Saturday, September 30, 2017

Crawford family in canoe at boat landing, The Everglades, Florida by Julian A. Dimock

Crawford family in canoe at boat landing, The Everglades, Florida by Julian A. Dimock

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From The Spectator, 24 October, 1992
by Lawrence Sail

Sure as nightfall, finer
Than any drizzle, their tweaks of light
Are brief, occulting – so little
You'd think they must be splinters
Of a single idea.

Out in the dusk, they almost
Are beyond the limit of what is possible
For a man or a god to invent –
Are never quite where they were
And outflank order.

The grass is theirs, the woodpile,
The hedgerow, all the darkening air –
Even if you close your eyes
They're there, navigating in silence
To the sill of your dream.

Media consultants

From The New Yorker.

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Science of complexity

From Brian Castellani on the Complexity Sciences by Brian Castellani. Globalization and the combination of the internet with smartphones is driving levels of complexity that are hard to grapple. Catellani makes a stab at it in his article but I most enjoyed his accompanying map of the evolution of the science of complexity.

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Friday, September 29, 2017

Hide and Seek, 1896 by Fanny Brate

Hide and Seek, 1896 by Fanny Brate

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From The Spectator, 27 June, 1992
by Yosano Akiko (1878-1942
translated by Graeme Wilson

Of that long stairway leading to my heart's
Most sweet, most secret door,
He whom I longed to see ascend the steps
Scarce managed three or four.

To each his own

From The New Yorker.

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The Second Law of Consulting: No matter how it looks at first, it's always a people problem.

A selection of quotes from Gerald Weinberg, a great pioneer in systems thinking.
A system is never finished being developed until it ceases to be used.

Asking for efficiency and adaptability in the same program is like asking for a beautiful and modest wife. Although beauty and modesty have been known to occur in the same woman, we'll probably have to settle for one or the other. At least that's better than neither.

Newton was a genius, but not because of the superior computational power of his brain. Newton's genius was, on the contrary, his ability to simplify, idealize, and streamline the world so that it became, in some measure, tractable to the brains of perfectly ordinary men.

The generalist, is like the fox, who knows many things. Just as anthropologists learn to live in many cultures, without rifles, so do certain scientists manage to adapt comfortably to the paradigms of several disciplines. How do they do it? When questioned, these generalists always express an inner faith in the unity of science. They, too, carry a single paradigm, but it is one taken from a much higher vantage point, one from which the paradigms of the different disciplines are seen to be very much alike, though often obscured by special language.

The Second Law of Consulting: No matter how it looks at first, it's always a people problem.

Things are the way they are because they got that way.

If you cannot manage yourself, you have no business managing others.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Your levellers wish to level down as far as themselves; but they cannot bear levelling up to themselves

From A Samuel Johnson celebration recalls his wit and wisdom by Israel Shenker.

A Samuel Johnson miscellany.
I have, all my life long, been lying till noon. Yet I tell all young men, and tell them with great sincerity, that nobody who does not rise early will ever do any good.

A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing.

I would advise no many to marry, Sir, who is not likely to propagate understanding.

Difficult, do you call it, Sir?' replied the Doctor; 'I wish it were impossible. [Of the performance of a celebrated violinist.]

Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures.

Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.

A fly, Sir, may sting a stately horse and make him wince; but one is but an insect, and the other is a horse still.

Sir, your levellers wish to level down as far as themselves; but they cannot bear levelling up to themselves.

Let me smile with the wise, and feed with the rich.

It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives. The act of dying is not of importance, it lasts so short a time.

That fellow seems to me to possess but one idea, and that is a wrong one.

I have got no further that this: Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it Martyrdom is the test.

An odd thought strikes me: - we shall receive no letters in the grave.

God bless you, my dear! [Last words; December 13, 1784.]

Flying Dutchman, 1896 by Albert Pinkham Ryder

Flying Dutchman, 1896 by Albert Pinkham Ryder

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Grand Central Cafe, Girl in a Blue Skirt, 2006 by Sally Storch

Grand Central Cafe, Girl in a Blue Skirt, 2006 by Sally Storch

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Rationality and radical ideas

A very good piece, Were Trump Voters Irrational? by Keith Stanovich. A little too much weight on the Left:Right or Democrat:Republican axes but to some extent that was unavoidable given the nature of the issues being discussed.

In the mainstream media such as the New York Times, Atlantic, New Republic, and the ilk, for the past few years, it has been common to see much attention paid to research that finds conservatives/Republicans to be disadvantaged compared to liberals/Democrats in terms of rationality, knowledge, IQ, etc.

Much of the research they rely on has been questionable in terms of framing, sample size, randomness of the sample, etc. It has been increasingly clear, as the research gets more sophisticated and robust in order to address the legitimate criticisms, that there is no real difference in IQ, rationality, or epistemic volume between the parties/factions.

Jonathan Haidt began injecting some rigor into this whole comparative process by pointing out (and documenting) in The Righteous Mind that differences in moral foundations between the left and right were in part responsible for who and why people were seeing the world differently from their opposites.

Stanovich's article is an excellent complement to Haidt's work.
In September 2016, in collaboration with my colleagues Richard West and Maggie Toplak, I published a book titled The Rationality Quotient. In it, we described our attempt to create the first comprehensive test of rational thinking. The book is very much an academic volume, full of statistics and technical details. We had expected our academic peers to engage with the statistics and technical details, and they did begin to do just that after its publication.

But then the November 8, 2016 United States presidential election intervened.

The nature of my email suddenly changed. I began to receive many communications containing gallows humor, like “Wow, you’ll sure have a lot to study now” or “We sure need your test now, don’t we?” Many of these emails had the implication that I now had the perfect group to study—Trump voters—who were obviously irrational in the eyes of my email correspondents.
Stanovich follows through and looks systematically at whether Trump voters were unknowledgeable, irrational actors voting against their own interests. He makes many important points and raises interesting ideas.
Cognitive scientists recognize two types of rationality: instrumental and epistemic. Instrumental rationality is achieved when we act with optimal efficiency to achieve our goals. Epistemic rationality concerns how well beliefs map onto the actual structure of the world—that is, whether our beliefs are accurate, or true. A quick and memorable way to differentiate the two is to say that they concern what to do (instrumental rationality) and what is true (epistemic rationality). Of course, the two are related. In order to take actions that fulfill our goals, we need to base those actions on beliefs that are properly calibrated to the world.
Stanovich makes the broad point that in order to assess rationality, you have to understand the nature of the goals being pursued. It is not correct to say someone is irrational simply because they have different goals than you do. The test is whether, given their goals, they are rational in pursuit of those goals.

The mainstream media routinely condemn people as irrational simply because they have a different set of goals than your average 27-year-old journalist.

Stanovich introduces another classification which I think is quite interesting. Emphasis added.
But what about temperament, character, and fitness for office? Surely it was irrational to vote for Trump if temperament is relevant, Democrats might say. But this argument is not a slam-dunk from the standpoint of rationality. It is simply not self-evident how people should trade off temperament versus worldview in their voting choices. This is especially true in the 2016 presidential election, where the candidates were unusually differentiated in their worldviews. In that election, Clinton represented what I will term the Global and Groups perspective (GG) and Trump represented the Country and Citizen perspective (CC). Clinton signalled to the electorate that she represented the GG perspective by emphasizing global concerns (climate change and global climate agreements; increasing US refugee intake; rights and protections for noncitizens) and continually addressing groups in her speeches (the groups of Democratic identity politics: LGBT, African-Americans, Hispanics, etc.). Trump signalled to the electorate that he represented the CC perspective by continually emphasizing country in his speeches (“make America great again”) and addressing his audiences as citizens with nation-level interests rather than group interests (trade deals that disadvantaged American workers; securing the country’s borders; etc.).
Global and Groups perspective versus Country and Citizen perspective is an interesting formulation and you can see a bridge between those perspectives and the moral foundations model.

Instrumental versus Epistemic rationality and GG versus CC, are very useful/interesting constructs. I would add two more, one of which I alluded to. Goal comprehension - recognizing that people 1) have different goals, 2) they rank order those goals (even if they are the same goals) differently, and 3) they have different trade-off formulations among those goals.

