Sunday, November 30, 2014

Not nearly enough

From Does Reading During the Summer Build Reading Skills? Evidence from a Randomized Experiment in 463 Classrooms by Jonathan Guryan, James S. Kim, and David M. Quinn

The abstract:
There are large gaps in reading skills by family income among school-aged children in the United States. Correlational evidence suggests that reading skills are strongly related to the amount of reading students do outside of school. Experimental evidence testing whether this relationship is causal is lacking. We report the results from a randomized evaluation of a summer reading program called Project READS, which induces students to read more during the summer by mailing ten books to them, one per week. Simple intent-to-treat estimates show that the program increased reading during the summer, and show significant effects on reading comprehension test scores in the fall for third grade girls but not for third grade boys or second graders of either gender. Analyses that take advantage of within-classroom random assignment and cross-classroom variation in treatment effects show evidence that reading more books generates increases in reading comprehension skills, particularly when students read carefully enough to be able to answer basic questions about the books they read, and particularly for girls.
I don't have access to the paper but Fivethirtyeight has an account.
Taken together, the results of this study suggest that the answer to the question posed by the title is not a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Going through the motions of reading without being focused enough to remember basic facts about the book may not be effective at building lasting reading skills. Reading carefully and with enough focus to be able to answer reading comprehension questions about the book appears to build reading skills that improve comprehension of other texts weeks or months later. How best to get children learning to read in an engaged and focused way remains an open question, and would be a promising area for future research.
There it is again, the issue of sustained focus as a driver of desired outcomes. So often we focus on inputs as a measure of outputs instead of simply measuring outputs.

What you most want to understand is what are the necessary inputs, what are the necessary causations in the process and what are the associated outcomes. Too often, in the public policy arena, we ignore causations, fail to measure outcomes and focus strictly on inputs. How many books was the child exposed? As this research indicates, that doesn't really tell you much. What you really want to know, is with how many books was the child cognitively engaged? That is a lot harder to measure but much more predictive of the desired outcome, i.e. an enthusiastic and effective reader.

How many schools are good at creating the behavior of sustained and engaged reading. Not nearly enough I think is the easy answer.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The boundaries of our ignorance were so much closer so recently.

I have recently loaded up my iPad with old books. The motivation is in part to reduce the volume of books I carry with me when travelling, though that is more a function of self-discipline than technology and if past is prologue, then the iPad won't really address that issue. The other part of the motivation is to have quickly available books that are on my reading list but unlikely to be read. In general the full range of classics, some of which I have read but not in a long time, some of which I have dipped into but never completed and many which I have never even seriously perused. My thought was that when I am travelling, there are lots of ten or twenty minute windows when it would be easy to dip into something on the iPad.

On this first venture, I covered a lot of old poetry. I also read a collection of Arthur Conan Doyle horror stories, some for the first time and some rereading from long ago.

One of the latter was The Horror of the Heights originally published in the venerable Strand Magazine in 1913.

You can read a summary of the story at Wikipedia. It is a fine little tale but what grabs my attention is how recently things were still relatively unknown to us. In this instance, it is the unknown, in those early days of flight, regarding what might be encountered at the stupendous heights of 30,000 feet or 40,000 feet.

A sampling of the story.
"It was a close, warm day for an English September, and there was the hush and heaviness of impending rain. Now and then there came sudden puffs of wind from the south-west—one of them so gusty and unexpected that it caught me napping and turned me half-round for an instant. I remember the time when gusts and whirls and air-pockets used to be things of danger—before we learned to put an overmastering power into our engines. Just as I reached the cloud-banks, with the altimeter marking three thousand, down came the rain. My word, how it poured! It drummed upon my wings and lashed against my face, blurring my glasses so that I could hardly see. I got down on to a low speed, for it was painful to travel against it. As I got higher it became hail, and I had to turn tail to it. One of my cylinders was out of action—a dirty plug, I should imagine, but still I was rising steadily with plenty of power. After a bit the trouble passed, whatever it was, and I heard the full, deep-throated purr—the ten singing as one. That's where the beauty of our modern silencers comes in. We can at last control our engines by ear. How they squeal and squeak and sob when they are in trouble! All those cries for help were wasted in the old days, when every sound was swallowed up by the monstrous racket of the machine. If only the early aviators could come back to see the beauty and perfection of the mechanism which have been bought at the cost of their lives!
And then a sense of the speculative wonder of what flying at heights might mean.
"It was about that time that I had a most extraordinary experience. Something whizzed past me in a trail of smoke and exploded with a loud, hissing sound, sending forth a cloud of steam. For the instant I could not imagine what had happened. Then I remembered that the earth is for ever being bombarded by meteor stones, and would be hardly inhabitable were they not in nearly every case turned to vapour in the outer layers of the atmosphere. Here is a new danger for the high-altitude man, for two others passed me when I was nearing the forty-thousand-foot mark. I cannot doubt that at the edge of the earth's envelope the risk would be a very real one.

"My barograph needle marked forty-one thousand three hundred when I became aware that I could go no farther. Physically, the strain was not as yet greater than I could bear but my machine had reached its limit. The attenuated air gave no firm support to the wings, and the least tilt developed into side-slip, while she seemed sluggish on her controls. Possibly, had the engine been at its best, another thousand feet might have been within our capacity, but it was still misfiring, and two out of the ten cylinders appeared to be out of action. If I had not already reached the zone for which I was searching then I should never see it upon this journey. But was it not possible that I had attained it? Soaring in circles like a monstrous hawk upon the forty-thousand-foot level I let the monoplane guide herself, and with my Mannheim glass I made a careful observation of my surroundings. The heavens were perfectly clear; there was no indication of those dangers which I had imagined.

"I have said that I was soaring in circles. It struck me suddenly that I would do well to take a wider sweep and open up a new airtract. If the hunter entered an earth-jungle he would drive through it if he wished to find his game. My reasoning had led me to believe that the air-jungle which I had imagined lay somewhere over Wiltshire. This should be to the south and west of me. I took my bearings from the sun, for the compass was hopeless and no trace of earth was to be seen—nothing but the distant, silver cloud-plain. However, I got my direction as best I might and kept her head straight to the mark. I reckoned that my petrol supply would not last for more than another hour or so, but I could afford to use it to the last drop, since a single magnificent vol-plane could at any time take me to the earth.

"Suddenly I was aware of something new. The air in front of me had lost its crystal clearness. It was full of long, ragged wisps of something which I can only compare to very fine cigarette smoke. It hung about in wreaths and coils, turning and twisting slowly in the sunlight. As the monoplane shot through it, I was aware of a faint taste of oil upon my lips, and there was a greasy scum upon the woodwork of the machine. Some infinitely fine organic matter appeared to be suspended in the atmosphere. There was no life there. It was inchoate and diffuse, extending for many square acres and then fringing off into the void. No, it was not life. But might it not be the remains of life? Above all, might it not be the food of life, of monstrous life, even as the humble grease of the ocean is the food for the mighty whale? The thought was in my mind when my eyes looked upwards and I saw the most wonderful vision that ever man has seen. Can I hope to convey it to you even as I saw it myself last Thursday?
Reading this brought to mind a later book but one which similarly brings to our contemporary senses the wonder of unexplored regions in the very recent past.

John Wyndham was a British science fiction writer of the 1950s and 60s. He is most famous for Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos. Both classics now. The book that Horror of the Heights brought to mind, though, was The Kraken Wakes. Published in 1953, it is the story of an alien invasion. The aliens are not terrestrial though. Their initial landings are in the ocean. The deep ocean. Once there, they slowly prepare to conquer mankind. What is distinctive to the modern reader, or at least to me, is that in the mid 1950s, the deep ocean was still terra icognita to us. Deep ocean submersibles were still basically reaching down a few hundred feet and not the thousands of feet posited by Wyndham as the habitable region of the aliens.

That's what is striking to me. Our knowledge frontier has expanded so greatly and we have made the physical frontiers quotidian. Middle aged technology executives parachute from 135,000 feet. Our unmanned submersibles take us to the deepest trenches. Yes, there is much we don't know but the frontiers are far away. Only a few decades ago we couldn't reach the depths and we didn't know what might lurk in the heights. Now they are routine.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The loss of distinctions

I am currently reading Doing Bad by Doing Good: Why Humanitarian Action Fails by Christopher J. Coyne. I was concerned initially, despite the good reviews, that it might be a dogmatic attack but so far the analysis is quite interesting and nuanced.

Lots of interesting information as well. One factoid - In 2010 the global amount of humanitarian aid extended was $128 billion. That's a pretty material number.

