Nuggets of Wisdom

Monday, March 30, 2015

It's Sad To See Grown Men Cry

Remember that Salon writer who wrote about how Honduras was a “libertarian nightmare”—even though Honduras is about as libertarian as China? Well, he’s written another screed. This time, he’s crying for the wambulance over the butthurt he received from the backlash to his original screed:

Reaction was swift and personal, including widely circulated factoids that I’m both fat and bald (guilty on both counts).  Some called for my utter, personal ruin.  Fair enough.  But there were comments that went too far, such as those that addressed my parenting skills or that examined my decade-old divorce.  I was unprepared for the fire hose of rage and invective.  In fact, it’s hard to overstate just how furious—and proud of it—this segment of America seems.  I could provide links, but I’d rather not send them traffic. If you are compelled to see for yourself, feel free to take a refreshing dip into the libertarian cesspool, but try not to get any in your mouth.

I’m tempted to avoid this group altogether, but I think it would be chicken shit of me to back away because of some name-calling and an epic temper tantrum.  Every badly written blog and hysterical, spittle-flecked Internet video only further proves the point that these people have serious problems...

It was inevitable.  Rage defines all right-leaning movements in the Obama era.  The existence of this hate, vitriol and disgust is beyond dispute.  You see it on Fox News, in talk radio and permeating the internet.  When they lose, they’re angry and even when they win they’re still pretty pissed off.  Some random liberal writes a little article for Salon and libertarians release a torrent of hate articles, personal attacks, and rage filled podcasts.  What a burden it must be to walk around so furious all the time.  It’s almost a shame, because diversity of ideas in a democracy is a good thing, but when they are poisoned with hate, they can’t be taken seriously.
Sweet Celestia, this is some Anita Sarkessian-level deflection. It’s ripped straight from the professional victim’s handbook:

1) Say something blatantly stupid on the internet.
2) Watch as people call you out for your own stupidity.
3) Cry and complain about how everyone is attacking you.

That’s pretty much the gist of his article. Not once does he respond to any legit criticism to his previous article, such as how Honduras is not libertarian. Instead, he simply cries about how the big mean libertarians are ganging up on him and calling him mean, nasty names. (Again, these tactics are nearly Sarkessian!)

Look, I understand firsthand the mental trauma that can come from people constantly barraging you with troll and hate comments, and clearly any hate he received that wasn’t directly related to the insipid points he made in his insipid screed are clearly uncalled for.

But, I’m sorry, you don’t get to write for a big name political blog like Salon and complain about how people who vehemently disagree with you are vehemently disagreeing with you. You’re not some kid on the playground being picked on by school bullies: you’re one of the lackies of the bully lurking in his shadow and snickering as you watch him ruffle up one poor kid for his school money.

By opposing libertarians, you are choosing to align yourself with an oppressive and powerful institution which has no problem prying and spying into people’s personal lives, dictating what people do in their own bedrooms, shooting people down for committing petty offenses, and breaking down small businesses for the sake of large corporations—so excuse us if our “hate, vitriol and disgust” towards it makes us seem as though we can't be taken seriously, because we sure as hell take its oppression and your apologism for it very much seriously.

Jumping The Steven Universe Bandwagon

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been binge watching Steven Universe, and as a result, I’ve grown to really love the show. I’d say it’s even my favorite animated series—second only to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, of course!

Interestingly enough, it seems as though I’m not the only brony who’s fallen in love with the show. Derpy News has been regularly posting episode reviews, and Equestria Daily announced that it’s creating a SU fan site.

Other notable people have also expressed their love for the show. Mr. Coat recently did a tribute to the show, Tommy Oliver offered his two cents on it, and the Cartoon Hero announced that he’s going to review it in the future.

Since I also love the show, I’d figure I jump the Steven Universe bandwagon and start blogging about it myself.

Starting in April, I’m going to start regularly posting “Daily Stevie” posts where I share SU fan-related content. To balance this out with my “Daily Pony” posts, I’ll be alternating between the two. One day, I’ll post something MLP:FIM-related; the next, something SU-related.

Also, as with MLP, I’m also going to start posting episode recaps. I’m going to start with the first episode and continue on until I’ve caught up with the recent ones. There’s been more than 50 episodes released thus far, but since they’re all 11-minutes each, creating recaps of them won’t be as much of a hassle as my Pony Recaps. As such, I expect to create at least two to three per week.

