Vacation

We here at EvX are going on vacation. Posting schedule will be reduced to 2x per week for a bit.

I hope you are having a lovely summer. In the meanwhile, here’s a very interesting article about one man’s discovery, via genetics, that not only was his abusive shitbag “father” not his real father, but neither was his grandfather:

In the first phase, I was numb: no shock, anger, disappointment—just bewilderment. It was so hard to grasp. Unimaginable. It was hard to think clearly. And yet, a tiny bit of relief. Maybe truth would yield clarity and understanding of my father’s actions. This secondary sensation was the beginning of a wholly unexpected change in my internal being.

The second phase—feeling unmoored—was by far the hardest. Who am I? From where do I come? And who is this unknown man living in my body, coursing through my veins? I would subconsciously shake my hands trying to get him out of me. And worst, with my mother and the father who raised me both deceased, would I ever find the truth, get to the answers I was seeking? When you think you understand your origins, there is no obsessive need to explore and connect; you are satisfied knowing there is an origin and your ancestors and family members can be searched and contacted whenever needed. But when that assumption is taken away, you truly are an alien.

You and me both, friend.

Take care, read Legal Systems Very Different from Ours, and as always, we are accepting guest posts.

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When all the joy goes out of holidays

Woke capital has an epic thread documenting all of the corporations that are trying to get in on the Pride Month festivities.

At some point holidays stop feeling like voluntary fun and start feeling mandatory. What happens to the employees at these companies who aren’t enthusiastically into Pride marches and are trying to tactfully wiggle out of participating without losing their jobs?

The idea that Procter and Gamble or Goldman Sachs actually cares about its employees’ sexual orientations is absurd, and “inclusion” is the last thing Goldman wants (if Goldman wanted inclusion it would hire a lot fewer bankers and a lot more normal people.)

I don’t worry about my kids reading Twitter, but one does wonder why on earth a network aimed at the prepubescent has anything to say on the matter.

Nothing weird about a network aimed at small children having gay fans.

This, though, is a good point:

So it all comes down to money, eh?

(To be fair, I already don’t like most holidays, including Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Valentines, so Pride is just one more to add to my list.)

A hopeful note on ability distributions

I read recently (my apologies, I can’t find the link) that in every country where we have reliable testing data, a consistent pattern emerges: girls tend to do slightly better on reading/writing tasks than mathematical tasks, and boys slightly better on mathematical than language-tasks.

This is an interesting dynamic because it creates different “optimal” outcomes depending on what you are trying to optimize for. 

If you optimize for individual achievement–that is, get each student to go into the field where they, personally, can do the best–the vast majority of girls will go into language-related fields and the vast majority of boys will go into math-based fields. This leaves us with a strongly gender-divided workforce.

But if we optimize instead for getting talented people into a particular field, the gender divide would be narrower. Most smart students are good at both math and language, and could excel in either domain. You could easily have a case where the best mathematician in a class is even more talented in language, or where the most verbally talented person is even more talented at mathematical tasks (but not both at once).

If we let people chose the careers that best suit them, some fields may end up sub-optimally filled because talented people go elsewhere. If we push people into particular fields, some people will end up sub-optimally employed, because they could have done a better job elsewhere.

Relatedly, we find that people show more gendered job preferences in developed countries, and less gendered preferences in undeveloped countries. In Norway, women show a pretty strong preference, on average, for careers involving people or language skills, while in the third world, they show a stronger preference for “masculine” jobs involving math, science, or technical skills. This finding is potentially explained by different countries offering different job opportunities. In Norway, there are lots of cushy jobs, and people feel comfortable pursuing whatever makes them happy or they’re good at. In the third world, technical skills are valued and thus these jobs pay well and people strive to get them.

People often ascribe the gender balance in different jobs to nefarious social forces (ie, sexism,) but it is possible that they are an entirely mundane side effect of people just having the wealth and opportunity to pursue careers in the things they are best at.

 

 

Algorithmic Optimization pt 2

 

There is nothing exceptional about the slowed-down Nancy Pelosi video, and nothing terribly exceptional in reporters saying uninformed things about subjects they aren’t well versed in.

The significance lies far more behind the scenes. From Marketwatch: Facebook Decided to Rethink Policies on Doctored Media two days Before Pelosi Video.

Wow, that is awfully coincidental that Facebook just happened to be thinking about changing these policies anyway right before a doctored video just happened to make it onto the news, prompting millions of people to pressure Facebook into doing exactly what Facebook already wanted to do.

Don’t be fooled: this isn’t spontaneous. Oh, sure, many of the people at the low end, like reporters, are just doing their job of reading the news they have been given into the camera, but there is plenty of active coordination going on behind the scenes by organizations like Facebook and the Democratic Party.

The Democrats realized sometime around 2016 that they have a meme problem. People on the internet thought Trump was funny and Democrats were boring sticks in the mud. People on the internet made videos about Hillary Clinton’s health, the European migration crisis, and other subjects the Dems didn’t approve of.

They don’t want this happening again.

So they are laying the groundwork now to re-write the policies and algorithms to strategically remove problematic conservative voices from the fray. Alex Jones has already been kicked off Youtube, Facebook, PayPal, etc. FB has taken a particularly hard line, threatening not just to delete Jones’s videos, but any account that posts them (excepting those that post them in order to criticize them).

Even Visa and Mastercard are getting in on the act, cutting off banking services to organizations whose political views they don’t like.

The ostensible reason for Alex Jones’s deplatforming is his supposed spread of conspiracy theories post-Sandy Hook (I say “supposedly” because I have not seen the clips in question,) but it is obvious that 1. these concerns surfaced years after Sandy Hook and 2. no one has deplatformed media outlets that pushed the “Iraq has WMDs” conspiracy theory that cost the US trillions of dollars and lead to the deaths of thousands (millions?) of people.

This has all been accompanied by a basic shift in how media platforms and infrastructure are viewed.

The traditional conception is that these are platforms, not publishers, and thus they merely provide something akin to infrastructure without much say over how you, the user, put it to use. For example, the electric company provides electricity to anyone who pays for it, and even if you use your electricity to warm the cages of your illegally gotten, exotic, endangered reptile collection, the electric company will generally keep providing you with electricity. The electric company does not have to approve of what you do with the electricity you buy, and if you break the law with their electricity, they see it as the state’s job to stop you.

