Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Nassim Nicholas Talib's "Skin in the Game" looks like a "moral" sequel to my own DADT series!!



I don’t like to indulge in previewing books I haven’t read yet, but I saw Arnold Kling’s review on Foundation for Economic Education for Nassam Nicholas Taleb’s “Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life” , link here

The article focuses on Taleb’s “Silver Rule” which is a contrapositive of Jesus’s Golden Rule – don’t do to others what you wouldn’t have done to you.
  
I received the hardcover book from Random House through Amazon yesterday and started spot skimming it. 

  
I am rather impressed that his world view of morality so closely matches mine, especially in the last of my DADT books (“Speech is a fundamental right; being listened to is a privilege”). Indeed, I've made a lot of "speech asymmetry" which can leverage the influence of otherwise obscure individuals who never "paid their dues".  And that kind of asymmetry can morph into security asymmetry (start out by pondering the weapons and gun debate).  
  
The “skin in the game” title specifically and bluntly refers to the idea that people (especially in “privilege”) often take advantage of the risk taking of others, risks that they aren’t willing to share.
Like on p 189, his overview of virtue is – avoid virtue signaling and rent-seeking, and start your own business.  “You must start a business”.
  
Indeed, a lot of criticism of my own “publishing business model”, if you want to call it that, seems to come from the fact that I am not very interested in volume of transactions with real people.  Or with directly approaching anyone to sell things.  It’s good enough to be found.  But that seems morally suspect, perhaps, in its implications.
  
I also think there is a real speech issue:  On p 28, he writes “Those who talk should do and only those who do should talk”.  (Sounds like the second part of my own DADT-III title.) On p 33 “If you do not takje risks for your opinion, you are nothing.” And so on.

On. p. 186 of my own DADT III book I had written (2013), “Moral normality requires that everyone have their own ‘skin in the game’ of the whole group.”  Tribalism??

I think of Charles Murray, who said some similar things in his 2012 book “Coming Apart” – and Murray is one of those “Dangerous” (Milo-like) speakers banned from some campuses.

One point of a “real” business formally open to the public (like a McDonalds franchise) is that it is supposed to meet real needs of other people because they will pay for volumes of the items (that reasoning is far from perfect).  You could say the same about expecting people to get on your email list in these days of fearing spam – you can meet their needs.

But there’s also the question of having direct responsibility for others who depend on you.  In conservative talk, that usually starts with having children in traditional marriage – except that it needs to start earlier, and then in adult life, sometimes other people’s children should be your direct concern, despite our “mind your own business” style of individualism.  We get back to campus speech codes and calls to regulate hate speech – interpreted so broadly as meaning you have no right to address an issue that doesn’t affect you unless you will march with the oppressed or walk in their shoes.

I got into self-publishing and writing with a kind of issue creep – starting with my own ironic history concerning the male-only draft (during most of the Vietnam era, student deferments kept softer skin out of the game) and then the debate on gays in the military in the 1990s – and spread to everything.  A lot of policy issues (eldercare, paid family leave) come down to dealing with the fact we have very unequal responsibilities for others – and this cuts across all “intersectionalities” – although it probably hits “people of color” harder.  The “incel” issue may really become ground zero for Taleb’s ideas.

But remote issues can affect you more than you think.  Many things are your business – avoiding ruin and catastrophe which others can cause.  Suppose Trump, for example, mishandles North Korea and we do endure an EMP attack.  That’s just one idea of ruin.
  
I do remember the end of Aronofsky’s  movie “Black Swan” with Tchaikowsky’s trumph reigning down (Dec 2010)

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

"How My Generation Broke America": Steven Brill in Time



Steven Brill gives us a booklet-length tome in the May 28, 2018 Time Magazine, p. 32, “How My Generation Broke America”, link
  
Note the alternate titles (like “alternative facts”?), “How Baby Boomers Broke America” (online), or “My generation was supposed to level the playing field; instead, we rigged it four ourselves”. Cartoon illustrations by Ross MacDonald.

Born in 1943, I’m a little before the Baby Boomers, but not much.


We rigged it for ourselves starting in the 1980s with so much emphasis on short-term profits, which in the age of hostile takeovers, became virtue.  We wanted people to become more competitive.

But unfortunately a lot of our ingenuity turned to financial instruments, which tended to have flaws and not be sustainable (sub-prime mortgages).  A lot of us really didn’t know how to make things.

Then part of us broke of and created a salesmanship culture, which the rest of us ignored in the world of a do-it-yourself Internet.
  
