Thursday, March 2, 2017


Typically, the IYI [Intellectual Yet Idiot] get the first order logic right, but not second-order (or higher) effects making him totally incompetent in complex domains. In the comfort of his suburban home with 2-car garage, he advocated the “removal” of Gadhafi because he was “a dictator”, not realizing that removals have consequences (recall that he has no skin in the game and doesn’t pay for results). --Taleb

While acupuncture is widely accepted as a medical treatment in various Asian countries, its use is much more contested in the West. These cultural differences have profoundly influenced the results of clinical trials. Between 1966 and 1995, there were forty-seven studies of acupuncture in China, Taiwan, and Japan, and every single trial concluded that acupuncture was an effective treatment. During the same period, there were ninety-four clinical trials of acupuncture in the United States, Sweden, and the U.K., and only fifty-six per cent of these studies found any therapeutic benefits. As Palmer notes, this wide discrepancy suggests that scientists find ways to confirm their preferred hypothesis, disregarding what they don’t want to see.
Our beliefs, like love,  are a form of blindness.

The Americans have reacted to Israel's outrage over the U.N. Security Council vote, which they say was structured by the Americans.
Sec. of State Kerry argued that Israel, with a growing Arab population, could not survive as both a Jewish state and a democratic state unless it embraced the two-state approach that a succession of American presidents have advocated.

Mr. Trump has nominated an American ambassador to Israel, David M. Friedman, who has rejected the idea of a two-state solution — a concept that President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton also embraced — and who has helped finance the new settlements that the United Nations condemned.
This might really be a mess. I am no expert here but this is peculiar, at best. Kerry rambled, as if he was coming to grips with the policy as he spoke. The idea of Two States has been around for a long time; the real problem is the Arab states will not recognize the existence of Israel. And why reverse the policy now? Certainly Trump will not feel obligated to continue it. All very strange. Another decision from this strange White House.
An editorial wrote: "The American-Israeli alliance is one of the closest allegiances not only in U.S. history, but all modern history. If this move results in Israel only being considered a strong ally depending on who's in the White House at any particular time, that will change everything not just for Israel but potentially all of our allies who may need to worry that a new precedent is being set by the Obama team right now........ After all, this is a president who convinced the country to accept a major government overhaul of intensely personal things like health insurance and how we define marriage. Waiting until his final weeks in office to implement a major shift in policy regarding one of our closest allies doesn't seem very prudent. And it's making a bitterly divided and angry nation more divided and angrier than necessary." This editorial was from CNBC!

In the month's biggest non-election news, the death of Fidel Castro is greeted with expressions of sorrow from several dozen world leaders who never had to live under his rule, and tears of happiness from many thousands of Cubans who did.--Barry

On December 29, 1890, the U.S. Army’s 7th cavalry surrounded a band of Ghost Dancers under the Sioux Chief Big Foot near Wounded Knee Creek and demanded they surrender their weapons. As that was happening, a fight broke out between an Indian and a U.S. soldier and a shot was fired, although it’s unclear from which side. A brutal massacre followed, in which it’s estimated almost 150 Indians were killed (some historians put this number at twice as high), nearly half of them women and children. The cavalry lost 25 men.

Who is...Draco?

The incomplete manuscript of The First Man, the autobiographical novel that Camus was working on at his death, was found in the mud at the site of the car accident that killed him, and published by his daughter in 1995.

A nice article on preconceptions, Trump and "cliff-note" thinking on college campuses uses this Anna Karenina example:  "I didn’t like bewilderment when I was in college, and my students don’t either. Their lives are chaotic enough without any help from books. So they’re just as inclined as I was to bypass complication as a way of preserving the clarity of their judgments, which is precisely what Tolstoy’s characters do. Anna needs to construe her husband as an unfeeling machine in order to withstand her own guilt, just as her husband needs to construe Anna as a thoroughly depraved woman so as to sharpen his own hatred. It’s one of the book’s many indelible patterns: the easiest way to streamline your feelings is to simplify the people who provoke them."

