The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Two stories of North American irrationality

First, William Giraldi, writing in Medium, proclaims "[e]verything you need to know about the mess that is America in 2019 can be explained by our deepening national belief that Bigfoot is real:"

Bigfooters believe they are questing for bipedal apes in California, but they are really questing for their own lost boyhoods, their Boy Scout days, those formative experiences in the woodlands of fancy and faith, and for the thrill of certain belief as it was before the adult world broke in to bludgeon it.

Remember that preadolescent frisson, the dread-tinged excitement of knowing, absolutely knowing, that monsters were real, not the myths, folklores, and allegories that adulthood insists they are? If Wordsworth laments adulthood’s injection of sobriety and rationality into the childhood sublime, Bigfooters aren’t having it. They’ve found a means of resurrecting that boyish wonder, of plugging back into the child’s reciprocal, imaginative bond with nature. If it comes at the cost of evidence — to say nothing of dignity — since when have children ever bothered with evidence? These scientists and their mocking, scoffing facts are a drag. What did John Keats says about Isaac Newton’s achievements with light? “He destroyed the poetry of a rainbow by reducing it to a prism.”

In concert with their wish to plug back into their boyhoods, these men, loose in the woods, are searching for the approval and acceptance of other men. No optional male group endeavor, none, is exempt from this law, one that hearkens back to the mastodon hunt, during which a male proved himself worthy of the clan and thus worthy of the protection and resources the clan controlled.

Which isn’t to say that time in the woods is idyllic. Believer and journalist John Green, the grandfather of Sasquatchia, once wrote, “The average sasquatch hunter is so pig-headed that two of them together are pretty sure to have a falling out before long… People who will go hunting for an animal that is rejected by the world of science and almost everybody else are bound to be people who don’t pay much attention to any opinion but their own, and expect not only to have an opinion but to act on it.”

Remember Jonathan Swift: “Reasoning will never make a Man correct an ill Opinion, which by Reasoning he never acquired.”

Our second story comes from the CBC via IFLScience, showing that our Canadian neighbors have shown a disturbing lack of immunity to our American anti-intellectualism.

It seems a Vancouver dad worried so much about the (totally discredited) myth that vaccines cause autism that he didn't get his kids vaccinated. Flash forward 10 years and add a family trip to Vietnam, and one of his kids became Patient Zero in a British Columbia measles outbreak:

[Emmanuel] Bilodeau believes one of his three sons contracted measles during a family trip to Vietnam earlier this year and that it has since spread at the French-language schools his children attend.

Bilodeau said he brought his sons to a travel clinic on Broadway Street before their trip where they received other vaccinations, but not for measles.

It was on the plane ride home that his 11-year-old son began experiencing symptoms, including fever.

Measles. In 2019. In Canada, which has perhaps one of the three or four most advanced health-care systems the world has ever seen.

So, go ahead and believe in 3-meter-tall ape-people wandering the forests of Oregon, but try to apply some logic and rationality to life-or-death decisions like whether to prevent people from getting a disease so easy to prevent we had almost eradicated it before the beginning of this century.

 

When did consciousness evolve?

New thinking says longer ago than you might think—with implications throughout the animal kingdom:

If [Attention Schema Theory (AST)] is correct, 300 million years of reptilian, avian, and mammalian evolution have allowed the self-model and the social model to evolve in tandem, each influencing the other. We understand other people by projecting ourselves onto them. But we also understand ourselves by considering the way other people might see us. Data from my own lab suggests that the cortical networks in the human brain that allow us to attribute consciousness to others overlap extensively with the networks that construct our own sense of consciousness.

Maybe partly because of language and culture, humans have a hair-trigger tendency to attribute consciousness to everything around us. We attribute consciousness to characters in a story, puppets and dolls, storms, rivers, empty spaces, ghosts and gods. Justin Barrett called it the Hyperactive Agency Detection Device, or HADD. One speculation is that it’s better to be safe than sorry. If the wind rustles the grass and you misinterpret it as a lion, no harm done. But if you fail to detect an actual lion, you’re taken out of the gene pool. To me, however, the HADD goes way beyond detecting predators. It’s a consequence of our hyper-social nature. Evolution turned up the amplitude on our tendency to model others and now we’re supremely attuned to each other’s mind states. It gives us our adaptive edge. The inevitable side effect is the detection of false positives, or ghosts.

And so the evolutionary story brings us up to date, to human consciousness—something we ascribe to ourselves, to others, and to a rich spirit world of ghosts and gods in the empty spaces around us. The AST covers a lot of ground, from simple nervous systems to simulations of self and others. It provides a general framework for understanding consciousness, its many adaptive uses, and its gradual and continuing evolution.

The author makes a strong argument that many vertebrates, including canids and corvids, have consciousness as we understand it, just so they can make sense of the world. It's an intriguing theory.

Note, also, that both the article and I use "theory" in its scientific sense: a hypotheses repeatedly tested and not yet falsified.

