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Andreas Schou has been at 1 events

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Nicholas Kristof1,421,756The 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 20:00:006971  

Shared Circles including Andreas Schou

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Most comments: 210

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2015-07-20 18:41:58 (210 comments, 25 reshares, 112 +1s)Open 

If you put a large, brilliantly white ball in a goose's nest, the mother will ignore the rest of her eggs and brood over the new object -- which looks more like an egg to her than an egg actually does. Male jewel beetles will ignore actual females while attempting to mate with the reflective orange bottoms of beer bottles.

A significant portion of the Republican base supports Trump. 

Over the past twenty-five years, conservative media has taken the position that there are no friends to the left, no enemies to the right.  Right-wing positions that were once permissible have become desirable, and finally mandatory. Immigration needs to be cut down? No, immigration needs to be cut off, to prevent a rapacious horde from swarming over our Southern border! Being rich is ethically okay? No, being rich is ethically mandatory! War should be on the table as an option in foreign policy? No,w... more »

Most reshares: 43

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2015-06-30 20:46:14 (57 comments, 43 reshares, 118 +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: 118

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2015-06-30 20:46:14 (57 comments, 43 reshares, 118 +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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2015-07-28 17:06:40 (14 comments, 5 reshares, 24 +1s)Open 

For decades now, I have been haunted by the grainy, black-and-white x-ray of a human skull.

It is alive but empty, with a cavernous fluid-filled space where the brain should be. A thin layer of brain tissue lines that cavity like an amniotic sac. The image hails from a 1980 review article in Science: Roger Lewin, the author, reports that the patient in question had “virtually no brain”. But that’s not what scared me; hydrocephalus is nothing new, and it takes more to creep out this ex-biologist than a picture of Ventricles Gone Wild.

What scared me was the fact that this virtually brain-free patient had an IQ of 126.

Briefly, a hypothesis. 

Most of the volume of your brain consists of white matter: a fatty substance the texture of semi-firm tofu, composed of glia, myelin, and the long tails of axons further up in the brain. It can tolerate a fair amount ofdamage... more »

For decades now, I have been haunted by the grainy, black-and-white x-ray of a human skull.

It is alive but empty, with a cavernous fluid-filled space where the brain should be. A thin layer of brain tissue lines that cavity like an amniotic sac. The image hails from a 1980 review article in Science: Roger Lewin, the author, reports that the patient in question had “virtually no brain”. But that’s not what scared me; hydrocephalus is nothing new, and it takes more to creep out this ex-biologist than a picture of Ventricles Gone Wild.

What scared me was the fact that this virtually brain-free patient had an IQ of 126.

Briefly, a hypothesis. 

Most of the volume of your brain consists of white matter: a fatty substance the texture of semi-firm tofu, composed of glia, myelin, and the long tails of axons further up in the brain. It can tolerate a fair amount of damage before causing serious effects: as we age, its volume shrinks considerably without affecting IQ, and although diffuse white-matter injuries can have horrifying effects, small ischemic strokes can take chunks out of it without the patient noticing.

Most of what's missing in this guy is white matter. 

But even if you're completely lacking white matter, there's a second route between parts of the brain: across the surface of the grey matter. In most anatomically normal people, the routes across the surface of the brain are fairly slow and unreliable, as they only directly interconnect adjacent parts of the brain. But presuming that whatever deprived him of most of his white matter didn't impair axon recruitment between lobes -- and it looks like it might not have, as one of the few interior structures that's still intact is the corpus callosum -- it's possible that his brain is simply more space-efficient than the rest of Homo sapiens.

Which did not, I might remind you, undergo a design review process to prove that its brain is constructed efficiently.___

2015-07-27 23:31:14 (21 comments, 2 reshares, 36 +1s)Open 

Constitutional amendment is one way to reverse Citizens United. Unfortunately, it's also probably impossible. Fortunately, that news isn't as bad as it seems.

An anti-corporate-personhood amendment would require a supermajority of both houses of Congress, and a supermajority of state legislatures. Hardening partisan affiliation has made this latter requirement an almost impossible hurdle: at least one of the thirteen most conservative states would have to vote for it. 

This doesn't mean that all possible solutions are foreclosed. Conventional campaign finance laws address the issue from the top-down, regulating which types of speech a corporation is permitted to spend money on. That sort of law is now foreclosed. But Citizens United doesn't foreclose attempts to address the issue from the bottom up, by regulating how a firm may choose to engage in political speech.more »

Constitutional amendment is one way to reverse Citizens United. Unfortunately, it's also probably impossible. Fortunately, that news isn't as bad as it seems.

An anti-corporate-personhood amendment would require a supermajority of both houses of Congress, and a supermajority of state legislatures. Hardening partisan affiliation has made this latter requirement an almost impossible hurdle: at least one of the thirteen most conservative states would have to vote for it. 

This doesn't mean that all possible solutions are foreclosed. Conventional campaign finance laws address the issue from the top-down, regulating which types of speech a corporation is permitted to spend money on. That sort of law is now foreclosed. But Citizens United doesn't foreclose attempts to address the issue from the bottom up, by regulating how a firm may choose to engage in political speech.

Let me take a step back and explain why:

Firms are voluntary as between their stakeholders. They're coercive as between the stakeholders and the outside world. When a firm incorporates, the government extends a limited, conditional grant of immunity. Afterward, the rest of the world has to pretend the firm is an entity distinct from its stakeholders, despite never having entered into a voluntary agreement to do so. That conditional immunity is a matter of privilege, not a matter of right. 

For this reason, issues of corporate governance aren't particularly Constitutionally sensitive. Management has no Constitutional rights as against the firm's owners -- the shareholders. By changing the rules, Congress could dramatically constrain the ability of publicly-held corporations to meddle in the political process. 

If political spending had to be approved in advance by a majority of shareholders, at a shareholder meeting at which a majority of shareholders are present, and at which a majority of directors are subject to reelection, all the parties' interests would align against political involvement. Incumbent directors wouldn't want to risk their seats to make political contributions, apathetic shareholders wouldn't want to attend a meeting to approve political spending, and activist shareholders might be able to reverse spending decisions.

Only when highly involved shareholders demanded political spending would political spending actually occur. Insofar as that might ever happen, I'm not even sure I object.

(Reshared from early backstream.)___

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2015-07-27 20:08:57 (8 comments, 14 reshares, 24 +1s)Open 

Wherein the US government develops a warhead full of rubberized rocket-fuel superballs designed to careen through secure facilities, breaking down doors, superheating the air, and generally making a giant mess of things.

Wherein the US government develops a warhead full of rubberized rocket-fuel superballs designed to careen through secure facilities, breaking down doors, superheating the air, and generally making a giant mess of things.___

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2015-07-26 04:06:26 (9 comments, 1 reshares, 34 +1s)Open 

___

2015-07-26 00:05:49 (5 comments, 1 reshares, 21 +1s)Open 

So far not a single person has stepped up to the Stalin Challenge: no one who compares ISIS destruction of archaeological sites to destroying Confederate monuments has yet to oppose the destruction of monuments to Stalin.

