Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for February 19th, 2017

Trump considers more delusional statistics. Reality will bite.

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Take a look. Like a bunch of coal miners trying to sail a ship.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2017 at 7:08 pm

More decline and fall (where’s our Gibbon?): The Struggle Inside The Wall Street Journal

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David Leonhardt in the NY Times:

The most successful modern publisher of ideological journalism is Rupert Murdoch. He buys media properties, or starts new ones, and turns them into conservative megaphones.

In England, he carefully nudged the venerable Times to the right, while his tabloids mocked Labour Party politicians as weaklings or Stalinists. In the United States, he transformed the once-liberal New York Post into a peppery conservative tabloid and then built Fox News from scratch.

Clearly, he enjoys both populist and elite media. And in 2007, he bought a journalistic jewel, The Wall Street Journal.

Now The Journal’s newsroom is embroiled in a fight over the paper’s direction.

Many staff members believe that the paper’s top editor, Gerard Baker, previously a feisty conservative commentator, is trying to Murdoch-ize the paper. “There is a systemic issue,” one reporter told me. The dissatisfaction went public last week, with stories in Politico and the Huffington Post. At a staff meeting on Monday, Baker dismissed the criticism as “fake news,” Joe Pompeo and Hadas Gold of Politico reported.

As a longtime reader, admirer and competitor of The Journal, I think the internal critics are right. You can see the news pages becoming more politicized. You can also see The Journal’s staff pushing back, through both great journalism (including exposes on the Trump administration) and quiet insubordination.

Consider The Journal’s coverage of Trump’s false voter-fraud allegations. The stories are mostly solid, noting Trump has no evidence. The headlines often tend toward stenography:

Trump Seeks Election Fraud Probe

Trump Takes Aim at ‘Millions’ of Votes

Top Adviser Repeats Vote-Fraud Claims

Reporters and editors have become accustomed to the “shaving off the edges” of Trump-related stories, one said, especially in headlines and initial paragraphs. The insubordination shows up in later paragraphs, where reporters include harder-hitting information.

There is no shortage of troubling anecdotes: A revealing story about Trump’s white-supremacist support that never ran in print. A dearth of stories about climate change and frightened immigrants. An email from Baker encouraging the staff not to mention the Muslim makeup of the countries when describing Trump’s immigration ban (partly rescinded after BuzzFeed disclosed the email). Glowing stories about Trump — “astonishing,” one longtime editor said — by a reporter who once tweeted a photo of herself smiling with Trump on his jet.

More generally, staffers are worried about Trump-Journal chumminess. Ivanka Trump was until recently a trustee of the Murdoch estate. In The Journal’s Washington bureau, eyebrows rose when Baker’s assistant called to ask how to send Trump a memento: a printing-press plate from an edition reporting his ascendance. (A spokeswoman said no plate was sent.)

The Journal’s opinion pages, of course, have long been conservative. And they have their own tensions: An editor critical of Trump was recently fired, . . .

Continue reading.

It’s essential that an authoritarian leader control the channels of public communication to deliver the messages he wants and—even more important—to repress the messages he wants to silence. Right now Trump has to simply denigrate the media and urge his followers to listen only to him, since he will tell it like it is, and then he spins these delusional fantasies of jobs returning, enemies within and without, and in general that everything is awful and only he, Donald Trump, can save them.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2017 at 5:50 pm

Very tasty dinner: Braised eggplant and pork

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I thought this was excellent. I used a globe eggplant, not a Japanese one, and I worked fine. My market had no Enoki mushrooms, so I simply skipped the mushrooms, but I did think of using finely chopped plain white domestic mushrooms as a substitute. It didn’t really need it. And I used Amontillado sherry rather than the wine. For the sausage I bought bratwurst links and removed the casing and broke up the meal. I went with 8 ounces. No rice: low carb.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2017 at 5:32 pm

Posted in Food, Low carb, Recipes

How Elton Musk remembers things (and gets insights)

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Absolutely fascinating answer on Quora.com by Denis Matei, “aspiring psychologist.” In particular, watch the video in the answer. It builds very slowly and doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere, even after the request for an example, but then at the end it just comes together very quickly. And it has impact. Answer begins (but do read the whole thing—and watch that video all the way through):

Elon uses the “Richard Feynman” technique from what I have read about his approach, mixed with “first principles”.

…which is basically in simple terms: don’t try to remember, but try to understand; when you understand, you will remember automatically.

Sounds simple? But yet, so many people don’t do it like that. They try to cram loads of info and facts into their brains, especially students, with the result of forgetting a lot of it.

So how does Elon do it?

‘’One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”

Quote from Elon Musk on Reddit.

