Your Lying Eyes

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

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19 January 2012

Anatomy of a Coup

Speaking of the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, didn't the transformation of Mr. Mubarak into the Evil Man of the Middle East seem to happen faster than Dr. Jekyll could turn into Mr. Hyde with a drink of his special potion? Who was beating those war drums, anyway? Let's look at how the New York Times viewed Mubarak over time. Was he always a dictator? I searched the Times for all articles containing the words "dictator" and "Mubarak", and what I found was a pattern that would have made Hearst himself smile.:
Note that the two words were seldom used in the same article (and not once in all of 2010!) until January 2011, when they were used 12 times then in February 48 times! Note also that prior to January 2011 the graph shows annual counts, while it's monthly thereafter - so the incidence of the use of those 2 words now occurs on a monthly basis about as frequently as it used to occur annually before 2011. But the difference is even more stark - if you look at the actual articles before 2011, the word dictator was almost never actually applied to Mubarak himself, but was used to refer to a different autocrat in the region - Mubarak nearly always being referred to respectfully as "President Mubarak."

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18 January 2012

Where's the Challenge in That?

Tom Friedman, the great cheerleader for the Tahrir Square uprising, today discusses the Great Dilemma now puzzling our Foggy Bottom cogitators given recent developments: Is the now politically-dominant Muslim Brotherhood a modern, moderate force pretending to be radical to its backward Egyptian constituency; or a radical Islamic force pretending to be moderate to the international community? Friedman, of course, argues that surely, both are right! And of course he has no second thoughts - no regrets whatsoever - about the overthrow of the clearly moderate Hosni Mubarak. And why should he - it's all good.
In short, the days of dealing with Egypt with one phone call to one man just one time are over. This is going to require really, really, really sophisticated diplomacy with multiple players — seven days a week.
Yeah, who wants our foreign affairs to be easy? That's like rooting for a football team and wanting them to have easy victories every game. Are you a true sports fan, or just a "homer"? Not Tom Friedman - he's a foreign policy aficionado - he's no "homer".

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13 January 2012

Things Not to Do in 2012

Do not skydive.

Do not take a ride in a hot-air balloon.

Do not fly in a small plane.

Do not bungee jump.

Do not go on a cruise.


11 January 2012

We're Eating Less Meat - Hooray?

It's taken about 3,500 years for high-density, sedentary societies to get to the point where animal protein is finally abundant enough to be eaten at every meal - and no sooner has this day arrived than our benevolent rulers have decided we'd be better off going back to 3 daily servings of gruel. Today the Times' food writer, Mark Bittman, celebrates the recent strides Americans have made in debasing their diets.
...our meat and poultry consumption will fall again this year, to about 12.2 percent less in 2012 than it was in 2007. Beef consumption has been in decline for about 20 years; the drop in chicken is even more dramatic, over the last five years or so; pork also has been steadily slipping for about five years.
He goes on to attribute much of the reason for this decrease to the troubled economy. And, apparently, we're supposed to think that's really great news - that our most nutrition-dense food product is being consumed less because it costs more. He then goes on to point out the obvious trend in people purposely eating less meat - and nothing could be better than that!

Over the course of the 3 decades that meat consumption has declined, obesity and diabetes among Americans have grown to epidemic levels. The apex of the American diet was probably the late sixties, when middle-class married women stayed home and cooked meals for the family: meals that would invariably consist of meat, a vegetable, and a starch. Desserts were often little bowls of jello or pudding or fruit cocktail. These meals might have featured too many carbs for some, and too many saturated-fats for others, but overall it was a well-balanced, nutritious meal.

Meat not only has protein but its fats provide essential nutrients as well (Vitamins A, D and E, for example). Some mothers even had the audacity to fry up beef or calve's liver in bacon grease and serve the liver topped with bacon and sauteed onions. It's hard to imagine any child managed to ever grow to maturity with the onslaught of protein and vitamins such a meal must have delivered. I still see liver sold in the supermarket, so obviously some mothers are still preparing it - perhaps DYFS should subpoena grocery-store purchase records to track these child abusers down and remove their children to safe vegan homes.