And, at the end, the Confederacy was worse than Stalin. After all, Stalinism's objective wasn't gulags or purges. Those were things which happened because he was a brutal, psychopathic, paranoid asshole. The Confederacy, by contrast, was founded on the idea of gulags and purges and wars of conquest as the fundamental quality which made some people the rightful masters of others.

I'm not saying this to defend Stalin. Stalin is rightly considered pretty much ur-indefensible. I'm saying this to point out just how awful the Confederacy was.

So far not a single person has stepped up to the Stalin Challenge: no one who compares ISIS destruction of archaeological sites to destroying Confederate monuments has yet to oppose the destruction of monuments to Stalin.

And, at the end, the Confederacy was worse than Stalin. After all, Stalinism's objective wasn't gulags or purges. Those were things which happened because he was a brutal, psychopathic, paranoid asshole. The Confederacy, by contrast, was founded on the idea of gulags and purges and wars of conquest as the fundamental quality which made some people the rightful masters of others.

I'm not saying this to defend Stalin. Stalin is rightly considered pretty much ur-indefensible. I'm saying this to point out just how awful the Confederacy was.___

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2015-07-26 00:02:53 (7 comments, 0 reshares, 22 +1s)Open 

Yes, Google Photos. That's exactly what I wanted when I took four pictures of my wife making a weird face.

Thanks!

#MagicMoments

Yes, Google Photos. That's exactly what I wanted when I took four pictures of my wife making a weird face.

Thanks!

#MagicMoments___

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2015-07-25 23:00:32 (3 comments, 3 reshares, 16 +1s)Open 

The quirky, counter-cultural San Francisco so many of us fell in love with is almost gone now, destroyed by high housing costs. We’ve lost not only the politics, but all kinds of cultural experimentation that just doesn’t thrive in places that are expensive. How did we get here?

The quirky, counter-cultural San Francisco so many of us fell in love with is almost gone now, destroyed by high housing costs. We’ve lost not only the politics, but all kinds of cultural experimentation that just doesn’t thrive in places that are expensive. How did we get here?___

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2015-07-24 17:04:46 (2 comments, 0 reshares, 16 +1s)Open 

This is an interesting development. An important thing about Israeli politics is that on-the-ground military experience is considered the sine qua non of being taken seriously as a political leader. This doesn't have the same implications that it does in other countries: here, because the military has a rather important day job, experience there tends to breed pragmatic realism and an allergy to grand ideology. (As opposed to countries where the military either sees itself as the natural ruler of the state, or where it itself is a major breeding ground of fundamentalism or radicalism)

When Israeli governments are built around people who lack this sort of credential, they are generally considered to be "placeholder" governments by the public: people elected because nobody really serious was running, for one reason or another. These governments aren't horribly common in Israeli... more »

This is an interesting development. An important thing about Israeli politics is that on-the-ground military experience is considered the sine qua non of being taken seriously as a political leader. This doesn't have the same implications that it does in other countries: here, because the military has a rather important day job, experience there tends to breed pragmatic realism and an allergy to grand ideology. (As opposed to countries where the military either sees itself as the natural ruler of the state, or where it itself is a major breeding ground of fundamentalism or radicalism)

When Israeli governments are built around people who lack this sort of credential, they are generally considered to be "placeholder" governments by the public: people elected because nobody really serious was running, for one reason or another. These governments aren't horribly common in Israeli history, but they've happened a few times in the recent past; Shimon Peres' government a few years ago, and Netanyahu's government today. One important thing to understand about the current situation is that very few people actually like Netanyahu; he won by a combination of weak opposition and some short-term pandering (of a particularly vile sort) whose luster lasted just long enough for the ballots to be counted.

So it's quite significant that an increasing cohort of retired senior military people – people who are taken quite seriously by the general public – are coming out and saying that the deal between the US and Iran is, while not great, not catastrophic either, and that the best thing for Israel to do with its time is to mend fences with the US and work towards stabilizing the Middle East.

The reason this is significant is that these people are the bellwether for the broader public, and for coming elections. It means that the odds of a significant counterswing in the near future against not just Netanyahu &co., but their policies (especially with regards to jingoistic grandstanding) are quite good.

Thank the gods.

via +Irreverent Monk and +Alex Grossman ___

2015-07-23 21:37:07 (15 comments, 14 reshares, 36 +1s)Open 

False Positives in Consequential Systems: Some Thoughts

So, I'm going to do something risky, and write about false positives in consequential legal processes, and -- in doing so -- hopefully create a framework for people concerned about false positives to be more helpful. I am specifically not making recommendations: I'm just talking about it from the perspective of someone who has had to think long and hard about designing this sort of system.

First, some baselines and terminology:

(1) False positives are not the same thing as malicious false reports. They include every possible reason why a process could return the wrong result. Malicious false reports create a risk of false positives, but as far as I can tell, those reports are rare across domains. The rate of false positives varies independently of the false reporting rate.

For example,... more »

False Positives in Consequential Systems: Some Thoughts

So, I'm going to do something risky, and write about false positives in consequential legal processes, and -- in doing so -- hopefully create a framework for people concerned about false positives to be more helpful. I am specifically not making recommendations: I'm just talking about it from the perspective of someone who has had to think long and hard about designing this sort of system.

First, some baselines and terminology:

(1) False positives are not the same thing as malicious false reports. They include every possible reason why a process could return the wrong result. Malicious false reports create a risk of false positives, but as far as I can tell, those reports are rare across domains. The rate of false positives varies independently of the false reporting rate.

For example, the UCR unfounded rate for car thefts is very high. Malicious false reports of car theft are virtually nonexistent. People who falsely report car theft have almost always just forgotten where they parked. They are not lying. They are not bad people. They have merely forgotten where their car is, and reasonably concluded that someone else must have moved it.

(2) The chance of false-positives is a function of four variables: the number of genuine positives in the population, the chance of mislabeling in an individual examination, the rate of examination, and the rate of change in the population. 

(3) In any sufficiently large system, there will be false positives and false negatives. You can tilt your decision strategy one way or the other, but it is difficult to get a quantitative sense of accuracy: your primary input about your system's results are the outputs of your system's last run, not objective information about the state of the world.

So, with that being said, here are the things (on both sides) that I tend to keep in mind when trying to design an extremely consequential process:

(1) The mammogram problem affects everyone. Mammograms are highly accurate. Most mammograms that detect cancer are, in fact, false positives. The reason? Population-wide screening. In a population of one million, containing one person with breast cancer and 999,999 people without, a 99%-accurate process will return 10,000 false positives and a single accurate result. A system that works like this is worse than useless. 

You can reduce the risk posed by the mammogram problem by only examining the subsample that's most at risk. Unfortunately, you can't always do this: in systems like (say) law enforcement, the examination rate is predetermined by the reporting rate, which is in some sense fixed.

(2) Uncontrollable positive feedback is a hard problem. Imagine, for a moment, an absolutely maximalist car-theft reporting system. Every day, when you go home, you have to mark the location of your car on a map. At the end of every day, the police drive by and determine whether your car is in the location you marked. If it's not, the police begin an investigation -- one which is largely out of control of the reporter.

