Friday, November 30, 2018

It is pretty astonishing that so many hew so closely to so many positions which are so demonstrably disputable.

A passionate exasperation at Is New York's "Safety Net" A Success? by Francis Menton. Menton is covering a recent article, linked in his piece.
This week’s issue of Crain’s is dominated by a cover story titled “The State of Inequality: A Program for Every Problem.” The article has the byline of Crain’s head editor Greg David (although I doubt he actually wrote it — it’s not his usual style at all). It purports to be a review of the state of the “safety net” and its many subsidiary programs here in New York, together with, to some degree, a comparison of same to similar programs in certain other states (Georgia, Texas, Washington).


The basic theme of the piece is that New York has the most extensive array of social safety net programs in the country, and THEY’RE WORKING !!!!!! And how do we know that THEY’RE WORKING !!!!! ? Because we have followed the basic journalistic technique of interviewing some of the beneficiaries of the programs, and some of the bureaucrats who run the programs. And, remarkably, those people are unanimous in declaring the great success of the programs that they benefit from and/or administer. QED! Now, has anyone thought to maybe go out and collect some data as to, for example, how New York compares to other jurisdictions in actually reducing poverty, or reducing income inequality, or (in the case of medical programs) extending life expectancy? Of course, you will not find any of that in this article. Really, it’s shameful.

The piece starts with a litany of some of the vast array of safety net programs that are unique to New York, either as to their existence or scope.
There follows a very long list with very large price tags, tackling very serious social issues.
And the result? Success!
The state's medical coverage is not just large; it's also effective, innovative and more affordable thanks to reforms made during the first year of the Cuomo administration. A key has been integrated approaches to managed care, pioneered at Montefiore Health System, where Williamson receives her care. The model works by coordinating treatment—and costs—among providers. That means pushing health clinics to be more like social-services centers, said Stephen Rosenthal, chief operating officer at Montefiore's CMO, The Care Management Co., which focuses on the patient experience. "We have learned that, in order to be effective at managing care, we have to go one step beyond and manage their lives," [said a Montefiore spokesperson].
Statists frequently fall into the same trap as corporatists, as indeed do planned economies.

Typically, when you undertake an initiative you are 1) attempting to maintain a capability, 2) prevent an anticipated failure, or 3) achieve a new and better outcome. All of these things can be measured. It might take some work, but it usually well worthwhile doing so. Reaching agreement as to exactly what are the critical elements of the desired future state frequently reveals hidden fissures and disagreements among stakeholders. Reconciling these divides about the desired outcomes frequently leads to improve approaches (and sometimes radical overhauls) regarding how to achieve the specified outcome(s).

This effort is time consuming and can be contentious, but having done it, the odds of successful project completion and outcome achievement improve dramatically.

However, government and big corporations too often (some places, almost always) skip this hard work and jump from a vague and poorly identified purpose of the project to an exciting but unvetted solution to the problem. They measure success in terms of 1) was the project completed, 2) was it completed on time, and 3) was it completed on budget. But even that is too generous a description. The budget and timeline goals are routinely adjusted throughout a project. You will start with a three month implementation and three years later everyone is celebrating the successful completion of the project on time because the calendar targets have continually evolved over the course of the project.

Success for statists and corporatists comes down to
Can we claim that we completed the project?

Did we spend all the money?

Are the people who received free things happy?
This is the primary focus of Menton in assessing the claimed success. Yes they spent the money and all the stakeholders involved in the spending and the recipients of free things are happy. Menton is holding them to a higher standard though. Did they alleviate income inequality? Are health outcomes better? Has education performance improved? That sort of thing.

And of course, in all the examined instances, the answer is not only No! but Disastrously No! Not only have things not improved but they have become worse and worse by factors and orders of magnitude.
Even I could be convinced to support such programs, if there could be a demonstration that some program or other actually worked to some degree to ameliorate the problem at hand. But instead what we find is advocacy journalism, intentionally suppressing easily-available data and information that make it completely clear how these programs only enrich the bureaucrats and leave the supposed beneficiaries languishing in a lifetime of poverty.
It is the last line that is truly most insidious.

We are accustomed to government and corporations making bad mistakes and making things worse, particularly when they are in collusion with one another against the interests and expectations of individual taxpaying citizens.

What is outrageous is that the news media fails so catastrophically in distinguishing fact from fiction and repeatedly producing fiction when the facts are pretty apparent, accessible and compelling.

Things that the media spend a lot of time and money on and for which there is ready, replicated, and compelling evidence against include:
Gender wage gap

Rape culture


Effectiveness of affirmative action

Effectiveness of subsidies

Effectiveness of coercive implementation of projects

All cultures are equally productive and rewarding to their members

All population disparate outcomes are primarily or solely the result of intentional and/or systemic discrimination

Education outcomes are driven by resource expenditure

The new science of climate is so robust we can distinguish the impact of the hundreds of known contributing variables to produce reliable forecasts decades and centuries in advance.

Sex is a social construct
I could go on for a long time, listing the things which are treated by the Mandarin class and the mainstream media as settled and indisputable and yet which are either are completely incorrect or which have fine-grain nuance and complexity which renders any blanket statement wrong.

I am not arguing the opposite of the MSM Mandarins that everything encompassed in the above arguments is the exact opposite of the position of the Mandarins. I am arguing that there are frequently well replicated contradictory evidence and/or distinctions which are not made.

Are some women discriminated against in terms of salary compared to some men? Sure. Are some men demonstrated against in terms of salary compared to some women? Sure. Are there systemic differences between sexes? Sure. Are those differences accounted for entirely by decisions and choices of the individual men and women? Yes - All the replicated and methodologically robust studies indicate that there is little or no explanatory value to gender discrimination. Making the distinction that discrimination may (and almost tautologically must in a complex and noisy system) exist for individuals but washes out at the system level is important.

But we don't need to argue the merits and where on the spectrum of confidence robust arguments will land us. The shame, as Menton points out, is that we have a small unrepresentative group of citizens who are treating many critical issues as settled and indisputable when it is clear that that is not the case. It is pretty astonishing that so many hew so closely to positions which are so demonstrably disputable.

Free markets effects in regulated public bathrooms

From Legalize Pay Toilets! by Alex Tabarrok.
In 1969, California Assemblywoman March Fong Eu smashed a porcelain toilet with an axe in front of the California state capitol, protesting the misogyny of restrooms that charged entrance fees for stalls but not urinals. She was not alone in her frustration. The grassroots organization CEPTIA—the Committee to End Pay Toilets in America—mobilized against pay toilets, putting out a quarterly newsletter (the Free Toilet Paper) and exchanging warring pamphlets with Nik-O-Lok, the leading pay-toilet manufacturer. The group won a citywide ordinance banning pay toilets in Chicago in 1973, followed by bans in Alaska, California, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, and Wyoming.

In any case, CEPTIA was remarkably effective. In 1970 there were some 50,000 pay toilets in America and by 1980 there were almost none. The attentive reader, however, will not be surprised to learn that smashing the pay toilet conspiracy did not result in an abundance of free toilets.
In the decades since CEPTIA disbanded, however, pay-toilet bans have proven to be a Pyrrhic victory. The committee’s vision of free toilets for all never came to pass. Cities have persistently refused to construct public restrooms, and existing facilities have fallen into disrepair. Citing the difficulty of keeping bathrooms safe and clean, municipalities are often unwilling or unable to pay. Even assuming that funds are available for initial construction of public toilets, the maintenance and operating costs are a deterrent.
The outcomes may have been unexpected to the anti-free market crowd but they were certainly not unanticipated by anyone in the market. Statists always mess things up while intending only principled good.

The Cyclops by Odilon Redon

The Cyclops by Odilon Redon

Click to enlarge.

They really valued education back then.

A man has to have priorities.

Declaration of Independence by Woolcott Gibbs

Declaration of Independence*
by Wolcott Gibbs

He will just do nothing at all
He will just sit there in the noon-day sun
And when they speak to him;-
he will not answer them,
because he does not wish to.
And when they tell him to eat his dinner,
he will just laugh at them.
And he will not take his nap,
because he does not care to.
He will just sit there in the noonday sun.
He will go away and will play with the panda.
And when they come to look for him,
he will stick them with spears
And put them in the garbage and put the cover on.
And he will not get out in the fresh air,
nor eat his vegetable,
And hw will grow thin as a marble.
He would just do nothing at all.
He will just sit there in the noon-day sun.

Pete Seager set it to music.

* Wolcott Gibbs heard this sung one evening by his four-year-old son in the bathtub, and got the words printed in The New Yorker.

He’s a man way out there in the blue riding on a smile and a shoeshine.

From Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Nobody dast blame this man. You don’t understand: Willy was a salesman. And for a salesman, there’s no rock bottom to the life. He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. He’s a man way out there in the blue riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back—that’s an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple spots on your hat and your finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream boy, it comes with the territory.

There was one problem: None of it was true.

What a nightmare. Institutions wanting to feel good about themselves by extending opportunity and turning a blind eye on reality, thereby condemning young students to a life of anguish and failure. From Louisiana School Made Headlines for Sending Black Kids to Elite Colleges. Here’s the Reality. by Erica L. Green and Katie Benner.
BREAUX BRIDGE, La. — Bryson Sassau’s application would inspire any college admissions officer.

A founder of T.M. Landry College Preparatory School described him as a “bright, energetic, compassionate and genuinely well-rounded” student whose alcoholic father had beaten him and his mother and had denied them money for food and shelter. His transcript “speaks for itself,” the founder, Tracey Landry, wrote, but Mr. Sassau should also be lauded for founding a community service program, the Dry House, to help the children of abusive and alcoholic parents. He took four years of honors English, the application said, was a baseball M.V.P. and earned high honors in the “Mathematics Olympiad.”

The narrative earned Mr. Sassau acceptance to St. John’s University in New York. There was one problem: None of it was true.

“I was just a small piece in a whole fathom of lies,” Mr. Sassau said.

T.M. Landry has become a viral Cinderella story, a small school run by Michael Landry, a teacher and former salesman, and his wife, Ms. Landry, a nurse, whose predominantly black, working-class students have escaped the rural South for the nation’s most elite colleges. A video of a 16-year-old student opening his Harvard acceptance letter last year has been viewed more than eight million times. Other Landry students went on to Yale, Brown, Princeton, Stanford, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell and Wesleyan.

Landry success stories have been splashed in the past two years on the “Today” show, “Ellen” and the “CBS This Morning.” Education professionals extol T.M. Landry and its 100 or so kindergarten-through-12th-grade students as an example for other Louisiana schools. Wealthy supporters have pushed the Landrys, who have little educational training, to expand to other cities. Small donors, heartened by the web videos, send in a steady stream of cash.

T.M. Landry College Prep, a small private school in Louisiana, boasted about its record of sending black students from working-class families to top universities. But there’s more to the story.Published OnNov. 30, 2018
In reality, the school falsified transcripts, made up student accomplishments and mined the worst stereotypes of black America to manufacture up-from-hardship tales that it sold to Ivy League schools hungry for diversity. The Landrys also fostered a culture of fear with physical and emotional abuse, students and teachers said. Students were forced to kneel on rice, rocks and hot pavement, and were choked, yelled at and berated.

The Landrys’ deception has tainted nearly everyone the school has touched, including students, parents and college admissions officers convinced of a myth.

The colleges “want to be able to get behind the black kids going off and succeeding, and going to all of these schools,” said Raymond Smith Jr., who graduated from T.M. Landry in 2017 and enrolled at N.Y.U. He said that Mr. Landry forced him to exaggerate his father’s absence from his life on his N.Y.U. application.

“It’s a good look,” these colleges “getting these bright, high-flying, came-from-nothing-turned-into-something students,” Mr. Smith said.

Penny Lane by The Beatles

Penny Lane by The Beatles

Double click to enlarge.

Penny Lane
The Beatles

Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs
Of every head he's had the pleasure to know
And all the people that come and go
Stop and say "Hello"

On the corner is a banker with a motorcar,
And little children laugh at him behind his back
And the banker never wears a mac
In the pouring rain, very strange

Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes
There beneath the blue suburban skies
I sit, and meanwhile back
In Penny Lane there is a fireman with an hourglass,
And in his pocket is a portrait of the Queen
He likes to keep his fire engine clean,
It's a clean machine

Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes
A four of fish and finger pies
In summer. Meanwhile back
Behind the shelter in the middle of the roundabout
The pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray
And though she feels as if she's in a play,
She is anyway

In Penny Lane the barber shaves another customer,
We see the banker sitting waiting for a trim,
And then the fireman rushes in
From the pouring rain - very strange

Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes
There beneath the blue suburban skies
I sit, and meanwhile back
Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes
There beneath the blue suburban skies
Penny Lane!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

These Hills by Iris DeMent

Double click to enlarge.

These Hills
by Iris DeMent

Far away I've traveled
To stand once more alone
And hear my memories echo
Through these hills that I call home

As a child I roamed this valley
I watched the seasons come and go
I spent many hours dreaming
On these hills that I call home

The wind is rushing through the valley
And I don't feel so all alone
When I see the dandelions blowing
Across the hills that I call home

Like the flowers I am fading
Into my setting sun
Brother and sister passed before me
Mama and Daddy they've long since gone

The wind is rushing through the valley
And I don't feel so all alone
When I see the dandelions blowing
Across the hills that I call home
These are the hills that I call home

I like the conclusion but cannot be blind to the fact that the data supporting the conclusion is anemic

Deeply skeptical of self-selected, self-report online survey results. But otherwise it fits priors, so lazily willing to consider it supportive. From Why do academics oppose the market? A test of Nozick’s hypothesis by Raul Magni-Berton and Diego Ríos

From the Abstract:
In this article, the authors explore why academics tend to oppose the market. To this intent the article uses normative political theory as an explanatory mechanism, starting with a conjecture originally suggested by Robert Nozick. Academics are over-represented amongst the best students of their cohort. School achievement engenders high expectations about future economic prospects. Yet markets are only contingently sensitive to school achievement. This misalignment between schools and markets is perceived by academics – and arguably by intellectuals in general – as morally unacceptable. To test this explanation, the article uses an online questionnaire with close to 1500 French academic respondents. The data resulting from this investigation lend support to Nozick’s hypothesis.
A different way of putting it: Academics spend the first 20 years of their lives in an environment which rewards a narrow range of human attributes such as IQ and diligence. The market-place rewards a much broader range or human attributes including grit, risk taking, time discounting, openness, talent-stacking, etc. At forty, the best of those who excelled in academia in the first twenty years and then stayed in academia for the next twenty years, are at a markedly lower sociological level of achievement (SES, income, wealth accumulation, mate choice, etc.) than the best of those who did well in academia and then did well in the market.

They accord their own lack of achievement to the randomness and arbitrariness of the market rather than 1) poor decision optimization choices on their own part and 2) the narrowness of their own range of capabilities.

Home Burial by Robert Frost

Home Burial
by Robert Frost

He saw her from the bottom of the stairs
Before she saw him. She was starting down,
Looking back over her shoulder at some fear.
She took a doubtful step and then undid it
To raise herself and look again. He spoke
Advancing toward her: ‘What is it you see
From up there always—for I want to know.’
She turned and sank upon her skirts at that,
And her face changed from terrified to dull.
He said to gain time: ‘What is it you see,’
Mounting until she cowered under him.
‘I will find out now—you must tell me, dear.’
She, in her place, refused him any help
With the least stiffening of her neck and silence.
She let him look, sure that he wouldn’t see,
Blind creature; and awhile he didn’t see.
But at last he murmured, ‘Oh,’ and again, ‘Oh.’

‘What is it—what?’ she said.

‘Just that I see.’

‘You don’t,’ she challenged. ‘Tell me what it is.’

‘The wonder is I didn’t see at once.
I never noticed it from here before.
I must be wonted to it—that’s the reason.
The little graveyard where my people are!
So small the window frames the whole of it.
Not so much larger than a bedroom, is it?
There are three stones of slate and one of marble,
Broad-shouldered little slabs there in the sunlight
On the sidehill. We haven’t to mind those.
But I understand: it is not the stones,
But the child’s mound—’

‘Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t,’ she cried.

She withdrew shrinking from beneath his arm
That rested on the banister, and slid downstairs;
And turned on him with such a daunting look,
He said twice over before he knew himself:
‘Can’t a man speak of his own child he’s lost?’

‘Not you! Oh, where’s my hat? Oh, I don’t need it!
I must get out of here. I must get air.
I don’t know rightly whether any man can.’

‘Amy! Don’t go to someone else this time.
Listen to me. I won’t come down the stairs.’
He sat and fixed his chin between his fists.
‘There’s something I should like to ask you, dear.’

‘You don’t know how to ask it.’

‘Help me, then.’

Her fingers moved the latch for all reply.

‘My words are nearly always an offense.
I don’t know how to speak of anything
So as to please you. But I might be taught
I should suppose. I can’t say I see how.
A man must partly give up being a man
With women-folk. We could have some arrangement
By which I’d bind myself to keep hands off
Anything special you’re a-mind to name.
Though I don’t like such things ’twixt those that love.
Two that don’t love can’t live together without them.
But two that do can’t live together with them.’
She moved the latch a little. ‘Don’t—don’t go.
Don’t carry it to someone else this time.
Tell me about it if it’s something human.
Let me into your grief. I’m not so much
Unlike other folks as your standing there
Apart would make me out. Give me my chance.
I do think, though, you overdo it a little.
What was it brought you up to think it the thing
To take your mother-loss of a first child
So inconsolably—in the face of love.
You’d think his memory might be satisfied—’

‘There you go sneering now!’

