Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers receives standing ovation

Friday, October 24th, 2014

I was watching Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers receive a standing ovation, thinking, you could not create a more fitting conservative hero — silver-haired sergeant, in traditional costume, doing his duty — when I heard the announcer mention that Vickers “found his weapon in his office” before gunning down the Muslim-extremist attacking Parliament. Might I suggest having the Sergeant-at-Arms armed — with more than a mace?

None of the experts are experts

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

There are whole fields in which none of the experts are experts, Gregory Cochran notes:

At the high point of Freudian psychoanalysis in the US,  I figure that a puppy had a significantly positive effect on your mental health, while the typical psychiatrist of the time did not.  We (the US) listened to psychologists telling us how to deal with combat fatigue: the Nazis and Soviets didn’t, and had far less trouble with it than we did.

Fidel Castro, a jerk,  was better at preventive epidemiology (with AIDS) than the people running the CDC.

In the 1840s, highly educated doctors knew that diseases were not spread by contagion, but old ladies in the Faeroe Islands (along with many other people) knew that some were.

In 2003, the ‘experts’ (politicians, journalists, pundits, spies) knew that Saddam had a nuclear program, but the small number of people that actually knew anything about nuclear weapons development and something about Iraq (at the World Almanac level, say) knew that wasn’t so.

The educationists know that heredity isn’t a factor in student achievement, and they dominate policy — but they’re wrong.  Some behavioral geneticists and psychometricians know better.

In many universities, people were and are taught that really are no cognitive or behavioral differences between the sexes — in part because of ‘experts’ like John Money.  Anyone with children tends to learn better.

Infected by Politics

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

The public-health establishment has been infected by politics, Heather Mac Donald explains:

The public-health establishment has unanimously opposed a travel and visa moratorium from Ebola-plagued West African countries to protect the U.S. population. To evaluate whether this opposition rests on purely scientific grounds, it helps to understand the political character of the public-health field. For the last several decades, the profession has been awash in social-justice ideology. Many of its members view racism, sexism, and economic inequality, rather than individual behavior, as the primary drivers of differential health outcomes in the U.S. According to mainstream public-health thinking, publicizing the behavioral choices behind bad health—promiscuous sex, drug use, overeating, or lack of exercise—blames the victim.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Healthy Communities Program, for example, focuses on “unfair health differences closely linked with social, economic or environmental disadvantages that adversely affect groups of people.” CDC’s Healthy People 2020 project recognizes that “health inequities are tied to economics, exclusion, and discrimination that prevent groups from accessing resources to live healthy lives,” according to Harvard public-health professor Nancy Krieger. Krieger is herself a magnet for federal funding, which she uses to spread the message about America’s unjust treatment of women, minorities, and the poor. To study the genetic components of health is tantamount to “scientific racism,” in Krieger’s view, since doing so overlooks the “impact of discrimination” on health. And of course the idea of any genetic racial differences is anathema to Krieger and her left-wing colleagues.

Inside Gamergate’s (successful) attack on the media

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Caitlin Dewey of the Washington Post looks inside Gamergate’s (successful) attack on the media:

It’s about fighting what they see as a massive, progressive conspiracy among female game developers, feminists and sympathetic, left-leaning media outlets, all of whom are purportedly bent on the destruction of the traditional “gamer” lifestyle.

[...]

The attack strategy is two-part: first, boycott the sites in question; second, pressure their advertisers to do the same.

The “operation,” as organizers have dubbed it, is called Disrespectful Nod, and it’s steadily picked up steam since it launched quietly in early September. According to the group’s records, half a dozen advertisers — including significant international companies, such as Unilever and Scottrade — have been persuaded to drop major media buys within the past six weeks.

[...]

But the incident still demonstrates a worrying new trend among the Gamergate crowd: curbing the speech of reporters they don’t like by threatening their advertisers. For a media empire, such as Gawker, of course, one advertiser won’t necessarily make or break operations. But for targeted sites like Gamasutra, a smaller, gaming industry news site, or Gameranx, a five-person operation, targeting advertisers isn’t just a form of protest: It’s a threat to their very existence.

Now, where have we seen these tactics used before?

Student-Athletes

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

I am shocked — shocked! — to find cheating going on at UNC!

