Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Most of the 2016 USA election results were pretty typical

In Why did the 2016 election look so much like the 2012 election? Ezra Klein reports on work shoing that most voters in the USA vote according to partisan identity, not policies or candidates.
A few months ago, I stopped by Larry Bartels’s office at Vanderbilt University. Bartels, alongside Christopher Achen, is the author of Democracy for Realists, which I’d become a bit obsessed with. The book argues that decades of social science evidence has shattered the idealistic case made for how voters in democracies act, and the reality is that “even the most informed voters typically make choices not on the basis of policy preferences or ideology, but on the basis of who they are — their social identities.”
I sat down with Bartels shortly after the 2016 election, and I had a dozen ideas for how his book helped explain the unusual results. But he wasn’t buying my premise. To him, the election looked pretty typical.
The Democratic candidate won 89 percent of Democratic voters, and the Republican candidate won 90 percent of Republican voters. The Democrat won minorities, women, and the young; the Republican won whites, men, and the old. The Democrat won a few percentage points more of the two-party vote than the Republican, just as had happened four years before, and four years before that. If you had known nothing about the candidates or conditions in the 2016 election but had been asked to predict the results, these might well have been the results you’d predicted. So what was there to explain?

Monday, 24 July 2017

The limits of human compassion

In A psychologist explains the limits of human compassion Brian Resnick interviews Paul Slovic on "psychic numbing". It seems our levels of concern appears to be inversely proportional to the number of victims. That's why we ignore mass atrocities but give when there's only a single individual victim (e.g. a child with cancer). Unfortunately, an individual is worth more than the sum of a group.

The interview explores several topics:
  • There is no constant value for a human life
  • We’re compelled to help individuals. But the world’s problems are too large to be solved one person at a time
  • Psychic numbing begins when the number of victims increases from one to two
  • Three factors keep people and politicians from intervening in humanitarian crises
  • We might be able to build machines more moral than humans
  • Even partial solutions save whole lives

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Sympathise with the victims, not the perpetrators of domestic violence

In ‘We didn’t recognise that he was dangerous’: our father killed our mother and sister Rossalyn Warren talks to the sons of a man who killed his wife and daughter after they left him. The sons are upset that the media tended to be sympathetic to their father:
The Sun and Daily Telegraph quoted locals who described Lance as “a nice guy”, while the Daily Express reported that he was “a DIY nut”. The Daily Mail spoke to others who described Hart as “always caring”. In every report, there was speculation that the prospect of divorce “drove” Lance to murder, and little mention or description of Claire or Charlotte.
The reality it seems is very different. Although Hart had never been violent, he had terrorised the family and made their live's hell.
“I was shocked at the ease with which others, sitting behind their desks, could explain our tragedy away within an afternoon,” Ryan says now. “It was very difficult to read that they were sympathising with a man who caused Mum and Charlotte misery their entire lives. One writer even dared use the word ‘understandable’ to justify why they were murdered.” This second Daily Mail article, a column by psychiatrist Max Pemberton, argued that a man killing his children “is often a twisted act of love”. The article was later removed from the site.
“You’re reading it and thinking, ‘This is bollocks,’” Ryan says. “But you know people around the country are also reading it, and those ideas are being driven into their minds. It reinforces in the abuser’s mind that what they’re doing is OK.”
“They kept saying this was a money issue,” Luke adds of the news stories. “It wasn’t about money. That’s what made me really angry. Sometimes news is just entertainment. They couldn’t have known our history, but it was weird: in the absence of information, they chose the side of a terrorist who committed murder.”
...
They now want to live life the way Claire and Charlotte would have wanted them to. Their favourite thing is to walk Indi and Bella, because their fondest memories are of their mother and sister playing with the dogs. They refuse to see Claire and Charlotte as victims. “Vulnerable women and children are not treated as heroes, for standing up to their oppressors even when they are murdered, or given a national day of mourning,” Luke says. “But they should be.”

Terrorism linked to domestic violence?

