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  • Archive for March, 2018

    Catalist, “The 480,” and The Real 480

    Posted by David Foster on 19th March 2018 (All posts by )

    (In the light of the Cambridge Analytica revelations and controversy. I thought this 2014 post might be due for a rerun)

    There has been much discussion recently of Catalist, a database system being used by the Democratic Party to optimally target their electioneering efforts…see Jonathan’s post here.  I’m reminded of Eugene Burdick’s 1964 novel, The 480.  The book’s premise is that a group within the Republican party acquires the services of a computing company called  Simulation Enterprises, intending to apply the latest technology and social sciences research in order to get their candidate elected.  These party insiders have been inspired by the earlier work of the 1960 Kennedy campaign with a company called Simulmatics.

    Simulmatics was a real company.  It was founded by MIT professor Ithiel de Sola Pool, a pioneer in the application of computer technology to social science research. Data from 130,000 interviews was categorized into 480 demographic groups, and an IBM 704 computer was used to process this data and predict the likely effects of various alternative political tactics.  One question the company was asked to address by the 1960 Democratic campaign, in the person of Robert F Kennedy, was:  How best to deal with religion?  There was considerable concern among some parts of the electorate about the prospect of choosing a Catholic as President.  Would the JFK campaign do better by minimizing attention to this issue, or would they do better by addressing it directly and condemning as bigots those who would let Kennedy’s faith affect their vote?

    Simulmatics concluded that “Kennedy today has lost the bulk of the votes he would lose if the election campaign were to be embittered by the issue of anti-Catholicism.  The simulation shows that there has already been a serious defection from Kennedy by Protestant voters. Under these circumstances, it makes no sense to brush the religious issue under the rug.  Kennedy has already suffered the disadvantages of the issue even though it is not embittered now–and without receiving compensating advantages inherent in it.”  Quantitatively, the study predicted that Kennedy’s direct addressing of the religion issue would move eleven states, totaling 122 electoral votes, away from the Kennedy camp–but would pull six states, worth 132 electoral votes, into the Democratic column.

    It is not clear how much this study influenced actual campaign decision-making…but less than three weeks after RFK received the Simulmatics report, JFK talked about faith before a gathering of ministers in Houston.  “I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end,”  Kennedy said,  “where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind.” (Burdick’s novel also suggests that the Kennedy campaign used Simulmatics to assess the effects of a more-forthright posture on civil rights by the campaign, and furthermore to analyze Kennedy’s optimal personality projection during the debates–I don’t know if these assertions are historically correct, but the religion analysis clearly was indeed performed.)

    Considerable excitement was generated when, after the election, the Simulmatics project became publicly known.  A Harper’s Magazine article referred to to the Simulmatics computer as “the people machine,” and quoted Dr Harold Lasswell of Yale as saying, “This is the A-bomb of the social sciences.  The breakthrough here is comparable to what happened at Stagg Field.”  But Pierre Salinger, speaking for the Kennedy campaign, asserted that “We did not use the machine.”  (Salinger’s statement is called out as a lie in the recent book, The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns.)

    In Burdick’s novel, the prospective Republican candidate is John Thatch, head of an international engineering and construction company.  Thatch has achieved popular renown after courageously defusing a confrontation between Indians and Pakistanis over a bridge his company was building, thereby averting a probable war.  Something about Thatch’s personality has struck the public imagination, and–despite his lack of political experience–he looks to be an attractive candidate.  But initially, the Republicans see little hope of defeating the incumbent Kennedy–“the incumbent is surrounded by over four years of honorific words and rituals,” a psychologist explains.  “He seems as though he ought to be President.  He assumes the mantle.”  This outlook is deeply disturbing to a Republican senior statesman named Bookbinder, who strongly believes that defacto 8-year terms are bad for the country…but if it is true that Kennedy is unbeatable, then the best the Republicans can hope to do is lose as well as possible.  Things change when Kennedy is assassinated and the election becomes a real contest.

    Bookbinder and Levi, another Republican senior statesman, are introduced to Simulation Enterprises by a young lawyer named Madison (Mad) Curver and his psychologist associate (quoted above), a woman named Dr Devlin.  Mad and Dr Devlin explain that what Sim Enterprises does is different from the work done by garden-variety pollsters like the one they have just met, Dr Cotter:

    “The pollster taps only a small fragment of the subject’s mind, attention, background, family influence, and habits.  The Simulations thing, just because it can consider thousands of elements influencing the subject, even things he may not know himself, gets much better results.”

