Friday, July 31, 2015

Simpson's Paradox

A couple of years ago I referred to The Texas-Wisconsin Paradox and intergenerational income mobility. The Texas-Wisconsin paradox became a point of some marginal discussion in the campaign led by teacher's unions to recall Wisconsin governor Scott Walker in 2013. One of the claims made by the Wisconsin teachers was that unions were responsible for higher student performance in Wisconsin when contrasted with non-unionized education in Texas.

In the internet age, this claim had a half-life of about 12 hours before it was pointed out that while the overall average for students in Wisconsin was higher than the overall average for students in Texas, when you split out the racial groups (White, Blacks, Hispanic, Asian-Americans, Native Americans), each racial group in Texas scored higher than its corresponding group in Wisconsin. Not knowing what to call this, I referred to it as the Texas-Wisconsin paradox where the score at the aggregate level can be higher but all the sub group score averages are lower.

In the case of Texas, all its racial groups scored higher than the corresponding groups in Wisconsin. However, the two highest scoring groups, Whites and Asians, were heavily overrepresented in Wisconsin and the lowest scoring groups, African-Americans and Hispanics, were overrepresented in Texas. Texas teachers were doing a good job of educating the students they were faced with, better than teachers in Wisconsin, but they were faced with a different mix of students.

I now discover that this is referred to as Simpson's Paradox, a discovery I made from When average isn't good enough: Simpson's paradox in education and earnings by Brad Hershbein. Hershbein provides an earlier example.
In the early 1970s, the University of California, Berkeley was sued for gender discrimination over admission to graduate school. Of the 8,442 male applicants for the fall of 1973, 44 percent were admitted, but only 35 percent of the 4,351 female applicants were accepted. At first blush, and assuming the applicants’ qualifications were similar, this pattern indeed appeared consistent with gender discrimination. However, when researchers looked more closely within specific departments, this bias against women went away, and even reversed in several cases.

This apparent contradiction, in which the trend of the whole can be different from or the opposite of the trend of the constituent parts, is often called Simpson’s paradox, after British statistician Edward H. Simpson, who described the phenomenon in 1951. In the Berkeley case, the “paradox” occurred because women disproportionately applied to departments with low acceptance rates, as shown in the table above, while men disproportionately applied to departments with high acceptance rates. Examples of Simpson’s paradox have also been found in baseball batting averages, on-time flights of airlines, and even survival rates from the Titanic.
Glad to make the discovery. I was sure that there had to be a proper name for the statistical phenomenon but simply wasn't googling the right questions in the right fashion to find the answer.

I knew the Roman legions and the harsh-voiced Danish hordes

London Under Bombardment
by Greta Briggs

I WHO am known as London, have faced stern times before,
Having fought and ruled and traded for a thousand years and more;
I knew the Roman legions and the harsh-voiced Danish hordes;
heard the Saxon revels, saw blood on the Norman swords.
But, though I am scarred by battle, my grim defenders vow
Never was I so stately nor so well-beloved as now.
The lights that burn and glitter in the exile's lonely dream,
The lights of Piccadilly, and those that used to gleam
Down Regent Street and Kingsway may now no longer shine,
But other lights keep burning, and their splendour, too, is mine,
Seen in the work-worn faces and glimpsed in the steadfast eyes
When little homes lie 'broken and death descends from the skies.
The bombs have shattered my churches, have torn my streets apart,
But they have not bent my spirit and they shall not break my heart.
For my people's faith and courage are lights of London town
Which still would shine in legends though my last broad bridge were down.
One among the selection in Field Marshall Wavell's Other Men's Flowers, an anthology of poetry published in the midst of World War II as he led armies across the globe. In the time period leading up to the publication of the anthology, he fought the Italians and Germans in Libya, the French in the Levant, in Iraq, with the Russians in Persia and against the Japanese in Malaya, Singapore and Burma. As Viceroy of India he had non-military catastrophes to deal with at the same time as his war responsibilities including the Bengal famine in 1943.

I think of Wavell when people mention that they do not have time to do something.

Wavell appended a note to this poem.
I read these verses in an Egyptian newspaper while flying from Cairo to Barce in Cyrenaica at the beginning of April 1941, to try to deal with Rommel's counter-attack. I was uncomfortable in body - for the bomber was cramped and draughty - and in mind for I knew I had been caught with insufficient strength to meet a heavy counter-attack; reading this poem and committing it to memory did something to relieve my discomforts of body and mind.
Poetry is not an effete exercise - it is something primal and I like this image of it being so critical an element of the life of one of the most important men at one of the most important moments in history.

What once was a popular art is now unsustainable without institutional subsidy

An interesting biographical, Clive James’ Last Act by John Broening.

I first came across Clive James sometime in the early 1980s and quite enjoyed his autobiography Unreliable Memoirs which chronicled his journey from WWII, lower middle class, culturally circumscribed Australia, to a much wider world, a journey further elaborated in the second in the autobiographical series, Falling Towards England.

I enjoyed the verve and out of the mainstream insights of those first two books. I enjoyed them so much that I have continued occasionally acquiring books by James in subsequent years even though the others have gone sampled but largely unread. James has always impressed me as being highly intelligent, immensely well-read, impressively versed in the technical minutiae of literature and particularly poetry. But that wasn't all. In the later books there was neediness and insecurity and crassness and all sorts of other intimations. Not enough to quit hoping of finding writing akin to the first two books but too much to invest time reading the newer books.

Broening captures much of my view in his review of James's life and works. I liked this passage.
The lifetime close study of poetry leads James to a wealth of intimate insights. Rereading Frost, he discovers something he hadn’t noticed before:
Then I pick him up again and find that his easy-seeming, usually iambic, conversational forward flow is a deception, a way of not just bringing show-stopping moments to your attention but of moving them past your attention, so that you will form the correct impression that he has wealth to spare and does not want the show stopped for such a secondary consideration as brilliance.
Poetry has of late become like jazz; what once was a popular art is now unsustainable without institutional subsidy; and as the audience for it has disappeared, or rather deserted it for hip-hop, the number of professionally-trained practitioners has paradoxically increased. Like jazz, one of the reasons poetry appeals to initiates is because of its difficulty. James himself is a workmanlike poet rather than a brilliant one, a diligent versifier, really, but he has tried and failed at it enough that he understands what those difficulties are.
I like that line by Broening - "What once was a popular art is now unsustainable without institutional subsidy."

Not just jazz. Painting, most other genre's of music, poetry, literature. Whole swaths of what should be the crowning glories of culture are no longer commercially viable in a way they once were. In some fields, it is just a change and we'll come through the winnowing stronger. For example, after a couple of decades seeing the traditional vinyl era of commercial music disappearing, the new model, radically different, is commercial viability through performance rather than sale of discs. One can argue and complain of the relative merits of either business model, but there is at least a viable model.

Poetry - no. Gone. Not the writing of poetry which is, in some ways, too much with us. A vomiting forth of lines with no eyes to read them or ears willing to listen. Too much supply and too little demand. Sometimes poetry feels like the canary in the coal mine, signalling to the other muses of literature and painting what might be in store for them as well.

My most recent disappointing acquisition was Cultural Amnesia about which Broening has to say:
James’ magnum opus, Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from the Arts is an incoherent failure, perhaps because its stated aim, to showcase the culture of liberal democracy, is at odds with it true aim-to exist as a monument to its creator. Cultural Amnesia rigorous organization – it is alphabetized by subject and each entry has a capsule biography of its subject and two quotations – highlights rather than camouflages James’s intellectual disarray, his inability to engage in systematic thought. Cultural Amnesia also draws attention to James’s weaknesses as writer, which have become more pronounced over the years: his tendency to drag in off-topic personal information and to make himself the center of an essay no matter what the given assignment; his inclination to hold forth on a huge range of issues and subjects, whether or not he has anything of interest to say; his atrocity-mongering (as Tibor Fischer said about Martin Amis, James is ‘constantly on the prowl for gravitas-enlargement offers'); his fanboy’s fascination with the particulars of show business; his knack for making a showy display of simple common sense.
Another good line from Broening is this
A common theme of James’ excellent literary criticism, in his writings on Yeats, Shaw, Solzhenitsyn, Auden and others is that it is futile to wish away the follies and blindnesses of great artists, because those failings come from the same place as the art and accomplishments we cherish.
Indeed. It is always a tricky proposition when we are invited to condemn some reasoning, behavior or set of actions of an artist (or anyone of achievement). In some regards, it sounds like the right thing to do. They said something unforgivably bad, they behaved cruelly, they held beliefs widely divergent from our own - You are encouraged to show you are not tarred with the same brush of bad thoughts by disavowing them. But the thing of beauty is its own piece. It has no antecedents else we banish all beauty from the world. Vespasian's maxim, pecunia non olet, holds as true now as in the first century AD. The moral stewards of right thinking are merely the most recent manifestations of the barbarism that always threatens civilization and things of beauty.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Fear always stands near those who go to sea.

