Quotulatiousness

July 27, 2014

QotD: Qui veut tout défendre ne sauve rien (Who defends everything defends nothing)

Filed under: Military, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

This is an elementary and self-evident Principle. Indeed, it is so axiomatic that few examples of it will be given in these pages. The only point to stress is that it is useless to hope to obtain complete security in passive defense. It is also unsound. “He who tries to defend everything saves nothing.” declared Marshal Foch, echoing Frederick the Great. It should be noted that the very act of assuming the offensive imparts a certain degree of security. Make as if to strike a man, and he instinctively assumes a defensive attitude. As General Rowan Robinson expresses it in his Imperial Defence, “The highest form of strategic security is that obtained through the imposition of our will upon the enemy, through seizing the initiative and maintaining it by offensive action.” There may sometimes be an element of risk in this, but, as we have seen, war in its nature involves risk.

Lt. Colonel Alfred H. Burne, The Art of War on Land, 1947.

July 11, 2014

DSM-5 turns “everyday anxiety, eccentricity, forgetting and bad eating habits into mental disorders”

Filed under: Health, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:46

Helene Guldberg reviews Saving Normal: An Insider’s Revolt Against Out-of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life by Allen Frances.

Frances’ arguments about the dangers of inflating psychiatric conditions and psychiatric diagnosis are persuasive — maybe more so because he honestly admits to his own role in developing such an inflation. He is keenly aware of the risks of diagnostic inflation ‘because of painful firsthand experience’, he writes. ‘Despite our efforts to tame excessive diagnostic exuberance, DSM-IV had since been misused to blow up the diagnostic bubble’. He is particularly concerned about the exponential increase in the diagnosis of psychiatric conditions in children, writing: ‘We failed to predict or prevent three new false epidemics of mental disorder in children — autism, attention deficit, and childhood bipolar disorder. And we did nothing to contain the rampant diagnostic inflation that was already expanding the boundary of psychiatry far beyond its competence.’

Take Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which is ‘spreading like wildfire’. This diagnosis is applied so promiscuously that ‘an amazing 10 per cent of kids now qualify’, Frances writes. He points out that in the US, boys born in January are 70 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than boys born in December. The reason diagnosing ADHD is so problematic is that it essentially is a description of immaturity, including symptoms such as ‘lack of impulse control’, ‘hyperactivity’ or ‘inattention’. Boys born in January are the youngest in their school year group (in the US) and thus they are more likely to be immature; in the UK, the youngest children in a school classroom are born in August, and so here, August-born kids are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. We have medicalised immaturity.

[...]

Until 1980, the DSMs were ‘deservedly obscure little books that no one much cared about or read’. DSM-I (published in 1952) and DSM-II (published in 1968) were ‘unread, unloved and unused’. Now, says Frances, this ‘bible’ of psychiatry ‘determines all sorts of important things that have an enormous impact on people’s lives — like who is considered well and who sick; what treatment is offered; who pays for it; who gets disability benefit; who is eligible for mental health, school vocational and other services; who gets to be hired for a job, can adopt a child, or pilot a plane, or qualifies for life insurance; whether a murderer is a criminal or mental patient; what should be the damages awarded in lawsuits; and much, much more’.

Today, as a result of various trends, including the impact of the DSMs, many human behaviours, quirks, eccentricities and woes which in the past would have been seen as parts of the rich tapestry of life are now branded mental disorders.

QotD: The Utopian urge

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

Whereas a conservative writer might warn that humans are just as likely, if not more likely, to bungle things when applying past experience to new plans for society as when trying to fix their own private lives — and an optimistic libertarian writer might note that people are far more rational in planning their own lives than in planning others’ — left-liberals have a tendency to think that humans’ ability to plan collectively is inversely proportional to their ability to plan their lives as individuals.

