A Christmas movie compilation:
A reader offers a cri de couer against increasing the minimum wage:
You quote a number of academics who seem to have no real-world experience. The minimum wage kills jobs. End of story. I am a perfect example. I run a very successful financial advisory practice, and I would gladly hire two or three teens to work for me personally. But I will not do it at the minimum wage. They simply don’t bring enough economic benefit to warrant me paying them that much. So, what’s the end result? Two or three teens go without a job and instead do nothing. No job. No experience. No learning. Nothing.
I personally know at least a dozen seniors in high school and freshmen in college who would jump at the opportunity to work with me for nothing, let alone $3 per hour or $5 per hour. All of the ancillary skills and benefits would far outweigh any wage they may earn. Yet, the minimum wage laws prevent this from happening. And instead they are just unemployed – economic casualties. I still have a successful business with or without them. They suffer, not me.
The reader sounds like many liberal magazines with unpaid intern programs. Update from a reader:
If he really needs to hire a helper for his business, he would do so, regardless of the minimum wage. But his business, he says, is “very successful,” so he’s obviously prospering without a young mentee. He would, however, as some sort of public service, be happy to pay “two or three teens” less than the minimum wage to work for him. Okay then, let’s take him at his word – if he could pay two teens $5/hour or three teens $3/hour, why can’t he afford to pay one teen $7.50/hour – or even the $15/hour implied by three teens at $5/hour? Since he won’t suffer with 3, 2, 1 or no hires, as he says, the minimum wage should make no difference. So why the discrepancy? Well, that would probably be because he’s completely full of crap.
The reader who cares not for how many studies have shown the minimum wage is not a job killer is a great example for your epistemic closure files. What could professional economists with centuries of combined training who have spent decades studying this question, bringing together data from a variety of economies across the world know, compared to one man who wishes he could pay low wages? I hope his contempt for data doesn’t extend to his business, as financial advising should be a data-driven endeavor.
Meanwhile, other readers are criticizing Gary Becker for arguing that France’s generous minimum wage is to blame for its jobless problem:
Enrollments have increased significantly:
Kliff provides details:
Just about 1.2 million people have gained health coverage through Obamacare, according to new federal data released Wednesday morning. Approximately 365,000 of those people have purchased private insurance and 803,000 have been determined to be eligible for the public Medicaid program. These numbers count data from both October and November, and show an especially quick growth in HealthCare.gov enrollment.
Philip Klein downplays the enrollment spike. He focuses on individuals buying private plans:
Just 364,682 Americans picked a health insurance plan through President Obama’s health care program between the Oct. 1 launch of the insurance exchanges and Nov. 30, the Department of Health and Human Services announced today. Though the pace of signups accelerated during November, as only 106,185 Americans had picked plans as of Nov. 2, the combined signups were still less than half the administration’s target of 800,000 enrollments by the end of November. Adding a caveat, HHS noted that it is trying to correct a problem that may have resulted in some of the signups being counted twice, thus potentially overstating the number.
Josh Barro puts the numbers in a much more favorable light:
Uruguay becomes the first country to legalize the cannabis trade:
The law, effective from next year, will allow registered users to buy up to 40 grams of marijuana a month from a chemist’s; registered growers to keep up to six plants; and cannabis clubs to have up to 45 members and cultivate as many as 99 plants. A government-run cannabis institute will set the price – initially likely to be close to the current black market rate of $1 a gram – and monitor the impact of the program, which aims to bring the industry under state control and push illegal traffickers out of business.
The country’s president has positioned the law as a test:
Before the passage of the bill, president José Mujica called on the international community to assist in what he admitted was an experiment aimed at finding an alternative to the deadly and unsuccessful war on drugs. “We are asking the world to help us with this experience, which will allow the adoption of a social and political experiment to face a serious problem–drug trafficking,” he said earlier this month. “The effects of drug trafficking are worse than those of the drugs themselves.” If the results of the law prove negative, Mujica has said it could be rescinded.
