Saturday, August 19, 2017

Indeed, it is a strange-disposed time: But men may construe things after their fashion

The mental disease of postmodernism spreads. The latest afflicted is poor Alice Ristroph, graduate of Harvard Law and in turn an educator, a professor of law at Brooklyn Law School. Yet another example of the too prevalent condition of credentialed but not educated. Professor Ristroph has written . . . well, how to describe it? Self-trolling? Stupid seems to crude. Sad? Mind-numbingly foolish? I don't know. Peak SJW Inanity?

Anyway, it is here: American Blackout by Alice Ristroph. Perhaps it should have been subtitled The Transit of Victimhood. Some of the lowlights:
On August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will arrive mid-morning on the coast of Oregon. The moon’s shadow will be about 70 miles wide, and it will race across the country faster than the speed of sound, exiting the eastern seaboard shortly before 3 p.m. local time. It has been dubbed the Great American Eclipse, and along most of its path, there live almost no black people.

Presumably, this is not explained by the implicit bias of the solar system.
If I could do a mocking SJW accent I would (though Siri probably wouldn't understand it). I'll have to suffice with OMG.

Ristroph uses the path of the eclipse to cherish the past injustices of the United States.
Oregon, where this begins, is almost entirely white. The 10 percent or so of state residents who do not identify as white are predominantly Latino, American Indian, Alaskan, or Asian. There are very few black Oregonians, and this is not an accident. The land that is now Oregon was not, of course, always inhabited by white people, but as a U.S. territory and then a state, Oregon sought to get and stay white. Among several formal efforts at racial exclusion was a provision in the original state constitution of 1857 that prohibited any “free Negro or Mulatto” from entering and residing in the state.

[snip]

From Oregon, the Great American Eclipse will travel through Idaho and Wyoming. (It will catch a tiny unpopulated piece of Montana, too.) Percentage-wise, Idaho and Wyoming are even whiter than Oregon. And as in Oregon, but even more so, the few non-white residents of Idaho and Wyoming are not black—they are mostly Latino, American Indian, and Alaskan.

[snip]

The total eclipse will be visible from Lincoln, Nebraska, the state’s capital, which reports a black population of 3.8 percent. The city of Omaha has a greater black population, about 14 percent. It is home to many of the refugees from Africa and elsewhere that Nebraska has welcomed in recent years, many of whom now work in slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants. But Omaha is about 50 miles northeast of the path of totality.

[snip]

From Kansas, the eclipse goes to Missouri, still mostly bypassing black people, though now much more improbably. About a third of Kansas City, Missouri, is black, but most of the city lies just south of the path of totality. To get the full show, eclipse chasers should go north to St. Joseph, almost 90 percent white and about 6 percent black . . .

[snip]

Moving east, the eclipse will pass part of St. Louis, whose overall population is nearly half black. But the black residents are concentrated in the northern half of the metropolitan area, and the total eclipse crosses only the southern half.

[snip]

Former slave-holding states are still the home to most of America’s black population. In Kentucky, Tennessee, and eventually South Carolina, the eclipse will finally pass over black Americans. Even here, though, the path of totality seems to mark the legacy of slavery and the persistence of segregation more than any form of inclusion.

[snip]

But after Tennessee, the shadow regains some speed and travels over white people only again for a while. It catches the northeast corner of Georgia and the western tip of North Carolina. Though both these states have substantial black populations, both also include overwhelmingly white rural areas, and it is those areas that lie in the path of totality.

[snip]

After Georgia, the eclipse will pass over a small piece of western North Carolina. The black population of these barely populated counties hovers around 1 percent, falling as low as 0.2 percent in Graham. The path of totality will narrowly miss Tryon, the birthplace of Nina Simone.

[snip]

The arc of the eclipse is long, and it bends toward Charleston. In South Carolina in the last 12 or 13 minutes of the Great American Eclipse, it will probably pass over more black Americans than it does throughout all of its earlier journey. After Greenville and Columbia, the eclipse goes out where so many slaves once came in: Charleston was the busiest port for the slave trade, receiving about 40 percent of all the African slaves brought into the country.
Oh, dear. The commenters are having a field day mocking this foolishness but I can't help but feel that the editors of The Atlantic are derelict, commissioning such articles instead of staging an intervention.

Ristroph seems to harken to the primitive mind and superstition of past millennia. From Julius Caesar by Shakespeare.
CASCA

Are not you moved, when all the sway of earth
Shakes like a thing unfirm? O Cicero,
I have seen tempests, when the scolding winds
Have rived the knotty oaks, and I have seen
The ambitious ocean swell and rage and foam,
To be exalted with the threatening clouds:
But never till to-night, never till now,
Did I go through a tempest dropping fire.
Either there is a civil strife in heaven,
Or else the world, too saucy with the gods,
Incenses them to send destruction.

CICERO

Why, saw you any thing more wonderful?

CASCA

A common slave--you know him well by sight--
Held up his left hand, which did flame and burn
Like twenty torches join'd, and yet his hand,
Not sensible of fire, remain'd unscorch'd.
Besides--I ha' not since put up my sword--
Against the Capitol I met a lion,
Who glared upon me, and went surly by,
Without annoying me: and there were drawn
Upon a heap a hundred ghastly women,
Transformed with their fear; who swore they saw
Men all in fire walk up and down the streets.
And yesterday the bird of night did sit
Even at noon-day upon the market-place,
Hooting and shrieking. When these prodigies
Do so conjointly meet, let not men say
'These are their reasons; they are natural;'
For, I believe, they are portentous things
Unto the climate that they point upon.
Cicero has the last word. And it is a description for today. A pity that the postmodernists gutted education so that only older people might be aware of it.
CICERO

Indeed, it is a strange-disposed time:
But men may construe things after their fashion,
Clean from the purpose of the things themselves.
Too bad Ristroph is so mired in the postmodernist fad. Perhaps the madness of King Lear is a more fit model of the mind of the SJW.

Yes, my friends, I say again that you do well to send your children to me with flowers

From Warriors: Portraits from the Battlefield by Max Hastings. Page 3.
The wars of Napoleon produced a flowering of memoirs, both English and French, of extraordinary quality. Each writer’s work reflects in full measure his national characteristics. None but a Frenchman, surely, could have written the following lines about his experience of conflict: “I may, I think, say without boasting that nature has allotted to me a fair share of courage; I will add that there was a time when I enjoyed being in danger, as my thirteen wounds and some distinguished services prove, I think, sufficiently.” Baron Marcellin de Marbot was the model for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional Brigadier Gerard: brave, swashbuckling, incapable of introspection, glorying without inhibition in the experience of campaigning from Portugal to Russia in the service of his emperor. Marbot was the most eager of warriors, who shared with many of his French contemporaries a belief that there could be no higher calling than to follow Bonaparte to glory. Few modern readers could fail to respect the courage of a soldier who so often faced the fire of the enemy, through an active service career spanning more than forty years. And no Anglo-Saxon could withhold laughter at the peacock vanity and chauvinism of the hussar’s account of the experience, rich in anecdotage and comedy, the latter often unintended.
I have read and enjoyed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Brigadier Gerard stories. Excellent entertainment. I had not realized, however, that they were based on a real person. And indeed, Hasting's quote "I may, I think, say without boasting that nature has allotted to me a fair share of courage" seems very like a passage I recall from one of the Gerard books. I think I have commented elsewhere that Gerard is a literary predecessor of the marvelous Flashman books by George MacDonald Frazer.

The self-satisfied nature of Gerard, echoing that of Baron Marcellin de Marbot is given in these opening paragraphs of How the Brigadier Came to the Castle of Gloom.
You do very well, my friends, to treat me with some little reverence, for in honouring me you are honouring both France and yourselves. It is not merely an old, grey-moustached officer whom you see eating his omelette or draining his glass, but it is a fragment of history. In me you see one of the last of those wonderful men, the men who were veterans when they were yet boys, who learned to use a sword earlier than a razor, and who during a hundred battles had never once let the enemy see the colour of their knapsacks. For twenty years we were teaching Europe how to fight, and even when they had learned their lesson it was only the thermometer, and never the bayonet, which could break the Grand Army down. Berlin, Naples, Vienna, Madrid, Lisbon, Moscow—we stabled our horses in them all. Yes, my friends, I say again that you do well to send your children to me with flowers, for these ears have heard the trumpet calls of France, and these eyes have seen her standards in lands where they may never be seen again.

