That fish you're eating may not be what you think it is
Smithsonian Magazine reports that mislabeling fish is rampant, particularly in sushi restaurants. Most of that white tuna you're eating is something else. So is the red snapper. And to varying degrees, much of the rest of the fish you're eating is probably some other fish entirely.
The study compiled data from more than 1,200 seafood samples from 674 retailers in 21 states between 2010 to 2012. DNA testing showed that 33 percent of those samples were mislabeled or posing as fish that they were not. Samples claimed to be tuna and snapper had the highest fail rates, at 59 percent and 87 percent, respectively. Only seven of 120 samples of “red snapper” purchased nationwide actually proved to be red snapper. The rest belonged to any of six different misrepresented species.
Two immediate thoughts on this. The first is that this is the sort of thing that even libertarians think that the government is supposed to prevent. Someone in that food supply chain knows that the fish they're selling as tuna is in fact something else entirely. How has this deception become so pervasive?
The second--which is possibly an explanation for the first--is that it's hard to know how much this matters. Before the FDA started cracking down, grocers might stretch your coffee with other kinds of beans, your flour with sawdust. This was not only deceptive, but also dangerous; for example, eating raw, or briefly boiled, beans is not very good for your digestion.
Speaking out for gun control, she reveals that she doesn't know magazines can be reloaded
A couple of days ago, I noted that Kathleen Sebelius doesn't seem to know how insurance works. Now Colorado's senior Democratic representative, who wants to ban extended magazines, appears to reveal that she doesn't know how the magazines that she wants to ban actually work:
Asked how a ban on magazines holding more than 15 rounds would be effective in reducing gun violence, DeGette said:
“I will tell you these are ammunition, they’re bullets, so the people who have those now they’re going to shoot them, so if you ban them in the future, the number of these high capacity magazines is going to decrease dramatically over time because the bullets will have been shot and there won’t be any more available.”
What she didn’t appear to understand is that a magazine can be reloaded with more bullets. According to the Shooter’s Log, only early on were magazines for AR-15s designed to be disposable, but the military changed that and now magazines are used several times. In handguns, a magazine is designed to be reused hundreds of times.
It's easier to describe a system than to implement it.
Where was the contingency plan?
That's what Joe Klein asks upon learning that Obamacare's health care exchanges, a sort of government-run insurance supermarket, are going to delay implementation of most of functionality that was supposed to be available for small businesses. Instead of a choice of offerings, in many areas, they'll basically have one. This is worse, not better, than the current markets.
Sure, the administration was surprised when so many states declined to operate their own exchanges, forcing the federal government to step in. But the administration doesn't seem to have prepared for that possibility, even though it was an obvious threat by last year. Instead, they held open the deadline for states to declare, making themselves even later.
This is the danger of a Rube Goldberg Policy Machine: a very large, complex piece of legislation with lots of parts that all have to work together perfectly in order to make the whole thing run. If you've misunderstood the mechanics--if, for example, you thought that premiums were going to decrease, rather than increase, under the new law--then there's a huge danger that this massive apparatus will suffer an irreparable breakdown. The risk increases if you passed the law over the vociferous objections of a minority party whose cooperation you now need to fix it, especially if you said things like "elections have consequences".
Changing the name will not change how people feel.
There's been a recent movement afoot to change the way we refer to illegal immigrants. Undocumented immigrant seems to be the preferred standard, but the suggested replacements vary. The AP has now responded by banning the phrase from its stylebook. Kevin Drum is annoyed that they haven't suggested an acceptable substitute:
AP apparently now feels that there's no acceptable way to refer to people who are in the country illegally. Neither "undocumented immigrant" nor "unauthorized immigrant," is acceptable, and neither is anything else. Labels are flatly not allowed, despite the fact that we label people all the time. Kevin Drum is a blogger. Barack Obama is a politician. Etc.
This leaves us with constructions like "John Doe is a person who immigrated to the United States illegally." Or: "A bill pending in Congress would bar immigrants who are in the country illegally from receiving Medicaid." Clunkiness aside, I guess we can all get used to that, but I'm not sure how it especially serves the cause of accuracy.
I think the bigger problem is that this isn't going to work. I favor changing the rules to favor more (legal) immigration. But I am under no illusion that I can make the case by changing the words that we use to talk about it. Look at the evolution of the way that we refer to people with physical or mental disabilities. "Retarded" was originally a nicer alternative to "mental defective". Then people started using it as an insult, so we invented a raft of new euphemisms, like "special needs". So now we get jokes about "sped kids" and being "special". Unless the underlying social attitudes change, the new word eventually takes on all the baggage of the old one.
