Monday, February 20, 2017

We talk to those who are useful to speak with

The research is appropriately hedged around with various caveats. From How stable is the core discussion network? by Mario Luis Small, Vontrese Deeds Pamphile, and Peter McMahan. From the abstract:
Researchers have paid increasing attention to the core discussion network, the set of people we turn to when discussing important matters. Because the core discussion network is theorized to be composed of people’s closest ties, not fleeting acquaintances, it is expected to be largely stable, evolving slowly over the span of people’s lives. However, recent studies have shown that networks are strongly affected by the contexts in which people interact with others, and as people experience life course transitions, they also often enter new contexts – school, college, work, marriage, and retirement. We ask whether, as actors enter new social contexts, the core discussion network remains stable or changes rapidly. Based on original, longitudinal, qualitative and quantitative data on the experience of first-year graduate students in three academic departments in a large university, we examine the stability of the core discussion network over the first 6 and 12 months in this new context. We test four competing hypotheses that focus on strength of ties, new opportunities, obligations, and routine activity and predict, respectively, stasis, expansion, shedding, and substitution. We find that the core discussion network changes remarkably quickly, with little or no lag, and that it appears to do so because both the obligations that people face and the routine activities they engage in are transformed by new institutional environments. Findings suggest that core discussion network may be less a “core” network than a highly contextual support network in which people are added and dropped as actors shift from environment to environment.
Intriguing research. Reading the details, there is a suggestion that our "core" networks are highly utilitarian - we confide and discuss with those who are best positioned to advance our agendas. Makes sense but it is not how we think of our "core" networks. This field is relatively young and I suspect part of the issue is a weak taxonomical lexicon for different types of networks.

Only more sure of all I thought was true.

Into My Own
by Robert Frost

One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as 'twere, the merest mask of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom.

I should not be withheld but that some day
Into their vastness I should steal away,
Fearless of ever finding open land,
Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.

I do not see why I should e'er turn back,
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here
And long to know if still I held them dear.

They would not find me changed from him they knew—
Only more sure of all I thought was true.

Just a piece of rhythmical grumbling

From Sacred Causes by Michael Burleigh. Page 14.

Discussing T.S. Eliot and The Wasteland.
The desire to make a cult of a poem in which cryptic and eclectic allusions to a variety of religions abound was in itself symptomatic of the spiritual appetency of the post-war wasteland it evoked, and which Eliot would mock in his later Four Quartets after he had turned to Anglo-Catholicism. According to Eliot the poem was variously 'just a piece of rhythmical grumbling', or as he later admitted, 'I wasn't even bothering whether I understood what I was saying.'
Wish I had known that as a frustrated undergrad when all my English professors were trying to convince me of the significance of The Wasteland. With no intellectual ammunition, I had to hunker down and reserve my opinions.

Definition of insanity

I really like Thomas Edsall as a writer. He does good research and I almost always learn something new reading him. But even the best can be hostage to their world views. In this instance, Edsall's column seems to be a lengthy description of how he would wish the world to be rather than how it is.

The issue is education and the point is to establish some grounds to continue what we are doing or to bring back the nostrums of the past which have already failed. Integration, busing, spend more money, etc. There is no doubt that we are not getting enough value for the investment we are making in K-12 education. No argument there. There is no doubt that we would like education to be more of an equalizer than it already is. But which policies and to what end is the meat of the issue and is not really addressed in the column. Almost certainly, continuing the nostrums and bromides of the past will not get us to the future we might desire.

The argument is a faith-based argument and not really persuasive. He includes much information that is supportive of his position but omits much which is contradictory to it.

What grabbed my attention was the inherent and obvious contradiction between the headline to the column and substance of the article. The headline declares: Integration Works. Can It Survive the Trump Era? by Thomas B. Edsall. But six paragraphs into the column is the plain-as-day data that shows that integration does not work, at least in terms of ensuring that all races achieve equal outcomes.
At the same time, Richard Reeves, a senior fellow at Brookings, and Dimitrios Halikias, a research assistant, tackled one of the most vexing issues in education in their February 2017 Brookings paper, “Race Gaps in SAT Scores Highlight Inequality and Hinder Upward Mobility.”

