Sunday, April 30, 2017

The machinery of the world is overly complex for the simplicity of men

From A Personal Anthology by Jorge Luis Borges. Page 80 Inferno I, 32.
In the final years of the twelfth century, from twilight of dawn to twilight of dusk, a leopard looked upon some wooden planks, some vertical iron bars, men and women who were always different, a thick wall and, perhaps, a stone trough filled with dry leaves. The leopard did not know, could not know, that what he craved was love and cruelty and the hot pleasure of rending and the odor of a deer on the wind; and something rebelled and God spoke to him in a dream: You live and will die in this prison, so that a man I know may look at you a certain number of times and and not forget you and put your figure and your symbol in a poem which has its precise place in the scheme of the universe. You suffer captivity, but will have furnished a word to the poem. In the dream, God enlightened the rough beast, so that the leopard understood God's reasons and accepted his destiny; and yet, when he awoke, he felt merely an obscure resignation, a gallant ignorance, for the machinery of the world is overly complex for the simplicity of a wild beast.

Years later, Dante lay dying in Ravenna, as little justified and as much alone as any other man. In a dream, God revealed to him the secret purpose of his life and labor; in wonderment, Dante knew at last who he was and what he was and blessed his bitter days. Tradition holds that on awakening he felt he had received and then lost something infinite, something he could not recuperate, or even glimpse, for the machinery of the world is overly complex for the simplicity of men.
In Dante's inferno, the lines in which the poor imprisoned leopard makes his appearance are:
My wearied frame refreshed with scanty rest,
I to ascend the lonely hill essayed;
The lower foot still that on which I pressed.
And lo! ere I had well beginning made,
A nimble leopard, light upon her feet,
And in a skin all spotted o’er arrayed:
Nor ceased she e’er me full in the face to meet,
And to me in my path such hindrance threw
That many a time I wheeled me to retreat.
It was the hour of dawn; with retinue
Of stars that were with him when Love Divine
In the beginning into motion drew
Those beauteous things, the sun began to shine;
And I took heart to be of better cheer
Touching the creature with the gaudy skin,
Virgil's ascent of the hill is further hindered by a lion and then a she-wolf. Indeed, "The machinery of the world is overly complex for the simplicity of men."

Fear of automation is long-standing

H.T. Webster was a noted and successful cartoonist in the first half the 20th century. I came across this self-sketch from The Best of H.T. Webster A Memorial Collection which came out after his death in 1952.

It struck me because it illustrates that the concern about the disappearance of work is not new. Today we are concerned that artificial intelligence might put everyone out of work. In 1923 it was electricity.

In case the resolutions in insufficient, Webster on the phone:
This Frank Casey?

Say, Frank, how 'bout a little salmon fishing up in Labrador? Fine! We'll start this afternoon. Tell Roy to come along.
Up above is the Idea Dynamo connected indirectly to the patent Cartoon Dynamo. In the lower left is the observation:
In The Year 2023 When All Our Work Is Done By Electricity.

It has to be one or the other

By coincidence, shortly after the last post, Step aside Edward Gibbon, I picked up Essentials of Philosophy by James Mannion.

His opening chapter deals with the pre-socratic philosophers of 6th century BC Greece. In discussing the pre-socratics, he mentions their belief in monism. From Wikipedia:
Monism is the view that attributes oneness or singleness (Greek: μόνος) to a concept (e.g., existence). Substance monism is the philosophical view that a variety of existing things can be explained in terms of a single reality or substance. Another definition states that all existing things go back to a source that is distinct from them (e.g., in Neoplatonism everything is derived from The One). This is often termed priority monism, and is the view that only one thing is ontologically basic or prior to everything else.
In Step aside Edward Gibbon I mention our collective inclination to seek monocausal explanations to complex systems. So, is this tendency simply a biological circumstance of our DNA which was first articulated by the pre-socratics or is it that the pre-socratics have an enduring appeal even 2,500 years later. It has to be one or the other, doesn't it? Heh.

Step aside Edward Gibbon

As I have argued before, all complex systems are multi-causal and yet our thinking inclines deterministically towards mono- or dual causalism. X deterministically causes Y, or at best, X+Y causes Z. The reality is that almost always there are multiple causes with different weightings, interacting with one another in different fashions under different conditions. All are contributive but in often inexplicable or non-transparent ways.

And all human systems are complex.

This is brought to mind by this tweet:

Going to the source, it appears that A. Demandt in Der Fall Roms (1984) compiled a full list of hypotheses as to the root cause of the fall of Rome. He came up with 210 reasons people have proposed caused the fall. While I would not argue that all of these are contributive causes, I would be happy to make the argument that a good number of them are (in different proportions).

With one or two causes, it easy to create a usefully true heuristic: Don't admit barbarians into your borders; Maintain proper respect for religion and tradition; Ensure consent of the governed; Avoid debt, etc. But as soon as you acknowledge that many things had to go wrong in the right proportions, at the right time and in the right sequence, the ability to extract useful heuristics declines. Complexity challenges us. Life is a lot simpler when you only have to do one thing right, much more of a burden when you have to do many things right.

Here are the 210 proposed possible causes of the fall of Rome as reported by Demandt:
1. Abolition of gods
2. Abolition of rights
3. Absence of character
4. Absolutism
5. Agrarian question
6. Agrarian slavery
7. Anarchy
8. Anti-Germanism
9. Apathy
10. Aristocracy
11. Asceticism
12. Attack of the Germans
13. Attack of the Huns
14. Attack of riding nomads
15. Backwardness in science
16. Bankruptcy
17. Barbarization
18. Bastardization
19. Blockage of land by large landholders
20. Blood poisoning
21. Bolshevization
22. Bread and circuses
23. Bureaucracy
24. Byzantinism
25. Capillarite sociale
26. Capitals, change of
27. Caste system
28. Celibacy
29. Centralization
30. Childlessness
31. Christianity
32. Citizenship, granting of
33. Civil war
34. Climatic deterioration
35. Communism
36. Complacency
37. Concatenation of misfortunes
38. Conservatism
39. Capitalism
40. Corruption
41. Cosmopolitanism
42. Crisis of legitimacy
43. Culinary excess
44. Cultural neurosis
45. Decentralization
46. Decline of Nordic character
47. Decline of the cities
48. Decline of the Italian population
49. Deforestation
50. Degeneration
51. Degeneration of the intellect
52. Demoralization
53. Depletion of mineral resources
54. Despotism
55. Destruction of environment
56. Destruction of peasantry
57. Destruction of political process
58. Destruction of Roman influence
59. Devastation
60. Differences in wealth
61. Disarmament
62. Disillusion with stated goals of empire
63. Division of empire
64. Division of labor
65. Earthquakes
66. Egoism
67. Egoism of the state
68. Emancipation of slaves
69. Enervation
70. Epidemics
71. Equal rights, granting of
72. Eradication of the best
73. Escapism
74. Ethnic dissolution
75. Excessive aging of population
76. Excessive civilization
77. Excessive culture
78. Excessive foreign infiltration
79. Excessive freedom
80. Excessive urbanization
81. Expansion
82. Exploitation
83. Fear of life
84. Female emancipation
85. Feudalization
86. Fiscalism
87. Gladiatorial system
88. Gluttony
89. Gout
90. Hedonism
91. Hellenization
92. Heresy
93. Homosexuality
94. Hothouse culture
95. Hubris
96. Hypothermia
97. Immoderate greatness
98. Imperialism
99. Impotence
100. Impoverishment
101. Imprudent policy toward buffer states
102. Inadequate educational system
103. Indifference
104. Individualism
105. Indoctrination
106. Inertia
107. Inflation
108. Intellectualism
109. Integration, weakness of
110. Irrationality
111. Jewish influence
112. Lack of leadership
113. Lack of male dignity
114. Lack of military recruits
115. Lack of orderly imperial succession
116. Lack of qualified workers
117. Lack of rainfall
118. Lack of religiousness
119. Lack of seriousness
120. Large landed properties
121. Lead poisoning
122. Lethargy
123. Leveling, cultural
124. Leveling, social
125. Loss of army discipline
126. Loss of authority
127. Loss of energy
128. Loss of instincts
129. Loss of population
130. Luxury
131. Malaria
132. Marriages of convenience
133. Mercenary system
134. Mercury damage
135. Militarism
136. Monetary economy
137. Monetary greed
138. Money, shortage of
139. Moral decline
140. Moral idealism
141. Moral materialism
142. Mystery religions
143. Nationalism of Rome's subjects
144. Negative selection
145. Orientalization
146. Outflow of gold
147. Over refinement
148. Pacifism
149. Paralysis of will
150. Paralysization
151. Parasitism
152. Particularism
153. Pauperism
154. Plagues
155. Pleasure seeking
156. Plutocracy
157. Polytheism
158. Population pressure
159. Precociousness
160. Professional army
161. Proletarianization
162. Prosperity
163. Prostitution
164. Psychoses
165. Public baths
166. Racial degeneration
167. Racial discrimination
168. Racial suicide
169. Rationalism
170. Refusal of military service
171. Religious struggles and schisms
172. Rentier mentality
173. Resignation
174. Restriction to profession
175. Restriction to the land
176. Rhetoric
177. Rise of uneducated masses
178. Romantic attitudes to peace
179. Ruin of middle class
180. Rule of the world
181. Semieducation
182. Sensuality
183. Servility
184. Sexuality
185. Shamelessness
186. Shifting of trade routes
187. Slavery
188. Slavic attacks
189. Socialism (of the state)
190. Soil erosion
191. Soil exhaustion
192. Spiritual barbarism
193. Stagnation
194. Stoicism
195. Stress
196. Structural weakness
197. Superstition
198. Taxation, pressure of
199. Terrorism
200. Tiredness of life
201. Totalitarianism
202. Treason
203. Tristesse
204. Two-front war
205. Underdevelopment
206. Useless eaters
207. Usurpation of all powers by state
208. Vain gloriousness
209. Villa economy
210. Vulgarization