A blistering report into an academic fraud scandal at the University of North Carolina released Wednesday found that for nearly two decades two employees in the African and Afro-American Studies department ran a “shadow curriculum” of hundreds of fake classes that never met but for which students, many of them Tar Heels athletes, routinely received A’s and B’s.

Nearly half the students in the classes were athletes, the report found, often deliberately steered there by academic counselors to bolster their worrisomely low grade-point averages and to allow them to continue playing on North Carolina’s teams.

I’m so glad we’ve ferreted out this one isolated program, and America’s student-athletes can continue their long tradition of academic excellence.

The Greatness of George Orwell

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Bruce Charlton discusses the greatness of George Orwell — and his fatal flaw:

My generation was fed Orwell at school from our mid teens — some of the essays such as Shooting an Elephant and Boys’ Weeklies; excerpts from the documentary books such as Down and Out.. and …Wigan Pier; and the two late political novels Animal Farm and 1984.

That Orwell was mostly correct about things was not really argued, but assumed; on the basis that he seemed obviously correct to almost everybody; so far as the English were concerned, Orwell was simply expressing the national character better than we ourselves could have done.

Orwell was claimed both by the Left — on the basis that he was explicitly a socialist through most of his life; and he was claimed by the Right — on the basis that his two best known novels are anti-communist warnings against totalitarianism.

In sum: Orwell’s influence was much as any writer reasonably could have hoped for. And his warnings about the dangers of Leftism and the operations of totalitarianism were as lucid, as explicit, and as forceful as any writer could have made them.

And yet Britain today is an ‘Orwellian’ society to a degree which would have seemed incredible even 25 years ago. The same applies to the USA, where Orwell was also revered.

In particular, the exact types of abuses, manipulations and distortions of language which Orwell spelled-out in fiery capital letters 100 feet high have come to pass; have become routine and unremarked — and they are wholly-successful, barely-noticed, stoutly-defended — and to point them out is regarded either as trivial nitpicking or evasive rhetoric.

The current manifestations of the sexual revolution, deploying the most crudely Orwellian appropriations and taboos of terminology, go further than even Orwell envisaged. The notion that sexual differences could so easily be subverted, and their evaluations so swiftly reversed; apparently at will and without any apparent limit would — I think — have gone beyond the possibilities Orwell could have realistically imagined.

(Indeed, it is characteristic of the Kafka-esque absurdity of modern Western life that a plain description of everyday reality — say in a state bureaucracy, the mass media or university — is simply disbelieved, it ‘does not compute’ and is rejected by the mind. And by this, nihilistic absurdity is safeguarded.)

I think Orwell would never have believed that people would accept, en masse, and so readily go along with (willingly embrace and enforce, indeed), the negative relabelling of normal biological reality, and he substitution of arbitrary and rapidly changing inverted norms: for Orwell, The Proles were sexually normal, like animals, and would continue so. The elites, whatever their personal preferences and practices, left them alone in this — presumably because sexuality was seen as a kind of bedrock.

And this leads to Orwell’s fatal flaw — which was exactly sexuality.

Transportation, Divergence, and the Industrial Revolution

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Nick Szabo explores transportation, divergence, and the Industrial Revolution:

After about 1000 AD northwestern Europe started a gradual switch from using oxen to using horses for farm traction and transportation.  This trend culminated in an eighteenth-century explosion in roads carrying horse-drawn carriages and wagons, as well as in canals, and works greatly extending the navigability of rivers, both carrying horse-drawn barges. This reflected a great rise in the use of cultivated fodder, a hallmark of the novel agricultural system that was evolving in northwestern Europe from the start of the second millennium: stationary pastoralism.  During the same period, and especially in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, most of civilized East Asia, and in particular Chinese civilization along its coast, navigable rivers, and canals, faced increasing Malthusian pressures and evolved in the opposite direction: from oxen towards far more costly and limited human porters. Through the early middle ages China had been far ahead, in terms of division of labor and technology, of the roving bandits of northern Europe, but after the latter region’s transition to stationary pastoralism that gap closed and Europe surged ahead, a growth divergence that culminated in the industrial revolution.  In the eighteenth century Europe, and thus in the early industrial revolution, muscle power was the engine of land transportation, and hay was its gasoline.

