Recently in Society & Culture Category
William H. Davidow and Michael S. Malone echo an observation about robots replacing ever-more-capable workers and how the shift to automation will affect society. They even follow my example and use IQ as a proxy for generic capability -- though they ignore the gender implications.
Suppose, today, that the robots and smart machines of the Second Economy are only capable of doing the work of a person of average intelligence - that is, an IQ of 100. Imagine that the technology in those machines continues to improve at the current rate. Suppose further that this rate of technological progress raises the IQ of these machines by 1.5 points per year. By 2025 these machines will have an IQ greater than 90% of the U.S. population. That 15 point increase in IQ over ten years would put another 50 million jobs within reach of smart machines.
Impossible? In fact, the vanguard of those 115-point IQ machines is already here. In certain applications, the minds of highly educated MD's are no longer needed. In 2013, the FDA approved Johnson & Johnson's Sedasys machine, which delivers propofol to sedate patients without the need for an anesthesiologist. An emerging field in radiology is computer-aided diagnosis (CADx). And a recent study published by the Royal Society showed that computers performed more consistently in identifying radiolucency (the appearance of dark images) than radiologists almost by a factor of ten.
Politicians, economists, and scientists might debate these particular estimates, but to do so is to miss the larger point. Machine intelligence is already having a major effect on the value of work - and for major segments of the population, human value is now being set by the cost of equivalent machine intelligence.
The shift to automation will be a growing challenge for capitalism as the dependent class grows.
Conservative Party London Mayor Boris Johnson comes to the defense of Philae mission astrophysicist Matt Taylor and his sartorial whimsy. Here's a picture of the supposedly offensive shirt:
Says Mayor Johnson:
This mission is a colossal achievement. Millions of us have been watching Philae's heart-stopping journey. Everyone in this country should be proud of Dr Taylor and his colleagues, and he has every right to let his feelings show.
Except, of course, that he wasn't crying with relief. He wasn't weeping with sheer excitement at this interstellar rendezvous. I am afraid he was crying because he felt he had sinned. He was overcome with guilt and shame for wearing what some people decided was an "inappropriate" shirt on television. "I have made a big mistake," he said brokenly. "I have offended people and I am sorry about this."
I watched that clip of Dr Taylor's apology - at the moment of his supreme professional triumph - and I felt the red mist come down. It was like something from the show trials of Stalin, or from the sobbing testimony of the enemies of Kim Il-sung, before they were taken away and shot. It was like a scene from Mao's cultural revolution when weeping intellectuals were forced to confess their crimes against the people.
Why was he forced into this humiliation? Because he was subjected to an unrelenting tweetstorm of abuse. He was bombarded across the internet with a hurtling dustcloud of hate, orchestrated by lobby groups and politically correct media organisations.
And so I want, naturally, to defend this blameless man. And as for all those who have monstered him and convicted him in the kangaroo court of the web - they should all be ashamed of themselves.
Let's celebrate the brilliance of Dr. Taylor and the rest of the Philae team and reserve our faux outrage for really offensive shirts.
California has passed a new "affirmative consent" law that apparently only affects colleges and college students. I don't believe that there's a rape epidemic on college campuses, but I do believe that our cultural morals have completely collapsed. I think most people understand that college students shouldn't be getting drunk and screwing each other randomly, but our culture is so degraded that we can't say so anymore.
At California colleges, students must now ensure they have the affirmative consent of their partners at the beginning of a sexual encounter and maintain that consent throughout the activity. The law states that consent "can be revoked at any time." The absence of "no," the law says, is insufficient to indicate consent.
The law is written to be gender neutral (as Constitutionally required) but I'm sure the assumption is that the complainants will women and the accused will be men. However, the new law isn't just about what most people think of as "rape", it covers any situation in which the participants aren't vocalizing their "yes"es. And in that ambiguous grey area, according to the CDC, men are frequently victims of women, too.