From A Sailor's Pay by Jack Cady in the anthology, Sea-Cursed, edited by T. Liam McDonald.
Fear is an old friend. I have known fear in a thousand storms. I have heard fear, and felt it, when my vessel's radio picked up the terrified voices of doomed men; men giving last loran positions as their ship took its final dive. Fear always stands near those who go to sea. At first you learn to bear it, then, finding its true nature and depth, you befriend it.
An interesting parsing of fear. I am not sure I buy befriending it. But I do testify to fear always standing near those who go to sea.

I love swimming, sailing, travelling by ship. And while I do not fear or panic in and on the water, there is a respect that is almost certainly founded on fear.

Oddly, in moments of apparent peril, such as when your sailboat capsizes far from shore, there is not much fear. You have an issue to address and your entire being is focused on that. Even, once, being tangled in rigging under water, no panic: solve the problem.

The fear that I recognize most is that of the unknown and the unmanageable.

You are swimming offshore and fish begin to panic and break the surface of the sea near you, escaping some unseen predator. I feel that fear as I write these words. Sighting a reef shark much closer to you than you thought. That brings on shivers. Spotting what appears to be a poisonous sea snake sinuously close. That's when the adrenaline flows.

And also, but differently, when you are on a big ship in bad weather. A mere bystander to the awe inspiring. I was fortunate to sail in the old Queen Elizabeth across the North Atlantic in the mid-1960s, a wonderful journey for a child. But in the middle of the five day voyage we had an autumn blow when the sky greyed out and merged with the steel sea and the wind blew hard and the ship rolled, further and further, improbably far.

Oddly, what I remember most clearly was my first conscious awareness of the whistling of a key hole. Most people were confined to their cabins with sea sickness. For some reason, I was prowling around, enjoying the absence of adults. There was a fine old solid wood door from some lounge area out onto the deck, the deck being swept by that cold, wet Atlantic wind. I stood by the door, pushing hard to open against the wind but then noticing the whistling sound as the wind squeezed itself through the keyhole. I was fascinated, standing there stock still listening to the wind's song. Then, as a child will, trying to mimic it with my recently acquired whistling skills.

Harder still was a wintertime passage across the North Sea from Denmark to the UK some years later. Hard winds and high seas and nausea and the rolling, yawing and shifting of the huge ship, a plaything of circumstance. That's when I begin to edge towards fear. I had a similar experience crossing from Stockholm to Helsinki in the Baltic on a stormy winter day.

It is not the fear of sinking or getting wet or the waves or the winds. It is the fear of the cold. I was accustomed, having lived in Sweden and England, to swimming in bone chilling water and I think that breeds a deep respect for how quickly it can debilitate you. Riding those roller coaster ships in those storms, it was relatively easy to anticipate how to get off the ship, should it capsize. The fear was in knowing that you would only have minutes in the water to get into a lifeboat or raft before your life energy was drained away. Of course that was all simply anticipatory fear. The ships did not sink. They weren't even in real danger. It was just another rough crossing in northern wintry seas.

Only many years later did I come close to fully comprehending how that fear of cold water was so warranted.

I was shooting some mountain white water rapids with a troop of boy scouts and even though it was a warm summer day, the mountain river was dam fed and dam water is cold, cold, cold. All was going well till I spotted one of the scouts projected from one of the rafts upriver into the water. I could see his panic, flailing, trying to grab hold of rocks, eyes saucer sized.

I slipped over the side of my raft with the intent of lodging myself among the rocks to grab him as he swept by. The plan went off without a hitch. He came hurtling by me and I was able to reach out and latch onto his life vest and hold on tight. I knew one of the other rafts would be able to slow enough to grab us as it went by. We weren't in the water more than five minutes, probably but two or three, before one of the other rafts barged up against us and strong arms pulled us in.

I felt no touch of fear at any point because it all seemed manageable.

But what struck me later, stretched out in the sun, soaking up summer heat as fast as possible, was just how fast that cold water steals away your life energy. I don't think we were ever in serious peril. But in the few minutes wedged into those rocks with the whitewater roaring over and around us, I could feel approaching incapacity. I wasn't incapacitated at all but I probably went from 100% to 60% in minutes, just from that cold water sucking out my body heat. The respect that had been somewhat theoretical is much deeper now.

But for all that fear always stands with you, the inspiration of far horizons and vaulting skies and towering clouds, and deep waters brings you back to the oceans and the seas. A magical, primal draw.

Wishful thinking - a large bonus for accurate predictions did not result in a smaller bias

From Wishful Thinking by Guy Mayraz. The abstract:
This paper presents a model and an experiment, both suggesting that wishful thinking is a pervasive phenomenon that affect decisions large and small. Agents in the model start out with state-dependent payoffs, and behave as if high-payoff states are more likely. Subsequent choices maximize subjective-expected utility given these beliefs. Subjects in the experiment were paid in accordance with the future value of a financial asset. Despite incentives for hedging, subjects gaining from high prices made higher predictions than subjects gaining from low prices. Comparative statics agreed with predictions. In particular, a large bonus for accurate predictions did not result in a smaller bias.

The chill reached the marrow of our bones.

From Sea-Cursed, edited by T. Liam McDonald et al. The Ship of Silent Men by Philip M. Fisher. A description of conditions at sea as a context for storytelling.
They were a superstitious lot, too - Belgians and Swedes and Welsh - and I found myself colder yet as I listened to the yarns they told. At sea, with the illimitable waste about one, and the loneliness of it all, stories of the strange and unexplainable always thrill more than they do on land. And when they are told when the actual conditions then existent are strange and unexplainable, too, and the nearest land is a mere speck seven hundred miles back, the thrill changes into something more like a spine-prickling uneasiness. The crew were that way - and the passengers three.

The cold became more penetrating. The bridge officer - wool-wrapped - paced stumblingly. The radio had lapses of an hour long - the wireless operator was frantic. The shadows below decks became as of the dead alive, and the black gang forgot its tales, and cursed softly.

Then came darkness, and with it a doubled phosphorescence in our wake. The air was permeated with that weird sea feel, hardly to be called an odor, or ozone. And at about seven bells of the first watch, just before midnight, the steel rigging was alive with bluish flickering - electric streamlets, running, pausing, dancing, now quiescent and dying dim - now pulsingly alive, now peacefully aglow - now madly, enthusiastically, and at times almost malevolently, rampant.

The deck watch shivered a bit from more than the cold - the below-decks crew, about to come on watch and up for a breath of air, stared thoughtfully and stowed back their half-filled pipes, and felt their way down to the comfort of their still steady engines.

Eight bells, and midnight came. The chill reached the marrow of our bones. The electricity on the rigging silently threatened. The shadows blacked and grayed with a hundred shifting, shapeless things that stared and kept one's chin on one's shoulder in breathless moments when the lights went nearly out.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

It was a snippy, prim, smug bourgeois armchair leftism

Camille Paglia is one of our few genuine public intellectuals and that is intended as a compliment rather than a snide attack. From Camille Paglia takes on Jon Stewart, Trump, Sanders: “Liberals think of themselves as very open-minded, but that’s simply not true!” interviewed by David Daley.

Whatever she says, she says with verb, insight and from a deep well of knowledge. She always strikes me as genuine, an attribute by which I set great store.

Salon is running a long interview with her over three days. The following blistering excerpts are from today's segment. On atheists:
I regard them as adolescents. I say in the introduction to my last book, “Glittering Images”, that “Sneering at religion is juvenile, symptomatic of a stunted imagination.” It exposes a state of perpetual adolescence that has something to do with their parents– they’re still sneering at dad in some way. Richard Dawkins was the only high-profile atheist out there when I began publicly saying “I am an atheist,” on my book tours in the early 1990s. I started the fad for it in the U.S, because all of a sudden people, including leftist journalists, started coming out of the closet to publicly claim their atheist identities, which they weren’t bold enough to do before. But the point is that I felt it was perfectly legitimate for me to do that because of my great respect for religion in general–from the iconography to the sacred architecture and so forth. I was arguing that religion should be put at the center of any kind of multicultural curriculum.

I’m speaking here as an atheist. I don’t believe there is a God, but I respect every religion deeply. All the great world religions contain a complex system of beliefs regarding the nature of the universe and human life that is far more profound than anything that liberalism has produced. We have a whole generation of young people who are clinging to politics and to politicized visions of sexuality for their belief system. They see nothing but politics, but politics is tiny. Politics applies only to society. There is a huge metaphysical realm out there that involves the eternal principles of life and death. The great tragic texts, including the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles, no longer have the central status they once had in education, because we have steadily moved away from the heritage of western civilization.

