Interesting Stuff: 04/12/2017

Maria Schneider against Net Neutrality: “But that’s only part of the story. The elephant in the room, that almost nobody mentions or maybe realizes, is the position of the “FTC” on this Open Internet Order reversal.  During the notice and comment period for the current FCC reversal, both the FTC director herself, Maureen Ohlhausen, (who seems to be an unassailable woman appointed by Obama), and all of her staff, separately submitted comments completely blasting the 2015 Open Internet Order.  Her comments in particular seem incredibly well researched and presented. She is our nation’s chief consumer watchdog, and her opinion is important. You can download her piece here.

All of the feigned panic Google and its flying monkeys have whipped up are addressed by the FTC Director in her comments.  The simple reality is that the architects of the 2015 OIO never expected such agency turmoil would result between the FCC & FTC.  However, a big federal case from California between AT&T and the FTC basically said that because of the OIO, the FTC is stripped of its powers.  And that’s a very unfortunate consequence of the OIO. Frankly, I’d rather have the FTC taking the lead in policing real-life bad ISP behavior.  It’s what they do (or what they did) and they’ve been a pretty good watch dog in the past. It seems the FTC stats on policing ISPs are impressive.  The FCC has never done that, it’s not in their DNA. And their ability to police is even very limited, unlike the FTC.  The power of the people is best reflected through the FTC, not the FCC.”


Niskan Center on the limits of legalism: “But I would bet against it. The courts have good reason for reticence. They are institutionally reluctant to pick fights they can’t win with either Congress or the presidency. Only deciding live cases and controversies is a fundamental norm of the American judiciary. And the executive branch has constant opportunities to play shell games with its policies in response to judicial challenges. The addition of North Korea (from which the United States gets essentially no immigration) and Venezuela (in an asymmetric way that makes its inclusion misleading) to the Muslim-majority countries on the original list is a good example. If the courts look likely to restrict executive discretion to engage in religious discrimination in immigration, the executive can lightly disguise it.  In the time it takes slow, deliberate courts to reach a final decision about that policy, the policy can change again. The executive’s built-in speed advantage over the judiciary, and its freedom to opportunistically alter particulars while the judiciary struggles to find general principles, make it extremely difficult if not impossible for the courts to keep up.

I’ve slowly become persuaded by some of this, and also by some related worries about the political implications of legalism. The American willingness to subordinate everything else in politics to the fight for control of judicial appointments is extraordinarily unhealthy. The most conspicuous examples right now are the ongoing opportunistic rewriting of the procedural rules of the Senate and the idea that Alabamians should elect as Senator a child molester who was twice removed from the bench for disregarding the law, in order to ensure a Republican vote for judicial confirmations. But I’m also tremendously troubled by the classical liberal legalists who seem willing to tolerate any amount of substantive authoritarianism in politics for the sake of friendly judicial appointments.”


Three Excellent Pieces from Status 451 covering how the left succeeds at politics. Truly worth reading, regardless of your political leanings. A few extracts:

“Bob Wing, a grassroots organizer, explains this nicely: “If winning feels impossible, then righteousness can seem like the next best thing.” But righteousness is not conducive to getting normies to join your team if your team cannot demonstrate ability to, at least sometimes, win. Nor does righteousness help you make real inroads with regular people.

Occupy, at the height of its power, turned people away, even snubbing prominent mainstream Lefties. That kept Occupy’s radical cred, but also cooled normies on Occupy: “If Occupy won’t welcome my hero John Lewis, it’ll never welcome me.”

In Smucker’s view, Occupy trapped itself in activist space, and started performing for an audience of themselves. What he argues is that activists need to leave activist space and focus on converting or nudging normies. It’s safe to say Smucker is not a fan of the Benedict Option. He champions its opposite: “seed work,” aka entryism.”

