Monday, May 28, 2012

Thoughts on reading "To End All Wars"

Europe 1914
Source of map
1914 was the beginning of the end of empires. It was the culmination of development of a thick network of treaties intended to preserve the peace. It was a moment in which great mistakes were made. It was the start of a global war.

I just read To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild, a book about World War I, told primarily focusing on the English experience of the war.

The proximate cause of the war was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by a young Serbian fanatic from a tiny group of Bosnia Serbs. That led to the invasion of Serbia by the Austro-Hungarian empire, the declaration of war on that empire by Russia, leading to entry into the war by Germany, France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, the Ottoman Empire, Italy, Bulgaria and ultimately the United States. The metropolitan powers brought in troops from their scattered empires.

It seems obvious to me that the root cause of the war was a series of mistakes. It seems obvious that the violent act of a single young man should not have triggered a war that resulted in the deaths of some 20 million people; some better solution to the problem that the assassination posed should and could have been found.

How did the war work out for the key people who influenced the decision to go to war? Within a few years:
  • The Austro-Hungarian empire was dissolved, its territory distributed among several states, the monarchy overthrown and the monarch in exile.
  • The Russian empire had lost much of its most valuable territory, the monarchy was replaced by a Communist Government and the royal family assassinated.
  • Germany had lost some of its European territory and its overseas colonies, its monarchy was deposed and in exile.
  • The Ottoman empire was broken up, the Sultanate lost control of even Turkey, and the Sultan was in exile.
Would the monarchs of these countries have acquiesced to the wars, much less promoted them, had they recognized that the war would lead to the end of their dynasties?

Even winners such as the British empire, the French empire and Italy had lost huge numbers of killed and wounded and had incurred huge debts as well as destruction of property. Their leaders were so embittered by the war that they imposed a peace that historians agree would lead to a global depression and inexorably to the next and vastly more destructive war. Indeed, it seems likely that the Spanish flu pandemic would have been less lethal but for the war.

It seems inescapable that if those influential people had been able to foresee accurately the consequences of the war that they favored and allowed to occur, they would have moved heaven and earth to prevent it.
They must not have understood the nature of the war that their nations were unleashing, the abilities of their nations to prevail or even to survive the war, nor the implications for the form of government that they led.

While apparently some military men understood the nature of the war that was being unleashed, their understanding was not effectively communicated to the monarchs, nor to the aristocracy in general, nor most definitely to the public. I find myself wondering if this too (like the Civil War that I have previously discussed) was not a war most directly caused by a failure of knowledge -- that the people who should have known did not understand the war that they were unleashing on the world.

On the other hand, looking back the 20th century seems to have seen a massive cultural transition. It saw the emergence of the middle class and the distribution of power, including some power to the working class. It saw a massive improvement of the economic status of people, and a massive improvement in educational attainment. It seems inevitable that there would have been decolonization, the end of monarchies and empires, and a shift of power from the landed aristocracy to other socio-economic classes, a shift in institutions from monarch and oligarchy to democracy. Could these transitions ever have been made without war and devastation? 

The book focuses on a few English people, following them from the Boar War through World War I and indeed providing a epilogue summarizing their post-war fates. Those followed include generals and politicians that played central roles in the British war effort, but also key members of the anti-war movement. Interestingly, some families had both field marshals and public pacifists, some broke apart due to disagreements over the war. 

Thank goodness for Wikipedia. I found a frequent need to go to other sources to figure out what the broad trends were in the war. On the other hand, Hochschild's narration rooted in the lives of real people makes the story more accessible and interesting, and he does write a good sentence, a solid paragraph, and a sound chapter. I found I read the book quickly and with interest.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Thoughts on scientific merit review.

A international meeting of senior officials from agencies funding science recently produced a statement of principles for scientific merit review.

I spent a couple of decades managing or advising on scientific merit review, and the basic fact is that the proponents of new projects, whose professional careers depend on getting funded and who seek to identify a great project that they would be happy to implement, spend a lot longer and more serious time preparing a proposal than do the peers in preparing their review.

A second basic fact is that key decisions are made at the margin. It is likely that the best proposal in a competition will be funded and the worst will not be funded, if the process works at all. But say an agency is going to fund 15 percent of proposals. How accurate is the distinction between the 15th and the 16th best proposals? My guess is that few review processes are good enough to be accurate at this level. Indeed, the proposal is at best a poor surrogate for the quality that the project would have if funded.

Consider further, an agency that is planning to fund projects in say four different areas will have to judge not only whether the 15th proposal in one group is really better than the 16th, but also whether it would not be better to shift funds among groups to fund 14 proposals in one or two groups in order to fund more an another group. There will not be true peers of different scientific areas.

A principle that might have been added was to entrust the management of the scientific merit review to well trained professionals -- those who have experience in finding peer experts, in balancing peer review panels, in dealing with borderline conflict of interest issues, in determining whether reviews are adequate for decision making or whether the decision should be postponed to obtain still more information, and in managing the process of obtaining written reviews and conducting in person peer review meetings.

Another important principle of peer review is that there must be an appeal process. Reviewers make mistakes. Review managers make mistakes. Project proponents must have an opportunity to respond to comments on their proposals and appeal unjust decisions.

The effort to develop internationally approved standards for peer review is important, and the report is useful. But there are lots of errors that can be made in implementing a good set of principles.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

We need to act now to eradicate polio

Polio in the World Now

Following its sixth meeting, held from 15-17 May 2012, the Independent Monitoring Board of the Polio Eradication Initiative wrote to the Director-General of the World Health Organization in advance of the World Health Assembly's deliberations regarding polio eradication. This letter highlights the crisis facing the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, reaffirms the importance of the World Health Assembly's discussions, and underlines the severity of the Initiative's funding shortfall. 

Polio was once a disease feared worldwide, striking suddenly and paralysing mainly children for life. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the largest private-public partnership for health, has reduced polio by 99%. Polio now survives only among the world's poorest and most marginalized communities, where it stalks the most vulnerable children. The Initiative's goal is to reach every last child with polio vaccine and ensure a polio-free world for future generations.

