Thursday, 18 January 2018

Unrelated interesting links

1.  The Kolmogorov Option. I've been meaning to link to this and write about it for some time. But all I really need to say is this: this is an interesting story in its own right; it raises interesting thoughts about how to live under oppressive regimes; and you should consider why a successful left-wing American academic would even be writing this kind of thing in the first place. 

2. An interesting bit of history. "Notably, at the start of the sixth century, Aksumite armies invaded and installed a puppet ruler in the Kingdom of Himyar in south Arabia, which had recently undergone its own conversion to Judaism and become an ally of Sasanian Iran. These high-stakes rivalries shaped the world of Muhammad and the first Muslims: indeed, the Islamic tradition holds that the Prophet was born in 570, the “Year of the Elephant,” when an Aksumite viceroy famously marched a fleet of war elephants into Mecca with the goal of destroying the Kaaba." I'm not sure which bit of this is the most surprising. But here you can find more together with some glorious illustrated ancient Gospels.

3. Interesting people. "For instance, an employee who sexually identifies as ‘a yellow-scaled wingless dragonkin’ and ‘an expansive ornate building’ presented a talk entitled ‘Living as a Plural Being’ at an internal company event.”" That was at Google.

4. I'm feeling quite happy about my three recent predictions, what with North Korea talking to South Korea again (and entering the Olympics under a joint flag) and the current turmoil in UKIP. This is the sort of thing I had in mind as liable to persuade people that China might be more worth worrying about than Russia. "Some 18-20 informants may have been killed as part of China's attempts to dismantle the US intelligence operation on its soil. // But it's only the latest chapter in a long saga of espionage and counter-espionage between the US and China - one, say analysts, that should not be eclipsed by the focus on Russian covert activities." Listen to those 'analysts', guys - those informants were apparently killed, not just trolled on an internet forum.

5. An interesting bit of law. "This is a claim by Omodele Meadows for the additional costs of raising her son, Adejuwon, who suffers from both haemophilia and autism. It is admitted that, but for the defendant's negligence, Adejuwon would not have been born because his mother would have discovered during her pregnancy that he was afflicted by haemophilia and so would have undergone a termination. It is agreed that she can recover the additional costs associated with that condition. What is in dispute is whether she can also recover the additional costs associated with Adejuwon's autism." You might want to think how you would decide the case before you look at Yip J's decision here.

6. Technically this is more law, but it's really about interesting social distinctions. This is what happens when international architects from Foster + Partners have a client who first meets them in a semi-detached house in Hayes. (A semi? Ugh!) It's not pretty, but I get the feeling from the judgment that justice has been done. Worth a read.

7. Do I recommend annual letters to shareholders about investments? Not often. But this one is worth a read (not Buffett).

8. You know all the annoying/irritating/infuriating news/opinions/stuff going on? This is worth reading and keeping in mind. So when you read this about this (Margaret Atwood, Bad Feminist) or (I'm guessing) any reaction to this then you will have some idea of why people are saying what they are saying. (I suspect Caitlin Flanagan has time for the Gods of the Copybook Headings, a poem that Scott Alexander put me onto.)

Monday, 15 January 2018

Lady Chatterley's Lover's Love of Red Trousers

I've never read Lady Chatterley's Lover and this review does not encourage me to do so. However, I was intrigued to read about Mellors' belief in the power of red trousers:

"Mellors has a plan for world reform that requires men to wear scarlet trousers “and buttocks nice and showing scarlet under a little white jacket.” And if you think this a passing fancy, swiftly suppressed, you are wrong. The plan to save the world with red trousers is restated at the end of the book, where Mellors raves, “If the men wore scarlet trousers, as I said, they wouldn’t think so much of money: if they could dance and hop and skip, and sing and swagger and be handsome, they could do with very little cash.”"

