Saturday, December 31, 2016

The need for illusion is deep

From To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account, p. 127 by Saul Bellow. The man seems to have been speaking of the present moment when he wrote this forty years ago.
A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.

Friday, December 30, 2016

London traffic

Sometime between fifteen and twenty years of age, I read something that indicated that the average traffic speed in London had not changed in centuries. That as soon as some type of traffic flow enhancement was implemented, then the volume of users increased, bringing the average speed back down to the longterm average.

I later discovered that this was known as Smeed's Law.
At the opposite end of this theory was Smeed's observations of heavily congested networks. He noted that at some minimum speed, motorists would simply choose not to drive. If speeds fell below 9 mph (14.5 kph), then drivers would keep away; as speeds rose above this limit, it would draw more drivers out until the roads became congested again.
I recently saw this tweet referencing Smeed's Law.

Economic Fairness and the Least of These

The whole piece is rather insipid with a talking at cross-purposes and a focus on the ephemeral over the substance; none-the-less there are some elements of interest in Democrats Have a Religion Problem by Emma Green.

The article is an interview with Michael Wear, a former Obama White House staffer, regarding the party’s illiteracy about and hostility toward faith. The interviewing seems perfunctory and ill-informed and the responses seem rooted in the individual's positions rather than the broader issue or how a secular party can function in a majority Christian society.

The passage that I found interesting was:
Some of his colleagues also didn’t understand his work, he writes. He once drafted a faith-outreach fact sheet describing Obama’s views on poverty, titling it “Economic Fairness and the Least of These,” a reference to a famous teaching from Jesus in the Bible. Another staffer repeatedly deleted “the least of these,” commenting, “Is this a typo? It doesn’t make any sense to me. Who/what are ‘these’?”
I have blogged elsewhere about the effectiveness in allusive communication when there is a shared culture. This seems to me an additional example.

The least of these is from the King James Bible, Matthew 25, verse 31 onwards. It also shows up in some of the other Gospels.
31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
It is a beautiful and inspiring passage, a call to Christians to love their fellow man without reserve, without regard to status, without consideration of personal gain.

"The least of these" are the poor, the shunned, the marginalized. Before it became the party of Wall Street, you don't have to go all that far back to know that the passage would have been commonly known among the stalwarts of the Democratic party - FDR, JFK, in fact, all the Kennedy's, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Jimmy Carter, probably LBJ; all would have been familiar with and recognized the phrase. You don't have to be a religious zealot to know of the least of these, the allusion recurs through literature and philosophy.

Wear's story is in some ways an insignificant detail but it is in some ways also illuminating. How can you know your constituents if you don't speak their language? How can you inspire them if you don't share their aspirations? How can you maintain your moral bearings if you don't recognize the least of them and only take calls from those with the most?

Bring back the adults, our side and theirs

Oh dear. Does it constitute consorting with the enemy if "the enemy" is pretty witty?

The fake news about Russian hacking has gotten out of hand on our side. Yes the Russians, (and the Chinese and the North Koreans and many others) hack our commercial, cultural, academic, government and other sites. The do so now. They have been doing so since the invention of the internet. And we do the same thing to them as well.

Sometimes they hack in order to influence policy and elections here, just as we did by financing an opposition party in Israel, by our president actively lobbying the British to remain in the EU during the Brexit referendum, and of course through our hacking of European leader's phones. Technologically enabled spy craft is real and ongoing and is conducted by all parties with little clarity for the citizens of the respective nations.

With regard to the latest domestically convenient political claims, as of now, all we know is that someone either leaked or hacked the DNC email systems and revealed to the public behaviors and actions which were either unethical or illegal or both. Wikileaks says it was a leak from a disgruntled Democrat (not inconceivable given the anger I saw among my Bernie supporter friends.) The mainstream media is claiming that it was the Russians based on undocumented claims from confidential contacts within the FBI and CIA which were made on an anonymous basis. We are being asked to decide who is more trustworthy between our ideologically aligned and demonstrably untrustworthy MSM with long track records of partisan "fake news" and Wikileaks. That's a hard call and I am uncomfortable that my mental exercise leads to an assessment that Wikileaks has more probability of being accurate.

As far as I am aware, no one is claiming that there were actual vote hacks. All we have is the claim that the Russians facilitated the embarrassment of the DNC by revealing bad and illegal behavior.

But now, based on this fake news drama, we have the administration taking diplomatic steps, leaving a trail of global drama and embarrassments in its closing days. My first response, when I saw our expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats yesterday was a sense of deja vu going back to the height of the Cold War in the 1970s and 1980s when the Soviet Union, the US, Germany and the UK, with some frequency, had cycles of expelling batches of diplomats.

We don't want to go back to those days. Smart diplomacy shouldn't take us down the path of diplomatic disruption for the sake of a politician's egomaniacal pique at having been embarrassed or to advance domestic political agendas. That price and those risks are too high. But that's what is being done. It makes me nervous.

But then I saw the Russian embassy in London's tweeted response. Seems like there are still some adults on the global stage. Hopefully this reflects the official Russian response and not just some clever under-secretary. Mature disdain of domestic partisan antics.

Bring back the adults, our side and theirs.

UPDATE: We have our own wits.

UPDATE 2: Iowahawk is on a roll.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The study of that which can be weighed and measured

W.H. Auden
And still they come, new from those nations
to which the study of that
which can be weighed and measured
is a consuming love.

Correlation is not causation except in very weak academic fields such as . . .


Earthquake activity rendered

Great data visualization.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Although I am ready to defend what I have said, many people expect me to defend what others have attributed to me.

Thomas Sowell, a great economist, scholar, writer, and American, announced this week that he would be retiring from his weekly column. I have been dreading this day for sometime. I have been reading his columns and books for more than twenty years to my enjoyment and benefit. On the other hand, I knew he was advancing in age. Specifically, he is 86 years old.

He has given us a lot of wisdom, insight and new information from his research, all of which advance the epistemological frontier. More than that, he has a way with words and more particularly, a gift for a well turned phrase. Sometimes he was more strident than I might have wished but he always stood in defense of Western Civilization for the achievement it represented, while being fully cognizant of its manifold flaws.

Below is a collection of Thomas Sowell gems. It is a small vein in a vast seam.
If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labeled a radical 50 years ago, a liberal 25 years ago and a racist today.

Elections should be held on April 16th — the day after we pay our income taxes. That is one of the few things that might discourage politicians from being big spenders.

One of the painful signs of years of dumbed-down education is how many people are unable to make a coherent argument. They can vent their emotions, question other people's motives, make bold assertions, repeat slogans-- anything except reason.

Although I am ready to defend what I have said, many people expect me to defend what others have attributed to me.

Many years ago, there was a comic book character who could say the magic word “shazam” and turn into Captain Marvel, a character with powers like Superman’s. Today, you can say the magic word “diversity” and turn reverse discrimination into social justice.

Racism has never done this country any good, and it needs to be fought against, not put under new management for different groups.

Too much of what is called "education" is little more than an expensive isolation from reality.

The first time I traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, as the plane flew into the skies over London, I was struck by the thought that, in these skies, a thousand British fighter pilots fought off Hitler’s air force and saved both Britain and Western civilization. But how many students today will have any idea of such things, with history being neglected in favor of politically correct rhetoric?

The most fundamental fact about the ideas of the political Left is that they do not work. Therefore, we should not be surprised to find the Left concentrated in institutions where ideas do not have to work in order to survive.

When words trump facts, you can believe anything. And the liberal groupthink taught in our schools and colleges is the path of least resistance.

The next time some academics tell you how important diversity is, ask how many Republicans there are in their sociology department.

Facts do not "speak for themselves." They speak for or against competing theories. Facts divorced from theory or visions are mere isolated curiosities.

