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Monday, March 13, 2017

Question, on its Knees, Begging to be Asked

The NYT presents us with another thumb sucker about Islam:

ROTTERDAM, the Netherlands — Like many Muslims, Ahmed Aboutaleb has been disturbed by the angry tenor of the Dutch election campaign. Far-right candidates have disparaged Islam, often depicting Muslims as outsiders unwilling to integrate into Dutch culture.

It is especially jarring for Mr. Aboutaleb, given that he is the mayor of Rotterdam, a fluent Dutch speaker and one of the country’s most popular politicians. Nor is he alone: The speaker of the Dutch Parliament is Muslim. The Netherlands also has Muslim social workers, journalists, comedians, entrepreneurs and bankers.

“There’s a feeling that if there are too many cultural influences from other parts of the world, then what does that mean for our Dutch traditions and culture?” said Mr. Aboutaleb, whose city, the Netherland’s second largest, is 15 percent to 20 percent Muslim and home to immigrants from 174 countries.

Or, perhaps, there is is feeling that Dutch traditions and culture are centered upon the Judeo-Christian Enlightenment and, as such, are completely antagonistic to the aspirations, by definition, of pious Muslims. After all, one might think, and be terribly disappointed if having once entertained the thought, that an article in the Newspaper Of Record, would spend even a syllable upon that seemingly intractable problem.

Nope. Its all down to those damn deplorables.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Calling Harrison Bergeron

Because if you can't educate everybody, it's bad to educate anybody:
The University of California, Berkeley, will cut off public access to tens of thousands of video lectures and podcasts in response to a U.S. Justice Department order that it make the educational content accessible to people with disabilities.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Saturday Puzzler

Ignore this NYT Op-Ed for the moment*, there is something very striking about the picture accompanying the piece.

(Don't know why I didn't do a screen grab the first time.)

* Aside from reflexive virtue signaling, and a conclusion without an argument, this Op-Ed actually gets perilously close to actual awareness.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Darkness of Light - A Story of Economic Scale

Once upon a time, long ago and far away, it was a dark and stormy night in a small village. Like most small villages of the era, its existence was due to the goods and services its craftsmen provided to the surrounding farmers and to each other. There was a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker and a number of other crafts represented (blacksmith, cobbler, etc.). This trading network of a few hundred people (including farmers) was nearly completely self-sufficient, except for the occasional traveling merchant who brought in some critically important goods as well as some more frivolous and luxury goods. This pre-industrial village, while mostly self-sufficient was also quite poor by modern standards as the small size of this economy couldn't enable sufficient specialization to support modern goods and services, even if all the knowledge of the modern world was readily available and understandable.

Glim, the village candlestick maker was happy with his life. His family had always been the candlestick makers in this village and it was comforting to know his place in life. As he gazed out into the storm, he could see flickers of light emanating from the other homes in the village and he had satisfaction knowing that some of that light was his candlesticks pushing back the darkness and providing comfort to the other villagers.

He had to work hard and was hardly rich, but was prosperous enough to support himself, his wife, and his three daughters. When the traveling merchants came to town, he was able to afford some necessities and even an occasional luxury item like the exotically patterned and very warm rug that sat on the floor of his bedroom. In fact, merchants had just arrived that particular evening and would open their booths to trade their wares the following morning. This was good, because Glim's wife was running short on spices, and they could likely remedy that by trading with the merchants in the morn.

When morning came, Glim and his wife went to trade with the merchants. The merchants had their typical wares available, but to Glim's shock and dismay, the merchants had table after table with numerous varieties of candlesticks, and, after inquiring about the price of the candlesticks, Glim discovered that they were selling for less than half the price of Glim's candlesticks. The merchant explained that a village about 50 leagues away (that had recently been renamed Candleton) had discovered a technique that enabled a few dozen people, working together, to churn out an enormous quantity of candles at very low cost and very high quality. Glim was devastated, because he could not make enough money selling his candles at a competitive price to feed his family and survive. Glim, the candlestick maker, was now out-of-business and had no other skills or ways to earn a livelihood.

So now, dear reader, I'll let you choose the fate of Glim and his family. Perhaps the kind villagers, through a mix of charity and giving Glim odd jobs, kept Glim and his family from becoming destitute. Perhaps Glim tried to farm and maybe he succeeded or maybe his family starved. Perhaps Glim moved his family to Candleton where maybe they needed him but maybe they didn't. Perhaps Glim and his wife fell into the depths of despair and drank themselves to death leaving his daughters to become prostitutes in order to survive. Whatever you choose, dear reader, Glim is probably out-of-luck, and your story for him has been repeated countless times over the ages. Chances are, his level of prosperity is probably going to be lower for the rest of his days than it would've been had the folks at Candleton not invented the new candlestick making process.

But Glim's tough luck is everybody else's good luck. Everybody else gets more candlelight for less. And the villagers in Candleton? They're hugely prosperous, especially at first. After a few years, they split into competing companies which drives their prosperity down a bit but makes candles even cheaper for the surrounding villages.

The benefit of more candlelight turned out to be extraordinary. More people learned to read and that additional knowledge inspired a wave of discoveries and inventions. While more folks like Glim lost their livelihoods, new jobs were created at a rapid pace during this heady time of economic and technological growth. In fact, Glim's grandchildren (perhaps bastards born to his daughters when they turned to prostitution?), opened a printing press and shop and became quite prosperous. Too bad Glim never lived to see it (or perhaps he did, dear reader, in your version of Glim's fate?).

Over the next few generations, electricity was discovered and then harnessed to power a very important invention: the electric light bulb. Which brings us back to Candleton.

Between the time of Glim's misfortune and the invention of the lightbulb, Candleton prospered hugely. A hundred people now worked in the village's three candlestick making factories. Further innovations had increased the number of candlesticks made and lowered the cost. Because of the economies of scales, no other village could compete and Candleton provided the vast majoritiy of candlesticks to all villages for hundreds of leagues in all directions.