Hitchens points out that much of what the book tells us about Jews, lesbians, black women and so on is, shall we say, not very nice. I only hope that the efforts of the anti-red trouser brigades will not persuade us to add Mellors' rather innocent plan for red-legged world peace to the book's list of offences.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Sentences that tell stories

1. "Parcell, 26, could pass for an aspiring model in New York or L.A., but in Utah, she looks like an ordinary mom." From here.

2. "The amount of concrete used by China in the last 4 years is equal to the quantity used by the USA in 100 years" and "In Indonesia, several islands near Jakarta have disappeared because of illegal extraction [of sand]." From here.

3. "Before he laid down even a dot of paint, Vermeer would have weighed, ground, burned, sifted, heated, cooled, kneaded, washed, filtered, dried and oiled his colours", often in pretty unpleasant ways. From here.

4. "We propose that class is inversely related to a propensity for using wise reasoning" (and there's evidence to back that up). From here.

5. "The first event, the Key Box Challenge, is a form of competitive OCD: Valets must sprint to a locked key box, match a dozen or so keys with their corresponding vehicle tags, hang them correctly on a metal door, then sprint back to the finish line. It seemed simple, but it was chaos." From here

6. "“I voted for Brexit but some Lord who failed in their attempts to be elected as an MP and got appointed by the Tories to an unelected post resigned in protest whilst skiing in Austria” // “I’ve changed my mind!!!”". From here (Owen Jones making sense).

7. "As you can see, Bitcoin dwarfs even the legendary South Sea Bubble!" From here. And here's a lovely little graph for you (the yellow line includes the legendary Wall Street Crash of 1929):

Friday, 5 January 2018

New Year predictions

It's the start of the year, near enough, so it's prediction time. Here are some sensible predictions and here is someone being pretty rigorous about marking his predictions. But I want to give you three predictions that you (or at least I) haven't seen elsewhere.

1. President Trump's unconventional approach to diplomacy will result in a significant breakthrough in one or more of North Korea-South Korea or Israeli-Palestinian negotiations (not necessarily in 2018 but before the end of 2020). Simple explanation: Trump is the most powerful man in the world; he appears to care very much about doing deals (much more so than his predecessors, who were more concerned with other things, such as established methods of diplomacy, the respect of their peers, norms, decorum, etc); these are two regions that seem to interest him personally; these are two regions where large numbers of people stand to benefit from a deal of some kind; so it stands to reason that there is a good chance of deals in these regions, or at least a significantly higher chance than there was before Trump came along.

Will Trump achieve a good deal in either region? A lot of people would be inclined to think that any deal in these regions would be better than no deal. There's a lot to be said for that: the actual answer to the Schleswig-Holstein question (quick - what was it?) is much less important than the fact that Germany and Denmark are not now preparing for war with each other; and it's hard to imagine someone thinking that the precise arrangements resulting from the Good Friday Agreement are perfect, but it was better than the alternatives on offer. I say let's wait and see: for all his personal faults and infelicities, Trump has exceeded expectations too many times already to be written off as a non-achiever in the field of politics.

2. At least one of UKIP and the LibDems will get a new leader (before the next General Election). Of course, personal issues could cause a leadership change: UKIP's leader has just left his (second) wife for a much younger woman, Vince Cable is already 74, etc. etc. But I am really thinking of the 'phantom limb' syndrome both of these parties suffer from: they instinctively think they are still important and want to behave as if they are. Moreover, they both suffer from Brexit-confusion: so many people still care about Brexit (they think to themselves) - and we have strong brands on Brexit - so why don't they vote for us? I think both of them will do badly in by-elections and council elections, and at least one of them will try to improve things by changing something that they can change, namely their leader, and counting on the little burst of publicity that that would generate. Cable also has a reasonably high risk of finding himself on the wrong side of a social issue that young vocal LibDems would get worked up about: perhaps he is too close to Lord Rennard, or perhaps he will be caught out by being insufficiently fierce on someone else accused of inappropriate behaviour or transphobism or what have you.