Understanding the limitations of human beings is the beginning of wisdom.

I have never understood why it is "greed" to want to keep the money you have earned but not greed to want to take somebody else's money.

The problem isn't that Johnny can't read. The problem isn't even that Johnny can't think. The problem is that Johnny doesn't know what thinking is: he confuses it with feeling.

A generation that jumps to conclusions on the basis of its own emotions, or succumbs to the passions or rhetoric of others, deserves to lose the freedom that depends on the rule of law. Unfortunately, what they say and what they do can lose everyone's freedom, including the freedom of generations yet unborn.

Each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late.

Ideas are everywhere, but knowledge is rare.

It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.

When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.

Virtually no idea is too ridiculous to be accepted, even by very intelligent and highly educated people, if it provides a way for them to feel special and important. Some confuse that feeling with idealism.

Liberalism is totalitarianism with a human face.

Despite a voluminous and often fervent literature on 'income distribution,' the cold fact is that most income is not distributed: It is earned.

It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.

We cannot return to the past, even if we wanted to, but let us hope that we can learn something from the past to make for a better present and future.

The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.

People who enjoy meeting should not be in charge of anything.

Envy plus rhetoric equals 'social justice'.

No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems — of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind.

If you don't believe in the innate unreasonableness of human beings, just try raising children.

Socialism sounds great. It has always sounded great. And it will probably always continue to sound great. It is only when you go beyond rhetoric, and start looking at hard facts, that socialism turns out to be a big disappointment, if not a disaster.

The welfare state is the oldest con game in the world. First you take people's money away quietly and then you give some of it back to them flamboyantly.

Much of the social history of the Western world over the past three decades has involved replacing what worked with what sounded good.

If I could offer one piece of advice to young people thinking about their future, it would be this: Don't preconceive. Find out what the opportunities are.

The young and less educated are more fascinated with innovation?

While running an errand just now, I was listening to NPR. They had an interview with a scholar about his annotated history of the works of the poet T.S. Eliot. All sounded rather interesting. They focused in part on Eliot as a fulcrum poet, i.e. between the US and UK, between past and future. The scholar made some comment about how we focus so much more on innovation today than we do on preserving tradition.

I accept the sentiment but it made me wonder if that was true. It immediately occurred to me to test the hypothesis using Ngram Viewer (a Google tool for measuring the frequency of words and phrases in books) and Google Trends (measures the frequency of words and phrases in google searches.)

The result was interesting with Ngram showing a direct inversion of Google Trends.

Ngram Viewer

Click to enlarge

Google Trends

Click to enlarge

In books, tradition is referenced nearly three times as often as innovation. In contrast, among google searches, people are interested in innovation nearly twice as much as they are about tradition.

Interpretation? I struggle to come up with an adequate one. Book writers are almost certainly, on average, more intelligent, grave, educated and older than the average google searcher. Perhaps age reflects a different focus on the value of tradition over the novelty of innovation. I really don't know. But the fact that it is so strongly inverted is, in itself, interesting.

Gut rapid pattern recognition subverts rational assessment

This is a great example of the care you have to have in balancing gut instinct pattern recognition and closer, more precise analytical consideration.

The example starts with this tweet from Pew.

My first instinct was "Wow, that looks like the 2016 election results." And it does.

Click to enlarge

Surfing from that instantaneous spark of recognition, you might then conclude that those areas where there was the greatest shrinkage of the middle class are the areas where there was the greatest support for the Democratic candidate for President. All very reasonable.

But then you have to override your gut pattern recognition and ask yourself some more probing questions and deal with actual facts.

Here are a series of facts that have to be fit to the maps.
Democrats basically won the urban core (see the red-blue map) and urban cores are the areas where there is the greatest inequality. Perhaps the issue is not shrinkage of the middle class but rather the rise of inequality.

The middle class has been shrinking since the late 1970s. But the cause of the shrinkage is interesting. Some people have indeed moved down and out of the middle class. But many more have moved up into the upper-middle and into the wealthy according to Pew (in a different report).

If the rich are more conservative, then a shrinkage of the middle class that is occurring because people are getting richer should mean that those areas with the greatest shrinkage ought to be aligning with Republicans, but that is not the case. That supports the supposition that it is not about middle class shrinkage but about urban inequality.

Finally, while the maps look near identical at first glance, the longer you look at the details the more you see discrepancies. Alaska and Hawaii both have little middle class shrinkage but both are, respectively, solidly red and blue. The fit for Ohio, Iowa, Missouri and others also looks fairly spotty. I would guess that there is a correlation between middle class shrinkage and party dominance but that the r-value would be pretty low.
Instantaneous pattern recognition sees a high degree of correlation but measured and considered observation and awareness of context suggests that there is probably, in fact, quite a low correlation between voting affiliation and shrinkage of the middle class.

Increasing freedom leads to greater opportunity and prosperity which leads to greater inequality and harder decisions in the future

This is simply unaffordable socialist tosh; Radical economic populism is the only thing that can save the Democrats now by Jeff Spross, about what you might expect from a thirty-something leftist radio/media/TV major.

Spross indicts democrats for not noticing the failure to deliver rising goods to the electorate and then goes on to recommend the type of policies which have failed to date, have failed everywhere, and have failed catastrophically.

It is the indictment which sparked a thought.
Many liberals probably think that sounds racist, untrue, or both. But the "deeper story" is actually anchored in reality more than they realize.

America's welfare aid is both skimpier and far more targeted to the poor than most Western safety nets. Ostensibly, that reduces spending and focuses help on the most needy. But it also inevitably leaves most Americans feeling left out.

ObamaCare is illustrative of this reality. Medicaid, which the Affordable Care Act expanded, may be stingy with providers and does not always have great networks, but overall, its recipients have to deal with relatively little cost-sharing — a major plus for those who get Medicaid. But people who make too much to qualify for Medicaid fall into the exchanges, where deductibles are eye-watering and insurance subsidies phase out far too soon. As a result, only the bottom 20 percent of Americans saw their incomes dramatically and systemically improved by the health reform law.

The story is the same for most other major programs: food stamps, TANF, housing assistance, energy assistance, child tax credits, and more. Nearly half of the money goes to the bottom 20 percent of the income ladder.

Government benefits that rise higher up the income ladder are often hidden in the tax code: Think of the deduction for mortgage payments, or the tax break to employers for providing health insurance. Cornell government professor Suzanne Mettler calls this "the submerged state" — an approach to policy design that actively prevents people from realizing they're being helped by the government.

But the plight of white working-class Americans goes beyond the structural problems with government benefits. Decades of wage stagnation, disappearing jobs, and lost benefits have rotted away livelihoods for huge numbers of middle- and lower-middle-class Americans. The costs of education, housing, and health care have skyrocketed, chewing into family budgets. Nearly half of Americans cannot afford an emergency expense of $400, and even many upper-class workers effectively live paycheck to paycheck.

In other words, the financial pressures, stalled livelihoods, dismal futures, and lost jobs brought on by rising inequality and the hollowing job market extend far beyond the bottom 20 percent. Meanwhile, these middle-class Americans experience government aid solely as something that goes to other people. Democrats' increased focus on social uplift for immigrants, black Americans, and working women are infinitely worthy causes, but they also inevitably read to many members of the white working class as further proof that help is going to everyone who isn't them.
There are elements of truth to the indictment along with some misstatements and omissions. It is not the accuracy of the claim which interests me but rather the train of thought that it sparked.

We are, on average and in general, much better off than we were a generation ago, both in terms of material prosperity and in terms of almost every other socioeconomic indicator. Yes, we suffered a great recession from which we have barely recovered and yes there has been continuing economic and industrial churn and dislocation over the past forty years. Those are great drivers of frustration and ennui.

