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I Hate To See All That Pink Yarn Wasted

Posted by LizardBreath
on 01.27.17

I didn't, myself, knit a hat for the Women's March (although I did bring my knitting to the one in NYC, under the assumption that there'd be a fair amount of dead time standing around. Some woman took a picture of me to send to her family, because they were afraid that protests would be scary and violent and she wouldn't be safe, and me with a sock on my needles was the most boringly reassuring thing she'd ever seen.) But I regretted it when I was there -- there was
something impressive about all that handwork in the service of solidarity. I might possibly knit a belated one.

And I've been in some conversations about how all the talk of how great it was that literally no one was arrested at the Women's Marches (true in DC and NYC. True nationwide? I don't know, but at least very few.) is kind of misguided. People get arrested at Black Lives Matter marches not because they're bad people who are doing the wrong thing, but because they are either intentionally committing civil disobedience to make a political point, as they should be, or because they're being victimized by police who are opposed to and threatened by the fact of the march. The Women's Marches, on the other hand, were hardly policed at all (I have never in my life been in a crowd that big with so few cops around -- normally, if the street is full, you can see a group of cops on at least every block. Saturday? 90% of the time there wasn't a cop in sight.) and what cops were there were smiling and friendly. That's not a signal that the marchers were doing anything right, that's a signal that the police aren't hostile to crowds they perceive as nice white ladies. (The NYC march was by no means all white, certainly. I'd call it as diverse as an ordinary day on the subway, with an influx of maybe 25% extra white women in from out of town.)

Anyway, in the interests of solidarity and not wasting all that handwork, I'd like to see the hats keep on showing up at other rallies. Anyone who's got a hat, it'd be a good thing, I think, if it were visible at BLM marches, rallies in support of immigrants (there were one or two at the rally I was at this week) and so on, just as an indication that the energy behind the Women's March wasn't a flash in the pan of middle-class women only focused on issues that affect them directly.

Alternatively, maybe I'm wrong about the message it would send. Thoughts?


 

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Yuge Data

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.26.17

It is possible that Trump did straight up out-tech Clinton to victory:

On the day of the third presidential debate between Trump and Clinton, Trump's team blasted out 175,000 distinct variations on his arguments, mostly via Facebook. The messages varied mostly in their microscopic details, in order to communicate optimally with their recipients: different titles, colors, subtitles, with different images or videos. The granularity of this message tailoring digs all the way down to tiny target groups, Nix explained to Das Magazin. "We can target specific towns or apartment buildings. Even individual people."
In the Miami neighborhood of Little Haiti, Cambridge Analytica regaled residents with messages about the failures of the Clinton Foundation after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, in order to dissuade them from turning out for Clinton. This was one of the goals: to get potential but wavering Clinton voters--skeptical leftists, African-Americans, young women--to stay home. To "suppress" their votes, as one Trump campaign staffer bluntly put it. In these so-called dark posts (paid Facebook ads which appear in the timelines only of users with a particular suitable personality profile), African-Americans, for example, are shown the nineties-era video of Hillary Clinton referring to black youth as "super predators."

Good lord. And then later in the article:

Kosinski has been observing all of this from his office at Stanford. After the election, the university was in an uproar. Kosinski responded to the developments with the most powerful weapon available to researchers: a scientific analysis. Along with his research colleague Sandra Matz, he conducted a series of tests that will soon be published. The first results seen by Das Magazin are unsettling: psychological targeting, as Cambridge Analytica deployed it, increases the clickthru rate on Facebook ads by more than sixty percent. And the so-called conversion rate (the term for how likely a person is to act upon a personally-tailored ad, i.e. whether they buy a product or, yes, go vote) increases by a staggering 1400 percent.*

The world is a terrible place.

Update: Also the State Department has all been fired. Or resigned. I'm not sure.


 

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Guest Post - quiz time!

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.26.17

Chris Y writes: Here are ten members of the United States Congress:

David Brat (Republican, VA-17)
Tom Cole (Republican, OK-4)
Bill Foster (Democrat, IL-14)
Chris Gibson (Republican, NY-19)
Dan Lipinski (Democrat, IL-03)
Dave Loebsack (Democrat, IA-2)
Jerry McNerney (Democrat, CA-11)
David Price (Democrat, NC-4)
Ben Sasse (Senate Republican, Nebraska)
Kyrsten Sinema (Democrat, AZ-15)

Here are ten doctoral dissertations:

A(1,1) Tensor Generalization of the Laplace-Beltrami Operator" (Mathematics, University of New Mexico, 1981)
An Experimental Limit on Proton Decay: Proton ---> Positron + Neutral Pion (Physics, Harvard University, 1984)
Capitalist penetration, level of development and policy strategies : alternative explanations of policy outputs and outcomes in sub-Saharan black-ruled Africa. (Political Science, University of California, Davis, 1985)
Countervailing Forces: Enhancing Civilian Control and National Security through Madisonian Concepts. (Government, Cornell University, 1998)
Human Capital, Religion & Economic Growth (Economics, American University, 1995)
Life and labor in the Isle of Dogs: the origins and evolution of an East London working-class community, 1800-1980 (British History, University of Oklahoma, 1984)
Shaping public perceptions of Congress through franked mass mailings: An examination of the communication strategies used by members of the United States House of Representatives in the 1990s (Political Science, Duke University, 1998)
The anti-Madalyn majority: Secular left, religious right, and the rise of Reagan's America (History, Yale University, 2004)
Who Makes the Laws? the Legislative Roles of Three Senate Committees (Political Science, Yale University, 1969)
Who Must Die: The State Of Exception In Rwanda's Genocide (Justice Studies, Arizona State University, 2012)

Your task, should you wish to accept it is to match the Congressperson/Senator to the PhD. Try not to google.

*** The grunt work for this was done by Jonathan Neufeld in the comments of a small but excellent British academic/political blog. ***

Heebie's take: I'm withholding the link to the blog for funsies, for now, even though this is largely the honor system. I'll stick it in the comments when it seems like you all are ready for it? Or update the post.


 

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Guest Post - The Long PDF

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.25.17

Mossy character writes: Article on Russian doctrine, linking to the paper of the title, which does the same but more thoroughly.

From Moscow's point of view, the Arab Spring and the Color Revolutions have been links in the same chain, instigated by the United States and serving its aspiration for global dominance.
[...]
Perception, consequently, becomes a strategic center of gravity in the campaign. It is difficult to overemphasize the role that Russian official doctrine attributes to [...] informational struggle in modern conflicts.
[...]
the informational strike is about breaking the internal coherence of the enemy system - and not about its integral annihilation.

The whole thing is interesting, though tiresome.

Heebie's take: oh you know me. I have no idea.


 

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Thinking Fast & Slow - Intro and Ch 1-3

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.24.17

Walt Someguy writes: Welcome to the Thinking Fast & Slow reading group. I am summarizing the introduction and the first three chapters of the book.

The introduction describes how Kahneman came to work with Tversky, and how their working relationship functioned. Many of their ideas came from performing little experiments on themselves and each other -- they would consider a snap judgement that they had made, and wonder how they came about it. For example, they noticed that for small children they knew, they would both come to the same snap judgement of what the child would grow up to do. This, they realized, was because they relied on the resemblance to a stereotypical version of that grown-up job.

Most of their research centered around the idea of a "bias" -- a short-cut in reasoning that provided a quick answer that could suffer from systematic error. He gives a simple example of this with "Steve", an introvert who relied on an orderly existence. Is Steve more likely to be a librarian or a farmer? Stereotypically most people think Steve sounds more like a librarian, while probabilistically he's more likely to be a farmer. (There are twenty times as many farmers as librarian, so introvert farmers must outnumber librarians.)

The first chapter introduces the two main protagonists in his story -- System 1 and System 2. System 1 represents the quick, almost instinctual, part of our minds that takes short-cuts and can make systematic mistakes. System 2 is the slower part of our brain that makes judicious, reasoned judgements. System 2 requires active effort, and can get fatigued and more likely to make mistakes, while System 1 always operates, without any conscious effort on our parts. System 1 contains everything we can do without thinking about it, which sometimes is something that almost everyone can do (depth perception), but sometimes represents something that requires years of practice (play chess like a grandmaster).

Chapter two discusses some of the experiments that illustrate the importance of effort in System 2. Kahneman and another researcher, Jackson Beatty, discovered a surprising physical correlate of the level of effort put out by System 2. They introduced some task that required concentration (Add-1 and Add-3), and measured the amount the subject's pupils would dilate. They found high effort would cause the pupils to dilate. They could even tell when a subject gave up on the task, because their pupils would return to normal size.

