Education Media Sex

Profs perpetrate hoax (just not the one you think)

Recently professors James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose and Peter Boghossian sent out 20 fake papers to various peer-reviewed journals. Six of them were published. This, say various news outlets, is a real black eye for gender scholarship and, perhaps, for academia in general. On closer examination, ThisWeekInStupid concludes that the real hoax was the one in which serious journalists were convinced that influential journals were publishing shoddy, but honest, scholarship.

TWIS did a thorough review of the paper, reviews and revisions of the research titled “An Ethnography of Breastaurant Masculinity: Themes of Objectification, Sexual Conquest, Male Control, and Masculine Toughness in a Sexually Objectifying Restaurant” published in Sex Roles on September 19, 2018. The paper was first submitted to and rejected by Men and Masculinities. This was the only paper TWIS examined. It’s reasonable to expect that some papers were more and some were less legitimate than this paper. TWIS did not explicitly select this paper to support a pre-determined conclusion.

All of the paper and reviews can be found here. Let me first say that it was brave and honest and sincere of the perpetrators of the hoax to publish the papers and reviews. Bravo. But they didn’t pull off what they think they did.

The Con

The original submission, to judge by the reviewer comments, was a few pages of jargon-y reflections on the fake author’s Thursday nights with the bros at the local Hooters. It was peppered with broad generalizations and hair-on-fire hyperbole of the kind that RWNJs attribute to SJWs. It also featured liberal (see what I did there?) use of the brand-new and super-clever label “breastaurant.” The fake authors were very proud of this invention and the various journalists were quite taken in by it as well. But here’s what actually did and didn’t happen.

What didn’t happen

Contrary to coverage by non-academic papers, the journals were not fooled by the original haphazard summary of conversations among 7 men at a Hooter’s restaurant after jiu jitzu class. Both journals, and all but one reviewer, heavily criticized the methods section. They complained that a single restaurant, a single coder and a participant-observer made the findings dubious. Their responses included dozens of questions about how the quotes used were selected, where and when observations and interviews occurred and how the observations were connected to the conclusions. They questioned the time frame, the underlying assumptions about the state of masculinity in the broad culture, the selection of quotes, the coding and the mind-reading of the participants.

Both journals were quick to put the kaibosh on the sweeping conclusions in the original paper. The final paper was reduced (appropriately) to a participant ethnography of a single site with appropriate caveats and qualifications. The authors of the fake paper would do well to explore the theories of ethnographic research as reviewers repeatedly reminded them. Their expectation that a single site ethnography would be enough to codify broad social conclusions indicates they have a lot to learn. The original theoretical framework, grounded theory, was rejected by both the reviewers and the journal.

The reviewers were not fooled by the dense jargon in the paper with one reviewer “encourag[ing] the author to consider word choice and ask himself when he might be inappropriately applying jargon that actually obscures the specific practices at play.” Another was even less convinced.

The use of “pastiche hegemony” and “ersatz sexual availability” is unnecessary and relieves the author of having to be more specific. They sound smart but really stand in for more tangible identification and explanations of practices. Drop these concepts, or refer to them and then move on in favor of a clearer analysis of exact observed practices.

Ouch! In the original response, the editor of Sex Roles summarized

The rigor of your research rests in sound methods, not in obscure language.

In other words, cut out the abstruse posturing. You just sound like morons.

Throughout, reviewers were skeptical of the conclusions drawn by the authors. Here are some samples from reviewers:

Whilst and interesting an engaging topic, it is unclear at the outset what novel insight or contribution this paper will be making. Much work will be required before it is of publishable standard.

The author(s) assert that “this study is mostly theoretical in its approach, but it is bolstered by comparison against my own empirical data” (p. 14, ll. 57-59). This is an unnecessary assertion. This paper may be defined as empirical by conventional standards.

There are a lot of assumptions in this paper, some of which the author uses to build a case for his work and analysis. Assumptions are a good indicator that data is thin, and this is certainly the case in this paper.

The reviewers saw the data as inadequate to draw the conclusions the authors were drawing. A single site participant-observer ethnography is just that and doesn’t give license to draw sweeping conclusions.

Finally, looking at the 20-paper hoax as a whole, the authors did not manage to achieve an impressive publication record for 3 researchers working in concert and skipping all the pesky data collection steps. The authors were quoted saying that 6 articles is enough to earn a professor tenure. That distant laughter your hear is all of the professors in the known universe. Six co-authored papers in the Journal of Poetry Therapy gets exactly no one tenured. And one article based on falsified data is enough to get you canned.

It’s important to note here the background of the fake authors. Peter Boghossian is a professor of philosophy. James Lindsey is a mathematician. These disciplines are unique in that conclusions usually are not, and need not be, backed by empirical data. As such, the authors likely don’t have much understanding of the importance of reliable data or much appreciation for the effort involved in gathering data. But biologists know. And physicists. And astronomers and chemists and geologists and political scientists and engineers and even advertising executives know that there’s a lot of trust in research. Inventing data doesn’t make you clever. It makes you a hack and a liar. A sociologist with whom I discussed this news said, “Big deal. They skipped the hard part. If I could fabricate all my data, I’d win the Nobel Prize!”