Unsurprisingly, when the definition of rape -- or, as it's often now called in order to provide less clarity, "sexual assault" -- expands to include a lot more than behavior distinguished by superior physical strength, the incidence of rape goes up, and behavior engaged in by women is more likely to be included in the definition. (At juvenile detention centers nine out of 10 reporters of sexual assault are males victimized by female staffers.)
Thus, as Young points out, the CDC finds that men make up over a third of the victims of "sexual coercion," which can include such things as "lies or false promises, threats to end a relationship or spread negative gossip, or 'making repeated requests' for sex and expressing unhappiness at being turned down."
So it will be interesting to see what happens when men start filing complaints.
Camille Paglia identifies one part of the absurdity by exhorting young women to overcome the naivety of modern feminism.
Misled by the naive optimism and "You go, girl!" boosterism of their upbringing, young women do not see the animal eyes glowing at them in the dark. They assume that bared flesh and sexy clothes are just a fashion statement containing no messages that might be misread and twisted by a psychotic. They do not understand the fragility of civilization and the constant nearness of savage nature.
I'll go farther. The civilization we enjoy-- the civilization that enables this naivety -- was founded on a simple sexual morality: don't have sex outside of marriage. Throughout history lots of people paid lip-service to this morality while ignoring it privately. We're now getting into the second generation that actively denigrates traditional sexual morality in both deed and word, and we're starting to reap the consequences.
This glossary of gestures will come in very handy at your next TED talk. Example:
The Shelf Sweep.
Begin with both hands at right hand shoulder. Sweep across the top shelf of imaginary bookcase. When level with left shoulder, make sharp rotation of wrists and sweep across lower shelf.
Use when explaining hierarchies.
This post is only partially tongue-in-cheek. Body language is an important element of communication, and using the right gestures is certainly as significant as idiom choice when signaling your membership in a particular social group.
Is it ever better to make a quick decision than to take your time and be more deliberative? This anonymously-sourced account of President Obama's deliberations about ISIS portrays the President as very thoughtful and concerned with making "the right decision", and he seems keenly aware that his opponents (myself included) view him as indecisive. In my opinion, the President is wrong to ignore the emotional dimension of leadership -- sometimes you can make the best decision at the wrong time and come out worse than if you had made a worse decision at the right time.
"Oh, it's a shame when you have a wan, diffident, professorial president with no foreign policy other than 'don't do stupid things,' " guests recalled [Obama] saying, sarcastically imitating his adversaries. "I do not make apologies for being careful in these areas, even if it doesn't make for good theater." ...
It was clear to the guests how aware Mr. Obama was of the critics who have charged him with demonstrating a lack of leadership. He brought up the criticism more than once with an edge of resentment in his voice.
"He's definitely feeling it," said one guest. At one point, Mr. Obama noted acidly that President Ronald Reagan sent Marines to Lebanon only to have hundreds of them killed in a terrorist attack because of terrible planning, and then withdrew the remaining ones, leaving behind a civil war that lasted years. But Reagan, he noted, is hailed as a titan striding the earth.
"He's not a softy," Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter and attended the dinner Monday, said of Mr. Obama. "I think part of the problem with some of his critics is they think he's a softy. He's not a softy. But he's a person who tries to think through these events so you can draw some long-term conclusions."
President Reagan was a master of the emotional side of leadership, a talent that President Obama appears to completely lack -- or intentionally avoid. I can relate to the President: acting on emotion is not something that comes naturally to me -- my tendency is to sideline my emotions and attempt to make decisions based on reason alone. However, I've come to realize that when it comes to leading others it's critical to engage emotionally with your team, and decisiveness is an important component of that engagement.
The new NBC News/ Wall Street Journal/Annenberg Poll finds 62% of Americans support Obama taking action against ISIS.
But fully 68% of his countrymen say they have "very little" or "just some" confidence that Obama will achieve his newly-discovered strategic goals of degrading and defeating ISIS through bombing and an international coalition.
