March 11, 2014
...is a dish best served cold:
Sacre Bleu! Why Were We Not Informed of This???
Just in case any of you missed it the other day, this must-read article from the WSJ makes two points:
1. Contra the Left, worker's incomes have kept pace with gains in productivity. This is a particularly important argument as arguments to the contrary are a key justification for viewing income inequality as "unfair" (and for confiscating and redistributing the supposedly ill-gotten profits of employers):
Many pundits, politicians and economists claim that wages have fallen behind productivity gains over the last generation. This "decoupling" explains allegedly stagnant (or in some versions of the story, declining) middle-class incomes and is held out as a crisis of the market economy.
This story, though, is built on an illusion. There is no great decoupling of worker pay from productivity. Nor have workers' incomes stagnated over the past four decades.
The illusion is the result of two mistakes that are routinely made when pay is compared with productivity. First, the value of fringe benefits—such as health insurance and pension contributions—is often excluded from calculations of worker pay. Because fringe benefits today make up a larger share of the typical employee's pay than they did 40 years ago (about 19% today compared with 10% back then), excluding them fosters the illusion that the workers' slice of the (bigger) pie is shrinking.
The second mistake is to use the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to adjust workers' pay for inflation while using a different measure—for example the GDP deflator, which converts the current prices of all domestically produced final goods and services into constant dollars—to adjust the value of economic output for inflation. But as Harvard's Martin Feldstein noted in a National Bureau of Economic Research paper in 2008, it is misleading to use different deflators.
Different inflation adjustments give conflicting estimates of just how much the dollar's purchasing power has fallen. So to accurately compare the real (that is, inflation-adjusted) value of output to the real value of worker pay requires that these values both be calculated using the same price index.
2. Where has so-called "vanishing middle class" disappeared to? Turns out most have moved into higher income brackets:
The claim that ordinary Americans are stagnating economically while only "the rich" are gaining is also incorrect. True enough, membership in the middle class seems to be declining—but this is because more American households are moving up.
The Census Bureau in 2012 compiled data on the percentage of U.S. households earning annual incomes, measured in 2009 dollars, in different income categories (for example, annual incomes between $25,000 and $35,000). These data reveal that between 1975 and 2009, the percentage of households in the low- and middle-income categories fell. The only two categories that saw an increase were households earning between $75,000 and $100,000 annually, and households earning more than $100,000 annually. Remarkably, the share of American households earning annual incomes in excess of $100,000 went to 20.1% in 2009 from 8.4% in 1975. Over these same years, households earning annual incomes of $50,000 or less fell to 50.1% from 58.4%.
So to recap, upward mobility is alive and well in America and if you include total compensation (benefits that mostly didn't exist in our parents' time, plus wages), worker pay is not stagnant. Perhaps our President will learn this good news the way he learns what's happening in his own administration: by reading a newspaper.
A Blog Princess can dream...
Kids and the Power of Music
Music has tremendous power to move us, and this is rarely more apparent than when watching young children discover its magic.
In the first of two videos (placed below the fold so they don't slow down site loading), a young girl renders an astonishing version of Billy Holiday's "Gloomy Sunday":
Dreaming, I was only dreaming
I wake and I find you asleep in the deep of my heart here
Darling I hope that my dream never haunted you
My heart is tellin' you how much I wanted you.
We once read an article on the theme, "What makes great art?" Fancy definitions aside, when a work of art communicates so well that someone who has never cared about or experienced a thing nonetheless feels it deeply, that qualifies in my book.
March 10, 2014
Alright, villains. Here is your next pic to snarkify.
Have at it.
And may the Farce be with you.
Let The Judgement Begin
So, as I said earlier, I was on the road all day Friday. Now that I've gotten some sleep and washed off the road grime, the judgement will commence.
Once again, y'all have come up with so many entries that I am unable to have just a simple three winner list. So, again this week, we will have a top 10.
Now, to the judgement and old business:
A small review of last week's picture,
and away we go...
Starting the party off, both here and in the comments, is frequent flyer in true VC fashion - There are 8 women in the photo. It's the trailer for the remake of the James Bond film "Octopussy."
Yu-Ain Gonnano continues his mysterious ways in the nine slot with "On Monday, the Russian State Department responded to the United States' stern warning over it's actions in Ukraine with nothing but this picture of the Russian syncronized swimming team.
