Sunday, November 25, 2007

Political Fans and Sport Fans

I believe when David Kuo replied to criticisms of his post in which he called the New England Patriots “cheaters,” he also made a parallel in terms of the paradigm that many citizens have with their own political party and politics in general.

My surmise at the connection is to relate the studies which show that when speaking in terms of politics, most people will simply forego rational responses, and as brain scans have shown, political thoughts deal more with emotional responses. Considering that all one would have to do to see the parallel with sports it to simply attend a sports bar, or go to a friend’s house to see a football game, then I think the point with associating sports and pure emotional thought is a very simple and obvious one to make.

So, when David Quo remarked that the Patriots are “cheaters,” he ticked off a few people. However, consider that their coach did illegally record the other team’s play signals. Is that not cheating?

I think what might be an important exercise is to understand the definitions of what certain parties are accused of. What is a “cheater?” What is a “war criminal?” Unless the definitions have changed, then aren’t the participants guilty?

Part of the reason as to why the rational section of the brain gets taken over is because of the perceived cost of and benefit of being a fan and taking a position. Consider that an individual’s ideological preference has more of a benefit than the cost for holding that belief. Bryan Caplan calls this rational irrationality. That is to say, there is a benefit to the person for holding an irrational belief.

One example I thought of was this: Since the probability of dying in a terrorist attack is so small, then holding a strong pro-torture position - which most likely creates anti-American sentiment that breeds more terrorists and terrorism – holds relatively little cost to the internal benefit of holding that ideological perspective. Therefore, since the ideological position holds so much weight for the individual, any effort to disagree with, or demerit the position will anger that person.

The hope is that with time, more and more people become aware of how emotional and irrational some of their paradigms can be. This is why even though I may not always agree with another economist, holding a conversation with them does not usually end in fistfights.

Of course, I may be wrong about mending these trends with sports. For some reason, people hold on harder to what they believe when it comes down to their local sport team. As Americans, we should simply be thankful for not having full-blown soccer riots.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Vocal Religious Fundamentalism

The following is an email I sent to my close friend and psychological expert, William. His thoughtful and eloquent response to this email is here.

Hi Will,

This afternoon, I would like to follow up on my statement as to the sorrow that one should feel after watching Tuesday's Nova: Judgment Day. You said that you felt "revved up" in watching the law bring back a very controversial topic in terms of teaching Intelligent Design within the Dover, PA school district, however I ordered caution because of the locality and numeration of what I anticipated would be a very harsh reaction.

As I have rightly anticipated, there was a very strong reaction to the negative towards PBS, as seen by the
latest Ombudsman column.

Yet by about a three-to-one margin, the long compilation of letters from viewers that appears below were critical of the program, charging a one-sided treatment, a bias toward evolution colored by the producers, and that it was insulting to believers.

Here is just one of the many emails sent in to Michael Getler, the Ombudsman for PBS.

It doesn't take a "Rocket Scientist" to figure out that if we, as humans, evolved from monkeys . . . THEN WHY? . . . Are there STILL Monkeys??? We were "Created" by God!!! Pull up AOL now and you'll notice the Gov. of Georgia praying for rain, (No Doubt to GOD). When 9/11 happened what did every good neighbor do? PRAY. Not to monkeys . . . To our "Creator"!!! It shouldn't take tragic and desperate circumstances for people to realize this fact!!! GOD BLESS AMERICA!!! In GOD We Trust!!!

Sonya L. Johnson, North Port, FL

Once again, I, like Sam Harris, must ask you why you feel revved up about the Dover, PA decision while such a strong constituency has goals of turning our country into a theocracy. What is more, is that while fundamentalist Christianity can be argued as being a minority, many have admitted that the religious moderates are as much to blame for their lack of confrontation fundamentalism, and thereby allowing it to control the discourse of the U.S. public image.

Also, of an ironic nature, those who would so quickly take the United States to war against the theocracy of Iran would also just as quickly make our country a theocracy, just Christian, not Muslim.

I put the question to you, how do you think we will avoid war? Who are those of "cool" disposition, and how much of our discourse do they control, as opposed to war hawks and religious fundamentalists? I would like to hear how the U.S.' current theory of presidential powers prevents one of those of vocal minority to do as he pleases? Does our current theory of presidential power prevent anything?

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Achievement Gap, The NCAA, and Us

A few weeks ago, over at Science Blogs, Chad Orzel wrote:

Is it a good thing that only 52% of Maryland's black male athletes graduate? No. But the real tragedy is that only 54% of Maryland's black male students graduate. We should fix that problem first-- by improving public education so that students from poor and minority backgrounds come to college with the tools they need to succeed-- and see if the athletic graduation rates don't take care of themselves.

