Saturday, March 31, 2018

From The Iliad illustrated by Neil Packer

From The Iliad illustrated by Neil Packer

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Instead, it wrote to Flynn and politely asked him not to come back any time soon.

From The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson. Page 218.
The Fitzwilliam Museum doesn’t normally attract a great deal of attention, but in 2006 it leapt into the news when a visitor named Nick Flynn tripped on a loose shoelace and swept three precious Qing vases off a windowsill, smashing them to bits and causing damage of between £100,000 and £500,000, depending on how assiduously you Google the matter. Photographs of the aftermath of the occasion, available on the internet, show that Flynn’s trip was possibly the greatest shoelace fall in history for he managed to sweep clear a windowsill that was perhaps fifteen feet long and leave the vases in thousands of small pieces on the floor. Police arrested Flynn on the suspicion that the damage was intentional, but the charges were subsequently dropped. ‘I actually think I did the museum a favour,’ Flynn told the Guardian. ‘So many people have gone there to see the windowsill where it all happened that I must have increased the visitor numbers. They should make me a trustee.’ Not surprisingly, the museum did not do that. Instead, it wrote to Flynn and politely asked him not to come back any time soon. It was all it could do.

I had read that the vases had been repaired and were back on display now, though safely behind tempered glass. I asked an attendant where they were and she directed me to a glass case that I had in fact just been peering into. The repairs are so good as to be essentially invisible. I had to look hard a second time to see even the tiniest line of repair. Speaking as someone who has never glued anything without also at the same time unintentionally glueing at least three other things, I was impressed.

Where did you get those big brown eyes by James Thurber

Where did you get those big brown eyes by James Thurber

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Numbers speak more clearly than most journalists

I do enjoy it when people bother to measure things. Sure it is hard and there are all sorts of pitfalls but measured things yield so much more insight than unmeasured.

From Here’s who actually attended the March for Our Lives. (No, it wasn’t mostly young people.) by Dana R. Fisher.
As part of my research on the American Resistance, I have been working with a research team to survey protesters at all the large-scale protest events in Washington since President Trump’s inauguration. By snaking through the crowd and sampling every fifth person at designated increments within the staging area, we are able to gather a field approximation of a random sample. So far, the data set includes surveys collected from 1,745 protest participants.
So the dataset is very small and unlikely to be truly random, but they are making the effort and this is probably better than gut guessing.
During the March for Our Lives, my team sampled 256 people who were randomly selected. This gives us the chance to provide evidence about who attended the March for Our Lives and why.
What did the crowd look like? Some snippets.
The March for Our Lives was 70 percent women.

Participants were highly educated; 72 percent had a BA or higher.

Only about 10 percent of the participants were under 18.

The average age of the adults in the crowd was just under 49 years old.

About 27 percent of participants at the March for Our Lives had never protested before.

Only about a third of them had contacted an elected official in the past year.

In fact, only 12 percent of the people who were new to protesting reported that they were motivated to join the march because of the gun-control issue.

New protesters reported being motivated by the issues of peace (56 percent) and Trump (42 percent).

79 percent identified as “left-leaning.”

89 percent reported voting for Hillary Clinton.
What percentage of the population is older, college educated, women who voted for Hillary Clinton?

So the attributes of the crowd (13% within ten years of being 50 X 30% of the population with college degrees X 50% who are women X 28% of voting age who voted for Clinton) match about 0.5% of the population.

A crowd representing about 0.5% of the population (50 year old college educated women who voted for Clinton), 65% of whom are politically disengaged. Sounds more like organized political theater than a political movement. Numbers speak more clearly than journalists.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Immediately I was in a tropical jungle

From The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson. Page 216.
How the world has changed. Now there were more people on the streets of Cambridge than lived in Cambridge. Some streets were packed primarily with locals, some primarily with tourists. Every few steps some cheerful young person would thrust a leaflet at me for some kind of a tour – coach tour, walking tour, ghost tour, hop on/hop off bus tour. Every shop doorway and postcard rack, indeed every available space within sight of a historic building, was crowded with gaggles of foreign youngsters, usually with matching backpacks. I wanted a coffee, but the cafés were filled to overflowing, so I went to John Lewis on the presumption that I would find a quiet café there, up on the top floor, with views over rooftops. John Lewis always has a café with a view over rooftops, and it did have here, too, but it was packed, with a queue stretching back to the Keep Calm and Carry On giftware section. At least two dozen people hadn’t even reached the wet plastic trays yet. (Why are trays at John Lewis always wet? How do they think that helps?) The idea of creeping along behind people who couldn’t decide between a pain aux raisins and a fruit cup, or who wondered if they could just have a daub of Dijon on the side and were happy to stop the line while some hapless skivvy went down to the cellars to fetch a new jar, or who got to the till and didn’t have the right money and had to send a search party to fetch Clive – well, I couldn’t face that. So I gave up on coffee and went and looked at televisions because that’s what men do in John Lewis. There were over three hundred of us, moving solemnly up and down the rows of televisions, considering each in turn, even though the televisions were all essentially identical and none of us needed a television anyway. Then I examined laptops – tapped the keys, opened and closed the lids, nodding ruminatively, like a judge at a vegetable-growing competition – and finally waited my turn to listen to the demonstrator Bose headphones. I dropped the headphones on to my ears and immediately I was in a tropical jungle – and I mean right in it, aurally immersed – listening to cawing birds and skitterings in the undergrowth. Then I was in Manhattan at rush hour with murmured voices and honking horns. Then in a cleansing spring shower with just an occasional crack of thunder. The fidelity was uncanny. Then I opened my eyes and I was back in John Lewis in Cambridge on a Sunday. It was perhaps little wonder that six men were waiting behind me for a go on the headphones.

Ghost Stories illustrated by Frances Mosley

Folio edition of Ghost Stories by M.R. James illustrated by Frances Mosley

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It was certainly an impressive collection of pornography by Glen Baxter

It was certainly an impressive collection of pornography by Glen Baxter

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The answer, to a first order of magnitude, is none.

From Is it fair to say that most social programmes don’t work? by 8000 Hours.

To save you the state of anxious anticipation; Yes, it is fair to say that most social programs don't work.

The authors come across as fighting against the conclusion and they do raise many excellent points about the difficulty of conducting randomized control trials (RCTs), the gold standard of research replication. To me, this is the most substantive part of the essay:
In 2015, the Arnold Foundation published a survey of the literature on programmes that had been tested with randomised controlled trials (RCTs) as part of a request for funding proposals. It found the following:
Education: Of the 90 interventions evaluated in RCTs commissioned by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) since 2002, approximately 90% were found to have weak or no positive effects.

Employment/training: In Department of Labor-commissioned RCTs that have reported results since 1992, about 75% of tested interventions were found to have found weak or no positive effects.

Medicine: Reviews have found that 50-80% of positive results in initial (“phase II”) clinical studies are overturned in subsequent, more definitive RCTs (“phase III”).

Business: Of 13,000 RCTs of new products/strategies conducted by Google and Microsoft, 80- 90% have reportedly found no significant effects.

The current pace of RCT testing is far too slow to build a meaningful number of proven interventions to address our major social problems. Of the vast diversity of ongoing and newly initiated program activities in federal, state, and local social spending, only a small fraction are ever evaluated in a credible way to see if they work. The federal government, for example, evaluates only 1-2 dozen such efforts each year in RCTs.
The range of failure is 50-90% with most clustered at ~80% fail to replicate. It is important to recall that RCTs are expensive to conduct and therefore it is not unlikely that only the most likely to replicate studies are tested. Also, cost is not taken into account (i.e. they are not testing whether the cost per outcome is reasonable.) All they are checking is whether the claimed outcome has a material positive outcome. 80% do not. If you added cost benefit to the equation, I am guessing the 80% rises significantly and if you were to do RCTs on all hypotheses, not just the ones most likely to succeed, then the failure rate is probably even higher still.

