To Critical Race Theory, or not to Critical Race Theory?

Like the uncollapsed quantum state holding Schrodinger’s cat in a state of simultaneous life and death, whether a school is “teaching critical race theory” or not seems to depend entirely on whether the inquiring person wants them to. Are you anti-CRT? Then, you may rest assured, American schools most certainly aren’t teaching CRT. (If you press a bit and ask why the district has cancelled all of the advanced math classes in the name of “equity,” you’ll be politely informed that this, “Isn’t CRT,” and, further, that you are, “Full of hate. So, so full of hate.”) On the other hand, if you are in favor of CRT, then you will be heartened to know that the schools definitely are teaching CRT.

The National Education Association (NEA) is, according to Wikipedia,

“the largest labor union and the largest white-collar representative in the United States.[2] It represents public school teachers and other support personnel, faculty and staffers at colleges and universities, retired educators, and college students preparing to become teachers. The NEA has just under 2.3 million members and is headquartered in Washington, D.C.[3] The NEA had a budget of more than $341 million for the 2012–2013 fiscal year.[4]

The NEA has been hard at work at their annual meeting this summer, passing (among doubtless many other important union matters), the alluringly-named New Business Item 39:

The NEA will, with guidance on implementation from the NEA president and chairs of the Ethnic Minority Affairs Caucuses:

A. Share and publicize, through existing channels, information already available on critical race theory (CRT) — what it is and what it is not; have a team of staffers for members who want to learn more and fight back against anti-CRT rhetoric; and share information with other NEA members as well as their community members.

B. Provide an already-created, in-depth, study that critiques empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society, and that we oppose attempts to ban critical race theory and/or The 1619 Project.

It goes on, but the grammar here is so atrocious that I had to pause to double-check what, exactly, the nation’s largest union of educators had written. This is a complicated sentence, given the nested nature of the resolution’s clauses, but we can simplify it by only looking at subjects, verbs, and parts that make no sense at all:

“The NEA will… share and publicize… Have a team… and share information… Provide (a study)… and that we oppose attempts to ban critical race theory and/or The 1619 Project.”

Absolutely pathetic. I might just be a mom, but at least I have a grasp of basic grammar. These people are teachers.

I like the inclusion of anthropocentrism here. It’s good to remind children that when dogs are allowed to pee on random trees, but they aren’t, this is speciesism, and speciesism is evil. True equality will not have been achieved until children and dogs are treated equally.

But let’s go on:

C. Publicly (through existing media) convey its support for the accurate and honest teaching of social studies topics, including truthful and age-appropriate accountings of unpleasant aspects of American history, such as slavery, and the oppression and discrimination of Indigenous, Black, Brown, and other peoples of color, as well as the continued impact this history has on our current society.

You might have thought that the purpose of school was to equip children with the skills they’ll need in adulthood, but it’s actually to make children sad.

The Association will further convey that in teaching these topics, it is reasonable and appropriate for curriculum to be informed by academic frameworks for understanding and interpreting the impact of the past on current society, including critical race theory.

Ah, yes, academic frameworks. You see, whether you’re busy teaching kindergarteners their ABCs or trying to help the whopping 28% of 12th graders who still can’t even read at a basic level, it’s important to make sure you’re using college-level academic frameworks for the concepts you introduce to your students. Supposedly the people who wrote this, or at least who voted on it, are “real teachers” who have totally interacted with “real children” and understand the meaning of the phrase “age appropriate instruction,” and aren’t just trying to shoehorn their political beliefs into an utterly inappropriate context.

D. Join with Black Lives Matter at School and the Zinn Education Project to call for a rally this year on October 14—George Floyd’s birthday—as a national day of action to teach lessons about structural racism and oppression. Followed by one day of action that recognize and honor lives taken such as Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, and others. [Sic]

Aside from being entirely inappropriate, this is grammatically pathetic.

USA’s economy/social order is built on interactions between different cultures/races.

“Don’t worry, Evie,” they said, “Cultural Marxism isn’t hiding under the bed, waiting to eat your fingers, because Cultural Marxism isn’t real.”

Oh, my sweet readers, Cultural Marxism is real, very real, and the only reason it isn’t hiding under your bed is because it’s busy reshaping Marxist arguments about the structure of society and the economy being determined by a nation’s economic system into an argument that they’re determined by the nation’s racial system.

To deny opportunities to teach truth about Black, Brown, and other marginalized races minimalizes the necessity for students to build efficacy.

I think this sentence is grammatical, it just sounds like schizophrenic word salad and actually says the opposite of what it is supposed to. To simplify/make it more understandable, “Denying opportunities… minimizes the need for students to become more effective.” Not needing to be more effective is a good thing: it means that students are already just as effective as they need to be.

I think they wanted to say, “Denying opportunities… minimizes the opportunities for students to become more effective.” Look over your work before you send it out, people. If necessary, get a friend to edit your work for you; they’ll probably catch mistakes you overlooked.

The ancient African proverb says, “Know Thyself.”

This is just thrown in randomly, at the end of the paragraph, with no context. A Turkish proverb says, “Those who want yogurt in winter must carry a cow in their pocket,” and an Arabic proverb says, “Someone who can’t dance says the ground is sloping.”

“Know thyself” is, incidentally, also a Greek aphorism; it was inscribed in the Temple of Apollo at the Oracle of Delphi:

“But I have no leisure for them at all; and the reason, my friend, is this: I am not yet able, as the Delphic inscription has it, to know myself; so it seems to me ridiculous, when I do not yet know that, to investigate irrelevant things.”–Socrates, Phaedrus.

Of course, “know thyself” is short and straightforward enough that it is probably a bit of wisdom given in many cultures.

And finally, the money:

This item cannot be accomplished with current staff and resources under the proposed Modified 2021-2022 Strategic Plan and Budget. It would cost an additional $127,600.

Someone will be well-paid for this grift.

At least you may take some comfort, my reader, that the quantum state of CRT in the schools has collapsed: the teachers’ union has voted unambiguously in its favor.

2+2 is 4 and the world is flat: assumptions and approximations

The argument that “2+2=4” is a social construct not found in every society and that in some places 2+2=5 is an interesting exercise in sophistry.

It is true that you can redefine every part of an equation (or every word in a sentence) to mean something other than what a naive reader would normally assume based on all previous experience with words. Obviously if we redefine 2 to mean something other than 2, + to mean something other than addition, or chose to use a base other than base 10, then we can get an answer other than 4. For example, if we are using base-3, then 2+2 = 11. (Of course, when we convert back to base ten, “11” becomes plain old 4 again.)

This is true of every sentence: if I redefine all of the words in a sentence to mean something else, then the sentence means something else–but no one uses language in this way because it makes communication impossible.

In particular, when children are taught that 2+2=4, they being taught within a system where 2 means two of something, 4 means four of something, and + means conventional addition. When we use these definitions, 2 + 2 always equals 4. There are, in fact, zero societies on Earth where this equation, as used in elementary schools, comes out to five.

There is no mistake involved in assuming that other people are using common conventions when speaking and will specify when using terms in unexpected ways. This is how all communication works. Since we cannot define all words from first principles every time we use them (this is impossible because it would require us to define the words used to define the words used to define the words, etc,) we only bother to define them when using them in unconventional ways, and even then we use conventionally defined words to define them. If a word is not defined or otherwise marked as being used in unconventional ways, then the receiver assumes that it is being used in its conventional sense because language cannot function otherwise.

Behind the scenes trickery is simply that: trickery. The sentence as normally defined and automatically understood is always correct.

There is a story about the time Denis Diderot visited the court of Catherine the Great in Russia. Diderot’s atheism offended the great lady, so she had her court mathematician, Leonhard Euler, confront Diderot with a complicated algebraic equation, then proclaimed that this proved the existence of God.

The tale is perhaps apocryphal, but it has inspired the coining of the term “Eulering”: the use of a complicated argument to confuse your opponent into conceding, especially on some irrelevant point. Modern Eulering often consists of saying something that sounds blatantly false, then when this is pointed out, ridiculing your opponent for not knowing that you had secretly redefined the words. If you were a real expert, the argument goes, then you would know that 10=2 is just as valid as 10=10, because base ten is just a social convention we use to make writing numbers easier, and all other bases–including base pi–are equally legitimate from a mathematical perspective.

