• Women: Getting to the Top Is Tougher for Women. Men: Nah.

    Why do women have a hard time making it to the top in America? Let’s ask them! And while we’re at it, let’s ask men too:

    That’s a little small and hard to read. Sorry. You can read the entire survey here.

    But small or not, the results are pretty clear, and they’re pretty much the same in politics and business: women believe there are lots of structural issues holding them back: they have to do more to prove themselves, they face more gender discrimination, they get less support from higher-ups, sexual harassment makes it hard to succeed, etc.

    But men? By 20 or 30 points, they believe a lot less in these structural issues. Less support? Sexual harassment? Nah. Not really an issue. There’s a pool of men, maybe a quarter to a third of the total, who just don’t believe in any of this fem-lib nonsense. Women face no more problems than men—hell, maybe less these days, amirite?—and they should stop whining about it. Now, who wants a beer?

  • Lunchtime Photo

    Continuing with my Overexposed LA™ series, this is one of my favorites—although it’s not especially overexposed, is it? In any case, you may recall a story a couple of months ago about going up to Griffith Observatory, taking a wrong turn, and then stopping because I saw a picture I had to take right away. This is it. While I was looking for a spot to turn around, I looked out the car window and saw the observatory with the moon rising right above it, so I pulled over at my first opportunity and ran back with my tripod in hand to get this picture. I really like it.

    As it turned out, my “first opportunity” to pull over was a spot that didn’t allow parking. Luckily for me, another guy saw me parking and apparently figured that if I was parking there, it must be OK. Not so. When I huffed and puffed my way back, his car was being towed away. If he hadn’t been there, it probably would have been me being towed away. Needless to say, I hopped into my car and took off before anyone had a chance to get a second tow truck up there. Then I zipped over to the observatory and took this picture, another of my favorites. It was a very productive half hour of photography.

    June 28, 2018 — Los Angeles, California
  • Chart of the Day: A Taxpayer’s Guide to Skyrocketing Federal Spending

    Republicans are gearing up for their latest round of deficit fever. Larry Kudlow previewed this yesterday with the usual blueprint ready at hand: deficits have nothing to do with tax cuts. It’s all about out-of-control spending.

    We’re going to be hearing a lot more about this in the coming months, I’m sure, so I figured everyone would welcome a simple chart to help guide our way in this highly complex and technical debate. So here it is: our skyrocketing federal spending. Whatever will we do?

  • Robot Puppies Will Soon Be Man’s Best Friend

    Good boy!Yoshio Tsunoda/AFLO via ZUMA

    Sony ended production of its robot dog, Aibo, more than a decade ago, but now it’s back and better than ever. The robotics are better, the intelligence is better, and—well, let’s allow Washington Post tech columnist Geoffrey Fowler to explain:

    Aside from walking around the house, barking and performing a few tricks, Aibo doesn’t do a whole lot. It can’t play music or answer trivia like a smart speaker, though those would be welcome additions.

    Yet here’s why Aibo matters: Despite all those limitations, I fell for it. Over two weeks of robot foster parenting, almost every person I introduced to Aibo went a little gaga. The Amazon Echo and Google Home speakers got us to open our homes to new ways to interact with computers. Aibo offers a glimpse of how tech companies will get us to treat them more like members of the family. Affectionate robots have the potential to comfort, teach and connect us to new experiences — as well as manipulate us in ways we’ve not quite encountered before.

    Aibo works, in part, because real robots are catching up with what we’ve been trained by Pixar movies to find adorable. Aibo’s 22 joints — including one bouncy tail and two perky ears — and OLED-screen eyes communicate joy, sorrow, boredom or the need for a nap.

    When I talk to people about artificial intelligence, the most common pushback has to do with emotion and sociability. Sure, maybe robots will be better than us at driving cars or doing taxes, but they’ll never replace a conversation with friends or provide any kind of emotional support. A robot brain just can’t do this.

    I couldn’t agree less. As far as I’m concerned, the human brain is a proof of concept that a human brain can exist. And if a human brain can exist on a substrate of CHON-based mush,¹ why can’t it exist on a substrate of silicon and trace metals? Do we really think that CHON-based mush is all that special?

