Tuesday, October 25, 2016

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

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

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

Stothart essentially describes herself as a crazy woman and that is the reason for her actions.

But this election, a particular candidate’s boasts about women pushed me over the edge.


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


We were angry.


We felt assaulted by the number of signs.


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


Reflecting back, I realize that I momentarily snapped.


I became unhinged.


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

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

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

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

Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds

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

Monday, October 24, 2016

Pleas for civility are a leading indicator of a failed argument

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Brand erosion

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

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The American Dream

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

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

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

Gifts that grow are best

Plant a Tree
by Lucy Larcom

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 21, 2016

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

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

Thursday, October 20, 2016

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

An excellent observation.

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Communication Signal Loss and class segregation

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

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

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

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

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

It got me thinking, though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click to enlarge

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

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

Click to enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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