Yes, it is hard to define what constitutes whether a social program has worked but if you specify that working means that it achieves the stated goals at an affordable cost, then the answer, to a first order of magnitude, is none.

Korematsu v. United States is applied social justice philosophy

From Korematsu v. United States, Wikipedia.
Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case concerning the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066, which ordered Japanese Americans into internment camps during World War II regardless of citizenship.

In a 6–3 decision, the Court sided with the government, ruling the exclusion order was constitutional. Six of the eight appointees of President Franklin Roosevelt sided with Roosevelt. The two others and the lone Herbert Hoover appointee, Owen Roberts, dissented.

The majority opinion was written by Supreme Court justice Hugo Black and held that the need to protect against espionage outweighed the rights of Americans of Japanese descent, such as Korematsu. The Court limited its decision to the validity of the exclusion orders: "The provisions of other orders requiring persons of Japanese ancestry to report to assembly centers and providing for the detention of such persons in assembly and relocation centers were separate, and their validity is not in issue in this proceeding."
One of the great stains on our jurisprudence. It was an understandable decision (there was a perceived existential threat) but never justifiable.
Constitutional scholars like Bruce Fein and Noah Feldman have compared Korematsu to Dred Scott v. Sandford and Plessy v. Ferguson, respectively, in arguing it has become an example of Richard Primus's "Anti-Canon", a term for those cases which are so flawed that they are now taken as exemplars of bad legal decision making. The decision has been described as "an odious and discredited artifact of popular bigotry" and as "a stain on American jurisprudence". Feldman summarized the case's "uniquely bad legal status means it's not precedent even though it hasn't been overturned".
This is not a case of differences in time and attitudes. Justice Murphy, in his dissent, was very explicit, making the argument as we might today.
Justice Frank Murphy issued a vehement dissent, saying that the exclusion of Japanese "falls into the ugly abyss of racism", and resembles "the abhorrent and despicable treatment of minority groups by the dictatorial tyrannies which this nation is now pledged to destroy". He also compared the treatment of Japanese Americans with the treatment of Americans of German and Italian ancestry, as evidence that race, and not emergency alone, led to the exclusion order which Korematsu was convicted of violating:
I dissent, therefore, from this legalization of racism. Racial discrimination in any form and in any degree has no justifiable part whatever in our democratic way of life. It is unattractive in any setting, but it is utterly revolting among a free people who have embraced the principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States. All residents of this nation are kin in some way by blood or culture to a foreign land. Yet they are primarily and necessarily a part of the new and distinct civilization of the United States. They must, accordingly, be treated at all times as the heirs of the American experiment, and as entitled to all the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.
Justice Robert Jackson, also dissenting from the majority, acknowledged the general distinction between civil and military law and the exigencies of military decision-making. He acknowledged it and rejected it as a justification for a decision so contrary to our fundamental beliefs.
Korematsu was born on our soil, of parents born in Japan. The Constitution makes him a citizen of the United States by nativity and a citizen of California by residence. No claim is made that he is not loyal to this country. There is no suggestion that apart from the matter involved here he is not law abiding and well disposed. Korematsu, however, has been convicted of an act not commonly a crime. It consists merely of being present in the state whereof he is a citizen, near the place where he was born, and where all his life he has lived. [...] [H]is crime would result, not from anything he did, said, or thought, different than they, but only in that he was born of different racial stock. Now, if any fundamental assumption underlies our system, it is that guilt is personal and not inheritable. Even if all of one's antecedents had been convicted of treason, the Constitution forbids its penalties to be visited upon him. But here is an attempt to make an otherwise innocent act a crime merely because this prisoner is the son of parents as to whom he had no choice, and belongs to a race from which there is no way to resign. If Congress in peace-time legislation should enact such a criminal law, I should suppose this Court would refuse to enforce it.
Wonderful words.

Jackson is so explicit that race counts for nothing in consideration of justice, that there is one law for all citizens and that there is no room for heritable guilt or collective guilt in our national philosophy that it serves as a striking reminder what a danger social justice postmodernism represents to the Classical Liberal philosophy.

For the postmodernist, group identity trumps the individual, racial identity is inherent, there is heritable guilt (and privilege), and the law is expedient and selectively applied. Korematsu v. United States is a perfect example of the application of social justice philosophy and would be championed rather than reviled.

Social Justice yields Korematsu v. United States as the product of its philosophy. Classical Liberalism gives you Korematsu v. United States as the Anti-Canon. An acknowledged mistake.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Speyer was, in short, a nearly ideal human being, except that it seems he wanted Germany to win all its wars and take over the world

From The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson. Page 205.
I drove a dozen miles back towards Sheringham along wandering lanes, through lush and sunny farmland to the coastal village of Overstrand. It is hard to believe, but this was once one of the most fashionable resorts in Europe. On a summer’s afternoon in the early years of the twentieth century, a visitor to Overstrand might run into Winston Churchill, Ellen Terry, Henry Irving or Sidney and Beatrice Webb. It was called the ‘Village of Millionaires’. Lord Hillingdon, owner of Overstrand Hall, used the house for just two weeks a year but famously kept three butlers and an army of understaff on permanent alert in case he showed up unexpectedly, which he never did.

My interest was with a property called the Sea Marge and with the forgotten magnate who built it, Sir Edgar Speyer. Speyer was a German who spent most of his life outside Germany. He was born in 1862 in New York City to wealthy German parents, then went to England in his twenties to look after the family interests there. He made a fortune as a financier, built much of the Underground, and became a generous patron of the arts. When the Proms got into financial difficulties, he stepped in and saved it. He became pals with King George V, our friend from Bognor, took out British citizenship, was knighted for his services to the arts and was appointed to the Privy Council. He gave generously to hospitals and funded the Antarctic expedition of Robert Falcon Scott. When Scott died, he had a letter to Speyer in his pocket.

Speyer was, in short, a nearly ideal human being, except that it seems he wanted Germany to win all its wars and take over the world. This is, of course, occasionally a problem with Germans. Speyer’s house is a hefty edifice in the style of an Elizabethan manor standing on cliffs above the sea. Rumours have often had it that Speyer signalled German ships from the terrace during the First World War. It is an appealing image, but a slightly preposterous one. For a start what would he tell them? (‘Bit rainy here. How you?’) He had no access to information that would be of special value to the German war effort and it was unlikely that he would expose himself to the obvious risk of being observed.

Speyer’s real problem was that he was Jewish at a time when even the most enlightened members of society tended to be at least lightly anti-Semitic. Lord Northcliffe, owner of the Daily Mail, spoke for his generation when, in noting the proliferation of Jewish businessmen in England, he remarked drily, ‘We shall soon have to set the Society column in Yiddish.’ Northcliffe loathed Speyer and persecuted him mercilessly. Eventually Speyer fled to America under a cloud of suspicion. A parliamentary committee stripped him of his honours and branded him a traitor, which in fact he was to the extent that he wanted Britain to lose the war.

