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28 June 2011 @ 11:23 am
As a disclaimer, I am not terribly familiar with the Green Lantern comic books.

A Bazillion SpoilersCollapse )
20 June 2011 @ 05:31 pm
 This article raises some very real, very important problems developing in certain parts of the world (in particular in India and China), where parents are increasingly aborting female fetuses in favor of male.  However, it then concludes that the only solution is restricting abortion.

Regardless of one's opinion on abortion, the evidenced described in the article itself does not support this claim.  The author cites several periods in history (prior to the advent of modern medical abortions) when skewed sex ratios were achieved; at the time, infanticide of female babies was the cause, a practice which would be by no means prevented by the restriction of abortion.  Furthermore, legal or illegal, parents wishing to control the sex of their children will still have access to abortions (albeit less safe options if abortion is restricted).

There are only two options to significantly alter the skewed birth ratio.  In the short term, the only action with a significant impact would be to restrict ultrasounds (though that too has problems and would likely not be terribly effective).  In the long term, the actual solution is a large scale public health campaign to change cultural attitudes about gender preference.

In summary, this is yet another article discussing an important topic which then veers off into a (likely politically motivated) illogical and irrational conclusion.
09 May 2011 @ 05:23 pm
While the current American education system is certainly not optimal, advocates of a wholly free market solution ignore fundamental difficulties inherent to such a system. In particular, Dr. Donald Boudreaux's recent article comparing supermarkets and public schools is unfortunately short-sighted and misses several of the crucial difficulties which beset education reform. To that end, consider:

If Education Were Like Groceries

What if education were distributed on the free market, and families below the federal poverty level received "education stamps" to pay for schooling?

Suppose that education were provided solely by private institutions which, aside from federal regulations concerning quality, were left to operate without government interference. To make the analogy to supermarkets even more complete, let us suppose that families near or beneath the federal poverty level were given a monthly allowance of "education stamps", usable at participating schools to help pay that family's education expenditures.

The first obvious difficulty is that a month's supply of "education" will general cost more to produce than a month's supply of food. In the modern era, the majority of food production can be automated or performed by unskilled workers, whereas, in order to be at all worthwhile, education must by necessity be provided by skilled, educated teachers. Fortunately, this problem can in principle be resolved by increasing the value of "education stamp" distribution in proportion to the cost difference between food and education.

The second difficulty is that, while education is necessary for a modern, functional democracy, it, unlike food, is not necessary to sustain life. Thus, while those on the bottom of the income spectrum must spend some of their limited resources on food or die, expenditures for education can, and will, be neglected in favor of food, housing, and healthcare expenditures. This problem could be avoided by mandating the purchase of education by all families, though such a solution would to an extent distort the free market advocated by Dr. Boudreaux and be subject to the same criticisms inherent to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.

Third, the modified free market for education discussed above would face similar difficulties to that of food supply, magnified by the necessity to employ highly skilled producers in order to produce a high quality product. Contrary to the implication of Dr. Boudreaux's article, supermarkets do not distribute food equally to the populace. One only needs to compare a supermarket in a low income neighborhood to one in an affluent suburb; the former will have a smaller selection, in particular of fresh produce and other higher quality foods, than the former. Furthermore, particularly impoverished neighborhoods may not have a supermarket at all, with many residents relying on convenience stores as their primary source of calories.

Once could certainly argue at this point that residents of low income areas could travel to the higher quality supermarkets in order to acquire food. However, due to the cost of transportation, the time value of money, and a variety of other factors, they typically do not, and the same factors that impact supermarket quality would impact school quality as well. Consequently, schools in higher income areas would overwhelmingly tend to be high quality, while residents of low income areas would find themselves receiving schooling from the educational equivalents of Seven Eleven.

While a strong argument can indeed be made that supermarkets should not be run like public schools, I believe it is quite clear that schools should not be run like supermarkets.
27 January 2011 @ 12:08 pm
There is a very real and legitimate reason why, in the current political climate, reasonable people have much greater reason to fear groups far to the political right than the political left.  In contemporary American political rhetoric, there are no sizable, nation-wide left wing organizations sincerely advocating violence against either the US government or population.  However, there exist certain fringe groups on the right that both advocate and occasionally carry out such violence.  Members of one such group murdered a 9-year old and her father in their Arizona home over a year before the recent Tuscon shootings.
Additional comments:
1) Note that this monopoly of violence by the right has not always been the case throughout history (see Russia 1917, etc).  However, it is currently a very real dichotomy in the US.
2) Even if one could successfully argue that the people who actually carry out such violence (Timothy McVeigh, Shawna Forde, etc) are mentally unstable and should not be taken as representative of the far right as a whole, in the case where such a mentally unstable person cite as their motivation the violent rhetoric of a political subgroup, all members of that political subgroup bear some responsibility for inciting said unstable individual.
04 January 2011 @ 02:49 pm
"[T]he skills necessary for successful wartime politicians and governments are very different from those that are useful for the successful management of the economy during peacetime, as illustrated perhaps most clearly by Winston Churchill’s political career" ~Daron Acemoglu
03 January 2011 @ 02:12 pm
One often comes across statements, or even well-written editorials in major national newspapers, which may be factually accurate but which are entirely irrelevant to the issue they purport to address.  Take this article for example, which, in summary, attempts to argue against raising the highest marginal tax rates and/or capital gains tax by contending that 1) the US already has a highly progressive tax code and 2) the top 1% of wage earners really aren't that rich if you look at these data.

