Sunday, July 31, 2016

Penury was a more mundane danger.

From The Invention of News: How The World Came to Know About Itself by Andrew Pettegree.
It is only with the great events at the end of the eighteenth century – the struggle for press freedom in England and the French and American revolutions – that newspapers found a strong editorial voice, and at that point a career in journalism became a real possibility. But it was always hazardous. As many of the celebrity politician writers of the French Revolution found, a career could be cut short (quite literally) by a turn in political fortunes. At least these men lived and died in a blaze of publicity. For others, the drones of the trade, snuffling up rumor for scraps, penury was a more mundane danger.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

He went on to become England’s longest-serving eighteenth-century prime minister.

From The Invention of News: How The World Came to Know About Itself by Andrew Pettegree.
The complexities of this trade called for agility on the part of those who hoped to make money from news. Many who tried were disappointed. Pamphlet publishing was highly competitive, and only those whose connections gave them access to reliable sources of information could expect to flourish. Many of the first newspapers were remarkably short-lived. Those that survived often did so with a discrete subsidy from the local prince – hardly a guarantee of editorial independence. For much of Defoe’s time writing the Review he was paid a secret retainer by one or other of England’s leading politicians to promote their policies. Sir Robert Walpole coped with a critical press by buying the newspapers and making them his mouthpiece. He went on to become England’s longest-serving eighteenth-century prime minister.

For most of this period there was not much money to be made from publishing news, and most of it went to those at the top of the trade. If some did grow rich, they were the proprietors: in the sixteenth century the publishers of the bespoke manuscript services, later the publishers of newspapers. A manuscript news-service was by and large the business of a single well-informed individual. As his reputation grew he might have found it necessary to employ an increasing number of scribes to make up the handwritten copies; but his was the sole editorial voice.

The first newspapers were put together in much the same way. The publisher was exclusively responsible for their content. His task was essentially editorial: gathering reports; bundling them up; passing them on. In many cases the publisher was the only person professionally involved in this stage of the production process. He employed no staff and no journalists in the modern sense. Much of the information that made up the copy of the first newspapers was provided free: information passing through the rapidly expanding European postal service or sent by correspondence. Some of the newspapers were quasi-official publications with close connections to local court officials, who provided access to reliable information from state papers. Publishers found other ways to augment the meagre pickings from cover-price sales and subscriptions. For many, advertising became the mainstay of the business model; for others, obliging politicians with their gifts, pensions or promises of office paved the way to a better life.
Co-opting, winner-take-all markets, press release journalism, purchased opinions and advocacy. It was all there at the beginning of journalism and it is still with us today.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Obscurity to literary within a decade

From Love, Poverty, and War by Christopher Hitchens, a collection of essays. Hitchens was incredibly erudite. Agree with him or not, you always learned something from his essays. From page 105, a book review dealing with Lord Byron.

I am doing some research at the moment on the history of information transmission and this is an interesting example.
He was in some ways a premature Orientalist, very much taken with scenes of the voluptuous and the barbaric; the painting of Delacroix can be viewed as a sort of pictorial Byronism. But he was more than just a voyeur in these exotic latitudes. He took a serious interest in the religions and customs and traditions, and also the political convulsions, of the places he visited or studied. Re-reading Childe Harold's Pilgrimage recently, I came across this verse in the second canto, where the contest between the Muslim and Christian worlds, in Constantinople and in Athens, is evoked.
The city won for Allah from the Giaour,
The Giaour from Ottoman's race again may wrest;
And the Serai's impenetrable tower
Receive the fiery Frank, her former guest;
Or Wahab's rebel brood, who dared divest
The prophet's tomb of all its pious spoil,
May wind their path of blood along the West ...
The takeover and desecration of Mecca by the ultra-purist Wahhabi sect was then just a decade old. Byron's registering of this event—and his identification of a faction that now troubles us all—is the first literary mention that I know of.
Here is what Wikipedia has to say about the origins of Wahhabism.
Wahhabism is named after an eighteenth-century preacher and scholar, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703–1792). He started a revivalist movement in the remote, sparsely populated region of Najd, advocating a purging of practices such as the popular "cult of saints", and shrine and tomb visitation, widespread among Muslims, but which he considered idolatry (shirk), impurities and innovations in Islam (Bid'ah). Eventually he formed a pact with a local leader Muhammad bin Saud offering political obedience and promising that protection and propagation of the Wahhabi movement mean "power and glory" and rule of "lands and men."
Wahhabism is of course at the center of the global stage today owing to its affiliation with Al Qaeda and ISIS.

This is fascinating to me. The reading world of 1812 was small in number and for a peripheral event, in the scheme of things, such as the sacking of a religious shrine by a then obscure sect in the wastes of Arabia, to enter into the literary record so quickly is remarkable.

The dawn of print did not suppress earlier forms of news transmission.

From The Invention of News: How The World Came to Know About Itself by Andrew Pettegree.
The birth of the newspaper did not immediately transform the news market. Indeed, for at least a hundred years newspapers struggled to find a place in what remained a multi-media business. The dawn of print did not suppress earlier forms of news transmission. Most people continued to receive much of their news by word of mouth. The transmission of news offered a profound demonstration of the vitality of these raucous, intimate, neighborly societies. News was passed from person to person in the market square, in and outside church, in family groups. Enterprising citizens celebrated exciting occurrences in song: this too became a major conduit of news, and one quite lucrative to traveling singers who otherwise would have struggled to make a living. Singing was also potentially very subversive – magistrates found it much more difficult to identify the composer of a seditious song than to close a print-shop. The more sophisticated and knowing could enjoy contemporary references at the theatre. Playgoing, with its repertoire of in-jokes and topical references, was an important arena of news in the larger cities. All these different locations played their part in a multi-media news world that coexisted with the new world of print.

These long-established habits of information exchange set a demanding standard for the new print media. We need to keep constantly in mind that in these centuries the communication of public business took place almost exclusively in communal settings. Citizens gathered to witness civic events, such as the arrival of notable visitors or the execution of notorious criminals. They heard official orders proclaimed by municipal or royal officials; they gathered around the church door to read ordinances or libels; they swopped rumors and sung topical songs. It is significant that in this age to ‘publish’ meant to voice abroad, verbally: books were merely ‘printed’. Printed news had both to encourage new habits of consumption – the private reading that had previously been an elite preserve – and to adopt the cadences and stylistic forms of these older oral traditions. Reading early news pamphlets, we can often hear the music of the streets, with all their hubbub and exuberant variety. Readers of early newspapers, in contrast, were offered the cloistered hush of the chancery. They were not to everybody’s taste.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Somehow I think not

That's interesting. I knew this already from text and tabular data but it is always so much more striking when visually displayed. The most left leaning states are the ones which have the greatest levels of inequalities.

In other posts, I have stated my dubiousness about inequality per se as a serious social issue (other than at the extremes). The real issue is more systemic in terms of rule of law, competition policy, and personal productivity. I have also postulated that the champagne liberal class are the ones who are most concerned by inequality because it is their policies which are the ones most contributive to inequality. They see what is in front of them in their own locales and believe that the inequality they see as a consequence of their policies must be the same degree of inequality experienced elsewhere in the nation.

This map would seem to support that supposition. Likewise with my speculation that the mainstream media similarly misestimates the degree of inequality based on locality bias. The mainstream media are based in New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, and LA. I suspect they believe extreme inequality must be the norm since that is what they see around them; failing to realize that the most left leaning states where the mainstream media are located are also the states with the greatest inequality.

I wonder if these left leaning states with extreme inequality will have the strength of commitment to lowering inequality that will extend to emulating the kinds of policies in low inequality states such as South Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia and the like? Based on the map, the science seems settled. Somehow, I think not. Heh.

Veracity, context, and relevance

From The Invention of News: How The World Came to Know About Itself by Andrew Pettegree.
The trouble with the newspapers was that they were not very enjoyable. Although it might be important to be seen to be a subscriber, and thus to have the social kudos of one who followed the world’s affairs, the early newspapers were not much fun to read. The desiccated sequence of bare, undecorated facts made them difficult to follow – sometimes, plainly baffling. What did it mean to be told that the Duke of Sessa had arrived in Florence, without knowing who he was or why he was there? Was this a good thing or a bad thing? For inexperienced news readers this was tough going. People who were used to the familiar ordered narrative of a news pamphlet found the style alienating.
We are again faced with this conundrum though now in an age of data plenty. The central issues remain veracity, context and relevance. Natural language processing and AI both help but we are still a long way from unlocking this issue.
The news reporting of the newspapers was very different, and utterly unfamiliar to those who had not previously been subscribers to the manuscript service. Each report was no more than a couple of sentences long. It offered no explanation, comment or commentary. Unlike a news pamphlet the reader did not know where this fitted in the narrative – or even whether what was reported would turn out to be important. This made for a very particular and quite demanding sort of news. The format offered inexperienced readers very little help. The most important story was seldom placed first; there were no headlines, and no illustrations. And because newspapers were offered on a subscription basis, readers were expected to follow events from issue to issue; this was time-consuming, expensive and rather wearing.

