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 might be argued that much of this information would be useful or useless in a different contexts. But it must 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.