If the system carries on, outside of the reporter's control, until it reaches a conclusion, the risk of an unjust result increases. The risk of false recantation similarly increases: the only thing the reporter can do about an investigation that is beyond their control is wreck the investigator's evidence. Furthermore, if every event is maximally escalated, anything which falls short of the minimum penalty which the investigation poses (and note that the investigation itself will generally be viewed as a serious penalty, both by the target of the investigation and by the reporter) cannot be addressed through informal means.

(3) Asymmetric sorting is a hard problem. So, I've built a machine that takes an unsorted bin of black and white balls, and sorts them with an arbitrarily high degree of accuracy. When it finds a black ball, it removes it from the population. When it finds a white ball, it returns it to the population. The machine has no concept of having sorted every ball, and will continue on to the end of time if I let it run. 

It doesn't really matter how high the level of accuracy is.

If I let it run for long enough, it will eventually empty out all the black balls, and then continue to run against a population of white balls until it empties that population out as well. So there is a sense in which, if the rate of examination is high enough, it doesn't even matter what the false positive rate is: so long as the false positive rate is not zero in a static population with immutable characteristics*, the false positive rate will eventually rise to 100%. 

(4) A consequential system which is seriously malfunctioning will stop, even if it is now seriously malfunctioning because it was once unbelievably successful. It is difficult to build a system which successfully eliminates the thing that you're attempting to eliminate. It is unbelievably difficult to build a steady-state system which eliminates the thing you're attempting to eliminate, and then does no further harm. And once a catastrophically successful system starts to do a sufficient amount of harm, it will become impossible to defend even if defensible, because (in general) people strongly rate active harm as being much more important than simple negligence. 

So, to wrap up:

At the end of this process, when we look at the results of a system, we will still have false positives and false negatives. If we would like to substantially reduce false negatives, and there are good structural reasons why we should (reducing the effect of the Petrie multiplier, for instance), we have to increase the examination rate, increase the bias toward false positives, and increase the power of the informal networks that can solve these problems before they're escalated. There may be tradeoffs. There is some asymmetry between the cost of false-positives and false-negatives. I don't want to understate that.

Risks include underestimating the multiplicative effect of simultaneously changing both the false-positive bias and the examination rate, undermining the informal systems which rectify good-faith actions with bad results, and creating a catastrophically successful system which can't achieve a steady-state reduction in the problem complained of. Avoiding those risks is difficult. 

We still need to have a legal system.

* n.b. that a stable population with immutable characteristics is a spherical-cow model, not a model of anything as it actually exists. This is why we can fix problems in a steady-state way at all, and also why problems don't stay fixed after temporarily fixing it.___

2015-07-23 16:46:30 (9 comments, 1 reshares, 14 +1s)Open 

"""
Those wanting to seriously regulate drones, armed or not, are forgetting how they can be used for good. Ranchers can use them to patrol their fields. Hunters could use them on tough to find predators. People who prefer not to go outside at night could use an armed drone to detect prowlers. They can also be used irresponsibly, but so can cell phones, hammers, cars, computers, and guns.
"""

This isn't a very good case... there's a reason gun rights advocates rely on the Second Amendment: there are few, if any, legitimate practical uses for firearms, especially in the modern world. There are fewer still for remote control weaponry, which by nature imply a lack of any immediate threat to the controller and the technological capability to fulfill a desire by non-violent means.

"""
The private sector is already working... more »

"""
Those wanting to seriously regulate drones, armed or not, are forgetting how they can be used for good. Ranchers can use them to patrol their fields. Hunters could use them on tough to find predators. People who prefer not to go outside at night could use an armed drone to detect prowlers. They can also be used irresponsibly, but so can cell phones, hammers, cars, computers, and guns.
"""

This isn't a very good case... there's a reason gun rights advocates rely on the Second Amendment: there are few, if any, legitimate practical uses for firearms, especially in the modern world. There are fewer still for remote control weaponry, which by nature imply a lack of any immediate threat to the controller and the technological capability to fulfill a desire by non-violent means.

"""
The private sector is already working on ways to counter drones. It will become even easier to stop drones, once the technology catches up. Plus, there’s always the simplest solution: take a shotgun to the offending drone. Problem solved.
"""

But the private sector also provides ways to protect yourself from other people: it provides security guards, secluded property, bunkers, full body armor, armored vehicles, and so on. Plus there's always the simplest solution: take a shotgun to the offending person. Problem solved. Yet we don't see people clamoring to release our most violent inmates on the argument that the private sector provides plenty of security options.

"""
There’s a bigger issue at play.
"""

Yes, there is. The bigger issue is this: technology is advancing in ways which, by its very nature, no one will control. Not in the extended sense of distributed decision-making, but in the sense of objects making their own complex choices. A gun mounted on a drone is one step towards an object of dystopian nightmares: automated killbots. Within 10 years, automated assassination in private hands isn't unlikely. It's a thing the government can probably do already. We almost certainly have the ability to build a drone which flies to a given location, uses a camera to identify targets as human, then shoots them.

The automated spree killer is within our grasp right now.

"""
It’s not just that a teen was able to create a really cool thing, but that people so offended by it are demanding that the government do … something.
"""

The only thing I find offensive is the intense stupidity of the author.___

2015-07-22 21:16:37 (23 comments, 20 reshares, 62 +1s)Open 

Wherein Universal Pictures insists that Google take down links to 127.0.0.1 for piracy. 

Wherein Universal Pictures insists that Google take down links to 127.0.0.1 for piracy. ___

2015-07-22 18:58:42 (17 comments, 8 reshares, 21 +1s)Open 

Adventures in Bizarre Patch Notes: Long-running Crusader Kings II games would frequently experience slowdowns because every individual Greek was evaluating whether they could castrate or blind every other individual Greek. 

That performance bug is, thankfully, now eliminated.

Adventures in Bizarre Patch Notes: Long-running Crusader Kings II games would frequently experience slowdowns because every individual Greek was evaluating whether they could castrate or blind every other individual Greek. 

That performance bug is, thankfully, now eliminated.___

2015-07-22 17:30:21 (3 comments, 2 reshares, 12 +1s)Open 

"""
Due to vastly higher labor productivity in the U.S., U.S. GDP would rise more than sending countries' GDPs would fall.
"""

I'm not actually certain of this.

As a first-order effect, that's absolutely the case. As a second-order effect, I'm not so sure. The problem is remittances. According to the IMF, remittances account for 6% of GDP for low-income countries. Open immigration would be very likely to boost remittances, in large part because there would be fewer incentives to stay in the developed world.* With more immigrants accessing better work, there's no reason to believe that remittances wouldn't rise. Given the vast gulf between earnings at home and abroad for legally excluded immigrant workers, it would not surprise if this led to an increase in GDP through remittance payments alone.

But that's... more »

"""
Due to vastly higher labor productivity in the U.S., U.S. GDP would rise more than sending countries' GDPs would fall.
"""

I'm not actually certain of this.