Unknown title by Bill Brandt

Unknown title by Bill Brandt

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This all started with Fancy Feast by CAJ

This all started with Fancy Feast by CAJ (Carolita Johnson)

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This fundamental electoral math

From Repealing the Second Amendment would be incredibly difficult by Megan McArdle.
When one side of an issue is willing to tell pollsters they support something, and the other side of the issue is willing to act on their beliefs, the side that acts tends to win, even if they are numerically smaller. This fundamental electoral math explains a lot of seeming anomalies in American politics, including the gap between gun polls and gun policy.
Indeed. I sometimes suspect that what gets attributed to polarization is actually something else going on to do with distributed social media.

With the internet and social media, it is easy to hear the people who talk and harder to see the people who act. Things occur because of those who do things, not because of those who pose and posture.

There are so many controversies which only exist because of the gulf between select peoples' trumpeted opinions rather than because of the actions of the great middle in the real world.

Lots of people claiming X is a crisis but acting like it is not. Lots of people acting on Y and never saying a thing.

If you hear X and don't see Y, it is easy to see the world as crazy and polarized. Perhaps all that is going on is that we have not societally learned yet to screen out the Cassandras and pay more attention to the Norman Borlaugs of the world.

Eroding credibility one error or misrepresentation at a time.

The continuing campaign to advocate for numeracy in journalism.

Ip is implying that there must be some political payback in project selection because 66% of projects are going to counties which voted for Trump.

If political payback is the causal mechanism for project selection, then 66% is too low. Trump won 2,654 of the 3,141 counties in the US. In other words, he won 84% of all counties. The numbers fail to support Ip's implied hypothesis that projects are selected as political payback.

Trump supporting counties are roughly 25% under-represented in terms of where projects are being funded.

Ip's implication seems unsupported. It appears that projects are being selected on factors other than how a county voted.

Whether Ip is deliberately omitting numeric context or is instead ignorant of the context cannot be known. What is known is that his communication is misleading by implying that project selection is solely determined by whether or not a county voted for the president.

Insights of a tragic figure

Conrad Black is an interesting and somewhat mysterious man. I have never been able to resolve whether he actually committed financial crimes as alleged or was the vicious target of the establishment. He was clearly overcharged and it seemed as if the judicial system was simply throwing as much at him as they could in order to find anything that might stick.

Criminal, unlikely. Unethical, possibly. Tragic, certainly.

But a man of insight and talent and experience and ambition. And a man who knows what it is like to fight the establishment mob and political dicta.

From The Kidman Doctrine Trumps George Will As John Bolton Rises by Conrad Black.
It is distressing to see my friend of nearly 40 years, George Will, writing such words of frenzied despair about the president and his national-security adviser-designate, John Bolton. It is also worrisome to see my cordial acquaintance of 20 years, Richard Haass, writing as mournfully as he did last week of the end of the Liberal World Order.

One expects, a year into an administration that went to war in the election campaign against the entire political class in both parties and among the national press (such as George Will) and the foreign-policy establishment (and Richard Haass is one of the best of them), that there will be panic below decks. One hears it every day from Joe Scarborough and Wolf Blitzer and their legions of screeching sound-alikes.

But George Will and Richard Haass are eminent men, flag officers on this ship. That George Will has a cultural and temperamental problem with Donald Trump is no surprise, and neither is Richard Haass’s concern that the Western Alliance is crumbling (though that, if true, has more to do with the Alliance-deaf previous two administrations and the flabby complacency of most of America’s so-called allies).


Whether or not George or others agree with it, the president has done his best to enact the program the voters approved when they elected him. He has appointed judges who believe they should carry out the law and not the current political reinterpretation of what that great paragon of modern liberal jurisprudence Eliot Spitzer described as “a flexible constitution.”

Mr. Trump has drastically reduced illegal immigration, reformed and reduced taxes, deregulated, stimulated economic growth, succeeded in gaining China’s serious cooperation in dissuading North Korea from gaining a nuclear first-strike capacity, and armed the Ukrainians with anti-tank weapons and committed to providing Eastern Europe with anti-missile defenses.


With a more suave individual enacting the same policies, George Will would, on past form, be an appreciative supporter; it is dismaying that such a substantive person and eminent commentator and old friend is unable to distinguish often annoying (though usually rather entertaining and even refreshing) Trump flimflam and posturing from the substance accomplished by an administration that has, despite the continuing war with most of the political class, had the most successful first year of any newly elected administration since Eisenhower’s, if not Franklin D. Roosevelt’s.


Mr. Trump isn’t the problem, but among the symptoms of the problem are that the director and deputy director of the FBI have been fired for cause as the Bureau virtually became the dirty-tricks arm of the Democratic National Committee, and that, as the Center for Media Studies and Pew Research have both recorded, 90% of national-press comment on Mr. Trump is hostile. Mr. Trump may have aggravated some of the current nastiness, but his chief offense has been breaking ranks with the bipartisan coalition that produced the only period of absolute and relative decline in American history.

If Mr. Trump succeeds, the abrasions he sometimes causes will be worth enduring. I commend to my hand-wringing friends the wisdom of dual citizen (Australian and American) Nicole Kidman, who advised her Hollywood peers to have some respect for the elected president and some understanding that if he does well, the country does well. These are almost the only sensible words that have been heard from Hollywood since Ronald Reagan left there for Washington in 1980 (to have dinner at George Will’s house).
Black notes several insights that I see occasionally but not often given their due. I have added some observations of my own.
Trump theatrics are different from his intents and are undertaken to achieve an outcome. There is method to his madness. Successful or not, the outcomes are not simply the product of luck.

The outcomes he seeks are not materially inconsistent with past stated policies of either/both establishment parties.

The difference is that Trump seems serious about achieving those outcomes and uninterested in charades and appearances. He is after what works rather than the establishment approach of pursuing what looks good.

The outcomes he seeks are more aligned with the interests of the electorate than they are with the establishment.

Polarization between the parties is far less of an issue than the war between the establishment parties and the interloper.

We clearly have an institutional independence and integrity issue that needs rectification (the FBI, NSA, and CIA as political actors casting their backing to either establishment party in pursuit of their own interests).

The establishment political class does not object to the goals or even especially the means. They object to being displaced and made redundant.

The mainstream media may be primarily aligned with the Democrats but more fundamentally, they are also the establishment being displaced and made redundant.

It is not clear that displacing and making the existing power establishment redundant could be achieved with reasoned discourse over inflammatory rhetoric and wily political theater.

The power establishment is far more an issue of class than it is an issue of policy.

The entire power establishment viscerally objects to Trump as an independent outsider who pays no tribute and acknowledges no establishment norms thereby placing the sinecures of the establishment in jeopardy.

It is clear that the entirety of the power establishment has become accustomed to operating outside the rule of law and most objects to the equal application of the law to all citizens.
Or so it seems to me at the moment.

Lost Roman resort of Baiae

Saw a very interesting documentary yesterday evening on a leaf of Roman history of which I knew nothing, the port town of Baiae a hundred miles or so from Rome. Both a port and a seaside resort for the Roman upper crust. From Wikipedia:
Baiae (Italian: Baia; Neapolitan: Baia) was an ancient Roman town situated on the northwest shore of the Gulf of Naples, and now in the comune of Bacoli. It was a fashionable resort for centuries in antiquity, particularly towards the end of the Roman Republic, when it was reckoned as superior to Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Capri by the super-rich who built luxurious villas here from 100 BC to 500 a.d. It was notorious for its hedonistic offerings and the attendant rumours of corruption and scandal. It later formed part of Port Julius, the base of the western fleet of the Imperial Roman Navy which however was abandoned because of the silting up of Lake Lucrinus (from which a short channel led to Lake Avernus) for the two harbors at Cape Misenum 4 miles south. A good portion of the ruins of the town were largely submerged by local volcanic, bradyseismic activity behind which raised or lowered the land.

