11 September 2017

Disasters, natural or self-imposed, do not help the economy

So, one of the big ideas that's completely wrong is that disasters like Hurricane Irma or WWII, or, forsooth! Afghanistan/Iraq/Syria/Yemen/Libya are good for the economy. Of course, they're good for sectors of the economy. But, rebuilding a house is not the same as building a new school. Supplying bombs to kill enemies is not the same as supplying scholarships for people to study how to keep people alive after clashes with cancer. None of this crap is any good most people. It's always better to invest than rebuild or destroy.

Are we looking at the end of science?

So, "gaydar" is a real thing.

Rather than read all the nonsense, go straight to the authors' statement first, then look to those who would debunk. Now, lest you think me a homophobe for using the word gaydar, I've been busted -- mocked might be the better word -- by my gay friends for my gaydar not being very good. They also mock me by saying I should look into Garanimals so I can go into public wearing clothes that match and there is this 18th century technology called an "iron" that could help with the rumpled look. There has been some angst in some of the LGBTQ.* community about the study, but they're wrong for all the wrong reasons (cf. authors' statement), what's really at stake here is the implication that there is a correlation between "behavior" -- in this case sexual preference -- and physical traits.

Before you get all bowed up about where I'm going, go away and listen to the Radiolab podcast on Alex the Gondolier. People are people and have the right to the pursuit of happiness. The best way, if imperfect, is to lead with equal protection for all under just laws that allow folks to live how they please as long as they don't unduly impinge on the rights of others. Equal protection for all. All. Got that? All.


The notion that we simply should not study certain things is not out of the mainstream. One of my very favorite public intellectuals, John McWhorter whom I've read with great interest and pleasure for years made the case to "stop obsessing" about evidence for race and IQ correlations, that it serves no purpose, in National Review. Read it by all means, and be sure to follow the link to the excellent reference he makes to "On the Reality of Race and the Abhorrence of Racism".

The problem is, that in modern society where outcomes are increasingly correlated to IQ, g, cognitive horsepower, whatever, in order to enable all our citizens the best shot at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- a goal I hope you won't find too cretinous -- perhaps we need to structure our values and programs toward actually achieving that goal as opposed to conflating the means with their ends. This is pretty much why Charles Murray got lynched for saying in The Bell Curve. That we should care about people. I won't link to SPLC or other slander, but you can google if you like about the lynching bit. Read what he actually writes, listen to what he actually says, then decide for yourself if he's all of those horrible things that have been said about him.

So, if g is heritable (relatively uncontroversial), and other stuff is heritable like height, eye color, whatever, what happens when we turn machine learning algorithms on correlating g and physical traits that can be gleaned en masse from Instagram, Facebook, oh, the DMV, etc. What if the correlation is between other behaviors we don't think as necessarily heritable or caused by prenatal hormone levels, etc? What happens if algorithms can pick out, I don't know, you name it, probability of rape accusation with 70% accuracy? 55% accuracy? I am not endorsing physiognomy writ large -- I have never really much cared or thought about it -- but what if the evidence turns out to support it? The gaydar thing works pretty well, it seems.

It cannot be argued that much of this information would be useful in a wide variety of contexts. But it cannot be argued that the potential for misuse is tremendous. Here is the problem with population statistics: they're incredibly useful about saying things about populations, but they really can't tell you anything about any individual.

To illustrate, let's play a game. You get 10 pennies and I get 5 six sided dice. We're going to play a game where we put in matching antes for each roll, let's say $100. Whoever gets the larger sum (tails 1, heads 2, and each pip on the die counts as 1), takes the pot. My minimum low at 5 is lower than yours at 10, but my maximum 30 is higher than your 20. We're going to play, oh, 1000 times. 10000 times. A million. I don't care. Who wins roll 42? Who knows? But you'd never play that game. Um, unless you do, let's get in touch, because I'll play all day long. Night, too, even if it means coffee after 1500 or so.

If you can play enough games, it's enough to flip 10 pennies against 9. The thing is, if the difference in the odds is detectable, then it's exploitable, but it's also, perhaps, understandable.

We need to press on with the science and let the evidence lead us where it may. But, so too, do we need our shared mythology, or belief, in the the right of all people to live their lives. Science is, in my opinion, our best and most effective collective reasoning construct we have created (beats reading entrails or thrown knucklebones or thinking that Congress can understand the definition of hypocrisy) and one we cannot afford to lose, even at the cost uncomfortable truths. But this is a really big deal, and I'm not sure this is a conversation we're collectively ready to have.

