Pimps, Hos, and When to Get Out of the Ghetto

I recently compared Humanities (Cultural Anthropology, English Literature, History, Philosophy) professors at research universities as pimps who rule the ghetto. Razib Khan liked the analogy so much he extended it with question: “do pimps facilitate good healthy sex for society, or do they encourage the spread of unpalatable contagion by perpetuating the ghetto and its conditions?

The answer: In the ghetto, pimps provide wages to hos who, depending on their character, either become accustomed to the poverty (thus joining the self-perpetuating underclass) or use the capital they accumulate to escape the ghetto.

To review: the ghetto is a neighborhood defined by economic deprivation. A very noticeable ghetto in academic life is the humanities ghetto of low wages and low employment:

wages_employment_majors_humanities_ghetto_md

Remember that the ghetto has four types of people: pimps (who make the best of a bad environment by running the ghetto), escapees (including those who are planning their escape), losers (including hos who work for pimps), and disaster tourists (including johns who provide the wages for the losers). Here’s an example of a loser ho:

“I am not a welfare queen,” says Melissa Bruninga-Matteau.

That’s how she feels compelled to start a conversation about how she, a white woman with a Ph.D. in medieval history and an adjunct professor, came to rely on food stamps and Medicaid. Ms. Bruninga-Matteau, a 43-year-old single mother who teaches two humanities courses at Yavapai College, in Prescott, Ariz., says the stereotype of the people receiving such aid does not reflect reality. Recipients include growing numbers of people like her, the highly educated, whose advanced degrees have not insulated them from financial hardship.

But the “ghetto” is larger than just the humanities. Many non-progressive sciences are in the ghetto, because they are run by old boys networks — by their pimps. Likewise, even having progressive research programs does not (necessarily) protect against ghettoization. Using information from Indeed (which suffers from all sorts of biases, but the relative values of which have face validity), this is a chart of the overlapping ghettos by PhD concentration, against where you want to be:

salary_by_phd_md

The humanities does not confine you to poverty (you can escape). Whether or not science comes to an end, the myth that scientific training means a successful life certainly should. Being in a normal science does not guarantee success. Personal success comes from finding something that can provide you with joy, provide you with the ability to be the best, and provide you with pay. If you have these attributes in what you are doing, you can be successful, whatever your compensation (in terms of money, power, and prestige).

Petroleum engineers who enjoy their work can enjoy these from heights. Pimps can enjoy these from the ghetto. But without these three, you are much more likely to be miserable.

3-circles-hedgehog-concept

In other words: if you can’t pimp, get out of the ghetto.

Stereotyping, and Rare but Important Events

Phil Arena has an interesting but problematic piece up at Duck of Minerva, entitled “Bayes, Stereotyping, and Rare Events.” The substantive topic of the post is a recent survey of Muslims that I’m not too interested in. But Phil uses statistics to mask a deeply flawed and irrelevant conclusion:

Put simply, the probability that you’d be mistaken to assume that someone who belongs to group Y is likely to commit or have committed act X simply because most such acts are committed by members of group Y grows exponentially higher as X becomes rarer. The reason you should not assume that a person is a terrorist just because they’re Muslim, then, is not just that this is politically incorrect and likely to offend delicate liberal sensibilities. It’s that it’s almost certainly incorrect, full stop.

The first and last sentences in that paragraph have almost nothing to do with each other. Phil’s conclusion is irrelevant, and the “full stop” leaves the most important part of the conclusion unsaid.

And Phil’s not alone in such a mistake. Take for example an recent statement on the NPR program “Tell Me More” by Fernando Vila. Fernando is responding to a statement that a disproportionate fraction of violent crimes in New York City are committed by African Americans:

VILA: Well, I mean, the notion of paranoia is a good one and Mario’s statistics actually sort of feed into that – into this culture of paranoia. I mean, the vast majority of black people are not committing crimes.

VILA: You know, it’s like to say, I don’t know – the vast majority of hosts on NPR are white males. That doesn’t mean that every time I encounter a white male on the street I assume he’s a host of NPR. You know, it’s just a backwards way of looking at it

Phil and Fernando make exactly the same mistake: false assuming the cost of a “false positive” (accidentally marking someone as suspicious) is the same as the cost of a “false negative” (accidentally marking someone as not suspicious). But the truth is all errors are not equal.

