Quotulatiousness

February 2, 2016

QotD: The hair-dryer incident

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

The Hair Dryer Incident was probably the biggest dispute I’ve seen in the mental hospital where I work. Most of the time all the psychiatrists get along and have pretty much the same opinion about important things, but people were at each other’s throats about the Hair Dryer Incident.

Basically, this one obsessive compulsive woman would drive to work every morning and worry she had left the hair dryer on and it was going to burn down her house. So she’d drive back home to check that the hair dryer was off, then drive back to work, then worry that maybe she hadn’t really checked well enough, then drive back, and so on ten or twenty times a day.

It’s a pretty typical case of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but it was really interfering with her life. She worked some high-powered job – I think a lawyer – and she was constantly late to everything because of this driving back and forth, to the point where her career was in a downspin and she thought she would have to quit and go on disability. She wasn’t able to go out with friends, she wasn’t even able to go to restaurants because she would keep fretting she left the hair dryer on at home and have to rush back. She’d seen countless psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors, she’d done all sorts of therapy, she’d taken every medication in the book, and none of them had helped.

So she came to my hospital and was seen by a colleague of mine, who told her “Hey, have you thought about just bringing the hair dryer with you?”

And it worked.

She would be driving to work in the morning, and she’d start worrying she’d left the hair dryer on and it was going to burn down her house, and so she’d look at the seat next to her, and there would be the hair dryer, right there. And she only had the one hair dryer, which was now accounted for. So she would let out a sigh of relief and keep driving to work.

And approximately half the psychiatrists at my hospital thought this was absolutely scandalous, and This Is Not How One Treats Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and what if it got out to the broader psychiatric community that instead of giving all of these high-tech medications and sophisticated therapies we were just telling people to put their hair dryers on the front seat of their car?

I, on the other hand, thought it was the best fricking story I had ever heard and the guy deserved a medal. Here’s someone who was totally untreatable by the normal methods, with a debilitating condition, and a drop-dead simple intervention that nobody else had thought of gave her her life back. If one day I open up my own psychiatric practice, I am half-seriously considering using a picture of a hair dryer as the logo, just to let everyone know where I stand on this issue.

Scott Alexander, “The categories were made for man, not man for categories”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-11-21.

January 18, 2016

QotD: The role of faith in trust situations

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

A team of German economists asked subjects to play a game in which one person is the “truster”, who is given some money on each round of the game. The truster is then asked to decide how much money, if any, to pass on to an anonymous “trustee”. Any money passed gets tripled by the experimenter, at which point the “trustee” can choose how much, if any, to return to the truster. Behavioral economists use this game often, but the novel twist in this study was to reveal one piece of real, true personal information about the trustees to the trusters. In some cases, the truster learned the trustee’s level of religiosity, on a scale of 1 to 5. When trusters learned that their trustee was religious, they transferred more money. More important, the religious trustees really did transfer back more money than did the nonreligious trustees, even though they never knew anything about their trusters. The highest levels of wealth, therefore, would be created when religious people get to play a trust game with other religious people.

[…]

Even today, markets that require a very high trust to function efficiently are often dominated by religiously bound ethnic groups (such as ultra-Orthodox Jews in the diamond market) who have lower transaction and monitoring costs than their secular competitors.

Jonathan Haidt, quoted by Scott Alexander in “List Of The Passages I Highlighted In My Copy Of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind“, Slate Star Codex, 2014-06-12.

January 6, 2016

QotD: De-institutionalization and mental health

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

Look, part of the whole problem with the deinstitutionalisation of the mentally ill, which goes all the way back to the early seventies at least, and as far as theory is concerned probably a lot further, is that health professionals started, DELIBERATELY blurring the lines between mental illness and mental health.

Part of this was – I think – a genuine effort to make it possible for some people classified as “mentally ill” to be able to make a go of it in the community. A lot of new psychiatric drugs had been discovered which, while they didn’t heal, masked the symptoms of mental illness and therefore made it possible for these people to integrate in normal society – provided they would take their meds (more on that later.)

