According to My Back of the Envelope Calculation...

A friend of mine with environmentalist leanings directed me to this site tonight. It's opposed to Palm Oil manufacture. It begins:
Borneo and Sumatra are two of the most bio-diverse regions of the world, yet they have the longest list of endangered species.
"Yet"? That's just what you'd expect, isn't it?

A Brilliant Idea

The garish similarities between Look’s 1960 piece and Esquire’s 2013 profile reveal a disheartening lack of progress in between. Male writers have had decades to remedy themselves, but still write jejunely about women, accentuating one isolated, exploitable trait (attractive, rebellious, sweet, rude, slutty, rich) for the sake of producing more easily understood subject matter. Until they learn (or at least try to learn) how to write about female subjects in a way that does not purposefully weave paternalistic generalizations into every paragraph, I propose a moratorium on this stagnant approach to literary writing. Let’s allow women to write about women for a little while. Maybe then we can swap the prevalent illusions of femininity for realistic portraits of women as complex human characters.
I hadn't realized there was a ban on women writing about women. I assume the suggestion is really that only women should write about women. (Especially when a magazine's readership is as obviously interested in complex human portraits as that of Esquire!)

Since we wouldn't want to put male writers out of work, I presume this means that an equal number of women writers for women's magazines will swap jobs with them. I can't wait for the next issue of Cosmopolitan. "Remember all those articles about sex positions we broadcast to everyone in line at the grocery store? Starting this issue, those articles are all written by men. Time to find out what they really want!"

Why, the idea is so brilliant I can't imagine why the magazine publishers haven't adopted it already. Think how much happier their customers will be when we give them what we think they need, instead of what they want.

Of course, it's possible consumers might react badly to being told they have to behave. No problem -- we have a mechanism for forcing good behavior now. We'll just have HHS issue a memo that requires your employer to make sure you are provided with complex human portraits, at absolutely no charge.

Seriously: the people who write articles like the one being complained about are dogs. I get it. Women should be treated with respect, even those disadvantaged by celebrity or tremendous wealth. I agree. This is why I do not read Esquire. Also, though, I think all the celebrity profiles the author cites as shining examples of how women do it better are still a complete waste of your time and energy. Instead of having women write more of them, why not stop writing them entirely?

Never read about a celebrity ever again. Read about math, or history, or musical theory, or astronomy, or something else that interests you. Read the journals of thought, or the great literature of old.

If you do that, you'll be a complex human character. If anyone ever decides to write about you, they'll find they have something to say.

Now I See Why They Translated These Into Chinese

A collection of Firefly Chinese curses, along with partial pronunciation guides. (I say partial because they don't give you the tones, which is a critical part of Mandarin pronunciation.) These are rather colorful!

Pornography Changes People

I have long suspected a link of this type, given how quickly social attitudes have been changing on this point. The authors of the study clearly approve of this trend, given their explanation:
"Our study suggests that the more heterosexual men, especially less educated heterosexual men, watch pornography, the more supportive they become of same-sex marriage," Indiana University Assistant Professor Paul Wright told Secrets.

Explaining the findings of the analysis published in the authoritative Communication Research journal, Wright said, "Pornography adopts an individualistic, nonjudgmental stance on all kinds of nontraditional sexual behaviors and same-sex marriage attitudes are strongly linked to attitudes about same-sex sex. If people think individuals should be able to decide for themselves whether to have same-sex sex, they will also think that individuals should be able to decide for themselves whether to get married to a partner of the same-sex."
On this argument, then, rampant use of pornography = increasing social justice. One can, of course, frame the same facts about how pornography is changing our society in a rather different light -- but that would be "judgmental," I suppose.

(By the way, did you hear about Hitler? I wonder why that report was kept covered up -- it's the sort of thing you'd have thought American propagandists would have been only too delighted to put out after the war. Maybe they thought the Germans had suffered enough.)

Government Can Do Everything (Except What It Should)!

