Monday, June 27, 2016

USE

Lumo offers his usual fair, balanced, and dispassionate analysis of a new plan to turn the EU into the United State of Europe.

The German foreign minister previously said that he didn't want a deeper integration anymore. However, the Polish TV TVP, Sputnik, TheNews.PL, The Express, and numerous others have pointed out a remarkable 10-page document penned by the German and French foreign ministers whose goal is to complete the project that Germany didn't quite complete around 1942.

OK, Now it's Personal

Or at least business.

Those darn limeys are hitting my personal portfolio. Who should we bomb?

Have we got a drone over Boris Johnson's place?

About Immigration?

Was Brexit about immigration? Tyler Cowen comes down on the side of a nuanced yes.

As I interpret what happened, ultimately the vote was about preserving the English nation, and yes I use those last two italicized words deliberately; reread Fintan O’Toole. Go back and read English history. For centuries, England has been filled with English people, plus some others from nearby regions. Go visit Norfolk and also stop in Great Yarmouth, once described by Charles Dickens as “…the finest place in the universe,” and which, for whatever decline it may have experienced, still looks and feels like England. London does not.

As Zack Beauchamp notes (in a piece which is mostly an example of what I am criticizing): “…the number of foreign-born people living in the UK has gone from 2.3 million in 1993 (when Britain joined the EU) to 8.2 million in 2014.”

In terms of distribution and influence, the impact of those numbers is much larger yet. London, the cultural center, business center, and political capital of England for many centuries, is now essential a global and indeed foreign city. I spent almost two weeks in London in 1979, and while I clearly prefer the new version the difference is glaringly obvious to me, as I am sure it is all the more to most English people. (And that contrast is clearest to the older English of course, and that helps explain one of the most pronounced demographic features of how people voted; it is inappropriate how many Remain supporters are cursing the arguably better informed preferences of the elderly.)

Similar tensions exist in almost all the countries that have allowed extensive immigration, even nations of immigrants like the US. This is especially true in the case of immigrants who, for numerical or cultural reasons, resist assimilation. Multiculturalism has always been more of aim than an achievement.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Arts in Decline?

Leading arts professors keep saying so. Pinker has a theory why:

The dominant theories of elite art and criticism in the twentieth century grew out of a militant denial of human nature. One legacy is ugly, baffling, and insulting art. The other is pretentious and unintelligible scholarship. And they’re surprised that people are staying away in droves?

Pinker, Steven. The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (p. 416). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

One trouble, he says, is that their art is based on a discredited theory of human perception, based on - you may have already guessed - the idea of the mind as a blank slate, instead of one with lots of built in categories including detectors for pretentious bullshit. OK, he didn't actually say the very last bit, but I think he at least hinted at it.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Can the EU be Saved?

Thursday was a bad day for those who thought the EU was a good idea, even if it was badly implemented. George Soros thinks that its disintegration is now all but irreversible, and he is hardly alone in that opinion. What would need to be done to fix it? I have no idea, but as usual I won't let that stop me:

A simple federal constitution in which citizens rights are outlined and federal governmental powers specified and delimited, with no special privileges. It should be short enough for any citizen to read it twenty minutes.

A democratically elected government with real powers - possibly a two chambered parliament modeled after the US.

Unified defense, trade, and finance.

Does that sound a lot like a United States of Europe? Well, duh, but one could initially make the central state weak enough permit a lot of local autonomy. You want to be able to avoid situations like the Portugal, Ireland, Greece etc. crisis where in effect Germany made decisions for everybody and the highest priority was protection of the bad loans of German bankers.

Who to Blame?

I mean aside from the usual idiots: Cameron, Johnson, British geezers..., etc. Kevin Drum takes a look at a long list of suspects.

Here he is on Angela Merkel:

For all the praise she gets, Angela Merkel has been one of the most disastrous European leaders in my lifetime. She's as responsible for Brexit as anyone I can think of, thanks to two catastrophic decisions she made.

The first was her insistence on punishing Greece following its collapse after the Great Recession. There's plenty of blame to go around on all sides for the Greece debacle, but as the continent's economic leader Germany held most of the high cards during negotiations over Greece's fate. Merkel had a choice: (a) punish Greece for running up unsustainable debts and lying about them, or (b) accept that Germany bore much of the blame itself for the crisis and that Greece had no way of rescuing itself thanks to the straitjacket of the common currency. The former was a crowd pleaser. The latter was unpopular and would have required sustained, iron-spined leadership. In the event, Merkel chose to play to the crowds, and Greece has been a basket case ever since—with no end in sight. It hardly went unnoticed in Britain how Europe treated a country that was too entangled with the EU to either fight back or exit, and it made Britain's decision to forego the common currency look prescient. And if that had been a good choice, maybe all the rest of "ever closer union" wasn't such a great idea either.