In recent years I have seen more and more instances where despots either shut down or sharply constrain the activities of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in their countries, almost always on the grounds that the NGOs were acting as agents of foreign governments. I had long assumed this was simply despotic paranoia. As it turns out, there have been changes occurring that I had not noticed. Whereas many or most of the big NGOs used to be autonomous or private charitable organizations, sources of funding have changed.
"NGOs are becoming more dependent on official aid."


"NGOs not dependent on state aid are the exception rather than the rule."
In a number of countries, government grants make up 50-90% of NGO budgets.

Despots are still bad but apparently they have more grounds for their beliefs than I was aware was warranted.

This is further complicated by another trend that Coyne documents, the conflation between humanitarian aid offered by NGOs but coordinated with militaries and militaries extending humanitarian aid. Fascinating and to some extent troubling.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Then do not exalt yourself

From the Thanksgiving service this morning.

Deuteronomy 8:7-18
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.

Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous* snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.
Complemented with

2 Corinthians 9:6-15
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Strive, be humble, be grateful, be generous.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

More religion, better life outcomes

Torrential Jonathan Gruber has been in the news lately with his overly frank discussions of the origins and making of the Obamacare sausage. For all that he has become a political brick brat to be tossed about, he is originally and fundamentally an economist. Here is one of his papers from a few years ago, Religious Market Structure, Religious Participation, and Outcomes: Is Religion Good For You? by Jonathan Gruber.
Religion remains an important aspect of life in the U.S. Yet we know very little about the impacts the religious participation has on economic outcomes. I have attempted to remedy this shortcoming by instrumenting for religious density with the extent to which others in an area share one’s religious heritage, and to study the impact of religious density on outcomes in the
Census IPUMS data.

The findings of this analysis are striking: a higher density of your religion in your area, as proxied by the ancestral mix of area residents, leads to significantly more religious participation, and to better outcomes along a variety of dimensions, such as education, income, and marital status. These effects are sizeable, and are robust to a variety of specification checks. And they
do not appear to be driven by selection of higher ability individuals into areas where there is more density of their religion
Well there you go, the science is settled.

There is nothing so wistfully optimistic as an activist who thinks that forcing reporters to use different terms will change public opinion

From Megan McArdle, Twitter 11/21/2014
There is nothing so wistfully optimistic as an activist who thinks that forcing reporters to use different terms will change public opinion

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit

From The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith.
The man whose public spirit is prompted altogether by humanity and benevolence, will respect the established powers and privileges even of individuals, and still more those of the great orders and societies, into which the state is divided. Though he should consider some of them as in some measure abusive, he will content himself with moderating, what he often cannot annihilate without great violence. When he cannot conquer the rooted prejudices of the people by reason and persuasion, he will not attempt to subdue them by force; but will religiously observe what, by Cicero, is justly called the divine maxim of Plato, never to use violence to his country no more than to his parents. He will accommodate, as well as he can, his public arrangements to the confirmed habits and prejudices of the people; and will remedy as well as he can, the inconveniences which may flow from the want of those regulations which the people are averse to submit to. When he cannot establish the right, he will not disdain to ameliorate the wrong; but like Solon, when he cannot establish the best system of laws, he will endeavour to establish the best that the people can bear.

The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.
I am always astonished at the foresight and clarity of thinking of these wise elders. I understand why The Wealth of Nations should attract so much attention but I think The Theory of Moral Sentiments is in many ways the greater book.

One of our challenges today is not only that we have too few men of public spirit and too many men of system gumming up the works. More lamentably and destructively, we have too many men of system masquerading as men of public spirit.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Clear arguments

From Ring For Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
'I am not going to marry Lord Rowcester,' she said curtly. It seemed to Colonel Wyvern that his child must be suffering from some form of amnesia, and he sat himself down to jog her memory.

'Yes, you are,' he reminded her. 'It was in The Times.'

When literature professors began to apply critical theory to the teaching of books they were, in effect, committing suicide by theory

From The Shrinking World of Ideas by Arthur Krystal.
This focus on the endemic components of society soon found its analogue in deconstruction, which elevated the social-semiotic conditions of language over the authors who modulated and teased it into literary art. Whatever the differences among the various poststructuralist schools of thought, the art of inversion, the transferring of significance from the exalted to the unappreciated, was a common feature. To read Barthes, Baudrillard, Derrida, Foucault, and Kristeva was to realize that everything that was formerly beneath our notice now required a phenomenologically informed second glance. And for theorists of a certain stripe on both sides of the Atlantic, this created a de-familiarized zone of symbols and referents whose meaning lay not below the surface of things, but out in the open. Say what you want about the French, they made us look at what was in front of our noses. Warhol’s soup can didn’t just fall out of the sky; it had begun to take shape in Paris in the 30s; Warhol simply brought the obvious to the attention of museumgoers.

Art and literature survived the onslaught of critical theory, but not without a major derailment. The banal, the ordinary, the popular became both the focus and the conduit of aesthetic expression. This may be something of an exaggeration, but it’s hard not to view the work of John Cage, Andy Warhol, and Alain Robbe-Grillet as compositions less interested in art than in the conceit that anything could be art. And while this attempt to validate the ordinary may have been in step with the intellectual tempo, it also summoned from the academy an exegesis so abstruse, so pumped up with ersatz hermeneutics that, in reality, it showcased the aesthetic void it so desperately attempted to disguise. And this absence was nothing less than the expulsion of those ideas that were formerly part of the humanistic charter to create meaning in verbal, plastic, and aural mediums.

Not that this bothered postmodern theorists whose unabashed mission was to expose Western civilization’s hidden agenda: the doctrinal attitudes and assumptions about art, sex, and race embedded in our linguistic and social codes. For many critics in the 1970s and 80s, the Enlightenment had been responsible for generating ideas about the world that were simply innocent of their own implications. Accordingly, bold new ideas were required that recognized the ideological framework of ideas in general. So Barthes gave us "The Death of the Author," and Foucault concluded that man is nothing more than an Enlightenment invention, while Paul de Man argued that insofar as language is concerned there is "in a very radical sense no such thing as the human."

All of which made for lively, unruly times in the humanities. It also made for the end of ideas as Trilling conceived them. For implicit in the idea that culture embodies physiological and psychological codes is the idea that everything can be reduced to a logocentric perspective, in which case all schools of thought become in the end variant expressions of the mind’s tendencies, and the principles they affirm become less significant than the fact that the mind is constituted to think and signify in particular ways. This may be the reason that there are no more schools of thought in the humanities as we once understood them. Obviously one can still learn about the tenets of the Frankfurt School and Prague School in courses across the country, just as one can study the works of Marxist and psychoanalytic critics (Althusser, Lacan, Deleuze, Lyotard, Marcuse, Norman O. Brown) and the deconstructionist writings of Derrida and de Man—but the frisson is gone, the intellectual energy dissipated as historical memory. Ironically, the last great surge of ideas in the humanities was essentially antihumanist. And because the academy eagerly embraced and paraded these ideas, the humanities themselves began to shrink. For when literature professors began to apply critical theory to the teaching of books they were, in effect, committing suicide by theory.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ideological Turing tests and cognitive exhaustion

Bryan Caplan introduces an interesting idea in The Ideological Turing Test by Bryan Caplan. For those on opposites sides of a debate, the question to ask is "What is it you believe they believe to be true?"
But the ability to pass ideological Turing tests - to state opposing views as clearly and persuasively as their proponents - is a genuine symptom of objectivity and wisdom.
Caplan proposes that this can be objectively measured in the political system regarding conservatives and liberals. Who understands the other better?

Jonathan Haidt actually answers this question in his The Righteous Mind which came out within a year of Caplan's blog post. IIRC there were 2,000 participants in Haidt's experiment and his finding was that conservatives and moderates were far more accurate in predicting liberal positions than liberals were at predicting moderate or conservative views. Haidt ascribes this superior insight into the mind of the other as being a product of the differences in definition of morality between liberals and conservatives. Liberals focus on two issues, harm/cair and fairness/reciprocity, whereas conservatives focus on harm/cair and fairness/reciprocity but also ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. Conservatives weight each of these moral pillars about equally. The consequence is that conservatives have greater complexity to address in their moral equations (forcing greater cogitation) and they have more trade-offs that have to be reconciled. Haidt's argument is that that versatility makes conservatives more familiar with the limited moral repertoire of liberals than liberals of the more expansive moral universe of conservatives.

Andrew G. Biggs argues that there is a second causative attribute in play that drives conservatives to better comprehension of liberal positions. Biggs argues that liberal positions dominate universities, research, media, and popular culture such as movies and music, to a much greater extent than do conservative views. Basically, conservatives are always being bombarded by liberal positions which they have to cognitively rationalize and digest whereas liberals live in a cocoon where they are largely sheltered from genuine conservative beliefs. The famous quote of Pauline Kael, an American film critic living in New York City, is brought to mind regarding the landslide victory of Richard Nixon in 1972;
How could Nixon have won? Nobody I know voted for him.
I think Caplan's idea of a Turing test is an interesting one. Why don't we use it more, on every subject.

