Invasiveness may explain its potency

August 11th, 2017

You can call it one hell of a placebo:

The guy’s desperate. The pain in his knee has made it impossible to play basketball or walk down stairs. In search of a cure, he makes a journey to a healing place, where he’ll undergo a fasting rite, don ceremonial garb, ingest mind-altering substances and be anointed with liquids before a masked healer takes him through a physical ritual intended to vanquish his pain.

Seen through different eyes, the process of modern surgery may look more more spiritual than scientific, said orthopedic surgeon Stuart Green, a professor at the University of California, Irvine. Our hypothetical patient is undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, and the rituals he’ll participate in — fasting, wearing a hospital gown, undergoing anesthesia, having his surgical site prepared with an iodine solution, and giving himself over to a masked surgeon — foster an expectation that the procedure will provide relief, Green said.

These expectations matter, and we know they matter because of a bizarre research technique called sham surgery. In these fake operations, patients are led to believe that they are having a real surgical procedure — they’re taken through all the regular pre- and post- surgical rituals, from fasting to anesthesia to incisions made in their skin to look like the genuine operation occurred — but the doctor does not actually perform the surgery. If the patient is awake during the “procedure,” the doctor mimics the sounds and sensations of the true surgery, and the patient may be shown a video of someone else’s procedure as if it were his own.

Sham surgeries may sound unethical, but they’re done with participants’ consent and in pursuit of an important question: Does the surgical procedure under consideration really work? In a surprising number of cases, the answer is no.

A 2014 review of 53 trials that compared elective surgical procedures to placebos found that sham surgeries provided some benefit in 74 percent of the trials and worked as well as the real deal in about half.1 Consider the middle-aged guy going in for surgery to treat his knee pain. Arthroscopic knee surgery has been a common orthopedic procedure in the United States, with about 692,000 of them performed in 2010,2 but the procedure has proven no better than a sham when done to address degenerative wear and tear, particularly on the meniscus.3

Meniscus repair is only one commonly performed orthopedic surgery that has failed to produce better results than a sham surgery. A back operation called vertebroplasty (done to treat compression fractures in the spine) and something called intradiscal electrothermal therapy, a “minimally invasive” treatment for herniated disks and low back pain, have also produced study results that suggest they may be no more effective than a sham at reducing pain in the long term.

Such findings show that these procedures don’t work as promised, but they also indicate that there’s something powerful about believing that you’re having surgery and that it will fix what ails you. Green hypothesizes that a surgery’s placebo effect is proportional to the elaborateness of the rituals surrounding it, the surgeon’s expressed confidence and enthusiasm for the procedure, and a patient’s belief that it will help.

Weirdly enough, surgery’s invasiveness may explain some of its potency. Studies have shown that invasive procedures produce a stronger placebo effect than non-invasive ones, said researcher Jonas Bloch Thorlund of the University of Southern Denmark. A pill can provoke a placebo effect, but an injection produces an even stronger one. Cutting into someone appears to be more powerful still.

The general consequences of race mixture can be predicted with confidence

August 10th, 2017

A Duke ethics professor made a terrible mistake:

After reading some recent work on the biology of group differences last summer, it occurred to me that as an ethics professor, I should write something about the moral upshot: if there are such differences, what are the consequences for how we should treat one another? Should we support policies that attempt to equalize opportunities only if they produce equal outcomes?

My conclusion was modest: if there are biological differences between groups, and if, as Lee Jussim has argued, some stereotypes turn out to be accurate in part because of correct generalizations about biological differences, these facts should not undermine our commitment to treating one another as moral equals, or to increasing opportunity for all, regardless of group membership.

But I had committed a sin in the eyes of the two referees who read and commented on my paper. I simply acknowledged the possibility of group differences while arguing that whether or not they exist, they should not matter. For having done that, the two journal referees used expletives and exclamation points to give the most venomous and dismissive feedback I have ever encountered. (Needless to say, the paper was not accepted for publication after such hostile comments.)

This leads Razib Khan to share R. A. Fisher’s thoughts on race and human genetic variation, in response to the UNESCO statement on the Race Concept, published after WWII:

In so far as the Statement condemns any defamation of races and emphasizes the appalling nature of the recent abuse of racial theory, it has my full and unqualified approval. I wholeheartedly agree, also, with its explicit and implicit finding that anthropology and racial studies afford no justification for the assumption that members of any particular race are not entitled the enjoyment of all fundamental rights, or for any form of racial discrimination. And I am very glad that, after all the horrors that have been perpetrated, these principles should have been enunciated clearly and publicized widely by an organization of such standing and by distinguished men as the authors of this Statement.

But the Statement also purports to be an authoritative body of scientific doctrines, and this is quite a different matter. Without touching upon the content of these doctrines, and quite apart from whether or not they meet with my approval, I must register my fundamental opposition to the advancing of scientific theses as such, and protest against it.

