Sometimes There’s an Appearance of a Conflict of Interest Because There’s an Actual Conflict

So we’re about to go on strike. Again. To defend our pensions. Again. This is the big one…moving from a defined benefit to defined contribution. This shifts all the risk onto us, from the universities and will definitely involve big cuts, sometimes (if your retirement timing is bad) huge cuts to our pensions.

This sucks.

It seems that Oxford and Cambridge have played a large role in fucking the rest of us. Good show, you jerks. I think students should get compensation, after all, the unis dock our pay!

The union has been busy otherwise. They released (in conjunction with the Guardian) the results of a lot of Freedom of Information requests. Here’s the headline result:

The vice-chancellor was either on the committee that sets their pay or allowed to attend its meetings at 95% of UK universities. Three-quarters of institutions would not release full minutes of the pay committee’s meeting.

Oh, and surprise surprise, VC compensation has also risen…dramatically:

University vice-chancellors have enjoyed huge pay rises in recent years. The average pay (excluding pensions) for vice-chancellors in 2005/06 was £165,105. Over the next decade it increased by 56.2% to £257,904 in 2015/16. UCU said its report with the latest figures on senior pay and perks will be released shortly.

In case you were wondering, I’m not allowed to attend promotion or pay meetings about myself. Or sabbatical deciding meetings.

Now, would these massive increases happened anyway? Maybe! Why not! But it isn’t just an appearance of a conflict of interest…it really is a conflict of interest for the VC to attend (even) a meeting where their pay is discussed.

I checked out the findings to see how Manchester did and sadly:

Vice-chancellor/head of institution is a member of the remuneration committee? Although not a member, vice-chancellor/head of institution attends remuneration committee meetings? Remuneration committee minutes received 2016/17? Rationale for refusal to share minutes? Minutes redacted 2016/17?
The University of Manchester No response No response No response No response No response

That’s not the transparency I would hope for from my institution.

Needless to say, one would have thought, minimal proper governance dictates:

  1. VCs should not be involved in anyway with the committees setting their compensation.
  2. Their compensation shouldn’t be growing so much faster (or…faster) than the rest of us, barring very specific and exceptional circumstances.
  3. The facts about their membership and attendance and, indeed, the rationale for their compensation, should be public (with minimal redaction for properly private bits).
  4. This should all be watchdogged like hell.

This is a terrible look, both internally and externally, for the universities. That’s something the VCs are directly responsible for.

 

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Non Violent Resistance Follow Up

There were some nice questions asked on Facebook in response to my post on the effectiveness of non-violent resistance. I’ll note that most of these are genericish “did the authors control for” like questions.

Peter asked:

Did the authors control for magnitude of desired change or a priori likelihood? Nonviolent is likely to perform far better if it tends to be used on the easier cases.

From the paper:

6. Our use of “resistance” designates major nonstate rebellions, either armed or unarmed. Instead of using event count data, we identify campaigns—a series of repetitive, durable, organized, and observable events directed at a certain target to achieve a goal—as the main unit of analysis. We measure “effectiveness” by comparing stated group objectives to policy outcomes (e.g., states’ willingness to make concessions to opposition movements). This analytical distinction is imperfect, but others have used it with success. See Abrahms, “Why Terrorism Does Not Work.”

That, plus their case studies in the paper, give me some confidence that they aren’t looking at “easy vs hard” rather than “nonviolent vs. violent”. In the description of an earlier version of the dataset we get this nice discussion:

