Thursday, March 31, 2016

Diversity chicken and egg question

Interested to come across by chance two research papers which 1) rebut the common wisdom and 2) comport with commonsense.

The issue is whether diversity on company boards improves company performance or not. The right-thinking argument is that they do. Diversity always includes gender diversity, usually racial diversity, sometimes industry diversity and occasionally geographical diversity. They almost never include class diversity.

The complicating factor is that large companies usually only get focused on board diversity once they have become successful. Diversity almost comes across as a luxury which they can now afford. Once a company has established itself and become part of the regulatory system, there are big dividends to head nod towards the diversity advocates. But that doesn't answer the real, underlying, question. Does board diversity precede company success and can that diversity be credited for better decision-making.

In theory the idea is attractive and plausible. But counterarguments are easy to conjure as well.

When Passionate Advocates Meet Research on Diversity, Does the Honest Broker Stand a Chance? by Alice H. Eagly argues that there is no causative relationship between outcomes and nominal board diversity.
In an ideal world, social science research would provide a strong basis for advocacy and social policy. However, advocates sometimes misunderstand or even ignore scientific research in pursuit of their goals, especially when research pertains to controversial questions of social inequality. To illustrate the chasm that can develop between research findings and advocates’ claims, this article addresses two areas: (a) the effects of the gender diversity of corporate boards of directors on firms’ financial performance and (b) the effects of the gender and racial diversity of workgroups on group performance. Despite advocates’ insistence that women on boards enhance corporate performance and that diversity of task groups enhances their performance, research findings are mixed, and repeated meta-analyses have yielded average correlational findings that are null or extremely small. Therefore, social scientists should (a) conduct research to identify the conditions under which the effects of diversity are positive or negative and (b) foster understanding of the social justice gains that can follow from diversity. Unfortunately, promulgation of false generalizations about empirical findings can impede progress in both of these directions. Rather than ignoring or furthering distortions of scientific knowledge to fit advocacy goals, scientists should serve as honest brokers who communicate consensus scientific findings to advocates and policy makers in an effort to encourage exploration of evidence-based policy options.
OK. One study. But it wasn't the only one that randomly floated across my radar in the past 24 hours.

The second one was Does Gender Diversity Promote Nonconformity? by Makan Amini, et al.
Failure to express minority views may distort the behavior of company boards, committees, juries, and other decision-making bodies. Devising a new experimental procedure to measure such conformity in a judgment task, we compare the degree of conformity in groups with varying gender composition. Overall, our experiments offer little evidence that gender composition affects expression of minority views. A robust finding is that a subject’s lack of ability predicts both a true propensity to accept others’ judgment (informational social influence) and a propensity to agree despite private doubt (normative social influence). Thus, as an antidote to conformity in our experiments, high individual ability seems more effective than group diversity.
Two papers in twentyfour hours rebutting the received wisdom. A swallow does not Spring make nor do two papers answer the underlying question. But they are interesting and I hope that they are a harbinger of informed decision-making over emotional advocacy.

My suspicion is that diversity does matter but in different forms than it currently takes and under particular circumstances.

My guess is that boards with a mix of accomplished executives from different industries (and even countries) along with non-business leaders with demonstrated accomplishments are those best prepared to 1) work together constructively even with differing viewpoints, 2) stand firm on facts, 3) bring a diversity of experience to bear on particular decisions, and 4) challenge CEOs on the most critical decisions.

I think the greatest corporate risk is simply deferral to the CEO. The supineness of boards in the face of strong CEOs is common. Only accomplished peers (in industry or out) who have confidence in their capacities are likely to demonstrate the will to challenge.

Non-business leaders who are currently on boards tend to be advocacy people, academics, community leaders of one sort or another. Fine as far as it goes but they usually do not have the accomplishments and experience to pick their battles and lead challenges when they need to be led.

So, for me, the question is not whether boards need to be diverse. I believe they do. The question is what type of diversity do they need (diversity of accomplishments rather than diversity of gender and race), and to what degree do they need diversity under what circumstances? That is where our research ought to trend. We are at the very beginning and we have a long way to go.

In the most recent recession, it would be interesting to see what correlation there might be between company failure and board diversity. For example, we know two of the car companies failed as did multiple financial institutions. These are exactly the companies whose success a decade earlier led them to pad their boards with diverse talent defined on gender and race. The received wisdom is that those companies should have had better decision-making and therefore failed less frequently than companies with non-diverse boards. I would not be surprised if the data contradicted that assumption.

My suspicion is that the current definition of board diversity is essentially just a form of corporate virtue signalling and therefore is either uncorrelated or negatively correlated with future company success.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Working Together

An old friend JM introduced me to a new poet and one of his poems. I am looking forward to finding more.

Working Together
by David Whyte

We shape our self
to fit this world

and by the world
are shaped again.

The visible
and the invisible

working together
in common cause,

to produce
the miraculous.

I am thinking of the way
the intangible air

passed at speed
round a shaped wing

holds our weight.

So may we, in this life

to those elements
we have yet to see

or imagine,
and look for the true

shape of our own self,
by forming it well

to the great
intangibles about us.

-- from The House of Belonging
©1996 Many Rivers Press

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Misery from prejudicial coercive decision making

From Banning credit checks harms African-Americans by Tyler Cowen.

Two separate studies are referenced which illustrate the danger of coercive power used with good intentions but bad consequences. In one, African-Americans are assumed to be disproportionately discriminated against in hiring when their credit history is available. Real world research indicates otherwise.

But a new study from Robert Clifford, an economist at the Boston Fed, and Daniel Shoag, an assistant professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, finds that when employers are prohibited from looking into people’s financial history, something perverse happens: African-Americans become more likely to be unemployed relative to others.

…What’s surprising is how that redistribution happened. In states that passed credit-check bans, it became easier for people with bad credit histories to compete for employment. But disproportionately, they seem to have elbowed aside black job-seekers.
In the second set of research, there is a similar assumption that allowing employers to administer drug tests will result in disproportionate impact on African-American, leading to a ban on drug testing. Again, real world research indicates the opposite.
A powerful study published last year in the Review of Economics and Statistics shows something of the opposite happening: When employers began to require drug tests for job applicants, they started hiring more African-Americans.
“The likely explanation for these findings is that prior to drug testing, employers overestimated African-Americans’ drug use relative to whites,” the study’s author explained in an op-ed. Drug tests allowed black job applicants to disprove the incorrect perception that they were addicts.
It’s possible that credit checks were playing a similar role to drug tests, offering a counterbalance to inherent biases or assumptions about black job-seekers.
Three conclusions seem equally valid. First, whatever the good intentions might be, no action should be taken without research.

Second, centralized decision-makers should not be regarded as beneficient. They carry negative prejudices against everyone. They carry negative stereotypes of African-Americans and they assume the worst motives of employers. Neither assumption is warranted.

Thirdly, and I think more fundamentally, no action should be taken based on empty assumptions. Always test the evidence first. You can save yourself a lot of misery that way.

Monday, March 28, 2016

What books would you take?

I have read several accounts of Shackleton's 1914 exploratory expedition to the Antarctic, my favorite probably being Endurance by Alfred Lansing.

There are all sorts of archaeology and some of it is a new capacity to reconstruct the recent past. What books were taken to the Antarctic 100 years ago? by Paul Kerley is an example of this phenomenon. There is a photograph of Sir Ernest Shackleton's cabin in the Endurance and on the far wall are shelves of the books he brought with him for the multi-year expedition. The glare and resolution mean that they are simply generic books. However, the Royal Geographic Society recently digitized the expedition's photographs and in that process were able to recapture the necessary resolution and glare control to reveal the books Shackleton brought with him.

A fascinating glimpse into utilitarian and recreational reading on a life-and-death expedition in 1914. In terms of recreation, lots of mysteries and detective stories. There's a copy of Joseph Conrad's first novel.

Interesting insights to a mind of a century ago. Conrad's novel was only a forerunner of his later, more literary work, but it has attracted complimentary attention in recent years as an early instance of a strong female protagonist. There seems to be a proto feminist side to this leader of manly men. In addition to Conrad, there is The Woman's View by Herbert Flowerdew (love the name) which is an advocacy of women's rights. The Morals of Marcus Ordeyne, World's End and Thou Fool are all essentially relationship books. I have linked some of the books to free e-book editions.

Encyclopedia Britannica
Seven short plays by Lady Gregory
Perch of the devil by Getrude Atherton
Pip by Ian Hey
Plays: pleasant and unpleasant, Vol 2 Pleasant by G B Shaw
Almayer's folly by Joseph Conrad
Dr Brewer's readers handbook
The Brassbounder by David Bone
The case of Miss Elliott by Emmuska Orczy
Raffles by EW Hornung
The Grand Babylon Hotel by Arnold Bennett
Pros and cons: a newspaper reader's and debater's guide to the leading controversies of the day by JB Askew
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Woman's view by Herbert Flowerdew
Thou Fool by JJ Bell
The Message of Fate by Louis Tracy
The Barrier by Rex Beach
Manual of English Grammar and Composition by Nesfield
A book of light verse
Oddsfish by Robert Hugh Benson
Poetical works of Shelley
Monsieur de Rochefort by H De Vere Stacpoole
Voyage of the Vega by Nordenskjold
The threshold of the unknown region by Clements Markham
Cassell's book of quotations by W Gurney Benham
The concise Oxford dictionary
Chambers biographical dictionary
Cassell's new German-English English-German dictionary
Chambers 20th Century dictionary
The northwest passage by Roald Amundsen
The voyage of the Fox in Arctic seas by McClintock
Whitaker's almanac
World's end by Amelie Rives
Potash and perlmutter by Montague Glass
Round the horn before the mast by A Basil Lubbock
The witness for the defence by AEW Mason
Five years of my life by Alfred Dreyfuss
The morals of Marcus Ordeyne by William J Locke
The rescue of Greely by Commander Winfield Scott Schley
United States Grinnell Expedition by Dr Kane
Three years of Arctic service by Greely
Voyage to the Polar Sea by Nares
Journal of HMS Enterprise by Collinson

Sunday, March 27, 2016

I preferred characters who carried off their unreality with conviction.

