Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Principled inconsistency

From
The Hand of Ethelberta
(1876), ch. 9 by Thomas Hardy
Like the British Constitution, she owes her success in practice to her inconsistencies in principle.
Freedom is requires inconsistency. Consistency in all principles would require a totalitarian control.

I, who will already be dust by your time, have made mention of you in this book

From Historia Anglorum by Henry of Huntingdon. Henry of Huntingdon was a cleric and early historian, living from 1088 to 1157, just after the Norman conquest of England.

This is from the second edition of Historia Anglorum, published in 1135. Henry of Huntingdon reflects on the nature and passage of time, looking back to A.D. 135 and speculating about 2135.

There is almost A Canticle for Liebowitz feel about the text. I think the final two paragraphs are gripping in their sophistication.
This is the year which holds the writer: the thirty fifth year of the reign of the glorious and invincible Henry [I], king of the English. The sixty-ninth year from the arrival in England, in our time, of the supreme Norman race. The 703rd year from the coming of the English into England. The 2,265th year from the coming of the Britons to settle in the same island. The 5,317th year from the beginning of the world. The year of grace 1135.

This, then, is the year from which the writer of the History wished his age to be reckoned by posterity... this computation will show what point in Time we have reached. Already one millennium has passed since the Lord's incarnation. We are leading our lives, or - to put it more accurately - we are holding back death, in what is the 135th year of the second millennium.

Let us, however, think about what has become of those who lived in the first millennium around this time, around the 135th year. In those days, of course, Antoninus ruled Rome with his brother Lucius Aurelius, and Pius the Roman was pope. Lucius, who was of British birth, ruled this island, and not long after this time, while those emperors were still in power, he was the first of the British to become a Christian, and through him the whole of Britain was converted to faith in Christ. For this he is worthy of eternal record.

But who were the other people who lived throughout the countries of the world at that time? Let our present kings and dukes, tyrants and princes, church leaders and earls, commanders and governors, magistrates and sheriffs, warlike and strong men - let them tell me: who were in command and held office at that time? And you, admirable Bishop Alexander, to whom I have dedicated our history, tell me what you know of the bishops of that time.

I ask myself: tell me, Henry, author of this History, tell me, who were the archdeacons of that time? What does it matter whether they were individually noble or ignoble, renowned or unknown, praiseworthy or disreputable, exalted or cast down, wise or foolish? If any of them undertook some labour for the sake of praise and glory, when now no record of him survives any more than of his horse or his ass, why then did the wretch torment his spirit in vain? What benefit was it to them, who came to this?

Now I speak to you who will be living in the third millennium, around the 135th year. Consider us, who at this moment seem to be renowned, because, miserable creatures, we think highly of ourselves. Reflect, I say, on what has become of us. Tell me, I pray, what gain has it been to us to have been great or famous? We had no fame at all, except in God. For if we are famed now in Him, we shall still be famed in your time, as lords of heaven and earth, worthy of praise with our Lord God, by the thousands of thousands who are in the heavens. I, who will already be dust by your time, have made mention of you in this book, so long before you are to be born, so that if - as my soul strongly desires - it shall come about that this book comes into your hands, I beg you, in the incomprehensible mercy of God, to pray for me, poor wretch. In the same way, may those who will walk with God in the fourth and fifth millennia pray and petition for you, if indeed mortal man survives so long.

First you decide what to leave out, and then you have to polish up what you put in.

From The Journey Through Wales and the Description of Wales by Gerald of Wales
As far as I am concerned, ever since I was a boy, I have been inspired by a love of literature, and the art of writing has had a peculiar attraction for me. I have always had a great thirst for knowledge, and I have pursued my researches into the works of nature farther than most of my contemporaries. For the benefit of those who will come after, I have also rescued from oblivion some of the remarkable events of our own times.

This cannot be achieved without great labour, but I have enjoyed doing it. The research-work necessary if one is to find out just what really happened is not at all easy. Even when one has discovered the truth in all its detail, there still remains the task of ordering one's facts, and this is difficult, too. To maintain a correct balance from beginning to end, and, indeed, throughout the whole course of one's narrative, and to exclude all irrelevant material, is not easy.

Then there is the problem of the choice of words and expressions, and of how to perfect one's style, if one wants to write well. It is one thing to set out the course of events in proper sequence, but you still have the difficult problem of deciding what words to use and how best to express what you want to say. Writing is an exacting business. First you decide what to leave out, and then you have to polish up what you put in.

What you finally commit to parchment must face the eagle eye of many readers, now and in the future, and at the same time run the risk of meeting hostile criticism. The words one speaks fly off on the wind and are heard no more: you can praise or condemn, but it is soon forgotten. What you write down and then give to the world in published form is never lost: it lasts for ever, to the glory or ignominy of him who wrote it.

As Seneca says: 'The critical reader mulls over what is said well and what is ill-expressed, enjoying them both, for he is looking for faults. He wants to find good things which he can praise, but he is only too ready to laugh at anything ridiculous.' To this the poet adds:
He picks on what is bad, is prompt to sneer,
And soon forgets the good he should revere.

It's only until spring.

From The New Yorker.

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Unknown title by Marinus Johannes de Jongere (1912-1978)

Unknown title by Marinus Johannes de Jongere (1912-1978)

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Monday, December 11, 2017

A jazz session of ideas

A conversation: What Happened to Men and Women? - Camille Paglia & Jordan B Peterson. Two public thinkers, admirers of traditional western civilization but with immensely different personas.

Camille Paglia is a July 4th/Guy Fawkes Night public speaker. Ideas flashing across the sky, bangs, pops, whistles. She doesn't stop, it is an outpouring of sound and energy and passion. She generates ideas like a sparkler throwing off sparkles. She carries her argument with flashbangs and sheer energetic momentum. Her parents were Italian immigrants, she is a lesbian atheist.

Jordan Peterson is deliberate, crafting his statements, reviewing them as he speaks, knitting together evidence and logic and trying to build a sustaining structure of an argument. He is out of the classical liberal model (what we now often call conservative), Christian, straight.

They are nominally so different and yet both are enormously committed to Western Civilization and the Age of Enlightenment ideas of natural rights and freedom. I have no idea how much they agree on and how much they might disagree. This is not so much a debate as it is two intense thinkers thrown into a room to talk and see what happens.

There is a torrent of ideas, not building to a conclusion as with a classical musical piece, but more like a jazz band playing off the riffs of one another. It is joyful entertainment with food for thought.


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Government policy as a source of homelessness

From New Zealand fact of the day by Tyler Cowen.
…a recent report by Yale University concluded the country is suffering the highest rate of homelessness in the developed world with 40,000 people, nearly 1 per cent of the population, living on the streets or in emergency housing or substandard shelters.

…“The big change in homelessness is the number of working families struggling to find homes and pay rent,” says Ms Rutledge, who adds the situation is the worst she has seen in her 13 years working in homeless services in Auckland. Nationwide, some 5,844 people were on the social housing waiting list in September, a 42 per cent increase on the same month two years ago.
This FT article indicates the country will respond by banning foreign purchases of Kiwi homes — I guess the country is too crowded to allow for an elastic supply response.
I know Cowen is being facetious but here is a graphic representation of just how not-crowded New Zealand is.



Dropkick Me Jesus

Among the many great pleasures of parenthood, particularly as your children emerge into adulthood, is that they introduce you to A) things that you don't know, B) things that you might be uncertain you want to know, and C) things that you would unlikely have ever discovered on your own. This is especially true of music, movies, books, technology, slang and TV shows.