The cost of a mistake is a function of the severity of the mistake.

Is the cost to society of 1 false positive (falsely placing an individual under suspicion of terrorism) the same as the cost to society of 1 false negative (falsely removing suspicion from an actual terrorist)? No, of course not, but Phil’s post is based that on fallacy. Otherwise his conclusion makes no sense.

There is a serious question as to where we should become indifferent to the trade-off — 10:1? 100:1? 1:1000000? — but it is certainly not 1:1.

Likewise, Fernando’s statement on NPR is irrelevant. While the consequence of guessing an individual’s employment status at NPR might be 1:1 (few would care either way), the costs of falsely assuming someone would attack you is far less than the cost of falsely assuming an individual will not attack you. Again, there is a question of trade-offs — 1000:1, 10000:1, 1000000:1? — but the cost of all errors are not identical.

Now, obviously Phil and Fernando had different motives here. Phil’s obviously trying to popularize some basic statistics, while Fernando is doubtless ignorant of basic statistics. But in both cases an unwary audience will be led astray into thinking all errors are equally important.

Pimpin’ the ghetto

Many of my academic friends are upset at the American Historical Association’s suggestion that dissertations not be posted online for free reading. Jason Heppler of Stanford University opined that “The AHA is neglecting the public value of history”, Razib Khan‘s writes “The American Historical Association seems nuts to me,” And over at The Atlantic, Rebecca Rosen says “Ultimately, what is so frustrating about the AHA’s stance is that it seems to view the purpose of historical scholarship narrowly, as a means to securing employment.

But the only one of the criticisms I agree with is this: Patrick Wyman is the only one who gets is:

It’s a cruel irony that the historians whom this policy hurts the most – everyone other than the students of the best-known historians at the top 5-10 institutions, who are massive favorites to get jobs anyway – would actually benefit professionally from the exposure that open dissertation access provides. If this policy becomes the norm, the vast majority of the research that’s conducted will never see the light of the day

Remember that the humanities is a ghetto of low-employment and low-wages. There are four kind of people in this ghetto — four kind of humanities scholars who get their PhDs

godleftdetroit-575

1. Disaster tourists who are getting the PhD because its fun — these are the same sort of people who enjoy Detroit ruin porn — and after graduating will go back to whatever world they are from. In other words, people who got a PhD because they love the humanities.

October 2011 Coalition rally

2. Losers who spend a decade getting a worthless degree and have nothing to show for it. These are the kind of people who actually live in Detroit. In other words, they are just more foolish variants of the sort of folks who joined Occupy Wall Street because they were surprised their college vacation from reality cost money.

wages_employment_majors_humanities_ghetto_md

3. Escapees who got out, and are stronger for it. The digital humanities is one way of escaping the humanities ghetto, by combining employable skills with domain and research expertise. These are the people who get to the top outside the ghetto.

steampunk-xavier-wheelchair

4. Pimps who run what little economy exists in the ghetto. They control the humanities ghetto, have old boys patronage networks to fall back on, and have a great deal in a slummy part of town. In other words, folks who get tenure-track PhDs at research universities.

The American Historical Association is run by pimps for pimps — by professors at research universities, for professors at research universities. That their policy does not help the public or most PhD graduates of history programs is besides the point. They are an old boys network protecting themselves.

The AHA isn’t out to protect disaster tourists, or losers, or escapees. The AHA is by, for, and of pimps.

This isn’t too criticize pimps — if you actually love the ghetto, why not be successful in it? — but to say that not everything they do is in your best interests.

If you are in the AHA, here is your choice: You can like that, or you can get out.

