Friday, July 03, 2015

Some Interesting Maps

Which Exports Make the Country Most Money

Most and Least Ethnically Diverse Countries

Access to Sanitation

Source of these maps: "32 Maps That Will Teach You Something New About the World"

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Good News from the SCOTUS

America's Most Gerrymandered Districts
I quote from a recent article in The Washington Post:
Gerrymandering is at least partly to blame for the lopsided Republican representation in the House. According to an analysis I did last year, the Democrats are under-represented by about 18 seats in the House, relative to their vote share in the 2012 election. The way Republicans pulled that off was to draw some really, really funky-looking Congressional districts.

The Supreme Court has now ruled on a case, deciding that a state can substitute a redistricting commission for a legislative body in redistricting, This would seem to be a major step in a process that would allow the people to take back the decisions on redistricting, and allow the more representative House of Representatives that the Founding Fathers intended when the Constitution was written and ratified. 

That might also make the Congress work a lot better for the American people. Fewer "safe" Congressional districts, in which only the primary really determines who will be elected means fewer districts in which candidates seek only to please the small number of voters who turn out for the primaries -- who tend to be on the extreme wing of their parties.

Monday, June 29, 2015

"Why Is the American Dream Dead in the South?"

According to an article by Sasha Kimel in The Atlantic:
We like to tell ourselves that America is the land of opportunity, but the reality doesn't match the rhetoric—and hasn't for awhile. We actually have less social mobility than countries like Denmark. And that's more of a problem the more inequality there is. Think about it like this: Moving up matters more when there's a bigger gap between the rich and poor. So even though mobility hasn't gotten worse lately, it has worse consequences today because inequality is worse.

This map from the article
shows where kids have the best and worst chances of moving up from the bottom to the top quintile—and that the South looks more like a banana republic. (Note: darker colors mean there is less mobility, and lighter colors mean that there's more).
Not surprisingly the article goes on to discuss race, segregation, social capital and inequality.

The lesson of the map is unfortunately clear. For kids in far too much of America, the dream of anyone being able to rise to the top is mythical, and not at all realistic. 

The Future is Now, and Watson is its Name

Tina Cascone demonstrates Watson, officially the Oncology Expert Advisor,
at MD Anderson’s leukemia treatment center in Houston. 

There was an interesting article in The Washington Post yesterday about the extension of the Watson computer system of IBM to the field of Cancer diagnosis.
IBM is now training Watson to be a cancer specialist. The idea is to use Watson’s increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence to find personalized treatments for every cancer patient by comparing disease and treatment histories, genetic data, scans and symptoms against the vast universe of medical knowledge. 
Such precision targeting is possible to a limited extent, but it can take weeks of dedicated sleuthing by a team of researchers. Watson would be able to make this type of treatment recommendation in mere minutes.

The IBM program is one of several new aggressive health-care projects that aim to sift through the huge pools of data created by people’s records and daily routines and then identify patterns and connections to predict needs. It is a revolutionary approach to medicine and health care that is likely to have significant social, economic and political consequences. 
Lynda Chin, a physician-scientist and associate vice chancellor for the University of Texas system who is overseeing the Watson project at MD Anderson Cancer Center, said these types of programs are key to “democratizing” medical treatment and eliminating the disparity that exists between those with access to the best doctors and those without.
Originally made up of a cluster of supercomputers that took up as much space at IBM as a master bedroom, Watson is now trimmer — the size of three stacked pizza boxes — and versions of it live in the server rooms of IBM’s various partners.
Among the most ambitious (of the Watson Cancer related) projects is a partnership with 14 cancer centers to use Watson to help choose therapies based on a tumor’s genetic fingerprints. Doctors have known for years that some treatments work miraculously on some patients but not at all on others due to genetics. But the expense and complexity in identifying genetic mutations and matching them up with potential therapies has made it difficult for more than a handful of patients to benefit from this new approach. The service is scheduled to launch later this year. 
Meanwhile, Watson is continuing its on-the-ground training with cancer specialists. 
In 2011, IBM announced that Watson had learned as much as a second-year medical student. Since then it’s graduated and has been doing residencies at some of the nation’s top cancer centers, including Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York and the Cleveland Clinic. In late September, Watson achieved another training milestone: It began its first fellowship in a specialty — leukemia — at MD Anderson.
When Watson beat the best humans at a television quiz show, the capability of the approach was demonstrated. Now we see this advanced computer processing approach applied to problems of real importance. With its natural language capabilities, Watson can "read" and organize vast quantities of textual information, such as that from medical journals. With its very high speed (as compared with human thought) Watson can search its data base for information relevant to a specific issue/question -- in this case, "what is the appropriate treatment for this cancer in this patient".

