Your Lying Eyes

Dedicated to uncovering the truth that stands naked before your lying eyes.

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30 March 2010

There Are Only Upsides

At least when you're the New York Times, and the topic is the new Health Care Reform law. Even for the Times, Denise Grady's breathless "Overhaul Will Lower the Costs of Being a Woman" is breathtaking in its worshipful tone.

"Being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition" it begins. Oh-kay. We are told that insurance companies have traditionally discriminated against women by charging them different rates. "Until now, it has been perfectly legal in most states for companies selling individual health policies — for people who do not have group coverage through employers — to engage in “gender rating,” that is, charging women more than men for the same coverage, even for policies that do not include maternity care."

Kind of like how they charge different rates for life and auto insurance based on sex - but that's never mentioned - I mean not mentioned at all - because in those cases men are charged more, and so it's irrelevant.

This discrimination knows (or knew - the beatific new law forbids it) no bounds. "The rationale was that women used the health care system more than men. But some companies charged women who did not smoke more than men who did, even though smokers have more risks." My goodness those insurers are a wacky bunch - willfully eating extra claim expense covering male smokers cheaply just to give women a hard time. Although I'm a bit confused because later in the article we're assured that "insurance companies were masters at protecting their bottom line" - funny that they'd go to such trouble to overcharge women without any basis.

Of course "gender pricing" isn't the only mode of discrimination - individual insurers often do not offer maternity coverage - or if they did they might charge more for it. Not anymore! "It has to be a part of the premium just like heart attacks, prostate cancer or any other condition" that men willingly acquire at very high frequencies in their 20's and 30's.

And speaking of men, will they now have to pay more for insurance? We're never told that answer - but nothing Ms. Grady has written would lead me to believe that she doesn't expect women to now pay the same as men, without either's premiums being raised.

A prominent source of outrage in the article is the tale of a woman who was denied a policy because she had had a previous Caesaren delivery and the insurer, obviously concerned about having to be on the hook for another, declined her. The insurer explained that had she been "sterilized" they'd have approved the policy. Ah, that word "sterilized" - of such unfortunate word usage are major policy decisions born in this rational land of ours. How these costs are going to be covered in the individual market is again not even remotely discussed - it's like the loaves and fishes.

I exaggerated a bit when I implied there are no downsides mentioned. The main source for this "analysis", one Marcia D. Greenberger, the founder and co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, was quick to note that all is not peaches and cream. "Despite her enthusiasm for many aspects of the new law, Ms. Greenberger said she was profoundly disappointed in provisions that she thought would limit women’s access to abortion services." Well at least she provided a balanced view.

29 March 2010

Male/Female Math Gap hasn't Improved in 13 Years

Despite much hype about the math gap being a socially intermediated phenomenon, this hype hasn't managed to budge the math gap on the SAT's even a tad:

27 March 2010

SAT Gap Widens While 8th Grade Gap Shrinks

NAEP math test scores have shown a persistent narrowing of the racial gap in scores, from over 1.2 standard deviations to just under 1. The SAT math score gap has widened over that time. The verbal SAT gap has been jumpier, but also has widened while the NAEP reading score gap has shrunk as well. One obvious difference is that the NAEP takes entire school districts while the SAT is taken only be students who have at least an inkling of attending college (in those states that traditionally take the SAT vs. the ACT). Here are the SAT Math and Verbal racial gaps since 1996 (the earliest reporting date the College Board provides):

It's a modest increase, but clearly an upward trend. How does this compare to the NAEP results? I forward shifted the NAEP dates 3 years, assuming that 8th graders tested in 2003 were taking their SAT's in 2006, for example. My purpose is to align them so that the SAT takers are coming from mostly the same population as the 8th grade NAEP test takers - not sure if 3 years is better or 4, but I chose 3. Here's how it looks:

There are so many confounding variable in all this I hesitate to argue we can draw any conclusions from any of it. But I think we can comfortably conclude that arguments that heavy investment in early-to-middle minority education will pay off in a better prepared group for college don't hold water. Whatever's being done in the grade schools to reduce the gap is getting lost in high school. But let's remember - while the narrowing in the gap for 8th graders has been relatively substantial (about 17%), it's a long, long way from parity, and is still in the 1 standard deviation range. (As a point of reference, the 1 standard deviation black/white gap means that the scores for the 15th percentile white students are equal to those for the 50th percentile black students.) These SAT trends should temper any optimism quite a bit.