“If you’re a Lefty? Holy hell are you awash in hardcore options. You wanna take over a city park? You want to go live out in South Dakota blocking a pipeline? You want to occupy a government building with protesters? You want to organize a fleet of kayaks to prevent an oil tanker from offloading? You want to go for a mass bike ride, frustrating every commuter in the city? If you’re a Lefty, people are tripping over each other to give you ways to be hardcore at varying levels. (The “varying levels” is important: people have different capacities and desires for hardcore, and different levels of ability to bear its consequences.) What Lefties are really great at, and what Righties should be better at, is providing an experience that feels hardcore to participants but still looks like moral high ground to everyone else. The classic example: SNCC going into the deep South to register poor black voters at a time when segregation is law, the Klan is powerful, and Lefty organizers are getting straight-up murdered. That’s hardcore. SNCC and Weatherman were both hardcore Lefty groups. But SNCC was smart. Weatherman was stupid. Hardcore that is unproductive is stupid by definition.”

“The other essential tip is growing the movement. In Alinsky’s view, everything is a movement numbers game. Job one for the Alinskyite organizer is to build a mass power base, because without numbers you have nothing. So the most important question is, “How will this increase the strength of the organization?” How many recruits will it bring in? If losing a fight will bring in more recruits than winning that fight would, then the organizer must lose that fight. Because more recruits mean a larger long-term victory.

Alinsky also explains that your organization also has to have a bunch of issues. Having a bunch of issues broadens your appeal, bringing in more people, and gives you ways to keep your people engaged. If your organization isn’t doing anything, people will get bored. They’ll occupy themselves with busywork, not actually accomplishing things, and they’ll get mired in internal factionalism. (This explains a lot of the internal factionalism on the Hard Right, actually.)”


“Today’s Left has prioritized shallow mobilizing (professionalized, top-down, Alinsky) over deep organizing (massed, bottom-up, old-school industrial unions). McAlevy says this is a mistake. What you want, she says, is a real grass-roots movement in which everyone is active, making relevant decisions, and leading. Specifically, McAlevey’s calling for the Left to update and use the 1930s/1940s methods of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, or CIO.”

“There are three ways people react to this information. Some people say, “Well, I’d like a better bus service, but nah, this isn’t for me.” Some say, “Eh, I don’t hate your causes, I’ll join.” Some sing the Internationale.

The people who actually join Mann’s group fall into two groups: active members and warm bodies. Active members attend at least four meetings per year. This qualifies them to run for office in the BRU/SDP and vote for its planning committee. Active members are organizers, marchers, recruiters. The warm bodies (Mann’s group calls them “dollar members”) pay dues, sign petitions, and participate in phone trees.

A very good recruiter has maybe a 10% chat-to-recruitment success rate. Maybe a third of those noobs will actually show up for a meeting. Every meeting sees ten to twenty new recruits. Maybe half of those will come back for another meeting. Between the orientation filter and just flaking out, only half to a third of the new recruits who go to even one meeting of the BRU/SDP become active members. Do the math: Mann’s BRU/SDP recruiters talk to six hundred people, in person, to get two or three new active members and a maximum of seven more warm bodies.

And it works for them. The BRU/SDP organized bus riders and led campaigns: sit-ins, fare boycotts (you ride the bus, but don’t pay), and lawsuits. They fought for years and won a lot from the MTA, including non-stinky natural gas buses to replace the old stinky diesel ones. (A cynic might wonder if they got any funds from natural gas bus manufacturers.) They won real and meaningful results for poor people of color who ride buses. They showed value.”

“The legendary biographer Robert Caro mentioned once that he had heard college professors talk very convincingly about how the paths for freeways in New York City were chosen. The professors listed variables, and considerations, and trade-offs, and they talked very knowledgeably and nothing they said was worth a damn because the paths for freeways in New York City were chosen for one reason and one reason only: a freeway was where it was because Robert Moses wanted to build the freeway there. Considerations meant nothing next to power.