This looks like an important amplification of human intelligence. I wonder where it will be used next -- foreign policy, intelligence analysis, where?

Intelligence, Leadership, Knowledge and Belief

I watched a talk on TV by H.W. Brands on his book, Reagan: The Life. One point that he made was that intelligence as measured by the IQ test is not necessarily the best predictor of success in the office of president. Brands suggested that a president had to be reasonably smart, but that it was important that he surround himself with smart people who have more detailed knowledge than he has himself, and that he know when to defer to the right person to draw on that detailed knowledge. When I worked in the White House, there were about 1,000 people there, and of course the president could draw not only on the Office of the President, but on the millions of people who worked in the departments of the Executive Branch and indeed on the entire population of the USA (a former professor of mine told me he agreed to work for President Nixon because when the president asks you to do something on the telephone, it is almost impossible to say no!).

Let me suggest that there is a "Leadership Quotient" (LQ) that ought to be considered for presidential candidates (and indeed for anyone seeking to run a large organization). It measures not the ability to do well in school, but the ability to successfully lead an organization. Brands seems to suggest that someone with a high LQ probably has a pretty good IQ, but also has strong ability to set targets, choose subordinates, and delegate. In a democracy, the LQ should also probably include the ability to communicate with the public and to be liked and trusted by the public.

Knowledge vs. Belief

Brands discussed the Iran-Contra affair. He read Reagan's hand written notes in Reagan's diary (notes made day by day while he was in office) and saw Reagan write that weapons were to be delivered (sold) to Iran and that then prisoners would be released from Lebanon. Brands had no doubt that Reagan understood the quid pro quo nature of the exchange -- arms for hostages. Yet Brands also thought that Reagan could be sincere saying that he did not authorize the payment of blackmail to get the hostages released; Reagan simply did not believe that the U.S. government paid blackmail to kidnappers. Therefore, in Reagan's belief system, there must be some other explanation for the arrangement with Iran for the release of hostages held in Lebanon. (Brands also suggested that Reagan's lack of attention to details led him to fail to find out what was happening to the money Iran paid for the weapons, that he simply did not know it was being used to fund the Contras in Nicaragua.)

I think something similar happens in some people's minds with regard to knowledge of evolution and belief in Genesis. I suspect that there are people who could do very well on a college exam that required the answer to four questions:

  • What is Darwin's Theory of evolution?
  • What is the nature of the evidence in support of that theory?
  • Explain the Modern Synthesis of Darwin's Theory and Genetics.
  • What is the nature of the evidence supporting the genetic basis of evolution.

And yet among those people able to answer the questions, there are some who would say that they don't believe in evolution. Rather they would say that they believe that man was created in God's image, and that they believe in the account of creation in the Book of Genesis. Such a person might know about evolution but believe in the bible.

More on the Social Factors Relating to the Elvis Phenomenon and the Rise of Rock and Roll Music

I recently read Channeling Elvis: How Television Saved the King of Rock 'n' Roll by Allen J. Wiener. I previously posted on the technological infrastructure that was in place by 1958 that was involved in the Elvis phenomenon. I also posted on the culture that allowed the Elvis phenomenon to occur. Finally, I posted ideas about why Elvis lead the Rock and Roll revolution, and what there was about America at the time that allowed Elvis to do that. I had intended those to be my only posts on the book, but I find I have another, so here goes.

Yesterday I watched a TV discussion by Marilyn Irvin Holt on "Politics and Childhood During the Cold War". One of her points was that after World War II, Americans invested heavily in the new generation of children. She noted that they had similarly invested in children after World War I and the Civil War -- that such an investment in children may be a natural way for a country to follow a war. I think it was young people in the late 1950s who formed the first audience for Elvis and Rock and Roll. Maybe there was some relationship between the heavy investment these young people had had made in them which made them ready for a new music.

The 1920s been called the Jazz Age. A new music came out of Louisiana and its black communities and swept young people in the USA, and indeed in much of the world. Is there as parallel with Rock and Roll which also came from the south, from roots in the black community, and followed a World War? Rock and Roll came a little later after the war than did Jazz, the Charleston, and similar music, but then after World War II, in quick succession followed the beginning of the Cold War and the Korean War; they may have delayed a youthful demand for new music.