I, for example, was blissfully unaware of Bobby Bare and his song Drop Kick Me Jesus until it was pointed out to me by one of my sons. A magnificent testament to that intersection between American Christianity and the religion of football.


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"Dropkick Me Jesus"
by Bobby Bare

Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life
End over end, neither left nor to right
Straight through the heart of them, righteous up rights
Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life

Make me, oh, make me, Lord, more than I am
Make me a piece in Your master game plan
Free from the earthly tempestion below
I've got the will, Lord, if You got the toe

Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life
End over end, neither left nor to right
Straight through the heart of them, righteous up rights
Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life

Bring on the brothers who've gone on before
And all of the sisters who've knocked on your door
All the departed, dear, loved ones of mine
Stick 'em up front in the offensive line

Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life
End over end, neither left nor to right
Straight through the heart of them, righteous up rights
Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life

Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life
End over end, neither left nor to right
Straight through the heart of them, righteous up rights
Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life

Yeah, dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life
End over end, neither left nor to right

Always misunderstood

From The New Yorker.

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Rigorous honesty pays

From Investigation finds Swedish scientists committed scientific misconduct by Quirin Schiermeier. I am not knocking Swedish sciences but this report is an interesting example of a phenomenon I come across with some regularity in business, academia, government, etc.

An accusation is made. The sponsoring institution does an initial investigation and dismisses the accusation as unfounded.
Marine biologist Oona Lönnstedt and limnologist Peter Eklöv originally reported in their 2016 paper that microplastic particles had negative effects on young fish, including reducing their efforts to avoid predators. The duo's report described a series of experiments on an island in the Baltic Sea. After other researchers raised questions about data availability and details of the experiments, Uppsala conducted an initial investigation and found no evidence of misconduct.
For whatever reason, usually continued dispute, a second inquiry is made, often involving some independent third party.
However, an expert group of Sweden’s Central Ethical Review Board, which was also tasked with vetting the study, concluded in April 2017 that Lönnstedt and Eklöv “have been guilty of scientific misconduct”. The researchers defended the paper but requested that Science retract it in light of questions about their findings.
The issue remains unresolved because there are two different investigations with contrasting findings. A third study is initiated, this time usually with independent third-parties and with greater transparency. It is only with this invested effort that information comes to light in a fashion that parties on all sides can accept.
To settle the controversy, the university’s vice-chancellor, Eva Åkesson, subsequently handed over the case to the newly established Board for Investigation of Misconduct in Research at Uppsala University for further scrutiny.

In its decision, announced on 7 December, the board finds Lönnstedt guilty of having intentionally fabricated data; it alleges that Lönnstedt did not conduct the experiments during the period — and to the extent — described in the Science paper.

Eklöv, who was Lönnstedt's superviser and co-author, failed to check that the research was carried out as described, the board says. However, by the rules in force at Uppsala at the time of the work, which required that misconduct findings apply only to intentional acts, the board said that Eklöv's failure to check the research "cannot entail liability for misconduct in research" .

Both researchers, the board concluded, "are guilty of misconduct in research by violating the regulations on ethical approval for animal experimentation".

On the basis of the board's report, Åkesson rendered a decision that “Oona Lönnstedt and Peter Eklöv are guilty of misconduct in research.”
Fabricated data is not an easy crime to hide yet it passed muster with the first, internal, review.

This incident is illuminative. Again, I do not think this reflects on Swedish science in particular at all.

Institutions live and die by the trust others have in them and yet those institution's own incentive structures reward actions which undermine trust. To be fair, it can cost a lot of time and money to do good investigations.

In this case, as in so many others, the institution had a strong incentive to find that their researchers had done no wrong. And that is what they found.

It was only with external reviewers that enough effort was made to uncover what had happened.

One bad apple, the field researcher, contravened their institution's own policies and fabricated the data to support her conclusions. Her supervisor then failed to adequately check her work. Basically he made the assumption that she was to be trusted and the error slipped through until the work became public.

The institution was reluctant to punish the supervisor because he had followed procedures.

Much of this, other than the original bad apple researcher makes sense.
The supervisor should have been able to trust the field researcher.

The university was right not to want to spend a lot of time investigating what they probably assumed was a nuisance accusation.

The university was probably right not to significantly punish the supervisor.
And yet . . . From an institutional trust perspective, a lot has been lost. It sure looks like coddled insiders looking after their own and protecting themselves from the type of consequences which would normally have befallen a regular citizen in a market job.

The more frequently this happens in police departments, in academia, in government, all proper and necessary institutions, the more trust falls. A low trust environment with respect to critical institutions is a terrible outcome. When there is low trust, bad things unexpectedly happen. And it costs a lot to recoup trust. Better to pay the piper up front and always be rigorous and transparent in investigations at the very beginning.

Snöskottare (Snow clearing) by Reinhold Ljunggren

Snöskottare (Snow clearing) by Reinhold Ljunggren

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Benny Hill

I had not thought of Benny Hill, a staple of my youth in Britain and in Sweden, for some time. With all the #MeToo revelations of inappropriate behavior in political, media, academic, and entertainment circles, it reminded me of the Benny Hill Show. It has always been interpreted either as either simple vaudeville humor or as an icon of get-away-with-anything patriarchy.

Which is too bad. I lean towards the humor side, and in particular to the Benny Hill Show as a throwback to regional stage humor in a long ago Britain, akin to the Carry On series of movies. Slapstick, innuendo, stock jokes, etc.

A couple of examples. The Wishing Well is supposed to be one of the most popular skits.


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The Handyman is closer to Hill's risqué standard.


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From evil to reluctant acknowledgement of competence

Scott Adams, who, in 2015, predicted that there was a 98% chance of Donald Trump winning the nomination and the election, also, after the victory, predicted that there would be three stages to Trump's critics' response to that victory. Regrettably, I cannot put my hands on that forecast but it was something like:
Trump will be accused of being evil.

Trump will be accused of being insane and incompetent.

Trump will be accused of being competent but wrong.
Adam's version was much more pithy.

Adam's predicted that by December 2017, the left would pivot to the third condition, acknowledging that Trump was effective but doing things which they ideologically opposed.

As if on cue, Sadly, Trump Is Winning by Earl Ofari Hutchinson. My first thought was that this was likely a link to a parody or spoof. My second thought was that this was just an editorial error. It is in Huffington Post so that might still be the case. On the other hand, Earl Ofari Hutchinson is apparently a real person and his Wikipedia entry does seem to indicate he is a legitimate person of the left.

So it does seem as if Adam's forecast has come true. The left has begun the transition from visceral vilification to more pragmatic recognition that their opponent is a real person with real accomplishments. They can continue howling at the moon or they can reluctantly engage. Acknowledgement of effectiveness of one's opponent is the first step down that road. It might be a long road, though.

What should be remembered?

From The Problem of Remembering by Alma T. C. Boykin. Some musings on remembrance.
How important is it to remember unpleasant things from the past? Should they be forgotten, left alone to fade away and disappear? Or do we need to recall, to acknowledge them, and then move on? For individuals the answer varies based on the events and the individual. But for nations, the questions are tied to politics, to national identity, and even to how a country understands itself and its place in the world.

