February 2, 2013

Are running quarterbacks more likely to get hurt?

From Slate:
The Running Men 
Are mobile quarterbacks like Colin Kaepernick more injury-prone than pocket passers? 
By Omar Bashir and Chris Oates 
This year’s Super Bowl matchup shows you don’t need a particular type of quarterback to win in the NFL. The Ravens’ Joe Flacco has 38 rushing yards this season. The 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick ran for 56 yards on a single touchdown gallop against the Packers a few weeks ago. But in the long term, when you’re building a franchise, which kind of signal-caller is the better bet? 
Conventional wisdom says a runner is more likely to get hurt than a stay-in-the-pocket statue. Just ask Joe Flacco, who told the assembled press on Wednesday that “quarterbacks like [Kaepernick] are eventually going to have to become mostly pocket passers to survive in this league.” 
... But is this correct—are mobile quarterbacks like Kaepernick, Michael Vick, and RGIII, more prone to getting hurt than conventional passers such as Flacco, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady?  
... We tried to shed some light on the injury question by collecting quarterback injury data and applying some basic statistical tests. 
Finally, we ensured that each of the four total ways of separating “mobile” passers from the rest yielded a reasonable set of names. For instance, when mobility is defined by four or more rushes per start over a regular-season career, nine of 82 players in the dataset qualify: Michael Vick, Robert Griffin III, Vince Young, Daunte Culpepper, David Garrard, Quincy Carter, Colt McCoy, Cam Newton, and Tim Tebow. (Kaepernick would also qualify under the four-rushes-per-start criterion.) 
As you’ll see in the chart below, regardless of how we sliced the data, there was no statistically significant difference in injury rates between mobile and conventional quarterbacks. Quarterbacks of both types tend to lose 11 to 14 percent of their starts to injury. Even without counting the thus-far injury-free Kaepernick, three of the four tests produced a lower injury rate for mobile quarterbacks. The gap, though, is small enough that a statistician would call it zero.

A few things:

First: What Flacco says is literally true: "quarterbacks like [Kaepernick] are eventually going to have to become mostly pocket passers to survive in this league.” 

Running backs can get stronger into their mid-20s: e.g., Adrian Peterson just had his best year at age 27. But running quarterbacks generally don't succeed by lowering their shoulder and running over linebackers, they succeed through being elusive, like Kaepernick. Elusiveness is mostly a matter of foot speed, cutting ability, and instinct. Most players come into the NFL about as elusive as they'll ever be. Aging and injuries, large and small, take their toll rapidly in the NFL. 

Whether or not running quarterbacks suffer more major injuries doesn't really matter. Just about everybody in football except, maybe placekickers, gets progressively dinged up, and thus their elusiveness erodes with age. 

If a quarterback comes into the NFL as an outstanding runner, he might be able to be fairly effective as a starting QB immediately even if he hasn't learned how to be an NFL-quality passer. But, if he doesn't learn how to pass, he's not going to be starting in his mid-30s.

Second, there's always a lot of excitement around the idea that running quarterbacks are going to revolutionize the NFL Real Soon Now. They make for great highlight clips and they're the simplest players to win with in football video games. My son told me that when his friends forced him to play Madden, he'd always just pick Michael Vick and have him run around with the ball.

Similarly, the easiest way to win in Pop Warner football for little boys is to snap the ball to the best athlete and let him do whatever he wants with it. One man heroics work less, however, as you ascend the pyramid of training. At the highest level (the NFL), collaboration among specialists tends to produce better results than having an all-around athlete do his own thing.

Third, here's a baseball analogy to a young running quarterback: Say, a very fast first baseman wins Rookie of the Year at age 24 by leading the league with 15 triples (versus only five homers), stealing 60 bases, and getting to grounders in the hole between first and second base better than any other first baseman in the league. (Why is somebody that fast playing first base? Let's say, he can't play other infield positions because he's lefthanded and he can't play the outfield because he's terrible at judging flyballs.)

If your friend says, "He's going to revolutionize the first base position, turn it into a speed position!"

You'd reply: "He was fun as a rookie, but to have a good, long MLB career at first base, he's going to have to develop homerun power, because he's not going to get faster as the years go by. It's not hard to come up with a slow first baseman who hits 25 homers year after year and thus contributes more overall than this guy does, especially in a few years when he's hitting only six triples per year instead of 15."

Exciting young running quarterbacks are kind of like that: they naturally get worse at running, so they'd better get better at passing.

Fourth, as a running quarterback's running skills decline with age, defenses can concentrate more on stopping his passing, so, unless his passing improves, the effectiveness of his passing will also get worse as his rushing declines.

Fifth, all else being equal, it's better for a quarterback to be a good runner than not a good runner, just as all else being equal, it's good for a first baseman to be good at fielding and baserunning. But the Venn diagram intersection of NFL-Quality Passer and NFL-Quality Rusher is not large.

Sixth, all else being equal, the player who gets hit more often is going to get hurt more often. But, things are seldom equal. 

Seventh, much of the confusion surrounding this topic is due to it being closely linked to questions of race, which lowers collective IQs by 20 points: "Michael Vick, Robert Griffin III, Vince Young, Daunte Culpepper, David Garrard, Quincy Carter, Colt McCoy, Cam Newton, and Tim Tebow. (Kaepernick would also qualify under the four-rushes-per-start criterion.)" 

So, the study shows seven black running QBs, one biracial (Kaepernick), and two whites. I would imagine that pocket passers would be skewed at least as heavily in the opposite racial direction.

Much of the talk about running quarterbacks getting injured more is excuse-making and misdirection for the quarterback position in the NFL remaining white-dominated. (Notice that blacks aren't underrepresented at quarterback in the NFL relative to their share of the national population, they just aren't over-represented like at most other positions. In today's mental climate, black monopolies at cornerback or running back don't need explanation -- that's just the way it is, and, hey, why are you even noticing? -- but white domination at quarterback does require rationalizations.)

What seems to be happening is that, per capita, black quarterbacks are more likely to start in the NFL before they've become NFL quality passers, because their, on average, more dangerous running ability makes them more effective at a young age. But, the percentage of college quarterbacks of any race who mature into elite NFL passers is quite small. So, as young black running QB starters slow down with age, they lose the skill that made them effective without being an NFL quality passer, so they tend to flame out in spectacular fashions.