Chapter three assembles more evidence to the idea that System 2 is constrained by cost of effort. An intake of glucose can improve performance on tasks that require conscious judgement. Kahneman gives one disturbing example from Israeli parole cases -- most requests for parole are denied, and it requires a conscious judgement to overrrule it. Judges that are hungry are more likely to give the default judgement than judges that have eaten. Kahneman also talks about evidence that people have differing propensities to rely on System 2. He gives the example of the "marshmellow test" (which apparently was really Oreos) -- kids are given the choice between a single Oreo now, or two Oreos 15 minutes from now. Kids that manage to wait the 15 minutes do so by consciously distracting themselves from the Oreos. Follow-up studies show that the kids that can distract themselves grow up to have better life outcomes.


 

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ATM: devil's strip? tree verge? my dialect does not have a word for this

Posted by Ben
on 01.23.17

[Editor's note: the ensuing question does not, as you might have thought, pertain to pubic hair.]

THORN WRITES:

I am still trying not to destroy myself in/with the politics threads and one of the ways I nurture hope is by gardening, so I figured I'd outsource some of that to the Mineshaft.

The city took out five blocks of my sidewalk beside the street last fall at my request, in chunks that are let's say 2.5 by 5 feet (two sidewalk squares) and 2.5 by 7.5 feet (three). Through a neighborhood initiative we planted two winter hawthorn trees, and the larger space has a telephone pole in the middle, at the foot of which I've planted the same fast-growing rose that will be on the fence in front of my house. (It won't be blooming pink at the same times the berries on the tree are orange, or if so I just won't care.) I also threw in a few bulbs that might be interesting (tulips, fritillaries, some giant allium) but it's basically just mud and mulch at this point.

We're the only house on the block with street trees at this point and I'd like to make it look good enough that neighbors warm to the idea. People will walk by and drop litter and dogs will poop there and probably flowers will get picked and so on. I'm fine with all that and also looking for something basically low-maintenance. Are there things you like that you've planted or that you've seen along roads near you that might be interesting or fun? I'm in planting zone 6b (count on lows of -5 to 0F, -20C to -18C, except we've only had a few hard frosts and three days with any snow on the ground this winter so who knows?) and perennials are easy but annuals are often more fun.

Quoting Voltaire on gardens would likely make the post too political to serve part of its stated purpose, but I have no gardening experience of my own to tender, so I can't really serve in any other way. But maybe YOU can, varied reader!


 

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Guest Post: Three Related Thoughts

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.23.17

Nick S writes: 1) It's often been commented upon that there are far fewer representations of working class people and life in popular culture than their used to be. I wonder, could Trump's performance as a populist billionaire have worked if actual working class people were more visible.

2) When did the idea of "selling out" stop carrying much emotional/ethical weight? It feels like, these days noting of somebody, "oh they're just doing it for the money" is no longer intended as criticism, just as a recognition of how the world works. My speculation is that, over time, it became less possible to live in "genteel poverty" -- to live without much money and still be able to participate in the common social life. I remember reading something recently* about how there are no longer the same spaces for bohemian life that their used to be.

On a related note, a couple of years ago I discovered (new to me) Cyndi Lauper's version of "Money Changes Everything" and I was surprised both by how pointed it was, and the fact that it's bite and edge felt dated. It's hard to imagine that song today.

3) I was re-watching parts of Bill Clinton on the Arsinio Hall show (linked from this article) and the thing that struck me about it was Bill Clinton's desire to explain. If the criticism of soundbite politics is that it prompts a thought-like process designed to arrive at a pre-determined conclusion. Clinton, for all his failings, seems to really believe that he can get people to think if he works hard enough. That made me feel a bit of nostalgia.


* I had thought it was in "Exiting the Vampire Castle" but that appears not to be true

Heebie's take: there are spaces for bohemian life, but they are college towns and beach towns, I think. And then a lot of major cities must have their bohemian scene - LA, Atlanta, Miami - where it can still be done pretty cheaply. Probably not very cheap to do it in Manhattan or San Francisco anymore, though.

I'm not sure when "selling out" lost it's edge, but it certainly has. I think a great deal of it stems from the celebration of wealth in the mainstream rap/hip-hop scene - other people can vaguely piggyback on that notion, "It's all about the benjamins!" with a sheepish shrug. Maybe partly the general fragmentation of society - an artist can put out a sell-out album alongside a true-to-their-roots album. There's less rigid control by managers. Maybe partly a recognition of how rigged the system is, and a general sympathy for artists or whoever is selling out.


 

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First Weekend

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.22.17

It's kind of poetic that the estimated size of the marches combined is roughly the same as the margin by which Clinton won the popular vote. My FB feed was absolutely nothing but one long stream of photos of marches. I took Hawaii; it was a nice scene.

I assume everyone has discussed the cake and latest tantrums.


 

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