Archive for April, 2014

Dawkins’ Faith

The egalitarian religion finds the ways of the infidel difficult to understand.

ADDED: Harsh-but-fair comment on Dawkins by ‘aisaac’ (2013/10/31, 7:00 am): “Not only does he not dare to tell the truth, he doesn’t even keep his mouth shut about things he doesn’t dare to tell the truth about.”

April 18, 2014admin 26 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Discriminations

How it Ends

You thought Slate had a lock on Cathedralist direct current? Then you probably haven’t been keeping up with The Atlantic.

I’m old enough to remember when The Atlantic Monthly was a serious magazine. That was before James Fallows took it over, and drove it into a ditch. It has since progressed to Atlantic Trench depths of comprehensive intellectual ruin. Some gratitude is in order for the clarity with which it exposes our destination, guided by the supreme Leftist Law: Any cultural institution that is not dominated by the oppressed talking about their oppression is oppressive.

As Professor Zaius explains in the comment section of the vibrant debate article:

… the judges, while they are experienced debaters and coaches themselves, don’t by and large subscribe to the notion that the “best argument” in conventional terms should win. Many, if not most, see debate as a means for advancing social justice and dismantling oppressive hierarchies of whiteness and patriarchy. Inasmuch as “logic” upholds these hierarchies and personal experiences from POC and non-linear storytelling and music fight them, then “logic” should lose.

We’re so screwed.

ADDED: “… while one has some sympathy for Hardy and the other traditional debate do-gooders, they seem to be pining for a format, and a world, that has already passed. Have a look at Twitter. Or MSNBC. Or the New York Times. Or Attorney General Eric Holder. Or any of the rest of the grievance-mongering chattering class for whom the unbeatable trump card these days is discerning ‘racism’ in their opponents. Debate isn’t what it used to be. The college kids might as well learn this brute fact sooner rather than later.”

April 18, 2014admin 19 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Discriminations , Media
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Quote notes (#74)

Richard Fernandez on current geopolitical mind-games:

Putin is daring [Obama] to over-extend; to tread upon the European ice, which he knows in his heart will cave in under Obama. Fighting an all out sanctions battle would force Obama to rely on the EU, which Putin calculates will abandon him. In the resulting debacle, not only would NATO be shattered, Obama would be too. [… ]

One reason why Putin has made a special effort to humiliate the president is that his profilers may have pegged Obama as suffering from narcissistic personality disorder. Putin the secret policeman must be thinking: how do you get a narcissist to melt down? Answer: by personally and publicly shaming him, thereby provoking a narcissistic rage.

That rage can take either of two forms: a reckless act or a withdrawal into a fantasy in which the narcissist remains invincible in some universe of his own.

Either would suit Putin.

Related from Fernandez here, and here. For those who can’t get enough of that ‘back to the 1930s‘ feeling there’s WRM (sensible but lost) and Paul Johnson (lost), but both picking up on the real rhythm.  It’s a mess (and it’s going to get a lot worse).

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April 17, 2014admin 17 Comments »

Imitation Games

In a five-year-old paper, Tyler Cowen and Michelle Dawson ask: What does the Turing Test really mean? They point out that Alan Turing, as a homosexual retrospectively diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, would have been thoroughly versed in the difficulties of ‘passing’ imitation games, long before the composition of his landmark 1950 essay on Computing Machinery and Intelligence. They argue: “Turing himself could not pass a test of imitation, namely the test of imitating people he met in mainstream British society, and for most of his life he was acutely aware that he was failing imitation tests in a variety of ways.”

The first section of Turing’s essay, entitled The Imitation Game, begins with the statement of purpose: “I propose to consider the question, ‘Can machines think?'” It opens, in other words, with a move in an imitation game — with the personal pronoun, which lays claim to having passed as human preliminarily, and with the positioning of ‘machines’ as an alien puzzle. It is a question asked from the assumed perspective of the human about the non-human. As a Turing Test tactic, this sentence would be hard to improve upon.

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April 16, 2014admin 19 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Discriminations , Technology

Quote notes (#73)

Adam Gurri on Diane Coyle’s new book GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History:

One thing I personally came away from Coyle’s book with is the feeling that NGDP targeting and similar notions are probably a bad bet. Depending on what particular recipe has been agreed upon for calculating GDP, policy can easily end up optimizing to very unproductive ends. For example, Coyle mentions how changes in the recipe ended up far overstating the financial sector’s component. The larger the component of GDP the financial sector makes up, the more likely the government is to bail out big firms to prevent a big collapse — after all, the further headline GDP falls quarter over quarter, the more incumbent politicians sweat about losing their seats.

This blog has already dismissed macroeconomic aggregates as politicized ‘garbage‘ — so I agree.