The UIL* social studies test this year is based on a book about the end of the USSR and remembering and forgetting. It seems especially apt, at least to me if not to the students, because western Europe is in the process of trying to decide if they will remember or forget, and if so how much and why. Should Western European civilization, especially German and Scandinavian, disappear? Is the past so specially terrible that it is better for humanity if Western Civilization goes away, bowing to demographics and the need to atone for that past? If not, what should be remembered, and how? For the people of the USSR, especially in Russia proper in 1989-1992, the question was one of memory and survival. Do you ignore Stalin or do you bury him? A few would prefer to praise him.

[snip]

Can you be a good person and not focus on the sins of the past? Should Western Europe look only at the shadows and dark places in its history, dwelling on them in self-abnegation and flagellation, giving everything to “make up for” history? Because you will notice that it is only the western end of Europe that dwells on the need to atone for colonialism, Christianity, and high standards of living. The Old East (as I call it) has looked at that past and said, “No way, no how. We are proud of what we’ve been through, proud of our faith, and have no reason to join you in self-destruction.” They like Western Civilization, and have defended it more than once. Ask a Pole or Hungarian about 1683 and be ready to have your ears talked off.

In the Christian scriptures, it is understood that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of G-d.” So with nations. China’s history, even before 1900, is not exactly without incidents that make people gulp and stare in shock. Look at the role of women and their treatment after 1100. Or the massacres of aristocratic families and city-dwellers at the end of the Tang Dynasty in the 900s. Erk. The Taiping Rebellion was and its aftermath left Europeans queasy, those who saw a river choked with bodies. The Ottoman Empire called the shots in much of Southern Europe well into the 1800s, and modern Turkey sees nothing wrong with having taken over chunks of Europe. I get the feeling that a number of Turks would be pleased as punch to recreate the Ottoman Empire. And that empire was not known for peace, harmony, toleration, and pacifist foreign policy.

[snip]

What should we forget? What should we remember? How should we recall the past? There are no easy answers to those kinds of question, unless you let the government, or the religious leaders, or yes, determine what the past is. And then, as they said in the USSR, “The future is certain, it is the past that keeps changing.”
She has no conclusions and nor do I.

The totalitarian racism of critical theory and postmodernism are heinous but they do force deep questions. In particular, here in the US, postmodernist SJWs have invested great energy in whether state flags ought to be allowed to include allusions to the heritage of the Confederate States and to whether memorials to the history and memory of those who died should be allowed to remain in the forms of statuary. Postmodernism and totalitarianism are evil and yet evil can frame valid questions.

Having lived in Europe in the shadow of the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War and seen the Communist proclivity for air-brushing people and events out of history books, I am immensely opposed to that approach. It is a breach of some of the most basic precepts of the classical liberal world view and an attack on natural rights (freedom of expression). Transparency and access to knowledge are critical for our capacity to understand and to progress. Obliterating history is not how you go about progressing.

And yet, we do not, should not, celebrate failure, error, and evil. The titanic and bloody effort to resolve the moral inconsistencies of our own compact with ourselves, our Constitution, was tragic. We should not forget.

But what about people who take offense. We should also be respectful of the feelings of others.

The challenge is that "the questions are tied to politics". Some people are indeed offended. Others choose to take offense in order to advance a cause. How do you distinguish? My sense is that most of the current wave of opposition to confederate memorials is nearly entirely shadow play, the tactics of small groups of ideological advocates reflecting nothing of the concerns of real citizens. And indeed, most surveys I see indicate that concern about the harm of statuary is nowhere on anyone's top 100 list of concerns, and that, when asked, majorities from all demographics are either unconcerned or think it is a distraction from focusing on consequential matters.

We should not concede attention to self-appointed anarchists seeking to divide and destroy through the heckler's veto but we should also not ignore the legitimate question of what should be remembered and how it should be remembered.

I think it is best to leave things to the most local level of decision-making and ensure that it is done with transparency and through consensus. The worst outcome is when decisions are made in the shadows, by some self-appointed committee, far away from those affected. What should be remembered? What people themselves choose to remember. Self-appointed totalitarian ideologues should not set the agenda for everyone else.

From which cup do you wish to drink?

I have come across them several times in the past but thought it worth mentioning Amazon's Leadership Principles. Amazon does not have a robust reputation as a place to work but I suspect that is partly because they are serious in a fashion most companies are not about their core mission. Most companies try to balance customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, investor expectations, community obligations, etc. They are well intended and usually they do a pretty good job of striking the right balance over time and under changing circumstances.

Amazon, based on conversations, seems to be the odd man out. Everything is subordinate to the customer experience. Employee satisfaction is important but only to the extent that it affects the customer experience. If you are a customer, that's great. If you are an employee, you probably would get better hand-holding and attention in other corporations.

On the other hand, the Amazon principles, rigorously adhered to, are more honest. Most big corporations have some sort of feel-good statement somewhere in their mission to the effect that employees are their most important asset with the implication that that is where they make their most important investments. And to a degree, that is almost tautologically true - people drive the culture and culture drives the results.

The reality is that most organizations treat their employees as transferable or disposable costs rather than as assets. It comes as a shock to employees to learn this when business circumstances create the need for change. As long as companies are in an expansion phase, they invest in people at least to some degree but rarely with real attention as to whether those investments have any return. Then, when the commercial waters get choppy and there are headwinds, the investments stop, the focus turns to efficiency, and employees are a cost to be managed down.

It comes down to the difference between false promises and cold pragmatic acknowledgement of reality. From which cup do you wish to drink?

Amazon's Leadership Principles. Go to the link for a more detailed synopsis.
Customer Obsession

Ownership

Invent and Simplify

Are Right, A Lot

Learn and Be Curious

Hire and Develop the Best

Insist on the Highest Standards

Think Big

Bias for Action

Frugality

Earn Trust

Dive Deep

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit

Deliver Results

Invictus by William Ernest Henley

Invictus
by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

The Old Timer Battleship, 1916 by Martin Lewis

The Old Timer Battleship, 1916 by Martin Lewis.

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Path In Snow by Eyvind Earle

Path In Snow by Eyvind Earle

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Which Way, 1932 by Martin Lewis

Which Way, 1932 by Martin Lewis

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Critical theory is a closed system of analysis

A quite good piece, “White Women Tears”—Critical Theory on Lindsay Shepherd by Uri Harris. Harris drills into the arcana of critical theory to make a decent argument. One of the challenges of Postmodernism in general and critical theory in particular is that they have, cult-like, generated a structure and language of thought which precludes engagement. If you do not agree with their conclusions it is because you do not understand their precepts. Discussion becomes impossible because accepting any of their faulty precepts necessarily means that you have conceded to their world view.

Most of us, repelled by the inhumanity, intolerance, brutality, and incoherence of postmodernism, shy away from investing the time necessary to make sense of views and positions which otherwise make no sense. Harris does that for us in a pretty decent way.

The backstory, covered in the articles, is that a teaching assistant, Lindsay Shepherd, was administratively admonished by three university social justice critics, for showing her class two sides of an argument. The criticism of Shepherd, and implied academic threat, rested on Critical Theory precepts. The recording of their interrogation of Shepherd is shocking with its Kafkaesque framing and Stalinistic methods.

Harris focuses on the inherent self-contradictions underpinning critical theory.
In short, once someone starts by defining the purpose of scientific inquiry as liberating people from oppression, it naturally follows to construe the world as a set of oppressive systems, since that is the focus. It then follows, especially for those whose field of study is people, to personify these systems as the desires of powerful groups of people. Finally, it follows to appeal to social constructionism as a way to minimise or avoid alternative explanations from nonhuman (i.e., natural) causes. These aren’t strictly necessary links, but it’s easy to see why it would turn out this way in practice.

