Saturday, February 28, 2015

Eight o’clock struck and a bugle call, desolately thin in the wet air, floated from the distant barracks.

George Orwell wrote a short story about a hanging which I think is probably among the most effective at getting someone, whatever their political leanings, to consider the barbarism entailed.

A Hanging is from 1931. It starts out:
It was in Burma, a sodden morning of the rains. A sickly light, like yellow tinfoil, was slanting over the high walls into the jail yard. We were waiting outside the condemned cells, a row of sheds fronted with double bars, like small animal cages. Each cell measured about ten feet by ten and was quite bare within except for a plank bed and a pot of drinking water. In some of them brown silent men were squatting at the inner bars, with their blankets draped round them. These were the condemned men, due to be hanged within the next week or two.

One prisoner had been brought out of his cell. He was a Hindu, a puny wisp of a man, with a shaven head and vague liquid eyes. He had a thick, sprouting moustache, absurdly too big for his body, rather like the moustache of a comic man on the films. Six tall Indian warders were guarding him and getting him ready for the gallows. Two of them stood by with rifles and fixed bayonets, while the others handcuffed him, passed a chain through his handcuffs and fixed it to their belts, and lashed his arms tight to his sides. They crowded very close about him, with their hands always on him in a careful, caressing grip, as though all the while feeling him to make sure he was there. It was like men handling a fish which is still alive and may jump back into the water. But he stood quite unresisting, yielding his arms limply to the ropes, as though he hardly noticed what was happening.

Eight o’clock struck and a bugle call, desolately thin in the wet air, floated from the distant barracks. The superintendent of the jail, who was standing apart from the rest of us, moodily prodding the gravel with his stick, raised his head at the sound. He was an army doctor, with a grey toothbrush moustache and a gruff voice. “For God’s sake hurry up, Francis,” he said irritably. “The man ought to have been dead by this time. Aren’t you ready yet?”

Francis, the head jailer, a fat Dravidian in a white drill suit and gold spectacles, waved his black hand. “Yes sir, yes sir,” he bubbled. “All iss satisfactorily prepared. The hangman iss waiting. We shall proceed.”

“Well, quick march, then. The prisoners can’t get their breakfast till this job’s over.”

We set out for the gallows. Two warders marched on either side of the prisoner, with their rifles at the slope; two others marched close against him, gripping him by arm and shoulder, as though at once pushing and supporting him. The rest of us, magistrates and the like, followed behind. Suddenly, when we had gone ten yards, the procession stopped short without any order or warning. A dreadful thing had happened — a dog, come goodness knows whence, had appeared in the yard. It came bounding among us with a loud volley of barks, and leapt round us wagging its whole body, wild with glee at finding so many human beings together. It was a large woolly dog, half Airedale, half pariah. For a moment it pranced round us, and then, before anyone could stop it, it had made a dash for the prisoner, and jumping up tried to lick his face. Everyone stood aghast, too taken aback even to grab at the dog.
Well worth the few minutes it takes to read.

Macbeth was influenced; but he consented to be influenced.

From G. K. Chesterton's On a Humiliating Heresy.
But, whatever we may say about Hamlet, we must not say this about Macbeth. Hamlet was only a mild sort of murderer; a more or less accidental and parenthetical murderer; an amateur. But Macbeth was a good, solid, serious, self-respecting murderer; and we must not have any nonsense about him. For the play of Macbeth is, in the supreme and special sense, the Christian Tragedy; to be set against the Pagan Tragedy of Oedipus. It is the whole point about Oedipus that he does not know what he is doing. And it is the whole point about Macbeth that he does know what he is doing. It is not a tragedy of Fate but a tragedy of Freewill. He is tempted of a devil, but he is not driven by a destiny. If the actor pronounces the words properly, the whole audience ought to feel that the story may yet have an entirely new ending, when Macbeth says suddenly, ‘We will proceed no further in this business.’ The incredible confusion of modern thought is always suggesting that any indication that men have been influenced is an indication that they have been forced. All men are always being influenced; for every incident is an influence. The question is, which incident shall we allow to be most influential. Macbeth was influenced; but he consented to be influenced. He was not, like a blind tragic pagan, obeying something he thought he ought to obey. He does not worship the Three Witches like the Three Fates. He is a good enlightened Christian, and sins against the light.

We cannot, then, silence evil books, but we can turn away our eyes from them

On Books by Charles Kingsley
The men who died to buy us liberty knew that it was better to let in a thousand bad books than shut out one good one. We cannot, then, silence evil books, but we can turn away our eyes from them; we can take care that what we read, and what we let others read, should be good and wholesome.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Their race, color, creed, or social condition is not the criterion

A provocative essay from nearly three quarters of a century ago, Who Goes Nazi? by Dorothy Thompson.

For whatever reason, and the trains of thought are often unbidden and unanticipated, I was thinking this morning about the oddity that, despite what you might think, most of the world's revolutionaries are out of the clerisy, rarely from the poverty stricken and not usually members of the elite, but people from the near-elite. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, bureaucrats (Lenin, Castro, Che Guevara, etc.). People who get close to power but don't actually control anything despite their desperate wishes. So when I came across this old Harper's essay from 1941, the closing paragraphs resonated.
Kind, good, happy, gentlemanly, secure people never go Nazi. They may be the gentle philosopher whose name is in the Blue Book, or Bill from City College to whom democracy gave a chance to design airplanes—you’ll never make Nazis out of them. But the frustrated and humiliated intellectual, the rich and scared speculator, the spoiled son, the labor tyrant, the fellow who has achieved success by smelling out the wind of success—they would all go Nazi in a crisis.

Believe me, nice people don’t go Nazi. Their race, color, creed, or social condition is not the criterion. It is something in them.

Family size and life outcomes

What We Lose With Only Two Children Per Family by Andrew Yuengert.

Yuengert's main thesis is that we under-appreciate the practical mathematical reality attendant to family size. Do parents in your family tree usually have one, two, three, or more children? He uses the following table to make his point.

Click to enlarge.

From this, you can see that if the average family size in your tree is four children, then, at any particular point in time, there is a community of 45 people with whom you have familial ties. Granting that familial ties create some marginally greater intra-community obligations without exaggerating the nature of those ties, it is easy to see that that represents a potentially fairly robust safety net against the common vicissitudes of life. Robust especially compared to the familial safety net in the family where the average number of children is one. In that family, at any given point in time, the average number of people in your family community is 6.

For all that the common discourse is about the impact of discrimination and bias, I suspect all those effects, to the extent that they exist, are swamped by more mundane mathematical realities such as familial size.

Yuengert leaves his observation at a pretty high level, but there are all sorts of second order effects. I haven't seen any research but it would be interesting what the measurable impacts on individuals might be. For example, one could postulate that kids growing up in large households might have a more robust sense of self (they have to distinguish themselves in some fashion in order to stand out), might have a greater range and effectiveness of social skills (through constant practice), might be more tolerant of human variability, etc. than those who grow up in a single child household. Is that true? I don't know. It makes logical sense and it matches my own family anecdotal experience, but I don't know in any robust fashion.

Think of the financial implications as well. As generations age out, die and distribute their estate, what are the implications? A greater and greater concentration of wealth in the one child family and a dissipation of wealth in the large families. If X is the average estate, in the one-child family tree, that child can anticipate inheriting 3X (their parent's estate as well as the estates of each of their grandparents). In the four-child family tree, any one of the children can anticipate an inheritance of only 0.375X (0.25 from their parents and 0.125 from their grandparents). The current generation of the one-child family can anticipate eight times the inheritance compared to any one of the children from the four-child family. There's dramatic inequality for you, arising not from bias or discrimination but simply as the result of choices regarding family size.

Lot's of implied tradeoffs here. In the large family model, you potentially have a lot more noise, complications, obligations, impositions, variation and smaller inheritances. But you do get a lot more experience dealing with complexity, social variance, the unexpected, and you have some greater social safety net. In the small family model, there is greater predictability, simplicity, fewer obligations, less variation and much larger inheritances. But you have less experience dealing with the variety in the world, you are more alone and you have less of a safety net.

Which is better? The answer depends on normative values and goals and cannot a priori be answered without specification of terms, measures, and relative trade-offs.

In our shallow Gramscian postmodern, post-structuralist conversations with SJWs, I never see this very material fact of family size impact on statistical outcomes ever even mentioned, much less discussed.

Go down yonder churchyard, many names there you'll see

The Life of a Man by Hayward & Parsons

The Life of a Man

If you'd seen the leaves just a few days ago
They were all in full mersion and appearing to grow
The frost came upon them and withered them all
The rain came upon them and down they did fall

What's the life of a man any more than a leaf
A man has his season, so why should we grieve
Although in this life, we appear fine and gay
Like the leaves we must wither and soon fade away

Go down yonder churchyard, many names there you'll see
All have fallen from this world like the leaves from the trees
When age and affliction upon us do call
Like the leaves we must wither and down we must fall

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Revealed Preference of saving lives

From Steven E. Landsburg, More Sex is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics, p. 220.
If putting a dollar value on human lives strikes you as cold-hearted, grow up. You implicitly put a dollar value on human lives every time you buy a candy bar with funds that could instead have been donated to the local fire department. No matter who you are, there is a limit to what you’re willing to spend to save lives; the only question is whether you’re willing to think honestly about what that limit is.

