Free Markets, Free People

Billy Hollis

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What I learned reading this morning’s USA Today

I don’t read newspapers much, and of course, I’m not the only one. But I’m travelling today, with most of my work for the week behind me. So I browsed through a USA Today while having breakfast in my hotel.

Here’s what I learned from it.

I learned that the driver of the crashed train in Philadelphia was going over a hundred miles an hour. I also learned that the way to respond to a government employee going double the speed limit around a curve on a government-run train is to raise taxes and spend more on infrastructure

I learned that Jeb Bush is raising scads of money. I learned that he knows exactly how to game the system of complex campaign finance regulations to raise the most money. I learned that one such technique is to delay a formal announcement. So he can talk incessantly about what he will do as president, but he is wise to delay the day he actually says (or tweets) “I’m running for president.”

I didn’t learn anything of consequence about what Jeb would do if he were elected president. The reporter seemed completely uninterested in that, possibly because said reporter is about as likely to vote for Jeb Bush or any other Republican for president as she is to vote for SpongeBob Squarepants.

I did learn from this reporter that GOP insider named Fergus Cullen said “Somebody like Jeb Bush doesn’t need to be worried that his poll numbers are mediocre right now.” Just as Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Bob Dole didn’t have to worry about their vote totals being mediocre on election day, I suppose.

I learned that there is a breakthrough in medical research between the US and Cuba. That’s because an early trial found that Cuban doctors have this incredible vaccine that, on a modest sample, let lung cancer victims live two to four months longer. Having watched my dad die of lung cancer, I didn’t exactly see this as something to get joyous about – extending the pain and suffering of cancer for a few months doesn’t strike me as a huge breakthrough. But the reporters sure seemed excited about it. They talked about a “quantum leap” of breakthroughs. I have the feeling that if it had been, say, New Zealand instead of Cuba, their enthusiasm would have been a bit more muted.

They didn’t seem interested in the possibility that this modest trial in a Communist country might have some fudged data either. Because, as we know from the client science debate, leftists just don’t do that. So Castroite communists certainly would not.

I learned that the Senate really, really wants to give Obama more power, specifically to fix up a trade deal with Asia, but he doesn’t want it because there’s one minor thing in the bill he doesn’t like. Something about currency manipulation by China. The bill has large bipartisan support, according to the article, which I interpret to mean that both Democrats and establishment Republicans are for it. But that famous compromiser Obama somehow just can’t give in a bit to get a whole bunch of other stuff he wants. Odd, that.

I learned that Rubio has a doctrine of defense. I learned that if it’s a Republican, the headline needs to put “doctrine” in scare quotes. (The web article moves the scare quotes from the headline to the article. Nice try, USA Today. But I’ve got a photo of the print copy.)

On the casual side, I learned that Saturday Night Live’s newest, hottest cast member is breaking new ground with fart jokes. (Web article again sanitizes things. Print copy’s subhead is “With farts, weed, and sex his forte (for jokes, that is) the new kid slays”.)

I learned that the average CEO makes 373 times more than the average worker. That doesn’t mesh with the CEOsc of mid-size companies that I happen to know, but the data is from an AFL-CIO database, and, given how close American labor leaders are to Castroite communists, you can be sure it’s reliable. (This article was apparently too hot for the web. I can’t even find it on their site.)

I learned that economic growth is sputtering. Nothing in that article about how much more politicians make than unemployed people, but I guess they can’t cover everything.

I learned that USA Today has a reporter named Gregg Zoroya who “covers the impact of war on troops and their families for USA Today”. I didn’t notice that they had any reporter who “covers the impact of government policies on workers and their families”, but perhaps I just missed it.

Remember, now, these people are not biased. Just ask them, they’ll tell you.

Heads they win, tales we lose

A link at Insty pointed me to an excellent panel discussion on the illegality of Hillary Clinton’s email shenanigans.

“This is just staggering in the brazenness of evasion of the legal duty by everybody at the State Department, and especially the secretary,” [diGenova] said. “It is simply staggering; it’s unbelievable.”