Problems that, while the paradigm is taken for granted, can be assumed to have solutions

From The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. Page 37.
We have already seen, however, that one of the things a scientific community acquires with a paradigm is a criterion for choosing problems that, while the paradigm is taken for granted, can be assumed to have solutions. To a great extent these are the only problems that the community will admit as scientific or encourage its members to undertake. Other problems, including many that had previously been standard, are rejected as metaphysical, as the concern of another discipline, or sometimes as just too problematic to be worth the time. A paradigm can, for that matter, even insulate the community from those socially important problems that are not reducible to the puzzle form, because they cannot be stated in terms of the conceptual and instrumental tools the paradigm supplies.

Things moved slower back before digital

From Great Australian Stories by Graham Seal. Page 104.

Seal's account is built around a newspaper article from July 5, 1834 in the Perth Gazette. Perth, as a settlement was then only five years old, a lonely outpost on the far western rim of one of Britains remotest colonies.

Starting with the Gazette's account:
The following we believe to be the substance of the information conveyed to the Government: about a week or ten days since, Tonguin and Weenat came to Parker's and gave him and his sons to understand, that they (Tonguin and Weenat) had recently learned from some of the northern tribes, (who appear to be indiscriminately referred to un the name of ayo men, or Weelmen) that a ship was wrecked ('boat broke') on the coast to the northward, about 30 (native) days walk from the Swan — that there was white money plenty lying on the beach for several yards, as thick as seed vessels under a red gum tree. On some article of brass being shewn, they said that was not like the colour of the money; but on a dollar being shewn, they recognized it immediately as the kind of money they meant: but laid the dollar on the ground and drawing a somewhat larger circle round it with the finger, said 'the money was like that'. They represented that the wreck had been seen six moons ago, and that all the white men were dead: none, as it is supposed, having been then seen by their informants, the Weelmen. They added that, at low water, the natives could reach the wreck, which had blankets (sails) flying about it: from which it is presumed that the supposed vessel may not have entirely lost her masts on first striking, and they stuck up three sticks in a manner which led Parker's sons to understand that the wreck they were attempting to describe had three masts, but Parker himself did not infer the same meaning.

A day or two after Tonguin's visit, Moiley Dibbin called at Parker's with further information on the same subject, but derived from the same distant source; namely, the Weelmen. Moiley had been informed by some of the latter that there were several white men, represented to be of very large stature, ladies and 'plenty piccaninnie' — that they were living in houses made of canvas and wood (pointing out these materials, among several shewn to him) that there are five such houses, two large and three small — that they are not on a river but on the open sea (`Gabby England come') — that the sea coast, at the site of the wreck, takes a bend easterly into an apparent bay (as described by Moiley on the ground) — that the spot where the white money is strewed on the beach is some (indefinite) distance from the spot where the houses are and more within the bay — that the gabby (surf) breaks with very great noise where the money is, and as it runs back, the Weelmen run forward and pick it up — that the white men gave the Weelmen some gentlemen's (white) biscuit, and the latter gave in return spears, shields, &c. — that they, Moiley, Tonguin, and Weenat, had never seen the wreck or the white men, and were afraid to go through the territories of the Weelmen, who are cannibals: but that they intend to go as far as the Waylo country, and then coo-ee to the Weelmen, who will come to meet them and give them some of the white money — and that the white men then could walk to the houses at the wreck in ten days — but though the word walk be used, there can be little doubt that Moiley alludes to a 'walk—on horseback'.
The prospect of rescuing white people from the aftermath of shipwreck and perhaps the depredations of the 'natives', together with the lure of money, electrified the small settlement. A few months before, some other Aborigines from the north had brought a few British coins into Perth, claiming that they had received them from the fearsome 'Wayl men'. This only increased people's eagerness to find out more, and plans were made for a boat to sail north in search of the wreck.

At this point, a local Aboriginal leader named Weeip enters the story. He had recently been outlawed for his resistance to colonial rule, and his son had been taken as, in effect, a hostage by the administra-tion of Governor James Stirling. Hoping to win his son back, Weeip volunteered to travel north to see what he could discover. He returned in early August, claiming he had been told by the northern people that there were definitely no survivors of the mysterious wreck, but that there was plenty of 'white money'. The settlers were sceptical, but the Governor released Weeip's son all the same in return for Weeip's promise of good behaviour. The Monkey returned in October, having found nothing but some worm-eaten teak and fir wreckage on reefs off Dirk Hartog Island.

Meanwhile, however, other odd stories had begun to circulate. In July, soon after the Perth Gazette' s first story on the 'wreck', some Aborigines reported that they had contact with a party of whites living about eighty kilometres inland from the Perth colony. As there was no known settlement at that distance from the colony, this was astounding news. Who these people might have been, if they ever existed, is a mystery. Although highly unlikely, it is conceivable that a group had landed unnoticed and trekked inland to settle in the wilds.

It was eventually determined that the shipwreck stories were old. They had been passed down from one generation to the next for perhaps a century or more. Stories passed on in this way tend to compress time spans. In this case, the 'broke boat' and the 'white money' did have a basis in fact, but that did not become clear until 1927, when the wreck of the Dutch East Indiaman Zuytdorp was first located. She had foundered in 1712 and perhaps thirty survivors had mysteriously disappeared into the continent's vast emptiness. The only evidence of their coming was the wreckage of their craft and a sandy bottom covered in silver coins - a scene that bore out the Aboriginal story of 1834.
A ship wrecks in 1712, news of the wreck is first conveyed to Europeans by Aborigines in 1834, and the event is not actually confirmed until 1927. Things moved slower back before digital.

I was born poor, and I learned to know want before enjoyment

From The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior by Paul Strathern. Page 35.
Niccolò Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469 in Florence, in the Santo Spirito district of Oltrarno, across the river from the main center of the city. His father, Bernardo, was the illegitimate scion of an old Florentine family;
he had gone bankrupt and was thus officially barred from practicing his profession as a lawyer. Bernardo lived off the income from his small estate in the country and continued to practice his profession "under the counter" at cut-price rates.
Money was short in the Machiavelli household, and Niccolò would later recall, "I was born poor, and I learned to know want before enjoyment."

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Paradigms gain their status because they are more successful than their competitors in solving a few problems

From The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. Page 23.
In a science, on the other hand, a paradigm is rarely an object for replication. Instead, like an accepted judicial decision in the common law, it is an object for further articulation and specification under new or more stringent conditions. To see how this can be so, we must recognize how very limited in both scope and precision a paradigm can be at the time of its first appearance. Paradigms gain their status because they are more successful than their competitors in solving a few problems that the group of practitioners has come to recognize as acute. To be more successful is not, however, to be either completely successful with a single problem or notably successful with any large number. The success of a paradigm — whether Aristotle’s analysis of motion, Ptolemy’s computations of planetary position, Lavoisier’s application of the balance, or Maxwell’s mathematization of the electromagnetic field—is at the start largely a promise of success discoverable in selected and still incomplete examples. Normal science consists in the actualization of that promise, an actualization achieved by extending the knowledge of those facts that the paradigm displays as particularly revealing, by increasing the extent of the match between those facts and the paradigm’s predictions, and by further articulation of the paradigm itself.