But now the electric light bulb, being vastly superior to candles, and lasting months instead of hours, rendered the candlestick making talents of the inhabitants of Candleton useless nearly overnight. Revenue ceased to flow into the village. Unlike the case with Glim, where it was one guy and his family who were directly impacted, and where, at least conceivably Glim's fellow villagers could help sustain him, the residents of Candleton were immediately in extremely dire straits: no revenue, no food, no nothing.

Some of the residents of Candleton left to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Some tried to live by hunting. Many, however, became bandits, stealing from travelers and raiding nearby villages. The other villages organized defenses and the clashes with the bandits became increasingly bloody and deadly as all sides became increasingly desperate. After a decade or so, the bandit population dwindled and the area became mostly peaceful once more. Candleton, however, was left in ruins and became a ghost town with the wilderness encroaching on and then devouring the once prosperous village.

That was tough luck for Candleton, it's inhabitants, and the neighboring villages who had to endure the onslaught of desperate bandits, but the surrounding regions were made much better off by the new electric light. The difference between the innovation that hurt Glim and the one that destroyed Candleton is scale. One guy (Glim) losing his livelihood has limited impact. A whole village losing its livelihood is much more catastrophic and much harder for the residents to recover from because there simply aren't the resources from which to build.

With the harnessing of electricity numerous inventions came about and many of these inventions enabled more complex products requiring larger networks of people to create them causing villages to consolidate into towns and towns into cities. In one such city, Carton, thriving automobile and tractor manufacturing companies were created. The tractors made farmers much more productive and the displaced farm workers came to Carton to work in the factories. Jobs were created more rapidly than jobs were destroyed and a large number of jobs required only minimal and/or quickly learned skills. It was a time of great prosperity and economic advancement.

There were over one million inhabitants in Carton, with occupations ranging from miners gathering the raw materials for the cars to school teachers and other supporting professions. People did lose jobs as processes were changed and innovations implemented but such was the prosperity that new endeavors requiring yet more low-skilled workers were being formed all the time, so work was available for all.

In fact, the great prosperity and constant need for labor sowed seeds of problems in the future. The workers realized they could band together and collectively bargain for higher pay, better working conditions, and greater benefits. Management, in return, made the benefits accrue to the future in terms of pensions and health benefits after retirement. The prosperity also enabled management to become lazy and corrupt and they lined their own pockets and did things like hiring incompetent children and nephews.

After a few more decades, the perfect storm hit. Saddled with increasing wages and pension costs from collective bargaining and corruption and incompetence due to human nature, new and distant competitors simultaneously began manufacturing not only cars and tractors, but also steel and other raw inputs. The distant competitors were not saddled with the liabilities of Carton, and ended up having a huge comparative advantage relative to Carton's factories and workers with respect to Carton's products. While this happened over years, Carton and surrounding region was devastated. Hundreds of thousands of people were out of work, poverty and crime skyrocketed, alcoholism and drug abuse decimated the productivity of the potential workforce, and because total revenues declined below subsistence for the population as a whole, and because it was an area for which there was no particular reason for outsiders to invest, people became increasingly desperate.

Along came a leader, Trunald Domp, who realized that while Carton and its people no longer had a comparative advantage in anything productive, they did, like many desperate peoples in the pits of despair who feel they have nothing left to lose, have a yuge comparative advantage in violence. So he organized the people of Carton to produce arms and they attacked the surrounding areas. The bloody war killed tens of thousands of people but eventually Domp and Carton were defeated. The remaining people of Carton fled their collapsing city increasingly desperate to find any means of staving off starvation. The were, of course, met with suspicion and outright hostility, and many were killed on sight. The ones that survived became an underclass and there were frequent violent revolts. Eventually distrust and hatred built to such a fevered pitch that the entire civilization collapsed and everybody died except for a small fraction of the population that fled into the wilderness and formed small groups of farms surrounding small villages. These villages were too small to maintain any sort of advanced economy so they reverted to pre-industrial levels of goods and services.

In one of these villages, a man named Flick was the candlestick maker. It turns out he was a distant descendant of Glim. Flick was proud of his occupation because his candlesticks pushed back the darkness and provided comfort to his fellow villagers.


The bigger the scale of the economic trading networks, the more destabilizing the destructive part of Schumpeter's Creative/Destruction. Tough luck for Glim, but everything was perfectly stable and everybody else was more prosperous. Tougher luck for Candleton and the surrounding areas with the bandits but most people were not only unaffected but also much more prosperous. But toughest luck for all for Carton and the rest of the world, where nobody came out ahead. Once a region is sufficiently devastated, there's little hope for the investment and resources required for recovery. The region itself simply doesn't have the resources and outsiders are unlikely to invest in such an unstable and risky region.

Moral of the story: don't put people in a position where they feel they have nothing left to lose - it won't end well for anybody.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


It's no secret that Trump hates the press (and the press hates him right back). Continuing his adversarial relationship with the press, tonight at his Florida rally, Trump said:
"Nothing can be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle."
Fake news and all that.

Wait! What?

He was quoting Thomas Jefferson written in a correspondence on June 14, 1807!


I guess Presidents and the press have had an adversarial relationship for a really, really long time!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Fun With Infinity

Infinity and infinite series and sets are concepts that stretch human intuition to the breaking point and as a result, are kinda fun - for masochists. The particular infinite series I'm gonna look at today is:

S = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + ...

What is the value of S?

The NY Times recently had an article demonstrating that a possible answer is -1/12 (there's a more rigorous proof that shows the answer is indeed -1/12 but is beyond what I can show on a blog). I know that some of you studiously avoid the NY Times and therefore might not have seen it, so I'll duplicate it here with a little more explanation.