‘I’m not, I’m not!
You make me angry. I’ll come down to you.
God, what a woman! And it’s come to this,
A man can’t speak of his own child that’s dead.’

‘You can’t because you don't know how to speak.
If you had any feelings, you that dug
With your own hand—how could you?—his little grave;
I saw you from that very window there,
Making the gravel leap and leap in air,
Leap up, like that, like that, and land so lightly
And roll back down the mound beside the hole.
I thought, Who is that man? I didn’t know you.
And I crept down the stairs and up the stairs
To look again, and still your spade kept lifting.
Then you came in. I heard your rumbling voice
Out in the kitchen, and I don’t know why,
But I went near to see with my own eyes.
You could sit there with the stains on your shoes
Of the fresh earth from your own baby’s grave
And talk about your everyday concerns.
You had stood the spade up against the wall
Outside there in the entry, for I saw it.’

‘I shall laugh the worst laugh I ever laughed.
I’m cursed. God, if I don’t believe I’m cursed.’

‘I can repeat the very words you were saying:
“Three foggy mornings and one rainy day
Will rot the best birch fence a man can build.”
Think of it, talk like that at such a time!
What had how long it takes a birch to rot
To do with what was in the darkened parlor?
You couldn’t care! The nearest friends can go
With anyone to death, comes so far short
They might as well not try to go at all.
No, from the time when one is sick to death,
One is alone, and he dies more alone.
Friends make pretense of following to the grave,
But before one is in it, their minds are turned
And making the best of their way back to life
And living people, and things they understand.
But the world’s evil. I won’t have grief so
If I can change it. Oh, I won’t, I won’t!’

‘There, you have said it all and you feel better.
You won’t go now. You’re crying. Close the door.
The heart’s gone out of it: why keep it up.
Amy! There’s someone coming down the road!’

You—oh, you think the talk is all. I must go—
Somewhere out of this house. How can I make you—’

‘If—you—do!’ She was opening the door wider.
‘Where do you mean to go? First tell me that.
I’ll follow and bring you back by force. I will!—’

We take pride in the fact that we are thinking animals

From A Second Mencken Chrestomathy by H. L. Mencken.

I make this point all the time. Everything, especially everything changing or new, represents a cognitive load which we are always trying to lighten. Stereotypes, rules-of-thumb, prejudices, aphorisms, adages, axioms, they are all mechanisms to lighten the cognitive load. We are constantly exposed to them and generating them from on our own experiences. We pick them up, consciously and unconsciously, and use them for as long as they are beneficial.

Whenever someone wants to tackle these utilitarian techniques, particularly stereotypes and prejudices, they almost always attack them on moral grounds. They rarely address the purpose which they are serving.

There are legitimate moral issues attached to both stereotypes and prejudices, but a moral argument can only go so far. It is especially valuable when the stereotypes/prejudices are not functionally accurate. But when they are accurate and/or they are effective at reducing cognitive load and risk exposure, then moral arguments are constrained.

At this point, those attacking stereotypes/prejudices then switch to coercion, trying to either publicly shame or actively force a change in behavior. In general, this is counter-productive. The more useful from a utilitarian perspective is the cognitive short-cut, the greater the resentment, anger and resistance.

It would be much more valuable to figure out alternatives to achieve the same end. If the person is trying to lighten the cognitive load and reduce the risk profile, what are the other means to do so rather than attacking the demonstrated utility of stereotypes and prejudices. This can be hard work but is strategically the better approach. And usually the least explored.

From Mencken.
The power of the complex that I have mentioned is usually very much underestimated, not only by psychologists, but also by all other persons who pretend to enlightenment. We take pride in the fact that we are thinking animals, and like to believe that our thoughts are free, but the truth is that nine-tenths of them are rigidly conditioned by the babbling that goes on around us from birth, and that the business of considering this babbling objectively, separating the true in it from the false, is an intellectual feat of such stupendous difficulty that very few men are ever able to achieve it.

Pylos, 1955

Pylos, 1955 photo by Robert McCabe

Click to enlarge.

What if they had chosen respect and freedom rather than statist coercion?

From The media got it all wrong on the new US climate report by Bjorn Lomborg, a rational and measured critic of the policies attached to the AGW hypothesis. His public position is that climate is changing and that some portion of that change is caused by CO2. However, he is also cautious about the reliability of existing climate model forecasts and very focused on the underestimation of costs and overestimation of benefits which plague most AGW related recommendations.

I am broadly in agreement with his argument in this opinion piece. As an aside, it is a paradox that this "Opinion Piece" has a far stronger foundation in science, logic and evidence than does most the "straight" reporting of the mainstream media. If measured by evidence, logic and science, his piece would be the straight reporting and most the alarmist pieces from the mainstream media would be categorized as opinion.
Activists tend to exaggerate the impacts of climate change while underestimating the costs of tackling it. The reception to the new US climate assessment was instructive. The report largely attempts to remain soberly scientific, and follows the even more careful global report by the United Nations’ climate-science panel, known as the IPCC.

Sadly, accurate science doesn’t make for good television; predicting the end of times does.

Among many others, widely quoted climate scientist Michael Mann talked up the report to NPR and CNN, saying its predictions are already borne out in today’s “unprecedented weather extremes.”

Actually, the assessment, and science, tell a different story. “Drought statistics over the entire contiguous US have declined,” the report finds, reminding us that “the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s remains the benchmark drought and extreme heat event.”

On flooding, the assessment accepts the IPCC’s finding, which “did not attribute changes in flooding to anthropogenic [human] influence nor report detectable changes in flooding magnitude, duration or frequency.”

Even more dramatic was CNN’s headline, screaming that “climate change will shrink [US] economy” by 10 percent, a figure also repeated on The New York Times front page.

Actually, the UN’s climate scenarios envision US GDP per capita will more than triple by the end of this century, so this 10 percent reduction would come from an economy 300 percent larger than it is today. A slightly smaller bonanza, in other words.
Later in the article, there is this line.
While activists overstate the costs of climate change, they suggest its reversal is simply a matter of political will.
Lomberg does not develop this observation but I think is the crux of the issue - the use of "political will".

We can all legitimately argue about the degree, or really, the nature, of climate change and even more so, what might be causing that climate change. For the record, I believe that climate, as a loosely coupled set of complex, dynamic, chaotic, systems is always evolving. I also believe that we are materially handicapped in assessing to what degree, where, and in what direction those changes are occurring based on the recency, incompleteness, and inconsistencies of our data records. I suspect that there are plenty of hard-to-measure corollary benefits to emissions reductions (all emissions, gas and other) which enhance the possible value proposition beyond the monomaniacal focus on CO2.

Regardless of how we resolve the description (what has happened?), the diagnosis (why did it happen?), and the forecast (what will happen?), the rub of the issue is in the prescription (what should we do?)

All the prescriptions are inherently statist - the state will resolve the description, diagnosis and forecast and based on that, the state will then settle on a prescription and use its monopoly of force to execute that prescription regardless of the impact on citizens. The State will behave as an unconstrained state and not as a republican democracy with all its checks and balances.

Avid AGW enthusiasts attempt to characterize any questions about description, diagnosis, and prescription as science-denying, blindly and incongruously objecting that free inquiry and skepticism are somehow injurious to rational decision-making.

The crux of the issue is that avid AGW enthusiasts have not made their case to the citizenry. They have presented it, but it has not been accepted. The Mandarin class has accepted the premises and argument of AGW-enthusiasts but then they would. Since the prescriptions are entirely beneficial to the Mandarin class, they get to posture virtue and enhance their power. AGW prescriptions are entirely beneficial to the Mandarin class.

But those who pay, in terms of higher taxes, lower life quality, less freedom, etc. have yet to be convinced that the possible dangers actually warrant the statist prescriptions. Here in America and across the OECD, and certainly in still developing countries, the citizenry do not view AGW as a pressing issue and are strongly averse to the prescriptions (handing money, freedom and control to the Mandarins) for addressing it.

Hence, I believe, the hysteria and misrepresentation of AGW science by the Mandarins, including the MSM. The citizenry are not buying what the Mandarins are selling and the Mandarins see no prescription other than coercion and force. Otherwise known as Political Will.

I think we are long past the point where AGW ideologues can regain trust and credibility in this argument. They have already shown their hand and it is the careless, crushing, coercive hand of the state.

