Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The poetry of confirmation bias

From Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866) in Headlong Hall. A neat description of what we now describe as confirmation bias.
All philosophers, who find
Some favourite system to their mind,
In every point to make it fit,
Will force all nature to submit.

Caught up in the political sizzle, it is easy to overlook the educational puzzle.

Charles Cooke has a cruel but interesting set of observations in The Unserious Face of an Unserious Movement by Charles C. W. Cooke.

Over the past few decades, I seem to have had to resort to profoundly unserious as the explanation for many individuals and circumstances which were otherwise inexplicable. The recurring infatuation among certain sectors with the idea of autocratic socialism and marxism is one of those inexplicable circumstances.

The subject of Cooke's column is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democrat insurgent who recently unseated a party lion, Joe Crowely, in the primary for the Democratic candidacy for New York House District 14. It was a remarkable feat, comparable to Eric Cantor, Republican House Majority Whip, defeated in the Republican primary of 2014 by a Tea Party candidate, David Brat.

I was arguing a few weeks ago with a colleague who has a bad case of Trump Derangement Syndrome, that a good portion, perhaps most, of the political angst we see right now is not, as the media characterizes it, polarization of the electorate, but rather, a rejection by the electorate of the establishment parties. The Republicans started their purge of the comfortable establishment earlier and have progressed further, substantially through the amorphous Tea Party movement. The Democrats are just starting their purge and have a long way to go. Ocasio-Cortez is just the canary in the coal mine under this interpretation of events.

There is a Greek tragedy in this. Ocasio-Cortez is an ordinary flawed person, suddenly thrust into the center of a ring of action for which she is unprepared. The fact that she put herself there is only part of the tragedy.

Cooke mercilessly dissects the foolish media and party infatuation with a photogenic, victorious insurgent. The individual Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is being buried under projections and unfounded assumptions. When she comes up short of expectations, the backlash will be, as it always is, unrelenting and destructive. You can see it coming and there is little that anyone can do to prevent it, given the aspirations and desires and motives and behaviors of all the parties.

When, last Thursday, she was asked an elementary question about spending, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez struck her best Cobra Kai pose. “I sat down with a Nobel Prize economist last week,” she exclaimed, contorting her face into Jack Nicholson’s and attempting to shoot webs from her fingers. “I can’t believe I can say that,” she added. “It’s really weird!”

Alas, nothing from this brush with greatness appears to have worn off on her. Mere seconds elapsed between the boast and the disaster that followed. Speaking to a friendly Trevor Noah, Ocasio-Cortez revealed that she does not know the difference between a one-year and a ten-year budget; confused the recent increase in defense spending with the entire annual cost of the military; implied that the population of the United States was around 800 million strong; and, having been asked to defend her coveted $15 minimum wage, launched into a rambling and inscrutable diatribe about “private equity” firms that would have been a touch too harsh as a parody on South Park. If anything, she was worse this time than she had been during her appearance on Firing Line a few days earlier, on which newly revamped show she demonstrated her obliviousness to the fact that the United States economy exploded during the 1990s, to the manner in which unemployment numbers are calculated, and to even the most obvious facets of the Israel–Palestine question about which she has assured her supporters she is so passionate.

“It’s really weird!”

It is, yes. Especially given that, before her two interviews aired, Ocasio-Cortez had taken to exhibiting that jealous penchant for credentialism that so stains the world’s wannabe socialists, and to boasting about her intellectual prowess. At the beginning of July, she tweeted with self-satisfaction — and a noticeably premature use of the word “other” — that she was “Wondering how many other House Democrats have a degree in Economics like I do?” Two days later, she upgraded that claim: “If you think the GOP is terrified of my politics now,” she threatened on Twitter, “just wait until they find out about public libraries.” Just wait, indeed! From a BA from BU to the embodiment of all human knowledge in just 48 hours!
Let me google that for you. How many House of Representatives members have a degree in economics? In 2014,
Twenty-seven members have undergraduate degrees in economics, according to a CQ database of the various educational degrees and occupations each congressmen lists on his resume.
Ironically, Ocasio-Cortez's insurgent doppelgänger, David Brat who unseated Eric Cantor, can see her undergraduate degree in economics from Boston University, raise her a Masters in Divinity from Princeton, raise her again with a PhD in Economics from American University, and to crown it all, was a professor in economics for more than twenty years at Randolph Macon University. As they say in the legal profession, when making an argument don't ask a rhetorical question to which you don't already know the answer.

As an aside, in checking on the number of House members with a degree in economics, I came across this factoid from the Congressional Research Service which I find oddly pleasing:
20 Members of the House have no educational degree beyond a high school diploma
We have a great Republic where everyone has a chance.

Reminds me of that old saw from William F. Buckley.
I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.
Back to Ocasio-Cortez. What is striking to me is the profound disconnect between her demonstrated lack of economic knowledge in these two interviews and the fact that she has an economics degree from Boston University, and from not too long ago, she having graduated in 2011. What are they teaching in econ at BU these days? Or, apparently more pertinently, not teaching? This level of profound unawareness seems incompatible with so recently having been, nominally, steeped in learning economics. As a major.

What is that they are teaching at BU for a quarter of million dollars that puts you in a position after four years of not even knowing the basics of your own chosen field of study?

After Dinner at the Farm by John Philip Falter

After Dinner at the Farm by John Philip Falter

Click to enlarge.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The ungrateful biped

From Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Part 1, Chapter 8 (page 28).
I believe the best definition of man is the ungrateful biped.

Rereading, re-remembering and perhaps re-forgetting.

From Are you one of those people who eat the same thing every day? by Ann Althouse.

She is discussing an issue about which I have been thinking lately - the order and construct of remembering facts (and forgetting).
I ran across that article yesterday as we were discussing the sense of smell in this post about a man who had anosmia and then regained his sense of smell and experienced smell as much more intense than it is for a person who'd never been smell deprived. Commenters brought up dogs, and I wanted to talk about the Oliver Sacks essay, "The Dog Beneath the Skin," a chapter in "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat," about a man who takes drugs that leave him with a heightened sense of smell and the feeling that it was like being a dog.

I felt surprised to see in that 2015 article that the dog-man in question was Sacks himself, a fact he'd chosen to hide when he published "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat." ("I’m, um… less – less shy now. I think partly I’m at a distance from these things. They were 40 years ago. And I don’t think it’s sensationalism or exhibitionism for its own sake – so much as the fact that I am basically constituted the same as everybody else, and I will get an inside take, as well as a scientific one.") This revelation is in Sacks's memoir, "On the Move: A Life," which I've read, so I should not have been surprised. I mean, I know I forget most of what I read, but I do think that having read something once ought to keep you from feeling surprised to see it when it comes up again. It should be more of a feeling of oh, yeah, I'd forgotten that.

There are levels of forgetting, I realize. Let's say you encounter, once again, a fact you've have heard before. Level 1: Oh, yes, I remember. (You forgot only in the sense that you had no reason to call the fact to mind, but it looks completely familiar). Level 2: Oh, I'd forgotten that. (You remember that you've seen it before.) Level 3: I don't think I've ever seen that before. (You may have seen it, but you don't remember.) Level 4: I'm sure I've never seen that before. (You seem to remember that you have never known it. This may be based on reasoning that it's the sort of thing that if you'd heard it before, you would remember.)
The reason I have been reflecting on the topic is due to a rereading of Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman. I read her big works (Guns of August, Proud Tower, A Distant Mirror) when I was in my mid-twenties plus or minus a couple of years. Roughly thirty years ago.

I had already read a fair amount about both World War I as well as the late middle ages by the time I got to Tuchman so what I learned from her books was not new material but a consolidation and an awareness of alternate interpretations. A gifted writer, she certainly managed to contextualize and synthesize much of what I knew and I particularly enjoyed reading her.

With age, rheumatism, and smaller planes, I find it less and less convenient to read books, particularly the doorstops which I enjoy, while traveling. Which is regrettable given the amount of time I spend on planes given my profession. Having lately been on a routine route in a particularly small plane for some months, I finally began using a Kobo which was given to me some years ago. Screen reading is no substitute to real reading of books, but it is a close enough proxy that it is an acceptable substitute under the right conditions.