The actual point, however, could hardly have been missed more thoroughly if the article had exclusively discussed pandas.  The US has a large large annual deficit and (consequently) significant public debt.  A continuation of contemporary budget trends in this direction is untenable in the long term, and a solution is necessary.  While "fiscal conservatives" famously contend that cutting spending is what is good, they are equally famously vague on specifics.  While cutting "waste" and "pork" is certainly a good idea, the nature of the federal budget is that, if one wishes to make a significant difference with respect to the deficit, one must cut either Medicare or Defense, the two programs that account for the preponderance of Federal spending.
While neither of these two programs are likely to face significant cuts, a separate topic entirely, the alternative is to raise the tax rate.  Contrary to the doctrine promulgated by a particular class of US politicians, high marginal tax rates on high-income brackets do not discourage economic growth.  Indeed, as this fascinating graph makes clear, top bracket marginal tax rates were highest immediately before and during some of the highest growth eras in the us (the early 1920s, the late 1940s and 1950s, etc) and the lowest immediately before and during some of the worst economic downturns (late 1920s and early 1930s, early 1990s, mid-2000's, etc).  While the issue of a possible causal relationship between economic growth and high tax rates (or the inverse) would require more rigorous examination, it is sufficient for this post to note that there is no correlation between high marginal tax rates and recession, or between low marginal tax rates and growth.

Thus the argument presented in the aforementioned article is nothing but a red herring irrelevant to the discussion at hand; whether or not the points it makes are true has no proscriptive value for those wishing to generate economic grown (or avoid recession) by altering the tax rate.  This sort of logical nonsense is a key barrier to meaningful policy improvements with respect to the US economy.
22 November 2010 @ 04:51 pm
Various political science theories involve a concept of the "selectorate", i.e., the group of individuals in a given society with the power to choose the leader(s) of that society. In modern democracies, the selectorate is equivalent to the electorate (e.g. adults 18 and older in the United States). In autocracies and oligarchies, the selectorage is generally a smaller group (e.g. a group of military officers, etc).

The political science concept of a "cleavage", while not nearly so titilating to the more common use of the word, is nevertheless a fascinating concept. It is typically used in the modeling of electorates to describe opposed blocks of the selectorate. In my previous post, I discussed two of the most common cleavages in US politics: social conservatives vs social progressives, and laissez-faire economics vs. socialist economics. However, depending on the society, various other cleavages might be salient. For example, papal authority vs secular authority in medieval europe, military engagement vs peaceful engagement with the Palestinians in modern Israel, urban vs rural in industrializing societies, etc.

The selectorate of the Roman Republic consisted of Roman citizens: male aristocrats and male "middle-class" commoners. The most significant cleavage in the late Republic was that between the populares and the optimates. The former derived their power from appealing to the common people, advocating policies such as a subsidized grain dole and limits on slavery (since slaves competed with commoners with jobs), while the later derived power from the aristocrats, who advocated limiting citizenship to existing Roman families and retaining the aristocratic ownership of most Italian land.

This effects of this cleavage on late Republican politics has an interesting history. From 287-133 BCE, the Republic experienced a long period of relative political stability during which the primary political concerned was with military and other foreign-policy issues and the Republic defeated Carthage to become the sole major power in the Mediterranean basin. By the mid-second century, however, the Republic experienced an economic downturn and attention became increasingly focused on domestic politics. A series of reforms were enacted which benefited the commoners at the expense of the aristocracy, intermingled with social upheaval and assassinations of many leading reformers. However, by 83 BCE, Lucius Cornelius Sulla rose to power in Rome with the backing of the optimates and reversed, often with great violence, a number of the previous reforms. This status quo was maintained by various optimate Senators such as Cato and Sulla, but was finally reversed by Julius Ceasar and later Octavian Ceasar, who rose to power on the back of popular anger with the optimates and eventually eliminated both the power of the aristocracy and the democratic elements of Roman society.

