It’s incredibly difficult to climb the income ladder in the South

If you’re poor and raising kids in the South, you owe it to your children to move elsewhere as soon as possible. David Leonhardt, for The New York Times:

Especially intriguing is the fact that children who moved at a young age from a low-mobility area to a high-mobility area did almost as well as those who spent their entire childhoods in a higher-mobility area. But children who moved as teenagers did less well.

Income ladder

Russia is using typewriters to prevent leaks

The Telegraph’s Chris Irvine reports that the Russian Federal Guard Service, in charge of protecting secret communications and President Vladmir Putin, is increasing its use of typewriters in order to prevent the kinds of leaks that Edward Snowden brought to light last month:

The FSO is looking to spend 486,000 roubles – around £10,000 – on a number of electric typewriters, according to the site of state procurement agency, The notice included ribbons for German-made Triumph Adlew TWEN 180 typewriters, although it was not clear if the typewriters themselves were this kind.


Unlike printers, every typewriter has its own individual pattern of type so it is possible to link every document to a machine used to type it.


Nikolai Kovalev, the former director of Russia’s Federal Security Service, told Izvestiya: “From the point of view of security, any means of electronic communication is vulnerable. You can remove any information from a computer. There are means of defence, of course, but there’s no 100 per cent guarantee they will work. So from the point of view of preserving secrets the most primitive methods are preferable: a person’s hand and a pen, or a typewriter.”

Florida’s “stand your ground” law is absurd

According to Florida law, you can pick a fight with someone and then legally kill them if it looks like they’ll win:

Use of force by aggressor.—The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:
(1) Is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of, a forcible felony; or
(2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:
(a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or
(b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.

(Via Ta-Nehisi  Coates)

Reflections on the George Zimmerman verdict

Not guilty. That’s what the jury for this case decided.


1. Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old, would not have died that night if George Zimmerman hadn’t followed him.

2. “Stand your ground” should not mean “chase and engage”.

3. As Glenn Fleishman notes, this verdict tells African-Americans living in or around white neighborhoods in Florida to go home before it gets dark out. 

4. I can’t say what I would have done if I had been among that jury. Besides Zimmerman, there were no eye-witnesses. That would give anyone reasonable doubt.

5. To those who state that that the verdict would be the same if the races of those involved were different: tell that to Marissa Alexander, the Florida woman who fired warning shots at her abusive husband back in 2010 and was sentenced to 20 years in jail.


Harvard is a hedge fund with a school attached

Jim Manzi, in a post from back in 2008:

The overall Harvard corporation gets to make money through investment returns on its endowment (or, more precisely, the General Investment Account, which currently includes about $6 billion of investable assets in operational accounts in addition to the $34 billion endowment) that doesn’t get reported as revenue. Last year, Harvard made more than $7 billion of tax-free investment income.

So if you just think about how much cash went into the shoebox and how much came out of it, a more accurate accounting for Harvard for FY 2007 would, in rough numbers, be a lot more like the following:

Receipts = $2 billion of operating revenue + $7.3 billion of investment income + $0.6 billion of gifts to the endowment = ~$10 billion.

Operating costs = ~$3 billion.

Profit = $10 billion – $3 billion = ~$7 billion.

This explains why Harvard’s net assets increased about $7 billion in 2007, from about $35 billion to about $42 billion.

Viewed purely in terms of economics, Harvard is really a $40 billion tax-free hedge fund with a very large marketing and PR arm called Harvard University that has the job of raising the investment capital and protecting the fund’s preferential tax treatment.

Of course, Harvard isn’t doing quite so well as of late. Here’s the chart of the university’s net assets from the latest Harvard University Financial Report:

Screen Shot 2013 07 13 at 4 45 40 PM

The fact that Harvard’s endowment fund isn’t doing well doesn’t mean that the comparison to hedge funds just goes away (hell, if anything it just makes it more apt).

That’s why Reuters’ Felix Salmon suggests that private universities like Harvard should lose their tax-free status:

The dollar value of universities’ tax exemptions is enormous — and it almost goes without saying that if we simply abolished those exemptions, and used the proceeds to spend on higher education, we would get vastly more bang for our buck. The overwhelming majority of the tax expenditures go to the richest universities — the ones who need the money the least. Meanwhile, great institutions like the University of California are slowly starved to death: direct fiscal expenditures, it seems, are much, much easier to cut than more-hidden tax expenditures.