Post-structuralism has done incalculable damage to education and contemporary thought.

I enjoy Camille Paglia, partly because I agree with her on many things but also for her robust, not to say, pugnacious presentation of ideas. From our common ground, when she reaches to conclusions I don't accept, I can know that no matter how much I might disagree, I am going to see the most assertive presentation to the counterpoint.

Here is an interview, 10 Questions for Camille Paglia by Sean Salai, S.J. Some succinct observations:
Identifying yourself as a “dissident feminist,” you often seem more at home with classical Greek and Roman paganism than with postmodern academia. How has this reality affected your public and professional relationships?

I feel lucky to have taught primarily at art schools, where the faculty are active practitioners of the arts and crafts. I have very little contact with American academics, who are pitifully trapped in a sterile career system that has become paralyzed by political correctness. University faculties nationwide have lost power to an ever-expanding bureaucracy of administrators, whose primary concern is the institution's contractual relationship with tuition-paying parents. You can cut the demoralized faculty atmosphere with a knife when you step foot on any elite campus. With a few stellar exceptions, the only substantive discourse that I ever have these days is with academics, intellectuals, and journalists abroad.

In your view, what’s wrong with American feminism today, and what can it do to improve?

After the great victory won by my insurgent, pro-sex, pro-fashion wing of feminism in the 1990s, American and British feminism has amazingly collapsed backward again into whining, narcissistic victimology. As in the hoary old days of Gloria Steinem and her Stalinist cohorts, we are endlessly subjected to the hackneyed scenario of history as a toxic wasteland of vicious male oppression and gruesome female suffering. College campuses are hysterically portrayed as rape extravaganzas where women are helpless fluffs with no control over their own choices and behavior. I am an equal opportunity feminist: that is, I call for the removal of all barriers to women's advance in the professional and political realms. However, I oppose special protections for women, which I reject as demeaning and infantilizing. My principal demand (as I have been repeating for nearly 25 years) is for colleges to confine themselves to education and to cease their tyrannical surveillance of students' social lives. If a real crime is committed, it must be reported to the police. College officials and committees have neither the expertise nor the legal right to be conducting investigations into he said/she said campus dating fiascos. Too many of today's young feminists seem to want hovering, paternalistic authority figures to protect and soothe them, an attitude I regard as servile, reactionary and glaringly bourgeois. The world can never be made totally safe for anyone, male or female: there will always be sociopaths and psychotics impervious to social controls. I call my system "street-smart feminism": there is no substitute for wary vigilance and personal responsibility.

Briefly put, what is post-structuralism and what is your opinion of it?

Post-structuralism is a system of literary and social analysis that flared up and vanished in France in the 1960s but that became anachronistically entrenched in British and American academe from the 1970s on. Based on the outmoded linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and promoted by the idolized Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and Michel Foucault, it absurdly asserts that we experience or process reality only through language and that, because language is inherently unstable, nothing can be known. By undermining meaning, history and personal will, post-structuralism has done incalculable damage to education and contemporary thought. It is a laborious, circuitously self-referential gimmick that always ends up with the same monotonous result. I spent six months writing a long attack on academic post-structuralism for the classics journal Arion in 1991, "Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders: Academe in the Hour of the Wolf" (reprinted in my first essay collection, Sex, Art, and American Culture). Post-structuralism has destroyed two generations of graduate students, who were forced to mouth its ugly jargon and empty platitudes for their foolish faculty elders. And the end result is that humanities departments everywhere, having abandoned their proper mission of defending and celebrating art, have become humiliatingly marginalized in both reputation and impact.


In your view as a classicist, what can the ancient Romans and Greeks teach us as human beings?

Following my culture-hero, Oscar Wilde, I do not subscribe to the implicitly moralistic assumption that literature or art "teaches" us anything. It simply opens up our vision to a larger world—or allows us to see that world through a different lens. Greco-Roman culture, which is fast receding in American higher education, is one of the two foundational traditions of Western civilization, the other being the Judeo-Christian. These traditions twined about and influenced each other for centuries and produced the titanic complexity of the West, for good and ill. To ignore or minimize the Greco-Roman past is to put intellectual blinders on—but that is exactly what has been happening as colleges are gradually abandoning the big, chronological, two-semester freshman survey courses that once heavily emphasized classical antiquity. The trajectory is toward "presentism," a myopic concentration on society since the Renaissance—a noble, humanistic term, by the way, that is being ruthlessly discarded for the blobby new Marxist entity, "Early Modern."

The power of the word

From ‘Mein Kampf’ to be published in Germany for first time since WWII by Yaron Steinbuch.
Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” will soon hit German bookstores — the first time the infamous manifesto has been printed in the country since the dictator’s death.

The copyright for the 1924 Nazi tome is now held by the state of Bavaria in Germany but will expire at the end of 2015.
At the point of losing control from a copyright perspective, the powers that be are seeking to prepare the nation to be exposed to a document that is integral to a series of events leading to one of our greatest tragedies.
In January, Germany’s Institute for Contemporary History will publish a new, heavily annotated version of the F├╝hrer’s “My Struggle” autobiography.

“I understand some immediately feel uncomfortable when a book that played such a dramatic role is made available again to the public,” Magnus Brechtken, the institute’s deputy director, told the Washington Post.

“On the other hand, I think that this is also a useful way of communicating historical education and enlightenment — a publication with the appropriate comments, exactly to prevent these traumatic events from ever happening again.”


The institute defends the new, 2,000-page reprint, saying it will serve as an important academic tool containing criticisms and analysis. Hitler’s original was 700 pages long.
But not everyone agrees.
“I am absolutely against the publication of ‘Mein Kampf,’ even with annotations. Can you annotate the devil? Can you annotate a person like Hitler?” said Levi Salomon, spokesman for the Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism in Berlin, UPI reported. “This book is outside of human logic.”

Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Jewish Community in Munich, said she didn’t strongly oppose the project at first, but changed her mind after talking to aghast Holocaust survivors.

“This book is most evil; it is a worse anti-Semitic pamphlet and a guidebook for the Holocaust,” she said, UPI reported. “It is a Pandora’s Box that, once opened again, cannot be closed.”
The money quote is this.
“This book is too dangerous for the general public,” library historian Florian Sepp told the newspaper.
This is one of those arguments where you are making a trade-off between emotional sensibility and commitment to Enlightenment ideals.

Survivors of the Holocaust, their descendants, and anyone with an ounce of human sensitivity can understand the horror of this book and the desire to do everything possible to prevent its reintroduction to the public and possible mainstreaming. This is especially so at this time in Europe where the collapse of the old democratic socialist models in the face of demographic decline and economic weakness has led to the resurrection of totalitarian nationalist parties which are rapidly becoming part of the mainstream of politics. For both emotional and pragmatic reasons, you can understand the desire to keep this book under lock and key in a "poison cabinet" as does the Bavarian State Library.

On the other hand, if you believe in Enlightenment ideals and human rights and freedom of speech and personal agency, you have to reject this sympathetic argument in its entirety. Books are not the problem, people's choices are.

It is not only rank elitism to wish to exercise control over what others read, think, and speak of but also the seed of a coercive and repressive set of actions that can grow out of control.

From this perspective, the issue is not whether individuals might be corrupted by the power of the word, but which is the lesser of two evils: individual citizens making their own decisions and potentially making bad decisions, or the concentration of power in the hands of the government to make decisions on behalf of everyone else.

The Enlightenment advocate has to come down on the side of the rights of individuals, knowing that there will be bad actors.

Likewise, to my mind, those sensitive to the feelings of others and concerned about the risks associated with individuals exercising their freedoms and human rights, also have to come down on the side of freedom. Concentrated power will always be abused whereas individuals exercising power will only occasionally abuse it.

Entirely separate from that argument though is a deeper one regarding our conviction about the power of the written word. I am a reader committed to books and the freedom of sharing ideas through reading and speech. Yet I am also an empiricist. What evidence is there that the mere publication of a book will have any measurable effect on either an individual or any defined group of people? That evidence is vanishingly small and that which does exist tends to be febrile.

This, I think, is an interesting issue. We passionately believe as a culture in the power of the word. We also passionately believe as a culture in reason, empiricism and the scientific method. And we are not able to reconcile those two beliefs so we effectively ignore the fact that the one belief does not validate the other at this time.

To be clear, I suspect that books do have long term and material consequences. I am simply acknowledging that currently we can't show that they do nor do we even have a theory as to the causal mechanism for how they exert their influence. Fundamentally, we don't know which books are going to affect which people in what ways. Without knowing that, we have no empirical basis for believing in the capacity of books to systemically affect outcomes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Preferring to bore each other

From Murder by Any Degree by Owen Johnson
One Sunday in March they had been marooned at the club, Steingall the painter and Quinny the illustrator, and, having lunched late, had bored themselves separately to their limits over the periodicals until, preferring to bore each other, they had gravitated together in easy arm-chairs before the big Renaissance fireplace.