Few people who are not actually practitioners of a mature science realize how much mop-up work of this sort a paradigm leaves to be done or quite how fascinating such work can prove in the execution. And these points need to be understood. Mop-ping-up operations are what engage most scientists throughout their careers. They constitute what I am here calling normal science. Closely examined, whether historically or in the contemporary laboratory, that enterprise seems an attempt to force nature into the preformed and relatively inflexible box that the paradigm supplies. No part of the aim of normal science is to call forth new sorts of phenomena; indeed those that will not fit the box are often not seen at all. Nor do scientists normally aim to invent new theories, and they are often intolerant of those invented by others. Instead, normal-scientific research is directed to the articulation of those phenomena and theories that the paradigm already supplies

Friday, April 28, 2017

The sickest man in World War II

From The Burma Road by Donovan Webster. From page 216. Conditions in the Burma campaign in WWII.
In the intervening two days, Myitkyina's thousands of Japanese defenders dug in, creating World War I-style earthwork trenches across the city and on the river's far shore. When the Marauders finally began their attack, they carried with them little artillery, no armor, and pitifully weak air support due to the cloudy monsoon skies. By now, 80 percent of the Marauders were diagnosed by Colonel Seagrave as having dysentery, and one man, Lt. Samuel Wilson, was sent to India as purportedly "the sickest man in World War II." He was diagnosed with - and eventually recovered from - simultaneous cases of mite typhus, amoebic dysentery, malaria, infected jungle sores, nervous exhaustion, and starvation-related wasting.

Human bad habits undermining AI

It's from four years ago but still amusing. IBM's Watson Memorized the Entire 'Urban Dictionary,' Then His Overlords Had to Delete It by Alexis C. Madrigal.
And so, when IBM's famous artificial intelligence, Watson, he/she/it of Jeopardy-winning fame, was in development, its head researcher had a great idea. Humans created this repository of slang, The Urban Dictionary. For example, today on the site, we learn that 'healthy gas' is "the gas (fart) produced from a person who has eaten healthy foods like cabbage, beans, broccolli, grains, or other high fiber, high carbohydrate foods."

Brown realized that this formalization of informal language might be a great way for Watson to understand the way real people communicate. So, he and his team, fed the whole thing into their AI.

But one problem. Informal language has a tendency to be dirty, nasty language. Its insults and cuss words, new names for gross old things, old names for gross new things, etc. And so, we learn from Fortune's Michal Lev-Ram, they had to delete all that human messiness from Watson's memory.
I came across this on twitter. Someone's comment was,

Alluding to:

Click to enlarge.

I make money studying natural stupidity

From When it comes to investing, human stupidity beats AI by Miles Johnson.

An article discussing the prospective abilities of artificial intelligence. There are several good points but I especially liked this quotation.
Or as billionaire Carl Icahn has put it: “Some people get rich studying artificial intelligence. Me, I make money studying natural stupidity”.

Dear friend, all theory is gray

From Faust Part I by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe. Mephistopheles speaking.
Dear friend, all theory is gray,
And green the golden tree of life.
Grau, theurer Freund, ist alle Theorie,
Und grün des Lebens goldner Baum.
To the extent that we live into the future, we, perforce, live within models, theories, assumptions that allow us to forecast what is likely to happen. All such models are proxies for reality, all are grey compared to the green of the golden tree of life. Committed to the future, it is easy to lose touch with the green of the present.

We had a good deal of trouble with steam launches that morning

From Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog) by Jerome K. Jerome. The days when the face of technological inconvenience was a steam launch on the river.
We had a good deal of trouble with steam launches that morning. It was just before the Henley week, and they were going up in large numbers; some by themselves, some towing houseboats. I do hate steam launches: I suppose every rowing man does. I never see a steam launch but I feel I should like to lure it to a lonely part of the river, and there, in the silence and the solitude, strangle it.

There is a blatant bumptiousness about a steam launch that has the knack of rousing every evil instinct in my nature, and I yearn for the good old days, when you could go about and tell people what you thought of them with a hatchet and a bow and arrows. The expression on the face of the man who, with his hands in his pockets, stands by the stern, smoking a cigar, is sufficient to excuse a breach of the peace by itself; and the lordly whistle for you to get out of the way would, I am confident, ensure a verdict of “justifiable homicide” from any jury of river men.

They used to have to whistle for us to get out of their way. If I may do so, without appearing boastful, I think I can honestly say that our one small boat, during that week, caused more annoyance and delay and aggravation to the steam launches that we came across than all the other craft on the river put together.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Military autocracy meets Cockney Brothel Inspectors

From The Burma Road by Donovan Webster. From page 114 on the Japanese preparations for building the bridge on the River Kwai.
With the heat of spring presaging the rains of summer, few Allied POWs in Japanese-controlled South Asia could understand why suddenly, after months of neglect, their Japanese captors began distributing questionnaires inquiring about each prisoner's education and professional history. Then, ominously, the POWs were made to sign contracts in which they agreed not to attempt to escape.

Shortly after the forms had been completed and returned - with most of the POWs explaining to the captors that before the war they had been dedicated professional "beer tasters," "centenary bell ringers," and "brothel inspectors" - yet another inexplicable event occurred. Inside prison camp wires across south Asia, from Java and Sumatra to the thick walls of the stifling Changi Prison in Singapore, the Japanese announced that all able POWs would soon be moved to "rest camps" in the mountains of Thailand and Burma. Once there, housed in cooler altitude and jungle shade, the POWs were told they would receive improved food and medical care, allowing those who'd been left sick and exhausted by their captivity to stand better odds of recovery.
That, of course, is not how it played out. All the surveying and movement of prisoners were simply a prelude to the construction of the railroad and bridge.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The fiction and reality of heroism

From The Burma Road by Donovan Webster. From page 113 on the building of the bridge on the River Kwai.
These days, what most people know of Burma-Siam Railway, and its famous span across the Kwai Yai has one foot firmly planted in the manipulations of fiction. In 1952, Pierre Boulleel, a French-born engineer, author, and British Special Forces resistance fighter in China, Burma, and Indochina in World War II, published his second novel. Titled The Bridge on the River Kwai, it was based loosely on events at one Allied POW Camp near Kanchanaburi during the war.

In the course of the novel, British prisoners are forced by a brutal Japanese commander to build a wooden rail bridge across the river, only to watch it be blown by their own countrymen upon completion. In a novelist's trick, however, the pitiable conditions and backbreaking work done by the POW's become vehicles for the prisoners to rediscover their self-respect in the face of Japanese humiliations. In real life, of course, as men died and others sweated and struggled to live another day - while working at the slowest pace possible under the Japanese - the broad strokes of heroism Bouelle described were far less showy and far more lethal. According to historians, when the railroad was completed seventeen months later, in October 1943, more than sixteen thousand Allied prisoners - a city's worth of men - would perish, as would as many as 150,000 Thai, Burmese, Indonesian, and Malaysian conscript laborers, people barely mentioned in Bouelle's book.
When we lived in Australia, I had a couple friends whose families had been shadowed by the brutality of the building of the bridge.

I never cease to be struck by the asymmetry of reporting on events. From Webster's numbers, one may guess that the local people had ten times as many citizens affected by the Japanese cruelty as the Allied soldiers and yet virtually everything we know is based on the experience of the Western allies. It is to some degree a function of universal literacy in the West and productive publishing companies but that's not the complete answer. Almost everything that is in print about the Six Day War, for example, is from the perspective of western observers or the Israeli's and yet the Arab belligerent forces were 2.5 times the number of the Israelis.

I suspect that, in combination with universal literacy and well-developed publishing sectors, simply the culture of reading (and therefore demand for reading materials) and the concomitant cultural openness and curiosity, has a far greater cumulative impact than we recognize.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

AVG pilots might be seen riding domesticated water buffalo down the streets of Rangoon shouting "Ya-hoo!"

From The Burma Road by Donovan Webster. From page 64, describing the deployment of the American Volunteer Group (the famous "Flying Tigers").
Initially deployed in three squadrons - with bases in in Kunming, Taungoo in central Burma, and Rangoon, the Flying Tigers were as formidable on the ground as in the air. Equal parts relentless pursuit pilots and rakish, comic-book heroes, the men of the AVG exuded two-fisted energy - and a formidable lack of discipline. As mercenaries outside the restrictions of the army, they flew in cowboy boots and rumpled, oil-stained khakis, dressing in full uniform only for funerals. At night in Rangoon, they scandalized British officers by wearing loud Hawaiian-print shirts and drinking hard with local girls at the tony Silver Lake Grill. Other times, after a few dozen drinks, AVG pilots might be seen riding domesticated water buffalo down the streets of Rangoon shouting "Ya-hoo!" In Kunming and Taungoo, they killed time drinking bootleg whiskey and Carew's Gin and, if no worthy opponents could be found, playing baseball, basketball, and fistfighting among themselves.

