Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Belief in Witchcraft Impedes Economic Progress

Summary of an article titled "Trust and Witchcraft Beliefs in Sub Saharan Africa."
Believing in witchcraft is a salient feature of daily life in many parts of the world. In worst-case scenarios, such beliefs lead to murder, and they may also cause destruction of property or societal ostracism of the accused witches. The first large-scale economics study to explore beliefs in witchcraft, broadly defined as the use of supernatural techniques to harm others or acquire wealth, links such beliefs to the erosion of social capital.

Where witchcraft beliefs are widespread, American University Economics Professor Boris Gershman found high levels of mistrust exist among people. Gershman also found a negative relationship between witchcraft beliefs and other metrics of social capital relied upon for a functioning society, including religious participation and charitable giving.

It's long been argued that witchcraft beliefs impede economic progress and disrupt social relations, and Gershman's statistical analysis supports that theory. From a policy perspective, Gershman's results emphasize the importance of accounting for local culture when undertaking development projects, especially those that require communal effort and cooperation. Gershman and other social scientists believe that education can help foster improved trust and decrease the prevalence of witchcraft beliefs.

"Education may contribute to an environment with higher levels of trust and mutual assistance, insofar as it helps to promote a rational worldview and reduce the attribution of any misfortune in life to the supernatural evil forces of other people in the community," Gershman said. 

Talent > Practice

One of the most inane ideas to get a lot of press coverage over the past decade was the assertion that anybody can get good at anything with 10,000 hours of practice.

To that I say, nuts. Talent matters.

No amount of practice would make me a good singer, mathematician, draftsman, or politician. I've been playing basketball regularly for 40 years, and I am still awful. I was better when I was younger, fitter, and had less experience.

And now comes some real data to back up what everyone already knew about talent and practice: talent matters much more.
A new meta analysis in Perspectives in Psychological Science looked at 33 studies on the relationship between deliberate practice and athletic achievement, and found that practice just doesn't matter that much.

More precisely, the analysis found, practice can account for 18 percent of the difference in athletic success. Put another way, if we compare batting averages between two baseball players, the amount of time the players spent in the batting cage would only account for 18 percent of the reason why one player's average is better than the other.
At the elite level, they find that differences in the amount of time spent practicing account for only 1% of the difference in ability. No surprise there; Michael Jordan worked hard, but not notably harder than the average professional athlete. All elite athletes work hard, but very few of them are Michael Jordan or Lionel Messi.

Yes, there are studies that show people who are good at things have practiced a lot more than people who are bad at them. It does take practice to master any complex activity. But I think the main reason highly accomplished people have practiced more is that they realize early on that they are good and have the potential to be even better, which is a terrific incentive to practice. I have a relative who was a professional dancer for years, in a modern dance troupe, and she was picked out by her teachers as having real potential when she was only four years old. By the time she was 18 she had put in a lot of hours, but that was because she was talented, not the other way around.

Jerry Brown Endorses Hillary

From an Open Letter to California Democrats and Independents:
On Tuesday, June 7, I have decided to cast my vote for Hillary Clinton because I believe this is the only path forward to win the presidency and stop the dangerous candidacy of Donald Trump.

I have closely watched the primaries and am deeply impressed with how well Bernie Sanders has done. He has driven home the message that the top one percent has unfairly captured way too much of America’s wealth, leaving the majority of people far behind. In 1992, I attempted a similar campaign.

For her part, Hillary Clinton has convincingly made the case that she knows how to get things done and has the tenacity and skill to advance the Democratic agenda. Voters have responded by giving her approximately 3 million more votes – and hundreds more delegates – than Sanders. If Clinton were to win only 10 percent of the remaining delegates – wildly improbable – she would still exceed the number needed for the nomination. In other words, Clinton’s lead is insurmountable and Democrats have shown – by millions of votes – that they want her as their nominee.

But there is more at stake than mere numbers. The Republican nominee, Donald Trump, has called climate change a “hoax” and said he will tear up the Paris Climate Agreement. He has promised to deport millions of immigrants and ominously suggested that other countries may need the nuclear bomb. He has also pledged to pack the Supreme Court with only those who please the extreme right.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Our country faces an existential threat from climate change and the spread of nuclear weapons. A new cold war is on the horizon. This is no time for Democrats to keep fighting each other. The general election has already begun. Hillary Clinton, with her long experience, especially as Secretary of State, has a firm grasp of the issues and will be prepared to lead our country on day one.