Here we go again
This morning, the Washington Post reports that the administration is pushing for banks to loosen their lending standards in order to make more home loans to buyers with poorer credit and lower incomes. If you're anything like me, you probably said to yourself, "Oh my stars and garters! What sort of daffy wisenheimer came up with this crackpot scheme?"
Seven years on, we're still marinating in the hangover of our last attempt to make the boon of homeownership available to people who can't really afford a home. Why on earth would we do this again?
I'm not sure it's quite as crazy as it sounds. The administration seems to be making the basically fair argument that banks are putting all their energy into refinancings, made attractive by the low-low rates currently on offer at the Federal Reserve. It's nearly impossible for someone with a credit score below 680 to get a mortgage. A 680 credit score is not "deadbeat" territory; it's someone who's had trouble in the last few years, but is now current on everything.
On the other hand, it's not exactly clear how far the administration wants to go with this. "There’s always a tension that you have to take seriously between providing clarity and rules of the road and not giving any opportunity to restart the kind of irresponsible lending that we saw in the mid-2000s" says an anonymous official, which is entirely sensible, but rather vague. How small a downpayment would they like buyers to qualify with? How low a credit score? That stuff matters, because the banks no longer have the capability to do the kind of detailed manual underwriting that they used to do in years past. They are going to go by whatever numbers the administration gives them.
Fisker Automotive is teetering. How many others in the government loan program that funded Solyndra will eventually fall?
It's been about 18 months since Solyndra announced that it would be filing for bankruptcy, taking a $535 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy with it into the grave. At the time, critics (including me) argued that this might not have been a very wise use of taxpayer funds. The administration's defenders rejoindered that the loan guarantee program, which was aimed at stimulating investments in Green Technology, was in fact a roaring success. Investing in such an early stage, innovative sector put the administration in the place of a Venture Captial firm: some of the loans would go bad, of course, but the pathbreaking performance of the other firms in the portfolio would generate huge overall dividends.
When we critics asked why these companies needed so much funding, we were told it was needed to help them cross the "Valley of Death" between early stage funding and a big, lucrative IPO, where there was allegedly a big shortage of available funding. There was a hole in the venture capital market, said the program's boosters, and the government was needed to fill it.
Overall, three firms have already gone bankrupt. Now we can probably add a fourth: Fisker Automotive, an electric car manufacturer, seems to be teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, which means that we are probably going to lose a big chunk of the nearly $200 million worth of loans that the US government guaranteed for the company. (The guarantee was originally much larger, but the administration pulled the plug when Fisker continually failed to meet its targets.) This seems to be a good time to check in: how's our money doing.
Before we go any further, though, we should get clear on one thing: these loans were always going to have a low default rate, because the majority of the money was given to large companies with big balance sheets. Ford and Nissan alone account for around 20% of the total loan programs. These loans are very unlikely to default, but for precisely that reason, it's hard to see why government assistance was needed . . . except to encourage companies to invest in a project that has a low likelihood of becoming a big success.
Susan Patton may have said it inelegantly, but she’s basically right: Princeton students should think about finding a mate.
I would like to start this post by thanking my parents for not writing incredibly embarrassing letters to the editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian when I was in college. No matter how urgent she felt her message to be, it would only have been decent for Susan Patton to have waited for her son to graduate before offering the student newspaper her opinion that Princeton girls should get engaged while they’re still in school. I hope that Princeton has top-notch counseling facilities, as well as a friendly local bar where the son can drown his sorrows.
That said, while I wouldn’t have said it exactly the way she chose, I think Susan Patton is basically right: people should be looking to get married as early as possible.
I say this as someone who married late, and since I wouldn't want to have married anyone except my husband, I'm glad I waited. But as a general rule, you should err on the side of marrying early. By which I mean not that you should marry whoever happens to be around when you turn 22, but that you should be willing to recognize, at the age of 22, that you've found someone you want to marry. Right now, most Princeton students don't think that way. They think there's something weird about committing at 22. And if they try to commit, their friends and parents will warn them off.
This seems like a mistake. The age at which the right person comes along depends on luck, not some kind of calendar. You can’t plan for it to happen between 26 and 28, so that you can get married by 30 and have your first kid by 32. If you don’t meet them right then, all that pressure to marry whoever happens to be around, which you so neatly avoided at 22, pops up again--around 30 for women, around 35 for men, judging from my experience. At 22, you're less likely to have to settle: the dating pool is larger, and it’s easier to say, “Well, I’ll wait a few years until the right one comes along.”