No, it’s not unbelievable. Many of us have followed politics since the media shamelessly chose to take sides with Bill Clinton during his scandals. We know the dynamic:

  • A scandal or obvious lie comes out: Bill Clinton’s perjury, Hillary’s Whitewater papers disappearance, Juanita Broderick’s rape accusations, Vince Foster’s suicide, Obama’s terrorist mentor, Fast and Furious gun-running, Harry Reid’s amazingly profitable “investments”, the IRS targets Tea Party groups, Benghazi, “if you like your doctor, you can keep him”, etc. ad nauseum.
  • If the media can get away with it, they completely ignore the story.
    If not, they do cursory, biased, and distorted reporting on it, minimizing and excusing the perp(s).
  • If someone (e.g. Sharyl Adkisson at CBS or Lisa Myers at NBC) steps outside the bubble and actually finds something to report on, her superiors in the media spike the story, and ruin the reporter’s career if they can.
  • After a few days or weeks, any attempt to raise the scandal is declared old news.
  • During a Democratic administration, any illegality is studiously ignored. A faux investigation at DoJ drags out things for a few months, and then ponderously declares that there’s nothing further to investigate and no charges of consequence are ever filed. In egregious cases, someone might lose a job, but not their pension, and certainly not their liberty.
  • Any attempt by a later Republican politician to re-open the investigation and really try to get to the bottom of it is declared by Democrats and the media to be “off limits”, “vindictive”, “mean spirited”, “a partisan witchhunt”, and other semantically meaningless but highly negative descriptions.
  • The Republican politician is then punished by the media through a series of unflattering and often downright distorted feature and opinion pieces. This attempt to marginalize that politician forever often works, at least to the extent of shutting them up and cowing them for their rest of their term.

The choices for those wanting to punish illegal and intolerable behavior such as Hillary’s email project come down to:

1. Make some noise but don’t really do anything (heads, they win)

2. Once they have the power, push for legal punishment, be pilloried in the media for it, and probably never get enough allies to do anything because no one else wants to be pilloried (tales, you lose)

The Democrats have learned this lesson well. They can treat the media the way a perverted stepfather abuses his stepdaughter, and the media will never offer more than token protest. The media is determined to further their own leftist vision of justice and right, and that means backing the Democrats no matter how illegal or disgusting their behavior might be.

Hillary implemented her email plans knowing that she would almost certainly never pay a price for it. She knew the press and the rest of the Democrats had her back.

Our political system has devolved to the point that major players on the left know they can break the law in any number of ways, smear opponents, cover up past misdeeds, and lie outright as needed in every news conference. They can indeed “brazenly flout” laws and ethics. I don’t know what you call this system, but it’s certainly not the one they described to me in 8th grade civics class.

Newspaper print circulation is down about half in last ten years

I did a couple of posts back in 2012 and 2013 about newspaper print circulation at major newspapers, compared to 2004. Seeing last year’s circulation figures made me curious about how things stand at the ten year mark. Here are the results:

 

Newspaper 2004 2012 2014 +/- %, 10 years +/- %, 2 years
USA Today 2192098 1627526 1156871 -47.23% -28.92%
WSJ 2101017 1499204 1256292 -40.21% -16.20%
NYT 1119027 717513 680905 -39.15% -5.10%
LA Times 983727 489792 405213 -58.81% -17.27%
Wash Post 760034 434693 399757 -47.40% -8.04%
NY Daily News 712671 389270 313178 -56.06% -19.55%
NY Post 642844 344755 261312 -59.35% -24.20%
Chicago Tribune 603315 388848 324620 -46.19% -16.52%
Denver Post 340169 236223 188630 -44.55% -20.15%
Newsday 553117 278369 247703 -55.22% -11.02%
Houston Chronicle 549300 234483 225032 -59.03% -4.03%
Dallas Morning News 528379 345342 172690 -67.32% -49.99%
SF Chronicle 499008 229176 145520 -70.84% -36.50%
Arizona Republic 466926 274783 244726 -47.59% -10.94%
Boston Globe 446241 180919 159458 -64.27% -11.86%
Tampa Bay Times 348502 299393 217597 -37.56% -27.32%

As I explained in the previous posts, I focus on print circulation because, for major newspapers, that’s where most of the money comes from. Newspapers do get money from the web, of course. However, most of them have minimal web-only subscription revenue, and their advertising dollars on the web are only about 15% of their print advertising revenues and growing slowly according to Pew Research. That same report shows that overall advertising revenue (including online advertising) is down just a bit over 50% for the 2004-2013 period.

I ignore the web “circulation” numbers touted by newspapers, because they’re meaningless without a complete explanation of how they were measured. Unique visitors for the year? Well, people have multiple computers, and they clear their browser cache sometimes. Even when an explanation is given, those numbers can be gamed in various ways. The money is what counts, and newspapers have struggled to increase the amount of money they get from web publication over the last six or eight years. There’s no indication they’ll solve that problem.

Doing a bit of math on the above numbers, the drop in the aggregate circulation of these newspapers combined from 2004 to 2014 is just over 50%. Aggregate drop from 2012 to 2014 is about 20%.