That’s what movements are about: gaining power. Movements don’t just happen. And they’re not the product of orders from on high, or rent-a-protestors paid out of somebody’s checkbook. They’re the product of a lot of people doing a lot of hard work over a very long time.”

Interesting Stuff 03/12/2017

Eliezer Yudkowsky on whether objects travelling away from you at the speed of light disappear:

“Suppose I transmit a photon out toward infinity, not aimed at any stars, or any galaxies, pointing it toward one of the great voids between superclusters.  Based on standard physics, in other words, I don’t expect this photon to intercept anything on its way out.  The photon is moving at light speed, so I can’t chase after it and capture it again.

If the expansion of the universe is accelerating, as current cosmology holds, there will come a future point where I don’t expect to be able to interact with the photon even in principle—a future time beyond which I don’t expect the photon’s future light cone to intercept my world-line.  Even if an alien species captured the photon and rushed back to tell us, they couldn’t travel fast enough to make up for the accelerating expansion of the universe.

Should I believe that, in the moment where I can no longer interact with it even in principle, the photon disappears?

I remember reading that when it was first proposed that the Milky Way was our galaxy —that the hazy river of light in the night sky was made up of millions (or even billions) of stars—that Occam’s Razor was invoked against the new hypothesis.  Because, you see, the hypothesis vastly multiplied the number of “entities” in the believed universe.  Or maybe it was the suggestion that “nebulae”—those hazy patches seen through a telescope—might be galaxies full of stars, that got the invocation of Occam’s Razor.

Lex parsimoniae:  Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.

That was Occam’s original formulation, the law of parsimony:  Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.

If you postulate billions of stars that no one has ever believed in before, you’re multiplying entities, aren’t you?

No.  There are two Bayesian formalizations of Occam’s Razor:  Solomonoff Induction, and Minimum Message Length.  Neither penalizes galaxies for being big.”


On the continuing fall in US fertility


Sheng Wu on why social contract arguments are almost always wrong:”

  1. Good grief!  So maybe citizens consent to the social contract by receiving government services (welfare, public highways, police protection)?
    1. There are many government services which I cannot opt out of.  (Take, for instance, the benefits of clean air or military defence.)
    2. If the state takes my resources by force (through taxation), and then converts those into services, I may have to consume those services.  That doesn’t imply that I consented to any wider set of rules that the state dreamt up!
    3. Since the state generally exercises a monopoly on the use of violence, it drives other providers out of business, forcing me to consume its services.  I have to rely on the state police, because the state takes steps to make sure that their police force is the only one.  A monopoly that systematically destroys all its competitors does not thereby have consenting customers.”


On the evolutionary causes of homosexuality: “A man who carries a small dose of gay genes in his genome would, according to the theory, improve his success  in the heterosexual mating game. That “certain something” that heightens sex appeal probably consist exactly of those essentials which make homosexuals different from heterosexuals in the first place. According to his theory, the alleged “gay genes” equip men who carry  the heterozygous disposition with an above-average degree of feminine traits such as sensitivity, gentleness and friendliness. Gay genes therefore form a natural antidote against “hypermasculine” genes that turn men into rough machos. They would promote properties that appeal to women and indicate a good suitability as a father and significant other. A lesbian disposition lends women reversed traits that helps their reproductive success. Surveys have already shown that psychologically “masculine” women have more sex contacts. 