But it is interesting to speculate - thirty years ago, as this all began, would we be in a different place if the AGW ideologues had been committed to respecting the intelligence and value of citizens and had focused on convincing rather than coercing? And if they had taken that approach, might we not be further along?

It is striking that the country most resistant to the centralized, coercive approach, the US, has also been the one which has achieved the greatest reduction in economic energy intensity, the greatest reduction in emissions, and at the same time, shown the strongest economic performance among OECD countries.

Perhaps there is a lesson in there. Don't rely on statist coercion, work within the system of checks and balances in order to obtain commitment and agreement from citizens. A pretty radical idea.

Downtown by Petula Clark

Downtown by Petula Clark

Double click to enlarge.

by Petula Clark

When you're alone, and life is making you lonely
You can always go
When you've got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know
Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty
How can you lose?

The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares
So go downtown, things'll be great when you're
Downtown, no finer place for sure
Downtown everything's waiting for you


Don't hang around and let your problems surround you
There are movie shows
Maybe you know some little places to go to
Where they never close
Just listen to the rhythm of a gentle bossa nova
You'll be dancing with him too before the night is over
Happy again

The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares
So go downtown, where all the lights are bright
Downtown, waiting for you tonight
Downtown, you're gonna be alright now

Downtown, downtown
And you may find somebody kind to help and understand you
Someone who is just like you and needs a gentle hand to
Guide them along

So maybe I'll see you there
We can forget all our troubles, forget all our cares
So go downtown, things'll be great when you're
Downtown, don't wait a minute for
Downtown, everything's waiting for you

Downtown, downtown, downtown, downtown
Downtown, downtown, downtown, downtown, downtown, downtown

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A great constancy in marital matters

From The Diary of Samuel Pepys, the entry for January 6th, 1663. Three-and-a-half centuries ago. Pepys and his wife have returned in a coach from having spent a couple of nights at Lord Sandwich's lodgings in Whitehall Palace.
Myself somewhat vexed at my wife’s neglect in leaving of her scarf, waistcoat, and night-dressings in the coach today that brought us from Westminster, though, I confess, she did give them to me to look after, yet it was her fault not to see that I did take them out of the coach.
She tells him to look after her things.

He forgets to remove them from the coach.

He blames her for not noticing that he failed to remove them from the coach.

Got it. Human nature.

A Calvinist, an Okie and a Hispanic meet in a bar - and vote down the national debt.

The Okies are my people. From The Grapes of Path Dependence: The Long-Run Political Impact of the Dust Bowl Migration by Adam Ramey. From the Abstract:
In this paper, we show that the migrations of millions of Okies from the central plains to California has a demonstrable effect on political outcomes to this day, even after accounting for other relevant geographic and demographic factors. After demonstrating this pattern at the electoral level, we leverage a decade's worth of survey data and show that Hispanics living in areas with large Okie migrations in the 1930s are much more likely to have conservative social values and, importantly, to vote and identify as Republicans. Put together, these results suggest that the historical legacies of migration can have a strong and sustained impact even after nearly a century after the fact.
A few years ago I commented on the phenomenon of cultural persistence in Cultural valuation of education and this paper is consistent with that.

Historical Monument to the American Republic by Erastus Field

Historical Monument to the American Republic by Erastus Field

Click to enlarge.

Stark Boughs on the Family Tree by Mary Oliver

Stark Boughs on the Family Tree
by Mary Oliver

Up in the attic on row on row,
In dusty frames, with stubborn eyes,
My thin ancestors slowly fade
Under the flat Ohio skies.

And so, I think, they always were:
Like their own portrait, years ago,
They paced the blue and windy fields,
Aged in the polished rooms below.

For name by name I find no sign
Of hero in this distant life,
But only men as calm as snow
Who took some faithful girl as wife,

Who labored while the drought, the flood
Crisscrossed the fickle summer air,
Who built great barns and propped their lives
Upon a slow heart-breaking care.

Why do I love them as I do,
Who dared no glory, won no fame?
In a harsh land that lies subdued,
They are the good boughs of my name.

If music sailed their dreams at all,
They were not heroes, and slept on;
As one by one they left the small
Accomplished, till the great was done.

To the Top of the Mountain

Just finished To the Top of the Mountain by Arne Dahl. He writes the Intercrime series, murder mysteries set in Stockholm. I am enjoing the series so far.

Guys, danger and self-deprecating humor.

Sometimes the only way to address a problem is with self-deprecating humor. Hats off to this gentleman.

Hard to watch. Hard not to watch. Swiss Mishap.

Double click to enlarge.

Reminds me of an incident in my youth. We were in Sweden. My father was the operations manager for a Swedish oil company exploring the Baltic for oil deposits. My aunt and uncle were visiting from the US. My uncle was also in the oil industry. Among my many blessings in life has been the quality of men who came before. Both my father and uncle were admirable. Both of an engineering bent, engaging with the world as it was, both entrepreneurial, both adventurers, both pilots, both with the highest standards of themselves, both open to everyone and the whole world. I miss them both.

While we were world-travelers, my uncle was well rooted in his corner of America. This trip to Sweden was something of an adventure. Little did he know.

The operations base for the offshore platform was on the island of Gotland in the Baltic. My father proposed, and my uncle jumped at the opportunity, that they spend the day on the off-shore drilling platform (all my uncle's oil and gas explorations were onshore, he had never been on an offshore platform which, engineering-wise, is a different kettle of fish). They would catch the routine supply helicopter run in the morning, fly out to the platform, spend the day discussing the operations and catch the return flight in the afternoon. The best laid plans . . .

My aunt was not nearly as enthused at this opportunity as my uncle. How high would they fly, how far, etc.? The two brothers are aw-shucking, it's nothing, she's anxious. But eventually, a green light.

We are all up in Stockholm, my mom and aunt doing some touring, we kids are in school. The brothers are down in Gotland boarding the helicopter.

Twenty minutes into the flight the shaft to the rear rotor starts making a grinding noise. Soon after there is bad vibration. And then the shaft snaps. Without the rear rotor, the craft begins to spin. The pilot is quick on the mark and immediately shuts off the main engine to bring the spin under control. As best he can, he regains control to get as much glide as they can, buying time in the air. He calls in a May Day to the oil platform who immediately relay it to the Swedish Coast Guard. Almost immediately a military jet plane in the vicinity is dispatched to the radioed location.

Fortunately, the helicopter was of a pontoon design. They go into the water but stay upright. The calm sea from above ends up actually being several foot waves which immediately begin flexing, stretching and tearing the structure of the helicopter. The rear fuselage tears off but is hanging by wiring and cables. My dad is casting anxious glances at the sharp edges and their close proximity to the pontoons.

In short minutes, they see the Air Force jet take up a holding pattern above them, keeping them in sight until a Coast Guard rescue helicopter can arrive.

As my dad described it, there was never any panic, just a pragmatic growing realization of their vulnerability. Small helicopter, perilous flotation, bone-cold water despite being summer, rapid deterioration of conditions as the small craft is pounded by the waves. The level-headed engineers are cracking jokes with one another:
Dad: You're going to be in trouble with your wife.

Uncle: You're going to be in trouble with my wife.
Within half an hour, the Coast Guard helicopter arrives and takes up station above them. In no time, the Coast Guard diver is down in the water and swimming over to them. One by one they are all winched up. After the pilot is recovered, they all return to the Coast Guard station. After paperwork and debriefing, they are released.

Meantime, my father's work colleagues have called my mom to let her know what is happening. They keep the updates flowing as things progress. Once she knows they are safe back on land, she calls my school, afraid that on my commute home I will see some exaggerated tabloid account on the news stands. I am called from class to Mrs. Dietze's office, the principal, who calmly explains the situation in such a deadpan way that it is as if I am being told that my dad will be home late from work. Very effective. It was only later that I began to comprehend the full nature of the situation.

So the two brother's day trip to the off-shore platform ended up being aborted. I am not sure my uncle ever got to see an operating off-shore platform. Certainly not if my aunt had anything to do with it. She was quite clear she would have nothing more to do with this boy's outing nonsense. What I remember perhaps most vividly is their down-playing of the dangers, their humor and joking to defuse concerns, and their own enjoyment of their adventure.

But what great guys. Engaged, effective, considerate, smart, adventurous. Unsung but deeply appreciated.

Puppet on a String by Sandie Shaw

Puppet on a String by Sandie Shaw

Double click to enlarge.

Puppet on a String
by Sandie Shaw

I wonder if one day that,
You'll say that, you care
If you say you love me madly,
I'll gladly, be there
Like a puppet on a string

Love is just like a merry-go-round
With all the fun of the fair
One day I'm feeling down on the ground
Then I'm up in the air
Are you leading me on?
Tomorrow will you be gone?

