Month: December 2018

What were the questions I thought about most this year?

As for background context, I’ve for years wondered why people get so bugged by each other on Twitter.  A second question is why political correctness — even if you think it is fully bad — occasions so much opposition compared to many other maladies.

Those paths of inquiry have led me to think more about socially neurotic people, and yes that is a pretty big percentage of humans.  By that designation I mean people who likely would score high on neuroticism on a five-factor personality test.  Here is one definition, useful but maybe not the most precise one:

Neuroticism can lead an individual to focus on, and to dwell on, the negative aspects of a situation, rather than the positives. They experience jealousy and become envious of other people when they feel that they are in an advantaged position over themselves. They may be prone to becoming frustrated, irate or angry as they struggle to cope with life stressors.

Is this kind of neuroticism even well-defined, or is it indirectly bundled with other positive traits, including positive affect toward some other set of external circumstances?  Or, to be blunt, are we ever justified in thinking that neurotic people are — ceteris paribus — simply worse than others?  Maybe neuroticism is a holdover from earlier times when life was more precarious and nowadays lingering neurotic traits are largely unjustified.  Alternatively, is neuroticism simply “another way of being”, deserving of respect the way we might treat another culture, even in the presence of some negative externalities?

How much are five-factor personality traits context-dependent rather than absolute?  Is anti-neuroticism neurotic, a kind of negative affect of its own?  Or is it a way of standing up for truth, justice, and the American way?

Are there positive social externalities from neuroticism, such as indirectly subsidizing movements for social justice?

Overall, I am coming to the conclusion that, even (especially?) if we are personally annoyed by neuroticism, it is more useful to view it in a broader and less negative context.

Most concretely, when should you seek out or at least not mind neurotic trading partners?  It’s that kind of question where the rubber hits the road.

These were perhaps my top questions for mental space, I may soon present you with some others.

52 things learned by Kent Hendricks

Here are a few:

Contrary to the beliefs of roughly 33% of Americans, Kansas is not the flattest state. In fact, it’s the 9th flattest state, and it’s one of only two Great Plains states to make the top ten (the other is North Dakota). The flattest state is actually Florida, the second flattest state is Illinois, and the least flattest is West Virginia. (Disruptive Geo)

…The average high school GPA of a representative sample of 700 millionaires in the United States is 2.9. (Eric Barker, Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong)

…Dinosaurs roamed the earth for a long time. Tyrannosaurus Rex is closer in time to humans than to Stegosaurus. (Peter Brannen, The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions)

…Pepperoni pizza is subject to more government regulation than plain cheese pizza. That’s because cheese pizzas are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, while pepperoni pizzas—which have meat—are regulated by the Department of Agriculture. (Baruch Fischhoff and John Kadvany, Risk: A Very Short Introduction)

Here is the full list, interesting throughout.

Thursday assorted links

1. Leather tanners of Ecuador.

2. Science stories from 2018 — are these the important ones?

3. Bach’s most popular works, broader rankings here.  Based on YouTube data, not what is played in concert.  If there is any composer who in terms of intrinsic quality should not have such a Power Law, it is Bach, yet he does.

4. NYT covers AlphaZero.

5. City reviews of Devon Zuegel.

6. First man to cross Antarctica alone.

That was then, this is now

[Andrew] Jackson imagined his role as that of a Roman tribune or dictator, summoned to executive power for a season for defend the plebeians against corrupt patricians.  That meant, among other things, slashing federal expenses and retiring the national debt.

Jackson in fact worked hard to strike down “internal improvements” in only a single state, as he was convinced that such legislation was unconstitutional, and that a corrupt Congress was working to enrich itself.

That is all from Walter A. McDougall, Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Era 1829-1877, p.60.

Resource wealth depends on market orientation

This paper explores the effect of market orientation on (known or available) natural resource wealth using a novel dataset of world-wide major hydrocarbon and mineral discoveries. Our empirical estimates based on a large panel of countries show that increased market orientation causes a significant increase in discoveries of natural resources. In a thought experiment where economies in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa remain closed, they would have only achieved one quarter of the actual increase in discoveries they have experienced since the early 1990s. Our results call into question the commonly held view that known or available natural resource endowments are exogenous.

That is the abstract of a new paper by Rabah Arezki, Frederick van der Ploeg, and Frederik Toscani, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

What I’ve been reading

1. Elaine Dundy, Life ItselfShe as a teen taught Mondrian how to jitterbug, married Kenneth Tynan and moved into London high society, became an important writer in her own right, and got tired of him wanting to whip her.  I was never inclined to stop reading.

2. Amina M. Derbi, The Storyteller and the Terrorist in Our Newsfeeds.  In this novella a Muslim girl in Northern Virginia posts stories of murders on-line and those murders start coming true.  I finished this one too.  Unusual in its approach.

3. Timothy Larsen, The Slain God: Anthropologists and the Christian Faith.  On the surface this is an account of various famous British anthropologists and their views toward Christianity.  At a deeper level it contrasts the anthropological and religious approaches to understanding society.  Why do so many anthropologists have more tolerant attitudes toward the religions they study than to Christianity?  Do the Christian beliefs of an anthropologist help or hurt that individual’s understanding of other religions in the field?  Once you’ve seen another religion “from the outside” as an anthropologist, and observed its apparently arbitrary features, can you still be religious yourself?  Definitely recommended, here is my previous review of Larsen on John Start Mill.