One thing that isn't clear to me is why progressives are eager to have the government assume more responsibility for our lives. We should increase Social Security payments by 20%, but we can't pay to fix the roads. We should make states take on new health care exchange bureaucracies, but they can't afford to test prisoners for STDs before releasing them into the prison's general population. I thought prevention was supposed to be cheaper than treatment, but apparently we've decided to subject our prisoners not only to rape but to resulting serious illness. (Influential nongovernmental organizations are somewhat out to sea on this issue as well. Human Rights Watch has done good work in pressuring the government to address prison rape, but for some reason is celebrating a ruling that it is wrongful to quarantine -- they use the word "segregate" -- people with HIV from the rest of the prison population.)

In addition to being broke, which is a practical objection to increasing the size and scope of government, there are reasons to question the competence of the government to execute its basic functions. Foreign policy and budgetary policy are the two most obvious. We have F-16s to sell to the Egyptian government now that they are no longer an ally, but not to Taiwan, which really is one. We can't pass a budget, and hearings suggest the President is not leading even times of national emergency.

I would like to see basic competence from the government at its existing tasks before we talk about expanding its reach.

UPDATE: By the way, haven't you noticed lately that your groceries aren't nearly expensive enough? The government is here to help!

If It's Going to be a Police State...

...At least it could be a competent police state. And as Glenn Reynolds notes:
"An armed civilian who made this mistake would be tried for every possible crime a prosecutor could imagine. How likely do you think that is here?"
Not very likely. 

Nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it

Bookworm Room has an entertaining post about how differently the Reformation, and everything else in Western History, might have turned out if Richard III had defeated Henry Tudor at Bosworth.

Sentences we never finished reading

WordRake generates an entertaining periodic email warning against legalese tomfoolery.  Today's contribution:
Two Ways to Tell a Judge You Have No Case: 
First, ask for an extension, the more pages the better. . . .  
Second, write something snide, hyperbolic, condescending, or obsequious.   Or all four  . . . .
[This case] is the stuff of which Turow best sellers and other works of "legal fiction" are made, and by which no jurist, either de jure or de facto, would wish to be remembered, but as to which the current chapter is about to be written by the august members of this select Panel -- albeit in a strangly oxymoronic, yet altogether predictable, "unpublished" fashion the very nature of which . . . ." Castillo v. Koppes-Conway, 148 P. 3d 298 (2006).
You get the point.

Joseph Schumpeter Is Looking At You, Atrios

For those of you who may have followed our recent debate on economics all the way to the end, here is a Ph.D. in economics whose plan to save retirement is to raise Social Security benefits, while taxing existing retirement savings in 401ks. There's kind of an interesting logic here.

First, the problem:
Let me be alarmist for a moment, because the fact is the numbers are truly alarming. We should be worried that large numbers of people nearing retirement will be unable to keep their homes or continue to pay their rent.
So obviously the solution is that government must give these people enough money that this does not happen. However:
There are good proposals out there for improving the private aspect of our retirement system.... [b]ut none of these ideas will help people who are nearing retirement. Only the possibility of several decades of compound returns make the personal financing of retirement a realistic idea for most people....

Even if we do find ways to improve the framework for self-funding retirement, how, exactly, do we expect younger workers, who might benefit from these improvements, to start saving significantly for their retirement? Soaring tuition and fees at universities, combined with the associated soaring student loan borrowing, have led many people to start their working lives already deeply in debt.
So, we have a huge government benefit, Social Security, that -- in spite of being one of the largest expenditures of the United States already -- isn't capable of meeting the minimum standard that Dr. Black would set for it (i.e., no one loses their home). The solution is to increase spending by 20%. However, no one can pay for this spending! The about-to-retire can't do it because they already don't have enough money. The not-quite-about-to-retire need to be saving like bandits to avoid being in this trap themselves. And the young can't do it because the cost of a college education is through the roof, and so they are starting their lives in a hole. They'll have to work twice as hard to get out of the hole, and then have to save for this burden we call retirement.