A more concrete example: the most neurotic of my fellow New Yorkers tend also to be the people most likely to think sense and order can be imposed on our messed-up lives from above. Politics becomes a route to redemption. Or as one comic book industry professional who is a self-proclaimed communist put it when I first met her here seventeen years ago, “Capitalism is a terrible system — it allowed me to get $60,000 in debt.” The left-liberal imagining being saved from herself is analogous to those social conservatives who look at their own bad habits and conclude that the whole world badly needs religion.

Todd Seavey, “Sci-Fi is Socialist, Like Most Art”, The Federalist, 2013-12-26

July 10, 2014

Sometimes, “a phase” really is just a phase

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:21

Lindsay Leigh Bentley contrasts her own “tomboy” childhood with that of Ryland, who was born female but whose parents have transitioned her (at age 5):

I have no degree in early childhood development, nor have I studied psychology. I didn’t even graduate from College.

I am also not here to pass judgement on Ryland’s parents. I believe that they are doing what they believe to be the most loving thing for their child. I’m simply sharing my story because I see so much of my 5-year-old self in this child.

I was born the second daughter to two loving, amazing, supportive parents. They would go on to have 2 more daughters. The four of us couldn’t be more different, even down to our hair and eye color. Our parents embraced our differences and allowed us to grow as individuals, not concerned with the social “norms” for girls. I often joke that I was the boy my dad never had. My dad is a free spirit, 100% unconcerned with what people think of him, and he thought nothing of “out of the box” behavior. I function more as a firstborn than a second born (however, this does not make me the firstborn, amiright?)

[...]

I wanted to be a boy. Desperately wanted to be a boy. I thought boys had more fun. I felt like a boy in the way that our society views genders. I liked blue and green more than pink and purple. I remember sitting up as high as I could climb in our huge mulberry tree, bow & arrow in hand, trying to kiss my elbow (a neighbor lady had told me that if I could accomplish this, that I would turn into a boy, which was what I wanted in that moment, as a child, more than anything.)

Thankfully, my parents didn’t adhere to the archaic stereotypes that “boys like blue” and “girls like pink;” that “boys play with dinosaurs, and girls play with dolls.” Had they told me that liking these things made me a boy, I would have concluded that I was a boy.

They just let me be me. They let me be a girl who wore jeans more often than skirts. They let me play with slingshots rather than princess wands. They didn’t conclude that I was gay, or transgender. They didn’t put me in a box that would shape my future, at the expense of my own free will.

July 6, 2014

QotD: The inherent weakness of the defence

Filed under: Military, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

At first sight the chances would appear to favor the defender; for he can remain still, he can dig, he can shoot accurately; whereas the assailant, while on the move, is dangerously exposed and can do none of these things. The latter, however has important advantages on his side. The forward rush, the excitement, a goal to win, combine to give him a moral uplift wholly lacking in the defender, who is always looking to right and left, anxious lest his flanks be turned and communications severed. The assailant, especially against a passive defense, has freedom of action and power of maneuver and can accordingly concentrate superior forces against any selected point of his adversary’s line, or where the front is not continuous against his flanks and rear.

Major-General H. Rowan Robinson, quoted in The Art of War on Land by Lt. Colonel Alfred H. Burne, 1947.

July 1, 2014

QotD: Patriotism

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

Patriotic effusions, whosever they may be, seldom please citizens of other nations, because they are generally so self-congratulatory; and self-congratulation, which is no doubt an inescapable part of the human condition, is best kept to oneself even when justified. Occasional outbursts may be acceptable, as after a triumph in a just war — but just wars are themselves infrequent events in human history. Ignorance of and disdain for others are often the corollaries of noisy patriotism; it was with good reason that Doctor Johnson said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Quite often it is the first refuge as well.

On the other hand, some kind of collective self-belief is necessary, for otherwise effort would be in vain and achievement impossible. A country completely without patriotism, even if this state remained implicit rather than explicit, would be an unhappy place. As in most things human, a balance must be struck.

