Wednesday, March 29, 2017

On Terrorism

I don't truck with 'Islamophobia' and by virtue of the fact that I don't believe Islamophobes exist, the question of whether or not I truck with them is kind of moot in my mind. Let me just say, I'm pretty happy to be cast out of the kind of groups that rally around identifying Islamophobes, and am equally happy not to hang around with people that dedicate their psychic energy in criticizing Islam.

Upon close examination of both my pre and post September 11 life, I feel the evidence suggests that I don't need to have an opinion on Islam at all.

But when Bill Maher challenges his real time panel and 'fellow liberals' to name a non-Muslim terrorist attack and they say 'the IRA' and he says recently, and they say Timothy McVey or that guy in Norway or Sweden or whatever who shot those people at the camp, and Bill Maher says whatever... or Sam Harris... I'm not even aware of what Sam Harris has been saying recently. But much of his writing from and since the End of Faith, has been as far as I can paraphrase and speak for him, which is not very far - that the consequences of a faith based nuclear attack are so catastrophic that ending religious belief is an emergency and priority number one is Islam.

However In the last 7 days prior to writing this post, an alleged terrorist drove a car onto a pavement killing 4 people and injuring something like 40 people (I haven't checked the details, if you didn't deduce that already)

I was told by my parents that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had seen fit to make a statement regarding the incident about terrorism and what it means for the world...

My thought was - how much is this going to cost?

And not just in financial costs. The loss of personal freedoms, civilian and armed forces casualties in reinforced commitments to combat 'terrorism' through state-based warfare...

There is also a strikingly linear trend among "weaponized vehicles of choice" from Planes 15 years ago to trucks last year to a car in Westminster district last week.

Similarly the direct casualties from these attacks have dropped from almost 3000, to 86 in Nice, to 12 in Berlin, to 4 including the perpetrator in Westminster.

Does this mean I'm going to side with the conservatives and say the War on Terror is being won? No.

The war I would say, in terms of military action will go down in history as an ill conceived and costly exercise that almost certainly exacerbated terrorism. But the ordinary learning has probably been quite effective, a September 11 style attack, was probably impossible to replicate as of September 12th, 2001.

Not because W shocked and awed the residents of Afghanistan but because flights were grounded, temporary additional security measures were taken, and then further airport security measures were implemented. If the attacks had been carried out in a manner where it remained a mystery as to how the World Trade Center towers, then yeah, as of September 12th we'd be in the dark as to whether further attacks could be prevented. But we know exactly how it got carried out, and it was easy to adjust.

I would presume for large public gatherings, some simple but tedious traffic control solutions have been implemented. Concrete bollards spaced at less than the width of a truck around pedestrian gathering areas comes to mind.

Full scale military warfare, waged against foreign states probably contributes nothing to making the public safer. I would say there's a likelihood that it makes domestic civilian populations more at risk of terrorist attacks.

Thus I feel, Bill Maher and Sam Harris are barking up the wrong bush. And it isn't due to an irrational fear of Islam, but the problem being more actuarial.

Dick Dawkins pointed out that it was a failure of modern media that when there was a contentious moral issue in the news, the talking heads summoned to comment on the issue often featured clergy and almost never a Moral Philosopher. To be honest, I don't watch enough news to verify whether this conforms to my own experience, except to say, I've never seen a Moral Philosopher consulted over anything.

But in all the noise around terrorism, the big omission to me, is that I never see an actuary consulted. To walk the public and the policy makers through an equation that is something like the expected value equation. Which is the expected value = (odds of gain) x (value of gain). And it is never too late to consult an actuary.

Which I haven't done, so this is just speculation.

Starting with the value of the gain of 'fighting terrorism' you need to start with what it would cost (or profit - lets be open minded) to do nothing. In this case, I'm suggesting that 'nothing' excludes, clean up of the property damage, treating the wounded, compensating the berieved and wounded, investigating the incident and altering policy and practices to prevent future attacks. By nothing I mean failing to round up some military posse, identifying some state to target in traditional state based warfare and launching a military response against that state. Doing none of that military off-shore shit.

