Archive for The New York Times

Holmes alone

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2020 by xi'an

From reading a rather positive review in The New York Times (if less in The Guardian, which states that it all rattles along amiably enough!), and my love of everything Holmes (if not as much as George Casella!), I watched Enola Holmes almost as soon as it came out on Netflix. While the film was overall pleasant, with great acting from the main actress Millie Bobby Brown, I found quite light and missing in scenario (mystery? sleuthing? forking paths?) and suspense. Which is not that surprising given that it is adapted from a young adult book. (Making me laugh at the PG-13 label!) And rather anachronistic in depicting the free-spirited Enola, roving Victorian London as a modern teenager, masquerading like her famous older brother, and mastering jiu jitsu. I was also disappointed in the low key appearance of  Helena Bonham Carter as an (obviously) unconventional mother and a bomb throwing suffragette… Nothing to compare with the superlative reworkings of Wells’ stories by Benedict Cumberbatch. As a side anecdote, I read a few days later that the Arthur Conan Doyle estate is suing the film makers for presenting an emotional Sherlock!

“So President Emmanuel Macron of France called me on Thursday afternoon” [really?!]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2020 by xi'an

When I read this first sentence in The New York Times article by Ben Smith, I was a wee bit suprised as it sounded more Trumpian than Macronesque. Esp. when the article continued with the French president “having some bones to pick with the Anglo-American media”… As it transpired, it is factually correct, if giving an impression of the exact opposite of the right causality arrow. The Élysée palace indeed called back the NYT journalist after the latter asked for an interview a few days earlier and that Macron agreed to it. Beyond this misleading launch, the article is much more of an opinion piece (about Ben Smith’s opinions on French politics and secular principles) than an interview. Just like most principles, the rather specific core concept of “laïcité” (secularism) can be both debated ad nauseam and turned into political weapons for all positions on the political spectrum, from extreme-left to extreme-right. It is also almost invariably presented from abroad as an attack on the freedom of religion (and lack thereof), mostly against Muslims, and almost automatically mixed with institutional racism. The article actually goes all over the place, from attributing the uncovering of a pedophile writer to The Times journalists, to seeing Macron’s position as a theatrical posturing helping his own agenda for the next presidential elections. And while I readily concede the many woes of the French society, government, institutions, like police and justice, politics, &tc., I cannot but support an idea of a model that remains universalist and therefore secularist.

will it ever get better?! [verbatim]

Posted in Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2020 by xi'an

“…after his defeat in the 1800 election, Adams wrote bitterly that “we have no Americans in America,” and that “a group of foreign liars, encouraged by a few ambitious native gentlemen, have discomfited the education, the talents, the virtues, and the property of the country.” Adams was so disgusted that he refused to attend the inauguration of his successor, Thomas Jefferson.” Sean Willenz, 11 November

“This man is a pathological liar. He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth. And in a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology textbook, his response is to accuse everybody else of lying.” Ted Cruz, 03 May 2016

“No sitting president — no presidential candidate, with the partial exception of Jackson in 1824 — has refused to accept the results of an election. I’m not surprised that Trump is threatening to do so, but refusing to accept the results of an election may be a bridge too far.” James T. Campbell, 11 November

“There is no enchanted village in Pennsylvania full of 50,000 Trump voters that we haven’t heard from already. It doesn’t exist.” John Fetterman, Pennsylvania lieutenant governor, 13 November

and it only gets worse [last round?!]

Posted in Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2020 by xi'an

““A lot of what we’ve done over the last four years will be undone sooner or later by the next election. They won’t be able to do much about [Amy Coney Barrett election] for a long time to come.” M. McConnell, 25 October

“We’re not going to control the pandemic” White House Chief of Staff, 26 October

“The International Criminal Court (ICC) plays an essential role in delivering justice to the victims of some of the World’s most horrific crimes. Its independence and impartiality are crucial characteristics of the Court’s work, which are fundamental for the legitimacy of its judgements. The sanctions announced by the United States administration on 2 September against two Court staff members, including its Prosecutor, are unacceptable and unprecedented measures that attempt to obstruct the Court’s investigations and judicial proceedings. The European Union (…) will resolutely defend it from any attempts aimed at obstructing the course of justice and undermining the international system of criminal justice.” [EU High Representative] Josep Borrell, 03 September

“Under President Trump’s leadership, the United States has defended the dignity of human life everywhere and always. He’s done it like no other President in history (…)  in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning.” M. Pompeo [when signing the Geneva Consensus Declaration]

[signing the Geneva Consensus Declaration] marks another giant step backwards for the United States as it joins a list of countries willingly endangering people’s health and lives. The United States’ stance flies in the face of human rights and decades of health research. This is about people living full lives that are their own – not the lives that the government has prescribed for them,” Tarah Demant, Amnesty International