This is not expertise, but sophistry. There is no mistake involved in assuming that other people are using common conventions when speaking and will specify when using terms in unexpected ways. This is how all communication works.

It is true that math as taught to children is simplified: all subjects are simplified by necessity for introductory students.

When a child learns to read, he is first taught to pronounce the letters phonetically; complications like “silent e” and “-tion” are only introduced later. The full complexity of English spelling, from rhythm to pterodactyl, is only revealed to advanced students who have already mastered simpler words. If we attempt to reverse the order of instruction, chaos results: students are forced to learn every single word independently, instead of applying general rules that get them through most of the words and help them develop further rules for the exceptions.

The same happens in math; children are taught to count and add with the help of simplifying assumptions like “triangles are flat” and “base 10.” You don’t teach a toddler to count by beginning with -10 and then explaining that “3” is written as “11” in base two. It doesn’t work.

When you learn physics, you begin with Newtonian dynamics, because these are easy to demonstrate at normal human scales. It is only after mastering the basics of F=ma, objects falling at 9.8 m/s^2, and maybe a bit of calculus that you move on to topics like “What happens when you move close to the speed of light?” or “What happens at the atomic scale?”

Subjects are taught in a particular order that equips students with general rules that work in most situations, then specific rules that cover the most common exceptions. Most people will never need to know the “expert level” versions of most fields. For example, most people do not need to understand why airplanes can fly in order to make a reservation at the airport and go on a trip: it is sufficient to know simply that planes fly.

To argue about whether the “basic” or “expert” versions of these fields is more correct  generally misses the point: each serves a specific purpose. If I am calculating the distance between my house and my friend’s, I do not need to factor in the curvature of the Earth; if I am calculating the distance between my house and the antipodes, I do. If I am balancing my checkbook, I can safely assume that all of the numbers are written in base-10; if I am trying to figure out if the 16-bit integer limit will make my airplane crash, then it helps to know binary. If I tell my kids to “stay still so I can take your picture,” I don’t want to hear that Brownian motion technically makes it impossible to hold still.

The current bruhaha on Twitter over whether “2+2=4” is racist or not is half math geeks happy to finally have an audience for their discussion of obscure math things and half “school reformers” who wouldn’t know ring addition if it hit them in the face but want to claim that it has something to do with early elementary math. (Spoiler: it doesn’t.)

Image

In the case of math, yes, math is a social construct, inasmuch as we could use a different numerical base or different wiggly symbols to represent the numbers on paper. Spelling is also a social construct: there is no particular reason why “C” should be pronounced the way it is, much less should we have a silent “L” in “could” (the L in could is actually the result of a centuries-old spelling mistake: “would” and “should” both contain Ls because they are forms of the words “will” and “shall,” which contain Ls. Could is derived from the word “can,” which does not have an L, but because “coud” sounds like “would” and “should,” people just started sticking an erroneous L in there, and we’ve been doing it for so long that it’s stuck). Money is also socially constructed: there is no particular reason why little green pieces of paper should have any value, and in many cases (lost in the woods, hyperinflation, visiting a foreign country), they don’t. Nevertheless, you need to be able to count, spell, and use money to get along in society, which we live in. If math is racist simply because it is socially constructed, then so are all other social constructs. Pennies are racist. Silent “e” is racist.

This absurdity is no accident:

Image

h/t @hollymathnerd, quote by Shraddha Shirude, “ethnomathematics” teacher.

It’s not about the math.

Academics discover tans

I would just like to highlight the absolute insanity of this abstract from Shades of Privilege: The Relationship Between Skin Color and Political Attitudes Among White Americans, by Yadon and Ostfield:

Shifting racial dynamics in the U.S. have heightened the salience of White racial identity, and a sense that Whites’ social status and resources are no longer secure. At the same time, the growing size of non-White populations has also renewed attention to skin color-based stratification and the potential blurring of racial boundaries. We theorize that Whites with darker skin will be motivated to protect the boundaries of Whiteness due to the loss of status they would face from blurring racial boundaries. Consistent with growing evidence of skin color’s importance for Whites, we demonstrate that darker-skinned Whites—measured via a light-reflectance spectrophotometer—identify more strongly with their White racial identity and are more likely to hold conservative political views on racialized issues than lighter-skinned Whites. Together, these findings offer new insights into the evolving meaning of race and color in American politics.

Bold mine.

This paranoid insanity is from an actual paper published in an academic journal, “Political Behavior“, which you can subscribe to for the totally not a scam price of a hundred dollars a year.

Let’s work through this barely literate dumpster fire:

“Shifting racial dynamics in the U.S. have heightened the salience of White racial identity, and a sense that Whites’ social status and resources are no longer secure.”

How do you heighten the salience of something? To be salient is to stick out (like a cliff). It is already high. A better word would be “importance,” which does not carry the connotation of already being tall.

The comma in this sentence is incorrect; as we learned back in second grade, commas should be used when listing three or more items. Commas should not be used when only listing two items. A comma error buried somewhere deep in a paper is an understandable mistake; a comma error in the very first sentence of the abstract shows that the authors did not master second grade (and neither did, apparently, any of the reviewers from “Political Behavior” who came in contact with this paper).

Even without the mistake, it would remain a mushy sentence. What shifting racial dynamics? What white racial identity? What social status and resources?

“At the same time, the growing size of non-White populations has also renewed attention to skin color-based stratification and the potential blurring of racial boundaries.”

What time? No time frame has been established.

The words “at the same time,” and “also,” are doing the same jobs in the sentence; one or the other should be deleted.

The grammar of this sentence is subtly off: how does a “growing size” (the subject) “renew attention”? A “size,” growing or shrinking, is not an entity that can pay attention to anything. People are paying attention.

I am quite skeptical that Americans are more concerned today about the possibility of blurred racial boundaries than they were back when miscegenation was illegal.

Then we reach this whopper: “We theorize that Whites with darker skin will be motivated to protect the boundaries of Whiteness due to the loss of status they would face from blurring racial boundaries.”

Right-o.

This is the paper that people have been talking about recently because they found that “white” Trump voters have slightly darker skin than “white” non-Trump voters. This is unscientific bullshit because their study design does not test their hypothesis in any way, shape, or form. Merely discovering that Trump voters are darker than non-Trump voters doesn’t tell you why they are Trump voters. Maybe whites with darker skins vote for Trump because they are manual laborers with tans who believe that Trump wants to help manual laborers. In order to test their hypothesis, they’d have to actually set up an experiment that varies some condition, like skin color or rigidity of racial boundaries, and then see how people react. For example, they could take two groups of volunteers and give one group tans while the control subjects stayed pale. The two groups’ attitudes toward other racial groups and racial identities would be tested before and after tanning to see if skin darkening triggered a shift in political attitudes. Of course, this shift could have been triggered by the chemical effects of increased Vitamin D, the warmth of the sun, or similar factors, so you’d want a third group of volunteers whose skin was darkened via makeup.

Alternatively, you could test the blurriness of the racial environment by assigning volunteers to do some tasks with two different groups: a control group in which all of the other members are distinctly white or black, and a group in which most members are varying shades of brown/mixed-race. Subjects’ political attitudes would be tested before and after treatment, to see if those subject to the blurred racial boundary group became more motivated to protect the boundaries of whiteness than those who participated in the distinct racial boundaries group.

Or you the authors could admit that they’re talking out of their asses.

“Consistent with growing evidence of skin color’s importance for Whites, we demonstrate that darker-skinned Whites—measured via a light-reflectance spectrophotometer—identify more strongly with their White racial identity and are more likely to hold conservative political views on racialized issues than lighter-skinned Whites.” 

Growing evidence? Was the Civil War not enough evidence for you?

If skin color is so important for whites, then darker-skinned whites are the losers on the white totem pole. Darker-skinned whites would want skin color to be less important for getting some of that White Privilege, not more. They have found no evidence that “skin color” is motivating these people at all. More likely, whites who call themselves “white” do so because they do not have any concrete tie to an ancestral European country. They are not Irish or English or French or German or Italian because none of their grandparents and few of their great-grandparents hailed from these countries. Their ancestors have lived in the US, by and large, for hundreds of years (my ancestors have been here for 400 years, perhaps more); at this point, their ethnic group is simply “White.” Whites are an ethnic group just as much as any other.

“Together, these findings offer new insights into the evolving meaning of race and color in American politics.”

