Archive for November, 2007

No Prison, No Peace

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

Uh, yeah:

The US prison population has risen eight-fold since 1970, with little impact on crime but at great cost to the taxpayer, researchers say.
There are more than 1.5 million people in US state and federal jails, a report by a Washington-based criminal justice research group, the JFA Institute says.

Inmate numbers are projected to rise by 192,000 in five years, costing $27.5bn (£13.44bn) to build and run jails.

The JFA recommends reducing the number and length of sentences.

The Unlocking America report, which was published on Monday, also advocated changing terms of parole and finding alternatives to prison as part of a major overhaul of the US justice system.

“There is no evidence that keeping people in prison longer makes us any safer,” said JFA president James Austin.

Here are the crime statistics. What they say is literally true but intellectually stupid.

The violent crime rate started rising in the mid-1960′s, the same time at which — in must certainly be an amazing coincidence — the welfare state began and prison began to wane. By 1980, the crime rate was up 266%, from the 160 per 100,000 to almost 600. It dropped after Reagan took office to the low 500′s. Then, bouyed by the crack explosion, it rose to the 750′s, 380% above the level of the 1960′s. I was in a rural college at the time, so I didn’t appreciate how dangerous things had gotten.

And then? Clinton became President and was the first Democrat in years to be tough on crime, supporting tough sentences and more cops. Gun control laws were loosened. Welfare reform hit in 1996, which I’m sure was just another strange coincidence. And by 2006, the violent crime rate had plunged by 1/3 down below 500. That’s not a coincidence. And every longitudinal study has confirmed that putting people in jail drops the violent crime rate.

(A lot of people are noting smugly that our murder rate is down to 1966 levels. This means nothing — it’s because our emergency and trauma care have improve drastically).

Interestingly, the trend have leveled off a bit under Bush and even risen slightly the last two years. Between 1992 and 2000, the violent crime rate dropped from 757.5 per 100,000 to 506.5. Since then, it has only dropped another 30 points. I’m not sure if you can blame this on Bush since the first steps of progress are always the easiest. But he certainly hasn’t made things noticeably better.

I do agree with these idiots on one thing. Throwing people in prison for stupid things like simple possession, throwing coffee at a car or downloading videos is ridiculous and counter-productive. Prison should be reserved for the violent. Putting non-violent people in prison only ruins lives and creates more criminals.

When our crime rate gets back down to 1960 levels (which would be 1/3 of where they are now), we can start talking about jailing people for playing online poker.

Why I Fight

Monday, November 19th, 2007

I sometimes get asked why I post so often at Right-Thinking about creationism (although once every now and then doesn’t seem very often to me). Am I beating a dead horse?

Perhaps. But I’m passionate about science. I have always loved science, knew I was going to be some kind of scientist and have spent the last 15 years of my life doing science for far less money than I could make in industry. I love to teach science. Seeing the excitement that science creates in people; sharing that sense of wonder; seeing how excited they get when science works and makes sense; this is special.

To me, science is, if you like, the very voice of God. Our attempt to understand the universe in which we live is the great endeavor of our race.

I’m not interested in dissuading people from their religious beliefs. I’m sympathetic to religious views. I’ve repeatedly slammed Hitchens, Dawkins and other idiots on this blog for ignorantly criticizing religion and proclaiming ultimate enlightenment. I read the Bible, have a mezzuzah on my door and light candles on fridays.

Moreover, I understand that in a world gone mad, many people have a need to fall back on the familiar. And nothing is more familiar than the Bible.

I have no problem with people believing in whatever myths they want. What I object to is pretending this is science. What I object to is using the trappings of science to indoctrinate people to what is, at its base, a religious view.

Creationists are classic pseudo-scientists. They know the words, they wear white coats, they spin their fancy theories. But they are not scientists. They ignore evidence they don’t like. They make things up. They misread. And, most importantly, their theories are not falsifiable. Any theory that can not be disproven is, by definition, not scientific (note, this applies to pseudoscientific multiverse and string theories as well).

What really gets my boxers in a bunch, however, is the demonization of science that is illustrated in things like Ben Stein’s ignorant blog post and the Creation Museum. I think religious people are wrong, but I don’t think they are evil — that’s the difference between Hitchens and I. But, for creationists, it’s not not enough that science is wrong, it has to be evil. And not just evil in the ignorant way — but evil in a leftist, atheist, secular humanist cabal attempting to destroy society and make gays marry way.