Perhaps worse, only slightly more than one-in-four (28%) have "a great deal" or "quite a bit" of confidence their president will achieve the murderous group's demise.
Part of the faith deficit stems from Obama's chronic tardiness, in person and in policy. You may recall for years now, even after the deadly Benghazi attack proved him delusional, Obama's been touting how badly al Qaeda's leadership had been "decimated" and how dead Osama bin Laden was.
The perfect is the enemy of the good.
This New York Times editorial from 1987 advocates eliminating the minimum wage, which was $3.35/hour at the time. No doubt the current editors would disagree with their predecessors. However, the suggestion to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit was a good idea then and is a good idea now. The EITC is basically a way to distribute the cost of the minimum wage, and expanding the EITC in exchange for repealing the minimum wage would be a huge win.
Perhaps the mistake here is to accept the limited terms of the debate. The working poor obviously deserve a better shake. But it should not surpass our ingenuity or generosity to help some of them without hurting others. Here are two means toward that end: Wage supplements. Government might subsidize low wages with cash or payments for medical insurance, pensions or Social Security taxes. Alternatively, Washington could enlarge the existing earned income tax credit, a ''negative'' income tax paying up to $800 a year to working poor families. This would permit better targeting, since minimum-wage workers in affluent families would not be eligible. Training and education. The alternative to supplementing income for the least skilled workers is to raise their earning power in a free labor market. In the last two decades, dozens of programs to do that have produced mixed results at a very high cost. But the concept isn't necessarily at fault; nurturing the potential of individuals raised in poverty is very difficult. A humane society would learn from its mistakes and keep trying.
The idea of using a minimum wage to overcome poverty is old, honorable - and fundamentally flawed. It's time to put this hoary debate behind us, and find a better way to improve the lives of people who work very hard for very little.
(HT: James Taranto.)
Glenn Reynolds has been on a roll quoting brilliant commenters recently, and here's another: libertarians should go to Ferguson to make their case.
A friend writes on Facebook: "This presents such a great opportunity for libertarians to flip a significant fraction of blacks from big government to limited government. If Rand Paul wants to do outreach to the black community, get there now. Preferably with some other libertarians. Talk about drug war, killing men for cigarette taxes, drones, NSA spying, out of control cops, and how the problem that the government is making up dumb reasons to abuse its authority, not that this abuse would be better if applied in a more evenhanded way. Then sponsor national reform and try to mobilize these non traditional allies. Big opportunity just sitting there."
Megan McArdle discusses the unreliability of memory and how this applies to the ongoing suit about subsidies for participants of the federal Obamacare exchanges. But the parts about memory specifically:
People don't remember things that happened a while ago; they remember the stories that they have told themselves about it. I vividly remember sticking a key into an electric socket when I was (I am told) about 18 months old. Do I remember it? Or do I remember being told about it? It feels like a real memory, but all the research indicates that that tells you precisely nothing.
Conversely, I am told that when I was a teenager, a horse reared up and pawed around my ears, miraculously not kicking me in the head. Multiple people agreed that this had happened, but I have no memory of it. Either I've forgotten something I certainly ought to remember -- or they are misremembering something that happened to someone else. No way to tell, because we don't have contemporaneous documentation.
As for Obamacare... we need to go by what's written, not by what people supposedly remember or intended.
If we've learned anything from the mortgage lending debacle over the past five years it's that white collar crime pays off huge! Thanks to technology, however, low-skill crime is paying off worse than ever. McArdle wonders what would-be criminals will do when there isn't much profitable crime available, and I think I have the answer: live off the social welfare system.
The teenagers who used to boost cars, however, won't simply segue into new forms of crime. Hacking a credit card network is a different skillset from hot-wiring a car; the person who does one can't necessarily transition easily to the other. The low-skilled young men who choose crime as an alternative to low-wage work may simply find themselves with fewer viable ways to make money through criminal activity. So what happens to them?