There's only one somewhat non-intuitive bit to the proof, so let me address that before I get started. The best illustration of this bit of non-intuition is called Hilbert's Paradox of the Grand Hotel:
Consider a hypothetical hotel with a countably infinite number of rooms, all of which are occupied. One might be tempted to think that the hotel would not be able to accommodate any newly arriving guests, as would be the case with a finite number of rooms... 
Suppose a new guest arrives and wishes to be accommodated in the hotel. We can (simultaneously) move the guest currently in room 1 to room 2, the guest currently in room 2 to room 3, and so on, moving every guest from his current room n to room n+1. After this, room 1 is empty and the new guest can be moved into that room.
What this demonstrates is that if I have two infinite sets (such as rooms and guests) with a one-to-one correspondence between each pair of elements in the sets, I can shift over all of the elements of one of the infinite sets, leaving one element without a corresponding element in the other set (room 1 in the example above), yet have all of the other elements of both sets still have a one-to-one correspondence.

Okay, we need to find the values of some infinite series. The first one is:

S1 = 1 - 1 + 1 - 1 + 1 - 1 + ...

What is the value of S1? To find an answer, we add it to itself and do the hotel room operation above (in other words, shift over one copy of the series).

2 * S1 = S1 + S1 =  1 - 1 + 1 - 1 + 1 - 1 + ...
                  +     1 - 1 + 1 - 1 + 1 - ...
                  = 1 - 0 + 0 - 0 + 0 - 0 + ...

or, 2 * S1 = 1
therefore, S1 = 1/2

The second series we need is:

S2 = 1 - 2 + 3 - 4 + 5 - 6 ...

And we start with the same infinite shift operation that we used on the previous series:

2 * S2 = S2 + S2 =  1 - 2 + 3 - 4 + 5 - 6 + ...
                  +     1 - 2 + 3 - 4 + 5 - ...
                  = 1 - 1 + 1 - 1 + 1 - 1 + ...

But that's the same as the 1st series that we already know an answer to:

2 * S2 = S1 = 1/2
therefore, S2 = 1/4

So now let's work on our original series. We'll subtract S2 to help us find an answer:

S - S2 =  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + ...
        -[1 - 2 + 3 - 4 + 5 - 6 + ... ]
        = 0 + 4 + 0 + 8 + 0 +12 ..
        = 4 * [ 1 + 2 + 3 + ... ]

The right hand side is now 4 * S so rewriting we have:

S - S2 = 4 * S

or (subtracting S from both sides)

- S2 = 3 * S

Since we know S2 = 1/4, we have

- 1/4 = 3 * S


S = -1/12


1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + ... = -1/12

This sort of proof, where the sum of an ever increasing series is a negative fraction, makes some people's heads explode. I hope you're not one of them. It's just a little fun with infinity!

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Bug or Feature?

Congrats to Betsy DeVos, confirmed as the Secretary of Education by literally the narrowest margin possible (Vice-President Pence had to cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate).

One of the charges leveled against her was that she's completely unqualified to be the Secretary of Education and utterly clueless about what it takes to keep the education bureaucracy afloat.

I can't say I disagree. But is that a bug or a feature?

To me it seems like the entire education edifice is in catastrophically poor condition with kids not being very well educated and/or prepared for life as an adult even though funding has hugely increased over the last few decades. Perhaps a truly incompetent secretary of education will damage the system enough that it simply collapses and then it can be rebuilt from scratch. Especially with online and other tools improving at a rapid rate, catastrophic destruction of the whole thing may be the best way to ultimately improve it.

So, as I say, congrats, but I'm not sure if I wish her good luck or bad luck. A little incompetence coupled with some bad luck may be just what we need right now!

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Hypocrisy on Parade

The NYT runs an intermittent series under the heading of The Stone; it purports to be "a forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless."

I have previously (here and here) rubbished articles for grievously offending my logical sensibilities. Unfortunately, the comments threads were of no help in deciding whether the deficiency was mine or some contemporary philosophers and other thinkers.

Once again, it is time to reach for the Rubbisher.

Peter Singer is something of an enfant terrible: his niche in philosophy is to take a seemingly reasonable position, and extrapolate it to where shock and opprobrium is sure to follow.

Here are some examples:

Abortion: In Practical Ethics, Singer argues in favour of abortion rights on the grounds that fetuses are neither rational nor self-aware, and can therefore hold no preferences. As a result, he argues that the preference of a mother to have an abortion automatically takes precedence. In sum, Singer argues that a fetus lacks personhood.

Similar to his argument for abortion, Singer argues that newborns lack the essential characteristics of personhood—"rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness"—and therefore "killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living."

Speciesism: Speciesism is an attitude of bias against a being because of the species to which it belongs. Typically, humans show speciesism when they give less weight to the interests of nonhuman animals than they give to the similar interests of human beings.

[On the basis that a being able to think of itself as existing over time], one might argue that to kill a normal human being who wants to go on living is more seriously wrong than killing a nonhuman animal. Whether this claim is or is not sound, it is not speciesist. But given that some human beings – most obviously, those with profound intellectual impairment – lack this capacity, or have it to a lower degree than some nonhuman animals, it would be speciesist to claim that it is always more seriously wrong to kill a member of the species Homo sapiens than it is to kill a nonhuman animal.

Altruism: A minimally acceptable ethical life involves using a substantial part of one's spare resources to make the world a better place.

These positions run the gamut from the apparently awful to the seemingly benign. I think they each rest on at least some flim-flammery, by either ignoring inescapable elements of reality — time, say — question begging, or failing to take an argument to where it demands being taken.

But no matter, that isn't what had me casting about for my Rubbisher.

It has come to some degree of notice that Peter Singer is spending significant resources caring for his Alzheimer's crippled mother. For most of us, more or less unburdened by a surfeit of philosophical posing, uhh, thinking, this is a no brainer. However, for Singer, this is clearly verboten, whether on the grounds of altruism or speciesism, at the very least.

Yet, despite his admonitions to the rest of us, he does so, nonetheless.

