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Friday, September 23, 2016

"Run Them Down"

In a real life variation of the Trolley Problem, there's the question of what to do when folks around you are rioting and attacking your vehicle. Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee Law Professor, and the blogger and tweeter known as Instapundit had a simple answer (via a tweet): "Run Them Down." That promptly got his twitter account suspended, his weekly column with USA Today either cancelled or suspended, and he is now being investigated by the University of Tennessee for possible punishment. Sometimes three words are really powerful!

I guess I really am deplorable because I can't even begin to understand why what he said is wrong. If one or more of my wife or kids was in the car with me and I felt they were in significant danger from violent rioters, I would do anything I could to get them to safety and if that involved running down 1 or 10 or even 1 million rioters to do so, I wouldn't hesitate and I wouldn't feel guilty afterwards even as I spent the rest of my life in jail or ended up in the electric chair for doing so. And I can't begin to imagine why any other husband and father wouldn't do the exact same thing.

If it was just me in the car? I don't know. I'm not sure my own safety would motivate me to run anybody down just to save my own skin.

One of the interesting issues with the Trolley Problem and other related problems is the following:
Greene and Cohen analyzed subjects' responses to the morality of responses in both the trolley problem involving a switch, and a footbridge scenario analogous to the fat man variation of the trolley problem. Their hypothesis suggested that encountering such conflicts evokes both a strong emotional response and a reasoned cognitive response, and that these two responses tend to oppose one another.
My experience and knowledge tell me that in the heat of the moment, the "strong emotional response" usually wins. The emotional response affects the lower mammalian/reptilian brain and that part of the brain is between the cognitive part of our brains and motor control and the lower brain can completely lock out the upper brain if it so "chooses" under strong emotional stimulus. It's instinctual and reactive and when a split second decision needs to be made it makes it and not always in agreement with what the cognitive portion of the brain would choose if it had more time.

The Trolley Problem and its variant are usually applied to strangers. I'd like to switch it around a little. The trolley is headed for your child or spouse tied to the tracks and you have an instant to decide whether or not to pull a lever to divert the trolley where it will instead run over 1 stranger who is tied the tracks. Or 5 strangers. Or 1 billion strangers. What if you and your spouse or child happened to discuss this ahead of time and they said that they would feel so guilty about the strangers' deaths that they wouldn't want you to pull the lever to save them? In each case, you have 1 second to react.

I don't think you can know the answers to any of those questions. Sure, you can cognitively think about them and know what you would logically decide. But, in the heat of the moment, your logical brain isn't the one to make the decision. I think that a lot humans, possibly myself included, in the heat of the moment, would end up pulling the lever and saving our child or spouse in all of the above cases.

I believe that our lower, primitive brains are actually always in control or at least exert a constant pressure and that the cognitive brain that we consider to be "us" is mostly just a tool used by the primitive brain. Some of the whispering pressure from the primitive brain is obvious: eat, mate, etc.

But some of the whispering pressure is more subtle and hardly even noticeable but has a profound effect on behavior. It sorts people by importance and makes even your cognitive brain react differently to the Trolley Problem when the people are known to you and at different levels of importance. For example, instead of strangers, it's your mother, or cousin, or friend, or important colleague, etc. And it's not just how you react in the heat of the moment, but how you provide for some, criticize others, cut yet others slack, hire others who really aren't the best objective choice, etc.

One Libertarian question is what's really the difference between trading with one of your countrymen and trading with someone in China. Objectively, there may be little difference. However, our lower brains may simply view strangers in China as less important than strangers in our own nation. We can say that's an immoral view, but if that's innate, and I think it is, at least for many people, we're really just saying that (many) humans are innately immoral.

Or deplorable.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Worth A Thousand Words?

Or so they say of a picture.

Knowing some of our regulars here take a very skeptical stance towards global warming, AKA climate change, I can only give them the latest Weapon of Mass Diffusion, a xkcd infographic (it is just too big to embed it here).

Graphic communication is sure effective. But is it convincing enough? You tell me.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Basket of Deplorables

More than a few people have questioned me when I've said that I don't really feel there's a place for me in this country anymore.

Well, the likely next president of the United States, soon to be President-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton, has described me as a member of a Basket of Deplorables:
"You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the 'basket of deplorables.' Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it."
I readily admit that I'm arguably all of those things (and "you name it" would cover it even if not). I've certainly been called racist, sexist, homophobic, and Islamophobic and I have little doubt that Clinton would consider me so, even if I'm also arguably NOT those things.


Causing or being a subject for censure, reproach, or disapproval; wretched; verybad:

Given that the future leader of the country views me like that, I think it's perfectly reasonable to feel that I'm not welcome in my own country and don't fit in, pretty much by definition.

Hillary's Health

Some people are concerned that Hillary Clinton isn't particularly healthy. For example, she apparently fainted today during a 9/11 ceremony.

I'm not concerned at all. In fact, if you guaranteed me that she was so unhealthy that she would die shortly after taking office, I would vote for her in a heartbeat. Kaine may not be my first choice for president, but I prefer him to either Clinton or Trump. By a lot.

Is that a politically incorrect thing to say? Oops, sorry! :-)

100,000 Page Views

I'm a round numbers kinda guy.

Great Guys Weblog has just passed 100,000 page views, whatever that means!

Yay, us!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

My Nat Geo Special

Trigger warning: This post is both very long and excruciatingly dull. Travel writing is something best left to experts. I am not one.

[This trip happened nearly a year ago. Letting that amount of time elapse will have done the story no good whatsoever. Although it has given me a greater appreciation for those pocket notebooks that real writers carry with them where ever they go.]

Ironically, I never particularly had the goal of getting around. Traveling — meh. Yet somehow that thing that I don't care much whether I do keeps happening. I have been across the US by car or bus 31 times, lived in a couple dozen places across the US, as well as England twice and now Germany. Some of that is side effect: travel is going to come with the military pilot territory. But the rest I, through long chains of very improbable circumstance, happened upon: my wife, whose love of travel rivals that of fire for gasoline, and FedEx, which is a gasoline gusher.

TOSWIPIAW had already been to Africa three times, and decided my none times could no longer stand. Besides, we were already in Europe, which is right next door [not really, not where we were going, but her instinctive feel for maps doesn't deviate from the breed standard; besides, her traveling gland was painfully swollen.]

Since we already had favorable experiences with Overseas Adventure Travel (Antarctica (me), Costa Rica, Machu Picchu and the Galapagos) we decided to fatten their bottom line once again. They do small group — 12 to 16 people — expeditions, and get off the beaten path. The downside, for me anyway, is their NPR tone, and way too much participation in the local. I loathe them for their staginess, forced familiarity, heavy handed suggestions for donations, and eating guinea pig (Machu Picchu).

For the record, my wife thinks me a misanthrope. I think she is leaping, okay half-stepping, to a conclusion.

To be there, we had to get there. While the trip is no longer admirable feat, Johannesberg, South Africa is about as far away from Germany as it is possible to be from anyone place to any other place and still stay on the planet.

