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Andreas Schou has been at 1 events

HostFollowersTitleDateGuestsLinks
Nicholas Kristof1,418,818The issue of the moment is Syria, so I'm delighted to host a Google+ hangout in which we'll be able to pose questions to Secretary of State John Kerry about Syria policy. I'll be joined by +Lara Setrakian, a journalist whom I've long admired who specializes in Syria. Andrew Beiter, a social studies  teacher and a regional education coordinator for the Holocaust Memorial Museum, will also be in the Hangout. Most of all, we'll be joined by all of you--so jump into the conversation on this page and leave us your questions. In particular, with this Hangout we want to involve teachers and students, so spread the word in the schools, please, and student questions are particularly welcome! This kind of online interview is something of an experiment, and we're still figuring out how to make it work best. So we also welcome your suggestions and guidance before and criticisms after. Syria: Weighing the U.S. Response2013-09-10 20:00:006973  

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Most comments: 91

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2015-06-25 23:26:27 (91 comments, 4 reshares, 15 +1s)Open 

Is this a thing? Not the guy with "aphantasia." But the baseline state.

Are all of you people almost literally seeing images in your head when you're asked to imagine something? I've always thought that the "mind's eye" was a not-particularly-apt metaphor, not something that was close to literal.

Most reshares: 40

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2015-06-30 20:46:14 (47 comments, 40 reshares, 115 +1s)Open 

No. It's not. 

The way the United States went after Islamic extremism was a moral and practical disaster: the government lashed out almost at random, imprisoning Muslims virtually at random, attacking countries with no connection to the problem at hand, and instituting mass surveillance programs that produced virtually no results. The orgy of misplaced state violence which occurred in the aftermath of 9/11 was a powerful statement against Islamic extremism -- but the state does not exist to make statements. 

Wars shouldn't happen simply to communicate that yes, we're taking this seriously. Arrests shouldn't happen simply to demonstrate a heightened level of suspicion. When states delegate the right to use violence on their behalf, those people to whom we've delegated have a responsibility to do what's effective, and what causes the least collateral damage, notw... more »

Most plusones: 115

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2015-06-30 20:46:14 (47 comments, 40 reshares, 115 +1s)Open 

No. It's not. 

The way the United States went after Islamic extremism was a moral and practical disaster: the government lashed out almost at random, imprisoning Muslims virtually at random, attacking countries with no connection to the problem at hand, and instituting mass surveillance programs that produced virtually no results. The orgy of misplaced state violence which occurred in the aftermath of 9/11 was a powerful statement against Islamic extremism -- but the state does not exist to make statements. 

Wars shouldn't happen simply to communicate that yes, we're taking this seriously. Arrests shouldn't happen simply to demonstrate a heightened level of suspicion. When states delegate the right to use violence on their behalf, those people to whom we've delegated have a responsibility to do what's effective, and what causes the least collateral damage, notw... more »

Latest 50 posts

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2015-06-30 23:48:24 (51 comments, 3 reshares, 54 +1s)Open 

Dispatches from Mormon Country

It's been interesting to see the LDS church pick its slow, clumsy path toward a better position on LGBT rights. It was widely reported that the Church funded California's Proposition 8. It was less widely reported that, simultaneously, the Church was supporting antidiscrimination law in Utah. 

The Church's reaction to Obergefell is very much of a piece with that trend. The Church has quietly told its members to follow the civil law in implementing Obergefell, and the official line from the Church is surprisingly gracious in defeat: 

The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility—even when we disagree. We affirm that those who avail themselves of laws or court rulings authorizing same‐sex marriage should not be treated disrespectfully. Indeed, the Church has advocated forright... more »

Dispatches from Mormon Country

It's been interesting to see the LDS church pick its slow, clumsy path toward a better position on LGBT rights. It was widely reported that the Church funded California's Proposition 8. It was less widely reported that, simultaneously, the Church was supporting antidiscrimination law in Utah. 

The Church's reaction to Obergefell is very much of a piece with that trend. The Church has quietly told its members to follow the civil law in implementing Obergefell, and the official line from the Church is surprisingly gracious in defeat: 

The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility—even when we disagree. We affirm that those who avail themselves of laws or court rulings authorizing same‐sex marriage should not be treated disrespectfully. Indeed, the Church has advocated for rights of same‐sex couples in matters of hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment, and probate, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.

The unofficial line was even more so. In my Facebook feed -- which contains a lot of very conservative LDS people from my home state -- a meme-ified version of this quote was the most common reaction:

It is very likely that every person in the Church knows someone--a family member or a friend--who is gay, lesbian, or bisexual. I also think it is very likely that many people do not know that they know a homosexual or bisexual person because that person is afraid to reveal that part of himself or herself for fear of being rejected, punished, or excluded. Nothing has suspended the commandment of Jesus to love one another and to bear one another’s burdens.

Christianity in general, and the LDS Church in particular, has had a difficult time balancing legalistic condemnation of homosexuality with the unequivocal commandment for Christians to love their neighbors. As harmful as the Church's treatment of its LGBT members has been, it's still more than a little touching to see people of faith struggling to reach a better accommodation between their church's best and worst impulses.___

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2015-06-30 20:46:14 (47 comments, 40 reshares, 115 +1s)Open 

No. It's not. 

The way the United States went after Islamic extremism was a moral and practical disaster: the government lashed out almost at random, imprisoning Muslims virtually at random, attacking countries with no connection to the problem at hand, and instituting mass surveillance programs that produced virtually no results. The orgy of misplaced state violence which occurred in the aftermath of 9/11 was a powerful statement against Islamic extremism -- but the state does not exist to make statements. 

Wars shouldn't happen simply to communicate that yes, we're taking this seriously. Arrests shouldn't happen simply to demonstrate a heightened level of suspicion. When states delegate the right to use violence on their behalf, those people to whom we've delegated have a responsibility to do what's effective, and what causes the least collateral damage, notw... more »

No. It's not. 

The way the United States went after Islamic extremism was a moral and practical disaster: the government lashed out almost at random, imprisoning Muslims virtually at random, attacking countries with no connection to the problem at hand, and instituting mass surveillance programs that produced virtually no results. The orgy of misplaced state violence which occurred in the aftermath of 9/11 was a powerful statement against Islamic extremism -- but the state does not exist to make statements. 

Wars shouldn't happen simply to communicate that yes, we're taking this seriously. Arrests shouldn't happen simply to demonstrate a heightened level of suspicion. When states delegate the right to use violence on their behalf, those people to whom we've delegated have a responsibility to do what's effective, and what causes the least collateral damage, not what is most satisfying to those aggrieved by the state's failure to act.

I do not trust the laws which would empower the police to pursue white supremacists with omnipresent surveillance and indiscriminate violence. I do not trust the police implementing those laws to use them to the benefit of black Americans. I do not understand why anyone else would, other than -- perhaps -- as a metaphorical howl of despair that the official outlets of state violence can't be trusted to deploy that violence reasonably. ___

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2015-06-30 18:16:49 (14 comments, 3 reshares, 16 +1s)Open 

Between 2005 and 2009, the largest blogs in the liberal blogosphere achieved escape velocity and moved into the mainstream media -- sometimes with their blogs, sometimes not. Drum, Yglesias, Marhsall, Klein, Marcotte, Valenti, Filipovic, Doyle, Ackerman, Franke-Ruta, Beyerstein. 

All of them moved into the more-or-less established liberal media, with more-or-less stable jobs. As the readership increased in size, the communities surrounding liberal bloggers basically disappeared into social media. What was left behind were either (a) bloggers who were too radical to get a job in the parts of the liberal media funded by rich people, or (b) bloggers who didn't have the the readership, or had fouled relationships with the mainstream media.

That included Melissa McEwan, Shakespeare's Sister. Who was a pretty good blogger, and who got seriously screwed by the end of her relationship... more »

Between 2005 and 2009, the largest blogs in the liberal blogosphere achieved escape velocity and moved into the mainstream media -- sometimes with their blogs, sometimes not. Drum, Yglesias, Marhsall, Klein, Marcotte, Valenti, Filipovic, Doyle, Ackerman, Franke-Ruta, Beyerstein. 

All of them moved into the more-or-less established liberal media, with more-or-less stable jobs. As the readership increased in size, the communities surrounding liberal bloggers basically disappeared into social media. What was left behind were either (a) bloggers who were too radical to get a job in the parts of the liberal media funded by rich people, or (b) bloggers who didn't have the the readership, or had fouled relationships with the mainstream media.

That included Melissa McEwan, Shakespeare's Sister. Who was a pretty good blogger, and who got seriously screwed by the end of her relationship with the Edwards campaign. Though that was a decade ago, the archives are gone, and my tastes have changed, it seems to me that I took a substantial number of views from her -- views which, ironically, I still hold, but which she would now likely disagree with. 

Among the radical blogs, there were some really interesting ones, and blogs that were more-or-less cults.* IBTP was one of the best-written, but also, behind the scenes, basically an abusive cult. If you followed the frontpage posts, they were all pretty much advice-columnist-y radical feminism. If you followed the comments section or any of the outbound links, it was this endless cycle of condemnation, confession, repentance and forgiveness for a variety of abstract sins against a changing standard, with straight women largely being the subject of that abuse. (I am somewhat biased here; I'm married to one of the subjects of that abuse.)

Somewhere between when I forgot to keep reading Melissa McEwan and the current day, all of the backpage activity became a similar cycle of confession and expiation, but stapled to extraordinarily conventional liberal politics. A lot of things which are common in Tumblr identity politics -- particularly, mandatory trigger warnings -- seem to come from the coevolution of the liberal-bloggers-who-never-quite-made-it, and the populations of liberal-tolerant radicals who suddenly became the majority populations of those comment sections.

Frankly, I think the explanation is essentially sociological: two communities with naturally low affinity were suddenly pushed into the same space, and were forced to develop norms to keep readership up and prevent metastasizing conflict. Trigger warnings, and the increasingly elaborate rules of etiquette surrounding privilege confessions, are a concession to the moral power of radicals in a space which is fundamentally center-left. The elaborate folk-psychological explanations for their use are only a post hoc justification. ___

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2015-06-26 21:30:23 (5 comments, 0 reshares, 21 +1s)Open 

One sometimes hears political activists complain of "suspiciously convenient timing" when media coverage of an important and controversial event related to their cause is drowned out by some unrelated news event dominating the headlines.  For instance, in domestic US politics, there were suspicions raised recently in some quarters that the various votes to give fast-track authority to the US president to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement were deliberately timed to coincide with other headline-grabbing events, such as the multiple shootings in Charleston, or the recent significant Supreme Court decisions on the Affordable Care Act and marriage equality.

But actually, the laws of probability predict such "convenient" coincidences to occur with a surprisingly high frequency, even in the absence of any conspiracy to co-ordinate timing (for reasons similar to... more »

One sometimes hears political activists complain of "suspiciously convenient timing" when media coverage of an important and controversial event related to their cause is drowned out by some unrelated news event dominating the headlines.  For instance, in domestic US politics, there were suspicions raised recently in some quarters that the various votes to give fast-track authority to the US president to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement were deliberately timed to coincide with other headline-grabbing events, such as the multiple shootings in Charleston, or the recent significant Supreme Court decisions on the Affordable Care Act and marriage equality.

But actually, the laws of probability predict such "convenient" coincidences to occur with a surprisingly high frequency, even in the absence of any conspiracy to co-ordinate timing (for reasons similar to those behind the birthday paradox, linked below).  To oversimplify things slightly, if

* a controversial event that the authorities would prefer not to draw attention to occurs every X days on average; and

* a spectacular event dominating the headlines occurs every Y days on average;

then just from random chance, we would have

* a coincidence in which a controversial event conveniently occurs on the same day as a spectacular event will occur every XY days on average.

The frequency of such coincidences also rapidly increases if one widens the window defining such a coincidence, for instance

* a controversial event will occur within a day of a spectacular event every XY/3 days on average;

* a controversial event will occur on the same week of a spectacular event every XY/7 days on average;

and so forth.

For instance, in this month of June in domestic US media, "controversial" events included two votes for TPP and one vote to reauthorise the Patriot act, while "spectacular" events included the Charleston shooting, two major Supreme Court decisions, a celebrity very publicly becoming transgender, and an extensively covered prison break, among others.  This suggests values of X and Y comparable to 10 and 5 respectively,  so that same-day coincidences should be expected about once every two months, and within-a-day coincidences once every two to three weeks.  This is admittedly a very back-of-the-envelope calculation involving a fairly short time interval of analysis and a rather subjective interpretation of what is "controversial" or "spectacular", but I expect these numbers to be of about the right order of magnitude.

One could in principle try to set up a more careful test to see if there is a statistically significant correlation between the timing of "controversial" and "spectacular" events, though given human nature I would expect that a negative result for such a test would do little to change the minds of someone who sees such a coincidence and is convinced that it is not purely due to chance.___

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2015-06-26 16:13:56 (18 comments, 5 reshares, 33 +1s)Open 

“I’m the one in the robes mother fucker”

“I’m the one in the robes mother fucker”___

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2015-06-26 15:48:43 (7 comments, 1 reshares, 67 +1s)Open 

I don't have much legal commentary, but, still: congratulations to the Supreme Court for releasing its marriage decision just in time to trigger the craziest rager of a Pride weekend in human history. 