So, to explain phenomenon such as why Vince Young was on the cover of Madden NFL 08 but is now a backup, the running QBs gets hurt more party line gets propounded.

In contrast, a young slow white quarterback who isn't ready yet to be an NFL pocket passer is more likely stuck on the bench or the taxi squad. And if he fails to develop into an NFL-quality passer, he quickly moves into the rewarding world of insurance sales without much muss or fuss.

February 1, 2013

Women and film editing

The percentage of women nominated for an Academy Award for Best Film Editing has declined from 21% in the 1930s to 15% during the last ten years.

This low percentage of women editors is a rather puzzling pattern.

I mean, is film heavy? (That's actually not a totally stupid question: a full reel of traditional 35 mm film is quite heavy, but I have no idea whether apprentice editors are expected to do any heavy lifting of complete reels, the way apprentice cinematographers have to climb ladders carrying heavy lights.)

Film editing is a highly respected if not well understood craft. Oscar voters assume that good movies are good in sizable degree because they are well edited:
Nominations for this award are closely correlated with the Academy Award for Best Picture. Since 1981, every film selected as Best Picture has also been nominated for the Film Editing Oscar, and about two thirds of the Best Picture winners have also won for Film Editing.

On the other hand, film editors are almost never singled out for achievement in an otherwise mediocre film, the way actors often are.

The two most honored editors currently working are Spielberg's editor Michael Kahn (eight nominations, three Oscars) and Scorsese's editor Thelma Schoonmaker (seven and three).

Schoonmaker's career is of interest. She edited a Scorsese student project in the 1960s and earned an Oscar nomination for editing the concert film Woodstock way back in 1970. But she couldn't get into the editor's union for a decade so she was blocked from working on Hollywood features throughout the 1970s. She finally got her union card (she thinks Al Pacino pulled some strings for her), and her first feature with Scorsese was 1980's Raging Bull, which would be high on anybody's list of superbly edited films.

She's edited only one movie since for anybody other than Scorsese, but has edited all of Scorsese's pictures. This may explain something about why Scorsese, who looked in the late 1970s to be headed toward the usual career of a director who burns brightly for just a few years, has made so many comebacks.

IMDB has some quotes from Schoonmaker on the gender question:
I think the women have a particular ability to work with strong directors. They can collaborate. Maybe there's less of an ego battle. 
I'm not a person who believes in the great difference between women and men as editors. But I do think that quality is key. We're very good at organizing and discipline and patience, and patience is 50 per cent of editing. You have to keep banging away at something until you get it to work. I think women are maybe better at that. 
People expect artists to be too normal, I think. I've been around enough of them now to see that they're very extraordinary human beings who behave differently than ordinary human beings. If they weren't as sensitive as they are they wouldn't be great artists. They are not the same as us. People should just learn to accept that.

Schoonmaker has long reminded me of Vera Nabokov, the classic example of the old, extremely unfashionable saying, "Behind every great man is a great woman." Vera put up with Vladimir's eccentricities, organized every aspect of his life, accompanied him to all of his lectures at Cornell, sitting in the first row to keep him on top of things, and even drove the nondriver on all of his butterfly-collecting expeditions across the West. Throughout decades of obscurity and economic deprivation, she remained convinced that her husband was a genius. Suddenly, in 1958 when he was 59-years-old, the whole world came to agree with her.

So, reading up on Schoonmaker on Wikipedia, I was struck by:
Schoonmaker was interested in a career in international diplomacy and began attending Cornell University in 1957, where she studied political science and the Russian language. (She attended classes taught by Vladimir Nabokov.)

In other words, Schoonmaker saw Vera Nabokov at every class.

P.S.  Another director-editor team was Quentin Tarantino and Sally Menke, who died hiking in Griffith Park on a 113 degree day in 2010. Thus, as Uncouth Reflections noted, Django Unchained was the first Tarantino movie not edited by Menke. Surely, she would have talked Tarantino out of including in the final release The Worst Scene Ever: you know, the long episode toward the end where Quentin shows up in Mississippi in 1858 talking in an inexplicable Australian accent, and looking so physically decayed he epitomizes Orwell's line that "At 50, everyone has the face he deserves." (Or in QT's case, at 49.)

January 31, 2013

Oscar nominations by gender - Best Makeup and Hairstyling

The Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling sounds like the least masculine of all the categories, but men have earned about 72% of the nominations over the last ten years.

It turns out that the nominations tend to go less to romantic comedies where the makeup and hairstyling challenge is to make the 41-year-old leading lady look 29 and more to sci-fi, horror, and fantasy movies that employ nerdier boy genius inventor types.

The category wasn't regularized until 1981 following the impressive prosthetic work by Christopher Tucker for David Lynch's The Elephant Man. Before then, it had only been given out twice on a special recognition basis. The current movie Argo celebrates John Chambers (played by John Goodman) who won a special Oscar for Planet of the Apes. Chambers also had a long working relationship with CIA agent Tony Mendez conjuring up disguises for American spies. (Ironically, the dark, unobtrusive master-of-disguise Mendez is played, in something of a non-triumph of movie non-magic, by tall golden boy Ben Affleck.)

The most honored make-up artist is Rick Baker with seven Oscars, starting with An American Werewolf in London and including Men in Black. The target demographic for his creations are, roughly, 12-year-old boys.

Oscar nominations by gender - Costume

There have long been quiet but persistent complaints of discrimination against women fashion designers in the NY-Paris-Milan world of haute couture. This 2005 NYT article lays out the evidence than an Old Boys Club of male designers discriminates against women. 

We can test whether women are as discriminated against in the parallel but separate world of designing clothes for movies by looking at Wikipedia's lists of Oscar nominees. Best Costume Design nominations generally go for work on period films or fantasy films aimed at girls. For example, the current nominees are three 19th Century period films -- Lincoln, Anna Karenina, and Les Miserables versus two versions of Snow White: Mirror, Mirror (a film with a wild Eurasian aesthetic, centered on the Punjab) and Snow White and the Huntsman.