Making matters far worse was Heathrow security. Perceptive minds may be flashing question marks here. Knowing I live in Germany, those very same perceptive minds quickly realize that I had to get through security in order to get to Heathrow.

Yes, indeed that is true. And absolutely no barrier to that full employment scheme for petty tyrants known as airport security. (Donald Trump has made a lot of mileage on immigration; why he hasn't thought to aim his verbal scattergun at the TSA is a singular mystery. Loathing of the TSA, which does a necessary job about as badly as it is possible to imagine, and then even worse, is universal. Hillary! wouldn't stand a chance.)

Ten minute security line in Düsseldorf. Hour flight to Heathrow. Hour and twenty minutes getting re-securitied, which gave me plenty of time to observe passive-aggressiveness in action. The screeners concern for people missing flights was amply confirmed by their glacial pace. If there was ever a group of people that needed punching good, hard and often, this was them.

Which is why our two hour layover was rescued from being 20 minutes too short by a twenty minute late departure. Even after passage of a year, my blood goes right to the boiling point just thinking about it.

(Side note. Last week I went through screening in Cologne. A screener deemed my clear plastic bag too big — never mind the very sparse contents thereof and sent me off to get another bag, and the back of the line. Finally making it through, the same screener, now at the X-ray machine, deemed my travel size can of shaving cream a suspect nuclear weapon. I stand for a few minutes while they get an explosives swabber, who swabs my stuff and tells me to wait. No surprise there. While waiting, I put my laptop and iPad back in their respective places. He comes back to tell me I'm good to go, then gets indignant: where were my computers?! And started in to giving me a sound lecture, only to come to a quick stop. Might have had something to do with murder in my eyes. Every time Harry extols how wonderful socialism is, all I have to do is recall airport security. A few days ago in Keflavik, I had a 3.07 oz deodorant applicator confiscated because it exceeded the 3 oz limit. Just like it had done dozens of times before. And despite the easily ascertainable fact — the applicator being transparent — it was very nearly empty. Hillary!, The Donald, here's a pro-tip. Want to be president? Stop talking about Syria and start talking about the TSA.)

Aaaannnnddd twelve and a half hours in an A380 later, we are in Jo-berg, with a day and a half to kill before heading off into the bush. The first half day we put to excellent use, hanging around the hotel pool and having a contest as to see who could run up the biggest bar bill.

The next day was entirely different. We hired a local guide to give us The Tour. I'm old enough to remember apartheid, and to also think that was a pretty mean thing for the government to be doing.

Pretty mean doesn't begin to say it. Despite having had a current events knowledge back in the day, there is nothing like seeing it in person, even nearly 30 years removed. The institutionalized awfulness was crushingly pervasive, and mostly left me with this question: what the hell were they thinking? I get the trap that is so easy to fall into — judging our forebears by our standards. But still. Did none of the Afrikaners think "What if we got this wrong?"

The next morning started the main program: 21 days, divided pretty equally among four bush locations, plus a stop at Victoria Falls and then Cape Town.

First stop, the Jackalberry Lodge in the Thornybush Game Reserve.

Let me translate that into English: Four star glamping in the African answer to a dude ranch.

Our subsequent accommodations were far more spartan — no air conditioning.

Perhaps that isn't enough detail. Twenty-odd years ago, some enterprising people fenced off roughly 400 square miles of South African savannah, then, with some degree of forethought, stocked it with roughly the right amount of the right kinds of animals to provide a roughly self-sustaining answer to the Wild Kingdom safari park.

The place was so big that there was never the impression of being inside it. Except for the very stout electric fence that surrounded our compound.

Note the stanchion on the left supporting the electric fence separating TOSWIPIAW from Very Large Animals.

This fence, surrounding the entire compound, except for where it met a lodge at the far side, was very effective at keeping predators out, less so with elephants who, fortunately, didn't want in, and not at all against the various variants on the impala who simply leapt the thing to get at the salad bar within.

So it was something of a surprise coming out of the, ummm, glent? — in the morning in search of coffee, only to round a corner and be confronted with a half dozen animals the size of elk built like gazelles and crowned with very twisty horns. Perhaps my murderous gaze was sufficient to convince them they were in a very dangerous place indeed, between me and my first cup of coffee. Or it might have been pure coincidence.

Either way, I got my coffee.

As it happened the glent we were in stopped the gap between the ends of our electric fortification. And it had a back porch that opened onto the savannah. We were warned, in a suitably stern and forthright manner that so long as we stayed on the porch, we were OK. But beyond that lie monsters.

I took them at their word.

Later that afternoon, I was in our glent, and heard some rustling about. Poked my head out and saw this:

Mind you, I never strayed from the porch. Nonetheless, I got yelled at. Not entirely sure what I did wrong, but frightening the elephant probably wasn't high on the list.

The next day started what was pretty much the routine for then next 16 days. Get up early, park our glamping butts in a couple Toyota land cruisers and spend four hours bouncing over perfectly horrid roads hoping for Sightings. At about the halfway mark we'd stop for coffee and a snack. Repeat in the late afternoon, only with adult beverages instead of coffee. The driver and guide were conspicuously well armed. Something to do with predators, apparently.

Ready to head 'em up and move 'em out. Harry, trigger warning: the tan case contains a high powered rifle.

Whereupon we see things:

Lions on a union break.

And elephants who want our trail more than we do.

There's a bit of a story here. The guides are very strict about protocol. The animals can't, or don't, distinguish between the Land Cruiser and the people in it. So long as we sit down and shut up we are just a — something — to these creatures that isn't the least bit relevant to their daily lives.

So when that big ol' elephant came up, we did as instructed: sat on our hands, and kept our lips zipped. Well, it just kept coming at us, until it used the left rear corner of our Land Cruiser as a sratching post. That happened to be where TOSWIPIAW was sitting, and she had to practically climb into my lap to avoid coming very much eye to eye with the elephant's eye. Since, for some reason, TOSWIPIAW had a death grip on our camera, I couldn't get the video.

My wife didn't get yelled at.

On our evening drive, we learned that it is all fun and games until …

And so on, for another couple weeks. The glaring suspicion should be, I should know, because it kept occurring to me, was that eight hours a day on spine crunching roads might get a bit repetitious.

The companies that run these trips aren't staffed by fools. They know that full well, and right at the point where repetition is starting to rear its ugly head, they hauled us off, by bush plane, to the next glamp where the same routine was very different.

In that spirit, let's move on to … Chobe National Park in Botswana. This glamp marked a change from our first stop. Instead of walled and air conditioned lodgings, surrounded by wires carrying very many of Edison's very best volts, we had soft sided A-Frames and not heck all of a fence.

The consequence being that, after dark, we were not allowed to move from the common area to our glents without an armed escort. Something about predators. Along those lines, we got some instructions, among them being: "If you have an emergency, give three blasts with the air horn on your nightstand, and turn on your porch light. Everyone else, stay in your glents and keep the lights off."

Emergency equipment, flanked by industrial strength bug stuff. We quickly found the best approach was to leave the light on, then go all fire hose on it.

Seemed sound advice, as we were unpacking that mid-afternoon. Not five minutes later: BLAT BLAT BLAT from the next glent over.