In Terrorism and domestic violence Martin McKenzie-Murray explores the possible links between terrorism and domestic violence.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Most of Trump's supporters were well off

Nicholas Carnes and Noam Lupu write in It’s time to bust the myth: Most Trump voters were not working class that most of Trump's supporters were relatively affluent:
Among people who said they voted for Trump in the general election, 35 percent had household incomes under $50,000 per year (the figure was also 35 percent among non-Hispanic whites), almost exactly the percentage in NBC’s March 2016 survey. Trump’s voters weren’t overwhelmingly poor. In the general election, like the primary, about two thirds of Trump supporters came from the better-off half of the economy.

David MacKay on Sustainable Energy

In 2008 David MacKay FRS, the Regius Professor of Engineering at the University of Cambridge, wrote a book Sustainable Energy – without the hot air. This book is available free at his site www.withouthotair.com

The biggest takeaway I had from the book was this:
Have no illusions. To achieve our goal of getting off fossil fuels, these
reductions in demand and increases in supply must be big. Don’t be distracted
by the myth that “every little helps.” If everyone does a little, we’ll
achieve only a little
. We must do a lot. What’s required are big changes in
demand and in supply.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Don't restrict public housing to the most needy

In The public housing paradox: by helping only the neediest, we undermine the entire system Professor Jenny Stewart, visiting fellow in the school of business at UNSW Canberra, explains that restricting public housing to the most needy denies the revenue that public housing authorities need to maintain their services.
There's no doubt that Australian cities are changing fast. It's difficult enough for those with reasonably good jobs to buy their own home. Public housing could, and should, be an important factor in the mix. But to rejuvenate the sector, more flexibility is needed. If we want to use the state to help the disadvantaged, it is sometimes necessary to think beyond our own good intentions. In public policy, it is easy to do the wrong thing for the right reasons.

How to fold a fitted sheet

Jill Cooper shows in this YouTube video how to fold a fitted sheet. I suspect it's harder than it seems and probably requires some practice.


An example of why flexibility in sentencing is good

In Juvenile justice system needs discretion to judge Apex and other Sudanese teenagers differently noted Melbourne crime writer John Silvester gives the example of two young men, both involved in two robberies, to explain why judges need flexibility sentencing.
On the facts presented to court Mayoum is a bad young man while Mawien may well be a young man who did something bad. On Wednesday Judge Gaynor sentenced Mayoum to four years' jail with a non-parole period of two years.

Courts need to punish to deter but there is also a need to offer hope. While it is true the punishment should fit the crime is it not also true that the punishment should fit the offender?

Monday, 5 June 2017

The new jihardis - nihilists?

Olivier Roy in Who are the new jihadis? explains that modern jihadis in the west have certain features in common:

  • They are normally second generation immigrants
  • They have recently converted or reconverted to Islam - that is "born again" Muslims. Their conversion takes place in places like prisons, or in small group situations, or on the Internet. It does not take place in a mosque.
  • They are fascinated by death
  • They often had a background in petty crime
  • They are often not very knowledgeable about Islam

He basically argues that these people are radicals with a hatred of society, who find in Islam a reason for their radicalism. However, Islam does not turn them into radicals - they were already radicals. Islam merely offers an excuse.
To summarise: the typical radical is a young, second-generation immigrant or convert, very often involved in episodes of petty crime, with practically no religious education, but having a rapid and recent trajectory of conversion/reconversion, more often in the framework of a group of friends or over the internet than in the context of a mosque. The embrace of religion is rarely kept secret, but rather is exhibited, but it does not necessarily correspond to immersion in religious practice. The rhetoric of rupture is violent – the enemy is kafir, one with whom no compromise is possible – but also includes their own family, the members of which are accused of observing Islam improperly, or refusing to convert.
...
As we have seen, jihadis do not descend into violence after poring over sacred texts. They do not have the necessary religious culture – and, above all, care little about having one. They do not become radicals because they have misread the texts or because they have been manipulated. They are radicals because they choose to be, because only radicalism appeals to them. No matter what database is taken as a reference, the paucity of religious knowledge among jihadis is glaring. According to leaked Isis records containing details for more than 4,000 foreign recruits, while most of the fighters are well-educated, 70% state that they have only basic knowledge of Islam.
...
Oddly enough, the defenders of the Islamic State never talk about sharia and almost never about the Islamic society that will be built under the auspices of Isis. Those who say that they went to Syria because they wanted “to live in a true Islamic society” are typically returnees who deny having participated in violence while there – as if wanting to wage jihad and wanting to live according to Islamic law were incompatible. And they are, in a way, because living in an Islamic society does not interest jihadis: they do not go to the Middle East to live, but to die. That is the paradox: these young radicals are not utopians, they are nihilists.