I don't have much legal commentary, but, still: congratulations to the Supreme Court for releasing its marriage decision just in time to trigger the craziest rager of a Pride weekend in human history. ___

2015-06-26 15:32:26 (3 comments, 7 reshares, 28 +1s)Open 

Immediately after the Civil War, slavery was held, by the South, to have been peripheral to the conflict. Remember, slavery actually was the central question, appearing repeatedly in articles of secession and writings by Confederate officials. Slavery had been consolidating from 1840 on, transitioning from practicality to ideology. The 18th century had found it difficult to justify philosophically except as some kind of transitional state and even that seemed tenuous. The innovation in the mid-19th century was white supremacy: the idea that blacks were inherently inferior coupled with the notion that domination of them was the rightful order of the world. You can detect in it traces of many different ideologies agglomerating into it and perhaps someone will lay those out elsewhere. But shortly after the Civil War ended, slavery was abandoned as a justification, replaced with comparatively minor political... more »

Immediately after the Civil War, slavery was held, by the South, to have been peripheral to the conflict. Remember, slavery actually was the central question, appearing repeatedly in articles of secession and writings by Confederate officials. Slavery had been consolidating from 1840 on, transitioning from practicality to ideology. The 18th century had found it difficult to justify philosophically except as some kind of transitional state and even that seemed tenuous. The innovation in the mid-19th century was white supremacy: the idea that blacks were inherently inferior coupled with the notion that domination of them was the rightful order of the world. You can detect in it traces of many different ideologies agglomerating into it and perhaps someone will lay those out elsewhere. But shortly after the Civil War ended, slavery was abandoned as a justification, replaced with comparatively minor political and economic disputes.

This wasn't a churn, either, with slavery's defenders retreating from view while those who'd never seen slavery as central becoming more prominent. It was a widespread, nearly uniform revision of history throughout the South. Even Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, who'd said in 1861 that "[o]ur new Government is founded ... upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition" would later argue that this wasn't the case. Rather, the Civil War was held to be about personal and local interests in the face of depersonalizing industrialization and national centralization. It's a powerful theme which draws on a deeper, older tension in American life developed by Thoreau and the other transcendentalists. It was genuinely difficult for America to industrialize and the reimagination of the Republic in its face was a leading concern until it was finally overtaken by imperial* questions after World War II.

What motivated Southern revision of Civil War history was the genuine shock of their loss. As the ideology of slavery was consolidating, it was held to be a great strength of the South. While the laws passed suggest, rather, that it presented a constant risk of insurrection and was a source of existential fear, within the ideology of slavery it was an expression of natural order which ensured white equality and civilization. That was coupled to the notion of aristocracy and feudalism. For the South, their military leaders were men of immense virtue, modern knights whose command of battle and sense of honor fated them for victory.

But they lost and they lost badly. After the Civil War, the South was a smoking ruin under occupation. How to explain this defeat? Quickly, an interlocking narrative developed: Northern industrial might coupled with local backstabbing destroyed the Confederate cause of states rights. In this narrative, the Union represented the depersonalizing and centralizing forces of 19th century America pitted against the personal and local. To put the full rhetorical flourish on it, to give insight into the power of this mythology, I would say "it was a war of steel and steam against blood and bravery". That phrasing conjures well the romance of this narrative, even though it was entirely false. For the revisionist South, the Confederacy faced off against implacable, inhuman forces and lost.**

There are other elements as well, like downplaying the cruelty of slavery and characterizing Jim Crow as a solution to racial tension rather than a systematic oppression, which add up to a myth known as the Lost Cause. That myth would become central to the great disappointment of the 19th century, the end of Reconstruction to facilitate white reconciliation. As I demonstrated before, it's a narrative with power. If you can sweep aside the question of slavery, you can frame the Civil War in way sympathetic to the Confederacy. As it happens, this is what education in the South tends to do, presenting the Civil War as arising from complex economic, cultural, and political causes in which slavery is only just one issue. Other components make their appearances as well, like the idea that Southern generals were superior and Grant simply fought a war of attrition.

While the Confederate battle flag at South Carolina's state capitol went up specifically as a response to the civil rights movement, it had been used prior mostly for honoring Confederate veterans. Within the history, this seems as fraught and perverse as honoring German soldiers in World War II. While it is true that many acted bravely and sought only to serve their country or were simply conscripted and had no choice, the manifest evil of the enterprise they fought for corrupts any virtues they might possess. That is in the nature of evil, under its banner our saving graces become our damning faults. But within the revisionist history advanced immediately after the Civil War, it makes sense. Within it, the Civil War was stupid and should never have been fought. In the coloring most favorable to the Union, Southerners were hot-headed rebels who should have thought it through a little better. The trope "brother against brother" carries, through this revision, the implication that they remain brothers at the end.

But why downplay slavery specifically? Because it was a manifest evil. Downplaying slavery creates a sense of moral equivalence. Even if you thought slavery was right, decentralizing slavery halted the great question and tossed the war's causes into murkier details, robbing the North of moral ammunition. Thus, over time, the Confederate flag was sapped of its original meaning in the eyes of whites throughout the country. The Lost Cause became America's main structural idea of the Civil War, facilitating white reconciliation even as newly freed Americans were crushed under an essentially totalitarian state.

For the current debate, the relevant effect is smaller: the deracialization of the Confederate battle flag. Think back to the revisionist narrative and ask what, to a person believing it, that flag represents. It's obvious that, for them, it represents what they earnestly say it does: heritage, history, a sense of old-fashioned rebellion. And its use, in context, bears that out. It's largely used as a sort of rural punk emblem, as if to say "fuck y'all, I'm going to have my own fun". A look through the most common representations shows that side every time it's not about an Arcadian idyl. When people say that whites using the Confederate battle flag are being disingenuous or dissembling, I cringe. I come from a place where it was common growing up and I rarely saw it used as a consciously racial symbol; it was about rural pride, localism and naturalism against the great forces set against them. Perhaps one time in a hundred was someone intending a racial message and that person never got any acceptance. For whites, the deracialization of the Confederate battle flag was all but total, the symbol of a New South, rural and industrial, authentic and modern.

That totality is recent, however. The current plethora of Confederate flags in the South actually dates to the Civil Rights Movement. They're explicit protests of black equality. You could be forgiven, thanks to the revision, if you didn't realize that, however. After all, if you are not old enough to remember the Movement or the fights following the Civil Rights Act well, the revision is all you really know about it as a white Southerner. Thus my sympathy for the flag's defenders declines as they come from ever elder generations; they know better, they quite likely waved that flag as an explicit symbol of white supremacy.

That totality arises from a new revision, that racism was defeated with the Civil Rights Act. Contrary to the view advanced so often, the Civil Rights Act was extremely controversial. The mobilization of segregationists wasn't simply a last ditch effort, it was a massive movement throughout the South. So hot was Southern fury that they kept supporters of the Act off ballots and five states went for George Wallace in 1968.† This opposition has not yet totally played out, but it's not my focus here. Just as there was a seed of disingenuousness which kicked off the Lost Cause and the New South, so too is there one for the new mythology in which the Civil Rights Act ended racism. It is often presented as dying of natural causes or, by my school years, as if it were something whites hadn't really given a lot of thought to imposed by unknown actors in government or, perhaps, nefarious actual racists who held everyone in terror, black and white alike. That sounds nearly insane, but less so when the alternative is to admit complicity in the nation's gravest evils. Deracialized and desegregated, the South stands for its noblest ideals of courage, independence, loyalty, and honor. That's still not quite true, but the steady stripping of racial components is a good thing.

I've been writing about all this because I'm surprised by the speed at which opinion has shifted against the Confederate battle flag. Stores are pulling it from shelves and governments are pulling it from state houses. The flag's remaining defenders seem largely exhausted rather than adamant, resigned to the reality of the flag's meaning for the nation's 42 million black people and a growing number of its whites. I read in so many defenses of the flag simply defenses of what they had wanted it to mean. There is nothing wrong in the desired meaning, it would have been a far better reality if slavery had been a dying and largely benign institution, Jim Crow some mutual oppression imposed by racial busybodies, and the cause of the Confederacy as home-and-hearth against implacable economic forces. It would be, as I take pains to conjure, authentic, meaningful, and ennobling. It would be, it simply wasn't.

But gripping the truth firmly can be hard. There's always an undercurrent of disgust when the rest of the nation discusses the South. A characterization of its people as rednecks and yokels. Certainly, there have always been a few in the South as everywhere and we each have occasionally donned that identity in rebellion or fun. However, as it plays out in the real world we often feel put upon. Years ago a professor of mine from Louisiana and I were discussing how people immediately perceived us differently, how to be taken seriously we often had to take care and cover accents or avoid certain turns of phrase. That sense of being a second class citizen is profound and depends on a mischaracterization of how white Southerners perceive themselves and their heritage. I grew up in the foothills of the Ozarks, my father's family come that generation from Arkansas. I carried my gun down through the bottoms and have been to Branson more times than I care to recount -- or, in certain company, even admit. I've unloaded on people for calling my home state flyover country or disparaging the South. I feel I can do that, and they can't, irrational as that sounds. There's nothing up my sleeve, no secret coastal liberal condescension.††

I've taken pains here to balance reality with myth, to give my historical and visceral insight into this debate. So I arrive at my hoped explanation for this sudden turn: the realization that the truth  never lived up to the revision, a desire to live out the nobler ideals in Southern heritage under a banner they deserve.

*Whether this was the right empire or the wrong one is not an opinion I've been able to keep for long on either side.

**And who can't sympathize with that narrative after losing out to an enemy zerg? Don't you feel like the noble player who did everything right only to be overwhelmed by mistakes of game design?

†Of "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" fame.

††Or wider audience, as some may have figured out, that my journal entries are often essays doesn't actually make them anything other than journal entries.___

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2015-06-25 23:26:27 (91 comments, 4 reshares, 15 +1s)Open 

Is this a thing? Not the guy with "aphantasia." But the baseline state.

Are all of you people almost literally seeing images in your head when you're asked to imagine something? I've always thought that the "mind's eye" was a not-particularly-apt metaphor, not something that was close to literal.

Is this a thing? Not the guy with "aphantasia." But the baseline state.

Are all of you people almost literally seeing images in your head when you're asked to imagine something? I've always thought that the "mind's eye" was a not-particularly-apt metaphor, not something that was close to literal.___

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2015-06-25 21:16:43 (8 comments, 3 reshares, 19 +1s)Open 

As Wesley Smith argues, the decision upholding King v. Burwell was plainly a victory for outcome-respecting pragmatism over outcome-blind formalism. This is predictable.

Language comprehension, legal or otherwise, requires a model of the underlying thought process. The conservative ideal of context-blind interpretation is not simply perverse, but impossible: all utterances are underpinned by some intent or another. Legal formalism admits this to some extent, but restricts the scope of interpretation to single clauses, single sentences, and single paragraphs; the intents of large statutory schemes, and their underlying statutory policies, are considered disreputable. 

In Scalia's view, the perverse results of losing a global view of statutory intent are proof that law is a "real" discipline whose results exist outside a human framework. In virtually everyone else's,... more »

As Wesley Smith argues, the decision upholding King v. Burwell was plainly a victory for outcome-respecting pragmatism over outcome-blind formalism. This is predictable.

Language comprehension, legal or otherwise, requires a model of the underlying thought process. The conservative ideal of context-blind interpretation is not simply perverse, but impossible: all utterances are underpinned by some intent or another. Legal formalism admits this to some extent, but restricts the scope of interpretation to single clauses, single sentences, and single paragraphs; the intents of large statutory schemes, and their underlying statutory policies, are considered disreputable. 

In Scalia's view, the perverse results of losing a global view of statutory intent are proof that law is a "real" discipline whose results exist outside a human framework. In virtually everyone else's, catastrophically violating global statutory intent in order to better adhere to local formalism is entirely unworkable and entirely perverse.___

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2015-06-25 18:22:22 (20 comments, 3 reshares, 21 +1s)Open 

The Tweet has now come down, but France's ambassador to the United States said something interesting about the revelation that the US has been spying on the French government for the past fifteen or so years: tout diplomate vit avec la certitude que ses communications sont écoutées et pas par un seul pays. 

Or, in English, "All diplomats live with the certainty that their communications are heard, and not by any single country. Real world."

This is correct, and it's nice to see France acknowledge it: espionage is a necessary lubricant in international diplomacy. It is impolite to try too hard to intercept a foreign government's communications, but a moderate amount of espionage is expected. And it's not as though this is unilateral: the DGSE seems less technically savvy than US, UK, or Israeli intelligence, but they're extraordinarily competent atdi... more »

The Tweet has now come down, but France's ambassador to the United States said something interesting about the revelation that the US has been spying on the French government for the past fifteen or so years: tout diplomate vit avec la certitude que ses communications sont écoutées et pas par un seul pays. 

Or, in English, "All diplomats live with the certainty that their communications are heard, and not by any single country. Real world."

This is correct, and it's nice to see France acknowledge it: espionage is a necessary lubricant in international diplomacy. It is impolite to try too hard to intercept a foreign government's communications, but a moderate amount of espionage is expected. And it's not as though this is unilateral: the DGSE seems less technically savvy than US, UK, or Israeli intelligence, but they're extraordinarily competent at diplomatic and economic espionage. 

It's nice to see some acknowledgement (even if retracted) that this is the case.___

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2015-06-24 18:56:14 (8 comments, 0 reshares, 23 +1s)Open 

The fact is that if anyone banging on about the Confederacy at the moment on Twitter were born in the 1840s in the South, outside of a few select areas, they, too, would have fought for the Confederacy.

This is plainly untrue. More Southerners volunteered for the Confederacy than for the Union army, but between black freedmen, emancipated slaves, and white Unionists, the number of Southerners who volunteered for the Union army was incredibly large -- somewhere around 30% of the total size of the Confederate army. 