From Slightly Foxed No. 49, Spring 2016. Old Devil in a Dog-Collar by Linda Leatherbarrow, page 87. Reviewing Lorna Sage's Bad Blood . On Lorna Sage, her father and her childhood reading.
He taught her to read before she was 4 and she would take down the books from the shelves in his study and puzzle over the big words while he worked on his sermons. Her name, which he chose for her, came from one of those books - Lorna Doone. Of her early reading she writes: "I didn't want to meet lifelike characters. I preferred characters who carried off their unreality with conviction."

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Life is larger than books.

From By the Book by Álvaro Enrigue.

Books can be enormously transformative. A particular book, for a particular child, at a particular time, under very particular circumstances. Otherwise, books are often like the air. We move through it with the most minor of consequence.

Many wish to believe that books are so consistently consequential that they impute enormous concern into the selection of those books, the words that are used, the impressions that might be made, slights and stereotypes communicated, etc. So much worry over nothing. There is no evidence supporting that there is any measurable impact between individual books or even genres of literature and life outcomes. The determining variable is the act of reading, not what is read.

It is also easy to lose sight that even for enthusiastic readers, books are only a small, small proportion of their cumulative daily experience and knowledge. A point made by Enrigue.
If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?
Life is larger than books. Any bully has more character-building effects on you than the most moving of books.

Friday, March 25, 2016

This is one of the oddities of London

From Slightly Foxed No. 49, Spring 2016. London at War by Juliet Gardiner, page 83. Reviewing Michael MacDonagh's In London During the Great War (1935).
In November 1916, the journalist-diarist noted the number of 'War Shrines' to be seen in the more residential and crowded areas of central London 'where neighbourliness prevails':
Usually the shrine is a decorated wooden tablet surrounded by a cross, put up at a street corner and containing the names of those from the street who are serving in the Army or the Navy or who have been killed in action. There is a ledge for a vase of flowers . . . I have not noticed any shrines in suburban districts where people might live for years yet know nothing of their next-door neighbors . . . this is one of the oddities of London.
Regrettably there is a steep memory discount with the passing years. In old prep schools in England and and the East coast of the US, and in old churches and in the little country towns of England which are the reservoir of immemorial English spirit, I find it still chilling, saddening and moving to see the long banners of the long ago lost dead and on the memorial monument in the town center. Much like the similar monuments in small Southern towns to the dead of that long ago War Between the States.

The dead are long gone as are even those who knew and mourned those dead. The stories have evaporated into the ether. But we who are modern and unconnected would do well to visit those memorials and speak those names and to remember
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
It is gruesome and morbid to dwell too long on past tragedies but they should not be forgotten. Those past pains, agonies and anguishes should serve as judicious council of life's seriousness and serve as a sojourn from the quotidian trivialities and the contrived passions which can carry us into similar storms of our own making.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Class and prosocialness

From A Large Scale Test of the Effect of Social Class on Prosocial Behavior by Martin Korndörfer, Boris Egloff, Stefan C. Schmukle.
Does being from a higher social class lead a person to engage in more or less prosocial behavior? Psychological research has recently provided support for a negative effect of social class on prosocial behavior. However, research outside the field of psychology has mainly found evidence for positive or u-shaped relations. In the present research, we therefore thoroughly examined the effect of social class on prosocial behavior. Moreover, we analyzed whether this effect was moderated by the kind of observed prosocial behavior, the observed country, and the measure of social class. Across eight studies with large and representative international samples, we predominantly found positive effects of social class on prosociality: Higher class individuals were more likely to make a charitable donation and contribute a higher percentage of their family income to charity (32,090 ≥ N ≥ 3,957; Studies 1–3), were more likely to volunteer (37,136 ≥ N ≥ 3,964; Studies 4–6), were more helpful (N = 3,902; Study 7), and were more trusting and trustworthy in an economic game when interacting with a stranger (N = 1,421; Study 8) than lower social class individuals. Although the effects of social class varied somewhat across the kinds of prosocial behavior, countries, and measures of social class, under no condition did we find the negative effect that would have been expected on the basis of previous results reported in the psychological literature. Possible explanations for this divergence and implications are discussed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

People simply do not notice whatever great moments of history are being enacted around

From Slightly Foxed No. 49, Spring 2016. The Sadness of Mrs. Bridge by William Palmer, page 70. Summarizing the context of the novel under review.
Mrs. Bridge lives in a wealthy suburb of Kansas City, inhabited by respectable and well-off families, most of whom vote Republican in a United States recently carried by a landslide victory by Roosevelt and the Democrats. The Depression hardly affects the Bridges and their neighbours. Their only contact with black people is to employ them as servants, and those servants go home at night to parts of the city the Bridges would not dream of visiting. The genius of Connell is to show that this is how most people live: first in their own minds, then in their families, then in their limited social circles; most historical novels fail to realize that most people simply do not notice whatever great moments of history are being enacted around them unless they actually impinge upon their lives.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

One country, four hemispheres

I can't say that it is useful knowledge but it is at least interesting.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The USA as a continuing global manufacturing powerhouse

It is always hard to maintain perspective and that is one of the roles of hard data. As much as data can be manipulated or misleading, it is also the only means to move beyond simple impressions.

For most my adult life, American manufacturing has been in crisis. From the Japanese invasion of the 1970s to the rust-belt of the 1980s and on to the present. And it is absolutely true that we have been hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs. Politicians left, right, and center decry unfair competition, promise adjustment programs for displaced workers, berate corporations for global outsourcing, etc. In 1980, about 27% of American workers were in the manufacturing sector. Today that number is 13%.

But there is a different perspective. Think about agriculture - a difficult, risky and challenging sector if there ever was one. At one time, more than 80% of the population were farmers. Today, 1.4%. Yes, we lost agricultural jobs, but what happened was two-fold. Better (less back-breaking) jobs were created elsewhere in the economy and at the same time, efficiency in farming shot through the roof. We do not go hungry because we lack food. We produce more than ever. Except we do so with far fewer workers.

The same has been happening with manufacturing as is shown in the table below. The fifteen listed countries account for 80% of global manufacturing. You would think that the US manufacturing base would be a shell of itself after all these years, hollowed-out from decades of underinvestment and unfair foreign competition. That's not what the data says.

Click to enlarge

We are no longer the single largest manufacturer in the world, a position now occupied by China. But we haven't fallen off the map either. The US, with 4.5% of the global population, produces 17.4% of the global value of manufactured goods. We are almost larger than the next three manufacturers combined (Japan, Germany, and Korea).

It is a stark reminder that what you choose to measure has a disproportionate impact on perspective. Yes, we have lost millions of manufacturing jobs with all the attendant social and economic disruption attendant to that. On the other hand, we have retained an enormous industrial sector through improved productivity. The issue is not policy so much as improved global efficiency and competition. Politicians can bewail the facts, but there is little that they can do to reverse the tide. Everyone is producing more with less labor input. If you want more industry it will simply have to be a less labor intensive industry.

There are a couple of other interesting nuggets to be gleaned from the table.

Look at the next three countries after Korea. Hardly countries which most people would likely identify, unprompted, as global manufacturing powerhouses. Italy? Really? Easy to overlook, but there they are. Russia and Brazil? Yep. And where is the mother of the Industrial Revolution? Britain is now responsible for 1.9% of global manufacturing.

What else might be gleaned from this data? A sense of fragility.

Among the top five globally competitive manufacturers, (responsible for nearly 60% of the world's manufacturing), only the US has a balanced national economy. The others are major economies but also frighteningly dependent on the health of the global economy. They export what they manufacture. China (manufacturing 41% of the national economy), Japan (33%), Germany (74%), Korea (83%). The US, productive as its manufacturing is, only depends on 22% of traded goods for its national economic well-being.

It is not that we are immune to events in the global environment. Not at all. But where a global recession or events might slow our economy, it will tank all those others. They are incredibly exposed.

The toast rack as a mark of technological advance

From Slightly Foxed No. 49, Spring 2016. A Victorian Quartet by Sue Gee, page 67. Ronald Knox describes himself as
"A man whose idea of the last really good invention was the toast rack.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Is that Arnold and Arlene Goldstein?

Children live in a different, more magical, more terrifying, more direct, world than adults. One of the pleasures of parenthood is that our children allow us glimpses into that different world that we so long ago left behind.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Displacement through communication technology change

Interesting. Two authors writing years apart out of different contexts, expressing a very similar sentiment and which I come across in different locations within half an hour of each other.

From Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins, written as the forward to his book from 2008.
This book is about the relationship between three concepts—media convergence, participatory culture, and collective intelligence.

Quickly followed by this tweet from Anne Applebaum.

The established order and those who depend on it fear change that threatens its privileged position.

Friday, March 18, 2016

There's nothing new about conflict of interest


Anonymous sources allowed into the chain of custody of the facts of a story

From The Nefertiti 3D Scan Heist Is A Hoax by Cosmo Wenman. The story itself is interesting and worth a read but it was this turn of phrase that caught my eye.
The New York Times has allowed anonymous sources into the chain of custody of the facts of its story.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Some people type faster than they think.

Snarky but funny. From How to talk about the new Ghostbusters movie with friends, family, and commenters by Kaitlyn Tiffany.
For some, the speed with which one can type a sentence and post it onto the internet has greatly outpaced the speed with which one can form a coherent thought.
Guilty, though I prefer to believe less frequently guilty than many others.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Funny economics

Humor in teaching is a much underrated technique.

Click to expand.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

US submarines and Indonesian independence

From Small Wars, Faraway Places by Michael Burleigh. Page 40.
By a unique accident, the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies laid the foundations for an independent nation. Although the Japanese navy swept the Dutch and their British and American allies aside with ease, one Allied submarine managed to sink a transport carrying half the trained administrators sent by Tokyo to take over the government of the vast Indonesian archipelago – it is as wide as the United States, and Sumatra alone is the size of California. Among some Indonesians the Japanese, and their erasure of Dutch-language street signs and place names, were welcomed, although their earliest actions included the dissolution of political parties and the prohibition of the red and white Indonesian nationalist flag. However, the mass internment of Dutch administrators and the deaths of their Japanese replacements meant that educated Indonesians filled thousands of middle- and upper-echelon administrative and technical jobs. These officials soon gained confidence and realized that they did not need Dutch – or Japanese – tutelage to run their country.

Monday, March 14, 2016

International comparisons of time discounting

From How time preferences differ: Evidence from 53 countries by Mei Wanga, Marc Oliver Riegerb, and Thorsten Hens.
We present results from the first large-scale international survey on time preference, conducted in 53 countries. All countries exhibit hyperbolic discounting patterns, i.e., the immediate future is discounted more than far future. We also observe higher heterogeneity for shorter time horizons, consistent with the pattern reviewed by Frederick, Loewenstein, and O’Donoghue (2002). Cultural factors as captured by the Hofstede cultural dimensions (Hofstede, 1991) contribute significantly to the variation of time discounting, even after controlling for economic factors, such as GDP, inflation rate and growth rate. In particular, higher levels of Uncertainty Avoidance are associated with stronger hyperbolic discounting, whereas higher degrees of Individualism and Long Term Orientation predict stronger tendency to wait for larger payoffs. We also find the waiting tendency is correlated with innovation, environmental protection, crediting rating, and body mass index at country level after controlling for county wealth. These results help us to enhance the understanding of differences across financial markets and economic behavior worldwide.
I have long argued that time discounting, both at an individual behavioral level and at a national level, has a measurable causal relationship with good life outcomes and national GDP outcomes. This is also correlated with Trust.

Countries with low cultural trust and individuals with low degrees of trust have a high time discount. They would much rather take a smaller prize today than a larger one later. Countries with a high degree of trust and low time discounts can afford to make long term investments that are likely to have greater long term yields. Interesting to see those suppositions supported by this research.

Analysis, explicable systems, and inexplicable outcomes

A thought.

Root cause analysis only has pertinence to explicable and replicable systems. Root cause analysis depends on the capacity to change individual variables in order to understand the relative impact of those individual variables. Not all outcomes are the result of explicable systems. Many outcomes are the result of a mix of explicable, inexplicable and random systems.

Examples of events arising from non-explicable systems - the popularity of an individual book, movie, song or TV show; the rise and fall in popularity of individuals; the precise weather conditions at a particular location, at a particular time in the distant future; prices; romance; children; many biological systems; many health outcomes from medical or public health policies; etc.

We mix explicable systems (mechanistic systems which we understand and about which we can make precise, accurate and reliable predictions), inexplicable systems (complex systems which we understand in outline but not mechanistically and about which we can not make precise, accurate and reliable forecasts), and random systems (systems about which we have little or no understanding).

Contemporarily inexplicable and random systems, through research and analysis, can yield information that moves them into the explicable systems column. Think about the movement of planets and stars - once inexplicable but now largely explicable.

Inexplicable and random systems are subject to fruitful speculation and conjecture without yet being explicable. Root cause analysis is an invaluable tool with explicable systems. The problem is that it is inherently less reliable when applied to inexplicable and random systems.

You can speculate about how an inexplicable system generates a given outcome and then seemingly apply root cause analysis based on those predicate assumptions and demonstrate that the root cause analysis is consistent with the speculation. But that is essentially a tautological exercise. More precisely, however, all such an exercise does is increase the plausibility of the speculation (if it is indeed consistent with the hypothesis). It cannot, without explicability and replication, actually provide an affirmation. Alternate speculations can simultaneously be equally plausible.

The challenge is to disentangle what type of system with which we are dealing. If it is explicable, then it is possible to speak with authority and confidence.

Most outcomes are the result of inexplicable and random systems. In that case, we can speak with some rationality about plausibility but we cannot speak with authority.

It seems to me that too often, in public discourse, we are blind to these distinctions. Opinions are offered as facts based on a primal/emotional belief in one class of speculation over another.

One question sorts the wheat from the chaff - Is the system reliably explicable? If yes, then great, it is just a matter of making sure the data is correct and the right functions have been performed. Checking the math as it were.

If the answer is no, the system is inexplicable or random, then all conclusions can be usefully parked as speculative.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

He had one of the greatest minds of the twelfth century

From Small Wars, Faraway Places by Michael Burleigh. Page 37.
While Leclerc was commander-in-chief Indochina, de Gaulle’s new High Commissioner was Admiral Thierry d’Argenlieu, a militant rightwing Catholic and former Carmelite friar. A member of his staff said he ‘had one of the greatest minds of the twelfth century’.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Hot bestseller

Searching for an out of print book by an obscure English curate of the last century, I come across - An Annotated Checklist of Nebraskan Bats by J. Knox Jones and Olin L. Webb. A work so encompassing it required two authors.

I love the obscurity of some books that digitization is making accessible.

Gracey relied on his Gurkhas and surrendered Japanese to expel the Viet Minh.

From Small Wars, Faraway Places by Michael Burleigh. Page 33.
The Potsdam conference arranged in the summer of 1945 to reorder the world is often viewed through an exclusively European optic, as reflected in the fact that the Big Three were actually the Big Four, for Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek was present along with Harry S. Truman (Roosevelt’s successor), Stalin and Churchill. The conference was concerned with winning the ongoing war with Japan and unmaking its empire in South-east Asia. It was decreed that China and Britain should occupy Indochina above and below the 16th parallel, but Al Patti’s OSS units returned to Vietnam, nominally to secure Allied POWs and civilian internees still in Japanese captivity. This gave them a ringside seat to observe how Ho created a fait accompli to pre-empt the restoration of colonial authority. He sent his men into Hanoi across the Doumer Bridge over the Red River to force the abdication of Bao Dai. The capital of Tonkin was bedecked with lanterns, flowers and red banners with the five golden stars, all under the eyes of 30,000 Japanese troops. On 2 September 1945 at a massed meeting on Place Puginier in front of the former Governor-General’s Hanoi Palace, Ho proclaimed Vietnamese independence. There were some deliberate nods to his OSS friends in the wording of his speech:
‘All men are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ This immortal statement appeared in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. In a broader sense, it means: All the peoples on earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live and to be happy and free. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, made at the time of the French Revolution, in 1791, also states: ‘All men are born free and with equal rights, and must always remain free and have equal rights.’
He asked the crowd, ‘My fellow countrymen, have you understood?’‘Yes!’ the crowd roared back. Standing alongside Patti, General Giap gave a clenched-fist salute when the band struck up the ‘Star Spangled Banner’. The French were appalled by this. A more senior US team tried to pin down Ho’s political views, but was fobbed off with evasive vagaries: ‘I have difficulty remembering some parts of my long life. That is the problem of being an old revolutionary.’ Meanwhile his regime in Hanoi made short work of any ideological opponents. In addition to a new state security apparatus, the Communists encouraged the creation of ‘traitor elimination committees’ and an ‘Assault Assassination Committee’ whose victims were liberal nationalists, Trotskyites and women who had married French men.

As the new government established itself, 150,000 Chinese KMT Nationalist troops crossed into Vietnam under a drug-addict warlord Chiang was keen to divert from China. The Viet Minh tried to secure their good conduct by supplying him with opium, but the Chinese looted everything up to the roof tiles. Meanwhile, in the southern capital of Saigon, where the Viet Minh played a much weaker hand as part of a broader nationalist coalition, attempts to celebrate Independence Day led to violent clashes between French and Vietnamese residents. Watching the celebrations from high vantage points, the French ostentatiously refused to join in the applause when independence was proclaimed. French snipers started shooting, and in retaliation Europeans were assaulted and their business premises looted.

