Monday, December 11, 2017

Dropkick Me Jesus

Among the many great pleasures of parenthood, particularly as your children emerge into adulthood, is that they introduce you to A) things that you don't know, B) things that you might be uncertain you want to know, and C) things that you would unlikely have ever discovered on your own. This is especially true of music, movies, books, technology, slang and TV shows.

I, for example, was blissfully unaware of Bobby Bare and his song Drop Kick Me Jesus until it was pointed out to me by one of my sons. A magnificent testament to that intersection between American Christianity and the religion of football.

"Dropkick Me Jesus"
by Bobby Bare

Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life
End over end, neither left nor to right
Straight through the heart of them, righteous up rights
Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life

Make me, oh, make me, Lord, more than I am
Make me a piece in Your master game plan
Free from the earthly tem pestion below
I've got the will, Lord, if You got the toe

Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life
End over end, neither left nor to right
Straight through the heart of them, righteous up rights
Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life

Bring on the brothers who've gone on before
And all of the sisters who've knocked on your door
All the departed, dear, loved ones of mine
Stick 'em up front in the offensive line

Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life
End over end, neither left nor to right
Straight through the heart of them, righteous up rights
Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life

Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life
End over end, neither left nor to right
Straight through the heart of them, righteous up rights
Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life

Yeah, dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life
End over end, neither left nor to right

Always misunderstood

From The New Yorker.

Click to enlarge.

Rigorous honesty pays

From Investigation finds Swedish scientists committed scientific misconduct by Quirin Schiermeier. I am not knocking Swedish sciences but this report is an interesting example of a phenomenon I come across with some regularity in business, academia, government, etc.

An accusation is made. The sponsoring institution does an initial investigation and dismisses the accusation as unfounded.
Marine biologist Oona Lönnstedt and limnologist Peter Eklöv originally reported in their 2016 paper that microplastic particles had negative effects on young fish, including reducing their efforts to avoid predators. The duo's report described a series of experiments on an island in the Baltic Sea. After other researchers raised questions about data availability and details of the experiments, Uppsala conducted an initial investigation and found no evidence of misconduct.
For whatever reason, usually continued dispute, a second inquiry is made, often involving some independent third party.
However, an expert group of Sweden’s Central Ethical Review Board, which was also tasked with vetting the study, concluded in April 2017 that Lönnstedt and Eklöv “have been guilty of scientific misconduct”. The researchers defended the paper but requested that Science retract it in light of questions about their findings.
The issue remains unresolved because there are two different investigations with contrasting findings. A third study is initiated, this time usually with independent third-parties and with greater transparency. It is only with this invested effort that information comes to light in a fashion that parties on all sides can accept.
To settle the controversy, the university’s vice-chancellor, Eva Åkesson, subsequently handed over the case to the newly established Board for Investigation of Misconduct in Research at Uppsala University for further scrutiny.

In its decision, announced on 7 December, the board finds Lönnstedt guilty of having intentionally fabricated data; it alleges that Lönnstedt did not conduct the experiments during the period — and to the extent — described in the Science paper.

Eklöv, who was Lönnstedt's superviser and co-author, failed to check that the research was carried out as described, the board says. However, by the rules in force at Uppsala at the time of the work, which required that misconduct findings apply only to intentional acts, the board said that Eklöv's failure to check the research "cannot entail liability for misconduct in research" .

Both researchers, the board concluded, "are guilty of misconduct in research by violating the regulations on ethical approval for animal experimentation".

On the basis of the board's report, Åkesson rendered a decision that “Oona Lönnstedt and Peter Eklöv are guilty of misconduct in research.”
Fabricated data is not an easy crime to hide yet it passed muster with the first, internal, review.

This incident is illuminative. Again, I do not think this reflects on Swedish science in particular at all.

Institutions live and die by the trust others have in them and yet those institution's own incentive structures reward actions which undermine trust. To be fair, it can cost a lot of time and money to do good investigations.

In this case, as in so many others, the institution had a strong incentive to find that their researchers had done no wrong. And that is what they found.

It was only with external reviewers that enough effort was made to uncover what had happened.

One bad apple, the field researcher, contravened their institution's own policies and fabricated the data to support her conclusions. Her supervisor then failed to adequately check her work. Basically he made the assumption that she was to be trusted and the error slipped through until the work became public.

The institution was reluctant to punish the supervisor because he had followed procedures.

Much of this, other than the original bad apple researcher makes sense.
The supervisor should have been able to trust the field researcher.

The university was right not to want to spend a lot of time investigating what they probably assumed was a nuisance accusation.