I wonder if one day that,
You'll say that, you care
If you love me madly,
I'll gladly, be there
Like a puppet on a string

I may win on the roundabout
Then I'll lose on the swings
In or out, there is never a doubt
Just who's pulling the strings
I'm all tied up to you
But where's it leading me to?

I wonder if one day that,
You'll say that, you care
If you say you love me madly,
I'll gladly, be there
Like a puppet on a string

I wonder if one day that,
You'll say that, you care
If you say you love me madly,
I'll gladly, be there
Like a puppet on a string
Like a puppet on a, string

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Bezmenov and Gramscian zombies

I came across this old interview. How To Brainwash A Nation with G. Edward Griffin interviewing a Soviet defector, Yuri Bezmenov. It is so ham fisted that I looked up Griffin and discovered he was a member of the John Birch society, explaining the old-style Cold Warrior anti-communism evident in the interview.

Double click to enlarge.

Yuri Bezmenov identifies four stages of Soviet foreign policy to achieve subversion of the West.
Having grown up in the shadow of the Soviet Union, and seen their sophisticated interference with domestic policies and politics in Europe, and read some of the works of Antonio Gramsci, I have long been aware of the long-game Soviet strategy of subversion. I am unfamiliar with Bezmenov and therefore have no means of weighting his credibility.

I have wondered whether the seeds planted during the cold war of a Gramscian struggle of subversion through seizure of the cultural and communication heights of a society might explain the prevalence and unthinking acceptance of postmodernism, critical theory, social justice, multiculturalism and intersectionality in mainstream media, education, compliance bureaucracies, and entertainment. Are we suffering the continued effects of a zombie strategy from decades ago?

This interview from 1985 does not convince me that that is what has happened. On the other hand, it also does not allay any concerns. It is not clear to me how and in what meaningful way, things might appear different in our current circumstances based on whether there was a Gramscian strategy or not. It appears that we have a Gramscian effect, whether or not it is the consequence of a Soviet Gramscian strategy.

Mighty Quinn

Double click to enlarge.

Mighty Quinn
by Manfred Mann

Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like the Mighty Quinn
Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like the Mighty Quinn

Everybody's building ships and boats
Some are building monuments, others are jotting down notes
Everybody's in despair, every girl and boy
But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here
Everybody's gonna jump for joy

Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like the Mighty Quinn

I like to go just like the rest, I like my sugar sweet
But jumping queues and makin' haste, just ain't my cup of meat
Everyone's beneath the trees, feedin' pigeons on a limb
But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here
All the pigeons gonna run to him

Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like the Mighty Quinn
Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like the Mighty Quinn

Let me do what I wanna do, I can't decide 'em all
Just tell me where to put 'em and I'll tell you who to call
Nobody can get no sleep, there's someone on everyone's toes
But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here
Everybody's gonna wanna doze

Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like the Mighty Quinn
Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like the Mighty Quinn
Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like the Mighty Quinn
Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like the Mighty Quinn

The Destruction of Sodom And Gomorrah

The Destruction of Sodom And Gomorrah, 1852 by John Martin (1789–1854)

Click to enlarge.

The mismeasurement of education

Among the many crises of education is a crisis of measurement - we don't know what to measure, we don't measure it very well, and we don't quite know what the data we do have actually tells us.

From HS Graduation Rates Go Up Even as Students and Teachers Fail to Show Up by Max Diamond.
Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School in Washington, D.C., seemed to be doing great: A public school that enrolls only economically disadvantaged students, its graduation rate hit a recent high of 94.5 percent during the 2016-17 school year.

Yet in that same year, three-quarters of the students at Phelps were absent more than 10 percent of the time.

Phelps reflects a national trend in which high schools across the country have both high absenteeism and high graduation rates. A recent national study by the U.S. Department of Education showed that about one in seven students missed 15 days or more during the 2013-14 school year – the year before the national high school graduation rate hit an all-time high of 84 percent.

Students aren’t the only ones not showing up – absenteeism is also common among teachers. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank, found that in 2013-2014, at least one-fifth of traditional public-school teachers missed more than 10 days in 32 of the 35 states studied. According to federal data, in 2015, more than 41 percent of Rhode Island’s teachers were absent more than 10 days of the year. That was an increase from under 40 percent in 2013, but Rhode Island’s graduation rate nevertheless has hit an all-time high.

"It’s really easy to graduate more kids,” said David Griffith, a policy associate at the Fordham Institute. “You just graduate them.”
A good education is a high-stakes enterprise. You learn skills, accumulate knowledge, flesh out your capabilities, acquire social norms, etc.

And yet. . . We really don't have particularly good or sophisticated mechanisms to measure how well children are learning. We are reluctant to address social norms. We struggle distinguishing a good teacher from mediocre from bad. We have no idea about how to measure the gap between potential and achievement. Of the measures we do have, most are easy to game (grades, graduation, etc.). The one measure which is reasonably solid, IQ, is widely reviled in some quarters.

Earlier this year, we discovered that the rapidly improving graduation rates in Washington, D.C. were achieved by good old-fashioned chicanery. A few years ago, we discovered that the much heralded improvement in Atlanta Public School standardized tests was the result of good old-fashioned cheating - by teachers and administrators. And these were just the flagship scandals - the few crystalized instances of what was known to be happening extensively in other school systems.

So what Diamond is reporting is not especially surprising (I have a number of posts related to education and graduation). But it is a new wrinkle. While measuring how much student learn can be challenging, measuring whether they are there or not is relatively straight-forward. It is a straight-forward easily determinable thing to measure, though it can still easily be manipulated.

None-the-less, Diamond is pointing out that attendance measures are serving as a proxy red flag. How can graduation scores be improving while at the same time chronic absenteeism is also increasing. Hypothetically you can create a number of scenarios where that could be true, it is just unlikely to be true.

We keep trying to centralize and standardize learning across regions and cultures and values and circumstances that defy standardization. While I value education highly, and am enamored with the romantic idea of a shared community education system, the reality of public school seems to support ever more radical reforms. Left to themselves, the enterprises of public education always seem to work agendas for stakeholders other than those of interest to parents and their children.

It is a system that seems destined to radicalize citizens.

What Shall He Tell That Son? by Carl Sandburg

What Shall He Tell That Son?
by Carl Sandburg

A father sees a son nearing manhood.
What shall he tell that son?
'Life is hard; be steel; be a rock.'
And this might stand him for the storms
and serve him for humdrum and monotony
and guide him amid sudden betrayals
and tighten him for slack moments.
'Life is a soft loam; be gentle; go easy.'
And this too might serve him.
Brutes have been gentled where lashes failed.
The growth of a frail flower in a path up
has sometimes shattered and split a rock.
A tough will counts. So does desire.
So does a rich soft wanting.
Without rich wanting nothing arrives.
Tell him too much money has killed men
And left them dead years before burial:
The quest of lucre beyond a few easy needs
Has twisted good enough men
Sometimes into dry thwarted worms.
Tell him time as a stuff can be wasted.
Tell him to be a fool every so often
and to have no shame over having been a fool
yet learning something out of every folly
hoping to repeat none of the cheap follies
thus arriving at intimate understanding
of a world numbering many fools.

Tell him to be alone often and get at himself
and above all tell himself no lies about himself
whatever the white lies and protective fronts
he may use amongst other people.
Tell him solitude is creative if he is strong
and the final decisions are made in silent rooms.
Tell him to be different from other people
if it comes natural and easy being different.
Let him have lazy days seeking his deeper motives.
Let him seek deep for where he is a born natural.
Then he may understand Shakespeare
and the Wright brothers, Pasteur, Pavlov,
Michael Faraday and free imaginations
Bringing changes into a world resenting change.
He will be lonely enough
to have time for the work
he knows as his own.

Using coercion instead of respecting choice; mistaking charity for gratitude.

When you are working in the free market where people choose to purchase your goods and services from you, you can know that you are providing a desired thing and that you are making the other person's life better. They are giving up something of value to them (money) in order to have something you have produced which is of even greater value to them. We don't think of it in this way - we are just doing business. But the free market with associated price signals is a fantastic and incomprehensibly complex mechanism which both optimizes well-being as well as optimizes efficiency.

How cool is that?

Yet we take it for granted and it is always under sustained assault by people who are very comfortable assuming that they know better than others and that that there is some cosmic reason justifying that they should be allowed to coerce people into making different choices. These are the Social Justice Jacobins. Their arrogance and corresponding errors are astounding but they, like the poor, are always with us.

Then you have the privileged do-gooders. Also people who assume they know better than everyone else. They do not have the power of coercion but they do have the power of their own money (or that of others, too frequently unassuming tax-payers) which they spend to encourage people to make different decisions than they otherwise would.