Food and health crisis in Sahel

The Sahel suffers from chronic malnutrition. With the poor harvest and increasing food insecurity, there are serious concerns of a full-scale disaster this year. There are an estimated 20 million people living in vulnerable areas and 15.6 million of these people are affected by food insecurity. Malnutrition makes people, particularly children under five, weaker and more prone to disease. This crisis is further exacerbated because it is occurring in countries with very fragile health systems and services.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for health interventions to urgently be scaled up, mainly in areas not yet covered, to complement on-going nutrition and food interventions.


One of our most innovative, popular thinkers takes on one of our key questions: Where do good ideas come from? With Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson pairs the insight of his bestselling Everything Bad Is Good for You and the dazzling erudition of The Ghost Map and The Invention of Air to address an urgent and universal question: What sparks the flash of brilliance? How does groundbreaking innovation happen? Johnson provides an encouraging story of how we generate the ideas that push our careers, our lives, our society, and our culture forward.

Johnson suggests that the question we need to ask is, What kind of environment fosters the development of good ideas? 

Kitaro - Matsuri (喜多郎-祭り)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Some of Africa is Growing Fast

Look at:

  • Angola with a reasonably high per capita GDP and a very high growth rate.
  • Morocco, Congo and Egypt with some $3000 per capita GDP and 5 percent growth rates.
  • Nigeria, Sudan, and Ghana with quite a large population among them and growth rates in the 6 to 7 percent range.
We worry about the countries grouped in the low income low growth corner of the graph, but that is not the whole story of Africa.

This seems impossible to believe.

I don't normally comment on news stories on which I have no special knowledge but the story seems so appalling that I am going to share it here. I gathered this from an article from The New York Times:

  • One in three American Indian women have been raped or have experienced an attempted rape, according to the Justice Department. 
  • Their rate of sexual assault is more than twice the national average.
  • Alaska Natives are 15 percent of that state’s population, but constitute 61 percent of its victims of sexual assault.
  • According a survey by the Alaska Federation of Natives, the rate of sexual violence in rural villages like Emmonak is as much as 12 times the national rate.
  • Nationwide, an arrest is made in just 13 percent of the sexual assaults reported by American Indian women, according to the Justice Department, compared with 35 percent for black women and 32 percent for whites.
  • The Justice Department did not prosecute 65 percent of the rape cases on Indian reservations in 2011.
  • The White House proposed reauthorization of the landmark Violence Against Women Act of 1994 .
  • A Senate version, passed with broad bipartisan support, would grant new powers to tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians suspected of sexually assaulting their Indian spouses or domestic partners. 
  • House Republicans, and some Senate Republicans, oppose the provision as a dangerous expansion of the tribal courts’ authority.
  • It was excluded from the version that the House passed last Wednesday.
Who are the House Republicans protecting, the whites who are sexually assaulting their Indian partners or the assaulted women?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

When you spend more, shouldn't you get better quality?

Source: The Economist
We did get Obama in 2008, as compared with Bush in 2000 and 2004, so  maybe quality did go up. But the Congress in 2010 was not notably better than the lower cost Congresses elected in non-Presidential elections.

Child Mortality: A Huge Development Success

Monday, May 21, 2012

"Legacy" versus "impact" of the Civil War

"Legacy" as it is most frequently used refers to that left at the death of a person in his will. Indeed, I think we frequently speak each bequest in the will as the legacy from the deceased to that inheritor. In that sense, we can talk about the legacy of the Civil War:

  • to African Americans, freed from slavery and set on a long perilous path towards equality;
  • to the West, which was developed much more rapidly due to the policies instituted by the Republicans that survived the Civil War;
  • to the United States, thereafter a singular noun rather than a plural as it had been, strong enough to spread from sea to sea, and thus to have an increasing role in global affairs;
  • to the world, leaving a model democracy still standing to serve as a model for other states.
"Impact" seems to me to imply counter factual analysis. Thus we might wonder:
  • What would have happened had the Union allowed secession? The difference between that scenario and the actual history might be seen as the impact of the decision to go to war.
  • What would have happened had Virginia and North Carolina not joined the Confederacy, but rather remained with the Union, Might the states of the deep south have come back into the Union? Would there have been a shorter, less destructive war and a peace more conciliatory to the south? Again, the difference between the best counter factual scenario and the actual history might be seen as the impact of the decisions by North Carolina and Virginia.
  • What would have happened had South Carolina not fired on Sumter?
  • What would have happened had the deep south not seceded from the Union before Lincoln took office?
In thinking about history, I suggest "legacy" and "impact" have quite different implications. I would suggest an even better question might be, what was different after the event as compared with before the event, and what followed from that difference.

Are the Republicans leading a dumbing down of Congress?

There is a new study of the complexity of speech used by members of Congress. The study looks at addresses to the Congress. Longer sentences and increases in multisyllabic word counts suggest that the language is more complex. Complexity is scaled according to the grade level of students that on the average would be required to fully understand the text.

The following chart shows that the complexity of language has decreased markedly in recent years:

Note that there was a precipitous drop in complexity of remarks by Republicans after the 2006 congressional election (that is in the Congressional sessions in 2007 and 2008). There was a further major decrease after the 2008 presidential election (i.e. in 2009 and 2010). The 2010 congressional election saw the Republican level of discourse remain about the same, but the Democrats's remarks after that election also decreased in complexity. The Democrats made more complex remarks than the Republicans on average 2006, reversing a long standing pattern.

Note how the complexity depends on the ideology of the speaker, based on data since 1996.

As one would expect, Republicans (red) are more conservative than Democrats (blue). There does not seem to be any marked relationship among liberals between ideology and complexity of speech (Although the handful of Democrats with the least complex speech have the most liberal voting records in Congress). The more conservative the Republican, the simpler the language he/she used. Indeed, the simplest language used in the Congress was by the speakers with the very most conservative voting records.

