Monday, June 24, 2019

Hard topics without hard numbers

From Sexual Victimization by Women Is More Common Than Previously Known by Lara Stemple, Ilan H. Meyer.

I have been aware of this type of research for two or three decades. This is a reasonable summary.
Take a moment and picture an image of a rapist. Without a doubt, you are thinking about a man. Given our pervasive cultural understanding that perpetrators of sexual violence are nearly always men, this makes sense. But this assumption belies the reality, revealed in our study of large-scale federal agency surveys, that women are also often perpetrators of sexual victimization.

In 2014, we published a study on the sexual victimization of men, finding that men were much more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than was thought. To understand who was committing the abuse, we next analyzed four surveys conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to glean an overall picture of how frequently women were committing sexual victimization.

The results were surprising. For example, the CDC’s nationally representative data revealed that over one year, men and women were equally likely to experience nonconsensual sex, and most male victims reported female perpetrators. Over their lifetime, 79 percent of men who were “made to penetrate” someone else (a form of rape, in the view of most researchers) reported female perpetrators. Likewise, most men who experienced sexual coercion and unwanted sexual contact had female perpetrators.

We also pooled four years of the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) data and found that 35 percent of male victims who experienced rape or sexual assault reported at least one female perpetrator. Among those who were raped or sexually assaulted by a woman, 58 percent of male victims and 41 percent of female victims reported that the incident involved a violent attack, meaning the female perpetrator hit, knocked down or otherwise attacked the victim, many of whom reported injuries.

And, because we had previously shown that nearly one million incidents of sexual victimization happen in our nation’s prisons and jails each year, we knew that no analysis of sexual victimization in the U.S. would be complete without a look at sexual abuse happening behind bars. We found that, contrary to assumptions, the biggest threat to women serving time does not come from male corrections staff. Instead, female victims are more than three times as likely to experience sexual abuse by other women inmates than by male staff.
Among the challenges in the field of sexual violence is that it is consequential, it is overladen with agenda driven research and it involves many social taboos. It is difficult many times to sort the wheat from the chaff. A point which the authors acknowledge.
Our findings might be critically viewed as an effort to upend a women’s rights agenda that focuses on the sexual threat posed by men. To the contrary, we argue that male-perpetrated sexual victimization remains a chronic problem, from the schoolyard to the White House. In fact, 96 percent of women who report rape or sexual assault in the NCVS were abused by men. In presenting our findings, we argue that a comprehensive look at sexual victimization, which includes male perpetration and adds female perpetration, is consistent with feminist principles in important ways.
I have long been ambiguous about this research.

On the one hand one of the most dreadful and challenging features of the past couple of decades has been the deconstructionist influence leading to definition creep. "Rape" once was widely perceived as a violent penetrative act by men of women and was almost universally condemned in the extreme. It was among the last capital punishment crimes to go.

Over the years "rape" has been stretched to include all sorts of other acts including use of drugs to sedate. To an extent that makes sense, and I don't think we would have a research problem if the stretching had stopped there. But then we included coerced sex where emotional coercion was involved rather than physical coercion. At that point we are back to a Victorian infantilizing of women, where females have no agency.

But the stretching did not stop there. "Rape" grew to include unwanted touching, unwanted comments, consensual drunk sex, etc. One of the expansions has led to the idea of "believe all women", an empirical nonsense with the same evidentiary basis as "believe all Yankees", "believe all teachers", believe all fourteen year-olds". There are no categories of human who are unable to lie, deceive and dissimulate. To assert that women, uniquely, are of such infantile innocence that they are beyond bad moral behavior is to once again set them into a category without agency.

This sort of Orwellian changing of definitions is of course a hallmark of all advocacy groups. They want the currency of the real to work in the realm of their desires. They want to harness natural revulsion to their own ends.

Which is reprehensible but understandable. On the other hand, there is a counter dynamic which is ironically self-defeating. Megan McArdle has noted among her writings, The Upside of Down, increasing the penalty for a crime makes it less likely that a person will be convicted of that crime. You are far less likely to be falsely convicted of murder or rape than you are of being falsely fined for an ordinance infraction.

