Sunday, February 28, 2021

Shedding More Light on the History of Eugenics: Are These Ideas Still With Us Today?

Logo from 2nd International Eugenics Congress
It is quite astonishing to consider how widespread the acceptance of eugenics was in this country 100 years ago.  History.com describes Eugenics as "the practice or advocacy of improving the human species by selectively mating people with specific desirable hereditary traits. It aims to reduce human suffering by 'breeding out' disease, disabilities and so-called undesirable characteristics from the human population."

It all sounds so noble.  Let's produce a "better human race." Where it led is quite disturbing. 

What follows is a brief overview of the rise of the Eugenics movement. At the end of this page I will include a link to the more complete timeline this is drawn from.

Darwin's Origin of Species (1859) and Descent of Man (1871) planted seeds that germinated in the form of eugenics, even if he himself did not entertain this notion. "Social Darwinism" was the application of continuous improvement in the human species. It came about the many educated people began to conclude that certain hereditary features (such as "feeble-mindedness") should not be permitted to reproduce.

In July 1893, the Kansas State Asylum became one of the first institutions to put this idea into practice, implementing a program of castration for patients they believed should not reproduce. Four years later Michigan became the first state to introduce a bill permitting the castration of certain types of criminals and "degenerates." The bill did not pass.

In the Spring of 1901. David Starr Jordan published a thesis in Popular Science magazine titled "The Blood of the Nation: A Study in the Decay of Races by the Survival of the Unfit." His aim was to promote eugenics to the general public. It was reprinted as a book in 1902 and again in 1910. He even suggested that the fall of the Greek and Roman empires came about because they didn't take action against the reproduction of inferior people.

Francis Galton coined the name.
In 1904 the Carnegie Institute of Washington opened its Station for Experimental Evolution (SEE) in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. The plans for SEE were developed by eugenicist Thomas Davenport. It was initially to be used for the study of heredity and evolution in plants and animals. What it became in a few years would shock you.

[EdNote: I am reminded here of C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength and the National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments (N.I.C.E.), in which intellectual elites attempt to re-create the world in the image of their own "noble" ideas about the way things should be.]

In 1906 the American Breeders' Corporation formed a Committee on Eugenics. A year later the Eugenics Education Society was created in England. Prominent names associated with the EES include H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley and others concerned with the problem of overpopulation. Aims included marriage restrictions and sterilization.

[EdNote: There were many events that were taking place in Canada and England which I am bypassing here.]

1909 was a big year for the Eugenics movement. California became the first state to pass a sterilization law. This law remained on the books till 1979! California was soon followed by Washington. Connecticut also passed eugenics legislation that year titled "An Act concerning Operations for the Prevention of Procreation".

Why weren't people speaking out? Or more importantly, why weren't they heard? How did the newspapers cover these issues? I am imagining that this was all being presented in the name of science. "The science says that if we don't do something, it will be the end of the human race." Was that the argument? Or was it, "These are smart people. We should listen to them."

As Home Secretary (1910-11), Winston Churchill expressed his concerns about "the unnatural and increasingly rapid grown of the feeble-minded and insane classes." 

Back in the U.S. Teddy Roosevelt, too, expressed his concerns, writing that "the prime duty, the inescapable duty of the good citizen of the right type is to leave his or her blood behind him in the world; and that we have no business to permit the perpetuation of citizens of the wrong type." 

In 1911 Nevada passed a pro-sterilization law, but it was never used. New Jersey also passed legislated that was later found unconstitutional.

As you read through the writings and laws being proposed, it was primarily targeted to feeble-mindedness and sexual deviance. In 1912 New York became the 8th state to pass a sexual sterilization law. That same year the First International Eugenics Congress was held in London. The aim was to address this issue head on: Western Civilization is in danger of collapse unless we deal with the weak and "genetically undesirable".

In 1913 more states passed legislation including Michigan, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Kansas. Wisconsin's law was to eliminate reproduction by "defectives".

In 1917 Oregon, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Idaho followed suit with their own laws. Idaho's legislation was vetoed by the governor, however. 

In 1919 North Carolina passes its first sterilization law. The wording was such that its noble aim is to improve the lives of inmates by allowing them to be sterilized.  Alabama followed with a similar law that same year. Pennsylvania succeeded with such a law two years later.

The Second International Eugenics Congress was held in New York at the Museum of Natural History in 1921. 53 scientific papers were presented. Alexander Graham Bell served as honorary president of this conference. Major Leonard Darwin, Charles Darwin's' son and  chairman of the British Eugenics Society from 1911-1928, gave the opening talk. 300 people attended and afterwards a committee was formed to promote eugenic ideas in America

G.K. Chesterton
In 1922 GK Chesterton's Eugenics and Other Evils was published. The subtitle was An Argument Against the Scientifically Organized State. Much of his research took place before the Great War, but he eventually discarded it because he believed saner heads would prevail. When it became apparent that the eugenics movement had grown stronger than ever, he assembled this book and made a case on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves.

