Saturday, January 31, 2015

We evolved to be relationally rational

From Rationality in Markets Is Cognitively Unnatural by Jag Bhalla.
We evolved to be relationally rational. We productively resist certain transactional gains.
Bhalla's insight:
Since before we were human, the logic of our survival has been social and relational. It was maladaptive to ignore the impact of our actions on others, or how they were seen, or their long-term effects. This equipped us with a relational rationality that included not just self-only and not only short-term factors.

Prioritizing fairness and reputation—both needed for the cooperation we depend on— over immediate gain, has likely been key to our survival for 10,000 generations. It still is. Definitions of self-interested rationality that exclude this truth, risk becoming self-undermining. Isn’t that truly irrational? Human self-interest has always had social constraints. Reputations, such as an exploiter or being exploitable, matter. As Othello says “Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis…nothing…But he that filches from me my good name…makes me poor indeed”
Rationality is a matter of goals which vary by context and definition.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Roosevelt's Medal of Honor

From The Boys of '98 by Dale L. Walker. Odd echoes through history.
On December 30, Major General Samuel S. Sumner, in Camp Mackenzie, Georgia and Major General of Volunteers Leonard Wood, commanding the Department of Santiago de Cuba, each wrote to the U.S. Adjutant General, Henry C. Corbin, in Washington. Sumner's letter recommended "Hon. Theodore Roosevelt, late Colonel First United States Volunteer Cavalry, for a Medal of Honor, as a reward for conspicuous gallantry at the battle of San Juan, Cuba, on July 1, 1898." He said that "Colonel Roosevelt by his example and fearlessness inspired his men, and both at Kettle Hill and the ridge known as San Juan he led his command in person. I was an eye-witness of Colonel Roosevelt's action." Wood's letter was similar, recommending Roosevelt for a Medal of Honor and basing his recommendation "upon the fact that Colonel Roosevelt, accompanied only by four or five men, led a very desperate and extremely gallant charge on San Juan Hill, thereby setting a splendid example to the troops . . . ."

Letters by others followed, each from eyewitnesses to Roosevelt's gallantry at San Juan, each asking the Adjutant General to sponsor awarding of the Medal of Honor to Colonel Roosevelt.

Corbin apparently sent the letters to War Secretary Alger but he took no action of them.

Edith Carow Roosevelt said that failure to win the medal was one of the bitterest disappointments of her husband's life.*
In a footnote, Walker adds
Forty-seven years later, Roosevelt's son, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., earned the Medal of Honor for his valorous conduct at Utah Beach, Normandy, on D-day. Theodore Junior died of heart failure on July 11, 1944 age fifty-six. The medal was awarded posthumously
Two Medal of Honor candidates in one family. Wow.

In fact, it is two Medal of Honor recipients. Walker's book was published in 1998. In 2000, President Theodore Roosevelt's nomination for the Medal of Honor was finally approved and the Medal awarded one hundred and two years late by President Clinton.

Roosevelt is the only President to have ever been awarded the Medal of Honor. The Roosevelts are one of only two families where a father and son have both been awarded the Medal of Honor. The other father-son pair were the MacArhturs, Arthur MacArthur who was awarded the Medal for his leadership as a nineteen-year-old brevet Colonel at the Battle of Missionary Ridge during the Civil War and his son, Douglas MacArthur who had twice been nominated for the Medal before being awarded it for his actions at Corregidor, Philippines in 1942.

There are five sets of brothers who have each been awarded the Medal.

The youngest recipient was William Johnston during the Civil War for his actions as a drummer boy during the Peninsula campaign. During a general route at the Seven Days Battle when many soldiers and all the drummer boys had discarded their equipment on the battlefield to more easily flee, Johnston was the only drummer boy to bring his drum off the battlefield. He was twelve years old. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for these actions when he was thirteen.

From Home of Heroes.
The brotherhood of Medal recipients is strong and generates many long-lasting friendships. Pvt. Jacob Parrott, the first person ever to be presented with the Medal of Honor remained such a close friendship with fellow "Raider" Wilson W. Brown (one of the two men who engineered The General in the "Great Locomotive Chase"), that their children became more than friends. Parrott's only son John Marion Parrott married Edith Gertrude Brown, one of Wilson Brown's eight children.

The long arc of history

It's not knowledge to which I am even particularly attached, but it is surprisingly hard to revise what you first learned as a child.

Growing up, the received wisdom was that the House Un-American Activities Committee was not much more than organized mob violence; that there were Communists in Hollywood but they were well intentioned intellectuals honestly believing in the perfectibility of man via the science of Marxism; that the Hollywood Blacklist blighted the lives of numerous innocent Americans, that the Rosenbergs were innocent of the accusations made against them and that their conviction was a failure in the judicial system and a travesty; that Alger Hiss was likely completely innocent of the charges, that the Soviet spying efforts on the Manhattan Project were justified by wartime exigency; that Soviet spying in the US in the 1930s through the 1950s was wildly exaggerated; Whittaker Chambers (Alger Hiss's accuser) was a self-serving buffoon; Richard Nixon was a ruthless politician on the make, fully willing to exploit the Red Scare and national paranoia to make a name for himself; and finally, that the hysteria surrounding Soviet activities in the US was a result of small-mindedness, naivete, anti-intellectualism and anti-semitism.

I wonder what is being taught in schools today and how that era is being presented. I have a sense that perhaps not too much has changed.

And yet it has. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the brief window of openness surrounding perestroika and the opening of the Soviet archives, much of what I was taught has been refuted and many of the concerns about Soviet spying and activism have been revealed to have been justified. The Rosenbergs and Hiss were indeed guilty as charged. Soviet spying was indeed extensive and effective. Soviet spying on the Manhattan Project accelerated the Soviet nuclear program in their post-war Cold War with the US. While ham fisted, the HUAC was indeed dealing with a real issue which represented a real danger to the US. And on and on.

Now there is a new book out that, if true, upends the story of communism in Hollywood. Flipping Hollywood’s Blacklist Narrative
by Ron Capshaw is a review of Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters, Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler by Allan H. Ryskind. It is a rather chaotic review, jumping all over the place and presuming a level of detailed knowledge that I know is absent in my case.

Apparently Ryskind argues that the traditional narrative of Hollywood actors and screenwriters being persecuted by studios and blacklisted for their communist party memberships or sympathies is only part of the story. The untold story, per Ryskind, is that there was a countervailing set of pressures by which those seeking to expose Soviet sympathies were also in turn effectively blacklisted by a cabal of Soviet sympathizers.

I do not know what the factual merits of Ryskind's case might be. I am happy to learn about the period but it is not one of great interest to me. Or rather, there are other histories I have in a very large stack that I want to get to first. Ryskind's story sounds, or perhaps it is the reviewer who sounds, a little loopy, counterintuitive and rather unbelievable.

But after the reversal of all the other received histories of my childhood, it no longer can be ruled out.

And given the Soviet efforts to undermine Western cultural norms though the instrument of intellectuals and via postmodernism, fostering critical theory and deconstructionism, etc., the dark chapter of Soviet destruction has not yet been completely written. The propagators of Gramscian memes remain highly visible and effective in pushing marxist ideas without ever acknowledging the origins of those ideas, often, I suspect, because they don't even know their epistemological genealogy.

The long arc of history indeed.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts

From Just think: The challenges of the disengaged mind by Timothy D. Wilson, David A. Reinhard, Erin C. Westgate, Daniel T. Gilbert, Nicole Ellerbeck, Cheryl Hahn, Casey L. Brown, and Adi Shaked. From the abstract.
In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne

The Present Crisis
by James Russell Lowell (1819–1891)

WHEN a deed is done for Freedom, through the broad earth’s aching breast
Runs a thrill of joy prophetic, trembling on from east to west,
And the slave, where’er he cowers, feels the soul within him climb
To the awful verge of manhood, as the energy sublime
Of a century bursts full-blossomed on the thorny stem of Time.

Through the walls of hut and palace shoots the instantaneous throe,
When the travail of the Ages wrings earth’s systems to and fro;
At the birth of each new Era, with a recognizing start,
Nation wildly looks at nation, standing with mute lips apart,
And glad Truth’s yet mightier man-child leaps beneath the Future’s heart.

So the Evil’s triumph sendeth, with a terror and a chill,
Under continent to continent, the sense of coming ill,
And the slave, where’er he cowers, feels his sympathies with God
In hot tear-drops ebbing earthward, to be drunk up by the sod,
Till a corpse crawls round unburied, delving in the nobler clod.

For mankind are one in spirit, and an instinct bears along,
Round the earth’s electric circle, the swift flash of right or wrong;
Whether conscious or unconscious, yet Humanity’s vast frame
Through its ocean-sundered fibres feels the gush of joy or shame;—
In the gain or loss of one race all the rest have equal claim.

Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,
Parts the goats upon the left hand, and the sheep upon the right,
And the choice goes by forever ’twixt that darkness and that light.

Hast thou chosen, O my people, on whose party thou shalt stand,
Ere the Doom from its worn sandals shakes the dust against our land?
Though the cause of Evil prosper, yet ’tis Truth alone is strong,
And, albeit she wander outcast now, I see around her throng
Troops of beautiful, tall angels, to enshield her from all wrong.