Especially among the nonviolent campaigns, there is real concern that the campaigns included are biased toward success, since it is the large, mature campaigns that are most commonly reported. Other would be nonviolent campaigns that are crushed in their infancy (and therefore fail) will not be included in this dataset. This is the major limitation in this study, and it is difficult to avoid. However, we did attempt to mitigate the effects of underreporting bias in several ways. First, we chose to compare nonviolent campaigns with their comparable counterparts in violent campaigns rather than to view nonviolent campaigns in isolation. We did this because there are many “non-starters” among violent campaigns as well as nonviolent ones, and the same underreporting bias exists within the study of violent insurgencies as with nonviolent insurrections. Therefore, we only investigate the outcomes of major nonviolent and violent campaigns — those that are already “mature” in terms of objectives and membership. We only included cases where the objective was at some point maximalist (i.e. regime change, secession, or self – determination) as opposed to limited (i.e. greater civil liberties or economic rights). Such limited goals (greater autonomy and significant institutio nal reform) are coded only when campaigns’ goals were less than maximalist for certain campaign years. Additionally, we only include nonviolent and violent campaigns where we were certain that more than 1,000 people were actively participating in the strug gle. For the nonviolent campaigns, we gleaned this information from the sources mentioned above. For violent campaigns, the information was implied from the 1,000 battle – death criteria for inclusion in the various datasets we accessed. Using this strict criteria or comparing major campaigns allows us to address questions of the relative effectiveness of resistance type among comparably developed mass movements. Critics may still be skeptical of the case selection, especially in the case of nonviolent conflict. Most concerning is the potential omission of failed nonviolent campaigns, which may not be captured in the dataset due to extreme repression or poor news sources. To address this concern, we made certain that the dataset reflects a consensus sample, which was circulated among the world’s leading authorities on nonviolent conflict to make sure we accounted for known failed campaigns. Unknown, failed, nonviolent campaigns are necessarily omitted from the dataset, just like unknown, failed, violent campaigns.

I think this raises my confidence that they are comparing likes to likes, but it highlights the threats to external validity. Without good data on early squashed campaigns, it’s a bit hard to say too much about what strategy people should consider when trying to get going. I suspect that growing a campaign has a suite of challenges all its own.

Several people suggest that the coding is wrong or distorted by rose colored glasses:

Not sure I buy the methodology here. Many of the peaceful examples they’re looking at had violent campaigns running in parallel or were themselves sometimes violent. The authors note this, but decided to call campaigns peaceful if they are historically viewed as being peaceful (using encyclopedias and biographies as evidence).

I think what they actually proved is that we’re more likely to view successful campaigns as less violent.

I’m not sure where the “many of the examples” is coming from. But let’s look at the actual methodology:

Labeling one campaign as “nonviolent” and another as “violent” is difficult. In many cases, both nonviolent and violent campaigns exist simultaneously among different competing groups. Alternatively, some groups use both nonviolent and violent methods of resistance over the course of their existence, as with the African National Congress in South Africa. Characterizing a campaign as nonviolent or violent simplifies a complex constellation of resistance methods.
To address these difficulties, we established some standards of inclusion for each of these categories. The list of nonviolent campaigns was initially gathered from an extensive review of the literature on nonviolent conflict and social movements. Then we corroborated these data using multiple sources, including encyclopedias, case studies, and a comprehensive bibliography on nonviolent civil resistance by April Carter, Howard Clark, and Michael Randle. Finally, the cases were circulated among experts in nonviolent conflict who were asked to assess whether the cases were appropriately characterized as major nonviolent conflicts, and also which notable conflicts had been omitted. Where the experts suggested additional cases, the same corroboration method was used. The resultant data set includes major resistance campaigns that are primarily or entirely nonviolent. Campaigns that committed a significant amount of violence are coded as violent. The data on violent campaigns are derived primarily from Kristian Gleditsch’s 2004 updates to the Correlates of War database on intrastate wars (COW), as well as from Kalev Sepp’s list of major counterinsurgency operations for information on conflicts after 2002.

This seems…reasonable. Saying that history is written by the victors and that people remember violent campaigns as non-violent is not very convincing. First, given how positively people seem to feel toward successful violence, why would they distort away from non-violence? Second, we’re not talking about victors per se, but scholars of nonviolent conflict. If we think these people are going to systematically get which conflicts are nonviolent wrong, well, that’s a pretty big indictment of the field. It’s, of course, possible, but I’d like to see at least a little more than bare assertion (esp when the fact of expert review is conveniently elided).

