Altruism, One More Time

I am reading and generally enjoying Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity and Other Fables of Evolution by the late Australian philosopher, David Stove. I say generally enjoying because in Essay 6, which I just finished reading, Stove goes off the rails.

The title of Essay 6 is “Tax and the Selfish Girl, Or Does ‘Altruism’ Need Inverted Commas?”. Stove expends many words in defense of altruism as it is commonly thought of: putting others before oneself. He also expends some words (though not many) in defense of taxation as an altruistic act.

Stove, whose writing is refreshingly informal instead of academically stilted, is fond of calling things “ridiculous” and “absurd”. Well, Essay 6 is both of those things. Stove’s analysis of altruism is circular: He parades examples of what he considers altruistic conduct, and says that because there is such conduct there must be altruism.

His target is a position that I have taken, and still hold despite Essay 6. My first two essays about altruism are here and here. I will quote a third essay, in which I address philosopher Jason Brennan’s defense of altruism:

What about Brennan’s assertion that he is genuinely altruistic because he doesn’t merely want to avoid bad feelings, but wants to help his son for his son’s sake. That’s called empathy. But empathy is egoistic. Even strong empathy — the ability to “feel” another person’s pain or anguish — is “felt” by the empathizer. It is the empathizer’s response to the other person’s pain or anguish.

Brennan inadvertently makes that point when he invokes sociopathy:

Sociopaths don’t care about other people for their own sake–they view them merely as instruments. Sociopaths don’t feel guilt for failing to help others.

The difference between a sociopath and a “normal” person is found in caring (feeling). But caring (feeling) is something that the I does — or fails to do, if the I is a sociopath. I = ego:

the “I” or self of any person; a thinking, feeling, and conscious being, able to distinguish itself from other selves.

I am not deprecating the kind of laudable act that is called altruistic. I am simply trying to point out what should be an obvious fact: Human beings necessarily act in their own interests, though their own interests often coincide with the interests of others for emotional reasons (e.g., love, empathy), as well as practical ones (e.g., loss of income or status because of the death of a patron).

It should go without saying that the world would be a better place if it had fewer sociopaths in it. Voluntary, mutually beneficial relationships are more than merely transactional; they thrive on the mutual trust and respect that arise from social bonds, including the bonds of love and affection.

Where Stove goes off the rails is with his claim that the existence of classes of people like soldiers, priests, and doctors is evidence of altruism. (NB: Stove was an atheist, so his inclusion of priests isn’t any kind of defense of religion.)

People become soldiers, priests, and doctors for various reasons, including (among many non-altruistic things) a love of danger (soldiers), a desire to control the lives of others (soldiers, priests, and doctors), an intellectual challenge that has nothing to do with caring for others (doctors), earning a lot of money (doctors), prestige (high-ranking soldiers, priests, and doctors), and job security (priests and doctors). Where’s the altruism in any of that?

Where Stove really goes off the rails is with his claim that redistributive taxation is evidence of altruism. As if human beings live in monolithic societies (like ant colonies), where the will of one was the will of all. And as if government represents the “will of the people”, when all it represents is the will of a small number of people who have been granted the power to govern by garnering a bare minority of votes cast by a minority of the populace, by their non-elected bureaucratic agents, and by (mostly) non-elected judges.

 

Racism on Parade

There has been much ado about an article by lawprofs Amy Wax (University of Pennsylvania) and Larry Alexander (University of San Diego), “Paying the Price for the Breakdown of the Country’s Bourgeois Culture” (The Inquirer, August 9, 2017). Wax and Alexander say this:

Too few Americans are qualified for the jobs available. Male working-age labor-force participation is at Depression-era lows. Opioid abuse is widespread. Homicidal violence plagues inner cities. Almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, and even more are raised by single mothers. Many college students lack basic skills, and high school students rank below those from two dozen other countries.

The causes of these phenomena are multiple and complex, but implicated in these and other maladies is the breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture.

That culture laid out the script we all were supposed to follow: Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.

These basic cultural precepts reigned from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s. They could be followed by people of all backgrounds and abilities, especially when backed up by almost universal endorsement. Adherence was a major contributor to the productivity, educational gains, and social coherence of that period.

Did everyone abide by those precepts? Of course not. There are always rebels — and hypocrites, those who publicly endorse the norms but transgress them. But as the saying goes, hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue. Even the deviants rarely disavowed or openly disparaged the prevailing expectations….

… The loss of bourgeois habits seriously impeded the progress of disadvantaged groups. That trend also accelerated the destructive consequences of the growing welfare state, which, by taking over financial support of families, reduced the need for two parents. A strong pro-marriage norm might have blunted this effect. Instead, the number of single parents grew astronomically, producing children more prone to academic failure, addiction, idleness, crime, and poverty.

This cultural script began to break down in the late 1960s. A combination of factors — prosperity, the Pill, the expansion of higher education, and the doubts surrounding the Vietnam War — encouraged an antiauthoritarian, adolescent, wish-fulfillment ideal — sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll — that was unworthy of, and unworkable for, a mature, prosperous adult society….

And those adults with influence over the culture, for a variety of reasons, abandoned their role as advocates for respectability, civility, and adult values. As a consequence, the counterculture made great headway, particularly among the chattering classes — academics, writers, artists, actors, and journalists — who relished liberation from conventional constraints and turned condemning America and reviewing its crimes into a class marker of virtue and sophistication.

All cultures are not equal. Or at least they are not equal in preparing people to be productive in an advanced economy. The culture of the Plains Indians was designed for nomadic hunters, but is not suited to a First World, 21st-century environment. Nor are the single-parent, antisocial habits, prevalent among some working-class whites; the anti-“acting white” rap culture of inner-city blacks; the anti-assimilation ideas gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants. These cultural orientations are not only incompatible with what an advanced free-market economy and a viable democracy require, they are also destructive of a sense of solidarity and reciprocity among Americans. If the bourgeois cultural script — which the upper-middle class still largely observes but now hesitates to preach — cannot be widely reinstated, things are likely to get worse for us all….

… Among those who currently follow the old precepts, regardless of their level of education or affluence, the homicide rate is tiny, opioid addiction is rare, and poverty rates are low. Those who live by the simple rules that most people used to accept may not end up rich or hold elite jobs, but their lives will go far better than they do now. All schools and neighborhoods would be much safer and more pleasant. More students from all walks of life would be educated for constructive employment and democratic participation.

But restoring the hegemony of the bourgeois culture will require the arbiters of culture — the academics, media, and Hollywood — to relinquish multicultural grievance polemics and the preening pretense of defending the downtrodden. Instead of bashing the bourgeois culture, they should return to the 1950s posture of celebrating it.

There’s a nit-picky but not fundamentally damaging commentary here, which follows a positive commentary by Jonathan Haidt, whom I presume to be a neutral party given his political centrism and rigorous approach to the psychology of politics.

As for me, I am skeptical about the restoration of the hegemony of bourgeois culture. It’s my view that when constructive social norms (e.g., work rather than welfare, marriage before children) have been breached on a large scale (as in Charles Murray’s “Fishtown”), they can’t be put back together again. Not on a large scale among persons now living, at least.

It’s true that many aspiring escapees from “Fishtown” (and its equivalents among blacks and Hispanics) will emulate the social norms of the middle and upper-middle classes. Those who are steadfast in their emulation are more likely to escape their respective white, tan, and black “ghettos” than those who don’t try or give up.

But “ghettos” will persist for as long as government provides “freebies” to people for not working, for not marrying, and for having children out of wedlock. And I see no end to to the “freebies” because (a) there are a lot of votes in the “ghettos” and (b) there are too many members of the middle and upper-middle classes — mainly but not exclusively “progressives” — who would rather give a man a fish every day rather than teach him how to fish.

That said, the heated controversy about the Wax-Alexander piece stems from its perceived racism — perceived by the usual, hyper-sensitive suspects. How dare Wax and Alexander drag blacks and Hispanics into their discussion by referring to

  • homicidal violence that plagues inner cities
  • the fact that almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, and even more are raised by single mothers
  • the anti-“acting white” rap culture of inner-city blacks
  • the anti-assimilation ideas gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants

And how dare they assert (quite reasonably) that not all cultures are equal.

So the condemnation began. The thrust of it, of course, is the Wax and Alexander are “racist”.

For her sins, Wax was the target of an open letter of condemnation signed by 33 of her law school colleagues at UPenn. And for his sins, Alexander was singled out for criticism by the dean of USD’s law school.