Backward look across the ages and the beacon-moments see,
That, like peaks of some sunk continent, jut through Oblivion’s sea;
Not an ear in court or market for the low foreboding cry
Of those Crises, God’s stern winnowers, from whose feet earth’s chaff must fly;
Never shows the choice momentous till the judgment hath passed by.

Careless seems the great Avenger; history’s pages but record
One death-grapple in the darkness ’twixt old systems and the Word;
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,—
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

We see dimly in the Present what is small and what is great,
Slow of faith how weak an arm may turn the iron helm of fate,
But the soul is still oracular; amid the market’s din,
List the ominous stern whisper from the Delphic cave within,—
‘They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin.’

Slavery, the earth-born Cyclops, fellest of the giant brood,
Sons of brutish Force and Darkness, who have drenched the earth with blood,
Famished in his self-made desert, blinded by our purer day,
Gropes in yet unblasted regions for his miserable prey;—
Shall we guide his gory fingers where our helpless children play?

Then to side with Truth is noble when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside,
Doubting in his abject spirit, till his Lord is crucified,
And the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.

Count me o’er earth’s chosen heroes,—they were souls that stood alone,
While the men they agonized for hurled the contumelious stone,
Stood serene, and down the future saw the golden beam incline
To the side of perfect justice, mastered by their faith divine,
By one man’s plain truth to manhood and to God’s supreme design.

By the light of burning heretics Christ’s bleeding feet I track,
Toiling up new Calvaries ever with the cross that turns not back,
And these mounts of anguish number how each generation learned
One new word of that grand Credo which in prophet-hearts hath burned
Since the first man stood God-conquered with his face to heaven upturned.

For Humanity sweeps onward: where to-day the martyr stands,
On the morrow crouches Judas with the silver in his hands;
Far in front the cross stands ready and the crackling fagots burn,
While the hooting mob of yesterday in silent awe return
To glean up the scattered ashes into History’s golden urn.

’Tis as easy to be heroes as to sit the idle slaves
Of a legendary virtue carved upon our father’s graves,
Worshippers of light ancestral make the present light a crime;—
Was the Mayflower launched by cowards, steered by men behind their time?
Turn those tracks toward Past or Future, that make Plymouth Rock sublime?

They were men of present valor, stalwart old iconoclasts,
Unconvinced by axe or gibbet that all virtue was the Past’s;
But we make their truth our falsehood, thinking that hath made us free,
Hoarding it in mouldy parchments, while our tender spirits flee
The rude grasp of that great Impulse which drove them across the sea.

They have rights who dare maintain them; we are traitors to our sires,
Smothering in their holy ashes Freedom’s new-lit altar-fires;
Shall we make their creed our jailer? Shall we, in our haste to slay,
From the tombs of the old prophets steal the funeral lamps away
To light up the martyr-fagots round the prophets of to-day?

New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth;
Lo, before us gleam her camp-fires! we ourselves must Pilgrims be,
Launch our Mayflower, and steer boldly through the desperate winter sea,
Nor attempt the Future’s portal with the Past’s blood-rusted key.

Simplifying that which resists simplification

From Fifty Shades Of Racism? by Andrew Sullivan. A pleasantly nuanced, sophisticated meditation on human nature, biases, contradictions, and the nature of a person. SUllivan highlights the importance of context and situational evolution. What a person believes in one time or circumstance may not be the same at a different point in time or under different circumstances even though the time and circumstance appear to be identical. We seek consistency from the complexity that is a person which often only exists at such a deep level of detail that it either does not appear at all or is only apparent with great invested effort of investigation and understanding.

The catalyst is a discussion about the nature and relevance of the verbal racism of the British poet Philip Larkin. Lots of good points in the essay. His closing paragraphs are on target.
I would simply add that human beings are extremely complex. No one is immune to the primate, private aversion to “the other”, whatever it is. No one is immune from resistance to cultural change. What we are responsible for is whether we allow those impulses to control our thoughts and actions, in private and public. My rather conventional view is that we should all strive as hard as we can to obliterate those impulses in both the private and public spheres. But in actuality, given human nature, they will tend to manifest themselves in all sorts of ways that can be misread or misunderstood if the only two categories are racist or non-racist. And what I worry about – especially with the almost constant stream of easy online pieces and posts decrying the racism or homophobia or sexism of one person or another – is that we simplify things that, in most human lives, resist simplification. By defending the dignity of some, we can reduce the complex humanity of others.

It is possible for a human being to be racist and non-racist in the same day, and indeed exhibit a mountain of contradictions across a lifetime. It is possible for someone to be publicly homophobic but privately tolerant and embracing, just as it is possible for someone to publicly be a model of human virtue while harboring private impulses and acts that are truly foul at times.

What I’m saying is that Larkin was clearly both things – in many mutations and manifestations through his life. What I’m also saying is that we are all both those things to some degree or other. And the spectrum of these varying thoughts, feelings and acts is broad and wide. We are not either/or. We are both/and. We are human.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Lurking in the looking glass

Charles Lutwidge Dawson (1832-1898), AKA Lewis Carroll, was born on January 27, in 1832. His most famous creation, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is immortalized in a set of stained glass windows in the Christ Church College Dining Hall in Oxford, England.

Click to enlarge.

Spot Alice and the numerous other characters from Lewis Carroll's masterpiece, lurking in the looking glass.

Lost perspectives

From The Boys of '98 by Dale L. Walker. One of the continuing concerns of the Army command during the campaign in Cuba was the risk of disease, so virulent in the tropics, cholera, yellow fever, malaria, etc. For all that these were more prevalent in the tropics, they were not unknown in the US. It is hard to maintain a sense of proportion when dealing with the past. What we are concerned about, they were not and what they were concerned about, we have forgotten.

Yellow fever is an example.
There was ample reason to fear it. The yellow fever mortality rate was a minimum of one-in-five and as high as fifty percent in some areas of Cuba in the hurricane season. The disease had horrendous complications - fever, jaundice, internal bleeding, liver and kidney failure, a vomiting of blood - el vomito negro was the Spanish term for it. It was well known in the port cities of the southern and eastern United States, coming in the spring and summer months, dying out with the frost, and there had been numerous periodic yellow fever epidemics, one of which, in 1878, had killed more than twenty thousand people in the Mississippi Valley between Memphis and the Gulf of Mexico. Clara Barton had witnessed it and nursed its victims in Florida in 1887.
In 1878, there were probably at most five million people in the Mississippi Valley between Memphis and New Orleans and 20,000 of them died. And who remembers that today?

Just for perspective, the world attention focused on the year-long Ebola outbreak in a region of West Africa with roughly 200 million people has claimed some 8,000 lives. That is not to discount the gravity of the Ebola outbreak but is a testament to how far we have come in containing contagious diseases.

I recall my mother talking about how much fun summers were in her youth except for the fear of polio.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Senior moments in history

From The Boys of '98 by Dale L. Walker. While the Spanish-American War was some thirty-three years out from the Civil War, there were still officers in the Army who had fought on either side in the Civil War. Major General Joseph Wheeler was one such officer. He saw extensive service in the Civil War as an officer in the Confederate States Army rising from Second Lieutenant to Lieutenant General. He was wounded three times and had a total of sixteen horses shot from under him. He returned home to Alabama as a planter after the war and held a number of elected positions over the years. When the Spanish American War came up, at 61 years of age, he volunteered to serve.

As the Rough Riders pushed from their landing place towards their goal of Santiago, their first engagement with the Spanish Army was at Las Guasimas. After a hot engagement, the Spanish soldiers finally broke and retreated towards Santiago.
Major Beach, standing next to [General] Joe Wheeler, watched the departure and Wheeler, forgetting in the heat of the moment which war he was fighting, said, "We've got the damn Yankees on the run!"

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The monkey he got drunk

From The Boys of '98 by Dale L. Walker. Recounting activities on the troop ship conveying the Rough Riders to Cuba.
On the Yucatan and every other troopship, card-playing, fishing, swimming and grousing were the round-the-clock pastimes, the ennui broken periodically when the band of the Second Infantry regulars played a tune or two, the favorite, which everyone learned to sing, being
Oh I went to the animal fair,
The birds and beasts were there,
The big baboon by the light of the moon
Was combing his auburn hair . . .
and when the Rough Riders could talk them into it, "There'll be a Hot time in the Old Town Tonight"
Fascinating. I recall the Animal Fair song from my youth and I know we sang it to our children. Just percolating in the cultural background from generation to generation but apparently written circa 1898.
I went to the animal fair,
The birds and the beasts were there,
The old raccoon by the light of the moon
Was combing his auburn hair

The monkey he got drunk
And fell on the elephant's trunk
The elephant sneezed and went down on his knees
And what became of the monk?
I don't know if I have ever known the lyrics to the song There'll be a Hot time in the Old Town Tonight but I have heard it as a tag line all my life. Again, it goes all the way back to 1896.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Drinking with the men

From The Boys of '98 by Dale L. Walker. Two stories, one illustrating the amateurish expansion of the Army in preparation to go to war in Cuba, the other another curious cameo. The Rough Riders are initially mustered in San Antonio, Roosevelt being second in command.
Two days after he arrived at the camp, Roosevelt gathered the troops of the First and Second Squadrons, commanded by Majors Alex Brodie and Henry Hersey, and led them three miles from camp and back again in the baking sun. On the way back, the ever-solicitous Roosevelt called a halt at a beer garden near Riverside Park and announced that the troop captains "will let their men go in and drink all the beer they want, and I will pay for it."