Roberto Ferdman notes that the law could mean a windfall for the Uruguayan government:
Alyssa praises NBC’s choice of David Remnick to provide political commentary on the Sochi Olympics:
Remnick’s done reporting work (as well as editing the New Yorker) that touches on many aspects of civil society. He’s covered Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s return to Russia from exile and written about the life of Russian poet Joseph Brodsky. Remnick’s reported on the rise of Russian oligarchy and the war in Chechnya. In 2007, he wrote a long profile of Gary Kasparov. Last year, he checked in with Petr Verzilov, who is married to Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. This year, he filed a thoughtful dispatch on the experience of exile and how it shaped the Tsarnaev brothers, authors of the Boston Marathon bombing.
Remnick, in other words, is a commentator qualified to explain Russian society in some depth to American audiences. The “gay propaganda” law sounds bizarre out of context. But as an attempt to defend “Russian values,” including the Russian Orthodox Church, and to defend and define Russia after the national trauma that was the dissolution of the Soviet Union and ongoing territorial disputes like the one in Chechnya, it makes somewhat more sense. If the “gay propaganda” law is to be the signal issue of the 2014 Winter Olympics, and part of the point of moving the Olympics around the world is to familiarize international audiences with countries they may pay varying amounts of attention to, Remnick is positioned to both contextualize the law and provide a full portrait of Russia to international audiences.
She contrasts Remnick with the new chief of the new Russia Today, Dmitry Kiselyov, suggesting that the latter’s appointment in the lead-up to the Olympics was no coincidence:
I’d argue that most viral content demands from its audience a certain suspension of disbelief. The fact is that viral content warehouses like BuzzFeed trade in unverifiable schmaltz exactly because that is the kind of content that goes viral. People don’t look to these stories for hard facts and shoe-leather reporting. They look to them for fleeting instances of joy or comfort. That is the part they play in the Internet news hole. Overthinking Internet ephemera is a great way to kill its viral potential.
In response, Felix Salmon observes that there’s “now so much fake content out there, much of it expertly engineered to go viral, that the probability of any given piece of viral content being fake has now become pretty high”:
If your company was built from day one to produce stuff which people want to share, then that will always end up including certain things which aren’t true. That’s not a problem if you’re ViralNova, whose About page says “We aren’t a news source, we aren’t professional journalists, and we don’t care.” But it becomes a problem if you put yourself forward as practitioners of responsible journalism, as BuzzFeed does.
It has become abundantly clear over the course of 2013 that if you want to keep up in the traffic wars, you need to have viral content. News organizations want to keep up in the traffic wars, and so it behooves them to create viral content — Know More is a really good example. But the easiest and most infectious way to get enormous amounts of traffic is to simply share the stuff which is going to get shared anyway by other sites. Some of that content will bear close relation to real facts in the world; other posts won’t. And there are going to be strong financial pressures not to let that fact bother you very much.
Derek Thompson passes along the above chart on viral traffic:
The most impressive thing about Upworthy is that it publishes just 225 articles a month, according to this data. That’s one for every 508 articles on Yahoo! The site is so much more dominant than other news sites on Facebook that when you graph its Facebook-shares-per-article, it looks like a skyscraper dropped into a desert. Upworthy averages about 75,000 Facebook likes per article, 12x more than BuzzFeed.
Ezra Klein ponders this fact:
Steinglass unsurprised that many Obamacare plans have high out-of-pocket costs:
Obamacare’s design all but guaranteed limited choice and high out-of-pocket expenses. The insurance sold on the exchanges must comply with many rules: plans must cover a long list of “essential health benefits”, must not charge more to sick patients and must have a set “actuarial value”. (An actuarial value of 60% means that, for an average person, the health plan will cover 60% of health costs. The patient will have to cover the rest from his own pocket.) Obamacare plans are classified as bronze (60% actuarial value), silver (70%) or platinum (90%). These standards make it easier to compare one plan with another. But they also give insurers relatively little room to differentiate their products. To compete on sticker price, they have to cut costs. They typically do this by restricting choice and bumping up deductibles and co-payments.