No, I am not about to argue that we need some sort of social program for poor displaced criminals who are no longer able to practice their beautiful ancient craft. I'll be very happy if a lot of major forms of crime are thwarted. Yet I'm also interested in the empirical effects that this will have.
One of the primary reasons that the welfare system is expanding (including all sorts of programs that aren't typically included in "welfare", such as Social Security disability and unemployment insurance) is that many workers, not just criminals, are being displaced by technology. There appears to be an emerging class of people who are permanently displaced by technology and cannot contribute any economic value, and society will inevitably morph to care for them. The question is what the care will look like, especially as the productive proportion of the population shrinks.
Instapundit posts a letter that echos stuff I've read based on early blood-type testing: around 16% of people have different fathers than their mothers told them. Men in our culture are so often portrayed as the bad guys (e.g., "deadbeat dads") that I think men as a gender should get some credit for being so trusting and accepting despite these high rates of false paternity.
I am familiar with a massive ongoing multi-generational genetic study. . . . (Please don't mention either it or my name.) The participants were predominantly "greatest generation" and their kids' generation. Middle-class and white a bit more than the general population. It was looking for hereditary cancers (not too common, maybe 10% or so, last time I checked).
But, of course, in the process of all this, they discovered so-called "false paternities". (Their rules prohibited them from divulging this info to participants.) Anyway, the overall false paternity rate for this bunch from the "Leave it to Beaver demographic" was about 16%.
16%. One in six. In middle America. Not your mom, of course, nor mine, but hey, that's going to be a lot of data to discuss around the dinner table.
I haven't been able to find the study data I've read in the past that showed similar results back when blood-typing was first discovered. From what I remember, the high paternal discrepancy rate actually led early researchers to doubt the accuracy of blood types.
The Art of Manliness posts Aesop's "The Mischievous Dog":
A mischievous dog used to run quietly to the heels of every passer-by, and bite them without warning. So his master was obliged to tie a bell around his neck that he might give notice of his presence wherever he went. This the dog thought very fine indeed, and he went about tinkling it with pride all over town.
But an old Hound said: "Why do you make such a fool of yourself? That bell is not a mark of merit, but of disgrace."
Notoriety is often mistaken for fame.
A society that no longer shares a common understanding of merit and disgrace is no longer a single society, despite geographical proximity.
It's conventional wisdom that you can detect lies by watching for signs of nervousness: sweating, blinking, eye contact, etc. However, apparently it's much more reliable to watch for signs that your quarry is thinking hard: signs of cognitive load.
Lying can be cognitively demanding. You must suppress the truth and construct a falsehood that is plausible on its face and does not contradict anything known by the listener, nor likely to be known. You must tell it in a convincing way and you must remember the story. This usually takes time and concentration, both of which may give off secondary cues and reduce performance on simultaneous tasks.
When nervous we blink our eyes more often, but we blink less under increasing cognitive load (for example when solving arithmetic problems). Recent studies of deception suggest that we blink less when deceiving -- that is, cognitive load rules. Nervousness makes us fidget more, but cognitive load has the opposite effect. Again, contra-usual expectation, people often fidget less in deceptive situations. And consistent with cognitive load effects, men use fewer hand gestures while deceiving and both sexes often employ longer pauses when speaking deceptively.
[The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life]
It's also worth reading about red flags that police detectives use to identify liars.
When questioned, deceptive people generally want to say as little as possible.
Although deceptive people do not say much, they tend to spontaneously give a justification for what little they are saying, without being prompted.
They tend to repeat questions before answering them, perhaps to give themselves time to concoct an answer.
They often monitor the listener's reaction to what they are saying.
They often initially slow down their speech because they have to create their story and monitor your reaction, and when they have it straight "will spew it out faster," Geiselman said.
They tend to use sentence fragments more frequently than truthful people; often, they will start an answer, back up and not complete the sentence.