    “And one further thing, Book,” Mad said.  “Simulations Enterprises can predict what people will do in a situation which they have never heard of before.  That was the whole point of the UN in the Midwest example.  No one has gone out there and asked them to vote on whether we should get out of the UN, but Dev outlined a procedure by which you can predict how they will react…if they ever do have to vote on it.

    Again Bookbinder had the sharp sense of unreality.  Unreal people were being asked invented questions and a result came out on green, white-lined paper…and when you got around to the real people six months later with the real question they would act the way the computer had said they would.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Elections, History, Human Behavior, Marketing, Obama, Politics, Polls, Predictions, Trump, USA | No Comments »

    Book Review: The Year of the French (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 17th March 2018 (All posts by )

    The Year of the French, by Thomas Flanagan

    (This being St Patrick’s day, I’m again taking advantage of the hook to re-post this review, in the hope of inspiring a few more people to read this incredibly fine historical novel)

    Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century,” going on to say “except for ‘The Leopard,’ I know of no historical novel that so richly and convincingly captures the ambience of a bygone world.”

    In August of 1798, the French revolutionary government landed 1000 troops in County Mayo to support indigenous Irish rebels, with the objective of overthrowing British rule in Ireland.  The Year of the French tells the (fictionalized but fact-based) story of these events from the viewpoint of several characters, representing different groups in the complex and strife-ridden Irish social structure of the time.

    Owen MacCarthy is a schoolmaster and poet who writes in the Gaelic tradition.  He is pressed by illiterate locals to write a threatening letter to a landlord who has evicted tenants while switching land from farming to cattle-raising.  With his dark vision of how an attempt at rebellion must end–“In Caslebar.  They will load you in carts with your wrists tied behind you and take you down to Castlebar and try you there and hang you there”–MacCarthy is reluctant to get involved, but he writes the letter.

    Sam Cooper, the recipient of the letter, is a small-scale landlord, and captain of the local militia.  Indigenously Irish, his family converted to Protestantism several generations ago to avoid the crippling social and economic disabilities imposed on Catholics. Cooper’s wife, Kate, herself still Catholic, is a beautiful and utterly ruthless woman…she advises Cooper to respond to the letter by rounding up “a few of the likeliest rogues,”  jailing and flogging them, without any concern for actual guilt or innocence. “My God, what a creature you are for a woman,”  Cooper responds. “It is a man you should have been born.”  “A strange creature that would make me in your bed,” Kate fires back, “It is a woman I am, and fine cause you have to know it…What matters now is who has the land and who will keep it.”

    Ferdy O’Donnell  is a young hillside farmer on Cooper’s land.  Far back in the past, the land was owned by the O’Donnell family…Ferdy had once shown Cooper  “a valueless curiosity, a parchment that recorded the fact in faded ink the colour of old, dried blood.”

    Arthur Vincent Broome is a Protestant clergyman who is not thrilled by the “wild and dismal region” to which he has been assigned, but who performs his duties as best he can. Broome is resolved to eschew religious bigotry, but…”I affirm most sincerely that distinctions which rest upon creed mean little to me, and yet I confess that my compassion for their misery is mingled with an abhorrence of their alien ways…they live and thrive in mud and squalour…their music, for all that antiquarians and fanatics can find to say in its flavor, is wild and savage…they combine a grave and gentle courtesy with a murderous violence that erupts without warning…”‘

    Malcolm Elliott is a Protestant landlord and solicitor, and a member of the Society of United Irishmen.  This was a revolutionary group with Enlightenment ideals, dedicated to bringing Catholics and Protestants together in the cause of overthrowing British rule and establishing an Irish Republic.  His wife, Judith, is an Englishwoman with romantic ideas about Ireland.

    John Moore, also a United Irishman, is a member of one of the few Catholic families that have managed to hold on to their land.  He is in love with Ellen Treacy, daughter of another prominent Catholic family: she returns his love, but believes that he is caught in a web of words that can only lead to disaster.  “One of these days you will say a loose word to some fellow and he will get on his horse and ride off to Westport to lay an information with Dennis Browne, and that will be the last seen of you”

    Dennis Browne is High Sheriff of Mayo…smooth, manipulative, and devoted to the interests of the very largest landowners in the county, such as his brother Lord Altamont and the mysterious Lord Glenthorne, the “Big Lord” who owns vast landholdings and an immense house which he has never visited.

    Randall MacDonnell is a Catholic landowner with a decrepit farm and house, devoted primarily to his horses.  His motivations for joining the rebellion are quite different from those of the idealistic United Irishman…”For a hundred years of more, those Protestant bastards have been the cocks of the walk, strutting around on acres that belong by rights to the Irish…there are men still living who remember when a son could grab his father’s land by turning Protestant.”