The reason is obvious. If we are going to take someone's life for the crime they committed, we absolutely need all the safeguards possible. And it is still not infallible. So to accuse someone of a heinous murder or rape means an expensive prosecution and likely multiple appeals. The City, County or State might spend more than a million dollars to achieve the conviction. And if the punishment is long duration incarceration, there is another million or more of taxpayer money. There are lots of reasons to spend a lot of money to ensure that convictions of the most heinous crimes are also the most unassailable.

Advocates, by trying to widen the definition of the crime, are usually trying to increase the punishment. But that opens up an unintended mismatch. As an extreme example, if the death sentence is the only punishment for rape but rape now includes mutually consensual drunk sex, then no jury is going to find the male participant guilty. The punishment needs to be popularly seen as commensurate with the act. If you are asking for extreme punishments for reprehensible but minor behavior, then you are going to see fewer convictions.

The effort by advocates to gain tactical advantage (punish more people for the perceived crime) is undermined by strategic loss (reduced conviction rates owing to perceived injustice).

So in that regard, I viewed the early work to establish real empirical dimensions has made a lot of sense. Because it is ideologically unacceptable to the Mandarin Class, because the definitions have continued to evolve, because the reality is so counter to popular perceptions, etc. the field has been slow to develop, slow to gain visibility or traction, and slow to advance improved approaches to the emerging and different understanding of what we are dealing with.

I am still not confident we have a well defined understanding of what we are attempting to measure. It has had the productive outcome of bringing the importance of definitions to the fore. I think we do now know that women are much more likely to be the perpetrators of sexual violence than we used to think. I think we do now know that any survey of sexual violence has to include prison populations and that when they are included it dramatically shifts the victimhood rates. But what those absolute numbers are and the actual rates? Still a lot of obscurity.

Reading this piece by Stemple and Meyer, they switch so often between different definitions, between absolute numbers, rates, and relative numbers, they take so many narrow slices without providing context, etc. that it is hard to get a clear overall picture. For example, taking a very narrow definition, I cannot tell how many men and how many women have suffered violently coerced rape with serious injuries by a stranger in a given year. Is it the same number? Do men suffer more than women (because of the prison populations)? Do more women suffer than men?

From my other readings over the years, my sense is that those numbers might be about equal, they would be much lower than is usually bandied about, they would be much more demographically targeted (minority women suffering disproportionately and incarcerated men suffering disproportionately). But that is a best guess.

If we relax the definition so that it does not require the victim to have a serious injury as a result of the violent coercion, the numbers explode, and the context, the victims profiles, the offender profiles, etc. become much more variable. There is great value and need to understand better through better definition and measurement. But it is really hard to get reliable numbers.

I don't have an answer. I am uncomfortable with some of the implications of the research of Stemple and Meyer and others. I am not yet confident in it.

On the other hand, I think what they are doing is necessary in order for us to reduce victimhood, improve conviction rates, reduce commission of the crimes (however defined), and increase citizen confidence in the judicial and legislative processes.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

It wasn’t until modern equipment began recording rogue waves that scientists finally acknowledged their existence.

From Into the Raging Sea by Rachel Slade. Page 56.
How big can ocean waves get? For millennia, sailors spun stories about extreme waves a hundred feet high that came out of nowhere and smashed apart boats with just one hit. These were dismissed as salty tales, like mermaids and sea monsters. Even in the modern era, scientists considered freak waves a physical impossibility, in spite of compelling evidence to the contrary. During World War II, a rogue wave nearly sunk the Queen Mary ocean liner. The thousand-foot-long luxury passenger ship had been stripped down to carry American troops to Europe, and in December 1942, it was loaded with more than sixteen thousand American soldiers when a ninety-foot-high wave smacked her broadside, causing the ship to roll 52 degrees. There were plenty of witnesses to vouch for that one.

It wasn’t until modern equipment began recording rogue waves that scientists finally acknowledged their existence. On January 1, 1995, a laser aboard an oil rig in the North Sea recorded an eighty-four-foot-high wave. Since then sea buoys, satellites, mariners, and passengers have recorded these waves, confirming that indeed, they’re no myth.
Reality exists, whether we know it or not, whether we can measure it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not.