“Race gaps on the SATs are especially pronounced at the tails of the distribution,” the two authors note. In math, for example,
among top scorers — those scoring between a 750 and 800 — 60 percent are Asian and 33 percent are white, compared to 5 percent Latino and 2 percent black. Meanwhile, among those scoring between 300 and 350, 37 percent are Latino, 35 percent are black, 21 percent are white, and 6 percent are Asian.
Translating those percentages into concrete numbers, Reeves and Halikias estimate that
in the entire country last year at most 2,200 black and 4,900 Latino test-takers scored above a 700. In comparison, roughly 48,000 whites and 52,800 Asians scored that high. The same absolute disparity persists among the highest scorers: 16,000 whites and 29,570 Asians scored above a 750, compared to only at most 1,000 blacks and 2,400 Latinos.
The implication of the headline is that integration will equalize scores but the evidence is that after fifty years of integration, the gaps remain as large as they ever were.

From there, the rest of the column essentially boils down to - we want to keep spending the same and more money on the same policies we have always supported and hope that the outcomes will be different this time.

This is not an example of evidence-based decision making or of an ideology that proclaims itself to be grounded in the scientific method. This is evidence of a faith-based ideology preaching the liturgy.

Edsall asks, Integration Works. Can It Survive the Trump Era? In fact, it is not clear that integration works, and more particularly, it is not clear that integration narrows the race gap. The headline casts this in Trumpian terms, as part of the NYT continuing campaign to fight the winner of the election. But the issue is not Trump. Possibly his might be the precipitating event but the core problem is that we have spent fifty years trying to solve a problem that won't go away. With or without Trump, that particular vehicle was already grinding to a halt. What we do next is critical and won't be solved by pleadings on behalf of the vested interests to continue what we have always done and which has never worked.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Dutch Brazil

By circuitous means, the First Battle of Guararapes popped on my radar screen. I had forgotten that the Netherlands had at one time aspirations of a Brazilian colony. Short lived (1630-1654) granted, but a fascinating chapter given all that was going on in the Netherlands at the time (fighting the Spanish).

From Wikipedia about the first battle:
On April 18, 1648, around forty five hundred Dutch soldiers and five artillery pieces marched south, coming from Recife. On their way south, they eliminated a small defensive outpost on the village of Barreta. The few survivors regrouped at the village of Arraial Novo do Bom Jesus, headquarters of the Pernambucana resistance, where they reported the incident.
4,500 men? The Netherlands didn't have but two million people at that time. That is a huge commitment of their available adult male population.

I just recently finished The Shipwrecked Men by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, an account of the 1527 Narváez expedition which started in Florida with some 500-600 men. Eight years later, Cabeza de Vaca with three other surviving Spaniards made it to Mexico City, having travelled across the Southeastern US and likely much of the southwest (their route being uncertain).

A fascinating era of discovery and exploration.

Not bugle's call in the sunlight!

Just started reading Sacred Causes by Michael Burleigh. From one of the reviews:
For at least a century, observers of European culture have been noting the decline, or even the death, of organized religion; today, one constantly hears references to a "post-Christian" Europe. Perhaps so, but as Burleigh makes clear in this engrossing and rather disturbing work, the religious impulse remains strong, although it has often reasserted itself under the guise of secular political movements. Through an examination of that meeting ground between religion and politics, Burleigh has attempted to explain European history over the past 90 years.
The is my second Burleigh book, following Small Wars, Far Away Places which I greatly enjoyed for his erudition and insights. Twenty pages in to Sacred Causes and the same attributes of insight and erudition are on display.