As a first-order effect, that's absolutely the case. As a second-order effect, I'm not so sure. The problem is remittances. According to the IMF, remittances account for 6% of GDP for low-income countries. Open immigration would be very likely to boost remittances, in large part because there would be fewer incentives to stay in the developed world.* With more immigrants accessing better work, there's no reason to believe that remittances wouldn't rise. Given the vast gulf between earnings at home and abroad for legally excluded immigrant workers, it would not surprise if this led to an increase in GDP through remittance payments alone.

But that's just the second-order effect. The third-order effects are that remittance payments help families in the home country do things like send children to school, start businesses, improve local infrastructure, afford access to jobs in-region, or send more family members to work overseas. Those help pull GDP up in the long run by turning remittance into a kind of highly distributed FDI. Unlike the developed world, the developing world does not mostly face a glut of investment.

But those are just the third-order effects. The fourth-order effects stem from the combination of distributed FDI and income. Part of what holds developing nations back are political questions dealing in allocation of very scarce resources. In many cases, these resources are concentrated mostly into a few hands. This tends to blur the public and private sectors, yielding to the private public sphere so common in kleptocracies: public powers used almost exclusively for private gain both through normal petty corruption and the grand corruption of co-opting foreign and domestic firms into arms of the state. Remittances, by reducing inequalities, will tend to put stress on this system of private public power as more people win a larger share of the nation's expanding economic power. In turn, that process should yield higher GDP growth in the long run.

But those are the just the fourth-order effects. The fifth-order effect deals in what happens when the economies of both countries rise in tandem thanks to immigration. Wealthier immigrants in the developed world with contacts in the developing world are a key engine of commerce. They know they language, customs, and opportunities in their home countries. By increasing their incomes and ensuring they're legal, we put them in a better position to use that knowledge to establish a more direct feedback loop between the two countries, thereby increasing GDP in both places.

But that's just the fifth-order effect....

*The fact is, immigrants mostly come to the developed for fairly narrow economic reasons. They have cultures, acquaintances, and places back home they are just as attached to as you'd expect if you think of them as people. Sending remittances is often not simply about family who can't join you, but about building up for a better situation upon your return. With open borders, much of the uncertainty in returning would be gone.___

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2015-07-21 19:47:22 (17 comments, 1 reshares, 49 +1s)Open 

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?___

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2015-07-21 19:45:41 (16 comments, 8 reshares, 28 +1s)Open 

Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on "I am not too sure."

Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on "I am not too sure."___

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2015-07-21 18:50:15 (7 comments, 0 reshares, 11 +1s)Open 

As Will Wilkinson puts it, I'm a neutral institutional monist.

I don't particularly care what we call our necessary institutions, don't particularly care what theory we use to explain their delegated power to perform extraordinary acts in order to deal with extraordinary circumstances, and I don't particularly think there's much of a moral difference between necessary "public" and "private" institutions.

If the framework within which institutional conflicts are arbitrated happens to be a "state," fine. If it happens to be a common-stock corporation which hands out equal shares to people when they're born, that's weird, but fine. If it happens to be a number of  arbitration cooperatives which take delegates from subsidiary institutions, also weird, also fine. As a matter of factual belief, I happen to think the framework within... more »

As Will Wilkinson puts it, I'm a neutral institutional monist.

I don't particularly care what we call our necessary institutions, don't particularly care what theory we use to explain their delegated power to perform extraordinary acts in order to deal with extraordinary circumstances, and I don't particularly think there's much of a moral difference between necessary "public" and "private" institutions.

If the framework within which institutional conflicts are arbitrated happens to be a "state," fine. If it happens to be a common-stock corporation which hands out equal shares to people when they're born, that's weird, but fine. If it happens to be a number of  arbitration cooperatives which take delegates from subsidiary institutions, also weird, also fine. As a matter of factual belief, I happen to think the framework within which disputes between organizations and individuals are resolved will always be a state or substantially statelike, but I can imagine alternatives which I would also not object to.

The only disadvantage to nominally "private" organizations, of course, is that we lose our vocabulary for discussing corruption when we declare an institution private. The fact of private ownership, or private responsibility, or private power should not force us to forget the benefits of a public-benefit ethic. ___

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2015-07-20 19:21:12 (49 comments, 16 reshares, 40 +1s)Open 

Q: So, Andy, who owns the copyright to DeepDream images?

A: Uh. That's a good question. I have no idea.

Q: So, why are you posting about it? 

A: Because my law school mentor, +Annemarie Bridy, does have some idea. 

Q: And what's the answer, according to her?

A: Basically, "no one does," because AIs don't have legal personhood. But apart from that, the answer is surprisingly complex, and touches on US case law, French surrealists, 'pataphysics, and computer science. Worth reading if you have the time and the background.  

Q: So, Andy, who owns the copyright to DeepDream images?

A: Uh. That's a good question. I have no idea.

Q: So, why are you posting about it? 

A: Because my law school mentor, +Annemarie Bridy, does have some idea. 

Q: And what's the answer, according to her?

A: Basically, "no one does," because AIs don't have legal personhood. But apart from that, the answer is surprisingly complex, and touches on US case law, French surrealists, 'pataphysics, and computer science. Worth reading if you have the time and the background.  ___

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2015-07-20 18:41:58 (210 comments, 25 reshares, 112 +1s)Open 

If you put a large, brilliantly white ball in a goose's nest, the mother will ignore the rest of her eggs and brood over the new object -- which looks more like an egg to her than an egg actually does. Male jewel beetles will ignore actual females while attempting to mate with the reflective orange bottoms of beer bottles.

A significant portion of the Republican base supports Trump. 

Over the past twenty-five years, conservative media has taken the position that there are no friends to the left, no enemies to the right.  Right-wing positions that were once permissible have become desirable, and finally mandatory. Immigration needs to be cut down? No, immigration needs to be cut off, to prevent a rapacious horde from swarming over our Southern border! Being rich is ethically okay? No, being rich is ethically mandatory! War should be on the table as an option in foreign policy? No,w... more »

If you put a large, brilliantly white ball in a goose's nest, the mother will ignore the rest of her eggs and brood over the new object -- which looks more like an egg to her than an egg actually does. Male jewel beetles will ignore actual females while attempting to mate with the reflective orange bottoms of beer bottles.

A significant portion of the Republican base supports Trump. 

Over the past twenty-five years, conservative media has taken the position that there are no friends to the left, no enemies to the right.  Right-wing positions that were once permissible have become desirable, and finally mandatory. Immigration needs to be cut down? No, immigration needs to be cut off, to prevent a rapacious horde from swarming over our Southern border! Being rich is ethically okay? No, being rich is ethically mandatory! War should be on the table as an option in foreign policy? No, we should be considering nuclear war against the whole Muslim world! Obama is a bad president? No, he's a Kenyan Muslim atheist usurper, a communist fascist, and a weakling tyrant!