It would be easy to say that since Citizen A and Citizen B both value personal freedom and personal security, that they are of like mind. But we don't know that. One might rank security as of top priority and the other, freedom. But even if they have the same ordinal rank, Freedom One and Security Two, we still can't say they have aligned goals if they have different trade-offs. For example, Benjamin Franklin valued both but his trade-offs were strict, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Citizen B who might be willing to sacrifice some freedom in order to purchase security would be in conflict with Franklin even though they both might value freedom and security in that order.

I think goal comprehension is a whole chapter that is important towards assessing rationality. If we do not understand someone else's goals, we are not in much position to understand their rationality.

I would also add a further complication which is a common barrier towards understanding someone else's rationality and that is taking account of temporal priorities, tactical versus strategic concerns. If, for example, I believe that establishment politicians have become a sclerotic barrier to the necessary reforms that would allow the economy to flourish, I might be willing to vote for any non-conformist candidate in the near term, even if I think they might be ineffective, in order to achieve the more valuable goal of long term displacement of the sclerotic establishment.

By assessing Instrumental versus Epistemic rationality, GG versus CC, Goal comprehension and Tactical versus Strategic, we begin to get ourselves in to a position to assess relative degrees of rationality. But that requires a lot of good faith openness and hard work. It is usually easier, and far more common, to simply dismiss someone as voting against their own interests and as irrational simply because they have different goals, priorities, trade-offs, tactics and strategies.

The whole piece is well worth reading. In terms of assessing rationality, he concludes in his penultimate paragraph:
I am afraid that my Democratic friends are just going to have to reconcile themselves to the conclusion that the cognitive science of rationality does not support their judgment of the Trump voters. You can say whatever you want about the rationality or irrationality of Trump himself, but cognitive science does not support the claim that his voters were irrational—or, more specifically, that they were any less rational than the Clinton voters. Politics is not the place to look for objective rightness or wrongness—and that is what judgments about the rationality of voting entail. Our judgments in this domain are uniquely susceptible to myside bias.
I agree. But I think his final paragraph has an even greater insight.
Many of our most contentious political issues hinge on values and culture rather than facts. That may be a good thing. It could be signalling that our society has already handled the easiest issues—those that can be solved by educating everyone to accept the same facts and then implementing the obvious solution that follows from these facts. We may have achieved a social structure that is so optimized that the remaining disputes revolve largely around values and cultural choices. Rather than calling the Trump voters irrational, it might be a better idea to engage with their Country and Citizen cultural concerns and treat them as equally valid and rational as the Global and Groups cultural concerns that largely drove the Clinton voters.
Instead of writing off someone with whom you disagree, extend respect to your counterpart and engage with the issues in terms of their worldview as well as your own - an idea so radical it might just work.

Misunderstanding improvement

From Johnny Hart's B.C. cartoon strip.

I used to use this working with Reengineering and Quality Improvement teams in the 1990s to make the point that goal definition and measurement which are anchored in real customer needs are critical to understand improvement. Sometimes increases in nominal efficiency (one less bump) subverts real effectiveness (smooth transportation).

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These are crazy times

We have a major party which claims that Russian interference occurred in the 2016 election and that this interference determined the outcome of the election. This claim is made by a major party candidate who was soliciting foreign government endorsements in the run up to the election.

The only evidence about Russian interference to have emerged so far, after eleven months of searching, is that Russian sources spent $100-150,000 on ads across the political spectrum on Facebook.

That's $150,000 out of $10 billion in political advertising in 2016.

In the past week we have new research out, The Minimal Persuasive Effects of Campaign Contact in General Elections: Evidence from 49 Field Experiments by Joshua Kalla and David E. Broockman, that says that none of $10 billion in advertising spending, much less that infinitesimal $150,000, had any affect on people's voting behavior.

For all the hoopla and media spinning, all we have right now is that the Russians spent $150,000 on a left-leaning social media platform for ads supporting parties and candidates across the political platform in a fashion of advertising that had no discernible influence.

Who knows what evidence will turn up in the future, but right now this looks like an enormous distraction from reality.

No snowflakes in those days.

From Lady Jane Grey, wikipedia. Known as the Nine Days Queen on her succession to the thrown on the death of Edward VI, she was de facto Queen of England and Ireland from 10 July until 19 July 1553.
When the 15-year-old king lay dying in June 1553, he wrote his will, nominating Jane and her male heirs as successor to the Crown partly because his half-sister Mary was Roman Catholic while Jane was Protestant and would support the religion whose foundation Edward claimed to have laid. The will named his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth illegitimate and removed them from succession. This step subverted their claims under the Third Succession Act.

After Edward's death, Jane was proclaimed queen on 10 July 1553 and awaited coronation in the Tower of London. Support for Mary grew very quickly and most of Jane's supporters abandoned her. The Privy Council decided to change sides and proclaimed Mary as queen on 19 July 1553, deposing Lady Jane. Her primary supporter, the Duke of Northumberland, was accused of treason and executed less than a month later. Jane was held as a prisoner at the Tower and was convicted of high treason in November 1553, which carried a sentence of death, although her life was initially spared by Mary. After her father Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk, became part of Wyatt's rebellion of January and February 1554 against Queen Mary's plans to marry Philip of Spain, Jane was viewed as a threat to the crown; both Jane and her husband were executed on 12 February 1554.

Lady Jane Grey had an excellent humanist education and a reputation as one of the most learned young women of her day. A committed Protestant, she was posthumously regarded as not only a political victim but akin to a martyr.
Caught in the religious and political turbulence of the time, there was little prospect of mercy.
Referred to by the court as Jane Dudley, wife of Guildford, Jane was charged with high treason, as were her husband, two of his brothers, and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. Their trial, by a special commission, took place on 13 November 1553, at Guildhall in the City of London. The commission was chaired by Sir Thomas White, Lord Mayor of London, and Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. Other members included Edward Stanley, 3rd Earl of Derby and John Bourchier, 2nd Earl of Bath. As was to be expected, all defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death. Jane's guilt, of having treacherously assumed the title and the power of the monarch, was evidenced by a number of documents she had signed as "Jane the Quene". Her sentence was to "be burned alive on Tower Hill or beheaded as the Queen pleases" (burning was the traditional English punishment for treason committed by women). The imperial ambassador reported to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, that her life was to be spared.

The rebellion of Thomas Wyatt the Younger in January 1554 against Queen Mary's marriage plans with Philip of Spain sealed Jane's fate. Her father, Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk, and his two brothers joined the rebellion, and so the government decided to go through with the verdict against Jane and Guildford. Their execution was first scheduled for 9 February 1554, but was then postponed for three days so that Jane should get a chance to be converted to the Catholic faith. Mary sent her chaplain John Feckenham to Jane, who was initially not pleased about this. Though she would not give in to his efforts "to save her soul", she became friends with him and allowed him to accompany her to the scaffold.

On the morning of 12 February 1554, the authorities took Guildford from his rooms at the Tower of London to the public execution place at Tower Hill, where he was beheaded. A horse and cart brought his remains back to the Tower, past the rooms where Jane was staying. Seeing her husband's corpse return, Jane is reported to have exclaimed: "Oh, Guildford, Guildford." She was then taken out to Tower Green, inside the Tower, to be beheaded.

According to the account of her execution given in the anonymous Chronicle of Queen Jane and of Two Years of Queen Mary, which formed the basis for Raphael Holinshed's depiction, Jane gave a speech upon ascending the scaffold:
Good people, I am come hither to die, and by a law I am condemned to the same. The fact, indeed, against the Queen's highness was unlawful, and the consenting thereunto by me: but touching the procurement and desire thereof by me or on my behalf, I do wash my hands thereof in innocency, before God, and the face of you, good Christian people, this day.
While admitting to action considered unlawful, she declared that "I do wash my hands thereof in innocence". Jane then recited Psalm 51 (Have mercy upon me, O God) in English, and handed her gloves and handkerchief to her maid. The executioner asked her forgiveness, which she granted him, pleading: "I pray you dispatch me quickly." Referring to her head, she asked, "Will you take it off before I lay me down?", and the axeman answered: "No, madam." She then blindfolded herself. Jane then failed to find the block with her hands, and cried, "What shall I do? Where is it?" Probably Sir Thomas Brydges, the Deputy Lieutenant of the Tower, helped her find her way. With her head on the block, Jane spoke the last words of Jesus as recounted by Luke: "Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit!"
Lady Jane Grey was sixteen at the time of her execution.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Catcher Astraddle Beams During Skyscraper Construction by Arthur Gerlach

Catcher Astraddle Beams During Skyscraper Construction by Arthur Gerlach

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It concentrates his mind wonderfully

I did not know this origin story to a famous Samuel Johnson quote. From A Samuel Johnson celebration recalls his wit and wisdom by Israel Shenker.
"In a man's letters", Johnson once wrote her [Hester Thrales], "his soul lies naked," and his compressed, elegant phrases, words unerringly targeted, sparkle through the intimate correspondence. In many compositions that were credited to others, Johnson, with unfailing charity, when moved by some great issue or petitioned by some worthy friends, contributed the bounty of his wisdom. "It is sufficient that our brother is an want," he counseled. "By which way he brought his want upon him, let us not too curiously enquire. We likewise are sinners."