I recall the National Socialists’ notorious attempts to establish certain doctrines as the only correct conclusions to be drawn from research on race, and their suppression of any contrary opinion; as well as the Soviet Government’s similar claim on behalf of Lysenko’s theory of heredity, and its condemnation of Mendel’s teaching. The present Statement likewise puts forward certain scientific doctrines as the only correct ones, and quite obviously expects them to receive general endorsement as such. I repeat that, without assuming any attitude towards the substance of the doctrines in the Statement, I am opposed to the principle of advancing them as doctrines. The experience of the past have strengthened my conviction that freedom of scientific enquiry is imperiled when any scientific findings or opinions are elevated, by an authoritative body, into the position of doctrines.

Fisher believed that human groups differ profoundly “in their innate capacity for intellectual and emotional development” and concluded that the “practical international problem is that of learning to share the resources of this planet amicably with persons of materially different nature, and that this problem is being obscured by entirely well intentioned efforts to minimize the real differences that exist”.

Khan goes on to quote from page 238 of his edition of The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection:

The general consequences of race mixture can be predicted with confidence…Their general character will therefore be intermediate, but their variability will be greater than that of the original races. Morever, new combinations of virtue and ability, and of their opposites, will appear in the mixed race, combinations which are not necessarily heterozygous, but may be fixed as permanent racial characters. There are thus in the mixed race great possibilities for the action of selection. If selection is beneficient, and the better types leave the greater number of descendants, the ultimate effect of mixture will be the production of a race, not inferior to either those from which it sprang, but rather superior to both, in so far as the advantages of both can be combined. Unfavorable selection, on the other hand, will be more rapidly disastrous to a mixed race than to its progenitors. It should of course be remembered that all existing races show very great variability in respect of hereditary factors, so that selections of the intensity to which mankind is exposed would be capable of producing rapid changes, even in the purest existing race.

Jordan Peterson interviews James Damore

August 9th, 2017

Jordan Peterson interviews James Damore on his memo regarding Google’s diversity programs and their overweening ideological basis:

Peterson provides some links to the pertinent hate facts:

Sex differences in personality:

Larger/large and stable sex differences in more gender-neutral countries: (Note: these findings runs precisely and exactly contrary to social constructionist theory: thus, it’s been tested, and it’s wrong).……

(Women’s) interest in things vs (men’s) interest in things:

The importance of exposure to sex-linked steroids on fetal and then lifetime development:

Exposure to prenatal testosterone and interest in things (even when the exposure is among females):

Primarily biological basis of personality sex differences:

Status and sex: males and females

To quote de Bruyn et al (first reference on status and sex, above): high status predicts more mating opportunities and, thus, increased reproductive success. “This is true for human adults in many cultures, both ‘modern’ as well as ‘primitive’ (Betzig, 1986). In fact, this theory seems to be confirmed for non-human primates (Cheney, 1983; Cowlishaw and Dunbar, 1991; Dewsbury, 1982; Gray, 1985; Maslow, 1936) and other animals from widely differing ecologies (Ellis, 1995) such as squirrels (Farentinos, 1972), cockerels (Kratzer and Craig, 1980), and cockroaches (Breed, Smith, and Gall, 1980).” Status also increases female reproductive success, via a different pathway: “For females, it is generally argued that dominance is not necessarily a path to more copulations, as it is for males. It appears that important benefits bestowed upon dominant women are access to resources and less harassment from rivals (Campbell, 2002). Thus, dominant females tend to have higher offspring survival rates, at least among simians (Pusey, Williams, and Goodall, 1997); thus, dominance among females also appears to be linked to reproductive success.”
Personality and political belief

Conscientiousness associated with conservatism; neuroticism and agreeableness with liberalism:
Occupations by gender:

The people it prefers, it consumes

August 9th, 2017

The techno-commercial wing of the neoreactionary blogosphere, as Nick Land like to call it, has an obvious fondness for Pacific Rim city-states. like Singapore and Hong Kong, but these right-wing utopias have a problem. As Spandrell pointed out, Singapore is an IQ shredder:

How many bright Indians and bright Chinese are there, Harry? Surely they are not infinite. And what will they do in Singapore? Well, engage in the finance and marketing rat-race and depress their fertility to 0.78, wasting valuable genes just so your property prices don’t go down. Singapore is an IQ shredder.

The accusation is acute, Land says, and can be generalized:

Modernity has a fertility problem. When elevated to the zenith of savage irony, the formulation runs: At the demographic level, modernity selects systematically against modern populations. The people it prefers, it consumes. Without gross exaggeration, this endogenous tendency can be seen as an existential risk to the modern world. It threatens to bring the entire global order crashing down around it.

In order to discuss this implicit catastrophe, it’s first necessary to talk about cities, which is a conversation that has already begun. To state the problem crudely, but with confidence: Cities are population sinks. Historian William McNeil explains the basics. Urbanization, from its origins, has tended relentlessly to convert children from productive assets into objects of luxury consumption. All of the archaic economic incentives related to fertility are inverted.