But I wonder if there is something tangential, but more causative, going on. Look at the list that Spross trots out and let me slightly recast it.

In 1970, for a variety of historical and other reasons, there were good reasons for Americans to anticipate some continuing developments of the recent past. They could anticipate a comfortable retirement between the combination of company pensions and social security. They could anticipate affordable and reliable healthcare between company insurance and Medicaid/Medicare. They could anticipate adequate and affordable public education. They could anticipate affordable means of investing in their own homes. Housing, healthcare, retirement, education - all the big cost drivers were addressed.

All you had to do was stay employed and accept some marginal limits in your choices and aspirations. If you did that, everything substantial was taken care of. You didn't have to own responsibility for your own financial planning for retirement. You didn't have to set aside monies or take out loans for education. You didn't have to do trade-off decision-making regarding out-of-pocket co-payments versus limited networks versus deductibles for healthcare. You didn't have to consider adjustable rates versus fixed, standard versus balloon mortgage structures. Things were simpler.

Complexity and range of choices

Part of what happened in the next fifty years was an explosion of expectations. The expectations of the great middle expanded enormously. Not just a 1,500 square foot home but 2,500 and larger. Not just adequate healthcare but cutting edge. Not just a more-than-decent state university education but Ivy League. Not just secure retirement but indulgent retirement (cruises, travel, etc.). What we wanted expanded faster than what we could afford. That is part of what drove the expanding sense of frustration, particularly when loaded on top of the political, economic, and cultural disruptions and uncertainties post-1970.

But I suspect there is another dynamic in play here which does not perhaps get the attention that it should. Look at all those programs. In every case, over time, people were being given more choices as a matter of course. When deciding on buying a home, you could accept the limits of a 30-year fixed mortgage or, if you were confident in the rising real estate market, you could enjoy a much larger, more desirable home if you were willing to take the risk associated with a no down-payment, balloon mortgage.

People were freed up from the risks of company pension plans by owning their own retirement accounts but then had to manage those accounts. Instead of having a company look after their retirement finances, people were tasked with making their own decisions about how much to save, when to save it, and how to invest those savings. People were freed from local service health providers and could make a whole range of choices balancing cost and need and access and quality. You didn't have to be constrained by your local schools and public universities, you could consider charters and private schools and vouchers and Ivy Leagues through the power of guaranteed loans.

These didn't happen by accident. These outcomes were a matter of bipartisan public policy. We wanted more opportunities to customize the most strategic aspects of our lives to our own desires and circumstances. Policy gave us those opportunities.

But there have been a host of consequences to having more opportunities.
More choices
More complexity
More personal risk
More reward for intelligence and balanced behaviors (self-control, self-awareness, self-discipline)
More inequality
With the real estate bubble, between 5-20% of homes were foreclosed, delinquent, financially distressed. Even with the complete redesign of 15% of the economy (healthcare) we only reduced the uninsured from 45 million to 30 million. Student college debt has passed a trillion dollars with increasing uncertainty as to how much of that will be paid back. Private company retirement pensions have all but disappeared, government pensions are increasingly underfunded and there is rising alarm about the financial ill-preparedness for the baby-boomer cohort as they flood into their retirement years.

Yes, we have given people more freedom of choice and many have done exceedingly well from those greater range of choices. The shrinkage of the middle class from 64% of the population to 51% of the population has occurred primarily because most of that 13% moved into higher income brackets.

But there is more personal responsibility, there is more complexity (all those choices have to be made), and there are greater consequences to making bad decisions. The cognitive elite who also have solid behavioral attributes have done exceptionally well. Those who are not as bright and who lack fundamental bourgeois values (duty, respect, work-ethic, self-control, etc.) have done much worse than they likely would have in days when they had fewer decisions to make badly.

The halcyon 25 years post World War II up to 1970 were a unique period where the US, as victor, garnered all sorts of exceptional benefits and which established an impossible benchmark for ever accelerating productivity and wealth. That won't recur. We have to achieve real productivity improvement through diligent effort rather than historical happenstance.

I am not arguing that we reverse the greater freedoms and opportunities that we constructed after 1970. I am merely observing that there was an aggregate effect in terms of complexity and personal responsibility which has made personal experience more challenging and more consequential. It has also had unanticipated societal consequences in terms of inequality and in terms of who wins and loses.

Because we have focused solely on domain-specific policies, we tend not to discuss the aggregate effect and therefore tend to misunderstand what is happening. Hence the global rejection of the elite and the reversion towards nationalism.

How to live within our means, how to balance freedom and security, independence and complexity, average prosperity and inequality are the central issues which are glossed over when we over-focus on domain-specific policy issues such as the laundry list of decrepit policies Spross offers.

UPDATE: And why did all this come about? Well, emergent order out of a complex system is the glib answer.

I think there is a different, and likely more explanatory answer. Who makes the laws and writes the regulations? Doctors, lawyers, engineers, entrepreneurs, business executives and financiers. That is, the cognitive elite. Their intentions were almost always good and positive. But in the process of improving things, they always improved them from the perspective of those at the top of the bell curve and rarely from the perspective of those at the bottom. All the changes that have made things better for themselves have made things more complex, riskier, and more challenging for those not in the top half.

Or at least that is my guess. Pathological altruism on the part of the cognitively endowed from within their bubble.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


A new word to me - Anosognosia.
Anosognosia (/æˌnɒsɒɡˈnoʊziə/, /æˌnɒsɒɡˈnoʊʒə/; from Ancient Greek ἀ- a-, "without", νόσος nosos, "disease" and γνῶσις gnōsis, "knowledge") is a deficit of self-awareness, a condition in which a person who suffers some disability seems unaware of the existence of his or her disability.

Monday, December 26, 2016

IQ, Creativity, and economic adaptability

From Heritability of Working in a Creative Profession by Mark Patrick Roeling, Gonneke Willemsen, and Dorret I. Boomsma. From the abstract:
Creativity is the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities. Following a study on the genetic contribution to working in a creative profession, based on polygenic score analysis, we report the total heritability of this trait in a large sample of adult twins and their siblings registered with the Netherlands Twin Register. Data from 6755 twins and 1817 siblings were analyzed using genetic structural equation modeling. Working in a creative profession is relatively rare in our sample (2.6% of twins and 3.2% of siblings). Twin correlations (identical 0.68 and fraternal 0.40) commended a model with additive genetic factors (full model estimate 0.56), shared (full model estimate 0.12), and unique environmental factors (full model estimate 0.32). Genetic model fitting resulted in a best-fitting model existing of additive genetic factors and unique environmental factors, resulting in a heritability of 0.70.
I question whether the resulting sample size is sufficient to support the conclusion but accept that creativity, like many other traits, might be highly heritable.

We know that more and more work is being disrupted by artificial intelligence and robotics and that those areas of the workforce best positioned for continued success are jobs which are cognitively intense and non-routine in nature. The latter aspect being closely related to creativity.

The upshot is that the two attributes known to be most closely related to future success (in terms of the labor force) are IQ and creativity and both those attributes are highly heritable. Combine that with high levels of assortative mating and you have a sci-fi foundation for a heritable elite.

Of course knowledge is contingent and reality has a lot of other variables in play which are often more important than we recognize.

Freud smiles

From Lessons From 2016 for the News Media, as the Ground Shifts by Jim Rutenberg. As a column, it is about what you would expect from an organization whose reputation, finances and customer satisfaction have all been plunging. The main argument is that they were even-handed in their approach to the 2016 election and they did a pretty good, if unacknowledged, job of reporting.

Rather than fisking the whole thing, which is highly fiskable, I prefer to focus on a Freudian slip. The Times has long claimed superior product based on layers and layers of editors and fact-checkers. Apparently, they don't have enough layers.