That being said (and being aware of some confirmation bias on my part) the basic concern (e.g., roughly, mixed or parallel campaigns might muddle causality or cause biased classification) is reasonable. I’m not too worried about it given their discussion above, but it’d be nice to get some direct reassurance on this.

Perhaps we can peek at the data to get a sense of how many coded ambiguous campaigns there are. Alas, the online browser is rubbish for this purpose. (No counts for searches and why people think horrible plotting on maps is a good thing eludes me.)

Fortunately, the data is available for download as an Excel spreadsheet of doom. (112k rows! Yay!) Unfortunately, afaict, it’s all event level data. I don’t see how that the campaigns were identified in the dataset (rather than by some external derivation). So, boo! I’m not able to immediately napkin this off. So, there’s an IOU!

I do think I was a little too bullish on the results. I still believe them, but I didn’t state the limitations. Yay for pushback!

Update:

While trying to figure out how to extract campaigns from the dataset (ongoing) I found some related stuff in the paper, Unpacking nonviolent campaigns: Introducing the NAVCO 2.0 dataset:

Scholars typically characterize campaigns as nonviolent or violent based on the primacy of resistance methods employed (Chenoweth & Stephan, 2011). To qualify as a nonviolent campaign, the campaign must have been prosecuted by unarmed civilians who did not directly threaten or harm the physical well-being of their opponent. Sharp (1973) has identified nearly 200 nonviolent resistance tactics, such as sit-ins, protests, boycotts, civil disobedience, mass noncooperation, and strikes. When a campaign relies almost uniformly on nonviolent methods such as these (as opposed to violent or armed tactics), we characterize the campaign as primarily nonviolent. The First Intifada, for instance, is often remembered to have been violent, due to youths’ rock-throwing and the bloody intra-Palestinian infighting that characterized the Intifada’s final two years (1992–94) and those afterward. However, the IDF’s figures on the First Intifada report that over 97% of Palestinian activities through 1992 were nonviolent or ‘unarmed’ (Pearlman, 2009). As such, it would be empirically accurate to call the 1988–92 phase of the First Intifada primarily nonviolent.

There’s definitely a possibility for recall distortion, but I’d guess ex ante that it was in favor of calling campaigns violent when mostly no. Small bits of violence get a lot of coverage (cf Seattle and black bloc generally) and are a standard way to disparage a campaign). Also:

NAVCO 2.0 also allows for mixed characterizations. It reports data on changes in primary resistance method, which codes whether nonviolent campaigns adopted violence in certain years (as the Defiance Campaign did in the 1960s in response to repression from the South African apartheid regime), and whether violent campaigns began to rely on mass civil resistance (as the Second Defiance Campaign later did in the early1990s). We also identified years where nonviolent campaigns coexisted with, tolerated, or adopted armed wings for self-defense or offensive purposes. These variables allow researchers to further investigate the role of strategic choice and identify periods in a campaign where the movement relied on both nonviolent and violent resistance, which occurs in about 30% of the campaign years.

I think if you are going to jump on them for the mixed bit, you have to delve a lot more. They seem to be doing a fair job of teasing it out.

Re: easy vs. hard, there’s this fascinating bit:

For nonviolent resistance, however, one sees a clear divergence in the determinants of campaign onset. Perhaps the most striking is that violent and nonviolent campaigns share only one determinant in common: population size.

Otherwise, Fearon & Laitin’s (2003) predictors are either completely reversed or insignificant. The only significant correlates of nonviolent campaigns are flatter terrain and older, more durable authoritarian regimes.

This suggests that nonviolent and violent campaigns emerge in very different types of countries. The substantive findings are counter-intuitive and paradoxical: violent campaigns seem to emerge where resistance is ‘easy’, whereas nonviolent resistance is emerging where resistance is supposedly ‘difficult’. These results reveal that nonviolent campaigns are emerging under quite unfavorable circumstances from a mobilization perspective, challenging many assumptions about the supposed ineffectiveness of nonviolent resistance against durable authoritarian regimes

Cool stuff!

Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Effectiveness

We live in tricky times.