To people who have cultivated a taste for this escalating (and basically emotional) right-wing nonsense, Trump is a superstimulus: on every position the right wing supports or admires -- from xenophobic suspicion to rampant inequality to belligerent saber-rattling -- he's turned the dial to eleven and left it there.

So why should we be surprised that he's doing so well in the polls?___

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2015-07-18 04:04:42 (8 comments, 3 reshares, 25 +1s)Open 

Thank you and goodnight.

Thank you and goodnight.___

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2015-07-17 21:49:25 (10 comments, 12 reshares, 69 +1s)Open 

I suppose "woman found dead in jail had prior traffic tickets and a dismissed misdemeanor" didn't grab as many clicks as one might expect. I'm not a Texas lawyer, so maybe someone can clarify something for me -- how many traffic tickets does it take to get the death penalty in Texas? 

I suppose "woman found dead in jail had prior traffic tickets and a dismissed misdemeanor" didn't grab as many clicks as one might expect. I'm not a Texas lawyer, so maybe someone can clarify something for me -- how many traffic tickets does it take to get the death penalty in Texas? ___

2015-07-17 20:28:52 (20 comments, 3 reshares, 71 +1s)Open 

Meeting Hacks: In a videoconference, introducing the meeting with the phrase "If you're watching this, I'm already dead" is a fantastic way to shorten your meeting schedule.

Meeting Hacks: In a videoconference, introducing the meeting with the phrase "If you're watching this, I'm already dead" is a fantastic way to shorten your meeting schedule.___

2015-07-16 20:43:17 (7 comments, 1 reshares, 20 +1s)Open 

Two Corollaries to Poe's Law:

(1) For any position X, the position straw-X is actually held by someone. Andrea Dworkin, for instance, did not say precisely that all heterosexual sex was rape. There exist feminists who have said that. They are not particularly common, but because they are not particularly common, they are quite loud.

(2) Conversely, for any position X, the actual existence or prevalence of position straw-X is not disproof of X. Because it is inconvenient to acknowledge and the position is often disregarded when encountered, people don't concede the existence of people who hold unreasonable variants of the beliefs they hold. It is not necessary to force them to acknowledge that in order to contend with the beliefs they actually hold.

Two Corollaries to Poe's Law:

(1) For any position X, the position straw-X is actually held by someone. Andrea Dworkin, for instance, did not say precisely that all heterosexual sex was rape. There exist feminists who have said that. They are not particularly common, but because they are not particularly common, they are quite loud.

(2) Conversely, for any position X, the actual existence or prevalence of position straw-X is not disproof of X. Because it is inconvenient to acknowledge and the position is often disregarded when encountered, people don't concede the existence of people who hold unreasonable variants of the beliefs they hold. It is not necessary to force them to acknowledge that in order to contend with the beliefs they actually hold.___

2015-07-16 19:16:26 (11 comments, 1 reshares, 14 +1s)Open 

Shit. Another promising MS drug with catastrophic side effects.

Not unexpected, though. Multiple sclerosis is probably caused by a conjunction of two problems: an unusually permeable blood-brain barrier, and an immune response to myelin. We have no good way of turning off the immune response to myelin, so -- as an alternative -- we either (a) globally downregulate the immune system, or (b) make it more difficult for the immune system to act in the brain.

The problems with (a) should be obvious. You need your immune system.

The problems with (b) are less obvious, but discussed below. 

White blood cells can't easily get into the brain: in order to cross from capillaries into actual brain tissue, they use one of several interleukins as a passkey. But the brain also has its own endogenous immune system: microglia, which are specialized... more »

Shit. Another promising MS drug with catastrophic side effects.

Not unexpected, though. Multiple sclerosis is probably caused by a conjunction of two problems: an unusually permeable blood-brain barrier, and an immune response to myelin. We have no good way of turning off the immune response to myelin, so -- as an alternative -- we either (a) globally downregulate the immune system, or (b) make it more difficult for the immune system to act in the brain.

The problems with (a) should be obvious. You need your immune system.

The problems with (b) are less obvious, but discussed below. 

White blood cells can't easily get into the brain: in order to cross from capillaries into actual brain tissue, they use one of several interleukins as a passkey. But the brain also has its own endogenous immune system: microglia, which are specialized macrophages which perform garbage-collection and cull damaged cells. When we attempt to downregulate macrophage activity or shore up the blood-brain barrier, we often find out why the immune system is there to begin with.

As it turns out, many of us have latent viruses in our brain. Without garbage-collection, those latent viruses can become active, causing multifocal leukencephalopathy. Which is profoundly bad, and generally fatal.___

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2015-07-15 17:00:03 (43 comments, 2 reshares, 21 +1s)Open 

Iranian kids in Tehran. Marg bar "marg bar Amrika." 

"Sounds of joy & images of excitement continue to cover the streets of #Tehran"

#irandeal   #irandealvienna   #peace   #iran   #US  

Just a few years ago, things like this would have been impossible to spot in Iran!

Such a cute kid!___Iranian kids in Tehran. Marg bar "marg bar Amrika." 

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2015-07-15 16:44:43 (4 comments, 5 reshares, 13 +1s)Open 

I really never see my own brand of cheerful nihilism represented anywhere but here. (Particularly, from 2:50 on.)

I really never see my own brand of cheerful nihilism represented anywhere but here. (Particularly, from 2:50 on.)___

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2015-07-14 23:27:27 (15 comments, 2 reshares, 20 +1s)Open 

Interesting. In conjunction with the total capitulation of the Greek government in the previous round of talks, it appears as though Syriza may have had a better plan than it's copped to. 

If the IMF pulls out of the Greek bailout deal, then Europe has a difficult choice: (a) decline Greece's total capitulation to Eurozone demands and expel it from the Euro even after the agreement has been finalized, (b) cover the IMF's stake in the bailout,  or (c) offer Greece better terms than even Greece agreed to. 

All of this would be made easier if Schauble lost his job.

Interesting. In conjunction with the total capitulation of the Greek government in the previous round of talks, it appears as though Syriza may have had a better plan than it's copped to. 

If the IMF pulls out of the Greek bailout deal, then Europe has a difficult choice: (a) decline Greece's total capitulation to Eurozone demands and expel it from the Euro even after the agreement has been finalized, (b) cover the IMF's stake in the bailout,  or (c) offer Greece better terms than even Greece agreed to. 

All of this would be made easier if Schauble lost his job.___

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2015-07-14 19:32:18 (23 comments, 11 reshares, 33 +1s)Open 

Exactly right. 

The US has geopolitical objectives other than preventing Iran from getting access to nuclear weapons. Like it or not, we need Iran's limited cooperation on a lot of regional issues -- Yemen's Houthis, Syria and Iraq's ISIS, stability in eastern Afghanistan -- and can't simultaneously maintain the embargo. 

Relations are likely to continue to be hostile, but they always were. 

Exactly right. 

The US has geopolitical objectives other than preventing Iran from getting access to nuclear weapons. Like it or not, we need Iran's limited cooperation on a lot of regional issues -- Yemen's Houthis, Syria and Iraq's ISIS, stability in eastern Afghanistan -- and can't simultaneously maintain the embargo. 