So you have that, and then you calculate the cost of doing something, fighting terrorism - so the tax dollar and human cost of financing military action against a foreign state - I personally would include the casualties on both side. And then you also have to calculate the revenues the income, the gains of military action. Here I would like my actuary to specify whether the gains would be public or privatized, as if privatized, then the gains are 0 for the people financing the enterprise - namely taxpayers. But even if military action is a complete cost exercise it could still be in tax payer interests if it costs them less than doing 'nothing' as above.

So you take the cost of doing nothing - the cost of military action and if that = 0 or more, then our actuary can give the go ahead.

Now look at the tricky element 'odds of gain' here as at September 12th, 2001 there could have been genuine ambiguity as to how effective military responses were in lowering the public risk of domestic terrorist attacks. However I would dare say that over the past 15+ years, the odds of successfully eradicating terrorism or militant Islamic groups via military action would have been significantly revised.

I speculate that looking at the cold hard data and intelligence - the probability might be zero and may well be negative.

Now if you don't find maths interesting, let me quickly turn the crank on the expected value sausage machine - say there's a raffle with a total of 10 tickets, and tickets cost $10 each and the winning draw wins $2,000. Our E(x) = 0.1 x 2000 (one in 10 chance x $2,000 prize money) such that E(x) = $200. This means even though there's binary outcomes (you win or you lose) if you played this game enough you would expect to win $200 for every $10 you spent on tickets. This would literally be true if you bought all 10 tickets, holding 9 losing tickets and one winner.

The key thing being, in most expected value equations, the expected value is somewhat less than the best case outcome.

Fighting terrorism may well look like this: E(x) = (0 or less probability) x (some negative number)

Here our actuary would probably apologise, but say 'it costs you more to react than you gain by it, and should you react it would make the situation worse not better. To put it in terms of a raffle, it costs $10 a ticket and there is no prize money, all tickets are drawn and you then receive either a fine of $3,000 or $10,000 and maybe somebody you know and care about gets killed. My advice would be not to buy the ticket.'

This is not so unusual a situation, if somebody on the street calls you a wanker, then beating the shit out of them will make everyone's lives worse, not better. So most people do nothing. Situations like this are so common we have a word for a attempting to sell someone a raffle ticket they can only lose by should they buy it - that word is 'provocation'

Hence, post Westminster attack, where 2 civilians were killed, 1 unarmed police officer and 1 terrorist, I wonder how much this is going to cost Australian taxpayers, Australian armed forces, and Australian citizens in terms of personal freedoms. Especially given that two months earlier a non-terrorist man killed 4 civilians by driving his car onto the pavement in the Melbourne CBD including one child. Judging by the name of the driver, he is of Greek ethnic descent - I'm guessing he will simply be charged and prosecuted as an individual, with little to no chance of any meaningful regulations or state based warfare against Greece or Macedonia and thereabouts undertaken.

And, I observe, all these are acts of commission, that is the thing about terrorism.

I am no longer, and frankly, never have been scared by the prospect of being caught up in some terrorist act as I go about my daily life. Whether I am running a marathon, working in an office building, shopping at a market, taking the train or walking on a footpath. The odds are just much much lower than being killed by a driver opening their car door into the path of my bike. That is something I am scared of, and would welcome a change in Australian law to implement the 'Dutch-Reach' as a failing criteria of the drivers license test.

What stands to kill vast numbers, if not the entirety of Human civilization is climate change. Here the 1st and 2nd most powerful religious ideologies of the world make Islamic Terrorism look laughable.

The first and hardest to tackle is the widely held belief that corporations are people who need to be kept happy. I don't know how to begin tackling this one.

The second is the cluster of varying denominations of Christianity, clearly the most economically powerful, resource and territory rich of all the worlds major religions.

And here, let me shock you back into cognitive thought by asking, upon receiving a complaint from a parishioner that they or their child had been sexually assaulted by the clergy, why was the matter almost never referred to the police?

This question was the subject of the movie 'Spotlight' where they actually decoded the Boston Diocese' cypher for priests that were alleged to have committed sexual assaults, in publicly available directories.

Why when it was a statistically significant phenomena (6% by my recall) did the Church not adopt a policy of handing these men over to the police?

My answer is speculative, because thus far all I've heard as far as admissions of institutional guilt are things along the lines of 'we were more concerned about the scandal than the victims' or thereabouts.

my speculative answer being - 'moral authority'. It is easy to forget that the people who go to Church are there to here somebody speak as to their knowledge of the all-knowing, benevolent creator of the Universe.