So, Costume Design Nominations aren't an apples-to-apples direct test of the sense of where fashion is headed next fall, like haute couture designers attempt to do. Instead, Hollywood honorees are designed for accurate and exquisite reproductions of past fashions, usually with some attempt to make them accessible to current tastes. Either that or some kind of timeless fairy tale fantasy.

Thus, Hollywood's top costume designers are conservative restorationists or fantasists, rather than on the fashion forward cutting edge like the Old Boys Club of New York design. And, to be a name in high fashion requires relentless self-promotion.

Still, these Oscar nominations allow a sort of oranges and tangerines comparison.

The Best Costume Design award was invented in 1948, and Edith Head quickly emerged as the most honored designer, garnering 35 nominations and 8 Oscars. (The character Edna Mode in Pixar's The Incredibles reminds many of Edith Head.) Before Head's rise to dominance in the later 1940s, the most famous Hollywood designers tended to be male, such as Adrian, who designed Dorothy's ruby red slippers. "Gowns by Adrian" was a prominent credit in many 1930s movies. Wikipedia explains that Head revolutionized movie dress design by actually listening to the leading ladies.
Head was known for her low-key working style and, unlike many of her male contemporaries, usually consulted extensively with the female stars with whom she worked. As a result she was a favorite among many of the leading female stars of the 1940s and '50s such as Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Sophia Loren, Barbara Stanwyck, Shirley MacLaine, Anne Baxter, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Natalie Wood. In fact, Head was frequently "loaned out" by Paramount to other studios at the request of their female stars.

Over the last ten years, women have earned 80% of nominations.

So, designing clothes for Hollywood is much less male-dominated than designing clothes for the runway.

Oscar nominations by gender - Writing

As you know, I love lists of people assembled by other people for other purposes than my own. Lately I've been tabulating lists of Oscar nominees over the decades, which provide unanticipated insights into popularity, social approval, and accomplishment. 

For example, we can use Oscar nominations for Best Screenplay to track the progress of women. 

Over the last 10 years (2003 through the current 2012 nominees) women have earned 14% of the Best Adapted Screenplay nominations. This is up from 11% in the 1930s. 

In the Best Original Screenplay, women have earned 15% of the nominations over the last 10 years. In the 1930s, women earned 15% of this category's nominations, too. 

My vague impression is that women screenwriters were particularly influential back in the silent movie era before the end of the 1920s. For example, Frances Marion wrote scores of movies from 1912 onward, winning Oscars in 1930 and 1932. 

The coming of the talkies from 1927 onward, with their need for expertly-crafted dialogue, led to a large importation of New York playwrights. Herman J. Mankiewicz famously telegraphed Ben Hecht: "Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don’t let this get around.”

The New York men brought with them the more patriarchal tradition of the stage, where the playwright is king. In contrast, film is, by nature, a more collaborative medium, encouraging less domineering women to play an important role.

In contrast, Oscar nominations for the Production Directions/Art Direction/Set Decoration category went 100% to men in the 1930s. 

I'm not sure why that is, so I went to learn more about the leading set decorator, Cedric Gibbons of MGM, who received 39 Oscar nominations during his career. Wikipedia says about Cedric Gibbons:
He retired in 1956 with about 1,500 films credited to him: however, his contract with MGM dictated that he receive credit as art director for every MGM film released in the United States, even though other designers may have done the bulk of the work. Even so, his actual hands-on art direction may have been on about 150 films. 
In 1930, Gibbons married actress Dolores del Río and co-designed their house in Santa Monica, an intricate Art Deco residence influenced by Rudolf Schindler. They divorced in 1941, the year he married actress Hazel Brooks with whom he remained until his death at the age of 67. ...
Gibbons' nephew is Billy F. Gibbons, guitarist/vocalist for the rock band ZZ Top.

Well, that's interesting. Makes sense, too: ZZ Top has a better sense of art direction than almost any other American band. In fact, Billy F. Gibbons is so expert at the business of show biz that I can't find any copies of their famous 1983 music video Sharp Dressed Man online to illustrate my point.

The Wikipedia entry on the hirsute bluesman is a little more exact about the relationship between the two Gibbons:
Gibbons was born to Frederick Royal (Freddie) and Lorraine Gibbons in the Tanglewood suburb of Houston, Texas, United States. His father was an entertainer, orchestra conductor, and concert pianist who worked alongside second cousin, art director Cedric Gibbons, for Samuel Goldwyn at MGM Studios ... . While attending Warner Brothers' art school in Hollywood, California, Gibbons engaged with his first bands including The Saints, Billy G & the Blueflames, and The Coachmen.

I'm reminded of singer Bonnie Raitt, who was famous in the 1970s and 1980s for her authentic blues style. I'd always sort of assumed she'd grown up the child of sharecroppers in East Texas. Bonnie, it turns out, is the daughter of Broadway musical star John Raitt, the star of the first production of Carousel on Broadway in 1945. He starred opposite Doris Day in the 1957 movie musical The Pajama Game.

Neill Blomkamp's "Elysium"

Here's the plot description of Boer-Canadian director Neill Blomkamp's second movie (following "District 9"), scheduled for release in August:
In the year 2159, two classes of people exist: the very wealthy who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. Secretary Rhodes (Jodie Foster), a hard line government official, will stop at nothing to enforce anti-immigration laws and preserve the luxurious lifestyle of the citizens of Elysium. That doesn’t stop the people of Earth from trying to get in, by any means they can. When unlucky Max (Matt Damon) is backed into a corner, he agrees to take on a daunting mission that, if successful, will not only save his life, but could bring equality to these polarized worlds.

I get the feeling that Damon might be surprised to find out what Foster thinks is Blomkamp's point.

January 30, 2013

The Spirit of the Age

Looking back over a long enough period of time, you can see how golf course architecture in America followed the same general stylistic evolutions as building architecture, enjoying a golden age in the 1920s and then enduring an eat-your-vegetables modernism in the 1950s and 1960s. It's not at all clear that Mies van der Rohe and Robert Trent Jones saw much connection between each other's work in 1950, but today it's obvious that the spirit of the age -- streamlining, simplicity, sleekness, and so forth -- pervaded the skyscrapers and golf courses of the Postwar Era.

