Kindle Paperwhite

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

Kindle PaperwhiteThe new Kindle Paperwhite, announced today, has a 300 ppi display. Should I finally get one?

Waking Up In Indian Country

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

James LaFond describes a horrific crime in his Baltimore neighborhood that reminds him of Indian Country in the Old West:

Is that not precisely the kind of attack a community can expect from bands of parentless young would-be warriors set loose among the working communities of the city as the dependents of subsidized two-legged bitch-egg hatcheries with $90 per month housing vouchers?

Does the tragic end of that girl’s promising life not read like a lurid 19th Century ‘blood and thunder’ dime novel tale of an Indian raid?

When Liver-eating Johnson [before he became the Liver-eater] went hunting for the winter and left his pregnant wife, The Swan, alone, and she was butchered by young untried Crow warriors operating on what was essentially their home range, they were acting no differently than these black savages, who were also seeking to literally carve their own tribal identity from the body of an innocent person.

On a strategic level, just as young Crow scouts — who were unable and unwilling to take on the Liver-eater when he went on the vengeance trail — watched his movement, and even spied on him when he returned to her bones to leave the scalps of his Crow victims, so do the savages in your home range spy on you. The unemployed, government subsidized, innocent, unarmed black teens in your community know when the dangerous man comes and goes and who he leaves in his lair. They must be convinced that you are not only too dangerous to attack, but that you are too dangerous for them to attack those you care about when you are absent. I guarantee that your worshipped government that you pay tithe and homage to is even now taking money that it has stolen from you, and is using it to plant violent criminal teens in your community. You might wish to act accordingly.

Young men — even innocent unarmed black male youth — are inherently, biologically, tribal, and will seek their own violent tribal expression in the absence of a true tribal order complete with manhood rituals. Is it any surprise, that, in a womanly society run along female lines, where manhood is essentially outlawed, that boys will appeal to the god Death in their pathetic attempts to become men, and that these appeals — coming as they are from boys — will naturally come at the expense of the weak and innocent?

Postmodern Urban America is reaping the sour harvest that it’s greedy mothers and absent fathers has sown, and Death is grinning.

Fearful Symmetry

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

Scott Alexander sees a fearful symmetry between the social justice narrative and the anti-social justice narrative:

The social justice narrative describes a political-economic elite dominated by white males persecuting anybody who doesn’t fit into their culture, like blacks, women, and gays. The anti-social-justice narrative describes an intellectual-cultural elite dominated by social justice activists persecuting anybody who doesn’t fit into their culture, like men, theists, and conservatives. Both are relatively plausible; Congress and millionaires are 80% – 90% white; journalists and the Ivy League are 80% – 90% leftist.

The narratives share a surprising number of other similarities. Both, for example, identify their enemy with the spirit of a discredited mid-twentieth century genocidal philosophy of government; fascists on the one side, communists on the other. Both believe they’re fighting a war for their very right to exist, despite the lack of any plausible path to reinstituting slavery or transitioning to a Stalinist dictatorship. Both operate through explosions of outrage at salient media examples of their out-group persecuting their in-group.

They have even converged on the same excuse for what their enemies call “politicizing” previously neutral territory – that what their enemies call “politicizing” is actually trying to restore balance to a field the other side has already successfully politicized.


I see minimal awareness from the social justice movement and the anti-social-justice movement that their narratives are similar, and certainly no deliberate intent to copy from one another. That makes me think of this as a case of convergent evolution.


Although it’s very easy enter this state of hypervigilance yourself no matter how safe you are, it’s very hard to understand why anyone else could possibly be pushed into it despite by-the-numbers safety. As a result, we constantly end up with two sides both shouting “You’re making me live in fear, and also you’re making the obviously false claim that you live in fear yourself! Stop it!” and no one getting anywhere. At worst, it degenerates into people saying “These people are falsely accusing me of persecuting them, and falsely claiming to be persecuted themselves, I’ll get back at them by mocking them relentlessly, doxxing them, and trying to make them miserable!” and then you get the kind of atmosphere you find in places like SRS and Gamergate and FreeThoughtBlogs.