What did happen

The final response from Sex Roles indicates that this is the first ever ethnography published in their usually quantitative journal. She also mentioned that a submission by a historian is novel. One can imagine an editor, very excited to expand the (very old) journal into a new area, green-lit a project slightly outside her expertise. The editors and reviewers for Men & Masculinities, where a great deal more ethnography is published, were not fooled. Sex Roles assigned a junior editor more familiar with ethnography to bring the paper up to standard. The final paper is not good and one can feel the authors intentionally pushing the envelope trying to sneak in the maximum allowed number of outlandish claims. To our eyes, this is a case of a junior editor getting snowed by a senior professor and the enthusiasm of her superior.

The experiment actually reveals some very wonderful things about academia. In the first place, Richard Baldwin, an emeritus history professor from Gulf Coast State College, gets legitimate consideration from a sociology and psychology journal neither of which had ever published his work. Gender scholarship is not an isolated, exclusive club. The interdisciplinary interaction among historians, economists, psychologists, anthropologists and scholars of gender, race and class is a boon to scholarship.  But, contrary to the conclusions of Dr. William Eggington the willingness of Sex Roles to entertain scholarship using a variety of methods from a variety of fields is an important check on academic navel-gazing and not an indication of over-specialization.

In the second place, the journals were quite careful about participant consent and potential taint in the research due to personal relationships. The original paper didn’t mention whether participants were aware they were being studied or the relationship of the various participants to the researcher. At the insistence of reviewers, the paper was revised to (dishonestly) indicate that participants, including wait staff, gave consent, that interviews were recorded, etc.

Finally, the ignorance of the authors of concepts and practices in gender studies was ruthlessly laid bare by reviewers. Throughout the reviews, the authors were taken to task for imprecise use or misuse of terms–“coding,” “discourse,” “theme,” “scripts,” “neoliberal-patriarcho-capitalist” (for heaven’s sake), etc.

There is one quite laughable assertion by the fake authors in response to their intellectual paddling at the hands of Men & Masculinities.

Nota bene: The second reviewer is particularly harsh, it is reasonable to conclude that the paper was rejected on the review of the second reviewer. Upon our reading of this review, it seems that the second reviewer wanted us to write a completely different paper, focused more on themes of feminism than on those of masculinity, even though having done so would likely have taken the paper outside of the scope of the journal Men & Masculinities for which it was being reviewed.

This is a bizarre reading of the reviewer’s comments which were actually a criticism of the paper’s methods and the objectivity of the (imaginary) researcher. The review included this passage:

The author really ignores the women as research participants. There needs to be a better, empirical and theoretical explanation for why the author focuses solely on men when the women are clearly key to the interactional processes by which (a particular kind of masculinity – be clear) is supported through women’s work. Ignoring women as participants risks further objectifying them.

Preach! (Did you notice how he authors got a bonus lesson? There is more than one kind of masculinity! There might even be enough to say about masculinity to fill a whole journal!) The reviewer also made this comment which argues that the paper found the women in the space occupying the only role that the research design allowed them to:

Ironically, the author brings women into his analysis only in terms of how they act as “identity resources” for men—that is, he seems to argue one of his main findings is that women are identity resources, but also reduces them to such by not conducting an analysis of women’s agency. Toward the end of the paper, he even suggests that the “power always flows from customer to server”—i.e., men have and exert power over women. This analysis is reductionist.

The ignorance of the hucksters is fully on display here. Naturally, thought the rubes, a journal called “Men & Masculinities” is a place where the behaviors and assumptions of men can be safely analyzed without the pesky intrusion of the sentient feminine. Isn’t there any space left where men can conduct research about manly men in men’s spaces without some feminist interjecting to insist that the women in the story are people!?

Let’s also take a minute to appreciate that the pandering authors were trying to toe the party line with their comment that men always have the power. Meanwhile, the journal, ostensibly packed to the gills with single-minded feminists and “grievance scholars,” stops them short, pointing out that, even in the relatively uncomplicated space of Hooters, the power dynamics are more complicated.

The fake authors submitted shoddy research. On being found out, they doubled down on deception, adding fake details to their methods to address reviewers’ accurate criticisms. In the end, they effectively falsified data, something which would be no more easily detected in physics or engineering and, which, in fact, happens all the time. What’s more, as they began by trying to broadly extrapolate from woefully inadequate data they were thwarted and called to task. That was the prank, you see. “I can get these idiots to publish my ramblings on hanging out at Hooters with my bros. Tee-hee.” But after review, the corrected manuscript was pared down to present the findings as honestly and circumspectly as the deception of the authors allowed. Your participant-observations of your bros are legitimate if you follow established research protocols and forthrightly declare your methods. This is how participant ethnography happens.