Relations are likely to continue to be hostile, but they always were. ___

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2015-07-13 20:18:43 (9 comments, 0 reshares, 22 +1s)Open 

Fine, fine. I'll get in on the game.

Fine, fine. I'll get in on the game.___

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2015-07-13 20:17:36 (9 comments, 0 reshares, 32 +1s)Open 

___

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2015-07-13 19:38:10 (11 comments, 19 reshares, 61 +1s)Open 

In a sense, this is right. In another, it's not answering the right question. Why would the NSA demand encryption backdoors even if they know full well that no such thing is practical? The answer eventually comes down to institutional design.

Some thoughts on how we went wrong:

(1) In a sense, the NSA is like a large tech company which contains both engineers and less-technical project managers. The engineers are generally mathematics and computer science Ph.Ds from specialized fields. The project managers are all military officers. Employees that span both domains are extremely uncommon: most managerial positions are filled by people who started in military signals intelligence or the CIA, then transferred to NSA.

The head of the NSA is, by law, always a military officer. By custom, the deputy director of the NSA is a mathematician or engineer, but there's no... more »

In a sense, this is right. In another, it's not answering the right question. Why would the NSA demand encryption backdoors even if they know full well that no such thing is practical? The answer eventually comes down to institutional design.

Some thoughts on how we went wrong:

(1) In a sense, the NSA is like a large tech company which contains both engineers and less-technical project managers. The engineers are generally mathematics and computer science Ph.Ds from specialized fields. The project managers are all military officers. Employees that span both domains are extremely uncommon: most managerial positions are filled by people who started in military signals intelligence or the CIA, then transferred to NSA.

The head of the NSA is, by law, always a military officer. By custom, the deputy director of the NSA is a mathematician or engineer, but there's no mistaking who's in charge: officers with often-marginal technical ability. Insofar as the NSA believes that key escrow is possible to do safely, that knowledge is fully believed by nontechnical management, not the cryptographers that would be called upon to implement the program.

(2) In another sense, the NSA is like the Air Force.

The USAF is basically a logistics organization. Their job is to put men and materiel precisely where they belong, as quickly as possible, using planes. That's what most of the Air Force does: only 2% of its personnel are combat pilots, and less than a third of its planes are armed. By comparison, the Navy -- which is not primarily a logistics organization -- has more combat pilots and aircraft.

Nonetheless, most of the USAF's leadership comes out of the combat pilot ranks. Why? Because combat aircraft are the flashiest and most iconic symbols of what the USAF does. 

Since the idea of cyberwarfare came on the scene, the NSA has been selecting its leadership from officers with a background in offensive cyberwarfare, rather than defensive cryptography. To the average congressperson, this is both more exciting and more comprehensible. This leads the NSA to systematically overestimate the value of offensive operations and denigrate the critical importance of solid civilian cryptography.

(3) Compartmentalization makes it difficult for the NSA to evaluate the systemic risk of espionage programs. 

Inside the NSA, functional segregation makes it difficult to understand the risk characteristics of programs outside an individual employee's reporting chain or tech stack. Only high-level managers have comprehensive need-to-know over most of the agency's programs, but their limited attention means that it's difficult for the people in charge to assess technical risk.

Which they wouldn't be particularly good at anyway. Because they aren't technical.

(4) Secrecy is corrosive to accountability. When you don't have to justify your actions to anyone -- when, in fact, it's a crime to justify your actions to anyone but the person who ordered them -- you stand a greater risk of doing things which are unjustified.

This means, ultimately, that the more secrecy your program needs, the more hostile oversight needs to be. 

(I originally posted this as commentary on a reshare, but current events have made it relevant again, and was asked for a reshareable version. Bonus for technical readers: a primer from +Lea Kissner about how the DUAL_EC_DRBG backdoor works.)___

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2015-07-10 22:54:19 (52 comments, 7 reshares, 43 +1s)Open 

For those of you who have been following me for a long time, you've often heard me grouse about Wikileaks being well behind the mainstream media on reporting abuse in Iraq. What you haven't heard me grouse about is the fact that Snowden was well behind in pointing out NSA abuses, too. 

Wiebe, Binney, and Drake were well ahead of Snowden in pointing out the NSA's mass-wtapping programs. Jewel v. NSA revealed the existence of UPSTREAM.  Almost everything which Snowden eventually published had been diligently reported on by the middle pages of middlebrow newspapers, and then studiously ignored.

I just remembered today that the telephone metadata snooping had been revealed seven years before Snowden, in the article linked below. There is a lesson here. I am not sure what it is.

For those of you who have been following me for a long time, you've often heard me grouse about Wikileaks being well behind the mainstream media on reporting abuse in Iraq. What you haven't heard me grouse about is the fact that Snowden was well behind in pointing out NSA abuses, too. 

Wiebe, Binney, and Drake were well ahead of Snowden in pointing out the NSA's mass-wtapping programs. Jewel v. NSA revealed the existence of UPSTREAM.  Almost everything which Snowden eventually published had been diligently reported on by the middle pages of middlebrow newspapers, and then studiously ignored.

I just remembered today that the telephone metadata snooping had been revealed seven years before Snowden, in the article linked below. There is a lesson here. I am not sure what it is.___

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2015-07-09 19:34:10 (8 comments, 1 reshares, 20 +1s)Open 

One quick way to determine whether a pundit is reliable is to check to see whether they continue to promote the same line even as the predicates they'd previously used have changed. Stephen Roach, former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, has been promoting the same line for years: China's growth is sustainable even though no other growth of its type has been before. 

When he was last promoting it, it seemed like it might be true. Even I was doubting my doubt.

And he's right again, on the narrow issue of whether the Chinese stock meltdown actually represents a metastasizing failure in the Chinese economy. But what about the fundamentals? Energy usage is down. Export discrepancies are increasing, even as factory outputs drop. Growth is plummeting. The Chinese government has stopped publishing statistics which it can't credibly juke. 

Alone, the failure ofC... more »

One quick way to determine whether a pundit is reliable is to check to see whether they continue to promote the same line even as the predicates they'd previously used have changed. Stephen Roach, former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, has been promoting the same line for years: China's growth is sustainable even though no other growth of its type has been before. 

When he was last promoting it, it seemed like it might be true. Even I was doubting my doubt.

And he's right again, on the narrow issue of whether the Chinese stock meltdown actually represents a metastasizing failure in the Chinese economy. But what about the fundamentals? Energy usage is down. Export discrepancies are increasing, even as factory outputs drop. Growth is plummeting. The Chinese government has stopped publishing statistics which it can't credibly juke. 

Alone, the failure of China's government-dominated, loosely-coupled financial system might not be cause for deep concern. But it's not just the financial system that's a problem: everything is. That should be enough to make us worry more about China than Greece.___

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2015-07-09 19:26:16 (10 comments, 21 reshares, 36 +1s)Open 

Yo, dawg, I heard yo dawg likes to jump at dogs. So I showed yo dawg yo dawg so yo dawg can jump while he jumps.