The university was probably right not to significantly punish the supervisor.
And yet . . . From an institutional trust perspective, a lot has been lost. It sure looks like coddled insiders looking after their own and protecting themselves from the type of consequences which would normally have befallen a regular citizen in a market job.

The more frequently this happens in police departments, in academia, in government, all proper and necessary institutions, the more trust falls. A low trust environment with respect to critical institutions is a terrible outcome. When there is low trust, bad things unexpectedly happen. And it costs a lot to recoup trust. Better to pay the piper up front and always be rigorous and transparent in investigations at the very beginning.

Snöskottare (Snow clearing) by Reinhold Ljunggren

Snöskottare (Snow clearing) by Reinhold Ljunggren

Click to enlarge.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Benny Hill

I had not thought of Benny Hill, a staple of my youth in Britain and in Sweden, for some time. With all the #MeToo revelations of inappropriate behavior in political, media, academic, and entertainment circles, it reminded me of the Benny Hill Show. It has always been interpreted either as either simple vaudeville humor or as an icon of get-away-with-anything patriarchy.

Which is too bad. I lean towards the humor side, and in particular to the Benny Hill Show as a throwback to regional stage humor in a long ago Britain, akin to the Carry On series of movies. Slapstick, innuendo, stock jokes, etc.

A couple of examples. The Wishing Well is supposed to be one of the most popular skits.

Double click to enlarge.

The Handyman is closer to Hill's risqué standard.

Double click to enlarge.

From evil to reluctant acknowledgement of competence

Scott Adams, who, in 2015, predicted that there was a 98% chance of Donald Trump winning the nomination and the election, also, after the victory, predicted that there would be three stages to Trump's critics' response to that victory. Regrettably, I cannot put my hands on that forecast but it was something like:
Trump will be accused of being evil.

Trump will be accused of being insane and incompetent.

Trump will be accused of being competent but wrong.
Adam's version was much more pithy.

Adam's predicted that by December 2017, the left would pivot to the third condition, acknowledging that Trump was effective but doing things which they ideologically opposed.

As if on cue, Sadly, Trump Is Winning by Earl Ofari Hutchinson. My first thought was that this was likely a link to a parody or spoof. My second thought was that this was just an editorial error. It is in Huffington Post so that might still be the case. On the other hand, Earl Ofari Hutchinson is apparently a real person and his Wikipedia entry does seem to indicate he is a legitimate person of the left.

So it does seem as if Adam's forecast has come true. The left has begun the transition from visceral vilification to more pragmatic recognition that their opponent is a real person with real accomplishments. They can continue howling at the moon or they can reluctantly engage. Acknowledgement of effectiveness of one's opponent is the first step down that road. It might be a long road, though.

What should be remembered?

From The Problem of Remembering by Alma T. C. Boykin. Some musings on remembrance.
How important is it to remember unpleasant things from the past? Should they be forgotten, left alone to fade away and disappear? Or do we need to recall, to acknowledge them, and then move on? For individuals the answer varies based on the events and the individual. But for nations, the questions are tied to politics, to national identity, and even to how a country understands itself and its place in the world.

The UIL* social studies test this year is based on a book about the end of the USSR and remembering and forgetting. It seems especially apt, at least to me if not to the students, because western Europe is in the process of trying to decide if they will remember or forget, and if so how much and why. Should Western European civilization, especially German and Scandinavian, disappear? Is the past so specially terrible that it is better for humanity if Western Civilization goes away, bowing to demographics and the need to atone for that past? If not, what should be remembered, and how? For the people of the USSR, especially in Russia proper in 1989-1992, the question was one of memory and survival. Do you ignore Stalin or do you bury him? A few would prefer to praise him.


Can you be a good person and not focus on the sins of the past? Should Western Europe look only at the shadows and dark places in its history, dwelling on them in self-abnegation and flagellation, giving everything to “make up for” history? Because you will notice that it is only the western end of Europe that dwells on the need to atone for colonialism, Christianity, and high standards of living. The Old East (as I call it) has looked at that past and said, “No way, no how. We are proud of what we’ve been through, proud of our faith, and have no reason to join you in self-destruction.” They like Western Civilization, and have defended it more than once. Ask a Pole or Hungarian about 1683 and be ready to have your ears talked off.