TWIS did not take time to review all 20 articles, or even the 7 which were published. We refuse to buy into the Gish Gallop that assumes, without examination, that all represent poor scholarship or to be buried by the proof by verbosity. But, if we assume all of the papers followed a path similar to that of the “Hooters” paper, academia passes the test put to it.

America Race

No lecture for the white guys

We’re going to have to make this a regular column. My last post was about how conservative states’ rights/local solutions arguments suddenly evaporate when the aim of federal programs is to persecute minorities, rather than protect them.

But we’ve not plumbed the depths of conservative hypocrisy yet.

“Culture of failure”

If you’ve watched Fox News any time in the last 8 years, there’s a good chance you’ve heard that the only thing standing between minority communities and success is personal responsibility. Mitt Romney famously attributed the difference in economic success between Israeli Jews and Israeli Muslims to “culture.” The UN emphatically disagrees. But the most popular place to apply this trope is unquestionably black communities in the US. Since the Right has declared racism officially over, the success of black communities is in their own hands. And, by extension, if black communities don’t succeed, they have no one to blame but themselves. They could succeed if they could rid their communities and their lives of drugs, get and stay married and stay in school. You may also have heard about our black President’s failure as a leader to lecture young black men into successful careers as bow-tie-clad hedge fund managers. According to the Right, any discussion of racial disadvantage is unmanly excuse-making. Minorities should stop blaming anyone else for their problems, pick themselves up by their bootstraps, and get a job.

No scolding for the white kids?

But the discussion of white poverty and economic hardship looks very different. White Appalachian coal miners and factory workers really are victims, you see. They can’t be blamed for their increased drug use or suicide or the increasing failure of their marriages or their inability or unwillingness to relocate or retrain for new jobs. Obama’s failure with respect to them (to listen to right-wing media) was too little coddling. When unemployed factory workers blame their hardship on “Obama’s NAFTA” and vote for Trump, it’s not complaining or shirking their personal responsibility. It’s making America great again! Because the natural order of things is for policies like tariffs and subsidies to benefit white, native-born people as they have for generations. This heavy-handed tilting of the economic playing field in favor of white people is not a hand-out. It’s restoring the natural order. See?

This, ladies and gentlemen (and Bill O’Reilly), is what privilege looks like. When Parties and nations mobilize to solve your problems and whole governments are turned upside down out of fear of your electoral wrath, you’ve made it. All the brown folks are entitled to is a scolding from “their” President.

A better way

The Left should not fall into the trap of scolding and blaming rust-belt factory workers for the disaster President Trump is making of our country. They are victims of a system they could not control. And I, for one, do not envy their position. Instead, progressives should be inviting these victims of capitalism back into the Party fighting for a gentler economic system. And we can do so without amplifying their dangerous jingoist streak. In the past, we have been able to have a nuanced discussion of the connections between poverty and irresponsible behavior and we know the importance of digging to find the systemic causes of poverty. This is our chance to show the world the that love sees no color and that whether you’re a victim of driving while black or black lung disease, we’ve got your back.

Race Trump

Look, dummies. It’s about race.

My community is embroiled in a debate over whether to declare ourselves a “sanctuary city.” There’s widespread misunderstanding about this term. It means that local police will not arrest or investigate someone for no other reason than the suspicion that they’re breaking immigration laws. ICE can still operate in sanctuary cities. Persons arrested for other crimes can still be investigated for immigration violations and reported to ICE. The difference between sanctuary cities and other cities is that, in sanctuary cities, local police do not do the job of ICE. They serve the community and defend them against property and personal crimes irrespective of immigration status. Both citizens and non-citizens are safer in sanctuary cities because every minute police spend checking residents’ papers is a minute they don’t spend making the community safe. If deportations are important to the nation, they can pay for the enforcement, but the police in my community have enough to do.

The question of sanctuary cities also lays bare a truth about American politics. The “state’s rights” arguments made famous by Barry Goldwater and touted by Republicans since that time are nothing but a guise for racism. When the question is school integration or voting rights, it doesn’t take two sentences for Republicans to retreat to Constitutional assurances of the primacy of States. Local solutions, they tell us, are the thing that makes this country great. The citizens of South Carolina and Arkansas can and should (and must!) be entrusted with the protection of the rights of minorities in their own state. Federal interference is unconstitutional.

But on the question of sanctuary cities, Federal agencies like ICE are, apparently, within their rights to commandeer local and state police to conduct their business. In this case, States and municipalities, it seems, are incapable of making decisions about protecting minorities against unlawful search. Why the sudden about face by Republicans? Where are the cries for local solutions and the fears of federal tyranny?

