Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Freddie deBoer Vanishes

I was greatly disturbed to see that Freddie deBoer has purged all his old tweets from Twitter (without, so far, eliminating the account) and has removed the entire contents of his blog. I am very much saddened by this. We disagreed deeply about many things politically: he is an unalloyed socialist at heart, his views on the intersection of copyright and the Internet are deeply naive, as is his odd belief that Kickstarters are inevitably scams. Despite these differences, he was also honest about the increasingly neglected work of convincing others politically, and knew how to craft a well-assembled argument, even if you disagreed with key parts of it. His refusal to engage in snarky personal attacks, the house style at Gawker and so many other Internet-era publications, set him above all of them and made his writing worth reading. I'll miss him, and I hope he finds another online home soon.

The End Of Milo Yiannopoulos

I probably shouldn't even bother with this one; Milo Yiannopoulos has finally supplied the rope for his own hanging, which in the end was unsurprising. It's unlikely I will get everything right about this story, filled as it is with lurid but stupid details, ones that in the end are deeply boring, precisely because Milo is at heart a troll. Whatever it is, he's throwing bombs for public attention, never more so than with his "daddy Trump" nonsense during the late election cycle. It was inevitable that one of those bombs would detonate on the maker.
Yiannopoulos, who was recently credentialed for a White House presidential briefing, once penned a Breitbart column to blame the left for defending pedophilia. Now, this newly released audio reveals him endorsing the practice (and praising priests who molest underage boys). In the clip, he describes a disturbing scenario, which prompts an unnamed person to remark, “It sounds like Catholic priest molestation to me.”

He receives this response from Yiannopoulos: “But you know what? I’m grateful for Father Michael. I wouldn’t give nearly such good head if it wasn’t for him.” Here’s more of what he said about pedophilia:
“We get hung up on this sort of child abuse stuff to the point where we are heavily policing consensual adults … In the homosexual world, particularly, some of those relationships between younger boys and older men — the sort of ‘coming of age’ relationship — those relationships in which those older men help those young boys discover who they are and give them security and safety and provide them with love and a reliable, sort of rock, where they can’t speak to their parents.”
 His response to this own goal error was at first to declare it a "witch hunt", adding an unhelpful non-clarification addressing anyone who found his earlier remarks distressing as "A note to idiots". This raised a lot of irrelevancies, did nothing to dispel his earlier remarks, and smeared anyone who might reasonably find in his comments support for pederasty. It's a poor workman who blames his tools, and Yiannopoulos' refusal to acknowledge his own failings was a huge missed opportunity. It might be his last. Having lost his book deal with Simon & Schuster, he's also had to resign from Breitbart amid stories circulating that other staffers would resign en masse if he didn't.

There are kinder takes on Yiannoupoulos, for instance this unsigned piece on Rare ("The Internet bully is himself a victim; perhaps the two are related"), or this essay from Current Affairs which treats his remarks about sexual contact with an older man in the context of historical gay man/young teen sex:
Yiannopoulos may not have made his point very well. But there’s something nuanced and defensible here. First, he’s saying that the relationships between gay men and teenage boys (according to their own accounts) have historically been messier than simple categories allow for. And second, it’s absurd to say that he can’t make dark or crass jokes about his priest if it’s his way of dealing with what happened to him.
One might agree with that if he were a better communicator. To accept that, you have to excuse his lack of clarity: which is it? Was his giving head to a priest at 13 a terrible thing? Or was it good in hindsight? We still don't know, and we have Milo the bomb-thrower's imprecision to thank for it. Ultimately, the problem with Yiannopoulos is he stands for nothing, only in opposition, i.e. he is largely if not entirely a reactionary.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Audi's Wage Gap Pratfall

I've treated the mythical "wage gap" multiple times before, but yesterday's Audi ad during the Superbowl was a sort of tour de force of unrepentant cant:

Of course, with an organization as large as Audi, it's almost impossible to keep everyone within the organization on message:

You've gotta wonder about ends of the organization that came to such wildly differing conclusions about the role and pay of women in the workforce. What are they saying with that film? That everyone else in society is the bad guys, but Audi isn't one of them? Oh, and, do these faces look terribly female to you? (Notwithstanding Jeri Ward, who was presumably in charge of this fiasco, and HR director Christine Gaspar.) The story about how this ad came to be made would be an interesting one, and is lightly touched upon in an Ad Age piece issued contemporaneously with its release:
What is notable about Audi's spot is that it was directed by a woman -- Aoife McArdle, a top director repped out of Somesuch and Anonymous Content who has directed big-brand work for the likes of P&G (Secret), Under Armour, Honda and Samsung. Last year, Ms. McArdle directed a spot for Secret that also carried an equal pay message.

Gender inequity remains a huge issue in the ad production business. Women comprised only 9.7% of the rostered directors of the production companies that made Ad Age and Creativity's Production Company A-List in 2015, according to an analysis Mashable did of the list for a story published last year.
Previously, the Ad Age story mentions a "Free The Bid" initiative to address the lack of women in the field, but it takes with it the cast that women are in need of special protection from the same environmental hazards men are, i.e. it perpetuates women as "damsels in distress".