In the Christian scriptures, it is understood that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of G-d.” So with nations. China’s history, even before 1900, is not exactly without incidents that make people gulp and stare in shock. Look at the role of women and their treatment after 1100. Or the massacres of aristocratic families and city-dwellers at the end of the Tang Dynasty in the 900s. Erk. The Taiping Rebellion was and its aftermath left Europeans queasy, those who saw a river choked with bodies. The Ottoman Empire called the shots in much of Southern Europe well into the 1800s, and modern Turkey sees nothing wrong with having taken over chunks of Europe. I get the feeling that a number of Turks would be pleased as punch to recreate the Ottoman Empire. And that empire was not known for peace, harmony, toleration, and pacifist foreign policy.


What should we forget? What should we remember? How should we recall the past? There are no easy answers to those kinds of question, unless you let the government, or the religious leaders, or yes, determine what the past is. And then, as they said in the USSR, “The future is certain, it is the past that keeps changing.”
She has no conclusions and nor do I.

The totalitarian racism of critical theory and postmodernism are heinous but they do force deep questions. In particular, here in the US, postmodernist SJWs have invested great energy in whether state flags ought to be allowed to include allusions to the heritage of the Confederate States and to whether memorials to the history and memory of those who died should be allowed to remain in the forms of statuary. Postmodernism and totalitarianism are evil and yet evil can frame valid questions.

Having lived in Europe in the shadow of the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War and seen the Communist proclivity for air-brushing people and events out of history books, I am immensely opposed to that approach. It is a breach of some of the most basic precepts of the classical liberal world view and an attack on natural rights (freedom of expression). Transparency and access to knowledge are critical for our capacity to understand and to progress. Obliterating history is not how you go about progressing.

And yet, we do not, should not, celebrate failure, error, and evil. The titanic and bloody effort to resolve the moral inconsistencies of our own compact with ourselves, our Constitution, was tragic. We should not forget.

But what about people who take offense. We should also be respectful of the feelings of others.

The challenge is that "the questions are tied to politics". Some people are indeed offended. Others choose to take offense in order to advance a cause. How do you distinguish? My sense is that most of the current wave of opposition to confederate memorials is nearly entirely shadow play, the tactics of small groups of ideological advocates reflecting nothing of the concerns of real citizens. And indeed, most surveys I see indicate that concern about the harm of statuary is nowhere on anyone's top 100 list of concerns, and that, when asked, majorities from all demographics are either unconcerned or think it is a distraction from focusing on consequential matters.

We should not concede attention to self-appointed anarchists seeking to divide and destroy through the heckler's veto but we should also not ignore the legitimate question of what should be remembered and how it should be remembered.

I think it is best to leave things to the most local level of decision-making and ensure that it is done with transparency and through consensus. The worst outcome is when decisions are made in the shadows, by some self-appointed committee, far away from those affected. What should be remembered? What people themselves choose to remember. Self-appointed totalitarian ideologues should not set the agenda for everyone else.

From which cup do you wish to drink?

I have come across them several times in the past but thought it worth mentioning Amazon's Leadership Principles. Amazon does not have a robust reputation as a place to work but I suspect that is partly because they are serious in a fashion most companies are not about their core mission. Most companies try to balance customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, investor expectations, community obligations, etc. They are well intended and usually they do a pretty good job of striking the right balance over time and under changing circumstances.

Amazon, based on conversations, seems to be the odd man out. Everything is subordinate to the customer experience. Employee satisfaction is important but only to the extent that it affects the customer experience. If you are a customer, that's great. If you are an employee, you probably would get better hand-holding and attention in other corporations.

On the other hand, the Amazon principles, rigorously adhered to, are more honest. Most big corporations have some sort of feel-good statement somewhere in their mission to the effect that employees are their most important asset with the implication that that is where they make their most important investments. And to a degree, that is almost tautologically true - people drive the culture and culture drives the results.

The reality is that most organizations treat their employees as transferable or disposable costs rather than as assets. It comes as a shock to employees to learn this when business circumstances create the need for change. As long as companies are in an expansion phase, they invest in people at least to some degree but rarely with real attention as to whether those investments have any return. Then, when the commercial waters get choppy and there are headwinds, the investments stop, the focus turns to efficiency, and employees are a cost to be managed down.

It comes down to the difference between false promises and cold pragmatic acknowledgement of reality. From which cup do you wish to drink?

Amazon's Leadership Principles. Go to the link for a more detailed synopsis.
Customer Obsession


Invent and Simplify

Are Right, A Lot

Learn and Be Curious

Hire and Develop the Best

Insist on the Highest Standards

Think Big

Bias for Action


Earn Trust

Dive Deep

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit

Deliver Results

Invictus by William Ernest Henley

by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

The Old Timer Battleship, 1916 by Martin Lewis

The Old Timer Battleship, 1916 by Martin Lewis.

Click to enlarge.