Now, Social Security is a kind of generational insurance program (or, if you like, Ponzi scheme). The idea is that the current retirees draw benefits paid for by younger generations, in return for the promise (or, if you like, forlorn hope) that similar benefits will be paid to them in their turn.

We have just learned that this program fails the current generation about to retire, but increases cannot be supported by the next generation in line, nor the younger generation either.

I would take this as an argument that Social Security has failed, and needs to be replaced. Dr. Black takes it for an argument for its expansion.

This is why our system is dying. Black isn't a bad guy. He has charitable interests at heart. He's very well educated, and even in the subject matter under discussion. Joseph Schumpeter was exactly right about him.

(A further critique is here.)

Bettis Rifles

In the War of the Rebellion, better but erroneously known as the Civil War, Confederate forces famously had less access to industrial goods. This is one reason that Confederate model firearms often feature brass where Union ones use steel, creating a highly attractive design out of what was really a necessity.

In addition, though, they could tap local gunsmiths who had long been supplying local hunters and farmers with hand-made rifles. The local newspaper where I grew up has a story about one such individual in the paper this week.
According to Bettis, his ancestor’s production operation likely was the first manufacturing facility in the county, although a far cry from what modern Americans think of when they hear the term.

The process consisted of just Bettis, a forge, handheld tools and perhaps some of his five children helping him.... Bettis rifles always also feature a silver sight, created from a coin cut in half.
I have a hand-made musket from around this period that belonged to my great-great grandfather. It's from the highlands of Appalachia, big-bore and smooth barrel. It's a percussion cap like these, but sadly it did not come to me in as well-preserved a condition.

Cuteness-Recognizing is Predatory Behavior

For a while now, I've had a theory that cross-species emotional bonds somehow relates to predatory instincts in mammals. We bond with cats, dogs, and horses. Of the three, cats and dogs are predators; horses really aren't, but over our thousands of years together they have begun to be able to learn to actualize predatory behavior. A cutting horse, for example, is doing something that is more properly predatory than would be natural to a wild horse. It may be that in training them to think like a predator, we've been teaching them to relate emotionally across species.

Popular Science has a story about "Why do we want to squeeze cute things?" that demonstrates something like a predatory connection to cuteness:
But for the sake of thoroughness, researchers did a second experiment to test whether the aggression was simply verbal, or whether people really did want to act out in response to wide-eyed kittens and cherubic babies. Volunteers were given bubble wrap and told they could pop as much of it as they wanted.

When faced with a slideshow of cute animals, people popped 120 bubbles, whereas people watching the funny and neutral slideshows popped 80 and 100 bubbles respectively.
(H/t: InstaPundit.)

Now they posit a couple of theories about this that point in other directions. Still, I think I'm right: there is something about the kind of mind you need as a mammalian predator, as a predator who hunts by thought rather than by pure instinct, that gives rise to this.

Consider further anecdotal evidence:

Now why is that, I wonder? But I think it is.

So What?

The New York Times reports that boys get worse grades exclusively because teachers are prejudiced against troublemakers.
No previous study, to my knowledge, has demonstrated that the well-known gender gap in school grades begins so early and is almost entirely attributable to differences in behavior. The researchers found that teachers rated boys as less proficient even when the boys did just as well as the girls on tests of reading, math and science. (The teachers did not know the test scores in advance.) If the teachers had not accounted for classroom behavior, the boys’ grades, like the girls’, would have matched their test scores.
I suppose one could make an argument that there's a problem here. Teachers of primary and secondary schools are almost exclusively female, after all; perhaps there's some sexist preference for well-comported girls over unruly boys. However, my guess would be that male teachers mostly like well-behaved students also.