Rutenberg starts out with a hyperbolic analogy that way overdramatizes the role of the news media.
Starting a weekly column about the nexus between media, technology, culture and politics in the middle of the 2016 presidential campaign was like parachuting into a hail of machine-gun crossfire.
I think the better rendering might have been:
Starting a weekly column about the nexus between media, technology, culture and politics in the middle of the 2016 presidential campaign was like playing the lead role in a Greek tragedy where the character's hubris was the cause of his own downfall.
No need to steal from the valor of our military, just acknowledge your own role in your predicament.

After a few more meandering dribbles,
So the ammunition keeps flying, especially at the national news media, which emerges from the election invigorated in its mission to report on plate-shifting news while rooting out the truth. And yet it has never been more besieged or, if the Gallup Organization had it right, distrusted.
Let's ignore the simple ignorance of "the ammunition keeps flying." Bullets fly. Ammunition is fired. Ammunition doesn't fly unless it is thrown at you.

The more egregious fault in writing is elsewhere. Come on editors, "rooting out the truth?" Critics of the Times would claim that the heavily biased reporting did indeed root out the truth and trafficked in fake news.

From Merriam Webster:
Definition of root out
1: to find and remove (something or someone)

2: to find (something or someone) after searching for a long time
The primary meaning of the phrase Root out is to find and remove. Rutenberg is claiming that the NYT's challenge was to keep finding and getting rid of the truth from its reporting.

Critics would agree. Critics likely would acknowledge that it became increasingly hard for the NYT to hide the levels of corruption and incompetency of their preferred candidate as the election progressed.

Clearly Rutenberg was intending his reference to "root out" to be used in the secondary sense, as in finding.

However, when your candidate has been repudiated and lost an election that was the second election she was supposed by everyone to have been unassailably positioned to win, when your own news organization has failed in its duty to report impartially, when you are being accused left, right, and center of having had your thumb on the news scale, when you are believed by most to be untrustworthy, and when the claim is in wide circulation that your failure is rooted in bubble-like insularity, then you would think Rutenberg, and his editors, would be carful in his wording not to feed those accusations by baldly, if accidentally, stating that the hardest part of the election was hiding the truth.

I would expect that the NYTs will eventually notice this misstatement. For posterity, here is the screenshot.

Click to enlarge.

Gunga Din, Gunga Din, Where the hell 'ave you been

Yesterday, with all the family gathered around, the day was spent in lively conversation, eating, telling jokes, snoozing, storytelling, and reminiscing. The kind of environment where ties are reinforced, knowledge is shared, ideas generated, and discoveries made.

One of the latter of which was a minor incident in one of my sons' youth, perhaps when he was in fifth or sixth grade. The backstory is that we read a great deal to our children and quite widely. Picture books, poems, novels, nonfiction, ancient, classic, contemporary.

Among the favorites, both for parents and children, were the many works of Rudyard Kipling. Among the favorites of his (there could be no single favorite), was the poem Gunga Din.

We read the poem many times. There was a catch-phrase from the poem that my wife would use on occasion, usually when the kids were late.
Gunga Din, Gunga Din,
Where the hell 'ave you been?
Her mother had read Gunga Din to her in her time and that was a common extracted phrase in her own youth.

My son's story was an incident in English class where he quoted the line to his teacher apropos some topic they were discussing. She denied that that was a line from the poem. My son wondered at the fact that she didn't know it. All that was long ago and we knew nothing of it till it came up in conversation yesterday.

Then the debate arose. Where in the poem? Of course we looked it up and, sure enough, there is no such line. Sure, there is one line which it is a close paraphrase.
It was "Din! Din! Din!
You 'eathen, where the mischief 'ave you been?
There are a couple of other lines of which it might be an amalgam. But fundamentally, the quote was no quote at all.

That discovery then led to its own debate; How could we have circulated this misquote, this "false knowledge" for at least three generations without noticing? We have all read the poem dozens of times and yet never paid attention to the fact that a quote from it that we used with some frequency, did not actually exist.

And when did it start? Grandmother was certainly using it when she was a young mother. Did she originate it herself to hustle along tardy children, or did she learn the misquote in her own youth? We will never know.

But of this I am sure. We'll keep on using it to chide slowpoke children.
Gunga Din
by Rudyard Kipling

YOU may talk o' gin an' beer
When you're quartered safe out 'ere,
An' you're sent to penny-fights an' Aldershot it;
But if it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water,
An' you'll lick the bloomin' boots of 'im that's got it.
Now in Injia's sunny clime,
Where I used to spend my time
A-servin' of 'Er Majesty the Queen,
Of all them black-faced crew
The finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din.

It was "Din! Din! Din!
You limping lump o' brick-dust, Gunga Din!
Hi! slippy hitherao!
Water, get it! Panee lao!
You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din!"

The uniform 'e wore
Was nothin' much before,
An' rather less than 'arf o' that be'ind,
For a twisty piece o' rag
An' a goatskin water-bag
Was all the field-equipment 'e could find.
When the sweatin' troop-train lay
In a sidin' through the day,
Where the 'eat would make your bloomin' eyebrows crawl,
We shouted "Harry By!"
Till our throats were bricky-dry,
Then we wopped 'im 'cause 'e couldn't serve us all.

It was "Din! Din! Din!
You 'eathen, where the mischief 'ave you been?
You put some juldee in it,
Or I'll marrow you this minute,
If you don't fill up my helmet, Gunga Din!"

'E would dot an' carry one
Till the longest day was done,
An' 'e didn't seem to know the use o' fear.
If we charged or broke or cut,
You could bet your bloomin' nut,
'E'd be waitin' fifty paces right flank rear.
With 'is mussick on 'is back,
'E would skip with our attack,
An' watch us till the bugles made "Retire."
An' for all 'is dirty 'ide,
'E was white, clear white, inside
When 'e went to tend the wounded under fire!

It was "Din! Din! Din!"
With the bullets kickin' dust-spots on the green.
When the cartridges ran out,
You could 'ear the front-files shout:
"Hi! ammunition-mules an' Gunga Din!"

I sha'n't forgit the night
When I dropped be'ind the fight
With a bullet where my belt-plate should 'a' been.
I was chokin' mad with thirst,
An' the man that spied me first
Was our good old grinnin', gruntin' Gunga Din.

'E lifted up my 'ead,
An' 'e plugged me where I bled,
An' 'e guv me 'arf-a-pint o' water—green;
It was crawlin' an' it stunk,
But of all the drinks I've drunk,
I'm gratefullest to one from Gunga Din.

It was "Din! Din! Din!
'Ere's a beggar with a bullet through 'is spleen;
'E's chawin' up the ground an' 'e's kickin' all around:
For Gawd's sake, git the water, Gunga Din!"

'E carried me away
To where a dooli lay,
An' a bullet come an' drilled the beggar clean.
'E put me safe inside,
An' just before 'e died:
"I 'ope you liked your drink," sez Gunga Din.
So I'll meet 'im later on
In the place where 'e is gone—
Where it's always double drill and no canteen;
'E'll be squattin' on the coals
Givin' drink to pore damned souls,
An' I'll get a swig in Hell from Gunga Din!

Din! Din! Din!
You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!
Tho' I've belted you an' flayed you,
By the livin' Gawd that made you,
You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas


William the Conqueror was crowned King of England on Christmas Day, 1066.

I had forgotten, till I noticed this, that he was originally known as William the Bastard.

Click to enlarge.
Detail of a roundel of William the Conqueror ('William Bastard'), from a genealogical chronicle of the kings of England, England (East Anglia?), c. 1340–1342: British Library Royal MS 14 B VI, membrane 5.

