23 April 2015

The Real Gender Bias

CNN reports on a new study showing there is a HUGE gender bias in hiring decisions in the United States and it has been this way in some fields since the eighties. You already knew there was gender bias in hiring (duh) but you probably did not know how bad it was. Check this out: The gender preference in hiring decisions was 2-to-1 in some areas for candidates with equal qualifications. 
That is an embarrassing number for a country that prides itself on equal opportunity. A 2-to-1 advantage is not even within driving distance of equal rights. 
By the way, this study matches my personal observations over a lifetime. I have been in countless meetings in which a strong gender preference in hiring was discussed behind closed doors. Now I feel terrible about all those conversations. I am officially part of the problem because I did nothing to stop it. 
I’m not sure if I mentioned that the study shows the gender advantage in hiring favors women by 2-to-1. That matches my experience in business. I have been in lots of closed-door meeting with other men discussing a preference for hiring women. I have never heard a man express a preference for hiring another man. Nor have I heard it in a private conversation. It makes me wonder how common my situation is.
The above situation seems fairly common to me, and roughly describes my experience with retail hiring decisions.  In fact, I advised my boss to hire a female because it would be good for sales and business.  The only time I’ve ever heard anti-female discrimination was with a contractor for whom I formerly worked.  He did upscale painting, and was adamant about his customers wanting paint crews that were clean-cut white males.  As such, he never hired women, non-whites, or any white male that looked like a drug user or convict.

Getting back to the point, I think the feminists have pretty clear won the workplace battle for the most part.  Women can pretty much work in any industry they choose because most of the people in charge are willing to bend over backwards to not appear sexist.  More to the point, there are of jobs where feminine traits are huge plus anyhow, which gives women in ingrained advantage in several areas.

Therefore, if women are being underrepresented in certain sectors of the economy, it’s probably because they don’t want the jobs at the price being paid, or they don’t want the jobs at all.  Not every woman wants a career; many are content to stay home and raise families.  Thus, it’s time to stop worry about male career privilege.  What we have now is about as good as it is going to realistically get.

Are Cop Cams So Bad?

David Brooks raises some objections:
All these concentric circles of privacy depend on some level of shrouding. They depend on some level of secrecy and awareness of the distinction between the inner privileged space and the outer exposed space. They depend on the understanding that what happens between us stays between us.
Cop-cams chip away at that. The cameras will undermine communal bonds. Putting a camera on someone is a sign that you don’t trust him, or he doesn’t trust you. When a police officer is wearing a camera, the contact between an officer and a civilian is less likely to be like intimate friendship and more likely to be oppositional and transactional. Putting a camera on an officer means she is less likely to cut you some slack, less likely to not write that ticket, or to bend the regulations a little as a sign of mutual care.
Of course, it’s not like people trust the cops as it is.  Trust has to be continually earned through consistent good behavior, and cops just haven’t been doing that for some time, what with their increasing militarization, no-knock raids, and accidental shootings.  In short, cops act like small-dick cowards with military complexes who think their badges make them badass alpha males that everyone must respect.  Consequently people can’t stand being around them because they tend to abuse their authority, which leads to distrust.  The cop cams are merely a reflection of that which has already occurred.  More to the point, cop cams will help to rebuild trust because they will incentivize cops to be on their best behavior, which would be a marked change from the status quo.
Putting a camera on the police officer means that authority resides less in the wisdom and integrity of the officer and more in the videotape. During a trial, if a crime isn’t captured on the tape, it will be presumed to never have happened.

Of course, it would help if cops had wisdom and integrity in the first place.  That a mechanical recording device with a host of potential for mechanical failure is considered more reliable than the average cop should indicate just how far the police have fallen in prestige and trustworthiness.
Cop-cams will insult families. It’s worth pointing out that less than 20 percent of police calls involve felonies, and less than 1 percent of police-citizen contacts involve police use of force. Most of the time cops are mediating disputes, helping those in distress, dealing with the mentally ill or going into some home where someone is having a meltdown. When a police officer comes into your home wearing a camera, he’s trampling on the privacy that makes a home a home. He’s recording people on what could be the worst day of their lives, and inhibiting their ability to lean on the officer for care and support.
This is actually a pretty fair point.  However, there is little reason to believe that cops are the only people who mediate a conflict.
Cop-cams insult individual dignity because the embarrassing things recorded by them will inevitably get swapped around. The videos of the naked crime victim, the berserk drunk, the screaming maniac will inevitably get posted online — as they are already. With each leak, culture gets a little coarser. The rules designed to keep the videos out of public view will inevitably be eroded and bent.
This is kind of an interesting point, because Brooks spends his whole time arguing that cops are mostly trustworthy and cams will undermine the trust between cops and civilians.  Now he argues that cops shouldn’t wear cams because they can’t be trusted to handle the video with propriety.

