Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Lunch atop the Amalfi Coast

The hike from Positano's ferry was a bother and a half: 4.5 miles, 2,500 ft change in elevation, and blaring sunshine.  But the restaurant at La Ginestra was worth it.

Pushing through the dusty and exposed final few hundred yards uphill is rewarded with a stop at Chiesa Santa Maria del Castello, an earthy pungence from unseen cattle, and, more importantly, a water spigot.  Mind the bees, though.  An iron spiral stairwell provides access to the church roof.  I'm not sure if you should climb it, but I do know no one will stop you.

The air here feels about 20 degrees cooler than the base of the mountain.  Cool off a bit, and walk the last stretch of blessedly gentle asphalt to La Ginestra.  Unlike in Positano's twisting alleys and stairwells, Google can find you and point the way here.

La Ginestra may appear empty.  Is this yet another establishment closed for the tipico August vacation?  No.  Simply wander a bit, calling "Ciao" and "Hello" until a short sexagenarian woman appears.  She only speaks Italian, but has a good ear for Spanglish.  Ask for a seat outside (pointing suffices) to enjoy the breeze and the view of Naples bay.

Like any Michelin rated restaurant, there is no menu.  You will enjoy what the chef prepares.  I had an antipasto of mozzarella, soft white bread, eggplant, fried green beans, prosciutto, and a lovely fried dumpling whose name I never caught.  Next course was a sumptuous eggplant pasta in alfredo, sprinkled with basil and Parmesan.

Google translates the style "contadina" as "peasant," yet it is the epitome of pleasant.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Whose Impeachment Is It Anyway?

Some of you might think the country is in an impeachin' mood.  Some of you might think the lyin' media is out to sully your president by any means possible.  Add to the ever-growing mound of evidence of partisanship the popularity of googling "impeachment" by Trump's margin of victory in each state.

Time may be the final judge, but the House of Representatives is the more immediate authority.  Not to dwell on the obvious, but it is worth recalling that the Democrats controlled the House during the Watergate investigation, and the GOP during Bill Clinton's impeachment hearing.  Last week, Justin Amash (R-MI) became the first Republican Congressman to endorse an independent investigation between the administration's ties to Russia (WaPo).  Michigan also happens to be the state where Trump's victory was narrowest, and among those where "impeachment" searches are most popular of states Trump won.  Democrats would do well to pressure Representatives in similarly placed states like Arizona and Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The March for Science

On Saturday tens of thousands of people who couldn't score a two if they took the AP Chemistry exam tomorrow and haven't read an NEJM article in their lifetimes gathered to denounce their political opposites as anti-science.  Over at Slate, FOAMcast's Jeremy Faust (who moonlights as a physician at Brigham and Women's) summed it up nicely:

Being “pro-science” has become a bizarre cultural phenomenon in which liberals (and other members of the cultural elite) engage in public displays of self-reckoned intelligence as a kind of performance art, while demonstrating zero evidence to justify it. 

It's tempting to read both too much and too little into any one march or protest.  I'll limit my observation to this: the March for Science is the clearest sign yet that the peak of American progressivism as an intellectual movement is behind us.

There have been hints of this in recent years, such as when Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century became a top-selling book, with vanishingly few purchasers making it past page 70 of 700.  I'd venture those who are among the "seriously, I'm going to finish when I have more free time," group were disproportionately represented at the March for Science, where the burdens of hefty white papers could be brushed aside in favor of hefting white posterboard.

Not unrelatedly, the March for Science speaks to the influence reddit (or whatever site succeeds it as the internets staple open forum) can have on the future of progressivism.  The idea and momentum for the March, after all, were both begotten on reddit.  In this form, the new progressivism consists of sharing headlines that affirm important ideological tenants.  Anecdotal affirmation and pithy quips ensue, with the best being upvoted in the comments.  Links to the underlying articles are appreciated. Clicking through, however, is really not necessary.  It is in this disposition that the semi-official mission of the March for Science referenced the importance of scientific inclusiveness twice as often as science eduction, and the best coverage of the March were photo albums of the cleverest posters and profiles of science celebrities.

I doubt many progressives would take kindly to my interpretation, but it could be seen as the consequence of an otherwise healthy evolution that the home base of progressivism is becoming more accessible as it becomes more popular.  While Brookings blogs wane, Bernie bros wax.  Young college grads crowding into gentrified neighborhoods seem more and more than willing to put their faith in designated technocrats with thousand page rulebooks as their preferred form of government.  The Trump administration will push more into that camp, without exactly necessitating any deeply intellectual opposition.  Facades of intellectual detachment will increase in value as a tribal countersignal to Trump's unconvincing embrace of hokey Americana.  Intellectualism itself will be championed, in spirit, from afar.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Cash and Stranger Lives Stated versus Revealed Preferences

My roommate recently posed a hypothetical dilemma: Imagine I am a mischievous powerful alien, or if realism helps, a social scientist at a university with the world's worst IRB process.

I offer you $100,000 with the following condition: one (randomly chosen person) will die upon your taking custody of the cash.  Do you take it?

To emphasize: the person is chosen at random from the entire global population.  A twenty-something Indian is more likely than a nonagenarian Norwegian, but no guarantees either way.  Given an average of 150,000 deaths everyday, you would only be increasing that by 0.0007 percent, but that 0.0007 percent is on you and your $100,000.

What do you do?

Go ahead and think before you read on.  I'm going to do a few spacer paragraphs so your eye doesn't jump ahead to my thoughts and bias you.

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Ready?  Need a few minutes?  No rush here.

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Okay, here we go.

