Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Bye bye free speech (2)

Here is a comment from Jonathan Turley's blog.  JT is on target.

If you think that regulating "fake news" is an answer to a problem - you are the problem.

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I recently wrote about the growing threat of government regulation of speech on the Internet under the guise of combatting “fake news.” Germany has been ground zero for civil libertarians for the rollback of free speech, German Chancellor Angela Merkel long ago established herself as a menace to free speech, particularly in her decision to first apologize to authoritarian Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan for a satirical poem and then approve the prosecution of the comedian is a shocking and chilling disgrace. Now, Germany is considering imposing a legal regime that would allow fining social networks such as Facebook up to 500,000 euros ($522,000) for each day the platform leaves a “fake news” story up without deleting it. Governments have finally found a vehicle to get citizens to allow them to curtail or chill speech — ironically in the name of facilitating “real news” or “truth.” It is perfectly Orwellian and Merkel’s latest contribution to the erosion of free speech in the West. I recently discussed the issue as part of an interesting segment with Ted Koppel.

Few companies will risk such crippling fines, resulting in self-censorship from the chilling effect of the law. The bill would require companies to flag “fake news” and impose civil liability on companies. Germany’s parliamentary chief of the Social Democrat party, Thomas Oppermann is quoted as saying “If after the relevant checks Facebook does not immediately, within 24 hours, delete the offending post then [it] must reckon with severe penalties of up to 500,000 euros.”

Other lawmakers are reportedly moving toward criminalizing anything the government deems to be “fake news.”

So government officials will now be allowed to simply proclaim certain postings as untrue and either fine the networks or even criminally charge individuals — all in the name of protecting “the truth.” What is astonishing is that many in the public are supporting this rollback on the critical protection of free speech. The left appears to be leading this crusade for greater government censorship in both Europe and the United States. Fake news is simply proclaimed to be a threat to democracy and citizens support the limitation of free speech to protect “freedom”? It is precisely the moment described by Benjamin Franklin when he said “Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither.”

Bye bye free speech

Here is a column by John Lott, a columnist for FoxNews.com. He is an economist and was formerly chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission. Lott is also a leading expert on guns and op-eds on that issue are done in conjunction with the Crime Prevention Research Center. He is the author of nine books including "More Guns, Less Crime." His latest book is "The War on Guns: Arming Yourself Against Gun Control Lies (August 1, 2016). Follow him on Twitter@johnrlottjr.

Concern about "fake news" is leading to attempts to regulate it out of existence.  What is forgotten is that the regulators will, at best, impose their own view of truth.  More likely, if history and the current behavior of those who advocate such regulation are any guide, truth will be sacrificed to agenda.  The real result will be the loss of free speech.

To put things in perspective - when, ever, has there not been fake news?  Personally, I have never read an article in the news media about a topic I knew something about that was accurate.

Here is John's column.

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To protect Americans against “fake” news, Facebook will now use filters so that only “reputable” articles can appear at the top of users’ trending news stories. And Facebook is going to media fact checkers for help (initially ABC News, The Associated Press, FactCheck.org, Politifact and Snopes). But guess what? These fact checkers have their own biases — usually the same liberal biases that we see in the rest of the mainstream media.

Before the 1990s, the mainstream media had a monopoly on the news. Then came the rise of talk radio, Fox News, and the internet. This was a wonderful thing for freedom of information.

Facebook has already faced a scandal for having “filtered out stories on conservative topics from conservative sites.”

But to get an idea of how bias also affects fact checkers, just consider a few evaluations from Politifact.

— "We’re the highest taxed nation in the world. Our businesses pay more taxes than any businesses in the world. That’s why companies are leaving.” Donald Trump on "Meet the Press" on May 8, 2016

Donald Trump was clearly talking about tax rates for businesses. But in rating the claim as “False,” Politifact focuses on total federal tax burden as a share of GDP. Trump was correct that the U.S. has the world's highest corporate income tax rate (combined federal and state). In 2016, that rate was 38.9 percent France came in second with 34.4 percent. But Politifact conveniently overlooks state taxes, which are really what put the U.S. over the top compared to so many other countries.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Ultimate Aptitude Test

HISTORY

Describe the history of the Papacy from its origins to the present.  Concentrate, but not exclusively, on its social, political, economic, religious, and philosophical impact on Europe, Asia, America, and Africa.  Be brief, concise, and specific.