Analysis of Skeletal Remains

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

Race is not skin deep. In fact, you can often identify the race of a human skeleton, especially if you have access to the skull:

There are several features that can be used to determine the race of an individual. In terms of the skull, a great place to start is the maxillary bone. The left and right maxillary bones form the roof of the mouth, contain the upper 16 teeth in the adult (the upper 10 teeth in the child), and form the outline of the nasal cavity (the nasal cavity itself involves several other bones: ethmoid, inferior nasal conchae, lacrimal, nasal, sphenoid, and vomer).

The arch of the maxilla can be found in three basic shapes: hyperbolic, parabolic, and rounded. Each of the the following three races have their own shape: (1) African = hyperbolic, (2) European = parabolic, and (3) Asian = rounded.

The incisors, as well, differ in their basic shape. The incisors (click HERE to refresh your memory) fall into two basic categories, based on the shape of the lingual (tongue) surface of the tooth. These two categories are: (1) shovel-shaped, and (2) spatulate, or spatula-shaped. As there is more than one race with spatulate incisors, other indicators are necessary to positively identify race, although this single feature can be used to eliminate one of the possibilities. Each of the the following three races have their own shape: (1) African = spatulate , (2) European = spatulate , and (3) Asian = shovel-shaped.

In addition to determining gender, there are characteristics of the skull that can be used to determine the race of an individual. Many of these features are quite subtle, and require detailed examination of the skull. A couple of features, however, are more easily seen. For example, in people of African ancestry, the nasal opening is more flared. Another example is that of the zygomatic arch (or cheek bone), which is angled more forward in people of Asian ancestry, thus giving the person a slightly more flattened face.

Cranial features are not perfect indicators of ancestry:

Forensic anthropologists using multiple features claim at best 85% accuracy in their assessment of racial ancestry. When we know less about the context of a skull, we will be less and less accurate.

Here are some traits that vary between skulls with different race backgrounds. Most of them are on the face or palate.

  • Shape of the eye orbits, viewed from the front. Africans tend to a more rectangular shape, East Asians more circular, Europeans tend to have an “aviator glasses” shape.
  • Nasal sill: Europeans tend to have a pronounced angulation dividing the nasal floor from the anterior surface of the maxilla; Africans tend to lack a sharp angulation, Asians tend to be intermediate.
  • Nasal bridge: Africans tend to have an arching, “Quonset hut”‘ shape, Europeans tend to have high nasal bones with a peaked angle, Asians tend to have low nasal bones with a slight angulation.
  • Nasal aperture: Africans tend to have wide nasal apertures, Europeans narrow.
  • Subnasal prognathism: Africans tend to have maxillae that project more anteriorly (prognathic) below the nose, Europeans tend to be less projecting.
  • Zygomatic form: Asians tend to have anteriorly projecting cheekbones. The border of the frontal process (lateral to the orbit) faces forward. In Europeans and Africans, these face more laterally and the zygomatic recedes more posteriorly.

Facial Feminization

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

Facial feminization surgery involves extensive work:

Advancing the Scalp. A high forehead is an instant clue to maleness. Creating a lower hairline and recontouring the brow are procedures that must be done together, says Deschamps-Braly. In a 19-year-old male, the distance from hairline to the center of the eyebrow is 2.6 inches; it’s just two inches in a woman. Lowering the hairline with scalp advancement requires an ear to ear incision across the top of the head. The scalp is then pulled forward and reattached lower down. If the hair in the front section of scalp is thinning, a strip of it is trimmed away. Hair-follicle implants can be done later. Before the scalp is sutured into place at the lover level, the brow is raised lifting the eyebrows to a more feminine position.

Forehead feminization. The skulls of men and women are vastly different. “The foreheads of genetic males slope back—while a female brow is more vertical. Genetic males have a heavy bony ridge protruding above the eye sockets making the sockets deeper than a woman’s,” explains Deschamps-Braly. “We use a saw and remove the ridge carefully, often exposing the sinus cavity which we refill with some of the extra bone.” Males also have bony hoods over their eye sockets. To feminize the eyes, these need to be removed with a 40,000 rpm mechanical burr. A small percentage of facial feminization patients need their brows augmented above the brow ridge with the same synthetic resin used in making dentures. All this bone work can be done through the same long incision created for the brow advancement. “Without feminization, your forehead will always be a giveaway to your birth gender,” wrote Ousterhaut.

Filling temple depressions. Some men also have shallow depressions in the bone beside their eyes. If they’re noticeable, fat can be injected through small entry points in the temple hair.