Imagine the impact that Darwin had on 19th Century thinking. People always think of it as a religious revolution but it was much more. Hegel and Marx saw a purpose in history, an inevitable direction and outcome; Darwin showed only practicality. Depression reigned among the intelligencia, as much as the Church, when they realized that evolution overturned the idea of history as a purposive story of progress guided by human intention. Of course, we have forgotten that idea now.

Human beings can be remarkably dense. The practice of bloodletting, as a medical treatment, persisted despite centuries of abundant evidence that it did more harm than good. The practice of communism, or political bloodletting as it should perhaps be known, whose centenary in the Bolshevik revolution is reached this year, likewise needs no more tests. It does more harm than good every time. Nationalised, planned, one-party rule benefits nobody, let alone the poor.
The diseases that Marxism-Leninism was intended to treat, poverty and inequality, were ancient scourges just beginning to fade, even in Russia. Higher living standards were starting to reach ordinary people, rather than just the feudal elite, for the first time. Radicals had long seen government as the problem, not the solution: that to enrich the masses required liberating people from kings and priests.--Ridley

In October 2013 a Time magazine article entitled ‘Syria’s Breaking Bad’ alerted Western media to the prevalence across the region of a little-known stimulant drug, Captagon. Lebanese police had found five million locally produced tablets, embossed with a roughly stamped yin-yang symbol, sealed inside a Syrian-made water heater in transit to Dubai. In October 2015 Captagon made global headlines when the Saudi prince Abdel Mohsen was intercepted at Beirut airport with 32 shrink-wrapped boxes and eight leather suitcases containing two tons of top-grade pills, valued at £190 million. By this time rumours abounded on all sides in the Syrian war that Captagon was fuelling a grim cult of battlefield atrocities. An investigation by Vanity Fair in France last April uncovered a trail of testimonies and video images of pumped-up soldiers and ‘zombies roaming, all smiles, across fields of ruins and severed heads’. Caches of pills in ports and abandoned villages supplied the evidence.--from the London Review of Books reviewing two books documenting the use of alcohol and drugs to help warriors in combat.
Who could have imagined?

Significance chasing: There have been hundreds of studies on the various genes that control the differences in disease risk between men and women. These findings have included everything from the mutations responsible for the increased risk of schizophrenia to the genes underlying hypertension. Ioannidis and his colleagues looked at four hundred and thirty-two of these claims. They quickly discovered that the vast majority had serious flaws. But the most troubling fact emerged when he looked at the test of replication: out of four hundred and thirty-two claims, only a single one was consistently replicable. “This doesn’t mean that none of these claims will turn out to be true,” he says. “But, given that most of them were done badly, I wouldn’t hold my breath.” According to Ioannidis, the main problem is that too many researchers engage in what he calls “significance chasing,” or finding ways to interpret the data so that it passes the statistical test of significance—the ninety-five-per-cent boundary invented by Ronald Fisher. “The scientists are so eager to pass this magical test that they start playing around with the numbers, trying to find anything that seems worthy,” Ioannidis says. In recent years, Ioannidis has become increasingly blunt about the pervasiveness of the problem. One of his most cited papers has a deliberately provocative title: “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False.” (New Yorker)

Golden oldie:

A two-year experiment cutting working hours to a six-hour workday while maintaining pay levels for nurses at Svartedalen old people’s home in the Swedish city of Gothenburg is now nearing the end. The take away was largely positive, with nurses at the home feeling healthier, which reduced sick-leave, and patient care improving.
But the city has no plans in making the measure permanent or broadening it to other facilities. To do that it would need much more money and even help from the national government. To cover the reduced hours for the 68 nurses at the home it had to hire 17 extra staff at a cost of about 12 million kronor ($1.3 million).