    Of course not. But that’s the easy part to knock down. The real criticism of our alleged robot future is that humans are just too smart, too evolved, too well developed. There’s no way that a computer algorithm can even simulate human emotions, let alone truly feel them. But I am a cynic: not only do I think algorithms can do this, I think they can do it pretty easily. The truth is that we humans aren’t really all that smart. We’re basically overclocked apes with a few extra cognitive tricks tossed in, and those tricks aren’t especially sophisticated. Not only are we easily fooled, we practically beg to be fooled. It’s why we get conned so easily, it’s why racism is so widespread, and it’s why we trust a pretty face more than an ugly one. We’re suckers for crude heuristics that probably served some useful purpose on the savannah but often do more harm than good in 21st century society.

    Anyway. My point is that we’re more easily fooled on emotional matters than other things. Geoffrey Fowler is an adult, and knows perfectly well that Aibo is just a hunk of silicon that’s programmed with a few tricks to seem sort of doglike. But he found Aibo adorable anyway. I’ll bet elderly folks who don’t get much company would too. So would I if they made a cat version.² And that’s despite the fact that even the 2.0 version of Aibo is obviously very, very limited. But give it another ten years and we’ll barely be able to tell Aibo apart from the real thing.

    And another ten years after that we’ll have human robots who can worm their way into our hearts and con us out of our life’s savings. Our robot future is looking better all the time, isn’t it?

    ¹That’s carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, the basic building blocks of organic matter.

    ²What’s up with that, anyway? Are cats harder to simulate than dogs?

  • North and South Korea Make Modest Progress in Latest Talks

    Pyongyang Press Corps/Xinhua via ZUMA

    North and South Korea have signed a series of agreements designed to ratchet down tensions between the two countries:

    But more eye-catching to Washington was his promise to dismantle a missile engine-test facility and a missile launchpad in northwest North Korea that have been essential to the country’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and invite outside experts to watch.

    To go further, Mr. Kim has demanded “corresponding” measures from the United States, like declaring a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War, which was halted only with a truce. In return, he has proposed to “permanently dismantle” the Yongbyon nuclear complex, the heart of his country’s nuclear program, among other steps. Mr. Kim’s offer to permanently dismantle the Yongbyon facilities is significant. North Korea is believed to have produced all its plutonium there.

    What exactly are the “corresponding” measures that Kim wants? The devil is all in the details here.

  • For the Middle Class, Wages Are Pretty Much the Whole Story

    As I mentioned a few days ago, benefits have risen a little faster than cash wages lately:

    U.S. employers are boosting benefits—including bonuses and vacation time—at a faster pace than salaries, a move that gives them more flexibility to dial back that compensation if the economy turns sour. The cost of benefits for private-sector employers rose 3% in June from a year earlier, while the cost of wages and salaries advanced 2.7%, the Labor Department said Tuesday.

    This is not a huge difference, and it looks worse if you break it down by type of benefit:

    Call me cynical, but without bothering to check this out I think it’s safe to say that bonuses and retirement pay are heavily skewed in favor of the affluent and the rich. For ordinary working-class and middle-class workers, total compensation has probably risen a hair faster than cash wages, but that’s all. What this means is that when you see the annual earnings reported by the Census Bureau—which is what all of us rely on for basic wage data—it’s pretty close to total compensation data. Total comp for the middle class may be growing faster than wages alone, but only by a tiny bit.

  • Rich People Can No Longer Hide Their Political Contributions

    Sad news for rich people today:

    Advocacy groups pouring money into independent campaigns to impact this fall’s midterm races must disclose many of their political donors beginning this week after the Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to intervene in a long-running case. The high court did not grant an emergency request to stay a ruling by a federal judge in Washington.

    ….Nonprofit advocacy groups — which do not have to publicly disclose their donors, as political committees do — will now have to begin reporting the names of contributors who give more than $200 per election toward their independent political campaigns, campaign finance lawyers said….The change could affect heavyweight groups across the political spectrum, including the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity on the right and the League of Conservation Voters on the left.