George Orwell on why early socialists got things so wrong

In an essay from 1941, George Orwell explains why socialists like H.G. Wells failed to see the dark side of the Soviet movement or to predict the rise of the Nazis:

If one looks through nearly any book that he has written in the last forty years one finds the same idea constantly recurring: the supposed antithesis between the man of science who is working towards a planned World State and the reactionary who is trying to restore a disorderly past. In novels, Utopias, essays, films, pamphlets, the antithesis crops up, always more or less the same.

On the one side science, order, progress, internationalism, aeroplanes, steel, concrete, hygiene: on the other side war, nationalism, religion, monarchy, peasants, Greek professors, poets, horses. History as he sees it is a series of victories won by the scientific man over the romantic man.

Now, he is probably right in assuming that a ‘reasonable,’ planned form of society, with scientists rather than witch-doctors in control, will prevail sooner or later, but that is a different matter from assuming that it is just round the corner.

There survives somewhere or other an interesting controversy which took place between Wells and Churchill at the time of the Russian Revolution. Wells accuses Churchill of not really believing his own propaganda about the Bolsheviks being monsters dripping with blood, etc., but of merely fearing that they were going to introduce an era of common sense and scientific control, in which flag-wavers like Churchill himself would have no place. Churchill’s estimate of the Bolsheviks, however, was nearer the mark than Wells’s.

The early Bolsheviks may have been angels or demons, according as one chooses to regard them, but at any rate they were not sensible men. They were not introducing a Wellsian Utopia but a Rule of the Saints, which like the English Rule of the Saints, was a military despotism enlivened by witchcraft trials.

The same misconception reappears in an inverted form in Wells’s attitude to the Nazis. Hitler is all the war-lords and witch-doctors in history rolled into one. Therefore, argues Wells, he is an absurdity, a ghost from the past, a creature doomed to disappear almost immediately. But unfortunately the equation of science with common sense does not really hold good.

The aeroplane, which was looked forward to as a civilising influence but in practice has hardly been used except for dropping bombs, is the symbol of that fact. Modern Germany is far more scientific than England, and far more barbarous.

Much of what Wells has imagined and worked for is physically there in Nazi Germany. The order, the planning, the State encouragement of science, the steel, the concrete, the aeroplanes, are all there, but all in the service of ideas appropriate to the Stone Age. Science is fighting on the side of superstition. But obviously it is impossible for Wells to accept this. It would contradict the world-view on which his own works are based. The war-lords and the witch-doctors must fail, the common-sense World State, as seen by a nineteenth-century Liberal whose heart does not leap at the sound of bugles, must triumph. Treachery and defeatism apart, Hitler cannot be a danger. That he should finally win would be an impossible reversal of history, like a Jacobite restoration.

The Economist’s perfect critique of America’s hypocrisy

Ever notice how we start wars in order to “promote democracy” abroad, then use secret courts to limit those same freedoms at home?

All this somehow got me thinking of the doctrine of “democracy promotion”, which was developed under George W. Bush and maintained more or less by Barack Obama. The doctrine is generally presented as half-idealism, half-practicality. That all the people of the Earth, by dint of common humanity, are entitled to the protections of democracy is an inspiring principle. However, its foreign-policy implications are not really so clear. To those of us who are sceptical that America has the authority to intervene whenever and wherever there are thwarted democratic rights, the advocates of democracy-promotion offer a more businesslike proposition. It is said that authoritarianism, especially theocratic Islamic authoritarianism, breeds anti-American terrorism, and that swamp-draining democracy-promotion abroad is therefore a priority of American national security. If you don’t wish to asphyxiate on poison gas in a subway, or lose your legs to detonating pressure-cookers at a road-race, it is in your interest to support American interventions on behalf of democracy across the globe. So the story goes.

However, the unstated story goes, it is equally important that American democracy not get out of hand. If you don’t want your flight to La Guardia to end in a ball of fire, or your local federal building to be razed by a cataclysm of exploding fertiliser, you will need to countenance secret courts applying in secret its own secret interpretation of hastily-drawn, barely-debated emergency security measures, and to persecute with the full force of the world’s dominant violent power any who dare afford a glimpse behind the veil.

Go read the whole article. It’s the single best piece of writing that’s come out of the NSA scandal.

