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Monday, October 28, 2019

And in Other Sports News...

The National Ultimate Frisbee Finals were held in San Diego last Sunday and an a capella quartet I was in sang the national anthems of the United States and Canada at the beginning of it. I've always wondered where they get the random people to sing the anthems at these sporting events and now I know - it's people like me! There's no recording (alas!) but here's a picture of us intrepid singers (it was windy - that's why it looks like I'm having a bad hair day):

The men's finals was really exciting. The Seattle Sockeyes won 13-12 in sudden death overtime against the Chicago Machine. The Sockeyes were up 11-6. Then the Machine scored 5 in a row to tie it up, then it was tied again at 12-12 with the next goal deciding the game. Both teams went all out for the last point for an exciting finale!

I used to enthusiastically play Ultimate so it was really fun to watch the sport. I think it's unfortunate that the sport hasn't really ever caught on at the professional level because it's really an exciting spectator sport.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Will Trump Make it to the End of His First Term?

In 2017, in a comment to one of Clovis' posts, I wrote:
And, by the way, I think Trump's chance of finishing his first term is less than 70%. He's old and someone his age has about a 7% chance of dying in the next 3+ years. Nobody's been more hated as a president, and while he's a pretty hard target, I think he has a 10+% chances of being assassinated - all you need is one traitorous secret service agent and Trump's a goner. I think there's a 5% chance he just gets sick of it all and quits (resigns). And I think there's around a 10% chance he is removed from office because they do find something bad enough about him and Russia or whatever.
I think the odds are still roughly the same. He probably won't die of natural causes and he almost certainly won't resign because "he just gets sick of it all." On the other hand, the chance of his being impeached and removed from office is probably more than 10% at this point.

I still think there's a significant chance he'll be assassinated, possibly along with Barr and other investigators in Trump's administration. If those investigators really begin indicting people and if there really is a "deep state," then they'll start killing people to stop the investigations, and I think Trump would be the primary target. And the likelihood of assassination will go up substantially if it looks like Trump is likely to win in 2020.

Whether or not there is a "deep state" is either a matter of definition or degree. There are around 2 million federal employees (far more if you include military) and most of them keep their jobs even when the parties of the president and/or congress change. These bureaucrats are in some sense a "deep state" in that they're entrenched very deeply and nearly impossible to get rid of. However, they're not necessarily a "deep state" by the more commonly used definition of people conspiring to rule over the people while ignoring elected officials and perhaps to use any method, including assassination, to guarantee their continued power.

But do they need to conspire to unseat of assassinate Trump? Or at least conspire on a grand scale? I don't think so. I believe that it is true that the vast majority of federal employees would love to get rid of Trump and I believe that each of those is willing to do at least a little bit in order to achieve that goal. Some percentage is probably willing to do quite a lot more than a little bit. Multiply that percentage, even if pretty small, by 2 million people, and suddenly you have an awful lot effort directed at bring down Trump, perhaps tens if not hundreds of thousands of people.

As a result, no conspiracy is necessary to have Trump assassinated and I think there's about a 10% chance of that happening. From large yet largely unconnected groups of people, unpredictable behaviors will emerge.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

In The Latest Critter News ...

... Rats taught to drive tiny cars to lower their stress levels.

The most important part of this bizarre story: "The rats were not required to take a driving test at the end of the study."

However, I'm wondering, did any of the rats suffer from road rage?

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

In the Wilds of San Diego

I ran into my friend Tom while mountain biking today ...

... My friend Tom T. Tarantula.

(It be more accurate to say I almost ran over Mr. Tarantula).

Friday, October 18, 2019

Quote of the Day

"Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites,—in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity,—in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption,—in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters." -- EDMUND BURKE, “Letter to a Member of the National Assembly,” 1791.—The Works of the Right Honorable Edmund Burke, vol. 4, pp. 51–52 (1899).

This quote was embedded in an interesting speech by US Attorney General William Barr.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Epic Construction Projects

There are train tracks directly behind my office. It used to be a single track, but a 2nd one was built and is about a mile long.