I've repeated the question a few times in conversation, and so far no one has said they would take the cash.  Yet consider this: a number of highly-effective non-profits have estimated their marginal costs of saving a life to be a few thousand dollars.  (Granted, taking non-profits' word for it is not objection-free, and there is some thorniness to measuring what's known as a Quality-adjusted Life Year in the academic lit, but I don't think the numbers wildly attached from reality.)

I find this remarkable.  Why might it be someone would turn down $100,000 they don't have to save a life (in theory), but aren't willing to part with $5,000 they do have to do the same (in practice)?

1.  We're not as altruistic as we would like (others?) to think we are, and we really would take the $100,000 if the offer were credible.
2.  It's psychologically easier to opt out of committing an evil act than is to commit to an altruistic one.
3. It's psychologically easier to part with money never owned than money previously earned.
4. People don't have good information on the costs of saving a life, overestimating them by a few orders of magnitude.

These aren't mutually exclusive, but I'd like to think #4 is both important and easily correctable.  With that in mind, I'll make a plug  for the effective altruism movement, which encourages people to give more money specifically to effective charities.  The website The Life You Can Save points to several.  Unsurprisingly, these cluster in health care in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

From the archives: Executive intimidation of the judiciary

Among John Podesta's leaked emails was exchange re: King v Burwell from Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress (a progressive think tank whose work I enjoy):

I mentioned this to John some time back, but think it's a bit more current now.
It is most likely that this decision has already been made by the Court, but on the off chance that history is repeating itself, then it's possible they are still deciding (last time, seems like Roberts went from striking the mandate to supporting it in the weeks before). As Jennifer will remember, it was pretty critical that the President threw the gauntlet down last time on the Court, warning them in the first case that it would politicize the role of the Court for them to rule against the ACA. As a close reader of the case, I honestly believe that was vital to scaring Roberts off.
In this case, I'm not arguing that Hillary spend a lot of time attacking the Court. I do think it would be very helpful to all of our interest in a decision affirming the law, for Roberts and perhaps Kennedy to see negative political consequences to ruling against the government.
Therefore, I think it would be helpful to have a story of how progressives and Hillary would make the Supreme Court an election issue (which would be a ready argument for liberals) if the Court rules against the government. It's not that you wish that happens. But that would be the necessary consequence of a negative decision...the Court itself would become a hugely important political issue.
At CAP Action, we can get that story started. But kinda rests on you guys to make it stick.
What do you think? If you want to proceed, we should move soon.
Let me know thoughts. And I'm happy to discuss.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Why Did the Klan So Ardently Support Public Schools?

[note: below contains citations from KKK publications and references to anti-Catholicism]

School choice debates occurred in days of yore, too:
In 1869 the religious issue in New York City escalated when Tammany Hall, with its large Catholic base, sought and obtained $1.5 million in state money for Catholic schools. (Wikipedia)
This being the days of yore, the "religious issue" here is not Christian v. secular, but the older feud of Protestants v. Catholics.  Here is more context:
Following the conclusion of the civil war Catholics began challenging the religious practices common in the public schools.  Catholics, seeing the obvious evangelical Protestant overtones to public education, set up parochial schools and sought shares of the common school fund or exemptions from taxation.  Additionally, Catholics challenged the practice of hymn singing, praying, and reading from the King James Bible in the public schools. 
New nativist groups, such as the Order of American Union, the Alpha Association, and the American Protective Association, arose to do battle against the growing Catholic-immigrant menace.  Not surprisingly, Congressmen and Senators found themselves subject to the attitudes and pressures of the times.  One of the several measures proposed to deal with this controversy was the Blaine Amendment.  (Green, 1992)
Despite the Blaine Amendments, the Catholic Church continued to operate affordable, quality parochial schools.  The Ku Klux Klan probably reached its peak in national influence and membership about fifty years later.  By that time, the hot-button issue had moved from state funding of overtly religious schools to whether anti-Catholic majorities would allow parochial schools to continue to exist.  Anti-Catholics condemned what they saw as demoralizing criticism of public (read: predominantly Protestant) public schools as an attempt by Catholics to poach students.  Here is one commentary:
In Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indian, Ohio and Pennsylvania the schoolhouses and equipment were found to be twenty-five to fifty years behind the times.  In some of the buildings it would be impossible for the children to keep warm in cold weather as there was nothing between the ground and the floors to keep the wind out.  The homes near these schools were often modern structures, up to date in every way.  One can readily see how parents living in such homes are often induced to send their children to parochial schools, and why Rome is making such a desperate fight to discredit our public schools and to prevent any appropriation of money for their upkeep and advancement.
An enemy to public school is an enemy to the Constitution.  We are thankful that a white-robed army has arisen, a might host that will put the Bible in the schoolroom and forbid the lecherous hand of popery to interfere with our free institutions. (Klansmen: Guardians of Liberty)
The fascinatingly ignominious author of that opinion was Alma Bridwell White, who could add racist, antisemitic, feminist, first female American Methodist bishop, and Klan sympathizer to her anti-Catholic credentials.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Modern Questions

If the left is so worried about Trump abusing office, why are Congressional Democrats resisting their Republican peers' efforts to claw back executive authority?

If you think Russian hacking during the election was (a) pernicious, (b) effective, and (c) part of a clear trend of election meddling, why haven't I seen an op-ed in a major news publication questioning whether President Obama might be a nincompoop for letting it happen?

Speaking of, if you find disturbing PEOTUS's fondness for an authoritarian regime that scorns liberal values, that helps prop up the Syrian government, and that sponsors proxy wars via militias on its neighbors' soil, how do you feel about rapprochement with Iran?

If men won't take the pink-collar jobs in health care because masculine egos preclude women's work, why are there a quarter million vacancies in construction and trucking?

Do you still think monied interests determine election outcomes?  If not, do you miss those times you thought they did?