Thursday, February 25, 2016

Humans Stealing Jobs from Robots

Stuart K. Hayashi

In an article titled "Mercedes Boots Robots from the Production Line," Bloomberg Business reports,

Mercedes-Benz offers the S-Class sedan with a growing array of options such as carbon-fiber trim, heated and cooled cupholders and four types of caps for the tire valves, and the carmaker’s robots can’t keep up. 
With customization key to wooing modern consumers, the flexibility and dexterity of human workers is reclaiming space on Mercedes’s assembly lines. . . . 
“Robots can’t deal with the degree of individualization and the many variants that we have today,” Markus Schaefer, the German automaker’s head of production, said at its factory in Sindelfingen, the anchor of the Daimler AG unit’s global manufacturing network. “We’re saving money and safeguarding our future by employing more people.” . . . 
With manufacturing focused around a skilled crew of workers, Mercedes can shift a production line in a weekend instead of the weeks needed in the past to reprogram robots and shift assembly patterns, Schaefer said. During that downtime, production would be at a standstill.

The robots' union is not pleased.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Right to Privacy Doesn't Extend to Violent Acts, Including Threats of Violence

Any act of violence -- even in self-defense -- has ramifications for everyone in the community. If X threatens violence against Y, there is probable cause to believe X might also be a violent threat to Z as well -- a violent threat to everyone else.   Violence is inherently a public matter, inherently an externality; it cannot properly be privatized and, to use an economics term, the costs of it cannot be fully "internalized."  By that I mean that if X hits Y,and then Y hits X back, it doesn't mean that Y's retaliation has made them both even.  Y's "private" retaliation does not render this a private matter that can be dropped.  No, this remains a public matter because the violence can still escalate.

Anyone who uses violence -- even in self-defense -- is a possible threat to everyone else, and that is why, even when someone uses violence in self-defense, it is right for police and courts to look into the matter and ascertain whether it was indeed self-defense.

And serious threats of violence -- even if not yet acted upon -- are worthy of police attention, as they create probable cause for members of the community to ascertain that the violent threat might be acted upon.  Moreover, if Q goes around falsely accusing R of making a violent threat toward Q, that counts as an initiation of the use of force, as third parties, mistakenly believing they are exercising retaliatory force in defense of Q, may end up being violent toward R, and this would end up being an initiation of the use of force.

Violence and the threat of it are the greatest threat to anyone's liberty; violent threats are what deny someone the freedom of peaceful action.  Moreover, a right to privacy does not extend to someone threatening violence.  That is, if L seriously threatens violence against her own mother, that is something the public has a right to know about, even if L's mother herself tries to dismiss that as something not to be taken seriously.  Even if L's mother dismisses it, other people around L remain potential victims of L if L does not receive proper treatment from mental health professionals or the law.

If you have been threatened with violence, or if it has already been inflicted upon you, you may be justified in fearing that if you come forward to authorities with this information, that it may put you at risk of being subjected to violent reprisals from the assailant.  For that reason, in the short term it may be rational that you tell but a few people about this circumstance and ask them to keep it secret in the foreseeable future.  However, that can only go so far. There is probable cause for the law to inquire as to whether this alleged assailant may pose a violent threat to parties besides you and therefore, in the long run, the protection of every peaceful person's rights requires that this information ultimately be publicly available.  On that basis, a right to privacy does not extend to any credible accusation that you can level about someone either threatening violence or having committed it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Employee of Anti-GMO Group Writes Article for 'Time'; Doesn't Disclose Affiliation, Doesn't Want to Be Labeled?

Stuart K. Hayashi

As The Corporate Crime Reporter reports rather approvingly, Carey Gillam -- formerly a writer for Reuters -- is presently the research director of the advocacy group U.S. Right to Know.  U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) presses lawmakers to impose GMO labeling laws.  The idea is that if a food product contains ingredients from cultivars that resulted from transgenics (more conventionally known as genetic modification), the food product must be labeled as such.  At present, the absence of such laws has not prevented consumers from finding non-GMO foods; there are food producers who take the initiative to label their own products, voluntarily, "non-GMO" or "organic."