One booze-soaked evening in Rangoon, several AVG pilots convinced the captain of an American C-47 cargo plane to make an unscheduled bombing run on Hanoi. Loading the ungainly aircraft with discarded French, Russian, and Chinese ordinance (and plenty of liquor), they proceeded over their target in darkness, kicking bombs from the plane's passenger door between swigs of drink.

After Rangoon fell and all three squadrons of the AVG became based in Kunming, they kept up their unruly ways with their commander's tacit approval. They'd affectionately taken to calling Chennault "Old Leatherface," and the AVG's afternoon baseball scrimmages and nightly poker games (which Chennault often won) were Kunming's social hot spot.

Meanwhile, in the air, the Tigers remained even scrappier and more resourceful than on the ground. Because they didn't have spare aircraft, Flying Tiger planes were soon heaps of scavenged parts, their pilots sometimes filling Japanese bullet holes with wads of chewing gum and adhesive tape. To deceive the enemy into thinking the AVG had countless aircraft, the Americans repainted their propellers new colors every week. And since the P-40s possessed no bomb racks, pilots crafted incendiary "gifts" for the Japanese of gasoline-filled whisky bottles that they'd ignite and toss from their cockpits. Other times, they'd drop homemade pipe bombs onto Japanese encampments.

Before long, Radio Tokyo was calling the American pilots "unprincipled bandits," and demanding that, unless these tactics were halted, the Americans would be "treated as guerrillas" — implying execution if captured. By early 1942, the Japanese vowed to destroy "all two hundred planes" possessed by the Flying Tigers, despite the AVG having only twenty-nine aircraft in commission at the time.

But journalistic groupthink is a symptom, not a cause.

From The Media Bubble Is Worse Than You Think by Jack Shafer and Tucker Doherty

This article provides some empirical underpinnings of my thesis that the mainstream media is so biased to the left because the media is located in large urban locations where the dominant ethos is left. I discuss the idea and some of its broader implications in The effect size from their perspective is that much smaller than from yours.

Shafer and Doherty:
The answer to the press’ myopia lies elsewhere, and nobody has produced a better argument for how the national media missed the Trump story than FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, who pointed out that the ideological clustering in top newsrooms led to groupthink. “As of 2013, only 7 percent of [journalists] identified as Republicans,” Silver wrote in March, chiding the press for its political homogeneity. Just after the election, presidential strategist Steve Bannon savaged the press on the same point but with a heartier vocabulary. “The media bubble is the ultimate symbol of what’s wrong with this country,” Bannon said. “It’s just a circle of people talking to themselves who have no fucking idea what’s going on.”

The map at the top of this piece shows how concentrated media jobs have become in the nation’s most Democratic-leaning counties. Counties that voted for Donald Trump in 2016 are in red, and Hillary Clinton counties are in blue, with darker colors signifying higher vote margins. The bubbles represent the 150 counties with the most newspaper and internet publishing jobs. Not only do most of the bubbles fall in blue counties, chiefly on the coasts, but an outright majority of the jobs are in the deepest-blue counties, where Clinton won by 30 points or more.

But journalistic groupthink is a symptom, not a cause. And when it comes to the cause, there’s another, blunter way to think about the question than screaming “bias” and “conspiracy,” or counting D’s and R’s. That’s to ask a simple question about the map. Where do journalists work, and how much has that changed in recent years? To determine this, my colleague Tucker Doherty excavated labor statistics and cross-referenced them against voting patterns and Census data to figure out just what the American media landscape looks like, and how much it has changed.

The results read like a revelation. The national media really does work in a bubble, something that wasn’t true as recently as 2008. And the bubble is growing more extreme. Concentrated heavily along the coasts, the bubble is both geographic and political. If you’re a working journalist, odds aren’t just that you work in a pro-Clinton county—odds are that you reside in one of the nation’s most pro-Clinton counties. And you’ve got company: If you’re a typical reader of Politico, chances are you’re a citizen of bubbleville, too.


The result? If you look at the maps on the next page, you don’t need to be a Republican campaign strategist to grasp just how far the “media bubble” has drifted from the average American experience. Newspaper jobs are far more evenly scattered across the country, including the deep red parts. But as those vanish, it’s internet jobs that are driving whatever growth there is in media—and those fall almost entirely in places that are dense, blue and right in the bubble.


In a sense, the media bubble reflects an established truth about America: The places with money get served better than the places without. People in big media cities aren’t just more liberal, they’re also richer: Half of all newspaper and internet publishing employees work in counties where the median household income is greater than $61,000—$7,000 more than the national median. Commercial media tend to cluster where most of the GDP is created, and that’s the coasts. Perhaps this is what Bannon is hollering about when he denounces the “corporatist, global media,” as he did in February at the Conservative Political Action Conference. If current trends continue—and it’s safe to predict they will—national media will continue to expand and concentrate on the coasts, while local and regional media contract.
The maps are striking, especially the one for internet media:

Click to enlarge.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Referring to their invasion as an "incident"

From The Burma Road by Donovan Webster. From page 23.

In America, when we think about World War II and our engagement with Japan, we think of a three-and-a-half year war, from December 7, 1941 to August 15, 1945. And that is indeed correct from the American vantage point. What we often overlook is that Japan was continuously at war from the time of their invasion of Manchuria on September 18, 1931. From their perspective, their war lasted 14 years.

Most of that time their focus was centered on lands in China. I knew that the tracts of conquered territory were vast and that the great bulk of their Army and Air Force were anchored in that quagmire but I had never appreciated how many Japanese civilians were involved as well. Nearly 1.5% of Japan's civilian population were relocated to China.
Still, China and its largest trade partner, the United States, weren't having it. When both nations (along with Britain) complained about the Manchurian occupation to the League of Nations, Japan responded by withdrawing from the League. Adding a semantic twist to the discussion, the Japanese continued to deny they were making war on the Chinese, referring to their invasion as an "incident" instead of an official act of war. The League did little to object.

Over the next six years — and employing similarly flimsy rationales — Japan gobbled up many of China's major cities and seaports, moving one million Japanese citizens and three hundred thousand soldiers into Japanese-occupied China. By 1937, Peking, Tientsin, and the seaports of Tsingtao, Amoy, and Swatow were under Japanese control, as was much of central China's "Iron Ricebowl," as its fertile Yellow River Valley is known.

101 Things All Young Adults Should Know

There is a new book out which I have not read and it is in a genre - self-help - which I don't usually read. But as the parent of three young adults, it has at least some marginal salience: 101 Things All Young Adults Should Know by John Hawkins.

Enough salience that I searched out the list of 101 things. I don't see anything particularly objectionable and it is broadly all good advice. Like many such lists, much rides on interpretation. I must admit, though, I especially enjoyed the contemporaneousness of "23. Don’t take naked pictures of yourself." I am a big fan of traditional wisdom via the classics, but that is not an admonition likely to show up in writings of Cicero, Aurelius, Thucydides, Herodotus or among any other classical writers with whom I am familiar, no matter how vernacular the translation. But it is good advice none-the-less.
Chapter 1 Friendship

1. Be the one who moves first in social situations.
2. Set hard boundaries in your personal life.
3. You will become like the people you spend the most time with.
4. Don’t loan money to your friends.
5. “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” Use that to your advantage when you can.
6. Think twice before telling anyone to end a relationship.

Chapter 2 Love

7. There’s a right time, a right place, and a right person to have sex with.
8. Make yourself happy first.
9. Women and men are looking for different reactions when they tell you their problems.
10. People are what they are and are probably not going to change much once they’ve reached adulthood.
11. Here’s how to tell if someone is flirting with you.
12. Take enough time to get to know a person before committing to them.
13. Men should embrace their masculinity, and women should embrace their femininity.
14. Learn to say, “I love you,” “I was wrong,” and “I apologize.”
15. The mother test.

Chapter 3 Social Situations

16. Be nice until it’s time to not be nice.
17. If you want to know what a person really believes, look to their actions.
18. Learning to really listen to people will change your relationships for the better.
19. If you have trouble telling people “no,” the broken record technique comes in handy.
20. This is how to deal with the police.
21. Right or wrong, good or bad, the more you achieve, the more criticism you’ll receive.
22. You must learn the art of ignoring.

Chapter 4 No Regrets

23. Don’t take naked pictures of yourself.
24. Don’t put anything on social media that you would be uncomfortable with the whole world seeing.
25. It’s best to avoid temptation.
26. There are some things you shouldn’t do because you might enjoy them too much.
27. Avoid the big mistake!
28. Don’t stay in a bad situation because you are afraid of change.
29. Avoid writing emails, letters, blog posts, or even having conversations with someone if you are upset with them.
30. Be cautious about putting anything in an email that you wouldn’t want to become public.
31. Focus on the positive.
32. Don’t ever forget you’re going to die someday.