Our group of 15 included two women traveling by themselves. One of them saw a spider in her bathroom. To be fair, spider might not begin to say it:

It was near as darnnit to hot, but separated from miserable by a admirable lack of humidity. Starting around 10 pm, I saw lightning on the horizon, and suspected we might be in for a show. Sure enough, two hours later the temperature started dropping like a greased safe. And that can only mean one thing: lots of meteorological sturm and drang. The wind, conveniently aligned, was blowing rain right into our glent.

Being Mr. Man, it was up to me to go outside and figure out how to make that stop. Despite the darkness, I found the lashings that released the drop down covers.

And came back in to find a millipede the size of Clovis's forearm crawling down the mosquito netting on TOSWIPIAW's side of the bed.

This is not an insignificant problem, because I have to break the news without getting deafened by an air horn. Having managed that task, made far easier by TOSWIPIAW being a very steady hand, I then had to be Mr. Man again and get the thing out. A trash can — the sure sign of glamping — was at hand, so I slid it up and dislodged the millipede into the can.

Where it landed with a prodigious thump, before getting unceremoniously launched into the aforementioned sturm and drang. Which had, by this time, been even more dranged by a pride of lions not a hundred yards away expressing their displeasure with the lightning (I presume it wasn't the millipede).

I could go on, but not profitably. Pictures at this point will say far more, and annoy you far less, than anything I could write.

Save for a few parting shots.

Once upon a time ago, I read The Wealth and Poverty of Nations.

The accident of natural circumstances can't be ignored. The southern third of Africa — an area a good chunk as large as the continental US — has no meaningful natural barriers, no navigable rivers, the tsetse fly, and malaria. If the entire world was like that, civilization would never have happened.

Oh yeah, and one other thing. Nature's great insecticide: winter. I'm not bug phobic, but after having been concussed for the third time by an onrushing dung beetle (imagine an iridescent VW Beetle — the original one — with wings, and an iridescent paint job, but bigger) I was starting to get my fill of things that were at least six times larger than they should have been. Most of the women were on the verge of going spare.

The night after our fun with weather, and its rain, we got treated to the ground termites and their airborne mating ritual. In their billions. These things are the size of your thumb, and come in the kind of swarms that belong in nightmares.

Except they don't bite, nor much care for anything else than their regenerative part in the circle of life. The next morning, they are have all gone to ground, leaving only piles of wings behind. Those, that is, that haven't been captured by the locals, to be boiled and eaten as a delicacy the next day.

Having a sensitive palate, I declined, since they couldn't possibly go with gin & tonic.

Our tour leader was a native Zimbabwean. He went into great detail about Mugabe's rule. Yes, Ayn Rand was a wretched writer, but she was on to something.

He mentioned, without my asking, Bret, that family sizes had plummeted during his lifetime, from more than 6 to right around 3.

25% of children have lost both parents to AIDS.

Our only real experience with Africa outside the bush came in Livingstone, near Victoria Falls. That place is properly poor. I'd far rather be there than in the late stage Soviet Union.

Going out on a limb here, but I don't see fried caterpillars having the same market making power as, say, McDonald's french fries.

Capitalism is an amazing thing. It provided people the means with which to start significant businesses — setting up and provisioning a glamp in the bush is no mean feat. It makes people want to please others, and others appreciative of being pleased.

For the most part, the scenery in southern Africa is quite monotonous. So flat that rivers peter out before they get anywhere, and trees that rarely get more than a dozen feet tall before elephants flatten them. Cape Town was entirely different, as abundantly blessed in scenic pulchritude as the surrounding millions of square miles are deprived.

Am I glad I went? Yes. Would I go back? Ummm. Probably not. I can see where Africa, and the people, could get under someone's skin.

But not mine. Probably.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

...but not for thee

In just the last couple of years a new feature of discussions with progressive friends has been not just stronger differences of opinion, but a growing intolerance for the mere expression of any difference of opinion.  There is an authoritarian feel to this new attitude.  Another more recent concern voiced in these discussions is the strong desire to get the money out of electoral politics, especially for their opponents.

This was on my mind as I read the recent Kimberley Strassel book,  The Intimidation Game: How the Left Is Silencing Free Speech.  Strassel has written the "Potomac Watch" column in the WSJ for many years and has consistently demonstrated excellent writing and reportage.  Those high standards are on display in this book.  The storytelling is quite compelling and builds and builds.  If you are even slightly interested in this matter, I highly recommend this book.

Here is a review by Peter Berkowitz:
Perhaps most alarming has been the administration’s leadership in the left’s war on free speech and the closely associated rights of assembly and association. The result has been to impair people’s ability to express their political preferences and expose government folly, subterfuge, and criminality.

“All throughout history and all across the planet,” Kimberly Strassel soberly observes, “government officials have used state power to silence critics.”

But changing times give rise to novel tactics. In her chilling book “The Intimidation Game: How the Left Is Silencing Free Speech,” Strassel describes “the new attempt by left-leaning organizations to” not only “shut down conservative speech” but also to “silence anyone who proves a threat to their ideology.”
In practice, campaign finance laws are often wielded to muzzle opposition voices. This is sometimes accomplished by outright criminalization of financial support for dissenting speech. Another technique is to compel disclosure of membership in, or support for, political parties and civic organizations, which enables corrupt government officials and ruthless private citizens to identify and strong-arm opponents. Strassel’s riveting reporting shows how the left has honed such methods to a fine art.
 The most notorious instance of the left’s efforts to use government power to intimidate political opponents during Obama’s presidency was the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting, beginning in 2010, of some 300 small, often Tea Party-affiliated conservative organizations that had applied for tax-exempt status. The IRS’s job was to ensure that applications had been filled out correctly. But at the behest of longtime Democratic Party partisan and then-director of the IRS’ Exempt Organizations Unit Lois Lerner, the agency delayed action on applications for months, which in many cases stretched into years.
 Operating through government offices as varied as the Justice Department, the FEC, the Security and Exchange Commission, and the Milwaukee district attorney’s office, Obama-era Democrats sought to punish those who dared to dissent from their agenda on issues ranging from the size and scope of government to climate change, same-sex marriage, and public sector unions. The aim was not to refute opposing views but to use the force of law and threat of public humiliation and financial ruin to deny individuals their rights to engage in political speech and action.

Tyler O'Neil on the matter:
"It's out-and-out harassment, it's out-and-out intimidation, it's out-and-out abuse of government powers," the Wall Street Journal's Kimberley Strassel told PJ Media after a panel on free speech. "When you're sicking the federal bureaucracy on people and they have the power to give you non-profit status or not, to silence your speech, that's not just bullying — that's robbing you of your constitutional protections. I think it does go beyond bullying."

Bernson explained that "anonymous speech is a right," and turned to the example of the founding fathers. "The Federalist Papers were published anonymously, and would not have worked otherwise." The AFP staffer suggested that if it were publicly known that one of the authors (Alexander Hamilton) was an immigrant, the papers might not have succeeded in defending the new Constitution.