06 September 2017

ACLU defends the folks they don't want to because they have to

This rant was precipitated by David Cole's (National Legal Director, ACLU) article posted on the Fabius Maximus website. It's worth a read.
Yes, I know it's a mixed metaphor or whatever. It's a mashup!

The calls for the end of free speech as we know it by relatively mainstream media types and, more alarmingly, "kids" is a great disturbance in the force, as if millions of voices might suddenly cry out in terror, but were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible might happen.

The ACLU remains one of most effective bulwarks protecting free speech and other Constitutionally-derived civil liberties that one can contribute to by just stroking a check. Their example of defending the rights of people, or the actions of people, that they truly despise, as reflected in the article, should inspire us all.

While it seems that many (though not all) in "the media" have lost the courage to defend what they believe using evidence and principled reasoning, but resort instead to ad hominem attacks, deception, lies, and fear mongering (cf. Charles Murray, James Damore, or Amy Wax, etc.). With the ACLU, it's all about the principles, not the people, even when the people, or their actions at least, might merit vitriol. That's a lesson I need to remind myself every doggone day. I can even agree with Jeff Sessions that there is something to this rule of law thing, but we diverge very quickly after that on many issues (cough *civil asset forfeiture* cough *torture* cough pardon my coughing fit).

Anyway, why don't folks argue the principles and not the "feelings" or whatever? Maybe they can't. Hell, maybe I can't very well, either! It's not like we spring from the forehead of Zeus fully equipped to make reasoned arguments grounded in empirical facts and principles. What kind of epithets would be hung around my neck if I were to Old Man Grumpus "they should be teaching rhetoric and logic in the schools these days"? It might be more useful than WTF 101: Intersectionality, wokeness, hypermasculine arrangement of live wells at the bait shop, and the underrepresentation of the Oppressederati in stumpknocker angling, or so it would seem to me.

There is something further that some "kids these days" don't seem to get, or it just doesn't matter so much to them anymore, but there is a power in virtue, civility, principle, honor, honesty, and courage. Hell, if you want to make me burst into tears (I know it's unmanly) just say "Tank Man". Compare the courage to stand up to tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989 China (89 was a hell of a year!) to macing a girl in a MAGA hat giving an interview to a reporter or that jacknozzle who punched/assaulted that antifa dreadlocked waif.

It's good that the ACLU can still stand up for people they don't like because the principles they're defending are more important than their feelings. I wonder if the Oppressederati will ever grok that.

The rise of the Oppressederati and the Fall of Reed College(?)

"Hum" (pronounced "Hume" like, yeah, that guy (but that's 220)) at Reed College is a spectacular sequence of classes, starting with Hum 110. IIRC, 110 is the only required class in the whole school, but who knows what might have happened in intervening decades since I was there. But I don't doubt if you look up the definition of "awesomesauce" in the Pan-Cosmic Dictionary, one of the alternative definitions near the top would be "Reed College Hum 110". Who can turn awesomesauce into doucebag pruno? The Oppressederati.

I'm coining the word Oppressederati here, and have actually fired a #Oppressederati out on the twitters, but I will refrain from formal definition until after I rant a bit.

Turns out, elements of the Oppressederati have decided to raise hell and not let anyone take in the goodness that is Hum 110. Go check that stuff out, especially the videos (the other). If the Oppressederati had descended upon my contemplation of Homer, I might have been tempted to go Diomedes on their asses (cf. book five of The Iliad (for readable first cut at The Iliad, read Graves)).
Diomedes pic by https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Bibi_Saint-Pol

There are a few things that make me a mite less tolerant of the grievances of these elements of the Oppressederati, including:

  1. They're at Reed f'in College, one of the most selective, wonderful schools ever conceived. If they're looking for a place that exacerbates their place in Crenshaw's Hierarchy of Oppression, I think they could do a better job than Reed. Try the Central African Republic or North Korea.
  2. If the dollar-per-lecture-hour cost of that class were to be calculated, it would be between an ass load and a shit ton. Maybe more. How am I going to get my Aristotelian bang-for-buck with them disrupting the lecture that I paid for?
  3. What, exactly, are they trying to accomplish? I'm pretty sure that Professor Elizabeth Drumm would have announced and facilitated a discussion hosted by the Reedies against Racism titled On the Bullshit that is Western racio-phallocratic Dominance of the Oppressed and the resultant destructive Resonance that destroys Oppressed Bodies in Crenshaw's Hierarchy of Oppression. Open to all, of course, but not to be interrupted by Reedies for Cold Beer and Convivial Conversation.
When I was at Reed, Hum was central, of course, but so too nuclear reactors and goddamn Rugby. Has it become a place where people who tell you that you must listen, even though you have no possible chance of understanding, are allowed to sacrifice our darling baby Hum 110 on the altar of Intersectionality Theory?

