Archive for June, 2012

Like the saying goes, “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.”

I am in the minority view here, but I think the Court still upholds the whole law in a quite narrow opinion in a 6-3 decision authored by Chief Justice Roberts. Maybe I am naive in my belief that laws matter, but I just don’t believe that the Court is willing to limit the Commerce Clause on some made-up wacky distinction like “action” vs. “inaction.”

I’d also give about 20% odds that the Court punts entirely, either by ruling on the Anti-Injunction Act provision (rendering all the lawsuits invalid) or by delaying the decision entirely by another year.

Predicting the Supreme Court is tough, but the ones who would know think it’s looking rough for the individual mandate. I’m hoping that the judges remember that law matters.

We’ll find out Thursday, along with everyone else.

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Politifact reminds me of Michael Scott when he’s trying to roast; they are so eager to roast and find “lies” that they don’t do any deeper introspection on the substance of the statements they are evaluating.

Consider, for instance, their recent 4-Pinocchio rating for the old chestnut that “women make 77 cents for the same job as men.” Take this, exaggerating Obama:

The Obama campaign took a legitimate statistic and described it in a way that makes it sound much more dramatic than it actually is. The 77-cent figure is real, but it does not factor in occupations held, hours worked or length of tenure.


Well, except look at those caveats–(1) occupations held; (2) hours worked; or (3) length of tenure. If we look at BLS occupation figures, (warning: PDF!) we see that women are still pulling down less than men in a variety of categories, so how might those three factors play into this equation?

  • Occupations held: Well, this is a problem, except even in the most specific BLS figures the disparity exists. Female chief executives make 69% what male chief executives make. Unless there is some massive difference in the types of “first-line supervisors of retail sales workers,” women are still making 79% of what their male counterparts make. That’s a pretty specific job type, and yet, the disparity still exists. Now, there’s no way of knowing exactly which job they hold; (PDF) research suggests that within the same establishment, wage gaps are smaller, but the overall pattern still holds that women are paid less than men for similar occupations regardless of establishment. So is Politifact right that the 77-cent figure for “the same work” is false? I mean, maybe, but the real figure might be something like 80-cents. How much better is that?
  • Hours worked: Well, it’s hard to say for hours worked; those pesky women are always taking so much more time off! Or not. BLS figures show that there’s a small difference in aggregate hours worked, but the difference between 8.2 hours and 7.8 hours, even considering overtime, doesn’t make up for the 23-cent gap, and as part-time employees, women actually work more than men. Plus, in “white-collar” occupations where hourly wages don’t matter (managers, supervisors, chief executives, elementary school teachers, accountants, social workers), women still earn less than men. Maybe they’re also working fewer hours there, which is why their companies reward them less. Or maybe something else. But they definitely earn less for similar work, if not the same.
  • Length of tenure: This one pisses me off the most. Maybe those lower-paid women have not worked there as long. True! But is that “not the same job”? A seventh-year teacher and a third-year teacher/cashier/clerk/nurse are doing the “same work.” They do, however, have different levels of seniority. And it turns out that men get promoted at a much higher rate than women (10.6% of men get promoted, as opposed to 7.6% of women), even though their wage growth at each level of promotion is similar. Again, this could be because men are just much better, hard-working, committed, etc. to their jobs than women. Or, perhaps, it could be that there continue to be discriminatory hiring, firing, and promotion practices at these establishments.

The point of this whole exercise is to illustrate that Politifact’s urge to get Obama in a hits-generating BOOM! ROASTED! moment has actually obscured the truth behind the statement. Just because it is difficult to get an exact comparison of apples-to-apples, doesn’t mean that women aren’t working for less pay doing essentially the same job. The bottom line is: women are promoted less often than men, earn less money than men in similar occupations (or “the same work”), and are subject to discriminatory hiring, promotion, and pay. Even if the 77-cent figure did take into account those three missing factors, it would still hit pretty close to the mark.

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The Summer Olympics are almost upon us, which means Olympic fever the world over. Soon, people will be glued to their TV sets to watch feats of human athleticism. I’ll admit that I enjoy watching many of the events, particularly track and field, gymnastics, swimming, and judo.

Unfortunately, the Olympics represent much that is wrong with the modern sports and entertainment apparatus, and a troubling blend of nationalist jingoism, shortened attention span, and corporate exploitation. Rather than a celebration of human achievement, they are increasingly a competition of sponsors, heavily subsidized national training programs, and unpaid labor.

Why do the Olympics suck so much?

  1. The athletes get hosed: Today, the Olympics no longer cares about only admitting amateur, non-professional athletes, which is fine, I guess. Unlike professional meets, the Olympic-organized events do not offer a purse for winners (some countries, like the U.S. do), which means that unless you’re Michael Phelps, you’re not getting steady income. Meanwhile, corporate sponsors for the Olympics (not to mention the highly corrupt IOC… which is such a foregone conclusion that it doesn’t even warrant its own bullet point) make tons of money off of the Olympics ($4B for the 2001-04 quadrennium), along with the various ancillary businesses that surround the Olympics. The only people not making money on the billions in revenue are the people competing. “OK,” you say, “but isn’t it great that the athletes are motivated by more than money?” I do, indeed! But that is all the more reason to making it easier to do what they love, rather than forcing them to beg for sponsorships to continue competing for our benefit.
  2. No one cares about these sports outside of the Olympics: Outside of, say, basketball, tennis, and maybe boxing, no one cares about these sports. They are amazing feats of stretching human achievement to the limit, but we pretend to enjoy them once every four years anyways. And why? Because they are “our” team, or because we like the way they look, or because they have a great narrative. But once the lights dim, our attention flits elsewhere. It’s a great international corporate lovefest, but it’s all a short-term fling, one that vanishes as quickly as it appeared.
  3. It professes apolitical ideals, yet encourages jingoism: Yeah, so I’m a big party pooper. Yelling “USA!” at the screen is half the fun! But I’m bothered by the fact that politics is carefully managed at the Olympics in a way that encourages only a certain kind of nationalism. These days we just gleefully cheer for our colors–the ones we had no part in supporting in a game we don’t care that much about. The narrative of triumphalism in athletics as triumphalism in foreign policy leads to all sorts of unfortunate ties between athletes and the countries they represent, as if someone’s most important identity were the flag over their head rather than their personal achievements. Meanwhile, when the “wrong” type of politics makes an appearance at the Olympics, there is always hell to pay. It’s a white-washed version of the world that not only ignores, but denigrates those who dare to speak out. Making an statement of protest = bad; kow-towing to nation-states and stereotypes = good.