[snip]

Not only does Critical Theory seem to overemphasise the importance of oppression and power, but it doesn’t even seem to understand these things very well, since it insists on using simplistic historical narratives.

[snip]

It makes sense to consider power dynamics when considering Shepherd’s Laurier meeting, as part of a broader analysis. Yet, it makes very little sense to do so based on a historical narrative of white women and men of colour. A far more useful analysis would consider the fact that Shepherd was outnumbered three to one, or that Rambukkana is her supervisor, or that a person from the office of Gendered Violence Protection and Support was in the meeting. These things explain the power dynamics in the meeting quite well, it seems to me, while race and gender explain almost nothing. The fact that some of Shepherd’s critics want to invoke a historical narrative of ‘white woman plays the victim-card to get man of colour in trouble’ to explain the meeting suggests a deeper ideological commitment.
It is useful to look at systems and in particular, to look at systems of power and influence, but Critical Theory is structurally flawed in such a way that it's divorce from reality makes it incontestable.

There are five problems with critical theory which Harris touches on:
Critical theory assumes that all outcomes are purposeful results of systems of power.

It assumes that all systems of power involve white males victimizing everyone else and that only white males can be oppressors.

It assumes that only white males have agency, everyone else lacks the capacity for agency and are perpetual victims.

It assumes that any evidence to the contrary is false.
Critical theory is a closed system of analysis that has walled itself off from both reality and the ability to evolve and improve.

Views and values which underpin individual choices

I have read a number of reports on this study in the past. Reasonable sample size (nearly two thousand.) From Life Paths and Accomplishments of Mathematically Precocious Males and Females Four Decades Later by David Lubinski, Camilla P. Benbow, and Harrison J. Kell. Abstract:
Two cohorts of intellectually talented 13-year-olds were identified in the 1970s (1972–1974 and 1976–1978) as being in the top 1% of mathematical reasoning ability (1,037 males, 613 females). About four decades later, data on their careers, accomplishments, psychological well-being, families, and life preferences and priorities were collected. Their accomplishments far exceeded base-rate expectations: Across the two cohorts, 4.1% had earned tenure at a major research university, 2.3% were top executives at “name brand” or Fortune 500 companies, and 2.4% were attorneys at major firms or organizations; participants had published 85 books and 7,572 refereed articles, secured 681 patents, and amassed $358 million in grants. For both males and females, mathematical precocity early in life predicts later creative contributions and leadership in critical occupational roles. On average, males had incomes much greater than their spouses’, whereas females had incomes slightly lower than their spouses’. Salient sex differences that paralleled the differential career outcomes of the male and female participants were found in lifestyle preferences and priorities and in time allocation.
To elaborate, the target participants were 1,650 participants in the top 1% of mathematical reasoning capability.
Julian C. Stanley launched the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) in September 1971 (Keating & Stanley, 1972; Stanley, 1996). SMPY was designed in part to stand on the shoulders of Terman’s contributions. Terman used time-intensive (individually administered) general-ability assessments to identify 1,528 high-IQ (top 1%) young adolescents and then tracked them for decades. He was interested in their accomplishments, educational needs, and personal well-being. SMPY had a similar agenda, but also a strong interventionist focus (Benbow & Stanley, 1996; Stanley, 2000). SMPY identified participants using more efficient (group-administered) and focused specific-ability assessments, administering college entrance exams to intellectually talented 13-year-olds to identify those in the top 1% in mathematical reasoning ability. The rationale was that for purposes of identifying scientific talent in particular and developing procedures to foster its growth (Bleske-Rechek, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2004; Park, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2013; Wai, Lubinski, Benbow, & Steiger, 2010), it might be more profitable to use tests of outstanding mathematical reasoning ability rather than assessments of more general ability (IQ).

This report details the occupational and creative accomplishments of 1,650 SMPY participants identified in the 1970s. Participants’ psychological well-being, time allocation, orientation toward life, and partners also are examined. Our objective was to better understand their talent-development process. Looking beyond the abilities, interests, and opportunities that lead to outstanding accomplishments (Lubinski & Benbow, 2000, 2006), we wanted to investigate the lifestyle and psychological orientation required for developing a truly outstanding career and creative production. At this time, a reliable portrait of how participants’ lives evolved has become discernible. Further, when SMPY was launched, many educational and occupational opportunities were just becoming open to women, so we paid particular attention to how mathematically precocious females, relative to males, have constructed their lives over the past 40 years. G
Notably, the researchers asked the participants about their Work Preferences, Life Values, and Personal Views
Participants also rated items assessing work preferences (5-point scale from not important to extremely important), life values (5-point scale from not important to extremely important), and personal views (5-point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree). Figures 4, 5, and 6 summarize results for these items. In each graph, the items are rank-ordered according to the effect size of the sex difference (male minus female) in Cohort 1’s ratings of the items. Results for both cohorts are displayed in each figure, and the cross-cohort consistency of the effect-size magnitude is striking. Over all these items, the Pearson r and the Spearman ρ correlations between effect sizes in Cohorts 1 and 2 were between .86 and .95 (ps < .001). Thus, reliable sex differences were observed among these mathematically talented adults at midlife. Together, these sex differences tell a cohesive story of differing orientations toward life.



The results from questions about Work Preferences:

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The results from questions about Life Values:

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The results from questions about Personal Views:

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In Work Preferences, men have a strong preference, compared to women, in terms of:
A well above average salary.
Being able to take risks on my job.
A merit-based pay system.
Working with things (e.g. computers, tools) as part of my job.
In Work Preferences, women have a strong preference, compared to men, in terms of:
Working Monday through Friday and having my weekends free.
Flexibility to work at home.
Respecting my coworkers.
Flexibility in my work schedule.
A short commute.
Clean working conditions.
Working no more than 60 hours a week.
Working no more than 50 hours a week.
Working no more than 40 hours a week.
In Life Values, men have a strong preference, compared to women, in terms of:
Full-time career.
Inventing/creating something with impact.
Having lots of money.
Being successful in my work.
In Life Values, women have a strong preference, compared to men, in terms of:
Giving back to the community.
Meaningful spiritual life.
Time with my children.
Healthy diet
Community service.
Time to socialize.
Being there for family and friends.
Not working outside the home.
Strong friendships
Part-time career for a limited time.
Part-time career.
In Personal Values, men have a strong preference, compared to women, in terms of:
Society should invest in my ideas because they are more important than those of other people.
Discomforting others does not deter me from stating the facts.
Receiving criticism from others does not inhibit me from expressing my thoughts.
I have the capacity for sustained physical activity, without tiring and having to rest.
I am able to control my emotions when it is appropriate to do so.
I put myself before others.
In Personal Values, women have a strong preference, compared to men, in terms of:
It is important to me that no one goes without.
It should go without stating that 1) the average is not the individual, 2) what is true for the group may not be true for the individual, 3) this is a cohort over time, not a representative sample, and 4) these are not random individuals but high capability individuals (in maths).

What is striking is that the individual responses are so consistent with general gender stereotypes.