These pathological altruists feel they are doing good but almost always make things work. They do not know enough about the complex system with which they are interfering. If they are able to sway with money some poor individuals, it almost ends up that the poor suffer and the privileged altruist escapes harm or censure.

I have always tended to think of them as well-intended bad eggs. Individuals who are tending their own sense of status or psychological well-being at the expense of their victims.

Alex Tabarrok has an interesting review of a book by the same name as the title of his Post, Thanks a Thousand. This passage is a great reminder of the moral foundations of an open market. Emphasis added.
Jacobs sometimes forgets, however, that the value of gratitude is more in the giving than in the receiving. He thus confuses gratitude with charity. But gratitude is neither payment nor alms. It’s nice to be recognized and thanked but thanks don’t make the world go round.
I ask Andy whether it feels good that the coffee in his warehouse brings joy to millions of people. Andy looks at me, his eyebrows knit. It’s as if I just asked him if he enjoys being a Buddhist monk who mediates ten hours a day.

“Well let me ask you this,” I say, “What are you thankful for?”

“My paycheck,” he says, laughing.
I like Andy. Andy understands that working solely for the sake of others can be demeaning and degrading. Andy is working for himself and his loved ones and more power to him. Beyond a few special relationships, to make doing for others one’s primary motive is undignified and subservient. Humans are not worker ants eager to die for love of their Queen. Each person’s life is their own.

Of course, it is an age-old wisdom we can recognize from a quarter of a millennium ago when Adam Smith said.
But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and shew them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity, but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages. Nobody but a beggar chooses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow-citizens.
When you are in the free market working and respecting the rights of your free fellow citizens and you are successful selling your goods or services, you know you are making the world better. It is when people confuse coercion for choice and charity for gratitude that things start to go astray.

His Momma named him Clay, I'm gonna call him Clay.

Starting with this thread, where Hans Fiene is making an argument against the coercive, totalitarian and deviant-from-norms behavior of social media companies. Among his points is that Twitter is claiming to apply a standard set of rules and yet the rules are arbitrarily applied, they are philosophically incoherent, and they are deviant from American norms. Fair enough - there is sufficient truth in there for a good argument.

What is notable is that the thread discourse is reasonably sincere and informed. Good stuff. Here is the opening shot.

There is a sub-discussion about the nature of respect, whether it can be imposed or has to be earned, what is the role of a third-party in policing free debate, the naming of things, and especially whether a third-party has the duty to force all parties in the conversation to accept each other's predicate belief systems. Example: If you are physiologically a male but insist you are a woman, does Twitter have a duty to force all others to accept your predicate assumption which is at variance with their own predicates?

Worthwhile things to consider. But what I especially enjoyed was someone's incorporation of the barbershop scene from Coming to America, the 1988 comedy movie starring Eddie Murphy. The movie had its critics but it did exceptionally well in the box office.

One recurrent motif was scenes in the neighborhood barbershop with a cast of recognizable characters from neighborhoods across America. Old friends who abuse one another, have recurrent conversations where nothing new is said but is often said differently, and where underlying good humor and respect provide a stable foundation. One device was the fact that Eddie Murry played three of the roles in the scenes - Clarence the barber, Saul the resident patron, and, of course, Murphy's lead character, Akeem Joffer.

The scene is pertinent to the twitter thread because it touches on respect and naming. Cassius Clay or Mohammed Ali? Again, a conversation repeated for years across America, both inconsequential and yet significant in the naming of things.

Morris: Pound for pound, Sugar Ray Robinson's the greatest fighter that ever lived!

Clarence: Aw, come on, man! What about Joe Louis?

Saul: The Brown Bomber! Now that was a great boxer!

Morris: You damn right!

Sweets: I suppose nobody in here ever heard of Cassius Clay?

Morris: He got a point. Cassius Clay was a bad motherfucker!

Clarence: I ain't saying Clay ain't bad. I'm just saying I stopped liking Cassius Clay once he changed his name to Moh-hammad Ali! What kinda shit is that?

Saul: Wait a second, wait a second! A man has got the right to change his name to whatever he wants to change it to. And if a man wants to be called Muhammad Ali, Goddamit, this is a free country, you should respect his wishes, and call the man Muhammad Ali!

Morris: His Momma named him Clay, I'm gonna call him Clay.

Clarence: Mmm-hmm! That's right!

Sweets: I say Clay.

Saul: Get outta here.

Clarence: Ha-ha-ha! That's right! That's right! He gonna always be Clay to me. I don't give a fuck what he change his name to. He is Clay! He Clay to me. I say Clay.

Saul: Well, then, you're a putz. The three of you. Three putzes. You should change the name outside from My-T-Sharp to The Three Putzes.

A compilation of all the scenes. I really enjoyed Murphy's performance as Saul. That's acting for you.

Double click to enlarge.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Tell me the story in means, deviations and effect sizes.

Effect size, and the unreporting of them, is a longstanding plaint of mine. Stephen Vaisey points out another aspect which is also equally valid - the relative significance in differences between group effects. Or more specifically, the relative insignificance of differences at the mean.

Heh. The comment string is excellent, including this equally pertinent graph:

Heh, heh.

Means, standard deviations, effect sizes - tell me those things and I begin to understand.

Outage about group differences almost always ends up being outrage at what is happening in the tails where the instances are dramatically fewer anyway. You can make much ado about the uniqueness of a few things at the end of the tails or you can celebrate the great commonality in the middle. Your response depends on you and not the data per se.

Civility in the internet - rules for the road

From Civility in politics queries by Tyler Cowen. His guidelines aren't bad.
a. Don’t say anything on-line that you wouldn’t say to a person face-to-face. (And I really do hope this constrains you.)

b. Don’t ever think that an analogy with Nazis justifies your behavior, even if it is your behavior toward…Nazis.

c. Don’t lose your cool. Always trying to sound more intelligent than those you are arguing against is not a terrible starting point.

d. Don’t deploy what I call “loose adjectives,” the most common one being “stupid,” another being “dangerous.” You probably write with too many adjectives anyway.

e. Criticize the idea, not the person. Don’t presume you have such a wonderful sense of the motives of those you disagree with.

f. Learn how to learn from those who offend you.

g. Reexamine your writings and try to roughly measure the ratio of positive sentiments to negative sentiments. If that number is not ten to one or higher, reassess what you are doing.
Some additional thoughts from my own blogging. Because I recognize the lessons does not mean I am yet good at applying them.
Argue to learn, not to convince.

Truth is the goal, not winning.

Try (and its so hard) to address the facts in evidence, not the imputed motives or the implied argument.

Be specific and concrete.

Avoid troll traps. Do not emulate trolls, don't feed them.

Switch it up. Its easy to focus on what you perceive as the most important. The more you do that, the more tiresome you risk becoming.

Fallen Angels Entering Pandemonium, ca. 1841 by John Martin

Fallen Angels Entering Pandemonium, ca. 1841 by John Martin

Click to enlarge.

The Geese by Richard Peck

The Geese
by Richard Peck

My father was the first to hear
The passage of the geese each fall,
Passing above the house so near,
He’d hear within his heart their call.

And then at breakfast time he'd say:
"The geese were heading south last night,"
For he had lain awake till day,
Feeling his earthbound soul take flight.

Knowing that winter's wind comes soon
After the rushing of those wings,
Seeing them pass before the moon,
Recalling the lure of far-off things.

The New York Times is the Marie Antoinette of the mainstream media

Heh. The Stupefying Hypocrisy of the Luxury-Peddling New York Times by Heather Mac Donald.

Glenn Reynolds is fond of saying, apropos whatever the current mainstream media facilitated hysteria might be, that "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."

Mac Donald calls out the ever panicky New York Times on the inconsistency between the alarm they express about climate change and their call for ordinary Americans to substantially reduce their quality of life (dramatically higher taxes, dramatically lower consumption of everything) and the ever desperate for money and status New York Times and the services they offer their privileged readers who are able to pay.
For only $150K, you, too, can tour the globe by private jet with the New York Times’ finest thought leaders.

The New York Times has been editorializing on a nearly daily basis since the election about the danger posed by President-elect Donald Trump to the very future of the earth. Rallying its readers on Thursday for the coming “Trump Years,” it argued against “fear or despondency” because “there is too much to be done.” For starters, according to the Times: “There is a planet to save. The earth is in peril from a changing climate no matter how many deniers say otherwise.” The day before, the paper had lamented that Trump may “repudiate last December’s Paris agreement on climate change, thereby abandoning America’s leadership role in addressing the biggest long-term threat to humanity.”

