February 3, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Nips and Tucks and Big Budget Cuts (TYLER COWEN, 2/03/13, NY Times)

One common argument against letting this process run its course is a Keynesian claim -- namely, that cuts or slowdowns in government spending can throw an economy into recession by lowering total demand for goods and services. Nonetheless, spending cuts of the right kind can help an economy.

Half of the sequestration would apply to the military budget, an area where most cuts would probably enhance rather than damage future growth. Reducing the defense budget by about $55 billion a year, the sum at stake, would most likely mean fewer engineers and scientists inventing weaponry and more of them producing for consumers. [...]

On a practical note, the military cuts would have to be defined relative to a baseline, which already specifies spending increases. So the "cuts" in the sequestration would still lead to higher nominal military spending and roughly flat inflation-adjusted spending across the next 10 years. That is hardly unilateral disarmament, given that the United States accounts for about half of global military spending. And in a time when some belt-tightening will undoubtedly be required, that seems a manageable degree of restraint.

The other half of sequestration would apply to domestic discretionary spending, where the Keynesian argument against spending cuts has more force.

But here, too, much of the affected spending should be cut anyhow. Farm support programs would be a major target, and most economists agree that those payments should be abolished or pared back significantly. Regulatory agencies would also lose funds, but instead of across-the-board cuts, we could give these agencies the choice of cutting their least valuable programs -- or, for that matter, we could cut farm subsidies even further.

We'd still just be trimming fat, when we need to get down to the excess muscle.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Should illegal immigrants become citizens? Let's ask the founding fathers. (Elizabeth Cohen, 2/01/13, Washington Post)

During the 18th century, there were no illegal immigrants in the United States, but there was a large group of people who posed a far more noxious threat than those who overstayed a visa or crossed a border without an inspection. They were British Loyalists -- men who had taken up arms against the American revolutionaries and risked their lives to undermine the very foundation of our union.

Loyalists' actions prior to the founding could hardly be called exemplary, yet they sought citizenship after the nation was established. They and their families made up approximately 20 percent of the population, and most of them stayed here after surrendering, despite hostility and episodic violence against them.

In 1805 the Supreme Court heard the first case testing whether members of this population could be considered citizens. The court stated that, because the former Loyalists stayed while the states were debating and ratifying the Constitution, they were qualified for citizenship. This and later decisions showed how, over time, the country exercised reason and consent to create citizenship -- even allowing the original sin of fighting against the formation of the nation to be forgiven.

The court decisions created a sort of temporal formula: time + residence + good moral character = citizenship. We have always imposed a probationary residential waiting period on anyone wishing to become a citizen. For much of our history, that period held stable at five years.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Speak, Memory (Oliver Sacks, 2/21/13, NY Review of Books)

Daniel Schacter has written extensively on distortions of memory and the "source confusions" that go with them, and in his book Searching for Memory recounts a well-known story about Ronald Reagan:

In the 1980 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan repeatedly told a heartbreaking story of a World War II bomber pilot who ordered his crew to bail out after his plane had been seriously damaged by an enemy hit. His young belly gunner was wounded so seriously that he was unable to evacuate the bomber. Reagan could barely hold back his tears as he uttered the pilot's heroic response: "Never mind. We'll ride it down together." The press soon realized that this story was an almost exact duplicate of a scene in the 1944 film A Wing and a Prayer. Reagan had apparently retained the facts but forgotten their source.
Reagan was a vigorous sixty-nine-year-old at the time, was to be president for eight years, and only developed unmistakable dementia in the 1990s. But he had been given to acting and make-believe throughout his life, and he had displayed a vein of romantic fantasy and histrionism since he was young. Reagan was not simulating emotion when he recounted this story--his story, his reality, as he believed it to be--and had he taken a lie detector test (functional brain imaging had not yet been invented at the time), there would have been none of the telltale reactions that go with conscious falsehood.

It is startling to realize that some of our most cherished memories may never have happened--or may have happened to someone else. I suspect that many of my enthusiasms and impulses, which seem entirely my own, have arisen from others' suggestions, which have powerfully influenced me, consciously or unconsciously, and then been forgotten. Similarly, while I often give lectures on similar topics, I can never remember, for better or worse, exactly what I said on previous occasions; nor can I bear to look through my earlier notes. Losing conscious memory of what I have said before, and having no text, I discover my themes afresh each time, and they often seem to me brand-new. This type of forgetting may be necessary for a creative or healthy cryptomnesia, one that allows old thoughts to be reassembled, retranscribed, recategorized, given new and fresh implications.

Sometimes these forgettings extend to autoplagiarism, where I find myself reproducing entire phrases or sentences as if new, and this may be compounded, sometimes, by a genuine forgetfulness. Looking back through my old notebooks, I find that many of the thoughts sketched in them are forgotten for years, and then revived and reworked as new. I suspect that such forgettings occur for everyone, and they may be especially common in those who write or paint or compose, for creativity may require such forgettings, in order that one's memories and ideas can be born again and seen in new contexts and perspectives.