The trend here is not in stump speeches, where it might be explained as an attempt to communicate better with the general public, who have an average of an 8th grade level of comprehension; this is is speeches on the floor of the Congress, presumably to fellow members. I would suggest that the complexity of speech in this context represents more the level of complexity of the speaker's thinking than of his/her conscious effort to communicate with his/her peers.

I find this data quite disturbing. There are serious political issues before the Congress and I would expect them to demand debate with sophisticated thinking expressed in elegant language. That clearly is not what is happening. Note too, would would hope that the people with the most extreme views in the Congress, who would have the greatest ideological distance to move their colleagues, would use the most complex and elegant language, where quite the opposite seems to emerge from the data.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Colin Powell on information for decision making

Everyone knows the old adage: bad news, unlike wine, doesn’t get better with time.
I am going to quote at length from Colin Powell's article The Daily Beast:
You can’t make good decisions unless you have good information and can separate facts from opinion and speculation. Facts are verified information, which is then presented as objective reality. The rub here is the verified. How do you verify verified? Facts are slippery, and so is verification. Today’s verification may not be tomorrow’s. It turns out that facts may not really be facts; they can change as the verification changes; they may only tell part of the story, not the whole story; or they may be so qualified by verifiers that they’re empty of information. 
My warning radar always goes on alert when qualifiers are attached to facts. Qualifiers like: My best judgment ... I think ... As best I can tell ... Usually reliable sources say ... For the most part ... We’ve been told ... and the like. I don’t dismiss facts so qualified, but I’m cautious about taking them to the bank. 
Over time I developed for my intelligence staffs a set of four rules to ensure that we saw the process from the same perspective and to take off their shoulders some of the burden of accountability:
  • Tell me what you know.
  • Tell me what you don’t know.
  • Then tell me what you think.
  • Always distinguish which is which.
What you know means you are reasonably sure that your facts are corroborated. At best, you know where they came from, and you can confirm them with multiple sources. At times you will not have this level of assurance, but you’re still pretty sure that your analysis is correct. It’s OK to go with that if it’s all you have, but in every case, tell me why you are sure and your level of assurance.

Tell me what you think. Though verified facts are the golden nuggets of decision making, unverified information, hunches, and even wild beliefs may sometimes prove to be just as important.
image source

Most of us don't have the Department of Defense with its huge staff and complex bureaucracy providing us with information (much less the entire foreign policy establishment of the U.S. government) but the approach seems to be worthwhile.

If you are making an important decision, it might be worthwhile making some lists:

  • What you think you know, how you know it and how confident of each assertion;
  • What you think you want to know that you don't know, how much you want to know it, and how hard it is likely to be to find out;
  • What you think, why you think it, how likely each thought might be, and whether to change something from this category to one of the categories above.
  • Being sure to distinguish which is which.
Of course, putting the information on which a decision is to be based is only the first step. It is then necessary to make the decision, and to implement the decision.

(Tim Sloan / AFP-Getty Images)

Colin Powell, who was Secretary of State when we invaded Iraq, points out that the Bush administration did not take to heart his comment, "if you break it, you own it." He points out that the plans were not implemented that would have kept the Iraq military sufficiently in place to maintain domestic order, and would also have kept most of the lower level Baath Party members in place in their jobs in schools, hospitals and government agencies. Had those plans been implemented, we might have avoided years of involvement in insurrection in Iraq.

Do you believe the Republicans want to cut Federal spending?

From an article in The New York Times: Republican Congressman Harold Rogers, now the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, added an earmark to a 2009 spending bill requiring the DOD to buy steel "'leakproof' drip pans in the last three years to catch transmission fluid on Black Hawk helicopters." The drip pans would keep oil from splashing passengers in the helicopters, apparently more securely than the original plastic drip pans.
Mr. Rogers said in a statement. “These dripping pans help accomplish both of these goals.” (Emphasis added to illustrate the Congressman's expertise on "dripping pans".
"As of October, the Army had bought 374 drip pans from Phoenix Products at an average cost of $17,000." "(A) similar pan from another company costs a small fraction of the price: about $2,500."
The company’s owners are political contributors to the congressman, who has been called the “Prince of Pork” by The Lexington Herald-Leader for his history of delivering federal contracts to donors and others back home..........The company has paid at least $600,000 since 2005 to a Washington lobbying firm, Martin Fisher Thompson & Associates, to represent its interests on federal contracting issues, records show. 
Mr. Rogers, in turn, has been a strong supporter of the manufacturer. He has directed more than $17 million in work orders for Phoenix Products since 2000.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A thought on thinking

Sometimes counter factual reasoning from history can be interesting and possibly even interesting. For example, I find it interesting to think about what changes could have resulted in leaders in South Carolina or Virginia to have chosen to support the Union rather than secede.

On the other hand, it seems to me that the farther from historical fact that one strays, the more dangerous counter factual reasoning becomes. To continue the Civil War example, the Confederacy was crushed; it lost the war in a big way. Trying to figure out how it might have succeeded in secession seems to me to be intellectually perilous. 

World Record Paper Airplane Distance

Do we as a people believe origin myths or scientific evidence?