In spite of that, I can’t really say that concerns over individual dignity are that big a deal for a couple of reasons.  First, if all “colorful” incidents recorded by cop cams make it to YouTube, it’s unlikely that there will be as big effect as Brooks assumes.  Time, like all resources, is finite and so it is unlikely that any given video of perps behaving badly will get a lot of views because few people will find it worth the time.

However, these sorts of videos will be locally popular among the perps’ social circle, which should lead to greater mockery and shaming of the perps.  Like sitting in stocks, this consequence will help to marginally reduce crime by encouraging shamable assholes to put a little more thought into their actions prior to doing something.

Moreover, unless the perp is a criminal, it is unlikely that his instant celeb that comes from being posted online from a cop cam will result in any major long-term negative feedbacks.  Humans have short memories, so unless someone tries to make a perp’s post-incident life a living hell, the controversy should blow over quickly, relatively speaking.

In sum, there really is not much of a reason to oppose cop cams, at least for the time being.  Once the cops have earned back the trust of the people, then we can reconsider the costs and benefits of demonstrating trust.

22 April 2015

Triumph Over Religion

Pat Buchanan laments:
Politics follows culture. And the cultural revolution of the '60s is triumphant. Traditional Christianity, driven out of schools and the public square, is being whipped back into the churches and told to stay there.
America has gone over to the revolution. 
Looking back, the sweep of the capitulation becomes stark. 
First came the plea of atheists not to have their children forced to participate in prayers at school. Fair enough. Americans do not believe in compelling people to do as they disbelieve. 
Then followed the demand that no child be exposed to prayers or religious books, including the Bible, nor have any day or week set aside as a holiday if connected to Christianity. 
Out went Christmas and Easter. In came winter break and spring break. Coaches of high school teams were ordered to dispense with prayers before games. The coaches complied. 
No matter what the majority wanted, the minority prevailed, thanks to a Supreme Court whose dictates were never challenged by democratically elected presidents or Congresses, nor ever defied by a Christian majority. 
In the sexual revolution there came first the plea that abortion in extreme cases be decriminalized, then legalized, then subsidized, then declared a right. From crime to constitutional right in two decades!
Unfortunately, this outcome has been pretty much inevitable since the north won the civil war. Here’s why:  while the first amendment of the constitution prohibited congress from regulating religion, the individual state governments were free to do so, and could impose a state religion if they so desired (in fact, quite a few states were founded for the purpose of having a state religion, e.g. Rhode Island).  The federal government was intended to form an economic and political union among the states, and was thus entirely secular/political in nature and operation precisely because its main function was consolidate selected areas of political power to ensure that the various American states could have more sway in the global realm and thus be less subject to the overreach of European powers.

As long as the federal government amicably resolved disputes among the states, the union would be preserved, and the federal government would be relevant and have some degree of strength.  To keep the government in check the ability for states to secede from the union was implicitly understood, for if the states could not secede, than what would prohibit the federal from simply dictating to the states?  Thus, the importance of the civil war becomes obvious, for if states cannot secede, then the federal government must necessarily trump over them, and ultimately all states must adhere to the federal constitution.

Thus, when the north won the civil war, it was all but inevitable that the federal government would overpower the states and, more to the point, that secularism would triumph over religion because the federal government is secular, not religious.  While the various states still had the option to leave the union, they also had the power to establish their own religions.  Once leaving was no longer optional it of necessity became the case that religious pluralism would take hold, only to be overcome by secularism.  Funnily enough, religious pluralism is exactly what enabled the triumph of secularism because, for as an astute internet commenter has noted in the process his recent Rabid Puppies campaign, a house divided against itself cannot stand.  In order to preserve religious pluralism, it is necessary to have an irreligious moderator keep the various divisions from overpowering each other (a religious moderator could not be trusted, as it would be widely assumed to have a vested interest in something).

As pluralism increases (i.e. as more denominations pop into existence), the secular power that keeps them in line must necessarily become stronger to prevent the system from breaking down.  Thus, the great irony takes shape:  freedom of religion is death to Christianity. Only a secular state that is given authority over religion can preserve pluralism.*  And what the state giveth, it can take away.
The silver lining in all this is that the inevitable persecution will cleanse the church of its evildoers and lukewarm members.  There are two things holding the church back in America: heterodoxy and patriotism.

