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26 Aug 13:40

The Free Market Is A Process of Scientifically Relevant Experiments

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)


I love this e-mail that I received last evening from Cafe Hayek patron Corey Henderson, a physicist; I paste it in full below with his kind permission (original emphasis):

I wanted to comment on some of your recent posts where you ask economists to “put their money where their mouths are” and actually start businesses that back up their claims. I don’t use Facebook, however, so I am e-mailing you directly. It’s been a great series of posts and I’ve enjoyed them.

Consider this, though: I am a physicist and we tend to bifurcate into theoreticians and experimentalists. One cannot really exist without the other, and there has long been a tension between the two groups. No one, however, can doubt that both groups are scientists. The scientific enterprise, of course, must contain both exercises. A theoretical physicist who does not include a pathway to experimentation in his work is not a scientist, and the best ones are enthusiastic whenever an experimental group is pursuing evidence for (or against) their claims. They collaborate extensively. THIS is science.

The TV show Mythbusters is credited by many scientists (including myself) for being the BEST childhood introduction to science possible today. Why? Because the show is about taking a proposition, usually “common knowledge”, and gradually working up more and more rigorous tests to prove or disprove it. It’s hands-on, messy, disastrous experimentation writ large and hugely entertaining.

If economists claim they are scientists, it’s incumbent on us to ask “who are your experimentalists then?” The answer, obviously, is “entrepreneurs”. Just like Mythbusters, they’re doing the experiments, millions of them every day, and no fancy degrees or advanced math required (usually).

Thanks for your time,
Corey A. Henderson
PhD Candidate and NSF Graduate Fellow
Dept. of Engineering Physics
Univ. of Wisconsin – Madison

Exactly so.  The market itself is a vast and on-going laboratory of experiments – experiments that are relevant, real, and revealing.  These experiments are valuable not least because they are made under real-world circumstances and by people with strong personal incentives to discover and comprehend the ‘truth’ better than their rival experimenters.  (This is a point the general thrust of which I associate with Michael Polanyi.)  When entry into, and exit out of, markets aren’t restricted by government, and when people are free to contract, or not, with their own money (and only with their own money) on terms to which each voluntarily agrees in a regime of secure private property rights, the market discovers which goods and services, production and distribution and financing processes, and trading arrangements work best compared to realistically available alternatives.

While I sincerely believe that much useful information can be gathered by academics doing empirical studies (both quantitative and non-quantitative), it is an unwarranted conceit of academics to suppose themselves and their empirical studies to be the only, or even the chief, source of empirical knowledge of social reality.

For example, against some academic-economists’ empirical findings that employers of low-skilled workers in America today enjoy monopsony power we must place the findings of those experienced and skilled real-world experimenters: entrepreneurs.  If the laboratory conditions (the market settings) are such that experimenters (entrepreneurs) are free to experiment – that is, if neither entry into nor exit out of the laboratory (the market) is artificially blocked by government, and if government hasn’t otherwise restricted the experimenters’ ability to peacefully use the available lab equipment – then these experimenters are far more likely to discover the ‘truth’ about the current state of the market than are outside observers (such as academics) who seldom, if ever, actually do relevant work in the laboratory itself and who also are necessarily restricted to using only limited sources of information for the kinds of quantitative analyses that they typically perform.

If the entrepreneurs-experimenters believe that they’ve found that some workers are underpaid, these entrepreneurs-experimenters test their hypothesis by actually trying to employ these underpaid workers differently and at slightly higher wages.  If the entrepreneurs-experimenters profit, the hypothesis is confirmed.  If instead the entrepreneurs-experimenters suffer losses, the hypothesis is rejected.  Either way, the knowledge revealed by such entrepreneurs-experimenters ought to be considered and used far more frequently by academic economists.

UPDATE: Prompted by a commenter on this post, I just remembered this relevant post from this past April.

25 Aug 12:59

The Feds into Everything

by Chris Edwards

Our hyperactive, grasping federal government has inserted its wasteful, probing fingers into just about everything these days.

I hadn’t been to an eye doctor in a while, and so when I went recently I was surprised to be presented with these two forms:

The first form claims that electronic transmission of prescriptions “helps protect the privacy of your personal information.” That strikes me as plainly false—an old-fashioned piece of paper with my eye information couldn’t get hacked on the Internet or wouldn’t be sent to the government. The form lists the supposed benefits of e-prescribing to the patient. On net, the benefits may indeed outweigh the costs—but then we wouldn’t need a federal mandate to bring it about.

Like many Americans, I find the second form regarding race rather offensive. It would be one thing if university researchers were surveying a sample of patients for such information in order to study eye diseases that may vary by personal characteristics. But reading between the lines on this form, the government appears to be collecting the information not for medical research, but essentially for socialist planning purposes.

25 Aug 06:08

Large-Scale Peer-Review Fraud Leads To Retraction Of 64 Scientific Papers

by Glyn Moody

Techdirt has written numerous articles about an important move in academic publishing towards open access. By shifting the funding of production costs from the readers to the researchers' institutions it is possible to provide free online access to everyone while ensuring that high academic standards are maintained. An important aspect of that, both for open access and traditional publishing, is peer review, which is designed to ensure that the most important papers are brought forward, and that they are checked and improved as they pass through the publication process. Given that pivotal role, the following story in The Washington Post is both shocking and troubling:

One of the world’s largest academic publishers, Springer, has retracted 64 articles from 10 of its journals after discovering that their reviews were linked to fake e-mail addresses. The announcement comes nine months after 43 studies were retracted by BioMed Central (one of Springer’s imprints) for the same reason.
To put those numbers in context, a specialized site that tracks this and similar malpractice in the academic world, Retraction Watch, reports that the total number of papers withdrawn because of fake reviews is 230 in the past three years.

It's not known exactly how the reviews of the 64 articles involved were faked, or by whom. But there are plenty of other cases that indicate ways in which the peer review system is being subverted. These range from the obvious ones like researchers reviewing their own papers or suggesting people they know as suitable reviewers, to more devious approaches, including the use of companies providing "specialist" services. As the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) wrote in its statement on "inappropriate manipulation of peer review processes":

While there are a number of well-established reputable agencies offering manuscript-preparation services to authors, investigations at several journals suggests that some agencies are selling services, ranging from authorship of pre-written manuscripts to providing fabricated contact details for peer reviewers during the submission process and then supplying reviews from these fabricated addresses. Some of these peer reviewer accounts have the names of seemingly real researchers but with email addresses that differ from those from their institutions or associated with their previous publications, others appear to be completely fictitious.

We are unclear how far authors of the submitted manuscripts are aware that the reviewer names and email addresses provided by these agencies are fraudulent. However, given the seriousness and potential scale of the investigation findings, we believe that the scientific integrity of manuscripts submitted via these agencies is significantly undermined.
The Washington Post article goes on to discuss various policies that publishers are beginning to put in place in an attempt to prevent fakes from undermining the peer review system. But the real problem lies not in the publishing process, but in the way that academic careers are judged and advanced. Currently, too great an emphasis is placed on how many papers a researcher has published, and whether they are in "prestigious" journals, where "prestigious" is generally defined using the highly-unsatisfactory "impact factor," supposedly a measure of academic influence. This creates an enormous "pressure to publish," which inevitably leads to some people cutting corners.

The best way to address the growing problem of fake reviews is to adopt better, more inclusive ways of evaluating academics and their work, and thus move beyond today's fixation on publishing papers in high impact-factor titles. While that thorny issue remains unaddressed, the great revolution in knowledge production and dissemination that open access potentially enables will remain incomplete and even compromised.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

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25 Aug 12:07

Whistleblowers Band Together To Sue FBI, NSA And DOJ For Malicious Prosecution, Civil Liberties Violations

by Tim Cushing

This should be fun. A bunch of whistleblowers that were hounded, surveilled and prosecuted/persecuted by the US government are banding together to sue all the big names in domestic surveillance.

Thomas Drake, Diane Roark, Ed Loomis, J. Kirk Wiebe and William Binney have filed a civil rights lawsuit against the NSA, FBI, DOJ, Michael Hayden, Keith Alexander, Chris Inglis, Robert Mueller and a handful of others. They will be represented by Larry Klayman, who has some experience suing intelligence agencies.

The claims arise from the government's treatment of these whistleblowers after they started making noise about the NSA's surveillance programs. More specifically, the lawsuit points to the short-lived internet surveillance program THINTHREAD, which was ignored and abandoned in favor of something more expensive, but less protective of Americans' communications.

Plaintiffs worked in various roles on developing and perfecting a candidate program called THINTHREAD which was capable of performing the technical work desired by the NSA for surveillance of the internet efficiently, effectively, and at very low cost.
THINTHREAD was put into operation successfully but only on a demonstration basis. It was approved to demonstrate that it worked, but not officially commissioned for actual operational use.

Despite the Plaintiffs demonstrating that THINTHREAD actually worked, the NSA ignored THINTHREAD as a candidate for performing the desired surveillance of the internet and telephone communications, because THINTHREAD was inexpensive and highly effective, yet Lt. General Michael Hayden had made a corporate decision to “buy” externally rather than “build” internally the solution deemed necessary to harvest internet data.
$4 billion went into another program called TRAILBLAZER (THINTHREAD's internal development cost, by contrast, was only $4 MILLION), along with five years of development. In the end, TRAILBLAZER never worked properly and was abandoned by the NSA in 2006.