The World Bank challenge

Heh. Reminds me of A Void by Georges Perec. He wrote the entire three hundred page novel without ever using the letter "e".

All this time, a second type of fungus has been hiding in plain view.

A great Example of how, despite what the anti-science crowd claim, the science is never settled. From How a Guy From a Montana Trailer Park Overturned 150 Years of Biology by Ed Yong.
In 1995, if you had told Toby Spribille that he’d eventually overthrow a scientific idea that’s been the stuff of textbooks for 150 years, he would have laughed at you. Back then, his life seemed constrained to a very different path. He was raised in a Montana trailer park, and home-schooled by what he now describes as a “fundamentalist cult.” At a young age, he fell in love with science, but had no way of feeding that love. He longed to break away from his roots and get a proper education.


Lichens have an important place in biology. In the 1860s, scientists thought that they were plants. But in 1868, a Swiss botanist named Simon Schwendener revealed that they’re composite organisms, consisting of fungi that live in partnership with microscopic algae. This “dual hypothesis” was met with indignation: it went against the impetus to put living things in clear and discrete buckets. The backlash only collapsed when Schwendener and others, with good microscopes and careful hands, managed to tease the two partners apart.

Schwendener wrongly thought that the fungus had “enslaved” the alga, but others showed that the two cooperate. The alga uses sunlight to make nutrients for the fungus, while the fungus provides minerals, water, and shelter. This kind of mutually beneficial relationship was unheard of, and required a new word. Two Germans, Albert Frank and Anton de Bary, provided the perfect one—symbiosis, from the Greek for ‘together’ and ‘living’.


In the 150 years since Schwendener, biologists have tried in vain to grow lichens in laboratories. Whenever they artificially united the fungus and the alga, the two partners would never fully recreate their natural structures. It was as if something was missing—and Spribille might have discovered it.

He has shown that largest and most species-rich group of lichens are not alliances between two organisms, as every scientist since Schwendener has claimed. Instead, they’re alliances between three. All this time, a second type of fungus has been hiding in plain view.
Read the whole thing, it's an interesting story at several levels.

There are more mysteries than we acknowledge and no matter how high a degree of consensus, science has a way of over-turning the apple-cart.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

From The Invention of News: How The World Came to Know About Itself by Andrew Pettegree.
The printed news pamphlets of the sixteenth century were a milestone in the development of the news market, but they further complicated issues of truth and veracity. Competing for limited disposable cash among a less wealthy class of reader, the purveyors of the news pamphlets had a clear incentive to make these accounts as lively as possible. This raised real questions as to their reliability. How could a news report possibly be trusted if the author exaggerated to increase its commercial appeal?

The emergence of the newspaper in the early seventeenth century represents an attempt to square this circle. As the apparatus of government grew in Europe’s new nation states, the number of those who needed to keep abreast of the news also increased exponentially. In 1605 one enterprising German stationer thought he could meet this demand by mechanising his existing manuscript newsletter service. This was the birth of the newspaper: but its style – the sober, detached recitation of news reports inherited from the manuscript newsletter – had little in common with that of the more engaged and discursive news pamphlets.

The newspaper, as it turned out, would have a difficult birth. Although it spread quickly, with newspapers founded in over twenty German towns in the next thirty years, other parts of Europe proved more resistant – Italy for instance was late to adopt this form of news publication. Many of the first newspapers struggled to make money, and swiftly closed.

The Devil's abroad in false Vellore

Always, one thing leads to another. I am researching obscure forms of rapid messaging in pre-telegraph environments. From that start, I end up, of course, in India at the time of the Great Mutiny in 1857 and the mystifying, and still not understood, appearance of bread loafs, chapatis, passed from village to village. It was a sign of something but that something was not understood by the British or the villagers at the time.

From the Great Mutiny, I end up with the predecessor Vellore Mutiny in 1806. Interesting in its own right.

From there, I reach an account of one of the survivors, Amelia Farrer, Lady Fancourt who wrote An Account Of the Mutiny at Vellore, by the Lady of Sir John Fancourt, the Commandant, who was killed there July 9th, 1806 in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 14 June 1842, p. 2. Incredible the lives and stories of just a couple of centuries ago.
At this moment, I gave up all for lost. I opened my dressing-room table drawer, and took out my husband's miniature, which I tied, and hid under my habit, and determined not to lose it but in death. I had secured his watch some time before, to ascertain the hour. I had hardly secured this much valued remembrance of my husband, before I heard a noise in the hall, adjoining my bed room. I moved softly to the door, and looking through the key-hole, discovered two sepoys knocking a chest of drawers to pieces. I was struck with horror, knowing their next visit would be to my apartments. My children, and the female servants were at the time lying on a mat, just before a door which opened into the back verandah, and which, at the commencement of the mutiny, seemed the safest place, – as shots were fired at the windows, we were obliged to remove as far as possible from them. I whispered to my Ayhal, that the sepoys were in the hall, and told her to move from the door. She took the children under the bed, and also begged of me to go there with them. I had no time to reply, before the door we had just left, was burst open. I got under the bed, and was no sooner there, than several shots were fired into the room; but, although the door was then open, no body entered. I took up a bullet which fell close upon me, under the bed. The children were screaming with terror, at the firing, and I expected our last hour was come, but willing to make one effort to save my babes, I got from my hiding place, fled into a small adjoining room, off the back stair-case.
And from there, I came across a poem about Vellore by one of my favorite poets, Sir Henry Newbolt. Very much a poet of the Empire, and a good one at that with many memorable poems and lines. Gillespie, his Vellore effort, is not, in my opinion, among the good ones but you can see the sentiment. Sir Rollo Gillespie was the commanding officer of the relieving force who rescued the few survivors. Another day, a few more nuggets of accidental knowledge.
by Sir Henry Newbolt

Riding at dawn, riding alone,
Gillespie left the town behind;
Before he turned by the Westward road
A horseman crossed him, staggering blind.

'The Devil's abroad in false Vellore,
The Devil that stabs by night,' he said,
'Women and children, rank and file,
Dying and dead, dying and dead.'

Without a word, without a groan,
Sudden and swift Gillespie turned,
The blood roared in his ears like fire,
Like fire the road beneath him burned.

He thundered back to Arcot gate,
He thundered up through Arcot town,
Before he thought a second thought
In the barrack yard he lighted down.

'Trumpeter, sound for the Light Dragoons,
Sound to saddle and spur,' he said;
'He that is ready may ride with me,
And he that can may ride ahead.'

Fierce and fain, fierce and fain,
Behind him went the troopers grim,
They rode as ride the Light Dragoons
But never a man could ride with him.

Their rowels ripped their horses' sides,
Their hearts were red with a deeper goad,
But ever alone before them all
Gillespie rode, Gillespie rode.

Alone he came to false Vellore,
The walls were lined, the gates were barred;
Alone he walked where the bullets bit,
And called above to the Sergeant's Guard.

'Sergeant, Sergeant, over the gate,
Where are your officers all?' he said;
Heavily came the Sergeant's voice,
'There are two living and forty dead.'

'A rope, a rope,' Gillespie cried :
They bound their belts to serve his need.
There was not a rebel behind the wall
But laid his barrel and drew his bead.

There was not a rebel among them all
But pulled his trigger and cursed his aim,
For lightly swung and rightly swung
Over the gate Gillespie came.

He dressed the line, he led the charge,
They swept the wall like a stream in spate,
And roaring over the roar they heard
The galloper guns that burst the gate.

Fierce and fain, fierce and fain,
The troopers rode the reeking flight:
The very stones remember still
The end of them that stab by night.