I quote from the AAAS ScienceInsider:
A federal court judge in San Francisco granted a temporary restraining order Friday to prevent the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), from handing over 9000-year-old human bones to Native Americans, in the latest twist in an unusual custody battle for two human skeletons that are among the earliest found in the Americas. Three University of California professors filed a lawsuit last week to prevent UCSD from transferring the bones, which have been described as better preserved than those of the Kennewick Man, another ancient skeleton that has been the center of debate and lawsuits..... 
After years of legal dispute, UCSD officials were preparing to give the bones to representatives of the Kumeyaay, against the advice of a UCSD scientific advisory committee and a separate system-wide UC research committee that reviewed the claims......The scientific advisory committee found that the Kumeyaay language moved into the region 2000 years ago, and that the Kumeyaay traditionally cremated their dead rather than burying them. Moreover, Schoeninger's lab's analysis of stable isotopes from samples of the skeletons indicated that they ate a diet of marine mammals and offshore fish—a coastal adaptation that contrasts with the desert origins of the Kumeyaay. Anthropologists who study the bones and DNA of Paleoindians also agree that the remains are probably too old to have any affiliation, cultural or otherwise, with tribes living in southern California today.
So who should we believe? The Kumeyaay who believe that these bones to be their ancestors, based on their tribal knowledge system or the scientists who believe that the bones are not based on the scientific knowledge system? I have no doubt. Unfortunately, our Congress which includes many people who distrust science (especially in areas such as human evolution) seems not to have agreed when they wrote and passed  Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

Image source

Without comment

Fungi infect billions of people every year, yet their contribution to the global burden of disease is largely unrecognized. Most are “relatively” minor infections, but millions contract diseases that kill at least as many people as tuberculosis or malaria. Although true mortality rates are unknown because of a lack of good epidemiological data, the incidence of invasive fungal infections is rising as a result of modern medical interventions and immunosuppressive diseases, such as AIDS. Despite the high mortality rates of invasive fungal infections, they remain understudied and underdiagnosed as compared with other infectious diseases. What can be done to remedy this unfortunate situation?
Editorial, Science magazine

Are our genes in the saddle riding mankind?

I have been posting examples of us thinking with our brains, not our minds. Jonathan Haidt, in his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, suggests that our brain's morality is rooted in our genes.
The arresting image Haidt gives for our sense of morality is that it's like a rational rider on top of an intuitive elephant. The rider can sometimes nudge the elephant one way or the other, but no one should be in any doubt that the elephant is making the important moves. In fact, the main job of the rider is to come up with post-hoc justifications for where the elephant winds up. We rationalise what our gut tells us. This is true no matter how intelligent we are........ 
Haidt wants us to understand that our moral instincts are inherently judgmental: being moral makes us moralistic. Much of the book is devoted to the experimental evidence that shows how often moral judgment is a case of us v them rather than right v wrong. In Haidt's terms, morality "binds and blinds". It binds us to the group and blinds us to the point of view of outsiders.
David Runciman in a review of Haidt's book in The Guardian
I have been reading To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild. I am reminded how stupid the first World War was. Many of the most influential people in the build up to the war came off very badly as a result of the war. The Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires all fell, and an entire generation of the young men who formed the officer class in most of Europe -- the sons of the aristocracy and affluent -- was decimated. The political and military leadership of Europe largely failed to understand the deadly nature of the war that they were letting loose and the destruction that the war would wreak on their country and its social order.

It seems to me that we better learn how to more accurately predict the results of the actions we contemplate as nations, and that we more effectively tame our instincts with that knowledge or we will harness our increasing power to our still greater destruction.

New Report of U.S. Health Statistics

The CDC has published a new report with a detailed picture of U.S. health status, access and availability of health services, etc. The good news is that overall, we are living longer. The bad news is that we are getting fatter and that there were still by 2008 a great many people without health insurance.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Alan M. Turing Centennial Conference: Turing's Estimation Technique and Large-scale Machine

Turing's Estimation Technique and Large-scale Machine Learning Presented by Prof. Corinna Cortes, Google Alan M. Turing Centennial Conference - Israel April 4, 2012 The Wohl Centre Bar-Ilan University Ramat-Gan, Israel For more information see:

Thinking about political free speech for organizations

I just read "Money Unlimited: How Chief Justice John Roberts orchestrated the Citizens United decision" by Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker. It got me to thinking:

Whose Political Opinions are Expressed by Corporations

Organizations don't speak. Sometimes a person is designated to speak for an organization, but organizations don't have the physical equipment to speak.

More importantly is the way organizations make decisions. The owners of an organization are in theory its stock holders, and if an organization were to express opinions they ought to be the opinions of its stock holders. While there are stock holder meetings, many of the stock holders of large corporations are themselves other organizations -- banks, pension funds, mutual funds, etc. There is no practical way to ascertain the political preferences of the people who own large corporations.

In fact, small groups of people make decisions as to the advertisements that corporations pay for. Thus a small group of people is using money belonging to the corporation's stock holders to pay for advertisements promoting political views of that small group rather than the documented opinion of the stock holders. I can not imagine that the corporate charters give that power to the management of corporations, nor that the ultimate people whose money forms the capital of the corporation are informed that their money will be used in that way.

The question is not whether the rights of corporations as "legal persons" have the right to political speech, but whether the management of a corporation has the right to determine the content of political speech of the corporation that they manage.

We generally agree that foreign nationals do not have the right to advertise to influence American elections. Thus foreign owned corporations should not have that right either. How about corporations chartered in the United States with foreign owners? What percentage of the capital in a corporation could come from foreign investors before the corporation should not be allowed to influence an American election?

Indeed, I have made the argument that decisions on political advertisements funded by corporations are actually made by small groups of people in the corporate management. What if some of all of those people are not American citizens?

Do we want the Federal Elections Committee to try to make such fine distinctions and to try to ascertain whether corporations meet the criteria to be allowed political advertisements? I think not.

Balance in the Media

The Supreme Court decided in the past that the government had the right to assure balanced coverage of controversial issues in the media, accepting a "Fairness Doctrine" from the FCC. While the FCC no longer enforces a fairness doctrine, the government might do so.

The fairness doctrine was imposed in part because the broadcast spectrum is owned by the people and managed by the people to serve the public interest. In the second half of the 20th century, most people got their information from from radio or television, and there was a potential danger that if those media presented a biased coverage of the issues before voters, then the voters would not have the information necessary to vote wisely.

Similarly, the FCC has enforced a newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule. The rule again establishes the principle that in order to assure that voters have balanced information on issues before them the government can regulate the media.

