September 28, 2014

Status contests and the shift from involuntary to voluntary identities

Transplants claiming to be New Yorkers. Whites trying to pass themselves off as blacks. Men who insist that they're really women. And denizens of the 21st century who dress up as though they belonged to the fedora-sporting Forties.

These and many other related phenomena have been noticed and detailed on their own, but as far as I'm aware, there has been no unified treatment of them, for either description or explanation.

What the phenomena have in common is a shift toward all forms of group membership being determined by deliberate choices to "identify" or affiliate with the group, rather than having belonged to that group for reasons beyond your control, say by being born into it.

Sociologists refer to "ascribed" status, which you are born into, raised in, or otherwise given involuntarily, vs. "achieved" status that you gain through your own doing. Membership in a race is ascribed, while membership in a fraternity is achieved. Being a child of divorce is ascribed, being a divorced adult is achieved.

Some forms of status could hypothetically go either way. Does membership in a regional culture stem from your birth, upbringing, and extended family roots? Or can you choose to identify with a region that you did not spend your formative years in, but have moved into as an adult?

When regional membership is ascribed, all that matters is birth, upbringing, and family roots — even if you have spent most of your adult life in a region that you were not raised in, you are still a guest within a host or adoptive culture. When membership is achieved, you're perfectly allowed to claim the regional identity of your adoptive place, after a suitable series of rites of passage, which may be tacit or explicit.

For example, when you first move to New York City, how long of a residence does it take until you're "really" a New Yorker? How numbed to the odor of piss does your nose have to become (in the old days), or how long do you have to use a monthly subway card rather than touristy tokens (in the new days), before you have gone through the trials and rituals that earn you admission into the club of "real" New Yorkers?

Notice that when status is achieved, the aspiring joiners will appeal to as many criteria as they can think of rationalizations for in their favor. Ascribed status constrains the debate. Sure, folks may still bicker about how many generations back the person's roots need to go, or how many kin they must have who are also New Yorkers, but that is still limited to just two criteria.

Thus, ascribed status largely speaks for itself, while achieved status encourages rattling off one after another qualification on the self-promoter's endless list. Status contests are limited in scope when status is ascribed — were you born here or not? — but turn into ever escalating games of one-ups-manship when it is achieved.

This suggests that in status-striving times, group membership will shift toward being more and more achieved, while in accommodating and egalitarian times it will shift toward being ascribed.

The prevailing norms in status-striving times are me-first and laissez-faire — who's to stop me from claiming a New Yorker identity if I work hard enough at it? If you work hard enough for it, you've earned it. Rags-to-riches and rugged individualism are other staples of the zeitgeist in status-striving times.

In accommodating times, the norms favor regulating interactions so that conflict is minimized. If we let one guy pursue New Yorker status as though it could be an accomplishment, then we open the floodgates to thousands of other combatants in a spiraling status war. Instead, individuals will attribute their various group memberships to the circumstances of their birth and upbringing — beyond their own control, and therefore pointless to change, and change, and change, according to whatever fashion battle they're engaged in at the moment.

In fact, you might as well make do with those circumstances and take a little pride in them. Upstate New York, the Ohio River Valley, Michigan — all these places used to carry a certain level of regional pride, no matter whether the person stayed or moved somewhere else. Now they are more likely to identify with the metro area that they have chosen to move into, probably embarrassed about where they came from.

Returning to the examples at the beginning of this post, let's spell out just how extreme our status contests have become. They have moved far beyond groups whose membership could be either ascribed or achieved, to the point where ascribed status should be indisputable, but where strivers are waging wars to make it achieved. They do not have to make up a majority of the status contests of our age — the fact that they are even happening at all proves how psychotic the climate has gotten.

Sex is entirely ascribed, yet the tranny movement asserts that men can identify as women or vice versa, and that the rest of society ought to assign them the sex status that the trannies insist on, rather than it being ascribed at birth. Tranny psychos are so status-striving that they whore for attention more than the others in the feminist and women's groups, and are always ready to start rattling off the top 100 reasons why I'm just as much of a woman as you (or more). They also viciously compete against each other to see who's unlocked the most achievements in the sim game of pretending to be a woman.

Generational membership is also determined by birth, yet we see more and more people cosplaying and LARP-ing as though they belonged to another generation. And not one that's just on the other side of their own, where honest disagreements might be made, but a generation whose formative years unfolded long before the person was even born.

Gen X-ers pretending to hail from the Midcentury, Millennials pretending to belong to the Boho vintage-y Seventies, not to mention legions of geeks placing themselves in the old timey Victorian era — steampunk conventions, going to night clubs wearing black corsets or black tailcoats, and so on. These are not occasional costumes worn as a fun break from routine, but part of their ongoing identity which they take (and craft) very seriously.

Similar widespread movements involve members of one race pretending to belong to another. OK, so they don't actually have the DNA test to back it up — but are we seriously going to rely only on bloodlines? The wigger is not an "honorary black," but someone who acts as though they were black, merely by aping real blacks. In the '90s, this term used to be a portmanteau word of "white nigger," alluding to the lily-white suburban area that this dork actually came from. Now that other races than whites pretend to be black, it now means "wannabe nigger," including East Asians and Indians who act that way.

Blacks have tried to push back against this attempt to make membership in the black race (or ethnic group) achieved rather than ascribed, but that hasn't stopped the wigger phenomenon from growing. It's just like women feminists trying to push back against mentally ill trannies trying to make membership in the female sex achieved rather than ascribed. Such efforts are ultimately doomed in a laissez-faire climate because they are seen as pleas for special or unfair treatment — to carve out race, or sex, as a domain where status is ascribed. But if status is to be achieved in so many other areas, it will play out that way for race and sex too, no matter how ridiculous it feels to normal people.

What were the counterparts of these extreme forms during the previous period of rising competitiveness and inequality, the Victorian era and turning of the 20th century?

Fin-de-siecle England was not only plagued by out-of-the-closet faggots (search Google Images for "gay Victorian photographs" — safe for work, they just show couples sitting together embracing). Trannies also had their own subculture and nightlife haunts that were raided by police.