But it's hard to tell what's going on in your own time. For example, prestige golf course architecture in the 21st Century is devoted to achieving a look of Old Money WASP Higher Scruffiness that's hard to equate with much else going on in the arts today, outside of the design of some recent college dormitories. (Golfers pay a lot of college tuition bills, so that may not be coincidental.) Above is the 16th hole designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore at one of the first courses to debut in 2013, Streamsong-Red on an old phosphate strip mine in central Florida. 

Most golf course architects prefer to avoid discussing their style and instead talk about the functionality of their design (how it challenges the golfer, etc.). It could be that golf course architecture is evolving off in its own direction, divorced from the rest of the culture. Or, perhaps in a generation, we'll look at golf courses from the 2010s and be instantly reminded of, say, video games or hipster fashions or whatever from the 2010s because they all share common characteristics that will be glaringly obvious to people in 2043 even if they are baffling today.

A few months ago, I visited a half dozen of the newer golf courses in Palm Springs. It must be an uncomfortable time for golf course designers in Palm Springs because the current Mid-Atlantic steampunk (or whatever) look is so antithetical to the natural blank slate phoniness of Palm Springs. Southern California's low desert is a sprawling monument to post-War notions of design Modernism, now carefully tended to by a huge number of aging gay men formerly employed in Hollywood. It's about as far from the current aesthetic in golf design as is possible.
The most beautiful Palm Springs golf course was Desert Willow, a late 1990s design where Hurzdan and Fry went up into the mountains and brought down shrubs native to about 4,000 foot in elevation, then planted them alongside the fairways and watered the heck out of them to keep them alive in the low desert. (This is supposed to be "environmentalist.")

But, the most interesting development from an aesthetic standpoint was the newest, Escena, where Nicklaus, post-Crash, embraced the flatness and boringness of the desert in a tribute to Rat Pack-era modernism. (The steel and glass clubhouse appears to be a tribute to Frank Sinatra's house in Palm Springs.) I wouldn't be surprised that Nicklaus was originally intending to push around great piles of dirt, but then the developer suffered reverses in 2008, forcing a more modest, more old fashioned Modernist design philosophy.

January 29, 2013

I, for one, salute our new heavy-browed overlords

Harvard geneticist George Church's plan for reviving Neanderthals -- 
You would certainly have to create a cohort, so they would have some sense of identity. They could maybe even create a new neo-Neanderthal culture and become a political force.

-- is pondered by evolutionary theorist Gregory Cochran, who sees good money to be made in it.
Their minds might differ in interesting ways, and that could be profitable. People think of Neanderthals as stupid, mostly because they lost out to us, but we really don’t know whether they were or not. Their brains were certainly bigger than those of modern humans. For all we know, they were smarter.

Maybe our ancestors were just meaner than the Neanderthals.

Why L.A. lags in hipster fashions

I constantly read about hipsters, but I don't actually see many while walking down the street. I suspect that hipster styles and Los Angeles's climate just don't go together. 

The basic idea is to look like President McKinley wasn't assassinated and the whole 20th Century thing never happened. Back in the old days, people wore a lot of layers of wool because everybody lived in England or Cleveland or someplace and the coal for your stove wasn't free. To the eye of a Californian with central heating, everybody in sepia-toned photos looks awfully sweaty under all those clothes.

California was central to a major post-1960s revolution in how men dressed, as guys started to wear clothes light enough for the climate (e.g., the Silicon Valley casual look), even at the expense of giving up all those potentially fashionable coats and hats.

So, Southern California is just too warm most of the time for ironic old fashions best suited for Portland. Every so often on a cool winter's day here, I see somebody wearing some Portland-style hipster garb, but then the sun comes back out and it gets uncomfy for them.

A few years ago, my nonagenarian grandfather drove himself to Urban Outfitters and bought one of his grandsons a present of a wool cap, the kind of tweed thingie that Bobbie Jones' caddie at St. Andrews probably wore. When unwrapping the package, my son pretended to be enthusiastic about wearing his grandfather's fashion choice, until he saw it, and decided it was cool. He wore it everyday (and I started seeing pictures in the press of Brad Pitt wearing an identical one). But then February arrived and it got too warm for hipster clothes.

Basically, Daniel Patrick Moynihan's Rule of Proximity to the Canadian Border applies.

Teens without drivers licenses increasing

Agnostic posts a graph showing the percentage of teens with drivers' licenses has fallen steadily since its Fast-Times-At-Ridgemont-High peak. 

Generally, it's much harder to pass the driver's test now. Kids flunk it multiple times. Also, there are all sorts of restrictions on new drivers to prevent the kind of horrific stories you used to read in the papers about four 16-year-olds being killed in a one car accident celebrating the driver's 16th birthday.

Drunk driving is very expensive now. I recently overheard one intelligent looking youth explaining to his less acute looking friend that a single DUI would cost you about $10,000 all told -- a good round number to memorize.

I gather that bicycling is once again popular nationally, but it's hard to see that here in L.A., where bicycle riding is a tiny fraction of what it was during its peak in the 1970s. Too many accidents, I guess. I rode to school everyday for a couple of years in high school, taking only one day off after I got flattened by a car. But that was the 1970s, and good sense was not abundant.

Overall, kids just don't go out much anymore. They have glowing screens at home. 

The Definitive "Argo" Takedown

There seems to be talk that Ben Affleck's movie about hostages in Iran in 1979-80, Argo, will win the Best Picture Oscar (even though Ben didn't get a Best Director nod). 

I thought Argo was fine as a satisfactory example of the Married Couple's Date Movie, which has become rare. But as Best Picture? 

Noah Millman supplies the definitive Argo takedown.