Free speech is a fundamental right, and the Left's assault upon it cannot be dismissed. From "John Doe" to RICO to "safe spaces" to campaign finance, there is no denying it. Republicans and conservatives are not blameless, but these attacks should be infamous and well-known. This is how the Left operates, and how they attempt to shut down the debate. Let us all speak out against it.

Here is a video  of Strassel from a speaking event about the book and the matter.

Here are selections from extended excerpts:
January 21, 2010, is when the Supreme Court ruled on a case known as Citizens United. To listen to President Barack Obama, or Senator Harry Reid, or any number of self-proclaimed “good government” organizations, this decision mattered because it marked a new tidal wave of “dark” money and “shadowy” organizations into elections. It supposedly gave powerful special interests new control over democracy. Citizens United didn’t do any of that. But it did unleash a new era. It set off a new campaign of retribution and threats against conservatives. Citizens United launched the modern intimidation game.
They encouraged, explicitly and implicitly, the IRS to target and freeze conservative groups during election years. They called out conservative donors by name, making them the targets of a vast and threatening federal bureaucracy.
They also cleverly cloaked all this behind a claim of good government. Citizens United, they said, threatened to put powerful and nefarious forces in charge of democracy. And therefore all of their actions and tactics were justified in the name of the people.
As Thomas rang out in closing, “I cannot endorse a view of the First Amendment that subjects citizens of this Nation to death threats, ruined careers, damaged or defaced property, or pre-emptive and threatening warning letters as the price for engaging in ‘core political speech, the primary object of First Amendment protection.’”
Few people outside of Clarence Thomas remembered the ugly history of the NAACP, or McIntyre, or the risk of exposing Americans to retribution. Citizens had instead refocused Americans on the threat of “dark money” (undisclosed money)—and Democrats intended to use that to their favor.
The Democratic Party as a whole is now adopting this proposal to overthrow the First Amendment. It won’t happen anytime soon—passing an amendment to the Constitution is hard. But the fact that Democrats are trying to marks a radical shift in the political culture. The left is done with debate.
Then again, there’s a good case to be made the left isn’t planning on there ever being another moment when the other side is in power. Their intention is to make sure they forever own the debate. That’s the point of shutting down speech. That’s the point of the intimidation game.
Instead, the laws that were designed to keep the political class in check are being used to keep the American people in check.
The entire concept of disclosure has in fact been flipped on its head. The American people know almost nothing about the working of government. Instead, disclosure is trained on the electorate, allowing the government to know everything about the political activities of Americans.
At the very least, it’s time to rethink the levels at which citizens are required to disclose contributions. They need to be dramatically raised. If the left’s argument is that democracy is at risk from “powerful” players, then it can have nothing to fear from the donor who gives $5,000 or $10,000 or even $20,000 to a candidate or party. That is peanuts compared to the more than $70 million that billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer spent in the 2014 elections to (unsuccessfully) retain a Democratic Senate. It’s a simple fact that in today’s big-money political arena, no politician can be “bought” with a mere $10,000. The current disclosure requirement of $200 is primarily designed to ensure that every citizen’s political activity is known to the federal government.
It’s time for the courts to wake up—and to recognize Clarence Thomas’s prescient observations about where today’s disclosure and speech law regime has left the country. It’s time for the courts to recognize that we are once again in an environment in which average citizens are afraid to speak.
Mostly, it’s time for Americans to speak up. The intimidation game only works if its targets let it. When citizens blow the whistle on abuse and stand up to it, they are by definition rejecting intimidation. They inspire others to come to their defense and to speak out themselves.
My personal preference is for a very expansive version of free speech.  Not everyone feels that way.  There are also plenty of people interested in free speech for me, but not for thee.

Goose, meet ... uhh ...

The Dept of Education is on the case against fraudulent degree mills:

ITT Educational Services announced on Tuesday that it is shutting down its more than 100 ITT Technical Institute campuses immediately, accusing the federal government of unfairly stripping it of eligibility for student aid.
It's an abrupt move that will impact 35,000 students who are currently taking classes on campuses and online throughout the United States. Many of them are now left without a degree and saddled with student debt.

ITT said it also eliminated the jobs of the "overwhelming majority" of more than 8,000 employees on Tuesday.
Last week, the Department of Education barred the school from allowing any new students to use federal loans to pay for ITT -- and the school promptly stopped new enrollment.

I'm sure we will be reading in the newspapers any minute now that the Dept of Education is also shutting down Grievance Studies departments across the nation.


Monday, September 05, 2016

Wait. What?

Your mileage may vary, but for me this was a Wait, What? moment:

Adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun.

Bollocks, I immediately thought. That's just an internet myth. Except …

You can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife.

Now try changing the adjective order.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Is it too much to ask?

The term "media bias" is familiar, used mostly by conservatives in reference to the tone and selection of stories that reflect progressive prejudices. To a certain extent, that is unavoidable. I don't expect the NYT to cover the same range of stories as the WSJ. The former will run 1,000 LGBTQ stories to every one in the latter, and the WSJ is going to skew far more towards business and economic reporting.

So far, so good.

But then there is the kind of bias that should flunk Journalism 101. Well, if I taught Journo 101, in any event. (So what follows is a pilot telling reporters how to do their jobs. When it's the other way around, the result is always rubbish. No reason to suspect any different when the shoe is other footed.)

By that, I mean always when doing straight reporting, and to a significant extent even in Op Ed pieces, the writer needs to include all the facts appropriate to the story's level of detail. A perfect example is the Michael Brown shooting in Fergusen. When referred to in the NYT, the late Mr. Brown is always referred to as an "unarmed teenager".

This is a perfect example of selecting from a set of facts at the same level as detail, so as to skew readers' conception of the situation. Omitted facts? Six foot five inches, 250 lbs, attacked the officer, tried to take the officers' weapon, battered a store clerk after shoplifting, shot charging the officer. Every time the NYT prefers one of those facts to the others, it is a violation of journalistic ethics. Or at least it should be, since persistently leaving out equally important facts is lying by omission.

Recently, the NYT ran Shooting in North Carolina Draws Comparisons to Trayvon Martin’s Death , which appeared in the US News section; that is, it is allegedly straight reporting, and not an Op Ed.

A man saying he was acting on behalf of a neighborhood watch program fatally shot a young, black man.

If that sounds to you like the 2012 case of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, which ignited a broad discussion on race relations in the United States, you wouldn’t be wrong. But this similar scenario played out in a case this week in Raleigh, N.C.

The reason that would sound to the rest of us like the that, is because the young black man was shot while attacking the white Hispanic [sic] man. Except not anything like that:

Kouren-Rodney Bernard Thomas, 20, was shot and killed just before 1 a.m. on Sunday, the police in Raleigh said. Chad Cameron Copley, 39, was charged with first-degree murder after the police said he fired a shotgun from inside his garage at Mr. Thomas, who was outside Mr. Copley’s home.

Where are the similar details about the Zimmerman/Martin case?

But wait, there's more. Chicago Has Its Deadliest Month in About Two Decades . The lead sentence:

In a city wrestling with a rise in gun violence …

Let's think about that for a second. Guns are violent? If so, then are they equally violent everywhere, or just especially in Chicago. This year, so far, is the deadliest in the last 20. Did guns suddenly get more violent?