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

June 24, 2014

Stereotypes, “gaydar”, and sexual orientation

Filed under: Randomness, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:38

In (of all places) the Toronto Star, Brian Platt says that “gaydar” is a real thing and that it works better for conservatives than for liberals:

In less than the blink of an eye, your subconscious “gaydar” makes a judgment about someone’s sexual orientation based entirely on facial traits — and it’s usually right.

So says the research of Nicholas Rule, a University of Toronto psychologist giving a talk on the subject this week as part of WorldPride. “The gist of it is that people can accurately judge someone’s sexual orientation from very minimal information about them,” Rule said in an interview.

“You only need to see a face for less than 40 milliseconds to judge sexual orientation with the same level of accuracy that you get if you take all the time in the world.

“To put that in perspective, it takes 400 milliseconds to blink your eye.”

Facial “gaydar” is 65-per-cent accurate on average, according to Rule and his co-researchers at U of T’s Social Perception & Cognition Laboratory. These judgments can be reliably made based on the eyes alone, though facial shape and texture are also big factors.

“Conservatives are more accurate than liberals in making these judgments when they study a face, because conservatives are more likely to use stereotypes,” Rule said. “Of course, stereotypes are often wrong, but they do have what we call kernels of truth. Liberals tend to not want to use stereotypes in making judgments, and it impairs their accuracy.”

June 2, 2014

QotD: Realtors

Filed under: Business, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:04

I talked a few times with the realtor, and they were as helpful as realtors usually are: not helpful. They couldn’t answer any important questions for me, because realtors don’t know anything important about the properties they sell. Well, that’s not entirely true. They often know very important things about the properties they sell. Those are invariably the things they’re hiding from you, hoping to entice you into standing in the decrepit shack they’re listing while they perform their Svengali perorations about its potential. Weave a tapestry of possibilities in the air that’ll have you frisking yourself in no time, looking for your checkbook before that handyman that’s interested in the property snatches it from under your nose.

Oh, I know that handyman. That guy gets around. I never learned his name, but he seemed to be interested in every property I was interested in Maine. No matter where I went — Turner, Cornish, Peru, Livermore Falls, Norway, Rumford…

Anyway, that polymath handyman with the lead foot and the nose for diamonds in the rough was always one step ahead of us, ready to stuff our defeat into the jaws of his victory. He was very interested in Turner, I hear.

Sippican Cottage, “I’m Fixing A Hole Where The Intertunnel Gets In “, Sippican Cottage, 2013-11-13

May 31, 2014

QotD: Clear your mind of cant

Filed under: Britain, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

My dear friend, clear your mind of cant. You may talk as other people do: you may say to a man, ‘Sir, I am your most humble servant.’ You are not his most humble servant….You tell a man, ‘I am sorry you had such bad weather the last day of your journey, and were so much wet.’ You don’t care six-pence whether he was wet or dry. You may talk in this manner; it is a mode of talking in society: but don’t think foolishly.

Dr. Samuel Johnson to James Boswell on May 15th, 1783. (quoted by John Derbyshire in “A Whining Pretension to Goodness”, Taki’s Magazine, 2013-10-17)

May 30, 2014

QotD: Pursuit of a beaten foe

Filed under: History, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:09

All commanders must have been aware of the advantages of vigorous pursuit; hence the mere fact that they did not succeed in achieving it shows that there must be some big predisposing cause militating against its attainment. This cause may be defined as lassitudo certamine (to coin an expression), that moral and physical fatigue and reaction that usually supervenes toward the close of a hard-fought struggle as the daylight departs and the pursuit should just be starting. At the battle of Orthez Wellington thoroughly defeated Soult but omitted to pursue him. Why? Almost certainly because he was himself wounded just at the close of the action, and his physical and mental powers at that critical moment no doubt suffered temporary eclipse. In the same way Marlborough after his brilliant exploit in forcing the Lines of the Geet in 1705 made no attempt to pursue. He had just taken part himself in a fierce cavalry charge, and was physically bouleversé. It is doubtful whether in any army this potential weakness is sufficiently recognized and systematically combatted.