All the single ladies

Demographers Richard Florida and Karen King crunched some numbers to determine which metro areas had more single men or single women. Some findings:

In absolute numbers, heterosexual men have a considerable dating advantage in metros across the East Coast and South. New York City  has more than 200,000 more single women than men; Atlanta 95,000 more; Washington, D.C. 63,000 more; Philadelphia nearly 60,000 more. The pattern continues for Baltimore and Miami. Meanwhile, the opposite is true out West, where the absolute numbers favor heterosexual single women. San Diego has more than 50,000 more single men than women; Seattle has 46,000 more; San Jose has 37,000 more; Phoenix 32,000 more. The pattern is similar for Denver and San Francisco.

Overall, more than 60 percent of metros (234 metros) lean male, and about a third (136) lean female. There are a dozen metros where the odds are more or less even.

Among large metros (with more than one million people), tech-driven San Jose has the smallest ratio of single women to men (868 per 1,000). But across all metros, the geography is more varied. Jacksonville, North Carolina; Hanford-Corcoran, California; The Villages, Florida (a retirement community); and the Watertown-Fort Drum, New York all have ratios of 500-600 single women to 1,000 single men.

The map for singles aged 45 to 64 shows the odds shifting sharply, simply because women tend to outlive men. The map is almost entirely orange: By this age, single men have the advantage in most metros across the country.

Of course, this analysis does not account for factors that often influence our mating life. We don’t know the sexual orientation of these singles—a huge factor—nor does our analysis account for education, race, or ethnicity; or those people who are in relationships but not yet married.

Now put your hands up!

Amazon abandons its HQ2 site in New York

The company announced today that it has given up on building out its new headquarters in Queens:

[T]he agreement to lure Amazon stirred an intense debate about the use of government incentives to entice wealthy companies, the rising cost of living in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, and the city’s very identity.

Amazon’s decision is a major blow for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had set aside their differences to bring the company to New York.

But it was a remarkable win for insurgent progressive politicians led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose upset victory last year happened to occur in the district where Amazon had planned its site. Her win galvanized the party’s left flank, which mobilized against the deal.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris, a vocal critic who was chosen for a state board with the power to veto the deal, said the decision revealed Amazon’s unwillingness to work with the Queens community it had wanted to join.

“Like a petulant child, Amazon insists on getting its way or takes its ball and leaves,” said Mr. Gianaris, a Democrat, whose district includes Long Island City. “The only thing that happened here is that a community that was going to be profoundly affected by their presence started asking questions.”

In its statement, Amazon said it has no plans to re-open the search for a second campus.

I'm actually glad they pulled out, as I expect so are many people in New York. The concessions Amazon secretly extracted from the state and city were worth more than $3 billion, with only the company's promises guaranteeing 25,000 new jobs in Queens. (Ask Wisconsin what a company's promises are worth.)

Messing with the wrong guy

A telephone scam artist is going to prison after picking precisely the wrong victim:

Keniel Thomas, 29, from Jamaica, pleaded guilty in October to interstate communication with the intent to extort, federal authorities said.

He was sentenced to 71 months in prison last week by U.S. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell in Washington, D.C., and will be deported after he has served his term, officials said.

Thomas made his first call to [William] Webster, 94, on June 9, 2014, identifying himself as David Morgan. He said that he was the head of the Mega Millions lottery and that Webster was the winner of $15.5 million and a 2014 Mercedes Benz, according to court documents.

Little did Thomas know that he was targeting the man who had served as director of the FBI and then the CIA under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

Usually Webster just ignores these idiots, but apparently Thomas behaved particularly egregiously, even threatening Webster's wife. So basically Thomas will spend almost 6 years in prison because he's a stupid schmuck.

Still, it's nice to send one of those bastards to jail.

Boring branding, boring cities

Writing for CityLab, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research fellow Aaron Renn warns cities against falling into the "branding trap:"

Here’s a transit-focused video Atlanta made as part of its Amazon HQ2 bid, meant to convey that the city is home to “innovation” and is “business friendly.” It likewise showcases buses and subways as its means of ground transportation, even though only about 10 percent of the city’s commuters use public transportation, and ridership has been fading in recent years. Atlanta is a quintessential car city. There’s not much in here that links to what most people would think of when “Atlanta” comes to mind, except its airport. It’s curious that they tapped more into stereotypes of Seattle and its frequent rains than they did those of their own town.

Atlanta and Houston are major cities with strong identities. They are much more than a collection of generic urban elements. Why cities with great identities and heritages of their own so seldom lead with them is something of a mystery. If you want to see great marketing videos of cities, you almost are forced to look at what private companies are doing. Look, for example, at the famous “Imported from Detroit” Chrysler Super Bowl ad with Eminem from 2011, which managed to honestly portray the decay and struggles of the city, while playing up the resolve of its residents and the city’s history as a key music center. Indeed, the ad did a much better job of selling Detroit than Chryslers.