Lord, I hope not.

Oppressederati - noun - that group of people who derive their primary identification from a perceived location within Crenshaw's Hierarchy of Oppression that believe simultaneously that it is essential for people above them in the Hierarchy are obligated to listen to them even though it's impossible for those people to understand them.

PS: Any Intersectionality theorist who wants to snarf the title of the imagined talk, go right ahead. I'll put it into the public domain, or CC0.

16 August 2017

The corruption of the 4th Estate

The firing of Google James Damore after the histrionic explosion of outrage in the mainstream media and social media outlets and the subsequent furor after a citation and graph-redacted version of a memo he wrote intended for serious, internal discussion of how the climate of political correctness inside of Google stifles discussion of serious issues, like those related to diversity and how to increase it in certain job categories was troubling, and no doubt a major challenge for him, his family, friends, and whatever cadre of colleagues still at Google who will be branded with the scarlet A of PC apostasy. If the Google execs had just fired him without comment, that probably would have sent the matter skipping down the memory hole. Their Orwellian Doublespeak may come back to haunt them, but that's a matter for a different post.

No, the great disturbance in the Force is the corruption of the credibility of journalism with the near-universal slander, misrepresentation, and lies which comprise the mainstream coverage. No matter what you think of the style of the memo, no matter what you think of the potential efficacy of his earnestly-given suggestions to actually increase diversity by making certain jobs more attractive to a wider swath of women, and no matter how you feel about the current state and conduct of diversity programs, the extrapolations and conclusions converted into vitriol which utterly destroyed an, apparently otherwise promising career at Google, likely destroyed any notion of truly free inquiry with parts of its corporate culture, and will create a legal shit-show that could drag on for years hitting Google and any number of news outlets: major, minor, and otherwise.

Here's the problem: if you just read the articles, it would easy to believe that Google has bravely rid itself of an anti-diversity alt-right bigot and is bravely standing up for all that's right in the world. That's almost exactly opposite of what actually happened. But who is going to take the time to read the memo and try to understand what he wrote in the context he was trying to write it. The public trusts reporters to do this minimum threshold of work for them -- and far and away the majority didn't just fail to do so, it either simply didn't try, or if it did, bent their perceptions away from the evidence to politically correct dogma. The problem stemmed with the classic conflation of the goal of a policy and the policy itself. Being against the means by which you attempt to increase diversity does not imply being against increasing diversity. Repeat:

Being against the means by which you attempt to increase diversity does not imply being against increasing diversity.


Being against the means by which you attempt to increase diversity does not imply being against increasing diversity.

I am going to reproduce the (here enumerated) TL;DR (too long; didn't read) here:

  1. Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.
  2. This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.
  3. The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.
    • Extreme: all disparities in representation are due to oppression
    • Authoritarian: we should discriminate to correct for this oppression
  4. Differences in distributions of traits between men and women (and not "socially constructed oppression") may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership.
  5. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.
1. Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.

From the search results, an article on psychological safety on the withgoogle.com domain (apparently a site for experimental Google stuff) has a pretty typical notion of what psychological safety is and why it's important:
Psychological safety describes a climate where people recognize their ability and responsibility to overcome fear and reluctance to speak up with potentially controversial ideas or questions. A lack of psychological safety can be found at the root of many noteworthy organizational errors and failures. In corporations, hospitals, and government agencies, our research has shown that reluctance to offer ideas and expertise undermines many decisions and harms the execution of work that requires judgment or collaboration.
Has Google's political bias equated freedom from offense with psychological safety? I surely seems that way, but who's going to speak up now? I don't think the assertion "shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety" can reasonably be challenged if you buy into the definition above. 

2. This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.

Every now and again, Chomsky is good for something:
The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate. -- The Common Good, Noam Chomsky
When you step outside the acceptable opinion spectrum, you are no longer simply wrong or misguided, you're guilty of heresy. The punishment for heresy is excommunication. Or worse. Maybe there is no ideological echo chamber with ideas too sacred to be honestly discussed, but because that memo violated Google's code of conduct for what it expressed? Um, I'll let Conner Friedersdorf and David Brooks take care of that. If that memo marks ideas on the outside of the spectrum of acceptable debate and exploration, Google has more in common with a cult than an organization that values free expression, free thought, debate, and reason.

3. The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.

This seems intuitively obvious, but what might the mechanism be? Lack of broad discussion leads to pockets of groupthink. Favored ideas get re-enforced and amplified. Continuous amplification and lack of critical reflection leads to distortion. Bam! Extreme (WTF?) and authoritarian (DON'T SPEAK!) elements. Seems plausible. Argue against it. Lack of discussion fosters tolerant and inclusive elements of some ideology...