Education expenses alone explain much of this. School fees are by far the most effective contraceptive technology ever conceived. To raise a child in an urban environment is like nothing that rural precedent ever prepared for. Even if responsible parenting were the sole motivation in play, the compressive effect on family size would be extreme. Under urban circumstances, it becomes almost an aggression against one’s own children for there to be many of them.

Combining data-visualization and cinematic storytelling to explore the driving factors of war and peace

August 8th, 2017

Neil Halloran, who previously produced The Fallen of World War II, returns with The Shadow Peace:

How do you get to Denmark?

August 8th, 2017

Where do ‘good’ or pro-social institutions come from?” Pseudoerasmus asks:

Why does the capacity for collective action and cooperative behaviour vary so much across the world today? How do some populations transcend tribalism to form a civil society? How have some societies gone beyond personal relations and customary rules to impersonal exchange and anonymous institutions? In short, how do you “get to Denmark”?


So to answer the question at the head of this post, “where do pro-social institutions come from?” — if “bad” institutions represent coordination failures, then intelligence and patience must be a big part of the answer. This need not have the same relevance for social evolution from 100,000 BCE to 1500 CE. But for the emergence of modern, advanced societies, intelligence and patience matter.

It’s not that people’s norms and values do not or cannot change. They do. But that does not seem enough. Solving complex coordination failures and collective action problems requires a lot more than just “good” culture.

I am not saying intelligence and patience explain everything, just that they seem to be an important part of how “good” institutions happen. Nor am I saying that intelligence and patience are immutable quantities.


Intelligence and patience allow you to understand, and weigh, the intuitive risks and the counterintuitive benefits from collaborating with perfect strangers. With less intelligence and less patience you stick to what you know — intuit the benefits from relationships cultivated over a long time through blood ties or other intimate affiliations.

Your “moral circle” is wider with intelligence and patience than without.

In the 1990s, in the middle of free market triumphalism, it was widely assumed that if you let markets rip, the institutions necessary to their proper functioning would “naturally” follow. Those with a vested interested in protecting their property rights would demand them, politically. That assumption went up in flames in the former communist countries and the developing countries under economic restructuring.

Non-permissive even to motorcycles

August 7th, 2017

American special operations forces famously found themselves riding to war on horseback in Afghanistan in 2001:

When the 5th Special Forces Group’s Operational Detachment Alpha 595 touched down and linked up with warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum — a Soviet-trained ethnic Uzbek military officer who had sided with the Northern Alliance against the predominantly Pashtun Taliban and who ultimately became a highly controversial figure accused of multiple human rights abuses and war crimes — they found his forces already conducting cavalry raids on horseback due to the lack of roads and even established trails in the area.

“Looking back, it was the best means for travel because some of those places we went would have been non-permissive to even motorcycles,” retired U.S. Air Force combat controller Bart Decker, who had served attached to ODA 595, said in 2016.

“It was the wild, wild west,” U.S. Air Force Maj. Mike Sciortino, another former combat controller, who was then serving with the 31st Surgical Operations Squadron, added at the time. “When we first got in, they said we were probably going to ride horses … I had never ridden a horse before. I was like, are these guys serious?”

ODA 595 and Northern Alliance on Horseback in 2001

The whole situation might have been a disaster had it not be for an amazing twist of fate. ODA 595’s commanding officer, U.S. Army Major Mark Nutsch, had grown up on a cattle ranch in Kansas and competed in rodeo events while he studied at Kansas State University. “The guys did a phenomenal job learning how to ride that rugged terrain,” he said in a later interview. “Initially you had a different horse for every move … and you’d have a different one, different gait or just willingness to follow the commands of the rider. … The guys had to work through all of that and use less than optimal gear. … Eventually we got the same pool of horses we were using regularly.”

The split at the heart of Chinese America

August 6th, 2017

The split at the heart of Chinese America isn’t surprising:

For years in America, Sean lived the life of a striving and successful Chinese immigrant. He paid attention to politics — partly because of his deepening appreciation of the American system and his concern for his children’s future — but he never got involved. Until 2014.

That year, a California state senator named Edward Hernandez introduced a bill to amend the state constitution and lift the 1996 ban on the use of race in admissions at California’s public universities. State Constitutional Amendment 5, or SCA-5, sailed through the state senate in January 2014 and looked set to pass the assembly soon thereafter.

Sean and hundreds of other Chinese Americans like him saw SCA-5 as a direct attack on the educational prospects of their children. Since California had become the first state to do away with affirmative action in state college admissions in 1996, the prospects for Asian-American applicants at California’s best colleges had brightened. Since 1996, the entering class at California’s best state college, the University of California, Berkeley, has averaged above 40 percent Asian American while more than 35 percent of the UCLA undergraduate student body has been Asian American, too. Both of these are more than double the 15 percent share that Asian Americans comprise of California’s population. And now, Sean worried, an amendment to California’s constitution was going to reinsert race into state college admissions and take that all away.

Sean and his friends began organizing. They had an uphill fight. Practically all of the Asian-American politicians in California, members of a Democratic majority, had come out in favor of the constitutional change.