Turnabout is fair play — or it will be as long as there are vestiges of free speech on college campuses. Tom Smith, a lawprof at USD who blogs at The Right Coast, is mightily miffed about his dean’s response to the Wax-Alexander piece. Smith and seven other USD lawprofs signed a letter which reads, in part:

Yesterday, Stephen Ferruolo, dean of the University of San Diego School of Law, sent to the entire law school community a lengthy email message entitled “Our Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion.” The message began by thanking those who have “expressed their concerns” about an op-ed written by our colleague Larry Alexander and University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax and published last month in the Philadelphia Inquirer…. While acknowledging that Professor Alexander has a right to his views, the dean then declared, “I personally do not agree with those views, nor do I believe that they are representative of the views of our law school community.”…

The dean did not describe the contents of the Alexander-Wax op-ed, and he offered no specifics about what he disagreed with. In the context of the overall message, readers of the dean’s statement will inevitably infer that, at least in the dean’s view, Professor Alexander’s op-ed was in some sense supportive of exclusion or “racial discrimination or cultural subordination.” In effect, the dean adopted the extraordinary measure of singling out a colleague, by name, for a kind of public shaming through unsupported insinuation.

As colleagues of Professor Alexander, we write in response for two principal reasons.

First, the law school community and the interested public should know that Professor Alexander is an honorable, honest man who is not in any way racist…. Just last May, Dean Ferruolo along with the deans of the Yale Law School and the University of Illinois Law School praised Professor Alexander effusively at a conference convened at Yale Law School specifically to discuss and commemorate Professor Alexander’s scholarly contributions in a variety of fields. Considering this distinguished career and unparalleled contribution to the law school, we believe it is unconscionable for a law school dean to subject Professor Alexander to this sort of public shaming.

Second, we are concerned about the harmful effects of the dean’s message for the law school community. A law school and a university should be places where the free exchange of ideas is encouraged, not inhibited…. We have been grateful to study, teach, and write at USD, where in our experience civility and a commitment to freedom of discussion have prevailed. But this commitment is seriously undermined if faculty or students come to perceive that their expression of views disfavored by some may cause them to be singled out for public disapproval by university officials.

We understand that there are limits to the freedom of expression. Anyone, including colleagues and deans, should of course feel free to challenge on the merits the views expressed by other members of the community. As noted, Dean Ferruolo’s email made no attempt to do this. In addition, a member of the university who is shown to promote racist or bigoted views or practices may deserve public censure. However, we challenge the dean or other critics to identify anything in Professor Alexander’s op-ed that expresses or endorses bigotry or “racial discrimination or cultural subordination.”…

Smith continues, in his inimitable style:

I signed onto the letter and I’m grateful to find my name in such distinguished company. More emails and no doubt facebook posts, tweets, blog posts and so forth will no doubt issue in response to these letters. I am breaching my usual dirty bird principle (from the adage, “it’s a dirty bird who fouls his (or her!) own nest”) because this controversy sounds so directly on matters I blog about, sometimes humorously and usually carefully…. [A] man or woman should be entitled to express him or herself in the public prints without having a Dean rain down a ton of politically correct nonsense on his head, for heaven’s sake…. And also, I just have to say, what Larry is calling for (get up in the morning, go to your job, don’t take drugs, don’t have kids out of wedlock, etc., etc.) is rather in line with traditional Catholic teaching, is it not? So if someone says something that is “loudly dogma[tic]”, to coin a phrase, in a newspaper, or at least is consistent with that dogma, he runs the risk of being shamed by the administration of a nominally Catholic law school? That just ain’t rat. Larry of course is not Catholic, he’s a secular Jew, but he’s advocating things that are absolutely in line with what a good or even just sort of good Catholic person would do or practice.

I must say, I feel just a teensy bit neglected myself here. Have I not said things at least as politically incorrect as Larry? What am I, chopped liver? Or whatever the WASP equivalent of chopped liver is? Bologna and mayonnaise perhaps? Celery with peanut butter? Alas, we are but a small blog. But no matter. All in all, this is just a hellova way to thank Larry, who is nearing the end of his career and has given all of it to a small law school when, at least by professional lights, he should have been at a top ten school. And I don’t see how the situation can really be put right at this point. But who knows, perhaps somehow it will be. Meanwhile, the weather finally is beautiful again here today, for what that’s worth.

As for the “racist” label that has been so freely flung at Wax and Alexander, I’ll tell you what’s racist. It’s people like Dean Steve (which is as much of an honorific as he deserves) who assert that it’s racist to advise anyone (of any race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, or whatever other identifying characteristics seem to matter these days) to get a job, stick to it, work hard at it, and take responsibility for yourself.

There are lots of blacks — undoubtedly a majority of them (and many of whom I worked with) — who don’t think such attitudes are racist. But Dean Steve and his ilk seem to believe that such attitudes are racist. Which means that Dean Steve and his ilk are racists, because they believe that all blacks either (a) don’t work hard, etc., and/or (b) are affronted by the idea that hard work, etc., are virtues. How racist can you get?


Related posts:
The Euphemism Conquers All
Superiority
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
Retrospective Virtue-Signalling
Leftist Condescension
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm

Farewell to “Lexington”

The Economist — a boring, “liberal“, opinion-disguised-as-news magazine of British origin — has for some years run a column by “Lexington”. The name refers to the location of an early military engagement of America’s Revolutionary War: Lexington, Massachusetts. The conceit behind the name is that Lexington observes the American scene. The departing Lexington is one David Rennie — a Brit, of course — whose late father had served as head of MI6.

You see immediately the problem with Lexington. He is usually (always?) a smarmy Brit who exudes Oxbridge superiority. (Not long ago, and perhaps still, it was dominated by graduates of Magdalen College of the University of Oxford. You may demonstrate your own superiority by pronouncing Magdalen “correctly” as maudlin.)

The departing Lexington recently issued his valedictory column. It appeared in the print edition of The Economist dated September 9, 2017, under the heading “Indispensable, in Trouble”. (I have capitalized “trouble” despite The Economist‘s annoying practice of capitalizing only the first letter of the first word of a headline, aside from acronyms and the first letter of any proper noun occurring therein. This practice, it seems to me, betrays a shaky grasp of the rules of capitalization — or is a rather feeble attempt at trendiness.) Being disinclined to give The Economist even a farthing, I obtained the article online via this link, which may have expired.

What did the departing Lexington have to say about America in his final attempt (as Lexington) to assert his superiority to the booboisie — those Americans who aren’t members of America’s Europe-envying academic-media-political classes? He did what you would expect these days — he savaged Donald Trump. How tedious.

In keeping with the “fair game” principle of quotation, I herewith quote extensively from the online version of the column, so that I might annotate Lexington’s profundities with my commentary, which is in brackets and italicized:

AS LEXINGTON writes this, his 244th and final column on America, a black-and-white photograph looks down from an office wall. Taken in New York in about 1940, it shows your columnist’s late father, then a serious young man in his 20s, hard at work for a British government agency tasked with bringing America into the second world war. This mission involved both appeals to high-minded principle and to sentiment—tales of British civilian pluck were a staple—to counter the rhetoric of the America First Committee and other isolationists. [But in any event, America entered the war because — and perhaps only because — of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was that which swayed popular opinion, not “hard at work” effete Brits. Similarly, Lexington, who is heeded — if at all — by effete Americans who already agree with him, has wasted his time by writing what follows.]

During two postings to Washington, DC, this Lexington has tried to remember that history lesson. America remains an indispensable nation [for the purpose of rescuing Britain from German aggression and protecting it from Soviet threats?]. But understandably, the will to bear that burden [which Lexington lacks the grace to define] cannot be taken for granted. For Americans to remain open to the world, at once leading and profiting from a post-war order [the United Nations? NATO and other anti-Soviet alliances? globalization?] that their country in large part designed, both heads and hearts must be won. With each new generation, that work needs repeating. [What work needs repeating? The winning of hearts and minds? To what end? To save Britain once again? To protect her from the threat of succumbing to communism, which is already well-entrenched in Britain, though in the guise of liberal democracy? To join in the defense of Europe against a possible attack by Russia, which defense the Europeans themselves are unwilling to lend more than token support? What is he babbling about?]

Enter President Donald Trump [the real reason for this valedictory]. A natural demagogue [unlike Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Lyndon Johnson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Teddy Roosevelt, of course], he spotted how, after years of the war on terror, America was weary of trying to fix an ungrateful world. [Actually, if “America” was weary of anything, it was fighting two foreign wars to little avail, especially after Barack Obama snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Iraq. “Non-America” — the country’s effete elites — never wanted victory in the first place, and it was they who were most tired of foreign wars, as they have been since the end of World War II. Other than foreign wars, there was little to fix, other than to dismantle the economically and socially destructive regulatory-welfare state, unless it was to rearm against growing Russian and Chinese strength and to prevent Iran and North Korea from obtaining nuclear weapons. But those fixes were staunchly opposed by the effete elites who have governed America most of the time since 1900.] He grasped how, at home, millions could conceive of no benign explanation for economic and social changes that worried or disgusted them [“free markets” being a malign explanation in the view of benighted rednecks and effete elites, alike — their sole point of commonality; social changes dictated by effete elites being a truly malign explanation], and heard no argument from the two main parties that reassured them [Republicans generally being too spineless to challenge the conventional wisdom]. He sensed that voters are more [in what ways?] than adding machines, weighing the costs and benefits of this stale tax plan or that tired promise of help. He won in part by understanding how much people need to feel that they are useful, respected and heeded [apparently an understanding beyond the reach of professional politicians]. A better man than Mr Trump could have done great things with that insight [though Lexington doesn’t get around to telling us what those great things are].