Next January, I want to be sure that it is Hillary Clinton who takes the oath of office, not Donald Trump.

With respect,

Jerry Brown
Interesting that Brown chose to focus on foreign policy as the area where Hillary has the biggest advantage. Brown is very popular in California. He has managed to combine much of what people like about both Bernie and Hillary in one person: he is a strong populist who pioneered funding his campaigns with only small donations, but he also has a track record of balancing the state budget and other practical accomplishments. Many people have speculated that he would not endorse either candidate, since he seems to have a foot in both camps. His decision to endorse Hillary seems significant to me, especially since I have long regarded him as one of America's most interesting politicians.

Peter Mitchell's Scarecrows

Peter Mitchell is a British photographer, born 1948, who specializes in color pictures of ordinary things. For decades he has been photographing the scarecrows in fields around his native Leeds.

I suppose these are a sort of folk art, since the can't have much impact on crows in the immense fields of modern agriculture. Mitchell kept these pictures to himself for many years, thinking nobody else would be interested, but somebody persuaded him otherwise and now there is a gallery show and a new book.

Anyway, they are a delight. More here and here.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Dark Surrealism after the Arab Spring

The news from Cairo:
Basma Abdel Aziz was walking in downtown Cairo one morning when she saw a long line of people standing in front of a closed government building.

Returning hours later, Ms. Abdel Aziz, a psychiatrist who counsels torture victims, passed the same people still waiting listlessly — a young woman and an elderly man, a mother holding her baby. The building remained closed.

When she got home, she immediately started writing about the people in line and didn’t stop for 11 hours. The story became her surreal debut novel, “The Queue,” which takes place after a failed revolution in an unnamed Middle Eastern city. The narrative unfolds over 140 days, as civilians are forced to wait in an endless line to petition a shadowy authority called The Gate for basic services.

“Fiction gave me a very wide space to say what I wanted to say about totalitarian authority,” Ms. Abdel Aziz said in a recent interview.

“The Queue,” which was just published in English by Melville House, has drawn comparisons to Western classics like George Orwell’s “1984” and “The Trial” by Franz Kafka. It represents a new wave of dystopian and surrealist fiction from Middle Eastern writers who are grappling with the chaotic aftermath and stinging disappointments of the Arab Spring.

Five years after the popular uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere, a bleak, apocalyptic strain of post-revolutionary literature has taken root in the region. Some writers are using science fiction and fantasy tropes to describe grim current political realities. . . .

“There’s a shift away from realism, which has dominated Arabic literature,” said the Kuwait-born novelist Saleem Haddad, whose new book, “Guapa,” is narrated by a young gay Arab man whose friend has been imprisoned after a political revolt. “What’s coming to the surface now is darker and a bit deeper.”
Fascinating how this same literary impulse has surfaced again and again when writers confront repressive rule, from Lenin's Russia to dictator-laden Latin America, and now to the Middle East.

Dr. Evermor's Forevertron

Today's bit of inspired madness is Dr. Evermor's Forevertron, a gigantic steampunk-ish sculpture made of discarded metal machines. It was built in the 1980s by Wisconsite Tom Every, who sometimes calls himself Dr. Evermor.

In the Dr. Evermor mythos, the machine was built to launch Dr. Evermor across time and space on a beam of energy.

The Forevertron is 50 feet (15m) tall and weighs 300 tons. According to wikipedia,
The sculpture incorporates two Thomas Edison dynamos from the 1880s, lightning rods, high-voltage components from 1920s power plants, scrap from the nearby Badger Army Ammunition Plant, and the decontamination chamber from the Apollo 11 spacecraft.
 Every says of his creation:
Instead of imposing your interpretation, it’s best to leave it alone. I don’t impose my interpretation here, but I let others find their own interpretations. People that are stymied come here and pick up the brushes of energy. It’s a place to get the imagination and inspiration going, and what more can you really do for people than that?