If these are truly reflective of expressed personal values and views, then it undermines ideologically-driven critique based on differential impact analysis. As an example, feminist theory ascribes sex wage differentials (the wage gap) to institutional discrimination. We already know that this is not so based on large, replicated studies across multiple countries in the OECD which show that when you control for known variables (work volume, work duration, degree choice, industry choice, role, education attainment, etc.) that there are no material wage gaps.

Those studies disprove that there is a wage-gap, but they do not necessarily disprove institutional discrimination.

What the Lubinksi et al study suggests is that institutional discrimination is unlikely the source of any issues. Women appear to be making differential choices, preferring predictable work, clean work, equal outcomes work, time with children, time with family and friends, limited schedules with flexibility, etc. compared to men who are more focused on money, achievement, focused commitment, sublimation of oneself to goals, etc.

If these expressed values and views are translated into personal activities and decisions, then it is no surprise that there are gender differentials in terms of incomes. Lubinksi et al are illuminating what the likely sources are to the empirically observed differences in choices.

To be more explicit, what this suggests is that IF these are accurate representations of real preferences and IF these preferences materially shape their real life choices, then one would necessarily expect that the aggregate life income for those choosing competition, intensity, outcomes, challenge would be materially higher than those of people choosing scheduled part-time work with collegial easy-going co-workers who are fun to talk to.

Now take a look at Claudia Goldin's research on wage differentials,
We really prefer for ideological academics with a bad case of class-blindness to usurp personal decision-making
.

What these two bodies of research suggest is that gendered wage differences arise from personal trade-off choices and that there is no evidence of systemic discrimination based on gender. Men and women are already paid the same for the same work. If we want male and female lifetime earning aggregates to be the same, we have to change the choices men and women currently make of their own free will. In other words, we have to change from a freedom based system to a totalitarian, centrally planned system in which people are told what they should want and coerced into accepting that. Not a great alternative when looked at from fact-based research.

Interesting research by Lubinski et al.

Old Ironsides by Oliver Wendell Holmes

Old Ironsides
by Oliver Wendell Holmes

AY, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon's roar;--
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more!

Her deck, once red with heroes' blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o'er the flood,
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor's tread,
Or know the conquered knee;--
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!

O, better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,
The lightning and the gale!

Smectite is the biggest offender

Fascinating. From Strange Clay Makes Tall Buildings Rise and Heavy Buildings Sink by Thomas Rye Simonsen.
But then you probably didn’t know that Denmark is home to a special soil type, which makes tall buildings rise and heavy buildings sink.

No one knew that back in the 1940’s either. Back then, engineers watched in shock as Skive Museum rose ten centimeters in a few years. More recently, Banedanmark (which maintains most of the Danish railway network) spent upwards of 200 million Danish kroner (27 million euros) to save The Old Little Belt Bridge, which has sunk 75 centimeters since 1935.

The forces that caused the museum to rise and the bridge to sink all owe to a special soil type known as high plasticity clay, Palaeogene clay or swelling clay. High plasticity clay is probably one of Denmark’s most complicated soil types, and a new research project is now trying to give Danish geotechnicians a much better understanding of its underlying mechanisms.
It is a long article with interesting detail. It rather highlights the complexity of coupled systems. Construction of large structures entails multiple systems and interacts with multiple exogenous conditions. Denmark is a location which strips away many of these sources of complexity.
Denmark has neither volcanic eruptions nor major earthquakes, there are no large rivers causing flooding, and due to the country’s relatively flat terrain there is no risk of landslides.

On top of that, engineers are well-educated and there is a tradition of good construction practice so it’s rare that we see serious damage to buildings, bridges or roads caused by processes underground – fortunately!

But the Danish underground contains soil types that are very different from others. Among these is high plasticity clay, which mostly resembles a semi-hard modelling clay.
The simpler you make the system, the easier it becomes to see the next layer of complexity, in this situation, soil conditions.

If a building collapses in a country with poorly trained engineers, lax building regulations, corner-cutting construction companies, etc., it is easy, and to some degree accurate to ascribe a building failure to those other circumstances and never become aware that there is another, lees obvious factor in play as well. But as you squeeze out the more common sources of failure, you can begin to see more clearly other factors that contribute to failure.

Anyway - interesting.

Friday, December 8, 2017

My Father Scything by Sam Hunt

From The Bard of the Barroom by Michael Kernan.

My Father Scything
by Sam Hunt

My father was sixty when I was born,
twice my mother's age. But he's never been
around very much, neither at the mast
round the world; nor when I wanted him most.
He was somewhere else, like in his upstairs
Dickens-like law office counting the stars;
or sometimes out with his scythe on Sunday
working the path through the lupins toward the sea.
And the photograph album I bought myself
on leaving home, lies open on the shelf
at the one photograph I have of him,
my father scything. In the same album
beside him, one of my mother.
I stuck them there on the page together.

The Coliseum by Edgar A. Poe

The Coliseum
by Edgar A. Poe (1833)

Lone ampitheatre! Grey Coliseum!
Type of the antique Rome! Rich reliquary
Of lofty contemplation left to Time
By buried centuries of pomp and power!
At length, at length — after so many days
Of weary pilgrimage, and burning thirst,
(Thirst for the springs of love [[lore]] that in thee lie,)
I kneel, an altered, and an humble man,
Amid thy shadows, and so drink within
My very soul thy grandeur, gloom, and glory.

Vastness! and Age! and Memories of Eld!
Silence and Desolation! and dim Night!
Gaunt vestibules! and phantom-peopled aisles!
I feel ye now: I feel ye in your strength!
O spells more sure then [[than]] e’er Judæan king
Taught in the gardens of Gethsemane!
O charms more potent than the rapt Chaldee
Ever drew down from out the quiet stars!

Here, where a hero fell, a column falls:
Here, where the mimic eagle glared in gold,
A midnight vigil holds the swarthy bat:
Here, where the dames of Rome their yellow hair
Wav’d to the wind, now wave the reed and thistle:
Here, where on ivory couch the Cæsar sate,
On bed of moss lies gloating the foul adder:
Here, where on golden throne the monarch loll’d,
Glides spectre-like unto his marble home,
Lit by the wan light of the horned moon,
The swift and silent lizard of the stones.

These crumbling walls; these tottering arcades;
These mouldering plinths; these sad, and blacken’d shafts;
These vague entablatures; this broken frieze;
These shattered cornices; this wreck; this ruin;
These stones, alas! — these grey stones — are they all;
All of the great and the colossal left
By the corrosive hours to Fate and me?

“Not all,” — the echoes answer me; “not all:
Prophetic sounds, and loud, arise forever
From us, and from all ruin, unto the wise,
As in old days from Memnon to the sun.
We rule the hearts of mightiest men: — we rule
With a despotic sway all giant minds.
We are not desolate — we pallid stones;
Not all our power is gone; not all our Fame;
Not all the magic of our high renown;
Not all the wonder that encircles us;
Not all the mysteries that in us lie;
Not all the memories that hang upon,
And cling around about us now and ever,
And clothe us in a robe of more than glory.”

Inside the Colosseum, 1780 by Francis Towne

Click to enlarge.

The Homecoming by N.C. Wyeth.

The Homecoming by N.C. Wyeth.

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In My Life by John Lennon


Double click to enlarge.


