Bernie Sanders' 11 Favorite Numbers

"Point four three. Point five three. Point five six!" It's not every day that you get to write a lede that juicy. 

But in an election year where who's making what is making headlines, the story in those three numbers -- 0.43, 0.53, and 0.56, -- cut to the very heart of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders' argument for becoming the next Cranky Ol' Man and Chief of these United States of America. 

These numbers, and 9 more like them, are the result of the early work of Corrado Gini, a turn-of-the-20th-century Italian sociologist and stats-geek, who back in 1912, rocked the numeric world by developing a single-number score for measuring how unequal society's riches are divided.

Mr. Sanders meet Mr. Gini. 

I Dream of Gini: Corrado Gini wrote 800 publications (!) on the stats of the rich and poor. 

I Dream of Gini: Corrado Gini wrote 800 publications (!) on the stats of the rich and poor. 

The resulting Gini Index has become numeric star in comparative economics. The World Bank uses the Gini Index. The CIA uses the Gini Index. Mathworld (That's gotta be a fun day with the kids: Junior go splash on the standard deviation wading pool!) even uses the Gini Index. And I see why: The Gini score packs big meaning into wee little numbers. And these days, were terabytes of data are worse than meaningless, what a thrill to look at exactly 11 numbers and tell the story of the rich and the poor for two hundred years!

If only Corrado Gini had founded Google, who knows where we would be.  

Gini's Index in Action: Each ten-out-of-hundred get a given share of society's wealth. The steeper the curve, the more unequal the wealth. Where do you think you live? Chart by Clear Lines Consulting.

Gini's Index in Action: Each ten-out-of-hundred get a given share of society's wealth. The steeper the curve, the more unequal the wealth. Where do you think you live? Chart by Clear Lines Consulting.

 

The Gini Index visualized above, graphs out Bernie's argument on what share of society gets what share of society's wealth. Each ten out-of-a-hundred is ranked from bottom to top. And the share of wealth is ranked from left to right. If every rank gets the same share of wealth, as Clear Lines Consulting, a San Francisco-based nerd firm graphed above, the result is the blue line of Equalistan. Your group may be richer than nine, but not proportionally so. See that? And if the top 10 percent gets more than average say, 15 percent of the wealth. Then the bottom must get only 5. And that country is now graphed as Similaristan. But if the top 10 percent get a full 90 percent of the wealth, oh boy. We are are all living in a country called Slaveristan.

Or pretty much the United States of America, if you believe Bernie Sanders' "ten percent take-all" argument.

The Gini Index is so bombin' that back in 2009, a World Bank data nerd named Branko Milanovic sampled Gini's work and retrofited it back in time ... to 1820! And he did with all of eleven numbers! And the calculations are so simple that a 9 year-old can do them. Yet still stand up to a major WikiPedia post -- the ultimate trash-talking proving ground for stats geeks. 

And when you chart 200 years of the Gini Index, like I did below, watch out: The narrative of what two centuries of modernism has done to the world emerges. 1820 was supposed to be the high-water mark for families of elite aristocrats ripping all wealth out of the world for their own personal gain.

But I sense another story. Do you?

The Gini Index since 1820. The higher the score, the more unequal society tends to be. Chart by J. Blum. Data by B. Milanovic

The Gini Index since 1820. The higher the score, the more unequal society tends to be. Chart by J. Blum. Data by B. Milanovic

My plan is to sit down with Milanovic over some good stiff New York City coffee. And have him walk me through the calculations. Am I getting Gino's ratio wrong? Let me know. But if these 11 numbers are even half-correct, is it any wonder a political nobody came to dominate the debate on how the world splits its wealth. 

Agree or disagree with Mr. Sanders, but Mr. Gini, and his ratio sure has the feeling of being on the right side of history. 

Bene, Corrado. Bene!

Donning The VR Leisure Suit Of Technology.

Before you spend $600 on a new Oculus Rift VR headset, pop on this 15-minute podcast; and as you work, watch TV, or wander around town, you'll hear me, the #DigitalSkeptic, having a ton of fun breaking down the century's long disaster picture that is virtual reality. From 19th-century stereoscopes that went bust, to 3-D films that never got made, you'll learn why the technology behind VR hits -- like Oculus Rift, The Playstation VR, and The Samsung Gear VR -- are probably doomed before they start. 

You know it's bad: I hear Dwayne Johnson is up for the lead role in the movie adaptation. 

What Big Data Thinks Donald Trump Said.

Donald and I. Me and Donald. We seem to be separated at birth, at least grammatically speaking. We both were born into the "Struggle-To-Write-Well's." The nice family down the road with lots of interesting things to say; but who just can't seem to get all their ideas under control. 

For my work, read my work. I strive to make Information Science interesting, for crying out loud. Who's crazy enough to try that? A decent sentence takes me all morning. For Mr. Trump, it's his press releases that are challenging. Just read any one at DonaldJTrump.com. Particularly, the rant he laid down to Pope Francis' criticism of how the candidate handles immigration. Most of Trump's sentences are anything but. 