Why do we force prospective college students to engage in exorbitant exaggeration?
A high school student has penned an open letter to the colleges that rejected her, published in the Wall Street Journal.
I also probably should have started a fake charity. Providing veterinary services for homeless people's pets. Collecting donations for the underprivileged chimpanzees of the Congo. Raising awareness for Chapped-Lips-in-the-Winter Syndrome. Fun-runs, dance-a-thons, bake sales—as long as you're using someone else's misfortunes to try to propel yourself into the Ivy League, you're golden.
Having a tiger mom helps, too. As the youngest of four daughters, I noticed long ago that my parents gave up on parenting me. It has been great in certain ways: Instead of "Be home by 11," it's "Don't wake us up when you come through the door, we're trying to sleep." But my parents also left me with a dearth of hobbies that make admissions committees salivate. I've never sat down at a piano, never plucked a violin. Karate lasted about a week and the swim team didn't last past the first lap. Why couldn't Amy Chua have adopted me as one of her cubs?
Then there was summer camp. I should've done what I knew was best—go to Africa, scoop up some suffering child, take a few pictures, and write my essays about how spending that afternoon with Kinto changed my life. Because everyone knows that if you don't have anything difficult going on in your own life, you should just hop on a plane so you're able to talk about what other people have to deal with.
Blast from the past
I am not going to try to convince you that I'm converting to Zoroastrianism, or leaving journalism in order to pursue my dream of becoming an artisinal cheesemaker. But I like a good April Fool's joke as well as anyone--emphasis on good. Here's one of the best, from the BBC in 1957:
A political science professor argues that yes, it did. Here's why I'm skeptical.
Late last week, I came across a fascinating argument from Thomas Oatley, a political science professor at UNC Chapel Hill. Oatley suggests that the borrowing to fund the Iraq War actually caused the financial crisis. Basically, the borrowing increased our current account deficit, which made the whole system unstable, and in 2008, it finally collapsed.
Now consider the Iraqi case. The sharp increase of military spending sparked by 9/11 and Iraq followed a massive tax cut (and coincidentally, we had a massive tax cut in 1964). Like Vietnam, therefore, the US borrowed to pay for the War on Terror. If the Vietnam War experience is any guide, this budget deficit must have had consequences for US macroeconomic and financial performance. The deficit was larger and persisted for longer than the Vietnam case. I argue that the choice to finance the War on Terror by borrowing rather than by raising taxes worsened the US external imbalance and the resulting "capital flow bonanza" triggered the US credit boom. The credit boom generated the asset bubble the deflation of which generated the great global crisis from which we are still recovering. Obviously, it takes a lot of heavy lifting to get from the war-related budget deficit to the global financial and economic crisis. (That's why I am writing a book. I will begin posting chapters in the next week or so here if you are interested).
Regulatory considerations and the global savings glut may be important conditioning factors. But, the more I research this the more I conclude that these factors are less important than most of us believe. Hence my decision to compare the case to the Vietnam War experience and to the Carter-Reagan buildup sparked by Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. This was financed in the same way as the other two (budget deficits) and had the same economic consequences (housing bubble and the savings and loan crisis) as the War on Terror buildup.
So, I would argue that Operation Iraqi Freedom had a huge affect on the international system: it generated the largest economic and financial crisis the world has experienced since 1929. This massive shock continues to ripple through the global economy four years later, as the EU's current efforts to resolve the banking crisis in Cyprus demonstrate.
Prices are skyrocketing as the country strains under sanctions
Iran is undergoing a brutal bout of inflation as a result of its ambitious nuclear program. In response, the United States and Europe have tightened sanctions. Effectively, Iran is cut off from trade, and trade, as any economist will tell you, enhances the productivity of your workers. With the productive capacity of its economy plummeting, the government has resorted to the printing press in order to keep its bills paid. Estimates of annual inflation range from 30% to 100%.
This may be worth it if it gets Iran to abandon its nuclear program. The fewer countries with nuclear weapons in the world, the better; increasing the number of states with weapons increases the risks that a weapon will get into the hands of an undeterrable lunatic. But it's terribly hard on savers, and terribly bad for the economy as a whole. High inflation destroys the ability to plan or invest in anything other than the most basic tangible assets.