Four days later 600 men from the 20th Indian Division arrived in Saigon under General Douglas Gracey to disarm 50,000 surrendered Japanese troops. He was not a political general and inflexibly followed his orders, with disastrous consequences. One of his first acts was to use his Gurkha guard to evict the Southern Provisional Executive Committee from the former Governor-General’s Palace, after they had tried to welcome him. He next rearmed liberated French internees, who promptly attacked any ‘native’ they encountered. Angry Vietnamese retaliated, slaughtering 150 Europeans. With fresh French troops slow to arrive, Gracey relied on his Gurkhas and surrendered Japanese to expel the Viet Minh. He declared martial law to break a general strike and used liberated French Foreign Legionnaires to impose their simulacrum of civil order.

In a remarkable example of intra-Allied incivility Gracey ordered Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Dewey, the senior OSS officer in Saigon, to leave Indochina because of the OSS’s ‘blatantly subversive’ involvement with the Viet Minh. Dewey was shot dead en route to the airport after Gracey forbade him to fly the Stars and Stripes on his Jeep and the Viet Minh mistook him for a Frenchman. The following day Gracey threatened Japanese General Numata with prosecution for war crimes if he did not order his men to help the British and French fight the Viet Minh; and so it was that the British coerced the soldiers who had humiliated them in 1942 to reimpose French rule over Vietnam, which the Japanese had overthrown seven months previously.

By early October 1945 there were sufficient French forces in Cochin China for Gracey to relinquish authority south of the 16th parallel to the Free French war hero General Philippe Leclerc, who re-established French rule in Cambodia and Laos, before turning his attention to the northern Democratic Republic of Vietnam. By 20 January 1946 the British forces were gone. A French high commissioner designate, Jean Sainteny, was flown to Hanoi accompanied by Patti’s OSS team. They noted that Hanoi was swathed in red banners and bedecked with other banners which, in English, read ‘Independence or Death’ and ‘Vietnam for the Vietnamese’. Only a cordon of Japanese troops prevented the French from being lynched, but Patti and his team settled into a comfortable and unthreatened existence at the Hotel Metropole.
I had not realized, until reading Burleigh, the extent to which the Allies depended on surrendered Japanese troops to maintain civil order in former colonial territories for as long as two years after the war. The Japanese surrendered troops served in this role in Vietnam, Indonesia, Burma, Malaysia and elsewhere, while the victorious but exhausted colonial powers of Britain, France and The Netherlands slowly mustered their troops out to the East.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Desirable but unintended consequences

From How The Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman. Page 27.
The Schools Act of 1696 had set off far-reaching changes the Kirk could never have foreseen--a good example of how social actions have unintended consequences, as Adam Smith and a later generation of Scottish thinkers so well understood. Smith observed, in his Wealth of Nations, how Scotland's parish school system taught "almost the whole common people to read, and a very great proportion of them to write and account." Today we recognize that literacy and its mathematical counterpart, numeracy, are fundamental skills for living in a complex modern society. In that sense, no other society in Europe was as broadly prepared for "takeoff" as was eighteenth-century Scotland.
The Schools Act was intended to facilitate the individual's direct connection with God through the word of the Bible but incidentally set the stage for a rare intellectual blossoming.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Ancient wisdom

A famine in the winter of 1944–5 that killed a million people

From Small Wars, Faraway Places by Michael Burleigh. Page 33. Its the details left out of other histories which provide so much substance to Burleigh's account.

1) I like the name of the American OSS advisor to the Viet Minh (Archimedes Patti) and 2) Who remembers there was a famine in Vietnam in 1944-45 in which a million people starved to death?
Japanese destruction of French rule forced crucial decisions on the Viet Minh. It also provided the Americans with an opportunity to use the Vietnamese to fight the Japanese. The US began dropping arms from aircraft based in southern China, while the Viet Minh provided valuable weather reports and helped locate shot-down US aircrew. In March 1945 the OSS sent ‘Deer Team’ into Vietnam to liaise with the ‘old man’ who led the Viet Minh. One of these agents, Archimedes ‘Al’ Patti, penned an account of their stay in a jungle encampment. The emaciated Viet Minh leader, already tubercular, lay ill with dysentery and malaria, but rallied enough to chain-smoke Patti’s Chesterfields after the team doctor had treated him. The OSS agents taught guerrillas, commanded by Giap – ‘a wiry little man with large calculating eyes and a perpetually angry look’ – how to use modern weapons. The Americans spent many agreeable hours with Ho Chi Minh, who at one point inquired in English: ‘Your statesmen make eloquent speeches about helping those with self-determination. We are self-determined. Why not help us? Am I different from Nehru, Quezon, even your George Washington? Was not Washington considered a revolutionary? I, too, want to set my people free.’ Privately he thought that the Americans were all about business. As Ho heard news of the dropping of the atomic bombs and the Japanese surrender that August, he and Giap decided to launch their insurrection, their task aided by widespread peasant anger over a famine in the winter of 1944–5 that killed a million people, after the Japanese had refused to stop exporting rice to Japan from their state granaries.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Jethro Tull, serendipity edition

I have been listening to Jethro Tull for thirty or more years. Their band name was unusual but I gave it little thought. In reading a history of Scotland I came across the Scottish agricultural scientist Jethro Tull. Could they have been named for him? It seemed improbable but indeed they were. From Wikipedia.
At first, the new band had trouble getting repeat bookings and they took to changing their name frequently to continue playing the London club circuit, which included "Navy Blue", "Ian Henderson's Bag o' Nails" and "Candy Coloured Rain". Anderson recalled looking at a poster at a club and concluding that the band name he didn't recognise was his. Band names were often supplied by their booking agents' staff, one of whom, a history enthusiast, eventually christened them "Jethro Tull" after the 18th-century agriculturist. The name stuck because they happened to be using it the first time a club manager liked their show enough to invite them to return.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Mote and beam


I came across Philip N. Cohen's twitter. Seems interestingly eclectic. As I am scanning down his tweets, I see:

From the tenor of his tweets and the nature of his research, Cohen seems solidly of the left. He is responding in this tweet with some criticism directed at Kay Hymowitz who is solidly on the right. I can't quite discern the nature of the back and forth but clearly it is something to do with the election campaign.

None-the-less, it is a quite striking criticism, and I suspect revealing of the differences in weltanschauung between left and right. The left as it exists today in the US and particularly in the academy, media and in the entertainment industry is obsessed with group identities. The right, somewhat ironically given their vilification by the left, is now the torch bearer of MLK's dream of treating people not based on the color of their skin but by the content of their character. It seems almost as if the left's first question is "What color are you?" versus the right's "Who are you, what do you believe?"

This difference in orientation is oddly manifested in the respective candidate fields between the Democrats and Republicans. With their group identity approach, the Democrats ironically muster three white politicians from the northeast, two of them quite elderly. Old white people doesn't quite describe the Democrat field but it is close.

In contrast, the Republicans, with a focus on character and accomplishment rather than race, class, and gender come up with a field of seventeen candidates that is the very model of the diversity which Democrats, in other circumstances, might admire. Men, women, older, younger, establishment, outsiders, candidates with executive experience and executive neophytes, candidates from the North, South, Midwest, and West, black, white, Hispanic and Asian candidates, politicians, attorneys, real estate developers, hi-tech businesswomen, brain surgeons, etc.

That's what makes Cohen's tweet intriguing. Its as if he doesn't see that the Republicans have delivered the very diversity he wants but they have done so without the postmodernist/critical theory worldview to which he, presumably, adheres. Without the ideological adherence, it seems that the desired outcome is invalidated.

Meanwhile, he also seems blind to the fact that the Democrats, while almost obsessively focused on group identity and criticizing racism, have delivered the same old tired homogenous roster of entrenched interests. And, it seems that that is alright so long as they are criticizing that which they are doing.

Arendt and silver linings

Hannah Arendt has only ever been a name in the academic constellation for me. As far as I know, I have never read any of her works. But in the past two weeks I have come across a couple of engaging ideas or passages of hers.

The most recent is from Totalitarianism: Part Three of The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. From the left side of the spectrum, we have had several years of mob mentality in the name of Social Justice. From the Duke Lacrosse team to George Zimmerman to Ferguson we have had the digital and real life mob baying to suspend the laws of the land and convict people based on hatred rather than evidence and the law.

We also have some of our most respected institutions of higher learning demonstrating a repeated desire to suspend due process as well as suppress any speech that might be offensive to entrenched interests.

From the center (lifelong Democrat but now running as a Republican) we have such phenomena as Donald Trump who articulates little or no respect for the law of the land and the equality of all before the law.

I have no expectation that we will fall into a mob mentality. These are people at the fringes. None-the-less the fringes are impinging more than they usually do. Arendt saw this process herself in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. Her words are disturbing for their resonance with some of the tides in public discourse today.
Totalitarian propaganda perfects the techniques of mass propaganda, but it neither invents them nor originates their themes. These were prepared for them by fifty years of the rise of imperialism and disintegration of the nation-state, when the mob entered the scene of European politics. Like the earlier mob leaders, the spokesmen for totalitarian movements possessed an unerring instinct for anything that ordinary party propaganda or public opinion did not care or dare to touch. Everything hidden, everything passed over in silence, became of major significance, regardless of its own intrinsic importance. The mob really believed that truth was whatever respectable society hypocritically passed over, or covered up with corruption.
It seems to me that Trump and Sanders with their respective mobs are rising up against the institutional crony capitalism and political correctness of the Clintons and Bushes. "If you won't respect us by telling the truth and dealing in honest fashion, then we won't respect you and will follow the anti-establishment candidates." Not a desirable path to travel but if it is the self-correction needed to shock our political class out of their pampered complacency, then perhaps there is a silver lining.