That is a pretty dramatic, and positive, switch in personal brands. How many other examples are there of such positive switches in soubriquets?

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Love that moves the Sun and other stars

What wonderful stories which I have never heard of before. From Christmas Eve in Space and Communion on the Moon by Eric Metaxas.
It happened on Christmas Eve, 48 years ago. Three men took turns reading from the first 10 verses of the Book of Genesis. They were nearly 250,000 miles away from Bethlehem, but since it was the night before Christmas, and there was no chimney from which to hang their stockings, the three astronauts inside the Apollo 8 capsule orbiting the moon thought it would be appropriate. So as Jim Lovell,Frank Borman and Bill Anders looked at the faraway Earth through the small window of the spacecraft, they read the verses: “In the beginning, God made the heavens and the Earth.”

Their distant-sounding voices from far beyond our atmosphere were broadcast live to the whole planet that night over radio and television. It was one of those moments that brought the world together, that helped us to see our common humanity as children of God whom he loves equally, and whom he placed on the beautiful planet that he made.
Read the whole for further little known aspects the Christmas story in space.

It came upon the midnight clear

It came upon the midnight clear
by Edmund H. Sears

It came upon the midnight clear,
that glorious song of old,
from angels bending near the earth
to touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, good will to men,
from heaven's all-gracious King."
The world in solemn stillness lay,
to hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come
with peaceful wings unfurled,
and still their heavenly music floats
o'er all the weary world;
above its sad and lowly plains,
they bend on hovering wing,
and ever o'er its Babel sounds
the blessed angels sing.

And ye, beneath life's crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow,
look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
and hear the angels sing!

For lo! the days are hastening on,
by prophet seen of old,
when with the ever-circling years
shall come the time foretold
when peace shall over all the earth
its ancient splendors fling,
and the whole world send back the song
which now the angels sing.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Consent of the governed as a real check on utopians

From Education Is Still Inequitable: Low- and high-income students may get similar quality teaching, but the outcomes remain vastly unequal. by Lisette Partelow. Interesting for four reasons.

1 - US News and World Report? They are still around? I first came across them in college in the early eighties. Occasionally saw them on newsstands and in airports for another decade or two after that. They really haven't been on my radar screen for years. I knew it as a weekly magazine in the same category as Time or Newsweek. I see from Wikipedia that US News and World Report is now monthly and digital only. It also appears as if it has made a major transition. Once it was a newsmagazine which published college rankings and now it is a college ranking service which does some news.

2 - In this particular article, having read the first 2-3 paragraphs, I got the sense that this must be either sponsored content or an Opinion piece. The author, Lisette Partelow, is listed as a contributor which doesn't help clarify much. There is nothing on the page that tells you whether this is supposed to be straight reporting or whether it is Opinion. You have to look in the URL to see that in fact this is Opinion. With all the blather about Fake News, it seems like they might be more interested in keeping the two more clearly distinguished from one another.

3 - It is interesting how the internet allows you to get context so easily and quickly. Why is the author writing in the fashion she does with the policies she is advocating? She comes across as an authoritarian socialist (discussed below). A quick search yields context. Partelow has worked her entire career in government, education, and think tanks/advocacy groups. Her undergraduate is in psychology and her masters is in Public Affairs. That explains a lot in terms of her utopian world view.

4 - Partelow is discussing on a recent report with explosive findings.
Recently, Mathematica published a report that upended years of research and conventional wisdom about teaching. The report's main findings – that low-income students and high-income students are equally likely to be taught by great, mediocre and low-performing teachers, respectively – came as a surprise to many of us in the education policy world who have cited research showing that low-income students' lack of access to qualified teachers is one likely contributor to our nation's achievement gaps.

Following the release of the study, social media traffic on my feed was some mix of surprise and "I told you so," with many using the study to confirm their own preexisting positions. Undoubtedly the study's methodology and the many additional research questions it raises will be picked over thoroughly. But the full report contains considerable detail that addresses a lot of the critiques I've seen thus far.
So it sounds like Partelow believes that the findings are real, that poor kids are not being disadvantaged by the quality of teachers they are assigned.

Here is where it gets interesting. Partelow embraces a fairly explicit Marxist policy set. She wants equal outcomes from all the blank slate students.
In other words, even if there is more equality in our nation's classrooms than previously thought, America's education system is still not equitable.
She sees schools as responsible, not for developing all children to the extent of their abilities, but rather, to produce equal outcomes across all children. This socialist belief that all individuals are equal and it is simply a matter of developing the right policies so that they can all be equal is undermined by most of our scientific research. Steven Pinker's Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature is a good synopsis of the field.

Partelow makes her policy recommendation more explicit than is common (hence the reason this is interesting, it is uncharacteristically honest).
Giving low-income students more access to those teachers at the top of the distribution, then, is another important strategy for improving their outcomes. Embedded deep within Mathematica's report is some good news: Most of the districts participating in the study (which skewed toward large urban districts) were already employing at least some strategies for giving low-income students greater access to high-performing teachers.
There are two bell-curves here. There is the bell-curve of students and their capabilities and there is the bell-curve of teachers and their capabilities. Partelow is advocating that parents of children in the top half of the bell-curve should not do what is best for their children but instead should give up good teachers to make up for deficiencies among children at the bottom half of the student bell-curve.

It sounds noble. It sounds like "from each according to their abilities and to each according to their needs." It sounds like advocating for parental neglect. It sounds utopian. It sounds like there is no chance that citizens would accept this.

Partelow does do the service of forcing to the surface some irreconcilable issues. This is a clash of visions between blank slate socialists and tragic conservatives. Everyone wants what is best for children but what constitutes best? That some are underserved while others are over-served in order for all to be equal (Partelow's position)? Or that all should be developed to the extent of their capability (which would likely lead to better teachers with better students)? These are deep and often ignored questions.

The reality, from my perspective, is that all parents want what is best for their children and will do a lot to bring that about. If the system seeks to disadvantage their child (as Partelow recommends), the parents will circumvent the system. Partelow, and people of her beliefs, are likely a major part of why there has been a decline in support for public schools and a rise in support for private schools, vouchers, charters and magnate schools. Partelow wants to give the minimum necessary to the best students so that the least capable students can be better served whereas parents of the best students want the best possible for those better students.

Partelow finishes full-unicorn.
The end goal of such policies would be making teaching in high-needs schools the most prestigious, sought after teaching job a teacher could obtain, with pay and working conditions commensurate with such prestige. This would include comprehensive high-quality induction, professional compensation, relevant and effective professional learning opportunities and adequate time for teachers to plan and collaborate together in order to provide higher quality instruction. Incentivizing districts and school leaders to place their best teachers at the highest-needs schools while also providing these teachers with needed supports could make a huge difference for students and teachers alike.
She is dedicated to the bottom half of students which is estimable. But in a world of limited resources, her policy of redirecting resources from the top half means the top half students won't develop to their full capability. It is a trade-off in which one group wins (poor performing students) and another group loses (high capability students) and Partelow wants to be the arbiter as to who wins and who loses.

Regrettably for such authoritarian utopians, parents want to have a say in the decision as well. Because of our republican democracy structured around subsidiarity, parents usually end up with the upper hand and authoritarian socialists end up with failing school systems. The evidence is in the spreading repudiation of blank slate socialists and spread of vouchers, charter schools and magnate schools.

Some choices are simply hard and nobody gets quite what they want. Consent of the governed puts even more constraints in place.

Seasonal gluttony

A seasonal warning about Gluttony from 1295 (La Somme le Roi, a moral compendium compiled in 1279 by the Dominican Friar Laurent for King Philip III of France)

Click to enlarge

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Irish-Norwegian (t)raiding routes

By the medieval version of global trade?