Cohn worries about these costs:
Isaac Chotiner suspects that America is ready for an atheist candidate:
A Gallup poll from 2012 … showed that only 34 percent of Americans know Barack Obama’s religion. (Some people think he is Muslim; others are not sure.) If that’s the case—and there has been a lot of coverage of the president’s faith—isn’t it at least possible that an atheist could be elected? I agree that there will be challenges, and while it wouldn’t be smart to go after someone directly for their atheism, perhaps “values-based” attacks would have more currency. Moreover, I think this imaginary atheist politician would have to be someone well established—someone the American people felt comfortable with. But if, say, John McCain or Hillary Clinton announced that while they respected Christianity and faith, they no longer believed in God, well, I think they could still get elected. (Winning a Republican primary would be the problem for McCain.) And remember, despite my caveat about the politician having to be well-known and not at all mysterious, it was also assumed that the first black president would be someone “proven” like Colin Powell. Five years before his election, Barack Obama was virtually unknown.
Jennifer Michael Hecht, who provides the chart above, wants atheist politicians to speak up:
Suzy Khimm analyzes the budget deal proposed by Democratic Senator Patty Murray and GOP Congressman Paul Ryan:
Ryan and Murray had more maneuvering room as Congress has been almost entirely consumed with the fight over Obamacare. But their new comity was also possible because the bar was set so low. Congress and the White House have all but given up on reaching a long-term deficit reduction deal that it was originally aiming for. Instead, they entirely avoided touching major entitlement and tax programs—the biggest and most controversial sources of deficit reduction.
J.P.P. at The Economist chimes in:
There is one politically difficult thing in the agreement: federal workers will have to contribute more towards their pensions. But for the most part this is a deal that succeeded because it does not require either side to make meaningful compromises, in the sense of giving up something which is dear to them. The process that led to the deal is welcome. This is the first budget conference since 2010: in the intervening years there seemed no point in holding one as the two sides were so far apart. The substance, though, is not much more than an agreement to keep the lights on. That ought to mean it can get past Congress, where House Republicans are unlikely to bring on another government shutdown while they are having such fun with Obamacare.
Josh Green is unsure what Congress will do:
[T]his deal could easily fall prey to the same forces that wrecked earlier agreements: hardline conservatives.
Uri Friedman yawns at Obama shaking Raúl Castro’s hand at Mandela’s memorial service:
Raul Castro greeted Obama’s election in 2008 with enthusiasm, noting that the newly elected president seemed “like a good man” and that Cuba was open to talks with the U.S. about “everything” (Castro’s daughter even endorsed Obama during the 2012 election—to the delight of Mitt Romney supporters). Raul’s brother Fidel was initially a supporter as well but has since grown disillusioned, asserting that a “robot” would do a better job running the United States. Obama, for his part, has lifted some restrictions on travel to and financial transactions with Cuba, but the embargo remains firmly in place and the two countries still don’t have diplomatic relations.
In other words, the exchange of a handshake and pleasantries at a memorial service is unlikely to move the needle on U.S.-Cuban relations. But if the White House doesn’t go through Clinton administration-like contortions to explain the encounter, it might be fair to conclude that shaking hands with the Cuban president just isn’t as big a deal as it used to be.
It’s worth remembering that there are any number of petty dictators and kings around the world that receive much more from the U.S. than a presidential handshake, and if one wants to direct irate criticism at U.S. coziness with authoritarian rulers it would be a lot more productive to start there. As for the handshake itself, it is an almost completely empty gesture that would have gone unnoticed but for the fact that the U.S. perpetuates an outdated and pointless embargo of Cuba. The only reason that it is remotely newsworthy that two heads of state greeted one another at another leader’s memorial is that our Cuba policy is such a useless Cold War relic.