Then there were Orientalists who LARP-ed as members of an exotic race or ethnic group, one that they were not rooted in one bit. As with today's wiggers, they did not merely dress up every once in awhile for fun, or borrow certain design elements to spice up their otherwise native style. They were constantly leveling up their identity as The Other, as close to 100% max stats as they could manage. They always dressed in the exotic style, and tried to re-create a foreign architectural style on English soil.

Finally there were various strains of anti-modernists who affiliated not with somewhat earlier generations or zeitgeists, but all the way back to the Gothic and Medieval periods from their nation's history. The most well known group was the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of painters. They were not merely seeking contact with the past, or Luddites who hated where all this new-fangled technology was taking society. They chose to base their very identity on affiliation with the Medieval period.

In our second Gilded Age, everything old is new again.

September 25, 2014

Convenience as neglect, disloyalty, and desecration

A recent comment about digital cameras marveled at how remarkable technology is, that it has given us such cheaper, faster, and generally more convenient ways to take pictures. But that has come at a cost to image quality and to the emotional significance or resonance of our pictures, which has devolved in the digital age. This trade-off between convenience and some kind of quality is general, not only regarding cameras, so it's worth looking into.

These days the principle of convenience is so worshiped by so many people in so many contexts that we can hardly recognize how strange it is. From Walmart to Amazon to Redbox to Facebook, convenience has proven to be the most important value to 21st-century man (or more accurately, guy).

Yet convenience resonates with only one of the "moral foundations" in the Haidtian framework, namely liberty — freeing up the individual to pursue whatever they wish they had more time, money, and effort to devote towards.

On all other foundations, it offends rather than pleases our moral sensibilities. In matters of care and harm, it manifests as neglect; in the domain of fairness, as rule-bending and corner-cutting; in authority, as abdication at the top and shirking at the bottom; in group loyalty, as opting out; and in purity, as debasement.

Convenience is thus a libertarian rather than liberal or conservative value, and its pervasiveness reveals the callous laissez-faire norm that governs our neo-Dickensian Gilded Age v.2.0.

In politics it appeals mostly to so-called moderates or independents, who shop around for whichever candidate can offer them the most convenient quid pro quo if elected to office. Likewise in religion it appeals to the denominationally unaffiliated, who shop around for the most convenient arrangement of investment from the pew-filler and reward in self-fulfillment. Longer-term concerns about party or church stability, or indeed stewardship of anything outside of the individual's little existence, are utterly foreign to the convenience shopper.

As mundane as it sounds, there could hardly be a sharper ideological fault-line to wage a battle over than convenience, which prizes puny gains to the individual over substantial blows to group cohesion, whether it be the family, community, workplace, or nation. Or put the other way around, tolerating puny costs to the individual in order to hold these groups together is what makes us the successful social species that we are.

It is tolerance of inconveniences which compels us to care for the sick when we are healthy, to play fair, to carry out our duties to superiors and subordinates alike, to honor the wishes of the community, and to preserve purity from adulteration.

September 23, 2014

Transplant governors

Having studied the rooted vs. rootless connection that Senators have to the states they represent, let's turn now to governors.

As before, "rooted" means that they graduated from high school in the state that they're in charge of. If we had better data, we could count how many years from, say, age 5 to 20 they spent living in the state, but what you can find online isn't that fine-grained. High school graduation is the most convenient milestone for our purposes.

An appendix below contains the full list of where each governor was living across several milestones -- birth, high school, college, and any advanced degrees they took.

Onto the findings. The following states have transplant governors: Hawaii, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Florida, Maryland, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

Transplants account for 11 of our 50 governors. That may appear to be a lower rate than the 29 of 100 Senators, but this difference is not statistically significant. Carpetbagging behavior appears to be independent of which branch of the government the politician pursues their career in.

Rootlessness is independent of party, a result also found among Senators. However, as we saw with Senators, the Republican transplants headed off for states where they would not disrupt the partisan status quo, such as Arizona or North Dakota, whereas the Democrat transplants are part of the ongoing disruption of "swing states" that used to be red but are turning blue, such as Colorado and Virginia. It would be a mistake to blame the politicians themselves: they only represent the will of the voters, a rising share of whom are carpetbaggers themselves, having fled expensive blue states to gentrify red states, where the competition for status is less saturated.

The main regions affected by transplants are rural New England, where a brain drain has left the local hold-outs willing to hire outsiders to preserve their fading regional culture; and the Mountain states, where boomtown growth has brought in truckloads of transplant citizens, and where a long history of frontier rootlessness has left the region vacant of an entrenched elite that aspiring office-holders would have to overcome (if political) or kow-tow to (if economic).

But the worst offenders did not even live in their state's general region for any of their four milestones -- Hickenlooper in Colorado, who is a total East Coaster, and Scott in Florida, who is from the Midwest / southern Plains.

Brewer in Arizona has only a weak connection -- a locally earned technical certificate, not four years of college, after moving from California. Ditto for Abercrombie in Hawaii, who left behind lifelong roots in New York to take an advanced degree locally. McAuliffe in Virginia isn't exactly from around the place either -- born and raised in upstate New York, college and after in DC.

Other transplants are not such flagrant outsiders. O'Malley in Maryland is from just over the border with Northwest DC, Martinez in New Mexico is from just over the Texas border in El Paso, Kasich in Ohio is from just over the border in the Pittsburgh metro area, and Shumlin in Vermont attended prep school just over the border in northern Massachusetts. While not from next-door, some are not from too far away either: Dalrymple in North Dakota is from Minneapolis, and Hassan in New Hampshire is from Boston.

The most resistant region is the Deep South, a pattern we saw in the legislative branch earlier. Their historical memory of the original carpetbaggers during the original Gilded Age has made their immune system more robust this time around.

The following states have governors who were born, raised, and educated entirely locally: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Kansas, Texas, Idaho, Utah, Michigan, Maine, and New York.