So yes, I will respond to this poison. And yes, I will ridicule their pseudo-scientific garbage, the same way I ridicule Michael Bay’s pseudo-movie entertainment, Joe Morgan’s pseudo-sports-analysis and the LA Dodgers’ pseudo-managing of a baseball franchise. Ignorance and dogmatism annoy me.

Update: One last thing. The main reason creationism annoys me is that it illustrates the greatest cost in the human experience — opportunity cost. The time that kids spend learning religion-based pseudoscience is time they aren’t spending learning useful things like physics and chemistry.

The Creation Museum is very well done. But just think if all that money, passion and effort had been invested in a planetarium. Or a Museum of Paleontology, Archeology or Anthropology.

IQ and Race

Monday, November 19th, 2007

Via Sully, I find this fascinating article on race and IQ. Read both pages, as the second gets into why environment is important.

I’ve been thinking about this subject for some time. Here are some random thoughts.

  • First, the influence of environment looks very strong. To me, the most telling studies are those of adopted kids, which show the gap closing (although not to zero). I think of Michael Oher in The Blindside. Neglected all his life, especially by a dysfunctional school system, he had a measured IQ of 80. Adopted by a rich white family and relentlessly tutored, his IQ was slightly over 100.

    No matter how you twist the data, someone with a low IQ doesn’t necessarily have it because of genetics. There are a number of environmental factors that have proven connections to IQ and it seems most of them are negative (and far more prevalent among blacks). Malnutrition, illness, neglect, drugs and poor education can all drive IQ down. These are not factors passed on to children — well, at least not in their genes. The Flynn Effect, the sharp rise in western IQs over the last century, is clearly environmental (and larger than the present black-white IQ gap). Evolution doesn’t work that fast.

  • Black IQs have closed in on white IQs over the last century, but stalled somewhat in the last 30 years. That might seem to argue that the gap between white and black intelligence is real. But is it coincidence that the gap stopped closing almost precisely when blacks were hit with the double-whammy of the welfare state and federalized education? Could liberal government be stalling the rise in black IQs? It’s certainly possible.
  • IQ measures a certain kind of intelligence — abstract reasoning. This is useful for making money and having financial success. But anyone who has hung out with a bunch of high-IQ people knows they aren’t perfect. They often have social disabilities and lack practical knowledge (hence the embrace of “looks good on paper” ideas like liberalism). So what if blacks trails white in IQ? My experience is that they exceed them in social ability. Moreover, IQ may be biased in that it tests test-taking ability. The aforementioned Michael Oher wasn’t dumb, he had a learning disability. Tested appropriately, his IQ was normal.
  • IQ is not everything. A lot of science fiction stories have the Earth being doomed and humanity putting together a survival boat of its best and brightest. I’m convinced that such a colony would be doomed. Smart people often have dumb ideas (communism, for example) and can see the world in terms of abstractions and ideas, instead of reality.

    Moreover, the drive to reproduce and create a new generation is, in my mind, a far more important characteristic than intelligence. What good is having a high IQ if you can’t pass it on? People complain about the fertility-intelligence anti-correlation. I complain about it all the time when I go to social functions and find I am the only scientist who has spawned. But in a way, this is nature telling us something important — high intelligence (as opposed to slightly above average) isn’t a survival characteristic. If it were, high IQ people would have more kids.

    Update: RPL points out, quite correctly, that the opportunity cost of having children is higher for high-IQ people. Agreed. But that opportunity cost is lower than it has ever been. And the reason for not having kids that I hear most often has nothing to do with career, but lifestyle.

    It would be interesting to compare the career achievement of high-IQ people with kids to those of high-IQ people without. My personal experience is that my work ethic improved after having a kid. Others’ mileage my vary.

  • Doesn’t the fertility-IQ correlation doom us to a devolution like in Idiocracy? I don’t think so. The trend shows that most powerful force in the universe — regression to the mean. People with IQs of 160 aren’t having kids, but people with IQs of 40 aren’t either. Smart people tend to have kids dumber than them; dumb people tend to have kids smarter. We all move back to the average.
  • Update: One thing I thought I’d ad: IQ can only get you so far. I work in a high-IQ profession and it’s my experience that smartness helps, but had work and perseverance are the deciding factors. Progress in science, especially, is driven more toil than flashes of inspiration. What was it Edison said about invention?