4. Colin M. Waugh, Paul Kagame and Rwanda: Genocide and the Rwandan Patriotic Front.  This is perhaps the most conceptual book I know on the Rwandan genocide, most of all because it ties the killings to both prior and posterior events very well.  Recommended, but (for better or worse) note the author is relatively sympathetic to Kagame in the post-conflict period.  I did just buy Waugh’s book on Charles Taylor and Liberia, which you can take as a credible endorsement of this one.

Noteworthy is Kieran Healy, Data Visualization: A Practical Introduction.  I have not read it, but had positive impressions from my paw-through.

Sister Wendy has passed away

Here are some notices.  In addition to her duties for the Church, she was an art historian “for the people.”  I thought she had a remarkably good eye, and was especially strong in explaining the virtues of late medieval/early Renaissance art, most of all works “from a school” or attributed to a pseudonym.  She was “a thing” in the 90s, so if you don’t know her work I would recommend all of her books, they are full of life and love for art and yes love for the reader too.  Here is the NYT obituary.

Day after Christmas assorted links

At what ages do children stop believing in Santa Claus?

Research in the Journal of Cognition and Development in 2011 shows that 83% of 5-year-olds think that Santa Claus is real, the study’s lead author, Jacqueline Woolley, wrote in The Conversation last year.

“We have found in more recent studies that that number of 85% sounds about right,” said Thalia Goldstein, assistant professor of applied developmental psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

“Children’s belief in Santa starts when they’re between 3 and 4 years old. It’s very strong when they’re between about 4 and 8,” she said. “Then, at 8 years old is when we start to see the drop-off in belief, when children start to understand the reality of Santa Claus.”

What about across the pond?  They seem to be asleep over there:

Of 161 parents in the United Kingdom, 92.5% thought Father Christmas was real for their children up to the age of 8, according to a research paper presented at the annual meeting of the European Early Childhood Education Research Association in Finland in 1999.

And here is a study vulnerable to the replication crisis:

The interviews revealed that 39.2% of the children believed that the man they visited was the same Santa who came down their chimneys…1.3% had a somewhat “adult belief,” Goldstein said, in which they said that the man was not Santa and did not live at the North Pole but could communicate with the real Santa.

That is a CNN article from last year.  Why is the word “marginal” declining in popularity?  How many seven year olds know what “marginal” means?  How many know not to believe everything the President says?  How many understand hedging?

Guayaquil notes

An ideal city for a day trip, fly in and back out in the evening.  It is much nicer and safer than its longstanding icky reputation, and by this point it is probably safer than pickpocket laden, iPhone-snatching Quito (NB: I strap everything to my inner body).  The seafood is first-rate, the city is the future of Ecuador, and I saw more Afro-Ecuadorians than I was expecting to.  Guayaquil overrates its own Malecón, but at some point it will all end up looking good.  Just not yet.  In the meantime, I recommend the Park of the Iguanas.

Department of Unintended Consequences, American health care edition

In 2010, the federal agency that oversees Medicare, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, established the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program under the Affordable Care Act. Two years later, the program began imposing financial penalties on hospitals with high rates of readmission within 30 days of a hospitalization for pneumonia, heart attack or heart failure, a chronic condition in which the heart has difficulty pumping blood to the body.

At first, the reduction program seemed like the win-win that policymakers had hoped for. Readmission rates declined nationwide for target conditions. Medicare saved an estimated $10 billion because of the reduction in hospital admissions. Based on those results, many policymakers have called for expanding the program.

But a deeper look at the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program reveals a few troubling trends. First, since the policy has been in place, patients returning to a hospital are more likely to be cared for in emergency rooms and observation units. This has raised concern that some hospitals may be avoiding readmissions, even for patients who would benefit most from inpatient care.

Second, safety-net hospitals with limited resources have been disproportionately punished by the program because they tend to care for more low-income patients who are at much higher risk of readmission. Financially penalizing these resource-poor hospitals may impede their ability to deliver good care.

Finally, and most concerning, there is growing evidence that while readmission rates are falling, death rates may be rising.

In a new study of approximately eight million Medicare patients hospitalized between 2005 and 2015 that we conducted with other colleagues, we found that the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program was associated with an increase in deaths within 30 days of discharge among patients hospitalized for heart failure or pneumonia, though not for a heart attack.

That is by Rishi K. WadheraKaren E. Joynt Maddox and Robert W. Yeh in The New York Times.

Christmas assorted links

1. 99 good news stories from 2018.  p.s. not all of them are good, though most of them are.  But prices going to zero for normal market goods and services usually is a mistake.

2. The seasonal business cycle in camel rentals.

3. David Brooks’s Sidney Awards, part I (NYT).

4. Should credit card companies be required to monitor or limit weapons purchases? (NYT, I say no and view this as a dangerous trend).

5. Should the EU enforce content regulations on streaming services?  (I say no and view this as a dangerous trend).

6. Solve for the equilibrium.

Life at the margin?

With Seamus Heaney:

Poetry isn’t important in one sense — it’s more important to live your life and be a good person. Who cares about poetry, there’s plenty already around. Life is more important than art.

Under what conditions is that true?  Under what conditions is it actually believed by Heaney?  Here is the rest of the interview, interesting throughout.  I enjoyed this bit:

MB: What do you like to discuss in terms of literature in your classes?
SH: I’m radical about this, but it seems strange to have discussions with people who don’t know anything and who overreact. They usually don’t have much to say. Maybe discuss literature with them the following year — after the class — when they’ve had time to have the material enter their memory. Until it’s entered their personality they can’t say much.

Via Anecdotal.