It took more than 2 years from the start of construction to finish that mile of track. At that rate, it would've taken 4,000 years to complete the US Transcontinental Railroad. So I was amused when an article by the historian Victor David Hanson (VDH) asked the question:
Does anyone believe that contemporary Americans could build another transcontinental railroad in six years?
Oh I'm sure someone, somewhere believes that it could be done again, but it seems beyond implausible to me. You'd think that with all of the technology we've developed, we could just snap our fingers and voila!, new railroads and regular roads and bridges and ... would appear in no time. But no, not even close.

VDH notes other typical nearly absurdly slow projects:
Californians tried to build a high-speed rail line. But after more than a decade of government incompetence, lawsuits, cost overruns and constant bureaucratic squabbling, they have all but given up. The result is a half-built overpass over the skyline of Fresno — and not yet a foot of track laid.

California’s roads now are mostly the same as we inherited them, although the state population has tripled. We have added little to our freeway network, either because we forgot how to build good roads or would prefer to spend the money on redistributive entitlements.

When California had to replace a quarter section of the earthquake-damaged San Francisco Bay Bridge, it turned into a near-disaster, with 11 years of acrimony, fighting, cost overruns — and a commentary on our decline into Dark Ages primitivism. Yet 82 years ago, our ancestors built four times the length of our singe replacement span in less than four years. It took them just two years to design the entire Bay Bridge and award the contracts.

Our generation required five years just to plan to replace a single section. In inflation-adjusted dollars, we spent six times the money on one-quarter of the length of the bridge and required 13 agencies to grant approval. In 1936, just one agency oversaw the entire bridge project.

California has not built a major dam in 40 years. Instead, officials squabble over the water stored and distributed by our ancestors, who designed the California State Water Project and Central Valley Project.
Contemporary Californians would have little food or water without these massive transfers, and yet they often ignore or damn the generation that built the very system that saves us.

America went to the moon in 1969 with supposedly primitive computers and backward engineering. Does anyone believe we could launch a similar moonshot today? No American has set foot on the moon in the last 47 years, and it may not happen in the next 50 years.
VDH wonders if a new mythology will be born based on our forebearers being able to construct wonders far beyond our modern day capabilities:
Many of the stories about the gods and heroes of Greek mythology were compiled during Greek Dark Ages. Impoverished tribes passed down oral traditions that originated after the fall of the lost palatial civilizations of the Mycenaean Greeks.
Dark Age Greeks tried to make sense of the massive ruins of their forgotten forbearers’ monumental palaces that were still standing around. As illiterates, they were curious about occasional clay tablets they plowed up in their fields with incomprehensible ancient Linear B inscriptions.
We of the 21st century are beginning to look back at our own lost epic times and wonder about these now-nameless giants who left behind monuments [such as the transcontinental railroad] that we cannot replicate, but instead merely use or even mock.
I do see his point. Who isn't frustrated with traffic being badly slowed for years while crews patch a few holes at a snail's pace?

However, VDH did leave out a few details that I think are important. First, the working conditions were really, really bad for most of those epic projects. Around 1,200 people died building the Transcontinental Railroad. The construction of the Golden Gate Bridge was noted for how "safe" it was - only 11 people died. Things are much, much more comfortable now. Almost nobody would be willing to work in those conditions and take those risks (especially for what they were paid) and even fewer in power are willing to let them take those risks.

Yet before we blame those running the projects for the death toll, we need to keep in mind that those horrible working conditions were often a step up from what the workers were previously experiencing. For example,
Many more workers were imported from the Guangdong Province of China, which at the time, beside great poverty, suffered from the violence of the Taiping Rebellion. Most Chinese workers were planning on returning with their new found "wealth" when the work was completed. Most of the men received between one and three dollars per day, the same as unskilled white workers ... A diligent worker could save over $20 per month after paying for food and lodging—a "fortune" by Chinese standards.
Second, though he does grudgingly admit it, VDH glosses over the fact that working with modern technology very often creates more value than building yet another road. Instead of concrete, we build most of our roads with glass fiber and electrons and both the market and the taxpayer think that's more valuable.