I can’t overstate this enough: I love this show. If you like the show, hopefully, you’ll enjoying my perspective on it. If you haven’t watched it yet, hopefully, my regular posts will get you interested enough to give it a try—and then you too can believe in Steven!

30-Something Nerdy Critics

Hope you're hyped for the Nostalgia Critc/AVGN Ninja Turtles review tommorow. If not, this preview they released will get you hyped:

30-Something Nerdy Critics
30-Something Nerdy Critics
30-Something Nerdy Critics
Bitching over nothing, geeky power!

They're the world's most sheltered whiny geeks (We're really white!)
They're zeroes in a nutshell, and they're freaks (Hey! Go freak your mother!)
When the evil Bay attacks, these boys will show he's a motherfreaking hack!
30-Something Nerdy Critics
30-Something Nerdy Critics

TV taught them about their turtle teams (We wasted our lives to this thing!)
Nerd reviews games, Critic reviews bad movies (Space Jam still freaking sucks!)
That’s really all that there is, what you’re hearing now is filler there is. (Catchphrase!)

30-Something Nerdy Critics
30-Something Nerdy Critics
30-Something Nerdy Critics
Bitching over nothing, geeky power!

Libertarian Education Policy: Sweden

Those who oppose school vouchers and school choice in general tend to cite lack of positive results of voucherization...But we can learn something about when choice works by looking at Sweden’s move to vouchers.

A recent paper by Bohlmark and Lindahl uses high quality administrative data for the entire country of Swedend for students who attended compulsary school (grades 1 through 9) from 1988 to 2009. Importantly this includes data for the period prior to the 1992 voucher reform. This allows them to control for pre-reform trends...a fact that Bohlmark and Lindahl argues may have biased the results.

Sweden’s voucher policy allowed easy entry of independently run private schools which any student could attend. Prior to this policy less than 1% of Sweden’s students attended private schools, but by 2009 it had increased to 11%. The authors find that the higher percent of voucher students there are in a district the better students do on a variety of outcomes. They find a a positive effect on test scores, compulsary school grades, choosing an academic high-school track, high-school grades, probability of attending college, and average education by age 24. The study is impressive in it’s scope of data, especially in tracking later outcome variables.

Importantly, they find that the primary way that competition effects outcomes is by improving the performance of the nearby public schools, and not by outperforming the public schools. I’ve written before that focusing on static comparisons of charter/voucher and public schools is missing some of the largest gains. And it is also consistent with previous work from David Card et al on school competition in Canada. The effects of real school choice reforms are systemic and long-run. The Swedish study supports the importance of looking at the long-run: they found that positive effects of choice in Sweden didn’t occur until a decade after the reform was put in place.

The authors discuss some important characteristics of the Swedish system that may contribute to the success. First, the Swedish system does not allowing parents to pay additional fees on top of the voucher.Second, there are strong rules about how schools must accept students. They cannot use ability, socio-economic status, or ethnicity.  The authors argue that if competition on selection is prevented, schools are more likely to compete on quality:
“The conditions for school choice that are likely to generate the most positive effects on overall school productivity are discussed in MacLeod and Urquiola (2009). Their framework is a reputation model of learning. They argue that in the Chilean system (where schools can select students based on ability), the schools are more likely to compete by selecting the best students instead of with increasing productivity. In a system like the Swedish, where creamskimming is not allowed, the schools are more likely to compete by improving productivity. In fact, MacLeod and Urquiola (2009) state that if the reputation model holds for a school market, then “if schools cannot select on ability, the introduction of school choice will unambiguously raise school performance and student outcomes.”  The positive educational performance effects found in this paper and the absence of  effects found in Hsieh and Urquiola (2006) [for Chile] support their story.
This is an important lesson school choice reformers should seriously consider.