Most of these are part of "flyover country," but as with Senators, competition is so stiff in the power centers of New York and Texas that local roots is one of the few things that can decide a contest among competitors who all have impressive credentials and sociopathic ambition. Illinois (i.e. Chicago) is a tough nut to crack, too: Quinn only left the state for college. Similarly in California, Brown only left the state for his law degree. But the further you go back toward the historical Establishment in New York, you'll need every point for local roots that you can claim, to win over identically impressive credentials.

That's about all the major patterns I see, let us know if you see any others.

Please also chime in if you have advice about how to continue this study for the judicial branch. I figure the state Supreme Court is the place to look, but that makes for 5 to 9 judges per state = too many for a casually interested person. Counting the chief justice alone would make the data manageable, but I'm not sure how meaningful that position is across states. Is it the top of the top, or is it like the chair of a college department that rotates through people who don't want it?

So stay tuned, though it may take awhile before I can analyze what's going on with the rootedness of judges.

Appendix: Rootedness of American Governors, 2014

This table lists where each governor was born, graduated high school, graduated college, and took an advanced degree. The final column marks whether or not they're a transplant -- 1 for yes, blank for no. The table is sorted first by transplant status, and then alphabetically by state.


state governor party birth hs grad uni grad adv grad transplant
AZ Jan Brewer  R CA CA AZ
1
CO John Hickenlooper  D PA PA CT
1
FL Rick Scott  R IL MO MO TX 1
HI Neil Abercrombie  D NY NY NY HI 1
MD Martin O'Malley  D DC DC DC MD 1
ND Jack Dalrymple  R MN MN CT
1
NH Maggie Hassan  D MA MA RI MA 1
NM Susana Martinez  R TX TX TX OK 1
OH John Kasich  R PA PA OH
1
VA Terry McAuliffe  D NY NY DC DC 1
VT Peter Shumlin  D VT MA CT
1
AK Sean Parnell  R CA AK WA WA
AL Robert Bentley  R AL AL AL AL
AR Mike Beebe  D AR AR AR AR
CA Jerry Brown  D CA CA CA CT
CT Dannel Malloy  D CT CT MA MA
DE Jack Markell  D DE DE RI IL
GA Nathan Deal  R GA GA GA GA
IA Terry Branstad  R IA IA IA IA
ID Butch Otter  R ID ID ID

IL Pat Quinn  D IL IL DC IL
IN Mike Pence R IN IN IN IN
KS Sam Brownback  R KS KS KS KS
KY Steve Beshear  D KY KY KY

LA Bobby Jindal  R LA LA RI England
MA Deval Patrick  D IL MA MA MA
ME Paul LePage  R ME ME ME ME
MI Rick Snyder  R MI MI MI MI
MN Mark Dayton  D MN MN CT

MO Jay Nixon  D MO MO MO MO
MS Phil Bryant  R MS MS MS MS
MT Steve Bullock  D MT MT CA NY
NC Pat McCrory  R OH NC NC

NE Dave Heineman  R NE NE NY

NJ Chris Christie  R NJ NJ DE NJ
NV Brian Sandoval  R CA NV NV OH
NY Andrew Cuomo  D NY NY NY NY
OK Mary Fallin  R MO OK OK

OR John Kitzhaber  D WA OR NH OR
PA Tom Corbett  R PA PA PA TX
RI Lincoln Chafee  D RI MA RI

SC Nikki Haley  R SC SC SC

SD Dennis Daugaard  R SD SD SD IL
TN Bill Haslam  R TN TN GA

TX Rick Perry  R TX TX TX

UT Gary Herbert  R UT UT


WA Jay Inslee  D WA WA WA OR
WI Scott Walker  R CO WI WI

WV Earl Ray Tomblin  D WV WV WV WV
WY Matt Mead  R WY WY TX WY

September 22, 2014

Obvious vs. mysterious movie posters, with a look at Interstellar

Movie posters attract the audience's attention, shape their expectations about what the movie will be like, and hopefully leave them excited to see it. They contribute to our overall movie-going experience, for better or worse. Although their role is small, it is there, so they had better look good if we want the most enjoyable experience from the movies.

Today's posters couldn't look more dull if they tried (and they appear to). Typically the main characters are shown in some pose with some expression on their faces, while divorced from any kind of action or interaction that would tell us what the plot is all about. It's like they're trying to sell these characters to children who were shopping for action figures, or to teenagers browsing through profile pictures to see who they might want to be friends with.

Even pure character studies need some kind of plot structure to motivate the behaviors that reveal their character. Contemporary posters that lack context just come off as a group of dull head-shots that tell us nothing and therefore fail to lure us into the story. All we know is what kind of people we're going to be tagging along with — whatever they're up to, wherever they're going, for whatever purpose.

Since we'll be looking at science-fiction movies, here's a 21st-century example from Armageddon, although rom-coms and Oscar bait don't look too different.


Interstellar, the upcoming Christopher Nolan movie, has some posters cast from this mold, but I was surprised to also see this one, with something beyond mere head shots:


This looks pleasantly familiar. Brilliant rays of light reaching planet Earth far from off in outer space, in the dead of night to heighten the bright-dark contrast, and with the humble world down below unprepared for its imminent encounter with the Sublime. These elements formed the framework for just about every movie poster from the '80s that involved space travel and interaction between us and the outsiders. Have a look:




The lack of a celebrity headshot orientation allowed audiences to enter the theaters with an open mind about who they were going to meet, having made the trip more out of curiosity about the story.

The chiaroscuro style adds instant mystery, since nighttime scenes tend to be, well, really dark, and we're left wondering what the source of this brilliant light is, and what function it serves — to try to communicate with us, to guide a ship, to announce their arrival? Or maybe it's the outcome of an intense natural phenomenon that we've never seen before, not having paid much attention to what goes on in outer space.

That's all we need — a little visual mystery to lure us into wanting to experience the story. Not visual obviousness — here are the main characters wearing kabuki masks just so you're clear on what they're all like (and don't bother asking what the story is about).

