I don't want to give anything away except to say that the journalistic criticism you'll find here is a damned sight sharper than anything you'll find in the New York Times or in On the Media.
Wednesday assorted links
1 hour ago
Comments, observations and thoughts from two left coast bloggers on applied statistics, higher education and epidemiology. Joseph is a new assistant professor. Mark is a marketing statistician and former math teacher.
If you are campaigning on the fact that you're a winner but you're losing, the premise of your campaign just falls apart.
Just as polls created a positive feedback loop for Trump in the primaries, where they seemed to confirm that no transgression or conventional misstep could hurt him, he is now entering a negative feedback loop with the same polls. The perception of losing amplifies every misstep. It makes him lose more both because the premise of the campaign starts to collapse in on itself but, relatedly, the brittle edifice of a narcissistic ego starts to come under an insuperable strain.
Put simply, he gets more erratic.
I suspect that in a couple months this will become the sum of most of the Democrats attacks on Trump both because it undermines the central premise of his campaign ("I always win; and I can make you win too.") but also because these attacks cut visibly cut Trump so deeply, triggering a sort of psychic disembowelment. You can see this in the increasingly irritated and thin-skinned responses to criticism or any references to his flagging campaign efforts.
At some point in the not distant future, some reporter - probably a not altogether pleasant one - will ask Trump: "How does it feel to be losing so badly? Just on a personal level? Does it hurt? Do regret getting into this?" It won't be pretty because Trump's ego is fragile. From there I suspect you'll see it cropping up in campaign attacks from every direction.
I don’t know how many Brexit voters fall into the remorseful category. But I remember seeing somewhere (HELP ME BROCKINGTON) that a large majority of Brexit voters assumed that Remain would win. For what was surely a decisive number of Brexit voters, the vote was not a considered view that leaving the EU would be better than remaining, but rather was a vehicle for sending a message to British elites.I'm not saying that this was a factor but just as an intellectual exercise, try this. Imagine that widely reported polls contributed to the perception that the voters would chose to remain. That in turn created the perception that "leave" was a safe protest vote. Does it make sense to say that the polls were wrong in this context?
Simply put, a Trump presidency is unthinkable.and yet another spin in the way-back machine.
As a Republican looking ahead to November, there are many strong conservative leaders in statehouses across the United States and in Congress, whose candidacies I am actively supporting. They have a big job to do to reinvent and revitalize the Republican Party. They can do so by responding to the fears and frustrations of the American people and uniting them behind some common aspirations, while staying constant to the principles that have made our country great.
When it comes to the presidency, I will not vote for Donald Trump. I will not cast a write-in vote. I’ll be voting for Hillary Clinton, with the hope that she can bring Americans together to do the things necessary to strengthen our economy, our environment and our place in the world. To my Republican friends: I know I’m not alone.
Neuroscientist Ryan McGarry swabbed a brain activity headset with saline solution and lowered it onto Brian Hazel’s head, connecting circular prongs gingerly to different spots on his skull.
Then he showed Hazel 40 minutes of presidential debates and commercials as Spencer Gerrol tried to read his mind. Which of the candidates did Hazel, an African American real estate professional in his 40s, support?
Gerrol, founder and chief executive of creative agency Spark Experience, based in Bethesda, Md., stared through a one-way mirror from an observation room. “Trump,” he said five minutes into Hazel’s session.
Gerrol was right. “Donald Trump,” Hazel said after his session. “I’m all about jobs, and if I look at the whole field and who has created the most jobs, I think he would be able to do that better than anyone else.”
Spark's experiment is leading a new method of human factors research, which asks test subjects to interact normally with everyday products or services while researchers track their emotional reaction and attentiveness. The agency gathers data from four tests — electroencephalograms, galvanic skin responses, eye tracking and microfacial recognition — to instantaneously determine which candidate a subject supports, down to the severity of emotional response.
The firm gathered more than 30 test subjects from across the political spectrum in May. Their findings, released last week, show that what people feel and what they say they feel are rarely the same.
The experiment might be the closest the country gets to an explanation of this crazy presidential campaign without dissecting a brain.
Instead of placing participants in focus groups or asking them to fill out a questionnaire, experimenters harvest data directly from the brain using technology called "BrainWave." Companies such as Nielsen and Affectiva also conduct similar testing, which can gauge the effectiveness of advertisements and viewer response to TV shows and movies.
“This isn’t science fiction,” Gerrol said. “I can’t read your thoughts, but I can read your emotions.”