In the short term, however, if you’re a Times executive, marketer, or columnist, it’s still time to party, with all the oomph that a gasoline-fueled, capitalist economy can provide. In October, the Times announced its first-ever “Around the World by Private Jet” tour, slated for early 2018. “An Exclusive Private Charter,” in the words of the “luxury travel” firm of Abercrombie & Kent, will transport a mere “50 guests” to exotic locales in luxury hand-made leather flat-bed seats with “relaxing massage and adjustable lumbar support,” as a “dedicated flight crew attends” to their needs. The “guests” will “Enjoy Exclusive Events & Privileged Access,” such as private dining in Bogota’s Salt Cathedral, camping in luxury in the Moroccan desert, and exclusive after-hours access to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland.

The tour’s “exclusively chartered Boeing 757” ordinarily seats up to 295 passengers, of the pathetically non-“high-luxury” variety. So the carbon footprint of the Times’ 50 guests will be close to six times that of a commercial-jet traveler. If any of the guests feels a twinge of guilt over his greenhouse-gas emissions, he can chase it away by “enjoying a champagne toast inside an Icelandic ice funnel,” before learning “how climate change is affecting the land of fire and ice.” That’s after having been whisked to Easter Island to “learn how climate change is affecting” that location.

Among the New York Times’ “most noteworthy journalists” who will be joining the “privileged guests” is columnist Nicholas Kristof, who has criticized Trump for his climate-change skepticism and who rails against income inequality and a tax code that, among other things, provides tax breaks for buying private planes. The “privileged guests” who will pay $148,500 for single occupancy, $135,000 for double occupancy, in such properties as a “former Persian caravansary,” will no doubt nod appreciatively at Kristof’s hand-wringing about income disparities. Naturally, a port-of-call in Havana is planned, where “guests” will surely learn about the wonders of socialized medicine.
In terms of self-awareness, engagement with reality, and respect for the freedoms and rights of others, The New York Times is the Marie Antoinette of the mainstream media.

The insufferable arrogance of calling for belt-tightening and sacrifice by the hoi polloi while indulging in conspicuous consumption and preening for the Mandarin class is how you get the Storming of the Bastille.

90% home ownership

From Shades of 2008 - Unprecedented Levels of China's Debt Threaten the Entire Global Economy by Andreas Kern and Cora Jungbluth. I don't disagree that there are good reasons to be concerned about China's potential exposure to debt as well reasons to be concerned if the Chinese do not continue to manage their economy well. The specifics of the causal mechanism remain obscure as do the parameters of the possible consequences.

However, this I did not know:
Driven by an almost uninterrupted property boom, household debt has exploded. China’s home ownership is now among the highest in the world at 89.68 %, rising from almost zero two decades ago. More than half of Chinese family wealth is now held in the form of property, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (SCMP August 6 2017).
90% home ownership? Astounding! In two decades? Inconceivable.

In mature, stable developed economies such as the US, German, Britain, France, etc. home ownership ranges from a low of 51% in Germany to a high of 70% in the Netherlands. In the Anglophone economies it is typically +/- 2% of 66%.

With state financial conditions unknown but suspected of being overexposed, combined with such an extraordinary exposure to property on the consumer side of the equation - those are good reasons to be extra alarmed. For the past thirty years, the Chinese technocrats have done a superb job. Have they just been hiding problems with debt>

Love is Blue by Paul Mauriat

Love is Blue by Paul Mauriat.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The forgetting began almost as soon as the last shot was fired, and it has been going on ever since.

Working hard to winnow my many thousands of books, I am constantly sorting through stacks, trying to find something that I bought in duplicate, or of such narrow interest that I am unlikely to read it, or finding a book which fundamentally is not especially interesting. I am getting better at this but the yield rate is exceptionally low.

As an indication of my weak will, Home Life in Colonial Days written in 1898 by Alice Morse Earle continues to survive the cut. I tell myself that really, if a stranger just read a few passages, they would see how interesting it is. I tell myself that, and believe it, but I have to acknowledge its improbability. As a consequence, lack of space continues pressing in on me.

In pursuit of this fool's errand of fewer books, which, after some hours, has only yielded half a dozen books for dispossal, I come across Perilous Fight by Stephen Budiansky. Really, just how deep is my interest in the War of 1812? Maybe this one can go.

I open the covers, usually a bad sign in terms of achieving disposal. The first two paragraphs speak directly to The great knack of unremembering which I just posted two or three hours ago. Immediate salience. OK, it stays.
“Many wars have been called “the forgotten war”: those words have become a catchphrase much beloved of military historians seeking to excuse their obsession with obscurity. But rarely was a war—or at least large parts of a war—forgotten with such swiftness, and such mutual determination, as the War of 1812. America and Britain both had things they wanted to forget, and forget quickly, about this often brutal three-year fight that raged across half a globe, from the wilderness of the northwestern forests to the capital cities of Canada and the United States, from the seas off Chile to the mouth of the English Channel. The forgetting began almost as soon as the last shot was fired, and it has been going on ever since.

It would be decades before the war even had a name; until the 1850s this war that left thirty thousand dead, that pushed the fledgling American republic to the brink of bankruptcy and secession, that brought down some of the loftiest military reputations of the Revolutionary generation to ruin and disgrace, that saw hundreds of American citizens executed by firing squad for desertion, was most often just called “the late war” or “the late war with Great Britain.” “The War of 1812” came into widespread use only after the Mexican War of 1846–48 usurped the place of the “late war” in American memory. It proved a memorable phrase, yet like “the late war,” it sidestepped any memory of why the war had been fought, or even whom it had been fought against.

Ruins with Legend of Saint Augustine by Monsu Desiderio

Ruins with Legend of Saint Augustine by Monsu Desiderio

Click to enlarge.

Haying, 1939 by Grant Wood

Love Grant Wood

Haying, 1939 by Grant Wood

Click to enlarge.

Trade-offs. Will they never go away?

From What the Prescription Drug Debate Gets Wrong by John Tierney.
The American pharmaceutical industry is the most innovative in the world and saves more lives than any other institution. So, of course, it is also the national villain.

In this autumn’s election, once again, voters say that one of the top issues—the top issue, in some polls—is lowering the price of prescription drugs. Politicians of both parties ritually denounce Big Pharma for profiteering. In his first press conference as president, Donald Trump accused drug companies of “getting away with murder,” and Bernie Sanders has called the industry’s greed a “public-health hazard to the American people.” A central plank in the “Better Deal” that Democrats are promising in the midterm elections is for the federal government to “negotiate” drug prices, and some progressives don’t even make that semantical pretense. They call for outright price controls, if not the “deprivatization” of the industry, on the grounds that Big Pharma is too powerful to be constrained by market forces.


At one level, this is just political opportunism. Big Pharma is easy to resent because its products are so essential, and it’s easy to attack because it’s actually not so big. Of every dollar that Americans spend on health, only a dime goes for prescription drugs. The lion’s share of health spending goes to hospitals and people in the health-care professions, whose relatively high fees and salaries are largely responsible for Americans bearing the world’s highest health-care costs. But how many politicians want to go after doctors and nurses? What Democrat would dare arouse the ire of the health-care unions? Much easier to scapegoat the greedy drug companies.

The critics do get one thing right: the pharmaceutical industry is no paragon of free-market capitalism. Companies spend much of their time appeasing regulators instead of satisfying customers. The bureaucratic delays and complexities discourage innovation and competition, allowing some firms to profit by gaming the rules rather than developing new drugs. The system is so opaque and convoluted that both parties agree that it needs to be reformed.


The obvious explanation, at least to the academics and journalists and politicians who have dominated the debate for decades, is that America lacks the nationalized health systems of other developed countries. Too much of the money goes into the coffers of drug companies, private insurers, advertisers, and other profiteers. To make health care affordable and spread the benefits equitably, America must emulate the systems in Europe and countries like Canada and Japan.

The conclusion sounds plausible until you take a closer look at the numbers. Yes, Americans do spend more, but they can afford more because their incomes are higher, and they’re getting more in return. Yes, the statistics are better in other countries, but it’s not because of their price-controlled drugs and national health services. If America adopted their policies, the gaps would only widen.

The gap in life expectancy is due to demographic and cultural differences, starting with the much greater ethnic and economic diversity in the United States. Fans of government health care like to point to Sweden and Norway, where people live three years longer than Americans, but that gap shrinks to one year if you consider just Minnesota, a state with relatively little poverty or racial diversity and lots of well-educated Scandinavian-Americans. The U.S. life expectancy at birth, 79 years, looks bad compared with Singapore’s 83 or Japan’s 84 (the world’s highest), but people from those countries live even longer in the United States. The life expectancy for Asian-Americans is at least 85, and some estimates put it at 87. Some of that added longevity is presumably due to the American health-care system, though it’s hard to quantify because so many variables affect life expectancy: genes, income, education, diet, exercise, lifestyle, and other cultural factors.
Indeed, this latter point is critical. It is the Simpson's Paradox which undermines almost every conclusion based on drawing comparisons between the US and any other OECD country.