Yglesias joins the chorus:
Yesterday, regulators finalized the Volcker rule, which is intended to prevent banks from engaging in certain types of risky behavior. Neil Irwin explains the rule:
It is part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform act that passed in 2010 that aims to prevent giant banks from engaging in speculative trading activity. The idea is that, while it is important for banks to support the economy by lending to consumers and businesses, when they get into the realm of making bets in exotic financial markets — known as proprietary trading — they aren’t really doing anything to support the economy. But trading for their own accounts does risk their own solvency in ways that could lead them to fail and necessitate a costly government bailout. In short, the theory is: You can speculate on financial markets. Or you can have a government safety net. But you can’t have both. …
The rule isn’t enough to prevent any future crisis, certainly. Banks have shown plenty of ability to get into trouble with strategies that have nothing to do with proprietary trading. For example, nothing about these rules would stop a bank from making crummy mortgage loans. But it is certainly plausible that this will choke off one route by which the biggest banks could come into danger of triggering another financial crisis.
Matt Levine weighs in:
The Volcker rule was supposed to shut down proprietary trading desks, and it basically already has. The Volcker rule was not supposed to shut down market making and hedging, which are risky and proprietary and complicated and all that good stuff, but which are also both economically important and specifically allowed by Congress. That’s a simple sentence to write, but a hard thing to make happen. The final rule is 978 pages long, but it’s not a bad effort at achieving that simple result.
Mike Konczal defends the rule:
Daniel Carlson details one of many reasons:
[A]wards coverage treats movies as if they exist only for the few weeks at the end of the year when studios put out “prestige” titles that are designed to capture award nominations. There’s no real secret to why they put out these movies at the end of the year: our brains look more fondly on recent experiences, so studios want films to come out as close to the nominating cycle as possible. There’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy involved; since the end of the year is now associated with award contenders or prestige titles, releasing your movie at that time can give you a subconscious boost in the mind of the voter. But movies exist long after a particular awards season has ended. That’s why the notion of “great movie years” is flawed; it assumes that, e.g., Inside Llewyn Davis exists solely as an artifact of 2013 that was created to compete in a few arbitrary competitions, instead of treating it as a film that anyone can watch at any time going forward. It’ll still exist next summer, and the year after, and ten years from now, long after we’ve forgotten every fleeting pop culture story from the 2013 awards.
And then there’s the hathos of many of the hosts.
Alex Mayyasi explores the economics of ghostwriting and ends up defending the practice:
Jay Leno does not write his own jokes and a team of writers work on sitcom scripts. Even if books have been a more independent pursuit, every writer depends on the help of an editor whose impact on the book – cutting large sections, reorganizing, suggestions plot changes – can be substantial. Researchers are also a regular part of writing a book in both fiction and nonfiction. Ghostwriting may be an extreme case, but every book is a team effort and few writers are responsible for every single word and idea in their books. Is it more deceitful to name someone who did none of the writing an author or to give so much credit to the author in the first place?
A major benefit of ghostwriting is that it allows stories to be told that would not otherwise.
Oliver Turner chides analysts for overstating the Chinese military threat while ignoring similar issues elsewhere in Asia:
India consistently devotes a larger proportion of its GDP to its military than does China; for the past five years it has been the world’s largest importer of weapons, and it is expected to be the fourth largest military spender by 2020. Yet a new Indian aircraft carrier is immediately considered a welcome development, while in the case of China we are grimly told it is “not time to panic. Yet.”
Importantly, the more we assume that China is a probable instigator of hostility and even war, the more we ready ourselves for that eventuality. Indeed, the “China factor” is used to justify efforts by India, as well as Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan and others, to bolster their defense capabilities, leading to increasing tensions across a highly sensitive region. The “China factor” has also been used to rationalize the United States’ recent “pivot” (or “rebalancing”) towards the Asia Pacific. China is becoming a bigger threat, the logic goes, so others should prepare.
Yet we should also recognize the potential effects of an “India factor” in China and that the actions of others will not go unnoticed in Beijing. In consequence we risk trapping ourselves in a self-fulfilling prophecy of Chinese aggression. We may, in other words, end up literally imagining a threatening China into existence and through our ideas and actions become faced by the fictional demon we feared all along.