But it has particular application this election cycle because voters' responses have been so unpredictable. Spark's study may have provided some answers, namely that test subjects may subconsciously lie when they tell people what political messaging works and what doesn't.
“If you ask somebody what they’re feeling, you're not going to get a very accurate response. Emotion is subconscious,” Gerrol said. “The idea is to measure emotion without asking.
“When people make decisions, it’s tempting to think there’s a lot of rational thought. That’s not really true. You can't have decisions without emotion.”
Scores of political prognosticators predicted Trump’s demise almost a year ago. They predicted that Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders would fizzle out.
Alas, no political prediction has rung true, leaving political professionals and junkies alike asking, “What gives?” and “What are Trump and Clinton voters thinking?”
Remember, Trump had a blast during the primaries. Back then, he was free to spew any sort of nonsense he wanted. And not only did no one question him too seriously, but as his discourse became increasingly unhinged and racist, his poll numbers rose in kind. The more his poll numbers shot up, the more media attention he got. And for Trump, there is no purer joy. If Donald Trump is able to buy his way into heaven, it’s just going to be him reliving the 2016 primaries every day for the rest of eternity.
Now, though, the Democrats are just about done squabbling, Republicans are out of distractions, and the cold, sobering reality of what our nation has wrought is finally settling in. Now that the fun is winding down, the small-handed prince of our country’s most base anxieties is going to start looking for a way out. He’s already laying the groundwork, saying on Fox & Friends that “it would be nice to have full support from people that are in office, full verbal support. With all of that being said, I may go a different route if things don’t happen.”
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) announced today that it will be using a new type of sensor-embedded carbon fiber to make its capsules, capable of transporting passengers through a nearly airless tube at speeds up to 760 mph, safer than ever. The company is calling this new material "Vibranium," which may sound familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of Marvel Comics and its wildly popular Cinematic Universe.We should probably come back to this as an example of how these hype spirals mix comically over-the-top language with outlandish claims that are supposed to be taken seriously (Vibranium is explicitly meant as a joke. With the numerous Elon Musk equals Tony Stark comparisons, the call is quite a bit more difficult). Instead of the hyperbole, for now though, I want to focus on the vagueness of the language and the way it interacts with journalists' weak grasp of the topic.
In the comics, Captain America's iconic shield is made of a nearly indestructible metal called Vibranium. It is almost exclusively found in the tiny (and fictional) African nation of Wakanda, the ancestral home of the Black Panther, who had his silver screen debut this month in Captain American: Civil War — and will be starring in his own standalone movie in 2018. Or around the same time the first Hyperloop is expected to be in operation.
HTT's Vibranium, though, won't be used to make any superhero flair, but rather a dual-layer coating for the company's Hyperloop pod that will provide the passengers with twice the protection should anything damage the exterior. The company boasts that its Vibranium is "eight times stronger than aluminum and 10 times stronger than steel alternatives," which is fairly standard for reinforced carbon fiber. What makes HTT's version special is the embedded sensors that can transmit "critical information regarding temperature, stability, integrity and more, wirelessly and instantly." HTT unveiled a section of its Hyperloop capsule made of Vibranium at the Pioneer's Festival in Vienna today.
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, one of two LA-based startups working to build Elon Musk’s futuristic transportation system, announced today that it has licensed a technology called "passive magnetic levitation" to power its prototype. The system is "a cheaper, safer alternative" to regular magnetic levitation, or maglev, which is currently in operation powering high-speed trains in China and Europe.For the record, Post's ideas are very cool. They might even be significantly cheaper than a standard maglev, but the system would almost certainly be more expensive than the pod-generated air cushion system Musk proposed.
Passive magnetic levitation, which was developed by the late physicist Richard Post in 2000, uses unpowered loops of wire in the track and permanent magnets in the train pod to create levitation. By contrast, maglev requires complex and expensive infrastructure upgrades, such as power sources placed at intervals along the track. Post, who worked for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, until his death in 2015, called his new system "the Inductrack."
On a humid afternoon this past November, I pulled off Interstate 75 into a stretch of Florida pine forest tangled with runaway vines. My GPS was homing in on the house of a man I thought might hold the master key to one of the strangest scholarly mysteries in recent decades: a 1,300-year-old scrap of papyrus that bore the phrase “Jesus said to them, My wife.” The fragment, written in the ancient language of Coptic, had set off shock waves when an eminent Harvard historian of early Christianity, Karen L. King, presented it in September 2012 at a conference in Rome.Whether it's a con or just a conspiracy theory, if you dig into accounts of smart people falling for the implausible, you will usually find a point where the subject found a way of not just explaining away conflicting evidence, but of actually turning it around so that it supports the contention. Things never go well after that point.