The philosopher Peter Singer was once attacked for contradicting himself. Singer advanced an ethical theory in which the most worthwhile thing was complex conscious life and feeling, and did not shy away from the logical consequence that the life of a severely mentally impaired human was worth less than that of a chicken. Journalists then discovered that Singer’s mother had Alzheimer’s and that he chose to spend his money taking care of her rather than helping chickens.

They called Singer a hypocrite and The New Republic even ran a cover with a picture of an addled old woman with a walker and the headline “Other People’s Mothers.”

Failing to notice the answer on offer, the author, by definition an esteemed contemporary philosopher or other thinker on issues both timely and timeless goes straight to missing the screamingly obvious:

So, how bad is contradicting yourself?

In philosophy, since Socrates (a troll before there ever was an internet), the answer has been “very bad.” If you find you believe two inconsistent propositions you need to do something about it. You owe a theory.

No, Eric Kaplan, this isn't contradicting yourself, this is allowing yourself that which you prohibit others. There's a fancy word for it, often improperly used, but not here: hypocrisy. Contradiction, entirely unrelated, involves having taken a position, subsequently taken on board discordant information, then reversing, or significantly changing your position; not just for yourself, but for everyone else, too.

Peter Singer has done nothing of the kind. But let's let that slide, so that Kaplan can have his say:

Part of the reason this mother/chicken puzzle is so hard is it runs up against two contradictory beliefs we have about human beings:

a) Humans are meaningful; the things they do make sense

b) Humans are things with causes like anything else — as meaningless as forest fires.

I could burden you with further pull quotes, but I won't because the chase that needs cutting to is right here. Kaplan, and on his behalf, Singer, have skipped right over a fatal error.

What do you think it is? Hint: it is contained in a single word.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Is Trump the New FDR?

One thing that caught my eye when thinking about Trump is the following (via Arnold Kling's askblog):
Often he acted not by following any grand design but by sheer instinct, hastily improvising. . .He deliberately fostered disarray among his own people. . .Disorder, delays, and muddle were frequently the watchwords; problems were met principally by improvisation, not long-term strategy.
When I read that, I thought the writer (Jay Winik), was writing about Trump. It turns out, however, that he was writing about FDR. And now that I think about it, FDR and Trump have a lot of similarities in addition to those noted above:

  • Use of Communications Technology: FDR pioneered the effective use  by a President of that cutting edge technology of the day, radio, while Trump pioneered the use of Twitter.
  • Infrastructure Projects: Both were/are big supported of massive government supported projects, FDR via the WPA, Trump, for example, wants to build a massive wall separating Mexico and the United States.
  • Wealth: Both were/are extremely wealthy, yet appealed politically to the common/deplorable man/woman.
  • Great Britain: FDR was allied with Great Britain, Trump wants to form and even tighter alliance with Great Britain.
  • Russia: FDR allied with the communists in Russia to defeat Hitler; Trump was allegedly helped in his campaigning by the Russians.
  • Political Opposition: Both were/are profoundly hated by their political opposition.
Many have noted that Trump is an anomaly by being the first person to win the presidency after never having held political office, not to mention having people of both parties against him as well as the media and being outspent 2 to 1 by his opponent.

But he still, by definition, has to have some past president that he's most similar to. I think that past president is FDR. What do y'all think?

Monday, January 02, 2017

The Boundaries of Morality

One common argument made for an ideology or narrative is that it's the only moral narrative; all others are immoral. That argument pretty much never convinces anybody because almost everybody thinks they're moral. Indeed, even violent criminals (including murderers) think themselves moral:
The reasons behind violence are varied, but a common belief is that criminals act from a breakdown of morals.
But now, researchers in California claim most acts of violence come from a very different impulse - the desire to do the right thing.
The article calls the study "controversial" but it fits very closely with the observations of my lifetime. For example, I've never once yet met anyone who's said, "I'm a totally immoral asshole and I'm cool with that!" Don't get me wrong, I've met plenty of people who I think are totally immoral assholes, but they don't believe that. Nobody ever believes that.

Another article provides more detail:
Across practices, across cultures, and throughout historical periods, when people support and engage in violence, their primary motivations are moral. By ‘moral’, I mean that people are violent because they feel they must be; because they feel that their violence is obligatory. They know that they are harming fully human beings. Nonetheless, they believe they should. Violence does not stem from a psychopathic lack of morality. Quite the reverse: it comes from the exercise of perceived moral rights and obligations. [...]
It would be easier to live in a world where perpetrators believe that violence is wrong and engage in it anyway. That is not the world we live in.
It's not that murderers didn't get that "Thou Shalt Not Kill" memo that was delivered to Moses' iPad (or however he got it) all those years ago. Rather it's that the commandments are more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual commandments (to paraphrase Captain Barbosa in Pirates of the Caribbean).

Many things bound the very simple "Thou Shalt Not Kill" commandment. One key boundary is that it only applies to your tribe or nation (group of tribes). There were constant wars during the time that the commandments were developed and a great deal of God's glory in the oldest religious texts comes from all the foes of the tribe that He slew or that He assisted tribe in slaying. For most of man's time on earth, the tribe was the boundary of morality. As long as it didn't hurt the tribe, anything could be done to those outside the tribe. It was shameful to do anything that hurt the tribe but not at all shameful to do things to those outside the tribe - even including murder.

When I was a child roughly a half-century ago, I had the impression that the nation of the United States was what I would now essentially call a gigantic tribe bound together by the Constitution and other ideological constructs. As such, the commandments were to be applied as best possible to everybody in the entire nation/tribe.

Globalism's primary tenet is that everybody in the world should be treated the same and that national boundaries are artificial and contrived and should be weakened and ignored as much as possible. While that sounds ideal, I suspect it is turning out to be disastrous.