A publisher and a platform, like Facebook, traditionally enjoyed different legal rights and safeguards. A publisher checks and decides to publish every single item they put out, and so is held to be responsible for anything they print. A platform merely provides a space where other people can publish their own works, without supervision. Platforms do not check posts before they go up, (as a practical matter, they can’t,) and thus are generally only held legally responsible for taking down material on their site if someone has notified them that it is in violation of some law.

EG, suppose someone posts something really illegal, child porn, on Facebook. If Facebook is a “publisher,” it is now publishing child porn and is in big legal trouble. But since Facebook is just a platform, it deletes the videos and is legally in the clear. (The poster may still go to prison, of course.)

The conceptual shift in recent years has been to portray platforms as “allowing” people to come in and use their platforms, and then ask why they are allowing such shitty people to use their platform. No one asks why the electric company allows you to use their electricity to raise your army of bio mutant squids, but they do ask why Facebook allows right-wingers to be on the platform at all.

This is treating platforms like publishers, and they are absolutely jumping into it with both feet.

Let’s skip forward a bit in the video to the lady in white to see this in action:

It’s been viewed millions of times on the internet, but it’s not real… This is really scary, and not going away, and I’m fearful this is going to be all over the 2020 election.

You know, that’s how I felt when libs kept bringing up Harry Potter in the context of the last election, but for some reason taking a children’s fantasy story about wizards is acceptable in political discourse but slowed-down videos aren’t.

And who is responsible for monitoring this stuff, taking it down? Facebook, Youtube took it down, but after how long?

Other commentator… At Facebook it’s still up because Facebook allows you to do a mock video…

The correct answer is that no one is responsible for monitoring all of Facebook and Youtube’s content, because that’s impossible to do and because Facebook isn’t your mommy. If you want Facebook to be your mom and monitor everything you consume, just stop talking and leave the adults alone.

CNN asks:

So Monika, in the wake of the 2016 election obviously Facebook has repeatedly told Congress and the American people that yo’re serious about fighting disinformation, fake news, and yet this doctored video which I think even your own fact checkers acknowledge is doctored of speaker Pelosi remains on your platform. Why?

Like the previous guy already said, because it’s not against Facebook’s TOS. Of course Anderson Cooper already knows this. He doesn’t need to get an actual Facebook representative on his show to find out that “funny reaction videos are allowed on Facebook.” And if Facebook were serious about maintaining its neutrality as a platform, not a publisher, it would not have bothered to send anyone to CNN–it would have just left matters at a blanket statement that the video does not violate the TOS.

The Facebook Lady (Monika,) then explains how Facebook uses its algorithms to demote and demonitize content the “experts” claim is false. They’re proud of this and want you to know about it.

So misinformation that doesn’t promote violence, but misinformation that portrays the third most powerful politician in the country as a drunk or as somehow impaired, that’s fine? 

Oh no, quick, someone save the third most powerful person in the country from people saying mean things about her on the internet! We can’t have those disgusting peasants being rude to their betters!

Anderson Cooper is infuriatingly moronic; does not “logically understand” why Facebook leaves up videos that don’t violate the TOS but suggests that Facebook should “get out of the news business” if it can’t do it well.

Facebook isn’t in the “news business” you moron, because Facebook is a platform, not a publisher. You’re in the news business, so you really ought to know the difference.

If you don’ know the difference between Facebook and a news organization, maybe you shouldn’t be in the news business.

That said, of course Anderson Cooper actually understands how Facebook works. This whole thing is a charade to give Facebook cover for changing its policies under the excuse of “there was public outrage, so we had to.” It’s an old scam.

So to summarize:

  1. The Dems want to change the algorithms to favor themselves, eg, Facebook decided to rethink policies on doctored media two days before Pelosi video, but don’t want to be so obvious about it the Republicans fight back
  2. Wait for a convenient excuse, like a slowed-down video, then go into overdrive to convince you that Democracy is Seriously Threatened by Slow Videos, eg, Doctored Videos show Facebook willing enables of the Russians; Doctored Pelosi video is leading tip in coming disinformation battle
  3. Convince Republican leadership to go along with it because, honestly, they’re morons: Congress investigating deepfakes after doctored Pelosi video, report says
  4. Deplatform their enemies
  5. Rinse and repeat: Vox Adpocalypse

 

One final note: even though I think there is coordinated activity at the top/behind the scenes at tech companies and the like, I don’t think the average talking head you see on TV is in on it. Conspiracies like that are too hard to pull off; rather, humans naturally cooperate and coordinate their behavior because they want to work together, signal high social status, keep their jobs, etc.

Algorithmic Optimization has Begun

My first reaction to this video was to yell Head Like a Hole at the screen.

… Head like a hole.
Black as your soul.
I’d rather die than give you control.
Head like a hole.
Black as your soul.
I’d rather die than give you control.
Bow down before the one you serve.
You’re going to get what you deserve.
Bow down before the one you serve.
You’re going to get what you deserve. …

With that bit of catharsis, let’s take a deeper look at the first video.

A doctored video of Pelosi that surfaced this week has been viewed millions of times and some social media giants are refusing to take it down.

By the way, the “doctoring” in this video was just slowing it down, not some scary-sounding “deep fake” like the scene where Forrest Gump met JFK. (Good luck distinguishing between “slowed down” and your average humorous “reaction” video.)

Social media sites like Youtube and Facebook have traditionally taken the view that they basically let people post whatever they want, without supervision, and then take it down if 1. they receive a complaint and 2. it is illegal or otherwise violates their terms of service. Aside from a Youtube algorithm that catches pirated music, these sites rely on users’ reports because they have no way to scan and check the contents of 100% of posts.

So before a company takes down a video, you have make a credible argument to them that the video is in some way illegal or violating their TOS. If the copyright holder claimed violation, the video would probably be instantly gone, because social media sites are legally required to take down copyright violations.