On a more practical level, [King] couldn’t see how a con artist cunning enough to produce a scientifically undetectable forgery could at the same time be so clumsy with Coptic handwriting and grammar. “In my judgment,” she wrote, “such a combination of bumbling and sophistication seems extremely unlikely.” The crude writing, she argued, could simply indicate that the ancient scribe was a novice.
Yet “a combination of bumbling and sophistication” could well be the epitaph of many of history’s most infamous forgers, their painstaking precision undone by a few careless oversights.
Growth Economics with Nigel Tufnel
Below I’m going to get to the gory details of why the Doing Business (DB) indicators generally suck as a measure of anything useful. But let me start with this note. The DB index Cochrane uses is a “distance to the frontier” index. Meaning you get a number that tells you how close to best practices in business conditions a country gets. If you are at the best practices in all categories, you’d get a 100.
Cochrane says, and I quote, “If America could improve on the best seen in other countries by 10%, a 110 score would generate $400,000 income per capita…”. Stew on that for a moment. Think about how that DB frontier index is constructed.
Cochrane went there. He said it could go to 11.
Success Academy Charter Schools won’t offer pre-kindergarten classes next year after losing a high-profile fight with city and state officials.
The charter network has refused to sign the city’s pre-K contract, arguing that it includes inappropriate regulations about how charter schools manage their time and design their curriculum. But neither Mayor Bill de Blasio nor State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has allowed Success to bend the rules, and both have insisted that Success sign the contract or lose funding.
In recent months, Success officials have continued their fight in court. But with no resolution in sight, the city’s largest charter-school network will close its three existing pre-K programs and will not open two more planned for next school year, CEO Eva Moskowitz announced Wednesday.
“It is unbelievably sad to tell parents and teachers that the courts won’t rescue our pre-K program from the mayor’s war on Success in time to open next year,” Moskowitz said.
Bar-passage rates at the InfiLaw schools are now in a free fall. (The following percentages are for first-time takers of the July exam in the schools’ home states.) Florida Coastal’s bar-passage rate has fallen from 76 percent to 59 percent, Charlotte’s has fallen from 78 percent to 47 percent, and Arizona Summit’s has gone from 75 percent to an astonishing 30.6 percent.This collapse has taken place despite the fact that, according to allegations in a lawsuit filed by a former Arizona Summit administrator, all three schools have been offering money to graduates who the schools identified as being at especially high risk for failure, to get them to hold off on taking the bar exam. Indeed, in July Arizona Summit’s dean confirmed that she had called various graduates the night before the exam, imploring them to consider the “opportunity” to withdraw from the test, in exchange for a $10,000 living stipend, that would be paid to them if they enrolled in enhanced bar-preparation courses provided by the school.
It's useful to step back and think of this in terms of knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns. There are a lot of aspects of building an intercity vactrain that are so far outside of our range of experience that any cost estimate has to be highly speculative -- independent experts tend to think Musk is being highly optimistic in these parts of his proposal but they can't say conclusively that he's wrong – but when it comes to things like putting large structures up on pylons or down in tunnels, we have a lot of relevant experience.
Remember this one?
[Michael L. Anderson, an associate professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of California, Berkeley.] said that while some of the infrastructure is novel, the elevated guideway was not unlike existing structures such as the Bay Area Rapid Transit's aerial tracks. For the Hyperloop's tracks, that alone would cost in the tens of billions. As for the pipeline for the cars, he said, oil pipelines are $5 million to $6 million per mile, and they are seven times narrower than the Hyperloop's would need to be. In addition, the Hyperloop track could not change direction abruptly the way an oil pipeline could.
"It really has to be built to much higher standards than anybody has ever built a pipeline to," Anderson said.
HTT CEO Dirk Ahlborn announced that his company has reached an agreement with the Slovakian government. The plan is to set up the Hyperloop from Vienna, Austria, to Bratislava, Slovakia, and from Bratislava to Budapest, Hungary. These are three of the biggest cities in the area, and traffic between the three of them can be quite a drag. The company announced:
“Slovakia is a technological leader in the automotive, material science and energy industries, many of the areas that are integral to the Hyperloop system,” Ahlborn said in a press release. “With our project in Quay Valley, this agreement with Slovakia, and future developments with other regions of the world, HTT truly has become a global movement.”