Why? Because I believe most people need to part of at least one tribe. What I've observed is that the relentless onslaught of globalization has been accompanied by the fracturing of the citizens of the United States into a group of tribes that are essentially in a cold war with each other and I believe that it's a war that will turn quite hot before this century ends. The tribes are grouped by races and genders and status and geography. The tribes have adopted narratives that are impossible to reconcile yet are very, very strongly believed by members of the tribes.

The narratives are irreconcilable because each tribe believes their narrative to be absolutely moral and that every other narrative is totally evil. I'm now going to repeat one of the quotes above:
Violence does not stem from a psychopathic lack of morality. Quite the reverse: it comes from the exercise of perceived moral rights and obligations.
From ISIS to Black Lives Matter to White Extremists to Progressives to Libertarians to Conservatives to Coastal Elites to Heartland Workers, etc., we are reverting to tribalism and we will revert to horrendous violence, not because we are immoral, but because of "perceived moral rights and obligations."

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Merry Christmas

For your holiday entertainment (I hope), here is my barbershop quartet (I'm on the far left) singing the humorous song "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" at a recent Holiday Show. It was video'd by someone in the audience and was posted via her facebook page.

Update: Apparently the above link only works for facebook members. If so, try this one.

Dilbert Cartoonist Calls It

I don't find Scott Adams, the Dilbert comic strip cartoonist, particularly funny (as far as comics go), but I have found a lot of his writings insightful. It turns out that he wrote the following comic strip 26 years ago:

It's official now! And he somehow worked the whole Russian thing into it as well!

Stunningly prescient? Or unbelievably lucky?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Shark Jumped

Since the election, the NYT seems to have gone off its meds, and gone on a bender. My browser is getting swamped with staggering inanities that pass for journalism at that once august, and now expiring, institution.

Yet even that standard, such as it is, is nothing compared to its latest revel in blinkered foolishness: A Cruel Test for Germany, and Europe:

The populist right has wasted no time waiting for facts to emerge about the identity of the attacker in Berlin or a motive to slam Chancellor Angela Merkel for her humane asylum policy and to push its xenophobic agenda. This dangerous — if predictable — reaction plays directly into the hands of the Islamic State, which would like nothing better than to start a war between Christians and Muslims in Europe.

Shortly after the attack on Monday, Marcus Pretzell, a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, viciously tweeted, “These are Merkel’s dead!” On Tuesday, Geert Wilders, the leader of the Netherlands’ Party for Freedom, tweeted an image of Ms. Merkel spattered with blood; Nigel Farage, of Britain’s U.K. Independence Party, tweeted that such events “will be the Merkel legacy”; and Marine Le Pen, the French nationalist, issued a statement on the “Islamist” attack in Berlin and called for reinforcing Europe’s national borders there.

It is worth remembering that the NYT has in the past wasted no time waiting for facts. While that comes with a nose-wrinkling stench of hypocrisy, that was then. This is now.

Without bothering to make any affirmative argument, it simply jumps to more vocabulary abuse. Pro-tip, thinking that essentially unrestricted Muslim immigration might not, after all, be a very good idea isn't a "phobia" of any kind. Resorting to "xenophobic" is, just like its nasty relations "homophobic", "islamophobic" and "racist", is nothing more than demonization en route to ostracism: shut-up, the NYT explained.

The problem lurks within the loaded term "humane". As a first order effect, letting in nearly a million Muslim immigrants is humane; after all, it is near as certain that many would have died had they been forced to remain in Syria and Libya. But the reason they would have died is the second order effect. Among the refugees are bound to be a number who deeply hope to wreak as much havoc in Europe as they can possibly manage.

This is the argument that the NYT -- evincing what is thoroughly rotten about progressivism -- avoids by resorting to language abuse instead. Let's take it as read that many refugees are alive that wouldn't have been otherwise. How many refugee lives saved balance the European dead, maimed, and traumatized? Having not offered that bargain up to its citizens, or that argument to its readers, Merkel and the NYT are claiming a moral superiority they haven't demonstrated, or earned.

There is a joke with the punchline "I know what you are; now we are haggling over the price." That applies just as well here. The NYT considers Pretzell's tweet vicious. Perhaps, but it can hardly be considered fake, can it? Letting in 800,000+ refugees is humane; to oppose it xenophobic. I have heard that conditions in Mosul are quite bad, and lots of people there will die as a result.

So why doesn't Merkel let the remaining 5,000 or so Mosulians in to Germany? Why doesn't the NYT advocate doing so? Because to do so, by haggling over price, would reveal the rottenness at their core.

Beyond this is a broader question. Western civilization is built, in large part, upon freedom of conscience, which is another way of saying putting up with others' patently ridiculous notions, particularly in the realm of religion. But that raises a conundrum: tolerating the intolerant. At some point, failing to return the favor cancels any obligation to offer it. Islam is epically intolerant, and absolutist. What obligation do we in the West have to people who won't disavow Islam? If it is greater than that owed to communists a generation ago, it seems an explanation of why would be in order.

Interestingly, the comments section, ordinarily an echo chamber for leftist shibboleths, largely excoriates the NYT for their vapid nonsense. Perhaps this might serve as a lesson, as if the election wasn't already lesson enough, that relying on insults in place of an argument is a danger sign the argument itself is bankrupt.

As something of a postscript, it seems that waiting for the self evident would indeed have been a waste of time, ignoring for the moment that reality is even worse:

Amri [the name of the suspect], who is variously reported to be 23 or 24, arrived in Germany in July 2015 as an asylum-seeker. He was able to remain because of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s suicidal open-door policy for refugees from the Muslim Middle East and North Africa. Prosecutors in Berlin attempted to deport Amri back in June, after learning three months earlier that he was planning “a serious act of violent subversion.” He is reportedly a follower of Abu Walaa, an Iraqi sharia-supremacist firebrand who was recently arrested on suspicion of being a top ISIS leader and recruiter in Germany.