But it's easy to write self-righteous editorials blasting high-profile sports programs for their academic failings, while fixing the class and race problems of American education will cost real money, and require actual work. And nobody wants that.

I spent some time thinking over the reports that Orzel used to make his point. I make no claim to disagree with them whatsoever. Moreover, I do not disagree with Orzel on his point either. I myself have written in regards to the black-white achievement gap multiple times. The achievement gap is real, and is a cause for wage disparities and other socio-economic issues that impact our country.

However, I still stand by the piece of George Will wrote on the NCAA a few months ago. If the goal of the NCAA would be to further encourage the mission of the student athlete, then I would find it dishonest for anyone to think the 55% graduation rate that Will cites as anything worth of a passing mark. That is to say, I still believe the NCAA to be coming up short of its mission.

Nevertheless, the black-white achievement gap is and still should be the priority to eliminate.

Perhaps Chad Orzel felt that the attention has started to shift away from the achievement gap. With that most likely being his motivator, then Orzel’s post is commendable. Yet, I believe that it is still important to note that a graduation rate of “55 percent of football players and 38 percent of basketball players” is deplorable (taken from George Will’s op-ed).

Since the percentage of NCAA black athletes that participate in the “revenue sports” (football and men’s and women’s basketball) has usually hovered around the 50% mark (the literature and statistics for that can be found at, then there is a possibility that the numbers cited by George Will can be affected by the black-white achievement gap. With that in mind, perhaps the NCAA could soon garner some motivation and support to help tackle the black-white achievement gap for itself.

In any case, the achievement gap is real, and I think for the NCAA to continue to laud the student athlete is dishonest when the statistics behind it show that there’s room for improvement.

Orzel hinted at something else when he closed his blog post. He noted that there may be unwillingness for the public to address the achievement gap, and I believe Orzel to be right. There are cultural implications at stake here. Even over at the Freakonomics blog, Steve Levitt will mention his colleague, Roland Fryer, who continues to work on socio-economic issues, such as the black-white achievement gap. Again, Fryer has surveyed students who denote that being smart is “acting white.” Even recently, Levitt reported that Fryer found the latest euphuism to be “acting Asian.”

When anyone talks about having gender roles or seeing stereotypes forced upon others, then perhaps racial roles and stereotypes are themes peddled on by corporate marketers who choose to make products and profit based on those roles, which our culture accepts.

As someone with libertarian leanings, I hope that people will continue to step out of their own stereotypes, and the stereotypes imposed upon them by others. My hope is that with time, people can choose to be smart for themselves, rather than seeing the roles as fixed.

Monday, November 12, 2007


A friend from my college years is teaching in France, and had this to comment on a current student strike:
I think the best thing that I saw today though was the group of students who have started an anti-protest protest! I was handed a flyer when I walked onto campus and thought it was an announcement about the newly blocked buildings, but it actually read something more like this:

The Committee of the fight against the strike

Any student, French of foreign, has the right to go to class.

Whether for or against the university reforms, attending class is a non-negotiable liberty.

This LIBERTY must be respected.

The anti-strike group is protesting against the hostage of students by a small group of agitators.

This is why I have a deep seeded respect and love for France. They will have a revolution over anything. If I were to provide a pop culture metaphor to describe the French’s political activity, I would say that there democracy amplifiers have been turned to “11.”

Whether their paid for schooling yields better results than American college counterparts, I think that matter is up to debate.

Friday, November 09, 2007

A University's Secret Curriculum

A friend emailed me this link that shocked my libertarian leaning conscience, where we find that my alma mater, and former employer, had been trying to “educate” students through the University’s Residence Life Staff. Since the current president of the University made a statement declaring that the program would be shutdown, I believe it safe to assume that the program was in effect to some degree.

Now, what do we mean by, “Educate?” Essentially, Residence Life staff members, and most likely Resident Assistants – which is the position I held, and furthest down on the totem poll – were given a curriculum base for their
residents. That’s right, while they are students at the University and already take classes all day, now the RAs had to administer new curriculum for the residents to learn.

curriculum was based on the following (further explains and opinion can be found here):

  • A re-education of students on various social issues.
  • A mandatory participation basis. (While I would not see that expulsion from dorms as a possibility for a resident not attending, the RAs were in a sense being forced to make residents by means of performance reviews and such. Although, new testimonials are heading more towards the threatening possibility.)
  • Essentially, the outcome would lead to a view of society that sees whites as privileged, and all minorities (based on race, sexual orientation, or gender identification) as marginalized.
  • By changing the student’s paradigm, the University’s goal would be students who were more egalitarian.
  • Also, those goals included having students who would end up making pledges for whatever causes the complex in which they lived set out.