"Relations between individuals can exist only as products of their wills, but the mere wish of a claimant can hardly create a duty for others.  Only expectations produced by long practice can create duties for the members of the community in which they prevail, which is one reason why prudence must be exercised in the creation of expectations, lest one incur a duty that one cannot fulfill….
Socialism has taught many people that they possess claims irrespective of performance, irrespective of participation.  In light of the morals that produced the extended order of civilisation, socialists in fact incite people to break the law."
This is from Hayek and, agree with the conclusion or not, it is a pretty profound observation.

Draconian: adj: 1. rigorous; unusually severe or cruel. 2. of, or related to, Draco, Athenian statesman Draco and his severe code of laws. 
Draconian refers to Draco, the Athenian lawgiver who according to ancient tradition had the laws of Athens written down and introduced new laws, perhaps in 621/620 b.c.e. Draco’s criminal laws were severe; most crimes were punished by death. Asked why the punishments were so extreme, Draco answered that small crimes deserved the death penalty and that he could think of no harsher penalty for major crimes. The Athenian statesman Solon repealed all of Draco’s laws except those on homicide, possibly in 594/3 b.c.. The word entered English in the 18th century.

The cost of health insurance to employers has tripled in just the last fifteen years. This means that the total cost of an individual's employment to the employer has greatly increased, even if their productivity has remained flat. This means lower-income workers are receiving a greater proportion of their total compensation in the form of benefits. Some guy named Warshawsky argues that when income inequality is being analyzed, studies tend to focus on income data, or take-home pay, thereby overestimating, or at least distorting, the degree of inequality.

This universal basic income (UBI) program in Finland is really interesting. There is an essay on the American Appalachian population where people have stayed in poverty while their families left for better work because of the reliability of Welfare. The essay worried that promised income sapped ambition, a rather obvious concern but, as with so much about us, not provable. What is really smart is this program is very targeted and limited, an experiment rather than a committed policy.

The most basic scientific concept that is clearly and disturbingly missing from today's social and political discourse is the concept that some questions have correct and clear answers. Such questions can be called "scientific" and their answers represent truth.  This is the physicist Nigel Goldenfeld arguing that the job a science is to answer questions and the job of the scientist is to ask good ones. The scientific method, as generalized, arose as a concept in the 17th Century and is summarized as: systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses. Goldenfeld says that in his field such questions and answers come about every five years.
The truth is precious and hard to find.

In the general theme of science studies and reproducible studies, there have been hundreds of studies on the various genes that control the differences in disease risk between men and women. These findings have included everything from the mutations responsible for the increased risk of schizophrenia to the genes underlying hypertension. Ioannidis and his colleagues looked at four hundred and thirty-two of these claims. They quickly discovered that the vast majority had serious flaws. But the most troubling fact, when you look at the test of replication, out of four hundred and thirty-two claims, only a single one was consistently replicable. 

NYT obit of Joyce Appleby: She argued that the [American] revolutionaries were more individualistic and optimistic than they had been given credit for. John Locke and Adam Smith had as much influence — or even more — than the radical Whigs on founders like Thomas Jefferson. In her view, the revolutionaries believed that the public good would arise out of the harmonious pursuit of private interests in a market economy.

There is a field, recent, called the discipline of "public choice analysis." For the economist James Buchanan, "romanticism" was the presumption that voters can select office-holders and public policies (e.g., by means of referendums) that will benefit large sectors of the electorate, rather than benefit mainly the office-holders themselves and their principal financial supporters. The general assumption in public choice analysis is that political actors are self-interested fully as much as actors in the market or other areas of private life outside the governmental realm. Somehow people are able to organize into self-interested groups--particularly identity politics groups--to advance their self-interest through a third party they think does not have a self-interest.

Scientists have directly traced an incredibly intense, blindingly bright burst of radio waves — known as an FRB — back to its home galaxy. Researchers showed that the FRB was coming from a dwarf galaxy located about 3 billion light-years away. Repeating FRBs are often attributed to Pulsars.
The reliable, anti-fake news media, reported these FRBs as possible indications of life.

AAAaaaaannnndddddd.......a graph:

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