Sunday, January 20, 2019

The breakdown of the numbers demystifies the tradeoffs being made in service networks

Very interesting. From What Cities Are Getting Wrong About Public Transportation by Andrew Small. Reports on the use of detailed micro-analytics to better frame and form urban transportation decision-making.

I live in an area where there are a lot of wealthy people eagerly lobbying for more money to be spent on public transportation that they won't use in order to free up the roads which they do. I always argue that you have to look at the whole picture of commute times and reliability and hours of operation etc. and when you look at the full range of demands, public transportation too often fails to meet the minimum levels of attributes being demanded.

From Small:
This can be exquisitely frustrating as cities task transportation leaders with tackling some of the country’s most daunting challenges, from reducing climate change to alleviating economic inequality. But a new report and interactive tool from the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy wants to make the leap to a low-car future feel less enervating by breaking the numbers into smaller chunks. They’ve developed a suite of “indicators for sustainable mobility,” aimed at helping cities measure their transit systems for better outcomes by taking a closer look at where and how they reach jobs and people.

To do that, the report digs deeper in the 2015 ACS data to get a more complete picture of how cities can improve their share of sustainable transport—that’s public transportation plus walking, biking, scootering, and any other means of moving around that doesn’t involve a car. No matter if this category makes up the majority of commuters, as it does in New York City (66 percent) or the extreme minority (Nashville, 4 percent), there’s more to say about how it reaches people, housing, and jobs in any given city. (For a wider comparison, the report also looks at mode share in four Canadian cities and transit access in four cities in Mexico)

[snip]

The result is a set of measures that can explain a lot more about what certain cities get right or wrong on transit, and what they can do to improve their lot. The key, the reports stresses, is getting a better balance between jobs, low-income households, and people in proximity to public transit.

In the chart above, you can see the power of density: Philadelphia and Boston benefit from compact city blocks, while Louisville and Charlotte suffer from sprawl. Transit networks in Denver and New Orleans reach plenty of jobs, but could improve by reaching more people; Memphis and Indianapolis, on the other hand, need more jobs located closer to frequent transit. (A spotlight report paired with the indicators gets further into the nitty-gritty for Dallas, Denver, and Nashville.)

Ultimately, the breakdown of the numbers demystifies the tradeoffs being made in service networks that say, a subway map or bus schedule cannot convey alone. It also underscores the importance of frequency, not just access. “If you’re doing well on accessibility indicators, but doing poorly on population near frequent transit, what that likely means is you have transit near people, but that transit must not be frequent,” says Chestnut. “If something leaves like once an hour, that’s not a great commuting option.”

You can take the criminal deviant off the streets but . . .

From The 1969 Gunfight at UCLA by Gail Heriot. Ms. Heriot has, sometime in the past year, become an occasional contributor to Instapundit and I have been enjoying her insight and information about issue mainstream and quirky. In this instance, a classic case of good intentions overlooking human nature:
Fifty years ago today, rival gangs, made up in part of “High Potential Program” students, fought it out on campus, leaving two dead.

The tiny “High Potential Program” was UCLA’s early, experimental form of affirmative action. Unlike today’s affirmative action programs, which primarily benefit middle- and upper-middle-class students, this was a real effort to benefit young people born on the wrong side of the tracks. As one might expect, UCLA relaxed the academic qualifications for this project. One of the founders of the program put it this way: “A high school diploma was not a requisite. We recruited people who were active in their community and who had the ability to lead.”

Here’s the crazy part: In practice, the leadership requirement meant that UCLA wanted—and actively recruited–leaders of street gangs, especially those involved in black nationalism. A history of violence was no barrier to admission.

Not a lot of learning went on in the special classes conducted for the program. Linda Chavez, a UCLA grad student at the time, wrote about her experiences in teaching classes for Chicano High Potential students in An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal. I won’t spoil her story here. Suffice it to say it wasn’t pretty.

Among the students recruited for the program was Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter. Carter was the former leader of the Slauson gang, a mega-gang in South Central Los Angeles, and was known as “Mayor of the Ghetto.” Shortly before registering at UCLA he had spent four years in Soledad prison for armed robbery, where he had become a disciple of Malcolm X. In 1967, after meeting Black Panther Minister of Defense Huey Newton, he formed the Southern California chapter of the Black Panther Party, mostly out of members of the Slauson gang.

John Jerome Huggins was Carter’s right-hand man; it was only natural that they would attend UCLA together. Huggins’ apartment was a meeting place for Black Panthers. A cache of weapons, including rifles, shotguns, handguns and homemade bombs, was kept there.
Read the whole thing.