If you are able to convincingly articulate your opponent's argument, then you have some granular knowledge about its strengths and weakness. There is almost always a grain of truth in every opponent's argument. Where is that truth, what is the context for that being true and what are the necessary assumptions and definitions that make it true? When you know those things, then you are in a position to challenge the right assumptions, definitions, etc. in order to divine the truth more thoroughly.

I think the Ideological Turing Test is so little used because it is cognitively taxing and because often, proponents of a given position are left having to articulate much more clearly than they are prepared to do the non-faith-based reasons for their belief in a particular position or idea.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Gramscian memes, a caustic chemical on public discourse

A few days ago I posted (The Cold War As Progenitor of Cognitive Pollution) about an article by Eric Raymond (Gramscian damage ). Raymond is arguing that there are many items of cognitive pollution (hypotheses ardently believed without material proof) that were deliberately launched by the Soviets during the Cold War as part of a Gramscian strategy to undermine the West. Gramsci was an Italian Marxist theorist who articulated the strategy of cultural subversion as a means to address the inexplicable (to Marxists) productivity and durability of Western culture, economies, and institutions.

The list of common beliefs that Raymond identified as Marxist propositions widely believed without supporting evidence was:
There is no truth, only competing agendas.

All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West’s history of racism and colonialism.

There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such standards is an evil oppressor.

The prosperity of the West is built on ruthless exploitation of the Third World; therefore Westerners actually deserve to be impoverished and miserable.

Crime is the fault of society, not the individual criminal. Poor criminals are entitled to what they take. Submitting to criminal predation is more virtuous than resisting it.

The poor are victims. Criminals are victims. And only victims are virtuous. Therefore only the poor and criminals are virtuous. (Rich people can borrow some virtue by identifying with poor people and criminals.)

For a virtuous person, violence and war are never justified. It is always better to be a victim than to fight, or even to defend oneself. But ‘oppressed’ people are allowed to use violence anyway; they are merely reflecting the evil of their oppressors.

When confronted with terror, the only moral course for a Westerner is to apologize for past sins, understand the terrorist’s point of view, and make concessions.
I have been thinking about his argument since then and want to drill down on that list. While I think Raymond is on to something, there is a lot of looseness to the argument and I can't help but feel that his conviction has caused him to frame some of the Gramscian memes in poor light. I want to both tighten up the argument and perhaps reframe it a bit.

There are a whole range of predicates, the most important of which are:
First is to define what constitutes a Gramscian meme.

Just because someone articulates a Gramscian meme, doesn't mean they are a Marxist. Gramscian memes are highly adaptable to multiple hosts without the host being aware of the infection.

A Gramscian meme is not necessarily wrong, but it is not right (true, meaningful). Most Gramscian memes have a grain of truth to them. It is the extrapolation to the extreme that makes them wrong. It is a variant of the classical fallacy of reductio ad absurdum.

The strength of Gramscian memes are not in their explanatory power (it is poor) or in their truth or accuracy, but in the ease with which they are presented as true without having to justify that they are true.

So what might be a working definition of what constitutes a Gramscian meme? Perhaps:
A Gramscian meme is an assumption which has an element of truth to it but is either meaningless without tighter definition or is broadly untrue in most circumstances AND which undermines important traditional Western beliefs without furthering any specific agenda for improvement. Gramscian memes can provide important insights and critiques of the status quo but are not usefully true when expressed in their strong form or when meaning is clearly defined.
Gramscian memes, when examined collectively, seem to focus on undermining at least four critical concepts and beliefs of Western Civilization: 1) Individual Agency, 2) Free Will, 3) Rule of Law, 4) Consent of the Governed, and 4) Scientific Method. Those are the ones I have noticed so far.

Gramscian memes also seem to create many variant propositions from a small number of key concepts. The critical sleights of hand that seem very common underpinnings of Gramscian memes appear to be 1) Equating correlation with causation, 2) Near universal commission of the Fundamental Attribution Error, 3) Disavowal of emergent order, 4) A belief that all disparate results are both negative and intentional, 5) a belief that emotional conviction trumps logic and data, 6) stripping away context from claims, and 7) relying on anecdote over data.

The following is a working list of Gramscian memes which are of limited truth but which are uncritically and widely accepted as being broadly true. This list seeks to omit beliefs that are arrived at through an inadequate knowledge base, simple logical fallacy, or through cognitive biases. It also seeks to avoid such concepts as War on Women, Gender Pay Gap, etc., in other words, specific strategies which might be grounded in a Gramscian worldview but which are deployed for specific tactical political benefit.
There is no objective truth, only conflicting interpretations of evidence.

What we accept as true is really just the preferences of interpretation imposed by others.

All cultures are equal to one another; there is no hierarchy of better or worse cultures.

The West is rich because of its exploitation of non-western countries.

The heritage of Western colonialism, slavery and racism is the source of most of the problems experienced by the developing world today.

Crime is caused by poverty.

Income inequality has demonstrable negative consequences on the well-being of all citizens.

There are no circumstances where violence or coercion on the part of an individual is a justifiable response.

Aggression can be curbed by understanding the source of aggression.

Everyone is the product of their place, time, and circumstances and therefore cannot be meaningfully deemed responsible for their actions.

Any individual person's achievements are the consequence of circumstance and luck and not of individual effort and merit.

Disagreements can always be resolved through better communication.

All individuals are inherently flawed and therefore are incapable of making optimal decisions.

Collective action has greater moral value than individual action.

Disparate impacts or consequences are the result of intentional bias or discrimination.

When some person gains something, someone else must lose.

Actions can reliably be taken without unintended consequences.

Intentions matter more than outcomes.

When faced with an unacceptable situation, it is better to do something poorly than to do nothing at all.

Correlation implies causation

The average is the individual.

Past is prolog.

There is no such things as free will.

History determines the future.

Women suffer negative life outcomes owing to patriarchal biases.

Marginalized groups suffer detrimental consequences of overt discrimination.

Minority must also mean marginalized.

There are many situations where free speech has to be controlled to avoid negative outcomes. (Politically correct locutions, trigger warnings, outright bans, etc.)

Everyone owes everyone else an equal opportunity.

Stereotyping is evidence of malicious bias.

No one should have to experience speech they find offensive.

There is no such thing as private property.

Money is the root of all evil.

Rules exist to support the status quo.

If you don’t write the rules you don’t have to live by them.

A motive is sufficient explanation.

To make an omelet you have to break some eggs.

The ends (always) justifies the means.

It’s important that it work in theory as well as it works in practice.

Conflating the absolute with the relative.

All men should be equal in terms of outcomes as well as opportunities.

Race is a social construct.

Any one person’s gain is another person’s loss.

Sex is rape.

All exchange is theft.

Everyone’s a winner.

The important this is you tried.

The precautionary principle.

Economic determinism.

Labor theory of value.

Historical materialism.

Race or class privilege.

If you are a woman, a minority or a criminal, you are oppressed.

Group identity is more important than individual identity.

Positive outcomes achieved by individuals must necessarily have been achieved through force and coercion.

The personal is political.

False consciousness is a real problem, people pursue actions against their own best interests.

Morality is socially constructed and has no universal application.

The law exists solely to protect the interests of the most powerful and privileged.

Racial diversity is inherently beneficial and right.

Group rights trump individual rights.

Religion is the opiate of the people.

Society does not consist of individuals but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand.

Existing institutions are oppressive of everyone other than the elite sponsoring those institutions.

You can't have free speech because the opinions of some will become marginalized.

Protected classes who disagree must be victims of false consciousness.