(Photo: Indian Border Security Force (BSF) recruits march during their passing out parade in Humhama, on the outskirts of Srinagar on December 6, 2013. Some 342 new recruits were inducted into the force which is fighting an insurgency in Kashmir. At least 47,000 people have died as a result of the insurgency in highly militarised Indian Kashmir, according to official count with separatists putting the toll twice as high. By Rouf Bhat/AFP/Getty Images)
Nora Caplan-Bricker discusses how legalization may herald a renaissance for hemp in America:
Colorado’s new law is reaping other changes, too, among them the first legal crop of hemp that America has seen in nearly 60 years. Hemp is a cannabis plant, as is marijuana, but it contains almost none of THC, the component that gives pot its potent effect. Still, hemp—which can be used in “products from rope to auto parts to plastics, shampoo to vitamin supplements”—has paid for the stigma attached to its sister-plant: Though it is legal to buy and sell hemp in the U.S., growing and harvesting it have been prohibited. In every state that discusses legalization, hemp’s economic potential comes up: Data from Canada’s legal hemp industry suggests the crop yields revenue of $390 an acre, and the Hemp Industries Association estimates that products from the forgotten cannabis already constitute a $500 million industry in the U.S., according to The Denver Post. “I think that once people see the value of hemp, it’ll become a no-brainer,” said farmer Ryan Loflin, the Colorado man who has already planted 60 acres of the plant.
Virginia Hughes marvels at a new paper that compares how 46 species – including humans – grow old:
For folks (myself included) who tend to have a people-centric view of biology, the paper is a crazy, fun ride. Sure, some species are like us, with fertility waning and mortality skyrocketing over time. But lots of species show different patterns – bizarrely different. Some organisms are the opposite of humans, becoming more likely to reproduce and less likely to die with each passing year. Others show a spike in both fertility and mortality in old age. Still others show no change in fertility or mortality over their entire lifespan.
That diversity will be surprising to most people who work on human demography. “We’re a bit myopic. We think everything must behave in the same way that we do,” says Jones, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Southern Denmark. “But if you go and speak to someone who works on fish or crocodiles, you’d find that they probably wouldn’t be that surprised.
What the new study didn’t find, notably, is an association between lifespan and aging.
Reviewing a new collection of interviews, Richard Brody takes a shot at Hannah Arendt’s most famous work, Eichmann In Jerusalem. Brody writes, “Arendt’s charge that Eichmann suffered from a ‘lack of imagination’ is actually the essential flaw of her own book”:
Her mechanistic view of Eichmann’s personality, as well as her abstract and unsympathetic consideration of the situation of Jews under Nazi rule, reflect her inability to consider the experiences of others from within. … [In her 1964 interview with Günter Gaus,] Arendt explains that what she found most intolerable in Germany at the time [of her escape in 1933] wasn’t the overt hostility of anti-Semites but the compromises of “friends”—of fellow-intellectuals—with the Nazi policy of Gleichschaltung (“coördination”), the conformity of all German institutions to the Nazi party line: “Among intellectuals Gleichschaltung was the rule, so to speak,” she says. Arendt doesn’t ascribe their compromise to any personal failings, like cowardice or careerism, but, rather, to the particular flaws inherent in intellectualism:
I still think that it belongs to the essence of being an intellectual that one fabricates ideas about everything. No one ever blamed someone if he “coordinated” because he had to take care of his wife or child. The worst thing was that some people really believed in Nazism! For a short time, many for a very short time. But that means that they made up ideas about Hitler, in part terrifically interesting things! Completely fantastic and interesting and complicated things! Things far above the ordinary level! I found that grotesque. Today I would say that they were trapped by their own ideas. That is what happened. But then, at the time, I didn’t see it so clearly.
This is an astonishing passage, for several reasons.
— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) December 9, 2013
It’s been a good week for the rover:
The lake, found at a spot called Yellowknife Bay in the Gale Crater, existed around 3.6 billion years ago and could have lasted for hundreds of thousands of years. The Curiosity rover’s analysis discovered sedimentary rocks with evidence of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur, elements that suggest the lake could have sustained life. The findings were published Monday in a series of six papers in the journal Science.