In any case, Time magazine has republished an article by Carey Gillam that repeats a favorite talking point of anti-GMO groups:  that regulatory agencies like the FDA have been too lax on account of their not finding the chemical herbicide glyphosate to be significantly dangerous.  Glyphosate -- better known by Monsanto Corporation's brand name, RoundUp -- is of special interest to anti-GMO groups because of it being used in conjunction with GMO crops:  corn and soybeans that are engineered to be resistant to this herbicide.  These glyphosate-resistant crops are known as RoundUp Ready crops.

RoundUp Ready crops and RoundUp are intended to be a method of addressing the problem of soil erosion.  A major problem farmers face is that of weeds competing against the crops for survival.  Often, weeds take the nutrients in the soil that were intended for the crops.  The result is that the weeds thrive while the crops die.  For much of the twentieth century, farmers fought the weeds through a method called tillage -- they would run tilling machines through the fields that would root out and destroy the weeds as the crops remain firmly planted in the field.  A major drawback to this is that the tilling machines inadvertently erode the soil of much-needed components, making it more difficult to re-use the fields for future planting.

RoundUp (glyphosate) was invented in the late 1900s as an effort at no-till (or less-tilling) agriculture.  If RoundUp is sprayed on weeds, then the weeds can be killed without as much of a need to till the soil, thereby reducing soil erosion.  The drawback of this method is that the glyphosate was not discriminating:  it would often kill both the weeds and crops.  The solution came when genetic engineers invented glyphosate-resistant corn and soy.  If you grow RoundUp Ready corn or soy and spray your fields with glyphosate, you can kill the weeds and reduce soil erosion simultaneously as the crops remain unharmed.

Anti-GMO activists often allege that glyphosate is a toxic carcinogen.  It is true that glyphosate can cause cancer if one is exposed to an inordinately high dosage of it --say,drinking literally a ton of it in one day.  Microscopic doses of it, though, have not been shown to be dangerous.  Even if, over the past 30 years, there has been an increase in the spraying of glyphosate, it happens that, overall, the present standard spraying of chemicals by farmers has been less toxic and less environmentally hazardous than the methods of the early 1900s that the present spraying has replaced.  The older methods consisted of applying much more toxic substances.  Anti-GMO activists wish to convince the public that glyphosate is significantly more toxic and dangerous than the FDA and most crop specialists have let on, which would mean that consumers and farmers should give preference to non-GMO and organic produce.

In any case, Time published an article by an employee of USRTK implying that the FDA has been too laissez-faire toward glyphosate use.  As I type this, there is no disclosure in the article itself about the author's affiliation to an anti-GMO pressure group.

When weed management specialist Andrew Kniss pointed this out, Carey Gillam replied to him over Twitter, "too tough to follow the link to original article and my bio?"

The scientist Karl Haro von Mogel responded to her, "Most people will not click the link to search for that. Advice: Put your industry funded affiliation at bottom"

This is what I have to say about it.

First, how difficult would it be for Time to put one sentence on the bottom disclosing that the article's author is the research director of the group US Right to Know?

Ah, but if the article had a disclaimer mentioning that its author worked for a group demanding GMO labeling, wouldn't that be . . . labeling?  An anti-GMO writer doesn't want to be labeled?

To throw their own rhetoric back at them: "We have a Right to Know™ when an ostensibly objective news article on GMOs is authored by an employee of an anti-GMO group."

It's about ethics in journalism. -_-  . . . Yes, really. :@

Saturday, February 13, 2016

New Hampshire Lawmaker Cites 'Onion'-Style Satire Site for GMO Labeling Bill

Stuart K. Hayashi

In the Newbury Port News, New Hampshire lawmaker Max Abramson has a letter to the editor stating,

A 31-year-old Spanish man, Juan Pedro Ramos, died at Madrid hospital from anaphylaxis after eating some recently developed tomatoes containing fish genes, which provoked a violent and lethal allergic reaction in January of last year. Because these genetically engineered foods are not labeled in the U.S., there is no way of knowing why so many Americans suddenly become sick, end up paralyzed, or even die without any known cause. . . . 
In Concord, I have sponsored House Bill 1674 that would require that these products be labeled in order to guarantee that consumers are able to avoid products that have been genetically altered to produce proteins that are not part of the normal human diet. Readers in New Hampshire are asked to email their legislators and ask them to support this important bill.