January 28, 2013

Some facts about Raymond Chandler

Detective novelist Raymond Chandler, creator of the Philip Marlowe mysteries (such as The Big Sleep) is likely the most important literary figure in Los Angeles history. 
45 Calibrations of Raymond Chandler 
Peter Straub

1. Not long before his death, he wrote, "I have lived my life on the edge of nothing." 
2. Those who may speak honestly of the ambiguous but striking privileges granted by a life conducted on the edge of nothing tend to have in common that they have been faced early on with certain kinds of decisively formative experiences. Although it is never mentioned in considerations of his work, when he was six years old and living with his divorced mother in Nebraska, his alcoholic father, already more an absence than a presence, one day disappeared entirely. Also never mentioned is that in 1918 he was sent into trench warfare as a twenty-year-old sergeant in the Canadian Army and several times led his platoon into direct machine-gun fire. After that, he said later, "nothing is ever the same again." ...
23. He understood that he was both romantic and sentimental. 
24. After his first four books, he thought Philip Marlow was romantic and sentimental, too, and decided that on the whole Marlowe was probably too good to be satisfied with working as a private detective. ...

If Chandler wasn't so romantic and sentimental, he would have figured that out faster. The Tough Guy with a Heart of Gold might be the single most winning formula in novels and movies.
27. He was unfailingly generous to young writers. ...
31. He was ripely endowed with the capacities for both love and scorn, sometimes for the same thing. One reason he liked Los Angeles was that he thought it had the personality of a paper cup. ...
34. He invented a first-person voice remarkable for its sharpness and accuracy of observation, its attention to musical cadence, purity of syntax and unobtrusive rightness of word order, a metaphorical richness often consciously self-parodic, its finely adjusted speed of movement, sureness of touch and its capacity to remain internally consistent and true to itself over a great emotional range. This voice proved to be unimaginably influential during his lifetime and continues to be so now. Real earned authority sometimes has that effect.  

I'd be interested in just how fast Chandler became influential. You can see him being parodied in Bugs Bunny cartoons within a few years of his first novel.
35. None of his imitators, not even the most accomplished, ever came close to surpassing or even matching him. 
36. He wrote his English agent, Helga Green, that "to accept a mediocre form and make literature out of it is something of an accomplishment.... We are not always nice people, but essentially we have an ideal that transcends ourselves." 
37. Chandler devoted his working life to the demonstration of a principle that should be obvious, that genre writing declares itself first as writing and only secondarily as generic. Because this principle was not always obvious even to himself, he felt defensive about being a mystery writer....

40. He got better as he went along. Every writer presently alive wishes to do the same. 
41. Okay. Playback, his last book, really was pretty bad. On the other hand, after it he began a book in which Palm Springs was renamed "Poodle Springs."

Chandler didn't start writing for money until he lost his job as an oil company executive at 45, and published his first epochal first novel, The Big Sleep, in his early 50s. I think he peaked in his lyrical vein with his second novel, Farewell, My Lovely. Many, however, prefer his last major novel, The Long Goodbye, from his mid-60s, although that's less lyrical and more of a social novel (for example, this 1953 novel has four significant Mexican-American characters, including what may be the first example of the dignified Chicano police lieutenant whom Edward James Olmos has made a career out of playing).

Regression toward the mean and Francis Galton

It's difficult to hold in one's mind the notion that two opposed statements can be true at the same time: that the glass, for example, is both partly full and partly empty. 

The concept of regression toward the mean is one of the more paradoxical notions ever discovered. Although it's a fundamental aspect of everyday life, it took until Sir Francis Galton in the late 19th Century to be recognized. 

In 2005, Jim Holt wrote an excellent review in The New Yorker of a tendentious biography of Galton, putting Galton's historic achievement in proper perspective:
Galton might have puttered along for the rest of his life as a minor gentleman scientist had it not been for a dramatic event: the publication of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” in 1859. Reading his cousin’s book, Galton was filled with a sense of clarity and purpose. One thing in it struck him with special force: to illustrate how natural selection shaped species, Darwin cited the breeding of domesticated plants and animals by farmers to produce better strains. Perhaps, Galton concluded, human evolution could be guided in the same way. But where Darwin had thought mainly about the evolution of physical features, like wings and eyes, Galton applied the same hereditary logic to mental attributes, like talent and virtue.