Though seemingly minor players in the overall movie experience, posters can leave strong impressions, so we ought to demand more from the studios when they release these expectation-shaping ads. You never know, sometimes a horrible movie can become memorable simply for its bitchin' poster:

September 21, 2014

Part 2 of Digital creep, even after shooting on film: The decline of optical intermediate stages

Having examined digital creep in the final viewing stage, and during the initial capture stage here and here, let's take a good long look into the rise of digital at the intermediate stage, and what changes it has brought about in the final image. In discussions about the adoption of digital, it's rare to hear about digital creep into the stages after the initial capture but before the final display. Usually you only hear about shooting on digital sensors vs. film, or viewing the output of digital vs. film projectors. I'll be going into considerable detail here to try to make up for the general lack of attention given to the matter.

I'll stipulate at the outset that digital intermediate stages make it more convenient to make corrections (brightness, color, contrast) and to add special effects. But corrections and special effects were being made long before the digital age, in analog fashion. The question therefore is how the introduction of this digital link in the chain has affected the overall look-and-feel of the medium, which previously was fully analog and which now is at best a mixture of analog and digital stages (and at worst digital all the way down).

Let's assume that you're going to both shoot on film and view the final product on film (at the theaters) or on photographic paper (for still camera hobbyists). There's still an intermediate stage of the process where the transition to digital has been all but completed, and where remaining purely analog is nearly impossible — making a positive image from the developed negative (at which time corrections or special effects may also be made).

When you expose film to light, the light-sensitive silver halide crystals react and capture only a latent image. Then the processing lab gives it a chemical bath that develops that latent image into a negative — something you can actually see, but without color, and with dark and bright areas switched around. The last bath undoes the light-sensitivity of the film and fixes the image on the negative. That's why you can hold your negatives up to light and they won't start forming a new image.

This is the absolute minimum of non-digital technology that is used when shooting on film. Where does the process go after that, turning the negative into a positive, with full color and where darks are dark and brights are bright?

Today, virtually every lab for both still and motion pictures will digitally scan the film negatives, and continue the process from there. Manipulating light levels, color, contrast, etc., will be done in a software program on the digital scans of the negatives. After that, if prints are made, they will be of these digital scans of the negative. (These scans may have been digitally corrected if you paid the lab to do it, rather than do so with your own computer program.)

Photographic paper is light sensitive, unlike ordinary printer paper that is written on with ink, so how do they get the digital image onto a paper that reacts to light? The computer is hooked up to a LightJet style of printer, in which lasers take the brightness and color information from the digital image and reproduce it while shining on the light-sensitive paper. Then the photographic paper is given the same bath from the old days to develop the latent image on the paper and fix this into a positive print for final viewing.

For motion pictures, some form of a film recorder is used to transfer digital information onto light-sensitive film. As in still photography, the film negatives are digitally scanned. Then these digital images are digitally corrected, digital effects are added, and the result is displayed on a monitor. A film camera is then aimed at the monitor and captures each of these digital images in sequence, making a film copy of a digital stream-of-images. Now a film print can be sent off to be projected by optical film projectors in theaters — the kind where a lightbulb shines behind the print to render the image visible, and an enlarging lens blows it up to the size of the big screen.

The key point is that both still and movie photography make digital scans of the film negatives, and then take it from there, whether the ultimate display format is digital (CD, hard drive) or analog (prints).

How did it work in the old days before digital scanning? For still photography, the negative was placed in an optical enlarger, which works like a film projector. A lightbulb above sends light beams down through the negative, which then travel through an enlarging lens (to blow up that dinky little negative into, say, a 4" x 6" size), and which finally strike light-sensitive paper at the bottom of the apparatus, where a latent image is formed (and then developed into a positive and fixed in place with a chemical bath).

One key difference from the method of digital scans and LightJet printers is that the very same beams of light both "pick up" the information in the negative and strike the light-sensitive paper. In the digital method there are two separate sources of light: the light beams in the scanner that "pick up" the information in the negative, and those that come from the printer's lasers that strike the light-sensitive paper. Computer software translates the findings from the team of beams in the scanning hardware, into instructions for the team of beams in the printing hardware.

We need at least one team of light for ultimately striking the light-sensitive paper to render the positive image. The question is, what is the source of their instructions? With optical enlargers, it is from a single unbroken path of light directly through the negative. With LightJet printers, it is indirectly from a copy of the negative — from a digitized scan of it.

Similar changes occurred in the motion picture world. Instead of digitally scanning a film negative to make a positive image, they made contact prints, akin to the optical process used for stills. A light source sent beams directly through the negative and into a light-sensitive medium that was pressed tightly against the other side of the negative; the resulting latent image was then developed and fixed chemically to yield a final positive for viewing.

Unlike the set-up in the still photo lab, in the movie world the light beams did not pass through that much air (with distortions caused by whatever was in the air) or through an enlarging lens (enlargement took place in the projection booth). But the basic approach was the same: shine a single beam of light through the negative onto a light-sensitive material that would hold the final positive.

It's not so much a matter of how many layers of copies there are between the original and the final image, though. It's the nature of how the copies are made — purely analog, with light passing through film negatives (and perhaps air and a glass lens), or digitally from scanners and software.

What differences are there in the print when it comes from a digital scan of the negative rather than an analog projection through the negative?

Here comparisons are hard to make because we need to take the same developed film negative and run it down two separate paths to the final print — the analog way with an optical enlarger, and the digital way with scanners and LightJet printers. Optical enlargers are vanishingly rare these days, so it will be hard to carry out a fully analog process on a roll of film that was shot and developed today.

But what if someone had some old negatives and optical prints of those negatives lying around, and decided to have the negatives digitally scanned and make a new set of prints from these digital scans, following current practice? Then they could compare the prints from digital scans to the original prints from optical projection.

In this thread at photo.net, a commenter provides just such a comparison, shown below. Someone took an old set of negatives to have them scanned and printed at Walgreen's photo lab (the way all prints from film are made nowadays), and compared these to the original prints made from analog means 17 years earlier during the pre-digital age. The picture shows a person's slicked-back graying hair. Click to enlarge and see all the details.