The governments of the US and the UK (two of my three citizenships…the third, as I understand it, is Iran which, to be sure, is extremely problematic, to understate) are not in good shape with strong bents toward less democratic to authoritarian behaviors, not to mention wildly reckless and incompetent policies and governance. Along with fair helpings of xenophobic evil. The UK just might have a combination of xenophobic enough electorate and broken opposition that the conservative grip on government is democratically justified, even if they grasp for more and just plain suck. In the US, the Republicans (and Trump administration) clearly have little democratic justification as they have power primarily through anti-democratic mechanisms like the electoral college, voter suppression, gerrymandering etc.

(These really are anti-democratic (not just countermajoritarian) both procedurally and substantively. They go strongly against majorities to enact plutocratic and racist/sexist/etc. policies. The anti-DREAMer bullshit is a great example: Majorities of the electorate want protection for the DREAMers, a majority of Congress wants DREAMer projection, and the nominal position of the so-called president is to protect them. And yet, here we are, on the verge of mass deportation efforts.)

How to resist all this? Elections are a ways off (with the presidential election veryfar off) and have various levels of compromise. One question that I see people ask (and I myself wonder) is at what point violent resistance is justified or, even, required. Resisting the rise of another Nazi like state seems to at least justify violent resistance and compel pretty vigorous resistance. We’re pretty far from that and probably will never hit straightforward Nazi levels of awful. (Let’s assume no Trumped up war, esp no nuclear one or attack on a nuclear state.) But we still have pretty bad, with lives ruined or lost. Turning into a Russia like state would be even worse, but it’s unclear this would be rebellion justifying.

One thing that should weigh in is necessity and efficacy. Violent resistance only makes sense if there aren’t equally (or comparably) effective alternatives. This is esp. true as violent resistance has lots of potential downsides including kicking us in to a far worse state. It could be worth it if the results were a net good (even then, we’d have to weigh the harms created and the risks taken).

We don’t ave to speculate about all this any more! Maria J. Stephan and
Erica Chenoweth have, in a paper and a book, quantified the relative effectiveness of violent and non-violent actions in achieving political goals:

Our findings show that major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns.

There are two reasons for this success. First, a campaign’s commitment to nonviolent methods enhances its domestic and international legitimacy and encourages more broad-based participation in the resistance, which translates into increased pressure being brought to bear on the target. Recognition of the challenge group’s grievances can translate into greater internal and external support for that group and alienation of the target regime, undermining the regime’s main sources of political, economic, and even military power.

Second, whereas governments easily justify violent counterattacks against armed insurgents, regime violence against nonviolent movements is more likely to backfire against the regime. Potentially sympathetic publics perceive violent militants as having maximalist or extremist goals beyond accommodation, but they perceive nonviolent resistance groups as less extreme, thereby enhancing their appeal and facilitating the extraction of concessions through bargaining.

Nonviolent campaigns aretwice as effective as violent campaigns (you are vindicated Dr. King!). And a non-trivial twice! From 26% to 53%! That’s huge! (A big further on in the paper they cite Abrahms as showing that terrorism is effective only 7% of the time. In achieving policy goals, of course. In terms of fucking things up, it seems rather more effective).

This is astounding and really should settle the case for the US and UK.

Some observations:

  1. Even non-violent campaigns fail 47% of the time. Governments are powerful and, esp in largely democratic countries like the US and UK, if you can’t win the elections you are going to have trouble winning otherwise. Governments don’t just have power, they have legitimacy. US and UK governments have a lot of default legitimacy.
    Consider the Democratic battle for the DREAMers. It’s not clear that they can win. They could try to shut down the government for months  and still lose. It’s hard to win against the party which controls three branches of government.
  2. We don’t have any what-ifing, afaict. I.e., how well would alternatives have worked if they had been tried.
  3. They really are looking at campaigns against repressive governments. The UK isn’t engaged in any repression at scale at the moment and the picture in the US is mixed. A lot of repression is distributed and against relatively small subpopulations (or on individuals within subpopulations). Consider ICE…a lot of their actions are “straightforward” (they also go well beyond that) enforcement of current law. Most people think that deportation for people who are not explicitly permitted to stay (e.g., because undocumented, or visa expired) is reasonable. You can cloak it all in “normal” terms.
  4. Two interesting observations from the paper: “Second, the longer the campaign endures, the less likely the resistance is to achieve full success. This is especially true for nonviolent campaigns, although the substantive effects are not sizable. Violent campaigns are more likely to achieve partial success the longer the conflict endures, but duration does not influence their chances of full success.
  5. Third, nonviolent campaigns occurring during the Cold War were less likely to succeed than nonviolent campaigns occurring prior to or after the Cold War. Conversely, violent campaigns have been increasingly effective against their state opponents during and after the Cold War.”
    This suggests that one needs to target a campaign fairly carefully.
  6. They publish and continue to develop their dataset. Which is awesome.