Liberty is essential to order to leave room for the unforeseeable and unpredictable

The Constitution of Liberty by F.A. Hayek
The case for individual freedom rests chiefly on the recognition of the inevitable ignorance of all of us concerning a great many of the factors on which the achievement of our ends and welfare depends.… Liberty is essential to order to leave room for the unforeseeable and unpredictable; we want it because we have learned to expect from it the opportunity of realizing our many aims. It is because every individual knows so little and, in particular, because we rarely know which of us knows best that we trust the independent and competitive efforts of many to induce the emergence of what we shall want when we see it.
In order to evolve in an environment of unknowable changes in external condition, all systems have to have some minimum level of variation on which selection can occur.

Liberty is variation is evolution is survival.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

All things are quite silent

Hayward and Parsons - All things are quite silent (live at St Rumwolds)

All things are quite silent, each mortal at rest,
When me and my true love lay snug in one nest,
When a bold set of ruffians broke into our cave,
And they forced my dear jewel to plough the salt wave.

I begged hard for my darling as I would for my life.
But they would not heed me although a fond wife,
Saying: “The king must have sailors, to the seas he must go,”
And they left me lamenting in sorrow and woe.

In green fields and meadows we oftimes we have walked,
And the fond recollections together have talked,
Where the lark and the blackbird so sweetly do sing,
And the lovely thrushes' voices made the valleys to ring.

Now though I'm forsaken, I won't be cast down.
Who knows but my true love may one day return
And will make me amends for my trouble and strife,
And me and my jewel will be happy for life.

A position or habits through which he becomes acquainted with new ideas sooner than those to whom he addresses himself

A juxtaposition of passages from a lecture, Intellectuals and Socialism given by F.A. Hayek.
In all democratic countries, in the United States even more than elsewhere, a strong belief prevails that the influence of the intellectuals on politics is negligible. This is no doubt true of the power of intellectuals to make their peculiar opinions of the moment influence decisions, of the extent to which they can sway the popular vote on questions on which they differ from the current views of the masses. Yet over somewhat longer periods they have probably never exercised so great an influence as they do today in those countries. This power they wield by shaping public opinion.


The character of the process by which the views of the intellectuals influence the politics of tomorrow is therefore of much more than academic interest. Whether we merely wish to foresee or attempt to influence the course of events, it is a factor of much greater importance than is generally understood. What to the contemporary observer appears as the battle of conflicting interests has indeed often been decided long before in a clash of ideas confined to narrow circles. Paradoxically enough, however, in general only the parties of the Left have done most to spread the belief that it was the numerical strength of the opposing material interests which decided political issues, whereas in practice these same parties have regularly and successfully acted as if they understood the key position of the intellectuals. Whether by design or driven by the force of circumstances, they have always directed their main effort toward gaining the support of this “elite,” while the more conservative groups have acted, as regularly but unsuccessfully, on a more naive view of mass democracy and have usually vainly tried directly to reach and to persuade the individual voter.


This is neither that of the original thinker nor that of the scholar or expert in a particular field of thought. The typical intellectual need be neither: he need not possess special knowledge of anything in particular, nor need he even be particularly intelligent, to perform his role as intermediary in the spreading of ideas. What qualifies him for his job is the wide range of subjects on which he can readily talk and write, and a position or habits through which he becomes acquainted with new ideas sooner than those to whom he addresses himself.

Until one begins to list all the professions and activities which belong to the class, it is difficult to realize how numerous it is, how the scope for activities constantly increases in modern society, and how dependent on it we all have become. The class does not consist of only journalists, teachers, ministers, lecturers, publicists, radio commentators, writers of fiction, cartoonists, and artists all of whom may be masters of the technique of conveying ideas but are usually amateurs so far as the substance of what they convey is concerned. The class also includes many professional men and technicians, such as scientists and doctors, who through their habitual intercourse with the printed word become carriers of new ideas outside their own fields and who, because of their expert knowledge of their own subjects, are listened with respect on most others. There is little that the ordinary man of today learns about events or ideas except through the medium of this class; and outside our special fields of work we are in this respect almost all ordinary men, dependent for our information and instruction on those who make it their job to keep abreast of opinion. It is the intellectuals in this sense who decide what views and opinions are to reach us, which facts are important enough to be told to us, and in what form and from what angle they are to be presented. Whether we shall ever learn of the results of the work of the expert and the original thinker depends mainly on their decision.


The main lesson which the true liberal must learn from the success of the socialists is that it was their courage to be Utopian which gained them the support of the intellectuals and therefore an influence on public opinion which is daily making possible what only recently seemed utterly remote. Those who have concerned themselves exclusively with what seemed practicable in the existing state of opinion have constantly found that even this had rapidly become politically impossible as the result of changes in a public opinion which they have done nothing to guide. Unless we can make the philosophic foundations of a free society once more a living intellectual issue, and its implementation a task which challenges the ingenuity and imagination of our liveliest minds, the prospects of freedom are indeed dark. But if we can regain that belief in the power of ideas which was the mark of liberalism at its best, the battle is not lost. The intellectual revival of liberalism is already underway in many parts of the world. Will it be in time?
This suggests that the rebirth of the cultivation of the independent, free, citizen has to occur in our universities where currently there is a culture of repression, conformity, control, and suppression.

This also suggests that the internet is an even more fundamental force for liberty than might be commonly recognized. In Hayek's time, there was "little that the ordinary man of today learns about events or ideas except through the medium of this class [the clerisy]." The internet creates the means by which the stalwart ordinary citizen can himself "becomes acquainted with new ideas sooner than" the intellectual or the clerisy.

We tend to think of the internet and social media as means of people organizing against totalitarian forces, and it is that at least. Hayek's model suggests that we have not yet begun to see the profound affect the internet and social media might have on reenergizing freedom.

No wonder there is such an ardent desire among the clerisy to regulate the internet as a public utility a la this cartoon version of the Road to Serfdom.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Life satisfaction was uniformly high for both sexes, as was psychological well-being.

Very interesting. Looks at a cohort of some 1,500 students testing in the top 1% mathematically of students from the 1970s over time.

Some of it confirms what would be anticipated - these bright students ended up having great life outcomes. However it goes into a lot of worthwhile detail that is reveling. In addition it looks at the different career trajectories of men and women and how they were affected by the different values and goals.
This is the first study to document the career paths of mathematically talented males and females over four decades in which women had high-level career options. Although we found many similarities between men and women, their career paths did diverge. Also, on the whole, both men and women became the critical human capital needed for driving modern-day, conceptual economies. Early manifestations of exceptional mathematical talent did lead to outstanding creative accomplishment and professional leadership, but with notable sex differences. Life satisfaction was uniformly high for both sexes, as was psychological well-being. The mathematically talented were doing exceedingly well for both themselves and society.

Understanding remarkable adult accomplishments and creativity in high-potential populations requires looking beyond abilities, occupational preferences, and opportunity. The data suggest that all aspects of life competing for and structuring the use of time need to be assessed. Cutting-edge advances, high-powered careers, and important leadership roles demand substantial time commitment and intense engagement. And this is where the males and females in our samples diverged in aggregate. Compared with mathematically gifted women, mathematically gifted men expressed stronger preferences for developing high-impact careers and were willing to invest more time in their careers. Conversely, the women expressed stronger preferences for and devoted more time to advancing family and community, compared with the men. Both groups advanced society, though in varying ways, traveling different paths to their current highly productive and satisfying lives.
It should be obvious but it runs counter to so many of the egalitarian arguments today: "Life satisfaction was uniformly high for both sexes, as was psychological well-being." In other words, one size does not fit all. We should be mindful of bias and discrimination but we should not risk an equal moral calamity of forcing everyone towards the same outcomes despite their personal preferences.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

People in the country with the shortest life span today (Sierra Leone) live longer than an American born in 1882 could expect

From Why today is the best time to live in human history by Christopher Woolf. In the modern era it is so easy to lose perspective about just how unique and distinctive are modern times in virtually all ways. We live longer, healthier, richer, more productive lives than even a generation ago. And not by small increments. Woolf has some good examples of just how far we have come.

Yes, it would have been great to hear Mozart playing live. Or maybe watch Shakespeare putting on a show. But then you've got to remember, Mozart croaked at 31, and Shakespeare shuffled off this mortal coil at just 52.

The fact is, until recently, life for most people was nasty, brutish, and above all — short.

The causes are pretty obvious: bad food, bad hygiene, bad toilet habits, and almost no understanding of infectious disease. Thank goodness for antibiotics, vaccines and modern sanitation. Sewage systems, by the way, were introduced in the 19th century, just about the same time bureaucrats started collecting big data on births and deaths.

And their stats are pretty grim. About one in four children born in America or England in the 1860s would die before their 5th birthday. And that was nationally. In crowded cities like Liverpool, in England, that figure could reach 50 percent.

Adults fared better, but even in the prime of life — in your 20s and 30s — you could expect to attend the funerals of 1 percent of people the same age as you — every year. Nowadays, for Americans, that rate is 10 times lower. And it's not just in the US and Britain that things are better.