Rather, we have a kind of sorting going on whereby people who are good at sitting still and learning to speak (and think) in an approved way go into certain kinds of jobs, and people who are uncomfortable with that find other ways to make a living. In terms of the long-term happiness of everyone involved, that's a good thing.

It happens to be true that one class of such jobs pays better than the other class, but that's an artifact of the present moment. As the article itself points out, it didn't used to be true: and as technology continues to change, more and more options open up for people who just aren't very well adjusted to the 'sit-still, be-quiet, watch-what-you-say' environment that predominates in the schoolhouse and the New Model Office. It's a pretty oppressive and unpleasant environment, as unpleasant as any factory to those who chafe at it.

So yes: boys are more unruly. It's very important to try to teach them to obey the rules and show respect. But on the final analysis, their happiness as adults doesn't depend on learning to sit down and only say things considered polite. It depends more on them finding a way of life that comports with who they are. The economy won't stay like it is forever, and the office won't be the dominant mode of economic life forever.

Besides, if you're really unruly you can go into politics. We need a whole new political class anyway.

Personality Is Destiny

All of you know my opinion of psychology, and thus must be girding yourselves up for the mockery I am likely to bestow on this article by Penelope Trunk on the subject of qualities to look for in a woman if you want to have children.  (Via Instapundit:  it's actually the follow-up to an article she wrote for women seeking husbands for the same purpose.)

Indeed I might be so inclined, since she so readily divides up humanity into nifty categories and tells them -- based on the results of a pen-and-paper test you might take in a few minutes -- the possible ways in which they can structure their lives if they don't want divorce and failure.  If psychology could really do this, they would deserve the massive consulting fees that they con out of corporations who want so much to believe they can do it.

(You can imagine how nice it would be for them if people were so easy to categorize.  Think of how nice it would be never to hire someone who proved not to be right for the job!  "Mr. Smith, it has come to my attention that you hired someone other than an ENTJ for an executive track position.  I might have let it go if they were at least a close ESTJ, but this person is an 'I'!  I'm afraid you'll have to clean out your desk -- and that's the last time I hire a 'perceiver' instead of a 'judger' for human resources.")

However, I'm going to go easy on her and discuss her opinion on the four types of wives to avoid.
Women who are most likely to be tortured that they are not climbing the ladder: ENFJ.

Women who are most likely to change their mind and not want to go back to work after the baby: ISFJ.

Women most likely to be disappointed that there is so little combined earning power in this arrangement: ESFP.

Women who are most likely to be dissatisfied in life no matter what choices they make: INFP.
Two things really strike me as interesting about this list. They are both people who, if you take the model seriously, are doomed by their biology.

The first is the ENFJ, the "women most likely to be tortured that they are not climbing the ladder." Yet we learn here and in the earlier article that this personality type is doomed not to be able to climb the ladder successfully. All the top executives are ENTJs, with a handful of ESTJs. "Sometimes an ENFJ slips in, but they are tortured and don’t last. The F kills them. They feel bad that they are not fulfilling their duty as parents. It’s not peer pressure, it’s internal pressure. It’s how an ENFJ is wired." This is described in terms of personality type, but it appears in both places targeted at women particularly. They will hate climbing the ladder because they aren't right for it, but they'll be tortured if they don't try.

Similarly, the INFP: "Women who are most likely to be dissatisfied in life no matter what choices they make." I assume these are the women who keep writing the "Why can't women have it all?" articles.

Anyway, apparently these two types of women are screwed. No matter what they do, they're going to be miserable. Best to avoid them if you're wife-hunting!

(Fair play: I've been exposed to this test several times, and I come out at the very border of INTJ and INTP -- usually around a 1% preference on the P/J split. The only thing the article says about me is that, insofar as I can be a "J," I'm in the second-most-likely-to-be-a-high-earner category. I'd have thought other factors were more important, like intelligence or education, but apparently personality is what it all comes down to. INTPs don't get mentioned in either article.)