In years of reporting from a total of 46 states [in the way that a cross-country flight exposes a traveler to America], a handful of encounters stand out. They showed how, when Americans think they are arguing about points of ideology or fact (or confected para-facts) [“alternative facts”?], they are often wrangling about who is a good person, with a right to be heard. [With this sensible observation, it seemed that Lexington might yet say something insightful. But he let me down.]

Take the wilds of eastern Oregon, where ranchers spent the Obama era fearing that vast tracts of the Owyhee Canyonlands would be declared a national monument, exposing them to lawsuits from eco-absolutists bent on banning cattle from public lands. In early 2016 armed anti-government militants occupied a wildlife refuge to challenge the federal government’s right to own land at all. Visiting a few months later, Lexington heard much technical talk about water rights and grazing permits. But deep down this was a scrap about whether ranchers and miners whose great-grandfathers toiled to tame the sagebrush steppes are trustworthy stewards of the land. That row pits the old West against the new West of hikers and environmentalists, or, as one academic puts it, folk with gun racks against those with bike racks. The ranchers, meanwhile, challenged the standing of the cowboy-hatted anti-government zealots claiming to speak for Oregon. A young farmer noted that most came from out of state, adding: “Those people look like us, but aren’t us.” [But the “zealots” weren’t claiming to speak for “Oregon”, they were making a statement about the federal government’s right to own land — which is to say, seize land. Selective quotation of a young farmer hardly constitutes evidence that the “zealots” were mistaken in their position or entirely unrepresentative of the ranchers and miners of Oregon.]

Partisans on the left sometimes scoff at conservatives ascribing voter anger to “economic anxiety”, arguing that this is really prejudice at work. In real life, differing forms of anxiety cannot easily be separated [a statement which may be true but is irrelevant to what follows]. In 2012 the state of Wisconsin commissioned a scientific report into why middle-aged men were buying fewer licences to hunt deer. That sounds a dry premise. But tugging at that thread unravelled a vast, tangled skein of male angst. With women gaining economic and social power, the study found, men feel less able to head to the woods for a week’s deer camp, supremely confident in their authority as breadwinners. To be good fathers, they feel less able to skip children’s sports. “The ladies all hollered at me,” one research subject recalled after a deer-related conflict, in tones of baffled hurt. [This is just another selective and ridiculous quotation. What’s the point? That there was anxiety for Trump to exploit? Every presidential candidate since George Washington has exploited anxiety of one kind or another. Tell me something new.]

Mr Trump did not invent partisan divisions [changing the subject after introducing anxiety to no apparent end]. The 2012 presidential elections, a joyless slog [compared with what?], saw President Barack Obama traduce the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney as a heartless plutocrat and thus “not one of us”. Republicans leant heavily on slogans that lauded hard-working, taxpaying “makers” and scorning welfare-collecting “takers” [which is quite a reasonable thing to do, when facts are faced]. Millions of voters were willing to believe that Democrats won office by giving free stuff to the lazy on their dime [and they were quite right, though many of those voters were also takers of free stuff]. But they also growled that Republicans were the party that looked out for bosses, not them [because they have been brainwashed to believe in the zero-sum game called “income distribution”]. A machine repairman from Waukesha, Wisconsin, encountered during a factory visit by Mr Obama after his re-election, summarised, brilliantly, his moral code of work. “People ought to get off their duffs and get a job, but I’d like it to be a job that pays well,” he explained [as if there were an entitlement to a job that pays “well”, i.e., a lot more than his job paid]. He trusted neither party to deliver this package in its entirety [and if he did, he would be guilty of believing in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Genie of the Lamp].

Deadbeats v deplorables

A focus group of Trump supporters in December 2015 offered early clues that the businessman had found a way to escape voter distrust of traditional politicians. His backers spent three hours excusing their hero of each contradiction or untruth alleged by his foes. In part, this reflected their liking for certain policies: the proposed ban on Muslims, or the border wall. But an unforgettable moment came when the Trump fans were asked about Barack Obama, and responded with furious, vitriolic resentment. Everything we are good at in America, Mr Obama tells us it is a bad thing, said a woman. Another disgustedly compared the then-president to “a disappointed parent”. With Mr Trump, it was the opposite. His supporters basked in his approval. He was a fantastically successful man, who validated how they saw the world. [Of course, the contemporary supporters of Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama would never, ever hold such attitudes about their heroes and their heroes’ antagonists. So what else is new, and what does it have to do with Trump’s actual policies as set forth in his budget, his cabinet appointments, his judicial nominations, and his regulatory rollbacks?]

There are plausible scenarios in which Mr Trump, a cynical and undisciplined bully [whose children, oddly seem to love and respect him], brings catastrophe to the country that Lexington was raised to love, and where both his children were born [and even more plausible scenarios in which President Trump, regardless of the name-calling that Lexington and his ilk indulge, is actually able to rescue America from its downward spiral into economic stagnation, military impotence, and politically correct oppression]. For now consider a disaster that is already certain. Mr Trump has a rare understanding of how change has left millions feeling disrespected, abused and alienated from mainstream politics. Alas, he has used that gift only to divide his country, for selfish ends [unlike Lexington and his ilk, whose effete elitism and name-calling is sure to unite the country]. This [column] is a tragic waste.

I have seldom encountered so many words with so little substantive content.

There will be another Lexington, unfortunately, and another after that one, and so on. Unless, mercifully, The Economist folds.

-30-

Hurricane Hysteria

UPDATED 09/15/17 AND 09/16/17

Yes, hurricanes are bad things when they kill and injure people, destroy property, and saturate the soil with seawater. But hurricanes are in the category of “stuff happens”.

Contrary to the true believers in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW), hurricanes are not the fault of human beings. Hurricanes are not nature’s “retribution” for mankind’s “sinful” ways, such as the use of fossil fuels.

How do I know? Because there are people who actually look at the numbers. See, for example, “Hate on Display: Climate Activists Go Bonkers Over #Irma and Nonexistent Climate Connection” by Anthony Watts  (Watts Up With That?, September 11, 2017). See also Michel de Rougement’s “Correlation of Accumulated Cyclone Energy and Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillations” (Watts Up With That?, September 4, 2017).

M. de Rougemont’s post addresses accumulated cyclone energy (ACE):

The total energy accumulated each year by tropical storms and hurricanes (ACE) is also showing such a cyclic pattern.

NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division explanations on ACE: “the ACE is calculated by squaring the maximum sustained surface wind in the system every six hours (knots) and summing it up for the season. It is expressed in 104 kt2.” Direct instrumental observations are available as monthly series since 1848. A historic reconstruction since 1851 was done by NOAA (yearly means).

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Figure 2 Yearly accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) ACE_7y: centered running average over 7 years

A correlation between ACE and AMO [Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation] is confirmed by regression analysis.

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Figure 3 Correlation ACE=f(AMO), using the running averages over 7 years. AMO: yearly means of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillations ACE_7y: yearly observed accumulated cyclone energy ACE_calc: calculated ACE by using the indicated formula.

Regression formula:

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Thus, a simple, linear relation ties ACE to AMO, in part directly, and in part with an 18 years delay. The correlation coefficient is astonishingly good.

Anthony Watts adds fuel to this fire (or ice to this cocktail) in “Report: Ocean Cycles, Not Humans, May Be Behind Most Observed Climate Change” (Watts Up With That?, September 15, 2017). There, he discusses a report by Anastosios Tsonis, which I have added to the list of related readings, below:

… Anastasios Tsonis, emeritus distinguished professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, describes new and cutting-edge research into natural climatic cycles, including the well known El Nino cycle and the less familiar North Atlantic Oscillation and Pacific Decadal Oscillation.

He shows how interactions between these ocean cycles have been shown to drive changes in the global climate on timescales of several decades.

Professor Tsonis says:

We can show that at the start of the 20th century, the North Atlantic Oscillation pushed the global climate into a warming phase, and in 1940 it pushed it back into cooling mode. The famous “pause” in global warming at the start of the 21st century seems to have been instigated by the North Atlantic Oscillation too.

In fact, most of the changes in the global climate over the period of the instrumental record seem to have their origins in the North Atlantic.

Tsonis’ insights have profound implications for the way we view calls for climate alarm.