All the elements and thoughts patterns of electricity and time travel are involved here. There is a reality, progression, and integrity of touching electricity and time, and this is the product of that. I am most into energy flowing, and I have nothing but respect for it.

The Forevertron is surrounded by a menagerie of junk metal animals, people (or robots?) and machines, some of them very clever.

Website here.

David Brooks on Nathan Heller on Oberlin

Seems David Brooks was also impressed by Nathan Heller's essay on student radicalism at Oberlin. His reaction:
Today’s elite college students face a unique set of pressures. On the professional side life is competitive, pressured, time-consuming, capitalistic and stressful. On the political side many elite universities are home to an ethos of middle-aged leftism. The general atmosphere embraces feminism, civil rights, egalitarianism and environmentalism, but it is expressed as academic discourse, not as action on the streets.

This creates a tension in the minds of some students. On the professional side they are stressed and exhausted. On the political, spiritual and moral side they are unfulfilled.

On the professional side some students are haunted by the anxiety that they are failing in some comprehensive but undefinable way. On the spiritual side they hunger for a vehement crusade that will fulfill their moral yearnings and produce social justice.

This situation — a patina of genteel progressivism atop a churning engine of amoral meritocracy — is inherently unstable and was bound to produce a counterreaction. In his essay “The Big Uneasy,” in the current issue of The New Yorker, Nathan Heller describes life at Oberlin College in Ohio. In his penetrating interviews with the activist students you can see how the current passion for identity politics grows, in part, as a reaction against both sides of campus life.

The students Heller interviewed express a comprehensive dissatisfaction with their lives. “I’m actually still trying to reconcile how unhappy I’ve been here with how happy people were insisting I must be,” one student says. “Whatever you do at Oberlin as a person of color or a low-income person, it just doesn’t work,” says another.

Many of these students have rejected the meritocratic achievement culture whole cloth — the idea that life is about moving up the ladder. . . .

The current identity politics movement, like all previous forms of campus radicalism, is sparked by genuine social injustices. Agree or disagree with these students, it’s hard not to admire the impulse to serve a social good and commit to some lofty purpose.

On the other hand, this movement does not emerge from a place of confidence and strength. It emerges from a place of anxiety, lostness and fragility. It is distorted by that soil. Movements that grant themselves the status of victim lack both the confidence to lead change and the humility to converse with others. People who try to use politics to fill emotional and personal voids get more and more extreme and end up as fanatics.

There is a vacuum at the heart of things here. The meritocracy has become amoral. We ask students to work harder and harder while providing them with less and less of an idea of how they might find a purpose in all that work.
What are the values of contemporary America, the things we take seriously? Well, there is success – being the best, climbing to the top, getting ahead. But if that isn't your thing, what else is there?

David Brooks sees this as fundamentally a spiritual problem and longs for some sort of religious awakening. Alas he, like most members of his class, is weak in faith and simply can't find the passion in religion that he wants. In his view the student activists have turned toward social justice in search of meaning and passion, and while I'm sure he finds much of what they say silly, he admires their struggle for justice and their ability to find some sort of passion in doing right.

As a person even weaker in faith than Brooks, so weak that I am incapable of seeing how religion could answer our needs, I see this differently. The besetting problem of contemporary America, it it seems to me, is a sense that ordinary life just isn't good enough. We spend huge amounts of energy wondering what we ought to be doing differently.

The meritocracy and great inequality of our economic life feeds this sense, because we give so much of the best we have to offer to the stars who rise to the top of the system. This is why I support socialistic measures to reduce inequality: because I think that the riches we heap on CEOs and actors not only don't help the rest of us, but actually make ordinary life worse. We ought instead to be investing in what we have in common, from water systems to parks, and in helping those at the bottom. This is why I find the Trump campaign so disconcerting; Trump has put his finger on the sense millions of people have that we ought to be focused on the problems of ordinary (white) Americans, but he embodies everything that is wrong with America and needs to be overcome: celebrity worship, egoism, predatory capitalism, scorn for ordinary workers, distrust of any sort of outsider, impatience with careful thought, a spiritual void filled with the ceaseless pursuit of money and fame, propped up by bullying the weak. That's the best answer we can come up with?

Nor am I much interested in Sanders' call for a 'revolution.' We need more togetherness, not more conflict; more reason, not more anger.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

William Fraser Garden

William Fraser Garden (1856- 1921) was an English landscape painter some sources say belonged to the East Anglian School. There was an East Anglian School? Live and learn. (St. Ives Bridge, Huntingdonshire, 1895).

Anyway,  like these, so I'm posting them. Garden Ferry Inn.

Scene at Twilight.
The Weir, Hemingford Grey, 1895

Holywell, which was Garden's home for many years.

A Recollection.

Winter in the Ouse Valley.

Politics vs. Scholarship

A side note to Nathan Heller's article on Oberlin concerns the relationship of American politics to the truth. Even in academia, scholarship seems to get short shrift:
On February 25th, TheTower.org published an article that included screenshots from the Facebook feed of Joy Karega, an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition at Oberlin. The posts suggested, among other things, that Zionists had been involved in the 9/11 plot, that ISIS was a puppet of Mossad and the C.I.A., and that the Rothschild family owned “your news, the media, your oil, and your government.” The posts did not sit well with everyone at Oberlin, where, weeks earlier, a group of alumni and students had written the president with worries about anti-Semitism on campus; the board of trustees denounced Karega’s Facebook activities. As a teacher, however, she’d been beloved by many students and considered an important faculty advocate for the school’s black undergraduates. The need for allyship became acute. And so, with spring approaching, students and faculty at one of America’s most progressive colleges felt pressured to make an awkward judgment: whether to ally themselves with the black community or whether to ally themselves with the offended Jews.
Personally I don't care a fig which side Joy Karega or anybody else takes in the Israeli-Palestinian standoff. But didn't anybody notice that these assertions are simply not true? Even if we agree that academics have an absolute right to their own politics, do they have a right to be flagrantly wrong about important factual questions? Isn't "fidelity to the truth" a value universities should be promoting?

Nathan Heller at Oberlin

Nathan Heller has an article on student protests at Oberlin in the latest New Yorker that I found very interesting. Heller did a lot of listening – to student protesters, to the college president, to class of '68 professors baffled by this generation of young people. Given the level of hysteria among the protesters, listening sympathetically was something of a feat, but Heller managed it.

What interested me was the way the concerns of the protesters intersect with my biggest worry about our universities, our lack of any consensus as to what education means. The angriest protesters seem to be completely alienated from the college's educational mission, whatever that might be. They feel lonely and unsupported on campus – “There’s this persistent, low-grade dehumanization from everyone”, one says – and have no sense of what they are supposed to be getting out of their time at Oberlin. Since they have rejected neoliberal capitalism, they have no interest in furthering their careers. But though many of their professors share the same hostility toward corporate careerism, these students have trouble connecting with those professors, too. Why?

I thought this conversation with a group of black students was key. They are discussing the list non-negotiable demands presented by the students to the college president, which he waved off with an assertion that non-negotiable demands are wrong and what is needed is dialogue. (I bet he is a fan of the Dalai Lama.)
“Even those who didn’t write it had things to put into it,” Taylor Slay, a fellow Abusua member, says. She is sitting next to Adams, taking notes. Adams goes on, “Me trying to appeal to people? Ain’t working. Me trying to be the quiet, sit-back-and-be-chill-and-do-my-work black person? Doesn’t work. Me trying to be friends with non-black folks? Doesn’t work.” She draws out her final syllables. “Whatever you do at Oberlin as a person of color or a low-income person, it just doesn’t work! So you’re just, like, I’ve got to stand up for myself.” “I have to be political,” Slay says. “I have to be political in whatever form or fashion,” Adams says. “Because I have nothing else to do.”

There were negative responses to the fifty demands (which included a request for an $8.20-an-hour activism wage, the firing of nine Oberlin employees deemed insufficiently supportive of black students, and the tenuring of black faculty).

But the alumni reactions were the worst, according to Adams. “They are quick to turn around and call twenty-year-old students the N-word, and monkeys, and illiterate uneducated toddlers, and tell us to go back to Africa where we came from, and that Martin Luther King would be ashamed of us,” she says. “We knew realistically that most of those demands were not going to be met. We understand legality. We understand finances—”

“We see the pattern of nonresponse,” Slay says.

Zakiya Acey furrows his brow. “The argument was ‘Oh, so students ask for this, but it’s not legal,’ ” he says. “But it’s what I need. And it’s what this country needs, and it’s my country. That’s the whole point. We’re asking—”

“We’re asking to be reflected in our education,” Adams cuts in. “I literally am so tired of learning about Marx, when he did not include race in his discussion of the market!” She shrugs incredulously. “As a person who plans on returning to my community, I don’t want to assimilate into middle-class values. I’m going home, back to the ’hood of Chicago, to be exactly who I was before I came to Oberlin.”
If you don't care about entering on a career, and don't want to be changed, why are you in college?

That was a serious question, not a dismissal of these students. I tend to think that a huge amount of what all people do is about developing and asserting our identities, but this generation of activists seems to be particularly obsessed with identity. They want, more than anything else, to be who they are. Jasmine Adams seems to be saying, “I don't want to study Marx, because I am not the sort of person who cares about the European working class; I am the sort of person who cares about race, and I want the university to help me deepen my understanding of my own concerns.”

We are asking to be reflected in our education.

Seventy years ago American higher education was about molding adolescents into young gentlemen and ladies – more precisely, about moving people into the upper middle class. You studied things because they were the things that people in the upper and upper middle classes knew, or that prepared you for upper middle class careers. Obviously that is a distorting generalization, but I think it is close enough to the truth to serve the purpose.

But if you reject careerism, and reject the whole notion of being molded into a certain sort of person, what does college have to offer you?

I do have answers to that question: to expand your knowledge of the world and of scholarship about the world, to develop writing and thinking skills, to make friends, to mature in a supportive environment, and so on. But I understand that other than making friends these things are just not very appealing to many and maybe most people. The professors who did the most to encourage my elder daughter's intellectual pursuits all seem to assume that she should become a professor herself, as if academic life is the only place for people interested in history and art. Many professors, at least, see the academy as the only place where once can pursue a life of the mind, making curiosity into just another carer path.

So my main reaction to Heller's article is to see identity politics as another attack on any generalized notion of education. If the most important thing is to be your own most authentic self, why study anything in which you don't see yourself reflected?

One of the students Heller interviewed, asked about her future plans, said,
“Working my piece of land somewhere and living autonomously—that’s the dream,” she said. “Just getting the eff out of America. It’s a sinking ship.”
How is education going to help her with that?

Nicholas Kristoff on Why Universities Need Conservatives

An argument for diversity; I thought this was the most interesting part:
. . . when scholars cluster on the left end of the spectrum, they marginalize themselves. We desperately need academics like sociologists and anthropologists influencing American public policy on issues like poverty, yet when they are in an outer-left orbit, their wisdom often goes untapped.

In contrast, economists remain influential. I wonder if that isn’t partly because there is a critical mass of Republican economists who battle the Democratic economists and thus tether the discipline to the American mainstream.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Summer Begins

The temperature topped out around 90 degrees yesterday and in the upper 80s today, and the roses and peonies are hurrying to make up for time lost in our cool, wet spring.

Friday, May 27, 2016


"Hiraeth" [Welsh]  - a homesickness for a home you cannot return to, or that never was.

Celtic Oddments

From my files, a bunch of artistically made Celtic objects from the La Tene and early medieval periods. Above, fire dog from an Irish bog.

Oil lamp, 200 to 300 BCE.


Harness decoration.

Ring, 1st Century BCE

Dragon-shaped fibula on chain, 1st Century BCE


Clever Dolphin Tricks

The Guardian:
At the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, Kelly the dolphin has built up quite a reputation. All the dolphins at the institute are trained to hold onto any litter that falls into their pools until they see a trainer, when they can trade the litter for fish. In this way, the dolphins help to keep their pools clean.

Kelly has taken this task one step further. When people drop paper into the water she hides it under a rock at the bottom of the pool. The next time a trainer passes, she goes down to the rock and tears off a piece of paper to give to the trainer. After a fish reward, she goes back down, tears off another piece of paper, gets another fish, and so on. This behaviour is interesting because it shows that Kelly has a sense of the future and delays gratification. She has realised that a big piece of paper gets the same reward as a small piece and so delivers only small pieces to keep the extra food coming. She has, in effect, trained the humans.

Her cunning has not stopped there. One day, when a gull flew into her pool, she grabbed it, waited for the trainers and then gave it to them. It was a large bird and so the trainers gave her lots of fish. This seemed to give Kelly a new idea. The next time she was fed, instead of eating the last fish, she took it to the bottom of the pool and hid it under the rock where she had been hiding the paper. When no trainers were present, she brought the fish to the surface and used it to lure the gulls, which she would catch to get even more fish. After mastering this lucrative strategy, she taught her calf, who taught other calves, and so gull-baiting has become a hot game among the dolphins.

Obama at Hiroshima

Those who died, they are like us. Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it. When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders, reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done.

The world was forever changed here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.

Transcript here.

Immigrants and Education

The latest on the first, second, and third generations:
We make use of a new data source – matched birth records and longitudinal student records in Florida – to study the degree to which student outcomes differ across successive immigrant generations. Specifically, we investigate whether first, second, and third generation Asian and Hispanic immigrants in Florida perform differently on reading and mathematics tests, and whether they are differentially likely to get into serious trouble in school, to be truant from school, to graduate from high school, or to be ready for college upon high school graduation. We find evidence suggesting that early-arriving first generation immigrants perform better than do second generation immigrants, and second generation immigrants perform better than third generation immigrants. Among first generation immigrants, the earlier the arrival, the better the students tend to perform. These patterns of findings hold for both Asian and Hispanic students, and suggest a general pattern of successively reduced achievement – beyond a transitional period for recent immigrants – in the generations following the generation that immigrated to the United States.
Via Marginal Revolution.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Bernard Louedin, Surrealist

Bernard Louedin is a French painter usually described as surrealist, although he prefers "fantastique." I discovered him because he is one of the artists sold by the gallery where my elder daughter will start work in July, and she had to memorize a spiel about him.

I had trouble finding sources about Louedin, but I did find this French web page. The French is terse and rather difficult, so I let Google translate the page. The result was so perfectly appropriate for a surrealist that I have decided to take the rest of this post from that translation.

Bernard Louedin, surrealist painter, began drawing and painting to 8 years to 15 years. His father was a railroad's condition and completely uninterested in anything. His mother was a seamstress.

At 15 he bought his first book Modigliani but his mother threw him because there were bare. Instead of being discouraged, he said it was better to hide these books. Therefore he has not left the painting. At 16, a teacher. drawing took the class to the museum. Bernard Louedin, surrealist painter fell off before the fife Manet. Over time, it makes him think about the grace of Claudel.

At 17 he worked with painters, he trained on the job. It's been 60 years that he painted. Party to its army in Algeria, he came upon a commander who loved painting (he knew Picasso) and gave him permission to practice. Small profit, he painted for his superiors. [I love that. Can't you just imagine the sort of French officer who would discover that one of his soldiers was a painter and let him paint instead of doing guard duty?]

One critic, wanting to play on the words said he was doing a painting between wolf and deer. Bernard Louedin, surrealist painter think it is not wrong at bottom, under pleasant appearances, a small music is less easy.

Bernard Louedin also likes to play with the words. A friend told him to have bowled and he understood "bubbles", so he painted a bubble player! He also loves to read Lacan although sometimes he understands nothing but the addresses like poetry.

Besides, reading poetry help to warm to painter to put himself in a mood of creation, emotion. This compares to dancers, athletes with a need to practice every day.

Bernard Louedin, surrealist painter , like many artists, poets, writers, has a work to perform and devotes all his energy to it. Sometimes to the detriment of non-essential social relations. His daughter became a psychoanalyst, dogs that are not cats! Bernard Louedin, surrealist painter loves understand mental mechanical people. It is also a pledge of indulgence. [I am guessing les chiens ne faisant pas des chats! is an idiom meaning something like "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree." But then again I might be wrong.]

Bernard Louedin, surrealist painter like shade, be recessed. He does not like artists who play the artist, poets who play poet, who need a hat to feel poet.

So work with gallerists suits him. At the opening he would not be present and do not talk about his work. Rather than explain, you have to look at the paintings. Bernard Louedin says to me that the explanation needed is a misunderstanding.

Trump's Vice President Might have a Big Job

Paul Manafort, the chairman of Trump's campaign, gave an interview to the Huffington Post about a lot of things. I found this the most interesting part:
The vice presidential pick will also be part of the process of proving he’s ready for the White House, Manafort said.

“He needs an experienced person to do the part of the job he doesn’t want to do. He seems himself more as the chairman of the board, than even the CEO, let alone the COO.”

“There is a long list of who that person could be,” Manafort added, “and every one of them has major problems.”

The campaign probably won’t choose a woman or a member of a minority group, he said. “In fact, that would be viewed as pandering, I think.”
So Trump doesn't really want to run the government; he'll hire some schlub as Vice President for that job. But it seems Trump and Manafort are having trouble finding the perfect person. After all, the VP has to be up to doing most of the president's job, but on the other hand has to be willing and able to work under a meglomaniacal boss who changes his mind at the drop of a hat; plus it has to be a white man because anything else would be pandering.

Being Trump's VP seems a fascinating challenge. The job might make you the most powerful person in the world, provided you could manage your boss effectively. Does Chris Christie want that assignment? Bob Corker? We'll see.

And of course Trump is going to win, says Manafort;
He’s gonna win. He’s gonna win unless we — meaning people like me — screw it up. This is not a hard race.

The Venezuelan Tragedy

In Venezuela, the dream of popular socialism is collapsing into empty stores, hospitals without medicine, rolling electricity blackouts and actual hunger. Inflation is (depending on who you ask) 720%, 900%, or even 2,000%. Nice summary here.

Chavismo –as Venezuelans call the system created by now dead dictator Hugo Chavez – never worked very well, but during the days of high oil prices it worked well enough. Now that oil prices have collapsed, the Venezuelan economy is collapsing along with them. Venezuelans are paying a high price for supporting a government of Marxist nincompoops.

But as I have noted before, Chavismo didn't come from nowhere. Chavez was hugely popular among Venezuela's poor, and he came to power in an election that most people think was fair; he won two more-or-less fair re-election battles, the last time with more than 60 percent of the vote. Poor Venezuelans supported him because under the previous government both major parties were infamously corrupt and their leaders routinely lied to voters or made promises they didn't even try to keep. (Viz., Carlos Andrés Pérez was elected president in 1989 on a platform of repudiating the demands of the IMF and the US and renegotiating Venezuela's debts, but once elected he did nothing of the kind, instead following the IMF's "reform" dictates to the letter.)

Venezuela strikes me as a cautionary tale about capitalist democracy. If you spit on the poor long enough, and make much of the middle class worry that they will soon be among the poor, the voters will eventually turn against your sensible middle of the road economic plans and find somebody with more radical ideas. Trump and Sanders are warning shots that the American elite ought to take more seriously. If people like the Koch brothers want to remain rich and safe, they should stop fighting any plan to make the poor better off and start spending their billions searching for ways to help.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Things Getting Better in America

Domestic Violence: over the 1993 to 2012 period, the number of Americans assaulted by an "intimate partner" fell by more than half, from 13.5 per thousand to 5.0.

Sexual Abuse of Children: Down 60 percent from 1990 to 2010. (Obviously this is really hard to measure, but if anything our data ought to be getting more complete, not less so.)

Drunk Driving. Fatalities caused by drunk drivers down 51% from 1982 to 2009.

Teen Pregnancy. Down 51% from 1990 to 2010.

Violent Crime. Down 49% from 1991 to 2014. (Murder bumped back up a little last year but other violent crimes continued to fall.)

Kyon.J, Mountains of Guilin

More here.

Men in the Post-Industrial World

Tyler Cowen wonders what connects the rise of  Trump, the Berniebros, and the near victory of a far-right president in Austria, and comes up with this:
The contemporary world is not very well built for a large chunk of males. The nature of current service jobs, coddled class time and homework-intensive schooling, a feminized culture allergic to most forms of violence, post-feminist gender relations, and egalitarian semi-cosmopolitanism just don’t sit well with many…what shall I call them? Brutes?

Quite simply, there are many people who don’t like it when the world becomes nicer. They do less well with nice. And they respond by in turn behaving less nicely, if only in their voting behavior and perhaps their internet harassment as well.

Female median wages have been rising pretty consistently, but the male median wage, at least as measured, was higher back in 1969 than it is today (admittedly the deflator probably is off, but even that such a measure is possible speaks volumes). A lot of men did better psychologically and maybe also economically in a world where America had a greater number of tough manufacturing jobs. They thrived under brutish conditions, including a military draft to crack some of their heads into line.
Cowen notes the oft-cited evidence for declining life expectancy among middle-aged white American men, and adds, "For American men ages 18-34, more of them live with their parents than with romantic partners."

Trump’s support is overwhelming male, his modes are extremely male, no one talks about the “Bernie sisters,” and male voters also supported the Austrian neo-Nazi party by a clear majority. Aren’t (some) men the basic problem here? And if you think, as I do, that the incidence of rape is fairly high, perhaps this shouldn’t surprise you.

The sad news is that making the world nicer yet won’t necessarily solve this problem. It might even make it worse.

Again, we don’t know this is true. But it does help explain that men seem to be leading this “populist” charge, and that these bizarre reactions are occurring across a number of countries, not just one or two. It also avoids the weaknesses of purely economic explanations, because right now the labor market in America just isn’t that terrible. Nor did the bad economic times of the late 1970s occasion a similar counter-reaction.

One response would be to double down on feminizing the men, as arguably some of the Nordic countries have done. But America may be too big and diverse for that really to stick. Another option would be to bring back some of the older, more masculine world in a relatively harmless manner, the proverbial sop to Cerberus. But how to do that? That world went away for some good reasons.

If this is indeed the problem, our culture is remarkably ill-suited to talking about it. It is hard for us to admit that “all good things” can be bad for anyone, including brutes. It is hard to talk about what we might have to do to accommodate brutes, and that more niceness isn’t always a cure. And it is hard to admit that history might not be so progressive after all.

What percentage of men are brutes anyway? Let’s hope we don’t find out.
A few thoughts: first, the supporters of politicians like Trump and Austria's Norbert Hofer are majority male, but they still get plenty of female votes: Hofer won 60% of men but nearly 40% of women, and 40% is a lot. So the politics of anti-establishment anger are not just a male thing.

It is true, I think, that a shift from an economy based on industry, agriculture, mining and logging to one based on services hurts men more than women, but it does hurt plenty of women, like the ones who used to sew clothes in factories across the US.

And, of course, those numbers about declining life expectancy among middle-aged white Americans apply to women as well as men.

But all that being said I think it is true that western culture is getting more feminized, and the western economy is moving away from the sort of hard, manly work that defined masculinity for millennia, and plenty of men are dealing very badly with this.

The Nth Battle of Fallujah

The battle to retake the Iraqi city of Fallujah has begun: 20,000 Iraqi soldiers, backed by US air power and advisers, are attempting to expel some 800 to 1,000 ISIS fighters.

This is now the third time since 2003 that US and Iraqi forces have fought to retake Fallujah (building on an even longer British tradition of retaking Fallujah.) . . .

Yet the price of the battles of Fallujah has been very high for all involved. The second battle of Fallujah in 2004 was the bloodiest of the 2003 to 2011 Iraq War. The US lost nearly 100 soldiers there in retaking the city in 2004. The insurgents lost as many as 1,500.

The city has been reduced to rubble several times, and virtually all of the city’s occupants— about 350,000 people — have been forced to flee their homes over and over again. Many more people will die in the next battle, as ISIS defends the city fiercely and leaves behind a sea of booby-traps.

Still, the US and its allies have won all of their previous battles for Fallujah. And although the US will only be playing a supporting role this time around, it should be successful as well. The US military is an incredibly effective learning organization and every time it retakes the city of Fallujah, it gets better at it.
So the good news is that we have become very skilled at retaking Fallujah and are likely to succeed once again. The bad news is that also that we have become very skilled at retaking Fallujah.

Today's Geology Statistic

Right now there are 42 volcanoes erupting in the world.