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored

Three quotes from Proper Studies by Aldous Huxley. Though published in 1927, I cannot find an electronic text to which to link.

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.
- "Note on Dogma".

Those who believe that they are exclusively in the right are generally those who achieve something.
- "Note on Dogma".

That all men are equal is a proposition which at ordinary times no sane individual has ever given his assent.
- "The Idea of Equality".

That was quick

From How Travis Kalanick Is Building The Ultimate Transportation Machine by Miguel Helft.
The result has been the fastest ascent in Silicon Valley history, as Uber outpaced even rocket ships like Google and Facebook, with revenue that exceeded $1 billion in the second quarter and a workforce of more than 9,000 employees and 1.5 million drivers. (More people earn a paycheck--or part of one--from Uber than from any other private employer in the world except for Wal-Mart and McDonald's.) Uber has rolled out its app--often bulldozing regulatory hurdles and vocal opposition from taxi drivers--in more than 450 cities across 73 countries. In any given month 40 million people will take an Uber ride, and its drivers will collectively cover 1.2 billion miles, or about 35 times the distance between Earth and Mars. Kalanick's goal now is to "make transportation as reliable as running water."

Assortative mating, class and education

This is interesting. From Educational Homogamy and Assortative Mating Have Not Increased by Rania Gihleb and Kevin Lang.

I have long been familiar with the assortative mating argument. This is the first time I have seen evidence against it.
Some economists have argued that assortative mating between men and women has increased over the last several decades, thereby contributing to increased family income inequality. Sociologists have argued that educational homogamy has increased. We clarify the relation between the two and, using both the Current Population Surveys and the decennial Censuses/American Community Survey, show that neither is correct. The former is based on the use of inappropriate statistical techniques. Both are sensitive to how educational categories are chosen. We also find no evidence that the correlation between spouses' potential earnings has changed dramatically.
Good to know that there is a counterargument to what is so widely believed.

I can see where the researchers argument might be true. For those of us who have graduated college, all our classmates have married college educated spouses so the assortative mating argument tends to make a lot of intuitive sense.

However, you don't have to recast the argument much to get a different take. College education is much like a class rite of passage. Once accomplished, you have arrived. Seen as a class rite of passage, assortative mating takes on a different color.

Its easy to believe that college educated people today might be more adherent to marrying other college grads than in the past. But if you ask a different question, the answer would seem different as well. Do you believe that people married outside of their class more in the past than today? I have no empirical evidence one way or the other but I certainly would initially jump to the conclusion that within-class marriage rates are pretty close today to what they have always been.

And if that is true, then the contemporary assortative mating argument is undermined. People aren't newly sorting by education, they are continuing to sort by class as they always have.

In this world you must be oh, so smart, or oh so pleasant

From Threescore Years and Ten by Rich Galen.

One observation among many on turning 70.
In the 1950 movie "Harvey," James Stewart's character, Elwood P. Dowd, says:
"My mother told me, 'In this world you must be oh, so smart, or oh so pleasant." For years I was oh, so smart. I recommend pleasant."
I wish I'd have followed that advice.
Reminds me of a quote from Aldous Huxley. From What About the Big Stuff?: Finding Strength and Moving Forward When the Stakes Are High (2002) by Richard Carlson, p. 293:
It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one's life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than 'Try to be a little kinder.'

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Research or ideological shaming

That's incendiary. From ‘Acting Wife’: Marriage Market Incentives and Labor Market Investments by Leonardo Bursztyn, Thomas Fujiwara, and Amanda Pallais. It is social sciences so I attach a high degree of skepticism.

From the abstract:
Do single women avoid career-enhancing actions because these actions could signal personality traits (like ambition) that are undesirable in the marriage market? We answer this question through two field experiments in an elite U.S. MBA program. Newly-admitted MBA students filled out a questionnaire on job preferences and personality traits to be used by the career center in internship placement; randomly selected students thought their answers would be shared with classmates. When they believed their classmates would not see their responses, single and non-single women answered similarly. However, single women reported desired salaries $18,000 lower and being willing to travel seven fewer days per month and work four fewer hours per week when they expected classmates would see their answers. They also reported less professional ambition and tendency for leadership. Neither men nor non-single women changed their answers in response to peer observability. A supplementary experiment asked students to make choices over hypothetical jobs before discussing their choices in their career class small groups; we randomly varied the groups’ gender composition. Single women were much less likely to select career-focused jobs when their answers would be shared with male peers, especially single ones. Two results from observational data support our experimental results. First, in a new survey, almost three-quarters of single female students reported avoiding activities they thought would help their career because they did not want to appear ambitious. They eschewed these activities at higher rates than did men and non-single women. Second, while unmarried women perform similarly to married women in class when their performance is kept private from classmates (on exams and problem sets), they have lower participation grades.
This is somewhat obfuscatory. If I am reading them correctly, they are saying that all men and married women in elite MBA programs demonstrate comparable levels of ambition and career focus. Single women also show comparable ambition and career focus where the demonstration is private. When their actions and words are public, single women demonstrate markedly lower levels of ambition and career focus.

The inference, which the researchers do not articulate, is that all men and already married women are focused on a single goal, their career. In contrast, single women are, on average, demonstrating two goals; acquisition of a husband (by downplaying their commitment to their career) and their career.

If you subscribe to the rationalist perspective of homo economicus, this makes perfect sense. Women are about 35% of most elite MBA programs. It is a target rich environment if you have more than the single goal of career. Signaling an equal commitment to career as a spouse probably is attractive to a smaller subsection of the male candidate pool than does signaling accommodation.

There are plenty of ideological or philosophical objections that one can acknowledge.
Utilitarians might object that the scarce resource of a space at an elite school is being wasted on someone not as committed to career as all the others.

Third wave feminists (or is it fourth wave; it's hard to keep track) likely would object to such women as complying with patriarchal expectations.

Ideological feminists likely would object to the reinforcement of a stereotype.
But I don't consider these to hold much water, (particularly if it does not involve government resources). They are all fair points but individuals, by the very nature of individuality, are allowed to make decisions (within the bounds of law) which optimize their array of goals.

Since some 80% of people marry, that is certainly within the bounds of expectation. If I recall correctly, some 80% of women have children. A woman has a much more constrained window of marital and fertility considerations than does a man, so it makes sense that it would be front-loaded, as it were, in terms of one's arc of life.

It is interesting that the researchers should have produced some evidence to support the old trope of women pursuing an MRS degree but it smacks of possible condescension. Or perhaps I am over reading it.

We aren't living in the 1950s where perhaps a majority of women in college might have been there for a MRS degree. On the other hand, there is no reason why women should not rationally pursue their own objectives of seeking more than a career, and optimizing their opportunities to pursue marriage and family when the opportunities present.

Perhaps I am too old and the abstract merely seems like it is shaming women for making rational decisions according to their own interests.

New Knowledge

That's interesting. From Genetic and environmental influences on adult human height across birth cohorts from 1886 to 1994 by Aline Jelenkovic, et al.
Human height variation is determined by genetic and environmental factors, but it remains unclear whether their influences differ across birth-year cohorts. We conducted an individual-based pooled analysis of 40 twin cohorts including 143,390 complete twin pairs born 1886–1994. Although genetic variance showed a generally increasing trend across the birth-year cohorts, heritability estimates (0.69-0.84 in men and 0.53-0.78 in women) did not present any clear pattern of secular changes. Comparing geographic-cultural regions (Europe, North America and Australia, and East Asia), total height variance was greatest in North America and Australia and lowest in East Asia, but no clear pattern in the heritability estimates across the birth-year cohorts emerged. Our findings do not support the hypothesis that heritability of height is lower in populations with low living standards than in affluent populations, nor that heritability of height will increase within a population as living standards improve.
If I knew this, I had forgotten. There is gendered heritability variance? I.e.
Although genetic variance showed a generally increasing trend across the birth-year cohorts, heritability estimates (0.69-0.84 in men and 0.53-0.78 in women) did not present any clear pattern of secular changes.
I am not even sure how to interpret that. If heritability of height in men is 0.69-0.84, does that mean heritability from father to son or son from both parents? I think the latter.