They've kept the tale a hundred years,
They'll keep the tale a hundred more:
Riding at dawn, riding alone,
Gillespie came to false Vellore.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

From remarkably early in the age of the first printed books Europe’s rulers invested considerable effort in communicating with their citizens

From The Invention of News: How The World Came to Know About Itself by Andrew Pettegree.
This was not unproblematic, particularly for the traditional leaders of society who were used to news being part of a confidential service, provided by trusted agents. Naturally the elites sought to control this new commercial market, to ensure that the messages delivered by these news books would show them in a good light. Printers who wanted their shops to remain open were careful to report only the local prince’s victories and triumphs, not the battlefield reverses that undermined his reputation and authority. Those printers who co-operated willingly could rely on help in securing access to the right texts. Court poets and writers, often quite distinguished literary figures, found that they were obliged to undertake new and unfamiliar tasks, penning texts lauding their prince’s military prowess and excoriating his enemies. Many of these writings made their way into print. For all that this period is often presented as one of autocratic and unrepresentative government, we will discover that from remarkably early in the age of the first printed books Europe’s rulers invested considerable effort in putting their point of view, and explaining their policies, to their citizens. This too is an important part of the story of news.

The patriotic optimism of the news pamphlets served Europe’s rulers well in their first precocious efforts at the management of public opinion. But it posed difficulties for those whose decisions relied on an accurate flow of information. Merchants ready to consign their goods to the road had to have a more measured view of what they would find – news pamphlets that obscured the true state of affairs were no good to them if what was important was that their cargoes should safely reach their destination. The divisions within Europe brought about by the Reformation were a further complicating factor: the news vendors of Protestant and Catholic nations would increasingly reproduce only news that came from their side of the confessional divide. News therefore took on an increasingly sectarian character. All this led to distortions tending to obscure the true course of events. This might be good for morale, but for those in positions of influence who needed to have access to more dispassionate reporting the growth of this mass market in news print was largely a distraction. For this reason the rash of news pamphlets that flooded the market in the sixteenth century did not drive out the more exclusive manuscript services. The avvisi continued to find a market among those with the money to pay; in many parts of Europe confidential manuscript news services continued to prosper well into the second half of the eighteenth century.

Logical root causes are not necessarily the right root causes.

Well, that's thought provoking.

It is glib and sounds so easily right. But is it? Instinctively, I am very supportive of global trade. Strategically and in the long run, it absolutely increases the productivity and welfare of everyone. Short term it is, of course, disruptive and does destroy jobs in one location while creating more in another location depending on relative costs and productivity.

Trade hurts many people, skilled and unskilled. Hurts in the sense that it disrupts. Some people disrupted end up better off and some worse. On balance, over time, the benefits exceeds the costs but not for every person. There are people who definitely will suffer, even in the long run. Are the unskilled disproportionately affected in a negative way by global trade? I am not sure. Trade displaces lower value-add production and forces us nationally up the value add curve.

But those jobs lost to trade are not unskilled labor. They are, however, fungible skills easily relocated. Maybe it is splitting a hair to distinguish between unskilled and lower skilled.

I suspect the heart of the matter is really technology disruption which is a much clearer disruptor of jobs.

I am guessing that the linkage is that global competition (not trade per se) drives technology displacement. Technology displacement rewards the higher skilled and harms the lower skilled (and those that are less adaptive).

We end up with a pool of lower skilled people who also might be less adaptive (older, physically less capable, less optimistic or culturally resilient, etc.) who are being asked to let go of that which is familiar and make hard and expensive adjustments. Those are the ones who suffer.

Meanwhile, the younger, richer (buffers them from the hardships of adjustment), the brighter and/or better educated, benefit by being forced up the value curve earlier in their career when there are fewer sunk costs.

This dynamic would seem to explain in part the hollowing out of the middle class.

Even Kaus's observation about immigration seems subject to refinement. It is not that they are unskilled that is the distinguishing factor. It is that they are young. Disruption occurs and the young are more likely to adapt easier than the older.

I suspect that Kaus has captured correctly the popular formulation of the chain of causation. Hence the support of Bernie and Trump over the establishment candidates. The establishment protects itself and not citizens. The elite do not bear the real, direct cost of global competition, technology change and immigration.

The fact that the formulation is not quite right doesn't change people's conviction that it is right. It clearly sounds right.

The problem is that we need to know the real causation in order to understand what can really be done.

Even if we were to erect massive tariffs to restrict trade, that doesn't address the still existent competition. If everyone outside the country is reducing costs and becoming more efficient, then tariffs only delay the adjustment, not the fact that we will have to adjust.

Similarly, can technology development really be slowed, even if we wanted to? Again, likely that this is simply a systemic force that has to be accommodated and adjusted to.

That leaves immigration as the only lever likely to be subject to adjustment. Of course, even here, the latitude is probably a lot less than we would wish. Certainly we can do a lot better at reducing legal immigration (if we wanted to) and even illegal immigration. It is a matter of consistent and diligent enforcement. But as long as the immigration flow is demographically unbalanced (younger) then there will still be a disproportionate harm to the older, poorer and less adaptable.

I don't have an answer other than to use the regulatory processes to slow things down a little without actually opposing the adjustments.

I think that means that the issue is to change focus away from trade and technology as causal factors. Yes, immigration remains a focus for more effective management. Perhaps the focus most needs to be on helping citizens to adjust behaviors and values, make it easier and cheaper to acquire new skills, and think more creatively about how work can be designed to mitigate the impact of aging.

Which US state is closest to Africa?

Very interesting information. Virtually useless of course other than to remind us that the obvious is often not so obvious. From Which US state is closest to Africa? It's not Florida by Sean Kane.

I went with Cape Hatteras while Florida also seems a reasonable candidate. In fact, the answer is Quoddy Head Light in Maine. We are not talking about small differences either. Quoddy Head Light is closer to Africa than Florida by nearly nine hundred miles.

Click to enlarge.

Well somebody told us Wall Street fell

Another evening playing Spotify in the background. From Song of the South by Alabama

The line that caught my ear:
Well somebody told us Wall Street fell
But we were so poor that we couldn't tell
That resonates.

Monday, July 25, 2016

You've read the book so you better do it

George E.P. Box on how he became a statistician. From Wikipedia.
I want to tell you how I got to be a statistician. I was, of course, born in England and in 1939... when war broke out in September of that year, although I was close to getting a degree in Chemistry, I abandoned that and joined the Army. They put me in the Engineers (and when I see a bridge I still catch myself calculating where I would put the charges to blow it up).

Before I could actually do any of that I was moved to a highly secret experimental station in the south of England. At the time they were bombing London every night and our job was to help to find out what to do if, one night, they used poisonous gas.

Some of England's best scientists were there. There were a lot of experiments with small animals, I was a lab assistant making biochemical determinations, my boss was a professor of physiology dressed up as a colonel, and I was dressed up as a staff sergeant.

The results I was getting were very variable and I told my colonel that what we really needed was a statistician.
He said "we can't get one, what do you know about it?" I said "Nothing, I once tried to read a book about it by someone called R. A. Fisher but I didn't understand it". He said "You've read the book so you better do it", so I said, "Yes sir"

The passionate advocacy that had accompanied the Reformation

From The Invention of News: How The World Came to Know About Itself by Andrew Pettegree.
The real transformation of the news market would come from the development of a news market in print. This would occur only haltingly after the first invention of printing in the mid-fifteenth century. For half a century or more thereafter printers would follow a very conservative strategy, concentrating on publishing editions of the books most familiar from the medieval manuscript tradition. But in the sixteenth century they would also begin to open up new markets – and one of these was a market for news. News fitted ideally into the expanding market for cheap print, and it swiftly became an important commodity. This burgeoning wave of news reporting was of an entirely different order. It took its tone from the new genre of pamphlets that had preceded it: the passionate advocacy that had accompanied the Reformation. So this sort of news reporting was very different from the discreet, dispassionate services of the manuscript news men. News pamphlets were often committed and engaged, intended to persuade as well as inform. News also became, for the first time, part of the entertainment industry. What could be more entertaining than the tale of some catastrophe in a far-off place, or a grisly murder?
The transition from news purely as a source of data to news as a source of emotional entertainment. Elsewhere in these notes, I have quoted some writer, perhaps Dickens, relating his observation of the neighborhood execution of common criminal somewhere in Italy. Yes, here it is: A rumour got about, among the crowd, that the criminal would not confess. This was in 1846 -
Nobody cared, or was at all affected. There was no manifestation of disgust, or pity, or indignation, or sorrow. My empty pockets were tried, several times, in the crowd immediately below the scaffold, as the corpse was being put into its coffin. It was an ugly, filthy, careless, sickening spectacle; meaning nothing but butchery beyond the momentary interest, to the one wretched actor.
A tumble of thoughts. In various places, there has been speculation that perhaps social activities of the 15th-19th centuries might have had some real evolutionary pressure on the biology of the human species. Specific instances I recall include the prevalence of mortal dueling in Europe and the mass utilization of capital punishment for crimes that to our eyes seem trivial. Dickens catches that sense of trivial execution. Another young man dead and it is no more than a neighborhood entertainment that will be repeated many times in the year. I can't readily find the data but I seem to recall the annual toll from dueling in Paris alone being in the hundreds.