They are more likely to press their lips when asked a sensitive question and are more likely to play with their hair or engage in other "grooming" behaviors. Gesturing toward one's self with the hands tends to be a sign of deception; gesturing outwardly is not.
Truthful people, if challenged about details, will often deny that they are lying and explain even more, while deceptive people generally will not provide more specifics.
When asked a difficult question, truthful people will often look away because the question requires concentration, while dishonest people will look away only briefly, if at all, unless it is a question that should require intense concentration.
I'm expecting a third baby "any day now". My two ex utero children feel expensive at times, but I can guarantee you that I'm not spending anywhere close to the yearly estimate of that calculator. When our new baby is born my wife is going to stop working full time to take care of the kids and do some freelancing. When those paychecks stop it will "cost" us some money, but she's still going to be very productive with non-baby activities and likely still earning some income.
As with many financial articles, I'm left wondering "what are they spending all that money on???". The top rated comment to that CNN article, by "Guest", sums up my perspective quite well:
The hardest financial way for a parent to raise a kid? To try and live up to the American Upper Class ideal with a bedroom for every child, multiple bathrooms, car payments, smartphone plans for every teen, all the cable TV channels, all the brand name clothes, etc., etc., etc..
As a parent, when you quit being materialistic, and help your kids be free of materialism - it is amazing how much more affordable it is to raise children!
Here's an article from 2007 that mentions some flaws in the USDA's methodology.
The "average" husband and wife work roughly the same number of hours each week (paid + unpaid), but since it still doesn't "feel" fair to the average wife, the average husband should do more. Or should the average wife somehow adjust her feelings to reality?
It's important to remember that fairness isn't just about absolute equality. It's about the perception of equality. Women may work fewer paid hours than men, but because they devote nearly twice as much time to family care (housework, child care, shopping), it doesn't look to women like their husbands are sharing the load evenly when they're all home together. It looks instead like their husbands are watching "SportsCenter."
It's hard to overstate how stressful these perceived imbalances can be. At one point, the UCLA researchers took saliva samples from most of the subjects of their study to measure levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. They found that while leisure time went a long way toward relaxing fathers, it did far less to subdue anxiety in mothers. So what, you may ask, did calm the mothers?
Simple: Seeing their husbands make a bigger effort to reduce the pandemonium in the house.
I wonder if the working time includes time sinks like commuting?
Yesterday was the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address, probably the most beloved speech in American history. When I heard it on the radio this morning it almost brought tears to my eyes. It's hard to imagine a modern politician saying so much with so few words.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain--that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Japanese youth are abandoning love and sex because relationships are mendokusai.
Mendokusai translates loosely as "Too troublesome" or "I can't be bothered". It's the word I hear both sexes use most often when they talk about their relationship phobia. Romantic commitment seems to represent burden and drudgery, from the exorbitant costs of buying property in Japan to the uncertain expectations of a spouse and in-laws. And the centuries-old belief that the purpose of marriage is to produce children endures. Japan's Institute of Population and Social Security reports an astonishing 90% of young women believe that staying single is "preferable to what they imagine marriage to be like".
Sounds very sad and lonely, but the people interviewed don't say they feel that way. Dystopian. Is this cultural self-destruction a byproduct of World War 2? It's hard to imagine that the end of that war wouldn't have consequences that would rebound across generations. Is it technology run amok? Generation-long economic stagnation? Lack of religious morals? Something in the water?
Do cultures die like this all the time, and Japan is just the largest and most recent example?
60 Minutes has a distressing account of how many people are turning to disability fraud because they economy is so bad. I can understand that people are desperate to care for their families, but this is an abuse of the disability system. We need to encourage unemployed people to move away from distressed areas and into parts of the country that are hurting for labor.
There is a Senate hearing scheduled tomorrow on a subject of some importance to millions of Americans, but with the government shutdown it's not clear that the Senate Committee on Government Affairs will be able to pay for a stenographer to record the event. The hearing involves the Federal Disability Insurance Program, which could become the first government benefits program to run out of money. When it began back in the 1950s it was envisioned as a small program to assist people who were unable to work because of illness or injury.
