April 26, 2016

QotD: Sadly, looks do matter

Filed under: Health, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

If you’re a woman who wants to land a man, there’s this notion that you should be able to go around looking like Ernest Borgnine: If you’re “beautiful on the inside,” that’s all that should count. Right. And I should have a flying car and a mansion in Bel Air with servants and a moat.

Welcome to Uglytopia — the world reimagined as a place where it’s the content of a woman’s character, not her pushup bra, that puts her on the cover of Maxim. It just doesn’t seem fair to us that some people come into life with certain advantages — whether it’s a movie star chin or a multimillion-dollar shipbuilding inheritance. Maybe we need affirmative action for ugly people; make George Clooney rotate in some homely women between all his gorgeous girlfriends. While we wish things were different, we’d best accept the ugly reality: No man will turn his head to ogle a woman because she looks like the type to buy a turkey sandwich for a homeless man or read to the blind.


It turns out that the real beauty myth is the damaging one Wolf and other feminists are perpetuating — the absurd notion that it serves women to thumb their noses at standards of beauty. Of course, looks aren’t all that matter (as I’m lectured by female readers of my newspaper column when I point out that male lust seems to have a weight limit). But looks matter a great deal. The more attractive the woman is, the wider her pool of romantic partners and range of opportunities in her work and day-to-day life. We all know this, and numerous studies confirm it — it’s just heresy to say so.

Amy Alkon, “The Truth About Beauty”, Psychology Today, 2010-11-01.

April 24, 2016

QotD: Learning when to walk away

Filed under: Books, Media, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… the point of my book is that failure is inevitable, so you’d better learn to deal with it as best you can. Don’t say “Failure is not an option” the way they do in movies, because I promise you, failure is always an option. Prepare for it. Learn from it. Move on.

The follow-up question I frequently got — and a completely fair one — is “OK, how do you know when it’s time to pack it in? ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’ only takes you so far, after all.”

In response, I ended up telling a story. It’s the story of a girl who was destined to be around 6’2″, a fact ascertained during her toddlerhood by the family doctor. (Apparently you can reasonably approximate adult height by measuring a little kid’s leg bones. Or maybe by looking at her 6’7″ dad.)

This little girl briefly wanted to be a gymnast. This was not in her destiny. So she settled on a new ambition. She wanted to be a jockey.

The girl grew very fast. By the time she was in fifth grade, she was over 5′ tall. By seventh grade, she had reached her full height. And it was just around this time that someone pointed out that she was already a foot too tall to be a jockey.

Should this girl — and yes, it was our very own Megan McArdle — have pluckily ignored the critics and the naysayers and dedicated herself to achieving her dream? To answer that, ask yourself another question: Should you try to dislodge a stuck lemon peel from the garbage disposal while it’s still running?

No, no, no. This can only end in disaster.

Sometimes what failure is telling you is “this doesn’t work” or “you don’t have what it takes.” Ignoring those messages is, in fact, how many of the folks I chronicled in my book turned a simple failure into a total disaster.

Megan McArdle, “Will Mitt Romney Know When It’s Time To Quit?”, Bloomberg View, 2015-01-16.

April 19, 2016

Richard Feynman’s shortcut for detecting pseudo-scientific bullshit

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Open Culture, Josh Jones discusses Richard Feynman’s suggestion for non-scientists to evaluate whether a claim is scientific or pseudo-scientific nonsense:

The problem of demarcation, or what is and what is not science, has occupied philosophers for some time, and the most famous answer comes from philosopher of science Karl Popper, who proposed his theory of “falsifiability” in 1963. According to Popper, an idea is scientific if it can conceivably be proven wrong. Although Popper’s strict definition of science has had its uses over the years, it has also come in for its share of criticism, since so much accepted science was falsified in its day (Newton’s gravitational theory, Bohr’s theory of the atom), and so much current theoretical science cannot be falsified (string theory, for example). Whatever the case, the problem for lay people remains. If a scientific theory is beyond our comprehension, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to see how it might be disproven.

Physicist and science communicator Richard Feynman came up with another criterion, one that applies directly to the non-scientist likely to be bamboozled by fancy terminology that sounds scientific. Simon Oxenham at Big Think points to the example of Deepak Chopra, who is “infamous for making profound sounding yet entirely meaningless statements by abusing scientific language.” (What Daniel Dennet calls “deepities.”) As a balm against such statements, Oxenham refers us to a speech Feynman gave in 1966 to a meeting of the National Science Teachers Association. Rather than asking lay people to confront scientific-sounding claims on their own terms, Feynman would have us translate them into ordinary language, thereby assuring that what the claim asserts is a logical concept, rather than just a collection of jargon.

The example Feynman gives comes from the most rudimentary source, a “first grade science textbook” which “begins in an unfortunate manner to teach science”: it shows its student a picture of a “windable toy dog,” then a picture of a real dog, then a motorbike. In each case the student is asked “What makes it move?” The answer, Feynman tells us “was in the teacher’s edition of the book… ‘energy makes it move.’” Few students would have intuited such an abstract concept, unless they had previously learned the word, which is all the lesson teaches them. The answer, Feynman points out, might as well have been “’God makes it move,’ or ‘Spirit makes it move,’ or, ‘Movability makes it move.’”

Instead, a good science lesson “should think about what an ordinary human being would answer.” Engaging with the concept of energy in ordinary language enables the student to explain it, and this, Feynman says, constitutes a test for “whether you have taught an idea or you have only taught a definition.

April 16, 2016

Indeed, none of them would be missed…

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

H/T to American Digest for the link.

April 15, 2016

QotD: Nerd-shaming

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

Some people say the female version of the problem is men’s fault, and call the behavior involve slut-shaming. I take this very seriously and try not to slut-shame or tolerate those who do.

But the male version of the problem is nerd-shaming or creep-shaming or whatever, and I don’t feel like most women, especially most feminist women, take it nearly as seriously as I try to take their problems. If anything, many actively make it worse. This is exactly those cartoons above and the feminists spreading them. Nerds are told that if they want to date girls, that makes them disgusting toxic blubberous monsters who are a walking offense to womankind.

This is maybe not the most reasonable interpretation of modern sexual mores, but neither is “any women who has sex before marriage is a slut and no one will ever value her.” Feminists are eagle-eyed at spotting the way seemingly innocuous messages in culture can accidentally reinforce the latter, but continue to insist that there’s no possible way that shouting the former from the rooftops could possibly lead to anyone believing or internalizing it.

Talking about “entitled nerds” is the Hot New Internet Feminism thing these days. Here’s The Entitlement And Misogyny Of Nerd Culture. Here’s Sex, Nerds, Entitlement, and Rape. Here’s Is Nerd Culture Filled With Entitled Crybabies? There’s On Male Entitlement: Geeks, Creeps, and Sex.

And now, apparently, the New Statesman, realizing that it’s almost 2015 and it has yet to claim a share of the exciting nerd entitlement action, has On Nerd Entitlement by Laurie Penny.

And this is more than a little weird, because the actual nerds I know in real life tend to be more like Scott Aaronson, who is spending less time feeling entitled to sex, and more time asking his doctor if there’s any way to get him castrated because his sexual desire might possibly offend a woman. Or more like me, who got asked out by a very pretty girl in middle school and ran away terrified because he knew nobody could actually like him and it was obviously some kind of nasty trick.

So given that real-life nerds are like this, and given that they’re sitting around being terrified that they’re disgusting toxic monsters whose wish to have sex is an offense against womenkind, what do you think happens when they hear from every news source in the world that they are entitled?

What happens is they think “Oh God! There was that one time when I looked at a woman and almost thought about asking her out! That means I must be feeling entitled to sex! I had temporarily forgotten that as a toxic monster I must never show any sexuality to anybody! Oh God oh God I’m even worse than I thought!”

Again, this is not the most rational thing in the world. But I maintain it’s no less rational than, say, women who won’t leave their abusive husband because he’s convinced them they don’t deserve anything better than what they get. Gender is weird. Self-loathing is easy to inculcate and encourage, even unintentionally. Heck, we’ve already identified this market failure of people preferring to castrate themselves rather than ask ten people on a date, something weird has got to explain it.