Merkel's second bad decision was more recent. Here is David Frum: "If any one person drove the United Kingdom out of the European Union, it was Angela Merkel, and her impulsive solo decision in the summer of 2015 to throw open Germany—and then all Europe—to 1.1 million Middle Eastern and North African migrants, with uncountable millions more to come." It's hard to fault Merkel for this on a humanitarian basis, but on a political basis it was a disaster. The barely-controlled wave of refugees Merkel encouraged has caused resentment and more all over Europe, and it unquestionably played a big role in the immigrant backlash in Britain that powered the Leave vote.

Why I'm Such a Hairy Guy

It started in the Carboniferous. Hair, scales and feathers all have a common ancestor back then or before, according to this NYT story by Nicholas St. Fleur.

Reptiles have scales. Birds have feathers. Mammals have hair. How did we get them?

For a long time scientists thought the spikes, plumage and fur characteristic of these groups originated independently of each other. But a study published Friday suggests that they all evolved from a common ancestor some 320 million years ago.

This ancient reptilian creature — which gave rise to dinosaurs, birds and mammals — is thought to have been covered in scale-like structures. What that creature looked like is not exactly known, but the scales on its skin developed from structures called placodes — tiny bumps of thick tissue found on the surface of developing embryos.

Once again we learn that theories of independent evolution fall victims to the facts. It seems that evolution is pretty conservative: when it comes up with a good idea, it tends to stick with it.

Leviathans

In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently, not culture of the earth, no navigation, nor the use of commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short........Hobbes, Leviathan

Hobbes had a jaundiced view of human nature, a view that has plenty of supporting evidence. The rise of the modern state has clearly greatly reduced internal carnage. If individuals can't be trusted, though, how much less can states? Again history offers a harsh verdict. War and pillage make their bloody path through its every page.

The exceptional cases almost always involve a large scale leviathan - The Roman Empire, for example, and today, the US hegemony. Periods of peace have always tended to lull people into believing that peace is the natural state of things, and such illusions frequently lead them to be enslaved by the more bloody minded.

The European Union was conceived as a beneficent leviathan to quell the incessant wars that have troubled Europe for millennia. It was always a flabby leviathan, but, together with NATO, it has more or less worked for the last half century plus. It has long needed serious reform, but now the stupid stupid British have decided to demolish it. The young of Britain aren't happy, but the young have always paid the price for the folly of the old.

Europe is now a miscellaneous collection of tiny, weak states, almost none of which have any substantial capability for self-defense. Except for the US, and NATO, these vain little statelets would be gobbled up by somebody hungry.

The US, too, is turning inward, and Europe is likely to be left more to its own devices. There is essentially no sign that European states, individually or collectively, are willing to face or solve their problems. I don't think Europe can avoid dissolution without forming "a more perfect union," and I see no sign of that.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Now What?

The real question in my mind is can the EU survive this amputation? It's not very functional and appears incapable of reforming itself. It's most serious problems, I think, are lack of unifying political and economic institutions. With nationalist sentiment running high, any chance for reform seems remote. The whole shaky contraption could easily come apart.

I suspect England will wake up with a major hangover, but I guess that it is unlikely to be of much strategic or economic importance in the future.

D*I*V*O*R*C*E

I predict that the divorce will be nasty, with major fights over child custody and support.

Nikkei currently down 1335 points, Japanese seem to be taking it hard.

Pound down 16 cents.

Predicted Brussels response: "And the horse you rode in on."

Mad Dogs, Englishmen - Is There a Difference?

From the NYT:

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

ANSWER VOTES PCT.

Remain 12,021,165 48%

Leave 12,814,092 52

306 out of 382 counting areas

11:40 PM ET

Looks like it might be over. Pound is down $0.13 on the dollar.

Asian markets and pound crashing.

Behavioral Genetics

Pinker starts his chapter on children with the so-called three laws of behavioral genetics:

The First Law: All human behavioral traits are heritable.

The Second Law: The effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than the effect of the genes.

