Saturday, December 21, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

Sure, why not do this one?

Let's see...I'll go with the nominations that made it through the Senate. Yes, there was some foot-dragging that successfully delayed others, but nothing that's really a big deal, and the ones that got through are now done. Plus there were new judicial nominations this week. Both the number of judicial vacancies and vacancies without nominees -- most of them blue slip issues -- remain stubbornly high, but things are better than they were.

Obviously this week's silliness -- Pajama Boy, White Santa Claus, Duck Dynasty, whatever else -- didn't matter, and once again you don't need me to tell you that.

What else? What do you think mattered this week?


  1. Same-sex marriage licenses being issued in Utah (for now).

  2. Had to look up what "pajama boy" was.
    Glad that I didn't know the reference.

  3. Super charged economic growth numbers mattered! Okay, it might just be a statistical fluke, and yes 4.1% is no China in the 90's number, but it's pretty good compared to the austerity disaster of Europe. Also if this is a real surge, it's good news for the Democrats in 2014.

    I do think pajama-boy gender/sexuality panic did manner, because as Yglesias points out it produced good evidence that the flagship magazine of movement conservatism remains National Review because they wrote three items about it and had Rich Lowry write one for Politico, while The Weekly Standard only manged one.

    Personally I plan to only talk about getting health insurance while wearing a jean jacket and worrying about being stabbed in a bar fight, hit by a train, or mauled by a bear while bow hunting.

    And I won't be drinking coco, I'll be drinking Jack Daniels and blood.

    1. And this is what it looks like before the Obamacare stimulus starts. We helped a red state relative buy Obamacare this weekend. She was completely shocked that the new law meant her month insurance costs went down by 65%, and her deductible went from $5000 to $300. She'll have a lot of money to spend next year.

      Oh, the subsidy for her and her husband was $13,000. That's going right into the economy.

  4. Continuing inability of European leaders to agree to a sustainable path forward for reforming the eurozone banking system. Nothing promising came out of the European banking union negotiations. Perhaps nothing could have been expected, especially before new stricter bank stress tests are carried out in spring 2014. But bottom-line is all this irresolution continues to make economic stagnation and almost imperceptible recovery in Europe the likely scenario for 2014. Happy holidays.

  5. 1. NSA spying losing political support, losing business support, plus getting slammed (by just a single judge, I know) as unconstitutional and ineffective.

    2. I think Duck Dynasty might matter. I support Gay Marriage, am pretty socially liberal (conservative fiscally) and I think GLAAD badly overreached here. And they are getting a lot of flack.

    1. p.s. For the record, I find it fascinating that the Nat Review and WSJ, two conservative opinion leaders, wrote editorials decrying Judge Leon's anti-NSA ruling, and their conservative readers are really enraged. I'd say 3:1 of the letters are blasting the NR/WSJ editorials. This is an issue where opinions seem non-partisan. Haven't been following the leftish editorials and letters as much - anybody noticing the same thing on the left?

    2. The lefty blogs are kind of quiet on the issue immediately after the ruling. MoJo covered it pretty well, of course. I think we can safely say that most liberals would like to see all 47 recommendations implemented. A couple, like that the NSA should stop trying to break commercial encryption algorithms, looked like flying unicorns to me.

    3. "the NSA should stop trying to break commercial encryption algorithms"

      Actually, I always thought that was a pretty curious "revelation." Breaking codes is what the NSA was created for; it's the one thing that we've known about it for over half a century. Do people really think that the NSA is going to break foreign intelligence codes and then just cross their fingers and hope the Chinese never buy one off the shelf?

    4. I know, right?! The bits about having the NSA run by a civilian - well, we're good with the idea that a civilian, the President, tells the military where they're going to go and what they're going to accomplish after s/he consults with Congress. Why? Because having military people decide what the mission should be is a really bad idea.

      Not letting the government stockpile information on its citizens - sounds straight out of the Fourth Amendment, boys, and that piece of the Constitution could use a little support. Requiring a subpoena could hardly be called radical either.

      We don't need a secret police group gathering information on the American people.

    5. "Breaking codes" has two different meanings. Yes, obviously the NSA is going to try to find weaknesses in encryption algorithms and software and exploit them. But that's completely different from actually inserting weaknesses into standards and software. That's the sort of thing that those revelations are talking about. And, yes, I do expect the NSA to avoid doing that, because it's an insanely idiotic thing to do--it means people will lose faith in U.S.-backed internet standards and policy, and since we can't guarantee that these vulnerabilities won't become known by foreign powers, they ultimately make us less safe.

      Then again, it would be logical to go back and ask whether "what the NSA was created for" actually makes sense any more. Given that the U.S. relies on internet technology more than any other country, if we have to choose between hardening defenses or our ability to exploit vulnerabilities, the first option will almost always be wiser.