Imagine, for example, there were five genes, each of which occurs in duplicate and increases the probability of homosexuality, Miller speculates. Only if a man had all five alleles in duplicate, he would be gay. “That would be an event that occurs with a probability of 1 to 32, meaning in 3 percent of all men.” Such a system would already be evolutionary stable if a hint of homosexual disposition would increase the genetic fitness of heterosexuals by only 2 percent. “


How war turned immigrants into Americans: “Second, military service could also change immigrants’ preferences for assimilation through socialization and intergroup contact. This mechanism lies at the heart of Weber (1976)’s account of the ways in which rural peasants in France gained their French national identity. Essentially, the military can reshape immigrants identity by exposing them to a wide variety of individuals especially natives who they would have otherwise not met or interacted with. Given that most socialization in the military would occur with white, natives, then we should expect immigrants to converge in their identities toward white, natives following standard models of socialization in the economics literature (Bisin and Verdier 2001). Moreover, the military is a ripe setting for intergroup contact to make immigrants feel closer to natives since the vast majority of individuals interact on an equal footing with each other and are required to cooperate with each other given battlefield objectives (Allport 1954; Pettigrew 1998; Wilcox 2011; Jha 2013; Lowe 2017). Again, this mechanism suggests that participation in military service should lead immigrants to identity more as white Americans than non-veteran immigrants as a result of socialization in the military.”


Jonathan Haidt on Racism in University: “

 If in a given class the great majority of the black students are at the bottom of the class, this factor is bound to instill, unconsciously at least, some sense of intellectual superiority among the white students and some sense of intellectual inferiority among the black students. Such a pairing in the same school of the brightest white students in the country with black students of mediocre academic qualifications is social experiment with loaded dice and a stacked deck. The faculty can talk around the clock about disadvantaged background, and it can excuse inferior performance because of poverty, environment, inadequate cultural tradition, lack of educational opportunity, etc. The fact remains that black and white students will be exposed to each other under circumstances in which demonstrated intellectual superiority rests with the whites.

But Judge Fleming went much further. He made specific predictions about what the new policy would do to black students over the years, and how they would react. Here is his prophecy:

No one can be expected to accept an inferior status willingly. The black students, unable to compete on even terms in the study of law, inevitably will seek other means to achieve recognition and self-expression. This is likely to take two forms. First, agitation to change the environment from one in which they are unable to compete to one in which they can. Demands will be made for elimination of competition, reduction in standards of performance, adoption of courses of study which do not require intensive legal analysis, and recognition for academic credit of sociological activities which have only an indirect relationship to legal training. Second, it seems probable that this group will seek personal satisfaction and public recognition by aggressive conduct, which, although ostensibly directed at external injustices and problems, will in fact be primarily motivated by the psychological needs of the members of the group to overcome feelings of inferiority caused by lack of success in their studies. Since the common denominator of the group of students with lower qualifications is one of race this aggressive expression will undoubtedly take the form of racial demands–the employment of faculty on the basis of race, a marking system based on race, the establishment of a black curriculum and a black law journal, an increase in black financial aid, and a rule against expulsion of black students who fail to satisfy minimum academic standards. 

Interesting Stuff 20/11/3017

Marginal Revolution: “suppose a private firm and the federal government both value a worker’s output at $100k/yr and the tax rate is 20%. The private firm offers the worker $100k and the worker receives $80k after paying taxes. The federal government, however, can offer the worker $125k in nominal salary, *knowing that it will receive $25k back in income tax*. The net result is that the federal government pays $100k and the worker receives $100k after taxes, i.e., the worker earns $100k tax free, $20k more than he or she would earn at the private firm. Another way of seeing this is to note that taxes paid by employees are economically equivalent to taxes paid by employers. So, if employers received rebates for income taxes paid by employees, then the net income tax would be zero. Well, the federal government *does* receive a rebate for all income taxes paid by employees!

Doesn’t this mean that taxes are doubly distortive? Not only do they discourage employment by creating a gap between what (private) employers pay and what workers receive — the usual cited distortion — they also distort the *composition* of the workforce by allowing the federal government to crowd out other employers.”


New York Times on the Siege Mentality: “The siege mentality starts with a sense of collective victimhood. It’s not just that our group has opponents. The whole “culture” or the whole world is irredeemably hostile.

From this flows a deep sense of pessimism. Things are bad now. Our enemies are growing stronger. And things are about to get worse. The world our children inherit will be horrific. The siege mentality floats on apocalyptic fear.

