Wednesday, August 31, 2016
This is, I think, the weakest beam in Wade's construction.
Each of the major civilizations has developed the institutions appropriate for its circumstances and survival. But these institutions, though heavily imbued with cultural traditions, rest on a bedrock of genetically shaped human behavior. And when a civilization produces a distinctive set of institutions that endures for many generations, one can reasonably ask if some variation in the genes underlying human social behavior may have accompanied the emergence of these institutions.Yes, its more than plausible that behavior shapes institutions and we know that at least some aspects of behavior are genetically influenced.
But has there been such distinctively different influences in the different parts of the world so that there is now distinctively different behaviors (and therefore different institutions)? That is the part I find hard to accept. Possible but it seems improbable.
My hesitancy to dismiss out of hand is heavily influenced by select passages from The Pursuit of Glory: The Five Revolutions that Made Modern Europe 1648-1815 by Tim Blanning. A deeply interesting read. I know much of the information he is recounting in Chapter 2 but he is putting it in a different frame in the past which makes it especially pertinent to Wade's argument. Blanning mentions that before the Industrial Revolution, Europe (and the rest of the world) was stuck in the Malthusian Trap. In particular, there were three winnowers of the population. Not all at the same time but in different cycles. The three were Famine, War and Plague (add in Death and you have the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse).
For Wade's argument to work you need at least two elements. The first is evolutionary pressure and the second is for that pressure to have a direction.
Frequent mass death events is certainly one form of evolutionary pressure. It would at least be influential via a founder effect. Would multiple near extinction effects be sufficient simply through the founder effect to incidentally drive a difference in continent wide behaviors. Possibly, but I instinctively would be skeptical.
The second element would depend on the near extinction events having some shaping commonality. Would the surviving populations survive because, for example, they had a higher disposition towards cooperative behavior? Certainly possible. But if there were similar near extinction events happening in Africa and Asia, wouldn't the outcome be similar? Seems like too many dependent variables to be reliably true.
So I remain skeptical, but here are some of the passages from The Pursuit of Glory: The Five Revolutions that Made Modern Europe 1648-1815 which cause me hesitation and reflection. Pages 43, 53 and 59
Following the catastrophic population losses caused by the Black Death in the middle of the fourteenth century, recovery began in the late fifteenth and continued throughout the sixteenth. But around 1600, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse returned with a vengeance to many parts of Europe, bringing war, plague and famine with devastating demographic consequences.The great plague which struck Castile in 1599-1600, for example, was only the first of many such visitations which reduced the population of the region by a quarter by 1650.
It has been estimated that during the terrible mortalite of 1692-94, 2,800,000 people, or 15 per cent of the total population of France, perished. The 1690s proved to be particularly destructive all over western, northern, central and eastern Europe. In Finland the famine of 1696-7 carried off at least a quarter and perhaps as much as a third of the population. In Scotland, a poor harvest in 1695 was followed by severe failure in 1696, a modest improvement in 1697 but general failure in 1698. In the worst affected counties, such as Aberdeenshire, the mortality rate reached 20 per cent. As Sir Robert Sibbald observed: "Everyone may see Death in the Face of the Poor.'
Some idea of the havoc inflicted by plague can be gained from simple statistics: Naples lost about half its population and Genoa 60 per cent in 1656; Marseilles and Aix-en-Provence lost half in 1721; Reggio di Calabria lost half in and Messina 70 per cent in 1743; Moscow lost 50,000 or about 20 per cent in 1771-2, and so on.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Now all day long until the sun went down
we made our feast on mutton and sweet wine,
till after sunset in the gathering dark
we went to sleep above the wash of ripples.
When the young Dawn with finger tips of rose
touched the world, I roused the men, gave orders
to man the ships, cast off the mooring lines;
and filing in to sit beside the rowlocks
oarsmen in line dipped oars in the grey sea.
So we moved out, sad in the vast offing,
having our precious lives, but not our friends
The church used it power to back the idea of law, first of the Justinian code, a Byzantine codification of Roman Law that was rediscovered around 1070 AD, and then of canon law, the synthesis by Gratian of church laws through the centuries. Because law had the church's authority, sanctioned by a higher power, there emerged in Europe the novel idea that the ruler could not rule in defiance of the law and indeed owed his position to his role in upholding the law.OK. I am attracted to the idea that the concept of Rule of Law was a pivotal institutional/cultural development that explains a lot of divergence in world history between Europe and Asia.
Feudal Europe was a collection of local barons installed in in largely impregnable castles. Kings tended to be the first among equals and had to negotiate with others to exercise power. They were obliged to take account of the concept that the law and not the king was sovereign. They could not tax or conscript peasants because those rights belonged to the feudal lords. Nor could they seize land because of property rights conferred by the feudal system.
National states emerged in Europe as part of a struggle between the king, the elites and other sources of power. The kings were seldom absolute rulers. The limitation on their powers was taken furthest in England, where Parliament raised its own armies, executed Charles I and forced James II to abdicate. The English state thus constructed a system, later followed by other European countries, in which the ruler was subject to the law and in which a representative body held him accountable to it.
But I can't help but feel that this is idea that is best viewed at a distance. Feels too much like a Just So Story. I am not sure that the argument above holds when examined closely. Seems like there are too many exceptions in Europe which leap to mind, and too many instances in India and China where at least moderately similar forces were in play at different times.
So maybe part of the story, but I don't think the complete story.
Monday, August 29, 2016
Not the kind of book I often buy - business, speculative, trendy. But the title alludes to a real issue that I think bears deep consideration in our evolving knowledge and social ecosystem with proliferating affiliative virtual communities. But at $3, you can afford to take a gamble that the packaging belies the substance. On top of that, Clippinger appears to be both deeply and widely accomplished so the probability of useful insight increases substantially.
And in the first few pages, it felt like I was indeed in for a good intellectual ride. Framing of interesting and pertinent ideas. But then I encountered this passage on page 12.
Unfortunately, Hobbes's argument was not just a seventeenth-century intellectual artifice but has come over the centuries, and especially in recent years, to represent a kind of accepted wisdom among "realists" of the Right, whose political philosophy of international politics, contains the conviction that without the firm hand of a presiding authority, the world will revert to a Hobbesian state of nature in which anything goes. . . . The same logic was embraced by President George W. Bush and his war cabinet, who decided that once America was attacked, it could be understood as being in a continuous state of war, which conferred on it moral legitimacy to pursue whatever means it sees fit to defend itself to avenge any and all parties who support or harbor its shadowy enemies. You are either for us or against us. Bring it on. The same moral immunity appears to be extended to the domestic arena as well, by virtue of the fact that some potential terrorists may be domestic - hence, the invocation of Hobbes's state-of-nature argument for domestic surveillance and the weakening of the First and Fourth Amendments. Hobbes has been much in evidence so far in the twenty-first century.Like suddenly stubbing your big toe on piece of furniture you hadn't noticed. This passage is so outside the tone in the other dozen pages that it's unexpectedness increases the disappointment.
Why this grubby, condescending, and incomplete partisan attack? Why the snide air quotes "realists"? Why the inference with "war cabinet"?
Just from this passage, you would think that the Iraq Resolution was not a bipartisan endorsement by both the House and Senate (including a majority of the Democratic senators in the Senate) of a major foreign policy. You wouldn't, from this passage, realize that virtually the entire current Democratic Party leadership (Biden, Clinton, Reid, Feinstein, Kerry, Schumer, etc.) all voted the Iraq Resolution.
Fair enough, the war in hindsight may or may not have been ill-considered or poorly conducted (judgments yet to be settled on either score). But it's inappropriate, if you want to be considered to be making a carefully reasoned argument, to so blatantly distort history in order to make virtue-signaling, high-horse post hoc condescending judgments.
Am I reading a genuine inquiry into the nature of identity in a universally connected world or am I reading some sort of hobby horse polemic?
Reluctantly, but with the hope that this was an aberration, I continued reading.
Just a few pages on, on page 17, there is this:
Yet as will be argued throughout this book, Hobbes's state of nature is a fiction, unsupported and even contradicted by neuroscience, anthropological, and behavior research.Uh oh. Two out of those three sciences are pretty noted for their sloppy and long history of ideologically motivated research and the third has some pretty notable research failures. If you are going to build your argument on those foundations, you are going to have to be pretty cautious.
To be fair Clippinger published this in 2007, preceding by four years Steven Pinker's magisterial The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined which offers pretty compelling evidence that for much of human history, and still in some places, we did indeed live in a close to Hobbesian environment. However, Steven A. Le Blanc had made basically the same argument as Pinker but in 2004 in his Constant Battles: Why We Fight.
Anthropology, sociology, psychology, and behavior research have all been having a bad few years as classic study after classic study fails to replicate. For a sad reflection on this, read Reckoning with the Past by Michael Inzlicht, a practitioner who sees much of his professional life's working washing away under strict scrutiny. Alternatively, and a broader indictment, there is Scott Alexander's Devoodooifying Psychology.
All this overturning of classic work in these fields is recent but even in 2007 and earlier, there was much critical commentary on much of the work being done in these fields. Critics pointed out small sample sizes, reluctance to share source data, non-randomized test groups, etc. as red flags warning us to be cautious.