His terrorist activities aside, Amri has also been involved in narcotics trafficking, theft, and the torching of a school. That last felony occurred in Italy, where the “refugee” was sentenced to five years [of which he served 17 months] in prison before being welcomed into Deutschland. All that baggage, and still the Germans allowed him to remain. Reportedly, officials felt they could not deport him because he did not have a passport and the Tunisian government would not acknowledge him (despite the fact that the Tunisian government had convicted him in absentia of a violent robbery). That might explain a brief delay in repatriating him; it does not explain a legal system that permits a suspect with a lengthy, violent criminal record to remain at liberty while he is suspected of plotting mass-murder attacks.

Also, I seem to remember some brou ha ha over assertions there are "no-go" zones in Europe: only deplorables think such deplorable things.

Considering where I live, reading that isn't exactly heartwarming entertainment.

So, NYT editorial board, any chance you will rethink that whole xenophobia thing?

Thursday, December 08, 2016

I Wonder If This Is Fake News?

Le jour où Donald Trump a sauvé ma fille

It says something nice about Trump, which means at minimum that no mainstream media outlet will print it, even if true. I'm not sure it's even been translated to English yet (use google translate if your French is as bad as mine).

And that's one of the biggest problems with the bias in the media. Since we know they wouldn't print this, even if true, we can't know what's fake and what's not. Since I can't think of a reason this French paper would make this story up (and/or not fact check it adequately), I think there's at least some chance that it's true.

Enjoy! Even if not true it makes a good story.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Where I get an NYT Honorable Mention

Last week, the NYT's Sunday Review section ran an explanatory article, What the Alt-Right Really Means. Clearly, the point of the exercise is to educate bien pensants about the strange folkways of their moral and intellectual inferiors.

As these things go, it isn't horrible, but in places, it is easily bad enough. It starts off relating the — clearly dodgy — atmosphere at a white nationalist meeting several weeks ago.

Not even those most depressed about Donald J. Trump’s election and what it might portend could have envisioned the scene that took place just before Thanksgiving in a meeting room a few blocks from the White House. The white nationalist Richard B. Spencer was rallying about 200 kindred spirits.

“We are not meant to live in shame and weakness and disgrace,” he said. “We were not meant to beg for moral validation from some of the most despicable creatures to ever populate the planet.” When Mr. Spencer shouted, “Hail, Trump! Hail, our people! Hail, victory!” a scattered half-dozen men stood and raised their arms in Nazi salutes.

Mr. Spencer is a self-described member of the "alt-right", which has become an umbrella term to cover every group and opinion that might cause the Gray Lady to retire to her fainting couch, pearls clutched every step of the way.

Having thus poisoned the well, the author finally gets around to the "but" para:

Last summer “alt-right,” though it carried overtones of extremism, was not an outright synonym for ideologies like Mr. Spencer’s. But in late August, Hillary Clinton devoted a speech to the alt-right, calling it simply a new label for an old kind of white supremacy that Mr. Trump was shamelessly exploiting.

The question implicitly raised, but never answered, is whether distorting the existing meaning of a term, in the quest to tar those who don't bow to leftist shibboleths, serves only to throw oxygen and gasoline on some barely smoldering embers. This is the, by now, to her, regrettable "deplorables" moment by another name. While the piece fails to question NYT reporting and editorials that routinely, and without evidence, label Trump and some of his appointments in ways that place them firmly amongst the truly , it does bow in the direction of reality:

There is no good evidence that Mr. Trump or Mr. Bannon think in terms like these. Not even the former Breitbart editor at large Ben Shapiro, who has become an energetic critic of Mr. Bannon and his agenda, says that Mr. Bannon is himself a racist or an anti-Semite. Mr. Shapiro considers fears that Mr. Bannon will bring white nationalism to the White House “overstated, at the very least.”

Ultimately, though, this article seems to make rather more of something than its numbers warrant. Hence the comment I submitted which, surprisingly, was an NYT Pick:

Recently there was a white nationalist convention in DC that drew 200 people.

The last Bronycon -- for My Little Pony enthusiasts -- drew more than 30 times as many.

Maybe it isn't time for the NYT to freak out just yet.

It got a lot of recommends, and a more than the average number of replies. Most of whom seemed single-mindedly dedicated to missing the point, and the rest determined to set the the all world, indoor/outdoor record for Godwin's Law affirmations per column inch.

And many of whom might, just might, have a much more mild case of Trump Derangement syndrome if they (or reporters) did things like, oh, I don't, know, go to Trump's campaign website so they can find out just how much of a virulent racist he is.

It is my highest and greatest hope that the Republican Party can be the home in the future and forevermore for African-Americans and the African-American vote because I will produce, and I will get others to produce, and we know for a fact it doesn’t work with the Democrats and it certainly doesn’t work with Hillary.

When I am President, I will work to ensure that all of our kids are treated equally, and protected equally. Every action I take, I will ask myself: does this make life better for young Americans in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Ferguson who have as much of a right to live out their dreams as any other child in America?

Just awful, innit?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Bitcoin and Venezuela

Instapundit already linked to this, but I found the article very interesting as it finds the intersection of two very, very different topics - a country (Venezuela) destroyed by inept government and the cryptocurrency Bitcoin where the currency is possibly making lives better for at least some people in Venezuela because it can be traded and kept securely at very low cost.

Bitcoin's (legitimate) use has been limited so far because the U.S. dollar is a reasonably stable currency to use even in unstable regimes. But as the U.S. (slowly) follows Venezuela's footsteps into banana republicdom (I had a banana for breakfast again!), there may not be a stable unit of account supported by any country. In which case Bitcoin might save us all by enabling efficient trade in the chaos since it doesn't rely on any government or other bureaucracy and can provide a very stable unit of account.

I hope you enjoy the article!

Monday, November 28, 2016

A New Game

Even though we have all voted, the election continues and it's actually a long and easily contestable path from here to having a President Trump in the White House. To me, the latest maneuvers look like brilliant moves in chess and the political future of the country looks very uncertain.

