“Size matters” for role models

I was reading a book by Iris Chang on the Chinese in America which I found very absorbing. She talked about the high sex ratio among Chinese Americans at the end of the 19th century until the beginning of the 20th century: males are certainly much more likely to come to America, mostly for work, and in some rare cases for business. Yet due to the restriction of the immigration policies back then, most of their wives have to be left in their home country. Only very few of the wives were able to rejoin their husband in the new continent.

One consequence of the unbalanced sex ratio that I did not thought about before reading this book is the lack of female role models, which discourages the next generation of female Chinese Americans from fighting their way of success at that time. Living in the higher segregated Chinese communities, even if a young  girl is highly motivated to pursue educational or professional success, a good female role model from their earlier generation is difficult, if not completely impossible, to find.

My first response to this story was hardly related to Chinese American in Chang’s book. But it does have something to do with role models. From a very young age, all the great people that I adored – scientists, politicians, and artists – happen to be male. I never realized how much difference it makes until around age 20, when I gradually came to realize that no matter how much I appreciate and admire these great people, and no matter how much I wanted to be like them, I am never of the same kind as they are because in every way I am a female. Not that there are no great females in history that I admire, but with their relatively smaller size of population, it is not easy for me to identify a good female role model that I would like to be like on every dimension.  “Size matters.” I am not a feminist, but I do have a clear eye on how the world is for sure a world of men, and will be for many practical reasons. Sometimes this is sad – perhaps not sad in the same way as the smart young girls in Chinatown at the turn of last century – but it is something that I have, by now, learned to deal with.


A distorted map

I came across this distorted election map by Mark Newman, who is a professor at our university, and liked it!

The best thing about this map is the way it reconciles ordinary people’s habit of “looking at a map” and a scientists’ urge to yell “The map is misleading because it prioritizes geographic area over population size or electoral representation!”



A follow-up: The Economist makes use of the “proportional map” in this week’s news about Catalonia independence.

Also see here for the graphic details and a discussion about different ways to represent proportionality rather than geographic area size.

Seemingly cliché thoughts about causality

Consider the following three questions:

(1) What is the effect of Event X on Outcome Y?

(2) Why do you do D1 instead of D2?

(3) Why does Event Z happen?

The first question asks the causal effect of X on Y. This is a very typical question in scientific studies. The answer could be a qualitative one, such as “positive effect”, “negative effect” or “no effect”, or a quantitative one, such as “an effect of 0.5”.

The second question can be seen as asking the purpose of a person doing D1 instead of D2. Of course, there are exceptions, for example, from a psychological point of view, a person may do D1 out of impulse instead of a well-considered purpose. But let us, for the sake of this dialogue, ignore this possibility.

The third one, however, is a question much more difficult to answer. It is almost impossible to answer, because instead of seeking the effect of a cause, it essentially asks the respondent to provide causes of an event. This does not mean that we shall not try to answer this question, but usually I do not see this type of question as a well-defined scientific question, because the plausible answers to this question are not only infinite in number, but also unknown in form.

These are cliché, but only seemingly cliché. People always forgot how difficult it is to answer the third question, and have gone to extremes by blaming the scientists for not providing a satisfactory answer.

Concert night by bike, Amsterdam

I ride and ride and ride into the dark,

Street lights are shimmering, the bridge is about to collapse into the thoughtful river,

and the facades are re-painted by the evening rain.

With a sharp turn I saw the pillars of the concert hall,

and “To the strings and keys of tonight”,  I drank up a palm of darkness.

“Perfection isn’t the goal.”

I was watching a video of Yuja Wang’s interview last night, and was impressed at one moment when the interviewer asked her which one she likes better, live concert or recording. Yuja said live concert. The reason is that for live concert, “perfection isn’t the goal.” But for recording, you have to pursue perfection.

Wow, at that moment I remind myself why I like this young pianist so much. Perfection is the goal of album recording for a musician, publication for a researcher, yet there are other, and perhaps more important excitements that make our work worth-doing. For a classical pianist, the music and performances cannot be replicated. The audience should always go to “the moment”, “the spot”, to enjoy it — because in that way you could see how the musician pushes the scores against the boundary and instills his/her blood into the scores. Yuja was criticized a lot for “wearing too sexy” during classic music performances. But I am on her side, for what’s wrong with being self-centered as an artist?


Another opinion on the geography of voting: the role of culture

A friend of mine facebooked an NYT article about the red-blue divide among American states.

The author is a psychologist, who seems to be in favor of the Nisbett-type cultural argument. See the concluding paragraph:

“If this history is right, the American political divide may have arisen not so much from different conceptions of human nature as from differences in how best to tame it. The North and coasts are extensions of Europe and continued the government-driven civilizing process that had been gathering momentum since the Middle Ages. The South and West preserved the culture of honor that emerged in the anarchic territories of the growing country, tempered by their own civilizing forces of churches, families and temperance.”

To me, this is a less cute argument compared to Rodden’s (see my previous post), but I agree that there is some important truth in the cultural argument. For sure, my personal preference of Rodden’s work over the cultural argument is a matter of taste. Yet, there is some practical reason: the cultural argument is more difficult to test.

Why geography matters for voting

Last week’s Econtalk was one of my favorite podcasts during the year. Jonathan Rodden talked about

Among many interesting points that he mentioned, in particular on the “geography of voting”, there are three things that I particularly like about his work:

(1) There is a direct linkage between his inductive finding (that denser population in a region leads to more votes for democratic party) and the deductive conclusion (that the “winner-take-all” electoral rule in America can under-represent the democratic supporters).

(2) It brings into concern the possibility that the effect of a policy or a voting procedure is sensitive to the (social and political) construction of geographic boundaries.

(3) It sheds light on the old question (since as early as Kenneth Arrow) of the possibility/impossibility of coming up with a flawless method of aggregating individual preference.

Part of being mature is…

I did not learn it through a super easy way, but gradually I recognized that part of being mature is to summon up the courage to bound one’s circle of life, because confess it or not, we receive and need to receive influence from our life circle.

There are two types of friendship that one needs to take caution of, and if possible, walk away from:

(1) friends who have continuous negative influence on you;

(2) friends who care more about their influence on you than about you.


Summer tweets

The status of Ono being here or not is a good instrument of my blogging behavior. There seems to be a quota on words that I want to say per day. Once I used it up for one person, I shut up from the rest of world.

  • If you cannot be tough, you cannot be sweet either. Disregard unnecessary distortions, but enjoy the unevenness.
  • Never take the default unthinkingly.
  • “The best way to predict future is to invent it.”

“A Separation”

I have not blogged for a long time. Let me resume with a recommendation for a spectacular movie: A Separation.

Among the many impressive features about this movie, I enjoy the most its revelation of  the truth about life – plain but complicated. Those who claims that life advances by love and kindness are either too innocent or simply lying. It is neither the “good” or the “bad” that moves our lives on. What pushes life forward is the little niches of unsolvable puzzles,  bonded in a never-ending chain.