Another important factor is that for each student that attends an independent school, the school received an amount equal to a large majority of the average per-pupil cost of the students public school system, and this is paid by the student’s municipality. This means that the resources available to the local public school are decreased as more students choose independent schools. This increases the competitive pressure, which the results suggest is an important determinant of improving outcomes. In addition, any kind of organization can start a school, including for profit companies. The authors write:
“Importantly, the full financing of  the  independent schools comes from the local government in the form of a voucher for each student they attract. Hence, we expect a stronger economic pressure on the local public schools the more students that chooses to opt out and attend independent schools.
This all suggests we should not be shielding public schools from the pressure of competition, but designing reforms that ensure that competition can have it’s positive effect.

Overall this study and the case of Sweden’s voucher program have lessons that reformers and reform critics in this country should consider.

- "Lessons on School Choice from Sweden", Adam Ozimek (Forbes). (And to anyone who claims that Sweden is having an "education crisis", read this article.)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Libertarian Healthcare System: Switzerland

One of the most frequently-made arguments in favor of socialized medicine is that it saves money, relative to the American system. And it is true that Europeans et al. spend less per-capita, and as a percentage of GDP, than we do.

But the pro-socialism argument has a glaring weakness: it ignores the two most significant examples of market-oriented universal coverage in the developed world, Switzerland and Singapore, where state health spending is far lower than it is in other industrialized nations. Neither Switzerland nor Singapore could be described as libertarian utopias--both systems contain aspects that conservatives wouldn't like--but they provide powerful examples of how market-oriented health care systems are more cost-efficient than socialized ones.

I've described Switzerland as having the world's best health-care system. In Switzerland, there are no government-run insurance plans, no "public options." Instead, the Swiss get subsidies, much like "premium support" proposals for Medicare reform or the PPACA exchanges, from which Swiss citizens buy health care from private insurers. The subsidies are scaled up or down based on income: poorer people get large subsidies; middle-income earners get small subsidies; upper-income earners get nothing.

The OECD puts Switzerland high on the league tables in terms of government health spending, but that is due to a statistical anomaly. Switzerland has an individual mandate; the OECD defines state health expenditures to include insurance premiums that the government requires individuals to pay, even if that spending is on private insurance. That is a debatable approach from the OECD, because the spending goes directly to the insurers, without the government as a redistributor. If you adjust for this anomaly, Swiss state health spending is $1,281 per person (which accounts for the taxpayer-financed premium support subsidies). I've listed both figures in the chart.

The premium support system allows the Swiss to shop for their own insurance plans, which gives them the opportunity to shop for value--something that almost no Americans do. As a result, about half of the Swiss have consumer-driven health plans, combining high-deductible insurance with health savings accounts for routine expenditures....

How could something like this come about in the United States? One could imagine a scenario in which Medicare was converted into the premium-support model, such as one of the Paul Ryan plans, with far more aggressive means-testing such that upper-income seniors would no longer be eligible for the program. In addition, the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance is phased out. The resultant savings could be used to offer subsidized private insurance to lower-income individuals, as a replacement for Medicaid. Obamacare's exchanges, though seriously flawed in their implementation, have some similarities to this approach. As these programs converge, we could have something that starts to look a lot like Switzerland...

My message to conservatives is: wake up. America's health care system has many qualities, but it is far more socialized than you think, and we can learn from the experience of other countries to make it better. My message to liberals is: if universal coverage is your goal, the possibility for bipartisan compromise exists, if you're open to considering market-oriented approaches like those in Switzerland...Let's put our heads together.

- "The Myth of the Free-Market American Health Care System", Megan McArdle (The Atlantic).

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Why Ghostbusters Really Is That Good

A while ago, film and media critic Bob “Moviebob” Chipman was let go from his position at The Escapist. Depending on your general feelings towards him, you either feel sorry for him or you’re glad that "the giant tub of feminazi lard" finally got the boot.

Personally, while I’ve never cared for his political opinions—and in many cases, really never cared for his political opinions—I do admire his insight in and extensive (almost encyclopedic) knowledge of film, gaming, and media in general. (It’s just a pity that he’s never applied his critical thinking skills to politics.)

Recently, he started a new film review series, Really That Good, where he examines classic beloved movie and reveals just why, as the name suggests, they’re really that good.