3. China will replace Russia as the main bogeyman in Western media (again, by the end of 2020). Have you heard how Russia was able to do what the entire US media, US$1.2bn in campaign spending, the Clinton dynasty, the Bush dynasty, and both the Democrat and Republican Parties all failed to do, i.e. determine the outcome of the last US Presidential election? You might also have heard that Russia did all that right after doing what the entire British political and business establishment, Barack Obama and everyone who has ever given a dinner party failed to do in the UK, i.e. determine the outcome of the Brexit referendum. What's more, Russia did it all just by using a few internet commentators and some Facebook ads!

I am pretty confident that we have not yet got to the end of such stories about Russia. But eventually people will spot that China's GDP and population are each about 9 times as big as Russia's (look it up if you want), and that China is not short of high-tech people who care about the internet (Great Firewall of China, anyone?). In short, China is a pretty big deal in a way that Russia isn't. Moreover, as Trump started to show in his election campaign, there is a market for anti-Chinese sentiment in Western countries, and I suspect enterprising politicians and commentators will want to fill that gap. In the meantime, just read this.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Not cheerful links

1. What do you think about "A sweeping noninterference agreement between Moscow and Washington that would prohibit both governments from meddling in the other’s domestic politics"? Apparently, "US officials told Moscow there would be no deal".

2. Now forget about Russia. Here's a compelling account of Saudi influence over US politics.

3. Think of a multi-ethnic yet long-term peaceful country? Yugoslavia? Er, no. Switzerland? Yes! So how do the Swiss do it? By keeping the ethnic groups apart from each other, mostly using mountains and lakes. Oh dear. Should we speculate that an awareness of the fragile nature of inter-ethnic cooperation is why "More than any other country, Switzerland’s ethos is centered around preparing for civilizational collapse"?

4. As if you hadn't spotted this fact from Brexit, Trump, etc, etc etc, it appears that more highly educated individuals are more strongly prejudiced against those on the other side of the political spectrum. A quantity theory of prejudice, anyone? (If you want to judge people - and it seems that many of us do - then I would suggest judging them on how they treat the people they actually come across. It's easy enough to say virtuous or nasty things about groups of people in the abstract - that's all just virtue-signalling - face to face is the real test. How many of the people who threaten to punch a Tory actually engage in unprovoked physical violence? And recall that UKIP employed a transsexual lesbian (later one of their MEPs) - have you ever done that?)

5. This one is not cheerful, but not depressing either. It is entitled "The Western Elite from a Chinese Perspective", but that is not a terribly good title for it - it is more personal and interesting than that makes it sound. Here's one example: "here at Goldman [Sachs], he said, we don’t punish people for losing money for the right reason. I have always loved asking questions, so I asked him, was anyone ever punished for making money for the wrong reason? After giving it some thought, he said that he had not heard of any such thing. And he was right."

6. You remember that article about the impending population collapse in the West? There's more! And it's not that cheerful. Should we worry? Well, "odds are we have to fight a mass-casualty war within the next 2 centuries". Hmm. Leaving that aside, women aren't having as many children as they want. I'm not sure people ask men how many children they want (listen to women! the author is always being told), but it seems that there "are actually very few large low-fertility societies out there that don’t have generous incentives or campaigns to boost fertility in place. Now, most of these are of minimal effectiveness! But their mere existence suggests that lowest-low fertility creates direct disutility for voters, at a minimum", and I suppose voters come in both male and female flavours.

7. Last, but far from least, this, the Warlock Hunt (think witch hunt, but not for witches). An article which a man could not write (and perhaps should not read ...).

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Fun stuff

1. How a restaurant that didn't exist became the No 1 restaurant in London according to TripAdvisor. It's the Shed @ Dulwich and it's all here.

2. British water companies rely on magic (well, water divining).

3. Cracking Elgar's Enigma.

4. Improvising in the style of different composers.

5. The National Health Service in the UK uses more than a tenth of the global stock of pagers, and other facts.

6. Who was the greatest military leader? Wellington was about as great a military leader as Caesar, but still well behind Napoleon. Haig was better than Rommel or Robert E Lee?