The other part – I know, my SIL took the mental-health portion of her MD in the late seventies – was the insane “equivalence brigade” which tried very hard to convince themselves that the US too did EXACTLY the same things the USSR did. Since the USSR put political dissenters in mental hospitals, then the people in US hospitals MUST be also political dissenters. This was hard to prove, since the Soviet system provided ideological support for mental treatment of dissenters: i.e. the Marxist system was perfect, so anyone disagreeing must be mad, while the American system mostly tried to get people off the streets who would do harm to themselves and/or others. However the medical profession found their justification in an upside-down of the Marxist system. Since Capitalism was bad for humans and other living things, then everyone who went mad under capitalism were, ipso facto, political dissenters. So, if you happened to be a woman who liked to throw rocks at strangers and go into bizarre monologues on the subject of cabbage, you weren’t mad, you were a feminist protesting male aggression.

Now I have no proof this was intentional or a coordinated AGITPROP operation. It’s entirely possible it was (merely) the predictable mix of ill-intentioned agents and well-intentioned idiot fellow travelers.

However the end result was making people too crazy to live alone into political victims and incidentally to give the USSR room to claim the capitalist system created homelessness.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just A Little Unwell – A blast from the past post 10/12”, According to Hoyt, 2015-10-12.

December 31, 2015

QotD: Some women really do dig jerks

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

Many of the “battered women” we are encouraged to sympathize with have a remarkable tendency to suffer from abuse at the hands of every man with whom they become involved. Tammy Wynette, the Country singer who gained fame with the song “Stand By Your Man,” was married to five men and left four of them (managing to die with her fifth marriage still intact). Most of her husbands are said to have abused her in some way, and teary-eyed retellings of her “tragic” life have been offered to the public.

I remind the reader of the central principle of male-female relations: women choose. They represent the supply; men represent the demand. If Tammy Wynette never took up with a man who failed to abuse her, there can be only one explanation: Tammy had a thing for nasty boys.

If you put a woman like this in a room with a dozen men, within five minutes she would be exclusively focused on the meanest, most domineering and brutal fellow in the room. Some women who had alcoholic fathers have a similar uncanny ability to detect the alcoholic in a room full of men, even if he is sober at the moment. “Women’s intuition” is a reality: it is an ability to pick up on tiny signals, slight nuances of facial expression that would go unnoticed by a man.

We are attracted to qualities in the opposite sex which our own sex lacks. For many women, this means an attraction to male brutality. Such women may claim to want a sensitive fellow who is in touch with his feelings, but this bears no relation to their behavior. What women say about men comes from their cerebral cortex; how they choose men depends upon their evolutionary more primitive limbic system. Even campus feminists choose arrogant jocks to “hook up” with, not male feminists in touch with their emotions. I have heard it suggested that the best reason not to strike a woman today is that you will never be able to get rid of her afterwards.

F. Roger Devlin, “The Question of Female Masochism”, Counter-Currents Publishing, 2014-09-17.

December 27, 2015

Why Was Franz Ferdinand A Horrible Person? I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

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

Published on 26 Dec 2015

It’s time for the Chair of Wisdom again. This time Indy explains why he deems Franz Ferdinand a horrible person, why the soldier did not mutiny all the time and what the Philippines did in World War 1.

December 16, 2015

QotD: The truth about beauty

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

There are certain practical realities of existence that most of us accept. If you want to catch a bear, you don’t load the trap with a copy of Catch-22 — not unless you rub it with a considerable quantity of raw hamburger. If you want to snag a fish, you can’t just slap the water with your hand and yell, “Jump on my hook, already!” Yet, if you’re a woman who wants to land a man, there’s this notion that you should be able to go around looking like Ernest Borgnine: If you’re “beautiful on the inside,” that’s all that should count. Right. And I should have a flying car and a mansion in Bel Air with servants and a moat.

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

There is a vast body of evidence indicating that men and women are biologically and psychologically different, and that what heterosexual men and women want in partners directly corresponds to these differences. The features men evolved to go for in women — youth, clear skin, a symmetrical face and body, feminine facial features, an hourglass figure — are those indicating that a woman would be a healthy, fertile candidate to pass on a man’s genes.