Many impressive buildings can be seen in the Parco Archeologico delle Terme di Baia and recent underwater archaeology has revealed many of the fine buildings now protected in the submerged archaeological park.
Superb footage of the submerged roads, mosaics and statues.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

But how can you possibly pass a lifetime in a country and not know how to abbreviate it?

From The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson. Page 202.
In the morning I woke to watery sunshine, and after breakfast in the Burlington’s large but empty dining room drove twenty miles down the coast to Happisburgh, a remote and lonely but good-looking village roughly halfway between Sheringham and Great Yarmouth. Happisburgh is dominated by a tall, lovely lighthouse with three red stripes. A sign in the neighbouring car park informed me that this was ‘the only independently run lighthouse in the Uk’. Now I am very sorry, but how can you possibly pass a lifetime in a country and not know how to abbreviate it? Why did you bother going to school at all? Why did your teachers turn up in the morning? Apart from this minor outburst of illiteracy, Happisburgh seemed to be an entirely agreeable place. It is pronounced, incidentally, hays-burra, or even just hays-brrrrrr. Norfolk specializes in odd pronunciations. Hautbois is hobbiss, Wymondham is windum, Costessey is cozzy, Postwick is pozzik. People often ask why that is. I’m not sure, but I think it is just something that happens when you sleep with close relatives.

Arrival of the Stagecoach c. 1859 by Carl Sptizweg

Arrival of the Stagecoach c. 1859 by Carl Sptizweg

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Perhaps this will refresh your memory by James Thurber

Perhaps this will refresh your memory by James Thurber

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Brazil in World War II

An excellent twitter explication of the role of Brazil in World War II.

A wintry gust

From Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season, edited by Gary Schmidt and Susan M. Felch.

By the Japanese poet Basho (1644-1694)
a wintry gust--
cheeks painfully swollen,
the face of a man

The winter garden

From Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season, edited by Gary Schmidt and Susan M. Felch.

By the Japanese poet Basho (1644-1694)
the winter garden--
thinning to a thread, the moon
and an insect's singing

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Britain who will never need Viagra as long as there are steam trains in operation

From The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson. Page 198.
Beyond Salthouse the walk is close to the sea and over sand and shingle and along the tops of giant dunes for a couple of miles before climbing upwards on to big grassy fields seventy or eighty feet above the sea. It is all lovely. I was doing a very long walk – eighteen miles from Holkham to Sheringham – but the route was mostly flat. Just before I reached Sheringham, the air was pierced by a shrill whistle, loud enough to make me start, and off to my right a steam train passed, chuffing away and filling the air with a long chain of white smoke. This was the North Norfolk Railway. Even from a fair distance, I could see that the train was packed. Hundreds of happy people were on an eighteen-minute journey from Holt to Sheringham at a speed much slower than they had used to get to Norfolk, on a conveyance almost certainly less comfortable, and they were in heaven.

Very few things are more reliably astounding than the British when they are enjoying themselves, and I say this with a kind of cautious admiration. They have the ability to get deep and lasting pleasure out of practically nothing at all. Give them a form of transport that was becoming obsolete in the time of Clement Attlee and they will flock to it. Did you know, Britain has 108 steam railways – that is surely 106 or so more than any nation needs – run by 18,500 volunteers? It is an extraordinary fact but a true one that there are thousands of men in Britain who will never need Viagra as long as there are steam trains in operation.

From The Iliad illustrated by Neil Packer

From The Iliad illustrated by Neil Packer

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Looks like Weselman's hit on something interesting by Charles Addams

Looks like Wesselman's hit on something interesting by Charles Addams

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239 lives

From What Caused the 2016 Chicago Homicide Spike? An Empirical Examination of the "ACLU Effect" and the Role of Stop and Frisks in Preventing Gun Violence by Paul G. Cassell and Richard Fowles. From the Abstract:
Homicides increased dramatically in Chicago in 2016. In 2015, 480 Chicago residents were killed. The next year, 754 were killed–274 more homicide victims, tragically producing an extraordinary 58% increase in a single year. This article attempts to unravel what happened.

This article provides empirical evidence that the reduction in stop and frisks by the Chicago Police Department beginning around December 2015 was responsible for the homicide spike that started immediately thereafter. The sharp decline in the number of stop and frisks is a strong candidate for the causal factor, particularly since the timing of the homicide spike so perfectly coincides with the spike. Regression analysis of the homicide spike and related shooting crimes identifies the stop and frisk variable as the likely cause. The results are highly statistically significant and robust over a large number of alternative specifications. And a qualitative review for possible “omitted variables” in the regression equations fails to identify any other plausible candidates that fit the data as well as the decline in stop and frisks.

Our regression equations permit quantification of the costs of the decline in stop and frisks. Because of fewer stop and frisks in 2016, it appears that (conservatively calculating) approximately 239 additional victims were killed and 1129 additional shootings occurred in that year alone. And these tremendous costs are not evenly distributed, but rather are concentrated among Chicago’s African-American and Hispanic communities.

The most likely explanation for the fall in stop and frisks that appears to have triggered the homicide spike is a consent decree entered into by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) with the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Accordingly, modifications to that consent decree may be appropriate.

More broadly, these findings shed important light on the on-going national debate about stop and frisk policies. The fact that America’s “Second City” suffered so badly from a decline in stop and frisks suggests that the arguably contrary experience in New York City may be an anomaly. The costs of crime—and particularly gun crimes—are too significant to avoid considering every possible measure for reducing the toll. The evidence gathered here suggests that stop and frisk policies may be truly lifesaving measures that have to be considered as part of any effective law enforcement response to gun violence.
I am sure the research will be heavily contested as it blasphemes against the assumptions of the pious. Perhaps there are some flaws somewhere in the methodology but this is what was predicted would happen by many commentators.

I suspect that Cassell and Fowles are right and I suspect that more generally, this is what would normally be expected to happen. Less policing, more crime. Elsewhere, this is referred to as the Ferguson Effect.

I accept Cassell and Fowles's findings for Chicago. We have seen similar instances in other cities. As I have mentioned before, however, human systems are complex and highly contextual. While generally less policing will lead to greater crime, there are exceptions. Specifically, New York City in a corresponding time-frame abandoned their very successful stop-and-frisk program but I understand that, in contrast to Chicago, they have seen no increase in violent crime.

While this research, for the time being, validates common sense, it is as worthwhile in its reminder that good intentions have real-world consequences. The American civil Liberties Union fought long and hard to overturn Chicago's stop-and-frisk program, fighting Chicago through the court system. Their position was principled.

However, all decisions have consequences. In this instance, based on this research, the cost of the well-intended principles of the ACLU were an additional 239 people dead, mostly from among the ranks of the poor and the challenged.

Don't fear knowledge

In writing this article, I suspect that Reich must have felt like a devoted missionary on discovering his new assignment was to an island with a reputation for cannibalism. Up for the challenge but fearful of the consequences. From How Genetics Is Changing Our Understanding of ‘Race’ by David Reich.

Reich has undertaken to bring the message of science to the passionately committed devotees of instersectional social justice postmodernism. In other words, he is bringing science to the secular readers of the New York Times who assiduously deny any scientific fact which does not accord with their postmodernist catechisms.

In this specific instance, he wants to introduce the idea to New York Times readers that genetics has predictive value and that there are predictive genetic variances between men and women and between populations of people.