“Hyperloop in Europe would cut distances substantially and network cities in unprecedented ways. A transportation system of this kind would redefine the concept of commuting and boost cross-border cooperation in Europe,” said Vazil Hudak, Slovakia’s economic minister, said in a statement. “The expansion of Hyperloop will lead to an increased demand for the creation of new innovation hubs, in Slovakia and all over Europe.”
The total costs for this project are somewhere between $200 million and $300 million, but if you consider that the project can transport 10 million people every year and the entire system is almost self-sustainable with solar panels, it’s really not that high of a cost.
The Hyperloop would carry passengers across California at more than 1,200kph—faster than a jet airliner—allowing them to zoom between San Francisco and Los Angeles [No, from Hayward to Sylmar. Getting the route wrong is a telling indicator of what's to come -- MP] in little over half an hour, compared with more than two-and-a-half hours for CHSR. It would be solar-powered, would take less land than a high-speed railway [and have a fraction of the capacity -- MP], and would be cheaper to boot. Mr Musk’s notional budget is around $6 billion, less than a tenth of what the high-speed train is supposed to cost. [Almost no independent experts agree with this. Their estimates are higher by one to two orders of magnitude. -- MP]I'm going to drop the brackets now because this one demands its own paragraph. The level of misrepresentation and understatement here is stunning. The critics aren't poring over the cost estimates; they're looking only at the big stuff, putting in optimistic assumptions and still coming to the conclusion that it doesn't "pencil out," and that Musk's numbers are between one and two orders of magnitude too low. As for the parenthesis at the end, budget is inextricably intertwined with schedule and, more generally, with delivering what you promised when you promised it. As previously mentioned, Musk is notorious for over-promising. Furthermore, it's not entirely clear how much credit you get for coming in on budget when you've never made a profit despite raking in billions in subsidies.
That, at least, is the theory. There are doubters, of course. Some worry that passengers will not like the prospect of hurtling through a steel tube, in a cramped capsule [Let's not forget, probably reeking of vomit -- MP], at almost the speed of sound. And there are inevitable questions about safety, though the pods would have wheels that could be deployed if needed, allowing them to limp to their destinations using batteries if the power failed. [just to be clear, if you experience cascading failure traveling through a near vacuum in a pressurized pod at over 1,200kph, having wheels won't be much of a factor -- MP] But, its breathtaking audacity aside, the thing does look feasible as an engineering project. [We need to talk about what feasibility means in an engineering context -- MP]
The tube would be held above ground, on pylons, reducing the amount of land it consumed [the route mainly goes through the Central Valley farming country where the the relatively low cost of land would be small compared with the expense of building hundreds of miles of high tech elevated structure -- MP], and would follow existing roads, which should simplify construction and make maintenance easier. The proposed route features only gentle curves. [That a relative term at these speeds, particularly when you factor in the vertical (anyone else here familiar with the Tejon Pass?) -- MP] And the air cushion surrounding each pod should ensure that the ride is smooth. Moreover, although unexpected engineering problems would be bound to crop up, Mr Musk’s experience—and that of his engineers—with space flight and car design would bode well for overcoming them. [note that none of that experience involves large infrastructure -- MP]
Building it alongside existing roads would certainly cheapen things as well as simplifying them, but critics who are poring over Mr Musk’s cost estimates, for everything from land permits to the construction itself, doubt the numbers stack up (though to be fair, both his electric cars and his space rockets have come in on budget).
Implicit in this, of course, is the notion that the truth of an attack is entirely subordinate to whether or not that attack works.
This is how a "post-truth" politics is developed. Tactics uber alles. And Trump's constant presence on our airwaves isn't due to "his ability to garner" free airtime, or some magical Jedi mind-tricks that only he possesses. It's due to conscious decisions by various important people in the electric teevee business to use a larval dictator to boost their ratings. Conscious decisions, therefore, made without conscience.
I have a dreadful feeling that going forward, the coverage of He, Trump will consist in large part of the elite political media dodging blame for their part in his rise. Not that anybody predicted this three years ago or anything.
[T]he Donald Trump candidacy is providing the kind of stress that highlights flaws in our journalistic system.Last summer and fall we were still in phase 1 -- pre-nomination -- which was focused about one third on opposition and two thirds on denial. Now, with the possible exception of Bill Kristol, everyone has accepted the obvious. The question is how the press will deal with it.