When the Rev. William Dodd was sentenced to death for forgery, Johnson secretly wrote Dodd's appeal, and when that failed, went on to write his farewell. When someone later expressed doubts that Dodd could have composed prose so telling, Johnson responded: "Depend on it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.

The intensity of the conviction that a hypothesis is true has no bearing on whether it is true or not.

From Advice to a Young Scientist by Peter Medawar.
The intensity of the conviction that a hypothesis is true has no bearing on whether it is true or not. The importance of the strength of our conviction is only to provide a proportionately strong incentive to find out if the hypothesis will stand up to critical evaluation.

Talk to the trees

by Rengetsu-ni (1790-1875)
translated by Graeme Wilson

In this lonely mountain-village
It has become my way
To listen only to the voices of trees
So that, today,
I am lonely only when the wind drops
And the trees have nothing to say.

Without intending to insult, Rengetsu-ni, it is inescapable that I think about The Smothers Brothers and I Talk to the Trees.

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English hospitality

From Punch.

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It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!

An interesting example of how an ideological conviction can outlast all evidence against it. From The real gap: fixing the gender pay divide from Korn Ferry.

The belief has existed for a long time that women work in a patriarchal world where men pay women less for the same work. This has been routinely and consistently been refuted for over thirty years all over the OECD. This study shows the same result as the others but with one difference. This is working off an incredibly large data set. No experiments here, this is straight-forward empirical observation.
New Korn Ferry Hay Group research shows that male-female pay disparity isn’t exactly as commonly portrayed. Tapping into its database of more than 20 million salaries at 25,000 organizations in 100 nations, the firm found that the gap is remarkably small—as low as 2.7% in France, for instance, or 1.4% in Australia across the globe, or .8% in Britain for like positions. The disparities the research found can be pegged to women still not getting access to the highest-paying jobs.

The study shows that gender pay disparities all but disappear if comparisons are made like for like, looking at individuals doing the same function in the same company.
There is no patriarchy. That is not to say that there are not random acts of discrimination against men and women. What it does say is that it is random, not systemic.

The fascinating thing is how the results of the Korn Ferry study are being cast. The original theory was that men were being paid more than women and that this was being done based on systemic discrimination against women.

All the other studies, consistent with Korn Ferry, have shown that there is no wage discrimination. Men and women choose different fields of endeavor, invest differently in their careers (amount of time committed and duration of time), and choose different industries. Men choose fields and industries that pay more, and they invest more time over longer durations than do women. Interestingly, women in countries with more legal protection and stronger cultural commitments towards egalitarianism demonstrate the greatest variance in choices.

Korn Ferry found the same thing. Women are paid the same wage for the same work but they choose (on average) different fields (and lower paying fields), they choose different industries, and they choose to invest less time and take more breaks in their career than do men.

In the freest and most egalitarian countries, on average, the fields which pay the most are thing-oriented (STEM, Engineering, construction, etc.) versus people-oriented (service jobs, retail, psychology, education, etc.); industries which pay the most tend to be dangerous (mining, timbering, policing, farming, etc.); and the positions which pay the most are the ones achieved by the longest hours over the longest periods of time. Men disproportionately choose those options compared to women.

So there is no systemic discrimination as had been hypothesized but there are individual choices which entail significant trade-offs in terms of interest, danger, and sacrifice. That's pretty much what we want. People are paid the most for the most dangerous and most difficult jobs, people are free to choose, and the system is non-discriminatory. That's not just progress, that's an incredible achievement. That's reason for celebration. Unless you are an ideologue and think you can make better decisions for people than they choose to make for themselves.

Peggy Hazard is the Korn Ferry Hay Group’s managing partner and co-lead for Advancing Women Worldwide Solutions. Her position depends on there being discrimination against women. How does she respond to the wonderful news that women are not being systematically discriminated against, are being paid the same wage for the same work, and are free to make the best choices that meet their own needs? She thinks women are making bad decisions and should make the decisions Hazard herself has not made but wants them to make. More pertinently, Hazard wants corporations to keep buying the consulting services she offers to solve a problem that her own company has shown does not exist. Company's should buy Korn Ferry solutions to get women to make career decisions different from the decisions they currently prefer.
"Organizations can better support women's progress in many ways," said Peggy Hazard, Korn Ferry Hay Group’s managing partner and co-lead for Advancing Women Worldwide Solutions. "Our research shows one key way to achieve wage parity is to ensure more women advance to senior managerial levels, including to CEO, board director, and C-suite executive positions. To get women there, we need to ensure that early, and throughout their careers, they receive mission-critical and complex assignments─and that they receive candid feedback about their performance. Both of these are essential to build the skills, experiences, and attributes most valued at the top."

She also said more women should be encouraged to enter higher-paying fields of science, technology, engineering, and medicine.
Fair enough. Hazard has an income to justify and services to sell. But let's not pretend that we are solving problems of systemic discrimination or that we are helping women make the decisions that best suit them.

As Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Unknown title by Jeff Bellerose

By Jeff Bellerose.

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A news-writer is a man without virtue, who writes lies at home for his own profit

From Samuel Johnson's The Idler published from 1758-1760. Johnson was in some respects what we might today call a blogger. In The Idler he weekly recorded observations, thoughts and short essays on the power of habits, political credulity, the art of advertising and any number of still pertinent issues.

Blog post (Essay) No. 30. was on Saturday, November 11, 1758. On that date he made a number of evergreen comments about the nascent profession of journalism. Not much has changed in the 259 years since then. Emphasis added.
No species of literary men has lately been so much multiplied as the writers of news. Not many years ago the nation was content with one gazette; but now we have not only in the metropolis papers for every morning and every evening, but almost every large town has its weekly historian, who regularly circulates his periodical intelligence, and fills the villages of his district with conjectures on the events of war, and with debates on the true interest of Europe.

To write news in its perfection requires such a combination of qualities, that a man completely fitted for the task is not always to be found. In Sir Henry Wotton's jocular definition, An ambassador is said to be a man of virtue sent abroad to tell lies for the advantage of his country; a news-writer is a man without virtue, who writes lies at home for his own profit. To these compositions is required neither genius nor knowledge, neither industry nor sprightliness; but contempt of shame and indifference to truth are absolutely necessary. He who by a long familiarity with infamy has obtained these qualities, may confidently tell to-day what he intends to contradict to-morrow; he may affirm fearlessly what he knows that he shall be obliged to recant, and may write letters from Amsterdam or Dresden to himself.

In a time of war the nation is always of one mind, eager to hear something good of themselves and ill of the enemy. At this time the task of news-writers is easy: they have nothing to do but to tell that a battle is expected, and afterwards that a battle has been fought, in which we and our friends, whether conquering or conquered, did all, and our enemies did nothing.

Scarcely any thing awakens attention like a tale of cruelty. The writer of news never fails in the intermission of action to tell how the enemies murdered children and ravished virgins; and, if the scene of action be somewhat distant, scalps half the inhabitants of a province.

Among the calamities of war may be justly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates, and credulity encourages. A peace will equally leave the warriour and relater of wars destitute of employment; and I know not whether more is to be dreaded from streets filled with soldiers accustomed to plunder, or from garrets filled with scribblers accustomed to lie.
I never associated H.L. Mencken with Samuel Johnson but I see a common acerbity and inclination towards trenchant comment.