    Jean Joseph Humbert is the commander of the French forces.  A former dealer in animal skins, he owes his position in life to the revolution.  He is a talented commander, but  the battle he is most concerned about is the battle for status and supremacy between himself and  Napoleon Bonaparte.

    Charles Cornwallis, the general who surrendered to the Americans at Yorktown, is now in charge of defeating the French and the rebels and pacifying the rebellious areas of Ireland.   Seen through the eyes of  a young aide who admires him greatly, Cornwallis is portrayed as a basically kindly man who can be hard when he thinks it necessary, but takes no pleasure in it.  “The color of war had long since bleached from his thoughts, and it remained for him only a duty to be scrupulously performed.”

    This book is largely about the way in which the past lives on in the present, both in the world of physical objects and the world of social relationships.  Two characters who make a brief appearance are Richard Manning, proprietor of a decrepit and debt-laden castle, and his companion Ellen Kirwan:  Read the rest of this entry »

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    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, France, History, Ireland | 1 Comment »

    Po nan Jwèt la: Asymétri Kache nan Lavi Chak Jou

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 16th March 2018 (All posts by )

    Taleb, Nassim N., Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life. New York City: Random House, 2018.

    NB: precisely because I regard Taleb as a national treasure and have considerable respect for his work, I am not going to pull punches here. I get to do this because I have … skin in the game, and not only in Haiti[1] (where I wrote this post over the past ten days, thus the Kreyòl Ayisyen title), but in a couple-three moderately hair-raising situations back in KC, which I will relate when appropriate. Which might be never; see Matthew 6:1-4 (cited by Taleb on page 186).

    Getting this out of the way—buy this book, read it, and recommend it to others. I say this very much irrespective of what might be called the Manifold-Taleb delta, which is not altogether trivial, as I will explain in some detail—again, as a sign of respect—below. Immediately below, in fact.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Bioethics, Book Notes, Capitalism, Ebola, Education, Entrepreneurship, Environment, History, Human Behavior, Islam, Japan, Libertarianism, Miscellaneous, National Security, Political Philosophy, Russia, Space, Systems Analysis, Terrorism | 10 Comments »

    Media and Politics

    Posted by David Foster on 14th March 2018 (All posts by )

    Bookworm writes about an ‘art installation’ at the (taxpayer-funded) Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Here’s how the museum describes the exhibition:

    Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s conceptual virtual reality installation CARNE y ARENA (Virtually present, Physically invisible) explores the human condition of immigrants and refugees. Based on true accounts, the superficial lines between subject and bystander are blurred and bound together, allowing individuals to walk in a vast space and thoroughly live a fragment of the refugees’ personal journeys. An immersive installation that reunites frequent collaborators Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezki alongside producer Mary Parent and ILMxLAB, CARNE y ARENA is centered around a 6 ½-minute virtual reality sequence for one person that employs state-of-the-art immersive technology to create a multi-narrative light space with human characters.

    Here’s Bookworm:

    That’s a pretty bland, abstract description. A pro-illegal immigration Proggie friend of mine, though, went and was blown away by the wonder of it all. I’ve restated his glowing description in my own less glowing words, but the substance of what he said is still there.

    The exhibition is meant to have you experience through virtual reality (it’s hot and sandy in the exhibition) what a Honduran, El Salvadoran, Merxican or Guatemalan experiences as he or she journeys north through the Sonoran desert to enter America illegally through Arizona. After you’ve signed a waiver, lest the good folks at LACMA make you uncomfortable, and taken off your shoes, your adventure begins.

    Thrill to the experience of having border guards surround you with helicopters and vans to arrest you. Then, having gotten yourself (as promised) hot and covered with sand, you get to see videos of real illegal aliens reenacting their experiences for the camera. (I assume it’s some form of PTSD psychotherapy for illegal aliens.)

    (Much more at the Bookworm link.)  This exhibit is very much in the style of the ‘tunnels of oppression’ which have become popular at America’s colleges and universities.

    I recently ran across a passage from a pioneering media expert, writing in the 1920s, who remarked that social change could never be achieved merely via the written word; most people were inherently lazy (he argued) and were unlikely to pick up a book if it went against their existing views, or even pay enough attention to a leaflet for it have have real impact. So, oratory–the spoken word–was much more effective. BUT, there was a new technology which had still greater advantages:

    The picture in all its forms up to the film has greater possibilities. Here a man needs to use his brains even less; it suffices to look, or at most to read extremely brief texts, and thus many will more readily accept a pictorial presentation than read an article of any length. The picture brings them in a much briefer time, I might almost say at one stroke, the enlightenment which they obtain from written matter only after arduous reading.