Review of “Detroit: An American Autopsy” by Charlie LeDuff

The first thing I thought about Detroit: An American Autostphy is that the writing is fantastic. A journalist telling a story of the final days of Detroit reads like a non-fiction work by Thomas Ligotti. Some of the deaths described in the book rival My Work Is Not Yet Done — indeed, reading Detroit, it’s obvious that Ligotti is a Detroiter. The city whose motto is “Speramus Meliora — Resurgent Cineribus” (We Hope For Better Things and Will Rise from the Ashes)– whose city seal features a depiction of Detroit burning to the ground – is a store of fire, ice, and waiting. Author Charlie LeDuff writes like a pulp writer, bringing Detroit to vivid life in teh same way that Mike Daisey brought the iPhone factory to life for thousands who have seen his play or heard his work.

500px-Flag_of_Detroit,_Michigan_svg

The second thing is I bet part of it’s made up.

Indeed, binging Charlie LeDuff brings up third sentence in his Wikipedia article, “LeDuff has won a number of prestigious journalism awards, but has also faced accusations of plagiarism and distortion throughout his career” (never a good sign!) No wonder he reminded me of Daisey

detroit-an-american-autopsy_md

So what to make of Detroit?  It’s great writing?  And the great writer, Charlie LeDuff?

The writing is fantastic. There is no doubt about that. In the same way you are missing part of the human experience if you never hear Mike Daisey, you are missing out on life by not reading LeDuff’s writing.

The story of Detroit is fantastic — firefighters, terrorists, corrupt politicians, hookers, even a reality TV show. As I said, this is a non-fiction Ligotti work. Detroit the book is a great read. Detroit the citty seems really, really terrible. Really bad.

The imagery is vivid, and not necessarily false. I’ve never been to Detroit, but just because LeDuff may be a Mike Daiseyish storyteller does not make the message he has false. I’ve been to China numerous times. I’ve been to factory towns. I’ve spoken with people in the factories. The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is fundamentally true, even if it’s not fundamentally journalism.

The worst part of Detroit is the lack of context it gives. It’s an excellent piece of thrill-storytelling about a place, but the reasons it give are superficial and impressionistic. Nature’s Metropolis and Seattle: Past to Present both give a sense of place and time, of the economy and the history and the heroes. Detroit only gives the macarbe.

I read Detroit: An American Autopsy in the Nook edition.

Prejudice and Bias

Only stupid people judge once.

For the rest of us, the world is a pretty exciting place. There’s always new things to consider, surprising details come up, and the “sure thing” of yesterday becomes the “maybe!” of today (and vice versa!)

At any given time, what we think of a person, a situation, or an event is our judgment. What we thought about it the last time (and the time before that) was our prejudgement, or prejudice. Our prejudices form our bias. What we will think in the future is our Monday morning quarterbacking, the difference between which and what your judgment is our hindsight bias.

If you have the correct prejudices, your hindsight bias will be l0w because your judgment will be correct. The Zimmerman Affair provides a good example of how this could work.

Knowing nothing else about the case, reasonable prejudices would provide a pretty good clue as to who violently attacked whom in the following pair.

person 1:
Sex: Male
Age: Upper 20s
Height: 5’7
Workplace: Desk
Fitness: Out out shape
Ethnicity: Hispanic

person 2:
Sex: Male
Age: Upper teens
Height: 5’11
Workplace: Unemployed (full time school)
Fitness: Athletic
Ethnicity: African-American

With this prejudice, all facts are filtered (this is analogous to the Bayesian process of “updating priors“) and one would come to the same conclusion that the jury in the Zimmerman case did: person 1 is not guilty on all counts.

But of course, only stupid people judge once.

Time goes on, our priors of person 1 are continuously updated , though there is a censorship effect in gathering new information about person 2.

There are remarkably easy ways to predict when some people have the wrong biases. But that is a post for a different time.

Review of “King Larry: The Life and Ruins of a Billionaire Genius,” by James D. Scurlock

What should we think of Larry Hilbloom?

There are four ways of thinking about the man. The first is as a business leader. Larry is Steve Jobs, if Steve was into Ayn Rand and amphetamines, instead of Buddhism and LSD. The second is as a philanthropist. The foundations that he deeded his entire state to help students and researchers fight diseases. The third is as an escapist. The beautiful women and island paradises he inhabited are the stuff of legend. And the fourth is as a coward. That is the worst aspect of him.