The Wounded Cavalier, 1855 by William Shakespeare Burton

The Wounded Cavalier, 1855 by William Shakespeare Burton

Click to enlarge

“I drink to the memory of a gallant and honorable foe"

From Castles of Steel by Robert K. Massie. Page 236.
At dawn on Tuesday, November 3, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Nürnberg entered the bay of Valparaíso. As international law prohibited more than three warships of a belligerent nation visiting a neutral port at the same time, Leipzig and Dresden remained at sea, escorting colliers to Más Afuera. Entering the roadstead in the morning sunshine, the German sailors saw the town spread around the bay, the hills behind, and, in the distance, the high mountains. The harbor was filled with ships, thirty-two of them German merchant vessels driven to seek refuge by the war. News of the victory spread quickly and the large German population of Valparaíso was enthusiastic. The German ambassador to Chile, Dr. Eckart, and the consul general, Dr. Gumprecht, boarded Scharnhorst, followed by officers of the German merchant ships, who crowded the decks. Hundreds of men from the merchant ships offered themselves for enrollment in the squadron, even as stokers. One hundred and twenty-seven were accepted.

Many of the squadron’s officers went ashore, where they visited German bookstores and cafés and admired the “pretty, black-eyed women.” Admiral von Spee did not share in the general enthusiasm. “When I went ashore to call on the local admirals, there were crowds at the landing place,” he said. “Cameras clicked and people cheered. The local Germans wanted to celebrate, but I positively refused.” Nevertheless, he yielded to Gumprecht’s pressure and walked with thirty of his officers to the city’s German Club. This solid yellow building was an outpost of dark wood and German respectability whose hallways and paneled dining rooms were hung with full-length portraits of Kaiser William I, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, and Field Marshal Moltke, the victor of the Franco-Prussian War. Spee and his officers dutifully signed the guest book, then mounted the grand staircase to find themselves confronting a large bust of Kaiser William II, mustache bristling. Under a grand chandelier in the reception hall, the admiral was polite for over an hour until a “drunken, mindless idiot raised a glass and said, ‘Damnation to the British Navy!’ ” Spee gave him a cold stare and declared that neither he nor his officers would drink to such a toast. Instead, he said, “I drink to the memory of a gallant and honorable foe, put down his glass, picked up his cocked hat, and walked to the door. Outside, in the bright sunlight, a woman stepped forward to present him with a bouquet of flowers. “They will do nicely for my grave,” he said, refusing them. That night, although the masts and decks of the German warships were brilliantly illuminated as in peacetime, Spee did not sleep. He had no illusions as to what was coming. “I am quite homeless,” he confided to an old friend, a retired naval doctor who lived in Valparaíso. “I cannot reach Germany; we possess no other secure harbor; I must plough the seas of the world doing as much mischief as I can until my ammunition is exhausted or a foe far superior in power succeeds in catching me.”

Heaven's own land of ruddy roses.

Adrian Brock's Song
by Edward Everett Hale

Hard aport! Now close to shore sail!
Starboard now, and drop your foresail!
See, boys, what yon bay discloses,
What yon open bay discloses!
Where the breeze so gently blows is
Heaven's own land of ruddy roses.

Past the Cormorant we sail,
Past the rippling Beaver Tail,
Green with summer, red with flowers,
Green with summer, fresh with showers,
Sweet with song and red with flowers,
Is this new-found land of ours!

Roses close above the sand,
Roses on the trees on land,
I shall take this land for my land,
Rosy beach and rosy highland,
And I name it Roses Island.

The crime is the subversion of electoral integrity

Fascinating. From 19 Arrests Later, a Texas Town Is Torn Apart Over Voter Fraud by Fred Lucas. A small Texas town of 77,000 in which vote buying and election fraud are endemic. It appears that the recently elected mayor would have won anyway. Sounds like the plaintiff campaign was equally corrupt.

Root and branch, we need to do this across the nation. For a free election to matter, we need confidence in its integrity. If the outcome would have been the same without the election fraud, we still have a victim. The American system of government. It is not enough to know who won, we have to have a shared confidence that they won fairly.

Because of electoral, financial, personal pecuniary, and ideological concerns, the mainstream media and the Mandarin class have been unwilling to tackle the problem. That needs to change.