The real problem is a lack of knowledge of religion as well as a lack of respect for religion. I find it completely hypocritical for people in academe or the media to demand understanding of Muslim beliefs and yet be so derisive and dismissive of the devout Christian beliefs of Southern conservatives.

But yes, the sneering is ridiculous! Exactly what are these people offering in place of religion? In my system, I offer art–and the whole history of spiritual commentary on the universe. There’s a tremendous body of nondenominational insight into human life that used to be called cosmic consciousness. It has to be remembered that my generation in college during the 1960s was suffused with Buddhism, which came from the 1950s beatniks. Hinduism was in the air from every direction–you had the Beatles and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Ravi Shankar at Monterey, and there were sitars everywhere in rock music. So I really thought we were entering this great period of religious syncretism, where the religions of the world were going to merge. But all of a sudden, it disappeared! The Asian religions vanished–and I really feel sorry for young people growing up in this very shallow environment where they’re peppered with images from mass media at a particularly debased stage.

There are no truly major stars left, and I don’t think there’s much profound work being done in pop culture right now. Young people have nothing to enlighten them, which is why they’re clinging so much to politicized concepts, which give them a sense of meaning and direction.

But this sneering thing! I despise snark. Snark is a disease that started with David Letterman and jumped to Jon Stewart and has proliferated since. I think it’s horrible for young people! And this kind of snark atheism–let’s just invent that term right now–is stupid, and people who act like that are stupid. Christopher Hitchens’ book “God is Not Great” was a travesty. He sold that book on the basis of the brilliant chapter titles. If he had actually done the research and the work, where each chapter had the substance of those wonderful chapter titles, then that would have been a permanent book. Instead, he sold the book and then didn’t write one–he talked it. It was an appalling performance, demonstrating that that man was an absolute fraud to be talking about religion. He appears to have done very little scholarly study. Hitchens didn’t even know Judeo-Christianity well, much less the other world religions. He had that glib Oxbridge debater style in person, but you’re remembered by your written work, and Hitchens’ written work was weak and won’t last.

Dawkins also seems to be an obsessive on some sort of personal vendetta, and again, he’s someone who has never taken the time to do the necessary research into religion. Now my entire career has been based on the pre-Christian religions. My first book, “Sexual Personae,” was about the pagan cults that still influence us, and it began with the earliest religious artifacts, like the Venus of Willendorf in 35,000 B.C. In the last few years, I’ve been studying Native American culture, in particular the Paleo-Indian period at the close of the Ice Age. In the early 1990s, when I first arrived on the scene, I got several letters from Native Americans saying my view of religion, women, and sexuality resembled the traditional Native American view. I’m not surprised, because my orientation is so fixed in the pre-Christian era.
On academic poseurs.
When I was in college–from 1964 to 1968–I saw what real leftists look like, because a lot of people at my college, which was the State University of New York at Binghamton, were radicalized Jews from downstate. They were very avant-garde, doing experimental theater and modern dance, and they knew all about abstract expressionism. Their parents were often Holocaust survivors, so they had a keen sense of history. And they spoke in a very direct and open working-class style. That’s why, in the 1990s, I was saying that the academic leftists were such frauds–sitting around applying Foucault to texts and thinking that was leftism! No it wasn’t! It was a snippy, prim, smug bourgeois armchair leftism. Real ’60s radicals rarely went to grad school and never became big-wheel humanities professors, with their fat salaries and perks. The proof of the vacuity of academic leftism for the past forty years is the complete silence of leftist professors about the rise of the corporate structure of the contemporary university–their total failure to denounce the gross expansion of the administrator class and the obscene rise in tuition costs. The leading academic leftists are such frauds–they’ve played the system and are retiring as millionaires!
Well worth the time to read the whole interview.

TS 89, that's not good

From Taylor Swift, Straussian? by Tyler Cowen.

Years ago I had an international marketing class. One of the points was how both language and culture required deep consideration when thinking about brand names and when marketing. One of the examples they used was GM's Nova line of cars. In fact, the example was an urban myth, but it was a great telling. The story being that the Nova failed to sell well in Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries because Nova could sound like No va, no go in Spanish.

Even though the story was a myth, the underlying issue of language, history and culture, is real as illustrated by Cowen's post.
The singer is launching her own Taylor Swift-branded clothing line next month, on the platforms of local e-commerce giants and the Alibaba group, with t-shirts, dresses and sweatshirts featuring the politically charged date 1989.

The date – as well as being Swift’s year of birth – refers to her album and live tour of the same name, which she will perform in Shanghai in November.

But the date – and the initials TS – are particularly sensitive in China, as they signify the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, when hundreds of students were killed in pro-democracy protests.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

14th Amendment concerns

From What Ails the City? by Aziz Huq, a review of a pair of books and a general meditation on our capacity to effectively and productively coach change in otherwise stagnant geopolitical locales. Lots of interesting information and perspectives.

Huq provides some comparative context.
The violent urban crisis is a hardy perennial from America’s last century. Riots sparked in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, by the deaths of Freddie Grey and Michael Brown find precedent of a sort as early as 1919. In the late summer of that year, more than twenty-five cities across the United States, from Elaine, Arkansas to Chicago, Illinois, to Omaha, Nebraska, witnessed mob violence, lynchings, and arsons. The origins of these riots were surprisingly varied. In Elaine, black workers protested peonage-style employment relations in the cotton fields. In Chicago, a young black boy crossed an invisible line on a south-side beach—thus violating the city’s unwritten racial protocols. In Omaha, news reports that a 19-year-old white girl had been raped proved the spark to the tinder of long-simmering labor unrest between white and black stockyard workers.

As today, it was largely African-Americans who bore the brunt of the damage in 1919. In Chicago, the poet Carl Sandburg reported, 23 of the 38 people who died were African-Americans. Most of the hundreds left homeless on the city’s south side due to arson were also African-American. Yet unlike today, the violence of 1919 was not a self-inflicted wound from within the black community. Rather, it was white civic leaders and organizations that often organized the violence; it was white mobs that torched tenements of migrants newly arrived from the south; and it was whites who strung up the accused rapist Will Brown from a telegraph pole at the corner of Eighteenth and Harney in Omaha.
So back in the old days we had race riots and nowadays it is simply riots. Progress of a sort but how do we get to the point where we don't riot at all? Is that even a reasonable expectation, rioting being, historically, one of the more effective manifestations of popular will against entrenched interests?

Huq offers up a statistic I had not seen before.
Of course, from the perspective of today’s rioters, the difference is one of degree and not of kind: Rather than the ‘old Jim Crow’ of the lynch mob, they would point to, and condemn, the ‘new Jim Crow’ of police treatment of black men. Although national statistics on deaths resulting from police shootings or custodial action are startling exiguous, even the limited data collected by the federal Department of Justice might raise an eyebrow among those disinclined to endorse the Jim Crow analogy. The Bureau of Justice Statistics, for example, reports that 51.5 percent of arrest-related deaths in the United States between 2003 and 2009 involved African-Americans or Hispanics (who make up roughly 30 percent of the population).
Huq appears a victim of the common practice of comparing apples to oranges. If you are interested in arrest-related deaths, then you shouldn't be comparing to the racial makeup of the entire nation but to the racial makeup of the those likely to be arrested. There is a funnel here that is being alluded to but not made explicit. If I recall correctly, African-Americans and Hispanics account for some 75% of homicides (as a proxy for violent behavior likely to elicit police intervention). That being the case, you would expect a disparate arrest rate and death-in-custody rate from that of a simple extrapolation from population figures.

This is an interesting paragraph to unpack.
No single cause explains the persistence of violent urban crisis, or the real shifts in the vectors and locations of urban violence across the American century. Perhaps the most important discontinuity is the absence of white residents in communities such as Ferguson and Mondawmin in Baltimore. Even by 1950—that is, before Brown v. Board of Education and its long-fused desegregation command—a quarter of Americans had decamped from the city for the suburbs. By 1990, this migration was a solid majority. Suburbanization operated differently across racial lines. By 1980, 72 percent of blacks in metropolitan areas lived in central cities, as opposed to 33 percent of metropolitan whites. The same federal government that in November 1953 filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the NAACP in Brown subsidized this demographic transformation via the construction of the interstate highway system and the promulgation of racially discriminatory appraisal standards deployed by the Housing Ownership Loan Corporation.
No single cause for urban violence. Got it and agree.

But what does where people elect to live have to do, in a causal fashion, with urban violence? Nothing, I would have thought. This part of the paragraph feels like a non sequitur meant to impugn people's choices rather than explain urban violence.