Chapter 5 Money Matters

33. The keys to long-term finances are your house and your car.
34. How do you decide whether to spend money?
35. If you can, bargain.
36. In a business deal, make sure you have an ironclad contract.
37. Compound interest is your friend.
38. For something you will use for a long time, spend a little more money and get something that is high quality.
39. Protect your downside.
40. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Chapter 6 Adulting

41. Chart it.
42. Keep a clean house.
43. When you move, sell, throw away, and give away as much as possible.
44. Dogs are fantastic animals, but they are much more expensive and time consuming than you’d think.
45. Lefty is loosey. Righty is tighty.
46. It’s worth your time to take a typing class.
47. Don’t underestimate the impact of sleep on the quality of your life.
48. Cars do require maintenance to function properly.
49. If you are cutting something, make sure you are cutting away from your body, not toward it.
50. Here’s how and when to tip.
51. Prepare in case it all goes wrong.

Chapter 7 Health

52. Take care of your body for the first forty years of your life, and it’ll take care of you for the next forty years.
53. If you think a doctor is wrong, don’t hesitate to ask for a second opinion.
54. Take care of your physical frame.
55. Test yourself.
56. Pornography is physiologically bad for you.

Chapter 8 Career

57. There’s no shame in taking an honest job.
58. Getting fired or laid off isn’t the end of the world; sometimes it’s a blessing.
59. Start looking for a new job before you quit your old job.
60. Look for something you love doing so much that you’d do it for free, and find a way to make it into a career.
61. Don’t take any job that only pays commission unless you’re an expert salesman.
62. Most businesses will see you as disposable.
63. If you don’t feel like you’re being treated fairly as a consumer, don’t hesitate to ask for a manager.

Chapter 9 Success

64. You beat 50% of the people by just showing up, another
40% by working hard, and the last 10% is a dogfight.
65. You’re going to have to prove yourself.
66. Most happy and successful people persistently and consistently work hard, work smart, and do the right thing.
67. Ironically, successful people tend to fail a lot more and ask more questions than unsuccessful people.
68. Pick the brains of people who know more than you do.
69. If you want something, ask for it.
70. When it comes to life, your attitude should be, “If I didn’t earn it, I don’t deserve it.”
71. Here’s how to become a success at anything.
72. First impressions are much more important than most people realize.
73. Make your habits, and your habits will make you.
74. Know when to hire outside help.
75. Learn to love problems.
76. Almost everything is going to be harder than you think.
77. Losers make excuses for why they failed. Winners find ways to get the job done.

Chapter 10 Be Responsible

78. Nobody owes you a living.
79. If you can’t support yourself, you shouldn’t have a child or get married.
80. Don’t risk killing yourself by driving when you’re so tired you can barely hold your eyes open; take a cat nap.
81. If you buy a gun, learn to use it.
82. Prepare a will, a medical directive, and a listing of what sort of arrangements you want made if you die.
83. At a minimum, keep a basic to-do list.
84. There is safety in numbers.

Chapter 11 Self-Awareness

85. You are not a victim.
86. Ask yourself if it’s the right thing to do.
87. Here’s how to make a decision.
88. Trust your instincts.
89. You will likely find that your parents are right about a lot more than you think.
90. Push yourself harder than anyone else does, but also forgive yourself.
91. Few things in life have any intrinsic meaning.

Chapter 12 Live Life to the Fullest

92. Get out there and live!
93. When in doubt, act!
94. Keep balance in these six key areas of your life: health, career, romantic, social, money, and religion.
95. Don’t major in minor things.
96. The quality of your life can be greatly increased by cutting things away from it.
97. If you’re not going to remember it in five years, it doesn’t matter.
98. Continue learning.
99. Fame, money, and being remembered are less important than people.
100. You’re better off spending your money on experiences than things.
101. Enjoy the moment, because nothing in life is permanent.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Vote - Other

The French round-one election results are coming in and The Atlantic Magazine has an article sub-titled - For the first time in modern French history, neither candidate is from a major party.

At the same time, the Tory British Prime Minister, Theresa May, has called a new election which is highlighting the fading relevance of the British Labour Party. Labour, after a successful run in the 90s under Blair and a less successful run in the aughts under Brown has essentially imploded as they advance old style soviet Marxism spiced with anti-semitism. The British Labour Party is vestigial and fighting a brutal ideological civil war within itself.

The Democrats in the US are still shellshocked from their recent presidential loss and wondering how to address a decade long run of losses at the Federal, state and local levels of government and with essentially no non-antiquarian leaders. Establishment Democrats sotto voce want to move to the center, the ideological base wants to move to the postmodernist, deconstuctionist, critical theory left, and the only crowd puller is a septuagenarian who isn't even a member of the party but a self-proclaimed Socialist.

Scandinavia countries moved to the right some years ago (owing to budget realities), and are no longer the socialist paradise of yore, but much more an example of a market-based communalism.

Everywhere the old left, whether Labour, Socialist, Social Democrat, or Democrat, all seem in retreat.

So is the developed world jettisoning the failures of socialism? Or is it that socialists/left leaning parties were in power so long that this is really simply a revolt against the establishment and it just happens that the establishment was socialist? I think there is plenty of evidence for both propositions and also some significant confounds for each proposition.

But the statist spirit that animated the socialists of my youth - Olof Palme, Tony Benn, Arthur Scargill, François Mitterrand, Gamal Nasser, Ralph Nader - not just those individuals but those strident statist voices, all seem to have been sidelined and silenced. You only hear such voices on university campuses anymore.

I'm not complaining. Static statism is one of the worst conditions afflicting humanity. Still, it is striking how the terms of the public debate have changed and changed so dramatically.

The Earl and the Duck Hunter

From The Burma Road by Donovan Webster. From page 287. Describing the interactions between the Allied leaders, front and rear-echelons. Joseph Stilwell was the American commander of the Burmese theater, tasked with managing the Alliance with both Imperial Britain and China, and with carrying the war to the Japanese with the barest of resources.
Stilwell, however, had grown tired of Mountbatten's show. (Though, in truth, Stilwell the Yankee blueblood also took great pains in managing his image as a straight-talking, rough-and-ready ground soldier.) When Stilwell arrived by air transport at Kandy, he was not wearing the formal and pressed uniform of the SEAC deputy, but his own unadorned battle fatigues. As usual, Stilwell's clothes were devoid of all general's stars, insignias, medals, and ribbons, which often left Vinegar Joe, in William Slim's assessment, looking "like a duck hunter." After being met at the "Kandy Kids" airfield by Mountbatten's black Cadillac - which was festooned with official pennants - Stilwell took one look at the car, shook his head, and said: "Get me a jeep." Then he stowed his bags in the Cadillac and drove himself up the mountain toward Kandy and headquarters, his left leg hanging out of the jeep as it followed the state car to Mountbatten's residence at the king's pavilion.

For a week, Stilwell sat in on SEAC meetings and took meals at Mountbatten's table. ("I've got to quit eating with Louis," he wrote. "I actually like those rum cocktails.") More often at Kandy, Stilwell made a point of being bored by the crisp and on-date international newspapers flown in from around the world, the leather club chairs, the platoons of barefoot servants, the grand library, and the constant motion of a staff of three thousand, which — much to Stilwell's displeasure —included numerous British female officers. (The women's staff at Kandy actually included a young American OSS worker named Julia McWilliams, who would later marry and become famous as television's "The French Chef," Julia Child.)

Stilwell, though, never was comfortable at SEAC HQ: "Something wrong with Headquarters at Kandy ..." he later wrote in his diary. "I al-ways felt half asleep."

While visiting Ceylon, Stilwell made no secret of his indifference at every afternoon's full-dress meeting, where long-range staff planning and the tiresome bookkeeping of rear-echelon logistics left him blank. To spice up the days, as he was effectively the military governor of Burma, Stilwell took devilish pleasure in loudly contemplating orders designed to upset the country's former colonizers, such as "freeing the Kachins, etc."

High in Erin sang the sword

From Njal's Saga, one of the greatest sagas of Iceland, usually dealing with epic feuds across the vast tracts of Nordic North Atlantic expansion including Ireland, Scotland, Shetland and lands west.
I have been where warriors wrestled,
High in Erin sang the sword,
Boss to boss met many bucklers.
Steel rung sharp on rattling helm;
I can tell of all their struggle;
Sigurd fell in flight of spears;
Brian fell, but kept his kingdom
Ere he lost one drop of blood.

In the levity of his tongue and the foolishness of his heart

From English history, from 1235 to 1273 by Matthew Paris. Summary - an Englishman in the 1250s or so gets in trouble in England and is banished. He flees to the Middle East where he loses all his money gambling. Being able to write and fluent in several languages, the Tatars make him a proposition he cannot refuse. A happy-go-lucky English ne'er-do-well who ends up in service to the Tatar as a translator and emissary.