4. Differences between men and women may lead to different decisions about what they want to do with their lives. These differences may be biological.

As to the first part with women perhaps making different decisions with what they want to do with their lives. If this is so controversial, why didn't that alt-right propaganda outlet NPR blow up the Internet in 2015 in the scandalous Why the STEM gender gap is overblown? Is it not because it's not controversial? For a really good dig into this, check out Scott Alexander's takedown of the one lone scientific voice in the woods to try to invalidate the memo. The TL;DR is that it seems that many, but certainly not all, really smart women might opt into more people-oriented fields like pediatrics and vet medicine than thing-oriented fields like computer programming and radiology. Seems reasonable. The heresy of the memo, however, is to suggest that these preferences might be in part biological in origin. That men generally prefer sex with women, and that women generally prefer to have sex with men *might* have something to do with biology -- is that controversial? Well, it's certainly a preference, and measurable, at least in some statistical sense across a population. That's certainly a much baser preference, but might not a whole hierarchy of biologically-influenced preferences and notions inform higher-level preferences and decisions? The science seems to indicate that's the case.

5. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.

Is discrimination unfair? This is a concrete assertion and so can be argued. As an advocate of an "equal protection" form of social justice (everyone should be able to *fairly* play the hand they are dealt to the best of their abilities), I do believe that discrimination is unfair. There are other folks who do not take this view, but it does not invalidate the equal protection argument nor does it make the assertion dismissable as being made in bad faith.

Is discrimination divisive? Again, another concrete assertion. If you're being discriminated against, you likely don't like it, and you're likely not going to be inclined who derives the benefit of your discrimination. Here's a thought experiment. Imagine lining up college applicants in rank order based on their applications, transcripts, etc., with no regard to race -- actually lining them up physically. Then, using a separate set of rankings made with whatever gender, race, legacy, economic, or other factors have the folks who benefit from those weights actually go tell the person in their slot they're replacing them. That's going to be divisive, especially if it's repeated year after year. Now, what if the weighting is done to achieve parity with some sort of diversity goal (none dare call it quota). That would be more divisive still. What is the argument that diversity is not divisive?

Is discrimination bad for business? Concrete assertion, and arguable. It is certainly bad for business if by being unfair and divisive it creates an atmosphere which hinders the performance of the company as a whole. It is certainly bad for business if it excludes talent that would have increased the performance of the company as a whole. If the business is sports, discrimination is certainly bad, and teams that discriminate generally cannot stand against those who don't. Alabama's football team was all white in 1970. Do you think today's Alabama's head coach gives a flying flip about your race, creed, or religion? Not if you can run a 4.4 forty. I think that it's generally unimpeachable that for Google, or any other tech company to get their technical staff to more generally reflect broader society when the CS departments reflect something very different will have to resort to discriminatory practices, and live with the unfairness, divisiveness, and illegality[1]

The actual suggestions that Damore made for non-discriminatory diversity enhancement are not called out explicitly in the TL;DR, but they are reasonable and arguable. They may work, they may not. How do you know until you try?

So, given that Damore wrote anything but an "anti-diversity screed", how could they get it so wrong? A culture of political correctness. A high incentive to generate click bait. A low incentive to get things right. A 24-hour news cycle. An absolute requirement not to miss out. There is not much we can do about the press (though Damore might smack them around a little bit with some law suits if slander can be proved and he can go lawyer-to-lawyer with them), but we can be open minded, critical, and check the sources. We shouldn't have to check the sources with outlets like NYT and BBC (doing that work is their job, after all), but this case is proof positive that we must.

Stay skeptical, my friends.

- 30 -

[1] Using Computer Science as a proxy for what you might expect Google's technical staff to break out demographically. Of course, Google's technical staff has people with a wide variety of degrees working in a wide variety of jobs. However, Computer Science seems like a reasonable proxy, since a large slice of the workforce is developing software, systems, and the like. Electrical Engineering might be another, perhaps better, proxy, or maybe Physics, but it's certainly not Biology or Environmental Engineering.

22 June 2017

The Christian Serpent

The Christian Serpent

A Rattlesnake came home to his brood and said: "My children, gather about and receive your father's last blessing, and see how a Christian dies."

"What ails you, Father?" asked the Small Snakes.

"I have been bitten by the editor of a partisan journal," was the reply, accompanied by the ominous death-rattle.

- 30-

OK, this one tickles me no end. I love the image of the "editor of a partisan journal" as honey badger. Don't know what a honey badger is, well, let me slow down the bandwagon for you:
SPOILER ALERT: The Christian Serpent will not survive this encounter...