These preferences span borders, cultures, and generations, meaning yes, there really are universal standards of beauty. And while Western women do struggle to be slim, the truth is, women in all cultures eat (or don’t) to appeal to “the male gaze.” The body size that’s idealized in a particular culture appears to correspond to the availability of food. In cultures like ours, where you can’t go five miles without passing a 7-Eleven and food is sold by the pallet-load at warehouse grocery stores, thin women are in. In cultures where food is scarce (like in Sahara-adjacent hoods), blubber is beautiful, and women appeal to men by stuffing themselves until they’re slim like Jabba the Hut.

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

December 11, 2015

“It’s fun to read a real scientific paper than says ‘bulls***’ 200 times”

Filed under: Cancon, Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Doug Bolton reports on a recent Canadian university study:

A new scientific study has found that those who are receptive to pseudo-profound, intellectual-sounding ‘bulls***’ are less intelligent, less reflective, and more likely to be believe in conspiracy theories, the paranormal and alternative medicine.

PhD candidate Gordon Pennycook and a team of researchers from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, tested hundreds of participants to make the link, detailing their findings in a paper entitled ‘On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bulls***’, which mentions the word ‘bulls***’ exactly 200 times (surely some sort of record).

Defining bulls*** is a tricky task, but Pennycook and his team tried their best in the paper.

As an example, they gave the following ‘pseudo-profound’ statement: “Hidden meaning transforms unparalleled abstract beauty.”

The paper says: “Although this statement may seem to convey some sort of potentially profound meaning, it is merely a collection of buzzwords put together randomly in a sentence that retains syntactic structure.”

[…]

Almost 300 test subjects were asked to rate the profundity of these sentences on a scale of one to five.

The mean profoundness rating was 2.6, indicating the quotes were generally seen as between ‘somewhat profound’ and ‘fairly profound’. Around 27 per cent of participants gave an average score of three or more, however, suggesting they thought the sentences were profound or very profound.

In the second test, the team confronted the participants with real-life examples of bulls***, asking them to read tweets posted by Deepak Chopra, a writer known for his New Age views on spirituality and medicine, as well as using the computer-generated statements from the first test.

The results in this test were very similar, indicating many participants were unable to spot the bulls***.

December 9, 2015

QotD: Masochism and the modern woman

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

“If He Doesn’t Hit You, He Doesn’t Love You.” So runs an African proverb. Or a Russian proverb, according to other sources. Or a Bolivian proverb, according to still others. Perhaps it is all three. A similar Latin American saying, “The more you hit me, the more I love you,” turns up over 100,000 hits on Google.

It is hardly a new idea that female sexuality has a masochistic component. Indeed, this seems to be part of the folk wisdom of the world; in other words, it corresponds the observations of many persons of both sexes across many generations. Yet it is not easy to find extended discussion of it. Within the past century, most writing on the subject has been beholden to the Freudian tradition, a circumstance that does not inspire confidence. A more hopeful sign may be the sizable feminist literature aimed at refuting “the myth of female masochism.” If nothing else, such literature is testimony to the enduring reality of the corresponding folk belief; no one writes polemics against things that have absolutely no basis in reality.

It is not hard to understand why persons of both sexes are reluctant to talk about female masochism. No one wants to appear to be condoning the abuse of women. A prime component of masculinity is the instinct to protect women. In the European tradition, this has given rise to the principle that “a gentlemen never strikes a lady.” Pushing gallantry to the point of silliness, as usual, Thomas Fleming writes in Chronicles that “there is something unmanly about beating women, unmanly and sickening.”

But what if there is something in at least some women that responds positively to male violence?

F. Roger Devlin, “The Question of Female Masochism”, Counter-Currents Publishing, 2014-09-17.

December 1, 2015

QotD: The neurological impact of the web browser

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

The Netscape Navigator web browser celebrated its 20th anniversary this week. For many of you, Netscape will have been the first browser you used, and was therefore your first introduction to ubiquitous digital connectedness. This, in turn, means it was probably responsible for a permanent change in your neurology and in the essentials of your lifestyle. Which seems worth observing — or mourning, according to your view of it.