Today people have vastly more access to information via cable television and the Internet than they had when those principles were established. Faced with a virtual flood of information, the question is to what do viewers attend? It is possible that the government has a legitimate role in encouraging the public to attend to a balanced set of views on key issues. I would hold that such is at least worthy of consideration.

Money is now used to buy attention through advertisements in newspapers, radio, television, email, social media, search engines, etc. Indeed, money is used to buy "news channels" such as Fox News and MSNBC that present conservative and liberal views of issues respectively.

It would seem to me that the government has a potential role in assuring that the funding for political advertising is not so heavily directed towards one point of view that voters are unlikely to attend appropriately to other legitimate views on the issues. I would think limitations on the funding of political advertisement by Super PACs, corporations and non-profits be considered in this respect. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Romney Cost Me My Job Says Worker

A former employee of one of presidential candidate Mitt Romney's bankrupt companies says Romney's decisions cost him and many others their jobs. Randy Johnson who used to work for Bain Capital is in Des Moines, Iowa to make sure anyone who will listen knows how badly Romney mismanaged the Indiana paper plant where Johnson used to be employed. According to the Des Moines Register, Romney was the chief executive officer of Bain Capital in 1992 when the company purchased American Pad Paper, or Ampad, and oversaw the management of that company and others. Ampad went bankrupt in 2000, and investors netted over $100 million from the deal, according to the Boston Globe. Johnson and others from the Indiana paper plant where he worked traveled to Massachusetts during Romney?s Senate race against Democratic incumbent Ted Kennedy to express their concerns over not getting a fair shake from the new management. A few months later the plant was shut down. Johnson received a personal letter from Romney on the day the plant closed expressing his condolences about the turn of events. About 200 workers lost their jobs, and it didn?t have to be that way, said Johnson, who was told the plant was still making a profit when it was sold to Bain Capital initially.

Lets invest in the future

We have to get over the current crises -- the legacy of the housing bubble and financial crisis of the Bush II administration and the Great Recession that they caused, the weakness of the euro, the debt crisis (federal, state and local government as well as private), and the political gridlock.

The economic health of the United States from 2035 to the end of the century must also be planned for and worked for now. The United States is in better shape for that future than are Europe and Japan because our population is not seeing the same changes. Those countries are seeing the percentages of their populations over retirement age increasing and a smaller percentage of the population newly entering the workforce.

The long term health of the American economy and indeed of those in the workforce now will depend on investments now -- roads, ICT infrastructure, energy infrastructure, science and technology.

It will also depend on human resources. Notably, we need to continue to attract immigrants, and ideally we should attract immigrants who contribute the most to our economy -- entrepreneurs, innovators and the like.

We also have to invest in the kids who are being born here. The kids who are being born now will be entering the work force around 2035. Just over half of the kids born in the last year are from minorities -- Hispanic, black, Asian, Native American, or other. Unfortunately, we are not investing enough in kids from minority ethnic groups and as a result they drop out of school earlier and are less successful in school. Unless that is corrected, the competitiveness of the United States in what is likely to be an increasingly global economy will be diminished. Life expectancy is now about 80 years. Thus almost everyone under the age of 60 in 2015 will be alive in 2035, and an increasing portion of them should be retired and depending on the new entrants to the workforce for the economic health of the United States and indeed for their income.

Lets invest in the kids.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

New Investment Frontiers

T Rowe Price Report, #115, Spring 2012

According to T Rowe Price, a new wave of countries is rising out of poverty sufficiently rapidly to make those countries good candidates for international investment. The table above lists a number of African and Asian nations in this class.

Emergence may not be enough

Teleonomic processes that have emerged and evolved in our institutions frequently seem to have worked to the benefit of society, but not always. Can we afford to depend on them continuing to work for our species which is increasingly capable of doing harm to itself and our environment?

Fifty years ago I was working in the early days of computer neural network modeling, using simple methods train model networks to recognize patterns. We used both selection and adaptation in the process, and built a device (the Astropower Decision Filter) that illustrated the potential of the approach. The ADF got a fair amount of publicity.

That work was an early example of what has come to be known as "emergence":
the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions.
It has influenced my thinking in many ways over the decades.

In a recent post, I suggested that one could regard the Civil War as a pattern emerging out of the interplay of millions of peoples behavior in the charged atmosphere of the 1850s and early 1860s, directed through the political institutions of the time and contingent upon "external" events that occurred during that time. I suspect that many wars can be so regarded -- with horrible results predicted by few if any of their proponents. After a losing war, I would bet that most people on the side most responsible for its start would regret their actions, and perhaps even those on the winning side would also wish they had worked harder to find a better solution.

In like manner, I suggest that one can regard economic bubbles and crashes as patterns emerging out of the interplay of millions of people's economic behavior in specific emotional atmospheres, directed thought economic institutions and contingent upon external events. Social crises such as the rise of drug abuse and criminal networks similarly can be regarded as emerging from the actions of people (unaware of the full implications of their behavior) under the influence of social institutions and contingent on events.

The political, economic and social institutions mentioned above themselves emerge from interactions of people within society. They also evolve, once in existence, and evolution is a process of emergence. In these cases, the development of institutions can perhaps best be perceived as the result of both teleologic and teleonomic processes -- of planning and of unplanned processes that produce orderly patterns.

At one point about 1970, in graduate school studying public administration, I got very interested in ideas that decision making in organizations was less than ideally rational. Important decisions in organizations are often made by small groups, based on incomplete information and understanding, and often by processes that are not optimal but rather dependent on the idiosyncrasies of the participants. Indeed, I came to believe that the behavior of large organizations is similarly the result of both teleologic and teleonomic processes. In our modern societies, formal organizations are also important institutions. Indeed, we now hear that some corporations are too large to fail, but very large organizations turn out to be difficult to manage and prone to failure.