Webster's defines "plagiarize" as "to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own: use (another's production) without crediting the source ...to commit literary theft: present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source." There is a considerable overlap between this definition and that of "cryptomnesia." The essential difference is that plagiarism, as commonly understood and reprobated, is conscious and intentional, whereas cryptomnesia is neither. Perhaps the term "cryptomnesia" needs to be better known, for though one may speak of "unconscious plagiarism," the very word "plagiarism" is so morally charged, so suggestive of crime and deceit, that it retains a sting even if it is "unconscious."

In 1970, George Harrison composed an enormously successful song, "My Sweet Lord," which turned out to have great similarities to a song by Ronald Mack ("He's So Fine"), recorded eight years earlier. When the matter went to trial, the judge found Harrison guilty of plagiarism, but showed psychological insight and sympathy in his summary of the case. He concluded:

Did Harrison deliberately use the music of "He's So Fine"? I do not believe he did so deliberately. Nevertheless...this is, under the law, infringement of copyright, and is no less so even though subconsciously accomplished.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


'Immigrant areas have fewer social problems' (The Local, 3 Feb 13)

"The 20 best towns have more immigrants than average, that is to say 14.4 percent. There is no tendency whatsoever for towns with high numbers of immigrants to have worse results than others," said Stefan Fölster, head of the Reform Institute which published the new report.

In a debate article in the Dagens Nyheter daily, Fölster pointed out that central Sweden has regions where unemployment, welfare-dependency and private credit problems are close to the levels of Greece and Spain.

Fölster noted that many of these areas also have lower levels of immigration.

"In actual fact the integration problems which are commonly associated with immigrant areas are at least as common in areas which have fewer immigrants," Fölster. [...]

The five main categories considered are: schools, employment, health, money and 'hopelessness and alienation'.

Several areas of Sweden which have significant immigrant populations performed well in the index, including small regional towns such as Älmhult and Mullsjö in southern Sweden.

"The conclusion is no less than the integration problems for some immigrant groups are negligible. Instead there are many Swedes in towns with few immigrants whose 'integration problems' are at least as serious as among some immigrant groups," Fölster said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Toward a Canada-EU trade deal, sooner rather than later (The Globe and Mail, Jan. 22 2013)

Canada now has an additional reason for bringing its trade negotiations with the European Union to a successful conclusion, sooner rather than later. Efforts are under way to launch similar negotiations between the United States and the EU, which could overshadow the proposed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and Europe, if the CETA talks drag on. As Lawrence Herman of Cassels Brock LLP puts it, there is a "downside risk that the final deal with Canada is delayed and that the EU then turns its attention to negotiations with the Americans."

David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, at the very start of his country's presidency of the G8 this year, wrote to the G8's other leaders, saying that, in trade, "the single biggest prize of all would be the beginning of negotiations on an EU-U.S. trade agreement."

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


White House photo shows Obama firing shotgun (Zachary A. Goldfarb and Howard Schneider, Updated: Saturday, February 2, 2013, Washington Post)

[I]n Saturday morning, the White House released and promoted a photograph of Obama shooting skeet at the presidential retreat in Maryland.

White House aides were trying to end a growing distraction just as the president plans to make a fresh push to rally public support behind his ambitious agenda to tighten gun laws, traveling to Minnesota on Monday.

They'd rather have the President promote guns than be embarrassed.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


The Virtual Middle Class Rises (THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, 2/02/13, NY Times)

I ENCOUNTERED something on this trip to India that I had never met before: a whole new political community -- India's "virtual middle class." Its emergence explains a lot about the rise of social protests here, as well as in places like China and Egypt. It is one of the most exciting things happening on the planet. Historically, we have associated democratic revolutions with rising middle classes achieving certain levels of per capita annual income -- say, $10,000 -- so people can worry less about basic food and housing and more about being treated as citizens with rights and with a voice in their own futures. But here's what's fascinating: The massive diffusion of powerful, cheap computing power via cellphones and tablets over the last decade has dramatically lowered the costs of connectivity and education -- so much so that many more people in India, China and Egypt, even though they're still just earning a few dollars a day, now have access to the kind of technologies and learning previously associated solely with the middle class.

...if only this information and technology revolution hadn't by-passed us we'd have rising living standards too.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Harvard cheating punishment seen as fair (O'Ryan Johnson, 2/02/13, Boston Herald)

Banished from the cushy ivory tower, scores of cheating Harvard students were sentenced to six months' hard time in the real world before they can re-apply to the prestigious university.

The punishment came down on 60 crimson students ordered to "withdraw" -- a forced break that can only be absolved after the ousted undergrads hold "a full-time, paid, non-academic job in a non-family situation" for at least half a year, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences Michael D. Smith wrote in an email yesterday. After that, the dean added, Harvard will consider letting the students back on campus.

First, that work is punishment.  Second, that college isn't preparation for work.  At best, vice versa.