When I say “Netscape,” of course, your instinctive reaction is probably to recoil at the memory of crude, dead technology. You think of four-digit baud rates, image files loading with agonizing slowness, and the raspy scream of the old-fashioned modem. But Netscape, practically speaking, probably changed your life much more than changing religions or cities or even spouses would.

Even if you are a literal hermit who has never come within five metres of a computer, you have some relationship to the browser and its consequences: It has altered politics, decided elections, changed regimes, reshaped the economy, exploded and reassembled the media, transformed the news. The children raised with (within?) the browser will have consciousnesses we cannot comprehend. They will live according to axioms, and on the basis of expectations, that are foreign to us, and that would be foreign to every generation of humans that has hitherto lived.

Colby Cosh, “How to mark the 20th anniversary of the Netscape Navigator?”, Maclean’s, 2014-10-14.

November 23, 2015

QotD: Bashing the drill square … it’s not actually useless

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

In September 1941, William McNeill was drafted in the US Army. He spent several months in basic training, which consisted mostly of marching around the drill field in close formation with a few dozen other men. At first McNeill thought the marching was just a way to pass the time, because his base had no weapons with which to train. But after a few weeks, when his unit began to synchronize well, he began to experience an altered state of consciousness. “Words are inadequate to describe the emotion aroused by the prolonged movement in unison that drilling involved. A sense of pervasive well-being is what I recall; more specifically, a strange sense of personal enlargement; a sort of swelling out, becoming bigger than life, thanks to participation in collective ritual.” McNeill fought in World War II and later became a distinguished historian. His research led him to the conclusion that the key innovation of Greek, Roman, and later European armies was the sort of synchronous drilling and marching the army had forced him to do years before.

Jonathan Haidt, quoted by Scott Alexander in “List Of The Passages I Highlighted In My Copy Of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind“, Slate Star Codex, 2014-06-12.

October 19, 2015

Dildos versus guns – Sarah Hoyt on a modern version of magical thinking

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

In case the title isn’t clear enough, there’s a protest started recently at the University of Texas in Austin where students upset at a recent court ruling allowing concealed weapons to be carried on campus came up with what they thought was a perfect counterpoint: they’d open carry dildos instead. Sarah Hoyt comments:

… I have no idea what Ms. Jin majored in, but I can sort of follow the tracks of her thought. Logically, carrying sex toys to campus to protest guns makes absolutely NO sense. I could see carrying signs, or … I don’t know, police whistles, if you’re convinced you’re completely safe if you can just call the police. I can even see, in a more sane way, wearing a protective vest and claiming this is better than guns for defense. I mean, at least they are in the same general kind of thing and sort of kind of address the problem in different ways.

BUT no. Because this is not reasoning. This is magical thinking. WORSE. This is magical thinking based on a world that doesn’t exist, a world that was sold to Ms. Jin (literally. College is expensive) by academics so divorced from reality that they can’t find it with two hands, a cane and a seeing eye dog.

In this world, you see, conservatives love guns and hate sex. This is all “explained” with pseudo Freudian patter about how guns are a substitute for the penis. This is total nonsense and old nonsense at that, stuff we LAUGHED at for being pseudo profound way back in the seventies.

But they absolutely believe that we defend the second amendment not because we want to be responsible for our own self-defense, not because we believe power derives from the individual and that therefore an individual must be capable of reining in the government when it gets out of control. No. They think we want guns because that’s the way we express our sexual repression. (Actually now I think about it, my gun obsessed friends are also the most sex-positive, so their idea not only is wrong, it’s bizarrely wrong.)

Since Ms. Jin has never considered that these stories she was sold are in fact stories with no relation to reality, her reasoning went something like “They’re carrying guns and that upsets me. I must carry something that upsets them. Ahah! Dildos.”

In an even mildly sane world, the press would have made her a laughing stock, because that reasoning makes no sense whatsoever.

But the press buys into the same imaginary world in which somehow the belief in guns for defense is a Freudian thing and so the “gun” value can be countered with the “dildo” value.

This is not grown up thinking. It’s magical thinking, in which complex issues get reduced to amulets and symbols, countered by other amulets and symbols.