In My Life
by John Lennon

There are places I'll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more
In my life I love you more

3D living, with a past, a present, and an anticipated future, all integrated together.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

He was seized by ossification of the brain

From Lexicographer, spare those minor clerics by Paul Johnson. Johnson is writing back in 1993, to appeal to those updating the magnificent institution of the Dictionary of National Biography. An archived version of earlier editions is here. From the article:
In what work do these terminal sentences appear? 'He died of erysipelas in the head, contracted by attending a political meeting.' He was always eccentric; and his behaviour one night at dinner was so strange that a guest intervened. He was placed under restraint at Northwood, in Surrey, and died without issue.' After vainly travelling abroad in hope of relief he died unmarried.' Yes; quite right. The tone is umistakable: the Dictionary of National Biography. It was that modern antiquary Geoffrey Madan, a perpetual browser in its tomes, who spotted these gems. Madan, like all scholars, would have been delighted by the news that the DNB is to be revised; and equally, like me, apprehensive that some quaint babies will be thrown out with the antique bathwater.

[snip]

Then there are the innumerable people who do not fit into any category at all but are simply worth recording. I was disturbed to read, in the Daily Telegraph, that the British Academy president, Dr Kenny, thinks more `scientists and engineers' should be included and `fewer minor clerics'. More boffins by all means, but spare those clerical gents: they are often the salt which gives the DNB its savour. I am thinking, for instance, of James Gatliff, 1766- 1831, Perpetual Curate of Gorton and a minor cleric if ever there was one. He published a four-volume theological work `which involved him in pecuniary difficulties with his publisher' and led to his imprisonment for debt. Released, he put out a vindication, called 'A Firm Attempt at Investigation; or, the Twinkling Effects of a Falling Star to Relieve the Cheshire Full Moon', believed to be a scurrilous reference to the Bishop of Chester. Or there was Henry Aldrich, 1647-1710, Dean of Christ Church and designer of Peckwater Quad, who translated 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Sailor' into Latin, was a fanatical smoker and wrote a song `to be sung by Four Men smoking their Pipes, not more difficult to sing than diverting to hear'. (Well: dons had even less to do then than now.) Or Scott's friend, the Revd John Marriott, doughty hymn-writer until, without warning, `he was seized by ossification of the brain'. Or even the less minor Charles Lloyd, 1784-1829, tutor to Sir Robert Peel, who got him made Bishop of Oxford. In return, Lloyd changed his mind over Catholic Emancipation and supported Peel 'by an impressive speech in the House of Lords'. Alas, `for some time Lloyd had taken insufficient exercise, and his health was further weakened by the censure of the newspapers and the cold treatment of his friends. A chill which he caught at the Royal Academy Dinner hastened his end.'

Nor are minor clerics the only characters we must hang onto. Let us not annihilate Elizabeth Bland, ft 1681-1712, one of the first women to write Hebrew and compose phylacteries, who taught the language to her son and daughter, sole survivors of her six children. I vote, too, to retain Anthony Addington, father of the Prime Minister, who kept a mad-house, was empiric doctor to Chatham, and cured his son William Pitt the Younger of a childhood complaint by prescribing large quantities of port.


All the news that's fit to print - with a 40% discount for errors.

From New York Times forced to heavily amend another supposed K.T. McFarland 'scoop' by Becket Adams. Mainstream media news article has to be corrected and rewritten multiple times owing to inaccurate and biased reporting is not a particularly uncommon circumstance. In fact, it is kind of standard fair.

Adams, though, introduces a resource with which I was unfamiliar, Newsdiffs.org which tracks changes in articles subsequent to publication in the New York Times, BBC, Washington Post, CNN and Politico. He includes in his article an example of the kind of mark-up Newsdiffs generates.

In this particular instance, the NYT had to substantially rewrite an article owing to errors of fact and errors of interpretation. The article morphs from a pretty direct accusation of deliberate wrong-doing on the part of a K.T. McFarland to an eventual position that her opponents think she might possibly have been less than accurate. No actual evidence of wrong-doing even though that was the lead.

Here is the markup of the article over its brief, painful life.

Click to enlarge.

By my very rough ballpark estimate that is 21 redlined sentences and 32 greenlined. So, very roughly, 40% (21/53) of the article had to be rewritten in order to address inaccuracies.

Sounds like someone needs to talk about six-sigma with the Times. Need a little more quality control.


Camden Lock by Walter J. Steggles

Camden Lock by Walter J. Steggles

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Vikings versus Castilians

From Carnage and Culture by Victor Davis Hanson. Page 221.
All that being said, without horses, firearms, steel weapons, armor, ships, dogs, and crossbows, not to mention the military acumen of his lieutenants who between them possessed expertise ranging from shipbuilding to gunpowder fabrication to the use of integrated cavalry and infantry tactics, even Cortés would have failed. The disparity—far more marked than in the Roman-Carthaginian or Macedonian-Persian encounters—was too great for either a brilliant Aztec leader or an inept Spanish conquistador to alter the eventual outcome. Had an Alvarado or Sandoval led the Castilians into Mexico City in November 1520, and had they met a fiery Cuauhtémoc rather than a cautious and confused Montezuma, the entire expedition might have floundered. But just as seven successive fleets reached Mexican shores during Cortés’s rebound in 1521, there would have been larger expeditions to replace the losses of an initial setback, some of them led by better generals, with even more men—30,000 Spaniards were in the immediate Caribbean settlements. Cortés himself after the disaster of the Noche Triste claimed that his life was worth little, since there were now thousands of Castilians in the New World who would take his place and subdue the Aztecs.

The conquest of Mexico was one of the few times in history in which technology—Europe in the midst of a military renaissance pitted against foes that had neither horses nor the wheel, much less metals and gunpowder—in itself trumped the variables of individual human genius and achievement. The subjugation of western North America was accomplished in four decades of concerted warfare without a European conqueror as skilled as Cortés or a centralized and vulnerable nerve center like the island city of Tenochtitlán. The battle for the American frontier was marked by a number of incompetent English-speaking generals who lost their command and lives in idiotic assaults against brave and ingenious Indian tribes armed with Western weaponry and horses in a vast landscape—all without much effect on the continual encroachment on Indian lands and the systematic defeat of native war parties. We also should keep in mind that the Norse explorers of the northwestern coast of North America—the first European aggressors in the New World—during the tenth and eleventh centuries had little permanent success against native tribes because of their lack of firearms, horses, and sophisticated tactics and their inability to arrive in sufficient numbers on successive flotillas of large oceangoing ships. Neither Norse brilliance in navigation and seamanship nor legendary prowess in arms was enough to ensure conquest or colonization without an easy and continual supply of manpower and matériel.

There's a thin line, J.B., between deniability and pig ignorant

From The New Yorker.

Click to enlarge.

Punish the Monkey by Mark Knopfler

Punish the Monkey by Mark Knopfler


Double click to enlarge.

Punish the Monkey
by Mark Knopfler

They're driving long nails into coffins
You've been having sleepless nights
You've gone as quiet as a church mouse
And checking on your rights

The boss has hung you out to dry
And it looks as though
Punish the monkey
And let the organ grinder go

You've been talking to a lawyer
Are you gonna pretend
That you and your employer
Are still the best of friends

Somebody's gonna take the fall
There's your quid pro quo
Punish the monkey
Punish the monkey, yeah
Punish the monkey
And let the organ grinder go

Here comes a policeman
He won't be sidetracked
He's asking 'bout a smoking gun
He's after the bad

It's a quiet life from here on in
You dropped your poisoned cup
The telephone is ringing
But you're not picking up

Times I've said are flunky
And everybody knows
Punish the monkey
(Punish the monkey)
Punish the monkey, yeah
(Punish the monkey)
Punish the monkey
And let the organ grinder go

Punish the monkey
(Punish the monkey)
Punish the monkey, yeah
(Punish the monkey)
Punish the monkey
And let the organ grinder go

Punish the monkey
Punish the monkey
Punish the monkey
Punish the monkey

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Beasts by Walt Whitman

The Beasts
By Walt Whitman (1819–1892)

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d;
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition;
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins;
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God;
Not one is dissatisfied—not one is demented with the mania of owning things;
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago;
Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth.