This wasteful "funneling" of funds to preferred government contractors was reported to the Dept. of Defense by four of the whistleblowers, under the heading of waste, fraud and misuse of taxpayers' money. The DoD wasn't happy. It issued a scathing internal report. But the NSA wasn't interested in having its faults pointed out. It sent the DOJ after the whistleblowers, using an unrelated leak of information about the NSA's expansive domestic surveillance programs to the New York Times as the impetus for a series of raids.

According to the filing, the raids were retaliatory. The government had already determined the plaintiffs had nothing to do with the leaks reported on by the New York Times. And it used faulty affidavits to justify the corresponding raids.
In fact, the affidavit for the search warrants are themselves based upon an illegal, warrantless phone tap and refer to a conversation illegally intercepted between Plaintiff Roark and Plaintiff William Binney, although misrepresenting the call’s contents. Further, the ultimate pretext for the search, a paper describing THINTHREAD at a high level that Binney had given the FBI, was falsely claimed by NSA to be classified. Thus, the search warrant affidavit is not only false but illegal.
The lawsuit also attempts to use the breadth and reach of known surveillance programs as proof the government knew the whistleblowers had nothing to do with the NYT leak.
Moreover, as later revealed by Edward Snowden, the NSA was even then, with the assistance of cooperating telephone and telecommunications companies, conducting mass interception and surveillance of all telephone calls within the domestic United States for the very purpose – at least so they claimed – of detecting both external and internal threats against the national security of the United States.

Therefore, through those phone and internet records, the Defendants had actual evidence at the time of the false affidavit and retaliatory searches and seizures that none of the Plaintiffs had communicated with the The New York Times or other journalists, except that Plaintiff Drake on his own had spoken confidentially with regard to public and /or unclassified information to the Baltimore Sun.
The end result of the FBI, NSA and DOJ's actions in response to whistleblowing (largely performed through proper channels) is a host of alleged civil liberties violations and other abuses, starting with the violation of 1998's Whistleblower Protection Act. From there, the whistleblowers allege violations of their First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights, along with malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress and abuse of process.

It will be interesting to see where this goes. The government likely won't be able to dismiss the suit quickly, but the plaintiffs are going to run into a ton of immunity claims that will be buttressed by invocations of national security concerns. Their lawyer -- Larry Klayman -- has occasionally displayed his inability to distinguish between actionable claims and conspiracy theories, a tendency that doesn't improve the plaintiffs' chances of succeeding. But of all the outcomes I imagined for the stories of Drake, Binney, et al, taking these agencies on directly in federal court wasn't one of them.

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25 Aug 04:51

Thoughts on Pratchett – [Part 1]

by Pat

Earlier this year, when I was in Germany on tour, Terry Pratchett died.

It didn’t come as a complete shock. We’ve known for ages that he was sick. We’ve had years to brace for the inevitable impact.

Even so, it hit me surprisingly hard. I hadn’t expected that.

Odds are, if you know much anything about me, you know I’ve been a fan of Pratchett for years. If you follow me on goodreads you’ve seen me write reviews so gushy that they border on the inarticulate.

Terry Pratchett – Facing Extinction

I didn’t know him. Honestly, I didn’t even know too much about him. I saw him speak once at a convention in Madison, and got to meet him very briefly. I wrote about it on the blog.

The fact remains that his work (and a few of the things I knew about him) had a huge impact on me.

So… yeah. It hit me kinda hard.

If you’re in your 20′s and 30′s and reading this blog on the interweb, it may be hard for you to understand that our opinions about authors used to come almost entirely from reading their books. Even after the internet crawled gasping onto the devonian shore of the 1990′s things like social media and author blogs simply didn’t exist in any meaningful way.

As a result, one of my first exposures to Terry Pratchett as a person was in an interview in the Onion back in 1995. Just to give you an idea of the time frame. That was back when you could pick up a copy of The Onion printed on paper. What’s more, it available *only* on paper, and even then, you could only get it in my home town of Madison, WI.

What Pratchett said in that interview had a big effect on me, as I’d been working on my own novel for a couple years at that point.

It took some digging (as I said, this was published pre-internet) but here’s the interview:

O: What’s with the big-ass hat?

Pratchett: Ah… That’s the hat I wear. I don’t know, it… It… That hat, or types like it, I’ve worn for years and years. Because I bought one, and I liked it. And then people started taking photographs of me in it, and now, certainly in the UK, it’s almost a case of if I don’t turn up in my hat people don’t know who I am. So maybe I could just send this hat to signings. I just like hats. I like Australian book tours, because Australians are really, I mean that is the big hat country, Australia.

O: You’re quite a writer. You’ve a gift for language, you’re a deft hand at plotting, and your books seem to have an enormous amount of attention to detail put into them. You’re so good you could write anything. Why write fantasy?

Pratchett: I had a decent lunch, and I’m feeling quite amiable. That’s why you’re still alive. I think you’d have to explain to me why you’ve asked that question.

O: It’s a rather ghettoized genre.

P: This is true. I cannot speak for the US, where I merely sort of sell okay. But in the UK I think every book— I think I’ve done twenty in the series— since the fourth book, every one has been one the top ten national bestsellers, either as hardcover or paperback, and quite often as both. Twelve or thirteen have been number one. I’ve done six juveniles, all of those have nevertheless crossed over to the adult bestseller list. On one occasion I had the adult best seller, the paperback best-seller in a different title, and a third book on the juvenile bestseller list. Now tell me again that this is a ghettoized genre.

O: It’s certainly regarded as less than serious fiction.

P:  (Sighs) Without a shadow of a doubt, the first fiction ever recounted was fantasy. Guys sitting around the campfire— Was it you who wrote the review? I thought I recognized it— Guys sitting around the campfire telling each other stories about the gods who made lightning, and stuff like that. They did not tell one another literary stories. They did not complain about difficulties of male menopause while being a junior lecturer on some midwestern college campus. Fantasy is without a shadow of a doubt the ur-literature, the spring from which all other literature has flown. Up to a few hundred years ago no one would have disagreed with this, because most stories were, in some sense, fantasy. Back in the middle ages, people wouldn’t have thought twice about bringing in Death as a character who would have a role to play in the story. Echoes of this can be seen in Pilgrim’s Progress, for example, which hark back to a much earlier type of storytelling. The epic of Gilgamesh is one of the earliest works of literature, and by the standard we would apply now— a big muscular guys with swords and certain godlike connections— That’s fantasy. The national literature of Finland, the Kalevala. Beowulf in England. I cannot pronounce Bahaghvad-Gita but the Indian one, you know what I mean. The national literature, the one that underpins everything else, is by the standards that we apply now, a work of fantasy.

Now I don’t know what you’d consider the national literature of America, but if the words Moby Dick are inching their way towards this conversation, whatever else it was, it was also a work of fantasy. Fantasy is kind of a plasma in which other things can be carried. I don’t think this is a ghetto. This is, fantasy is, almost a sea in which other genres swim. Now it may be that there has developed in the last couple of hundred years a subset of fantasy which merely uses a different icongraphy, and that is, if you like, the serious literature, the Booker Prize contender. Fantasy can be serious literature. Fantasy has often been serious literature. You have to fairly dense to think that Gulliver’s Travels is only a story about a guy having a real fun time among big people and little people and horses and stuff like that. What the book was about was something else. Fantasy can carry quite a serious burden, and so can humor. So what you’re saying is, strip away the trolls and the dwarves and things and put everyone into modern dress, get them to agonize a bit, mention Virginia Woolf a few times, and there! Hey! I’ve got a serious novel. But you don’t actually have to do that.

(Pauses) That was a bloody good answer, though I say it myself.

I’m looking forward to buying myself a cheese hat.

O: Back to the hat.

P: Let’s go back to the hat… Everybody needs an edge, and if the hat gives you an edge, why not wear a hat? When you get started writing, you’re one of the crowd. If the hat helps, I’ll wear a hat— I’ll wear two hats! In fact, I’m definitely going to buy a cheese hat before I leave here. We’ve never heard of them in the UK, and I can see it as being the latest thing in fashion.

Okay, you can turn the tape back off again.

I actually remember where I was when I read that. Right now, twenty years later, I remember where I was sitting as I held the paper and read it.

I’m not going to be cliche and say it changed my life.

You know what? I am. I’m going to say it. It changed my life.

Remember what year this was. It was 1995. This was before Harry Potter was written. Before Neil Gaiman wrote Neverwhere.

Pixar has just released its first movie. There was no Matrix. No Sixth Sense. No Lord of The Rings movies. Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy were a decade away.

There was no Game of Thrones on HBO. Hell, there wasn’t even Legend of the Seeker. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was 2 years away, and even more years from being recognized as brilliant television, rather than silly fluff with vampires.

I had been writing my fantasy novel for about two years, and while I loved fantasy, I knew deep down, it was something I should feel ashamed of. Fantasy novels were the books I read as a kid, and people picked on me for it. There were no classes on the subject at the University. I knew deep down in my bones that no matter how much I happened to love fantasy, it was all silly bullshit.

Even these days, people look down on fantasy. They think of it as kid stuff. They dismiss it as worthless. They say not real literature. People say that *NOW* despite the fact that Game of Thrones and The Hobbit and Avengers and Harry Potter are bigger than The Beatles.