Yo, dawg, I heard yo dawg likes to jump at dogs. So I showed yo dawg yo dawg so yo dawg can jump while he jumps.___

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2015-07-08 18:47:43 (9 comments, 5 reshares, 10 +1s)Open 

What an odd piece of writing.

It's interesting to see an account of Syrian politics and history that almost entirely omits sectarianism. It's not necessarily wrong. I'm just not used to seeing internal tensions in ethnoreligiously diverse ME states described without reference to the sectarian divisions underlying these ideological divisions.

Ideological divisions in the Middle East, like ideological divisions in Europe a century ago, are largely driven by underlying sectarian splits. In Europe, minority populations often turned to internationalist movements as an antidote to minority-hostile nationalism. This pattern, which is now only an undercurrent in European politics, is still common in the Middle East.

Lebanese socialists are mostly Druze. Baathist Arab socialists were largely religious minority coalitions. The Turkish left is ethnically divided between the... more »

What an odd piece of writing.

It's interesting to see an account of Syrian politics and history that almost entirely omits sectarianism. It's not necessarily wrong. I'm just not used to seeing internal tensions in ethnoreligiously diverse ME states described without reference to the sectarian divisions underlying these ideological divisions.

Ideological divisions in the Middle East, like ideological divisions in Europe a century ago, are largely driven by underlying sectarian splits. In Europe, minority populations often turned to internationalist movements as an antidote to minority-hostile nationalism. This pattern, which is now only an undercurrent in European politics, is still common in the Middle East.

Lebanese socialists are mostly Druze. Baathist Arab socialists were largely religious minority coalitions. The Turkish left is ethnically divided between the ethnically Turkish left and the minority-left . (Until this last election, interestingly.)

This has something to do with the British and French, but the clock actually starts with the Ottomans: the Ottomans set up a strict ethnoreligious caste ordering: Turkish Sunnis > Other Sunnis > Christians and Jews > Other religious minorities. Each ethnos had limited self-rule and free movement, so long as the ethnoi remained mostly segregated.

The British and French inverted the Ottoman caste ordering after WWI, but none of the minority populations were incontestably in control. And they took a huge amount of land and resources from the people who had been favored by the Turks. This is how an Alawite-led coalition rules Syria, and why they feel so deeply aggrieved: they were at the bottom of the Ottoman hierarchy until elevated by Europeans.

All of my thinking about the Levant has been driven by this mostly-deterministic model. With that in mind, it's interesting to read an alternative account wherein the politics of the Middle East are actually politics, rather than tribal warfare conducted by other means.___

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2015-07-07 21:59:34 (27 comments, 3 reshares, 20 +1s)Open 

Wherein the mayor of Whitesboro* objects to people pointing out the racism of this city seal, which clearly depicts a white settler gently hugging his Native American friend.

* Seriously. What the hell. Whitesboro?

Wherein the mayor of Whitesboro* objects to people pointing out the racism of this city seal, which clearly depicts a white settler gently hugging his Native American friend.

* Seriously. What the hell. Whitesboro?___

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2015-07-07 20:18:24 (6 comments, 4 reshares, 11 +1s)Open 

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the fenqing economists were wrong, and that it's impossible to sustain double-digit growth rates forever, in the face of vast misallocations of resources. It does not appear that China is headed for anything close to a soft landing -- much to the rest of the world's horror. 

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/china/chinese-investors-stung-market-rout-n387261

In 2008, Western consumption collapsed. But China's economy kept going strong.

If the conventional wisdom holds -- that China's economy is buoyed by rising Western consumption -- then this shouldn't have occurred. So +Danny Quah uses this opportunity to argue that this demonstrates the resilience of the Chinese internal economy, and argue that the growth it's showed since 2008 is sustainable: if not in perpetuity, than at least for the immediate future. 

This is both right and wrong.

It's true that the Chinese economy remained strong even as the majority of their trading partners began flagging. It's false, however, that this is a mere continuation of the growth trend which began at the beginning of this century: unlike the West, China was able to muster an immense policy response to the ongoing economic disaster. Also unlike the West, its policy response may knock it off of its growth footing. 

After the American-led financial disaster, Chinese grey-market financiers stepped in to fill the gap, extending low-interest loans. Internal infrastructure spending began to crank up. State-run industries ramped up production. And -- at least according to China -- this has kept growth at or near double-digits throughout the crisis.

This has come at a cost. Inflation ran high throughout the height of the crisis. Electricity usage, a key metric of industrial production, is down. And there are still signs of dire malinvestment in infrastructure: abandoned cities, empty roads, stalled trains, silent apartments. It's certainly possible that the rules have changed, and that economic growth will push aside the concerns. 

But even though inflation has come down, there are troubling signs that the Chinese economy -- and Chinese institutions -- have been gravely wounded by the recent economic troubles. ___Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the fenqing economists were wrong, and that it's impossible to sustain double-digit growth rates forever, in the face of vast misallocations of resources. It does not appear that China is headed for anything close to a soft landing -- much to the rest of the world's horror. 

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/china/chinese-investors-stung-market-rout-n387261

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2015-07-07 01:31:30 (17 comments, 3 reshares, 23 +1s)Open 

I've been struggling for words to talk about the Charleston shooting. This doesn't get at all I want to express, but it does capture a point I haven't seen emphasized enough: why did it take this, and not the earlier shootings, to unite Americans on the unacceptable threats faced by blacks?

Some quotes

"Specifically, to make the point plainly, universal sympathy from White America was only forthcoming when the moral narrative regarding Black virtue and innocence was clear and indisputable." ... "Black heroism can't be the asking price for White sympathy."

"These more ambiguous situations are the ones that divide America. And why is that? Because these events are open to interpretation. And because they are _open to interpretation_ -moral Rorschach blots- they are the situations that most reveal our biases and prejudices."

I've been struggling for words to talk about the Charleston shooting. This doesn't get at all I want to express, but it does capture a point I haven't seen emphasized enough: why did it take this, and not the earlier shootings, to unite Americans on the unacceptable threats faced by blacks?

Some quotes

"Specifically, to make the point plainly, universal sympathy from White America was only forthcoming when the moral narrative regarding Black virtue and innocence was clear and indisputable." ... "Black heroism can't be the asking price for White sympathy."

"These more ambiguous situations are the ones that divide America. And why is that? Because these events are open to interpretation. And because they are _open to interpretation_ -moral Rorschach blots- they are the situations that most reveal our biases and prejudices."___

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2015-07-06 19:52:41 (18 comments, 4 reshares, 29 +1s)Open 

I'm pretty bullish on biotech and GMO plants. I'm not sure that this is a great idea. 

As a concept, grass is a pretty great evolutionary concept: uniform ground-cover which maximizes surface area, spread over a wide area, with connected root systems in case predators take out your stems. Even the stubble left over can photosynthesize. 

Unsurprisingly, many of our staple crops -- grains -- are grasses. Lots of biomass per acre, and we have to pay relatively little attention to what we're growing. But grass-driven agriculture is only environmentally disastrous because we have to clear native grasses to plant foreign grasses, and because we can't tolerate ecosystems moving in and eating all of our wheat. 