As I have suggested in the past, we think with our brains, not with our "rational minds". Our plans and decisions are influenced by our emotions; our decision processes are less than the rationality too often postulated for "economic man". It is also becoming increasingly clear that the way we behave is strongly influenced by our genetic makeup. For example, there is now evidence that gene deletions and duplications on the seventh chromosome can produce changes in social cognition (increasing risk for the failed social instincts typical of autism in the one case, and the extreme social attention typical of Williams syndrome in the other). As Edward Wilson points out, we are a eusocial species, and our genetically determined fascination with groups and social interactions underlies both our institutions and our behavior within those institutions.

Some very good things have emerged from the modern world. Never in human history have so many people been so health, so wealthy, and so informed. Some very bad things also have emerged; wars in the 20th century killed many tens of millions of people. So did diseases, some of which were new such as the Spanish Flu or AIDS. The Great Depression led to the phrase, when the United States sneezes Chile catches pneumonia.

However, the paragraphs above suggest that somewhat rational humans, with genetically determined mental processes evolved by survival in very different environments, interacting in processes mediated by institutions we only partially understand, have made very bad mistakes in the past and have failed to meet very large challenges.

Society is not only getting bigger but is getting more connected. People living today can expect to live in a world with eight to ten billion people by 2050. Globalization is reflected in much closer economic links among nations. Technological and economic growth have resulted in a much greater "footprint" of mankind on the earth; indeed we now seem likely to produce unprecedented global environmental catastrophes. And above all, everything but man himself is changing with increasing rapidity.

While mankind hopes for development to reduce global poverty, reduce the global burden of disease, and decrease losses due to war and conflict, we have to worry about increasing the scale of dysfunctional emergence. Can we really depend on good things to emerge from a world we understand so poorly, or for catastrophic things not to emerge?

I don't have an answer, but it seems to me that it would be a good idea to have a really major global social science research program on how patterns emerge from societies and the dependence of those patterns on political, economic and social institutions, as well as how the institutions themselves emerge and evolve. We should also be risk adverse. Lets not let political processes lead us too close to war, economic processes lead us too close to crashes nor to risks of crashes to big to withstand.

Click on the emergence label to the right for more on this topic.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

American Exceptionalism

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
The Declaration of Independence

The said states hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defence, the security of their Liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretence whatever.
Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union between the states of New-hampshire, Massachusetts-bay, Rhode-island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North-Carolina, South-Carolina and Georgia

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The Constitution of the United States

Americans are not a perfect people, but we are called to a perfect mission.
Andrew Jackson

As long as our government is administered for the good of the people, and is regulated by their will; as long as it secures to us the rights of persons and of property, liberty of conscience and of the press, it will be worth defending.
Andrew Jackson

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

America lives in the heart of every man everywhere who wishes to find a region where he will be free to work out his destiny as he chooses.
Woodrow Wilson

Sometimes people call me an idealist. Well, that is the way I know I am an American. America is the only idealistic nation in the world.
Woodrow Wilson

The American Revolution was a beginning, not a consummation.
Woodrow Wilson

Favor comes because for a brief moment in the great space of human change and progress some general human purpose finds in him a satisfactory embodiment.
Franklin D. Roosevelt

I do not look upon these United States as a finished product. We are still in the making.
Franklin D. Roosevelt

I look forward to a great future for America - a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose.
John F. Kennedy

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
John F. Kennedy

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
Martin Luther King

Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, men of their time, were racists as were Jackson and Wilson. Roosevelt and Kennedy were born rich and had little in common with the majority of Americans. America is exceptional not because it has always afforded liberty and freedom to its citizens, but because its government was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, and because enough of its people and its leaders have maintained these ideas to forward the perfection of the Union. It is our history of progress towards these goals that makes us exceptional.

The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears

Morning tears from Cherokee Indian Art

I just finished reading The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears by Theda Perdue and Michael Green. It is compact account of the removal of the Cherokees from their homes in the southern Appalachians to Oklahoma, aimed at students and general readers. Written by two college professors, it is annotated, provides a list of selected readings, and a useful index, as well as a map of the various routes of the trail of tears.

President Washington and his Secretary of War, Henry Knox, instituted a policy of "civilization" of Indians living in what was then the United States with a view towards their assimilation into white culture. The Cherokees were one of the most successful tribes in assimilating European technologies and customs with their own, creating what appears to have been an effective amalgam of the two. Many accepted Christianity. One of their leaders, Sequoia, developed a syllabary with which the language could be written; by the 1830s not only were the Cherokees publishing in their own language and English, but literacy was higher among them than among their white neighbors. They picked up European crops and farming techniques. They had a written constitution for the Cherokee Nation and elected officials to run their government and negotiate treaties. Unfortunately, some of the more affluent also employed slaves and white sharecroppers on their plantations.

Cherokees fought on the side of the English in colonial times and later on the side of the United States, notably with Andrew Jackson against the Creeks. They entered into a large number of treaties, first with the English and later with the United States.

Unfortunately for the tribe, their land was accessible to avaricious white settlers. Even more unfortunate, the first gold strike in the United States was on their land. The whites in the south (convenient to their economic interests) came to believe that the civilization polity of the founding fathers was a failure, and that the Indians including the Cherokees, could not be assimilated. Many, but not all, came to favor "removal" from the lands east of the Mississippi to the new lands opened by the Louisiana Purchase. The removal faction gained control of the government with the election of President Jackson. (Many in the north were more favorable to the Indians, but I suppose most of the Indians had already left the northern states,)

Georgia's government led the charge on the Cherokee lands within that state. A series of laws denied sovereignty to the Cherokee nation, negated the treaties, withheld citizenship from the Cherokees, denied the rights of individual Cherokees to testify in court, and began to raffle off their land to white settlers. When the Supreme Court struck down the Georgian law, President Jackson refused to implement the Court's order.

A rump group of Cherokees, probably with the best of intentions, negotiated a treaty with the Jackson administration for removal. It was ratified by the Senate in spite of a petition signed by the great majority of the Cherokees. The Cherokee negotiators were later executed on the orders of the Cherokee national government.