Even now, when I doze in my arm-chair, I can see those great warriors stream before me—the green-jacketed chasseurs, the giant cuirassiers, Poniatowsky's lancers, the white-mantled dragoons, the nodding bearskins of the horse grenadiers. And then there comes the thick, low rattle of the drums, and through wreaths of dust and smoke I see the line of high bonnets, the row of brown faces, the swing and toss of the long, red plumes amid the sloping lines of steel. And there rides Ney with his red head, and Lefebvre with his bulldog jaw, and Lannes with his Gascon swagger; and then amidst the gleam of brass and the flaunting feathers I catch a glimpse of him, the man with the pale smile, the rounded shoulders, and the far-off eyes. There is an end of my sleep, my friends, for up I spring from my chair, with a cracked voice calling and a silly hand outstretched, so that Madame Titaux has one more laugh at the old fellow who lives among the shadows.

Keynes was not as wrong as he is often made out to be

In economic circles it is reasonably well-known that John Maynard Keynes, the great British economist, in a 1930 paper, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren made the forecast that in two generations, with advancing technology, people would be able to get by working only 15 hours a week.

This essay is often held up as an example of the arrogance of the public intellectual and their inaccuracy of predicting the future. And I agree that there is a strong track record of overly confident forecasts from people who are experts in a narrow field, failing to recognize that the factors affecting their field extend far beyond that with which they are familiar.

From Will Robots Steal Human Jobs? by David R. Henderson. Henderson points out that while Keynes was indeed incorrect, there is another way of interpreting his forecast that actually makes him prescient.

If we consider where he was forecasting the possible versus the actual, his forecast is much more accurate.
In 1930, British economist John Maynard Keynes, reflecting on the progress of technology, predicted that his generation’s grandchildren would have a 15-hour workweek. Assuming that a generation is 30 years, we should have had that 15-hour workweek in 1990. Did we? Not even close. Twenty-seven years after 1990, we still don’t. But why don’t we? Where did Keynes go wrong?

It wasn’t in his assumption about increasing productivity. Rather, Keynes was probably assuming that people would work enough to get the same standard of living they had in 1930. If that was his assumption, then he was quite accurate in predicting our productivity per hour. In the four score and seven years since Keynes made his prediction, our productivity has doubled and doubled again. We could easily have what we had then if we worked 15-hour weeks now.

MIT labor economist David Autor estimated that an average U.S. worker in 2015 could achieve his 1915 counterpart’s real income by “working about 17 weeks per year.” Seventeen weeks per year at 40 work hours per week is 680 hours per year. Spread over a 50-week work year, that’s 13.6 hours per week. And that overstates the workweek required for a 1930 standard of living for two reasons. First, the quality of almost everything we buy that is not produced by government has increased. Second, we can buy things that were simply unavailable then. Cell phones, anyone?

Why don’t we work 14-hour weeks? The answer, briefly, is that we want more. We are acquisitive people. Consider cars. Those few families that had cars in Keynes’s day usually had only one. Even 30 years later, when I was growing up, my father had one old Ford. And we were not poor: Dad’s income was probably just below the median income in Canada. Now, many families have two or three cars. We could do without televisions and smart phones, but we don’t want to. We could settle for being like most Brits or Americans in Keynes’s time, never traveling more than 200 miles from home. But we’ve heard about places called Las Vegas, Disneyland, and Florida—and, we want to go there. Also, antibiotics and other life-saving medicines come in awfully handy—but they cost money to get. The reality is that we want more and we will always want more.
So, if Keynes was forecasting that the same standard of living would be available to his grandchildren by working only 15 hours a week, he was correct. As Henderson points out though, our wants grow with our productivity and the 40 hour work week remains a mainstay.

This observation also answers the question frequently posed. Would you rather the simplicity and community of a hundred years ago or the productivity of today? Everyone could replicate 1917's standards of living if they wished to but vanishingly few choose to do so. Everyone wants the better life.

By the numbers, Keynes is more correct than he is usually given credit for. But from yet another perspective, he is as wrong as ever. Keynes was something of determinist. Without being a Marxist, he falls in that tradition which elevates expertise over the democratic voice, is convinced of the perfectibility of man (blank slatism), considers it appropriate that Plato's philosopher kings decide from the center on behalf of everyone else in the outer circle.

Keynes' paper anticipated the prospect that in the future man's nature would be modified such that people would be happy to work less for the same benefit.
There are changes in other spheres too which we must expect to come. When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals. We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues. We shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value. The love of money as a possession -as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life -will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semicriminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease. All kinds of social customs and economic practices, affecting the distribution of wealth and of economic rewards and penalties, which we now maintain at all costs, however distasteful and unjust they may be in themselves, because they are tremendously useful in promoting the accumulation of capital, we shall then be free, at last, to discard.

I look forward, therefore, in days not so very remote, to the greatest change which has ever occurred in the material environment of life for human beings in the aggregate. But, of course, it will all happen gradually, not as a catastrophe. Indeed, it has already begun. The course of affairs will simply be that there will be ever larger and larger classes and groups of people from whom problems of economic necessity have been practically removed. The critical difference will be realised when this condition has become so general that the nature of one’s duty to one’s neighbour is changed. For it will remain reasonable to be economically purposive for others after it has ceased to be reasonable for oneself.
We are virtually there. The percentage of the global population who live in absolute poverty keeps falling with globalization and technology and improved governance. Most the world has moved well beyond conditions of economic necessity.

But where Keynes and all totalitarians of the Platonic state have gone wrong is their consistent misestimation of man. Productivity allows people to work less than ever and instead of the Keynes' anticipated ideal, more people work more hours than ever. There appears to be no end to the appetites of man.

Given free people, Plato's utopia will have to wait.

Where line and time and space and distance meet

A Perspective of Mantegna
by Stuart Henson

The sword swings at the soldier's hip and on
his knees the informer begs forgiveness
of the martyr, who needs must stop and bless
the man who broke a trust and brought him down
this road that leads in only one direction.
The crowd presses. They too must bear witness.
Acts they have seen before: the traitor's kiss
absolved on the way to the execution.

They all rest in the frame of the present.
Beyond the city gate, the tenement
whose windows give on the same unbending street:
betrayer and betrayed on one descent
that draws them in towards a vanishing point
where line and time and space and distance meet.

How dangerously easy it was to stir up anti-governmental feelings in the two leading colonies

From The Penguin History of the USA by Hugh Brogan.
What is surprising about these incidents is that they occurred before the end of the Seven Years War (though not before victory was in sight). They show how dangerously easy it was to stir up anti-governmental feelings in the two leading colonies, even without undue provocation. But provocation, of course, was not long in coming. In 1764 Grenville pushed the Sugar Act through Parliament.

No other incident in the making of the Revolution has been more widely misunderstood than this. The Sugar Act made the change in the imperial system, apparent to all. Revenue, not trade regulation, was now to be the purpose of the Navigation Acts. A shout of indignation went up from the colonial merchants. The duty on molasses imported to the mainland colonies from the non-British West Indies was reduced from the notional 6d. to 3d., but Grenville made it plain that from now on the full duty would be collected. In other words, for reasons already given, he was really raising the duty by 2d. a gallon. So in a torrent of pamphlets, newspapers and letters the merchants predicted that they would be utterly ruined; and on the whole historians have taken them at their word. Only Gipson has pointed out that the molasses was required for making rum and that the entire history of taxation imposed on booze shows that, whatever the duty, drinkers will pay it. In other words, it is very easy for brewers and distillers to pass on their costs to their customers. Hence the sang froid with which modern Chancellors of the Exchequer raise the duty on Scotch from time to time. Grenville, in fact, had chosen an almost most painless way of raising revenue; but the distillers of America shrieked as if they had been stabbed.

Orientation towards self-motivated learning is genetic, heritable, and conditional on random chance

Hmm, interesting but concerning. Why children differ in motivation to learn: Insights from over 13,000 twins from 6 countries by Yulia Kovas, et al. Abstract:
Little is known about why people differ in their levels of academic motivation. This study explored the etiology of individual differences in enjoyment and self-perceived ability for several school subjects in nearly 13,000 twins aged 9–16 from 6 countries. The results showed a striking consistency across ages, school subjects, and cultures. Contrary to common belief, enjoyment of learning and children’s perceptions of their competence were no less heritable than cognitive ability. Genetic factors explained approximately 40% of the variance and all of the observed twins’ similarity in academic motivation. Shared environmental factors, such as home or classroom, did not contribute to the twin’s similarity in academic motivation. Environmental influences stemmed entirely from individual specific experiences.
If I am reading this correctly, the degree to which you enjoy and are confident about learning is highly heritable and genes account for 40% of the variance in learning proclivity. The balance of variance was entirely due to unique individual experiences. In other words, you cannot create a school or establish common parenting strategies and expect those to affect the degree to which a child is oriented towards learning.