It is the last part of this murky paragraph that caught my eye.
The same federal government that in November 1953 filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the NAACP in Brown subsidized this demographic transformation via the construction of the interstate highway system
I have often seen this allegation raised but have never seen it defended. I am no highway or traffic historian but my understanding has always been that there was never a racial component to the interstate highway system, that it was always about increased transportation flexibility, cheaper transportation and improved national logistics, and that the primary motivation arose from military concerns regarding the capacity to quickly move large quantities of material in the event of war and the desire for logistical resilience.

It is a popular claim, but as far as I am aware there is absolutely no evidence that the federal highway system was initiated or designed with any view on where citizens chose to live and commute. No doubt there were lots of incidental consequences that did affect those issues but they were just that, incidental. Consequently, there is no paradox, as Huq seems to suggest, between providing amicus curiae briefs in support of the NAACP and also constructing an interstate highway system for increasing national logistical capabilities.

Huq also refers to the the demographic transformation as being subsidized. Again, this seems a peculiar way of looking at the facts. The interstate highway system was built with a mix of funds from federal and state but was substantially funded by the Federal government. It wasn't subsidized, it was funded. We don't refer to the government as subsidizing K-12 education or subsidizing streets or subsidizing the courts and police departments. Those are fundamental responsibilities of government (local, state or federal) which are funded by the government. What point is Huq trying to make by twisting this to impugn the funding of a national highway system as being "subsidized"? There is some sort of odd thinking, signalling, or writing going on here.

Setting all that aside, here is the passage that I found revealing. It is consistent with other research I have seen and yet is rarely discussed.
But the cliché that predominantly black central cities are policed more intensely than suburban counterparts is not quite true. Even though the federal government has expended massive fiscal subsidies on local policing since the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, there are still striking fiscal disparities between local jurisdictions. As one recent econometric analysis found, the whitest cities comprising 5 percent of the population had ten times as many police per index crime as the least white cities comprising the 5 percent of the population. Further, within cities, the distribution of policing resources can exacerbate that inequality. In Chicago, requests for police assistance are roughly negatively correlated across precincts with the number of police: Predominantly minority neighborhoods, that is, have the highest demand for police services, the lowest number of police per capita, and the longest wait times in relation to 911 calls.

Somewhat paradoxically, the substitute for an effective infrastructure of educational and economic opportunity—as well as robust protection of public order—is not the absence of a state presence, but a style of policing that aggressively penalizes the symptoms of urban decay without producing much by way of felt security among African-American residents. A familiar finding in urban sociologies from Elijah Anderson and Philippe Bourgois onward is that young African-American men cannot and do not turn to the police when victimized. Exclusion from equal protection of the laws rather breeds alternative systems of dispute resolution involving private violence. In this fashion, exclusion breeds violence, which in turn justifies the styles of policing that bred exclusion in the first instance.
I am a big 14th Amendment enthusiast. I think it is a foundational principle in any effective democracy that all laws ought to apply equally to all citizens and should not be applied to some and not to others based on any of the common issues of status or class or geography or wealth or race or religion. People will support laws they don't like as long as they know the law is equally applied. The edifice begins to crumble and people lose faith in law when they believe that laws are preferentially applied. We are deep in that hole right now and need to climb back out. A wealthy person with a speeding ticket pays a $1,000 to a lawyer to represent them in court, get their speeding ticket set aside in return for safe driving classes and has points omitted so that their insurance rates don't go up. A poor person goes to court to fight the ticket and loses, pays the fine, maybe loses their job for missing work, gets points against their record, pays more for insurance etc. I don't have a problem with there being consequences to unsafe driving. My problem is that those consequences are unequally applied.

We tend to think in stereotypes and abstractions to our great detriment. Wherever crime occurs, and regardless who is committing it, we want police to protect and effect arrests against perpetrators. It is a well worn claim that police departments are unduly punitive to African-Americans and across the several thousands of governmental authorities in the US it is no doubt true that there are some locations where there is a degree of racial animus driving punitive behavior. But I suspect that incident rate is pretty small. The root issues are not racial. They are much more complex. Ferguson was not a product of racial animus, it was a consequence of predatory municipal government trying to shore up budgets through police enforced fines. Baltimore was not a product of racial animus (virtually the entire civic corpus being African-American), it was a consequence of poor police training and management.

Ferguson's problems are real and they are not rooted in race. Baltimore's problems are real and not rooted in race. The more we try and force fit all problems into an abstract concept, the more we allow the real failures to continue unaddressed. I find Huq's statement, "that young African-American men cannot and do not turn to the police when victimized" to be likely true and an horrendous abandonment of our civic responsibilities to all our citizens.

We know, roughly, how to police in a fashion that reduces crime commission while increasing crime punishment. That is a bedrock responsibility of the state that needs to be done well. And needs to be done well for all citizens. What we don't have a good grasp on, and no one realistically has any real propositions, is how to police in a fashion that reduces crime commission while increasing crime punishment AND do so in a fashion that fosters an equal confidence among all citizens in the fairness of the law.

Our critical race theory ideologues are very effective at reining in police departments so that they are no longer extending the protection of the state equally to all citizens, a consequence now being referred to as the Ferguson Effect. This reduces the number of clashes between African-American citizenry and the police but at the cost of increasing lawlessness for citizens in predominantly African-American neighborhoods who most need protection from crime.

Constructing public policy so that policing both defends and protects all citizens and is seen as a service to all citizens is the challenge we face. Right now, we have too many bad faith actors harkening to long discredited academic theories such as critical race theory and who are pandered to by a too weak political class. Our citizens, all our citizens, deserve better.

UPDATE: I spotted this research paper, The Distribution of Police Protection by David Thacher, which reinforces the dilemma above. Current critical race theory provocateurs argue that African Americans suffer disproportionate attention from the police. This is not a well founded argument based on known patterns of violence and crime which elicit police attention. Indeed, in cities using CrimeStat programs (which encourage residents to call 911 for any suspicious behavior) police resources are carefully allocated based on empirical evidence of reports rather than on police perceptions of where they ought to spend their time. Under this model, it is the citizens themselves who materially drive police allocation of resources.

But not everyone uses CrimeStat type programs and of course not every community is equally concerned about crime (as reflected in the extent to which they are willing to tax themselves to support their local policing efforts). Thacher provides the evidence that undermines the assumption that African-American communities are over-policed. Based on Thacher's evidence, they are dramatically under-policed.

So now, depending on one's cast of mind, you can choose to be outraged in the false belief that African-Americans are over-policed or you can appropriately be outraged that, despite progress with empirical allocation of police resources to areas of high crime, in general, African-American neighborhoods are dramatically under-policed compared to white neighborhoods and therefor miss out on the benefits of secure environments.

Pattern recognition and murder mysteries

I recently completed The Oxford Murders by Argentinian mathematician Guillermo Martinez. From the blurb
A paperback sensation in Argentina, Spain, and the United Kingdom, "The Oxford Murders" has been hailed as "a remarkable feat" ("Time Out" London) and its author as "one of Argentina's most distinctive voices" ("The Times Literary Supplement"). It begins on a summer day in Oxford, when a young Argentine graduate student finds his landlady-an elderly woman who helped crack the Enigma Code during World War II -murdered in cold blood. Meanwhile, a renowned Oxford logician receives an anonymous note bearing a circle and the words "the first of a series." As the murders begin to pile up and more symbols are revealed, it is up to this unlikely pair to decipher the pattern before the killer strikes again.
The writing and plotting are both good. What I especially enjoyed was the interweaving of the history of mathematics (the Pythagoreans in particular) and the challenges of pattern recognition with a standard murder mystery. Martinez does a wonderful job, I think, of leaving you hanging till the final pages with three distinct possible resolutions to the mystery. Each layer of reveal changes the structure and probability of each of the hypotheses, all of them remaining viable. Sometimes the new information tilts the probability more towards one solution than towards another, but they are all feasible. Even knowing the outcome in the end, the other two hypotheses remain near credible.

This approach yields a larger perspective of the fragility of knowledge, pattern recognition and interpretation. Every working hypothesis, however useful or probable it might seem, remains contingent on yet undiscovered knowledge.

Much more than your run of the mill murder mystery. This one has cognitive legs.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A burden too great

Glenn Harlan Reynolds has an oped, Politicos put past before progress, with which I broadly agree. His argument is that politicians are overwhelmingly interested in getting re-elected and in order to do so they need money and power, usually obtained through the regulatory process. They are not interested in how their decisions affect their constituencies except in-so-far as that affects their accumulation of power and money. Sad, but I think substantially true.