There were decent people who were conscripted into fighting for a morally corrupt cause. But it certainly wasn't a Southerner's only option, and it wasn't nearly as dangerous as being an anti-fascist German: huge numbers of CSA citizens fought for the Union. 

The fact is that if anyone banging on about the Confederacy at the moment on Twitter were born in the 1840s in the South, outside of a few select areas, they, too, would have fought for the Confederacy.

This is plainly untrue. More Southerners volunteered for the Confederacy than for the Union army, but between black freedmen, emancipated slaves, and white Unionists, the number of Southerners who volunteered for the Union army was incredibly large -- somewhere around 30% of the total size of the Confederate army. 

There were decent people who were conscripted into fighting for a morally corrupt cause. But it certainly wasn't a Southerner's only option, and it wasn't nearly as dangerous as being an anti-fascist German: huge numbers of CSA citizens fought for the Union. ___

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2015-06-24 17:58:18 (35 comments, 7 reshares, 33 +1s)Open 

Yesterday, +blanche nonken asked me whether I was worried about accidental, near-term AI. 

The short answer is "no." Not because I have any particular beliefs about whether we're close to a major breakthrough, but because artificial intelligence like this isn't sufficiently general. In this system, for instance, the outputs of a visual hallucinator are run through a visual-descriptor RNN which provides written descriptions.

In the human brain, there seems to be cross-feedback between simple system, mediated by more general (and poorly understood) supervisory processes. In this case, the outputs of one neural network are fed into another neural network, chaining them together. But while there's feedback within each individual neural network, there's not feedback between the neural networks: a better verbal ontology won't improve image recognition, andb... more »

Yesterday, +blanche nonken asked me whether I was worried about accidental, near-term AI. 

The short answer is "no." Not because I have any particular beliefs about whether we're close to a major breakthrough, but because artificial intelligence like this isn't sufficiently general. In this system, for instance, the outputs of a visual hallucinator are run through a visual-descriptor RNN which provides written descriptions.

In the human brain, there seems to be cross-feedback between simple system, mediated by more general (and poorly understood) supervisory processes. In this case, the outputs of one neural network are fed into another neural network, chaining them together. But while there's feedback within each individual neural network, there's not feedback between the neural networks: a better verbal ontology won't improve image recognition, and better image recognition won't improve the visual ontology. 

Humans can do this. We can recognize pictures of dogs after being told what a dog looks like, without ever having seen one. We can generalize from verbal ontologies to label things we've never seen before. We can refine our understanding of what we see, hear, and touch based on knowledge we take from elsewhere. 

We're fairly close to artificial intelligences which can model discrete, well-understood functions of the human brain. The occipital lobe is not particularly complicated, nor is a statistical model of language production.* We can even chain these systems together to produce interactions between systems. But when we do that, we have to do it manually, not automatically.

If we had a completely general learning system which could delegate to other systems, parameterize them appropriately, and then judge whether it had a good model, then we might be close. But most of the terms in that sentence do not have working technical definitions; until we're at the point where we have a detailed technical specification of what a general intelligence does, I don't imagine we're very close to replicating it.

* n.b. that the statistical learning approaches which are generally for language parsing and generation used bear no relationship to X-Bar grammar, a fact which upsets Chomsky to no end.___

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2015-06-24 17:39:15 (28 comments, 8 reshares, 34 +1s)Open 

As articulated by Lovelock, the Gaia Hypothesis oversells the self-regulatory functions of the biosphere. But it's not pure crankery, and it's certainly not "scientific pantheism."

As is plainly obvious to anyone, the Earth is in a metastable state which wouldn't be sustainable without biology. We have an atmosphere full of free oxygen and the lowest diurnal, seasonal, and regional temperature variation in the solar system. This is incredibly rare.

The former fact -- that the atmosphere is full of a corrosive gas which would much prefer to be bound to our crust's very abundant silicon or carbon -- is explicitly because of the aggregate effect of the biosphere. No plants, no free oxygen. No free methane, either. No carbon monoxide, et cetera, et cetera. 

The latter fact is also caused by the biosphere. Carbon dioxide has a relatively small effect on... more »

As articulated by Lovelock, the Gaia Hypothesis oversells the self-regulatory functions of the biosphere. But it's not pure crankery, and it's certainly not "scientific pantheism."

As is plainly obvious to anyone, the Earth is in a metastable state which wouldn't be sustainable without biology. We have an atmosphere full of free oxygen and the lowest diurnal, seasonal, and regional temperature variation in the solar system. This is incredibly rare.

The former fact -- that the atmosphere is full of a corrosive gas which would much prefer to be bound to our crust's very abundant silicon or carbon -- is explicitly because of the aggregate effect of the biosphere. No plants, no free oxygen. No free methane, either. No carbon monoxide, et cetera, et cetera. 

The latter fact is also caused by the biosphere. Carbon dioxide has a relatively small effect on the climate. It is, however, the only unconstrained variable in the mix. Unlike methane (a much more powerful greenhouse gas), it's environmentally persistent unless plants remove it from the atmosphere. Unlike water vapor, which is also a powerful greenhouse gas, it's a gas at all noncatastrophic temperatures. 

Most free carbon on Earth is in one of two states: in the atmosphere, where it's a greenhouse gas, or in organic waste, where it's not. Taking things out of the second state and putting it in the first does four things: (a) warms the climate, (b) increases the amount of second-order greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, (c) decreases the albedo of the Earth, and (d) reduces the capacity of the ocean as a heat-and-carbon sink. 

Frankly, this whole issue would be much easier to describe to conservatives if we called it "ecoeconomics," because that's the fundamental underlying math, but I guess the hippie-bullshit framing is already set.___

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2015-06-23 20:40:08 (50 comments, 4 reshares, 46 +1s)Open 

This is a fantastic introduction to the architecture that utterly gobsmacked me on my first day at Google. The stuff we've already built is amazing. The stuff we're working on is even better.

While we obviously can't comment on any unreleased Google infrastructure, rest assured that we are confident that the blind eunuchs aiming assault rifles down the non-euclidian corridors beneath 1201 Charleston can shut it down. If it is still living -- which, of course, has not been confirmed. 

This is a fantastic introduction to the architecture that utterly gobsmacked me on my first day at Google. The stuff we've already built is amazing. The stuff we're working on is even better.

While we obviously can't comment on any unreleased Google infrastructure, rest assured that we are confident that the blind eunuchs aiming assault rifles down the non-euclidian corridors beneath 1201 Charleston can shut it down. If it is still living -- which, of course, has not been confirmed. ___

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2015-06-22 20:04:49 (46 comments, 4 reshares, 27 +1s)Open 

Here's what happened in Charleston: 

In an attempt to impose a justifying narrative on a life subjectively ruined by some horrendous personal failure, a man between the ages of 18 and 40 attempted to die  in a single act of redemptive violence. 

Dylan Roof was unable to shake an addiction to pain pills. He tried Suboxone in a last attempt to get rid of his addiction. He got arrested for Suboxone. He never held down a job. He dropped out of school when he was in 9th grade. He never made any substantial connection to other human beings -- he was cripplingly shy. Every conventional route to success was closed to him. 

Mohammad Atta had attempted to get a job in architecture, but was cripplingly shy. After graduate school, he could only find a part-time job as a low-wage draughtsman for an architecture firm. His language skills were poor; he never connected well witheve... more »

Here's what happened in Charleston: 

In an attempt to impose a justifying narrative on a life subjectively ruined by some horrendous personal failure, a man between the ages of 18 and 40 attempted to die  in a single act of redemptive violence. 

Dylan Roof was unable to shake an addiction to pain pills. He tried Suboxone in a last attempt to get rid of his addiction. He got arrested for Suboxone. He never held down a job. He dropped out of school when he was in 9th grade. He never made any substantial connection to other human beings -- he was cripplingly shy. Every conventional route to success was closed to him. 

Mohammad Atta had attempted to get a job in architecture, but was cripplingly shy. After graduate school, he could only find a part-time job as a low-wage draughtsman for an architecture firm. His language skills were poor; he never connected well with even other Egyptian expatriates in Germany. When he was laid off, he worked for a cleaning company and selling used cars. He was too unsuccessful to arrange a good marriage, his family was too poor, and Muslim women living in Germany were too liberal to date. 

We recognize Atta as a terrorist, and not a spree killer, because the failures in his life are subtly unlike those a Westerner would experience. The ideology, too, seems alien. Roof is harder for us to recognize because his failures are typical, and because his white supremacy is in somewhere in the vague penumbra of respectability offered by the Council of Conservative Citizens. (Which still regularly hosts active conservative politicians.) 

This is a common pattern. As Adam Lankford points out, it is often difficult to distinguish suicide terrorists from spree killers: the desire for a death that retroactively justifies a ruined life is often just as critical as the impulse to kill. Violent public ideologies might lower the threshold at which a latent spree killer will commit murder, but the two groups are fundamentally drawn from the same stock.

I am unsure that deprecating either frame in favor of the other adds any clarity. ___

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2015-06-19 18:19:58 (0 comments, 30 reshares, 52 +1s)Open 

This was the right thing to do. I'm glad we did it.

Comments closed, as this is a sensitive matter concerning my employer. Feel free to reshare and comment there.

This was the right thing to do. I'm glad we did it.

Comments closed, as this is a sensitive matter concerning my employer. Feel free to reshare and comment there.___

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2015-06-19 17:13:08 (57 comments, 7 reshares, 80 +1s)Open 

Linked below, some white National Review's dude's opinion on the Confederate flag. Here's my opinion: white people's opinions about the Confederate flag don't really matter.

It's true that the Confederate battle flag is a powerful symbol of Southern culture. Unfortunately, "absolute white supremacy through force of arms" was the sine qua non of Southern culture until (optimistically) 50 years ago. Everything else was negotiable. Black people participating as citizens in the states in which they lived was not.

If the flag arguably represented the better parts of Southern culture, it might be fine. But it's been used continuously as a symbol of white supremacy from the moment it was first flown until the modern day. 

The history goes basically like this: it started out as a battle standard flown intermittently through the last years oft... more »

Linked below, some white National Review's dude's opinion on the Confederate flag. Here's my opinion: white people's opinions about the Confederate flag don't really matter.

It's true that the Confederate battle flag is a powerful symbol of Southern culture. Unfortunately, "absolute white supremacy through force of arms" was the sine qua non of Southern culture until (optimistically) 50 years ago. Everything else was negotiable. Black people participating as citizens in the states in which they lived was not.

If the flag arguably represented the better parts of Southern culture, it might be fine. But it's been used continuously as a symbol of white supremacy from the moment it was first flown until the modern day. 

The history goes basically like this: it started out as a battle standard flown intermittently through the last years of the Civil War. Throughout Reconstruction and its end, the flag disappeared. It was revived, briefly, as a battle standard for Southern units during World War II -- a practice which was probably actually about heritage, not hate.

That was, unfortunately, brief.

It only returned as a widespread symbol of the South after the war, as a symbol of opposition to integration. Every Southern capitol which flies the Confederate flag adopted that practice in the period between Brown v. Board and the Civil Rights Act. As did every Southern state which included the Confederate battle flag as its own. Its usage as a private symbol of Southern heritage started at precisely the same time: it was a flag flown to demonstrate a willingness to privately discriminate. 

Some people, much to their credit, believe something different. Those people and their reasons don't matter at all to me. Consider the following:

(1) You're black, and your white coworkers are all flying Confederate flags. Is it reasonable to turn to any of your coworkers for help?

(2) You're black, and you're considering moving into a small town. There are Confederate flags flying at a third of the houses. Do you believe that it's reasonable -- as in, "not dangerous" -- to move there?

(3) You're black, and there's a bar with a Confederate flag flying out front. Do you reasonably believe that you will be provided service if you decide to go there?

In almost every context, the Confederate flag declares black Americans unwelcome noncitizens. At best, it announces the risk of racist abuse. It's possible that we might someday live in a world where that's not the case. This is not that world.___

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2015-06-19 16:22:34 (3 comments, 2 reshares, 17 +1s)Open 

Via +David Arnold, an article about Google Dog-Hallucinator containing the following sentence: 

I intend to fully operationalize the concept of trippiness for the classification of pictures; I believe the question is empirically approachable.

If that interests you, the rest -- from an actual neuroscientist -- is actually quite readable.

Via +David Arnold, an article about Google Dog-Hallucinator containing the following sentence: 

I intend to fully operationalize the concept of trippiness for the classification of pictures; I believe the question is empirically approachable.

If that interests you, the rest -- from an actual neuroscientist -- is actually quite readable.___

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2015-06-18 21:18:23 (14 comments, 1 reshares, 18 +1s)Open 

The perpetrator of yesterday's terrorist strike was captured a few hours ago, and the bodies of the dead have not yet been buried, and already I'm seeing a refrain pop up in news coverage and in people's comments: How do we understand this killer? What made him turn out this way? Was he mentally ill, was he on drugs, was he abused, was he influenced by someone in his life? Were his motivations about politics, religion, personal relationships, psychological? We can't form opinions about why he did this yet; we shouldn't assume that, just because [insert thing here], it was about race.

You might mistake this, at first, for a genuine interest in understanding the motivations that would turn a young man into a terrorist and a mass murderer. But when other kinds of terrorists -- say, Muslims from Afghanistan -- commit atrocities, the very same people who are asking these questions... more »

The perpetrator of yesterday's terrorist strike was captured a few hours ago, and the bodies of the dead have not yet been buried, and already I'm seeing a refrain pop up in news coverage and in people's comments: How do we understand this killer? What made him turn out this way? Was he mentally ill, was he on drugs, was he abused, was he influenced by someone in his life? Were his motivations about politics, religion, personal relationships, psychological? We can't form opinions about why he did this yet; we shouldn't assume that, just because [insert thing here], it was about race.