The difference, of course, is the skin color of the persons being oppressed. It’s OK to use federal power to terrorize Hispanic communities. They’re not Republicans anyway.

#BecauseMath Economics Taxation Unemployment

Will low corporate taxes bring the jobs back?

Many promises have been made that any number of conservative policies will bring jobs back to America. In this post, we’ll examine the claim that lower corporate taxes will reduce offshoring of jobs by presenting a simple example.

Imagine a multinational company, Big Widget Inc. (BWI), can make widgets either in the United States or in Mexico. In Mexico, where environmental regulations are gentler and wages lower, BWI can make widgets for $90. In the United States, they can make widgets for $95. No matter where they manufacture them, they can sell widgets for $100 in the United States.

Now, in this fictional world, let’s imagine the corporate tax rate is the same 40% in both countries. How much tax will BWI pay and to whom? Answering this requires a short primer on transfer pricing. When a company does business in 2 countries, it has a separate affiliate organization in each country. When goods manufactured by BWI Mexico are imported by BWI America, BWI assigns a “price” for those goods as if BWI Mexico sold those goods to BWI America. The price is called the transfer price. Ideally, this price will match the price that two unaffiliated companies would agree on. The terminology here is “arms length.” The tax authority in each country tries to prevent companies from gaming the transfer price, but there’s some wiggle room here.

If the two countries have the same tax rate, then BWI doesn’t care what the transfer price is. But, the two countries do. If the transfer price is $90, then BWI Mexico recognizes zero profit in Mexico and the USA collects all the taxes. If the transfer price is $100, then BWI Mexico recognizes all of the profit and Mexico collects all the taxes. In either case, BWI pays 40% of it’s $10 profit, or $4.

But Republicans tell us that reducing that corporate tax rate will bring that manufacturing back to the USA. Let’s explore that.

Imagine America cut its corporate income tax to 10% while Mexico holds its tax rate at 40%. In this scenario, BWI wants to minimize the transfer price for widgets. If the transfer price is $90, BWI can recognize the whole $10 profit in the USA and pay just $1 (10%) on its US profit. That’s a nice windfall for BWI but a big loss in tax revenue for Mexico. Mexico will probably insist on a higher transfer price. Maybe $95. At that transfer price and those tax rates, would widget manufacturing return to America?

By importing widgets at a $95 transfer price, BWI can make a $5 profit in each country. Mexico charges a 40% tax on the $5 attributed to BMI Mexico and the US charges 10% on the profit attributed to BWI America, so BWI Mexico pays $2 in taxes (40% x $5), BWI America pays $0.50 and BWI keeps a $7.50 after tax profit. That’s certainly better than the $6 after tax profit before the rate cut. But will BWI be motivated to move manufacturing to the US? In America, they can manufacture widgets for $95 and sell them for $100 and make a $4 after tax profit. BWI will still import since $7.50 beats $4. In fact, even at a transfer price of $100, which forces all profit on imported widgets to be taxed at the high Mexican rate, BWI *still* makes higher after tax profit by importing. The transfer price has to be over $105 (forcing the BMI America to sell at a loss!) before manufacturing in the US generates higher profits (Try it!).

I, myself, don’t see much reason to believe lowering the tax rate will boost American manufacturing. But, there’s another effect of this strategy that’s even more distressing. The policy fight over the transfer price rearranges some political alliances. We can see this by examining the desires of each of several parties–the US government, the Mexican government, US manufacturers and US workers. Two parties have an interest in a low transfer price. The US government wants a low transfer price so that profit is recognized in the US and can be taxed there. Manufacturing firms also want a low transfer price since they can pay less tax overall by moving profits to the low-tax US.

There are two parties in favor of high transfer prices, too. The Mexican government wants a high transfer price to keep taxable profits in Mexico. The other party interested in a high transfer price is American workers. It was only a very high transfer price that made manufacturing in the US more attractive. So, US workers and their unions will push to keep the transfer price high in order to move manufacturing from Mexico to the US. The sudden drop in the US corporate tax rate aligns US corporations and the US government in opposition to the Mexican government and US workers. The reader is left to decide for themselves who they think will win this political fight–the combined forces of multinational firms and US legislators or the Mexican government and American workers. But you can probably guess what I would predict.

This gaming of the corporate tax rate has two sets of winners, both of them powerful. But none of them are you and me.

Elections Trump

Trump supporters ARE the meteor

My Republican friends are all torn up inside over what terrible choices 2016 has left them. Next post will address the absolute insanity in pretending Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are somehow comparably dangerous. But first, some reflection for my Republican friends.

Dear Republicans,

See, here’s the thing. Trump supporters *are* the meteor, the Krakken, SkyNet. You, dear GOP, are living “Little Shop of Horrors“. In fact, I think Little Shop of Horrors is the perfect metaphor for the Trump wing of your Party. Here you are, wringing your hands over what to do with your monster, born from Nixon’s Southern Strategy and lovingly nurtured from birth on a diet of mild xenophobia; white, male entitlement and post-truth “news”. When they lost their jobs and their retirement, you told poor white people it was the fault of the black President and his brown supporters. You couldn’t tell them the truth–that capitalism has victims and that a healthy society has to make provisions to care for them–because, well, “I’m not paying for health care for no unemployed freeloader!” So, instead, you made stuff up.