I really wish this weren't true but it does seem that the preponderance of the evidence is in that direction.

In a diverse world, no one is allowed to speak because their speech offends someone

Hear, hear. From On College Campuses, The Danger Of Playing It Safe With Ideas by Wendy Kaminer.
Outside our circles of intimates, freedom requires a willingness to hear and tolerate wildly divergent, dissenting ideas as well as insults. If we have a right not to be offended, then we have no right to give offense. That means we have no reliable, predictable right to speak, because in diverse societies there are no universal opinions or beliefs that are universally inoffensive. If we have a legal right to feel emotionally safe and un-offended, we have a legal obligation to keep silent, which we violate at our peril. Emotionally safe societies are dangerous places for people who speak.
This is the inherent contradiction within postmodernism/critical theory and highlights its totalitarianism. This is part of the rhetorical effectiveness of postmodernism. Classical liberals are committed to natural rights, including free speech. It is expected that all individuals are entitled to their speech regardless of how repugnant it might be. Consequently, classical liberals are committed to hearing out the postmodernist/critical theory words attacking the belief systems of classical liberals.

Postmodernist/critical theorists, on the other hand, have no such imperative. They have no commitment to free speech and they would very much like for everyone who is not a postmodernist/critical theorist to shut up.

This asymmetry hobbles classical liberals.

On the other hand, as Kaminer is pointing out, the postmodernist/critical theorist position is logically and inherently contradictory. Only if there is no variation in opinion among individuals can it work. Postmodernism is a totalitarian ideology predicated upon all individuals thinking the same, speaking the same, sharing the same goals, sharing the same opinions, sharing the same understanding of the world. For all that postmodernist wield the stick of diversity against classical liberals, it is their ideology which is the least accommodating of diversity. In fact, were there to be any diversity of thought within the utopian postmodernist world, it would collapse into a quivering heap of emotionalism.

The contradiction Kaminer points out also illustrates the bigotry of postmodernism as it exists today. Postmodernists sustain in their minds a pyramid of victimhood depending on race, religion, sex, orientation, age, ethnicity, regionalism, etc. Those designated as preferred groups are allowed to dictate to everyone else. Not based on logic or evidence but based on pre-emptive right founded in the bigotry of the ideology.

Claiming that others are not allowed to say anything offensive can only work if the accuser is granted special privilege. If the principle is applied to everyone (as the universalism of classical liberalism requires), it founders for the very reasons articulated by Kaminer.

If each finds what the other says offensive, then each must remain silent. An absurdity inherent in postmodernist theory but absent from classical liberalism. The classical liberal recognizes the universalism of humanity, acknowledges the natural rights of everyone and expects all disputes to be resolved through evidence, cooperation and compromise. Postmodernism lacks such seamless logic and struggles with its inherent contradictions.

It is a wonder to me that classical liberals, in being shouted down, do not point out the asymmetry of postmodernism, its bigotry, totalitarianism and inherent failure.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Illustrating how AI discredits journalists and forces clarity of human thinking

In the past couple of days I have commented at least a couple of times on the obsessively skewed news reporting which we are currently witnessing. See: Deranged Hysteria and Millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, and Moral arbitrage.

Moral arbitrage looks at extreme claims and emotional communication from an economics of politics perspective. Dramatic, but false social justice claims are rewarded in some circles with increased prestige, or at least admission into in-group status among the coercively altruistic.

And this afternoon along comes an excellent example of just this bad reporting in the instance of AI Programs Are Learning to Exclude Some African-American Voices by Will Knight. Knight casts this in social justice terms and makes two separate claims which get conflated. The first claim is that AI is specifically discriminating against African-Americans because of their accents. The second claim is that AI systems are prone to discriminate against African-Americans for reasons other than accent. A mildly critical reading indicates there is no evidence offered for either claim. It is not hard to see the problems.
All too often people make snap judgments based on how you speak. Some AI systems are also learning to be prejudiced against some dialects. And as language-based AI systems become ever more common, some minorities may automatically be discriminated against by machines, warn researchers studying the issue.

Anyone with a strong or unusual accent may know what it’s like to have trouble being understood by Siri or Alexa. This is because voice-recognition systems use natural-language technology to parse the contents of speech, and it often relies on algorithms that have been trained with example data. If there aren’t enough examples of a particular accent or vernacular, then these systems may simply fail to understand you (see “AI’s Language Problem”).
AI systems are not learning to be prejudiced against African-American dialects as indicated in the headline. AI systems are having difficulty with all variant accents (not dialects and not African-American accents selectively). If you are a southerner, Jamaican, a Bostonian, or from the Bronx, rural, upper midwestern, perhaps even Canadian, Australian, Scottish, Irish, you will initially have trouble because your accent is variant from the received norm, and natural language processing systems will have difficulty processing your articulations. The stronger and more variant the accent, the longer it takes the system to learn. The beauty of AI is that it does learn. The more input, including the more variant input, the faster it learns and the more sophisticated it becomes.

When Siri first came out, my wife, with her markedly South Carolinian accent, nearly got into a fistfight with Siri owing to Siri's rugged determination to insistently misinterpret her. Here is the Scottish duo from Burnistoun illustrating the challenges of voice recognition software with the Scottish accent (click link for YouTube display).



The headline to Knight's article is an intentionally misleading click-bait journalistic stretch to drive readership. The startling thing is that the second and third sentences of the article explain exactly why this is not an African-American issue. It is a general issue. But you have to have a modicum of knowledge about AI to recognize how pernicious is the misreporting.

"Some AI systems are also learning to be prejudiced against some dialects." NLP systems are trained on some standard set of spoken English norms, whether British Standard English with Received Pronunciation or some Mid Atlantic/Midwestern version in the US. There are so many variant accents that it is impossible to pre-train NLP on all possible variations. And of course there are all sorts of stop-points such as how to address pidgin-English and other creole versions, how to recognize variant idioms, etc..

The initial base-training is released and, with AI, the system is gradually able to acquire a greater and greater comprehension of the variant pronunciations and accents. This has nothing to do with African-Americans as Knight and the headline writer ought to know. It is a bog standard issue of natural language processing and AI dealing with variances from the norm.

How about the second claim that AI systems are prone to discriminate against African-Americans for reasons other than accent? Again, tosh. Here is the claim:
The issue of unfairness emerging from the use of AI algorithms is gaining attention in some quarters as these algorithms are used more widely. One controversial example of possible bias is a proprietary algorithm called Compass, which is used to decide whether prison inmates should be granted parole. The workings of the algorithm are unknown, but research suggests it is biased against black inmates.
In this instance, the problem is the loose or undefined usage of "bias". In the vernacular we tend to mean that it is an unwarranted assumption against someone whereas in statistics it means the skew in data one way or another. Knight is conflating the two terms which obfuscates what is going on. There is no way of knowing whether this conflation is through ignorance or deliberate deception.

Lee Jussim is one of the leading researchers in the field of Stereotype Accuracy. The challenge is that for any socioeconomic measure there are going to be accurate statistical skews in the data patterns and which also correlate with race, gender, orientation, religion, ethnicity, national origin, age, health, etc.

Some of this we recognize and accept. No one has a problem with accepting that younger drivers have more accidents than older drivers or that male drivers have more accidents than female drivers, or, in a perfect storm of bias, that younger male drivers have more driving accidents than any other demographic cohort. It is a bias in the data (in statistical terms) and it is an accurate bias.

The challenge when you mix statistics and people is maintaining definitional clarity. It is fully accurate, that on average, young males are the worst drivers in terms of accidents. It is also true that that tells you nothing about any individual young male driver. There are certainly some sterling young male drivers with impeccable driving records. Just fewer than the average. Humans have a terrible time keeping the real distinction between what is true for the average and what might be true for an individual. Yet, to be fair, that is what we always should do.

Part of the reason that it is hard to maintain the distinction between the group average and the individual is that we often, and usually for good reasons, ignore the distinction when the risk is perceived as too high.

Say you contract drivers for the local school district bus system. You have two candidates with equally spotless driving records. One is an 18-year old male and the other is a 35-year old mother. You know from group actuarial statistics that the 18-year old male is, on average, much more likely to have an accident than the 35-year old mom. By law you cannot discriminate. By principle, they are equal candidates based on past performance. But on average one choice is more likely to lead to an accident than the other choice. Do you take into account the actuarial reality (which is based on group averages) or do you focus only on the law and the record to date? The law doesn't actually help much. On the one hand, it says that you cannot discriminate based on sex or age. On the other hand, civil law exposes you to law suits if there is an accident and you "negligently" went with the young man.