In other words, Galton's thinking evolved from qualitative to quantitative.
"If a twentieth part of the cost and pains were spent in measures for the improvement of the human race that is spent on the improvements of the breed of horses and cattle, what a galaxy of genius might we not create!” he wrote in an 1864 magazine article, his opening eugenics salvo. It was two decades later that he coined the word “eugenics,” from the Greek for “wellborn.” 
Galton also originated the phrase “nature versus nurture,” which still reverberates in debates today. (It was probably suggested by Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” in which Prospero laments that his slave Caliban is “A devil, a born devil, on whose nature / Nurture can never stick.”) At Cambridge, Galton had noticed that the top students had relatives who had also excelled there; surely, he reasoned, such family success was not a matter of chance. His hunch was strengthened during his travels, which gave him a vivid sense of what he called “the mental peculiarities of different races.” Galton made an honest effort to justify his belief in nature over nurture with hard evidence. In his 1869 book “Hereditary Genius,” he assembled long lists of “eminent” men—judges, poets, scientists, even oarsmen and wrestlers—to show that excellence ran in families. To counter the objection that social advantages rather than biology might be behind this, he used the adopted sons of Popes as a kind of control group. His case elicited skeptical reviews, but it impressed Darwin. “You have made a convert of an opponent in one sense,” he wrote to Galton, “for I have always maintained that, excepting fools, men did not differ much in intellect, only in zeal and hard work.” Yet Galton’s labors had hardly begun. If his eugenic utopia was to be a practical possibility, he needed to know more about how heredity worked. His belief in eugenics thus led him to try to discover the laws of inheritance. And that, in turn, led him to statistics. 
Statistics at that time was a dreary welter of population numbers, trade figures, and the like. It was devoid of mathematical interest, save for a single concept: the bell curve. The bell curve was first observed when eighteenth-century astronomers noticed that the errors in their measurements of the positions of planets and other heavenly bodies tended to cluster symmetrically around the true value. A graph of the errors had the shape of a bell. In the early nineteenth century, a Belgian astronomer named Adolph Quetelet observed that this “law of error” also applied to many human phenomena. Gathering information on the chest sizes of more than five thousand Scottish soldiers, for example, Quetelet found that the data traced a bell-shaped curve centered on the average chest size, about forty inches. 
As a matter of mathematics, the bell curve is guaranteed to arise whenever some variable (like human height) is determined by lots of little causes (like genes, health, and diet) operating more or less independently. For Quetelet, the bell curve represented accidental deviations from an ideal he called l’homme moyen—the average man. When Galton stumbled upon Quetelet’s work, however, he exultantly saw the bell curve in a new light: what it described was not accidents to be overlooked but differences that revealed the variability on which evolution depended. His quest for the laws that governed how these differences were transmitted from one generation to the next led to what Brookes justly calls “two of Galton’s greatest gifts to science”: regression and correlation. 
Although Galton was more interested in the inheritance of mental abilities, he knew that they would be hard to measure. So he focussed on physical traits, like height. The only rule of heredity known at the time was the vague “Like begets like.” Tall parents tend to have tall children, while short parents tend to have short children. But individual cases were unpredictable. Hoping to find some larger pattern, in 1884 Galton set up an “anthropometric laboratory” in London. Drawn by his fame, thousands of people streamed in and submitted to measurement of their height, weight, reaction time, pulling strength, color perception, and so on. ... 
After obtaining height data from two hundred and five pairs of parents and nine hundred and twenty-eight of their adult children, Galton plotted the points on a graph, with the parents’ heights represented on one axis and the children’s on the other. He then pencilled a straight line though the cloud of points to capture the trend it represented. The slope of this line turned out to be two-thirds. What this meant was that exceptionally tall (or short) parents had children who, on average, were only two-thirds as exceptional as they were. In other words, when it came to height children tended to be less exceptional than their parents. The same, he had noticed years earlier, seemed to be true in the case of “eminence”: the children of J. S. Bach, for example, may have been more musically distinguished than average, but they were less distinguished than their father. Galton called this phenomenon “regression toward mediocrity.” 
Regression analysis furnished a way of predicting one thing (a child’s height) from another (its parents’) when the two things were fuzzily related. Galton went on to develop a measure of the strength of such fuzzy relationships, one that could be applied even when the things related were different in kind—like rainfall and crop yield. He called this more general technique “correlation.” 
The result was a major conceptual breakthrough. Until then, science had pretty much been limited to deterministic laws of cause and effect—which are hard to find in the biological world, where multiple causes often blend together in a messy way. Thanks to Galton, statistical laws gained respectability in science. 
His discovery of regression toward mediocrity—or regression to the mean, as it is now called—has resonated even more widely. Yet, as straightforward as it seems, the idea has been a snare even for the sophisticated. The common misconception is that it implies convergence over time. If very tall parents tend to have somewhat shorter children, and very short parents tend to have somewhat taller children, doesn’t that mean that eventually everyone should be the same height? No, because regression works backward as well as forward in time: very tall children tend to have somewhat shorter parents, and very short children tend to have somewhat taller parents. The key to understanding this seeming paradox is that regression to the mean arises when enduring factors (which might be called “skill”) mix causally with transient factors (which might be called “luck”). Take the case of sports, where regression to the mean is often mistaken for choking or slumping. Major-league baseball players who managed to bat better than .300 last season did so through a combination of skill and luck. Some of them are truly great players who had a so-so year, but the majority are merely good players who had a lucky year. There is no reason that the latter group should be equally lucky this year; that is why around eighty per cent of them will see their batting average decline. 
To mistake regression for a real force that causes talent or quality to dissipate over time, as so many have, is to commit what has been called “Galton’s fallacy.” In 1933, a Northwestern University professor named Horace Secrist produced a book-length example of the fallacy in “The Triumph of Mediocrity in Business,” in which he argued that, since highly profitable firms tend to become less profitable, and highly unprofitable ones tend to become less unprofitable, all firms will soon be mediocre. A few decades ago, the Israeli Air Force came to the conclusion that blame must be more effective than praise in motivating pilots, since poorly performing pilots who were criticized subsequently made better landings, whereas high performers who were praised made worse ones. (It is a sobering thought that we might generally tend to overrate censure and underrate praise because of the regression fallacy.) More recently, an editorialist for the Times erroneously argued that the regression effect alone would insure that racial differences in I.Q. would disappear over time. 
Did Galton himself commit Galton’s fallacy? Brookes insists that he did. “Galton completely misread his results on regression,” he argues, and wrongly believed that human heights tended “to become more average with each generation.” Even worse, Brookes claims, Galton’s muddleheadedness about regression led him to reject the Darwinian view of evolution, and to adopt a more extreme and unsavory version of eugenics. Suppose regression really did act as a sort of gravity, always pulling individuals back toward the average. Then it would seem to follow that evolution could not take place through a gradual series of small changes, as Darwin envisaged. It would require large, discontinuous changes that are somehow immune from regression to the mean.  
Such leaps, Galton thought, would result in the appearance of strikingly novel organisms, or “sports of nature,” that would shift the entire bell curve of ability. And if eugenics was to have any chance of success, it would have to work the same way as evolution. In other words, these sports of nature would have to be enlisted to create a new breed. Only then could regression be overcome and progress be made. 
In telling this story, Brookes makes his subject out to be more confused than he actually was. It took Galton nearly two decades to work out the subtleties of regression, an achievement that, according to Stephen M. Stigler, a statistician at the University of Chicago, “should rank with the greatest individual events in the history of science—at a level with William Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of blood and with Isaac Newton’s of the separation of light.” By 1889, when Galton published his most influential book, “Natural Inheritance,” his grasp of it was nearly complete. He knew that regression had nothing special to do with life or heredity. He knew that it was independent of the passage of time. Regression to the mean held even between brothers, he observed; exceptionally tall men tend to have brothers who are somewhat less tall. In fact, as Galton was able to show by a neat geometric argument, regression is a matter of pure mathematics, not an empirical force. Lest there be any doubt, he disguised the case of hereditary height as a problem in mechanics and sent it to a mathematician at Cambridge, who, to Galton’s delight, confirmed his finding.

Read more.

Keep in mind that Galton was born in 1822 and was in his later 60s by the time he published "Natural Inheritance." Indeed, the book "The Wisdom of Crowds" begins with an anecdote about a major conceptual breakthrough that Galton came up with when he was 85.