Or, as he puts it:
Even so — and here’s the key point — politicians don’t care, except to the extent that we make them care. Whatever they say when they’re running for office, their top priority once elected is to build a coalition that will keep them in power, and accumulating money and influence, regardless of whether the interests of that coalition coincide with the public’s.
While not disagreeing with the substance of the argument, Reynolds has a line that I think is factually suspect.
One of the reasons that America enjoyed such tremendous growth over the past century was that technology outran regulators’ ability to keep up.
Is that true? It is a logically attractive hypothesis but I think there is good cause to consider that empirically unsupported.

Innovation in general and technological change in particular is notoriously difficult to quantify but I would argue that the pace of technological change has speeded up since 1915 but started from a low base and the fastest pace is in the past couple or three decades. Look at the difficulties from both a regulatory and a legal perspective we have with things ranging from simple patent law (think biological copyrights), copyright (music and books), and most currently, drones. Think about the intrusiveness of the internet of everything and what it means to privacy and safety. To me, that is evidence that our regulatory processes are being outstripped by technological change. But earlier? I am not so sure.

I would argue that we got a huge boost to the economy post-World War II by being the last industrial giant left standing. Then in the 1960s we got a boost from the growth in world trade which we had helped foster. In the 1970s and early 1980s we got a boost by removing many of the regulations left over from WWII (telephones, trucking, rail, banking, airlines, etc.). In the 1990s this culminated with the technological boom and continued expansion of global trade involving ever more countries in the world.

The pace of technological change and corresponding regulatory change is in the mix somewhere but I don't think that our growth was driven by change occurring so fast that we weren't able to keep up from a regulatory view. In fact, I think the stronger argument is that for a long time we had a more principled class who were committed to the welfare of the commonweal by pursuing greater trade and lesser regulation. I think we are on pretty safe ground making the argument that we have a much worse political class than we did in the past, more interested in their political careers than in the welfare of the nation as a whole. That, combined with the prolonged Great Recession, perhaps all that has happened is that the benefits of past pro-growth policies are sputtering and politicians are more blatantly interested in simply taxing anything that can benefit their power and money equation. As long as the economy was generating its own growth, they could afford to be at least somewhat principled. When faced with the constraining consequences of low growth, they probably now consider principles a burden too great.

This explains why obscurist, ideology-heavy, “critical theory” interpretations of culture hold so much sway over much of the humanities

From Is a Science of Cultural Change Possible? by T. Greer.

Is it possible to infuse a more science oriented ethos into social science research?
I commend the intentions of this project and have been impressed with the research it has produced thus far. However, I remain skeptical that it will ever be able to dethrone the messy, unscientific narratives most historians use to describe trends in macro-history. In particular, I doubt our ability to ever produce convincing, predicative models of cultural change.
I think he is right to be sceptical that cliodynamics will be able to establish a domain knowledge with the integrity associated with any of the hard sciences such as physics, chemistry, engineering, etc. However, I also suspect that you don't have to have consistent domain knowledge in order to have substantially useful micro-knowledge. we don't have to have a grand theory of education in order to use principles of the scientific method to assess specific aspects of education in order to produce useful knowledge.

Greer goes into a really excellent (for its brevity) history of the dramatic shifts in social models of marriage and parenthood in the US in our four hundred year history. He describes the original Puritan model transitioning in the 1700s to the Democratic Model which lasted through to the 1960s and which has since been morphing into the Soul Mate Model. Independent of the relative benefits of each of these models is the question of interest to Greer; Why? Why are there these distinct shifts over time? Why do they occur? How can we predict them?
Mr. Bruce presents compelling evidence that both American political culture and American popular culture has been “dumbed down” over the last sixty years. Anyone who has watched game shows or news programs from the era Bruce extols, or has read through the archives of magazines like Time, Life, Newsweek, or Foreign Affairs can attest that American information culture has become more vulgar, less erudite, and geared towards smaller and smaller attention spans during this time.

I discussed this passage in a private exchange with Adam Elkus, blogger at Rethinking Security and Zero Derp Thirty several weeks ago. Over the course of our exchange we came up with nine different plausible explanations for why this "dumbing down" of popular media might have happened. In the weeks since then I have developed another three potentials explanations for the trend. But this is precisely the problem. As it stands now, discussions of cultural change are no different than the discussions of Rome's decline that distress Peter Turchin. It is easy to create a story that explains why Americans have grown less articulate and formal over the last few decades, or why their expectations for marriage have changed. It is difficult to prove which of these stories is correct. We simply don’t have the methodological tools we need to scientifically test one hypothesis over the other.

I am unsure this will ever change. A central problem is that many cultural values and meanings at play here are too nuanced to be coded or quantified, and thus hypotheses built on them are quite difficult to falsify. To a great extent this explains why obscurist, ideology-heavy, “critical theory” interpretations of culture hold so much sway over much of the humanities. To outsiders looking in these interpretations are obvious foolishness, but until there is a science of cultural change capable of falsifying these interpretations, the study of culture will remain a morass where nothing but academic fashion and popular opinion can privilege one explanation over another.
Emphasis added. That last paragraph packs a lot.

You can address many individual arguments within postmodernism, critical theory, critical race theory, feminism, etc. and show them to be empirically untrue. The problem is that the small numbers who subscribe to these beliefs are enthralled with the intellectual coherence of the overall theory rather than whether it is actually true, real or useful in its parts. There is no patriarchy, there is little or no institutional racism, there is a hierarchy of cultural productivity. But disproving the structural foundations is irrelevant to those seduced by normative sociology, a profoundly persistent anti-science caste of mind.

None-the-less, an insistence on evidence and empiricism and the scientific method remains one of the greater bulwarks to mere anarchy and rule by thuggishness.

Former NYT reporter reveals latest example of Gell-Mann Effect

On May 10th, The New York Times published the first of a two part expose of the nail salon industry in New York. I did not read it. I chose to omit investing time reading the article based on four premises, 1) the NYT would get the commercial details wrong, 2) the NYT would fail to understand the broader issues of immigration, licensing, trade-off decisions, etc., 3) this seemed a classic example of the NYT's pandering to the guilty conscious of the pathologically altruistic, and 4) Nail salons? Really, this is the material social issue of the day?

Many people find it fun to exercise moral outrage about things close to them but not affecting them directly and the NYT has a terrible proclivity for just such reporting. Exercising journalistic advocacy to fix other people's problems with money from yet further other people, and with no regard whether the "beneficiaries" actually wanted the problem "solved" or actually benefited from the solution imposed on them.

I was happy to let the SJW and hand waving crowd exercise their irascibility over this apparent non-issue, confident that this would either blow over or be exposed. And sure enough, just three months later, here we have a rather thorough takedown of both the facts of the issue as well as a major charge against the editorial integrity of the Times from What the ‘Times’ Got Wrong About Nail Salons by Richard Bernstein. Ironically, it is a former New York Times journalist himself who is having his very own Gell-Mann Amnesia moment. Bernstein and his wife have two nail-salon stores and have been in the industry for more than a decade. Read Bernstein's whole article to discover as did Michael Crichton that
You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.
Bernstein's experience is even worse. Not only did the nail-salon reporter not understand the industry, she also reported flat out untruths and misreported numerous critical facts. The article was so riddled with errors of fact and interpretation that it would have had to have been rewritten and the Times was simply unwilling to correct that which it knew it had misreported.

Michael Crichton noted that
That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I’d point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all.

But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn’t. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.
If you can't get the basic facts right about a story in your own backyard, what basis is there for having confidence in their ability to report anything more distant or more complicated than having your nails done?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Isn't that the truth

Thomas Pynchon in Gravity's Rainbow, Proverbs for Paranoids:
If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.

Better statistical design and controlling for confounding variables gives the lie to most postmodernism/critical theory assumptions

A wonderfully succinct explication of a couple of the confounding issues attached to research into discrimination, from How To Study Discrimination (or Anything) With Names; If You Must by Uri Simonsohn. So much of what I see performed and trumpeted as damning evidence has statistical flaws you can drive a truck through, starting with the fact that it is usually motivated research. The researchers are proclaiming the results that they were intending to find in the first place.

Many studies will do something along the lines of assigning names to a standard resume, randomizing either "typical" black names and "typical" white names or randomizing "typical" female names and "typical" males names. They then send these to an HR department and ask which resumes they would select for interviews, expecting to find that "typical" white names are preferred over black and "typical" male names are preferred over female.

But names, as Simonsohn points out, signal much more than race and gender. They signal class and age and appearance and religion and geographic region and parental socioeconomic status and all sorts of other things. In addition there are many behavioral attributes that, for whatever reason, are popularly attributed to particular names. This has nothing to do with any statistical correlation between the name and real attributes, just what exists in the popular mind. These are stereotypes, pure and simple.