After the beer-sated troopers filed back to camp, Wood learned of Roosevelt's largesse and notified him sternly in his customary poker-faced manner that it was against army regulations, not to mention common sense, for officers to supply alcoholic beverages to enlisted men, to drink with them or to encourage their drinking while on duty. Roosevelt visited Wood's command tent that evening, stood at attention and announced to the air above the colonel's head, "I wish to tell you that I took the troops out without thinking of this question of officers drinking with their men and gave them all a schooner of beer. I wish to say, sir, that I consider myself the damndest ass within ten miles of this camp. Good night."

Despite such momentary lapses, Roosevelt was having the time of his life. While Wood pored over maps, shuffled papers, and exchanged messages with the War Department and with General Shafter in Tampa, his second-in-command did the routine correspondence, took care of interviews with the newspapermen who made a second home near the camp command tents, supervised horseback and foot drills, made the inspections and parades and morale speeches.

One of Roosevelt's most onerous duties, now that the regiment had swelled to over one thousand men, was to turn down new applicants. A typical handling of this chore was his response to a letter he received on May 19 from a twenty-two-year-old veteran of the Seventh Cavalry who wrote from a remote ranch in Idaho, offering to come to San Antonio to enlist. "I wish I could take you in," Roosevelt wrote, "but I am afraid that the chances of our being over-enlisted forbid my bringing a man from such a distance." He signed the letter "Theodore Roosevelt, First Regt., U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, In Camp near San Antonio, Texas," and sent it to Edgar Rice Burroughs of Pocatello, subsequently world famous as the creator of Tarzan of the Apes.

'After you, Pilot.'

I love some of the older poets who told stories with their poems rather than simply evoked emotions and who held up standards of behavior for admiration. Here is one such from Sir Henry Newbolt
by Henry Newbolt

Over the turret, shut in his iron-clad tower,
Craven was conning his ship through smoke and flame;
Gun to gun he had battered the fort for an hour,
Now was the time for a charge to end the game.

There lay the narrowing channel, smooth and grim,
A hundred deaths beneath it, and never a sign;
There lay the enemy's ships, and sink or swim
The flag was flying, and he was head of the line.

The fleet behind was jamming; the monitor hung
Beating the stream; the roar for a moment hushed,
Craven spoke to the pilot; slow she swung;
Again he spoke, and right for the foe she rushed.

Into the narrowing channel, between the shore
And the sunk torpedoes lying in treacherous rank;
She turned but a yard too short; a muffled roar,
A mountainous wave, and she rolled, righted, and sank.

Over the manhole, up in the iron-clad tower,
Pilot and Captain met as they turned to fly:
The hundredth part of a moment seemed an hour,
For one could pass to be saved, and one must die.

They stood like men in a dream: Craven spoke,
Spoke as he lived and fought, with a Captain's pride,
'After you, Pilot.' The pilot woke,
Down the ladder he went, and Craven died.

All men praise the deed and the manner, but we—
We set it apart from the pride that stoops to the proud,
The strength that is supple to serve the strong and free,
The grace of the empty hands and promises loud:

Sidney thirsting, a humbler need to slake,
Nelson waiting his turn for the surgeon's hand,
Lucas crushed with chains for a comrade's sake,
Outram coveting right before command:

These were paladins, these were Craven's peers,
These with him shall be crowned in story and song,
Crowned with the glitter of steel and the glimmer of tears,
Princes of courtesy, merciful, proud, and strong.

The casual anti-semitism of the European clerisy

From Kippah-wearing Swedish reporter assaulted in Malmo from The Jerusalem Post.
A Swedish reporter who walked around Malmo while wearing a kippah to test attitudes toward Jews was hit once and cursed at by passersby before he fled for fear of serious violence.

Sveriges Television on Wednesday aired secretly recorded footage from Petter Ljunggren’s walk through Malmo, which documented some of the incidents that occurred within the space a few hours.

In one scene, Ljunggren — who, in addition to wearing a kippah was also wearing Star of David pendant — was filmed sitting at a café in central Malmo reading a newspaper, as several passersby hurled anti-Semitic insults at him.

Elsewhere, one person hit his arm, the reporter said on camera, though this was not recorded. One of the people who cursed Ljunggren called him a “Jewish devil,” “Jewish shit” and another told him to “get out.”

One person on a scooter approached Ljunggren to warn him to leave for his own safety. In the heavily Muslim Rosengard neighborhood, Ljunggren was surrounded by a dozen men who shouted anti-Semitic slogans as eggs were hurled at his direction from apartments overhead. He then fled the area.


Dozens of anti-Semitic incidents are recorded annually in Malmo, a city where first- and second- generation immigrants from the Middle East make up one third of a population of roughly 300,000. Several hundred Jews live there.

Fred Kahn, a leader of the local Jewish community, told JTA that most incidents are perpetrated by Muslims or Arabs.

Hanna Thome, a municipal councilor for culture and anti-discrimination, told the Expressen daily that she was shocked by the events documented by Ljunggren.

“There is much more to do, and both the municipality and the police have a great responsibility. But I also want to emphasize that there is great solidarity in the city,” she said in reference to several so-called kippah walks, where Jews and non-Jews marched through Malmo’s street while wearing yarmulkes to protest against anti-Semitism.
I lived in Sweden a number of years as a child and have great affection for Swedes and their accomplishments. They are a pragmatic, resourceful, problem-solving people. They are among the very few that have come the closest (though failing as have all others) to actually making a socialist system work.

But what was evident to me even as a child in the early seventies was that there was a poor reading of context by many Swedes. America attracted a lot of attention in Sweden at the time in part centered on the Vietnam War but also fueled by perceptions arising from the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's. In discussions there was a tendency to solicitously and generously offer Swedish solutions to American problems. It should be noted that at that time, the sum of Sweden's immigrant and diversity experience was a 10% minority of Finns who had migrated to Sweden during the post-war manufacturing boom. And even the Finns were giving the Swedes problems.

Sweden opened the floodgates of immigration to refugees around the world in the 1970s and 80s so that now, 15% of the population is foreign born, most from cultural traditions antithetical to Swedish egalitarianism, rationalism, and Enlightenment ethos.

Cause and consequence to Ljunggren's experience reported above.

I have noticed a dynamic in many European countries which I have not seen reported much, though occasionally obliquely alluded to. The countries to which I am alluding are Britain, Sweden, France, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands. It may true for others as well, but I don't know.

What I observe is a general tendency to speak of rising anti-semitism in Europe. At an aggregate average level, that is empirically true as measured by self-reported attitudes in surveys, in hate-incidents, attacks, etc.

But nobody breaks it down into details which are far more revealing. From what I have been able to piece together, it appears to me that there are two different dynamics in play.

There has long been a casual anti-semitism among European elites. That has not precluded Jews from rising to the very top of most European societies in the arts, finance, commerce, academies, even political power. That casual anti-semitism manifests itself in two fashions. The first is the maintenance of a ready awareness that someone is Jewish and therefore an outsider. Between a nudge, a wink, a casual aside, or even a blatant statement, it is not uncommon in a conversation of elites for a participant's status as a Jew to be pointed out, making them an outsider. The other way elite anti-semitism manifests itself is a reflexive and uncritical support for the Arab states against Israel on nominally principled grounds. So elite anti-semitism is one strand. Noxious as it is, it doesn't on its own lead to any significant negative action against Jews other than neglect. But that neglect is the very root for Martin Niemöller's concern:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
The second dynamic that is observable if you look carefully is that in all the countries mentioned, most, perhaps all, the increasing anti-semitic acts are being committed by Muslim immigrants. So what looks like increased European anti-semitism is actually European tolerance of increasing European Muslim immigrants committing anti-semitic acts.

That is a tragedy of many parts and not easily addressed. It will take a self-awareness, courage, and willingness to change their ways which the European elites and the clerisy have not in the past demonstrated.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Academia in Wonderland

There is an increasing sense of our universities as being some form of alternate reality, some sort of Bizarro World where logic, evidence and reason no longer function. I mentioned some time back the rather astonishing case of Jan Boxhill, an administrator at UNC who had spent several years manufacturing false course credits and fake courses for athletes before being transferred to become director of the UNC Parr Center for Ethics.

We are now accustomed to callow university students taking a casual approach to tolerance and free speech. In response to a professor writing an editorial condemning the terrorist attacks in Paris, one student argued:
Yamin, who is the publicity chair for Vanderbilt’s Muslim Student Association, told the audience in no uncertain terms that a black female professor’s speech must be restricted if she says “these kinds of things” in the future.

“What I’m really trying to show her is that she can’t continue to say these kinds of things on a campus that’s so liberal and diverse and tolerant,” Yamin declared.
"Liberal and diverse and tolerant." I don't think those words mean what you think they mean.

Callow students are one thing. But professors? Professors of journalism calling for the restriction of free speech? Behold, DeWayne Wickham, dean of Morgan State University's School of Global Journalism and Communication. In 'Charlie Hebdo' crosses the line he argues that free speech "has its limits." What might those limits be? He doesn't demark those limits particularly well but they at least include the "irreverent portrayal of Mohammed." That slope seems to have an exceedingly low coefficient of friction that takes you from egalitarian democracy to despotic tyranny in no time flat.