In the 20's still more states bought in to the need for sterilization laws. More books in support of these ideas were pushed out into the mainstream. 

Virginia went further than to just pass a sterilization act. They also passed a Racial Integrity act that defined what it meant to be white. If you had "one drop" of non-Caucasian blood then you could not be called White. The aim was to get everyone registered so the state could protect whiteness. Marriage licenses could not be granted until both parties could prove they were of the same race. In 1927 the sterilization law was challenged in Buck vs. Bell. The Supreme Court upheld the law, approving Virginia's right to sterilize people who are "socially inadequate."

By 1925 Idaho finally joined the eugenics/sterilization trend, as did Utah and Maine. (They must have had a new governor.) Minnesota also joined the herd. "An act to provide for the sterilization of feeble-minded and insane persons." In 1928 and '29 Mississippi, Arizona and West Virginia followed. In 1931 Oklahoma and Vermont legalized sterilization of the unfit.

* * *

OK, let's stop a minute and ask how these laws were justified. First, by citing educated people who said "unless we take drastic action, the human race is in trouble." Second, by having articles published that pointed out how expensive it is to finance all these people we have set aside in mental institutions.

In more recent times one of the arguments used to justify euthanasia has been this financial argument. It costs money to keep people alive at the end of their lives. It begs the question, do people only have value when they have a utilitarian function in society? Are the handicapped and elderly expendable?

1932 could possibly be a major turning point in the advance of eugenics. The Third International Eugenics Congress was held in New York, once again at the American Museum of Natural History. Charles Darwin's son Leonard served as chairman. Birth control was being heavily advocated at this time, so vice-chair Henry Osborn addressed this head on. Should we rely on Birth Control or Birth Selection to improve our future humanity?

Osborn began his talk noting how cataclysmic plagues (tuberculosis, malaria, typhus, etc.) bring out the best of mankind's genius to solve, eradicate or minimize their impact. In the next breath he states, "In this world cataclysm of overpopulation, of over-multiplication of the unfit and unintelligent, of the reign of terror of the criminal, of the tragedy of unemployment, eugenics ceases to be the few pioneers like Galton and Leonard Darwin; it is forced upon our attention." 

In other words, the great threat to humanity was reproduction of "inferior" people.

And the proposed solution? "The only permanent remedy is the improvement and uplift of the character of the human race through prolonged and intelligent and humane birth selection aided by humane birth control."

This is pretty bold medicine. How is it to be implemented?

The reason I stated that 1932 was the high water mark for the movement is that in 1933 the newly elected Chancellor of Germany began to implement all these wonderful ideas he received from the eugenicists. He wasted no time getting down to it. That very same year Germany passed "The Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases." What this meant was the the State had the right to sterilize anyone with a hereditary disease. This included the following: congenital mental deficiency, schizophrenia, manic-depression, hereditary epilepsy, hereditary St. Vitus’ Dance (Huntington’s Chorea), hereditary blindness, hereditary deafness, serious hereditary physical deformity, and chronic alcoholism.

In other words, if you were using too much alcohol to self-medicate because you were trying to cope with the craziness taking place around you, you could be sterilized if someone reported you for using it to excess.

Germany's next step was to pass a law forbidding intermarriage between races. In Nazi Germany this applied to Aryans and Jews. Both intermarriage and sexual relations were forbidden. In other words, the State had a right to know what was happening in your bedroom. This same year, 1937, Jews were stripped of their citizenship.

In 1939 Hitler enacted Action T-4, a natural outcome around the thinking that produced everything else we have been appalled at here. Action T-4 was "a program of euthanasia, to kill the incurable, physically or mentally disabled, emotionally distraught, and the elderly." Though purportedly discontinued in 1941 it continued covertly till the end of the war in 1945.

* * *
"Now that we know the laws of heredity, it is possible to a large extent to prevent unhealthy and severely handicapped beings from coming into the world. I have studied with great interest the laws of several American states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny would, in all probability, be of no value or be injurious to the racial stock. The possibility of excess and error is still no proof of the incorrectness of these laws. It only exhorts us to the greatest possible conscientiousness." --Adolph Hitler

* * * 

Eugenics laws remained on the books for decades.
Do their ideas and influence remain with us today?
Is this ugly history of Eugenics behind us now? Surprisingly, it's not.  Last summer Forbes published a story about unlawful Do Not Resuscitate orders for disabled patients in England. Gus Alexiou wrote "In the report entitled, 'Abandoned, forgotten and ignored – the impact of Covid-19 on Disabled people', several survey respondents attested to being pressured by their doctor to have DNR, or Do Not Attempt Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation orders placed on their medical records."