Reading the article's comments is a surreal experience - Who Are These People?
I read this article while eating my tofu, green bean, and brown rice stir-fry. I have been vegan for two years and have never felt better physically or morally. I applaud Mr. Bittman for the great piece- yes, people are choosing to eat less meat for all the right reasons: animal suffering, environmental degradation, and the horrendous health effects of a meat-based diet. I think we will continue to see the numbers drop as well as the incidence of lifestyle-related diseases.Chris Settino, Huntington NY.
Uh, not likely Chris - "the incidence of lifestyle-related diseases" has continued to go up while meat consumption has dropped - and that's what you'll continue to see. A small handful of people - those whose lives are under perfect control at all times - can indeed switch to a vegan diet that will allow them to feel satisfied and live healthily. But for most, avoiding meat will mean glombing down dreadful foods like cheese fries and mozzarella sticks and California rolls, or they will eat value-less ramen noodles or more likely pizza. But mostly, the constant scolding about eating meat has just frustrated the typical mother (fathers are still for the most part completely useless in this regard) who doesn't know what to do. Preparing a truly healthy meatless meal is quite daunting and not very tasty for children (who naturally avoid bitter tastes), and so they tend to get take-out, where the nutritional quality is exceptionally poor. The illuminati should be scolding parents to cook basic, well-rounded meals for their families, not shaming them into abandoning their traditional meals so that they can fail at preparing quinoa with roasted beets and yogurt.

Now it may be that the way meat is processed today - with all the hormones and antibiotics and fertilizers and soy grains - it's not as healthy as it should be. I don't know how true that is. But that seems like a simple matter to correct. If people were more confident about their meat diets - and these SWPL scolds turned their attention to cleaning up meat processing, then less pharmaceutical farming methods would no doubt prevail. But the goal isn't to make meat healthier - it's to eliminate it. Because, you see, meat eating is the province of troglodytes - i.e., lower-class, reactionary whites - not of the enlightened. And so eliminate it we must!

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10 January 2012

The Fourth Way

The start of the presidential election season - when a bevy of opponents battle in undignified jostling for their party's nomination and a hapless chief executive transitions the White House from executive mansion to re-electioncampaign headquarters - is often cause for lament that there isn't an alternative to this partisan bickering. But the alternative that everyone seems to want - a Third Way - a centrist course - is probably the worst. Studies have shown that the average conservative is dumber than the average liberal (it's an average, not you - calm down - think of all the left wing college professors) - but the dumbest of all are moderates. Being a moderate often means you lack the imagination and knowledge to take a real position on the issues.

But since both parties are messed up, what alternative is there? The best way is to pick and choose from the more extreme positions of each party - not too blend them together. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are always right and always wrong - but splitting each issue down-the-middle Solomon-like is no solution. Taking the best ideas from each optimizes policy. But that is really hard to do, since the result is alienating others on your side while failing to win over the side on the issues where you remain in disagreement.

Take an issue where the Democrats are clearly right - raising taxes. I would argue that taxes need to be raised on everybody - but especially the wealthy. Unfortunately, Republican ideologues will not hear of it. On O'Reilly a couple months back, both Ben Stein and Wayne Rogers - two conservative money guys - both assured O'Reilly that raising taxes on the wealthy will not cause any economic dislocation. Stein even pointed out that there is no correlation between higher economic growth and low taxes. [In fact, the opposite is probably true. Our finest growth occurred from 1947 thru the late sixties, when marginal tax rates were in the 77 - 90% range, and tax shelters were the norm - allegedly the most inefficient tax policy of all. And the 90's had overall higher growth than the 80's or (obviously) the 00's, despite higher taxes that decade.] But O'Reilly wouldn't hear of it - he prefers his ideological certainty that higher taxes just have to restrict growth over any facts that might contradict it.