Rhinoplasty. Jenner had previously had surgery on her nose, which is a common element in the facial feminization process. Male noses are larger and longer, with bulkier tips than a woman’s. They point straight ahead or down, while the ideal female nose is thinner, shorter and sometimes scoops up.The angle at the radix (where the nose meets the forehead) is sharper in males and slopes gently in females. These characteristics can be achieved with surgery.

Changing the shape of the chin. A man’s chin is 17 percent longer than a woman’s and wider as well. A woman’s chin tends to be tapered or oval. Feminization requires taking, on average, a three-eighths-inch horizontal slice out of the chin bone (think of it as removing one book near the bottom of a stack). The bottom piece has to be anchored with plates and screws. If the chin protrudes or is receding, the lowest section can be pushed back or advanced. If the chin needs narrowing, a vertical wedge of bone can be removed at the tip below the tooth roots.

Lower-jaw tapering. The male jaw looks square from the front, but it has a wide, V-shaped bend between the ear and the chin. In contrast, a female jaw has a soft curve from the ear to the chin. The angular male jaw can be rounded by cutting the sharpness from the bend with a right-angle saw and smoothing the edge with a mechanical burr. This is a job for someone very experienced, because running through the jaw are blood vessels and nerves that relay sensation from the lower lip, front teeth, and chin.

Diminishing the Adam’s apple. The Adam’s apple is thyroid cartilage that sits on top of the trachea—the breathing tube—and anchors the vocal cords. Both men and women have one, but a man’s is more prominent. It can be reduced through a small incision under the chin that heals almost invisibly. In 5 percent of cases, male-to-female transgender patients (like Jenner) have it reduced before feminization surgery; Jenner underwent a tracheal reduction in January of 2014.

Raising the cheeks. While rounded cheeks are considered attractive in both men and women, Deschamps-Braly cautions against using cheek implants during the feminization surgery. “I do a cheek lift instead of implants. The cheek looks better. Implants are rarely necessary.”

Shortening lip height. Men typically have a longer upper lip area, averaging 21 millimeters in height compared to 15 millimeters for women. And it gets longer with age. This can be shortened with a short incision right under the nostrils. Lips can then be filled with dermal fat or hyaluronic acid.

Vocal pitch. This is one male trait that isn’t easy to change. Operating on vocal cords to make the voice less husky is risky. It could become deeper and chronically hoarse. “There have been great successes,” says Deschamps-Braly, “but the area is a no-man’s land and complications can’t be corrected.” For this reason, many male-to-female transgender patients skip the surgery and instead hire voice coaches to help them.

Children of Uneducated Parents Don’t Go to College

Monday, June 15th, 2015

Norwegians whose parents did not go to college are just as unlikely to go as Americans whose parents did not go to college — even though tuition’s basically free in Norway and far from free in the US:

And what happens is that — even though it’s essentially free — only 14 percent of children from the least-educated families in Norway go to college, compared to 58 percent of children from the most-educated families, according to an analysis by a Norwegian education researcher, Elisabeth Hovdhaugen.

That’s almost exactly the same proportion as in the United States, where the cost of college is borne largely by students and their families, and where the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation reports that only 13 percent of children of parents without higher educations end up getting degrees themselves.


It’s a huge issue, considering that fully one-third of five- to 17-year-olds in the United States have parents who did not go to college, the College Board reports, at a time when policymakers are trying to increase the number of Americans with degrees. They’ll be needed to fill the 65 percent of jobs by 2020 that will require some sort of college or university training, according to the Georgetown University Center for Education in the Workforce.

The circularity here amuses me. Very, very few jobs require the skills taught in college. Many more require the kind of people who go to college. As more people go, more graduates are needed.

Some of these Norwegian “problems” are also amusing:

Also, because wages remain high for blue-collar occupations, she said, there’s less of a financial incentive for some Norwegians to bother with college, since they can get jobs more quickly, and earn almost as much money, working as plumbers or electricians. American advocates for higher education worry that a similar thing might be happening in the U.S., as people increasingly question the return on investment for degrees; a new federal report shows that the average annual earnings of 25- to 34-year-olds with bachelor’s degrees actually fell from $53,210 in 2000 to $46,900 in 2012, even as tuition continued to rise.