You had lots of chances to step in and say, “Gee. I wonder if we’ll ever regret creating an entire TV channel and blogosphere where true/false is a minor, secondary concern compared with pro/anti-Obama.”

“You know he’s not a Muslim, right? Shall we correct that?”
“Are you kidding? Look at the ratings!?”

“Apologizer-in-chief? Doesn’t that seem a little overstated. I mean, we did just bomb, then invade a country for what turned out to be two completely fabricated reasons.”
“Whose side are you on? It’s like you want higher taxes. I’m telling Grover!”

“He just said Reagan never negotiated with terrorists. Are we going to correct that?”
“Well, but doesn’t it FEEL like Reagan never negotiated with terrorists though?”

And then came the Trump. You couldn’t shut up the Trump when he came with his birther nonsense. Your base’s ability to process a pro-Obama truth had atrophied way too far. By then, you no longer had control of the narrative. You had a microphone, but you sure weren’t going to be caught defending Obama with only truth as your defense!

So, here we are. The years you might have spent creating a platform, you squandered on a Benghazi investigation–then 6 more. You’ve brought up half your party unable to distinguish a misogynist, racist, dangerously unhinged narcissist who wants nuclear weapons for the world, state-controlled press, the intentional targeting of civilians and who won’t commit to being bound by the results of an election; from a woman who used the wrong email. Just like you taught them. For a while, pandering to the basest aspects of your Party won you two houses of Congress, state houses and governorships. But now, Audrey II needs you to chop up what’s left of your responsible economic platform, your family values and your respect for anyone different from yourself and feed it to the beast you’ve nurtured. Tough choices. What would Seymour do?

Sincerely missing the old GOP,


America Class Gender Race

Unstrange bedfellows

While it may be counting chickens before they’re hatched, this election seems to be slipping from the tiny fingers of Donald J. Trump. America, you did it! It was the bare minimum required of a democracy hopeful of its continuance, but you did it.

The GOP has already begun its quadrennial public mortification and, in true Republican form, they don’t have a clue. George Will figures this will be accomplished in a single sentence, “Perhaps it is imprudent to nominate a venomous charlatan.” This has been expressed more concisely elsewhere. You can find half a dozen fresh columns by conservative pundits each week insisting that The Donald has damaged the brand and, crucially, that he was never a real Republican any way and could we please just move on from this whole ugly episode. I see that point. I really do. The Republicans I know have no use for the misogyny, religious persecution, racism or protectionism of the Trump campaign. Their shtick is small government, local solutions, free markets, etc., etc.. They opposed Trump every step of the way and are a fine example of putting principle above Party. Bravo, #NeverTrumpers!

The point of this post is not to rub salt in their wounds. The traditional fiscal conservatives are entitled to their wrong opinions on taxing and spending. They don’t have to take credit for Trump any more than I have to take credit for everything said by the anti-natalists at NARAL. But, in my opinion, Republicans have put far too little thought into how they got here. Is it merely a coincidence that the free market advocates and the racists ended up in the same party? It is, after all, a genuinely impressive trick to win the votes of lower-class whites while advancing a host of policies that would take money from their pockets. Are Republicans just that good?

The key to understanding the big, peculiar circus that is the GOP is the concept that inspires the most eye-rolling from them. The connection between the “where’s the fence!” wing and the “taxation is theft!” wing of the GOP is … privilege. More accurately, it’s the willful or accidental ignorance of inherited privilege in the United States circa 2016. In order for the GOP to exorcise these demons, they’re going to have to first understand, then acknowledge the existence of, privilege and their relationship to it.

What privilege is not

We almost need a new word for this phenomenon. Modern conservatives have so shut themselves off from understanding the concept of privilege that they can’t speak of it sans sarcasm.

“Sorry guys. Gotta go. My white privilege job needs my attention.”

“With all this male privilege I’m enjoying, people just throw money at me.”

(It’s long been established that conservatives are abysmally losing the contest for comedic superiority. Low expectations are key here.)

I wish it didn’t have to happen, but let me say what’s been said thousands of times before: White privilege does not mean you didn’t work for the things you have. The rewards, financial and other, that you receive, are undeniably correlated with the effort you put in. Congratulations!

What we mean when we say that you enjoy “privilege” is that this correlation between effort/character and wealth is not perfect. And, some of the additional variation can be accounted for by your race/gender/religion/parentage/etc.. That’s it. You work hard. But some people who work just as hard as you receives less because they have different parents. Is that so hard to imagine?