An amazing tale, fortuitously related by Paris.
The prince of Dalmatia took prisoners eight of the fugitives, one of whom was known by the duke of Austria to be an Englishman, who, for certain crimes, had been banished for ever from the kingdom of England. This man had twice come as an envoy and interpreter from the king of the Tattars to the king of Hungary, and plainly threatened and warned them of the evils which afterwards happened, unless he should give up himself and his kingdom to be subject to the Tattars. The princes persuaded him to speak the truth about the Tattars, and he, without hesitation, under every form of oath, made his statements so strongly that the devil himself might have been believed. First, he told about himself, that immediately after his banishment, that is, before he was thirty years old, he lost all he had at gambling, in the city of Acre; and in the winter-time had nothing but a shirt of sackcloth, shoes of ox's skin, and a cape made of horsehair. In this shameful state of want, and in an enfeebled state of body, with his hair cropped as if he were a buffoon, and uttering inarticulate cries like a dumb man, he passed over many countries, and met with great kindness from his entertainers, wearing out his life somehow or other, though he daily, in the levity of his tongue and the foolishness of his heart, had wished himself at the devil. At length, from excessive toil, and continual change of air and diet, he was seized with a severe illness, among the Chaldees, and became weary of his life. Not able to go farther, or to come back, he stopped where he was, breathing with difficulty, and, being somewhat acquainted with letters, he began to put down in writing the words which were there spoken, and afterwards pronounced them so correctly that he was taken for a native, and he learnt several languages with the same facility. The Tattars heard of him through their spies, and drew him over to their interests: when they had got an answer about their claim of subjugating the whole world, they bound him to be loyal in their service, by bestowing on him many gifts; for they were in much need of persons to be their interpreters.

Gambling ain't what it used to be

From Las Vegas average is over no arbitrage condition by Tyler Cowen.
Casinos on the Strip now derive a smaller share of revenue from gambling. In 1996, more than half of annual casino revenue on the Strip came from gambling. Last year, the share was down to about a third, according to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. More of the revenue comes from hotels, restaurants and bars.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Deep peace of the gentle night to you.

From A Gaelic Blessing.
Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the gentle night to you.
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.
Deep peace of Christ,
of Christ the light of the world to you.
Deep peace of Christ to you.

We are choosing not to discuss some of the most important issues

From IQ and The Job Market by Jordan Peterson. I knew all the elements of what he is presenting in this video but had not considered it from the perspective he is advancing. It crystalizes several problems and represents a dramatic challenge to our complacencies.

The aspect I want to call out is his matching of complexity, IQ, and jobs. He presents data on the levels of IQ representative of each profession. From the job types, this is clearly Canadian data, and perhaps dated but it broadly aligns with similar data sets I have seen in the past based on more contemporary US job categories.
People in these professions are in the 85th - 96th percentile of cognitive ability (IQ of 116-130):
Attorney, Research analyst
Editor, Advertising
Chemist, Engineer, Executive
Manager, Trainee
Systems Analyst, Auditor
People in the following jobs are in the 73rd - 85th percentile of cognitive ability (IQ of 110-115)
Copywriter, Accountant
Manager, Supervisor
Sales Manager
Sales, Programmer
Teacher, Analyst, Adjuster
General Manager
Purchasing Agent
Registered Nurse
Sales Account Executive
People in the following jobs are in the 60th - 70th percentile of cognitive ability (IQ of 103-108)
Administrative Assistant
Store Manager, Bookkeeper
Credit Clerk, Drafter, Designer
Lab Tester/Tech, Assistant Manager
General Sales, Telephone Sales
Secretary, Accounting Clerk
Medical Debt Collection
Computer Operator
Customer Service Representative
Technician, Automotive Salesman
Clerk, Typist
People in the following jobs are in the 50th - 55th percentile of cognitive ability (IQ of 100-102)
Dispatcher, General Office
Police Patrol Officer,
Receptionist, Cashier
General Clerical
Inside sales Clerk, Meter Reader
Printer, Teller, Data Entry
Electrical Helper
People in the following jobs are in the 42nd - 45th percentile of cognitive ability (IQ of 95-98)
Machinist, Food Department Manager
Quality Control Checker
Claims Clerk, Driver, Deliveryman
Security Guard, Unskilled Labor
Maintenance, Machine Operator
Arc Welder, Die Setter, Mechanic
Medical/Dental Assistant
People in the following jobs are in the 21st - 37th percentile of cognitive ability (IQ of 87-93)
Messenger, Factory Production
Assembly, Food Service Worker
Nurse's Aid, Warehouseman
Material Handler
Peterson makes the claim that jobs for people with an IQ of less than 85 are very, very rare. I do not know about the validity of that but of course there is some point on the continuum it must be true. But Peterson makes the equally critical point that 15% of the population has an IQ of less than 85. Basically, there will always be people whose capabilities are less than the minimum required for functioning in a modern economy. What do we do about that?

We have not had good answers to that unasked question to date, a fact that is exacerbated by past policies of open-borders (increasing the competition for those at the lowest end of the capability pyramid), then exacerbated by global trade, and now exacerbated by automation. Especially automation.

As I said, I knew all these constituent facts but Peterson forces a stark question which makes much clearer how important is the issue. It also highlights just how inconsequential are most of our political discussions (and really, almost more importantly, our non-discussions) around these topics.

Here is the lecture:

Double click to enlarge.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Identity paradox

From Neural Correlates of Political Attitudes: Emotion and Ideology in the Brain by Dane Gorman Wendell.

It is a modern curiosity that there is an ideological belief that holds there are no differences between men and women or between people of different ethnic heritages, that all apparent differences are a result of social construction. It is a magical belief that flies in the face of all accepted evidence. The differences are real, replicable and consequential. The fact that there are real and replicated measures of difference does not in any fashion challenge the core and critical belief that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."

Equal rights has nothing to do with the unique physical and cultural endowments of each person.

But those who are ideologically happy to ignore attribute variance among individuals hold out for one critical exception. They wish to believe that there are mental, physical and psychological differences between "conservatives" and "liberals." Given the epistemological slipperiness of both terms and their constant evolution over time, it would seem nonsensical on its face to hold that there are fundamental and permanent differences. But the belief is deep rooted and over the years there has been a steady flow of research papers of varying (but usually low) quality purporting to show that conservatives have lower IQs, are more inclined to magical thinking, have more limited domains of knowledge, or have a different neurological and psychological make-up than liberals. Or vice-versa.

I usually ignore these findings after confirming what is almost always the case: poor study protocols, small sample sizes, non-randomization of subject population, low effect sizes, etc. Each study makes a splash, excites the bigots and then disappears owing to non-replication.

Wendell looks at three claims and finds that there are no material objective differences between humans regardless of their belief systems. From the abstract:
Do conservatives and liberals have differing sensitivities to avoidance, inhibition, and negative emotion? Do psychological factors beneath our conscious awareness underlie the political ideologies we embrace? Political science researchers have broken new ground over the past ten years in our understanding of the psychology and physiology of political ideology. However, large questions remain about how political ideology may be related to avoidance motivations and negative emotion. This work expands our current knowledge in this area by presenting three studies with multiple methodologies: original survey data, electroencephalographic measurements, and behavioral experiments in a lab setting. Working in the tradition of J.A. Gray’s dual systems of behavioral motivation, I explore how political ideology is related to several related dispositional measures of behavioral avoidance, behavioral inhibition, and negative affectivity. Overall, and in contrast to literature expectations, my evidence suggests that liberals and conservatives do not have persistent differences in avoidance sensitivity or negativity bias. While strong evidence remains demonstrating important dispositional differences between liberals and conservatives, additional research will be required before researchers can conclude that conservatives are uniquely motivated by psychological avoidance or negative affect.
UPDATE: I corrected my final sentence to include the typographically omitted, but strategic, "no"

The moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too.

In searching a misattributed (and mistranslated) quotation, I instead came across two items of note.

The first is from W. H. Murray in The Scottish Himalaya Expedition (1951):
'But when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money--booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!'
I like that parallel with the observer effect in physics, that just as observing changes the observed, Committing changes the context of the commitment.

There is a more raucous translation of what Goethe actually said. From Goethe. The Collected Works. Vol. 2: Faust I & II. Ed. and trans. Stuart Atkins, 1994.
This altercation's gone on long enough,
it's time I saw some action too!
While you are polishing fine phrases
something useful could be going on.
What's the point of harping on the proper mood?
It never comes to him who shilly-shallies.
Since you pretend to be a poet,
make poetry obey your will.
You know that what we need
is a strong drink to gulp down fast,
so set to work and brew it!
What's left undone today, is still not done tomorrow;
to every day there is a use and purpose;
let Resoluteness promptly seize
the forelock of the Possible,
and then, reluctant to let go again,
she's forced to carry on and be productive.
This passage was very loosely translated in 1835 by John Anster as:
Then indecision brings its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting over lost days.
Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute;
What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
This is where Murray got his version of the couplet.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Narrower, Deeper, More Experienced - Giga speculation on a byte of evidence

An interesting observation from Arnold Kling in Narrower, Deeper, Older.
My central claim here is that the nature of engagement has changed over the past fifty years, in these three ways:
1. Narrower. There are fewer people casually engaged.