Manufactured stunts presented as real news

One more in the continuing stream of manipulated news. Its not that it is unusual but that people are beginning to notice. And it is interesting that distributed citizen reporting is beginning to push back and correct ideological or narrative pushing misreporting. I mentioned something similar in A miraculous world that is nearly miraculous.

From The Catholic Bonfire At The Stake by Rod Dreher.
Good morning from Dublin. It is really interesting to observe US public controversies from outside the American bubble. I am startled by the massive controversy that has erupted over the Covington (KY) Catholic school boys and the Native American man, Nathan Phillips, in the aftermath of the March For Life. Several video clips of the confrontation between an elder of the Omaha tribe and a large group of Catholic high school boys wearing MAGA hats have gone viral. Here’s a news story about the video, summing up the basics of the controversy.

A selected part of the clip shows boys jumping and hooting and acting in a somewhat intimidating way towards the older man, as if to mock him. Some people interpret the boy standing in front of the man, the kid with a rictus grin, as sneering at the old man. Others say that you can’t assume that was a sneer; maybe the kid just didn’t know what to do.

In any case, the Catholic school has apologized for its students’ action, and the mayor of their hometown has denounced them. The boys were in town for the March For Life. The video is being widely cited as an example of the Trumpification of Christianity, and connected to the Karen Pence school controversy as yet another example of why conservative Christianity is an evil that must be driven from the precincts of the decent.

It is possible that the Catholic boys were complete asses. My initial judgment was that they certainly were that. You don’t treat a peaceful elderly person like this. Even if they thought he was wrong, those boys owed him respect. Yes, the old man approached them, but they could and should have handled him with respect. They come off as bullies.

But then I watched more clips, showing the greater context of the incident. It is not as simple as it has been portrayed. Below is a more complete video account of what happened. In it, one of the Catholic boys is overheard asking, “Does anybody know what he’s doing? Does anybody know what’s going on here.”

And, in it, one of the Indians with Phillips shouts: “White people, go back to Europe. This is not your land.” He curses the students with f-bombs (video is NSFW). He goes on: “You’re being a white man about it. That’s all you know how to do.”

You didn’t see that in the news reporting, did you?
He goes on and presents evidence that two different groups of provocateurs targeted a group of white Catholic students in order to bait them and manufacture a confrontation which they could then use for their propagandistic purposes.

It is still not clear the entire sequence of events, but Dreher makes a reasonably compelling case that this was all a stunt for the mainstream media, pulled by noxious activists, and based on racism and bigotry on the part of the activists. Might not be the full truth but at this present read, that seems correct.

The larger two issues are 1) why is the press failing to investigate the news which apparently would have cast doubt on the veracity of the claim and 2) why is it that we now have to get accurate information from non-mainstream sources in order to understand what is happening.

UPDATE: Scott Adams apologizes for believing CNN.

Maggie's Farm by Bob Dylan



Double click to enlarge.

Maggie's Farm
by Bob Dylan

I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more
No, I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more
Well, I wake up in the morning
Fold my hands and pray for rain
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin' me insane
It's a shame
The way she makes me
Scrub the floor

I ain't gonna work on, nah
I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more
I ain't gonna work for Maggie's brother no more
Nah, I ain't gonna work for Maggie's brother no more

Well, he hands you a nickel
And he hands you a dime
And he asks you with a grin
If you're havin' a good time
Then he fines you every time you slam the door

I ain't gonna work for, nah
I ain't gonna work for Maggie's brother no more
I ain't gonna work for Maggie's pa no more
No, I ain't gonna work for Maggie's pa no more

Well, he puts his cigar
Out in your face just for kicks
His bedroom window
It is made out of bricks
The National Guard stands around his door

I ain't gonna work, nah
I ain't gonna work for Maggie's pa no more
I ain't gonna work for Maggie's ma no more
No, I ain't gonna work for Maggie's ma no more

Well, she talks to all the servants
About man and God and law
And everybody says
She's the brains behind pa
She's sixty-eight, but she says she's twenty-four

I ain't gonna work for, nah
I ain't gonna work for Maggie's ma no more
I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more
No, I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more

Well I try my best
To be just like I am
But everybody wants you
To be just like them
They sing while they slave and just get bored

I ain't gonna work on, nah
I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more

More poor people are attending, but fewer are graduating

From Think College Is Expensive? Wait Until It’s Free by Jason L. Riley. The fundamental issue is that education subsidies do not lead to better education outcomes and they lead to a misallocation of time and money.
Though schools ought to be more discriminating about whom they admit, student financial-assistance programs push them to admit students who are not prepared to succeed. In 1970, about 12% of recent college grads came from the bottom 25% of the income distribution. Today, it’s about 10%. “We’ve had a decline in poor people graduating from college. More poor people are attending, but fewer are graduating. We have not really improved making college a vehicle for achieving the American dream.”
Related: Remember When Politicians Promised to Make College Affordable? by James Freeman.