UNESCO was created after World War II, with the purpose of building the defenses of peace in the minds of men (because it is in the minds of men that wars start). The Allies who won the war had noted that the Nazis and the Fascists had worked hard to indoctrinate children into their ideologies, including introducing their propaganda into schools and text books. One of the first projects undertaken by UNESCO in Europe was to scrub the text books of that propaganda. I suspect that many teachers after the war sought to help kids learn how to think for themselves and avoid being excessively influenced by such propaganda. Indeed, Historian Holt suggests that there was an effort during the Cold War to help children think for themselves; the generation that went out on the streets to protest racial segregation and the Vietnam War (that of the 1960s) certainly seemed to me to think for themselves, rejecting many (bad) ideas of their elders.

The Growth of the Suburbs

As these two graphs show, there was a long term population shift in the United States away from the rural areas toward urban areas and suburban communities. By 1960 something like 30% of Americans lived in suburbs, notably manufactured new communities of the Levittown type. These were relatively affluent communities. They also tended to be segregated, open only to whites. They were places where teenagers often had some disposable income, rooms of their own, and considerable freedom of action. Were the suburbs the hotbed of Rock and Roll as performed by Elvis Presley, who was most certainly White, and whose whiteness was very visible on the TV shows and the movies in which he appeared.

Other Factors Dismissed

There was concern among politicians at that time that there was a wave of "juvenile delinquency". Was there such a crime wave? The following graph suggests that there was not. Thus it seems improbable that serious juvenile crime was in any way related to the Elvis phenomenon.


So too, the rise of Elvis and Rock and Roll seems to have preceded the rise of the use of illegal drugs in the USA. While the graph below is about numbers of people in prison and jail, it is suggestive. After the announcement of the "War on Drugs" the numbers shot up, and especially after the "Sentencing Reform Act" was passed, but there was no similar increase from 1940 to 1970. If there had been a big increase in drug use in the late 1950s and early 1960s one might have expected there to have been an increase in arrests, convictions, and people in jail.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Deep Cultural Roots of the Regions of the USA