This month the National Review published a similar account titled U.K. Forced Do Not Resuscitate Orders on Covid Patients with Developmental Disabilities. The NR story drew information for the piece from journalism pursued by The Guardian. "People with learning disabilities have been given do not resuscitate orders during the second wave of the pandemic, in spite of widespread condemnation of the practice last year and an urgent investigation by the care watchdog."

A story in The Pillar, a Catholic publication, asks the question, "Will Biden oppose the creeping eugenics of Covid healthcare?" One can only hope that ethicists have a voice at the table whenever these matters get discussed.

* * *  

Related Links
A More Perfect Union: Eugenics In America
Birth Selection vs Birth Control
Ideas Have Consequences. Bad Ideas Have Bad Consequences.

PRIMARY SOURCE for this Timeline of Eugenics-Related Events:
The Eugenics Archive Timeline
https://eugenicsarchive.ca/discover/timeline/5172ef15eed5c60000000023

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Oli Braithwaite of Stars & Catz on the Power of Music

Oli Braithwaite, founder Stars & Catz
If you ever need scientific ammunition to lend support to your conviction that music has power to improve peoples' lives, look no further. Oli Braithwaite, founder of Stars & Catz, has assembled more than 200 research papers on the power of music to bring hope and healing. Listening to music and learning to play an instrument have many other benefits. Music improves our mood, improves our memory, reduces anxiety, distracts us from pain, lowers blood pressure, and much, much more. 

Earlier this month Oli Braithwaite, after stumbling upon my interview with Henry Wiens about the power of music to heal and give hope, reached out to ask if I might put a link from that page to his web page featuring the aforementioned research papers. When I saw the page I wanted to do more than a link. An interview with Braithwaite seemed in order. 

Stars & Catz is much more than a repository for music research. In fact, that's just a side alley. Connecting students and teachers is a bigger part of his vision. When all has been boiled down to its essence, the message is clear. Music ought to be part of all our lives, for the sake of our mental, physical and spiritual health.

EN: You are something of an evangelist for the power of music. How did this come about for you?


Oli Braithwaite: As a musician, music teacher and then the author of the articles on Stars & Catz, I have always found music to be a powerful and essential part of life and an end in itself. But what came to my attention as I researched and wrote on ever widening music topics is that the scientific community is publishing a steady stream of studies supporting various benefits of music beyond the experience of the art itself, and that these benefits are significant.

Since I’m also interested in the mind and the human condition in general, I was naturally curious about these additional benefits. When I tried to find a single, central place that summarized and categorized all (or at least many) of the most important music related studies, it became clear that no such page existed on the internet. I knew the value that such a page would have for the wider music education community, teachers and students, so I undertook to put it together and publish it on Stars & Catz. That’s how our page on the benefits of music and music education, with over 200 studies, came into being.


EN: When did you begin Stars & Catz, and what is the story behind the name?


OB: The name is a bit weird, right? We wanted something a bit different because there are so many generic names around. How it came about was that we originally started in 2010 with only two instruments, guitar and piano. So students had the opportunity to become a ‘guitar star’ or a jazzy ‘piano cat’, hence Stars & Catz. When we expanded beyond those two instruments, we decided that being a star or a jazzy cat still applied, so we kept it.


EN: How does Stars & Catz fulfill its mission to help people realize their music dreams?


OB: We achieve this with three core pillars:

1. A free suite of music tools including, for example, this online metronome

2. Our learning hub articles, mostly catering for beginners in various instruments and singing

3. A teacher matching service to find either a local or online music teacher


EN: What prompted you to begin assembling all these research reports on the impact of music?


OB: As mentioned above, I realized that a comprehensive collection was missing from the web and knew how valuable it would be for music teachers, students and just anyone writing about the benefits of music. I also knew we’d be able to do justice to it, so we rolled up our sleeves and set aside the time (many weeks) needed to do the job properly. We also intend to update the page annually, if there’s enough interest in it.


EN: The list of benefits from music is impressive. What are the most surprising to people?


OB: Great question. The general reaction to the page as a whole is ‘wow’ and then people tend to

comment on the sheer weight of evidence and the wide range of benefits derived from listening or playing music. Most people, aside from music teachers, simply aren’t aware of the power of music on the human mind and body. I don’t tend to get specific feedback on which benefit was most surprising though. For me, it was definitely music’s ability to boost the immune system that was most surprising.


EN: Anything else you would like to add?


OB: If anything is clear from the body of scientific work on the benefits of music, it’s that it really doesn’t matter what age you are, learning a musical instrument or singing is a wonderful and potentially very beneficial thing to undertake on many levels.