His first entry, which he released earlier today, is on Ghostbusters, wherein he elucidates on the movie’s overall theme about how just a little bit of courage and knowledge combined is powerful enough to overcome even the biggest and scariest of monsters:

The world of Ghostbusters is a world where big cosmic horrors are omnipresent but always just out of sight, where that creeping feeling of dread of an otherwise unfamiliar house, or something off about the benign zaniness of a hotel hallway at night, or the unsettling staleness of an old library are evidence of lurking malevolent horrors, where that rustling in the bushes at night really is something evil out to get you, and that creepy stranger is more than just creepy, where something really is going bump in the night, hiding under the bed, lurking in the shadows, and yes, where there is a monster in the closet.

But if they scare you, you're likely to be told that it's all in your head, or not really all that scary, or that you should get over it, which in turn is going to make you feel not only frightened, but alone. To children, that world is also known as the real world day-to-day. Kids don't need to make much of a logical leap to understand a movie where people live at the mercy of seemingly malevolent forces beyond their understanding or control. Most of them feel like they are already living like that day-in and day-out; but in the Ghostbusters world, there is something that can checkmate all that scary stuff: you.

The subtext that underlines and empowers the narrative of Ghostbusters is science and technology overcoming superstition and the supernatural, but the practical surface text is monsters and ghosts being overcome by cool gadgets--and not cool gadgets powered by the same indeterminate scary stuff that the bad guys are made of, or cool gadgets that are rare and hard to find, or cool gadgets that only certain special people can use--it's made unmistakably clear that the Ghostbusters thought up, made, and maintain the proton packs, traps, PKE meters, and containment units themselves, and that is all important for understanding the power of this power fantasy.

The unique powerful fantasy idea at the heart of Ghostbusters isn't that ghosts and monsters and demons and things that go bump-in-the-night are real, and it also isn't that they can simply be busted, it's that with the right equipment and a little bit of know-how, you can bust them...[and] the appeal to the mindset of kids is far more potent, more obvious, and more powerful. With cleverness and determination, you can take control of what scares you, assert your power of what lurks in the dark, and beat back the things that frighten you, and that core idea make Spengler, Stantz, Venkman, and Zeddemore more than just movie heroes, it makes them the spirit animals of every kid who ever set a trap for the monster under their bed or even stayed awake trying to catch a glimpse of the Tooth Fairy.

Is Laci Green A False Rape Apologist?

By now, I’m sure most of you are well aware about the UVA rape case. For those of you who are not, here’s the summary:

A few months ago, the Rolling Stone published an article about how a college girl (referred to as “Jackie”) was allegedly gang raped by seven men at a UVA frat party. I say allegedly because it was later revealed that the story had several discrepancies, and as such, the Rolling Stone, showcasing journalistic integrity, retracted it. The story was further investigated by the police, who recently announced that they could not find enough substantial evidence to support it.

You’d think that would be the end of the story, right? There’s no evidence to support it; therefore, it didn't happen. Does this mean that it absolutely never happened? Well, there’s a slight possibility that future evidence will be revealed to prove that it did, but until then, we can safely assume that it did not.

Sadly, the feminists who’ve been covering and following this story have not been as rational. Even with overwhelming evidence showing that this rape probably didn't happen, they still insist that it did and have been accusing anyone who thinks otherwise of being “rape apologists” who support “rape culture”—a concept that even the nation's largest anti-sexual assault organization, RAINN, denies.

The feminist anti-rape hysteria has even spawned the embarrassing hashtag #IStandWithJackie, where internet feminists voice their support of Jackie’s story even in spite of all the evidence against it.

The Amazing Atheist and Thunderf00t have both recently made videos about this topic, and they did such an exceptional job that there’s really no need for me to further add my two cents.

Instead, I want to address a video by one of those delusional feminists who insists on “Standing With Jackie.” That feminist is none other than Laci Green, a contributor to MTV News—and further proof that MTV has died the way of the dinosaurs.

No less than five seconds into her video and she instigates face palms with the most loaded bad faith question:

Here’s a little question: why does everyone think that victims of rape are making it up?

You know, I really hate talking about rape. It’s a very sensitive subject that always handled the most insensitively. And I always feels as though I’m arguing on the wrong side: because unless you fully support hanging a man from the highest tree simply because one woman (or even one man) pointed at him and accused him of rape, feminists will label you a "rape apologist."