No, you found out that Trump voters are slightly darker than Hillary voters (which any idiot who has ever seen a Southerner could tell you) and then retconned an insane justification for why slightly brown people are the real racists.

Meanwhile, light skinned, high-status whites like Elizabeth Warren and Shaun King have actively embraced trace (if any) non-white ancestry to claim to be Indian and black. The Kardashians have built a billion dollar cosmetics and media empire; part of their success is due to carefully cultivating via makeup (and probably plastic surgery) their mixed-race appearances. If I were a noticing sort of person, I might notice that the darkish-skinned whites who vote for Trump don’t seem to get much out it, while the Kardashians make serious money appearing racially ambiguous on TV. I might notice Bank of America’s blandly named, billion dollar Commitment to Support Economic Opportunity Initiatives:

Bank of America announced today that it is making a $1 billion, four-year commitment of additional support to help local communities address economic and racial inequality accelerated by a global pandemic. The programs will be focused on assisting people and communities of color that have experienced a greater impact from the health crisis.

I might notice that people these days seem to increase their status by being perceived as not-white, rather than white.

But what does it matter that there’s an insane line in a poorly written abstract from two authors who probably just discovered that Southerners have tans?

  1. It suggests that (at least some) liberals have absolutely no idea what motivates conservatives. It is possible that they have never met a conservative and have only heard of them in scary stories their parents told them at bedtime. They essentially lack “theory of mind” and cannot model conservatives’ inner states.
  2. The people who wrote this are so bad at science that they did not even realize that their experimental design is not an experiment and does not at all test their hypothesis.
  3. Some of the people involved in the publication of this paper may well have realized that the line was insane, but let is pass either because they wanted to smear conservatives or because they thought they themselves might face retribution if they objected to the insanity.
  4. The “journal” which published this paper did not notice that the experiment did not actually test the hypothesis.
  5. Now that it is an “actually published paper” in an “actual academic journal,” it has the appearance of authority. This is the sort of thing that reporters pick up and summarize as “scientists have proven that whites police the boundaries of whiteness to protect their privilege,” and then gets repeated over and over ad nauseam until it becomes common wisdom like the IAT.

Why do People believe wrong things, pt 2

Today’s post is a compare and contrast between articles. From Erin O’Donnell’s interview with Elizabeth Bartholet we have “The Risks of Homeschooling,” and from Michelle Malkin we have “What will it take to stop Google’s Kiddie Predators?

I picked these articles because they hail from opposite ends of the political spectrum (so we needn’t get caught up in blaming one particular side,) but both deal with potential harms to children. Children, of course, are very precious and people are naturally inclined to protect them, so the thought that someone out there is harming them is deeply motivating.

Alas, both of these articles are, if you know anything about the subject in question, absolutely terrible.

On Homeschooling:

Yet Elizabeth Bartholet, Wasserstein public interest professor of law and faculty director of the Law School’s Child Advocacy Program, sees risks for children—and society—in homeschooling, and recommends a presumptive ban on the practice. Homeschooling, she says, not only violates children’s right to a “meaningful education” and their right to be protected from potential child abuse, but may keep them from contributing positively to a democratic society. …

… Only about a dozen states have rules about the level of education needed by parents who homeschool, she adds. “That means, effectively, that people can homeschool who’ve never gone to school themselves, who don’t read or write themselves.”

And from Malkin:

Last spring, Google reported at an education conference that it had started making its cloud platform program accessible to K-12 school districts. Evergreen, Washington, public schools chief Derrick Brown (right) bragged about his district’s data-mining pilot program with Google. “We have tons of data in our school districts,” he is quoted outlining in Education Week,citing information gathered through “student information systems, instructional software programs, online surveys of children’s social-emotional well-being, and special-needs students’ individualized education plans.”

“All that data needs to go in a container,” Brown explained. And that container will be Google Cloud Platform. Now, imagine questionnaires and tests stored in the G-container measuring “social-emotional well-being” of children and their families according to politically correct ideology. Imagine being a parent who objects to mandatory vaccine laws or who holds “America first” views deemed “extremist” and “hateful” or who stores guns responsibly in your home—information that is not the business of a school district or Silicon Valley giant. Where’s the protection for such families? What’s the academic justification for gathering it?

Before we go on, I should probably go into a little depth on what, exactly, makes both of these articles terrible.

Batholet wants to ban homeschooling entirely. This is absurd on its face–no matter how many problems you think there are with homeschooling (like anything, there are of course some), there are also clearly times and places when homeschooling is the best possible option, like literally right now, because I’m writing this in the middle of the Covid pandemic. There are kids who homeschool because they were bullied in regular schools, or because they have chronic illnesses that make regular school days difficult, or because they just plain learn better at home, and all of these kids have an obvious right to carry on doing things that are good for them.

It is quite easy to propose legislation that allows children to homeschool while also protecting them against the kinds of abuses Batholet cites–there is no reason to hurt all of the other kids in the process.

Furthermore, since schools are controlled primarily at the state level, banning homeschooling across the nation would require a massive amount of legal coordination. The Federal government could threaten to withhold funds to states that allow homeschooling, but this would be a practical disaster with states like Texas and Montana. It’s a bit ridiculous for anyone with any knowledge of US law (let alone a law professor) to propose something this far from legal reality.

Batholet is concerned about the quality of education homeschooled kids receive, which is rather precious given that homeschoolers consistently out-perform public schooled kids on standardized tests, eg, Academic Achievements and Demographic Traits of Homeschoolers:

Is it possible for adults without specialized, university-level training in teaching to help their children learn what they need to learn? Numerous studies by dozens of researchers have been completed during the past 25 years that examine the academic achievement of the home-educated (see reviews, e.g., Ray, 2000, 2005; 2009b). Examples of these studies range from a multi-year study in Washington State (Wartes, 1991), to other state-specific studies, to three nationwide studies across the United States (Ray, 1990, 1997, 2000; Rudner 1999), to two nationwide studies in Canada (Ray, 1994; Van Pelt, 2003).

In most studies, the homeschooled have scored, on average, at the 65th to 80th percentile on standardized academic achievement tests, compared to the national school average of the 50th percentile (which is largely based on public schools). A few studies have found the home educated to be scoring about the same or a little better than public school students. …

Research shows that the large majority of home-educated students
consistently interact with children of various ages and parents outside their immediate family (see, e.g., Medlin, 2000; Ray, 1997, 2009b).

The second part of the socialization question asks whether home-educated children will experience healthy social, emotional, and psychological development. Numerous studies, employing various psychological constructs and measures, show the home-educated are developing at least as well, and often better than, those who attend institutional schools (Medlin, 2000; Ray, 2009b). No research to date contravenes this general conclusion. In a few studies, on some of the sub-measures within a study, the home educated have scored slightly lower (i.e., “worse” according to the conceptual paradigm the researcher was using) than those in institutional schools. …

A corollary of the socialization question deals with whether the home-educated child will eventually function well in the world of adulthood… Various studies have addressed this issue in multiple ways. It appears that the home educated are engaged, at least as much as are others, in activities that predict leadership in adulthood (Montgomery, 1989), doing well on their college/university SAT tests (Barber, 2001, personal communication) and ACT tests (ACT, 2005), matriculating in college at a rate that is comparable or a bit higher than for the general public (Ray, 2004; Van Pelt 2003), performing well in college (Gray, 1998; Galloway & Sutton, 1995; Jenkins, 1998; Jones & Gloeckner, 2004; Mexcur, 1993; Oliveira, Watson, & Sutton, 1994), satisfied that they were home educated (Knowles & Muchmore, 1995; Ray, 2004; Van Pelt, Neven, & Allison, 2009), involved in community service at least
as much as others (Ray, 2004; Van Pelt, Neven, & Allison, 2009), and more civically engaged than the general public (Ray, 2004; Van Pelt, Neven, & Allison, 2009). There is no research evidence that having been home educated is associated with negative behaviors or ineptitudes in adulthood.

This particular study found even higher academic success rates for homeschoolers, who consistently scored above the 80th percentile in all tested areas, even science and math. The authors also looked at parental education, which Batholet is so concerned about, and found that a whopping 0.5% of mothers who homeschool their children did not graduate from highschool.

The idea of banning the 99.5% of homeschooling families whose mothers were literate enough to graduate from highschool because of the 0.5% who didn’t is straight up absurd, which is why batholet used imaginary illiterate people instead of real statistics.