Kevin Rudd, the Labor Party's Prime Minister of Australia from 2007-2010, writes in the Australian Financial Review:
Our National Demons Are Being Purged

What national demons? 

The last history of Australia I read emphasized that the central development in Australian history was getting Saturday mornings off from work so the working man could knock back a few on both Saturday and Friday evenings. Australia has the least demon-plagued history of any country on earth. 

Its success is testimony to the success of the British model.

Oh, of course, it's the horrors of the old policy that prevented the rich mineowners and landowners from importing millions of Asian coolies to work for subsistence wages. 

Crazy conspiracy theory

African Americans sure make up a lot of conspiracy theories. For example,
The Plan (Washington, D.C.) 
In Washington, D.C., The Plan is a conspiracy theory regarding control of the city. Theorists insist that whites (Caucasians) have had a plan to "take back" the city since the beginning of home rule in the 1970s, when the city started electing blacks (African-Americans) to local offices.[1][2] The "age-old" theory has quiet, but considerable support.

Apparently, there's this crazy theory among blacks in Washington that important people would pay a lot of money to live near the Capitol, White House, Supreme Court, and federal office buildings, except that they worry about muggings and "polar bear hunting" episodes. So, white people get together and talk about ways to get blacks to move out of D.C., like giving them Section 8 vouchers or getting an Asian lady to fire black teachers. When the blacks move out, property values theoretically go up.

Isn't that just insane?

Next those paranoid nutjobs might even say that eight white Senators have been meeting in secret to come up with a complicated plan to reward and encourage Hispanic illegal immigrants who are pushing blacks out of D.C. by taking the service jobs, when everybody knows that Senators Rubio and Menendez aren't white, they're Conquistador-Americans.

January 27, 2013

Great Davos conference titles of yore

Business journalist Edmund Conway blogs:
Davos titles of yore: 
2006 – The Creative Imperative
2007 – The Changing Power Equation
2008 – The Power of Collaborative Innovation
2009 – Shaping the Post-Crisis World
2010 – Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild
2011 – Shared Norms for the New Reality
2012 – The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models
2013 – Resilient Dynamism 
... Note: In the initial version of this post I wrongly called this year’s Davos official theme “Dynamic Resilience”. I was wrong: it’s “Resilient Dynamism”. 

(As several commenters noted, the title of every Davos conference could be Resilient Dynasticism / Dynastic Resilience.)

The next four Davos conference titles:
2014 - The Imperative of Collaborative Reality
2015 - The Power of Changing Transformations
2016 - Reshaping Creative Dynamism
2017 - The Shared Crisis of Innovation 

Or, they could slip an "Equating Model World Norms" in on you. You never can tell.

I always liked the Bilderbergers better. They at least have the dignity to deny that they are a conspiracy to run the world, whereas Davos Man wants you to believe it. Here's the latest list of Bilderberg attendees. Kind of a snooze, as are the titles of the topics at their 2012 conference:
Transatlantic Relations
Evolution of the Political Landscape in Europe and the US
Austerity and Growth in Developed Economies
Cyber Security
Energy Challenges
The Future of Democracy
Russia, China and the Middle East

Presumably, these are just facade titles for the real topics like "Welcome to the Hollow Earth," "Uri Geller Shows You How to Bend Spoons with Your Mind," "All Hail Our Dark Lord," "How Do We Publicly Admit Dan Brown Was Right?" and "Progress Report on Project Orbis Tertius." But at least my eyeballs don't fall out of their sockets while trying to read the Bilderberg topics.

White people aren't very good at getting away with murder

As we all learned from watching The Rockford Files, small towns are extremely homicidal and conspiratorial. Every week, as Ben Stein noted back in the 1970s, ace detective Jim Rockford would venture forth from Malibu to some backwoods hamlet where all the denizens were covering up some sinister rural plot, only to make it back to the safety of the L.A. city limits by the episode's end, case solved.

Thus, Audacious "Validating Stereotypes Since 2005" Epigone calculates the rate of unsolved murders by state. The top and bottom 10s, with a higher figure indicating a higher percentage of unsolved murders:

1. District of Columbia56.1%
2. Illinois55.4%
3. Maryland46.1%
4. New York44.0%
5. California43.9%
6. Massachusetts43.8%
7. Rhode Island42.0%
8. New Jersey41.8%
9. Michigan38.8%
10. Connecticut37.1%

41. West Virginia12.1%
42. South Carolina10.6%
43. Maine10.4%
44. Iowa9.8%
45. South Dakota9.2%
46. Montana8.2%
47. Vermont5.6%
48. North Dakota4.5%
49. Wyoming4.5%
50. Idaho3.9%

An accompanying visualization is available here. (Java only)

Oh, wait, it's almost as if TV detective shows reflect the screenwriters' neuroses more than the demographic realities. Maybe there are two different kinds of stereotypes: populist (Bad) and media (Good).

Regression toward the mean and IQ

A reader sends me an Excel file for calculating expected IQs of children based on their parents' IQs. 

As I've been pointing out for a long time, these questions are of particular interest to the infertile and to lesbians. (I coined the term "lesbian eugenics" to summarize the issues that lesbian would-be mothers confront in picking a sperm donor, but it hasn't caught on. After all, as we all know, lesbians are Good and eugenics is Bad, so ... Does Not Compute!)
I am an avid reader of your site for ~10 years (not even sure since when) and wanted to email you about a Steve Sailer / Steve Hsu inspired analysis I did over the weekend ... The topics are intelligence, heredity and mating (I am 32 year old single male considering the best course of action).

The best course of action is probably to find somebody you like talking to because you are going to be doing that for a long time. But, all this stuff is definitely interesting.
This is is based on a presentation by Steve Hsu entitled "Investigating the genetic basis for intelligence".

On slide 19 of the presentation, with the header "Your kids and regression" Steve writes "Assuming a parental midpoint of n standard deviations above the population average the kids' IQ will be normally distributed about a mean which is around +0.6n with residual standard deviation of about 12 points." He also gives a helpful example immediately below "So, e.g., for n=4 (parental midpoint of 160 - very smart parents!), the mean for the kids would be 136 with only a few percent chance of any kid to surpass 160 (requires +2 standard deviation fluctuation)."