It's everywhere.

Even in war-torn Syria, life expectancy today is actually better than in Victorian England. And even in the deadliest country on earth today — Sierra Leone — you're going to live longer than the average American born in the same year as FDR (1882.)

Europe needs not so much new state policies as a renewal of civil society

An excellent essay, The Failure of Multiculturalism by Kenan Malik.

He points out that statist efforts at both codifying multiculturalism in the form of plural cultures within one polity AND statist efforts to enforce assimilation have both failed in Europe. He uses Britain, France and Germany as his principle examples.
There has also been a guiding assumption throughout Europe that immigration and integration must be managed through state policies and institutions. Yet real integration, whether of immigrants or of indigenous groups, is rarely brought about by the actions of the state; it is shaped primarily by civil society, by the individual bonds that people form with one another, and by the organizations they establish to further their shared political and social interests. It is the erosion of such bonds and institutions that has proved so problematic – that links assimilationist policy failures to multicultural ones and that explains why social disengagement is a feature not simply of immigrant communities but of the wider society, too. To repair the damage that disengagement has done, and to revive a progressive universalism, Europe needs not so much new state policies as a renewal of civil society.
Malik's overarching conclusions are:
Multiculturalism and assimilationism are different policy responses to the same problem: the fracturing of society. And yet both have had the effect of making things worse. It is time, then, to move beyond the increasingly sterile debate between the two approaches. And that requires making three kinds of distinctions.

First, Europe should separate diversity as a lived experience from multiculturalism as a political process. The experience of living in a society made diverse by mass immigration should be welcomed. Attempts to institutionalize such diversity through the formal recognition of cultural differences should be resisted.

Second, Europe should distinguish colorblindness from blindness to racism. The assimilationist resolve to treat everyone equally as citizens, rather than as bearers of specific racial or cultural histories, is valuable. But that does not mean that the state should ignore discrimination against particular groups. Citizenship has no meaning if different classes of citizens are treated differently, whether because of multi- cultural policies or because of racism.

Finally, Europe should differentiate between peoples and values. Multiculturalists argue that societal diversity erodes the possibility of common values. Similarly, assimilationists suggest that such values are possible only within a more culturally – and, for some, ethnically – homogeneous society. Both regard minority communities as homogeneous wholes, attached to a particular set of cultural traits, faiths, beliefs, and values, rather than as constituent parts of a modern democracy.
It is interesting his focus on renewing civil society.

Here in the US we have many of the same issues of societal fracturing but they are magnified out of proportion by the tendency of the academy and the clerisy, having sipped at the European cup of multiculturalism, postmodernism, and moral relativism, to see everything through the lenses of race and gender (but not, oddly enough, through class which is really the greater issue).

In other words, our clerisy want to see more of a race issue and gender issue than actually exists in the experience of the greater part of the population. The academy has become a distorting bubble that misunderstands how people outside the academy live. And while there is a tendency in the academy to look down on the benighted heathen out there, the response of the non-academy is, in some ways even worse. When they don't ignore the clerisy, they laugh at them. Concerns about patriarchy and cisgenderism and authenticity and appropriation and microaggressions and triggers and identity and unconscious bias, etc. are all treated as irrelevant or as a source for a laugh.

Stands the Church clock at ten to three?

PBS has a new, to me, English Masterpiece Mystery series, Grantchester. I watched one and enjoyed it. Then Sally watched one and she also enjoyed it. So now we have a new series to enjoy together in an otherwise meager repertoire of TV worth watching.

But all along there has been a mental itch. Where have I heard of Grantchester before? Just there beyond cognitive reach.

It finally came to me this morning, the first crack in the small mystery. A poem by T.S. Eliot. Googling quickly corrected me. Not Eliot, Brooke. Then it all came back to me. Many years ago in the early 1980s I went on a Rupert Brooke tear. Brooke is mostly remembered today as an emblem of that lost golden generation of young men consumed by The Great War. The Georgian poets. His most remembered poem is probably The Soldier
The Soldier

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
But he has many others that are wonderful poems of a tragic generation living out their young years before the flame of war swept them all away. I was quite taken with his ignored works.

One of which is The Old Vicarage, Grantchester written in 1912 when he was travelling in Germany. In it he evokes both a remembrance of youth, a love of the home ways, and a celebration of England's gentle nature. The whole poem is worth reading but I especially love the final lines describing the area around Grantchester in East Anglia.
Ah God! to see the branches stir
Across the moon at Grantchester!
To smell the thrilling-sweet and rotten
Unforgettable, unforgotten
River-smell, and hear the breeze
Sobbing in the little trees.
Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
Still guardians of that holy land?
The chestnuts shade, in reverend dream,
The yet unacademic stream?
Is dawn a secret shy and cold
Anadyomene, silver-gold?
And sunset still a golden sea
From Haslingfield to Madingley?
And after, ere the night is born,
Do hares come out about the corn?
Oh, is the water sweet and cool,
Gentle and brown, above the pool?
And laughs the immortal river still
Under the mill, under the mill?
Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain?… oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?
I attended boarding school in East Anglia and Brooke's descriptions are especially evocative of that place and that time. Those last two lines so bitter sweetly recall an England that is no more, "Stands the Church clock at ten to three?/ And is there honey still for tea?"

A post script to that reading of Brooke's poems in the 1980s was that I was posted to England in the early 2000s. One weekend, we went up to Cambridge to visit some friends there. They had three children just offset from our own by a couple of years. With six young children, we spent the day roaming the water meadows, fields and streams around Cambridge, the children racing and running, laughing and playing in the gentle English sun. There was chestnuts shade and the water was sweet and cool. In the mid-afternoon we saw an old village church and went over to explore. A lovely old shaded cemetery with tombstones from centuries past, covered with lichen and hard to read. The kids climbed an old tree crouched close to the ground with huge limbs stretching out towards the sun.

It wasn't quite ten to three but it was the Grantchester village church.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The reader’s gift is to bring to this alchemy their own imagination and their own experiences.

From Don’t judge a book by its author by Aminatta Forna.

Wow! This is so good from an author with whom I was completely unfamiliar. Hers is the most powerful rejection of labelling by race and gender and class which is such the popular activity in the academy and among the denizens of the chattering class.

Reading her essay evokes a certain response which is rare but lovely. She raises a point here or there and I really want to discuss it. What's the nuance? Does she really mean this or is she getting at that. I don't think I agree with you on this point, why do you say that? The kind of clarification that can only most easily come from a conversation in a comfortable chair, by a fire, with a drink in hand. I like that evoked response from a writer.

I want to include a representative quote from her essay but it is hard to find just the right one. She makes so many good points, each building from the last. Each time I highlight a selection, I keep extending the cursor further and further back up until I have nearly the whole article highlighted. Perhaps this will do.
Writers do not write about places, they write about people who happen to live in those places. This is something that the labellers and their labels don’t understand either. Achebe did not “write about” Africa, he wrote about people who happen to live in Igboland. Likewise, I do not “write about” Sierra Leone or Croatia, those places are the settings for my characters.

“I think it’s about authenticity,” said the British writer Linda Grant, responding to the Facebook post. “And probably came in with post-colonial studies. If white people can’t appropriate the experiences of the oppressed for fiction then it no longer becomes possible for anyone to write outside their own experience.” The Pakistani-British writer Kamila Shamsie, whose novel Burnt Shadows featured a Japanese character, agreed: “It’s about authenticity. When I was at uni in America in the 90s there was a lot of criticism around the idea of ‘appropriating’ other people’s stories. What started as a thoughtful post-colonial critique of certain types of imperial texts somehow became a peculiar orthodoxy that essentially denies the possibility of imaginative engagement with anyone outside your little circle.”
And there's this.
A novel is a work of imagination, it is not a dissertation. When a writer writes a book, he or she makes a pact with the reader. For a writer of non-fiction the contract is clear. The author pertains to objectivity. The reader may rely on the facts contained therein, the writer promises (to the best of their ability) to provide a factual truth. A writer of fiction makes no such promises. Fiction is subjective: it comes from within the writer, and, not only that, the story itself is composed of a sequence of lies. The writer of fiction says to the reader only this: come with me on a journey of the imagination and I will try to show you something you have not seen before. This is the gift of the writer to the reader. The reader’s gift is to bring to this alchemy their own imagination and their own experiences.
But please, please read the whole thing. It is that good and that refreshing.

We don’t have convincing speculative histories or insightful accountings of the qualitative effects on ideas

A long and rather leaden piece, What's Wrong With Public Intellectuals? by Mark Greif, but with some nice raisins and fruit in it.
Which leaves the question of the university. The economics of higher education in the contemporary moment may be bad for many of us—teachers, students, and temporary passers-through. But, again—this should not be a priori bad for public intellect or public debate. Quite the opposite. A large pool of disgruntled free-thinking people who are not actually starving, gathered in many local physical centers, whose vocation leads them to amass an enormous quantity of knowledge and skill in disputation, and who possess 24-hour access to research libraries, might be the most publicly argumentative the world has known.