You might mistake this, at first, for a genuine interest in understanding the motivations that would turn a young man into a terrorist and a mass murderer. But when other kinds of terrorists -- say, Muslims from Afghanistan -- commit atrocities, the very same people who are asking these questions are asking completely different ones: Why are Muslims so violent? What is it in Islam that makes them so prone to hating America, hating Christianity, hating Freedom?

I think that there are two, very important, things going on here. The more basic one is that, when terrorists are from a group you've never met, it's far easier to ascribe their behavior to the whole group; if it's from a group you know, and you know that the average member of that group isn't malicious or bloodthirsty, then people start asking individual questions. 

But the more important one is that the group that this terrorist belonged to was not merely familiar: it's the same group to which most of the people asking the questions belong. Not merely the same broad group -- "Muslims" and "Christians" are groups of over a billion people each, groups far too broad to have any deep commonalities -- but a far narrower group, a group with a common culture. And there's a reason that people don't want to ask "What is it about this group that caused it:" because in this case, there's a real answer.

The picture you see below is of the Confederate flag which the state of South Carolina flies on the grounds of its state house, and has ever since 1962. (That's 1962, not 1862: it was put there in response to the Civil Rights movement, not to the Civil War) Today, all of the state flags in that state are at half mast; only the Confederate flag is flying at full mast.

The state government itself is making explicit its opinion on the matter: while there may be formal mourning for the dead, this is a day when the flag of white supremacy can fly high. When even the government, in its formal and official behavior, condones this, can we really be surprised that terrorists are encouraged? (Terrorists, plural, as this is far from an isolated incident; even setting aside the official and quasi-official acts of governments, the history of terror attacks and even pogroms in this country is utterly terrifying)

Chauncey DeVega asked some excellent questions in his article at Salon (http://goo.gl/3AZWy7); among them,

1. What is radicalizing white men to commit such acts of domestic terrorism and mass shootings? Are Fox News and the right-wing media encouraging violence?

6. When will white leadership step up and stop white right-wing domestic terrorism?

7. Is White American culture pathological? Why is White America so violent?

8. Are there appropriate role models for white men and boys? Could better role models and mentoring help to prevent white men and boys from committing mass shootings and being seduced by right-wing domestic terrorism?

The callout of Fox News in particular is not accidental: they host more hate-filled preachers and advocates of violence, both circuitous and explicit, than Al Jazeera. 

There is a culture which has advocated, permitted, protected, and enshrined terrorists in this country since its founding. Its members and advocates are not apologetic in their actions; they only complain that they might be "called racist," when clearly they aren't, calling someone racist is just a way to shut down their perfectly reasonable conversation and insult them, don't you know?

No: This is bullshit, plain and simple. It is a culture which believes that black and white Americans are not part of the same polity, that they must be kept apart, and that the blacks must be and remain subservient. That robbing or murdering them is permissible, that quiet manipulations of the law to make sure that "the wrong people" don't show up in "our neighborhoods," or take "our money," or otherwise overstep their bounds, are not merely permissible, but the things that we do in order to keep society going. That black faces and bodies are inherently threatening, and so both police and private citizens have good reason to be scared when they see them, so that killing them -- whether they're young men who weren't docile enough at a traffic stop or young children playing in the park -- is at most a tragic, but understandable, mistake.

I have seen this kind of politics before. I watch a terrorist attack on a black church in Charleston, and it gives me the same fear that I get when I see a terrorist attack against a synagogue: the people who come after one group will come after you next.

This rift -- this seeing our country as being built of two distinct polities, with the success of one having nothing to do with the success of the other or of the whole -- is the poison which has been eating at the core of American society for centuries. It is the origin of our most bizarre laws, from weapons laws to drug policies to housing policy, and to all of the things which upon rational examination appear simply perverse. How many of the laws which seem to make no sense make perfect sense if you look at them on the assumption that their real purpose is to enforce racial boundaries? I do not believe that people are stupid: I do not believe that lawmakers pass laws that go against their stated purpose because they can't figure that out. I believe that they pass laws, and that people encourage and demand laws, because consciously or subconsciously, they know what kind of world they will create.

We tend to reserve the word "white supremacy" for only the most extreme organizations, the ones who are far enough out there that even the fiercest "mainstream" advocates of racism can claim no ties to them. But that, ultimately, is bullshit as well. This is what it is, this is the culture which creates, and encourages, and coddles terrorists. And until we have excised this from our country, it will poison us every day.

First and foremost, what we need to do is discuss it. If there's one thing I've seen, it's that discussing race in my posts is the most inflammatory thing I could possibly do: people become upset when I mention it, say I'm "making things about race" or trying to falsely imply that they're racists or something like that. 

When there's something you're afraid to discuss, when there's something that upsets you when it merely comes onto the table: That's the thing you need to talk about. That's the thing that has to come out there, in the open.

We've entered a weird phase in American history where overt statements of racism are forbidden, so instead people go to Byzantine lengths to pretend that that isn't what it is. But that just lets the worm gnaw deeper. Sunshine is what lets us move forward.

And the flag below? So long as people can claim with a straight face that this is "just about heritage," that it isn't somehow a blatant symbol of racism, we know that there is bullshit afloat in our midst.

The flag itself needs to come down; not with ceremony, it simply needs to be taken down, burned, and consigned to the garbage bin.___

2015-06-18 21:13:07 (18 comments, 1 reshares, 24 +1s)Open 

"This is basically a SVM."

okay I understand what that does, and basically how it works. we're good! i can say something sensible!

"But the better way to look at what it does is [SKETCH OF BOXES ON THE BOARD.]"

okay i don't see any vectors now. so are we talking matrices i guess? is this a diagram of the stack?

"And so what you need to look at are [CANONICAL VARIABLES USED IN A SORT OF MATH WHICH I CANNOT YET IDENTIFY]."

oh god there are greek letters here, and not any of the ones where i know what they mean. help. 

"And so is this still a problem?"

[INTENSE RINGING SOUND IN MY EARS DROWNING OUT CONVERSATION] 

"This is basically a SVM."

okay I understand what that does, and basically how it works. we're good! i can say something sensible!

"But the better way to look at what it does is [SKETCH OF BOXES ON THE BOARD.]"

okay i don't see any vectors now. so are we talking matrices i guess? is this a diagram of the stack?

"And so what you need to look at are [CANONICAL VARIABLES USED IN A SORT OF MATH WHICH I CANNOT YET IDENTIFY]."

oh god there are greek letters here, and not any of the ones where i know what they mean. help. 

"And so is this still a problem?"

[INTENSE RINGING SOUND IN MY EARS DROWNING OUT CONVERSATION] ___

2015-06-18 19:57:43 (21 comments, 20 reshares, 75 +1s)Open 

Reasons Why Alexander Hamilton Was An Epic Badass, by Elizabeth Bowen

1. Because -- unlike a certain rival who became our third president -- Hamilton wasn't privileged. He was a poor kid who grew up in the West Indies. When he was three, his father abandoned him. When he was eleven, his mother died. Her husband (not Hamilton's father) seized her estate, leaving Hamilton with nothing. So he -- again, an eleven-year-old boy -- went to work as a clerk in a trading house to support himself, putting an end to what little formal education he had.

2. But still, he could write. Very very well. Which led to his first big break. When he was fifteen, there was a powerful hurricane that devastated the island. He wrote a letter describing it, which impressed the editor of the local newspaper so much that he published it, describing the author as "a youth of the island."... more »

Reasons Why Alexander Hamilton Was An Epic Badass, by Elizabeth Bowen

1. Because -- unlike a certain rival who became our third president -- Hamilton wasn't privileged. He was a poor kid who grew up in the West Indies. When he was three, his father abandoned him. When he was eleven, his mother died. Her husband (not Hamilton's father) seized her estate, leaving Hamilton with nothing. So he -- again, an eleven-year-old boy -- went to work as a clerk in a trading house to support himself, putting an end to what little formal education he had.

2. But still, he could write. Very very well. Which led to his first big break. When he was fifteen, there was a powerful hurricane that devastated the island. He wrote a letter describing it, which impressed the editor of the local newspaper so much that he published it, describing the author as "a youth of the island." Community leaders, equally impressed, raised money to send Hamilton to college in America.

3. And the moment he arrived in America -- in 1772 -- he joined the Patriot cause. While a student at Columbia (then King's College), he published pamphlets supporting the colonists and demolished Loyalist after Loyalist (all older than him) in public debates.

4. And yet. He wasn't a jackass about it. When an angry mob tried to attack the King's College president, a Loyalist, Hamilton helped the president and his family escape.

5. When the Revolutionary War started, Hamilton -- still a teenager! -- raised an artillery company on his own initiative and was elected its captain. While his future rivals John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were talking a lot in Philadelphia, Hamilton was fighting the British on the front lines. In guarding the Continental Army's retreat from New York, he came to the attention of George Washington, who was so impressed that he asked Hamilton to join his staff.

6. Washington and Hamilton -- who was, again, STILL A TEENAGER -- became so close that malicious gossips later said Hamilton was Washington's bastard son. (Some even grosser people implied that Washington was infatuated with Hamilton.) But Washington didn't prop Hamilton up because of nepotism or a gross crush or whatever. He recognized Hamilton's brilliance and delegated so much authority to him that during the bulk of the Revolutionary War, Hamilton -- an organizational genius -- was essentially running the Continental Army. He survived the winter at Valley Forge (which played a huge role in the development of his political philosophy). He fought in numerous battles. He played a starring role in the victory at Yorktown.

7. After the war, Hamilton passed the New York bar without any formal legal education. He made his reputation as a lawyer successfully representing Loyalists whose property was being illegally seized by victorious (and resentful) Patriots. In other words, this is a guy who spent nearly a decade fighting the British but wasn't afraid to call bullshit on his Patriot allies and friends. Several of the cases Hamilton argued as a lawyer became important legal precedents that last to this day -- most notably People v. Croswell, which established truth as a defense in defamation cases.

8. Speaking of Croswell, here is a quote from Hamilton's closing argument: "We must resist -- resist -- RESIST until we hurl the tyrants and demagogues from their imagined thrones." Contrary to Jeffersonian propaganda, Hamilton wasn't a monarchist. Or an aristocrat. He was a self-made man who risked his life, again and again, in a war against an empire. Meanwhile, Jefferson was a rich planter who boinked a teenage slave who had no legal right to say no. Yay equality?

9. Speaking of slavery, Hamilton was against it. Ardently against it. His entire life. He helped John Jay found the Society for the Manumission of Slaves. While Jefferson, Mr. "All Men Are Created Equal," was writing in Notes on the State of Virginia that black slaves were intellectually inferior and should be deported to Africa if they were freed, Hamilton -- the supposed snotty aristocrat -- was arguing that there was no difference between blacks and whites except for education and opportunity. Both Hamilton and Jefferson grew up in slave societies. But Jefferson was at the top, while Hamilton, in the West Indies, was as close to the bottom as you could get without actually being a slave. He saw what slavery was about and wanted no part in it.

10. I can't emphasize this enough: Hamilton was not a monarchist or an aristocrat. HE FOUGHT AGAINST THAT. But he believed in a strong, effective central government that could operate in the real world. Not a utopian paradise. Which, yes, meant the government needed the ability to impose some freaking taxes. (Oh, the horror.) And if you'd spent a bitter winter starving at Valley Forge while the Continental Congress dithered away, unwilling to send food, clothes, and other supplies? You wouldn't have been very impressed with the decentralized government created by the Articles of Confederation, either.

11. If the Articles of Confederation had stuck around for much longer, America would've fallen apart. The Constitution is the reason we have America, and Alexander Hamilton is the reason we have the Constitution. Elected by New York to serve as a delegate to the Annapolis Convention in 1786, Hamilton was the one who drafted a resolution that called for all states to send delegates to another convention meant to address the weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation. This new convention? The Philadelphia Convention of 1787, otherwise known as the Constitutional Convention.

12. Not only did Hamilton call for the Constitutional Convention, he also did more than basically anyone to get the Constitution ratified. One way he did that? The Federalist Papers. He drafted John Jay and James Madison to help him, but the project was Hamilton's idea, and the vast majority of the essays were written by Hamilton. The Federalist Papers are among the most influential documents in American history. None of the essays were more important than Federalist No. 78, the one most frequently cited by the United States Supreme Court, in which Hamilton outlined the doctrine of judicial review (a right not explicitly granted to the Court by the Constitution). If, in the next week or two, the Supreme Court declares laws against gay marriage to be unconstitutional, you'll have Hamilton to thank for that. Chief Justice John Marshall, often called the Father of Judicial Review because of his opinion in Marbury v. Madison, resisted taking credit for it -- he said that "Next to Hamilton, I was a candle by the sun at midday."

13. Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury. When he assumed that position, America was in a financial crisis because of war debts owed to France and others. Comparatively speaking, America's debt in the early 1790s was /worse than it is now/. As the Economist wrote a few years ago, "America began life as a fiscal basket-case." Hamilton's financial plan PAID OFF THE WAR DEBTS and saved America's public credit. That might not mean much to people who don't understand economics, and that's why, I suspect, people tend to gravitate to Jefferson. Pretty writing is easier to understand than public finance. But mark my words. If today we got a Secretary of the Treasury who was able to pay off our debt in a matter of years, even the people who flunked economics would be able to understand that that's a Very Big Deal.

