Good fences make good neighbors

Came across this paper from years ago in Nassim Taleb’s Twitter feed that is fortuitously relevant today: Good Fences: The Importance of Setting Boundaries for Peaceful Coexistence. As he summarized it, “…you don’t get peace forcing pple to hold hands & sing Kumbaya by the campfire.” Key quote from the abstract:

Our analysis shows that peace does not depend on integrated coexistence, but rather on well defined topographical and political boundaries separating groups. Mountains and lakes are an important part of the boundaries between sharply defined linguistic areas.

Switzerland is mentioned.

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Parody is still dead

This looks like an item out of The Onion: Students Demand Comedian Sign ‘Safe Space’ Contract Ahead of Charity Event. British comedian Konstantin Kisin has been asked by event organizers at the University of London to sign a statement agreeing to the organizer’s policy of

… no tolerance policy with regards to racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia or anti-religion or anti-atheism.

Best of all, since it’s a charity event, he’s not even getting paid.

You just can’t make this stuff up. The replies to his tweet are also hilarious.

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Islamist Egypt

At a Christmas party last night,* I met an Egyptian woman. That is, she was born in Egypt but had emigrated to the US forty years ago as a youth. She returns to Cairo frequently to visit family. Over the years she has been struck by the cultural changes: the increasing Islamification of Egypt. More women are wearing traditional Islamic dress and observing strict religious behavior. Cairo is no longer a safe city for a woman alone. She attributed these changes to the 1979 Iranian revolution, spreading Islamism throughout the region.

The pictures of graduating class at Cairo University from 1959 through 2004 tell a similar tale:

As you can see, the female graduates in 1959 and 1978 had bare arms, wore short sleeved blouses, dresses, or pants, and were both bare-faced and bare-headed. By 1995, we see a smattering of headscarves—and by 2004 we see a plurality of female university graduates in serious hijab: Tight, and draping the shoulders.

While this fits in with my image of Iran or Saudi Arabia, it’s not what comes to mind for Egypt. Presumably, it applies to all of north Africa, from Egypt to Morocco.  It’s worse than I thought.


*Yes, I know it’s weeks from Christmas.

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On Political Correctness

Anthony Malcolm Daniels, writing under the nom de plume Theodore Dalrymple, is a retired physician with a varied career in medicine and several dozen books and countless articles to his credit. His single most significant insight is captured by this rather extensive quote from an interview he did in 2005 upon the publication of his book, Our Culture, What’s Left of It.

Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.

Dalrymple has proven to be remarkably prescient as the Left has increasingly insisted that everyone loudly and frequently deny the plain facts of biology and human nature. It is no longer sufficient to assent to the Progressives’ lies; one must endorse them enthusiastically or be accused of an ever-growing litany of –ists and –phobics. Many of the lies are so obvious that no one believes them – not even their promulgators. One must conclude that the purpose is as Dalrymple claims: to humiliate and to create a society individuals who are easy to control.


I tagged this as TOTD to mean thought of the decade. It may be the thought of this age.

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Amy Wax on the State of the Academy

You may recall that Amy Wax, professor at U. Penn law school, got herself in some trouble last year for stating some hate facts. She brings us up to date on her interactions with the university administration and the academy in general. She concludes with an exhortation to “de-fund the Ivies.” She and Heather Mac Donald will be coauthoring an article on that subject.

An interesting sidenote about Professor Wax: she got her MD in neuroscience and practiced medicine before going to law school. Impressive.

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Brasil

Brazil elected a more-or-less conventional conservative with populist inflection to the presidency yesterday by a solid margin (55%/45%). There are a few interesting elements:

  1. His base of support includes young voters (16–24; 16 year-olds can vote in Brazil).
  2. He’s an immigration skeptic, favoring more restrictions.
  3. He favors gun rights.
  4. He opposes affirmative action/racial quotas.
  5. He favors privatization of state-owned enterprises.
  6. He is characterized as “far-right” by the media, including Fox.* Of course, the usual suspects also characterized him as an extremist.

Add this to the ascendancy of somewhat similar parties in Europe (e.g., AfD) and it’s starting to look like a movement of global extent. President Trump has already congratulated the president-elect.


*The title of this item, Brazil elects far-right president, worrying rights groups, was subsequently revised but is still visible in the URL:
www.foxnews.com/world/brazil-elects-far-right-president-worrying-rights-groups.amp

The memory hole is not what it used to be.

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Gosnell

The film Gosnell:The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer was released about a week ago. It was produced by documentarians Phelim McAleer, Ann McElhinney, and Magdalena Segieda, though this film is not a documentary. This is not a film I would normally see but made an exception in this case because I (slightly) know the filmmakers. They had invited me to the L.A. premier last week but I could not attend. Surprisingly, the film is being shown in several theaters in my area, which is where I finally saw it – surprising because it was independently released and the producers faced a lot of hostility from Hollywood.