    Always remember, Charles Darwin didn’t have a high IQ. And he glimpsed the inner workings of the world — through years and years of hard work.

    No Nonsense

    Sunday, November 18th, 2007

    Thank goodness:

    New York is rejecting millions of dollars in federal grants for abstinence-only sex education, the state health commissioner, Dr. Richard F. Daines, announced yesterday. The decision puts New York in line with at least 10 other states that have decided to forgo the federal money in recent years.

    There is abundant evidence that this garbage is, at best, ineffective. No all we have to do is stop the federal government paying for religion-based anti-sex-education.

    Damn NFL rules

    Sunday, November 18th, 2007

    What the hell is with the NFL TV rules. it’s fricking ridiculous. Baltimore and Cleveland are in a nail-biting finale. And I’m watching the NFL hosts describe the actions while watching it off-screen. NFL rules forbid them from actually showing the damned game.

    Ridiculous.

    Dead Duck

    Friday, November 16th, 2007

    I missed it last night as I was in post-grant recovery mode. But yet *another* #2 team went down in flames. What kind of a year is this for college ball? We’ve got one major conference undefeated team left (Kansas). But we are also down to *six* 1-loss teams (excluding Boise State). Ohio State isn’t dead yet. At least two of the seven teams with less than two losses will lose in the next few weeks. If LSU, Ohio State, West Virginia or Arizona State — all of whom have tough games — stumble, we may be in a situation where a 2-loss team gets into the BCS.

    Here’s the thing that pisses me off the most. There are five teams (LSU, OSU, WV, ASU and whoever wins the Big 12) that have a shot at the BCS right now, assuming we don’t go to the 2-loss tier. Three of them — Arizona State, West Virginia and Ohio State — don’t play a conference title game. That path that SEC winner and the Big 12 winner will take to the BCS is much more difficult because of this. But if LSU honks the SEC championship, then someone from a weaker conference is going to be rewarded for it.

    Tell me again why we don’t need a playoff?

    Chemical McCarthyism Watch

    Thursday, November 15th, 2007

    From the usually brilliant Fire Joe Morgan, I find this turd:

    I often have to remind myself that good Christian soldier Paul Byrd took HGH and guys like Matt Lawton and Alex Sanchez took steroids. Basically, literally everyone in the game is a possible user, no matter what their body shape, position, or ostensible character. No one likes this. But the people who have been found guilty so far represent such a random assortment of guys, it’s hard to exonerate anyone before we’ve seen the proof.

    So, every baseball player is guilty until proven innocent? Since they can never prove that they’ve never used steroids — or any drugs that evade testing, that means everyone is a perpetual suspect. Whatever player we decide is suspicious or don’t like can be branded a steroid user. No burden of proof is required and no testing can exonerate him. Just ruin a man’s reputation.

    My favorite in this realm is Sammy Sosa. Sosa was always a power hitter and still is. In 1998, he stopped swinging at everything and became a great player. But now everyone “knows” he used steroids even though there is precisely zero evidence of this. None. Nichts. Nada. Niente. Nothing except a bunch of igornant asshole fucks sitting around saying, “Hey! I think that Sosa used steroids. I mean, he never hit no 60 homeruns before!”

    Yes, my friends, that’s why it’s called a *peak*. He’d hit 40 in 120 games before. He’d shown 50-, 60-homer potential. But that’s not relevant. Because we need to slime somebody.

    Bonds Again

    Thursday, November 15th, 2007

    Barry Bonds has gotten Martha Stewarted. I’m sure many in the sports media are going to wet their pants over this. I’ve never hated Barry Bonds so I’m not going to jump and down with glee. I’d just like to point out that many of those who are tsk-tsking about Bonds right now arduously supported Pete Rose when he went to prison.

    We’ll see what happens.

    Thursday Linkorama

    Thursday, November 15th, 2007
  • Students whine because the government won’t pay for their birth control. You see what happens once these things get started? If this quote doesn’t reflect the idiocy of the young, in both form and content, nothing does:

    “So they don’t have to make a choice between their birth control and their cell phone bill or their birth control and their gym membership and their birth control,” Ortiz sad.”.

