Monday, October 31, 2016

There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live.

From James Truslow Adams, To "Be" or to "DO", Forum, Jun 1929; VOL. LXXXI, NO. 6
There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live. Surely these should never be confused in the mind of any man who has the slightest inkling of what culture is. For most of us it is essential that we should make a living...In the complications of modern life and with our increased accumulation of knowledge, it doubtless helps greatly to compress some years of experience into far fewer years by studying for a particular trade or profession in an institution; but that fact should not blind us to another—namely, that in so doing we are learning a trade or a profession, but are not getting a liberal education as human beings.

New Alert! TV shows not representative of reality.

I've wondered about this for a long time. How big a mismatch is there between the demographics of criminals and the demographics of victims in TV shows and those in the real world?

My impression has been that white women are disproportionately represented as victims of crime in TV shows. That whites in general are overrepresented as perpetrators of crime. That men are generally underreperesented and that black men are especially underrepresented as both victims and perpetrators. In addition, there seems to be a bias in TV against smart people/upper class people. A disproportionate number of crimes on TV are committed by relatively intelligent people with a great deal of planning and intent compared to the reality.

The Face of Crime in Prime Time: Evidence from Law and Order by Gaurav Sood and Daniel Trielli looked into it. From the abstract:
Race, gender, and crime are inextricably linked in people's minds. And television programming is thought to strongly influence how they are linked. We investigate the extent to which popular television programming perpetuates stereotypical linkages by tallying the race and gender of criminals and victims in three popular series of the most successful criminal procedural franchise on television --- Law & Order. Using data from a census of the shows from aired seasons of Special Victims Unit and Criminal Intent series, and data from seven seasons of the Original series, we find that whites and women are overrepresented (and blacks and men underrepresented), both as victims and as criminals. In particular, blacks are dramatically underrepresented both as criminals and as victims, with actual arrest rate and violent victimization rate of blacks nearly 300% and 200% respectively of the commensurate numbers for the show.
My gut sense appears to have been directionally correct. It is great that the authors provide an effect size for the measured phenomenon.

Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?

Sound like our universities, social justice warriors, "diversity" advocates, "sustainability" advocates, and other totalitarian centers of unthought?

From George Orwell's 1984.
‘It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take “good”, for instance. If you have a word like “good”, what need is there for a word like “bad”? “Ungood” will do just as well — better, because it’s an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of “good”, what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like “excellent” and “splendid” and all the rest of them? “Plusgood” covers the meaning, or “doubleplusgood” if you want something stronger still. Of course we use those forms already. but in the final version of Newspeak there’ll be nothing else. In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words — in reality, only one word. Don’t you see the beauty of that, Winston? It was B.B.‘s idea originally, of course,’ he added as an afterthought.

A sort of vapid eagerness flitted across Winston’s face at the mention of Big Brother. Nevertheless Syme immediately detected a certain lack of enthusiasm.

‘You haven’t a real appreciation of Newspeak, Winston,’ he said almost sadly. ‘Even when you write it you’re still thinking in Oldspeak. I’ve read some of those pieces that you write in “The Times” occasionally. They’re good enough, but they’re translations. In your heart you’d prefer to stick to Oldspeak, with all its vagueness and its useless shades of meaning. You don’t grasp the beauty of the destruction of words. Do you know that Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year?’

Winston did know that, of course. He smiled, sympathetically he hoped, not trusting himself to speak. Syme bit off another fragment of the dark-coloured bread, chewed it briefly, and went on:

‘Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. Already, in the Eleventh Edition, we’re not far from that point. But the process will still be continuing long after you and I are dead. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. Even now, of course, there’s no reason or excuse for committing thoughtcrime. It’s merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control. But in the end there won’t be any need even for that. The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect. Newspeak is Ingsoc and Ingsoc is Newspeak,’ he added with a sort of mystical satisfaction. ‘Has it ever occurred to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?’

‘Except ——’ began Winston doubtfully, and he stopped.

It had been on the tip of his tongue to say ‘Except the proles,’ but he checked himself, not feeling fully certain that this remark was not in some way unorthodox. Syme, however, had divined what he was about to say.

‘The proles are not human beings,’ he said carelessly. ‘By 2050 — earlier, probably — all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron — they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of the Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like “freedom is slavery” when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking — not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.’

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A cacophony of words and sounds follow us wherever we go

From Thucydides Roundtable, Book I: An introduction by T. Greer.
On a summer night, nearly three thousand years ago, three hundred men of Thebes, wet and mud soaked, snuck into the town of Plataea with murder on their minds. Their attempt to launch revolution in Plataea was futile: most would die before the night was over. If their aim was political change, they failed, and failed utterly. But if their aim was undying fame, they succeeded. Perhaps they did not know that their deeds would echo through time, but they have. These were the men who began the Peloponnesian War. What they did is still read and written about thousands of years later.

Why is this?

Why is this war so well remembered?


Above all, it is to wonder what classics these events might have produced if these peoples and places had a Thucydides to write about them. Alas! They had no Thucydides. There has been only one of him. That is all that truly sets the Peloponnesian War apart from the other wars of human history: this was the war witnessed by Thucydides.

It is difficult to peg this Thucydides. Political scientists, historians, and military theorists all claim him as the father of their craft. Whenever one of these disciplines is infected with a new “path breaking” paradigm, a blizzard of articles are written to graft the latest fashion onto his work. This literature is enormous. Forgive me for quoting none of it. So many of yesteryear’s intellectual fads have died. They are forgotten. Thucydides and his history live with us still. He will outlast them all.


We all live in the moment. A cacophony of words and sounds follow us wherever we go, broadcast into our cars, our workplaces, our homes, and our pockets. We live in an unescapable echo chamber—an echo chamber relentlessly focused on the now.

Not so with Thucydides! His history is about many things, but 2016 is not one of them. Here then is a chance to put the present to the side. Cast away that dreadful election! Muffle the droning of the news reports. Close the Twitter stream. Before us is a world that has never heard of the twenty-first century nor imagined its problems. Your guide to this world will be a man from an alien past; his values and assumptions will be starkly different than your own. Wrestle with him—let your beliefs and assumptions be tested. What better chance to assay the building blocks of your politics than by exploring the politics of a different age, removed from the passions of the moment? Thucydides does not spell out his lessons for you. Instead he invites you to follow along with him and find what lessons history allows by yourself.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

A sort of internal council you can consult at any time

From Reading Old Books by Joseph Sobran.
There are no particular classics, not even Shakespeare, that you “must” read. But you should find a few meritorious old writers you find absorbing and not only read them, but live with them, until they become voices in your mind — a sort of internal council you can consult at any time.

When you internalize an author whose vision or philosophy is both rich and out of fashion, you gain a certain immunity from the pressures of the contemporary. The modern world, with its fads, propaganda, and advertising, is forever trying to herd us into conformity. Great literature can help us remain fad-proof.

The modern world is like a perpetual Nuremburg rally: everything that was wrong with Nazi Germany is more or less typical of other modern states, even those states that imagine they are the opposite of Nazi Germany. Political enemies usually turn out to be cousins, whose most violent differences are essentially superficial, masking deeper agreements in principle. Stalin, Hitler, Franklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill were closer to each other than they realized; so are Bill Clinton and Slobodan Milosevic.

When confronted with a new topic or political issue, I often ask myself what Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, or James Madison — or, among more recent authors, George Orwell, C.S. Lewis, or Michael Oakeshott — would have thought of it. Not that these men were always right: that would be impossible, since they often disagree with each other. The great authors have no specific “message.”

But at least they had minds of their own. They weren’t mere products of the thought-factory we call public opinion, which might be defined as what everyone thinks everyone else thinks. They provide independent, poll-proof standards of judgment, when the government, its schools, and the media, using all the modern techniques of manipulation, try to breed mass uniformity in order to make us more manageable.