“A bachelor’s degree in the U.S. has been seen as one serious option for getting into the middle class, whereas in Norway everything is a ticket into the middle class, because everyone is in the middle class,” Rice said. “It’s now less clear that it really is a ticket into the middle class in the U.S.”

The causality here is a mystery:

American students’ scores on the SAT and other college entrance exams also correlate with the level of their parents’ educations; the better-educated a student’s parents, the higher he or she scores on the tests, according to the College Board, which administers the SAT.

Since education affects income, children whose parents didn’t go to college are also unlikely to be well off, said Margaret Cahalan, vice president for research at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education. And families that are less well off are statistically more likely to face health problems, problems with the law and unplanned pregnancies, among other challenges.

Students from such backgrounds “are going to be on average facing more obstacles than a student who comes from a more advantaged background,” including nonfinancial ones, Cahalan said.

The credulity:

With a third of U.S. primary and secondary school students now coming from families without higher educations, the most important lesson is that cultural, and not just economic, considerations may keep many of them from going on to college.

Young people from backgrounds such as these, when considering whether or not to go to college, often “don’t even really know that they can go to the library and borrow books” instead of buying them, said Gomperts.

“How do you know that? You’re not born knowing such a thing. And who’s going to tell you? Stripping away the money piece shows how complicated this is.”

These poor things! No one has taught them about libraries in their first 13 years of public education!

I Made an Untraceable AR-15 ‘Ghost Gun’ in My Office — And It Was Easy

Monday, June 15th, 2015

Andy Greenberg decided to make an untraceable AR-15 ghost gun — that is, to finish off an 80-percent-finished AR lower, which isn’t legally a gun yet — three different ways:

I would build an untraceable AR-15 all three ways I’ve heard of: using the old-fashioned drill press method, a commercially available 3-D printer, and finally, Defense Distributed’s new gun-making machine.

In Baltimore Arrests are Down and Crime is Way Up

Sunday, June 14th, 2015

We are seeing a Ferguson effect in Baltimore, Alex Tabarrok notes — or, rather, a Freddie Gray effect:

Arrests in Baltimore have fallen by nearly 40% since Freddie Gray’s funeral and the start of the riots on April 27. In the approximately 3 months before the Gray funeral police made an average of 87.7 arrests per day, since that time they have made only 54.6 arrests a day on average (up to May 30, most recent data).


Not all arrests are good arrests, of course, but the strain is cutting policing across the board and the criminals are responding to incentives. Fewer police mean more crime. As arrests have fallen, homicides, shootings, robberies and auto thefts have all spiked upwards. Homicides, for example, have more than doubled from .53 a day on average before the unrest to 1.35 a day after (up to June 6, most recent data)–this is an unprecedented increase–and the highest homicide rate Baltimore has ever seen.


With luck the crime wave will subside quickly but the longer-term fear is that the increase in crime could push arrest and clearance rates down so far that the increase in crime becomes self-fulfilling. The higher crime rate itself generates the lower punishment that supports the higher crime rate (see my theory paper). In the presence of multiple equilibria it’s possible that a temporary shift could push Baltimore into a permanently higher high-crime equilibrium.

Being a Better Online Reader

Sunday, June 14th, 2015

After Maryanne Wolf’s Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain came out, she started receiving letters from readers:

While the backgrounds of the writers varied, a theme began to emerge: the more reading moved online, the less students seemed to understand. There were the architects who wrote to her about students who relied so heavily on ready digital information that they were unprepared to address basic problems onsite. There were the neurosurgeons who worried about the “cut-and-paste chart mentality” that their students exhibited, missing crucial details because they failed to delve deeply enough into any one case. And there were, of course, the English teachers who lamented that no one wanted to read Henry James anymore.

We don’t read the same way online as we do on paper:

When Ziming Liu, a professor at San Jose State University whose research centers on digital reading and the use of e-books, conducted a review of studies that compared print and digital reading experiences, supplementing their conclusions with his own research, he found that several things had changed. On screen, people tended to browse and scan, to look for keywords, and to read in a less linear, more selective fashion. On the page, they tended to concentrate more on following the text. Skimming, Liu concluded, had become the new reading: the more we read online, the more likely we were to move quickly, without stopping to ponder any one thought.