The Lighthouse At Scarborough

The Lighthouse At Scarborough, 1877 by John Atkinson Grimshaw Paintings (1836-1893)

Click to enlarge.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

You better know the direction of causal flow.

I have long argued that the naive argument that the colonial structure of the 19th century existed because of the economic benefit to colonizing nations was gravely mistaken and is an example of mistaking the flow of causation.

Some colonies at some times under some conditions can be enormously financially rewarding to the colonizing nation. The sugar islands of the Caribbean in the 1700s come to mind as does India for at least a portion of its existence. But you don't have to read much history to recognize the tension in 19th century Britain between the government and commercial and religious interests. Merchants and missionaries were all for colonies. Government ministers were not. By far the largest number of colonies were net consumers of government capital, not contributors. If you provided only the services that the colony could pay for, you were an inhuman monster. If you provided even a portion of what was needed, taxpayers revolted.

19th century colonialism was not driven by the economic benefit of the colonies. Colonies were a geopolitical positional good that could only be afforded by the most affluent nations. Nations did not acquire colonies to become rich, they had colonies because they were rich. Naive anti-colonialist studies students have the causal flow reversed.

I am seeing something similar at the moment in the corporate world. We are still working through the apparently difficult concept for the Mandarin Class, that you cannot have affirmative action for some groups (AKA diversity programs and identity marketing) without being against other groups. If you are going to promote one group identity above another group identity, then the other group identity might take exception.

Which is a separate issue from the more fundamental challenge that if you are going to choose based on identities, then you are not choosing by abilities.

One argument I hear repeatedly from among my legions of progressive friends are a litany of studies which show a correlation between a progressive fad and superior economic performance. Companies with more diverse boards have better financial performance, companies with an ethos of sustainability have better financial performance, companies who invest in team-building have better financial performance, companies wth extensive gender equity initiatives have better economic performance.

And they are not wrong. There is a correlation. That's not the question. The question is whether there is a causal relationship between the fad and the financial performance.

In most cases there is not. The company gets rich and then it invests in progressive fads. Usually to its detriment.

Under its hard-nosed CEO Jack Welch focused entirely on performance and saw a 4,000% increase in value during his tenure. His successor did not achieve anything near that performance, overseeing the substantive dismantling of GE to a small rump of its former self.

Obviously many factors came in to play but it was notable that the succeeding CEO was far more focused on social justice positioning and much less focused on internal performance. When in Silicon Valley, I met with a corporate recruiter who shared that they had the contract for filling the leadership roles of a new GE entity in the Valley into which GE was pouring money. He related just how great a challenge this was because GE was insisting that roles should be filled 50:50 men and women in an industry where men earn something like 80% of the technical degrees. On top of the fact that the labor market was sizzling, this made it nigh impossible to meet the 50:50 goal and maintain performance standards.

GE was willing to invest in a fad rather than focus on performance. And now both the subsidiary and GE are fading into the commercial sunset.

We are seeing the same thing with company after company fulfilling the adage "Get woke; go broke".

This past week it was P&G's Gillette's turn at the bat, coming out with the message to their male customer base that as males they are tainted and toxic and had better get their act together. Insulting your way to success is apparently the strategy. I am anticipating that like all other companies which have sipped at the poisoned chalice of social justice, these efforts will kill the bottom line without justice of any kind.

And now there is news that Johnny Walker is going all in on the Women's March, just as everyone else is acknowledging what classical liberals have been saying all along: The Women's March leadership is dominated by racists and anti-semites. The Women's March is too toxic for the DNC, NOW, NAACP, Greenpeace, Emily’s List, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. So of course, demonstrating its nose for the zeitgeist, Johnny Walker chooses this moment to show its progressive bona fides by coming out for progressive racism and anti-semitism.

Its one thing to micro-target consumer demographics in an affirming and positive way. It is quite another to take the stance that "I like this demographic and I reject that one." Especially when the demographic you are rejecting or insulting is the demographic that drives your cash flow. It has been a long time since I have been in MBA grad school, but I think they must be doing it wrong now.

And the more fundamental point is that only rich companies have the financial wherewithal to play with fads. It is like the old joke about faddish business ideas of all decades - How do you make a small fortune in Fad X? Start with a large one.