OK. Now I am pretty jaundiced. In the next few pages Clippinger veers into some significant moral equalizing which I take to be an intellectual exercise but also could be read as a legitimate belief on his part. Then on page 21 we get to:
Both Atta [9/11 terrorist leader] and Curtis LeMay remain heroes to their own. Both are perfect Hobbesian protagonists, from which philosophy they derive their shared moral legitimacy. But Hobbes is wrong, scientifically wrong. It is no longer just a question of theoretical philosophy or opinion, but of replicable scientific observation.Set aside the sophomoric exercise of equating LeMay and Atta (I understand the logical exercise of doing so). On the preceding page (20), Clippinger has just observed that LeMay and Atta shared (in Clippinger's view) the failing of being men "void of doubt."
Fifty words later, Clippinger himself is supporting his argument with a fallacious appeal to authority (SCIENCE) in virtually identical wording as that which he ascribes to Atta and LeMay. Hobbes is scientifically wrong!!!!
A doubly ironical argument to make given that Pinker, Le Blanc, and the Replication movement have now, just a decade later, completely undermined the categorical conclusion that Hobbes is wrong.
The topic of identity in a universally affiliative world remains a worthwhile topic. At twenty pages though, there are a lot of red flags that perhaps there might not be much of value in this work, partisan, over-confident, and ill-sourced as it so far appears to be. Maybe a few more pages just to see, but my hopes are fading.
A central part in the development of European institutions was played by religion. Religion, Fukuyama argues, was critical first in detribalization and second in instituting the rule of law. The essence of the tribal lineage was the descent of property through the male line. But producing a male heir under medieval conditions of short life expectancy and high infant mortality was far from a sure thing. So the tribes had various strategies for keeping wealth within the lineage. These included cousin marriage, divorce if a woman bore no heir, adoption, and the levirate (marrying of widows to their husband's brother.) In addition, women were not allowed to own property.
The church opposed all these heirship strategies, not because of anything in existing Christian doctrine but because it had a better idea: that people should leave their property to the church instead of their heirs. By the end of the 7th century, a third of the productive land in France belonged to the church. The tribes of Europe, whether Frankish, Anglo-Saxon, Slavic, Norse or Magyar, found that conversion to Christianity soon separated them from their property, robbed them of their influence and paved the way to feudalism.
Sunday, August 28, 2016
I first came across Epstein more than twenty years, nearing thirty years, ago as a subscriber to American Scholar of which he was the editor at the time. A master essayist, he was droll, erudite, generous. He is also prolific, with some twenty odd books to his name, with most of them still in print.
One of his most distinctive traits is his liberal use of quotations to illustrate his points. Not just Oxford Dictionary of Quotations quotes but I read this in this book and noted this line quotes. As you read, you can feel ideas and literature across time, genres, and styles being knitted together before your eyes.
His deep love and focus is literature. Mine is non-fiction. Perhaps for that simple reason, I usually dip in and out of his books, sampling here, mulling there. But whether read at a gulp or sampled at leisure, I have many of his books and recommend them to others.
I am just beginning A Literary Education. He relates a serendipitous course which helped determine the direction of his education. I think this is one of the better and more succinct articulations of the value of literature.
To give some notion of the randomness, the almost accidental, nature of education, which has always impressed me, I would say that the most significant course I took at the University of Chicago was a badly conceived one that was, in effect, a history of the development of the novel. This course was ill-taught by an under-confident instructor not yet thirty. The reading equivalent of a dance marathon, in ten weeks the course went - at the rate of a novel per week - from The Princess of Cleves through Ulysses, with stops along the way for Jane Austen, Stendahl, Dostoyevksy, Flaubert, Mann and Proust. What do you suppose a boy of twenty gets out of reading Swann's Way? My best guess is somewhere between 15 to 20 percent of what Proust put into it.Given my love of facts and data and patterns, I am not about to throw over a lifetime's habit of reading nonfiction, but I am certain that had I ever had Epstein as a professor, I would have gotten much more out of literature than the run-of-mill literature classes I have taken.
Yet still but nonetheless and however, something about this course lit my fire. From it I sensed that, if any inkling about the way the world works and the manner in which human nature is constituted were to be remotely available during my stay on the planet, I should have the best chance of discovering it through literature, and perhaps chiefly through the novel. The endless details set out in novels, the thoughts of imaginary characters, the dramatization of large themes through carefully constructed plots, the portrayals of how the world works, really works - these were among the things that literature, carefully attended to, might one day help me to learn.
Mutation, drift, migration and natural selection are all unceasing forces that drive the engine of evolution ever onward
Mutation, drift, migration and natural selection are all unceasing forces that drive the engine of evolution ever onward. Even if a population stays in the same place and its phenotype, or physical form, remains the same, its genotype, or hereditary information, will remain in constant flux, running like the Red Queen to stay in the same place.
Saturday, August 27, 2016
In the brain, oxytocin has a range of subtle effects that are only beginning to be explored. In general, it seems that oxytocin has been co-opted in the course of evolution to play a central role in social cohesion. It's a hormone of affiliation. It dampens down the distrust usually felt toward strangers and promotes feelings of solidarity. "It increases men's trust, generosity, and willingness to cooperate," say the authors of a recent review. (The same is doubtless true of women too but most such experiments are performed only in men because of the risk that oxytocin might make a woman miscarry if she were unknowingly pregnant.)
The trust promoted by oxytocin is not of the brotherhood of man variety - it's strictly local. Oxytocin engenders trust towards members of the in-group, together with feelings of defensiveness toward outsiders. This limitation in oxytocin's radius of trust was discovered only recently by Carsten De Dreu, a Dutch psychologist who doubted the conventional wisdom that oxytocin simply promoted general feelings of trust. Any individual who blindly trusts everyone is not going to prosper in the struggle for survival, De Dreu supposed, and his genes would be rapidly eliminated; hence it seemed much more likely that oxytocin promoted trust only in certain contexts.
De Dreu showed in several ingenious experiments that this is indeed the case. In one, the young Dutch men who were his subjects were presented with standard moral dilemmas, such as whether to save five people in the path of a train for the loss of one life, that of a bystander who could be thrown onto the tracks to stop the train. The people to be saved were all Dutch but the person to be killed was sometimes given a Dutch first name, like Pieter, and sometimes a German or Muslim name, like Helmut or Muhammad (opinion polls show that neither is a favorite nationality among the Dutch.)
When the subjects had taken a sniff of oxytocin, they were much more inclined to sacrifice the Helmuts and the Muhammads, De Dreu found, showing the dark side of oxytocin in making people more willing to punish outsiders. Oxytocin does not seem to promote positive aggression toward outsiders, he finds, but rather it heightens the willingness to defend the in-group.
Friday, August 26, 2016
Human children, on the other hand, are inherently cooperative. From the earliest ages, they desire to help others, to share information and to participate in pursuing common goals. The developmental psychologist Michael Tomasello has studied this cooperativeness in a series of experiments with very young children. He finds that if infants aged 18 months see an unrelated adult with hands full trying to open a door, almost all will immediately try to help. If the adult pretends to have lost an object, children from as young as 12 months will helpfully point out where it is.
There are several reasons to believe that the urges to help, inform and share are "naturally emerging" in young children, Tomasello writes, meaning that they are innate, not taught. One is that these instincts appear at a very young age before most parents have started to train their children to behave socially. Another is that the helping behaviors are not enhanced if the children are rewarded.
A third reason is that social intelligence develops in children before their general cognitive skills, at least when compared with apes. Tomasello gave human and chimp children a battery of tests related to understanding the physical and social worlds. The human children, aged 2.5 years, did no better than the chimps on the physical world tests but were considerably better at understanding the social world.
The essence of what children's minds have and chimps' don't is what Tomasello calls shared intentionality. Part of this ability is that they can infer what others know or are thinking, a skill called theory of mind. But beyond that, even very young children want to be part of a shared purpose. They actively seek to be part of a "we" a group that has pooled its talents and intends to work toward a shared goal.
Thursday, August 25, 2016
Zipf's law states that given some corpus of natural language utterances, the frequency of any word is inversely proportional to its rank in the frequency table. Thus the most frequent word will occur approximately twice as often as the second most frequent word, three times as often as the third most frequent word, etc.: the rank-frequency distribution is an inverse relation. For example, in the Brown Corpus of American English text, the word "the" is the most frequently occurring word, and by itself accounts for nearly 7% of all word occurrences (69,971 out of slightly over 1 million). True to Zipf's Law, the second-place word "of" accounts for slightly over 3.5% of words (36,411 occurrences), followed by "and" (28,852). Only 135 vocabulary items are needed to account for half the Brown Corpus.
The same relationship occurs in many other rankings unrelated to language, such as the population ranks of cities in various countries, corporation sizes, income rankings, ranks of number of people watching the same TV channel, and so on. The appearance of the distribution in rankings of cities by population was first noticed by Felix Auerbach in 1913.
A book should speak for itself. But because A Troublesome Inheritance has provoked an unusual deluge of assaults since its publication in May 2014, it may help readers who wonder what all the commotion is about to restate the book's aim and address some of the criticisms.
The occasion for the book is the voluminous new information about recent human evolution that is emerging from the genome. An ever more detailed portrait is developing of the differentiation of the modern human population since it dispersed from its ancestral Africa homeland some 50,000 years ago. This would be a purely scientific story, except that race, which is the results of this differentiation, is a subject of much political controversy.
History occurs within the framework of human evolution. The two subjects are always treated separately, as if human evolution had sputtered to a halt some decent interval before history began. But evolution cannot stop. There is no evidence that this convenient hiatus ever occurred. The new findings from the genome make ever clearer that evolution and history are intertwined, perhaps not intimately but enough to allow genetics at least some small role in the shaping of today's world.
The purpose of A Troublesome Inheritance is to explore this novel territory and, incidentally to show how evolutionary differences between human populations can be described without providing the slightest support for racism, the view that there is a hierarchy of races with some superior to others. Differences between populations undoubtedly exist but they are quite subtle. Far from being distinct, races differ merely in the quality known to geneticists as relative allele frequency. These differences exist because, once spread across the globe, the various human populations have necessarily taken different evolutionary paths.
This might seem an unexceptional view, but it bruises a host of academic shibboleths. Many people, including social scientists and much of the academic left, have long made what seems to me an unfortunate choice, that of basing their opposition to racism not on principle but on the claim that race is a social construct, not a biological reality. They are thus furiously opposed, on political grounds, to any discussion of the biological basis of race. Their ideals are honorable, their tactics less so.
By referring to anyone who explores the biological basis of race as a "scientific racist," and thus in essence demonizing them as racists, the academic left has managed to suppress almost all discussion of human differentiation. Most researchers shy away from the subject rather than risk being smeared with insinuations of racism and putting their careers and funding in jeopardy.
Critics of this book have in general ignored its central arguments and tried instead to discredit it indirectly. One tactic has been to imply that the book is racist by attributing to it assertions it does not make. In fact, far from being racist, the book is an attempt to explore how human variation can be understood from an explicitly non-racist perspective. With increasing floods of data from the genome, this is a task that has to be tackled sooner or later. How well I have succeeded in addressing it is for the reader to assess.
Another tactic has been to assert, without evidence, that the book is full of errors and misrepresentations. Such attacks, which have included a letter signed by a large number of academic geneticists, do not cite specific instances of either fault; the reader is expected to accept the critics' mere say-so as sufficient evidence. Such criticisms are politically motivated and, in my view, without merit. To the best of my belief, the book has no major errors and is as accurate as is possible for any description of a fast moving scientific field.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
A Troublesome Inheritance was well received in many circles (Scientific American, the Wall Street Journal, and E.O. Wilson for example) but was reviled by the chattering classes for broaching and discussing Race, IQ, and Evolution.
Wade has effectively disappeared from the scene for the time being and it occurred to me that I ought to order his book as SJWs seemed to be effective at keeping it out of bookstores. In part, I wanted to see whether there was substance to the critics.
By-and-large, no. His speculation is undoubtedly controversial. His concluding paragraph is probably as waspish as he gets.
Knowledge is usually considered a better basis for policy than ignorance. This book has been an attempt, undoubtedly imperfect, to dispel the fear of racism that overhangs discussion of human group differences and to begin to explore the far-reaching implications of the discovery that human evolution has been recent, copious and regional.The core of his argument are those last eight words: "human evolution has been recent, copious and regional." Based on our ever deepening understanding of genetics, DNA and evolution, much that was speculated has been refuted and other speculations affirmed. Evolution did not stop when we came out of Africa and there have been some fairly recent (within the past seven thousand years) changes in different groups (blue eyes among Europeans as well as lactose tolerance for example). We now know that some behaviors have at least a partial basis in genetics. We know that some societal structures are highly correlated with some behaviors.
From these reasonably well-established facts, Wade speculates that some stable cultures might have a greater basis in genetics than we have appreciated in the past. This seems to be the basis for the cries of racism which appear to me to be unfounded. He makes a plausible argument and further knowledge might tip the argument in his direction. In the meantime, however, I think his argument might be plausible and even possible but is, to my mind, improbable. There seem too many potentially confounding factors between evolutionary pressure on behavioral attributes and the resulting cultural attributes.
That said, the book is chock-a-block full of interesting information which I will excerpt over the next few days.
As with our colleges, so with a hundred "modern improvements"; there is an illusion about them; there is not always a positive advance. The devil goes on exacting compound interest to the last for his early share and numerous succeeding investments in them. Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York. We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. Either is in such a predicament as the man who was earnest to be introduced to a distinguished deaf woman, but when he was presented, and one end of her ear trumpet was put into his hand, had nothing to say. As if the main object were to talk fast and not to talk sensibly. We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough. After all, the man whose horse trots a mile in a minute does not carry the most important messages; he is not an evangelist, nor does he come round eating locusts and wild honey.
The Isles of Greece
by George Gordon Byron, Lord Byron
THE isles of Greece! the isles of Greece
Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
Where grew the arts of war and peace,
Where Delos rose, and Phoebus sprung!
Eternal summer gilds them yet,
But all, except their sun, is set.
The Scian and the Teian muse,
The hero's harp, the lover's lute,
Have found the fame your shores refuse:
Their place of birth alone is mute
To sounds which echo further west
Than your sires' 'Islands of the Blest.
The mountains look on Marathon—
And Marathon looks on the sea;
And musing there an hour alone,
I dream'd that Greece might still be free;
For standing on the Persians' grave,
I could not deem myself a slave.
A king sate on the rocky brow
Which looks o'er sea-born Salamis;
And ships, by thousands, lay below,
And men in nations;—all were his!
He counted them at break of day—
And when the sun set, where were they?
And where are they? and where art thou,
My country? On thy voiceless shore
The heroic lay is tuneless now—
The heroic bosom beats no more!
And must thy lyre, so long divine,
Degenerate into hands like mine?
'Tis something in the dearth of fame,
Though link'd among a fetter'd race,
To feel at least a patriot's shame,
Even as I sing, suffuse my face;
For what is left the poet here?
For Greeks a blush—for Greece a tear.
Must we but weep o'er days more blest?
Must we but blush?—Our fathers bled.
Earth! render back from out thy breast
A remnant of our Spartan dead!
Of the three hundred grant but three,
To make a new Thermopylæ!
What, silent still? and silent all?
Ah! no;—the voices of the dead
Sound like a distant torrent's fall,
And answer, 'Let one living head,
But one, arise,—we come, we come!'
'Tis but the living who are dumb.
In vain—in vain: strike other chords;
Fill high the cup with Samian wine!
Leave battles to the Turkish hordes,
And shed the blood of Scio's vine:
Hark! rising to the ignoble call—
How answers each bold Bacchanal!
You have the Pyrrhic dance as yet;
Where is the Pyrrhic phalanx gone?
Of two such lessons, why forget
The nobler and the manlier one?
You have the letters Cadmus gave—
Think ye he meant them for a slave?
Fill high the bowl with Samian wine!
We will not think of themes like these!
It made Anacreon's song divine:
He served—but served Polycrates—
A tyrant; but our masters then
Were still, at least, our countrymen.
The tyrant of the Chersonese
Was freedom's best and bravest friend;
That tyrant was Miltiades!
O that the present hour would lend
Another despot of the kind!
Such chains as his were sure to bind.
Fill high the bowl with Samian wine!
On Suli's rock, and Parga's shore,
Exists the remnant of a line
Such as the Doric mothers bore;
And there, perhaps, some seed is sown,
The Heracleidan blood might own.
Trust not for freedom to the Franks—
They have a king who buys and sells;
In native swords and native ranks
The only hope of courage dwells:
But Turkish force and Latin fraud
Would break your shield, however broad.
Fill high the bowl with Samian wine!
Our virgins dance beneath the shade—
I see their glorious black eyes shine;
But gazing on each glowing maid,
My own the burning tear-drop laves,
To think such breasts must suckle slaves.
Place me on Sunium's marbled steep,
Where nothing, save the waves and I,
May hear our mutual murmurs sweep;
There, swan-like, let me sing and die:
A land of slaves shall ne'er be mine—
Dash down yon cup of Samian wine!
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Your brothers in Syria have no dwelling place save the saddles of camels and the bellies of the vultures? Blood has been spilled!
One of the many is The Crusades through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf. I have a number of books of this ilk but this one is, so far, the most engaging and compelling.
The book was first published in 1984, 32 years before the current events of the Middle East. None-the-less, the prologue of events in August 1099 sound as if they could be describing Syria in 2016. In keeping with the Arab centric perspective, the Franj below are who we would know as the Franks out of France and Germany.
Baghdad, August 1099.I am both fascinated and repulsed by the history of the Middle East and the Crusades in particular. You want to find some redeeming aspect to the great conflict but all there is is the ebb and flow of bloodshed and cruelty from the conquest of Greco-Christian Middle East by barbarous Islamic Arabs out of the desert in the 700s to the attempted reconquest by the similarly barbaric Franj in the 1000s.
Wearing no turban, his head shaved as a sign of mourning, the venerable qadi Abu Sa'ad al-Harawi burst with a loud cry into the spacious diwan of the caliph al-Mustazhir Billah, a throng of companions, young and old, trailing in his wake. Noisily assenting to his every word, they, like him, offered the chilling spectacle of long beards and shaven heads. A few of the court dignitaries tried to calm him, but al-Hawari swept them aside with disdain, strode resolutely to the center of the hall, and then, with the searing eloquence of a seasoned preacher, al-Hawari proceeded to lecture to all those present, without regard to rank.
“How dare you slumber in the shade of complacent safety, leading lives as frivolous as garden flowers, while your brothers in Syria have no dwelling place save the saddles of camels and the bellies of the vultures? Blood has been spilled! Beautiful young girls have been shamed, and must now hide their sweet faces in their hands! Shall the valorous Arabs resign themselves to insult, and the valiant Persians accept dishonor?”
“It was a speech that brought tears to many an eye and moved men’s hearts,” the Arab chroniclers later wrote. The entire audience broke out in wails and lamentations, but al-Harawi had not come to elicit sobs.
“Men’s meanest weapon,” he shouted,”is to shed tears when rapiers stir the coals of war.”
If he had made this difficult trip from Damascus to Baghdad, through three long summer weeks under the merciless sun of the Syrian desert, it was not to plead for pity but to alert Islam’s highest authority about the calamity that had just befallen the faithful, and to urge them to intervene without delay and halt the bloodshed. “Never have the Muslims been so humiliated,” al-Hawari repeated, “never have their lands been so savagely devastated.” All the people traveling with him had fled from towns sacked by the invaders, amongthe people were a few survivors of Jerusalem. He had brought them along so that they could relate, in their own words, the tragedy they had suffered just one month earlier.
The Franj had taken the holy city on Friday, the twenty-second day of the month of Cha'ban, in the year of the Hegira 492, or 15 July 1099, after a forty day siege. The exiles still trembled when they spoke of the fall of the city: they stared into space as though they could still see the fair-haired and heavily armoured warriors spilling through the streets, swords in hand, slaughtering men, women, and children, plundering houses, sacking mosques.
Two days later, when the killing stopped, not a single Muslim was left alive within the city walls. Some had taken advantage of the chaos to slip away, escaping through gates battered down by the attackers. Thousands of others lay in pools of blood on the doorsteps of their homes or alongside the mosques. Among them were many imams, ulama and Sufi ascetics who had forsaken their countries of origin for a life of pious retreat in these holy places. The last survivors were forced to perform the wort tasks: to heave the bodies of their own relatives, to dump them in vacant, unmarked lots, and then to set them alight, before being themselves massacred or sold into slavery.
The fate of the Jews of Jerusalem was no less atrocious. During the first hours of battle, some participated in the defense of their quarter, situated on the northern edge of the city. But when, in that part of the city, the walls overhanging their homes collapsed and the blond knights began to pour through the streets, the Jews panicked. Re-enacting an immemorial rite, the entire community gathered in the main synagogue to pray. The Franj barricaded all the exits and stacked bundles of wood in a ring around the building. The temple was then put to the torch. Those who managed to escape were massacred in the neighboring alleyways. The rest were burned alive.”
Maalouf does a great job of laying out the constant, bitter, titanic struggles between and among four great cultures (Greek, Persian, Arab, and Turk) along with the more minor players (Kurds, Armenians, Jews, etc.). A region in constant strife for more than a thousand years.
Monday, August 22, 2016
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
by W. B. Yeats
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
Kenneth R. Ahern, a professor at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business, examined hundreds of Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission cases from 2009 to 2013, with an associated 5,423 pages of documentation. What emerged was some fascinating detail on the crime and its practitioners (both alleged and convicted).Looks robust.
Stereotypes are confirmed.
Some aspects come pretty close to what we see in the movies. The average insider trader is 43 years old, and nine out of 10 are male.Particularly personality stereotypes:
The practice also seems correlated with some features of recklessness: Insider traders are younger than their associates, less likely to own real estate, and have fewer family members on average. More than half have criminal records, with almost all charges stemming from traffic violations.Insider trading is ultimately a trust-based social activity.
Of the known pairs of people who provide and act upon private information ("tipper and tippee"), 64 percent met before college, and 16 percent met in college or graduate school. Another 23 percent are family relations -- more siblings and parents than aunts and uncles, despite the added capital that the latter might have provided. Tips are also commonly shared among people with ethnically similar surnames: Of 24 tips coming from people with Celtic surnames, for example, 14 went to individuals who also had Celtic surnames.Next set of findings mirrors what I have noticed over the years about commercial and governmental corruption - it is often over small stakes. I don't intend to diminish the magnitude of a $10,000 bribe but when it is in the context of a lifetime's earnings and even in the context of annual salary which is often on the order of $75,000 - $150,000, that is chump change. Why would you put an income of $150,000 at risk over what might be a family week at the beach in Hawaii say?
I see it all the time in the local paper, and $10,000 tends to be on the high end. School principals sacked for dipping into an account for $2,000 over the years, a city councilman indicted for a $6,500 payoff to sway a contract decision, etc.
The insider trading study reveals a similar dynamic, people already greatly compensated in the national scheme of things but undertaking criminal activity to achieve just that little bit more.
The tight circle of trust -- and the associated lack of capital -- appears to limit perpetrators' ability to take full advantage of a highly profitable activity. Returns averaged about 35 percent, realized over an average holding period of 21 days. Yet despite the nearly certain gains available, the median insider trader invested only about $200,000 per tip and received $136,000 in profit. That's hardly enough to retire on. Granted, the much higher average profit of $2.3 million indicates that some investors hit it big -- and maybe the smartest, wealthiest and best-connected insider traders aren’t included in the data because they don’t get caught.Part of the explanation is likely that only the smaller fry get caught and prosecuted. The bigger fish work out deals which keep their numbers out of the court system. Still, the same dynamic of huge risks to secure relatively small improvements.
The insider traders in the sample are hardly rich. The median value of their homes is $656,300, not a lot given that they tend to live in relatively expensive metropolitan areas. Arguably many of them are upwardly mobile enough to have seen real wealth, without quite yet having it themselves.
The average source waits about 12 days between receiving valuable information and providing a tip. This could reflect either indecision about breaking the law or the difficulty of finding a trustworthy tippee. Nearly half, though, pass on the information the same day they receive it, suggesting that a significant group has greater experience and preparation. Repeat offending is also common: The average source gives 2.36 tips, and those who both give and receive tips do even more.
Is it simply just a symptom of insiderdom such as we currently see in politics where individuals with long standing in the public eye still pursue grubby increments of money for favorable trade decisions, speeches, exemptions from the rules that apply to everyone else?
I don't know but I wish we knew enough to stamp out the criminal behavior.
Sunday, August 21, 2016
PlatoXenonophon, precursor of Adam Smith.
In Plato's Republic, the origin of the state lies in the natural inequality of humanity, which is embodied in the division of labour.
Well then, how will our state supply these needs? It will need a farmer, a builder, and a weaver, and also, I think, a shoemaker and one or two others to provide for our bodily needs. So that the minimum state would consist of four or five men.... (The Republic, p. 103, Penguin Classics edition.)Silvermintz notes that, "Historians of economic thought credit Plato, primarily on account of arguments advanced in his Republic, as an early proponent of the division of labour." Notwithstanding this, Silvermintz argues that, "While Plato recognizes both the economic and political benefits of the division of labour, he ultimately critiques this form of economic arrangement insofar as it hinders the individual from ordering his own soul by cultivating acquisitive motives over prudence and reason."
Xenophon, in the fourth century BC, makes a passing reference to division of labour in his 'Cyropaedia' (a.k.a. Education of Cyrus).
Just as the various trades are most highly developed in large cities, in the same way food at the palace is prepared in a far superior manner. In small towns the same man makes couches, doors, ploughs and tables, and often he even builds houses, and still he is thankful if only he can find enough work to support himself. And it is impossible for a man of many trades to do all of them well. In large cities, however, because many make demands on each trade, one alone is enough to support a man, and often less than one: for instance one man makes shoes for men, another for women, there are places even where one man earns a living just by mending shoes, another by cutting them out, another just by sewing the uppers together, while there is another who performs none of these operations but assembles the parts, Of necessity, he who pursues a very specialised task will do it best.
Every military working dog is an NCO - in tradition at least. Some say the custom was to prevent handlers from mistreating their dogs; hence, a dog is always one rank higher than its handler.
"That's out of respect," said Sgt. 1st Class Regina Johnson, operations superintendent at the Military Working Dog School. "I see it all the time, especially in these young handlers. They make the mistake of thinking they're actually in charge. You've got to tell them, 'Hold up. That dog has trained 100 students. That dog is trying to tell you something.' I think the tradition grew out of a few handlers recognizing the dog as their partner."
Johnson said some "non-dog people" get offended when animals receive honors normally reserved for humans, but the tradition seems to be growing stronger. A quick search on the Army website will yield several recent stories about military working dogs receiving promotions, medals and funeral ceremonies with military honors.
The fact is these dogs and handlers save lives. "The more we're out there with the combat commanders, they see. They see that the dog just saved their Soldiers' lives. That dog just saved that entire platoon," Johnson emphasized.
From the introduction:
That the environment in which persons grow up and live in the early stages of their life is an important determinant of lifetime socioeconomic outcomes has been well established in the recent economic literature. Francesconi and Heckman (2016) report that at least 50% of the variability of lifetime earnings across persons is due to differences in attributes determined by age 18. Family and community background, which includes the neighborhood where children grow up and the school they attend, are considered important attributes determining later outcomes (e.g. Page and Solon, 2003; Raaum, Sørensen and Salvanes, 2006; Chetty and Hendren, 2015). Families can determine earnings by transmitting abilities, preference and resources, while communities can influence earnings through neighborhood quality, school quality and peers.Much of the research here in Thingfinder supports the proposition that Family is by far the strongest forecasting variable over school and neighborhoods for future outcomes. Schooling and neighborhoods have influence, but at the margin.
In this paper, we study the relative influence of family, schools and neighborhoods on earnings inequality over the life cycle. While there is a large and growing body of evidence on the influence of each of these attributes on adult outcomes, very little is known about their relative influence on earnings and how it evolves over the life cycle. Understanding the relative magnitude of these initial conditions on earnings throughout the life cycle is important for identifying the driving forces of existing inequalities and for interventions that aim to reduce them, especially because some early influences may be longer lasting than others.
And that is what the researchers found.
This research design shows that, within the environment individuals grow up and live, family is the most important factor in accounting for the inequality of permanent earnings over the life cycle. Neighborhoods and schools influence earnings only early in the working life in an almost equal way, but this influence falls rapidly and becomes negligible after age 30. This implies that, when earnings can only be observed while relatively young, the influence of community on long run earnings inequality is overstated.
Our findings are based on data from Denmark, which, because of its welfare system, is typically considered to promote equality of opportunity. However, as highlighted recently by Landersø and Heckman (2016), there is much less educational mobility than income mobility in Denmark. Low private financial returns to schooling fail to incentivize educational investments among the children of less educated parents. This is consistent with our finding that family is the most important determinant of long run earnings similarities across siblings. Communities seem to affect earnings early in the working life, for example through peers influencing educational choices or youth behaviors, but these influences determine only short term deviations from an earnings profile that – apart from idiosyncratic abilities – mainly reflects characteristics and choices of the family. As administrative datasets and cohort studies mature in other countries, our approach could be applied to measure family and community effects on long run outcomes in other contexts.
Saturday, August 20, 2016
We will sail pathless and wild seas,It is a refreshing dose of the American Spirit. In recent years, there has been too much Gramscian focus on victims and victimhood, identity, and the ills of the past and who is guilty and who is privileged. All very Frankfurt School reformed marxism.
We will go where winds blow, waves dash, and the Yankee clipper speeds by under full sail.
I wish we had leaders who spoke more to the fundamental optimism, tolerance, goodwill, and sense of exploration, challenge and adventure which is so much more the cultural DNA of America than the mimsying of the borogoves which gets the attention.
More from the opening stanzas of the poem:
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.
The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.
Intelligence has been linked to antisocial, violent, and criminal behaviors. Surprisingly, however, there is a lack of research examining whether intelligence differentially affects the risk for personal victimization. The current study addresses this gap in the literature by examining whether adolescent levels of verbal intelligence are related to the odds of personal victimization in adolescence and adulthood. This study analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health). The results revealed a statistically significant and consistent association between intelligence and victimization. Persons with lower intelligence were more likely to report being victimized even after controlling for the effects of violent criminal behavior. Future research would benefit by examining more closely the association between IQ score and the risk for victimization over the life course.This isn't a minor effect size either. Those in the top quartile of IQ have only 60% of the victimization (assault, armed robbery, etc.) rate of those in the bottom quartile.
Friday, August 19, 2016
A startling fact: Extraction of these resource increased immensely, but prices show no long-run tendency to increase pic.twitter.com/vC60zGXG7K— Max Roser (@MaxCRoser) August 13, 2016
In fact, that is the basis, in part, to the Simon-Ehrlich Wager which Julian Simon won. From Wikipedia. Citations and notes removed.
Simon challenged Paul R. Ehrlich to a wager in 1980 over the price of metals a decade later; Simon had been challenging environmental scientists to the bet for some time. Ehrlich, John Harte, and John Holdren selected a basket of five metals that they thought would rise in price with increasing scarcity and depletion. Simon won the bet, with all five metals dropping in price.
Supporters of Ehrlich's position suggest that much of this price drop came because of an oil spike driving prices up in 1980 and a recession driving prices down in 1990, pointing out that the price of the basket of metals actually rose from 1950 to 1975. They also suggest that Ehrlich did not consider the prices of these metals to be critical indicators, and that Ehrlich took the bet with great reluctance. On the other hand, Ehrlich selected the metals to be used himself, and at the time of the bet called it an "astonishing offer" that he was accepting "before other greedy people jump in."
The total supply in three of these metals (chromium, copper and nickel) increased during this time. Prices also declined for reasons specific to each of the five:
The price of tin went down because of an increased use of aluminium, a much more abundant, useful and inexpensive material.In all of these cases, better technology allowed for either more efficient use of existing resources, or substitution with a more abundant and less expensive resource, as Simon predicted, until 2011.
Better mining technologies allowed for the discovery of vast nickel lodes, which ended the near monopoly that was enjoyed on the market.
Tungsten fell due to the rise of the use of ceramics in cookware.
The price of chromium fell due to better smelting techniques.
The price of copper began to fall due to the invention of fiber optic cable (which is derived from sand), which serves a number of the functions once reserved only for copper wire.
Thursday, August 18, 2016
At last, a possible signal towards a reasonable sign that the long nightmarish fever of Anthropogenic Global Warming might be about to break.
In January of this year, James Watson, an Australian scientist who works for the Wildlife Conservation Society, noticed an image that had been tweeted by a friend of his, a physician in Sydney. With a chain of progressively larger circles, it illustrated the relative frequency of causes of death among Australians, from the vanishingly rare (war, pregnancy and birth, murder) to the extremely common (respiratory disorders, cancer, heart disease). It was a simple but striking depiction of comparative risk. “I thought, ‘Why hasn’t anyone done something like this for the rest of nature?’ ” Watson recalled.This is the point that Bjorn Lomborg was making way back in 2001 with The Skeptical Environmentalist. Focus on the science and you get different answers than if you focus on the politics.
The answer was that, until recently, nobody had the data. While many scientists have studied the vulnerability of individual species or groups of organisms (corals, say, or birds) to extinction, only in 2010 did ecologists, conservationists, taxonomists, and naturalists begin to more comprehensively assess the threats posed to species of all kinds—an effort to assemble what the biologist E. O. Wilson has called a “barometer of life.”
Over four months this spring, Watson and Sean Maxwell, a doctoral student at the University of Queensland, used the new data to identify and rank the existential threats to nearly nine thousand species, ranging from otters to lilies. In a commentary published today in the journal Nature, they report that almost three-quarters of the species they studied are threatened by overexploitation—human activities such as logging, fishing, and hunting. More than sixty per cent are threatened by the conversion of habitat to farmland and timber plantations. (Many species face multiple threats.) Less than twenty per cent, however, are currently endangered by the many effects of climate change—drought, extreme temperatures, severe storms, and flooding.
Like other conservationists, Watson and Maxwell were already well aware that poaching and agriculture posed serious threats to many species. But even they were surprised by how dramatically the effects outstripped those of climate change. Much like the causes of human death, the current causes of species loss appear to be inversely proportional to the media attention—and, to some extent, the research and funding attention—they receive.
AGW has always been a political issue. Born out of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its first report in 1990, AGW has been the fulcrum to transfer resources from rich countries to poorer countries. The science was always much more tentative and subjective than allowed. It has, in the intervening years become a global football kicked all around the pitch with no goals ever being scored.
AGW had many bad consequences, few of them to do with the climate. AGW became the fire that sucked all the oxygen out of the environmental room. Many real environmentalists signed up as AGW foot soldiers, never realizing they were being manipulated. Science was another victim of AGW. Politicians being politicians, the AGW controversy became mired in lies and deceptions. Duly hedged forecasts by well intentioned scientists became statements of certainty in the mouths of social justice politicians.
Lomborg, a genuine environmentalists, was one of the first to see the bad outcomes of hijacking science for hubristic ideology. He argued that all environmental decisions needed to be evidence-based and that there were simply too many unknowns about climate forecasting to make the kind of decisions required.
Nobody argues that climate change is not happening. What is debated is how much change, in what direction, by what mechanisms, and to what degree human activities may be causing change or could prevent it. We really do not understand the great complexity of climate to any sufficient degree to make reliable forecasts as evidenced by the failure of the early forecasts to match the reality of actual temperatures.
Lomborg argued (or at least my paraphrase of him) that we live in a world of limits, including budgets. If we are going to spend $1,000 dollars on the environment, then the overwhelming majority ought to be spent on activities with a real world impact such as improved farming practices, better water management, environment and species conservation, etc. Yes, we should spend some few dollars on research and some part of that should be on understanding the climate, but until some point in the future, we simply do not understood enough about climate effects to even know whether a given action will be net positive or detrimental in consequence.
Nijhuis's is the first mainstream reporter I have seen in a long time to not automatically genuflect to the alter of AGW and actually report on real scientific efforts. Kudos.
Less than twenty per cent, however, are currently endangered by the many effects of climate change—drought, extreme temperatures, severe storms, and flooding.Even that is likely an overstatement. Without humans, the climate is always changing with consequent deleterious effects on species and environments. It is not enough to know what percentage of species are threatened by drought, temperatures, severe storms and flooding. We have to know what percentage of those would not have happened anyway. In the human scale of things, probably virtually none, i.e. most of climate change is driven by existing phenomenon such as solar activity and other such independent variables not controlled by humans.
What is easy to lose is the real consequence of focusing for twenty years on climate change instead of more practical environmental concerns. Environmental advocacy has certainly continued but I am convinced that much energy and effectiveness has been lost owing to the diversion of attention to AGW.
I hope Nijhuis's report is the first of many to bring attention back to the environment and saving ecologies and species.
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Among the middle and upper classes we have historically viewed college as a transition point, the passing from dependent childhood to independent adulthood. It doesn't always go smoothly nor in a direct line, but usually the outcome is achieved. Child goes off to college and a young man or young woman comes back.
Lindybeige makes an interesting suggestion in the context of our usual expectations. He focuses on being poor as a critical catalyst to adulthood. As long as there is a ready flow of cash, parents are there to pick you up and save you from the consequences of your mistakes, you can postpone achieving the critical attributes of adulthood.
Among those adult attributes are the ability to
Plan aheadThere are other ways to learn these skills but I wonder whether being poor might be the most effective, as Lindybeige suggests.
Appreciation of small thigns
The federal government, in an effort to extend the benefits of college to everyone, has dramatically expanded federal loan programs so that virtually anyone with a minimum cognitive capacity can now attend or complete college. The problem is that the munificence and generosity of the government is grounded in effervescent hope and the anticipation that only the best will ever happen.
As a consequence, we now have increasing numbers of young adults starting their adult lives with large debt. Given that the debt is to the government, it is essentially to the worst loan shark in the world. There is no forgiveness in bankruptcy and the shark has its fin in your pocket all the time, fishing out whatever loose change might be jingling around.
The problem is exacerbated by the structure of the loan programs. Because it is easy to get the loans, kids will often use the money for non-educational purposes, thus removing the constraint of being poor in college. Holidays to exotic or dissolute places during school, semesters abroad, sophomoric classes with no prospect of improving life conditions, etc. The evidence for unconstrained living in college is extensive. Again, not a blanket indictment. I am privileged to know many young people who are self-supporting in college and who live carefully and frugally. They are just in a much smaller minority than they used to be.
Many business people mock the shocking unpreparedness of "millennials" for the workplace. I am loathe to indulge in such generalizing and I think the problem is likely wildly overstated but it does seem as if there is a postponement of adulthood. More particularly, a postponement of the skills necessary to function as an adult. Which comes to Lindybeige's observation that everyone should experience being poor, (not being in poverty), but being poor for some sustained period of time in order to acquire the skills of delayed gratification, gratitude for small things, making trade-off decisions, etc. These are the skills of life and their exercise is the mark of an adult.
Which connects with another thought I was mulling on a few weeks ago. It seems as if the circumstances of a society becoming prosperous always contains the seeds of its own self-destruction. In the US this is most obvious in the shenanigans and misdirected screeching advocacy of such groups as radical feminists, social justice warriors, black lives matter people, occupy wall street people, etc. One of the notable things about all these people is that they seem closely affiliated to the academy, either as students or as protected professors. These people, in pursuit of their naive utopian idealism, are always threatening to bring down the very institutions and systems which generate the productivity and money to sustain them.
To Lindebeige's point, university used to provide the context for the experience of sustained constraint. For many, it no longer does. What social or cultural institution can take its place where near-adult children can learn the many necessary skills attendant to adulthood?
I am not sure that any of this should be, much less could be, translated into public policy. I suspect that is simply a familial choice, family culture. Find ways for your children to experience sustained constraint somewhere at the point of near-adulthood in order for them to acquire the multitude of behavioral traits that are core to being an adult.
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
What is happening at universities in general and law schools in particular is a moral outrage. The established interests are serving their own venal ends at the expense of poor minority students. They have hidden it for years but it is now becoming more and more obvious.
In the instance Caron is reporting on, the facts are pretty plain. African American and Hispanic students, for a multitude of reasons, pass the bar exam at lower rates than do others. The American Bar Association (ABA) is committed to greater inclusion and diversity.
The context is that the legal industry has had a rough ten or fifteen years with declining demand for services and declining profitability. There are fewer first year jobs for lawyers graduating from law school and the legal profession compensation is lower so fewer people are applying to law school. Law Schools, which used to be cash cows for universities, have, across the nation, seen plunging enrollments. Lower enrollments mean lower revenue.
The response at the federal level has been to make it easier for students to obtain cheap loans to finance their way through the three years of law school. At the Law School level, the response has been to lower admissions standards. They are accepting less and less academically prepared students into their programs.
Less academically talented students mean that a lower and lower percentage are actually passing the bar exam after graduating law school.
That's the rub. What should be done about the situation where Law Schools are admitting more students who are less likely to pass the bar exam (and therefore derive financial benefit from the three years of study.) The moral quandary is that the Law Schools are making it easier for students to go deeply into debt, waste three years of study, and derive no financial benefit. That at the least has the appearance of fraud and unavoidably looks like preying upon the most vulnerable in order to shore up the business model of the most privileged.
Add in race and ethnicity to the mix and you end up with something pretty appalling. The bottom tier of Law Schools desperately need these students, otherwise they will have to close. These schools are packed with African Americans and Hispanic students. They are induced to take on debt while the probability that they will pass the bar exam is low.
The Law Schools apparently have no qualm about this fraud. The ABA ought to be the independent body that closes down this exploitation of poor students. But the ABA has its own objectives. Many of these poorly performing Law Schools are affiliated with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). If the ABA closes schools with low bar pass rates, which they ought to do if they want to prevent exploitation of poor students, then they will disproportionately close HBCU Law Schools which will in turn harm already financially precarious HBCUs. It will also appear that the ABA is targeting Law Schools that have predominantly African-American and Hispanic students.
The ABA wants to keep these schools open and it wants to appear to be more diverse than it is. That means keeping the loans flowing and the bar pass rates low. That approach means that more and more minority students will be exploited by taking on loans that they won't be able to repay, thus locking them in to a downward spiral.
Alternatively, the ABA could take the principled position that Law Schools should only admit students likely to financially benefit from investing upwards of $150,000 and three years in a degree. That means a high pass rate in a short time frame. If they do that, Law Schools will have to do the right thing and only admit those likely to pass. But that means the ABA will have to give up its feel-good goal of achieving more Law School diversity.
Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we subscribe to the SJW worldview.
I would like it if we could focus on the simple objective - don't exploit poor students.
Monday, August 15, 2016
Exhibit A: Why it's critically important to consider the comparison category when interpreting relative trends. pic.twitter.com/8OPckEluQ0— S Dynarski (@dynarski) August 15, 2016
What is also unusual is that rather than attempt a rhetorical argument, Crokin pretty much let's the evidence speak for itself. She lists instance after instance of apparent discrimination on the part of the tech companies against conservatives. I have not checked on even half her instances, but the ones I have, she represents them in an accurate light. There's actually even more material out there that she doesn't use. For example, earlier this year, someone compiled the number of official Google visits to the White House as well as the number of Administration people now working at Google and the number of Google people now working in the Administration. Google was visiting the White House on average weekly and there were several dozen employee movements between Google and the Administration.
Crokin's evidence brings to mind three thoughts.
First - this feels a lot like the IRS scandal in which the Administration used the IRS to suppress the voice and activities of conservative opponents. We are encouraged to accept that this was just a once-off aberration with no significance. Three or four years ago before the scandal broke, it was inconceivable that the coercive power of the IRS would be illegally diverted to suppress the free exercise of speech. Just inconceivable. Since then, the media has essentially normalized the transgression and refused to investigate. The excuses have ranged from, and been progressively disproved: it didn't happen at all, it was just a local office matter, it wasn't coordinated, it wasn't coordinated from Washington, it wasn't material, it doesn't still occur. All have been disproved through Freedom of Information requests on the parts of citizens and not any from the mainstream media. I have the same initial feeling here. No, the tech companies can't be doing this. But just because it is inconceivable, as in the case of the IRS, doesn't make it untrue.
Second - Private companies are not subject to the First Amendment so from a legal perspective, Google et al are not committing a crime. But what happens when these companies collude, not with one another, but with government (and government's entrenched interests)? Are we in a situation where a political party in government is able to coordinate the suppression of rights through private ventures so that no constitutional crime has been committed because the action has been undertaken by voluntary third-parties? That almost seems possible. We have definitely been down that path in the past with Teapot Dome, Tammany Hall, the military-industrial complex, etc. But this feels different. In those past cases, the crime was being committed by private enterprises subverting government itself via bribes. In this instance it is subverting rights by the government through its control (moral suasion) of private enterprises. That seems a creepy and dangerous development.
Third - This seems to me, ever the optimist, to be more of an issue of bubbles than of evil intent. Conservative commentators rail against the perceived bias by liberal mainstream media. Some of this is pretty explicit in terms of number of journalists registered as Democrat versus Republican, percentage of media industry participant donations which go to Democrats versus Republicans, etc. Explicit in the sense that we know it is true. Mainstream media spent 40% more broadcast time on the Democratic National Convention than on the Republican. They write more positive stories about Democrats than about Republicans, they vote more for Democrats, they give more money to Democrats, etc. We know these elements to be true, whether or not you believe that those elements then biases their reporting.
I think that the issue is deeper and more challenging than this simple story of Democrat dominance in the media. There are just too many actors for this to be a coordinated conspiracy against conservatives. I think the real issue is that all the mainstream media tend to be concentrated in a handful of key cities. New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, Austin, Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore. Virtually all of these have several or all of the following attributes in common.
They are large, dense cities, anchored by multiple universities, with above average educational attainments, disproportionately high income, disproportionately minority, have very high levels of inequality and disproportionately high crime levels, etc. They also have been almost uniformly and uninterruptedly under single party control (Democrat) for half a century or more. They look nothing like America. And yet that is where journalists live and work. Is it any wonder that they are obsessed with race and crime and Democrats and inequality and lawlessness, etc. That is what they see everyday. That is the America they know, even if it isn't anything like America at all. My supposition is that the mainstream media so strongly affiliates with the Democrats not necessarily because all journalists are ideologically aligned with the Democrats but because the Democrats focus on the "city" issues pertinent to the lived experience of journalists.
Journalists carry the Democratic agenda as part of their worldview, not necessarily because they are registered ideological Democrats but because the Democratic agenda best matches what journalists live. This is a much more insidious bias because it is far less apparent. You don't have to have colluding editors secretly editing journalist's work to reflect the Democratic party line. They simply don't have to. Everyone does it electively based on their big city environment which is a Democratic policy environment. Hence the disconnect with the 80% of Americans who do not live in big cities.
I wonder if this same dynamic might be going on in the Tech industry, concentrated as it is in Boston, New York, San Francisco and a handful of other big cities. Facebook was in trouble a few months ago for manipulating its news feed to suppress negative articles damaging to Democrats and magnifying stories that might be damaging to Republicans. It turned out to be the consequence of actions taken by local employees rather than a concerted effort by the executives. The thing is, you don't need the executives to do the discriminating if you hire employees that will do so for free on your behalf. Employees that are city-dwelling, high income, high education attainment, progressive, etc. In other words, perhaps, like the media, the tech companies don't make this bias happen, it happens because of the nature of the people it hires in the locations they hire them.
Like the mainstream media - Not deliberate discrimination but self-selective affiliation and urban context leading to dominance of one world view over others.
What happens when academia, entertainment and media all become aficionados of the Frankfurt School via their sympathy and support of Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, extremist feminism, extremist AGW fanatics, extremist opponents of vaccines and GMO, and social justice warriors? Another way to put it is, what happens when academia, entertainment, media become anti-white, anti-business, anti-men, anti-science, and anti-justice?
Every society has a "burn the place down" anarchist element of 1-10%. This would not usually matter except that, having captured media, entertainment and the academy, the children of the Frankfurt School are in a position to poison the discourse far out of proportion to their numbers.
Almost everyone else has a vested interest in making things better. The academy, entertainment, and media have been infected by or captured by the anarchic destructive 10%. The 90% who want race blind policies, are comfortable with business and men, and who believe in justice and in science, are rebelling against the bully pulpit of the 10%.
Or at least, that's one way of looking at it.
Sunday, August 14, 2016
In addition to giving her extra press, kid glove treatment, and burying negative press, they are apparently busy also trying to humanize her. Make her relatable. Fair enough. That is what campaign operatives do, even if they are part of the press.
What is fascinating to me is how hard that becomes in the age of the internet. Well, to be fair, Clinton's very nature makes it hard anyway but the internet makes it harder still. Let's look at some examples. In this article, the reporter is trying to make the case that Hillary Clinton's passion for money originates in hardships early in her marriage with Bill Clinton and the uncertainty of income flow. That looks like a weak reed to lean on, but let's see where she goes with it.
In 1981, after two years as Governor, Bill Clinton lost his reelection bid.
But his wife had a more pressing concern: money. The ousted governor needed a job, the family needed a place to live, and moving out of the governor’s mansion meant losing the help they had as they raised their 9-month-old daughter, Chelsea.OK. Young professional couple. Loss of income owing to job loss. Money worries. Almost everyone has been there. Nothing out of the ordinary and a good start to the narrative of "just folks."
A couple of paragraphs later, suddenly the rehabilitative narrative takes an accidental, and apparently unconscious, swerve.
Hillary Clinton’s relationship with money has long puzzled even some of her closest supporters: Despite choosing a life in government, she has appeared eager to make money, driven to provide for her family and helping amass a fortune of more than $50 million with her husband.Well that doesn't help. And not the Fox Butterfield formulation, "Despite" instead of the more appropriate "Because of."
Yes, everyone has worried that Hillary Clinton has shown too much interest in lining her pocket rather than serving the public. Or, in the fashion of Chavez in Venezuela, lining your pocket while "serving" the public. We know that her relationship to money is that of wanting more. Did they have to bring that up? And how on earth do you amass a fortune of $50 million when your career has been primarily as a public servant? Even under the tutelage of such masters as Harry Reid (Democratic Minority Leader in the Senate, net worth circa $5 million, all from his public career), $50 million is quite a number.
But is that $50 million number sounding low? I had thought I had heard figures in the $100 million range. Using that thing called the internet and that tool called Google Search, it seems like most sources agree that the combined Bill and Hillary family fortune is on the order of $110 million. Assets in Hillary Clinton's own name do seem below $50 million but the NYT article specifies the amount "with her husband" which by most published accounts appears to bring the total into the range of $100 million.
Chozick seems to be raising questions about the accuracy of her own reporting while at the same time bringing more attention to the fact that the Clintons have a net worth greater than the GDP of the entire country of Tuvalu.
What next? Well, let's let Chozick establish the obvious. In addition to being greedy and amassing a fortune under questionable circumstances,
Mrs. Clinton can seem blind to how her financial decisions are viewed, and has suffered repeated political damage and accusations of conflicts of interest as a result — from serving on the corporate board of Walmart while her husband was governor to initially accepting a $1.35 million mortgage personally secured by a top fund-raiser for the family’s Chappaqua, N.Y., home.Come on Chozick - this isn't the article we sent you out to write. Where's the human angle?
Her collection of more than $21 million in speaking fees from a range of groups, including Wall Street firms and other interests, led to one of the most potent attacks against her in this election cycle, given voters’ anger about economic inequality. Half of all voters said it bothered them “a lot’’ that Mrs. Clinton gave numerous speeches to Wall Street banks, according to a Bloomberg Politics poll conducted in June.
Donald J. Trump has called Mrs. Clinton “totally owned by Wall Street.”
But her longtime friends say the contradiction is rooted in Mrs. Clinton’s practicality and the boom-and-bust cycles that have characterized her life with Bill Clinton.Oh, OK. Let's see where this takes us.
At no time did those stresses fall more squarely on Mrs. Clinton’s shoulders than in the difficult two-year period in Arkansas when she and her husband found themselves cast out of office, financially strained and deeply uncertain about the future. And the memory of that time shaped her desire to be free from financial burden.All right. That's more like it. She's human after all. She did have a couple of hard years. In fact, for two years, like 71% of all mothers, she balanced work and family obligations. But is Blair really a close Clinton friend? Perhaps, but look at what he's saying. Paraphrased, he's observing that her hardship was to live like other people. If you are concerned about Hillary Clinton being owned by Wall Street, isolated from the lives of real Americans, and rampant insider elite cronyism where living a normal American life is a hardship sufficient to justify shady financial dealings and an overwhelming interest in using political position to amass fortune, then perhaps Chozick isn't doing as good a job at providing cover as she was meant to.
“Hillary had a couple years of the taste of what it means to be a working mother, without any help, to have to take care of a small baby and care for your job,” said James B. Blair, a close Clinton friend and lawyer who offered Mrs. Clinton investment advice in the 1970s.
This was developing so nicely as a humanizing article but Chozick again loses control of the narrative.
The Clintons’ unexpected ouster from their comfortable life occurred at a time when Arkansas was swirling with new money and get-rich-quick schemes as companies like Tyson and Walmart minted millionaires and new savings and loan institutions were spreading throughout the South.Oh, so the problem wasn't so much with money in general. The problem was that they weren't keeping up with the Joneses. Oh no. Come on Chozick, you can do better than make her sound like a money grubbing chancer. Let's get back to some more of that common-man suffering thing. Later in the article, Chozick seems to make it even worse and even more explicit that the problem was never income, it was that others were getting richer, faster.