The online world, too, tends to exhaust our resources more quickly than the page. We become tired from the constant need to filter out hyperlinks and possible distractions. And our eyes themselves may grow fatigued from the constantly shifting screens, layouts, colors, and contrasts, an effect that holds for e-readers as well as computers. Mary Dyson, a psychologist at the University of Reading who studies how we perceive and interact with typography and design online and in print, has found that the layout of a text can have a significant effect on the reading experience. We read more quickly when lines are longer, but only to a point. When lines are too long, it becomes taxing to move your eyes from the end of one to the start of the next. We read more efficiently when text is arranged in a single column rather than multiple columns or sections. The font, color, and size of text can all act in tandem to make our reading experience easier or more difficult. And while these variables surely exist on paper just as they do on-screen, the range of formats and layouts online is far greater than it is in print. Online, you can find yourself transitioning to entirely new layouts from moment to moment, and, each time you do so, your eyes and your reading approach need to adjust. Each adjustment, in turn, takes mental and physical energy.


When Mangen tested the readers’ comprehension, she found that the medium mattered a lot. When readers were asked to place a series of events from the story in chronological order — a simple plot-reconstruction task, not requiring any deep analysis or critical thinking — those who had read the story in print fared significantly better, making fewer mistakes and recreating an over-all more accurate version of the story. The words looked identical — Kindle e-ink is designed to mimic the printed page — but their physical materiality mattered for basic comprehension.


Julie Coiro, who studies digital reading comprehension in elementary- and middle-school students at the University of Rhode Island, has found that good reading in print doesn’t necessarily translate to good reading on-screen. The students do not only differ in their abilities and preferences; they also need different sorts of training to excel at each medium. The online world, she argues, may require students to exercise much greater self-control than a physical book. “In reading on paper, you may have to monitor yourself once, to actually pick up the book,” she says. “On the Internet, that monitoring and self-regulation cycle happens again and again. And if you’re the kind of person who’s naturally good at self-monitoring, you don’t have a problem. But if you’re a reader who hasn’t been trained to pay attention, each time you click a link, you’re constructing your own text. And when you’re asked comprehension questions, it’s like you picked up the wrong book.”

Maybe the decline of deep reading isn’t due to reading skill atrophy but to the need to develop a very different sort of skill, that of teaching yourself to focus your attention. (Interestingly, Coiro found that gamers were often better online readers: they were more comfortable in the medium and better able to stay on task.) In a study comparing digital and print comprehension of a short nonfiction text, Rakefet Ackerman and Morris Goldsmith found that students fared equally well on a post-reading multiple-choice test when they were given a fixed amount of time to read, but that their digital performance plummeted when they had to regulate their time themselves. The digital deficit, they suggest, isn’t a result of the medium as such but rather of a failure of self-knowledge and self-control: we don’t realize that digital comprehension may take just as much time as reading a book.

Last year, Patricia Greenfield, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and her colleagues found that multitasking while reading on a computer or a tablet slowed readers down, but their comprehension remained unaffected. What did suffer was the quality of a subsequent report that they wrote to synthesize their reading: if they read the original texts on paper or a computer with no Internet access, their end product was superior to that of their Internet-enabled counterparts. If the online readers took notes on paper, however, the negative effects of Internet access were significantly reduced. It wasn’t the screen that disrupted the fuller synthesis of deep reading; it was the allure of multitasking on the Internet and a failure to properly mitigate its impact.

Indeed, some data suggest that, in certain environments and on certain types of tasks, we can read equally well in any format. As far back as 1988, the University College of Swansea psychologists David Oborne and Doreen Holton compared text comprehension for reading on different screens and paper formats (dark characters on a light background, or light characters on a dark background), and found no differences in speed and comprehension between the four conditions. Their subjects, of course, didn’t have the Internet to distract them. In 2011, Annette Taylor, a psychologist at the University of San Diego, similarly found that students performed equally well on a twenty-question multiple-choice comprehension test whether they had read a chapter on-screen or on paper. Given a second test one week later, the two groups’ performances were still indistinguishable. And it’s not just reading. Last year, Sigal Eden and Yoram Eshet-Alkalai found no difference in accuracy between students who edited a six-hundred-word paper on the screen and those who worked on paper. Those who edited on-screen did so faster, but their performance didn’t suffer.

I must admit, I’m surprised that editing on screen works just as well as on paper.