    You said birth control three times, asshole. Life is about making choices. I have to make a choice between feeding my daughter and buying a new bigscreen TV. Oh, the humanity!

  • An inspiring love story that will move even the stoniest of hearts.
  • Slightly less inspiring story about particle physics. Yeah, particle physics.
  • Ah, socialized medicine. The guys who bring you cockroaches on operating tables.
  • And Another One

    Thursday, November 15th, 2007

    Well, I just addressed publius “not accusing” the Republicans of being racist. So now Podhoretz doesn’t accuse Ron Paul of being anti-semitic.

    (As a Jew, I’m getting sick of the neocon horseshit of accusing any critic of anti-semitism. Or not accusing them, as the case may be.)

    These two articles are backhanded smears. “I’m not saying Reagan was a racist, I’m just saying he had racist views”; “I’m not saying that Ron Paul is an anti-semite; I’m just saying his views appeal to anti-semites”. This is just libel control. You accuse someone of vile thoughts and deeds without actually accusing them of it.

    Well, I can play this game, too. I certainly don’t think that John Podhoretz dances to Celine Deion while wearing women’s underwear and watching Gilmore Girls. He seems to be a morally upstanding mensch. But there are people who attack Ron Paul who are into that sort of thing.

    I’m just sayin’.

    Reagan the Racist

    Thursday, November 15th, 2007

    I was too busy with grants to respond, but I’ll now get on this nonsense.

    Modern conservatives – the majority of which are certainly not racist – have successfully ignored the racist foundations of much of modern conservative political power and even thought. It’s not so much that the doctrines remain racist today – or that they lack non-racist interpretations. It’s that they are historically rooted in racist backlash. In this respect, Reagan’s dark side is simply one part of a much larger pattern.

    Always be leery of something that goes so far out of its away to back off from acccusing its opponents of racism.

    Ahem.

    It is certainly true that Reagan and the Republicans used language to support conservative views that appealed to racists. But it’s not because law and order was a racist thing or that Republicans were racist. They were politicians and if they could support sensible things like law-and-order with a race-baiting Willy Horton ad, that was fine by them. It was lamentable — and they are still paying for it at the pollls. But it was hardly unusual.

    Race was not, however, the primary reason people backed Republicans on these issues. I hate to break to publius, but when Nixon came to office, we were in the middle of a national crime wave. People were getting mugged outside the Capitol. When Reagan came to office, we’d just “enjoyed” four years of massive federal bloat. These were real issues, independent of anyone’s racial take on them.

    One thing I want to address specifically is the “welfare queen” comments and the idea that Republicans were opposing welfare out of racism. We’ve forgotten this, but liberals were the first to racialize welfare. Welfare programs were retooled in the 1960′s specifically to address black poverty and anyone who opposed them was branded a racist. The reason Republicans opposed them, at least initially, was not because they were a bunch of racist crackers but because they thought, correctly as it happens, that it would be an expensive disaster that would create a class of people wholly dependent on the government.

    Moreover, why do only Republicans have something to apologize for? The Democrats continue to race-bait today. For God’s sake, liberals ran an anti-Bush commercial in 2000 that simulated a man being dragged to death behind a truck. And they have continued (as publius does) to try to make Katrina about race instead of incompetence. The reason that Barack Obama is so popular is that, despite being black, he is the first Democrat in decades who isn’t trying to racialize every issue.

    That’s why the term “Reagan Democrats” should actually be “Wallace Democrats.”

    Garbage. Utter garbage. I grew up with Southern racists and Wallace supporters. They always voted Democrat. Because their “deadies” had. It was not until the 90′s that the South really went Republican. State legislatures and governships were still controlled by Democrats when Reagan was in office. Did you miss all those announcements in the 90′s about how states were going Republican for the first time since Reconstruction?

    Moreover, the Democrats had a “southern strategy” of their own which was very effective. They would race-bait to blacks in the cities, and race-bait to whites in the country. The reason they stopped doing it is not because they wised up or purged the racists or that Reagan stole their message. It was because mass media made it impossible for them to talk out of both sides of their mouth.

    The roots of modern conservatism are not in George Wallace. They are in Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley and George Will. Saying George Wallace invented federalism is like saying Leni Riefenstahl invented documentaries.