University of the Toilers of the East

From Small Wars, Faraway Places by Michael Burleigh. Page 29. The peripatetic travels of Ho Ch Minh.
In Indochina the French had ruthlessly suppressed every manifestation of anti-colonial sentiment, from mutinous troops via rebellious peasants to striking schoolboys, but there was one implacable opponent who eluded them for three decades: Ho Chi Minh. This was the final iteration of multiple aliases Ho would use. Nguyen Tat Thanh (He Who Will Succeed) was born in about 1890 to a farmer’s son who had joined the mandarin elite, achieving the equivalent of a doctorate. Whether because of pride or temperament, Ho’s father refused to work directly for the puppet emperor who ruled supposedly autonomous Annam, working instead as a rural teacher and then as a magistrate. In 1910 in a drunken rage he caned the wrong person to death and was dismissed from office. He died poor in Saigon.

The future Ho was a bright boy who shed the long hair that marked him out as a country bumpkin at school. He realized early on that a mastery of Western culture – including its revolutionary tradition – was the way to defeat Western imperialism. By his late teens Thanh was involved in anti-French demonstrations, which resulted in expulsion from his French school. Already marked out by the colonial police, he eventually embarked for France, as ‘Ba’, an assistant cook and stoker on a small liner bound for Marseilles. A truly remarkable odyssey had begun.

When Ho arrived in Marseilles in July 1911, he noted that ‘the French in France are better and more polite than in Indochina’. In cafés waiters called him ‘Monsieur’. He applied without success for a scholarship to attend the Colonial School. After he had opted for the merchant marine his movements were necessarily opaque; but, wherever he ventured ashore, he moved in political circles as Nguyen Ai Quoc (Nguyen the Patriot).

In July 1923 he slipped his French police shadows through the rear exit of a Parisian cinema and boarded a train to Hamburg and on to Russia by ship as the Chinese merchant ‘Chen Vang’. In Moscow he enrolled in the University of the Toilers of the East, which was informally known as the Stalin School since it was under his Commissariat of Nationalities. By July 1923 Ho was deemed important enough to move into the Lux Hotel, albeit into a small room with a bed infested with bugs. In January 1924 his face and fingers were damaged after queuing for hours in deep winter to view Lenin’s body. After impressing his Comintern comrades at the Fifth Congress in 1924, speaking of the need to strike imperialism in the colonies from which it drew its resources, he persuaded his superiors to send him to Canton to organize exiled Vietnamese revolutionaries.
University of the Toilers of the East - I really miss the linguistic felicity of the old Soviet Union. Heh.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Life of Sir William Wallace, lent to him by the local blacksmith.

From How The Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman. Page 24.
Robert Burns's father was a poor farmer from Alloway in southwestern Scotland, who taught his son to make a living by handling a plow. But he also saw to it that young Robert received an education worthy of an English gentleman, including studying Latin and French. For the future poet, it opened up an incredible new world. "Though I cost the schoolmaster some thrashings." Burns remembered later, "I made an excellent scholar." The first books he read were a biography of Hannibal and The Life of Sir William Wallace, lent to him by the local blacksmith. "The story of Wallace poured a Scottish prejudice in my veins," Burns recalled, "which will boil along there till the flood gates of life shut in eternal rest." By the time he was sixteen, Burns the budding Ayrshire plowman had made his way through generous portions of Shakespeare, Alexander Pope, Addison's Spectator essays, and the Scottish poet Allan Ramsay, along with Jeremy Taylor on theology, Jethro Tull on agriculture, Robert Boyle's lectures on chemistry, John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding, several volumes on geography and history, and the French Enlightenment philosopher Fenelon's Telemaque in the original.

Do we treat Burns's case as typical? Of course not. But his story does illustrate how early on reading and writing became embedded in Scottish society, even in rural areas.

In Edinburgh the book trade was an important part of the local economy. There were six publishing houses in 1763, for a city with a population of only sixty thousand. By 1790 there were sixteen. Papermaking become a mainstay of the national economy; in fact, as the historian Anand Chitnis notes, "of Scottish domestic manufactures, only woolens, linen, and hemp, iron and liquors employed more people than the paper industry." The paper mill was often the only industry in rural villages and hamlets in the Lowlands agricultural belt. The one at Currie brought two hundred new inhabitants into the village when it opened.

Bookselling, printing, the paper and ink industries a whole range of businesses to service a large literate public. An official national survey in 1795 showed that out of a total population of 1.5 million, nearly twenty thousand Scots depended for their livelihood on writing and publishing and 10,500 on teaching. All this meant that despite its relative poverty and small population, Scottish culture had a built-in bias toward reading, learning, and education in general. In no other European country did education count for so much, or enjoy so broad a base.

This attitude also decisively shaped the character of Scotland's universities and would play a key role in creating modern Scotland. But their roots ran solid and deep. Glasgow and St. Andrews, in particular, enjoyed a long tradition that reached back to the Middle Ages. The greatest figure of later medieval thought, John Duns Scotus, had been a Scot, while John Mair, dubbed "the prince of philosophers and theologians" at the University of Paris, finished his career teaching at both Glasgow and St. Andrews (his students there included George Buchanan and John Knox). In 1574 an observer wrote that "there is no place in Europe comparable to Glasgow for a plentifull and gude chepe mercat of all kind of langages artes and sciences."

The University of Edinburgh and Aberdeen's Marischal College and King's College had been founded more recently, but, like Glasgow and St. Andrews, they never became remote ivory towers or intellectual backwaters, as eighteenth-century Oxford and Cambridge did. Despite their small size, Scottish universities were international centers of learning, and drew students from across Protestant Europe as well as England and Ulster (since only Episcopalians could attend Oxford or Cambridge or Trinity College in Dublin).

Thanks to the swelling tide of literacy, these universities became in effect centers of popular education as well as more academic learning. Between 1720 and 1840 the college student population of Scotland trebled. Knowledge of Latin was usually enough to get you in, and many students learned this at their parish schools. A university education was also relatively cheap.

At Glasgow the tuition fee of five pounds a year was one-tenth the cost of going to Cambridge or Oxford. This meant that students like the Edinburgh apothecary's son Thomas Aikenhead were more the rule rather than the exception. A father in trade, commerce, or the professions was more typical than a working- or labouring-class one; but even this contrasted with the socially top-heavy landed gentry and aristocratic student bodies in the English universities. More than half of the students at the University of Glasgow between 1740 and 1830 came from middle-class backgrounds. Many, although probably not very many, of the rest came from lower down the social ladder.

In the eighteenth century, sons of artisans and shopkeepers and farmers, some as young as thirteen or fourteen, would scrape together enough money to pay their university fees, attending lectures alongside Frasers and Maxwells and Erskines, the sons of Scotland's most aristocratic families. Robert Foulis, who was an apprentice barber and the son of a maltman, spent his spare time in the 1730s taking classes with the University of Glasgow's most distinguished philosopher, Francis Hutcheson, as well as the mathematician Robert Simson. Hutcheson was so impressed by Foulis that he hired him as his classroom assistant. It was the sort of scene unimaginable at Oxford or Cambridge until very late in the Victorian era.

Nor were boys the only ones who benefited from this. Auditing university classes became a favorite hobby among Edinburgh and Aberdeen townspeople, just as professors regularly engaged in a "community outreach" to offer classes to students outside the academic setting.

Robert Dick, at the University of Glasgow, taught natural philosophy to a lecture hall of townspeople, men and women, in the 1750s. In the early nineteenth century, University of Edinburgh chemistry professor Thomas Hope's public lectures drew more than three hundred serious-minded ladies from the town. For middle-class Scots, education was more than just a means to professional credentials or social advancement. It became a way of life.

Occam's Razor versus spinning

I think both these articles are misleading but that their underlying point is still interesting. From Fewer Democrats Are Voting This Year In (Surprise!) States With Strict New Voter Laws by Janie Velencia and Alissa Scheller and from Dem turnout and voter ID: The dirty little secret by Thomas Lifson, respectively left-leaning and right-leaning magazines.

Scheller and Velencia are bringing to attention to an interesting phenomena that has received some, but not a lot, of media attention; the differences between the two parties in their turn-out so far in the election cycle.
GOP voter turnout in this year's presidential race is up 62 percent relative to 2008, the last time both parties had open contests. But Democratic voter turnout is down by 29 percent across all the primary and caucus states that have voted so far. In all but two states, fewer Democrats turned out to vote in 2016 than did in 2008.
My go-to explanation is that this reflects primarily different levels of competitiveness in the two races.

On the Democratic side you have two white, northeastern candidates long in the tooth. One is a principled and self-identified socialist and the other is a politician under FBI investigation on multiple issues and with a career clouded by controversy, ethically dubious decisions, and legally questionable actions. In addition, from the start of the contest, all the establishment powers were trying to force this into a coronation rather than a contest with super delegates and sycophantic press coverage and DNC shenanigans to provide coverage for the preferred candidate. The deck was stacked and there wasn't much choice. To the surprise of everyone, the principled socialist conducted a more than forlorn hope campaign. None-the-less, this was a campaign of few choices and little competition.

