A dorky “best of” link to end 2007

The conservative Media Research Council has announced the Best Notable Quotables of 2007. The winner is truly funny, and most are very instructive. However, another entry from the MRC, which arrived in my inbox a week later, caught my attention.

It appears sexism against Hillary Clinton has to become a big issue. Whether it’s idiots falling for deliberate trolling, or defenders who need foils for attacks they can’t handle, accusations of prejudice become the last refuge of political hacks.

The original of a curiously sanitised piece by Jonathan Tilove in the Seattle Times of 29 November was a little different from what’s posted there now. The original was published in an MRC email on 26 December, but has not yet made it to its rather primitive-looking website. The MRC says that in excerpt, it reads as follows:

Sen. Hillary Clinton is facing an onslaught of open misogynistic expression. Step lightly through that thickly settled province of the Web you could call anti-Hillaryland and you are soon knee-deep in ‘bitch,’ ‘slut,’ ‘skank,’ ‘whore’ and, ultimately, what may be the most toxic four-letter word in the English language….Thanks to several thousand years of phallocentric history, there is no comparable vocabulary of degradation for men, no equivalently rich trove of synonyms for a sexually sullied male. As for the word beginning with C? No single term for a man reduces him to his genitals to such devastating effect.

I say bollocks. What a prick. For start, this schmuck surely knows that the C word is commonly applied to men, without reference to either women or their degree of sexual sulliedness? And what tosser removes offensive language from an article after it’s been published? I’d also challenge this dickhead to search the “thickly settled province of the Web you could call anti-Bushland”, and analyse the epithets found there. Hint: they’re not “clear-eyed” and “rosy-cheeked”. Not even with witty sarcasm. In fact, I’d wager he’d find a fair few of a character that would offend his delicate sensibilities.

Besides, how anti-feminist of Tilove to think that Mrs Clinton is too fragile as a woman to tolerate the sort of ribald political rough-riding that typifies the more puerile corners of the interwebs.

Juggling matric pass stats

Ve vill tell you, ja?There’s an interesting observation by Naledi Pandor, our education minister, in this story about the declining pass rate for matrics. The article notes that pass rates across the country have declined, year-on-year, but on a growing base. “The national pass rate this year is 65.2 percent compared to 66.5 percent last year, but 368 217 passed Grade 12 this year, a huge increase from the 272 488 who passed in 1998,” the story says.

“I find it strange that, despite the fact that more children have passed, we say we have done badly this year,” it quotes Pandor, in response.

But wait a second. The pass rate compares 2007 with 2006, while the matric population compares 2007 with 1998. This is a problem. So let’s complete the comparison. In 1998, the pass rate was only 51%. By that measure, 2007 is considerably better than 1998 in both absolute and relative terms, and shows an increase in the number of full-time students from 534 290 to 564 750. I couldn’t find the number of students who sat the 2006 exams, but approximate numbers in the media suggest a small improvement (of about 2 500, or 0.7%) in absolute numbers of matric passes between 2006 and 2007, despite the decline in the pass rate.

I’m no fan of our lengthy, superfluous and failing experiment in “outcomes-based education”. The pass rate should concern us, and the fact that it declined in the last three years is troubling. So, even more significantly, should matric standards. However, if schools are reaching more kids that previously didn’t go to school, perhaps the decline in pass rate isn’t indicative of declining quality of education. As long as it isn’t an excuse for failing to take the overall pass rate seriously, or a cover for a decline in matric standards, we should probably concede that Pandor’s department has achieved at least one thing: increasing the absolute number of successful matriculants South Africa produces.

Reaching any further conclusions, whether positive or negative, requires more complete data. If anyone knows where I can find such data, send me a link. I’d be interested to spend some time on it.

Bhutto’s eulogy, in her own words

Benazir Bhutto, RIPI’ve been a bit at a loss for something worthwhile to say about Benazir Bhutto’s assassination yesterday. I’ve long been worried about the future of Pakistan and its position in global politics, which is perplexing and complex. The only comment I had upon hearing the news was a short expletive that means nothing and says everything.

So perhaps her own words are the most fitting tribute:

The sanctity of the political process must not be allowed to be destroyed by the terrorists. Democracy and moderation must be restored to Pakistan, and the way to do that is through free and fair elections establishing a legitimate government with a popular mandate–leaders supported by the people. Intimidation by murdering cowards will not be allowed to derail Pakistan’s transition to democracy.

Far less encouraging is what she told the Wall Street Journal on a previous occasion: “The military regime needs the threat of al Qaeda and the militants to justify military rule, to justify the derailment of democracy … and also because it brings the money in. You see, if there is no threat, there is no money.”