That’s NOW. If you weren’t around back then, you really can’t begin to understand how much worse it was. When I told people I was working on a fantasy novel, a lot of people wouldn’t even really know what I was talking about.

I would say, “I’m writing a fantasy novel” and people would look at me with earnest confusion and concern in their eyes, and they would say, “Why?”

Then I read that article, and it filled me with hope. With pride.

*     *     *

I’ve got more to say on this, but this blog is already really long. And I’m leaving for PAX in the morning, so I’ll save the rest for next week

Be good to each other everyone,


24 Aug 13:25

200-Plus Scholars Speak Out Against American Psychological Association's Violence/Gaming Study

by Timothy Geigner

We've been covering stories here about studies and claims linking real-world violence and video games for about as long as I've been a reader/writer. An even cursory review of our own record can only lead a reader to conclude that such links are, at best, nebulous, and are perhaps less likely than likely to exist. When coupled with some recent and fascinating revelations about just how easy it is to get a study to say exactly what you want it to say, and to get that study published and reported in supposedly reputable arenas, we're left with the troubling impression that such studies linking violence and gaming are more back-patting endeavors than they are true intellectual efforts.

With that in mind, you may have heard of a recent American Psychology Association report that strongly affirms the link between gaming and aggression, which is in this context meant to be synonymous with violence. This was the product of the APA's task force for studying the existence of such a link. It might represent a scientific victory for those who have long claimed that such a link exists, were it not for the predictably massive problems associated with the task force, the studies it took into account, and the methodology for the conclusions it drew. These problems are evidenced by the over two hundred academics who have submitted an open letter to the APA sharing their collective concerns over how this all went down.

One of those signees, Stetson University psychology professor Chris Ferguson, spoke with Game Informer, detailing the problems with the task force. Among those problems are details such as the task force being mostly comprised of scholars who have demonstrated in the past a willingness to link violence and aggression, the measures they used for aggression, and task force members having previously publicly supported legislation aimed at keeping games away from children.

Ferguson tells me that of the seven task force members, four had at anti-media leanings, with another that uses aggression measures that have been called into question by some factions of the psychology community. "To some degree, they're really commenting on their own product," he says. "I think people interpret these things as neutral. You have to remember that they are commenting on their own product. These are people looking at their own research and declaring it beyond further debate. All of us would love to do that, but we don't really get that chance, nor should we."

He also notes that all seven members of the task force were over the age of 50, citing a correlation between views on media and age. "I point that out because there is solid evidence that age is a correlate for attitudes about video games, even amongst scholars," Ferguson explains. "Age and negative attitudes toward youth predict anti-game attitudes."
For those of us that worship at the altar of science, this serves as a welcome reminder that science is only as good as those conducting it. Bias is omnipresent and omnidirectional and it is something we must always be vigilant against. For instance, cited in the open letter is the fact that the APA previously stated as a matter of policy that violent games should see a reduced exposure to children and that the APA had already made recommendations to the gaming industry about exactly how violence should be portrayed in games, specifically suggesting that real-world consequences should be visited upon violent actors in digital media.

In other words, as the letter states, the APA task force essentially reached the conclusion that the APA's previous work and recommendations were on point, using a hand-picked team comprised of researchers perfectly biased to reach just that conclusion. Adding to the letter's concern over some of the sloppy methodology for drawing the task force's conclusions is the kind of simple real-world analysis of data that has me wondering just how any of this made it past the APA's review to begin with.
Ferguson and his colleagues also point to data evidencing a decrease in youth violence, which contradicts assertions that media (video games and non-interactive forms) are a public health concern. Ferguson cites colleagues at Oxford, Villanova, Western Michigan University, and more that have presented recent findings in peer-reviewed journals. These studies indicate that there is no connection between violent video games and aggression. A study by Patrick Markey at Villanova indicates that "participants who were not angry tended to be relatively unaffected by exposure to violent video games."
In other words, at the exact moment that the APA suggests violence and video games are linked, and at the exact moment that violent video games have exploded in popularity and dissemination, violence amongst youth (and the general public) is trending downward. One would think that if a link existed, we might see some evidence of it outside of ham-fisted studies utilizing questionable methodologies.

But, alas, this is the way of things. And you should expect this to continue, probably right up to the point when most of the research of this issue is being done by a generation in which gaming was prevalent in their youth. Then the studies will likely show something more interesting than a self-created echo-chamber of moral outrage.

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24 Aug 18:42

Twitter's Excuse For Shutting Down Services That Highlight Deleted Politicians' Tweets Is Painfully Ridiculous

by Mike Masnick
A couple months ago, we wrote about Twitter shutting down Politwoops, a service from the Sunlight Foundation that highlighted tweets that politicians had posted... and then deleted. This was a useful tool for transparency, showing what kinds of tweets politicians delete. Frequently it was silly things like typos, but sometimes it caught and highlighted really ridiculous statements by politicians that they should have thought more about first. Twitters reasoning behind this made no sense at all at the time, claiming that it was about "honoring the expectation of user privacy." That's wrong. If you tweet publicly, there is no "expectation of privacy." You have done something publicly.

This weekend, this whole situation got more attention, as Twitter similarly shut down a number of similar services, including foreign instances of Politwoops run by the Open State Foundation. Once again, Twitter gave a reason... that made absolutely no sense:
Imagine how nerve-racking – terrifying, even – tweeting would be if it was immutable and irrevocable? No one user is more deserving of that ability than another. Indeed, deleting a tweet is an expression of the user’s voice.
This is worse than the original reason. First of all, that's not terrifying at all. That's how life is, every day. You say something, people hear it/see it and they can repeat it or call you out on it if they disagree. And you can have a discussion. And, of course, you can later change your words, admit you made a mistake, or, yes, delete your tweet. But people might notice that. And that's fine. It's not terrifying. There's nothing "immutable" or "irrevocable" about Politwoops highlighting things that actually happened.

As for the next two lines, again, it makes no sense. There is nothing in Politwoops that makes one user "more deserving" of any ability than any other. Anyone can delete tweets. And anyone who saw the original tweet can call it out and highlight it. Yet, for whatever reason, Twitter has decided that it wants to give extra special protections to some users, by claiming that it's an abuse to actually build a system to automate such things. This is the opposite of enabling free speech. It's stifling it.

And, yes, deleting a tweet is an expression of the user's voice -- as is having someone highlight what you deleted. That's how this works. This move is profoundly disappointing by Twitter -- a company that regularly positions itself as a champion of free speech and being engaged in the political process.

Politicians say stupid stuff all the time (as does pretty much everyone). And people call them out on it. And no one ever argues that's an invasion of their privacy... except, apparently, Twitter. Once again, this is a reminder of why we should be focused on protocols instead of platforms for the services that enable free expression. When we rely on platforms, we have to live by their rules.

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24 Aug 17:26

Monday afternoon links

by Mark Perry

HFI 1. Chart of the Day I (above).  The Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index (HFI) measures the state of human freedom in countries around the world based on a broad measure that encompasses personal, civil, and economic freedom. Here’s a link to the most recent website and report that was based on 152 countries for 2012, the most recent for which data are available. Above is one of the most striking results of the report and shows the relationship between human freedom and GDP per capita. For the quartile (25%) of the most free countries, the per capita GDP was about $30,000, compared to only about $6,000 per capita for the next quartile, $5,400 for second lowest 25% and only $2,600 for the bottom quartile. Bottom Line: The difference between capitalism and human freedom and socialism and human repression? Capitalism and freedom work! uber-1 2. Chart of the Day II (above). How big and successful is Uber vs. traditional legacy taxis? Really, really big and really, really successful, see chart above and find more details here Summer of Uber: Everything you need to know about the upstart ride-sharing service. Bottom Line: What’s the difference between Uber and legacy taxis (“Big Taxi”)? Uber works. 3. Real Winners of the $15 Minimum Wage – Landlords? In a Forbes article “Minimum Wage Hikes Could Have Surprising Impact On Housing,” Adam Ozimek explains how landlords could be the real winners of a $15 an hour minimum wage:

If minimum wages go up and employment doesn’t, then workers will bid up the price of housing, and be willing to accept higher cost of rent. If a landlord knows that all workers are making $15 an hour at the minimum, it’s easy to charge more without seeing demand for housing decline. In this case, the gains to workers from a higher minimum wage all get eaten up by housing costs, and landlords are the real winners.

4. Minimum Wage Math. From the New York Times article “As Minimum Wages Rise, Restaurants Say No to Tips, Yes to Higher Prices“:

When Daniel Patterson first started working as a chef in the early 1980s, he said, labor used to account for about a third of total costs, and owners could enjoy a 10 percent to 20 percent profit. Now, as a partner in five San Francisco Bay Area restaurants, Mr. Patterson says labor costs eat up about 40 percent to 45 percent of the budget. At the same time, rent costs are skyrocketing.

“Even a good restaurant doing a lot of business that’s popular on every level, is bringing 2 percent or 1.5 percent to the bottom line,” he said. “It’s like a not-for-profit.”

Bottom Line: It’s pretty easy for a restaurant to go from a razor-thin profit margin of 1.5-2% to just breaking even or to losing money, and that’s the main reason that minimum wage hikes are really a “math problem.”