And frankly I have been enjoying reading and rereading clunkers which have never been physically convenient to read in confined spaces.

And so I come to reread Guns of August.

First, it is a reminder of how gifted a writer Tuchman was, what a gift for signal events, and what a deadpan talent in making brief understated, ironic/humorous statements freighted with insight and perspective.

Second, I am experiencing all four levels described by Althouse. Stuff I know and Tuchman is saying more artfully. Things which I know but had not recently thought about. Events I know I knew but would not have been able to easily call to mind. And consequential things which I know I must have known (because I have read this book before with respect and diligence) but which apparently went into the brain and immediately dissipated.

I do not understand how people can reflect on the complexity, wonder, and fallibility of our world and ourselves without having at least some modicum of humility.

From Tico & The Golden Wings, by Leo Lionni, 1964

From Tico & The Golden Wings, by Leo Lionni, 1964

Click to enlarge.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

It completely ignores the elephant in the room

Provocatively reported but underlying argument appears increasingly true. From Homicide Rate is Rising? Do Tell! by John Hinderaker.

Click to enlarge.

On August 9th, 2014, Michael Brown was shot to death in self-defense by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown had robbed a store, was stopped by the officer, then attacked the officer, attempted to steal the officer's gun (discharging the gun in the process), refused instructions and charged the office in one last attack. Despite the repeated findings by local, state, and Federal authorities that this was a justified shooting, the media and agitators attempted to represent the death as a police brutality issue, a race issue, and a general indictment of society.

The anti-police movement, Black Lives Matter, had their origins in the protests following Brown's death. In the following couple of years, there were repeated attacks and assassinations of police in select cities across the nation. In response to BLM efforts, a number of cities, including, perhaps most notably, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, and others, rescinded broken windows policing and adopted much more passive policing strategies.

It has been argued since then that relaxation of proactive policing would, and was, leading to a rise in crime in general and shooting deaths in particular in those locales which had elected to abandon active policing. This became known as the Ferguson Effect:
The Ferguson effect is the idea that increased scrutiny of police following the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri has led to an increased crime rate (or sometimes increased murder rate) in major U.S. cities. The mechanism usually suggested is that police have less vigorous enforcement in situations that might lead to backlash, though other mechanisms are suggested. The term was coined by Doyle Sam Dotson III, the chief of the St. Louis police, to account for an increased murder rate in some U.S. cities following the Ferguson unrest.
As Wikipedia notes,
The concept has been criticized by some academics and politicians, including former President Barack Obama, as being inaccurate or non-existent.
Three months after Ferguson and the first instances of steep rises in urban crime where police were being sidelined, there was fair argument whether the data was accurate, whether there were confounding variables, whether there was sufficient data to warrant identification of a trend, etc. Three months, sure. Six months? Yeah. Twelve months, well.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc is never a sufficient argument, but four years later, as Hinderaker points out (and has been covered by others such as Heather Mac Donald), the data, the causal arguments and the forecasts are all aligning together.
Effective policing makes a positive difference.

Reduced policing leads to increased crime.

Gun control makes no causal difference.

The increase in crime is localized to those areas which have chosen to reduce their policing.

The Ferguson Effect is real and consequential.
It follows from this that those, such as BLM, who advocate for reduced policing are indirectly advocating for increased crime, and in particular violent crime in already fragile communities. It also follows that those who seek to increase local gun control as a solution are chasing a wild goose.

Guns, policing strategies, economic development, societal norms, violence, mental health, etc. are all complex, loosely coupled systems which make it difficult in the near term and with small data sets to come to strong prescriptive conclusions. Long duration, more sizable data sets are much more revealing. And they reveal that reality does not comport with unicorn ideologies.

Which is kind of Hinderaker's point. He is faulting CNN from shying away from the conclusion arising from the facts that it is presenting.
CNN’s article is actually relatively fair. It quotes a pro-gun advocate, who has much the best of the argument. For example:
“Consider that between 2007 and 2016, the number of concealed carry permits in the country rose by 256%, and yet the murder rate dropped almost 10% and the violent crime rate dropped almost 20% (as seen in the FBI’s figures here),” [Erich Pratt] wrote.
But what is remarkable about CNN’s article is that it completely ignores the elephant in the room. It never tries to explain what caused the rising homicide rate, beginning after 2014, merely quoting another expert to the effect that “What is most volatile over time and space is gun homicides.” Not really: the homicide rate, which mostly means the gun homicide rate, had been falling steadily since the 1990s, until 2015. While not trying to ascribe a cause, CNN does acknowledge that the uptick beginning in 2015 has been concentrated in a handful of cities.
Indeed. Just because BLM's campaign preceded relaxation of policing strategies and just because relaxed policing strategies preceded increase violence does not necessarily mean that one thing caused the next caused the next.

But after four years of consistent data and fulfilled forecasts and the fact that the violence increases primarily only in the areas where policing was relaxed, it is not unreasonable to lend credence to the proponents of the Ferguson Effect and call doubt upon the social justice arguments.

It is reasonable, but ideological convictions are hard lenses to see through.

Down Hollyhock Lane by Alida Akers

Down Hollyhock Lane by Alida Akers

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The last two years of the decade while Europe enjoyed a rich fat afternoon, were the quietest.

From The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
Now came Edward hobnobbing with the Czar at Reval. Reading the German ambassador’s report of the meeting which suggested that Edward really desired peace, the Kaiser scribbled furiously in the margin, “Lies. He wants war. But I have to start it so he does not have the odium.”

The year closed with the most explosive faux pas of the Kaiser’s career, an interview given to the Daily Telegraph expressing his ideas of the day on who should fight whom, which this time unnerved not only his neighbors but his countrymen. Public disapproval was so outspoken that the Kaiser took to his bed, was ill for three weeks, and remained comparatively reticent for some time thereafter.

Since then no new excitements had erupted. The last two years of the decade while Europe enjoyed a rich fat afternoon, were the quietest. Nineteen-ten was peaceful and prosperous, with the second round of Moroccan crises and Balkan wars still to come. A new book, The Great Illusion by Norman Angell, had just been published, which proved that war had become vain. By impressive examples and incontrovertible argument Angell showed that in the present financial and economic interdependence of nations, the victor would suffer equally with the vanquished; therefore war had become unprofitable; therefore no nation would be so foolish as to start one. Already translated into eleven languages, The Great Illusion had become a cult. At the universities, in Manchester, Glasgow, and other industrial cities, more than forty study groups of true believers had formed, devoted to propagating its dogma. Angell’s most earnest disciple was a man of great influence on military policy, the King’s friend and adviser, Viscount Esher, chairman of the War Committee assigned to remaking the British Army after the shock of its performance in the Boer War. Lord Esher delivered lectures on the lesson of The Great Illusion at Cambridge and the Sorbonne wherein he showed how “new economic factors clearly prove the inanity of aggressive wars.” A twentieth century war would be on such a scale, he said, that its inevitable consequences of “commercial disaster, financial ruin and individual suffering” would be “so pregnant with restraining influences” as to make war unthinkable. He told an audience of officers at the United Service Club, with the Chief of General Staff, Sir John French, in the chair, that because of the interlacing of nations war “becomes every day more difficult and improbable.
We write wonderfully plausible books, convincing ourselves that our beliefs will trump reality.

Australia in the sun Vintage Travel Poster

Australia in the sun Vintage Travel Poster

Click to enlarge.

"I just dialled 1-800-BAGUETTE"

From the New Yorker.

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Ethical Sand in the Gears of Technology

Local knowledge contrasting with national journalistic campaigning

I have often mentioned Michael Crichton's description of the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. Briefly, when you know something about a topic that is covered in the media, you note how wide is the discrepancy in accuracy between what you know and what is reported. And then you read the rest of the paper as if it were factual reporting.

I had that feeling reading this Time magazine report on the recently chosen Democrat nominee for Governor of Georgia in the November 2018 election, Stacey Abrams. From Stacey Abrams Could Become America's First Black Female Governor—If She Can Turn Georgia Blue by Molly Ball.