Hey, wait a minute, if violent guns are the problem, then Chicagoans need to go elsewhere and buy non-violent guns. After all, those elsewheres are easily enough found, they aren't the places that murder 90 people a month.

Of course, the other way of looking at it, is the real story, the important story, really isn't gun violence, but rather conditions in black areas of Chicago that make them far more violent than almost anywhere else in the US. Of course, dealing with conditions is hard, and doesn't lend itself to promoting an agenda.

Today, on the NYT's front page is Flooding of Coast, Caused by Global Warming, Has Already Begun

Completely absent from this story is any record of changes in sea levels, the rates of change, how long the change has been going on, or any other causes of sea level change.

After a few seconds poking around, I found the Tybee Island Sea Level Rise Plan .

The full tide gauge record at Fort Pulaski indicates that long-term
sea-level rise is largely responsible for the increased number of tidal flood events on US
Highway 80.

The island has already experienced approximately 10 inches of sea-level rise since
1935 …

A graphic on page 17 shows that sea level has indeed increased — by a foot in the last 100 years, with a linear trend.

Why aren't those details in the NYT story?

It may well be that the WSJ commits similar serial crimes against Journo 101, and that because of my prejudices, I'm blind to them. But, despite that, I somehow doubt it. Also, it seems to me that the NYT has gotten markedly worse in this regard over the last year or so.

Why is it asking too much for reporters to report?

Friday, September 02, 2016

Is This Right?

The following cute bit of humor is going about at the moment:

Hahahaha, as my daughters would text. Obviously, a really, really nerdy bit of humor, therefore right up my alley.

But here's the thing, I don't think the top one is fully correct.  For example, if I go to Wolfram Alpha and enter lim 1/(x-8) as x->8 it responds with "(two sided limit does not exist)" because you get infinity if you approach it from greater than 8 and decreasing and minus infinity if you approach it from less than 8 and increasing as shown in the following plot.

What do my nerdy readers think? Is it not quite right? Or is it okay? Is the default to always approach the limit from the positive side decreasing? Or from the side that gives you positive infinity? Or what?

Monday, August 29, 2016


While researching the previous post about the University of Chicago, I came across this testimony to the bankruptcy of the social sciences, from, of all places, the UoC: Behavioral economics helps boost fuel and carbon efficiency of airline captains

The large-scale study, which incorporated data from more than 40,000 unique flights, found significant savings in carbon emissions and monetary costs when airline captains were provided with tailored monthly information on fuel efficiency, along with targets and individualized feedback. The behavioral effects of such interventions are currently estimated as the most cost-effective way to prevent a metric ton of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

This is what the study (hidden behind a paywall) had to say for itself:

Understanding motivations in the workplace remains of utmost import as economies around the world rely on increases in labor productivity to foster sustainable economic growth. This study makes use of a unique opportunity to “look under the hood” of an organization that critically relies on worker effort and performance. By partnering with Virgin Atlantic Airways on a field experiment that includes over 40,000 unique flights covering an eight-month period, we explore how information and incentives affect captains’ performance. Making use of more than 110,000 captain-level observations, we find that our set of treatments—which include performance information, personal targets, and prosocial incentives—induces captains to improve efficiency in all three key flight areas: pre-flight, in-flight, and post-flight. We estimate that our treatments saved between 266,000-704,000 kg of fuel for the airline over the eight-month experimental period.

Unless Virgin Atlantic Flight Operations is hopelessly negligent, this cannot possibly be true.

At my airline, flight plans specify the most economical available altitude and airspeed. Flight Management Systems are exquisitely tuned to use the best power setting for takeoff and climb, and are equally focused on attaining the best descent profile.

The Flight Operations Manual sets out criteria for Auxiliary Power Unit usage, single engine taxi, speeds and configurations on departure, and energy management on arrival.

All of this is backed up by frequent line checks, quality assurance observations, and continuous data downlinks.

The requirements and guidance are clear; the only variable is pilots' skill in achieving them within the context of the operational environment.

Spoiler alert: performance information, personal targets and prosocial incentives — uhh, oh never mind — have nothing to do with that.

Which is why I'm quite certain this is the last anyone will hear of this seminal! study!

Restating the Seemingly Obvious

The NYT ran a story last week about the University of Chicago's unambiguous refusal to coddle its students, or allow the heckler's veto:

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own,” John Ellison, dean of students, wrote to members of the class of 2020, who will arrive next month.

So what. A restatement of, particularly in the university setting, should be the glaringly obvious.

Except, as any mild familiarity with that clown car we charmingly refer to us a liberal arts education, it is instead a pointed reminder to any potential students to look elsewhere for cosseting and indoctrination.

Except for the reflexive nod in the direction of journalistic bias — in what regard is The Federalist conservative? — the story is pretty well balanced. Along the way, they quoted Kevin Gannon — aka The Tattooed Professor — who teaches history at Grand View University in Des Moines. Trigger Warning: Elitism, Gatekeeping and Other Academic Crap certainly let me know what to expect, and I was not disappointed.

There are several paras of bloviation and cant, and the assumption that the University of Chicago's letter was an effect without cause.

Then, and I'm sure you, too, saw this coming from a semester away:

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the backlash against so-called “political correctness” in higher education has intensified in direct variation with the diversification of the academy, areas of scholarship, and-most significantly-the student population.

Because racism and sexism.

Then he provides the rationale for trigger warnings:

For every ginned-up hypothetical scenario of spoiled brats having a sit-in to protest too many white guys in the lit course, there are very real cases where trigger warnings or safe spaces aren’t absurdities, but pedagogical imperatives. If I’m teaching historical material that describes war crimes like mass rape, shouldn’t I disclose to my students what awaits them in these texts? If I have a student suffering from trauma due to a prior sexual assault, isn’t a timely caution the empathetic and humane thing for me to do?

Aside from the obligatory nod in the direction of racism — progressives must have a quota to fill — he calls into question either his professional competence, or his students' intelligence. Could be both How so? If Prof Tats is competent then his syllabi will describe the course and associated materials in sufficient detail to let students know what they are getting in for. Syllabi are themselves trigger warning.

Competently prepared that is.

Meaning students don't need trigger warnings. If they exercise sufficient due diligence, that is.

And that is before getting to the information problem: how are professors to know their students' sensitivities?

But wait, there's more. Just as coercion follows socialism, so censorship follow progressive academics:

To move from the hypothetical to the real, the Virginia Tech students who protested their university’s invitation to Charles Murray to deliver a lecture weren’t some sort of intellectual gestapo, they were members of a community calling out other members’ violation of the community’s ethos. Murray is a racist charlatan who’s made a career out of pseudoscientific social darwinist assertions that certain “races” are inherently inferior to others.To bring him to campus is to tell segments of your student community that, according to the ideas the university is endorsing by inviting Murray, they don’t belong there. This isn’t a violation of academic freedom. It’s an upholding of scientific standards and the norms of educated discourse-you know, the type of stuff that colleges and universities are supposed to stand for, right?

