Friday, August 11, 2017

Deaths of Despair. An Analysis of the Case-Deaton Conference Paper on the Mortality Rates of Middle-Aged Whites. A Re-Posting.

(I wrote this analysis in April 2017.  It's worth reading (even again!), I think, given the importance of the opioid epidemic in "heartland" America.  For more on the deaths of despair among white women, see this post from 2016.)


Anne Case and Sir Angus Deaton are two economists of high standing (both are professors at Princeton and Deaton won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2015).  They also happen to be married to each other.  They have recently been famous for statistical analyses of the stopped decline or even increase in the mortality rates for middle-age (and perhaps younger)  non-Hispanic white Americans when those rates are still declining for both non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics in the United States and for whites in European countries and Canada.  Their first article on the topic came out in 2015, and a Brookings Institute conference paper (or a conference draft) was released only a few weeks ago, in March of 2017.

The latter paper concludes that the increased mortality of middle-aged non-Hispanic whites applies to both men and women and that it is completely attributable to rising mortality among those non-Hispanic whites whose highest education level is a high school degree or less.

It's that 2017 working paper I want to talk about here, and especially the parts of it which cause me to ask questions.  Thus, this post is one of criticisms.(1)

Before I launch into it I want to stress that I admire the contribution Case and Deaton have made by both having the ability to get their message heard in the public conversations and by what they have contributed to the wider epidemiological and statistical literature on the topic of mortality rates and how they change over time.

On that count I have nothing but admiration for their work.  Still, presenting a working paper to the world at large is a little like Coco Chanel presenting a half-finished dress, cut, pasted and pinned together, to the woman who ordered it as the finished couture creation.  Working papers are not subjected to rigorous peer review, and that means that they rather resemble the pieces of the dress basted or pinned together at the first fitting, not the final dress.  In other words, there's work still to be done on the Case-Deaton conference paper and its presentation.

My questions or criticisms fall into three groups.  The first is about general methodological and presentation concerns, the second about the racial and ethnic comparisons as they appear in the Case-Deaton working paper, and the third about the way differences between male and female mortality rates are sometimes ignored, sometimes brought forward in inconsistent ways.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Slow (Possibly) Cricket Song

This one has an interesting effect on my brain.  It calms me down, even right after I have read something utterly preposterous or deeply troubling.

But it's not clear what it is we are hearing in that song.  On the one hand:

Composer Jim Wilson has recorded the sound of crickets and then slowed down the recording, revealing something so amazing. The crickets sound like they are singing the most angelic chorus in perfect harmony. Though it sounds like human voices, everything you hear in the recording is the crickets themselves.
“I discovered that when I slowed down this recording to various levels, this simple familiar sound began to morph into something very mystic and complex … almost human.”
On the other hand:*

Nonetheless, even if the original recording featured nothing other than the sounds of crickets chirping, exactly what was done to those sounds to create the finished piece remains a subject of contention. Critics contend that Wilson didn’t simply slow down a continuous recording of crickets chirping; they interpret his statement that he “slowed down this recording to various levels” and Bonnie Joe Hunt’s reference to Wilson’s “lowering the pitch” several times to mean that he used multiple recordings of crickets, each slowed down by a different amount to produce a specific pitch, and layered them to create a melodic effect sounding like a “well-trained church choir.”

Whatever the source of the music , I find it very relaxing.

*  YouTube has several other versions of slowed-down cricket song and none of them sound like a church choir or even terribly melodic, though one sounds a bit similar to Wilson's work.  But as Snopes states, it's not clear what the original creator of the piece, Jim Wilson, might have meant by having "slowed down" the cricket song.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Stray Thoughts on Language, August 8,2017

1.  I find a certain linguistic oddity fascinating in the more colloquial online comments about nasty wimminz.  That oddity is common in the so-called manosphere, and it means creating sentences where the term "women and men" is replaced by "women and males" or "females and men" or the sentence otherwise calls one biological sex male/female and the other man/woman.

I don't know the reason for that, but it's extremely common.  So common that when I see that use of the terms I know that misogyny is coming.

2.  The conservatives use the term "elites" in an odd way*.  Whenever a conservative uses that term it will not include, say, the Koch brothers or the owners of Walmart or Donald J. Trump. 

Money has dropped out of that meaning (which is very helpful for the many wealthy conservatives who indeed belong to a moneyed elite), and education has taken its place.  Imagine someone who works a low-wage job, lives in a drafty attic furnished from Salvation Army stores and eats beans and rice every day.  That person is part of the elite, as conservatives define it, as long as she or he has a college degree and as long as that attic is in an urban population center. 

The clues are clear:  A member of the "elites" means "likely to vote for Democrats" and went to school.

3.  "He took me in his arms, and kissed me.  I drowned in his smoldering eyes."
Now take out the "s" in "smoldering".


*  That's not the deepest way of analyzing the conservative uses of "elites."  Conservatives attempt to associate it with certain liberal or progressive values so that it becomes easier to argue that those values are forced upon an unwilling population who'd much rather have fascism or a feudal system with lots of fundamentalist religion.  Those systems leave the money to the actual wealthy elites, and that is the real base of the Republican Party. 

Monday, August 07, 2017

Women And American Politics. Third Monday.

Today's link is to the long post I wrote after the elections about the meaning of not having a female president.  I think it makes several important points.

If nothing else, it's useful as a reminder of how common gaslighting in American politics is and also how easy it can be to practice gaslighting on ourselves.  Writing that piece helped me to see when it's happening!