We argue that the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising is zero

From The Minimal Persuasive Effects of Campaign Contact in General Elections: Evidence from 49 Field Experiments by Joshua Kalla and David E. Broockman. I am not surprised by the finding but I also find it hard to reconcile with the conviction of campaigns that they need to advertise.
Significant theories of democratic accountability hinge on how political campaigns affect Americans' candidate choices. We argue that the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans' candidates choices in general elections is zero. First, a systematic meta-analysis of 40 field experiments estimates an average effect of zero in general elections. Second, we present nine original field experiments that increase the statistical evidence in the literature about the persuasive effects of personal contact 10-fold. These experiments' average effect is also zero. In both existing and our original experiments, persuasive effects only appear to emerge in two rare circumstances. First, when candidates take unusually unpopular positions and campaigns invest unusually heavily in identifying persuadable voters. Second, when campaigns contact voters long before election day and measure effects immediately---although this early persuasion decays. These findings contribute to ongoing debates about how political elites influence citizens' judgments.
The research suggests that such advertising makes no difference, but the practitioners are convinced that it does. Where's the truth?

Of course we have some additional real-world data from the last campaign. Clinton spent some hundreds of millions more than Trump on advertising, but to no end. Disentangling money spent on advertising, the press's support for Trump in the primary and opposition during the election, and Trump's own Sevengali-like ability to create free press coverage and dominate news-cycles, of course makes analysis quite difficult to determine relative causes, effects, and effect-sizes.

The effect-size of advertising on campaign outcomes remains a mystery to me. I suspect it does make a difference under very particular circumstances but that we, in general, do not understand what those particular circumstances might be.

An evening with Robert Frost.

From The New Yorker.

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If only we had some sort of technology for checking facts from two or three months ago.

This is pretty shocking. From Push for Gender Equality in Tech? Some Men Say It’s Gone Too Far by Nellie Bowles. Ms Bowles covers tech and digital culture for the New York Times. In this article she covers the resistance among some individuals in Silicon Valley to a range of corporate policies related to diversity and social justice.

What is shocking is her characterization of the argument made by James Damore in his now celebrated/reviled memo - Google's Ideological Echo Chamber: How bias clouds our thinking about diversity and inclusion.

Bowles summarizes his 10 page memo in the following paragraph.
But those who privately thought things had gone too far were given a voice by James Damore, 28, a soft-spoken Google engineer. Mr. Damore, frustrated after another diversity training, wrote a memo that he posted to an internal Google message board. In it, he argued that maybe women were not equally represented in tech because they were biologically less capable of engineering. Google fired him last month.
The shocking thing is that characterization - "women were not equally represented in tech because they were biologically less capable of engineering."

That is not what he said at all. At the beginning of his memo he had a TL;DR of five points for those unwilling to work their way through the ten pages of science.
• Google's political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety. But shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.
• This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.
• The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.
o Extreme: all disparities in representation are due to oppression
o Authoritarian. We should discriminate to correct for this oppression
• Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don't have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership.
• Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.
It is clear that his argument is a management/process argument - we are not looking at the science in order to figure out how to best foster diversity and inclusion, goals which he explicitly endorses.

To equate "Differences in distributions of traits between men and women" to women "were biologically less capable of engineering" is almost willfully ignorant. Worthy of Ben Rhodes'
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.
A profile which closely matches that of Bowles.

The extra shocking thing is that Bowles's characterization was a frequently repeated meme in the first few days after the Damore's memo became public. Frequently repeated until people started asking where there was evidence in the memo for that statement that women were biologically incapable of engineering. The death knell for the mischaracterization would have seemed to have been when mainstream and well respected researchers addressed Damore's actual statements and compared them to the known and accepted research. There are always points whose stress or emphasis can be questioned. There are points where there are multiple sources of respectable research which reach opposite conclusions.

The scholars did multiple reviews of Damore's memo and incorporated links to all the basic research in The Google Memo: What Does the Research Say About Gender Differences? by Sean Stevens and Jonathan Haidt. That link takes you to their first review.
In conclusion, based on the meta-analyses we reviewed and the research on the Greater Male Variability Hypothesis, Damore is correct that there are “population level differences in distributions” of traits that are likely to be relevant for understanding gender gaps at Google and other tech firms. The differences are much larger and more consistent for traits related to interest and enjoyment, rather than ability.
I am not claiming Damore was entirely and irrefutably correct in all his statements and conclusions. No such certainty exists in the world of science, particularly social science. I am claiming that Damore had reasonable evidence to support that the basic science suggests that disparate representation has its roots elsewhere than in simple discrimination based on bigotry and that therefore Google's efforts to increase female representation by focusing only on bias were likely to fail. And that there were many high profile and reputable sources available to Bowles to realize that Damore was not making the ignorant claim that women are biologically incapable of science and that Damore had well established evidence to make most the claims he made.

So how could Bowles make such a grievous error? Well, she is a Ben Rhodes model journalist. And she is a product of an Ivy League school steeped in postmodernist critical theory social justice. And the Times has been firing its fact checkers. And its editors. Perhaps the internet was not working when she was researching for the article. Perhaps she did not actually read Damore's memo but relied on its characterization by her friends. Perhaps . . .

So a lot of things that could go wrong, did go wrong. But all the possible causes are still there for the next article and the next shockingly wrong reporting about things that readers in less than three minutes or with a normally functioning memory can recall from just two or three months ago.

Nothing gets better by deliberately or accidentally misreporting the facts and nothing gets better when social/corporate policies are based on emotional ideologies rather than informed science. Such policies are likely to continue failing and damaging those whom the policies are intended to benefit. We can, and should, do better than this sort of muddle headed approach to things.

The House Was Quiet and The World Was Calm

The House Was Quiet and The World Was Calm
by Wallace Stevens

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

It wasn't an education, it was an exercise in interrogation.

A few months ago, The New York Times added Brett Stephens to their stable of columnists. The action resulted in a low rumble of harrumphs from the disgruntled postmodernist base with a few lightning bolts of distress and anger. Brett Stephens was not on my radar screen as a writer and his introductory essay seemed unobjectionable. I could not see what the issue might be. Apparently, and ironically given the article I am about to cite, the readership of the New York Times simply objected to his being conservative.

Whatever the nature of the objection, it seems misplaced given this column: The Dying Art of Disagreement by Bret Stephens. It is well worth reading.

While Stephens focuses on the art of disagreement, I think the corollaries are actually the main issue. We have lost the art of arguing, debating, and conversation. Well, it's not lost, but it has been jettisoned by some parties for raw emotion and anger. And to be fair, arguments from emotion are tactically very effective. With an appeal to emotion, you can usually win the tactical argument. Unfortunately, the unremitting and ruthless war of reality against illusions has no truck with emotions. Reality is only discovered by engaging in real arguments leveraging all the faculties and all the evidence. You can tactically win an argument with emotionalism but strategically you can only discover truth through engagement and debate.

Some notable passages from Stephens's essay (emphasis added):
To say the words, “I agree” — whether it’s agreeing to join an organization, or submit to a political authority, or subscribe to a religious faith — may be the basis of every community.

But to say, I disagree; I refuse; you’re wrong; etiam si omnes — ego non — these are the words that define our individuality, give us our freedom, enjoin our tolerance, enlarge our perspectives, seize our attention, energize our progress, make our democracies real, and give hope and courage to oppressed people everywhere. Galileo and Darwin; Mandela, Havel, and Liu Xiaobo; Rosa Parks and Natan Sharansky — such are the ranks of those who disagree.


It’s usually the case that the more we do something, the better we are at it. Instead, we’re like Casanovas in reverse: the more we do it, the worse we’re at it. Our disagreements may frequently hoarsen our voices, but they rarely sharpen our thinking, much less change our minds.


Thirty years ago, in 1987, a philosophy professor at the University of Chicago named Allan Bloom — at the time best known for his graceful translations of Plato’s “Republic” and Rousseau’s “Emile” — published a learned polemic about the state of higher education in the United States. It was called “The Closing of the American Mind.”

The book appeared when I was in high school, and I struggled to make my way through a text thick with references to Plato, Weber, Heidegger and Strauss. But I got the gist — and the gist was that I’d better enroll in the University of Chicago and read the great books. That is what I did.

What was it that one learned through a great books curriculum? Certainly not “conservatism” in any contemporary American sense of the term. We were not taught to become American patriots, or religious pietists, or to worship what Rudyard Kipling called “the Gods of the Market Place.” We were not instructed in the evils of Marxism, or the glories of capitalism, or even the superiority of Western civilization.