For example, look at the dramatic perceived difference in attributes between Sarah and Sally, between Charles and Chuck. Both are "white" names, both are common, for each, one is an abbreviation of the other. So close, and yet so far apart. Compared to his sophisticated, strong, wholesome, mature, formal, manly, smart, and serious older brother Charles, Chuck is seen as common, not very smart, a bit youthful/immature, somewhat devious, and unsophisticated.

Sarah is much like her sibling Charles, seen as wholesome, refined, smart, serious, formal, and classic, whereas her cousin Sally is seen as country, informal, and young.

If you google images of Sarah, you end up with pictures of women twenty years younger than when you google images of Sally.

As Simonsohn notes about comparing two seemingly innocuous generic names, Jennifer and John, its not just gender that is being signalled:
Jennifer was the #1 baby girl name between 1970 & 1984, while John has been a top-30 boy name for the last 120 years. Comparing reactions to profiles with these names pits mental associations about women in their late 30s/early 40s with those of men of unclear age.
Likewise with racially identifiable names:
Distinctively black names (e.g., Jamal and Lakisha) signal low socioeconomic status while typical White names do not (QJE .pdf). Do people not want to hire Jamal because he is Black or because he is of low status?
So names signal a lot more than race. If you want to isolate discrimination based on race or gender, you have to control for all those other signals which becomes very difficult to do.

One of Simonsohn's solutions to this problem of confounding signals is "Stop Using Names." Anonymize the names (and pronouns) of the candidates so that the reviewer can only focus on the actual accomplishments of the candidates. When you do this though, sometimes the results are the exact opposite of the postmodernist/critical theorist assumption about a world that is patriarchal and racist. For example, National hiring experiments reveal 2:1 faculty preference for women on STEM tenure track by Wendy M. Williams and Stephen J. Ceci. As they comment,
Our experimental findings do not support omnipresent societal messages regarding the current inhospitability of the STEM
professoriate for women at the point of applying for assistant professorships (4–12, 26–29). Efforts to combat formerly widespread sexism in hiring appear to have succeeded. After decades of overt and covert discrimination against women in academic hiring, our results indicate a surprisingly welcoming atmosphere today for female job candidates in STEM disciplines, by faculty of both genders, across natural and social sciences in both math intensive and non–math-intensive fields, and across fields already well-represented by women (psychology, biology) and those still poorly represented (economics, engineering).
What about the racism presumed to be so pervasive. This study is from France (so not directly comparable to the US) but it has the benefit of using real outcomes, not simulated ones (i.e. actual employers making actual decisions, not just HR personnel making simulated decisions.) Unintended Effects of Anonymous Resumes by Luc Behaghel, Bruno Crépon, Thomas Le Barbanchon.
We evaluate an experimental program in which the French public employment service anonymized resumes for firms that were hiring. Firms were free to participate or not; participating firms were then randomly assigned to receive either anonymous resumes or name-bearing ones. We find that participating firms become less likely to interview and hire minority candidates when receiving anonymous resumes.
In other words, it appears that companies were previously exercising some form of corporate affirmative action by hiring minorities that they would not otherwise hire. When they lost the status signal of minority names and had to rely simply on the actual performance record, the recruitment of minorities fell by 10%.

All of this is to say three things - 1) social processes are incredibly complex, 2) sociologists tend to seek confirmation of their priors (patriarchy, racism, etc.) and 3) sociologists tend to be very poor at managing the statistical controls of their studies.

When good statistical controls are in place with proper protocols, most of the thin evidence for patriarchy and racism and the other hobgoblins of postmodernism/critical theory disappear.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Rendered into English prose for the use of those who cannot read the original

Love this subheading that in its brevity reflects a different era with different expectations of education.

The book is The Odyssey and it is translated by the poet Samuel Butler (1613-1680)

The subtitle reads:
rendered into English prose for the use of those who cannot read the original

It seeks refuge in wishfully constructed places and periods

From Ideology and Utopia by Karl Mannheim (sociologist).
Wishful thinking has always figured in human affairs. When the imagination finds no satisfaction in existing reality, it seeks refuge in wishfully constructed places and periods. Myths, fairy-tales, other-worldly promises of religion, humanistic fantasies, travel romances, have been continually changing expressions of that which was lacking in actual life.

Recent, trendy, and intellectually unchallenging books

From BEACH BOOKS: 2013-2014 What Do Colleges and Universities Want Students to Read Outside Class? from National Association of Scholars. Take with a pinch of salt. I recollect that the NAS is a relatively traditionalist group.

Based on 341 Colleges and Universities and the 231 (collectively) books they assigned.

The Findings
1. Common reading programs are becoming more popular.

2. The list of readings continues to be dominated by recent, trendy, and intellectually
unchallenging books.

3. The assigned books frequently emphasize progressive political themes, and the top subject
category is multiculturalism.

4. Colleges increasingly see their common reading as exercises in community-building more
than student preparation for academic life.

5. A common reading “industry” is emerging, with publishers, authors, and colleges seeking to
advance a particular kind of book.

The Facts
1. Author speaking: Of the 341 colleges in our study, 231 (68 percent) brought the author
to speak on campus. Having the author speak is seen as a priority for common reading

2. Rationales: 77 percent of colleges said that the purpose of their common reading programs
was to foster “community,” or create “common” or “shared” experiences among those on
and near the campus.

3. Recent: More than half of common reading assignments (51 percent) were published
between 2000 and 2013, and only five books were from before 1900.
4. Non-fiction: 72 percent of assignments were memoirs, biographies, essays, and other

5. Turnover: 82 percent of this year’s titles are different from last year’s. Some books that
were popular a few years ago are now waning or have disappeared. Many new books –
some published as recently as the year in which they were assigned – are being introduced
A nice idea but it sounds like it is without clear purpose, poorly executed and therefore a missed opportunity to help students lay a foundation as productive members of society.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The best laid plans of mice and critical theorists

Very interesting. A house near a high-performing D.C. school will cost you. Here’s how much. by Perry Stein.

There is a major effort on the part of the Federal government to try and increase neighborhood integration by race. It is an initiative doomed to fail both on political and practical grounds. We know from computer simulations that you only have to have a very weak race affiliation or aversion to have, within a few iterations, substantially segregated neighborhoods even when starting with completely randomly distributed populations. We also know that there are innumerable factors beyond race affiliation that go into home purchasing decisions.

As Big Data, internet, and computing skills keep working their magic, these trends of self-segregation (on factors beyond simple race affiliation or aversion) will continue to subvert the best efforts of central planners.

Stein's article is dealing with a simple and very practical problem and using big data to solve that problem. There is nothing antithetical or malign going on. If I have a low paying job but I highly value education for my child, where can I look for a home in Washington, D.C.?
The District’s oft-talked about millennial boom has led to a baby boom. Between 2010 and 2013, the number of children younger than 5 has increased by almost 20 percent in the District, from 33,000 to 39,000, according to Census figures.

Strong public schools are crucial in helping to retain these millennials so they don’t decamp for the suburbs as soon as their children hit school age. And if these families don’t want to fork up college-like tuition for a private elementary school or rely on the increasingly competitive charter school lottery system — where about 44 percent of the city’s students are enrolled — they’re going to have to rely on their neighborhood public school.

So how much does it cost to purchase a house within the boundaries of what is considered to be a high-performing school? A lot. The median price for a typical three-bedroom home, for instance, zoned for a D.C. Public School elementary school where 80 percent or more students are proficient or advanced in reading costs more than $800,000.

The always-interesting District, Measured — a blog from the city’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer — sifted through this data to determine how much it would cost to purchase a house in a neighborhood zoned for a top public elementary school. The main, and expected, takeaway: The best schools are not equally distributed throughout the city. The most expensive homes and best schools are in upper Northwest neighborhoods, and the cheapest homes are east of the river, along with a high concentration of low-performing schools.

The median sales price of a house in a school zone where 60 to 80 percent of students are proficient or advanced in reading will run between the high $600,000s to more than $1 million.

The interactive graph below plots public elementary schools based on their test scores and the median sales price for a three-bedroom home in that school’s boundaries. Typically, the higher the test scores, the higher it costs to live there. There are neighborhoods, like Logan Circle and Petworth, that have experienced rapidly rising housing costs in recent years, though their schools, when measured by test scores, are not high-performing.
Stein goes on to show that you can use this data, a mash-up of real estate costs and school testing results to pinpoint where in the district you can find both cheap housing and good schools.

There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, this is an excellent use of big data. And you don't have to restrict yourself to good schools. You could do a similar mash-up for crime, for commute times, for restaurant density, etc.