But merely remixing someone else’s video, maybe adding some music or a laugh track or a bit of your own commentary, happens all the time and is usually allowed–sans a copyright claim, “this video has been edited” does not violate Youtube or Facebook’s terms of service.

So one sentence in, and already this reporter is showing a fundamental misunderstanding of how social media companies handle content complaints. They are not “refusing to take it down;” they are “not taking it down because they have not decided that it violates one of their policies.”

… I think what’s different now is the way that this kind of content can be weaponized. …

Sure, the Malleus Maleficarum, 1487, might have contributed to thousands of innocent people being tortured and burned to death during the European witch trials; Nazi propaganda might have contributed to the Holocaust; communist propaganda might have contributed to mass famines, Holodomor, the Great Leap Forward, etc., but now this kind of content can be weaponized!

… There are now websites out there where you can ask people for ten, twenty bucks to make deep fakes for you…

Deepfakes are legitimately interesting in their own right and we do need to have a real, sit-down think about the possibility of all video and photographs becoming unreliable, but this isn’t a deepfake. This is a video slowed down with ordinary video editing software like the one I use to make videos of the kids for grandma.

They’re trying to scare you with the ominous sounding “deepfake” because “slowed down a bit” doesn’t sound like nearly so big a threat to civilization.

Facebook’s actions drew strong criticism from media watchers, … so, what should viewers expect from Facebook and other social media sites when it comes to authenticating media on their platform?

Nothing. They should expect nothing because Facebook does not “authenticate” things on its platform, nor does it have the ability to.

Anyone who thinks, “I saw it on Facebook, therefore it must be true,” should not be allowed out of the house without supervision (nor should they be allowed on Facebook).

So, the video reflects this problem that we’re going to increasingly face, which is that we can’t trust our own eyes so it’s not that easy for the average citizen to make sense of what’s true and what’s false, what gets circulated or goes viral on Facebook, so they need to defer to people with expert opinions…

I think that popping sound was me turning into a Marxist.

Seriously, though, deferring political decisions to “experts” just leads to people competing over what “experts” believe. We discussed this back in my review of Tom Nichols’s The Death of Expertise:

Nichols ends with a plea that voters respect experts (and that experts, in turn, be humble and polite to voters.) After all, modern society is too complicated for any of us to be experts on everything. If we don’t pay attention to expert advice, he warns, modern society is bound to end in ignorant goo.

The logical inconsistency is that Nichols believes in democracy at all–he thinks democracy can be saved if ignorant people vote within a range of options as defined by experts like himself, eg, “What vaccine options are best?” rather than “Should we have vaccines at all?”

The problem, then, is that whoever controls the experts (or controls which expert opinions people hear) controls the limits of policy debates. This leads to people arguing over experts, which leads right back where we are today. As long as there are politics, “expertise” will be politicized, eg:

“Experts quoted in the piece.”

And where do these experts come from? I study these things; am I an expert? Do I get to decide which Youtube videos are Fake News?

What, someone’s complaining that I demonetized all of their pro-antifa videos? Too bad. I’m the expert, now.

“Experts” have brought us many valuable things, like heart surgery and airplanes. They have also had many mistakes. They once swore that witches were a serious problem, that the Earth stood still at the center of the universe, and that chemicals in the water were causing the frogs to change sex. Wait, that last one is true. Experts once claimed that homosexuality was a mental illness; today they proclaim that transsexual children should go on hormone blockers. Experts claimed that satanic ritual abuse was definitely a real thing and that there was an international conspiracy of Satanic preschools, resulting in real people actually going to prison.

The potential for the rich, powerful, and well-connected to hire their own experts and fund studies that coincidentally show they deserve to keep making lots of money and aren’t doing anything that could harm your health or well being (like the time gas companies paid for studies claiming leaded gas was harmless, or tobacco companies paid experts to claim cigarettes didn’t cause cancer.)

This is why courts let both sides bring their own experts to a case–because there are always experts on both sides.

Back to the video:

I think the republic begins to suffer if people are getting extremely bad information and the authorities, the elites, the gatekeepers, are basically throwing up their hands and just saying, “not my problem.”

Don’t worry about that popping sound.

The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. –Marx,  A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. –Marx, The German Ideology

Back to the guy in the video:

In the last election, we saw how outside actors came in and tried to manipulate the American electorate, spreading misinformation and Facebook was their primary platform for spreading misinformation.

The guy who just said that the Republic begins to suffer if people are getting misinformation just spread misinformation about “outside interference” in the 2016 election, and he thinks there exists some sort of politically disinterested “experts” who can determine which videos are true or not?

So what happens when those actors, when the Russians, or some bad political actors here, try to use manipulated video that does’t just change a snippet in a clip, but invents things wholecloth?

Like the time the New York Times ran a story attacking a student from Covington highschool based on deceptively edited video footage?

Or is it okay when the New York Times, the paper of record whom millions of people trust for their news does it, but bad when Alex Jones, the guy who thinks chemicals in the water are turning the frogs gay, does it?

I don’t see how, once that firehose [of fake videos] is unleashed, we have any choice but to have some authority step in and make those distinctions about what’s real and what’s not.

It’s amazing how quickly we went from “Hooray the internet is spreading the Arab Spring” to “Oh no the internet is threatening our hold on political power; shut it down!”

For the sake of both my need to sleep and everyone’s rage levels, let’s continue this in the next post.

“Argumentum ab Papuan”

I propose the naming of a fallacy: argumentum ab Papuan.

Argumentum ab Papuan happens when someone tries to construct an argument about human nature based off a handful (or fewer) ethnographic accounts of tiny, obscure tribes (or chimps).

These arguments are questionable because:

  1. Ethnographers sometimes get things wrong. Sometimes they lie; sometimes people lie to them; sometimes mistakes are made.

For example, ethnographers have been fond of calling the Bushmen of the Kalahari the “harmless people” while castigating westerners for their high rates of violence, but if you actually count up the dead bodies, the Bushmen have much higher murder rates than Westerners.

Margaret Mead famously wrote a book titled “Coming of Age in Samoa” about the free-love sex lives of Samoan teens that turned out to be, apparently, a bunch of lies told to her by giggling 14 year olds.