King-Larry-jacket

Larry Hilbloom, perhaps more than any other single man, broke the Postal Service monopoly. Four years before Federal Express, DHL expanded from a curious service to an international business that became critical to the banking and energy sectors. Those who have read other book about the importance of transportation infrastructure — especially Nature’s Metropolis and The Box — will immediately catch the significance of the annihilation of space by time that Larry wrought.

dhl-plane-fleet-i0

The foundations become an adventure of their own. Indeed, the movie Billionaire [Amazon, Netflix] is focused primarily on the nightmarish estate lawsuits that posed Larry’s many children against both each other and the foundations he had set up. Both the Lary H. Hillblom Foundation and the Larry L. Hillblom Islet Research Center were bequeathed by him to future generations.

larry_hilbloom_irc_md

The escapism of Larry Hillblom is the stuff of adventures, both on screen and in print. King Larry clearly owes a lot to the film His Majesty O’Keefe [Amazon, Wikipedia], the 1954 Burt Lancaster, both for the title and the concept — an American man, washed up in the South Seas, becomes a political powerhouse in a small island society while battling distance creditors. Likewise, the exoticism of Larry’s adventures bring to mine a Dean Barrett adventure, less Kingdom of Make-Believe and more Murder at the Horny Toad Bar.

larry_hilbloom_boat

As for Larry’s fault — his biggest fault — my take is probably not that of many readers. His womanizing, the overly generous interpretation of the age of consent, all that is a costume that people wear. But what is not a costume is that Larry abandoned people. His mother, his business partners, his girlfriends, his kids, were left without him.

Here is where a photo of him and one of his kids should go. But there are none. Anywhere. So you have to use your imagination.

Larry’s passions — for business, for adventure, for girls and women — were human. But his coldness was monstrous.

I read King Larry in the Nook Edition.

The Civil Rights Perspective on Race

The facts of the recent case are now well known. Adding some inferences to it, a reasonable reconstruction of the events is as follows:

On February 26, 2013, Trayvon Martin in walking home after buying some candy and tea. He was observed by George Zimmerman, a volunteer who had recently talked with neighbors about black youths invading neighborhood homes. Zimmerman got out of his vehicle to talk to Martin. Martin, not knowing Zimmerman, and suspicious of “creepy ass crackers” (which I belies referred to gay homosexual white men), likewise acted in a way suspicious to Zimmerman. Shortly thereafter a fight broke out, and Martin got the better of Zimmerman, bashing his head against the cement. Zimmerman then used deadly force to protect himself, killing Martin.

A tragedy, and a sad one.

But why the effort to lynch Mr. Zimmerman? Why the great emotion in the case? What is behind it?

It is impossible to understand what happened without realizing that life is far worse for African-American men than could have been expected in 1973. (By “African-American” I refer to the ethnicity that was brought in chains to British colonies south of the Mason-Dixon line from Africa,primarily remained there as slaves until the Civil War, and then following Reconstruction lived as second-class citizens in the Jim Crow South until either emigrating to the north or experiencing the revolution of the Civil Rights Era).

  • There has never been an African-American President. (There is currently a President of African descent, Barack Obama, but he was born in Hawaii and on his father’s side is not a descendent of American slaves.)
  • There has been been a powerful African-American man in the Cabinet. (Secretary of State Colin Powell’s parents were from Jamaica. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is an African-American women.)
  • Structural changes in the economy have lead to a decline of marriage rates for African-American men, as their earning power has been exceeded by African-American women.
  • There has been no de facto progress on desegregation since the original Civil Rights efforts a lifetime ago.
  • The United States is engaged in a long-term project to import large numbers of Spanish-speaking immigrants, which not only further depresses wages of African-American men, it reduces African-Americans from being the “largest minority” to the second-largest minority.
  • The cultural battle over gay marriage reveals African-American powerless in the face of other members of the Democratic Party coalition. Not only cannot the Democratic Party realize African-American goals generally, or defend the relative position of African-Americans, it will actively work against African-American churches and social networks when white liberals disagree with African-American objectives.

Things are bad. They are getting worse. This is real pain.