    If movies have great potential in forming/changing opinions…and they do…then most likely an immersive experience such as the one at LACMA will be even more powerful.

    Read the rest of this entry »

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    Posted in Human Behavior, Immigration, Media | 4 Comments »

    The Sec of State Tillerson Firing

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 13th March 2018 (All posts by )

    There was no single reason for the Sec of State Tillerson Firing…there was a laundry list.

    According to various sources, Tillerson was pretty much against implementing President Trump’s foreign policy, trade and immigration agenda for Trump’s 2nd year as President and chaffed Pres. Trump over Russia besides:

    1. Tillerson was working with the EU to stop the President from tearing up the Iran deal.
    2. Tillerson wanted to remain in the TPP, TAP, & NAFTA.
    3. Tillerson was against NK talks.
    4. Tillerson was against China Tariffs.
    5. Tillerson wanted to remain in the Paris Climate accord.
    6. Tillerson did not support making Jerusalem the home of our embassy.
    7. Tillerson wanted to keep open borders/high refugee resettlement.
    8. Tillerson was talking that Russia affected our election results just before the Nunes Committee put a bullet in the head of the “Muh-Russia Collusion Delusion.”

    Working behind Pres. Trump’s back with the EU over maintaining Pres Obama’s Iran nuclear deal — which Pres. Trump wants eliminated and the abandoned sanctions reinstated — was the last straw for Tillerson.


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    Posted in Big Government, Current Events, International Affairs, Iran, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Politics | 34 Comments »

    Maybe I’m Whistling Past the Graveyard but I don’t think so

    Posted by Ginny on 13th March 2018 (All posts by )

    Instapundit links to an article about Kasich’s education plan. The Never Trumpers keep arguing in The Weekly Standard that Trump has all the traits of an authoritarian. Well, perhaps. Sure he says he’d like the power of a Chinese leader – so did Obama as I remember. And he can bully a bit. But these warnings are amidst articles on de Vos’s devolution of power in the Education Department or Pruitt’s in the environmental area or . . . throwing DACA back to Congress, for God’s sake. Well it never hurts to be wary but we could stay in touch with reality. This is like the Russian collusion – if he were colluding why in the hell would he open Alaskan oil drilling? I still can’t take all of his speeches & wince at his twitters, but at least he understands that nationalism is something that should be drawing us together – not pulling us apart (at least historic nationalism). And he’s funny.

    Posted in Big Government, Trump | 13 Comments »

    Racial Meditation

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 11th March 2018 (All posts by )

    For me, the very first – although not the most momentous disappointment in the accumulated collection racked up throughout the Obama administration – was the realization that there would be no line drawn under the old bug-bear of racism with regard to those of us – as a friend of mine during my assignment to Greenland in the early 1980s put it – with the year-round dark tan. Yes, said friend was black, Afro-American, a person of color, or whatever the approved term is these days. (You kids, get off my lawn! Oh … I don’t have a lawn.) My friend was a totally middle-class young woman, the daughter of professionals, who like me, had grown up without ever personally observing much in-your-face unmistakable racial antagonism or prejudice. It was merely something that had happened to other people, a fair number of decades ago; at worst howlingly illegal, at best, rude. We were in the habit of walking together every Saturday, around the end of the Sondrestrom AB runway to the Danish side of the base, there to enjoy a cup of tea and a pastry in the SAS air terminal cafeteria. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, Conservatism, Current Events, Obama, Personal Narrative | 24 Comments »

    Well, This is Interesting

    Posted by David Foster on 11th March 2018 (All posts by )

    Back in 1975, California Governor Jerry Brown was opposed to allowing Vietnamese refugees into California.

    Posted in Immigration | 13 Comments »

    The Russia Collusion story is becoming more clear.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 8th March 2018 (All posts by )

    I was a little late coming to the Trump supporters, but it was interesting almost back to the beginning.

    Then it began to form a preference cascade.

    Can the GOP really be so out of touch with the legions of out-of-work Americans — many of whom don’t show up in the “official” unemployment rate because they’ve given up looking for work in the Obama economy? With the returning military vets frustrated with lawyer-driven, politically correct rules of engagement that have tied their hands in a fight against a mortal enemy? With those who, in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino massacres by Muslims, reasonably fear an influx of culturally alien “refugees” and “migrants” from the Middle East?