We see the difficulty of digital to deal with the extremes of the bright-to-dark spectrum. The limited range of light levels in digital was covered in the posts about the capture stage, linked at the top of this post.

At the dark end, notice how the left side of the hair shows fine gradation of darkness levels in the optical print, where only a small portion is deep-dark. This region looks more uniformly deep-dark in the print from digital scan. Ditto in the top-left area above the hair, where the optical print reveals a lot more detail on whatever that greenish thing is, while the print from digital scan smooshes all the various shades of dark into a single deep-dark value, and swamps out some of the green thing's details in darkness.

At the bright end, notice how uniformly ultra-bright the white hairs are in the print from digital scan, whereas the optical print shows a finer gradation of brightness levels.

So, not only at the capturing stage, but also when a digital scan is made of a developed film negative, the final print will show clipped highlights and lowlights, whereas a fully analog process would have yielded a more richly continuous range at the extremes of dark and bright. As a result, the print from scanning looks more harshly contrasting — one of the signature elements of the digital "look".

A separate color distortion is evident in the blown-up crop of the white hair, where the print from digital scan shows bluish blobs in what is supposed to be white or light gray hair. No such color artifacts are seen in the optical print.

Finally, notice how the print from digital scan renders the grain in the negative — the texture looks blockier and pixelated, and larger in scale. The film speed is ISO 100, which is fine-grained. The larger scale of the "grain" in the digital-derived print is a failure to preserve the fine and regular grain of the negative, a problem that the optical print did not have. Pixels on the scanner's sensor and grains in the film negative don't match up one-for-one, so we shouldn't expect a perfectly faithful rendition of fine film grain. But the result here is still pretty cruddy-looking.

While the print from digital looks more defined, it also looks more unnatural. Both aspects stem from the way that digital yields high-contrast images, as opposed to high-contrast films that have smoother gradations from one part of the spectrum to another.

You might object that the print from digital scan was probably rushed along by some random Walgreens employee whose main task is not digital scanning and correcting — or indeed anything related to visual media. But that's beside the point: we had high schoolers operating the lab at one-hour photo-mats back in the pre-digital days, yet those optical prints didn't look so crappy. The old analog process was more robust to the lab technician's lack of expertise, whereas the digital intermediate process is more fragile when the technician isn't so skilled.

This explains why digital looks less dull in Hollywood movies than in amateur photography. Hollywood hires teams of pros to work full-time at making digital look as good as it can. Don't expect that when you're operating the digital camera at the capture stage, or when you're doing the digital processing.

And even if you shoot on film and order prints, don't expect the digital intermediate stage to be handled by the local lab tech and the machines in the local lab the way they would be in the labs that serve Hollywood studios. Such elite services weren't needed in the analog / optical days (though that would've helped too), but now that there's a digital link in the chain, impressive results will require a more skilled technician for the digital scanning and correcting stage.

If you've been wondering why even movies shot on film (and displayed on film) don't look quite the way they used to, the digital intermediate stage is why. The final print is not the end result of a purely analog process. And if you've wondered why prints of film-captured images look different from prints of 20 years ago, that's why: the digital scanning of the negative introduces a non-analog step, with the effects seen in the comparison above.

Your pictures will still look better by capturing on film and making prints than going digital all the way. Just make sure to find someplace other than the drug store to have them processed and scanned before printing. There are still developing and printing labs for professionals, and they're happy to do jobs for hobbyists as well.

Is there still a place that does the fully analog optical printing process? Yes, Blue Moon Camera and Machine located where else but in Portland. You can mail them your film, and they'll mail you back the prints. They get good ratings on Yelp, and it's not just mindless hipster enthusiasm for all things vintage.

If it were, they'd be fleecing the customer. But to develop and make prints from a 24-exposure roll of color negative film, you're only out $14.80, compared to about $20 everywhere else using the digital scanning method. There is a minimum $8 return shipping cost, so you'd have to send them several rolls at a time to spread that out into a reasonable per-roll shipping price. You can also send in already developed negatives (new or old) and have optical prints made from them.

I haven't used them yet, but I'm definitely going to give them a try. Who knows how long we'll have left to make purely analog pictures? I'd regret passing up the chance, especially given how simple and affordable it is.

Digital creep, even after shooting on film: The decline of prints

Now that I've started to make a little hobby out of photography, I'm noticing how pervasive the digital approach has become further down the line from initially capturing light on film rather than on a digital sensor.

These are differences of kind, not degree, and given how widespread the changes have been, they deserve more thoughtful study than just, "Well, neither of the two methods gives results that look horrifically awful, so the winner is the one that's more convenient for producers and consumers." In the hands of professionals, digital may not look awful, but it doesn't look better than film. (Everyone else's digital pictures do produce a weaker response in the viewer than their film snapshots from 20-30 years ago.)

Understanding the many ways in which digital has crept into the formerly analog world of still and motion pictures requires looking into each stage of the process from opening the shutter to viewing the final result — not only what differences there are between shooting on film vs. digital in the first stage. I've covered those differences at the capturing stage in two earlier posts here and here.

When you have your film developed, every lab will offer you the option to not have any prints made, but to receive a digital medium like a CD, USB, or external hard drive, which contains the final positive images in digital form, which were made from digital scans of the chemically developed film negative (more on that in the next post).

Of course you can still opt for prints on light-sensitive paper, just like in the good old days, but there must be a fairly large demand for a digital final product for it to be even offered, let alone as the first choice. Isn't the whole point of shooting on film to view the final result on developed photographic paper? My sense is that professional photographers who want to enter competitions or make a banner are more likely to still make prints on photographic paper, and that the hobbyists who shoot on film are maybe only half in favor of making prints, and half in favor of getting a CD of scans.

The CD option is cheaper than making the prints, but usually only about half as expensive, so I don't see that as the main reason a hobbyist would choose the CD. It is more likely due to the greater ease of digitally manipulating the images on the CD in Photoshop, if you didn't agree with the corrections made by the lab, as well as sharing them over the internet.