It is an extraordinary claim, that you have expertise on the will of an all powerful and benevolent God. Implied in this is that not just anybody can do it.

But if it turns out that your rigorous recruiting method to identify those qualified to lecture others on what it is to live a good life and earn your place in heaven, can be infiltrated easily by somebody who likes to rape or otherwise assault children, it looks like your system doesn't work at all.

And so, Climate change. If you are one of the world's richest institutions, and you've been telling a bunch of hairless apes who walk in regularly and donate what little they have to the upkeep of your institution that they are the ultimate creation of the one and only creator a benevolent god who keeps you at the center of the Universe and sends floods to punish people for sin and decides who will win wars and so fourth...

You are practically obliged to deny that climate change needs addressing. Because God wouldn't let that happen, the book of revelations tells us how it is all going to end, and nothing in it says that burning fossil fuels (because fossils can only be 4000 years old anyway) and eating more beef than ever will gradually make increasing parts of the habit uninhabitable.

And these Christian's hold sway over who is elected and what their attitude is to climate change and environmental regulation.

Super douche Ken Hamm, has literally built an amusement park to try and lend credence to the Noah's Ark mythology.

Harris and Maher can give people like Ken Hamm a hard time, Bill Nye probably has done a better job, but where it is poised, Christianity is far more dangerous to the human race than Islam is. Christians already have the nukes, and the nukes are of little concern compared to irreversible damage to the ecosystem.

A nuclear winter sounds bad, but to my understanding this is why there is international support for the nuclear-non-proliferation treaty. There is nowhere near enough support to ensure the economies of the world clean up their acts.

So I guess, consult an actuary, because the expected value of fighting climate change may well be 'everything we have'.

Monday, March 27, 2017

On Privelege

I have my suspicions about "privilege". But since I rarely get told about my privilege it isn't really a pressing concern for me. But I will say this for privilege as a pejorative - a man doesn't have to move past 16. And 16 is just an estimate, an intuition I've held for a long time when as a younger man by a decade I noticed how sophisticated office politics isn't. Furthermore, just how much dead weight corporate culture is laden with are generally people employing the tactics that made them successful at 16 to collect a salary.

After rubbing my eyes and eyebrows for a moment in thought, the explanation I would furnish for why this is, and why it is problematic is very complicated, but the result is very very simple. You get essentially juvenile teenage boys dressed in ill fitting expensive suits playing the part of somebody important who in the reality of the value chains of that organisation is completely expendable.

Consider the 'heroes journey' in which an identifiable character known as the protagonist has a calling to leave the safety of home and go on a quest. they face some challenges and fail, get trained up by a mentor or whatever and then achieve some kind of personal growth that allows them to overcome the challenge thereby completing their journey to heroism.

The privilege that men both enjoy and suffer by, is that by removing those challenges that necessitate learning and growth, they don't need to. So my intuition that a guy doesn't really have to move past the development they achieve by 16 - is that I suspect by 16 most males enter the 'adult height' range. At that point people start to take them seriously, and really for many men, that is all you need. You don't actually need to validate being taken seriously - that's the privilege that I will speak out against.

Labor regressions have shown that height is the biggest determinate of corporate success, with 90% of CEOs above the average population height and less than 3% of CEOs under 5'7" (which means if there are 1000 CEO vacancies open in the world, my height would limit me to being considered for 100 of those positions) and its that kind of thing that has me say at 16 for many men, the struggle to be taken seriously ends.

And I say men, but I mean boys. Because the privilege allows them not to actually develop, or mature. People treat them because they look the part. Their achievements and qualifications are largely cosmetic. In Rudi Guiliani's darling days of post 9-11, I actually read his book 'Leadership' and in a fine example of where it doesn't pay to go ad hominem - he astutely pointed out 'many confuse polish with professionalism'.

Which is why, sitting in a car listening to my friend talk about his current occupation as a marketing consultant I did not feel him embellishing at all when he claimed his job consisted of 'telling 40 year old men they didn't know how to do their job' My own experiences cannot falsify the implied statistic. Which is to say, numerous men can get very far in life without ever having to learn how to do something actually productive.