As I think about it, I’m not sure we were taught anything at all. What we did was read books that raised serious questions about the human condition, and which invited us to attempt to ask serious questions of our own. Education, in this sense, wasn’t a “teaching” with any fixed lesson. It was an exercise in interrogation.

To listen and understand; to question and disagree; to treat no proposition as sacred and no objection as impious; to be willing to entertain unpopular ideas and cultivate the habits of an open mind — this is what I was encouraged to do by my teachers at the University of Chicago.

It’s what used to be called a liberal education.

The University of Chicago showed us something else: that every great idea is really just a spectacular disagreement with some other great idea.

Socrates quarrels with Homer. Aristotle quarrels with Plato. Locke quarrels with Hobbes and Rousseau quarrels with them both. Nietzsche quarrels with everyone. Wittgenstein quarrels with himself.

These quarrels are never personal. Nor are they particularly political, at least in the ordinary sense of politics. Sometimes they take place over the distance of decades, even centuries.

Most importantly, they are never based on a misunderstanding. On the contrary, the disagreements arise from perfect comprehension; from having chewed over the ideas of your intellectual opponent so thoroughly that you can properly spit them out.

In other words, to disagree well you must first understand well. You have to read deeply, listen carefully, watch closely. You need to grant your adversary moral respect; give him the intellectual benefit of doubt; have sympathy for his motives and participate empathically with his line of reasoning. And you need to allow for the possibility that you might yet be persuaded of what he has to say.

“The Closing of the American Mind” took its place in the tradition of these quarrels. Since the 1960s it had been the vogue in American universities to treat the so-called “Dead White European Males” of the Western canon as agents of social and political oppression. Allan Bloom insisted that, to the contrary, they were the best possible instruments of spiritual liberation.

He also insisted that to sustain liberal democracy you needed liberally educated people. This, at least, should not have been controversial. For free societies to function, the idea of open-mindedness can’t simply be a catchphrase or a dogma. It needs to be a personal habit, most of all when it comes to preserving an open mind toward those with whom we disagree.


There’s no one answer. What’s clear is that the mis-education begins early. I was raised on the old-fashioned view that sticks and stones could break my bones but words would never hurt me. But today there’s a belief that since words can cause stress, and stress can have physiological effects, stressful words are tantamount to a form of violence. This is the age of protected feelings purchased at the cost of permanent infantilization.


In recent years, identity politics have become the moated castles from which we safeguard our feelings from hurt and our opinions from challenge. It is our “safe space.” But it is a safe space of a uniquely pernicious kind — a safe space from thought, rather than a safe space for thought, to borrow a line I recently heard from Salman Rushdie.

Another consequence of identity politics is that it has made the distance between making an argument and causing offense terrifyingly short. Any argument that can be cast as insensitive or offensive to a given group of people isn’t treated as being merely wrong. Instead it is seen as immoral, and therefore unworthy of discussion or rebuttal.

The result is that the disagreements we need to have — and to have vigorously — are banished from the public square before they’re settled. People who might otherwise join a conversation to see where it might lead them choose instead to shrink from it, lest they say the “wrong” thing and be accused of some kind of political -ism or -phobia. For fear of causing offense, they forego the opportunity to be persuaded.

College should be a safe space for thought, not a safe space from thought

From Salman Rushdie On Safe Spaces, Trigger Warnings: Speak Severely To People Who Want To Propagate This.

His first point is one that seems to get lost in the noise. I am reasonably confident that the cult of victimhood and identity are widespread but I also I suspect that they are very, very shallow. Regrettably, postmodernist, critical theory multiculturalist ideologies are reasonably entrenched among the professoriate, or at least within select departments and disciplines, though, interestingly not in departments where knowledge is subject to testability and the scientific method. I am near certain, however, that the violent advocates of coercive totalitarianism are only a tiny percent of the student body.

But their demands are so childish, bizarre and outrageous that they are compelling click bait for the news media (another institution infused with know-nothing postmodernists).

"The antidote is to ignore it and to speak severely to people who want to propagate it," Rushdie said. "I have to say in my experience in the American academy which is now going on for 20 years I have never had a student say to me that he wanted a 'trigger warning' or she wanted a 'safe space.' I hear that it happens around the country. I have no personal experience with it so I don't know how much of it there is."
One would like to think that no contemporary snowflake would have the audacity to complain of needing safe spaces to a man who spent a couple of decades under a religious sentence of death for his literary writings, a real threat given that other authors and free thinkers were being assassinated. One would hope, but the children of postmodernism tend to lack knowledge, history, perspective or the sense of self-awareness and dignity which might preclude them from such embarrassing claims.

One of Rushdie's fellow panelists notes.
"I think what is missing is leadership," panelist Bret Stephens said. "I think too much of too many campus administrators are basically cowed by small minorities of totalitarian-minded students who just don't want to hear anything except what they're disposed to agree with. And the job of grown-ups is to behave like grown-ups and say no. Intellectually, a college is not a safe space. Intellectually, a college is a place where your ideas are harmed and perhaps even destroyed and that is how it should be."
"College should be a safe space for thought, not a safe space from thought," Rushdie said. "And if you go to college and you never hear anything you haven't thought before then you may as well have stayed home."

"People who think they should never hear things that would upset them should go somewhere else and leave that space available to somebody who could benefit from what is called education."
That first observation reminds me or the fad back in the 1980s when people were being enjoined to be more open-minded. It always seemed to me that the people pushing this line were oblivious to the important distinction between being open-minded and being empty-minded.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Universalist stereotyping. Everybody stereotypes their own people as well as outgroups.

From The Moral Stereotypes of Liberals and Conservatives: Exaggeration of Differences across the Political Spectrum by Jesse Graham, Brian A. Nosek, and Jonathan Haidt. They are working off the Moral Foundations theory.

From the abstract:
We investigated the moral stereotypes political liberals and conservatives have of themselves and each other. In reality, liberals endorse the individual-focused moral concerns of compassion and fairness more than conservatives do, and conservatives endorse the group-focused moral concerns of ingroup loyalty, respect for authorities and traditions, and physical/spiritual purity more than liberals do. 2,212 U.S. participants filled out the Moral Foundations Questionnaire with their own answers, or as a typical liberal or conservative would answer. Across the political spectrum, moral stereotypes about “typical” liberals and conservatives correctly reflected the direction of actual differences in foundation endorsement but exaggerated the magnitude of these differences. Contrary to common theories of stereotyping, the moral stereotypes were not simple underestimations of the political outgroup's morality. Both liberals and conservatives exaggerated the ideological extremity of moral concerns for the ingroup as well as the outgroup. Liberals were least accurate about both groups.
The discussion at the end of the paper is a little clearer.
Results indicate that people at all points on the political spectrum are at least intuitively aware of the actual differences in moral concerns between liberals and conservatives: they correctly predicted that liberals would care more than conservatives about the two individualizing foundations and that conservatives would care more than liberals about the three binding foundations. The results also confirm previous studies of partisan misperception by showing that, in general, people overestimate how dramatically liberals and conservatives differ. Remarkably, people even morally stereotype their own ingroup, with liberals overestimating liberals' strong individualizing concerns and underestimating liberals' weak binding concerns, and conservatives exaggerating conservatives' moral concerns in the opposite directions.

Our results go beyond previous studies, however, in finding and explaining an otherwise puzzling result: liberals were the least accurate. We presented three competing hypotheses about accuracy: 1) We found some support for the hypothesis that moderates would be most accurate, which they were in the case of the binding foundations. However, and most crucially, partisan inaccuracies were not mirror images of each other (in which case the red and blue lines in Figure 2 would have opposite slopes). On the contrary, liberals and conservatives both tended to exaggerate their binding foundation differences by underestimating the typical liberal and overestimating the typical conservative. 2) We found no support for the hypothesis that liberals would be most accurate; liberals were the least accurate about conservatives and about liberals. The largest inaccuracies were in liberals' underestimations of conservatives' Harm and Fairness concerns, and liberals further exaggerated the political differences by overestimating their own such concerns. 3) Finally, we found some support for the hypothesis that conservatives would be the most accurate, which they were in the case of the individualizing foundations. In line with Moral Foundations Theory, liberals dramatically underestimated the Harm and Fairness concerns of conservatives. These findings add to the literature on moral foundations by demonstrating a novel form of pragmatic validity for the theory: conceptualizing and measuring the moral stereotypes people have of different social groups.