5. Venn Diagram of the Day (above). Do unions support the minimum wage or not?

6. Pell Grant Abuse. Billions of taxpayer dollars go to college students who never end up with a diploma in their hands, a new report found. And also:

To make matters worse, the government keeps no official tally of what proportion of those who receive the grants end up getting degrees — despite the fact that money spent on Pell grants has quadrupled since 2000.

Another reason college tuition has gone up more than any other consumer product, good or service — $250 billion in government taxpayer subsidies to students, which allow colleges collectively to charge something like $250 billion more for tuition.

7. Only Black NBA Players Matter. According to the University of Central Florida’s The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport‘s (TIDES) “2015 Racial and Gender Report Card for the NBA“:

a. In 2015, 74.4% of NBA players were black. (Although not reported by TIDES, that compares to only 13% of the US population.)

b. 23.3% of 2015 NBA players were white vs. 63% of the US population.

c. Latino players make up only 1.8% of the 2015 NBA but are 16.7% of the US population.

d. Asian players are 0.2% of the NBA, but 5% of the US population.

NBA Letter Grade for Player Diversity: A+

Bottom Line: The NBA sure doesn’t “look like America” so it’s hard to understand the A+ grade for player diversity from the University of Central Florida’s “diversity deciders.” Apparently only “black players matter” under this grading system?

8. Quotation of the Day, from Christina Sommers’s article “While women overseas face true oppression, Western feminists dream up petty hashtags” (slightly edited):

Millions of women’s basic rights are being ruthlessly violated in countries like Iran, Yemen, Egypt, and Cambodia, where women are struggling for freedoms most women in the West take for granted. But American feminists are relatively silent about these injustices — especially feminists on campus. During the 1980s, there were massive demonstrations on American college campuses against racial apartheid in South Africa.There is no remotely comparable movement on today’s campuses against the gender apartheid prevalent in large parts of the world. Why not? Today’s young feminist activists are far too preoccupied with their own supposed victimhood to make common cause with women being oppressed in other countries.

9. Who-d a-Thunk It? Oil-rich, but socialist, Venezuela is “fast on its way to becoming a failed state?

Indeed, by some metrics — homicide and violent crime rates, broken supply chains, number of high regime officials currently under investigation by the US Treasury for narcotrafficking — it has already arrived.

See Item #1: The difference between capitalism and socialism? Capitalism works.

****Video should work now.****

10. Video of the Day (below). August 29th marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall along the Gulf Coast as a Category 5 hurricane. Katrina was the costliest natural disaster, and one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States. In the video below, economist Steven Horwitz explains why private sector firms like Walmart outperformed FEMA in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and why we should think of Walmart “as hero.”

The post Monday afternoon links appeared first on AEI.

22 Aug 00:00

Striving for Accuracy

by Harvey

John Kerry said the Iran deal was hard to get because “the Ayatollah constantly believed that we are untrustworthy”.

John’s job: convincing them that we were just gullible, instead.

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24 Aug 15:05

The Inevitable Crash of China’s Stock Market Has Arrived

by Scott Shackford

Under no circumstances should you check the state of your 401(k) for the next few days.The Washington Post describes today's massive stock sell-off as "carnage." The Dow Jones industrial average plunged more than 1,000 points upon opening this morning (it has since recovered about half of those losses as of 10:30 a.m.). From the Post:

The stock drop was fueled by what China's state media is already calling "Black Monday," in which markets there recorded their biggest one-day plunge in eight years amid growing fears over an economic slowdown.

On Friday, China reported its worst manufacturing results since the global financial crisis, a new sign of woe for the world's second-largest economy, which surprised investors earlier this month by announcing it would devalue its currency. China's benchmark Shanghai Composite index has fallen by nearly 40 percent since June, after soaring more than 140 percent last year.

China's woes stoked fears over commodities and forced oil prices further down. Brent crude oil, the global benchmark, dropped to about $43.61 a barrel, dropping below the $45 mark for the first time since 2009.

That a "market correction" was coming to China has been pretty well known for years. The country's growth has been pushed by centrally planned economic development that was oftentimes separated from the basic concepts of supply and demand and fed the false narrative of China as our economic future.

As we stumble through the day, some reminders of China's warning signs:

Solyndra on steroids: Remember the solar power trade war and how China was kicking everybody's asses with low prices? That started coming home to roost for China a couple of years back. China's solar companies racked up huge amounts of debt that they could not repay. America's solar embarrassments pale next to the amount of money China has sunk into an energy program that it turns out is far from "sustainable."

Cities nobody needed: China deliberately forced a housing bubble as America was fighting its way out of one in order to boost its economy. (The Reason Foundation's Shikha Dahlmia and Anthony Randazzo explain it all here.) Its stimulus spending rivaled ours to a degree that eventually became absurd. China ended up with massive, mostly empty cities and malls.

China's infrastructure model that wasn't: Once upon a time President Barack Obama praised China's massive investment in infrastructure like roads and high-speed rail, calling it "vastly superior" to what America was doing.

In actuality, China's infrastructure spending has proven to be troubled with corruption and shoddy work that has caused bridges to collapse, and the country's high-speed rail system is both expensive and dangerous.

Vox has a useful little reader of how China attempted to respond to the bubble it had deliberately created to spur growth, and how it didn't work. China's crash should serve as a warning against centrally planned efforts to artificially spur growth. 

24 Aug 14:09

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

by Patrick

A great book by one of my favorite authors.

You can now download Glen Cook's The Dragon Never Sleeps for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

For four thousand years, the Guardships have ruled Canon Space—immortal ships with an immortal crew, dealing swiftly and harshly with any mercantile houses or alien races that threaten the status quo.

But now the House Tregesser has an edge: a force from outside Canon Space offers them the resources to throw off Guardship rule. This precipitates an avalanche of unexpected outcomes, including the emergence of Kez Maefele, one of the few remaining generals of the Ku Warrior race-the only race to ever seriously threaten Guardship hegemony. Kez Maefele and a motley group of aliens, biological constructs, an scheming aristocrats find themselves at the center of the conflict. Maefele must chose which side he will support: the Guardships, who defeated and destroyed his race, or the unknown forces outside Canon Space that promise more death and destruction.
22 Aug 01:29

Under Armour Demands Tiny Clothier 'Armor And Glory' Change Name Or Face Legal Siege

by Timothy Geigner

Under Armour, the clothing brand built on the idea that my belly fat should be clung to by a shirt while I shoot hoops in my backyard, has built up quite a reputation for itself as a trademark bully. To go along with the fun story of its battle against Ass Armor, Under Armour is notorious for trademarking roughly all the things when it comes to sportswear and equipment, and has always had a liberal idea of just how much control the law allows it to have over the use of the word "armor." Most times, very little public attention is whipped up. But now they're picking a fight with God.

In 2013, a Bible-quoting high school football champ named Terrance Jackson, upset that most of the clothing options for his 3-year-old son were covered in skulls and crossbones, decided to start his own “inspirational apparel” company with a scripture-inspired name, Armor & Glory. It recently received some major attention from America’s second-biggest sportswear empire, Under Armour, which demanded the small Maryland company change its name or face all-out legal war.

“It’s trademark bullying at its finest. I’m the little kid in the group and they’re trying to kick dirt on my new shoes,” said Jackson, 37, who said the name came to him one morning, from “the full armor of God” cited in Ephesians 6:11. “When God gave this [name] to me, I never thought once about those guys. We don’t even spell it like them.”
Indeed, much as Ass Armor did, Armor & Glory's name doesn't include the "u," unlike Under Armour. Which is only a minor point, actually, because the chief test here is customer confusion and brand identity, and it takes a more imaginative mind than mine to think up exactly how a company selling a few hundred shirts is going to be mistaken for the clothing company currently chasing Nike for the sportswear crown. More troubling still is the nature of Under Armour's request. The company's legal representation requested not only that all of Armor & Glory's inventory be destroyed, but that it would also have to hand over its domain, profits, and $100k in damages and attorneys' fees.

That would equate to about every last dollar the company has ever made, since its 2013 inception. More interesting, for me at least, is that the company's core audience is Christian athletes wearing the gear in part due to the Christianity-inspired names and slogans. Lawyers for Under Armour have gone so far as to state that if Armor & Glory refuses to cease using the bible-inspired name, the result will be "an expensive and time-consuming legal battle." A more bullying statement is difficult to compose. But Jackson, thus far at least, isn't backing down. Why, you ask?
Ed Tomlin, Jackson’s partner and a former director of football development for Under Armour (who says he left on good terms), says “it’s a matter of principle and a matter of faith.” The name, he added, “was inspired by God. … To turn our backs now would be like we were being disobedient.”
How about that for a fun First Amendment test? If anything can whip up public support in a David v. Goliath legal battle, it's the injection of some honest to goodness bible-thumping. In fact, Armor & Glory has reportedly increased sales and brand-awareness due to the threat from Under Armour, making it all the more silly for the larger company to have engaged in this silly bit of bullying to begin with.

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21 Aug 18:19

Government Forces Natural Skim Milk Sellers to Label Their Milk "Imitation"

by Brian Doherty

Things are seldom what they seem, skim milk masquerades as....skim milk? Government must act!