What is more radical about the new radicals than earlier generations of revolutionaries, Islamists and Salafis is their hatred of existing societies, whether western or Muslim. This hatred is embodied in the pursuit of their own death when committing mass murder. They kill themselves along with the world they reject. Since 11 September 2001, this is the radicals’ preferred modus operandi.

The suicidal mass killer is unfortunately a common contemporary figure. The typical example is the American school shooter, who goes to his school heavily armed, indiscriminately kills as many people as possible, then kills himself or lets himself be killed by the police. He has already posted photographs, videos and statements online. In them he assumed heroic poses and delighted in the fact that everyone would now know who he was. In the United States there were 50 attacks or attempted attacks of this sort between 1999 and 2016.

The boundaries between a suicidal mass killer of this sort and a militant for the caliphate are understandably hazy. The Nice killer, for instance, was first described as mentally ill and later as an Isis militant whose crime had been premeditated. But these ideas are not mutually exclusive.

The point here is not to mix all these categories together. Each one is specific, but there is a striking common thread that runs through the mass murders perpetrated by disaffected, nihilistic and suicidal youths. What organisations like al-Qaida and Isis provide is a script.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Anarchists, the forunners to Islamic terrorists?

Johann Hari in Blood, rage & history: The world's first terrorists looks at the similarities between today's Islamic terrorists and the anarchist movement from a century ago. He explains the causes of the anarchist movement and why it eventually died out.


John Quiggin on the non-problem of population ageing

In Time’s up for ageing alarmists John Quiggin argues that many of the articles on our ageing population ignore the fact that our health and quality of life for a given age are also improving. So we shouldn't think of our advancing years as an increased burden, but instead it'soffering us opportunities.
The increase in longevity produced by improved medical treatments, reductions in the risk of death, and healthier living is a huge boon for Australians, individually and collectively. Yet the framing of the issue around “population ageing” has presented it as a near-catastrophe, not only creating unnecessary negativity but also closing off discussion of the opportunities created by our longer lifespans. We need to stop talking about “population ageing” and start talking about people living longer and healthier lives.

An ageing population may not necessarily be lowering the dependency ratio

A few years back Ross Gittins wrote a column Australia's ageing population need not be a burden on taxpayers in which he argued that Australia needn't worry about the economic affects of our ageing population. This is because the actual dependency ratio is not changing. Children are also dependants, and as we age the proportion of children in the population is declining, offsetting the increase in older dependants.

He based his column on the paper ‘The ageing of the Australian population: triumph or disaster?’ by Katharine Betts, Adjunct Associate Professor of Sociology at Swinburne University of Technology.