Jill Stein filed a recount petition in Wisconsin a mere 90 minutes before the filing deadline:
An election recount will take place soon in Wisconsin, after former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein filed a petition Friday with the state’s Election Commission, the first of three states where she has promised to contest the election result.
The move from Stein, who raised millions since her Wednesday announcement that she would seek recounts of Donald Trump’s apparent election victories in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, came just 90 minutes before Wisconsin’s 5 p.m. Friday deadline to file a petition.
She raised millions for the Green Party and that in itself is quite clever. Well played, Ms. Stein!
As of Friday evening, Stein’s campaign reported taking in over $5.25 million in recount-related donations — the most by a third-party candidate in history.
But the more brilliant move is the "90 minutes before" part. From what I can tell at this point, Wisconsin will very likely NOT be able to complete the recount before the December 13th deadline:
Wisconsin will almost certainly miss that deadline, since the last recount took more than a month. And that recount was for a state Supreme Court contest where only 1.5 million votes were cast.
If Wisconsin misses the December 19 deadline, the electoral votes may not be counted. 
Stein is going to ask for a hand recount, which will slow the process even further.
Stein is also petitioning for a recount in Michigan and Pennsylvania. With suitable delays, these states may also miss the December 13th deadline, and if so, in combination with Wisconsin, that alone would deprive Trump of enough electors to directly become President. But even if one or more of the states finishes the recount and convenes a meeting for their electors to cast their ballots according to the recounted vote (which, assuming no shenanigans, will still go for Trump), it may enable enough defecting electors (if any, but I'd be surprised if there aren't any at all) to also deprive Trump of the 270 electoral votes he needs.

In the 2000 Florida recount, the US Supreme Court intervened at the last minute (December 12, 2000):
Because it is evident that any recount seeking to meet the Dec. 12 date will be unconstitutional ... we reverse the judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida ordering the recount to proceed ... It is obvious that the recount cannot be conducted in compliance with the requirements of equal protection and due process without substantial additional work.
People who are more politically aware than me will have to clarify, but this seemed to me to tell Florida to wrap it up by the deadline (which was the same day as the Court's intervention) and do the best they could by said deadline.

The current Supreme Court could do something similar. However, as you probably remember, at the moment there are only 8 justices and any attempt to decide something could easily be split 4-4 with the Supreme Court doing nothing at all.

So what then? It seems that the House of Representatives would likely decide the Presidency and the Senate would decide the Vice-Presidency. The House and Senate are majority Republican but they don't particularly like Trump. Here's one scenario:
Still if all 3 states fail to make a timely recount and fail to appoint their slate of Trump-Pence electors…then the presidential race will be thrown into the House where each State has one vote. Under Article II and the Twelfth Amendment, Trump has to carry a majority of state delegations (26 of 50). There is a separate quorum requirement: 2/3 of the States (34 of 50) must have one or more members present. Trump can probably meet this bar: 32 of the state delegations in the 115th Congress will have Republican majorities (albeit some are narrow majorities), and 11 other state delegations have 1 or more Republican members. So the Republicans should be able to reach a quorum of 34 States with one or more members present.  
However, if all three 3 states fail to make a timely recount and fail to appoint their slate of Trump-Pence electors…then the vice presidential race will be thrown into the Senate. Under Article II and the Twelfth Amendment, Pence will need a majority of the “whole number” of senators. The Republicans have such a majority. But the Twelfth Amendment also has a quorum requirement: “two-thirds of the whole number of Senators.” [2/3 is 67 of 100 senators, assuming all elected Senators are alive and sworn during the proceedings to select a Vice President.] The Republicans cannot meet this bar, at least not absent Democratic participation. By absenting themselves, the Democrats can block the narrow Senate Republican majority from selecting Pence.
But even the above scenario is not the most chaotic possibility:
Worst or best case situation…depending on your point of view…the Senate fails to elect a Vice President and the House fails to elect a President. How could the latter happen? Paul Ryan will be in the chair. Ryan might delay the vote or he might allow the vote to be delayed by dilatory opposition motions. If something like that should happen, and if no President and no Vice President are elected by the House and by the Senate, respectively, then the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 kicks in…and the acting presidency will fall to…the Speaker of the House (if he chooses to take it), and if the Speaker fails to take it, then to the Senate President Pro Tempore (“SPPT”) (if he chooses to take it), and if they fail to take it, then to cabinet members. By this time, most (perhaps, all) of President Obama’s cabinet will have already resigned, and so the acting presidency might fall to someone not holding a highly significant cabinet post.
There is now a significant academic literature suggesting that it is unconstitutional for the acting presidency to fall to House and Senate officers, such as the Speaker or SPPT. (I note that I do not share this view which is now commonplace in academia.) Based on this view, should the Speaker or SPPT (as opposed to Donald J. Trump) succeed to the (acting) presidency, it is likely that an outgoing Obama-era cabinet member would sue to displace (as in “replace”) the Speaker or SPPT who is acting as President. 
So in other words, the next President of the United States might be a janitor (Secretary of Cleaning Services) currently serving in Obama's cabinet. There might be a wee bit of a fight over that! Quite chaotic, no?

In other news, I'm eating more bananas lately... :-)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Shocked by Those Shocked by Trump Win

It looks to me like New York Times readers were especially surprised by Trump's win. It seems that the paper really hadn't prepared them for the possibility. Of course, that's because the Times itself was caught completely off-guard. Many internal and external criticisms have followed. Here's an excerpt of an internal one by Liz Spayd, the Times Public Editor:
The red state America campaign coverage that rang the loudest in news coverage grew out of Trump rallies, and it often amplified the voices of the most hateful. One especially compelling video produced with footage collected over months on the campaign trail, captured the ugly vitriol like few others. That’s important coverage. But it and pieces like it drowned out the kind of agenda-free, deep narratives that could have taken Times readers deeper into the lives and values of the people who just elected the next president.
Funny she mentions "agenda" and "narratives." Because Michael Cieply, an editor who worked for the Times up until July wrote:
[At the Times] by and large, talented reporters scrambled to match stories with what internally was often called “the narrative.” We were occasionally asked to map a narrative for our various beats a year in advance, square the plan with editors, then generate stories that fit the pre-designated line. [...] senior reporter who would play solitaire on his computer in the mornings, waiting for his editors to come through with marching orders. ... 
I listened to a visiting National staff reporter tell a contact, more or less: “My editor needs someone to say such-and-such, could you say that?” 
The bigger shock came on being told, at least twice, by Times editors who were describing the paper’s daily Page One meeting: “We set the agenda for the country in that room.”
To summarize, they come up with a narrative, then find stories to fit it. That's journalism? This is the venerable Grey Lady, the paper of record? Really?