You can't help but sense DeWayne Wickham has been cast as Meek Michael in the old adage:
Meek Michael thought it wrong to fight.
Bully Bill, who killed him, thought it right.
Rudyard Kipling might be too strong tea for Wickham but I'll take Kipling over Wickham any day. From Kipling's Dane-Geld, there is this diagnosis:
It is always a temptation to an armed and agile nation
To call upon a neighbour and to say: --
"We invaded you last night--we are quite prepared to fight,
Unless you pay us cash to go away."

And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
And the people who ask it explain
That you've only to pay 'em the Dane-geld
And then you'll get rid of the Dane!

It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say: --
"Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away."

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we've proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.
And Kipling has good advice for the Meek Michaels of the world.
It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
For fear they should succumb and go astray;
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to say: --

"We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that pays it is lost!"
Wickham appears happy to pay the Dane the geld of free speech. Shame on him.

The long forgotten "A Message to Garcia"

From The Boys of '98 by Dale L. Walker. There are all sorts of tie-ins in this story. A couple of the cameo characters later die in other well known maritime tragedies, Elbert Hubbard in the Lusitania sinking (1915) and John Jacob Astor (a lieutenant colonel in the Spanish American War) in the Titanic (1912).

Lieutenant Andrew Sumner Rowan was charged with making contact with the Cuban rebels to determine what assistance they might provide or role they might play in the American confrontation with Spain. At great danger he managed to slip into Cuba, make contact, and make his way back out and return to Washington with communications from the Cuban insurgents.

Walker highlights a vignette that sheds light on some of the remarkable past events which slip into cultural amnesia.
Except for such encomia and some glowing accounts of his exploit in the press, Rowan's mission might have vanished quickly from a public consciousness already grown accustomed to newspaper war heros. But the story did not die, thanks to an irrepressible optimist and super salesman who published a "Periodical of Protest" called The Philistine from his farm in upstate New York.

Elbert Hubbard was a forty-two-year-old Illinois-born eccentric who latched on to the Rowan exploit while searching for filler material for his magazine. He had read Rowan's artless memoir of the mission in McCLure's and Leslie's Weekly and in an hour of inspiration Hubbard composed a one-thousand-five-hundred-word editorial that he said "leaped hot from my heart" about a man who got an order to deliver a message to Garcia and who delivered it without even asking, "Where is he at?"

With its leitmotif of being "loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies, do the thing" unquestioningly - in brief, a sermon on blind obedience to orders - "A Message to Garcia" sold two million copies in pamphlet form within a few months of its publication and a hundred million by the time of Hubbard's death on the Lusitania in May 1915.
Two million copies. The population of the US in 1898 wasn't much more than 75 million. That would be the equivalent of a book selling 8 million copies today. And yet, who today remembers "A Message to Garcia"

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Kids are better than SJW ideologs

Scholastic conducts an annual survey covering children reading. It is useful for its currency. Most of the findings are relatively uncontroversial but they always warrant reinforcing.

This year's report, Kids & Family Reading Report 2014, has something I haven't seen before. In the section What Kids Want in Books, Scholastic has this revealing chart:

Things Children Look for When Picking Out Books to Read for Fun
Base: Children Ages 6–17

Click to enlarge.

Look at the second to last bar. How many children look for characters that look like them in books as a criteria for picking books? Only 17%!

Very interesting. Over the past couple of years, I have had repeated run-ins with Social Justice Warriors who are insistent that the publishing industry is actively prejudiced against minorities in terms of which books get published. It doesn't matter what evidence you present showing that this is unlikely to be the case. It is also their firm belief that it is important for children to be able to "see themselves" in print, i.e. that there need to be more books which "reflect the face of America". This actually evolved into a campaign launched a year or so ago called We Need Diversity Now.

I have argued that this campaign is likely to fail in its fundamentals. The issue is not with publishers but with writers and readers. It is demonstrably the case that the reading public is perfectly willing to buy books written by and about various minority groups and with various minority protagonists. The problem is that they don't, for all groups, have an equal demand. Basically, there is insufficient demand. It doesn't matter how many books you publish if nobody buys them.

I have asked these SJWs for the evidence they have that 1) people actually want more diversity in books than there already is, and 2) for the evidence that they have that reading books that can be characterized as more diverse has any causative relationship with any desirable outcomes such as increased reading volume, capability, etc. There is no evidence for either proposition. (Which needless to say, doesn't mean that the propositions are wrong, only that they are unsupported by evidence.)

This Scholastic question regarding attributes that children seek in a book reinforces my position. I have argued that a focus on race is an adult concern and that race of characters is usually a tangential or even inconsequential attribute that children do not focus on. I have made the argument from theory and inference but have never had direct evidence. If only 17% of kids select books based on the race of the characters, then that is consistent with my argument. But evidence is no tool for persuasion in the face of ideological belief.

There is actually another item that SJWs believe when it comes to children reading and that is that the books need to be relevant to the child, that books need to reflect the type of life that the child lives. Again, I have argued that there is little evidence for that, that the demand for relevance is an adult's ideological demand not reflective of a child's desires and that there is no evidence that a book's relevance has any relationship to life outcomes.

The third to last bar addresses this issue of relevance. When asked what attributes were important to them in selecting a book, only 25% actively choose books which "Are about things I experience in my life."

Putting both these statements more positively, I think it is encouraging that 83% of child readers pay no attention to physical resemblance to themselves when choosing a book and that 75% are unconcerned about whether the book is "relevant" to their lives.

We don't want to fight yet by Jingo!

From The Boys of '98 by Dale L. Walker. Origins of the word Jingoist. Speaking of the friendship between Theodore Roosevelt and Alfred Thayer Mahan, naval historian.
Their friendship and mutual admiration was the product of their bellicose nationalism and patriotism. They were brother jingos, in the purest sense of that felicitous word coined in a London music hall ditty composed during the Crimean War.
We don't want to fight yet by Jingo!
if we do
We've got the ships, we've got the men,
and got the money, too!

There wasn't any conversation to be had, no objective to reach or conclusion to draw.

A very interesting article, Justine Sacco Is Good at Her Job, and How I Came To Peace With Her by Sam Biddle.
One year ago today, Justine Sacco was the global head of communications for the digital media conglomerate IAC. Getting on a plane for a trip to South Africa, to visit family, she published a tweet: "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm White!"

At the time, I was editing Valleywag, Gawker's tech-industry blog. As soon as I saw the tweet, I posted it. I barely needed to write anything to go with it: This woman's job was carefully managing the words of a large tech-media conglomerate, and she'd worded something terribly.

It was a natural post. Twitter disasters are the quickest source of outrage, and outrage is traffic. I didn't think about whether or not I might be ruining Sacco's life. The tweet was a bad tweet, and seeing it would make people feel good and angry—a simple social and emotional transaction that had happened before and would happen again and again. The minimal post set off a 48-hour paroxysm of fury, an eruption of internet vindictiveness.

Sacco was in the air, unable to realize what she'd done or apologize it, and as the tweet garnered retweets and faves and the first drafts of think pieces, eager observers tracked her flight across the Atlantic. A hashtag trended: #HasJustineLandedYet. Several hours later she emerged into an unfathomable modern multimedia hell-nightmare and was quickly and summarily fired.
The post touches on many substantive things.

One is the nature of humor. Sacco's tweet was irony intended humor and probably might have made sense in a context of people who knew her and which, clearly, was susceptible to alternate interpretations that did not reflect well on her.

Biddle highlights a couple of his tweets which, like Sacco's, were intended as irony and yet taken at face value resulting in an avalanche of rage towards him.

What Biddle is highlighting, without explicitly discussing it, is the role of the internet in not only amplifying rage (which he does discuss) but in profiling the universality of 1) bias, 2) discrimination, 3) signalling and 4) the psychology of ingroup outgroup dynamics.

Following his own twitter mis-step Biddle observes:
There wasn't any conversation to be had, no objective to reach or conclusion to draw. Smashing a pinata isn't just for the candy—it feels great to swing your arms and feel a thud, and so they'd clobber me no matter what, even when it was clear there wasn't much sport left in it for GamerGate, either.

Twitter is a fast machine that almost begs for misunderstanding and misconstrual—deliberate misreading is its lubricant. The same flatness of affect that can make it such a weird and funny place also makes it a tricky and dangerous one. Jokes are complicated, context is hard. Rage is easy.
"There wasn't any conversation to be had, no objective to reach or conclusion to draw." It is of course a truism of the internet but it still bares reflecting upon.

People find something to be outraged about. They are biased and prejudiced against some perceived outgroup. They pile on, signalling to others that they are part of the in-group. They seek to destroy until the next glittery outrage catches their eye.

There are natural disagreements on all sorts of things. How do you distinguish blind prejudicial bigotry from simple disagreements about fiercely believed issues?

I think it is exactly what Biddle describes - "There wasn't any conversation to be had, no objective to reach or conclusion to draw." As long as a dialog is entered into in good faith with an intent to clarify, define, learn and improve decision-making, you can have energetic disagreements from which both parties benefit by learning more and deciding better.

On the other hand, if the point of the discussion is only to destroy the other, then there is no dialog and no benefit to anyone. Ad hominem attacks are simply a tactic to silence others.