Saturday, 3 June 2017

Pursade people by arguing using their values

In The Simple Psychological Trick to Political Persuasion Olga Khazan reports on research that shows the best way to persuade people with a different political outlook is to frame your argument to suit their values.
Feinberg and his co-author, Stanford University sociologist Robb Willer, have extensively studied how it is that liberals and conservatives—two groups that now seem further apart than ever on their policy preferences—can convert people from the other side to their way of seeing things. One reason this is so hard to do, they explain, is that people tend to present their arguments in a way that appeals to the ethical code of their own side, rather than that of their opponents.
...
In a later study that’s currently under review, Feinberg and Tilburg University’s Jan Völkel found this even worked to get conservatives to dislike Donald Trump, and liberals to disavow Hillary Clinton. Conservatives were less likely to support Trump if arguments against him were presented in terms of his patriotism— “has repeatedly behaved disloyally towards our country to serve his own interests”—rather than a tendency to overlook the marginalized (“his unfair statements are a breeding ground for prejudice.”) Liberal participants, meanwhile, were more likely to be swayed by Clinton’s ties to Wall Street than by the incident in Benghazi.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Richard Denniss on grandfathering the Australian dream

There's a great essay in The Monthly by Richard Denniss: Grandfathering the Australian dream: House prices, insecure work and growing debts … Who can afford a stake in today’s society?

Trump's win and misleading maps

One of the interesting features of the 2016 US presidential elections is that Trump won most of the counties (2,649 to 503 according to Time), but Clinton won the most votes (by around 3 million). When you see a map showing the counties Trump won, you see a sea of red. According to an article from Chris Wilson of Time, cited below, if you add up the size of the counties, Trump won something like 75.6% of the US's land mass, excluding water. Reportedly Trump loves this map because it seems to show his "yuge" victory.  The thing is, most of these counties have small populations. This tends to be because they're predominately rural. On the other hand Clinton won most of the urban counties with large populations. So the map is in many ways misleading.

In Here's the Election Map President Trump Should Hang in the West Wing Chris Wilson provides us with an alternate map.
A simpler way is just to place a dot over each county that is proportional in area to the number of votes that the winner received, like so:
Here's a screen shot of the map:


Note, please visit the above site to see the full interactive map. It allows you to move the mouse over a dot to see the tally. Have a read of Wilson's article while you're there. He explains things much better than I do.

When is something terrorism?

I don't know. But apparently you're more likely to be a terrorist if you're Muslim, and have darker skin.


Arwa Mahdawi writes in How a neo-Nazi turned Islamist flipped terror narratives upside down
There are lots of ways to be a disaffected, disenfranchised young man. You can spout anonymous abuse online. You can shoot up a school. You can bomb abortion clinics in the name of being pro-life. You can kill black people peacefully praying at church, in the name of white supremacy. You can murder teenagers singing joyfully along at a pop concert, in the name of Isis and Allah.

What you are called, when you do those things, varies. Sometimes you’re a criminal. Sometimes you’re a terrorist. Sometimes you’re a mental health statistic. How you are treated, when you do those things, varies. Sometimes you’re headline news around the world for days; you make an ignominious mark on the history books. Sometimes you’re a few paragraphs in the local papers, and barely make it into the national press.

There are a few key variables which determine what you are called and how you are treated when you commit a deadly act designed to cause widespread fear. Namely: how many people you killed; where you killed them; whether you shouted “Allahu Akbar” as you killed them and the colour of your skin. The whiter your skin, it seems, the more likely you are to be classified as a criminal rather than a terrorist.
She then cites the case of the young white supremacist Dylann Roof who killed nine African Americans in a church in South Carolina. He was convicted on 33 federal charges. These included murder and hate crimes, but not terrorism.

Mahdawi then discusses Devon Arthurs. Arthurs had been a white supremacist but converted to Islam. He killed his two roommates because they reportedly disrespected his religion and, he claimed, were planning a terrorst act. Police investigations in the caes led to the subsequent arrest of another roommate, Brandon Russell. Russell, a Florida national guardsman had been storing explosives in his garage and a photo of Timothy McVeigh in his bedroom. He's facing a charge of “possessing an unregistered destructive device and unlawful storage of explosive material”.

Mahdawi then looks at the statistics on domestic terrorism in the US:
According a recent report, A Dark and Constant Rage, from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), rightwing extremists have been responsible for planning at least 150 acts of terror in the United States over the past 25 years. They’ve killed 255 people in these attacks and injured 600 more. White supremacists and anti-government extremists are the biggest subset of rightwing extremists (which also includes groups such as anti-abortionists and anti-immigrant extremists) and are responsible for 85% of these incidents.