Heterodoxy holds America back because it absolutely demands the need for a secular government.  As long as American Christians demands the “right” to each determine their own hermeneutic and consequently draw their own lines of fellowship and recognition, they will inevitably be doomed to being regulated from above by a secular government.  (Also, given that the government is essentially playing the role of baby-sitter, it should be obvious why religion is more or less mocked in America and looked upon as inferior to secularism.)  There is a reason why Saint Paul condemned the divisions that cropped up in the CorinthianChurch:  Internecine squabbling weakens the church and subjects it to harm from without.

As a side note, this is precisely what happened during the crusades.  Whenever the Christians won, they eventually wound up bickering with each other over petty questions of power and rule.  While they bickered, the Muslim forces would recover and regroup, then attack the Christians, often successfully.  Internal division makes the church highly susceptible to outside attacks.

As bad as heterodoxy is, the American combination of religion and patriotism is even worse.  Many Christians in America seem to take pride in having religious freedom, or at least some form thereof, and therefore feel that America is a country blessed directly by the Father himself because America enshrines religious liberty as a right.  There is much to say about how the entire notion of “rights” is bullshit, to say nothing of the stupidity of manifest destiny, but those will be posts for another time.  For now, suffice it say that as long as American Christians are proud of their nation’s enshrinement of religious tolerance, they will always be valuing secularism over Christianity, whether they realize it or not.

Thus, the RFRA hullabaloo can be seen as a sign of the times, as a warning of things to come.  Given that religion conservatives are mostly modernists through and through, and continue to cling to the notion of somehow restoring America to its glory days of religious freedom, it is inevitable that widespread persecution will occur.  As long as division—seeds of dissension sown by Satan—is lauded as beautiful and desirable, the church will be persecuted until the wheat is separated from the chaff.  Though this will be painful, it is a necessary and good thing.

Fortunately, persecution is essentially a form of hormetic stress:  what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  My belief is that the persecution of the church in America will ultimately turn the heterodoxy into orthodoxy.  Weaker and more delusional sects will disappear (think Mormons, JW’s and the Pentecostals), while larger and more orthodox sects will combine and become more rigid, and thus more resistant.  My guess is that Calvinism will finally get stamped out.

From this, I think one of two scenarios is quite possible.  I think there is a decent chance that the pluralist denominations get subsumed into the Catholic church (either Roman or Greek, the former being more likely).  Alternatively, I think that fundamentalist sects merge into an orthodox group that practically turns in to the Greek Catholic church after a very long time.

Now, while widespread persecution is likely inevitable, it doesn’t have to be this way.  There is no reason why American denominations cannot stop their bickering, join together and have a uniting faith and doctrine.  Aside from pride, that is.  There are a large number of nominal Christians in this country.  As long as they are willing to work together while still in large numbers, there is no reason to think that the tide cannot be stemmed.  However, this seems to be an unlikely development as long as Christians continue to splinter off from each other and celebrate their inferiority to secularism.

* Pay close attention to this quote too:  “Last week, the Republican-dominated state legislature passed a vaguely worded statute called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It was promptly signed by Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican often touted in conservative circles as a potential presidential candidate. Ostensibly, the law simply states that the state courts in Indiana cannot intrude on an individual’s religious liberty unless it can provide a “compelling” state interest to do so.”  Even the RFRA bill assumed the state’s authority over religion!  If that’s what so-called religious conservatives are defending, no wonder they’re losing!

21 April 2015

Skepticism About Redistribution

From the NYT:
With rising income inequality in the United States, you might expect more and more people to conclude that it’s time to soak the rich. Here’s a puzzle, though: Over the last several decades, close to the opposite has happened. 
Since the 1970s, middle-class incomes have been stagnant in inflation-adjusted terms, while the wealthy have done very well; inequality of wealth and income has risen. 
Over that same period, though, Americans’ views on whether the government should work to redistribute income — to tax the rich, for example, and funnel the proceeds to the poor and working class — have, depending on which survey answers you look at, either been little changed, or shifted toward greater skepticism about redistribution. 
In other words, Americans’ desire to soak the rich has diminished even as the rich have more wealth available that could, theoretically, be soaked.
I suspect that the decreased desire of average Americans to soak the rich among can be traced to at least two issues.  First, most people have an intuitive understanding that there are limits to how much the rich can be soaked before they just up and leave.  Second, promises of soaking the rich, particularly in the name of reducing inequality often has the strange effect of soaking the middle class.