I think it’s safe to say that, in spite of the awfulness, we’re really far from a situation in the US or UK where violent resistance is likely to be effective. Given that, in the US, the current government’s violence tends to backfire  suggests we should be maximising that backlash. Violence would tend to blunt it.

Tip of the blog to djw who turned me on to this work and really should flesh out his LGM author page.

Machiavelli’s The Trump

Aside

Machiavelli’s The Prince, chapter 23:

Therefore a wise prince ought to hold a third course by choosing the wise men in his state, and giving to them only the liberty of speaking the truth to him,

“Believe it or not,” Trump said during his trip to Asia, “even when I’m in Washington or New York, I do not watch much television. I know they like to say that. People that don’t know me, they like to say I watch television — people with fake sources. You know, fake reporters, fake sources. But I don’t get to watch much television. Primarily because of documents. I’m reading documents. A lot. And different things. I actually read much more — I read you people much more than I watch television.”

Just sitting there reading documents. And then tweeting about things he saw on “Fox and Friends.”

That’s the thing: Trump’s tweets give the game away. He has tweeted about the Fox News show 88 times as president, including retweets of its account. Often, though, it’s clear that he’s watching the show because he tweets about what he saw shortly afterward. Both CNN and Matthew Gertz of the liberal group Media Matters have mastered the art of tying Trump’s early-morning tweets to the things he has seen on television.

and then only of those things of which he inquires, and of none others; but he ought to question them upon everything, and listen to their opinions, and afterwards form his own conclusions. With these councillors, separately and collectively, he ought to carry himself in such a way that each of them should know that, the more freely he shall speak, the more he shall be preferred; outside of these, he should listen to no one, pursue the thing resolved on, and be steadfast in his resolutions.He who does otherwise is either overthrown by flatterers, or is so often changed by varying opinions that he falls into contempt.

I wish on this subject to adduce a modern example. Fra Luca, the man of affairs to Maximilian, the present emperor, speaking of his majesty, said: He consulted with no one, yet never got his own way in anything. This arose because of his following a practice the opposite to the above; for the emperor is a secretive man—he does not communicate his designs to any one, nor does he receive opinions on them. But as in carrying them into effect they become revealed and known, they are at once obstructed by those men whom he has around him, and he, being pliant, is diverted from them. Hence it follows that those things he does one day he undoes the next, and no one ever understands what he wishes or intends to do, and no one can rely on his resolutions.

No one in Washington seems to know what he wants: So, wait, if the president said in private he would be OK with a shutdown, but in public decried one, what did he actually want?

That is a mystery to even his allies in Congress. This week, Trump cast doubt on whether he would sign a short-term spending bill to keep the government’s lights on for another month, hours after his spokeswoman said he would. Hours before a precarious vote in the House of Representatives to avoid such a scenario, Trump pulled the rug out from under GOP leaders, taking away their only leverage to get Democrats on board: funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

A prince, therefore, ought always to take counsel, but only when he wishes and not when others wish; he ought rather to discourage every one from offering advice unless he asks it; but, however, he ought to be a constant inquirer, and afterwards a patient listener concerning the things of which he inquired; also, on learning that any one, on any consideration, has not told him the truth, he should let his anger be felt.