This isn’t the first time scientists, or Curiosity rover for that matter, has found evidence of large bodies of water on Mars. But it is one of the first times scientists have specifically outlined an environment in which life could have survived.
The lake would have been “suitable for a wide range of microbial lifeforms” – specifically, oddball microbes known as chemolithoautotrophs:
Chemolithoautotrophs do not need light to function; instead, they break down rocks and minerals for energy. On Earth, they exist underground, in caves and at the bottom of the ocean. … “For all of us geologists who are very familiar with what the early Earth must have been like, what we see in Gale really doesn’t look much different,” Curiosity chief scientist Prof John Grotzinger told BBC News.
Joseph Stromberg sees the latest discovery as “yet another vindication of Curiosity’s mission, which is to determine the planet’s habitability.” NASA also has good news for anyone hoping to see the Gale Crater firsthand:
Kathryn Joyce interviews members of the ex-homeschooler movement – which consists largely of individuals who where raised by fundamentalist families:
The closest parallel to transitioning from strict fundamentalist families to mainstream society may be an immigrant experience: acclimating to a new country with inexplicable customs and an unfamiliar language. “Mainstream American culture is not my culture,” says Heather Doney, who co-founded Homeschooling’s Invisible Children with [Rachel] Coleman. Doney, who grew up in an impoverished Quiverfull family in New Orleans, felt for years that she was living “between worlds,” never sure if her words or behavior were appropriate for her old life or her new one. She didn’t understand what topics of discussion were considered off-limits or when staring at someone might be disconcerting. She couldn’t make small talk, wore “oddly mismatched clothes,” and was lost amid pop-culture references to the Muppets or The Breakfast Club. When public-school friends talked about oral sex, she thought they meant French-kissing.
More than a decade later, Doney still finds herself resorting to a standard joke—“Sorry, I live under a rock”—when people are taken aback by her. “It’s a lot easier to say that,” she says, “than to explain that I was raised hearing that you’d be allowing demonic influences into your house if you watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I feel like an expat from a subculture that I can never go home to, living in one that is still not fully mine.”
Chris Jeub disputes Joyce’s “hasty generalizations”:
The heart of the president’s tribute to Nelson Mandela was about moral responsibility. “Mandela makes me want to be a better man,” he said, focusing on the core personal dynamics of justice. In the end, what saved South Africa from both racial tyranny and revolution was not an ideology, but Mandela’s character, impish and yet restrained, radical and yet also forgiving. It’s the gestures you remember almost as much as the full, long history, with the summation being the attendance of his former prison guards at his inauguration. Maybe it’s because of Pope Francis’ spontaneous gestures of caritas, but I’m reminded rather starkly again how the power of simple acts of generosity and magnanimity should never be under-estimated.
And yes, sometimes you can miss the obvious: how conceivable was it in the mid-1980s that a two-term biracial American president would give a eulogy to the first black president of South Africa in the early 21st Century? Not very. But here we are.
I wondered if Sy Hersh is, once again, onto something, with his charges of cherry-picking intelligence before a proposed strike against Syria’s dictator? Susan Boyle was diagnosed with Asperger’s – which definitely makes sense of her extreme talent and her struggle to channel it. Ross Douthat detected a tipping point in Obama’s presidential reach; and the Chinese wondered where we get our panda obsession from.
I’m a little woozy from a routine medical procedure so forgive the relative lack of provocations today. Better to stay mum when on Vicodins.
I should add one thing about the post about Max Blumenthal’s reporting on extremist tendencies in Israel. The most troubling word to me in the video he put together was “infiltrators.” African migrants aren’t just illegal immigrants or unwelcome visitors – they’re deemed “infiltrators.” Malign motives are thereby broadly assigned to an entire group of people, and those motives are apparently the destruction of the Jewish state. That loaded word was used by some nasty racist demagogues in the film – but also, significantly, by the Israeli prime minister himself. I found it a deeply disturbing insight into how he sees the world, especially as we reflect on Mandela’s magnanimity and refusal to think in racial or ethnic categories.
See you in the morning.