On the right, we have seen a blatant alliance of the Republican Party and right-wing media in an attempt to force out a popular but embarrassing candidate. On the center/left, we have seen newspapers like the New York Times loudly point out that the emperor has no clothes while carefully avoiding the fact that he is standing in the middle of a nudist colony. (The bizarre alliance between Fox News and the New York Times on derailing the Donald Trump candidacy is a fascinating topic that will have to wait for another post.)
On the analytic side, where we are supposed to be above this sort of thing, more and more of the coverage is sliding into drunkard's light post territory: using data for support but not illumination.
Today while taking questions after announcing belated donations to veterans groups, CNN's Jim Acosta pressed Trump on his criticisms of Judge Curiel. Toward the end of the exchange, in which Trump repeated his claims about bias and unfairness, Acosta asked Trump: "Why mention that the judge is Mexican?" Trump answered: "Because I'm a man of principle. Most of the people who took those courses have letters saying they thought it was great, essentially."
In other words, Trump didn't answer the question and Acosta seemed not to have a chance to follow up or chose not to.
As we've noted, quite apart from the policies he's embraced, Trump has shown himself over the course of the campaign to be an emotionally needy, pathological liar. Here we see that he also not only happily launches defamatory racist attacks on a federal judge but impugns the patriotism of an entire ethnic community in the United States.
As I write, the issue is being discussed on the cable nets in terms of why Trump thinks it's a good idea to attack a judge hearing his case, whether there's any evidence that Curiel is "biased" or "unfair." (It's worth noting that Curiel did Trump the inestimably valuable favor of acceding to his lawyers' request to push the trial back until after the November election - this despite the fact that 'elder abuse' infractions put a premium on conducting an expeditious trial.) But handicapping the wisdom of Trump's attack or analyzing them in substantive terms is an immense dereliction of journalistic duty.
The press routinely goes into paroxysms - often rightly so - about innuendos or phrasings that might in some way be racist or suggest racial animus. Here we have it in the open, repeated and showing itself as basically Trump's first line of attack when he is in anyway threatened. That's infinitely more dangerous than most things that routinely focus all the media's attention. Any reporter who gets a chance to ask Trump to justify his actions and doesn't is not doing his or her job. Few cases show more vividly how dangerous a person Trump is.
Interstate 5 Along Grapevine Closed Due to Ice, Wind, Snow
By Jonathan Lloyd
A section of the 5 Freeway north of Los Angeles is closed Monday morning due to potentially dangerous travel conditions caused by ice, wind and snow.
The snow level is expected to descend to between 2,000 and 2,500 feet this morning, [the elevation of the Tejon Pass is over 4,000 feet -- MP] with moderate snowfall expected on north slopes in the San Gabriels and in the northwestern corner of the Antelope Valley. Up to eight inches could accumulate in the northwest foothills in the Antelope Valley, and between three and seven inches could pile up on the 5 Freeway near Gorman and The Grapevine amid icy conditions and winds blowing at between 25 and 40 miles per hour and gusting at 60 mph.
There was no estimate when the freeway would be reopened
Dangerous driving conditions are also expected in the Antelope Valley, including on Pearblossom (SR 138) Highway, amid snowfall and winds of between 30 and 45 mph, gusting to 65 mph, it said.
Betrayal is a play written by Harold Pinter in 1978. Critically regarded as one of the English playwright's major dramatic works, it features his characteristically economical dialogue, characters' hidden emotions and veiled motivations, and their self-absorbed competitive one-upmanship, face-saving, dishonesty, and (self-)deceptions.
Pinter's particular usage of reverse chronology in structuring the plot is innovative: the first scene takes place after the affair has ended, in 1977; the final scene ends when the affair begins, in 1968; and, in between 1977 and 1968, scenes in two pivotal years (1977 and 1973) move forward chronologically.
"The Betrayal" is the 164th episode of the NBC sitcom Seinfeld. This was the eighth episode for the ninth and final season. It aired on November 20, 1997. The episode is colloquially referred to as The Backwards Episode due to its use of reverse chronology, starting with the final scene and playing in order backwards.While reading this New York Times piece on the reaction of Silicon Valley to Thiel's machinations, it struck me that, while the story as written was notably biased against Gawker, it was possible to rearrange the paragraphs so as to have a much more balanced account.
Twenty-five years ago, tech coverage was the domain of geeks and trade reporters — people who understood their way around a motherboard, were excited by it and wouldn’t dream of crossing certain boundaries. Now, with tech at its zenith, much of the coverage of the industry is still done by enthusiasts. Combine this with the need to get the power players to come to the media’s conferences and there is a real reluctance to look behind the scenes.