All of us, routinely, in innumerable decisions large and small, impinge on the fairness of a process, and break the barrier between the individual and the average in order to take into account probabilistic future outcomes which have nothing to do with the individual.

It is complicated when humans do it. But at least with a human there is a chance that an individual approaches such a decision with a 360 degree perspective on the facts, the law, the probabilities, and the ethics.

But even with humans, the claim of systemic discrimination turns out to be a function of real world variance in the data. There is a common claim that African-American borrowers are discriminated against in bank loans because they are denied more frequently. However, those researchers who have looked into this generally find that such accusations of discrimination don't take into account the full picture. Apples are not being compared to apples. You have to consider income, credit history, other capital sources available as security, stability of past income, and various other factors and hold them all equal when doing comparisons between black and white.

It is very similar to the frequently cited gender wage gap which makes a claim of discrimination based on the total income per woman being less than the total income per man without taking into account career field preference, work related danger premiums, full-time versus part-time, fixed hours versus variable hours, flexibility for overtime or travel commitments, duration of work record, past objective work accomplishments etc. Here and in Europe for thirty years, whenever the research takes into account all the variables, there is no discrimination.

The problem for AI is that it will inevitably find variance in patterns on any known factor such as race, religion, sex, orientation, age, etc. It will point out differences we prefer to not acknowledge or otherwise obfuscate. The fault is not in the AI but in our own inconsistency in what we prefer the data to tell us versus what the data actually tells us.

And again, this is not a racial issue unique to African-Americans. There will variances of one sort or another for any socioeconomic variable that correlates with race, gender, orientation, religion, ethnicity, national origin, age, and health. AI is forcing us to confront issues we would sweep under the rug. If AI sees from the data that young male drivers have a pattern of more accidents than others, is that a good thing or is it a problem? Neither. It is reality and the degree to which we wish to take account of that reality is a human decision, not an AI problem.

Knight could have written an interesting article about how AI is revealing patterns of behavior correlated with socioeconomic variables and the challenges that that poses for clear human decision-making. Instead he wrote a click-bait article advancing cognitive pollution based on popular narratives of race and discrimination.

The problem is with humans not with AI.

Moral arbitrage

An interesting point being made by Dystopic in Moral Courage and Moral Arbitrage. This is in response to some tweets sent by Marco Rubio taking the MSM position that only national socialists should be condemned for their violence as opposed to Trump's position that both international socialists and national socialists should be condemned for their violence.
Every good capitalist is on the look out for imbalances in the market, opportunities to earn a profit off of a thing that either the market lacks completely, or current businesses do very inefficiently and ineffectively. You can consider it a form of arbitrage.

Today’s politicians, media talking heads, celebrities and the like are moral capitalists, even though they are economic collectivists. That is to say their morality is a form of arbitrage, always for sale to the highest bidder, where each statement they issue is calculated to profit them personally.

Take Marco Rubio, who today issued a series of tweets condemning Donald Trump for suggesting that the Charlottesville attack, and other similar incidents between Antifa and White Supremacists, was equally the fault of both parties. Donald Trump’s position is that both are hate groups, and both are quick to resort to violence to further their political goals, and that putting them together like that was surely going to stir up violence.

Personally, I think Trump is somewhat understating the case. White supremacists are exceedingly rare, even if they’ve received a shot in the arm from SJWs harping on white people all the time (hint: that tends to manufacture more supremacists, not less). What happened in Virginia may very well represent peak white supremacism, the very most such groups are capable of. Antifa and militant Marxists, meanwhile, enjoy far greater support from media, financiers (oh, the irony), and society-at-large. Antifa dwarfs Klansman and Neo-Nazis. Militant Marxists are, by far, the greater threat currently.

But that being said, Trump did put his finger on the central point: both groups espouse violent ideologies that are incompatible with freedom.

[snip]

This argument is remarkably similar to Antifa and other Marxist groups saying that mean words justifies violence, that speech they don’t like justifies burning down cities and attacking people. It is okay for them to violently shut down anybody right-of-center on college campuses around the country, but it is not okay for anyone right-of-center to speak.

Marco is on a continuum with the SJWs on this matter. He concedes the central point, that violence is an acceptable response to speech deemed offensive. Yes, in the case of Neo-Nazis and Klansmen, the speech actually is offensive. But it is still speech. Until it isn’t, anyway.

[snip]

To be fair, a lot of people are saying this, though, so let’s analyze this a little differently. Why does Marco denounce the white supremacists so readily, yet lets militant Marxists off the hook? As a man of Cuban ancestry, he ought to be very familiar with the depredations and dangers of Marxists. Why is he so willing to assign them 0% of the blame?

There is moral arbitrage here. When some politician or celebrity denounces Neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and other assorted white supremacists, he is cheered. He is called stunning and brave. He is bashing the fash, taking a brave stand against the most evil ideology of man. In other words, he gets a huge moral bonus in the eyes of the media. It is easy to denounce white supremacists, who probably represent less than a tenth of a percent of the population. And it is profitable to do so, as well.

[snip]

Meanwhile, taking a similar stand against Marxism is expensive. If a politician or celebrity stands up and denounces Marxism as a hateful, murderous ideology that is at least as evil as Nazism, he is often shot down. Real Marxism, of course, has never been tried. Real Marxism is a good theory, a good idea that maybe just hasn’t been implemented quite right. It’s morally true and righteous, and even if it has some problems, surely bashing the fash has to take precedence, right?

Except Marxism has a much higher share of the population. Marxism is celebrated openly on college campuses around the country. Marxists trash cities, riot, commit acts of violence with frightening regularity, and Marco assigns them 0% of the blame, because somewhere, there is an inbred Neo-Nazi off his meds tweeting from his mother’s basement.

Marco obtains a moral profit from denouncing white supremacism. He incurs a moral cost from denouncing Marxism. Playing the moral arbitrage for profit thus demands he pin the blame for political violence on only one participant. Then he is “stunning and brave” in the eyes of the body politic.

It is socially cheap to oppose Nazism. It is socially expensive to oppose Communism.
Moral arbitrage paired with virtue signaling. Pretty base behaviors.

There they were received by Men who occupied the sixth chamber

From The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake
A Memorable Fancy

I was in a Printing-house in Hell, and saw the method in which knowledge is transmitted from generation to generation.

In the first chamber was a Dragon-Man, clearing away the rubbish from a cave’s mouth; within, a number of Dragons were hollowing the cave.

In the second chamber was a Viper folding round the rock and the cave, and others adorning it with gold, silver, and precious stones.

In the third chamber was an Eagle with wings and feathers of air: he caused the inside of the cave to be infinite. Around were numbers of Eagle-like men who built palaces in the immense cliffs.

In the fourth chamber were Lions of flaming fire, raging around and melting the metals into living fluids.

In the fifth chamber were Unnamed forms, which cast the metals into the expanse.

There they were received by Men who occupied the sixth chamber, and took the forms of books and were arranged in libraries.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it

Further on mass hysteria as we read of confederate graves being desecrated, further removals of statues by mobs or mayors, proposals to pull down statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses Grant, etc., renaming of streets and buildings etc. Nobody seems to see the parallelism with Al-Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban - all fanatical in their attempts to obliterate history in their pursuit of a more pure now.

Meanwhile, the media, having found the provision of accurate information to be too expensive a business model, first evolved into a purveyor of half-digested and little understood shibboleths of postmodernism, and appear now to have devolved further into an outrage generator; success being measured by the foolishness they can incite among a fringe of readers.

History is full of cycles of hysteria. In 1841 Charles Mackay published his classic study, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

It is worth harvesting a number of pertinent quotes from Mackay from one hundred and seventy six years ago. They remain evergreen today. Perhaps even more so today given that universal connectedness provides a much more efficient vector for the transmission of hysteria. In 1841 and earlier, hysteria was primarily spread by word-of-mouth and the (relatively) expensive process of printing broadsheets. Today, it is a few key-clicks on the internet.

Mackay initially cites an even older observation from Daniel Defoe:
Some in clandestine companies combine;
Erect new stocks to trade beyond the line;
With air and empty names beguile the town,
And raise new credits first, then cry 'em down;
Divide the empty nothing into shares,
And set the crowd together by the ears.
Sound familiar to some of the reporting the past few days? There is a lot of setting the crowd together by the ears going on.