    April 2016:
    Trump is a coward, four time bankrupt loser, con artist, bully, 12 time business failure, WWE character, hypocrite, liar, dullard, loose cannon and has very poor character. He will lose in November and people need to wake up to that fact. Otherwise, hello President Hillary.

    A year later, that commenter is a supporter.

    Trump was in touch with them.

    The result was “Deep Confusion.”

    I left Queens for Brooklyn to meet Dany L. Esquilin, a Republican I met in the first week of this assignment, aboard a train to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

    Mr. Esquilin was not a stereotypical Trump supporter. His parents were born in Puerto Rico, he is black and he had once been a Democrat. (Then again, so had Mr. Trump.) A retired private investigator, Mr. Esquilin worked to marshal Republican votes from Jews, Russians and Chinese-Americans.

    Oh Oh.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Current Events, Elections, Politics, Trump | 32 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 4th March 2018 (All posts by )

    Bioluminescence at American Digest

    Some thoughts on storytelling

    Peer influence among adolescents as a driver of transgenderism

    Sarah Hoyt: “Have most institutions, stores and corporations, most large human organizations, gone stone stupid?”

    3-D printing in the manufacture of GE’s new turboprop engine

    Jim Grant, the well-known observer and analyst of interest rates, asks “what will futurity make of the (so-called) PhD standard that runs our world?” and suggests that, after a major market crash, explanations will include “My generation gave former tenured economics professors discretionary authority to fabricate money and fix interest rates.”

    Reminds me:  Danielle DiMartino Booth, who took a job at the Fed following a successful career on Wall Street, remarked that she did not experience discrimination on account of her sex…but she did face serious prejudice against her on account of not having a PhD.

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Management, Organizational Analysis, Science, USA | 22 Comments »

    “Why Did It Take Two Weeks To Discover Parkland Students’ Astroturfing?”

    Posted by Jonathan on 2nd March 2018 (All posts by )

    This Federalist post by David Hines is well worth reading and full of points about political organizing that need to be made over and over to conservatives and libertarians.

    However, Hines’s post is annoying because he confounds conservative voters with the Republican political establishment. It was probably obvious to most politically alert conservatives within hours of the Parkland murders that the media and Democratic Party response was scripted and agenda-driven. Most of us probably expected this if not that it would come so soon. Similarly, the seemingly spontaneous overnight emergence of attractive, articulate Parkland students with anti-gun views, and the sophisticated promotion of anti-RKBA demonstrations and similar political events, was no surprise. We didn’t know the details but the outlines of a coordinated media-activist campaign were clear.

    So, no, it didn’t take two weeks to discover the Parkland students’ astroturfing. The only people who seemed to believe the spin about a supposedly spontaneous anti-RKBA youth movement were naive liberals and establishment Republicans. (From a John Kasich press release from 21 February: “Friend, in case you missed my interview on CNN this morning, I called on the President and Congress to end the politics and produce common sense gun laws that make sense.” Clueless and a sell-out.) The rest of us knew what was going on and knew that the Republican establishment would be weak, inept and slow in response. We agree with Hines about the importance of political organizing. That is one of the reasons why we voted against the effete Republican establishment in 2016 and will continue to do so. Perhaps one day conservatives and Republicans will become as good at politics as the Left and Democrats are. Until then we will vote for Trump because unlike many establishment Republicans he appears to mean what he says, and has real skill at promoting and defending his agenda even if he does so mostly rhetorically and without outside help.

    UPDATE: Perhaps I was too negative on Hines based on a quibble. Ace’s post summarizing some of Hines’s tweets is worth reading, and Ace’s conclusion is particularly good:

    I would further say the biggest division on what used to be called “The Right” are the two main factions’ understanding of this tactic and this desired end-state, and their total rejection of it — or soft toleration of it.
    Some of us are still in Business as Usual Mode and some of us are highly alarmed at how close the left is to achieving its end-state of a society divided between the Empowered True Believers and the Denigrated and Threatened Underclass, and are no longer willing to walk towards the gulags.
    As we consider civil equality and freedom-in-fact (not just theoretical freedom, but actual real freedom in the real world) to be principles that are more important than any other, we are willing to violate some of the less-important procedural principles to fight the left’s objective of complete subjugation of us.
    To many of us, it appears the Business As Usual crowd is focused on fairly trivial procedural matters while performing their appointed duties as the left’s enablers and enforcers of complete social and cultural rulership by the left.

    The Republican establishment is defined by its business-as-usual attitude in response not only to leftist political activism but to actual subversion of governmental and civic institutions.

    Posted in Leftism, Media, Politics, RKBA, Trump | 19 Comments »