PUBLIC SPEAKING

2,500 crazed aborigines are storming the classroom.  Calm them.  You may use any ancient language except Latin and Greek.

BIOLOGY

Create life.  Estimate the difference in subsequent human culture if this form had dev eloped 500 million years earlier.  Focus especially to its possible effect on the English parliamentary system.  Prove your thesis.

MUSIC

Write a piano concerto.  Orchestrate and perform it with flute and drum.  You will find a piano under your seat.

PSYCHOLOGY

Based on your knowledge of their works, evaluate the emotional stability, degree of adjustment and repressed frustrations of each of the following: Alexander of Aphrodisias, Rameses II, Gregory of Nicea, and Hammurabi.  Support your thesis with quotations from each man's work, making appropriate references.  It is not necessary to translate.

SOCIOLOGY

Estimate the sociological problems which might accompany the end of the world.  Construct an experiment to test your theory.

ENGINEERING

The disassembled parts of a high-powered rifle have been placed on your desk.  You will find an instruction manual priinted in Swahili.  In three minutes, a hungry Bengal tiger will be admitted to the room.  Take whatever action you feel is appropriate.  Be prepared to justify your decision.

ECONOMICS

Develop a realistic plan for retiring the national debt.  Trace the effects of your plan in the following areas:  Cubism, the Donatist controversy, and the wave theory of light.  Outline a method for preventing these effects.  Criticize this method from all possible points of view.  Point out the deficiencies in your point of view, as demonstrated by your answer to the last question.

POLITICAL SCIENCE

There is a red telephone on the desk beside you.  Start World War III.  Report at length on its socio-political effets, if any.

EPISTEMOLOGY

Take a stand for or against Truth.  Prove the validity of your position.

PHYSICS

Explain the nature of matter.

PHILOSOPHY

Sketch the development of human thought.  Estimate its significance.  Compare to the development of any other kind of thought.

GENERAL KNOWLEDGE

Describe in detail.  Be objective and specific.

BONUS QUESTION

Define the Universe and cite three examples.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Good advice and an example

Advice:  It is good to be open-minded, but not so open-minded that your brains fall out.

Example:  A higher minimum wage does not destroy any jobs - too open-minded.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Decisions and information

More information leads to better decisions.

Do you trust a used car salesman when you are buying a used car?  Probably not, because there is an appreciable probability that he knows something negative about the car that he is not telling you.

Wouldn't it be much better for you if you had access to the salesman's information about the car?  Of course it would.

Suppose someone stole his information and made it available to you.  It would be good for you - you would strike a better deal.  The fact that it is illegal to steal the information and that it is bad for the salesman are two separate issues.

So, in terms of improved decision making, you should be happy about the hacked DNC emails.  They provided previously unavailable and important information about the Candidates and Parties. Hence, they made possible better voting decisions.  It is unreasonable to believe that the hacked DNC emails adversely effected the election.  If they had any effect, it was most likely positive.

A point about free trade

Here is an excerpt from Russ Roberts's "The Human Side of Trade".

The connection between the excerpt and free trade may not be obvious to you.  If it isn't, here is a hint.  Unemployed U.S. steel workers correspond to health care workers in the excerpt.

It is true that free trade has the potential to make everyone better off, vs. restricted trade.  However, that does not guarantee that everyone will be better off under free trade.

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Suppose a scientist invents a pill that once you take it lets you live until 120 with no health issues whatsoever. Once you turn 120, you die a peaceful death on your birthday. Suppose the scientist, in a gesture of good will, charges $10 for the pill.