I recently saw someone misinterpret something in the ethnographic literature as implying that the men in a particular tribe carried on life-long, mutually enjoyable homosexual relationships with each other, when actually they occasionally kidnapped boys from neighboring tribes and raped them.

2. Sometimes people do stupid things. Overall, on the grand scale of the arc of humanity, most of the stupid ideas get weeded out and good ideas stick around. Usually. But on the short term, people make plenty of mistakes.

We can look at our own society and identify plenty of stupid things people do that we would never take as indicative of society as a whole, much less humanity as a whole. Small, isolated tribes are not immune to bad ideas, either. When we’re talking about a group whose entire membership is smaller than your average furry convention, (eg, Midwest FurFest drew nearly 11,000 people last year, while the Hadza number only 1,300,) we should be cautious about over-extrapolating from a few reported behaviors or activities. We might just be looking at the opinions of a handful of people whom the rest of the tribe disagrees with, or a practice that is soon abandoned because people decided it was a bad idea. The Papuans with the pedophile rape gangs, for example, actually abandoned the practice because they decided it was really kind of mean.

3. Different strokes for different folks: what works great in one place or culture may not be useful at all in another.

The Inuit/Eskimo build houses out of snow; this does not mean you should build houses out of snow. Bonobos do their bonobo thing; you are not a bonobo and bonobo social hierarchies are not your social hierarchies. The meaning of an act may change over time, too. Headcoverings were more common back when people washed their hair less often and lice were a problem; with the adoption of modern hygiene, headcoverings have taken on symbolic meanings related to modesty and religion. Social norms that were useful for people who had no technological means of long-distance communication may not be useful for people who have telephones, and vice versa.

And I don’t know about you, but there are many cultures in this world that I am not willing to live in and do not have any desire to imitate. No running water? No penicillin? No epidurals? No refrigeration? No general norm against raping women and children? Forgive me if I am not eager to imitate this culture.

This is not to say that we cannot learn anything from each other. I absolutely believe there is a lot we can learn by studying other groups of people, whether small or large, stone age or space age. But we should be careful about making overly broad arguments from too little data or missing the big picture because we were overly focused on small exceptions. There will always be some weird group of people that does some weird thing; without some broader context, this doesn’t necessarily say anything about the rest of us.

Let’s Talk about Music, Baby

ba0dbb3a0cb097fbe5fa1a46117cad22

There has been a lot of chatter lately about whether the development of human musical abilities can be explained via some form of sexual selection. Most of this debate has been needlessly heated/involved more insults than it warrants, so I don’t want to pick on any particular people, but all of it seems to have overlooked some basic facts:

  1. Musical success–at least as expressed in our culture–is strongly dimorphic in favor of men.
  2. Music groupies–that is, fans who want to have sex with musicians–are strongly dimorphic in favor of women (especially teens).
  3. Successful musicians have tons of sex.

Let’s run through a little evidence on each of these points. First, talent: 

Wikipedia has a nice list of musicians/bands by # of albums sold. It probably doesn’t include folks like Beethoven, but that’s for the best since it would muck up the data to have artists whose work has been for sale for so long.

The top selling artists, with 250 million or more record sales, are:

The Beatles
Elvis
Micheal Jackson
Madonna
Elton John
Led Zeppelin
Rhianna
Pink Floyd

If this list surprises you, you might want to listen to more music.

Men dominate women here 3:1.

I’m not going to list the rest of the top-selling artists on the page, but if we total them up,  I count 27 women/female bands (including two bands that are half women) and 83 male (including the two half-male bands).

Remarkably, 83:27 (and 89:29) is almost exactly 3:1.

Now, some people object that “people liking their music enough to fork over money for it” is not a good measure of “musical talent,” but it is definitely a measure of musical success. If someone is super talented but no one wants to listen to them, well, I am a bit skeptical of the claim that they are talented.

The other common response I get to this runs along the lines of “But we tested musical ability in a lab, and in our experiments, men and women did equally well.”

So?

All that shows is that you got different results; it doesn’t explain why the dimorphism exists in the real world. There are exceedingly few top-selling musicians in the world (118 on Wikipedia’s list, plus or minus a few deaths,) and it’s highly doubtful that anyone of this caliber wandered into a university music lab. It may be that musicians of average quality show no dimorphism at all (or are even biased toward women) while exceptional musicians are disproportionately male, just because there is no particular reason to assume that two different groups of people have the same range of abilities even if they have the same average. In fact, men have a greater range than women in many documented areas, like height and IQ–that is, while there are more men than women in Mensa, there are also more boys than girls in Special Ed.

Second, groupies: 

The first time Scottish concert promoter Andi Lothian booked the Beatles, in the frozen January of 1963, only 15 people showed up. The next time he brought them north of the border… it was as if a hurricane had blown into town.

The night almost unravelled when nervous local police insisted Lothian bring the Beatles on early to satisfy rowdily impatient fans, even though his bouncers were still in the pub. “The girls were beginning to overwhelm us,” remembers Lothian, now 73 and a business consultant. “I saw one of them almost getting to Ringo’s drumkit and then I saw 40 drunk bouncers tearing down the aisles. It was like the Relief of Mafeking! It was absolute pandemonium. Girls fainting, screaming, wet seats. The whole hall went into some kind of state, almost like collective hypnotism. I’d never seen anything like it.”

A Radio Scotland reporter turned to Lothian and gasped, “For God’s sake Andi, what’s happening?” Thinking on his feet, the promoter replied, “Don’t worry, it’s only… Beatlemania.” — Beatlemania: The Screamers and other Tales of Fandom

normal_fans_21.jpg.w300h282As for Elvis:

Gone are all the jerky body movements that once earned Elvis Presley the nickname of ‘The Pelvis’. Gone are all the actions that were dubbed vulgar by his critics. Presley’s stage performance is now restrained. But that did not stop 5,500 wildly excited spectators at the Bloch Arena, Pearl Harbour, Hawaii from going outrageously wild with unreserved enthusiasm last Saturday night. Never have I heard anything like it. Their enthusiasm was fever-pitch, and they were screaming non-stop from start to finish, making it impossible to identify some of the songs he sang. Whether he was talking, singing, raising his eyebrows or just breathing, it was a signal for the volume of excitement to rise higher and higher throughout this fantastic concert.