Boarding House by Debbie Criswell

Boarding House by Debbie Criswell

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Narrow, centralized elite structures are fragile and vulnerable to "outside stimuli"

From Carnage and Culture by Victor Davis Hanson. Page 217.
At the first real military engagement on the causeways on July 1, 1520, the Aztecs surrounded Cortés with the clear idea of exterminating men, not gods. Under the conditions of these nocturnal mass attacks on the narrow dikes, it was nearly impossible to capture the Castilians, and it is no accident that the vast majority of the six hundred to eight hundred or so Spaniards lost that night were deliberately killed outright or left to drown.

In the subsequent fighting during the Spanish flight to Tlaxcala, and again at the final siege of Tenochtitlán, the Mexicas employed captured Toledo blades. They may even have attempted to coerce captured conquistadors to show them the intricacies of crossbows. The Mexicas often changed their tactics, learning to avoid swarming attacks in the plains, and during the great siege showed ingenuity in confining their fighting to narrow corridors of the city, where ambushes and missile attack might nullify the Spaniards’ horses and cannon. The Aztecs eventually guessed that the Spanish were intent on their slaughter, and so logically distrusted all affirmations of Spanish mediation. They taunted their Tlaxcalan enemies with prescient boasts that after their own demise, they, too, would end up as slaves to the Spanish.

If the Aztecs fought with any disadvantage, it was one of training and custom that had taught them to capture and bind rather than slice apart an adversary—habits that would prove hard to shake even against killers like the Spanish, who gave no quarter. Still, we must remember that the notion that soldiers should seek to capture rather than kill their enemy is a most un-Western one, and only reaffirms our general thesis that the entire menu of Western warfare—its tactics of annihilation, mass assault, disciplined files and ranks, and superior technology—was largely responsible for the conquest of Mexico.

Besides the overriding problem of inferior weaponry and tactics, the greatest cultural disadvantage of the Aztecs has often gone unnoticed: that of the age-old problem of systems collapse that threatens all palatial dynasties in which political power is concentrated among a tiny elite— another non-European phenomenon that has given Western armies enormous advantages in cross-cultural collisions. The abrupt destruction of the Mycenaean palaces (ca. 1200 B.C.), the sudden disintegration of the Persian Empire with Darius III’s flight at Gaugamela, the end of the Incas, and the rapid collapse of the Soviet Union all attest that the way of palatial dynasties is one of extreme precariousness to outside stimuli. Anytime a narrow elite seeks to control all economic and political activity from a fortified citadel, island redoubt, grand palace, or walled Kremlin, the unraveling of empire shortly follows the demise, flight, or discrediting of such imperial grandees—again in contrast to more decentralized, less stratified, and locally controlled Western political and economic entities. Cortés himself sensed that vulnerability and thus kidnapped Montezuma within a week of arrival. With the final flight of the successor emperor Cuauhtémoc in August 1521 the final resistance of the Aztecs came abruptly to an end.

Successful practical politics needs not only a gospel behind it but also a Jerusalem in front of it.

From Diary by Paul Barker, London Review of Books, 19 May 1988.
Without Looking Backward, H.G. Wells would not have written The Sleeper Awakes (where Bellamy's utopia becomes a technological nightmare, and the Sleeper himself seizes dictatorial power). Nor would Fitz Lang have filmed his Metropolis. Such dystopians as Zamyatin's We, or Huxley's Brave New World, or Orwell's 1984, are all variations on Bellamy's theme. But at least they showed that people were looking into the future. Successful practical politics (Neil Kinnock might reflect) needs not only a gospel behind it - Marx, Ruskin, and Carlyle for the early Labour Party - but also a Jerusalem in front of it. This is what Bellamy provided.

Your good intentions at work

From The New Yorker.

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Where my travel expenses come from is none of your business.

From The New Yorker.

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Kankai Pavilion at Wakaura Beach by Kawase Hasui

Kankai Pavilion at Wakaura Beach by Kawase Hasui

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Cortés sought to explain the novelty that he neither feared nor worshiped

From Carnage and Culture by Victor Davis Hanson. Page 207.
Spanish individualism was evident throughout. The most unlikely came forward with ideas—some half-baked, like the veteran of the Italian wars who, as powder grew short, convinced Cortés that he could build a vast catapult (it would prove an utter failure). There was a familiarity between soldiers and general that was unknown among the Mexicas: no Aztec warrior might dare approach Montezuma or his successor Cuauhtémoc to propose a new approach to ship construction, tactics, and logistics. Just as Alexander’s “Companions” enjoyed a level of intimacy with their king unimaginable between Darius and his Immortals, so Cortés ate, slept, and was rebuked by his caballeros in a manner unthinkable among the Mexicas.

Westerners had ventured in non-Western lands to travel, write, and record since the emergence of the Ionian logographers of the sixth century B.C. Periegetics such as Cadmus, Dionysius, Charon, Damastes, and Hecataeus—ultimately to be followed in Asia and Egypt by explorers and conquerors like the Athenian imperialists, Xenophon’s Ten Thousand, and Alexander the Great—had written didactic treatises on Persia (Persica) and voyages outside Greece (Periploi). In contrast, during Xerxes’ great invasion of Greece (480 B.C.), the king apparently had little, if any, information about the nature of the Hellenic city-states.

This rich Hellenic tradition of natural inquiry was continued by Roman merchants, explorers, conquerors, and scientists whose canvas widened to include the entire Mediterranean, northern Africa, and Europe. Unlike the Aztec emperors, Cortés had the benefit of an anthropological tradition of written literature describing foreign phenomena and peoples, cataloging and evaluating them, and making sense of their natural environment that went back to Herodotus, Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Pliny—the age-old and arrogant Western idea that nothing is inexplicable to the god Reason, if only the investigator has enough empirical data and the proper inductive method. Montezuma either feared or worshiped the novelty that he could not explain; Cortés sought to explain the novelty that he neither feared nor worshiped. In the end that is one reason why Tenochtitlán and not Vera Cruz—let alone Seville—would lie in ruins.

Do you have any picture books that could help a child understand tort reform

From The New Yorker.

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Now in old age, I know the value of silence

Replying to Subprefect Zhang
by Wang Wei, 699-759

Now in old age, I know the value of silence,
The world's affairs no longer stir my heart.
Turning to myself, I have no greater plan,
All I can do is return to the forest of old.
Wind from the pine trees blows my sash undone,
The moon shines through the hills; I pluck the qin.
You ask me why the world must rise and fall,
Fishermen sing on the steep banks of the river.

An occasional, seemingly random or inadvertent nugget of sense

Not hard to discern Bylund's view.



Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark

We humans are highly flawed and we certainly spend an inordinate amount of time bickering. But when we are good, sometimes we are spectacular. Take Voyager 1. From Voyager 1 just fired up some thrusters for the first time in 37 years
The only human-made object outside our solar system is still alive and kickin'
by Rachel Feltman. Carl Sagan is gone 21 years and his progeny sails ghostly, alone, but still speaking to us from deep space, beyond the boundaries of our solar system.
When Voyager 1's trajectory correction maneuver thrusters last fired, Ronald Reagan had just been elected president. Over 30 years ago, about a decade into the spacecraft's journey out to the edge of our solar system and beyond, the thrusters had officially served their purpose. The trajectory correction maneuver (TCM) thrusters sent out little puffs of power to correct the object's course, allowing Voyager 1 to explore Jupiter, Saturn, and several moons orbiting them. After the last course correction for Saturn on November 8, 1980, the TCMs went silent.

Last week, NASA scientists fired them up again. And 37 years after being put out to pasture, the thrusters worked. They could even extend the mission of the invaluable space probe by several years.

Voyager 1 is an important vessel. It's the fastest spacecraft we've got, traveling at around 11 miles per second. It's also the farthest. Its twin, Voyager 2, is nearly 11 billion miles away from the Sun, pushing through the last layer of our host star's influence on the space around our system. But Voyager 1 is over 13 billion miles away from the Sun, and has the incredible distinction of being the first human-made object to enter interstellar space.

Yet even from that great distance, the probe still sends messages back to Earth. That's where the thrusters come in. For decades, a set of thrusters has served to set out tiny, split-second pulses to keep the craft's antenna pointed toward us. Now those thrusters are getting old, and it's taking more effort to make Voyager 1 move. The solution? See if the TCM thrusters—which on the one hand haven't been worn out by constant use over the last few decades, but on the other hand haven't even been turned on—could take on some of the legwork.

“The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters," Chris Jones, chief engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, said in a statement.

It takes 19 hours and 35 minutes for a signal from Voyager 1 to bounce back to Earth, but after a day of waiting the scientists confirmed that the hardware had fired right up. Their current plan is to switch from the primary thrusters over to the TCMs sometime in the next few months. Unfortunately, the TCM thrusters only work if a set of small heaters are turned on, and Voyager 1 won't have the power to keep them burning forever. But for as long as they last, the original thrusters will get a much-needed rest. The Voyager team expects to have to start flipping off switches in the 2020s, and the probe will likely be completely incommunicado after 2025 or so. But anything we can do to keep in touch with our interstellar buddy for just a little longer gives us a better chance of learning about our region of space.

After that, our research probe will turn into more of time capsule. Voyager 1 won't reach another star for around 40,000 years. Perhaps humanity will be a true spacefaring race by that time, with vessels scattered across the galaxy that manage to outpace our first little beacon into the beyond. But if humanity is long gone, we may make a kind of posthumous contact with other intelligent life. Voyagers 1 and 2 both carry copies of the Golden Record. It's more symbolic than anything—no one expects aliens to know what a record is and how to play it, let alone understand human languages—but just as ancient, sometimes unintelligible cave paintings tell us that our ancestors once roamed distant lands, the etchings on these records will say that we were here. And that we wanted to look for something more.
Sometimes, as a species, we have our moments. Voyager 1 and its tiny whispers way out there beyond boundaries which are barely comprehensible is one example of our better selves.

Carl Sagan gets the last word. From Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, published a couple of years before his passing.
Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar", every "supreme leader", every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

Here, let us fix that

Schedule of work prevents me from reading this research in detail, but I am skeptical. Raj Chetty is a researcher whose research alway seems to support a particular outcome - chattering class authoritarianism. From Who Becomes an Inventor in America? The Importance of Exposure to Innovation by Alex Bell, Raj Chetty, Xavier Jaravel, Neviana Petkova, John Van Reenen. I am reasonable certain there is some quite interesting information and ideas in the research somewhere but that you would have to go to the raw data rather than the researcher's summary. Chetty teams always seem to find only that which they are looking for, reasons to shift decision making from citizens to the authoritarian credentialed. From the abstract:
We characterize the factors that determine who becomes an inventor in America by using deidentified data on 1.2 million inventors from patent records linked to tax records. We establish three sets of results. First, children from high-income (top 1%) families are ten times as likely to become inventors as those from below-median income families. There are similarly large gaps by race and gender. Differences in innate ability, as measured by test scores in early childhood, explain relatively little of these gaps. Second, exposure to innovation during childhood has significant causal effects on children’s propensities to become inventors. Growing up in a neighborhood or family with a high innovation rate in a specific technology class leads to a higher probability of patenting in exactly the same technology class. These exposure effects are gender-specific: girls are more likely to become inventors in a particular technology class if they grow up in an area with more female inventors in that technology class. Third, the financial returns to inventions are extremely skewed and highly correlated with their scientific impact, as measured by citations. Consistent with the importance of exposure effects and contrary to standard models of career selection, women and disadvantaged youth are as under-represented among high-impact inventors as they are among inventors as a whole. We develop a simple model of inventors’ careers that matches these empirical results. The model implies that increasing exposure to innovation in childhood may have larger impacts on innovation than increasing the financial incentives to innovate, for instance by reducing tax rates. In particular, there are many “lost Einsteins” – individuals who would have had highly impactful inventions had they been exposed to innovation.
Would that it were true. I am already seeing lots of chatter around the idea that if we only poured more money into fixing inequality it would pay for itself. The solutions are always totalitarian, skipping the messiness of citizens deciding for themselves.

Perhaps there is more nuance in the bowels of the report, but the summary has all the characteristics of a category error. The two categories are outcomes that derive from emergent order and outcomes that arise from purposeful design. Chetty's teams always seek to achieve Emergent Order outcomes through Purposeful Design means.

It is very similar to the policy thinking in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Home ownership is associated with all sorts of positive social characteristics; lower crime, higher education in education, more responsible household finances, higher family formation, lower out-of-wedlock births, higher labor force participation, etc.

Committing multiple errors (category errors, confusion on causal flow, post hoc ergo propter hoc, confounding variables, etc.) the chattering class authoritarians (also known as Intellectuals Yet Idiots) concluded that the good social outcomes arose because of home ownership and therefore, in order to build utopia, all we had to do was better enable people to build homes.

Legislation was passed and policies instituted. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were repurposed to increase home ownership. Regulations on banks and mortgage companies were adjusted to make it easier and easier to lend to people with little or no credit capacity. Just get people in to homes and unicorns would roam.

Instead of unicorns, we of course got the Great Recession of 2007. Not only were the targeted beneficiaries, those to whom mortgages had been extended which they could not afford, wiped out but everyone else suffered as well with a national and global economic contraction involving failed financial institutions, massive job losses, permanent reductions in labor force participation rates, and the wiping out of accumulated savings (both uninsured deposits as well as zero-interest rate policies).

All because the chattering class failed to recognize that home ownership was the result of middle class values which also drove all the other social goods. Simply giving people homes did not instill middle class values. Intellectual yet idiots indeed. Moral preening by the credentialed but unaccomplished is not a good foundation for real world policy setting.

Likewise, inequality is an emergent order arising from complex, chaotic, dynamic, non-linear, chaotic, loosely coupled systems which we understand poorly. Blundering in trying to reorder things with a minuscule understanding of categories, causal flows, feedback mechanisms, etc is a recipe for disaster. Yet all Chetty's research always seems to lead to the conclusion that the chattering classes ought to decide for their fellow citizens how to make things better.

Color me skeptical.