It may be that another shift in the North Atlantic could bring about another phase shift in the global climate, leading to renewed cooling or warming for several decades to come.

These climatic cycles are entirely natural, and can tell us nothing about the effect of carbon dioxide emissions. But they should inspire caution over the slowing trajectory of global warming we have seen in recent decades.

As Tsonis puts it:

While humans may play a role in climate change, other natural forces may play important roles too.

There are other reasons to be skeptical of CAGW, and even of AGW. For one thing, temperature records are notoriously unreliable, especially records from land-based thermometers. (See, for example, these two posts at Watt’s Up With That?: “Press Release – Watts at #AGU15 The Quality of Temperature Station Siting Matters for Temperature Trends” by Anthony Watts on December 17, 2015, and “Ooops! Australian BoM Climate Readings May Be invalid Due To Lack of Calibration“, on September 11, 2017.) And when those records aren’t skewed by siting and lack-of-coverage problems, they’re skewed by fudging the numbers to “prove” CAGW. (See my post, “Global-Warming Hype“, August 22, 2017.) Moreover, the models that “prove” CAGW and AGW are terrible, to put it bluntly. (Again, see “Global-Warming Hype“, and also Dr. Tim Ball’s post of September 16, 2017, “Climate Models Can’t Even Approximate Reality Because Atmospheric Structure and Movements are Virtually Unknown” at Watts Up With That?)

It’s certainly doubtful that NOAA’s reconstruction of ACE is accurate and consistent as far back as 1851. I hesitate to give credence to a data series that predates the confluence of satellite observations, ocean-buoys, and specially equipped aircraft. The history of weather satellites casts doubt on the validity of aggregate estimates for any period preceding the early 1960s.

As it happens, the data sets for tropical cyclone activity that are maintained by the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University cover all six of the relevant ocean basins as far back as 1972. And excluding the North Indian Ocean basin — which is by far the least active — the coverage goes back to 1961 (and beyond).

Here’s a graph of the annual values for each basin from 1961 through 2016:

Here’s a graph of the annual totals for 1961-2016, without the North Indian Ocean basin:

The red line is the sum of ACE for all five basins, including the Northwest Pacific basin; the yellow line in the sum of ACE for four basins, including the Northeast Pacific basin; etc.

The exclusion of the North Indian Ocean basin makes little difference in the totals, which look like this with the inclusion of that basin:

I have these observations about the numbers represented in the preceding graphs:

If one is a believer in CAGW (the G stands for global), it is a lie (by glaring omission) to focus on random, land-falling hurricanes hitting the U.S.

Tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic basin, which includes storms that hit the U.S., is not a major factor in the level of global activity.

The level of activity in the North Atlantic basin is practically flat between 1961 and 2016.

The overall level of activity is practically flat between 1961 and 2016, with the exception of spikes that seem to coincide with strong El Niño events.

There is a “pause” in the overall level of activity between the late 1990s and 2015 (with the exception of an El Niño-related spike in 2004). The pause coincides with the pause in global temperatures, which suggests an unsurprising correlation between the level of tropical cyclone activity and the warming of the globe — or lack thereof. But it doesn’t explain that warming, and climate models that “explain” it primarily as a function of the accumulation of atmospheric CO2 are notoriously unreliable.

In fact, NOAA’s reconstruction of ACE in the North Atlantic basin — which, if anything, probably understates ACE before the early 1960s — is rather suggestive:

The recent spikes in ACE are not unprecedented. And there are many prominent spikes that predate the late-20th-century temperature rise on which “warmism” is predicated.

I am very sorry for the victims of Harvey, Irma, and every other weather-related disaster — and of every other disaster, whether man-made or not. But I am not about to reduce my carbon footprint because of the Luddite hysterics who dominate and cling to the quasi-science of climatology.


Other related reading:
Ron Clutz, “Temperatures According to Climate Models“, Science Matters, March 24, 2015
Dr. Tim Ball, “Long-Term Climate Change: What Is a Reasonable Sample Size?“, Watts Up With That?, February 7, 2016
The Global Warming Policy Foundation, Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications, and the Scientific Method, 2017
John Mauer, “Through the Looking Glass with NASA GISS“, Watts Up With That?, February 22, 2017
George White, “A Consensus of Convenience“, Watts Up With That?, August 20, 2017
Jennifer Marohasy, “Most of the Recent Warming Could be Natural“, Jennifer Marohasy, August 21, 2017
Anthony Watts, “What You Need to Know and Are Not Told about Hurricanes“, Watts Up With That?, September 15, 2017
Anastasios Tsonis, The Little Boy: El Niño and Natural Climate Change, Global Warming Policy Foundation, GWPF Report 26, 2017

Other related posts:
AGW: The Death Knell (with many links to related reading and earlier posts)
Not-So-Random Thoughts (XIV) (second item)
AGW in Austin?
Understanding Probability: Pascal’s Wager and Catastrophic Global Warming
The Precautionary Principle and Pascal’s Wager
AGW in Austin? (II) (with more links to related reading)

“Look That Up in Your Funk & Wagnall’s”

The title of this post is a catchphrase from Laugh In (1968-1973), a weekly comedy show that I sometimes found funny, sometimes found amusing, and often found stupid. I bring it up because my parents owned a Funk & Wagnall’s encyclopedia. It was of a 1940s vintage, though I don’t remember perusing it until 1953, when we moved to a house with a built-in living-room bookcase, where the volumes occupied a prominent spot.

In any event, I looked at and into the encyclopedia so often from 1953 until I left for college in 1958 that I still remember the alphabetic divisions noted on the spines of the volumes:

I recall that there was also a final volume which contained a comprehensive index. And there were some “yearbook” updates.

Note the preponderance of words beginning with letters in the first half of the alphabet. Entries with letters beginning with “n” through “z” occupy only 7-plus of the 25 volumes.

What happened to the set? I don’t know. My mother moved out of the house in 1990, not long after the death of my father. Her next abode was much smaller, and the encyclopedia wasn’t in it. I never thought to ask her what happened to it. And now she is beyond asking — having died a few years ago at the age of 99.

Thank you for indulging this bit of nostalgia.

The Dual Life of a Conservative

I suspect that many conservatives who write about politics lead two lives, as I do. One life is the life of intellectual engagement. The other life is the business of life itself: marrying, raising children, working, paying bills, taking the car in for service, buying groceries, and the thousand other things that make the years seem to roll by so quickly.

I suspect that I’m a typical conservative in that my mundane life isn’t politicized; for example:

I don’t choose the companies that I patronize because they support or oppose divestiture of Israeli bonds or oil-company stocks, unisex bathrooms, “green” energy, or any of the other causes du jour. I choose the companies I patronize because they deliver good value for the money I spend or invest there.

I certainly don’t patronize a grocery chain because of its owners’ politics. Why would I waste money at Whole Foods just because its founder, John Mackey, is supposed to be some kind of libertarian?

I didn’t send my children to private schools (of the right kind) so that they could avoid the left-wing indoctrination that prevailed in the public schools where they grew up.

I listen to music and read books composed, performed, or written by persons whose left-wing views are widely known and often evident in their works. Though I won’t tolerate outright preachiness (shut up and sing), I enjoy that which is good on its own merits and disregard the politics of those who create or present it.

I watch most of the shows presented by PBS on Masterpiece, despite the subsidies it receives directly and indirectly from the federal government. Again, it’s a matter of quality over politics. For the same reason I eschew bombastic “conservatives” like Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh, whose shtick is as boring to me as that of any left-wing commentator.

I have absolutely no interest in the political leanings of the people I meet, and recoil when they insist on exposing their leanings (as leftists are wont to do). I take people as they come; that is, I evaluate them on the basis of their demonstrated competence, honesty, reliability, sense of humor, and likeability.

Most importantly, my marriage remains strong and happy despite the disparity between my wife’s political views and mine.

In daily life, then, my conservatism reveals itself as non-ideological and pragmatic. Non-ideological because conservatism isn’t an ideology, it’s a disposition. Pragmatic because the conservative disposition prefers the demonstrated value of a person or thing to the symbols of virtue or “correctness” which may attach to that person or thing.


Related posts:
More about Conservative Governance
The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote
Economically Liberal, Socially Conservative
The Internet-Media-Academic Complex vs. Real Life
Rescuing Conservatism
If Men Were Angels
Death of a Nation
Leftism
Libertarianism, Conservatism, and Political Correctness

Trump Is Closing In on Obama

UPDATED WITH AN ADDENDUM, 09/08/17

I posted “Trump vs. Obama” on August 15. I said (in part) that

Trump’s recent upswing [in popularity] relative to Obama [at the same stage of his presidency] reflects not only a slight softening of opinions about Trump’s presidency, but also the rapid decline in Obama’s popularity in the summer of 2009….