Regarding the former, most people who know or work with or for rich people (e.g. accountants) know that the rich can afford to manipulate a system to their advantage, whether by lobbying/bribery or more commonly by hiring people to manipulate the system for them, which is why tax lawyers make pretty good money.  More to the point, tax exile has been used by plenty of people who could not or did not structure their income so as to avoid paying income taxes.  Thus, it’s pretty clear that vilifying the rich, though an enjoyable pastime, doesn’t really accomplish much, save for occasionally getting rich people to make their money in country where it isn’t taxed as much, making everyone else more equal while having reduced access to ta funds.

Regarding the latter, vilifying the rich in order to push for greater fairness and equality has more or less led to the modern IRS tax code, among a host of other things.  The complexity of the tax code makes it patently unfair and necessarily increases inequality because it requires the need for specialists to help the ignorant and less-intelligent navigate and manipulate the system.  This isn’t as big a deal when for rich people (the relative costs are low and the upside is high), but it is a big deal for those who are not rich because not all can afford to hire an expert and may lack the intelligence or know-how to navigate the system to their benefit.  Since vilifying the rich to justify greater equality tends to be a smokescreen for increased systemic complexity, most people are wise to be distrustful of talk of “soaking the rich” since often turns out to be the rich soaking the peons.

There are, of course, other reasons why people aren’t as inclined to soak the rich.  Aspirational affiliation is likely among them.  Also, humans have a tendency to feel sympathetic towards the rich, partly out of the human tendency to revere high-status individuals.  Nonetheless, there is good reason to distrust talk of redistribution.  That reason is deceit.

14 April 2015

Germans and War

From Radix:
But when Christian missionaries tried to appeal to the Germanic invaders by invoking the universalism, pacifism, and egalitarianism that had attracted the alienated inhabitants of the empire, they failed. That was because the Germans practiced a folk religion that reflected ethnic homogeneity, social hierarchy, military glory and heroism, and “standards of ethical conduct ... derived from a sociobiological drive for group survival through ingroup altruism.” Germanic religion and society were “world-accepting,” while Hellenic Christianity was “world-rejecting,” reflecting the influence of Oriental religions and ethics. By “Germans,” it should be noted, Mr. Russell does not mean modern residents of Germany but rather “the Gothic, Frankish, Saxon, Burgundian, Alamannic, Suevic, and Vandal peoples, but also... the Viking peoples of Scandinavia and the Anglo-Saxon peoples of Britain.” With the exception of the Celts and the Slavs, “Germans” thus means almost the same thing as “European” itself. 
Given the contradictions between the Christian ethics and world-view and those of the Indo-European culture of the Germanic peoples, the only tactic Christians could use was one of appearing to adopt Germanic values and claiming that Christian values were really compatible with them. The bulk of Mr. Russell’s scholarship shows how this process of accommodation took place in the course of about four centuries. The saints and Christ Himself were depicted as Germanic warrior heroes; both festivals and locations sacred in ancient Germanic cults were quietly taken over by the Christians as their own; and words and concepts with religious meanings and connotations were subtly redefined in terms of the new religion. Yet the final result was not that the Germans were converted to the Christianity they had originally encountered, but rather that that form of Christianity was “Germanized,” coming to adopt many of the same Indo-European folk values that the old pagan religion had celebrated.
I’m fairly ignorant on the history of Germanic peoples and how their culture has descended through time.  Nonetheless, I think it would be quite interesting to see just how much influence those of Germanic descent have on this modern world. 

I say this because I’ve been repeatedly struck by how martial those of Germanic descent have tended to be in the last, say one thousand years.  For example, I found it interesting when reading a fairly comprehensive history of the crusades how Just War theology began to become popularized in the Roman Catholic Church soon after the Church began to bring Germanic tribes under its authority.  Moreover, as I’ve been reading van Creveld’s history of military theory, it’s also striking how large a number of military theorists in the last couple hundred years have likewise been of Germanic descent.

Perhaps there is something to the notion that our genes play a non-negligible role in making us who we are.  Perhaps there is eve something to be said for racial and ethnic stereotypes too.  Perhaps I’m just completely ignorant, and there is absolutely nothing to the notion that those of Germanic descent might be a wee bit martial and bloodthirsty.