Currently, outrage is what sells. I hope there is a promised land of civil discourse to which we can move. In the meantime, people are very revealing of their own bigotry without even realizing what they are revealing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A respectable record as a lawman

From The Boys of '98 by Dale L. Walker. All sorts of chapters in the story of Roosevelt of which I was unaware.
In this period, while working furiously to make his ranch profitable, he found time to serve a stint as deputy sheriff of Billings County under foul-mouthed "Hell-Roaring" Bill Jones and made a respectable record as a lawman. One of his most talked-about exploits occurred after thieves stole a thirty-dollar boat from his Elkhorn spread, Roosevelt, who carried a copy of Anna Karenina and a collection of Matthew Arnold's works in his saddlebags, riding with a posse, trailed the thieves for several days, captured the three men and delivered them to the sheriff's office in the town of Dickinson.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Hasten forward quickly there!

From The Boys of '98 by Dale L. Walker. Roosevelt's wife, Alice has just died.
He found solace in the West, still a great blank land in the 1880s where anyone who could abide its rigors could lose himself in its lonely grandeur.

Roosevelt, a dedicated hunter from his youth, had first gone out to Dakota Territory to kill buffalo in September 1883, stepping off the train at the Little Missouri station (called "Little Miser" by the scattering of residents there) in his derby hat and Brooks Brothers suit, and wearing his thick pince-nez eyeglasses. If his tailoring did not mark him as a greenhorn, the glasses did. Before long the cowboys, ranchmen and others among the horny-handed denizens of the Badlands were calling him "Four-Eyes" and "that dude Rosenfelder," and were amused no end by his Harvardish language, his spurning of tobacco in any form, and hard liquor, and his idea of swearing - an occasional "Damn!" more often a "By Godfrey!" uttered in a tinny-tenor voice.

Although he occasionally employed a mild form of it, he hated profanity and there are stories, some resembling dime novel tales, in Roosevelt's Autobiography attesting to this. Once a drunk accosted him in a Dakota hotel and in a stream of vile language and with six-guns drawn, announced that "Four-Eyes is going to treat!" Roosevelt, by now accustomed to the "Four-Eyes" name, listened to the man for a moment, got up from his chair and punched the drunk with a short combination, right and left hands working like pistons. The man slid to the floor and the story of the incident spread almost as quickly. It did that dude Rosenfelder's reputation no harm.

"Hell-Roaring" Bill Jones, Sheriff of Billings County, was another who felt the tenderfoot's wrath on the matter of the mouth. Roosevelt admired Jones, saying he was "a thorough frontiersman, excellent in all kinds of emergencies, and a very game man," and "a thoroughly good citizen when sober." But in the offices of the Bad Lands Cowboy, the newspaper in the Dakota town of Medora, Jones was regaling Roosevelt and a group of cowpunchers with some stories which Roosevelt regarded as filthy. He listened awhile then interrupted the sheriff, saying, "I can't tell you why in the world I like you, for you're the nastiest-talking man I ever heard." Sheriff Jones, who had shot men for lesser insults, was so taken aback at this gritty statement that he ended up allowing, meekly, "I don't mind saying that mebbe I've been a little too free with my mouth."

Roosevelt's own choice of language was long remembered. During his first roundup, some cowboys heard him shout, "Hasten forward quickly there!" and the phrase entered the Badlands lexicon with countless barflys thereafter bellowing to saloon keepers to "hasten forward quickly there" with their shot of whiskey or schooner of beer.

The Head on the Beach

I was given Grandad, There's a Head on the Beach by Colin Cotterill as a gift for Christmas. I just finished it and it is as enjoyable and entertaining as all his other books I have read. Excellent.

COlin Cotterill is a British born Australian living in Southeast Asia. I have been reading his mysteries since the first Dr. Siri mystery, The Coroner's Lunch which came out in 2004. He has been publishing a book a year since then, all entertaining. In addition to his Dr. Siri series which are set in Laos in the 1970's, he has also recent begun a new mystery series set in contemporary Thailand centered on the protagonist, Jimm Jurree. Jimm Juree is a journalist living on the fringe of Thailand, societally, professionally, and geographically.

I enjoy both series. They are well written and well plotted mysteries but I also enjoy picking up some history and cultural knowledge along the way. Southeast Asia is a hugely diverse region both ethnically and historically. The Coroner's Lunch revolves around the conflict between Thais and Burmese fleeing their own repressive regime and seeking a livelyhood in their neighbor next-door. Regrettably, the neighboring countries and ethnic heritages have a very long history of conflict.

The Burmese in Thailand are ruthlessly exploited by some sectors of Thai society and it is this context which provides the backdrop for Juimm Juree's efforts to solve the mystery of the head on the beach.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Pretty encouraging

Oxfam has released a report claiming that the top 80 wealthiest people in the world own more wealth than the bottom half of the world combined, i.e. the poorest 3.6 billion people. The Pareto distribution of wealth is always of concern to progressives, seeing, as they do, income (from which wealth is derived) as a zero-sum game. From an economics perspective, the empirical evidence for the detrimental effect of Pareto wealth distributions is much less clear save in the most extreme cases. An economist is less concerned about the existence of a Pareto distribution and is more concerned about how wealth was generated. In crude terms, in a well regulated free market system, extreme returns merely reflect a superior capability of meeting the freely expressed desires of a population with goods or services that create value for the recipient. What an economist is concerned about is whether wealth is generated through non-value creating activities such as inherited wealth, wealth generated through corrupt actions (against the law), and wealth created through market manipulation and curtailment of choice such as monopolies, rent seeking and regulatory capture.

None-the-less, the Oxfam exercise is an interesting view into how wealth is created and by whom. FiveThirtyEight has a summary here.

Americans represent some 5% of the world's population but Americans are 44% (35 of 80) of the world's richest people. The 35 Americans represent 50% of the total wealth of all the 80.

66% of those 35 Americans are self-made millionaires, somewhat higher than for the world at large (60% being self-made outside of the USA). Twelve of the 35 inherited their wealth though two of those twelve have multiplied their inheritance many times since their inheritance.

There are only eleven women on the global list of 80, six of whom are American (55% of the world's wealthiest women). All six American women inherited their wealth from husbands or fathers. Six American men inherited their wealth as well. All five of the non-American women inherited their wealth from their fathers but two of them have multiplied their inheritance significantly since their inheritance.

Concentrated wealth is most repugnant when it arises from regulatory capture, rent seeking, and corruption. Very positively, for none of the Americans is there a robust argument on any of those accounts. While the two Koch brothers are a favored bete noir of the Left, with a plethora of wild accusations, there is no evidence that they are anything other than honest, hard-working businessmen.

The same is not quite true at the global level. Roughly 16 of the 45 non-American billionaires have fortunes founded on expropriation, government cronyism, or other such activities.

None-the-less, the list of 80 is a pretty powerful anecdote for the gloom and doom that sell newspapers. Americans are still disproportionately productive. 63% of all billionaires are self-made which is hugely impressive. 80% of all billionaires made their money relatively cleanly, i.e. not through exploitation of regulatory or government favors. Of the 30 who inherited their wealth, more than half have significantly expanded their inheritance. Nineteen other countries have produced billionaires that make the top 80 list including members from every race and from all continents.

All in all, pretty encouraging once you set aside an aversion to the reality of Pareto distributions.

The only thing I can hear averse is the fear that you will want to fight somebody at once.

From The Boys of '98 by Dale L. Walker. President McKinley was eager to avoid engaging in war with Spain but there were many in the country who were eager, for reasons humanitarian, idealistic, opportunistic and other.
The previous April, the president had resolved a minor problem, the selection of someone to serve as assistant to Navy Secretary John D. Long. McKinley had been courted on this minor appointment by no less an eminence in Congress than Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts. "Cabot," as his wide circle of friends and admirers called him, was the eminent former editor of the North American Review, author of biographies of Washington, Daniel Webster, and Alexander Hamilton, a Harvard professor, and a stellar figure in Republican politics. Lodge suggested his good friend, the capable and energetic New York police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt, would be a good choice as assistant secretary of the navy. Among other qualifications, Lodge mentioned, Roosevelt had served several years with the New York National Guard and was author of a fine book on the navy's role in the War of 1812.

The combative commissioner had been suggested to him by others as well and McKinley, who had some reservations, agreed on the appointment.

"Absolutely the only thing I can hear averse," Lodge wrote Roosevelt, "is the fear that you will want to fight somebody at once."

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Twice in one day

Twice in one day. In None of it bodes well for an informed public I commented on a patently untrue headline and article in the Washington Post, Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty by Lyndsey Layton.

I speculated how on earth it was possible for the author and editors to allow such a gross inaccuracy through the fact-checking process that presumably still exists. None of those speculations reflected well on the Washington Post.

Well, here's a second example in one day of a newspaper publishing a headline that is blatantly untrue.

This past Friday, NASA issued a press release prompting headlines galore proclaiming 2014 to have been the warmest year on record. I chose not to read any of the initial reports confident that they were simply rewrites of a press release. The claim of warmest year simply didn't make sense against anecdotal data. It has been a colder year than normal here in the US. From friends in Europe it sounded like it was average to cooler. Cooler in Australia by reports from friends there. Nothing out of the ordinary reported from friends in Asia. Only a couple of comments from friends in Africa and South America but again, I heard no one reporting anything out of the ordinary.