Metcalfe’s Law states that a value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of its nodes.  In an area where good soils, mines, and forests are randomly distributed, the number of nodes valuable to an industrial economy is proportional to the area encompassed.  The number of such nodes that can be economically accessed is an inverse square of the cost per mile of transportation.  Combine this  with Metcalfe’s Law and we reach a dramatic but solid mathematical conclusion: the potential value of a land transportation network is the inverse fourth power of the cost of that transportation. A reduction in transportation costs in a trade network by a factor of two increases the potential value of that network by a factor of sixteen. While a power of exactly 4.0 will usually be too high, due to redundancies, this does show how the cost of transportation can have a radical nonlinear impact on the value of the trade networks it enables.  This formalizes Adam Smith’s observations: the division of labor (and thus value of an economy) increases with the extent of the market, and the extent of the market is heavily influenced by transportation costs (as he extensively discussed in his Wealth of Nations).

Q.E.D.

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

American political and social life today is pretty much one great big Q.E.D. for the two main theses of The Bell Curve, Charles Murray argues:

Those theses were, first, that changes in the economy over the course of the 20th century had made brains much more valuable in the job market; second, that from the 1950s onward, colleges had become much more efficient in finding cognitive talent wherever it was and shipping that talent off to the best colleges. We then documented all the ways in which cognitive ability is associated with important outcomes in life — everything from employment to crime to family structure to parenting styles. Put those all together, we said, and we’re looking at some serious problems down the road.

How to see into the future

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

So, what is the secret of looking into the future?

Initial results from the Good Judgment Project suggest the following approaches. First, some basic training in probabilistic reasoning helps to produce better forecasts. Second, teams of good forecasters produce better results than good forecasters working alone. Third, actively open-minded people prosper as forecasters.

But the Good Judgment Project also hints at why so many experts are such terrible forecasters. It’s not so much that they lack training, teamwork and open-mindedness — although some of these qualities are in shorter supply than others. It’s that most forecasters aren’t actually seriously and single-mindedly trying to see into the future. If they were, they’d keep score and try to improve their predictions based on past errors. They don’t.

This is because our predictions are about the future only in the most superficial way. They are really advertisements, conversation pieces, declarations of tribal loyalty — or, as with Irving Fisher, statements of profound conviction about the logical structure of the world.

Some participants in the Good Judgment Project were given advice, a few pages in total, which was summarised with the acronym CHAMP:

  • Comparisons are important: use relevant comparisons as a starting point;
  • Historical trends can help: look at history unless you have a strong reason to expect change;
  • Average opinions: experts disagree, so find out what they think and pick a midpoint;
  • Mathematical models: when model-based predictions are available, you should take them into account;
  • Predictable biases exist and can be allowed for. Don’t let your hopes influence your forecasts, for example; don’t stubbornly cling to old forecasts in the face of news.

The Advent of Cholera

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Cholera seems to have existed in the Ganges delta for a long time, but it only spread to the rest of the world fairly recently, Gregory Cochran notes, and two factors interfered with an effective policy response:

[Scientists] concluded that contagion was never the answer, and accepted miasmas as the cause, a theory which is too stupid to be interesting. Sheesh, they taught the kids in medical school that measles wasn’t catching — while ordinary people knew perfectly well that it was. You know, esoteric, non-intuitive truths have a certain appeal — once initiated, you’re no longer one of the rubes. Of course, the simplest and most common way of producing an esoteric truth is to just make it up.

On the other hand, 19th century liberals (somewhat like modern libertarians, but way less crazy) knew that trade and individual freedom were always good things, by definition, so they also opposed quarantines — worse than wrong, old-fashioned! And more common in southern, Catholic, Europe: enough said! So, between wrong science and classical liberalism, medical reformers spent many years trying to eliminate the reactionary quarantine rules that still existed in Mediterranean ports.

The intellectual tide turned: first heroes like John Snow, and Peter Panum, later titans like Pasteur and Koch. Contagionism made a comeback.