Small populations, high death rates for activities that were contrasocial - might they actually have winnowed the gene pool and helped shape a population more biologically inclined towards prosocial behaviors, tolerance, cooperation, etc.?

Theoretically possible I suppose. Certainly it seems an element behind Gregory Clark's work.

Here is another stray element. Saved by the book. Another form of evolutionary pressure, this one towards literacy.
From Ben Jonson, Britain’s first literary celebrity? by Brian Vickers. In much of Europe through at least the 18th century, if you could read, you were excused from capital punishment.
In his turbulent career Jonson had many scrapes with the law, including prosecution for manslaughter, having killed the actor Gabriel Spencer in a duel in Hoxton Fields. Jonson escaped the gallows thanks to the old law excusing those who could read the so-called “neck-verse” from Psalm 51 as a test of literacy. In several plays, Jonson echoes his own experience with allusions to characters being “saved by the book”.
Trying to organize the tumble of thoughts. In the period of 15-19th century Europe, there is a mass spread of literacy. There are practices (dueling and profligate capital punishment) which put pressure on winnowing out genes towards violence and genes that might inhibit self-control. Possibly also genes that obscure the capacity to discern the cognitive state of others.

Into this mix we throw the emergence of news as a mechanism for inflaming emotional responses to news, thus likely increasing the rate of casual capital punishment and possibly improving the targeting of capital punishment to those low in self-control. Newspapers were concentrated in cities where there was an especial need for greater societal cooperation.

I guess the question becomes - Did the desire for emotional/advocacy news entertainment inadvertently lead to a culling of the population in such a fashion as to increase prosociality and literacy?

Hugely speculative. But entertainingly so.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.

Quotes from the great statistician George E.P. Box.
One important idea is that science is a means whereby learning is achieved, not by mere theoretical speculation on the one hand, nor by the undirected accumulation of practical facts on the other, but rather by a motivated iteration between theory and practice.
- Science and Statistics (1976), Page 791

Since all models are wrong the scientist cannot obtain a "correct" one by excessive elaboration. On the contrary following William of Occam he should seek an economical description of natural phenomena. Just as the ability to devise simple but evocative models is the signature of the great scientist so overelaboration and overparameterization is often the mark of mediocrity.
- Science and Statistics (1976), Page 792

The researcher hoping to break new ground in the theory of experimental design should involve himself in the design of actual experiments. The investigator who hopes to revolutionize decision theory should observe and take part in the making of important decisions.
- Science and Statistics (1976), Page 792

For the theory-practice iteration to work, the scientist must be, as it were, mentally ambidextrous; fascinated equally on the one hand by possible meanings, theories, and tentative models to be induced from data and the practical reality of the real world, and on the other with the factual implications deducible from tentative theories, models and hypotheses.
- Science and Statistics (1976), Page 792

Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.
- Empirical Model-Building and Response Surfaces (1987), Page 424

Election 2016 - The lost Twilight Zone Episode

The internet is on fire with the e-mail revelations about the DNC collusion with the Clinton campaign, the stripping of Debbie Wasserman Schultz of her Convention speaking slot, and her subsequent resignation.

Meanwhile, the unmooredness of this election from any sense of norms or even reality seems to grow ever greater. I next come across this.

Supposedly from the Clinton campaign:
I want to thank my longtime friend Debbie Wasserman Schultz for her leadership of the Democratic National Committee over the past five years. I am grateful to Debbie for getting the Democratic Party to this year's historic convention in Philadelphia, and I know that this week's events will be a success thanks to her hard work and leadership. There's simply no one better at taking the fight to the Republicans than Debbie--which is why I am glad that she has agreed to serve as honorary chair of my campaign's 50-state program to gain ground and elect Democrats in every part of the country, and will continue to serve as a surrogate for my campaign nationally, in Florida, and in other key states. I look forward to campaigning with Debbie in Florida and helping her in her re-election bid--because as President, I will need fighters like Debbie in Congress who are ready on day one to get to work for the American people.
Surely that can't be right? (I know, I know - Don't call me Shirley) The Clinton campaign is accused of inappropriately colluding with the DNC to rig the system for Clinton. Accusation is pooh-poohed in the media. E-mails reveal the accusation is true. Leader of the DNC resigns and immediately accepts a position in the Clinton campaign?

No, No, No. That has to be a spoof.

A quick check on the New York Times sheds no light but paragraph 32, (THIRTY-TWO!!!), in the Washington Post seems to confirm it. If I were a Bernie supporter, I would be livid at the crony-capitalism, insider dealing and rewarded dishonesty on display.

This election cycle has the hallmarks of a lost Twilight Zone episode.

Titanic in Philadelphia

Of course things aren't nearly that bad for the Democratic National Convention, but still, this is pretty witty anyway.

Pathological defect or personality quirk? Journalist or campaign operative with a byline?

Well, that's awkward timing. A couple of days ago, it was revealed that at least one Politico "journalist" (AKA Democrat operative with a byline) has been submitting his articles to the Clinton campaign for prior approval before publication. Now we have Why Can’t Hillary Stop Fudging the Truth? by Todd S. Purdum, an extended effort to softly, softly turn a pathological compulsion to lie about everything into a kinder, gentler personality quirk that needs understanding.

This isn't, contra Purdum, about fudging the truth and sins of omission. This is about self-serving lying.

Purdum's is an odd article to publish after just having been exposed as a Clinton Campaign house organ. Perhaps, focused on campaign writing, Politico "journalists" don't actually read the news and therefore don't realize they have been exposed? An absurd speculation except, in this campaign cycle, it seems that there is no speculation so absurd that can be indulged in that doesn't have a real prospect of turning out to be true.

Purdum's article is an exercise itself in sycophancy and dissimulation.

Europe’s more humble residents sought out news where they could find it: in conversation, correspondence, from travelers and friends.

From The Invention of News: How The World Came to Know About Itself by Andrew Pettegree.
In the first stages of our narrative almost no one made money from supplying news. On the contrary, the provision of news was so expensive that only the elites of medieval Europe could afford it. You either had to pay large sums to build up a network of messengers – a fixed cost that proved beyond the means even of some of Europe’s wealthiest rulers – or rely on those under a social obligation to provide news for free: feudal dependants, aspirants for favor, or, in the case of the Church, fellow clerics. Even Europe’s most mighty princes frequently cut costs by handing their despatches to friendly merchants, who would carry them for free.

It is only in the sixteenth century that we will encounter the systematic commercialization of these services. The first to make money from selling news were a group of discreet and worldly men who plied their trade in the cities of Italy. Here in Europe’s most sophisticated news market they offered their clients, themselves powerful men, a weekly handwritten briefing. The most successful ran a shop full of scribes turning out several dozen copies a week. These avvisi were succinct, wide ranging and remarkably well informed. They are one of the great untold stories of the early news market.