Again, this is sort of the human default. And believing absurd things about those you believe to be the enemy is also completely normal. The left calls it “othering” and is completely oblivious to the fact that they do it. A lot.

But it’s still human-normal.

The cyclic history of SF fandom

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

I attended my first science fiction convention when I was 16, and being a science fiction fan in the mid 70s was ever so slightly more reputable than being a junkie or a drag queen in “mundane” society. Fandom was a tiny, tiny group of people compared to just about any other group of enthusiasts you could think of. At my first SF con in Toronto, there was a sharp dividing line between the “real” SF fans and the (euchhhhh!) Star Trek fans … even though the Trek fans were close to 50% of the attending fanbase. The “real” SF fans viewed the Trekkies as just barely tolerable (think of a guest bringing along a new and not-yet-housetrained puppy to your party). This was the first cycle of modern SF fandom history. On LiveJournal, wombat-socho outlines the pattern:

A short-lived show on NBC, Star Trek, generated massive fan interest in people who had never heard of science fiction fandom. The Trek fans flooded into fandom, and in the first of a sadly repetitive series of dumb mistakes, fandom turned on these newcomers and made them aware that they were most certainly Not Welcome. Fandom’s open and non-judgmental culture suddenly became harshly critical of “drobes” who ran around in Starfleet and Klingon uniforms they hadn’t even made themselves, and Trekkies who seemingly had no other interest in SF outside the series. This was horseshit, of course; perhaps predictable horseshit, given that so many SF fans (as I mentioned previously) were more than a little lacking in social skills, but horseshit all the same. Trekkies were in many cases SF fans fired up by the campaigns to bring the show back, fans writing fanfic, fans writing fanzines to publish fanfic and fanart in, fans starting conventions to which bemused actors were invited and besieged by legions of fans seeking autographs. In short, fans doing fanac, but not in the Approved Manner or on the Approved Topics. And so Trek fandom and its conventions, for the most part, went its separate way from traditional literary SF fandom.

Not too long after the hordes of unwashed Trekkies had been successfully repelled from the ghetto, a fellow named George Lucas showed up at the Kansas City Worldcon in 1976, promoting a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress featuring starships, a courageous young farmboy with hidden psychic powers, a couple of amusing robots, two ancient masters of martial arts, and a brutal Galactic Empire. He got a warm reception, and a few years later millions of people around the world were flocking to see the movie we all know now as Star Wars. They, too, started showing up at science fiction conventions, and got the same warm reception shown to their older brothers and sisters the Trekkies, and they in turn started going to what were increasingly called media conventions. The media conventions, like the Trek conventions before them, were very different from the fan-run SF conventions that preceded them. More (if not most) of them were unabashedly for-profit, charged different membership rates with different levels of access to the guests, and sometimes seemed more like combination flea markets/autograph sessions, with some panels where the guests talked about the shows. And they drew tens of thousands of people, because after Hollywood saw the huge piles of money Lucas was making, they couldn’t wait to launch a new Star Trek movie, a new Star Trek TV series, and all manner of TV shows and movies with science fiction themes. And lo, the fans of these shows and movies were likewise greeted with a cold shoulder by the Big Name Fans, Filthy Pros, and Secret Masters of Fandom.

At about the same time, role-playing games (Dungeons and Dragons, Traveller) exploded in popularity, followed not much later by collectible card games like Magic. For some reason, gamers had always fit better with traditional fandom, perhaps because so many of them were SF and fantasy fans to begin with, but after a while (perhaps around the time video games started becoming affordable and popular) they, too, started feeling less than welcome at regular SF conventions, and began going off to swell the crowds at GenCon and other conventions that were mostly about games and gaming.

Are you starting to see a pattern here? Is a trend becoming apparent to you?

Fans, back before Star Trek, were an isolated low-status fringe group who banded together against the mundanes who looked down on them. Given multiple opportunities to live up to their declared open and tolerant mores, each and every time they tried to do to the newcomers (Trekkies, Star Wars fans, gamers, and so on) exactly what the mundanes had done to them. You can’t say fans aren’t human, because they certainly re-enacted the same social exclusion, belittlement, and shaming that almost every in-group in human society uses against almost every out-group. Oh, and look, the “real” SF fans did the same thing recently to the libertarian and conservative fanbase.