I quote at length from an article by Colin Woodward in the Tufts Magazine (Fall 2013)
I should underscore that my observations refer to the dominant culture, not the individual inhabitants, of each region. In every town, city, and state you’ll likely find a full range of political opinions and social preferences. Even in the reddest of red counties and bluest of blue ones, twenty to forty percent of voters cast ballots for the “wrong” team. It isn’t that residents of one or another nation all think the same, but rather that they are all embedded within a cultural framework of deep-seated preferences and attitudes—each of which a person may like or hate, but has to deal with nonetheless. Because of slavery, the African American experience has been different from that of other settlers and immigrants, but it too has varied by nation, as black people confronted the dominant cultural and institutional norms of each. 
YANKEEDOM. Founded on the shores of Massachusetts Bay by radical Calvinists as a new Zion, Yankeedom has, since the outset, put great emphasis on perfecting earthly civilization through social engineering, denial of self for the common good, and assimilation of outsiders. It has prized education, intellectual achievement, communal empowerment, and broad citizen participation in politics and government, the latter seen as the public’s shield against the machinations of grasping aristocrats and other would-be tyrants. Since the early Puritans, it has been more comfortable with government regulation and public-sector social projects than many of the other nations, who regard the Yankee utopian streak with trepidation. 
NEW NETHERLAND. Established by the Dutch at a time when the Netherlands was the most sophisticated society in the Western world, New Netherland has always been a global commercial culture—materialistic, with a profound tolerance for ethnic and religious diversity and an unflinching commitment to the freedom of inquiry and conscience. Like seventeenth-century Amsterdam, it emerged as a center of publishing, trade, and finance, a magnet for immigrants, and a refuge for those persecuted by other regional cultures, from Sephardim in the seventeenth century to gays, feminists, and bohemians in the early twentieth. Unconcerned with great moral questions, it nonetheless has found itself in alliance with Yankeedom to defend public institutions and reject evangelical prescriptions for individual behavior. 
THE MIDLANDS. America’s great swing region was founded by English Quakers, who believed in humans’ inherent goodness and welcomed people of many nations and creeds to their utopian colonies like Pennsylvania on the shores of Delaware Bay. Pluralistic and organized around the middle class, the Midlands spawned the culture of Middle America and the Heartland, where ethnic and ideological purity have never been a priority, government has been seen as an unwelcome intrusion, and political opinion has been moderate. An ethnic mosaic from the start—it had a German, rather than British, majority at the time of the Revolution—it shares the Yankee belief that society should be organized to benefit ordinary people, though it rejects top-down government intervention. 
TIDEWATER. Built by the younger sons of southern English gentry in the Chesapeake country and neighboring sections of Delaware and North Carolina, Tidewater was meant to reproduce the semifeudal society of the countryside they’d left behind. Standing in for the peasantry were indentured servants and, later, slaves. Tidewater places a high value on respect for authority and tradition, and very little on equality or public participation in politics. It was the most powerful of the American nations in the eighteenth century, but today it is in decline, partly because it was cut off from westward expansion by its boisterous Appalachian neighbors and, more recently, because it has been eaten away by the expanding federal halos around D.C. and Norfolk. 
GREATER APPALACHIA. Founded in the early eighteenth century by wave upon wave of settlers from the war-ravaged borderlands of Northern Ireland, northern England, and the Scottish lowlands, Appalachia has been lampooned by writers and screenwriters as the home of hillbillies and rednecks. It transplanted a culture formed in a state of near constant danger and upheaval, characterized by a warrior ethic and a commitment to personal sovereignty and individual liberty. Intensely suspicious of lowland aristocrats and Yankee social engineers alike, Greater Appalachia has shifted alliances depending on who appeared to be the greatest threat to their freedom. It was with the Union in the Civil War. Since Reconstruction, and especially since the upheavals of the 1960s, it has joined with Deep South to counter federal overrides of local preference. 
DEEP SOUTH. Established by English slave lords from Barbados, Deep South was meant as a West Indies–style slave society. This nation offered a version of classical Republicanism modeled on the slave states of the ancient world, where democracy was the privilege of the few and enslavement the natural lot of the many. Its caste systems smashed by outside intervention, it continues to fight against expanded federal powers, taxes on capital and the wealthy, and environmental, labor, and consumer regulations. 
EL NORTE. The oldest of the American nations, El Norte consists of the borderlands of the Spanish American empire, which were so far from the seats of power in Mexico City and Madrid that they evolved their own characteristics. Most Americans are aware of El Norte as a place apart, where Hispanic language, culture, and societal norms dominate. But few realize that among Mexicans, norteños have a reputation for being exceptionally independent, self-sufficient, adaptable, and focused on work. Long a hotbed of democratic reform and revolutionary settlement, the region encompasses parts of Mexico that have tried to secede in order to form independent buffer states between their mother country and the United States. 
THE LEFT COAST. A Chile-shaped nation wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade and Coast mountains, the Left Coast was originally colonized by two groups: New Englanders (merchants, missionaries, and woodsmen who arrived by sea and dominated the towns) and Appalachian midwesterners (farmers, prospectors, and fur traders who generally arrived by wagon and controlled the countryside). Yankee missionaries tried to make it a “New England on the Pacific,” but were only partially successful. Left Coast culture is a hybrid of Yankee utopianism and Appalachian self-expression and exploration—traits recognizable in its cultural production, from the Summer of Love to the iPad. The staunchest ally of Yankeedom, it clashes with Far Western sections in the interior of its home states. 
THE FAR WEST. The other “second-generation” nation, the Far West occupies the one part of the continent shaped more by environmental factors than ethnographic ones. High, dry, and remote, the Far West stopped migrating easterners in their tracks, and most of it could be made habitable only with the deployment of vast industrial resources: railroads, heavy mining equipment, ore smelters, dams, and irrigation systems. As a result, settlement was largely directed by corporations headquartered in distant New York, Boston, Chicago, or San Francisco, or by the federal government, which controlled much of the land. The Far West’s people are often resentful of their dependent status, feeling that they have been exploited as an internal colony for the benefit of the seaboard nations. Their senators led the fight against trusts in the mid-twentieth century. Of late, Far Westerners have focused their anger on the federal government, rather than their corporate masters. 
NEW FRANCE. Occupying the New Orleans area and southeastern Canada, New France blends the folkways of ancien régime northern French peasantry with the traditions and values of the aboriginal people they encountered in northeastern North America. After a long history of imperial oppression, its people have emerged as down-to-earth, egalitarian, and consensus driven, among the most liberal on the continent, with unusually tolerant attitudes toward gays and people of all races and a ready acceptance of government involvement in the economy. The New French influence is manifest in Canada, where multiculturalism and negotiated consensus are treasured. 
FIRST NATION. First Nation is populated by native American groups that generally never gave up their land by treaty and have largely retained cultural practices and knowledge that allow them to survive in this hostile region on their own terms. The nation is now reclaiming its sovereignty, having won considerable autonomy in Alaska and Nunavut and a self-governing nation state in Greenland that stands on the threshold of full independence. Its territory is huge—far larger than the continental United States—but its population is less than 300,000, most of whom live in Canada.
I think there is something to this. I belong to a History Book Club which is located in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC (part of what Woodward calls the Tidewater.) This is an area in which slavery held on rather late in U.S. history. The Club has tended to read widely, but to focus in U.S. history on history up to the Civil War, and thus on eastern United States history. At my suggestion the group is now reading about Texas history (early 19th century, when what was called Texas fell entirely in El Norte) and California history in the Spanish Colonial period. Earlier we had read about the Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish colonizers of what is now New Mexico. I believe that there is a heritage in El Norte that is different than that in Maryland. I suspect it will be useful for the club to explore histories of the other regions on the map above.