US officials are still uncertain of its meaning."
Grim grabs the eighth spot with a truly *grim* caption, "Due to unexpected retirements during his second term, Barack Obama was able to appoint fully eight justices to the Supreme Court -- here pictured during the annual beach party that became their tradition just before the beginning of the winter session."
At number seven, spd shows his "Oink Cadre" cred's with, It's nearly six p.m., and only one of these women knows "what's for dinner."
And rounding out the first half of the judgement, a special candygram goes to CAPT Mongo for "Bill Clinton just dove in."
March 08, 2014
You got: Unicorn
You magical, perfect creature! You have a pure heart and you always see the best in people. You value the simple pleasures in life, and you’re an eternal optimist. You’re protective of those close to you, but you avoid conflict at all costs. You do best in small crowds and one-on-one situations, and when you trust someone, you trust them entirely.
We're not sure we avoid conflict at all costs, but we certainly don't enjoy it.
At work, the Editorial Staff are usually quite outspoken - probably more so than anyone else. Perhaps we are this kind of unicorn:
Don't ask why we had these graphics on our desktop. It's hard to explain...
In a cynical world, it's good to know that seemingly minor decisions can still create miracles. God bless this young man and his parents:
March 07, 2014
In Defense of Truthiness
We never thought we'd use the words "epic" and "amicus brief" in the same sentence:
In modern times, “truthiness”—a “truth” asserted “from the gut” or because it “feels right,” without regard to evidence or logic5—is also a key part of political discourse. It is difficult to imagine life without it, and our political discourse is weakened by Orwellian laws that try to prohibit it.
After all, where would we be without the knowledge that Democrats are pinko-communist flag-burners who want to tax churches and use the money to fund abortions so they can use the fetal stem cells to create pot-smoking lesbian ATF agents who will steal all the guns and invite the UN to take over America? Voters have to decide whether we’d be better off electing Republicans, those hateful, assault-weapon-wielding maniacs who believe that George Washington and Jesus Christ incorporated the nation after a Gettysburg reenactment and that the only thing wrong with the death penalty is that it isn’t administered quickly enough to secular- humanist professors of Chicano studies.
Imagine a life without hyperbole.
Hands Off My Remote!!!
Tex linked to this story over at Grim's place:
A machine that delivers an orgasm at the push of a button has been patented in the US. The implant could help women whose lives have been blighted by an inability to achieve orgasms naturally.
Orgasmic dysfunction is not uncommon among women, says Julia Cole, a psychosexual therapist and consultant with Relate, the relationship counselling service. And a number of issues can cause it, says Jim Pfaus, who studies the neurobiology of sexual behaviour at Concordia University in Montreal.
"Some women confuse what's called sympathetic arousal, like increased heart rate, clammy hands, nerves and so on, with fear," he explains. "That makes them want to get out of the situation." Psychotherapy is a common treatment for the condition, although if anxiety is a factor, patients may also be prescribed valium. "But valium can actually delay orgasm," says Pfaus.
The patient remains conscious during the operation to help the surgeon find the best position for the electrodes. Stuart Meloy, a surgeon at Piedmont Anesthesia and Pain Consultants in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, made the breakthrough came one day when he failed to hit the right spot. "I was placing the electrodes and suddenly the woman started exclaiming emphatically," he says. "I asked her what was up and she said, 'You're going to have to teach my husband to do that'."
Meloy expects clinical trials to begin later this year with Medtronic, a company based in Minneapolis. He says the stimulating wires could connect to a signal generator smaller than a packet of cigarettes implanted under the skin of one of the patient's buttocks. "Then you'd have a hand-held remote control to trigger it," he says.
Combine the well documented masculine love of pushing buttons and getting a reaction with the fact that in over 3 decades of marriage, we still have not figured out how to pry the Spousal Unit's hands off the TV remote and this story is terrifying...
Important Iffy Prosecution Update
Why, O why is the military persecuting this great man?
He pleaded guilty to adultery, improper relationships with three other female officers, impeding an investigation and watching pornography on his personal computer on a military base in Afghanistan.
HE'S A HUMAN, DAMMIT!
Guilty Until Proven Innocent?