Translated: disagreement is verboten.

Prof Tat has no qualms about stopping other people hearing about something with which he clearly has no knowledge.

Not that has ever been a barrier to progressives; after all, every idea they have is true because they have it.

Perhaps the UoC was really just engaged in trolling, as both the story and various comments charge. Alternatively, the UoC may have perceived a coming collapse of universities as a concept, and wants to distance the UoC brand as much as possible.

Oh, and providing fair warning that students whose SJW zealotry inclines them towards thought policing, to either restrain that zealotry, face expulsion, or go elsewhere.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

What's that Saying about Having and Eating Cake?

Near as I can tell, the NYT has decided to emulate that young adult amateur webzine, Slate.

Clearly, it is time for a fisking.

In other words, journalism, to the extent it ever existed at the Paper of Record, has now descended to clickbait. To wit: When the Pilot is a Mom: Accommodating New Motherhood at 30,000 Feet.

Boarding a flight can feel like stepping into a time capsule — men typically fly the plane, while most flight attendants are still women. [And the rest are gay. Just saying.] Which is why a female pilot from Delta Air Lines did something dramatic at a union meeting recently.

I think there is a term for this antecedent — men fly the plane, women are flight attendants — and the consequent is, uh, ummm …

Standing before her male colleagues, the captain unbuttoned her uniform, strapped a breast pump over the white undershirt she wore underneath, and began to demonstrate the apparatus. As the machine made its typical “chug, chug, chug” noise, attendees squirmed in their seats, looked at their feet and shuffled papers.

… just on the tip of my tongue … savor it, and there it is! Yes, the famous non sequitur, right up there in the annals of journalistic foolishness with the Fox Butterfield Effect.

It was the latest episode in what has proved to be a difficult workplace issue to solve: how to accommodate commercial airline pilots who are balancing new motherhood.

With? Enquiring minds want to know about the unmentioned counter poise. Balancing with what? Melons? Cantaloupes? Peaches? How is it the author didn't write, nor the editor insist upon "how to balance new motherhood with being a commercial airline pilot"?

This is a sure sign of clickbait. Superficial attention seeking is rarely overly bothered with silly details like syntax and reason.

But the flight deck of a jumbo jet isn’t a typical workplace. Pilots are exempt from a provision in the Affordable Care Act requiring employers to accommodate new mothers. At 30,000 feet, the issue touches not only on pilot privacy, but also aircraft safety.

Indeed, it isn't. Not merely because it isn't in all regards, but also because most flight decks aren't jumbo jets, and that non-jumbo flight decks are just as atypical as the jumbo kind. Never mind that at 30,000 feet, when it comes to balancing safety and privacy (Annalyn, did you see what I did there?), precisely no one should give even a tinker's damn about privacy.

“The airlines have maternity policies that are archaic,” said Kathy McCullough, 61, a retired captain for Northwest Airlines, which merged with Delta in 2008, who has advocated on behalf of the pilots to Delta management. “I am so glad that they’re stepping forward and taking a stand.”

One reason for the lack of rules is that women make up only about 4 percent of the nation’s 159,000 certified airline pilots — a number that has been slow to rise over the past decade or so.

Reality: thanks to patriarchal attitudes — and I'm being serious here — women were excluded from professional flying simply because they chose their plumbing poorly. In the early 1970s, overt discrimination started waning to the point where now poorly chosen plumbing has become brilliantly chosen plumbing: any woman with even the minimum qualifications will get an interview. And, absent glaring disorders on the order of uncontrollable drooling, will get hired. Consequently, the percentage of female airline pilots has skyrocketed from zero all the way to four. And stayed there. (Trigger warning: contains specious reasoning and sexist assumptions as means to avoid the readily apparent.)

(Fun facts: 96% of airline pilots are male; roughly 0% are gay. In contrast, of flight attendants, 78% are female, the rest gay. Because patriarchy.)

At Delta, a group of women pilots have banded together through a private Facebook page and have approached their union with formal proposals for paid maternity leave — unheard-of at the major airlines — because they say they would like to stay home to breast-feed their babies. At Frontier Airlines, four female pilots are suing the company for discrimination, seeking the option of temporary assignments on the ground while pregnant or nursing.

Oh noes, the dreaded private Facebook page.

There are reasons that paid maternity leave is unheard of at major airlines. Chief among them is that all pilots are treated the same, regardless of plumbing choice. My airline is typical. Pilots get one month sick pay per year. Unused sick pay accrues in a "disability bank". Pilots requiring more than a month sick time in a year can draw from their disability bank until it is zero. After that, they don't get paid.

Male, female, doesn't matter.

Just as with temporary ground assignments. No medically distressed pilots get them, male or female. Why? They don't exist. In yet another symptom of going full click-bait, the "journalist" never bothers to ascertain what these mythical beasts might be, instead taking as given that they roam airline rosters in large, slow, easily caught herds.

More than 40 years later, the major carriers still haven’t resolved this issue. They set their policies for pilots based on the collective bargaining agreements negotiated by the unions. But women of childbearing age account for just a sliver of union membership, so maternity leave and breast-feeding policies have not been at the top of union agendas.

Plus, some members oppose the proposals, citing the costs. One local union leader told several women in an email: “Having a child is a personal choice and asking the rest of us to fund your choice will be a difficult sell to the pilot group.”

I'm not sure why, but just as nearly all pilots are male, almost all are conservatives, and about the only ones who don't own guns live in places that don't allow them. Yours truly, for instance.

So it shouldn't come as a stunner that this is a group particularly inclined towards seeing compulsory payment for others' choices as socialism in a C-cup.

Female pilots can begin to lose wages months before a baby is born. Most contracts at major airlines force pregnant pilots to stop flying eight to 14 weeks before a baby’s due date.

I'm not at all certain from which data dumpster that comes, since the citation is glaringly absent. But it is decidedly whiffy. My airline allows pregnant pilots to use vacation whenever they choose. From the 21st week through a month after delivery, they may use available sick leave, then accrued long term disability, and unpaid leave of absence. And $200 for a maternity uniform.

My airline has nothing to say about when pregnant pilots stop flying. That is a fitness-for-flight issue. So long as a pregnant pilot is able to fulfill the requirements of the job, some of which are inherently not pregnancy friendly (E.g., being able to move the flight controls through their full travel, a particular issue for shorter women. It's amazing what the patriarchy can do.)

While their proposals differ, all say they aim for one thing: to avoid situations in which pilots have been leaving the cockpit in mid-flight for as long as 20 minutes, the amount of time often required to pump breast milk.

Hey, I have an idea. Let's introduce that evergreen journalistic trope, the person in the seat. Except let's make it the mother with her newborn in 17D: "The First Officer has a baby. How happy are you that she is taking a twenty minute break from the cockpit*?"

I'm guessing not happy at all. Obviously, in the new NYT clickbait world, some new mothers' opinions are worth more than others.

Consider what it took for First Officer Brandy Beck, a 41-year-old Frontier Airlines pilot, to pump breast milk. Once the plane was at cruising altitude and in autopilot mode, she would seek the agreement of her captain to take a break. In keeping with Frontier policy, the remaining pilot was required to put on an oxygen mask.