A Referendum On Everything

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

The Red Tribe and Blue Tribe have different narratives, which they use to tie together everything that happens into reasons why their tribe is good and the other tribe is bad:

When an issue gets tied into a political narrative, it stops being about itself and starts being about the wider conflict between tribes until eventually it becomes viewed as a Referendum On Everything. At this point, people who are clued in start suspecting nobody cares about the issue itself — like victims of beheadings, or victims of sexual abuse — and everybody cares about the issue’s potential as a political weapon — like proving Muslims are “uncivilized”, or proving political correctness is dangerous. After that, even people who agree that the issue is a problem and who would otherwise want to take action have to stay quiet, because they know that their help would be used less to solve a problem than to push forward the war effort against them. If they feel especially threatened, they may even take an unexpected side on the issue, switching from what they would usually believe to whichever position seems less like a transparent cover for attempts to attack them and their friends.

Empire of the Summer Moon

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Scott Alexander reviews Empire of the Summer Moon, about the Comanche Indians:

When Mexico took over from Spain and tried to colonize Texas, the Comanches beat them so soundly that they decided to get some “help” by inviting Anglo-Americans to come in and colonize, leading to the Texas revolt, the Mexican War, and so on. Through the first thirty years or so of American Texas, American control only extended through the eastern half of the state, with the western half being totally Comanche and almost totally unexplored. The border was so feared that places like Fort Worth, Texas were originally a line of actual forts intended to protect the Texans from Comanche raids.

These raids were probably the most disturbing part of the book. On the one hand, okay, the white people were trying to steal the Comanches’ land and they had every right to be angry. On the other hand, the way the Comanches expressed that anger was to occasionally ride in, find a white village or farm or homestead, surround it, and then spend hours or days torturing everyone they found there in the most horrific possible ways before killing the men and enslaving the women and children. Sometimes people were scalped alive. The women would usually be gang-raped dozens of times, and then enslaved, carried off to Comanche territory, and gang-raped some more. Children were forced to watch as their parents were raped and tortured and killed, or vice versa.

Their favorite pastime was to find a remote farm somewhere, ride in dressed in full war gear, communicate some version of “Oh, hi, I know what this looks like but actually we’re just stopping by, mind giving us a bite to eat?”, enjoying a lavish feast put on by extremely nervous settlers, and then saying “Very good, in exchange for this feast we give you a five minute head start”, then giving them five minutes to run away before riding them down and torture-killing the entire family in the manner described earlier.

On the other hand, the Comanches fit the classic pattern of hunter-gatherer civilizations of simultaneously being really mean to people outside the tribe while showing deep and heartfelt kindness to everyone within. We know this because sometimes if there were very young children, and the Comanches were feeling a bit low on headcount, they would capture the children and adopt them as full Comanches (after torture-killing the parents, of course) and some of these children would later grow up to write English-language books about their experience. But this practice definitely led to some awkward situations, and the book centers around one of them: the last great chief of the Comanches, Quanah, was half-white, the son of a Comanche chief and a Texan woman who had been captured when she was nine years old.

So there was a bit of traffic back and forth between America and Comancheria in the 19th century. White people being captured and raised by Comanches. The captives being recaptured years later and taken back into normal white society. Indians being defeated and settled on reservations and taught to adopt white lifestyles. And throughout the book’s description of these events, there was one constant:

All of the white people who joined Indian tribes loved it and refused to go back to white civilization. All the Indians who joined white civilization hated it and did everything they could to go back to their previous tribal lives.

There was much to like about tribal life. The men had no jobs except to occasionally hunt some buffalo and if they felt courageous to go to war. The women did have jobs like cooking and preparing buffalo, but they still seemed to be getting off easy compared to the white pioneer women or, for that matter, women today. The whole culture was nomadic, basically riding horses wherever they wanted through the vast open plains without any property or buildings or walls. And everyone was amazingly good at what they did; the Comanche men were probably the best archers and horsemen in the history of history, and even women and children had wilderness survival and tracking skills that put even the best white frontiersmen to shame. It sounds like a life of leisure, strong traditions, excellence, and enjoyment of nature, and it doesn’t surprise me that people liked it better than the awful white frontier life of backbreaking farming and endless religious sermons.

The Church v the Family

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Why isn’t Europe clannish? Ed West explains:

The answer is the Catholic Church. Christianity in our minds is linked to “family values”, as Right-wing politicians used to say before an imminent sex scandal, but from the beginning it was almost anti-family, and Jesus told his disciples to leave theirs. Whereas Judaism had been heavily kinship-based, Christ voiced the view that the noblest thing was to lay down one’s life for a friend – a gigantic moral leap. This universal ideal was spread by St Paul who famously stated that there would be neither Jew nor Greek, “for ye are all one in Christ Jesus”.