What about child abuse? I’d think that would be captured in the overall data on social/emotional well-being and eventual adulthood competency, but maybe people who abuse their kids make efforts not to let them take surveys about how happy they feel. Regardless, homeschooled kids hail from the demographics with extremely low overall abuse rates–the vast majority come from white, middle class households with two married parents, while the kids most likely to be abused come from Native American, Black, poor, single-parent or no-parent households (eg grandparents, foster parents). If you don’t already know this, you have no business talking about child abuse.

Again, if your goal is to help abused children, it is easy to think of much more effective legislation than just blanket targeting all homeschoolers.

Batholet’s final, and frankly most bizarre objection, is that homeschooled children will be unable to contribute to a democratic society. She seems to think there is a cabal of underground monarchists hidden deep in the American heartland, raising their children to heil King George III as the rightful monarch of our land and to agitate for unification with Canada.

Back to O’Donnell’s article about Batholet:

She views the absence of regulations ensuring that homeschooled children receive a meaningful education equivalent to that required in public schools as a threat to U.S. democracy. “From the beginning of compulsory education in this country, we have thought of the government as having some right to educate children so that they become active, productive participants in the larger society,” she says. This involves in part giving children the knowledge to eventually get jobs and support themselves. “But it’s also important that children grow up exposed to community values, social values, democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints,” she says, noting that European countries such as Germany ban homeschooling entirely and that countries such as France require home visits and annual tests.

Hoooo boy. There’s a lot here to unpack.

First, let’s go back to the beginning of compulsory education in the US, circa 1830. (The Founding Fathers thought compulsory education of so little importance to “democracy” that it took half a century to get going.) I have here in my child-rearing library Bernard Wishy’s The Child and The Republic: The Dawn of Modern American Child Nurture, published in 1968 but still a very good overview of precisely this era in American history.

Spend about half an hour with this book and you will discover first that the subject is quite dull, and second, that you do not care a whit what people in the early 1800s thought about education because their general ideas about child-rearing are so entirely alien to yours.

Many Americans in this era were Puritans who literally believed that babies were inherently evil and would not be good people until they realized the importance of Christianity and were “born again” in Christ. These folks took babies soiling their nappies as evidence of their satanic natures and believed you had to beat the devil out of them.

Although expressed differently by proliferating Protestant sects… by 1800 Calvinist views of the child and of a human destiny under God’s stern judgement had demonstrated remarkable staying power.

This heritage included Jonathan Edwards’ famous words that unrepentant children were “young vipers and infinitely more hateful than vipers.” Another view was that they were “not too little to die…not too little to go to hell.” …

Despite the prestige and weight we now give the more congenital “modern” ideas o the American Enlightenment, in the very hour of the triumph of American independence in the 1780’s there had begun a remarkable resurgence of Calvinist iews and religious conservatism… For the next half-ctury, orthodox ministers would also invoke the convenient spectre of Jacobinism to strenghten their demands for strict disciplien and early religious traiinign of the child. The future of the nation as well as the child’s soul were said to be in danger.

Remarkable parallel.

Continuing with Wishy:

It is perhaps risky to speculate about the hostility to children that the belief in infant damnation and strict training seems to express. … it is likely that the responsibilities and expense of many unwanted children created or intensified hostile feelings towards offspring. Whatever inspired them, the orthodox were reluctant to dampen the fires o Hell awaiting the child who had not started the arduous training needed for saving the soul…

Infants were “by nature sinners, and show us that… the wicked are estranged from the womb, they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.” [Reverend Allan Hyde, Essay on the State of Infants, NY, 1830.] …

Among the more conservative writers on the child was the President of Amherst College, Dr. Herman Humphrey. His book Domestic Education (1840) was a cataloge of errors for the day and a guide for perplexed mothers and fathers. … he called for absolute rule by the father, accountable to “no earthly power.” Fathers should try to control the child diligently by the age of four months. …

Complete rejection of the belief in depravity or innate tendencies to wickedness did not appear generally in popular literature until just before the Civil War.

But what about the schools themselves?

… the degree of the workday teachers’ and ministers’ hostility to encouraging intellectual and critical independence in students should also not be underestimated. … Precociousness was unnatural, and “forced feeding” of ideas even worse for the child. …

Some of the most revealing of the “impressions” that might come from the schoolroom have been examined by Ruth Miller Elson in a study of American textbooks before 1865. [Footnote: … This study confirms the evidence presented here of the essential conservatism of the goals sought through new methods of nurture. The textbooks studied stressed: the rejection of Europe, the exaltation of the Anglo-Saxon and scorning of the immigrant, the moral failure implicit in poverty, the acceptance of one’s own station and duties as God’s will, the ignoring or attacking of reform movements, the rightness of class distinctions…]

I have quoted this at length just to emphasize the utter absurdity of Batholet’s claims. Anyone who knows anything at all about the subject knows this is all the exact opposite of what Batholet wants; she is only invoking it because she assumes you don’t know anything about the subject. 

Rather, Batholet is attempting a bait-and-switch, invoking sacred ideas like “democracy” when she actually means “modern progressive liberal values.” And it is totally true that the majority of homeschooling families don’t put much stock in modern progressive liberal values (though a reasonable minority of homeschoolers are liberal hippie types).  The bait and switch and faux-concern for abused children (who could be much more effectively protected via other measures) is necessary because Batholet knows that insisting on educating children about pro-LGBT matters against their parents’ will would never pass First Amendment religious scrutiny.

Now on to Malkin.

Malkin’s piece is a little more over-the-top in tone, but just as disconnected from reality. She starts off by calling Google “kiddie predators,” as though the execs at Google’s offices liked to go raping six year olds in their spare time.

The Silicon Valley behemoth has already admitted it illegally collected children’s personal information on YouTube without parental consent, mines students’ browsing habits and emails, and tracks kids’ locations, audio and search history through Google educational apps and logons that are required for millions of students to participate in public schools.

Is Malkin actually ignorant about the facts of this case, or is she misrepresenting it on purpose?

The recent Youtube decision did not involve YT/Google doing something that it knew was illegal. It involved the government deciding to enforce a particular law in a new way that it hadn’t been used before, which made something YT was doing retroactively illegal.

The law in question prevents websites from gathering data/information from children, but it used to apply only to websites like Facebook where you make accounts that require personal information like your name or age. These laws are why Facebook, Youtube, and similar websites do not allow people under the age of 13 to have accounts: it’s illegal.

What Youtube was doing, which was not illegal, was tracking the viewing patterns of all users. If you watch five videos about car repair, and then you search for a video about truck repair, Youtube notices and in the future is likely to recommend videos about truck repair to people who’ve watched videos about car repair. This is how Youtube playlists and recommendations are generated, not to mention recommended products on Amazon, people you might want to follow on Twitter, not to mention all of the ads. Mom and Pop stores, major corporations, and TV stations also collect similar data about their customers/users.

These algorithms are fundamentally useful. They let Amazon recommend the product you’re looking for, they let Google figure out what you’re trying to type when you misspell something, and they let Youtube figure out that ads for vibrators don’t belong on videos featuring muppets.

The court case which expanded the scope of the original law found that when Youtube collected data like “Users who watched Baby Shark videos tend also to watch Pikachu videos,” even though that data was not attached to a particular name, account, or user, since it was a child on the other end of the screen, the data came from a child and thus was illegal to collect. I would like to emphasize that TV stations do the exact same thing when they look at their ratings and determine that people who watch Dora the Explorer tend to also watch Go Diego Go, but this has not been declared illegal simply because it involves a TV screen instead of a computer screen.

This is a moronic decision, since Youtube has no way of telling who exactly is on the other side of the screen (maybe it’s me, because I think the Baby Shark and Pikachu songs are funny), and cannot effectively figure out who is watching the videos in order to specifically not collect their data. The result has been the mass-demonetization of videos aimed at children, as determined by a combination of YT’s algorithms and creators’ own admission. A variety of other restrictions also now affect these videos, preventing them from showing up in recommendations and disabling comments.

This is a disaster for anyone making content aimed at children, from toy reviewers to teachers, because not only are their videos harder to find, but they also can’t get paid for them. Like everyone else, content creators need to eat.

Worse, there is no clear definition of what is “intended for children,” because the law was not originally written to cover such cases, and the legal threat/burden for determining this is put on the creators, not YT. So if you are making Minecraft videos that you intended for other adults like yourself, but it turns out that 10 year old boys also like watching them, you can be in violation of the law and get prosecuted by the federal government, but if you mark your videos as “for kids” they will at best show up next to “Baby Sings ABCs” videos and you won’t make any money.