On to Mackay. He opens his book with this timely summary:
In reading the history of nations, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities; their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do. We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first.
Such seems to be the media of today. From week to week. Russian intervention; Russian collusion; Treasonous meetings with Russians; Cultural destruction, etc. No evidence, no argument, just postmodernist emotionalism in response to the electorate's rejection of the tropes of critical theory.

But this is not idle entertainment. There are serious consequences to the cultivation of delusions and the madness of crowds.
We see one nation suddenly seized, from its highest to its lowest members, with a fierce desire of military glory; another as suddenly becoming crazed upon a religious scruple; and neither of them recovering its senses until it has shed rivers of blood and sowed a harvest of groans and tears, to be reaped by its posterity. At an early age in the annals of Europe its population lost their wits about the sepulchre of Jesus, and crowded in frenzied multitudes to the Holy Land; another age went mad for fear of the devil, and offered up hundreds of thousands of victims to the delusion of witchcraft. At another time, the many became crazed on the subject of the philosopher's stone, and committed follies till then unheard of in the pursuit. It was once thought a venial offence, in very many countries of Europe, to destroy an enemy by slow poison. Persons who would have revolted at the idea of stabbing a man to the heart, drugged his pottage without scruple. Ladies of gentle birth and manners caught the contagion of murder, until poisoning, under their auspices, became quite fashionable. Some delusions, though notorious to all the world, have subsisted for ages, flourishing as widely among civilised and polished nations as among the early barbarians with whom they originated,--that of duelling, for instance, and the belief in omens and divination of the future, which seem to defy the progress of knowledge to eradicate them entirely from the popular mind. Money, again, has often been a cause of the delusion of multitudes. Sober nations have all at once become desperate gamblers, and risked almost their existence upon the turn of a piece of paper. To trace the history of the most prominent of these delusions is the object of the present pages.
The madness has not alighted upon everyone, fortunately. Right now it burns fiercest in the academy, among the marxist fringes, in the media and among the old establishment (Democrats and Republican both). Let us pray that such madness does not spread but burns itself out in despair.
A fierce desire of military glory - Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya; it is a terrible trail perpetrated by the establishment parties.

Another age went mad for fear of the devil - Fear of illusory white supremacy, patriarchy, rape culture, cultural appropriation, micro-aggressions, etc.

The delusion of witchcraft - Fear that words spoken or written will destroy your peace of mind. Primitive fear that words are really violence and will cause actual physical harm.

Persons who would have revolted at the idea of stabbing a man to the heart, drugged his pottage without scruple - Focusing on gun control while ignoring the opioid crisis and mental health. Distinguishing state-approved euthanasia from murder.

Delusions . . . flourishing as widely . . . duelling - Now in the form of doxxing, unmasking, and internet mobbing.

Belief in omens and divination of the future - See the magical thinking of sociology research and Implicit Attitude Tests. Also see: Faith in macro-economic forecasting, forecasting which has failed to call any of the major economic turns of recent decades; Faith in global climate change forecasting models which are persistently wrong and the mechanics of which are not open to public examination.

Sober nations have all at once become desperate gamblers - See historically dramatic chronic persistent deficits, housing bubbles, education debt, stock market bubbles and housing bubbles again.
What is the antidote to all this hysteria. Certainly Age of Enlightenment rationalism is one treatment. A good stiff draught of Marcus Aurelius's Meditations would help as well.
Remember that all is opinion

A man should be upright, not kept upright

The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.

If mind is common to us, then also the reason, whereby we are reasoning beings, is common.

Death hangs over thee: whilst yet thou livest, whilst thou mayest, be good.

Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.

Remember this— that there is a proper dignity and proportion to be observed in the performance of every act of life.
There is wise counsel in those old pages.

But in the meantime, we deal with the extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds. Mackay leaves us with this thought.
Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.
But what damage is done till they recover their senses.

Expressing views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm

An interesting test. The town square test proposed by Natan Sharansky.
If a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society. We cannot rest until every person living in a "fear society" has finally won their freedom.
Broadly, I suspect that people would pass this test just about everywhere except in university towns and major cities.

Deranged hysteria

From Trump Spoke Truth About ‘Both Sides’ In Charlottesville, And The Media Lost Their Minds by Daniel Payne.
Our media have a problem: they are essentially incapable of covering Donald Trump with anything less than full-on deranged hysteria.

I do not say this as an excess of rhetoric or op-ed theatrics. It is a very real, very pressing problem, only getting worse, and it poses a significant danger to the social fabric of the United States. Twenty-first century American media has the ability to shape our discourse and shift our public consciousness, and it is abusing that power in the worst ways possible. This is likely a bigger problem than any of us realizes.

The last 48 hours provided a crystal-clear example of the genuinely dangerous course upon which the media have set themselves. At Trump Tower on Tuesday, President Trump held a press conference that was initially supposed to be about infrastructure but quickly went off-script and became about the Charlottesville neo-Nazi madness.

By itself this is nothing new: Trump regularly goes off-script, if it can even be said that he has a script. But the media behavior in the wake of this conference was arguably something new, a sort of grotesque watermark of the media’s coverage of the Trump administration thus far.

The furor surrounding the press conference stemmed largely from one particular line Trump delivered. When one reporter asked about his claim that there had been “hatred [and] violence on both sides,” Trump replied: “Well I do think there’s blame. Yes, I think there is blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there is blame on both sides.”

Media Immediately Jets Into Astral Orbit

With that unremarkable assertion, the media were off. “HE STILL BLAMES BOTH SIDES,” CNN blared in enormous font on its front page. In a headline, The New York Times blared that Trump “again blames ‘both sides.” So did the Chicago Tribune. So did NBC News. So did U.S. News and World Report (calling it “an insane press conference” to boot).

So did NPR. So did CBS News. So did the Washington Post. So did the Wall Street Journal. So did Time. So did MSNBC. So did USA Today. NBC News later wondered: “Has Trump Lost His Moral Authority for Good?” CNN continued with the massive headlines, calling Trump’s press conference “a meltdown for the ages,” and declaring: “Trump is who we feared he was.” Vox claimed Trump “is offering comfort to racists and extremists.”

The unambiguous implication of this media firestorm is obvious: we are supposed to see it as outrageous at best and morally abhorrent at worst that Trump would claim that “there is blame on both sides.” The thing is, Trump was telling the truth. There is blame on both sides. And we have eyewitness descriptions and photograph evidence to back it up.

Truth Is Truth, People

Trump appears to separate the generalized violence of that Saturday afternoon from the vehicular homicide a white nationalist perpetrated on Charlottesville’s mall near the end of the whole affair. In the press conference, Trump stated in no uncertain terms: “The driver of the car is a murderer. What he did was a horrible, inexcusable thing.”

It is, rather, the periodic violence that occurred throughout Charlottesville’s downtown area to which Trump was apparently referring. And he’s right: both sides committed violence on that day.
Indeed. Payne goes on to cite the various eyewitness accounts from both sides as well as the video documenting exactly what has been claimed, there were two groups, international socialists and national socialists, both creating mayhem and exacting violence on each other.

Americans of the great Age of Enlightenment culture see two totalitarian groups of thugs battling one another. They are committing crimes of violence and property and should both be arrested, charged with those crimes, and with due process, presumption of innocence and trial by jury, held accountable for their actions based on evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Americans want rule of law and equality before the law.

Our politicians and media instead see a stick to wield for political or ideological purposes. They want to win political points rather than acknowledging reality. This disengagement from reality, and indeed active denial of reality, is perplexing to mainstream Americans and almost appears to be a psychological condition. Hysteria is not an inaccurate description.

How can the mainstream media defend their position when, with internet and social media, Americans have ready access to virtually the same information as reporters and can see just how much of an ideological/political spin media is putting on events? How can the governor of Virginia stand up before reporters and, unquestioned, assert that police were outgunned and that the alt-right had stashes of weapons around the city, before being almost immediately called to task by the Sheriff's Department and the ACLU? The police were not outgunned. There were no weapons stashes.

Loss of life, injuries and property destruction were three elements of the tragedy of Charlottesville. Another is the failure of the mainstream media to report the news accurately and indeed being seen to be reporting the news in a partisan fashion.