14. Crucially, Hamilton's policy on industrialization, outlined in the "Report on Manufactures" he wrote for Congress, promoted the development of manufacturing in America. Which is why America had a jump start on the Industrial Revolution. Which is why America became the wealthiest country in the world. Jefferson, Madison, and their Southern allies opposed Hamilton's manufacturing policy, because they wanted America to be a rural, agrarian society. Hamilton realized in 1791 that industrialization was the future.

15. It's impossible to overstate just how much Hamilton did for this country -- I haven't even touched on foreign policy, and how Hamilton was responsible for crafting Washington's Neutrality Proclamation during the French Revolutionary Wars, which kept us out of war with basically the whole of Europe. (This was the issue that made Jefferson and Madison, supporters of the French Revolution, publicly denounce Hamilton as a monarchist. Because Hamilton wanted Washington to declare that no, we weren't actually going to go to war to support a regime that believed "equality" was won by cutting off people's heads. Meanwhile, Jefferson, though he later half-heartedly denounced Robespierre, wrote of the French Revolution: "Rather than it should have failed, I would have seen half the earth desolated." Okay there, Jeffy boy.)

But if I actually tried to summarize everything Hamilton did, this post would be the length of the Bible. (It's getting there already.)

So I'll just say this.

A person's importance in history and a person's contributions to society are measured by their actions, not by their identity. I'm all for recognizing people whose contributions have been unfairly minimized because of their identity. But not at the expense of other people who've more than earned every accolade they've received.

(Yes. I have a lot of Feelings about this.)___

2015-06-18 19:43:44 (10 comments, 1 reshares, 19 +1s)Open 

Why Aren't Minimum Wages Economically Ruinous?

Empirically, it doesn't seem that disemployment effects are significant at minimum wage levels which are being contemplated. Presumably they set in at some point, but there seems to be significant labor market elasticity over a wide variety of wage floors.
This is, in some sense, unsurprising: if the labor market failed when there was a moderate global miscalculation of worker marginal product, then capitalism would have precisely the same calculation problem as socialism. 

This is a useful economic result. This is a welcome economic result. This is not, however, an intuitive economic result. Why is this the case? A couple of thoughts:

(1) +Steven Flaeck suggests that there is substantial marginal product elasticity. If a worker is willing or able to do 30% more work for $14 than $7, then changes int... more »

Why Aren't Minimum Wages Economically Ruinous?

Empirically, it doesn't seem that disemployment effects are significant at minimum wage levels which are being contemplated. Presumably they set in at some point, but there seems to be significant labor market elasticity over a wide variety of wage floors.
This is, in some sense, unsurprising: if the labor market failed when there was a moderate global miscalculation of worker marginal product, then capitalism would have precisely the same calculation problem as socialism. 

This is a useful economic result. This is a welcome economic result. This is not, however, an intuitive economic result. Why is this the case? A couple of thoughts:

(1) +Steven Flaeck suggests that there is substantial marginal product elasticity. If a worker is willing or able to do 30% more work for $14 than $7, then changes in the price of labor actually change the underlying behavior of the labor market. And this makes a certain amount of sense: people who have an implicit marginal product of $11 as a housewife won't go to work for $7 in the labor market simply because that job is available. 

(2) There is elasticity in labor-capital balances.  
Plus, over the long term, firms can adjust to higher wage floors by adjusting the balance of labor and capital inputs. Consider the following balances:

(a) 10 workers at a cost of $7.50/hr, producing 10 widgets/hr.

(b) Five workers at a cost of $15/hr, operating five Widgetrons at a fixed cost of $10,000 each, producing 10 widgets/hr.

(c) 10 Widgetron Plus machines at a cost of $25,000 each, producing 10 widgets/hr.

From a firm's perspective, (1) is preferable to (2) and (2) to (3), because capital assets, unlike workers, are less flexible in terms of function and less flexible in terms of reactivity to market conditions. You can repurpose workers to manufacture Widget 2.0 or fire them if the widget market tanks; if you need to get rid of a Widgetron before the end of its natural lifespan, you have to eat a loss. (Plus, if you're a modern company, you're probably debt-funding the purchase, which adds another chunk of risk.)

From an external perspective, we basically have no preferences, unless we'd like people to get paid more. 

(3) It's possible that there are substantial productivity gains due to increased wages, as employees gain access to capital which can be implicitly attributed to the company. Take two employees: one who is on the very margin of poverty, and one who is considerably above it. 

The first employee is forced to rely on public transportation, has no substantial access to medical care, has no educational resources, and can only be contacted by landline. The second employee has a reliable car, substantial access to medical care, limited educational resources, and can be contacted wherever, for whatever purpose. (In fact, that employee has a reference library in her pocket, too.)

Which employee would you expect to be more productive? The one whose work hours aren't diminished by unexpected public transportation outages, worries about unstable housing, and untreated chronic illness. Furthermore, that employee's education, phone, medical care, and transportation can be attributed -- in some sense -- to the employer's productivity.

In other words, paying more may be a motivator. It may also improve work outcomes independently of motivation. ___

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2015-06-18 03:37:57 (20 comments, 11 reshares, 51 +1s)Open 

Oh, thank god. Finally. Fully 75% of Google engineer time for the past three weeks has been spent on fooling around with Google Dog-Hallucinator. 

Here it is. It's actually very cool. 

#AndYouThoughtIWasJoking  

All of these images were computer generated!

For the last few weeks, Googlers have been obsessed with a internal visualization tool that Alexander Mordvintsev in our Zurich office created to help us visually understand some of the things happening inside our deep neural networks for computer vision.  The tool essentially starts with an image, runs the model forwards and backwards, and then makes adjustments to the starting image in weird and magnificent ways.  

In the same way that when you are staring at clouds, and you can convince yourself that some part of the cloud looks like a head, maybe with some ears, and then your mind starts to reinforce that opinion, by seeing even more parts that fit that story ("wow, now I even see arms and a leg!"), the optimization process works in a similar manner, reinforcing what it thinks it is seeing.  Since the model is very deep, we can tap into it at various levels and get all kinds of remarkable effects.

Alexander, +Christopher Olah, and Mike Tyka wrote up a very nice blog post describing how this works:

http://googleresearch.blogspot.com/2015/06/inceptionism-going-deeper-into-neural.html

There's also a bigger album of more of these pictures linked from the blog post:

https://goo.gl/photos/fFcivHZ2CDhqCkZdA

I just picked a few of my favorites here.___Oh, thank god. Finally. Fully 75% of Google engineer time for the past three weeks has been spent on fooling around with Google Dog-Hallucinator. 

Here it is. It's actually very cool. 

#AndYouThoughtIWasJoking  

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2015-06-17 19:28:55 (46 comments, 6 reshares, 18 +1s)Open 

There's this guy, Curtis Yarvin. He's a programmer. And he's working on an extremely eccentric personal project.

This project, Urbit, is basically if Borges developed Haskell, and Haskell was a cryptocurrency and cloud computing program, and also, somehow, feudalism. Basically everyone who reads his Urbit design documents describes it as "fascinatingly bonkers." From a certain perspective, this is a pretty good description of Yarvin's other work.

Put charitably, his "other work" is a political philosophy which argues for simultaneously pushing humanity forward to the Singularity and backward to the Dark Ages. He engages really deeply with eccentric political thinkers and makes arguments which were consigned to the trash-heap of history four centuries ago. This is, in a lot of ways, an interesting exercise -- plenty of perfectly fascinating insights... more »

There's this guy, Curtis Yarvin. He's a programmer. And he's working on an extremely eccentric personal project.

This project, Urbit, is basically if Borges developed Haskell, and Haskell was a cryptocurrency and cloud computing program, and also, somehow, feudalism. Basically everyone who reads his Urbit design documents describes it as "fascinatingly bonkers." From a certain perspective, this is a pretty good description of Yarvin's other work.

Put charitably, his "other work" is a political philosophy which argues for simultaneously pushing humanity forward to the Singularity and backward to the Dark Ages. He engages really deeply with eccentric political thinkers and makes arguments which were consigned to the trash-heap of history four centuries ago. This is, in a lot of ways, an interesting exercise -- plenty of perfectly fascinating insights about human nature are buried inside discarded ideas.

Unfortunately, this political philosophy is a puzzle box containing a dog turd: fascinating until understood, at which point it's merely gross. Once you drill through the pomposity and obfuscation, his writing is shockingly amoral. He defends coverture, argues against democracy, dredges up prescientific racism as received wisdom, defends mass murderers -- all the sort of facile, violent contrarianism you'd expect from a depressed, socially isolated teenager with pentagrams Sharpie'd on his Trapper Keeper.

If you've spent enough time with neoreactionary philosophy to penetrate the fog, Urbit starts to look suspicious. It looks like it has the intent to bring about the political order which Yarvin prefers -- and which no one else does. If you're a programmer, and can't penetrate his theory of political causality, it seems a bit plausible. If you've got a squishier skillset and can't understand the specs, it seems a bit plausible.

If you're a former programmer with a humanities degree, as +David Auerbach is, this is fundamentally implausible: his idea is that a political eccentric could convince a substantial number of programmers to adopt a functional programming language with a deliberately opaque syntax and accept multiple OOMs of slowdown to do so, and that this would bring about a fundamental change in the world order.  

Yeah, no. That's not a thing.

That seems totally ridiculous. And it seems ridiculous to ban him, because even if he intends harm, he intends it through weird Rube Goldberg causality. But I can kind of see why people without any sort of discipline-spanning skillset would think otherwise.___

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2015-06-17 18:25:35 (6 comments, 9 reshares, 44 +1s)Open 

From this article, a quote from Stewart Baker:

I can’t remember any abuses of the data people are complaining about. If the question is, “Where’s the discipline?,” the answer is that there hasn’t been any discipline because nobody broke the rules.

No abuses? Meaningful oversight? Let me jog his memory.

To give him the benefit of the doubt, I'll set aside the propriety of allowing vast law enforcement intercepts based on ex parte orders in front of an explicitly partisan court with no meaningful appeals process, and just point out some very clear, very public problems with NSA oversight:

(1) FISC has repeatedly ordered data access controls to be implemented. Those controls have been repeatedly ignored. 

Initially, UPSTREAM -- a program which collected Internet traffic in flight -- was authorized under the Patriot Act's Section216 pen re... more »

From this article, a quote from Stewart Baker:

I can’t remember any abuses of the data people are complaining about. If the question is, “Where’s the discipline?,” the answer is that there hasn’t been any discipline because nobody broke the rules.

No abuses? Meaningful oversight? Let me jog his memory.

To give him the benefit of the doubt, I'll set aside the propriety of allowing vast law enforcement intercepts based on ex parte orders in front of an explicitly partisan court with no meaningful appeals process, and just point out some very clear, very public problems with NSA oversight:

(1) FISC has repeatedly ordered data access controls to be implemented. Those controls have been repeatedly ignored. 

Initially, UPSTREAM -- a program which collected Internet traffic in flight -- was authorized under the Patriot Act's Section 216 pen register provisions. After doing some fascinating legal gymnastics to define "collection" as "analyst access" rather than what any reasonable human would define as "collection," they told the NSA that only ten analysts could have access to UPSTREAM data. The NSA repeatedly certified under oath that this wasn't the case.

In fact, almost the entire NSA analyst corps had access to UPSTREAM data. When FISC found out, it issued an Order to Show Cause -- which is still classified -- which indicates that the court thought that the manner in which the program was executed constituted contempt of court. They have not approved additional collection under 216. (Which is not to say that they didn't approve substantially the same program -- they just had to change authority.)

(2) None of the other programs arguably founded on 216 authority (particularly, MUSCULAR) seem to have been reviewed by the court; if they have, we haven't seen the orders.

This is likely because the programs are designed to minimize exposure to any oversight outside the NSA itself. In most cases, NSA's minimization is handled by the FBI rather than NSA, which keeps NSA from running into EO 12233 issues. The FBI receives intelligence digests on the data the NSA doesn't want, and then second-sources the digested data, keeping it from any exposure to 4th Amendment law. 

(3) During the period where NSA was overcollecting data and violating its minimization plan, analysts were wildly misusing the collected data: looking at emails from friends and family, stalking partners, and listening in on arbitrary US citizen phone calls. In one case, a NSA employee stalked a romantic partner for six years without being audited. 

In other words: kiss my ass, Stewart, and quit lying to the press.___

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2015-06-17 04:10:17 (30 comments, 0 reshares, 10 +1s)Open 

Hey, +Andres Soolo​? Do you have more context on the Estonia-specific issues here? The countervailing issues the court considered are completely unclear to me.

Hey, +Andres Soolo​? Do you have more context on the Estonia-specific issues here? The countervailing issues the court considered are completely unclear to me.___

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2015-06-16 22:21:48 (15 comments, 5 reshares, 29 +1s)Open 

Intrepid reporter and precocious seven-year-old Tom Harper has an explanation for why he believes the Chinese and Russian government have files from Snowden: well, the government told me, so I checked with the government, and the government told me that the government wasn't lying.

It is possible that the Chinese and Russian government have Snowden files. It is further possible that they got them from Snowden. But there are other possibilities:

(1) The person who told them is bullshitting. Or bragging. Or is an unstable but highly placed fabulist -- a sort of person who is actually fairly common in the intelligence services, or at least pretty common among the type of people in the intelligence services who think it's a good career move to talk to the press.

(2) The Chinese and Russian governments have been holding fire on breaking up MI6 espionage... more »

Intrepid reporter and precocious seven-year-old Tom Harper has an explanation for why he believes the Chinese and Russian government have files from Snowden: well, the government told me, so I checked with the government, and the government told me that the government wasn't lying.