Anyway, all of this is what Michelle Malkin is reducing to “illegally collected children’s information on Youtube”. The rest of the article contains similar mischaracterizations or omissions of vital details. Take this:

Can you imagine a similar breach of minors’ photos and videos stored on students’ Google Drives or Chromebooks or smartphones or home computers used to log on to mandatory learning management systems integrated with Google, such as Canvas or Schoology or Blackboard? It’s easy if you try.

I can imagine unicorns. So what? We’re not here to imagine make-believe harms.

Notice how both articles invent hypotheticals or imagined harms. This would be reasonable if we were talking about the effects of proposed legislation or future inventions, but not in the case of already existing legislation and technologies. Since these things already exist, we can talk about their actual effects, not imagined ones.

Malkin’s article is worse in this regard (at least Batholet could cite the case of one homeschooling family that abused their kids, while Malkin could not cite a single case of harm to children due to Google/YT), but both are focused on imagined harm because the real life harms are so rare.

Why are both of these articles so far off-base?

Could the authors/Batholet be lying? I have no reason to think that Batholet is intentionally, consciously lying–she sounds too much like relatives I’ve had conversations with in real life who just spout off about homeschooling without knowing anything about it.

Malkin probably isn’t in it for the money, (being featured on VDare probably does not make you money,) but she could be intentionally misleading people because she sees Google/Youtube as her enemy.

I think both Batholet and Malkin are motivated by dislike of their enemies/outgroup. Malkin has written previously about YT censoring her, and Batholet clearly doesn’t like religious conservatives. Dislike of your enemy makes you more likely to believe absurd things about him (he must do terrible things, otherwise he wouldn’t be your enemy,) and attacking your enemy, even for imagined faults, raises your own social status within your own group. Meanwhile it is difficult for anyone within your group to question your claims because such questions look a lot like ‘trying to argue that the outgroup isn’t actually all that bad’, which leaves you vulnerable to attacks from other status-climbers.

The average in-group reader, then, only hears one dominant side being articulated by people they respect, and so if they do not have any independent knowledge on the subject (and none of us can know everything,) then they are more likely to believe the incorrect information.

So, TL:DR

People are more likely to believe wrong things when they

  1. Don’t know much about the subject at hand,
  2. The incorrect information comes from an authority within their in-group,
  3. It concern the out-group, or
  4. They’re repeating a euphemism without realizing it’s a euphemism.

(eg, Batholet’s claim that homeschooling is bad for democracy is really a euphemism for bad for her politics. If a euphemism gets repeated often enough, people start believing it literally, forgetting what it originally stood for.)

Capitalism of Place

One of the interesting themes in Arnade’s Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America is the role of capitalism in creating community spaces.

Arnade spends most of his time in the book in three places: McDonald’s, drug dens, and churches. Two of these–McD’s and the drug Ds–are capitalist enterprises: they exist to sell you things, legal or not. Churches are not explicitly capitalist, but can be understood using the same model. They are interested in attracting enough members to cover their operating costs, so a church that does a better job of “selling” religion or provides a more enjoyable religious experience will probably attract more parishioners and will do better financially. (A church that can attract no members is, ultimately, dead.)

The lack of good common spaces that do not require spending money is one of the minor annoyances of my life. I like being outdoors, but it rains out there. National parks are lovely, but not near the house. It’s especially difficult to find locations that are attractive to multiple generations, or both children and childless adults (if I want to socialize with friends who do not have kids of their own).

As Arnade notes, for poor neighborhoods, McDonald’s fills that niche. It has a playground and happy meals for kids; it has booths and hamburgers for adults. It is warm and dry in the winter, cool in the summer, and even has a bathroom. The price of admission is low–a cup of coffee.

In Arnade’s telling, the organizations that ought to be providing community spaces, like the local government, really don’t. From a libertarian perspective, if attracting more people to these places doesn’t directly benefit the people running them, then they won’t put effort into making these spaces comfortable and attractive. Since McDonald’s (or the other locations Arnade visits) do make money off customers, even homeless ones who just order a cup of coffee, McD’s has an incentive to make its environs comfortable and welcoming to as many people as possible.

We can find other examples of capitalist enterprises providing communal spaces, like salons, barber shops, shopping malls, bars, and sports bars.

Of course, this inevitably runs up against class issues. McD makes plenty of money selling food to the poor, and Whole Foods makes plenty selling food to the rich, but it is difficult to sell to both markets. Back in our review of Auerswald’s The Code Economy, we discussed his observation that capitalistic markets tends to bifurcate into supplying low and high class versions of products, with a dearth in between. Auerswald discusses the evolution of watch making, from expensive luxuries to common watches to the clock included on your phone. He writes that both the clock-in-your phone and the luxury Rolex markets are doing fine, while sales of mid-price watches have withered.

Community seems to have undergone a similar process. McDonald’s is doing fine, financially, and I’m sure ski clubs in Alta are doing fine, too. It’s in between that we find people who are watching their money and can’t afford to spend $80-$120 a day on trips to the museum/zoo/movies, etc, but don’t want to hang out at McDonald’s, either. In general I think of “let’s avoid the poors” social signaling as a scam–products/services that signal your social class will happily increase in cost until they’ve sucked up all of your money–but sometimes avoiding other people legitimate. Personally, I would go to McDonald’s more often if my children weren’t prone to getting horribly ill when we visit–social class may be socially constructed, but diarrhea is real. Avoiding criminals, drug addicts, diseases, and folks who haven’t bathed recently is perfectly reasonable.

There aren’t a lot of spaces that do this for the middle class. Chick-fil-A comes close, but their playgrounds are designed for kids under 5. The best place I can think of for middle class families to hang out and socialize (which is also a good place for the poor and upper class) is church. And indeed, Arnade meets lots of people at churches across the country. Churches (or other religions’ houses of worship) are generally warm (or cool), hold community events, mark lifecycle events, and generally even have dedicated areas for children. The only difficulty is that churches are structured around belief in a particular religion, which is awkward for the nation’s increasing numbers of atheists, and occasionally use their parishioners’ beliefs in the morality of the church for self-gratification/manipulation. (EG, every cult ever.)

Arnade also visits one other variety of social club in the book, the “Snowshoe Club” IIRC, dedicated not to snowshoeing, but to French Canadians in the US. Like many social clubs, the Snowshoes get together for dinner and social events, costs five dollars to join, and officially you don’t have to be French Canadian to be a member. These sorts of social clubs used to be much more common in the US (See: Bowling Alone), but have been on the wane for decades.

How do you feel about community in your own town? Are there good places to meet people and socialize, or do you feel a dearth? Does capitalism do a good job of filling this role, or would some other structure or institution perform better? Is the bifurcation I have described a real thing, or just an illusion of some sort? In short, what do you think?

An Historian of Science Discovers the “Light Switch”

Historian and philosopher Emma Houston interrogates the science of electricity and light bulbs

The light switch was at the center of Houston’s first big foray into the history of electricity and lights. The story told in introductory electrical engineering textbooks is relatively simple: flipping the switch up turns the lights “on”; flipping the switch down turns the lights “off.” Whether a switch is in the on or off position has for for decades been seen as an expression of a light bulb’s “true” state or of “light itself.” It is the job of a science historian to discover where these stories come from, and why.

Houston’s doctoral dissertation, published in 2004 as Light Itself: The Search for On and Off in the Electric Circuit does just this, tracing the history of the idea that electromagnetic radiation is turned “on” and “off” by switches found on the wall. Early in the twentieth century, she shows, it was controversial to refer to “light switches” because sometimes electricians accidentally wired around them when installing lights.

But the fact that switches are visible, (unlike electricity) made them useful for enough to two groups of engineers–those building electrical circuits, and those working to untangle the role of electricity in light generation–that the association between switches and light solidified for decades.

Associating “light” with the “light switch,” writes Richardson, has serious consequences, as when engineers tried to develop a “super flashlight” that used two light switches and multiple batteries.

The “super flashlight” was finally abandoned in the development stage when engineers decided it was simpler to use bigger batteries, but in Light Itself, Houston argues that it made the light switch the star of electrical engineering in a way that still reverberates. She points to engineers like Professor Book, whose research focused for decades on using light switches to design home lighting plans. Such a focus was not inevitable, Houston argues: from the 1920s through the 50s, based on evidence in lasers, researchers saw buttons as drivers of light output.