7. Vote for Tom Harwood! Seriously, do vote for him if you in the NUS.

8. The Economist's advent calendar of graphs.

9. AlphaZero beats Stockfish at chess, having learned the game in 24 hours. The paper includes 10 example games. I played out the first one. It is a little weird.

10. Prolific panda production, and its discontents.

11. Thomas the Tank Engine stunts.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Sentences to ponder

1. Let's start with empirical psychedelia: ""There is no evidence that communion with entities during psychedelic experiences is not an illusion," he explains on the phone from Buenos Aires, when I ask if LSD really allows users to communicate with nature." From here.

2. Then back to reality: "No woman is going to have sex with a man whose ears are bleeding profusely, Mr Liddle. It’s not the sort of thing they do." That's from here. Well worth reading for the postage stamps story.

3. Still in reality? "[He] was at prep school with Prince Charles, and now thinks him ‘the reincarnation of Solomon’." From here. As you might imagine, the man with that opinion has had a not altogether conventionally happy life.

4. And on the subject of wisdom: "Philosophy, you understand, is a very pharmacopoeia of cures that are worse than the corresponding diseases. This started a long while ago; perhaps with Plato’s suggestion that, although there is a problem about how so many different things can all be chairs, philosophy can fix it: there is only one chair that is really a chair, the Chair on which no one can sit; the One Chair that is in Heaven." From here. (Jerry Fodor RIP.) It's worth remembering that professional philosophers are, by and large, the sort of person who at some point in their younger years thought, "Hmm, the One Chair that is in the Heaven? Yes, that sounds like a sensible answer to a difficult problem."

5. Staying with refined pursuits: "Sooner or later [Brideshead Revisited] will be completely unintelligible to even highly educated readers, except for a few specialists." From here. (On the subject of the Waugh family, "Powell’s friend Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd [tells us that for] years, [Auberon] Waugh had hoped that his family would appear in Burke’s Landed Gentry, a volume edited by Massingberd. One year, Massingberd asked [Anthony] Powell to write a preface. It was the year in which, for some reason, Waugh had supposed that his dreams would at last be fulfilled. When the volume appeared, complete with Powell preface, the Waughs were not, however, in the book. Seeing Powell’s name at the front, Waugh assumed, wrongly, that Powell had edited the entire volume that year and therefore been instrumental in his family’s exclusion." A story surely everyone can sympathise with?)

6. But French representations of the English are always intelligible: "In the most extravagant versions, these heinous traits were combined, as in Georges Colomb’s comic-strip La famille Fenouillard (1893), which showed the English “burning Joan of Arc on the rock of Saint Helena”." From here. It would be a comic strip.

7. The future, whether French or English, belongs to those who turn up. And who's going to turn up? "As you can see, the U.S. fertility collapse is much less severe than the Russian post-Soviet fertility collapse or the Swedish collapse in the 1990s, but is on par with the Canadian collapse in the 1970s, the Japanese collapse in the 1970s, the EU collapse in the 1970s or 1980s. It is somewhat more severe than the French collapse in the 1970s and 1980s. // None of these example countries has returned to replacement-rate fertility." From here.

8. Perhaps we needn't get too upset by the impending collapse of the West. "By this point in our civilization’s development, many honest buyers and sellers have left the indignation market entirely; and what’s left behind is not, on average, good." From here. That's going too far. But if you replace "civilization" with "social media" then you'd be pretty close to the truth.

9. At any rate, surely there will always be that blossom of snow to warm our hearts? "When Hammerstein died, Theodore Bikel was on stage every night on Broadway still singing "Edelweiss", and he noticed something about the song. "This dying man writing the very last lyric of his career," he said, "the very last word he wrote was 'forever'."Here. Also: "Some years ago "Edelweiss" was played at the White House, at a state dinner for Austria's President Kirschschlager, and everyone but the Austrians stood up for the national anthem." I certainly hope that's true.