Hundreds of naval police at this U.S. Navy fortress were detailed to restrain fanatical fans from invading the stage, and they were kept busy for the entire show. …

The climax came when he closed with the all-out rocker ‘Hound Dog’, the signal for the greatest bout of unlimited pandemonium, many of the younger girls going completely berserk! Then came the trickiest part of all – ‘Operation Exit Elvis’ – to get Presley out of the building before the crowd could tear him apart from sheer adoration.

More about the screaming.

Why all of the screaming?

“Screaming girls”—that was a recurring theme in newspaper reviews of Elvis’s stage shows in 1956 and 1957. At almost every stop, the girls screamed so loud that no one could hear Elvis sing. Even the musicians on stage had trouble hearing each other. … Elvis himself explained that at times in 1957 he had to cover his ears with his hands so that he could hear himself sing. …

When I spoke with some women who had attended an Elvis concert back in 1957, most of them admitted they had screamed. …

“We screamed when he came out. I didn’t know I was going to yell and scream. I’d never done that in my whole life. It was spontaneous. …  He could excite you with his music so much. My mom’s gone; I guess she wouldn’t care if I said it now … it was like a sexual experience. It went through your body kind of like that.”

Kurt Cobain’s suicide sent weeping girls into the streets:

A rumor went around in ninth grade English class. We went home and turned on MTV to find out for sure. I remember girls crying in the hallway. …

I was watching the news when I heard, and cried. It was believable and unbelievable, all at the same time. It’s our generation’s “Where were you…?” moment. My husband, our friends, all remember where we were when we heard the news and how devastated we were. …

I was in the bathroom getting ready for school, and my dad yelled “Hey, some guy from that band you like is dead.”

I walked into the living room and saw them playing footage from one of their performances on the TV. And then they said his name. I immediately started bawling. I don’t think my mom made me go to school that day.

In Seattle:

Seattle bid goodbye to Kurt Cobain on April 10 in true grunge-rock style, bursting the ranks of a quickly organized public vigil and leaping into the nearby international fountain, a giant, water-spouting structure some 50 yards wide and ten feet deep that flanks the Flag Pavilion. … Weeping girls wore beauty pageant banners around their middles, made out of the plastic yellow, “POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS” tape, the same kind of tape which, three days earlier, had criss-crossed the driveway to Cobain and Courtney Love’s home.

At this point, denying that women (especially teen girls) seem to have some sort of thing for rock stars is right up there with denying that men have a thing for fertile young women with hourglass figures.

Third, the sex:

Chuck-Berry-and-Mick-Jagger
Mick Jagger and Chuck Berry

Groupie sex, oh groupie sex. How many groupies have rockstars actually boned?

Vice has an article titled Elvis was the King of Treating Women like Shit and Luring 14 Year Olds into Bed. Elvis had sex with a lot of teenagers (including Priscilla Marie, who was 14 when they met).

Cracked has a pretty good overview if you’ve never heard of groupies before:

We’ve already written about the sex tents that Van Halen’s Sammy Hagar had installed wherever he performed so that he could disappear mid-solo and indulge himself in a groupie or nine. But that’s not the only way Van Halen was entrepreneurial with his young fans. Let’s take a minute and discuss how original frontman David Lee Roth amused his roadies by sending them out on groupie scavenger hunts.

From his lofty position on the stage, Roth would instruct his roadies to dive into the crowd and collect very specific girls for him to have sex on. The lucky girl would be given a special backstage pass with the initials of the roadie who approached her written in the top corner. If that pass was then among the ones strewn on his floor the next morning, Roth would reward the roadie with a $100 bonus at breakfast the next morning, because exchanging money for sex works up an appetite.

Motley Crue came up with the, uh, creative solution of rubbing burritos on their crotches so their girlfriends wouldn’t smell the scents of groupie sex on them:

He tells Hustler magazine, “We were always f**king other chicks at the studio and backstage… We would take Tommy’s (Lee) van to a restaurant called Noggles to buy these egg burritos and then rub them on our crotches to cover the smell of the girls we had just f**ked.

Let’s hear some more about these “sex tents”:

Before they became a quartet of endless punchlines, Van Halen used to be one of the coolest bands in the world, and they demonstrated their status by having sex with every female who wandered within one mile of their powerful aura. Their career is a filthy memorial to how being in a band is a more powerful aphrodisiac than things like “not looking completely ridiculous,” …

One tour saw the band build a tent directly beneath the stage specifically for Sammy Hagar’s erection. During the mid-show 20-minute guitar solos Eddie Van Halen would launch into each night, Hagar would disappear to the tent and discover a group of naked fans waiting to swallow his penis.

Mick Jagger, by the way, has (at least) eight children via five different women.

Look, I feel a little silly having to spell out in great detail the fact that rock stars get laid a lot. You probably feel a little silly reading it, yet there are people who seem hellbent on arguing that there’s no particular evidence in favor of sexual selection for musical talent.

And no, you can’t explain this away by saying that musicians are “famous” and that women want to have sex with all sorts of famous people. Donald Trump is famous, but he doesn’t have sex tents. Leonardo diCaprio is famous and has legions of fans, but as far as I know, he also doesn’t have sex tents.

I agree that we can’t definitively prove how musical talent evolved among the first humans, (because we don’t have time machines,) but the correlation between sex and music today, in our own society, is overwhelming. A claim that it didn’t have similar effects on our ancestors needs to explain what changed so radically between then and now.

Likewise, we can’t assume that just because music works like this in our own society, it must also work this way in every other society. But conversely, just because something doesn’t work in one society doesn’t imply it doesn’t work in every society. There are a lot of groups out there, and some of them are obviously weird in ways that are’t relevant to everyone else. Some people, for example, like to dress up like anthropomorphic animals and go to conventions. We should be cautious about over-generalizing from small examples. Sure, there might be a random tribe somewhere that with weird traditions like killing any women who see a musical instrument being played, but these tribes generally have fewer people in them than one concert’s worth of screaming Elvis fans.

Voynich Decoded?

ETA: apparently everyone thinks this guy’s work is wrong.