* * *

Key Links

About Stars & Catz

The Benefits of Music & Music Education (200+ Studies)
242 Music Quotes to Share & Inspire

Quiet Heart Comfort  

Armory Arts & Music Center


Copyright 2021 Stars & Catz PTY LTD 

Friday, February 26, 2021

The Wit and Wisdom of G.K. Chesterton

Nearly everyone who has achieved anything of significance will be quick to acknowledge their gratitude to those influential thinkers, writers, artists, people who came before them. One writer who made an impact on C.S. Lewis was G.K. Chesterton, a prolific British writer whose diverse output covered a multitude of genres from philosophy, ontology, poetry, play writing and journalism to public lecturing, debating, art criticism, biography, Christian apologetics and fiction, including both fantasy and detective stories (cf. The Father Brown Mysteries).

I'm currently reading his pointed book Eugenics and Other Evils and have picked up a volume or two of his Father Brown Mysteries featuring a Roman Catholic priest who is an amateur sleuth on the order of Jessica Lansbury in Murder She Wrote. The latter stories are good fun; his book on eugenics is a serious issues oriented volume intended to bring a moral conscience to a then-pervasive bad idea that had swept the Western world. By this I mean the "ideal" of improving the future of the human race by eliminating bad genes from the gene pool via sterilization. 

Believe it or not, 33 states passed legislation approving this practice which had been promulgated by the liberal elite, including men like J.B.S. Haldane, H.G. Wells and Bertrand Russell. It was while researching and writing about eugenics that I came to understand why the London Times was praising Hitler on its editorial pages as late as 1936. It was because he had the courage to follow through on this Darwinian clean-up job to make a more perfect humanity. 

Chesterton's writings in opposition to eugenics inspired Lewis to later put pen to paper and take a critical stance in opposition to cruelty to animals in general and vivisection specifically. 

Alas, I've gone far afield of my intent here. I simply wished to write a preface to some thought provoking quotes by G.K. Chesterton. Note how many are totally relevant a hundred years later.

* * * 

Journalism possesses in itself the potentiality of becoming one of the most frightful monstrosities and delusions that have ever cursed mankind. This horrible transformation will occur at the exact instant at which journalists realize that they can become an aristocracy.
--The New Priests

* * * 

Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of "touching" a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it.
--Twelve Types

* * * 

Briefly, you can only find  truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.
--Daily News

* * *

The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.
--Introduction to the Book of Job

* * *

Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.
-- Illustrated London News

    * * *

    To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.
    --A Short History of England

    * * *

    It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged
    --Cleveland Press

    * * *

    Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.
    --Illustrated London News

    * * * 

    I've searched all the parks in all the cities — and found no statues of Committees.
    --As quoted in Trust or Consequences

      * * *

      The poor object to being governed badly, while the rich object to being governed at all.
      --As quoted in Grace at the Table

      * * *

      There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.
      --Heretics

        * * *

        There is a great man who makes every man feel small. But the real great man is the man who makes every man feel great.
        --The Dickens Period

        * * * 

        Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.
        --Alarms and Discursion

        * * * 

        Dogma does not mean the absence of thought, but the end of thought.
          --The Victorian Compromise and Its Enemies

          * * * 

          The rich are the scum of the earth in every country.
          --The Flying Inn

          * * *

          The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen.
          --The Father Brown Mysteries

          * * *

          Hopefully you found something here worth pondering. Chesterton has served us plenty to chew on and digest. 

            Thursday, February 25, 2021

            Throwback Thursday: A Tiger Woods Reflection

            When I saw the first Tweet that Tiger Woods was seriously injured in a one car accident, this blog post I'd written a few years ago came to mind. 

            Originally published July 2015

            While I was growing up my dad and Mr. Brown next door were big fans of the PGA, their heroes being Arnold Palmer (dad) and Jack Nicklaus. I myself liked the South African Gary Player, probably because he always wore black. Grandpa had been a fan of Sam Snead and upon retirement went and played golf about four times a week, loving the challenges of the game and the green expanse beneath open skies.

            Today's fans of the game may not know Hank Haney, but you don't need more than a marginal relationship to golf to know who Tiger Woods is. Woods has been to golf what Michael Jordan was to basketball, Babe Ruth to baseball and Picasso to art: a transcendent, bigger-than-life public figure.

            To get a sense of Tiger Woods' abilities you can begin by reading through this list of his achievements. For an even more incredible glimpse Google >Tiger Woods Ten Greatest Shots<.

            The author Hank Haney, who was Tiger Woods' golf coach for six years, is considered by some to ge the world's best golf teacher. It was no accident Tiger invited him to be his coach. They had been crossing paths for years anyways, but there was a mutual respect here and the young superstar believed the veteran teacher could improve his already stellar swing.

            The book then becomes the story of their relationship against the backdrop of the PGA. The stories reveal a complex superstar who has the weight of his fame to contend with as well as the challenges of trying to determine who he is and who he wants to me.