The data is here.

For the SAT data, I went through each archived report from 1996 on and typed in the numbers off the PDF files. Yeah lots of fun - I'm quite the wild and crazy weekend partier.

26 March 2010

More NAEP Results - Racial Gap Over Time

Standardized aptitude tests in the U.S. almost always show a black/white gap of approximately 1 standard deviation. You see it consistently on the SAT's if you go to the College Board site and look up their reports. And it's pretty reliably found on IQ tests. The NAEP isn't quite this consistent, but in the general ballpark. Notably, the gap in Reading scores is less - more in the range of 0.8 to 0.9 s.d. The math scores have been in the 1 s.d. ballpark, usually a bit higher. I'd expect math score gaps to be more in the general aptitude range as math success seems more innate to me than reading. Interestingly, reading would seem to be the subject where you'd have more cultural bias and thus prone to larger gaps, but that's not how it is at all.

The Good News: The gap has been narrowing over the last two decades. Not dramatically, and not consistently by grade, but the clear trend is a narrowing. This has also been accompanied by a steady though slow increase in overall scores as well.

Math Results

Now don't get too excited without looking at the graph scale - the origin is a 0.9, and last year's results fell at about 1 standard deviation, which is about where the SAT's typically fall year-after-year. That may be it as far as improvement - maybe a few hundredths improvement from here on out.

The Reading Gaps are lower, but the improvements not so dramatic:

Now I'm a little concerned about the low gaps in 1990/92 and then the big jumps in the mid-90's - not sure what was going on there, and what might have changed. Looking at the scores themselves, there was a big jump in whites' math scores from '90 to '92 and a big drop in blacks' reading scores '92 to '94. It concerns me because I don't know what this implies about the reliability of these numbers from year-to-year, but otherwise there is a consistency that's reassuring.

The 12th grade scores gaps are more inconsistent, and this is consistent with the scores themselves, which are very jumpy. Perhaps coverage at this grade level is very inconsistent in the NAEP sampling.

How Can You Tell if Global Warming Alarmists Are Serious?

Answer: If they support nuclear energy. Nuclear is the only viable, non-carbon source for power generation that does not also involve the creation of vast man-made lakes.

NASA's Jim Hansen is one of the crazies - he thinks we're soon headed for a tipping point where there will be so much CO2 in the atmosphere that it will lead to a positive feed-back loop beyond our ability to mitigate and end in devastation. Does he support the use of nuclear energy? Indeed he does.

24 March 2010

Achievement GAP Grows with Achievement

The NAEP Reading results are out. There's lots of disappointment over the lack of progress despite the sure-to-work involvement of the federal government. I've looked at NAEP data before and been put off by the seeming lack of standard deviations (sigmas) to make sense of the differences. So I decided to dive back in to see if I could find it, and sure enough there are indeed sigmas available. Now I could try to make some sense (with my limited statistical skills) of some of the state and race differences.

The results of the reading and math follow basically the same patterns, though there are some important differences. The racial gap for math consistently hovers around 1 (in standard deviations) with an average of 0.97, while the reading gaps are more widespread and average 0.84. The standard deviations themselves are fairly variable from state-to-state and between groups. One aspect of the racial gap both sets of scores share is that the higher the white scores, the larger the gap. Now this would seem obvious is you based it only on the raw scores, but the effect remains even after normalizing them with standard deviation units (I used the std. dev. for white scores for each state to measure the state-by-state gap).

Here's the scatterplot for the 8th grade reading score gaps by state:

As Steve Sailer pointed out, Wisconsin appears to be the worst offender by having a large gap without high scores overall. Note that while Wisconsin has the widest gap in scores, it's not the widest in terms of the standard deviation units.