Lt. Colonel Alfred H. Burne, The Art of War on Land, 1947.

May 29, 2014

Mass murder as performance art

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:21

Kevin Williamson on the most recent mass killing:

Mass murders on the Elliot Rodger model are not a modern thing; we all know the story of Columbine, but the worst school slaughter in American history happened in 1927 in Michigan. Nor are they a gun thing; that Michigan massacre required no firearms, and neither did the crimes of Timothy McVeigh. They are not a “white privilege” thing, soiled as I feel for being obliged to write the words “white privilege”; the worst such massacre in recent U.S. history was carried out by a Korean-born American. They are not a male thing; Brenda Spencer’s explanation of her shooting spree in San Diego inspired the song “I Don’t Like Mondays.” They are not an American thing; Anders Breivik of Norway carried out the largest mass murder in modern history, though it is possible that Beijing’s Tian Mingjian killed more; Europe, the Americas, and Asia have experienced roughly comparable numbers of mass murders, with the Asian numbers slightly ahead of the rest. They are not an ideological thing; mass murders sometimes issue manifestos, but they are generally incoherent and shallow. The phenomenon of mass killings has little to do with race, sex, politics, economics, or the availability of legal firearms. Such episodes are primarily an act of theater.

[...]

Elliot Rodger’s family was in relatively difficult financial circumstances, though relatively must be emphasized. His father was the assistant director of The Hunger Games, and the young man was apparently proud of his BMW coupe, but his family’s financial position was modest by Hollywood standards. Through his family, Rodger enjoyed some enviable social connections, but could not achieve the connection he desired, a romantic one. His was an individualism suffered as a burden. In another century, his life might have been given some structure by the church or by his extended family, or simply by the fundamental struggle to feed and shelter himself, which was the organizing principle of the great majority of human lives for millennia. Modernity sets us free, but it does not offer any answer to the question, “Free to do what?”

Art, particularly theater, has for a long time helped to answer that question. What we see on stage, however far removed from our own experience, is an intensified version of our own lives. The Mass is, if nothing else, an act of theater, but it is also the case, as Mikhail Bakunin wrote, that “the passion for destruction is a creative passion.” It is not mere coincidence that so many mass murderers, from the Columbine killers to McVeigh, imagine themselves to be instigators of revolution, or that their serial-killer cousins so often think of themselves as artists. Their delusions are pathetic, but they are not at all alien to common human experience. That they so often end in suicide is not coincidence, either. Their rampages are at once a quest for significance and a final escape from significance and its burdens. Whatever particular motive such killers cite is secondary at best. The killing itself is the point — it is not a means to some other end.

May 20, 2014

Charles Stross on heroic archetypes in fiction

Filed under: Media, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:00

Charles Stross doesn’t typically write stories with traditional hero characters, and he explains why, before digging deeper into the likely origins of the stereotype:

I will confess that I find it difficult to write fictional heroes with a straight face. After all, we are all the heroes of our internal narrative (even those of us who others see as villains: nobody wakes up in the morning, twirls their moustache, and thinks, how can I most effectively act to further the cause of EVIL™ today?). And people who might consider themselves virtuous or heroic within their own framework, may be villains when seen from the outside: it’s a common vice of fascists (who seem addicted to heroic imagery — it’s a very romantic form of political poison, after all, the appeal to the clean and manly virtue of cold steel in subordination to the will of the State), and also of paternalist authoritarians.

[...] it seems pretty damn clear that the superhero archetypes hail back to the polytheistic religions of yore, to the Greek, Roman, Norse, and Egyptian pantheons and their litany of family feuds and bad-tempered bickering. (And is it just me or are half the biggest plots in superhero pre-monotheist mythology the punch-line to the God-Father (or occasionally one of his more troublesome sons) failing to keep his cock to himself, and the other half due to a jealous squabble between goddesses that escalates into a nuclear grudge-fest until suddenly Trojan Wars break out?)

