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I suppose Kant wouldn’t approve but I do

[ 17 ] May 9, 2017 |
Gilchrist family in 1933. Corliss is in the back row on the far left

Gilchrist family in 1933. Corliss is in the back row on the far left

Corliss Gilchrist, was born May 7, 1925, in Ayrshire, Iowa, one of sixteen children born to James and Arrah Gilchrist. He passed away May 3, 2017, at his home in Altoona, IA. We told him the process to impeach Trump had begun – so that he could rest in peace.

Corliss was united in marriage to JoAnne Cronk in 1946 and remained a very loyal and dedicated husband through her many years of illness. He cherished his family and time spent with his daughters, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Corliss was a proud union member and took great pride in his work with Armstrong Tire, retiring after more than 40 years of service. In his free time, he enjoyed fishing, gardening, tending his flowers, jigsaw puzzles, and watching the Iowa Hawkeyes. He also had a great love for animals, especially cats.

Corliss will be remembered as a loving husband, father, grandfather, brother, and friend. He was a stoic, hardworking, and simple man who had a joyful outlook on life, never taking things for granted.

Corliss is survived by his daughter, Judith Teachout of Altoona, IA; son-in-law, Ronald Clater of Des Moines, IA; grandson, Cory (Katie) Clater of Granger, IA and their children, Gavin, Gillian, and Gage; granddaughter, Laura Teachout of West Des Moines, IA and her children, McKenzie, Ayrianna, and MJ; granddaughter, Angela (Jason) White of Spirit Lake, IA and their children, Matthew and Breanna; granddaughter, Kristin (Alex) Thornton of Altoona, IA and their children, Julian and Griffin; his siblings, Ken Gilchrist of Ankeny, IA, Corrine LaFleur of CA, Jeanette Moore of CA, and Janice Mahan of GA; as well as numerous nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his wife, JoAnne; daughter, Kathleen Clater; and 11 siblings.

Funeral services will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, May 8, 2017, at Hamilton’s near Highland Memory Gardens, 121 NW 60th Avenue in Des Moines with burial to follow at Highland Memory Gardens Cemetery. The family will receive visitors one hour prior to service time.

Memorial contributions may be directed to the Animal Rescue League of Iowa or the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden in loving memory of Corliss.

Online condolences may be expressed at


Views differ

[ 69 ] May 8, 2017 |

Via FiveThirtyEight.

On bad calls, working the refs, and politics etc.

[ 104 ] May 7, 2017 |

Following up on Scott’s hockey post:

Fan complaints about lousy/crooked refs can be sorted into an ascending chain of legitimacy:

Complaints about bad calls that weren’t actually bad calls.

Complaints about bad calls that were actually bad calls, but that involve egregious cherry picking of examples, thus ignoring that the bad calls went both ways in some roughly equivalent proportion.

Complaints about bad calls that were actually bad calls, in cases where the bad calls were in fact very one-sided.

Complaints about bad calls that were actually bad calls, in cases were the bad calls were in fact very one-sided, and in contexts where it’s plausible that the imbalance was a product of nefarious factors rather than mere chance.

Nefarious factors include, in ascending order of nefariousness: successful intimidation of the refs ( aka working the refs), unconscious ref bias, conscious ref bias, and outright corruption (buying the refs).

This template can be applied readily to politics.

For example, where does James Comey’s letter fit in all this?  I’d consider it an example of unconscious ref bias, because he’s probably a sufficiently sanctimonious jackass not to be able to recognize his own bullshit. So that puts it pretty high up on the hierarchy of legit fan complaints.  The media coverage the letter got is a nice example of the successful working of the refs on the part of the right wing scream machine over the past 40+ years.  And by the time the smoke clears it may turn out that the Russians bought themselves a ref or three.