Although the Vice media trailor for 'Hypernormalisation' got a lot of airplay on my social media hive mind, I don't know anyone to have actually watched it. The trailer itself though alluded to the phenomena of 'fake jobs' this is no particular insight, when compared to Keynes' observation that in the future one challenge faced will be actually finding things to do, made back early last century. There's also great articles on the subject like 'On Bullshit Jobs' and 'Driverless' on of all places, an art blog. But the hypernormalisation trailer did connect the important dot that your fake job exists to facilitate your real job which is to shop.

It's a wealth distribution problem. For example, if you owned a huge technological marvel that controlled all the fresh drinking water on earth. An entirely automated system, you would presumably be the richest person on earth. Rich enough to satisfy all your own material needs. In fact you wouldn't even need currency anymore. Because you could charge people whatever you wanted so you could just say 'make a dozen lamborghinis for me' etc. but you would only need the world's population to be very very small, to satisfy one despot's needs and the rest to basically subsist in the hope of overthrowing you one day or some shit. Most people don't dream of such a lonely world though, and hence you come across the consumer goods known as the 'commons'. I want my beaches to be populated by beautiful people in revealing costumes, laughing and playing with eachother, not ragged peasants trying to use crude evaporative techniques to desalinate some drinking water. I want to go to vibrant cities and relax in places where the social environment communicates relaxation to me. I want to stroll through parklands and see old couples taking loving walks together to fill me with hope.

So as a water despot, you distribute some income to other people, can't be everyone because you need to maintain the heirarchy you are at the top of, but also can't be too few. So why not just employ people like you, who identify with you and aspire to be you with generous wages and arbitrary work duties to appeal to a sense of fairness, that wages must be earned.

I'd contend this within the microcosm of corporations leads to the widespread phenomena of dead-weight juvenile middle manager men. And I don't mean juvenile in terms of pit farting and calling their friends wankers, and pulling on the hair of the girls they like (although for all I know, that shit may be happening), I mean juvenile in the sophistication of their politics - demanding performance using threats and intimidation, kissing up and kicking down. That basic shit of simply recognizing a vertical dominance hierarchy.

It is my direct experience that you can be a 40 year old father of 3 and not realise - there are different personality types, and different people hold different values. That you can negotiate deals rather than pulling rank. That opinions and speculations can be formulated into hypothesis and tested... etc.

So if we return now to despots, and think of a ironclad dictatorship, like North Korea. Dictatorships are cheap to run, cheaper than democracies. In a democracy you need to satisfy the basic needs of the majority of the population (or the crucial minority, as per how the electorates are drawn up) whereas a dictatorship only needs to satisfy the portion of the population sufficient to violently oppress the remainder of the population - aka the military, police, intelligence etc. It's not great for the flourishing of agricultural and manufacturing sectors, but it is very very cheap to run. Which is why Democracies would generally prefer to deal with tyrants than other democracies if they could.

Corporations are not democratic, they with very few exceptions top-down. The CEO can tell the Executives what to do, he Executives can tell the managers what to do, the managers can tell the Supervisors and the Supervisors can tell the people that do actual work.

Men can make it into the cushy administrative-managerial positions with all the skills they need to succeed at 16. And this hurts everyone. They are simply sufficient to oppress the frontline staff. Such that you can employ as few people as possible on the cheapest and least committed contracts. That is the efficiency aimed for on behalf of shareholders. And it is efficient.

If you can get 20 people on a minimum wage off the books while retaining your clients, then it is cheap to pay some sack of shit 3 times that wage to do nothing but kick failure down the line and fire staff underneath them.

In any industry I predict you'll find this, it's just how the whole thing is designed - profits are maximum when marginal revenue = marginal cost. Publicly listed company executives are obliged to maximise profits for their clients, so their job is to lobby in order to get fixed costs changed to variable costs (casualisation of the work force) minimize those costs (lower minimum wage, abolition of penalty rates) and maximize marginal revenue (higher output, voluntary overtime)

nature is very inefficient, and so is society. Middle management bloat is an expected phenomena and ideally, a good company executive could have a redundant number of talented executives practically on the shelves to take over for them at a moments notice. But instead the bloat is filled out by talentless men that have been promoted due to seniority, personal affection or relationships - cronyism etc. Reviews cursory and arbitrary, they may not even be qualified to do the job they hold.

This is a problem that bothers me. The solutions are simple, the political will is not.

The first is to shift the taxation base to land. Land as a catchall term for resources, not human resources but anything that is natures bounty or is access to publicly provided infrastructure. Namely taxing economic rents. I'll write about this in the future, but the magic bullet has been known for over a century.

The second, isn't simple, but it will certainly change things over night. That is AI. The moment machines can think they go from being capital to labor. That's the end of the great problem of automation. If a machine can introspect it suddenly has a choice between labor and leisure, and forget the AI singularity, there is little evidence to support that theory given that we don't understand human consciousness, the AI labor movement will be very confronting for our economy.

Anyway, I agree, in this regard privilege is problematic. The frictionless career paths afforded men, and tall men in particular are to the detriment of all, even the men who are primary beneficiaries. Because much like the laborer with the mindless manufacturing job held for 40 years discovering that the plant is being shut down, a middle manager with no real expertise and no real growth or social skills is just as likely to find themselves facing down the barrel of structural unemployment. They are fragile to economic shocks. They possess no real transferable skills, if any real skills at all. They are simply some kid who walks around telling smaller kids what to do. Often, I've observed managers whose instructions are completely ignored, because they lack the expertise to even determine whether their input is acted on.

Fuck those guys.

Monday, March 06, 2017

'Them' and 'Them'

What is a conservative? or right wing? or alt-right? how does alt-right differ from neo-con? and what of the other side, the people across the line, what is liberal? or left-wing? how do the progressives differ from libertarians? is there a difference? why can't there be both?

Most of these questions are uninteresting. Given that there are sufficiently uninteresting people in the world who have no doubt populated wikipedia articles I haven't bothered to verify the existence of with a synthesis of the scholarly history and discussion of the parameters of the nuanced differences between an alt-right or a neo-con or libertarian and progressive vs a new-dealer etc. It would be redundant for me to even bother answering these questions.

But I can share my simple definitions, that are my rules of thumb and inform much of my own behavior as it has quickly adapted. I don't need heuristics for dealing with anyone in my own camp. People in my own camp are like me, and much like the Quakers are not dogmatic and don't really proselytize. In fact, I can't really prove that anyone in my camp is in my camp, we don't tend to talk about it.


The defining psychological trait of a conservative is somebody whose identity is emotionally invested in the 'Just World Hypothesis'

Figuratively speaking, a conservative is somebody walking around in running gear with a medal hanging around their neck, and that medal means the world to them.

Some concession has to be made to the phenomena of medal-less conservatives though who do exist in surprising numbers and whose life's ambition is to obtain a medal just like those with medals whom they somehow admire. The only difference between the two though is whether they are positively or negatively emotionally invested in the Just-World Hypothesis.


The defining psychological trait of progressives is an almost total ignorance and insensitivity to 'belief perseverance', even though they are almost certainly prone to it themselves. Thus behaviorally speaking a progressive expects people to update their beliefs as knowledge progresses.

Figuratively speaking (but bordering on literally) a progressive watches the latest episode of Jon Oliver's Last Week Tonight and calibrates their beliefs to whatever has just been presented.

Or if it's easier to picture, a progressive plays the role of Jerry in the Seinfeld episode 7-16 'The Doll' who informs Elaine that there's an electric toothbrush that is better than the one she has, and can't understand that she likes hers even though he's telling her that it's better.

So What?

You may notice that one is a definition of a broad-catch all political alignment - Conservatives or The Right or whatever whereas the other is a definition of a sub-genre.

This is because everyone is prone to confirmation bias. And if you are reading this you probably share my opinions, where you broadly identify as left-wing, don't particularly like right-wing politics but find many of your own friends annoying on social media who seemingly have the same left-wing orientation as you. These definitions aren't binding, they are simply the way I bet across populations even those bets are placed on individuals in conversations.

And that bet is that both are wrong. But how?

That is an interesting question, to gather the low-hanging fruit, Conservatives are wrong about a natural order, at the very least to the extent they are emotionally invested in one. Progressives are wrong about progress. Best illustrated by putting our two figurative people together.