In this horrible political situations, there are probably two rational responses

  1. A Fresh Start. A complete dismantling of the political work of a lifetime, an acceptance of the basic failure of the “Civil Rights” perspective on race, and an attempt to reboot nearly everything
  2. The Civil Rights Perspective on Race. The creation of an outrage which can unify the African-American community against their enemies, including white Democrats and hispanics.

The costs of (1) are so huge, and the uncertainty so great, that it is unlikely as anything other than a last desperate measure. We’re not there yet.

Option (2), on the other hand, requires simply a reply of the Civil Rights playbook, with some hapless patsy replacing Bull Connor, George Wallace, and other actual enemies of the past. The near-term results are a relative increase in power and sympathy for African-American males.

It is hard for anyone — especially a man — to live without pride. Imitating a Martyr provides some pride. Being politically organized enough to (nearly) lynch a hispanic provides some pride. Getting media attention gets some pride.

But more pride would come from having a functioning education system that prepared African-American men for the economy. Of earning enough to attract a mate. To not lose a job to harder-working lower-paid immigrants, to not have your sacred institutions tramped on, and so on.

Without a road-map for achieving this, we’ll get another Martin case in a few years, another outrage, another attempt to win some political favors and gain some pride through some dead person.

But dismantling the Civil Rights movement, abandoning the Civil Rights perspective on race, and starting over, is the smarter way to go.

Other groups have come from behind without this focus on manufactured outrage. Irish, Koreans, Chinese, Jamaicans, and many others recognized that social hostility can be battered, not thru the “Civil Rights” perspective on race, but through wealth accumulation.

As a friend recently told me, in America there are two colors of people — “Green” and “Red” — people with money, and people struggling paycheck to paycheck. Controlling wealth and the production of wealth is more important than leadership in a group of poor people.

This harsh reality, that the economic infrastructure matter more than political superstructure — that true political success comes from economic value — is much colder than talking about dreams and ideology.

Life can be cold.

But the Civil Rights Perspective on Race is a lie.

Science and Steam

Reactions to two of my recent posts — Mark Safranki‘s excerpt of my review of America 3.0. and Phil Arena‘s comment on my post on antiscience, plus some twitter conversations with Colin Wight — got me thinking.

What is the relationship of Science to the great economic systems we’ve had — hydrological, steam-powered, and now whatever-comes-next.

Well, in a hydrological system you’re either at the Malthusian limit or quite good at killing people off through war of disease.

Science is too risky (might not work, might have bad consequences if it does work) to spend much resources on in a pre-steam, pre-industrial society. So you get a few intellectual giants shouting to each other across time — like the nameless Chinese inventors or named European ones — with relatively little utility within a human lifetime.

But once you have steam-power, and the economic system it enables, society becomes incredibly wealthy. So you get science, institution science, whether in the form of corporate labs, or academic science, or the Department of Agriculture. The methods of advancement are so different, and the pace of change is so much quicker, this Science in a modern science is a different beast from pre-steam science — natural philosoph– which was basically bored men every once in a while discovering something.

What comes after the reign of steam, and the industrial society? What does Science look like after the next transformation?

It will be exciting to find out!

The Place of Rational Choice

After criticizing Patrick Thaddeus Jackson‘s antiscientific and dangerous attack on Rational Choice Theory, I then turned around and attacked Rational Choice Theory itself for not being a scientific theory (though it can be a useful tool).

The lesson, I guess, is that simply having the right enemies does not make you right yourself.

My critiqued of both Jackson and Rational Choice attracted the attention of Phil Arena, both regarding antiscience and, more interestingly, regarding Rational Choice. Phil was kind enough to provide with me two articles, “Does Preference Cycling Invalidate “Rational Choice Theory”?,” and “Rat Choice Apologetics II” in which he had previously attempted to defend Rational Choice Theory from similar attacks.

Phil’s posts emphasize that Rational Choice is not a scientific theory.

The first post, on preference cycling, is an extended “just-so” defense of Rational Choice theorizing against laboratory falsification. Phil writes:

My big point here is that those who seek to justify a wholesale rejection of “rational choice theory” by observing that some laboratory experiments have found that some individuals exhibit behavior that appears to reflect cyclical preferences are overplaying their hand.