Keeping everyone on the same page is a tough thing, especially as your company gets larger. This disjoint fiasco shows why.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Apple Watch: Married In Haste, Repent At Leisure

I open this piece by noting I have had three other fitness trackers, all Fitbits:
  • I started with the Flex, which was then at the price point and functionality the best available unit on the market. It suffered from horrible mechanical defects, particularly in its charging port, which became less and less stable over time. This was made even worse by the incredibly tiny cable that came with the unit. If the distance between the outlet to the nearest horizontal surface was larger than that, you could be assured the Flex would sooner or later (the older it got, the sooner) it would fall out.
  • The second Fitbit unit I owned was a Force. Again, mechanical issues with the charging port caused me to abandon it, unlike a number of owners who had contact allergic dermatitis with the surgical stainless steel bezel.
  • The third (and last?) unit was a Surge. Shockingly, it wasn't actually issues with the charging port that caused me to abandon it, but the wristband. The thing simply broke in two, and because of the nonstandard, single-piece construction, could not be replaced.
Thus Fitbit. Since Apple had previously given me a number of products I have used and enjoyed dating back to the Apple II days, I finally broke down and decided to get an Apple Watch. Also, because the Apple Watch had (so they claimed) fitness functions mirroring the more popular ones available in the many fitness tracking devices now available. Mainly, I looked forward to Apple's superior history of making mechanically bulletproof devices. It's been a mixed bag.
  • There's really no way to change step count or other fitness-related targets outside the watch's tiny user interface itself. This is, to put it mildly, extremely annoying for those of us with big man fingers. On the Fitbit, you had the option of making these changes on either the iPhone or website interfaces, but Apple doesn't even offer an iCloud web interface for their fitness functions.
  • The limited touchscreen size means a great deal rests on various gestures. Unfortunately, it is too easy to accidentally engage one of them and change something inadvertently. I have several times turned on my watch, only to discover that the watch face has changed, or some other app has randomly taken over the display (because it was engaged accidentally last).
  • I had a worst case scenario of this happen yesterday when my Watch made an unwanted 911 call for me! I had my wrist bent at 90°, and next thing I know, the phone's making a call to the local emergency dispatcher! This apparently is some kind of default, something I had to shamefacedly explain to the woman from the dispatcher's office who called me back because I hung up after making the call. (I have since disabled the default dial-911 state.)
  • Those glaring flaws notwithstanding, it's got some nice features. Particularly, the ability to answer calls (with lousy sound quality) is useful, especially if you don't immediately know where your phone is. Likewise the ability to control your music, if the phone must be somewhere else than on your person, the best thing if you're using Bluetooth. (The low power Bluetooth interface can be spotty if there's any large enough physical thing between transmitter and receiver... like a human bent in half, say.)
By far, it's not a good replacement for the Fitbit, and in fact is so weak in this area it probably shouldn't be on anyone's list for this purpose. Since launch, Apple has treated it like an afterthought, especially in the way it interacts with apps. A disappointment, especially at the price, which may be one reason Apple has materially dropped the price for its entry level watch to well below $200.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Saturday Bullets

  • Hey, didja know that penises and vaginas are a social construct?
    Fine is a sure guide to the science, building up complexity without sacrificing clarity. By the time she’s finished, any lingering confidence that hormones exert a simple dose-response influence on our behaviour is thoroughly done for. Instead, testosterone works in intimate concert with relationship structures – a blow to its dignified reputation as the singular, commanding “male hormone”. Even something as incontrovertibly binary as our male and female genitals is shown to be part of a complex cultural system. As Fine says, “it’s the genitalia – and the gender socialisation this kicks off – that provides the most obvious indirect developmental system route by which biological sex affects human brains”.
  • Now that Trump is president, even journalists can apply critical thinking skills again.
  • Editors, please.
  • Econ 101 still works, no matter how much "living wage" advocates wish otherwise.
    The real impact of the minimum wage, however, is much less clear than these talking points might indicate. Looking at historical experience, there is no obvious relationship between the minimum wage and unemployment: adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum was highest from 1967 through 1969, when the unemployment rate was below 4 percent—a historically low level.
    If you use general unemployment as a basis for your comparison (the real problem is specific unemployment among the low-skilled), you've already failed to address the argument.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Jerry Coyne's War On Blank Slate-ism