For many decades now, various writers have enjoyed comparing the United States to the Roman Empire, predicting some sort of dramatic collapse and invasion my metaphorical visigoths. However, if one truly feels compelled to compare modern political economy to that of the ancient world, a comparison between the United States and the late Roman Republic is perhaps more apt; push the distribution of wealth and power too far in favor of a small minority, and even a powerful, well-developed state risks a dangerous and traumatic shift away from democracy.
17 November 2010 @ 12:45 pm
Were I currently working in an academic setting in which a portion of my job revolved around authoring papers, I would write quite a bit more rigorously on the following topic.

However, for the purposes of livejournal, let us take as a given that the US political spectrum can be usefully divided into two dimensions: an "economic" dimension and a "social" dimension. Each dimension represents a gradient from progressive to conservative.

In the case of the economic dimension, the progressive end of the spectrum favors an increasingly even distribution of wealth among citizens, whereas the conservative end of the spectrum favors more a more laissez-faire approach and thus, implicitly, a wider gap between "rich" and "poor".

In the case of the social dimension, the progressives favor legal and social equality regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender, sexual preference, etc. while the conservatives favor traditional social roles that tend to favor the majority/patriarchy.

Given the above political space, I would contend that, for at least the past thirty or so years, US politics has generally been very slightly on the progressive side of center on the social dimension, but very strongly on the conservative side of center on the economic dimension.

With respect to the social dimension, I base my claim on the very slow but generally steady progress of progressive causes over the last three decades. As evidence of progress, I cite increased economic power of ethnic minorities, the notable increase in the acceptance of homosexual relationships and the achievement of a high water mark with respect to women in Congress (111th congress) and the Supreme Court. As evidence of the slowness of this progress, I cite slowly increasing restrictions on abortion, a majority of states with laws banning gay marriage, a significant income gap between men and women, pervasive transphobia and related violence, etc.

With respect to the economic dimension, I base my claim on the steady decline in the top federal marginal tax rate to the lowest since 1931, the increasing shift of wealth to citizens with the highest net worth, the steady decline in financial regulation since the 1950s, and the recent Supreme Court case Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, which allows unlimited expenditures on campaign advertisement by corporations and similar legal entities.

This median tendency in recent US politics (moderate on the social axis, conservative on the economic axis) suggests an explanation for various recent phenomena. Consider, for example, John Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity" as well as many of the recent columns of Thomas Friedman. They, along with other less well known figures, have become increasingly insistent in their calls for "moderate" positions in politics. Given the issues they cite, one can infer that they are speaking primarily about the economic dimension and thus, by advocating moderate politics on the economic dimension of the contemporary US political spectrum, they are in fact advocating a radical shift from the status quo. Thus, the "radicalization of the moderates".
05 August 2010 @ 01:35 pm
I read the entire decision, and these are some of the best bits:

"At oral argument on proponents’ motion for summary the court posed to proponents’ counsel the assumption state’s interest in marriage is procreative” and inquired judgment, that “the how permitting same-sex marriage impairs or adversely affects that interest. Counsel replied that the inquiry was “not the legally relevant question,” id, but when pressed for an answer, counsel replied: 'Your honor, my answer is: I don’t know. I don’t know.'"

And much later:

"[P]roponents, amici and the court, despite ample opportunity and a full trial, have failed to identify any rational basis Proposition 8 could conceivably advance. Proponents,represented by able and energetic counsel, developed a full trial record in support of Proposition 8. The resulting evidence shows that Proposition 8 simply conflicts with the guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Many of the purported interests identified by proponents are nothing more than a fear or unarticulated dislike of same-sex couples. Those interests that are legitimate are unrelated to the classification drawn by Proposition 8. The evidence shows that, by every available metric, opposite-sex couples are not better than their same-sex counterparts; instead, as partners, parents and citizens, opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples are equal. Proposition 8 violates the Equal Protection Clause because it does not treat them equally."
29 July 2010 @ 11:43 am
By 6 August: Complete final transfer of cider for Queen's Prize entry
By 14 August: Complete Great Basement Reorganization Project of 2010
By 14 August: Acquire additional early apples for fall cider production
By 31 August: Pre-write court templates and complete other prep tasks for time as White Hawk
By 25 September: Acquire sufficient apples to complete at minimum 40gl of cider
By 30 September: Have a detailed plan of action in place for the Kitchen Remodel
By 8 October: Complete Armor
By 24 October: Complete cider production
By 30 October: Acquire Halloween costume
By 5 September: Complete Queen's Prize entry and documentation
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