That sounds serious.  But as Joanna Lidback and the scientist mem_somerville informed me on Twitter (here and here), the story is fake.  It is from a satirical "fake news" website similar to The Onion and Weekly World News, called World News Daily Report.  It has a disclaimer saying,
All characters appearing in the articles in this website – even those based on real people –  are entirely fictional and any resemblance between them and any persons, living, dead, or undead is purely a miracle.

You can see the fake article here.   It begins, "Doctors of the Carlos III hospital confirmed this morning in a press conference, the first case of human death caused by the ingestion of genetically modified food. Juan Pedro Ramos died from anaphylaxis after eating some recently developed tomatoes containing fish genes, which provoked a violent and lethal allergic reaction."

Snopes confirms the story is fake over here (I learned about that from "intrepid wanders.")

That same World News Daily Report  published "David Rockefeller's Sixth Heart Transplant Successful at Age 99," complete with a spooky/goofy picture of the actually-deceased billionaire. Maybe that can be the inspiration for a health care-related bill?

UPDATE from February 15, 2016.  On State Rep. Max Abramson's Facebook page, the scientist Karl J. Haro von Mogel informed the state representative of his error: "So you are saying that the justification for this bill is 1) A fake news story about fishy tomatoes, and 2) an online forum posting that you cannot find?"

State Rep. Abramson replied directly to Haro von Mogel's comment, but did not directly address the erroneous citation of the fake news story: "No. A lot of people have contacted us personally or by email saying that their health--or their patients' health--has been adversely affected by GMO's."

As I type this update, this is the closest that State Rep. Abramson has come to acknowledging the error: "Correction: The initial story was supposed to be about the woman who was hospitalized for three weeks because of exposure to GMO corn."

WHAT?!!!!!  That's it???????

Then State Rep. Abramson's Facebook page started deriding Rick Berman, a lobbyist for the fast-food and beverage industries and someone involved with the Center for the Consumer Freedom, implying that Rick Berman's circle is trying to discredit him.  To my knowledge, Rick Berman's organizations are not related to State Rep. Abramson's letter to the editor citing a satirical, fake news story.

By the way, State Rep. Abramson's official Facebook page says the man is a "libertarian" for "smaller government" and "local control." How "small government" is it to force vendors that sell GMO foods to have labels? If there is such high demand for foods that are non-GMO that people are willing to choose non-GMO foods over GMO foods, then food vendors can voluntarily choose to label their own products as "non-GMO" or "organic."

UPDATE from February 17, 2016 (since this particular post is generating much more traffic than what this blog usually gets):  This particular blog post relates to biology; another important science is abnormal psychology.  If you are interested in the latter, you can read a spine-chilling memoir relating to abnormal psychology, "Photoshopped to Resemble a Corpse" (the true story comes with a "trigger warning":  it makes reference to childhood abuse and other harrowing, traumatic phenomena).

LATER UPDATE from February 17, 2016 (10:17 p.m. Hawaii Time):  Time magazine published an article on a GMO-related technology, the chemical herbicide glyphosate, without disclosing that the article's author is the research director of the anti-GMO pressure group U.S. Right to Know.  When the weed management specialist Andrew Kniss pointed out that this potential conflict of interest was not disclosed by Time, the author gave a reply conveying that she did not think this was such a big deal.  Does this mean an employee of a group that demands that GMOs be labeled does not want her potential conflict of interest to be . . . labeled?  Readers have a right to know!  I have a separate blog post about that here.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

A Critical Eye on the Threat Narrative Claiming Brown-Skinned Immigrant Men Just Want to Rape White Women

Stuart K. Hayashi

...they're not sending you their best. ... They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems [to] us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

Those are Donald Trump's words from June 2015 about Mexican immigrants.  But the same accusations were applied to Chinese immigrants in the late 1800s.  They were accused of being criminals. They were accused of bringing in drugs -- specifically, opium. And they were called rapists.