This was an expensive service, yet such was the thirst for information that many of Europe’s rulers and their advisers subscribed to several of them. But such facilities only met the needs of those for whom access to the best sources of information was a political necessity. The vast majority of the population made do with what news they could come by for free: in the tavern or marketplace, in official announcements proclaimed on the town hall steps. These too played an important role in shaping the climate of opinion, and would remain an essential part of the news market throughout the period covered in this book. Europe’s more humble residents sought out news where they could find it: in conversation, correspondence, from travelers and friends.
I wonder if there is an insight here into the differing evolutions of the powers in Europe versus the more autocratic powers in Asia. What I see being described here is essentially a competitive market for news. Granted a fragile market, but competitive none-the-less. Competitive between buyers of the service as well as competitive among the providers.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy

From Jerry Pournelle's website.
Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people:
First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.
The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

The credit of the report was closely linked to the reputation of the teller

From The Invention of News: How The World Came to Know About Itself by Andrew Pettegree.
Very occasionally, through a diary or family chronicle, we have a window into the process by which early news readers weighed and evaluated these news reports. One such was Herman Weinsberg, who lived in the great German city of Cologne in the later sixteenth century. Weinsberg, it must be said, was a very odd man. It was only after his death that his appalled family discovered that he had memorialized all their doings in an expansive chronicle of their lives and times. Weinsberg, who lived a comfortable existence on the rents from inherited property, took a close interest in contemporary events. Living outside the circles of the city elite, he was forced to rely on what he picked up from friends, or read in purchased pamphlets. Happily a news hub like Cologne was drenched in information, but not all sources could be relied upon. Weinsberg’s technique was to weigh conflicting reports to discern the ‘general opinion’ or consensus. In this he unconsciously imitated precisely the process followed by the city’s magistrates, or at Europe’s princely courts. But sometimes it was simply impossible to discern the true state of affairs. When in 1585 the nearby town of Neuss was surprisingly captured by forces of the Protestant Archbishop Gerhard von Truchsess, Weinsberg heard no fewer than twelve different accounts of how the archbishop’s soldiers had slipped into the town undetected. He interviewed eyewitnesses who told their own story. The city council sent messenger after messenger to find out what had happened, but they were prevented from entering the town. Weinsberg had eventually to conclude that the true facts might never be known: ‘Each person cannot truly say and know more than what he had seen and heard at the place where he was at that hour. But if he heard about it from others, the story may be faulty; he cannot truly know it.’

The exponential growth of news reporting did not necessarily make things easier; many believed it made things worse. In fact, for those traditionally in the know, the industrialization of news, the creation of a news industry where news was traded for profit, threatened to undermine the whole process by which news had traditionally been verified – where the credit of the report was closely linked to the reputation of the teller. In the burgeoning mass market this vital link – the personal integrity of those who passed on the news – was broken.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, idle bellies

Epimenides of Knossos (in Crete) circa 600 BC is credited with saying that "All Cretans are liars." A statement appearing to be nullified by the fact of Epimenides being a Cretan. This is known as Epimenides' Paradox. I was looking this up to confirm my memory. In reading the Wikipedia entry, I came across a fact that I am not sure I ever registered. Not only do we know of Epimenides' Paradox from Greek literature but also from The Bible.

From Epistle to Titus, 1:12–13
One of Crete's own prophets has said it: 'Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, idle bellies'.

He has surely told the truth. For this reason correct them sternly, that they may be sound in faith instead of paying attention to Jewish fables and to commandments of people who turn their backs on the truth.
I wonder how many other instances there are where something Greek is captured in The Bible in this fashion.

How could one tell the signal from the noise?

From The Invention of News: How The World Came to Know About Itself by Andrew Pettegree.
Not all news concerned events of such momentous or immediate relevance. Even before the publication of the first weekly newspapers in the seventeenth century, enormous quantities of news were available for those prepared to pay for it, or even just to follow the talk in the market square. To Defoe this abundance was a great miracle of modern society. To others it was deeply troubling. From this great mass of swirling information how could one extract what was truly significant? How could one tell the signal from the noise?

Those who followed the news had to devise their own methods of making their way through the mass of rumor, exaggeration and breathlessly shared confidences to construct a reasonable version of the truth. First they tended to exclude the purely personal and parochial. Our ancestors certainly delighted in the tales of the ambitions, schemes and misfortunes of their families, neighbors and friends: who was to marry whom, which merchants and tradesmen faced ruin, whose reputation had been compromised by a liaison with a servant or apprentice. When in 1561 a citizen of Memmlingen in southern Germany rather unwisely decided to get to the bottom of who had spread a rumor that his daughter had fled town to conceal an unwanted pregnancy, fifty citizens could offer precise recollections of how they first heard this delicious gossip. But however eagerly consumed and passed on, this sort of scuttlebutt was not generally what people thought of as news. When men and women asked friends, business partners or neighbors, ‘What news?’, they meant news of great events: of developments at court, wars, battles, pestilence or the fall of the great. This was the news that they shared in correspondence and conversation, and this was the news that fueled the first commercial market in current affairs.
The issue of over abundance of raw data and a dearth of verified data is clearly of long standing, even back when there simply wasn't all that much data in the first place.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

We have no time to stand and stare

by William Henry Davies

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

The search for corroboration

From The Invention of News: How The World Came to Know About Itself by Andrew Pettegree.
Even as news became more plentiful in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the problem of establishing the veracity of news reports remained acute. The news market – and by the sixteenth century it was a real market – was humming with conflicting reports, some incredible, some all too plausible: lives, fortunes, even the fate of kingdoms could depend on acting on the right information. The great events of history that pepper these pages were often initially mis-reported.

In 1588 it was originally thought throughout much of continental Europe that the Spanish Armada had inflicted a crushing defeat on the English fleet; as in this case, the first definitive news was frequently outrun by rumor or wishful thinking, spreading panic or misjudged celebration. It was important to be first with the news, but only if it was true. This troubling paradox initiated a second phase in the history of news analysis: the search for corroboration. As we will see, by the sixteenth century professional news men had become quite sophisticated in their handling of sensitive information. The first intimation of tumultuous events was reported, but with the cautious reflection ‘this report is not yet confirmed’. Europe’s rulers would pay richly for the earliest report of a crucial event, but they often waited for the second or third report before acting upon it. But this was not a luxury all could afford: for the French Protestants hearing news of the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in August 1572, only immediate action might save them from becoming one of the next victims. In these troubled times news could be a matter of life and death.


Very interesting. From Wikipedia regard Edgar Allan Poe's composition of The Raven.
"The Raven"

In the essay, Poe traces the logical progression of his creation of "The Raven" as an attempt to compose "a poem that should suit at once the popular and the critical taste." He claims that he considered every aspect of the poem. For example, he purposely set the poem on a tempestuous evening, causing the raven to seek shelter. He purposefully chose a pallid bust to contrast with the dark plume of the bird. The bust was of Pallas in order to evoke the notion of scholar, to match with the presumed student narrator poring over his "volume[s] of forgotten lore." No aspect of the poem was an accident, he claims, but is based on total control by the author.

Even the term "Nevermore," he says, is based on logic following the "unity of effect." The sounds in the vowels in particular, he writes, have more meaning than the definition of the word itself. He had previously used words like "Lenore" for the same effect.

The raven itself, Poe says, is meant to symbolize Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. This may imply an autobiographical significance to the poem, alluding to the many people in Poe's life who had died.


It is uncertain if Poe really followed the method he describes in "The Philosophy of Composition." T. S. Eliot said: "It is difficult for us to read that essay without reflecting that if Poe plotted out his poem with such calculation, he might have taken a little more pains over it: the result hardly does credit to the method." Biographer Joseph Wood Krutch described the essay as, "a rather highly ingenious exercise in the art of rationalization than literary criticism."

It is apparent, however, that many French literary figures and composers believed that Poe composed "The Raven" in the manner depicted in "The Philosophy of Composition." Maurice Ravel, in a July 1931 interview, stated that "the finest treatise on composition, in my opinion, and the one which in any case had the greatest influence upon me was [Poe's] "Philosophy of Composition... I am convinced that Poe indeed wrote his poem "The Raven" in the way that he indicated." Charles Baudelaire believed that the "unity of impression, the totality of effect" described by Poe endowed a composition with "a very special superiority."
I can't call them to mind, but I have come across other examples where Continental cultural icons have a dramatically different assessment of something than their counterparts in the Anglosphere. Well, actually, I can think of one, the theatrical relevance and assessment of Jerry Lewis.

I can speculate, but I have no good explanation for these instances of diametrical assessment between the two schools of thought.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Reptiles of the mind

From The marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake.
Without contraries there is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate are necessary to human existence.


The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.


Opposition is true Friendship.

At this time regular access to news was the prerogative of those in circles of power

From The Invention of News: How The World Came to Know About Itself by Andrew Pettegree.
Bernard of Clairvaux, architect of the Cistercian order, sat at the centre of one of medieval Europe’s greatest news networks. Those who visited Clairvaux in eastern France would bring him news of their travels; sometimes they would carry his letters away with them when they departed. We are unusually well informed about Bernard’s news network, because over five hundred of his letters survive. But in some respects Bernard is utterly characteristic of the news world of the medieval period. At this time regular access to news was the prerogative of those in circles of power. Only they could afford it; only they had the means to gather it. But even for these privileged individuals at the apex of society, news gathering was not unproblematic. They were fully aware that those who brought them news were likely to be interested parties. The traveling cleric who brought Bernard news of a distant episcopal election might be supporting one candidate; the ambassador writing home from abroad might be seeking to influence policy; merchants hoped to gain from a fluctuating market. Merchants, in particular, had a keen awareness of the value of information, and the dangers of acting on a false rumor. For the first two centuries of the period covered by this book merchants were both the principal consumers of news and its most reliable suppliers.