Sean and hundreds of Chinese immigrants held noisy protests; they surrounded the offices of one Chinese-American assemblyman until he emerged and renounced his support of the bill. Their agitation forced three Chinese-American state senators who had voted for the bill to switch their positions. Many of the protesters made campaign donations for the first time. Sean gave about $1,000 to a variety of candidates. Breaking with decades of Asian-American tradition, they began supporting Republicans.


The Chinese-American community began to swing toward the Democratic Party in the 1960s as thousands of highly educated Chinese immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong and Taiwan, a trend accelerated by the landmark 1965 Immigration Act, passed by a Democratic Party majority and signed by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, also a Democrat. That law changed the nature of Chinatowns throughout America. In the 1930s, more than 60 percent of the Chinese in America worked as cooks, waiters, domestics, and laundrymen, and fewer than 2 percent had a college degree. By the 1960s, three out of four Chinese had white-collar jobs. In 1966, U.S. News & World Report hailed the Chinese as a “model minority” capable of “winning wealth and respect by dint of its own hard work.”

Chinese Americans started embracing typically liberal causes. One such cause was affirmative action. Activists such as Lily Lee Chen, who left Taiwan to be educated in America in the 1950s, led a campaign to convince Chinese immigrants to avail themselves of government services. “It was difficult in the beginning because so many Chinese Americans didn’t trust governments,” she recalled. But over time, Chen and others like her changed people’s minds. “We were just as needy a group as the Native Americans, Blacks, and Hispanics,” said Chen. “We’re the fourth minority.” Chen became the first Chinese-American mayor in the United States, elected in 1983 as the mayor of Monterey Park in eastern Los Angeles County. Support for affirmative action remained strong throughout the 1990s. In 1996, when voters in California did away with affirmative action in admissions to California’s state colleges, nearly 70 percent of Asian-American voters opposed the measure.

Starting with President Nixon’s trip to China in 1972, Chinese from mainland China began immigrating to the United States. The Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989 created a massive intellectual windfall for the United States when President George H. W. Bush issued an executive order allowing all the Chinese students in America to stay. Bush’s order gave more than 70,000 highly educated Chinese the right to work in America. Most of them became citizens. Throughout the 1990s, more than three-quarters of mainland Chinese studying in the U.S. opted to remain after graduation. For several years, almost every physics major from Tsinghua University moved to America. Rich Chinese also decamped to the U.S. by the thousands. In 2012, Chinese nationals earned 1,675 of the 10,000 EB-5 visas issued annually by the U.S. government to foreigners who invest $1 million and employ at least 10 people in the United States. Two years later, Chinese obtained 8,308 of those 10,000 slots.

Today, immigrants from mainland China make up close to half of the 5 million Chinese in America, according to Haipei Shue, the Chinese-American organizer. On the streets of Chinatowns old and new, Mandarin Chinese has pushed out Cantonese, Hokkien, and other southern dialects that older immigrant communities spoke. But the change has not only been linguistic. Chinese Americans began turning away from liberal causes such as affirmative action, bolstered by studies such as a 2009 Princeton report in which social scientist Thomas Espenshade suggested that a hypothetical Asian-American student would require an extra 140 points on the SAT to achieve the same probability of admission as a white peer, and an extra 450 points to achieve the same probability of admission as a black peer. Shue estimates that as many as half of first-generation Chinese immigrants now support Republican candidates. Many new Chinese immigrants approved of U.S. President Donald Trump’s tirades against affirmative action and illegal immigration. “There’s a split at the heart of Chinese America,” Shue said.


For their part, newer immigrants from China — with their advanced degrees and financial resources — sneer at what many of them call “Chinatown Chinese.” They view attempts by liberal Chinese organizations to support affirmative action and other progressive causes as little more than currying favor with white liberals. “I feel like these organizations took these stances so they could get a seat at the table. They are being progressive simply to be progressive, not to solve anything,” said Linlin Chen, a first-generation immigrant who blogs frequently on the issue. “They have become divorced from the community because the community is changing.”

There are two kinds of popularity, and we are choosing the wrong one

August 5th, 2017

There are two kinds of popularity, and we are choosing the wrong one:

Some people are popular because they are likable — their peers like them, trust them, and want to be with them. Others are popular because they somehow gain a certain status, and use that power to wield influence over others (ie, high school).

Which kind of popularity you pursue matters, says Mitch Prinstein, a professor and director of clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina. He recently published Popular: The Power of Likability In A Status-Obsessed World.

Prinstein delves into reams of research about what popularity is, and what effects it has on us. He shows that people who seek to be likable tend to end up healthier, in better relationships, with more fulfilling work, and even live longer. Status-seekers, on the other hand, often end up anxious, depressed, and with addiction problems.

In the age of Instagram, it’s no shock that most of us are gravitating to the wrong kind.


“The world has become a perpetual high school,” Prinstein says. “We can live in that adolescent mindset for the rest of our lives if we are not careful.”