Many dissipative phenomena in the real world have an approximate exponential decay shape to the graph. That is, the newspapers might lose, say, 10% of their readers each year, but that 10% is a lower number each year, so the decrease flattens out in actual counted numbers. That’s my best guess for the near term future of circulation for major newspapers.

However, dropping revenue also affects quality. This hit my hometown newspaper, the Tennessean, at least ten years ago. You could see it exposed unambiguously in grammatical and printing errors. I also think the quality of the articles dropped to the point that I wasn’t willing to invest time in reading them, but that’s a more subjective judgment. Except for local events such a major water outage last year, I don’t pay any attention to the Tennessean.

When that happens, the days of a newspaper are numbered. They enter a vicious cycle in which more people drop them because of their marginal or poor quality, and that erodes revenues further, which erodes quality further, and so on.

There’s no obvious way to reverse any of that, no matter how innovative they get on the web. Advertising revenue for want ads isn’t coming back; Craigslist and its smaller relatives have captured it and I see no way for newspapers to get it back. Not even middle aged people get newspapers for movie ads anymore because they can find anything they want to know on their phones immediately. Retail advertising continues to suffer as retail closures start to impact suburbia, and dead malls continue to pile up.

So, with that dead horse beaten to a pulp, what are the likely effects outside the newsrooms? 

Right now, the New York Times and the Washington Post continue to have an outsize influence on political thinking. I don’t think either one is going to vanish any time soon. The left will no doubt find the Times so indispensible that it will find the money somewhere to keep the lefty editorial outrage and the slanted reporting pouring out of Times Square and setting the agenda for TV news reporting. The Post, under Bezos, seems to be becoming marginally more balanced, which is a good thing.

The Wall Street Journal maintains a decent hold on center-right readers, though it’s a lot more center than right these days. As the only major newspaper I read with any frequency (couple of times a month) I see the quality dropping. But for now it seems financially stable.

Almost all the others, though, are in trouble. I have to wonder if the recent successes of the GOP at the state and local levels have not been facilitated to some extent by the lack of effective opposition from the typically-liberal local newspapers. The fewer people who read them, the less able they are to torpedo Republicans and shield Democrats.

Naturally, you don’t see a lot of reporting on all this in the media. They don’t have much interest in exposing their own weakness. The reporting they do typically touts “total circulation”, which means they get to include their gamed web numbers. USA Today also started an insert program with a lot of local newspapers, so they like to pretend that this is equivalent to regular circulation. It’s rare for any of them to make their print declines front and center.

The main lesson here is that limited government types can afford to stand up to these biased media types more each year. I think that’s more true at the local level right now, but I also think there are a lot of people out there hungry to see the left-liberal twits of the major national newspapers put in their place as well.

*** Update 5 April 2015 ***

It occurs to me that, if the decay in readership of major newspapers is really a bit similar to exponential decay processes such as radioactive decay, then ten years would be the half life of newspaper readership. We might then use that half-life as a rough-and-ready estimator for future declines. It would suggest that by 2024, the newspapers will have lost around 50% of the remaining readers, and be at 25% of their 2004 readership.

Naturally, there are too many real-world factors to put much confidence in such an estimate, mainly because of the “death spiral” end game for such businesses. But it’s still an interesting first cut way to think about it, and it might help us detect the death spiral start point.

Welcome to the club, Ace

Over at Ace of Spaces, Ace writes:

I have long argued against a third-party split and the Nightmare Option of simply conceding the country to the liberals for 20 disastrous years.

I am no longer confident in such arguments.

Lots of us passed that point years or even decades ago. We’ve been called all sorts of names. We’re told we’re immature and unreasonable because we don’t support people who are much closer allies to their Democratic colleagues than they will ever be to those of us who believe in limited government.

Every election cycle we get inundated with all the tactical reasons that we simply have to support whatever stuffed-shirt, big-government-friendly, Democrat-lite candidate who made it through a nomination process mostly controlled by moneyed corporate interests, using their campaign contributions and media influence.

The battle cry of the GOP loyalists is “But the Democrats are Worse (TM)”. I’ve been through this before, so no need to rehash why I think that battle cry is worse than useless.

The main thing I would ask the GOP loyalists at this point is this: exactly what would cause you to give up on the GOP?

Suppose the GOP does win the White House and keeps Congress in 2016. What do you expect from them? Write it down. Decide on the minimum you’re willing to accept to continue supporting this party that has screwed you nine ways from Sunday for two decades at least.

Ace has reached his breaking point. He’s tired of the “Small government on the campaign trail, big government as soon as they get off the plane in DC” shell game.

For those GOP loyalists still left: If you have not reached that breaking point yet, what will cause you to? And could you at least admit that those of us who gave up on the GOP have a point?