Wolf is optimistic that we can learn to navigate online reading just as deeply as we once did print — if we go about it with the necessary thoughtfulness. In a new study, the introduction of an interactive annotation component helped improve comprehension and reading strategy use in a group of fifth graders. It turns out that they could read deeply. They just had to be taught how. Wolf is now working on digital apps to train students in the tools of deep reading, to use the digital world to teach the sorts of skills we tend to associate with quiet contemplation and physical volumes.

What do people think of democracy around the world?

Saturday, June 13th, 2015

Public opinion surveys show that people really like the idea of democracy. As Xavier Marquez puts it, asking about democracy is like asking about motherhood:

In most of these countries (including many countries most people would classify as “authoritarian”), more than 75% of the population says that having a democratic system is a “very good” or a “fairly good” idea, while only small minorities claim democracy is a “very bad” or a “fairly bad” idea. In the modal country, in other words, large majorities are “pro-democracy” in some abstract sense. Nevertheless, these same majorities are not always very discriminating about what they consider “good” political systems. In some countries, large numbers of people agree both with the idea that democracy is a good form of government, and that having the army rule, or having a strong leader “that does not bother with parliament and elections” is also a good thing.


The WVS also asks a number of questions about whether people consider various things “essential” to democracy, ranging from classic liberal ideas (free elections, equality under the law, civil rights) to economic and social outcomes (income equality, unemployment help, progressive taxation), to “antiliberal” ideas (“religious authorities interpret the laws,” “army takes over if the government is incompetent”). And though many people all over the world tend to agree that elections and other liberal freedoms are essential to democracy, there are clear differences in public opinion about what other things they also consider essential.


If I may speculate here, elections only seem to legitimate governments — ensuring some degree of institutional stability — when people already agree that they are fair. They do not have any magic “legitimating” powers if people do not already agree on their fairness; and whether people agree on the fairness of elections is only in part a function of their objective fairness. Deep conflicts in society may “spill over” to the fairness of elections.


Saturday, June 13th, 2015

Earlier this year, the Spokane Police Department began investigating hate mail that Rachel Dolezal claimed she found in the P.O. Box for the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, where she’s president:

Dolezal said there were pictures of lynchings and references to local cases concerning race in the envelope.

During the course of the investigation, the Spokane Police Department noticed that there were important marks missing from the package.

Although delivered to a post office box, there was no date stamp or bar code on the envelope, according to a police report.


These letters are not the first time Dolezal has reported being a victim of a crime. She said she has been the victim of burglary, death threats and in two cases, nooses left on her property in Spokane and Idaho.

But the real story is that Dolezal has been pretending to be black this whole time:

Ruthanne and Larry Dolezal said Thursday that they want people to know the truth, including that their daughter Rachel Dolezal is Caucasian. The Dolezals said their daughter is specifically German and Czech.

Rachel Dolezal

Thomas Middleditch’s GURPS Campaign

Friday, June 12th, 2015

Thomas Middleditch, star of HBO’s Silicon Valley, describes his roleplaying-game campaign to Seth Meyers:

When Did Healthy Communities Become Illegal?

Friday, June 12th, 2015

When did healthy communities become illegal?, Charles Tuttle asks:

The scene is Upper Monarch Lake, ten thousand feet up in the mountains of the Sequoia National Park in California. If you got here, you climbed thousands of feet in elevation through the wilderness, carrying your tent, sleeping bag, and all your supplies on your back. There is not a single graffito or piece of trash to be seen. If you should happen to have neighbors in a nearby tent for the night, you will not worry a bit about whether they will steal your gear or harm you in the night, even though they are strangers. More likely, they’ll invite you to share some of their bourbon.

Why do backpackers feel safe sleeping outside in public at 10,000 feet but not in their own city parks? It is the steep barrier to entry that creates this microcosm of community that so naturally emerges: anyone who has made it here has the physical, material, social, and informational resources to pass this natural test of good character.

The same is true, to a lesser extent, of Burning Man – the travel and resource outlay required to get to the desert festival forms a barrier high enough to allow for the formation of a temporary community, one in which participants feel safer interacting with strangers than they might in their own hometowns.

Natural human intuition about character has served people well in forming and pruning communities for thousands of years. Specific legal interventions in the United States, however, have limited the ability of individuals to act on their local social intuition and traditions, substituting a legal notion of radical inclusion. Legislation removed barriers to entry that people had erected for their communities, acting in turn on four core areas of social cohesion. While communities at first adapted to the new restrictions and evolved around them, eventually they became so warped that they began to fail to perform their most basic functions: providing members with social belonging, usefulness to others, a sense of meaning, and safety.