The odd thing is that the siege mentality feels kind of good to the people who grab on to it. It gives its proponents a straightforward way to interpret the world — the noble us versus the powerful them. It gives them a clear sense of group membership and a clear social identity. It offers a ready explanation for the bad things that happen in life.

Most of all, it gives people a narrative to express their own superiority: We may be losing, but at least we are the holy remnant. We have the innocence of victimhood. We are martyrs in a spiteful world.”

Evidence for the Red Queen Hypothesis: “Asexual clones that were plentiful at the beginning of the study became more susceptible to the parasites over time. As parasite infections increased, the number of clones dramatically decreased. Meanwhile, the population of snails exhibiting sexual reproduction stayed relatively stable. Jukka Jokela of the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology said that, “These results suggest that sexual reproduction provides an evolutionary advantage in parasite rich environments.” The host-parasite relationship and the sexual and asexual forms of the snail were key to proving that sexual reproduction is advantageous.”

On low power as a a cause of replication failure on neuroscience: “First, low power, by definition, means that the chance of discovering effects that are genuinely true is low. That is, low-powered studies produce more false negatives than high-powered studies. When studies in a given field are designed with a power of 20%, it means that if there are 100 genuine non-null effects to be discovered in that field, these studies are expected to discover only 20 of them11.

likely that the estimate of the magnitude of that effect provided by that study will be exaggerated. This effect inflation is often referred to as the ‘winner’s curse’13 and is likely to occur whenever claims of discovery are based on thresholds of statistical significance (for example, p < 0.05) or other selection filters (for example, a Bayes factor better than a given value or a false-discovery rate below a given value). Effect inflation is worst for small, low-powered studies, which can only detect effects that happen to be large. If, for example, the true effect is medium-sized, only those small studies that, by chance, overestimate the magnitude of the effect will pass the threshold for discovery. To illustrate the winner’s curse, suppose that an association truly exists with an effect size that is equivalent to an odds ratio of 1.20, and we are trying to discover it by performing a small (that is, underpowered) study. Suppose also that our study only has the power to detect an odds ratio of 1.20 on average 20% of the time. The results of any study are subject to sampling variation and random error in the measurements of the variables and outcomes of interest. Therefore, on average, our small study will find an odds ratio of 1.20 but, because of random errors, our study may in fact find an odds ratio smaller than 1.20 (for example, 1.00) or an odds ratio larger than 1.20 (for example, 1.60). Odds ratios of 1.00 or 1.20 will not reach statistical significance because of the small sample size. We can only claim the association as nominally significant in the third case, where random error creates an odds ratio of 1.60. The winner’s curse means, therefore, that the ‘lucky’ scientist who makes the discovery in a small study is cursed by finding an inflated effect.”

Melting Asphalt on the evolutionary cause of bad beliefs: “In other words, just like Acme, the human brain has to strike an awkward balance between two different reward systems:

  • Meritocracy, where we monitor beliefs for accuracy out of fear that we’ll stumble by acting on a false belief; and
  • Cronyism, where we don’t care about accuracy so much as whether our beliefs make the right impressions on others.

And so we can roughly (with caveats we’ll discuss in a moment) divide our beliefs into merit beliefs and crony beliefs. Both contribute to our bottom line — survival and reproduction — but they do so in different ways: merit beliefs by helping us navigate the world, crony beliefs by helping us look good.”




Interesting Stuff: 14/07/2017

Do elephants have souls. It seems obvios that some animals qualify as people.

“One of the major clues that elephants have something we would recognize as inner lives is their extraordinary memories. This is attested to by outward indicators ranging from the practical — a matriarch’s recollection of a locale, critical to leading her family to food and water — to the passionate — grudges that are held against specific people or types of people for decades or even generations, or fierce affection for a long-lost friend.