It is possible that the Chinese and Russian government have Snowden files. It is further possible that they got them from Snowden. But there are other possibilities:

(1) The person who told them is bullshitting. Or bragging. Or is an unstable but highly placed fabulist -- a sort of person who is actually fairly common in the intelligence services, or at least pretty common among the type of people in the intelligence services who think it's a good career move to talk to the press.

(2) The Chinese and Russian governments have been holding fire on breaking up MI6 espionage because taking action to stop those operations would implicitly disclose sources and methods. Now that an unknown amount of NSA/GCHQ data is in the wild, they can feel free to take action, knowing that Snowden is more likely to be blamed than an unknown second cause.

(3) The UK intelligence services are lobbying the House of Commons indirectly. At the moment, the DCDB is wending its way through Parliament, but not having a particularly easy time of it. Now that reintroduction has come unblocked, the UK sigint community can feel free to lobby for its wish list.

(4) The Snowden files are in Russia and China's hands, but they didn't get them from Snowden. At the moment, several journalistic institutions have access to them. NSA and GCHQ could have closed the barn door once half the cows were gone by setting up an airgapped, coadministered reading room, but instead relied on newspapers' ad hoc security to make sure the documents weren't being read by third parties.

Unless they've got a sovereign actor or large tech firm in their corner, let's just say that I don't necessarily trust newspapers' hardening against APTs. 

(5) Sovereign actors know about undisclosed vulnerabilities in major consumer-grade encryption standards, but aren't fixing them because it makes their lives easier. I don't necessarily take this extremely seriously, but it's not like it isn't a possibility.

(6) There is substantial disagreement between the humint-focused and sigint-focused agencies about who fucked up and blew the MI6 operations, and the path of least resistance is blaming Snowden?

Is it possible that Snowden turned information over to the Russians and Chinese? Sure! Arguably well-intentioned leakers are often forced into uncomfortable alliances with sovereigns, because the only defense against an intelligence agency which is out for blood is another intelligence agency. Agee, for instance, eventually ended up in bed with Cuban intelligence. Assange, via Israel Shamir, probably has some "friendly" contacts with the FSB. Intelligence agencies don't just act out of the goodness of their hearts, and only take payment in kind.

Is it likely that Snowden has turned over information? Not on random officials' off-the-record claims, no.___

2015-06-16 20:47:13 (9 comments, 1 reshares, 13 +1s)Open 

Talking to +Chris Jones about Seveneves (which I recommend) I came up with 2 quotes that I think are important.  My quotes, not the authors.

All science in science-fiction that isn't the topic of focus for the author is indistinguishable from magic.

Never read a book that covers your area of expertise written by someone who knows less than you.

The point of science-fiction is the fiction, not the science... so it doesn't hurt the story even if it makes you cringe.

Talking to +Chris Jones about Seveneves (which I recommend) I came up with 2 quotes that I think are important.  My quotes, not the authors.

All science in science-fiction that isn't the topic of focus for the author is indistinguishable from magic.

Never read a book that covers your area of expertise written by someone who knows less than you.

The point of science-fiction is the fiction, not the science... so it doesn't hurt the story even if it makes you cringe.___

2015-06-16 19:59:15 (14 comments, 7 reshares, 41 +1s)Open 

Headline-Driven Literature Review: Gender, Race, and Changes Thereto

Over the past couple weeks, the English-speaking world has had the misfortune of having two superficially-similar stories hit at once: a celebrity publicly deciding to identify as female after privately doing so for her entire life, and another woman who was outed as identifying as a race other than the one she was born in. 

They're superficially similar. But they're actually quite different. 

Gender dysphoria is a real thing. It's probably biological. But all of this seems a bit unusual, because gender is a cultural construct which, insofar as it exists in a person, is wholly in their mind. So how can facts about transpeople's gender be biological facts?

The short answer? It's because a person's brain encodes facts about their body. Sometimes, the brain disagreesw... more »

Headline-Driven Literature Review: Gender, Race, and Changes Thereto

Over the past couple weeks, the English-speaking world has had the misfortune of having two superficially-similar stories hit at once: a celebrity publicly deciding to identify as female after privately doing so for her entire life, and another woman who was outed as identifying as a race other than the one she was born in. 

They're superficially similar. But they're actually quite different. 

Gender dysphoria is a real thing. It's probably biological. But all of this seems a bit unusual, because gender is a cultural construct which, insofar as it exists in a person, is wholly in their mind. So how can facts about transpeople's gender be biological facts?

The short answer? It's because a person's brain encodes facts about their body. Sometimes, the brain disagrees with the body about that representation. The long answer? It's complex. Follow along below:

First, every person has an internal self-representation. You know where your limbs are. You know where your body is in space, and its detailed contours. You know this without looking at it, with your eyes closed. And although you don't think of proprioception as a sense, it is one, with basically the same level of complexity as your sense of touch or smell or vision. 

This proprioceptive architecture handles both biological and cultural facts about your body. More of the former of the latter, but both together. To give you an example: imagine you have a long hair, and a bad haircut. You're aware of the haircut. You'll move your head to avoid getting your hair cut in a door. You'll probably take unconscious social actions to mitigate the fact that you have a bad haircut. If someone mentions your haircut, you'll be embarrassed. The fact that the haircut is bad, and the fact that any such thing as a "haircut" exists, are cultural facts, not biological facts. Those facts are encoded in your brain.

Unfortunately, we know that this system can go on the fritz. The most common defect in this proprioceptive sense is caused by a missing limb. A phantom limb feels pain, pressure, and heat. It has fingers and a position. If you try to slam a door over the place where an amputee believes their phantom limb to be, they'll flinch away. And it's not immobile -- amputees can reach up with their phantom limb and touch their nose, change its position, readjust it if it's uncomfortable. 

When the proprioceptive system itself is damaged, as by brain injury or a stroke, even weirder things can happen. In asomatagonsia, patients deny the existence of their own limbs. In somatoparaphrenia, they attribute their limbs to other people. There are cases of patients who have extra phantom limbs after hemiplegia: their real arm is paralyzed, but they experience having an additional limb, distinct from their paralyzed arm, emerging from their shoulder -- even though this is biologically impossible. 

These problems are difficult to fix. You can't simply reach into the brain and change a person's self-representation. We know vaguely where that self-representation lies -- mostly in the somatosensory strip -- but we don't know how it works, and we can't fix it directly. We only know that people who have proprioceptive problems find the experience extremely traumatic. 

Because of regularities in self-representation, we also know that certain things about the proprioceptive sense are biologically determined: all human brains have hand-related areas of the brain in basically the same place, face-related, and so on and so on. There are, however, significant differences between the sexes in the somatosensory representation of sex characteristics -- as you would expect, as most women don't experience themselves as carrying around a phantom penis, and most men don't have phantom breasts just because women need to know where their breasts are. 

Transgender people (and anorexic people, for that matter -- actually, all the body dysmorphias seem to have their roots in the same part of the brain) seem to have a proprioceptive self-representation which is at odds with their biology. Before surgery, FTM transgender people often report having a phantom penis, complete with phantom erections. MTF transgender people who choose genital reassignment report a "phantom penis" at far lower levels than you would expect from studies of people who have undergone penectomy for other reasons.

There are some fairly good reasons to believe that irregular self-representations are anatomical: autopsy results on (mostly FTM) transsexuals show that the relevant structures underlying the somatosensory strip resemble those of the opposite biological sex rather than those of their post-reassignment sex. 

Even if it's not anatomical in the same sense that an amputated limb is anatomical, or genetic in the same sense that Tay-Sachs is genetic, there is no reason to believe that transgender people have meaningfully "chosen" to be the other gender. And there's no reason to believe that it's likely to remit with therapy -- no more so than there's a reason to believe that therapy will make an amputee's phantom limb go away. 

Race is a cultural construct which is rooted in a relatively insignificant biological fact. Gender is a cultural construct rooted in a relatively significant biological fact. Which is why comparisons between transgender and "transracial" people are so utterly stupid. ___

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2015-06-13 20:42:12 (4 comments, 0 reshares, 15 +1s)Open 

No.

Before the crash, Iceland had a  paper economy, where a substantial portion of economic activity consisted of trafficking in pieces of paper representing assets which were elsewhere. The capital pooling in Iceland allowed them to spool in their monetary policy, allowing them to buy some physical stuff denominated in other currencies. But only as much stuff as half a million people could actually use. 

The moment the recession hit, Iceland's banks started to go bankrupt. In order to preserve some breathing room for the kroner, Iceland took a loan from the UK and Netherlands, and paid it out to stabilize what remained of the Icelandic banking industry. Which then paid out in order to stabilize the UK, Irish, and Dutch banking industries. But the Althingi then did what neither Greece nor Ireland had the leeway to do: it started unilaterally attaching conditions to the repaymento... more »

By this standard Iceland has done about 30% more austerity than Ireland, over double that of the UK, roughly two and a half times as much as the US, and approximately five and a half times as much as Latvia. The only country that has done more fiscal austerity is Greece.___No.

Before the crash, Iceland had a  paper economy, where a substantial portion of economic activity consisted of trafficking in pieces of paper representing assets which were elsewhere. The capital pooling in Iceland allowed them to spool in their monetary policy, allowing them to buy some physical stuff denominated in other currencies. But only as much stuff as half a million people could actually use. 

The moment the recession hit, Iceland's banks started to go bankrupt. In order to preserve some breathing room for the kroner, Iceland took a loan from the UK and Netherlands, and paid it out to stabilize what remained of the Icelandic banking industry. Which then paid out in order to stabilize the UK, Irish, and Dutch banking industries. But the Althingi then did what neither Greece nor Ireland had the leeway to do: it started unilaterally attaching conditions to the repayment of the loan. Because it's a sovereign entity, unlike Greece or Ireland.

The UK and the Netherlands objected to this, and, long story short, effectively lost the right to repayment. In the meantime, the kroner was deeply, deeply devalued. 

This was bad for the average Icelandic consumer, but -- apart from its banking industry -- Iceland is an export-led economy. So they sold discount herring and aluminum until they came roughly to parity, albeit at a much lower monetary equilibrium than they started with. Plus, the Icelandic government is pretty much a pass-through entity making payments directly to citizens, which constrained the damage to the economy wrought by government austerity. 

The lesson for Greece is not that austerity is not damaging. It's that high government employment in a recession is a problem independent of high government spending, and that selling discount olives and vacations would have been a perfectly good solution to the problem had Greece not been stapled to a German central bank.

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2015-06-13 01:36:10 (3 comments, 0 reshares, 5 +1s)Open 

Dinner in Tulum.

Dinner in Tulum.___

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2015-06-12 21:35:24 (9 comments, 1 reshares, 20 +1s)Open 

Matthew Ygglesias sums up the Greek crisis of the past five years pretty well. One point where I disagree:

Before the Euro, Greece relied on monetary financing to make ends meet. That means every year Greece collected a little less in taxes than it spent and printed money to make up the difference. Printing money in this way generates inflation in the high single digits. Inflation acts as a tax on savings that's relatively hard to escape and that worked for Greece where tax compliance is poor.

With the Euro, because of German insistence on policy verging on taboo, monetary financing is not an option even when it makes sense. Printing money was the correct way out of the global financial crisis, and the US and the UK used that option with great success. Germany prevented the EU from doing the same until last year, forcing several countries into austerity and making the crisis... more »

Matthew Ygglesias sums up the Greek crisis of the past five years pretty well. One point where I disagree:

Before the Euro, Greece relied on monetary financing to make ends meet. That means every year Greece collected a little less in taxes than it spent and printed money to make up the difference. Printing money in this way generates inflation in the high single digits. Inflation acts as a tax on savings that's relatively hard to escape and that worked for Greece where tax compliance is poor.

With the Euro, because of German insistence on policy verging on taboo, monetary financing is not an option even when it makes sense. Printing money was the correct way out of the global financial crisis, and the US and the UK used that option with great success. Germany prevented the EU from doing the same until last year, forcing several countries into austerity and making the crisis deeper. Even now that the ECB has started printing Euros to boost asset prices (QE), special rules are in place to prevent it being used to help Greece. 

That is a spectacularly nonsense approach. Since 2008 Germany has been saying no to free solutions to the financial crisis and the peripheral debt overhang, then imposing austerity policies to make peripheral economies worse, and finally complaining that the cost of getting out of this mess is now too high. The effect of Germany's terrible mismanagement of the Euro hit Greece the hardest because Greece previously relied the most on monetary financing, and now this is Greece's fault.

It was clearly a mistake for Greece to join the Euro. At the time everyone knew that Greece relied on inflationary money printing and joining the Euro turned a risk of above average inflation into a risk of outright bankruptcy. Still Greece joined, and was allowed, because EU integration was seen as a political end in itself. The UK didn't join because the ruling class there didn't like the political idea of EU integration and still doesn't.

Back in the early 2000s we had faith political will for EU integration would eventually prevail. Either the rules for the Euro would be relaxed to match reality, or economies like Greece would modernise somewhat to get closer to the rules, and that in time the UK would overcome domestic entrenched interests and join the project too. Now all of this is falling apart. The Eurozone and the EU is increasingly a club that people don't want to be in, and they're running away from the policies of Germany, not the failures of Greece.___

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2015-06-12 02:06:16 (80 comments, 0 reshares, 19 +1s)Open 

So, this happened: the president of the Spokane NAACP was a woman in blackface.

#HometownNews

So, this happened: the president of the Spokane NAACP was a woman in blackface.