For boys, there is some correlation between likability and status; it is possible to be high-status and liked. For girls, there is no correlation. Thus, the high-status girl in high school who is socially shrewd, beautiful, and effortlessly popular — ie, the stereotypical “mean girl” — becomes the paragon of what popularity looks like. Girls use “relational aggression” to maintain their power over others. Building status is not about developing relationships but dominating others, which ultimately makes many popular but unlikeable.

They don’t learn, because they are not the victims of their own mistakes

August 4th, 2017

Nassim Nicholas Taleb shares his thoughts on interventionistas and their mental defects:

Their three flaws: 1) They think in statics not dynamics, 2) they think in low, not high dimensions, 3) they think in actions, never interactions.

The first flaw is that they are incapable in thinking in second steps and unaware of the need for it — and about every peasant in Mongolia, every waiter in Madrid, and every car service operator in San Francisco knows that real life happens to have second, third, fourth, nth steps. The second flaw is that they are also incapable of distinguishing between multidimensional problems and their single dimensional representations — like multidimensional health and its stripped, cholesterol-reading reduced representation. They can’t get the idea that, empirically, complex systems do not have obvious one dimensional cause and effects mechanisms, and that under opacity, you do not mess with such a system. An extension of this defect: they compare the actions of the “dictator” to the prime minister of Norway or Sweden, not to those of the local alternative. The third flaw is that they can’t forecast the evolution of those one helps by attacking.

And when a blow up happens, they invoke uncertainty, something called a Black Swan, after some book by a (very) stubborn fellow, not realizing that one should not mess with a system if the results are fraught with uncertainty, or, more generally, avoid engaging in an action if you have no idea of the outcomes. Imagine people with similar mental handicaps, who don’t understand asymmetry, piloting planes. Incompetent pilots, those who cannot learn from experience, or don’t mind taking risks they don’t understand, may kill many, but they will themselves end up at the bottom of, say, the Atlantic, and cease to represent a threat to others and mankind.

So we end up populating what we call the intelligentsia with people who are delusional, literally mentally deranged, simply because they never have to pay for the consequences of their actions, repeating modernist slogans stripped of all depth. In general, when you hear someone invoking abstract modernistic notions, you can assume that they got some education (but not enough, or in the wrong discipline) and too little accountability.

Now some innocent people, Yazidis, Christian minorities, Syrians, Iraqis, and Libyans had to pay a price for the mistakes of these interventionistas currently sitting in their comfortable air-conditioned offices. This, we will see, violates the very notion of justice from its pre-biblical, Babylonian inception. As well as the ethical structure of humanity.

Not only the principle of healers is first do no harm (primum non nocere), but, we will argue: those who don’t take risks should never be involved in making decisions.

This idea is weaved into history: all warlords and warmongers were warriors themselves and, with few exceptions societies were run by risk takers not risk transferors. They took risks — more risks than ordinary citizens. Julian the Apostate, the hero of many, died on the battlefield fighting in the never-ending war on the Persian frontier. One of predecessors, Valerian, after he was captured was said to have been used as a human footstool by the Persian Shahpur when mounting his horse. Less than a third of Roman emperors died in their bed — and one can argue that, had they lived longer, they would have fallen prey to either a coup or a battlefield.

And, one may ask, what can we do since a centralized system will necessarily need people who are not directly exposed to the cost of errors? Well, we have no choice, but decentralize; have fewer of these. But not to worry, if we don’t do it, it will be done by itself, the hard way: a system that doesn’t have a mechanism of skin in the game will eventually blow up and fix itself that way. We will see numerous such examples.

For instance, bank blowups came in 2008 because of the hidden risks in the system: bankers could make steady bonuses from a certain class of concealed explosive risks, use academic risk models that don’t work (because academics know practically nothing about risk), then invoke uncertainty after a blowup, some unseen and unforecastable Black Swan, and keep past bonuses, what I have called the Bob Rubin trade. Robert Rubin collected one hundred million dollar in bonuses from Citibank, but when the latter was rescued by the taxpayer, he didn’t write any check. The good news is that in spite of the efforts of a complicit Obama administration that wanted to protect the game and the rent-seeking of bankers, the risk-taking business moved away to hedge funds. The move took place because of the overbureaucratization of the system. In the hedge fund space, owners have at least half of their net worth in the funds, making them more exposed than any of their customers, and they personally go down with the ship.

The interventionistas case is central to our story because it shows how absence of skin in the game has both ethical and epistemological effects (i.e., related to knowledge). Interventionistas don’t learn because they they are not the victims to their mistakes. Interventionistas don’t learn because they they are not the victims of their mistakes, and, as we saw with pathemata mathemata:

The same mechanism of transferring risk also impedes learning.

Millennials unearth an amazing hack to get free TV

August 3rd, 2017

This Wall Street Journal piece seems a little too good:

“I was just kind of surprised that this is technology that exists,” says Mr. Sisco, 28 years old. “It’s been awesome. It doesn’t log out and it doesn’t skip.”