And this isn't an issue of being apologists for national socialists. I think everyone with a functioning mind wants the law enforced on everyone equally and they want the news media to report events factually. By trying to convert a violent confrontation between thuggish totalitarians into an argument trying to bless one side and condemn the other, the media miss the main point and end up allying themselves with the very evil they rail against - coercive, thuggish totalitarian critical theorists trying to condemn based on their own racial, religious, and ideological biases. The problem for them is even worse when you consider the postmodernist critical theory ideology is so abhorrent to age of enlightenment culture, which is the well-spring of American culture.

Americans want justice, not social justice, social justice being another term for totalitarian overreach and mob rule.

We are clearly in a deep and constant war between our media and the duly elected leader chosen by the American people. This cannot end well for anyone, least of all the media.

UPDATE: Well, that's interesting. As a measure of the gap between the media and the public, here are the results from an NPR/Marist poll from the past week. MSM seems to be overwhelmingly against statues from the past (Confederate or otherwise) and Trump seems to be saying leave public statues alone (unless removed through the normal governmental process). Apparently the public is with Trump with 66% saying Confederate statues should stay. Even a plurality of 44% of African-Americans say let the past remain; only 40% would want such statues removed.

There is only one demographic for whom removal of Confederate statues is deemed appropriate. Only those who identify as Very Liberal or as Strong Democrats actually have a majority supporting statue removal (in both cases 57% of those self-identifying as Very Liberal or Strong Democrat want statues removed - certainly a majority in that demographic but not an overwhelming majority).

Click to enlarge.

This is not about the relative merits of any argument, political, moral or otherwise. This is about how out-of-synch the MSM is with the American public.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep

Christmas Bells
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth," I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”



When the meaning of a poem is obscure

From Reading A. E. Housman’s Letters For Fun by Allan Showalter. Housman on the craft of poetry.
When the meaning of a poem is obscure, it is due to one of three causes. Either the author through lack of skill has failed to express his meaning; or he has concealed it intentionally; or he has no meaning either to conceal or express. In none of these cases does he like to be asked about it. In the first case it makes him feel humiliated; in the second it makes him feel embarrassed; in the third it makes him feel found out. The real meaning of a poem is what it means to the reader.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Leave us this little dish of peace

From The Spectator, May 6, 1995.

Almost a Child's Prayer
by Patrick Creagh

Early morning, unawares . . .
Before even the first whispers,
While the bowl is empty still,
The chaste pale space that no one shares.
No echo yet, no ache to feed it,
But very soon the early birds,
The vineyard-workers waiting for the minibus
In a light as white as curds.

Leave us this little dish of peace
Some little while, before it sours,
For what is sweet
For what is quick and sweet in this
Beggars are treasury of tears.

Complex systems cannot be managed, only influenced in a trial-and-error fashion

From Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Page 9.
A complex system, contrary to what people believe, does not require complicated systems and regulations and intricate policies. The simpler, the better. Complications lead to multiplicative chains of unanticipated effects. Because of opacity, an intervention leads to unforeseen consequences, followed by apologies about the “unforeseen” aspect of the consequences, then to another intervention to correct the secondary effects, leading to an explosive series of branching “unforeseen” responses, each one worse than the preceding one.

Yet simplicity has been difficult to implement in modern life because it is against the spirit of a certain brand of people who seek sophistication so they can justify their profession.

Less is more and usually more effective. Thus I will produce a small number of tricks, directives, and interdicts—how to live in a world we don’t understand, or, rather, how to not be afraid to work with things we patently don’t understand, and, more principally, in what manner we should work with these. Or, even better, how to dare to look our ignorance in the face and not be ashamed of being human—be aggressively and proudly human. But that may require some structural changes.

What I propose is a road map to modify our man-made systems to let the simple— and natural—take their course.

But simplicity is not so simple to attain. Steve Jobs figured out that “you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.” The Arabs have an expression for trenchant prose: no skill to understand it, mastery to write it.

Heuristics are simplified rules of thumb that make things simple and easy to implement. But their main advantage is that the user knows that they are not perfect, just expedient, and is therefore less fooled by their powers. They become dangerous when we forget that.

The rarer the event, the less tractable, and the less we know about how frequent its occurrence

From Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Page 7.
Complex systems are full of interdependencies — hard to detect — and nonlinear responses. “Nonlinear” means that when you double the dose of, say, a medication, or when you double the number of employees in a factory, you don’t get twice the initial effect, but rather a lot more or a lot less. Two weekends in Philadelphia are not twice as pleasant as a single one—I’ve tried. When the response is plotted on a graph, it does not show as a straight line (“linear”), rather as a curve. In such environment, simple causal associations are misplaced; it is hard to see how things work by looking at single parts.

Man-made complex systems tend to develop cascades and runaway chains of reactions that decrease, even eliminate, predictability and cause outsized events. So the modern world may be increasing in technological knowledge, but, paradoxically, it is making things a lot more unpredictable. Now for reasons that have to do with the increase of the artificial, the move away from ancestral and natural models, and the loss in robustness owing to complications in the design of everything, the role of Black Swans in increasing. Further, we are victims to a new disease, called in this book neomania, that makes us build Black Swan–vulnerable systems — “progress.”

An annoying aspect of the Black Swan problem—in fact the central, and largely missed, point—is that the odds of rare events are simply not computable. We know a lot less about hundred-year floods than five-year floods—model error swells when it
comes to small probabilities. The rarer the event, the less tractable, and the less we know about how frequent its occurrence—yet the rarer the event, the more confident these “scientists” involved in predicting, modeling, and using PowerPoint in conferences with equations in multicolor background have become.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Never Mind.

From Meta-analysis of faculty's teaching effectiveness: Student evaluation of teaching ratings and student learning are not related by Bob Uttl, et al. The abstract:
Student evaluation of teaching (SET) ratings are used to evaluate faculty's teaching effectiveness based on a widespread belief that students learn more from highly rated professors. The key evidence cited in support of this belief are meta-analyses of multisection studies showing small-to-moderate correlations between SET ratings and student achievement (e.g., Cohen, 1980, 1981; Feldman, 1989). We re-analyzed previously published meta-analyses of the multisection studies and found that their findings were an artifact of small sample sized studies and publication bias. Whereas the small sample sized studies showed large and moderate correlation, the large sample sized studies showed no or only minimal correlation between SET ratings and learning. Our up-to-date meta-analysis of all multisection studies revealed no significant correlations between the SET ratings and learning. These findings suggest that institutions focused on student learning and career success may want to abandon SET ratings as a measure of faculty's teaching effectiveness.
Just think of the tens or hundreds of thousands of pay raises or promotions which might have hinged on the result of a meaningless measurement. An Emily Litella moment in an industry rife with Emily Litella moments.



Recognition can come about only in a social context

From Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity by Francis Fukuyama. Page 7.
The satisfaction we derive from being connected to others in the workplace grows out of a fundamental human desire for recognition. As I argued in The End of History and the Last Man, every human being seeks to have his or her dignity recognized (i.e., evaluated and its proper worth) by other human beings. Indeed, this drive is so deep and fundamental that it is one of the chief motors of the entire human historical process. In earlier periods, this desire for recognition played itself out in the military arena as kings and princes fought bloody battles with one another for primacy. In modern times, the struggle for recognition has shifted from the military to the economic realm, where it has the socially beneficial effect of creating rather than destroying wealth. Beyond subsistence levels, economic activity is frequently undertaken for the sake of recognition rather than merely as a means of satisfying natural material needs. The latter are, as Adam Smith pointed out, few in number and relatively easily satisfied. Work and money are much more important as sources of identity, status, and dignity, whether one has created a multinational media empire or been promoted to foreman. This kind of recognition cannot be achieved by individuals; it can come about only in a social context.

Thus, economic activity represents a crucial part of social life and is knit together by a wide variety of norms, rules, moral obligations, and other habits that together shape the society. As this book will show, one of the most important lessons we can learn from an examination of economic life is that a nation's well-being, as well as its ability to compete, is conditioned by single, pervasive cultural characteristics: the level of trust inherent in the society.

The illusion that there is a difference between national socialism and international socialism

From Nazism's Marxist Roots by By Donald Sensing. Sensing addresses something that I have found odd.

Someone recently posted this tweet.



Well, yeah. They are both violent, thuggish fringe groups disavowed by virtually everyone.

What is so striking to me is that they are often being contrasted as opposite ends of the ideological spectrum when they are in fact very close kin. In the picture, to the left are the international socialists and to the right are the national socialists. Both are ideologies steeped in blood and violence with Soviet communists and Nazi's both drawing much of their ideology from the writings of Marx. They aren't opposites, they are kissing cousins.

The opposite of all the totalitarian ideologies who take their heritage from Marx; communism, socialism, nazism, postmodernism, critical theorists, deconstructionists, etc. - they all are the opposite of Classical Liberals. On the left, the ends justify the means, doctrine dictates reality, the state decides, communities supersede individuals, humans are blank slates to be engineered to the state ends, variance is suppressed or destroyed, there are no rights other than those allowed by the state, etc.

On the right, classical liberals, you have rule of law, individual inherent natural rights, consent of the governed, reality is discovered via the scientific method, tolerance via pluralism, variance in people, freedom and liberty as goals, the state constrained to only those powers delegated by the citizens, equality before the law, due process, etc.

International socialism and national socialism are at one end of the spectrum and classical liberalism is at the other.

Pretending that the national socialists and international socialists are opposites and trying to tar one political party with the evil of either seems to me to be startling ignorance on the part of journalists or possibly simply an astonishing performance of Orwellian doublespeak.

Both our parties have drifted from the ideal of classical liberalism and the corruption of postmodernism has infected both with hazy shibboleths and lazy thinking. I don't think the great middle of America is hankering for either national socialism or international socialism. Americans want both parties to recenter themselves on the principles of classical liberalism which underpin our great nation and have powered our exceptional history.

The Tea Party movement, the hollowing out and decline of the group identity obsessed Democratic Party, the Bernie Sanders phenomenon, and the election of Donald Trump all seem to me to be alarms sounded by the great middle of America, sounded to get the attention of our political class. But we have one of the worst political cohorts ever (both parties) and the longer they ignore the vox populi and continue their drift away from classical liberalism, the worse things will get.

National socialists and international socialists are fringe ideological diseases, making a lot of noise with very few voices and drowning out the more important klaxon from the middle class. The dysfunctional behavior of our mainstream media and the sinecures of our debased political class seem to be stopping their ears to the call from Americans.

Consigned to the home for dull dogs

From Quote Investigator. The quote being investigated is:
Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.
I have never heard that one before but it is an attractive summary of life experience with the caveat that is noted by the person to first report its use in 1901.

From QI:
The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in a 1901 autobiography by Charles Stewart. As a child in London, Stewart listened to the conversation of dinner guests such as history scholar Henry Thomas Buckle who would sometimes discourse engagingly for twenty minutes on a topic. Boldface has been added to excerpts:
His thoughts and conversation were always on a high level, and I recollect a saying of his, which not only greatly impressed me at the time, but which I have ever since cherished as a test of the mental calibre of friends and acquaintances. Buckle said, in his dogmatic way: “Men and women range themselves into three classes or orders of intelligence; you can tell the lowest class by their habit of always talking about persons; the next by the fact that their habit is always to converse about things; the highest by their preference for the discussion of ideas.”
Stewart was pleased with Buckle’s adage, but he did not let its implicit guidance dictate his conversations. He wished to avoid the tedium of monotonous dialogues:
The fact, of course, is that any of one’s friends who was incapable of a little intermingling of these condiments would soon be consigned to the home for dull dogs.
Stewart is right. The triptych may in fact be true, but social convention requires you to be good at all three, and I envy those who are. I have always been drawn to conversations of ideas and of events but perform poorly when talking about people.

It is a gift to be triptych rich.

Stand up and build anew

The pleasure of Kipling is in part that he was so prolific that there is always something new to discover.
Hymn of Breaking Strain
by Rudyard Kipling

The careful text-books measure
(Let all who build beware!)
The load, the shock, the pressure
Material can bear.
So, when the buckled girder
Lets down the grinding span,
'The blame of loss, or murder,
Is laid upon the man.
Not on the Stuff - the Man!
But in our daily dealing
With stone and steel, we find
The Gods have no such feeling
Of justice toward mankind.
To no set gauge they make us-
For no laid course prepare-
And presently o'ertake us
With loads we cannot bear:
Too merciless to bear.

The prudent text-books give it
In tables at the end
'The stress that shears a rivet
Or makes a tie-bar bend-
'What traffic wrecks macadam-
What concrete should endure-
but we, poor Sons of Adam
Have no such literature,
To warn us or make sure!

We hold all Earth to plunder -
All Time and Space as well-
Too wonder-stale to wonder
At each new miracle;
Till, in the mid-illusion
Of Godhead 'neath our hand,
Falls multiple confusion
On all we did or planned-
The mighty works we planned.

We only of Creation
(0h, luckier bridge and rail)
Abide the twin damnation-
To fail and know we fail.
Yet we - by which sole token
We know we once were Gods-
Take shame in being broken
However great the odds-
The burden of the Odds.

Oh, veiled and secret Power
Whose paths we seek in vain,
Be with us in our hour
Of overthrow and pain;
That we - by which sure token
We know Thy ways are true -
In spite of being broken,
Because of being broken
May rise and build anew
Stand up and build anew.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Prior moral consensus gives members of the group a basis for mutual trust

From Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity by Francis Fukuyama. Page 26.
Trust is the expectation that arises within a community of regular, honest, and cooperative behavior, based on commonly shared norms, on the part of other members of that community. Those norms can be about deep "value" questions like the nature of God or justice, but they also encompass secular norms like professional standards and codes of behavior. That is, we trust a doctor not to do us deliberate injury because we expect him or her to live by the Hippocratic oath and the standards of the medical profession.

Social capital is a capability that arises from the prevalence of trust in a society or in certain parts of it. It can be embodied in the smallest and most basic social group, the family, as well as the largest of all groups, the nation, and in all the other groups in between. Social capital differs from other forms of human capital insofar as it is usually created and transmitted through cultural mechanisms like religion, tradition, or historical habit. Economists typically argue that the formation of social groups can be explained as the result of voluntary contract between individuals who have made the rational calculation that cooperation is in their long-term self-interest. By this account, trust is not necessary for cooperation: enlightened self-interest, together with legal mechanisms like contracts, can compensate for an absence of trust and allow strangers jointly to create an organization that will work for a common purpose. Groups can be formed any time based on self-interest, and group formation is not culture-dependent.

But while contact and self-interest are important sources of association, the most effective organizations are based on communities of shared ethical values. These communities do not require extensive contract and legal regulation of their relations because prior moral consensus gives members of the group a basis for mutual trust.

The social capital needed to create this kind of moral community cannot be acquired, as in the case of other forms of human capital, through a rational investment decision. That is, an individual can decide to "invest" in conventional human capital like a college education, or training to become a machinist or computer programmer, simply by going to the appropriate school. Acquisition of social capital, by contrast, requires habituation to the moral norms of the community and, in its context, the acquisition of virtues like loyalty, honesty, and dependability. The group, moreover, has to adopt common norms as a whole before trust can become generalized among its members. In other words, social capital cannot be acquired simply by individuals acting on their own. It is based on the prevalence of social, rather than individual virtues. The proclivity for sociability is much harder to acquire than other forms of human capital, but because it is based on ethical habit, is also harder to modify or destroy.

Trust does not reside in integrated circuits or fiber-optic cables

From Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity by Francis Fukuyama. Page 25.
More important, when the information age's most enthusiastic apostles celebrate the breakdown of hierarchy and authority, they neglect one critical factor: trust, and the shared ethical norms that underlie it. Communities depend on mutual trust and will not arise spontaneously without it. Hierarchies are necessary because not all people within a community can be relied upon to live by tacit ethical rules alone. A small number may be actively asocial, seeking to undermine or exploit the group through fraud or simple mischievousness. A much larger number will tend to be free riders, willing to benefit from membership in the group while contributing as little as possible to the common cause. Hierarchies are necessary because all people cannot be trusted at all times to live by internalized ethical rules and do their fair share. They must ultimately be coerced by explicit rules and sanctions in the event they do not live up to them. This is true in the economy as well as in society more broadly: large corporations have their origins in the fact that it is very costly to contract out for goods or services with people one does not know well or trust. Consequently, firms found it more economical to bring outside contractors into their own organization, where they could be supervised directly.

Trust does not reside in integrated circuits or fiber-optic cables. Although it involves an exchange of information, trust is not reducible to information. A "virtual" firm can have abundant information coming through network wires about its suppliers and contractors. But if they are all crooks or frauds, dealing with them will remain a costly process involving complex contracts and time-consuming enforcement. Without trust, it will be a strong incentive to bring these activities in-house and restore the old hierarchies.

Thus, it is far from clear that the information revolution makes large, hierarchical organizations obsolete or that spontaneous community will emerge once hierarchy has been undermined. Since community depends on trust, and trust in turn is culturally determined, it follows that spontaneous community will emerge in differing degrees in different cultures. The ability of companies to move from large hierarchies to flexible networks of smaller firms will depend, in other words, on the degree of trust and social capital present in the broader society. A high-trust society like Japan created networks well before the information revolution got into high gear; a low-trust society may never be able to take advantage of the efficiencies information technology offers.