And yet the philosophical and moral effect of "universitization" remains, I think, the most poorly explained phenomenon of intellect from the late decades of the 20th century up till now. I don’t mean that we don’t know the demographic shifts or historical causes, ever since the GI Bill. We have enough statistics. I mean that we don’t have convincing speculative histories or insightful accountings of the qualitative effects on ideas.

Confusingly, the "universitization of intellect" names overlapping changes. The most important yet underappreciated was the process by which nearly all future writers of every social class came to pass through college toward the bachelor’s degree. Another was the progress by which more writers, including journalists, reviewers, poets, and novelists, as well as critics and historians and social scientists, drew parts of their livelihood from periodic university teaching, whether they were tenured professors or not. (This had clearly begun already by the "golden age" of public intellect, in the 1940s to 1960s, as I’ve suggested.) The third, a corollary, was the vocational integration in which formerly independent literary arts (fiction, poetry, even cultural criticism) came to be taught as for-credit courses and degree-granting programs—with a credentialing spiral whereby newly minted critics and intellectuals needed to have taken those courses and degrees in order to pay rent by teaching them.
This phenomenon has puzzled me for years now. We have so many more people, in absolute terms as well as percentages, so much more education, and so much more economic security than even fifty years ago, much less a hundred years ago, and yet somehow we don't seem to be making commiserate intellectual leaps and make comparable discoveries. I have long explained this to myself as a product of the ever greater subdivision of knowledge and to the exploratory S-curve. With greater specialization, perhaps the advances are being made, it is just harder for the generalist to see them. With the S-curve, the speculation is that we have already climbed the steep spine and now have entered the area where there are decreasing returns on effort.

Greif seems to be identifying another factor. As we have corralled our intelligentsia out of the diverse life experiences that they had in the past and into the hot houses of universities, perhaps we have lost both variety and rigor in our hypotheses and ideas. It rings true. Academics have long been famed for their obtuseness as captured by George Orwell (a public intellectual of extraordinary shelf-life) in Notes on Nationalism, "One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool" or by Bertrand Russell in My Philosophical Development, "This is one of those views which are so absurd that only very learned men could possibly adopt them."

The meme of academic absurdity is long standing and well founded and well founded with good reason. We want universities to be the places where new ideas are tried out, tested, argued, advocated and rejected. And as with any other innovative endeavor, whether it be new sodas, new clothes, new music, new technology: the yield of useful to the absurd will always be low. The issue is not that universities cultivate absurd and even dangerous ideas. I think Greif is on to something else. Universities now do that as they did of old, but with two dangerous changes. First, the absurd ideas do not get challenged, tested and discarded - instead they are sheltered and protected from debate until they become dangerous. Second, the ideas are boring. Our academics lead too sheltered lives with too little varied experience and therefore their ideas are stunted, shriveled things, flinching from the sunlight.

Language prescriptivism has a long genealogy

Letters of Cicero, Letter 258 to Brutus, Loeb translation:
…practically every one, unless his life was passed outside Rome, or some crudeness of home environment had tainted his speech, in those days spoke well and correctly. But lapse of time has brought about some deterioration in this respect both at Rome and in Greece. For as to Athens, so to our city, there has been an influx of many impure speakers coming from different places. It has created a situation which calls for a purge of language and the invoking of theory as an objective control or touchstone, not subject to change like the easily distorted rule of common usage.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Disparate impact and confounding variables

A very interesting article that brings together issues of disparate impact, disadvantage, causal density, correlation versus causation, confounding variables etc., A lefty’s lament by Alvin Powell.

The issue is that left handed people are disadvantaged for a variety of reasons, compared to the right-handed population. In terms of life outcomes such as morbidity, mortality, income, education attainment, etc, a nominal reading of the data indicates that lefties suffer measurable discrimination.
Goodman looked at five large studies of individuals in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Along with data on education and employment, the research included questions about handedness. Some aspects of the studies were in line with earlier investigations, such as lefties making up 11 to 13 percent of the sample and the children of lefties being more likely to be left-handed themselves.

A child’s health early in life played a role in handedness, with lower-birth-weight babies and those experiencing complications at birth likelier to be left-handed. U.S. babies that remained in the hospital for more than a week, for example, were 50 percent more likely to be lefties.

Lefties had slightly lower cognitive skills than righties, more behavioral and speech problems, and were more likely to have learning disabilities. There was no evidence to support the commonly held belief that lefties are over-represented among the very smart.

The negative patterns identified in the research have effects that play out first at school and then at work. Goodman found that American lefties are 2.4 percentage points more likely to end their education after high school; those who do advance are 2.9 percentage points less likely to complete college. When they hit the job market, lefties are more likely to work in less cognitively demanding jobs, more likely to do manual labor, and less likely to hold professional or managerial positions.

The effect on annual earnings is significant, with lefties earning an average of 6 percent less than righties. In the United States, the wage gap translates to about $1,300 per year.
Across most of the life outcomes, lefties are disadvantaged to the tune of 2-3%. Not huge, but persistent.

But it forces three questions. 1) Is this really an outcome based on discrimination or are there other factors at play?, 2) What can be done about it? and 3) Should we do anything about it?

What is interesting is that the research by Goodman reveals that the negative outcomes are not associated with left-handedness per se.
The earnings divide disappeared, however, when Goodman compared righties with lefties who had been healthy as infants, an indication that it may result from the effects of poor infant health on development and education, he said.
So it is not discrimination that causes the different life-outcomes, or even the inconveniences of being a lefty in a right-handed world. The problem is that there is a confounding variable to do with childhood health which is the actual driver for the differences.

By knowing the real root causes it allows us to focus on the real causes of the problem, childhood health circumstances. We don't need to do anything about discrimination against lefties because it is not a cause of the differences in outcomes. Instead we can look at the real root causes but we then still need to figure out whether there is anything that can be done about childhood health related to left-handedness and whether it is actually worth intervening given risks, unintended consequences, and the small effect size.

I find this interesting because it is a clear, non-emotive, rebuttal of the approach we too often take in public discourse which follows something like these steps - 1) Identification of a differential in outcomes, 2) Assumption that the difference is due to discrimination in some fashion, 3) Failure to quantify the effect size, 4) Failure to look for alternate sources of cause, 5) Failure to deal with confounding variables, 6) Reliance on superficial correlations as cause, and 7) Development of ineffective policies to address the false root cause.

Historical discontinuity in the Middle East

Tarek Osman in How to Innovate Islamic Thinking provides some good background consistent with The Historical Continuity Fallacy which I discussed last week. Osman observes:
Has the Islamic World regressed? In the 1930s, an Egyptian writer wrote a book called, Why I Am an Atheist. The response was not a fatwa against him, but rather a book titled Why I Am a Muslim, by an Islamic scholar. Political systems across the region were gradually moving from authoritarian monarchism toward plurality. Economies were slowly being industrialized. Creative artists were transforming Arab literature and music, and giving birth to Arab theatre and cinema. Across the region, there was a feeling of a historical rejuvenation. The Islamic world—North Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey, and Iran—seemed to be experimenting with different ideas, perspectives, and value systems. Translations of Western political constitutions, essays, novels, and plays abounded. During the Arab liberal age, from the mid-nineteenth century to mid-twentieth century, the general exposure to the West created an open, daring, and increasingly tolerant intellectual milieu.

This openness and intellectual confidence was the result of decades of broad-minded Islamic thinking. At the turn of the twentieth century, Jamal Al-Deen Al-Afghani and Mohamed Abdou, by far the most prominent Islamic scholars of their age, reflected on Islam’s historical trajectory. Both noted that, for centuries, backward-looking social and tribal contexts were imposed on the “rational religion.” Abdou advanced new understandings of the religion; he saw compatibility between Islam and the waves of modernity that the Arab and Islamic world experienced at the time. The school of thought that he founded was arguably the first real innovation in Sunni Islamic thinking in over seven hundred years—since the twelfth century, when religious and political powers had closed the gates of independent and creative reasoning. In the following few decades, several famous writers, from Abbas Mahmoud Al-Akkad to Ahmed Ameen, explained that the “dawn of Islam” and “its genius” materialized when its civilization interacted with and absorbed aspects of other traditions, whether Persian or Hellenic.
What happened to set back this flowering? Osman doesn't really discuss it but the consensus seems that the totalitarian strains of thinking from the West (Communism, National Socialism, Fascism), for whatever reasons, became the inspiration for a new generation of Arab leaders post World War II. To which Osman adds:
Religious institutions should realize and acknowledge that Islamic thinking and rhetoric needs to open up to different cultures. Since the end of the Arab liberal age in the early 1950s, Islamic discourse has been shaped by highly conservative religious disciplines, primarily the strict Sunni sect of Wahhabism, which anchors the political legitimacy of the Saudi ruling family. Wahhabism has been by far the most generous funder of Islamic educational institutions across the world, and, for over a century now, has controlled Islam’s two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina. Wahhabism and various literalist Islamic disciplines have gained prominence in the Islamic and especially Arab world in the last half century. They are products of desert-based, homogenous cultures that lacked plurality and exposure to the world, that were not enriched by the Arab and Islamic world’s liberal age. Today, a majority of Muslims live in non-Arab countries whose cultural heritages, especially in the twentieth century, have been far from homogenous. Islamic thinking and rhetoric has to transcend the insularity that has characterized it in the last half century. It is time to explore the richness that these Islamic communities offer it.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

If equally deviant from the truth

Rummaging around amongst the electronic texts of Gutenberg or Internet Archive, there is a mass of books from ages past to be found, waiting to have the electronic dust blown off them and to be reread.