Next a flight attendant — to prevent passengers from approaching the lavatory — would barricade the aisle with a beverage cart. Then the attendant would join the captain in the cockpit, in keeping with rules that require at least two people in an airline cockpit at all times.

Odd. The NYT doesn't seem particularly inclined to wonder why it is OK for women to have a condition requiring absence from the flight deck for 20 mins at a whack, whereas a man similarly indisposed would lose his medical stat.

And what to do about the patriarchal Capt that says "Not only no, but capital NO"? (If I was that Capt, I would have agreed, and told the FO that if she didn't call in sick before the next leg, I'd remove her from the trip.)

Frontier’s management has argued that extended breaks from the cockpit raise safety issues. The company has not offered an in-flight alternative for breast pumping …

Gee. Ya think? And what alternative might there be that doesn't involve flying over fantasy land at a million feet?

Ms. Beck said that after nearly 20 years in the aviation industry, she assumed she could keep her job and nurse her baby. “I guess it never came to light in my mind that I couldn’t do both,” she said.

That would be a fool's conclusion, the kind that would shame even a village idiot. But, for the impressionable, the consequence of feminism: women can have as much as they want of what they want. Choices are for chumps.

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued no official rules for pilots who pump in-flight. But Alison Duquette, a spokeswoman for the agency, said that “leaving the flight deck for 20 minutes would not be acceptable” under most circumstances.

What the FAA really meant to say, and which it would if women were held as accountable for their actions as men is that for FO Beck to fly knowing she had a condition requiring her absence from the flight deck for 20 minutes is a knowing violation of FAR 117.5, Fitness for Duty.

Oh, and that most circumstances include all of them not involving a divert worthy medical emergency.

And the Delta and Frontier pilots know they are pressing an issue that still plagues a group long dominated by women: flight attendants.

This year, a flight attendant for Endeavor Air, a regional airline owned by Delta, filed a discrimination complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights, claiming the airline failed to provide reasonable breaks or private places to pump breast milk in her workplace. The commission is investigating.

Have any of these people ever been in an airplane? Even once?

“This is part of breaking down the cockpit door — that’s the glass ceiling here,” said Ms. Grossman, a professor at the Dedman School of Law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “How do you make a job work when it was designed without you in mind?”

Here's a lifestyle pro-tip. Reality wasn't designed with any of us in mind. Not only are doors not ceilings, but life, even for women, really does involve choices.

One would think that actually having a choice would be a good thing, compared to having none at all. Men, if they want to live happily with a woman have two choices: wage slave, or wage slave. But a woman can do pretty much whatever she pleases, and the zeitgeist insists that pleasing herself has no costs. She should be paid as much as those who did not take leaves of absence, her needs should be accommodated, no matter how impractical, foolish, or unfair those accommodations might be.

I have an idea. When presented with a fork in the road, take it. And accept the consequences.

* When I was at Northwest, there was a massive disappearing of every instance of "cockpit" from all flight manuals, to be replaced with "flight deck". On account of the obvious phallocentric connotations. Except that it derived directly from nautical term from the days of sail referring to a well deck where the tiller was located, and, because of the inherent confines, was also where cock fights were held.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Counter Intuitive?

When I see the terms "research" and "counter intuitive" in an article, it's amazing to me how often the supposedly counter intuitive results of the research I find perfectly intuitive. This seems to be especially true in the social sciences.

The latest such article to catch my attention states:
Dr Brinkman said the research was counter intuitive to popular thinking about exposing young people to babies...
And just what was so counter intuitive?
Digital baby dolls that wake up crying in the middle of the night and need feeding, rocking and nappy changes are supposed to deter teenagers from falling pregnant.
But in an ironic twist, researchers have found they have the opposite effect. [...]
“The most alarming figure is girls are 1.36 times more likely to have pregnancies if they were exposed to the babies,” Dr Brinkman said.
Well, personally, I think the most alarming figure was the cost of the study:
The findings of a 10-year program and study involving more than 1250 girls and costing more than $1.5 million has found the dolls are actually more likely to encourage motherhood.
That was a waste of $1.5 million. Has nobody other than me observed women cooing over someone else's baby? Looking at said baby with clear desire? Especially when there's a gaggle of such women? Perhaps I'm the only one who notices this because I once had a woman say to me, "when I see a young baby it hurts to not be pregnant." Oh wait, hold on, I'm not the only one who's been exposed to the concept of "baby fever":
Maybe it’s the tiny mews coming from a stranger’s passing stroller, the sweet smell of a friend’s new baby’s head or a glimpse of a onesie so cute it makes your ovaries hurt… whatever sets it off for you, most moms know the warning signs of baby fever. But while your mom and girlfriends might tease you about it, researchers from Kansas State University found that people—both men and women—actually do experience baby fever.
So I just don't see how it could possibly be a surprise that giving young fertile women a very realistic and somewhat cute doll might actually entice them to have a real baby.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Karl's Still Going Strong

Here's an interesting tidbit: Karl Marx is the most assigned economist in U.S. college classes:
More than 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the onset of market-economy practices in China, “The Communist Manifesto” still ranks among the three most frequently assigned texts at American universities. 
That’s according to data from Open Syllabus Project, which tracks books and other works assigned to students in more than 1 million syllabi.
That's pretty good staying power!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Go Forth and Multiply

A couple of paragraphs in an article titled How Anti-Discrimination Became a Religion, and What It Means for Judaism caught my eye (don't ask me how I happened upon that article - I have absolutely no idea!):
As for those who remain active members of the Jewish community, they will be divided among a large but shrinking cohort of mostly Reform and other religiously liberal Jews; a smaller but vigorous group of modern and centrist Orthodox Jews joined by remnants of the rapidly declining Conservative movement; and a large and rapidly growing group of ḥaredi or “ultra-Orthodox” Jews. 
At some point, indeed, this last-named group, whose current rate of per-year population growth stands at an astonishing 5.5-percent, will form a significant element of the public “face” of American Jewry.
Before I get to my main point, I first have to point out that even though I'm jewish through ancestry (though non-practicing), ultra-orthodox Jews are as strange and exotic to me as the Amish or Tibetan monks or something like that. For example, if, for some reason, I suddenly decided that I needed to go to some sort of religious service, while my first choice would be a Reform Jewish service, I'd much rather go to, oh, I dunno, let's say a Methodist service or something like that, rather than an ultra-Orthodox Jewish service.

As far as I can tell, the ultra-Orthodox could never really be the "face" or in any way representative of all American Jews. Or, at least, I rather hope not.

But there is that population growth thing to consider. 5.5 percent per year really is astonishing (basically more than doubling every generation and amounts to over 6 children per woman on average) and if maintained, would indeed eclipse the rest of the shrinking American Jewish population in just a handful of generations.

What really caught my attention, though, was how well this real-life scenario potentially fits the population simulations I did a while back:
The simulation is fairly simple. Start with a population of 1,000,000,000 people. There are two types of "genes" in this population. The most common and also dominant gene is the "barren gene" and compels its individual to produce one child on average. Given that it takes two parents to produce a child, if this were the only "gene," the population would halve every generation and mankind would indeed go extinct in only a few hundred years.