Given the media’s incessant attacks on Trump, it seems unlikely that he’ll ever gain parity with Obama — whose negative ratings were based on his actual (and abysmal) performance.

Then came the riot in Charlottesville and Trump’s politically incorrect (but correct) assignment of blame to “all sides” — including the fascists of the Antifa movement. That episode is now in the distant past, inasmuch as events more than a few days old are ancient history in the media’s view.

At any rate, Trump’s upswing relative to Obama has resumed. Here’s the story:


Derived from polling statistics for Obama and Trump published by Rasmussen Reports.

Each line represents the ratio of favorable to unfavorable views. Values above 1 mean that the favorables outweigh the unfavorables; values below 1 mean that the unfavorables outweigh the favorables. The light-blue and light-red lines track the 7-day averages of Obama and Trump’s overall ratings with likely voters. The dark-blue and dark-red lines track the 7-day averages of Obama and Trump’s ratings with likely voters who express strong approval or disapproval.

Trump’s comparative disadvantage continues to shrink. Here are ratios of the ratios plotted in the first graph:

It now seems possible that Trump can become more popular — or less unpopular — than Obama was. Stay tuned.

ADDENDUM

Some readers may be uncomfortable with ratios and ratios of ratios, so the graph below plots Rasmussen’s presidential approval ratings for Obama and Trump, and the difference between them. Rasmussen’s presidential approval ratings are simply the arithmetic difference between the percentage of respondents who express strong approval and the percentage who express strong disapproval. Obama’s net advantage/disadvantage is just the arithmetic difference between the ratings for Obama and Trump.

The patterns are the same as those in the preceding graphs. Trump is still underwater but is nevertheless catching up to Obama, who was sinking fast eight years ago.

Babe Ruth and the Hot-Hand Hypothesis

According to Wikipedia, the so-called hot-hand fallacy is that “a person who has experienced success with a seemingly random event has a greater chance of further success in additional attempts.” The article continues:

[R]esearchers for many years did not find evidence for a “hot hand” in practice. However, later research has questioned whether the belief is indeed a fallacy. More recent studies using modern statistical analysis have shown that there is evidence for the “hot hand” in some sporting activities.

I won’t repeat the evidence cited in the Wikipedia article, nor will I link to the many studies about the hot-hand effect. You can follow the link and read it all for yourself.

What I will do here is offer an analysis that supports the hot-hand hypothesis, taking Babe Ruth as a case in point. Ruth was a regular position player (non-pitcher) from 1919 through 1934. In that span of 16 seasons he compiled 688 home runs (HR) in 7,649 at-bats (AB) for an overall record of 0.0900 HR/AB. Here are the HR/AB tallies for each of the 16 seasons:

Year HR/AB
1919 0.067
1920 0.118
1921 0.109
1922 0.086
1923 0.079
1924 0.087
1925 0.070
1926 0.095
1927 0.111
1928 0.101
1929 0.092
1930 0.095
1931 0.086
1932 0.090
1933 0.074
1934 0.060

Despite the fame that accrues to Ruth’s 1927 season, when he hit 60 home runs, his best season for HR/AB came in 1920. In 1919, Ruth set a new single-season record with 29 HR. He almost doubled that number in 1920, getting 54 HR in 458 AB for 0.118 HR/AB.

Here’s what that season looks like, in graphical form:

The word for it is “streaky”, which isn’t surprising. That’s the way of most sports. Streaks include not only cold spells but also hot spells. Look at the relatively brief stretches in which Ruth was shut out in the HR department. And look at the relatively long stretches in which he readily exceeded his HR/AB for the season. (For more about the hot and and streakiness, see Brett Green and Jeffrey Zwiebel, “The Hot-Hand Fallacy: Cognitive Mistakes or Equilibrium Adjustments? Evidence from Major League Baseball“, Stanford Graduate School of Business, Working Paper No. 3101, November 2013.)

The same pattern can be inferred from this composite picture of Ruth’s 1919-1934 seasons:

Here’s another way to look at it:

If hitting home runs were a random thing — which they would be if the hot hand were a fallacy — the distribution would be tightly clustered around the mean of 0.0900 HR/AB. Nor would there be a gap between 0 HR/AB and the 0.03 to 0.06 bin. In fact, the gap is wider than that; it goes from 0 to 0.042 HR/AB. When Ruth broke out of a home-run slump, he broke out with a vengeance, because he had the ability to do so.

In other words, Ruth’s hot streaks weren’t luck. They were the sum of his ability and focus (or “flow“); he was “putting it all together”. The flow was broken at times — by a bit of bad luck, a bout of indigestion, a lack of sleep, a hangover, an opponent who “had his number”, etc. But a great athlete like Ruth bounces back and put it all together again and again, until his skills fade to the point that he can’t overcome his infirmities by waiting for his opponents to make mistakes.

The hot hand is the default condition for a great player like a Ruth or a Cobb. The cold hand is the exception until the great player’s skills finally wither. And there’s no sharp dividing line between the likes of Cobb and Ruth and lesser mortals. Anyone who has the ability to play a sport at a professional level (and many an amateur, too) will play with a hot hand from time to time.

The hot hand isn’t a fallacy or a matter of pure luck (or randomness). It’s an artifact of skill.


Related posts:
Flow
Fooled by Non-Randomness
Randomness Is Over-Rated
Luck and Baseball, One More Time
Pseudoscience, “Moneyball,” and Luck
Ty Cobb and the State of Science
The American League’s Greatest Hitters: III

Thinking the Unthinkable about North Korea

Propositions for discussion:

1. The U.S. and South Korea jointly launch preemptive attacks on North Korea’s nukes and the conventional forces that could unleash a retaliatory attack on South Korea.

2. North Korea’s subsequent retaliation against South Korea is likely to be less damaging to South Korea than if North Korea had launched first.

3. North Korea’s retaliation against the U.S. and other countries (e.g., Japan) is likely to be less damaging to the U.S. and those other countries than if North Korea had been allowed to further develop its nukes and then launched first.

4. Preemption by the U.S. and South Korea therefore comes down to four calculations:

a. Could the U.S. and South Korea act swiftly and surely enough to effect an overwhelming preemptive attack, or would preparations for an attack trigger devastating preemption by North Korea?

b. What is the likelihood that unfettered development of North Korea’s nukes would lead to their first use, either directly or as backing for military-economic blackmail?

c. What is the likelihood that the PRC would respond militarily to preemption by the U.S. and South Korea, and what would be the scope of such a response? (I assume away economic retaliation absent military retaliation. If the Chinese are truly bent on intervening, they are unlikely to settle for a half-measure that would severely harm the economy of the PRC.)

d. What would be the effect of preemption on “world opinion” toward the U.S. and South Korea. (Not that I believe in the importance of “world opinion or give a rat’s ass about it, but there are those who do — even some in Trump’s administration.)


Related posts:
Parsing Peace
The Best Defense . . .
The Media, the Left, and War
Delusions of Preparedness
A Grand Strategy for the United States
The Folly of Pacifism
Why We Should (and Should Not) Fight
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
Preemptive War
Preemptive War and Iran
Some Thoughts and Questions about Preemptive War
Pacifism

Politics Trumps Economics

Years ago I was conversing with a hard-core economist, one of the benighted kind who assume that everyone behaves like a wealth-maximizing robot. I observed that even if he were right in his presumption that economic decisions are made rationally and in a way that comports with economic efficiency, government stands in the way of efficiency. In my pithy phrasing: Politics trumps economics.

So even if the impetus for efficiency isn’t blunted by governmental acts (laws, regulations, judicial decrees), those acts nevertheless stand in the way of efficiency, despite clever workarounds. A simple case in point is the minimum wage, which doesn’t merely drive up the wages of some workers, but also ensures that many workers are unemployed in the near term, and that many more workers will be unemployed in the long-term. Yes, the minimum wage causes some employers to substitute capital (e.g., robots) for labor, but they do so only to reduce the bottom-line damage of the minimum wage (at least in the near-term). Neither the employer nor the jobless is made better off by the employer’s machinations. Thus politics (the urge to regulate) trumps economics (the efficiency-maximizing state of affairs that would otherwise obtain).

I was reminded of my exchange with the economist by a passage in Jean-François Revel’s Last Exit to Utopia: The Survival of Socialism in a Post-Soviet Era:

Karl Jaspers, in his essay on Max Weber, records the following conversation between Weber and Joseph Schumpeter:

The two men met at a Vienna cafe… Schumpter indicated how gratified he was by the socialist revolution in Russia. Henceforth socialism would not be just a program on paper — it would have to prove its viability.

To which Weber … replied that Communism at this stage of development in Russia virtually amounted to a crime, and that to take this path would lead to human misery without equal and to a terrible catastrophe.

“That’s exactly what will happen,” agreed Schumpeter, “but what a perfect laboratory experiment.”

“A laboratory in which mountains of corpses will be heaped!” retorted Weber….