If this is true — and there’s reason to believe it is — then Pakistan has not only lost a beloved political leader and agent for peaceful change, but also a real opportunity at ridding itself of the violence and destabilisation that Islamists and their terrorist cohorts inflict upon ordinary Pakistanis. Not to mention the nuclear threat they could pose, if they succeed. In its political analysis, the Journal calls Bhutto the Islamists’ biggest scalp since Anwar Sadat in 1981.

Don’t get me wrong. Benazir Bhutto was no saint. But one does not have to approve of a politician, or agree with all their politics and all their past actions, to mourn their loss to democracy. South Africans remember Chris Hani and the real fears of civil war and reprisal that followed his murder. Hani was no saint, but like Bhutto, he was a powerful force for peace and democratic change. My reaction to hearing of his death was, verbatim, the same as my reaction to Bhutto’s murder. At the risk of extending the comparison too far, I’d wager Americans remember JFK or MLK with similar sentiments.

Political assassinations are extremely painful, disturbing and unjust, no matter who the target is and what they stand for. I truly hope Pakistan will find peace and freedom through the crucible of their pain and grief.

Could markets make law more efficient?

New York Supreme ExchangeInteresting article last week in The Times of London, noting the emergence of investments in lawsuits as an asset class.

[Investors] are starting to dabble in lawsuit investment, bankrolling some or all of the heavy upfront costs in return for a share of the damages in the event of a win.

The London-managed hedge fund MKM Longboat last month revealed plans to invest $100million (£50.5million) to finance European lawsuits. Today a new company, Juridica, floats on AIM, having raised £80million to make litigation bets.

Juridica will make investments in ongoing legal claims, mostly in the US, and loans to law firms to finance their costs in pursuing claims.

Profiting from other people’s lawsuits, a practice known as champerty, is illegal in some jurisdictions and risks accusations of ambulance-chasing, but Juridica is concentrating on backing business plaintiffs, where the practice is better established and more accepted. …

Pursuing legal claims can be frighteningly expensive. Plaintiffs have to commit management time and cash years into the future with no certainty of success. Getting an outside investor to share some of the financial pain can be very attractive. So can tapping their litigation experience. While most large companies are well resourced with in-house lawyers, few have litigation experience.

For MKM Longboat and Juridica, weighing up which cases to back and which to shun looks every bit as difficult as picking equity winners, if not more so. They will need to assess the strength of the case, the character of the defendant organisation, the size of the likely damages, the chances of being able to collect those damages and external risks such as political and legislative changes.

They also need to be able to drive a hard bargain with plaintiffs. Each deal will be structured differently and the terms of engagement laid down in advance, in an attempt to prevent later disputes.

Law firms in the US remain one of the few no-go areas for outside equity capital investment. They also appear a safe bet to prosper in the chilliest of economic conditions. No wonder capital is starting to seek out imaginative ways to try to piggyback on their good fortune.

The notion strikes me as a pretty good idea. A market in lawsuits would select lawsuits with merit, without stepping on anyone’s rights. It won’t buy verdicts, but will probably improve the chances of suits with merit by providing both resources and skill. It will expand access to expensive and difficult legal remedies for civil wrongs, and reduce the price of contingency fees.

In response to two comments on Marginal Revolution, jp notes that it will likely complement measures already extant to extend legal access to less well-resourced plaintiffs:

This could be a very good thing if it helps to deter predatory behavior against financially weak individuals.

Enormously valuable in cases where a party may be stronger on the merits but lacks the resources to complete the case. Sounds like a good investment.

Just to be clear, the contingency-fee mechanism and class-action mechanism in the States already speak to these concerns. If someone has a strong, valuable claim, s/he will have no trouble finding a good lawyer willing to fund his/her case in exchange for a share of the damages. Similarly, if a large number of people have been injured in a small way (at the individual level), there will be no shortage of lawyers willing to sue on behalf of a class, in exchange for a share of the judgment.

That being said, I can’t really deny that having a free market in lawsuits (as opposed to a market in which lawyers are the only buyers) would probably be more efficient economically.

I’m no lawyer, but one danger seems to me that it may compound the troubling impact on the economy of creative tort lawyers who are motivated by contingency fees to seek crippling punitive damage awards in favour of their client classes. However, I’m not convinced that commoditised champerty by investment companies will make this problem worse than it already is, and anyway, I’d rather do away with the notion of punitive damages, in favour of limiting claims to actual damages, to solve it.

10 reasons to reject global warming still stand

Blue Knockout (Tom Wilson, oil on canvas, click for gallery)A couple of weeks ago, prompted by a listing of my most popular posts, Nick van der Leek assailed the then most popular (scroll down to the blue text), 10 reasons to reject global warming, which was itself a response to a comment of his on a Maverick magazine column I re-published here.

He did this not very well, I might add, and I’ve been idly mulling a mild fisking. This Day of Goodwill Boxing Day seems as good a day as any for it.