Government: we can't live without it, it is operating at peak efficiency without a penny to cut, and it's just the name we give for forcing tradesman to lie about their product.

A story out of Florida, reported by Chicago Tribune, involving those legal paladins of market freedom, the Institute for Justice and a case that has reached a judge after being filed last year, as reported here by Elizabeth Nolan Brown:

The Ocheesee Creamery in the Florida Panhandle produces all-natural skim milk from grass-fed cows with absolutely nothing added, yet the state says they have to call it "imitation."

And while they argue about it, the dairy is dumping hundreds of gallons of skim milk down the drain each week.

Creamery owners Paul and Mary Lou Wesselhoeft were in federal court Wednesday as part of their nearly three-year-old battle with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, which argues that skim milk isn't skim milk unless vitamins are added to it.

But that goes against the all-natural philosophy at the creamery....

"Our customers want an all-natural product. If we call it imitation, they will not buy our product," Mary Lou Wesselhoeft said after the court hearing. "To me it's degrading and a slap in the face because it's pure, unadulterated skim milk."....

The Institute for Justice is suing the state on behalf of the couple.

From the report, the judge in the case seems, rightfully, skeptical of the government's officious and idiotic claims, and its demand, currently being enforced, that creamery just waste the milk rather than sell it without the "imitation" lie on the label.

When I was on the campaign trail with Ron Paul researching my 2012 book Ron Paul's Revolution, it often bemused outside observers how het up Paulites could get out of the right to drink and sell raw milk. These sorts of bringing to bear government force on the choices we can make in selling and consuming food seem minor or laughable to certain elites.

They aren't. They go to the heart of what it means to be free...or what it means to suffer from a state out of control in its reach, its grasp, and its cost.

Seriously, what kind of human in what kind of system could get up in the morning and go to work and enforce a law like this, harming someone's innocent and harmless livelihood, wasting a useful food, in order to make someone say something that's not true? And then take it to court and spend our money defending this outragous use of government time, money, and force?

The topic involved—it's just milk!—makes it seem less evil than it is. But it is evil.

Damon Root on the dairy lobby's bad influence on American law.

19 Aug 22:33

Woman Catches Cop Beating Handcuffed Suspect; Police Union First In Line To Shoot The Messenger

by Tim Cushing

The presumed illegality of filming police is a law enforcement mental disorder. Far too many officers believe they have the right to perform their public service unobserved. Officers continue to take cameras from bystanders who happen to catch them behaving badly. Abby Phillip at the Washington Post details another apparent act of police misconduct that resulted in more misconduct as officers attempted to shut the recording down.

Just after 4 p.m. Thursday, a woman stood a few feet away from several Miami Police Department patrol cars with her cellphone camera recording. After a few seconds, an officer entered the frame, escorting a handcuffed young black man to the back of a police car.

Suddenly, the officer put his head inside the car door and appeared to punch the suspect.

“Oh!” a woman exclaimed on the recording, reacting to what was unfolding before her. The woman, who the Associated Press identified as Shenitria Blocker, moved closer, and the officer climbed into the back seat of the car. Moments later, the camera shook and the video ended.
Here's the video:

The camera shake was due to an officer's attempt to take Blocker's phone away from her. Blocker says they then ordered her to delete the footage or face being arrested. While the video does show Blocker moving in very close to the police car to get a better view of the action, any arrestable offense would have been limited to "interference," and that would only be legit if she refused to move away from the vehicle when ordered to. No such order was given. Instead, the cop went for the camera and threatened her with arrest.

Even if the cops can't find a sufficiently malleable "violation" to charge photographers with, the law enforcement community (including police departments and, especially, their unions) finds ways to ensure no damning recording goes unpunished.

To its credit, the Miami Police Department has suspended the officer caught punching the handcuffed arrestee and is investigating the incident. On the other hand, it hasn't said anything about the unidentified officer who attempted to take Blocker's phone, nor has it issued a statement affirming the public's right to film police officers.

The Miami Fraternal Order of Police, on the other hand, is going out of its way to deliver its own brand of "justice" for Blocker having the temerity to catch one of its officers behaving badly.
In a statement, the police union said “social media has placed a very negative tone on law enforcement nationwide” and that the officer in question was “protecting our community.”
Ah. So that's what happened. A now-suspended officer didn't punch an arrested man who was already in the back of a patrol car. Social media did. In fact, social media should be made to answer for the hundreds of incidents of police misconduct every year. At the very least, people should stop running to social media with their clips of police abuse because being a cop is hard work.

But the union has gone farther than simply making the ridiculous assertion that all of these police officers captured on film doing the things they were actually doing is nothing more than negative spin by Social Media Co. LLC. It's also attempting to disparage Blocker herself -- ironically, by using the same social media that's apparently destroying the reputation of its suspect-punching police officer.

The union has delivered screenshots of Blocker's since-removed Facebook page, claiming these show Blocker is a bad person and therefore, all video captured by her phone should be disregarded… or something.
The remainder of the union’s statement focused on criticizing Smith, the woman who at the time they believed recorded the video. It highlighted screenshots of Smith’s Facebook page and accused her of posting photos of herself with men who have handguns.
According to the farcical police officers' group, the real problem is men with guns on Facebook pages, not an officer punching a handcuffed suspect. If only the "community" had done more to raise Ms. Blocker right, Unidentified-and-Suspended Officer X wouldn't have had to punch a handcuffed man in the back of his patrol car.
“Our community has accepted behavior that motivates violence in our younger generation. It’s time for the community to take a stand against this reckless behavior and stop the violence,” he continued. “As the saying goes: It takes a village to raise a child. Guns don’t belong in the hands of children.”
So, remember: the next time you see a police officer beating a handcuffed person, remember that somewhere out there, there's a male with a gun and someone's daughter might be friends with him. Ask yourself: what's more important here? The reputation of the misbehaving officer? Or the reputation of the misbehaving officer? And then put the camera away. Because as the union sees it, the only people above reproach are the officers whose abusive actions prompt poorly-thought out and thoroughly ridiculous statements from their unions.

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20 Aug 13:39

London sky pool will let super-rich swim through air...

London sky pool will let super-rich swim through air...

(First column, 15th story, link)

19 Aug 11:55

Photo of the Day: In the Ruins of Tianjin

by dmitry

h/t adam brandizzi

A drone operated by paramilitary police flies over the site of last week’s explosions at Binhai new district in Tianjin, China, August 17, 2015. (Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

19 Aug 16:42

Rare 'fire rainbow' spotted over SCarolina...

Rare 'fire rainbow' spotted over SCarolina...

(Third column, 13th story, link)

19 Aug 05:23

When Violent Union Dislike for Affordable Food Nearly Led to War with Japan

by Brian Doherty

Fascinating and news-to-me history I came across today that reminds us that thuggish opposition to people who can outcompete existing businesses in price and/or consumer happiness is timeless (and alas continuing, as see the world of Uber and its competitors for one example) and that it once almost led to a violent international incident, from the site.

Seems turn-of-the-20th-century Japanese immigrant-run restaurants were outcompeting locals with good 10 cent meals. This obviously could not long stand while a proud union man draws breath:

Local 485 of the Waiters and Cooks Union [in Spokane] In 1902....organized a boycott of a ten-cent Japanese restaurant run by a Mr. K. Takahashi. Unfortunately, it was an imperfect tactic, one that did not succeed, mainly because it was hard for workingmen to turn down a cheap meal. So hard, that the union had to institute a $2.50 fine for any member caught entering a Japanese restaurant.

But there were some successes. In 1907, unions and American restaurant owners succeeded in convincing the Seattle city council to mandate a fifteen cent minimum price for a meal, erasing part of the Japanese price advantage....

And in San Francisco, in December of 1906, unions get Japanese children banned from public schools.

On May 20, 1907, however, things blew up. A group of union men caught four of their fellow unionists eating at the ten-cent Horseshoe Restaurant at 1213 Folsom Street. Beatings were handed out to the two men who were foolish enough to exit the restaurant through the front door....

When the police declined an invitation to become involved, the fun spread to a Japanese bathhouse across the street. The demonstrations resumed again the next night, with less vigor, and four more nights after that....

For Washington, however, the most important thing happening in San Francisco was that the trashing of the Horseshoe had become an international incident.

Over the coming weeks, newspapers in both countries, including William Randoph Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner, whipped up the war frenzy. Opposition politicians in Tokyo called for war, while a group of high-ranking Japanese officers argued they could defeat the Americans in the Pacific (and probably could have).

Teddy Roosevelt dispatched special commissioners to investigate, and theGreat White Fleet to intimidate. It worked. The Japanese had second thoughts about war, and racial and labor tensions were calmed for a few years.

If you can eat affordable ethnic food in your town, thank labor unions, I guess, for failing to completely destroy them for all time, despite their efforts.

19 Aug 12:18

Spanish Police Park In Handicapped Spot, Fine Person Who Caught Them For 'Impugning Their Honor'

by Tim Cushing

A question that is almost always ignored when crafting legislation is "How will this new law be abused?" In the case of Spain's horrific Gag Law (officially [and hilariously] known as the "Citizen Security Law"), the answer is, "As much as possible."

Just a couple of weeks away from a Spanish citizen being fined for calling his local police force "slackers," a Spanish woman has been fined for posting a picture of police car parked in a handicapped spot to her Facebook page.