It is a highly laudatory puff piece, almost a contribution in kind to her campaign.
People tend to remember the first time they heard Stacey Abrams speak, and it’s easy to see why. On a Friday afternoon in May, the Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia is at a union hall in Augusta, telling a story about her father, a college-educated black man who was relegated by his race to working at a shipyard in southern Mississippi in the 1970s. The family had one car, so Robert Abrams would sometimes hitchhike home in the middle of the night. When he didn’t come home one time, the rest of the family set out to pick him up and found him half-frozen by the side of the road, having given his coat to a homeless man. They asked why he, a poor man on a lonely road at night, would do such a thing. And Robert said, “Because I knew you were coming for me.”
It is full of such stories of charming family lore contrasted with suffering from racism and exclusion.

It does not help that Molly Ball writes exactly as Ben Rhodes described the typical reporter he dealt with at the White House during the Obama years.
Rhodes singled out a key example to me one day, laced with the brutal contempt that is a hallmark of his private utterances. “All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus,” he said. “Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”
They literally know nothing. They know nothing and they don't know they know nothing. They aren't interested in the fact that they know nothing. And they don't know how to not know nothing. Google, apparently, is an unknown utility.

Take that sotto voce testimony to the honest poverty of the Abrams' household in the 1970s. They only had one car. Hmm. How many cars did the average household have in the 1970s? How would you find that out?

If you type "Average number of cars per household in the US in 1970" into that undiscovered web search engine, the third listing is the fairly definitive and authoritative Chapter 8 Household Vehicles and Characteristics and the third line on that page is Household Vehicle Ownership, 1960–2016 Census. The poor Abrams in the 1970s only had one car. How many cars did the average household have in comparison?

One. 20% of households had no car and 50% had one car. For all the poverty spinning by Abrams/Molly Ball, sounds like the Abrams household in the 1970s was pretty solidly middle class. But perhaps it is not spinning that Ball is doing. Perhaps she simply does not know enough history to detect misleading stories when they are told to her.

Molly Ball's class disdain is also inadvertently on display. "A college-educated black man who was relegated by his race to working at a shipyard in southern Mississippi in the 1970s" did not tickle her journalistic antenna? Give us some details.

I am fifteen years older than Abrams and have a friend who was college educated and worked in a navy shipyard. But he was white and his degree was in engineering and he did white-collar work in the navy shipyard. Is that what Abrams father did? The implication is that he had a college education but because of his race was doing blue collar labor. Fine. What was his college degree? If it was in engineering, then perhaps there is an injustice here. If it was in social work, then skilled blue collar work was still a pretty remunerative field in the 1970s, especially if unionized as was common in shipyards.

Perhaps in an era where we are accustomed to tens and hundreds of thousands of college graduates with low value degrees in gender studies and the like working as baristas in safe, quiet, clean and air-conditioned coffee shops, the prospect of skilled but hard blue collar work is inconceivable, but it was very much the norm back then. All Molly Ball has to do is ask someone in their fifties or older.

From the opening paragraph we get the sense of a subject who is telling heavily spun stories and an uncritical reporter who is happy to serve as a know-nothing, curious-about-nothing stenographer with a by-line.

While I think the odds are against Abrams, Georgia is sufficiently purple that some carefully hoarded late breaking news against her Republican opponent might conceivably tilt the race her way. She is a good speaker and has more of a common touch than most Democratic politicians in the state. But she is a Wisconsin born Mississippian in Georgia, an urbanite in a state with a strong rural electorate, a Democrat in a Republican state, an African American in a white state, and, most critically, an unashamedly hard-left candidate in a pretty solidly center right electorate.

There are four things Ball overlooks which betray her national ignorance on a local topic. She is spinning the tale as she would want it to be told rather reporting the facts as most her informed Georgia readers would understand them. Ball's lack of knowledge and context are telling. Her national story rings profoundly untrue and one-sided to local ears. On top of omitting key inconvenient facts. For example there is this sentence.
In a Democratic Party divided and desperate for fresh faces, Abrams is already becoming a national star.
Well, yes, the Democratic party farm team has been devastated by their electoral losses over the past decade so the bar for talent is pretty low and Abrams overleaps it by a good margin. But if you were paying a modicum of attention, you would know that the most recent mayor of Atlanta, bully boy Kasim Reed, FBI suspect, and subject of investigation for corruption in addition to an eight year drought of good governance and serial failures, was also described as a national star, a rising star in the Democratic party. He caught the eye of the DNC and Obama and favorable things were said of him before he caught the eye of the FBI.

Putting Abrams in the same league as Reed, does her a grave (as far as I know) injustice. It tarnishes her star. Let's also not forget the other recent national media acclaimed Georgia Democratic "rising star" Jon Osoff, who managed to lose a House race in 2017 by 4 points despite raising $24 million in mostly non-state money against his opponent's $5 million. Perhaps unknown to Ball from her national perch, the appellation of "rising Democratic star" from the national press is fairly tainted praise here in Georgia. Its a pity she didn't have time to do a modicum of internet searching.

The second area of blindness on the part of Ball is her desperate effort to tie Abrams' life hardships to structural racism. Despite Ball's efforts, Abrams' story is littered with instances where negative outcomes are tied to personal choices, inspiring though some of them might be. Her parents are poor but not solely, and perhaps not even significantly, because of structural racism. Choosing mid-life to become religious ministers might be spiritually inspiring but it does tend to wreck the personal finances.

Abrams herself has struggled financially, a not unnatural consequence of investing heavily for eight years in top-tier university education and then working low level legal jobs for the city and for the state. Low income jobs and high income tastes are not a good combination. It is hard to cry racism when you are working for the City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia.

The third area of Ball blindness has to do with the local Georgia, and more specifically Atlanta, tradition of poor local politicians starting small companies to leverage minority contractor set-asides in between elections. So when you read:
She also wrote romance novels under a pen name and started several businesses. One, a bottled-water company for babies, led to another, a payment company that serves small businesses. The idea came from the experience of the water company, which couldn’t afford to wait for payment after filling orders. “People say, ‘Oh, that’s so obvious. Why didn’t anybody think of it before?'” says Lara Hodgson, Abrams’ business partner.
You might think - wonderful, a small business politician. Or you might think, based on all the other politicians grifting on this particular defect, "Oh great, another failed politician eking out special favors." These aren't real businesses. They are the survival ecosystem for down on their luck local politicians.

A bottled water company for babies? That didn't trigger your journalistic curiosity? Oh, dear. Any local journalist, offered this line, would ask "How much in revenue? How much in profit?" Ball thinks she is boosting Abrams reputation by positing some hidden entrepreneurial genius, and perhaps she is, to the uninformed unicorn lovers at the national level, but for those accustomed to local Atlanta politics, this is no praise at all.

Finally, and perhaps most egregious, Ball does not address perhaps one of the most locally discussed challenges to Abrams' candidacy. Her personal financial irresponsibility. Probably most thoroughly discussed in this Yahoo piece by Turner Cowles, but a topic of wide conversation in Georgia. Cowles's Florida State University degree might not quite match up to Ball's degree from Yale University, but he clearly did more detailed and accurate journalistic work on this topic than she did.

Stacey Abrams wants to be Governor of Georgia and wants to fund a massive number of social programs and yet, at mid-life of 44 years old, with no dependents, and the beneficiary of the best education our globally superior university system can provide, Abrams owes some $55,000 in back taxes, $100,000 in student loans, and $78,000 in credit card balances. That doesn't include car loan debt and mortgage debt on her three-story, very nice town-home.

Granted, many politicians are spendthrift or careless in their finances. But the contrast is still pretty strong in this instance. Here is a person with a degree from Yale Law school taking the position that she knows what people ought to pay more in taxes for, and yet does not manage her own finances well, makes poor life choices about her personal work income and investments, and, apparently, in contrast with most ordinary people, suffers no negative consequences for failure to pay taxes.

How likely is it that a tax increasing, grievance mongering, fancy Atlanta home-owning, tax-dodging, Yale law degree holding, left-wing, secular, debtor politician who can't pay her taxes or loans might actually win the election for Governor? It could happen. But it isn't, despite all the bubbly fluff by Molly Ball, highly likely. And it has nothing to do with race. There are plenty of other reasons not to vote for her.

But a friendly demeanor and a common touch can go a long way in the right circumstances. Its just that those circumstances are pretty uncommon. All of which you know locally and never discover from Molly Ball's poor effort at journalism. Bad journalism is a pox on our commonweal.