I envisioned the comments section from the NYT readers:

Crashing, oh! Four- or five-hundred feet into the sky and it... it's a terrific crash, ladies and gentlemen. It's smoke, and it's in flames now; and the frame is crashing to the ground, not quite to the mooring mast. Oh, the humanity! - Herbert Morrison

The comments are not quite that unseated though there is much clutching of pearls and extended anemic protestations.

Reich makes a reasoned case though he is desperate to ensure that no one mistakes him as someone unconcerned about intersectional social justice and constantly takes swipes at strawmen ideas and bete noires of the left.

I understand his trepidation. When I grew up, the received wisdom was that the Out of Africa thesis was the most probable description of human evolution. Which was convenient. We all come from Africa and any apparent differences are of recent and shallow origin. By the eighties and nineties it was apparent that evolution was occurring faster than we had anticipated. The 2000s brought the revelation that different human populations had interbred with remnant branch populations such as Neanderthals.

But I think my concerns were misplaced, as are Reich's. The humanist belief that we are all born equal and blessed with equal human rights has always been a normative belief, not a scientific claim. While Marxism requires humans to be identical and completely malleable, that has never been the reality. Within families, between individuals, among groups, differences are apparent, and in many ways glorious.

The fact that science is revealing a larger role for genes in individual outcomes, the fact that science is revealing real differences between the sexes and between populations is a challenge for those who wish us to be fungible. It poses no challenge to those committed to the notion that we are all equal in our humanity and in our human rights.

I think Reich's other motivating fear is also misplaced. People need no justification for finding differences that then allow a separation of in-groups and out-groups. We are a social creature and the distinction between in and out-groups is a universal human trait. There is no value in denying it or denying that there are human differences. Acknowledging that we are inclined to artificially create in and out groups puts the onus on ourselves to manage that inclination. Reading Reich and perceiving his fear of people using the emerging knowledge of differences, I could not help but think of the old religious joke.
I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said: "Stop. Don't do it."

"Why shouldn't I?" he asked.

"Well, there's so much to live for!"

"Like what?"

"Are you religious?"

He said: "Yes."

I said: "Me too. Are you Christian or Buddhist?"


"Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?"


"Me too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"


"Wow. Me too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?"

"Baptist Church of God."

"Me too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?"

"Reformed Baptist Church of God."

"Me too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?"

He said: "Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915."

I said: "Die, heretic scum," and pushed him off.
Race, religion, class, gender, etc. The issue is not the scientific facts of each of these categories. The issue is the scientific fact of our disposition towards in- and out-groups.

I agree with Reich's goal. Do not fear knowledge, do not hide it. Instead, focus on managing our own behaviors and actions. Behave with humanity, don't foster ignorance.

Wobblies and intersectionalist social justice postmodernism

From Booknotes on American Character by Brian Lamb. A collection of interviews on C-Span of non-fiction books. From the interview related to Murdering McKinley: The Making of Theodore Roosevelt's America by Eric Rauchway.

We have lost four presidents to an assassin; Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy.

McKinley was the third. On September 6, 1901, William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States, was doing a meet and greet on the grounds of the Pan-American Exposition at the Temple of Music in Buffalo, New York when Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist, shot him twice in the abdomen. McKinley died eight days later on September 14 of gangrene caused by the gunshot wounds.

Rauchway makes an important point early in the interview. So much of our contemporary reporting lacks perspective, is stripped of context, and is absent empirical grounding. All our media platforms wish the citizenry to believe ourselves living in apocalyptical end times when, in fact, we are in the midst of a golden era. A book such as Murdering McKinley: The Making of Theodore Roosevelt's America by Eric Rauchway reminds us of relatively recent times which were much darker.
It's important to the McKinley assassination to put it in a slightly more international context. In 1881, the Russian czar, Alexander II, was killed by a bomb exploding under his carriage. In that year, there were meetings of hundreds of anarchists in Paris and London who adopted the propaganda of the deed - which is a euphemism for terrorism - as their model for attacking industrial civilization.

And over the next couple decades, there were many bombings, many assassination attempts and many assassinations. McKinley's fits into that context. There were bombs exploding in Paris and London streets. The French president, the Spanish prime minister, the Italian king and one of the Habsburg heirs were all murdered in the decade preceding McKinley's death, and that was the context in which people saw it at the time.
Indeed, as part of that continuing wave of marxist/nationalist/anarchist assassinations, many leaders died, culminating in the assassination of the heir apparent Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and his wife on June 28, 1914 leading to World War I and the deaths of some 37 million in battle, through genocides and as a consequence of the war related Spanish Flu.

From the Haymarket Massacre in 1886, through the violence of the Industrial Workers of the World (the Wobblies) 1905-1910 up till World War I, there was an association between anarchism, nihilism, and labor unions which seemed to threaten civilization across the globe.

While the racism, violence, intolerance, and authoritarianism of modern day intersectionalist social justice postmodernism shares many of the traits of the anarchists, nihilists and wobblies, they are in fact pretty weak tea.

Intersectionalist social justice postmodernism may appear an existential threat, and conceptually they could be, but they are mostly a cognitive nuisance, not a real world threat. They have air play because of academic cowardice, not because of their actions, capabilities, or numbers. They are a minuscule group in numbers (<1% in any particular demographic), in age (mostly a phenomenon of non-adults) and geography (mostly in college towns and old cities.)

We treat them as a crisis in part because they are such a nuisance, but we only need to look back at the era of anarchists, marxists, and nationalists circa 1885-1914 to see what real threats look like.

The danger is always the unconstrained leviathan

A very good piece, The Tribalism Bugaboo by Jay Cost. It is very frustrating to hear so many journalists and other talking heads opining on polarization, on the defects of the electoral college, on their desire for direct democracy. It is if they are flashing their ignorance as a large, flashing neon sign. I KNOW NOTHING OF HISTORY OR PHILOSOPHY they signal.

Cost, fortunately, is more knowledgeable.
The hot topic among intellectual types these days is the notion of “tribalism.” The problem with our country, the smart set is arguing, is that we are too focused on our own parochial cliques — economic, geographic, religious, whatever — so we cannot even think about the general welfare, let alone act together to achieve it.

Heather Wilhelm gave a good rejoinder to this anxiety last week: “Meh.” Most people, she suggests, express “displeasure with American politics at large, but with none of the gushers of faux outrage and over-the-top feigned surprise that regularly festoon social media.” I think that is about right. I am reminded of a great book by Morris Fiorina, Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America, which argued that while Americans are evenly divided, they are not deeply so. You will not get such a nuanced impression from cable news or social media, but that is just another good reason not to participate too much in either of those forums.

I would like to push this analysis a step further: Our system of government was in fact explicitly designed to handle the biggest problem of “tribalism,” which the Founders might have called the tyranny of the majority. And it accomplishes that task very well. In the United States, the persistence of tribalism is at worst an annoyance, rather than a calamitous threat to basic rights and public security.

Although the use of the world is relatively new, anxieties about tribalism are very old, for they point to the most basic question of government: How do we get people to look out for the good of the whole community, rather than just themselves? The ancients had a tragic answer to that question, envisioning government as an endless cycle between just and unjust versions. But early modern thinkers were more optimistic, reckoning that there were conditions under which good government was sustainable. In The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu argued that one solution to tribalism was to be found in a “small republic:”
In an extensive republic, the public good is sacrificed to a thousand private views; it is subordinate to exceptions and depends on accidents. In a small one, the interest of the public is more obvious, better understood, and more within the reach of every citizen; abuses have less extent and, of course, are less protected.
This view was very popular in the United States in the 1780s, when the states held the balance of power. The feeling was that the government of a small polity such as New Hampshire or Georgia was best able to articulate the public interest. Everybody will more or less be on the same page, political leaders will reflect those shared values and act accordingly.