We’ve explained this in a hundred different ways. The playing field is not level. Some people are born on 3rd base. There are comics. And object lessons. And a personal address to a lost Yalie. The resources are out there.

White privilege also does not mean that no woman or Black person has ever succeeded. That’s not how a statistical correlation works. At the upper end of the bell curve for all races/genders, we’ll find highly talented, motivated and lucky people who succeed. But that does not mean that one population does not enjoy an unearned advantage. Obama and Oprah do not mean racial privilege is over.

Why privilege is the glue

Privilege is the glue that holds together the Brooks Brothers wing and the patriotic jumpsuit wing of the GOP. The fiscal laissez-faire conservatives want to shrink government since it takes money from deserving makers and redistributes it to unworthy takers. But this only works if you think possessing wealth is highly correlated with deserving wealth. As you become aware of the myriad ways society and its institutions give incremental advantages to (for example) white men born into wealth and put obstacles in the path of lower-class Latinas, this argument becomes a lot less compelling. The weaker you believe that correlation between wealth and character to be, the less you’re concerned about taxing rich people to pay for programs for poor people. Wealthy Republicans believe this correlation is strong and taxes are, therefore, immoral.

The Trump wing of the party has a different privilege problem. They have a hard time coming to grips with their historically-conferred advantages. As astutely observed by Michael Kimmel, Trump is drawing support from the aggrieved entitlement of non-college educated white men and women. These are men and women who pine for the world of their parents and grandparents when a job in the factory got you a house, health care and a retirement. But this set up was always made possible by the presence and effort of both a domestic and an international underclass. Discrimination in employment, housing and education has bolstered the incomes and suppressed the rents of white people for decades. As that discrimination is eliminated, white people find it hard to build the life their parents had with only their high school diploma.

Even leaving aside state-side discrimination, the lives of Americans have been subsidized by the accident of their birth in the United States. The expansions of free trade has reduced that subsidy as well, to the benefit of the international lower class. But even if the knocking down of trade barriers benefits both rich and poor countries on the whole, there are individual victims within those countries. These disenfranchised Trump supporters see this as giving away the jobs to which they are entitled.

It’s not incorrect for this group to recognize themselves as victims of globalization. What’s incorrect is thinking the system has suddenly become unfair because you have to compete with Mexicans on a level field. The system has suddenly become fair and the real problem, that a modern economy does not support low skilled workers at American wages, was previously masked by tariffs. In effect, the US government has been picking winners and losers for decades now. Once it stopped, non-college workers discovered that the market made them the losers in this game.

Unfortunately, the GOP is the wrong place for economic losers. In the Republican Party, those who can’t support themselves have deficient character. So the GOP has to hide from it’s non-college voters the fact that they’re victims of the market. They’ve paraded various scapegoats during the Obama Presidency, but Trump’s genius was to latch on to a scapegoat with a long tradition in Republican states–the brown people.

The college-educated Republican elite are perfectly willing to paint this Republican underclass as victims of a system propping up minorities at their expense. They don’t believe in privilege either and, without white racial resentment, their political future is bleak. But the gig is up. I know right now we liberals are supposed to be sheepishly apologizing and examining our own unfortunate prejudices. But when I contemplate this country long term I believe privilege denialism is near its end. Every day, the racist and misogynist machinations of the system are more apparent. And when that glue that holds this twisted Republican coalition together dissolves, a new day dawns.

Elections Taxation

TWIS: Bernie Sanders is no Socialist!

The knives have come out. George Will has exposed the dark secrets we knew had to be lurking in Bernie Sanders’ closet. Here’s his attack piece in National Review. As an hoers d’ouevre, Will accuses Bernie of caucusing with Democrats (gasp!). And as if that wasn’t bad enough, he’s apparently not even a good enough socialist for Comrade Will. Socialism, says Will, used to mean “government ownership of the means of production.” Over  time, according to Will, this idea was diluted to mean simply taxing rich people more than poor people and providing programs that benefit poor people more than rich people. So, it turns out Bernie Sanders is not a Socialist in the comic conservative propaganda sense. He’s just a reasonable guy who has less faith than many people on the Right in the magical incantations whereby letting rich people keep all their money makes poor people richer.

This mealy-mouthed Socialism lite doesn’t work for Michele Malkin either, who can’t tell the difference between Hugo Chavez and Comrade Bernie. For Michele, policies like free college education can’t have any other motivation than “punishing” and “shaming” the “wealth-creators,” peace be upon them. Bernie’s moderate Euro-socialism is clearly not comfortable for conservatives. If word gets out that socialism just means taxing rich people to provide basic necessities to poor people, the fanged Jabberwock that drives conservatives to the polls will turn out to be sorta sensible, if slightly idealistic, policy. And so, Malkin reminds us in National Review that there’s but a razor thin distinction, hardly even worth mentioning, between breaking up the big banks and impaling hedge-fund managers on stakes.