I thought his paper was nice and on a good track, but take with appropriate salt.

 

I am tempted to jest that the Voynich manuscript turned out to have been so difficult to decode because it was written by women, but this isn’t quite true.

It was just written in an extinct language of which we have almost no other written examples,
With an alphabet full of unknown characters,
No punctuation,
And full of abbreviations and calligraphic shorthands.

No problem!

If you’re not familiar with the Voynich manuscript, it’s a 240 page book that appears to have been written in Italy in the late 1400s. It’s filled with pictures of things like plants, bathing women, and a rather nice fold-out diagram of a volcano. It came to the world’s attention after Wilfrid Voynich purchased it from an old books dealer in 1912.

voynich_manuscript_2815829
Fold out map of volcanic islands, Voynich manuscript

Because the Voynich manuscript is so weird, (especially the alphabet,) people have struggled for years to decipher it. Is it in code? Is it some non-European language like Chinese? Is it an elaborate hoax?

Given its resistance to all previous attempts at translation, I had written it off as probably a hoax–not a modern one perpetuated by Voynich, but a very old one played on some Medieval personage to sell them a worthless book full of supposed secret, magical knowledge for a handsome sum of money.

But it appears that Voynich has, at long last, been decoded by Gerard Cheshire.

It turns out that this “unknown language” isn’t Finnish, Basque, Navajo or something similarly difficult, but a kind of medieval Italian (or perhaps more accurately, late Latin,) known as proto-Romance. We have plenty of written examples of ancient Italian (otherwise known as Latin) and plenty of modern Italian, but few from the in-between period. It’s a bit like finding something written in Chaucerian English when you’re only familiar with modern English and Beowulf.

voynich_manuscript_recipe_example_107r_crop
Text sample from the Voynich manuscript

With this insight, the authors were able to decipher the strange alphabet, which employs no capitals but several extra symbols for dip- and tripthongs. (Kind of like Sequoia’s syllabary.)

The result is orthographically lovely, but very complicated. You should read the full article for an explanation for what all of the letters mean.

The really interesting thing is that this alphabet is nearly unique. Did the local nuns invent it for the purpose of the book? Were they literate in the regular alphabet used on the mainland, but felt it would be better to develop their own? Or was this commonly used in the area, but the vagaries of time destroyed all other remnants of it?

They found one of the keys to deciphering the manuscript lies in the map of the volcanic islands:

Within the manuscript there is a foldout pictorial map that provides the necessary information to date and locate the origin of the manuscript. It tells the adventurous, and rather inspiring, story of a rescue mission, by ship, to save the victims of a volcanic eruption in the Tyrrhenian Sea that began on the evening of the 4 February 1444 … The manuscript originates from Castello Aragonese, an island castle and citadel off Ischia, and was compiled for Maria of Castile, Queen of Aragon, (1401–58) who led the rescue mission as regent during the absence of her husband, King Alfonso V of Aragon (1396–1458) who was otherwise occupied, having only recently conquered and then taken control of Naples in February 1443. …

The island of Ischia is historically famous for its hot volcanic spas, which exist to this day. The manuscript has many images of naked women bathing in them, both recreationally and therapeutically. There are also images of Queen Maria and her court conducting trade negotiations whilst bathing. Clearly the spa lifestyle was highly regarded as a form of physical cleansing and spiritual communion, as well as a general means of relaxation and leisure. In many respects it would have been preferable to living in nearby Naples, which was the most important and cosmopolitan of cities in the Mediterranean at the time, but was still potentially dangerous for the spouse of an invading king. For example, in 1448 the barons of Naples launched a failed rebellion against Alfonso to reclaim their city.

In other words, while the menfolk were away, the Queen Maria of Ischia, a lovely little volcanic island off the coast of Naples, (the Wikipedia page is nice and has a couple of pictures of the castle where Queen Maria lived) had to lead the court, negotiate trade deals, and even led a rescue mission to an exploding volcano. She then decided to commission a local nun to write her a book on various matters of importance to the nearly all-female court. The various isolations inherent in island life probably account for several of the manuscripts peculiarities, from language to text.

Proto-Romance is thought to be ancestral not only to modern Italian, but to the various other romance languages, as well. It was a kind of lingua franca in the Mediterranean before modern political borders forced Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, etc., to fully differentiate. From the paper:

So, we have proto-Romance words surviving in the Mediterranean from Portugal, in the west, to Turkey, in the east. Clearly, it was a cosmopolitan lingua franca until the late Medieval period, when the political map began to inhibit meme flow, so that cultural isolation caused the modern languages to begin evolving. As a result, proto-Romance survived by vestigial fragmentation of its lexicon into the languages we see today. As such, manuscript MS408 is immensely important, because it is the only documentation of a language that was once ubiquitous over the Mediterranean and subsequently became the foundation for southern European linguistics in the present day.

Interestingly:

There is another manuscript to introduce here, because it has similarity in calligraphic style and similarly combined letterforms. It is a memoire written by Loise De Rosa (1385–1475), who lived and worked in the court of Naples. It is titled De Regno di Napoli (The Kingdom of Naples) …

We can see that the calligraphic forms are quite legible and familiar to the modern eye and also noticeably different from those shared by manuscript MS408 and De Rosa. …

De Rosa’s work thus provides documentation of a writing system and a language akin to those of manuscript MS408, demonstrating that both evolved from the same naïve linguistic rootstock: i.e. both had emerged from Vulgar Latin, but in different ways due to their geographical and cultural separation. …

In fact we know, from De Rosa’s manuscript, that he fled to the safety of Castello Aragonese in 1441–42, when Alfonso was busy conquering Naples: He writes: ‘The patron said to me: “Son of mine, go to Ischia, for the great of age the place is safe”. I went to the marina and took a boat that travelled to the Castello di Ischia’. As incredible as it may seem, the chances are that De Rosa actually met the author of manuscript MS408 during his stay at the citadel.

So de Rosa met Maria and probably the nun who wrote the Voynich herself. It’s a really incredible story, both in the manuscript’s creation and the efforts it took to decaode it, and I encourage you to read the full article.