To help Trump out, I downloaded the latest in grammar software packages, including Ginger, Grammerly, and a few others. And lumped all the changes they suggested into one big Word document. Take a look:

My writing sins are Donald's sins: Passive voice, confusing use of tense, floating participles -- pretty much a third of this release flunked one automated test or another. 

When I originally posted this piece, Trump's poll numbers fading: I had a cheap line about he might want to consider what a Match.com survey says: Teeth and grammar are what people find most important in new mates. But now that Trump's road to the nomination gets shorter and shorter, maybe the lesson is deeper. 

The rules that Big Data is trying to organize, and what we writers spend our days mastering, may not matter so much any more. If a machine can write "right," what must a human do to communicate?

This post has been unwritten.

It's like picking through a printing press fire bomb. Or Michael Bay's latest Transformer movie. "That's not the futzed-out head of Optimus Prime, my man. It's Jonathan Franzen's 'The Corrections.' See it?" 

And like any FEMA disaster, it's a struggle to see what you're seeing, when it comes 21st-century publishing. 

The narrative is supposed to be easy reading: The more that's published, the more that gets published. It's all content and it's all powerful. All of us who order words and letters for a living are damned spooked by books like Jon Ronson's "So You've been Publicly Shamed." Oblivion nowadays is one badly-worded Tweet or misquoted source away. Ask poor Jonah Lehrer, who faced digital disgrace for apparently misquoting Bob Dylan. It's a hard rain a-falling -- or whatever Dylan meant.

There's just one itty-bitty bit: We don't actually publish anymore, in the "prepare printed material for public distribution" traditional definition of publishing. 

What I am doing now with you is all about changing the settings. Usually, from a collaborative document that sits on a distant computer somewhere. One moment it's only me and my editors that can tinker with the sentences in this file. The next, billions can. Gone is the paper and ink that makes those words last forever. How you read digital documents like these is anybody's guess: The size of the page and the type and the language and ads and the device are all up for grabs.

The hieroglyphic telepathic lock of paper and print that puts your mind right here with mine (scary thought, huh?) is not exactly gone. But it's not exactly there either. It's all unpublishable, all the time. 

All these words can be unwritten.

I've unwritten these sentences dozens of times. Because most of them sucked. And they needed the TLC. As do most of yours. When I published on paper, I unwrote right 'till it all went to print. Then I lived with the horrors. But now? Not so much. I changed "Micheal Bay" to "Michael Bay" on the 25th of January. A week after I opened these revisions up to the world. (So I struggle with seeing "ae"s. You probably do too. Why pretend otherwise?) 

Face it folks, it is unethical to not let Lehrer merely update the contested quote. Dylan misquoted Dylan all the time. "My world's a pyramid. All all and all."  And all. 21st-century publishing is digital jello.

Now, is it progress? Of course it is not. We have taken a 3,000 year step backward. We no longer know who said what or when. But it is a trip we have taken. Acting otherwise only opens you up to those who spin our anxieties up into a super-storm of  self gain. That is social media, if you think about it. 

Here then is what works : If you want to publish so it lasts forever, it's why they make printers. Print! If you want to publish here and now? Knock yourself out. But accept how little we understand what publishing is. And, at the very least, organize your digital day so those sentences of yours can be changed. Chances are, they probably should be. 

It's what transformers do. Maybe Michael Bay is trying to tell us something, after all. 

Notes on The Post-Information Economy.

Like so many other bad ideas, this one was supposed to last a millennium. Or at least a 100 years. But what have we all gotten of late from The Information Age or The New Economy or The World Wide Web -- or whatever pretending a network of ones and zeros is the world, when it's anything but.

How many years of dead solid progress has the data thing gotten us? Was it 20? Or even 10.

If my retirement savings accounts are like yours, they're stuck in the cyrofreeze, along with Matt Damon from the sci-fi picture "Intersteller." Not exactly dead for 15 years; but just sort of frozen in the ooze of the declining value of what we know. Are we more peaceful or safer? North Korea's Kim Jung-Un and the thugs behind Isis might think so. But you and I? Don't you feel trapped in a spooky digital copy of Sierra Leone, where virtual Ebola is the least of your worries. How much time do you spend every day making sure your online self does not get murdered? And are we more interesting or smarter? I'm certainly not. Last week I had to ski off-the-grid for a full morning to have this remarkable experience: an 11-minute conversation where no smartphone could be involved. "You know what, I can't remember who starred in The Revenant." 

To turned out to err is human. But to forget? That was divine. 

That's what I'm here to ask: What do we do with all this information now that all this information is all we have? What works. That's what I'm looking into with essays and lists and maps and charts and maybe some fiction. The truth has become so odd, openly making the stuff up is often the only sense that can be made. 

And by all means, let me know where I go wrong: Can I recast a sentence or a paragraph in another way? Did I forgot a fact? Or a word or letter. I have a degree in Web Induced Mistypography. Let me know what can be clearer.  I am happy to tweak or change. 

Wouldn't we be better off publishing less and editing more?