starts with a reference to Barack Obama’s remark four years ago about “bitter” blue-collar Whites who “cling to guns or religion.” Misleading, says Brooks. So is a large body of research showing conservatives as “authoritarian, dogmatic, intolerant of ambiguity, fearful of threat and loss, low in self-esteem and uncomfortable with complex modes of thinking.”

    Despite that research, it’s conservatives, not liberals, who identify themselves as happy. And, Brooks adds, the farther right you go on the political spectrum, the more happy campers you find.


    Sure enough, by about 10 percentage points, more conservatives identify themselves as “very happy” than do liberals. The difference is even higher among the extreme conservatives. As Brooks says, “none, it seems, are happier than the Tea Partiers, many of whom cling to guns and faith with great tenacity.”


    Maybe conservatives were happy because until recently, they didn’t have much to be bitter about. The US was their country, and they knew it. Then Obama was elected, and ever since November 2008 conservatives have kept talking about “taking back our country.” (See my “Repo Men” post from 2 1/2 years ago.)

    What if we look at the data from the Obama years?

    Maybe that bitter Tea Party image isn’t such a distortion. ...

    For all I know, Brooks’s general conclusion may be correct, but the recent data do at least raise some questions and suggest that the political context is itself a relevant variable.
    I looked at the article and thought, hmmm... I see something like a cross-correlation going on here, based on the political context, much like the author is indicating when he writes, "Maybe conservatives were happy because until recently, they didn’t have much to be bitter about. The US was their country, and they knew it." After doing a little recollection of recent presidential political history, I wrote a confirmatory comment:

    I feel that this sort of study is potentially missing the massive social correlation of prevailing political climate. It's not surprising that conservatives have felt happy during the period of 1972-2008, since most years during that time were under conservative political climates. For example, if you look at the presidencies from 1972-2008, you'll notice that 25 of the 37 years (67.6% of those years) were under a conservative president:

    Nixon (1969-1974; 3 years if counting from 1972; conservative)
    Ford (1974-1976; 2 years; conservative)
    Carter (1977-1980; 4 years; not conservative)
    Reagan (1981-1988; 8 years; conservative)
    Bush (1989-1992; 4 years; conservative)
    Clinton (1993-2000; 8 years; not conservative)
    Bush (2001-2008; 8 years; conservative)

    Therefore, if one assumes (and it's an assumption, but I think it's rather valid) that non-conservatives feel "happier" under non-conservative government and conservatives feel "happier" under conservative government, then it's a valid argument that you're not measuring the same sort of environment. Indeed, if you look at the 2009-2010 graph, you can see what appears to be evidence that (partially) supports my assumption: conservatives are less "happy" under this non-conservative government (non-conservatives do not appear to be any more or less happy).

    I suspect that this isn't so much a measurement of "conservatives are happy in general" but more a measurement of "conservatives were happier under conservative political climates," which shouldn't be too surprising.
    It all reminds me of a (relatively) recent XKCD comic: