Thursday, July 27, 2017

You’ll find me buried, living-dead In these verses that you’ve read.

When I'm Killed
by Robert Graves

When I’m killed, don’t think of me
Buried there in Cambrin Wood,
Nor as in Zion think of me
With the Intolerable Good.
And there’s one thing that I know well,
I’m damned if I’ll be damned to Hell!

So when I’m killed, don’t wait for me,
Walking the dim corridor;
In Heaven or Hell, don’t wait for me,
Or you must wait for evermore.
You’ll find me buried, living-dead
In these verses that you’ve read.

So when I’m killed, don’t mourn for me,
Shot, poor lad, so bold and young,
Killed and gone — don’t mourn for me.
On your lips my life is hung:
O friends and lovers, you can save
Your playfellow from the grave.

Translation from Swedish: Socialism is for dweebs

From Individual risk preferences and the demand for redistribution by Manja Gärtnera, Johanna Mollerstromb, and David Seim. Abstract:
Redistributive policies can provide an insurance against future negative economic shocks. This, in turn, implies that an individual's demand for redistribution is expected to increase with her risk aversion. To test this prediction, we elicit risk aversion and demand for redistribution through a well-established set of measures in a representative sample of the Swedish population. We document a statistically significant and robust positive relation between risk aversion and the demand for redistribution that is also economically important. We show that previously used proxies for risk aversion (such as being an entrepreneur or having a history of unemployment) do not capture the effect of our measure of risk aversion but have distinctly different effects on the demand for redistribution. We also show evidence indicating that risk aversion can explain significant parts of the well-studied relations between age and gender on the one hand and demand for redistribution on the other.

Fleet Street on the wagon — I ask you!

Diary by Keith Waterhouse in the 13 May, 1995 Spectator. On the old British center of journalism, Fleet Street, and the new.
A non-drinking journalist is a paradox, like a non-swimming fish. Yet the plague of teetotalism is spreading through what we still call Fleet Street. The Murdoch papers have been completely dry for some time. Now the Independent also carries the Prohi- bition banner. No wonder the paper looks as if it's been put together by people who are stone-cold sober. And it's not only in the office. The last time I had lunch with someone from the Indie, she wouldn't have any wine, thank you, as she had to go back to Canary Wharf. Fleet Street on the wagon — I ask you! Whoever heard of a Perrier press?

Putting some parameters on what we don't yet know

From Measuring Social Connectedness by Michael Bailey, Ruiqing (Rachel) Cao, Theresa Kuchler, Johannes Stroebel, and Arlene Wong. The abstract:
We introduce a new measure of social connectedness between U.S. county-pairs, as well as between U.S. counties and foreign countries. Our measure, which we call the "Social Connectedness Index" (SCI), is based on the number of friendship links on Facebook, the world's largest online social networking service. Within the U.S., social connectedness is strongly decreasing in geographic distance between counties: for the population of the average county, 62.8% of friends live within 100 miles. The populations of counties with more geographically dispersed social networks are generally richer, more educated, and have a higher life expectancy. Region-pairs that are more socially connected have higher trade flows, even after controlling for geographic distance and the similarity of regions along other economic and demographic measures. Higher social connectedness is also associated with more cross-county migration and patent citations. Social connectedness between U.S. counties and foreign countries is correlated with past migration patterns, with social connectedness decaying in the time since the primary migration wave from that country. Trade with foreign countries is also strongly related to social connectedness. These results suggest that the SCI captures an important role of social networks in facilitating both economic and social interactions. Our findings also highlight the potential for the SCI to mitigate the measurement challenges that pervade empirical research on the role of social interactions across the social sciences.
An interesting step forward in measuring and understanding social networks and their consequence.

Not a criticism of the researchers approach but a matter of curiosity.
How many people, as personal individuals, use how many social networking sites?

How do they use those sites and for what purpose and duration?

What is the measured correlation for those individuals between the networks on the different social networking platforms they use?
For example, I use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest. Pinterest I use only to store images, not as a social networking platform. LinkedIn I use almost solely to keep track of colleagues with only the lightest of social networking engagement. Twitter I use for information access. Facebook I use to keep track of family and friends from my youth when I was growing up overseas. There would be almost no networking element to Pinterest or Twitter. The degree of network overlap between my LinkedIn network and my Facebook network would be minimal.

I think what the researchers has done is interesting but I also think there are a lot more points of consideration to take into account.

Tyler Cowen summarizes the key findings as:
1. For the population of the average county, 62.8% of friends live within 100 miles.

2. Over distances of less than 200 miles, the elasticity of friends to distance is about – 2.0, and about – 1.2 for distances greater than 200 miles.

3. Conditional on distance, social connectedness is significantly stronger within state lines.

4. “Counties with a higher social capital index have less geographically concentrated social networks.”

5. Social connectedness predicts trade flows, even after controlling for distance, and it also predicts patent citations.
All interesting but I am not sure what it tells us that we don't already know. Each one of these observations can be argued into a pretzel. For example, "Social connectedness predicts trade flows" might as easily be "Trade flow predicts social connectedness," i.e. the flow of causation might be the reverse of that implied. You do business and then you create relationships.

Personally, I am also concerned about the county-based approach to the analysis. After the election in 2016, there was a slew of maps looking at voting patterns by county. And that is useful to an extent. The drawback is that counties have a high standard deviation in population size ranging from a few dozens of people to nearly ten million (Los Angeles). By looking only at county level voting, you end up with a map that is a vast sea of red (Republicans) and a few small lakes of blue (Democrats). It is an interesting and useful perspective up to a point but is not a complete perspective when the election was within a couple of points.

Kudos to Bailey et al for focusing on the measurement of networks but I think we are at the very beginning of an immense field of inquiry and all early findings will be just a matter of sketching the terrain for later detailed exploration.

Thanatos Savehn (in the comments) puts it more bluntly.
Actually, you can specify your model first and then run a test to generate some data. If the data fits well you’re discovered something (e.g. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/07/how-a-guy-from-a-montana-trailer-park-upturned-150-years-of-biology/491702/ ) Sadly, only risk takers will look into an urn full of hypotheses, each with a prior probability of being true of 0.001 or less, pull out a promisingly interesting one and risk his reputation, time and future income by testing it. And most academics are by nature not risk takers. So instead they find some data, put their creative abilities into piecing it all together into a coherent and marketable (helpful, clever, weird, PC, etc.) narrative and sell it to the gullible public.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Where lies the land to which the ship would go?

Where Lies the Land?
by Arthur Hugh Clough

Where lies the land to which the ship would go?
Far, far ahead, is all her seamen know.
And where the land she travels from? Away,
Far, far behind, is all that they can say.

On sunny noons upon the deck’s smooth face,
Link’d arm in arm, how pleasant here to pace!
Or o’er the stern reclining, watch below
The foaming wake far widening as we go

On stormy nights, when wild northwesters rave,
How proud a thing to fight with wind and wave!
The dripping sailor on the reeling mast
Exults to bear, and scorns to wish it past.

Where lies the land to which the ship would go?
Far, far ahead, is all her seamen know.
And where the land she travels from? Away,
Far, far behind, is all that they can say.

Getting to yes across cultures

Getting to yes across cultures from HBR



Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Pigeons in the park

From The New Yorker

Click to enlarge.


For last year's words belong to last year's language And next year's words await another voice.

Little Gidding is the last of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets. Wikipedia has some background to the poem.

It can be read as a mystical poem, a theological poem, a poem of culture and allusion. Like much of Eliot's work, I respond more to individual lines than I do to the entire poem. That said, all of Eliot's work has grown on me over the years. Maybe I will live a long enough life to read and appreciate the entirety of the poem.

Some of the lines which resonate the most:
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul's sap quivers.

[snip]

And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment.

[snip]

You would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.

[snip]

I met one walking, loitering and hurried
As if blown towards me like the metal leaves
Before the urban dawn wind unresisting.
And as I fixed upon the down-turned face
That pointed scrutiny with which we challenge
The first-met stranger in the waning dusk
I caught the sudden look of some dead master
Whom I had known, forgotten, half recalled
Both one and many; in the brown baked features
The eyes of a familiar compound ghost
Both intimate and unidentifiable.

[snip]

I may not comprehend, may not remember.

[snip]

For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.

[snip

And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
Of motives late revealed, and the awareness
Of things ill done and done to others' harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue.

[snip]

We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum.
These men, and those who opposed them
And those whom they opposed
Accept the constitution of silence
And are folded in a single party.

[snip]

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

[snip]

We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

[snip]

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

[snip]

At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.

Little Gidding
(No. 4 of 'Four Quartets')
by T.S. Eliot

I

Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart's heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul's sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time's covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable
Zero summer?

If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.



II

Ash on an old man's sleeve
Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.
Dust in the air suspended
Marks the place where a story ended.
Dust inbreathed was a house—
The walls, the wainscot and the mouse,
The death of hope and despair,
This is the death of air.

There are flood and drouth
Over the eyes and in the mouth,
Dead water and dead sand
Contending for the upper hand.
The parched eviscerate soil
Gapes at the vanity of toil,
Laughs without mirth.
This is the death of earth.

Water and fire succeed
The town, the pasture and the weed.
Water and fire deride
The sacrifice that we denied.
Water and fire shall rot
The marred foundations we forgot,
Of sanctuary and choir.
This is the death of water and fire.

In the uncertain hour before the morning
Near the ending of interminable night
At the recurrent end of the unending
After the dark dove with the flickering tongue
Had passed below the horizon of his homing
While the dead leaves still rattled on like tin
Over the asphalt where no other sound was
Between three districts whence the smoke arose
I met one walking, loitering and hurried
As if blown towards me like the metal leaves
Before the urban dawn wind unresisting.
And as I fixed upon the down-turned face
That pointed scrutiny with which we challenge
The first-met stranger in the waning dusk
I caught the sudden look of some dead master
Whom I had known, forgotten, half recalled
Both one and many; in the brown baked features
The eyes of a familiar compound ghost
Both intimate and unidentifiable.
So I assumed a double part, and cried
And heard another's voice cry: 'What! are you here?'
Although we were not. I was still the same,
Knowing myself yet being someone other—
And he a face still forming; yet the words sufficed
To compel the recognition they preceded.
And so, compliant to the common wind,
Too strange to each other for misunderstanding,
In concord at this intersection time
Of meeting nowhere, no before and after,
We trod the pavement in a dead patrol.
I said: 'The wonder that I feel is easy,
Yet ease is cause of wonder. Therefore speak:
I may not comprehend, may not remember.'
And he: 'I am not eager to rehearse
My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten.
These things have served their purpose: let them be.
So with your own, and pray they be forgiven
By others, as I pray you to forgive
Both bad and good. Last season's fruit is eaten
And the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail.
For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
But, as the passage now presents no hindrance
To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
Between two worlds become much like each other,
So I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit
When I left my body on a distant shore.
Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us
To purify the dialect of the tribe
And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight,
Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
To set a crown upon your lifetime's effort.
First, the cold friction of expiring sense
Without enchantment, offering no promise
But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
As body and soul begin to fall asunder.
Second, the conscious impotence of rage
At human folly, and the laceration
Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
Of motives late revealed, and the awareness
Of things ill done and done to others' harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
Then fools' approval stings, and honour stains.
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.'
The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
He left me, with a kind of valediction,
And faded on the blowing of the horn.



III

There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives—unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:
For liberation—not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country
Begins as attachment to our own field of action
And comes to find that action of little importance
Though never indifferent. History may be servitude,
History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.

Sin is Behovely, but
All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well.
If I think, again, of this place,
And of people, not wholly commendable,
Of no immediate kin or kindness,
But of some peculiar genius,
All touched by a common genius,
United in the strife which divided them;
If I think of a king at nightfall,
Of three men, and more, on the scaffold
And a few who died forgotten
In other places, here and abroad,
And of one who died blind and quiet
Why should we celebrate
These dead men more than the dying?
It is not to ring the bell backward
Nor is it an incantation
To summon the spectre of a Rose.
We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum.
These men, and those who opposed them
And those whom they opposed
Accept the constitution of silence
And are folded in a single party.
Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us—a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.



IV

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre—
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.



V

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this
Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

It is a place crying out for the convenience of warm, dry clothes.

From One household staple sums up why Americans and Brits will never see the world the same way by Corinne Purtill.

The exercise is tired, using a single fulcrum upon which to distinguish two different cultures. It is familiar but does have some element of truth to it.
This last sentence encapsulates what is, to me, a fundamental difference in the British and American psyches. The frustration an American feels upon removing a poorly washed, barely-dried load from his or her UK appliance isn’t really about the laundry at all. It’s about the tension between how each culture sees the world.

But first, for the uninitiated, some background. A typical London flat dweller fortunate enough to have in-home laundry facilities likely has the combo washer-dryer Furseth described above. The machine’s basketball-sized drum holds an amount equivalent to one queen-sized fitted sheet and two pillowcases, or two bath towels and up to three washcloths, or 1.7 days’ worth of a family’s dirty clothes. A wash-and-dry cycle takes three to four hours. Because the machine rumbles like a rocket on a launch pad, your drying is best done at a time that doesn’t disturb downstairs neighbors or sleeping children. Also, London water is hard and seduces the dye from the fibers of your clothes, commingling passionately for a few wild spins before draining away and leaving all items the same Dickensian gray.

The color challenge can be circumvented through assiduous sorting. But there is no getting around the fact that the drying function just doesn’t work. Clothes come out damp. The end result is a flat with socks and undershirts dangling over bathtubs and radiators. Of course, there are worse ways to live. But—why? When a technological fix is available, why would anyone choose to live this way?

Home drying technologies have been slow to catch on in the UK. An estimated 85% of US households have a clothes dryer; only 56% of UK ones do. “The first time I saw a tumble dryer was on an episode of Baywatch, when the clothes of a would-be drowning victim were put through the wash,” Furseth wrote. “My family had all the standard home appliances, but dryers aren’t very common in Europe. The idea that you could wash an outfit and wear it again the very same day seemed impossible.” That’s insane! Baywatch ran from 1989 to 2001. Electric tumble dryers were a fixture of middle-class US homes by the 1960s. What was happening in Britain during those lost decades? Why would a nation prioritize satellite television over the pleasures of freshly-laundered socks?

To an American, this is baffling. Britain is not sunny Italy, where I’m guessing you can simply fling washed clothes onto the terrazza in the morning and they’re crisp by the end of your post-prandial nap. Britain is damp. It’s wet all the time. It rained every single day for a month when I first moved there—and that was in the summer. It is a place crying out for the convenience of warm, dry clothes.

[snip]

This acceptance is at the heart of many American immigrants’ frustrations about life in the UK. And it highlights a fundamental cultural between the US and UK that I’d characterize, broadly, as a British inclination to accept things as they are, versus an American inclination to alter and change them.
What she says is all true.

Decades ago, a cartoonist in Punch (or possibly it was the Spectator) made the same point much more succinctly.

The single frame cartoon showed some angels in heaven, in the foreground, speaking to one another were two English angels, and on a cloud in the background, a rowdy group of angels hooting and hollering, clearly celebrating something. The one English angel says to the other in explanation, "Its the Yanks. They've struck oil."

That, to me, summarizes the difference in cultural orientation. The Americans are always seeking to make things better while the British, as described by Purtille, do take pride in their stiff upper lips, and capacity to muddle through no matter how challenging the circumstances.

Monday, July 24, 2017

You are going to believe - it's up to you what you believe in

If true, some interesting implications: Don’t Believe in God? Maybe You’ll Try U.F.O.s by Clay Routledge.
Furthermore, evidence suggests that the religious mind persists even when we lose faith in traditional religious beliefs and institutions. Consider that roughly 30 percent of Americans report they have felt in contact with someone who has died. Nearly 20 percent believe they have been in the presence of a ghost. About one-third of Americans believe that ghosts exist and can interact with and harm humans; around two-thirds hold supernatural or paranormal beliefs of some kind, including beliefs in reincarnation, spiritual energy and psychic powers.

These numbers are much higher than they were in previous decades, when more people reported being highly religious. People who do not frequently attend church are twice as likely to believe in ghosts as those who are regular churchgoers. The less religious people are, the more likely they are to endorse empirically unsupported ideas about U.F.O.s, intelligent aliens monitoring the lives of humans and related conspiracies about a government cover-up of these phenomena.

An emerging body of research supports the thesis that these interests in nontraditional supernatural and paranormal phenomena are driven by the same cognitive processes and motives that inspire religion. For instance, my colleagues and I recently published a series of studies in the journal Motivation and Emotion demonstrating that the link between low religiosity and belief in advanced alien visitors is at least partly explained by the pursuit of meaning. The less religious participants were, we found, the less they perceived their lives as meaningful. This lack of meaning was associated with a desire to find meaning, which in turn was associated with belief in U.F.O.s and alien visitors.
Everyone has a weltanschauung - whether it is self-constructed from the ground up, is an established ideology, a religion, a set of cultural beliefs, or is a set of assumed but unproven beliefs. You have a weltanschauung. What it is, what you make of it, and how useful it proves is an empirical question.


Bring back Regular Order?

A very interesting argument made in Restoring the Republic Means Reimposing ‘Regular Order’ by Angelo Codevilla.
The Republican congressional leadership’s failure to repeal Obamacare has led to suggestions that, perhaps, they should have approached their task through “regular order.” Since Congress has not operated under “regular order” at all since 2006, and with decreasing frequency in the decades before that, younger readers, especially, may be excused for not knowing what these procedures are. Far from being arcane ephemera, they are the indispensable catalyst that makes American government responsible to the people. Casting aside “regular order” was essential to the rise of the unaccountable administrative state and the near-sovereignty of party leaders, lobbyists, and bureaucrats.

Herewith, a summary of what “regular order” means, what purpose it once served, why and how it was shunned, and of what has ensued.

More than a half century ago, Daniel Berman’s college-level text, A Bill Becomes a Law, the template for K-12 civics courses, described more or less how Congress had operated since the 1790s. Bills introduced in House or Senate would be sent to the relevant committee, and thence to the proper sub-committee. The ones thought worthy—including those funding the federal government’s operations—would be the subject of public hearings.

The committees’ partisan majorities and minorities would try to stage manage the hearings to make the best case for the outcomes they desired on each point. In the process, public support would strengthen or wane for particular items and approaches. Then, each subcommittee’s public “mark up” of its portion of the bill would reflect the members’ votes and compromises on each item.

Once the several subcommittee products had made their way to the full committee, the same process would repeat. Votes on contested items, and on the whole bill, would end the full committee’s “mark up” and send the bill to be scheduled for action on the House or Senate floor.

Just to get to this point, every element of every bill had to be exposed to public scrutiny. Senators or congressmen on the committees offered amendments and had to vote on the record for each part of the bill. On the House floor, amendments would be limited. But in the Senate, there could be—and often were—“amendments by way of substitution.” By the time the “yeas and nays” were tallied on the final bill, just about all members had had as much of a crack at it as they wanted. The final product would be the result of countless compromises “on the record.”

In 2017, it is useful to recall that this process used to apply to each and every government activity that required a dollar from the U.S. treasury, each and every year. For the past 11 years, however, all the money drawn from the treasury have come from single “continuing resolutions” (CRs) or “omnibus” bills, drafted in secret by “leadership” staffers, executive branch officials, and lobbyists, on which there have been no hearings and which few members have ever read, and on which few if any amendments have been allowed. These “Cromnibuses,” served up as the government runs out of spending authority, end up being passed by the majority party’s near unanimity.

While this is consistent with the Constitution’s words, “no money shall be drawn from the treasury but in consequence of appropriations made by law,” it wholly reverses their intent. Individual congressmen and senators are cut out of the legislative process. The voters can no longer hold each accountable. When Republican leaders make common cause with the Democratic Party against Republicans who won’t go along, whom they accuse of “shutting down the government,” they create a bipartisan ruling party. That makes both parties equally responsible, and ensures that changing your vote from D to R or R to D won’t make a difference.
I can't speak to the details of the argument but it serves as an explanation of some aspects of Congress I was thinking about a few weeks ago.

I was at university in Washington, D.C. 1978-1982 and therefore had a ringside view of the machinations and conduct of Congress. I was recently reflecting on the differences of what I saw then versus what I see now.

Congress and its actions easily received equal billing in the news then compared to the executive branch. You knew the names of some of the more powerful or consequential committee chairmen, House and Senate. Mondale and O'Neill of course, but also Robert Byrd, Howard Baker, Daniel Inouye, Ted Stevens, Bob Packwood, John Tower, Jim Wright, Dan Rostenkowski, Shirley Chisholm, Frank Church - those are top of mind. A dozen easily.

The mainstream media tracked the merry-go-round of shifting alliances and negotiations between members on the subcommittees and committee and the reconciliation process between House and Senate. It was the intellectual's equivalent of a soap opera with backstabbing, subterfuge and dramatic personal failures (Abscam, Fanne Foxe, Koreagate, etc.)

It was a three-ring circus, unsightly, sometimes unseemly, absurd, entertaining, sometimes amusing, occasionally tragic. But it was largely out in the open. You might bewail the conduct or the decisions or gargoyle compromises, or the sausage-making nature of the process - but you could see it and people were held accountable. Accountable not just in terms of the electoral process but in terms of being prosecuted for their conduct when it drifted beyond the boundaries of law and ethics.

Aside from their own state Congressmen, today I doubt many people could name anyone other than McConnell, Ryan, Schumer and Pelosi. None of the committee, whip or other leadership structure. Why?

And on the Executive side of things, there were similar tall players. Without too much thought it is easy to call up Alexander Haig, George Schulz, James Baker, Caspar Weinberger, Frank C. Carlucci, Edwin Meese, James Watt, David Stockman, Howard Baker, Jeanne Kirkpatrick.

I don't think this recall is a function of the freshness of youth versus the jadedness of age. Other than foreign affairs, I had only marginal interest in domestic politics. Sure, I read the papers pretty religiously, but those names do not come to mind because I was young or focused or interested in them. They come to mind because they were consequential individuals playing material roles in our governance.

Who could name any of the cabinet members of the most recent administration, only six months gone? Eric Holder, Robert Gates, Samantha Powers, Susan Rice, probably, but who else?. More importantly, who can attach a particular position, action or initiative to any of them? Holder, certainly, but beyond that it gets pretty thin. For all the romantic talk of a team of rivals, there simply was not much action going on outside the rule of three - Obama, Pelosi, Reid.

So what changed between then and now? I had always put it down to the fact that Obama seemed to always view governance through a parliamentarians mindframe. The view that the winning party should be able to rule via edict rather than political negotiation and compromise. Certainly there is plenty of evidence of that. I have also assumed that congressional leadership of both parties simply became institutionally lazy and risk averse.

My desire has been to see Congress reassert itself versus the Executive branch and for the political parties within Congress to start competing and collaborating with one another towards legislation on behalf of all citizens. As long as all that the parties are doing is the political theater of name-calling without any actual legislation, then we don't really have a democratic governance.

One further consequence of an inert and dysfunctional Congress has been the deferment of our Congressmen to the administrative state in which legislation is not passed but administrative laws formulated and imposed with no feedback mechanism from the citizens to the government. It is a travesty of a healthy democracy.

Codevilla's argument provides an explanation that fits the above observations equally well, probably better, than my explanation. Certainly it complements the parliamentarian/lazy Congress explanation. Whether Regular Order is the real root cause or not, I don't know, but it fits the known facts.

Draw the blanket of the ocean

Convoy
by Charles Causley

Draw the blanket of ocean
over the frozen face.
He lies, his eyes quarried by glittering fish,
Staring through the green freezing sea-glass
At the Northern Lights.

He is now a child in the land of Christmas:
Watching, amazed, the white tumbling bears
And the diving seal.
The iron wind clangs round the ice-caps,
The five-pointed Dog-star
Burns over the silent sea.

And the three ships
Come sailing in.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Old broken knock-kneed thought will crawl Across my verse in the classic way.

To an Ungentle Critic
by Robert Graves

The great sun sinks behind the town
Through a red mist of Volnay wine . . . .
But what’s the use of setting down
That glorious blaze behind the town?
You’ll only skip the page, you’ll look
For newer pictures in this book;
You’ve read of sunsets rich as mine.

A fresh wind fills the evening air
With horrid crying of night birds . . . .
But what reads new or curious there
When cold winds fly across the air?
You’ll only frown; you’ll turn the page,
But find no glimpse of your ‘New Age
Of Poetry’ in my worn-out words.

Must winds that cut like blades of steel
And sunsets swimming in Volnay,
The holiest, cruellest pains I feel,
Die stillborn, because old men squeal
For something new: ‘Write something new:
We’ve read this poem – that one too,
And twelve more like ’em yesterday’?

No, no! my chicken, I shall scrawl
Just what I fancy as I strike it,
Fairies and Fusiliers, and all.
Old broken knock-kneed thought will crawl
Across my verse in the classic way.
And, sir, be careful what you say;
There are old-fashioned folk still like it.

And so it came to pass

From The New Yorker

Click to enlarge.

Mind should be free as the light or as the air.

John Tyler, who, in a letter dated July 10, 1843, gave eloquent and indeed prophetic expression to the principle of religious freedom:
The United States have adventured upon a great and noble experiment, which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent—that of total separation of Church and State. No religious establishment by law exists among us. The conscience is left free from all restraint and each is permitted to worship his Maker after his own judgement. The offices of the Government are open alike to all. No tithes are levied to support an established Hierarchy, nor is the fallible judgement of man set up as the sure and infallible creed of faith. The Mahommedan, if he will to come among us would have the privilege guaranteed to him by the constitution to worship according to the Koran; and the East Indian might erect a shrine to Brahma if it so pleased him. Such is the spirit of toleration inculcated by our political Institutions.... The Hebrew persecuted and down trodden in other regions takes up his abode among us with none to make him afraid.... and the Aegis of the Government is over him to defend and protect him. Such is the great experiment which we have tried, and such are the happy fruits which have resulted from it; our system of free government would be imperfect without it.

The body may be oppressed and manacled and yet survive; but if the mind of man be fettered, its energies and faculties perish, and what remains is of the earth, earthly. Mind should be free as the light or as the air.

All writers are recidivists

Diary by Keith Waterhouse in the 13 May, 1995 Spectator.
There can be no one so smug as the writer who has just finished a book — par- ticularly if he has friends who are only in the middle of theirs, or, better (meaning worse), just about to start. Such is the happy position I find myself in. The relief is physical rather than mental — like stepping down off the treadmill or coming in out of the garden after a hard day's digging. And suddenly, in a gush, there is a great avalanche of time — time to have lunch with friends, time to pick pencils up off the floor, time to answer letters, time to water the dead pot plants, time, now that it's spring, to buy a new winter overcoat, time to read and browse in bookshops, time to watch afternoon television, time to empty the wastepaper baskets, time to look at the damp patch in the lavatory and judge whether it's getting worse (it is), time to pay the final notices, time to change the dead light bulb on the landing which expired on New Year's Eve, time to restock' the stapling machine, time to write that long-promised article for the British Jour- nalism Review (it's coming, it's coming — as soon as I've cleaned my tennis shoes!), time to straighten out the kink in the bedside rug, time to get the month-in, month-out Jacket and trousers dry-cleaned at last, time to tidy the slag-heap of a desk, time for a haircut, time, now, to have a bath upon ris- ing instead of bashing away at the typewrit- er in a muck sweat until five in the after- noon. And time to jangle one's change and look at the flowers. This euphoria, in my experience, lasts about four days, where- upon — having sworn to take the summer off — I find myself itching to get back to my desk, with the first sentence of the next damned thick book demanding to be set down on paper. No wonder there are too many books. All writers are recidivists.

With customes wee live well, but Lawes undoe us.

George Herbert (1593-1633) was a Welsh-born poet roughly contemporaneous with William Shakespeare. His main poetic body of work, The temple, sacred poems and private ejaculations
by George Herbert, aside from its uncomfortable, to modern ears, title, wrote primarily religious and metaphysical poetry. Well regarded in his time, he feel from favor among critics, only to see a resurgence of his reputation in the 20th century.

I came across another work of his which is pleasantly intriguing, Outlandish Proverbs, a collection of 1,000 British and foreign proverbs.

I was interested to come across this as I view proverbs, (adage, aphorisms, dictum, epigrams, maxims, etc.) as a form of cultural coding - knowledge or heuristic in a pithy fashion that is easily transmitted geographically and over time. From Wikipedia:
Like many of his literary contemporaries, Herbert was a collector of proverbs. His Outlandish Proverbs was published in 1640, listing over 1000 aphorisms in English, but gathered from many countries (in Herbert's day, 'outlandish' meant foreign). The collection included many sayings repeated to this day, for example, "His bark is worse than his bite" and "Who is so deaf, as he that will not hear?"
See Bidden or unbidden, God is present, for a discussion of the slightly earlier Erasmus of Rotterdam and his collection, Adagia.

What fascinates me about Herbert's collection is their variety. Yes, there are many which are pretty much exactly the same as they are today, or are near in meaning to a modern equivalent.
The eye is bigger then the belly.
He that seekes trouble never misses.
His bark is worse than his bite.
Cloath thee in war, arme thee in peace.
Little pitchers have wide eares.
There are others which make sense but are unfamiliar or no longer in circulation.
If you must flie, flie well.
Every one is a master and servant.
You may be on land, yet not in a garden.
With customes wee live well, but Lawes undoe us.
Paines to get, care to keep, feare to lose.
But there are others where the historical context is, presumably, so different that it is hard to comprehend their import.
Hee that wipes the childs nose, kisseth the mothers cheeke.
When a man sleepes, his head is in his stomach.
When one is on horsebacke hee knowes all things.
Hee that tells his wife newes is but newly married.
Wine that cost nothing is digested before it be drunke.
Sometimes it is a language issue.
Count not fowre except you have them in a wallett.
Gifts enter every where without a wimble.
He that hath a mouth of his owne, must not say to another; Blow.
Then there are the ones that are simply difficult to fathom.
When a man sleepes, his head is in his stomach.
Hee that is in a towne in May, loseth his spring.
The deafe gaines the injury.
Silkes and Satins put out the fire in the chimney.
Hee that would be a Gentleman, let him goe to an assault.
In the house of a Fidler, all fiddle.

Too early to begin working on

From the New Yorker.

Click to enlarge.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Beauty is life's E-Z Pass

From The New Yorker, April 11, 2005.

Click to enlarge.

Plenty of domestic issues

From The New Yorker

Click to enlarge.


A sea-change into something rich and strange

From The Tempest by William Shakespeare, Scene ii of Act I , Ariel's Song
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell.

Words only count to the extent that they motivate right actions

From The Enchiridion by Epictetus. Before Steven Covey or Dale Carnegie, the Greeks, of course, had the first self-help books. Enchiridion can be translated as manual or handbook. Epictetus was one of the early stoics with a gift of pithy observations and aphorisms.

Here is a selection from the beginning of Enchiridion. As true today as nearly two thousand years ago.
Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.

[snip]

Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things.

[snip]

It is the act of an ill-instructed man to blame others for his own bad condition; it is the act of one who has begun to be instructed, to lay the blame on himself; and of one whose instruction is completed, neither to blame another, nor himself.

[snip]

With every accident, ask yourself what abilities you have for making a proper use of it. If you see an attractive person, you will find that self-restraint is the ability you have against your desire. If you are in pain, you will find fortitude. If you hear unpleasant language, you will find patience. And thus habituated, the appearances of things will not hurry you away along with them.

[snip]

Remember that you ought to behave in life as you would at a banquet. As something is being passed around it comes to you; stretch out your hand, take a portion of it politely. It passes on; do not detain it. Or it has not come to you yet; do not project your desire to meet it, but wait until it comes in front of you. So act toward children, so toward a wife, so toward office, so toward wealth.

[snip]

Remember that it is not he who gives abuse or blows who affronts, but the view we take of these things as insulting. When, therefore, any one provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you.

[snip]

If someone turned your body over to just any person who happened to meet you, you would be angry. But are you not ashamed that you turn over your own faculty of judgment to whoever happens along, so that if he abuses you it is upset and confused?

[snip]

If a man has reported to you, that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make any defense (answer) to what has been told you: but reply, The man did not know the rest of my faults, for he would not have mentioned these only.

[snip]

When you do anything from a clear judgment that it ought to be done, never shun the being seen to do it, even though the world should make a wrong supposition about it; for, if you don't act right, shun the action itself; but, if you do, why are you afraid of those who censure you wrongly?

[snip]

Everything has two handles, the one by which it may be carried, the other by which it cannot. If your brother acts unjustly, don't lay hold on the action by the handle of his injustice, for by that it cannot be carried; but by the opposite, that he is your brother, that he was brought up with you; and thus you will lay hold on it, as it is to be carried. (43).

[snip]

These reasonings are unconnected: "I am richer than you, therefore I am better"; "I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better." The connection is rather this: "I am richer than you, therefore my property is greater than yours;" "I am more eloquent than you, therefore my style is better than yours." But you, after all, are neither property nor style.

[snip]

Never call yourself a philosopher, nor talk a great deal among the unlearned about theorems, but act conformably to them. Thus, at an entertainment, don't talk how persons ought to eat, but eat as you ought. For remember that in this manner Socrates also universally avoided all ostentation. And when persons came to him and desired to be recommended by him to philosophers, he took and recommended them, so well did he bear being overlooked. So that if ever any talk should happen among the unlearned concerning philosophic theorems, be you, for the most part, silent. For there is great danger in immediately throwing out what you have not digested. And, if anyone tells you that you know nothing, and you are not nettled at it, then you may be sure that you have begun your business. For sheep don't throw up the grass to show the shepherds how much they have eaten; but, inwardly digesting their food, they outwardly produce wool and milk. Thus, therefore, do you likewise not show theorems to the unlearned, but the actions produced by them after they have been digested.
Epictetus ends Enchiridion with three maxims to guide one through life. The first is:
Conduct me, Zeus, and thou, O Destiny,
Wherever your decrees have fixed my lot.
I follow cheerfully; and, did I not,
Wicked and wretched, I must follow still.
Not by specific words but by sentiment, there is a strong echo of this in the closing prayer of the Episcopalian liturgy:
Send us now into the world in peace,
and grant us strength and courage
to love and serve you
with gladness and singleness of heart;
through Christ our Lord.

Friday, July 21, 2017

You supply what is not there.

From It's not what you put in but what you leave out that matters by Paul Johnson. On Jane Austen
So I beg readers who have not yet acquired that thorough familiarity to do so with all deliberate speed. On that same occasion, Miss Lascelles quoted to me an observation of Virginia Woolf (which also occurs in her book on page 134). Mrs. Woolf called Jane Austen 'a mistress of much deeper emotion then appears upon the surface. She stimulates us to supply what is not there.' Miss Lascelles added, 'It is a mark of a great writer that he or she takes the reader into the magic circle of composition, and gets you to join them in the art creation. You supply what is not there. And what you supply is to some extent of your own choosing, though to be sure within the parameters of the author's intentions. The supreme gift of authorship is to make the reader his co-creator. Shakespeare had this gift. So did Jane Austen. So does that remarkable Mr. Eliot who is astonishing us with his "Four Quartets".'

Neuroscience cognitive pollution

From Oh dear, even people with neuroscience training believe an awful lot of brain myths by Christian Jarrett. I frequently rail about cognitive pollution - our group inclination to retail ideas which have little or no empirical basis. Sometimes these ideas are simply unexamined assumptions with little consequence. At other times, the ideas are ideological or policy and there are very real world consequences.

Probably after war and natural disaster, our greatest societal evils are a consequence of cognitively unexamined assumptions translated into well intentioned policies. War on drugs, war on poverty, war on obesity, postmodernism, blank-slateism, de-institutionalization, etc. All well intentioned and all had substantial unanticipated negative consequences. And that is the barest tip of the iceberg.

Jarrett reports on research on commonly held myths about the brain.
Kelly Macdonald at the University of Houston and her colleagues, including Lauren McGrath at the University of Denver, recruited a total of 3,877 people to take a survey of brain myths hosted on the Testmybrain.org website. This included 3,045 members of the general public, 598 teachers, and 234 people with “high neuroscience exposure” (defined as having completed many college/university courses related to the brain or neuroscience). The researchers had sent messages to neuroscience email lists and social networks to attract people with neuroscience training to take the survey.

The survey featured 32 statements about the brain, 14 of which were true (e.g. we use our brains 24 hours a day) and 18 of which were false (e.g. we only use 10 per cent of our brain). Many of the items were the same or similar to those used in earlier surveys of belief in neuromyths among teachers in the UK and The Netherlands. The participants’ task was simply to indicate which statements were true and which were false.

The good news is that teachers endorsed fewer brain myths than the general public, and those participants with neuroscience training endorsed fewer brain myths than teachers. And yet, all three groups still displayed high levels of brain myth endorsement, especially for what Macdonald and her colleagues identify as the classic brain myths, including:
Learning styles myth (endorsed by 93 per cent of the public, 76 per cent of teachers, and 78 per cent of those with neuroscience education)

A common sign of dyslexia is seeing letters backwards (endorsed by 76 per cent of the public, 59 per cent of teachers, and 50 per cent of those with neuroscience education)

Listening to classical music increases children’s reasoning ability (endorsed by 59 per cent of the public, 55 per cent of teachers, and 43 per cent of the neuroscience group) [more on music-related neuromyths]

Children are less attentive after consuming sugar (endorsed by 59 per cent of the public, 50 per cent of teachers and 39 per cent of the neuroscience group)

The left-brain right-brain myth (endorsed by 64 per cent of the public, 49 per cent of teachers and 32 per cent of the neuroscience group)

The 10 per cent myth (endorsed by 36 per cent of the public, 33 per cent of teachers, and 14 per cent of those with neuroscience education – my unfriendly correspondent is not alone).
No wonder it is so hard to progress when cognitive pollution is so prevalent even among experts within a field.

Why the disconnect between media interests and citizen concerns?

From What Americans Care About vs. What the Media Cares About by Jon Gabriel. Rigorous this is not but interesting none-the-less.

Determining what the public cares about is notoriously challenging not least because there are several ways to go about it, each of which is legitimate, but each of which provides materially different answers. For example, these six questions seem to all be getting at the same general issue (what are the big problems) but the different phrasing and different technique of ordering them will provide different outcomes: 1) What are the most important problems facing America today?, 2) What are the most important problems you face today?, 3) From this list of problems, which do you think are important to the US right now?, 4) How would you rank this list of 10 problems?, 5) How would you allocate 100 points across this list of 10 problems?, 6) What are the problems you think your neighbors are most concerned about? etc.

Gabriel notes that Bloomberg recently did a survey asking the public what they viewed as the most important issues facing the country. He also notes that Media Research Center recently did a survey in which they calculated the amount of network news coverage of major issues. He then combines the two sets of results into a single graph.

Click to enlarge.

This nicely illustrates Gabriel's point about how vast is the gap between what citizenry are interested or concerned about versus what the chattering classes are interested or concerned about.

Russia? Pfft. Its a nothing burger. According to citizens.

Jobs and the economy? Pfft. Its a nothing burger. According to the press.

All the pundits in the chattering class complaining about citizens voting against their own self-interest betray the fact that the chattering class don't know what the citizens are interested in.

This a clever observation on the part of Gabriel. Again, there are challenges with the data, the measurement, and the framing. But this is broadly consistent with other analyses I have seen.

I added a couple of other sources. I looked at the proportions for Google Trends, Gallup, and I also added an average for citizen interest across the three sources: Google Trends, Gallup, and Bloomberg. The results are basically the same.

The mainstream media is fascinated by Russia (in terms of the election) and in Climate Change. Citizens are interesting in Russia and climate change but at a peripheral level. In contrast, citizens are highly focused on jobs, healthcare and taxes whereas these are vestigial issues to the mainstream media.

Click to enlarge.

This prompts a couple of interesting questions. 1) Why are the media not focusing on what their consumer are most interested in? 2) Why, given the attention lavished by the media, are citizens not interested in Russia and climate change? I think I know the reason but it is interesting to see how big the disconnects are between the interests and concerns of citizens and the topics of interest to the chattering classes of the urban media.

There is no a priori way to distinguish between "creative destruction" and long-term decline

A nice turn of phrase from The Shift by Richard Fernandez.
Unfortunately there is no a priori way to distinguish between "creative destruction" and long-term decline. They look too much alike at the start. For all too many "disruptive innovation" will be indistinguishable, in the short run at least, from unemployment.
Governmental devolvement of power back to the states, the advent of artificial intelligence, the possibility of global warming. Only in hindsight will we know which were heralds of creative destruction and which were harbingers of decline.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Among those with high maths scores, those who are also verbally gifted are less likely to pursue STEM careers

From Not Lack of Ability but More Choice: Individual and Gender Differences in Choice of Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics by Ming-Te Wang, , Jacquelynne S. Eccles, and Sarah Kenny. Abstract:
The pattern of gender differences in math and verbal ability may result in females having a wider choice of careers, in both science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and non-STEM fields, compared with males. The current study tested whether individuals with high math and high verbal ability in 12th grade were more or less likely to choose STEM occupations than those with high math and moderate verbal ability. The 1,490 subjects participated in two waves of a national longitudinal study; one wave was when the subjects were in 12th grade, and the other was when they were 33 years old. Results revealed that mathematically capable individuals who also had high verbal skills were less likely to pursue STEM careers than were individuals who had high math skills but moderate verbal skills. One notable finding was that the group with high math and high verbal ability included more females than males.
I saw this theory proposed a number of years ago. It made sense to me then. Nice to see some objective measurements supporting the hypothesis.

There is an interesting parallelism that is noted but unremarked. Among those with high scores in mathematics, males outnumber females roughly 2:1. Among the much smaller group who have both high maths AND high verbal scores, females outnumber males roughly 2:1.

High mathematic capability is the prerequisite to a career in STEM. STEM fields are also the fields which have the greatest prestige and the highest remuneration. Logic, and economic theory, dictates that if you have high maths scores, you would enter STEM fields. The study reminds us that there are innumerable variables beyond logic and theory which determine outcomes.

Of those with high maths and moderate verbal scores, just under half, 49%, elected a STEM career, despite the clear benefits of doing so. Among those with both high maths and high verbal scores, only 34% pursue STEM careers.

The Foreign Secretary is capable of candour.

From What made Jack Straw tell the truth about the botched coup in Equatorial Guinea? by Peter Oborne.

Osborne was writing in the British Spectator where there has always been a strong attraction for muscular and intelligent writing. This is Osborne on the then British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw.
Jack Straw, though by no means a distinguished foreign secretary, nevertheless possesses animal cunning. He is an acknowledged master of dissimulation, contrivance, machination, manoeuvre, evasion, guile, trickery, craft, diversion, disguise, distortion, persiflage, falsehood, deception, sophistry, stealth, artifice, sharp practice, underhand dealing, sleight of hand, subterfuge, prevarication and every other stratagem of concealment and deceit. Occasionally, however, the Foreign Secretary is capable of candour.

Devon, o Devon, in wind and rain

Waggon Hill is a poem by Henry Newbolt. There is an odd contradiction between the maritime theme of the poem and the fact that the name of the poem is for a hill outside Ladysmith in South Africa.

The bridge between the two is that Ladysmith was besieged by Boers in 1900 in the Second Boer War. The siege lasted 118 days with many engagements over its duration, including one at Wagon Hill which the Boers attacked and the British defended.

The connection to the poem is that Wagon Hill was defended by the Devonshire Regiment. Newbolt wrote the poem as a tribute to the Devonshire Regiment, likening their courage and tenacity to that most famous son of Devon, Captain Sir Francis Drake.

Drake flourished in the expansive era of Elizabeth I as a privateer, explorer, and navigator. He led the second circumnavigation of the world 1577-1580 and was second-in-command of the British navy in its storied defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. It is Drake's battle with the Armada to which Newbolt is drawing a parallel with the Cornish Regiment's defense of Wagon Hill.
Waggon Hill
Ladysmith, January 6th, 1900
by Henry Newbolt

Drake in the North Sea grimly prowling,
Treading his dear Revenge's deck,
Watched, with the sea-dogs round him growling,
Galleons drifting wreck by wreck.
"Fetter and Faith for England's neck,
Faggot and Father, Saint and chain, -
Yonder the Devil and all go howling,
Devon, O Devon, in wind and rain!"

Drake at the last off Nombre lying,
Knowing the night that toward him crept,
Gave to the sea-dogs round him crying
This for a sign before he slept: -
"Pride of the West! What Devon hath kept
Devon shall keep on tide or main;
Call to the storm and drive them flying,
Devon, O Devon, in wind and rain!"

Valour of England gaunt and whitening,
Far in a South land brought to bay,
Locked in a death-grip all day tightening,
Waited the end in twilight gray.
Battle and storm and the sea-dog's way
Drake from his long rest turned again,
Victory lit thy steel with lightning,
Devon, O Devon, in wind and rain!

The poem was set to music by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford.



Wednesday, July 19, 2017

See if you can hit Florida

From The New Yorker

Click to enlarge.

Wind from the Sea

Wind from the Sea by Andrew Wyeth (1947)

Click to enlarge.

I know why the sun never sets on the British Empire

From English History Made Brief, Irreverent, and Pleasurable by Lacey Baldwin Smith. Page 1.
No people have engendered quite so much critical acclaim or earned such unrestrained and bitter censure as the British. The tight little island has been extolled as the Athens of modern times, the cradle of ideas and institutions that has shaped entire societies and encompassed the globe. Conversely the British, secure in their island isolation off the western shores of the European Continent, have driven Europe and indeed the rest of the world to fury by their insolent self-satisfaction and perfidious hypocrisy. For many, the words attributed to Duncan Spaeth still ring true – "I know why the sun never sets on the British Empire: God wouldn't trust an Englishman in the dark."

The Gell-Mann experience of Ankhesenamun

There has been much discussion about Fake News in the past year. News that is deliberately reported in a biased and incorrect fashion has been the principle point of discussion, mostly in the context of the 2016 election.

But there is a second type of Fake News which is perhaps even more common, that which is reported without knowledge or skepticism on the part of the journalist. Obama White House Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes gained notoriety for bragging about his ability to manipulate the press. Why was it so easy?
The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.
And it is not only in the political arena. It can be anything.

Inaccurate reporting has been around forever. The late author Michael Crichton coined the term, the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect in his 2005 speech Why Speculate? He described the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect:
Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I refer to it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.)

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I’d point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all. But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn’t. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.
All this is prompted by an article I clicked through to this morning which is a good illustration of how badly things can go wrong when there is journalistic ignorance and poor editing.

The article was King Tut's Wife May Be Buried in Newly Discovered Tomb by Owen Jarus. I have a lifelong keen interest in archaeology and particularly in Egyptology. I am well read in the literature and a report such as this would be fascinating as King Tut ruled during a turbulent and transitional period at the end of the 18th Dynasty.

Tutankhamun's wife was Ankhesenamun, daughter of the Pharaoh Akhenaten. Akhenaten moved the capital to a newly founded city Akhetaten and abandoned the religious traditions of Egypt and brought in the worship of a quasi-monotheistic religion of the sun god Aten. On Akhenaten's death, the forces of tradition reasserted themselves, the capital reverted to Thebes and Ankhesenamun married her half-brother Tutankhamun who became Pharaoh.

While the religion reverted to the traditional gods, the artistic freedom that had been fostered under Akhetaten continued into Tutankhamun's reign. Among Tutankhamun's tomb furnishings, there are a number of renditions which include more casual, intimate depictions of Pharaoh and wife than we see at any other time in Egypt's history. It is worth remembering that Ankhesenamun and Tutankhamun were teenagers during his reign. She was only 21 at his death.





On Pharaoh Tutankhamun's death, he was succeeded by his Grand Vizier Ay. Ay married Tutankhamun's widow, Ankhesenamun. Her widowhood and remarriage marks one of those little glimmers into the world of the 14th century BC which chance and history occasionally reveal. In the Hittite archives, there is a correspondence with an Egyptian queen whose identity is not certain but might have been Ankhesenamun. From Wikipedia:
A document was found in the ancient Hittite capital of Hattusa which dates to the Amarna period; the so-called "Deeds" of Suppiluliuma I. The Hittite ruler receives a letter from the Egyptian queen, while being in siege on Karkemish. The letter reads:
"My husband has died and I have no son. They say about you that you have many sons. You might give me one of your sons to become my husband. I would not wish to take one of my subjects as a husband... I am afraid."
This document is considered extraordinary, as Egyptians traditionally considered foreigners to be inferior. Suppiluliuma I was surprised and exclaimed to his courtiers:
"Nothing like this has happened to me in my entire life!"
Understandably, he was wary, and had an envoy investigate, but by so doing, he missed his chance to bring Egypt into his empire. He eventually did send one of his sons, Zannanza, but the prince died, perhaps murdered, en route.
You can see why Jarus's King Tut's Wife May Be Buried in Newly Discovered Tomb could be so interesting. What historical questions might be answered and mysteries revealed?

But it was not to be. The article opens with:
Famed archaeologist Zahi Hawass and his team say they've found evidence of a tomb that could belong to King Tut's wife.
Uh oh. Hawass is a notorious self-promoter with a long track record of dubious archaeological science and even more dubious commercial activities. If this is the basis of your reporting, then tread carefully.

And indeed, the rest of the reporting is filled with weasel words and passive voice.
"We are sure there is a tomb there, but we do not know for sure to whom it belongs," Hawass told Live Science in an email. On July 7, National Geographic Italia published an article in Italian suggesting that a team led by Hawass had found a new tomb in the Valley of the Kings, and Hawass confirmed that discovery to Live Science.

"We are sure there is a tomb hidden in that area because I found four foundation deposits," Hawass said, explaining that the foundations are "caches or holes in the ground that were filled with votive objects such as pottery vessels, food remains and other tools as a sign that a tomb construction is being initiated."

"The ancient Egyptians usually did four or five foundation deposits whenever they started a tomb's construction," Hawass said. Additionally, "the radar did detect a substructure that could be the entrance of a tomb."

As for whose remains were buried there, Hawass said the tomb could belong to Ankhesenamun, who was the wife of Tutankhamun (reign 1336-1327 B.C.). Ankhesenamun married Ay after King Tut died, so it's possible that her tomb is located near Ay's, Hawass said.
This is sounding more and more like a carnival barker trying to attract the attention of punters willing to drop some money on further excavations.

This Fake News culminates in this classic Update. Remember, the whole point of the article was to report the discovered tomb of Ankhesenamun.
Update: In an email to Live Science on July 10, Hawass cautioned that until excavations take place, he can't say for sure that a tomb has been discovered, and it is still possible that there is no tomb. "It is all possibilities until we excavate," Hawass said.
Carnival barker it is. No tomb has been discovered and there is no reason to expect that it might be that of Ankhesenamun. Fake news that is simply the product of journalistic ignorance and lack of editorial oversight.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Candle-ends and cheese-parings

From Prime Minister Gladstone. Speech at Edinburgh (29 November, 1879), as quoted in Gladstone as Financier and Economist (1931) by F. W. Hirst, p. 243.

Pay attention Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Old ways are often good ways.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer should boldly uphold economy in detail; and it is the mark of a chicken-hearted Chancellor when he shrinks from upholding economy in detail, when because it is a question of only two or three thousand pounds, he says it is no matter. He is ridiculed, no doubt, for what is called candle-ends and cheese-parings, but he is not worth his salt if he is not ready to save what are meant by candle-ends and cheese-parings in the cause of the country. No Chancellor of the Exchequer is worth his salt who makes his own popularity either his consideration, or any consideration at all, in administering the public purse. In my opinion, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the trusted and confidential steward of the public. He is under a sacred obligation with regard to all that he consents to spend.

A 16-year-old election forecast

From circa 1980 to about 2005, I used to clip articles from newspapers and magazines. I had hundreds of folders with articles on a wide range of topics in which I was interested. News accounts, articles, essays, research papers, you name it.

The internet brought an end to those days. Why keep a physical record when a digital one works just about as well? Hence, Commonplace of a Magpie where I keep track of articles which I might want to reference again.

In the meantime, all the old physical files sat in boxes in storage. Recently, I began clearing out those files. I could just toss them all, but given how things get mixed up in moves, it made sense to go through them and check what was being tossed, and record that which might be still of interest.

It has been an interesting exercise. I kept virtually nothing from the Technology file - it has all been superseded.

It has been interesting to see some of yesteryear's crises which ended up not being crises. Yesteryear's received wisdoms which have now been overturned. Yesteryear's issues which we have still not addressed today.

Also interesting to see how much more centrist most of the news sources were: New York Times, Washington Post, Atlantic Monthly, New Yorker, etc. The writing was just so much more normal.

And sometimes, there are articles which were prescient.

Such as, America's Forgotten Majority by Joel Rogers and Ruy Teixeira, written in 2000. After the election of 2016 with the solid triumph of the people's candidate over the chattering class candidate, the chattering class launched innumerable and interminable postmortems to discover just how such a "catastrophe" could have occurred.

Ignoring the fact that the the losing candidate had a warehouse of political baggage, a wagon train of scandals, and not an ounce of retail politicking talent, and ignoring the smokescreen stories about Russian intervention, one of the central talking points to emerge has been the fact that the urban coastal chattering class employed by the government or academia have no clue what is happening in the rest of the country, nor any idea how or why the economic uncertainties of the past decade have laid low the American Dream.

The idea has taken hold that the explanation for the election outcome must lie with a hitherto ignored demographic, the white working class. The talk has turned, David Livingston-like, to mounting exploratory expeditions to the hinterland to discover this tribe of unknowns, the average American.

I don't dispute that in addition to running a bad campaign and being a candidate with more scandals than a reality TV host, ignoring the white working class was a contributor to the outcome. No doubt about it.

Rogers and Teixeira were all over this way back in 2000. To them, at that time, it was obvious that Republicans could not be the party of the working class. At the same time, they were concerned that Democrats, with their identity politics coalition, might not be able to build bridges to the single largest demographic group in the US.

But it is interesting that the argument was being made empirically and rationally in 2000 and yet was not being paid attention to. What Rogers and Teixeira were concerned about was the possibility that Democrats 1) would not be able to translate POC dominance into enough votes for victory, and 2) Democrats, by focusing on African Americans, Hispanics, LGBT, immigrants, etc. (no group of which, individually or collectively, constituted anything near a voting majority) would not engage with the white working middle class, the majority of the voting population. And that is what happened in 2016. Rogers and Teixeira called it.

This is a taste of their thought process:
We became particularly intrigued by the assertion -- explicit above, sometimes implicit, but almost always there -- that the white working class had become politically irrelevant. How could this be? The 1980s weren't that long ago. Demographic change is generally gradual, not sudden. The country is still mostly white (almost three quarters of adults, more than four fifths of voters), and most people have, according to the data just cited, jobs, educations, and incomes that can broadly be described as working-class.

Well, what can't be usually isn't. The white working class is alive and well in American politics today. Sure, many of its members prefer the label "middle class," and most don't work in factories or at any other kind of blue-collar job. But their economic position in American society bears little resemblance to that of the suburban college-educated professionals we hear so much about.

We call these white working-class voters the forgotten majority of American politics: "forgotten" because we haven't heard much about them of late and also because they haven't benefited much from policy changes over the past thirty years or so; "majority" because they are just that -- about 55 percent of the voting population.

[snip]

But the Democrats have won the past two presidential elections, though the Republicans still control Congress. And all of a sudden, after dominating our politics for sixty years, the white working class is nowhere to be found in most media accounts of current politics. We hear a lot about soccer moms, wired workers, and suburban independents, but virtually nothing about this formerly central group of voters. What happened? Has the world really changed so much in the past decade or two? Could the white working class have been rendered irrelevant by the rise of a new economy?

[snip]

These people are the real swing voters in American politics. Their loyalties shift the most from election to election and, in so doing, determine the winners in American politics. They are also the majority -- about 55 percent of voters and of the adult population. But they don't receive much attention these days; they are invisible to the journalists and commentators who define our national discourse. To bring them into focus more sharply, we will review some basic information about them. As we proceed, it will become clear that the new white working class is quite at variance with dated stereotypes from the 1970s and 1980s.

[snip]

In sum, the white working class remains numerically dominant, even if its form has changed. Sure, many of its members qualify as wired, in the narrow sense that they work with computers and information technology. Many also qualify as soccer moms, in the narrow sense that they have to juggle job and family, including driving their kids to and from athletic contests. And certainly many qualify as suburban independents, in the narrow sense that they live in the suburbs and lack a strong identification with either party. Nonetheless, they are members of a white working class whose economic interests and experience diverge fundamentally -- in terms of culture, class, and history -- from those of soccer moms in Bethesda, suburban independents in Fair Lawn, and wired cyber professionals in Silicon Valley.

[snip]

Democratic Party strategy suffers from a refusal to recognize the forgotten majority as fundamental to a new popular majority. The Democrats prefer to target various fashionable voter groups as supplements to their base in unions and minority groups and hope that they manage to outpoll the Republicans, as they have in the past two presidential elections. The Democrats also lack a program for uniting the values and economic experience of the forgotten majority; they simply hope that the current economic expansion will last forever, a scenario that cannot happen. And even now the expansion is doing little to solve long-term problems such as health security, retirement security, and education reform, which are crucial to the forgotten majority's economic future. These problems demand bold policy interventions -- interventions that the Democrats are reluctant to propose, given their born-again commitment to fiscal prudence and modest government.

[snip]

So an expansion of the existing Democratic base holds little promise for creating a new Democratic majority. The current Democratic coalition -- most emphatically not a majority -- is already doing a fair job of turning out these voters. It could always do better, of course, but there are limits to the likely effect.

Inescapably, the forgotten majority is the answer.
Rogers and Teixeira then go on to discuss how Democrats might convert the white working class and also pick-up white college educated women.
Of course, the Democrats could focus both on the forgotten majority and on college-educated white women, particularly those with postgraduate degrees. The latter cannot substitute for the former, however. If the Democrats could improve their support among the forgotten majority, additional support from highly educated white women would be icing on the cake. But without the forgotten-majority voters there will be no cake to ice.
Ironically, they lost both in 2016, both the white working class and college-educated white women. No cake, no icing.

Interestingly, while Rogers and Teixeira are trying to map a path in 2000 for Democrats to become the majority party, they also identify the various barriers that might keep Democrats from actually trying to convert the majority demographic. Much of which came to pass in the election of 2016.

It is not enough to know the future. As Rogers and Teixeira show, thinking goes only so far. You have to want the future enough to accept it on its own terms.