But Phil’s bigger points seems to be that any laboratory finding does not falsify Rational Choice, because some collection of mathematical formulas can be modified post-hoc to account for the behavior observed. This speeks to the cleverness of the Rational Choice theorists — like Freudians or Jungians, any observation of evidence of their model.

Rational Choice is like Interviewing, because just as no experimental result can falsify Rational Choice, no experimental result can falsify the feelings of an interview subject. Few who are planning a complex intervention would do so without interviews of one sort or another, and it may be that Rational Choice is likewise useful. But just as the interview is a tool, not a scientific theory, Rational Choice is a tool, not a scientific theory.

In the follow-up Post, Phil goes farther to protect not just Rational Choice Theory, but any implementation of a rational choice theory, from falsification:

Amongst formal theorists, there is significant disagreement about how to evaluate models in general. On one end of the spectrum, you have the strict interpretation of EITM, as espoused here and seems to be Morton’s preferred view here, though she does discuss other views. This view holds that formal models are important for ensuring logical consistency of theoretical arguments, but the value of these arguments is ultimately judged empirically. On the other, you have Primo and Clarke, who argue that there are many different roles we could ask our models to serve, some of which do not require any kind of empirical assessment. My own views, as I’ve indicated before, are closer to those of Primo and Clarke.

This is not scientifically serious. But Rational Choice Theory is not a scientific theory, so of course it doesn’t have to be. The purpose of science is to improve, predict, or control behavior (at whatever unit of analysis we are working), but the purpose of tools such as interviews, case study, and rational choice is to inspire scientists to come up with scientific theories that can make control, predict, and improve behavior.

Phil’s a clear writer, so his point is written clearly. And he’s write that science has certain requirements — such as predictive validity — that are as hard to get away from as Rational Choice Theory’s unfalsifiable assumptions:

When we evaluate arguments empirically, we make a huge, non-falsifiable assumption that the future will be like the past. Otherwise, it would be meaningless to claim to be testing the claim that X causes Y by observing historical patterns of association between X and Y. On a certain level, we all understand this. That is why folks worry about omitted variable bias with observational studies and external validity with experiments. But I’m not sure how many people really appreciate the depth of the problem.

But of course the difference is that the scientific requirement for predictive validity enables it to fulfill its mission of predicting, improving, and controlling behavior (at whatever unit of analysis we are functioning). Rational Choice Theory rejects the scientific need to predict, improve, or control behavior, because it is a “formal model” which are “logical consistency” and thus do not need “empirical assessment.” That is, Rational Choice is a form of “qualitative” (or better, investigatory) analysis, where mathematical equation balancing takes the place of interviews or subjective impressions.

Rational Choice has a place in science, like any investigatory or qualitative method (introspection, interviews, case studies, etc): to generate hypotheses. Rational Choice should be a part of science to the extent its scientifically useful. But like interviews, case studies, and the such, we can’t generalize from rational choice theorizing, but of course we can generalize from the empirical findings such theorizing might lead us to.

Breitbart’s Reviewer of “America 3.0″ didn’t read the book!

America 3.0, which I previously reviewed, is something of a hit. The authors have appeared on the radio (Mark Bernier, Bob Dutko, Chuck Morse, Nick Reed, Mike Rosen, Bruce Wolf), public speaking (University of Chicago, Western Conservative Summit), and TV (Lou Dobbs).

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The book had good pre-publication publicity too, with an impressive list of folks willing to lend their credibility to it (the foreword was by Glen Reynolds, with Jonah Goldberg and John O’Sullivan providing “blurbs”) for the book.

And reviews have been good — everything from my post to Michael Barone‘s review in the Washington Examiner to the 16 5-star Amazon reviews.

All of which makes Brietbart’s “review” inexplicable. Not just that it was a negative review — someone is free to dislike a book of course — but the Breitbart reviewer did not read the book. I can’t be too shocked at Breitbart — after all CNN’s Fareed Zakaria used a ghost-writer who was also a plagiarist — but it’s deeply disappointing.

Boo for Breitbart. Raise your standard. Actually read the books you review.

Co-authors James C. Bennet and Michael Lotus have issued a statement on this. Breitbart should take down the fake “reiew” and issue an apology.