So to me, it's not so much that we were once competent at building immense material things and now we're not. Instead, it's that once upon a time we were very poor and the best we could do was work high-risk construction jobs for the "fortune" of net $20 per month whereas now we can do oh-so-much better doing other things. And those that still work construction jobs (reasonably) demand orders-of-magnitude higher pay, far better working conditions, and far better safety.

VDH ends his article with:
Our ancestors were builders and pioneers and mostly fearless. We are regulators, auditors, bureaucrats, adjudicators, censors, critics, plaintiffs, defendants, social media junkies and thin-skinned scolds. A distant generation created; we mostly delay, idle and gripe.

As we walk amid the refuse, needles and excrement of the sidewalks of our fetid cities; as we sit motionless on our jammed ancient freeways; and as we pout on Twitter and electronically whine in the porticos of our Ivy League campuses, will we ask: “Who were these people who left these strange monuments that we use but can neither emulate nor understand?”

In comparison to us, they now seem like gods.
Perhaps we do "mostly delay, idle and gripe." But we can afford to, our ancestors could not. To me, our ancestors seem far less like gods and far more like people desperately impoverished compared to us trying to do the best they could. I thank them for taking the risks and building our comfort, I really do, but gods? Not so much.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Flynn Effected

The Flynn Effect is one of the most cited topics in the debate over nature versus nurture regarding intelligence:

The Flynn effect is the substantial and long-sustained increase in both fluid and crystallized intelligence test scores that were measured in many parts of the world over the 20th century.[1] When intelligence quotient (IQ) tests are initially standardized using a sample of test-takers, by convention the average of the test results is set to 100 and their standard deviation is set to 15 or 16 IQ points. When IQ tests are revised, they are again standardized using a new sample of test-takers, usually born more recently than the first. Again, the average result is set to 100. However, when the new test subjects take the older tests, in almost every case their average scores are significantly above 100.
Test score increases have been continuous and approximately linear from the earliest years of testing to the present. For the Raven's Progressive Matrices test, a study published in the year 2009 found that British children's average scores rose by 14 IQ points from 1942 to 2008.[2] Similar gains have been observed in many other countries in which IQ testing has long been widely used, including other Western European countries, Japan, and South Korea.[1]
This effect is strong evidence against intelligence being overwhelmingly heritable (though since IQs run from less than 50 to 200+, there's still a fair amount of potential room for nature). As a result, James R. Flynn (for whom the Effect was named), has been somewhat of a hero for those who discount the heritable nature of intelligence.

It seems, though, that Mr. Flynn's hero status has waned substantially. He recently tried to get a book published (In Defense of Free Speech: The University as Censor), but it was rejected out-of-hand by the publisher. The reasons for the rejection were explained in an email (the whole article is interesting) from the publisher:
I am contacting you in regard to your manuscript In Defense of Free Speech: The University as Censor. Emerald believes that its publication, in particular in the United Kingdom, would raise serious concerns. By the nature of its subject matter, the work addresses sensitive topics of race, religion, and gender. The challenging manner in which you handle these topics as author, particularly at the beginning of the work, whilst no doubt editorially powerful, increase the sensitivity and the risk of reaction and legal challenge. As a result, we have taken external legal advice on the contents of the manuscript and summarize our concerns below.
There are two main causes of concern for Emerald. Firstly, the work could be seen to incite racial hatred and stir up religious hatred under United Kingdom law. Clearly you have no intention of promoting racism but intent can be irrelevant. For example, one test is merely whether it is “likely” that racial hatred could be stirred up as a result of the work. This is a particular difficulty given modern means of digital media expression. The potential for circulation of the more controversial passages of the manuscript online, without the wider intellectual context of the work as a whole and to a very broad audience—in a manner beyond our control—represents a material legal risk for Emerald. ... [emphasis added]
The ironies are frightening (to me), yet delicious. The first is that a book arguing for free speech is censored. That's kinda gettin' near the end of the road for free speech, isn't it? The second is that a progressive hero is censored. As long as he was willing to research and write stuff that supports that which all right thinking people are certain is correct, he's a hero and is cited incessantly. Write something a little different and bzzzzt, throw the bastard out.

The truth may be dangerous and now we're at a point where trying to find the truth is even more dangerous.