When you compare American lifespan, morbidity, PISA scores in education, etc. the US comes in at the mid-range or upper third of the OECD average, rarely at the top. There are a lot of potential reasons for this.

The one that explains most or all of the gaps is the Simpson's Paradox arising from the fact that the US is not only a huge continental country, but because of its founding principles (treating people as individuals with God given rights) means that the US is multicultural to a degree virtually absent anywhere else (Singapore being a, literally, tiny, exception).

On all measures the Simpson's Paradox is that while the US as a whole performs in the upper middle of the OECD pact, when you look at the subsets of multiculturalism (such as race, ethnicity, culture, religion, class, etc.) the US outstrips virtually everyone on all virtually all measures.

Take the crudest matchings of race for continent, in other words European Americans compared to Europeans, African Americans compared to Africa, Asian Americans compared to Asia, etc. In virtually all measures the American groups far outperform the origin continent comparisons. For example, European Americans are longer lived, richer, have less crime, are better educated, healthier, etc. than any country in Europe. Than same with African Americans and Africa, Asian Americans and any country in Asia, Hispanics and any country in Latin America.

I elaborate on this in Simpson's Paradox and The Texas-Wisconsin Paradox and intergenerational income mobility and US Education: Expensive and ineffective? Not so fast.

The Simpson's Paradox applies beyond race/ethnicity/culture to religion as well as indicated in that last link on American education.

Healthcare provision remains an area of the economy desperately requiring improvement. We won't achieve that through the naive solutions which seem to be the primary choices advanced by policy makers. It is more complicated and we have to keep an eye on the trade-offs which are really in front-of us instead of assuming away costs and uncertainties.

Mother to Son by Langston Hughes

Mother to Son
by Langston Hughes

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—

But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

The great knack for unremembering

Neo has a wonderful post, The Great Fires and the forgetting.
One of the earliest posts I ever wrote on this blog (in January 2005) was called “The tsunami and the forgetting“. It was about the phenomenon of people forgetting—and certainly forgetting the details of—huge and terrible disasters, even recent ones.

Here’s an excerpt:
We hardly hear about the tsunami anymore, although for a while it dominated the news. The tsunami was videotaped in a staggering variety of manifestations: from the tall towering waves of Japanese art, to rolling swells that almost resembled a normal tide coming in–except for the fact that this particular tide just kept coming and coming and coming. We viewed forlorn beaches where villages had once stood, and saw keening mourners whose anguish was almost unbearable to watch even on the small screen.

Over and over, newspeople, relief workers, politicians, and officials declared this to be an unprecedented catastrophe. But in the annals of history there have been far greater catastrophes (at least in terms of number of deaths), and many of them have been almost utterly forgotten–although some of these have actually occurred relatively recently…

Only those of a certain age might remember the massive 1970 floods in Bangladesh which killed 300,000 people…An earthquake in the city of Tianjin in China in 1976, in the bad old days when almost no news emerged from that country, was reported to have killed at least 255,000, and more likely 655,000. How many of us have even heard of the city, much less the earthquake? Those with longer memories than I might even recall the flooding of the Yangtze in 1931 that caused at least three million deaths–and this was in a time when the world’s population was far smaller than it is today.

Stranger still is the lack of common knowledge about the 1918-9 influenza epidemic that disrupted most of the world (with the exception of Africa and South America) at the same time WWI was ravaging Western Europe. It was an event medieval or even Biblical in its apocalyptic scope. How many people died worldwide? Estimates vary, but the most conservative state that the death toll was 25 million. Other estimates go much higher, up to 70 million or even 100 million. And, as this transcript [dead link] from a fascinating PBS documentary on the pandemic relates, “As soon as the dying stopped, the forgetting began.”
I thought of that post again in the wake of the Camp Fire that tragically and horrifyingly has taken so many lives, although the number is of course dwarfed by those previous tolls.

And then I was surprised to read a headline saying that the Camp Fire was the worst since 1918, when the Cloquet Fire in Minnesota caused 453 known deaths (there may have been many more), destroyed 38 communities, and displaced or injured over fifty thousand people.

And until yesterday I’d never even heard of the Cloquet Fire. Had you? Maybe if you live in Minnesota you have, but has anyone else?

I discovered that there were some similarities between the Cloquet Fire and the Camp Fire. Although we don’t usually think of Minnesota as a dry state (at least, I certainly don’t), it had been experiencing a drought and high winds, and it happened in the fall.

And then, reading about that fire led me to links about another destructive and out-of-control forest fire in Minnesota (with the same conditions of drought and high winds), the Hinckley fire of 1894. I’d never before heard a thing about that one, either. But I came across an article from a 1977 issue of American Heritage that was one of the most riveting, intense, bloodcurdling tales of horror and heroism I’ve ever read.

Please read the whole thing. Our ancestors were tough, tough people.
She's right. It almost feels like the more capacity we have for storing knowledge, the less inclined we are to remember it, echoing Plato's tale of Thamus and Theuth. Theuth brings his new invention of writing to King Thamus of Egypt and is bragging how great an assist it will be to memory. Thamus counters:
So it is in this; you, who are the father of writing, have out of fondness for your off-spring attributed to it quite the opposite of its real function. Those who acquire it will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful; they will rely on writing to bring things to their remembrance by external signs instead of by their own internal resources. What you have discovered is a receipt for recollection, not for memory. And as for wisdom, your pupils will have the reputation for it without the reality: they will receive a quantity of information without proper instruction, and in consequence be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant. And because they are filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom they will be a burden to society.
I think Ben Rhodes was unconsciously channeling Plato when he described journalists. To paraphrase only slightly “And as for wisdom and knowledge, 27-year-old journalists will have the reputation for it without the reality: they will receive a quantity of information without proper instruction, and in consequence be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.”

The Galveston Hurricane, the Johnstown Flood, ship sinkings innumerable, the Schoolhouse Blizzard, the Halifax Harbor Explosion, even the Great Molasses Flood, the 1938 New England Hurricane, the Monongah Mining disaster, the Sultana sinking, etc.

All well documented, and indeed, most with multiple books about them, and yet all generally gone from public memory despite the hundreds of deaths and the thousands and tens of thousands of lives affected.

I first really focused on this capacity for unremembering in the early 1990s. In university in the early eighties, I had a particular interest in African history. When the Burundian massacres occurred in 1994, it was startling to me how little reference was made to the fact that this was just the latest in a cycle of slaughters from the time of independence, and then again in the seventies.

I have been experiencing this pervasive, almost willful unremembering even more recently. The tragedy of the 1980s day-care hysteria ought to be still relatively fresh. Again, articles and books galore, but so little held in the public consciousness. One of the great rallying cries of that hysterical period was "Believe the children." While sentimentally appealing, it was rubbish then and it is rubbish now. There is no truth which is inherent simply because of the age or gender or race or religion of the speaker. "But children wouldn't lie" was the currency of the day. And innocent people were convicted and sent to jail and lives destroyed over accusations about things which had never happened, and for many of the claims, could not have happened. That was not much more than twenty years ago.

In the past year, first with the MeToo movement and then with the Kavanaugh hearing, we had the return of this brain-dead rallying cry. "Believe the women." We saw how that turned out with the day-care hysteria in the eighties. We know how this story ends.

We saw how that turned out with the Duke Lacrosse team false accusations, then the UVA rape hoax, and even with the ongoing suits, settlements and overturned charges arising from the evisceration of due process rights on university campuses through the federal Dear Colleague letter of 2011. The Dear Colleague letter was an illegal enshrinement of "Believe the women" with dozens of subsequent miscarriages of justice, lives derailed, and millions of dollars in settlements.

We know this; and yet we choose to forget.

Likewise with the current bickering over the California fires with journalists trying to make the case that it is all an unexpected consequence arising from AGW. California has always been a drought prone region. Its very recent history of the past 150 years has coincidentally been one of the moister interludes and it is now beginning to dry out again. We know this.

We also know that there has been in environmental circles a sustained and national advocacy for reformed forestry management practices to reduce fuel loads for some forty years at least. We know that California itself has been slowly working on revising its forestry management practices for the past decade with the recent release of recommended new practices. We know that zoning and land use laws have been a major concern for several decades in terms of allowing building construction in zones prone to earthquakes, mudslides, and fire.

We know all this and yet, from the reporting, we seem prone to forget. We foist this onto a political platform and ignore history and real knowledge.

Iowa Hawk summarizes it as:

True to a point. But it seems to me like there is something else more fundamental going on here. Perhaps it is simply human nature to suppress bad news or memories of tragedies. Perhaps it is some form of psychological coping.

I don't know. But I do know that it is striking how prevalent the great knack for unremembering is.