Confronted by new and perplexing ideas, the impulse of the Stupid (and, if fact, all of us) is to retreat to the safety of simplistic categories and pithy platitudes. Ambiguity is not for the faint of heart. But therein lies safety and prosperity.

I’m With Stupid

HeyStupid is a socialist in the vein of Bernie Sanders and this might be a good opportunity to lay out my case for redistribution. Because I’m not running for any office, I can say what Democratic politicians (except Bernie Sanders) can’t: The current distribution of wealth is, to a large degree, not based on merit and therefore preserving it is not inherently moral. Let me rephrase. I reject the conservative notion that income is strongly correlated with superior character or work ethic.

That doesn’t seem to bother some conservatives. I’ve asked a few of my friends to evaluate the following scenario. Imagine that your paycheck, and in fact, everyone’s paycheck, was based, either partially or entirely, on a dice roll. You could change jobs if you want, but the result of this dice roll would follow you. In that scenario, I ask my conservative friends, would explicit wealth redistribution still be immoral. Imagine that fifty percent of your salary were determined this way. In that case, would you support taxing the very richest people at 50%? Most of them agree with me on this point. Then the question becomes, how much of peoples’ income can we reasonable attribute to their talent and work ethic? Even Greg Mankiw, reliable defender of the 1%, couldn’t see his way clear to assigning more than 22% of income variation to genetics. The rest was upbringing, family connections and plain, dumb luck. I don’t disagree with them that taking money from people that earned it by their efforts is bad. I just have a lower estimate of the fraction of wealth that is actually distributed according to merit.

I’d like to clarify that I don’t hate the rich. I don’t fault them for winning the socioeconomic lottery or for playing the game the very best they can. But I don’t like the game and I think it should be changed.

Now, some of my friends have no moral objection to redistribution. They have more practical concerns with redistribution. Mostly, they complain that high tax rates demotivate the wealthy. Why, after all, would they get out of bed and go to work at their very hard jobs if they didn’t make a whole lot of money? But this is trivial. The wealthy don’t go to work to make money. They go to work to make more money than someone else. Sure, you might initially have a few people that decide to hang it up and sail around the world rather than work for a paltry $2.4 million/year after taxes. But before long, no one would notice they had less than before because they’d be too busy worrying about having less than someone else. And off they’d go again.

In redistributing wealth, we are bound to, in some cases, take money from deserving, hard-working people, and give it to undeserving, lazy people. It’s time we came to grips with this. However, since our starting point is monumentally unfair, I feel quite confident our new distribution could scarcely be worse than the one that exists now.

Gender Health Care Sex

TWIS : I believe life begins at conception

“Well, I believe life begins at conception.”

You don’t. It might seem convenient or fashionable in your circle to say that, but it’s important to think that through. And the place that idea inevitably takes us is a bleak vision of government surveillance and control. You see, for every person born in the US, two fertilized eggs died. That means induced abortion (the kind we always holler about) is about 9% of the unborn deaths in the country. But where’s the outrage over the other 91%? Where’s the campaign to raise research dollars to stop failed implantation and spontaneous abortion? If  SIDS were killing two-thirds of babies, you can bet we’d hardly talk about anything else. And why aren’t we prosecuting for manslaughter those parents who fail to maximize their zygote’s chances. If you really believed life begins  at conception, you ought to favor the following policies.

Mandatory birth control. Unprotected sex, because it has such deadly consequences for zygotes, would need to be carefully controlled. This is especially true of married couples who are by far the most likely to be having unprotected sex. Couples would need to undergo an examination to determine they have maximized implantation chances before they are allowed to pursue pregnancy. Forgetting to take your birth control is now a prosecutable offense.

Lots more money for the NIH. Great research is being done to improve implantation rates for in vitro fertilization (IVF). Most of this research is funded by the NIH or NSF. However, one Party in particular is determined to keep those budgets low. We should expand research related to infertility by 10X at least. (As a bonus, we just might improve the lives of the post-natal!)

Mandatory tubal ligation at 35. Beyond 35, implantation rates begin to drop. In IVF clinics, it’s been found that 45% of (in vitro) fertilized eggs successfully implant for women under 35. As women age, that rate drops quite quickly to about 7% for women over 40. Remember that IVF involves fertilizing up to a dozen egg cells, then selecting the healthiest ones and implanting at the optimal time. Natural implantation rates are liable to be quite a bit lower.

Mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds. As you can imagine, the state of the uterine walls is critical for successful implantation. Women seeking to come off of their (state-mandated) birth control should undergo a transvaginal ultrasound to determine their viability. Women with insufficient uterine walls may be required to lose weight or make other dietary and lifestyle changes in order to pursue pregnancy.

In short,  if life begins at conception, there’s going to be a whole lot more of Uncle Sam in your vagina. Even if the only sex you’re having is with your spouse. And, lest you gentlemen feel left out, there is evidence that your health can have an effect on implantation as well. Get ready to drop those drawers for your state scrotum inspection!