  6. From the AP, the shape of things to come:

    Latino Academic Achievement Gap Persists

    As Hispanics surpass white Californians in population next year, the state becomes a potential model for the rest of the country, which is going through a slower but similar demographic shift.

    All well-covered by the judicious Richwine. But this article doesn't mention the decades of scholarship by psychologists who specialize in the study of intelligence.

    1. Thankfully, he never will. Hey byf, did you see my reply to your comment on the Ta Nehisi Coates thread last week? You never replied.

    2. I was gonna let this go, but my better angels never win out...backyard, given your equity, that link was a wonder. The third paragraph ends with

      "Their (hispanic) class sizes are larger, course offerings are fewer and funding is lower" - leading, of course, to the following observation:

      "The consequence is obvious: lower achievement."

      The rest of the column is a veritable laundry list of demographic ways hispanic kids are disadvantaged, from parents that can't support them, to a tax structure that works against them, to schools and (politically correct) educators that don't challenge them. Intermixed are the inevitable feel-good stories about individual hispanic kids trying to fight the power. My personal fave was Alvaro Zamora, the son of Mexican immigrants whose high school gave him a "minute" of homework a night, and who banded together with "nerd friends" to challenge themselves beyond the hopelessly inadequate formal education they were receiving.

      The last paragraph updates us about where Zamora is now and what he's doing. Friggin' hispanics, man.

    3. Anon,

      We all would have accomplished less without Jews. Chomsky has pointed out that Jews are the most advantaged people in America, but they've also been uniquely productive. Check the Nobel's in medicine alone: lots of us alive because of advances by this tiny minority.

    4. Pat,

      Coates censors all race-realists, so I don't read his comments. I can read that anywhere.

    5. CSH,

      Have you read that Gladwell has backed away from that 10,000 hour nonsense in his New Yorker piece from a couple months ago? He's even coming across as peeved that people thought he believed that embarrassing tripe!!

      Yes, the AP article totally disregards science.

    6. CSH,

      But the key is that as demographics change because of immigration and speedy reproduction of Hispanics vs non-Hispanic, people are becoming slower. It's happened across the country and everyone who studies it expects it to continue. The US will continue to drop in PISA rankings to the extent that it allows for more immigration than euro and Asian countries.

    7. backyard, your argument all along has been that particular minorities have underperformed due to bad things about them; your link attributes under performance to bad things happening to them.

      Perhaps the distinction is subtle, but the implications are profound. There's a "life sucks, get a helmet" vibe to that linked article; I think many folks can get on board with that POV, including - as the article notes - many members of the affected minorities.

      Many people will embrace the "life sucks, get a helmet" approach. Change the approach to "You just suck" and your audience will undoubtedly diminish considerably.

    8. backyard - spirit of the season and all - you (and Epstein) may be mostly right about the sprinters and long-distance runners, and the importance of genes to excellence. I've spilled a lot of type arguing the point, but I was probably wrong. Big difference though between excellence at high jumping and calculus - the value of automaticity.

      Gordon Logan is a psychologist at Vanderbilt who elegantly illustrated automaticity: what's 5 + 7? Easy, right? Now imagine a letter to number substitution system where A=1, B=2, etc, etc, Z=26. What's E+G? Much less simple, no? There's actually FMRI research showing that 5+7, which is automatic, requires virtually no brain activation to be solved. Though E+G is the same equation, its calculation requires significant neuronal activation, even for individuals otherwise very good at math.

      The point of this is that expertise in complex domains like chess, playing the violin or calculus is essentially a product of your brain transferring a large number of "E+G"s into "5+7"s. Perhaps this is most familiar in chess: the grand master can "see" - with very little brain computation, presumably - that rook to Queen 6 will have such-and-such impact 8 moves later. We novices might be able to see the same thing, eventually, but only after much computation.

      The chess grand master's advantage of having automatized a lot - is there a similar advantage in high jumping? Or long-distance running? Or is the machine in those pursuits much simpler, such that the advantage of practice is less in those pursuits, and having the "right" body greater? I think the answer is intuitively obvious.

      Coming full circle then: are hispanic brains less good at automatizing than WASP brains? Perhaps. There's variance, maybe they're worse. Maybe they're better! Suppose they were 2% worse (a big deal in genetics drift world). That would mean hispanics take 50 rehearsals to automatize E+G=L where you only need 49. That might be statistically significant, but does it matter?

      Really, I think the point is not to search for reasons to say that hispanics are less well-equipped for this process than whites - how would we even study that in a way that was totally free of environmental influences? Returning to our friend Alvaro from your link: perhaps his hispanic brain is inferior at automatizing than yours.

      However, if we believe your link, his inferior brain nevertheless found its way to an Ivy League astrophysics degree while, essentially, having no formal secondary education whatsoever.

      Perhaps Alvaro's brain is not as good as yours.

      Clearly, though, its good enough.


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