On the Republican side you have had a field of, what, seventeen candidates? Men, women, older, younger, establishment, outsiders, candidates with executive experience and executive neophytes, Tea Party conservatives, social conservatives, libertarians, religious conservatives, fiscal conservatives, candidates from the North, South, Midwest, and West, black, white, Hispanic and Asian candidates, etc. Lots of choice and lots of competition.

Competition tends to increase turnout. My Occam's Razor is that the Republicans have had much more choice, a much wider range of choice and fought much harder over their choices and that is why their turnout is up whereas the Democrat turnout is down.

Scheller and Velencia want to make this empirical phenomena (increased Republican turnout versus declining Democrat turnout) about voter identification. I think they have a poorly structured and unsupported argument.

My standing assumption about voter fraud is that it is more prevalent than Democrats want to acknowledge and less prevalent than Republican activists make it out to be. There are enough well documented (though rarely publicized) incidents to affirm that it is a real issue. Incidents such as counties with 104% turnout of registered voters and the like.

It does happen. But how prevalent is it? That is the critical question to answer and that is unanswered. And how consequential is it? Also unanswered. We have a lot of elections that come down to a swing of a few hundred votes or of a percentage point or two. It is quite conceivable that it is more prevalent than we realize and that it is consequential. Possible but not certain. It warrants investigation but Democrats have been reflexively resistant to even the lightest research to answer the question. A position which makes it appear that they have something to hide.

An impression that is increased by the fact that their claimed suppression of voting following implementation of voter ID laws has not showed up in actual election results. In fact, in the last research report I saw a couple of years ago, states with voter ID laws typically saw higher turnout than before the ID law was passed. Remembering that the sample size is still very small, I don't view that as conclusive by any means but it does call into question the Democrat concern that voter ID suppresses voting.

The Republicans have been more exercised about voting fraud because they appear to believe that it is more prevalent and more consequential. The Democrats have been more obstructionist to voter ID laws and also seem to have been the greater beneficiaries of elections where there are greater accusations of voter fraud. Sometime in the aughts, there was a string of Senate contests where the Republican came in with a victory of a couple of hundred votes which election was then contested by Democrats with one, two and three recounts, each recount increasing the number of Democrat ballots. Might have been a statistical fluke, but it looked suspicious.

Back to Scheller and Velencia's argument:
Eight out of the 16 states that have held primaries or caucuses so far have implemented new voter ID or other restrictive voting laws since 2010. Democratic turnout has dropped 37 percent overall in those eight states, but just 13 percent in the states that didn't enact new voter restrictions. To put it another way, Democratic voter turnout was 285 percent worse in states with new voter ID laws.
That's interesting and worth investigating. Scheller and Velencia don't investigate, they simply try and make a correlational argument from a small sample size, and then leave it at that. My eyeballing of their data suggests that there might be a different and stronger correlation than between states with and without voter ID.

In six of the nine states with Democrat turnout declines of greater than 20%, the states had a Democrat majority twenty years ago and have switched to Republican majorities. In other words, the current decline is part of a longer term trend of Democrat decline in those six states (South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas.) Iowa, Virginia, and Nevada are the possible exceptions (I simply don't know whether the Democrats are declining there or not).

So structural decline is likely a more probable explanation than voter ID laws. The other explanation that seems relevant arises from the observation that the Republican candidate Trump is a lifelong Democrat who seems to be drawing large numbers of Democrats into the Republican column. He has so far done quite well in open primaries (you don't have to be a registered Republican to vote in the Republican primary) and less well in closed primaries (only registered Republicans can vote in the Republican primary). It appears from various polls that 15-30% of Trumps voters are actually Democrats.

If you are a Democrat who votes for Trump in an open primary, you numerically decrease the Democrat turnout and increase the Republican turnout.

Scheller and Velencia make the argument that voter ID laws have been influential in reducing Democrat turnout but they cherry pick their data and do not present the readily available counterarguments that appear to be more explanatory. Turnout is down because 1) the Democrat choices are not appealing to swaths of voters, 2) the elections so far have been primarily in states where the Democrats are in systemic decline anyway, and 3) a segment of Democrats are defecting in open primaries to Donald Trump.

That's my read of the situation.

Lifson's argument is even weaker. His synopsis is:
The numbers tell a story, and you can draw the obvious conclusions. Because the mainstream media certainly won’t. Keep this statistic in mind the next time some progressive tries to claim voter fraud is not a serious problem.

Political Wire quotes the HuffPo:
Huffington Post: “Eight out of the 16 states that have held primaries or caucuses so far have implemented new voter ID or other restrictive voting laws since 2010. Democratic turnout has dropped 37 percent overall in those eight states, but just 13 percent in the states that didn’t enact new voter restrictions. To put it another way, Democratic voter turnout was 285 percent worse in states with new voter ID laws.”
Left unsaid: despite the “burden” of obtaining voter ID, GOP turnout was up.
In other words, for Lifson, the decline is simply a product of reduced opportunity for fraud. I understand the emotional appeal of that argument but it is inadequate as it does not explain the Democrat voting decline in states without voter ID laws.

One final note of interest from these articles and it has to do with journalist advocates and their, presumably, subconscious framing of issues.

The issue is voter ID laws. Scheller and Velencia are comparing states with and without voter ID laws. But notice how they frame it as an issue between states with and without voting restrictions. Very interesting. No state has limited voting. They have limited the opportunities of fraudulent voting. Given how they frame the issue, it would be easy to interpret Scheller and Velencia as being upset that opportunities for fraudulent voting have been reduced. Not what I think they intended to communicate but it seems plausible.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Japanese stationed an enormous occupation force, some 625,800 soldiers, in the Philippines

From Small Wars, Faraway Places by Michael Burleigh. Page 25. I had not realized that the Japanese occupation of the Philippines required such a sizeable part of their army (about 10% of their entire field force). Nor had I realized that the occupied Philippines had declared war on the US. All sorts of interesting details get left out of the simplified overviews.
In the event, by May 1942 the Japanese had overrun the Philippines, forcing the US to surrender its forces after dogged rearguard actions at Bataan and Corregidor. MacArthur was evacuated, accompanied on his retreat to Australia by the Commonwealth’s President Manuel Quezon. The Japanese stationed an enormous occupation force, some 625,800 soldiers, in the Philippines, which were rightly regarded as crucial to defence of the home islands and to the entire Japanese position in South-east Asia. Few members of the Hispanic elites who had collaborated with the Americans had qualms about switching their allegiance. The Japanese met them halfway, explaining, ‘Like it or not you are Filipinos and belong to the Oriental race. No matter how hard you try, you cannot become white people.’33 Tokyo offered its collaborators independence more rapidly than the defeated Americans had done. In July 1943 they were instructed to draft a constitution, the quid pro quo being that they declare war on the US, which after much foot dragging they did in September 1944.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Well, its complicated . . .

From Small Wars, Faraway Places by Michael Burleigh. I am enjoying this one a great deal. New information or insight on virtually every page. A great antidote for those who want their history to be manichean in its dualistic simplicity. Whatever you thought you knew, you realize it was even more complicated than you realized.

Take the example of China and its resistance to the Japanese in World War II. I knew the outlines of this story but the details are even more incredible. Page 18.
The Nationalists were appalled by the systematic violence unleashed by the Communists, and in 1927 Chiang Kai-Shek, the head of the military section at the Soviet-inspired Whampoa Academy, moved against them, with an arrest list that included Mao's name. The Communists reverted to the defence of ‘Soviet areas’ in which their appetites for bloodthirsty purges of real and imagined opponents were indulged to the hilt and with indescribable cruelty. In 1934 Mao embarked on the 6,000-mile Long March, a year-long extraction of 82,000 Communist fighters from encirclement and destruction in the south, with 8,000 resurfacing as survivors in the remote north. There the Communists could pose as liberators and reformers without fear of attack by either the KMT or the Japanese. Mao gradually emerged as primus inter pares of a statelet that harked back to Plato, with the Party cadres being the philosopher kings while the guardians were the Red Army commanders and soldiers, below whom were the drones whose labour supported them. Since the majority of those who flocked to the remote Yenan redoubt did so merely from a patriotic desire to fight the Japanese, ‘rectification’ campaigns based on confessions and indoctrination were used to re-engineer their personalities, submerging the individual self in the collective as embodied by Mao himself.

The KMT could not mobilize sufficient military power to defeat the Communists as well as resisting Japanese invasion. As elsewhere in East Asia, wealthy figures in cities such as Shanghai rallied to the Japanese cause. But so did many collaborators who were also covert Communist agents, with instructions to direct the Japanese against their Nationalist rivals. While Chiang’s armies fought the Japanese, Mao’s Communists avoided main-force encounters, even when urged to fight them by Stalin, who feared that the Soviet Union could be crushed between the Japanese and German onslaughts. Mao’s caution and evasiveness rankled with the Soviet leader and the only ‘battle’ against the Japanese, at Pingxingguan in September 1937, hardly features in the annals of warfare.