            He has always been the greatest golfer at every level he ever played at. But what happens when all this fame starts to bore you? What if you have other interests? Tiger did have other interests. He loved war games and ultimately took steps toward being a Navy SEAL. And then there were his extramarital scandals.

            In one story Haney shares how the National Enquirer acquired a compromising photo of the star, but rather than expose him "persuaded" him to do a cover story for one of its sister publications. Tiger was an exceedingly private person and would never have said yes to such a thing had he been requested to do so under normal circumstances. Haney was more than a little surprised when Tiger showed up on the cover of this publication.

            The stories reveal as much about Haney as they do about Tiger. He shares his journey from player to pro to coach, how teaching eventually became his life.

            One can't help the book was written in part to explain his side of the story why Tiger hasn't lived up to the greatness expected of him. If you return to the link above at the beginning of this blog post you'll see that Tiger hasn't won a major tournament since 2008. This is a significant lapse because up till then everyone who follows the game fully expected him to surpass Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 wins in major tournaments. The longer Tiger continues without such a notch the less likely he will ever achieve this feat.

            The book may not be for everyone as it goes into acute detail regarding the mechanics of golf and the game. I myself listened to the audio version and have also been a hack golfer for fifty years (a couple rounds a year for most years and a little more than that as a teen) so I connected with the story and the painstaking details about the game.

            Whether books like this should be written is another question. How public should we be about others' private lives? In some ways, however, I got the impression that Haney wrote the book as a man still trying to guide his pupil so that the champion could achieve the impossible mountaintop that lay ahead, and perhaps also as a love letter to someone he cared about immensely.

            It's all part of the game.

            * * *

            Get well soon, Tiger. 

            Wednesday, February 24, 2021

            What Is Financial Literacy and Why Does It Matter?

            Here's a Tweet I saw recently. Seeking Alpha is an online community offering research tools, investment analysis  and forums for investors. 

            Nathaniel E Baker
            a senior editor at Seeking Alpha
            https://twitter.com/natbaker

            Stocks trim losses as traders realize lawmakers aren’t mentally equipped to do anything about any of this stuff anyway 

            Seriously, we talk about teaching financial literacy in school. Maybe we should start by teaching it in Congress?

            * * *


            What is Financial Literacy?

            According to Investopedia, financial literacy is the ability to understand and effectively use various financial skills, including personal financial management, budgeting and investing. The lack of these skills is called financial illiteracy. 

            * * *

            Having Money Doesn't Solve All Problems

            Why? Consider these numbers, from another article by Tim Parker at Investopedia: "Why Athletes Go Broke." (See link below)

            According to Sports Illustrated, 78% of NFL players who are retired for only two years file for bankruptcy, and after five years of retirement, 60% of NBA players suffer the same fate. According to a study in the  National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) as well, close to 16% of the NFL players in the study that were drafted between 1996 to 2003 also filed for bankruptcy within just 12 years of retirement. 

            If you know anything about NFL salaries, they really aren't all roses. The median salary is still under a million dollars a year, and you can bet they work hard for it. The average NBA salary is 7 million though. Hard to believe that 60% of these guys are flat broke in five years, except that (a) they never learned basics of handling money or (b) who they could trust with their finances. Kudos to the survivors. 

            If you won a million dollars in a lottery, who would you turn to to help you figure out taxes and what to do with the rest?

            Sooner or later this is a skill you must learn to master.
            Don't wait till it's too late, or you could have financial disaster.

            Learning to live within your means and setting aside for the morrow,
            Is better than the alternative future of having to beg, steal or borrow.

            * * * *

            Check out my poem, Futures and Other Investment Ideas 

            Related Link

            Why Athletes Go Broke

            Tuesday, February 23, 2021

            Online Advertising: Was Facebook Caught with Its Pants Down?

            For nearly a decade Bob Hoffman, the Ad Contrarian, has been beating the drum that digital advertising is a shady region awash with fraud. Even so, like a shiny new toy businesses have poured billions of dollars into the coffers of its advocates (ad agencies) and platforms, especially Facebook, YouTube and their ilk. 

            So it came as no surprise (for me) to read this story a friend sent by Natasha Lomax on MarketWatch titled Facebook knew for years ad reach estimates were based on ‘wrong data’ but blocked fixes over revenue impact, per court filing.

            Evidently, internal emails were unsealed in a recent court case that COO Sheryl Sandberg knew in 2017 that there were problems with a free ad planning tool that Facebook provided for marketers. And the more you look the more you may not want to see. The Lomax article goes on to say, "The filing also reveals that a Facebook product manager for the “potential reach” tool warned the company was making revenue it 'should never have' off of 'wrong data'."