Friday, October 28, 2016

I can make it clearer; I can't make it simpler.

Robert Oppenheimer, as quoted by Wendell Furry in American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (2005), by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, p. 84. From Oppenheimer's class at Berkeley during the period 1932-1934.
I can make it clearer; I can't make it simpler.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

He simply wanted to know about everything on earth

From Of Time and The River by Thomas Wolfe.
Now he would prowl the stacks of the library at night, pulling books out of a thousand shelves and reading in them like a madman. The thought of these vast stacks of books would drive him mad: the more he read, the less he seemed to know — the greater the number of the books he read, the greater the immense uncountable number of those which he could never read would seem to be. Within a period of ten years he read at least 20,000 volumes — deliberately the number is set low — and opened the pages and looked through many times that number. This may seem unbelievable, but it happened. Dryden said this about Ben Jonson: “Other men read books, but he read libraries”— and so now was it with this boy. Yet this terrific orgy of the books brought him no comfort, peace, or wisdom of the mind and heart. Instead, his fury and despair increased from what they fed upon, his hunger mounted with the food it ate.

He read insanely, by the hundreds, the thousands, the ten thousands, yet he had no desire to be bookish; no one could describe this mad assault upon print as scholarly: a ravening appetite to him demanded that he read everything that had ever been written about human experience. He read no more from pleasure — the thought that other books were waiting for him tore at his heart for ever. He pictured himself as tearing the entrails from a book as from a fowl. At first, hovering over bookstalls, or walking at night among the vast piled shelves of the library, he would read, watch in hand, muttering to himself in triumph or anger at the timing of each page: “Fifty seconds to do that one. Damn you, we’ll see! You will, will you?”— and he would tear through the next page in twenty seconds.

This fury which drove him on to read so many books had nothing to do with scholarship, nothing to do with academic honours, nothing to do with formal learning. He was not in any way a scholar and did not want to be one. He simply wanted to know about everything on earth; he wanted to devour the earth, and it drove him mad when he saw he could not do this. And it was the same with everything he did. In the midst of a furious burst of reading in the enormous library, the thought of the streets outside and the great city all around him would drive through his body like a sword. It would now seem to him that every second that he passed among the books was being wasted — that at this moment something priceless, irrecoverable was happening in the streets, and that if he could only get to it in time and see it, he would somehow get the knowledge of the whole thing in him — the source, the well, the spring from which all men and words and actions, and every design upon this earth proceeds.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Americans, not an identity Borg

This is one of the more repellent arguments I have seen in a long time though I understand the logical basis from which the author starts: What If All The Poor People Were Gone? by Jeffrey Carter.

I think it is indefensible from on an evidentiary basis as well as logically unsound, particularly the non sequitur
How do we change it? We know increasing government programs and government spending doesn’t work. The way to change it is the free enterprise system. It’s the only way.
I don't disagree that the free enterprise system is the best way forward.

What I disagree with is Carter's adoption in his article of identity politics, the language of Reform Marxists. There is no such thing as The Poor. There is no such static group of people with a singular mass characteristic. There are people who are poor temporarily. There are people who are chronically poor. There are people who are poor through their own actions and decisions. There are people who are victims of circumstance.

What there isn't, is The Poor.

Reform Marxists have all sorts of foolish ideas which have to be rebutted or addressed. But we don't need to adopt the dehumanizing identity language of the Left. These are, after all, fellow citizens, fellow Americans. Deracinating them of their individualism serves no useful purpose.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

It’s just this war and that lying son of a bitch Johnson

There is an embarrassing article in the Washington Post, How angry does Donald Trump make me? Angry enough to steal 40 Trump signs. by Betta Stothart.

The substance is that a privileged woman got angry at the idea that her neighbors supported Donald Trump and went on a rampage stealing their yard signs. She was caught and cited and is now complaining and self-justifying in what I imagine she anticipated would be a sympathetic forum.

Stothart essentially describes herself as a crazy woman and that is the reason for her actions.
But this election, a particular candidate’s boasts about women pushed me over the edge.


Which is how three middle-aged moms came to be running down the road, tearing up the Donald Trump signs along our version of Main Street.


We were angry.


We felt assaulted by the number of signs.


The officer was kind, informing us that we had stolen someone else’s personal property, which had not really entered into my mind while I was doing it.


Reflecting back, I realize that I momentarily snapped.


I became unhinged.


This is the source of my rage against Donald Trump. It’s why I committed a crime.
I have little sympathy for BLM and SJW and their accusations of privilege but it is the Stotharts of the world which lend their accusations credence.

Rich, educated, white writer commits a series of crimes in order to suppress the free speech of her fellow citizens and cause financial damage and then is allowed to write an article explaining her behavior because she just snapped. What privilege indeed.

I came across this via Ann Althouse who does a thorough fisking.

I am confident it was not her intent but Stothart comes across as having the same mindset as that of the abusive boyfriend in Forrest Gump, explaining his abuse:
Wesley: Jenny? Things got a little out of hand. It’s just this war and that lying son of a bitch Johnson and…I would never hurt you. You know that.

As for a sympathetic audience, the comments seem to indicate that there is little patience for people taking the law into their own hands in order to suppress speech.

Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds

From Robert Oppenheimer in an interview in an NBC television documentary The Decision to Drop the Bomb (1965), produced by Fred Freed. I have heard and seen reference to this quote dozens of times and knew it was from Oppenheimer but never knew the source context. Oppenheimer is speaking of the Trinity nuclear test, the first nuclear explosion.
We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Pleas for civility are a leading indicator of a failed argument

A very interesting insight into the replication failures roiling through the social sciences; psychology, sociology, gender studies, critical theory, critical race theory, and the ilk. Much of what has been postulated and accepted as true has been, in the past five years, turned on its head. The update is from Inside Psychology’s ‘Methodological Terrorism’ Debate by Jesse Singal.

Regardless of the individual studies that are being debunked, there is the clear evidence that social scientists either never really understood statistics and the scientific method or, more regrettably, understood and simply chose the easier path of omitting the hard work required for rigorous statistical controls and robust scientific methods.

Singal opens with:
It isn’t every day that an academic researcher publicly compares some of her colleagues to terrorists, so it’s probably no surprise that what happened last month sparked a heated debate. That’s when a draft version of an upcoming column in the Association for Psychological Science’s Observer magazine was published online. Written by Susan Fiske, a highly regarded social psychologist at Princeton, the former head of the APS, and a longtime editor at the online journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or PNAS, the column decries the current tone of academic debate within the field of psychology. Fiske portrays a landscape in which the long-standing scientific tradition of thoughtful, collaborative critique has given way to a Wild West of anonymous social-media sniping, personal attacks, and all sorts of other unsavory, incivil tactics.
Singal is diligent and persevering in her exploration of the issues.

When you strip away all the pleas for civility what you basically have is entrenched interests who have had an easy ride for a long time and now see their privileged position threatened by the new openness afforded by the internet. The academic equivalent of rent-seeking (protecting privileges) and regulatory capture (control of information) has been undermined by increasing transparency and access. The insiders are fighting a rear-guard action using emotionally compelling rhetorical arguments to protect their privileges while the reality-based barbarians from outside the field continue to dismantle the barricades, in the process revealing that the noble calls for civility are simply the bleating of insiders trying to defend their privileges.