While we obtained a nationally-representative sample for comparison of MFQ scores, it is important to note that the predicted answers as typical liberals/conservatives all came from a non-representative Project Implicit sample. However, the participants in this study do “run the gamut” across the ideological spectrum, from very liberal to very conservative, and Figure 3 demonstrates exaggeration across all 7 points on the political orientation item. Extreme liberals exaggerated the moral political differences the most, and moderate conservatives did so the least.


The ideological “culture war” in the U.S. is, in part, an honest disagreement about ends (moral values that each side wants to advance), as well as an honest disagreement about means (laws and policies) to advance those ends. But our findings suggest that there is an additional process at work: partisans on each side exaggerate the degree to which the other side pursues moral ends that are different from their own. Much of this exaggeration comes from each side underestimating the degree to which the other side shares its own values. But some of it comes, unexpectedly, from overestimating the degree to which “typical” members of one's own side endorse its values.


It is striking that instead of basic partisan outgroup derogation, in which both sides predict that the other is less moral in general, we found foundation-specific moral stereotypes about liberals and conservatives—and these moral stereotypes were largely shared by all. Participants across the political spectrum exaggerated liberal moral disregard for Ingroup, Authority, and Purity, and conservative disregard for Harm and Fairness—that is, exaggerations of the patterns predicted by Moral Foundations Theory. This suggests that moral stereotypes might be unique in that they are motivated (partisans want to cast the other side as immoral) and yet partisans share the same moral stereotypes about either side. Even more surprising, they share both of these moral stereotypes with moderates, who are presumably not as motivated to stereotype either side.


In this study, we focused on the moral values of ideological opponents, and their perceptions of the moral values of either side, in order to understand the moral “distrust and animosity” endemic to the liberal-conservative culture war. We found that there are real moral differences between liberals and conservatives, but people across the political spectrum exaggerate the magnitude of these differences and in so doing create opposing moral stereotypes that are shared by all. Calling attention to this unique form of stereotyping, and to the fact that liberal and conservative moral values are less polarized than most people think, could be effective ways of reducing the distrust and animosity of current ideological divisions.

'It's a pathetic bird, a miserable bird, a wretched bird.'

The English are such a profoundly storytelling and literate people. Their, and our, habit of documenting, and then recasting as stories, everything that goes on leads to layers and layers of stories.

An example here from 'Will A Lion Come?' Memories of Evelyn Waugh by Richard Acton, in The Spectator, 19 September, 1992. He recounts an incident when Waugh visited his family which Waugh then worked into one of his masterpieces, Scoop. At least, it is one of my favorites among his works.
In 1936 Waugh was 32, and famous. He had marooned himself in Shropshire to work on a travel book, Waugh in Abyssinia. My parents then lived in Shropshire at Aldenham Park. My father's sister, Mia Woodruff, brought the writer over that April, and Waugh wrote to my mother: 'I absolutely loved my visit.' Soon after that, Waugh came for another weekend. On the Sunday afternoon, my father proposed that they go for a walk. My father was immensely proud of a great crested grebe which nested on our lake — the Shore Pool - and he wanted to show the grebe to Waugh. The latter was violently opposed to the plan. Alcohol had flowed that day and Waugh objected that 'the poisons ought to be allowed to settle'.

My father won, and my parents set off, dragging their reluctant guest with them. Eventually the party got to the Shore Pool and sighted the grebe. Waugh was furious at its inadequacies and gave vent to his feelings: 'It's a pathetic bird, a miserable bird, a wretched bird.'

A few months later Waugh began Scoop, and the grebe became immortal. William Boot, the hero, first appears while he is writing a weekly nature column called 'Lush Places'. William is in despair over an article on badgers. His sister, out of mischief, had substituted 'the great crested grebe' for 'badger' throughout his piece, and William had received indignant complaints from his readers. One nature lover
challenged him categorically to produce a single authenticated case of a great crested grebe attacking young rabbits
— and so William's adventures begin. Sent to Africa to report on the war in Ishmaelia, William is a hopeless war correspondent. As the book reaches its climax, the grebe has become a god. William, in a slough of despond, bows his head:
'Oh, great crested grebe,' he prayed, `maligned fowl, have I not expiated the wrong my sister did you?'
The grebe answers William's prayer, and as a result, William gets the 'scoop' of the title.

But even this mockery of the grebe did not appease Waugh's fury over the infamous walk with my parents. Twenty years later he wrote The Life of Ronald Knox. Contempt for the great crested grebe smoulders in Waugh's pointed description of the Shore Pool, `. . . a lake which has afforded pleasure to ornithologists'.

A Young Girl Reading

A Young Girl Reading by Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797)

All psychological traits show significant and substantial genetic influence

From Top 10 Replicated Findings From Behavioral Genetics by Robert Plomin, et al.

No knowledge is certain and all knowledge is always contingent. Social sciences and psychology are particularly weak in terms of reliability of findings and replication. So take it with a pinch of salt, but this is an interesting list of the most replicated findings in behavioral genetics.
Finding 1. All psychological traits show significant and substantial genetic influence

Finding 2. No traits are i00% heritable

Finding 3. Heritability is caused by many genes of small effect

Finding 4. Phenotypic correlations between psychological traits show significant and substantial genetic mediation

Finding 5. The heritability of intelligence increases throughout development

Finding 6. Age-to-age stability is mainly due to genetics

Finding 7. Most measures of the "environment" show significant genetic influence

Finding 8. Most associations between environmental measures and psychological traits are significantly mediated genetically

Finding 9. Most environmental effects are not shared by children growing up in the same family

Finding 10. Abnormal is normal (Quantitative genetic methods suggest that common disorders are the extremes of the same genetic factors responsible for heritability throughout the distribution.)

Good dog!

From The New Yorker.

Click to enlarge.

Come live & be merry and join with me

Laughing Song
by William Blake

When the green woods laugh, with the voice of joy
And the dimpling stream runs laughing by,
When the air does laugh with our merry wit,
And the green hill laughs with the noise of it.

When the meadows laugh with lively green
And the grasshopper laughs in the merry scene,
When Mary and Susan and Emily,
With their sweet round mouths sing Ha, Ha, He.

When the painted birds laugh in the shade
Where our table with cherries and nuts is spread
Come live & be merry and join with me,
To sing the sweet chorus of Ha, Ha, He.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Next Door by Linden Frederick

Next Door by Linden Frederick

Click to enlarge.

Avebury by Sean Haldane

by Sean Haldane

Among the timeless stones what takes the eye
Is a girl on a bicycle -
Pink blouse, and black skirt riding up her thigh -
Pedalling fast
As if in danger in this place,
Through time a-race.

The church clock strikes above the chanting choir
At practice, and the doves inside their cote
Cru-croo-cru, cru-croo-cru, cru-croo-cru,
Then lower - Ooo, Ooo, Ooo - throat to throat.

Impossible to tell which stones, which sheep
Against the downs from far - all seem to sleep,
Until the little ones jostle the big
To suckle and their plangent baas are heard
Quavering through the stilled air of dusk,
Circles dissolve, stones seem to push and shove -
Except the giant ones nothing will move.

Like weeping, laughing dodderers and crones
Humped or crouching in the grass, the stones
Scarred by cutting flints, eroded, lined,
Holding hands to knobbly chins, must know
More than the visitors who come and go.

As the sun sinks I mount the avenue,
Each stone a foresight for a nimbus flash.
My heart is heavy as the sun's red ball,
For at the top is (nothing?): darkness, pall.

Some stones are coupled: male to female face,
Tall-short, slim-broad - great Mammas and Papas,
Their children straggle after them in lines
Doing what they have been set to do,
Pointing out the way the centuries through.
The living (no more living?) couples pass
Between them, interweaving on the grass,
Hand in hand to watch the red sun set.
These lovers haven't faced each other yet.

In the pub within the ancient ring
Yobs hit the jackpot on the fruit machine,
Neon lights flash, the jukebox flickering
As the pale barmaid hears a goddess sing:
'Taam after taam.'
Outside the plaintive bleating of a lamb:
The dugs are dry.
The dead sun's blood is streaming in the sky
Around the spearpoints of the church's tower.
The darkened stones retain their endless power.
From The Spectator, 25 July, 1987

The basics when you are a dog on the internet

From The New Yorker.