 

White Man’s Grave: the relationship between colonialism and wealth

It is popularly asserted that many countries became wealthy via colonialism, essentially sucking the wealth out of other countries. This claim ignores the fact that many countries that did little to no colonizing, like the US and Germany, are richer today than countries that did extensive colonizing, like Spain and Britain.

It sounds to me like the claim is backwards. Colonialism doesn’t make countries wealthy; wealth makes countries able to have colonies.

Colonies, on net, probably lose money. I don’t have a definitive cite for this and frankly, if I did, I’d be cherry-picking because I’m sure there were colonies that did make money and there are studies that show a variety of outcomes for different countries, especially given that the term “colonialism” covers a lot of different things.

Here’s an example from one article discussing the issue:

Conversely, John Keynes believed British savings would have been better employed at home in creating jobs and modernizing the capital stock of the British economy2. Marseille 1984, Davis and Huttenback 1986, Patrick O’Brien (1988), Fitzgerald 1988 and ForemanPeck 1989 followed this idea and provided evidence that colonization was costly to imperial economies. They made three arguments: first, public investments in the colonies were burdensome for French and British taxpayers3; second, the mainland private sector suffered because some private investment was diverted towards the colonies and earned lower than expected returns; and third, colonial trade led to lower productivity gains due to a lack of competition and colonial protectionism. (Marseille 1984 and O’Brien 1988). …

3 Davis and Huttenbach 1986 argue that British taxes would have been 20 percent less in the absence of empire because the United Kingdom bore most of the defense costs of the British Empire; Marseille 1984 estimates that the investment in public financial assets in the colonies amounted to 7 percent of metropolitan public
expenditures in the 1910’s, and 4 percent from 1947 to 1958; Marseille 1996 estimates that the trade deficit compensated by France’s public subsidies to the colonies represented 8-9 percent of metropolitan expenditure in the 1920s and from 1945 to 1962.

The authors of this study claim that Spain was economically retarded by its colonies.

The British also paid to enforce the ban on slave trading across the Atlantic:

For 60 years after the 1807 act, the Royal Navy was used to enforce the British ban by shutting down the slave trade routes and seizing slave ships at sea. The West Africa Squadron patrolled the seas liberating around 150,000 enslaved Africans. The majority of the British Slave Trade was suppressed very rapidly, but as the British ships withdrew from trading the French, followed by the Spanish and Portuguese, took their place. After 1815, with Europe finally at peace, British supremacy at sea was secured, but, even with a powerful navy, suppressing the trade proved difficult, dangerous and very costly.

It was a huge task requiring co-operation from the governments of all the countries involved. Heavy subsidies were paid to induce other countries to curtail their involvement through anti-slavery treaties with Britian. Smaller amounts were also paid to numerous African chiefs to cease their involvement. The cost of maintaining the British squadron was also high. Initially ships operated out of the Cape of Good Hope but in 1819 a separate West Coast of Africa Station was created. By 1825 there were seven ships on station, manned by around 660 men. This grew to around 25 vessels by 1845 manned by around 2000 British sailors and nearly 1,000 ‘Kroomen’, experienced African fishermen.

Let’s see if we can find some numbers:

In this article we develop a theory of costly international moral action by investigating the most expensive example recorded in modern history: Britain’s effort to suppress the Atlantic slave trade from 1807 until final success in 1867. Britain carried out this effort despite its domination of both the slave trade and world sugar production, which was based on slave labor. In 1805-1806 the value of British West Indian sugar production equaled about 4% of the national income of Great Britain. Its efforts to suppress the slave trade sacrificed these interests, brought the country into conflict with the other Atlantic maritime powers, and cost Britain more than five thousand lives as well as an average nearly 2 percent of national income annually for sixty years.

Lack of money is commonly cited as a reason for decolonization, eg:

The emergence of indigenous bourgeois elites was especially characteristic of the British Empire, which seemed less capable (or less ruthless) in controlling political nationalism. Driven by pragmatic demands of budgets and manpower the British made deals with the nationalist elites.

Further, we note that the end of colonialism did not cause nations like Britain and France to economically collapse:

John Kenneth Galbraith argues that the post–World War II decolonisation was brought about for economic reasons. In A Journey Through Economic Time, he writes:

“The engine of economic well-being was now within and between the advanced industrial countries. Domestic economic growth – as now measured and much discussed – came to be seen as far more important than the erstwhile colonial trade…. The economic effect in the United States from the granting of independence to the Philippines was unnoticeable, partly due to the Bell Trade Act, which allowed American monopoly in the economy of the Philippines. The departure of India and Pakistan made small economic difference in the United Kingdom. Dutch economists calculated that the economic effect from the loss of the great Dutch empire in Indonesia was compensated for by a couple of years or so of domestic post-war economic growth. The end of the colonial era is celebrated in the history books as a triumph of national aspiration in the former colonies and of benign good sense on the part of the colonial powers. Lurking beneath, as so often happens, was a strong current of economic interest – or in this case, disinterest.”

In general, the release of the colonised caused little economic loss to the colonisers. Part of the reason for this was that major costs were eliminated while major benefits were obtained by alternate means. Decolonisation allowed the coloniser to disclaim responsibility for the colonised. The coloniser no longer had the burden of obligation, financial or otherwise, to their colony. However, the coloniser continued to be able to obtain cheap goods and lobar as well as economic benefits (see Suez Canal Crisis) from the former colonies. Financial, political and military pressure could still be used to achieve goals desired by the coloniser. Thus decolonisation allowed the goals of colonisation to be largely achieved, but without its burdens.

Weirdly, the arguments in favor of colonialism are often framed in terms of “burdens” that whites ought to undertake. West Africa became known colloquially as “the white man’s grave” because so many died there, eg:

To expand on this: in the Orkneys, the land was rather barren; there were no trees because there were always gales blowing, but that didn’t bother me, I enjoyed it there, I wished I could have done my entire service there, but I couldn’t. I had to go to West Africa, which was known as ‘White Man’s Grave’, which it is. Anyone who stays there for five years can expect to have something radically wrong with them afterwards, because of the climate etc.