When I first read this via a link from Instapundit, I thought it was satire or a hoax or something. After all, if the Times was really doing their reporting backwards by coming up with the narrative first, we would have heard about it long ago, wouldn't we? Isn't that a rather important detail? Wouldn't some Times journalist or Times ex-journalist happen to mention that, perhaps inadvertently, to the world?

It might still be a hoax, but right now it doesn't look like it to me. Many other clearly legitimate media organizations have now quoted this story. If it was a hoax, I think someone would've pointed it out by now.

But what's further bewildering me is that the other organizations' attitudes seem to be something like, "yeah, sure, no surprise that's what the Times does, and really, no biggie." Okay, well, good to know it's no biggie, because otherwise I might've been outraged. No, wait! I am kinda outraged! The Times is trying to tell the country what to think. And they're succeeding for much of their readership. A readership that is fortunately dwindling. A readership that is absolutely baffled about the Trump phenomenon, mostly thanks to the Times (and the rest of the Main Stream Media).

I've been skeptical of the Times for a long time. Now I'm gonna have trouble believing anything I read in that paper.

How Many Racists Does It Take To Change A Presidency

I might as well start with some humor, one that's apropos to the vast number of people who are very upset after this election.
Question: How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? 
Answer: None. The light bulb has to want to change!
One of the reasons given why Trump won the election is that racists propelled him to victory. So I was curious about just how many racists there are in the United States and tried a variety of google searches including "how many racists in america." The results are surprisingly unspecific and I'm finding them uninterpretable (so far).

I've been pulled down lots of dead ends in trying to quantify this. For example, I learned that about half of Hispanics in the U.S. (52%) say they have experienced discrimination or have been treated unfairly because of their race or ethnicity. Sounds really bad, right? But then, 43 percent of Americans told researchers that discrimination against whites has become as large a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minority groups. While those two things aren't necessarily contradictory, it seems that either everybody's discriminating against everybody else, or lotsa folks are making mountains outta molehills.

And then discrimination and racism are different things. As I try to get my daughters into good colleges I find that in the name of racial diversity, some spots are reserved for others of different races. Since I think that's a load of BS and since blue-eyed, blonde, Senator Elizabeth Warren got away with claiming native american ancestry, I've told my daughter to just check the "African-American" box on the applications (I figure we're at least 1 part in a trillion black), but unfortunately, she's uncomfortable doing that (maybe I would be too). But the folks reserving spots aren't necessarily racist, just discriminatory. And unfortunately for me, discriminatory against my family.

And then there are degrees of racism. Is it racist to be attracted for mating purposes to only people of your own race or is it merely discriminatory? I claim that it's mild racism and that indeed, since that applies to me, I'm mildly racist. But statistically, given that most married people in the United States are married to someone of the same race, that would basically mean that nearly everyone is mildly racist. In which case, yes, most people who voted for Trump are (mildly) racist. But so are most of those that voted for Clinton!

I went on to consider people who are clearly extremely racist: those belonging to white supremacy groups. For that, at least, one can get a hard number - people who belong to such a group. Percentage-wise, there aren't all that many:
Levin estimated fewer than 50,000 people are members of white supremacist groups...
That's slightly more than one in ten-thousand people and really not enough to have affected the election outcome. That's a lower bound, of course, but it's one of the few hard numbers I could find on the topic.

The last bit of evidence I found intriguing is the number of predominantly white counties that voted for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016. In other words, white folks who, when they had the chance to vote for a black person, did so. I find it hard to interpret that voting pattern as racist against blacks. And it seems that these particular voters were extremely important in putting Trump over the top.

In conclusion, I think it's really hard to find hard evidence that Trump won because of racism. Perhaps he did, especially depending on how you define racism, but I think that, at best, the focus on racism detracts from other factors that are likely more important.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Most Telling Statistic

Now that I'm (mostly) over my surprise that Trump won, the most telling statistic to me is this: Clinton won 93% of the vote in Washinton, DC (to Trump's 4%). 93%! 93% of those living in the heart of the elite's power voted for Clinton, thereby clearly and unequivocally identifying this election as being one that pitted the elites versus the commoners, special interests against the masses, the powerful against the powerless, and yes, the refined against the deplorables.

Even more importantly, it was a contest between those that actually have to do things versus those that live off and lord it over the doers:
America is a nation of many economies, but those that produce real, tangible things — food, fiber, energy and manufactured goods — went overwhelmingly for Trump.
The elite have unabashedly and purposefully made things harder for the workers and business owners that actually do and make things and Trump was the only one who even considered addressing the growing frustration and anger of those folks. As far as I can tell, Hillary never reached out to them, instead not only ignoring them but deeming them deplorables, mostly beneath her notice and certainly unworthy of her respect.

I personally was unable to bring myself to vote for either candidate, but fortunately the results in California were so certain (for Hillary) that I knew my vote wouldn't possibly matter. To me, Clinton was a known awful and Trump was an unknown ... well, just mostly unknown. Oh sure, he's crude, rude, and lewd, and flawed like every human, but I don't much care about that. In fact, that part is almost refreshing to me. It's what he'll do as President that's pretty much unknown, at least to me.

I guess we'll find out.