            According to Lomax, "The unsealed documents pertain to a U.S. class action lawsuit, filed in 2018, which alleges that Facebook deceived advertisers by knowingly including fake and duplicate accounts in a 'potential reach' metric." 

            The point here is not to suggest online marketing is a waste of time and money. It's practically a marketing maxim that you put your storefront where the people are. ("Location, Location, Location.") On the other hand, I built my career from another rule of thumb: You can't manage what your don't measure. And a lot of what is being sold simply doesn't measure up. 

            This is why I wrote this article about Data Analytics: The Three Most Important People in the Room

            In that article I cited an article an opinion piece in The Drum, in which Chris Kelly argues that although digital ad spending grew by 20% year-over-year again, analyzing the impact of this spending has not matured enough to justify the growth in spending. I concur.

            The three people you need in the room, therefore, are the Cheerleader, the Skeptic and the Judge. All too often the Cheerleader will do everything possible to keep the Skeptic out of the room because the case they're making is a snowjob. 

            On my shelf here is a book whose title I really love: How to Lie with Numbers. It happens every day, in Washington, on Wall Street and in board rooms across the country. And yes, it even happens at Facebook. 

            In my first Marketing Matters column for Business North (2018) I wrote a story titled Internet Marketing: Five Considerations. One of these five considerations was the matter of auditing. Both radio and television have third party auditors that collect data to assist advertisers in understanding the reach of what viewers are watching and listeners are tuning in to. If you are a business, who is doing this in the digital realm? 

            At that time I wrote: This is the dark side that has Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman, an ex-ad agency CEO, up in arms. On his blog he makes a point to skewer the lack of policing that takes place in online machinations. In his book BadMen Hoffman writes, “Online advertising has two very compelling advantages for agencies: it is lucrative and largely incomprehensible.”  

            Hoffman believed the ad fraud problem was estimated to be $60 billion, though I would have no real clue as to how to even guess, any more than how much gambling there is in Las Vegas or jelly beans in a Mason Jar at the fair.

            At the time, Hoffman wrote, Procter & Gamble became so disillusioned about the effectiveness of their own online spend that last year they cut their digital advertising by 200 million dollars, with no visible negative side effects. In fact, a Wall Street Journal headline declared, “P&G Contends Too Much Digital Advertising Is a Waste.” The March 1, 2018 Adweek headline that same day read, “When Procter & Gamble Cut $200 Million in Digital Ad Spend, It Increased Its Reach 10%.” Something’s happening here, but it ain’t quite exactly clear.

            As the saying goes, Buyer Beware.


            Related Links

            Facebook Really Doesn't Want You To Read These Emails

            Data Analytics: The Three Most Important People in the Room

            Bob Hoffman's Ad Contrarian Blog

            Monday, February 22, 2021

            The Psychology Behind Mass Movements: For Many It Is a Search for Meaning

            "When people are ripe for a mass movement, they are usually ripe for any effective movement, and not solely for one with a particular doctrine or program." ~ Eric Hoffer

            ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN SEPTEMBER 2015

            When I was really young, my brother and I used to make up games like the following, which probably a lot of kids did. For example, when we were at our grandparents house, we'd try to get all around the living room without touching the floor. The floor, we'd pretend, was molten lava or some other deadly thing. In other words, to amplify the intensity of the game, there was a heavy price to be paid if you lost. It was a life or death game and we'd really get into it.

            A second game was keeping a balloon or a ball in the air, or many balloons, by tapping them upward. Gravity would bring them earthward. The stakes were high. In this game if the balloon touched the ground, the whole world would be destroyed.

            These memories were triggered by a discussion between two brothers in V.S. Naipaul's Magic Seeds. The one brother's life feels empty. He has no "cause." He wishes he had something to fight for. The second brother tells him to open his eyes. "There are causes all around you."

            This is the idea behind Eric Hoffer's statement above. People who feel their lives are small, who feel their lives are petty and meaningless, long for meaning. The childhood games we played as kids worked when we were kids, but as adults we know that the world will not blow up if the balloon touches the carpet.

            What's especially intriguing is that both Naipaul and Hoffer seem to be saying that it hardly matters what the mass movement is. When conditions are right in peoples' hearts, there are a whole range of causes to fight, or even die, for.

            Hoffer devotes a portion of his book, The True Believer, to the makeup of these people types. They are the disaffected, the poor, the misfits, the outcasts, minorities, adolescent youth, those in the grip of some vice or obsession, the bored and the sinners. They want to be free from feelings of isolation. They want to belong to something bigger than themselves. They want to give meaning to their lives. And many, if not most of us, have been in this psychological space at one time or another in our lives.