A Spanish woman has been fined €800 (£570) under the country’s controversial new gagging law for posting a photograph of a police car parked illegally in a disabled bay.

The unnamed woman, a resident of Petrer in Alicante, south-east Spain, posted the photo on her Facebook page with the comment “Park where you bloody well please and you won’t even be fined”.

The police tracked her down within 48 hours and fined her.
If nothing else, the new law has reset law enforcement priorities. If law enforcement is insulted, the perpetrator needs to be tracked down before the trail goes cold.

According to the original report at, differing narratives have emerged. One version of the incident says the officer who parked in the handicapped spot approached the photographer and explained the situation, apparently hoping to prevent a disparaging upload. If so, it didn't take. Another version says the uploader called to apologize to the police, presumably to ward off a citation. If so, that didn't take. And yet another version says there was no interaction between police and the photographer until they showed up at her home to hand her a ticket.

What really happened isn't important, because there's the Official Police Narrative. The spokesman for the police informed Petreraldia that "in an emergency" police are allowed to park wherever they want, so as to expedite the apprehension of suspects.

The "emergency" behind this illegal parking job? An "incident of vandalism in a nearby park."

And, of course, the only other official remnant of this one-two punch of exemplary policework is the €800 ticket.

It seems the police -- if they felt so demeaned by the Facebook post (which was swiftly removed by the original poster) -- could have asked for an apology, rather than €800. Or the department could have offered its explanation of the situation (as it did!), rather than fine the citizen. But the law is the law, and as such, must be abused to the fullest extent allowable.

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19 Aug 13:14

Poor But Honest

by accordingtohoyt

When I was in North Carolina, at one time while my dentist was asking me questions while she had both hands and instruments in my mouth, she finished one of my sentences that started with “Oh, we grew up poor” with “But honest” which was not at all what I meant to say.  Oh, we were honest, as in we didn’t steal, but mostly for two reasons: one, grandma would have given us her “more in sorrow than in anger” look, and second, we weren’t conscious of needing anything.

Don’t get me wrong, I was a kid like other kids, and when there was a faddish toy I would drool over it.  But, perhaps because we didn’t have a TV till I was eight, it just never occurred to me that we were poor.  When I was six I asked grandma what we were and she said “We’re not poor, we’re not rich.  We make do.”

That’s about right.  In the same message in which my brother said we’d been poor as Job, he also mentioned we were rich as kings, much richer than we’re now when grandma would objectively describe our lifestyles as “what a luxury” what with running hot water and a bathroom per person in this house right now.

If you just said “Wut?”

Look, the only reason I knew there were people much better off than us is that at 12 mom contrived to have me attend a high school in the “rich” area of town.  (Theoretically, we all lived in a rented room down the street from the school.  In point of fact, mom paid a lady to forward our mail.) For the village we were between middle class and upper middle class.  In fact, when truly rich people came to the village or had their kids visit, I was among the small number of kids invited to play with them.

My childhood is, in point of fact, unclassifiable in US terms.  Sarah C. wrote a thing which I might post later, about all this, about the nostalgie de la bue and saying “but I was even poorer” that goes on on the other side, which quickly becomes “but I drank a cup of cold poison.”  She pointed out anyone born in the US (with the possible exception of Appalachia and other small pockets, such as the one Larry grew up in) was automatically better off than anyone born abroad.  From what I’ve seen, probably still is, except for the very rich.

OTOH the American assumption that those who come from  Latin countries that my dentist reflected must have been starving in tar shacks is almost — almost — infuriating.  The reason it’s not infuriating is that it is so funny.  Built into this is the idea that either Latin people are discriminated against in their own countries (wut?) or that they need leftists to enlighten them and make their lives bearable. Note this doesn’t apply if you come from English Speaking countries, where in point of fact, many people lived like we did when I was a kid, because then, of course, you have privilege, so you couldn’t have been poor-poor.

My delving into my childhood was more to show that I don’t impress conventionally.  And it’s really hard to sell me the Marxist theory of oppression that must be broken by government.

We’ve been damn broke.  And we’ve been enviably rich in many ways.  And we faced “you can’t come in” with “you and whose army”.

I grew up poor by US standards, but everyone was poor.  Okay, not everyone.  I remember going to the architect’s house when my parents were having the house built, when I was 5? 6? and being very impressed at the shiny woodwork.  We lived in a 100 plus year old house and our doors were painted and repainted with thick white paint.

My grandparents owned land and houses (grandma’s dad had bought most of the village before dying young.  He was a cattle dealer.  Yeah, yeah, I have cowboys in my ancestry) but in an era of rent control it didn’t do much, except for the fact we retained “right of cultivation” to a lot of the backyards, (lawn was sort of unknown in our circles) so we could grow twice the potatoes, had a chestnut tree and a lot of vines.

My parents lived extremely tight because dad has a religious hatred of credit.  Not just credit card debt, a hatred he passed on to me, or loans, but of any credit, including mortgage.  The first fifteen years of their marriage (I was born around year ten) were spent saving to buy a house outright.  They didn’t manage it, but built a house with a ten year mortgage.  And after that was paid off, when I was about 16, our lifestyle APPROACHED middle class US.

I still didn’t go to coffee shops as much as my friends, because I had no allowance, and earned my pocket money, but that was good as it saved me from the “coffee and pool” circle who usually repeated every year.

OTOH in my twenties I had some very rich friends who didn’t give a d*mn if they had to pay for me, so I got to vacation in really expensive resorts.  Mind you I came home to mom turning off the hot water (which the new house had) in summer because it was wasteful, but I got to go to places where the British nobility hung out.  And by the time I was in college, I was invited to embassy and consulate parties, due to my grades in foreign languages.  (Italian consulate had the BEST ice cream because most ice cream parlors in Porto were owned by Italians.)

Anyway, the reason for delving into my background was to point out that it rendered me singularly immune to Marxism.

When I was in 10th grade, one of my friends drank the koolaid and disputed with me that my family was upper class.  I asked her how, since her dad — skilled blue collar, manager — made about twice as much as my dad did.  Her sputtering reaction was that my parents were better educated, they had books, they–

They had the markers of upper class in the village.  Though in mom’s case, she was as educated as my friend’s mom, at least formally.  But mom took an interest in world affairs and history (mostly through the radio) while her mom took an interest in gossip and recipes.

I stiffly pointed out to said friend that Marx’s “classes” were economic only.  She didn’t like like.  She is still, I think, communist.  Eh.

My best friend at the time came from hereditary-upper-class meaning that her family had some noble ancestors (oh, who doesn’t in Europe?  Keeping it in their pants just didn’t apply to those people) and a lot of manners and parents who were both educated.  But I used to give her my used sweaters (when we got to the point mom was retired and, I swear, made those for recreation) because her family had 13 kids and therefore were a little tighter than we were with 2.  (Though I’m sure her dad too made more than mine.)

The completely insane background and the fact my dad acted like the dad in Have Space Suit “Dad, I want a radio.” “Go ahead, I have no objections” — Which meant I built one from parts of broken radios in the attic — left me singularly unimpressed by both wealth and poverty.  Later when my brother replaced his crappy and now broken tape player,(which he’d bought with his tutoring income) I bought it off him for 20 escudos and spent more time fixing it than listening to it, until mom got tired of her kitchen table getting used to perform surgery on the beasty and gave me a tape player bought from the smugglers (What?  Well, the shop was in Smuggler street which was a dead give away.  Yep, I grew up in a fantasy town) when I was 19.

I learned there was absolutely no virtue in being poor.  A lot of the truly very poor in the village made more than we did but spent it on either wine or frivolous stuff (mom classified meat every day as frivolous stuff, mind.)

In fact, when government started rendering assistance, most of the welfare cases lived in crappy houses and went through broke periods through what mom called “lack of head.” When they had money they ran through it, then pawned everything the second half of the month.

(Mind you mom thinks I do the same, because while I have two kids in college, I can’t drop 10k to come over with the kids when she wants me to.  To an extent she’s right.  No matter how tight the money, you can plan to make it plenty.  We choose not to live in a tiny apartment with the kids.  OTOH it’s our investment: buying more house than strictly needed, in places headed up and trading up regularly that allowed us to own a house that our peers couldn’t with double the income.  Now if we can sell it and downsize, when we no longer need the space and good schools are of no consequence, we can come close to debt free, which we couldn’t otherwise.)

All of this and dad’s cavalier attitude to anything I wanted to do “I need to go to Germany to improve my German.”  “Go ahead.  I trust you abroad.”  (I got a job as a hotel maid for a summer.) his absolute assumption that if I wanted I could figure out how to do it, and his certainty that he didn’t really care how difficult it wold be to get into college for instance, both of his kids WOULD make to college made me singularly unimpressed by people who complain of micro aggressions and discrimination.

And it made me singularly unimpressed by wealth, too.  My rich friends had it easier, of course, but they were also easily impressed by brands, and they had never had to fight for what they wanted.  If grades didn’t qualify them to enter public — free — college, that was all right.  Mommy and daddy would buy them a spot in the private one.

I think this is why the plot lines that consist of “victim is oppressed and spit upon and dies in gutter/gets bloody revenge” have always bored me.  The idea that you have to “make way” for someone and make their path easy because they’re a one-footed Patagonian Lesbian makes me laugh.