Watch this (somewhat melodramatic) documentary on the 1968 Olympics’ black power salute to get an idea:

And if you think this kind of thing is over, Peter Norman, the silver medalist Australian who shared the podium with John Carlos and Tommie Smith, was not even invited to the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Last year, these clowns still won a silver medal.

In short, the Olympics exploit athletes, have only fleeting connection to its “fans,” and obsessively censor any sign of political unrest or turmoil. No wonder totalitarians everywhere have always loved them.

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William Saletan atSlate always has these big pseudo-scientific questions that he thinks are deeply thought-provoking but are actually pretty schmeh.

For example, he has a long-standing (and probably wrong) hypothesis about race-linked intelligence. (I have previously noted the goofiness of this “scientific” discovery here.)

Now Slate has two stories about a study finding that children of gay parents at a time when being gay and having children was/is maligned can be stressful and difficult. That’s pretty understandable. Saletan’s take is probably more line with mine in that he thinks it still proves gay marriage is a good outcome (two parents, loving household, financial support, etc.). Still, he takes the study as methodologically sound (some criticisms here).

That said, let’s presume, for the sake of argument, that the study is right and two same-sex parents are actually in fact worse for the child than two opposite-parent biological parents. So what? Lots of children are raised in households without two opposite-sex biological parents; couldn’t a two-parent same-sex household still be better than, say, single parents? Couldn’t some alternate arrangement (let’s say, oh I don’t know, three parents in a household, or a two-parent biological household with grandparents in the home to provide childcare) provide even better results than the two-parent biological household? Should the government or society encourage such behaviors? Maybe, but maybe not. Attacking the “worst” child-rearing environments probably yields the most returns for society; certainly two-parent same-sex households are better than, say, institutional housing or constantly shifting foster care. Since there is high demand for same-sex households to have children, maybe we should be encouraging lots of adoption by any combination of two-parent households.

My point is that much like any presumed difference in intelligence between races (which, as I’ve noted, is probably wrong on its face anyways), the difference between a two-parent same-sex financially-supported household and a two-parent opposite-sex financially-supported household is probably so marginal that the policy implications are nil compared to the differences between a two-parent household and a no-parent household, or a two-parent household and an institutional care facility, or the difference between a poor family and a rich family.

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This is more or less a follow-up to one of my favorite posts of mine, “Needs more horse!” The basic premise of that post is that there are certain things that people will say – not because they really believe them, or because they have really thought things through, but because it’s a “safe” point that they know will not be challenged.

I bring this up now because of… Nickelback. Now, let me say from the outset that I have no love for this band at all. I only know their radio songs, and I find them derivative and boring. But they’re basically the most hated band on the internet. I saw this post today at Balloon-Juice. I might have found it funny if not for the fact that hating on Nickelback is so played out. Hell, there was even some bluster about angry fans when the band was booked for an NFL half-time show. But as this piece at Grantland explains:

“A better answer as to why people dislike Nickelback is tautological: They hate them because they hate them. Sometimes it’s fun to hate things arbitrarily, and Nickelback has become an acceptable thing to hate… They have good songs and they have bad songs, and the bad songs are bad enough to build an anti-Nickelback argument, assuming you feel like that’s important. But it’s never required. It’s not like anyone is going to contradict your thesis. There’s no risk in hating Nickelback, and hating something always feels better than feeling nothing at all.”

I think that pretty much nails it.

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For me, anyway. I’ve mostly resisted paying super-close attention to the Presidential election so far. We’re too far out, most voters aren’t paying close enough attention, and the blustery daily outrage stories are sure to fade long before November.

But, I have to admit I got excited when I saw that Nate Silver revealed his model for the election and posted the first update with it. Silver, as readers of this blog surely recall, earned his math chops as the inventor of baseball performance predictor PECOTA, and later used those same skills to absolutely nail the 2008 election (49 out of 50 states correct, only missing razor-thin Indiana). But just saying he went 49/50 fails to appreciate what Silver offers. He has a keen sense for numbers in general and polling intricacies in particular, and he takes care to explain how his model will have states like Minnesota and Wisconsin move together, as opposed to bordering states that are more dissimilar, like Utah and Nevada. He’s basically the only predictor I will rely on between now and November.

And in his first update, he gives Obama a 61.8% chance of winning. The key states are likely to be Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada and Pennsylvania. There’s a ton of other good stuff in that update.

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As I watched the Miami Heat lose last night to go down into a 3-2 hole, I was struck by something that happened as Lebron James walked off the court. Is this kid a naive Heat fan? Or an trolling Celtics fan? Either way, it’s awesome.

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