When feminists say that the market failure for young women is caused by slut-shaming, I stop slut-shaming, and so do most other decent people.

When men say that the market failure for young men is caused by nerd-shaming, feminists write dozens of very popular articles called things like “On Nerd Entitlement”.

The reason that my better nature thinks that it’s irrelevant whether or not Penny’s experience growing up was better or worse than Aaronson’s: when someone tells you that something you are doing is making their life miserable, you don’t lecture them about how your life is worse, even if it’s true. You STOP DOING IT.

Scott Alexander, “Untitled”, Star Slate Codex, 2015-01-01.

April 7, 2016

QotD: The environmentalist religion

Filed under: Environment, Media, Politics, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

If they were interested in preserving nature rather than interested in watching brown skinned people die of malaria, they would legalize rather than forbid the use of DDT. Population Explosion alarmist Paul Erlich would have publicly repudiated his exploded theory once he lost his famous bet to Julian Simon, had he been interested in reality, or vulnerable to shamefacedness; and committed seppuku in the proper Japanese ritual fashion once the demographic data made it clear that the Industrialized world is suffering from underpopulation, not overpopulation.

The Greens are not interested in any of these things because their hearts are not true.

We are not dealing with honest people or even with hypocrites who pretend to value honesty. We are dealing with a philosophy of life and a world view that values untruth, and reacts with umbrage, not shame, when they are caught faking data or believing faked data.

Umbrage: because their code regards it as meritorious to lie for the sake of the cause, the party, and political correctness. To cheat is merely to lie with actions rather than words, and to steal is merely to cheat another of money or goods due him: but the root of all evil, despite what the Good Book says, is love of dishonesty.

But we have wandered far afield: let us return to the main current of the conversation. These examples (and they could be multiplied endlessly, I am sure, from your own life and experience, dear reader) suggest that good taste, faith, and trueheartedness are interrelated in some way.

We need not pause to ponder in what why they are interrelated, or whether the chicken of reality-o-phobia comes before or after the rotten egg of aversion to morality and faith. Let us merely for now proceed on the assumption that the elite in the West today accept a moral code, or antimoral code, which in some way encourages and in some way is encouraged by their code of aesthetics.

They have bad taste because they have bad morals.

Instead of believing in God, or following the Way of Heaven called the Tao, or seeking Nirvana, or paying heed to any saints, philosophers, or sages of Occident or Orient, the Glittering Generation just believe in Themselves and seek to do it Their Way, and they seek Self-satisfaction. They heed only the inner voice of pop-psychiatry self esteem, which, by no coincidence, happens to coincide with the voice of fashion, of political correctness, of useful idiocy.

No matter in what other way the great ideals of faith, truth, and beauty are intermingled, we can at least establish the sole point we need for our present purposes: a man putting up a vast idol to himself erects a monument to his own execrable bad taste. (See the Confessions of Rousseau for details.)

John C. Wright, “Supermanity and Dehumanity (Complete)”, John C. Wright’s Journal, 2014-12-13.

April 6, 2016

QotD: “Cultural appropriation”

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The whole notion that culture can be “appropriated” in any negative sense is one of the most absurd notions being bandied about (and that is really saying something given the carnival of absurdities that passes for critical thinking these days).

Such ideas about culture are profoundly fascist in origin, a collectivist notion that somehow culture and identity must be preserved in a “pure” state from outside influences and somehow “belongs” to an ethno-national grouping. It is very much akin intellectually to abominating miscegenation. Yet strangely the same people who spout such arrant nonsense tend not to picket performances featuring oriental ballet dancers or black opera singers (as well they shouldn’t). Sorry (not really) but the future is cosmopolitan and voluntary. I will take whatever aspects of any culture I think are worth incorporating and there is not a damn thing anyone can do to stop me.

Perry de Havilland, “No one owns a culture”, Samizdata, 2016-03-26.

April 5, 2016

Scott Adams on Il Donalduce’s recent mistakes

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Scott Adams has been pushing his “master persuader” theory of the rise of Donald Trump for quite some time now. In recent weeks, Trump has made a series of unforced errors that have clearly stalled his momentum toward the Republican nomination. Adams sums up the biggest ones here:

Donald Trump has made some big mistakes lately. On top of that, his opponents improved their game. As a result, he finds himself in an enormous hole of disapproval, especially with women. If you have been reading my Master Persuader series, you might be interested in why Trump’s persuasion suddenly stopped working.

It’s more interesting than you think.

I’ll ignore politics and policies as usual and focus on Trump’s persuasion game. I think we all agree that Trump says plenty of untrue things about reality. Even his supporters agree on that. (They just don’t care.)

So here are Trump’s big persuasion errors so far:

1. The Nazi salute.

2. The David Duke disavowal that wasn’t fast enough.

3. Saying women who break future abortion laws should be punished.

You might want me to include on his list of errors his unflattering tweet of Cruz’ wife compared to his wife. But that ploy was more of a mixed result than a complete fail. As obnoxious as it was, it was strong persuasion technique to showcase his mating prowess. You don’t want to believe that works, but it does.

Trump’s aggressive – and personal – attack also sent a signal to stay away from his family, which could pay dividends later. And more generally, he showed a willingness to strike back harder than he is struck, as has been his pattern. That gives pause to the enemy. And of course he sucked all the energy out of the room for another two weeks, consistent with his strategy. I bet most of his supporters found the tweet funny, which is a bonding emotion.

The downside to the wife tweet is that it was one more drip in what was starting to look like a rainstorm of sexist behavior. So on that level, it was a bad idea. Viewed in isolation, the wife tweet was more persuasion than mistake. But viewed in the context of Trump’s problem with women voters, it was a net mistake. But not a big one.

Let’s talk about the big ones.

March 31, 2016

QotD: The radical soul of science fiction

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

SF fans and writers have always instinctively understood this. Thus the genre’s long celebration of individualist anti-politics; thus its fondness for voluntarism and markets over state action, and for storylines in which (as in Heinlein’s archetypal The Man Who Sold The Moon) scientific breakthrough and and free-enterprise economics blend into a seamless whole. These stances are not historical accidents, they are structural imperatives that follow from the lust for possibility. Ideological fashions come and go, and the field inevitably rediscovers itself afterwards as a literature of freedom.

This analysis should put permanently to rest the notion that hard SF is a conservative literature in any sense. It is, in fact, deeply and fundamentally radical — the literature that celebrates not merely science but science as a permanent revolution, as the final and most inexorable foe of all fixed power relationships everywhere.

Earlier, I cited the following traits of SF’s libertarian tradition: ornery and insistent individualism, veneration of the competent man, instinctive distrust of coercive social engineering and a rock-ribbed objectivism that values knowing how things work and treats all political ideologizing with suspicion. All should now be readily explicable. These are the traits that mark the enemies of the enemies of the future.

The partisans of “Radical Hard SF” are thus victims of a category error, an inability to see beyond their own political maps. By jamming SF’s native libertarianism into a box labeled “right wing” or “conservative” they doom themselves to misunderstanding the deepest imperatives of the genre.

The SF genre and libertarianism will both survive this mistake quite handily. They were symbiotic before libertarianism defined itself as a distinct political stance and they have co-evolved ever since. If four failed revolutions against Campbellian SF have not already demonstrated the futility of attempting to divorce them, I’m certain the future will.

Eric S. Raymond, “Libertarianism and the Hard SF Renaissance”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-11-09.

March 26, 2016

How to talk about nothing at a TED event

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

Ayun Halliday posted a video of Will Stephen demonstrating how to do a TED talk on nothing:

Is there any subject that can’t be covered in a TED Talk?

Apparently not. You can make a TED Talk about anything, even nothing, as veteran improviser and rookie Saturday Night Live writer, Will Stephen, demonstrated at a recent TEDx event in New York City.

What you shouldn’t do is deviate from TED’s established presentation tropes. Stephen may be punking us with his How to Sound Smart in Your TEDx Talk, above, but aspirant TED speakers should take notes. One can’t practice observational humor without being a keen observer. Stephen’s insights are as good a playbook as any for that unmistakeable TED-style delivery

QotD: The “Futurians” – the rise of the “New Wave” in science fiction

Filed under: Books, History, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Hard SF was an art form that made stringent demands on both author and reader. Stories could be, and were, mercilessly slammed because the author had calculated an orbit or gotten a detail of physics or biology wrong. The Campbellian demand was that SF work both as story and as science, with only a bare minimum of McGuffins like FTL star drives permitted; hard SF demanded that the science be consistent both internally and with known science about the real world.

The New Wave rejected all this for reasons that were partly aesthetic and partly political. For there was a political tradition that went with the hard-SF style, one exemplified by its chief theoretician (Campbell himself) and his right-hand man Robert Heinlein, the inventor of modern SF’s characteristic technique of exposition by indirection. That tradition was of ornery and insistent individualism, veneration of the competent man, an instinctive distrust of coercive social engineering and a rock-ribbed objectivism that that valued knowing how things work and treated all political ideologizing with suspicion.


The New Wave was both a stylistic revolt and a political one. Its inventors (notably Michael Moorcock, J.G. Ballard and Brian Aldiss) were British socialists and Marxists who rejected individualism, linear exposition, happy endings, scientific rigor and the U.S.’s cultural hegemony over the SF field in one fell swoop. The New Wave’s later American exponents were strongly associated with the New Left and opposition to the Vietnam War, leading to some rancorous public disputes in which politics was tangled together with definitional questions about the nature of SF and the direction of the field.

But the New Wave was not, in fact, the first revolt against hard SF. In the 1950s, a group of young writers centered around Frederik Pohl and the Futurians fan club in New York had invented sociological S.F. (exemplified by the Pohl/Kornbluth collaboration The Space Merchants). Not until decades later did the participants admit that many of the key Futurians were then ideological Communists or fellow travellers, but their work was half-understood at the time to be strong criticism of the consumer capitalism and smugness of the post-World-War-II era.


The new hard SF of the 1980s returned to Golden Age themes and images, if not quite with the linear simplicity of Golden Age technique. It also reverted to the libertarian/individualist values traditional in the field. This time around, with libertarian thinking twenty years more developed, the split between order-worshiping conservatism and the libertarian impulse was more explicit. At one extreme, some SF (such as that of L. Neil Smith) assumed the character of radical libertarian propaganda. At the other extreme, a subgenre of SF that could fairly be described as conservative/militarist power fantasies emerged, notably in the writing of Jerry Pournelle and David Drake.

Tension between these groups sometimes flared into public animosity. Both laid claims to Robert Heinlein’s legacy. Heinlein himself maintained friendly relationships with conservatives but counted himself a libertarian for more than a decade before his death in 1988.

Heinlein’s evolution from Goldwater conservative to anti-statist radical both led and reflected larger trends. By 1989 depictions of explicitly anarcho-libertarian future societies were beginning to filter into mainstream SF work like Joe Haldeman’s Buying Time. Haldeman’s Conch Republic and Novysibirsk were all the more convincing for not being subjects of polemic.

Eric S. Raymond, “Libertarianism and the Hard SF Renaissance”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-11-09.

March 25, 2016

Think Defence selects their top 25 British war films

Filed under: Britain, Media, Military — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

As with all “top x” lists, there will be some contention over whether they’ve snubbed this or that film or overrated some other film, but overall it’s a pretty good selection:

We could argue all day about the definition of a British War Film and what the best means but for this entirely unscientific list, the definition of a British War Film is one that is largely British in character. They may have been directed by non-British directors, have non-British actors and may even have been made in Hollywood or elsewhere, but they retain that element of Britishness that we all understand. So no Das Boot, Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now or other such great films.

The judging criteria does not include historical accuracy, whether the correct buttons and rank insignia were worn, or whether the film is a ‘visceral and worthy portrayal of the realities of war’ or some other such artsy bollocks, instead, it is simply enjoyability for a wet Sunday afternoon in.

Most of these have a back story that is as good as, if not better, that the film.

Spoiler alert: Zulu came in first. As it bloody well should.

Why Do People In Old Movies Talk Weird?

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 25 Nov 2014

It’s not quite British, and it’s not quite American – so what gives? Why do all those actors of yesteryear have such a distinct and strange accent?

March 22, 2016

Propaganda During World War 1 – Opening Pandora’s Box I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Europe, History, Media, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 21 Mar 2016

Propaganda was nothing new at the beginning of World War 1. But the rapid development in mass media and the total war effort by the nations led the way to our modern understanding of mass propaganda, especially in Germany and Britain. Iconic images like that of Uncle Sam or Lord Kitchener are still known today and are part of the collective memory.

March 20, 2016

QotD: The Antinomianism of the post-war world

Filed under: History, Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

So what are they fighting for, this modern elite?

After the Great War, Europe went through their Crazy Years period, and during the Cold War, America followed, and the elite opinion makers, politicians, writers, thinkers, intellectuals and entertainers, all those who control the imagination and the deliberation of Western Civilization became enamored and fascinated by the series of ideas the previous two generations of philosophers and literati had conceived: the idea that God was Dead and that life meant nothing, and that life was unfair.

The great moral crusade of that generation, the so-called Sexual Revolution was the main rebellion against morality. In the name of freedom and progress, the progressive bent every effort to undoing the progress of all previous generations of saints and sages and moralists, and enslaving the world to addictions and sins: Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll, a heady mixture of self-indulgence and socialism. The great moral crusade was Antinomianism.

Antinomianism, the idea that moral rules have no meaning, is a logically incoherent idea, easily refuted by human experience. Progressivism, the idea that the rules of the science economics can be replaced by wishful thinking, is likewise incoherent, and likewise alien to human experience. Progressivism and Antinomianism are Siamese twins, since the promised revolution of the Progressivism involves an overthrow of basic principles of justice, such as the maxim that forbids stealing, forbids envy, forbids treason, forbids lying. The more violent and radical version of Progressivism, Socialism, also refutes the principle of justice that forbids murdering the innocent masses in their millions who all have to be trampled underfoot for the Marxist and Maoist revolutions to succeed. Socialism is the first code of conduct in history where to show disrespect to one’s elders and ancestors, and to hate and uproot one’s own history and institutions is regarded as a virtue rather than a vice.

Adherence to incoherence has several consequences for any mind willing and able to carry out the logical corollaries implied: civility, history, politics, and reason are all involved in the downfall of morality.

Simple civility is the first casualty of this world view, for it presupposes a degree of respect, if not for persons, then for rules of courtesy, but in either case for norms. One cannot consistently be an Antinomian and be in favor of norms.

(One also cannot respect the victims of one’s lies: contempt is the only logical way to regard those one lies about or lies to.)

History is simply ignored by the Progressives: they regard it as a principle of Hegelian or Marxist or Darwinian evolution that the past has no control over the future, no merit, and need not be consulted. The extraordinary and risible inability of the Progressives of any age to learn from their mistakes, their astonishing parochialism, and their revolting inability to honor even their own founding members are all explained by this philosophical amnesia.

As a political philosophy, Progressivism is not a political philosophy, and does not pretend to be: it is a psychological strategy to scapegoat others for failures and dissatisfaction. As the National Socialists were with the Jews, as Marxists are with the Capitalists, as Race-baiters are with Whites, and Feminists are with Males, as Jihadists are with the Great Satan, and as everyone is with the Roman Catholic Church, the Progressive scheme of things consists of finding someone to blame and expanding the power of the State in order allegedly to rectify these allegedly blameworthy evils.

Nothing is ever blamed on the nature of things, or natural limitations of reality, or on historical facts: these entities do not exist in the Progressive mind.

John C. Wright, “Supermanity and Dehumanity (Complete)”, John C. Wright’s Journal, 2014-12-13.

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