You are a minority/poor/oppressed and want to write science fiction?  Fine, I give you my dad’s answer “Go ahead.  I have no objection.”

You want to feature a minority/poor/oppressed in your story?  Go ahead, I have no objection.  Just don’t make them sad sacks who need the help of the enlightened to get anywhere.  Sad sack characters and ex-machina socialists are BORING.  I don’t care what they taught you in school, getting there on your own is much more fun, both to do and to read about.

This is something the establishment doesn’t get — both the genuine upper class and strivers.  It’s amazing how many of the puppy kickers are in point of fact well off, upper class in the Marxist sense, even if they feel “downtrodden” for whatever reason.  And the rest, the strivers, have adopted the attitudes of the “upper class” and their class-signaling Marxism.  As I said originally, more papist than the pope — It’s something they can’t seem to grasp.

The working class gets rescued by benevolent Marxists (or even attacks academics while drinking gin — good Lord, pull the other one, it plays Elvis) is only exciting to Marxists with messianic illusions.

From the rest of us it elicits a yawn and an itch of the middle finger.

Write people of whatever color, orientation, wealth level you want.  Make them live.  Make them interesting.

We don’t add special points for flagellation of Marxist stereotypes and we do deduct them for predictability.

Or write whatever the heck you want. I mean, the pap has its fans — but it’s not us.

Just don’t demand we doff our hats and bow and scrape and tell you that stuff we don’t like and which is formulaic and poorly written is “of course, better” because it “fights the patriarchy” or whatever other idea you’re obsessed with at the time.

We don’t care.  You’re in an entertainment job.  Your job is to entertain the public.

The public is rarely entertained by lectures.

If it makes you feel better, I’ll make grandma’s face when someone was bragging to her about how special they were, and I’ll say “Oh wow.”

But I still won’t tell you boring stories that conform to whatever the new Marxists are peddling are better.  Learn your craft.  Then write whatever the crap you want.  And let the rest of us write whatever the crap we want.

Go ahead.  we have no objections.

19 Aug 12:56

Lone Star Rail Insanity

by Randal O'Toole

I don't understand the obsession with trains. Particularly in areas where they are among the least efficient, flexible or cost effectives means of solving transportation problems.

Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Austin is congested, so obviously (to some people, at least) the solution is to run passenger trains between the two cities. Existing tracks are crowded with freight trains, so the Lone Star Rail District proposes to build a brand-new line for the freight trains and run passenger trains on the existing tracks. The total capital cost would be about $3 billion, up from just $0.6 billion in 2004 (which probably didn’t include the freight re-route).

Click image to download a PDF version of this map.

By coincidence, that was the projected capital cost for the proposed high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando (cancelled by Florida Governor Rick Scott), which are about the same 80-miles apart as Austin and San Antonio. But, despite the cost, Lone Star wouldn’t be a high-speed rail line. According to a 2004 feasibility study, trains would take about 90 minutes between the two cities, with two stops in between. While express trains with no stops would be a bit faster, cars driving at Texas speeds could still be faster.

Lone Star is asking the San Antonio city council for $500,000 to help pay for an environmental impact statement and other studies. Austin has supposedly already agreed to fund its share, though it isn’t in the city’s budget.

Lone Star is promising 32 trains (16 each way) carrying 20,000 riders (10,000 round trips) per day at fares of up to $12. That’s more than 600 riders per train; though some may not go the entire distance, it still seems high. Megabus currently operates three buses a day that take 85 minutes between the two cities at fares of $1.50 to $7.50. It seems likely that if there were 20,000 people per day wanting to pay $12 to take the trip at the same speed, Megabus would find them.

If the goal is to relieve congestion on I-35, two new lanes would probably cost less than a billion dollars and would be capable of moving far more vehicles per day than Lone Star would take off the road. Of course, the highway is probably not congested over the entire route, so two new lanes for the full length probably aren’t necessary. Besides, self-driving cars will probably go on sale and eliminate any need for passenger trains before the first Lone Star train would turn a wheel.

San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor, who famously cancelled the city’s even more backwards streetcar project, says that Lone Star isn’t one of her priorities. “There will be benefits from this alternative transit option, but we have to be good fiscal stewards,” she added. Local taxpayers should hope that she and the San Antonio city council can resist the starry-eyed Lone Star plan.

19 Aug 01:22

Quotation of the day on moral busybodies vs. robber barons…. (and self-medication as a basic right)

by Mark Perry

…. is from C. S. Lewis, from his 1948 book God in the Dock: Essays on Theology:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.

HT: Nicolas, who provided that quote and wrote the following in the comment section of this CD post about drug use:

“What has to be recognized is that self-medication is a basic right, and moderate drug use is not a moral or medical defect.”

The post Quotation of the day on moral busybodies vs. robber barons…. (and self-medication as a basic right) appeared first on AEI.

19 Aug 10:00


by Mike

Clark’s nutcracker, Rocky Mountain National Park, September 2, 2009
Clark’s nutcracker, Rocky Mountain National Park, September 2, 2009

18 Aug 14:22

Prosperity Politics

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)


Even when I disagree with John Oliver’s politics (which is quite frequently), he makes me laugh.  (A steady offering of humor prompts me to forgive lots of sins.)  My son, Thomas, and I roared with laughter yesterday morning as we watched Oliver’s recent smack-down of televangelists who preach something called “the Prosperity Gospel.”  (Warning: Adult language.)  

Until watching Oliver’s video, I was only vaguely aware of this sub-species of scam-artists.  But as I watched this video I kept thinking to myself “These people – these scamming televangelists – remind me of something.  What?  Who?  What???  Who????”  Then it hit me: Politicians!

Most Americans (myself included) – and, most assuredly, all Americans to the left of Mike Huckabee – understandably both laugh at the antics of these televangelical slime balls and shake our heads with a mixture of sorrow and befuddlement that fellow human beings fall prey to their idiotic dupery.  But without claiming that there is a one-to-one correspondence between cosmetics-caked preachers of the Prosperity Gospel and typical politicians crawling the corridors of Washington, DC., I submit that the overlap and similarities between these two types of public pleaders are far greater than most respectable Americans are willing to admit.

According to the Prosperity Gospel (or so I gather), sending money to one of its preachers will, by some mystical force, eventually result in more material prosperity redounding to the benefit of those who heed the call to send money to these con artists.  Of course, the people who send their money to these swindlers are convinced that these swindlers are sincere oracles of a higher power – oracles who tell of a genuinely reliable means of both pleasing the higher power and being rewarded materially for doing so.

Naturally, the only people becoming more materially prosperous through this scam are the swindlers and their entourages.  The poor suckers who fall for the swindlers’ schemes are drained of wealth.  And it is the rare and cold-hearted person who asserts that, because the swindled people should have been smart enough to see through the deceits and illogic of the swindlers, the swindlers aren’t blameworthy.

The parallels between government and these televangelical swindlers are numerous; they’re too numerous even to list in a single blog post.  I’ll content myself here to point out only some of these ominous parallels, which include the notions that:

– sending your money off to other people will result in that money being spent in ways that promote your long-term well-being better than your long-term well-being would be promoted had you spent your money yourself;

– telegenic people speaking into the camera while alluding to mysterious doctrines – and claiming to have special understanding of those mysterious doctrines – are motived chiefly by your best interest as they plead for your money;

– these telegenic people must, of course, fly about in private jets and live luxuriously, for they – unlike you – are tasked with a special responsibility to work for a Higher Good;

– these telegenic swindlers are expert not only at feigning sincere concern for strangers, but also at spinning lies and deceits to explain away the constant failures of their prophesies.


One significant difference that notably separates the Prosperity Gospel swindlers from what we might call the Prosperity Politics swindlers is that only the latter have the power to grab the money of people who don’t fall for their deceits.  If the Prosperity Politics swindlers manage to dupe 50% +1 of the voters into falling for their scam, the Prosperity Politics swindlers get to grab the money of not only the people who naively fall for their dupery but also the money of those of us who see such dupery for what it is.

It should at least give pause to those who are enthusiastic about substituting the ‘will of the majority’ for the freedom of each individual to choose to lead his or her life as he or she will to reflect on the fact that the world has no shortage of people who fall for the Prosperity Gospel fraudsters.  Democracy – as opposed to individual freedom – allows people who fall for the Prosperity Gospel to have a say in your life and in the lives of everyone who understands that the Prosperity Gospel is the work of Satan.

18 Aug 11:54

Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)


… is from page 463 of the 5th edition (2015) of Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics:

The illusion of investment is maintained by giving the Social Security trust fund government bonds in exchange for the money that is taken from it and spend on other government programs.  But these bonds likewise represent no tangible assets.  They are simply promises to pay money collected from future taxpayers.  The country as a whole is not one dollar richer because these bonds were printed, so there is no analogy with private investments that create tangible wealth.  If there were no such bonds, then future taxpayers would still have to make up the difference when future Social Security premiums are insufficient to pay pensions to future retirees.  That is exactly the same as what will have to happen when there are bonds.  Accounting procedures may make it seem that there is an investment when the Social Security system holds government bonds, but the economic reality is that neither the government nor anyone else can spend and save the same money.