In looking for John Adams' letters, I came across, quite by accident, Hero Tales from American History by those old stalwarts and friends, Henry Cabot Lodge and Theodore Roosevelt. I did not know of its existence and I am looking forward to reading it.

Hero Tales was published in 1895 as a children's book to teach character and virtue. Roosevelt was at the time President of the New York City Police Board and Lodge was a Senator.

Thinking about this find, it prompts the thought that there are ebbs and flows in history and the pendulum swings from side to side.

Hero Tales from American History is clearly of that time when the leaders of our country rejoiced in our history and lionized our citizen heroes. Without a doubt, truth was not always well-served, indeed, to some extent, sacrificed to a good tale, well told. You can't help but have a little 21st century cynical smirk as you read these one-sided stories of courage and sacrifice and glory. But you also can't help but cast aside that jadedness either. A good story is always a good story. Yes, its nice to have a larger context, and a more balanced one, than is present in Hero Tales but it is also nice to give oneself up to positivity.

It is a relief compared to our leading lights today who never miss an opportunity to point out the moral failings of past heroes. Who want to focus on the manifest ways in which ancient people failed to behave as if they were modern, exquisitely sensitive denizens of the 21st century faculty lounge. But it also prompts the thought that these modern critics are no more accurate than those older boosters. Truth is being equally sacrificed in both cases, just on different sides of the ledger. The older enthusiasts focused on the positive and ignored the blight, the modern critics focus on the blight and ignore the positive.

If equally deviant from the truth, I know which I prefer.

Are they taking the mickey out of the surveyers?

I have been seeing a lot of this in the past few years. A material change in what would normally be seen as a bedrock belief not likely to be subject to significant swings over time.

In this case, Pew is reporting trends in beliefs about human evolution by party affiliation. In this article, Pew is trying to explain why there might be such a large swing among Republicans (a eleven point decline in four years).

Click to enlarge.

I don't find it credible that in four years, absent some huge change in culture, or education or some other event, that a bedrock belief in something such as evolution would change very significantly. I find it doubly hard to believe in this instance as the years being compared are 2009 and 2013. While partisanship might be up in that period, there is nothing I am aware that would indicate that the culture wars of the eighties have flared back up, or that there has been a resurgence in fundamentalist beliefs. The reverse in fact. So why such a big change?

And this isn't really about a belief in evolution. I have seen it across multiple issues such as capital punishment, gun ownership, value of education, etc. Surveys show large swings in core beliefs where you would expect stability.

I think a big part of the issue is simply the fact that for fundamental beliefs, it is hard to ask meaningful questions about complex beliefs and that consequently the results are subject to misinterpretation.

I wonder, though, whether there is something else going on. There is such a large and deep divide between the clerissy and the general population on most issues, I wonder if the general population might not be doing some signalling of their own, regardless of their beliefs. In other words, is the general population, not trusting universities, intellectuals, advocates and the press, giving false answers to those who are doing the survey? Particularly when you take into account some of the long established bias issues which are well known when conducting surveys.

In the period 2009-2013, I don't sense big changes in education or belief systems, etc. That seems an unlikely source for the change in the numbers. What is well documented in that period, is an accelerating fall in public trust in institutions such as government, politicians, teachers, universities, the press, etc., all vying for whom is least trusted. Perhaps that is the motif force.

The press as an enabler of institutional malfeasance

University of North Carolina, Duke University, University of Texas, University of Virginia, Pennsylvania State University - Five major universities that I can think of off the top of my head who are in deep ethical water in just the past couple or three years for fake grades, fake classes, child abuse, false charges against students, financial chicanery, fraud, etc.

Its from September 2014 but I just came across Wallace Hall Was Right About UT All Along by Jim Schutze this morning, outlining what seems to be both a pervasive institutional rot at the University of Texas as well as a corresponding level of moral corruption among the legislators who are supposed to looking out for the best interests of the citizens of Texas.

What is going on here? These aren't podunk universities, these are the creme-de-la-creme. The ethical standards ought to be even higher for them and yet in all the cases the bar is very low and they fail to clear even that. Everyone is familiar with the pernicious issue of crony-capitalism. But what is this? Crony-NGOism? The autonomous public institution coordinating and essentially bribing their legislative masters so that both the university and the legislators benefit but at the expense of the students and of the taxpayers.

I can speculate that the crisis of higher education is a function of excessive governmental cronyism. Universities have grown faster than just about any other part of the economy over the past forty years, with little competition, little transparency and little accountability. Money has been easy courtesy of legislators with costs being covered by increasing taxes, lotteries and increasing loan programs so that the champagne can keep flowing. In such an environment (whether governmental, corporate, or NGO), it is common for there to be a certain operational laxity and, apparently, a degree of moral laxity as well.

But now the economy has slowed, people's incomes have been moribund for years now. Taxes can't be increased. The loan program is teetering with increasing defaults. Now people are beginning to examine just what has been happening to all that money and after a four decade long party, I think there are many more unpleasant surprises that will be uncovered.

To some degree, this is simple human nature and economics. It is what it is. But as the Texas article asks, Where has our fourth estate been all this time? They are supposed to speak truth to power. They are supposed to shine light where the establishment does not want it shone. They are supposed to do the heavy investigative lifting that serves the needs of an informed citizen.

It appears that, for probably a number of reasons, that they have been co-opted and are now part of the establishment. They appear to be part of the problem, standing in the way between citizens and vested interests.

The morality of headline writing

There is a thought provoking article, WaPo’s ‘Anti-Muslim’ Hate Crime Headline Hoax by Ian Tuttle.

The issue that Tuttle is focusing on is the Washington Post's repeated efforts to make a headline match the facts of the article.

The first headline is:
Man stabs two at a bus stop after asking them if they're Muslim
How would you interpret that headline? I would understand the implication to be that someone attacked two other people because they were Muslim.

Since that didn't match the facts in the article, the headline writer had a second shot at it.
Police: Muslim man stabs two after discussion about religious beliefs
How would you interpret that new headline? My inference would be that three Muslims were discussing religious matters and a fight erupted leading to two of them being stabbed by the third. A possible secondary reading would be that there was an ecumenical discussion and the Muslim participant attacked the other two.

The facts still don't match the headline so the headline writer returned with a third attempt.
Police: Man stabs two after asking about religious beliefs
So now we're at a point where it is perhaps a simple religious fanatic of any persuasion.

And there it stands for the time being subject to further revision. While not fully revelatory, it is at least consistent with the facts.

And the facts are these:
What seems to have happened (police are investigating) is that Terrence Lavaron Thomas, a Muslim, asked strangers at a Southfield, Mich., bus stop whether or not they were Muslim, also. Two of them said that they were not. Thomas proceeded to stab the pair with a three-inch folding knife.
That's quite a different story than any of the headlines would indicate. ISIS and Al-Qaeda have called upon their followers and the faithful to attack the infidel wherever they live. Such attacks have now occurred in France, Sweden, Denmark, and elsewhere around Europe in the past month.

With that global Jihad as a context, it is fair to ask whether this is simply an unbalanced fellow launching an attack as a consequence of his mental illness, or whether this is a considered but isolated attack or whether this is part of a globally inspired war on non-Muslims.

You can see why the Washington Post might have wanted to shy away from the factually accurate headline
Muslim man in Detroit attacks and wounds two strangers for not being Muslim
Why I find this interesting is that it raises the question of what is the purpose of a headline. I would guess that it is something like:
Get readers to read the article

Provide readers an accurate snapshot of the content of the article
Its not enough to know the goals, you have to know their relative importance. I am guessing that the weighting is something like 80% on getting them to read the article and 20% on the headline reflecting the content.

But in this instance there seems to be some other dynamic in play.
Muslim man in Detroit attacks and wounds two strangers for not being Muslim
Would likely serve both the primary and the secondary objectives of headline writing. So what third rule is there that overrides the default effective headline?

It would sound great to say we can reverse engineer our way to clarity but the reality is that all we can do is speculate.

Hard to tell. Its clear that they are not afraid to identify that Islam is involved since they use that in the first instance. What seems to be the sticking point is a reluctance to establish a causal relationship: A Muslim man attacked two people solely because they were non-Muslim. It can't be because of any general sensitivity to religion as a motive force because there are innumerable examples where the Post has linked an individual's Christianity to a negative outcome on a causal basis.

Perhaps the issue is that Muslim's are a minority. In other words there is a different rule for majority versus minority religious status.

Perhaps the Washington Post is fully on-board with the Administration's efforts to steer the conversation away from religion (Islamic terrorism) and focus solely on the terrorism aspect.

All these seem unlikely stretches. The answer is that I don't know. I can't construct an argument for a third rule that is both logical and consistent with the data.