Carol Buckley, co-founder of the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, a retirement ranch for maltreated veterans of circuses and zoos, describes the arrival of a newcomer to the facility. The fifty-one-year-old Shirley was first introduced to an especially warm resident of long standing named Tarra: “Everyone watched in joy and amazement as Tarra and Shirley intertwined trunks and made ‘purring’ noises at each other. Shirley very deliberately showed Tarra each injury she had sustained at the circus, and Tarra then gently moved her trunk over each injured part.” Later in the evening, an elephant named Jenny entered the barn — one who, as it turned out, had as a calf briefly been in the same circus as Shirley, twenty-two years before:

There was an immediate urgency in Jenny’s behavior. She wanted to get close to Shirley who was divided by two stalls. Once Shirley was allowed into the adjacent stall the interaction between her and Jenny became quite intense. Jenny wanted to get into the stall with Shirley desperately. She became agitated, banging on the gate and trying to climb through and over.

After several minutes of touching and exploring each other, Shirley started to ROAR and I mean ROAR — Jenny joined in immediately. The interaction was dramatic, to say the least, with both elephants trying to climb in with each other and frantically touching each other through the bars. I have never experienced anything even close to this depth of emotion.

We opened the gate and let them in together…. they are as one bonded physically together. One moves, and the other shows in unison. It is a miracle and joy to behold. All day … they moved side by side and when Jenny lay down, Shirley straddled her in the most obvious protective manner and shaded her body from the sun and harm.

They were inseparable until Jenny died a few years later.”

Mind the gap 2: A vision of regulatory failure: “Mandatory parking requirements, sidewalks, curb cuts, fire lanes, on site stormwater management, handicapped accessibility, draught tolerant native plantings… It’s a very long list that totaled $340,000 worth of work. They only paid $245,000 for the entire property. And that’s before they even started bringing the building itself up to code for their intended use. Guess what? They decided not to open the bakery or brewery. Big surprise.”


The Politics of Sex Abuse in Sacred Hierarchies: A Comparative Study of the Catholic
Church and the Military in the United States: “The paper attempts to assess whether the tolerance of sex abuse in each organization has been partly due to these institutions seeing themselves as sacred, as something apart from the secular state, beholden to alternative authorities. It explores the role that their hierarchical, male-dominant structures and independent legal systems have on outcomes, and particularly how those factors interact with their sacred or quasi-sacred status to compound difficulties in reforming the institutions. The paper also finds that both institutions have benefitted from the deference of public authorities, at the expense of victims. It highlights an issue often overlooked in the lawsuits and Congressional hearings about clergy child sex abuse and sexual assault in the military: the fact that child sex abuse by religious officials and sexual assault of soldiers by fellow soldiers and officers constitute profound challenges for democracy in the US, as the institutions claim and may be accorded separate and privileged status, beyond the reach of democratic laws and procedures, and is a warning about the costs of public deference to other institutions. The study utilizes extensive documentation of Church clergy child sex abuse cases in the US, and documentation of sex abuse cases in the US military, including documentation from Congressional hearings.”


Slate Star Codex on progress: “The first student has no master, and must discover everything himself. He researches for 70 years, then writes his wisdom into a book before he dies. The second student reads the book, and in 7 years, he has learned 70 years of research. Then he does his own original research for 63 years and writes a book containing 133 years of research. The third student reads for 13.3 years, then does his own research for 66.7 years, ending up with 200 years. Imagine going further and further. After many generations, 690 years of research have been done, and it takes a student 69 years to master them. The student only has one year left of life to research further, leaving the world with 691 years of research total. So the cycle creeps onward, always approaching but never quite reaching 700 years of architectural research.”

More Compass Rose on Honesty: “It’s not really possible to discharge a deontological duty to never lie, if by lying you include making promises that you might not keep. Instead, we have to talk about assigning a cost to breaking one’s word.

People who assign a high cost to breaking their word behave as though there were substantial punishments for wordbreaking. They will be motivated by this internal incentive to spend more effort before making a promise, figuring out whether it’s keepable – and to add qualifiers and caveats beforehand to make the literal exact promise one they can keep. Thus, they reduce the expected cost of oathbreaking by reducing the probability that they will be unable to discharge their obligation. Later, if unforeseen circumstances make it more difficult for them to discharge that obligation, they will honor the contract if the cost of doing so exceeds the moral cost of oathbreaking, and renege if the opposite is true.

People who assign a low cost to breaking their word will be free and easy with their pledges, as authenticexpressions of their current disposition:”

Where there is a will, there is a way

There’s a story that’s been playing in my head.

A girl. Stupid. Retarded. The blows rain down amid the sound of children’s laughter. Her hand clutches at the mud in front of her. She’s hurt and bleeding. She still won’t give up. She drags herself forward, clutching at the dirt. A kick to the head sends her into darkness. She wakes up at night, caked in mud. She knows she’s an animal. She knows she’s still better than those around her.

A man sits at a table. Around him sit others. Drunk men, playing cards. Hard men. They gave up their names long ago and now call themselves devil, and animal. Their forearms are as wide as a baby’s head. Their eyes are quick and hard. They know violence. They know what it means to take from others. Yet none would take from him. He is the worst. The cruellest. The most brutal. The smartest. He knows he is evil, but that knowledge does not help him stop. Still, he has a purpose beyond gluttony. He sees the shining path in front of him and the abyss to either side. He will walk where angels fear to tread. He will bring light to the darkness. No matter the cost.


Interesting Stuff 07/11/2017

Judge Alex Kozinski’s Dissenting Opinion (line 569): “All too many of the other great tragedies of history— Stalin’s atrocities, the killing fields of Cambodia, the Holocaust, to name but a few—were perpetrated by armed troops against unarmed populations. Many could well have been avoided or mitigated, had the perpetrators known their intended victims were equipped with a rifle and twenty bullets apiece, as the Militia Act required here. See Kleinfeld Dissent at 5997-99. If a few hundred Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto could hold off the Wehrmacht for almost a month with only a handful of weapons, six million Jews armed with rifles could not so easily have been herded into cattle cars.

My excellent colleagues have forgotten these bitter lessons of history. The prospect of tyranny may not grab the headlines the way vivid stories of gun crime routinely do. But few saw the Third Reich coming until it was too late. The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed—where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.


The consolidation of the internet:

Referral source of traffic to top web publishers


Game theory as a dark art: “Your garden-variety evils act against your values. Your better class of evil, like Voldemort and the folk-tale version of Satan, use your greed to trick you into acting against your own values, then grab away the promised reward at the last moment. But even demons and dark wizards can only do this once or twice before most victims wise up and decide that taking their advice is a bad idea. Game theory can force you to betray your deepest principles for no lasting benefit again and again, and still leave you convinced that your behavior was rational.”


Wait but Why’s on the presidential debate:

Clinton: I’ll let Michelle Obama do the talking here. She said, “When someone talks about that time when your husband held a Taco Bell employee down by the neck in the restaurant’s utilities closet and had intercourse with her, you go high.” Also, you insulted a Muslim war hero’s parents and said a Latino judge was inherently biased and mocked a disabled reporter and said Obama was foreign.

Trump: The first three, sure. But you’re the one who said Obama was foreign. Also, Michelle Obama has openly said you’re the worst ever. Also, you cheated to beat Bernie Sanders. Also, you deleted 33,000 emails you sneaky fuck. And when I’m Führer, I’m hiring a special prosecutor to come after you.”


On the advent of eugenics. The timelines are unjustifiably optimistic. Still worth reading.

“A report from Germany in 2014, for instance, found it was possible to distinguish fairly accurately, from a polygenic DNA score alone, between a person with type 1 diabetes and a person without it. While the scores aren’t perfectly accurate, consider how they might influence a prospective parent. On average, children of a man with type 1 diabetes have a one in 17 chance of developing the ailment. Picking the best of several embryos made in an IVF clinic, even with an error-prone predictor, could lower the odds.”