Our political and media cultures are suffering the effects of too many opinion-havers and too few fact-finders.

From Ideology and Facts Collide at Oberlin College by Daniel McGraw. Old-fashinoned on-the-ground reporting from a local stringer )McGraw)for a legal blog (Legal Insurrection). No mainstream media. They are there for the verdict at best and therefore miss all the context and history of the case.

Goes to one my laments. Compared to thirty years ago when the mainstream media did real reporting, today they provide very little factual substance. Their revenues have collapsed and therefore all they can afford is press release journalism and opinions.

McGraw has a wonderful opening sentence.
Our political and media cultures are suffering the effects of too many opinion-havers and too few fact-finders.
Read the article for the background and a real reporter's reporting. Three Oberlin underage African-American students attempted to steal some wine from Gibson's and then physically assaulted the older store owner when he attempted to detain them after the police had been called. The three were charged and pled guilty.

The action was around Oberlin student's and Oberlin University's attempt to drive the store out of business by boycotting and protesting the store's racism.

The University and the student's positions have all along seemed to be driven by Mandarin Class hubris mixed with ideological zeal and not consonant with the facts. McGraw adds information I have not seen elsewhere.
Within a week of the protests, the local police produced a report which listed the age and race of every person arrested in Gibson’s for shoplifting between January 2011 and November 2016. These are the numbers: 40 arrests, 33 of which were college students; 32 were white (80 percent), six were African American (15 percent), and two were Asian (5 percent). According to the 2010 U.S. Census numbers, those figures are consistent with the town’s racial composition: 73 percent white, 14.8 percent African American, and 4 percent Asian. During the trial, a black former employee and a black current employee both vehemently defended Gibson’s against accusations of racism, either in the family’s treatment of customers or staff.
Given that there appears to be no statistical basis for bias and given that the actual attempted theft and assault had both multiple witnesses and were acknowledged by the perpetrators, the effort to turn this into a claim of social justice appears nugatory.

McGraw concludes with:
During the trial, Gibson’s attorneys repeatedly asked the defendants to admit that Gibson’s isn’t racist, and they refused. Had they done so at the first time of asking, before this ever reached the courtroom, they would have spared everyone, not least themselves, a great deal of unnecessary pain. But they couldn’t bring themselves to do it, despite abundant evidence that they were wrong. And, in court, they were unable to explain why.

Oberlin College’s response to the verdict suggests that they are in no mood to learn anything from this pointless ordeal. They cannot come to terms with what has happened because they remain stubbornly committed to an ideological version of events. Things at Oberlin College will not improve until the administration comes to terms with reality.
The unrelenting arrogance and ignorance of the Mandarin Class keeps putting them in the position where they should acknowledge reality but cannot bring themselves to do so.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Quit spending money on what is nice to have and start spending the money on what we need to have.

From Michigan Roads Declined Even As Funding Rose Sharply by Holly Matkin and Tom Gantert.
According to a recent state report, 40% of the Michigan roads evaluated in 2018 were in poor condition. The proportion of roads in bad shape has increased from a low of just 10% in 2004, rapidly at first but then more slowly. The initial decline in quality occurred during a period of stagnant transportation spending, but the trend continued even after state funding increased after 2012.

This suggests that the link between higher spending on roads and better pavement quality over time is complicated.

The percentage of Michigan roads in poor condition was just 10% in 2004. The figure rose to 33.77% in 2013, and stood at 40.51% in 2018, according to a state Transportation Asset Management Council report. State transportation funding was stagnant-to-lower during the first part of that period. The 2013 transportation budget authorized spending $2.19 billion in state tax money, a $500 million decline after adjusting for inflation.

But state transportation spending began increasing in 2013, and by 2018 it had risen to $3.16 billion. More spending did not translate into fewer roads in poor condition, however. In 2018, poor roads made up 40.51% of those assessed.

In a seeming paradox, the percentage of Michigan roads rated as “good” by state transportation officials has remained relatively the same over the past 13 years, even as the proportion at the other extreme rose.
Why is this happening? Matkin and Gantert have a couple of answers.
Another factor that complicated the picture was state debt: The state borrowed to pay for more road repairs in the short run but at the expense of reducing the amount of money available in subsequent years. Between 2000 and 2009, the amount owed for past road repairs rose from $600 million to $2.3 billion. Paying the principal and interest on this debt has meant that since 2009, the state has had around $200 million a year less for current road repairs.
And the solution? Increase taxes.
Whitmer has called for increasing the gas tax by 45 cents per gallon. Spending would be concentrated on the most highly traveled roadways, with just six percent earmarked for local bridges and rural economic corridors.
Sorry. Let's quit being polite. The Atlanta experience is instructive. After a couple of decades of road disinvestment, conditions got so bad that politicians convinced voters to issue a $250 million bond to do routine maintenance. An egregious solution not acceptable in public finance 101.

Citizens were concerned about creating a honey pot. As well they should be. Despite the promised safeguards to ensure the money would be spent on roads, next time someone looked at the funds, they realized most of it was gone and little of it went on roads. All sorts of white elephant projects from pools to new public trails.

Going through an exercise of trying to appear like responsible adults, the elected officials went through the handwaving and hurrahing of a rationalization process to focus the few remaining dollars on roads. And still a third of the resulting projects had nothing to do with roads.

So what is the base problem? It is nothing but bad behavior by our elected officials and the bad behavior of the electorate for tolerating that bad behavior by electing them again. Quit spending money on what is nice to have and start spending the money on what we need to have.

Sorry Michigan. Its that simple. And that hard.

But mariners often need to make binary decisions based on nebulous weather forecasts.

From Into the Raging Sea by Rachel Slade. Page 50.
Uncertainty in forecasting can be quantified. When models contradict one another, uncertainty is expressed as a probability.

In the course of everyday life, we don’t often encounter uncertainty. Gamblers and hedge funders may weigh odds all day, but most of us aren’t sure what to do if someone says she’s 30 percent sure she’s wrong. How do you process that, especially in a world where so many decisions are made for us by technology?
“If the definition of wisdom is understanding the depths of your own ignorance, meteorologists are wise,” says Kerry Emanuel, an MIT professor who has dedicated his life to understanding weather and climate. “It’s wise but it’s a wisdom that is not recognized. If you say there’s a lot of uncertainty in this, in the modern world, it’s translated as You don’t know anything.”

Due to uncertainty, prudent mariners follow the 3-2-1 rule: Three days ahead of a hurricane’s forecasted position, stay three hundred miles away; two days ahead, keep out of a two-hundred-mile radius of its projected center; one day ahead, stay one hundred miles away from its eye in all directions. The rule is based on the fact that hurricane paths are erratic and unpredictable, so it’s smart to give the system a wide berth.

But mariners often need to make binary decisions based on nebulous weather forecasts. On October 24, 1998, the elegant Fantome, a 679-ton staysail schooner built in 1927, departed Honduras for a six-day Windjammer cruise. A thousand miles away, Hurricane Mitch rumbled in the Caribbean Sea. As Mitch picked up strength, the captain of the Fantome got nervous and discharged his passengers in Belize City, then headed north toward the Gulf of Mexico to outrun the storm.

Forecasting Mitch proved extremely difficult due to weak steering winds, but the official NHC prediction, issued with multiple caveats, was that the storm would go north toward Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. When the Fantome’s captain received that forecast, he hove to and headed south, unwittingly right into the hurricane’s path, which, contrary to forecasts, took a left turn toward Central America. On October 27, fighting hundred-mile-per-hour winds and forty-foot seas, the Fantome was lost forty miles south of the hurricane’s deadly eye wall.
Well put. Not just mariners. All of us often need to make binary decisions based on uncertain forecasts.

We have to lock into a specific and usually unchangeable course of action even though we know the exogenous circumstances are likely to change.

To call it his “new book” you’d have to accept that there is something meaningfully distinguishing it from his previous books

From The Sameness of Cass Sunstein: His books keep pushing the same technocratic fixes. But today’s most pressing questions cannot be depoliticized. by Aaron Timms.

I am not a big fan of Cass Sunstein, a clever and interesting thinker but tending towards dogmatism around select idée fixe.