And if there are some who think that a prince who conveys an impression of his wisdom is not so through his own ability, but through the good advisers that he has around him, beyond doubt they are deceived, because this is an axiom which never fails: that a prince who is not wise himself will never take good advice, unless by chance he has yielded his affairs entirely to one person who happens to be a very prudent man. In this case indeed he may be well governed, but it would not be for long, because such a governor would in a short time take away his state from him.

But if a prince who is not inexperienced should take counsel from more than one he will never get united counsels, nor will he know how to unite them. Each of the counsellors will think of his own interests, and the prince will not know how to control them or to see through them. And they are not to be found otherwise, because men will always prove untrue to you unless they are kept honest by constraint. Therefore it must be inferred that good counsels, whencesoever they come, are born of the wisdom of the prince, and not the wisdom of the prince from good counsels.

Only slight edits are needed.

Corbyn and the Referendum

This still crops up and I think reasonably so: Did Corbyn whiff the referendum and thus bear some responsibility for the ongoing Brexit disaster? I’ve certainly been thinking so and his post referendum performance on Brexit hasn’t made me happier. But I was presented on Facebook with some claims to support that Corbyn did an adequate job. I won’t mention the poster’s name as they surely wouldn’t want me to. I also won’t claim that this is typical, because I have no idea if it is. It was interesting to me and it pointed me to some data worth peeking at.

First claim:

Corbyn made 123 speeches during the referendum, but got 6% of the media coverage, even Farage got more. Source: LSE report on the matter

Table of referendum candidates ordered by number of times they appeared in media items during the campagin. Cameron is #1 wth 499, Farage is #4 with 182, and Corbyn is #7 with 123

(This poster was very insistent that everything be cited, but failed to provide a link. Sigh. And it’s proving hard to track down. I doubt LSE produced it. What I find at LSE are blog posts referencing Loughborough reports, or blog posts about their reports. Those posts have tables formatted similar to the above, but I’ve not yet found the right one. Sigh.

Yay! Found it! It’s from report 5. Whew!)

The first thing to notice is that the commenter garbled the table. It’s not “123 speeches but ‘only’ 6% of the coverage” (which, they went on to say is less than Farage) but “123 (that is 6% of all) media appearances”. (This confused me!) Since they later claimed that “123 is plenty” but that the coverage of those speeches was wrong clearly this is not a mere slip. The table header is not at all clear.

It also seems to be a talking point:

The very first post placed on the page when it was launched yesterday asks the question: “Did Jeremy Corbyn fail to campaign during the EU referendum ?”

In making the argument that the answer to the above question is no, the site makes a bold claim that Corbyn “gave 122 speeches in the course of the campaign”.

The article goes on to debunk that claim (“media appearances” is really “any sort of coverage”). Unfortunately, the “Corbyn Facts” website seems dead so it’s a bit of a PITA to track down.

This doesn’t refute the pro-Corbyn case, of course. It could be that Corbyn did everything right, but the media shut him out. To resolve this we need direct data about his campaigning, which is a bit elusive. (There’s this report that he did ten rallies for the referendum, but 15 for his leadership campaign. If true, that’s pretty suggestive.

Of course, more appearances doesn’t ensure success for the Remain campaign. There seems to be some evidence that both Corbyn and Cameron were more likely to make people vote Leave.

Hmm. So I have to at least provisionally weaken my belief that “but for Corbyn, Remain would have won” and thus some of my antipathy. (He earned a good chunk of that antipathy with his post referendum moves, but that’s a different story.)

It will be challenging for me to manage the right set of beliefs (i.e., proportionate to the evidence), given how dreadful the outcome and how my affective structure evolved post-referendum. (Confirmation bias is exacerbated by emotional stuff…so once Corbyn got mingled with losing the referendum my natural inclination is to look for confirming evidence and discount disconfirming evidence.) The evidence give to be my the pro-Corbyn person was, in that presentation, garbled at best, but degarbling it was useful.

Thus my intellectual grouchiness helped rather than hurt my epistemic state. I suspect this is not always, or even typically, the case.

