Friday, 28 February 2014

Catholics were much less likely to vote Nazi than Protestants

This is "most naturally rationalized by a model in which the Catholic Church leaned on believers to vote for the democratic Zentrum Party, whereas the Protestant Church remained politically neutral", say a couple of economists in Chicago.

So - should the Church stay out of politics?

What do PISA tests really measure? Is it how Neanderthal you are?

I've looked at the question of PISA scores before (here). But a recent Economist article about Neanderthals has given me a new idea: they test for Neanderthal genetic inheritance.

Neanderthals and humans interbred, each bringing slightly different things to the party. Neanderthals had certain advantages, in particular because they lived in colder places (Finland, anyone? Scandinavia in general?). Curiously (as Neanderthals are not known to have lived in East Asia), "on average, East Asians have more Neanderthal DNA than Europeans do". So that's China, Singapore etc all accounted for too.

Well, it's a theory, anyway.

The article is here. It is illustrated with some unkempt people who presumably were all very good at factorising equations but not so good at the skills you needed in the Stone Age.

Evangelical Christianity - more embarrassing than porn

Teresa Scott was working in the porn industry when she and her husband had a really rather striking vision of Jesus, and so she decided to become a Christian.

As one can imagine, that was a bit of a shock for her family:

"How did your family react to your discovery of God?
It split our family in two. Porn, they could deal with. because they could just brush it under the carpet. But they couldn’t deal with me talking about finding Jesus. We didn’t speak for seven years. My dad thought I was on drugs. It took years for them to be able to see that my life wasn’t getting worse, it was getting better.

Sad to say, her erstwhile colleagues were no more understanding than her family:

"Did people you knew in porn react in the same way?
People in the porn industry thought I was mad

She adds: "When you’re working and you’re on set, doing "the business", there isn’t much time to talk about Jesus." I'm sure she's right.

The full story is here.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

The Dalai Lama, skiing and the meaning of life

This, I am guessing, is a series of anecdotes about the Dalai Lama that the author has told a hundred times. But it is all the better for that.

Monday, 24 February 2014

More on social mobility

This is a longer piece by Gregory Clark, the author of "The Son Also Rises", the surname-based analysis of (lack of) social mobility I referred to here.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Public voices

This is Mary Beard talking about the public voice of women. It is an interesting article about the bad things that happen to women who try to speak in public (in public being broadly defined), although with no real answers.

One thing she says in passing is about people who say disgusting things to her on Twitter:

"When I’m feeling charitable I think quite a lot comes from people who feel let down by the false promises of democratisation blazoned by, for example, Twitter. It was supposed to put us directly in touch with those in power, and open up a new democratic kind of conversation. It does nothing of the sort: if we tweet the prime minister or the pope, they no more read it than if we send them a letter – and for the most part, the prime minister doesn’t even write the tweets that appear under his name. How could he? (I’m not so sure about the Pope.) ... Women are not the only ones who may feel themselves ‘voiceless’."

This brings me, in perhaps a rather forced way, to this, a House of Commons Library paper on current MPs related to other current or former MPs. The Benns, Milibands and Soameses are well-known, but there are lots more: did you know that Malcolm Rifkind and Leon Brittan are cousins, for example?

Laura Sandys MP (yes, that Sandys family) has a public voice. But she says that a "wide range of family demands" mean that she "cannot combine the level of dedication and service needed for the constituency with [her] growing personal responsibilities to those closest and dearest to [her]" and so she is stepping down at the next election. I don't know what Mary Beard would say about that.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Three things you might want to read

(1)  The saddest, most interesting, most intriguing and generally article about a kind of golf club that I have ever read.

(2) Miles Kington does Jabberwocky in the style of Raymond Chandler - The Brillig Sleep. "Outside in the street the first lights had come on and the slithy toves were doing whatever they do in the wabe. Some days they gyre, some days they gimble. It’s no skin off my nose, but I wish they’d make their minds up, then we could all rest easy."

(3) This interview with Rory Stewart. ""The secret of modern Britain is there is no power anywhere. The politicians think journalists have power. The journalists know they don't have any. Then they think the bankers have power. The bankers know they don't have any. None of them have any power."

And this from a man who only two years ago attended the Bilderberg conference, a highly exclusive and secretive gathering of the world's most powerful bankers, politicians and businesspeople?

"Well there we are, you see," he smiles. "I can tell you, there is nothing there. It's like the wizard of Oz. This is the age of the wizard of Oz, you know. In the end you get behind the curtain and you finally meet the wizard – and there's this tiny, frightened figure. I think every prime minister has sort of said this since Blair. You get there and you pull the lever, and nothing happens."
" Might he be right?

Social mobility

This is a very interesting piece about social mobility.

An economist with an interest in puns has tracked social mobility over great lengths of time using people's surnames. (Surname data is sometimes pretty good: "In cases such as England, where we have the records of most people who attended Oxford and Cambridge 1200-2013, the accuracy can be within 0.01 in terms of the measured correlation.") The headline result is that there is not and never has been very much social mobility:

"[A] remarkable feature of the surname data is how seemingly impervious social mobility rates are to government interventions. In all societies, what seems to matter is just who your parents are. At the extreme, we see in modern Sweden an extensive system of public education and social support. Yet underlying mobility rates are no higher in modern Sweden than in pre-industrial Sweden or medieval England.
Interestingly, in China, the extreme social intervention represented by the Communist Revolution of 1949, which included executing large numbers of members of the old upper class, has not resulted in much of an increase in social mobility. Surnames of high status in the Imperial and Republican era continue to be overrepresented among modern elites, including Communist Party officials.

The families that have high social competence, whatever the social system is, typically find their way to the top of the social ladder.

There is some social mobility in the sense that regression to the mean happens over hundreds of years, but it seems that endogamous marriage can stop even that.

What is the moral of this story? Well, it's hard to do much about who your parents are or what is in your genes, but I suppose you can always try changing your surname ...