Mr. Sisco, an M.B.A. student in Provo, Utah, made his discovery after inviting friends over to watch the Super Bowl in 2014. The online stream he found to watch the game didn’t have regular commercials — disappointing half of his guests who were only interested in the ads.

“An antenna was not even on my radar,” he says. He went online and discovered he could buy one for $20 and watch major networks like ABC, NBC, Fox and CBS free.


Carlos Villalobos, 21, who was selling tube-shaped digital antennas at a swap meet in San Diego recently, says customers often ask if his $20 to $25 products are legal. “They don’t trust me when I say that these are actually free local channels,” he says.

Earlier this year, he got an earful from a woman who didn’t get it. “She was mad,” he recalls. “She says, ‘No, you can’t live in America for free, what are you talking about?’”

Almost a third of Americans (29%) are unaware local TV is available free, according to a June survey by the National Association of Broadcasters, an industry trade group.


The Federal Communications Commission spent millions on a campaign to educate the public about the digital TV transition and Congress set aside more than $2 billion to help consumers pay for converters so old TV sets could process digital signals. But the focus was largely on older people who already relied on antennas.

William Lake oversaw the agency’s effort. A few years later, when he offered to buy an antenna for one of his daughters, then in her early 20s, so she and her roommates could get live TV, she had no idea what he was talking about.

“She thought it was some modern satellite service or something,” the former FCC official says.

We never really wanted this

August 3rd, 2017

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones — who is half-black — tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross that when it comes to school segregation, separate is never truly equal:

“There’s never been a moment in the history of this country where black people who have been isolated from white people have gotten the same resources,” Hannah-Jones says. “They often don’t have the same level of instruction. They often don’t have strong principals. They often don’t have the same technology.”

I believe a quick look at the data demonstrates that many majority-black schools get more resources than the average school. And yet they don’t have the same level of instruction. It’s as if the two aren’t strongly linked.

Still, when it was time for Hannah-Jones’ daughter, Najya, to attend kindergarten, the journalist chose the public school near their home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, even though its students were almost all poor and black or Latino. Hannah-Jones later wrote about that decision in The New York Times Magazine.

For Hannah-Jones, sending Najya to the neighborhood school was a moral issue. “It is important to understand that the inequality we see, school segregation, is both structural, it is systemic, but it’s also upheld by individual choices,” she says. “As long as individual parents continue to make choices that only benefit their own children … we’re not going to see a change.”

If good students lifted up poor students’ performance, this might make sense, but we see far more of the opposite: disruptive students can bring down an otherwise good school.

Hannah-Jones adds that her daughter is thriving at school. “I know she’s learning a lot,” she says. “I think it is making her a good citizen. … It is teaching her that children who have less resources than her are not any less intelligent than her or not any less worthy than her.”

Taking resources away doesn’t make students any less intelligent, and giving them resources doesn’t make them any more intelligent — but poor families aren’t simply rich families without resources. The “children who have less [sic] resources” are generally less intelligent, by any reasonable metric.

On why she chose to send her young daughter to the public school in her neighborhood

One of the things I’ve done in my work is kind of show the hypocrisy of progressive people who say they believe in inequality, but when it comes to their individual choices about where they’re going to live and where they’re going to send their children, they make very different decisions, and I just didn’t want to do that. So for me it was a matter of needing to live my values, and not being someone who contributed to the inequality that I write about.

She’s completely right about the hypocrisy of progressive parents, of course. All of our hip, progressive friends and colleagues moved to the “right” suburbs with the “best” schools — and tend to be remarkably proud of their choice of a public school.

On the importance of having students from different races and income levels in the public schools

The original mission of public schools … is this understanding that no matter where you come from, you will go into the doors of a school and every child will receive the same education.

I find it odd that we would want every child to receive the same education, since children aren’t identical and don’t want or need the same things.

On the history of school desegregation since the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education

Brown v. Board happens, and the way that we’re taught it or the myth about it is immediately our nation repented and went into an integrated future together. That’s not what happened. There was massive resistance, and we don’t see real desegregation occurring in this country until 1964, and really most rapidly from 1968 on. …

Then you see pretty rapid desegregation particularly in the South, but then that changes, and in 1988 we start to go backwards. So we reach kind of the peak of schools integrating, of black students attending majority white schools at the highest rates that they ever have in the country, and then we start to see school districts re-segregating, which means black students are starting to go to schools that are more and more segregated. And school districts that had had a degree of integration are losing that integration. …

I can’t imagine why.

On American resistance to desegregating schools and housing

When I started what I kind of call the segregation beat about five years ago … I think we had stopped talking about this as a problem. If you look at No Child Left Behind, which comes out of the Bush administration, that was all about giving up on integration in schools and just saying, “We’re going to make these poor black and Latino schools equal to white schools by testing and accountability.”

If we assume the problem with poor black and Latino schools is the schools, then testing and accountability make sense, right?