From an economist's point of view, this is near ideal because you are getting a very close match between buyers and sellers with complete visibility of purchase specifications and availability. If, after an evening crunching the numbers, you can determine objectively that neighborhood X meets all your specifications in terms of what you are willing to pay, what quality of school you are willing to have, what kind of crime level you are willing to endure, how long you are willing to commute, etc. then your search becomes very efficient. I scan what is currently available in neighborhood X and buy what best meets my aesthetic interests or I wait until something closer to my interests turns up in that area. That is incredible efficiency and to be highly desired. It takes much of the uncertainty, risk and operational effort out of the house buying process.

But that is not all it does. Look at the maps in the article. Postmodernist ideologues steeped in critical theory look at these maps and see people self-segregating themselves based on race aversion or affiliation. But what this data illustrates clearly is that neighborhoods are self-segregating based on all sorts of choices, that may never be based on race and yet still have race segregation outcomes if there are differences in expressed desires that vary by race (or more correctly by culture, race being just a proxy for culture.) If one group values safety or education or reduced commute times or access to restaurants or whatever, more than another group, then big data and universal internet access will accelerate that assortative affiliation where like finds like.

This big data enables people to make better decisions to match their critical life choices. What this data crunching by Stein reveals is that there is an opportunity for low income people who highly value good education to find homes in Southwest Washington. I am willing to bet that SW Washington and the area around Nalle Elementary is likely to see a surge in gentrification. That is not bad in itself unless you are committed to trying to integrate neighborhoods. People's free choices tend to trump the narrow biases or preferences of the ideologically committed.

Many a meadhall filled with men’s joys,

I have referenced the wonderful antique riddles of The Exeter Book in the past. The Exeter Book is almost like an ancient file folder, many disparate items bound together. One of these is a poem, The Ruins, in Old English which is widely assumed to reflect an ancient Briton's (circa 800) view of the shattered remnants of Imperial Rome in the British Isles, probably Bath. You can sense Tolkien reflecting these visions.

The pages are damaged and, appropriate to its theme of decay and despair, it peters into oblivion at the end.

The Ruin

Wondrous is this foundation – the fates have broken
and shattered this city; the work of giants crumbles.
The roofs are ruined, the towers toppled,
frost in the mortar has broken the gate,
torn and worn and shorn by the storm, 5
eaten through with age. The earth’s grasp
holds the builders, rotten, forgotten,
the hard grip of the ground, until a hundred
generations of men are gone. This wall, rust-stained
and covered with moss, has seen one kingdom after another,
stood in the storm, steep and tall, then tumbled.
The foundation remains, felled by the weather,
it fell…..
grimly ground up ….
……cleverly created….
…… a crust of mud surrounded …
….. put together a swift
and subtle system of rings; one of great wisdom
wondrously bound the braces together with wires.
Bright were the buildings, with many bath-houses,
high noble gables and a great noise of armies,
many a meadhall filled with men’s joys,
until mighty fate made an end to all that.
The slain fell on all sides, plague-days came,
and death destroyed all the brave swordsmen; 25
the seats of their idols became empty wasteland,
the city crumbled, its re-builders collapsed
beside their shrines. So now these courts are empty,
and the rich vaults of the vermilion roofs
shed their tiles. The ruins toppled to the ground,
broken into rubble, where once many a man
glad-minded, gold-bright, bedecked in splendor,
proud, full of wine, shone in his war-gear,
gazed on treasure, on silver, on sparkling gems,
on wealth, on possessions, on the precious stone,
9 35
on this bright capital of a broad kingdom.
Stone buildings stood, the wide-flowing stream
threw off its heat; a wall held it all
in its bright bosom where the baths were,
hot in its core, a great convenience.
They let them gush forth …..
the hot streams over the great stones,
until the circular pool …. hot…
…..where the baths were.
….. that is a noble thing,
how …. the city ….

Thursday, July 23, 2015

We’ve had very little slavery here

My response to a member of a listserv to which I belong. She observed her book club was dealing with slavery in the coming month and made the observation that there was very little slavery in the history of Australia (where she resides). It struck me as an odd comment given relatively well known historical facts of Australian history. It then occurred to me that this might perhaps be an instance where we fail to recognize an issue simply because we have named it something else. It is also an example, I suspect, of the tendency in some circles to identify slavery as strictly a US phenomenon when in fact slavery is a long lived global institution.

My response in its entirety.
That should be an interesting conversation. I think your statement “we’ve had very little slavery here” is a fascinating example of framing. Not that it is wrong but rather that it serves as a catalyst to understand what we mean by slavery. A rose by any other name is still a rose. Every culture and every nation has slavery in its past, it is only a matter of how recently and what it was called. It is common to fail to acknowledge slavery because it does not fit the common US archetype of agricultural slavery as part of the larger mercantilist system. However, while there were a couple of aspects distinctive to the US, much else was common to all other regions of the world.

The two significant differences were that the US was the one industrializing country where slavery was an integral part of the economy on its home shores. Britain’s slavery was financially vital and integral to the economy but in terms of numbers it was virtually all far away in the colonies. Likewise with France. The second difference was in the timing and means of ending slavery. There were four models. Haiti abolished slavery through slave revolt, though they continued what amounted to serfdom for both plantations and defense construction. The Haitian model was one of violence, both in the revolt itself and the genocide of whites after its success. The second model was that of Britain and France where slavery was abolished in increments from 1810 through 1900, initially focusing on outlawing slave trading and then eventually actual abolition of slavery itself both in the metropolitan as well as, gradually, in each of the colonies. This gradual model was, with exceptions, more peaceful. Britain tended to buy out slave owners and France tended to operate by decree and expropriation. The third model covers most of the rest of the world where slavery in one form or another continued to exist into modern times, falling into abeyance more from social pressure and economic irrelevance rather than through effective enforcement of laws. This model was the least violent but also the longest lasting. The fourth model was the American one where the deep philosophical contradiction between the Enlightenment ideals of the Constitution and the reality of slavery was finally resolved through violent warfare with 600,000 dead (nearly 5% of adult males). While this war brought slavery (trading and ownership) to an abrupt end, and relatively early compared to elsewhere, it did not resolve many attendant economic and social issues.

So, no, Australia did not have the classic New World agricultural form of slavery upon which a whole regional economy depended, but Australia has had its own versions. As a British colony, Australia followed the gradualist model subject to the British laws regarding de jure slavery meaning that the trade of slaves was effectively outlawed in 1810 and ownership eventually outlawed IIRC sometime in the 1830s. But the difference between de jure and de facto was as stark in Australia as in the rest of the world.

Kanakas certainly (60,000 imported to work the Queensland sugar plantations), and arguably the Japanese pearlers in Broome. The last groups of Australian Aborigines were granted the vote in 1967 along with access to government services and benefits but the descendants of the South Sea Island slaves in Australia remained unrecognized. Australians were certainly heavily involved in and drove much of the blackbirding trade across the South Pacific (kidnapping populations from some islands to work mines, fields or guano deposits on other islands) throughout the nineteenth century. The relative scarcity of classic agricultural slaves in mainland Australia is only part of the story. But while we think of slavery in the US as just what occurred in the agricultural fields of the South, other forms existed as well. US 19th century merchants were also involved in blackbirding in the Pacific and Richard Henry Dana talks about Kanakas in California (still a Spanish possession at that time) in the 1830s in his classic, Two Years Before the Mast.

Separate from archetypal slavery, there was the treatment of Aborigines. Both during colonial times and after federation, the states ran various schemes relocating Aboriginal people from their homes to work on stations all across Australia with nominal or no compensation. This was discussed recently on ABC ( Not quite slavery but recognizably close to it. Possibly closer to Russia’s serfdom or something between formal slavery and sharecropping as it existed in the South post Civil War (though in the US, sharecropping included both black and white populations). Ted Egan’s song, The Drover’s Boy ( can be heard as a tragic love song but it barely masks the reality of enslavement.

There is a very interesting discussion to be had of the continuum/definition of slavery. Does indentured servitude (some of which Australia had but not nearly as much as in the US) count? There are good arguments for and against. In an age when average life spans were 35-40, a seven year indentured servitude contract entered into at 25 had a good chance of being a life sentence. In addition, and more pertinent to the Australian circumstance, where do exiled convicts reside on that continuum of circumscribed freedom, particularly when it is in the context of the 19th century when transportation and exile could be for such minor crimes, in our minds, as theft of food. The song Moreton Bay sung by Marion Henderson is a heartbreaking lament of the plight of convicts (

The final element in the Australian example has to do with the British transportation of Irish to the penal colonies. Was it criminal enforcement in a harsher world or was it a form of slavery or was it a form of ethnic cleansing? Or all three? You look at the British authorities’ correspondence and commentary about the “Irish Race” from that period and it is clear that the Irish were viewed as a lesser form of human life with a corresponding reduction in concern for safety and welfare. The topic of slavery is wrenching but a fascinating one in terms of pinning down exactly what we mean by the term. In the US context, we are insularly interested, for good historical reasons, in our own form of Southern agricultural slavery, but tend to overlook the wider historical context (US slavery being a small fraction of the Old World to New World slave trade) and ignoring all the other instances in which one group of people sought to dehumanize and enslave other groups of people, both within the US and in the global context. It is interesting to compare US attitudes with those in other countries. In the US, slavery is inextricably tied up with race but elsewhere, enslavement was most often intra-racial with enslavement being more associated with outsider status, class, or enemy populations.