Billy
@thisispointless

“This isn’t about legalizing Latin American immigrants, it’s about legalizing Latin American-style government.”

That’s Dave Burge’s take (IowaHawk) on last night’s venture into banana-republic style government by Obama.

Hard to beat that. So I just visualized it:

ObamaGeneralissimo

You just know he really, really wants to wear that suit, but Valerie Jarrett won’t let him

Billy

Some of the week’s big stories in photos [with update]

First up: climate protestors in Australia demonstrate their philosophy towards actual data about climate science:

 

bondi-lead[1]

 

headsinsand[1]

Please savor the irony of them sticking their heads in the sand to demonstrate their own ignorance, while thinking they are supporting the leftist climate agenda.

Next, Hillary Clinton apparently has worn out her welcome in Iowa, and there continue to be questions about her health.

Salt-monster-46246874203[1]

Oh, sorry, wrong picture. Let me try again.

Hillary-Clinton-jobs-620x435[1]

Yeah, this whole “Hillary is inevitable” thing probably has a sell-by date of about February 1, 2016. Or sooner.

Finally, a feminist sets a world record for demonstrating her own insecurities, all because of this shirt.

newgunnergirlstshirt[1]

Included in this spectacular effort: envy of other women’s bodies, intelligence envy, sexual self-doubt, actual accomplishment envy, imaginary bad motives in her critics, pleasure at causing pain in others, and neediness for attention.

Most notable results of this harpy’s bloviating: 1. The guy in question cried during an apology, making this bint look like a bully and 2. the shirt is sold out. So trying to shame one guy into not wearing it causes a whole bunch of other guys to wear it just to piss off feminists. In other words, about the same results that leftist collectivism usually obtains.

Hope you’ve all had a great weekend.

Billy

*** Update 17 Nov 2014 10:30 AM ***

And here is what happens when the gap between government and kindergarten gets too small:

Billy’s predictions for the mid-term election and its aftermath

When it comes to the mid-terms, I’m about in the same place psychologically as McQ. But we might as well have some fun with this election. So I sat down and thought about what I expected from it, and came up with the following list:

  1. The Republicans will do well. They will likely retake the Senate and add at least a dozen seats to their House majority.

  2. Lots fewer people will care about that outcome than in previous cycles such as 1994 and 2010. More people are now cynical that the GOP doesn’t really intend to do anything of consequence.

    The default strategy of the establishment GOP right now seems to be to give the Democrats a turn, knowing they’ll screw things up even worse. Then the voters will give the establishment GOP another chance, because they screw things up more slowly. Thus, the establishment GOP believes they are assured of another round of favoring their particular crony capitalists rather then the crony capitalists favored by the Democrats. Plus, they get the nice corner offices for a while. 

  3. At least one Senate race will be close, and will go into protracted recounts. The Democrats will eventually win that race with questionable votes. (Bonus points on entertainment value if it’s Al Franken again.)
  4. The media will not report the questionable votes and tactics used to secure the Democratic victory in #3.
  5. The media will be surprised at the depth of loathing for Obama shown by the election. After all, everyone *they* know likes him.
  6. The media will only show a flicker of that surprise before they get back to covering for and pimping for Obama.
  7. At least one major media figure will use the phrase “temper tantrum” or a close synonym to describe what the voters did to cause the GOP gains.
  8. At least one incident at a polling place will involve blacks supposedly being denied the right to vote because of new voter ID laws. The media might have to manufacture, or at least exaggerate, that incident, but they’ll find one no matter how hard they have to search.
  9. There will be incidents of the opposite kind, like this one in 2008. Those will not be reported by the media, no matter how many there are or how egregious the violation of laws happens to be.
  10. November and December will see dozens of media stories on how the “ground game” failed for the Democrats. Some of those stories will infer that the Democrats’ ground game was sabotaged. There will be no stories in major media of how the Democrats and their ground game failed because Obama has become a laughing-stock.
  11. Opinion columnists in the major media will begin to excuse Obama’s almost total disengagement by blaming it on the new GOP dual majority in Congress. They’ll say things such as “Why should he even try, when they won’t cooperate with him?” (i.e. “bend over and do what he wants”) Some will push for Obama to use even more executive power to bypass the democratically elected majorities in Congress. Some of those will be the same ones who screamed about Bush’s “illegal war”, even though he sought and received authorization from Congress.
  12. Someone will attempt to spread rumors about an Ebola outbreak in key places to depress voter turnout by making people unwilling to go out in public. Either side is capable of this – both sides might do it.
  13. Ted Cruz will give a rousing speech shortly after the election on what the Republicans should do. It will be ignored by the major media, though they might run an out-of-context soundbite of it to try and make him look bad.
  14. Very stupid social science academics will shake their heads and wonder how the voters could dislike Obama since he’s such a great president. Then they’ll talk about how things go “back and forth” or “move in cycles” or some such meaningless blather, as if the GOP victories simply resulted from an inevitable force of nature and have nothing to do with Obama’s screwups.
  15. Allies of the establishment GOP, such as the bloggers at Hot Air, will immediately begin justifying why the new majorities can’t possibly do anything of consequence. I’m guessing their catchphrase will become “Don’t expect too much.”
  16. Allies of the establishment GOP will claim that the election results show definitively that the GOP needs to nominate a moderate for president in 2016. I can’t predict what tortured logic they will use for that conclusion.