The second "gene" is the "fruitful gene" and potentially compels its individual to have three children on average. However, since this "gene" is recessive, the individual is only compelled to have three children if he or she has two of these "genes." At the start of the simulation, only five-percent of the genes are of this type. So not only is it recessive, it's also rare. If a double "fruitful" mates with a someone with at least one "barren gene", they split the difference and have two children.
This very pessimistic simulation shows the population dropping fairly precipitously for 15 to 20 generations until the "fruitfuls" finally become common enough to overwhelm the "barrens" and then the population comes roaring back in 20 to 30 generations.

Here, in real life, the non-ultra-Orthodox American Jews pretty much follow the "barren" pattern (somewhat more than one child per couple) and the ultra-Orthodox Jews are more than "fruitful" (more than 6 children per couple), at least at the moment. In addition, unlike the simulation where all mating is random making it unlikely for the rare "fruitfuls" to mate with each other until enough "barrens" have died out, the ultra-Orthodox clearly seek each other out at a far greater rate than would occur in random mating.

That's why when some folks get to hand-wringing about falling birthrates, I'm far from concerned. Some group will always be happy to go forth and multiply and be there to inherit the earth.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

His true greatest blunder?

Albert Einstein had an interesting life.

No, I do not mean revolutionizing physics and the human knowledge, or to become one of the most recognized faces in history. I mean he had, by any measure, a life full of interesting and rich experiences.

He got to closely witness the two World Wars and the advent of the Nuclear Age brought on his shoulders. He got to personally witness totalitarian - and racial - persecution. He got to witness the onset of communism in Russia and the rise of the Soviet Empire. He got to travel the world and experience many different cultures, in a time when that was a privilege for very few. When he took refuge in America, he had a good knowledge of much of the globe to compare to his new capitalist and rich home.

Before fame, he got to work within the bureaucratic machine in an alleged boring job (patent clerk), and afterwards in a few Universities owned by the State, so he was hardly a strange to Kafkanian government inefficiencies. Heck, he actually worked in Prague for a couple of years and had Kafka as an acquaintance.

And he got to witness all that from the height of a privileged mind, one that allegedly had much interest in society and the human condition, departing from the stereotype of the absent minded scientist.

All the above is to say that, to this blogger - a far lower mind than Einstein and possessing incomparably less world shattering life experiences - it is a complete mystery how Einstein could write this apology for Socialism.

It is a most daring effort for crackpots (and also real physicists) out there, since at least 1905, to try and prove Einstein wrong at his famous theories. I therefore invite the readers of this Great blog to take their shot at, in an once in a lifetime chance, really proving Einstein wrong upon reading his text. Beware though, for he is famed to always be right at the end - even when he was widely believed to be wrong, as the cosmological constant (his self declared greatest blunder) teaches us.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

This does not sit well

Now this comes to light:

What possible reason would the French government have for covering up the fact that many victims of the terrorist attack in Paris at the Bataclan music hall were apparently savagely tortured?

They not only covered it up, they're still lying about it today.
 The lies and coverup are the result of the government not trusting that the people can handle the truth. Horror of horrors if there's an anti-Muslim backlash or voters demand that the French government do more in the fight against ISIS. It's far easier to suppress the truth than deal with the reality that the terrorists are operating on another moral plane than the rest of us, which gives them a significant advantage. They don't have to worry about whether a bombing attack will kill civilians. It's part of their strategy for civilians to die. They don't care if we blanch when they execute a prisoner in a particularly gruesome way. They want us to be scared of them. And they have no qualms about carrying out the most gruesome torture on helpless victims. They want our horror to paralyze us.

But nations like France, which have done little to assist the U.S. in fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq, don't want to acknowledge the truth. If they did, they would have to do something about it. So they treat their citizens like little children and try to suppress the knowledge that there are monsters under the bed who want to do them harm.

This is not a strategy for victory against ISIS.
In a free society, people have a right to know these things.

Dennis Prager has his take on the matter:
It appears that no matter how many men, women, and children Islamists slaughter or maim, few in the West take Islamic terror seriously. This may sound odd given how much talk there is about terror, but a compelling case can be made for this assertion.

It is inconceivable that this situation will long endure. Most people in the West do not share its elites’ broken moral compass.
Michael Walsh says, "enough"

...And yet still the West refuses to take even the most rudimentary steps to protect itself against a known, sworn enemy. Why?
Lots of reasons: ennui, cultural Marxism, the mutation of the Left into a suicide cult that wants to take the rest of us with it. A loss of faith in organized religion (some of it brought on by the faiths themselves, or rather the imperfect men who represent and administer them). The transformation of government schools into babysitting services for subsections of the populace with severe cultural learning disabilities, no matter the skin color of the pupil. The marginalization of the very notion of excellence. And a political class that is little more than a collection of criminals, throne-sniffers, pantywaists and bum-kissers, all dedicated to their own enrichment.
 Western civilization has defended us for centuries. Isn't it about time we defended it?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Common Phrases

There are certain ideas that are frequently stated. In fact, some ideas are stated numerous times by nearly every parent who ever lived. For example, ideas about the value of hard work and the value of people believing what you say. In English alone, each of those ideas has been expressed countless billions of times by parents, teachers and mentors.

There are only so many ways to express each of those ideas. The simplest way to express the first value above is "work hard for what you want." "Work hard" is simpler but not quite complete. It can be modified and/or embellished, for example, "work hard for what you are passionate about" or "work hard for what you want in life" but there's really not that many different ways to convey that particular idea and keep it simple, short and concise.

So I'm more than a little surprised that Melania Trump is being accused of plagiarizing a speech many years ago by Michele Obama. Here are the two most similar (nearly identical) excerpts (non-matching punctuation removed by me in each since they were delivered verbally):
"...values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say..." Michelle Obama, 2008
"...values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say..." Melania Trump, 2016
That's not that long of a string of words discussing nearly universally held values with not all that many ways to say them in a speech where brevity and conciseness is important. I've certainly personally said or written "work hard for what you want in life" and "you do what you say" many, many times. Much of the rest of the wording is connectors (like "and," "that" and so forth). I personally wouldn't say "your word is your bond" because that's not my style but I'm certain that Michelle Obama is NOT the first person to coin that phrase and I've heard it many, many times as well.

There are two possibilities. One is that those 23 words are one of the most effective ways to convey those particular values in a speech and, as a result, Obama and Trump happened to use the same words. The other is that Melania Trump and supporting speechwriters pored through Michelle Obama speeches and deliberately copied those 23 words. Perhaps there are other possibilities as well, but I think those are the most likely.

Of those two possibilities, the first seems far, far more likely to me. As I write this, I think "they" are still investigating, so I'm curious as to what the final outcome is.

But if that is considered plagiarism, I'm certain that many of the one to two dozen word strings I've written in this blog (and elsewhere) certainly match something somebody else somewhere sometime has written. In which case you can look down your nose at me as a lowly plagiarist too! Sorry, we can't all be perfectly original all of the time.