We have this in common with our 5000-years-dead ancestors: we’re human beings, and our neural architecture hasn’t changed that much since the development of language and culture (unless you believe Julian Jaynes — and I don’t). We still have the same repertoire of emotional reactions. We still have a dismaying tendency to think it’s all about us, for any value of “it” you care to choose. We fall for a whole slew of common cognitive biases, including a complex of interacting heuristics that make us highly vulnerable to supernatural beliefs and religions. (The intentional stance per Dennett means we ascribe actions to intentionality; confirmation bias leads us to assume intentionality to natural events because this is something that’s been bred into us throughout the many millions of years of predator/prey arms races that weeded out those of our ancestors who weren’t fast enough to correlate signs such as lion prints at the nearby watering hole with other signs like Cousin Ugg going missing and realize there was a connection. So our ancestors looked on as lightning zapped another unfortunate Cousin Ugg, felt instinctively that there had to be a reason, and decided there was a Lightning God somewhere and he’d gotten mad at our tribe.)

We have other biases. We look at people with good skin and bilaterally symmetrical features (traits indicative of good health) and we see them as beautiful (hey, again: we’re the end product of endless generations of organisms that did best when they forged reproductive partnerships with other organisms that were in good health), so obviously they’ve been blessed by the gods. And the gods bless those who are virtuous, because virtue (by definition) is what the gods bless you for. So beauty comes to be equated with good; and this plays itself out in our fictions, where our heroes and favoured protagonists are mostly handsome or pretty and the villains are ugly as sin …

May 15, 2014

Fanatical groups and their reaction to negative stimuli

Filed under: Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:18

ESR linked to an older blog post by Eliezer Yudkowsky which seems to explain how fanatical cults survive the impact of events that on the surface should cause them to give up their faith:

Early studiers of cults were surprised to discover than when cults receive a major shock — a prophecy fails to come true, a moral flaw of the founder is revealed — they often come back stronger than before, with increased belief and fanaticism. The Jehovah’s Witnesses placed Armageddon in 1975, based on Biblical calculations; 1975 has come and passed. The Unarian cult, still going strong today, survived the nonappearance of an intergalactic spacefleet on September 27, 1975. (The Wikipedia article on Unarianism mentions a failed prophecy in 2001, but makes no mention of the earlier failure in 1975, interestingly enough.)

Why would a group belief become stronger after encountering crushing counterevidence?

The conventional interpretation of this phenomenon is based on cognitive dissonance. When people have taken “irrevocable” actions in the service of a belief — given away all their property in anticipation of the saucers landing — they cannot possibly admit they were mistaken. The challenge to their belief presents an immense cognitive dissonance; they must find reinforcing thoughts to counter the shock, and so become more fanatical. In this interpretation, the increased group fanaticism is the result of increased individual fanaticism.

I was looking at a Java applet which demonstrates the use of evaporative cooling to form a Bose-Einstein condensate, when it occurred to me that another force entirely might operate to increase fanaticism. Evaporative cooling sets up a potential energy barrier around a collection of hot atoms. Thermal energy is essentially statistical in nature — not all atoms are moving at the exact same speed. The kinetic energy of any given atom varies as the atoms collide with each other. If you set up a potential energy barrier that’s just a little higher than the average thermal energy, the workings of chance will give an occasional atom a kinetic energy high enough to escape the trap. When an unusually fast atom escapes, it takes with an unusually large amount of kinetic energy, and the average energy decreases. The group becomes substantially cooler than the potential energy barrier around it. Playing with the Java applet may make this clearer.

In Festinger’s classic “When Prophecy Fails”, one of the cult members walked out the door immediately after the flying saucer failed to land. Who gets fed up and leaves first? An average cult member? Or a relatively more skeptical member, who previously might have been acting as a voice of moderation, a brake on the more fanatic members?

After the members with the highest kinetic energy escape, the remaining discussions will be between the extreme fanatics on one end and the slightly less extreme fanatics on the other end, with the group consensus somewhere in the “middle”.