The reality is likely that this individual is going to turn out to have a history of mental illness and/or a criminal record and therefore his claimed religion will likely have no significance.

But one way or another, the Washington Post, like so much of the mainstream media, is going to end up in their reporting to look like they have a truth they don't want their readers to know, leading to a decline in trust, leading to fewer readers. The problem will resolve itself eventually but not likely in a manner beneficial to the reporters and shareholders of the Washington Post.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocricy

A quite wonderful letter, Letter to Joshua Speed by Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln is by turns crafting an argument, finding common ground, and maintaining both a linkage and civility while recognizing a profound disagreement between himself and slave-owning Joshua Speed. I can think of nothing comparable among our politicians or nattering class today who seek to stir profound emotions over near-trivial issues through factual dishonesty, dissimilation, and incendiary rhetoric. No, its not quite right to say that the issues are all near-trivial. They become trivial by such treatment by their advocates.

Here Lincoln is forthright in acknowledging differences, seeks common ground, hopes to find a way to bring divergent views into some sort of agreement, while never abandoning his commitment to an ideal of common human dignity.

His penultimate paragraph.
I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor or degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes" When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].
Would that we could resurrect such productive forms of respectful dispute and return to the Enlightenment goal of "all men are created equal" and dispense with protected classes and favored groups and crony capitalism.

Visual arguments

I am guessing this must be an old trope, but I have not seen it before. Both useful, illuminating and probably effective from an argument perspective.

From Monday Night Links by Mark J. Perry. Two examples of the same technique.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution.

Attributed to Einstein but not ever sourced.
If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution.
An example where a modern truism is so usefully true, but which has emerged in a such a diffused manner, that it goes seeking for an authority to lend it credence. A pity since it is true on its own, no matter its origins.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Voters tend to toss incumbent parties out of the White House when the economy sours

From The Rise and Fall of the Parties by Jay Cost. Political prognosticating is meager gruel. But somehow unavoidable and to some extent always alluring.

Cost has some interesting historical suggestions. He observes that, despite all the nonsensical talk about an emerging Democratic Majority, (which has to have had one of the longest stretches of emergence of all time), Republicans have, with many ebbs and flows, steadily been gaining ascendancy over the past thirty years. However,
Note that very little of this has to do with the triumph of conservatism over liberalism or vice versa. Voters tend to toss incumbent parties out of the White House when the economy sours, and prior to that point they tend to favor the opposition for the rest of the electoral offices. These forces combined to rout the GOP in 2008. It is now the Democrats’ turn to worry about their inevitable fall from grace. Maybe they can delay it past 2016, but it is coming.
The ebb and flow of party fortunes is a separate issue from the long term trends in the culture.

Planning - easy in concept, hard in execution


Productivity, the paramount question

From Always Keep Your Eye on Production by Bryan Caplan.

Caplan makes a point which I think needs constant reinforcement. In all the discussions of the economy, of inflation, of government policy, of taxation, etc., lots of theory and complexity and abstractions get introduced, but ultimately it all comes down to Productivity (a term I prefer as it encompasses Production over time, i.e future potential production).

The central social and economic question of our time is, I believe, "How do we increase productivity?" It applies equally well to the nation as it does to an individual. All the concerns about inequality and disparate impact etc. pale into insignificance to this paramount question. If there is insufficient productivity then they become moot.

Or, as Caplan puts it:
Laymen often criticize economics for its arcane complexity. When I talk with non-economists, though, so many gravitate toward Rube Goldberg stories. Random example: Yesterday someone suggested to me that failing to fire under-performing government employees is actually economically beneficial, because secure jobs sustain the middle class, the crucial bedrock of our economy.

When I encounter stories like this, I reply with an adage I urge my fellow economists to adopt: "Always keep your eye on production." Whenever analyzing an economic problem, you should, by default, ignore longs chains of social causation and ignore distribution. Instead, remember that mass production is the root cause of mass consumption. Then ask yourself, "How will whatever we're talking about change the total amount of stuff produced?"

Application to yesterday's random example: What happens to production when lots of skilled workers enjoy pay and employment even if they're unproductive? Production falls, impoverishing society. Subtler analyses must strive to keep sight of this basic truth.
Its not just a macro question. For any individual, the question remains the same: How will this course of action improve or degrade my productivity?

Absent some obvious exceptions (such as incapacity), most questions about fairness, inequality, and disparate impact boil down to differences in productivity.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Dead Wake review

A review of Dead Wake by Erik Larson. From the blurb.
From the #1 "New York Times" bestselling author and master of narrative nonfiction comes the enthralling story of the sinking of the "Lusitania," published to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the disaster On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the "Lusitania" was one of the era's great transatlantic "Greyhounds" and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover, that his ship--the fastest then in service--could outrun any threat. Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger's U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the "Lusitania" made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small--hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more--all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history. It is a story that many of us think we know but don't, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour, mystery, and real-life suspense, "Dead Wake" brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope Riddle to President Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. Gripping and important, "Dead Wake" captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster that helped place America on the road to war.
My highest praise for historical narrative is that it meets the standards of Walter Lord, author of, among many other books, A Night to Remember about the sinking of the Titanic. Erik Larson is writing in the same league as Lord. Faithful reconstruction of the event, an eye for detail and for illuminating side stories, his is a compelling narrative.

I have read a number of accounts over the years of the Lusitania, both books and articles and this is probably the best. Highly recommended.

Passages that caught my attention.

It is often the case that the imagination grasps an idea long before practical men do. It is not that practical men are stupid or the imaginative are more gifted. It is mostly a product of hindsight bias. Forecasts are a dime a dozen and most are forgotten because they were wrong. But a few are remembered because they turned out to be prescient. A very few turn out to be prescient for the right reasons.
Only a few prescient souls seemed to grasp that the design of the submarine would force a transformation in naval strategy. One of these was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who, a year and a half before the war, wrote a short story (not published until July 1914) in which he envisioned a conflict between England and a fictional country, Norland, "one of the smallest Powers in Europe." In the story, entitled "Danger!," Norland at first seems hopelessly overmatched, but the little country has a secret weapon - a fleet of eight submarines, which it deploys off the coast of England to attack incoming merchant ships, both cargo and passenger. At the time Doyle conceived his plot, submarines did exist, but British and German naval commanders saw them as having little value. Norland's submarines, however, bring England to the verge of starvation. At one point, without warning, the commander of the submarine fleet, Capt. John Sirius, uses a single torpedo to sink a White Star passenger liner, the Olympic. England eventually surrenders. Readers found that last attack particularly shocking because the Olympic was a real ship. Its twin had been the Titanic, lost well before Doyle wrote his story.
Larson does a great job of tying together stories several times removed from the main narrative. For example, the Captain of the Lusitania is Captain Turner. Turner survived the sinking of the Lusitania. He survived the sinking of a later ship he commanded during the war. Larson weaves in the tragic information that Turner's youngest son's ship was also torpedoed in World War II and that he did not survive.

One of these intriguing passages, mentions an event of which I have heard a number of accounts over the years. In fact, NPR had a segment on this just the other day; 100 Years Later, What's The Legacy Of 'Birth Of A Nation'?

Here is Larson,
Another item, this out of Washington, reported President Wilson's unhappiness at the fact that critics continued to take him to task for allowing the film, The Clansman, by D.W. Griffith, to be screened at the White House. It was May now; the screening had taken place February 18, with Wilson, his daughters, and members of the cabinet in attendance. Based on the novel The Clansman, by Thomas Dixon, which was subtitled An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, the film described the purported evils of the reconstruction era and painted the Klan as the heroic savior of newly oppressed white southerners. The film, or "photoplay," as it was called, had become a huge hit nationwide, though its critics, in particular the six-year-old National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, decried its content and held protests outside movie theaters, prompting Griffith to give the film a more palatable name, The Birth of a Nation.
Seems like ancient history but the next couple of sentences are evergreen for politicians and the gist could be quoted from innumerable articles today.
On Friday, April 30, the president's personal secretary, Joseph Tumulty, had issued a statement saying, "The President was entirely unaware of the character of the play before it was presented and has at no time expressed his approbation of it." Wilson had agreed to the showing, Tumulty said, as a "courtesy extended to an old acquaintance."
Here's another. I was quite aware of the later Victorian era interest in psychic phenomena and the various efforts to either disprove or validate and the involvement of many leading intellectual lights. But this is the first time I have read, I believe, of William James's involvement. Of one such group:
Its membership included dozens of scientific and literary notables, among them H.G. Wells, Mark Twain, William James, and Oliver Lodge, a leading British physicist who would lose his own son to the war in September 1915 and spend the rest of his life trying to reach him beyond the veil. From time to time Theodate had assisted Lodge and James in an investigation of Mrs. Piper, the medium, for which James convened seventy-five seances. The medium's apparent talents so resisted his attempts to debunk her skills that James came to believe she might be legitimate. "If you wish to upset the law that all crows are black," he wrote, famously, "you must not seek to show that no crows are, it is enough if you prove the single crow to be white. My own white crow is Mrs. Piper."
After the sinking of the Lusitania, bodies were collected for identification and then burial at the nearest coastal town, Queenstown, Ireland. The whole process was wrenching, made more difficult by the fact that survivors and bodies came ashore at different times. All was confusion and chaos.
The dead were placed in three makeshift morgues, including Town Hall, where they were placed side by side on the floor. Whenever possible, children were placed beside their mothers. Survivors moved in slow, sad lines looking for lost kin.