Some Cherokees had emigrated as early as the 18th century, more (seeing the writing on the wall) early in the 19th century, and more still of the party supporting the removal treaty. However, most Cherokees refused to do so. Under orders from the President, General Winfield Scott arrested them by the thousands, imprisoned them in concentration camps, and began their transportation west. Only small remnants escaped removal, notably the ancestors of the members of the Eastern Band of Cherokees in North Carolina.

Thousands died on the "trail of tears". Their trip was not only marked by the natural difficulties and dangers of the trail, but by cupidity of whites and mismanagement by the government, not to mention failure of the government to meet the terms agreed upon for the removal. The trials continued for the early years of stay in Oklahoma, as subsequent administrations in Washington implemented policies largely disadvantaging the Cherokees.

Because the Cherokee publications were widely shared in the United States, and because they were seen as one of the five "civilized" tribes, their trials were relatively well known. However, 60 tribes suffered removal, and all apparently shared similar sad histories.

The treatment of Indians is a second "original sin" of the United States together with slavery. The antebellum injustices were followed by the Indian Wars in the late 19th century, and discrimination in the 20th century. Purdue and Green have provided a useful explanation of the U.S. government policies around the removal and their impact on a single tribe.

A Final Thought

Underlying the conflict was the fact that two cultures clashed. The Cherokees, like other North American tribes, combined some agriculture with hunting and gathering; their technology supported a relatively sparse population and led to one kind of landscape. The white settlers depended on more intensive agriculture, substituted livestock for hunting their source of meat, cut down forests both for the forest products and to clear the land for crops; their technology led to a more dense population and quite a different kind of landscape.

In some sense, there was a justification for changing the landscape in order to support the larger population. Certainly we can sympathize with the thousands, later millions of immigrants streaming to the United States seeking opportunities to better their own lives and those of their children.

There is also justification for the Cherokees seeking to maintain those aspects of their culture that they most valued, to continue to live in the land in which they had lived for centuries, and indeed to see the treaties that they had negotiated and ratified in good faith to be honored by the United States.

In fact the Cherokees and other Indian nations did sell territory to white settlers and cede blocks of land to the United States via treaties. Indeed, not only did the Cherokees adopt some white culture, but whites also adopted some Indian culture. In both cases, however, people were struggling for mere survival; perhaps had there been more slack in their economies, better conduct would have surfaced. On the other hand, many in power were taking advantage of the situation for pecuniary or political gain. Ultimately the cultural divide proved too broad a breach to be overcome in the racist atmosphere of the time.
Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Differences in Economic Mobility in the USA

The Pew Center on the States has provided a website with an interactive visualization of data on the economic mobility, measured at the level of the state (or region).

People have most opportunity to advance themselves in Maryland, New Jersey and New York, least in Louisiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina. Generally the most mobility is available in the northeast, the least in the old south.

I have been reading about the removal of the Indian nations from the east to Oklahoma in the 1830s, about about the Civil War which ended slavery in the old south, and about the 19th century imposition of Jim Crow laws in the old Confederacy. The map suggests that racial prejudice might be largely responsible for the lack of mobility where mobility is low. There is an obvious correlation with the areas of relative strength and weakness of the political parties.

A thought about the ethical limits of market

Michael Sandel, in his book What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, argues that markets in which money transactions take place are extending beyond their ethically legitimate role in the distribution of goods and services (and provision of signals for producers and consumers) to other less acceptable transactions. Would you want people to sell their votes? Do you want to see organs auctioned on eBay (perhaps with reserves) so that the highest bidder could obtain an organ for transplant? How about children auctioned for adoption? There clearly should be limits to what you can buy if you have enough money.

While Sandel is right to worry, one can argue that the long term trend is towards more ethical institutions. The institution of slavery has been abolished, and there is increasing effort to reduce involuntary servitude. We read in history where marriages were arranged by parents to obtain control of dowries or increase the value of property holdings. Indeed, I suspect that votes are less likely to be bought and sold today than they once were.

Sandel suggests that we should have a public debate on the what money should and should not be allowed to buy. I would be more optimistic about that had the Supreme Court not decided that for the purposes of free speech, corporations are people; were we not seeing PACs using funding from people of great wealth to dominate the media with political messages.

Edward Farhi's Google Tech Talk: Is the Higgs Boson there? Why do we care?

Abstract: "The Large Hadron Collider is the biggest and most complicated scientific device ever built. It smashes together high energy protons in order to create new forms of matter. The accelerator has been running well and the detectors have accumulated vast amounts of data. There are now hints of the long sought after Higgs Boson. I will attempt to explain what this possible discovery means for our understanding of nature at the smallest distances and what challenges it presents for theoretical physics."

This is an hour and a half talk, published to the net yesterday.

It looks as if the standard model of particle physics is being confirmed by this huge and hugely expensive experiment, although theorists would have more fun were it to be rejected. Farhi points out that there may be significant advances to be made in understanding why the parameters of the standard model have the values that they do, and of course, we need to understand the dark energy and dark matter which make up something like 96 percent of the universe (scientists think).

I post this because it helped me a lot to understand the experiment to find the Higgs Boson (or decide it can not be found).

Interpreting unemployment data

The "full employment" unemployment rate in the United States is between four and five percent. I would suggest that four percent might actually tend to overheat the economy. The basic point is that one in 20 people on the average is in the process of changing jobs.

Unemployment hit 10 percent at the height of the Great Recession, a very high rate but less than that in the early Reagan administration. It is now down to just over eight percent. That is, it is less than it was before the Carter administration took over from the Republicans and cut unemployment in the late 1970s and just about as high as it got before the Clinton administration took over from the Republicans and cut unemployment (while balancing the budget) in the 1990s.

Put another way, the Obama administration has brought the economy 40 percent of the way back to full employment in its first term.

Do you really want to entrust the economy to the Republicans again, this time in the person of Mitt Romney?

