Americans really don’t care about privacy

Majority Views NSA Phone Tracking as Acceptable Anti-terror Tactic:

A majority of Americans – 56% – say the National Security Agency’s (NSA) program tracking the telephone records of millions of Americans is an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism, though a substantial minority – 41% – say it is unacceptable. And while the public is more evenly divided over the government’s monitoring of email and other online activities to prevent possible terrorism, these views are largely unchanged since 2002, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

[…]

Currently 62% say it is more important for the federal government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy. Just 34% say it is more important for the government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats.

Think of all the people you know who have said “I’m alright with it, I have nothing to hide,” or “Are you really surprised that the NSA was doing this?”

That’s how most people think about their privacy nowadays.

3D printing is revolutionizing how we build and repair cars

3D Printing Helps Ford Cut Production Time on Some Parts by 25%:

Ford uses the technology to print cylinder heads, brake rotors and rear axels for test vehicles. Thanks to 3D printing, production time for one type of cylinder head, used in its fuel-efficient EcoBoost engines, is cut down from four to five months to three, shaving 25% to 40% off production time. Earlier casting methods required that the mold be cut from sand; 3D printing allows Ford to skip the cutting process and pour the metal directly into the molds.

[…]

In the future, Ford believes its customers will be able to print replacement parts for their vehicles at a local 3D printer in a matter of hours or even minutes. 

Jay Leno has been using this technology in his legendary garage for years. Here’s a Popular Mechanics article from 2009 detailing how and why he uses it:

So, rather than have a machinist try to copy the heater and then build it, we decided to redesign the original using our NextEngine 3D scanner and Dimension 3D printer. These incredible devices allow you to make the form you need to create almost any part. The scanner can measure about 50,000 points per second at a density of 160,000 dots per inch (dpi) to create a highly detailed digital model. The 3D printer makes an exact copy of a part in plastic, which we then send out to create a mold. Some machines can even make a replacement part in cobalt-chrome with the direct laser sintering process. Just feed a plastic wire–for a steel part you use metal wire–into the appropriate laser cutter.

[…]

People say, “Why not just give the part to your machinist to make?” Well, if the machinist makes it wrong, you still have to pay for it. The scanner allows you to make an exact copy in plastic, fit it and see that it’s correct. Even when you take plans to a machinist, it can be tricky. Say the part must be 3 mm thick here and 5 mm there. You get it back and then, “Oh no, it doesn’t fit; it’s too thick,” or “It’s too thin.” My setup lets you create the perfect part. And you could press the button again and again–and keep making the part–twice the size, half-size, whatever you need. If you have a part that’s worn away, or has lost a big chunk of metal, you can fill in that missing link on the computer. Then you make the part in plastic and have a machinist make a copy based on that example. Or you can do what we do–input that program into a Fadal CNC machine; it reads the dimensions and replicates an exact metal copy.

Just as the USSR discredited communists, 1800s America discredited libertarians

Libertarianism’s Achilles’ heel:

The strongest political support for a broad anti-statist libertarianism now comes from the tea party. Yet tea party members, as the polls show, are older than the country as a whole. They say they want to shrink government in a big way but are uneasy about embracing this concept when reducing Social Security and Medicare comes up. Thus do the proposals to cut these programs being pushed by Republicans in Congress exempt the current generation of recipients. There’s no way Republicans are going to attack their own base.

But this inconsistency (or hypocrisy) contains a truth: We had something close to a small-government libertarian utopia in the late 19th century and we decided it didn’t work. We realized that many Americans would never be able to save enough for retirement and, later, that most of them would be unable to afford health insurance when they were old. Smaller government meant that too many people were poor and that monopolies were formed too easily.

The role of chance in economic success

The Political Transformation of David Frum:

Frum has come to embrace some quintessentially liberal ideas about the role of chance as opposed to virtue in economic fortune. “Success is not always a matter of luck,” he says. “But as I get older, even the ability to work hard is itself a product of luck. Being born with a certain set of mental attributes, brain chemistry. Every once in a while you encounter a little kid who’s not that likable. Their life is going to be so much worse because they’re not that likable. Did they ask to be not likable?”

It’s scary to think about the effect the “genetic lottery” has on the course of our lives. I was born with a properly-functioning brain into a family that nurtured my intellectual curiosity from a young age and had the economic resources to move to a better-than-average public school district in Florida to ensure that I received a decent education. Millions of people my age didn’t have that luck.

Rather than increasing focus on technology, states are removing computer requirements altogether

Tech industry gender gap: Closing it starts in the classroom:

Take Kansas, where the education establishment thought it already had computing covered through vocational courses in typing and Microsoft Office. When the state’s Board of Regents realized that most kids learn basic computer skills through other courses, it cut the “computer technology” requirement altogether, instead of updating it to include actual code. (What the board didn’t realize is that many high schools, realizing its students were literate with computers, used the requirement to develop courses involving computer science.) 

“Most people think that our kids are coming out of childhood with computer skills that are relevant and useful,” says Tabitha Hogan, who teaches in a district an hour south of Wichita, Kansas and leads the state’s Computer Science Teachers Association chapter. “That’s what’s hurting us. They might be savvy enough to do something quickly with their friends in social media, but not to really develop their own ideas.”

Introductory computer science courses should be mandatory in every high school in this country. Having a surface-level grasp on programming – even just knowing what can be realistically be done with code – is going to be just as important to workers in the future as knowing proper grammar and basic math is today. 

The fact that Kansas removed the technology requirement altogether is despicable and an embarrassment for everyone in the state.