So what Elon basically does is, he looks at the most fundamental principle of any subject matter, instead of separating the subject matters into smaller pieces. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2017 at 5:27 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

Must watch: Found Footage Festival

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Pogo, a very wise opossum, once said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Take a look at the stark truth of that dictum.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2017 at 4:45 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

How the electoral college gerrymanders the presidential vote

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Christopher Ingraham in the Washington Post:

Here’s a fun little thought experiment demonstrating the fundamental arbitrariness of the electoral college: Had two state borders been drawn just a little bit differently, shifting a total of four counties from one state to another, Hillary Clinton would have won the election.

Take a look at the imaginary map above, which comes from an nifty online tool called Redraw the States. It was created by Kevin Hayes Wilson, a mathematician and data scientist working in computer science education.

This map moves Lake County, Ill. to Wisconsin, turning that state blue. It moves Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties from the Florida panhandle to neighboring Alabama. That’s enough to turn Florida blue. With victories in Wisconsin and Florida, Clinton squeaks to victory in the electoral college, 270 to 268.

Exact same votes, slightly different borders, radically different outcome: the capriciousness of the electoral college laid bare.

After the election, a former classmate posed Wilson a question: How stable are the electoral college results under small changes of geography? That is, how much of Donald Trump’s electoral college victory is attributable to the odd quirks of geography or history that are baked into our country’s state and county borders?

The answer, Wilson found, is “quite a lot.”

To arrive at this answer, Wilson built his interactive border-drawing thought experiment. It allows you to select any number of counties and move them to a different state to see how the electoral results would shake out under those borders.

Recall that the electoral college system is mostly winner-take-all (Maine and Nebraska are the exceptions, assigning most of their electors by congressional district). In Illinois, for instance, it does not matter whether Clinton won by 859,000 votes (her actual margin) or just 5,000 votes — in either scenario, all of the state’s electoral votes go to her.

That 859,000-vote margin means Clinton could lose hundreds of thousands of votes and still win Illinois handily. In Lake County, just north of Chicago, Clinton beat Trump by about 70,000 votes. That’s greater than Trump’s winning margin (about 20,000 votes) in the entire state of Wisconsin.

So, if you let Wisconsin annex Lake County, that state’s margin shifts from 20,000 votes in favor of Trump, to 50,000 votes in favor of Clinton. And Clinton still wins Illinois, just by a slightly smaller margin. The net electoral result is that she wins both states.

A similar process is at work in the Florida Panhandle counties. Clinton lost the state by about 120,000 votes. Across the three Panhandle counties of Santa Rosa, Escambia and Okaloosa, Trump’s total margin was 126,000 votes.

Moving those three counties to Alabama does not change the outcome there — Trump won the state handily anyway. But it does mean that Clinton wins Florida by about 6,000 votes, enough to shift all of the state’s electoral votes into her column.

Because we are indulging in electoral fan fiction here, we could go completely hog-wild and posit that state borders do not even need to be contiguous. If that were the case, you’d need to alter only two counties to give the election to Clinton: you could make Los Angeles County, Calif. (Clinton margin: 1.2 million votes) part of Texas to change the Lone Star State blue. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2017 at 4:35 pm

Posted in Election, Government, Law

Beyond fact-checking: After the catastrophic media failure of 2016, the press must master “crucial evidence”

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Paul Rosenberg writes in Salon:

The media failed disastrously during the 2016 presidential election. The only questions, really, are how and why — and what can be done about it. This is especially urgent as President Donald Trump, with his repeated attacks against the press, only threatens to make matters worse.

The problem can be thought of in a threefold way: First, issues virtually disappeared from the campaign. Second, the resulting overemphasis on personality and politics was badly skewed toward controversy and sensationalism, which strongly disfavored Hillary Clinton as her emails got far more sustained and prominent attention than Trump’s much more varied range of serious problems. Third, although fact-checking flourished as a media subgenre, it utterly failed to protect American democracy against a pathological liar with authoritarian ambitions who was able to deflect attention repeatedly without ever answering fundamental questions.

The failure of fact-checking is particularly frustrating to the “reality-based community,” but the problem may well be that they’re not actually being reality-based enough. That’s the suggestion that philosopher William Berkson advanced recently in the Columbia Journalism Review. Fact-checking may not be enough, he argues. We need something much bolder: policy-checking. Conceptually, it’s reminiscent of the Office of Technology Assessment, an office established in 1972 to provide Congress with objective and authoritative analysis of complex scientific and technical issues. (It was abolished by Newt Gingrich when he became speaker in 1995. Archive website here.)

But Berkson’s concept is broader both in scope — encompassing all policy issues — and in terms of its primary audience, the press and the public. The media’s failures weren’t due to “lack of ability or courage,” he argues, but to “the lack of a clear and strong model for drawing fair and objective conclusions about the candidates’ policies.”

Without such a model, the media relied instead on a confused notion of “balance,” which “misled them time after time,” Berkson said. If Trump was visibly terrible, “balance” required that Clinton be terrible too, regardless of whether they were actually comparable.