UPDATE: Ann Althouse has some related observations in WaPo covers the Wisconsin gubernatorial race and — in its effort to help Democrats — shows the awful problem they have.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Treaty of Björkö lived its brief shimmering day, and expired

From The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
When he failed, under the circumstances, to wean Russia away from France, the Kaiser drew up an ingenious treaty engaging Russia and Germany to aid each other in case of attack, which the Czar, after signing, was to communicate to the French and invite them to join. After Russia’s disasters in her war with Japan (which the Kaiser had strenuously urged her into) and the revolutionary risings that followed, when the regime was at its lowest ebb, he invited the Czar to a secret rendezvous, without attendant ministers, at Björkö in the Gulf of Finland. William knew well enough that Russia could not accede to his treaty without breaking faith with the French, but he thought that sovereigns’ signatures were all that was needed to erase the difficulty. Nicholas signed.

William was in ecstasy. He had made good the fatal lapse, secured Germany’s back door, and broken the encirclement. “Bright tears stood in my eyes,” he wrote to Bülow, and he was sure Grandpapa (William I, who had died muttering about a war on two fronts) was looking down on him. He felt his treaty to be the master coup of German diplomacy, as indeed it was, or would have been, but for a flaw in the title. When the Czar brought the treaty home, his ministers, after one horrified look, pointed out that by engaging to join Germany in a possible war he had repudiated his alliance with France, a detail which “no doubt escaped His Majesty in the flood of the Emperor William’s eloquence.” The Treaty of Björkö lived its brief shimmering day, and expired.

The cultural artifacts of the clerisy

The Decline of the English Murder by George Orwell. On the books one finds in second hand book stores.
Probably the contents of these shops is the best available indication of what the mass of the English people really feels and thinks. Certainly nothing half so revealing exists in documentary form. Best-seller novels, for instance, tell one a great deal, but the novel is aimed almost exclusively at people above the £4-a-week level. The movies are probably a very unsafe guide to popular taste, because the film industry is virtually a monopoly, which means that it is not obliged to study its public at all closely. The same applies to some extent to the daily papers, and most of all to the radio. But it does not apply to the weekly paper with a smallish circulation and specialized subject-matter. Papers like the Exchange and Mart, for instance, or Cage-Birds, or the Oracle, or Prediction, or the Matrimonial Times, only exist because there is a definite demand for them, and they reflect the minds of their readers as a great national daily with a circulation of millions cannot possibly do.
The cultural artifacts of the clerisy are only occasionally actually indicative of the culture at large.

Another Place, Another Time by Chris Van Allsburg

Another Place, Another Time by Chris Van Allsburg

Click to enlarge.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

He ruled as an autocrat and was in turn ruled by his strong-willed if weak-witted wife.

From The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
But old antagonisms were not so strong as new pressures, and under the urging of the French, who were anxious to have their two allies come to terms, an Anglo-Russian Convention was signed in 1907. A personal touch of royal friendliness was felt to be required to clear away any lingering mistrust, and Edward embarked for Reval. He had long talks with the Russian Foreign Minister, Isvolsky, and danced the Merry Widow waltz with the Czarina with such effect as to make her laugh, the first man to accomplish this feat since the unhappy woman put on the crown of the Romanovs. Nor was it such a frivolous achievement as might appear, for though it could hardly be said that the Czar governed Russia in a working sense, he ruled as an autocrat and was in turn ruled by his strong-willed if weak-witted wife. Beautiful, hysterical, and morbidly suspicious, she hated everyone but her immediate family and a series of fanatic or lunatic charlatans who offered comfort to her desperate soul. The Czar, neither well endowed mentally nor very well educated, was, in the Kaiser’s opinion, “only fit to live in a country house and grow turnips."

Good bad books

The Decline of the English Murder by George Orwell.
A type of book which we hardly seem to produce in these days, but which flowered with great richness in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is what Chesterton called the ‘good bad book’: that is, the kind of book that has no literary pretensions but which remains readable when more serious productions have perished. Obviously out standing books in this line are Raffles and the Sherlock Holmes stories, which have kept their place when innumerable ‘problem novels’, ‘human documents’ and ‘terrible indictments’ of this or that have fallen into deserved oblivion. (Who has worn better, Conan Doyle or Meredith?) Almost in the same class as these I put R. Austin Freeman’s earlier stories – ‘The Singing Bone’, ‘The Eye of Osiris’ and others – Ernest Bramah’s Max Carrados, and, dropping the standard a bit, Guy Boothby’s Tibetan thriller, Dr Nikola, a sort of schoolboy version of Huc’s Travels in Tartary which would probably make a real visit to Central Asia seem a dismal anticlimax.

But apart from thrillers, there were the minor humorous writers of the period. For example, Pett Ridge – but I admit his full-length books no longer seem readable – E. Nesbit (The Treasure Seekers), George Birmingham, who was good so long as he kept off politics, the pornographic Binstead (‘Pitcher’ of the Pink ’Un), and, if American books can be included, Booth Tarkington’s Penrod stories. A cut above most of these was Barry Pain. Some of Pain’s humorous writings are, I suppose, still in print, but to anyone who comes across it I recommend what must now be a very rare book – The Octave of Claudius, a brilliant exercise in the macabre. Somewhat later in time there was Peter Blundell, who wrote in the W. W. Jacobs vein about Far Eastern seaport towns, and who seems to be rather unaccountably forgotten, in spite of having been praised in print by H. G. Wells.

November by Joseph Alleman

November by Joseph Alleman

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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Orwell - Pinchbeck and Scrap screens

The Decline of the English Murder by George Orwell.
A junk shop has a fine film of dust over the window, its stock may include literally anything that is not perishable, and its proprietor, who is usually asleep in a small room at the back, displays no eagerness to make a sale.
Also, its finest treasures are never discoverable at first glimpse; they have to be sorted out from among a medley of bamboo cake-stands, Britannia-ware dish-covers, turnip watches, dog-eared books, ostrich eggs, typewriters of extinct makes, spectacles without lenses, decanters without stoppers, stuffed birds, wire fire guards, bunches of keys, boxes of nuts and bolts, conch shells from the Indian Ocean, boot trees, Chinese ginger jars and pictures of Highland cattle.

Some of the things to look out for in the junk shop are Victorian brooches and lockets of agate or other semi-precious stones.

Perhaps five out of six of these things are hideously ugly, but there are also very beautiful objects among them. They are set in silver, or more often in pinchbeck, a charming alloy which for some reason is no longer made.

Other things worth looking for are papier-mâché snuffboxes with pictures painted on the lid, lustre-ware jugs, muzzle-loading pistols made round about 1830 and ships in bottles. These are still made, but the old ones are always the best, because of the elegant shape of the Victorian bottles and the delicate green of the glass.

Or, again, musical boxes, horse brasses, copper powder-horns, Jubilee mugs (for some reason the 1887 Jubilee produced much pleasanter keep-sakes than the Diamond Jubilee ten years later) and glass paper-weights with pictures at the bottom.

There are others that have a piece of coral enclosed in the glass, but these are always fantastically expensive. Or you may come across a scrap book full of Victorian fashion-plates and pressed flowers or even, if you are exceptionally lucky, the scrap book’s big brother, a scrap screen.

Scrap screens – all too rare nowadays – are simply ordinary wooden or canvas screens with coloured scraps cut out and pasted all over them in such a way as to make more or less coherent pictures. The best were made round about 1880, but if you buy one at a junk shop it is sure to be defective, and the great charm of owning such a screen lies in patching it up yourself.

You can use coloured reproductions from art magazines, Christmas cards, postcards, advertisements, book jackets, even cigarette cards. There is always room for one more scrap, and with careful placing anything can be made to look congruous.
Thus, merely in one corner of my own scrap screen, Cézanne’s card-players with a black bottle between them are impinging on a street scene in medieval Florence, while on the other side of the street one of Gauguin’s South Sea islanders is sitting beside an English lake where a lady in leg-of-mutton sleeves is paddling a canoe. They all look perfectly at home together.
Pinchbeck -
Pinchbeck is a form of brass, an alloy of copper and zinc, mixed in proportions so that it closely resembles gold in appearance. It was invented in the 18th century by Christopher Pinchbeck, a London clockmaker. Since gold was only sold in 18-carat quality at that time, the development of pinchbeck allowed ordinary people to buy gold 'effect' jewellery on a budget. The inventor allegedly made pinchbeck jewellery clearly labelled as such. Pinchbeck jewellery was used in places like stagecoaches where there was a risk of theft. Later dishonest jewellers passed pinchbeck off as gold; over the years it came to mean a cheap and tawdry imitation of gold.

Pinchbeck is typically composed of copper and zinc in ratios of 89% copper to 11% zinc; or 93% copper to 7% zinc.
Scrap Screen

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They suffered, like their emperor, from a terrible need for recognition.

From The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
When the Entente became a fact, William’s wrath was tremendous. Beneath it, and even more galling, rankled Edward’s triumph in Paris. The reise-Kaiser, as he was known from the frequency of his travels, derived balm from ceremonial entries into foreign capitals, and the one above all he wished to visit was Paris, the unattainable. He had been everywhere, even to Jerusalem, where the Jaffa Gate had to be cut to permit his entry on horseback; but Paris, the center of all that was beautiful, all that was desirable, all that Berlin was not, remained closed to him. He wanted to receive the acclaim of Parisians and be awarded the Grand Cordon of the Legion of Honor, and twice let the imperial wish be known to the French. No invitation ever came. He could enter Alsace and make speeches glorifying the victory of 1870; he could lead parades through Metz in Lorraine; but it is perhaps the saddest story of the fate of kings that the Kaiser lived to be eighty-two and died without seeing Paris.

Envy of the older nations gnawed at him. He complained to Theodore Roosevelt that the English nobility on continental tours never visited Berlin but always went to Paris. He felt unappreciated. “All the long years of my reign,” he told the King of Italy, “my colleagues, the Monarchs of Europe, have paid no attention to what I have to say. Soon, with my great Navy to endorse my words, they will be more respectful.” The same sentiments ran through his whole nation, which suffered, like their emperor, from a terrible need for recognition. Pulsing with energy and ambition, conscious of strength, fed upon Nietzsche and Treitschke, they felt entitled to rule, and cheated that the world did not acknowledge their title. “We must,” wrote Friedrich von Bernhardi, the spokesman of militarism, “secure to German nationality and German spirit throughout the globe that high esteem which is due them … and has hitherto been withheld from them.” He frankly allowed only one method of attaining the goal; lesser Bernhardis from the Kaiser down sought to secure the esteem they craved by threats and show of power. They shook the “mailed fist,” demanded their “place in the sun,” and proclaimed the virtues of the sword in paeans to “blood and iron” and “shining armor.” In German practice Mr. Roosevelt’s current precept for getting on with your neighbors was Teutonized to, “Speak loudly and brandish a big gun.” When they brandished it, when the Kaiser told his troops departing for China and the Boxer Rebellion to bear themselves as the Huns of Attila (the choice of Huns as German prototypes was his own), when Pan-German Societies and Navy Leagues multiplied and met in congresses to demand that other nations recognize their “legitimate aims” toward expansion, the other nations answered with alliances, and when they did, Germany screamed “Einkreisung!—Encirclement! The refrain Deutschland ganzlich einzukreisen grated over the decade.
Sounds like some advocacy groups today: they "suffered, like their emperor, from a terrible need for recognition."

Jam Session by John Philip Falter

Jam Session by John Philip Falter

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Kaiser was quite unsure what he suspected England of but he was certain it was something perfidious.

From The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
Germany might have had an English entente for herself had not her leaders, suspecting English motives, rebuffed the overtures of the Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, in 1899 and again in 1901. Neither the shadowy Holstein who conducted Germany’s foreign affairs from behind the scenes nor the elegant and erudite Chancellor, Prince Bülow, nor the Kaiser himself was quite sure what they suspected England of but they were certain it was something perfidious. The Kaiser always wanted an agreement with England if he could get one without seeming to want it. Once, affected by English surroundings and family sentiment at the funeral of Queen Victoria, he allowed himself to confess the wish to Edward. “Not a mouse could stir in Europe without our permission,” was the way he visualized an Anglo-German alliance. But as soon as the English showed signs of willingness, he and his ministers veered off, suspecting some trick. Fearing to be taken advantage of at the conference table, they preferred to stay away altogether and depend upon an ever-growing navy to frighten the English into coming to terms.

Bismarck had warned Germany to be content with land power, but his successors were neither separately nor collectively Bismarcks. He had pursued clearly seen goals unswervingly; they groped for larger horizons with no clear idea of what they wanted. Holstein was a Machiavelli without a policy who operated on only one principle: suspect everyone. Bülow had no principles; he was so slippery, lamented his colleague Admiral Tirpitz, that compared to him an eel was a leech. The flashing, inconstant, always freshly inspired Kaiser had a different goal every hour, and practiced diplomacy as an exercise in perpetual motion.

They were quite a jolly crowd inside

The Decline of the English Murder by George Orwell.
The next morning very early they turned me out of my cell to wash, gave me back my scarf, and took me out into the yard and put me in the Black Maria. Inside, the Black Maria was just like a French public lavatory, with a row of tiny locked compartments on either side, each just large enough to sit down in. People had scrawled their names, offences and the lengths of their sentences all over the walls of my compartment; also, several times, variants on this couplet –
Detective Smith knows how to gee;
Tell him he’s a cunt from me.
(‘Gee’ in this context means to act as an agent provocateur.) We drove round to various stations picking up about ten prisoners in all, until the Black Maria was quite full. They were quite a jolly crowd inside. The compartment doors were open at the top, for ventilation, so that you could reach across, and somebody had managed to smuggle matches in, and we all had a smoke. Presently we began singing, and, as it was near Christmas sang several carols. We drove up to Old Street Police Court singing –
Adeste, fideles, laeti triumphantes,
Adeste, adeste ad Bethlehem, etc.
which seemed to me rather inappropriate.
Also known as the Christmas carol, O Come All Ye Faithful.
O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
From Wikipedia:
"O Come, All Ye Faithful" (originally written in Latin as Adeste Fideles) is a Christmas carol that has been attributed to various authors, including John Francis Wade (1711–1786), John Reading (1645–1692) and King John IV of Portugal (1604–1656), with the earliest manuscript of the hymn bearing his name, located in the library of the Ducal Palace of Vila Viçosa.

The original four verses of the hymn were extended to a total of eight, and these have been translated into many languages. The English translation of "O Come, All Ye Faithful" by the English Catholic priest Frederick Oakeley, written in 1841, is widespread in most English speaking countries.[2][4] The present harmonisation is from the English Hymnal (1906).

An original manuscript of the oldest known version, dating from 1751, is held by Stonyhurst College in Lancashire.

After 30 years of development, the view that violence, sexual or criminal risk can be predicted in most cases is not evidence-based

It sometimes feels as if the complexity of the world triggers two different responses. One group of people respond in awe and humility to the magnificent and threatening complexity of the world and its systems and then try and muddle through with the best that heuristics, logic and the scientific method can yield to them. This is disappointing because it involves frequent errors and failures. It has the advantage that it usually works out in the long run.

Others respond to the same complexity with the ancient Greek theatrical device - deus ex machina. An incomprehensible complexity is viewed as a problem to be solved. The fact that we do not understand the complexity is a mere goad to creating a plausible abstraction of reality. Having abstracted reality, we then passionately commit to that plausible explanation, stubbornly ignoring that it is indeed a mere abstraction and that its plausibility gives no inherent reason for it being true.

Managing the global climate, understanding the human mind, optimizing the economy - all are examples of the hubris inherent in those deterministic thinkers who abstract a deus ex machina solution to a complex system they do not understand and then are astonished when reality smacks them in the face. The advantage for the deus ex machina crowd is that they can feel comfortable in their conviction all the way up to the point when the whole edifice comes crashing down.

Brought to mind by The Theory of Mind Myth by Robert Burton.
Perhaps I’m dead wrong and my theoretical objections don’t do ToM justice. Maybe there is compelling daily life evidence for ToM’s central claim that we can know the beliefs, desires and intentions of another.

Let’s start with the easiest way to study ToM experimentally – lie detection. If we are good at mind-reading, surely we should be superb lie detectors. But a 2006 review in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that volunteer subjects were barely better than chance at detecting when an actor was lying or telling the truth (54 per cent). A decade later, despite various efforts to improve lie-detection performance, the Monitor on Psychology reported that ‘people’s ability to detect lies is no more accurate than chance, or flipping a coin. This finding holds across all types of people – students, psychologists, judges, job interviewers and law-enforcement personnel.’

If we’re not so good at lie detection, perhaps we can do better at predicting violent behaviour. In 1984, The American Journal of Psychiatry reported that psychiatrists and psychologists were vastly overrated as predictors of violence. Even in the best of circumstances – with lengthy multidisciplinary evaluations of persons who had already manifested their violent proclivities on several occasions – psychiatrists and psychologists seemed to be wrong at least twice as often as they were right when they predicted violence. Nevertheless, the article suggested that new methodologies might improve prediction rates.

No such luck. Thirty years later, a review article in The British Medical Journal concluded that: ‘Even after 30 years of development, the view that violence, sexual or criminal risk can be predicted in most cases is not evidence-based.’ Despite being the co-developer of a widely used evaluation tool for violence risk-assessment, the psychologist Stephen D Hart at Simon Fraser University in Canada is equally pessimistic. ‘There is no instrument that is specifically useful or validated for identifying potential school shooters or mass murderers. There are many things in life where we have an inadequate evidence base, and this is one of them.’

Suicide prediction? Same story. According to two recent meta-analyses: ‘There has been no improvement in the accuracy of suicide risk-assessment over the last 40 years.’ The UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has advised that ‘assessment tools and scales designed to give a crude indication of the level of risk of suicide’ should not be used.

All good theories are predictive. Sooner or later, they need supporting evidence. If experts cannot tell us who will be violent, or commit suicide, or is lying, isn’t it time for us to reconsider whether there are real and practical limits to our belief in ToM?
Burton doesn't have fixed answers but he has a lot of interesting questions, perspectives, experiences, and evidence which cuts both ways. If you want a deus ex machina utopian solution, he's not your man. If you want to enjoy the mystery of a complex world, you'll enjoy the read.

Room Overlooking the Harbour by James Joseph Tissot

Room Overlooking the Harbour by James Joseph Tissot (1836-1902)

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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Recessional by Rudyard Kipling

by Rudyard Kipling, 1897

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

The term "thagomizer" was coined by Gary Larson in jest

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Heh. I did not know this. From Wikipedia.
The term "thagomizer" was coined by Gary Larson in jest, in a 1982 The Far Side comic in which a group of cavemen in a faux-modern lecture hall are taught by their caveman professor that the spikes on a stegosaur's tail are so named "after the late Thag Simmons".

The term was picked up initially by Ken Carpenter, a paleontologist at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, who used the term when describing a fossil at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting in 1993. Thagomizer has since been adopted as an informal anatomical term,[10] and is used by the Smithsonian Institution, the Dinosaur National Monument, the book The Complete Dinosaur and the BBC documentary series Planet Dinosaur.

The cartoon fate of Thag Simmons notwithstanding, stegosaurs and humans did not exist in the same era; humans evolved around 60 million years after the event that killed all non-avian dinosaurs, and some 120 million years after stegosaurids went extinct. In The Prehistory of the Far Side, Gary Larson suggests that "there should be cartoon confessionals where we could go and say things like, 'Father, I have sinned – I have drawn dinosaurs and hominids together in the same cartoon.'"
Gary Larson - filling linguistic voids.

Greenwich Village New York City by Remko Gap Heemskerk

Greenwich Village New York City by Remko Gap Heemskerk

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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Pervasive, persistent, puerile humor

In a conversation this morning, I was reminded of the prank played on the local news station five years ago after the crash of Asian Airlines Flight 214. It beggars belief.

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I never heard at the time just how this colossal error got to broadcast without being caught in process. The names, in hindsight, appear so blatantly wrong it seems incredible that they could have slipped through the multiple steps of fact-checking. However, I can understand the loss of situational awareness in reporting a fast breaking news event. Perhaps steps were skipped, perhaps there was a trolling mole in the process, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. But what really happened?

I guess we still don't know. I had, at some point, heard that it was a couple of newsroom interns that did the names as a spoof and that it then accidentally got into the flow of news to the newsreader without being caught. But apparently that wasn't it.

KTVU received an enormous amount of flak, there were threats of lawsuits, people were fired. However, it appears, five years later, as if KTVU actually pretty much did everything we would expect of a fact-checking organization, other than maintaining situational awareness.

The sequence of events, as best I can tell from Asiana pilot names: NTSB intern 'no longer with agency,' report says, KTVU firings over airing of prank Asiana pilots’ names, Snopes, and Ex-Pilot Supplied Fake Asiana Airlines Names To KTVU, the sequence went something like this:
An ex-commercial pilot consultant to the news channel received a copy of the hoax names and passed it along in good faith to KTVU reporter Roland De Wolk.

Roland De Wolk passed the names to the newsroom to be checked.

In the fact-checking process, managing editor Michelle Toy (of Asian descent) raised questions because the names sounded Chinese when the airline was Korean operated.

Someone in the newsroom took the explicitly required step of enunciating the unfamiliar names but apparently without triggering any awareness on the part of the listeners.

The newsroom called the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to confirm the names of the flight crew.

An intern at the NTSB, thinking they were being helpful, confirmed to KTVU that the list was correct even though the intern had not validated the list.

The news reader announced the names without ever making the pivot from the phonetic pronunciation to the received meaning of the names.

Awareness only seems to have taken hold among the newsroom support staff after the live reading, and perhaps only after viewers began calling in.
And that is as far as the googling trail leads. Good intentions, reasonable processes, good adherence to the processes, and yet a hoax outcome.

Staff firings at KTVU and the NTSB seems to have assuaged aggrieved activists whose one note song is RACISM. However, this actually seems a pretty egregious injustice. As far as I can tell, the process was a decent one, the process was adhered to, and everyone executed their responsibilities appropriately. One failing was the misplaced eagerness to assist on the part of the NTSB intern, and the second failing was the incapacity of everyone to maintain situational awareness. Even there, Toy maintained enough to recognize the inconsistency of the implied ethnicities of the names, but without recognizing the spoken word implications.

Looks to me like no firings should have occurred at all.

But who started the process by getting the hoax list to the aviation consultant in the first place? I cannot find an answer to that. Apparently, as soon as news of the crash occurred, there were near instantaneous instances of inappropriate jokes on social media such as Facebook, Instagram, etc.

Joke sharing about tragedies and inappropriate issues is age-old. When I started my career in the mid-eighties, I was aware of recently minted MBAs working at different consulting firms faxing one another lists of in-poor-taste jokes. Later that shifted to emailing. Now they are out there instantaneously and spontaneously on social media. Humor is a social reflex, appropriate or not.

Perhaps someone deliberately hoaxed the aviation consultant, perhaps they, like so many others, saw the list of names out of context and passed it along unthinkingly. At this point I guess we many never know.

But joke names, associated with tragedies or not, are a long standing gag of stage and screen. Some samples from the past few decades.

From Monty Python's 1979 Life of Brian playing on Roman-sounding names.

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Then there is Rowan Atkinson's public school roll-call, making fun of upperclass English family names.

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And just preceding the Asiana Ailines tragedy, there is this piece from Key & Peele riffing on the differences in African-American and mainstream naming patterns.

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We could go with the traditional SJW response to humor, puerile or otherwise.

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Or we can acknowledge that humor is one of the great gifts of humanity, whether well executed or not and whether appropriately executed or not.

I prefer the freedom of the latter over the cramped authoritarianism of those who wish to police what shall be be deemed permissibly funny.

When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it

William Thomson (June 26, 1824–December 17, 1907), 1st Baron Kelvin
I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be.
- Lecture on "Electrical Units of Measurement" (3 May 1883), published in Popular Lectures Vol. I, p. 73

17 Dogs Who Discreetly Bend Their Owner's Rules by Chris Van Allsburg

17 Dogs Who Discreetly Bend Their Owner's Rules by Chris Van Allsburg

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Friday, July 20, 2018

CNN Anchors Speechless After Guest Goes On Long, Coherent Thought

They say it's a report from The Onion but I am not so sure.
CNN Anchors Speechless After Guest Goes On Long, Coherent Thought

NEW YORK—CNN Anchors Brooke Baldwin and Dana Bash reportedly sat speechless Thursday after their guest Dr. Gina Jimenez went on a long, coherent thought, unleashing a tirade of articulate points completely relevant to the topic at hand. “Dr. Jimenez, if I could just quickly interrupt you for a moment—could you please go back and rephrase that last remark as a bit more of a muddled, unhinged rant?” said Bash, breaking the moment of stunned silence that resulted after the Stanford constitutional law professor laid out a clear thesis backed up by logically consistent supporting arguments, all while maintaining a calm and pleasant demeanor throughout.

What citizens are most interested in, the media are not. What the media are most interested in, citizens are not.

I have contended that there is a large reality gap between the general public and the academic/media/government complex. Or perhaps it is better to say a la Scott Adams that most Americans are watching a different movie than the academic/media/government complex. Americans are watching not a different movie, but a better one. Because journalists and their ilk are watching a different movie, it is hard for them to understand a perspective in which life is good and the president is not stupid.

Two different sources of information lend their support to this contention.

First is from Gallup. This past week has had the emotionally academic/media/government complex at fever pitch with cries of treason and collusion. The New York Times worried about Trump and Putin meeting "behind closed doors" as if this were not bog standard for all meetings of state. The academic/media/government complex have been carrying a torch for Russian collusion ever since their Weltanschauung was unseated in 2016, despite the absence of any evidence after tens of thousands of man hours of investigation and tens of millions of dollars.

In the face of this existential threat as seen by the academic/media/government complex, what do most Americans think? How much of a threat is posed to us by Russia?

It literally does not rate. Gallup has fewer than one percent of Americans who identify Russia as among the most important problems facing the US.

Our establishment political class is among the worst ever, left and right. Our previous administration had eight years of failure to launch "recovery summers" and could never make the connection between the declining fortunes of Americans and the declining political fortunes of the administration. Economic concerns were rarely below 40% of all concerns, and reached as high as 86%. If the economy is bad, people's livelihoods are bad or at risk. Talk about transgender bathrooms, intersectionality, racism, open boarders, etc. all you want, if people are pinching the belt and worrying about their job, you are not going to command their attention.

There was an interesting article last year comparing the concerns of average Americans versus the amount of time the media spent reporting on those concerns. It makes a similar point. Over time, citizens tend to be primarily concerned about jobs, the economy, healthcare, taxes and security. Take care of those issues and they will focus on other priorities. Fail to address those issues and you are not relevant.

I put together a crude chart at that time:

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What citizens are most interested in, the media are not. What the media are most interested in, citizens are not.

The establishment political class across North America and Europe and elsewhere have been incurring the ire of their citizens, not so much because of their ideology but because the establishment political class is so manifestly uninterested in the concerns of citizens.

A year and a half into the new presidency, only 14% of citizens are concerned about the economy compared to the normal 40-60%. Citizens concerns about government have fallen by a third.

There is no polarization. Roughly the same small single digit number of people are concerned about race, unity and respect in July as were concerned in January. There is no deterioration of civility.

Meanwhile, citizen concern about immigration is at a recent high. Concern about gun control is a small fraction of its highest recent share. Concern about healthcare has fallen by half. Concerns about crime and national security are down by half. That is not the impression you would get from the (no longer) mainstream press. The press is concerned about collusion and treason and Russia and environmental catastrophe and global warming and social justice and gun control and liberalizing immigration. Things which barely register for citizens except when they oppose them.

A second data source that emphasizes the disconnect between the concerns of those in the academic/media/government complex and those in the rest of America is the most recent data from Real Clear Data, the results for President Trump Job Approval. We have had a solid week of nearly uniform and sustained vitriol from the press about the president. How has that affected the average American's perception of the president? It has made them fonder of Trump.

From Althouse.
Look at the dates and compare the same poll. The summit was on the 16th.

Economist/YouGov took a poll for 3 days, including the summit day and the day after, and got a -8 spread, which isn't high, but if you look at its previous poll, the number was -9, so it was a 1-point improvement. The Reuters poll is partly after the summit, and the number is -12, up from -16. He's also rising in the Gallup poll but there, the newest poll (at -9, compared to an earlier -15) is all pre-summit.

Why would this be? It might be that the Trump critics sound so antagonistic that they seem less credible (or less watchable) than usual. Connected to that is the possibility that people want better relations with Russia and want to feel hopeful about improvements. Maybe people sense that the President is the voice of the nation with respect to foreign relations and accept the reality that Trump is the President.
Look at the trend lines. He is up 6 points YTD, a fifteen percent improvement. Sure, a lot of people disapprove of him, but even the disapproval is down ten percent (five points) from December 2017.

There is clearly a huge disconnect between what the public is concerned about versa what the academic/media/government complex would like them to be concerned about. There is also seemingly an emerging negative correlation between media opinions and the public's opinions. The harder the academic/media/government complex goes after the president, the more sympathetic the public appear to become to his performance. When you add to that mix that the president is more focused on the concerns of most interest to the public, then you have a recipe for another set of surprises.

They could not stand up to the perverts, bullies and monsters in their own world but want to criticize those who have actually accomplished things.

From Everyone Is Smart Except Trump by Dov Fischer. He doesn't get all of it right but he gets much of it right and he gets much more of it right than most the guff you read.
It really is quite simple. Everyone is smart except Donald J. Trump. That’s why they all are billionaires and all got elected President. Only Trump does not know what he is doing. Only Trump does not know how to negotiate with Vladimir Putin. Anderson Cooper knows how to stand up to Putin. The whole crowd at MSNBC does. All the journalists do.

They could not stand up to Matt Lauer at NBC. They could not stand up to Charlie Rose at CBS. They could not stand up to Mark Halperin at NBC. Nor up to Leon Wieseltier at the New Republic, nor Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone, nor Michael Oreskes at NPR, at the New York Times, or at the Associated Press. But — oh, wow! — can they ever stand up to Putin! Only Trump is incapable of negotiating with the Russian tyrant.

Remember the four years when Anderson Cooper was President of the United States? And before that — when the entire Washington Post editorial staff jointly were elected to be President? Remember? Neither do I.

The Seedier Media never have negotiated life and death, not corporate life and death, and not human life and death. They think they know how to negotiate, but they do not know how. They go to a college, are told by peers that they are smart, get some good grades, proceed to a graduate degree in journalism, and get hired as analysts. Now they are experts, ready to take on Putin and the Iranian Ayatollahs at age 30.

That is not the road to expertise in tough dealing. The alternate road is that, along the way, maybe you get forced into some street fights. Sometimes the other guy wins, and sometimes you beat the intestines out of him. Then you deal with grown-ups as you mature, and you learn that people can be nasty, often after they smile and speak softly. You get cheated a few times, played. And you learn. Maybe you become an attorney litigating multi-million-dollar case matters. Say what you will about attorneys, but those years — not the years in law school, not the years drafting legal memoranda, but the years of meeting face-to-face and confronting opposing counsel — those years can teach a great deal. They can teach how to transition from sweet, gentle, diplomatic negotiating to tough negotiating. At some point, with enough tough-nosed experience, you figure out Trump’s “The Art of the Deal” yourself.

Trump’s voters get him because not only is he we, but we are he. We were not snowflaked-for-life by effete professors who themselves never had negotiated tough life-or-death serious deals. Instead we live in the real world, and we know how that works. Not based on social science theories, not based on “conceptual negotiating models.” But based on the people we have met over life and always will hate. That worst boss we ever had. The coworker who tried to sabotage us. We know the sons of bums whom we survived, the dastardly types who are out there, and we learned from those experiences how to deal with them. We won’t have John Kerry soothe us by having James Taylor sing “You’ve Got a Friend” carols.
Those are the critics - the academics and other unworldly beings of the academic/media/government complex, all existing on sinecures of the effete elite. Their fear and hysteria are understandable given that a rationalist world where we deal with real problems rather than phantasmagorical emotional issues leaves no room for these courtesans of the State.

Dov is a little over the top but directionally right about the target of their criticism.
At the end of the day, Donald Trump is over seventy years old. He has made many mistakes in his life. He still makes some. He is human. But Trump likewise has spent three score and a dozen years learning. He has seen some of his businesses go bankrupt, and he has learned from those experiences to be a billionaire and not let it happen again. No doubt that he has been fooled, outsmarted in years past. And he has learned from life.

He is a tough and smart negotiator. He sizes up his opponent, and he knows that the approach that works best for one is not the same as for another. It does not matter what he says publicly about his negotiating opponent. What matters is what results months later. In his first eighteen months in Washington, this man has turned around the American economy, brought us near full employment, reduced the welfare and food stamp lines, wiped out ISIS in Raqqa, moved America’s Israel embassy to Jerusalem, successfully has launched massive deregulation of the economy, has opened oil exploration in ANWR, is rebuilding the military massively, has walked out of the useless Paris Climate Accords that were negotiated by America’s amateurs who always get snookered, canned the disastrous Iran Deal, exited the bogus United Nations Human Rights Council. He has Canada and Mexico convinced he will walk out of NAFTA if they do not pony up, and he has the Europeans convinced he will walk out of NATO if they don’t stop being the cheap and lazy parasitic penny-pinchers they are. He has slashed income taxes, expanded legal protections for college students falsely accused of crimes, has taken real steps to protect religious freedoms and liberties promised in the First Amendment, boldly has taken on the lyme-disease-quality of a legislative mess that he inherited from Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama on immigration, and has appointed a steady line of remarkably brilliant conservative federal judges to sit on the district courts, the circuit appellate courts, and the Supreme Court.

What has Anderson Cooper achieved during that period? Jim Acosta or the editorial staffs of the New York Times and Washington Post? They have not even found the courage and strength to stand up to the coworkers and celebrities within their orbits who abuse sexually or psychologically or emotionally.

The argument was correct; the data were absolutely wrong.

From Churchill: The Power of Words edited by Martin Gilbert. Subtitled His remarkable life recounted through his writings and speeches.

From My Early Life by Winston Churchill.
My aunt, Lady Wimborne, had lent us her comfortable estate at Bournemouth for the winter. Forty or fifty acres of pine forest descended by sandy undulations terminating in cliffs to the smooth beach of the English Channel. It was a small, wild place and through the middle there fell to the sea level a deep cleft called a ‘chine’. Across this ‘chine’ a rustic bridge nearly 50 yards long had been thrown. I was just 18 and on my holidays. My younger brother aged 12 and a cousin aged 14 proposed to chase me. After I had been hunted for twenty minutes and was rather short of breath, I decided to cross the bridge. Arrived at its centre I saw to my consternation that the pursuers had divided their forces. One stood at each end of the bridge; capture seemed certain. But in a flash there came across me a great project. The chine which the bridge spanned was full of young fir trees.

Their slender tops reached to the level of the footway. ‘Would it not’ I asked myself ‘be possible to leap on to one of them and slip down the pole-like stem, breaking off each tier of branches as one descended, until the fall was broken?’ I looked at it. I computed it. I meditated. Meanwhile I climbed over the balustrade. My young pursuers stood wonder-struck at either end of the bridge. To plunge or not to plunge, that was the question! In a second I had plunged, throwing out my arms to embrace the summit of the fir tree. The argument was correct; the data were absolutely wrong. It was three days before I regained consciousness and more than three months before I crawled from my bed.

The measured fall was 29 feet on to hard ground. But no doubt the branches helped. My mother, summoned by the alarming message of the children, ‘He jumped over the bridge and he won’t speak to us,’ hurried down with energetic aid and inopportune brandy. It was an axiom with my parents that in serious accident or illness the highest medical aid should be invoked, regardless of cost. Eminent specialists stood about my bed.

Later on when I could understand again, I was shocked and also flattered to hear of the enormous fees they had been paid. My father travelled over at full express from Dublin where he had been spending his Christmas at one of old Lord Fitzgibbon’s once-celebrated parties. He brought the greatest of London surgeons with him. I had among other injuries a ruptured kidney. It is to the surgeon’s art and to my own pronounced will-to-live that the reader is indebted for this story. But for a year I looked at life round a corner.
Two lines in there:
The argument was correct; the data were absolutely wrong.
But for a year I looked at life round a corner.

When emotional conviction out-paces reason and evidence

Humility is a necessary human attribute given the complexity of the world and our own fallibility. Necessary but always in short supply.

No matter how convinced we are that X is true, there is always the possibility that it is not, because we have been ignorant of, overlooked, misinterpreted, or misunderstood something. From The Correction Heard 'Round The World: When The New York Times Apologized to Robert Goddard by Kiona N. Smith.
Fifty years before Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins climbed into their small capsule to fly to the Moon, many people weren't even convinced that rockets would work in space. When a rocket engine ignites, it burns fuel and pushes exhaust out the back end of the rocket with tremendous force. According to Isaac Newton's Third Law of Motion, every action produces an equal and opposite reaction -- which means the backward thrust of the rocket's exhaust also acts on the rocket, pushing it forward. Many people, including the author of a January 13, 1920 editorial in the New York Times, misunderstood Newton's law and assumed that rockets worked because their exhaust pushed against the air itself. With no air to push against, how could a rocket actually push itself through space?

Today, we know that Newton's Third Law means that rocket engines don't need air to "push against," but in the early days of January 1920, Goddard faced instant skepticism when he published an article in Popular Science describing how rockets could launch ships into space. It was an ambituous piece of work, and Goddard even outlined an uncrewed Moon mission, in which a rocket carrying an explosive payload would crash into the Moon, producing an explosion so large that scientists could see it from Earth. Goddard was ahead of his time in some ways: NASA and other space agencies have crashed quite a few objects into various Solar System bodies, because slamming a heavy, fast-moving object into a planet turns out to be a great way to learn something about what it's made of.

Although the article caught the public imagination, it also drew harsh criticism. Various outlets argued that the velocity required to escape Earth's gravity would produce so much friction that the rocket wouldn't survive the heat (rockets accelerate gradually, so by the time they reach escape velocity, they're in the thin upper layers of the atmosphere), that payloads would never survive re-entry into Earth's atmosphere (engineers worked that problem, and Goddard himself proposed an ablative heat shield to protect returning spacecraft from the heat of re-entry), or that there was no scientific or social reason to shoot things into space (shortsightedness is not a new phenomenon). Others argued that it would be impossible to make all the calculations required to account for high-altitude winds and the complex relative motion of Earth and the Moon. Fortunately, the Apollo program had Katherine Jonson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and other "computers" to make that happen, but it's easy to see how daunting the prospect would have been in 1920.

And on January 13, 1920, the New York Times published an editorial insisting that a rocket couldn't possibly work in space:
"That professor Goddard, with his 'chair' in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution [from which Goddard held a grant to research rocket flight], does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react -- to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools."

Eventually, of course, Goddard would be vindicated by the 1944 launch of a German V-2 guided ballistic missile. But it took until July 17, 1969, the day after the launch of a crewed mission to the Moon, for the New York Times to take back its harsh words. The 1969 correction is almost comically dry and conspicuously doesn't mention the Apollo mission.

"Further investigation and experimentation have confirmed the findings of Isaac Newton in the 17th century, and it is now definitely established that a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere," the Times editors wrote. They added, "The Times regrets the error."
The New York Times, however, never regrets its errors enough to actually display humility when dealing with complex science, especially if they have an ideological dog in the fight. Witness their multi-decade commitment to anthropogenic global climate warming. An ideological fig leaf for authoritarian action based on skimpy data and an incomplete understanding of multiple loosely coupled complex dynamic systems, none of which are fully understood.

AGCW has virtually disappeared from the lexicon, first replaced by climate warming, and then, as that failed to appear in the data, replaced yet again by the virtually meaningless climate change. Given that climate is always changing and that virtually no one claims otherwise, the hunger for imposing ideological solutions remains, even as the evidence for the problem disappears.

Goddard had to wait 49 years for an apology. Perhaps all the "deniers" (as mischaracterization if ever there was one) will get an apology circa 2039.