[...]

When Ayn Rand’s long-running affair with Nathaniel Branden was revealed to the Objectivist membership, a substantial fraction of the Objectivist membership broke off and followed Branden into espousing an “open system” of Objectivism not bound so tightly to Ayn Rand. Who stayed with Ayn Rand even after the scandal broke? The ones who really, really believed in her — and perhaps some of the undecideds, who, after the voices of moderation left, heard arguments from only one side. This may account for how the Ayn Rand Institute is (reportedly) more fanatic after the breakup, than the original core group of Objectivists under Branden and Rand.

ESR thinks the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) groups are starting to suffer this same phenomenon.

Here’s a major sign of evaporative cooling: the American Physical Society has since appointed a committee of working scientists (one of whom is Curry herself) to reexamine and possibly reverse its public commitment to AGW alarmism. As well it should; the alarmists’ predictions have failed so massively that they no longer have a scientific case – they’re going to have to rebuild one with a set of models that at least retrodicts the actual data.

Whatever findings the APS committee issues, the very fact that it has been convened at all is a sign that (in Yudkowsky’s analogy) the higher-energy molecules have become excited by the counterevidence and are exiting the cold trap. Or, in the metaphor of an earlier day, the rats are looking for a way off the sinking ship…

This is happening at the same time that the IPCC’s AR5 (Fifth Assessment Report) asserts its highest ever level of confidence that the (nonexistent for 15+ years) global warming is human-cased. What Yudkowsky tells us is that AR5′s apparently crazed assertion is a natural result of the mounting counterevidence. The voices of sanity and moderation, such as they are in the AGW crowd, are evaporating out; increasingly, even more than in the past, their game will be run by the fanatics and the evidence-blind.

May 12, 2014

Reason.tv – Trigger Warnings, Campus Speech, and the Right to Not Be Offended

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 16:55

Published on 8 May 2014

“It’s really not anyone else’s business to tell someone when they are mentally and emotionally ready to deal with things,” says Bailey Loverin, a University of Santa Barbara (UCSB) junior who authored a resolution to mandate that professors issue “trigger warnings” before presenting material that might trigger memories of past traumas in students.

Feminist and social justice blogs popularized the concept of the trigger warning, with writers encouraging each other to label posts that might trigger flashbacks to sexual assault or domestic abuse. As the popularity, and scope, of the trigger warning idea grew, some bloggers began listing potential triggers, ranging from rape and violence and suicide to snakes and needles and even “small holes.”

May 10, 2014

What did King Solomon and David Lee Roth have in common?

Filed under: Business, Economics, History, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:59

Actually, more than a few things, as the Freakonomics team of Dubner and Levitt explain:

King Solomon built the First Temple in Jerusalem and was known throughout the land for his wisdom.

David Lee Roth fronted the rock band Van Halen and was known throughout the land for his prima-donna excess.

What could these two men possibly have had in common? Well, both were Jewish; both got a lot of girls; and both wrote the lyrics to a No. 1 pop song (“Jump” in Mr. Roth’s case and, in Solomon’s, several verses from Ecclesiastes that appeared in the Byrds’ 1965 hit “Turn! Turn! Turn”). But most improbably, they both dabbled in game theory, as seen in classic stories about their clever strategic thinking.

[...]

And so it was that David Lee Roth and King Solomon both engaged in a fruitful bit of game theory — which, narrowly defined, is the art of beating your opponent by anticipating his next move.

Both men faced a similar problem: How to sift the guilty from the innocent when no one is stepping forward to profess their guilt? A person who is lying or cheating will often respond to an incentive differently than an honest person. Wouldn’t it be nice if this fact could be exploited to ferret out the bad guys?

We believe it can — by tricking the guilty parties into unwittingly revealing their guilt through their own behavior. What should this trick be called? In honor of King Solomon, we’ll name it as if it is a lost proverb: Teach Your Garden to Weed Itself.

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