It turns out that “light switches” do not actually cause bulbs to emit electromagnetic radiation. Engineers now understand that light, produced by incandescent bulbs as well as LEDs and compact fluorescents, is the result of numerous interconnected capacitors, resistors, power sources, and wire circuits that all work together. So called “light switches” do not cause light at all–they merely open and close light circuits, allowing electricity to flow (or not) to the bulbs.

But in an interview, Professor Book disagrees with Houston’s account. In Houston’s history, the super flashlight looms large in later researchers’ decision to focus on the switch, but Professor Book responds that research on the super flashlight “did not interest me, it did not impress me, it did not look like the the foundations of a path forward.” Building circuits around the light switch, he says, was not inspired by the popular image of a super bright flashlight with two switches, but “was simply the easiest way to design practical lighting for people’s houses” and that “flipping the switch does actually turn the lights on and off.”

Houston responds that of course we can’t expect actual engineers to know what inspired them or their fields, which is why we need science historians like herself to suss out what was really motivating them.

Author’s note: Professor Houston has degrees in philosophy and literature, but oddly, none in engineering or physics.

This parody is thanks to Harvard Magazine’s The Science of Sex: Historian and Philosopher Sarah Richardson Interrogates the Science of Sex and Gender.

 

 

 

 

Is the Canadian Legal System… Very Different from Ours?

Edit: This case absolutely blew up on Twitter after I wrote this post, but before the post actually went up (one of the occasional downsides of maintaining a post-buffer). You have probably heard all about the case already.

This is a fascinating case I’ve been reading about in Canada. Might take a few tweets to get the gist of what’s going on, but I recommend reading the whole thread. The short version is that JY is a dude trying to force immigrant women to wax his balls. These women run waxing services, some in their homes, some will drive to your home, but only for other women, and he is suing them for not being willing to wax his “female testicles.”

Part 1:

 

And part 2, Part 3, and hopefully Part 4.

There is a lot to unpack here.

JY is alleging that these women have discriminated against him because he is trans. This is of course blatantly incorrect; they discriminated against him because he is male, which is something they are allowed to do.

(I refuse to refer to JY as female because he is not. He is a mentally ill man who is either a total grifter trying to sue innocent women for the money or a sick pervert with a soft rape fantasy that involves forcing women to handle his genitals against their will. Either way, I will not lie on his behalf, and besides, I am an American so I can use whatever pronouns I want. FREEDOM, BITCHES.)

There is some interesting expert testimony from someone who teaches waxing at the local cosmetology school to the effect of 1. Waxing male genitals is different from waxing other sorts of body parts, so it does take special training and 2. We don’t offer that training, because the kinds of men who want their genitals waxed often demand sex from the waxer and then become angry and aggressive if you deny them. Which is, hahah not funny, exactly the case with JY, who is actually suing women for refusing to touch his balls.

JY is convinced that “Nazis” are targeting him over these cases because you know Nazis, they love standing up for the rights of poor, brown, immigrant women. JY comes across as mentally off; JY’s parents, who should be reigning him in, are just as nuts as he is, if not moreso–they even threatened goinglikeelsie for taking notes on the case. (Since JY looks like a 35 or 40 year old man in his photos, it is very strange that his parents are so involved in his life.)

We used to have this notion that “perverts” exist and women and children need to be protected from them. The fear was always overrated for most people–children are most likely to be raped by their stepfathers/mom’s new boyfriend–but creepy guys who like to dismember prostitutes still exist and are a real concern for prostitutes. This guy wants to force women to wax his balls in front of small children, and the court system, instead of telling him that if he ever goes near a child he will be put in prison, is helping him. Even if the court eventually finds in the women’s favor, they have already been through hell because of this case.

Interestingly, no one seems to be really focusing on what I assume is the central point of the case: was JY denied service because he is trans? This seems like it would be slam-dunk for the defendants–none of these immigrant women seem to even know what the word “trans” means, much less have enough knowledge about it to discriminate on this basis. JY was rejected because he is male, just like all other men who apply for these services. If he wants to claim that this denial is incorrect because he is not actually male, he is just a girl who has a really unfortunate face, then he could easily take that route–but he has not.

Edit: I noticed in some of the later testimony that JY is now claiming to have a penis and a vagina. If JY has an actual intersex disorder, then his case (ought to be) very different. Most people would be perfectly willing to accommodate an actual woman who merely has an unusual medical condition; all he needs is a doctor’s note and a reasonable explanation about what’s going on and people would be fine. Instead he has claimed to be “trans” (which is defined as having a gender identity opposite to your biological sex, implying that he is not intersex,) and is suing these ladies under the standards established for trans people, not intersex. I think he is only claiming to have a vagina at this late stage because of the obvious idiocy of demanding a “brazilian” wax job when you don’t have anatomy in the relevant shape.

The women JY has sued have suffered greatly because of this idiocy. It is obvious that these sorts of services (eg, women going to other women’s homes to give waxes) cannot exist if those women cannot turn down clients whom they find threatening, dangerous, or unpleasant, and that includes the vast majority of men.

As of my writing, the case hasn’t been decided, but if the court decides that they can’t turn down clients just because they have “female testicles,” they won’t start waxing men’s balls, they’ll just shut down their businesses. Women will be out of work and other women won’t be able to hire them for services they wanted (and, let’s be honest, the men who appreciate bikini waxes will be disappointed, too), and there will still be no one willing to wax JY’s balls. (BTW, you can buy wax and wax your own at home if it’s really that important to you.)

Even in the best case scenario, JY won’t even be chased out of town.

Now, I don’t have that much experience with how court cases are actually run in the US, but I know that things like witnesses and evidence have to be decided beforehand, whereas in this case JY seems to be introducing them willy-nilly (and then trying to remove his own evidence from the record when he realizes he brought in something that reflects badly on himself!) How is this allowed? For that matter, why has the judge not reigned them in? Not that the American legal system is perfect (it’s a dumpster fire on steroids,) but, uh, Canada? What is up with your legal system?

Edit: After some reflection, I wanted to add a few more thoughts. Since the publication ban has been lifted, people have begun referring to JY by name, so I’ve switched to calling him Yanive (his last name).

You know, it’s easy to criticize Yanive, but he is doing something valuable:

He is forcing Canada to clarify an apparently badly written and unclear law about “gender affirmative care,” the rights of trans people to be treated as their chosen gender, and not discriminating against trans people. Most people imagine these laws to mean something like:

  1. I am selling widgets (houses, cars, stocks, hamburgers, etc) that have nothing to do with gender. You, a trans person, walk into my establishment. I cannot refuse to sell you a widget just because you are trans.
  2. You work for me. You come out as trans. I cannot fire you for it.

In other words, if a person would normally be allowed to purchase a good or service, or be employed somewhere, their status as trans should not change this. (The rights of trans people with respect to prisons and medical care are somewhat outside our current scope, since most people don’t run prisons.)

Yanive, however, interprets the law as meaning that since he is a woman, he is entitled any good, service, job, etc, that would normally be reserved for women. IE, if there are male and female changing rooms, he gets to use the female one. If there is a scholarship for female students, he gets to apply for it. If there are female-only dance parties, he gets to attend. And if a nail salon, spa, or waxing parlor says “women only,” then he still gets to frequent them.

Since the story broke, a lot of people, mostly trans activists, have tried to distance themselves from Yanive, saying he’s not a true trans person or that he’s just a grifter, etc., but there is no fundamentally different logic in Yanive’s demand that ball waxing places wax his female balls and demands that trans athletes be allowed to compete in women’s sports or date lesbians. These trends have been going on for a long time, and trying to distance the community now that they happen to have impacted normal humans is disingenuous.

In all of this cultural back and forth, no one (except maybe the Olympics) has bothered to define what a woman actually is, because doing so offends all of the folks who “feel like a woman” but still have testicles. If Yanive is a woman, legally, under Canadian law, then it is kind of weird to turn around and say, “Oh, yes, but you don’t get to do XYZ that other women get to do.” Let’s imagine for a moment that he was simply born a very ugly girl with malformed genitals, but was otherwise undoubtedly female. Would it be sensible to deny her services simply because she is ugly? No, and few businesses would.