Thoughts On The Recent Unicorn Sighting

After a couple embarrassing attempts at finding a white cop shooting a defenseless, peaceable black man, the media seems to have finallysighted a unicorn:
An eyewitness whose cellphone video put a South Carolina police officer in jail on a murder charge said Wednesday that he did not hear the white officer give any warning before he fired eight times at the back of a black man who can be seen in the footage running away before he falls to the ground. 
Feidin Santana told NBC News that while walking to work Saturday morning, he saw Officer Michael Thomas Slager controlling Walter Lamer Scott on the ground, and began recording when he heard the sound of a Taser. "Mr. Scott was trying just to get away from the Taser," said Santana, a barber originally from the Dominican Republic. "He was just looking for a way to get away from the police." 
Slager initially claimed he fired in self-defense after the suspect he had pulled over for a broken brake light grabbed his Taser. 
Santana's recording documented a different scenario. It begins at a moment when both men are standing, as Scott pulls away from the officer and an object appearing to be a stun gun falls to the ground, trailing wires. As the unarmed man runs away, Slager then pulls out his Glock pistol and fires eight times at the back of the 50-year-old man, until he crumples to the ground about 30 feet away. 
Santana also said he didn't see the officer render any first aid to Scott after he was on the ground.
A couple of thoughts come to mind.

First, a single data point is not a trend.  This appears to be the first recorded instance of unprovoked white cop shooting a defenseless black man.  This should not, as yet, be extrapolated into proof of America’s overwhelming anti-black racism.  Obama’s serving a second term as president and hasn’t been impeached in spite of his overwhelming incompetence.  While the nation may not have reached an egalitarian ideal (and whether it should even attempt to is an entirely different question), it’s not exactly apartheid over here, and blacks seem generally content to live as “second-rate” citizens instead of, say, migrating back to their home continent of Africa.  So while life in America isn’t perfect for blacks, it’s still fairly good.

Second, it should be fairly obvious that some cops are but pussies with guns.  The most obvious sign that the cop in question was a coward is seen in his attempt to place the taser next to his victim.  This was obviously a split-second decision to attempt to improve his standing for a post-incident review, since belligerent black guys who try to attack cops (e.g. Mike Brown) are not looked upon with too much favor.  Thus, if the cop could argue that he was attacked his behavior would seem more defensible.  Consequently, it seems like it would be a very good idea to have cops where body cameras non-stop while on duty.  They should still be allowed to carry guns, since they are quite obvious and natural targets, and should have the human right of self-defense.  Nonetheless, they should be held to a much higher standard of conduct than civilians, and their on-duty behavior should be monitored at all times to keep them honest.  If they engage in shootings less frequently and have to do more legwork and honest-to-goodness investigations, I’m fine with that.

Third, the victim is likewise a coward, and also a criminal, and not someone worthy of a social cause or defense.  “The wicked flee when no one pursues.”  The victim clearly had a guilty conscience.  Whether this was because of lapsed child support, for which a warrant had been issued for his arrest, or whether it was for some other crime is hard to say.  What’s clear, though, is that the victim did not behave like an innocent man.  Traffic stops are a part of life for pretty much everyone (for what it’s worth I’ve been pulled over five or six times), and remarkably few people see that as a cause to run away from the cop.  While being pulled over is never pleasant, it’s also not a cause for panicked escape.

Furthermore, while I can’t say I’m fond of the divorce and alimony laws that make it easy for men to be utterly wiped out by vindictive ex-wives and jilted baby mommas, I still find it impossible to defend a man who will not support his children.  Perhaps the terms of support were especially onerous to the victim.  Perhaps not.  Either way, I cannot defend someone who will not make the maximum effort to provide for his children.  While I do not celebrate Walter Scott’s death, by the same token I do not mourn it.

In the final analysis, there is little to like about this mess.  Honestly, it appears that Slager was simply a cop who panicked when a routine traffic stop didn’t go as planned.  Given that the last highly publicized cop shooting involved a belligerent black male who tried to attack a cop during a routine stop, it’s hard to blame the cop for being a little twitchy and overreacting to the sudden getaway attempt.  Furthermore, it’s difficult to blame the victim for being twitchy given that he had a warrant out for his arrest. That said, it was colossally stupid for Scott to have thought that trying to run away was going to improve his legal standing in any way.  Not only that, the media surely deserves blame for needlessly stirring up racial divide and hatred, which undoubtedly reduced the admittedly miniscule amount of trust between cops and black men.  Perhaps this could have gone differently if cops were more accountable, black males didn’t commit such a disproportionately large number of crimes, and the media didn’t spend so much time and energy stirring up strife.