Click to enlarge.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Unknown title by Julian A. Dimock

Unknown title by Julian A. Dimock

Click to enlarge.

falling cherry blossoms by Kusano Shimpei

falling cherry blossoms
by Kusano Shimpei

blossoms falling.
cherry cherry down down dancing down down dancing.

light and shadows mingle and.
more than snow.
more than death quietly cherry down dance.
down dance down down dancing.

light and dreams mingle and.
flcikering gaslight chadows.
come forth and vanish.
blossoms falling.

in Oriental time.
creating dreams.
tossing them away.

blossoms falling.
blossoms falling fall.
cherry cherry down down dancing down down dancing

Yeatsian ennui

From The New Yorker.

Click to enlarge.

Ignorant nincompoops

From Sarah Hoyt.
I wouldn’t mind these self-proclaimed intellectual elites half as much if they weren’t ignorant nincompoops.

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Day of Celebration, 1902 by Fanny Brate

A Day of Celebration, 1902 by Fanny Brate

Click to enlarge.

Serendipity as a procurer

From The Sense of an Ending by Christopher Hawtree.
To call this a magpie approach would be wrong, for he neatly quotes Thomas Mann on the serendipity that is scholarship:
there is something almost comical about the ability and willingness to find references to one's own passionate preoccupation in whatever one reads, and the truth is that pertinent things run into one from all directions, they are played into one's hands virtually in the manner of a procurer.

A teeming nation of nations

The man who sang America from The Economist, April 11th, 1992. A remembrance of Walt Whitman on the 100th anniversary of his death.

A couple of striking passages.
In the sort of cadence that people now call Whitmanesque, he described this America as "not merely a nation but a teeming nation of nations . . . magnificently moving in vast masses". The long, rolling lines of his poetry, unconstrained by rhyme or regular metre, are the music accompanying the idea of a people rolling inexorably to their future.


Both his convictions and his poetic power abide. It does not matter much that "Leaves of Grass" remains an outrageously mixed bag. (One critic observed that, though "few poets have ever written better, few poets have ever written worse.") Such quibbles would not have troubled the Whitman who, at the end of "Song of Myself". loftily declared, "Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes." He also said that "the proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it." In the 100 years since his death, America has amply returned his compliment.

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones

From Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins.
We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones.

Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara.

Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people.

In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?

Only events: Not what happened.

From The Family Reunion by T.S. Eliot
But how can I explain? How can I explain to you?
You will understand less after I have explained it
All that I can hope to make you understand
Is only events: Not what happened.
And people to whom nothing has ever happened
Cannot understand the unimportance of events.

Can we get some more bread sticks over here?

From The New Yorker.

Click to enlarge.

Sacks of West Indian groundnuts

From How the Line Held by J. Enoch Powell, The Spectator 23 January 1993. A book review of The Ben Line, 1825-1982: An Anecdotal History by Michael Strachan.

Book reviews have always been a strength of The Spectator, often with many obscure books beyond the highways of public awareness. This would be one instance. British history is so full of odd connections and interesting knowledge not easily found elsewhere.

In this instance of odd connections, author and reviewer know each other from their shared service in World War II.
Michael Strachan, the brother officer who coached me to drive a 30-cwt-lorry across the North African desert in 1943 and bequeathed his account of the experience to literature, had two peacetime careers – one as the employee, partner and eventually chairman of a Scottish shipping line, the Ben Line, and the other as a historian of early English contacts with India by way of definitive biographies of Coryat and Sir Thomas Roe.
And interesting knowledge not easily found elsewhere.
I am not sure it was wise to dismiss itself as 'anecdotal', enjoyable though it may be to learn that sacks of West Indian groundnuts can be economically stowed
in the evening after the day's work had ended, by steaming full ahead and full astern, to shake them down and make room for more.
How wonderfully Scottish.

We don't respect what we're doing. Why should anyone else?

From Why Americans Hate the Media by James Fallows written in February 1996.

From 1945 to circa 1995 was a heyday for news corporations. America was prosperous, people were habituated to news consumption, both from newspapers and from TV and radio. News corporations were given anti-monopoly dispensations that allowed them to consolidate and dominate their geographical markets, charging higher advertising rates and making more profits. This was an age when everyone was rolling in money, when journalists did long-read pieces, when papers had foreign bureaus, plenty of reporters and plenty of editors, and virtually no competition.

But 1996 was sort of the end of that era. The world wide web had been launched at the end of 1990 and, while still tiny, was growing exponentially. Fox News was launched eight months after Fallows's article. Google was launched in 1998. The first smart phone (distributed and mobile video and audio recording with instant internet connection) was released in 1999, three years after this article. Social media (My Space) emerged in 2003 and Facebook in 2004. Competition from innovative news outlets and then from Facebook and Google sucked the profits out of the traditional industry. By 2017, Facebook and Google combined take 20% of all global advertising and account for virtually all the growth in advertising. The traditional media balance sheets have been decimated.

The fat revenue streams of traditional media dried up as did long-form journalism, investigative reporting, journalist jobs, editorial jobs and fact-checking. Cheap, un-checked content is now not only the norm, it is a necessity.

Fallows is reporting from the tail-end of the old era. He identifies multiple trends debasing the media industry such that news and journalists, even then, were viewed as biased, inaccurate, inattentive to usefulness, irrelevant to viewers, and infected with the necrosis of journalistic corruption.

In 1996 the media had already fallen in to the habit of providing cheap play-by-play content over substantive news. Opinions over facts. But it was about to get worse in a fashion that Fallows could not foresee. The problem of cheap, inaccurate content was about to be exacerbated by an increasingly divergent world view between journalists and their viewers. Journalists, products of faddish academia, became postmodernists (no truth, all viewpoints are equal), urban centered, obsessed with multiculturalism, diversity, inequality, and identity. The journalist worldview became not just detached from that of their viewers but antagonistic to the bourgeois values and interests of their viewers.

The journalistic illusion that by associating with power you are actually part of the power nexus became a reality when advocacy and interest groups began providing revenue streams to journalists desperate for money, work, and relevance in a rapidly churning and devolving industry. Not everyone lost their ethics but it only takes one fly in the soup to send back the bowl.

Cheap, irrelevant, and inaccurate information, with a dash of corruption and delivered with hauteur and disdain from the viewpoint of a 1960s second-tier university faculty lounge - how could that business model fail?

In February, 1996, Fallows highlighted:
The emerging dissociation of journalists from mainstream public views.

A laser focus on the competitive game aspects of politics at the expense of policy. Voters wanted to know the substance of what politicians were going to do to solve collective problems while journalists were focusing on the tactics of political gamesmanship and who was pulling ahead and who was falling behind.

The conversion of news to an entertainment format over a substantive format.

The fact that news journalists were routinely overwhelmingly wrong in their predictions and prognostications with no consequences for being wrong.

The substitution of cheap opinions and commentary for the older factual substance.

Active management and manipulation of the press corps by the White House.

The emerging integration of financial interests between journalists and the parties they covered, advocacy groups, and other stakeholders, compromising journalistic independence and integrity.

The emerging bubble encasing senior journalists living 1% lifestyles.

The emerging condition where journalists not only had different values from their viewers but were incapable of comprehending the values and interests of their viewers.

The established disdain of the public for journalists and news media.
And then it went downhill.

The following are a series of excerpts from the article highlighting the augurs of what was to come. The article is worth reading in its entirety.
Earlier in the month the President's performance had been assessed by the three network-news anchors: Peter Jennings, of ABC; Dan Rather, of CBS; and Tom Brokaw, of NBC. There was no overlap whatsoever between the questions the students asked and those raised by the anchors. None of the questions from these news professionals concerned the impact of legislation or politics on people's lives. Nearly all concerned the struggle for individual advancement among candidates.


On Sunday, November 6, 1994, two days before the congressional elections that swept the Republicans to power, The Washington Post published the results of its "Crystal Ball" poll. Fourteen prominent journalists, pollsters, and all-around analysts made their predictions about how many seats each party would win in the House and Senate and how many governorships each would take.

One week later many of these same experts would be saying on their talk shows that the Republican landslide was "inevitable" and "a long time coming" and "a sign of deep discontent in the heartland." But before the returns were in, how many of the fourteen experts predicted that the Republicans would win both houses of Congress and that Newt Gingrich would be speaker? Exactly three.