They will both function substantially as a heritable institution

The Rise of Meritocracy by Toby Young.

An excellent investigation of the link between meritocracy and genetics and the consequent implications.

Both the backstory and the discussion are interesting.

Toby Young is a conservative author and journalist in the UK. His father, Michael Young, was a Labour Party leader, and also an author of a satire in 1958, The Rise of The Meritocracy. Indeed, Michael Young coined the word meritocracy. Wikipedia's description of the book.
It describes a dystopian society in a future United Kingdom in which intelligence and merit have become the central tenet of society, replacing previous divisions of social class and creating a society stratified between a merited power holding elite and a disenfranchised underclass of the less merited.
While the British Labour Party was in general very enthusiastic about establishing a meritocratic system as a means of displacing the then existing class system, Michael Young was far more skeptical.

His view was that in the long run, meritocracy might simply be the replacement of a heritable class system based on past birth with a heritable class system based on merit. Specifically, he was concerned that merit (ability to produce) was materially determined by genetics and cultural behaviors.

And indeed, in subsequent years, the emerging scientific general consensus (with dissenters) is that life outcomes are about half determined by heritable IQ and half determined by behaviors. And we are now discovering that behaviors are far more heritable than we had thought in the past.

The upshot is that meritocracy has a certain appeal when everyone has a random chance based on a genetic lottery where all outcomes are randomly distributed. The implication under these conditions is that in each generation, no matter where they are born in the class hierarchy, those who are gifted with high IQs and productive behaviors will rise to the top and be rewarded for their productivity. Everyone has a chance.

However, in an environment where genetic outcomes are not randomly distributed, and particularly where there are institutional pressures for assortative mating, then the risk is that people's station in life is determined by their genetic heritage. Under this scenario, everyone still has the chance of rising to the top based on their IQ and productive behavior but it is simply a function of mating strategies and genes that the most productive are also likely to have been born to those in the top tier.

Aristocracy will have been replaced by meritocracy but they will both function substantially as a heritable institution.

That is what Michael Young feared. In treating the subject, his son, Toby Young explores the various fields and comes to the conclusion that it is quite possible that Michael Young was correct to be concerned.

It is not mentioned in this report, but there is converging evidence to the same effect from other fields. The Economic historian Gregory Clark has produced a lot of evidence which suggests that we may have all along been living in a meritocratic system and have failed to spot the forest for the trees owing to the unique global circumstances of the past fifty years.

Clark has found much lower long term social mobility across multiple countries and across multiple centuries under multiple forms of culture/government institution than we had thought there was. This has the indirect implication that past elites were more meritocratic than we thought and that the range of social mobility is already much lower than that which the past fifty years had led us to believe. Basically, in all countries across long centuries, the accomplished rise to the stop and tend to stay at the top, not through social protections but because assortative mating concentrates the most talented in the top tier.

Towards the end of the broadcast Toby Young takes a brief diversion into the question whether CRISPR and gene editing might open a new era of eugenics with parents able to create designer babies with all the attributes that they desire them to have to be successful. Science fiction for now but not an inconceivable condition in the future.

For now, Young finishes with a quiet allusion to the classical liberal value which I think is the actual solution. It is a belief that we parrot without thinking but rarely practice. All people have inherent value and rights. If you are Christian, more explicitly, all people are God's children and worthy of equal respect.

After World War II with our technology horizons exploding, prosperity booming, everyone's boat rising, it was easy to ignore some of these issues. By ignoring them, we let positional status supersede inherent worth as the measure of a man. Certainly the postmodernist ideology of group identities has also reinforced that view.

Perhaps, as we reengage with a recognition of genetic probabilities and possibly much lower social mobility than we want, we might regain an understanding of that older wisdom.

Isn't that the truth

Language and writing are a couple of the most pivotal developments in human cultural history and yet we are prone to abusing them.

Click to enlarge.

O what fine thought we had because we thought

Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen
by W.B. Yeats

I.

Many ingenious lovely things are gone
That seemed sheer miracle to the multitude,
protected from the circle of the moon
That pitches common things about. There stood
Amid the ornamental bronze and stone
An ancient image made of olive wood --
And gone are Phidias' famous ivories
And all the golden grasshoppers and bees.

We too had many pretty toys when young:
A law indifferent to blame or praise,
To bribe or threat; habits that made old wrong
Melt down, as it were wax in the sun's rays;
Public opinion ripening for so long
We thought it would outlive all future days.
O what fine thought we had because we thought
That the worst rogues and rascals had died out.

All teeth were drawn, all ancient tricks unlearned,
And a great army but a showy thing;
What matter that no cannon had been turned
Into a ploughshare? Parliament and king
Thought that unless a little powder burned
The trumpeters might burst with trumpeting
And yet it lack all glory; and perchance
The guardsmen's drowsy chargers would not prance.

Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare
Rides upon sleep: a drunken soldiery
Can leave the mother, murdered at her door,
To crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free;
The night can sweat with terror as before
We pieced our thoughts into philosophy,
And planned to bring the world under a rule,
Who are but weasels fighting in a hole.

He who can read the signs nor sink unmanned
Into the half-deceit of some intoxicant
From shallow wits; who knows no work can stand,
Whether health, wealth or peace of mind were spent
On master-work of intellect or hand,
No honour leave its mighty monument,
Has but one comfort left: all triumph would
But break upon his ghostly solitude.

But is there any comfort to be found?
Man is in love and loves what vanishes,
What more is there to say? That country round
None dared admit, if Such a thought were his,
Incendiary or bigot could be found
To burn that stump on the Acropolis,
Or break in bits the famous ivories
Or traffic in the grasshoppers or bees.


II.

When Loie Fuller's Chinese dancers enwound
A shining web, a floating ribbon of cloth,
It seemed that a dragon of air
Had fallen among dancers, had whirled them round
Or hurried them off on its own furious path;
So the platonic Year
Whirls out new right and wrong,
Whirls in the old instead;
All men are dancers and their tread
Goes to the barbarous clangour of a gong.


III.

Some moralist or mythological poet
Compares the solitary soul to a swan;
I am satisfied with that,
Satisfied if a troubled mirror show it,
Before that brief gleam of its life be gone,
An image of its state;
The wings half spread for flight,
The breast thrust out in pride
Whether to play, or to ride
Those winds that clamour of approaching night.

A man in his own secret meditation
Is lost amid the labyrinth that he has made
In art or politics;
Some Platonist affirms that in the station
Where we should cast off body and trade
The ancient habit sticks,
And that if our works could
But vanish with our breath
That were a lucky death,
For triumph can but mar our solitude.

The swan has leaped into the desolate heaven:
That image can bring wildness, bring a rage
To end all things, to end
What my laborious life imagined, even
The half-imagined, the half-written page;
O but we dreamed to mend
Whatever mischief seemed
To afflict mankind, but now
That winds of winter blow
Learn that we were crack-pated when we dreamed.


IV.

We, who seven years ago
Talked of honour and of truth,
Shriek with pleasure if we show
The weasel's twist, the weasel's tooth.


V.

Come let us mock at the great
That had such burdens on the mind
And toiled so hard and late
To leave some monument behind,
Nor thought of the levelling wind.

Come let us mock at the wise;
With all those calendars whereon
They fixed old aching eyes,
They never saw how seasons run,
And now but gape at the sun.

Come let us mock at the good
That fancied goodness might be gay,
And sick of solitude
Might proclaim a holiday:
Wind shrieked -- and where are they?

Mock mockers after that
That would not lift a hand maybe
To help good, wise or great
To bar that foul storm out, for we
Traffic in mockery.


VI.

Violence upon the roads: violence of horses;
Some few have handsome riders, are garlanded
On delicate sensitive ear or tossing mane,
But wearied running round and round in their courses
All break and vanish, and evil gathers head:
Herodias' daughters have returned again,
A sudden blast of dusty wind and after
Thunder of feet, tumult of images,
Their purpose in the labyrinth of the wind;
And should some crazy hand dare touch a daughter
All turn with amorous cries, or angry cries,
According to the wind, for all are blind.
But now wind drops, dust settles; thereupon
There lurches past, his great eyes without thought
Under the shadow of stupid straw-pale locks,
That insolent fiend Robert Artisson
To whom the love-lorn Lady Kyteler brought
Bronzed peacock feathers, red combs of her cocks.