If you are not with ut, you are against us.
That's more than enough to be pondering on. Knowing that all these are broadly wrong (i.e. setting aside the narrowly defined element that provides the fig leaf of truth), look at how many tempests are underpinned by the above assumptions - 10 Hours walking in NYC, #shirtstorm, #gamergate, etc. Strip away those faulty assumptions and you get back to a much smaller set of much more real issues. The gramscian memes continue to do their job by obfuscation and by distracting people from the important issues in order to focus on the inconsequential.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Urban Planners - to attract the middle class, invest in infrastructure not transfers

This is interesting speculation, Was it the middle class that favored infrastructure investment in 19th century England? by Tyler Cowen.
Many theories of democratization suggest that extending the right to vote will lead to increased government expenditure (e.g. Meltzer and Richard, 1981; Lizzeri and Persico, 2004; Acemoglu and Robinson, 2000). However, these models frequently assume that government can engage in transfer expenditure, which is often not true for local governments. This paper presents and tests a model in which government expenditure is limited to the provision of public goods. The model predicts that the poor and the rich desire lower public goods expenditure than the middle class: the rich because of the relatively high tax burden, and the poor because of a high marginal utility of consumption. Consequently extensions of the franchise to the poor can be associated with declines in government expenditure on public goods. This prediction is tested using a new dataset of local government financial accounts in England between 1867 and 1900, which captures government expenditure on key infrastructure projects that are not included in many studies of national democratic reform. The empirical analysis exploits plausibly exogenous variation in the extent of the franchise to identify the effects of extending voting rights to the poor. The results show strong support for the theoretical prediction: expenditure increased following relatively small extensions of the franchise, but fell following extensions of the franchise beyond around 50% of the adult male population.
That might explain the tendency of cities with strong transfer ethos' to hollow out. As long as there is a large middle class, the majority of public resources are invested in improving the communal infrastructure. But as the middle class declines (moves to the suburbs) then the relatively fixed public resources become increasingly diverted to transfer payments and away from public infrastructure worsening the environment for the remaining Middle Class until all that are left are the top and bottom quintiles. Case studies - New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, etc.

The corollary would explain why it is so hard to attract the Middle Class back. In order to get them interested, you have to invest in the common public infrastructure and in order to do that, assuming you are maxed out in the bond market, you have to divert resources away from transfers and back into infrastructure. Very hard to do given that the transfer beneficiaries are strongly motivated to punish anyone interfering with the status quo.
Still, it is only a marginally supported argument as yet.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

It’s not that identity is centred around morality. It’s that morality necessitates the concept of identity

An interesting piece; The self is moral by Nina Strohminger.

Her question is "What makes us, us?" She addresses and dismisses a common argument that a person is the sum of their memories. She then advances the argument that our individual identity is bound up with our moral capacities which is in turn bound up with how we behave. She then takes the argument in a novel direction.
Why does our identity detector place so much emphasis on moral capacities? These aren’t our most distinctive features. Our faces, our fingertips, our quirks, our autobiographies: any of these would be a more reliable way of telling who’s who. Somewhat paradoxically, identity has less to do with what makes us different from other people than with our shared humanity. Consider the reason we keep track of individuals in the first place. Most animals don’t have an identity detector. Those that share our zeal for individual identification have one thing in common: they live in societies, where they must co‑operate to survive. Evolutionary biologists point out that the ability to keep track of individuals is required for reciprocal altruism and punishment to emerge. If someone breaks the rules, or helps you out of a bind, you need to be able to remember who did this in order return the favour later. Without the ability to distinguish among the members of a group, an organism cannot recognise who has co‑operated and who has defected, who has shared and who has been stingey.

Nor can you have formal moral systems without identity. The 18th-century philosopher Thomas Reid observed that the fundaments of justice – rights, duty, responsibility – would be impossible without the ability to ascribe stable identity to persons. If nothing connects a person from one moment to the next, then the person who acts today cannot be held responsible by the person who has replaced him tomorrow. Our identity detector works in overdrive when reasoning about crimes of passion, crimes under the influence, crimes of insanity: for if the person was beside himself or out of his mind when he committed his crime, how can we identify who has committed the act, and hold him responsible for it?

Moral features are the chief dimension by which we judge, sort and choose social partners. For men and women alike, the single most sought-after trait in a long-term romantic partner is kindness – beating out beauty, wealth, health, shared interests, even intelligence. And while we often think of our friends as the people who are uniquely matched to our shared personality, moral character plays the largest role in determining whether you like someone or not (what social psychologists call impression formation), and predicts the success and longevity of these bonds. Virtues are mentioned with more frequency in obituaries than achievements, abilities or talents. This is even the case for obituaries of notable luminaries, people who are being written about because of their accomplishments, not their moral fibre.

The identity detector is designed to pick up on moral features because this is the most important type of information we can have about another person. So we’ve been thinking about the problem precisely backwards. It’s not that identity is centred around morality. It’s that morality necessitates the concept of identity, breathes life into it, provides its raison d’être. If we had no scruples, we’d have precious little need for identities. Humans, with their engorged and highly complex socio-moral systems, have accordingly inflated egos.
I am taken with the argument. Unexplored is the issue that moral capabilities are usually interpreted through behaviors, i.e. we infer moral capabilities based on the evidence advanced through behaviors. No matter what someone says they believe, we look to what they actually do in order to measure their moral capabilities (revealed preference in economic terms).

There are a number of interesting correlates.

For example, I suspect that there is some connection between defining people based on their moral capabilities and the Fundamental Attribution Error. The Fundamental Attribution Error is a measurable and common psychological bias in which we attribute a person's actions to their moral intentions and not to their circumstances. The flipside of the Fundamental Attribution Error is that as individuals, we commonly overweight our particular circumstances to explain our actions.

A car is driving recklessly down the highway, speeding, changing lanes, honking, flashing lights; clearly in a hurry to get someplace. If we are one of the cars on the highway, the driver is a reckless, inconsiderate, self-centered danger. If we are the driver of the car it is because our wife is in the backseat going into labor. In the first instance, we fail to seek alternate explanations for the reckless driving and impute moral failure. In the second, we use the circumstances as the first order of defence for reckless driving.

Identity as moral capability I suspect also ties in to the intricacy of children reading.

We impute great importance to the goodness and suitability of books which our children read. Why? I suspect in part it has to do with our desire that the books reflect the moral structures of ourselves. We seek not only biological replication but moral replication as well. Hence the heat when advocates, librarians and teachers seek to foist books on to the reading public which are not morally compatible with that public.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

No society that has no shared ideals on morality will survive for long.

From the UK Spectator, Arguments With God by Douglas Murray, an interview with former Chief rabbi of the UK, Jonathan Sacks.
We recently talked over some of this at his house in London, where he lives during gaps in a busy teaching schedule that also takes him to New York. ‘I realised religion is going to come back and it is not going to come back as a post-enlightenment,-thinly–sliced-cucumber-sandwiches vicarage tea party.’ What was the giveaway? ‘De-secularisation.’ It was a phenomenon he noticed first as a rabbi.

People were returning to synagogue or church because they wanted their children to attend a faith school. Not because they believed, but because ‘faith schools have a very strong ethos and they think that that strong ethos will give the kids the kind of virtues they need.’

This, in Sacks’s view, points to a flaw at the heart of the atheist worldview. Faced with the question ‘How do we raise our children?’ — perhaps the most serious question we must ask — non-believers began to flunk the answer. And Sacks reckons that this failure indicates a wider relativistic vacuum in our society.


‘There is a huge attempt right now to find out if we can ground a morality in something other than religious faith. I think the question is on what can we ground a shared substantive ethic strong enough to inspire young people? No society that has no shared ideals on morality will survive for long.

Refreshing pursuit of truth and accomplishment

Post-election, our MSM seem to be suffering withdrawal symptoms. They are feeding their dependency with stories that are juicy and do have some salience but which are basically ephemeral. Feminist outrage over astrophysicist scientist Matt Taylor (part of the team which landed a probe on a comet speeding along at 300,000 miles an hour, 3 billion miles away). Source of the outrage - he was wearing an Hawaiian shirt that offended their refined aesthetic sensibilities and caused them to wilt at the patriarchal presumption of science.

It has also been a week of Gruber. Jonathan Gruber that is. The MIT economist instrumental in designing and justifying both Romneycare in Massachusetts and Obamacare nationally. He has an ever growing portfolio of video interviews from the past few years in which he conversationally and without a trace of hedging confirms all the public fears about Obamacare (we hid things that were inconvenient, we disguised items in order to not have to call them taxes, we knew that people would lose coverage, we knew we were subsidizing the insurance companies, we knew it would cost more than we said, etc.). The Republicans have had a field day and the Democrats have been embarrassed to be caught out and have doubly embarrassed themselves by denying things which are demonstrably true.

Stepping back from the partisan contest, it is, I think, worth considering the man himself rather than the self-serving demon (as portrayed by the Republicans) or the incompetent non-entity (as portrayed by his Democratic sponsors).

Ann Althouse has a useful first pass at this.
From a 12-year-old NYT article: Jonathan Gruber's "most embarrassing moment in government." by David Leonhardt via Ann Althouse.
This is from an April 2002 article by David Leonhardt titled "How a Tax On Cigarettes Can Help The Taxed":
For years, economists would have said that actions speak louder than words. Whatever smokers say about quitting, they are rationally deciding that the pleasure they derive from cigarettes exceeds their cost.

Jonathan Gruber was one of these economists when he worked in the Treasury Department in the Clinton administration. Mr. Gruber, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, remembers telling other policy makers that economic theory says they should not increase cigarette taxes. People should be allowed to decide for themselves whether they want to smoke, he told his colleagues. Those who smoke may hurt themselves, but they will not drain the country's resources because so many of them will die before running up large Medicare bills.