The catch here is that, when it comes to actually waxing testicles, people tend to snap out of it and realize that Yanive is not an ugly woman.

The solution, of course, is to realize that self-ID is nonsense. Just because I self-identify as a fighter pilot doesn’t mean the military is going to let me fly a plane. Just because I self-identify as Napoleon doesn’t mean I get to lead the French army. Just because I self-identify as a Yale student doesn’t mean I get to go to Yale, and just because I think I’m Japanese doesn’t mean I am. If certain statuses mean that I am legally or contractually entitled to do things, (fly a plane, attend a school, live in a country, apply for a females-only scholarship, etc) then there has to be some criterion for inclusion that isn’t just “because I want it.” We all want it, buddy.

There are two potential solutions:

  1. Government stops caring about your gender identity
  2. Female-only spaces/services/jobs/etc go away

I don’t care about your gender identity. I certainly don’t see why the government should care. Should there be separate changing rooms for non-binary? Ambigenders? Demimasculines? No. These terms just describe your personality. As long as your personality isn’t “stabs people,” government shouldn’t care about your personality and certainly shouldn’t be legislating that certain personality types get special treatment.

Government can go back to paying attention to biological sex, with the exception of people who have true intersex disorders (and documentation to prove it). People who have actually had SRS and now look like women (or men) can be allowed to do certain things like use the opposite-sex bathrooms because this is the safest and easiest thing.

The other option is to get rid of female-segregated things. If Yanive gets to identify as a woman with testicles, then so do I. So do you. Any scholarships for girls? We’re all girls. Any jobs open only to women? We’re all women. Female employment? Way up!

The left has spent years breaking down the notion that people have a right to free association. Want to control who comes into your country? Racist. Want to live in a low-crime neighborhood? Racist. Mens’ clubs? Sexist. Firing a gay person? Homophobic. The modern standard is that jobs, housing, universities, neighborhoods, shops, and life generally cannot discriminate against people for immutable characteristics like race, sex, sexual orientation, or disability.

Then the left tries to turn around and re-establish exclusive communities based on exactly those characteristics. It’s an intellectual charade with no underlying consistency other than “because we want it.” Great. Let’s end this charade.

Back Row America, Back Row Bronze Age Europe

Back Row America:

This was a really interesting article–book excerpt–about an upper-class Wallstreet guy who, through his daily walks, begins talking to and photographing the people he basically hadn’t noticed before.

Over the next half hour, she told me her life story. She told me how her mother’s pimp had put her on the streets at twelve. How she had had her first child at thirteen. How she was addicted to heroin. I ended by asking her the question I asked everyone I ­photographed: How do you want to be described? She replied without a pause, “As who I am. A prostitute, a mother of six, and a child of God.”

I spent the next three years following Takeesha and the street family she was a member of—roughly fifty men and women who lived under bridges, in abandoned buildings, in sheds, in pits, in broken-down trucks, on rooftops, or, if they scored enough money, in per-hour motels. What she showed me prompted me to travel to other neighborhoods in cities across America, from Buffalo to New Haven to Cleveland to Selma to El Paso to Amarillo. In each of these places, people have a sense of being left behind and forgotten—or, worse, mocked and stigmatized by the rest of the world as it moves on and up with the GDP.

In many cases, these neighborhoods have literally been left behind by people like me. …

We had compassion for those who got left behind, but thought that our job was to provide them an opportunity (no matter how small) to get where we were. It didn’t occur to us that what we valued wasn’t what everyone else wanted. They were the people who couldn’t or didn’t want to leave their town or their family to get an education at an elite college, the people who cared more about their faith than about science. If we were the front row, they were the back row.

Had I asked people in my hometown why they were still there, I would have received the answer I heard in neighborhoods from Cairo to Amarillo to rural Ohio. They would have looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Because it is my home.”

The book it’s from is Dignity: Seeking Respect in Backrow America.

This article–and the larger book, undoubtedly–touches on a lot of themes I’ve been pondering myself. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t have answers. I’d like answers.

Dignity, as I’ve said before, is one of those principles I am drawn to. I am not sure what can be done for people. Maybe nothing. But I can still treat others with respect, and maybe if we respected each other a little more, we could get our heads out of our collective rear ends and make something better of this country.

Related: Crossing Borders to Afford Insulin:

All told, I bought two cartons of Lantus (5 pens each carton) for $52 each, which is about a year supply for me. I also bought six single Kwikpens of Humalog for $13 dollars each, which is about a six month supply.

My total pharmacy bill that day was $182, and I left Mexico with a year’s supply of one insulin and a 6 month’s supply of another. That same amount of insulin – the exact same, in identical cartridges and boxes with the same graphics and colors and the same words written on them (in Spanish for the Mexican insulin) – would cost me over $3,000 with my American health coverage. Even after adding in a tank and a half of gas, I saved thousands of dollars by buying my life-saving medications in Mexico, instead of the US.

Also related: Mass grave of an extended family probably murdered by invading Corded Ware People–I mean, peacefully interred by migrating pots:

We sequenced the genomes of 15 skeletons from a 5,000-y-old mass grave in Poland associated with the Globular Amphora culture. All individuals had been brutally killed by blows to the head, but buried with great care. Genome-wide analyses demonstrate that this was a large extended family and that the people who buried them knew them well: mothers are buried with their children, and siblings next to each other. From a population genetic viewpoint, the individuals are clearly distinct from neighboring Corded Ware groups because of their lack of steppe-related ancestry. Although the reason for the massacre is unknown, it is possible that it was connected with the expansion of Corded Ware groups, which may have resulted in violent conflict.

Trump, Mueller, and Concerns

We here at EvX try not to dwell too much on the day-to-day of politics, which requires keeping track of too many names and reads a bit too much like tabloid gossip for our comfort, but we are not insensitive to the worries of national governance.

I have maintained since the beginning that there was nothing to this Trump/Russia collusion business. Not being a devote of the news, TV or otherwise, probably helped form this opinion–nothing suggests a sudden change in Russian influence in my daily life. My neighborhood has improved slightly over the past couple of years, which might be an effect of presidential policies (or random chance.)

As we have discussed before, there are many conspiracy theories. Most infamously in my lifetime, belief that a vast, underground “Satanic Daycare conspiracy” was raping children, sacrificing elephants, and flying on broomsticks saw the light of day on mainstream TV in the ’80s and early 90s. This was not just the bread and butter of cheap talk shows, but resulted in actual criminal convictions that sent real people to prison, eventually culminating in a full-scale FBI  and an FBI investigation that turned up exactly nothing, because witchcraft isn’t real. The fact that none of the prosecutors involved were put in prison for gross misconduct remains a serious blot on our nation.

Conspiracy theories arise under a number of circumstances, especially fear and confusion. If the events around you don’t make sense and you can’t explain why they’re happening, then you’re much more likely to conclude that mysterious outside forces are controlling things.

In countries with very little governmental transparency, conspiracy theories run rife–they are a sign that there is something amiss, that the people do not trust the normal operations of government and do not believe that government is operating honestly.

There have always been conspiracy theories, whether about Elvis, aliens, or Kennedy, but these have usually been embraced by people of somewhat less than credible mental stability. The fact that after the 2016 election so many otherwise intellectually normal people embraced the idea that the President of the United States was actually a foreign agent and that a foreign country had managed to “steal” the election is far more troubling. (For what it’s worth, I also thought that people who thought similar things about Obama were wrong–but those people were never given so much credence by the press and upper classes.)

That other countries would like to influence American politics is indisputable. All countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, encourage the US to act in their interest if they at all possess the ability to do so, and we do the same to them. All countries of any size and consequence spy on each other (much of which is just gathering intelligence reports on the state of industries and political unrest) or, if they are very closely allied, they just explicitly share information. Russia spies on us; we spy on them. About fifty other countries also spy on us, and we on them.

There is no reason to single out Russia as the sole national security threat (Ukrainian and Chinese hackers have just as much interest in our secrets;) nor to believe that they are particularly competent at swaying American voters or colluding with politicians–nor is it any more insidious when they do it than when anyone else does it.

The entirety of the “Russiagate” conspiracy was built upon the fact that Trump said a few positive things about Russia during the campaign instead of glibly posturing about shooting down Russian planes in Syria (since when did Congress vote to authorize troop deployments to Syria, anyway?) and the Russians, very sensibly, decided that they liked the guy who wasn’t trying to start a war with them. You would, too, if you were them.