Many right-wingers who agitate for the curtailing of immigration repeat a threat narrative.  They claim that brown-skinned immigrant men have caused an epidemic of raping (white) women in northern Europe and that, if immigration is not curbed, this trend will manifest in Canada and the United States as well.

That was actually a common accusation leveled against Chinese men in the 1800s. You can find many racist newspaper cartoons online from the period that say that the sinister Chinaman just wants to lure white women into his opium den. Then, supposedly, he will get her doped up on opium and ravish her against her will. Then, as they do presently, immigration's critics implied that that's what immigration was for. 

From Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper 12 May 1883

I suppose the common rejoinder would be:

OK, maybe it was true, back then, that people were wrong to say Chinese men wanted to enter the USA just to rape white women. But, in our day and age, there are brown-skinned men from a genuinely misogynistic rape culture coming into Western Europe, Canada, and the United States. Why, everyone knows that mass migration from north Africa has made Sweden into the rape capital of the world!

I think that when people say Sweden is the rape capital, that is misleading, because Sweden records rape differently than other countries (even other First-World countries) do. In most countries, if a man kidnapped a woman and raped her every day of the year, crime statistics would list that as a single record of rape. By contrast, Sweden would make 365 separate records of rape for that. That's the reason why Sweden counts more rapes than other countries; it's not necessarily because foreign-born men in Sweden have gone on a raping spree. Comparisons of the rape rate in Sweden versus other countries are not very reliable because they are applying different standards.

The New Year's incidents in Germany and Sweden definitely have to be taken seriously and the perpetrators must be punished. I do think people should be cautioned against the assumption that foreigners all just want to go around raping white women, or that the rape rate would necessarily drop if immigration were curtailed.

Here is a thought experiment: Illiberal, misogynistic Islamists commit both rape and murder. Therefore, if rapacious, murderous Islamists coming to Western Europe increases the rape rate, it would follow that they would increase the murder rate as well (committing honor killings, etc.). The murder rate is a reliable proxy for the rape rate in this context. Even if they are not as stigmatized today as they were in the 1960s, to a large extent rape victims are still stigmatized and are therefore reluctant to come forward. This is why rape victims often tacitly participate in covering up that they were raped (I even know personally of instances of this, including possible instances in northern Europe). But murder is not so easily covered up. Were it the case that Muslims coming into Sweden were significantly increasing the rape rate, it would follow that they would significantly increase the murder rate as well, and we have yet to see that.

As he has in other matters, Frederick Douglass provides wise words here:
There are such things in the world as human rights. They rest upon no conventional foundation, but are external, universal, and indestructible. Among these, is the right of locomotion; the right of migration; the right which belongs to no particular race, but belongs alike to all and to all alike. It is the right you assert by staying here, and your fathers asserted by coming here. It is this great right that I assert for the Chinese and Japanese, and for all other varieties of men equally with yourselves, now and forever. I know of no rights of race superior to the rights of humanity, and when there is a supposed conflict between human and national rights, it is safe to go to the side of humanity….
Not the least among the arguments whose consideration should dispose to welcome among us the peoples of all countries, nationalities and color, is the fact that all races and varieties of men are improvable.

He was right then as he is now.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The Free-Market Position Is to Support Open Immigration Even If There's a Welfare State

Stuart K. Hayashi

It's February 2, 2016 -- the 111-year anniversary of the birth of Ayn Rand.

And remember that we have a tradition in the United States.  Today, if a politician crawls out of his hole and sees his shadow, we will have 60 more years of federal farm subsidies.

Anyhow, I defend open immigration.

Many people who claim to support the free market proclaim the following, "If there were no welfare state, I would be on board with open immigration. But the fact is, we do have a welfare state, and therefore there must be immigration controls. If not for those controls, immigrants will come to our country and drain government coffers."

In the videos below, I explain why a principled adherence to free enterprise leads to supporting a policy of open immigration even when the welfare state remains in place.

The first video is only 2 hours and 22 minutes long.

I forgot to include an important point in the first video, and therefore I did this 7-minute follow-up: