October 31, 2014

QotD: Nobody expects the Inquisition … to be a force for good

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

To understand the Inquisition we have to remember that the Middle Ages were, well, medieval. We should not expect people in the past to view the world and their place in it the way we do today. (You try living through the Black Death and see how it changes your attitude.) For people who lived during those times, religion was not something one did just at church. It was science, philosophy, politics, identity, and hope for salvation. It was not a personal preference but an abiding and universal truth. Heresy, then, struck at the heart of that truth. It doomed the heretic, endangered those near him, and tore apart the fabric of community.

The Inquisition was not born out of desire to crush diversity or oppress people; it was rather an attempt to stop unjust executions. Yes, you read that correctly. Heresy was a crime against the state. Roman law in the Code of Justinian made it a capital offense. Rulers, whose authority was believed to come from God, had no patience for heretics. Neither did common people, who saw them as dangerous outsiders who would bring down divine wrath. When someone was accused of heresy in the early Middle Ages, they were brought to the local lord for judgment, just as if they had stolen a pig or damaged shrubbery (really, it was a serious crime in England). Yet in contrast to those crimes, it was not so easy to discern whether the accused was really a heretic. For starters, one needed some basic theological training — something most medieval lords sorely lacked. The result is that uncounted thousands across Europe were executed by secular authorities without fair trials or a competent assessment of the validity of the charge.

The Catholic Church’s response to this problem was the Inquisition, first instituted by Pope Lucius III in 1184. It was born out of a need to provide fair trials for accused heretics using laws of evidence and presided over by knowledgeable judges. From the perspective of secular authorities, heretics were traitors to God and the king and therefore deserved death. From the perspective of the Church, however, heretics were lost sheep who had strayed from the flock. As shepherds, the pope and bishops had a duty to bring them back into the fold, just as the Good Shepherd had commanded them. So, while medieval secular leaders were trying to safeguard their kingdoms, the Church was trying to save souls. The Inquisition provided a means for heretics to escape death and return to the community.

Thomas Madden, quoted by Jonah Goldberg, “Nobody Expects a Defense of the Inquisition”, National Review, 2014-01-04.

October 30, 2014

QotD: Conservative versus Liberal views on jobs

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

For the conservative, people are an asset — in the coldest economic terms, a potentially productive unit of labor. For the progressive, people are a liability — a mouth to be fed, a problem in need of a solution. Understanding that difference of perspective renders understandable the sometimes wildly different views that conservatives and progressives have about things like employment policy. For the conservative, the value of a job is what the worker produces; for the progressive, the value of a job is what the worker is paid. Politicians on both sides frequently talk about jobs as though they were economic products rather than contributors to economic output, as though they were ends rather than means. The phrase “there aren’t enough jobs” is almost completely meaningless, but it is a common refrain.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Welcome to the Paradise of the Real: How to refute progressive fantasies — or, a red-pill economics”, National Review, 2014-04-24

October 29, 2014

QotD: The business of the politician

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

His business is never what it pretends to be. Ostensibly he is an altruist devoted whole-heartedly to the service of his fellow men, and so abjectly public-spirited that his private interest is nothing to him. Actually he is a sturdy rogue whose principal, and often sole, aim in life is to butter his parsnips. His technical equipment consists simply of an armamentarium of deceits.

H.L. Mencken, Notes on Democracy, 1926.

October 28, 2014

QotD: The media’s ability to “shape” the news

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

It is interesting to observe — in oneself — the power of media to implant false impressions on a lazy mind. I noticed this from listening to a television speech by Stephen Harper, after the terrorist event in Ottawa, yesterday. (Harper has now been Canada’s prime minister for almost nine years.) He was described as “shaken” by several of the websites I had consulted for news, and in quickly reviewing the tape of his short talk, I formed that impression myself. It was only when an American correspondent, who had perhaps missed this Canadian media prep, told me Harper did not look shaken to him, that I went back and watched the video again, this time paying close attention to his delivery in both English and French. I realized he was not shaken at all; that his pauses and swallows were characteristic, and would not have been noticed by anyone had he been speaking on any other subject.


What impressed me, was how easily I fell for the “media narrative” on Harper’s speech, simply by paying insufficient attention. At the back of my mind I was assuming there must be some truth in it, when I ought to be aware that the media specialize in analyses which contain no truth at all. When I am paying attention, with the benefit of my own long experience within the media, I am able to identify the game, and understand what the players are up to.

David Warren, “Ottawa in the news”, Essays in Idleness, 2014-10-23.

October 27, 2014

QotD: The value of co-operation as a social strategy

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

In any species that lives lives other than the solitary, brutish, and short variety, members cooperate. Cooperation is often a utility maximizing approach for basic economic reasons: if I’m well fed because I had a good hunting day, and you’re hungry because you had a bad day, a marginal calorie is worth much less to me than it is to you, so I should share some of my catch with you. This is true for two reasons: first, because if we’re kin, your future reproductive success redounds to the benefit of (some of) my genes, and second, because you might return the favor a day or a year later.

Nature, however, is better at generating frenemies than friends. A better way for me to reproduce my genes is to use a mixed strategy: helping you when it’s easy, defecting when I think I can get away with it, etc. I should ideally take food from you when offered, yet give back as little as I can get away with. I should be seen to be a good ally, and fair, and yet stab you in the back when I can get away with it.

In social species, there’s advanced technology to accomplish these goals: I can marshal alliances, vote people off the island, harass males away from fertile females, seize more than my share of the food for myself and my offspring.

It doesn’t matter if it’s nice; it matters if it’s effective. Gnon has no pity and laughs at your human ideals…especially because he created your human ideals to help you be a convincing liar in social games.

And thus deception slithered its way in to the garden of Eden and/or earthly delights.

What is the take away here? It is this: evolution has crafted every one of us for one mission: to pass our genes on to the next generation. The fact that you, or you, or you, have chosen not to have kids does not refute this; in fact, in supports this. Your genes will not be present in the next generation, and Gnon will laugh.

And what effects does this mission have on us? High libidos? Well, yes, some of that — but so much more. We’re the ape with the run away brains. Any ape that just had a high libido is long removed from the gene pool. Only the apes that also are excellent at joining alliances, marshaling allies, sniffing when the winds are changing, and defecting strategically reproduced with enough success to have contributed meaningfully to our genome.

A million years ago this alliance-making skill meant being on the right side of the alpha ape…and perhaps sneakily supporting the up-and-coming number two male.

Ten thousand years ago it meant being a member of a hunter gatherer tribe, and making status-degrading jokes about the one guy who was acting a bit big for his (deer hide) britches.

A thousand years ago, it meant … well, by a thousand years ago, social alliances for status games were starting to look pretty damned modern. It meant cobbling together wacky alliances from diverse groups like Diggers, Levelers, and Fifth Monarchists in order to overthrow one set of rulers and establish yourself in their place. Once in power there are all sorts of food-and-sex optimizing strategies for those good at the alliance game… like enslaving the foot soldiers of the old regime and selling them into slavery overseas, seizing their land, and more.

Clark, “Gamer Gate: Three Stages to Obit”, Popehat, 2014-10-21.

October 26, 2014

QotD: Rowing

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

George never went near the water until he was sixteen. Then he and eight other gentlemen of about the same age went down in a body to Kew one Saturday, with the idea of hiring a boat there, and pulling to Richmond and back; one of their number, a shock-headed youth, named Joskins, who had once or twice taken out a boat on the Serpentine, told them it was jolly fun, boating!

The tide was running out pretty rapidly when they reached the landing-stage, and there was a stiff breeze blowing across the river, but this did not trouble them at all, and they proceeded to select their boat.

There was an eight-oared racing outrigger drawn up on the stage; that was the one that took their fancy. They said they’d have that one, please. The boatman was away, and only his boy was in charge. The boy tried to damp their ardour for the outrigger, and showed them two or three very comfortable-looking boats of the family-party build, but those would not do at all; the outrigger was the boat they thought they would look best in.

So the boy launched it, and they took off their coats and prepared to take their seats. The boy suggested that George, who, even in those days, was always the heavy man of any party, should be number four. George said he should be happy to be number four, and promptly stepped into bow’s place, and sat down with his back to the stern. They got him into his proper position at last, and then the others followed.

A particularly nervous boy was appointed cox, and the steering principle explained to him by Joskins. Joskins himself took stroke. He told the others that it was simple enough; all they had to do was to follow him.

They said they were ready, and the boy on the landing stage took a boat-hook and shoved him off.

What then followed George is unable to describe in detail. He has a confused recollection of having, immediately on starting, received a violent blow in the small of the back from the butt-end of number five’s scull, at the same time that his own seat seemed to disappear from under him by magic, and leave him sitting on the boards. He also noticed, as a curious circumstance, that number two was at the same instant lying on his back at the bottom of the boat, with his legs in the air, apparently in a fit.

They passed under Kew Bridge, broadside, at the rate of eight miles an hour. Joskins being the only one who was rowing. George, on recovering his seat, tried to help him, but, on dipping his oar into the water, it immediately, to his intense surprise, disappeared under the boat, and nearly took him with it.

And then “cox” threw both rudder lines over-board, and burst into tears.

How they got back George never knew, but it took them just forty minutes. A dense crowd watched the entertainment from Kew Bridge with much interest, and everybody shouted out to them different directions. Three times they managed to get the boat back through the arch, and three times they were carried under it again, and every time “cox” looked up and saw the bridge above him he broke out into renewed sobs.

George said he little thought that afternoon that he should ever come to really like boating.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog), 1889.

October 25, 2014

QotD: Hugging

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

Part of the problem with hugging is that it has become a social convention, rather than what it once was, which was an expression of genuine emotion.

There are some times when a hug is appropriate. Those times are when there’s a marriage proposal in the air or a body in the ground.

Hugging is for celebration, or comforting someone who’s had a setback. Hugging is not for noting that two people have both managed to meet at Chili’s after work. Being at Chili’s is not a cause for celebration, and nor is it quite dire enough to require comforting.

An even more important rule is Men don’t hug. The only time men should hug is when male family members are observing a major life milestone, such as a major promotion, the safe return from overseas deployment, or noting a witty observation in the commentary audio track of Die Hard.

The only exception to these guidelines if a man tells another man, “Boy, I could sure use a hug.” But he won’t say that, because he’s a man, so just stop with the male-on-male hugging.

To be serious, if I could: There are rules of physical distance, and there are meanings to breaches of those rules.

People of course do occasionally touch each other. But those touches have important communicative purposes precisely because of the general rule that we don’t touch each other.


There’s something a little child-like about hugging, too. It’s an innocent gesture — it’s intended to be so.

But it sort of ignores the adult-world meaning of intimate touching.

So I wonder if it’s somehow connected to a growing preference for Child World rules, and an increasing rejection of Adult World rules.

Ace, “Arms Are Not Made For Hugging”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2014-10-10.

October 24, 2014

QotD: Poverty in the West is not like poverty in the rest of the world

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

What is it, in terms of physical goods and services, that we wish to provide for the poor that they do not already have? Their lives often may not be very happy or stable, but the poor do have a great deal of stuff. Conservatives can be a little yahoo-ish on the subject, but do consider for a moment the inventory of the typical poor household in the United States: at least one car, often two or more, air conditioning, a couple of televisions with cable, DVD player, clothes washer and dryer, cellphones, etc. As Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield report: “The home of the typical poor family was not overcrowded and was in good repair. In fact, the typical poor American had more living space than the average European. The typical poor American family was also able to obtain medical care when needed. By its own report, the typical family was not hungry and had sufficient funds during the past year to meet all essential needs. Poor families certainly struggle to make ends meet, but in most cases, they are struggling to pay for air conditioning and the cable-TV bill as well as to put food on the table.” They also point out that there’s a strong correlation between having boys in the home and having an Xbox or another gaming system.

In terms of physical goods, what is it that we want the poor to have that they do not? A third or fourth television?

Partly, what elites want is for the poor to have lives and manners more like their own: less Seven-Layer Burrito, more Whole Foods; less screaming at their kids in the Walmart parking lot and more giving them hideous and crippling fits of anxiety about getting into the right pre-kindergarten. Elites want for the poor to behave themselves, to stop being unruly and bumptious, to get over their distasteful enthusiasms, their bitter clinging to God and guns. Progressive elites in particular live in horror of the fact that poor people tend to suffer disproportionately from such health problems as obesity and diabetes, and that they do not take their social views from Chris Hayes — and these two phenomena are essentially the same thing in their minds. Consider how much commentary from the Left about the Tea Party has consisted of variations on: “Poor people are gross.”

A second Xbox is not going to change that very much.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Welcome to the Paradise of the Real: How to refute progressive fantasies — or, a red-pill economics”, National Review, 2014-04-24

October 23, 2014

QotD: When “impostor syndrome” meets the “Dunning-Kruger effect”

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

The more I think about things like the Dunning-Kruger Effect and Impostor Syndrome, the more I suspect they’re sociological as opposed to psychological.

If you’re unfamiliar, the Dunning-Kruger Effect is the name of a cognitive bias where people consistently rate themselves as being higher skilled than others, even (especially?) then they are decidedly not. In other words, people are nowhere near as good as they think they are.

Diametrically opposed to that is Impostor Syndrome, where people refuse to acknowledge their accomplishments and competencies.

If you’re aware of both of them, you might constantly vacillate between them, occasionally thinking you’re awesome, then realizing that it probably means you aren’t, going back and forth like a church bell. I know nothing of this, I assure you. But the point is that I think they’re almost certainly related to the people that we surround ourselves with.

Matt Simmons, “The Impostor Effect vs Dunning-Kruger”, Standalone Sysadmin, 2013-02-27.

October 22, 2014

QotD: Ancient history

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

New interests and different locations are provided by an iPad app that gathers pages relevant to my interests, and lets me indulge particular subjects, like “Ancient History.” This gives me the impression I am learning something, and perhaps I am, but when you finish an article about Xobar the Cruel who ruled during the Middle Period of the Crinchothian Empire (140 square miles in modern-day Herzo-Slavbonia) you think “well, there’s something of which I was previously unaware, and let’s preen for a second about being the sort of person who cares about ancient history,” and then it’s all forgotten. It’s all the history of rulers, which means the history of cruelty, and the remnants of settlements, which means the history of floors and walls and tombs. I fault myself for not having a better grasp on the shadowy beginnings of civilization; it doesn’t snap into focus until the Greeks, and then you’re surprised because they have shoes and religion and government and traditions and the rest of the recognizable pillars that hold up the ceiling mankind builds to put some space between himself and the raging caprices of the gods above. Except for Egypt, where they were doing stuff for a long time, but it was weird.

James Lileks, The Bleat, 2014-04-01

October 21, 2014

QotD: Hipster economics

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

Hipster economics are standard economics because hipsters are everything the US economy has ever wished for in one convenient package. It’s a group consisting largely of young, upper-middle class people with very little conviction, who will spend large amounts of money to maintain their own comfort and the appearance of diversity and rebellion. They are activists as long as it’s easy, poor as long as it doesn’t involve dirt or hunger, and selfless as long as they don’t stand to lose anything. They represent the sanitizing of national issues so that they can be discussed without being addressed. And all you have to do to control them is use some reverse psychology. They’re not rebels, they’re not even malicious, because they’re not anything except a bunch of kids playing pretend. They’ll eventually grow up and become bankers, lawyers and politicians, just like their parents…

“Robert” commenting on “The peril of hipster economics: When urban decay becomes a set piece to be remodelled or romanticised“, by Sarah Kendzior, 2014-05-28.

October 20, 2014

QotD: Sexual differentiation

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

Our sexual differences can be more or less general, or more or less individual i.e. they may be typical for the whole sex or for only an individual member of that sex. Men with a vigorous growth of beard, hairy chests broad shoulders narrow hips, big penises, for example, are generally more in demand as are, conversely, women with delicate skin, big breasts, wide hips. The more individual polarity exists in any given case, the more ideal the sexual relationship is likely to become. We all do what we can to emphasize our sexual differentiation from the opposite sex — or with respect to a specific member of the opposite sex — as skillfully as possible. Whoever is not strikingly male or female will do everything possible to seem so by, for example, developing his biceps through gymnastics, pad her bra, style the hairdo, etc.

The same motivation also underlies the so-called ‘typically masculine’ and ‘typically feminine’ kinds of behavior: it is always a conscious or unconscious parading of sex-specific characteristics. To smile rarely or often, talk much or little, swing the hips or not in walking, makes people ‘more manly’ or ‘more womanly.’ This kind of behavior is simulated, as shown by the fact that it is subject to fashion and can be dropped at will. The ‘womanly’ mannerisms of the stars in the old movies are markedly different from those we see in films by Truffault or Godard. To behave like a movie vamp of the twenties today is to appear not womanly but ridiculous.

Esther Vilar, The Polygamous Sex, 1976.

October 19, 2014

QotD: The countryside, at night

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

We are creatures of the sun, we men and women. We love light and life. That is why we crowd into the towns and cities, and the country grows more and more deserted every year. In the sunlight — in the daytime, when Nature is alive and busy all around us, we like the open hill-sides and the deep woods well enough: but in the night, when our Mother Earth has gone to sleep, and left us waking, oh! the world seems so lonesome, and we get frightened, like children in a silent house. Then we sit and sob, and long for the gas-lit streets, and the sound of human voices, and the answering throb of human life. We feel so helpless and so little in the great stillness, when the dark trees rustle in the night-wind. There are so many ghosts about, and their silent sighs make us feel so sad. Let us gather together in the great cities, and light huge bonfires of a million gas-jets, and shout and sing together, and feel brave.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog), 1889.

October 18, 2014

QotD: Mothers, fathers, and children

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

Human beings also operate on this principle of similarity. Identification with her young is of course easiest for the mother: she has felt it inside her for months, she has known it come out of her own body, it is ‘flesh of her flesh’ i.e. herself. The father, by comparison, depends on hearsay; he is therefore likely to be rather indifferent at first. Despite the repeated assurances from everyone around him that the newborn is his ‘spitting image’ it is not easy for him to see this. It is only some time later that he begins to accept the resemblance and to love the child.

A woman’s predisposition to identify with the infant at once, to a degree impossible for the male, has won her the reputation of being the more selfless parent. Since she instantly accepts the newborn as her charge and actively devotes herself to its care and feeding, a mother’s love is held to be stronger than that of a father. Actually it is only a matter of time lapse between two equally powerful emotional attachments, based entirely upon biological causes.

That fathers are capable of loving their children just as much as mothers, and that the male nurturing instinct is in no way less developed than that of the female, is amply attested by the exchange of parental roles in various primitive cultures, as well as by the experimental knowledge of modern sociology.

Esther Vilar, The Polygamous Sex, 1976.

October 17, 2014

QotD: Legislating absolute equality

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

…to oppose the notion of equality of opportunity these days is to be thought some kind of monstrous ultramontane reactionary, a Metternich or Nicholas I, who wants by means of repression to preserve the status quo in amber. Members of young audiences to which I have spoken have almost fainted with shock when I have said that I not only did not believe in equality of opportunity, but to the contrary found the very idea sinister in the extreme, and much worse than mere egalitarianism of outcome. To say to a young audience today that equality of opportunity is a thoroughly vicious idea is like shouting “God does not exist and Mohammed was not his prophet” at the top of one’s voice in Mecca.

Those who believe in equality of opportunity must want, if they take the idea seriously, to make the world not only just but fair. Genetic and family influences on the fate of people have to be eliminated, because they undoubtedly affect opportunities and make them unequal. Ugly people cannot be models; the deformed cannot be professional footballers; the retarded cannot be astrophysicists; the small of stature cannot be heavyweight boxers; I don’t think I have to prolong this list, as everyone can think of a thousand examples for himself.

Of course, it might be possible to level the field a little by legislating for equality of outcome: by, for example, insisting that ugly people are employed as models in proportion to their prevalence in the population. English novelist L.P. Hartley, author of The Go-Between, satirized such envious suppression of beauty (and, by implication, all egalitarianism other than that of equality under the law) in a novel called Facial Justice. It’s not a very good novel, as it happens, but the idea is very good; Hartley envisages a state in which everyone aspires to an “average” face, brought about by plastic surgery both for the abnormally ugly and the abnormally good-looking. Only in this way can the supposed injustice (actually it’s unfairness) of the genetic lottery be righted.

Hartley’s novel is a reductio ad absurdum of a pernicious idea. By contrast, Roosevelt’s “measurable quality of opportunity” is roughly achievable by human design: only roughly, of course, because some (though few) will still be excluded biologically, and there are (again few) upbringings so terrible that they preclude opportunity for the person to become anything much. But the aspiration to deny no one a “measurable quality of opportunity” is not intrinsically nasty, as is the insistence on equality of opportunity. On the contrary; our problem is, however, that the political arrangements needed to bring this about already exist in most Western countries, and still we are unhappy or discontented. Thus we — many of us, that is — attribute our unhappiness to inequality of opportunity for fear of looking elsewhere, including inward.

Theodore Dalrymple, “A More Sinister Equality”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-04-06

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