Should we let the scientist sell the pill? Is it good for the country? It’s good for almost everyone. But it’s going to be very hard on a very large group of people immediately:

Doctors. Nurses. Health Care administrators. People who build hospitals. People in medical school. People who teach in medical schools. People in health insurance companies. Pharmaceutical companies. Researchers. You get the idea. It’s millions of people. This is a very disruptive technology.

What’s going to happen to all those people?

Mass unemployment. All of the skills of all of those people are no longer valued. The past investments made in those skills are now wasted. Incomes of those workers will inevitably plummet overnight. . . .

Most people would argue that the millions of health care workers have no right to stop people from living until 120. And on the surface, that’s the whole story—long life and a very tough transition for millions of people from lives of financial well-being and deep satisfaction to a much bleaker future.

But that’s not the whole story. We’re missing a huge part of the story.

The other important part of the story is that everyone is suddenly a lot wealthier. All the money we once poured into health care will now be able to be spent on other things. What are those other things?

We can’t know. No one can. But a whole bunch of areas are going to expand and some of those are going to soak up the time, talents and energy of former doctors, health care administrators and so on. .

And young people who planned to go to medical school or become chemists in the pharmaceutical industry or nurses or data analysts in the insurance business will now turn elsewhere. What will they do instead? There is no way of knowing but they will try to find skills to invest in that lead to financially and psychologically rewarding lives. The dreams of those young people have been shattered. They will have to find something else to do. But their opportunities will now be much wider than just something other than health care. The areas outside of health care are now much wider because the increased wealth we all have can now go into new areas and opportunities.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Why Pilots Should Use Checklists

Here is an article from Aviation Week and Space Technology.
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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Evaluation of Creativity

I forget what publication I found this in.
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I know a systems analyst (in those days he was called a management engineer).  He almost had a nervous breakdown trying to apply scientific management principles to the Manhattan Project during World War II. He tried to functionalize and standardize and specialize the work of mathematical physicists.  He tried to set up standards.  He tried to develop an appropriate appraisal form.

His first difficulty, the most traumatic, was that he found it impossible to describe the work.  He couldn't even produce a job description.  He went into the cubicle of a theoretical mathematician and said, "All right, what are your tasks, duties, and elements?"  The fellow said, "What's that?"  He went through it again. The fellow finally answered, "Well, what I am trying to prove is that locally compact sets are not dense in themselves in Hilbert space."  The engineer asked, "That's a duty?  Show me these things."  The fellow said, "I can't because they don't really exist,  They are just abstract ideas which we invent."  The systems analyst exploded.  "You are working with something that doesn't exist?  Com on now, tell me your tasks, duties, and elements."

Eventually, the engineer went to the second page in a book, published by the U.S. Employment Service, which tells how to analyze a job.  It says, "If you don't make any sense of what the incumbent says, watch what he does."  So he began to observe.

Well, the mathematical physicist did only three things.  He drank coffee in the office, he looked at books, and he wrote on the blackboard.  That's all he did.  Obviously, my analyst was getting nowhere.

He went to the man's boss, who really wasn't his boss because it turned out that the man really didn't have a boss.  "What's this fellow doing?" he asked.  The boss said, "We don't know shat he is doing.  If we knew what he was doing, we wouldn't have him doing it."  Astonished, the analyst asked, "Do you mean to tell me that you don;t know the tasks, duties, and elements of this subordinate?"  The bos responded, "Hell, no.  That's why we've got him doing it.  He's the only man in the country who understands this sort of thing."

So the analyst went on to the next part of the interview form.  "now tell me," he asked the boss, "how do you know when he is oint the job well?  What are the criteria?"  The boss answered, " I haven't the slightest idea."  When the analyst persisted, he finally said, "Well, I guess he is doing it well when he tells me so."  "Do you mean to tell me," shouted the analyst, "that you depend on a subordinate to tell you when he is doing a job right?"  The boss stood his ground.  "That's absolutely true.  He's the only person in the country who can understand the proof of these theorems.  If he says he's doing it rihgt, he's doing it right.  That's why we have him doing it."