Communist guerrillas did have an impact in Manchuria, historically a lawless place which contained the world’s densest concentration of villages run by outlaws. But it was also the most industrialized region in China, which was why the Japanese had conquered it. The guerrillas who fought the Japanese in this wild, grey-brown place were ethnic Koreans, who also made up 90 per cent of the local ‘Chinese’ Communist Party. The ethnic Chinese Communists claimed to be fighting the Japanese as they husbanded their resources in their northern regional redoubt of Yenan for the anticipated showdown with Chiang.

Mao’s forces were sustained by subsidies from Stalin as well as by a revived opium industry, which they wisely kept secret from the ‘Dixie Mission’ sent to Yenan by the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in July 1944 out of frustration with KMT military incompetence and venality and in order to glean actionable intelligence on Japanese strength in northern China from POWs taken by the Communists. While a large pool of 2,000 American advisers stationed in Chongqing by turns publicly lauded and privately denounced Chiang Kai-shek, some of the Yenan Americans became admirers of the iron discipline of the Communists.
Chinese Communist guerillas who are actually Korean. Capitalists who are actually communists. The KMT doing a better job of advancing Soviet goals than the Chinese Communists. The American advisors undermining their KMT allies while admiring the Chinese Communists. And on and on. Nothing was what it seemed.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Training people to think analytically causes them to form more liberal opinions, whereas training them to think holistically causes shifts to more conservative opinions

From Liberals Think More Analytically (More “WEIRD”) Than Conservatives by Thomas Talhelm, et al.

I am tired of research papers that attempt to show that, variously, Liberals are more, pick one, Intelligent, Empathetic, Collaborative, Social, etc. or that Conservatives are more, Intelligent, Competitive, Dutiful, Goal Oriented, etc. A) The studies usually betray a deep streak of motivation, B) Are virtually always shoddily constructed, and C) Have effect sizes on the order of magnitude of a mite. In addition, since the field of sociology is so overwhelmingly skewed Liberal, the results almost always betray deep ignorance of anyone to the right of Extreme Left and usually are structured to make conservatives appear less than human.

But there are plenty such studies to choose from and you never know when one might actually be real, so I usually check. I popped open the link to Liberals Think More Analytically (More “WEIRD”) Than Conservatives by Thomas Talhelm, et al just to see. Here is the abstract.
Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan summarized cultural differences in psychology and argued that people from one particular culture are outliers: people from societies that are Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (WEIRD). This study shows that liberals think WEIRDer than conservatives. In five studies with more than 5,000 participants, we found that liberals think more analytically (an element of WEIRD thought) than moderates and conservatives. Study 3 replicates this finding in the very different political culture of China, although it held only for people in more modernized urban centers. These results suggest that liberals and conservatives in the same country think as if they were from different cultures. Studies 4 to 5 show that briefly training people to think analytically causes them to form more liberal opinions, whereas training them to think holistically causes shifts to more conservative opinions.
There are so many red flags (cross-cultural comparisons, definitional issues, sample sizes, etc.) that I immediately closed it.

As soon as the screen was vanishing from sight, though, there was a nagging sense of something. I reopened. All the criticisms remain valid but that last line is interesting: "briefly training people to think analytically causes them to form more liberal opinions, whereas training them to think holistically causes shifts to more conservative opinions."

That actually, and obliquely, is consonant with findings by Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind. His working hypothesis is known as Moral Foundations Theory and posits that there are six foundations of moral reasoning: Care, Fairness, Liberty, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity. More pertinently here, Haidt argues that progressives/liberals emphasize only two of these foundations, Care and Fairness whereas Conservatives focus on all six foundations. In addition, Haidt observes that progressives tend to define fairness as "equal outcomes" whereas conservatives tend to define fairness as equal treatment or equal application of the rules.

In the progressive dualistic construct, moral decisions appear easier as you are only dealing with two trade-offs, that between caring and fairness. For conservatives, any decision is much more difficult as there are tradeoffs between six equally valid goals. This dualistic simplicity is likely one of the root causes of the frequent failure and ever more frequent unintended consequences of progressive policies. Something that passes muster on the grounds of Caring and Fairness, is inadequately vetted without taking into account the larger range of issues of Liberty, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity. Dualism is too reductive.

This is part, I think, of the critique of John Ralston Saul in Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West. Saul's argument is that governments in the West have exhibited a detrimental over-reliance on pure reason in arriving at policies. Saul is an opaque writer given to assertion where explication is needed but when I read the book, my conclusion was that his real criticism was not against reason per se but simplistic reason married to absolutism. In other words, governments tend to apply reason too narrowly and then use the coercive power of the state to implement ill-founded policies.

That resonates with Haidt and now Talhelm. If progressives are concerned only with Caring and Fairness, it is far easier to apply the tools of reason to an equation and come up with an over-simplified answer that is actually wrong and fails in reality. The tools of reason need to be applied to the whole spectrum of moral decision-making, including Liberty, Loyalty, Authority and Sanctity.

That would seem to support the closing sentence of Talhelm et al. Teaching people to think more analytically (rationally) does tend to force an individual towards dualism - making trade-offs between two equally valid goals. Why? Because the more goals there are and the more complex the trade-offs between and among the goals, the less easy it is to apply rationalism. It becomes just too complicated. Consequently, the use of reason precludes complex decision-making and biases individuals towards simplistic outcomes which also skew towards what are stereotypically characterized as liberal positions.

On the other hand, "training them to think holistically causes shifts to more conservative opinions." It would if thinking more holistically means taking into account more variables in greater complexity. By dealing with more variables, particularly with more moral positions, simple dualistic rationalism is inadequate. You have to take a more holistic approach and are more likely to end up with outcomes that are more stereotypically "conservative."

As an example, consider some of the many progressive failed public policies such as busing, affirmative action and racial hiring quotas. In each case, there is a good, rational case to be made for the policy based on Caring and Fairness. Absolutely. But these policies, requiring coercive implementation against the will of the people, ignore the equally important values of Liberty, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity. If you have to take into account the other four values, these policies no longer make sense. They can only make sense in a decision-making environment dominated by naive rationalism applied to simplistic dualism. Thus is failure born.

I still think that Talhelm's work is suspect but it is interesting to see it as being consistent, almost against its will, with the work of Haidt and Saul. The work of Saul and Haidt make the context of decision-making far more complex and therefore less conducive to the naive rationalism applied to simplistic dualism of progressives. However, it might lead us towards better outcomes in the longer term.

I show up. I listen. I try to laugh.

From A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen, page 15.
Here is my resume. It’s not what my professional bio says, proud as I am of all that:

I am a good mother to three good children. I have tried to never let my profession stand in the way of being a good parent. I no longer consider myself the center of the universe. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh.

I am a good friend to my husband. I have tried to make my marriage vows mean what they say. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh.

I am a good friend to my friends, and they to me. Without them I would have nothing of interest to say to anyone, because I would be a cardboard cutout. But I call them on the phone, and I meet them for lunch. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh.

Related: You can pretend to care but you can't pretend to show up.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

They concluded the way most Mongol celebrations concluded, with everyone simply too drunk to continue

Hat tip to Language Log for uncovering this passage. The original passage is in Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Watherford.
The Mongols loved competitions of all sorts, and they organized debates among rival religions the same way they organized wrestling matches. It began on a specific date with a panel of judges to oversee it. In this case Mongke Khan ordered them to debate before three judges: a Christian, a Muslim, and a Buddhist. A large audience assembled to watch the affair, which began with great seriousness and formality. An official laid down the strict rules by which Mongke wanted the debate to proceed: on pain of death “no one shall dare to speak words of contention.”

Rubruck and the other Christians joined together in one team with the Muslims in an effort to refute the Buddhist doctrines. As these men gathered together in all their robes and regalia in the tents on the dusty plains of Mongolia, they were doing something that no other set of scholars or theologians had ever done in history. It is doubtful that representatives of so many types of Christianity had come to a single meeting, and certainly they had not debated, as equals, with representatives of the various Muslim and Buddhist faiths. The religious scholars had to compete on the basis of their beliefs and ideas, using no weapons or the authority of any ruler or army behind them. They could use only words and logic to test the ability of their ideas to persuade.

In the initial round, Rubruck faced a Buddhist from North China who began by asking how the world was made and what happened to the soul after death. Rubruck countered that the Buddhist monk was asking the wrong questions; the first issue should be about God from whom all things flow. The umpires awarded the first points to Rubruck.

Their debate ranged back and forth over the topics of evil versus good, God’s nature, what happens to the souls of animals, the existence of reincarnation, and whether God had created evil. As they debated, the clerics formed shifting coalitions among the various religions according to the topic. Between each round of wrestling, Mongol athletes would drink fermented mare’s milk; in keeping with that tradition, after each round of the debate, the learned men paused to drink deeply in preparation for the next match.

No side seemed to convince the other of anything. Finally, as the effects of the alcohol became stronger, the Christians gave up trying to persuade anyone with logical arguments, and resorted to singing. The Muslims, who did not sing, responded by loudly reciting the Koran in an effort to drown out the Christians, and the Buddhists retreated into silent meditation. At the end of the debate, unable to convert or kill one another, they concluded the way most Mongol celebrations concluded, with everyone simply too drunk to continue.
Now that's the way to bring civility back to debate.

Scotland became Europe's first modern literate society.

From How The Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman. Page 22.