            Interestingly enough, three thousand years ago King David's first army was assembled from the disenfranchised in Israel. When Saul, Israel's first king, attempted to solidify power by eliminating his potential replacement, David finally had to flee to the hills. He was joined there by others who were on the outs. In the book of Chronicles it says that, "Day after day men came to help David, until he had a great and mighty army." I used to think they followed David because he represented "right." Perhaps to some extent he was simply a galvanizing force that attracted the outcasts because many needed to belong to something. This is not to say that David was simply another mass movement, but that the Bible account corresponds with the way we'd expect people to behave based on what we know today about the sociology of mass movements.

            In the world today, there are millions seeking causes, seeking meaning for their lives, and dignity. To the degree that we are unable to integrate the poor, the lower classes into society, to give them hope of a better life by contributing to the community and society at large, to this very degree they are susceptible to alternative causes. Suicide bombers don't emerge out of nowhere. They come from the disenfranchised.

            This is but a starting point for a much larger discussion than there's time or space for here. Recommended reading: The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements

            Meantime, life goes on all around you. Open your eyes!

            Sunday, February 21, 2021

            The Idea of Sending Humans to Mars Is Ridiculous, Former Astronaut Says

            Imaginary model of space station on Mars, courtesy NASA
            In 2018, Bill Anders, lunar module pilot for Apollo 8, which was the first human spacecraft to leave Earth's orbit, was interviewed on BBC Radio Live. Because of the renewed interest by NASA and others in sending humans to Mars, he was asked his opinion. He wasn't afraid to share his thoughts, calling the idea "almost ridiculous" and "stupid."

            I know there are a lot of romantic notions about space travel out there, in part because of Star Trek and Star Wars, which makes our explorations of the Universe seem inevitable. It just seems such a leap to me, and many of the practical issues seldom get discussed. 

            I can't recall the book I read that first persuaded me that a Mars voyage would easily become a nightmare for the humans who had to endure it. The whole matter of boring food, dealing with pee and excrement, occasional backaches, vomiting inside the cabin and the like just strikes me as a highly unappetizing experience. And then you have the problem of people with their idiosyncratic personalities scraping against each other over a prolonged journey in tight quarters... No thank you.

            While trying to find the book I'd read I came across this story about Bill Anders on BBC Radio, Christmas eve 2018. The occasion for this interview was the 50th anniversary of that first flight around the moon. The title of the story was Sending astronauts to Mars would be stupid, astronaut says. 

            Anders in outer space, 1968.
            Yes, NASA is currently planning new human missions to the Moon, but what will come of it? 

            Being an astronaut sounds glamorous, but it involves a lot of indignity. I can't even imagine what it would smell like or feel like. How often would you get to bathe? How often could you change your underwear? The water you drink is recycled urine.... for more than a year. ("Does this water taste funny to you?")

            Those are the kinds of things that I think about when people talk about space travel, in part because I've read enough to know it's not a walk in the park. 

            Here' an article that is worth reading if you are a young person dreaming of a vacation to the Red planet: How Astronauts Pee and Poop In Space

            There are some who argue that we haven't even landed on the moon yet. Maybe someone will lay out the case for that in the comments. 

            As for me, I do believe we've been there, but so what? 

            Meantime... What are your thoughts about missions to Mars? Why is it important to send people if we can learn just as much using robotics? 

            Most people who have followed this story know that Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, has been quite vocal about taking this "next step" in space exploration. It's evident that not all astronauts are reading from the same script. The BBC story included this paragraph that reveals Frank Borman's views on this matter. 

            Frank Borman is not as critical of space exploration as Anders, still thinks that dreams of colonizing the red planet are silly. "I do think there's a lot of hype about Mars that is nonsense. Musk and Bezos, they're talking about putting colonies on Mars, that's nonsense."

            I personally believe there are other places where the money could be better spent.  

            Related Link

            Did Man Really Walk on the Moon?

            Saturday, February 20, 2021

            Goodness! This Brave New World Is Getting Pretty Scary -- Ice Storms, Hacking and More

            So, the iced roads and freezing temps are now in day five down in Texas. For a decade we have been moving toward a greater interconnectedness of all our systems. The famed Internet of Things (IoT) was going to bring significant blessings and efficiencies to our lives. The current power outages in Texas are revealing some of the issues that will need to be hurdled if we are to enter the future with greater confidnce.

            I've been worrying about practical matters with EVs for quite some time. Like, how do you recharge when the power is out? If we don't upgrade the power grid as fast as we force people into EVs, what then? We all know that ideas can be legislated faster than they can be implemented. Executive orders can be signed in a minute, with practical implementations half-baked and nowhere near ready. 

            My personal big fear with EVs and automated cars has to do with tech. What happens when you have a problem? The history of the automobile includes a history of recalls. Recalls are not an isolated phenomenon. The industry is awash in them. In 2016 there were nearly 53 million recalls. I didn't even know they sold that many cars in 2016. (This was an unusual year because of the Takata airbag problem that drove the company into bankruptcy.)