This exchange must have occurred at the beginning of the Bolshevik regime, since Max Weber died in 1920. Thus one of the twentieth century’s greatest sociologists and one of its greatest economists were in substantial agreement about Communism: they had no illusions about it and were fully aware of its criminogenic tendencies. On one issue, though, they differed. Schumpeter was still in thrall to a belief that Weber did not share, namely the illusion that the failures and crimes of Communism would serve as a lesson to humanity. [pp. 141-142]

Weber was right, of course. Politics trumps economics because people — especially people in power — will cling to counterproductive beliefs, even despite evidence that they are counterproductive. Facts and logic don’t stand a chance against power-lust, magical thinking, virtue-signalling, and the band-wagon effect.


Related posts:
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
A Keynesian Fantasy Land
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Income Inequality and Economic Growth
A Case for Redistribution, Not Made
Ruminations on the Left in America
Academic Ignorance
Superiority
Whiners
A Dose of Reality
God-Like Minds
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
The Rahn Curve Revisited
Retrospective Virtue-Signalling
Four Kinds of “Liberals”
Leftist Condescension
The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm
What’s Going On? A Stealth Revolution

Pattern-Seeking

UPDATED 09/04/17

Scientists and analysts are reluctant to accept the “stuff happens” explanation for similar but disconnected events. The blessing and curse of the scientific-analytic mind is that it always seeks patterns, even where there are none to be found.

UPDATE 1

The version of this post that appears at Ricochet includes the following comments and replies:

Comment — Cool stuff, but are you thinking of any particular patter/maybe-not-pattern in particular?

My reply — The example that leaps readily to mind is “climate change”, the gospel of which is based on the fleeting (25-year) coincidence of rising temperatures and rising CO2 emissions. That, in turn, leads to the usual kind of hysteria about “climate change” when something like Harvey occurs.

Comment — It’s not a coincidence when the numbers are fudged.

My reply — The temperature numbers have been fudged to some extent, but even qualified skeptics accept the late 20th century temperature rise and the long-term rise in CO2. What’s really at issue is the cause of the temperature rise. The true believers seized on CO2 to the near-exclusion of other factors. How else could they then justify their puritanical desire to control the lives of others, or (if not that) their underlying anti-scientific mindset which seeks patterns instead of truths.

Another example, which applies to non-scientists and (some) scientists, is the identification of random arrangements of stars as “constellations”, simply because they “look” like something. Yet another example is the penchant for invoking conspiracy theories to explain (or rationalize) notorious events.

Returning to science, it is pattern-seeking which drives scientists to develop explanations that are later discarded and even discredited as wildly wrong. I list a succession of such explanations in my post “The Science Is Settled“.

UPDATE 2

Political pundits, sports writers, and sports commentators are notorious for making predictions that rely on tenuous historical parallels. I herewith offer an example, drawn from this very blog.

Here is the complete text of “A Baseball Note: The 2017 Astros vs. the 1951 Dodgers“, which I posted on the 14th of last month:

If you were following baseball in 1951 (as I was), you’ll remember how that season’s Brooklyn Dodgers blew a big lead, wound up tied with the New York Giants at the end of the regular season, and lost a 3-game playoff to the Giants on Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ’round the world” in the bottom of the 9th inning of the final playoff game.

On August 11, 1951, the Dodgers took a doubleheader from the Boston Braves and gained their largest lead over the Giants — 13 games. The Dodgers at that point had a W-L record of 70-36 (.660), and would top out at .667 two games later. But their W-L record for the rest of the regular season was only .522. So the Giants caught them and went on to win what is arguably the most dramatic playoff in the history of professional sports.

The 2017 Astros peaked earlier than the 1951 Dodgers, attaining a season-high W-L record of .682 on July 5, and leading the second-place team in the AL West by 18 games on July 28. The Astros’ lead has dropped to 12 games, and the team’s W-L record since the July 5 peak is only .438.

The Los Angeles Angels might be this year’s version of the 1951 Giants. The Angels have come from 19 games behind the Astros on July 28, to trail by 12. In that span, the Angels have gone 11-4 (.733).

Hold onto your hats.

Since I wrote that, the Angels have gone 10-9, while the Astros have gone gone 12-8 and increased their lead over the Angels to 13.5 games. It’s still possible that the Astros will collapse and the Angels will surge. But the contest between the two teams no longer resembles the Dodgers-Giants duel of 1951, when the Giants had closed to 5.5 games behind the Dodgers at this point in the season.

My “model” of the 2017 contest between the Astros and Angels was on a par with the disastrously wrong models that “prove” the inexorability of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. The models are disastrously wrong because they are being used to push government policy in counterproductive directions: wasting money on “green energy” while shutting down efficient sources of energy at the cost of real jobs and economic growth.


Related posts:
Hemibel Thinking
The Limits of Science
The Thing about Science
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
What’s Wrong with Game Theory
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
Pseudo-Science in the Service of Political Correctness
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
Mathematical Economics
Modeling Is Not Science
Beware the Rare Event
Physics Envy
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
We, the Children of the Enlightenment
In Defense of Subjectivism
The Atheism of the Gaps
The Ideal as a False and Dangerous Standard
Demystifying Science
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
Luck and Baseball, One More Time
Are the Natural Numbers Supernatural?
The Candle Problem: Balderdash Masquerading as Science
More about Luck and Baseball
Combinatorial Play
Pseudoscience, “Moneyball,” and Luck
The Fallacy of Human Progress
Pinker Commits Scientism
Spooky Numbers, Evolution, and Intelligent Design
Mind, Cosmos, and Consciousness
The Limits of Science (II)
The Pretence of Knowledge
“The Science Is Settled”
Verbal Regression Analysis, the “End of History,” and Think-Tanks
The Limits of Science, Illustrated by Scientists
Some Thoughts about Probability
Rationalism, Empiricism, and Scientific Knowledge
The “Marketplace” of Ideas
Time and Reality
My War on the Misuse of Probability
Ty Cobb and the State of Science
Revisiting the “Marketplace” of Ideas
The Technocratic Illusion
Is Science Self-Correcting?
Taleb’s Ruinous Rhetoric
Words Fail Us
Fine-Tuning in a Wacky Wrapper
Tricky Reasoning
Modeling Revisited
Bayesian Irrationality
The Fragility of Knowledge

Libertarianism, Conservatism, and Political Correctness

Why do conservatives and libertarians generally eschew political correctness? Because we take individual persons as they come, and evaluate each them on his merits.

That is to say, we reject stereotyping, and political correctness is just another form of stereotyping. Instead of insisting on something foolish like “all blacks are criminals”, political correctness leans the other way and insists that it is wrong to believe or say anything negative of blacks — or of any other group that has been condescendingly identified as “victims” by leftists.

Group differences matter mainly to the extent that they affect the likely success or (more likely) failure of government interventions aimed at defeating human nature. They also matter to the extent that human beings — including members of all racial and ethic groups — tend to prefer like to unlike (e.g., the preference of “liberal” white yuppies to live in enclaves of “liberal” white yuppies). But such matters have nothing to do with the conservative-libertarian disposition to treat individuals, when encountered as individuals, with the respect (or disrespect) due to them — as individuals.

In that regard, the conservative disposition is especially instructive. A conservative will not rush to judgment (pro or con) based on superficial characteristics, but will judge a person by what he actually says and does in situations that test character and ability. For example, I distinguish between leftists of my acquaintance who are at bottom kind but politically naive, and those whose political views reflect their inner nastiness.

Leftists, in their usual mindless way, take the opposite view and presume that the superficial characteristics that define a group count for more than the character and ability of each member of the group. Political correctness is of a piece with the intellectual laziness that characterizes leftism.


Related posts:
Academic Bias
Intellectuals and Capitalism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
Academic Ignorance
The Euphemism Conquers All
Superiority
Whiners
A Dose of Reality
God-Like Minds
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Retrospective Virtue-Signalling
The Left and Violence
Four Kinds of “Liberals”
Leftist Condescension
The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy
The Left and Evergreen State: Reaping What Was Sown
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm
Leftism (page) and related bibliography

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Stagnation: ‘Tis a Tale Told by the Stock Market

I have just come across two articles about the shrinking number of firms listed on U.S. stock exchanges:

Kathleen Kahle and René M. Stulz, “Is the American Public Corporation in Trouble?”, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Volume 31, Number 3, Summer 2017

Michael J. Mauboussin, Dan Callahan, and Darius Majd, “The Incredible Shrinking Universe of Stocks: The Causes and Consequences of Fewer U.S. Equities“, Credit Suisse, Global Financial Strategies, March 22, 2017

I will refer to the first article as K&S and the second article as MC&M. (Despite the publication dates, K&S predates MC&M.) The articles tell this tale:

  • From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, the number of listed companies rose sharply.
  • Since the min-1990s, the number of listed companies has dropped sharply.
  • The declining number of listed companies has been accompanied by consolidation within many industries and — among the surviving firms — greater size, higher profits, bigger payouts to shareholders, and higher average market capitalization (market value of outstanding shares).