What is interesting about this event is not just that so many experts could be so wrong. Immediately after the election even Newt Gingrich seemed dazed by the idea that the forty-year reign of the Democrats in the House had actually come to an end. Rather, the episode said something about the futility of political prediction itself—a task to which the big-time press devotes enormous effort and time. Two days before the election many of the country's most admired analysts had no idea what was about to happen. Yet within a matter of weeks these same people, unfazed, would be writing articles and giving speeches and being quoted about who was "ahead" and "behind" in the emerging race for the White House in 1996.


But we can ask why reporters spend so much time directing our attention toward what is not much more than guesswork on their part. It builds the impression that journalism is about what's entertaining—guessing what might or might not happen next month—rather than what's useful, such as extracting lessons of success and failure from events that have already occurred. Competing predictions add almost nothing to our ability to solve public problems or to make sensible choices among complex alternatives. Yet such useless distractions have become a specialty of the political press. They are easy to produce, they allow reporters to act as if they possessed special inside knowledge, and there are no consequences for being wrong.


What might these well-paid, well-trained correspondents have done while waiting for the O.J. trial to become boring enough that they could get back on the air? They might have tried to learn something that would be of use to their viewers when the story of the moment went away. Without leaving Washington, without going farther than ten minutes by taxi from the White House (so that they could be on hand if a sudden press conference was called), they could have prepared themselves to discuss the substance of issues that affect the public.


No one contends that every contribution makes every politician corrupt. But financial disclosure has become commonplace on the "Better safe than sorry" principle. If politicians and officials are not corrupt, the reasoning goes, they have nothing to fear from letting their finances be publicized. And if they are corrupt, public disclosure is a way to stop them before they do too much harm. The process may be embarrassing, but this is the cost of public life.

How different the "Better safe than sorry" calculation seems when journalists are involved! Reporters and pundits hold no elected office, but they are obviously public figures. The most prominent TV-talk-show personalities are better known than all but a handful of congressmen. When politicians and pundits sit alongside one another on Washington talk shows and trade opinions, they underscore the essential similarity of their political roles. The pundits have no vote in Congress, but the overall political impact of a word from George Will, Ted Koppel, William Safire, or any of their colleagues who run the major editorial pages dwarfs anything a third-term congressman could do. If an interest group had the choice of buying the favor of one prominent media figure or of two junior congressmen, it wouldn't even have to think about the decision. The pundit is obviously more valuable.


In 1993 Sam Donaldson, of ABC, described himself in an interview as being in touch with the concerns of the average American. "I'm trying to get a little ranching business started in New Mexico," he said. "I've got five people on the payroll. I'm making out those government forms." Thus he understood the travails of the small businessman and the annoyances of government regulation. Donaldson, whose base pay from ABC is reported to be some $2 million a year, did not point out that his several ranches in New Mexico together covered some 20,000 acres. When doing a segment attacking farm subsidies on Prime Time Live in 1993 he did not point out that "those government forms" allowed him to claim nearly $97,000 in sheep and mohair subsidies over two years. William Neuman, a reporter for the New York Post, said that when his photographer tried to take pictures of Donaldson's ranch house, Donaldson had him thrown off his property. ("In the West trespassing is a serious offense," Donaldson explained.)

Had Donaldson as a journalist been pursuing a politician or even a corporate executive, he would have felt justified in using the most aggressive reportorial techniques. When these techniques were turned on him, he complained that the reporters were going too far. The analysts who are so clear-eyed about the conflict of interest in Newt Gingrich's book deal claim that they see no reason, none at all, why their own finances might be of public interest.

Last May one of Donaldson's colleagues on This Week With David Brinkley, George Will, wrote a column and delivered on-air comments ridiculing the Clinton Administration's plan to impose tariffs on Japanese luxury cars, notably the Lexus. On the Brinkley show Will said that the tariffs would be "illegal" and would merely amount to "a subsidy for Mercedes dealerships."

Neither in his column nor on the show did Will disclose that his wife, Mari Maseng Will, ran a firm that had been paid some $200,000 as a registered foreign agent for the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, and that one of the duties for which she was hired was to get American commentators to criticize the tariff plan. When Will was asked why he had never mentioned this, he replied that it was "just too silly" to think that his views might have been affected by his wife's contract.


A third member of the regular Brinkley panel, Cokie Roberts, is, along with Will and Donaldson, a frequent and highly paid speaker before corporate audiences. She has made a point of not disclosing which interest groups she speaks to or how much money she is paid. She has criticized the Clinton Administration for its secretive handling of the controversy surrounding Hillary Clinton's lucrative cattle-future trades and of the Whitewater affair, yet like the other pundits, she refuses to acknowledge that secrecy about financial interests undermines journalism's credibility too.


Nielsen ratings reported in the same day's paper showed that the longer the speech went on, the larger the number of people who tuned in to watch.

The point is not that the pundits are necessarily wrong and the public necessarily right. The point is the gulf between the two groups' reactions. The very aspects of the speech that had seemed so ridiculous to the professional commentators—its detail, its inclusiveness, the hyperearnestness of Clinton's conclusion about the "common good"—seemed attractive and worthwhile to most viewers.

"I'm wondering what so much of the public heard that our highly trained expert analysts completely missed," Carol Cantor, a software consultant from California, wrote in a discussion on the WELL, a popular online forum, three days after the speech. What they heard was, in fact, the speech, which allowed them to draw their own conclusions rather than being forced to accept an expert "analysis" of how the President "handled" the speech. In most cases the analysis goes unchallenged, because the public has no chance to see whatever event the pundits are describing. In this instance viewers had exactly the same evidence about Clinton's performance that the "experts" did, and from it they drew radically different conclusions.


Talk about not getting it! The people who put together this ad must have imagined that the popular irritation with inside-the-Beltway culture was confined to members of Congress—and didn't extend to members of the punditocracy, many of whom had held their positions much longer than the typical congressman had. The difference between the "welcoming committee" and the congressional committees headed by fallen Democratic titans like Tom Foley and Jack Brooks was that the congressmen can be booted out.

"Polls show that both Republicans and Democrats felt better about the Congress just after the 1994 elections," a Clinton Administration official said last year. "They had 'made the monkey jump'—they were able to discipline an institution they didn't like. They could register the fact that they were unhappy. There doesn't seem to be any way to do that with the press, except to stop watching and reading, which more and more people have done."


Even real-life members of the Washington pundit corps have made their way into movies—Eleanor Clift, Morton Kondracke, hosts from Crossfire—in 1990s releases such as Dave and Rising Sun. Significantly, their role in the narrative is as buffoons. The joke in these movies is how rapidly the pundits leap to conclusions, how predictable their reactions are, how automatically they polarize the debate without any clear idea of what has really occurred. That real-life journalists are willing to keep appearing in such movies, knowing how they will be cast, says something about the source of self-respect in today's media: celebrity, on whatever basis, matters more than being taken seriously.

Movies do not necessarily capture reality, but they suggest a public mood—in this case, a contrast between the apparent self-satisfaction of the media celebrities and the contempt in which they are held by the public. "The news media has a generally positive view of itself in the watchdog role," wrote the authors of an exhaustive survey of public attitudes and the attitudes of journalists themselves toward the press. (The survey was conducted by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press, and was released last May.) But "the outside world strongly faults the news media for its negativism ... The public goes so far as to say that the press gets in the way of society solving its problems ..." According to the survey, "two out of three members of the public had nothing or nothing good to say about the media."


Yet the fact that no one takes the shows seriously is precisely what's wrong with them, because they jeopardize the credibility of everything that journalists do. "I think one of the really destructive developments in Washington in the last fifteen years has been the rise in these reporter talk shows,"Tom Brokaw has said. "Reporters used to cover policy—not spend all of their time yelling at each other and making philistine judgments about what happened the week before. It's not enlightening. It makes me cringe."

When talk shows go on the road for performances in which hostility and disagreement are staged for entertainment value; when reporters pick up thousands of dollars appearing before interest groups and sharing tidbits of what they have heard; when all the participants then dash off for the next plane, caring about none of it except the money—when these things happen, they send a message. The message is: We don't respect what we're doing. Why should anyone else?

UPDATE: From recent Pew Research, the media cite themselves sevn times more often than they cite the public.