Another account:

The doctor, Harold Tweedy then found that I had blackwater fever, sleeping sickness, from the bite of the tsetse fly, and malaria, all together. … They thought that I was going to die so for good measure John Busby gave me an injection of triparcimide. This was specific against the sleeping sickness which normally requires a prolonged course of treatment, but in a miraculous manner the blackwater fever seemed to evaporate and the fevers subsided. I was very weak and yet I felt remarkably better and in a week I was put in a hammock and taken down to the sea-shore and carried through the water to a launch. The Paramount Chief and his Tribal Authority stood in the water to bid me farewell and I remember leaning out of the hammock to shake the chiefs hand and say to him that I would be back to talk that alleged murder case and other things. …

It was evening and as the sun went down over the sea as one looked westward I noticed the phenomenon of the green flash, an optical illusion which one sometimes saw. In the morning I was feeling all right but an orderly brought me some tea. It was dark. He then came to shave me; it was still dark. I just thought they started early here. Then he brought me some breakfast; it was still dark. I asked him the time. It was 8 a.m. when the sun was well up and I could not see it. I had gone blind overnight.  

(Note that none of this is arguing that colonialism was a net gain for the colonized. It is entirely possible for something to be a net loss for everyone involved.)

As for wealth allowing colonization:

According to the data gathered by Professor Angus Maddison in The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective, in 1600 India’s per capita GDP was $550 (1990 dollar levels), which remained the same for nearly a hundred and fifty years (the period of Mughal decline), and was slightly lower at $540 by the time the British became politically active in India in the 1750s.  …

At the same time the British per capita GDP increased from $974 in 1600, to $1250 in 1700, $1424 in 1757,

In other words, India economically stagnated while Britain was zooming forward just before Britain colonized India.

So why colonize at all?

I propose that colonizing is akin to gambling. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. If you can do it with someone else’s money, all the better. Some people love to gamble and will keep doing it for years. But in the long run, the house always wins.

“Colonialism will make us lots of money” sounds great, and clearly lots of people believe it. More likely, though, colonialism made some people a lot of money at the expense of a lot of other people losing money. So long as a country has lots of money to throw around or bad accounting, they can keep going, but eventually, repeat losers face insolvency and have to stop.

Smol Dogs and Psych Problems: Feature, not Bug

From Psychology Today: Why do Small Dogs have so many Psychological Problems?

The results were striking. Various combinations of height, weight, and head shape were significantly related to 90% of the negative C-BARQ behavioral traits. Further, in nearly all cases, the smaller the dogs, the more problematic behaviors their owners reported. Here are some examples.

Height – Short breeds were more prone to beg for food, have serious attachment problems, be afraid of other dogs, roll in feces, be overly sensitive to touch, defecate and urinate when left alone, and be harder to train. They also were more inclined to hump people’s legs.

So what’s up with small dogs? Let’s run through the obvious factors first:

Culling: Behavioral and psychological problems obviously get bred out of large dogs more quickly. An anxious pug is cute; an anxious doberman is a problem. A chihuahua who snaps at children is manageable; a rottweiler who snaps at children gets put down.

Training: Since behavioral problems are more problematic in larger dogs, their owners (who chose them in the first place,) are stricter from the beginning about problematic behaviors. No one cares if a corgi begs at the dinner table; a St. Bernard who thinks he’s going to eat off your plate gets unmanageable fast.

Rational behaviors: Since small dogs are small, some of the behaviors listed in the article make sense. They pee indoors by accident more often because they have tiny bladders and just need to pee more often than large dogs (and they have to drink more often). They are more fearful because being smaller than everything around them actually is frightening.

Accident of Breeding: Breeding for one trait can cause other traits to appear by accident. For example, breeding for tameness causes changes to animals’ pelt colors, for reasons we don’t yet know. Breeding for small dogs simultaneously breeds for tiny brains, and dogs with tiny brains are stupider than dogs with bigger brains. Stupider dogs are harder to train and may just have more behavioral issues. They may also attempt behaviors (guarding, hunting, herding, etc) that are now very difficult for them due to their size.

Accident of training: people get small dogs and then stick them in doggy carriages, dress them in doggy clothes, and otherwise baby them, preventing them from being properly trained. No wonder such dogs are neurotic.

And finally, That’s not a Bug, it’s a Feature: Small dogs have issues because people want them to.

Small dogs are bred to be companions to people, usually women (often lonely, older women whose children have moved out of the house and don’t call as often as they should). As such, these dogs are bred to have amusing, human-like personalities–including psychological problems.

Lonely people desire dogs that will stay by them, and so favor anxious dogs. Energetic people favor hyperactive dogs. Anti-social people who don’t want to bond emotionally with others get a snake.

There’s an analogy here with other ways people meet their emotional/psychological needs, like Real Dolls and fake babies (aka “reborns”). The “reborn” doll community contains plenty of ordinary collectors and many grieving parents whose babies died or were stillborn and some older folks with Alzheimer’s, as well as some folks who clearly take it too far and enter the creepy territory

Both puppies and babydolls are, in their way, stand-ins for the real thing (children,) but dogs are also actually alive, so people don’t feel stupid taking care of dogs. Putting your dog in a stroller or dressing it up in a cute outfit might be a bit silly, but certainly much less silly than paying thousands of dollars to do the same thing to a doll.

And unlike dolls, dogs actually respond to our emotions and have real personalities. As John Katz argues, we now use dogs, in effect, for their emotional work:

In an increasingly fragmented and disconnected society, dogs are often treated not as pets, but as family members and human surrogates. The New Work of Dogs profiles a dozen such relationships in a New Jersey town, like the story of Harry, a Welsh corgi who provides sustaining emotional strength for a woman battling terminal breast cancer; Cherokee, companion of a man who has few friends and doesn’t know how to talk to his family; the Divorced Dogs Club, whose funny, acerbic, and sometimes angry women turn to their dogs to help them rebuild their lives; and Betty Jean, the frantic founder of a tiny rescue group that has saved five hundred dogs from abuse or abandonment in recent years.

Normally we’d call this “bonding,” “loving your dog,” or “having a friend,” but we moderns have to overthink everything and give it fussy labels like “emotional work.” We’re silly, but thankfully our dogs put up with us.