The Republican Party needs more than rebranding: conservatism is the problem

Conservatism Is The Problem:

“Redistribution” is not a matter of first principles and anyone who tells you otherwise is mistaken. All fiscal policy is redistributive, in that it involves collecting taxes from someone and spending money on programs that benefit someone else. And the question of how progressive that redistribution ought to be depends on outside factors, such as the relative economic cost of various kinds of taxes and the level of pre-tax inequality.

Changes in economic conditions should change people’s preferences about the level of fiscal progressivity. For example, if returns to economic growth increasingly accrue to people at the top of the income distribution, we should become more favorable to progressive redistribution. If the economy becomes more fragile, with more risk of recessions that lead to years-long spells of high unemployment, that calls for a more robust and progressively-financed safety net. And if top income tax rates are well below the peak of the Laffer Curve, that creates more room for added progressivity.

As it happens, these are all conditions that have manifested over the last thirty years, and especially the last five — and they’re why I favor a more redistributive fiscal policy than I used to. Conservatives are wrong on this issue, and outside conditions have shifted over time in a way that has made them much more wrong than they used to be.

As Barro notes, the The Republican Party today is in a situation very similar to the British Labour Party back in the ’80s. Being too extreme made the socialists in the Labour Party ineffective both at winning elections and at enacting policies. If the GOP can become more moderate, it can again be an effective opposition party to the Democrats going forward.

We don’t have any evidence that data mining has saved lives

Where’s the evidence that data mining saves lives?:

To date, there have been practically no examples of a terrorist plot being pre-emptively thwarted by data mining these huge electronic caches. (Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has said that the metadatabase has helped thwart a terrorist attack “in the last few years,” but the details have not been disclosed.)

When I was writing my book, “The Watchers,” about the rise of these big surveillance systems, I met analyst after analyst who said that data mining tends to produce big, unwieldy masses of potential bad actors and threats, but rarely does it produce a solid lead on a terrorist plot.

Those leads tend to come from more pedestrian investigative techniques, such as interviews and interrogations of detainees, or follow-ups on lists of phone numbers or e-mail addresses found in terrorists’ laptops. That shoe-leather detective work is how the United States has tracked down so many terrorists. In fact, it’s exactly how we found Osama bin Laden.

While I’m certainly against the government having such extensive access to private communications, I do believe that this is one of those cases where there probably are examples of this technology stopping terrorism – but they won’t tell us because that might tell the terrorists what not to do.

But if anyone would know that a terrorist plot was foiled, wouldn’t it be the people that were organizing it to begin with? This seems like a case where the government might as well be open. The terrorists are already going to adapt their tactics to avoid repeating the actions that have gotten them caught. The American people might as well be told why their privacy being taken away is worth it.

Majority of young Americans view gays favorably, though only 38% believe they are born that way

Pew Research has some new polling data on Americans’ views on gays and lesbians in the United States.

I found it very interesting that while 64% of young people (ages 18-29) have a favorable view of gay men and 70% have a favorable view of lesbians, only 38% believe that people are born gay or lesbian.

If anything, I take that as a sign that young Americans are actually more accepting than if it had been the other way around. After all, it means that they’re okay with it even if it did stem from upbringing or choice.

Here are the relevant charts for those interested:

Favorable

Choice

The government needs to spend money in an economic crisis

Austerity Principles, or How to Save an Economy in Crisis:

Automatic stabilizers work. In the U.S., when it comes to fiscal policy in times of economic crisis, there isn’t much disagreement between the political parties. But if a separate debate over the proper size of government is allowed to intrude (as it has), the result is gridlock.

Policy makers should instead agree in advance to a system of automatic stabilizers that kick in during recessions. These include unemployment insurance extensions and relaxed eligibility standards for food stamps when the jobless rate exceeds, say, 6 percent. By the same token, lawmakers could agree to spend, say, 20 percent more on public works programs when unemployment increases. Automatic stabilizers offset about 20 percent of an economic shock after two years, according to research by Federal Reserve economists. The effect is even bigger in Europe, where automatic stabilizers are more prevalent.

Republicans shouldn’t care if the U.S. spends more this year and less next year so long as the permanent size of the government remains the same.

Maybe there wasn’t disagreement between Democrats and the Republicans of yesteryear, but the Tea Party Republicans from 2010 and 2012 would beg to differ. These are the people who would rather jeopardize the health of children than provide the poor with assistance.

If any good has come out of the last 5 years, it’s that there will be a solid case for  stimulus and stabilizers the next time we have a severe recession.

The health benefits of coffee

This Is Your Brain on Coffee:

Other recent studies have linked moderate coffee drinking — the equivalent of three or four 5-ounce cups of coffee a day or a single venti-size Starbucks — with more specific advantages: a reduction in the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, basal cell carcinoma (the most common skin cancer), prostate cancer, oral cancer and breast cancer recurrence.

Perhaps most consequential, animal experiments show that caffeine may reshape the biochemical environment inside our brains in ways that could stave off dementia. In a 2012 experiment at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, mice were briefly starved of oxygen, causing them to lose the ability to form memories. Half of the mice received a dose of caffeine that was the equivalent of several cups of coffee. After they were reoxygenated, the caffeinated mice regained their ability to form new memories 33 percent faster than the uncaffeinated. Close examination of the animals’ brain tissue showed that the caffeine disrupted the action of adenosine, a substance inside cells that usually provides energy, but can become destructive if it leaks out when the cells are injured or under stress. The escaped adenosine can jump-start a biochemical cascade leading to inflammation, which can disrupt the function of neurons, and potentially contribute to neurodegeneration or, in other words, dementia.

Does this mean Starbucks will start running ads touting their health benefits? They’d be like Subway’s ads, but instead of featuring people who lost weight they could show older people whose dementia “could be worse.”