Thursday, September 29, 2016

I’m beginning to believe it.

From Wikiquote. A quotation for our times.
When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President. I’m beginning to believe it.
- As quoted in Clarence Darrow for the Defense (1941) by Irving Stone, Ch. 6.

Silver lining

A silver lining of a sort I suppose.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

London's Fleet River

Oh, dear.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Culture over race

From Haitian-American fact of the day by Tyler Cowen. This is an example why I believe it is important to focus on class and ethnicity (as a proxy for culture) as opposed to race or any of the many other victimhood groups.
Despite all of their adversities, Haitians had rather low crime rates. Martinez and Lee’s 1985-95 study reported a homicide victimization rate of 16.7 for Haitians, which was lower than those for non-Hispanic whites and Latinos and far lower than the rate for American blacks. In fact, the Haitian crime figures may be inflated, since over 54 percent of the suspected killers of murdered Haitians were African American. In other words, the Haitian victimization rate is not an especially good indicator of Haitian offending, because, contrary to the usual situation, Haitians were the victims of an inordinate number of out-group killings. They were believed to have been only 3.5 percent of the murder suspects at a time when they were 14 percent of Miami’s general population.
The source of text is from The Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America by Barry Latzer.

Math and reality conspire against the preferred SJW narrative

Yesterday I commented in Insight Backed By Data that 60% of homicides are committed in the 62 largest cities which have about 20% of the US population.

In today's Washington Post there is an article, Violent crime is rising. But that’s not the most provocative finding in the FBI’s big new report. by Max Ehrenfreund.
Murders in the United States jumped 11 percent last year, according to federal data released Monday, but nonviolent crimes declined, an unusual divergence that's puzzling criminal justice experts.

While an increase in homicide is usually associated with more minor crimes as well, that was not the case in 2015. The number of murders nationally increased by the largest percentage in decades, but violent crimes overall increased just 4 percent and property crimes declined 3 percent.


Still, what to make of the sudden increase in homicides is not clear. Some criminologists say the data is evidence against the "Ferguson effect" -- a popular theory that suggests homicides have increased because police have become reluctant to interact with potential criminals on the street. According to this argument, cops fear becoming involved in a violent altercation that could result in protests such as those in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and Charlotte, N.C.
Those of the left have long been in denial that there is a Ferguson Effect despite the striking rise of homicides in cities that have reined in policing activities. I see the evidence as pretty strongly indicative that there is a Ferguson Effect but Ehrenfreund raises an interesting objection.

There is no inherent reason that violent crimes (murder) have to be correlated with non-violent crime (such as burglaries) but I am willing to take it as a reasonable assumption that there is a general correlation.
Police can deter potential criminals not just by being a watchful presence on patrol. They can stop people who appear to be involved in criminal activity, talking with them to gather information or to disperse people who are fighting. Police can also search civilians for firearms, knives or tools for breaking locks and windows.

These activities make committing all kinds of crimes more difficult, not just homicide. If the increase in homicides were due to hesitance on the part of police to stop civilians, some criminologists say they would expect an increase in other "street crimes," including burglary and robbery.

However, just 3.1 percent more cars were stolen last year, and the number of robberies increased just 1.4 percent. The number of burglaries declined 7.8 percent, according to the new federal data.
That is a reasonable objection to the Ferguson Effect.

Is there an explanation? There might be others but I suspect that it has something to do with yesterday's post.

Let's take it as settled that the predominant portion of murders occur in city environments. The numbers suggest 60% of murders occur where only 20% of the people live. What about property crimes? Violent crime is a fraction of all crimes (fortunately).

Here is my rough speculation. If most of the violent crime is happening in a circumscribed area among only a small portion of the population, you might have quite different correlations between property crime and violent crime in the two areas.

I am guessing that the secular trend of declining crime in the rest of the country continues. Policing practices there have not changed materially and the secular trend dominates anyway. Both violent crimes and property crimes decline.

In the dense areas within city limits, where there has been a trend to reduce policing, there has been a sharp increase in murders. Because those areas dominate the number of murders, whatever happens to the murder rate in cities is going to dominate the rate for the nation as a whole. A number-based example likely will better illustrate what I am thinking.

Let's assume for purposes of an example, that there are 100 murders in the country and that 90% of them occur within city limits and 10% of them occur everywhere else and there is an overall secular decline in all crime, including violent crime. Cities are 20% of the population and everywhere is 80% of the population. Let's further assume that police in the cities, because of Ferguson-like riots and protests, adjust their policing practices so that they no longer stop-and-frisk, no longer proactively attempt to identify suspects, reduce presence on the street, etc. As a consequence, the murder rate within the city rises by 10% whereas in the rest of the country, the secular trend continues and there is a reduction of 10% in the number of murders outside the city.

