Multivariate Exploratory Data Analysis

Posted on July 24, 2012 by

Apartments in Santa Monica in the early 1980s were hard to find.  Residents had recently voted-in a strict rent control ordinance which limited increases on existing tenants and prevented landlords from raising rents when apartments changed hands.  It was a radical re-balancing of power in this cozy coastal community but it was also cramping the market for apartment-seekers.

New to the region, I was watching closely as progressive reformers in this small city imposed tough rules and a moratorium on residential and business development.

I wrote a few stories for the old Los Angeles Herald Examiner about what critics were calling the “Peoples Republic of Santa Monica” and wanted to stay close to the action.  How could I find my own place in this groovy Southern California enclave?

I came across a chance to share an apartment for a few months in a building on Fourth and Bicknell, just south of Pico and a ten minute walk to the beach.  It was an arrangement with someone who had secured the unit but was tied to a previous lease and couldn’t move in for nine months.  He had already lined up one occupant and I could take the other bedroom.   Even though I hadn’t met my prospective apartment-mate, I didn’t hesitate.

With my stuff already unpacked, I sat on the couch in the living room with Allen Yates – thin, good-natured, mid-thirties – who had just moved to the L.A. region.  He was an engineer with a laser light show company, had a PhD and had worked in New Jersey as a statistician for Educational Testing Service.  He was just coming out of a relationship with someone named Jean.

Good enough.

Our apartment was upstairs in a motel-style building with a pool in the middle.  From the kitchen was a straight-shot view of the Santa Monica Mountains, from the bedroom windows you looked right at the ocean.

Two hundred and twenty five dollars a month each.

Yates was hard to read.  For example, he was coy about his sexual preference and only after I saw a naked guy coming out of his bedroom in the morning did he affirm that Jean was really Gene.  We laughed about that.  Having a gay roommate was, in fact, fine with me.  It suited my identity as a liberated and transformed man and was a fitting segue for my time served in culturally radical Vermont (with its very active gay and lesbian community in the 70s).

Yates’ love life was focused almost exclusively on young black men – who were gracious and fun-to-be-around house guests – but that was only a small part of his character puzzle. He smoked a lot of pot and when high would rev up a nearly unstoppable stream-of-consciousness narrative.  He referenced science and math but his favorite topic was a 2000-page text on the origin of the universe called the “Urantia Book.” Written by “celestial beings” it offers a spectacularly detailed explanation of – well – everything.  Here are a few samples:

  • Your world, Urantia, is one of many similar inhabited planets which comprise the local universe of Nabadon.  This universe, together with similar creations, makes up the superuniverse of Orvonton, from whose capital, Uversa, our commission hails….  At the heart of this eternal and central universe is the stationary Isle of Paradise, the geographic center of infinity and the dwelling place of the eternal God.
  • You humans have begun an endless unfolding of an almost infinite panorama, a limitless expanding of never-ending, ever-widening spheres of opportunity for exhilarating service, matchless adventure, sublime uncertainty, and boundless attainment.
  • The hope of modern Christianity is that it should cease to sponsor the social systems and industrial policies of Western civilization while it humbly bows itself before the cross it so valiantly extols, there to learn anew from Jesus of Nazareth the greatest truth man can ever hear….

Yates integrated this esoteric cosmic and spiritual analysis into his day-to-day life but I wasn’t sure how.

Frankly, it didn’t matter.  He and I got along well and liked each other’s friends.  As his “straight’ companion, we would occasionally take in the gay bar scene together.  He was generous, kind, funny, anxious and often distracted.

Sometimes at home he would jump out of the chair and announce out of the blue that he had to go to his room to work on his book.

I knew it had something to do with statistics but I suspected – and maybe worried – that my friend Allen was spinning out some very weird prose.  Could he be sitting at his desk ruminating on his own version of eternal truth?

After nine months in the Bicknell apartment, the original tenant would be coming back and neither Allen nor I wanted to live with him.  Yates moved into an adjacent unit in the same building for a while before relocating to Texas.  I left Santa Monica and would never again live in the seaside Mecca.

Five years later, I got in the mail a copy of  Multivariate Exploratory Data Analysis.

Filled with algebraic tables, charts and formulas such as Local Dependency Outlier Residuals After Collinearity-Resistant Fitting of Three Factors to Lord’s Data, Allen’s book was impossible for me to penetrate (I hadn’t been so baffled since, as a college student, I tried to read Sartre’s Being and Nothingness).

In the prologue, Yates explains:

  • The transformation (rotation) phase of exploratory factor analysis is undertaken in an attempt to arrive at a simple, albeit substantively meaningful and theoretically informative, linear influence model relating manifest variables to their hypothetical determinants, the factors.  The basis of this search for “simple structures” is a scientific belief in the simplicity and parsimony of natural processes.

Sadly and tragically, Allen’s book came out just before he died of brain cancer.

Published in 1987, it was “a work of genius,” according to Professor Robert Pruzek of the State University of New York at Albany, a friend of Yates who helped get the book to print.

High up the food chain in the field of “psychometrics,” Pruzek – like me – regrets that Allen couldn’t be around to contribute to scientific advances enabled by computer technology.  And that he died before he and his work could gain attention on the internet.

Though I can’t comprehend the details and depth of his thinking, Yates text is his version of eternal truth.   How it squares with  Urantia I’ll never know.  Only that both, in their own way,  seek to peel down the structure of things.

What was I missing when I was privileged to be Allen’s one-man audience?

What didn’t I understand?

Here’s what I do know:

During the 1980s, Santa Monica’s elected leaders pushed the envelope of progressive governance.  After the development moratorium, “human scale” building standards were implemented, affordable units were required in new mixed-use construction and intelligent (European-style) planning spread to existing commercial zones, in particular the 3rd street promenade which would become, in the 90s, a colossal tourist destination and revenue generator.

By then the California legislature had outlawed “vacancy control” (tossing out that practice in the state’s most radical municipalities including Berkeley and Santa Cruz).  In Santa Monica, this helped trigger a boom in condo conversions and “market rate” rentals throughout the city.

The financial interests which had opposed Santa Monica’s radical governance made a killing under the progressive regime which – through its smart growth policies – had “rationalized the risk” for capital investment.

Comments (4)


  1. Fascinating. Urantaology has moved to Venice and, from what I can tell, is thriving in the fevered heads of every Vegan–seemingly half the population of this small playpen on the pacific.

  2. Todd Becraft says:

    Wow. The “hood” is starting to sound better, although I wouldn’t mind a view of the ocean. Good profile of So Cal history.

  3. Vivian Price says:

    We’ll have to meet at a gay bar and have a drink sometime and talk over our versions of the 70′s. You inspire me to write too, Lou! How about a 70′s anthology?

  4. Vivian Price says:


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