But casual comments are not robust data. However, the major institutions affiliated with climate data collection have been strong proponents of the global warming argument and at the same time have a lengthy track record of data manipulation, data suppression, and data misrepresentation. No point in investing time digging in such swampy ground. Better to wait and see what happens was my sentiment. In the age of internet news you have to allow a couple of days for data rich reports to get digested and critiqued.

Sure enough, two days later there are now widespread (though not as widespread as the initial press release) reports that in fact the confidence level in the claim that 2014 was the warmest on record is only 38% and that the effect size was miniscule. It is now reported that the recorded global average temperature increase for 2014 was 0.02 degrees celsius (and in which number they only have 38% confidence) and well within the margin of measurement error of 0.1 degree celsius. So basically we don't have any evidence at all that 2014 was warmer than recent years and our speculation that it might have been warmer has only a 38% probability of being accurate.

Two lies in one day. Is it any wonder that people are losing confidence and trust in institutions?

UPDATE: A good summary of the issues with the global warming headlines: The Most Dishonest Year on Record by Robert Tracinski

McKinley was a homebody and felt entirely comfortable conducting his campaign from the front porch of his house in Canton

From The Boys of '98 by Dale L. Walker. About President William McKinley.
McKinley knew about war. He had enlisted at age seventeen as a private in the Twenty-third Ohio Volunteers, serving under another Ohio-born future president, Rutherford B. Hayes, and saw action on the bloody ground of Antietam.

A lawyer, former U.S. congressman and governor of Ohio, he had won the Republican Party nomination for president at the St. Louis convention in 1896 and handily defeated his Democratic opponent, William Jennings Bryan. McKinley was a homebody and felt entirely comfortable conducting his campaign from the front porch of his house in Canton.

Age fifty-four when he took office, he was a short, stout, well-tailored man addicted to cigars (but never photographed with one) and to such eye-glazing political esoterica as tariff reform, international bimetallic agreements and the gold standard. He exuded palpable charm, had a presidential bearing and a natural dignity, but to all but his closest Ohio cronies, he seemed reserved if not cold. Those who knew of his history spoke of his stoicism. He had endured the tragedy of his two daughters dying in infancy and doted on his beloved wife Ida, afflicted with terrible migraines and epilepsy, refusing to permit these illnesses to exclude her from White House dinners and banquets. (When Ida McKinley suffered a petit mal seizure at one of these dinners, the president placed a napkin over her contorting face until the seizures subsided, doing this, to the astonishment of his guests, without breaking stride in the table talk.)
Different times, different burdens, different mores.

The Boys of '98

The kids gave me The Boys of '98 by Dale L. Walker for Christmas and I finished it last week. Very satisfactory. A very straightforward telling of the story of the Rough Riders and Spanish-American war of 1898. Regrettably the book is out of print.

Plenty of quotes and insights which I'll post over the next few days. It captures a very different America, a couple of generations out from the Civil War and ready to take the world stage but still largely an agrarian society.


None of it bodes well for an informed public

Another example of cognitive pollution based on innumeracy and absence of contextual knowledge in Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty by Lyndsey Layton.

The headline has to be wrong from simple mathematical necessity. Very roughly 90% of all school age children attend public school with about 10% attending private or religious schools.

22% of all children (16 million) fall into the Federal definition of living in poverty ("22% of all children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level – $23,550 a year for a family of four" from the National Center for Children in Poverty.

Now one might argue with the Federal government's definition of what constitutes poverty, whether this measurement is before or after transfers, whether low income/high wealth people should be considered in poverty, etc. All fair points. However, that is the definition as it currently stands whether or not it is a good definition.

Since the percentage of children attending private school is small and since a relatively high portion of those are in religious schools where income distributions tend towards the norm, the income distribution of those in public school is not going to be materially different than that for the population at large.

Given all that then, what the headline is saying is that 22% of the nation's children (i.e. those in poverty) now making up 50+% of the public school population. For that to be mathematically possible, some large percentage of the top four quintiles must not be attending school at all. We know that is not the case.

The upshot is that the headline is simply wrong based on simple, readily available information that is in reasonable circulation.

The writer and editors must either not be aware of the common knowledge (which seems very doubtful) or must not understand about gaussian distributions or statistics or simple math (which is also doubtful but is perhaps the more likely of the two possibilities). There is of course a third possibility that the article is an example of advocacy journalism where factual accuracy is not important in the balance of advancing a particular narrative for particular reasons. There is a fourth possibility that the economic model for mainstream journalism has now evolved to the point where they simply have to take press releases from advocacy groups, rewrite them and then use them as filler. I would hope that none of these are the case but they are all logical explanations.

When I accessed the article, there were already 3,402 comments, the first thirty of which are consistent with my observation that the commenters at the Washington Post and the New York Times are getting more and more conservative. And it doesn't seem, from the tone of the comments, that it is a matter of conservatives coming to comment. Instead, a lot of these comments seem to be from paid members of the clerisy pointing out the factual errors and reportorial one-sidedness.

Are poor old Layton and her editors rabid ideologues or simply contextually unaware or ill-informed or are they mathematically challenged or does their new economic model mean that they simply rewrite advocacy press releases as filler. Hard to know what the answer is but none of it bodes well for an informed public.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time from Time Magazine

The 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time from Time Magazine. As is the nature of the beast, a lot more questionable choices on this list than the Children's List. But not indefensible.
Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Allende, Isabel. City of the Beasts
Alexander, Lloyd. The Book of Three
Alexander, Lloyd. The Chronicles of Prydain
Anderson, Jodi Lynn. Tiger Lily
Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak
Anderson, M.T. Feed
Baum, L. Frank. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Block, Francesca Lia. Dangerous Angels (the Weetzie Bat Books)
Blume, Judy. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
Bosch, Pseudonymous. Secret (series)
Bradbury, Ray. The Illustrated Man
Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker. For Freedom: The Story of a French Spy
Carroll, Lewis. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Castellucci, Cecil. Boy Proof
Cleary, Beverly. Beezus and Ramona
Clements, Andrew. Frindle
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games
Cooper, Susan. The Grey King
Cormier, Robert. The Chocolate War
Crutcher, Chris. Whale Talk
Dahl, Roald. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Dahl, Roald. Danny the Champion of the World
Dahl, Roald. Matilda
DiCamillo, Kate. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
DiCamillo, Kate. The Tiger Riding
Donnelly, Jennifer. A Northern Light
Fitzhugh, Louise. Harriet the Spy
Forbes, Esther. Johnny Tremain: A Story of Boston in Revolt
Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl
Funke, Cornelia. The Thief Lord
Gaiman, Neil. The Graveyard Book
Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars
Green, John. Looking for Alaska
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies
Goldman, William. The Princess Bride
Grahame, Kenneth. The Wind in the Willows
Haddon, Mark. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Hardinge, Frances. The Lost Conspiracy
Hinton, S. E. The Outsiders
Hughes, Richard. A High Wind in Jamaica
Jones, Diana Wynne. Dogsbody
Juster, Norton. The Phantom Tollbooth
Key, Watt. Alabama Moon
Knowles, John. A Separate Peace
Konigsburg, E. L. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
LeGuin, Ursula. A Wizard of Earthsea
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird
L'Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time
Leviathan, David. Every Day
Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
London, Jack. The Call of the Wild
Lowry, Lois. The Giver
Lowry, Lois. Number the Stars
McKay, Hilary. Saffy's Angel
Meyer, Stephanie. Twilight
Montgomery, L. M. Anne of Green Gables
Morpurgo, Michael. Private Peaceful
Myers, Walter Dean. Fallen Angels
Myers, Walter Dean. Monster
Nelson, Marilyn. A Wreath for Emmett Till
Ness, Patrick. The Knife of Never Letting Go
Ness, Patrick. A Monster Calls
Nix, Garth. Sabriel
O'Brien, Robert C. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh
Palacio, R. J. Wonder
Paterson, Katherine. Bridge to Terabithia
Paterson, Katherine. Jacob Have I Loved
Paulsen, Gary. Hatchet
Poe, Edgar Allan. Tales of Mystery and Imagination
Pullman, Phillip. The Golden Compass
Pullman, Philip. His Dark Materials
Raskin, Ellen. The Westing Game
Rawlings, Marjorie Kinnan. The Yearling
Riordan, Rick. The Lightning Thief
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter (series)
Ryan, Pam Munoz. Esperanza Rising
Sachar, Louis. Holes
Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye
Scott, Michael. The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel
Selznick, Brian. The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Sis, Peter. The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain
Snicket, Lemony. A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning
Speare, Elizabeth George. The Witch of Blackbird Pon
Stead, Rebecca. When You Reach Me
Stewart, Trenton Lee. The Mysterious Benedict Society
Taylor, Mildred D. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Thompson, Craig. Blankets
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit
Tolkein, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings
Travers, P. L. Mary Poppins
Twain, Mark. Huckleberry Finn
Whaley, John Corey. Where Things Come Back
White, E.B. Charlotte's Web
White, T. H. The Sword in the Stone
Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little House on the Prairie
Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese
Yang, Gene Luen. Boxers and Saints
Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief

100 Favorite Children's Books from Time Magazine

From The 100 Best Children's Books of All Time from Time Magazine. They make it hard to see the list. Typical click strategy - force the reader to click through every single title. Their methodology is crude and subjective.
To honor the best books for young adults and children, TIME compiled this survey in consultation with respected peers such as U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate Ken Nesbitt, children’s-book historian Leonard Marcus, the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, the Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress, the Every Child a Reader literacy foundation and 10 independent booksellers.
Which does not make the list any less fun. Here is their list.
Allard, Harry. Miss Nelson is Missing
Allsburg, Chris Van. The Garden of Abdul Gasazi
Anno, Mitsumasa. Anno's Journey
Atwater, Richard and Florence. Mr. Popper's Penguins
Averill, Esther. Jenny and the Cat Club
Barnett, Mac. Extra Yarn
Base, Graeme. Animalia
Becker, Aaron. Journey
Bemelmans, Ludwig. Madeline (series)
Berenstain, Stan and Jan. The Berenstain Bears (series)
Bond, Michael. A Bear Called Paddington
Brown, Margaret Wise. The Color Kittens
Brown, Margaret Wise. Goodnight Moon
Brown, Margaret Wise. The Important Book
Brown, Margaret Wise. The Runaway Bunny
Bradfield, Roger. Hello, Rock
Brown, Marc. Arthur's Nose (series)
Burton, Virginia Lee. Katy and the Big Snow
Burton, Virginia Lee. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
Cannon, Janell. Stellaluna
Carle, Eric. The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Cooney, Barbara. Miss Rumphius
Cronin, Doreen. Click, Clack, Moo
Day, Alexandra. Good Dog, Carl
Daywalt, Drew. The Day the Crayons Quit
Deacon, Alexis. Slow Loris
de Brunhoff, Jean. The Story of Babar
Donaldson, Julia. The Gruffalo
Draper, Sharon M. Out of My Mind
Eastman, P. D. Go Dog, Go
Falconer, Ian. Olivia
Freeman, Don. Corduroy
French, Jackie. Diary of a Wombat
Gag, Wanda. Millions of Cats
Gannett, Ruth Stiles. My Father's Dragon
Geisel, Theodore. The Cat in the Hat
Geisel, Theodore. Green Eggs and Ham
Geisel, Theodore. The Lorax
Geisel, Theodore. Oh, the Places You'll Go!
Geisel, Theodore. Yertle the Turtle
Gomi, Taro. Everyone Poops
Henkes, Kevin. Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse
Hills, Tad. How Rocket Learned to Read
Hoban, Russell. Bread and Jam for Frances
Holling, Holling Clancy. Paddle-to-the-Sea
Hurd, Thacher. Mama Don't Allow
Johnson, Crockett. Harold and the Purple Crayon
Joyce, William. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Kalman, Maira. Sayonara, Mrs. Kackleman
Keats, Ezra Jack. The Snowy Day
Keats, Ezra Jack. Whistle for Willie
Klassen, Jon. I Want My Hat Back
Knudsen, Michelle. Library Lion
Lamorisse, Albert. The Red Balloon
Lawson, Robert. The Story of Ferdinand
Lee, Dennis. Alligator Pie
Lindgren, Astrid. Pippi Longstocking
Litwin, Eric. Pete the Cat (series)
Lobel, Arnold. Frog and Toad (series)
Lowrey, Janette Sebring. The Poky Little Puppy
Martin, Jr. Bill. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
McCloskey, Robert. Blueberries for Sal
McCloskey, Robert. Make Way for Ducklings
Milne, A. A. Winnie the Pooh
Minarik, Else Holmelund. Little Bear
Mosel, Arlene. Tikki Tikki Tembo
Munsch, Robert. Love You Forever
Muth, Jon J. The Three Questions
Myers, Walter Dean. Jazz
Nelson, Kadir. We Are the Ship
Numeroff, Laura Joffe. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
Oxenbury, Helen and Rosen, Michael. We're Going on a Bear Hunt
Parish, Peggy. Amelia Bedelia
Piper, Watty. The Little Engine That Could
Potter, Beatrix. The Tale of Peter Rabbit
Prelutsky, Jack. The New Kid on the Block
Say, Allen. Grandfather's Journey
Scarry, Richard. Cars and Trucks and Things That Go
Scheer, Julian. Rain Makes Applesauce
Scieszka, Jon. The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales
Scieszka, Jon. The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs
Sendak, Maurice. In the Night Kitchen
Sendak, Maurice. Where the Wild Things Are
Silverstein, Shel. The Giving Tree
Silverstein, Shel. Where the Sidewalk Ends
Srinivasan, Divya. Little Owl's Night
Stead, Philip C. A Sick Day for Amos McGee
Steig, William. Brave Irene
Steig, William. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
Thompson, Kay. Eloise
Tullet, Herve. Press Here
Van Allsburg, Chris. The Stranger
Viorst, Judith. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Wiesner, David. Tuesday
Willems, Mo. Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus
Willems, Mo. Elephant and Piggie (series)
Wright, Blanche Fisher. The Real Mother Goose
Yolen, Jane. Owl Moon
Young, Ed. Lon Po Po
Zion, Gene. Harry the Dirty Dog

Friday, January 16, 2015

Perennial truths - The legislative department is everywhere extending the sphere of its activity and drawing all power into its impetuous vortex

As the years progress and I go back and cover some of that literary and historical ground that somehow escaped me during the period of my formal education, I am strongly taken by the clarity and intelligence of those who went before us.

Selected James Madison quotes.
In time of actual war, great discretionary powers are constantly given to the Executive Magistrate. Constant apprehension of War, has the same tendency to render the head too large for the body. A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence agst. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people. – Speech, Constitutional Convention (1787-06-29)

Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations; but, on a candid examination of history, we shall find that turbulence, violence, and abuse of power, by the majority trampling on the rights of the minority, have produced factions and commotions, which, in republics, have, more frequently than any other cause, produced despotism. If we go over the whole history of ancient and modern republics, we shall find their destruction to have generally resulted from those causes. – Speech at the Virginia Convention to ratify the Federal Constitution (1788-06-06)

Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments, the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from the acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the constituents. – Letter to Thomas Jefferson (1788-10-17)

Conscience is the most sacred of all property; other property depending in part on positive law, the exercise of that being a natural and unalienable right. To guard a man’s house as his castle, to pay public and enforce private debts with the most exact faith, can give no title to invade a man’s conscience, which is more sacred than his castle, or to withhold from it that debt of protection for which the public faith is pledged by the very nature and original conditions of the social pact. – “Property” in The National Gazette (29 March 1792)

I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents. – Annals of Congress (1794-01-10)

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare. – Political Observations” (1795-04-20)

Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged against provisions against danger, real or pretended from abroad. – Letter to Thomas Jefferson (1798-05-13)

Some degree of abuse is inseparable from the proper use of everything; and in no instance is this more true than in that of the press. It has accordingly been decided, by the practice of the states, that it is better to leave a few of its noxious branches to their luxuriant growth, than, by pruning them away, to injure the vigor of those yielding the proper fruits. And can the wisdom of this policy be doubted by anyone who reflects that to the press alone, checkered as it is with abuses, the world is indebted for all the triumphs which have been gained by reason and humanity over error and oppression? – Report on the Virginia Resolutions, (1800-01-20)

Religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together. – Letter to Edward Livingston (1822-07-10)

A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives. – Letter to W.T. Barry (1822-08-04)

The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good, is so essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities to be impressed with it. – Letter to Rev. Frederick Beasley (1825-11-20)

With respect to the words “general welfare,” I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators. – Letter to James Robertson (1831-04-20)

Besides the danger of a direct mixture of religion and civil government, there is an evil which ought to be guarded against in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capacity of holding it in perpetuity by ecclesiastical corporations. The establishment of the chaplainship in Congress is a palpable violation of equal rights as well as of Constitutional principles. The danger of silent accumulations and encroachments by ecclesiastical bodies has not sufficiently engaged attention in the U.S. – “Monopolies, Perpetuities, Corporations, Ecclesiastical Endowments”

We hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, “that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the Manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.” The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable; because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds, cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also; because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage, and such only, as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent both in order of time and degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the general authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society, and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true, that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.

The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it. Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?

It is moreover to weaken in those who profess this Religion a pious confidence in its innate excellence and the patronage of its Author; and to foster in those who still reject it, a suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its fallacies to trust it to its own merits.

During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.

What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny: in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just Government instituted to secure & perpetuate it needs them not.

Because finally, “the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his religion according to the dictates of conscience” is held by the same tenure with all his other rights. If we recur to its origin, it is equally the gift of nature; if we weigh its importance, it cannot be less dear to us; if we consider the “Declaration of those rights which pertain to the good people of Virginia, as the basis and foundation of government,” it is enumerated with equal solemnity, or rather studied emphasis.

We the Subscribers say, that the General Assembly of this Commonwealth have no such authority: And that no effort may be omitted on our part against so dangerous an usurpation, we oppose to it, this remonstrance; earnestly praying, as we are in duty bound, that the Supreme Lawgiver of the Universe, by illuminating those to whom it is addressed, may on the one hand, turn their Councils from every act which would affront his holy prerogative, or violate the trust committed to them: and on the other, guide them into every measure which may be worthy of his [blessing, may redound to their own praise, and may establish more firmly the liberties, the prosperity and the happiness of the Commonwealth.