Having read the preceding, should the results of SP3 have been a surprise to anyone? The people running WSFS and the people running local SF conventions are the same people who for the last fifty years have been mouthing off about “openness” and “tolerance” and “not being judgmental” while doing their best to run off “fringefans” at every opportunity instead of welcoming new chums and introducing them to the wider world of science fiction and fantasy. In order to join traditional fandom, you are only allowed to come in through one door, only allowed to read certain books, only allowed to express certain opinions. Then you can be accepted as a “true fan”. Why would anyone in their right mind want to put themselves through that? It’s a good question, and one which a lot of fans have answered by ignoring traditional fandom in favor of geek culture events such as the San Diego Comic Convention, Otakon, GenCon, and Dragon*Con. Some fans have signed up for Sad Puppies 4, hoping to recruit enough friends and allies to retake the Hugo Awards from the Sadducees and Pharisees who have controlled it (and increasingly, handed it out to those favored by Tor) for going on ten years. In the long term, though, perhaps what fandom (as opposed to Fandom) needs to do is build up a fan organization that welcomes all fans of science fiction and fantasy, no matter what door they enter by.

October 15, 2015

S.L.A. Marshall, Dave Grossman, and the “man is naturally peaceful” meme

Filed under: Books, Cancon, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The American military historian S.L.A. Marshall was perhaps best known for his book Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command in Future War, where he argued that American military training was insufficient to overcome most men’s natural hesitation to take another human life, even in intense combat situations. Dave Grossman is a modern military author who draws much of his conclusions from the initial work of Marshall. Grossman’s case is presented in his book On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, which was reviewed by Robert Engen in an older issue of the Canadian Military Journal:

As a military historian, I am instinctively skeptical of any work or theory that claims to overturn all existing scholarship – indeed, overturn an entire academic discipline – in one fell swoop. In academic history, the field normally expands and evolves incrementally, based upon new research, rather than being completely overthrown periodically. While it is not impossible for such a revolution to take place and become accepted, extraordinary new research and evidence would need to be presented to back up these claims. Simply put, Grossman’s On Killing and its succeeding “killology” literature represent a potential revolution for military history, if his claims can stand up to scrutiny – especially the claim that throughout human history, most soldiers and people have been unable to kill one another.

I will be the first to acknowledge that Grossman has made positive contributions to the discipline. On Combat, in particular, contains wonderful insights on the physiology of combat that bear further study and incorporation within the discipline. However, Grossman’s current “killology” literature contains some serious problems, and there are some worrying flaws in the theories that are being preached as truth to the men and women of the Canadian Forces. Although much of Grossman’s work is credible, his proposed theories on the inability of human beings to kill one another, while optimistic, are not sufficiently reinforced to warrant uncritical acceptance. A reassessment of the value that this material holds for the Canadian military is necessary.

The evidence seems to indicate that, contrary to Grossman’s ideas, killing is a natural, if difficult, part of human behaviour, and that killology’s belief that soldiers and the population at large are only being able to kill as part of programmed behaviour (or as a symptom of mental illness) hinders our understanding of the actualities of warfare. A flawed understanding of how and why soldiers can kill is no more helpful to the study of military history than it is to practitioners of the military profession. More research in this area is required, and On Killing and On Combat should be treated as the starting points, rather than the culmination, of this process.

(more…)

October 11, 2015

Take all the negative aspects of social media … and then tie in your political and financial activities

Filed under: China, Government, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Welcome to China’s idea of the perfect social media environment. Charles Stross describes the proposal and its likely impact on Chinese life:

So, let’s start by synopsizing the Privacy Online News report. It’s basically a state-run universal credit score, where you’re measured on a scale from 350 to 950. But it’s not just about your financial planning ability; it also reflects your political opinions. On the financial side, if you buy products the government approves of your credit score increases: wastes of time (such as video games) cost you points. China’s main social networks feed data into it and you can lose points big-time by expressing political opinions without prior permission, talking about history (where it diverges from the official version — e.g. the events of 1989 in Tiananmen Square — hey, I just earned myself a negative credit score there!), or saying anything that’s politically embarrassing.