Empirical measurement trumps gut instinct in hiring.

Well, Ouch!

From Mechanical Versus Clinical Data Combination in Selection and Admissions Decisions: A Meta-Analysis by Nathan R. Kuncel, David M. Klieger, Brian S. Connelly, and Deniz S. Ones.
In employee selection and academic admission decisions, holistic (clinical) data combination methods continue to be relied upon and preferred by practitioners in our field. This meta-analysis examined and compared the relative predictive power of mechanical methods versus holistic methods in predicting multiple work (advancement, supervisory ratings of performance, and training performance) and academic (grade point average) criteria. There was consistent and substantial loss of validity when data were combined holistically— even by experts who are knowledgeable about the jobs and organizations in question—across multiple criteria in work and academic settings. In predicting job performance, the difference between the validity of mechanical and holistic data combination methods translated into an improvement in prediction of more than 50%. Implications for evidence-based practice are discussed.
I need to read this later when I am less tired. My initial read is that IQ tests and similar mechanistic means are substantially better at forecasting future performance than more holistic approaches that seek to incorporate human interpretation.

An elaboration on the abstract:
The results of this meta-analysis demonstrate a sizable predictive validity difference between mechanical and clinical data combination methods in employee selection and admission decision making. For predicting job performance, mechanical approaches substantially outperform clinical combination methods. In Lens Model language, the Achievement Index (clinical validity) is substantially lower than the Ecological Validity.

This finding is particularly striking because in the studies included, experts were familiar with the job and organizations in question and had access to extensive information about applicants. Further, in many cases, the expert had access to more information about the applicant than was included in the mechanical combination. Yet, the lower predictive validity of clinical combination can result in a 25% reduction of correct hiring decisions across base rates for a moderately selective hiring scenario (SR .30; Taylor & Russell, 1939).
A 25% reduction in forecasting accuracy is very substantial. In high turnover industries this could be the difference between a profitable year and a loss.

This goes against much of the received wisdom of the academy. Received wisdom is often wrong. Worth waiting and seeing but this is an interesting finding.

Red legged chicken stands ready to strike

Working late with Spotify playing Cat Stevens' Into White in the background. I have this CD and must have heard it approaching a hundred times or more. In the middle of work, suddenly the line leaps out:
Red legged chicken stands ready to strike
Red legged chicken stands ready to strike? I can't say that I have ever registered that before. What on earth does it mean? The lyrics for the whole song:
I built my house from barley rice
Green pepper walls and water ice
Tables of paper wood, windows of light
And everything emptying into white.

A simple garden, with acres of sky
A Brown-haired dogmouse
If one dropped by
Yellow Delanie would sleep well at night
With everything emptying into white.

A sad Blue eyed drummer rehearses outside
A Black spider dancing on top of his eye
Red legged chicken stands ready to strike
And everything emptying into white.

I built my house from barley rice
Green pepper walls and water ice
And everything emptying into white
Well, that doesn't help. Its late. I don't understand. Perhaps there is a metaphor or allegory I am missing. Perhaps I will investigate when I am less pressed. Perhaps it is just one of those beautiful mysteries. It is, in a way, wonderful how how much we don't understand.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire

From On Exactitude in Science by Jose Luis Borges
In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

- Suárez Miranda, Viajes de varones prudentes, LibroIV,Cap. XLV, Lérida,1658
The story of all guilds and other special interest groups who seek to survive off the lives of others. They expand till they threaten the existence of the host.

Daniel Defoe was not the only one to remark the current passion for news, and the rancorous tone of political debate that seemed to come with it.

I recently purchased The Invention of News: How The World Came to Know About Itself by Andrew Pettegree. It looks like it is going to be a good read.

He starts off with a brief recount of Daniel Defoe's launch of his political journal, Weekly Review of the Affairs of France in 1704 (and continued till 1713). As Pettegree points out, The Review was chiefly a means for Defoe to make money.
Defoe was lucky. He had launched the Review at a time when the reading public was expanding rapidly, along with a market for current affairs. Naturally Defoe made the most of it. When, in an essay in 1712, he turned his mind to this buoyant market for news publishing, he did not hold back. The present times, wrote Defoe, had seen a media explosion. He recalled a time, even in his own lifetime, when there had been no such torrent of newspapers, state papers and political writing. The rage for news was transforming society, and Defoe was happy to be in the thick of it.

Defoe was not the only one to remark the current passion for news, and the rancorous tone of political debate that seemed to come with it. But if he truly thought this was new he was very much mistaken. The conflicts of the English Civil War over sixty years previously had stimulated a torrent of pamphlets, news reports and abusive political treatises. The first continental newspapers were established forty years before that. Long before Defoe, and even before the creation of the newspapers, the appetite for news was proverbial. ‘How now, what news?’ was a common English greeting, frequently evoked on the London stage. Travelers could buy phrase books that offered the necessary vocabulary, so they too could join the conversation: ‘What news have you? How goeth all in this city? What news have they in Spain?’

If there was a time when news first became a commercial commodity, it occurred not in Defoe’s London, or even with the invention of the newspaper, but much earlier: in the eighty years between 1450 and 1530 following the invention of printing. During this period of technological innovation, publishers began to experiment with new types of books, far shorter and cheaper than the theological and scholarly texts that had dominated the market in manuscripts. These pamphlets and broadsheets created the opportunity to turn the existing appetite for news into a mass market. News could become, for the first time, a part of popular culture.

Monday, July 18, 2016

A progressive would say she is a product of her bad environment, a conservative that she is simply a bad journalist of some ignorance

I think it is the work of Jonathan Haidt which has revealed that conservatives tend to know a lot more about progressives (liberals) and their mindsets than liberals do about conservatives. His explanation is grounded in Moral Foundations Theory which posits that conservatives interpret all elective actions through a six sided prism: Care, Fairness, Liberty, Loyalty, Sanctity, and Authority whereas liberals tend to assess an action primarily or only through the lenses of Care and Fairness. There is the further complication that liberals tend to define Fairness as equality of outcomes whereas conservatives tend to define Fairness as equal rules for everyone.

Haidt observes that the liberal mindset is prevalent in the communication industries - Technology to an extent, but certainly in Entertainment (particularly Hollywood), Media (news), and Academia (K-12 and Universities). The closer people are to producing things, the more conservative or libertarian they tend to be. The closer they are to simply talking about things, the more liberal they tend to be.

As a consequence, if you are of a libertarian or conservative mindset (about 80% of Americans based on self-identification), you are surrounded everyday by the miasma of the liberal worldview on TV, in the newspapers, in entertainment, in school. If you are part of the 20% with a liberal worldview, you often live in a bubble that shields you from all the alternative worldviews. You live in a city, you are college educated, you talk about ideas and abstractions a lot, you are upper middle class, etc. You live a Pauline Kael existence (notorious for making a statement later paraphrased as "I can’t believe Nixon won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him.") Conservatives cannot escape the liberal worldview, it surrounds them. Liberals have to actively seek out the conservative worldview(s) despite those views being by far the more prevalent.

All this brought to mind by this "Analysis" of excessive Pauline Kael obscurantism, The first female space shuttle commander will speak at the GOP convention. Huh? by Sarah Scoles. Scoles is a recent graduate of the women's college Agnes Scott, both factors (recent and women's college) increasing the probability of lack of exposure to the real world where things are done, from exposure to alternate ideas, and an excessive exposure to gender ideology and progressivism. A progressive would say she is a product of her bad environment, a conservative that she is simply a bad journalist of some ignorance.

It is a well documented observation that on average, women vote for Democratic candidates more than they do Republican. But among women voters, in the most recent election, 44% voted for the conservative candidate (i.e. Republican). That is a six point gap on either side of 50. Big, but not overwhelming, and indeed, though you wouldn't know it from the press, we have had a couple of elections where the majority of the female vote went to the Republican candidate.