The film is about Kermit Gosnell, a physician who operated an abortion clinic in Philadelphia for several decades. He was convicted on murder in the first degree of three infants, manslaughter of an adult patient, and numerous other felonies. Aside from these major offenses, he operated his clinic in a grossly unsanitary manner and used unqualified individuals as medical personnel. The story was given national prominence through the persistent efforts of our own Mollie Hemingway. The film takes the artistic license of replacing nationally known and serious journalist Mollie with a local and unknown (presumably fictional) blogger Molly Mullaney.

In a recent interview on the Ricochet flagship podcast, Mollie said she cried though much of the film. I had a somewhat different response: disgust, anger, and a frequent desire to avert my eyes. It’s not that many graphic images are shown; the film is rated PG-13. The writers were so adept at enhancing the images with words that one’s imagination did the rest. This film is well made, with excellent actors and high production values: a significant step up from their previous work. Andrew Klavan also has a writing credit.

I hesitate to recommend the film because of the nature of the subject matter. It’s not for everyone. If you’re into this sort of thing, it is a compelling movie that you will think about long after leaving the theater.

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Ye!

Kanye West is causing trouble for Lefty again. It all started when he said something nice about Candace Owens in the spring. Next thing you know, he was seen sporting a MAGA cap and saying good things about the president.

Apparently, he went off on a rant on last night’s Saturday Night Live, after the end of the broadcast, that was captured on video:

They bullied me backstage. They said “don’t go out there with that [MAGA] hat on.” They bullied me backstage. They bullied me!

Ninety percent of news is liberal. LA, New York, writers, rappers, musicians. So it’s easy to make it seem like it’s so, so, so one-sided.

Cracks are showing in the leftist wall.

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The War Against Reality

The Left has been waging a war against reality for decades via postmodernism generally and constructivist epistemology in particular. Everyone knows the drill by now: sex is a social construct, race is a social construct, the blank slate.

It’s mostly been a rear-guard action so far but has lately moved out into the open.  Since the Left sees that science is not on their side, it must be suppressed:

The opinion that science should be silenced, repressed, or ignored for political or perceived moral reasons exists at the highest levels in sociology.

As Naval notes,

I would have phrased it as “The social sciences are at war with the natural sciences” but that’s just a quibble. Further evidence along these lines is the suspension of hbdchick on Twitter for no apparent reason, possibly other than the fact that she’s counter the blank slate narrative. Fortunately, there are plenty of good people to support her, including the estimable Charles Murray:

This is not the time to go wobbly. To hbdchick,

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Another not TOTD

How small, of all that human hearts endure,
That part which laws or kings can cause or cure!
– Samuel Johnson

While everyone is obsessed with the doings and goings-on in the The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body™, it’s useful to keep Dr. Johnson’s thought in mind. The blog post from which I stole the quote expands on the idea:

At certain moments I find myself enjoying life in a certain way. I may be alone, or with friends, or with my family, or even among strangers. Beautiful weather always helps; the more trees, the better. Early morning or evening is the best time. Maybe someone says something funny. And while everyone laughs, there is a sort of feeling that surges up under the laughter, like a wave rocking a rowboat, that tells you that this is the way life should be.

A related point from Naval:

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Not the TOTD

The difference between the new managerial elite and the old propertied elite defines the difference between a bourgeois culture that now survives only on the margins of industrial society and the new therapeutic culture of narcissism.
– Christopher Lasch

I found this quote in C.J. Box’s latest book, The Disappeared. It struck me as especially apt today, even though it dates from four decades ago. We are immersed in a therapeutic culture.

Lasch died in 1994; there is a review of his ideas in this piece in The New Criterion.

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Greener

The Earth is getting significantly greener because there’s more carbon dioxide in the air.

From a quarter to half of Earth’s vegetated lands has shown significant greening over the last 35 years largely due to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The greening represents an increase in leaves on plants and trees equivalent in area to two times the continental United States.

Of course, we can’t have a parade without someone wanting to rain on it:

While rising carbon dioxide concentrations in the air can be beneficial for plants, it is also the chief culprit of climate change.

This greening was probably not accounted for in the GCMs (Global Circulation Models, i.e., climate models). At least, I’ve never seen mention of this in model descriptions. While these models include feedback mechanisms that magnify* the effects of more CO2 in the atmosphere, greening mitigates the effect by fixing atmospheric carbon in biomass. Patrick Moore has been saying this for ages. Maybe people will listen now that the evidence is overwhelming. This effect can go some way in explaining why the GCMs have systematically over-predicted the rise in temperature. Doomsday averted again!


*If the effect of added CO2 were not enhanced by a positive feedback effect, much less warming would be predicted. The principal greenhouse gas has always been water vapor. Warmer temperatures put more water into the air, thereby magnifying the effect of added CO2 – allegedly. The flies in the ointment are that more water also makes more clouds and more CO2 makes more plants.