Your Common Knowledge Is Probably Wrong

There are all sorts of beliefs we have that are (easily) knowably wrong. We believe them because we “just picked it up” (esp as children), but also things we are formally taught that got stale (or was the consensus but was subsequently proved wrong). This is very common in politics esp about exciting, yet, contentious events like elections. There is a lot of effort at sense making near the event but assembling strong evidence is difficult. My favourite personal example is the belief I held for decades that Perot was  spoiler for Bush against Clinton (more precisely, that Bush would have won, ceteris paribus, except for Perot…feel free to weaken as you see fit). But, my understanding of this paper supports that Perot did not spoil against Bush.

But there’s all sorts of beliefs which persist. I don’t bundle up like many people and so if it’s cold out and I’m wearing shorts, people will warn me about my increased risk of getting a cold. (No. Cold weather seasons are correlated with more colds but almost certainly in a way that affects bundlers and non bundlers alike.)

A few years back I picked up a bio textbook just to browse. I was pretty good at biology back in high school and that image persisted. Whoa, was I waaaaay out of date. Just the dominance of cladistic theory in taxonomy is a huge and fundamental move. (I didn’t know what a clade was! It’s fair to say that I was a total ignoramous about biology in spite of my history and self perception.)

Societies make it bar to update our common knowledge. Essentially, the burden is on us. Ideally, public schools would offer free refresher courses for life designed in light of what we were taught before.

As it stands, it’s up to us. There are more freely available resources than ever (from Wikipedia to eTextbooks and videos and online course syllabuses) but sorting the junk from the junk is daunting.

Check out this list of medical myths. One of my favourites is 5: cold weather (or being cold, getting wet, etc) can give you a cold. I find it particularly amusing since key plot twists of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility turn on it but also because I am a person who, by most people’s estimation, underdresses for the weather. I have be told with vehemence that I was going to get deathly ill because I was wearing shorts and it was cold.

The mutated version I generally encounter is that being cold weakens the immune system. As I have an autoimmune disease, my reaction is generally “Good”.

Their 10, eating late a night causes weight gain, may not be as false as they think. There’s recent evidence that time restrict feeding skewed earlier in the day increases weight loss. Which just shows that being open to revision, rather than “getting it right” is the key virtue.

2018 MLK Day

I finally dug out of our boxes my old paperback copy of Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? bought back before they reprinted it. (I had a chance at a signed first edition but didn’t have $6000 to spare at the time…or now.)

It’s a great title and one very apt for our current age.

Alas, I have a busy work day today and I’m recovering from a corneal erosion so not reading too well, but I hope to get through a good bit of it. It’s a wonderful book and a good antidote to the “Teddy Bear MLK” that we’ll see a lot of conservatives trotting out this year, the 50th anniversary of his assassination. But here are some quotes from WDWGFH:

A final challenge that we face as a result of our great dilemma is to be ever mindful of enlarging the whole society and giving it a new sense of values as we seek to solve our particular problems. As we work to get rid of the economic strangulation that we face  as a result of poverty, we must not overlook the fact that millions of Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans, Indians, and Appalachian whites are also poverty-stricken. Any serious war against poverty must include them. (pg. 138)

The sentiment is right, but it’s hard to see, in the Age of Trump, how to use this commonality to build solidarity.

And just to show that he’s not always right, there’s this quote:

In addition to the development of genuinely independent and representative political leaders, we shall have to master the art of political alliances. Negroes should be the natural allies of many white reform and independent political groups, yet they are more commonly organized by old-line machine politicians. We will have to learn to refuse crumbs from the big city machines and steadfastly demand a fair share of  the loaf. When the machine politicians demur, we must be prepared to act in unity and throw our support to such independent parties or reform wings of the major parties as are prepared to take our demands seriously and fight for them vigorously.

Ok, he’s not quite wrong, esp for his time. In today’s age of polarization, there aren’t any useful independent parties, so reform wings it is.

And finally, evidence of his radicalism:

I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective—the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.

It’s well worth a read. It will make you regret ever more that he was not here through the latter half of the 20th centuries to act, to think, and to write.