He wrote:

NVDL: I recently read a blog which listed the blogger’s top stories. I recall this person’s top blog was something like 10 Reasons Not to worry about Global Warming, or 10 reasons Climate Change is a Hoax. That strikes as [sic] the sort of delusional drivel smoking companies came up with just before their advertising was phased out: 10 Myths About Smoking, Why Doctors Smoke, Smoking Is Sexy and Other Benefits.

Except that I didn’t write anything about smoking. Nor do I have a pecuniary interest in writing marketing material either for or against the global warming hypothesis. If you want to claim that I’m wrong by all means do so, but then respond to what I actually wrote rather than railing against red herrings.

I can imagine that these sorts of bogus and brain dead stories are popular.

You haven’t yet shown that my story is either bogus or brain dead. And to do so, you’d have to convince me that all 10 reasons I cited are wrong. As I pointed out in the original post, failure to do so for any one of them would mean my key argument stands. (The key argument being that there is insufficient reason to accept the necessity for governments to enforce, by law, tax or otherwise, standards of behaviour consistent with the theory of global warming.)

I can also write popular popcorn crap for example:

1) Why AIDS isn’t worth worrying about
2) How to succeed without a matric
3) Slag off your boss and win
4) How to cheat on your partner and get them to love you more than they do now
5) How to lose weight by eating more ice cream
6) Make more money by working less
7) How to succeed without really trying
8) How to lie to people without giving yourself away
9) 10 Reasons Not To Save
10) Why Fast Food Is Healthier Than Home cooked Meals

But I didn’t write any of that, now did I? I wrote 10 reasons to reject global warming.

There’s a reason people would want to read the above garbage, and it’s a simple one: they want it to be true, they want a lazy, easy approach to getting what they want. In the same way, we want to NOT worry about Climate Change, because that allows us to do squat all.

You’ve ignored the possibility that worrying about climate change and doing something about it might not have any benefits at all; it might be ineffective. Or it might have benefits, but impose costs that exceed those benefits. Or, worst of all, it might cause harm instead of reducing it.

A cost-benefit evaluation is a lot more complicated than “we don’t want to incur costs”. In order to justify incurring costs, one should first be convinced that some benefit will accrue, and second, that the benefit is likely to exceed the costs. Uninformed speculation about my motives might constitute an attack on my character, but it does not attack my arguments.

You telling them [sic] it’s true, and the fact that your drivel is popular doesn’t make it any less drivel, it just shows the extent of our delusion, the desperate buy in, and how the stupid infect one another.

I never made any claim about what the post’s popularity means. In fact, I agree with you: the popularity of drivel doesn’t make it any less drivel, just like the popularity of global warming alarmism doesn’t make it any more true. And, to quote Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda, don’t call me stupid.

Today I did a statistical scan of the Top Stories on [a particular] website for the year 2007. It wasn’t a story on Lucky, or Gift Leremi, or a newsy political story. No, it was this:

Women now ‘raping’ men

I’m still waiting for a single actual argument against a single point I made. Your point is?

My point is, although the populace may be entertained and moved and interested by tabloid junk, the information we disseminate (whether through talking, emailing or blogging) ought to be sensible, rational and constructive (as least to the extent that we are), and certainly not intentionally the opposite. When we do this, we do so to our collective cost. We spread mediocrity and deaden our sensitivities, our value for life and the living depreciates in favor of laziness.

And this does not apply to you? Is global warming alarmism “sensible, rational and constructive” just because you say it is? Well, I say it is “intentionally the opposite”. Shall we flip a coin to see who’s right, or shall we rationally weigh my ten arguments against your extended non-argument?

Are we prostitutes for popularity, like Peter Keating (living only for cheap fame and sucking up to the approval of the mob) as opposed to a deeper, more personal, more integral and integrated vision – such as Howard Roark’s (in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead).

You chose a very curious example here. Did someone hack your blog and plant a mine? I seem to recall that Howard Roark was not given to toeing the “consensus” line, opposed the forcible imposition by governments upon individuals of rules and restrictions demanded by a majority, and resented being told how he “ought to” behave. Yet this is exactly what you’re telling me to do. I never cited popularity in support of my arguments. By contrast, you’re appealing to a “consensus” view, and have done so on several previous occasions to support the assertion that we must radically change the way we live to conform to your ideas of decency (including, memorably, accepting not that we might need alternatives to oil, but that “the happy motoring era must end”).

Otherwise we get lost in a cycle that is neither intelligent or useful, and it says a lot about the human animal and our lot, or what our lot can conceivably be.

Wow, flew away on that thought tangent….

And in all that tangential wordage, you presented not a single argument disputing any of the 10 reasons I cited for rejecting global warming. That’d be nil down, 10 to go, then.