Here are some relevant observations from K&S:

If consolidation has nothing to do with being a public firm, we should see the total number of firms decreasing, whether firms are public or private. We don’t. The United States has become an economy dominated by service industries, and so a good way to demonstrate this is to look at the service industries. Even though the number of firms in the service industries increases by 30 percent from 1995 to 2014 and employment increases by 240 percent, the number of public firms falls by 38 percent. A similar evolution occurs in the finance industry, in which the number of firms increases by 18.7 percent from 1995 to 2014, but over the same time the number of listed firms falls by 42.3 percent. Further, … the propensity of firms to be listed … falls across all firm-size categories when size is measured by employment….

The drop in the propensity to be listed suggests that there is a problem with being a public firm…. In the United States, corporate law is governed by state of incorporation, but public firms are subject to federal securities laws. As a result, Congress can regulate public firms in ways that it cannot regulate private firms….

Our data show that the fraction of small public firms has dropped dramatically…. [T]he drop in initial public offerings is particularly acute among small firms. Why are public markets no longer welcoming for small firms?… [R]esearch and development investments have become more important. Generally, R&D is financed with some form of equity rather than debt, at least in early stages before a firm has accumulated lucrative patents. Raising equity in public markets to fund R&D can be difficult. Investors want to know what they invest in, but the more a firm discloses, the more it becomes at risk of providing ammunition to its competitors. As a result, R&D-intensive firms may be better off raising equity privately from investors who then have large stakes….

There are several additional potential explanations for why small firms are staying out of public markets… First, public markets have become dominated by institutional investors…. Investing in really small firms is unattractive for institutional investors, because they cannot easily invest in a small firm on a scale that works for them. As a result, small firms receive less attention and less support from financial institutions. This makes being public less valuable for these firms. Second, developments in financial intermediation and regulatory changes have made it easier to raise funds as a private firm. Private equity and venture capital firms have grown to provide funding and other services to private firms. The internet has reduced search costs for firms searching for investors. As a result, private firms have come to have relatively easier access to funding.

… According to [the economies of scope] hypothesis, small firms have become less profitable and less able to grow on a stand-alone basis, but are more profitable as part of a larger organization that enables them to scale up quickly and efficiently. Thus, small firms are better off selling themselves to a large organization that can bring a product to market faster and realize economies of scope. This dynamic arises partly because it has become important to get big quickly as technological innovation has accelerated. Globalization also means that firms must be able to access global markets quickly. Further, network and platform effects can make it more advantageous for small firms to take advantage of these effects by being acquired. This hypothesis is consistent with our evidence that the fraction of exchange-listed firms with losses has increased and that average cash flows for smaller firms have dropped…. [M]any mergers do involve small firms, so small firms do indeed choose to be acquired rather than grow as public firms.

The increased concentration we document could also make it harder for small firms to succeed on their own, as large established firms are more entrenched and more dominant….

[Gerald] Davis … argues [in The Vanishing American Corporation] that it has become easier to put a new product on the market without hard assets…. When all the pieces necessary to produce a product can be outsourced and rented, a firm can bring a product to market without large capital requirements. Hence, the firm does not need to go public to raise vast amounts of equity to acquire the fixed assets necessary for production… Ford’s largest production facility in the 1940s, the River Rouge complex, employed more than 100,000 workers at its peak. Of today’s largest US firms, only Amazon has substantially more employees than that complex at its peak. With this evolution, there is no point in going public, except to enable owners to cash out.

These explanations imply that there are fewer public firms both because it has become harder to succeed as a public firm and also because the benefits of being public have fallen. As a result, firms are acquired rather than growing organically. This process results in fewer thriving small public firms that challenge larger firms and eventually succeed in becoming large. A possible downside of this evolution is that larger firms may be able to worry less about competition, can become more set in their ways, and do not have to innovate and invest as much as they would with more youthful competition. Further, small firms are not as ambitious and often choose the path of being acquired rather than succeeding in public markets. With these possible explanations, the developments we document can be costly, leading to less investment, less growth, and less dynamism.

This is all consistent with the creeping stagnation of the U.S. economy, as it collapses under the weight of government spending and regulation:

Global Warming Hype

The subtitle of this post should be “much ado (by warmists) about very little (temperature change)”. What I have to say here will come as no surprise to a reader who is familiar with and impervious to global-warming hysteria. But the subject has been on my mind during these hot months of summer in Texas, which always stimulate a righteous sermon about global warming by our local weather Nazi.

I have downloaded two databases of global temperature estimates: the “official” GISS set (here) and the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH) set for the lower troposphere (here and here).

The GISS set comprises surface thermometer records going back to January 1880. It takes a lot a massaging to construct a monthly time series of “global” temperatures that spans 137 years, with spotty coverage of Earth’s surface (even now), and wide variability in site conditions, among other problems that can occur in a not-truly-global or systematically controlled network of thermometers over the span of 137 years. There’s the further issue of data manipulation, the most recent example of which was the erasure of the pause that had lasted for almost 19 years.

The UAH database goes back to December 1978, and consists of readings obtained by a system of satellites. A satellite-based system has obvious advantages over a surface-based system, if one’s objective is to obtain accurate and consistent estimates of Earth’s atmospheric temperature.

There are other databases, including those produced by RSS (satellite-based) and HadCRUT (surface-based). But the point of this post is to compare GISS records with those a satellite-based system, and I have chosen the GISS and UAH systems for that purpose.

In this graph you will see that despite efforts to hide the decline — a cooling trend from about 1940 to the late 1970s — GISS could only muster a long pause in the rise of its global temperature estimates.

(I used December 1978 as the “zero” point for ease of comparison with the next graph.)

Now look at UAH vs. GISS for the span covered by UAH, namely, December 1978 to the present:

The pause, according to RSS, extended from February 1997 to November 2015. This agrees with the UAH data for that period, which show a flat trend; whereas, the GISS data for that period show a rising trend. Taking the UAH slope as the correct one, it seems that GISS overstates the slope of the pause by 0.0011 degree C per month. Subtracting that overstatement from the GISS coefficient for the entire period gives a new GISS slope of 0.0007 degree C per month, which is close to the UAH slope of 0.001 degree C per month. It is also the same as the GISS slope for 1880-1937 (see first graph).

I therefore conclude the following: GISS has been doctored not only to hide the decline from about 1940 to the late 1970s and the pause from 1997 to 2015, but also to exaggerate the rise from the late 1970s to the present.

What is really going on? The recent rise in temperature has been ripped out of context. This is from a post by Dr. Tim Ball, the second item in “related reading”:

Recent discussion about record weather events, such as the warmest year on record, is a totally misleading and scientifically useless exercise. This is especially true when restricted to the instrumental record that covers about 25% of the globe for at most 120 years. The age of the Earth is approximately 4.54 billion years, so the sample size is 0.000002643172%. Discussing the significance of anything in a 120-year record plays directly into the hands of those trying to say that the last 120-years climate is abnormal and all due to human activity. It is done purely for political propaganda, to narrow people’s attention and to generate fear.

The misdirection is based on the false assumption that only a few variables and mechanisms are important in climate change, and they remain constant over the 4.54 billion years. It began with the assumption of the solar constant from the Sun that astronomers define as a medium-sized variable star. The AGW proponents successfully got the world focused on CO2 [emphasis added], which is just 0.04% of the total atmospheric gases and varies considerably spatially and temporally…. [I]t is like determining the character, structure, and behavior of a human by measuring one wart on the left arm. In fact, they are only looking at one cell of that wart….

Two major themes of the AGW claims are that temperature change is greater and more rapid than at any time in the past. This is false, as a cursory look at any longer record demonstrates…. The Antarctic and Greenland ice core records both illustrate the extent of temperature change in short time periods. Figure 1 shows a modified Antarctic ice core record.

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Figure 1 (Original Source SPPI.org no longer available)

The total temperature range is approximately 12°C (-9°C to +3°C). The variability is dramatic even though a 70–year smoothing average was applied. The diagram compares the peak temperatures in the current interglacial with those of the four previous interglacials. The horizontal scale on the x-axis is too small to identify even the length of the instrumental record.

Steve Goreham shows how small a portion it is in this diagram of the last 10,000 years (Figure 2).

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Figure 2

Another graph shows the same period, the Holocene Optimum, in a different form (Figure 3).

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Figure 3

(Read the whole thing.)