Reince Priebus doesn’t understand the rules of football

[ 53 ] May 4, 2017 |
Lloyd Carr, who often punted the ball into the end zone

Lloyd Carr, who often punted the ball into the end zone

Or as some call it, “American football:”

“The President stepped up and helped punt the ball into the end zone,” Priebus told The Hill reporter Molly Hooper after the Obamacare replacement bill passed by a narrow House margin.

Punting the ball into the end zone is almost invariably a bad thing for the team that does it.

Oh wait this is actually a good analogy.

But srsly, if an Obama or Hillary minion had said something like this Maureen Dowd would have gotten about two dozen columns’ worth of “Democratic men are really women” mileage out of it.

. . . supposedly, he really said “punch.”   (Thanks to commenter Hogan for correcting the historical record).


The evil of banality

[ 135 ] May 1, 2017 |

I was going to join the ongoing leftist conspiracy to abridge Bret Stephens’ free speech rights by criticizing his writing, but it turns out Jon Chait already made the point I was planning to make:

But the uncertainty of climate modeling runs in both directions. Climate Shock, a 2015 book by two economists, Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman, argues that the “likely” global-warming scenario gets too much attention. What should really concern policy makers, they suggest, is the chance that scientists are underrating temperature change. The likely outcomes, represented by the thick part of the curve, are extremely dangerous and expensive levels of climate change. But the truly frightening scenarios lie on the right edge of the curve:

Graph from page 53 of Climate Shock.

There is, they reckon, about a 10 percent chance of a temperature increase exceeding 6 degrees Celsius, or 11 degrees Fahrenheit. That would be a civilizational catastrophe, orders of magnitude more dangerous than the likely warming scenarios, and potentially on a scale that could threaten human life. Even if the likely scenarios were completely harmless, the far-right tail alone is horrific enough to justify significant steps. After all, they argue, people do not accept a 10 percent likelihood of a fatal car crash or terrorist attack. Wagner and Weitzman are economists well versed in climate science who bolster their case with a rigorous analysis of both science and probability.

Stephens’s column can be summed up as “NFL scouts were wrong about Tom Brady and Ryan Leaf so what makes scientists so confident about the laws of thermodynamics?” and, equally compelling, “overestimating risk is bad.”

But as I was going to point out until Jon did it first, underestimating risk is bad too! Isn’t that just an amazing insight? Now where’s my $4000 (or whatever) that the Times is paying Stephens per column?

On a far more serious note, I myself find it difficult to imagine any even slightly plausible political solution to the climate change crisis.  Probably the most preposterous thing in Stephens’s column hasn’t gotten much notice: his claim that if scientists and their allies talked differently about climate change, people would be more willing to consider making sacrifices now to avoid worse consequences 25 and 50 and 75 years from now.

Ultimately the problem with doing something/anything substantive about climate change has very little to do with empirical uncertainty (let alone the rhetorical presentation of that uncertainty), and everything to do with the likely fact that the vast majority of people are simply not willing to make significant sacrifices of any kind today to avert down the road disasters, assuming we’re talking about a several-decade time horizon.  Throw in the biggest collective action problem of all time, and nothing is going to change until it’s far too late to do anything about whatever does end up happening.   So we had better pray for a technological miracle or three, or the opening of the Seventh Seal, with the latter being the preferred solution to the problem among what Mencken called the plain folks of the land.

Hourly Wages v. GDP

[ 60 ] April 30, 2017 |

Total percentage growth in hourly wages for production and non-supervisory workers in the USA over the past 50 years:


Total percentage growth in per capita USA GDP over the past 50 years:


Average Hourly


GDP per capita

Fox “News”

[ 75 ] April 29, 2017 |

Nothing better illustrates how pretty much everything excreted by the contemporary right wing in the US is pure projection than the claim that “the mainstream media” is “biased.”  Fox News isn’t biased in the usual sense of the word, because it’s an undisguised propaganda machine for the Republican party.   “Undisguised” isn’t really accurate though, given that this sort of thing is no doubt mistaken by tens of millions of scared old white people for actual journalism.