The map may be too clearly divided into regions. Texas, south of the Balcones Escarpment was importantly settled by slaveholding immigrants from the Deep South before the Texas revolution against Mexico. Thus this region has cultural roots that are both Hispanic and Deep Southern -- perhaps it should be rose grey on the map?

Here is an earlier map with similar pretensions:

Source: "Nine Nations of North America, 30 Years Later" by Joel Garreau in The New York Times

Friday, June 26, 2015

On the Factors Behind the Texas Revolution Against Mexico

I just finished Chapter 5 of Lone Star Rising: The Revolutionary Birth of the Texas Republic by William C. Davis. This complements earlier chapters that discuss the European context for the creation of the Texas Republic (see my previous post). In this chapter, author Davis addresses the Mexican context.

The Criollo leadership in the Viceroyalty of New Spain, long dissatisfied by the lack of influence and respect that they perceived that they received from their Spanish administrators, took advantage of Spain's weakness to begin an insurrection in 1811. Davis suggests that this was in part due to the revolutionary examples before them (United States, France) and part of a larger Hispanic American movement that involved parallel revolutions led by Bolivar (in northern Sourth America), San Martin (Argentina) and O'Higgins (Chile).

The revolution succeeded in that Mexico was created as a nation 1821, and a new Constitution was written in 1824. (Spain was not content with the loss of its huge colony, and continued it attempts to reconquer Mexico. Starting in the Caribbean, Spain eventually landed an expeditionary force at Tampico in 1829, but that force was repulsed. New Spain was huge, as the map below shows, spanning an area from Oregon to Panama, from Louisana to the Pacific Coast of California.

Unfortunately for Mexico and its people, there was little basis to establish a new nation. Various forces preferred a centralized or a federal government. Caudillos supported by army factions competed for national power (the army was perhaps the strongest national institution in the country). The Central American states separated from Mexico, and several of the states of what is now Mexico were in revolt against the government in Mexico City. The northern territories (shown as Alta California, New Mexico and New Philippines) were very sparsely populated -- often more Indian than Mexican.

The various governments in Mexico City had little time nor interest in the aspirations of those in the far north, and perhaps especially not for the Anglos who were moving into Texas (and also California) The Mexicans had outlawed slavery, and this was especially repugnant to the Anglo settlers of Texas -- southerners who had brought their slaves with them as necessary to the operation of the plantations (for King Cotton) that they were developing on their large land grants. This situation led to the Texas revolt in 1836 which created the Texas Republic (which was annexed by the USA in 1845.) The weakness of the Mexican government, also led to a revolt in California in 1846, the Bear Flag Republic, and (after the California gold rush of 1848) annexation of California and California statehood in 1850.)


A Modest Proposal

Following the example set by Jonathan Swift, I wish to make a modest proposal. Substitute a Shoot Out for the Republican Presidential Primaries. Given that Republican candidates must favor open carry, must seek NRA endorsement, and are apparently very concerned with illegal voting in elections, this seems a natural.

Founding Fathers Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr showed the way; Andy Jackson would have approved. Shoot Outs would be a series of duels using OK Coral Rules: 8 duels the first round, 4 the second round a month or two later, and 2 in the third round after another couple of months. The survivors would be the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates, with the less seriously wounded Republican heading the ticket.

The number of candidates should be increased from the current 13 to 16 (Fox News -- that clearly would be the choice to televise the Shoot Out -- could select the three additions). In the first round of duels, 8 candidates would be eliminated. (I am sure many foreign leaders would volunteer to provide the Coups de Grace for the losers.) The 4 survivors of the second round would compete in the third round.

Some advantages of this process are clear:

  • The winners would walk the walk, not just talk the talk;
  • Democrats would like the process;
  • This would be quick and entertaining, rather than the current interminable mind-deadening process used today;
  • It would be much less expensive;
  • There would be fewer Republican candidates in future presidential elections.
Use the Comments to add advantages or to suggest improvements on this modest proposal.