It’s hard to tell from this short review whether Gurri sees the search for “a better proxy for welfare” as worthwhile or hopelessly Quixotic. Regardless, with utilitarian distractions firmly side-lined, it would be intrinsically valuable to arrive at a realistic measure of economic performance (i.e. improvement in productive capability), to provide guidance for systemic auto-correction. It’s well worth recalling how radically inadequate GDP is for this function.

ADDED: Related conundrums raised in James K. Galbraith’s review of Piketty — measuring capital is difficult.

ADDED: Scott Sumner vs Larry Summers (not an agonizing choice). This is good: “I’m a right wing liberal because I have a counterintuitive view of the world …”

ADDED: Scrap the CPI.

April 15, 2014admin 32 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Political economy

Scrap note (#10)

Back in Shanghai from Dunhuang today. It’s not an easy journey (taxi, overnight sleeper train, taxi, flight, taxi) so multi-dimensional disconnection and raggedness.


Lanzhou, the major gateway city to the West, didn’t win me over. It’s congested, and — upon superficial contact — almost wholly charmless. Given its extraordinary history and contemporary frontier-hub function, that’s a great disappointment. (Despite the grunge, a modest downtown apartment there still costs US$200,000.)

The taxi-ride from the train station to the airport is unusually long because the broken country made it hard to situate runways conveniently. The route we took on the way back took us past the rapidly-arising New Lanzhou City — which is huge. There’s some prospect of a few glitzy modern buildings, if the promotional posters are to be believed. Serried ranks of comparatively tasteful proletarian residential highrises make up the bulk of the New  City so far.


The Chinese West is weirdly comparable to the American West, but historically fragmented. It plays a similar role in the local movie industry, as an imaginative space of heroism, violence, and civilizational fragility. It’s vast, arid, and geographically sublime — recalling the (to me) stunning fact that China’s proportion of arable land is only fractionally larger than Australia’s. Arid mountains, deserts, and harsh scrubby plains stretch endlessly. Dangerous tribes with an exotic nobility populate the Western frontier myths. Foreigners tend to understand — perhaps even overestimate — the American fascination with the frontier, but China’s is nowhere near as thoroughly appreciated. (A fake ‘ancient Dunhuang’ has been created near the real one, catering to the huge appetite of the Chinese movie industry for historical ‘Westerns’.)

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April 14, 2014admin 7 Comments »

Scrap snaps (#2)

Photography is forbidden in the Dunhuang grottoes, and under the close supervision of the mandatory tour, this prohibition is strictly enforced. Photography is also forbidden in the adjacent Mogaoku Museum …

The spine of the museum consists of a row of (extremely impressive) cave reconstructions, sampled from among the 492 decorated caves at the site. (A two-hour tour of the site takes in perhaps 10.)

The following images are of reconstructions, not originals. The photographic quality is especially dire, given the unusual lighting conditions and cramped space. What I’m posting here is what I’ve got. (Click on images to expand.)

Cave 003:



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April 13, 2014admin 5 Comments »
FILED UNDER :History , Images

Quote notes (#72)

Henry Dampier on the Nerd Problem (extracted from among much additional goodness):

The population of San Francisco is just over 800,000. This has made it fairly easy for a significant portion of the people there to be displaced by a relatively small number of small, wealthy companies moving there. This combined with an anti-development attitude and a Communist-leaning local government has made it difficult for the city to absorb the gold rush influx.

The general anger is understandable. The way in which it’s being expressed by protesters would not be tolerated in a civilized country, but the US is not a civilized country. The protest problem is just a symptom of more significant issues within the political structure.

Nerds are the new Jews (and a disproportionate number of them are still the old Jews). It hurts to be stupid, and it’s obviously their fault.

April 12, 2014admin 4 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Discriminations

Scrap snaps (#1)

The Mogao Caves are located in a harsh place. (Click on images to enlarge.)




The caves shown are in the northern cluster, whose exterior features have not been defaced by reinforced concrete. The southern group has been externally ruined by Zhou Enlai (although he seems to have meant well), but its interiors are the great treasures of the site, and some are open to the public, by guided tour. Some images of southern cave interiors (reconstructions) to follow.

April 12, 2014admin 3 Comments »

Instant Publishing

Composition and publication are two different processes, but the distance between them is collapsing. Of the many ways new media trends might be defined, doing so in terms of such time compression, and process amalgamation, is far from the least accurate and predictive. The Internet accelerates writing in this specific way (perhaps among many others) — so that it approaches a near-instantaneous communicative realization, comparable to that of speech.

This can be elaborated variously. For instance, it might be re-articulated as an incremental suppression of privacy. The author of a book lives with his words in solitude, perhaps for years. An essayist, awaiting publication in a periodical, might wait for weeks, or even months. A blogger is consumed by self-hatred if his words remain private by the time he retires for the night, or early morning. A twitter-addict sustains a particle of semiotic privacy for mere seconds. (Speckle comes next.)

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April 11, 2014admin 11 Comments »