Berkson’s background is in the philosophy of science. He was a student of the legendary Karl Popper — famous for articulating the crucial role of falsifiability in science — and has written about how social science can be made as rigorous as the physical sciences. His notion of policy-checking builds on that foundation: If social science can be made that rigorous, then policies based on it can be as well, and journalists can benefit from a policy-check resource, just as they now benefit from fact-checkers. Beyond that, if policy-based reporting can be made, it becomes more likely that it will be done widely and well. The more that happens, the more reality-based attitudes and values will tend to rub off on everyone involved — journalists, audiences and politicians.

It’s not a magic cure. There can be no single silver-bullet remedy for a sweeping systemic failure. But this idea could play a crucial role in helping to tip the balance moving forward, and altering the whole system of how journalism is done — moving it in a positive, empirically grounded direction, directly opposed to the disintegration epitomized by the rise of fake news. If that is to happen, the idea needs to be more widely known, understood, critiqued and refined. That’s why Salon reached out to Berkson to elaborate on his concept: its foundations, possibilities and requirements. This interview was conducted by email, and been lightly edited.

Given that the media failings in the 2016 campaign are painfully well-known, I’d like to begin by asking you to explain your model and what makes it uniquely powerful. You’ve said that it “involves the identification of crucial evidence.” What is “crucial evidence,” and what sets it apart from other kinds of evidence?

Evidence is “crucial” when you have two different theories which predict different events in the same situation. In such a situation, evidence of what actually happened will tell you that one theory is definitely false — the one contradicted by the observable facts — while the other theory is confirmed. That’s crucial evidence. To use a simplified, standard example, seeing a black swan refutes the theory that “all swans are white.” At the same time, it confirms the conflicting theory that “all swans are white or black.”

It’s important that while crucial evidence refutes the contradicted theory, it doesn’t prove that the confirmed theory is right. The next swan might be green, contradicting the theory that all swans are black or white. This asymmetry — that refutation is logically stronger than confirmation, and that confirmation is not proof — turns out to be critically important in social science and for evaluating social policies.

Can you give us an example from the history of science?

In my first book, I wrote about the discovery of radio waves by Heinrich Hertz. At the time, there were two rival viewpoints. One thought that the influence of electricity and magnetism on distant objects was instantaneous — action at a distance. The other theory said the forces take time to travel through space. When Hertz demonstrated the electromagnetic waves, radio waves, with a finite velocity, it ended the debate. Hertz’s effort was a “crucial experiment,” but there are crucial observations of what is happening naturally, without any experiment.

This is important, as reporting what you observe is at the heart of journalism. And crucial observations follow the same logic. The most famous one, a hundred years ago, refuted Newton’s theory of gravity, and confirmed Einstein’s. Einstein’s theory predicted that the sun’s gravity would bend light rays passing near it. Eddington figured out that during a solar eclipse he could see the stars close to the sun, and they would appear shifted from their positions in a way he could calculate from Einstein’s theory. The stars did appear to shift as Einstein’s theory predicted, and in contradiction to the predictions of Newton’s theory.

You’ve written elsewhere about the widespread failings of the social sciences to employ this model, and develop testable theories. Could you say a few words about that problem, and why it need not persist?

Many have argued that because of the complexity of society, it is impossible to identify plausible testable theories in social science. However, they assume that social theories have to fully predict the evolution of a social system to be testable. For testability, as I wrote some years ago, it is enough to identify patterns that excludesome possibilities. My wife, Isabelle Tsakok, a development economist and also a former Popper student, took up the challenge of identifying such patterns in economic development.

In her book, she showed that five conditions are necessary for poor countries with traditional agricultures to transform into modern wealthy economies. She was able to document that all now-wealthy countries, including the U.S., met the conditions during their transformations. The conditions are not sufficient, as some countries have fulfilled them and still not succeeded. So the pattern doesn’t fully predict what will happen if a country does fulfill all the conditions. But because the conditions are necessary, vital to broad-based economic growth, the theory still has huge policy implications.

You say that the analysis needed to identify crucial evidence is sometimes accessible to journalists, and you cite as an example the fact that tax cuts have never paid for themselves in U.S. history. Yet, we continue to hear claims to the contrary. What is that evidence? 

The data are unequivocal on tax cuts not paying for themselves fully, and you can see it in many analyses such as this one from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Tax cuts can increase growth somewhat in the short term, but in the U.S. they have never created enough growth to make up for the lost revenue by increased tax receipts. In fact, in the past, investment of tax funds has regularly grown the economy more than cutting taxes and leaving the money in the hands of the rich. For example, the economy grew more under tax-increaser Bill Clinton than tax-cutter Ronald Reagan, and more under tax-increaser Obama than tax-cutter George W. Bush. This claim of tax cuts paying for themselves has never been respectable amongst professional economists; even George W. Bush’s economic advisor Greg Mankiw once labeled those who advanced this claim as “charlatans and cranks.”

Why does this qualify as “crucial evidence”? . . .

Continue reading.

We must use the knowledge we have accumulated, else what good is it?

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2017 at 3:59 pm

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