I've seen estimates of the "narrow sense heritability" of IQ ranging from 0.34 to 0.86. At the lowest figure, the two 160 IQ parents' children would average 120 and at the highest, 152. But, as my reader points out, for most values in the middle of that range, the implications he draws are still more or less true.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this assumes that the IQs of grandparents and earlier ancestors are unknown. In contrast, the Darwin-Wedgwood-Galton-Keynes-Benn-Vaughan Williams extended family seems to regress toward a higher IQ than 100, as do the Huxley-Arnolds.

Here are some implications the reader draws, assuming a 0.6 figure.
1) Mating insight

Many nerdy or high achieving men bent on reproducing are troubled by the fact that most intelligent women want a career and likely do not want to have children (or want to adopt orphan baby at age 50, once they have “made it”). Women who are slightly less intelligent may want to have families and even to have bigger families. The above Excel file lets one see the impact of say a man with an IQ of 140 marrying a woman with an IQ of 140 and having only one child (whose expected IQ would be 124) vs. that same man marrying a woman with an IQ of 120 and having three children. The second man's highest IQ child will have an expected mean IQ of 128 which is higher than the man who married the smarter woman but had only one child. Even if the smarter woman chooses to have two children the two smartest children out of the three children that the less intelligent woman had will have approximately the same expected IQ as the two children of the high IQ woman.

Takeaway - twenty IQ points is a lot: 120 vs. 140 is a big difference and it will be by definition much harder to find a woman with an IQ of 140+ (one in 261) vs. one with an IQ of 120+ (one in 11) and it will be much more difficult to persuade your wife to give up IQ 140-career track (Fortune 500 CEO, Ivey League tenured professorship etc.) than IQ 120-career track (nurse, high school teacher etc.) for changing diapers in the middle of the night. If one is concerned about having one or two competent kids to whom one can leave the family business to one might consider finding a slightly less intelligent woman who is willing to have a few kids. Of course there are other factors. Having more children means giving each child less attention but spacing births helps mitigate this and we know that nature dominates over nurture in this matter anyhow. Not to mention that having only one child can result in tragedy if god forbid something was to happen to it.

2) The speed of the regression to the mean.

If one starts with two parents whose IQs are 160 and looks at the average IQs across generations the speed of the regression to the mean is quite fast.

Parents 160, 160
Children average 136 (assume these mate with a 136)
Grandchildren average 122 (assume these mate with a 122)
Greatgrandchildren average 113 (assume these mate with a 113)

There is already a huge drop between the grandparents and the grandchildren. So in just 4 generations the regression to the mean has brought down the Nobel-prize-level grandparents to the pretty much average intelligence. (all this is of course "on average")

This might be a reason why the intellectual elite might want to pay more attention to making America a country where those with IQs of 110-115 can still live satisfying lives with good middle class jobs and publicly funded services. Chances are that most of their descendants will need those jobs and services only century from now; after all “fool and his money are soon parted” – even if dimmer kids inherit billions chances are that they will not have what it takes to keep the wealth in the long run.  

3) "Geniuses belong to the people"

Imagine that with two parents with IQs of 160 set out to produce one child with the same IQ. How many kids we can expect them to have before they succeed? They would have to have 44 kids to have one kid whose IQ would be 160 or higher on average! This is clearly impossible. And if they set standard to IQ 170 - they would require 434 kids!!! Thus geniuses are really borne out of a people and not out of any two particular parents. Having smart parents helps, a lot, but even then, the chances that your little one is going to be the next Newton are small. Very, very small. On the other hand, according to historians none of Newton’s paternal kinsfolk were able to even sign their names. 
4) "The advantage of the rich - buying IQ points through marriage?"

Say you have a family scion with an IQ of 160 who marries a woman with an IQ of 132 (so top 2%). And then their kid perhaps regresses but he leverages family fortune and name to marry a woman with an IQ of 132 and so on and so on. (Sure he might not be the smartest but he's rich so why not marry him). Assume other generations repeat the same trick. What happens?

In just three generations the IQ falls to 114 and stays there. The 132 woman helps keep it at 114 vs. falling back down but it doesn't go up.

Thus another conclusion, being multi-generational rich helps, you can buy intelligence and ensure that your kids are one standard deviation higher than the average. That is a lot, but it also allows for a lot of overlap between the populations. (Especially because never dipping under the IQ 132 threshold is an optimistic assumption - it assumes multi-generational saintly resistance to blonde bimbo's charms). Thus, richer kids are on average smarter but plenty of them are dumber than the average Joe. 

The Davos 2013 theme is "Resilient Dynamism"

What, did they use up "Dynamic Resilience" last year?

Actually, there seems to be much confusion in the press over whether the theme is "Resilient Dynamism," which, combined with the word "Davos," gets 77,200 Google hits, or "Dynamic Resilience," which, combined with "Davos," gets 21,900 Google hits.

So, the best guess is that there is more than a 77% probability that the current Davos slogan is "Resilient Dynamism" rather than "Dynamic Resilience."

But, who can say for sure?

Unemployment by state: it's good to be empty and far from Mexico or international airports

Here's the government's current unemployment rates by best 10 and worst 10:

Unemployment Rates for States
Monthly Rankings
Seasonally Adjusted
Dec. 2012p


At present, American prosperity is dominated by natural resources per capita, with low population states with lots of energy resources in the ground and not too many workers (i.e., not too close to the Mexican border and Mexico's "reserve army of the unemployed" and not too tied into global immigration) having the lowest unemployment, and highly urbanized states having the highest unemployment. 

Hopefully, this won't always be true. But, it is true that one of the big drivers of America's heritage of prosperity has been having a lot of valuable land per inhabitant, as was pointed  out by Benjamin Franklin in the 1750s. 

The more recent notion that American wealth doesn't have anything to do with having lots of wide open spaces seems to be mostly the product of the neuroses of the kind of economists who feel uncomfortable in the wide open spaces and, especially, feel uncomfortable around the kind of Americans who feel comfortable in the wide open spaces.