Mr. Gruber called it his most embarrassing moment in government, and his discomfort with his own argument caused him to begin researching the issue when he returned to academia.....
So, there was an argument for taxation based on the costs that smokers impose on all of us because of the health problems caused by smoking, and Gruber undercut that argument with a truth. Smokers don't cost more overall because they die earlier. Why was that so embarrassing? Well, "embarrassing" is the reporter's word, not a quote from Gruber. Gruber is a very chatty guy.
I understand the outrage that Gruber went on to profit from his Obamacare work, particularly if you believe that the whole act will reduce choice (freedom), increase costs, reduce quality and innovation, and not do what it was supposed to do (cover people without insurance).

But let's be charitable. Gruber appears to be a naif, enamored with ideas and pursuit of truth. Similarly, the British astrophysicist Matt Taylor, a man so excited and confident about the pursuit of science that he had the Rosetta landing tattooed on his leg. We are all fallible but give me Gruber and Taylor any day over the narrow minded self-serving social cankers who criticize them. They are a breath of fresh air that ought to be celebrated. If only others were as interested in truth and accomplishment.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The serious business of editing

Heh. From the UK Spectator, November 1, 2014 in the Diary section by Andrew Roberts.
The editing of this book has been an extraordinary intellectual exercise, due to the omnivorous brain of my editor at Penguin, Stuart Proffitt. Among the scores of questions he asked me in the first sets of edits were: 'How wide was the river Po in 1796?', 'Did Napoleon take Herodotus to Egypt?' and 'Was Napoleon conversant with the astronomical theories of Herschel?' Still, that was better than in my last book , where he asked of one gag of which I was particularly proud, 'Are you sure this joke is funny?'

Monday, November 17, 2014

Inaction is not gridlock

In The GOP: King of the Hill by Jay Cost, Cost makes a point I have been harping on. Gridlock is only a negative when viewed through partisan lenses. If you want to achieve policy X and you cannot get the opposite party to agree, then you complain about dysfunctional government and gridlock. But if your perspective is that of having a political system which is both stable and reflects the consent of the governed, then inaction is simply a consequence of lack of consensus in the electorate. The system is working as it ought to.

Cost's synopsis:
Surely this must be bad for our government, some say. The Framers could never have intended our elections to produce such a muddle. Gridlock—as the Beltway pundit class assures us—is dangerous and un-American.

But this is not true! In fact, the Framers might celebrate these mixed electoral messages if they were with us today.

Before the American Revolution, many political philosophers held up Britain as a nearly ideal system of government. The British system balanced power among the monarch, the nobility, and the people. The idea was to prevent any one faction from upending another for its own gain. The Americans did away with this idea in 1776, when they declared it self-evidently true that all men are equal and that all power derives from the people alone.

The problem was that the American governing experience in the decade after the Declaration of Independence was disastrous. State governments were exquisitely democratic and utterly atrocious: Fractious majorities often controlled them, punishing political minorities, squabbling with other states, violating the treaty rights of loyalists, failing to support the federal government, and making a wreck of public finances.

After the failure of the Articles of Confederation, the Framers sought to retain the egalitarianism of the Declaration, but to inject the notion of balance. They did not empower a landed gentry to check the masses; all power would continue to flow from the people as a whole. Yet by dividing power among the branches of government—and within the legislative branch, between an upper and a lower chamber—and designing a different selection system for each, they created artificial distinctions within society. Power would still flow from the people, but it would travel to different branches of government, by different routes, at different intervals. Thus, the government would be balanced—like the British system—yet at the same time radically egalitarian. The people would rule, but no fleeting majority could get its hands on all the mechanisms of government at once.

That is not so far from what we have now. The rules of the game favor the Republican coalition for the House and Senate; they favor the Democratic coalition for the White House. Far from being a distortion of the constitutional vision, this is a realization of it.


To put it simply, our country is not a radical democracy run on a straightforward popular vote. The people experimented with something like that in the 1780s, and the Framers thought it an unmitigated disaster. So they built a republic in which, to acquire all the levers of governmental power, a party must build a big, broad, and durable majority, one vast enough to sweep up control of all the federal institutions, each with its own peculiar rhythms.
What many overlook is that our system is designed to safeguard the rights of minorities, whether political, religious, racial, class, regional, ethnic, or other. The price of those protections is inaction until there is sufficient consensus across multiple groups and interests.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Gramscian advocates run aground on the shoals of real data

From Research: How Female CEOs Actually Get to the Top by Sarah Dillard and Vanessa Lipschitz. Some quite interesting research that buttresses some work I have done.

The author's explore two questions.

First. Standard career advice to young women in the corporate world is fairly anodyne.
Ambitious young women hoping to run a major business someday are often advised to take a particular career path: get an undergraduate degree from the most prestigious college you can, an MBA from a selective business school, then land a job at a top consulting firm or investment bank. From there, move between companies as you hopscotch your way into bigger roles and more responsibility.

That’s what we were told as undergraduates, and later on as students at the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School. It’s what Meg Whitman did, more or less, and it’s what Sally Blount, dean of the Kellogg School of Management and the only woman running a top-ten business school, recently recommended: “If we want our best and brightest young women to become great leaders…we have to convince more of them that … they should be going for the big jobs,” which for her meant “the most competitive business tracks, like investment banking and management consulting.”
Admirably wanting to know if the theoretical advice matched the empirical reality, the authors looked at the careers of the 24 women who currently lead one of the Fortune 500 companies.

One of the arguments I have been making over the years is that most advocates (race, gender, class, etc.) significantly underestimate the role that continuity, volume, and adaptability play in determining who emerges at the top end of the performance pyramid (in business, art, academia, law, sport, etc.). Talent, motivation and circumstance play important roles but usually are matched or outweighed by continuous years of intense effort. All things being equal in terms of talent, motivation and circumstance, the individual who puts in twice the number of hours over a fixed duration of time, performs better than the person having spent less time. Part of this is obviously a function of practice makes perfect (volume of time). Part of it is a function experience (duration of time): in other words, you are more likely to deal with more variation over a long period of time than a short. The more variation you are accustomed to dealing with, the more likely you are to advance.

In most fields, women constitute between 15-30% of the top performers and it is strongly correlated with volume and duration of time. The primary cause of reduced time and shorter durations is maternity.

This hypothesis of performance is borne out by the research.
Most women running Fortune 500 companies did not immediately hop on a “competitive business track.” Only three had a job at a consulting firm or bank right out of college. A larger share of the female CEOs—over 20%—took jobs right out of school at the companies they now run. These weren’t glamorous jobs. Mary Barra, now the CEO of General Motors, started out with the company as college co-op student. Kathleen Mazzearella started out as a customer service representative at Greybar, the company she would eventually become the CEO of more than 30 years later. All told, over 70 percent of the 24 CEOs spent more than ten years at the company they now run, becoming long-term insiders before becoming CEO. This includes Heather Bresch at Mylan, Gracia Martore at Gannett, and Debra Reed at Sempra Energy.

Even those who weren’t promoted as long-term insiders often worked their way up a particular corporate ladder, advancing over decades at a single company and later making a lateral move into the CEO role at another company. This was the experience of Patricia Woertz, CEO of Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), who built her career over 29 years at Chevron. And it was the experience of Sheri McCoy, who became CEO of Avon after being passed over for the CEO role at Johnson & Johnson, where she worked for 30 years.

The consistent theme in the data is that steady focus wins the day. The median long stint for these women CEOs is 23 years spent at a single company in one stretch before becoming the CEO.
What is the mean male CEO duration?
To understand whether this was the norm, we pulled a random sample of their male Fortune 500 CEO counterparts. For the men in the sample, the median long stint is 15 years. This means that for women, the long climb is over 50% longer than for their male peers. Moreover, 71% of the female CEOs were promoted as long-term insiders versus only 48% of the male CEOs. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for hopscotch early in women’s careers.
This is an interesting finding in itself and I regret that the authors don't investigate it in more depth. My theory of time volume duration, and adaptability as a determinant of outcome is very testable. If it is accurate, then those female CEOs who have no children should have a long stint duration comparable to their male counterparts at about fifteen years. Those female CEOs with children should have longer stint durations. Even within that group there should be material differences between those who 1) continued working in the same pattern as their peers during their maternity years, 2) those who took a hiatus in the form of working fixed schedules during their maternity years (i.e. forty hours a week nine to five), 3) those who worked reduced-hours for some stretch of time, and 4) those who may have taken time out from the workforce for some period.