Now, ThisWeekInStupid supports a grown-up discussion of when life begins. But we want it clear at the outset that it won’t just be about slut-shaming unmarried women. If life begins at conception, the choices of all of us are going to need to be severely restricted.

America Foreign Policy War

Pre-emptive Candy-bombing!

Since no one else seems willing to be President, I guess I’ll have to finally lay out my platform, officially. Despite all my rantings on widely varying subjects, I, heystupid, have only one plank to my Presidential platform: pre-emptive candy bombing. For those unfamiliar with the concept of candy-bombing, the original candy bomber, Gail “Hal” Halvorsen, dropped candy from his C-54 cargo plane to the children of Berlin in the aftermath of World War II. Soon, American candy makers were sending chocolate by the ton and Americans were mailing their own handkerchiefs to Halvorsen to use as parachutes. Almost 70 years later, Colonel Halvorsen was invited to carry the German team’s national placard during the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics. There’s a school in Berlin named for him. Check him out here:

This is a terrific example of winning hearts and minds at the price of about 12 cents per heart.

However, it occurs to me that it’s wasteful and unnecessary to bomb a country with ordnance before we bomb it with food, water, clothing, medicine, malaria nets, soccer balls and, yes, candy. We should be mercilessly pre-emptively candy-bombing (and potato-bombing and water-bombing and amoxicilin-bombing and …) dozens of countries, especially our enemies. Let them tremble before our charity! Hal Halvorsen said, of his act, “It wasn’t the candy that was important. What was important was that somebody–an American–knew I was in trouble. Somebody cared.” Imagine how many fewer countries we’d have to invade if the people of the world felt like Americans knew their struggles and cared.

So, if elected my first priority will be to redirect one-third of the US military budget to humanitarian and rescue efforts. The US military already does a lot of humanitarian work, and they do it astoundingly well. Coupling these efforts with military capability will help ensure aid is directed where most important. But, let us go into this venture with open eyes. There will be American casualties from this, despite our best efforts. What could be more noble than to die that families may have enough to eat?

I propose we raise a worldwide generation whose first memory of the stars and stripes is attached to a Hershey bar and a bottle of Pepsi (or a SodaStream!). HeyStupid 2016!

Foreign Policy War

TWIS: Either have a good plan or a long-term plan

It seems like you can always count on Dr. Ben Carson to provide a fresh, hot batch of stupid to save your (sorta) weekly column. He was interviewed by The Hill and said (as he had to), “I was never in favor of going into Iraq.” So far, so good. But his follow-up was priceless. “When you go into a situation with so many factions and such a complex history,” he said, “unless you know what you’re doing or have a long-term strategy, it just creates more problems.” Now, Dr. Carson might have meant we should have both knowledge and a long-term strategy, except that he adds “..and since we did go in, the big problem is that we didn’t secure victory there, and that’s a huge problem.” In other words, since you didn’t know what you were doing going in, you’d better make up for it by staying longer.

This is the unanswered question for the Right. Imagine you’re Barack Obama in 2009. You’ve inherited two wars. Both will be a decade old (twice as long as WWII) by the end of your first term and rapidly approaching the 100,000 deaths and 4 trillion dollar mark. What’s a traitorous, deficit-ballooning, secret Muslim election-stealer to do? Continue Bush’s folly, rooted in deception, greed and industrial-strength denial? Cut and run? Stay the course?

The answer from the Stupid, of course, is that you should have done the opposite of whatever Barack Obama did do. Since he left, then the right (Right!) answer was not to leave. But was it? By 2010, the government of Nouri al-Maliki, Shia prime minister of Iraq, was corrupt, sectarian and weak. It was heavily supported by Iran-backed, loosely-controlled Shia militia. It was complicit in the persecution of the Sunni minority. The actions of this government and its thugs really created ISIS in Iraq.

I’ve never heard a critic of Obama’s Iraq policy state what should have been the criteria for withdrawing troops from Iraq. How long, after all, should we have continued to prop up the Maliki government in contradiction of its own expressed wishes? John McCain thinks we should have stayed for 100 years. At least he has the courage to say so. Cowards like Carson make sideways allusions to some phantom fool-proof strategy that’s a bound to succeed. Clowns like Donald Trump comically state they have a secret silver bullet strategy, but won’t tell us what it is.

Politics is politics, of course, but now we have a chorus of GOP Presidential candidates who brazenly advocate for the reinvasion of Iraq. (Carson, to his credit, is not one of them.) For the GOP, and their defense contractor backers, war doesn’t need a goal. It is the goal. The more nebulous and unattainable the exit strategy, the better.

Madonna once said, “I prefer young men. They don’t know what they’re doing, but they can do it all night!” Looks like Dr. Ben and the GOP may have found another fan of their foreign policy.