Trump on democracy

From the New Yorker:

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Calling for an “immediate end” to the recount in Florida, Donald J. Trump warned on Monday that it could set a dangerous precedent of the person with the most votes winning.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said that those in favor of the recount had a “sick obsession with finding out which candidate got the most votes.”

“Democrats are going on and on about counting every last vote until they find out who got the most,” Trump said. “Since when does getting the most votes mean you win?”

Trump said that, if the recounts are allowed to proceed, “We could be looking at a very bad, very sad situation where to be considered legitimately elected you have to get more votes than the other candidate.”

Just for the avoidance of doubt, this is a satirical piece.

Cognitive Dissonance in Silicon Valley? Or maybe they know something we don’t?

Very interesting NYT piece by Nellie Bowles:

The futurist philosopher Yuval Noah Harari worries about a lot.

He worries that Silicon Valley is undermining democracy and ushering in a dystopian hellscape in which voting is obsolete.

He worries that by creating powerful influence machines to control billions of minds, the big tech companies are destroying the idea of a sovereign individual with free will.

He worries that because the technological revolution’s work requires so few laborers, Silicon Valley is creating a tiny ruling class and a teeming, furious “useless class.”

But lately, Mr. Harari is anxious about something much more personal. If this is his harrowing warning, then why do Silicon Valley C.E.O.s love him so?

He has a hunch:

“One possibility is that my message is not threatening to them, and so they embrace it?” a puzzled Mr. Harari said one afternoon in October. “For me, that’s more worrying. Maybe I’m missing something?”

Could it be that they’re not that concerned about his warnings that digital tech is dangerous for democracy because, basically, they’ve given up on it?

Sic transit gloria

The New York Times today reports that Sears, which more than a century ago pioneered the strategy of selling everything to everyone, filed for bankruptcy protection early on Monday. In terms of ambition, its only rival is Amazon, but even Amazon hasn’t yet got round to selling houses in kit form, as Sears did as long ago as 1908. Here’s one from the catalogue: two bedrooms, two reception rooms, a kitchen and a splendid porch — yours for $1248.00. No mention of a bathroom, though.

Sometimes, it’s the data you’re missing that’s the key to understanding something

Nice salutary tale for data fiends:

How Not to Be Wrong opens with an extremely interesting tale from World War II. As air warfare gained prominence, the challenge for the military was figuring out where and in what amount to apply protective armor to fighter planes and bombers. Apply too much armor and the planes become slower, less maneuverable and use more fuel. Too little armor, or if it’s in the “wrong” places, and the planes run a higher risk of being brought down by enemy fire.

To make these determinations, military leaders examined the amount and placement of bullet holes on damaged planes that returned to base following their missions. The data showed almost twice as much damage to the fuselage of the planes compared to other areas, most specifically the engine compartments, which generally had little damage. This data led the military leaders to conclude that more armor needed to be placed on the fuselage.

But mathematician Abraham Wald examined the data and came to the opposite conclusion. The armor, Wald said, doesn’t go where the bullet holes are; instead, it should go where the bullet holes aren’t, specifically, on the engines. The key insight came when Wald looked at the damaged planes that returned to the base and asked where all the “missing” bullet holes to the engines were. The answer was the “missing” bullet holes were on the missing planes, i.e. the ones that didn’t make it back safely to base. Planes that got hit in the engines didn’t come back, but those that sustained damage to the fuselage generally could make it safely back. The military then put Wald’s recommendations into effect and they stayed in place for decades.

Why Banksy is a genius

From The Art Newspaper

Was Banksy at the evening sale at Sotheby’s on Friday night? That was the question on everyone’s lips when one of the Bristolian street artist’s paintings mysteriously self-destructed as the contemporary auction drew to a close.

Girl with a Balloon (2006) was the final lot of the night, and just as the canvas hammered at £953,829—exactly the same figure as the artist’s previous auction record, achieved in 2008—an alarm was triggered inside the work of art. Onlookers turned just in time to see the canvas slip through its faux-gilt frame and be shredded into pieces.

Who said Surrealism was dead?

Boring talks are indeed longer

Lovely piece of informal research reported in Nature:

I investigated this idea at a meeting where speakers were given 12-minute slots. I sat in on 50 talks for which I recorded the start and end time. I decided whether the talk was boring after 4 minutes, long before it became apparent whether the speaker would run overtime. The 34 interesting talks lasted, on average, a punctual 11 minutes and 42 seconds. The 16 boring ones dragged on for 13 minutes and 12 seconds (thereby wasting a statistically significant 1.5 min; t-test, t = 2.91, P = 0.007). For every 70 seconds that a speaker droned on, the odds that their talk had been boring doubled. For the audience, this is exciting news. Boring talks that seem interminable actually do go on for longer.

That figures. As Alex Tabbarok commented,

the fundamental explanation is that a boring speaker doesn’t think about their audience. A speaker who cares puts herself in the audience’s shoes, thinks in advance about what is important, how much an audience can absorb in one sitting, where a graphic would be helpful and so forth. A good speaker plans and practices and thus ends up being interesting and ending on time.

How things change

When Pope Paul II came to holy catholic Ireland in 1979 his mass in Dublin’s Phoenix Park in Dublin is estimated to have been the largest gathering of Irish people in history with an estimated 1.25 million attending the event, nearly a third of the country’s population.

But this weekend only 130,000 attended Pope Francis’ mass in the same spot, illustrating the extent of the Catholic church’s decline in Ireland over the past four decades. Less than half the people holding tickets turned up at the event, with weather, travel restrictions and acts of protest all thought to have caused the low turnout.

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