However, as the ADL points out, while “rightwing extremists have been one of the largest and most consistent sources of domestic terror incidents in the United States for many years”, this fact “has not gotten the attention it deserves.” What’s more, “it has garnered far less notice than … Islamic terrorism”.

Can you imagine how much more press Brandon Russell’s basement full of explosives would have received if it had belonged to a man called Mohammed with a picture of a 9/11 bomber in his bedroom?

Rightwing terrorism doesn’t just get less media attention than Islamist terrorism – it gets less attention in policy. As the ADL report notes, the US still doesn’t have a federal domestic terrorism statute and “federal spending on training law enforcement on issues such as rightwing violence and terrorism is extremely low”. This is clearly ridiculous. 
Then there's the case of Jeremy Joseph Christian. Jason Wilson reports on this case in Suspect in Portland double murder posted white supremacist material online:
Police in Portland, Oregon, have charged a white supremacist with a double murder and hate crimes, after he allegedly cut the throats of two passengers and stabbed another on a commuter train late on Friday afternoon.

According to police, while riding the MAX train in suburban northeast Portland, Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, began “yelling various remarks that would best be characterized as hate speech toward a variety of ethnicities and religions”.

When fellow passengers attempted to intervene, Christian stabbed three of them.

Two of them died.

So would this be terrorism if Christian had been a Muslim and had shouted Allah Akbar as he stabbed the three people? 

Evidence supporting claims pirated Australian ship visited Japan unearthed

In Australian convict pirates in Japan: evidence of 1830 voyage unearthed Joshua Robertson reports on evidence confirming the visit of a ship from Australia to Japan in 1830. The ship had been hijacked by convicts being transported from Hobart to Macquarie Harbour.

An amateur historian has unearthed compelling evidence that the first Australian maritime foray into Japanese waters was by convict pirates on an audacious escape from Tasmania almost two centuries ago.

Fresh translations of samurai accounts of a “barbarian” ship in 1830 give startling corroboration to a story modern scholars had long dismissed as convict fantasy: that a ragtag crew of criminals encountered a forbidden Japan at the height of its feudal isolation.

The brig Cyprus was hijacked by convicts bound from Hobart to Macquarie Harbour in 1829, in a mutiny that took them all the way to China.

Claims Australia's unemployment data is dishonest are wrong

In To those who claim Australia's unemployment data is dishonest – please stop Greg Jericho explains why journalists need to be very careful about claims the government is lying about unemployment numbers - for that leads us down the path of "fake news".
In an era where fake news is like a virus, media organisations need to be very careful that they are not adding fuel to the bonfire of fantasies. Even with the best of intentions journalists should be wary of arguing that government data is dishonest – such as recent suggestions that the real unemployment rate is much higher than what the ABS would have us believe.
...
But there is no one measure that tells the whole story.

We should ensure our coverage reflects that. There is nothing wrong with creating new labour force measures, but we should be very wary of dismissing the official rates as dishonest.

Doing so only serves to reduce people’s confidence in the impartiality of the ABS. And we should discourage anything that would give succour to politicians – such as Trump – who seek to undermine institutions by suggesting any data inconvenient to their policies is fake.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Features of working class Trump voters

In 12 Features of White Working-Class Trump Voters Confirm Depressed and Traumatized Multitudes Voted for Him Steven Rosenfeld identifies some of the features that were more common amongst working class Trump voters than amongst the general public.
Looking to the past, not the future. Feeling lost, resenting immigrants. Feeling broke, picked on. Self-medicating, rejecting education. Wanting a rule-breaking leader to end the misery.

These are some of the characteristics of white working-class voters who were three times more likely to support Donald Trump in the 2016 election, according to an expanded analysis of more than 3,000 people surveyed before and after the election by PRRI/The Atlantic of white Americans who are marked by “cultural dislocation.”