Check this out:

Despite a veto threat from the White House, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would prevent $78 billion in defense spending cuts next year and supplant them with steep cuts to domestic programs, including Medicare, Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.
 Even if you like the Republican policies, do you want to vote for Mitt Romney?
"Mitt Romney’s prep school classmates recall pranks, but also troubling incidents"

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A final comment on 1861, really!

In my previous post on 1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart I suggested that the book described the atmosphere from which the Civil War emerged.

We are in an election today, and even the average citizen is inundated with statistics on the voters and their opinions. Campaigns are fed with detailed statistics based on extensive surveying and massive data processing, in turn based on detailed models of voter behavior which enjoy a strong basis in theory and testing.

Democracy was relatively new in the United States in 1861, statistics was a new field of study, there were no computers available for rapid data processing, and political science was at best a twinkle in the eyes of a few of its founding fathers.

Goodhart can not begin to describe the atmosphere in public opinion at the beginning of the Civil War in a way that is satisfying to our jaded palates. What he has done might be compared to a post impressionist artist who paints a scene to provide a pleasing whole, conveying the feel of the original with broad strokes rather than photographic realism.

Part of the translation of public opinion into government decisions -- and in this case war -- is carried out in the government bureaucracy. Again, we know a lot about how government bureaucracies work, but the bureaucracy of the Confederate government did not exist during the period of this book, and that of the Union was over stressed, expanding at a vertiginous rate to meet the demands of the war (while beginning a period of unparalleled national economic growth). Especially odd to our modern experience was the penetration of the Union bureaucracy by people who would leave to join the Confederacy, but who were providing Confederate leaders with detailed intelligence on Union plans and discussions.

Another part of the translation is carried out in the political system. In 1861 the Whig party and the No Nothing party had disappeared, the Republican party was new born, and candidates from four parties had received electoral votes in the presidential election. The Democratic party would reorganize having lost its base in the south, and the Congress saw the mass exodus of the legislators from the south. Lincoln was elected, his only experience in national office being one term in the House of Representatives.

At the best of time, the processes by which policies emerge from the bureaucratic and political processes are difficult to understand, indeed all but impossible for the average citizen. In 1861, the processes were even more opaque. Clearly complex processes were going on, but they were certainly less informed by data on public opinion, and almost certainly less understood by their participants than the corresponding processes today. Goodhart's book gives only the merest hint of these processes.

Decision making in the Civil War, like decision making today, was contingent on the events that occurred in the course of the war. The firing on Fort Sumter electrified the nation, leading some southern nations to secede and war fever to seize the north. As the war progressed, Shiloh and the first Bull Run would shock people into understanding that this would be a war full of casualties. Antietam and Gettysburg would give a great boost to Union spirits and the fall of Atlanta would assure Lincoln's reelection. Goodhart give a good impression of this contingency of the emergence of policy on events.

For those of us who enjoyed the book, the enjoyment came in large part from the thought that it stimulated about public opinion, the emergence of policy from apparent confusion, and the futility of so many wars.

I had a couple of previous posts triggered in reading and discussing this book:

One last comment: Sometimes there are no good alternatives available to a decision maker. What alternatives were available to Lee, faced by a better equipped and larger opponent, well led by Grant and his officers, supported by Lincoln? Indeed, what options were available to the economic elite in the deep south with their hundreds of slaves working their large plantations? For them, betting all on a long shot may have been the best alternative.

Manuel de Falla: Danza ritual del fuego (Alicia de Larrocha, piano)

1861 and all that

My history book club met tonight to discuss 1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart. The discussion led me to the conclusion that the book described the atmosphere in the United States from which emerged the Civil War. In some cases it described in some detail the ideas of especially influential people, while in other cases it dealt with more humble folk. The emergence of the war was largely through a political process, and of course on the part of the Union the most influential person was probably the President.

At least a couple of us were bothered by the author's frequent statements as to what someone thought. Others were bothered because we could not figure out whether the people discussed in more detail were the most influential or whether there were other criteria for the author/s choice. I was concerned that the atmosphere of the south was not as well described as that of the north or west.

There was a fairly vigorous discussion as to whether the Confederacy might have won the war or whether the Union was simply too strong, its military too well led (at least by Grant and Sherman), and its political leadership too great.

Similarly, there was a fairly vigorous discussion as to whether the leadership of South Carolina and Virginia, when they chose to fight, was making a reasonable decision or a very bad decision.

I believe they made very bad decisions. They did so, underestimating the leadership of Lincoln and the policy elite of the Union, underestimating the leadership of the Union military, underestimating the fighting power of the Union (numbers, quality of the troops, and superiority of material), underestimating the economic ability of the Union to support the military effort of its army and navy, overestimating the relative capacities of the Confederacy in all these respects, but especially of the southern economy to work well on the basis of slave labor, overestimating the likelihood of aid for the Confederacy from European powers, and especially failing to understand the nature of the total war that they were about to begin. Someone noted that next month, as we will read about World War I, we will find similar errors made by the political elites.

I suggest that South Carolina and Virginia had limited suffrage to a small part of the population and that the political elite that emerged from the white male voters included many slave holders and plantation owners -- people whose wealth appeared to depend on the continuation of slavery. While there must have been other cultural factors which led them to make the wrong decision, "where you stand depends on where you sit"!

One side discussion looked at the pervasive anti-black racism in both the Union and the Confederacy. People on both sides of the Civil War felt that the slaves could not be merged successfully into the majority white population of the United States. It occurred to me that not only did people on both sides feel that the policy of the founding generation to "civilize" the Indians had failed (and that the Indians were racially superior to the blacks albeit inferior to the whites), but that the older people had experienced in their lifetime the removal of the Indians from east of the Mississippi. Our attitudes toward the racism ranged from incomprehension to revulsion.

There was wide agreement that the book was an easy read, a page turner. However, several people in the group found errors of fact that so offended them that they tuned out the rest of the book.