So a progressive is watching Last Week Tonight on Youtube because it's free, and Jon Oliver does a piece on how some running race is rigged, black people aren't allowed to enter, nor are women allowed to compete against men for the greatest prize money but can only win 30% less and also don't have access to the same trainers, scholarships and what not. If they were born a woman but transition to being men and vice versa they are subjected to testing and not allowed to compete in the category they identify with as well as suffering public shaming and discrimination. Furthermore it is unveiled that many of the people who win the race cheat by breaking a bunch of rules that are inconsistently enforced and take shortcuts and handicaps that are inherited and what not.

Then this progressive goes outside to order some ethnic food for lunch and comes across a person they thought they knew well walking down the street sticky with sweat with a big smile on their face and a medal around their neck. 'Woah!' says the progressive to their acquaintance, 'I didn't know you were a Conservative?!' and they say 'Yeah, I just ran the race today, got this sweet Medal' and they hold it up high anticipating some admiring comments from this Progressive they thought they knew.

'That's disgusting, you know those races are rigged? and you probably cheated cheater. Cheating in a rigged race, aren't you ashamed of yourself?'

The Consevative retorts 'Hey, I worked hard for this medal, and maybe if you did something other than watch youtube and eat fatty ethnic foods you too would have a medal and you'd probably feel differently.'

And the Conservative goes and seeks their own kind to feel reassured and validated and the Progressive does the exact same thing. As we all do.

Hopefully most people would agree that informing somebody who had just completed a a Marathon that the race wasn't actually regulation distance or the supplements their coach had been giving them were actually illegal performance enhancing drugs is a dick move, but consider a capacity in which you are conservative.

Imagine a piece of evidence that supported a 'natural order theory' for example a population census data that supported a conclusion that white people are smarter than any other ethnicity, or a defended and peer reviewed doctoral thesis that found men are more creative than women.

Just in case you are panicking, to my knowledge no such 'evidence' exists to support any of these, but if you are a human being with an identity that leans towards a fair and just society with broad equality - chances are you felt some kind of resistance to the very exercise of imagining a piece of evidence that would convince you that all things being equal some group might have a natural advantage over you or you over them, or that your spiritual connection to the universe is actually a figment of your imagination, or that your migrant grandparents actually didn't arrive with nothing and build themselves up through grit and determination against prejudice but in fact arrived with abundant job opportunities affordable housing and were encouraged to migrate with discounted passage.

And I've had someone say to me 'I don't like evolutionary psychology because it's condescending to women' which is fascinating.

The book superforecasting has a good summary about belief perseverance and should be noted that psychological phenomena is not partisan.

The other great degree in which progressives make common naive errors is in failing to recognize progress is a spectrum, and that we live in a world in which some people alive today maintain the exact same lifestyle as humans lived 10,000 years ago. Such communities are not just goldmines for anthropologists, they are largely ignored by most people because people living in hunter gatherer communities have almost no impact on geopolitics.

But hunter gatherer tribes or stone age communities in the Amazon not only are not up to speed with Transgender issues, they perhaps never progressed to the stage of achieving transphobia, along with bronze working, fly fishing, finance, constitutional monarchy, germ theory and twitter.

And yet these often marginalized people whose way of life is under constant threat from environmental degradation, urban development and religious intolerance are as likely to achieve a real and meaningful life as they are unlikely to participate in combating Islamophobia on college campuses.

And what of conservatives? Why am I so confident they are wrong? I don't believe there is a natural order, nor do I believe that the ordering of our society is entirely arbitrary. Guns, Germs and Steel is a good place to go and have racist notions of a natural order dispelled (provided you are receptive to such a message) but the only tragic conservatives really are those that do not benefit from the status quo except psychically from believing that working hard will deliver to them a better life.

Conservatives who thus are not benificieries of the status quo are sad, and conservatives who do benefit from the status quo have little to no incentive to challenge the just world hypothesis. Except that wealth keeps concentrating, such that Pareto's 20% is itself carved up into 80-20 distribution from which we derive the 1% and even among the 1% you would be naively optimistic to assume the equilibrium has been reached.

But you'd note, I don't have to do anything about that. Conservatives are for the most part due for their come uppance, I just simply avoid their company because they tend to be dicks.