The research is not thick on the ground but those studies I have seen indicate that anything short of high volume time, continuous time, and adaptable time has an outsized impact on final outcomes. The adaptable part is often overlooked. Two individuals may both work 50 hours a week but if one is on a fixed schedule of ten hours a day but the other is adaptable to business need and usually works 40 hours a week but is able to pitch in during times of need to work longer hours or on the weekend, it is the second individual who advances faster than the first.

The second half of the article is just as interesting and is non-gender specific. The authors ask the question how important is the prestigiousness of your alma mater? Not very.
What about the prestigious college? Does that matter? While Whitman’s high-prestige background may seem like it should be the norm, she is one of only two woman running a Fortune 500 company to have an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League institution. (This doesn’t appear to be a gendered issue. Only four percent of the men in our sample attended an Ivy League school.)
What about other factors like experience in consulting or banking? Also a bust.
Early stints in consulting and banking also hardly seem to be a prerequisite for either gender: about three-quarters of the men and women do not have any reference in their publically available resumes to time spent in either industry, liberally defined, at any time. Prestigious MBA programs are also hardly a requirement; only 25% of the women and 16% of the men hold an MBA from a top-ten school. In short, for both male and female Fortune 500 CEOs, collecting a single conventional badge of prestige, let alone collecting a handful of them, may help, but is hardly a gating factor.
This matches with my experience. I have known a good number of Fortune 1000 CEOs over the years and their backgrounds match what the authors are describing. Sure, a few prestige MBAs and occasionally someone out of the consulting or banking fields, but overwhelmingly they are individuals that are bright, paid their dues, stayed focused, invested time and effort, did well, kept their nose clean.

The Gramscian advocates out there who want to define the world as privileged one percenters from country club backgrounds and old boy networks based on where you went to school just don't have empirical objective data on their side.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Cold War as a progenitor of cognitive pollution

Eric Raymond is a computer programmer of rare talent and has a blog, Armed and Dangerous, which is perhaps 65% programming related and 35% dicussion of a diverse range of issues and observations. He brings an eclectic and ranging intellect to his posts which are almost always intriguing. One such is Gramscian damage by Eric Raymond. There is a tone of conspiracy theory to it which always puts me off, but Raymond's intellect and accomplishments demand some latitude and the case he makes is somewhat persuasive.

Raymond's argument is that we are still working through the consequences of a Gramscian game initiated by the Soviets during the Cold War.
The Soviets, following the lead of Marxist theoreticians like Antonio Gramsci, took very seriously the idea that by blighting the U.S.’s intellectual and esthetic life, they could sap Americans’ will to resist Communist ideology and an eventual Communist takeover. The explicit goal was to erode the confidence of America’s ruling class and create an ideological vacuum to be filled by Marxism-Leninism.

Accordingly, the Soviet espionage apparat actually ran two different kinds of network: one of spies, and one of agents of influence. The agents of influence had the minor function of recruiting spies (as, for example, when Kim Philby was brought in by one of his tutors at Cambridge), but their major function was to spread dezinformatsiya, to launch memetic weapons that would damage and weaken the West.

In a previous post on Suicidalism, I identified some of the most important of the Soviet Union’s memetic weapons. Here is that list again:
There is no truth, only competing agendas.

All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West’s history of racism and colonialism.

There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such standards is an evil oppressor.

The prosperity of the West is built on ruthless exploitation of the Third World; therefore Westerners actually deserve to be impoverished and miserable.

Crime is the fault of society, not the individual criminal. Poor criminals are entitled to what they take. Submitting to criminal predation is more virtuous than resisting it.

The poor are victims. Criminals are victims. And only victims are virtuous. Therefore only the poor and criminals are virtuous. (Rich people can borrow some virtue by identifying with poor people and criminals.)

For a virtuous person, violence and war are never justified. It is always better to be a victim than to fight, or even to defend oneself. But ‘oppressed’ people are allowed to use violence anyway; they are merely reflecting the evil of their oppressors.

When confronted with terror, the only moral course for a Westerner is to apologize for past sins, understand the terrorist’s point of view, and make concessions.
As I previously observed, if you trace any of these back far enough, you’ll find a Stalinist intellectual at the bottom. (The last two items on the list, for example, came to us courtesy of Frantz Fanon. The fourth item is the Baran-Wallerstein “world system” thesis.) Most were staples of Soviet propaganda at the same time they were being promoted by “progressives” (read: Marxists and the dupes of Marxists) within the Western intelligentsia.

The Soviets consciously followed the Gramscian prescription; they pursued a war of position, subverting the “leading elements” of society through their agents of influence. (See, for example, Stephen Koch’s Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Munzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals; summary by Koch here) This worked exactly as expected; their memes seeped into Western popular culture and are repeated endlessly in (for example) the products of Hollywood.

Indeed, the index of Soviet success is that most of us no longer think of these memes as Communist propaganda. It takes a significant amount of digging and rethinking and remembering, even for a lifelong anti-Communist like myself, to realize that there was a time (within the lifetime of my parents) when all of these ideas would have seemed alien, absurd, and repulsive to most people — at best, the beliefs of a nutty left-wing fringe, and at worst instruments of deliberate subversion intended to destroy the American way of life.
There's more interesting material in the original post, but that's the gist of it.

I was particularly taken by that list of postmodernist, critical theorist, multiculturalist, nihilistic, politically correct nostrums. Each of them have enough of a grain of truth in them to gain traction with the intellectually anemic, and yet on critical examination, carry no water. Some are non sequiturs, some are meaningless statements, some are flat out wrong. Some are normative statements without empirical support.

There is no truth, only competing agendas.

The poor are victims. Criminals are victims. And only victims are virtuous.

For a virtuous person, violence and war are never justified.

Non sequiturs
All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West’s history of racism and colonialism.

There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another.

The prosperity of the West is built on ruthless exploitation of the Third World

When confronted with terror, the only moral course for a Westerner is to apologize for past sins, understand the terrorist’s point of view, and make concessions.

Crime is the fault of society, not the individual criminal.
Sure, there are a lot of nuances, and there is scope for argument around the margins, but the broad thrust of these bedrock assumptions of the critical theorists and politically correct are simply wrong or meaningless no matter how reasonable they appear at first blush. All you have to do is ask, "How would I know whether this is true?" Once asked, it becomes obvious that all these are nonsense statements in terms of logic and/or evidence.

But if you were to ask which of these statements was true of a High School senior, a graduating college student, anyone in a Studies program or the softer social sciences, or journalists and others of the clerisy, and you would likely get assent on most if not all. What you would not get is evidence to support that statement of faith.

These belief sets and their attendant fantasies are debilitating to any individual and undermining of a functioning society. It is grievous the volume of cognitive pollution generated by the Cold War and curious as to its longevity. It would be interesting to do a correlation between the degree to which individuals believe these propositions and the nature of their accomplished life outcomes (income, wealth accumulation, education attainment, etc.).

UPDATE: The Soviet Union may have pursued this in order to create an ideological vacuum to be filled by Marxism-Leninism. The irony is that though the Soviet Union is long gone and communism in its various masks is thoroughly discredited, the seeds of the Gramscian memes are still bearing fruit. Gramscian memes are still fostering an ideological vacuum which will not be filled by Marxism-Leninism but by old fashioned Nationalism or Totalitarianism or Fascism or some other noxious ideology. We may be slowly turning back these Gramscian memes but not fast enough.

Friday, November 14, 2014

People are really complicated.

A couple of very interesting points in The Mother of All Gender Gaps from TheMoneyIllusion.

First there is an opening discussion about definitions regarding how to measure the gap in survey data. Interesting but let's not get distracted.

The substance of the post relates to this news.
A fascinating new national poll from Quinnipiac University shows that men and women disagree markedly on the question of marijuana legalization. While men surveyed strongly favor legalization by a margin of 59 to 36 percent, women oppose it by a clear majority of 52-44 percent. This 15-point gender gap in support for marijuana legalization –let’s call it the “pot gender gap” — is not quite as large as the 20-point gender gap in support for President Obama in the 2012 presidential election, but it is striking. What’s most interesting, though, is how it confounds the expectations set by the voting gender gap. In voting, women trend more liberal and Democratic, while men trend more conservative and Republican. Yet with the pot gender gap, we see women taking the more conservative, law-and-order approach.
To make it a little clearer, 59% of men support the legalization of pot and only 44% of women do so. That is a pretty big gap. The author introduces some other evidence which yields even larger gaps.
That uses the approach I am more familiar with. But by that approach, the drug gap is actually 31%, which makes the drug legalization gender gap far larger than the biggest presidential election gender gap ever recorded. A 31 point gap is mind-boggling by itself, but it’s even more astounding when you consider it reverses the normal liberal/conservative split between men and women. This fact would tell us a lot about politics, if we bothered to pay attention. Instead all you see in the media is endless generalizations about the left and the right, as if the views of African-Americans on social issues, for instance, could be understood simply by noting the fact that they tend to vote Democratic. People are really complicated.
As the author notes, these gaps in opinion on legalizing pot dwarf the comparatively small gaps in left/right voting based on gender.