Optimizing for seed production has made domesticated grasses poor invasive species: rice or wheat or corn or barley won't simply move in and take overgr... more »

I'm pretty bullish on biotech and GMO plants. I'm not sure that this is a great idea. 

As a concept, grass is a pretty great evolutionary concept: uniform ground-cover which maximizes surface area, spread over a wide area, with connected root systems in case predators take out your stems. Even the stubble left over can photosynthesize. 

Unsurprisingly, many of our staple crops -- grains -- are grasses. Lots of biomass per acre, and we have to pay relatively little attention to what we're growing. But grass-driven agriculture is only environmentally disastrous because we have to clear native grasses to plant foreign grasses, and because we can't tolerate ecosystems moving in and eating all of our wheat. 

Optimizing for seed production has made domesticated grasses poor invasive species: rice or wheat or corn or barley won't simply move in and take over grasslands on its own. That's because we've bred those species to waste their energy on way to many seeds. It's unclear to me, however, that that pattern would hold if we were to start splicing additional chlorophyll genes into domesticated grasses. 

Wheat wastes a lot of energy on producing too many seeds. Does it waste 50, 60% of its energy that way? If we can genuinely increase energy input while reducing insect predation, we may out-clever our own agricultural optimization and turn food crops into genuine invasive species. ___

2015-07-06 05:50:36 (4 comments, 1 reshares, 33 +1s)Open 

Capsule Review, Jurassic World: Script adapted from a breathless retelling of the plot of Jurassic Park by your nine year old nephew, who hazily remembers watching it last year. Four stars. 

Capsule Review, Jurassic World: Script adapted from a breathless retelling of the plot of Jurassic Park by your nine year old nephew, who hazily remembers watching it last year. Four stars. ___

2015-07-06 05:16:13 (30 comments, 19 reshares, 78 +1s)Open 

Irresponsible or unavoidable borrowing?

Growing up in Europe, I didn't pay much attention to the construction of the Euro, and whatever little I remember has nothing to do with the economics of it. Now, older, having lived in the US for a while, with a Greek wife, I'm looking at the way the Euro is unraveling and I've been using the opportunity to try to figure out how it works (or, rather, why it doesn't).

The core mechanism that allows multiple states to share the same currency is pretty simple: since the weaker states can't devalue their currency to compensate for their trade deficit with the stronger ones, money has to flow from the stronger economies to the weaker ones in order to maintain the balance.

We see that in the US: as measured in GDP per capita, there's about a 2:1 ratio between the strongest states... more »

Irresponsible or unavoidable borrowing?

Growing up in Europe, I didn't pay much attention to the construction of the Euro, and whatever little I remember has nothing to do with the economics of it. Now, older, having lived in the US for a while, with a Greek wife, I'm looking at the way the Euro is unraveling and I've been using the opportunity to try to figure out how it works (or, rather, why it doesn't).

The core mechanism that allows multiple states to share the same currency is pretty simple: since the weaker states can't devalue their currency to compensate for their trade deficit with the stronger ones, money has to flow from the stronger economies to the weaker ones in order to maintain the balance.

We see that in the US: as measured in GDP per capita, there's about a 2:1 ratio between the strongest states and the weakest ones. To compensate for that, a lot of money flows between states, through the federal government. Most taxes in the US are federal taxes, i.e. about 75%, and the federal government doesn't necessarily spend the money it collects in the exact states where it collects them. As an example, about 130 billion dollars paid by California in federal taxes don't make it back into California. Texas and New York are the two other states that have a negative balance of more than 100 billion each. For those 3 states, that outflow on money represents 5.7%, 7.2% and 7.4% of their respective GDPs. California is literally sending money to other states so that those states can buy California stuff. The same is true for Texas, New York, and about 20 of the 50 states that are sending money to the other 30.

Looking back in history, the Marshall Plan followed a somewhat similar logic: the US sent aid to Europe, to allow Europeans to buy US goods, which was both a stabilizing mechanism for European currencies that otherwise were in a devaluation spiral, and an outlet for the huge US industrial production. For reference, the Marshall Plan amounted to 120 billion dollars (in today's dollars) over 4 years, which is tiny compared to the amount of money that the federal government now redistributes across state lines.

We can compare that to the situation in the Eurozone/EU, where the GDP per capita varies by a factor of about 2.3:1. Germany's balance in the EU budget is negative by less than 9 billion Euros. France's and Italy's follow at approximately 6.5 billion and 6 billion. Germany's 9 billion Euros is tiny compared to California's 130 billion dollars, especially since Germany's GDP is 60% larger than that of California. Since the US and EU economies have approximately the same size, that's a reasonably apples-to-apples comparison. The biggest negative balance that a Eurozone country has with the EU is about 0.41% of its GDP. The biggest positive balance is 1.3%. Within the US, only 4 states out of 50 fall within that range.

That's the problem right there: Germany is not flowing enough money out to other Eurozone countries to compensate for its own very strong economy. That's true of other rich European countries as well, e.g. Netherlands, Austria, France.

From the Greek point of view, the only way to get that money to flow in order to maintain balance had been for the government to borrow. That wasn't irresponsible borrowing. That was mechanical, predictable. Greece's poor historical discipline around government finances only accelerated an unavoidable process, but it's not a root cause.

In fact, predictably, pushing Greece into austerity made things worse, much worse: with the root cause being Greece's relatively weak economy compared to the rest of the Eurozone, an austerity approach can only put Greece in a position where it needs even more money to flow in in order to maintain balance.

Even if we assume that all of Greece's debts get somehow forgiven with no further constraints and that Greece manages to run a balanced government budget, it would still be in an unsustainable position in the current Eurozone as its weaker economy would force additional money to flow in. Unless the Eurozone very significantly increases the amount of money that it redistributes across borders, Greece should get out of the Euro at the first opportunity, i.e. literally Monday morning, July 6.

Worse, with Greece out, it's only a matter of time for another weak country to find itself in the same position: that might be Portugal, Spain, Italy, or if Bulgaria, Romania or even Hungary join quickly enough that might go through that same death spiral quickly enough to see the Eurozone as a revolving door, with barely enough time to come in before being back out.

Once that first batch of weak countries is out, there'll always be more that'll be at the bottom of the scale and will find themselves in the same position. France is comfortably in the middle of the pack within Europe today, but attrition will eventually push it toward the bottom, and France having to leave the Euro is a true nightmare scenario for everyone.

In order for the Eurozone to survive, its rich members will need to send a lot more money to the poorer ones: the rich ones literally can't continue reaping benefits from a currency based on the European average without sharing those benefits with the poorer ones that bring that European average down. Otherwise, the Euro will consume country after country until it hits a country that is literally too big to fail.___

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2015-07-05 19:45:24 (0 comments, 2 reshares, 11 +1s)Open 

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2015-06-30 23:48:24 (52 comments, 3 reshares, 56 +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 (57 comments, 43 reshares, 118 +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, 17 +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, 2 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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