Saturday, August 3, 2013

If You're Unreasonably Happy, and Need a Downer...

Go read this:  Five scary charts and facts about who’s working and not working in this economy.  Mary Katherine Ham ruined my day, and that's not what gazing at her smiling face usually does for me...

Al Gore Faked It...

The inimitable Anthony Watts has an incredibly detailed takedown of the experiment shown in Al Gore's video Climate 101.  The claim in the video is that the experiment is simple and high school level that anyone could replicate. 

So Mr. Watts tried to replicate it, going way out of his way to run the experiment precisely as the video shows it.

And failed.

He concludes, quite reasonably, that Al Gore and Bill Nye (the science guy, who was also in the video) either never ran the experiment at all (it was all fake, just for show) or they ran it and failed, but used it anyway.  Either way: Al Gore faked it.

As Mr. Watts points out, carefully: this in no way invalidates Al Gore's claims about CO2.  It simply proves that Al Gore is a liar and a cheater.

But I guess we all suspected that anyway, didn't we?

Setting Them Up for Failure...

The city of Richmond, California – already notorious for it's bankruptcy filing – raised eyebrows again with an ordinance it passed this week that prohibits any city contractor from querying its employees (or prospective employees) about their criminal background.  The city also threatened to use eminent domain to buy mortgages at the current market value of the properties.  They're on a real roll in Richmond! 

But this post is about the banning of criminal background checks.

Before I read this article, my thoughts were along the lines of “Oh, great.  Here goes the nanny state again, setting up employers to take the fall.  They'll be held liable for criminal employees, but not allowed to screen out the criminals.”  The article didn't exactly change my mind on that, but it did open my eyes a bit to the complexities of the situation.

The city really isn't trying to let hardened, potentially violent or flat-out dishonest criminals get jobs – though almost certainly that would be a consequence.  What they're really trying to do is to let those with a criminal record who are not likely to be a problem get a job.  The barrier, as the city sees it, is that criminal background checks have a basically binary result: you either do or don't have a criminal background.  For example, suppose you were busted for smoking pot at age 19.  You'd have a criminal record, and a background check would always pick that up, for your whole life.  The city is saying that employers see that “hit” on the criminal background check, and immediately deny the job.

I have two experiences (at two companies) with the use of criminal background checks.  One of these experiences validates the city's concern: at that company, if someone applied for a job and had a criminal background, they were excluded.  It didn't matter what the crime was, or when it was – they simply didn't get a job.  At the other company, more recently, when someone applied for a job and had a criminal record, the nature of that criminal record was weighed against the nature of their job.  If the criminal record was solely drug purchase, it was ignored.  If it included theft or violence, the applicant was turned down.  Other crimes were judged carefully, and factors like how long ago they were, the nature of the role being applied for, etc., were all considered.  In other words, considerable judgment was applied – which, I'd imagine, is precisely what the city of Richmond would really like to see happen.

I think Richmond's legislative fix is a bad one.  As is often the case, the motives were good, but the top-down approach is going to have consequences nobody really wants.   In particular, now when employees commit crimes, companies will be able to point to the new law and make a good case that they can't be liable for something the city mandated.

If employers in Richmond are really too quick to reject applicants with even minor criminal records, perhaps the city would better off considering why that is the case.  Businesses aren't run by stupid people; they must have a reason for rejecting those applicants.  I can only think of two reasons (and both may be operative): the cost of hiring an employee who commits a crime is extremely high, or there are so many applicants for jobs that using a filter like “criminal record” doesn't make it hard to get good employees...

Where Can Teachers Become Millionaires?

The capitalist system – aka “free markets” – reward producers according to the demand for their goods or services.  We see that in America very clearly in the technology sector, where companies that make highly desired products are rewarded with profits: think Apple, Google, Samsung, etc.  We also see it in the service sector, even in industries like janitorial services, where a few large companies (ServPro, Molly Maids, etc.) dominate through instant availability, consistent good service, and fair prices. 

In these industries, and most others, the best producers can (and have!) become millionaires.  One exception is the education industry.  There's no way a “rock star” teacher can become a millionaire, the way a “rock star” programmer or doctor can.  That's because education in the U.S. is regulated, institutionalized, and (for the most part) either directly run by the government or controlled (through funding) by the government. 

Is there any place on Earth where this is not true?  Where a teacher can become a millionaire?  Yes, there is: South Korea, where a parallel, for-profit educational system has grown up.  The results are fascinating.  As you read the article, keep a watch for things that are directly the consequence of a free market for education – and the contrast with the public schools (which still exist in South Korea, and aren't all that much different than ours).