And for math:

But while the higher the white scores the bigger the gap, black scores still trend higher with the white scores, just not as much. The black/white correlation for 8th grade math is 0.5. While I hope no one is stupid enough to think closing this gap would be easy, it may be even harder than some think if the white scores appear to increase faster.

I have ignored Asian scores in this analysis. I'm also interested in how the gap might have grown or shrank over time. I'll take a look at that tomorrow. Capturing and organizing this NAEP data may not exactly be like cracking the Rosetta stone, but it's also not exactly a push-button process either.

Data on reading scores here. Math scores here.

Update 3/26/10 7:11am EDT: Oh well - the kids wouldn't let me near the computer:) So I'll do some more looking this weekend.

Update 7/1/2010: Reading gap by state within region:

The Mideast Peace Process

We still seem to be stuck in that old Cold War paradigm where every other country's problems are our own, and that we must kiss their asses before they'll let us in the door to help. We did that of course because we battling the Soviets for influence. Influence still has some merit, but its hardly much of a battle anymore, and we have very little to gain.

So how is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict our problem? Obama seemed to be getting tough on the settlements, but we still sound like we're whining about it. Obama, in his meetings with Bebe, let him know very clearly that peace is not our problem, that we have our own troubles and we'll gladly disengage if neither side shows much interest. And if Israel is not interested, perhaps they could start buying their own weapons at market prices (that last is a hoot - if Obama could pull that off I might not even think he sucks afterall!).

22 March 2010

The Dim Prospects for Improved Employment

Bryan Caplan reports that he entered into a $100 bet with Mike Shedlock (Mish) in which the latter asserts that unemployment will not dip below 8% for the next 5 years. That's a brave bet on Mish's part (except that it's only for $100), but he might have better prospects of winning than first appears. Mish's argument was that there's little prospect of construction leading the way out. Caplan believes it doesn't have to be construction that leads us out, it could be any sector, but you can't at this moment predict which.

I disagree that it could be any sector. If you're going to lead a charge into full employment, construction seems to be the ideal sector. Construction mixes a multitude of skills - laborers, semi-skilled, craftsmen, on-site managers, numbers crunchers, and of course engineers - so that it draws broadly from the work force. And while many of the jobs require skills, they're fairly portable. Most any construction worker can adequately ply his trade at any construction site. If you know how to work with concrete, you don't need a two-week training class to work it at Site B once you're done with Site A.

Manufacturing, on the other hand, requires very specific tasks depending on the product being made. If you've got Widget A mastered at Factory X, you might have a good aptitude for learning how to make Widget B at Factory Y, but you've still got to train at it. While number of manufacturing jobs have plummeted over the last 40 years, manufacturing output has actually continued to grow.

So manufacturing does not seem a likely savior of our workforce. Well there's always the service sector. But with consumer credit still at crushing levels, do we really expect $5 Lattes to push down unemployment? Nor would I count too much on the financial services sector to pull through.

In the first two quarters of our recovery from the 1982 recession, residential investment contributed .92 and 2.28 percentage points to GDP growth, and this positive contribution continued for the next five quarters. In the last two quarters this time around, this sector contributed only .43 and .13 points. The big contributors to our 5.9% growth last quarter were inventory growth and exports - neither of which are promising signs for job growth. (Source: BEA, NIPA Table 1.1.2).

Our refusal to actually address the fundamental problem underlying the economy - excessive debt - along with the current over-saturated housing market pretty much guarantees very slow job growth ahead.

19 March 2010

Why Obama Likes the Banksters

Obama's approach to the financial crisis has been to continue to prop up the banks that were at its very center. He has essentially excused their outrages with his "No laws were broken" mantra - a damnable lie, to be sure. Up-and-down the line laws were broken - fraudulent loan applications were filled out, fraudulent lines were processed, non-performing loans were bundled and sold over-and-over again and misrepresented as viable securities. We're talking standard, common-law fraud here - a very serious crime carrying a stiff sentence. But Obama would prefer to look the other way and forgive and forget. Why?