Eighty years ago this month (on August 14th, 1935, to be precise), Uncle Sam foisted on its subjects a scheme that would make Charles Ponzi green with envy.  And to help hide the hideous nature of this spending-other-people’s-money fraud, Uncle Sam maintains a scam called the “Social Security Trust Fund” – which is simply I.O.U.s written by the government to itself.

If you think that the Social Security Trust Fund represents real wealth for the American people held in trust by their agent, the U.S. government, go out right now and hire an agent and give him the following powers:

– he can regularly take a large chunk of your current income and spend it however he chooses on you; but

– for every dollar that he takes from you he must draft an I.O.U. requiring that you will repay yourself that dollar in the future; these I.O.U.s are stashed in a “Trust Fund” maintained by your agent; your agent assures you that this Trust Fund contains enough wealth to enable you to live comfortably in your retirement.

When you retire, you attempt to redeem your I.O.U.s.  Only then, lo and behold!, does the realization hit you that an I.O.U. that you owe to yourself is no wealth at all for you.  Those I.O.U.s are redeemable only if you return to work and then pay yourself, with your income, the value of each of your I.O.U.s.

You’ve been scammed by your agent, although you yourself bear much of the blame for being so stupid as to fall for his misrepresentation.

18 Aug 05:45

School Tried to Expel a Student For Tweeting Two Words About Kissing a Teacher: ‘Actually, Yeah.’

by Robby Soave

KissA Minnesota student who had to transfer high schools to avoid an expulsion for an incredibly short, wholly inoffensive Tweet can sue the district for violating his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, a federal judge ruled.

The student, Reid Sagehorn, first landed himself in trouble with Elk River School District administrators in January of 2014, according to Education Week. He was asked on an internet message board whether he had made out with a certain 28-year-old teacher at Rogers High School; he tweeted his two-word answer: “actually, yeah.” Sagehorn later claimed that he was joking.

Superintendent Mike Bezek didn’t think the Tweet was funny. Sagehorn was initially suspended for five days. His punishment was then increased to 10 days, but dragged on for weeks. He eventually transferred schools to avoid expulsion.

Sagehorn was an honors student and captain of the Rogers football team before he transferred.

As if the ruin of Sagehorn’s academic life wasn’t enough, Police Chief Jeffrey Beahan told media outlets that the teenager could face felony charges. District officials argued that the tweet was obscene.

That’s utter nonsense, of course. Sagehorn’s mildly suggestive statement about kissing a teacher doesn’t even come close to crossing the line into obscenity territory.

Sagehorn is now suing the school district and police chief. Last week, a federal judge declined to dismiss the suit, ruling that it should proceed. That’s good news for Sagehorn—who will likely be compensated for damages in an eventual settlement—and very bad news for the bullying authority figures who made his life miserable for no good reason. Teens don’t lose the right to say stupid things merely because everything is offensive to edu-crats.

17 Aug 17:26

Germany Says Taking Photos Of Food Infringes The Chef's Copyright

by Glyn Moody

Over the years, Techdirt has had a couple of stories about misguided chefs who think that people taking photos of their food are "stealing" something -- their culinary soul, perhaps. According to an article in the newspaper Die Welt, it seems that this is not just a matter of opinion in Germany, but established law (original in German):

In individual cases, shared pictures may be illegal. At worst, a copyright warning notice might come fluttering to the social media user. For carefully-arranged food in a famous restaurant, the cook is regarded as the creator of a work. Before it can be made public on Facebook & Co., permission must first be asked of the master chef.
Apparently, this situation goes back to a German court judgment from 2013, which widened copyright law to include the applied arts too. As a result, the threshold for copyrightability was lowered considerably, with the practical consequence that it was easier for chefs to sue those who posted photographs of their creations without permission. The Die Welt article notes that this ban can apply even to manifestly unartistic piles of food dumped unceremoniously on a plate if a restaurant owner puts up a notice refusing permission for photos to be taken of its food.

It's sad to see this kind of ownership mentality has been accepted by the German courts. As a Techdirt article from 2010 explained, there's plenty of evidence that it is precisely the lack of copyright in food that has led to continuing innovation -- just as it has in other fields that manage to survive without this particular intellectual monopoly, notably in fashion.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

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16 Aug 21:51

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

by Patrick

This is an entertaining story by one of my favorite authors.

For a limited time, Brandon Sanderson's novella Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell is available for only 0.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Originally appearing in the Dangerous Women anthology and now available as a solo ebook, Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell is a chilling novella of the Cosmere, the universe shared by Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series and the #1 New York Times bestselling Stormlight Archive.

When the familiar and seemingly safe turns lethal, therein danger lies. Amid a forest where the shades of the dead linger all around, every homesteader knows to follow the Simple Rules: "Don't kindle flame, don't shed the blood of another, don't run at night. These things draw shades." Silence Montane has broken all three rules on more than one occasion. And to protect her family from a murderous gang with high bounties on their heads, Silence will break every rule again, at the risk of becoming a shade herself.
15 Aug 06:45

An Odd Fractal

by Greg Ross

In 1653, Blaise Pascal composed a triangular array in which the number in each cell is the sum of the two directly above it:

In 1915, Polish mathematician Waclaw Sierpinski described an equilateral triangle in which the central fourth is removed and the same procedure is applied to all the succeeding smaller triangles. Perplexingly, the resulting structure has zero area:

Interestingly, if the odd numbers in Pascal’s triangle are shaded, they produce an approximation to Sierpinski’s triangle:

And as this triangle grows toward infinity, it becomes Sierpinski’s triangle — an arrangement of numbers that takes the shape of a geometrical object.

Please support Futility Closet on Patreon!

15 Aug 14:30

Success Academy Posted Its Latest Test Scores. The Results Are Astounding.

by Jim Epstein

Success AcademyNew York released its annual test scores this week, and Success Academy, the city's rapidly expanding charter school network, posted remarkable results. Again.

Success Academy schools did well in English—68 percent of students were proficient, compared with 30 percent in the city over all—but in math, the scores were astonishing. Ninety-three percent of Success Academy test-takers were proficient in math, compared with 35 percent citywide.

To put that into perspective, of the 1,282 public schools tested, just 12[*] were part of the Success Academy network, or 1 percent of the total. Yet 5 out of the 10 schools that scored highest in math were part of the Success Academy network. Of the 20 schools that did best in math, 9 were part of the Success Academy network. All twelve schools in the network were ranked in the top 40 for math. Results of this sort were unheard of before Success Academy arrived on the scene.

It's clear that Success Academy trounces the vast majority of public schools, but the rankings appear to show it dominating all but the very best. Are Success schools also markedly better than the other schools in the top five percent in New York City?

They are.

I asked statistician Aaron Brown to take a look at the data. He pointed out that a problem with the rankings is that "the chosen metric is so close to 100 percent for top schools that a big difference in ranking can represent a small difference in kids." So it could be that the quality of the education is really no better at Success Academy than at the other top schools.

To clarify what these results really mean, Brown crunched the numbers by putting all the Success Academy students, plus all the kids who go to the top five percent of other schools, in one pot. Then he took a random sample of 3,065 kids to see how they did compared to the 3,065 kids from Success Academy. This exercise is designed to answer the question: What if those Success Academy kids had been distributed among all of the top schools in the city? Would they have done better or worse in math?

Brown found that they would have performed significantly worse: 310 fewer kids would have gotten a level 4 on the exam, the top score. And 203 more kids would have received a 1 or a 2, which are considered to be failing grades. That would have been a tremendous waste of potential.

Of course, this assumes that all of these schools are drawing from the same pool. That's difficult to determine with any certainty, but we know that Success Academy students, who are selected through a random lottery, tend to come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Seventy-seven percent of its students qualify for free or reduced school lunch. Ninety-two percent of test takers were black or Hispanic.

Success AcademyIt's fun to thumb through the data and see how Success schools trounced their counterparts in wealthy zip codes.

Two-bedroom apartments near Brooklyn's P.S. 321 tend to sell for more than a million dollars, in part because parents are desperate to get their kids into the famed Park Slope elementary school. At P.S. 321, 82 percent of test takes were proficient in math this year. That's respectable—56th highest in the city—but well below all 12 Success Academy schools.

At P.S. 87, which is P.S. 321's counterpart on Manhattan's Upper West Side (except the kids are even richer), 80 percent of students were proficient in math. That earned the school 67th place citywide, or well below every Success Academy school.

In an email, Brown noted selection bias might still partially explain Success' scores:

Any school will look good if its students are the brightest poor kids with the most parental support, and even affluent neighborhoods have some challenging kids and problematic parent situations. Still the overwhelming statistical performance of Success Academies versus even the best other New York public schools sets a high hurdle for anyone who wants to attribute the results to selection bias or test defects.

Let's not forget that when Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) was running for office, he told a teachers-union crowd that Success Academy's founder and CEO, Eva Moskowitz, must "stop being tolerated, enabled, supported.”

Last year, I profiled Renee Lopez, a struggling student who was slipping through the cracks at a traditional public school. Then she won a coveted spot at Success Academy and got the help she needed.

For more on Success Academy's political fight with the mayor and the teachers union, watch Reason TV's profile of Eva Moskowitz, which I put together with Nick Gillespie:

[*] There are 32 schools in the Success Academy network, but the state combined 7 middle schools with their accompanying elementary schools in its data reporting. Twelve more schools haven't yet reached grade level to participate in the testing, and one school is a high school, which means students there take a different set of tests.