Today, it serves nearly 12 million people -- up 20 percent in the last six years -- and has a budget of $135 billion. That's more than the government spent last year on the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, and the Labor Department combined. It's been called a "secret welfare system" with it's own "disability industrial complex," a system ravaged by waste and fraud. A lot of people want to know what's going on. Especially Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
Tom Coburn: Go read the statute. If there's any job in the economy you can perform, you are not eligible for disability. That's pretty clear. So, where'd all those disabled people come from?
The Social Security Administration, which runs the disability program says the explosive surge is due to aging baby boomers and the lingering effects of a bad economy. But Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Subcommittee for Investigations -- who's also a physician -- says it's more complicated than that. Last year, his staff randomly selected hundreds of disability files and found that 25 percent of them should never have been approved -- another 20 percent, he said, were highly questionable.
I'm sure that non-disabled people would rather sit at home and collect a check than move to the Northwest and pick pears, but why should taxpayers finance that preference?
Over 80 percent of America's fresh pears are grown in the Pacific Northwest, and this year's harvest is slated to be one of the biggest on record.
But some of the fruit is rotting in the orchards because there aren't enough workers to pick them.
Mike McCarthy farms about 300 acres of pears in Oregon's Hood River Valley. He has about 60 workers harvesting in his fields, but would like to have about 30 more.
"Normally we would have picked these Comice [pears] at least 10 days ago, but we're just getting here now," says McCarthy. "And it's not a good thing."
Many farmers are short-staffed this year. For McCarthy, it's the third year in a row he has had a labor shortage. He's tried the employment office, but those workers didn't have any agriculture experience, and they didn't last more than a couple of days. He's looked for workers in Arizona and California, but found those states facing similar shortages.
What's the point of this blog? It's a work-in-progress, intended to eventually be compiled into an autobiography and published to wide acclaim. Why would I want to do such a thing? Because my life is fascinating to modern and future readers, of course. Also because there's a movement afoot to restrict the First Amendment to "journalists".
Uh-oh, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, best known for likening American servicemen to Nazis, is looking to limit your First Amendment rights, if not ours. "Everyone, regardless of the mode of expression, has a constitutionally protected right to free speech," he writes. So far so good. "But when it comes to freedom of the press, I believe we must define a journalist and the constitutional and statutory protections those journalists should receive." ...A journalist gathers information for a media outlet that disseminates the information through a broadly defined "medium"--including newspaper, nonfiction book, wire service, magazine, news website, television, radio or motion picture--for public use. This broad definition covers every form of legitimate journalism.
Since I'm working on a nonfiction book, my autobiography, I'm sure to qualify for whatever special privileges are given to "journalists". All the rest of you losers had better watch what you say!
Married couples in Japan are required to have the same surname, but the law may be changing soon. I'm in favor of people being able to name themselves whatever they want, but I think it's a mistake to mock the arguments being made in Japan for the status quo.
But some lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party voiced opposition to the proposal, arguing the new system would cause the collapse of the family and undermine the sense of unity among family members.
"Collapse" might be a little strong, but there's no doubt in my mind that having different names can undermine family unity. You may believe that the effect is minor or that the matter shouldn't be of concern to the government, but I don't believe that the argument for family unity is worthy of mockery. People should have the freedom to change their names, but children in families with multiple last names will certainly be affected to some non-zero degree.
Surnames are an important part of identity, which is why people should be free to change them but is also why a person should weigh any decision about his name very carefully. Children especially build a sense of themselves and their family from the name they share, and a child with a different name will certainly feel like an outsider rather than an integrated part of a greater whole.
(HT: Paul Hsieh.)
A brilliant generosity experiment conducted by a homeless man who asks "which religion cares most about the homeless"? A collection of labeled bowls reveals the results! A smart way to exert social pressure to collect money.
(HT: Boing Boing.)