Taking the average of the ranges, I interpret this to mean that variance in a man's height is 77% determined by parental genes affecting height whereas a woman's height is only 66% determined by parental DNA. I would have thought that degree of heritability would have been the same. If that is not true, then why is there variance? Does that variance apply to all heritable traits and does the degree of variability differ by trait?


In a true man, both must combine

Ah, Ralph Waldo Emerson - weird and wise. HT to Charles Murray. The Conservative from a Lecture delivered at the Masonic Temple, Boston, December 9, 1841. Not quite the dichotomy of Apollo and Dionysus, but close. Conservative and Progressive. Republican and Democrat. The alignments are not perfect by any means but they are instructive.

Right now, using Emerson's system, we really don't have any Conservatives in play. Everyone, Republican and Democrat, are about Reform. The emotional turmoil is not that arising from contention between those wanting to preserve and those wanting to change. It is between two competing factions with different visions of change. It would be nice to have at least a few things in place long enough to see whether they work and then change only when necessary. Instead we seem in a constant state of change with little regard as to what works and what does not. We only have a choice of Reform, regardless whether it results in betterment.

Emerson's language is beautiful though perhaps seen by some as archaic. But the ideas are perfectly contemporary and emblematic of our constant struggle and toil in the political arena. I have highlighted the passages that seem most pertinent at this very moment, but the wisdom is in the headline - In a true man, both must combine.
There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact. It affirms because it holds. Its fingers clutch the fact, and it will not open its eyes to see a better fact. The castle, which conservatism is set to defend, is the actual state of things, good and bad. The project of innovation is the best possible state of things. Of course, conservatism always has the worst of the argument, is always apologizing, pleading a necessity, pleading that to change would be to deteriorate; it must saddle itself with the mountainous load of the violence and vice of society, must deny the possibility of good, deny ideas, and suspect and stone the prophet; whilst innovation is always in the right, triumphant, attacking, and sure of final success. Conservatism stands on man's confessed limitations; reform on his indisputable infinitude; conservatism on circumstance; liberalism on power; one goes to make an adroit member of the social frame; the other to postpone all things to the man himself; conservatism is debonnair and social; reform is individual and imperious. We are reformers in spring and summer; in autumn and winter, we stand by the old; reformers in the morning, conservers at night. Reform is affirmative, conservatism negative; conservatism goes for comfort, reform for truth. Conservatism is more candid to behold another's worth; reform more disposed to maintain and increase its own. Conservatism makes no poetry, breathes no prayer, has no invention; it is all memory. Reform has no gratitude, no prudence, no husbandry. It makes a great difference to your figure and to your thought, whether your foot is advancing or receding. Conservatism never puts the foot forward; in the hour when it does that, it is not establishment, but reform. Conservatism tends to universal seeming and treachery, believes in a negative fate; believes that men's temper governs them; that for me, it avails not to trust in principles; they will fail me; I must bend a little; it distrusts nature; it thinks there is a general law without a particular application, — law for all that does not include any one. Reform in its antagonism inclines to asinine resistance, to kick with hoofs; it runs to egotism and bloated self-conceit; it runs to a bodiless pretension, to unnatural refining and elevation, which ends in hypocrisy and sensual reaction.

And so whilst we do not go beyond general statements, it may be safely affirmed of these two metaphysical antagonists, that each is a good half, but an impossible whole. Each exposes the abuses of the other, but in a true society, in a true man, both must combine. Nature does not give the crown of its approbation, namely, beauty, to any action or emblem or actor, but to one which combines both these elements; not to the rock which resists the waves from age to age, nor to the wave which lashes incessantly the rock, but the superior beauty is with the oak which stands with its hundred arms against the storms of a century, and grows every year like a sapling; or the river which ever flowing, yet is found in the same bed from age to age; or, greatest of all, the man who has subsisted for years amid the changes of nature, yet has distanced himself, so that when you remember what he was, and see what he is, you say, what strides! what a disparity is here!
The speech is worth reading in whole with much to mull and consider.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Number, the most excellent of all inventions, I for them devised

From Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus. I think of Prometheus as the giver of fire but had forgotten that he gave men numbers and writing (in order to remember).

In Plato's Dialogues, there is a passage between Phaedrus and Socrates where Socrates discusses the invention of writing as an aid to memory that will actually be an aid to forgetting. I am not a classicist but this is the first time I think I have come across an ancient Greek passage which articulates numbers and writing as the transformational gift (along with, presumably, fire). Fascinating because being able to measure (numbers) and describe (writing) are the core of our modern digital economy. With a direct line back to Prometheus.
No more of that: I should but weary you
With things ye know; but listen to the tale
Of human sufferings, and how at first
Senseless as beasts I gave men sense, possessed them
Of mind. I speak not in contempt of man;
I do but tell of good gifts I conferred.
In the beginning, seeing they saw amiss,
And hearing heard not, but, like phantoms huddled
In dreams, the perplexed story of their days
Confounded; knowing neither timber-work
Nor brick-built dwellings basking in the light,
But dug for themselves holes, wherein like ants,
That hardly may contend against a breath,
They dwelt in burrows of their unsunned caves.
Neither of winter's cold had they fixed sign,
Nor of the spring when she comes decked with flowers,
Nor yet of summer's heat with melting fruits
Sure token: but utterly without knowledge
Moiled, until I the rising of the stars
Showed them, and when they set, though much obscure.
Moreover, number, the most excellent
Of all inventions, I for them devised,
And gave them writing that retaineth all,
The serviceable mother of the Muse.

I was the first that yoked unmanaged beasts,
To serve as slaves with collar and with pack,
And take upon themselves, to man's relief,
The heaviest labour of his hands: and
Tamed to the rein and drove in wheeled cars
The horse, of sumptuous pride the ornament.
And those sea-wanderers with the wings of cloth,
The shipman's waggons, none but I contrived.
These manifold inventions for mankind
I perfected, who, out upon't, have none-
No, not one shift-to rid me of this shame.

As matter of public policy, we assume that the quality/capability of inputs to the education process (students) is unrelated to the outcomes

From Education and Intelligence: Pity the Poor Teacher because Student Characteristics are more Significant than Teachers or Schools. by D.K. Detterman. From the abstratc:
Education has not changed from the beginning of recorded history. The problem is that focus has been on schools and teachers and not students. Here is a simple thought experiment with two conditions: 1) 50 teachers are assigned by their teaching quality to randomly composed classes of 20 students, 2) 50 classes of 20 each are composed by selecting the most able students to fill each class in order and teachers are assigned randomly to classes. In condition 1, teaching ability of each teacher and in condition 2, mean ability level of students in each class is correlated with average gain over the course of instruction. Educational gain will be best predicted by student abilities (up to r = 0.95) and much less by teachers' skill (up to r = 0.32). I argue that seemingly immutable education will not change until we fully understand students and particularly human intelligence. Over the last 50 years in developed countries, evidence has accumulated that only about 10% of school achievement can be attributed to schools and teachers while the remaining 90% is due to characteristics associated with students. Teachers account for from 1% to 7% of total variance at every level of education. For students, intelligence accounts for much of the 90% of variance associated with learning gains. This evidence is reviewed.
I agree with the conclusion, but am not sure, without seeing the data, whether this research supports the position.