So no one was discussing integration anymore. I think it’s because … we never really wanted this. … It’s always had to be forced, and as soon as … our elected officials and our courts lost the will to force it, most white Americans were just fine with that. …

One of the things that I really try to do with my work is show how racial segregation and racial inequality was intentionally created with a ton of resources. From the federal government, to the state, to city governments, to private citizens, we put so much effort into creating this segregation and inequality, and we’re willing to put almost no effort in fixing it, and that’s the problem.

I’m having trouble seeing how it took “a ton of resources” to create the situation that came naturally, once “our elected officials and our courts lost the will to force it.”

Smart people might have been less careful about suppressing their stereotypical thinking

August 2nd, 2017

A recent Atlantic piece laments that people who are better at pattern matching are more likely to stereotype — that is, to match patterns:

These depressing results suggest there’s a downside to being smart—it makes you risk reading too much into a situation and drawing inappropriate conclusions. But there’s hope. In the second part of the study, the researchers showed that while smart people learn and apply stereotypes more eagerly, they also unlearn those stereotypes quickly in the face of new information.

When the smart participants were given new, contradictory information about the nose-bridge men, for example, they stopped lowballing them in the trust game. The worse pattern-detectors, meanwhile, didn’t update their thinking in the same way. The same thing happened when the researchers tried to get the participants to un-learn some gender stereotypes.


According to Geoffrey Wodtke, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto, it could be that, because this study focused on unrealistic stereotypes — about cartoon aliens or computer-drawn men, instead, of, say, real-life groups like gays or immigrants — smart people might have been less careful about suppressing their stereotypical thinking. “It’s quite likely that high-ability individuals are … able to efficiently learn and apply stereotypes in a vacuum but also that they are better attuned to social norms and concerns about not inflaming intergroup conflict,” he said.

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, chapter 16, Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate, has this to say:

The social norm against stereotyping, including the opposition to profiling, has been highly beneficial in creating a more civilized and more equal society. It is useful to remember, however, that neglecting valid stereotypes inevitably results in suboptimal judgments. Resistance to stereotyping is a laudable moral position, but the simplistic idea that the resistance is costless is wrong. The costs are worth paying to achieve a better society, but denying that the costs exist, while satisfying to the soul and politically correct, is not scientifically defensible. Reliance on the affect heuristic is common in politically charged arguments. The positions we favor have no cost and those we oppose have no benefits. We should be able to do better.

Boys are treated like defective girls

August 2nd, 2017

We see a continuing pattern in schools, where the simple urges and fascinations of boyhood are considered too dangerous to be allowed:

Boys fantasize of conflict, they love to test their strength against their fathers in mock fights, they’re aggressive, and daydream about battle. Many of the games they prefer involve death and destruction. While this may seem like a horrible thing, this is actually a positive.

Boys need to learn to be dangerous. In fact, they need to be encouraged to be so. It should be understood that being dangerous is not a bad thing. The bad comes when the boy has not properly been taught how to utilize the dangerous aspects of his nature for good. When he has been taught to embrace the dangerous parts of himself, he becomes the man society relies upon to uphold it.

He will go on to become a good protector of his family, a police officer, or a soldier. These dangerous aspects also help him to become more confident in himself. He doesn’t back down from conflict, be it in the office, or in the home. He is the good, dangerous man, and he is a pillar of society.

But it starts with the early years, when the boy is naturally starting to discover this dangerous side of himself. Sadly, we are teaching boys that they are somehow dysfunctional for doing what comes naturally.

As Christina Hoff Sommers goes over in her “War on Boys” video for Prager U, “girl behavior is the gold standard in schools. Boys are treated like defective girls.” We medicate boys when they become too kinetic for schools to tolerate, drugging them into sitting quietly.


As “Wild at Heart” author John Eldredge so eloquently summarizes the good, dangerous man, “Yes, a man is a dangerous thing. So is a scalpel.”

Their laws don’t matter, their culture is uninteresting, and their civilization is going to fall

August 1st, 2017

Dr. Cheryl Benard was program director of the Initiative for Middle Eastern Youth and the Alternative Strategies Initiative within the RAND Corporation’s National Security Research Division. So she has worked with refugees for decades, and what she’s seen of Europe’s Afghan crime wave is mind-boggling — and not easily explained by alcohol or a clash in cultural values:

This brings us to a third, more compelling and quite disturbing theory — the one that my Afghan friend, the court translator, puts forward. On the basis of his hundreds of interactions with these young men in his professional capacity over the past several years, he believes to have discovered that they are motivated by a deep and abiding contempt for Western civilization. To them, Europeans are the enemy, and their women are legitimate spoils, as are all the other things one can take from them: housing, money, passports. Their laws don’t matter, their culture is uninteresting and, ultimately, their civilization is going to fall anyway to the horde of which one is the spearhead. No need to assimilate, or work hard, or try to build a decent life here for yourself — these Europeans are too soft to seriously punish you for a transgression, and their days are numbered.

And it’s not just the sex crimes, my friend notes. Those may agitate public sentiment the most, but the deliberate, insidious abuse of the welfare system is just as consequential. Afghan refugees, he says, have a particular proclivity to play the system: to lie about their age, to lie about their circumstances, to pretend to be younger, to be handicapped, to belong to an ethnic minority when even the tired eye of an Austrian judge can distinguish the delicate features of a Hazara from those of a Pashtun.