The Third Law: A substantial portion of the variation in complex human behavioral traits is not accounted for by the effects of genes or families. The laws are about what make us what

Pinker, Steven. The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (p. 373). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The pillar of the Second Law is the evidence showing that siblings reared in the same family are at most only slightly more similar than siblings raised apart. He concludes from this that parenting choices have very small effects on children's development.

It seems to me that he is leaving out a very crucial aspect of the unique environment of a child reared with a sibling. There is only so much social/emotional ecospace in a family, and that fact induces siblings to choose different paths. If the first child is a hell-raiser, the second may become more docile to fill the empty spot in the family ecosystem, and vice-versa. Similar effects can occur for the math whiz, sports star, science geek, etc. If this difference in environment is as large as the effects of different parents it helps explain the fairly large Third Law effect and tends to discredit Pinker's version of the Second Law.

Real Trannies

Naturally Nietzsche was there first:

As quoted by Steve Hsu:

All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the superman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end. -- Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Of course I found Nietzsche's Superman rather revolting - to the extent I understood it. But now we are faced with the prospect of really trans-human creations, either as genetically enhanced humans (not very likely, I think) or some sort of cyborg (still not likely) or robotic (likely) replacements. If such replacements deserve their place, though, I like to think that they will see their predecessors as perhaps pathetic but still heroic.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Not About Sex?

One gender feminist idea that has gained a lot of credence even among those who ought to know better is the claim that "rape is not about sex." Instead, claimed Susan Brownmiller, the apparent originator of this theory:

From prehistoric times to the present, I believe, rape has played a critical function . . . it is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.

Pinker, Steven. The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (p. 361). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This notion may be transparently silly, but the corollary that "rape is not about sex" has achieved rather wide currency, despite the fact that it is perfectly analogous to the equally ridiculous "bank robbery is not about the money." Instead, I guess, it's part of a hundred thousand year plot to keep bankers in their place. Here is Brownmiller in its defense:

BROWNMILLER ASKED A revealing rhetorical question:

Does one need scientific methodology in order to conclude that the anti-female propaganda that permeates our nation’s cultural output promotes a climate in which acts of sexual hostility directed against women are not only tolerated but ideologically encouraged?

Pinker, Steven. The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (p. 364). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[Equity feminist Wendy] McElroy responded: “The answer is a clear and simple ‘yes.’ One needs scientific methodology to verify any empirical claim.”

Pinker, Steven. The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (p. 364). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

If you are selling nonsense, though, the last thing you want is the scientific method.

The Cernette

Lumo is not giving up. He isn't claiming that the 750 GeV bump is still there, but he says that his sources are not yet saying that it has disappeared.

I figure that he is still pretty plugged in.

So, don't give up, yet anyway.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Things that Go Bump in the Night

Might not include 750 GeV diphoton excesses.

Sigh!

The World's Smartest Man Weighs In

From Terry Tao:

It ought to be common knowledge that Donald Trump is not fit for the presidency of the United States of America

Leviathan

Pinker:

As a young teenager in proudly peaceable Canada during the romantic 1960s, I was a true believer in Bakunin’s anarchism. I laughed off my parents’ argument that if the government ever laid down its arms all hell would break loose. Our competing predictions were put to the test at 8: 00 A.M. on October 17, 1969, when the Montreal police went on strike. By 11: 20 A.M. the first bank was robbed. By noon most downtown stores had closed because of looting. Within a few more hours, taxi drivers burned down the garage of a limousine service that had competed with them for airport customers, a rooftop sniper killed a provincial police officer, rioters broke into several hotels and restaurants, and a doctor slew a burglar in his suburban home. By the end of the day, six banks had been robbed, a hundred shops had been looted, twelve fires had been set, forty carloads of storefront glass had been broken, and three million dollars in property damage had been inflicted, before city authorities had to call in the army and, of course, the Mounties to restore order. 99 This decisive empirical test left my politics in tatters (and offered a foretaste of life as a scientist).

Pinker, Steven. The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (p. 331). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Welfare

I run a modest welfare program for birds. That is, I have a couple of bird feeders that I keep stocked with seed. Like any good conservative, I worry a bit about encouraging a culture of dependency as well as bankrupting the payer (namely, me).

Bird experts, or maybe just birdseed salesman pretending to be experts, tell me there is no danger of that kind of dependency, but who knows, really?