By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community. – Federalist Paper No. 10 (1787-11-22)

A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. – Federalist No. 10

To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed. – Federalist Paper No. 10

Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions. – Federalist Paper No. 10

Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. – Federalist Paper No. 46 (1788-01-29)

The legislative department is everywhere extending the sphere of its activity and drawing all power into its impetuous vortex. – Federalist Paper No. 48

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. – Federalist Paper No. 51 (1788-02-06)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Cognitive pollution about cognitive pollution

Cognitive pollution as an historical issue.

I came across this seeming too perfect quotation from Reflections; or, Sentences and Moral Maxims (1678) by François Duc de La Rochefoucauld.
There is nothing more horrible than the murder of a beautiful theory by a brutal gang of facts.
I went searching and have yet to find it. Given that the original is a translation from French it is possible that there is an issue of paraphrasing. None-the-less, it seems doubtful that this is something attributable to Rochefoucauld.

I think this is probably the actual quotation. From Thomas Henry Huxley, Presidential Address at the British Association (1870); "Biogenesis and Abiogenesis", Collected Essays, Volume 8, p. 229
The great tragedy of Science — the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.

The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence

From The burden of proof by Ethan Siegel. A nice explication of the knowledge frontier and the hierarchy of useful knowledge.

The shorter version of the article is

Data lead to -

Scientific Laws (facts) lead to -

Hypotheses lead to -

Scientific Theory

Observable data lead us to postulate predictable patterns which we call Scientific Laws. Scientific Laws predict what will happen under specific conditions. But we can know something will happen without knowing how it happens. We can speculate as to the mechanisms that explain the pattern and we call that speculation Hypotheses of which there might be several. We test those hypotheses to affirm one and rule others. Once that has been done many times by numerous independent observers, we have a working Scientific Theory.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Congressmen - Just a bit more than average Joes in terms of wealth

The readers (and commenters) over at National Review are having a field day with Trouble Reading Tables? by Kevin D. Williamson. Williamson is pointing out that a writer at Salon, Kali Holloway has made a rudimentary error in reading a table. She has interpreted what should be billions as millions. Everyone makes mistakes, so in some ways this fairly gratuitous humor. But that doesn't stop some of the comments being pretty funny.

If advocacy journalists were not so prone to seizing on ephemeral data, then misinterpreting it, and finally trumpeting their unsupportable conclusion, pointing out her error would be just a little unempathetic.

However, Holloway does, I am afraid, rather bring it upon herself. She misreads the unit of measure from the table. A mistake anyone in a hurry could make. But then she compounds the error by demonstrating a startling lack of contextual awareness.

Holloway wants to make the point that the average Congressman is richer than the average citizen. Fair enough. But to make her point she compares their net wealth to that of countries.
The top five members of Congress are worth more than the GDP of entire countries. At $200.5 million, Republican Dave Trott’s personal wealth is greater than the GDP of both Peru and Iraq ($200,269 and $195,517, respectively). Democrat Jared Polis is worth $213.2 million, more than the GDP of Algeria and ($208,764). Democrat John K. Delaney is worth $222.4, greater than the GDP of the Czech Republic ($208,796). Another Democrat, Mark Warner, is worth $254.2 million, which beats out the GDP of Greece ($241,721). While Republican Darryl Issa, the richest man in Congress, is worth an incredible $448.4 million, which makes him worth more than the GDPs of Bolivia, Croatia, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong put together ($30,601; $57,869; $67,203; and $274,027, respectively). And that’s still $15.6 million less than he was valued at last year.
It takes a special blind unawareness to think that Mark Warner (with a net worth of $254 million) is richer than the entire country of Greece. She misread the table and believes that Greece's GDP is only $241 million (instead of the actual $241 billion). That is one numerically sheltered life. The suspicion of profound innumeracy is multiplied when you recognize that she is choosing to compare a net worth number ($254 million) with an income number ($241 billion). You can't help but suspecting that Holloway doesn't know the difference between wealth and income.

Holloway tops off the beclowning with a bewildering final conclusion.
6) Surprise! Most didn’t get there by pulling themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps

Most of the members of Congress are rich because they arrived there that way. In fact, of this year’s freshman crop, half were already millionaires when they took office.
It is as if she doesn't even realize that nothing she has written addresses whether the members of Congress pulled themselves up by the bootstraps. If they are like most wealthy Americans, that is indeed what they did. Very few inherit a fortune.

More alarmingly, Holloway doesn't seem to understand the implication of her statement "Most of the members of Congress are rich because they arrived there that way. In fact, of this year’s freshman crop, half were already millionaires when they took office." Surely that is exactly what you want. You want Congressman to have made their fortune in life before undertaking public service. What you don't want is for them to become millionaires while pursuing public service (a la Harry Reid). That is the very opposite of what you want.

So poor old Holloway. Embarrassments galore.

But Williamson does make a worthwhile point.
The larger theme of the story, that members of Congress are shockingly wealthy, is poorly understood as well. The average member of Congress is about 57 years old, and they are mostly married, mostly savers and investors, and mostly college graduates in two-income households. Their net worths are about the same as other similar households.
To Holloway's point, you don't want Congressman to be so rich that they are disengaged from the reality of the citizens of the country. That would be problematic. But are they that rich? Holloway's evidence is:
2) Congress is mostly made of millionaires

The rich (and very rich) are right in their element in Congress. Millionaires made up more than 50% of Congress in 2013, with nearly 271 of the 533 members claiming personal fortunes of at least seven digits. The median net worth of members was $1,029,505 in 2013, up 2.5 percent over the year prior. Contrast that with the median net worth of your average American household, which sits at a comparatively paltry $56,355.
But once again she is demonstrating her innumeracy by comparing apples and oranges. The average American household is just that, the average for all households from singles, newlyweds to just retired to aged. Personal wealth accumulation follows a parabola that is highly age related with maximum net worth usually peaking sometime around 60 or so.

What is the average age of a Congressman? The average House member is 57 and the average Senator is 62. So what Holloway needs to compare is apples to apples. What is the average net worth for a sixty year old? The average 60 year-old's net worth in 2010 was $180,000 per the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finance. So your average congessman is about five times richer than the average constituent of the same age. That's a lot but it doesn't put them into a different league. I suspect the numbers might be even closer if you factored in profession and education attainment as variables that affect net worth.

So sure, there are a few multimillionaires in the deca- and centimillionaire ranges but most of the rest are reasonably close to their comparable constituents. So what Holloway is really beefing about is the class structure of Congress rather than net worth per se. Congress is substantially made up of lawyers and businessmen (per Membership of the 113th Congress) who, on average, will have greater average net worth than the rest of the population. More critically yet, Congress is made of people who are have been serially successful over long careers.

And despite all the issues Holloway might be trying to raise, there is something reassuring about the broad diversity of Congressmen.
102 educators, employed as teachers, professors, instructors, school fundraisers, counselors, administrators, or coaches (90 in the House, 12 in the Senate);
• 2 physicians in the Senate, 17 physicians in the House (including 1 Delegate), plus 2 dentists, 2 veterinarians, and 1 psychiatrist;
• 3 psychologists (both in the House), an optometrist (in the Senate), and 5 nurses (all in the House);
• 5 ordained ministers, all in the House;
• 33 former mayors (24 in the House, 9 in the Senate);
• 10 former state governors (all 10 in the Senate) and 8 lieutenant governors (4 in the Senate, 4 in the House, including 2 Delegates);
• 7 former judges (all in the House), and 32 prosecutors (8 in the Senate, and 24 in the House, including a Delegate), who have served in city, county, state, federal, or military capacities;
• 1 former Cabinet Secretary (in the Senate), and 2 Ambassadors (one in each chamber);
• 262 state or territorial legislators (219 in the House, including 2 Delegates, and 43 in the Senate);
• at least 100 congressional staffers (20 in the Senate, 80 in the House), as well as 8 congressional pages (4 in the House and 4 in the Senate);
• 5 Peace Corps volunteers, all in the House;
• 3 sheriffs and 1 deputy sheriff, 2 FBI agents (all in the House), and a firefighter in the Senate;
• 2 physicists, 6 engineers, and 1 microbiologist (all in the House, with the exception of 1 Senator who is an engineer);
• 5 radio talk show hosts (4 House, 1 Senate), 6 radio or television broadcasters (5 House, 1 Senate), 7 reporters or journalists (5 in the House, 2 in the Senate), and a radio station manager and a public television producer (both in the House);
• 9 accountants in the House and 2 in the Senate;
• 5 software company executives, all in the House;
• 3 pilots, all in the House, and 1 astronaut, in the Senate;
• a screenwriter, a comedian, and a documentary film maker, all in the Senate, and
• a professional football player, in the House;
• 29 farmers, ranchers, or cattle farm owners (25 House, 4 Senate);
• 2 almond orchard owners, both in the House, 1 cattle farm owner (a Senator), 1 vintner (a House Member), 1 fisherman (a House Member), and 1 fruit orchard worker (a House Member);
• 7 social workers in the House and 2 in the Senate; and
• 9 current members of the military reserves (8 House, 1 Senate), and 6 current members of the National Guard (all in the House).

Other occupations listed in the CQ Roll Call Member Profiles include car dealership owner, auto worker, insurance agent, rodeo announcer, union representative, stockbroker, welder, venture capitalist, funeral home owner, and software engineer.
I do suspect that Congressmen are subject to the Washington, D.C. bubble, and are prey to regulatory capture. But on average, apart from being serially successful, they look like a pretty broad representation of America.