Two people mutually agreeing that getting into a war isn’t in their countries’ best interests isn’t “collusion,” unless you think there is “collusion” going on with every other country we aren’t at war with.  (Quick count: it looks like we are at war in 8 countries–Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia/Kenya, Uganda, and Syria–leaving 187 that we are colluding with.)

The continual demands that Trump believe the “intelligence briefings” (that we Americans conveniently couldn’t see!) that supposedly found Russian hacking or interference in our elections were idiotic from the start–obviously the leaks favored Trump, so he had no interest in denouncing them, no  matter where they came from. Furthermore, we saw back in 2002-3 with the now thoroughly discredited reports that Iraq had WMDs, just how good the government/media are at promoting a completely incorrect narrative based on selective reading of intelligence reports. Anyone who has payed the remotest bit of attention over the past couple of decades should have learned a degree of skepticism by now, but some people seem cursed to make the same mistakes over and over again.

Perhaps they aren’t very bright.

Ordinarily, a conspiracy by itself does very little harm. Sure, a few people might alienate their relatives at Christmas by nattering on about Q-anon, or kill their children by refusing measles shots, but there’s little in the way of widespread damage.

But when members of Congress and the FBI begin believing conspiracies, then they have much more potential to do serious harm.

I have said many times that there are enough laws and the legal (and tax) code is of sufficient complexity that if the police want to charge you with something, they almost inevitably can–everyone jaywalks, after all. We usually trust the police to use this power for good, (catching mafia bosses on money laundering charges, for example) not evil (charging parents with neglect for letting their 9 yr old play outside in pleasant weather).

But with the advent of the never-ending special prosecutor-run investigation (pioneered under Nixon and perfected in full idiocy under Clinton), this power has been harnessed for disturbing political ends. According to Bloomberg, at least 22 of Trump’s family and associates have been investigated since the beginning of his term (not to mention the Trump Foundation, Trump Organization, and Trump himself.) Even if someone is eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, merely being the subject of an investigation is extremely expensive, stressful, and time-consuming.

Most of these investigations are not happening because someone did anything particularly wrong–no more than anyone else in Washington, given the high likelihood of any random person to have committed a crime–but because they were close to Trump, whom Democrats were absolutely convinced was a secret Russian agent hell-bent on destroying America by keeping out illegal immigrants.

And if they weren’t convinced, they were certainly happy to lie to the public in order to use it as cover to interfere with the president.

This is some banana republic level bullshit, folks.

One party leveraging the justice system to target and imprison members of the opposing party and cripple the president’s ability to act should have you concerned, whether you’re on the Right or the Left (don’t think the Right can’t use the same trick back on you).

This is not a good sign.

 

When GDP is a Scam

Look, just… think about this for a moment. How does a group in which 65% are unemployed and can’t speak the language add anything to the economy?

You could do some sleight of hand where a few very productive workers, a random billionaire like Carlos Slim or Steve Jobs, get lumped in with a bunch of people they have nothing to do with on the grounds that they are all “Syrian,” and come up with numbers like this, but that would be a sleight of hand. It’s deceptive, and it’s obviously lumping together completely disparate groups in order to make one group look much better than it is.

How to tell if someone is lying to you with GDP:

  1. Consider splitting the population in two. Say, Germans and non-Germans. Would GDP for one group go down?If yes, then you’re being lied to. Simply “growing” the GDP by drawing a bigger circle on the map and adding up the GDP inside of it doesn’t mean the people inside the circle have more money. It just means you drew a bigger circle.
  2. Is this GDP “growth” entirely due to government spending to deal with the problems brought by the newcomers, like funding schools to teach them German?If yes, then it is not real spending. Everyone who was already in Germany was just taxed to provide service to non-Germans. You could do that without anyone immigrating to Germany.
  3.  

    Does this “growth” translate into a higher standard of living or happiness for the average or median German?

    If not, you are being lied to.

  4.  

    If you could magically replace every one of those migrants with a German of the same age and sex, would GDP go up or down?
    If Up, then these migrants are a bad investment.

  5. If these immigrants are so great for the German economy, why were they so bad for their home economies?

Let’s summarize these varieties of “GDP” abuse: 1. Not looking at Per Capita, 2. “Growth” that doesn’t help the locals, 3. Growth that goes to elites, 4. Opportunity cost, 5. Not making any sense.

GDP is one way to measure the economy, but it isn’t the only way–and it certainly isn’t the only thing that matters.

Let us consider the simplest possible economy:

Joe and Bob are sailors who have been marooned on a desert island. They have plenty of fish to eat and two coconuts, which they use as currency. When Joe wants something from Bob, he pays him one Coconut. When Bob wants something from Joe, he pays him one Coconut.

Bob and Joe are also economists, so they keep track of their local GDP, tallying up every Coconut exchange. After two months, they have a robust GDP of 4,000 Coconuts per month–and then the coconuts sprout. For the next two months, Bob and Joe abandon the Coconut and just do favors for each other. The economy crashes. The island has a GDP of 0 Coconuts–but oddly, Bob and Joe are doing just as well and eating just as much fish as before.

You might be objecting that the Coconut Economy is a bit contrived, but it is relevant to our real world.

Over in our economy, if I hire a maid to vacuum my carpet, this is “economic activity” and it counts toward the GDP–but If I vacuum it myself, it doesn’t count. If I am hired as a nanny to take care of someone else’s children, this is “economic activity,” but if I take care of my own children, it doesn’t count. Even hiring a prostitute is “economic activity” as far as GDP is concerned, but having sex for free is not.

It is easy to see how something like “women entering the workforce” might generate a substantial GDP boost–while not actually changing anything but the location where particular jobs are done. There is no more economic value to vacuuming my carpet or yours. It’s all carpet.

There are plenty of non-economic arguments relevant here. I might be happier hiring someone to vacuum my carpet so I can spend my time on other activities, or I might be happier tidying up my own home to get everything just the way I like it. I might provide more nurturing childcare to my own children, or a professional might be able to invest in expensive toys and games that can be enjoyed by the many children in their care. People may enjoy consensual sex with their spouses more than with prostitutes–or may hate people and just want to visit the occasional prostitute. Etc.

All of these nuances of life are missed in any simple argument about GDP.

Any argument that hinges solely on what immigrants add (or subtract) from GDP is misguided because ultimately, people don’t exist to make economies better–economies exist to make people better.

Would you try to “improve” the lives of the Amish by inviting a bunch of Silicon Valley executives to settle in their area and boost GDP?

Of course not. It wouldn’t even be a meaningful exercise–the Amish are perfectly happy the way they are. Different people want different things in life. Sometimes that’s more money. Sometimes it’s community, free time, health, or nature. The Silicon Valley folks wouldn’t be too happy having to deal with the Amish, either.

About 30 years ago, economists-on-TV and pundits became convinced that the key to the economy was “spending” and therefore we had to convince people to spend more. Tracking things like “how much people spend on Christmas shopping” became an annual theme.

Of course, spending comes at a cost (future saving), and future saving comes at a cost (current consumption).

Here is a good article on why GDP and CPI are Broken:

Imagine China is implementing a mercantilist policy. An American spends cash to buy goods exported from China. The Chinese recycle the money earned from exporting goods to America into buying mortgage backed securities. The American takes out a big mortgage to buy a house, mortgage bought by the Chinese. The American is effectively borrowing from the Chinese in order to fund current consumption. The net result is that America is a net seller of home equity and in return has recieved goods. The price of homes will be pushed up. In the GDP statistics this will actually show up as economic growth (since the cheap Chinese goods will push down the GDP deflator). But in reality, there has been no growth, the U.S. is simply selling off its own wealth and getting poorer.

Of course, this is what is actually happening.

Meanwhile:

The GDP numbers do not include depreciation. So if existing infrastructure is crumbling faster than it gets replaced, GDP might show the country as actually growing while in reality things are falling apart.

If the entire city of Detroit gets destroyed in riots, fires, crime waves, and ethnic cleansing, and is left in ruins, this catastrophe not show up in GDP numbers. In fact, GDP might actually increase since the destruction would spur the creation of new housing (which does show up in the numbers) and the average home price might actually fall (reducing the GDP deflator) due to violence making the neighborhoods unlivable.

GDP for GDP’s sake is burning houses down just so you can rebuild them–or importing foreigners just so you can spend money to teach them to speak your language.