The rest of the post is speculation about what might drive such a material gap. Interesting.

Six filters for cognitive pollution

From 6 Tests for Evaluating Conspiracy Theories from Real Clear Policy. Somewhat useful at a high level for filtering out routine cognitive pollution.

The six filters are:
Occam's Razor - Is the conspiracy theory different from the simplest explanation? If not, be skeptical of complex theories.

Falsifiability - Can the theory be falsified? If not, dismiss.

The Worst Intentions Test - Is the track record of the conspirators consistent with what is being alleged about them?

The Cui Bono Test - Does the theory actually explain benefits accruing to the purported conspirators? If the conspirators do not benefit, be skeptical.

Eternal Recurrence of the Same - Is the theory founded on unique conditions or circumstances not experienced elsewhere? If so, be skeptical.

The Impartial Spectator Test - Does the theory pass the reasonable person test? If not, be skeptical.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Race and customer facing versus internal jobs

Two interesting things in this article, In hiring, racial bias is still a problem. But not always for reasons you think by Brett Arends. Arends is reporting on research showing the results of a simulation experiment.
Last year, four researchers—John Nunley, economics professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Adam Pugh at CUNA Mutual Group in Madison, Wisconsin, Nicholas Romero, an economics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Richard Seals, an economics professor at Auburn University in Alabama—conducted an experiment to understand the job market for recent college graduates in the wake of the Great Recession.

They submitted 9,400 fake resumes of nonexistent recent college graduates through online job applications for positions based in Atlanta, Baltimore, Portland, Oregon, Los Angeles, Boston, and Minneapolis. They sent four resumes per job and randomly changed certain variables in the applications, such as college major, work experience, gender, and race.

To signal ethnicity, the researchers gave half the candidates the “typically white” names of Cody Baker, Jake Kelly, Claire Kruger, and Amy Rasmussen. They gave the other half “typically black” names of DeShawn Jefferson, DeAndre Washington, Ebony Booker, and Aaliyah Jackson. (The choice of these names was based on statistical data about name popularity among different ethnic groups.)

No such experiment is perfect, but this is about as good as you can get. It allowed researchers to look at the importance of each variable in isolation.

The results? Young African-Americans still face persistent discrimination in the job market, and it is not tied to socioeconomic status, a lack of a degree, or other factors. Overall, black applicants were invited in for interviews 15.2% of the time, while white applicants received invitations 18% of the time. To put it another way, African-Americans were 16% less likely to get called in for an interview.


But there’s a twist.

Black applicants faced major discrimination when applying for jobs with a customer focus. Researchers looked for jobs with words like “customer,” “sales,” “advisor,” “representative,” “agent,” and “loan officer” in the description. For jobs such as these, the discrimination gap soared. Instead of facing a 2.8 percentage-point gap between callback rates for whites and blacks, they faced a 4.4-point gap.

For jobs with descriptions that lacked those terms and were instead focused on interaction with coworkers, the level of discrimination collapsed. Descriptions with terms such as “manager,” “administrator,” “coordinator,” “operations,” and so forth, the difference in callback rates was 0.1 to 0.3 percentage points.

In other words, the problem isn’t that Joe Smith doesn’t want to hire young African-Americans, but that he is worried that if he hires a black sales associate, old Mrs. Jones may take her business elsewhere.

One, I am surprised at how close the differential is in response rates. African-Americans are called back at a rate of 15.2% and whites at a rate of 18%. Yes, that does still represent a 16% discounting of nominally identical candidates simply based on race and that remains a hurdle yet to be mounted. But in absolute terms, two buddies living in a house each sending out 100 resumes and one getting 15 responses and one getting 18, they're not going to attribute all that much to a difference in three responses.

This similarity in response rates is especially surprising given the statistically valid but unhelpfully negative measures which commonly get associated with African-Americans.

The second item of interest is the alternate explanation that seems not to have been explored. The researchers attribute the three resume response differential as being a consequence of the recruiters' concern about possible customer reaction. I wonder if that is the only hypothesis they explored. I think they are right to highlight the distinct difference between customer facing roles and internal roles. Perhaps it is concern about customer receptivity. But what if it is a risk discounted concern about communication (verbal and cultural) effectiveness?

What do I mean by that? It goes to the difference between internal and external roles. In a competitive marketplace it is not entirely inaccurate to say that, when dealing with customers, you only have one chance to get it right. There is a high premium on getting it right the first time.

When looking at internal roles, there is a lot greater potential for risk mitigation. It is just as desirable to get it right the first time but the consequences to not getting it right are more substantially mitigated. If you are person X and use a phrase intended to be wryly amusing, but which person Y interprets as disrespectful or inappropriate, it matters whether person Y is a colleague or a customer. The consequences are usually much more grave if they are a customer than if they are a colleague.

This goes to the issue that having everyone from a common education and cultural background is tactically efficient from a communications perspective while potentially being strategically risky (too little variance in the system makes it hard to evolve).

So what if recruiters are imputing a greater danger of communication missteps to African-American candidates when dealing with customers but discounting that danger when dealing with colleagues? That seems a reasonable alternative interpretation. It is important to get to the real root cause because in some ways, addressing communication concerns might be easier than dealing with customer concerns.

This alternate interpretation is quite testable. If it is true, then you would expect that the response rate for customer oriented jobs would go up where the position is in some fashion identifiable as being in a minority majority market or location. In other words, if recruiters are concerned about culture and communication when interacting with customers, then you should see higher response rates for African-Americans for positions that are in some way identifiably related to an African American customer base, and lower for a white customer base AND you should see the inverse for white candidates.

Granted that this is all a hypothetical construct and therefore may not reflect actual employment opportunities, still it is a reassuring line of evidence that there may be less material discrimination correlated with race than I would have thought plausible.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

There is difficulty in thinking of an idea even when all the facts are on the table

From How Do People Get New Ideas? by Isaac Asimov.
The history of human thought would make it seem that there is difficulty in thinking of an idea even when all the facts are on the table. Making the cross-connection requires a certain daring. It must, for any cross-connection that does not require daring is performed at once by many and develops not as a “new idea,” but as a mere “corollary of an old idea.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

All other careers exist for one purpose only - and that is to support the ultimate career.

I saw a quote attributed to C.S. Lewis:
The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only - and that is to support the ultimate career.
Profoundly true, but did he really say that? It seems too perfect.

Sure enough, while attributed to him, it appears it may be a most excellent summary of a somewhat lengthier expression on page 447 of the 1988 edition of Letters of C.S. Lewis (hat tip Lady Bardfan) in a letter dated 16 March 1955 to a "Mrs Ashton" from Magdalene College, Oxford.
I think I can understand that feeling about a housewife’s work being like that of Sisyphus (who was the stone rolling gentleman). But it is surely in reality the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, miners, cars, government etc exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr. Johnson said, “To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour”. (1st to be happy to prepare for being happy in our own real home hereafter: 2nd in the meantime to be happy in our houses.) We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist…

Really? They did that?

Some years ago I came across a few reports on conservative websites describing some Federal Government research about memes and messages on Twitter and the internet. The reported objective of the research was to identify, find and address false ideas and memes. The broader objective was cast in noble terms of improving public discourse, making civic emergency communications more effective, etc. The conservative commentary was very concerned about the free speech implications and government coercion.

At the time I discounted these reports. They showed up only on conservative sites. Academic research is easy to mock or distort beyond its actual purposes. I dismissed it most of all because it seemed so patently Big Brotherish that I felt sure no one would be doing something in the way that it was being presented in the articles; that either the commenters had grasped the wrong end of the stick or were deliberately misrepresenting it. There were other more credible threats to our civic culture. Further, the whole issue of memes, communication, truth, network effects, etc. is an interesting and budding field. It seemed entirely appropriate that there should be some research into how memes originate and propagate and the intersection between meme velocity and meme verity.

Well, it looks like I may have been wrong to gloss over the issue. Today's Free Beacon, a conservative news website, has a report that almost certainly is related to that earlier research of a few years ago, House Committee Demands Answers on Truthy Project by Elizabeth Harrington. It would appear that the original concerns were not fanciful and that indeed the research was used to suppress free speech.
The Truthy project, being conducted by researchers at Indiana University, is under investigation for targeting political commentary on Twitter. The project monitors “suspicious memes,” “false and misleading ideas,” and “hate speech,” with a goal of one day being able to automatically detect false rumors on the social media platform.