#HometownNews___

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2015-06-11 03:17:59 (1 comments, 0 reshares, 15 +1s)Open 

The Intercept is doing an okay-if-not-great job writing about the Snowden-leak-based "revelation" that the NSA uses large-scale speech-to-text on the large-scale collection of phone calls it records.  These days everyone's Android and iPhone do this all the time; it hardly seems like it should count as a revelation.  When I worked at BBN 8 years ago, the NIST-run competitions had worse error rates than we do now, but they were already running on a single machine at 10x faster than real-time.  None of this was secret; read http://www.itl.nist.gov/iad/mig/tests/ace/2007/doc/ace07_eval_official_results_20070402.html if you're a glutton for punishment.

But The Intercept's focus on the question "Are they creating a transcript of everything?" is misplaced.  If you wanted to find all phone calls that contained the word bomb, you would be stupid to make yourone... more »

The Intercept is doing an okay-if-not-great job writing about the Snowden-leak-based "revelation" that the NSA uses large-scale speech-to-text on the large-scale collection of phone calls it records.  These days everyone's Android and iPhone do this all the time; it hardly seems like it should count as a revelation.  When I worked at BBN 8 years ago, the NIST-run competitions had worse error rates than we do now, but they were already running on a single machine at 10x faster than real-time.  None of this was secret; read http://www.itl.nist.gov/iad/mig/tests/ace/2007/doc/ace07_eval_official_results_20070402.html if you're a glutton for punishment.

But The Intercept's focus on the question "Are they creating a transcript of everything?" is misplaced.  If you wanted to find all phone calls that contained the word bomb, you would be stupid to make your one-best-guess transcript of the recording and then grep for "bomb", missing all the cases where the text-to-speech produced "balm" or "calm" or "slalom" errors.  Instead you would have your computer scan the audio, using a model that's specifically trained to look for bomb (and the other thousand words you most care about), and flag the bits that sound like they might match, even if your models say "balm" is a slightly more likely transcription.

Sadly, there's ample evidence that the FISA court's attempts at constraining the NSA are just as naive as The Intercept's way of reporting on it.  Surely there's nothing stopping the NSA from doing this, and so surely they do it.___

2015-06-10 22:24:04 (5 comments, 3 reshares, 20 +1s)Open 

"proper etymology" - an etymology deriving a word from a proper noun associated with it, e.g. "sandwich" and the eponymous Earl thereof.

Named, of course, after Benjamin Proper, inventor of the proper noun.

"proper etymology" - an etymology deriving a word from a proper noun associated with it, e.g. "sandwich" and the eponymous Earl thereof.

Named, of course, after Benjamin Proper, inventor of the proper noun.___

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2015-06-10 20:37:50 (16 comments, 13 reshares, 29 +1s)Open 

This is actually much worse than it sounds. The US cut off most US/Israeli intelligence sharing after Israel was caught using NSA-sourced intercepts to lobby US congressfolks against a US/Iran nuclear compromise. Now they've been caught spying on the talks themselves.

As a matter of national interest, I don't object much: Israel should be attempting to spy on the talks, if only to make useful predictions about what its own intelligence services should be doing. But as a matter of priority, this is horrifyingly against Israeli national interests: when betraying your only significant ally, make sure that you're a predictable betrayer. Randomly controvening diplomatic standards and explicitly betraying confidences paints Israeli leadership as not just self-interested (which is acceptable, and perhaps even a little praiseworthy), but also erratic, traitorous, and partisan.
... more »

This is actually much worse than it sounds. The US cut off most US/Israeli intelligence sharing after Israel was caught using NSA-sourced intercepts to lobby US congressfolks against a US/Iran nuclear compromise. Now they've been caught spying on the talks themselves.

As a matter of national interest, I don't object much: Israel should be attempting to spy on the talks, if only to make useful predictions about what its own intelligence services should be doing. But as a matter of priority, this is horrifyingly against Israeli national interests: when betraying your only significant ally, make sure that you're a predictable betrayer. Randomly controvening diplomatic standards and explicitly betraying confidences paints Israeli leadership as not just self-interested (which is acceptable, and perhaps even a little praiseworthy), but also erratic, traitorous, and partisan.

I'm beginning to suspect that not even a Republican administration would be able to repair the intelligence relationship relationship with a Likud-led government: Presidents change, but senior intelligence bureucrats have long memories and short fuses. ___

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2015-06-10 17:58:50 (75 comments, 20 reshares, 62 +1s)Open 

As a Google employee, I can confirm that this is 100% accurate. A brief warning for anyone who might be considering an offer: if your name is not Eric, then you won't be working on search, and although they discuss the perks at length, they don't tell you much about the utter ubiquity of vengeful ghosts.

It's easier in the far parts of the campus -- the vengeful ghosts tend to congregate around the central 'plex -- but you've still got to hack your way through a curtain of moaning ectoplasm to get to your desk every day, and that can get tiresome.

As a Google employee, I can confirm that this is 100% accurate. A brief warning for anyone who might be considering an offer: if your name is not Eric, then you won't be working on search, and although they discuss the perks at length, they don't tell you much about the utter ubiquity of vengeful ghosts.

It's easier in the far parts of the campus -- the vengeful ghosts tend to congregate around the central 'plex -- but you've still got to hack your way through a curtain of moaning ectoplasm to get to your desk every day, and that can get tiresome.___

2015-06-09 21:56:23 (40 comments, 8 reshares, 28 +1s)Open 

One interesting point about Seveneves: it's tungsten-hard science fiction written by a man which, in 850 pages, only barely passes the reverse Bechdel test. The only exchange between two male characters which is not about a woman is between a father and a son, shortly before the extinction of all life on Earth. (There are some exchanges about engineering and orbital mechanics which might also technically pass, but they're generally delivered in long explanatory soliloquies to a fairly large group of people.)

Considering the number of named characters relative to the average movie, this is difficult. 

One interesting point about Seveneves: it's tungsten-hard science fiction written by a man which, in 850 pages, only barely passes the reverse Bechdel test. The only exchange between two male characters which is not about a woman is between a father and a son, shortly before the extinction of all life on Earth. (There are some exchanges about engineering and orbital mechanics which might also technically pass, but they're generally delivered in long explanatory soliloquies to a fairly large group of people.)

Considering the number of named characters relative to the average movie, this is difficult. ___

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2015-06-09 03:06:02 (1 comments, 0 reshares, 15 +1s)Open 

Yeah, today could have gone worse.

Yeah, today could have gone worse.___

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2015-06-08 19:01:13 (28 comments, 1 reshares, 11 +1s)Open 

Here's the basic argument:

(1) Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

(2) Loving is about intrusion of the state into the right to marry.

(3) Given (1) gays don't have the right to marry because they can no more be married gays than married bachelors.

(4) Given (3) Loving can't extend to gays.

If we grant their assumptions, the argument fails because it conflates rights and powers. Consider: I have a right to lunar travel even though I have no ability to do that. I don't suddenly acquire that right once I've built a moon rocket, I've always had it or I always haven't.

Even for definitional concerns, the division holds. Prima facie, no can interfere with my ability to be a married bachelor. Notice an interesting feature: because there are no married bachelors and cannot be married bachelors, I can use a... more »

Here's the basic argument:

(1) Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

(2) Loving is about intrusion of the state into the right to marry.

(3) Given (1) gays don't have the right to marry because they can no more be married gays than married bachelors.

(4) Given (3) Loving can't extend to gays.

If we grant their assumptions, the argument fails because it conflates rights and powers. Consider: I have a right to lunar travel even though I have no ability to do that. I don't suddenly acquire that right once I've built a moon rocket, I've always had it or I always haven't.

Even for definitional concerns, the division holds. Prima facie, no can interfere with my ability to be a married bachelor. Notice an interesting feature: because there are no married bachelors and cannot be married bachelors, I can use a null set. I can argue, pointing to the crossed circle, that there is no motive under which the state can forbid married bachelors. Ergo, it cannot summon even practical constraint because any cost, no matter how infinitesimal, can justify the action. The Paradox Protection Act of 1978 is well-recognized as the most wasteful legislation ever, requiring multiple hearings and achieving, by definition, nothing more than its promulgation.

So taking the argument given, we're left with the obvious: the government can't ban gay marriages because rights needn't imply powers and a fortiori because even if they, it would be irrational to spend a moment's thought on a powerless right.

Attentive readers may recognize this as a flavor of is-ought distinction.___

2015-06-05 23:56:56 (8 comments, 0 reshares, 19 +1s)Open 

Candidate paper, Journal of Trivial Results. From the abstract:

We find that the circumference of a city wall is positively correlated with population size in the jurisdiction and that frontier cities subject to a higher probability of attack tended to have stronger city walls.

So, in other words, the more people expected to be inside the wall, the larger the wall. And the more likely the wall was to be used, the stronger the wall is likely to be. 

Fascinating stuff. No idea why this wasn't investigated earlier.

Candidate paper, Journal of Trivial Results. From the abstract:

We find that the circumference of a city wall is positively correlated with population size in the jurisdiction and that frontier cities subject to a higher probability of attack tended to have stronger city walls.

So, in other words, the more people expected to be inside the wall, the larger the wall. And the more likely the wall was to be used, the stronger the wall is likely to be. 

Fascinating stuff. No idea why this wasn't investigated earlier.___

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2015-06-04 20:14:03 (3 comments, 1 reshares, 3 +1s)Open 

These people misunderstand the regulatory state, which is a massive improvement over its predecessor, regulation by a patchwork of legislation and common law. Regulatory authority doesn't cede power out of Congress, it preempts power out of courts, letting the implementing agency figure out what particulars add up to "the safety of workers" or whatever. We have a rule-bound culture and legal system. There isn't an alternative to that, but there are much worse ways it could go.

This would be one of them.

These people misunderstand the regulatory state, which is a massive improvement over its predecessor, regulation by a patchwork of legislation and common law. Regulatory authority doesn't cede power out of Congress, it preempts power out of courts, letting the implementing agency figure out what particulars add up to "the safety of workers" or whatever. We have a rule-bound culture and legal system. There isn't an alternative to that, but there are much worse ways it could go.

This would be one of them.___

2015-06-04 19:09:54 (15 comments, 4 reshares, 50 +1s)Open 

Before law school, I worked at a DV/SA center.

Though I mostly worked with DV clients, I had about 40 clients who were victims of sexual assault, almost all of whom were university students. Not one of them ever expressed any desire to talk to the press. Not one of them ever did. Not even the horrific, unpunished, multi-perpetrator case which made me angry enough to go to law school.

Believe the victims, activists tell you. Aggressive questions are traumatic. False reports are rare.

This is all true.

One of my clients was expelled from her sorority house because leadership didn't want to deal with the rupture in relations with the athletes who raped her. A prosecutor, in a private moment while my client was out of the room, once asked me, "Why do these girls keep getting themselves in these situations?", and then expected me to keep that comment in... more »

Before law school, I worked at a DV/SA center.

Though I mostly worked with DV clients, I had about 40 clients who were victims of sexual assault, almost all of whom were university students. Not one of them ever expressed any desire to talk to the press. Not one of them ever did. Not even the horrific, unpunished, multi-perpetrator case which made me angry enough to go to law school.

Believe the victims, activists tell you. Aggressive questions are traumatic. False reports are rare.

This is all true.

One of my clients was expelled from her sorority house because leadership didn't want to deal with the rupture in relations with the athletes who raped her. A prosecutor, in a private moment while my client was out of the room, once asked me, "Why do these girls keep getting themselves in these situations?", and then expected me to keep that comment in confidence. A religious family cut off their daughter's college funding because she shouldn't have been alone with the perpetrator.

Unsupportive family, friends who feel the need to pick sides, a disbelieving legal system, a social framework which treats rape like an inhuman force where the only real agency is imputed to the victim? These are all real; all tremendously harmful. If you can't think of any good reason to act otherwise, don't pretend that you're some sort of universal finder-of-fact.

Journalists have conflicting professional responsibilities, and should ignore my advice.

Driven by perfectly well-meaning respect for rape survivors, perfectly well-meaning journalists keep publishing stories that can't hold up under even trivial pressure. But journalists are not therapists -- and insofar as journalists are activists, their primary allegiance needs to be to the truth, not to the source, not to the story.

Journalists need to recognize that by the time a source has agreed to make herself the centerpiece of a story about rape, something is already extraordinary: she has decided to make her entire life, for the foreseeable future, about the worst thing that has ever happened to her. That can be because she's unusually brave, unusually angry, unusually reckless, or unusually willing to change the focus of her life. But however typical it is for a journalist, it's an unusual, momentous, life-changing decision for the source.

Paying attention to the details and checking facts can be extraordinarily hard for survivors in the short run. I've never had to face up to that: confidentiality has always given me a license to believe unconditionally. But if the story (or even irrelevant facts within the story! ) won't hold up under pressure, it will ruin the source's life. No question, however pointed, however hostile, can compare to the wreckage left behind by a journalist's failure to ask.___

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2015-06-02 20:50:33 (36 comments, 9 reshares, 27 +1s)Open 

This is both true and insufficient: software which exercises discretion is more diverse than this article makes it out to be. Different approaches result in different failure modes, and a well-chosen approach, with well-chosen opportunities for manual human intervention, can be substantially more powerful than a human system alone.

With that in mind, a brief typology, with an introduction to common problems:

(1) Policy engines. 

These systems are basically deterministic, and are are simple enough that you could implement them in a spreadsheet. You take some numbers and booleans and input them into the system, and it outputs a particular result. 

So, for instance, "if a user has documentation of citizenship, and makes less than $20k per year, and isn't otherwise in the system, then approve their welfare application." Simple, and (naively) notp... more »

This is both true and insufficient: software which exercises discretion is more diverse than this article makes it out to be. Different approaches result in different failure modes, and a well-chosen approach, with well-chosen opportunities for manual human intervention, can be substantially more powerful than a human system alone.