I have learned a couple of things, like how to identify lesser goldfinches and some of their cousins, and not to buy forty pound sacks of birdseed - back injuries are much more expensive than birdseed.

One welfare idea with some currency today is the guaranteed income. I don't like it, and neither do most other taxpayers. A much better idea is some kind of guaranteed job. People need the work almost as much as they need the money.

If, as seems likely, computers do most of the real work of the economy in the near or immediate future, the current shortage of jobs in the world will only get worse. In which case we either starve billions or find some kinds of socially useful methods of redistribution.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Cool and Cloudy

At the end of May, Arctic sea ice extent was nearly 1 million km^2 less than in the record low year of 2012, and some Chicken Littles began prophesying the end of Arctic ice this summer. Cooler heads noted that it was still early, and that weather still had to be heard from. May and June seem to be crucial to setting up a big Arctic melt, as the formation of melt ponds decreases albedo and increases absorption of the big time insolation in June and July.

Despite the big lead in ice extent, May ended with only modest melt ponding, and June has proved cool and cloudy in the Arctic. The cloud cover blocks the Sun just when it's highest in the sky, and instead of insolation the Arctic gets insulation. Unsurprisingly, the big lead 2016 had in ice extent and ice area (disappearance) has largely vanished, even briefly turning negative, but for the last week or so 2016 has kept a small lead.

So what about that ice vanishing thing? It's the probability of an ice free Arctic this Summer that appears to be vanishing. A new record low could still happen, but its prospects don't look great either, since the cool and cloudy weather is expected to last into July. A couple of wild cards are the ice volume (thought to be greater than 2012 but somewhat uncertain) and sea surface temperatures, which are known to be very warm.

See Arctic Sea Ice Forum, for lots of data, pictures, opinions, etc.

TBD

The Blank Slate BS is Not Dead

Pinker's 2016 afterword to The Blank Slate sees some progress in acknowledgement of biological reality in the social sciences and society more generally, but a lot of BS survives. He discusses a number of more recent examples, including the feminist lynch mob that helped bring down Larry Summers at Harvard. Here is another observation likely to raise feminist hackles.

Another recent journalistic obsession has been the incidence of sexual coercion among university students. The only mentionable explanation is that college campuses, like American society in general, have a “rape culture” that glorifies and encourages the crime. Entirely taboo is a far more plausible explanation: since that men, on average, are more eager for impersonal sex than women are, if you throw large numbers of young men and woman together in a “sex-positive” campus culture with plentiful opportunities for private drunken hookups, encounters that verge on and shade into sexual coercion will be among the hazards. Indeed, this bit of common sense is seen as tantamount to accepting, forgiving, or even condoning rape— perhaps the most bizarre among the many blunders in moral reasoning that are still part of the conventional wisdom when it comes to human nature.

Pinker, Steven. The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (p. 434). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Our Moral Sense

Our moral sense licenses aggression against others as a way to prevent or punish immoral acts. That is fine when the act deemed immoral truly is immoral by any standard, such as rape and murder, and when the aggression is meted out fairly and serves as a deterrent. The point of this chapter is that the human moral sense is not guaranteed to pick out those acts as the targets of its righteous indignation. The moral sense is a gadget, like stereo vision or intuitions about number. It is an assembly of neural circuits cobbled together from older parts of the primate brain and shaped by natural selection to do a job.

Pinker, Steven. The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (p. 270). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

And so that moral sense is a sword with a double edge. On the one hand, it helps maintain a society. On the other, it also licenses the suicide bomber and the assassin of politician you disagree with.

Pig Slapdown

WB has chastised me for blaming bankers (from Gringotts or elsewhere) for the student loan mess. Fair enough, I suppose, as there is plenty of blame to go around. Congress wanted to make college affordable for more people without actually spending any money. Schools wanted to scarf up more money. Bankers, who are, after all, in the business of lending money, didn't want to be cut out of a new business opportunity, and didn't want to wind up on the hook for a bunch of bad loans. Students and their parents wanted educational opportunities. When the resulting politics/sausage making was done, we got the mess we got - a system where a bunch of bad loans were made because lenders weren't really lending their own money.

I happen to think that loans are a bad way to finance education. I recently opened an old book and found a receipt for my term's tuition way back when I was an undergrad - $99.00 Not free, but damn cheap by today's standards, even with inflation thrown in, so the US once had a nearly free college education. We abandoned that policy mostly because of the mania for cutting taxes on the wealthy.