Don Boudreaux's letter to Barry Ritholtz at Bloomberg

Here is Don Boudreaux's comment on a Bloomberg column by Barry Ritholtz.

The notion that a higher minimum wage will not cost any jobs is ridiculous.  Those who point to "academic" studies that do not find job losses from minimum wage laws fail to understand the limitations of statistics or statistical concepts.  For example, the failure to find a statistically significant negative impact from a higher minimum wage does not imply that there is none.  It does not even imply that there is a high probability that there is none. Furthermore, these non-believers fail to understand the importance of theory vs. statistics.

For the techies, consider a statistical analysis that finds that estimated job losses are positive, but with a p-value of only 25% under the null hypothesis of no job losses.  This result is declared not statistically significant, and the null hypothesis is accepted - leading to widespread belief that a higher minimum wage does not destroy jobs.  However, a maximum likelihood approach suggests that a better bet is that it is more likely that jobs are lost than that they are not.

Here is Don's letter.
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Mr. Ritholtz:

Writing at Bloomberg, you assert that it is “well-established” that modest increases in the minimum wage cast no low-skilled workers into the ranks of the unemployed (“Minimum-Wage Foes Tripped Up by Facts,” Dec. 7). With respect, you are obviously quite unfamiliar with modern research on the employment effects of minimum wages. Here’s a list only of some of the more prominent, recent scholarly empirical studies whose authors that find that even modest hikes in minimum wages destroy some jobs:

– Jeffrey Clemens and Michael Wither, “The Minimum Wage and the Great Recession: Evidence of Effects on the Employment and Income Trajectories of Low-Skilled Workers” (2014) (finding that “minimum wage increases reduced the national employment-to-population ratio by 0.7 percentage point”);

– Jeffrey Clemens, “The Minimum Wage and the Great Recession: Evidence from the Current Population Survey” (2015) (finding that minimum-wage increases during the Great Recession “reduced employment among individuals ages 16 to 30 with less than a high school education by 5.6 percentage points”);

– Jonathan Meer and Jeremy West, “Effects of the Minimum Wage on Employment Dynamics” (2013) (finding that “the minimum wage reduces job growth over a period of several years. These effects are most pronounced for younger workers and in industries with a higher proportion of low-wage workers”);

– David Neumark, J.M. Ian Salas, and William Wascher, “More on recent evidence on the effects of minimum wages in the United States” (2014) (finding that “the best evidence still points to job loss from minimum wages for very low-skilled workers – in particular, for teens”);

– Yusuf Soner Baskaya and Yona Rubinstein, “Using Federal Minimum Wages to Identify the Impact of Minimum Wages on Employment and Earnings across the U.S. States” (2012) (finding that “[m]inimum wage increases boost teenage wage rates and reduce teenage employment”).

Indeed, you can read a whole book on the matter by David Neumark and William Wascher, Minimum Wages (2008), published by the MIT Press, that concludes that minimum wages do indeed destroy some jobs.

You can dispute the accuracy of all of the above findings, but you cannot dispute that these findings, along with many others that reach similar conclusions, are part of the scholarly record – a record that belies your assertion that it is “well-established” that modest minimum-wage hikes destroy no jobs

Your readers deserve better from you.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Military Wisdom

Never fly with someone braver than you.

There are bold pilots and old pilots, but no bold old pilots.

Try to look unimportant, they may be low on ammunition.

A good landing is when you can walk away from the airplane.  A great landing is when you can reuse the airplane.

The only time you have too much fuel is when you are on fire.

Aim toward the enemy.

If you see a bomb technician running, try to keep up with him.

Whoever said that the pen is mightier than the sword never encountered automatic weapons.

If you find yourself in a fair fight, you didn't plan your mission properly.

You've never been lost until you've been lost at mach 3 (SR-71 pilot).

You don't win a war by dying for your country.  You win a war by making the other son-of-a-bitch die for his (Patton).

The purpose of a second engine is to get you to the site of the crash.