With that in mind, a brief typology, with an introduction to common problems:

(1) Policy engines. 

These systems are basically deterministic, and are are simple enough that you could implement them in a spreadsheet. You take some numbers and booleans and input them into the system, and it outputs a particular result. 

So, for instance, "if a user has documentation of citizenship, and makes less than $20k per year, and isn't otherwise in the system, then approve their welfare application." Simple, and (naively) not particularly failure-prone.

Inevitably, you will run into problems that require human discretion. People have their identities stolen, or enter incorrect information, or have problems that can't be reduced to a simple rule. What if you know your estranged husband is making money, but he's moved elsewhere in the state and applied for welfare, and you're still listed as married? You get screwed. 

(2) Analytic aids.

These systems are designed to take large volumes of data and reduce them to a human-readable format. These range from extremely low-level query languages like Google's Dremel, up through GIS packages, to high-level analytic software produced by companies like Palantir or SAP. (Or the NSA, for that matter.)

The main problem problem here is garbage in, garbage out. If your data is fouled by statistical noise (see, e.g. http://goo.gl/UM1Jdb), then you're going to get bad results. Worse, if you ask a malformed question because you don't understand the noise in your data, you will get nonsense results. And even if you don't, paraidolia is common: people pattern-match in even very sparse datasets, meaning that people will see trends where none exist.

You might not think that you've entrusted your life to these sort of analytic aids, but for critical issues like zoning, limited business licensing, or tax auditing, you almost certainly have. 

(3) Machine learning.

This seems complicated. But conceptually, some of it is pretty simple. I'll use support vector machines as an example, because they're pretty easy to explain. Here's a simple example:

You have a huge biometric database which includes things like height, hair length, hip and waist measurements, and inseam length. You take all of these numerical values and graph them out in a multidimensional space. You then look for the largest gap between two groups, and draw a line through it. Inevitably, you'll find two groups -- and you can label them "men" and "women."

At its base, it's pretty simple. It gets much more complicated when you add nonlinear classification or need to classify more than two groups or need to reduce some fuzzy value to a number, but you can still do it. 

There are two serious problems here.

First, once you've run your classifier, the reason for your outputs is completely inscrutable. The best you can say about the results is "well, the result is on this side of the hyperplane, so it's an apple rather than an orange." Which is not particularly helpful. 

Second, if you give a system out-of-band data, it will return garbage results. So, for instance, if we have a simple apple / orange classifier, and we give it a bunch of grapefruits, it will tell us whether grapefruits are apples or oranges. Because that's what it classifies. It won't tell us "uh, these things aren't oranges," because "not an orange, but also not an apple" is not a concept that it understands.

(4) Diagnostic systems.

These are a narrow subcategory, but you encounter them daily. If you're unfortunate, you've run into this problem on Google itself.

So, when a link is first uploaded, Facebook sends a bunch of browsers-in-sandboxes to crawl it. More than likely, it's a computer in a datacenter which is running a simulation of another computer, which is running a simulation of another computer, which is running a browser. Then it runs diagnostics on the innermost emulated computer to see whether it's doing anything interesting. 

Where "interesting" means "trying to bypass security and gain access to anything it shouldn't." If the malware detection system finds out that something's trying to escape its sandbox, it bans the link.

The problem here is that all software is broken. By which I don't mean that people are intentionally building bad software, but that most code that compiles still has unanticipated side effects. Some of which look like security issues. ___

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2015-06-02 20:30:19 (29 comments, 7 reshares, 50 +1s)Open 

The media consensus is that the people paid to post on behalf of the Russian government are trolls. 

This is probably wrong.

Elsewhere, the requirements for a troll post are listed in detail: (a) post a defense of the Russian government; (b) use a specific list of keywords when doing so, without conjugation or declension; (c) include a link to a government-sponsored source; (d) attach a photo or meme when you're done. If targeting human opinion, these requirements are odd. In Russian, the posts read oddly, and are apparently easily identified as propaganda. So what's going on?

Basically, SEO. The trolls aren't trying to convince humans: they're trying to convince Yandex. Subtly warping search to produce government-friendly results can result in an undetectable lever to control public opinion -- a much more powerful technique than... more »

The media consensus is that the people paid to post on behalf of the Russian government are trolls. 

This is probably wrong.

Elsewhere, the requirements for a troll post are listed in detail: (a) post a defense of the Russian government; (b) use a specific list of keywords when doing so, without conjugation or declension; (c) include a link to a government-sponsored source; (d) attach a photo or meme when you're done. If targeting human opinion, these requirements are odd. In Russian, the posts read oddly, and are apparently easily identified as propaganda. So what's going on?

Basically, SEO. The trolls aren't trying to convince humans: they're trying to convince Yandex. Subtly warping search to produce government-friendly results can result in an undetectable lever to control public opinion -- a much more powerful technique than simply relying on the authority of the comments section.___

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2015-06-01 21:16:20 (9 comments, 0 reshares, 22 +1s)Open 

This article is nonsense.

As far as I can tell, Shane Harris and the Daily Beast have been getting a drip-feed of motivated despair from active intelligence officials who want to convince policymakers that any reform is irrelevant. A pen-register / trap-and-trace order isn't a substitute for the ability to hoover up arbitrary phone data: in some ways, it's more powerful; in others, less.

When he says that 214 orders can be used for precisely the same purpose as a 215 order, he (a) misunderstands the whole purpose of the orders, (b) the extremely large volume of case law following on Smith v. Maryland which limits pen-register deployment, (c) the technical complexity of complying with a pen-trap order, and (d) what telephone companies are required to do when they receive one. 

Section 214 requires an individual certification of relevance... more »

This article is nonsense.

As far as I can tell, Shane Harris and the Daily Beast have been getting a drip-feed of motivated despair from active intelligence officials who want to convince policymakers that any reform is irrelevant. A pen-register / trap-and-trace order isn't a substitute for the ability to hoover up arbitrary phone data: in some ways, it's more powerful; in others, less.

When he says that 214 orders can be used for precisely the same purpose as a 215 order, he (a) misunderstands the whole purpose of the orders, (b) the extremely large volume of case law following on Smith v. Maryland which limits pen-register deployment, (c) the technical complexity of complying with a pen-trap order, and (d) what telephone companies are required to do when they receive one. 

Section 214 requires an individual certification of relevance for each traced phone number, does not force (or authorize) the general disclosure of business records prior to the order, and requires the installation of a device. This falls substantially short of probable cause, but is substantially better than 215.___

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2015-05-29 20:53:39 (26 comments, 3 reshares, 13 +1s)Open 

So, for those of you that follow the small but weirdly popular community of racist/transhumanist monarchist libertarians in Silicon Valley, they've managed to set up the Official Authoritarian Organ that they've been hoping for for some time. Naturally, its first official act was to disfellowship some people that were too crankish or Nazis. 

This exchange pretty much sums up my feelings:

Kojak: Really, if they were proper neo-reactionaries, they’d have him hanged in the name of the king. Y’know, whenever they get around to selecting one of those.

Irrelevant: They’re working on it, and have narrowed the field down to Prince Harry, a computer simulation of Prince Harry, Prince Harry but only if he wears the nazi costume, a candidate to be determined by a combined council of archbishops and archdruids, and “whichever guy the marines acclaim.”
As... more »

So, for those of you that follow the small but weirdly popular community of racist/transhumanist monarchist libertarians in Silicon Valley, they've managed to set up the Official Authoritarian Organ that they've been hoping for for some time. Naturally, its first official act was to disfellowship some people that were too crankish or Nazis. 

This exchange pretty much sums up my feelings:

Kojak: Really, if they were proper neo-reactionaries, they’d have him hanged in the name of the king. Y’know, whenever they get around to selecting one of those.

Irrelevant: They’re working on it, and have narrowed the field down to Prince Harry, a computer simulation of Prince Harry, Prince Harry but only if he wears the nazi costume, a candidate to be determined by a combined council of archbishops and archdruids, and “whichever guy the marines acclaim.”

As a private citizen, you can attempt to act like a dictatorship or monarchy. But until you have sufficient economic, legal, or physical force to uphold the structure you've set, people will continue to exercise their right to exit -- because even if we concede that dictatorships are the ideal human government, the best a dictatorship can provide without exercising force is all of dictatorship's downsides and none of its benefits. 

And people, as you might expect, will simply defect.___

2015-05-29 01:43:55 (14 comments, 0 reshares, 12 +1s)Open 

I used to think that because I'm pretty smart that I deserved special treatment. Yet I also felt that those that worked hard were at least as deserving. And now I believe that unless you work hard, at least harder than most, regardless of your talent, you deserve no special treatment. You didn't create your talent, so why should you be held above others for that reason alone? There have been periods in my life where I've worked day and night to maximize my talent. And there have been periods where I've coasted. And apart from any special treatment, it is only those periods where I've worked day and night that make me feel special.

I used to think that because I'm pretty smart that I deserved special treatment. Yet I also felt that those that worked hard were at least as deserving. And now I believe that unless you work hard, at least harder than most, regardless of your talent, you deserve no special treatment. You didn't create your talent, so why should you be held above others for that reason alone? There have been periods in my life where I've worked day and night to maximize my talent. And there have been periods where I've coasted. And apart from any special treatment, it is only those periods where I've worked day and night that make me feel special.___

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2015-05-28 19:19:37 (19 comments, 15 reshares, 62 +1s)Open 

For those of you who are interested in G+ inside baseball, here's an interview with +Bradley Horowitz, who works in a glass-walled office just down the hall from me.

When I first came to work at Google, the business division-formerly-known-as-a-product-area-formerly-known-as-Social was run by our friendly local triumvirate: +Bradley Horowitz, +Dave Besbris, and +Vic Gundotra. Vic called in rich to work, as executives at giant multinational corporations sometimes do, and Bez took over. Bez went to do something new and interesting at Google, and Bradley took over. 

And the tech press, as it usually does, went nuts. Lost in the shuffle? The fact that we're still the same team, despite some management shuffles that wouldn't have made the news if we worked at General Mills rather than Google. We're still here. We're still happy with the products we're working on.... more »

For those of you who are interested in G+ inside baseball, here's an interview with +Bradley Horowitz, who works in a glass-walled office just down the hall from me.

When I first came to work at Google, the business division-formerly-known-as-a-product-area-formerly-known-as-Social was run by our friendly local triumvirate: +Bradley Horowitz, +Dave Besbris, and +Vic Gundotra. Vic called in rich to work, as executives at giant multinational corporations sometimes do, and Bez took over. Bez went to do something new and interesting at Google, and Bradley took over. 

And the tech press, as it usually does, went nuts. Lost in the shuffle? The fact that we're still the same team, despite some management shuffles that wouldn't have made the news if we worked at General Mills rather than Google. We're still here. We're still happy with the products we're working on. We're still listening to users.

And we're not going anywhere.

(And we just launched a standalone Photos app, which is awesome enough to make even my shitty photos look good. But you can probably see news on that somewhere else -- I'm frankly a better advertisement for the stream rather than the pretty pictures that fill it up.)___

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2015-05-27 18:52:53 (8 comments, 4 reshares, 34 +1s)Open 

On the face of it, this is ridiculous: Venezuela's runaway inflation has nothing to do with the United States, Europe, Google, or Mozilla. 

But it's not like this hasn't worked before.

Under normal economic conditions, inflation is driven by both (a) economic fundamentals, and (b) expectations about inflation in the future. You can fix the former problem by removing price controls, selling debt onto the open market and burning the resulting money, or fiddling with your foreign reserves. Under exceptional circumstances, however, inflation is mostly about expectations about inflation: because you believe that your money will be worth less in the future, you'll spend it now, resulting in an escalating bidding war for all goods on the market.

You can fix this by lying. 

In the early 1990s, Brazil had suffered almost two decades ofc... more »

On the face of it, this is ridiculous: Venezuela's runaway inflation has nothing to do with the United States, Europe, Google, or Mozilla. 

But it's not like this hasn't worked before.

Under normal economic conditions, inflation is driven by both (a) economic fundamentals, and (b) expectations about inflation in the future. You can fix the former problem by removing price controls, selling debt onto the open market and burning the resulting money, or fiddling with your foreign reserves. Under exceptional circumstances, however, inflation is mostly about expectations about inflation: because you believe that your money will be worth less in the future, you'll spend it now, resulting in an escalating bidding war for all goods on the market.

You can fix this by lying. 

In the early 1990s, Brazil had suffered almost two decades of crippling inflation. Expectations were that the government was helpless to stop it, and that absolutely nothing could be done. Which meant that, in practice, nothing could be done: every lever that the central bank could reach had been pulled, leaving the government helpless to treat the problem, even by exceptional means. 

So the government abandoned the cruzeiro and adopted the URV, a unit of "real value." Unfortunately, as any economist will tell you, there is no "unit of real value.*" The only measure of value is what people will pay. But the URV worked nonetheless.

Here's the catch: the Brazilian government didn't print any URVs. They just required prices to be printed in URVs, and posted a URV-to-cruzeiro exchange rate. And so, when people went to the store, they just paid in cruzeiros. The fundamentals of the economy were just as sound or unsound as they were before, but people saw a number -- a measure of "real value" -- which was stable, month after month.

And so inflation stopped. Not because of some bold, decisive central-bank action or leadership by the government. Because Brazilians were lied to, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Sure, Venezuela is corrupt and mismanaged and blames foreigners for self-inflicted problems. But all other issues aside, banning truthful information on the state of their currency isn't just a doomed attempt to protect its leaders' political fortunes: it's a doomed attempt to protect its leaders' political fortunes which, if successful, might actually solve the problem.___

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