Not my cup of tea but woof. This is a brutal review.
Say you want to write a book. Assume that you’ve written books before. Before beginning, you face a choice: Either you can research new material for the book, or you can write about similar topics and themes to those discussed in your previous books. How you choose may depend on whether you wish to maximize originality or efficiency; or it may not. What matters is the framing of this choice. You can expend 1 unit of energy (1E) to produce the work, W, where E is understood to be a finite resource subject to optimal allocation. Or you can expend 2E to produce W, where the increase in E is understood as the extra effort required to research new facts, do some thinking, and come up with fresh ideas. If the result, W, is the same in either case, it is not hard to see how you, as an efficiency entrepreneur, might choose the first path, which we will call, unnecessarily, Path 1.

As you begin writing the book, you have a realization: The book may be interesting, or it may not be interesting. Under imaginable assumptions, it is not interesting. Recall however that your goal here is to optimize E/W. Privileging slow or deliberative, Type 2 thinking over your intuitive, Type 1 impulse to throw in the towel and go out for pizza or whatever, you continue writing the book, filling it with false binaries, pointless hedging, cod-mathematical flourishes, and expressions annoyingly placed in italics as cover for the skinniness of their intellectual substance.

The book is released, and your publisher, amazed at the speed and efficiency of your production, rewards you with a deal for another book. You immediately begin work on your next book, which will be indistinguishable from this book. Congratulations: You are Cass Sunstein.


How Change Happens, Sunstein tells us, “reflects decades of thinking.” This is another way of saying that it repeats decades of writing. To call it his “new book” you’d have to accept that there is something meaningfully distinguishing it, beyond the physical barrier of its cover and binding, from his previous books—an assumption that in Sunstein’s case is easily disproven. Like an unstuck Mallarmé, Sunstein does not produce books so much as The Book, a single volume of ideas that’s recycled, with only minor variations, from title to title.

Broaching a new Sunstein these days, you already know what you’re going to get: a section on the joys and uses of cost-benefit analysis, some dashed-off thoughts about utilitarianism and negative freedoms, three or four chapters on nudges and their importance to the design of seatbelt policy, the primacy of Daniel Kahneman–style “slow thinking” over intuition and moral heuristics, some tut-tutting about social media, a Learned Hand quote or two, and a few weak anecdotes about Sunstein’s time as President Obama’s regulator-in-chief, all delivered through a prose that combines the dreariest elements of Anglo-American analytical style with the proto-numerate giddiness of a libertarian undergrad who’s just made first contact with the production possibility frontier.

How Change Happens conforms so comically to type that it repurposes several passages of text from Sunstein’s previous books, even his most recent ones. Hence he tells us that people typically think that more words, on any given page, will end with -ing than have n as the second-to-last letter—an anecdote you would have already encountered had you made it as far as page 30 of The Cost-Benefit Revolution. He explains the Asian disease problem and provides a number of choice-framing analogies also found in The Cost-Benefit Revolution. He retells the David Foster Wallace water parable spotted on page eleven of On Freedom, published in February of this year. (Explaining the importance of the parable in that earlier book, he notes: “This is a tale about choice architecture—the environment in which choices are made. Choice architecture is inevitable, whether or not we see it, and it affects our choices. It is the equivalent of water.” Fast forward a few months to the publication of How Change Happens, and this gloss has become: “This is a tale about choice architecture. Such architecture is inevitable, whether or not we see it. It is the equivalent of water.”) He rehearses statistics on political polarization that were already seven years out of date when he last published them, in 2017; and so on. Round and round this carousel of “evidence” goes, all in the service of the same restricted set of ideas Sunstein has been shilling since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Perhaps we should not be surprised by any of this; if the titles of his books are any indication, Sunstein has never run from his reputation as a repetitious bore. This is, after all, the man who counts, Republic 2.0 and #republic on his list of published works; who wrote one paean to cost-benefit analysis called The Cost-Benefit State and another, 16 years later, called The Cost-Benefit Revolution; who followed up his 2008 blockbuster, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness, which set out the case for using welfare-oriented behavioral prompts or “nudges” in the design of regulation, with 2014’s Why Nudge?, which valiantly addressed the question already answered six years earlier. It takes real skill to continue to be published from a place of such undisguised unoriginality, and for that if nothing else, Sunstein deserves our admiration.
Not disputing the review, merely observing how uncharacteristically clear it is.