He mentions Henri Barbusse who fought in World War I and came to fame with the publication of Le Feu (Under Fire) in 1916. There is a passage in which Barbusse's characters challenge the glorification of war by describing trench warfare as they experienced it:
that is about appalling, superhuman exhaustion, about water up to your belly and about mud, dung and repulsive filth. It is about moulding faces and shredded flesh and corpses that do not even look like corpses anymore, floating on the greedy earth. It is this infinite monotony of miseries, interrupted by sharp, sudden dramas. That is what it is - not the bayonet glittering, like silver or the bugle's call in the sunlight!
A reminder of the still relatively recent past which we ought to use as a counterweight to the hysteria so much in the news.

Nothing says AMERICA like an eagle on your shoulder.

Donald Trump has a cologne called Success? Who knew.

I love the customer Q&A.

Click to enlarge.

Kids just don't have the gumption they used to . . .



Click to enlarge

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Inhabited by a rude description of people

Various accounts by and about Hanno the Navigator. Hanno lived around the fifth century BC.

From the periplus of Hanno describing the terminus of their voyage along the coast of West Africa.
In its inmost recess was an island similar to that formerly described, which contained in like manner a lake with another island, inhabited by a rude description of people. The females were much more numerous than the males, and had rough skins: our interpreters called them Gorillae. We pursued but could take none of the males; they all escaped to the top of precipices, which they mounted with ease, and threw down stones; we took three of the females, but they made such violent struggles, biting and tearing their captors, that we killed them, and stripped off the skins, which we carried to Carthage: being out of provisions we could go no further.
An unknown world way back in the days before National Geographic.

Wikipedia notes:
When the American physician and missionary Thomas Staughton Savage and naturalist Jeffries Wyman first described the gorillas in the 19th century, the apes were named Troglodytes gorilla after the description in Hanno.
Herodotus, that collector of tales, relates that:
The Carthaginians tell us that they trade with a race of men who live in a part of Libya beyond the Pillars of Herakles. On reaching this country, they unload their goods, arrange them tidily along the beach, and then, returning to their boats, raise a smoke. Seeing the smoke, the natives come down to the beach, place on the ground a certain quantity of gold in exchange for the goods, and go off again to a distance. The Carthaginians then come ashore and take a look at the gold; and if they think it presents a fair price for their wares, they collect it and go away; if, on the other hand, it seems too little, they go back aboard and wait, and the natives come and add to the gold until they are satisfied. There is perfect honesty on both sides; the Carthaginians never touch the gold until it equals in value what they have offered for sale, and the natives never touch the goods until the gold has been taken away.

Liberty and responsibility are inseparable

From The Constitution of Liberty by Friedrich A. Hayek.
Liberty not only means that the individual has both the opportunity and the burden of choice; it also means that he must bear the consequences of his actions and will receive praise or blame for them. Liberty and responsibility are inseparable. A free society will not function or maintain itself unless its members regard it as right that each individual occupy the position that results from his action and accept that it is due to his own action. Though it can offer to the individual only chances and though the outcome of his efforts will depend on innumerable accidents, it forcefully directs his attention to those circumstances that he can control as if they were the only ones that mattered. Since the individual is to be given the opportunity to make use of circumstances that may be known only to him and since, as a rule, nobody else can know whether he has made the best use of them or not, the presumption is that the outcome of his actions is determined by them, unless the contrary is quite obvious.

This belief in individual responsibility, which has always been strong when people firmly believed in individual freedom, has markedly declined, together with the esteem for freedom. Responsibility has become an unpopular concept, a word that experienced speakers or writers avoid because of the obvious boredom or animosity with which it is received by a generation that dislikes all moralizing. It often evokes the outright hostility of men who have been taught that it is nothing but circumstances over which they have no control that has determined their position in life or even their actions. This denial of responsibility is, however, commonly due to a fear of responsibility, a fear that necessarily becomes also a fear of freedom. It is doubtless because the opportunity to build one's own life also means an unceasing task, a discipline that man must impose upon himself if he is to achieve his aims, that many people are afraid of liberty.
Seems like this passage has some passing consistency with Jonathan Haidt's discussions about the developing culture of victimhood.