    To be honest, I’ve never quite understood why rich people are so hellbent on hiding their political contributions, but I guess now we’ll find out just how serious they are. I assume this will wend its way up to the Supreme Court normally in a year or two, and then we’ll get a permanent ruling. In the meantime, if you want to give a million bucks to Americans for Trumpocracy, you’re going to have to let the whole world know you’re doing it.

  • California Kindergarteners Need to Pick Up the Pace

    This caught my eye in the LA Times this morning:

    When students enter school in California, they learn at a pace on par with — if not better than — those in other states. The problem is that they arrive far behind their national peers, and they never catch up.

    This conclusion, from a sweeping research project aimed at charting future education policy, focuses new attention on what is often overlooked: infant and toddler care, parenting skills, preschool and early childhood education. The researchers argue that if California wants to improve student achievement in schools, it has to start much earlier so that children are prepared when they show up for kindergarten.

    I’m a fan of early childhood education, but I was surprised that a new report finds that California children arrive in kindergarten “far behind” their national peers. Here’s how California’s kindergarten students stack up compared to the rest of the country:

    The white line is California while the yellow line is the US average. As you can see, kids in poor districts arrive at kindergarten with scores about a third of a standard deviation below kids in poor districts elsewhere in the country, both in reading and math. Speaking very roughly, this is a difference of around one grade level. However, once they start school, they progress pretty well:

    Poor students actually progress a little better in California compared to the rest of the country. In fact, poor students progress about one-eighth of a grade level faster than average, which means that by the end of elementary school they’ve pretty much caught up to poor students in the rest of the country.

    I’m still in favor of good early childhood programs, but I’m not sure this data provides much evidence for it. Even if weak ECE participation is responsible for the lagging performance of California’s kindergarten students, it’s a smallish lag that seems to be made up after a few years. It’s hard to draw very strong conclusions from any of this.

  • Republicans Have a Big Dilemma This Year

    Lots of moderate Republicans are fully convinced that the November election is an important one. The problem is that they increasingly think Trump is a crackpot and they care more about Democratic priorities than Republicans ones.Brian Cahn/ZUMA

    An internal GOP poll shows that Republican voters are feeling pretty confident:

    A private survey conducted for the Republican National Committee and obtained by Bloomberg Businessweek contains alarming news for Republicans hoping to hold on to control of Congress in November: Most Trump supporters don’t believe there’s a threat that Democrats will win back the House. President Trump’s boasts that a “red wave” could increase Republican majorities appear to have lulled GOP voters into complacency, raising the question of whether they’ll turn up at the polls.

    ….The internal RNC study finds that complacency among GOP voters is tied directly to their trust in the president—and their distrust of traditional polling. “While a significant part of that lack of intensity is undoubtedly due to these voters’ sentiments toward the President, it may also be partly because they don’t believe there is anything at stake in this election,” the authors write. “Put simply, they don’t believe that Democrats will win the House. (Why should they believe the same prognosticators who told them that Hillary was going to be elected President?)”

    So there’s good news and bad news here for the Republican Party. The good news is that Donald Trump has been strikingly successful at persuading Republican voters that the mainstream media is just a bunch of anti-Trump fake news and should be ignored. The bad news is that…Republican voters don’t believe anything in the mainstream media anymore, even when it’s true. So they figure Republicans are way ahead in the polling and there’s not much point in bothering to vote this year.

    But what about the moderates, the folks who aren’t Trump true believers? Well, it turns out that they pose an entirely different problem:

    The study says GOP fortunes will hinge on the party’s ability to activate “soft” supporters: “Those voters who ‘somewhat approve’ of Trump and those who support the President’s policies but not his leadership style are the ones posing a challenge to the party.” Motivating these voters could be tricky. One hurdle is Trump’s chaotic style, which shows no sign of changing. Another is that the issues soft Republicans care about most are ones involving government spending and are typically associated with Democrats. The survey found that increasing funding for veterans’ mental health services, strengthening and preserving Medicare and Social Security, and reforming the student loan system all scored higher than Trump’s favored subjects of tax cuts, border security, and preserving the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

    Long story short: Trump’s core constituency loves him, but can’t conceive that he could possibly lose. So why bother voting? Conversely, his more moderate supporters totally believe he could lose, but increasingly think that’s just fine. They like the Democratic platform better anyway.

    It’s a dilemma.