2. Deeper. Those who are engaged are more committed and have deeper knowledge.

3. Older. For any interest that has been around for a long time, the demographics of those interested now skews older.
For example, consider the game of bridge. A social bridge game is four friends getting together in someone’s house to play. A bridge tournament is many strangers competing against one another in a large room. In high school and college, I played a lot of social bridge. In college, I also played some tournament bridge. I then stopped playing for decades.

Fifty years ago, I believe that there were more social bridge players than tournament players. Today, it is closer to the reverse.

When I tried to get back into tournament bridge a few years ago, I found that the “barrier to entry” had gotten much higher. Players expect you to know a plethora of new tactics, which in bridge are known as “conventions.”

The other point to notice was that the median age of players at the tournament seemed to be about 70. Not many young people are willing to get past the barrier to entry.
I want to mull on that but it is an intriguing observation and instinctively feels right.

Some random considerations in response to Kling's hypothesis.
When I was young, it seems to me that children had many passing recreational hobbies. Stamp collecting, baseball card collecting, various local/neighborhood/communal sports such as pick-up basketball or baseball, star-gazing, etc. You got a lot of shallow knowledge about many things but usually delved deeply into one or two domains. Seeing my kids grow up there seems much less of this highly individualized, localized, informal activity. Schools in particular, but with parental support as well, seem to be driving kids to concentrate in a few narrow areas where they can stand-out. This is great for college applications but ruinous for general knowledge.

If you change the terminology just a bit to Narrower, Deeper, More Experienced this maps to Productivity Through Specialization. Is our pursuit of excellence and productivity shaping our behaviors in such a fashion that we forego amateurism for excellence and by so doing self-select ourselves into narrower, deeper, more experienced?

Does the feeling of increasing societal fragmentation and isolation perhaps arise from the fact that narrower, deeper, more experienced effectively, as Kling observes, creates barriers to entry? Is the range of things you can't participate in increasing because of increasing professionalism even of hobbies?

Is the apparent growing divide between the entitled cognitive elite and everyone else perhaps in some small part attributable to the fact that high barriers to entry are more detrimental to those of lower capabilities than those more gifted? If you have higher social, cultural, cognitive capability, perhaps the increasing exclusion of people is not visible. Even with the higher barriers to entry, you are able to indulge in as many activities as you have time for without realizing that others, less able, don't have the choice to participate because they can't pass the higher barrier?

If we are indeed passing from an environment of enthusiastic amateurs to dedicated experts, does this have a detrimental effect on the antifragility of society (Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb)? If there are higher barriers to entry which reduce the number of participants (in any given field and participants across many fields), one outcome is that the quality of performance likely goes up and perhaps the cost comes down (specialization). At the same time, if the higher barriers are restricting participation to a smaller and smaller segment of the population, then likely you have fewer points of commonality among the general populace (shared experiences being beneficial to interaction and mutual respect) and the populace as a whole becomes less capable. As an example, has there been a decline in the number of people sufficiently experienced in swimming to perform a basic rescue because, perhaps, fewer people are spending time doing casual swimming? Casual carpentry, casual electrical work, casual observational science, etc. - all of them create basic competencies that are collectively beneficial if many people have them, even if those competencies aren't elite.
The disappearance of broad but shallow capabilities might make society much more fragile.
That's a lot of speculation off of an anecdotal observation but I suspect Kling is on to something. I am up for a return to causal amateurism and even the old Lyceum Movement.

From its beginning America was as dominated by the printed word and an oratory based on the printed word as any society we know of.

From Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman. Page 39.
In addition, they were astounded by the near universality of lecture halls in which stylized oral performance provided a continuous reinforcement of the print tradition. Many of these lecture halls originated as a result of the Lyceum Movement, a form of adult education. Usually associated with the efforts of Josiah Holbrook, a New England farmer, the Lyceum Move- ment had as its purpose the diffusion of knowledge, the promotion of common schools, the creation of libraries and, especially, the establishment of lecture halls. By 1835, there were more than three thousand Lyceums in fifteen states. Most of these were located east of the Alleghenies, but by 1840, they were to be found at the edges of the frontier, as far west as Iowa and Minnesota. Alfred Bunn, an Englishman on an extensive tour through America, reported in 1853 that "practically every village had its lecture hall." He added: "It is a matter of wonderment . . . to witness the youthful workmen, the over- tired artisan, the worn-out factory girl . . . rushing . . . after the toil of the day is over, into the hot atmosphere of a crowded lecture room." Bunn's countryman J. F. W. Johnston at- tended lectures at this time at the Smithsonian Institution and "found the lecture halls jammed with capacity audiences of 1200 and 1500 people." Among the lecturers these audiences could hear were the leading intellectuals, writers and humorists (who were also writers) of their time, including Henry Ward Beecher, Horace Greeley, Louis Agassiz and Ralph Waldo Emerson (whose fee for a lecture was fifty dollars). In his auto- biography, Mark Twain devotes two chapters to his experiences as a lecturer on the Lyceum circuit. "I began as a lecturer in 1866 in California and Nevada," he wrote. "[I] lectured in New York once and in the Mississippi Valley a few times; in 1868 [I] made the whole Western circuit; and in the two or three following seasons added the Eastern circuit to my route." Apparently, Emerson was underpaid since Twain remarks that some lecturers charged as much as $250 when they spoke in towns and $400 when they spoke in cities (which is almost as much, in today's terms, as the going price for a lecture by a retired television newscaster).

The point all this is leading to is that from its beginning until well into the nineteenth century, America was as dominated by the printed word and an oratory based on the printed word as any society we know of. This situation was only in part a legacy of the Protestant tradition. As Richard Hofstadter reminds us, America was founded by intellectuals, a rare occurrence in the history of modern nations. "The Founding Fathers," he writes, "were sages, scientists, men of broad cultivation, many of them apt in classical learning, who used their wide reading in history, politics, and law to solve the exigent problems of their time." A society shaped by such men does not easily move in contrary directions. We might even say that America was founded by intellectuals, from which it has taken us two centuries and a communications revolution to recover. Hofstadter has written convincingly of our efforts to "recover," that is to say, of the anti-intellectual strain in American public life, but he concedes that his focus distorts the general picture. It is akin to writing a history of American business by concentrating on the history of bankruptcies.

Fine dining for me but not for thee

From Gentry Liberalism in San Francisco by Walter Russell Mead.
Local minimum wage hikes cause restaurants to leave or shut down and deter new ones from entering, according to a new Harvard Business School study of the San Francisco Bay Area restaurant industry that contradicts the orthodox liberal view that steeply raising the cost of unskilled labor will not affect jobs or hiring.

More interesting, though, are the study’s findings about which restaurants are forced to leave by the higher wage floors. The authors compared rates of departure of restaurants across different Yelp ratings, and found that the policy hit low and mid-quality restaurants much harder than top-tier restaurants. “Our point estimates suggest that a $1 increase in the minimum wage leads to an approximate 14 percent increase in the likelihood of exit for the median 3.5-star restaurant but the impact falls to zero for five-star restaurants.”

While a restaurant’s Yelp rating doesn’t correlate directly with its price range, this differential effect suggests that it’s easier for rich people to ignore the deleterious effects of minimum wage hikes. Virtually all of the most expensive restaurants in San Francisco have four or more stars; the city’s business and professional elite are unlikely to see many of their favorite high-end destinations pushed out of the city. Poor or middle-income workers are less likely to have the luxury of only frequenting top-rated establishments, not to mention that they are more likely to work at the restaurants that the hikes put out of business.

News you can use (and which isn't fake)

Somebody must have a book out or perhaps there was a well placed article but in the past few days I have seen several mentions of Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection Kit from his The Demon-Haunted World.

I have a summary from years ago for those who want to cut to the chase. The post is Baloney Detection Kit.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Between 1836 and 1890, 107 million copies of the McGuffey Reader were distributed to the schools.

From Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman. Page 38.
At the time Tocqueville was making his observations of America, printing had already spread to all the regions of the country. The South had lagged behind the North not only in the formation of schools (almost all of which were private rather than public) but in its uses of the printing press. Virginia, for example, did not get its first regularly published newspaper, the Virginia Gazette, until 1736. But toward the end of the eighteenth century, the movement of ideas via the printed word was relatively rapid, and something approximating a national conversation emerged. For example, the Federalist Papers, an outpouring of eighty-five essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (all under the name of Publius) originally appeared in a New York newspaper during 1787 and 1788 but were read almost as widely in the South as the North.

As America moved into the nineteenth century, it did so as a fully print-based culture in all of its regions. Between 1825 and 1850, the number of subscription libraries trebled. What were called "mechanics' and apprentices' libraries" — that is, libraries intended for the working class — also emerged as a force for literacy. In 1829, the New York Apprentices' Library housed ten thousand volumes, of which 1,600 apprentices drew books. By 1857, the same library served three-quarters of a million people. Aided by Congress' lowering of the postal rates in 1851, the penny newspaper, the periodical, the Sunday school tract, and the cheaply bound book were abundantly available. Between 1836 and 1890, 107 million copies of the McGuffey Reader were distributed to the schools. And although the reading of novels was not considered an altogether reputable use of time, Americans devoured them. Of Walter Scott's novels, published between 1814 and 1832, Samuel Goodrich wrote: "The appearance of a new novel from his pen caused a greater sensation in the United States than did some of the battles of Napoleon. . . . Everybody read these works; everybody — the refined and the simple." Publishers were so anxious to make prospective best sellers available, they would sometimes dispatch messengers to incoming packet boats and "within a single day set up, printed and bound in paper covers the most recent novel of Bulwer or Dickens." There being no international copyright laws, "pirated" editions abounded, with no complaint from the public, or much from authors, who were lionized. When Charles Dickens visited America in 1842, his reception equaled the adulation we offer today to television stars, quarterbacks, and Michael Jackson. "I can give you no conception of my welcome," Dickens wrote to a friend. "There never was a King or Emperor upon earth so cheered and followed by the crowds, and entertained at splendid balls and dinners and waited upon by public bodies of all kinds. . . . If I go out in a carriage, the crowd surrounds it and escorts me home; if I go to the theater, the whole house . . . rises as one man and the timbers ring again." A native daughter, Harriet Beecher Stowe, was not offered the same kind of adoring attention — and, of course, in the South, had her carriage been surrounded, it would not have been for the purpose of escorting her home — but her Uncle Tom's Cabin sold 305,000 copies in its first year, the equivalent of four million in today's America.

Alexis de Tocqueville was not the only foreign visitor to be impressed by the Americans' immersion in printed matter. During the nineteenth century, scores of Englishmen came to America to see for themselves what had become of the Colonies. All were impressed with the high level of literacy and in particular its extension to all classes.

The magic of movies in a long ago, dank cinema

We lived in Woking, Surrey, UK in the mid-1960s.

One of the special treats was to be allowed to go to the Odeon Cinema on a Saturday. It was THE weekend event for the 5-10 year-old set. Several hundred kids crowded into an old converted theater. I see from some searches that it held 852 and I recall it as always being full.

The pungent mix of smells of old cloth seats, sweets, unwashed kids, and drying wool clothes. Six pence to get in after standing in line in the wet and the cold with all your friends. Another threepence for sweets.

Finding seats with your friends in the stampede in. The noise of excited voices. The falling of the lights and opening of the curtain. There were a number of shorts, usually cartoons but sometimes brief films (news?) Definitely Flash Gordon shorts from the 1930s. And then the main attraction. I remember westerns but there were likely Disney movies as well.

Afterwards, and only occasionally, we would repair to the fish and chip shop just a few shops down from the cinema. Deep fried fish and chips, served in conically rolled newspaper.

I don't know why all that was brought to mind this morning but it prompted me to go searching to see if I could find a picture of the old Odeon, long since demolished to make way for office buildings. I recall the Odeon being on High Street but in fishing up Google maps, I see that, in typical British fashion, that stretch of road switches from High Street to The Broadway to Maybury Road. The cinema would have been at the corner of The Broadway and Duke Street.

I think this was it. Kind of pedestrian looking for what in my memory was a magical movie palace. The first view is the front on Duke Street. This is where we stood in line waiting to pay our admission.

And this is the side on The Broadway.

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled

On this day, April 19th, in 1775, the first shots of the American Revolution were fired in the Battles of Concord and Lexington. A monument was raised in July 4, 1837 to commemorate the battles and Emerson crafted this dedication.
Concord Hymn
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set today a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

You sure you guys are smart?

A very interesting juxtaposition of articles. In January, there was Some Colleges Have More Students From the Top 1 Percent Than the Bottom 60 by Upshot.

In March there was Illiberal arts colleges: Pay more, get less (free speech) by Richard V. Reeves and Dimitrios Halikias

And now in April, combining the two ideas, there is Colleges with rich students see more protests against speakers from The Economist.
YALE UNIVERSITY is perhaps the epicentre of the campus activism so voguish today. Two professors stepped down from pastoral roles last year after a controversy about whether students should police their own offensive Halloween costumes, rather than letting the university do it for them, provoking protests from hundreds of students. Yale is currently debating whether to discontinue using the word “freshman” in favour of the more gender-neutral term “first-year”.

That Yale is also one of America’s most prestigious universities is not coincidental. Across the country, colleges with richer, high-achieving students are likelier to see protests calling for controversial speakers to be disinvited (see chart). Recent flare-ups at Middlebury College, which tried to prevent Charles Murray, a conservative writer, from speaking and left the professor interviewing him with a concussion, and at the University of California, Berkeley which had to cancel a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, an over-exposed provocateur, are but the tip of a larger pile.

Following the work of Richard Reeves and Dimitrios Halikias of the Brookings Institution, The Economist analysed data on student attempts to disinvite speakers since 2013 collected by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an advocacy group. Matching those numbers with information on SAT scores and wealth, measured as the fraction of students with one-percenter parents, shows statistically significant correlations. Even among selective universities, those with better-credentialed and wealthier students were likelier to mount protests. They were also likelier to mount successful attempts to block speakers.

The Economist posits that perhaps rich universities invite more controversial speakers. Reeves, in his article above, advances a different thesis.
The upper middle class is separating dangerously from the rest of society. This is driven in part by unfair “opportunity hoarding” mechanisms, including regressive tax expenditures, corrupt internships, and unfair zoning laws. But perhaps the greatest symbol of upper middle class separation is the elite university itself. Colleges like Middlebury—buoyed by such practices as legacy preferences in admissions—not only reflect but reinforce the continued growth of inequality.

The quintessentially liberal commitment to free and open dialogue is indispensable for building mutual understanding and respect in a diverse society. Cultural separation fueled by economic inequality, however, undermines that dialogue and respect. The spectacle of rich, “progressive” protestors refusing to hear a lecture on the roots of their own privilege; well, it tells you how much work there is to do. The class gap in American today is economic, educational and residential. Perhaps most dangerous of all, it is cultural, too. Mutual distrust across class lines is one of the causes of our current toxic politics. Greater understanding, shared learning and self-reflection are all needed now more than ever. And you don’t learn anything by shouting others down.
Elsewhere Reeves goes further, observing that at these disinviting universities “certain left-of-centre tenets, largely around identity politics, take on the weight of an orthodoxy.”

I'd go somewhat further, still. Even at the disinviting universities it is almost always a tiny minority of students who are acting out their outrage. I have seen the number 5% bandied about but do not know whether there is any empirical backing to it. Very small though. There is other evidence suggesting that most these outrage protesters are from a handful of programs such as ethnic studies, gender studies, anthropology, sociology and the like.

I suspect the dynamic is that these wealthy prestigious universities are admitting some small portion of identity-politics practicing students, usually with relaxed standards, who then congregate in these reinforcing Gramscian programs of grievance and then use their privileged platform to draw attention to themselves and their self-perceived victimhood.

Which is all well and fine if these 5 percent grievance mongers (who are also 1 percenters in income) weren't, by their actions, harming and bringing down the other 95% of students. See University of Missouri with their continuing declines in enrollment since their campus protests to silence speakers in 2015.

As Jonathan Haidt has argued (my paraphrase), these universities have to decide whether they are on the side of the 95% who are seeking to acquire/spread knowledge and understanding or whether they are going to be theological schools for the 5% who want ideological purity above knowledge.

It would seem a straightforward choice but apparently many are struggling with it. Reminds me of a scene from The Big Bang, The Fermentation Bifurcation.
Howard: You could put it in a satellite or a rocket, and it'll run forever.
Zack: Cool. Could it be used for missiles and war stuff?
Howard: Yeah, but we didn't create it for weapons.
Leonard: And I doubt the military would be interested in our little guidance system.
Zack: Is it better than the one they use now?
Howard: A lot.
Leonard: Way better.
Zack: Huh. You sure you guys are smart?

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