However, it does prompt the thought that the education process is one of the only processes where, as a matter of public policy, we take the position that the quality/capability of the inputs (students) has nothing to do with the quality of the outcomes.

He extended a brief visit to Dickens' home into a five-week stay, to the distress of Dickens' family

From Wikipedia. It is easy to view of our cultural ancestors through the lens of hagiography, to view them as almost demigods: however, they were just people, talented and brilliant perhaps but still just people. Subject to the same proneness to faux pas as ourselves, misreading of social cues, loss of perspective, etc.
In June 1847, Andersen paid his first visit to England and enjoyed a triumphal social success during the summer. The Countess of Blessington invited him to her parties where intellectual people could meet, and it was at one such party that he met Charles Dickens for the first time. They shook hands and walked to the veranda, about which Andersen wrote in his diary: "We had come to the veranda, I was so happy to see and speak to England's now living writer, whom I love the most."

The two authors respected each other's work and shared something important in common as writers: depictions of the poor and the underclass, who often had difficult lives affected both by the Industrial Revolution and by abject poverty. In the Victorian era there was a growing sympathy for children and an idealization of the innocence of childhood.

Ten years later, Andersen visited England again, primarily to meet Dickens. He extended a brief visit to Dickens' home at Gads Hill Place into a five-week stay, to the distress of Dickens' family. After Andersen was told to leave, Dickens gradually stopped all correspondence between them, to the great disappointment and confusion of Andersen, who had quite enjoyed the visit and never understood why his letters went unanswered.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Risk taking

A few days ago I saw this research, Hubris and Humility: Gender Differences in Serial Founding Rates by Venkat Kuppuswamy and Ethan R. Mollick. Both from prestigious research universities. From the abstract:
Men are far more likely to start new ventures than women. Drawing on the hubris theory of entrepreneurship, we argue that one explanation of this gap is that women have lower susceptibility to hubris and higher levels of humility, the “male hubris-female humility effect.” Decreased hubris suggests that women faced with low-quality founding opportunities are less likely to engage in entrepreneurship than men. Increased humility implies that women will also make fewer founding attempts than men when opportunity quality is high. Using a data set of serial founders in crowdfunding, we find evidence of both hubris and humility effects decreasing female founding attempts relative to men. While decreased hubris benefits women individually, we argue that it disadvantages women as a group, as it leads to by 23.2% fewer female-led foundings in our sample than would have occurred if women were as immodest and overconfident as men.
Interesting but, without digging through the research methodology, it seemed weak.

That opinion is unchanged but their work seems oddly consistent with this tweet I just saw.

Data, data, everywhere. Well, not data but evidence of one sort or another. The underlying theme is that males take more risks and, good or bad; for themselves or others, that leads to disparate outcomes.

Of course everyone wants free stuff

A classic example of revealed preference from Pew Research.

53% of Americans say it is important to support businesses that treat employees well.

Click to enlarge.

Well there you have it.

Except that 67% can't justify paying more for businesses that pay well and provide good working conditions.

Click to enlarge.

This is the classic surveyors challenge (and journalist's and politician's). When there is no cost to a benefit for someone else, everyone is for it. If those being surveyed have to pay for the benefit for someone else, then they are against it.

Anyone who asks an opinion without specifying the cost to the person being questioned is trading in fake news.

Academic bubbles

I wouldn't be surprised but I'd have to see a source before relying on this information.

Republican Men are nearly four times more tolerant than Democratic Women

From Family, Politics and the Holidays from PRRI. The cruel interpretation of the following results is that Republican Men are nearly four times more tolerant than Democratic Women.

More seriously, I wonder whether this represents reality, and if so, to what degree?
Only 13% of the public say they blocked, unfriended, or stopped following someone on social media because of what they posted about politics. Again, sharp political divisions emerged in the tendency to remove people because of the political opinions they expressed.

Nearly one-quarter (24%) of Democrats say they blocked, unfriended, or stopped following someone on social media after the election because of their political posts on social media. Fewer than one in ten Republicans (9%) and independents (9%) report eliminating people from their social media circle.

Political liberals are also far more likely than conservatives to say they removed someone from their social media circle due to what they shared online (28% vs. 8%, respectively). Eleven percent of moderates say they blocked, unfollowed, or unfriended someone due to what they posted online.

There is also a substantial gender gap. Women are twice as likely as men to report removing people from their online social circle because of the political views they expressed online (18% vs. 9%, respectively). Notably, the gender gap also differs significantly across political affiliation. Three in ten (30%) Democratic women say they removed an individual from their online social network because of a political opinion they expressed, while only 14% of Democratic men reported doing this. Republican men and women are about equally as likely to say they blocked, unfollowed, or unfriended someone on social media because of political posts (10% vs. 8%, respectively).
I am guessing that the framing of this overstates the significance. Yes, Democratic Women are far more intolerant of Republican Men but blockers overall are a tiny minority, only 13%. What is the sample size once, you are looking only at blockers and then adding two further conditions (Gender and Political Affiliation). I bet the numbers are so small that the four to one ratio is meaningless.

More specifically, and for demonstration purposes only, let's say that there were 1,500 survey respondents, that 60% of the population identified as affiliated with a party, that the party affiliation was equal between Democrats and Republicans and finally, that the gender divide is 50:50. That translates to 29 Republican Males who blocked friends out of a total sample of 1,500. Once you have the three levels of contingence (party affiliation, gender, blocking habits) you are at such a small sample size that the meaningfulness is questionable.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

A man with a conviction is a hard man to change.

From When Prophecy Fails -- A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group That Predicted the Destruction of the World by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter. Festinger's was a ground level investigation of a cult interpreted through a new theory about the psychology of belief and knowledge. These are the opening paragraphs of the book.
A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.

We have all experienced the futility of trying to change a strong conviction, especially if the convinced person has some investment in his belief. We are familiar with the variety of ingenious defenses with which people protect their convictions, managing to keep them unscathed through the most devastating attacks.

But man's resourcefulness goes beyond simply protecting a belief. Suppose an individual believes something with his whole heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief, that he has taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before. Indeed, he may even show a new fervor about convincing and converting other people to his view.

How and why does such a response to contradictory evidence come about? This is the question on which this book focuses. We hope that by the end of the volume, we will have provided an adequate answer to the question, an answer documented by data.

Let us begin by stating the conditions under which we would expect to observe increased fervor following the disconfirmation of a belief. There are five such conditions.
1. A belief must be held with deep conviction and it must have some relevance to action, that is, to what the believer does or how he behaves.
2. The person holding the belief must have committed himself to it; that is, for the sake of his belief, he must have taken some important action that is difficult to undo. In general, the more important such actions are, and the more difficult they are to undo, the greater is the individual's commitment to the belief.
3. The belief must be sufficiently specific and sufficiently concerned with the real world so that events may unequivocally refute the belief.
4. Such undeniable disconfirmatory evidence must occur and must be recognized by the individual holding the belief.
The first two of these conditions specify the circumstances that will make the belief resistant to change. The third and fourth conditions together, on the other hand, point to factors that would exert powerful pressure on a believer to discard his belief. It is, of course, possible that an individual, even though deeply convinced of a belief, may discard it in the face of unequivocal disconfirmation. We must therefore, state a fifth condition specifying the circumstances under which the belief will be discarded and those under which it will be maintained with new fervor.
5. The individual believer must have social support. It is unlikely that one isolated believer could withstand the kind of disconfirming evidence we have specified. If, however, the believer is a member of a group of convinced persons who can support one another, we would expect the belief to be maintained and the believers to attempt to proselyte or to persuade nonmembers that the belief is correct.
These five conditions specify the circumstances under which increased proselyting would be expected to follow disconfirmation.