But this theory did not fare well during that tumultuous decade. The 13 states were often dominated by popular majorities that had no appreciation for the bigger picture. They instead empowered governments that harassed political minorities, frustrated neighboring states, and damaged the international reputation of the nation. It was this failure that induced twelve of the 13 states to participate in the Constitutional Convention, where James Madison introduced his radical alternative to Montesquieu’s notion of a small republic.

Like many political thinkers, Madison reckoned that “factionalism” (his word for tribalism) was part and parcel of human nature. The solution was not a small polity — because that could empower a single faction to run roughshod over everybody else. Instead, he recommended an extended republic that took in a variety of factions or tribes, each positioned in such a way as to check the self-interested designs of the others. Madison’s idea was that having factions share power with one another would result in the type of laws that were good for the whole country.
None of this is to say that tribalism is not a problem. Under the Madisonian schema, if the people cannot agree about what constitutes the general welfare, the result is often that nothing gets done. So the government often grinds its gears while public problems persist or get worse. But as frustrating as that is, it is far preferable to the tyranny of a single tribe that governs everybody else for its own purposes.
The majoritarian mob is certainly one of the key risks of factionalism but there is another, slightly different form stalking the land today; the minoritarian mob. Minor and/or narrowly supported positions which are made to seem to be majoritarian. Almost all policy positions stemming from the postmodernist social justice world view are harmful to most people but they are, through media and political theater, presented as widely received wisdoms.

Learners and learned

From Reflections on the Human Condition by Eric Hoffer.
The central task of education is to implant a will and facility for learning; it should produce not learned but learning people. The truly human society is a learning society, where grandparents, parents, and children are students together.

In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.

The sound of the water jar

From Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season, edited by Gary Schmidt and Susan M. Felch.

By the Japanese poet Basho (1644-1694)
the sound of the water jar
cracking on this icy night
as I lay awake

Monday, March 26, 2018

From the Folio edition of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad illustrated by Frances Mosely

From the Folio edition of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad illustrated by Frances Mosley

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Medusa gets a haircut by Charles Addams

Medusa gets a haircut by Charles Addams

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You can't teach an old dog new tricks

From Dogs (Canis familiaris) stick to what they have learned rather than conform to their conspecifics’ behavior by Markus Germar, Amira Sultan, Juliane Kaminski, and Andreas Mojzisch. From the Abstract:
In recent years, an increasing number of studies has investigated majority influence in nonhuman animals. However, due to both terminological and methodological issues, evidence for conformity in nonhuman animals is scarce and controversial. Preliminary evidence suggests that wild birds, wild monkeys, and fish show conformity, that is, forgoing personal information in order to copy the majority. By contrast, chimpanzees seem to lack this tendency. The present study is the first to examine whether dogs (Canis familiaris) show conformity. Specifically, we tested whether dogs conform to a majority of conspecifics rather than stick to what they have previously learned. After dogs had acquired a behavioral preference via training (i.e., shaping), they were confronted with counter-preferential behavior of either no, one or three conspecifics. Traditional frequentist analyses show that the dogs’ behavior did not differ significantly between the three conditions. Complementary Bayesian analyses suggest that our data provide moderate evidence for the null hypothesis. In conclusion, our results suggest that dogs stick to what they have learned rather than conform to the counter-preferential behavior of others. We discuss the possible statistical and methodological limitations of this finding. Furthermore, we take a functional perspective on conformity and discuss under which circumstances dogs might show conformity after all.
I think what they are saying is that you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

There are times when Britain is the most wonderful country in the world

From The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson. Page 177.
On the evening of 19 December 1981, a small cargo ship, the Union Star, on its maiden run from Holland to Ireland, got in trouble in heavy seas off the Cornish coast. It had been a wild day and by early evening the storm had turned into a Force 12 gale – the biggest in the area in some time. As well as its normal complement of five crew, the Union Star was carrying the captain’s wife and two teenage daughters so that the family could celebrate Christmas together in Ireland. In the worst possible conditions, the ship’s engines failed and it began to drift helplessly. When word of a mayday call was brought into the village pub in Mousehole, the station captain, Trevelyan Richards, chose seven men and they set off at once for the station. With great difficulty the Penlee lifeboat put to sea and found its way to the stricken ship, where it managed somehow to get alongside and to get four people off. That in itself was an extraordinary achievement. Waves were up to fifty feet high.

Captain Richards radioed that they were bringing the four rescued people to shore and then would go back for the others. That was the last message ever sent. The presumption is that in the next moment a wave dashed the boats together and both sank. Whatever happened, sixteen people lost their lives. The Penlee station was never used again, but has been left just as it was that night as a permanent memorial.

I had never really stopped to consider what an extraordinary thing the Royal National Lifeboat Institution is. Think about it. A troubled ship calls for help, and eight people – teachers, plumbers, the guy who runs the pub – drop everything and put to sea, whatever the weather, asking no questions, imperilling their own lives, to try to help strangers. Is there anything more brave and noble than that? The RNLI – I looked this up later – is an organization run by volunteers, supported entirely by public donations. It maintains 233 stations around the coast of Britain and averages twenty-two call-outs per day. It saves 350 lives a year on average. There are times when Britain is the most wonderful country in the world – genuinely the most wonderful. This was one of them.

Unknown title by Bill Brandt

Unknown title by Bill Brandt

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I lived in constant fear of an outbreak of yodelling by Glen Baxter

I lived in constant fear of an outbreak of yodelling by Glen Baxter

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When will he be believed?

An Obscure Writer
by John Donne

Philo, with twelve years' study, hath been grieved
to be understood; when will he be believed?

How might I obfuscate, let me count the ways

A reasonably clear article on the normal mainstream media statistical innumeracy. In this instance, it is about gun ownership and murder but the same pattern of errors shows up all the time in innumerable other reported debates. From Everybody's Lying about the Link Between Gun Ownership and Homicide by BJ Campbell.

The usual sins committed by journalism majors (and ideologues) are:
Cherry picking data
Omitting outliers
Omitting R^2 Value
Omitting effect size
Committing the category error of mixing data populations (ex. including suicides with murders)
Changing data definitions mid argument without noting the change.
Omitting context
Use of proxies when direct measurement is feasible
Confusing correlation with causation
Obscuring ideologically uncomfortable causal information
Omitting context
Omitting alternate explanations
Not illustrated here in this article but otherwise common errors include
Anecdote over data
Too small sample sizes
Non-random samples
Reliance on self-reports over observed data
The world is hard enough to understand as it is without all the orthodox cognitive pollution which obscures reality.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

One of those watching the carnage was Eisenhower himself

From The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson. Page 159.
I returned to the car and drove a dozen miles along yet more slow but glorious roads to Torcross, a hamlet on a dramatic sweep of coastline overlooking Start Bay. To the north from here stretches a duney expanse called Slapton Sands, so similar to the beaches of Normandy that they used it for a dress rehearsal for D-Day in the spring of 1944. Amid great secrecy, thirty thousand American troops were loaded on to landing craft and taken out into the bay to practise coming ashore, but by chance nine German torpedo boats spotted the activity and cruised at will among them, blowing the landing craft out of the water with ease and causing all kinds of mayhem. No one from the Allied side, it appears, had thought to line up suitable protection for the exercise, so the U-boats were able to move about undisturbed.