Many moons ago after years as a stay at home wife and mother, the Editorial Staff went back to school to earn a college degree. Not wanting to go into debt, we kept our grades up and applied for scholarships and worked on campus tutoring math and conducting a series of student-led programs designed to cut the failure/withdrawal rates in challenging courses.
One of these courses was Business Law. For 3 or 4 semesters (memory fails us), we attended class and then planned and conducted 3 study sessions a week for students who were struggling to understand the material. Because this was an undergrad class designed for Business majors, it concentrated on common law definitions of various torts and one or two crimes. We also covered how civil and criminal trials and burdens of proof differ (and perhaps more importantly, why they differ).
Students typically had a hard time understanding how the same offense can be both a crime (violation of a criminal statute punishable by the state) and a tort (a violation of a civil duty typically remedied by ordering the offending party to "make the plaintiff whole" - a fancy way of saying, "The plaintiff suffered a loss because of your actions and you need to compensate him or her for that loss.")
"Isn't that double jeopardy?", they asked every semester. It's not, because the same act constitutes two separate offenses with different "victims". In the criminal action, the plaintiff is the State and the remedy is designed to protect society's interests. Because the potential punishments are more severe and the State has more power than most individuals, the burden of proof is higher. In the civil action, the plaintiff is the party claiming injury, and the remedy is designed to protect the victim's interests. Because (at least theoretically) individuals are on a more even footing and the remedies are usually monetary, the burden of proof is lower.
But there are similarities between civil and criminal actions, too. For example, in most cases the burden of proof is on the accuser. If the accuser can't establish facts proving all elements of the offense by the appropriate standard (preponderance or reasonable doubt), the accused party generally doesn't even have to present their case. Once the accuser does meet the burden of proof, the burden shifts to the accused to establish facts proving a recognized defense. So, for example, if an accuser successfully proves defamation, the accused can avoid punishment by proving the supposedly defamatory statement was in fact, true (truth is a defense to defamation).
This all makes sense, but lately we've noticed several instances of burden-shifting that occurs before an accuser has actually proved the traditional elements of the offense. The first example involves allegations of securities fraud. The Editorial Staff make no claim to know what formal definition of fraud is being used here, but she still remembers the common law elements:
1. An intentional misrepresentation
2. Of a material fact
3. Relied upon by the plaintiff
4. To his detriminent.
In Lay Princess terms, the accuser needs to prove that the accused deliberately misled the accuser, that the deception involved a fact centrally related or relevant to the proposed harm, that the accuser knew about/actually believed the deception, and that as a result of believing this deception, the accuser suffered a loss. That doesn't seem to describe this scenario at all:
The lawsuit is possible thanks to the Supreme Court's 1988 ruling in Basic v. Levinson, which embraced the "fraud on the market" theory. The theory assumes that markets are efficient and the price of a stock incorporates all publicly available information about the company. The Court thus assumed that when an investor buys a stock he relied on that information for his decision.
In other words, judges are directed to accept for class certification that investors were potentially defrauded whenever a company statement turns out to be wrong. Whether an investor bought a stock because Uncle Bob recommended it, or because his wife likes the product became irrelevant.
We respect the efficient-markets argument, but it certainly isn't the only theory of stock-price movements. There is, for example, the madness of crowds. Investors buy shares for any number of reasons, and often the company misstatement alleged as fraud has no discernible impact on the stock price. Yet under the logic in Basic, lawyers don't even have to prove price impact to form a class.
Here's another troubling example:
Uniquely among nations, the U.S. gives mortgage borrowers a trifecta of benefits: extensive tax advantages, no recourse against the borrowers' nonresidential assets if they walk away, and typically no protection for the lender if the borrower prepays the loan to get a lower rate.
These policies long seemed like a great deal for borrowers, but they wreaked havoc on the financial system. People with marginal credit were encouraged to finance more than 90% of the purchase price with 30-year mortgages. If interest rates later fell, they could refinance. If rates rose, they could congratulate themselves for locking in a low rate. If prices rose, they enjoyed all the upside and could tap the equity. If prices fell and they faced foreclosure, their other assets were protected because the loans were usually non-recourse.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau now wants to tip the scale even more against lenders by asserting the legal theory of "disparate impact." Consumers can sue if the volume of loans to any racial group or aggrieved class differs substantially from loans to other groups. No intent to discriminate is required, and it's illegal for a mortgage application to ask the borrower's race. Financial institutions trying to avoid making bad loans by implementing prudent underwriting practices can inadvertently get in trouble. A bank forced to pay a fine one year because it irresponsibly made "predatory" loans to people with bad credit can be fined the next year for not making similar loans.