    Brooks’ column attempts to help otherwise good, non-racist people avoid nasty cognitive dissonance about St. Reagan. But acknowledging the source of this cognitive dissonance would be a welcome first step. Much better than ignoring it, anyway.

    In other words, when conservatives espouse conservative views, they always need to acknowledge that some of those views were held by racist shitheads. This is nonsense. Whenever a general talks about mechanized warfare, does he need to acknowledge that its foundations were laid by Hitler? Whenever a Christian talks about his faith, does he need to acknowledge the Inquisition? What the hell does it have to do with anything that racist glommed onto ideas like federalism and law-and-order? When Democrats talk about welfare, do they need to acknowledge that part of its origin was in white Northern racists who, like Jefferson, thought blacks incapable of taking care of themselves?

    This is pure guilt by association. Just because someone is an idiot on one issue does not invalidate his view on other issues. Many of the people talking global warming today are former socialists who see it as a path to marxism. That doesn’t make global warming bullshit. It just makes their proposed solutions bullshit.

    Moreover, why isn’t publius demanding that Democrats acknowledge their racist history? I’ve never understood why the Democratic Party gets off so easy when they have whole-heartedly supported the four things — slavery, Jim Crowe, welfare and publicly-controlled schools — that have done the most harm to black people. Yeah, they passed the Civil Rights Act. But over their own party’s record-setting filibuster.

    The Republican Party did some dumb things in the 70′s and 80′s, such as welcoming segregationists like Trent Lott, David Duke and Strom Thurmond into the party (although the Dems *still* admire Robert “Sheets” Byrd). But what publius is doing is basically smearing conservatism — saying that because some of its views were once agreed upon (not thought up by) racists, the Party has to acknowledge this.

    Garbage.

    State Capitals?

    Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

    I got 19 out of 20, though it stupidly doesn’t tell you which ones you got right.

    Wussification

    Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

    I’m sorry. I know some kids have been killed (they conspicuously avoid saying how many over how long a period of time). But this is pure hysteria. Watch it and tell me that it doesn’t seem like a parody to you.

    It must be sweeps weeks because my local TV is doing the same thing. I can’t turn on the radio or TV without hearing about how some menace is going to kill me.

    Jesus Christ, newsmedia, will you stop trying to panic people over obscure and minimal dangers? Even if I accept that 31 kids have been killed by soccer goals, that’s far less than die in car accidents, drownings or by their own hand. Every death is a horrible tragedy but let’s get some perspective and concentrate on the big menaces. Children are safer than they’ve ever been. But you wouldn’t know that to listen to our panic-mongering media. Because there’s no way to make a child 100% safe.

    More on the Wealth Gap

    Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

    I blogged a couple of weeks ago about how this “growing wealth disparity” is a bunch of crap. Well, it’s even more crappy than we thought.

    Those who start at the bottom but hold full-time jobs nonetheless enjoyed steady income gains. The Treasury study found that those tax filers who were in the poorest income quintile in 1996 saw a near doubling of their incomes (90.5%) over the subsequent decade. Those in the highest quintile, on the other hand, saw only modest income gains (10%). The nearby table tells the story, which is that the poorer an individual or household was in 1996 the greater the percentage income gain after 10 years.

    Only one income group experienced an absolute decline in real income–the richest 1% in 1996. Those households lost 25.8% of their income. Moreover, more than half (57.4%) of the richest 1% in 1996 had dropped to a lower income group by 2005. Some of these people might have been “rich” merely for one year, or perhaps for several, as they hit their peak earning years or had some capital gains windfall. Others may simply have not been able to keep up with new entrepreneurs and wealth creators.

    Interesting, isn’t it, that so-called “conservative” Mike Huckabee is one of the people ranting about the income gap.

    Boortz was talking Huckabee again today because Thompson got the National Right to Life endorsement. Of course, Huckabee wants abortion outlawed to — at the federal level, not the state level. But he likes the Fair Tax, so that excuses every sin, including being a religious right big-government nanny-state “conservative”.

    If Mike Huckabee is elected president and enacts the Fair Tax, I will personally eat my copy of the Fair Tax book. He doesn’t support the Fair Tax. He supports getting votes from the Fair Tax Movementarians.