So will they be deterred? Will they exchange their nuclear centrifuges for the right to buy goods on the world market? Graeme Wood went to an Iranian resort to find out what Iran's inflation looks like. He came back uncertain as to whether this would be enough to scupper the Iranian nuclear program:
It’s not yet clear whom the Iranian working classes will blame for destroying their retirement savings. During my trip, no one mentioned any hatred for America—I’m Canadian, so they might have confided safely—or blamed America for the country’s ills. It’s at least plausible that Iranians would attribute their suffering to their own government. “Everyone knows there is corruption, and that the economy is mismanaged and inefficient,” says Mohsen Milani, a professor of international relations at the University of South Florida. “The big question is whether [sanctions] will have an effect on nuclear issues. And I believe they will. Elections are controlled and manipulated, but the candidate who can promise to end the sanctions is likely to win.” Salehi-Isfahani, the economist at Virginia Tech, points out that wages have mostly increased quickly to keep up with prices—although government-employee salaries have increased at only half the needed rate, and the economic situation has worn down optimism. “People are adjusting to lower real incomes,” Salehi-Isfahani told me. “But I doubt very much that they have adjusted to the lack of hope. The government can’t supply that just by keeping chicken cheap.”
Department of Awful Facebook Memes
My unfavorite new Facebook meme is this bit of sillyness which has apparently been spotted everywhere from the feeds of my college friends to (allegedly) that of Richard Dawkins' Foundation for Reason and Science:
I immediately knew that this was a bit of nonsense for the simple reason that Easter is an English word. The Greeks and Romans called it Pascha, which is why Easter is Pasqua in Italian, Pascua in Spanish, and Paques in French. How exactly did the name of a Canaanite fertility goddess skip all the way to England from the Middle East without stopping in Rome or Byzantium?
So many kids in foster care are waiting for a forever home. Why not let gay couples adopt them?
During oral arguments over gay marriage, Justice Antonin Scalia remarked that there is considerable disagreement among sociologists about the effect of gay parenting on children. Having looked into this question a bit myself, my take is that this is not correct: there is no legitimate grounds for disagreement among sociologists, because neither side has any decent empirical evidence upon which to base an authoritative pronouncement. The studies of the subject showing that gay parenting is no different from--or even better than!--heterosexual parenting tend to be, as sociologist Mark Regnerus notes, "small, nonrandom 'convenience' studies of mostly white, well-educated lesbian parents, including plenty of data-collection efforts in which participants knew that they were contributing to important studies with potentially substantial political consequences".
Meanwhile, the main study showing negative outcomes--authored by one Mark Regnerus--has better methods, but is not studying the children of stable, committed gay couples who chose to have a child together, because until recently, there weren't many such couples who were able to adopt. So it's hard to disentangle any possible negative effects from the effects of divorce and other family instability. Trying to study a tiny minority with a random sample--even a large one--is very difficult, and maybe impossible.
Thus it seems to me that any authoritative statement about the effects of gay adoption mostly reflect the normative committments of the people making the statements, not The Voice of Science. There isn't enough evidence either way for Science to have a sound opinion.
But in some sense, what does it matter? Arent' any parents better than no parents? Ezra Klein notes:
Is the popular role-playing game having problems with its monetary policy?
I don't play many video games. But I do play Diablo, ever since those far away days around 1997 when a few coworkers and I used to play at night, using the office LAN. With Diablo III, my professional and recreational interests collided once again, because Diablo III included an auction house where players could trade items for either cash or game gold.
For those of you who do not choose to spend weekend hours clicking madly on demons so that you can collect an ever-expanding variety of virtual magic hats, let me explain that this is a big departure. In previous versions of the game, you could sell your stuff to in-game merchants (who would often turn around and sell you more magic hats). To sell items to another player, however, you had to go to eBay or another marketplace, and auction it off. Then once you'd paid up, the two of you would meet up in multiplayer mode, and you'd drop your magic hat so that they could pick it up.
Diablo III changed this. It created an auction house that was integrated with the game client, so that you could go sell your own magic items to other players. Transactions could happen in either cash or game gold. And Blizzard takes a 15% cut of the real-money transactions; the commissions that used to flow to eBay now accrue to them. Meanwhile, the merchants in Diablo III seem to have been designed to steer you to the auction house. It used to be that they'd pay, say, 50 gold for a regular warhammer, and sell the thing for 200. Now they'll pay 12 and sell it for 312. The markup is so absurd that it's barely worth borrowing picking up anything except special magical items.
As with previous games that have experimented with trading systems, I expected this to offer a wealth of interesting new economic tidbits.
There’s no word yet if the Russians will follow suit after President Obama.
Did Obama lock down the independent vote with his move to reform immigration law? Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky and David Frum debate the liberal and conservative perspective on the latest immigration reform.