One of those watching the carnage was Eisenhower himself. Nobody seems to know how many people died. Numbers range from 650 to 950 or so. An information board at Torcross says 749 American soldiers and sailors died. Whatever the exact figure, far more Americans were killed that night than died in the actual landing at Utah beach just over a month later. (Casualties were much higher at Omaha beach.) It was the most lopsided rout America suffered during the war, yet few people have ever heard of it because news of the disaster was withheld, partly for purposes of morale, partly because of the general secrecy surrounding the invasion preparations. What is most extraordinary is that the Germans, having chanced upon a massive collection of boats and men engaged in training exercises just across the sea from the Cherbourg peninsula, failed to recognize that an invasion of northern France was imminent.

The Intercepted Love Letter, c. 1855 by Carl Spitzweg

The Intercepted Love Letter, c. 1855 by Carl Spitzweg

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It says . . . by CAJ (Carolita Johnson)

It says . . . by CAJ (Carolita Johnson)

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The person you’re arguing with just doesn’t see the world the way you do.

From The Three Blind Spots of Politics by Russ Roberts, both a book review and an essay. The catalyst for the essay is The Three Languages of Politics by Arnold Kling.

I take idiosyncratic exception to Kling's nomenclature. He divides the political spectrum into three parts: Liberal, Conservative, and Libertarian. I think the actual division is more like Postmodernist (his Left), Classical Liberal (his Conservative), and Libertarian. But that's just me.

Kling argues that our political discourse is dysfunctional because we look at the world through lenses that our political opponents do not share.
Liberals see the world as a battle between victims and oppressors.

Conservatives see the world as a battle between civilization and barbarism.

Libertarians see the world as a battle between freedom and coercion.
Other than the nomenclature, I think that is a very useful insight. Scott Adams is always counseling that we do not understand the movie in the other person's head.

Scott Alexander put it this way.
Once you realize that other groups are coming from a different place than you are, you actually can empathize with their views. It may not be as fun, but you can actually view your ideological opponents as decent human beings who look at the world differently from the way you do. And it shows the foolishness, other than for therapeutic catharsis, of yelling at your opponents oblivious to why they don’t understand the wisdom of your views. The person you’re arguing with just doesn’t see the world the way you do.
Roberts goes on to point out that the three lenses of Postmodernist, Classical Liberal and Libertarian have corresponding blindspots. I think he is all over the place in his assessment. I would interpret it differently.
Postmodernists dehumanize all people. They strip people of their humanity in two ways. First they strip them of their unique humanity by lumping people into different group averages rather than dealing with them as unique individuals. Second, they deny agency to their preferred victims. The designated victim groups tautologically become lesser beings.

Classical Liberals dehumanize only some people, the out group who threaten civilization.

Libertarians struggle to acknowledge the constantly evolving balance between freedom and coercion embodied in state action.
Interesting ideas.

To have been at school and know nothing

From The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding.
It is as possible for a man to know something without having been at school, as it is to have been at school and to know nothing.

I was thinking about the moments of the past

From Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins. One of his collections of wonderful poems.
BY Billy Collins

Remember the 1340s? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
and at night we would play a game called “Find the Cow.”
Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.

Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet
marathons were the rage. We used to dress up in the flags
of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
These days language seems transparent, a badly broken code.

The 1790s will never come again. Childhood was big.
People would take walks to the very tops of hills
and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.

I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,
time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,
or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me
recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.

Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.
I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.

As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
a dance whose name we can only guess.

Those "Highly Concerned" were most supportive of government policies but also the least likely to report personal efforts to improve conditions

A few days ago I had a post headed by a quote from Gelnn Reynolds, I'll believe it's a crisis when the people who keep telling me it's a crisis start acting like it's a crisis.

I am in the awkward position of being both an invested environmentalist/conservationist and a anthropogenic global warming skeptic. I spend plenty of time and money on environmental causes, leading a couple of local groups in old forest conservation and greenspace restoration. At the same time I am deeply skeptical of the AGW advocacy for two reasons. The first has to do with the science of it. The systems are complex, our knowledge trivial, our data minuscule and our models deplorably inaccurate. The second reason has to do with the money and the sociology. The vested economic interests are transparent and "climategate" and its subsequent revelations reveal that there is a manufactured effort to push an idea and manipulate information for reasons other than the science.

Other than being irritated at the easy manipulation of the press by vested interest advocacy groups, there is not much I can do until the foolishness passes.

This might be one more crack in the facade. From Believing in climate change, but not behaving sustainably: Evidence from a one-year longitudinal study by Michael P. Halla, Neil A. Lewis, Jr., and Phoebe C. Ellsworth. From the Abstract:
We conducted a one-year longitudinal study in which 600 American adults regularly reported their climate change beliefs, pro-environmental behavior, and other climate-change related measures. Using latent class analyses, we uncovered three clusters of Americans with distinct climate belief trajectories: (1) the “Skeptical,” who believed least in climate change; (2) the “Cautiously Worried,” who had moderate beliefs in climate change; and (3) the “Highly Concerned,” who had the strongest beliefs and concern about climate change. Cluster membership predicted different outcomes: the “Highly Concerned” were most supportive of government climate policies, but least likely to report individual-level actions, whereas the “Skeptical” opposed policy solutions but were most likely to report engaging in individual-level pro-environmental behaviors. Implications for theory and practice are discussed.
So those most concerned about AGW and most desirous of having the government impose costs on everyone else for no real gain, are also those least willing to do anything about the environment or climate change themselves. Meantime, those most skeptical of the AGW political charade are the ones most involved in conducting real environmental conservation. I am not surprised; that accords with my experience.

Friday, March 23, 2018

He was entirely self-taught.

From The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson. Page 148.
The British are an ingenious race. There can be no question about that. Their contribution to the world’s comfort and knowledge is way beyond what, measured proportionately, ought to come off a little island in the North Sea. Some years ago, Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry made a study of national inventiveness and concluded that in the modern era Britain had produced 55 per cent of all the world’s ‘significant inventions’, against 22 per cent for America and 6 per cent for Japan. That is an extraordinary proportion. But cashing in on them has been another matter altogether, and Torquay offers a salutary example of that in the shape of the now forgotten figure of Oliver Heaviside.

Heaviside was born in London in 1850, but passed much of his life in Torquay, a stately resort built around a lovely bay on a stretch of south Devon coastline known, just a touch hyperbolically, as the English Riviera. It remains a fine, old-fashioned town, with a promenade, some noble buildings and a harbour picturesquely filled with pleasure boats, the whole backed by hills containing pink and cream-coloured villas. It was to one of these hillside villas, where Heaviside lived and worked and died, that I directed my attention first.
Heaviside was short, ill-tempered and hard of hearing, which no doubt contributed to his testiness. He had flaming red hair and a beard and, if surviving photographs are a reliable guide, a permanently crazed look. Children apparently followed him down the road and threw things at him. But he was possibly the greatest modern British inventor of whom no one has ever heard.

He was entirely self-taught. As a young man, he worked for a few years in telegraph offices, but quit that job at the age of twenty-four and never held another. Instead he moved to Devon and devoted himself to the private study of electromagnetism. Working from a flat above his brother’s music shop in Torquay, Heaviside made a number of important breakthroughs. For years people had been puzzled by how radio signals could follow the curve of the earth and not just fly off into space. Even Marconi couldn’t explain how his radio messages reached ships that were over the horizon. Heaviside deduced the existence of a layer of ionized particles in the upper atmosphere which was bouncing radio signals back. It became known as the Heaviside layer. Heaviside’s most singular contribution to modern life, however, was devising a way to boost telephone signals while simultaneously eliminating distortion – two things that had long been thought impossible. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of Heaviside’s invention. It made instantaneous long-distance communications possible and in so doing changed the world.

