January 13, 2017

No Peace For The Wicked I THE GREAT WAR Week 129

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, Russia, WW1 — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 12 Jan 2017

This week 100 years ago there was talk about peace between the great warring nations. But even after millions of casualties, starving people at home and more escalation on the horizon, the situation didn’t seem bad enough for one of them to give in on their demands. At the same time, the fighting in Romania continues and the political situation in Russia becomes ever more dire.

Jonathan Haidt on the rise of the “microaggression” concept

Filed under: Health, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

He is commenting on an article in Perspectives on Psychological Science (PDF):

The microaggression program teaches students the exact opposite of ancient wisdom. Microaggression training is — by definition — instruction in how to detect ever-smaller specks in your neighbor’s eye. Microaggression training tells students that “life itself is exactly what you think it is — you have a direct pipeline to reality, and the person who offended you does not, so go with your feelings.” Of course, the ancients could be wrong on these points, but the empirical evidence for the importance of appraisal and the ubiquity of bias and hypocrisy is overwhelming (I review it in chapters 2 and 4 of The Happiness Hypothesis). As Lilienfeld shows, the empirical evidence supporting the utility and validity of the microaggression concept is minimal at best.

I think the section of Lilienfeld’s article that should most make us recoil from the microaggression program is the section on personality traits, particularly negative emotionality and the tendency to perceive oneself as a victim. These are traits — correlated with depression and anxiety disorders — that some students bring with them from high school to college. Students who score high on these traits perceive more microaggressions in ambiguous circumstances. These traits therefore bring misery and anger to the students themselves, and these negative emotions and the conflicts they engender are likely to radiate outward through the students’ social networks (Christakis & Fowler, 2009). How should colleges (and other institutions) respond to the presence of high scorers in their midst? Should they offer them cognitive behavioral therapy or moral validation? Should they hand them a copy of The Dhammapada or a microaggression training manual?

It’s bad enough to make the most fragile and anxious students quicker to take offense and more self-certain and self-righteous. But what would happen if you took a whole campus of diverse students, who arrive from all over the world with very different values and habits, and you train all of them to react with pain and anger to ever-smaller specks that they learn to see in each other’s eyes?

And what would happen if the rise of the microaggression concept coincided with the rise of social media, so that students can file charges against each other — and against their professors — within minutes of any perceived offense? The predictable result of welcoming the microaggression program to campus is turmoil, distrust, and anger. It is the end of the open environment we prize in the academy, where students feel free to speak up and challenge each other, their professors, and orthodox ideas. On a campus that polices microaggressions, everyone walks on eggshells.

H/T to David Thompson for the link.

That demon sugar

Filed under: Books, Health, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Last week, Ronald Bailey reviewed a new book on whether the rise in obesity in western society can be blamed on our collective sweet-tooth: The Case Against Sugar, by Gary Taubes.

Less than 1 percent of Americans — 1.6 million people — were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1958. As of 2014, that figure had risen to 9.3 percent, or 29.1 million. If current trends continue, the figure could rise to more than 33 percent by 2050. Something has clearly gone wrong with American health.

The rising rate of diabetes is associated with the rising prevalence of obesity. Since the early 1960s, the percent of Americans who are obese — that is, whose body mass index is greater than 30 — has increased from 13 percent to 35.7 percent today. (Nearly 70 percent of Americans are overweight, meaning their BMIs are over 25.) Roughly put, the prevailing theory is that rising fatness causes rising diabetes.

But what if both are caused by something else? That is the intriguing and ultimately persuasive argument that Gary Taubes, author Why We Get Fat (2011) and cofounder of the Nutrition Science Initiative, makes in his new book, The Case Against Sugar.

For Taubes, sugar — be it sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup — is “the principal cause of the chronic diseases that are most likely to kill us, or at least accelerate our demise,” explains Taubes at the outset. “If this were a criminal case, The Case Against Sugar would be the argument for the prosecution.” In making his case, Taubes explores the “claim that sugar is uniquely toxic — perhaps having prematurely killed more people than cigarettes or ‘all wars combined,’ as [diabetes epidemiologist] Kelly West put it.”

Taubes surveys the admittedly sparse research on sugar’s psychoactive effects. For example, researchers have found that eating sugar stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is also released when consuming nicotine, cocaine, heroin, or alcohol. Researchers are still debating the question of whether or not sugar is, in some sense, addictive.

Interestingly, in my most recent discussion with a doctor earlier this week, he specifically said that the dietary information we’ve been depending on for generations is incorrect and that we should avoid excess sugar in our diet rather than fat (keeping in mind total calorie count, of course).

QotD: Markets and politics

Filed under: Economics, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Markets adapt to political changes, and the hierarchy of values that distinguishes between an hour’s worth of warehouse management, an hour’s worth of composing poetry, an hour’s worth of brain surgery, and an hour’s worth of singing pop songs is not going to change because a politician says so, or because a group of politicians says so, or because 50 percent + 1 of the voters say so, or for any other reason. To think otherwise is the equivalent of flat-earth cosmology. In the long term, people’s needs and desires are what they are; in the short term, you can cause a great deal of chaos in the economy and you can give employers additional reasons to automate rote work. But you cannot make a fry-guy’s labor as valuable as a patent lawyer’s by simply passing a law.

This is not a matter of opinion — that is how the world actually works. One of the many corrosive effects of having a political apparatus and a political class dominated by lawyers is that the lawyerly conflation of opinion with reality becomes a ruling principle. Lawyers and high-school debaters (the groups are not alien to one another) operate in a world in which opinion is reality: If you convince the jury or the debate judges that your argument is superior, or if you can get them to believe that your position is the correct one, then you win, and the question of who wins is the most important one if you are, e.g., on trial for murder. But if you shot that guy you shot that guy, regardless of what the jury says — facts are facts. Galileo et al. were right (or closer to right) about the organization of the solar system than were Fra Hieronimus de Casalimaiori and the Aristotelians, and the fact that Galileo lost at trial didn’t change that.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Bernie Sanders’s Dark Age Economics”, National Review, 2015-05-27.

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