Today, there was a court case where parents evicted their 30-year-old son.  It gets harder to make a living if you’re average.  But the smartest and most alert and quick-wittest kids seem to thrive. Look at David Hogg, who can turn himself into a honeypot to let the worst on the far right drown themselves.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Ronan Farrow releases "bombshell" story about a coverup (Michael Cohen) in the New Yorker


Maybe Ronan Farrow is Donald Trump’s worst nightmare.  And like David Hogg (the NRA’s nightmare), he seems to be just getting started.
  
Today Farrow’s booklet article “Missing Files Motivated theLeak of Michael Cohen’s Financial Records” shows up on the New Yorker (paywall, but $1 a week). 
  
  
The detailed narrative does show how easily anyone with a sensitive job can get into trouble by comingling with his own accounts, perhaps through shell companies.  (That can happen with trusts, by the way.)
  
The narrative refers to the acronym SARS, or “suspicious activity reports”.  It’s a curious irony that SARS also refers to a surveillance reporting system for Medicaid MMIS (which I have worked on).
If Farrow takes down Trump and gets him impeached, we have Pence to deal with (at least with LGBT).

On Thursday afternoon, CNN explained that banks often drop customers whose activity generates SARS reports, because they don't want the "risk".  Imagine what the Internet world would be like if monitoring for legal problems (like Backpage) were handled this way. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

"Suicide of the West": introducing a book "franchise movie" with two conservative authors



I am not ready for a full review yet (to be done soon on Wordpress), but I have started Jonah Goldberg’s “Suicide of the West” with subtitle “How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy”, from Crown Forum 379 pages before the notes.

The book maintains that civilization with the rule of law and individualism is somewhat of a “Miracle” and a geographical accident for which we should be grateful.  It probably started in England in the 17th Century.


Even more than Amy Chua, the author explains how tribalism is hardwired animal behavior, and how easy it is to backslide once social norms are broken.  It is more important to support the right “tribe” and its grievances than to succeed of be respected “in the world” as an individual, in this thinking. The aggressive tribalist demands not only individual freedom from discrimination in the usual sense but also positive affirmation from others of his or her (or “their”) group identity. 


The book is a real page turner. A lot of the material reminds me of George Gilder ("Sexual Suicide", 1973).  A particularly disturbing claim is that leftist tribalism sees "meritocracy" as a code for "racism". 

Goldberg thinks that when diverse people live in close quarters, there is less social capital -- yet what seems to be needed is people reaching across tribal divides, sometimes very personally. 



But it is also a “sequel” to James Burnham’s 1964 classic “Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism” (Encounter Books – the Kindle isn’t as pricey as print) which had followed “The Managerial Revolution” (1941).  Burnham had started out dabbling in Marxism and Trotskyism before becoming anti-Communist.  He opens this essay with with “This book is a book” and not a collection of papers, and soon says that Communism used free speech to destroy free speech.   Burnham seems critical of putting peace over liberty and wary of “moral busybodies”.  At a rough level, some of this sounds a little like Trump sometimes, and maybe Goldwater others.

  
I am quite shocked at how determined and coercive some tribalist behavior has become in the past four years.   Tribalism seems even to explain the reaction to James Damore’s memo (April 29). 
 
Goldberg mentions Burnham's book on p 115 where he says Burnham thinks that the intellectual development of Communism was motivated by guilt. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

"How Xi Jingping Views the World" in Foreign Affairs


Kevin Rudd has a “booklet” in the May 2018 “Foreign Affairs”, “How Xi Jingpig Views the World”, with a tagline “The Core Interests that Shape China’s Behavior” (paywall) 

All of this follows Jingping’s crowning himself president and leader of the party for life.
Trump has vacillated, sometimes in the past saying “China is not your friend” and imposing tariffs, and yet sometimes admiring Xi Jingping as a “strong man”.  Xi Jingping is undoubtedly important in controlling North Korea.

  
The most important of the seven pillars is that Xingping wants to make Communist Party ideology the driver of China’s future, and not economic reform for its own sake, or statecraft (or the deep state or administrative state, for that matter, an end in itself). This ultimately winnows down to “rightsizing” individual people for the sake of overall social stability, and that is where the planned “social credit score” by 2020 fits in.   Apparently in school kids have to memorize the ideology.
  
However, the peripheral areas, some of which are legally part of China and not sovereign (Tibet), and others which are (Taiwan, with is anti-Communist, and North Korea, which is hyper-communist) are also a major issue.
  
So is balancing environmental concerns with growth.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

"Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Keeping Russia Closeted": dissertation from Finland


I found a thesis online from a Finnish university of Tampere, “Out of Sight, Out of Kind: Keeping Russia Closeted: A Biopolitical Analysis of Non-Normative Sexualities in Russia”, by John Cai Benjamin Weaver, link here  (84 pages plus notes). 
   