And I’d really hate to address this video, because it’s quite clear that Laci is arguing from bad faith, and thus has no interest in acknowledging any answer to her question that’s more loaded that a loaded potato at TGIFriday’s.

But, in the sake of free inquiry and open dialogue, I’ll bite the bullet.

Here’s the answer that I left on her video:
Laci, dear, I know you’re asking that question in bad faith, and thus you have no interest in acknowledging any answers to it, but for the sake of dialogue, I’ll answer your question anyway.

No, Laci, we do not believe that victims of rape are always making it up. We only believe they are making it up—and here is the important part—when there is no evidence to support their claims.

Yes, I know we should give rape victims—any victims of any crime—the benefit of the doubt, but we should also apply scrutiny to their claims and investigate them to make sure that they truly hold water.

For example, with the recent UVA rape story, there was no evidence to support the alleged victim’s story. After Rolling Stone published its article, it was later revealed that most of the events and details in the story were either wrong or did not happen, so the magazine did what any self-respecting journalistic publication would do and retracted the story. Then the police further investigated the story, and arrived to the conclusion that there was no evidence to support it. Now is it still possible that the woman was still raped? Yes. But right now, there is no evidence to corroborate her claims, so we have to assume it did not happen.

Does this mean all rape victims are lying? No. When there is evidence to support their claims, that is when we know they are telling the truth. This was the case with the Steubenville rape case. There was more than enough evidence to prove that the girl was raped, and thus the men who raped her were convicted of the crime. There is no doubt that her rape happened, because there was enough evidence to corroborate her story.

Now, if for some chance, new evidence would come along to prove that the UVA rapes really did occur, people would be more than willing to change their minds and believe it. Feminists, on the other hand, are more than willing to “Stand With Jackie”, even after all the evidence concludes that the rape did not happen. That is the main difference between people like me and feminists like yourself: we are more than willing to change our minds when new evidence arises.
You can't say I didn't try, though you're free to wonder why I even bothered.

SF Inmates Forced To Fight Gladiatorial Games

Have you ever seen a prison flick like The Condemned or Death Race where prisoners are made to compete in to-the-death games where the victor is promised his freedom? Well, it seems as though one San Francisco prison was secretly hosting such games, though without all the Hollywood romanticization:
San Francisco’s public defender called on Thursday for an independent investigation into the Sheriff’s Department after accusations that four deputies forced prisoners to engage in “gladiator-style fights” for their own amusement.

Jeff Adachi, the public defender, said at a news conference that the deputies forced the smallest prisoner, Rico Palikiko Garcia, who weighs 150 pounds, to fight the largest prisoner, Stanly Harris, who weighs 350 pounds.

They also “appeared to delight” in taunting Mr. Harris with jokes about his weight, the public defender’s office said in a statement, and forced him to participate in “boot camp-style exercises.”

“It was a sadistic pleasure,” Mr. Adachi said in a telephone interview. “This was like something right out of ‘Game of Thrones.’ ”

The prisoners were told they would be rewarded with a hamburger if they won, but would be sprayed with Mace, severely beaten and transferred to dangerous housing quarters if they refused to fight at all, he said. Both men were injured in the fights but were told they would be beaten if they sought medical attention.
Give movies like Death Race some credit. At least in those scenarios, the prisoners volunteered to participate in those games, and they had the reward of their potential freedom as an incentive. Here, the prisoners were forced to fight each other, and their only incentive was a lousy cheeseburger. (Is prison food really that bad that a hamburger is reward enough for getting bloodied up and beaten to a pulp?)

I wouldn’t be so bothered by this if it weren’t for the fact that America’s incarceration rates have been increasing (along with prison recidivism rates), despite violent crime rates experiencing an opposite decline—in other words, despite less crime being committed, more people are being locked up.

Meanwhile, in Norway, after its crime rate began declining, the country began shutting down its prisons. Their crime rate goes down, and their prisons get shut down. Our crime rate goes down, and our prisons find excuses to continue locking people up. Remind me again why “Murica is #1”?

Libertarian Pension System: Chile

May Day — socialists’ paean to class warfare — evokes memories of Soviet tanks in Red Square and leftist radicals rioting. But Chile celebrates the actual empowerment of workers.

May 1 marks the 30 years since Chile became the first nation to privatize its social security system. By turning workers into investors, the move solved an entitlement crisis much like the one America faces today.