If you are not sure where to begin with what is wrong in the program, don’t worry because I am not sure where to begin either. To put it differently, the University of Delaware essentially played the old, “My house, my rules,” card. There are a few things wrong with that, firstly which is that the University is not the parent of any of these students, and most of the students are over 18.

Why would a university hide its own curriculum? Even in some of the supporting documents, this is described as a curriculum. So, why is it coming out of Residence Life? You would think that being that there are so many other students in the University, maybe there could be some sort of requirement for a class on the brief sociological history of the U.S. and the world, which could cover topics ranging from sexuality to socio-economic, and racial concerns. Of course with that, the problem would be that the classes were mandatory. We have to remember that people are paying for this. As well, with that said, they are
not paying for re-education on social issues from the University’s Residence Life apparatus.

Even then the point of this curriculum was not for education sake, but for making students conform to a paradigm that was already set by the University’s Residence Life arm.

Another problem with the curriculum is that Residence Life decided what the answers to the problems were, and based the education around that. Normally, especially in a higher education background, when ideological problems are given, it is up to the individual to make up their own mind on what they think is right or wrong, and what they want to do about it.

At the core of this, and apparently at the cause of, is the topic of personal liberty. It is a right of every citizen in our nation to espouse whatever stupid, false, and distasteful sentiment they wish. Forcing the students to go through a re-education is the sort of Orwellian doomsday that we all think laughable, but was apparently under way.

Such a program may as well be the affirmation of theocracy and in this case, a secular theocracy. The lack of individual liberty with regards to people’s opinions (however misinformed) is the antithesis of a liberal democracy. At least Jerry Falwell’s college is honest about the misinformation it portrays. And by the way, I still resent the fact that he chose the name, Liberty University.

This is probably the most secretive, and yet seemingly unsubtle form of manufacturing consent I have ever seen. In my experience, college students for the most part live and operate in a bubble that envies President Bush’s. Again, why was this made curriculum? Why was this kept secret in the sense that it was unannounced to residents for what it really was? Why was there such a strong effort to mandate that residents participate? This is at best, disturbing, and at its worst the plot of some sort of
Bond villain.

And while I write this article, something of actual substance, that could of deserved the support of such an “open-minded” Residence Life Staff at the University of Delaware, actually hit the floor in the House a few nights ago, and passed. Up until the bill was passed, homosexuals were not protected from discrimination in the workplace while other minorities were. Please
listen to someone who really cares about the topic, as opposed to having someone “re-educate” you.

(If you click on the link and follow towards Barney Frank’s speech, take note that he is trying to expose a tactic that the Republicans were using. At the time, Republicans were trying to tie in marriage issues into the bill - whereas the bill was really about work discrimination - in an effort so that bill would not be passed.)

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Subsidizing Calories

Rob Hotakainen reports for McClatchy Newspapers that most of the money that goes towards farm subsidies goes for the foods that are not good for us.

What perplexes my logic is trying to figure out why on earth we would subsidize a product, or commodity, that we purchase the most of. You want to complain about subsidizing, or giving tax breaks to oil companies, then what about subsidizing our calorie consumption?

One of the possibilities that come to mind of why we would subsidize something that so many people purchase is for the need to smooth out price shocks that may come within the industry. The only real problem with that is when the industry that is being subsidized makes continuous profits.

Republican Senator Pat Roberts is right though – I never thought I would say that – the real fault of obesity lies within the person making the choice. To argue about farm subsidies in terms of how it could make people obese is really sort of a stretch. Especially when there are much better arguments for reducing or eliminating subsidies.

Tim Harford mentioned something just last week regarding our choices and how the government or firms intervene in our lives.

For example, in many places of work, you have to opt out of the 401k savings plan. That is to say, you are automatically enrolled. What have we seen since? People like it. They are doing something good for themselves – saving money for future retirement - that would otherwise not have been done because the choice was pre-made for them.

Harford used other examples, including smoking in England, and the possibilities of the English government providing more incentives for people to quit. Of course, couldn’t we think about that similarly in the US with what we eat?

I guess the argument could go both ways. Maybe we could subsidize more nutritional foods, and then have people pay higher (less subsidized) prices for other fatty foods. I believe Tim Harford called this paternal libertarianism – he was not advocating it, but simply educating his readers on the term for what we are seeing. Essentially, there is still a strong prevalence for choice, but just that the choice is priced for the ideal of common good.

In the end though, I still have to ask why we subsidize all those foods? Where is the evidence of price shocks? Oh well, why buy the cow when the milk is subsidized?