Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Blog Roll Changes

I have removed Moneybox from my blog roll as Matthew Yglesias is no longer writing it having left Slate to join Ezra Klein's new venture with Vox. I have wanted to include Kevin Drum's blog for Mother Jones for some time but was unable to get the link to function properly.  It now seems to be working so I have added Drum.  I have also returned Nate Silver to my blog roll as he has finally completed the move from the New York Times to ESPN with the launch of the new FiveThirtyEight site Monday.  Like Drum (and others) I am not too impressed with the new site so far but hopefully it will get better.  

Saturday, March 15, 2014

My Bondage and My Freedom

I recently read "My Bondage and My Freedom" by Frederick Douglass.  Douglass was born a slave in Maryland around 1817.  He escaped to the North in 1838.  This 1855 book (the second of three autobiographical works by Douglass) largely consists of an account of his years as a slave in Maryland (where he moved between the Eastern Shore where he was born and Baltimore).  It also contains a less comprehensive account of his life as a free man (including a 21 month trip to Great Britain) and in an appendix excerpts from abolitionist speeches and letters of his.

I found the account of his years as a slave interesting and worth reading.   For the most part I (as a layman) also found it credible although a little caution is in order as a book like this is to some extent abolitionist propaganda.  But Douglass comes across as a reasonably objective observer, noting for example that some of the mistreatment of slaves he reports was not typical (which of course was of little help to a slave who unluckily found themself at the mercy of an exceptionally bad master).  And in truth the case against slavery doesn't really need embellishment, the facts are bad enough.

One point about which I am a little doubtful is Douglass's repeated claim that harsh treatment of slaves was rational and necessary from the perspective of the (amoral) slave owner, that any leniency would just encourage thoughts of rebellion (or escape).  This seems to have been true for Douglass himself but I wonder to what extent he is rationalizing what could be seen as lack of gratitude for relatively good treatment.  Or perhaps I am just reluctant to let go of the fantasy that if I had owned slaves I would have been such a fair and generous master that I would have inspired loyalty.

I was also a little puzzled by of Douglass's seeming lack of interest regarding the identity of the (white or nearly white) man who was his father.  Perhaps he really didn't care but I wouldn't be too surprised if this was a bigger concern to him than he lets on.

I found the account easy to read and the language and style surprisingly modern (to the extent that I looked for and found a statement that the 1969 Dover edition I read was an unaltered reproduction of the original).  I found the rest of the book less interesting, it could be skipped without losing too much.

In summary I found this book to be pretty good and a useful reminder that even the life of a relatively privileged slave in the old South left a great deal to be desired.  

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Double Double Post

As I have noted before I check my bank statements.  Once a decade or so I find an error.  The latest example was earlier this week when I noticed my bank had for some unknown reason paid two of my checks twice.  When I complained my bank assured me that this was a "rare event" and that they would fix things.  And in fact the money is now back in my account.  Although as I suspected would happen I have lost two weeks interest. But since this amounts to less than a penny I suppose I will let that go.  As for how rare this is, the statement entries reversing the errors contained 10-digit reference numbers.  6 digits clearly indicated the date leaving a 4-digit sequence number.  So it appears my bank has to correct thousands of errors every day.  Probably this is still a small fraction of their daily transactions.

I will admit that I no longer try to verify that I being credited with the correct interest.  Perhaps I should.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


The Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in Hall v. Florida.  I was not impressed.  This is a follow up case to Atkins v. Maryland, a 2002 case in which the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded.  In Hall v. Florida Hall's lowest tested IQ was 71 which is above the IQ 70 cutoff for mental retardation.  So Hall was denied the exemption provided by Atkins v. Maryland.  But Hall argues IQ tests have a margin of error so even though his tested IQ was 71 his true IQ could be at or below the 70 cutoff.  This argument would have some force if the state was required to prove Hall is not retarded.  But since it was undisputed at oral argument that the burden of proof is on Hall to prove that he is mentally retarded his objection seems basically frivolous.  A tested IQ of 71 indicates it is more likely than not his true IQ is 71 or higher which is above the cutoff so it is more likely than not that he is not retarded.  Whereas he had the burden of showing at a minimum that it is more likely than not that he is retarded.  Which he has not done even if he has shown there is a substantial chance that he is retarded.  But while this seems perfectly clear to me the Supreme Court justices and advocates seemed rather muddled and confused about this point.  So it is possible, perhaps likely, that they will rule for Hall out of distaste for the death penalty and justify their decision with a confused and illogical opinion.