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, author of the terrific blog Why Evolution Is True (which I haven't previously linked to, but need to add to my sidebar posthaste) has gotten into a row about human sexual behavioral dimorphism with a post, "The Ideological Opposition To Biological Truth". Men and women have coevolved but differing responses to environmental pressures, and this has led to lasting effects on behavior. The left rejects these categorically, because "ideological blinkering leads to the conclusion that when we see a difference in performance between groups and genders, the obvious explanation is culture and oppression, and the remedy is [enforced] equal outcomes rather than equal opportunities."
To claim that there are no evolutionary differences in behavior and psychology between men and women is fatuous.  The data show otherwise, though of course for most traits we don’t know if it’s genetic. But the default hypothesis, based on observation of other species (especially primates) is that at least some psychological and behavioral differences will be based on genes that evolved via selection in our ancestors. Why is the brain immune to evolved, sex-specific differences but the body is not?
Holly Dunsworth at U. Rhode Island posted a series of claims on Twitter about human sexual dimorphism, and was picked up in a New York article, wrapping up with these tweets:
There's a lot of things one could say about this, but what's most preposterous about it is the idea that science is somehow responsible for being thoughtful or kind — i.e., adhering to "safety", the prevailing groupthink, a problem the atheists ran into a while back. Coyne answered these silly remarks resoundingly well here, and at even greater length, here. He makes four points, three of which are strongly supported by data:
  • Among species of primates, there’s a good correlation between the polygyny of a species and sexual dimorphism: those species in which males have a higher variance in offspring number, and in which males thus compete more intensely for females, also show a greater ratio of male/female body size, even when corrected for phylogeny. (Too, in primate species in which males fight each other over females, the relative size of the canine teeth, used in battle, is larger than in species showing less direct male-male competition.)
  • In humans, as in many other species in which males compete for females, the sex ratio at birth favors males. They then die off at a higher rate due to higher risk-taking and exploratory behavior, and also senesce faster, which is why among older humans there are so many more females than males. (Check out any Gray Line tourbus.) This is predicted by sexual selction theory.
  • In line with the above, in humans and other primates, males show from the outset great exploratory and risk-taking behaviors, and as adults show many other behaviors that differ from those of females, such as greater dispersal. Is this due to the Primate Patriarchy? Probably not, given that these differences in behavior are shown in many species besides ours and make evolutionary sense.
Moreover, regarding Dunsworth's remarks, female growth emphatically does not stop after menarche (females continue to grow even into their late teens). "Dunsworth’s hypothesis is not only unsupported by data, but fails to explain the growth data that do exist." He concludes:
I can’t believe that simply my writing a post on human sexual dimorphism and its implications would drive anybody away from studying human evolution. After all, the give-and-take of hypotheses, critical thinking, and data are the very meat of science, and if you disagree with somebody, you don’t simply walk away from a field. I sure as hell am not leaving evolutionary biology because Dunsworth and New York Magazine took out after me!
This is a great response, and I'm glad to see someone pick up this flag.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

We're Doomed Dep't: Now Docs In Their 60's Outnumber Those In Their 30's (Updated With Some Good News)

I cannot make this stuff up (PDF, see the 2014 population statistics on p. 4). I have written about this before; the insane problems of new physician minting will not go away, and apparently are not being attended to, titular but comically small efforts notwithstanding. In two years, about thirty thousand doctors entered their sixties, i.e. near retirement age, while physicians in their 30's actually diminished, both in absolute population and as a percentage of the overall population. The problems of healthcare costs can not be properly addressed until we get the physician shortage addressed.

Update 2017-01-14: Last night, in a Facebook conversation Jerry Thornton made the point that the headline good news was a 4% increase in the overall physician population from 2012 to 2014. It's useful to do some quick checks to make sure this is of significant import relative to the larger problem, i.e. that of overall physician-to-population ratio. From my earlier work, the OECD average is 30.6 physicians per 10,000 population, or 3.06x10-3, expressed in scientific notation. How long will it take to get the US from where it is to there?
  • 2012 estimated US population: 314 million. (Population is only known precisely in census years, but is estimated between them. Source page here.)
  • 2014 estimated US population: 319 million. (From the same source above.)
  • OECD most recent year physician-to-population ratio: 3.29x10-3 physicians/population. (It's actually gone up.)
  • US most recent year physician-to-population ratio: 2.56x10-3 (from the prior link)
  • US physician population, 2012: 878,194
  • US physician population, 2014: 916,264
 Let's find the annual physician growth rate first.

916 264 = 878 194(1+x)2

Solving for x, the annual physician population growth rate, gets us

x = sqrt(916 264/878 194)-1 = 2.14x10-2

Now, the general population is growing at the same time. How much? Let's do the same math:

p = sqrt(319/314)-1 = 7.93x10-3

So when will these converge at the OECD average of 3.29x10-3 physicians/population? (I ignore the growth in the OECD average physician-to-population ratio.) Note that the Journal of Medical Regulation census physician population divided by the US Census general population figure gives us 2.87x10-3, which is higher than the OECD physician-to-population figure; we'll use that as a basis anyway, as both numbers are presumably more up-to-date, and won't make much of a difference relatively.

916 264 physicians * (1+2.14x10-2)n/3.19x108 population * (1+7.93x10-3)n = 3.29x10-3 physicians/population

Solving for n, the number of years until the US meets the OECD average physician-to-population ratio, we get 10.5 years, which is pretty fast as these timelines go. However, given OECD physician-to-population ratios are rising (almost certainly in response to population aging), it's probably somewhat misleading.

Update 2017-01-15: Even more interesting: feet-on-the-ground physicians vs. state populations for the 50 states ratio is 385 physicians per 100,000 population, which puts the US in the upper half, at least, and maybe the upper third. This makes me wonder about the OECD methodology; do they count expats in the denominator?