Singal is much more polite than my synopsis but her argument is compelling.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Brand erosion

I doubt it will come to that but I do think the antics of fringe students and morally bankrupt administrators are forcing parents and students to refocus and clarify exactly what it is we mean by education.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The American Dream

From The Epic of America by James Truslow Adams. The first articulation of "The American Dream", page 404.
If, as I have said, the things already listed were all we had had to contribute, America would have made no distinctive and unique gift to mankind. But there has been also the American dream, that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

Results showed that men prefer working with things and women prefer working with people, producing a large effect size

From Men and Things, Women and People: A Meta-Analysis of Sex Differences in Interests by Rong Su, James Rounds, and Patrick Ian Armstrong.
The present study makes several important contributions to the literature. First, it is the first comprehensive meta-analysis on sex differences in vocational interests. We synthesized evidence from interest inventories over four decades and found large sex differences in vocational interests, with men preferring working with things and women preferring working with people. These sex differences are remarkably consistent across age and over time, providing an exception to the generalization that only small sex differences exist. Second, this study provides a systematic review of the sex differences in the STEM interests that has not previously appeared in the literature. The pattern of sex differences in the STEM interests revealed by the present study closely resembles the composition of men and women in corresponding occupations and contributes to the understanding of the gender disparity in the STEM fields. The results suggest that the relatively low numbers of women in some fields of science and engineering may result from women’s preference for people-oriented careers over thingsoriented careers.
Buried in the text of the paper there is also this interesting nugget.
The present study provided evidence that intragroup differences were substantially larger than intergroup differences.

Gifts that grow are best

Plant a Tree
by Lucy Larcom

He who plants a tree
Plants a hope.
Rootlets up through fibres blindly grope;
Leaves unfold into horizons free.
So man's life must climb
From the clods of time
Unto heavens sublime.
Canst thou prophesy, thou little tree,
What the glory of thy boughs shall be?

He who plants a tree
Plants a joy;
Plants a comfort that will never cloy;
Every day a fresh reality,
Beautiful and strong,
To whose shelter throng
Creatures blithe with song.
If thou couldst but know, thou happy tree,
Of the bliss that shall inhabit thee!

He who plants a tree,--
He plants peace.
Under its green curtains jargons cease.
Leaf and zephyr murmur soothingly;
Shadows soft with sleep
Down tired eyelids creep,
Balm of slumber deep.
Never hast thou dreamed, thou blessed tree,
Of the benediction thou shalt be.

He who plants a tree,--
He plants youth;
Vigor won for centuries in sooth;
Life of time, that hints eternity!
Boughs their strength uprear;
New shoots, every year,
On old growths appear;
Thou shalt teach the ages, sturdy tree,
Youth of soul is immortality.

He who plants a tree,--
He plants love,
Tents of coolness spreading out above
Wayfarers he may not live to see.
Gifts that grow are best;
Hands that bless are blest;
Plant! life does the rest!
Heaven and earth help him who plants a tree,
And his work its own reward shall be.

Friday, October 21, 2016

If the measure of media success is an informed citizenry, then what does the chart say about the media?

If what we take from the news is so wrong, why we would we trust it at all to convey accurate news effectively?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Problem Definition, root causes, solutions, tradeoffs and differential beneficiaries

An excellent observation.

I used to do a lot of Problem Solving and TQM work in the late 1980s through the 1990s with corporate and operational teams. All teams always wanted to start with their defined solution and go straight to implementation planning. Getting them to back-up was always hard as the facilitator. They knew the answer, they just needed to implement. Almost invariably though, once you got them to identify the problem, it would emerge that they were each defining the problem differently, defining success differently, etc. Getting them to define and measure always led to a different diagnosis of what the real root problems were and therefore what appropriate solutions might be.

I would go even further than Knowledge Problem. It is true that solutions are tradeoffs. But there is more than that.

Different solutions (which might be equally effective), have different tradeoffs. And every tradeoff has differentially advantaged groups. Define the problem and you set parameters on the solutions. Select the solution and you define the tradeoff. The tradeoff defines who is advantaged and who is disadvantaged from the chosen solution.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Communication Signal Loss and class segregation

I was driving from one chore to another the other day listening to NPR. It was a short trip in the middle of the afternoon. I did not get to hear the introduction or even the topic of discussion. From the context, there was a caller, a young woman, wanting to ask a question. The moderator was on, as well as an invited guest. My sense was that the expert was a local professor.

The young woman clearly had a question she wanted to ask but was having difficulty articulating it. The host tried to help out with a couple of prompts. Eventually, with many pauses, false starts, reversions, and self-corrections, the caller produced a string of jumbled words.

My interpretation of her question was "Why should people have to adjust to jobs? Why shouldn't jobs have to adjust to people?" I suspect a better rendition might have been "Why do we put the the economy before people? We should put people before the economy." I think that captures the sentiment but it does not reflect the words she used.

Is my interpretation correct? I am not sure. Too much noise in the signal, but I think I am close.

The talking head began a very ponderous response. And then I arrived at my destination and that was all there was.

It got me thinking, though.

When it became clear(er) what the caller was asking, my first response was a roll of the eyes. What an absurd question. How incredibly naive.

But then I paused. To me it seems like a foolish question, but my background is in business and economics and human systems. And besides, how would I answer? If it was a foolish question, then it should be easy to answer. But it is not. There is a hodgepodge of economic theory, political theory, psychology, philosophy that would all need to be addressed. But its a radio show. You only have two or three minutes. There actually isn't a good response in that time frame. Certainly not one that isn't dismissive or disrespectful.

If the caller and I shared a similar profile of Knowledge, Experience, Skills, Values, Behavior, Capabilities, and Motivation, I would be able to provide an answer within a few minutes because I could allude to concepts and ideas without having to be explicit. Because we don't share that KESVBCM, a respectful response within a three minute window becomes, effectively, impossible.

I considered the sequence and wondered about the barriers to effective communication and the signal to noise ratio in any dialogue. When talking about something with someone, your communication effectiveness is likely very high if you share high levels of capability (IQ), acquired knowledge, experience, skills, values, behaviors, and motivation. Part of the effectiveness derives from the shared bases and part arises from sheer capability.

The caller had a question she wanted to share in order to get an answer. What might that sequence of events look like between her idea and his response? More critically, where are the points of leakage? And just how big are those leaks?

I sketched out what it might look like. At the beginning of the process there is something of a mysterious gap between neural synaptic processes and a formulated idea.

Click to enlarge

Accepting that an idea is initiated, I suspect the steps might look something like:

Click to enlarge

What about signal degradation? Reflecting the caller's difficulty in articulating her question, I'll start with a high degradation level and assume that only 70% of signal gets through at each stage.

Click to enlarge

The caller has an idea. That inchoate idea is framed in her mind to some sort of conceptual representation. There is a 30% loss of signal from idea to frame. Once framed in her mind, she then creates an articulation of the idea, the words describing the framed idea. Again there is a 30% loss of signal. Finally, as she speaks (transmits) the articulated idea, there is all sorts of signal loss. The words don't come out right. The articulated frame in her mind fails to flow in the words she speaks. She pauses, reformulates, starts and stops, etc. Again, there is a 30% loss of signal.

There are three distinct phases in the process of formulating and transmitting an idea with signal degradation at each step. Multiplying the percentages out (70% x 70% x 70%) yields only 34% of the original signal getting through to an expressed idea or transmitted idea.

That's only half the conversation. The counter-party has to hear the expressed idea, interpret what he is hearing and then formulate a response to what he thinks he heard. Another three steps with possible signal degradation.

Click to enlarge

With these three additional steps, we are now at only 12% of original signal strength (34% x 70% x 70% x 70%). And that only gets the idea from Person 1 to Person 2. Person 2 now has to respond to Person 1, repeating in reverse order all the steps. At the end of the full round trip, we only have 2% of the original strength.

Click to enlarge

No wonder communication is so hard and disagreements and miscommunication so frequent.

I set the signal loss high just because that was what was so striking in the radio call-in segment. Let's assume that the two parties of the conversation are much more alike than was evident in the radio show. [See, for an example, It contained the three words “but if not … ” for an example of efficient communication between congruent participants]. Let's assume that the two participants have a high level of shared Knowledge, Experience, Skills, Values, Behavior, Capabilities, and Motivation. What might signal degradation look like in that scenario? I'll set the signal loss at only 1% at each transition.

Click to enlarge

That's much better and feels like a more normal conversation. There is only 12% signal loss between asker and response. Still not perfect but not a howling hurricane as a barrier to communication.

Is this the right number of steps and what are the realistic signal losses in each transition? I have no idea but I think the model is likely a step in the right direction of understanding what undermines efficient and effective communication.

Playing out the implications of the model is interesting in a speculative fashion.

The first example is the plaint I occasionally hear from very old people. Even if they live with family, they complain of a loneliness that is unique to old age. They are the remaining survivors of a cohort with whom they lived a lifetime of experiences and which set them apart from later generational cohorts. It is always nice to talk with people who have a similar worldview but as you get older and the Grim Reaper winnows the ranks, there are fewer and fewer people with whom you can share such easy communication.

A more substantive issue is self-segregation. I have touched on different aspects of this in earlier posts such as European and American political systems, locality and minority political power and Root causes of demographic inversions.

These posts revolve around the findings of Nobel prize winner, Thomas C. Schelling. His work revealed that you do not have to have negative biases in order to end up with homogenous distributions (groups sorting themselves into bounded areas). Seeing Around Corners by Jonathan Rauch is a good summary of Schelling's work. If people have even a small positive affiliation with an attribute and no negative aversion, you will end up with self-segregation.

I wonder if the same thing isn't happening in a fashion around conversational effectiveness. People observably self-segregate themselves on many vectors such as income, religion, profession, education attainment level, political affiliation, class, etc. I wonder if an unexamined dynamic here is whether Communication Signal Loss might be a driver of self-segregation.

The more signal loss there is in a conversation the more you have to work towards establishing a connection. It takes more cognitive processing, more time, more effort. The cost goes up. In addition, with low communication effectiveness, you also have a decline in positive outcomes. With so much signal loss, it is hard to coordinate and cooperate.

The consequence is that, where there is a poor KESVBCM match between conversational partners, there is high cost to conversation and low benefit. From economics, we know that people gravitate away from High Cost/Low Benefit and towards Low Cost/High Benefit. Hence my speculation that Communication Signal Loss might be a major and unacknowledged driver behind class segregation.

Knowledge, discovery and freedom

From Robert Oppenheimer in Science and the Common Understanding (1953)
The open society, the unrestricted access to knowledge, the unplanned and uninhibited association of men for its furtherance — these are what may make a vast, complex, ever growing, ever changing, ever more specialized and expert technological world, nevertheless a world of human community.
From Robert Oppenheimer in Science and the Common Understanding (1954); based on 1953 Reith lectures.
The history of science is rich in the example of the fruitfulness of bringing two sets of techniques, two sets of ideas, developed in separate contexts for the pursuit of new truth, into touch with one another.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

I have voted for every expensive government program and now I can't afford to live here anymore

An interesting example of a complex problem. From Surge in property tax bills spurs push to reform tax appraisal process by Lori Hawkins and Shonda Novak.

The issue is the intersection point between individual freedom, property taxes and fairness. It is far more complex than this single use case but the example I form in my mind to crystalize the issue is as follows.
A person buys a home for $X. They live in that home for the rest of their life. They pay property taxes on that home. Those taxes are a function of two things, the property tax rate and the estimated value of the home. The person has a small influence on the tax rate through their capacity as an engaged citizen to lobby and vote. The person has virtually no influence over the value of the home as that depends on the market desires of other people.
So what happens if a person buys a home in 1965 for $20,000 (constant dollars). By 2005 the neighborhood has become immensely desirable and is now worth $300,000. The value of the home has increased 15 times. Assuming that tax rates have remained the same, the person, now retired, is having to pay fifteen times as much property tax through no action on their part. It is the action (desires) of others that has led to this outcome. If their budget is fixed, it is likely that they have to leave their home for a cheaper location, not because of anything they have done but because of the desires of others.

I recognize that there are two sides of this coin. When the person dies, their estate will benefit from the inflated valuation of the home but that will be whittled down by the government through taxes on the sale of the home as well as estate taxes. Besides, it is the estate that is the beneficiary, not the person.

All this is clearly unfair. The person could do a reverse mortgage in order to extract equity, but again, that doesn't remove the root issue that the desires of others are forcing consequences on the person.

But what is clearly unfair from a single person perspective is also unfair when you take other perspectives such as that of the government which does need to be funded, from neighbors, etc.

The closest I have come to a theoretical solution has its own issues. The solution of unfairness to the individual home owner is to lock in their home valuation at the time of purchase and adjust solely based on general inflation and not on neighborhood home valuation. Everyone can anticipate general inflation (whether accurately or not is a different matter) and should be accountable for organizing their affairs to take into account inflation. People cannot effectively anticipate whether or not their residential home will become dramatically more valuable in the future. Under the Residential Home CPI plan, the taxes on your residence would increase only by the general level of inflation which tends to be about 1-3% a year.

No one would be forced to move simply because others were desiring the person's home.

The problem with that is that you then have inequality among taxpayers in terms of how much property tax they are paying simply because of when they purchased their home. There are actually several other unfairness and practical objections but the Residential Home CPI plan is the closest I have gotten to a policy idea that would address the displacement of older people from their homes because of the desires of home buyers.

Hawkins and Novak are reporting on this issue playing out in Austin, Texas which has enjoyed/suffered high home price escalation in recent years. Older people and those on fixed incomes are getting squeezed out. However, Austin has a double play going on. The local government has been intentionally trying to make Austin more desirable. That was done via the voters. Current residents are being hit by two predictable issues and one unintended consequence but all of it through their own choices.

By electing administrations with the intention of improving civic life, they knew they would be increasing the desirability of living in Austin. They endorsed actions which would improve the value of their homes. The city government spent money to make the city more desirable via transportation, parks, etc. Even if home values had not gone up, residents would be paying more in taxes because the city government was spending more. However, the city succeeded in its plan to make city living more desirable. Now residents face the added bill of having to pay more taxes (for city spending) and more taxes (for home valuation inflation).
On a recent evening, more than 300 homeowners who are worried about their rising property tax bills filled First Unitarian Universalist Church in North Austin for a town hall meeting. If something doesn’t change, many said, they will soon be priced out of their homes.


“I’m at the breaking point,” said Gretchen Gardner, an Austin artist who bought a 1930s bungalow in the Bouldin neighborhood just south of downtown in 1991 and has watched her property tax bill soar to $8,500 this year.

“It’s not because I don’t like paying taxes,” said Gardner, who attended both meetings. “I have voted for every park, every library, all the school improvements, for light rail, for anything that will make this city better. But now I can’t afford to live here anymore. I’ll protest my appraisal notice, but that’s not enough. Someone needs to step in and address the big picture.”
It is easy to accuse Gardner of wanting her cake and eating it too. She endorsed all the city spending that would raise her taxes and she desired all the amenities that would make her life nicer (and the city more desirable to others). Now the piper wants to be paid and she doesn't want (or can't afford) to pay the piper. That has nothing to do with her fellow citizens; nobody is obliged to subsidize her life choices.

But still . . . That underlying problem of having to leave simply because others are desiring your home more than you can afford is simply not right.

I see no clear answer but I have long thought that the issue is one of the most consequential and least discussed in our civic discourse.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Reality check

If you listen only to the media, you would get the impression that the US is, compared to our European or OECD brethren, unusually misogynistic, selfish, intolerant, crony-capitalist, elitist, etc.

I have documented elsewhere that in terms of gender differences, the US stands head and shoulders above the OECD averages. American women are represented at the very top of more industries and sectors than anywhere else and in greater numbers. In any field in the US, you can expect women to be 15-30% of the top performers (by level, station, awards, etc.). Elsewhere in the developed world, women are either unrepresented at the highest levels in large swarths of the economy or fields of endeavor or to a much lesser degree.

Two recent reports shed light on some of the other accusations.

Pew Research has a report, In views of diversity, many Europeans are less positive than Americans by Bruce Drake and Jacob Poushter. Americans are dramatically more tolerant (as measured by positive attitude towards diversity) than any European country.

Click to enlarge.

Not only are Americans as a whole more tolerant, even the much slandered American right are more tolerant. Specifically American Conservatives are more tolerant than 75% of self-identified Liberal Europeans.

Click to enlarge

Well, thank you very much Pew Research for documenting what has been evident for years for anyone willing to depart from the path of ideology and look at reality.

Now what about the claim that Americans have much less social mobility than Europeans and the related claim that the American rich are a cozy club of old-money elite manipulators?

Well, again, the numbers don't seem to back that up. From fascinating research published last year, Investigating the right tail of wealth: Education, cognitive ability, giving, network power, gender, ethnicity, leadership, and other characteristics by Jonathan Wai and David Lincoln. From the abstract:
The extent to which people in the right tail of wealth are highly educated and cognitively able was examined in a sample of 18,245 ultra high net worth (UHNW) individuals with net worth's of USD $30 million plus. How education and ability related to religion, ethnicity, political affiliation, relationship status, country, industry, leadership, gender, net worth, giving, and network power was assessed. And whether gender, religion, ethnicity, or network power differences existed in the right tail of wealth was examined. Overall, these people were highly educated and cognitively able, and smarter (more educated) people were wealthier, gave more, and had more powerful social networks (but when controlling for multiple confounds the association between education/ability and wealth was found to be quite small). Females were underrepresented, and female CEOs needed to be more select to reach the top of a company. Males and billionaires gave the most, but females and UHNW individuals gave more of what they had. U.S. Blacks and self-made females had the highest network power. U.S. Blacks and Caucasians were similarly educated and cognitively able. Democrats had a higher education and cognitive ability level than Republicans. Married people dominated and were the most educated and cognitively able, but least likely to have inherited their money and give. The finance, banking, investment, and internet sectors dominated. Jewish individuals were overrepresented by a factor of about 234. Today, the typical UHNW individual profile includes U.S. married (Christian and Jewish) men who are largely Chairman and CEO, Republican, and earned their money in finance, banking and investments. This study provides evidence for the clustering of brains, wealth and power, and suggests that elite education may matter in the trajectory of developing expertise in wealth and power generation
That's a lot to unpack.

America generates about 25% of the global economic activity with about 4.5% of the global population.

Reading the report, and focusing on Americans, here are the things that leapt out at me.
Among the most successful people in the world (measured by accumulated wealth), Americans are 47% of all UHNW people.

The wealthy in America are far more likely to have created their fortunes themselves (rather than inheriting them) compared to Europeans. 12.6% of American UHNWs inherited their wealth whereas purportedly more "socially mobile" European countries have far higher rates of inheritance such as Austria (49.6%), Germany (30.8%), Norway (20%), Denmark (23.1%), Netherlands (19.5%), France (18.2%), Switzerland (24.7%), Sweden (43.8%).

There's not a lot of information about UHNW giving but for which there is, the US UHNWs are second after the British in terms of generosity.

Despite the impression that all rich people are liberal, the data suggests that the older trope that the rich are more affiliated with Republicans is true. There are two groups for whom this is not true. African American UHNW and South Asian UHNW both affiliate with Democrats to a greater degree than they do Republicans but all others are the reverse (Asian, Caucasian, Chinese, Hispanic and Middle Eastern).

In the US, among the religious groups in UHNW, Jews and Episcopalians are the most generous.

While the connection between UHNW and higher education is very strong, the connection with elite schools is relatively weak. 66% of American UHNW did not attend elite schools.

African Americans make up 42% of all black UHNW worldwide (African Americans are about 3.5% of all blacks worldwide.)
It would seem clear from all the above information that if you are an ethnic minority, a religious minority, a woman, come from a modest financial background, or have not been able to crack the inner sanctum of the elite schools, then the country where you are most likely to achieve UHNW status is the US.

Put differently, American women have higher levels of achievement across a broader spectrum of industries and fields than do their international peers, American religious, ethnic, and racial minorities achieve more, the playing field is flatter, the society is more welcoming and the outcomes more fair in the US than anywhere else.

Nice to know, and good to acknowledge while we continue to seek improvement.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

But what is liberty without wisdom and without virtue?

From Reflections on the Revolution in France, and on the Proceedings in Societies in London Relative to That Event: In a Letter Intended to Have Been Sent to a Gentleman in Paris, 1790 by Edmund Burke. We are so educated these days - why do we have so few who write so intelligently.
In some people I see great liberty, indeed; in many, if not in the most, an oppressive, degrading servitude. But what is liberty without wisdom and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint. Those who know what virtuous liberty is cannot bear to see it disgraced by incapable heads, on account of their having high-sounding words in their mouths. Grand, swelling sentiments of liberty I am sure I do not despise. They warm the heart; they enlarge and liberalize our minds; they animate our courage in a time of conflict. Old as I am, I read the fine raptures of Lucan and Corneille with pleasure. Neither do I wholly condemn the little arts and devices of popularity. They facilitate the carrying of many points of moment; they keep the people together; they refresh the mind in its exertions; and they diffuse occasional gayety over the severe brow of moral freedom. Every politician ought to sacrifice to the Graces, and to join compliance with reason. But in such an undertaking as that in France all these subsidiary sentiments and artifices are of little avail. To make a government requires no great prudence. Settle the seat of power, teach obedience, and the work is done. To give freedom is still more easy. It is not necessary to guide; it only requires to let go the rein. But to form a free government, that is, to temper together these opposite elements of liberty and restraint in one consistent work, requires much thought, deep reflection, a sagacious, powerful, and combining mind.
Wisdom and virtue seem in short supply this electoral cycle. I trust our system is sufficiently strong to sustain itself through the rough patches that will emerge regardless of who wins.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils.

From Hector Berlioz in a letter written in November 1856, published in Pierre Citron (ed.) Correspondance générale (Paris: Flammarion, 1989) vol. 5, p. 390; Paul Davies About Time: Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996) p. 214.
Le temps est un grand maître, dit-on; le malheur est qu'il soit un maître inhumain qui tue ses élèves.

Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement

From Edmund Burke in Reflections on the Revolution in France. Food for thought. A fascinating density of ideas. My first read leaves me nodding my head but also objecting. Rereading leads to a recasting of his argument and chasing down ancillary speculations. It is not that the words are right or wrong but that they are effective in making you consider your own positions.
Subordinate contracts for objects of mere occasional interest may be dissolved at pleasure — but the state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, calico or tobacco, or some other such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary interest, and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties. It is to be looked on with other reverence; because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primaeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and the invisible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures, each in their appointed place. This law is not subject to the will of those, who by an obligation above them, and infinitely superior, are bound to submit their will to that law. The municipal corporations of that universal kingdom are not morally at liberty at their pleasure, and on their speculations of a contingent improvement, wholly to separate and tear asunder the bands of their subordinate community, and to dissolve it into an unsocial, uncivil, unconnected chaos of elementary principles. It is the first and supreme necessity only, a necessity that is not chosen, but chooses, a necessity paramount to deliberation, that admits no discussion, and demands no evidence, which alone can justify a resort to anarchy. This necessity is no exception to the rule; because this necessity itself is a part too of that moral and physical disposition of things, to which man must be obedient by consent or force: but if that which is only submission to necessity should be made the object of choice, the law is broken, nature is disobeyed, and the rebellious are outlawed, cast forth, and exiled, from this world of reason, and order, and peace, and virtue, and fruitful penitence, into the antagonist world of madness, discord, vice, confusion, and unavailing sorrow.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

If impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature . . .

It is immensely annoying to experience the in-roads critical theory has made into some of our more valued institutions with efforts to shut down the free exchange of ideas, fight "cultural appropriation," and the emphasis from SJWs on identity such that no one can write about anyone else from a different race (or, presumably, religion, class, region, gender, etc., though they rarely play out the logic of their Reform Marxist theories). They are simply dogmatic bigots and they ruin everything they touch. Universities are falling into disrepute, the entertainment industry stagnates, book publishing languishes. Now even the NFL is touched by the infection and is beginning to see declines in their viewership as people refuse to have totalitarians dictate what they should view.

But there is nothing new under the sun. What we are experiencing now from the dogmatic bigots is nothing compared to earlier forms. What is different is that most normal people are cowed from responding. We need to reawaken the dextrous dismissal as illustrated by J.R.R. Tolkien. In 1937, after the publication of The Hobbit, Tolkien's British publishers were approached by a German publisher seeking to publish a German edition. The German publisher, in compliance with the bigoted laws of their country, sought to validate the Aryan purity of Tolkien's lineage. Such is the world of the SJW dogmatic bigots.

Tolkien would have none of that. His polite and pointed response:
25 July 1938
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford

Dear Sirs,

Thank you for your letter. I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject — which should be sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.

Your enquiry is doubtless made in order to comply with the laws of your own country, but that this should be held to apply to the subjects of another state would be improper, even if it had (as it has not) any bearing whatsoever on the merits of my work or its sustainability for publication, of which you appear to have satisfied yourselves without reference to my Abstammung.

I trust you will find this reply satisfactory, and

remain yours faithfully,

J. R. R. Tolkien
Oh so British - "I trust you will find this reply satisfactory".

Gamergate, Hugo Awards in Science Fiction, PC Movies, Book Publishing based on identity, Safe spaces, Disinvitation of speakers, abandonment of due process, and speech suppression at universities: all infected by the dogmatic and totalitarian bigotry of the Social Justice Warriors and other philosophies deriving from Reform Marxism. It is outrageous that people do not reject the cult of hatred and ironic that they accept it as a simulacrum of tolerance when it is the reverse.

Compliance is obviously fading rapidly

It is easy (and, generally, appropriate) to be skeptical about the overheated complaints of insider conspiracies. The ratio of noise to signal tends to be high. But that doesn't mean that there isn't a signal.

The cascade of leaks in the past month or two and the increasing avalanche in the past week is bringing credibility to some of these accusations. Yes, there was coordination between the White House, the State Department, the Department of Justice around the email server investigation. Yes, there was coordination between the State Department and the Clinton Foundation to provide insider access to donors. Yes, there was . . . well the list is pretty long.

This one is interesting, not so much in terms of tis consequence but in terms of its explicit Gramscian world view. It is an exchange between two insiders, John Podesta (the epitome of the insider's insider; John David Podesta is the Chairman of the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. Podesta previously served as Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton and Counselor to President Barack Obama) and Bill Ivey of the Center for American Progress. Ivey, also a classic insider shares this:
And as I've mentioned, we've all been quite content to demean government, drop civics and in general conspire to produce an unaware and compliant citizenry. The unawareness remains strong but compliance is obviously fading rapidly. This problem demands some serious, serious thinking - and not just poll driven, demographically-inspired messaging.
Yikes! Presumably he is not sharing this cynical dismissiveness of the electorate without being confident that the recipient is in some agreement.

Hard not to look at this as the insiders trying to keep the masses at bay by keeping them ignorant ("the unawareness remains strong.") Like a good totalitarian, it's all about compliance and that is the problem with this election cycle. It is not the ridiculousness of Trump per se. It is that "compliance is obviously fading rapidly." The insiders are losing their grip on the electorate.

The seems much of a like with Jonathan Gruber's bragging about the deliberate deceptions needed to pass ACA (see Americans Too Stupid to Understand.) Also, there is Ben Rhodes and the lying and deception to the American public about our international affairs.
Like Obama, Rhodes is a storyteller who uses a writer’s tools to advance an agenda that is packaged as politics but is often quite personal. He is adept at constructing overarching plotlines with heroes and villains, their conflicts and motivations supported by flurries of carefully chosen adjectives, quotations and leaks from named and unnamed senior officials. He is the master shaper and retailer of Obama’s foreign-policy narratives, at a time when the killer wave of social media has washed away the sand castles of the traditional press. His ability to navigate and shape this new environment makes him a more effective and powerful extension of the president’s will than any number of policy advisers or diplomats or spies. His lack of conventional real-world experience of the kind that normally precedes responsibility for the fate of nations — like military or diplomatic service, or even a master’s degree in international relations, rather than creative writing — is still startling.


The way in which most Americans have heard the story of the Iran deal presented — that the Obama administration began seriously engaging with Iranian officials in 2013 in order to take advantage of a new political reality in Iran, which came about because of elections that brought moderates to power in that country — was largely manufactured for the purpose for selling the deal.
It's not about Trump. It's about morally bankrupt insiders lying to the public to advance their own causes and self-interests at the expense of the commonweal. It used to be easy and now the revolting masses are revolting. No wonder there is panic among the elite and all stops have been pulled out to destroy the flawed voice of disruption, Trump.

Too much to ask that public leaders and civil servants simply follow the normal moral code and work for the betterment of all Americans and not just those who pay the insiders.

Even from here I can tell his pulse rate's up.

This summer BBC America celebrated the 50th anniversary of the original airing of Star Trek. I recorded all the episodes and have been slowly working through them in no particular order. I was living overseas when Star Trek came out and my exposure to the show has always been partial and episodic. In high school and college I knew many friends who diligently arranged their schedules in order to enjoy reruns of Star Trek.

Over the years I have read about the series as well, often trying to identify just what made it so enduring and comparing the original series to its many offspring.

I suspect one element of difference is that TV series from that era were more plot driven than character driven. The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and others of that time were noted for the quality of their writing and stories. I suspect the same of Star Trek. Sure, they had basically the same cast of characters but you never knew what intellectual idea or plot you might encounter from one show to the next. Some worked well, some not so much but they answered to the mind in a way that emotion/character driven stories do not.

That seems to contrast (to me) with the modern sensibility where it seems all series are essentially more or less well disguised soap operas with the whole attention focused on the development of the characters and their relationships with one another- see Star Trek: The Next Generation as an example.

Another striking thing about the original production of Star Trek is the inescapable negative contrast to the special effects of today. Today, you could relatively easily produce Star Trek episodes on the stage of any halfway decent high school theatrical stage. The original TV series was noticeably far away from the digital era.

Yet another notable element is how much Star Trek was of its social time. Captain James Tiberius Kirk has always been identifiable as a galactic Lothario, modeled, presumably, on the fighter pilots of the recent World War and on the glamorous pilots of the emerging commercial jets.

Star Trek saw itself as the expression of the best in America, taken to space. On the bridge of the Enterprise, you could find many cultures, many races, many species, and both genders. It was the hopeful fulfillment of the Age of Enlightenment ideal, marrying egalitarianism, tolerance, and bold action with the urge to discover.

But . . .

I am not sympathizer for the reformed Marxism of Gender Sociology but you can see what they were complaining about in the "patriarchy" of the sixties. A few nights ago, I watched the episode Who Mourns For Adonais?, Stardate: 3468.1, Original Airdate: 22 Sep, 1967.

The opening scene is on the bridge of the Enterprise. Scotty, the Chief Engineer, is smitten by a beautiful Lieutenant Carolyn Palamas, the officer responsible for archaeology and anthropology.
CAROLYN: Here's the report on Pollux Five, Captain. This entire system has been almost the same. A strange lack of intelligent life on the planets. It bugs the percentages.
KIRK: Bugs the? Well, carry out the standard procedures on Pollux Four.
CAROLYN: Aye, sir.
MCCOY: Lieutenant, you look a bit tired this morning.
CAROLYN: Well, I was up all night working on this report, sir.
SCOTT: Well in that case, there's nothing like a wee bit of coffee to get you back in shape. Join me, Carolyn?
CAROLYN: All right, Scotty. Just let me give this to Mister Spock.
KIRK: Bones, could you get that excited over a cup of coffee?
MCCOY: Even from here I can tell his pulse rate's up.
SCOTT: Gentlemen. Come along, my dear.
MCCOY: I'm not sure I like that, Jim.
KIRK: Why, Bones? Scotty's a good man.
MCCOY: And he thinks he's the right man for her, but I'm not sure she thinks he's the right man. On the other hand, she's a woman. All woman. One day she'll find the right man and off she'll go, out of the service.
KIRK: I like to think of it not so much losing an officer as gaining . . .
SCOTT: Come along.
(He and Carolyn enter the turbolift.)
KIRK: Actually, I'm losing an officer.
Poor old Scotty would be put on notice for workplace harassment in our modern era. Enterprise would constitute a hostile workplace. All the guys are joking with one another about Scott's interest in Palamas - with both Scott and Palamas right there. Scott is part of the conversation but Palamas is expected to behave as if none of it is happening. It just feels like people of the sixties trying to be enlightened and egalitarian but not quite getting it right. Or, less narcissistically, not getting it like we have ended up living it.

The series is full of those gender interactions that don't match our norms today. It is neither good nor bad, just different from our norms today. Strikingly so.

Footnotes, smoke, mirrors, and noise

Kudos to Alex Shephard for having the confidence in his system of forecasting to make a clear and testable forecast. Who Will Win the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature? Not Bob Dylan, that's for sure by Alex Shephard. Most people have an extreme, but misplaced confidence, verging on passion, about their knowledge, awareness and deep insight to the workings of the world.

But the world is complex and human systems are causally dense. Most of our confidence is misplaced. The nice thing about clear and testable forecasts is that they allow refinement. Shephard's underlying rationale for his confidence may more or less consort with reality but we will only know that if we test his forecasts.

Too many pundits couch their forecasts in such a dense fog of words, obfuscations and caveats that they are not comprehendible, much less testable.

In this case, Shephard's forecast was clearly wrong. From today's Washington Post, ‘Poetry for the ear’: Bob Dylan wins Nobel Prize in literature by Ron Charles, Geoff Edgers and Brian Murphy.

But his example was good - to demonstrate your knowledge and wisdom, make testable predictions. All else is footnotes, smoke, mirrors, and noise.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Gender Sociology has a strong academic bubble that repels reality

Well this research was interestingly worthwhile. Undoing Insularity: A Small Study of Gender Sociology’s Big Problem by Charlotta Stern. From the abstract:
In my experience as a sociologist, I see many ways in which gender sociology tends to insulate itself from challenges to its own sacred beliefs and sacred causes. The sacred beliefs are to the effect that the biological differences between the sexes are minor and that the cultural differences between the genders have little basis in biological differences. The scholarly findings that challenge the sacred beliefs come from anthropology, developmental psychology, evolutionary psychology, the neurosciences, genetics, biology, and many other fields. For many decades now researchers have amassed findings of differences in competitiveness, aggression, sexual interest, risk behavior, and many other traits, and differences in brain physiology and neuroimaging, by many different methods and approaches. I investigated a sample of top cited gender sociology papers to test my impression, and indeed the findings illustrate extreme insularity. It saddens me to see students and scholars fall into insular communities of highly dubious sacred beliefs and causes. I propose that gender sociologists strive to undo insularity.
Hard to summarize in the sense that her paper is clear, articulate, nuanced, and succinct. You would get more from reading the paper than my summary.

My observations from her paper:
1. Gender Sociology dominates the media discussions in ways that are pervasive and yet usually ill-thought through or even consciously considered.

2. The holy precepts of Gender Sociology have entered the discourse of the societal elite in a fashion that is often detrimental to all concerned.

3. Gender Sociology is differentially treated and not subjected to rigorous testing as befits a legitimate field of study.

4. When Gender Sociology is tested, its precepts generally fail scrutiny.

5. Gender Sociology is to a great extent, essentially wrong in its weighing of evidence and the conclusions it reaches. There are interesting and worthwhile outcomes from the field but they are few and far between.

6. The construct created by Gender Sociology is substantially detrimental to the well-being of individuals and society.

7. Part of the continuing discourse about Gender Sociology is due to its deep insularity and failure to address evidence contra to the ideological suppositions.
Stern's is an interesting, useful and balanced examination of the insularity of the field. Her findings (on a small data set) are that 75% of well cited research in the field from leading publications, fail to address contra evidence to the sacred precepts of the ideology of Gender Sociology and that this insularity and refusal to engage represents a severe limitation on the credibility of the field.

Journalistic trafficking in cliches and stereotypes

An interesting, though challenged article, Your Surgeon Is Probably a Republican, Your Psychiatrist Probably a Democrat by Margot Sanger-Katz.
We know that Americans are increasingly sorting themselves by political affiliation into friendships, even into neighborhoods. Something similar seems to be happening with doctors and their various specialties.

New data show that, in certain medical fields, large majorities of physicians tend to share the political leanings of their colleagues, and a study suggests ideology could affect some treatment recommendations. In surgery, anesthesiology and urology, for example, around two-thirds of doctors who have registered a political affiliation are Republicans. In infectious disease medicine, psychiatry and pediatrics, more than two-thirds are Democrats.

The conclusions are drawn from data compiled by researchers at Yale. They joined two large public data sets, one listing every doctor in the United States and another containing the party registration of every voter in 29 states.
As usual, the two most important questions, "What are the effect sizes?" and "Why is this important?" are not directly answered. Journalists generally function, intentionally or unconsciously, as an advocacy group for one particular world view. That world view might be harshly described as Reform Marxist/SJW/Far Left. Or it might, more generously, be described, and perhaps more accurately, as the world view of insulated, well intentioned, upper middle class, high income, highly educated in the humanities (generally suffering some degree of innumeracy), urban, white-collar professionals. Not bad, but generally lacking perspective and context with a proclivity to virtue signaling and overconfidence to the point of unsupportable certainty.

Americans tend to self-identify as 40% conservative, 40% moderate and 20% liberal (party affiliation does not necessarily match political orientation).

The first question - "What are the effect sizes?" Hard to tell from the reporting. They filter based on Republican and Democrat. How large is the group in the middle? If only 10% are registered Republican/Democrat and everyone else is Moderate, then there would appear to not be much of interest in this study because it would be reporting on the fringes.

The reporter leaves it to the reader to do the heavy lifting. A footer indicates that:
But over all, the researchers were able to collect complete data for more than 55,000 physicians living in the 29 states where voter files include party registration.

There is a graphic with an important rider:

Click to enlarge.

The rider is: "Data from a sample of 34,532 physicians in 29 states." In other words, 63% of physicians were registered to vote by party affiliation and 37% either were not registered to vote or did not have a party affiliation.

The fact that we are talking about 63% of physicians and not all physicians is not a disqualifying issue, but it is an important caveat to know in order to understand and interpret the data correctly.

What about the second question, "Why is this important?" It is not clear that party affiliation is important at all. There seems to be no material impact on outcomes.
“These findings suggest you are going to get different care,” Professor Hersh said, adding that the differences might not matter much for the average patient. But they might for patients whose needs were closely related to politically divisive subjects, like reproductive health, with issues like contraception, abortion and prenatal screening; or H.I.V. prevention, with risk factors that include sex and intravenous drug use.

Primary care doctors and obstetrician-gynecologists, the doctors most likely to consider such issues, were among the most evenly split in the study sample. That means that patients probably can’t guess the political leanings of their doctor without asking (or checking the voter file data). The current study is only a survey, but Professor Hersh said he hopes the research spurs more examinations of how ideology shapes medical practice.
I am glad that Margot Sanger-Katz wrote this article as it provides some marginally interesting information but it certainly falls far short of what it could have been.

How can you write about political affiliation in the hospital setting without retelling the marvelous story of Ronald Reagan as he entered surgery after the assassination attempt on him:
3:24 p.m. Reagan was wheeled into the operating room. He had lost about 2,100 cc of blood, but his bleeding had slowed and he had received 4 1/2 replacement units. As he was moved from the stretcher to the operating table, he looked around and said, "Please tell me you're all Republicans." Giordano, a liberal Democrat, said, "We're all Republicans today."
I observe that the commenters, many of whom can't resist the temptation of pop psychologizing based on party affiliation, partisan sniping and committing the fundamental attribution error, and otherwise clogging the system with trivia, also generate some quite worthwhile content and observations.

Clare A observes that the study left out other independent variables which might contribute to party affiliation separate from field:
I wish I could say that this is malarkey but being a med student and the kid of two physicians, I know better than to do so. Though I will say this: geography has an astounding influence on the political positions of those in the medical field. Having worked in both Detroit and Birmingham (an affluent suburb outside Detroit), I can tell you that the surgeons in Detroit, even the ones from the wealthy/conservative deep south, are far more left leaning than the ones in Birmingham. Even my father, who was raised on food stamps and programs supported by the democratic party, has become alarmingly more conservative since working in an affluent area. Then again, my mother who is an ER physician and was raised in the 1% is as left leaning as they come, despite the odds. So who really knows!
Orthodoc suggests that this is much ado about nothing.
Interesting, trend in the comments, following many tired old judgments: surgeons etc want money, want action, and are impatient or biased. I am an orthopedic surgeon. My wife is also in a surgical specialty. I am/was not motivated by "risk/action", or particularly by money. I am a Democrat. I think the graph most telling is the one looking at age. I suspect that older white male doctors are more likely to be republican, mirroring the rest of the country. Surgery has traditionally been more male dominated. While this is changing with more female surgeons, there are still more males than females. This is partly due to the demands and hours required by the profession as well as from the slow change inherent in the medical system of training and practice. So, I suspect the political leanings of doctors is more correlation than causation. I would not read too much into trying to buttonhole an individual person into a group based on simple profession. I have met doctors, lawyers and blue collar workers of all political stripes and with all ranges of personal motivations.
Steve lambasts Sanger-Katz for her lazy stereotyping and statistical incomprehension:
The conclusions proposed by the author are an offensive extrapolation beyond the data presented in this article. While the trends of party affiliation presented in this article may be true, the "potential explanations" presented by the author revolve around age-old, biased stereotypes of physicians: that those who practice internal medicine and related subspecialties are the doctors with heart, while surgeons remain the brutish, egomaniacal, self-serving group they have always been.

In short, the author infers throughout her argument that surgeons simply don't care about patients as much as other doctors.

This is derogatory, untrue, and dangerous. I am a proud Democrat and a proud surgeon. Care, compassion, and belief in the absolute necessity of a strong social and medical safety net are not isolated to particular fields of medicine located outside the OR - nor to a particular political party for that matter. To infer otherwise shows a lack of editorial restraint and undermines the care that hardworking, compassionate surgeons tirelessly provide on a daily basis.
Tony Longo adds some humor but makes an important point.
I can hone this further very easily: my psychiatrist may be a run-of-the-mill Dem, but my actual weekly Therapist is a highly motivated leftist with fire in her gut. My internist is a very beneficent dude, but I suspect my orthopedist of certain semi-conservative leanings….In dentistry, the main man’s an old-fashioned socialist, when he remembers to, but the root canal guy has some weird ideas, man, and Ayn Rand on the coffee table. Dermatology, quite libby; ENT, so authoritarian I’m afraid to bring it up.

As for my chiropractor, if you can interrupt the Barbra Streisand record he’s listening to at the moment I think he’d offer some rather mellow and advanced views on things in general.

Don't even ask about my last nutrionist.

The mainstream media seem bent on fostering partisanship, division, hysteria, and speculation unmoored on known facts.

I wish they would serve us better by going beyond the cliche to deep thought.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

I miss the old NPR

For years, decades even, NPR was a staple of my daily routine. Fresh reporting, not just repetition of the same stories everyone else was carrying. Variety. Deep research. Some really good stuff. You couldn't listen for half an hour without learning at least something and usually a lot.

But over the years the quality has declined. They have always leaned left, or at least have always had the mind-set and the unquestioned assumptions of wealthy, upper-middle class, highly educated, urban dwellers. They did a reasonable job trying to consciously balance that a bit, long ago but in recent years, there has been less and less effort.

More to the point, their reporters seem less and less intelligent. They seem happy to start with improbable assumptions and then speculate crazily from there.

I came across Researchers Find Racial Wage Gap Has Grown today which illustrates the decline. Its just SJW press release journalism, no skeptical mind required. The original report is Black-white wage gaps expand with rising wage inequality by Valerie Wilson and William M. Rodgers III.

For years, feminists have been trying to make the claim that women are paid less for the same work as men. Claims that have been systematically debunked by economists as well as academic feminists (see the work of Claudia Goldin for example.) The claim rests on rank innumeracy and comparing apples to oranges. If you want to see whether women are being discriminated against in terms of compensation, you have to compare like to like. Same education attainment, same number of hours worked, same number of years worked, same field of endeavor, same area of study, same industry, same number of career interruptions, etc. When you compare like-to-like, there is no evidence of wage discrimination.

This has been demonstrated again and again. There is no reason for someone in media not to know this. You have to control the variables to get like-to-like.

And what do we have here? The same SJW agenda-driven sloppy research that compares apples and oranges to come up with the conclusion they had already reached; African Americans must be being discriminated against because they earn less overall.

The researchers seem to be aware of the perils of their flawed approach. They try and make the claim that they controlled for the important variables:
A big part of what we did in this study was to try to pin down all of the factors that would reasonably affect what workers get paid. We controlled for level of education. We looked at years of experience, what region of the country you live in, whether or not you live in an urban area or a rural area. And even after controlling for those factors, there was a sizable difference between what black and white workers were paid.
Well, fine. But those aren't the most important variables that determine outcomes. Number of hours worked, academic field, industry, sector, continuity of employment, etc. Control for those and you have something meaty to report on.

Take, as an example, one of their four controls - education attainment. Doctorates in Education, Psychology and Sociology are a dime a dozen and among the least paid fields. Doctorates in Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence, and Electrical Engineering are among the highest paid fields. If any group is overrepresented in the former three and underrepresented in the latter three, they will have dramatically lower average compensation for the same level of education attainment. By a factor of 2 or 3. And indeed, African Americans are overrepresented among the soft sciences and significantly underrepresented in the hard sciences. The difference in compensation has nothing to do with discrimination and everything to do with the fields they chose to specialize in.

Since the researchers seem to recognize the importance of controlling determining variables but elected not to control for the important variables, I am inclined to believe that they were after a result consistent with their predetermined SJW biases.

But that's just SJW academics being SJW academics. Nothing too out of the ordinary there, even if undesirable.

What is outrageous is for NPR, knowing that these type of studies routinely omit the important variables to reach predetermined conclusions, elected to broadcast the results anyway and without pressing the researchers on why they chose to omit the important variables.

Shame on NPR. Increasingly just a conveyor of cognitive pollution. I really hope they right the ship and start coming back to hard hitting, fact-based reporting in the future. I miss the old NPR.