A generation of Ivy League-educated young people, like Mr. Clinton, had returned to their home state to make their mark. Money seemed to be all around the Clintons, but they did not have much of their own.
Arkansas was a small state with overlapping circles of the politically and economically powerful — and many of the Clintons’ contemporaries were getting rich.Just how rough did it get after being evicted from the Governor's mansion in January of 1981? Glad you asked.
It was one of the smallest houses on the block in Little Rock’s Hillcrest section, and Mrs. Clinton largely bought it with her own money, the month after that devastating 1980 election loss.A jarring departure from the governor's mansion indeed after that devastating election loss. OMG, down the hill from the city's old-money mansions AND a scarlet-colored Victorian chaise? How did they survive?
She filled the rooms with mismatched furniture bought at thrift stores and borrowed from her flamboyant mother-in-law. She converted the windowed attic into a bedroom for Chelsea, parked her Oldsmobile Cutlass in the weedy driveway, and chased after the family’s cocker spaniel, Zeke, who liked to chew through the fence.
The Clintons had stretched their finances to afford the $112,000 home, which was down the hill from the city’s old-money mansions. The sprawling estate of Winthrop Rockefeller, the celebrated former governor, was so close that it practically cast a shadow on the Clintons’ grassy backyard.
Friends described the décor as unsightly, a jarring departure from the governor’s mansion.
“That couch just jumped out at me,” said Bobby Roberts, a former aide to Mr. Clinton, describing a scarlet-colored Victorian chaise that Mr. Clinton’s mother, Virginia Kelly, had lent them. “It was in some bright, violent color.”
Alright. Enough of the mockery. At least for the moment. This is the part I find interesting because the NYT and Chozick clearly are trying to paint a sympathetic portrait of Hillary Clinton and create a human-interest narrative that can serve as an excuse or some sort of cover for her venal greed. For all my mocking, if you read only the words and don't look at the numbers, they have at least the skeleton of a story.
But what do the numbers say?
Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!Oh, no. Sorry, that's what the fox says.
The numbers say something completely different.
January 1981 is presumably when Bill Clinton ceases to be paid by the taxpayers. From elsewhere in the article, we know that in 1975 when they moved to Little Rock, they were earning $36,000. In today's dollars, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that is the equivalent of $161,000. Not bad for an out of the way state capital of a smaller state. According to the Census Bureau that put them in the top ten percent of income earners in the US. Not bad for a newlywed couple without children.
By 1978, when he was elected governor, they were earning $51,173 (of which she accounted for $17,654). Their family income in today's equivalent dollars was $189,000. That's a more than respectable amount in Little Rock, Arkansas with its dramatically lower cost of living.
We don't know how much Hillary Clinton was earning at the law firm in January 1981. Presumably more than the $17,564 when Bill Clinton was elected. Indeed, the year following his election in 1979, her law firm promoted her to Partner. That is an astonishingly rapid promotion given that she only joined the firm in 1977. Let's assume that they were still paying her roughly $18,000 in January of 1981 when Bill Clinton became unemployed. That is still the equivalent of $48,000 today, just below the average household income.
Despite Chozick trying to characterize 1981 as a year of hard times though, the numbers keep slipping through. They didn't live on $18,000 in 1981. Bill Clinton immediately went to work for a close supporter and was paid $55,000. Their household income in 1981 therefore was $73,000 ($194,000 in today's money and in the top 6% of earners). Chozick's words say risk, uncertainty and poverty but the numbers say privilege, privilege, privilege.
Well, what about that sketchy house with the red Victorian chaise lounge? Google Maps or Zillow or anything like that gives you a quick sense of just how sketchy that neighborhood is. Sorry, but these are $450-600,000 homes (in Little Rock). This is a nice neighborhood. Granted, it isn't the governor's mansion but that's a pretty comfortable safety net.
Well, perhaps it wasn't then? Nope. The article says they paid $112,000 for the home in 1980. That's $328,000 in today's money. The average cost of a home in the US in 1980 was circa $75,000 so $112,000 was 50% more than the average. The sorry word picture isn't matching the much rosier numbers picture.
Besides that, the down payment shouldn't have been a problem in 1980. The article gently treats the Hillary Rodham cattle futures controversy which Wikipedia is more forthright about. Hillary Clinton, starting with a $1,000 dollar investment and with no experience in commodities trading, made, in nine months, $100,000 under the guidance and tutelage of a number of Little Rock financial traders and insiders. Opponents have long held that this was a $100,000 bribe later disguised as commodity trading. The statistical odds of $100,000 profit on a $1,000 investment in commodities trading certainly makes that a more likely explanation. As the circumstances of the $100,000 benefit only became public after the expiration of the statute of limitations, there is no means of knowing what the real explanation might have been.
Regardless, in July of 1979, Hillary Clinton pocketed $100,000 a few months before the Clinton's purchased their new $112,000 home in the fancy part of Little Rock in the shadow of the old money mansions.
Chozick paints a picture of financial challenges and difficulties. The numbers say that they were floating at the very top of the income league and doing very well out of the tight business and government community of Little Rock, Arkansas.
This is what I find fascinating. The Old Grey Lady wants to tell one story and puts out a sycophantic fluff job that tries to paint one picture but in the fashion of old style reporting. In doing so, however, they make it easy for anyone who is skeptical or curious to arrive at an entirely different picture. Checking the numbers on the internet was less than a ten minute exercise.
The internet combined with a modicum of curiosity tells a completely different story, making the Times look deceitful and Hillary Clinton possibly even worse.
Indeed, bad behavior keeps peeking out. Chozick accidentally highlights the money-grubbing and dubious origins of their initial foray into political offices combined with private sector dealings. But in providing human interest filler, she also adds more to the conflagration of Hillary Clinton's reputation. She reports, presumably from friends:
And with no parents or in-laws in Little Rock, Mrs. Clinton turned to friends and neighbors for help. She persuaded Carolyn Huber, who had helped run the governor’s mansion while Mr. Clinton was in office, to continue to help care for Chelsea, who had grown fond of her."Persuaded?" That's an odd word choice. Induced, forced, arm-twisted? Those are the words that come to mind.
A neighbor, Manuel J. Lozano, recalled: Hillary “was running around, and my wife took care of Chelsea here and there whenever she needed help.”
Chozick is portraying Clinton as busy plumbing the intricate financial networks and intersecting interests of Little Rock for financial gain sufficient to keep up with all the other young private sector yuppies who were making it rich and doing so by pawning her child off on neighbors and former employees. Yeesh. If this is Chozick's idea of a fawning article, I'd hate to see her hit job.
There are other disconnects. Chozick writes that in 1981 after Bill Clinton's electoral loss:
Friends said she would have focused on public service and charitable work and not gone to work at the firm — an old line practice known for representing the business and political elite in Arkansas — had it not been for her concern about her family’s finances.This makes it sound like her first choice in line of "work" was to do good deeds and give away money and if only it hadn't been for that wastrel of a husband, that's what she would have done. Instead, she had to work for a living at a white shoe law firm that was plugged in to all the powers, financial and otherwise. It's really hard to reconcile this with any good narrative.
And remember, this is the 1981-1982 dwelling in the financial desert while Bill Clinton was out of office. In 1982 he was again elected to the governor's office which he retained till 1992 when he ran for the presidency. Or, as Chozick puts it:
She would, however, continue to shoulder her family’s financial worries.$297,177 in 1992 is $511,000 today. The top 0.5% of income earners. Public service is good to the finances of our elected officials.
Not long after Mr. Clinton won re-election in 1982, the Clintons sold the yellow house on Midland Street and moved back into the governor’s mansion, where they once again enjoyed free housing and the assistance of a small staff.
Two years later, the state increased the governor’s term to four years, and the Clintons’ finances appeared more stable. Mrs. Clinton went on to join the board of Walmart, and she continued to work at the Rose Law Firm. By the time Mr. Clinton was running for president, they reported $297,177 in total income on their 1992 tax returns, a sum that would put most Americans in the upper income tier, but seemed meager compared with the wealth of his opponents, George Bush and Ross Perot.
The bottom line of the article is that the NYT tried to create a picture of a strong woman carrying the financial burden of her family while her husband suffered a very temporary career setback. By providing a checkable framework, they instead highlight a lot of questionable financial dealings and sorry behaviors. Hillary Clinton comes across as an amoral, venal money-grubber, questing to keep up with those who were earning their incomes in the private sector and willing to do anything, no matter how unseemly, to achieve her goal, not of financial self-sufficiency, but of financial munificence.
That detail about fobbing her child off onto stay-at-home neighbor moms and imposing on former employees is the detail of the article that most makes me wince.
The silver lining is that, with the internet and ever more powerful search tools, there is ever greater possibility of alternate views and indeed, the truth, coming out. Regardless of party or politician. Transparency will be better for our whole system of government. It can't come too soon. All these old bad behaviors of the political elite and the self-abnegation and degradation of the media are symptoms that, hopefully, some informational sunshine will cure.