. . . Evan Harper flags this even more amazing graphic. (The graph says that “hourly wages” in the U.S. averaged $9.22 during Trump’s first 100 days.  Average hourly wages were $21.90 last month. The numbers quoted for the other presidents are similarly inaccurate).  It’s impossible to guess what “hourly wages” is even supposed to mean in this graph, but let’s not forget that among the people who are getting essentially all their information about the world from this dumpster fire of a news source is none other than Donald Trump.

Considered as political satire, reality is getting a bit over the top

[ 188 ] April 28, 2017 |

He misses driving, feels as if he is in a cocoon, and is surprised how hard his new job is. President Donald Trump on Thursday reflected on his first 100 days in office with a wistful look at his life before the White House.

“I loved my previous life. I had so many things going,” Trump told Reuters in an interview. “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

A wealthy businessman from New York, Trump assumed public office for the first time when he entered the White House on Jan. 20 after he defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an upset.

More than five months after his victory and two days shy of the 100-day mark of his presidency, the election is still on Trump’s mind. Midway through a discussion about Chinese President Xi Jinping, the president paused to hand out copies of what he said were the latest figures from the 2016 electoral map.

“Here, you can take that, that’s the final map of the numbers,” the Republican president said from his desk in the Oval Office, handing out maps of the United States with areas he won marked in red. “It’s pretty good, right? The red is obviously us.”

I’m genuinely surprised by what an idiot this guy is.  That’s not snark: I realize one doesn’t need to be anything like an intellectual to be a good president, and many haven’t been, but it’s still surprising that someone this lazy, incurious, ignorant, and basically stupid could end up getting the job.  That’s democracy for you, as G. Montgomery Burns might say.



Fairy tales don’t become facts just because you never stop repeating them

[ 165 ] April 26, 2017 |

Or do they?  

In the midst of a screed about how Donald Trump is a real old school Republican in the true sense of the word, meaning he wants to repeal as much of the New Deal as possible, unlike contemporary GOP leaders such as [citation missing], we get this:

Yet President Trump cannot simply ignore the modern conservative movement. For one thing, its two great successes, victory in the Cold War and reigniting economic growth (through Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts, spending policies and regulatory reforms), have made plausible his own visions of post-Cold War foreign policy and a resurgent economy.

Total per capita GDP growth, 1946-1980: 104.2%

Total per capita GDP growth, 1981-2015: 77.4%

Oh but you see that doesn’t count because of the aftereffects of World War II.  Also, the fact that the economy grew just as fast under Clinton as it did under Reagan, despite a hike in marginal income tax rates on high earners that every right wing pundit on the face of the globe assured us at the time was going to destroy the economy and lead to cats and dogs living together doesn’t count either, because of the bubble.

So the facts never fit the narrative, but there’s always a good reason for that. Several in fact.


Fresh mangoes, Whittier Law School edition

[ 57 ] April 25, 2017 |

The impending closure of a low-ranked California law school featuring cratering bar passage numbers, soaring graduate debt, and terrible employment outcomes seems to have driven friend of the blog Steve Diamond (a law professor at another low-ranked California law school featuring pretty much exactly the same things in a slightly less spectacular form) right over the edge.

Ever since Whittier’s central administration decided to pull the plug on their increasingly embarrassing law school, Diamond has been letting loose frankly unhinged-sounding tirades against anyone who dares to suggest that this just possibly might have been a justifiable decision, as opposed to a neoliberal Cato-funded crypto-racist conspiracy to . . . OK read it for yourselves, if you’re in the mood to get out of the boat:

Here, Dean of Northwestern Law School Dan Rodriguez makes the radical suggestion that people either criticizing or defending Whittier’s decision to close its law school might not yet have all the relevant information.  It turns out he’s a closet racist who hates Hispanic people like Dan Rodriguez, and is also engaged in a conspiracy to improve California’s bar passage rates, or something  (I confess I’m not paying super close attention, so maybe one or more of the stalwart LGM crew can explain the theory at work here. Be sure not to miss the comments!).

