Quotulatiousness

March 6, 2015

QotD: Persecuting political heretics

It seems to be forgotten that the current American theory that political heresy should be put down by force, that a man who disputes whatever is official has no rights in law or equity, that he is lucky if he fares no worse than to lose his constitutional benefits of free speech, free assemblage and the use of the mails it seems to be forgotten that this theory was invented, not by Dr. Wilson, but by Roosevelt. Most Liberals, I suppose, would credit it, if asked, to Wilson. He has carried it to extravagant lengths; he is the father superior of all the present advocates of it; he will probably go down into American history as its greatest prophet. But it was first clearly stated, not in any Wilsonian bull to the right-thinkers of all lands, but in Roosevelt’s proceedings against the so-called Paterson anarchists. You will find it set forth at length in an opinion prepared for him by his Attorney-General, Charles J. Bonaparte, another curious and almost fabulous character, also an absolutist wearing the false whiskers of a democrat. Bonaparte furnished the law, and Roosevelt furnished the blood and iron. It was an almost ideal combination; Bonaparte had precisely the touch of Italian finesse that the Rough Rider always lacked. Roosevelt believed in the Paterson doctrine in brief, that the Constitution does not throw its cloak around heretics to the end of his days. In the face of what he conceived to be contumacy to revelation his fury took on a sort of lyrical grandeur. There was nothing too awful for the culprit in the dock. Upon his head were poured denunciations as violent as the wildest interdicts of a mediaeval pope.

The appearance of such men, of course, is inevitable under a democracy. Consummate showmen, they arrest the wonder of the mob, and so put its suspicions to sleep. What they actually believe is of secondary consequence; the main thing is what they say; even more, the way they say it. Obviously, their activity does a great deal of damage to the democratic theory, for they are standing refutations of the primary doctrine that the common folk choose their leaders wisely. They damage it again in another and more subtle way. That is to say, their ineradicable contempt for the. minds they must heat up and bamboozle leads them into a fatalism that shows itself in a cynical and opportunistic politics, a deliberate avoidance of fundamentals. The policy of a democracy thus becomes an eternal improvisation, changing with the private ambitions of its leaders and the transient and often unintelligible emotions of its rank and file.

H.L. Mencken, “Roosevelt: An Autopsy”, Prejudices, Second Series, 1920

March 5, 2015

QotD: Shalamar and the Khalsa

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

Between the Sutlej and Lahore lie fifty of the hottest, flattest, scrubbiest miles on earth, and I supposed we’d cover them in a long day’s ride, but Sardul said we should lie overnight at a serai a few miles from the city: there was something he wanted me to see. So we did, and after supper he took me through a copse to the loveliest place I ever saw in India — there, all unexpected after the heat and dust of the plain, was a great garden, with little palaces and pavilions among the trees, all hung with coloured lanterns in the warm dusk: streams meandered among the lawns and flower-beds, the air was fragrant with night-blooms, soft music sounded from some hidden place, and everywhere couples were strolling hand in hand or deep in lovers’ talk under the boughs. The Chinese Summer Palace, where I walked years later, was altogether grander, I suppose, but there was a magic about that Indian garden that I can’t describe — you could call it perfect peace, with its gentle airs rustling the leaves and the lights winking in the twilight; it was the kind of spot where Scheherazade might have told her unending stories; even its name sounds like a caress: Shalamar.

But this wasn’t the sight that Sardul wanted me to see — that was something unimaginably different, and we viewed it next morning. We left the serai at dawn, but instead of riding towards Lahore, which was in full view in the distance, we went a couple of miles out of our way towards the great plain of Maian Mir where, Sardul assured me mysteriously, the true wonder of the Punjab would be shown to me; knowing the Oriental mind. I could guess it was something designed strike awe in the visiting foreigner — well, it did all of that. We heard it long before we saw it, the flat crash of artillery at first, and then a great confused rumble of sound which resolved itself into the squealing of elephants, the high bray of trumpets, the rhythm of drums and martial music and the thunder of a thousand hooves making the ground tremble beneath us. I knew what it was before we rode out of the trees and halted on a bund to view it in breathtaking panorama: the pride of the Punjab and the dread of peaceful India: the famous Khalsa.

Now, I’ve taken note of a few heathen armies in my time. The Heavenly Host of Tai’ping was bigger, the black tide of Cetewayo’s legions sweeping into Little Hand was surely more terrifying, and there’s a special place in my nightmares for that vast forest of tipis, five miles wide, that I looked down on from the bluffs over Little Bighorn but for pure military might I’ve seen nothing outside Europe (and damned little inside) to match that great disciplined array of men and beasts and metal on Maian Mir. As far as you could see among the endless lines of tents and waving standards, the broad maidan was alive with foot battalions at drill, horse regiments at field exercise, and guns at practice — and they were all uniformed and in perfect order, that was the shocking thing. Black, brown, and yellow armies in those days, you see. might be as brave as any, but they didn’t have centuries of drill and tactical movement drummed into em, not even the Zulus, or Ranavalona’s Hova guardsmen. That was the thing about the Khalsa: it was Aldershot in turbans. It was an army.

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman and the Mountain of Light, 1990.

March 4, 2015

QotD: The macroeconomic insights of MMO gaming

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

Video game communities, social economies, give us something that we never had as economists before. That’s something of an opportunity, a chance to experiment with a macroeconomy. We can experiment in economics with individuals. We can put someone behind a screen and experiment on the subject, and ask him or her to make choices and see how they behave.

That has nothing to do with macroeconomics. Macroeconomics requires a different scenario. You conduct controlled experiments with a large economy. We are not allowed to do this in the real world. But in the video game world, we economists have a smidgen of an opportunity to conduct controlled experiments on a real, functioning macroeconomy. And that may be a scientific window into economic reality that we’ve never had access to before.

Yanis Varoufakis, talking to Peter Suderman, “A Multiplayer Game Environment Is Actually a Dream Come True for an Economist”, Reason, 2014-05-30.

March 3, 2015

QotD: Secrecy

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

We do not believe any group of men adequate enough or wise enough to operate without scrutiny or without criticism. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it, that the only way to detect it is to be free to enquire. We know that the wages of secrecy are corruption. We know that in secrecy error, undetected, will flourish and subvert.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, “Encouragement of Science” (Address at Science Talent Institute, 6 Mar 1950), Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, v.7, #1 (Jan 1951) p.6-8

March 2, 2015

QotD: The environmental sins of ethanol

Filed under: Business,Government,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Ethanol, produced by corn, “biomass,” cane sugar or other plant matter, is considered by many to be a great alternative to fossil fuels. They consider the origin to be more renewable (plants grow rapidly), the fuel to produce less pollution, the production to release fear “carbon emissions,” and as a bonus, it costs more so people might drive less.

Ethanol is so beloved by some that legislation to subsidize farmers who grew crops for biofuels was pushed through in many countries including Germany and the United States. It would save us from dependence on foreign oil, it would reduce pollution, and cars can run on plants, won’t that be wonderful? Some even argue that it would reduce gas prices because we could shake that oil addiction from the middle east and produce it here cheaply and efficiently!

The truth is, ethanol has its advantages. When burned, it pollutes less than straight gasoline, and it actually has a higher octane rating, making it produce more horsepower per weight than gasoline. It also burns somewhat cooler than straight gasoline.

These days ethanol is less popular, and you don’t hear so much about how great it is. BP isn’t running bright green ads with happy cars driving around on corn any more. But the legislation is still in place, the farmers are still growing corn to turn into fuel, and any attempt to stop this or repeal the legislation is met with exactly the same environmental claims and protests.
So what about these fuels, are they really that great? Are people who oppose ethanol just oil company stooges?

Greg Giraldo is dead now, but he was a very brilliant, very funny comedian. He was one of those comedians that all other comedians loved and thought was so hilarious but for some reason never really caught on or broke big.

He had a bit on biofuels in which he pointed out that for every gallon of corn ethanol, it requires two gallons of gasoline to produce. He noted the only reason corn ethanol is even pushed is because corn farmers want that sweet subsidy money. Al Gore not long ago admitted it wasn’t about the environment, but about kickbacks to farmers for political gain:

    First generation ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small. […] One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.

Every so often a politician will be honest.

The truth is, ethanol is not just a failure in every single category it was supposed to succeed, but a disaster. From food shortages to riots, to slavery and beyond, ethanol in all its forms is a horrific failure. Let us count the ways.

Christopher Taylor, “COMMON KNOWLEDGE: Ethanol and Biofuels “, Word Around the Net, 2014-04-25.

March 1, 2015

QotD: Being a house-guest in a family home

Filed under: Humour,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I knew that if he slept at “Beggarbush” he would be up in time; I have slept there myself, and I know what happens. About the middle of the night, as you judge, though in reality it may be somewhat later, you are startled out of your first sleep by what sounds like a rush of cavalry along the passage, just outside your door. Your half-awakened intelligence fluctuates between burglars, the Day of Judgment, and a gas explosion. You sit up in bed and listen intently. You are not kept waiting long; the next moment a door is violently slammed, and somebody, or something, is evidently coming downstairs on a tea-tray.

“I told you so,” says a voice outside, and immediately some hard substance, a head one would say from the ring of it, rebounds against the panel of your door.

By this time you are charging madly round the room for your clothes. Nothing is where you put it overnight, the articles most essential have disappeared entirely; and meanwhile the murder, or revolution, or whatever it is, continues unchecked. You pause for a moment, with your head under the wardrobe, where you think you can see your slippers, to listen to a steady, monotonous thumping upon a distant door. The victim, you presume, has taken refuge there; they mean to have him out and finish him. Will you be in time? The knocking ceases, and a voice, sweetly reassuring in its gentle plaintiveness, asks meekly:

“Pa, may I get up?”

You do not hear the other voice, but the responses are:

“No, it was only the bath — no, she ain’t really hurt, — only wet, you know. Yes, ma, I’ll tell ’em what you say. No, it was a pure accident. Yes; good-night, papa.”

Then the same voice, exerting itself so as to be heard in a distant part of the house, remarks:

“You’ve got to come upstairs again. Pa says it isn’t time yet to get up.”

You return to bed, and lie listening to somebody being dragged upstairs, evidently against their will. By a thoughtful arrangement the spare rooms at “Beggarbush” are exactly underneath the nurseries. The same somebody, you conclude, still offering the most creditable opposition, is being put back into bed. You can follow the contest with much exactitude, because every time the body is flung down upon the spring mattress, the bedstead, just above your head, makes a sort of jump; while every time the body succeeds in struggling out again, you are aware by the thud upon the floor. After a time the struggle wanes, or maybe the bed collapses; and you drift back into sleep. But the next moment, or what seems to be the next moment, you again open your eyes under the consciousness of a presence. The door is being held ajar, and four solemn faces, piled one on top of the other, are peering at you, as though you were some natural curiosity kept in this particular room. Seeing you awake, the top face, walking calmly over the other three, comes in and sits on the bed in a friendly attitude.

“Oh!” it says, “we didn’t know you were awake. I’ve been awake some time.”

“So I gather,” you reply, shortly.

“Pa doesn’t like us to get up too early,” it continues. “He says everybody else in the house is liable to be disturbed if we get up. So, of course, we mustn’t.”

The tone is that of gentle resignation. It is instinct with the spirit of virtuous pride, arising from the consciousness of self-sacrifice.

“Don’t you call this being up?” you suggest.

“Oh, no; we’re not really up, you know, because we’re not properly dressed.” The fact is self-evident. “Pa’s always very tired in the morning,” the voice continues; “of course, that’s because he works hard all day. Are you ever tired in the morning?”

At this point he turns and notices, for the first time, that the three other children have also entered, and are sitting in a semi-circle on the floor. From their attitude it is clear they have mistaken the whole thing for one of the slower forms of entertainment, some comic lecture or conjuring exhibition, and are waiting patiently for you to get out of bed and do something. It shocks him, the idea of their being in the guest’s bedchamber. He peremptorily orders them out. They do not answer him, they do not argue; in dead silence, and with one accord they fall upon him. All you can see from the bed is a confused tangle of waving arms and legs, suggestive of an intoxicated octopus trying to find bottom. Not a word is spoken; that seems to be the etiquette of the thing. If you are sleeping in your pyjamas, you spring from the bed, and only add to the confusion; if you are wearing a less showy garment, you stop where you are and shout commands, which are utterly unheeded. The simplest plan is to leave it to the eldest boy. He does get them out after a while, and closes the door upon them. It re-opens immediately, and one, generally Muriel, is shot back into the room. She enters as from a catapult. She is handicapped by having long hair, which can be used as a convenient handle. Evidently aware of this natural disadvantage, she clutches it herself tightly in one hand, and punches with the other. He opens the door again, and cleverly uses her as a battering-ram against the wall of those without. You can hear the dull crash as her head enters among them, and scatters them. When the victory is complete, he comes back and resumes his seat on the bed. There is no bitterness about him; he has forgotten the whole incident.

“I like the morning,” he says, “don’t you?”

“Some mornings,” you agree, “are all right; others are not so peaceful.”

He takes no notice of your exception; a far-away look steals over his somewhat ethereal face.

“I should like to die in the morning,” he says; “everything is so beautiful then.”

“Well,” you answer, “perhaps you will, if your father ever invites an irritable man to come and sleep here, and doesn’t warn him beforehand.”

He descends from his contemplative mood, and becomes himself again.

“It’s jolly in the garden,” he suggests; “you wouldn’t like to get up and have a game of cricket, would you?”

It was not the idea with which you went to bed, but now, as things have turned out, it seems as good a plan as lying there hopelessly awake; and you agree.

You learn, later in the day, that the explanation of the proceeding is that you, unable to sleep, woke up early in the morning, and thought you would like a game of cricket. The children, taught to be ever courteous to guests, felt it their duty to humour you. Mrs. Harris remarks at breakfast that at least you might have seen to it that the children were properly dressed before you took them out; while Harris points out to you, pathetically, how, by your one morning’s example and encouragement, you have undone his labour of months.

On this Wednesday morning, George, it seems, clamoured to get up at a quarter-past five, and persuaded them to let him teach them cycling tricks round the cucumber frames on Harris’s new wheel. Even Mrs. Harris, however, did not blame George on this occasion; she felt intuitively the idea could not have been entirely his.

It is not that the Harris children have the faintest notion of avoiding blame at the expense of a friend and comrade. One and all they are honesty itself in accepting responsibility for their own misdeeds. It simply is, that is how the thing presents itself to their understanding. When you explain to them that you had no original intention of getting up at five o’clock in the morning to play cricket on the croquet lawn, or to mimic the history of the early Church by shooting with a cross-bow at dolls tied to a tree; that as a matter of fact, left to your own initiative, you would have slept peacefully till roused in Christian fashion with a cup of tea at eight, they are firstly astonished, secondly apologetic, and thirdly sincerely contrite. In the present instance, waiving the purely academic question whether the awakening of George at a little before five was due to natural instinct on his part, or to the accidental passing of a home-made boomerang through his bedroom window, the dear children frankly admitted that the blame for his uprising was their own. As the eldest boy said:

“We ought to have remembered that Uncle George had a long day, before him, and we ought to have dissuaded him from getting up. I blame myself entirely.”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

February 28, 2015

QotD: Equestrian statues

Filed under: Humour,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There is a lot of folklore about equestrian statues, especially the ones with riders on them. There is said to be a code in the number and placement of the horse’s hooves: If one of the horse’s hooves is in the air, the rider was wounded in battle; two legs in the air means that the rider was killed in battle; three legs in the air indicates that the rider got lost on the way to the battle; and four legs in the air means that the sculptor was very, very clever. Five legs in the air means that there’s probably at least one other horse standing behind the horse you’re looking at; and the rider lying on the ground with his horse lying on top of him with all four legs in the air means that the rider was either a very incompetent horseman or owned a very bad-tempered horse.

Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight, 2010.

February 27, 2015

QotD: Decades of official dietary guidance … “Oops, our bad!”

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

Americans, prepare to feel angry: After years of watching our cholesterol, sacrificing shellfish and egg yolks and gloriously fatty pork and beef, and enduring day-glow yellow and too-soft tubs of butter substitute, Americans are about to be told by our government diet experts, “Oops … we had it all wrong.”

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which is charged with reviewing the government-issued dietary guidelines every five years, is preparing to release its “new and improved” guidelines any day now, and leaks from the deliberations hint at a reversal in the committee’s decades-long guidance that Americans should eat a diet low in cholesterol.

What are Americans to think of this new guidance that says cholesterol doesn’t really matter after all, that it is no longer a “nutrient of concern,” that eating food high in cholesterol may not be connected to heart disease?

Devotees of protein-rich, low-carb diets may see this as validation and reason to celebrate. Others will no doubt feel deflated, confused, and just plain bitter that for years they’ve been fed a lie that cost them, quite literally, the joy of eating delicious food, and possibly better health. Still others will misunderstand this new guidance and think butter and other high-cholesterol foods are now in the healthy column. In reality, those foods still ought to be consumed in moderation — particularly by people with preexisting conditions such as diabetes.

Yet there’s a bigger story here. Government really ought not be in the business of providing nutrition advice in the first place. Nutrition is a personal issue, and what’s best for one person may not be best for another. Moreover, Americans have ample access to information in the private sector on health and nutrition. In other words, Uncle Sam, we don’t need you anymore.

Julie Gunlock, “Government Dieticians Tell Us, Never Mind Our Decades of Bad Advice”, National Review, 2015-02-13.

February 26, 2015

QotD: The basis of the music industry

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

Bad players buy expensive guitars over and over because they figure it will make them better players. The entire music instrument industry is based on it. There’s Stevie Ray Vaughan, poised to be something more, but still a spare part on his more notable brother’s stage, with a borrowed Telecaster, a guitar as useful as a boat oar, putting the lie to that whole idea. People take drugs because they think it will make them as interesting as interesting people that take drugs. The entire drug industry is based on it.

Sippican Cottage, “Mind If My Little Brother Sits In?”, Sippican Cottage, 2014-06-15.

February 25, 2015

QotD: Robert Heinlein’s four “themes”

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

    None of these things is done “by instinct”. I sweat like hell to make it a rousing good story while getting in the preaching I want to preach … I suggest that to the extent that they are used unconsciously, unwittingly “instinctively”, they are sloppy craftsmanship and likely to be bad art.

There were four “themes” he did use over and over — deliberately and not “by instinct”:

    One is the notion that knowledge is worth acquiring, all knowledge, and that a solid grounding in mathematics provides one with the essential language of many of the most important forms of knowledge. The third theme is that, while it is desirable to live peaceably, there are things worth fighting for and values worth dying for — and that it is far better for a man to die than to live under circumstances that call for such sacrifice. The fourth theme is that individual human freedoms are of basic value, without which mankind is less than human.

William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).

February 24, 2015

QotD: A form of pattern recognition

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

Islam draws attention in our era not because its adherents tend to be brown-skinned or because it is easier to fear those who live abroad than those who live down the street, but because it is used so frequently as the justification for attacks around the world that its critics have begun to notice a pattern. In most cases, it is reasonable to acknowledge simultaneously that representatives of every philosophy will occasionally do something evil — maybe in the name of their philosophy; maybe not — and to contend that it is silly to blame that philosophy for the individual’s behavior. As far as we know, there is no more evidence that today’s killer is representative of atheism per se than that the man who opened fire at the Family Research Council was representative of the Southern Poverty Law Center or that Scott Roeder was representative of the pro-life cause. Further, there are no evident superstructures within atheism or the SPLC or the right-to-life movement that routinely condone mass murder, and nor are there many friends of those groups who would be willing to justify or to indulge the maniacs they have attracted. It seems reasonably clear that any lunatic can appropriate a cause or provide a name as his inspiration, and that, when he does, we should neither regard that lunatic’s behavior as indicative of the whole nor worry too much about repeat attacks. As I have written before — in defense of Right and Left — words do not pull triggers.

This instinct, however, has its limitations, for it is one thing to acknowledge that one swallow does not make a summer, and quite another to insist that it is not summer when the whole flock is overhead. Individual acts should be taken as such, of course. But when the same names pop up over and over and over again it is fair for us to connect the dots. To wonder why conservatives worry about Islam specifically — and not, say, about atheism or progressivism or the Tea Party or the Westboro Baptist Church — is to ignore that Islam is so often deployed to rationalize violence around the world that it makes sense for them to ask more questions. An inquiry into the violent tendencies of contemporary atheists is likely to reach a dead end. An inquiry into modern Islam, by contrast, is not. Can anybody say with a straight face that it is irrational to wonder whether there is something inherent in present-day Islam that, at best, is attracting the crazy and the disenfranchised, and, at worst, actually requires savagery? I think not.

Charles C.W. Cooke, “Why We Worry about Islamist Violence and Not Progressive Atheist Violence”, National Review, 2015-02-11.

February 23, 2015

QotD: Why did people join the First Crusade?

Filed under: Europe,History,Middle East,Quotations,Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Q: Why did people join the First Crusade?

A: The most common answer in Crusade scholarship — and you can tell I’m not going to accept it — is that the goal was penance and the opportunity to have sins forgiven. That’s not quite enough for me, because whenever we’re able to get as close as we can to knowing medieval warriors it looks like they’re not nearly as concerned with sin and penance and forgiveness as we would expect them to be. The king of France at the time of the Crusade was actually excommunicated because he was in a bigamist marriage. The pope excommunicated him, and he didn’t seem to care.

What I tried to emphasize in my book was that there was a real sense of prophetic mission among a lot of people who answered this call for Crusade. You can’t have a normal war for Jerusalem. That seems to me as true today as it would have been in the 11th century. Jerusalem, from the medieval Christian perspective, was both a city on earth and a city of heaven, and these two places were linked. The idea that the Jerusalem on earth was being dominated by an unbelieving, infidel — in their terminology “pagan” — group was unacceptable. The rhetoric that was associated with the people holding Jerusalem is pretty shocking: Christian men are being circumcised in baptismal fonts, and the blood is being collected! They’re yanking people’s innards out by their belly buttons! This is not normal talk. Hatreds and passions were stirred up. The heart of it, and why it was so successful, was that the call to Jerusalem was felt so strongly.

Virginia Postrel talking to Jay Rubenstein, “Why the Crusades Still Matter”, Bloomberg View, 2015-02-10.

February 22, 2015

QotD: Getting exercise with a bicycle

Filed under: Humour,Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

There are two ways you can get exercise out of a bicycle: you can “overhaul” it, or you can ride it. On the whole, I am not sure that a man who takes his pleasure overhauling does not have the best of the bargain. He is independent of the weather and the wind; the state of the roads troubles him not. Give him a screw-hammer, a bundle of rags, an oil-can, and something to sit down upon, and he is happy for the day. He has to put up with certain disadvantages, of course; there is no joy without alloy. He himself always looks like a tinker, and his machine always suggests the idea that, having stolen it, he has tried to disguise it; but as he rarely gets beyond the first milestone with it, this, perhaps, does not much matter. The mistake some people make is in thinking they can get both forms of sport out of the same machine. This is impossible; no machine will stand the double strain. You must make up your mind whether you are going to be an “overhauler” or a rider. Personally, I prefer to ride, therefore I take care to have near me nothing that can tempt me to overhaul. When anything happens to my machine I wheel it to the nearest repairing shop. If I am too far from the town or village to walk, I sit by the roadside and wait till a cart comes along. My chief danger, I always find, is from the wandering overhauler. The sight of a broken-down machine is to the overhauler as a wayside corpse to a crow; he swoops down upon it with a friendly yell of triumph. At first I used to try politeness. I would say:

“It is nothing; don’t you trouble. You ride on, and enjoy yourself, I beg it of you as a favour; please go away.”

Experience has taught me, however, that courtesy is of no use in such an extremity. Now I say:

“You go away and leave the thing alone, or I will knock your silly head off.”

And if you look determined, and have a good stout cudgel in your hand, you can generally drive him off.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

February 21, 2015

QotD: Campbell’s Law

Filed under: Business,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The most common problem is that all these new systems — metrics, algo­rithms, automated decisionmaking processes — result in humans gaming the system in rational but often unpredictable ways. Sociologist Donald T. Campbell noted this dynamic back in the ’70s, when he articulated what’s come to be known as Campbell’s law: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making,” he wrote, “the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

On a managerial level, once the quants come into an industry and disrupt it, they often don’t know when to stop. They tend not to have decades of institutional knowledge about the field in which they have found themselves. And once they’re empowered, quants tend to create systems that favor something pretty close to cheating. As soon as managers pick a numerical metric as a way to measure whether they’re achieving their desired outcome, everybody starts maximizing that metric rather than doing the rest of their job — just as Campbell’s law predicts.

Felix Salmon, “Why Quants Don’t Know Everything”, Wired, 2014-01-14

February 20, 2015

QotD: Post-modern conspiracy theories

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

To the feminists and their allies we owe the coining of the phrase “heteronormative,” which describes the moral terror that all good people are expected to feel for walking around with their bigoted heads full of the notion that, however tolerant or even indulgent we may be of our more exotically inclined friends and neighbors, there exists such a thing as sexual normalcy, and that our norms are related to that which is — what’s the word? — normal. Conservatives are of course inclined to account for the great variety of human life as a matter of fact if not as a matter of moral endorsement: William F. Buckley Jr., upon being told that at most 2 percent of the population is gay, replied that if that were really the case then he must know all of them personally. The heteronormative is right up there with “rape culture” and various distillations of “privilege” — white, male, etc. — that together form the rogues’ gallery populating progressives’ worldview, which is at heart a species of conspiracy in which such traditional malefactors as the Illuminati and the Bilderbergers have been replaced with disembodied malice that can be located anywhere and at any time it is convenient to do so.

Like the old-fashioned conspiracy theorists they so closely resemble, progressives regard any resistance to their risible claims regarding the all-pervasive power of patriarchy/heteronormalcy/white privilege/etc. as nothing more than evidence of the reach and strength of the conspiracy’s tentacles. A regular at a coffee shop I used to frequent was known to one and all as “Conspiracy Theory Larry,” and had an explanation for everything — everything — that was wrong with the world, and my derision was enough to convince him I was a junior-league Illuminatus. (I can only imagine that he was confirmed in his suspicion when I joined National Review, which after all was founded by this guy: “William F. Buckley Jr., the American publisher who heads the elite Janus mind-control project at NATO headquarters, was the most awful of all of them. [Ed: “Them” being reptilian shape-shifters.] Quite honestly he used his teeth a lot. He used to bite a lot. He got pleasure out of hurting people by biting them after he shape-shifted. To this very day I have an aversion to that kind of thing.” I suppose one would.) If forays into gender-role adventurism are met with so much as a raised eyebrow, it is, in the progressive mind, evidence of a monstrous evil. As in a good conspiracy theory, every evil must be in unity with every other evil, which is why progressives can see no difference between a social norm that assumes boys do not normally wear dresses and one that assumes homosexuals will be put into concentration camps.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Gender-Neutral Dating”, National Review, 2014-01-11

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