You had better know the direction of causal flow. They are not rich because they are doing X. They are doing X because they got rich first.

And on this theme, I did like Brad Slager's observation:
One day corporations may learn how social activism is bottom line averse.

Making a false argument for an impossible process based on untrue data.

From Useful Idiots Kristof Edition by Scott Johnson. Kristof is making an argument on the superiority of the single payer model based on his understanding of results from Cuba and ropes in the trope of people being financially ruined by healthcare costs.

Johnson, rudely but accurately, pillories him for trading in false information.

The trope of financial ruin being driven by healthcare costs is a product of Elizabeth Warren's research, long since destroyed as methodologically unsound. She found what she was looking for by only looking for what she was seeking.

That there is frequently financial ruin attendant to bad health is not a surprise but that was not the argument. The argument was that medical costs are the cause of financial ruin. It doesn't take much of a second's thought to appreciate that in complex systems, outcomes are almost always the product of multiple causal variables, not single variables.

What causes good health, for example? DNA is a leading candidate. Dietary choices is a second. Then there are choices around exercise, living conditions, personal hygiene, risk taking, etc. There are lots of factors that go into good health. To claim that only one is the primary cause of an outcome is at best misleading. Same with the claim that medical costs are the cause of personal bankruptcies. As soon as you enter into the real discussion - which factors are most causal under what circumstances - you have a better and more interesting pursuit of truth. But truth and ideological ambitions are rare bedfellows.

Same with this idea that Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate than America. I looked into this probably twenty years ago and found much of what Johnson is reporting. That outcomes are heavily influenced by incentive structures, by measurement systems, and by definitions. I don't recall which OECD country it was at that time, but they omitted any child who died within twenty-four hours of birth, defining it as tantamount to a stillborn. Their infant mortality rates looked perfectly fine because they were using a different definition.

Kristof has been around long enough to know this, and especially to know that in closed dictatorships such as the Soviet Union or China or Cuba, the statistics say what the government wants them to say, not what is necessarily an accurate reflection of reality.

We shouldn't forget that right up to the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the CIA was way overestimating the economic might of the Soviet Union and its allies. I recall they thought East Germany was the 8th largest economy in the world. There was a lot of criticism when the wall fell. Critics alleging that the CIA got their basic facts wrong and the CIA claiming that they might have had the facts wrong but their narrative forecasts were right. From a sample report at that time just for a flavor of the debate.
The agency estimates that in 1989 Soviet G.N.P. was roughly 51 percent of the United States G.N.P. of $4.2 trillion. Mr. Boskin and many others place the Soviet Union much lower, at about 35 percent, and one prominent Soviet economist at the American Enterprise Institute seminar, Viktor Belkin, claimed it was less than 28 percent.

To support their lower estimate, the critics cite shockingly poor living conditions in the Soviet Union, new figures on waste and spoilage in industry and farming and new proof of deliberately inflated figures from some Soviet industries, like cotton farming.
We didn't have the concept of truthiness at the time, but it would have come in hand in the CIA's defense of itself.

It is a mystery why the Mandarin Class of nominally educated pundits choose to consistently shill for ruthless repressive statist regimes while bad-mouthing open economies with democratic systems of governance. They make their arguments with scarcely the grace to acknowledge that they are at best deceiving.

The subtitle of his opinion piece is:
Many Americans would welcome some traits of the island’s free, universal health care system.
That's no argument at all. All systems are an amalgamation of trade-offs. It is impossible to pick and choose the best of each system and hope to staple them together into some sort systemicus novus, conjured by magic. You want single payer, government provided healthcare? OK, that either provides superior or inferior results. Now what do you trade-off for single-payer government provided healthcare? You get higher taxes, lower economic growth, greater poverty, greater inequality/poverty, less choice, more decisions made by individuals who are unaccountably distant from your circumstances, etc.

If you think that is a good trade-off, fair enough, but I would advise asking the Venezuelans first. But if you prefer those other things to a greater extent, then you might pursue a different health model. The aggregate of trade-off decisions are neither right or wrong. They are the average of all the individual choices. Or, at least, that is the case in most open systems of government. Not so in statist systems.

The fact that globally migration trends tend to be from such Kristof-preferred systems to the immoral and corrupt systems of free governance and economic competition which he apparently so despises seems to indicate that the world does not agree with the worldview of the Mandarin Class pundits. Even in the US, internal migration also tends to be from high tax more single-payer like states to their inverse.