This type of argument strikes us as particularly pernicious, in that the rules of conduct are applied arbitrarily to protect some people from the consequences of their decisions while assuming others are guilty before the accuser has even proven his or her case.
Kind of reminds us of Taranto's excellent point the other day.
Exactly how granting special favors to classes of people viewed as "disadvantaged" while holding others to an unreasonably high standard of conduct helps society become more tolerant and diverse is beyond us. Seems like a tactic designed to destroy civic engagement and make people fearful of dealing with women, minorities, and the poor. All this is particularly ironic coming from an administration that keeps lecturing us about how we all need to play by the same rules.
March 06, 2014
"Proof" of Hypergamy?
Mein Gott im Himmel! Our beloved Texan99 (who is all about the giving) offers up good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. Finally, Science has helpfully provided a "carefully controlled" study that can be use to "prove" that women are hypergamous!
Like Tex, we can't recall ever being terribly impressed with cars. We dated a lot of guys in high school. Only one drove a fancy car (a 1962 white corvette convertible), and frankly we decide to go out with him despite the fancy car, not because of it. After the first date, we declined to go out with him again. He was from a wealthy family and had a privileged background and we really didn't have much in common.
But as we've repeatedly pointed out, these are anecdotes (the plural of which is not "facts"). Science is concerned with cold, hard facts and rigorous, carefully designed studies that use the scientific method to counter the natural human tendency to cherry pick evidence that conveniently confirms what we already thought was true. OK, you can all stop laughing now.
Let's take a look at this study. Dr. Helen describes it thusly:
March 05, 2014
The Dorkitorial Staff will be back eventually. Over the weekend, we learned a valuable lesson: Grandma needs to stay off the trampoline no matter how politely the oldest GrandPunk asks, or how fun it looks.
March 01, 2014
I can't wait to see what you guys come up with for this week's picture to snarkify:
Have at it, villains.
May the Farce be with you!
February 28, 2014
Let The Judgement Begin
Wellll, allrighty then! If I'd known Jimmy Fallon would cause this much of an uproar I'd have looked for something specifically a long time ago. There were so many entries this week, I couldn't just narrow it down to three. So, for the first time ever, there will be a top ten. Yes, the Dark Lord is feeling magnanamous tonight. I had the opportunity to gaze upon and judge potential lords of science - Darkness as yet to be determined - yesterday and enjoyed myself tremendously. So you lucky villains get to share in the good feelings.
Take it while you get it.
Now, to the judgement and old business:
Like last week, a reminder of our current caption picture:
However, unlike other weeks, and since this week is a top ten, I'm going to start at the bottom and work up.
So, let's get to it.
Starting off our list this week is George Pal coming in at number ten - "Jimmy prays To the Muse Thalia for an uncanned laugh."
Making his first appearance in the list this week (because he apparently had nothing else to do, but I'm not complaining) is spd rdr at number nine - "Oh no! " Jimmy thought suddenly, "Did I remember to bring the cat in?"
frequent flyer drops in out of the clouds at number eight with - "Afraid of the long list of possible side effects listed in Cialis commercials, Jimmy joined a group session that used the time-tested and all-natural method for erectile dysfunction.
The Therapist did her best. Though it worked for others, from the expression on his face--his body language--and his hands folded in his lap, it didn't work for Jimmy."
Ron F. rolls a lucky numba seven and wins Double Entendre points for - "Not gonna get caught gaping for Facebook and YouTube! Not gonna get caught, nope, nope, nope.
But it's so hard ...."
And a second dose of spd rdr rounds out the bottom half of this week's list at number six - "Her campaign for the Texas governor sagging following allegations that stories of her struggles as a destitute single mother were highly embellished, Wendy Davis took to the Town Hall circuit to demonstrate to voters her qualifications as the only candidate with actual experience 'birthin' babies.'"
And now this: