Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Pence Rules Considered

Writing about the a number of Mississippi gubernatorial candidates' adherence to the "Pence Rules" (generally, avoiding being alone with any women other than their wives), Irina Manta writes:

So how are we to understand these men's attitudes? Here are some possibilities:

  • While they would deny this as the reason, these men don't trust themselves not to misbehave around women. This should make them look bad to voters.

I do not intend to compromise the moral prohibition against adultery when I say that viewing it as a function of "self-control" is a rather naive model of how adultery happens.

Let's consider a man possessed of politician-levels of charisma and charm. His marriage is secure and happy but subject to normal levels of stress. He begins to take long car rides with a female journalist who is herself attractive and who, likewise, responds favorably to his charisma. Their conversations, as they naturally would, move from formal to playful to intimate, the subjects from politics to shared interests to personal. Perhaps they become aware of the mutual attraction.

I don't actually know what happens at this point, but it's not like adultery is a novel concept. Presumably an offer somewhere gets made. Our politician may indeed resist such an offer, and refrain making his own. But . . . he thinks about her.

And maybe he doesn't want that. Maybe he would prefer to avoid the temptation altogether. Perhaps he knows that the "self" making decisions in these circumstances will not be the same "self" making decisions about who gets to be his riding companion. Maybe he doesn't want the distraction or self-consciousness that arises from spending long stretches in intimate circumstances with an attractive woman-not-his-wife, irrespective of her availability.

  • Their wives don't trust these guys around women. Voters may want to inquire why that is, and the reasons may well end up looking bad to voters.

My employer has a long-running program called "Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR)". It's content has evolved over the years, moving from the "rape culture" paradigm to something called Green Dot, which is about teaching bystander intervention. While considerably less alienating, this new iteration still leaves me cold. The scenarios they present for our consideration usually start in one of two ways:

  • "You're at a bar and . . . ." No, I'm not. I'm literally never at a bar. And even when I was a weekend regular at our club when I was living in the Far East, I never involved myself in anyone else's business sufficiently to apprehend if anything the scenario describes was happening.

  • "A friend from work confides in you that her boyfriend . . . ." Female friends are also not a thing. Even were my friendship actually sought by a female coworker (a 'hole 'nuther issue), I'm pretty sure Mrs. Phi would frown on the practice.

Anyway, after this year's training session, I shared my reaction with a couple of people at work and Mrs. Phi. Nobody contradicted me. Notably, Mrs. Phi did not rush to assure me that I was totally allowed female friends. Irina to the contrary, I don't think this is because she "doesn't trust" me. Rather I think she trusts me precisely because I'm not the kind of married man who keeps a "female friend" or two in the kitty.

  • These men don't trust women not to behave inappropriately toward them. Any women. This should make said men look bad to voters.

Remember Kathy Lee Gifford? She once cohosted a morning talk show with Regis Philbin called "Regis & Kathy Lee". Kathy Lee publicly identified as Christian, and she also would occasionally talk about how wonderful her marriage to sportscaster Frank Gifford was. That combination was too juicy a target for the tabloid newspaper Globe, which paid $120K (estimates of the amount varies, and to be fair the Globe has its own side to this story) to a former model to spend a couple of months seducing Frank, finally succeeding in a New York City hotel where they were secretly filmed together. I note here that the target of this little sting operation wasn't even Frank Gifford. Nobody gave a d@mn what Frank did. This was all an effort to embarrass his wife for the temerity of being a Christian in a mainstream setting.

And that was just to sell some magazines. Do you believe the media has gotten (a) more ethical and less partisan in the last 20 years or (b) less ethical and more partisan? Yeah, that's what I think too. I further think there is no shortage of female journalists for whom boning a Republican would be an acceptable price to pay if it helped elect a Democrat in Mississippi.

  • These men don't trust how journalists would present such interactions and/or they don't trust the public in how it would view Important Men spending any time alone with women. In other words, these candidates don't trust voters with something fairly basic. Why should voters trust them with much more important things?

I have a colleague I've known for the last dozen or so years. He has considerable stature in our professional field, directing one of the research centers at the institute where I obtained my PhD. He also is, as near as I can assess these things, good looking for his age, and in possession of abundant personal charisma.

When we first met I was one of his students, and in that capacity had occasion to visit his office. I noted (because I'm a guy) the attractive blond assistant stationed at the desk outside his office. Then again, a couple of years later on the cusp of graduation, I dropped by his office again, and there was another, different though equally attractive, blond parked at the same desk.

How did he manage that?

A couple of years after that, this professor visited my own work center (with which the institute has a collaborative relationship), bringing along with him yet another research assistant . . . a hot strawberry blond!

I mean . . . d@mn.

Seriously, though, I'd like to think I know this man pretty well after a decade of our association, and based on that I would be surprised and disappointed were I to learn of any inappropriate relationships. But . . . I thought about it.

Now let's picture Mr. Republican, tooling up to a campaign picnic in his (I assume) F-150 King Ranch Supercab. The local Republican event coordinator runs up to greet him and the woman climbing out of the truck with him: "Hello, Mr. & Mrs. Republican!"

Mr. Republican: "Er . . . thanks, but no, Mrs. Republican is home raising my kids without me. This young woman is Miss Hot Journalist, with whom I have a totally professional, non-sexual relationship."

Event Coordinator: "Oops, that was really awkward, but now that you've explained everything, I totally won't say another word about it."

And maybe he won't. But he thought about it.

Now I am (or was) an early Trump supporter. I stopped caring about his messy personal history the moment he made immigration the keystone of his campaign and didn't back down. But I personally know people for whom that history was a deal-breaker in a crowded primary, and I expect there are a lot of such people among Mississippi Republican primary voters. They have a lot of candidates to pick from this cycle, and I kind of get how they might not want to be embarassed by throwing early support to a candidate around whom gossip of impropriety might grow to a full-blown scandal. Which means I also get how the candidates would want to avoid running afoul of those concerns.

Friday, August 16, 2019

A Conspiracy Theory, Examined

Apparently, there were three people at the random mass murder in Las Vegas in 2017 that were also at Gilroy Garlic Festival random mass murder a couple of weeks ago. Barbie writes:

I'm responding to Vox's OP: The odds against one person in a country of 320 million being in the vicinity of two such events are astronomical.

Las Vegas 2017 attendance: 20,000

Gilroy 2019 attendance: 80,000

I don't know how many attendees were actually physically present at each event at the time of the shootings, but I'll assume two thirds, so 14,520 (sic) and 52,800.

Proportion of US population present at LV shooting: 14,520 / 350,000,000 = .000041 or .0041%

Proportion of the population NOT at LV is the inverse or 99.9959%

Likelihood of one person being at both events is then: 1 - (.999959^52,800). Which is 88.8%. The number of times this apparently happened is 3, so it's 0.888^3, or 70%.


Vox counters:

For example, if the odds of rolling a six on a six-sided die are 1 in 6, then the odds of rolling two sixes on two different six-sided dice are (1/6) * (1/6) = 1/36.

But before we calculate the probability of these two specific independent events, let's get the base numbers right. The Gilroy Garlic Festival is a three-day event, so that 80,000 is reduced to 26,667 before being reduced another one-third as per Uncephalized's assumption to account for the timing of the event. This brings us to an estimated 17,787 people present at the time of the shootings. Note that reducing the estimated 20,000 Las Vegas attendance by the same one-third gives us 13,340, not 14,520.

It's never a good sign when they can't even get the simple division right. Now for the relevant probabilities.

  • Gilroy probability: Dividing 17,787 by 350,000,000 results in a probability of 0.00005082, or one in 19,677.

  • Las Vegas probability: Dividing 13,340 by 350,000,000 results in a probability of 0.00003811428, or one in 26,237

  • Gilroy AND Las Vegas probability: Multiplying 0.00005082 by 0.00003811428 results in a probability of 0.0000000019369677096, or one in 516,270,868.

Both Vox and Barbie are wrong, but Barbie is closer.

Vox's error is the easiest to apprehend, in that he his asking the wrong question: what is the probability of a specific American, or three specific Americans -- say Vox, Barbie and me -- being present at both the Gilroy and Vegas shootings. But the correct question is: what is the probability of overlap between the groups present at Gilroy and Las Vegas. To use Vox's dice analogy, the probability of rolling double sixes is indeed 1/36. But given that I rolled a six on the first roll, the probability of rolling a second six is still only 1/6. This is called conditional probability and is adequately described by Bayes Theorem, on which I will not elaborate here.

Barbie's mistake is more subtle. The first clue is that her formula does not converge to 100%, as it must if, in the extreme case, the sum of the attendance at Gilroy and Vegas were to exceed the population of the U.S. If there were, say, 200M people at each, there would must be some overlap by at least 50M people, but applying her formula as written, the probablity of overlap would still not equal 100%, though it would be close. Her error is that each person attending Gilroy that was NOT at Vegas must be subtracted from each subsequent ratio.

Let me explain it with a toy problem so we can count the overlap ourselves. Suppose I have a bag of 6 balls, lettered A thru F. This analogizes to the population of the U.S. I randomly draw 3 balls out. They can be any balls, but let's say they are balls lettered A, B, and C. (This analogizes to the subset of the population present at Vegas in 2017.) I replace the balls, and again randomly draw 3 balls. (This analogizes to the subset of the population at Gilroy in 2019.) Those familiar with combinatorics will recognize that number of possible combinations of 3 balls selected from 6 as equal to nchoosek(6,3) = 6!/(6-3)!/3! = 20 different possible combinations. These are:

A, B, CA, B, DA, B, EA, B, F
A, C, DA, C, EA, C, FA, D, E
A, D, FA, E, FB, C, DB, C, E
B, C, FB, D, EB, D, FB, E, F
C, D, EC, D, FC, E, FD, E, F

Notice that of these combinations, only one has no overlap with the first event: combination D, E, and F. Thus the probability of overlap is not (3/6)^2 = 1/4 as Vox would have it, nor 1 - (3/6)^3 = 7/8 as Barbie would, but rather 19/20 = 95%.

There are several ways of getting this number. The easiest is this: When I reach into the bag for the second event, the first ball I remove has a 3/6 probability of not having been drawn in the first event; in other words, one of balls 4, 5, and 6. But once I draw one of those balls, and reach into the bag for the second ball, I now have only a 2/5 probability of drawing a non-first-event ball, one of those balls having already been removed. Likewise, the probability of drawing the last remaining non-first-event ball is 1/4. Thus, the probability is arrived at with 1 - (3/6)(2/5)(1/4) = 1 - 6/120 = 114/120 = 95%.

Applying this formula to the mass shooting overlap problem, using e.g. the population of the U.S. at 350M, the subset at Vegas as 52800, and the subset at Gilroy as 13340 gives us: 1 - [(350M - 52800)/350M][(350M - 52800 - 1)/(350M - 1)][(350M - 52800 - 2)/(350M - 2)] . . . [(350M - 52800 - 13339 )/(350M - 13339] = 86.6%. The reader can verify that the same result is arrived at by exchanging the 52800 and 13340 as applied in this formula.

Both Vox and Barbie agree that calculating the probabilities of overlap of two or more people is merely a matter of raising the probability of one overlap to the requisite power. This is also wrong, as we can see by inspection in our bag of balls problem. Looking at the list of 20 combinations above, we see that half of them contain either 2 or 3 of balls A, B, and C. So the probability of an overlap of two or more balls is 50%, not (19/20)^2 = 90.25% as Vox and Barbie would have it.

How can we get the overlap of 10? Here we will adopt a new approach, though it will yield the same answer as in our previously solved problems.

First, look at the pattern of an overlap of exactly two balls of the three from the first event. This is nchoosek(3,2) = 3 combinations:

A, BB, CA, C

Second, each of these combinations fills the last remaining ball with 3 - 2 = 1 ball selected from among 6 - 3 = 3 balls (D, E, and F) that were not drawn in the first event, i.e. nchoosek(6 - 3, 3 - 2) = 3 combinations. The product of these numbers is 9. (I know this seems trivial, but these formulas will generalize to much bigger numbers.)

We repeat this process for an overlap of exactly 3 balls. There are nchoosek(3,3) = 1 possible combinations of the first event balls repeated nchoosek(6 - 3, 3 - 3) = 1 time, for an additional 1 combination. 9 + 1 = 10. Dividing by the total number of combinations nchoosek(6,3) = 20 gives us the probability of an overlap of 2 or more at 50%

The general formula for the probability of overlap greater than or equal to R between two groups of sizes V and G drawn from a population P, is therefore:

min(V,G) is the smaller of the number at the two events, and the () is the standard mathematical symbol for nchoosek().

Note that no computer in the world will calculate the values of factorials as high as this problem calls for; however, we can calculate the log of Stirling's estimator as modified by Gosper: log(n!) = 0.5 * log[(2 * r + 1/3)*pi] + r * log(r / e). We can therefore calculate the log of the probabilities by adding and subtracting the logs of the factorials and converting them before the summation.

I know you're all looking for the answer. The probability that three or more individuals (R = 3) in America (P = 350M) attending Gilroy (G = 13340) would also attend Vegas (V = 52800) is . . . 32.7%. Give or take. This algorithm is pretty complicated, so I ran it swapping the P and G values (it takes several minutes), and I arrived at the same result as I expected, so I'm actually pretty confident this is the correct answer.

Please note that the above analysis assumes that attendees at both Gilroy and Vegas were selected randomly from the U.S. general population. That assumption is almost certainly false. My intuition was that people living within driving distance of Vegas and Gilroy were far more heavily represented at these events than those who were not. But who knows? I personally would have had no interest in either event; in contrast, there may be a class of people who travel vast distances to attend fairs, festivals, conventions and the like. (I have a colleague who recently crossed state lines to attend a board game convention. I have no idea why SWPLs do what they do.)

Also note that this applies for "any three individuals". If there were something special about them, for instance that they all turned out to be the only members of a radical pro-confiscation outfit that we might suspect of shenanigans, then the probability of their randomly being at both Vegas and Gilroy starts to look a lot more like Vox's numbers.

UPDATE: I eventually realized the the additional probability added by considering higher and higher levels overlap eventually fell below the smallest floating point value. Once the probability calculation falls below zero, the summation in the equation above can be safely terminated. That reduced the run-time from a few minutes to a few seconds.

Which means I could play with some additional numbers. For instance, using Vox's estimate of 17,787 at Gilroy instead of 52800, I calculated the probability of a one-person overlap between Gilroy at Vegas at 49%, and a three-person overlap at 3%. This means:

  • 1. that attendance at festivals isn't really drawn randomly from the U.S. population;

  • 2. that mass shootings are common enough that even a 3% probability is going to hit every so often; or

  • 3. the people turning up at multiple mass shootings aren't randomly selected.

My intution is that option 1 explains LV-Gilroy. Using Barbie's 3000 number for Parkland, the probability of a one person overlap with Las Vegas is not quite 11%. I think option 2 explains LV-Parkland. Randon mass murders aren't very common either as a percentage of the U.S. population or as a fraction of the murder rate, but they're common enough for 11% probabilities to occur.

I should note we know the LV-Borderline isn't random according to the official story: Borderline is a popular college student hangout, and a lot of college students from that area had gone down to the Route 91 whatever in LV in 2017. They even had T-shirts made up that said "I survived Vegas" or something, and the murderer chose Borderline for that reason. But for completeness, assuming that there were 200 people at Borderline that night, the probability of a random Vegas overlap is less than 1%.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Handmaid's Tall Tales

Somehow, this article, made its way into my news feed. Which is how I learned that the references to "The Handmaid's Tale" I occasionally come across aren't actually to Chaucer, but rather to a 1985 novel:

The Handmaid's Tale is set in the Republic of Gilead, a theonomic military dictatorship formed within the borders of what was formerly the United States of America.

Beginning with a staged attack that kills the President and most of Congress, a fundamentalist Christian Reconstructionist movement calling itself the "Sons of Jacob" launches a revolution and suspends the United States Constitution under the pretext of restoring order.

So, Christian Reconstructionism is a thing, or was. It's thought leaders include Rousas Rushdoony and "paleolibertarian" Gary North, about whom more in a minute. (Cornelius Van Til is often counted as an inspiration, although he himself evidently disavowed it.)

Full disclosure: it's roots lie in Reformed (i.e. Calvinist) thinkers and theologians, a background I share. That said, the only mention of Reconstructionism from the pulpits of the Reformed (i.e. Presbyterian) churches I have attended have been to reject it, as far as I can recall.

[Rushdoony] nevertheless repeatedly expressed his opposition to any sort of violent revolution and advocated instead the gradual reformation (often termed "regeneration" in his writings) of society from the bottom up, beginning with the individual and the family and from there gradually reforming other spheres of authority, including the church and the state.

So, already the novel has departed from what real-life Reconstructionists have said.

From "The Handmaid's Tale":

In this society, human rights are severely limited and women's rights are strictly curtailed. For example, women are forbidden to read . . . . [W]omen are forcibly assigned to produce children for the ruling class and are known as "handmaids", based on the biblical story of Rachel and her handmaid Bilhah.

. . . Finally, [Republic of Gilead Commander Fred Waterford] gives [the handmaid] lingerie and takes her to a government-run brothel called Jezebel's. This brothel is meant to add variety to men's sex lives which, as claimed by the Commander, is necessary.

Wow. I don't know about brothels, but that first bit looks to me like life under the Taliban; meanwhile, the Wikipedia article is pretty short on citations to anything a real-life Reconstructionist ever said. And considering that Reconstructionists want to restore the rules and punishments of Leviticus 20, I would be surprised to find any of them sanctioning brothels.

Also, in the news:

Joseph Fiennes, who stars as the brutal Commander Fred Waterford on "The Handmaid's Tale," [a Hulu television series based on the novel] is opening up about how the Hulu series mirrors the news headlines. The actor talked about parallels between the show and real life during a new interview with Tanya Rivero on CBSN.

For example, one recent storyline focused on family separations even as protests erupted over immigrant families being separated at the U.S. border. "Our writers are clairvoyant," Fiennes said. "I think our writers, like Margaret Atwood and Bruce Miller, our showrunner, have really tapped into something extraordinary, creatively, and tapping into the energy and psyche of society the way they do has sort of brought about a parallel between our show and what's happening."

I'm not sure how much seriousness this deserves. On the one hand, Fiennes is obviously an idiot, but to play along for a moment, let's point out the irony. Proponents of immigration are quite specifically attempting to mandate a fundamentalist interpretation of Leviticus 19:33-34. Granted, most of this is in bad faith, but Gary North is apparently also against immigration control, so the Reconstructionists are consistent. Otherwise, I will show you a thousand people who will quote from Leviticus 19 to support immigration for every one that quotes Leviticus 20 in support of stoning homosexuals.

But this is over-thinking it. The TV series exists only as a vehicle for the left to project their fantasies onto the rest of us, and it uses whatever their obsession du jour happens to be.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Safety vs. Status: a Thought Experiment

Scott Alexander has a couple of outstanding posts on one of his favorite themes: the application of the fact-value distinction to matters of public controversy. Scott's general thesis is that many people assert with insufficient warrant that what separates the adversaries in these matters is a difference in fundamental values beyond the reach of reason rather than a difference in their knowledge of various facts. They further assert that since reason can't persuade anyone away from fundamental values, debate is pointless if not counter-productive, and that the only proper course of action is to apply as much force as possible against their opponents: restrict, harass, and shame them by legal and/or extra-legal means at every opportunity. It is this chain of reasoning that gives us the Social Justice Warrior.

Scott illustrates this with a Socratic dialogue between Sophisticus, who argues for fundamental value differences, and Simplicio, who argues that discerning the difference is actually pretty hard in practice, and in any case doesn't always yield meaningful policy differences. (Please read the entire article. Scott's mind operates at a higher level than mine usually does, so my summary of the discussion may be inadequate.) Sophisticus and Simplicio illustrate their differences with two examples: the moral vs information bearing use of the word "lazy", and the appropriate approach to the use of punishment in reducing crime.

My post is somewhat orthogonal to Scott's point in that I want to challenge a point on which Sophisticus and Simplicio appear to agree. Excerpting is hard (again, read the whole thing), but this exchange seems to capture their agreement:

Sophisticus: Oh, I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say this is just a factual difference between me and the pro-punishment faction. They believe, as a matter of fact, that bad conditions discourage crime extra effectively, since some criminals who would be willing to take the risk of a nice Scandinavian-style prison would be scared off by a dark overheated cage. And I agree this is a possible axis on which people can differ, and that if you proved to me that this was true I could be persuaded to reconsider my views. But I have talked to people who have literally said the words “I don’t care how much it discourages crime or not, I want criminals to suffer.”

Simplicio: Okay. I agree that’s good evidence for your view.

Sophisticus: You…do? Really? I won one of these? REALLY?!

Simplicio: I guess.

Sophisticus: So you admit sometimes there are fundamental value differences?

Simplicio: Sometimes, yeah, I guess. But I want to be really careful with this. Humans are adaptation-executors, not fitness-maximizers. Only one person in a thousand could give the principled consequentialist defense of criminal justice that you’re giving here. The game theory necessary to understand the defense is only a few decades or centuries old, depending on how exactly you define it – but even chimpanzees need to discourage defectors. Since evolution couldn’t cram the whole principled consequentialist defense into a chimpanzee brain, it just gave us the urge to punish.


Basically, Sophisticus is arguing that while it is appropriate that punishments should be carefully calibrated to deter crime, it is not appropriate to use them to satisfy our base instinct for revenge. Simplicio counters that the base instinct may in fact deliver better calibration than an explicit calculation, and even when it doesn't, it's easier to remember. But he appear to stipulate that, yes, the rational point is to reduce crime.

Let me propose a thought experiment.

Suppose I give you a choice between two societies in which you may live. In Society One, you have, in any given year, a 1% chance of being a victim of a crime. (For those of you good at math, you can calculate from this that you have only about a 50-50 chance of experiencing crime in your lifetime.) For the purposes of our thought experiment, let's limit the class of crime to the non-crippling: e.g., you could be assaulted but not murdered or paralyzed; you could be raped but not mutilated or impregnated; your house could be burglarized but not burnt, and in any case you have insurance that caps your out-of-pocket loss to the deductible.

However, let's assume that in Society One, when and if you DID become a victim of a crime, you knew: that law enforcement would make no effective effort to protect you or punish those who had injured you; that you yourself were forbidden from using any violence to either prevent the crime or punish your attackers; that you would subsequently see the criminals walking around the neighborhood with impugnity, suffering no legal, physical or social punishment; that when you spoke of being a crime victim, everyone who's opinion mattered would shrug, or tell you to "get over it", or recommend that you "lie back and enjoy it".

Now let's consider Society Two. Here your annual personal risk of crime is double what it is in Society One: 2%. (Those of you good at math will quickly calculate that you will probably experience crime at some point in your life.) In contrast to Society One, however, when and if you become a victim, you know: that law enforcement will do everything it can to catch the criminals; that personanges of recognized high status -- clergy, politicians, etc. -- will visit you, shake your hand, offer their deepest sympathy and pledge their assistance; and that if you personally use violence to resist or punish your assailant, that use will be celebrated.

In which society would you choose to live?

You might observe that I'm basically describing a low social status person and high social status person in each society, and reply that status is a reliable predictor of having access to nice things: food, love, sex, and yes, physical safety. And this is certainly true in the real world. I'm offering you a hypothetical where you are asked to explicity trade status (specifically as a crime victim) for increased physical safety. Or vice-versa.

You might still reply as a fitness-maximizer: that in a world where community support, reliable law enforcement, and rights to self-defense did NOT reduce crime and our individual risk to it, then those things would be irrational and should be traded away for lower crime. Or you might say that in such a world, the value we place on those things would be de-selected for, evolutionarily speaking. But again, that's not exactly what I asked. I'm asking you, personally, given full knowledge of the scenario above but also given your own personal impulses, to make a trade-off.

This thought experiment is somewhat analogous to sex. Everyone (that I know of) agrees that the reason (if "reason" be the right word) that humans enjoy sex is that sex is the way the race got propagated. Exactly zero of us (that I know of) foreswear non-reproductive sex for that reason. Likewise, I may know that the sense of satisfaction I get from having my status reaffirmed by my community specifically by seeing them seek punishment (or "revenge", or "justice") against those who have unlawfully injured me is an evolved response that reduces my overall risk of victimization, thereby increasing my "adaptive fitness" or whatever, but I don't really care, and neither do you, probably. Even if you think you do, you probably don't have much personal experience with crime.

That said, I will allow that different people will make the trade-off at different points. In my experiment, I minimized both the severity and frequency of crime, while dramatizing the loss of status. We could change these ratios such that far fewer of us would pay the price in victimization that the affirmation cost us.

So let me offer a real-world example, one that involves some controversy. I will assert the following fact:

At no point in history, from our earliest settlements to the present, did the material circumstances of American blacks not exceed those of their counterparts in sub-Saharan Africa by any objective measure.


I concede this is a bold statement. Even a right-wing, racial-realist like me knows that the black American experience involved some pretty tough times: slavery obviously, but also lynching, poverty, crime, you-name-it. My argument is that this must be measured against the black African experience, which in my estimate is a non-stop story of pestilence, disease, famine, starvation, tribal massacres, and getting stomped into yogurt by elephants. Now, an economic historian might be able to compare some particular moment of African flourishing, say 19th century Ethiopia, with the condition of Mississippi slaves and sharecroppers during that time and find the latter wanting. Maybe this is true. But I will stand by the generality that the actual physical circumstances of American blacks on average has been much better than that of sub-Saharan African blacks. (I exempt from this consideration the Atlantic passage itself, which by all accounts was uniquely horrible.)

And yet . . . very few American blacks, and very very few blacks whose thoughts on the matter get broadcast on teevee, are especially appreciative of this fact. Some of this is a function of incentives: there is no money, power, or status derived from being appreciative of anything, not in our present society, not for minorities. Part of it is that we none of us compare ourselves to distant peoples, we only compare ourselves to those around us: no African peasant thinks much about Americans in our SUVs, he only knows that he has one goat and his neighbor has two and that isn't fair.

But part of this lack of appreciation is that material circumstances, beyond a certain threshold, are not the total of our sense of well-being. There is something especially galling about the low status of slavery and Jim Crow, independent of its material effects. So it matters little that you ate better on a Virginia plantation than in the African bush; in the bush, you could hunt as you willed, while in Virginia you did as your taskmaster told. It matters little that, say, slave-rape was a minority taste; you knew that it might happen, and if it did, you could not resist, and no one would resist on your behalf. It matters little that far more blacks were murdered by fellow blacks in New York City during the Dinkins administration than during the entire history of lynching; what matters is that if a white person made an accusation against you, there would be no appeals to law or process.

If any of this sounds familiar, it's because I specifically modeled my description of Society One, above, on an account I read of life in the South before the Civil Rights era. Which brings my point full-circle. Few of us, and exactly zero calling themselves "progressives", expect comparisons to life in Africa to inspire much in the way of gratitude from the descendants of slaves. So we shouldn't really expect appeals to "fitness maximization" to substitute for punishment for its own sake, not to the satisfaction of the vast majority of people, including me.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Now on Netflix: "Eye-baby Redux"

The article about Pensacola Christian College, "A College That's Strictly Different", is now behind The Chronicle of Higher Education's paywall, but we can still find excerpts:

Even couples who are not talking or touching can be reprimanded. Sabrina Poirier, a student at Pensacola who withdrew in 1997, was disciplined for what is known on the campus as "optical intercourse" — staring too intently into the eyes of a member of the opposite sex. This is also referred to as "making eye babies." While the rule does not appear in written form, most students interviewed for this article were familiar with the concept.


But that was back in the heady days of 2006! Oh, how the worm hath turned:

Netflix film crews 'banned from looking at each other for longer than five seconds' in #metoo crackdown


In reference to PCC's antagonists, I wrote back in 2011:

[They] are not motivated by a concern for due process, for which they evince no particular attachment. It is the rules themselves that they object to . . .

That now looks a trifle naive. I don't think they care for either due process or the specific content of the rules nearly as much as who is making them and by what authority. If that authority is Christianity, then the rules are ipso facto odious. But if the authority is feminism, then they must be met with approbation, and of course blind obedience.

Parenthetically, I discovered that the government's web filter has categorized Academy Watch as "hate-and-racism", which makes properly citing my own work a little difficult. Post subject to revision . . .



Sunday, February 04, 2018

A Golden Age of Serial Killers

I re-watched the excellent 2007 movie Zodiac last night, and wondered: what ever happened to serial killers? From my childhood (Wayne Williams) to my young adulthood (Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer), serial killers loomed large in my imagination. But with few exceptions (John Allen Mohammed), the serial murderers since then haven't made much of an impression on my consciousness, and some that did (Eileen Wourmos) only did so because they got movies. Was it my imagination, or did serial killing take a dive in popularity after, I dunno, the Columbine Massacre or 9/11?

Short answer: not really.

I turned to the Wikipedia page on Serial Killers and copy/pasted the table into Excel. I divided the "Proven Victims" column by years active to get a murders/year for each murderer or gang (this involved deleting duplicate entries in the table for each know member of the gang; each gang should only be counted once, though of course I could have missed some duplicates). I then summed up the murders / year for each year and produced the following graph:

With the exception of a spike in the 1930s almost exclusively the work of the Philadelphia Poison Ring, the serial killer phenomenon looks to be, basically, a product of the 1960s - 1980s crime wave, and the decline since seems to track the overall decline in violent crime since the mid-1990s. There doesn't seem to have been any noticeable impact of a single event as I had expected.

But that still leaves unexplained why even the extent serial killers don't really make much of an impression on me. Maybe I just stopped watching the news, or perhaps popular culture has moved on, or perhaps its just a numbers game: fewer serial killers make for fewer stars in the business. Thoughts?

Sunday, January 07, 2018

I Hate the Cable Company.

I'm writing to complain about Time Warner Cable, a.k.a Spectrum.

Here is a graph of my payments to Time Warner Cable over the last 10 years:


A few words of explanation:

  • The momentary dip around October 2008 was an outage in the wake of a severe storm, in compensation of which TWC didn't charge us for a week.
  • The precipitous drop in September 2011 was when, while I was between jobs, I called the cable company and told them that I could no longer afford their services. I don't remember if I had to visit the TWC office with DVR in hand, but they came through with the reduction shown.

  • The drop in November 2015 was when, in the wake of the Donald Sterling controversy, I permanently cancelled the television portion of my cable service, retaining only my internet service and digital phone line.

The rest of the fluctuations mostly represent TWC's policy of steadily ratcheting up the prices over time -- or, in their telling, the expiration of various "promotional" pricing. It's an application of the "frog in a frying pan" metaphor to price discrimination: Raise rates slowly, and most customers won't complain. But when a customer does complain, reset to the discounted price.

But sometimes the complaint has to be firm. It was not enough a year ago to merely call TWC about the $15/month increase: they stood firm over the phone, and I was that frog. But when I got around to opening this month's bill to discover another $16 increase, I drove 20 minutes in the snow, stood in line for an additional 20 minutes, dropped my modem on the TWC desk and said: "Cancel it." Why, underpaid customer service rep asked. "Because you raised my rates," I replied with admirable self-control. Can I see if there is anything I can do for you? "Make me an offer."

So staring yesterday I'll be paying what I paid in 2016. I have a brand new modem and substantially faster upload speeds.

But this is an ethically dubious business model. I suppose there are people paying exorbitant cable rates because they are rich enough that the bill falls below the noise level of their expenditures. I might even be close to that level of wealth myself, had I not come from a background where there is no such thing as a "noise level" with respect to spending money. But mainly, I believe TWC is basically taking advantage of people who are too old, working too long hours, too confrontation-averse, and/or too trusting in large institutions to give them a fair deal at a fair price.

In my case, it wasn't the money that chafed; AT&T wasn't going to charge me substantially less than TWC, and there would be some service trade-offs. What made me angry enough to stand in that line was the perceived disrespect: We'll charge you more because we can, and because we're betting you're an idiot. I guess I'm still enough of a Southerner for my personal honor to find itself at stake in those situations.

I'm just not sure that's a personality trait that should be rewarded at the expense of social trust and confrontation aversion.