Kristof continues with his fantasy:
Fern├índez lives in a cramped apartment on a potholed street and can’t afford a car. She also gets by without a meaningful vote or the right to speak freely about politics. Yet the paradox of Cuba is this: Her baby appears more likely to survive than if she were born in the United States.

Cuba is poor and repressive with a dysfunctional economy, but in health care it does an impressive job that the United States could learn from. According to official statistics (about which, as we’ll see, there is some debate), the infant mortality rate in Cuba is only 4.0 deaths per 1,000 live births. In the United States, it’s 5.9.

How is this possible? Well, remember that it may not be. The figures should be taken with a dose of skepticism. Still, there’s no doubt that a major strength of the Cuban system is that it assures universal access. Cuba has the Medicare for All that many Americans dream about
WHAT? He is pursuing this fantasy that you can arbitrarily pick-and-choose the best of each system AND he also acknowledges that the facts he deploys might not even be true.

What a putz. Obviously there is a market for such cognitive pollution and it likely is the self-regarding Mandarin Class. But pretending to make an argument based on facts which are known not to be true in pursuit of a unicorn dream that you can have it all is simply insulting.

A complex relation between two key factors of long-term economic growth – science and culture

Looks interesting but I can't get access. From Does Scientific Progress Affect Culture? A Digital Text Analysis by Michela Giorcelli, Nicola Lacetera, and Astrid Marinoni.

From the Abstract:
We study the interplay between scientific progress and culture through text analysis on a corpus of about eight million books, with the use of techniques and algorithms from machine learning. We focus on a specific scientific breakthrough, the theory of evolution through natural selection by Charles Darwin, and examine the diffusion of certain key concepts that characterized this theory in the broader cultural discourse and social imaginary. We find that some concepts in Darwin’s theory, such as Evolution, Survival, Natural Selection and Competition diffused in the cultural discourse immediately after the publication of On the Origins of Species. Other concepts such as Selection and Adaptation were already present in the cultural dialogue. Moreover, we document semantic changes for most of these concepts over time. Our findings thus show a complex relation between two key factors of long-term economic growth – science and culture. Considering the evolution of these two factors jointly can offer new insights to the study of the determinants of economic development, and machine learning is a promising tool to explore these relationships.

Active or passive problem identification

From the Blogger named Bulldog at Maggie's Farm.

An interesting observation and reflection.
Kobe's personal issues aside, he was an excellent speaker. I thought I'd find him difficult to listen to. However, this is a guy who has transformed himself more than once, and I find people like that intriguing. Right now, he's building a studio to produce films and TV. It helps if you have his status and friends, of course. It helps more if you come from Los Angeles and are beloved there, as he is. Lots of people want to help. Still, even with all those connections and assistance, you need ideas and the right attitude, as well as a commitment to work. Kobe clearly has all of these.

What struck me, however, was one thing he said. He was commenting on how to focus, in particular at the free-throw line. He said people who get nervous are thinking about themselves and how they are perceived. I agree. “Dissolve into the situation. It’s not about you.”

Unquestionably the right attitude. But I think this is an attitude we can apply almost everywhere. I was speaking to a friend about the shutdown and they commented on how personal it was. They hadn't been furloughed, they hadn't lost a paycheck, they didn't even work for the government. But to them it was 'personal' because someone was losing a paycheck. I said "big deal - people lose a paycheck every day in the private sector and nobody says BOO unless it's a recession, then we look to blame it on a politician who probably had next to nothing to do with the recessionary cycle. So a few non-essential government workers lost a paycheck? Big deal. Goes to show you how much we can cut government and not feel the pain."

"But those people feel the pain - that's why it's personal."

No, it's not about THEM. It's never about them. It's about something else. They just happen to want to make it personal, and so does the media, because they are playing with your emotions. We can lament the loss of anyone's paycheck, any day of the week, and we should. But there are no guarantees in life, but we want to believe these guarantees are about us every time. They aren't.

Let me put it this way. I've had 4 bouts of unemployment in my life. The first 2, I believed it was someone else's fault (and certainly, to a small degree, it probably was), I came to believe being laid off was intensely personal. It can be, if you let it. After the last 2 layoffs, I realized it's not about whose fault it is, or whether it's personal, it's just up to me to fix the situation and make it better, and I did. It wasn't ever personal. The only 'personal' part was deciding that nothing is guaranteed unless I work at it for myself.

When we personalize something, it can take two different forms, an active or passive.
Here is the problem I am facing and how I am planning to deal with it

or

Here is a problem that needs to be solved.
People used to own the first approach but we seem to have been eliding into the second.