The special social network magic comes into play when you learn that if your friends do this, your score also suffers. You can see what they just did to you: are you angry yet? Social pressure is a pervasive force and it’s going to be exerted on participants whether they like it or not, by friends looking for the goodies that come from having a high citizen score: goodies like instant loans for online shopping, car rentals without needing a deposit, or fast-track access to foreign travel visas. Also, everyone’s credit score is visible online, making it easy to ditch those embarrassingly ranty cocktail-party friends who insist on harshing your government credit karma by not conforming.

The gamification of social conformity, overseen by an authoritarian government and mediated by nudge theory, is a thing of beauty and horror; who needs cops with nightsticks to beat up dissidents when their friends and family will give them a tongue-lashing on behalf of the government for the price of a discount off a new fridge?

But don’t worry, I could make it a whole lot worse.

The first notable point about this system is that it’s an oppressive system that runs at a profit. Consider the instant no-collateral loans for online shopping: the Chinese system only grants these to folks who are a good credit bet. The debt will be repaid. Meanwhile it goes into providing a Keynesian stimulus for the productive side of the economy. And it rewards people for political right-thinking. What’s not to like?

Governments love nudge theory because it offers a cheap shortcut to enforcing social policy, even when the social policy in question is utterly broken. Paying a cop costs money — not just their salary and the cost of their uniform, but the station they work out of, the support personnel who keep the police force operating (janitors, human resources, vehicle maintenance), and the far less tangible political cost of being seen to wield a big stick and force people not to do what they want to do (or to do things that you want them to). Using big data to give folks a credit score, then paying them bright and shiny but essentially cost-free bonuses if they do what you want? That’s priceless. You may not be able to track folks who like to toke up directly (if it’s illegal in your jurisdiction), but you can penalize them for hanging out with known cannabis users and buying paraphernalia. More to the point, you can socially isolate users and get their family to give them grief without the unpalatable excesses (and negative headlines) of no-knock raids and cops kicking down the wrong door and shooting children by mistake. One may ask whether the medical marijuana movement and decriminalization pressure would have got off the ground in the United States if a citizenship scoring system with downvotes for pot users was in place. Or whether emancipatory rights movements could exist at all in a society that indirectly penalizes people for “wrong lifestyle choices” rather than relying on imperfectly applied but very visible and hateful boots and nightsticks.

October 7, 2015

Drummers

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

Everyone who knows musicians has heard at least a few drummer jokes. Open Culture attempts to put a bit of science into the casual abuse drummers have been subjected to over the years:

An old musician’s joke goes “there are three kinds of drummers in the world — those who can count and those who can’t.” But perhaps there is an even more global divide. Perhaps there are three kinds of people in the world — those who can drum and those who can’t. Perhaps, as the promotional video above from GE suggests, drummers have fundamentally different brains than the rest of us. Today we highlight the scientific research into drummers’ brains, an expanding area of neuroscience and psychology that disproves a host of dumb drummer jokes.

“Drummers,” writes Jordan Taylor Sloan at Mic, “can actually be smarter than their less rhythmically-focused bandmates.” This according to the findings of a Swedish study (Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm) which shows “a link between intelligence, good timing and the part of the brain used for problem-solving.” As Gary Cleland puts it in The Telegraph, drummers “might actually be natural intellectuals.”

Neuroscientist David Eagleman, a renaissance researcher The New Yorker calls “a man obsessed with time,” found this out in an experiment he conducted with various professional drummers at Brian Eno’s studio. It was Eno who theorized that drummers have a unique mental makeup, and it turns out “Eno was right: drummers do have different brains from the rest.” Eagleman’s test showed “a huge statistical difference between the drummers’ timing and that of test subjects.” Says Eagleman, “Now we know that there is something anatomically different about them.” Their ability to keep time gives them an intuitive understanding of the rhythmic patterns they perceive all around them.

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