The first word of the text is “Tcaikovsky”.  The author gives the history of anti-gay laws in the Soviet Union, their relaxation under Yeltsin in Russia in 1993, and then the 2013 “anti-propaganda” law, which had been preceded by some local laws like in St. Petersburg.

The author structures his argument around Michel Foucault’s theories of “biopolitics” and social control.

While Putin maintains he is not homophobic and has no problems with homosexual activity in private, Russia is very concerned with the inclusion of homosexuality and gender fluidity in public spaces, because it believes that, if presented as acceptable, people will have fewer children. The policy is designated to deal with the supposed collective well being of the Russian “nation”, but not with individual people.

Curiously, Russia has little concern with closeted homosexuality in its military, since Russia has a 12-month period of conscription.

Most of Russia's anti-gay sentiment comes from acceptance of propaganda as an important force in shaping society, with little respect for the potential of the individual for critical thinking (and Putin says he has to protect children).  It also comes from a desire to distinguish Russia from the West. 


But Russia is in demographic decline both because of low birth rate and poor life expectancy.  

The latter part of the thesis describes the surveys used and actual results.

Picture: 
By Cryonic07 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Sunday, April 29, 2018

James Damore's account of an "Ideological Echo Chamber" needs to become a book


Will the “Google-Memo-Guy” James Damore write a book? I wondered that on Aug. 21 when I wrote a post on the movies blog “Milo Meets James Damore”. 

But his “Memo” called “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”, which Wikipedia labels as a “Manifesto on Workplace Diversity” qualifies at least as a booklet now.  You can find it (in two formats) on James Damore’s own site “Fired for Truth”.

The original memo is well footnoted and clearly argued.  Damore seems to say mainly that employers should not focus on meeting particular numbers to achieve diversity, especially regarding gender in tech employment.  Damore’s firing apparently came after an unfooted version went viral on social media in early August 2017.

Damore has filed class-action suit against Google, explained here.  Since he hasn’t tweeted much lately, it seems logical that the relative quiet as wise for the litigation. The suit seems a bit silly.  But so does Google’s termination of Damore.  Whether it is OK to circulate a controversial memo in the workplace depends on the conduct code of the employer.  But apparently Google (unlike most corporate employers) allowed this practice, even encouraged it, and Damore’s content, understood properly, is reasonably objective and in no way hateful.  (A few of his past tweets, like one about the KKK, did seem off the mark to me.)   But he is challenging the left-wing idea of political correctness, of making policies according to groups and “intersectionality”.

In fact, The Knife, (Jens Erik Gould) has an article "The Misrepesentation of James Damore", including an addendum about the NLRB's surprising attack on him, as well as details as to how the memo was actually invited and circulated at Google.  Major media outlets characterized his memo with subjective characterizations typical of left-wing bias, and Knife says Damore's memo actually had relatively little deception language or metaphors compared to normal political writing.
  
As for my reaction to his memo, I’m particularly drawn to his opening table on Left v. Right biases. I am somewhat biased to the Right on his first three points, but I think that change is often good and am open to some of it.   I do see humans as competitive and personal inequality as inevitable.  But I also think that as a moral point, if those who are more advantaged don’t reach out personally to those who are not, society can become unstable and vulnerable to authoritarianism (especially fascism).
  
But the Left tends to mix up this ironic setting of personal responsibility (as libertarians see it) with group membership.
  
While Damore’s points seem, from a clinical and statistical view, to be valid, we should remember that in real life, it is the exceptions that swallow the rules.  The 2016 film “Hidden Figures” made the point about female mathematicians at NASA in the early 1960s.  Women made many contributions to computing in the early days, such as the invention of COBOL.  In the 1960s, I found it common to have women working as programmers and mathematicians in the Navy department in summer jobs, as well as with graduate school (Ph D candidates).  Female math and science teachers were common in the 1950s and early 60s, in my own experience.  When I worked for Univac in 1972-1974, I found plenty of women in management; Univac seemed more competitive then than big rival IBM.  I would generally expect to find in tech today with no particular emphasis on measuring diversity numbers by gender.

 Paul Lewis writes in the Guardian about Damore, "I see things differently: James Damore on his autism and the Google memo", here. Some autism, as in "The Good Doctor", is depicted as the hyper-masculine, hyper-logical brain.  One important supporting observation seems to follow the ideas of George Gilder ("Men and Marriage", 1986);  in a real world, men are fungible, and of all the men that have lived, only 40% have descendants today, compared to 80% of women.  This fits into an inevitable result that statistically most men will have some physical and connected personality traits that separate them from women and make them more suitable for certain kinds of work.  We don't quarrel about the fact that major professional sports are generally male-only (I think we'll have a trans relief pitcher in baseball some day.)  Damore doesn't offer any evidence that the patterns are any different for cis gay men than the general male population.