The null hypothesis about “climate change” is that recent warming, whatever its true extent, is of a piece with natural variations in Earth’s temperature. I have yet to read anything that refutes the null hypothesis. A lot of what has been written seems, at first glance, to do so. But it does not do so. It assumes, or aims to prove, a causal connection between the steady rise in atmospheric CO2 that has accompanied the industrialization and mechanization of the world and the coincidental — and halting — rise in the temperature record since Earth began to emerge from the Little Ice Age. Thus the inability of simplistic climate models, which are heavy on CO2 effects, to accurately “hindcast” actual temperature changes, that is, to replicate them from the vantage point of the present.

But most of the public “knows” only the scare story told by the red line in my first graph. There’s no context. The explanation (“CO2 bad”) is superficial and misleading. But it sells the story that pseudo-scientists and politicians like James Hansen, Gavin Schmidt, Michael Mann, and Al Gore. want to sell. And which is sold with the eager assistance of the pro-big-government media outlets in the U.S. (i.e., most of them). It sells the story that leftists want to sell because it supports their need to control the lives of others through the agency of government.


Related reading (listed chronologically):
Ron Clutz, “Temperatures According to Climate Models“, Science Matters, March 24, 2015
Dr. Tim Ball, “Long-Term Climate Change: What Is a Reasonable Sample Size?“, Watts Up With That?, February 7, 2016
The Global Warming Policy Foundation, Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications, and the Scientific Method, 2017
John Mauer, “Through the Looking Glass with NASA GISS“, Watts Up With That?, February 22, 2017
George White, “A Consensus of Convenience“, Watts Up With That?, August 20, 2017
Jennifer Marohasy, “Most of the Recent Warming Could be Natural“, Jennifer Marohasy, August 21, 2017

Related posts:
AGW: The Death Knell (with many links to related reading and earlier posts)
Not-So-Random Thoughts (XIV) (second item)
AGW in Austin?
Understanding Probability: Pascal’s Wager and Catastrophic Global Warming
The Precautionary Principle and Pascal’s Wager
AGW in Austin? (II) (with more links to related reading)
Four Kinds of “Liberals”
The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy
Leftism
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm

The Fragility of Knowledge

A recent addition to the collection of essays at “Einstein’s Errors” relies mainly on Christoph von Mettenheim’s Popper versus Einstein. One of Mettenheim’s key witnesses for the prosecution of Einstein’s special theory of relativity (STR) is Alfred Tarski, a Polish-born logician and mathematician. According to Mettenheim, Tarski showed

that all the axioms of geometry [upon which STR is built] are in fact nominalistic definitions, and therefore have nothing to do with truth, but only with expedience. [p. 86]

Later:

Tarski has demonstrated that logical and mathematical inferences can never yield an increase of empirical information because they are based on nominalistic definitions of the most simple terms of our language. We ourselves give them their meaning and cannot,therefore, get out of them anything but what we ourselves have put into them. They are tautological in the sense that any information contained in the conclusion must also have been contained in the premises. This is why logic and mathematics alone can never lead to scientific discoveries. [p. 100]

Mettenheim refers also to Alfred North Whitehead, a great English mathematician and philosopher who preceded Tarski. I am reading Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World thanks to my son, who recently wrote about it. I had heretofore only encountered the book in bits and snatches. I will have more to say about it in future posts. For now, I am content to quote this relevant passage, which presages Tarski’s theme and goes beyond it:

Thought is abstract; and the the intolerant use of abstractions is the major vice of the intellect. this vice is not wholly corrected by the recurrence to concrete experience. For after all, you need only attend to those aspects of your concrete experience which lie within some limited scheme. There are two methods for the purification of ideas. One of them is dispassionate observation by means of the bodily senses. But observation is selection. [p. 18]

More to come.

What’s Going On? A Stealth Revolution

UPDATED WITH A LIST OF RELATED READING

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) hints at the game plan:

I will be introducing a bill to remove Confederate statues from the US Capitol building. This is just one step. We have much work to do.

What work? Based on what I’ve seen since the Charleston church shooting in 2015, it’s a stealth revolution (e.g., this) piggy-backing on mass hysteria. Here’s the game plan:

Focus on racism — mainly against blacks, but also against Muslims and Latinos. (“Racism” covers a lot of ground these days.)

Thrown in sexism and gender bias (i.e., bias against gender-confused persons).

Pin it all on conservatives.

Watch as normally conservative politicians, business people, and voters swing left rather than look “mean” and put up a principled fight for conservative values. (Many of them can’t put up such a fight, anyway. Trump’s proper but poorly delivered refusal to pin all of the blame on neo-Nazis for the Charlottesville riot just added momentum to the left’s cause because he’s Trump and a “fascist” by definition.)

Watch as Democrats play the racism-sexism-gender card to retake the White House and Congress.

With the White House in the hands of a left-wing Democrat (is there any other kind now?) and an aggressive left-wing majority in Congress, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and property rights will become not-so-distant memories. “Affirmative action” will be enforced on an unprecedented scale of ferocity. The nation will become vulnerable to foreign enemies while billions of dollars are wasted on the hoax of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming and “social services” for the indolent. The economy, already buckling under the weight of statism, will teeter on the brink of collapse as the regulatory regime goes into high gear and entrepreneurship is all but extinguished by taxation and regulation.

All of that will be secured by courts dominated by left-wing judges — from here to eternity.

And most of the affluent white enablers dupes of the revolution will come to rue their actions. But they won’t be free to say so.

Thus will liberty — and prosperity — die in America.


Related reading (some items suggested by commenter Matt):
Roger L. Simon, “Is Charlottesville What’s Really Going On in the USA?“, PJ Media, August 12, 2017
David Horowitz, “The Real Race War“, FrontpageMag, August 16, 2017
Ben Stein, “Whose Side Is He On?“, The American Spectator, August 16, 2017
Dov Fischer, “And Yet President Trump, in His Classically Inartful Way, Was Absolutely Right“, The American Spectator, August 17, 2017
Danusha V. Goska, “Charlottesville, Selective Outrage, and Demonization of White, American Men“, FrontpageMag, August 18, 2017
Joseph Klein, “The Left’s Exploitation of Charlottesville Tragedy Continues“, FrontpageMag, August 18, 2017
Bruce Thornton, “Charlottesville, Race, and Republican Virtue-Signaling“, FrontpageMag, August 18, 2017


Related pages and posts:
Leftism and the related bibliography
Ethics and the Socialist Agenda
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Euphemism Conquers All
Superiority
Whiners
God-Like Minds
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Retrospective Virtue-Signalling
The Left and Violence
Four Kinds of “Liberals”
Leftist Condescension
The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy
The Left and Evergreen State: Reaping What Was Sown
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm

Trump vs. Obama

Compare their standing with likely voters polled by Rasmussen Reports:


Derived from polling statistics for Obama and Trump published by Rasmussen Reports.

Each line represents the ratio of favorable to unfavorable views. Values above 1 mean that the favorables outweigh the unfavorables; values below 1 mean that the unfavorables outweigh the favorables. The light-blue and light-red lines track the 7-day averages of Obama and Trump’s overall ratings with likely voters. The dark-blue and dark-red lines track the 7-day averages of Obama and Trump’s ratings with likely voters who express strong approval or disapproval.

Trump’s comparative disadvantage seems to be shrinking. Here are ratios of the ratios plotted in the first graph:

Trump’s recent upswing relative to Obama reflects not only a slight softening of opinions about Trump’s presidency, but also the rapid decline in Obama’s popularity in the summer of 2009. (Caveat: The full effect of the events in Charlottesville on Trump’s standing may not be reflected in his numbers.)

Given the media’s incessant attacks on Trump, it seems unlikely that he’ll ever gain parity with Obama — whose negative ratings were based on his actual (and abysmal) performance.

Stay tuned.


Related post: Ending as He Began

A Baseball Note: The 2017 Astros vs. the 1951 Dodgers

If you were following baseball in 1951 (as I was), you’ll remember how that season’s Brooklyn Dodgers blew a big lead, wound up tied with the New York Giants at the end of the regular season, and lost a 3-game playoff to the Giants on Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ’round the world” in the bottom of the 9th inning of the final playoff game.

On August 11, 1951, the Dodgers took a doubleheader from the Boston Braves and gained their largest lead over the Giants — 13 games. The Dodgers at that point had a W-L record of 70-36 (.660), and would top out at .667 two games later. But their W-L record for the rest of the regular season was only .522. So the Giants caught them and went on to win what is arguably the most dramatic playoff in the history of professional sports.

The 2017 Astros peaked earlier than the 1951 Dodgers, attaining a season-high W-L record of .682 on July 5, and leading the second-place team in the AL West by 18 games on July 28. The Astros’ lead has dropped to 12 games, and the team’s W-L record since the July 5 peak is only .438.

The Los Angeles Angels might be this year’s version of the 1951 Giants. The Angels have come from 19 games behind the Astros on July 28, to trail by 12. In that span, the Angels have gone 11-4 (.733).

Hold onto your hats.