Glorious junk

I understand there was a Mongolian herder once, a century or two ago, who was less interested in football than myself, but otherwise I think I take the crown.  Still, that doesn't mean that I don't take the food rituals associated with Superbowl Sunday very seriously indeed.  On the way home from church, I picked up a dozen frozen, uncooked eggrolls from the Vietnamese shrimp market, then braved the completely insane HEB for every kind of frivolous foodstuffs I could think of:  chicken wings, salted nuts, chips, makings for chili-cheese dip and onion dip, and a key lime pie.  We're going to fix the wings with Woody's Cook-in Sauce doctored with some vinegar and pepper.  Then we'll fry up the eggrolls and serve them with lettuce, shredded carrots and daikon radish, cilantro, and mint.  We may even have guests over.

If you've never tried Woody's, you're missing out.  It can be got by mail order via Amazon if your store doesn't carry it.  Can't beat it for a fast treatment for beef or chicken that's going on the grill or under the broiler.  It's not a sauce for dipping but for roasting:  not at all sweet.

Blunt those knives or someone may get hurt

Leon Panetta complains that the "political knives" are out to discredit Chuck Hagel as nominee for Secretary of Defense.  He would prefer the hearing to have focused on what Mr. Hagel thinks about issues he may face in his new post, instead of getting bogged down in what Mr. Hagel has said about foreign policy in the past.  For instance, his interrogators spent time on his statements in a 2009 Al Jazeera interview (I'm queasy already) that the U.S. was "the world's bully," as well as opposition to crack down on state sponsors of terrorism, his advocacy of negotiations without sanctions with Iran and terrorist groups, and his description of Israel’s 2006 military campaign against Lebanon (provoked by the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers) as “sickening slaughter.”  And standing up to the Jewish lobby, and so on.

I suppose there were other hot topics Mr. Hagel might have been examined on, but once his audience learned that he was going to disavow all his prior statements, why would they be interested in his new, spontaneous, unverifiable opinions now that he's facing a confirmation battle?  Who listens to someone who claims he's undergone an eve-of-confirmation conversion?  "Some of my Senate colleagues," wrote Ted Cruz, "may be satisfied that the pledges he has made in recent days are more meaningful than his policy record compiled over the past fifteen years.  I am not."  That's the problem with disavowing yourself:  if your audience is paying attention, they quit listening to anything new you might want to say.   You may as well cut out your own tongue.

Even Salon, which dismisses the problem as a Tea Party attack, wishes Hagel had upped his game to Clintonian levels:
Although the Texas freshman’s hit man performance was laughable, it must be said that Hagel seemed poorly prepared for his predictably rough handling.  His inability to offer the shrill Lindsey Graham a single person or policy that might have been overly influenced or intimidated by “the Israel lobby,” in his controversial words, made him look dodgy.  He might have presented a defense of his opposition to the 2007 Iraq surge when pushed by an ornery John McCain, but he didn’t. 
I understand that he couldn’t be outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, hitting silly Republicans with her best shots and having a hell of a good time doing it.  But he lost Republican votes anyway even with his non-confrontational performance, and he left an overall impression of being not quite ready for the spotlight.  That doesn’t mean he’s not ready for the job, but his enemies will frame it that way.
It does seem unfair, doesn't it, to expect the nation's top diplomat to be ready for the spotlight, or to keep his story straight on issues of foreign policy.  But not even Carl Levin could bail him out of his spectacular faceplant on our policy regarding Iran:
Hagel also stumbled in replying to a question on Iran by Senator Saxby Chambliss (R–GA):  “I support the President’s strong position on containment, as I have said.”  Later, though, he was passed a note from an aide and offered a correction:  “I misspoke and said I supported the President’s position on containment.  If I said that, I meant to say we don’t have a position on containment.”  Senator Carl Levin (D–MI) corrected him, saying, “We do have a position on containment, and that is we do not favor containment.”  Levin added: “I just wanted to clarify the clarify.”
Well, that's diplomatic.