The first of the big four areas of life to be threatened by legislation was business – especially the kind of business that might have been called an inn or public house in another time, that is, public accommodations and restaurants. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin illegal for businesses of this kind. Federal and state laws have since expanded this anti-discrimination provision significantly; almost half of all states also prohibit discrimination against gay people by businesses, and Colorado recently forced a religious baker to either bake cakes for gay weddings, against his religious principles, or go out of business.

No longer does the restaurateur, publican, or even baker have the privilege to exclude anyone he chooses from his premises and service, for any reason or no reason. Some argue that the publican is better off; with more potential customers, his market is larger now. But is money the only imaginable motivation for owning a small business of this sort, the kind that underpins communities? A barrier to entry for customers at the pub has been removed. The only barrier that is still legal – as we will see in later sections – is money. Rather than having an exclusive pub with its clientele weeded by a kingly proprietor, the patrons must pay high prices as a substitute barrier to entry. Another solution is to arrange businesses so that customers need not interact with strangers, a small-scale version of modern city planning.

This is not a defense of the practice of racial discrimination. But outlawing bad discrimination has chilled the expression of good discrimination – of intuitive, personal discrimination, which sometimes but not always takes things like race or sexual orientation into account. (The race of neighbors at Upper Monarch Lake would scarcely make a difference.) Discrimination – the selection of some and exclusion of others for social interaction – had acquired the characteristic of a slur, but it is a necessary faculty for humans and groups. Peaceful people can hardly remain so if they can’t exclude destructive people. Discrimination, like speech, needs to be free from the chilling effects of lawsuits.

The right of a business proprietor to kick out anyone he likes seems a minuscule freedom in comparison to decades of legal oppression of a race of people descended from legal slaves. But black communities have served as a mascot for legislation rather than actually benefitting from it.

The Morals of Chess

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

The game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement, Benjamin Franklin explains, in the opening of The Morals of Chess:

Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired or strengthened by it, so as to become habits, ready on all occasions. For life is a kind of chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with, and in which there is a vast variety of good and ill events, that are, in some degree, the effects of prudence or the want of it. By playing at chess, then, we may learn:

1. Foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the consequences that may attend an action: for it is continually occurring to the player, “If I move this piece, what will be the advantages of my new situation? What use can my adversary make of it to annoy me? What other moves can I make to support it, and to defend myself from his attacks?

2. Circumspection, which surveys the whole chess-board, or scene of action, the relations of the several pieces and situations, the dangers they are respectively exposed to, the several possibilities of their aiding each other; the probabilities that the adversary may make this or that move, and attack this or the other piece; and what different means can be used to avoid his stroke, or turn its consequences against him.

3. Caution, not to make our moves too hastily. This habit is best acquired by observing strictly the laws of the game, such as, if you touch a piece, you must move it somewhere; if you set it down, you must let it stand. And it is therefore best that these rules should be observed, as the game thereby becomes more the image of human life, and particularly of war; in which, if you have incautiously put yourself into a bad and dangerous position, you cannot obtain your enemy’s leave to withdraw your troops, and place them more securely; but you must abide all the consequences of your rashness.

And, lastly, we learn by chess the habit of not being discouraged by present bad appearances in the state of our affairs, the habit of hoping for a favourable change, and that of persevering in the search of resources. The game is so full of events, there is such a variety of turns in it, the fortune of it is so subject to sudden vicissitudes, and one so frequently, after long contemplation, discovers the means of extricating one’s self from a supposed insurmountable difficulty, that one is encouraged to continue the contest to the last, in hopes of victory by our own skill, or, at least, of giving a stale mate, by the negligence of our adversary. And whoever considers, what in chess he often sees instances of, that particular pieces of success are apt to produce presumption, and its consequent, inattention, by which more is afterwards lost than was gained by the preceding advantage; while misfortunes produce more care and attention, by which the loss may be recovered, will learn not to be too much discouraged by the present success of his adversary, nor to despair of final good fortune, upon every little check he receives in the pursuit of it.

(Hat tip to T. Greer.)

The Martian

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

I’ve been meaning to read The Martian, but xkcd may have just given me the push I needed:

xkcd The Martian