[Amy Coney Barrett] is the most openly pro-life judicial nominee to the Supreme Court in my lifetime. This is an individual who has been open in her criticism of that illegitimate decision Roe v. Wade.” Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican Senator, 27 October

“Last week, the Supreme Court acquiesced to another attack on the voting rights of all Americans. In a 5-3 decision, the court blocked a trial judge’s ruling permitting Alabama counties to offer curbside voting as a reasonable accommodation to disabled voters.” Ari Ne’eman, The New York Times, 28 October

“In this election America faces a fateful choice. At stake is the nature of its democracy. One path leads to a fractious, personalised rule, dominated by a head of state who scorns decency and truth. The other leads to something better—something truer to what this newspaper sees as the values that originally made America an inspiration around the world.” The Economist, 29 October

understanding elections through statistics [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, R, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2020 by xi'an

A book to read most urgently if hoping to take an informed decision by 03 November! Written by a political scientist cum statistician, Ole Forsberg. (If you were thinking of another political scientist cum statistician, he wrote red state blue state a while ago! And is currently forecasting the outcome of the November election for The Economist.)

“I believe [omitting educational level] was the main reason the [Brexit] polls were wrong.”

The first part of the book is about the statistical analysis of opinion polls (assuming their outcome is given, rather than designing them in the first place). And starting with the Scottish independence referendum of 2014. The first chapter covering the cartoon case of simple sampling from a population, with or without replacement, Bayes and non-Bayes. In somewhat too much detail imho given that this is an unrealistic description of poll outcomes. The second chapter expands to stratified sampling (with confusing title [Polling 399] and entry, since it discusses repeated polls that are not processed in said chapter). Mentioning the famous New York Times experiment where five groups of pollsters analysed the same data, making different decisions in adjusting the sample and identifying likely voters, and coming out with a range of five points in the percentage. Starting to get a wee bit more advanced when designing priors for the population proportions. But still studying a weighted average of the voting intentions for each category. Chapter three reaches the challenging task of combining polls, with a 2017 (South) Korea presidential election as an illustration, involving five polls. It includes a solution to handling older polls by proposing a simple linear regression against time. Chapter 4 sums up the challenges of real-life polling by examining the disastrous 2016 Brexit referendum in the UK. Exposing for instance the complicated biases resulting from polling by phone or on-line. The part that weights polling institutes according to quality does not provide any quantitative detail. (And also a weird averaging between the levels of “support for Brexit” and “maybe-support for Brexit”, see Fig. 4.5!) Concluding as quoted above that missing the educational stratification was the cause for missing the shock wave of referendum day is a possible explanation, but the massive difference in turnover between the age groups, itself possibly induced by the reassuring figures of the published polls and predictions, certainly played a role in missing the (terrible) outcome.

“The fabricated results conformed to Benford’s law on first digits, but failed to obey Benford’s law on second digits.” Wikipedia

The second part of this 200 page book is about election analysis, towards testing for fraud. Hence involving the ubiquitous Benford law. Although applied to the leading digit which I do not think should necessarily follow Benford law due to both the varying sizes and the non-uniform political inclinations of the voting districts (of which there are 39 for the 2009 presidential Afghan election illustration, although the book sticks at 34 (p.106)). My impression was that instead lesser digits should be tested. Chapter 4 actually supports the use of the generalised Benford distribution that accounts for differences in turnouts between the electoral districts. But it cannot come up with a real-life election where the B test points out a discrepancy (and hence a potential fraud). Concluding with the author’s doubt [repeated from his PhD thesis] that these Benford tests “are specious at best”, which makes me wonder why spending 20 pages on the topic. The following chapter thus considers other methods, checking for differential [i.e., not-at-random] invalidation by linear and generalised linear regression on the supporting rate in the district. Once again concluding at no evidence of such fraud when analysing the 2010 Côte d’Ivoire elections (that led to civil war). With an extension in Chapter 7 to an account for spatial correlation. The book concludes with an analysis of the Sri Lankan presidential elections between 1994 and 2019, with conclusions of significant differential invalidation in almost every election (even those not including Tamil provinces from the North).

R code is provided and discussed within the text. Some simple mathematical derivations are found, albeit with a huge dose of warnings (“math-heavy”, “harsh beauty”) and excuses (“feel free to skim”, “the math is entirely optional”). Often, one wonders at the relevance of said derivations for the intended audience and the overall purpose of the book. Nonetheless, it provides an interesting entry on (relatively simple) models applied to election data and could certainly be used as an original textbook on modelling aggregated count data, in particular as it should spark the interest of (some) students.

[Disclaimer about potential self-plagiarism: this post or an edited version will eventually appear in my Books Review section in CHANCE.]