“I like symbols, so I chose May Day as the birth date of Chile’s ‘ownership society’ that allowed every worker to become a small capitalist,” wrote Jose Pinera, former secretary of labor and social security and the architect of this pension revolution. He is now a senior fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.

What he designed has succeeded beyond all expectations. Yet Congress remains reluctant to adopt anything like it, despite efforts by Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to partially privatize an American system.

Instead of paying a 12.4% Social Security tax as we do here, Chilean workers must pay in 10% of their wages (they can send up to 20%) to one of several conservatively managed and regulated pension funds. From the accumulated savings, they get a life annuity or make programmed withdrawals (inheriting any funds left over).

Over the last three decades these accounts have averaged annual returns of 9.23% above inflation. By contrast, U.S. Social Security pays a 1% to 2% (theoretical) return, and even less for new workers.

History shows that pension funds prudently invested in a diversified portfolio appreciate significantly over long periods of consistent saving. In 1981, the Dow industrials stood at 900; today, despite three market crashes, it’s nearly 13,000.

In 2005, New York Times reporter John Tierney worked out his own Social Security contributions on the Chilean model and found that his privatized pension would have been $53,000 a year plus a one-time payout of $223,000. The same contributions paid into Social Security would have paid him $18,000.

The system is doable here, but does require citizen education and political resolve.

First, implicit debts must be made explicit, which most politicians abhor.

Chile decided to compensate workers for money already paid into the system, through “recognition bonds.” It financed this via bonds, partial diversions of existing pension taxes, sales of state assets and spending cuts.

Its road was made even easier as economic growth from a system that encourages work, saving and responsibility filled government coffers with new streams of tax revenue.

In the U.S., Social Security already is in bad shape. It’s already paying out more in benefits than it gets in payroll tax revenue.

Politicians for decades have raided excess workers’ contributions intended to cover baby boomer retirees. They left IOUs, giving the program the right to other government revenue. But that means the Treasury has to issue even more debt.

Those political raids can’t happen in Chile — private accounts are legal property, a right Pinera embedded firmly into the 1980 constitution.

As for Social Security, even the IOUs are projected to run out in 2037. If nothing is done, payouts will have to be slashed 22%.

Private accounts could generate better returns to help offset likely benefit cuts.

Thirty countries have adopted a Chilean-style system.

Yet U.S. reform efforts have been timid. Rep. Paul Ryan’s “Road Map” called for creating personal retirement accounts with one-third of Social Security funds. But his 10-year House budget did not explicitly address the retirement program.

Given what’s at stake, it’s surprising that there is no bold proposal to “take the bull by the horns,” as Pinera put it, and reform Social Security completely on the Chile model. Missing this is missing a big one.

- "Chile’s Private Social Security System Turns 30", Monica Showalter (Investors Business Daily).

No 2015 Zelda Wii U Release

Zelda fans who’ve been anticipating playing the newest Legend of Zelda game by the end of the year will have to wait a little bit longer now, as IGN reports:
Legend of Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma said meeting a 2015 release date for The Legend of Zelda for Wii U is no longer a "number one priority."

"Since I declared at The Game Awards in December that the game would launch in 2015, the directors and the many members of the development team have been working hard developing the game to make it the best it can be," Aonuma said in a video addressing Nintendo fans.

During development, the team discovered "several new possibilities" for the game, Aonuma explained, which forced a reconsideration of their timeline and priorities.

Aonuma continued, "So, I must apologize to you all that were expecting the game by year's end, but we are no longer making a 2015 release our number one priority. Instead, our priority is to make it the most complete and ultimate Zelda game."
Even a bigger bummer, Nintendo won’t even be showcasing the game at this year’s E3.

Here’s the original announcement from Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma:

While many Zelda fans may be disappointed by this, I’m not. If a longer wait means more time for the game developers to further fine-tune the game, then I’m more than willing to wait. I’d rather have a quality game that was given the proper time and effort creating it that a shoddy product that was rushed out to market to meet a deadline.

Besides, I’ve still yet to play Hyrule Warriors; so I think I'll invest in that game, which will hopefully keep me more than pre-occupied (especially with all the cool DLC!) until the real deal releases.