There were reunions of a happier sort as well.

Seaman Leslie Morton spent Friday night looking for his brother Cliff on the lists of survivors and in the hotels of Queenstown but found no trace. Early the next morning he sent a telegram to his father, "Am saved, looking for Cliff." Next morning he went to one of the morgues. "Laid out in rows all the way down on both sides were sheeted and shrouded bodies," he wrote, "and a large number of people in varying states of sorrow and distress were going from body to body, turning back the sheets to see if they could identify loved ones who had not yet been found."

He worked his way along, lifting sheets. Just as he was about to pull yet one more, he saw the hand of another searcher reaching for the same sheet. He looked over, and saw his brother. Their reaction was deadpan.

"Hello Cliff, glad to see you," Leslie said.

"Am I glad to see you you to, Gert," Cliff said. "I think we ought to have a drink on this."

As it happened, their father had not had to spend very much time worrying. He had received telegrams from both sons, telling him each was looking for the other. The telegrams, Leslie later learned, had arrived five minutes apart, "so that father knew at home that we were both safe before we did."
A most enjoyable read. Highly recommended

Special pleading unsupported by a good argument

From Creative Destruction:Is it still possible to survive as an artist in America? by William Giraldi. A sustained exercise in special pleading. The article is actually a book review of Culture Crash by Scott Timberg, but Giraldi completely accepts Timberg's argument and adds his own special pleading to it.

The basic argument is that despite its prosperity, American culture ignores, denigrates and starves American artists. That it is, unlike in times past, impossible for artists to live a middle class life in America.
Let’s forget about starving artist for a moment and get right to a more accurate, and ominous, conjugation: The artist in America is being starved, systemically and without shame. In this land of untold bounty—what is usually called, in a kind of blustering spasm, the richest empire on earth—the American creative class has been forced to brook a historic economic burden while also being sunk into sunless irrelevancy. When it came to artists, Comrade Stalin knew all about a bounty of a different sort—he stuck it on the heads of those whose pens and brushes might transgress against his galactic hubris. Remember Osip Mandelstam’s quip about how Mother Russia reveres her poets enough to murder them? Well, with our consummate lack of reverence, we in America kill our poets in quite another way: We ignore them to death.
There is a head nod towards trying to construct an empirical argument with a spasmodic effort to fling a lot of statistics of varied quality and relevance against the metaphorical wall with the hope that some might stick.
Here’s a paragraph grim enough to wreck your week, a sortie of distressing numbers about the arbiters, facilitators, and creators of culture: Between 2008 and September 2012, there were 66 No. 1 songs, almost half of which were performed by only six artists (Katy Perry, Rihanna, Flo Rida, The Black Eyed Peas, Adele, and Lady Gaga); in 2011, Adele’s debut album sold more than 70 percent of all classical albums combined, and more than 60 percent of all jazz albums. Between 1982 and 2002, the number of Americans reading fiction withered by nearly 30 percent. In a 1966 UCLA study, 86 percent of students across the country declared that they intended to have a “meaningful philosophy of life”; by 2013, that percentage was amputated by half, “meaningful” no doubt replaced by “moneyful.” Over the past two decades, the number of English majors graduating from Yale University has plummeted by 60 percent; at Stanford University in 2013, only 15 percent of students majored in the humanities. In American universities, more than 50 percent of faculty is adjuncts, pittance-paid laborers with no medical insurance and barely a prayer to bolster them. In the publishing and journalism trades, 260,000 jobs were nixed between 2007 and 2009. Since the turn of the century, around 80 percent of cultural critics writing for newspapers have lost their jobs. There are only two remaining full-time dance critics in the entire United States of America. A not untypical yearly salary in 2008 for a professional dancer was $15,000.
There is the clever word smithing.
Renovate that bromide making ends meet and you might be nearer the mark: Members of the creative class are meeting their ends. What does it mean when the middle-class makers of art are relegated to a socioeconomic purgatory? The dearth of public funding for the arts mirrors the dearth of public ardor for the arts, and yet, somehow, we’re awash in dilettantes decanting their wares on the midden of American culture. Everyone, it seems, is an artist. Toss a stone into any crowd and you’ll hit someone who’s writing a novel. (Yeats once opened his address to the Rhymers’ Club with: “The only thing certain about us is that we are too many.”) The vestal and very simple concept of supply and demand will not be debauched out of its simplicity: When everyone’s an artist and no one spends money on art, art is stripped of any economic traction and serious artists can’t earn a living. Couple that with a population that overwhelmingly doesn’t mind if art and artists go extinct and you have, ladies and gentlemen, what can be fairly called a crisis.
Ah yes. the de rigeur crisis. The bugle call to arms. But after that snide insider/elitist observation that "we’re awash in dilettantes decanting their wares on the midden of American culture. Everyone, it seems, is an artist." Who is this "we" of whom you speak, Giraldi? This is revealing. Giraldi is not celebrating that more people have more time and means to produce art. He is railing that this is creating competition for those select few whom he considers to be true artists. Giraldi is no different than any other producer seeking protection from the free market and support from the state in terms of either subsidies or grants of monopolistic protection.

The crux is that this is not peculiar to the arts. These issues have been stalking all fields of endeavor since the mid-1970s and the initial pangs of globalization: winner-take-all-economies, global competition, and technological displacement.

First it was felt by blue collar workers and everyone regretted the disruptions but hoped that the sop of worker retraining would mitigate the consequences. Then it began to encroach on the managerial middle class and the wails got louder and there was hope that legislation might constrain outsourcing, but in the event that was an empty hope. Now lawyers, doctors and engineers are being threatened and there are dizzying discussions without any real focus on productive solutions of how to help large classes of people to become more productive in a globally variable and fast changing environment. The impact on artists is as regrettable as it is on all the others but there is nothing that particularly distinguishes their travails from anyone elses.

Giraldi wants to cast this as fundamentally a reflection of a weak culture that refuses to stand by its artists. The sum of his solution is take money from everyone else and redirect that money to artists as a special class. Gak! How transparently self-serving can you get and how demonstrably ignorant and/or inconsiderate of others? This is cultural elitism at its shallowest and most despicable.

There are real issues here and Giraldi raises some valid points such as, for example, what to do about the culture of expropriating intellectual property.

But never in this long diatribe is there any discussion of the central issue. Why are people no longer willing to purchase the products of the creative class? We are far richer than we have ever been in history. There is more disposable income than ever before. Our poorest quintile have income levels equivalent to that of the middle quintile in the 1970s. There is more disposable income around than ever before. Granted, it is never as much as we would want or might have expected, but it is there.

Why are people not spending those increasing levels of disposable income on artists? That is what Giraldi needs to answer.

Instead Giraldi constructs an elaborate confectionary of an argument with many hot-buttons pushed but never in a way that establishes a coherent and robust evidence based argument.
When Robert Lowell was reconfiguring American poetry in 1950s Boston, “a life of genteel poverty was still possible.” Let me tell you, as a Bostonian—a life of genteel poverty is no longer possible, and hasn’t been for a long time.

Whenever the argument weakens, Giraldi plays the No True Scotsman fallacy. For example, Giraldi wants to exclude from artisthood, the tens of thousands of "dilettante" poets and literary writers with MFAs ensconced in universities across the land. Their existence would completely invalidate his argument that artists cannot enjoy a middle class livelihood.
But when you’re an artist in academia, you’re only a part-time artist, at best.
Giraldi reveals his totalitarian Gramscian colors towards the end of this long jeremiad. According to Giraldi, the fault lies not in the artists and their disengagement from the consuming public but with the state and the bankers.
Because the artist’s woe has its origin in Washington and on Wall Street, in the very strands of our socioeconomic structure, and in the unkillable throbbing of the electronic marketplace, reversing that woe will take a revolution.
Who else gets to do what they want without having to collaborate, cooperate and serve others? That is the heart of commerce and it produces wonders. It worked in the past with other artists, including all the ones mentioned in the article. But in all eras, artists who have followed their own muse different from the tastes of the public have suffered. Their names and numbers are legion and are not infrequently now among the pantheon of our revered greats today: Poe, Melville, Whistler, Picasso, van Gogh, etc. They all suffered either prolonged periods of marginal financial existence or lived their entire lifetimes on the verge of financial calamity.

Giraldi is unpersuasive in his argument and by its one-sidedness and wilful ignorance of the lives of those outside the artistic community and outside the narrow circles of the elite, inadvertently makes the case that artists are not yet sufficiently engaged with the reality with which we are all engaged to deserve any special consideration at all.

Before asking for money and protection perhaps Giraldi can address the two irreconcilable issues:
Artists are unwilling to produce the art for which people are willing to pay.
People are unwilling to pay for much of the art that artists wish to produce.