In this era of hyper-partisan reporting, one of the most irritating things to me is the apparent increase in imprecise language. I'm certainly *not* the first to notice it. There was that guy, oh yeah, Orwell

The first category of obfuscation is conflation of related, but distinct, things. For example, health insurance is *not* health care, but you'd have a damn hard time figuring that out from reading the papers. Blogs? Forget about it! If the United States government does not enforce a system whereby you pay someone to pay doctors for care your receive, then you will have no access to health care!


Insurance is a *terrible* model for providing things that everybody needs. It's an *excellent* model for pooling risk so by paying a little you can hedge against losing a lot. How many people who voted understand this distinction? I wouldn't hazard a guess, but I have talked to a journalist who didn't care about the distinction. Seriously. That's not the point, apparently.

The second category of obfuscation is euphemism. People who are not citizens or permanent resident visiting a foreign land are "aliens". An alien is by definition:
noun: a foreigner, especially one who is not a naturalized citizen of the country where they are living -- Google's reply for "define: alien"
If you're not in a country legally, then you're likely in it illegally. So, as harsh as it may seem to politically correct ears, illegal alien describes a foreigner living or even temporarily residing in a country illegally concisely. Undocumented immigrant is less concise, and even misleading. An immigrant by definition:
noun: a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country -- Google's reply for "define: immigrant"
A kid from some other country, who by circumstances outside of his control, who overstays his student visa, but is trying to get home, is not an undocumented immigrant. He's documented, though the documentation is expired, and he is not an immigrant.

Now, just by choosing the concise and more accurate definition has become politicized. What's my position on immigration? I bet you're wrong in what you think I think. Such is the power of this politically correct bullshit. Which definition do you think George Carlin would prefer, and why? Now you're getting closer.

The third category of obfuscation is the implied judgement. If a politician is skeptical that the best solution to improving education doesn't mean spending more on the status quo, then reporters might note that she's "anti-education" in a lefty rag. If a politician is skeptical that it's strictly necessary to add 10% on top of a defense budget that is bigger than then next seven or eight (who's counting?) countries combined, then he's "weak on defense" in a righty, or pro-war-party rag. This has a pernicious effect as it slithers its way down the sewers of (anti-)social media.

Think immigration laws, even if they're imperfectly written should be enforced? You're an racist, anti-immigrant, alt-right (nazi, wink, wink, nudge, nudge), pig-dog! Think that folks who came here illegally, live hear illegally breaking no laws other than those related to living and working here, get married, raise kids who are American kids with American dreams might have some path to get right with the law and have a path to legal residency, or maybe even citizenship? You're a traitorous anti-American who despises the rule of law and takes sides with illegals before your own fellow citizens pig-dog!

Good grief! Knock it off already!

In all of my praise of conciseness, I find that Bierce was more concise and entertaining.

21 June 2017

How to make a small fortune

It's the lede for an old joke: how do you make a small fortune? The punchline is "take a large fortune and buy an X", where X might be vineyard, sailboat, whatever. Increasingly it seems, that X might be "college education". Now, I'm no college hater -- I'm that particular kind of masochist that soldiered on through grad school to PhD, and in the process may have burned a few dollars in opportunity cost, but I was getting paid to do research in science and happened to learn a few empirically verifiable items along the way. Fortunately for me, the rise of the "studies" major, while certainly present, had not reached its apparent ubiquity, voice, and venom. The problem with "studies" majors is that they are based upon subjective material that's validated in a closed loop of like-minded "academics" which makes any criticism impossible, because if you disagree, you simply don't understand. I am not the only person to make this observation.

The problem lies not so much that they exist -- certain academics will do whatever -- but that they consume (lots of) money to indoctrinate students into a fantasy world mythology, leaving them four (or five (or six (or more))) years later with a mountain of debt and no practical skills or insight into how the real world actually works and how it got the way it is. This most certainly *not* a critique of history, or philosophy, or English majors, which are grounded in the actual world and its experience, though I would caution kids to select these sorts of majors carefully. For those for whom it's a good fit, they can be very rewarding and edifying, and I'd recommend them for consideration of a double major, preferably complementing physics (I am biased). We don't need everyone to be, nor should everyone be, a physics major, major in STEM, etc., but they shouldn't major in "shit people just make up".

Not only are many "studies" majors bogus, they're dangerously anti-social and destructive. Depending on where you fit in the intersectionality hierarchy of oppression, you are simply not able to understand anything related to people in other locations in the hierarchy. If understanding is impossible, then discussion is useless, and there can be no "solution", though it seems some people think revolution is an option.