Mos Def force-fed under standard Guantánamo Bay procedure

This is disturbing. I have much respect for the man for going through with this to show just how terrifying the procedure is:

As Ramadan begins, more than 100 hunger-strikers in Guantánamo Bay continue their protest. More than 40 of them are being force-fed. A leaked document sets out the military instructions, or standard operating procedure, for force-feeding detainees. In this four-minute film made by Human Rights organisation Reprieve and Bafta award-winning director Asif Kapadia, US actor and rapper Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), experiences the procedure.

Everyone should fear the police state

Salon has an amazing piece of investigative journalism by Radly Balko about the militarization of the police force in the United States over the last few decades. It’s a bit long, so I excerpted the parts I think everyone should see. If you have the time, I recommend reading the whole story.

A 2009 G-20 summit shows us that we can be arrested for pretty much anything:

The most egregious police actions seemed to take place on the Friday evening before the summit, around the university, when police began ordering students who were in public spaces to disperse, despite the fact that they had broken no laws. Students who moved too slowly were arrested, as were students who were standing in front of the dormitories where they lived.

A University of Pittsburgh spokesman later said that the tactic was to break up crowds that “had the potential of disrupting normal activities, traffic flow, egress and the like. . . . Much of the arrests last night had to do with failure to disperse when ordered.” Note that no one needed to have broken any actual laws to get arrested. The potential to break a law was more than enough. That standard was essentially a license for the police to arrest anyone, anywhere in the city, at any time, for any reason.

“What’s that? Freedom of press you say? ‘Cuff him, Jim.”:

At the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, police conducted peremptory raids on the homes of protesters before the convention had even started. Police broke into the homes of people known to be activist rabble-rousers before they had any evidence of any actual crime. Journalists who inquired about the legitimacy of the raids and arrests made during the convention were also arrested. In all, 672 people were put in handcuffs.

I think we can all agree that matching shirts are cute. Especially when they’re bragging about beating non-violent protestors:

Perhaps the best insight into the mentality the police brought to the DNC protests could be found on the T-shirts the Denver police union had printed up for the event. The shirts showed a menacing cop holding a baton. The caption: DNC 2008: WE GET UP EARLY, TO BEAT THE CROWDS. Police were spotted wearing similar shirts at the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago. At the 1996 DNC convention in Chicago, cops were seen wearing shirts that read: WE KICKED YOUR FATHER’S ASS IN 1968 . . . WAIT ’TIL YOU SEE WHAT WE DO TO YOU!

“I don’t care about any of this, the only people who have to worry about the police are criminals.” Or, you know, small business owners:

In June 2006, Ruttenberg filed a civil rights suit alleging that, among other things, using a SWAT team to conduct an alcohol inspection was an unreasonable use of force.  In 2010, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit denied his claim. So for now, in the Fourth Circuit, sending a SWAT team to make sure a bar’s beer is labeled correctly is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

How to convince science skeptics

A psychology professor at Yale found that when looking at new scientific evidence, we tend to interpret facts through a lens based on our previously held beliefs. With the wrong framing, our brain subconsciously jumps into a defensive mode where we try to rationalize the new information in a way that either makes the information support our preconceptions or pick out the faults so as to not shift our beliefs.

So the key to convincing someone isn’t throwing facts at them, it’s presenting the facts in the context of certain values:

This theory is gaining traction in part because of Kahan’s work at Yale. In one study, he and his colleagues packaged the basic science of climate change into fake newspaper articles bearing two very different headlines—”Scientific Panel Recommends Anti-Pollution Solution to Global Warming” and “Scientific Panel Recommends Nuclear Solution to Global Warming”—and then tested how citizens with different values responded. Sure enough, the latter framing made hierarchical individualists much more open to accepting the fact that humans are causing global warming. Kahan infers that the effect occurred because the science had been written into an alternative narrative that appealed to their pro-industry worldview.

You can follow the logic to its conclusion: Conservatives are more likely to embrace climate science if it comes to them via a business or religious leader, who can set the issue in the context of different values than those from which environmentalists or scientists often argue. Doing so is, effectively, to signal a détente in what Kahan has called a “culture war of fact.” In other words, paradoxically, you don’t lead with the facts in order to convince. You lead with the values—so as to give the facts a fighting chance.