A couple or three data points, since we all love the data:

The average educational debt of 2016 Whittier law grads who had such debt (about 90%) was probably around $250,000.  (This figure is derived as follows: the average Whittier grad who took out law school loans took out $179,056 in such loans.  After accrued interest and fees this would equal about $210,000 when the first bill came due in November.  Average undergraduate debt these days at graduation is around $35,000, and interest also accrues on that when people are in law school.)

A grand total of 29 of Whittier’s 141 2015 graduates were known to be making $52,500 or more ten months after graduation.  38 of 141 had jobs as lawyers.

Given that only 22% of Whittier’s first-time takers of the California bar passed it in July, those numbers seem unlikely to improve for the latest graduating class.

Diamond’s statistics on lawyer salaries in Orange County are about as relevant to the question of whether it’s a good idea to go to Whittier as statistics regarding the salaries of tenured professors at UC-Irvine are to the question of whether it’s a good idea to enroll in a fifth-rate graduate program.


The tales of Goffman con’t

[ 126 ] April 24, 2017 |

Alice Goffman is in the news again:

A group of “students, alumni, and allies” of the sociology department at Pomona College have written an open letter to the department and senior executives of the college to protest the hiring of the ethnographer Alice Goffman as a visiting professor of sociology.

The college confirmed in a statement emailed to The Chronicle on Sunday night that it had offered Ms. Goffman a position as a visiting scholar, starting this fall, and that she had accepted.

The letter’s authors, who remain anonymous, demand that the college rescind the hire and give students more voice in future hiring decisions. The authors protest Ms. Goffman’s hiring because they say it fails to “address underrepresentation of faculty of color” and demonstrates an “institutional inadequacy to recognize and advocate for the best interests of students of color.”

They base their objections in part on the recent controversy over Ms. Goffman’s research methods in her 2014 book, On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City. Those methods, they say, have contributed to false perceptions about black people and have harmed black communities.

I’m not going to address the letter’s various claims, some of which seem highly problematic. Instead I’d like to focus briefly on the fact that Goffman got this job — it’s an endowed two to three year visiting position at a top liberal arts college — over two other finalists who have academic publication records that consist of something other than one in no small part fabricated book.

That the two other finalists were African American women just puts an exclamation point on the dispiriting fact that the sociology department at Pomona decided to stick its collective head in the sand in regard to Goffman’s history of publishing lies and/or confabulations in the guise of legitimate ethnography.

Because there are some things rats won’t do

[ 60 ] April 20, 2017 |


Dictatorships foster oppression, dictatorships foster servitude, dictatorships foster cruelty; more abominable is the fact that they foster idiocy.

JORGE LUIS BORGES, Statement to the Argentine Society of Letters

It’s true we give Paul Ryan a hard time on this blog, but on some deeply perverse level I for one can’t help but admire the astonishing level of craven abnegation the man is capable of achieving, at least when he allows himself to contemplate what’s truly best for the nation  Paul Ryan.

(The encomium below provides the text to Donald Trump’s profile in Time’s latest selection of the 100 Most Important Beings in the Universe).



Paul Ryan

He always finds a way to get it done. When so many, including me at times, didn’t see how he could pull it off, Donald Trump won a historic victory. And in becoming the 45th President of the United States, he completely rewrote the rules of politics and reset the course of this country. A businessman always willing to challenge convention, he has shaken up Washington and laid out an agenda of generational proportions. Never afraid of a battle, he has made it his mission to fight for those who feel forgotten. Where others would pivot, he stays true to who he is. Where others would turn back, he forges ahead. Up close, I have found a driven, hands-on leader, with the potential to become a truly transformational American figure. I have little doubt that he will, once again, find a way to defy the odds and get it done.

Ryan is the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives

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