If you aren't so obsessed with over-riding the lab's corrections (which I would trust more than I would myself dicking around in Photoshop), and if you don't feel the need to share every single picture you've ever taken with everyone else in the world, then the CD offers no greater convenience.

And the price you pay is in displayed image quality — if they're on CD, you get to see them on an LCD computer screen of greater or lesser quality, perhaps or perhaps not set to the same monitor settings that the correction work was done under. Prints look striking on their own and do not rely on further technology to view them. For the handful of halfway decent pictures that a hobbyist might take, out of a roll of 24, it's no pain to scan them yourself later.

Amateurs wildly over-estimate the return on investment (in time, effort, and money) for using Photoshop to improve their initial exposures. Work more on getting a proper exposure next time, not about endlessly re-touching the majority of today's pictures that were less than you'd hoped for.

I also detect a huge drop in the attention paid to composition in the digital age — amateurs are now obsessing over light levels, contrast, color, etc., when they haven't even taken an interesting picture in the first place. With little room for post-processing in the film days, folks devoted more thought and effort to the skeleton of the image rather than its flesh, except for advanced photographers whose compositions came more effortlessly.

Here we see a parallel in the world of motion pictures, where scarcely 5% of theaters in America right now are equipped with optical film projectors. So even if you shot your movie on film, it will be projected from digital images on an external hard drive. That was a neat, cheapy idea for me and my friends during our freshman year of college back in 1999, when we used to sneak into a nearby class building at night, hook up a laptop to the digital projector in a small classroom, and watch the rip of a DVD on a much bigger screen than we could have back in our dorms.

But for making a trip out to a movie theater, wanting to be wowed by the experience, digital projection only offers a case of blue balls (while charging three times as much as they used to). I wonder how much of the drop-out culture among movie-lovers is an effect not just of the plot, acting, etc., of recent movies, but of digital shooting and projection. The drop-outs might not be able to articulate all of the many separate things that are turning them off visually. It's just a gestalt sense of how different — how crappy-looking movies have become since the mid-to-late 1990s.

One aspect that has been analyzed is how underlit the digital projectors are in practice, something that Roger Ebert among others remarked on a few years ago when the conversion to digital projectors had really begun to take over. Whether this is due to a different type of lightbulb in digital projectors, to leaving 3D lenses on them when projecting 2D movies, or whatever else, movies in the digitally projected age just don't look as brilliant as they used to.

In the next post, we'll take a look at digital creep at the intermediate stages of the photographic process.

September 18, 2014

The geography of transplant Senators

An earlier post explained why status-striving times would lead toward more of a carpetbagger pattern among those seeking and holding political office. The norms of laissez-faire and winning at any cost will allow strivers to leave their own neck of the woods if the competition is too stiff, and strike at a softer target.

This predicts that where the locals are not very deeply rooted themselves, transplant politicians will have greater success. Weakly rooted locals could be very recent transplants, or they could go back just a generation or two at most.

Our President is weakly rooted in the country he is in charge of, as was Chester A. Arthur (to a lesser extent) back in the original Gilded Age. But they are not transplants from another nation. To uncover carpetbagger behavior, we need to look at a lower level. Senators are both powerful and important players, as well as easy to study: they represent a state, so we only need to look at how rooted they are in that state (whereas Representatives represent districts, and mayors control cities).

How should we measure a person's connection to a place, from deeply to weakly rooted? We could look further back into their family history or look at where they currently have family ties and get a better picture, but for ease of study I'm going with an individual-level measure.

I looked at where they were born, where they went to high school, where they graduated from college, and where they received an advanced degree. Where they went to high school seemed like the best single measure of where they were from. Where they were born was fairly good, too, but it's not uncommon to be born in one place and move during early childhood to another, where you come of age. College and professional school attendance is a weaker level of connection, but at least it's something. The least rooted people didn't even go to school where they live.

Why not things like operating a business? By the time you can successfully operate a business, your brain is no longer impressionable, and you no are no longer imprinting on your surroundings. You may like the place, and the place may like you, you may even intend to stay there for the rest of your life, but it is still your adoptive place. Following its norms and interacting with its locals is like speaking a second language with native speakers, a language you had to study and learn because it was not your mother tongue.

The same goes for starting a family in a certain place: by that age, you're no longer impressionable.*

I've put the entire table of Senators and their rootedness at the end of this post for those who want to dissect it further. Some interesting findings:

Nearly 1/3 of the Senators (29 or 30) did not come of age in the state they now represent.**

Rootedness is not associated with party: 17 of 53 Democrats, 10 of 45 Republicans, and 2 of 2 Independents were not rooted in their state. Setting aside the Independents, the apparently higher rate of rootlessness among Dems was not statistically significant (p = 0.4). Even throwing in the Independents, who show a strong bias toward being outsiders, gave only a marginally significant link between party and rootedness (p = 0.1).

However, Republican transplants headed to states where they would not upset the partisan status quo -- Arizona, Kentucky, Idaho, Utah, etc. Conservatives don't like rocking the boat, so it's unlikely that Republican citizens and office-seekers would invade, say, Minnesota and in one great big electoral troll, transform it into a staunch red state.

Fun fact: John McCain, who LARPs as a Wild West gunslinger, is an East Coaster. He was born in Panama, raised in the DC suburbs of Virginia, went to college in Maryland, and only headed out West at the age of 41 after leaving the Navy. Also, Orrin Hatch, while always a member of the Mormon culture whose center is in Utah, was born and raised around Pittsburgh.

Democrat transplants are more shameless, and were more likely to head toward "swing states" that used to be red but are now blue -- Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina. This is part of the broader trend in the population of blue-staters colonizing red states that were formerly thought to be flyover wastelands or southern backwaters. But hey, if Manhattan wannabes could gentrify Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn, and Jersey City in... New Jersey, then surely the NY and DC wannabes can gentrify Virginia and North Carolina.

Regardless of party, which states have elected the least rooted Senators? Both of the state's Senators are outsiders in Colorado, Indiana, New Mexico, and Virginia. Of these, the worst offenders are Colorado's and Virginia's. Michael Bennet (D-CO) was born in India, went to high school in DC, and did undergrad and above in Connecticut. Mark Udall (D) at least comes from the region: he was born and went to high school in Arizona, and did undergrad in Massachusetts. Mark Warner (D-VA) couldn't be any newer to Old Dominion -- born in Indiana, high school in Connecticut, undergrad in DC, and law school in Massachusetts. He serves with Tim Kaine (D), who hails from even farther away in the Midwest: born in Minnesota, high school and college in Missouri, law school in Massachusetts.

The following states have one Senator who did not come of age in their state: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Wyoming.

These states have at least one Senator who has no roots there at all, from birth, high school, college, or advanced education: California, Washington, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Wisconsin, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

The Mountain states are pretty rootless themselves (what fraction of the population was born and raised there), so naturally they're more open to transplant leaders. New England citizens are fairly rooted, but their would-be leaders have brain-drained out of the region. New Englanders are fairly demoralized, so they don't mind being led by outsiders. The farther out toward a coast, the more transplant friendly. The closer-in toward flyover country, the less.

Notice that the centers of Establishment power (not to be confused with cultural influence) tend to have local Senators -- New York, Texas, Illinois (i.e. Chicago). Every power-seeker with impressive credentials and a ruthless attitude would be attracted to them, so local roots is one of the few traits that could tip the scales toward one or another. The power-seekers who would fail in their own state are going to head out to others -- every state has two Senate seats up for grabs, unlike the House seats that are proportional to population.

Local office-seekers in the colonized states would have an advantage in rootedness, but in credentials and ruthlessness are not going to stand up to the carpetbaggers.

Unless of course the local voters prize rootedness above fancy credentials. Much of the Deep South learned this lesson with the original carpetbaggers during the first Gilded Age, and the region is now mostly impenetrable by faggotizing foreign forces.

The following states have both Senators who were raised locally from birth through their highest education level: Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and South Carolina. Voters in these states don't trust politicians who haven't spent their entire lives there. That's quite a barrier to status-strivers -- not only does it keep out the carpetbaggers, it also ostracizes the local boys who got too big for their britches and went off to an elite college or law school, none of which are in these states. Lord only knows what degenerate influences they could bring back into their home state after becoming infected in college out-of-state.

The following have one Senator who is fully local: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, Washington, and West Virginia. Voters in these states are willing to give a pass to one of their Senators, but the other one must have lived their entire lives there.

A final reflection: one Senator from Maryland is fully local, and the other one was born, went to high school, and took a law degree there, but went to college in nearby Pennsylvania. So, strange as it may seem, Marylanders demand more rootedness from their officials than Virginians. But like I said before, these days hardly anyone from Virginia is from Virginia. I attribute this to Maryland having been a greater seat of power historically, and hence had a long entrenched Establishment, whereas Virginia was a center of the military but not of the broader power structure, and so proved more vulnerable to colonization.

Particularly when you move outward from DC, where the strivers all want to be. To the northwest, Montgomery County has had ring after ring of wealthy suburbs for many decades, and PG County and northeast toward Baltimore has been a no-go ghetto for just as long. On the Virginia side to the south and west, you have to go pretty far down south toward Richmond to reach anything like a PG County or Baltimore ghetto barrier. Before then, McLean is just about the only major center of Establishment wealth and power. Otherwise, the more middle-class Arlington and Fairfax counties right outside of DC were ripe for colonization by blue-state transplants.

It's depressing to think that what saved Maryland from becoming as fucked-over politically as Virginia is having a longer history of incredibly wealthy and powerful people squatting on the desirable land near DC, and frightening levels of crime, drugs, and violence around Baltimore. Whereas the more egalitarian and white counterpart regions of Virginia had neither Establishment muscle nor scary black hordes to discourage would-be colonists.

Of course, Virginia would not have needed to deter gentrifiers if it were not located right next to a central target of status-strivers. Ditto for North Carolina if it were not home to Research Triangle. You can be egalitarian and homogeneous far away from power centers, like the Dakotas.

But once that kind of place finds itself near a power center, its egalitarian and homogeneous qualities will only amplify its attractiveness to carpetbaggers who could give a shit about preserving those very qualities -- "You mean I get to hipsterize an up-and-coming nabe, NOT have to pay out the ass to dislodge an entrenched elite, AND not have to save on rent by living near violent dark-skins? AWESOME SAAAAUCE."

The carpetbaggers hoard their gold, truck in immigrants to pay lower wages for their upscale lawn maintenance, in-home foster care for career-mommy's neglected children, and so on and so forth. In a few short generations, the whole place is wrecked, and it will take a miracle to rebuild it, if it happens ever. Still, the fact that citizens in the Deep South have managed to throw up barriers, having preserved the memory of being stung by carpetbaggers over 100 years ago, shows that the phenomenon can be reversed and guarded against in the future.

I wanted to focus mainly on the geography of carpetbagging, although there are surely other ways to analyze the data on Senators' level of rootedness. Compared to the Senate as a whole, are carpetbaggers more likely to be male? Older or younger? Incumbent or entrant? Etc. I don't think there will be as many illuminating patterns there -- just what it takes to be an amoral entrepreneur. The main interest here is which places are more affected, and why.

You could also look into which states produce the most Senators, or which colleges and law schools, to study the "over-production of elites." If there are too many aspiring elites on the East Coast, they'll have to head somewhere else like Colorado, where local elite production is not so kicked into overdrive.

* You may intend for your kids to grow up there, which is a way of casting your lot with your adoptive place -- but then you might very well move the family to some other place. That won't sting as much for transplant parents either.

Childless cosmopolitans shop around for the city and neighborhood that are most to their liking and within their price range, a geographical decision that may change several times and by large distances during adulthood. But the same is true for family-raising suburbanites in status-striving times. Wherever mommy and/or daddy can find a higher-status job, enjoy a higher-status house, lifestyle, and so on, is where they're going to go -- whether the kids are already attached to some place or not.