Because the very underpinnings of his vision require a relatively large, very affluent elite that will finance and promote the transformation of American society. The wealthy - better yet, wealthy institutions, are Obama's perfect tools. They can be targeted for tax increases, sure, but more than that the large institutions they run provide the kind of well-regulated corporate environment necessary to implement widespread "diversity" measures, to promote progressive causes such as environmentalism, to promote "volunteerism" and to do whatever left-wing bidding large institutions will do to avoid negative publicity and class-action lawsuits.

Notice that the only thing that gets Obama's goat regarding the banks is that they're "not lending enough". But of course the reason they're not lending is that there's very little capacity to borrow. But "capacity to borrow" is a concept Obama does not understand, because to him lending is based on who needs money, not on who could reliably pay it back.

Taxing the middle class is not viable politically - indeed Obama is publicly a big advocate of middle-class tax cuts. So by having a large wealthy elite, he can tax them - the fact that this elite is raping the middle class to acquire its wealth is besides the point - the point is to extract any residual wealth of the vast middle class to fund minorities and his progressive-lite agenda. The terms "education reform" or "health-care reform" are just more palatable ways of telling the middle class "we need more of your money."

So to go after the crooks on Wall Street who brought this country to its knees would only be killing the goose that laid the golden eggs - and Obama needs the eggs.

18 March 2010

Obama's Education Agenda

As we all know by now, the Obama administration is proposing that we change the focus of No Child Left Behind from student proficiency to graduation.
In addition, President Obama would replace the law’s requirement that every American child reach proficiency in reading and math, which administration officials have called utopian, with a new national target that could prove equally elusive: that all students should graduate from high school prepared for college and a career.
While the focus on proficiency might have been Utopian ("every child is above average"), it at least focused on what the point of education is supposed to be - learning stuff. Obama's new emphasis will now focus on what the actual point of education has instead become - acquiring credentials.

One of the nice things about credentials is that they send a signal as to your quality. So if you have a high-school degree - a real high school degree - it tells prospective employer that you at least can manage to get through high school. College does the same thing - if you graduate college, an employer knows that at a minimum you're capable of getting your shit together enough to figure out how to get yourself a degree.

But it also serves a more subtle purpose - as a bit of a safe harbor from disparate impact claims. Minorities graduate high school and college at lower rates, and so by making those degrees requirements for employment, a company can point to the lower graduation rate of minorities as a defense when the EEOC wants to know why it's not employing minorities in proportion to their share of the general population.

To Obama, then, these lower graduation rates are just an excuse for employers to hide from their responsibilities to even out the score (remember, Obama doesn't want an even playing field - he wants an even score). The result will be - and has been, really - more and more fancy credentials. Employers want to hire the best people they can, but they also don't want millions of dollars in legal expenses defending their hiring practices.

The other subtle message this new focus sends is that someone who fails to graduate is no longer a "drop-out", but a victim of a failed school. Schools will of course adapt to these new requirements, as they always do, and will most assuredly find ways to graduate more students. But then they will be judged on whether these kids get thru college, because it is also a requirement that they be college ready.

That will put more pressure on community colleges to dumb down their curricula and standards, which will then put more-and-more demands on 4-year colleges as the decent students flee the community colleges. And colleges in general will now face ever more scrutiny (read "lawsuits") regarding the poorer performance of minorities in their institutions. Obama's policy will in the end have a brutal multiplier-effect on education costs up-and-down the line. What a surprise.

06 March 2010

Hey, What Happened to All Those Non-Violent Prisoners?

We're always hearing about how our inhumane criminal justice system sends hoards of non-violent offenders to prison. Just a month ago, the New York Times editorialized that "prisons are filled with a large number of nonviolent offenders, including minor drug offenders. In many cases, it would be more humane, economical and effective to provide drug treatment and mental health alternatives." Perfect liberal Ezra Klein intones:
Incarceration can serve a valuable purpose in segregating dangerous individuals from the wider society. That incarceration should be handled humanely and wisely, of course, but it has a purpose. For the millions and millions of non-violent offenders, though, it serves a very different purpose. It abandons them to a realm where violence, and threats, and intimidation, serve as your only security. [EA]

As Dylan sang:
For each unharmful gentle soul
Misplaced inside a jail
We gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
So for cash-strapped states looking to save a few bucks, releasing the multitudes of non-violent offenders is a slam-dunk budget trimmer. Not so fast. This week, the Times has a slightly different tale to tell:
Safety Is Issue as Budget Cuts Free Prisoners
In the rush to save money in grim budgetary times, states nationwide have trimmed their prison populations by expanding parole programs and early releases. But the result — more convicted felons on the streets, not behind bars — has unleashed a backlash, and state officials now find themselves trying to maneuver between saving money and maintaining the public’s sense of safety.

In Illinois, Gov. Patrick J. Quinn, a Democrat, described as “a big mistake” an early release program that sent some convicts who had committed violent crimes home from prison in a matter of weeks. Of more than 1,700 prisoners released over three months, more than 50 were soon accused of new violations.

An early release program in Colorado meant to save $19 million has scaled back its ambitions by $14 million after officials found far fewer prisoners than anticipated to be wise release risks. In more than five months, only 264 prisoners were released, though the program was designed to shrink the prison population by 2,600 over two years.

The article goes on to discuss some specific cases, one a pedophile, that are rather disturbing. But basically, when push comes to shove - i.e., when states are motivated to save real money - the woeful tale of mass imprisonment of non-violent offenders appears to be rather exaggerated.

Extra reading: The Fallacy of the Nonviolent Offender

03 March 2010

Women's Liberation: The Lost Years

Women, as we know, have gained enormous power since the dark days before the 70's when they were mere chattel in men's homes. But the funny thing is that so many of the cool inventions of the 20th century had the intended and practical effect of liberating women from their indentured servitude in their pre-liberation days. Perhaps most important was the washing machine, which liberated women from the most seriously taxing of household chores. In succession, women's housework drudgery was also greatly relieved by the vacuum cleaner, the clothes dryer and the dishwasher.

So by the end of the 1960's, these wondrous inventions were pretty much in place throughout America (as well as a few others of note, such as gas/electric ranges and electric mixers). So then what happened? It was decided by someone that now that women had all this spare time on their hands, it was now pointless to pay their husbands so much money to work when we could put their wives to work as well...or something. But whoever decided what, the era of liberating inventions to automate housework was over. Since then, it seems the useful appliances that have become popular have been to the benefit of men - like hand-held leaf blowers, snow blowers and riding mowers so men could dedicate more of their weekends watching ubiquitous sports programming on their flat-screens - another male-targeted invention.

We still read about how, despite working out of the home as many hours and their husbands, wives still bear the brunt of housework and rather resent it. So why has industry stopped listening? Why have there been no revolutionary appliances in the last 40 years? (I refuse to count the food processor (used by what - 1 in 20 women) and drip-coffee maker.)

Sure, there have been marginal improvements, but the chore of washing clothes hasn't changed since 1969: you take a pile of dirty clothes, bring them to the washroom; separate as necessary; place a load in the washer; measure out and add the detergent; turn the dial (or press the button - whoopee) to the right setting and turn on the machine. Return when done, load into the dryer, load a fresh load into the washer and fold the dried clothes out of the dryer; repeat until the separate loads are done.

There are a number of repetitive manual steps in there that could be easily automated with today's technology. Separating fabrics by color should be a trivial engineering challenge; by fabric, a little tougher but certainly doable, and surely could be performed by an automated process with no greater error rate than the manual process entails.

The robotic vacuum cleaners are cool, but surely we can have better robotics than that - ones with probes and such to get into nooks and crannies. A robot that could actually learn its way around the house with some coaching seems well within our engineering capabilities. But industry would actually have to believe that the commercial value in relieving women of housework is greater than teenage boys' demands for ever more challenging video games.

But of course many women have solved the problem with a much more direct approach: cleaning ladies. But this is not progress - the Romans did this 2,000 years ago. This is a step backward. Society does not progress by gathering more servants, it progresses by eliminating more work. But we of course are not progressing - our economy grows by less-and-less increments each year. Had we continued our technological growth at the rate of the first half of the twentieth century, we'd have many more wondrous appliances in our homes. But our slow growth would no doubt be even worse if not for the miracle of Moore's Law, which has given us some truly awesome gains in entertainment and communications, but not much else to brag about.