Although both large Abrahamic faiths are universalist, western Christianity was far more jealous of rival loyalties, such as could be found in the clan, and wanted to weaken them. St Augustine of Hippo and St Thomas Aquinas both encouraged marrying out as a way of widening social ties, and in Summa Theologica Aquinas objected to cousin marriages on the grounds that they “prevent people widening their circle of friends”. He wrote: “When a man takes a wife from another family he is joined in special friendship with her relations; they are to him as his own.”

The influence of the Church caused Europeans to be less clannish and therefore made it easier for large territorial magnates to forge nation-states.

Another consequence was the nuclear family, which developed in the North Sea region around the turn of the millennium. It was influenced by the western European manor system of agriculture, under which peasants managed their own farms let out to them by the lord of the manor, owing him obligations of work. This encouraged adult children to move out of the family home, whereas in most cultures three generations lived together under a paterfamilias.

With the nuclear family came a move away from group identity and towards the western concept of individual rights and liberalism. It was a revolutionary idea and in parts of the world where the clan still rules it is still an alien one.

The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

From 2004 to 2011, American troops repeatedly encountered chemical weapons remaining from earlier in Saddam Hussein’s rule, C.J. Chivers reports:

In all, American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and American officials, and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The United States had gone to war declaring it must destroy an active weapons of mass destruction program. Instead, American troops gradually found and ultimately suffered from the remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West.

The New York Times found 17 American service members and seven Iraqi police officers who were exposed to nerve or mustard agents after 2003. American officials said that the actual tally of exposed troops was slightly higher, but that the government’s official count was classified.

The secrecy fit a pattern. Since the outset of the war, the scale of the United States’ encounters with chemical weapons in Iraq was neither publicly shared nor widely circulated within the military. These encounters carry worrisome implications now that the Islamic State, a Qaeda splinter group, controls much of the territory where the weapons were found.

The American government withheld word about its discoveries even from troops it sent into harm’s way and from military doctors. The government’s secrecy, victims and participants said, prevented troops in some of the war’s most dangerous jobs from receiving proper medical care and official recognition of their wounds.

Sexual Harassment at Restaurants

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

Scott Adams (Dilbert) adds some context to the report that 90% of women in restaurant jobs that depend on tipping report being sexually harassed at work, based on his own restaurant-owning experience:

I believe it is true that 90% of women working for tips in restaurants are sexually harassed by coworkers and/or customers. That fits my personal observations after working in the industry. But let’s put some context on that and see if your feelings about the story change.

For starters, let’s remove from the stats the folks who take jobs at Hooters and other restaurants that position the staff’s appearance as part of the “entertainment.” I would argue that those employees are signing up to be sexually objectified in return for the promise of easy work and good tips. You can make a convincing case that Hooters should not exist, but I don’t think you can lump the servers at Hooters with the servers at Applebee’s and get a good statistic on restaurant sexual harassment in general.

So let’s say the non-Hooters rate of sexual harassment for female restaurant workers is something like 80%. That still sounds terrible. But I’m not done with context yet.

In my experience, attractive female bartenders and servers are completely conscious of trading their sexuality for higher tips. They talk about it freely. They pick blouses to accentuate their best assets. And some will admit they choose jobs that allow them to trade on their looks. If I were in my twenties and could make money in a job that depended on my looks instead of my muscles I would take it in a heartbeat, assuming I had good looks.

My best guess is that if you remove from the stats the women who are intentionally using their sexuality to improve their income, you get about 50% of women in tipping jobs who get sexually harassed and have done nothing intentionally to inspire unwanted attention. That is still a horrible number.

But 50% is also the rate of men who report being sexually harassed in server jobs. In my restaurant experience, when we had handsome male bartenders or servers the female staff and customers were shameless with their non-stop sexual banter, flirting, and direct sexual offers. And if you thought all of that attention was the good kind, you’d be wrong. It was an ongoing problem for the guys. The handsome gay servers had it the worst because they had no upside potential from the female attention.

So here’s the proper context, in my opinion, based on years of direct restaurant experience: 100% of attractive men and women are sexually harassed at work in the restaurant business. And nearly every one of them took the job knowing that would be the case, but they decided it was worth it for the relatively easy money.