Scotland in the 1700s displayed one of those moments in history of startling concentrations of civilizational effervescence - Athens in 500BC, The American colonies in the late 1700s - so much talent on so many fronts. Scotland at that point in history was not an obvious location for such a flowering. Poor, remote, dominated by England and burdened by a clan culture.
In 1696, ironically the same year Thomas Aikenhead was arrested, Scotland's Parliament passed its "Act for Setting Schools," establishing a school in every parish in Scotland not already equipped with one. Each parish was now to supply a "commodious house for a school" and a salary for a teacher of not less than a hundred marks (or about sixty Scottish pounds or five pounds in English money) and no more than two hundred.

The reason behind all this was obvious to any Presbyterian: boys and girls must know how to read Holy Scripture. Knox's original 1560 Book of Discipline had called for a national system of education. Eighty years later Parliament passed the first statute to this effect. The 1696 act renewed and enforced it. The result was that within a generation nearly every parish in Scotland had some sort of school and a regular teacher. The education must have been fairly rudimentary in some places: the fundamentals of reading and grammar and nothing more. But it was available, and it was, at least in theory if not always in practice, free.

Historians are still arguing about how many Scots really learned to read and write as a result of the School Act. In this, as in so many things, the Highlands lagged far behind. But one thing is certain: Scotland's literacy rate would be higher than that of any other country by the end of the eighteenth century. An English observer noted with astonishment that "in the low country of Scotland ... the poorest are, in general, taught to read." In 1790 nearly every eight-year-old in Cleish, in Kinross-shire, could read, and read well. By one estimate male literacy stood at around 55 percent by 1720; by 1750 it may have stood as high as 75 percent, compared with only 53 percent in England. It would not be until the 1880s that the English would finally catch up with their northern neighbours.

Scotland became Europe's first modern literate society. This meant that there was an audience not only for the Bible but for other books as well. As the barriers of religious censorship eventually came down in the eighteenth century, the result was a literary explosion. Intellectuals such as Adam Smith and David Hume wrote not just for other intellectuals but for a genuine reading public. Even a person of relatively modest means had his own collection of books, and what he couldn't afford he could get at the local lending library, which by 1750 virtually every town of any size enjoyed.

A good example is Innerpeffray, near Crieff in Perthshire. Its library's records of book borrowing run from 1747 to 1800. They show books loaned out to the local baker, the blacksmith, the cooper, the dyer and the dyer's apprentice and to farmers, stonemasons, quarriers, tailors, and household servants. Religious books predominated; but more than half of the books borrowed were on secular themes, and included works by John Locke, the French Enlightenment naturalist George Louis Leclerc de Buffon, and Scotland's own Enlightenment historian, William Robertson. Literacy opened up new cultural choices, and reinforced others: a specifically Scottish reading public developed, with an appetite for the new as well as the familiar and well-worn.

But Dangers that are past, are pleasant to be thought on

Echoes across time.

From Colloquies of Erasmus, Volume I, Shipwreck.
Antony: You tell dreadful Stories: Is this going to Sea? God forbid that ever any such Thing should come into my Mind.

Adolph: That which I have related, is but a Diversion, in Comparison to what you'll hear presently.

Antony: I have heard Calamities enough already, my Flesh trembles to hear you relate them, as if I were in Danger myself.

Adolph: But Dangers that are past, are pleasant to be thought on.
Reminds me of a Churchill quote. From The Story of the Malakand Field Force: An Episode of Frontier War (1898), Chapter X.
Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Accurately forecasting predictably bad consequences

It's so easy to lose track of things that it becomes difficult to track back to forecasts from the past to see if they match the future that they predicted. As research by Philip E. Tetlock has demonstrated, pundits, experts, and talking heads survive based on the infrequency with which their forecasts are matched to outcomes. When you make those comparisons, the experts and talking heads are often spectacularly wrong and in aggregate perform worse than the market and worse than the informed public.

I came a across a reference to this article this morning, From The Trillion-Dollar Bank Shakedown That Bodes Ill for Cities by Howard Husock. Husock was writing sixteen years ago. His is the opposite circumstance. He is an expert who specifically identified the likely consequences of bad (though well intended) government policy. Kudos to him for correctly identifying the underlying government policies that then led to the Great Recession which he predicted.

The salient details are in the opening paragraphs but read the whole thing for the history and details of his argument.
The Clinton administration has turned the Community Reinvestment Act, a once-obscure and lightly enforced banking regulation law, into one of the most powerful mandates shaping American cities—and, as Senate Banking Committee chairman Phil Gramm memorably put it, a vast extortion scheme against the nation's banks. Under its provisions, U.S. banks have committed nearly $1 trillion for inner-city and low-income mortgages and real estate development projects, most of it funneled through a nationwide network of left-wing community groups, intent, in some cases, on teaching their low-income clients that the financial system is their enemy and, implicitly, that government, rather than their own striving, is the key to their well-being.

The CRA's premise sounds unassailable: helping the poor buy and keep homes will stabilize and rebuild city neighborhoods. As enforced today, though, the law portends just the opposite, threatening to undermine the efforts of the upwardly mobile poor by saddling them with neighbors more than usually likely to depress property values by not maintaining their homes adequately or by losing them to foreclosure. The CRA's logic also helps to ensure that inner-city neighborhoods stay poor by discouraging the kinds of investment that might make them better off.

The Act, which Jimmy Carter signed in 1977, grew out of the complaint that urban banks were "redlining" inner-city neighborhoods, refusing to lend to their residents while using their deposits to finance suburban expansion. CRA decreed that banks have "an affirmative obligation" to meet the credit needs of the communities in which they are chartered, and that federal banking regulators should assess how well they do that when considering their requests to merge or to open branches. Implicit in the bill's rationale was a belief that CRA was needed to counter racial discrimination in lending, an assumption that later seemed to gain support from a widely publicized 1990 Federal Reserve Bank of Boston finding that blacks and Hispanics suffered higher mortgage-denial rates than whites, even at similar income levels.

In addition, the Act's backers claimed, CRA would be profitable for banks. They just needed a push from the law to learn how to identify profitable inner-city lending opportunities. Going one step further, the Treasury Department recently asserted that banks that do figure out ways to reach inner-city borrowers might not be able to stop competitors from using similar methods—and therefore would not undertake such marketing in the first place without a push from Washington.

None of these justifications holds up, however, because of the changes that reshaped America's banking industry in the 1990s. Banking in the 1970s, when CRA was passed, was a highly regulated industry in which small, local savings banks, rather than commercial banks, provided most home mortgages. Regulation prohibited savings banks from branching across state lines and sometimes even limited branching within states, inhibiting competition, the most powerful defense against discrimination. With such regulatory protection, savings banks could make a comfortable profit without doing the hard work of finding out which inner-city neighborhoods and borrowers were good risks and which were not. Savings banks also had reason to worry that if they charged inner-city borrowers a higher rate of interest to balance the additional risk of such lending, they might jeopardize the protection from competition they enjoyed. Thanks to these artificially created conditions, some redlining of creditworthy borrowers doubtless occurred.

The insular world of the savings banks collapsed in the early nineties, however, the moment it was exposed to competition. Banking today is a far more wide-open industry, with banks offering mortgages through the Internet, where they compete hotly with aggressive online mortgage companies. Standardized, computer-based scoring systems now rate the creditworthiness of applicants, and the giant, government-chartered Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have helped create huge pools of credit by purchasing mortgage loans and packaging large numbers of them together into securities for sale to bond buyers. With such intense competition for profits and so much money available to lend, it's hard to imagine that banks couldn't instantly figure out how to market to minorities or would resist such efforts for fear of inspiring imitators. Nor has the race discrimination argument for CRA held up. A September 1999 study by Freddie Mac, for instance, confirmed what previous Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation studies had found: that African-Americans have disproportionate levels of credit problems, which explains why they have a harder time qualifying for mortgage money. As Freddie Mac found, blacks with incomes of $65,000 to $75,000 a year have on average worse credit records than whites making under $25,000.
This dynamic is what led to the outcomes that I posted on a few days ago, Everyone is 30% poorer than they were. As happens too often with utopianist statists, well intended policy deployed without knowledge and understanding of the complex system, led to unexpected and detrimental outcomes. African American households with poor credit were lured by government policy into making real estate purchases they could not afford resulting in widespread bankruptcies when the recession hit and the consequent reduction in African American household wealth from $19,00 to $11,000.

Husock specifically outlines as a forecast what actually did happen.
Looking into the future gives further cause for concern: "The bulk of these loans," notes a Federal Reserve economist, "have been made during a period in which we have not experienced an economic downturn." The Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America's own success stories make you wonder how much CRA-related carnage will result when the economy cools. The group likes to promote, for instance, the story of Renea Swain-Price, grateful for NACA's negotiating on her behalf with Fleet Bank to prevent foreclosure when she fell behind on a $1,400 monthly mortgage payment on her three-family house in Dorchester. Yet NACA had no qualms about arranging the $137,500 mortgage in the first place, notwithstanding the fact that Swain-Price's husband was in prison, that she'd had previous credit problems, and that the monthly mortgage payment constituted more than half her monthly salary. The fact that NACA has arranged an agreement to forestall foreclosure does not inspire confidence that she will have the resources required to maintain her aging frame house: her new monthly payment, in recognition of previously missed payments, is $1,879.
It is not much good being right if everyone with a vested interest in the corrupt status quo chooses to ignore you. But the magic of the internet does provide the opportunity to go back and check.