OK, that’s enough for me. How about our astute and intelligent commenters add their own?

Wondering why there are few women in tech? Here’s the perspective of someone in tech.

Via Instapundit and Bill Quick, I’ve noticed discussion about this Forbes article on why females are under-represented in technology companies.

As someone who has spent an adult lifetime in the tech industry, let me suggest an angle that I didn’t see in this article, and which I have not seen in other similar articles.

Most jobs of any consequence in tech companies require people to successfully write code at some point in their careers. Writing code is a very unusual human activity. In addition to logic skills and some other cognitive capabilities that the articles usually do touch on, there is one aspect of it most people outside the industry have never thought about: you must be comfortable being wrong and prepared to constantly acknowledge and fix your own mistakes.  

You are wrong a few dozen times a day. The computer tells you (via a compiler error or problem in the running program) that you are unambiguously wrong, and you *must* figure out how to fix the mistake before you proceed. The mistake can’t be overlooked or ignored. It must be fixed, and to the exacting standards of a machine with no emotions.

And here’s where I think the problem results in disparate impact between males and females: the computer is invulnerable to pleading, sweet-talking, eye blinking, hair tossing, lip licking, or any of the other things a substantial fraction of young women have learned to use to get their way in the world, via persuading a male to take care of it or overlook it.

Think, for example, about all those famous stratagems for getting out of traffic tickets, and the jokes about wanting to use one and finding out the cop is female. Whether feminists like it or not, that behavior is common among young women, and it’s common because it works in many social situations.

Whether you think it’s cultural or genetic, woman are less comfortable in the harsh reality, hard edged world of writing code. I think it’s at least partially because it goes against how they have learned to deal with the world around them. Because the computer isn’t a person, and certainly not a male, their best social skills avail them nothing. Plus, they have to be completely comfortable being told flat out “you are wrong about this – deal with it” many times a day, every day.

This is hard. No one likes being told that they are wrong. I know plenty of men who can’t deal with it either. But I think women, on average, have less experience with it than men.

There is evidence to back that up. For example, there is research confirming that teachers pamper girls in school. So, from a young age, and given our current educational system, I think a male is less likely to have someone overlook their mistakes.

There are certainly amazing and talented women developers. I know some and I’ve hired some. In fact, I’ve hired a larger percentage of the women candidates who interviewed with me than men. I just don’t see that many of them.

I strongly challenge the idea that the disparate numbers are due to sexism at the level of the technology companies. In the ruthlessly competitive world of tech, we’ll take talent where we find it. I don’t care about a candidate’s gender, race, religion, sexual preference, or anything else irrelevant to the prime consideration: can they effectively write software? 

In fact, given the current lop-sided proportion of men in the industry, in many cases a qualified woman actually has an advantage! Men are hardwired by eons of evolution to prefer to look at a woman across a conference table than another scruffy, bearded, overweight male nerd. Male decision makers, in my experience, simply never turn down a qualified woman due to sexism. (I supposed there are Neanderthal male decision makers out there who do, but in a long tech career, I’ve never met one.)

So, to the extent that gender matters at all, women typically have the better of it. But decision makers can’t afford to let that factor override the need to perform. Anyone running a software development team knows the dangers of having someone who can’t deal with the harsh realities of being told they are wrong and figuring out how to fix it many times a day. One of the prime characteristics I look for in interviews is defensiveness, which usually indicates an inability to deal with being wrong a lot. Such a person (male or female) not only fails to contribute much, they degrade the overall ability of the team to get things done.

I don’t know how to fix this comparative lack of women in the industry, and I would certainly like to see it fixed. But expecting university computer science departments or tech companies to do it is silly. Any solution is going to have to go a lot further back in a female’s life than young adulthood, and involve a much bigger effort than just encouraging more girls to enter science fairs.

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