Heaviside’s house was on Lower Warberry Road, a very pleasant residential street up in the hills above the bay, lined with some big houses, many of which have been converted into flats or nursing homes. I can think of worse places to end up than in an old house above Torbay. Heaviside’s residence was a cream-coloured building, hidden behind a high wall. Heaviside had just a room or two upstairs. After his time there, the house spent some years as a small hotel, then gradually slid into dereliction. In 2009 it was damaged in a fire, probably accidentally started by a squatter. Today it remains abandoned, hidden behind high walls and plywood hoardings. There is supposedly a blue plaque on the building commemorating Heaviside, but I couldn’t see it anywhere from the road. I don’t imagine too many people come to look.

Extraordinarily, Heaviside didn’t bother to patent his invention. The patent was filed instead by AT&T, which had nothing to do with the discovery but nonetheless went on to become one of the largest corporations in the world thanks in large part to its unrivalled lead in long-distance telephony. Heaviside should have ended up a multi-millionaire but instead passed his last years living in angry poverty in a bedsit in Torquay with children throwing wine gums at his back.

It is remarkable how often Britons invent or discover something of great value, then fail to cash in on it. The list of things invented, discovered or developed in Britain that benefited Britain barely or not at all includes computers, radar, the endoscope, the zoom lens, holography, in vitro fertilization, animal cloning, magnetically levitated trains and Viagra. Only the jet engine and antibiotics are British inventions from which the British still benefit. I had just read an interesting book called The Compatibility Gene by Daniel M. Davis, a professor at the University of Manchester, who noted in passing how two medical researchers, Derrick Brewerton in Britain and Paul Terasaki in the United States, had coincidentally made the same important breakthrough in the understanding of genes at the same time in the 1970s. Terasaki formed a company to exploit the commercial potential of his discovery and grew so wealthy that eventually he was making donations of $50 million a time. Brewerton wrote a book on arthritis and chaired a committee devoted to saving a beach near his home on the south coast. Somebody needs to explain to me why that seems so inevitable.

Quartering by Ian Stephens

Quartering by Ian Stephens

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All right, have it your way - you heard a seal bark by James Thurber

All right, have it your way - you heard a seal bark by James Thurber

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No convivial socializing, no institutional memory

A few days ago I pointed out the hypocrisy of the New York Times in their contrasting reporting of the Obama campaign and Trump campaign for the same action - scraping data from Facebook. Studies in revealed preference - Masterminds versus exploiters.

This article explores the same theme but goes way beyond the headline, comparing the body of the respective reports. How Facebook Went From ‘Ideal Way’ to Reach Voters to Being ‘Weaponized’ by Elizabeth Harrington. Indeed.

If your reporting is determined by your politics, you are not much use. Find them both objectionable or find them both impressive, but at least maintain some honesty, integrity and consistency. Otherwise it is unreliable noise.

But reading that second article prompted a different line of thinking.

I have often argued that part of the challenge for the mainstream media is that they do not look like America. Effectively, they are all college educated, often from elite institutions. They are all from middle or upper middle class backgrounds. They all have middle or upper middle income careers. They are all registered Democrats. They disproportionately donate to political parties and the party to which they overwhelmingly give are the Democrats. They have no work experience other than in media. They live in one of half a dozen cities, unlike 80-90% of their fellow Americans. Those cities are single-party cities (Democrats) and have been for half a century of more. Those cities, in general, have higher crimes rates than anywhere else in America. Those cities have the highest levels of inequality. Those cities are demographically dissimilar to the rest of the nation. Those cities are disproportionately foreign immigrants. Those cities are substantially non-religious. Those cities are almost exclusively service sector with no agriculture, little manufacturing, etc.

If you are isolated in that tiny ideological and experiential bubble, it is no wonder that your reporting becomes distorted.

I think those are all true factors.

The new thought is a supplement and has more to do with the evolving history of the news media.

From the nineteen hundreds up until perhaps 1990, news media was a license to print money. There were originally a great plethora of papers, they made healthy profits, there were foreign bureaus, there were layers and layers of fact checkers and editors. With the internet, all that is gone. 85% of news comes from 5 organizations which are concentrated in a few cities. Advertising revenue has migrated online. Papers have consolidated and slimmed down and reduced their reporting. They have gotten rid of the fact checkers and the editors.

I am speculating about the following though. I would guess that the news media is like much of the rest of the economy. With the information superhighway, I am guessing that you no longer have the great bull pens of reporters. I am guessing that there is a greater reliance on cheap interns. That there are a lot more stringers. More employee churn. More people doing their reporting from the field or from home.

One of the old characterizations of Fleet Street in Britain and reporters in general worldwide, is that they were convivial and with a high degree of conviviality. You read memoirs of writers who worked at one time as reporters and there is a great prominence of pubs and bars and out-of-office socializing. My sense is that that has passed. With ad revenue collapsing, there is no capacity for such indulgences.

If all that is true, then there is a change in work structure that might also have an epistemic impact.

When you see an instance of a paper reporting the 2012 Obama campaign scraping Facebook data as brilliant and the 2016 Trump campaign doing the same thing as exploitive, it is easy to conclude that they are hypocrites. They are deliberately manipulating their readers. And to some degree that is probably true. They are seeing the world as they want it to be, not as how it is.

But perhaps something else has been happening in the past ten years that might be an additional cause? Perhaps they simply forgot that they had four years earlier reported it the other way.

Without the layers of fact-checkers, without the layers of editors, without the alcohol-facilitated loquacious socializing, without the peer network of longtime colleagues, perhaps they no longer have the mechanism to maintain some semblance of an institutional memory.

Organizations, any organizations, are complex information processing systems constituted ultimately of human relationships. Yes, there are information systems and reporting hierarchies but much of the cognitive heavy lifting depends on the affiliative networks of people. If you lose those networks, as I would argue has likely happened with news media, you lose creativity and memory.

So, perhaps, part of what looks like hypocrisy is simply a function of the loss of cognitive processing arising from changed work practices.


House At Pooh Corner

House at Pooh Corner by Loggins & Messina

Double click to enlarge.

House At Pooh Corner
by Kenny Loggins

Christopher Robin and I walked along
Under branches lit up by the moon
Posing our questions to Owl and Eeyore
As our days disappeared all too soon
But I've wandered much further today than I should
And I can't seem to find my way back to the wood

So help me if you can, I've got to get
Back to the house at Pooh Corner by one
You'd be surprised, there's so much to be done
Count all the bees in the hive
Chase all the clouds from the sky
Back to the days of Christopher Robin and Pooh

Winnie the Pooh doesn't know what to do
Got a honey jar stuck on his nose
He came to me asking help and advice
And from here no one knows where he goes
So I sent him to ask of the owl if he's there
How to loosen the jar from the nose of a bear

So help me if you can, I've got to get
Back to the house at Pooh Corner by one
You'd be surprised, there's so much to be done
Count all the bees in the hive
Chase all the clouds from the sky
Back to the days of Christopher Robin and Pooh

So help me if you can, I've got to get
Back to the house at Pooh Corner by one
You'd be surprised, there's so much to be done
Count all the bees in the hive
Chase all the clouds from the sky
Back to the days of Christopher Robin
Back to the ways of Christopher Robin
Back to the ways of Pooh