Regrettably, we are not done with slavery yet. In its economic institutional form, it is gone. But there are some spots in the world where it remains de facto. Across the Middle East, guest workers from poor countries in Asia (Bangladesh and Philippines in particular, but also other poor Arab nations) have virtually no rights. We never speak of it as such but the tens of thousands of amahs across Asia, including among thousands of Western expatriates, come close to indentured servitude.

Finally, there are forms of slavery which are very modern but which we turn away from considering as slavery such as human trafficking in general and sex trafficking in particular. (See for example, Walk Free Foundation slavery report reveals 3000 slaves living in Australia;

While our literary representation of slavery is rich with stories from the US and to a much smaller degree from the British Empire, stories about slavery in all its forms around the world are much harder to find, particularly among children’s books, even though it was far more prevalent outside the Anglosphere. I am not trying to pick on Australia in these comments. In the scheme of things, it was very late to the game and therefore missed most of the worst excesses seen in other regions of the world. I think you could argue that Australia had very little slavery in the model of the antebellum US but you could equally argue that it just had different forms of slavery called by different terms. It is a matter of which tragedies are included and which excluded.

All of which is to say that from a global reading perspective, we tend to view slavery as a US southeastern agricultural economy race phenomenon which ended 150 years ago when in fact it is a global, economic, social, cultural phenomenon taking many shapes and forms and still in existence to varying degrees and called by different names around the world. I imagine your group will have some very interesting discussions.

MSM exploitation of their own reading demographic

"I’m the mom whose encounter with an angry Maine diner owner went viral. Here’s what happened..." from Ann Althouse. She is commenting on an original article in the Washington Post. She says
An annoying person gets a forum in The Washington Post. I'm only interested in reading the comments, of which there are over 5,000 in less than one day.
Actually, she doesn't comment at all, she quotes the top three Washington Post comments which are all derisory of the mom, her cluelessness and her selfishness. It seems like the mom, Tara Carson, was seeking sympathy but instead has attracted instead all the pack-like condemnation of which the internet is capable. You have to wonder, does it take an internet storm for her to realize that inflicting a screaming child for forty minutes on a bunch of strangers is not considered well mannered behavior? And where is her home training?

But that's not the only article Althouse highlights. This time it is one from the New York Times. "Another article about an top-tier MBA-grad that is supposed to represent millennial women?". Again Althouse refrains from commenting herself, instead quoting a NYT commenter to the effect that privilege, class, and entitlement are blinding the NYT writers to how out of touch they appear to everyone else. The original article is More Than Their Mothers, Young Women Plan Career Pauses by Claire Cain Miller.

The embedded and otherwise invisible classism is referenced early in the article.
A variety of survey data shows that educated, working young women are more likely than those before them to expect their career and family priorities to shift over time.
Sure, it is interesting to track sociological trends and changes. But this isn't really new news at all. It has been going on for three decades and more. The limiting factor is in those four words, "educated, working young women." I.e. about 10% of the population, and definitely the richer 10% of the population.

The journalistic catering seems so blatant that it comes across as nauseating but I suspect that if you have sufficiently thick blinders, it is not so blatant.
The surveys highlighted that two generations after women entered the business world in large numbers, it can still be hard for women to work. Even those with the highest career ambitions are more likely than their predecessors to plan to scale back at work at certain times or to seek out flexible jobs.
Plenty of robust studies and surveys show that there is virtually no difficulty for women entering the business world and succeeding to exactly the same extent as their male peers. Again, not new news. This has been documented across the OECD for more than twenty years. The journalistic sleight of hand is that Miller is comparing apples and oranges. It is easy for women to work and succeed. It is hard to do that in combination with children. That is the rub of the issue. Miller is pandering to her audience by framing this as an unfair system doing a disservice to women in general. That is not the case. What Miller is trying to hide is that choices have consequences. Choose to have no children and you will do as well as your comparable male colleague. Choose to have children and have your spouse be the primary care giver, and you will do as well as your comparable male colleague. Choose to have children and go part time, take a pause, etc. and you will do as well as your comparable male colleague. Where you won't do as well is if you take a pause and then compare your outcomes to those of a colleague (male or female) who continues working. This is the journalistic deception and pandering.

Conservatives have long argued, rather cruelly, that the non-news portions of the New York Times are written for the interests of the 1%, wealthy, college educated (indeed graduate educated), metropolitan living, champaign liberal women. It does not help refute that contention that the two studies cited in the article are the career outcomes for Harvard and Wharton MBA women.

I think Althouse is on to something larger than simply citing two major newspapers making embarrassing arguments on behalf of well educated, upper class white collar women. Or at least, I see a point, whether or not it is the one to which Althouse might be alluding.

More in the NYT than in the WP, but I have sensed a trend in the past couple of years in both. I think it perhaps relates to news organizations becoming more and more attuned to website traffic. The more readers of an article, the more it should be attractive to advertisers. Within limits, as illustrated by the current travails of Gawker. That trend is towards clickbait articles such as the I’m the mom whose encounter with an angry Maine diner owner went viral. Here’s what happened by Tara Carson.

What I am interested in are the editorial ethics. An article such as this has virtually no news content or interest. It is, I suspect, readily predictable that it will generate a lot of views and that many of those viewing will have a negative take on the writer, Carson and will comment accordingly. Carson is presumably representative of the paper's target demographic, privileged, professional, urban, well educated, wealthy women. The editors are giving members of that demographic platforms to write articles about themselves which can be anticipated to excite derision and mockery.

I see why the papers want to do this from a commercial perspective. It's all click throughs and viewers and traffic volumes. But surely they should be exercising some moral judgment as well. It doesn't happen every day, but perhaps weekly, I will see either in the NYT or the Washington Post, or both, some article of this nature where your first thought is "What were they thinking writing this?" What was the author thinking writing something that would make them look so bad? What was the editor doing to let that article through? It just seems exploitive.

Syndicated columnist - It's OK to commit unconscionable acts as long as it is against people beneath me and my class

From Sensitivity Over at Gawker by Froma Harrop. An interesting article when you read with a jaundiced eye. Harrop covers the current Gawker problems.
Denton recently pulled an item about a married media executive's allegedly seeking the services of a gay porn star, after about a half-million people saw it. He and other moguls in the nastier corners of the Internet are noting that though hits on such stories may reach stratospheric levels, advertisers don't want to get within smelling distance of the reportage.
OK. A trade-off decision. How sleazy are you willing to be in order to generate revenue. This is where cultural values begin to matter as they set up some limiting principle regarding the lengths to which someone will pursue a line of logic. There's lot's of good revenue you can pull in if you are willing to sail safely within the law but outside of morality.

There's definitely a note of schadenfreude in Harrop's piece. I am guessing she is a mainstream media type for whom Gawker represents an unwelcome intrusion into the authority of journalism and into the advertising revenue stream. There isn't much professional courtesy in her account of Gawker's perilous finances.
Meanwhile, Hulk Hogan is suing Gawker for posting a video of the wrestler having sex with someone else's wife. The wronged spouse is Hogan's friend, a shock jock going under the name of Bubba the Love Sponge. (In this world, humiliation is something one inflicts unto others.)

Anyhow, Hogan's lawyers are asking for $100 million, and if they were to get even a small part of it, Denton would be in trouble. He might be forced to sell the company or surrender much of his equity to others. Outside investors are now keeping their distance until the Hogan case is resolved, the Journal reports.
What struck me, though, was the embedded classism. Gawker has revealed private information about two individuals, both with public profiles, one as an entertainer in the sports industry and the other as an executive of a major media company. But they are not equally entitled to privacy in Harrop's mind.
It's one thing for a liberal site such as Gawker to mortify an entertainer in professional wrestling -- home of casual homophobic slurs -- and quite another to out a gay man of high social status. In this case, the victim was media giant Conde Nast's chief financial officer -- a husband, father of three and brother of former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
What Harrop appears to be saying is that it is OK for Gawker to humiliate a public figure if they are a low class athlete with opinions different from her own but it is not OK to do so if they are part of her own social network and class.

Well. Its an opinion that doesn't reflect well on Harrop but at least it is a logically consistent form of bias and discrimination. And at least she is, perhaps unintentionally, open about it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Blunt, Inelegant and Usefully true

Both blunt and inelegant but probably reasonably robust.