Evolution as an existential threat

SSC on evolution as the ultimate existential threat:

“Suppose you are one of the first rats introduced onto a pristine island. It is full of yummy plants and you live an idyllic life lounging about, eating, and composing great works of art (you’re one of those rats from The Rats of NIMH).

You live a long life, mate, and have a dozen children. All of them have a dozen children, and so on. In a couple generations, the island has ten thousand rats and has reached its carrying capacity. Now there’s not enough food and space to go around, and a certain percent of each new generation dies in order to keep the population steady at ten thousand.

A certain sect of rats abandons art in order to devote more of their time to scrounging for survival. Each generation, a bit less of this sect dies than members of the mainstream, until after a while, no rat composes any art at all, and any sect of rats who try to bring it back will go extinct within a few generations.

In fact, it’s not just art. Any sect at all that is leaner, meaner, and more survivalist than the mainstream will eventually take over. If one sect of rats altruistically decides to limit its offspring to two per couple in order to decrease overpopulation, that sect will die out, swarmed out of existence by its more numerous enemies. If one sect of rats starts practicing cannibalism, and finds it gives them an advantage over their fellows, it will eventually take over and reach fixation.

If some rat scientists predict that depletion of the island’s nut stores is accelerating at a dangerous rate and they will soon be exhausted completely, a few sects of rats might try to limit their nut consumption to a sustainable level. Those rats will be outcompeted by their more selfish cousins. Eventually the nuts will be exhausted, most of the rats will die off, and the cycle will begin again. Any sect of rats advocating some action to stop the cycle will be outcompeted by their cousins for whom advocating anything is a waste of time that could be used to compete and consume.

For a bunch of reasons evolution is not quite as Malthusian as the ideal case, but it provides the prototype example we can apply to other things to see the underlying mechanism. From a god’s-eye-view, it’s easy to say the rats should maintain a comfortably low population. From within the system, each individual rat will follow its genetic imperative and the island will end up in an endless boom-bust cycle.”

“Remember: Moloch can’t agree even to this 99.99999% victory. Rats racing to populate an island don’t leave a little aside as a preserve where the few rats who live there can live happy lives producing artwork. Cancer cells don’t agree to leave the lungs alone because they realize it’s important for the body to get oxygen. Competition and optimization are blind idiotic processes and they fully intend to deny us even one lousy galaxy.”

Bostrom on optimising away consciousness:

“…we can still entertain the possibility that intrinsically valuable activities and states of consciousness become rarer or disappear altogether.  Much of human life’s meaning arguably depends on the enjoyment, for its own sake, of humor, love, game-playing, art, sex, dancing, social conversation, philosophy, literature, scientific discovery, food and drink, friendship, parenting, and sport.  We have preferences and capabilities that make us engage in such activities, and these predispositions were adaptive in our species’ evolutionary past; but what ground do we have for being confident that these or similar activities will continue to be adaptive in the future?  Perhaps what will maximize fitness in the future will be nothing but non-stop high-intensity drudgery, work of a drab and repetitive nature, aimed at improving the eighth decimal of some economic output measure.  Even if the workers selected for in this scenario were conscious, the resulting world would still be radically impoverished in terms of the qualities that give value to life.” 

Robin Hanson on the dream time:

(The article is bad futurism. The framing is useful.) “our lives are far more dominated by consequential delusions: wildly false beliefs and non-adaptive values that matter.  While our descendants may explore delusion-dominated virtual realities, they will well understand that such things cannot be real, and don’t much influence history.  In contrast, we live in the brief but important “dreamtime” when delusions drove history.  Our descendants will remember our era as the one where the human capacity to sincerely believe crazy non-adaptive things, and act on those beliefs, was dialed to the max.”