The concept of a "living wage" is also a Democrat idea that should be our policy. How to implement that is not entirely clear - but certainly U.S. corporation ought to be sacrificing some level of profit and/or executive compensation so that American workers can afford to raise a family is a decent dwelling in a decent neighborhood. I'm not sure that I'm in favor of how Democrats would like to accomplish this - i.e., heavy unionization, as I feel labor unions are political animals unto themselves that ultimately harm the very communities and industries they infiltrate. But the main benefits of unionization - decent pay and fair and safe working conditions - ought to be national policy. Yet such a simple concept immediately runs afoul of modern Republican dogma that in order to compete in a global economy firms must operate unfettered by any considerations other than profit maximization.

Suppose a new kind of Republican candidate bargained with Democrats - offering a Living Wage policy for an end to the Diversity Regime? Tax increases on the wealthy in exchange for a big rollback in the Federal bureaucracy? Big investments in Green technology in exchange for rolling back restrictions on oil, gas and nuclear technology? Dramatic reductions in defense spending in exchange for a dramatic cutback on immigration, a border fence, and large-scale deportations?

I don't know if such deals could ever be pulled off, but I contend that exchanging policies like that would be far better than attempting to split the difference on any one issue.

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05 January 2012

The Most Awesomest Recovery

An economist named Karl Smith, who writes at a blog called Modeled Behavior, seems to have invented a statistic that finally can demonstrate what an awesome recovery we are in. He calls it the "Labor Soakage Rate". I don't know if he actually did invent it - he doesn't make a point of claiming he did. But if you Google "Labor Soakage" you'll find references to his blog post and a bunch of stuff on soaking up water leaks and the work needed to do so. So I'd say he invented it.

At any rate, he's using it because it appears to show a very steep rate of job growth. He calculates this "soakage" rate as the percentage change in employment minus the percentage change in the civilian population from one month to the next. So, even if jobs are being lost, and the percentage change in jobs is negative, as long it's better than the prior month, the graph will trend upwards. So it in no way measures the magnitude of job growth, or even lets us know anything about job growth itself - it only tells us about the rate of change in the change - the 2nd derivative, basically - and that this change in the change is very high!

Now maybe this is a useful statistic - if people working in banks had looked at the 2nd derivatives of housing prices, a lot of pain might have been avoided. And of course generally it's useful to find peaks and troughs. But all you've needed to be doing over the last few months is pay attention to the weekly unemployment claims numbers - which have generally dipped below 400k of late - to know that there is some turnaround in the labor market. But this statistic gives you no feel for the what kind of recovery we're in. For that, I'd prefer to compare the actual magnitude of job gains.

One other dubious approach he takes is to compare this recovery to the last one - but early-2000's recovery was routinely derided as the Jobless Recovery. So it's not much of a comparison. Plus, that recession was relatively shallow, as was the 1991 recession. The last recession to rival this one for depth was the 1982 recession, where the jobless rate actually exceeded 11% at one point. But the economy began to recover sharply in 1983. The current recovery is now in its 29th month. The chart below compares the accumulated increase in employment net of civilian population growth over the first 29 months during the recoveries from the 1982 and 2008 recessions (or the Reagan vs. Obama recoveries, if you will). You can see what a dud this recovery is.
From this view, one can't even discern any improvement in the current labor situation whatsoever.

Yet it's hard to pin the blame on Obama. This dismal job situation has been pretty much the "new normal" since 1999. Note this chart, which shows total accumulated job creation net of population growth since the 1982 recession.

From 1983 thru 1999, the economy managed to create at least one new job for each additional adult. But since job-creation peaked at 6 million accumulated net new jobs in December 1999, there has been a steady erosion in the number of working people with respect to the adult population, with only a slight flattening of the decline during the housing boom. Another way to look at it is that in this century, the civilian adult population has added 30 million more people than jobs have been created. The most obvious trend behind this is the baby-boom retirement explosion, but high levels of immigration is no doubt involved as well. Not that immigrants are jobless, but clearly ten-or-so million jobs have gone to immigrants that have not gone to the native-born.

Is there any way out? Over the next decade, the baby-boom retirements should peter out, and baby-boomers should start dying in earnest during the 2020's. So if you're young enough, I suppose there's some reason to hope.