For Scoles though, it is as if that 44% of women don't exist. Space shuttle mission commander (and former fighter pilot) Eileen Collins will speak at the Republican Convention. It is inconceivable to Scoles that a woman could be conservative. In her second paragraph:
With its implied support of Donald Trump, this appearance has left many scientists and space experts scratching their heads. Why would someone who rode a rocket through glass ceilings speak at this event?
Hello Pauline Kael!

Lots of alternative perspectives to explore. How many female space shuttle mission commanders have addressed a Democratic National Convention. None as far as I am aware. What do Democrats have against female astronauts?

Why does Scoles see there as being an incompatibility between being a scientist or space expert and supporting Donald Trump? This seems to go to the implied liberal assumption that you cannot be smart and conservative at the same time, a prejudicial assumption held despite all the voluminous data against it. It is a position of tribal faith not of empirical evidence. Scoles is betraying her core self-conception by indulging in negative prejudices which have no objective basis in fact.

Ironically, Scoles provides the evidence to refute her position that people with a STEM background can't be Republican. It is right there in her article (and confirmed in Wikipedia). Scoles cites the evidence but doesn't do the numbers. In the particular category of astronauts who later became politicans, fully 66% were Republican, including the only scientist among them (Harrison 'Jack' Schmitt). John Glenn (D) and Jack Swigert (R) were out of the fighter pilot tradition while Schmitt (R) was a geological scientist. From this sample of n=3, it would appear that Republicans are the party of science.

The subtle denigration of Commander Collins is not so subtle. Scoles quotes someone describing Collins as a "throwback." Scoles has plenty of space to quote people (Democrats) who see Collins speaking to Republicans as anti-science, anti-female, and anti-progress. Not so for people who see Republicans as fellow Americans, equally smart and equally oriented towards and supportive of science.

It is probably worth noting that across all the campus protests, speech suppression and other progressive repressions which have emerged over the past five years, rarely does any of it come from the STEM departments of the universities. It would appear that progressive utopianism is a symptom of the humanities (and studies departments), not the sciences.

About halfway down the article, we begin to get to what might have Scoles, a Democrat operative with a byline, upset about Collins' speaking to the Republican convention.
Still, her status as a multiple “female first” complicates people’s reactions — especially in an election where Hillary Clinton is a female first, potentially, for commander in chief — no matter how nuanced Collins’s views may be.
Ah. This isn't about Collins, this is about Democrats being concerned that a competent, successful Republican woman with great achievements in STEM might diminish their candidate's record. Why mark this as "Analysis" if it is actually an internal Democratic Party communications planning memo?

There is a passage that I think helps clarify the differences between the mindset of progressives and conservatives. Progressives are greatly given to celebrating firsts. First African-American in space, first female Space Shuttle Commander, first Hispanic mission specialist, etc. Its about group identities and checkbox diversity. Conservatives, tinctured with the tragic view of humanity, see firsts as almost incidental. It is the individual and their achievement against the odds. For a traditional conservative Collins stands out because she bucked the odds as a pioneer and who earned her role as commander through her cumulative achievements. For progressives, it is a diversity box to be checked.

Scoles quotes another Democrat operative taking the odd (for a progressive) position that:
“Being a ‘first’ frequently provides a platform or credibility, and yes, it also often makes people think they ‘know’ everything about you,” Jemison added. “But that single accomplishment doesn't define you."
Scoles' mental gymnastics become excruciating.
And it is true that we are all allowed our own views.
Well thank you. Very generous.

But Scoles still isn't done badmouthing Collins through selective quoting of Democrat operatives.
“She is a career military pilot, so her views on science are no different than many other people's,” he said. “She has no particular expertise in science. She has expertise in flying complex systems. The people who flew the shuttle didn’t do the science.”
Yeah, that's right. Collins doesn't have a background in evidence based reasoning and logic. She was probably a poetry major. Or maybe, like Sarah Scoles, her masters was a MFA in Fiction from Cornell. No you say? Collins got her BA in mathematics and economics from Syracuse University? And she has a Masters of Science in Operations Research from Stanford University? Oh, and a second masters in Space Systems Management from Webster University. Well, what does she know about STEM compared to Scoles' MFA in fiction? Or compared to John Logsdon (NYU PhD in Political Science) whom Scoles is quoting?

What reprobates these people are.

Scoles continues her desperate stretching to shield her candidate from comparison to a woman of real accomplishment.
And just because a person has made a trip to space doesn’t mean their thoughts align with mainstream science (although we don’t know that Collins’s do not).
What? What kind of analysis is this? We are going to raise the prospect that Collins holds eccentric, non-mainstream science views and then immediately acknowledge that in fact we don't have any evidence at all to support that speculation? This isn't journalism, this is political operative smearing of individuals in order to further a political/ideological end. Disgusting.

There is someone who does have some non-mainstream science ideas who will be addressing the Democrat National Convention. I wonder what Scoles thinks of her? From the New York Times.
“You know, there’s a new name,” Mrs. Clinton said in the March appearance. “It’s unexplained aerial phenomenon,” she said. “U.A.P. That’s the latest nomenclature.”

Known for her grasp of policy, Mrs. Clinton has spoken at length in her presidential campaign on topics as diverse as Alzheimer’s research and military tensions in the South China Sea. But it is her unusual knowledge about extraterrestrials that has struck a small but committed cohort of voters.

Mrs. Clinton has vowed that barring any threats to national security, she would open up government files on the subject, a shift from President Obama, who typically dismisses the topic as a joke. Her position has elated U.F.O. enthusiasts, who have declared Mrs. Clinton the first “E.T. candidate.”

“Hillary has embraced this issue with an absolutely unprecedented level of interest in American politics,” said Joseph G. Buchman, who has spent decades calling for government transparency about extraterrestrials.

Mrs. Clinton, a cautious candidate who often bemoans being the subject of Republican conspiracy theories, has shown surprising ease plunging into the discussion of the possibility of extraterrestrial beings.

She has said in recent interviews that as president she would release information about Area 51, the remote Air Force base in Nevada believed by some to be a secret hub where the government stores classified information about aliens and U.F.O.s.
Just to clarify, for Scoles, her candidate having a BA in political science and a JD constitute superior STEM bona fides compared to having multiple science degrees from multiple prestigious universities. Indulging in UFO conspiracy theories constitutes a superior STEM achievement over commanding a Space Shuttle mission. Just checking because I was a little confused there for a while.

Go to the Washington Post article and read the comments for a further raucous mockery of this pretense at reporting and analysis.

Sarah Scoles apparently isn't even a Washington Post reporter. She is a freelance "science" writer. Wherever it is that she lives, apparently the boundaries are dreadfully circumscribed. Women can't be Republican, Republicans can't be scientists, and whatever you write has to support your preferred party regardless of the cost to your journalistic reputation.

Shame on Scoles but even more so on the Washington Post for such pathetic tripe.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The answers are out there, just not easily accessible

Well that's interesting. It's sociology so caveat lector. From Scientific progress, risk, and development: Explaining attitudes toward science cross-nationally by Anne M Price and Lindsey P Peterson. Their abstract:
Declining public confidence in science is a concern in the US and Europe, but it is unclear what predicts confidence in science in developed countries, let alone in developing countries. This article examines how development and ‘risk society’ shape individual attitudes toward science across 47 diverse countries, using four theoretically driven measures of risk society. It is found that people in affluent societies have lower support for science than those in less affluent societies. Specifically, individuals holding post-materialist attitudes and living in countries with greater human and economic development (measured by higher internet access and tertiary enrollment, and lower infant mortality) have lower confidence in future-oriented science. The article concludes that the scientific gains that are brought by affluence are accompanied by heightened fears of human-made risks.
There are a number of observable correlations which are difficult to reconcile with one another or in a logical framework.
Countries that become more secular also experience a drop in total fertility rate, usually to well below replacement (Germany, Japan, Italy, Spain, China, etc.)

This is complicated by the fact that it also correlates with increased prosperity.

People who self-identify as progressive and open-minded show a strong correlation with bigotry and close minded behaviors.

Countries that try and foster female empowerment end up constraining women's capacity to compete in all fields of accomplishment.

The less religious a country becomes, the less future oriented it becomes.

The safer a country becomes, the less risk-taking, particularly commercial risk-taking, it displays.
You would think, at only a first order of sophistication, that:
The more prosperous a country, the lower the relative cost of having children and then, therefore, the more children people would have.

The more secular, the more rational and fact-based decision-making people would become.

The more supportive of women as a distinct group, the better outcomes women would experience.