Urbanites feel less anxious city-hopping because they expect certain things to be in place no matter which particular cosmopolis they're setting off for, and the same is true for suburbanite parents who don't mind uprooting their children because, they rationalize, the suburbs are all basically the same (in a good way), so what does it matter which particular 'burb the kids are growing up in this year?

Obviously having no kids provides even less friction for location-hopping, but raising a family does not provide as much glue in status-striving times to qualify the parents as being rooted in a place.

** I put Cornyn as rooted in Texas even though he graduated high school in Japan, where he stayed for only two years while his father was stationed there in the military. He was born, went to college, and got his law degree in Texas.

Appendix: Rootedness of American Senators, 2014

These are sorted alphabetically by state for two groups -- transplants first, then natives. Transplants have a value in the final column, age at which they began residing in their state if they're not a native. Natives have a blank in this column. The age estimates are close-enough guesses, based on graduating college, beginning law school, etc., or using other dates from their biographies to ballpark the age in question. You can sort the table however else you want in a spreadsheet program.

state senator party birth hs grad uni grad adv grad age residing, transplants
AZ John McCain  R Panama VA MD
41
CA Barbara Boxer  D NY NY NY
25
CO Michael Bennet  D India DC CT CT 30s
CO Mark Udall  D AZ AZ MA
22
CT Richard Blumenthal  D NY NY MA CT 20s
DE Tom Carper  D WV OH OH DE 27
GA Saxby Chambliss  R NC LA GA TN 20
ID Jim Risch  R WI WI ID ID 20
IN Dan Coats  R MI MI IL IN 27
IN Joe Donnelly  D NY NY IN IN 20
KY Rand Paul  R PA TX TX NC 30
MA Elizabeth Warren  D OK OK TX NJ 43
ME Angus King  I VA VA NH VA 28
NC Kay Hagan  D NC FL FL NC 25
NE Mike Johanns  R IA IA MN NE 23
NH Jeanne Shaheen  D MO PA PA MS 26
NM Tom Udall  D AZ AZ AZ NM 27
NM Martin Heinrich  D NV MO MO
24
OR Ron Wyden  D KS CA CA OR 23
PA Pat Toomey  R RI RI MA
30
RI Sheldon Whitehouse  D NY NH CT VA 30S
UT Orrin Hatch  R PA PA UT PA 20
VA Mark Warner  D IN CT DC MA 30s
VA Tim Kaine  D MN MO MO MA 25
VT Bernie Sanders  I NY NY IL
23
WA Maria Cantwell  D IN IN OH
25
WI Ron Johnson  R MN MN MN
24
WV Jay Rockefeller  D NY NH MA
28
WY John Barrasso  R PA PA DC DC 30
AL Richard Shelby  R AL AL AL AL
AL Jeff Sessions  R AL AL AL AL
AK Lisa Murkowski  R AK AK DC OR
AK Mark Begich  D AK AK


AZ Jeff Flake  R AZ AZ UT

AR John Boozman  R LA AR AR TN
AR Mark Pryor  D AR AR AR AR
CA Dianne Feinstein  D CA CA CA

CT Chris Murphy  D NY CT MA CT
DE Chris Coons  D CT DE MA CT
FL Bill Nelson  D FL FL CT VA
FL Marco Rubio  R FL FL FL FL
GA Johnny Isakson  R GA GA GA

HI Mazie Hirono  D Japan HI HI DC
HI Brian Schatz  D MI HI CA

ID Mike Crapo  R ID ID UT CT
IL Dick Durbin  D IL IL DC DC
IL Mark Kirk  R IL IL NY DC
IA Chuck Grassley  R IA IA IA

IA Tom Harkin  D IA IA IA DC
KS Pat Roberts  R KS KS KS

KS Jerry Moran  R KS KS KS KS
KY Mitch McConnell  R AL KY KY KY
LA Mary Landrieu  D VA LA LA

LA David Vitter  R LA LA MA LA
ME Susan Collins  R ME ME NY

MD Barbara Mikulski  D MD MD MD MD
MD Ben Cardin  D MD MD PA MD
MA Ed Markey  D MA MA MA MA
MI Carl Levin  D MI MI PA MA
MI Debbie Stabenow  D MI MI MI MI
MN Al Franken  D NY MN MA

MN Amy Klobuchar  D MN MN CT IL
MS Thad Cochran  R MS MS MS MS
MS Roger Wicker  R MS MS MS MS
MO Roy Blunt  R MO MO MO MO
MO Claire McCaskill  D MO MO MO MO
MT Jon Tester  D MT MT MT

MT John Walsh  D MT MT NY

NE Deb Fischer  R NE NE NE

NV Harry Reid  D NV NV UT DC
NV Dean Heller  R CA NV CA

NH Kelly Ayotte  R NH NH PA PA
NJ Bob Menendez  D NY NJ NJ NJ
NJ Cory Booker  D DC NJ CA CT
NY Chuck Schumer  D NY NY MA MA
NY Kirsten Gillibrand  D NY NY NH CA
NC Richard Burr  R VA NC NC

ND Heidi Heitkamp  D MN ND ND OR
ND John Hoeven  R ND ND NH IL
OH Sherrod Brown  D OH OH CT OH
OH Rob Portman  R OH OH NH MI
OK Jim Inhofe  R IA OK OK

OK Tom Coburn  R WY OK OK OK
OR Jeff Merkley  D OR OR CA NJ
PA Bob Casey, Jr.  D PA PA MA DC
RI Jack Reed  D RI RI NY MA
SC Lindsey Graham  R SC SC SC SC
SC Tim Scott  R SC SC SC SC
SD Tim Johnson  D SD SD SD SD
SD John Thune  R SD SD CA SD
TN Lamar Alexander  R TN TN TN NY
TN Bob Corker  R SC TN TN

TX John Cornyn  R TX Japan TX TX
TX Ted Cruz  R Canada TX NJ MA
UT Mike Lee  R AZ UT UT UT
VT Patrick Leahy  D VT VT VT DC
WA Patty Murray  D WA WA WA

WV Joe Manchin  D WV WV WV

WI Tammy Baldwin  D WI WI MA WI
WY Mike Enzi  R WA WY DC CO