            The Texas power grid collapse, however, should be a wakeup call. If we are going to have an electric car future, let's make sure we have backup power grids and systems in place.  

            * * * *

            Another disturbing news item this month is the hacking that's been going on, and our inability to stop it. In Florida, somebody hacked the water supply of a city near Tampa and released 100-fold a chemical that is normally used to treat water, but now turned it harmful if not deadly.

            A much more disturbing hack involved the breach of a number of federal agencies in 2020. There's a Wikipedia page on the cyberattack that penetrated thousands of organizations globally. The scary thing is that our government purportedly has the best cybersecurity protecting its assets, yet the cyberattacks went undetected for months.

            The U.S. Senate intelligence committee is meeting next week to determine what happened and how. I mean no disrespect but how do these elected officials make decisions on these bleeding edge issues when they were essentially trained as lawyers, not IT experts. So they bring in experts, but how do they know which experts to listen to? It reminds me of Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth having to make decisions while being given contradictory counsel. 

            I suppose this is not really a new phenomenon with regards to kings and presidents. This is, in part, what prompted me to write this piece titled Who Are Your Experts?  I originally addressed this to leaders on a much smaller scale, but the main point applies to all.

            * * * 

            And then we have the new strains of Covid with multiple experts weighing in until a single voice gets approved and the rest get cancelled. Times have changed. Are we no longer permitted to question conventional wisdom?

            I grew up in the generation whose motto was Question Authority. Now that we/they are in authority, we're NOT allowed to question authority? 

            Friday, February 19, 2021

            Flashback Friday: 4 Lessons for Writers from The Rise and Fall of F. Scott Fitzgerald

            His first achievement.
            This past week I listened again to Professor Elliot Engel's lecture called The Rise and Fall of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Actually, I enjoyed it so much I listened to it twice in a row, even though I'd also heard it and wrote about it in 2008. It is insightful as regards the life of a major American writer, but it is also instructive for those who feel impelled to write today.

            There were many takeaway's for me personally during this more recent listen. Here are a few of them.

            1. Highest paid short story writer
            I knew he was the highest paid short story writer of his era, but I didn't know why. Two factors came into play that caused this to happen. First, he wrote about the Roaring 20's in such a way that teenage girls read the stories to learn how to dress and act and all the rest. Second, two major publishers of short fiction got into a bidding war for his manuscripts. He went from being a no-name writer of little worth to a $4,000 a week writer whose name on the cover guaranteed sales. Lesson: The odds of this latter event ever occurring again are slim. The odds of this happening to most of us who write stories are nil. You're more likely to get struck by an asteroid.

            Great book but weak sales.
            2. Despite its fame today, Gatsby sales were a flop
            Fitzgerald and his eccentric wife Zelda loved the high life. The problem was that once the cash-spigot got turned off, they never learned how to save or live frugal. And as famous as he had become, for some reason the book didn't sell well. Professor Engel stated that The Great Gatsby is the most popular novel today among high school students, but in its time sales were a flop, in part due to critical reviews. Lesson: If you are a writer hoping to sell lots of books, keep your expectations realistic.

            3. Timing is everything
            Fitzgerald wrote about the Jazz Age. He even coined the word jazzy which did not exist before. Unfortunately, when his follow up to Gatsby was published America was in the throes of a great depression. Tender Is the Night was another big fail. Lesson: To quote the Beach Boys, "Catch a wave and you're sittin' on top of the world." Fitzgerald's wave had passed. The sun had set on the jazz age and he was left floating in the middle of an empty copper sea.

            4. What you say can hurt you
            Even though his latest didn't sell and Fitzgerald was struggling to make ends meet, he still managed to get a little cashflow by selling stories. This all came to an abrupt end when he agreed to a three-part series that was published in Esquire called "The Crack-Up". He never published another story again. He was too hot to handle. Lesson: We live in an era where authenticity is valued highly, but complete candor isn't as welcome as the pundits would have you believe. It's wise to be circumspect. 

            Here's the opening paragraph of Fitzgerald's The Crack-Up.

            Of course all life is a process of breaking down, but the blows that do the dramatic side of the work -- the big sudden blows that come, or seem to come, from outside -- the ones you remember and blame things on and, in moments of weakness, tell your friends about, don't show their effect all at once. There is another sort of blow that comes from within -- that you don't feel until it's too late to do anything about it, until you realize with finality that in some regard you will never be as good a man again. The first sort of breakage seems to happen quick -- the second kind happens almost without your knowing it but is realized suddenly indeed.

            You can read the rest here.

            Download the entire lecture here.

            Trivia: When Fitzgerald died his total net worth was $700.

            Question: What was your favorite book that you read in high school English class? 

            * * * 
            Originally published in August 2014