The problem with the typical approach extends beyond just marketing. It has tangible consequences. A brand is really a city’s conception of itself. By selling itself as a facsimile of something its not, a city ends up turning that into reality. Thus, so many urban places today seem vaguely the same—a blur of Edison-bulbed eateries and mid-rise “one plus five” apartment buildings (in which up to five stories of wood frame construction are built atop a concrete first floor). These buildings, which all look vaguely the same with their multi-shaded exterior panels that seem destined to date quickly, are now obligatory elements in densifying urban neighborhoods, as critics have observed,

In a much-discussed New York magazine essay, Oriana Schwindt dubbed this “the unbearable sameness of cities.” Traveling to the city nearest the geographic center of each state, she described how she constantly kept seeing the same Ikea lights in coffee shops she’d visit. “And it wasn’t just the coffee shops—bars, restaurants, even the architecture of all the new housing going up in these cities looked and felt eerily familiar."

It's possible that Atlanta and Houston are simply as boring as their branding suggests. I've been to both; that's my hypothesis. So maybe this is less a dire affliction of some city branding efforts and more truth-in-advertising?

How to end blackmail, the Hamilton approach

Dan Savage (yes, that one), writing in the New York Times, suggests Jeff Bezos should publish all his sexts before the National Enquirer does:

Standing up to Pecker was a great start. But by self-publishing your own nude photos, you can turn the tables on the sexual and cultural hypocrisy that allows people like him to weaponize nude photos in the first place.

If I know one thing, having written a sex-and-relationship advice column for the last few decades, Jeff, it’s this: We’ve all taken and sent photos like the ones you sent your girlfriend. O.K., not everyone. But many of us. And many more of us every day.

After years of hearing about the dangers of youth sexting, researchers at Drexel University set out in 2015 to find how common the practice is among adults. And after interviewing 870 people, ranging in age from 18 to 82, they discovered that sexting is “more common than generally thought,” as the American Psychological Association primly observed. Fully 88 percent of adults reported swapping sext messages at least once; 82 percent had sexted with someone in the last year. Far from being a threat to our relationships, sexting correlated strongly “with greater sexual satisfaction, especially for those in a relationship.”

We live in a world where two things are true: Nearly everyone has a few nude photographs out there somewhere (saved on a stranger’s phone; archived on a dating app you forgot you signed up for; lingering on some tech company’s servers). And yet a single solicited dirty pic has the power to end someone’s career.

Let’s end this ridiculous state of affairs.

 

Yes! Let's end Victorian hypocrisy. By the way, when you apply for a security clearance, you are required to disclose all of your dirty laundry, specifically to reduce the risk of blackmail.

Hey, Alexander Hamilton did this when an affair really was a huge scandal. And it (mostly) worked for him.

Sears lives to die another day

On Thursday, a court accepted Eddie Lampert's $5.2 bn bid to keep Sears running and himself as its head:

Lampert’s purchase, made through his hedge fund, ESL Investments, is intended to keep 425 Sears and Kmart stores open, preserving some 45,000 jobs. It was the only bid submitted in an auction that would have kept the once-mighty department store giant in business and avoid liquidation.

Lampert’s plan was opposed by a committee of unsecured creditors skeptical that Hoffman Estates-based Sears will be any more successful after exiting bankruptcy. The committee pushed for a liquidation, arguing that shutting down the company and selling its assets could recover more of what Sears owes.

Still unresolved is a dispute between Sears and ESL over which is responsible for paying $166 million for inventory received after Sears filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Oct. 15. Although Drain did not have jurisdiction to decide the issue, he gave an advisory opinion in favor of Sears’ claim that ESL is responsible for those liabilities.

The judge’s decision saves Sears from liquidation, but still unanswered is whether Lampert can reinvigorate a retail chain that many consumers have fond memories of, but no current relationship with. Lampert has said he wants to invest in smaller stores and those that are profitable, with a focus on popular categories like appliances and repair services.

I'm not a bankruptcy attorney, so I don't know whether this is a good ruling. I, personally, would have preferred that Sears stay open and Lampert stay far away from it. But at least it's not dead yet.

We're #1 again!

At least by one metric, O'Hare has pipped Atlanta and gotten back to the top of the league table for total annual aviation operations:

O’Hare saw 903,747 flights in 2018, up 4.2 percent compared with the previous year, while Atlanta hosted 895,502 flights, up 1.8 percent, the FAA said. Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth and Denver were in third, fourth and fifth place, respectively.

O’Hare also handled more than 83.4 million passengers last year, a 4.5 percent increase over 2017, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation. Both O’Hare and Midway Airport together saw more than 105 million passengers, a new record, the city said.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is still No. 1 in terms of passenger volume, and has held the crown of world’s busiest airport by that measure for 20 years. But a travel industry analyst said the new numbers are “excellent news” for Chicago, which is embarking on an $8.5 billion O’Hare modernization.

The article implies to big factors in the statistic: first, O'Hare now has six parallel runways instead of six intersecting ones, meaning traffic can flow much more easily. But second, American and United rely more on smaller, sub-50-seat airplanes than Delta does, which means more operations but fewer enplanements. So, it's a mixed bag, good for Chicago in some ways but not great for travelers at O'Hare.