The more prosperous a country becomes, the more it would be able to afford the financial consequences of risk and therefore more risks it would undertake.

The more progressive a person regards themselves as being, the more generous, tolerant, and open-minded they would behave.
Given the observable facts, that's not how the world works. Dropping to next order of sophistication gets to a lot of complications very quickly. The answers are out there, just not easily accessible.

It is actually relatively straightforward to construct a logical explanation for the above observable facts but it involves a more tragic estimation of the human condition than our default utopian/optimistic view.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Learning new words

I finished Vienna Blood by Frank Tallis recently. Very enjoyable. From the blurb:
In the grip of a Siberian winter in 1902, a serial killer in Vienna embarks upon a bizarre campaign of murder. Vicious mutilation, a penchant for arcane symbols, and a seemingly random choice of victim are his most distinctive peculiarities. Detective Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt summons a young disciple of Freud - his friend Dr. Max Liebermann — to assist him with the case. The investigation draws them into the sphere of Vienna’s secret societies — a murky underworld of German literary scholars, race theorists, and scientists inspired by the new evolutionary theories coming out of England. At first, the killer’s mind seems impenetrable — his behaviour and cryptic clues impervious to psychoanalytic interpretation; however, gradually, it becomes apparent that an extraordinary and shocking rationale underlies his actions. . . .
The historical research is very good.

One thing that struck me throughout the book was the author's extensive but not ostentatious vocabulary. It is rare I come across any words with which I am unfamiliar. In this book, eight.

Here are the words with which I was unfamiliar. Some I can surmise something related to their meaning, either from memory or semantic structure. The others? No idea.
Tatterdemalion - ragged?
Penumbral - Having to do with a cloud?
Spatulate - broad and flat, spade like?
Murine - having to do with mice?
Crepitating - dying?
Here are their meanings courtesy of Merriam Webster.
Tatterdemalion - a person dressed in ragged clothing

Tintinnabulary - of, relating to, or characterized by bells or their sounds

Penumbral -
1a : a space of partial illumination (as in an eclipse) between the perfect shadow on all sides and the full light
b : a shaded region surrounding the dark central portion of a sunspot
2: a surrounding or adjoining region in which something exists in a lesser degree : fringe
3: a body of rights held to be guaranteed by implication in a civil constitution
4: something that covers, surrounds, or obscures : shroud

Proscenium - the part of a stage that is in front of the curtain

Spatulate - shaped like a spatula

Borborygmus - intestinal rumbling caused by moving gas

Murine - of or relating to a murid genus (Mus) or its subfamily (Murinae) which includes the common household rats and mice; also : of, relating to, or involving these rodents and especially the house mouse

Crepitating - to make a crackling sound

Haptic -
1: relating to or based on the sense of touch
2: characterized by a predilection for the sense of touch

Writing home

From The Invention of News: How The World Came to Know About Itself by Andrew Pettegree.

Pettegree observes that university students in medieval Europe were also nodes in the meager communication network.
The largest universities drew their students from all over Europe. These young men, far from home, were homesick, and all universities developed a sophisticated letter service to allow them to keep in touch with their families. The first documented case of a university postal service is that of Bologna, established in 1158; such a service was a common feature of almost all universities by the fifteenth century. The university of Salamanca in Spain employed fifteen muleteers for its messengers. Bourges, in France, had six couriers from the date of its foundation. The best documented example is that of the university of Paris. Founded in around 1300, its messengers were appointed by different student 'nations' to serve their locality. The longer journeys were made one of twice a year, shorter routes were covered more frequently. The university messengers were privileged individuals, exempted from a variety of taxes and duties. The positions were very much sought after, and became more lucrative when, from the fourteenth century onwards, the couriers began to carry letters also for other customers. This private postal service was remarkably enduring. Jean de Ravillac, the man who in 1610 would murder King Henry IV of France, was one of the petits messagiers of the university: he made his living carrying letters for a consortium of eighty students.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Minimum wage - the argument continues though the answer is known

One data point does not an argument sustain. But it quite probably is the canary in the coal mine. There is a longstanding argument over minimum wage laws. In economics, it is generally true, absent extremely unusual circumstances, that if you make something more expensive (such as labor), you will reduce the demand for it. Pretty much an iron law of reality.

The problem is that that reality clashes with a genuine desire to simply legislate prosperity. People not earning enough? Raise the minimum wage!

Economists dismiss minimum wages as an idea with too many unintended consequences. You raise the price of labor and businesses who buy that labor will 1) pass along the cost to consumers (reducing their welfare), 2) replace labor with capital (robots or similar), or 3) find other ways to dispense with that labor by redesigning the business processes.

Idealists and progressives embrace minimum wages as an easy answer to a straightforward problem.

You would think that this ought to be an easy question to resolve. Does raising minimum wages decrease employment?

Regrettably, the passion to legislate economic outcomes raises the bar of proof pretty high and the evidence is hard to sort.

One complication is that minimum wages are often passed long after they will have an effect. Example: A city's current minimum wage law is $8 and advocates want to raise it to $10. It has been twenty years since the last time the minimum wage was raised. The average wage for an unskilled worker is now $12. In this scenario, even if the minimum wage increase to $10 is passed, the effects won't be easily noticeable since the average unskilled wage is already $12. Studies might be done and they would arrive at the conclusion that minimum wage laws do not affect the demand for labor because there was no change in labor demand. True, yet irrelevant because the study failed to take into account the context that the average labor rate was already above the new minimum.

Another scenario that occurs with some frequency is when the minimum wage law applies to a very small class. Example: A city passes a law raising the minimum wage from $8 to $10 and that minimum wage applies to all non-management employees. Again with context. The city is 80% a white collar knowledge economy. Most employees are, in FLSA terms, exempt employees. So 80% of employees won't be affected by the minimum wage because they are exempt. Let's also say that for the 20% who are non-exempt, 80% of them are union employees with negotiated contracts above $15. So even though they are nominal beneficiaries of the minimum wage law, it doesn't really affect them. 20% of the labor force is non-exempt and 20% of that group are being paid at levels below the new minimum wage - that's only 4% of the labor force. Whatever the impact of the minimum wage might be, it affects such a small percentage that the effects are swamped by larger forces such as season, weather, economic cycle, etc. It will be hard for an economic study to find an explicit impact from the minimum wage.

The final big barrier to generating good data is time lapse. A minimum wage law passes. Business can't immediately adjust except at the margin. It might take 2-4 years to see the complete impact, the amount of time required to test whether consumers will pay higher prices or determine that the business processes have to be redesigned and those new designs implemented to get rid of labor, or new systems or technology purchased and implemented to displace labor, etc. Over 2-4 years there are all sorts of other events happening. Other laws passed, a crime wave, rare bad weather events, an upturn in the national economic cycle, etc. All these other variables obscure what the actual impact might be of the new minimum wage law.

Well constructed economic experiments to reliably measure the impact of minimum wage laws are big, expensive to conduct, last a long time, and take into account many contextual variables. When these kinds of studies are done, they support the traditional economic view that if you make labor more expensive, less will be demanded. But those aren't usually the kinds of studies that are done. Usually, they are short term studies which don't take into account contextual variables and don't address countervailing forces. These studies are all over the place in their outcomes.

What you are left with is a lot of studies, only a few of which are worthwhile. The worthwhile ones say that minimum wage laws are counterproductive but the people who wish to signal their virtue bona fides by legislating prosperity have plenty of poorly designed studies that will say otherwise. And the argument continues even though the answer is known.

But perhaps there is another way to get at the answer as suggested by Mark J. Perry inFollowing Minimum Wage Increases, Unemployment Spikes among Black Male Teens .

Click to enlarge

What is the class of legal labor that is most vulnerable to employment fluctuations and the price of labor? Young black men (16-19). They are the demographic least likely to have completed high school, have poor educational attainment scores, are more likely to have a criminal record, to face the most competition from illegal immigrants, and to function in the most fragile economic ecosystems (inner cities). They are, effectively, the canaries in the coal mine. If there is any group who are likely to show an impact from new minimum wage laws, it is young black men. The chart seems to indicate that minimum wage laws do indeed have a significant affect on the demand for low skilled labor. Perhaps it is a reporting fluke, perhaps the trend line will stabilize a month or two down the road. Perhaps. But this seems reasonably compelling evidence that the emotional inclination to try and solve economic problems by legislating prosperity should be treated with greater skepticism.