The web service has been used to track tweets using hashtags such as #tcot (Top Conservatives on Twitter), and was successful in getting accounts associated with conservatives suspended, according to a 2012 book co-authored by the project’s lead researcher, Filippo Menczer, a professor of Informatics and Computer Science at Indiana University.

Menczer has also said that Truthy monitored tweets using #p2 (Progressive 2.0), but did not discuss any examples of getting liberal accounts suspended in his book.


Smith’s letter references a publication co-written by Menczer which explains how the project was used to track tweets before the 2010-midterm elections.

In “Abuse of Social Media and Political Manipulation,” a chapter for the book The Death of the Internet, released in 2012, Menczer writes how his team successfully had Twitter accounts suspended.

“With the exploding popularity of online social networks and microblogging platforms, social media have become the turf on which battles of opinion are fought,” the chapter begins. “This section discusses a particularly insidious type of abuse of social media, aimed at manipulation of political discourse online.”


“Whether by amazing coincidence or on purpose, it appears that several social media accounts highlighted by Truthy were subsequently terminated by the owners of the social media platforms, effectively muzzling the political free speech of the targeted individuals and groups,” he said. “In presenting and publishing the findings of their work, the Truthy research team proudly described how the web service targeted conservative social media messages. Their presentations featured examples of what they found to be online political speech ‘abuses’ by supporters of these groups.”

A spokesman for Indiana University said that they are “aware of the letter but have no comment.”
You have to believe that there is more to the story than is being presented but that appears increasingly unlikely. The National Science Foundation appears to have spent $1 million to fund research to target and suppress speech by conservative commentators. The parallels to the IRS targeting of conservative taxpayers and 501(c)(4) groups is quite striking and alarming.

In some respect, the more alarming issue is that the researchers saw nothing wrong with this and indeed made a point of publicizing their activities in a book about the project. It seems as if there is no awareness on their part that such assaults on free speech are abhorrent to most Americans on both sides of the political divide.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Attributes of Ancient Greek Warfare

From Victor Davis Hanson's Wars of the Ancient Greeks, the eight distinctive attributes of Ancient Greek warfare which distinguished them from the past, from their contemporaries, and which attributes reverberate today as part of the Western heritage of warfare.
1. Advanced technology: the unsurpassed excellence of both weapons and armour, a superiority in design and craftsmanship over non-Greek equipment that was wide-ranging and well-established, from the hoplite breastplate and shield to the Macedonian sarissa, from catapults to wheeled siege engines . . .

2. Superior discipline: the effective training and ready acceptance of command by soldiers themselves, whether in close-knit ranks of the Classical phalanx or the ad hoc democratic councils of the mercenary Ten Thousand stuck in Persia. . . .

3. Ingenuity in response: an intellectual tradition, unfettered and uncensored by either government or religion, that sought constant improvement in the face of challenge. . . .

4. The creation of a broad , shared military observance among the majority of the population: the preference for citizen militias and civilian participation in military decision-making that led, as Aristotle saw it, to a clear battlefield edge over mercenaries. . . .

5. Choice of decisive engagement: the preference to meet the enemy head-on, hand-to-hand in shock battle, and to resolve the fighting as quickly and decisively as possible, battle being simply the final military expression of the majority will of the citizenry.

6. Dominance of infantry: the notion that property-owners on foot with muscular strength, not horse-men or even missile-men, alone win wars.

7. A systematic application of capital to warmaking: the ability to collect assessments, impose tribute and borrow monies to field men and materiel for extensive periods of time.

8. A moral opposition to militarism: the ubiquity of literary, religious, political and artistic groups who freely demand justification and explication of war, and thus often questioned and occasionally arrested the unwise application of military force.
All of these ring true regarding the imperial and colonial wars of the 1500s-1900s. These are often characterized as simple clashes of Western technology against primitive technologies. Particularly in the 1800s and 1900s, this was manifestly not true. The Sikh against the British, the Ethiopians against the Italians, the Brits at Rorke's Drift, and numerous other engagements, the non-European combatants had obtained both the arms and training from other European powers, and often numerically outnumbered the European combatant. It was the other factors that made the difference.

I read a history many years ago, and I do not recall which book it might have been, but the central argument was that the long pax britannia was in significant part enabled by not just superior British technology but superior British financing and logistics, particularly in the case of the Napoleonic wars. That British innovations in finance were as material a contributor as innovations in weaponry.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Where's Kos?

Doing some research on the Italian Marxist theorist, Antonio Gramsci, Google turned up an old post on Gramsci in Daily Kos from 2012.

Hmmm. I used to see Daily Kos quoted with a fair degree of frequency in a number of websites I scan but I can't recall anyone quoting him in the past six months or a year or maybe more. He just seems to have disappeared off the radar screen. Markos Moulitsas (to use his full name) was fairly left wing and a strong advocate of the Democratic party and seemed to be fairly well regarded on the left side of the spectrum. Much as Ezra Klein is today.

Is Daily Kos still even published? I click on the masthead to go to Daily Kos home, expecting to see that perhaps they ceased publication some time in the past year. But no, the first post is dated with today's date, November 9, 2014.

So they are still published. Why then am I not seeing their posts more frequently linked. What has changed in the past six or twelve months or couple of years?

I don't know but perhaps a sampling of the most recent post headings might suggest a reason.
President Obama must seize this moment and stake his claim to historical greatness by Laurence Lewis

When you're done mourning these elections, what are you organizing for? by Laura Clawson

Republican who claims Obama is possessed by demons elected to Colorado House by Hunter

Two drastically different ways police can subdue a man armed with a knife by Shaun King

Yep, it was a record-breaking election for dark money by Joan McCarter
Nothing by Kos himself. Is he not writing now? Did his falling out with Hilary Clinton in 2006 lead to his ostracism by other sites? Does his coverage just lack audience or relevance?

I don't know but it is an interesting phenomenon.

Skepticism should be directed at things that are actually untrue rather than things that are difficult to measure.

Baseball statistics is a field well beyond my ken. In fact, reading this article probably doubled the sum of my total reading on baseball statistics. While the article might be sourced in the realm of baseball statistics, it is really about an innovator and his efforts to mesh perceived reality with measured reality in order to achieve greater insight and, hopefully, greater wonder. From Vanguard After the Revolution by Joe Posnanski. Bill James is the innovator.
“Bullshit has tremendous advantages over knowledge. Bullshit can be created as needed, on demand, without limit. Anything that happens, you can make up an explanation for why it happened.

“There was a Kansas football game a year ago; some Texas-based football team, much better than Kansas, came to Lawrence and struggled through the first quarter — KU with, like, a 7-3 lead at the end of the first quarter. The rest of the game, KU lost, like, 37-0, or something. The announcer had an immediate explanation for it: The Texas team flew in the day before, they spent the night sleeping in a strange hotel; it takes them a while to get their feet on the ground.

“It’s pure bullshit, of course, but he was paid to say that … if it had happened the other way, and KU had lost the first quarter, 24-0, and then ‘won’ the rest of the game 17-14 (thus losing 38-17) … if that had happened, we both know that the announcer would have had an immediate explanation for why THAT had happened. … Bullshit is without limit.”


“As I saw it, baseball had two distinct mountains of material. One the one hand, there was a mountain of traditional wisdom, things that people said over and over again. On the other hand, there was a mountain of statistics. My work was to build a bridge between those two mountains. A statistician is concerned what baseball statistics ARE. I had no concern with what they are. I didn’t care, and I don’t care, whether Mike Schmidt hit .306 or .296 against left-handed pitching. I was concerned with what the statistics MEAN.

“Sportswriters, in my opinion, almost never use baseball statistics to try to understand baseball. They use statistics to decorate their articles. They use statistics as a club in the battle for what they believe intuitively to be correct. That is why sportswriters often believe that you can prove anything with statistics, an obscene and ludicrous position, but one which is the natural outgrowth of the way that they themselves use statistics. What I wanted to do was teach people instead to use statistics as a sword to cut toward the truth.”


James has softened a great deal, but he readily admits he can still be a biting writer and person with little patience for what he regards as ignorance or stupidity. He likes that edge in other writers when they have done their research and are going after bullshit.

But he wonders if the generation of baseball fans he inspired have expanded their skepticism to the point where it has crowded out other things like wonder and tolerance and a healthy understanding of our own limited understanding.


“I have to take my share of responsibility for promoting skepticism about things that I didn’t understand as well as I might have,” he says. “What I would say NOW is that skepticism should be directed at things that are actually untrue rather than things that are difficult to measure.

“Leadership is one player having an effect on his teammates. There is nothing about that that should invite skepticism. People have an effect on one another in every area of life. … We all affect another’s work. You just can’t really measure that in an individual-accounting framework.”