I see his point. In the course of my research, I encountered thirty-year-olds with family in Austria who were passing themselves off as “unaccompanied minors.” I met people misrepresenting an old traffic injury as proof that they had been tortured. I learned of an Afghan family that had emigrated to Hungary two decades ago. The children were born there and attended Hungarian schools. When the refugee crisis erupted, enticed by news of all the associated benefits, this family decided to take on a new identity and make their way to Sweden on the pretense of being brand-new refugees. Claiming to have lost their papers during their “flight,” they registered under new assumed names and reduced the ages of their children; the mother declared herself a widow. Now ensconced in comfortable free housing along with their hale, hearty and very much alive father — whom they pass off as an uncle — with a monthly welfare check, they are smug parasites leeching off the gullibility of Sweden’s taxpayers.

Western legal systems are meticulous and procedural, operate on the basis of rules and rights and forms and documents, and consider you innocent until proven guilty. It didn’t take the refugees long to figure out how to leverage this to their advantage. “They’ll stand right there, balding, grey at the temples, and insist that they’re eighteen,” an exasperated Austrian prosecutor told me. Having “lost” their documents, the only way to refute even the most patently absurd such claim is through expensive lab tests. If you have no documents and no shame, you can assert just about anything and then lean back and wait for the system to try and prove otherwise. If you are rejected, no problem: you can launch multiple appeals. Once you have set foot in Europe, it will be almost impossible to get rid of you; indeed, you can literally commit murder. If a court finds you guilty of rape, you need only argue that if you are sent home, your conservative society will kill you for the dishonorable act — then you can’t be shipped out, because EU law forbids extradition if doing so puts the individual’s life at risk. And murderers cannot be sent back to countries that have the death penalty or a judicial system known to be harsh.

But we are still left with a mystery. Welfare fraud is one thing: it makes a certain kind of sense, if you have no regard for rule of law or fairness and you are lazy. But why is this current cohort of Afghans making its mark as sexual predators… and inept, stupid ones at that? In search of an answer, perhaps we should take a closer look at the victims. We have eliminated improper attire and an unwittingly seductive manner, but might they have any other traits in common to shed light on why they became the targets of such madness? Reviewing them, one word comes to mind: fulfillment. A Turkish exchange student, happy to be advancing her education in industrial design at a good university in Vienna. A girl in a park, enjoying the sunshine. Two friends, taking their babies for a walk. A mother, enjoying a summer stroll with her two children. A contented old lady, out with her pet. Attractive, accomplished, happy, normal people… an unbearable sight, perhaps, to — and here I must agree with President Trump — losers. That is what he proposed we should call terrorists, and he is right. These young men, even minus a suicide vest, are losers, which has inspired them to become social terrorists.

The young Afghan attackers are saying, yes, that they have no impulse control, that their hormones are raging, and that they hate themselves and the world — but most especially, that they will not tolerate women who are happy, confident and feeling safe in public spaces. They are saying that they have no intention of respecting law, custom, public opinion, local values or common decency, all of which they hate so much that they are ready to put their own lives, their constructive futures and their freedom on the line for the satisfaction of inflicting damage.

Established middle-class diaspora Afghans are understandably upset and embarrassed to see their nationality thus disgraced by these uncouth newcomers. And yet they are part of the problem. Many of their actions and reactions, however natural or unintended, amount to complicity. They cover up, make excuses for, advise on best ways to wriggle out of consequences, and even directly abet the deceptions, illegal acts and disgraceful manners of friends, relatives and random unknown fellow Afghans.

The reasons for this are many-layered. There is the perceived obligation to be loyal to friends and relatives and countrymen. I think there is also a certain lack of true identification with Western notions of bureaucratic and biographic fact; many, if not most, Afghans currently living in the West have some lies of necessity in their past. Whichever of them arrived first — a father, an older brother — generally had to make up a supposed family name and a birthdate on the fly, because back home, until one generation ago most people did not have a last name and birth dates were not recorded. I know respectable, law-abiding Afghan families where everyone’s birthdays are implausibly sequential — June 1, June 2, June 3 and so forth, because the family member who filled out the immigration paperwork had to make up birth dates and thought it would be easier to remember them this way.

It is also possible that this diaspora community, given the weakness of state institutions in their country of origin, the arbitrariness of its corruption-riddled administrations for centuries, and a certain lack of rootedness that comes from being dropped into someone else’s culture and way of doing things, is fine with a bit of finagling of welfare benefits. They don’t, of course, endorse rape, but here embarrassment kicks in and inspires them to make excuses. “They’re young.” “They’re confused.” “They grew up in Iran, where one learns bad behavior.” Others just disavow them altogether and want nothing to do with them. That’s regrettable, because Afghans who have already made respected lives for themselves abroad are in the best position to discipline and teach the delinquent newcomers, to know what combination of sanctions, pressures and encouragement will be effective.