City murders therefore increase from 90 to 99 and murders everywhere else fall from 10 to 9. Total number of murders is now 108, i.e. an 8% increase in the murder rate while 80% of the population continues to experience a 10% decrease in violence.

Now what about property crime? Let's assume that there is the same positive correlation between violent crime and property crime everywhere but the ratio of violent crime in the city is different from that everywhere else. Let's assume that 50% of property crime is in the city and 50% is everywhere else. In year 0, in the city, there are 90 murders and 50 property crimes whereas everywhere else, there are 10 murders and 50 property crimes. In the city, there is a ratio of 1.8 violent crimes to property crimes whereas everywhere else there is a ratio of 0.2 violent to property crimes.

If there are the same trends as above (city increases by 10% and elsewhere decreases by 10%) then property crimes increase to 55 in the city and decrease to 45 elsewhere but the overall volume of property crime remains the same. Property and violent crime are equally correlated in their respective areas but are differentially consequential.

Total crime (violent and property) has gone from 140 (90+50) in the city to 154 (99+55) in the city where 20% of the population lives whereas 80% of the population sees their total crime going from 60 (10+50) to 54 (9+45). Overall crime for everyone goes from 200 incidents (140+60) to 208 (154+54), an overall 4% increase.

In this hypothetical example, the mystery of Ehrenfreund's paradox is resolved. Reduced policing in the cities can lead to an increase in overall crime and especially an increase in violent crime without a corresponding increase in property crime. It all depends on the relative rates of crime between property and violent in the city as well as the degree of concentration of crime between city and everywhere else.

Now whether or not the actual numbers bear this out is another question for which I do not have time at the moment to document. I am pretty comfortable with the estimate from yesterday (60% of violent crime occurs among 20% of the population). I am also pretty comfortable with the assumption that the ratio of violent crime to property crime is higher in cities AND that the ratio of total property crime is probably more balanced between the city and everywhere else.

Under the circumstances then, the statistics are absolutely feasible that violent crime (concentrated in the cities) rises while overall crime and particularly property crime decreases.

That also remains consistent with the more causal explanation of the Ferguson Effect, i.e. cities which reduce their policing do actually see an increase in the violent crime rates.

It seems to me that the Ferguson Effect is alive and well despite the efforts to disguise or hide it.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The power is not in persuasion but in setting the agenda via omission and commission

From Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini.
The central tenet of agenda-setting theory is that the media rarely produce change directly, by presenting compelling evidence that sweeps an audience to new positions; they are much more likely to persuade indirectly, by giving selected issues and facts better coverage than other issues and facts. It’s this coverage that leads audience members—by virtue of the greater attention they devote to certain topics—to decide that these are the most important to be taken into consideration when adopting a position. As the political scientist Bernard Cohen wrote, “The press may not be successful most of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling them what to think about.
I agree. The power is not in persuasion but in setting the agenda via omission and commission.

Insights backed by data

This is a back-of-the-envelope calculation which lends credence to the argument originally advanced by Scott Adams. Adams said,
On average, Democrats (that’s my team*) use guns for shooting the innocent. We call that crime.

On average, Republicans use guns for sporting purposes and self-defense.

If you don’t believe me, you can check the statistics on the Internet that don’t exist. At least I couldn’t find any that looked credible.

But we do know that race and poverty are correlated. And we know that poverty and crime are correlated. And we know that race and political affiliation are correlated. Therefore, my team (Clinton) is more likely to use guns to shoot innocent people, whereas the other team (Trump) is more likely to use guns for sporting and defense.

That’s a gross generalization. Obviously. Your town might be totally different.

So it seems to me that gun control can’t be solved because Democrats are using guns to kill each other – and want it to stop – whereas Republicans are using guns to defend against Democrats. Psychologically, those are different risk profiles. And you can’t reconcile those interests, except on the margins. For example, both sides might agree that rocket launchers are a step too far. But Democrats are unlikely to talk Republicans out of gun ownership because it comes off as “Put down your gun so I can shoot you.”
Of course, Adams is a humorist, but he is also an extremely observant and insightful commentator. His comment above, I think, does shed light on an aspect of the gun conversation that is rarely discussed.

From the juxtaposition of a couple articles this morning, where the discussion is about rising crime, I wondered to what degree major cities are responsible for most of violent crime.

Again, strictly back-of-the-envelope. I looked at this report that records the number of murders in the 62 largest metropolitan police departments. Since this is a quarterly report, I multiplied the result by 4 for an annual number. The result is that 5,629 of all murders in the US occur in the city limits of our largest cities. There are about 10,000 murders a year, so our largest cities account for 56.3% of all murders.

I then looked at the population size of our 62 largest major cities. That comes to 53,734,289, or about 17% of the total population of the US.

So, very roughly, 60% of murders occur in cities that account for 20% of the population.

Which brings us back to Scott Adams' insight. Virtually all major cities, even in quite conservative states such as Texas, are run by Democrats. The fact is that 60% of murders occur in cities run by Democrats and those cities account for only 20% of the population. That supports the notion that
Democrats are using guns to kill each other – and want it to stop – whereas Republicans are using guns to defend against Democrats.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Labels do not make arguments

A great line from Star Trek, I, Mudd
SPOCK: Specifics, Doctor. Labels do not make arguments
Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, Misogynist, etc. Many of our politicians no longer make arguments. They sling labels hoping to do damage without thought.

A Youtube of the exchange between Spock and Bones.

The slow plugging of SJW myths in an effort to displace real knowledge

This is just sad. "Matthew Gabriele is a professor Medieval Studies in the Department of Religion & Culture at Virginia Tech and has published widely on religion and violence in the Middle Ages." He authors a piece in the Washington Post, Five Myths About the Middle Ages. This isn't history, this is a soft-headed postmodernist, critical theory attempt to rewrite history to serve the social justice warrior view of the world, drawing moral equivalents where there are none.

As always, just enough reality seeps in to lend the piece some modicum of credence but were this written by a freshman in a Middle Ages history class thirty years ago, it likely would have been tossed out as so much gibbering. That it now is published in a national paper is simply a sad indictment of the decline in our credential intellectuals who have lost the path of civilization and civic discourse.

What is the problem with debunking myths? Nothing unless the debunking is the replacement of one set of nuanced assumptions with another set of untrue myths. Let's look at Gabriele's anti-historical declarations one at a time.

MYTH NO. 1: Christianity and Islam were constantly in conflict. Gabriele claims,
Then, throughout the Middle Ages, from Iberia to North Africa to the Middle East, Christians and Muslims behaved like the neighbors they were.
This whole section of debunking is simply modern myth-making in the service of social justice equivalencing. From the 700s Islamic forces occupied southwestern Europe (Iberia) and then southeastern Europe (the Balkans, including Constantinople and Greece). Subjugation of one people by another does not make them neighbors. This guy is a professor?

Until the Islamic forces were ejected some seven hundred and a thousand years later, there was constant tension, skirmishing, warfare, bloodshed and tragedy. Sure, there were intermittent periods of cessation, accommodation, truces, etc. but no one would claim that because there were occasional days without battle that there wasn't a Vietnam War.

There is a glimmer of reality providing cover for Gabriele's nonsense. One might make the case that there was something close to a fusion in Sicily between the Italian populations, the Greek populations and the Arab populations. Tentative, tenuous and occasionally very productive. But episodic and rare exceptions do not undermine the truth - For nearly a thousand years, Europeans and Arabs were in continuous conflict owing to the occupation of major portions of Europe by Arab invaders.

MYTH NO. 2: Everyone deferred to religious authority. Here Gabriele is more deceiving than he is wrong. He sets up a straw man nobody is defending.
But not everyone spent all their time thinking about God, and some were critical of religious authority.
That's right. But religion played a much larger role in life than today. In fact it is probably near-impossible for us, as modern, largely secular, Westerners to understand the role of theocracy in the Middle Ages. No, not everyone deferred to religious authority but most everyone did and to a far greater degree than today. Religious institutions had real power and to claim that was a myth is simply wrong.

MYTH NO. 3: Europeans in the Middle Ages were white and Christian.
Oh, dear. Critical theorist alert. Race is a social construct nonsense ahead.
In fact, although nowhere near as diverse as any modern metropolis, medieval Europe pulsed with difference, both racial and religious.
The fact that Europe pulsed with religious and ethnic diversity does not mean that it was not white and Christian. Europeans, as all people everywhere, were highly attuned to out-group mentality by ethnicity and by religion. There were not British people, there were Welsh and Irish and English and Scots and vive la difference. And there were not simply Scots but lowland and highland Scots not to mention the Shetlanders and Orcadians. The capacity for distinctions between and among out-groups based on ethnicity, religion, customs, class, etc. is almost endless. In fact much like modern social justice warriors and their ever fining identity distinctions.

But the fact that there were lowland Scots and highland Scots and Shetlanders and Orcadians does not mean that they weren't all white. The fact that there were dozens if not hundreds of conflicting variations of Christianity does not mean that they weren't all Christian.

If Gabriele is claiming that a 1% minority of non-Christian populations means Europe wasn't Christian, then he is right. If Gabriele is claiming that a less than 1% racial minority (Arabs, Berbers, occasional Africans or Asians) constitutes a non-white Europe, then he is right.

But of course, that is not what people mean. Europe was white and it was Christian. In his obeisance to the ideological convictions of social justice (critical theory), Gabriele misses several opportunities to make a better case. That Europe was virtually entirely white is inescapable. But Europe was by no means entirely Christian. Paganism remained a strong and large presence well into the near modern era.

Gabriele is simply wrong here, hostage to his SJW fevers.

MYTH NO. 4: Everyone thought the Earth was flat.

OK, fine, Gabriele is broadly right here though largely irrelevant. In the pre-modern era, the status of the earth as flat or round was not a hotly contested issue among the populace but that there was a uniform view of the world as flat is dismissable. That idea is simply the means of moderns to condescend to ancients.

MYTH NO. 5 These were the ‘Dark Ages.’

I concede half marks here. Gabriele says:
Many interpret the Middle Ages as a period when intellectual inquiry went dormant and the dominance of religion either stopped the progress of mankind or actively worked against those few brave souls trying to lift humanity up.
He's right. There is a tendency to associate the collapse of Rome as a lapse into stasis and contraction. That was largely the case. But over the thousand years from 500 and 1000, there was movement and motion and, eve, some progress. But the flows were large, erratic, and usually self-cancelling. Productivity and progress is made and then you lose a third of your population to the plague. Some local thug brings together a respectable conglomeration of a nation-like entity and then is struck down by a fever and things fall apart, the center will not hold. These were Dark Ages but not pitch black - there were glimmers and some glacial progression in aggregate, on average.

So all Gabriele is doing is pitching a modern set of ideologically inspired myths to replace the more fact-based "myths" which are largely true and to which we are largely accustomed. He is a polluter of cognitive waters to serve a dissembling end. Ugh.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Thanks critical theory. No trust in any information

From 10 facts about the changing digital news landscape by Katerina Eva Matsa and Kristine Lu at Pew Research.

There is a strong inclination in some quarters to lament the low level of education, or intellectual curiosity, or knowledge among Americans, Millennials, Voters, etc. It is a generic complaint, more subjective than objective and often entails a fair swag of virtue or status signaling.

But there are many interesting questions attached to the trope. Just how much information do you need to have in order to make a good decision? What is your risk tolerance? What are the consequences of the decision? What are the circumstances? What is the cost of additional information gathering? What are your goals? How are those goals prioritized? What are the trade-off sensitivities? And on.

The research by Matsa and Lu sheds a little bit of light in a fashion that forces some interesting questions on the lamenters. Take, for example, the issue about the degree of trust you have in various sources of information.

Click to enlarge.

Ouch. Most people do not have a lot of trust in Local News Media (22%), even less in National News Media (18%) and still less in Family, Friends, Acquaintances (14%). It would have been interesting to see the latter grouping broken out. I suspect that there might be higher numbers for Friends and Family.

Fortunately, there is virtually no trust in Social Media (4%).

Well, if no one trusts information they get from Social Media, Mainstream Media, or from their family and friends, where else are they getting their information that they trust more?

I suspect that these low trust numbers are actually an indicator of general skepticism. People are skeptical of all sources of information. As long as it doesn't slough into jaundice and cynicism, a healthy dose of skepticism is healthy. In fact, we have long been advocating that schools teach critical-thinking. There is plenty of evidence that suggests that critical-thinking in terms of the capacity to create evidence based arguments that have logical integrity has not been much of a success. In fact, there is some evidence that the emptying out of knowledge has also decreased the capacity for critical-thinking.

But this Pew data seems to indicate that an emphasis on critical-thinking might have been effective in lessening everyone's trust in all sources of information.

If there is low trust, then there is low value. If there is low value, then there is not much engagement which is one of the other Pew findings.
While many Americans get news from social media, few are heavily engaged with news.
As evidenced by:

Looking at the data this way would seem to reformulate the tropes. If people don't spend much time with news and they don't trust the news and they don't engage with the news all that much, then how do they populate their cognitive landscape in a fashion that allows them to make the decisions that are important to them?

I suspect the answer is that most of the questions that are important to them are radically different from those that the chattering classes want to be important, that direct experience might be a far larger component of decision-making than abstract information, and that values and motivation also play a greater role than data.