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AI Can’t Drive

The previous discussion about AI put me in mind of the accident in which a self-driving car hit and killed a pedestrian last March. This was of particular interest to me because, at that time, I was evaluating some lidar technology for this application for some investors.

Uber vehicle post-collision (from NTSB report)

Details were sketchy shortly after the accident. It was clear that the overall system failed but it was unclear which part. It was hard to believe that the sensors were not able to detect the presence of the pedestrian in time even though the street was dark. After a few months it became evident that the AI was at fault, not the sensors.

According to the preliminary NTSB report,

The vehicle was factory equipped with several advanced driver assistance functions by Volvo Cars, the original manufacturer. The systems included a collision avoidance function with automatic emergency braking, known as City Safety, as well as functions for detecting driver alertness and road sign information. All these Volvo functions are disabled when the test vehicle is operated in computer control but are operational when the vehicle is operated in manual control.

Therefore, safety was in the hands of Uber’s AI system. While the sensors detected the pedestrian’s presence six seconds before impact, while the vehicle was traveling at 43 mph (20 m/s), there was almost no attempt to slow the car; impact was at 39 mph. Instead, the system only decided that there was cause to apply the brakes at 1.3 sec before impact, which would not have been enough time to stop. The human operator, who had previously been watching TV instead of the road, finally took action less than one second before impact.

Even though “…the self-driving system determined that an emergency braking maneuver was needed to mitigate a collision,” it turns out that “…emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control, to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior.” This somewhat hysterically-titled article in The Guardian (I know, I know) fleshes out some more details. Ignoring the hysteria and other silly aspects in the Guardian piece, it seems that the algorithm was unable to distinguish a valid hazard from something spurious. Or, as we say in remote sensing, to distinguish signal from clutter. Any human would have had no trouble determining that this was a person pushing a bicycle, or at least something worthy of a panic stop.

The AI system failed to solve the classification problem. Classification is key because it requires a judgment: deciding which detections are worthy of action. If the judgment errs too often on the side of caution, the ride is jerky with many sudden changes in the motion. If it goes the other way, someone gets killed.

Opinions can reasonably differ on whether computer-generated voices are realistic. The situation is less ambiguous for self-driving cars. While computers have managed to excel in games with rules on a well-defined domain (chess, go), the real world is far more varied and unpredictable. Humans in the wild do not obey all the rules and often do unexpected things. The accident victim was crossing the street illegally, away from an intersection, and may have been under the influence of drugs. AI guys, this problem is harder than you think.

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Stupid Is As Stupid Does

I had the dubious pleasure of spending a few hours at an office of California’s Department of Motor Vehicles to renew my driving license. Normally, I’d renew by mail but since California’s standard license does not meet the RealID requirements (dating from 2005) of Los Federales, it was necessary to appear in person. There’s a decision tree to help folks determine which documents they need to bring to obtain a RealID. While I was waiting for service, more than one person was heard to lament that his RealID application was rejected for failing to have the correct combination of documents. This put me in mind of Linda Gottfredson’s discussion of the challenges people face in daily life (from which the illustration is cribbed) and its relation to cognitive ability. She focuses on error rates relating to healthcare.

It turns out people are Stupider Than You Realize:

For example, in 1992 out of a random sample of US adults, 7% could not … find the expiration date on a driver’s license.

A more recent article expands on this using PISA (OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment) questions, which tests students at age 15. There are six levels of questions of increasing difficulty. Though only math questions are plotted, there are also problem-solving and financial literacy questions. You can try sample questions at the PISA site.

It’s not surprising that many people cannot handle everyday tasks such as assembling the correct set of documentation to obtain a RealID or to take proper care of their medical conditions. Imagine how much worse the situation is among populations with lower IQs, as illustrated in the table, selected portions of which are graphed below. The results are similar for the other question categories. One could argue that 15-year-olds still have time to learn more and catch up. This applies more to math questions than to problem-solving skills but the gaps might close somewhat. Nevertheless, the adults who can’t find an expiration date on a license or figure out how to take their medications aren’t going to be getting any smarter.

percentage of correct answers for each question level

There are implications of these data beyond filling out government forms and taking care of one’s health. Many tasks require a level problem-solving skill that sets a threshold for competence. The proportion of individuals capable of higher-level tasks falls to a negligible value for higher-level tasks. This is a property of the tail of any non-fat-tailed distribution function, which cognitive ability appears to be. The gap at for the higher-level questions is best illustrated by plotting the same data logarithmically. The gaps are at most factors of two or three for easy question, factors of 10 or more for hard ones. For Qatar and Colombia, the percent correct for harder questions cannot be plotted on this graph because they are indistinguishable from zero.

logarithmic plot of the data

In short, life is an IQ test.

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